Title: i hold my breath until you creak to life

Series: Naruto (written July 2006)

Pairing: Naruto/Sasuke/Sakura (threesome, yay!)

Summary: And they all lived together in a crooked little house.

Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi. Much abuse of Sylvia Plath's poetry. Still not jiving with canon, sigh. Almost done here, I swear.

i hold my breath until you creak to life


"Come! Come! Let us wander now! The hour has come: let us wander into the night!"


above the appalling ruin; in bleak light

The house has been dead for many years, but it is night when the master wakes.

At night he is weightless, pith-light as he floats silently from bed, eyes sewn shut, arms loose, toes barely skimming the dusty surface of wood paneling. He journeys by candlelight around the bedroom, through the house, up and down the stairs, and should the front doors by some chance be unlocked then he will glide through them into the streets on a gust of south-easterly wind.

Konoha, for all the prickliness the inhabitants try to attribute to it by day, is sweet and gentle with the heartbroken indolence of the spinster girl next door when wallowed in night's puddle. No one bothers him, and even the snooping ANBU have better things to do than shadowing a lost cripple. It is said that when he came back, he brought something of the outside's darkness back with him. He returns to the house with the dripping shimmer of the streetlamps glistening on his hair.

By and by he will find his way up the winding stairs.

The tiny garret just below the roof is where he feels most at home these days. It is a room of many monologues. Mildew. Dust. Starved hoary bats faltering in mid-air like in a cave. Rows of uncovered canvas squares staring down at him under the flickering yellow of the naked bulb. It is a workshop.

Sasuke paints portraits of his numbered dead.



while you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit

By the time he woke up, it was all over.

The first thing he tried to do was feel out the flow of sinuous chakra that, under normal circumstances, would habitually coil and shift across his skin in figures of eight from the source burnt into his left shoulder blade.

When nothing happened, he slowly made the connection.

Context: A Konoha hospital room. He in aseptic blue-grey smock, hopelessly tangling the IV tubes as he clutches with one skeletal hand his shoulder while clawing at his burning eyes with the other.

Fact: Turned-coats are not readily taken back, not even when they try to U-turn their way back into favor with their tails between their legs. An enemy's enemies don't get kid-gloves. They get sealed away.

What do you do with a wounded viper? You snap off its fangs and toss it in a half-full jug of Zhong-guo baijiu to marinate until the bastard drowns.

Standard protocol, you understand.

When the Hokage came in to see him three days later (he was not prioritized matter, you see), her victorious smile was sharp enough to bleed on, and he thinks he did, a little. His skin crinkled and rustled, flaking off in itsy bits of rusted rice paper under her withering glare. The first thing she said to him was: "Now you're the lowest of living creatures."

"Not yet," he answered her. "I know two still lower."

And right on cue, the insistent sounds of Sakura's knock came rasping at the ward door.



through portico of my elegant house you stalk

"What do you do when you hole yourself up there?" Naruto asks, eating Cup Ramen at his kitchen table two weeks after he's released into house arrest.

Sasuke ignores him, unwrapping yet another box of oil paint. The even rows of cylindrical cans glimmer their white lacquer sheen into the backs of his eyelids, a metallic newness, heady with the sharp deviation of powder and paint. He's already filled twenty collective yards of fabric with this synthetic corpsedew; by day he covers all the canvas squares with black cloth, following a superstition he doesn't even know about.

Naruto is staring at him. Naruto stares at him a lot these days. Not out of any fondness on his part, it's more like he can't fucking take his eyes off Sasuke anymore, afraid that if he shutters his lids for one second too long Sasuke might vanish, dust wiped off a tabletop. Sasuke thinks if either one of them were the touchy-feely type Naruto might even go so far as to bodily hold onto him, clamp a hand on his thigh, hook a leg around his knees just so he wouldn't be able to go anywhere, even though he knows Naruto should know perfectly well he isn't. And he would do all this whether or not Sasuke permits it, because Sasuke has no means to deny him anymore.

It's a funny thing, this body-as-a-prison business, and you'd think he of all people would have problems with it.

He doesn't.

