Thicker Than Blood

~Chapter Ten – The Guilt and the Guillotine~

And that was how Naruto died.

I'd asked the nurses to let me see him, just once, before they pulled the plug, but they wouldn't allow it. Their high-and-mighty doctor with his PhD, suburban family and perfectly-cut-green-grass lawn said it would cause more problems than it would solve. I never got to say goodbye, and they cut the life support later that day.

I never got the chance to say goodbye.

If I hadn't been so overrun with the suddenness of it, I probably would have done something—something more expected, like thrown a tantrum, or demanded to see him, or waited until no one was looking and go searching for his hospital room. But I never did anything like that. I just sat there, in my bed, face stoic and muscles tense, staring through an open window, white curtains billowing in the soft breeze.

I never got to apologize.

Two days, they said, till the funeral. I saw Jiraiya once when the nurses left my door slightly open, and never—in all the years I'd known him—had the man looked so old. For the first time, he actually looked almost sixty, instead of his early forties. But I suppose grief has the power to do that to people. After my mother died, I was constantly being mistaken for someone Itachi's age, though I had never felt more like a child.

Jiraiya had briefly glanced through the slightly ajar door and caught eyes with me. His eyes glazed over, the muscles in his face grew tight and it seemed that for a complete second he stopped paying attention to the nurse altogether. We stared at each other, exchanging silent profanities, until at last we came to an agreement (we both wish it had been me instead) and he looked away, silently following the nurse down the hallway and out of view.

When Itachi came, he brought food and sometimes magazines he thought I would like, and when I refused to even glance at them he would sit next to the bed and leaf through them, reading aloud particular articles he thought would interest me. I pretended like I was annoyed by his presence and his kindness, but the truth was his visits were the only thing keeping me "alive" in this hospital; I would gladly have become a vegetable like Naruto, and let my mind follow him far beyond all existence.

"You get to come home tomorrow," Itachi said, eyes glued to a magazine's page. For a moment I worried that he would ask if I was excited; I knew I wouldn't be able to calmly reply to a question like that. Itachi seemed to know this, so he didn't say anything more even when I blatantly refused to reply to him.

"I'm going to fail this year," I said, not really caring about anything at this point—especially my grades at school—but I felt like I owed Itachi something, a conversation at least. There wasn't much of anything else I could give him.

"No you won't," he smiled, that charming, gentle smile, "I'll help you catch up. I've been keeping in touch with your school—your counsellor cares about you a lot, you know that?—and they've been sending home all the work you've been missing. When you feel better, we'll go over it together, okay?" he smiled again.

When you feel better. As if he really believed I ever would.

Maybe he was just trying to be optimistic and supportive, I don't know. But I hated the certainty in his voice. It wasn't fair. How could someone, anyone, in this whole damn Earth be so assured of anything when I couldn't be sure of even one damn thing? I had no absolutes, even my suicidal desires were flimsy.

Dad came by later to pick Itachi up and bring a change of clothes, and I noticed that he—for once, somehow—didn't smell like alcohol and cigarette smoke. That was a good thing, wasn't it? But I didn't like it, it was one more thing to get used to—one more change to deal with.

When the two of them left I slowly drifted off into a light sleep; something the hospital here had recently gifted me with. The tight feeling in my chest never went away. I dreamt of Naruto's grinning face, slowly changing into a confused look—then, the hit—the expression leaving—life bleeding out—dead eyes. Darkness.

I jolted awake in my bed, cold sweat covered my body, my hands trembled. I brought my knees to my chest and sobbed, as quietly as I could muster; I didn't want the nurses barging in here, questioning me.

I didn't get the chance to thank him.

When I came home, it wasn't much different from being at the hospital, except that the rooms were familiar and the bed was more comfortable. Also, the ability to fall into that nightmare-infested half-sleep disappeared damn near instantly. Itachi still waited on me, bringing me meals and things to do. He tried to convince me to start my schoolwork, but I wouldn't have it. With Naruto's funeral the next day, school was one more thing I had to deal with and had no energy for.

Jiraiya had chosen cremation. I was silently grateful; it was better that way, suited Naruto more. The ashes could be spread in some of his favourite places, scattered by the wind. Jiraiya could keep some with him and hold them sacred, and the rest, like Naruto, could be taken any and everywhere. It was an end he would've approved of.

I didn't ask Jiraiya for some ashes. Sakura didn't either, but I have a feeling he would have given her some—Naruto spoke about Sakura like she was the sun and moon to him. I think even Jiraiya could tell that he loved her fiercely.

