Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Notes: Basically…this is epically fucked up. I don't write from Naruto's POV often (read: ever) but this story couldn't be told from Sasuke's point of view. It's an experiment, then. And what an experiment it was. I love this story pretty unreservedly, though I'm not sure I did it justice. I hope you love it too.

He holds the support tightly, gripping the metal like it is his most precious lifeline. It is cold against his palm. So desperately, desperately cold. It almost burns with the ice. And he laughs at the thought, laughs hard like he is actually happy. He tightens his hold, feels the grate of weather-worn whatever-metal into his schoolboy callused hands. The wind is there, a soft breeze that does not push him forward into the air or backward into the bridge. It carries yellow and red and orange leaves and plays with them like a child with building blocks. They swirl through the air. He tries to pluck one out of the air and laughs when he fails. Laughs and laughs and laughs.

He's going to learn how to fly today.

w i n g e d

it's far too late to save this, so why are you even trying?

Naruto shakes his head just for the feeling, reveling in the rustle of drying hair that's just barely long enough to poke at his eyes when it's soaked. There is a series of quiet 'splish' sounds as drops from his blond locks find landing pads on book spines. And he would feel guilty, save for the fact that he is Naruto and he does not do guilt really. Anyway, that's why library books are covered with plastic, to protect them from everything including his dog-like habits.

Nevertheless, he reaches out and brushes his index fingertip against a spine. It is old and cracking and peeling, the plastic the covers this one, and he thinks that this must have been one of the first in the library to be covered. The water droplet is smooshed under his finger and he likes that, likes the contrast of cool liquid to strangely rough plastic. But.


He stiffens and tries to listen harder. It's Sakura's voice and he knows because she is his friend, one of his very best, and he knows that voice from late night phone calls and joking on the lawn and that second just after he comes out of the water from a dive. That's what he knows, and he knows that she sort of loves Sasuke. Sort of, in a little-wannabe-princess-girl sort of way.

"Sakura." And Naruto listens even harder because there is something desperately close to affection in Sasuke's dark voice. Affection that is never there for Naruto. And that word, that single fucking word of her name is bouncing in his skull and he feels bile rise in his throat until Naruto's choking on it all.

He peers over the row of books and strange coincidence (fate is such a bitch) he can see her back. School uniform that only sort-of clashes with her hair and she shifts so he can see part of her face and damnit that huge zit she was complaining about at lunch yesterday is gone so she's back to being prettyperfectwondful.

"I…I heard that you were at the meet last Friday," she says, all sweet feminine charm. "For the yearbook."

"Hn." Slight relief because that is just so Sasuke-like.

She looks away then, and Naruto can see the small blush that's beginning to bloom across her cute little button nose and pale cheeks. "I guess…you probably took a lot of pictures of Naruto," she says. It's not mean. That makes it a thousand times worse. "He's the star of the team, after all." And that's not mean either. It is said with such innate pride, like a big sister bragging to anyone who'll listen about how her little brother is growing up.

"Not really," Sasuke says.

Sakura's head whips back to look at Sasuke dead on. "What are you talking about?" she snaps. "Of course he's the star. He was the best diver in the state as a sophomore. And he's even better this year." A little bit of Naruto's heart glows. Sakura may love Sasuke in that little-wannabe-princess-girl sort of way, but she loves Naruto in that big-tough-sister-girl-forever sort of way.

"Hn. I meant I didn't take a lot of pictures of the moron," Sasuke clarifies. That's fine, that's okay. Naruto breathes in big, the way he does before a difficult dive. Except it's out of relief, not nervousness (or at least that's what he tells himself) this time.

"O-oh," she says. Subdued now, all the light of her righteous fury extinguished Just Like That.

The two stare awkwardly away from each other for what seems like forever to Naruto. In fact, he's almost ready to just burst out from around the bookshelf and start chattering at them. Clearly, there's nothing going on that can't be interrupted, after all.


"So who did you take pictures of, Sasuke?"

Naruto moves a little bit, just a little. He can barely see Sasuke's face through another gap in the books. But it doesn't matter if Naruto can't see whether Sasuke's forehead is wrinkled or if he's smiling. It doesn't matter, because Naruto can see the telltale blush that's lurking.

(And lurking is the right word, because the blush is really more of a pink tinge that most would brush off as a trick of the light. Naruto knows better. When it comes to Sasuke, even the lights know better than to make illusions. Sasuke'd probably kick the light's ass.)

"Hn," Sasuke says.

Sakura laughs. "You just don't want to admit that you probably filled up your whole memory taking shots of Naruto. That's okay, we've got a meet next weekend. You can come to that and take pictures of the rest of us mere mortals."

"I didn't fill up the camera with him, I did it with you," Sasuke snaps. The blush stops lurking to come out of the closet.

(Naruto's heart clenches up into a fist.)

"That's what she said!" Sakura yelps, laughing delightedly for a few moments. But then, the little cogs in her genius mind start turning. The laughter dies as abruptly as it started. "You…but…" she says.

"It doesn't matter," Sasuke snaps. "Look, I was supposed to meet Naruto here ages ago. Moron probably got distracted by something shiny. Tell him I'll see him after school if you see him."

Sakura sighs quietly, her shoulders tensed up as if she's expecting an attack. "Alright, Sasuke."

Sasuke nods at her sharply, then walks out of the library quickly. It takes less than thirty seconds for the quiet slam of one of the library doors closing to signal Sasuke's departure, but it seems like an eternity.

Then Sakura leaves too. She still looks tense, and irritated, and confused, and a thousand other emotions that mostly land on the Bad Side of the Emotional Spectrum. (Except one, there's something that's decidedly close to hope and it seems to shine with Good Side of the Emotional Spectrum.)

And Naruto breathes "fuck" because it seems appropriate. No one hears.

The last class lets out a little early. Naruto walks next to Sasuke (because that, stupid uninformed ones, is what Naruto does) and chatters as obnoxiously as he can. Which is different for him, because Naruto doesn't really try to be obnoxious most of the time, it just happens. And normally, Naruto doesn't want to annoy Sasuke, for a thousand reasons that would probably get him beaten up. Even so, today Naruto tries―tries like his life depends on it.