The truth is, powers only matter so long as you have something to do with them. He did, once, and what he did with them -- talk about exceeding expectations. Revenge was his anchor, without it he is an unfettered ship, sooner or later bound to founder upon some sinister outcrop of sea rocks or other. Now he is back, and the house throws open its legs eagerly for the master, but it milks him dry everyday for it. The resurrection of his clan doesn't seem real-they've been dead long enough, haven't they?-not real enough to keep him focused anyway. He realizes only viscerally that this may be a metaphor for all the things going, going, gone wrong in his life.

"Why do you stay when you hate it so much?" Naruto asks again, undaunted, and Sasuke becomes peripherally aware that in the intervening years his teammate has changed. Or rather: emphasized, exponentiated, growing wild, unkempt, and reckless with abandon. The house, which like Sasuke is elegant and meticulous and scrupulously delicate like a twopence whore, screams shrill protest when Naruto and his raw, unwiped pygmy lion feet stomp through it, an ignored rejection. The house and Naruto are at war, gaining and losing territory everyday as Sasuke watches from the sidelines of a barb-wired no man's land, disinterested.

"Why do you insist on living here now?"

"Because this is my home."

A pointblank lie, one of those he's become so good at lately. A house isn't a home anymore than one person makes a family, not unless there are people in it to wear down the defenses and mellow out the edges enough for this to happen. This house hasn't been a home for a long time, not since all those people who inhabited the corners and spilled tea on the tatami mats disappeared-like a dream, they were never real. They only become real when he lays their faces down on expensive canvas (after all, his inheritance has to go somewhere). Hence, the garret.

It's strange to think that all those who were once alive within these four walls are now dead; even Itachi, who to Sasuke was always more real than anyone ever was, and anyone ever will be. Now just worm's meat. And he had only to barter his soul to get it.

How cheap, the mechanics of existence.


So Sasuke dreams that one day he too will die, will fly away to his home in the sky where all orphans presumably go to sleep after all their travails are at an end.



now, rich order of walls is fallen; rooks croak

Sasuke has elegant, aristocratic hands -- pale skin and long, useless-looking fingers that, like the rest of him, would in another life never have known the sharp edge of a blade. He puts them now to work painting haunted portraits whose features replicate his own. Through his creative vision, all life meanders off into another realm, fading to a different shade. The faces in his paintings droop with sorrow, hair like turbid clumps of seaweeds, bodies stretching long as grotesque sylph-shadows, accentuated by their silence. The color schemes are strange. Be it pastel or aquarelle or gouache, the predominating shade lies within the confines of a putrid yellow, no other. In his arts: men, women, the young, the old form a daisy-chain of jaundiced marionettes, all in a row, living desolately within the unreal bits of life, everyday growing a little more discordant and disconnected from the living. Drifting from yang to yin, and he will be the last in line. The sinkhole points of the pictures are the pits of all the pinwheel swirls, done exquisitely in top-of-the-line charcoal and oil so thick and red it cakes in his palms like fresh-drawn blood. Eyes are the windows to the soul, and he pays homage to the idea in broad, brush-splitting strokes, like he believes it's true.



with your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit

It is Sakura who discovers his workshop.

It's been exactly two-and-a-half months since Sasuke came back, and that night the power goes out in all of Konoha in one fell-fizzle-pop swoop, plunging the village into a darkness cold and insistent against the body. Winter's wake.

Sakura comes into the house almost as often as Naruto, sometimes with him, sometimes alternating the days of the week. Unlike Naruto, she moves through the corridors silently, treading her soft padding feet and doing all the little things Sasuke doesn't bother with anymore and Naruto would never have thought of in the first place. The house, strangely enough, accepts Sakura and her buttermilk sensibility with a vindictive contempt, looking down as from a lofty height on her grocery list and her medic kit and her threadbare homespun version of normalcy.

She hasn't said more than ten words to him since he came back, and she has never visited him at night. Until now.

He doesn't hear her come up the stairs, and doesn't spare a thought as to why, though he has a feeling it's important (real). Instead: he imagines. Ascending the landing, this is what she sees: the light of the kerosene lamp flitting through the crack under the door. When she turns the knob with a sharp intake of breath, this is what she smells: alcohol, stale tobacco, lamp soot, bat droppings, and of course, paint. Suffocating.