At the funeral, most of the entire school showed up—which made me feel worse than it should have. I should have been happy, proud even, that Naruto was so beloved by the people around him, but I couldn't help it. Everyone stared at me. They knew. They all knew Naruto had fought and died for me (there were rumors going around, that I had been the one to hit him with a brick; that it was he and I who were fighting each other) and their stares ranged from cold and hateful to worried and confused and astonished. I could tell some people were angry to see me there, but fuck them, Naruto was my best friend and I was the last one to see him truly alive. Being here was my right.

That self-confidence didn't last long. It was my pride talking more than anything.

Jiraiya never, not once through the whole ceremony, spared me even a glance. I was grateful more than I was hurt. Sakura tried to make conversation, but it was awkward and painful for both of us and she gave up, not knowing quite how she felt about standing next to the person who got one of her best friends killed. Nevertheless, she sat next to me the whole time as people went up to speak about the blonde they knew and loved and missed. By the end of it, everyone was in tears, make-up and snot running down their faces.

I refused to cry in front of them, but I knew that later, alone with all my walls torn down, I would cry until the fluid was drained from my body and I died of dehydration. That was wishful thinking more than anything.

After Iruka had given his eulogy (his made everyone cry the hardest) he walked down the aisle amidst the rows of chairs and stopped next to mine, trying to force a friendly smile onto his red, wet face.

"Do you want to go up there and say something, Sasuke?" he asked quietly, like he was stepping on eggshells.

I thought about it for a moment—really thought about it. How would all these hateful people feel if I went up there, face bone-dry and voice steady, and boldly admitted that I was the reason they would never see him again? I pictured their tormented faces; Kiba standing up and shouting for me to get out of here, Sakura sobbing into her hands. I wouldn't even bother to make eye contact—I'd just keep talking, low and steady, "It was me, it was my fault. He was an idiot, but a good idiot, and now he's dead and you have me to thank. So go ahead. Thank me."

Oh, how good it would feel, to have someone like Kiba run onto the stage and punch me square in the face, cursing me out, the audience's mournful, enraged screaming in the background. It would be so liberating, so nice to finally feel like I had paid for it, that I didn't have to carry this guilt around anymore, that I could forgive myself.

But I was a coward and I told Iruka no, I don't want to go up there. I would rather sit in my seat and hold back tears, imagining myself being physically beaten to counteract the self-loathing, dreaming of freedom and relief.

It was a couple days after the funeral when I had made a decision.

I wanted those thugs to pay for what they had done.

That didn't mean I stopped blaming myself. I wanted to pay as well. But first, I had to get even with them—with the man who delivered the near-fatal blow. I wanted to reach down inside him and slowly rip out everything I could touch, show it to him, make him watch as I incinerated it.

I didn't know where to find them, but I had a clue. They'd mentioned Orochimaru, hadn't they? They said they didn't like me hanging around, being his favourite. They wanted me out of the picture. If they knew him, he most likely knew them twice as well—he was creepy like that.

I stepped off the bus and began the over half-an-hour walk through the slums to the shithole that was Sound. Itachi had no idea I was here—he'd been gone to the store, I asked him to pick up some painkillers for me. He would be livid when he returned and found me missing, but that didn't matter at the moment. All I cared about was finding those thugs. The switchblade in my pocket soothed the rising anxiety in my chest.

The bouncer let me in without need for the password. Every one of the goons hired to guard the door knew me by now well enough to trust me, afraid of what Orochimaru might do to them if they turn me away and rob him of a nice fuck.

When I brazenly stepped into his little office, he didn't even bother looking up from the documents spread across his desk. I shut the door with a little more force than necessary and walked with heavy feet towards where he sat, obviously ignoring me. I stood in front him, peeved that he refused to acknowledge me, and when his hand reached for the little cup of pens I knocked it off the desk and it smacked against the wall, spraying pens everywhere.

He blinked once with annoyance and finally raised his eyes to meet mine, lips thin with displeasure. "Sasuke-kun," he greeted, opening a drawer to pull out an extra pen. "What can I do for you?"

I glared in response and leaned further over the edge of the desk. "Cut the shit, Orochimaru." I hissed, resisting the urge to snatch those documents up and shred them with my bare hands. "You know goddamn well why I'm here."

"It's about your little friend, yes?" he asked, tapping the pen against a piece of scrap paper to make the ink flow. "The blonde one?"

"I want to know who." I said, straightening my back, just a little. "I know you know."

"And what do you intend to do if I tell you, hm?" he replied, his voice dipped in a mocking tone, his gaze raised a little to give me a teasing stare.

"I want revenge."

