Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and Co. and therefore, much to my eternal sadness, I don't make money from playing with Naruto and Co. Bummer, that.
Summary: Naruto spun in a circle and tried desperately to understand where he was. What if the difference between life and death, heaven and hell, and this life and the next, resting on the shoulders of a person he'd never met. At least not this time. SasuNaru
Author's Note: This was supposed to be done last month because November is a special month for me. First, November 18th of last year I posted the first chapter of my first story and so that is like some kind of anniversary. But, more importantly, last year at the beginning of November I met my twin, my Pinky, my Watson and my fuzzy, and quite frankly adorable, field mouse Roely. As such, this story is my anniversary present to her. To Phantomsnow! To Roely.
In other news… I have a beta. If I could express in simple words how excited I am. No, honored maybe, shocked, amazed, not worthy, happiest girl on the planet… but I can't. But, I can say that Master_of_Rebels is just THAT awesome and I bow to her. Thanks, Dani.
Warning: Yaoi… the best love on earth or anywhere else my two favorite boys might find themselves. (Oh god… moon yaoi…) Sex, people… it happens, it's there, read it, love it or run away.
Stuck in the Between
If Naruto Uzumaki had to guess the building's architectural origin he would probably go with the Romans but then they did steal… um… borrow their ideas from the Greeks. And so he settled for the hybrid 'Groman' and considered the possibility that he had been watching too much of the History Channel.
Naruto's gaze trailed up the twenty shallow steps toward the massive structure with its large stone columns, knowing that it was a courthouse. He rubbed the back of his head and frowned. The problem was that he had never seen the building before, had no idea how he knew it was a courthouse, and couldn't fathom why every instinct he possessed told him to ascend the steps and go inside.
Naruto looked around in confusion and noticed for the first time that he wasn't alone. People, hundreds of them, scaled the steps. Some were old, ambling up the steps and others where younger, some even his age. He saw children of all ages scampering up the steps, giggling and laughing. He tried to smile, catch their attention, maybe understand why he was here, but unlike him, the others didn't look anywhere but at the large entrance of the building. Their steps didn't slow. It was like they were on a mission with no doubt in their mind why they were there.
He turned in a circle and saw that the building lay just off a busy street. Cars passed and people walked by without giving any indication that they saw the courthouse looming over them, its dark shadow nipping at their heels.
With his brow furrowed, he studied the building once more, hoping to jog his memory of how the building was so familiar even while part of his mind knew he'd never been here. The roof was pointed in a manner that resembled a squat triangle. A dramatic depiction of angels and demons locked in battle, their swords drawn and faces twisted in concentration, filled its center and Naruto almost held his breath waiting for harsh cracking sounds of metal clashing on metal.
The sun peeked from behind the clouds and the weathered white stone shone so brightly Naruto was nearly mesmerized by the brilliance. At the same time, the pillars and sharp recesses in the architecture cast parts of the building in ominous shadow, the contrast making a shiver run up the young man's spine.
Curiosity, concern, and excitement swirled inside his chest and Naruto began walking slowly up the steps. He shoved his hands in his pockets and nearly tripped when he realized he was dressed in his favorite worn jeans and faded orange hoodie. He had no memory of putting the clothes on and normally he didn't wear the sweatshirt, a relic from his college years, when he had important places to go. He stilled halfway up the steps and looked at the entrance again. The sun had moved and the shadows cast the doorway in darkness, making it look like all of the people were walking mindlessly into a black hole, disappearing from sight.
"What's going on?" he asked aloud and wasn't surprised when he didn't get a response. Suddenly he felt the blond hairs on the back of his neck stand up and knew someone was watching him. He turned to his left and three steps up, midnight black eyes pierced his own, holding him in place. The dark eyes matched the midnight strands that framed a chiseled pale face and defied gravity in the back. Naruto had the urge to look back at the depiction above the pillars, sure that he had seen that same face and intense expression on the angels… or maybe the demons… fighting. The man was dressed in a black suit, the dark jacket open, revealing a pristine white shirt and a dark blue tie hung loosened around his pale neck. He leaned back on the step behind him with his long legs out in front crossed at the ankles.
Naruto held the stare and finally forced a smile to his face before he nodded in greeting. The man's eyes widened, if only for a moment, and then he smirked and nodded upwards toward the doorway.
Naruto frowned and looked once more to the entrance, this time finding that the clouds had shifted again and the pathway was illuminated and welcoming. He glanced back at the dark-haired man but he was no longer looking at him, instead staring off at the street, his expression closed off and dark.
"Well, if some stuck up bastard wants me to go," Naruto muttered to himself, "It must be okay." He shook his head and continued his climb. The closer he got to the door, the more he felt like he was making a wise decision. The doubt slowly fled and Naruto felt excitement flood into his chest. This was it. This was where he belonged. Finally, after his whole life… he belonged.
In his excitement Naruto didn't feel those black eyes fall on him once more and he didn't see the jealously and sadness that flitted through inky black as the bright smile lit up Naruto's face.
Naruto stepped through the large archway and blinked his eyes. He had never seen anything like this. His head was immediately drawn upwards to the source of brightness lighting a room nearly half the size of a football field. Smaller white stone pillars, like those on the exterior of the courthouse, lined the marble walls rising higher and higher until they seemed to disappear at the ceiling. Oh god… the ceiling. Naruto's head was craned backwards as he looked up and saw what could only be the sky. The fluctuating shades of blue, the wispy white clouds and the golden rays of light bouncing off of them couldn't be mere paintings… no human artist could achieve such brilliance. Naruto blinked and shook his head at his mind's wanderings. Of course it was a painting. Just then he saw a movement from the corner of his eye and would swear that a cloud had drifted in a gentle wind he couldn't feel. It was like looking into heaven.
Finally tearing his eyes from the ceiling, he looked around trying to determine where he should be. Before he could discern anything else, he yelped and jumped up, trying to get away from the floor. Pitch-black tiles covered the large expanse, marbled with veins of even deeper black, smoking grays and, although he could never see them directly, bright flashes of red. Like the glowing fires of… Naruto shook his head and forced his breathing to calm. Although his mind told him it wasn't possible to see anything else in something so black—or in the bloody floor!—he felt like he was standing on a dark window looking down into… he weakly scoffed… hell.