"Hn," Sasuke says when Naruto practically screams in his face about the pep rally this Friday. It's not even an irritated 'hn', which is wrong on a very many indescribable levels. For a second, Naruto almost wonders if Sasuke somehow knows about Naruto's half baked plan and is attempting to thwart it in his dumb Sasuke way. (Naruto dismisses that pretty quickly because no matter what tests, grades, and teachers says, Sasuke isn't that smart. Really.)

"Well? Whad'dya think?" Naruto asks. It's not quite the same screech as the last few sentences, mostly because Naruto's vocal chords never could sustain that pitch rather than out of actual desire for quietness.

Sasuke shrugs. "Whatever." Which is better than 'hn' by about two and a half on the Naruto scale. Still.

"Come on, Sasuke," Naruto says in a really whiny tone better suited for someone like Ino than Naruto. (That is to say, a girl. Nobody's going to point that out though, not even Sasuke. But maybe Sai. Or Kiba. They're the only ones stupid enough.) "You know I can't skip and I don't wanna go alone."

"Ask that Hinata girl. She'd say yes."

"Maaaa," Naruto moans/whines (which is really something of a feat for his poor, abused vocal chords), "Hinata? Neji'd kill me. I mean, he'd try. 'Cos I'd totally whip―"

"Just ask her," Sasuke groans.

"But even if I do you still have to come!" Naruto says in a Very Demanding Voice. Complete with those capital letters.

They stop abruptly, barely a quarter of the way down the hall to their lockers. Naruto stops because Sasuke does, even though Naruto's sort of wondering about Sasuke's sanity right now. What was up with the whole Ask-Hinata-Out thing anyway? Sasuke turns around, looking sort of grumpy and weird and well, un-Sasuke-like. "Idiot. I'm going to the pep rally. For Sakura."

Naruto's stomach plummets so fast that falcons could learn from its descent. But he forces a bright, thousand watt smile onto his face anyway. It feels forced, of course, but Naruto is practiced enough to know that it looks real. "So you're finally coming around to her, huh?" Naruto says through his gritted teeth smile. "Knew she'd get to you eventually."

Because Sakura gets to everyone eventually. It isn't even really her fault. She is pretty and smart and nice and gentle and athletic and weirdly, bizarrely perfect. So she has a temper that could ignite at the drop of a hat, so she can't cook even if the fate of the world were to depend upon it, so she is sometimes ridiculously shallow and vain. So what? She is still just about as perfect as a hormonal teenage female could be. Who wouldn't want her?

But Naruto is so so so used to being the only one, the very only one, who gets to Sasuke. (Well, except for that scary redheaded girl Karin, but she hardly even counts.)

"Hn," Sasuke says. "She asked me yesterday during Algebra. I couldn't exactly say no after what happened earlier when she cornered me in the library." Suddenly, Sasuke's look is somewhat accusing. "I couldn't find you anyway. We were supposed to meet in the library during lunch. Where the fuck were you?"

"Well, you know me," Naruto says by way of explanation that isn't really explanation.

But Sasuke doesn't know him. Not anymore.

If Naruto is being honest, Sasuke still understands him better than anyone else. Nobody else―not Sakura, not Gramma Tsunade, not Jiraiya, not Kakashi, not even Iruka-who-practically-raised-him―gets Naruto quite like Sasuke. They speak in a language that not many people understand, a language of false masks and almost broken souls and fighting. So maybe Sasuke does not know the facts of Naruto as well as he used to, but he understands in a way that sometimes almost worries Naruto because he is not so sure that he can read Sasuke nearly so well.

"So, you wanna shoot hoops after practice?" It's just a lazy question, and Naruto isn't too concerned about the answer. Sasuke will say yes or Sasuke will say no, but either way they're still going to end up hanging out together after practice because that's just how they function.

"Not today. I have to work with Mr. Jadoku. The literary paper, remember?" The eye roll is almost inherent to the tone of voice Sasuke is using. Naruto doesn't even have to look anymore. He kicks the nearest available Sasuke-part, which turns out to be the other boy's shin.

"Maaa, old man Orochimaru?" Naruto whines, wrinkling his nose. "Why him again?"

Sasuke abruptly sits up, his posture highly defensive. "Because, idiot, some of us have to get in good colleges for our grades instead of our muscles."

"Fine, fine. After you do the stupid meeting with old man Orochimaru then," Naruto says, more to keep the fragile peace than anything.

"Fine, idiot."

back then, i was still waiting

They're playing basketball. Neither of them have ever been particularly good at it, but when they were about six Naruto got a basketball, and they've been trying to play ever since. It's their bonding time, and it's a time that nobody else intrudes on, upon pain of watching Naruto and Sasuke get into a screaming match or a fist fight.

Naruto is, like usual, making disparaging remarks about Sasuke's playing ability. Despite them being even in height, Naruto has more and leaner muscle, honed from almost four years of diving. He can leap far better than Sasuke, who seems almost earth bound in his grace. Sasuke may be rooted to the earth but he never falls, seeming to sense every curve and dip in the landscape. It takes a lot to wrestle Sasuke to the ground.

Sasuke scowls over at Naruto, opening his mouth to say some remark or another. This is how they function. Traded insults because rather like when they fight, fists slamming into each other, this is honest but not honest, a brutal way of communicating that feels less like lying even if their "idiot"s and "bastard"s are maybe supposed to be something more like "best friend"s and "anchor"s. Sasuke's chapped bitten cracked lips are open, his teeth and tongue barely barely visible as he draws in that necessary breath to continue their brutal honest way of talking.

But then he is on the ground, wincing and shifting onto his back to examine bloody knees and bloody hands.

"What the hell happened?" Naruto says, immediately dropping to his knees beside Sasuke. The gravel that had so torn at Sasuke bites into his own knees, but he doesn't pay it any mind. (He's used to falling and bleeding. It's what he does.)

"Nothing, moron, I tripped. People do that, you know," Sasuke growls, shoving Naruto's concerned hands away from his many if shallow wounds.