He guffawed aloud as if I had told him a great joke and then straightened himself in his seat, no longer interested in his paperwork. He stared me hard in the eyes and said, "Really, Sasuke-kun. I thought you were smarter than that. Leave it alone. Even if you had the bloodlust—which, believe me, you don't—you would never stand a chance in a fight with them by yourself."

I narrowed my eyes into a lethal glare, hands clenched into tight fists. "How do you know?"

He shrugged and picked up his pen again, absentmindedly twirling it in his fingers. "I saw the way you fought them before. If it wasn't for your little friend, you'd be dead. And even with the two of you working together, you lost." he met my gaze again. "You're much too weak."

My teeth grit together hard enough to make the muscles at the back of my neck twitch.

"You were watching?" I asked, incredulous, infuriated. "Why the fuck didn't you do something? You could have stopped them!" I shouted, slamming my hands against the desktop. His expression didn't change, it stayed the same mixture of amused and disdainful.

"Why would I? It's not my problem."

The next thing I knew, I had thrown my fist in his face, aiming right for that damn teasing smirk. He caught my wrist, stood up, and I swung the other, planting my foot on the edge of the desk to heave myself up, and with both our hands full and my body at higher level I thrust my leg forward and struck the heel of my foot into his chest.

He didn't make a sound as he staggered backwards a few feet, a hand resting where I had kicked him. I jumped down off the desk and stood in front of him, glaring up defiantly.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you right here."

He chuckled, low and unaffected by everything I said (I hate that the most about him) and straightened himself once more, wiping the wrinkles out of his shirt. "You say that like you believe you really could."

"I can," I hissed, glare darkening. "I'm armed, unpredictable and extremely pissed off. Nothing is going to stop me from getting my revenge."

"Wrong, Sasuke-kun," he said, taking a step towards me. I faltered. I wanted to step back. But I didn't. "You could have a loaded gun pointed at the man who killed your friend and you wouldn't pull the trigger. That's because, really, you fear that the thing you're shooting at is yourself. No man can kill another without the resolve to fire at his own reflection." and he smiled, that sick, falsely sweet smile. "You are much too weak for this path of vengeance."

"I am not!" I hollered, lunging at him again. He was ready this time. He grabbed my wrists and the back of my neck, swung me around and slammed me down on the desk, the corner digging into my stomach and knocking the wind out of me, leaving me struggling for breath. I groaned and pulled to free my wrists, but his grip tightened. He pinned me harder to the desk, leaning over the back of me.

"There is nothing you can do, boy." he said cruelly, knowing his words would strike all the right wounds. "You failed to protect your friend, and now you must live with the guilt. Hate yourself. That is your punishment for being weak."


"You can try and take your life, but you'll never be able to do it. You're a scared, weak little boy and that's why you have to suffer like this. This is nothing less than what you deserve."

"No, I'm not—"

"But you already know all this, don't you? That's the real reason why you came to me. You want to be punished."

"You're wrong—!"

"You want someone else to hurt you so you can be entitled to a bit of relief. But that's not how punishment works, Sasuke-kun. Why don't you ever learn? This is where your stubborn selfishness has brought you."

"Shut up… shut up!"

"And you know something else?" he grinned and lowered himself so that his mouth was right next to my ear, and he whispered, "Nothing I could do to you would ever be enough to erase what you've done."

You're a killer.

I didn't say anything back. I didn't have anything to say. What was left unsaid? Nothing, now that he had spilled my darkest thoughts all over the floor, and then repeatedly stepped on them.

I shivered in his hands, regretting that I ever left the house at all—no, I've been regretting everything all along, haven't I? Let's just add this mistake to my impossibly long list.

He began running his hands all over me and I trembled, not even enough strength left in me to bite my lip or clench my fists. There was no fight left. Orochimaru's words had imbedded themselves into my open wounds, released their poison, become infected… ill and dying. That's what it felt like. Not Naruto, sitting there in that hospital bed, too brain damaged to even feel pain. Not Naruto burnt to ashes and then scattered in the mud. Not Naruto, dead dead dead dead.

"What a pathetic thing you are," he said, unbuckling the belt around my waist. "If I didn't know better, I'd almost say you aren't worth all the trouble you bring, Sasuke-kun."

I pressed my face against the desk and closed my eyes. This was the first time he would… without any drugs. I couldn't quite remember what the sex felt like. Did it hurt? I think so. Did I hate it? I hope so.

He made a sound like he was pondering over something complicated, then I could hear the sounds of a drawer opening and paper rustling. A plastic bag crinkled and then something light hit the desk next to my head. I swivelled my neck to look at it; a small ziplock bag of white powder. Orochimaru let go of my wrists, keeping his hands near my hips as he continued undressing us both. "Take that," he said, "I don't want you crying all over my desk and ruining my paperwork."