A forced chuckle escaped his throat. "Nice theme for a courthouse." He looked around to see if anyone else was reacting to the courthouse's theme the way he was and found all of the faces to be just as concentrated on something Naruto couldn't see or didn't understand as they were when they walked up the steps.
To his far left, across the open expanse littered with people, he saw a set of wooden double doors that nearly filled the length of the wall and scaled the seemingly endless height. Carved into the deep mahogany was yet another scene of epical proportions. Naruto stepped closer, not because he couldn't see the images with amazing clarity but because he couldn't believe how beautiful and perfect and… morbid… the scene was. The top third of the doors showed images of heaven. Angels flew on wings that spread behind them like spun sugar and Naruto knew that if he wanted to, he would be able to count each and every feather on every set of wings. Clouds scattered throughout gave the carving a three dimensional look and to the right corner a large hand, strong and comforting, reached down, palm turned up, as if it were beckoning Naruto forward.
Naruto was jostled from behind and his eyes slipped from the door while he stepped forward, trying to get out of the way of all the people walking through the open room. He swallowed down something that felt like nervousness and looked back to the doors.
The bottom third of the door held, unsurprisingly, a vivid and horrible image of hell. Huge fire pits blazed while giddy demons and fallen angels, their faces solemn, roamed the barren expanse. Tortured souls were dragged behind beastly-looking dogs and clawed at the edges of the smoldering pits only to be kicked back in by laughing horned guards.
Naruto couldn't breathe. The wood on the bottom half of the door was darker, so much darker, and the screams, he could hear the screams all around him and he looked for the hand, weathered and wise, but there was no hope. He was drowning, burning, suffocating… forever.
Naruto was jarred from the door and blinked, trying to locate his savior. Near the doors, he saw a stone podium, he hadn't noticed previously, with an annoyed looking man behind it. The man cleared his throat once more, drumming his fingers impatiently. "Have you eaten?"
"What?" Naruto looked around and noticed that a line had formed outside of the doors. Letting his eyes follow it, he saw that it contained hundreds of people and spanned the length of the room. Some looked nervous while others were downright worried, their expressions pale and agitated while others stared ahead, looks of utter contentment and acceptance on their faces.
The man at the podium stared at Naruto intensely for a moment before he shook his head side to side slowly and Naruto thought he saw understanding flash through the deep brown eyes. "You don't belong here. You have to eat first. Run along."
"But, where…" Naruto began and then he knew exactly where the cafeteria was and couldn't believe how hungry he suddenly was. "Yes, of course." Naruto would have turned but something drew his attention back to the huge doors and this time he looked at the middle portion.
Naruto saw mothers having babies and fathers playing catch with giggling children. He saw women being dragged, screaming, into back alleys and children stalked at playgrounds. He saw men and women handing out food and offering comfort. He saw loving embraces and cold rejection. He saw the hungry and the sick, the well off and the greedy. He saw hundreds of souls, sandwiched between heaven and hell, loving and hating, living and dying. It was humanity, depicted in all its glory and horror, frozen in the wood and yet Naruto swore he could hear the laughing, crying, screaming, and whispering echoing in his ears.
His heart was pounding in his chest and his hands fisted at his sides to stop the shaking. He didn't understand. It couldn't be real… and yet an understanding tingled in the back of his mind but he couldn't grasp it and all he could comprehend was that once again he didn't belong… What was this place? Why was he here? How…
"Sir, you need to go eat. You don't belong here." The 'yet' was clear and like a light, Naruto's panic was pushed aside. He looked up to thank the man but found that, once again, no one made eye contact with him, busy with their own reasons for being there.
Naruto sighed and turned toward the opposite side of the room where people were heading off to eat. He shoved his hands in his pockets and started across the marbled floor. The sudden hunger he felt consumed his senses so much so that he didn't question how he knew where the cafeteria was or why eating this meal was so important and he didn't see the dark-haired man leaning in the entrance way, the sun outlining his frame in an ethereal glow, while black eyes watched him closely as he made his way across the room.
As soon as Naruto had cleared the doorway, he saw a cafeteria-style room totally at odds with the rest of the courthouse's décor. At the butter yellow booths and matching round tables that filled the room, he saw people of every age, culture, and size eating and smiling and laughing.
"The best spaghetti in the world…"
"It tastes just like my mother's meat pies…"
"I have never tasted a peach this ripe, juicy… my god, it's perfect."
Hunger clawed at his insides and Naruto picked up his steps across the worn, off-white tiles. On the far wall, he saw a surprisingly short line for all the people he had seen outside the doors. They stood in front of several smiling cooks and Naruto stepped up into line. He rocked back on his heels as he waited, excitement bubbling inside him. He knew he'd have ramen. Miso ramen, to be exact. His hand settled on his stomach while a smile broke across his face. He loved ramen so much so that if someone asked him what he would choose as his last meal…
The line moved ahead until Naruto came to a stop in front of the serving window. The hand on his stomach shot to his mouth and he felt vomit race up his throat. There was nothing but ramen in every pot. Pork ramen, beef ramen, Miso ramen with every topping he could imagine, but it was all…
"Don't you see anything you like?" asked one of the cooks. Naruto shook his head violently, his hand still covering his mouth while he watched fat maggots plump in the boiling broth and cockroaches scurry along the edges of the pans. One slipped and fell and the flames flared up as they devoured the dying insect. Green, rotten eggs bobbed over mold-covered noodles and rancid meat swarmed with flies.
"Nothing we have looks good?" a second cook asked and Naruto stumbled backwards when a whole rat emerged in the massive pot of Miso ramen, half the poor creature's skull exposed.
"What the fuck is this place?" Naruto tried to yell but it came at as a hoarse whisper.
Both cooks slowly put down their ladles and their eyes assessed him before they melted into the same understanding that the podium man had given him.
"You don't belong here," the first cook said, and it rang in Naruto's ears like an accusation.
Then the feeling of nausea had nothing to do with the grotesque cuisine. He turned his head, hoping to find someone, anyone who could help him understand, who could help him find where he belonged. This had to be a dream. A dream, yes, and soon, he would wake up.