In the night, the house and the village are mum like they have stopped breathing.

In the murky light, the ghostly portraits stare at Sakura through their sunken eyes, starved for days, why is she intruding upon their claim? Sasuke sits cross-legged in the middle of the cramped room next to a pot of fresh-mixed oil, shadows painting him like a canvas. She doesn't move from the door, silently watching him gnaw at the bars of the cage that is this mad, mysterious project, growing older, leaner in the hours of the night.

Immediately, he's annoyed. Why won't she say anything? Not even a timid 'Sasuke-kun' (and she still calls him that, yes indeed she does), and why does she cling to the door with that look of paralyzed shock? Fine, if she won't speak he will, he'll show her he's no wild animal she can't approach for fear of being mauled. He's drunk, and this scene is like some kind of twisted parody of their childhood, Sakura silent and him raving like a mad man. He tells her he's just about finished with the portraits, only his great-uncle Sakaki left to do and god knows he never liked the geezer, he had the ugliest mole on his left cheek. He talks about his family; there they are all around them, watching. His eyes drift to the solitary window, firmament pockmarked with stars, the wind raking the hair of trees, a fog horn somewhere slicing through the night...

Abruptly she pounces across the room, interrupting him mid-sentence, tauting her lips against his in a spinning, searing, hungry kiss. Her eyes are pinned open, wide and luminous and full of a silent scream. Her skin is dust and her lipstick tastes of paint.

Sasuke yells something low and guttural as he springs to his knees, pinning Sakura roughly to the floor. The action reminds him of a tightrope walker losing his balance, swaying for a hopeless moment before plunging into the chasm of shame. In the blackout, steeped in the pungent, ignitable kerosene air, he takes her violently, destructively, snatching, tearing, stabbing deep into her body his loneliness, a deep-rooted loneliness that for years has kept at bay his disease. He can dismantle the mechanics of his desires, let them run like water, and rebuild them again in the blink of an eye, but that doesn't make him any less prey to them.

And at the final moment, just before he crumbles and collapses on top of her, emptied like a discarded cicada skin, she opens her mouth and lets slip: "Naruto! Naruto!"

It's like a punch in the guts, mostly because Sakura sounds like she's crying for help.

Her face changes instantly, filling with regret. He doesn't look, just rolls off her quickly and into a corner, knocking over an easel as he curls up into a naked ball. Shakes. Presently, he hears Sakura get to her feet, gather up her torn clothes and the broken, trampled pieces of herself. Slips from the room. She won't be back; as always, she keeps his secrets.

We gather up our hearts, and go.

And the house laughs, a long bitter string of cruelty and victory, spiteful as an aged beauty at the demise of a rival debutante. Eventually, he laughs with it, even though it hurts to open his mouth.



and the fabulous lutes and peacocks, rending the net

It's a difficult period, even though it is spring.

Unlike any other spring that's been, this one seems to urge him to leave this life. He doesn't get that feeling anymore, like there are so many springs still ahead of him, full of light, warmth, inspiration...

He takes to wearing the same pair of dusty jeans everyday, doesn't bother brushing out his hair in the morning, and eats fish roe with rice for breakfast, lunch, dinner. The food appears on his doorstep every day, but the money he leaves on the windowsill goes untouched. When he counts his protruding ribs in the bathroom mirror, he thinks, This is the emptiness of existence.

He refuses to go, however, until he finds something he can be sure is real.

In a world of illusions, something must be real.

One night, while he is idly floating on the river of his rambling walk, he thinks he hears something. Turns his head towards the possible/hypothetical/metaphysical source, and sees a light. Sound is light and sight is sound and what is wrong with all the substances of this world, or is it just something that is but cannot be perceived?

But the light has an appealing sort of pinkish glow, something magical and powerful churning emanating from a primordial bubble sea, and before he knows it, his feet have treaded towards the brilliant oasis and he is hungry, suddenly.

Hungry for life.

There is music playing, softly at first, growing louder now. The wistful twang of guitar strings, the bobbing boat rhythm of an accordion. White smoke obscures his vision. Voices, a confused din of words.