"Not you," Naruto growls right back. He says some more choice things as he examines the wounds some more. Sasuke stops fighting and settles for glaring instead, which Naruto can deal with because it's not like this is somehow unusual. Sasuke'd be glaring even if Naruto wasn't fussing over him. There are big and little chunks of gravel in Sasuke's hand. "We're going to my house so you can pick the damned gravel out of your stupid pansy body."

In the end, Naruto ends up picking the gravel out of Sasuke's knees and hands. He also ends up putting on the antiseptic and the gauze. Sasuke doesn't thank him, too busy staring down at his own lap in a strained attempt to hide his blushing cheeks.

"What's going on?" Naruto asks once he tucks in the end of the gauze. He wants answers, of course. Answers that Sasuke seems so very unwilling to give.

"Nothing." Sasuke stands up from Naruto's couch and stalks toward the tiny kitchenette. "I'll make dinner. You better have gone shopping recently. I'm not making ramen for you." Naruto's eyes follow Sasuke's somewhat limping gait. It cannot all be from his fall, or maybe it can. Sasuke isn't used to such pains, after all. (The only one who ever hurts Sasuke is Naruto, only ever ever Naruto.)

"I went, I went," Naruto says, leaning back into his old and ratty orange couch. He keeps watching Sasuke, who starts checking his cupboards and fridge. "Got all the things you bitched about. You'll be able to cook whatever it is you want. Christ, you're such a woman sometimes." A spatula is waved in his general direction threateningly, but Naruto ignores it in lieu of more teasing. It's not a successful mission, after all, until he's convinced Sasuke to beat him with a spatula, or a fork, or some other kitchen device. So, because he hasn't succeeded yet, he goes: "You cook like a woman, at least." Sasuke's mouth opens and his eyes narrow grumpily. The tight grip on the poor spatula does not waver. Oh yeah, Naruto's doing well. Except then something he hadn't really thought about slips out of his mouth.

"Fuck, you're such a woman that I should just marry you and save myself the trouble."

The words hang heavy in the air. Naruto's heart seizes up, realizing what exactly he just said. Sasuke turns bright, bright red, his breathing light and breathy and audible despite the distance. "M-moron," Sasuke says finally. "Like I'd marry you."

Tension broken but refusing to dissipate, Naruto winces.

"Besides, you need an actual girl who can put up with your idiocy. Like Hinata. Or a girl who will put you in your actual place. Like Sakura," Sasuke continues. He starts pulling things out of cupboards and the fridge, determinedly keeping his back to Naruto all the while like he can't bear to face the blond while he says these things.

"Maa, shut up, woman," Naruto says.

He has to duck the spoon that Sasuke flings at him with unerring accuracy.

Later that night Naruto jolts up in his bed, heart thudding frantically in his chest and a very very very fucking unwelcome arousal stirring in his boxers. His hand is clutching at his t shirt, fingers twisting into the fabric directly above his heart. He glances over to the other side of his probably too small bed to see if his sudden awakening disturbed Sasuke. It didn't.

Sasuke is still asleep, curled around a good chunk of the sheets and blankets that he's using for a teddy bear, back shivering a bit as his body processes the loss of Naruto's heat. He looks innocent, sweet, nothing like the icy bastard he can be in waking out. It's ironic that Sasuke looks innocent or sweet when asleep. Maybe other people wouldn't think so. After all, his hair is sticking out at weird angles and he's drooling a little on Naruto's pillow and he's breathing heavily in a weird version of baby snores. But to Naruto the sight is kind of beautiful, because this is what Sasuke looks like when he's happy.

Naruto licks his lip reflexively and makes himself lie back down. In the darkness, he stares up at his ceiling with unseeing eyes, mind racing over the dream that had him bolting upright.

Sasuke in the kitchen, in jeans and one of Naruto's shirts, singing softly while he cooks because he's oblivious to Naruto, because Sasuke would never sing in front of anyone, except maybe sometimes Naruto when Sasuke is feeling very very sappy, and he turns slightly at some sort of sound and his face lights up in that quiet muted way of his and Naruto catches a glimpse of a wedding band on a slim finger and there is a warm warm warm feeling in his heart because he knows instinctively that this is all for him, all of it, the cooking and the singing and the shirt and the content glow and most especially the ring.

It's a bad dream, and stupid dream. No, a nightmare, he tells himself. Or a joke. It means nothing, nothing, nothing at all. Maybe, lately, you've been seeing something more with Sasuke, been wanting something different with Sasuke but it's not this. You're not gay goddamnit. You're straight, straight straight straight straight straight.

And he can prove it. So he decides he'll prove it, and dismiss this whole thing, and it will be fine.

Sasuke turns over in his sleep, pillowing his head on Naruto's shoulder and making tiny content strange noises. Without really thinking about it, Naruto wraps his arm around those pale thin shoulders, tucking Sasuke just a bit closer, and goes back to sleep.

(The truth is, he wouldn't mind marrying Sasuke.)

Naruto asks Hinata to go with him to the pep rally. It's mostly spite for Sasuke and a will to prove his straightness that drives him at this point, because he's never really liked Hinata. In fact, he distinctly remembers calling her creepy in middle school. To be fair, she was a bit creepy back then. She always seemed to show up wherever he was and she was always turning bright red.

But times have changed and now Hinata is pretty and sweet and smart and very very kind. Even Naruto can see that. And even though she has none of Sasuke's innate fire, he thinks to himself that he might be really happy to be in her soothing presence anyway. Fire can only do so much, after all. Maybe Naruto doesn't need fire but water. Yes, yes, maybe that is it.

So he asks her to go to the pep rally with him, mostly out of spite but partially out of sick hope. She says yes, blushing a becoming pink instead of a fire engine red, and she only stutters twice. They spend the pep rally cheering. At one point, Hinata even starts a wave, and she goes up in Naruto's estimation. It's good. Afterward they go to the ice cream shop down town, and he learns that Hinata plays the piano, likes video games and fantasy novels, and that she is fun to be around when she loosens up.

He begins to think maybe he was right about needing water instead of fire, and he's actually pretty damn okay with that assumption. It'd be easy, he thinks, to fall in love with Hinata. Easy as breathing in and out. Thoughtless. Good. He likes the idea, because it's so much easier to comprehend than Sasuke.