"You should leave," the second cook said, and when Naruto looked up once again, just like in the hall, everything was back to 'normal'. A gentleman came up behind him and exclaimed that he had never seen such beautiful pecan-crusted salmon in his life and the cooks smiled and nodded. The sounds of the cafeteria returned and Naruto turned slowly around. Everything was back to normal… where Naruto didn't exist because he didn't belong.
Naruto ran from the cafeteria and through the massive lobby, knocking into people along the way until he burst through the entryway and felt the sun beat down on his face. His breathing came out in harsh wheezes and he closed his eyes and forced himself to focus.
How had he gotten here? He could hear the sounds of peoples' feet against the smooth stone of the steps and the man at the podium announcing that the next person should step forward. He heard some people say they had never been so hungry and others talking about how they had never felt so full and satisfied. He pushed it all away and thought about arriving at the courthouse. What had he been doing before he came here?
Blond lashes lifted slowly and Naruto turned his head in the direction of the sound. Sitting on the steps was the dark-haired man from earlier. This time he sat with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands. When he saw he had Naruto's attention, he straightened and smirked.
"Did you say something, teme?" Naruto asked coolly, but inside he nearly cheered because someone was talking to him… even if it was a rude bastard.
The soft chuckle was dry. "You don't belong here."
Naruto's hands fisted at his sides in anger but his shoulders slumped in resignation and he stepped closer to the man before sitting down with a sigh. "Oddly, you're not the first person to say that to me."
"Well, dobe, you aren't alone." The dark-haired man leaned back onto the step above him and closed his eyes. "I arrived," the man's tone was harsh, "Much like you, staring at this fucking building and hungry. I tried to eat but," Naruto found himself locked in midnight black orbs, "As I'm sure you noticed, the food wasn't all that appealing." The blond nodded his head in agreement. "I was then told I didn't belong here and I've been sitting on these steps ever since. Just sitting here, ignored by everyone." The black eyes became calculating and Naruto shifted uncomfortably under the gaze. "That is, until you."
"How long have you been here? Why haven't you left?" Naruto asked and his fingers ran over the smooth stone of the step.
The pale face twisted into a glare. "I'm not really sure, not a lot of calendars available. A while, and you think I haven't tried? You really are a dobe."
Naruto paled at the notion of being here alone for any amount of time before he ground his teeth in indignation. "My name is Naruto Uzumaki, bastard. Stop calling me dobe!"
"Sasuke Uchiha. Stop acting like one." His tone was bored and dismissive and Sasuke turned and looked at the passersby on the street.
Naruto swallowed down several descriptive insults and counted to ten… twice.
"Look, since you've been here so long, asshole, do you know what's going on?"
Sasuke nodded his head curtly and Naruto felt the corners of his mouth lift slightly. "You know, when you do that, your head looks like a duck's ass."
Naruto laughed when Sasuke's hands fisted at his sides and his head turned slowly so that Naruto could see that his glare had reached ominous proportions. "Okay, you have heard that before…" Naruto's voice trailed off and his smile slipped slightly when he was nudged aside by a woman with her eyes locked on the entrance. He shifted over saying 'excuse me' and looked back at Sasuke.
"It's pointless to talk to them. They can't see you or hear you," Sasuke sighed and then pointed to a bored-looking man walking on the sidewalk at the bottom of the steps. "See that man?" Naruto nodded and then jumped when Sasuke yelled, "Hey, dumbass! Your hair looks like a fucking pineapple."
The gentleman slowed and his head tilted like he thought he heard something but then he just kept walking, his hands shoved deep into his pockets.
Naruto stared for a moment. "So that guy didn't hear you… it doesn't mean that no one…"
Sasuke smirked. He stood and turned once more to the street. "Get down! He has a gun! This dumbass has a gun!"
No one on the steps or the street even turned in their direction. Naruto felt his heart speed up and his hands start to shake.
Sasuke sat down once more, his shoulders slumped, and looked at the shell-shocked blond. "Have you figured it out yet, dobe?"
Naruto opened his mouth and then it snapped shut when flashes of a memory filled his mind. The sound of brakes locking and smell of burning rubber assaulted his senses, followed by the horrible sound of crushing metal and broken glass. "Am I… I'm dead."
Sasuke shook his head and although a sneer came to his face, his eyes were just as sad and lost as Naruto's. "No, she is dead." He lifted his head in the direction of a pink-haired girl who Naruto thought was close to his own age. A smile graced her heart-shaped face and she moved right past the two men as though they weren't there. "And she will enter those doors, take her final meal, and stand in line to be judged."
Naruto's mind raced and he swallowed before saying, "So, I am alive."
"No, he's alive." Sasuke pointed once more to the pineapple-headed young man who leaned against the bus stop, his tie loose around his neck. "He's heading off to work or his family where he will love his wife and kick his cat. He'll eat, watch TV, hate the things he has, and wish for the things he doesn't. All the things humans do."
"So, then…" Naruto whispered but the words froze with the breath in his throat when Sasuke's deep black eyes met his own. They were hard, angry, scared, hopeless…
"You… we… are undefined. Not alive and yet, not dead. And until you, I thought I was the only one." A pale hand moved up and ran through the dark black locks on Sasuke's head before he turned once more to the street.
Naruto bent down, thrusting his head between his knees and took several deep breaths while his fingers dug painfully into his knees. "How can we not be alive and not be dead? There is no middle ground, bastard," he said unsurprised when the panic gripping painfully at his heart colored his words, making them rushed and breathy. "Are we in comas then?"
"Hn." Sasuke shrugged and at the same time shook his head. "We shouldn't be the only ones. People fall into comas every day."
Naruto forced himself to calm down and make sense of what was happening. Take control somehow. "Okay, so, what does that leave us?" They sat in silence for a moment watching the cars and the people. Naruto sighed and rubbed his face with his hands before leaning back to mimic Sasuke's pose, his elbows on the stair behind him. He considered all the examples he had heard of… or rather, seen in movies. "Alright, how do you feel about unfinished business?"