"Come on in, honey. Come on in and shake the cold off your feet." "Look at you shivering. Mind that welcome mat.""What's your name, honey? What's your name?" "Come sit with us honey, and give us a smile now -- with a face like that -- give us a smile, a smile."

Sparks of colorful lights dazzle in his eyes-faerie dust or just a glass bead curtain? Hands clutch at his arms, neck, shoulders, and there goes his jacket, snatched away by fleet fingers. He is perplexed, what is it that these entities want from him? Voices, hands, screaming laughter-who are they? He is pushed flush onto a long white couch, and beneath his sweaty palms it's like the leather is roiling and perspiring, you can tell this was once a living, breathing animal. So all substances in the world do not retain their original states in death; why is he so surprised?

Someone slips him something: it's a cigarette but one sniff of the burned-sugar odor tells him it's something slightly lighter than the rancid cancer sticks he likes to smoke in the shadows of his garret. The haze of the place (Is it a room? A house? A world apart?) is suddenly explained.

A mouth is pressed hotly against his earlobe, dragging a wet, lyrical trail. It whispers, "You're really beautiful, a singular beauty, anachronistic, out of tune, you'll never be happy in this time and age," and Sasuke wrenches his head around expecting to come face to face with a blind prophet -- a nomad in the desert -- but instead sees only an unshaven man with sunken, yellow eyes and for a moment he chokes, are the irises yellow too?

They're not.

Just as well.

Later, he follows the man into some dark, grimy backroom and everything feels less real than the situation warrants. Then he is pushed up against a wall, head bent so he can look back at his partner and his neck hurts. Jeans down and he can't spread his legs, torn denim round his ankles trapping him. The man leans back a little, eyes Sasuke's long, white legs, licks his lips. Fumbling with his hands for a condom, slick and hard and fast, and the man's tall and skinny, wiry muscles on his arms that Sasuke licks as the man pounds into him and not even a fucking reach-around but he forgives everything when the man drops to his knees and blows him.

He shudders and comes, thinking, This isn't realrealrealrealreal...


There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile he found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile he bought a crooked cat it caught a crooked mouse and they all lived together in a crooked little house.



which such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate

Except in the morning there're brilliant shards of glass sunlight coming in through the window splitting his body lines angles edges and everything is illuminated and hard to ignore. Sasuke stumbles out of the bed he doesn't remember climbing into without looking at the other grubby lump of a human being still buried in the soiled sheets and the bathroom floor's covered in all manners of filth but he kneels down anyway and dry-heaves on an empty stomach, his shaking fingers curving the cold porcelain of the toilet bowl.

He sees a bar of green soap lying in one dingy corner and that's real. The water in the bathtub is brindled and swirling with rage and that's real too. The grating of his fingers against the back of his throat is real. Pulling them out and splaying the hand to see blood underneath his nails, stomach acid eating away his teeth it hurts so much to breathe. That's the most real of them all.

There's some kind of commotion going on in the other room. He gathers himself up, crawls shakily to the door and peers across the frame cautiously.

Sees: a man, a woman, and a ghost, dancing unaware, humming birds in their hair.

He blinks and everything swims back into focus. The scene becomes: Sakura, one hand twisted into the long greasy mane of Sasuke's latest paramour as she pummels the man's face with the other, demanding to know where he is; Naruto in the doorway, arms crossed and unmoving, skin stretched tight across his worried lips, a white sliver of teeth showing in between. Calm.

What is the world coming to?

Then Naruto turns his head slightly and catches sight of Sasuke. Their eyes meet a little over slanting bars of sunlight and his eyes narrow sharply until Sasuke winces and lowers his gaze. Only then does Naruto straighten up and make his way casually across the room to gently pry Sakura off her victim, silencing her angry protests with an inclination of head in the direction of the bathroom.


Later, Sasuke sits in his own kitchen, a bag of ice pressed to his forehead, listening to his teammates arguing in the sitting room.

Sakura screams: "I can't take it anymore! Why does he have to make things so fucking difficult all the time? We tried so hard to bring him back and now it doesn't even mean anything, not a fucking thing!"

And Naruto just says: "I know, Sakura-chan. Believe me, I know."