(Stupid Sasuke, who was at the pep rally for Sakura. It is only later, after he's dropped Hinata off at her house, that he realizes he hadn't seen Sasuke at the pep rally at all.)

Naruto asks Hinata out again. He assures himself that it's just to show Sasuke that he's taken the boy's advice. To prove that he doesn't need to be around Sasuke's fire to be happy. Maybe if he's being honest he's still trying to prove it to himself as well.

(Maybe only to himself.)

A month passes. Naruto and Hinata start actually dating. It's good. Naruto kisses Hinata, pressing her soft curves into his body and feeling her yield underneath him without really yielding. She looks at him with pale pale pale eyes that look like little pieces of the moon or the stars or some other beautiful beautiful celestial body, and he thinks that she must be some sort of lost goddess―moonlight and shadows and rain. They fit together like sun and moon, and people tell them so. Not that they need people to tell them so, they know it already, from the start, inherently. This is them, and of course they are inherent perfection fit, the yin and the yang to make one whole.

Sasuke's visits to Naruto's place dwindle.

for my world to twist and tilt

"So how's dating Hinata?" Sasuke asks. His voice is casual, disinterested. He keeps working at an equation, not even bothering to look up.

"It's amazing," Naruto says easily. Because it is. "I can't believe I didn't notice her before this year. Did you know, she's been in love with me since fourth grade?"

"Hn, everyone knew that, idiot. You're the only one who remained willfully oblivious."

"Yeah, well, thanks for pointing her out to me. What did you get on thirteen?" Naruto asks in what is probably the lamest conversation change ever. He even looks up from his math homework to stare at Sasuke. Sasuke is the intelligent one after all. (Naruto will swear this is not so until kingdom come if asked, but even he knows that Sasuke is really, really smart.)

"Do you love her?" Sasuke asks instead of actually answering Naruto's question.

"Oh yeah. Of course. I don't know if I could love anyone more than I love Hinata. I just keep loving her more every day, you know?" Naruto says. "So what did you get on thirteen?"

"Tch, figure it out yourself," Sasuke says. His voice is dreadfully cool and distant. He's off in that place he goes, sometimes, when he's busy being Sasuke Uchiha instead of Sasuke. It's always Naruto who drags Sasuke out of that place, because it's a horrible, unhealthy place for Sasuke to be. So Naruto sits up and crawls over to Sasuke, flopping down next to him.

Sasuke sighs and glances over at Naruto, dark bangs swaying softly with the movement. It's almost entrancing. Sasuke is, in so many many ways, an ethereal type of person. It's not that he's immune to all the wonderful things about being a teenager (he's not, and Naruto's seen the zits to prove it) but he's got this certain something.

"What is it, idiot?" Sasuke asks softly. The words would by mean coming from anyone else, but Naruto knows what those words mean. So Naruto shoves Sasuke's textbooks and notebooks and pencils and calculator off across the floor, which earns him a displeased look. He wraps an arm around Sasuke's waist and pulls, sending Sasuke sprawling against him. And he waits.

There is another soft sigh, but surprisingly no fight. For the first time in a while, Sasuke just tucks his head into the crook of Naruto's neck, fists Naruto's shirt in his hands, and breathes―looking for all the world like a small child. Naruto doesn't say that, just keeps his arms around Sasuke as tightly as he can without hurting.

When Sasuke is like this, he seems so fragile. Naruto know that Sasuke's not, but it feels like it. Sasuke feels small in his arms, and Sasuke feels delicate in his arms, and Sasuke is something that needs to be treasured.

Sasuke is not small, by any means. He is only bare centimeters shorter than Naruto, having spent most of his life being taller than Naruto by quite a bit but having lost the advantage with Naruto's seemingly never ending growth spurts. He is a teenage boy with teenage boy muscles, not so honed as Naruto but hardly lacking. He is not small and he is not fragile. He is not a girl. (He is not Hinata.)


Naruto grips Sasuke a little tighter and feels his stomach drop out as he realizes how easily he can feel Sasuke's ribs and spine poking at him from underneath the other's too baggy shirt. "Sasuke," he whispers. Sasuke peeks up at him, lower lip caught between even white teeth. "Sasuke," he whispers again, and he realizes that Hinata may be a lost goddess but Sasuke is something more.

Sasuke's eyes are dark, and everybody assumes they're brown or black or something boring like that but they're not, they're really not because they're a blue that is almost unfathomable to humans. A dark dark dark blue, the deepest blue in the world. It has no comparison like moon or stars because there is no comparison, because everything will fall short, because nothing can ever quite be Sasuke. Sasuke's eyes are dark blue maybe like the ocean or the infinite space between stars or something―Naruto's mind struggles to find something even though he knows it's impossible―but they are lit with all of Sasuke's innate fire.

Sasuke is beautiful.

"Sasuke," Naruto says again and he's surprised to hear it come out like a prayer, dropping from his lips oh so very very reverently.

Released from its hold between his teeth, Sasuke's lower lip trembles for a moment. His dark beautiful eyes get suspiciously moist and then he is darting forward, a quicksilver star in earthward descent. Chapped bitten cracked boy lips press into Naruto's, unsure and trembling and wonderful wonderful wonderful it's like heaven or flying or living and Naruto's world might just maybe tilt on its axis a little bit.


The thought appears from nowhere and he jerks back, hand immediately wiping at his lips as if to erase Sasuke from them. Hinata, Hinata, Hinata. His beautiful lost goddess yin yang perfect moon girl. "Hinata," he says, because the look Sasuke is giving him is incredibly hurt and scared and Naruto thinks that there should be some sort of explanation for what he's done. (What he's doing.) "I'm sorry."

"F-fuck off, idiot." Sasuke shoves Naruto's arms away abruptly, rolling onto his hands and knees and gathering up his things with quick, jerky motions. He all of his things stuffed into his ratty looking backpack before Naruto even has a chance to recover. Naruto is just starting to recover, in fact, when Sasuke goes running out the library door.