Sasuke turned and his expression softened, not to anything nice, but not harsh either. Naruto watched as the man considered his words. "Hn." The tone was bored but Naruto knew from how Sasuke's eyes darkened slightly that he had considered it. Something in the back of Naruto's mind needled at him, demanding to know how he was able to read this man, this stranger.
"What does it matter? We can't leave and fix it."
Naruto nodded, his thought forgotten. "True, but maybe it is simply about recognizing the business and letting it go. So, what didn't you get done?"
Sasuke turned away from him and looked out at the street. Naruto followed his example and was surprised when he realized how relaxed he felt. He decided that the feeling came from finally being able to do something about his situation. He turned when a movement caught his eye and he saw Sasuke's long fingers drumming on the stairs. Suddenly Naruto was stricken with just how handsome Sasuke was. Naruto looked at his profile against a brilliant blue sky. His pale skin and ink black hair contrasted beautifully while his tall frame filled out his suit perfectly. And then pale lips opened to speak and the rich tone of Sasuke's voice fell over him like a fog. Naruto's breathing increased and he shook his head, fighting off a feeling of déjà vu and the beginning stirrings low in his stomach that brushed his faintly scarred cheeks a soft pink.
"Dobe," the irritation in the tone cut through the fog, "What the hell is the matter now?"
Naruto blinked wide and dangerously serious eyes as he stared at the dark-haired man and asked, "Sasuke, have I met you before?"
Sasuke's shoulders tensed at the look and he stared, thin-lipped, in silence for a moment before shaking his head and answering the question just above a whisper. "No, Naruto, I'm sure I would have remembered… you."
The blush deepened and Naruto chuckled, bringing his hand to rub the back of his head and the tension broke.
"So, we were talking about unfinished business," Naruto began and Sasuke shook his head.
"Yes and I answered the question while you were mentally catatonic."
Naruto's cheeks burned. Stupid blush. "Right, well, obviously I was distracted by…" One sinfully black eyebrow rose over a sharp midnight gaze and pale lips threatened to tip up silently saying Sasuke was well aware of the 'distraction'. "… The situation, you bastard! So, answer it again."
"Hn," was the stoic response and just when Naruto thought jumping the man and killing him was justifiable, regardless of how wrong it seemed to kill someone outside the 'final judgment', Sasuke spoke. "The only thing I didn't finish was a report my brother asked for." He shrugged. "And my car is overdue for an oil change."
Naruto's face split into a smile and he chuckled. "That's it? No burning urges to skydive or declarations of love." Something in Naruto's chest tightened at the thought and he rubbed at it absently. "Just an unfinished report and car maintenance?"
Sasuke glared and then nodded slightly in Naruto's direction. "What did you leave unfinished and if it has anything at all, whatsoever, to do with your virginity, dobe, I don't car… want to hear it."
The blue eyes cooled but Naruto laughed, "Trust me, bastard. That's a non-issue." He looked away before Sasuke's glare could eviscerate him. "I don't know, I didn't get around to helping Iruka paint the house and I never finished reading the last Harry Potter."
"Idiot, I would imagine those who judge couldn't care less about that. Harry wins. There. Run along and eat." Sasuke's face was the picture of disdain and his tone cool and dismissive but Naruto smiled because those black eyes… He could drown in them, he knew it, and to have this man's attention. He nearly considered jumping up and seeing if the food would change because his whole life he had wanted people's attention and here he had Sasuke's attention without having to smile or laugh or joke. Sasuke noticed Naruto. That was all. Just Naruto.
Naruto blinked when Sasuke's face twisted into something that obviously, although silently, said, 'You're doing it again, dumbass.' The blond chuckled nervously. "Okay, unfinished business just seems silly and like you said, it's not like either of us can leave and finish anything."
Once again they turned toward the street. Sasuke's long fingers continued to play some unheard melody on the stone steps and Naruto worried his bottom lip with his teeth. "What about the people we will leave behind? Is there anyone you are fighting against leaving?" Naruto asked after awhile. The dark-haired man stiffened beside him. "Sasuke?"
Naruto nodded and a soft smile came to his face. "He is important to you?"
"He is all I have." Sasuke's fingers curled into fists on the steps but the rest of his body language gave little indication that the conversation was affecting him in any way.
"I didn't have any siblings or parents," Naruto said and felt Sasuke's eyes shift to him but he didn't look away from the street. "I will miss Iruka and Kakashi and I'll miss the kids."
Naruto thought he heard Sasuke inhale sharply but when he turned and met Sasuke's eyes it looked as though he hadn't moved at all. Sasuke watched him blankly. "You have children?"
"I work at an orphanage, bastard," Naruto chuckled and if Sasuke was trying to hide how his shoulders relaxed, he failed. "So, no wife and kids for you then, Uchiha?"
Sasuke smirked but didn't look at Naruto. "No, and a wife wouldn't have done it for me."
"Ah, I see," Naruto drew out slowly, "Yeah, it wouldn't have done it for me either." Immediately his hand came up and rubbed at the back of his head while he looked for Sasuke's reaction out of the corner of his eyes. How was it possible to feel so relieved and at the same time exponentially nervous? When silence followed, Naruto cleared his throat and asked a question he was dying to know and yet couldn't fathom why it was so important. "Have you ever loved someone?"
Sasuke turned his head in the opposite direction and looked out at the darkening sky. Silence surrounded them again and Naruto sighed, remembering that Sasuke always had been a thinker, analyzing every sentence, never saying more than what absolutely needed to be said.
Naruto's eyes widened and his mouth became unbearably dry. He did! He did know Sasuke and then he watched with horror as Sasuke's mouth opened and the memories faded, blown away while Naruto mentally clawed at them, only to watch them slip through his fingers.
"Beyond my brother, no."
Naruto blinked away the confusion inside his mind and nodded slowly. "Me neither. I always wanted to. Kakashi and Iruka were so damn happy. I was happy for them but," Naruto looked at his own hands and watched them open and close before continuing, "I was so damn pissed off. Iruka used to flippantly say that finding Kakashi was like… coming home."