And Sakura says with a choking sob: "Everything doesn't have to be terrible, you know. If... if only he could just see that... that everything doesn't have to be so terrible all the time..."

"I know, baby. I know, it's alright, I know."

And then Sakura is crying and the air is filled with harsh watery barks and Naruto is shushing her gently and Sasuke waits for the ground to split open and the clouds to come crashing.

When the universe refuses to oblige him, he risks a creeping glance into the parlor, standing glued to the kitchen wall with his upper body twisting awkwardly like a willow tree in high wind, and it's ridiculous, but he's rewarded by what he sees.

They are all curled up into each other, Sakura bent and bowed and sobbing hysterically and Naruto with his arms around her and his chin resting on top of her tousled head. Sasuke looks and looks some more and there's something in the way the arc of Naruto's fingers fall onto Sakura's shoulders and something peculiar in their posture that clues him in, it's unmistakable he must be a fucking fool and he thinks, So that's the way it is, how long has this been going on?

But then Naruto lifts his head, and he's looking him straight in the eyes over the pink of Sakura's hair, and Naruto's eyes are small and hard and furious, the clear blue mudding over like watercolors when you mix them wrong, stain of red bleeding in from the edges, advancing in upon the black pupils, the pupils thinning and elongating into slits. His unspoken words linger in the air, irrevocable, ricocheting off the walls, rattling the windows.

Make it right, you bastard. You'd better fucking make this right.

Sasuke wishes someone would tell him how.



what ceremony of words can patch the havoc


"Love is a battle?" said Franz. "Well, I don't feel at all like fighting."


It turns out that's not a decision he gets to make either.

It happens like this: one minute, he is lying alone in the dark, awaiting that moment when his body will levitate off the bed and out the open window; the next, Naruto and Sakura are there with him, and they're naked.

Like a joke, except not.

Then Sakura is pushing him back down on the bed, her eyes hungry and faintly smoldering, the choppy tendrils of her hair ghosting over his face. She kisses him slowly, a close-mouthed kiss.

Says: "Let us do this for you, Sasuke-kun. You know you can always count on us."


She straightens up a little and leans back so that she's straddling him, giving him room to turn his head sideways and look at Naruto sitting on his left with his back to the headboard. Naruto looks back out of the corners of his eyes, and at first his silence implies that he's no participant to this, just a disapproving audience. But Sasuke blinks and suddenly Naruto's face is floating over his, an arm braced above his head, and he kisses him hard, a diagonal kiss.

Affirms: "Us."

And then Naruto's behind Sasuke, and Sakura still in front, and Sasuke expects it to be suffocating, trapped between them like that, but really it's not. Instead, their presence curls like smoke around his limbs, and he thinks nebulous thoughts about drowning in black oil.

When Sakura's nimble little fingers tug his pajama bottom open, Naruto's hand slips in and his palm is already slick. Sasuke hisses and bites his lips when Naruto grips his length and kneads firm pressure across the veins of his erection, but Sakura swallows the sound with her perfect mouth, and he curves his palms around her high-rising breasts just to have something to hold on to. Then they're in position, and he expects it to be rough but is wrong again: there's a moment of tender lullaby grace and then it's rock-a-bye-baby rocking and go.

Sakura comes first. This time she says the right name, a soundless 'Sasuke-kun' rolling off her tongue in a warm gust of breath. Sasuke feels her muscles clench tightly around his cock, gasps and comes, burying his face into her shoulder. But Naruto is still moving, pistoning into him from behind, so he rolls his hips and moves back with narrow-eyed concentration and the silence of the room amplifies the sound of their sweat-slicked skin slapping against each other, until it's all over in a few quick successive strokes.

Sakura sighs deeply and wraps her arms around his torso, and Naruto kisses the back of his neck softly, and in these gestures they're saying, It doesn't have to be terrible.



rooted to your black look, the play turned tragic

After that, Naruto and Sakura stop going home, just move more and more of their things into Sasuke's crooked not-so-little house, which is mostly silent these days. The house could hold its own against Naruto's whirlwind invasion, and cowed and defeated Sakura when she tried to infiltrate the keep, but it surrenders now to their combined forces and with its shamefaced retreat, many things change.