Naruto feels sick to his stomach as he watches Sasuke during the next week. He watches closely now. His arm is around Hinata but his eyes are on Sasuke. Sasuke, who does not eat, who write his notes quietly, who stays silent in class, who is always alone except for Karin, who looks more exhausted by the day, who never sees Naruto watching because he never raises his eyes. Naruto wants to say something, but Sasuke is avoiding him, and he knows this. Hell, everyone knows this. Everyone comments too. Except Hinata, Hinata does not comment. Hinata simply holds his hand ever so gently. He tightens his grip on her hand like a lifeline, and he wonders why everyone looks at him with such disappointment.

"Talk to him, or I will," Sakura says. She grips Naruto's shoulder painfully, her mint green eyes cold as ice. He thinks he will have a bruise on his shoulder, and maybe a bruise on his heart from the way she is looking at him. She is his almost big sister and it kills him to see her look at him like this.

"Maa, what are you talking about, Sakura?" Naruto whines, shoving at her hand ineffectually. If anything, her grip tightens further. She opens her mouth, clearly ready to berate him for his faux ignorance. Alas, poor him, she is beaten to the punch by someone who, if possible, is looking at him with more glacial loathing than even Sakura.

"You know damned well what she's talking about, Uzumaki," Karin snaps. She has almost lavender eyes, and like mint, they are eyes that should not be intimidating. But she looks at him so coolly, so disdainfully, glasses glinting under the pool deck lights as she surveys him and finds him wanting. She has never been Naruto's friend, only ever Sasuke's, and now in this moment Naruto can feel that gulf of "never friends" that grows each passing moment. "Sasuke's hurting and it's your goddamned fault."

"It's not," Naruto says, trying to defend himself even though he has a feeling that Karin will never take any explanation of his. "God, how could this possibly be my fault?"

"Dating that Hyuuga girl," Karin snaps, her eyes going narrow and her mouth pinching a bit. "When Sasuke's clearly been in love with you forever."

Naruto winces a bit at Karin's bluntness. But he as a counter argument that it almost fool proof. "Yeah? Well Sasuke's the one that told me to date her. And he was right. Me and Hinata are perfect together."

Karin scoffs and looks off to the side. Despite her mostly relaxed posture, Naruto gets the very distinct feeling she is restraining herself from punching him.

Sakura steps between them, apparently as aware as Naruto that Karin is near violence. "Look, Naruto. Dating or not, you need to talk to Sasuke. He's ripping himself apart and you're the only one he'll listen to at this point. None of us can help him, okay? You have to."

"And if she or I have to talk to him, then I will make sure Sasuke never has to deal with your stupid ungrateful ass ever again," Karin says softly. Her tone isn't particularly menacing, but he actually finds himself flinching a bit at her threat. Because he knows, without a doubt, that if there is anyone who can carry out that threat it is Karin. Karin is Sasuke's Very Best Friend after Naruto, and, with the way things have been going, she might be Sasuke's Very Best Friend after nobody. She is the only one capable of carrying Sasuke out of Naruto's life with nary a word left behind, and thus she is the only person that Naruto has had a reason to fear.

(He's not ready to lose Sasuke yet.)

on its oh so precarious axis

So Naruto corners Sasuke in the photography room. Sasuke isn't in the back developing photos, so it's not nearly so good a cornering as it could be. But it's good enough, because Naruto is blocking the only exit with his fairly solid diver body, and they're on the third floor so escaping out the windows is pretty impossible, and Sasuke looks way too surprised to make a good break for it anyway.

"The fuck is wrong with you lately?" Naruto asks without much preamble. Without any preamble, actually.

Sasuke looks even more surprised, but he shakes that off quickly enough. He always does, he's quite good at it. Enviably good. Naruto used to want to be able to train his face into an unreadable mask with the same ease that Sasuke always does. He used to try so goddamned hard to be an Uchiha like Sasuke, until he realized that Sasuke would do anything to be an Uzumaki like him, or maybe just an in between of Uchiha and Uzumaki. Then it was Naruto's mission to drag Sasuke from his Uchiha roots. He'd never been really successful, but he thinks that in his absence Sasuke has gotten worse. (Or better, as it were. His face is a blank mask of unemotional causality.)

"Well?" Naruto asks-demands. He can feel the scowl that's starting up, the near infamous Uzumaki Scowl that has cowered people bigger and more intimidating than Sasuke.

But Sasuke, damn him, merely shrugs lightly and looks off to the side. "I've been busy. I've got better things to do that hang around a porno in the making."


"Well, why else are you dating her? She's too smart for someone like you to understand her. Must be the fake breasts that keep you interested."

They are awful words, but not so awful because Naruto has heard similar comments from a range of people, some of whom are trying to be helpful and some like Sasuke who are just trying to be cruel. This is what Sasuke does when he's hurt on the inside. He lashes out to distract. He always does this, because he's an Uchiha.

So Naruto ignores it quite valiantly. "Sasuke, c'mon," he says cajolingly. "Everyone's been missing you. I miss you. It's not like I'm around Hinata all the time, you know. We still have time to hang out. Play basketball. Eat junk food. You know, guy stuff. Like we used to. You need to do some guy stuff again, Sasuke. You're turning into such a woman."

Sasuke spins, shoulders tensing. His mask is probably chipping. He can't bear to look at Naruto while it does, obviously. Naruto feels a faint but definitely present sense of accomplishment, because this chipping means that Naruto is reaching Sasuke's heart, means that he hasn't lost his touch, means that his best friend is not gone gone gone forever because of childish carelessness.

"Naruto," Sasuke says, softly softly gently gently. There is something very like adoration in that tone, and Naruto blinks as he realizes that he has only ever heard that tone applied to his name. "Why do you always tell me I'm a like a woman?"

"Because you are," Naruto says easily.

"I'm not, moron."

"So are."

"I'm not. So why do you say I am?"

"Because you act like one," Naruto says easily. He walks forward, close enough that he knows he's going to be invading Sasuke's personal space but not close enough that they're actually touching. It's a fine line to walk but Naruto is precise in this if nothing else. "Shit, you even kiss like one," he teases. But it is the wrong thing to say.