Sasuke smirked and arched a single condescending eyebrow. Naruto couldn't stop the blush. "I know, I know… he watched a lot of girly stuff but the fact is I never found anyone who made me feel anything besides basic attraction. I never met anyone who I imagined I'd be with forever." Naruto sighed and when he spoke again his voice was full of quiet pain and frustration. "Every relationship I ever had, and I'm not just talking about sex, I always had to work hard at… forcing the feeling, you know?" Naruto stopped talking but refused to look at Sasuke because for once, he wasn't forcing anything.
"Hn." More silence and then Sasuke sighed as well. "I felt…" Sasuke's deep voice hitched and he shook his head. He started again, his voice steady and strong. "My brother's boyfriend thinks I'm asexual."
Naruto chuckled and leaned forward until his elbows rested on his knees. With his face in his hands, he turned and looked at Sasuke, blue eyes sparkling. "Are you?"
Sasuke growled. "Are you asking if I've had sex, dobe?"
The cocky grin split Naruto's face. "Why, yes, bastard. I suppose I am. You don't look like someone who would lose control."
"I didn't, moron," Sasuke sneered and then his beautiful eyes all but shown with malicious glee. "I made others."
Sasuke continued to stare at Naruto with his bottomless eyes and Naruto's nails dug painfully into his palms. Something stirred deep inside him, twisting and trying to claw its way up his chest and Naruto realized it was jealously… black and intense.
Sasuke shrugged but never took his eyes off Naruto. "The truth will set you free."
Naruto huffed and the alien feeling receded. "Apparently not in our current situation." Sasuke's fingers once more tapped against the stone and Naruto cleared his throat. "Do you think that there is someone for everyone?"
Sasuke continued to look out into the street and so Naruto pressed on. "Is there one person you are destined to be with and when you find them things start to make sense, maybe it's not so hard?"
"Like a soul mate?" Sasuke said flatly.
"Yeah, I guess," Naruto said softly and leaned back against the stair behind him.
Sasuke ran a hand over his face and then answered his voice curt and cold, "I actually never considered it. Who needs someone else? I was more than capable of getting everything I wanted or needed for myself."
Naruto nodded and refused to look at Sasuke. He whispered, "And you never felt lonely?"
Sasuke's hands curled into fists and Naruto heard him take a deep breath. "Fuck," Sasuke swore and then turned and looked at Naruto. "I did but I have been for so long. I'm not sure I could," Sasuke hesitated a moment, "I don't think I would like having someone who was that important to me. I don't know what I would do if I lost them."
Naruto sat up and leaned toward Sasuke. "But wouldn't it be worth it? To feel, even for a moment, that you… belonged?" The last word was hardly a whisper but Naruto's throat burned as though he had screamed it into the dying sun.
Sasuke sighed and Naruto leaned back where he was, suddenly cold in the shade of the stone building behind him. "It doesn't really matter now, dobe."
"Yeah, I guess so but what if," Naruto began but Sasuke cut him off.
"Not everyone is happy, Naruto. Not everyone is living their 'complete' life with their perfect person when they die." Sasuke ran his fingers through his hair and glared at Naruto, agitation visible in his eyes. "Having a soul mate or not has nothing to do with 'this'." Sasuke finished and looked pointedly at the masses of people moving up the stairs.
"But, Sasuke," Naruto said and once more something flickered in his mind as his tongue rolled over the syllables of Sasuke's name before blinking out. "What if it's not about living with your soul mate as much as having met them?" Naruto worried his bottom lip, staring into the street and missing how Sasuke's eyes widened briefly and his hand reached out before he shook his head and gripped the cold stone step, confusion swirling in his eyes. "Obviously we can't always fall in love with that person. Sometimes maybe the time isn't right but the idea is you have met them and for a moment, just for a brief time, things were… easy. Maybe it's the stranger that pulls you from a fire or a tutor in school who helps you understand in a way you never did or ever will again. Maybe it's the guy behind you in the grocery line who offers you a smile and the extra three dollars you need. Fuck, maybe it's the policeman who let you off with a warning. They touched you and you touched them and then you wait for the next life… maybe you get your happily ever after then."
Sasuke's face darkened and he shook his head before sneering, "None of that nonsense matters… even if it is true. It doesn't help this. It doesn't help us!"
Naruto nodded and rubbed the back of his head. His heart beat wildly in his chest, like he was alone in the dark and knew something was behind him, waiting. Like something was coming. "This is just stupid. Look, whether it was unfinished business, reluctance to move on or absent soul mates, there has to be a way out of here. Maybe if we both start asking?" Naruto stood, brushing off his pants and then held his hand out to Sasuke.
The dark haired man shrugged and made no move to get up. "Hn. Dobe…" But Naruto heard all the unspoken fear, anger, hopelessness, and mocking in just those two words and smiled.
"I know," he agreed softly and smiled brighter when Sasuke looked up, surprise making his black eyes shine. "But, now you have me. Imagine what we could do together."
Sasuke stared into Naruto's blue eyes for what felt like forever to both men. He lifted his hand and their fingers touched and with a surprised inhale of breath, their eyes slid shut.
Orange, yellow, and red leaves floated to the ground around them as Sasuke and Naruto walked down the sidewalk, coats buttoned to their chins and scarves wound snuggly around their necks. Sasuke held Naruto's hand tightly in his own and his thumb rubbed warm circles onto the smooth skin. Naruto smiled up at him, his face alight with happiness and humor and Sasuke felt something bubble up inside his chest, warming his insides and wrapping around his heart.
For the first time in his life he let the laughter out and it was beautiful, crisp and clear as the sky.
Sasuke was holding Naruto's hand again, but this time he moved them through his penthouse and into his bedroom. As soon as they had crossed the threshold Naruto moved behind him and pushed his warm hands under Sasuke's shirt and over the indentations of his spine and strong muscles of his back. Soon the shirt was over his head and just as Naruto leaned in to taste the warm skin exposed, Sasuke turned and gathered Naruto to him, pressing his need into Naruto's and nearly cooing at the delicious mewl that escaped Naruto's mouth.
Instead, he dipped his head and kissed Naruto. Just kissed him, the simple pressing of lips together but something inside sweetly died and gloriously revived and died again, over and over, and Sasuke knew, in his soul, that this was how it would always be.