The portraits in the garret remain there, an unfinished series, and they hide their betrayed faces behind the curtains of black cloth, which begin to gather cobwebs. The ghosts of dead relatives no longer join Sasuke liberally at dinner, and dinner itself has changed. The lean and bullet-like fare disappears, replaced by a sizzling cornucopia of teeth-rotting junkfood and elaborate five-course meals. Everyday, three times a day, Sasuke eats the food that gets placed before him dutifully, knowing if he doesn't it'll probably get shoved down his throat.

He becomes aware too of his own metamorphosis, a shifting of bones inside his body that goes beyond fuller cheeks and less dull hair. Lines fade, but new ones appear, unfamiliar expressions. One morning, Sasuke studies his reflection in the mirror and knows he doesn't look like an Uchiha anymore, but there are no longer any of those around so no one notices. All the others are gone. He is the only one left but he can't leave, and his skin is beginning to lose hope. There are no standards to go by anymore. Itachi is dead and they no longer look like brothers.

It is still spring, and the waters of March are cold.

But Naruto and Sakura, they with a purpose would not be deterred. After years of disappointment and heartache, they think they have found something that works, so they will stick to it come hell or high water, even if in the deep spaces-to-be-filled there be monsters. There is something foolish and reckless, but also ruthless, about how they so fervently believe they are right. The villagers speculate and gossip and frown disapprovingly upon the going-ons in their household, about the bed that they share and the things the walls remember, and most of what they say are true. But Sakura and Naruto, they have carried this chip in the shape of a person on their shoulders far too long for anyone to dare disturb it now.

And so what if they are consciously pitching the world against them? They've only ever needed each other -- each other, and Sasuke.

And Sasuke knows they love him, so if they wrap their fingers around his throat and squeeze just so it is exquisite anyway, because it is done out of love. He also knows it's not difficult to love them back. It's easy to love Sakura because she is pretty and thoughtful and smart enough to know when to suck out the poison and tighten the tourniquet. A little harder for Naruto, but there he's always managed just fine on his own.

So, for the time being, he loves them back.

And tries to forget what he's always feared to know, that:

She is faith, the most cynical.

He is hope, the most unrealizable.


"God is dead... We have killed him-you and I."


Sasuke hasn't been up in the garret beneath the roof nor touched a paintbrush for days, and he imagines inside their chrome containers the oils have dried to flakes. Naruto still doesn't know about the workshop. Sakura has never mentioned the blackout incident to him or anyone. Naruto is Sasuke's keeper and Sakura keeps his secrets.

The more things change...

But therein lies the only fault in their perfect theory, for they are too concerned with condensing Sasuke into rich layers of sweets and sauces and clouds of consuming passion that they forget he's slowly, steadily being distilled. They are comrades in this war against evaporation, but they cannot be absolutely honest with each other, and the secrets they keep pave the way to their downfall. You can't move the world if you don't have a lever and a place to stand.

It is Naruto who wakes first the night Sasuke disappears from bed, having slipped out and away from between his bedmates like a snake shedding its skin at some point during the night, but it is Sakura who startles and races up the two flights of stairs leading to the dusty garret. There is no telling the thoughts that cross her mind when she sees the wispy flicker of kerosene light dancing through the crack under the door, but in a moment Naruto is beside her, and together, they fling it open.

Naruto has never been up in the workshop and naturally he is overwhelmed by the rows of beautiful, twisted yellow faces that glare and froth at the intruders who have usurped their dominance, straight noses and contorted foreheads luminescent in the wavering light. But Sakura's eyes fly to the floor at her feet, which is covered by spreading tendrils of shiny red. For a second she thinks it's spilt paint, but then she traces the flow to the source at the center of the room where Sasuke lies collapsed still clutching Naruto's razor limply in one hand.



like a daunted witch, quitting castle when real days break

Sasuke wakes up in a Konoha hospital room wearing aseptic blue-grey smock with IV tubes curling around his body, and it's like time-space continuum has broken and he has been taken back to the start.

But then Sakura is there, and the illusion shatters and dissipates.