"Fuck off, you bastard." Sasuke spins and he launches himself without much grace at Naruto, one hand grabbing the back of Naruto's neck while the other fists into his shirt. Boy lips assault Naruto's in a way that is very not-female, and a body presses into his that is very not-female, and there is a general consensus in his body that Sasuke is not-female and that this is agreeable, because it's Sasuke and Sasuke is Sasuke is Sasuke which is better than girl or boy or flying pig chipmunk. Naruto's arms wrap around Sasuke's waist, pulling him closer closer closer, kissing him harder harder harder, lost in the moment in the most amazing way. The world isn't tilting on its axis it's spinning, twirling, resetting itself completely.

Sasuke pulls back very slowly, his whole posture suddenly unsure. But he seems to steel himself, chin lifting and shoulders squaring. "I'm not a woman, Naruto. I'm a man. And I'm better for you than Hinata." Sasuke's shoulder hunch up, like he's waiting for a physical attack.

And what do you know but Naruto delivers. (He is not gay goddamnit goddamnit he's straight.)

He's got Sasuke on the ground with a bleeding swollen lip in less than ten seconds. Sasuke just looks up at him with scared eyes, and it pisses off Naruto more because where has all Sasuke's fire gone? It is barely thirty seconds later that he feels small, feminine hands pulling none too gently at his shoulders. Sakura's voice fills his ears, but as if from a distance, like she's shouting at him from someplace very very far away.

"Get off him! Get off him, Naruto, you're going to kill him!" She keeps shrieking over and over again, and her wording sometimes varies but it's all she will tell him, and Naruto thinks no, no, he can't be almost killing Sasuke because he'd never do that, because Sasuke never let him do that.

But he lets Sakura pull him off anyway, and he looks down at Sasuke, and he almost feels like puking as the red and black that had been ringing his vision fades away.

Sasuke's lips are swollen and bleeding. His eyes are dark, one at least promising to turn black and blue by tomorrow morning. His whole face, really, looks bruised and swollen. His arm is twisted at an awkward angle that speaks of a maybe break but at least a bad sprain. His whole body is shaking despite the fact he's laying on the ground and it's not like he has to hold himself up but…

"W-what…" Naruto tries but the word trips off his tongue with no grace. And he still feels like puking, can feel the bile rising in his throat.

"Get out, Naruto," Sakura tells him. "You've done enough. I'll take care of this. Just get out."

Naruto stumbles out of the room, his legs not want to support him. He slides down the wall, not even ten feet from the open door to the photography room. He isn't surprised to hear Sakura's soothing voice start up, murmuring questions and reassurances. The longer it goes on and the stronger Sasuke's replies get, the louder they both become. Trusting, apparently, that he has gone on his way.

He isn't really listening, paying attention to the flow of words until he hears: "You really are in love with Naruto, aren't you?" That is enough to perk his interest. He crawls along the wall until he can just barely peek around the corner at the two of them. Sasuke must have nodded, because Sakura is nodding to herself as well, as if contemplating.

"Sasuke, do you ever wish you fell in love with me instead?" Sakura asks slowly, looking down at Sasuke with large, curious, hurting, strange eyes. She reaches out, places a gentle hand on Sasuke's bicep. A quiet sort of smile, a comforting sort of smile, tugs at her lips. Her other hand is rummaging through the first aid box, pulling out supplies based purely on feel.

Sasuke looks up at her, and he seems in that moment to be really seeing Sakura, maybe for the first time. He doesn't shake her hand off, just looks at her with sad, sad, sad eyes and smiles a sad, sad, sad smile and says, "Yeah, Sakura. All the time."

(And this is the part where Naruto's heart breaks.)

Naruto makes it home. He doesn't eat dinner or watch TV or work out, because he knows that for just this once, none of that is going to work. Instead, he just collapses onto his bed. He thinks about his not-fight with Sasuke, and about this strange not-supposed-to-be revelation that Sasuke is in love with him, wants to be with him, thinks they work better than Naruto and Hinata. But mostly the fact that Sasuke is really truly in love with him.

(But doesn't want to be, and that hurts, though Naruto doesn't even want to think about why that might be. Too many questions will follow.)

The next day at lunch, Sasuke comes over to Naruto's table. Naruto is sitting there with Hinata and her cousin Neji and his girlfriend Tenten and their friend Lee and Kiba and Shino. Their table is actually pretty full. Not so full it could not accommodate one more and that is blatantly clear. That is perhaps why when Sasuke begins to set his tray down on the table, mouth opening, face looking mildly apologetic despite being swollen, and Naruto says "There's not room, Sasuke, sit somewhere else," everybody falls silent.

Sasuke does not argue. He leaves his tray, but he retreats out of the lunch room, giving not a word of rebellion or fire or anything vaguely Sasuke-like.

Everybody except Hinata gives Naruto reproachful looks, but nobody leaves.

for something new to grow

Karin corners Naruto in the

boy's locker room. She tells him that she thinks he is the scum of the earth not because he is an orphan, or because he is loud and obnoxious, or because of his parents. Not any of those usual things he used to hear all the time and still remembers being taunted for. No, she tells him, and her eyes are like chips of cold hard lavender. It is none of those reasons that she will call him the scum of the earth. He is scum of the earth because Sasuke is dying, ripping at the seams, and Naruto is too selfish to even try to help.

Naruto tells her that he is not the scum of the earth, but neither is he Sasuke's savior. He doesn't want that job anymore. After all, Sasuke had pushed him at Hinata, hadn't he? He didn't want Naruto to save him. He didn't want to be saved. There were chances but they were lost, so lost, and Naruto refuses to care anymore. He won't.

"Oh, I see. You're scared, scared that if you're with him the taunts will start again and you'll actually have to man up. You're scared because Sasuke tried to save you but you're too fucking weak to say him so you won't even try. Too bad you never bothered to realize that Sasuke shoves at people because he wants to know who will care enough to shove back. He thought you would care enough."

Naruto does not care.

(He blocks Sasuke's number from his cell just to prove it.)

Sasuke misses almost three days of school. Nobody, not even a frantic Karin, knows where he is.