He licked at the plump lower lip and then growled when he felt Naruto's hand thread into the hair at the back of his neck and yank him closer, deepening the kiss by nipping at Sasuke's lips and dipping his tongue inside. Sasuke used his hands, still on Naruto's hips to pull the man forward even more until Naruto hissed with surprise at the increased friction and then he took control of the kiss, running his tongue over Naruto's. Now both of Naruto's hands found their way into his hair and the room filled with the noises of their moans, whimpers, and sighs while Sasuke thrust his tongue in and out of his dobe's mouth and rocked his hips nearly mercilessly into Naruto's.
They sat in Itachi's favorite restaurant, in Itachi's favorite corner, at Itachi's favorite table. The white table cloth was pressed and pristine. The deep blues and reds and dark wood around the room created a sophisticated atmosphere while music drifted over them from a string quartet near the center of the restaurant. The food was exquisite and the wine even better… older than all of them, maybe combined.
Naruto had been so nervous earlier that evening. He knew Itachi's place in Sasuke's life and vice versa and asked a billion questions about how to speak to him and what he should say and not say and, dear god, was he a prick like Sasuke because there was only so much he could…
Well, it had all been for naught because here they sat, Itachi and Kisame on one side of the table and Sasuke and Naruto on the other. Kisame held his fingers in front of him like a goal post while Naruto lined up his shot and lobbed the triangular crab puff across the table.
"And it's goooooood!" Naruto yelled with his arms straight up in the air. The people at the surrounding tables didn't even bother to hide their stares of disbelief. Sasuke reached out and calmly moved Naruto's wine glass away from the idiot and his 'victory dance'. Kisame growled darkly and grabbed for his own appetizer.
"My turn, blondie." Naruto huffed but still positioned his fingers all the while talking smack to the tall, dark, and normally imposing figure that was Itachi's boyfriend.
"Little brother," Itachi said calmly and then he took a sip from his glass. Sasuke looked at his brother and smirked into his own glass before he sat the glass down. He leaned his elbows against the table, folding his hands before he rested his chin against them. He held Itachi's searching gaze for a moment more before looking at Naruto sideways. Sasuke turned back to his brother and then… he smiled.
Itachi's eyes widened for half a second before returning to their normal cool look of appraisal and he sat his own glass down slowly. He ran a single finger up and down the stem of the glass and Sasuke worked desperately to hold the dark stare but his dobe was laughing and smiling beside him.
Finally, he looked at Naruto and it felt like a cool breeze soothing his mind. As if called by his look, Naruto turned and smiled before a crab puff bounced off his scarred cheek. With Naruto's attention diverted back to the chuckling man across the table Sasuke looked once more to his brother.
Itachi nodded slowly in approval and the corners of his mouth tipped up as Naruto threatened all manner of unpleasant circumstances on his smirking boyfriend.
"So, gentlemen," Itachi interrupted in his cool, velvety voice, "tell me… who's winning?"
Sasuke pushed the soft cotton of Naruto's shirt up and over his head before running his fingers down the even softer golden skin now exposed. He leaned forward, his own bare chest sliding smoothly over Naruto's until his mouth found and claimed the sensitive skin on Naruto's neck. Naruto's breaths came out in breathy sighs, wanton moans, and frustrated growls at Sasuke's torturous teasing.
He bit down hard enough that Naruto's eyes shot open, his hips bucking up at the flash of pain and then his eyes slid closed, pleasure eclipsing pain, and Naruto moaned low, his voice like spun silk, "Sasuke, oh god, Sasuke…"
Sasuke stop moving and with his head still tucked in between Naruto's shoulder and neck he simply breathed. He felt the warmth from Naruto's slightly bruised skin and the angel soft touch of Naruto's hair against his cheek. He listened to the sound of Naruto's gentle pulls of air and closed his eyes, focusing on the sound of his own heart, not surprised in the least that it was speeding like his dobe's breaths in his ears.
"Sasuke?" Naruto said and Sasuke leaned back up and looked down into the blond's face. Blue eyes swirled like a gathering storm, emotions crackling and sparking in their depths. Sasuke moved back until he was sitting on the bed and pulled Naruto up with him. He cupped either side of Naruto's face and touched their foreheads together.
"Naruto, I…" Sasuke began but words and emotions tumbled inside his heart and mind, screaming to be free but unable to escape and Sasuke felt tears prickle at the back of his eyes.
And then Naruto smiled and he placed his own hands over Sasuke's on his cheeks and said, "I know."
Naruto stood in front of the double doors while Iruka untied and retied the red silk tie around Naruto's neck.
"I really think the tie is fine," he began and stopped to glare when Kakashi chuckled from his position across the hall. The silver-haired man stood up straight and pocketed the orange book.
"It's fine, Naruto, when Iruka says it's fine."
Iruka stepped back. "It's fine."
"Thank god," Naruto said and nervously wiped his palms on his pants. He looked up and smiled at Iruka and Kakashi who returned the gesture and then Kakashi nodded toward the door.
Naruto's smile was cocky and contagious and ridiculously happy. "Hell yes."
The doors opened and Naruto looked down the aisle to see Sasuke standing at the bottom of three shallow stairs with Itachi at his side. In the back of his mind he registered that the room was filled with his and Sasuke's friends but he couldn't bring himself to notice or care. He smiled again as he took a step forward and then laughed out loud when he saw Itachi reach up and grab Sasuke's shoulder to stop the man from coming down the aisle toward him.
Sasuke just smirked, his eyes never leaving Naruto, and shrugged his brother off before meeting his blond dobe halfway.
Naruto's back arched, moving Sasuke's body up even as he gripped Naruto's hips and thrust down. A droplet of sweat caught on the short hairs feathering against the blond man's temple and Sasuke tried to focus on the innocent drop so that he wouldn't cum from the feeling of being inside Naruto. The feeling of being held so tight, burned so deep, and loved so fiercely was nearly his undoing.
"Move," Naruto commanded, his breathing coming in shallow pants and his hands gripping Sasuke's arms almost painfully.