The idea of Sakura sitting at the head of his hospital bed isn't something novel, it's the absence of the peeling knife and the perfectly even slices of apple speared on cinnamon toothpicks that makes the air still with dissonance. Instead, she has words, substituting for her bad faith a handful of dust, and Sasuke thinks quietly to himself, in the smallest voice he can, about the dissolution of consequence.

"I can't do this anymore, Sasuke-kun."

"I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry, I wish I could try harder but this, you are killing me."

And he knows it's true. And this, this is happening because Sakura is too fair. She cannot bring herself to love either of her boys more than the other, not even by a thimbleful (in some ways, he thinks this is about catharsis, making up for past mistakes, the weightlessness of guilt in your chest), but the trouble with loving Sasuke is that it's not something you can do by half measure. Sakura is only coming to realize what he has always known, that in trying to fill him up and keep him solid, she has inadvertently emptied out herself, and instead of keeping the lightness at bay, it almost swallows her.


"I'm going back to my parents' house for awhile, maybe move away. I-I don't know when I'll be coming back."

She leaves, and it's an act of self-preservation. She has always been so smart.


Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.


But on the bright, sunny day that he gets discharged from the hospital, Naruto is waiting for him outside, no flowers or mylar balloons but full of words, nervous, jittery words that seem horribly appropriate. He asks Sasuke if he's tired, if not then maybe they could go and spend the day in the park, and Sasuke doesn't really say anything so along they go.

It's a sort of beautiful, Konoha-perfect day, and they camp out on a park bench by the lake to watch white sunlight being splintered across the water surface. Naruto hums softly and breaks up bread crumbs for the Mandarin ducks that have returned in time for spring. He has left his flak-jacket somewhere, wearing only a plain white button-down that smells clean and sun-crisp.

"Sakura-chan came back and packed up all her stuff the other day," he mutters slowly, eyes averted. "I think she just needs some time to herself. She'll be back before long."

Sasuke nods absently, thinking that Naruto doesn't sound like he really believes his own words.

"I mean, you can't really blame her. She's already given up so much."

"What about you?"

Naruto startles, as if he didn't expect Sasuke to be listening. "Me?"


A shaky laugh, childhood defense mechanism sliding into place rustily. "Me. Well, I guess I just never had anything to lose."

And all that is saying is that Naruto has always been a little more invested in Sasuke than anyone else. He, being needy and bullheaded, has never properly learned to let go of any of his ventures, and Sasuke remembers suddenly that Naruto is an orphan too. Sasuke is the only home he has ever known, where will he live if Sasuke is not there to with him?

"You know what people used to tell me and Sakura-chan during all those years you were gone?" Naruto asks quietly. "Everyone kept saying that we were stupid, stupid to keep torturing ourselves like that-not like you'd know. But there was nothing they could have said that would have made us stop. You know why?"

Sasuke shakes his head.

Naruto turns to face him squarely, his eyes growing hard and supernaturally bright. "Because as long as we kept at it-as long the pain was there-you continued to exist. The pain filled the space where you should have been."

"You're not the only one who has to struggle to feel substantial, Sasuke. We all recreate the ones we have lost, in one way or another."

Sasuke shudders violently, like a man who, having been starved for days, is suddenly presented with the opportunity to gorge himself to death and foolishly takes it. Weight tumbles in, dumbbells and anvils materializing out of thin air to weigh him down, keeping him grounded. Naruto is still watching him, and when Sasuke stares at the crinkled skin around his eyes it's like he can see where the crowfeet smile-wrinkles will form in the future, and they're beautiful. He wants to kiss them, but he's shaking so hard he ends up kissing Naruto instead. And Naruto wraps his arms around Sasuke to still the trembling (grounded), and ignoring all the other people in the park pointing and whispering, they stay like that until dusk falls and it's time to leave.



of your stormy eye, magic takes flight


Sasuke piles firewood into a wigwam in a clearing in the corner of the garden. When he asks Naruto to help him carry down the portraits from the garret, Naruto stares at him like he thinks Sasuke is drunk. But he doesn't protest, quietly trudging a step behind in Sasuke's wake and hauling the canvas-covered frames out one by one. They're surprisingly heavy, dragging with the weight of life that has ended.