(Naruto does not care.)

Sasuke comes back.

It is almost a week after he returns that Naruto sees it. He is walking by Old Man Orochimaru's office, which he wouldn't be at this time of day except that Hinata asked him so sweetly if he'd run to the other art room and fetch her some pale green paint. He couldn't really refuse, so he did so. So he's walking by, some pale green paint in hand, when he sees it.

'It' is Sasuke, eyes red rimmed like he's been crying. He is limping, and there is a band of what look like bruises around his throat. His grip on his book bag strap is white knuckle tight, his gaze set straight ahead even though his eyes are glazed over in that unseeing way people get when they're just numb, just don't care anymore. He trips and his arms move a bit, grip on the strap sliding, and Naruto sees thin white lines and angry red lines striping his too pale too thin inner wrist. If he's not dead, he's going to be soon.

Five year old Naruto is holding on to Sasuke's hand.

"Will you ever leave me, Sasuke?"

"Never ever."

So Sasuke calls that night and he's crying softly into the phone, and Naruto says "Let's meet in the library tomorrow during lunch" because he doesn't want to deal with Sasuke crying right now.

from these sad ashes and for

Sasuke is arguing with someone in the library. The someone is average height and average looks with not-average white hair and glasses and purple clothes that looks so weird and out of place in a high school library. They argue, voices rising higher higher louder louder angry angry. The average boy leans forward and says something quietly, almost directly into Sasuke's ear.

That seems to be the final straw, because Sasuke lets out a shriek and shoves. He is backing away, talking quickly, lips moving erratically. The average man looks a little confused, but Sasuke's lips curl into a snarl and his fist raises like he's about to punch the other male.

Naruto thinks this might be a good time to intrude so he does. Sasuke, for some reason, looks insanely relieved to see him, and Naruto is surprised to see Sasuke angle himself as if to hide behind Naruto's slightly larger form.

"Hello, my name is Kabuto," the average boy says, holding out his hand. Naruto blinks several times. The guy seems perfectly friendly. Nothing that would piss Sasuke off to quite the degree he was and still is. Nothing except the fact he's a friendly, breathing person which, in Sasuke's universe, is a sin.

So Naruto takes the proffered hand and shakes it. "Naruto," he says by way of introduction, and he figures that now the fight's broken up, things will be somewhat normal.

But Sasuke launches himself around Naruto's body and shoves at Kabuto again, growling softly. "Get out, asshole."

"Damnit, Sasuke," Naruto shouts, shoving forcefully at Sasuke's shoulders. Sasuke stumbles, feet seeming to get in each other's way. His too thin back slams against a bookshelf, and the structure doesn't wobble even a little. "What's wrong with you? He was just being nice. Nice. God, something that you of course don't understand because you haven't got a shred of human fucking decency in you."

Sasuke is breathing hard like he's run a marathon, shoulders heaving frantically with each gasping, shuddering breath. His face is pale too, near transparent if Naruto is being honest, and he can see the bags under Sasuke's eyes and the sharp cheekbones and the roughened lips. "I think I'm going to throw up," Sasuke says, voice shaking and trembling and sounding not at all Sasuke like."

"You won't," Naruto says carelessly, eyes narrowing. He's too angry to deal with Sasuke's nausea.

But Sasuke doesn't notice the tone of Naruto's voice, apparently, because he shakes his head very very slowly, words tripping off his tongue. "B-because Kabuto is gone. And you're here and you would never ever ever let anything happen to me because that's how it works right?" He reaches out, hand shaking hard than his voice as he snags the edge of Naruto's sleeve, fingers tangling in it like it's his very last life line. "Right, Naruto?"

Naruto shakes Sasuke's hand off easily. "Just shut the fuck up, Sasuke. I'm sick of you being such a prickly bastard to everyone. And you wonder why no one likes you? Fucking God, you cried about it last night. You know what, he could have liked you but you were such a jerk to him that it's no wonder he ran off. And you know, I put up with your shit day in and day out and you just keep being such a little bitch about it all."

"Naruto." Sasuke honestly looks like he might faint.

"Shut up, Sasuke. I don't want your stupid shit anymore. You don't deserve friends. You deserve absolutely nothing at all."

"Fuck off, Naruto." And now, still looking like he might faint, tears welling up in his eyes, Sasuke gets some of his old fire. Flickers, embers. "Just fuck off. You want to know why I hate him so much? Why I would risk you to get away? You want to know why I'm a bitch, why no one likes me anymore, why I hate to have people touch me? Do you?"

Naruto gapes, surprised with the sudden change in Sasuke. But the dark haired boy doesn't wait for any of it to sink in, just plowing forward recklessly, the embers in his eyes slowly fanning into a small flame.

"He hurt me, Naruto."

And…Naruto cannot control what happens next. It is conditioned into him, from too too many years of loving Sasuke and protecting Sasuke and knowing Sasuke. "What?" And Sasuke knows that tone. Knows it in that roundabout way of seeing it used on other people. Naruto knows that it's scary as hell. Sasuke flinches, but keeps going.

"Mr. Jadoku and Kabuto. When I was in middle school. I was…I was 13 and Mr. Jadoku told him to rape me. He did. He raped me. He told me to shut the fuck up because no one cared and no one could hear me scream. And he was right, no one could hear me scream. And I screamed and screamed and screamed but no one heard. No one ever hear. I was too scared after, because no one had heard."


"Last week was the worst though. Mr. Jadoku raped me again. I screamed again, I screamed until he placed his hands right here―" he points at the strange mottling around his neck as he gives Naruto an utterly sick smile, "―and almost crushed my windpipe in. He hurt me and no one gave a fuck. No one asked, no one wondered. I spent two days in the hospital recovering. I tried to call you, but you'd blocked my number."


"I thought we were supposed to save each other, Naruto. But you lied. You're a fucking liar and I hate you."

Sasuke is gone before Naruto can think to protest.