He let me take the rest of the bag home.

I don't remember getting home, nor do I remember what Itachi said when he saw me high off my rocker and stumbling around like a drunk. I think I started crying when I saw him. But the memory is too foggy.

That night, I think I dreamt of Itachi… kissing me. And Itachi crying. And Itachi holding me against his chest and rocking, and caressing my shirtless chest. I told him I was scared, and that I hated myself.

In the dream he didn't know what to say. If only I could tell him all those things I said in real life.

Please… tell me I'm going to be okay.

After crying my heart out I clung to his shirt and begged him to forgive me. I wanted to be forgiven, by someone, for even one damn thing. I wanted the burden to lessen; the weight to shift, just a little bit. I wanted clemency I didn't deserve. Orochimaru was right; it was my selfishness that had gotten me into this mess in the first place, and now I was just being selfish all over again, my terrible pathetic weak self…

The dream carried on, with Itachi whispering soothing things into my hair, cuddling me. I didn't stop crying for hours, the high never went away—what did Orochimaru give me this time? It sure caused some fucked up dreams.

The most memorable part of the dream was when I sobbed and said, "I can't take it, Itachi. I hate myself so fucking much. I can't live like this. Nothing I do is right. Nothing I do can change what I've done, I can't make anything better."

His arms tightened around me. I sobbed. "I hate myself so much I can't even breathe…"

That's when he started rocking gently, waiting for me to continue, to say more. But I didn't. I had no more to confess.

He started stroking my hair and then he said, in a voice I'd never heard, "Please… please, Sasuke… don't hate yourself. Nothing that's happened has been your fault. Listen to me. Are you listening? You haven't done anything wrong."

He kissed my hair, tightened his arms.

"I love you. Do you hear me? I love you more than everything else in this world. I love all of who you are. So please, for me, don't hate yourself. Don't hate the person I love most."

I can't help it, I told him, I've ruined every good thing in my life. And there's no turning back, no way to rewrite my wrongs.

"The beautiful thing about life, Sasuke," he said quietly, "is that, no matter how badly we screw up today, it will always become yesterday, and tomorrow will always be a chance to atone."

"Not for him," I said shakily, through my tears. "There's no today or tomorrow or even yesterday for Naruto. There's nothing."

"Trust me," he whispered and planted a kiss on my forehead. "Naruto-kun isn't suffering. It's all right, Sasuke."

I snuggled closer into his chest and released a breathless sigh. He moved his hands to my cheeks, tilted my face upwards and looked me gently in the eyes. We were silent for a moment, then he said, "The only person who still has to forgive you… is you, Sasuke. You're the only one left."

Then he leaned in and kissed me on the lips, pulling me closer in his arms, his hands gently woven in my hair.

The next morning as I dumbly searched my fragmented memories of the night before, I remember bitterly saying to myself how much I wished it hadn't all been a dream.

Itachi wasn't home and I hadn't gone to school. I wasn't ready to face the other kids just yet.

As I sat on the couch with my knees drawn to my chest, there was a loud knock on the door. I wanted to ignore it, but it was persistent and I could already feel a migraine crawling up my spine. Begrudgingly I trudged over to the door and pulled it open, shocked to see Suigetsu standing on the other side with a big stupid grin on his face.

"Yo, Sasuke! It's been a while." I glared at him. He was the last person I wanted to see.

"What do you want?"

He pouted and reached into his back pocket, his face twisting into the same grin when he pulled out a little bag and held it in front of my face. I narrowed my eyes suspiciously and he laughed a little then handed me the bag. I hesitantly accepted it.

"What is it?"

He smirked. "The good stuff. You're almost out, right?"

I was shocked, and I'm sure he could see that written plainly on my face. How did he know that I'd still been consuming the drugs Orochimaru gave me days before? It unnerved me that he showed up with drugs just as I had been worrying about running out.

"What's in it for you?" I said suspiciously, nonetheless stuffing the bag into the big pocket of my hooded sweater.

He shrugged and turned to leave, stepping off the porch in large, stringy steps. "Wasn't my idea man, Orochimaru told me to deliver it."

He didn't turn around again when he added "see you at school—maybe" as a farewell and I'm glad—the last thing I wanted was for anyone to see my stupidly blank face and tear-filled eyes.

Author's Note: This chapter isn't even that long and yet it took forever to write! Where's the logic? As always guys, thanks for reading, favoriting, reviewing, and all that good stuff, your support means everything to me. :)