When every single one of them has been accounted for and propped up around the bundle of wood, Sasuke motions for Naruto to stand back. Lights a match-he would have preferred a Katon jutsu, but you make do with what you have.

When the tongue of flame licks into the first painting, it issues a shrill, unearthly scream that escapes in a rush, an exhalation of breath that creeps inside Sasuke's skin and makes him shiver, but not from fear. The canvas surface roils and ripples, then breaks in curls of blackened edges. The faces distort and melt, the released souls fleeing into the open night sky with columns of smoke and ashes. Sasuke recognizes his thrill, a thrill that snakes up his spine and loops around his heart, as the death seizures of his morbid fascination, the despairing sublimation of beauty catching on fire, a perverse sense of joy. The thick air smolders and faintly crackles with magic.

Then Naruto is behind him, pressing up flushed against his backside, and the heat his body radiates scorches hotter than the exploding flame. Sasuke feels insistent hands tugging him away, and then he is being held down on the ground, blades of wet grass cutting into the back of his neck. Naruto holds Sasuke's face in his hands, his eyes opaque and glinting with the reflected light of the fire, and Sasuke finds himself falling into them, tumbling, head over heels.

Smoke surrounds your perfect face and I'm falling.

He watches, reverently enraptured, as Naruto struggles with his clothing and strips himself until he is naked and tanned, taut, ready to explode. Over Naruto's heaving shoulders, the heavens are filled with a million stars. It is a good thing, Sasuke reflects, that they chose to start the fire downwind, otherwise the smoke from its carnage would obscure the sky, and then they wouldn't be hovering in outer space like this.

Naruto holds Sasuke's shoulders and, bracing himself for a lip-biting second, lowers his body onto Sasuke, impaling himself, and then Sasuke is there, sliding up inside. He grips Naruto's hips tightly for leverage and pushes himself in, slow, as far as he can go. It's everything he's ever wanted. The absolute sacrifice. It means: no more idols but me. The stars are spinning away from them, swirling, vanishing into a black hole. So much density that light can't escape, that's all a black hole is, not really the doorway to another world. Density, heat, Naruto's weight on top of him holding him in place-all the proofs that Sasuke continues to exist.



fractured pillars frame prospects of rock

It rains. A mad clamoring storm that bangs against the windows and fills Sasuke's ears with thunders. The smell of water crawls throughout the house. He hears Naruto mumble something incoherent in sleep, curling closer to him for warmth.

There is a banging on the front door, and this time, it's not the storm.

After a few minutes, Naruto trudges to the door with a string of curses, dragging a hand blearily across sleepy eyes, to find:


It is indeed Sakura, red-eyed and shivering, a small suitcase curled in one tightly clenched fist. Rain water pastes her thin hair to her forehead, sketches the outline of her trembling body through her wet clothes. Their eyes meet over the threshold and Sasuke, stumbling down the stairs, is struck speechless.

Naruto is not.

"Oh damn, you must be freezing to death!" he exclaims, grabbing her suitcase and tugging her by one hand, surreally marmish. "What are you still waiting for? Get in here and dry yourself off this instance!"

Both Sakura and Sasuke turn on him, their eyes wide and searching, as if neither could believe what they are hearing. Naruto glares back, defiant, and in his eyes they read, What else were you expecting?

Right. Of course he's right. There is no question.

"Come into the kitchen, Sakura," Sasuke says quietly, taking her other hand. "I'll bring you some fresh towels. Your towels."

Life is all about making room. Sasuke makes room and Naruto and Sakura fit in. It's a bad fit, but they're the only ones who do. He couldn't have done it if Naruto hadn't been there, but he would never have done it at all had Sakura not made up her mind to leave. She is his fulcrum. You can't move the world if you don't have a lever and a place to stand.

For a moment, Sakura stares at him intently, worrying her lips into a thin, nigh-invisible line.

Then, she smiles.

He smiles.

Naruto, on the other side, flutters into helpless laughter.

And they go inside. Together, they will turn their crooked, not-so-little house into a home.


This is the fluid in which we meet each other,
This haloey radiance that seems to breathe
And lets our shadows wither