"You're beautiful, Naruto. So fucking beautiful…" And Sasuke began to move, slow and steady, agonizingly aware of every single sensation that rocketed through his body while he complied to Naruto's request. Tan thighs wrapped around his waist, slick with sweat and trembling with need. They tightened and Sasuke found himself deeper, so much deeper and he shoved even further, tilting his hips and then nearly cried at the beautiful look of pleasure that crossed Naruto's features.
Sasuke sat in the hospital bed with his eyes closed. The sheets and blanket felt starched and stiff against his skin and his mouth twisted into a frown. A gentle noise drew his attention from the mediocre bedding.
He knew that his husband stood next to the window, framed in the mid-morning sun while he watched the snow fall to the ground but Sasuke couldn't bear to look. He liked the way his mind imagined his dobe over the way his traitorous eyes now saw him, a blur of golden skin and blond silk. Naruto's crystal blue eyes and blindingly beautiful smile were faded and not at all how Sasuke wanted, no… needed… to remember them.
"It's going to be okay, Sasuke," Naruto whispered and Sasuke started at how close he sounded. He felt a steady hand brush the hair from his forehead and the bed dip under Naruto's weight. Soon Naruto's warmth brushed against his side and a strong arm wrapped around his chest. He felt the weight of Naruto's head against his shoulder and his breath ghost against his neck.
Still refusing to open his eyes, Sasuke grit his teeth and pulled Naruto closer. "You don't know that. I could lose everything, even the fucking blur. I'd never see you again."
The blond sighed in his arms. "Or you could gain everything, bastard." Sasuke felt Naruto's fingers tilt his chin until he was facing him. Soft lips kissed each of his eyes and then pressed almost urgently against his lips. "I won't argue about this with you, Uchiha. We have been through every ounce of research, covered every contingency, and played every devil's advocate. This will work."
Sasuke nodded and opened his eyes. For a moment, his eyes focused perfectly on the only thing he couldn't imagine never seeing again, sparkling sapphire eyes wet with unshed tears and burning with determination and confidence.
The moment was ripped away at the sound of the door opening and when Sasuke looked up, the world was once more a mass of fuzzy and muted colors.
"They are ready for you, little brother."
Sasuke nearly cried at how carefully guarded his older brother's voice sounded but instead he nodded his head firmly and, holding Naruto tightly against his chest, he whispered, "I'll see you soon, dobe."
Naruto chuckled and slid from the bed, his fingers laced with Sasuke's and he squeezed. "Hell yes, you will, bastard."
Sasuke didn't know when he had stopped breathing and as he thrust over and over into Naruto's burning tight heat, he couldn't imagine why it was so important. Nothing was more important, more profound, more breathtaking than Naruto wrapped around him, every part of him, his body, his cock, his heart… his soul.
And then he was cumming, screaming Naruto's name into the dark room while wave after wave of pleasure built inside him, burning brighter and brighter, a fire stoked by the needy and glorious sounds falling from Naruto's parted lips. Then the white hot feeling burst outward and washed them both out to sea as they clung to each other like a lifeline, blissfully and willingly unaware of anything else but this moment, this feeling, this person.
Once again he stood holding Naruto's hand and once again they were in the hospital, but this time he stood in front of the window of the hospital's nursery, knowing that their future lie bundled inside.
"There she is," Naruto whispered and Sasuke felt his dobe's hand tremble in his own and his thumb began rubbing calming circles on the back of Naruto's hand. "Oh god… do you see her, Sasuke?"
Sasuke smiled and leaned over to kiss Naruto's crown, resting against his shoulder before looking into the nursery at a baby girl, bundled in a soft pink blanket, wisps of red hair escaping her striped cap. His heart clenched painfully inside his chest and he looked away, blinking back the ridiculous moisture behind his eyes. They had waited so long, suffering set back after set back and finally, finally they would be taking home this precious little girl… their daughter.
"Yes, Naruto," Sasuke whispered, "I see her and she is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen."
Sasuke wrapped himself around Naruto even as the blond purred and nuzzled closer, pulling the thick down comforter over their sedate bodies. Sleep tingled at Sasuke's senses and he smiled into the darkness when he felt Naruto's lips against the skin over his heart.
"Naruto," he whispered into golden hair, "I lo..."
Naruto blinked and looked around to see he was back on the stone steps of the courthouse, Sasuke's hand held tightly in his own. He looked down and was caught in Sasuke's sharp, midnight gaze. Sasuke's fingers squeezed his own and the dark-haired man rose gracefully until they stood nearly chest to chest, their hands held tightly at their side. With his free hand, Sasuke brushed away blond strands of hair from Naruto's cheeks.
"We missed each other this time, Naruto." Sasuke smiled sadly and whispered, "I missed you."
Naruto nodded and threaded his free fingers through Sasuke's black hair. He pulled Sasuke down until their foreheads touched like one of a thousand moments they had missed this life and sighed. "We missed each other this time but we won't next time."
Sasuke closed his eyes and willed the promise onto his very soul. He pulled back and tilted his head toward the door. "Let's go eat, dobe."
Naruto smiled brilliantly and with their fingers entwined and Sasuke's thumb rubbing circles into his hand, they made their way inside the building.
Itachi Uchiha watched his little brother like he had for the last three months. He watched him sleep in his hospital room, his face gray and his hair limp against the starched whiteness of his pillow. Tubes and wires covered his body and machines beeped constantly, the green, blue, and red lines and buttons glowing in the dim room.
The aneurysm had caused his little brother's brain to bleed and although the emergency exploratory surgery had stopped the hemorrhage and relieved the pressure, Sasuke had yet to wake up.
The dimness of the room was chased away when the door cracked open and light flooded across the floor. Itachi turned black eyes to the tall figure in the doorway as he stepped inside. "Itachi," the deep voice began and Itachi felt the rich voice resonate deep inside his chest. "We need to leave now." The 'I'm sorry' hung in the air, unspoken.
Itachi shifted his gaze back to his sleeping brother and sighed. The door slipped closed and the dimness swallowed the room again as Kisame moved silently toward his chair. A heavy hand fell on his shoulder and his eyes slipped closed when he felt Kisame's finger slide up and down the side of his neck. "How is he today?"