The rest of lunch passes for Naruto in a dazed stupor. He knows that he should be thinking about things like actually going to the cafeteria and eating, but he doesn't. Think about those things, that is. And he doesn't do them either. He stays in the library, in one of the forgotten rows towards the back where nobody ever comes. He stays there and he slumps to the ground and he presses his back against one of the bookshelves and he leans his head back with a quiet 'thud' and he closes his eyes and dreams of Once Upon a Time.

Once Upon a Time, this was them:

running through waters warmed by the sun but chilled by the earth, scream shrieking in voices pitched to kid tones, splashing each other with the warm-cold water that swirls around them until it feels like the droplets on their backs might just turn into wings that will carry them to the sun and beyond until they tumble back to earth in each other's arms

nose wrinkling at weird movie choices but putting up with it because of shy soft smiles and maybe purposely begging dark eyes, clambering into laps because exhaustion demands something more comfortable than the floor, popcorn stuffed in uncomfortable places but not caring, remote lost to the depths of the couch

sandboxes shared with strangers and friends and who knows who else because the teacher or the mother or the babysitter glares when the sandbox is not shared, but when the sand and the insults go flying and dark eyes start watering despite best efforts, there is blood in the sandbox because nobody does that to the blond one's precious people

And he smiles, because Once Upon a Time, he smiled. He smiled too big and too bright and too happy at another boy, another boy who made Naruto feel precious and wonderful and a million other things. Naruto was a child who was so incredibly naïve but world weary at the same time, used to being hated but ridiculously hopeful about life in general just the same. Sasuke was a boy who was forever reaching for the next biggest thing and only barely remembering to keep holding onto the past too, but still ready to drag Naruto with him into the sunlight.

But Naruto isn't that child anymore, and Sasuke isn't that boy anymore, and this isn't Once Upon a Time anymore. So when the bell rings and Naruto wakes up, he's not surprised to find tears running down his cheeks.

Kiba asks Naruto if he was crying earlier. His arm slings around Naruto's broader shoulders and his eyes get all crinkly around the corners, like he's trying to peer into Naruto's soul. The boy looks ridiculously suspicious when Naruto says no, but doesn't push it beyond a crass joke about Naruto's possibly female genitals and an inquiry about dive practice later. Sakura also eyes him suspiciously, but she says nothing.

The water is very very cool around him. It's a nice contrast to his way too heated skin, and he likes it. But he has to come up eventually, so he does he 's surprised to hear not the voice of his dive coach but the shrill, panicked voice of Karin. She is standing in the gutter, bottom of her skinny jeans sopping wet from the little wavelets.

"You bastard," she shrieks, pointing at him. "Get your ass out of the pool."

Blinking perplexedly, he does as he's told, swimming to the edge of the pool and sitting in the gutter a suitable distance from her. She doesn't say more, just shoves her cell phone at him. It's open to an email from Sasuke, sent half an hour ago. He scans over the short, to the point messages, apparently directed at Karin, Suigetsu, Juugo, and Sakura. When he reaches the bullet with his name, his heart skips a beat.

Naruto: I still hate you. I still love you though, too. I love you more than I hate you, which is why I'm doing this. Don't worry about Karin, I've left explicit instructions for her not to kill you. Her guilt trips shouldn't phase you.

"The fuck is this?" Naruto demands, heart jumping almost impossibly in his chest. "This sounds like a…"

"Suicide note?" Karin snaps. "Yeah, it is. Now tell me, oh best friend, where the fuck would he commit suicide? I already sent Suigetsu to Sasuke's house, and Juugo to check out the rest of the school building."

Naruto clenches his eyes shut and thinks.

my soul to become winged

"Sasuke." And the name falls from his lips like a prayer, and maybe it is a prayer. A broken hallelujah because he is not too late. Sasuke turns his head, looking over his should almost like he does not quite believe that Naruto is really there. There are tears streaming down his cheeks even though his boy lips are upturned into a smile. Naruto reaches out and says his prayer again, his broken hallelujah.

Sasuke tilts his head to the side. "Naruto?" he asks softly.


"I was going to learn how to fly."

"Fly this way. I'll catch you."

Sasuke's eyes flicker uncertainly and he lets go of the metal bar he'd been gripping oh so tightly. His lower lip trembles.

"But I have to…"

"Please, Sasuke. Fly this way. Please."

So Sasuke flies, arms spread out like wings and face scared but filled with hopeful trust. Naruto reaches out and almost cries when Sasuke falls neatly into his arms.

"Oh God," he whispers, clenching his eyes shut. He feels Sasuke rest his head into the crook of his neck, soft black hair brushing against sensitive but not skin. He doesn't care that it tickles a little. Sasuke is here here here.

"I flew, Naruto," Sasuke says, voice sounding very tired. "I was going to find a Happy Ever After. I don't know if I can find one anymore."

"We'll find one here," Naruto vows quietly. "We'll find one, I swear."

w i n g e d

and proclaim: here are the results of true true love, think you can handle it?

He's in the kitchen. He's wearing jeans that are slung low on his hips, showing the band of his boxers for all the world to see. The shirt he stole from his boyfriend is far too big on him, the final growth spurts during their junior year in college assuring the other male the final victory in the height competition. (Him, 5'10". The Idiot 6'1".) It's a button down, all the buttons unbuttoned because he was just too lazy to bother buttoning.

He's working on brownies to finish up the dinner for tonight. This is maybe the one area that he's really "domestic" but only because he doesn't trust his boyfriend within a yard of the kitchen or food. He's humming a soft relaxing tune, feeling content and good and safe in the fact that his perhaps a tiny tiny bit "feminine" domesticity is not being witnessed by The Idiot he calls his boyfriend.

"Hey, babe," comes the rough and (sweetly) obnoxious voice. He rolls his eyes and turns, unable to stop the fact that he's almost glowing with happiness.

"I told you to stop calling me that."

"It's a step up from woman, isn't it?" A sultry grin, and damn but the years have done his boyfriend good. He steps forward and taps the taller man's nose with his brownie-mix-encrusted spatula, leaving a rather large dollop of brownie mix on said nose.

"Maybe," he says tartly. He's rewarded with a loud laugh and then a swift kiss. Life is normal, and life is good, and when he's kissed again, not swift but slow and sweet, he thinks that he's finally figured out how to fly.