Itachi opened his mouth to respond when a gentle sigh pulled their attention. He stood from his seat beside the bed and walked to Sasuke's side. In the single light of the room, Itachi watched his brother's face relax and a smile pull at his chapped lips.
"Naruto…" Sasuke whispered and Itachi had never heard his brother's voice filled with such wonder, such need, such contentment… such love.
Itachi gathered Sasuke's hand into his own while the machines blared to life.
"Goodbye, little brother."
Laughter echoed throughout the cafeteria and one of the cooks turned toward the sound and saw two men sitting together in a C-shaped booth. The blond-haired man's laugh rang like a crystal bell and the cook's eyes widened when he noticed that he wasn't the only one drawn to the sound. For a moment, every set of eyes in the room landed on the blond and his dark-haired companion, but neither man had eyes for anyone else.
In fact, as the dark-haired man wrapped his hand gently behind the blond's neck and played with the golden hairs at his nape, the cook realized that to these two men, no one else existed, no one else belonged in their world.
On the table, the perfect bowl of Miso ramen and the juiciest tomato anyone had ever seen went completely untouched.
A nurse in teal scrubs hurried past, perhaps for the thirteenth time, while the silver-haired man held his lover close and waited for news. The double doors into the OR beeped and swung open slowly and a doctor emerged, looking around the room until his eyes fell on the anxious couple. Breaking eye contact, the doctor pulled his surgeon's cap from his balding head and shoved it into the pocket of his lab coat. He came to a stop in front of them and met their gazes once more with brown and somber eyes.
"Mr. Hatake, Mr. Umino, I am sorry. Mr. Uzumaki's condition upon arrival was severe. The internal injuries were too numerous for us to locate and mend. He didn't make it through surgery."
Iruka's knees nearly gave out and Kakashi's face paled as devastation clouded his eyes. Iruka pressed his face into the taller man's chest and Kakashi wrapped his arms around the shocked man, burying his face into Iruka's chocolate-brown hair.
The doctor shifted and watched a tall black man and his black-haired partner exit the elevator and walk behind the grieving couple in front of him. He cleared his throat and said, "Before he died, Naruto smiled and said 'Sasuke'. I don't know if that's a comfort."
As the doctor walked away, Kakashi and Iruka processed the words and looked at each other in confusion, neither noticing as the two men froze behind them. Iruka turned in Kakashi's arms and tensed when a voice sounded behind them.
"I'm sorry, I know now isn't the best time but I couldn't help overhearing…"
Kakashi and Iruka turned and looked into two sets of eyes that were mirrors of their own, swirling with grief and confusion. The slightly shorter man with his impossibly black hair pulled back into a tie at his nape swallowed and continued in a slow and steady voice.
"You see, my brother, Sasuke, just passed away two floors up and his last word was 'Naruto'."
Naruto and Sasuke had just gotten into line when the man at the podium yelled 'next' and they suddenly found themselves at the front of the line. They watched as the large wooden doors opened slowly and a light so bright it should have blinded them fell upon them, but instead of squinting and flinching away, the two men walked calmly toward it.
Just as they crossed the threshold, Naruto pulled Sasuke to a stop by their still-threaded fingers. The dark-haired man looked down in confusion only to find himself yanked forward, Naruto's lips claiming his own, his warm tongue begging for entrance which Sasuke readily gave. Soon, pale fingers wound into golden locks and Naruto's hands ran up Sasuke's covered chest until his fingers gripped the ink black strands above Sasuke's shirt collar. Naruto turned his head to the side, breaking the kiss.
"I'll see you soon, bastard."
Sasuke gave a curt nod and pressed a chaste kiss to Naruto's reddened lips. "Hell yes, you will." He took Naruto's hand in his own and together they walked into the light as the heavy doors slid closed.
The words 'I love you' echoed throughout the courthouse, causing a thousand souls to pause before they moved on with their business.
Sometime in the future…
The black-haired toddler wiggled relentlessly in her arms as the young mother walked purposefully down the long hall, her heels tapping rhythmically against the marble floors. She heard the party noises float up from the ballroom and she sighed when the nursery came into sight.
Her husband was throwing an extravagant party for several of his business associates and her son had previously been napping and would now join the visiting children in the 'play' nursery.
"Mine, Mine, Mine…" the boy demanded in her arms and she smiled and kissed his chaotic mass of black hair.
"Soon, Sasuke, Mine is in the nursery. You'll get him as soon as we get there, now hold still for mommy." His black eyes glared at her suspiciously but boy settled in her arms.
Sasuke's favorite toy was a blond fox that he called 'Mine'. At first they just thought he was showing his possessive streak a little early but soon they realized that the little animal's name in Sasuke's eyes was actually 'Mine'. Now, that's not to say that Sasuke didn't show his possessiveness over the stuffed fox. On the contrary, she and Sasuke had been kicked out… well, asked politely and firmly… to leave several 'Mommy and Me' groups when her three-year-old son had reacted… aggressively… to some other child touching his 'Mine'.
She pushed open the doors to the nursery and to her horror, sitting right in the middle of the room was a blond-haired child of three rolling on the floor with a familiar stuffed fox, his giggles filling the room and his wet kisses gumming the soft fur of Sasuke's 'Mine'.
She looked slowly at her son to gauge his reaction and saw that his little eyes were wide and his mouth hung open and then his struggles against her hold resumed in force and he screamed, "Mine! Mine! MINE!!!" Finally, unable to hold him, she sat him to the floor with every intention of holding his arm. Unfortunately as soon as his feet touched the floor, he shook her off and sprinted as fast as his short legs would carry him to the little boy whose bright blue eyes were drawn from the fox in all of the commotion.
She watched, totally frozen, and waited for the inevitable while frantically inventing excuses in her mind for why her husband's new partner's son was a screaming and perhaps bleeding mess.
Sasuke reached the small blond and stopped before yelling firmly once more, "MINE!" and then ripped the blond fox from the boy's hands and threw it uncaringly across the room. Before his mother could comprehend his next move, Sasuke fell to his knees and threw his arms around the smiling blond toddler and said again and again, "Mine, mine, mine…"
The chibi blond smiled brightly, his little white teeth shining and he hugged the black-haired toddler back.