Yesterday my breath was taken away. Today I'm suffocating.

I used to be limitless but that time has passed. I am faced with the sense of my own flesh.

I'll do my best to remember everything that's happened since I last wrote.

I left a mess back there but I guess you could say it wasn't completely my fault. I had plenty of help ruining my life. Then again, I didn't have much of life outside of him to begin with. That's a pretty sad confession to have to make to a journal. I guess you could say that it is my fault. I was the one who fell for him like a helpless idiot. I let him touch me when I knew he was married. I still remember his cold ring on my thigh. That isn't good. I'm not forgetting fast enough.

Maybe if I go and get drunk, then I'll forget. Though, I've never really cared for alcohol. There must be something that could make me forget, there just has to be. I could get lost in my job, but then again I hate my jobs, both of them.

I could find a friend or two, but then again I'd probably bore them to death, I find myself sulking a lot lately, that's why they don't like me at my second job. There's this really nice boy and girl at my day job. They always ask me if I'm alright. They always invite me out to lunch but I never go, he used to take me to lunch all the time. There are so many places to eat here. I've never been in a place this huge before in my entire life. Just walking down the street is going to need some getting used to.

There's so much to do here, so many places to go, even the homeless have a gleam in their eyes.

I wish he never touched me, but wishing is a waste of time. They keep the TV so loud in this place you can hear it all the way in the break room. It's that time of year again.

I hate this time of year. It's a good thing I've trained myself not to look at the screen, if I see him again I'll get knocked back to where I started. This isn't fair but it's my reality and I have to deal with it. There won't be any more divine hands reaching from the sky for me and there will no longer be a black sports car there to rescue me from my domestic peril.

My break is almost over so I'd better cut to the chase.

My life has taken an interesting turn, but the more important aspects of my life have more or less remained constant. I wish this weren't true but it is. I felt like I was running for my life that night. I had to do something, I knew he would be angry when I left, and I also knew that she would pick up on it and tie me to it, I had to act fast.

I packed all of my things in a compressible suitcase and I left the rest, I found that furniture in the back of a warehouse anyway. The only thing that wasn't in a bag was a stuffed monkey that he won for me at a Mexican carnival we went to around this time last year. He showed up at my door at about midnight and said that there was a carnival on the north side by the airport. It was a thirty minute drive but it was worth it. I sucked his cock on the way there. No one there spoke English and we had to faux-sign everything to the employees. He won me that monkey at the attraction with the bell and the giant hammer; I can never remember what it's called. He looked like nothing I've ever seen in my life in his leather jacket under the flickering lights with his hair wishing by in the night breeze. I didn't want him to take me home but I'd never let him know.

A while back I found an old letter from a university here in New York. It was a very good university but I was too afraid to move that far away from home. The people there are much nicer and I've even grown close to a few people there. This was considered by my hometown a place of great evil and shame. I was beginning to understand the fallacy of this legend. I didn't get the same stares I got in LA, much less Bienville. For short period of the day when I'm at home and not being shaken down for whatever money I don't have, I actually enjoy being here.

I'm renting a cramped studio unit in a worse neighborhood than the one in LA. I've been 'robbed' twice already but that was a while ago. I put the quotations around that word because when I get robbed they leave with nothing, because on the average day I have nothing. I never carry cash or valuables on me anyway, but it doesn't really matter because I usually never have cash or valuables.

But back to the story.

I love my new school but since I'm working now, I can't use my mom's income as much anymore for financial aid purposes and I had to get a second job. I changed my major to Classical Ballet. There are enough make-up artists to go around but I figured it was time to do something that interested me. I've been dancing as a hobby since high school; I guess I never really thought I'd get anywhere. Now's as good a time as any to give it a try.

Some weeks I don't even remember what events occurred from the last week. I shouldn't be calm about that. My first job is at a new catering business. I walk around weekend events in Manhattan asking rich and famous people 'would you like some keesh? Shrimp ball'. The tips are fucking legit. Those weekends are actually pretty interesting. Manhattan is such a glorious place to be. My second job is, as you can probably guess, at a dance club only this time the manager is grimier, the other dancers are bigger sluts and bigger asswipes, and the cage is bigger. It's called 'Red', a name that gave me more chills then when I had to all but ride my boss to get a job there. He said he'll fire me at the end of the month if I won't let him fuck me. I can't afford to lose that job.

Oh well…He seems like the type to cum fast. I hate that he put me into this situation. He's a disgusting man and he repulses every inch of my soul. The only man I've ever been with was Naruto; I wonder how long it will stay that way.

I wonder where Naruto is now and if he's thinking about me. I wouldn't expect him to. I pushed him away. My dad used to say 'one can't expect another to get close to them when one pushes another away'. Then again, he only said that when he was slapping my mother around the house. I'd rather not go there today.

It's been a while since I've seen his name anywhere except for in my mind. Seeing it on paper probably defeats the purpose of coming in here where there's no TV to hear about the draft picks for the NY Giants. It'll be even worse on that night. I hate working for a catering company. She'll be there, all of his friends, his parents and they'll all have to see me like this; the ultimate confirmation that Charlotte was right. I don't belong with him, she does. I don't know how I can say that, considering how I feel.

I thought moving here would give me a chance to get over him but as usual running away hasn't proved to be very effective for me. Now he's only two subway rides and a few blocks away from me. The CelebNews Channel said that he'd relocated to Chelsea. Some people have been saying that it was stupid for him to relocate like that before he even knew if he got picked. But I know better. Naruto never does anything unless he's sure. It's hard to breathe when I think about the time he said that to me. I had to pinch myself because I didn't think I was awake. If I weren't dreaming then everything I thought about myself in relation to love was a lie. It was because I wasn't dreaming, I had never been more awake. I suppose all of this is ok as long as I keep where I live a secret. Maybe he won't even see me, maybe he'll be so hurt by me leaving that he's still wrapped in the solace of his family, maybe he wants nothing to do with me. As much as it hurts to think like that, it is, like my mother used to say, 'thinking with one head instead of two'. I can trust that I will keep my feelings suppressed, for my mother's sake I have no choice. But what he will do when or if he sees me is yet to be discovered soon.

This isn't fair at all but this is my reality and I must accept it. I had better get back to work before I lose this job. I can hear them calling my name.


Four corners of a single object all connected either directly or by way of another, can this be a soft spoken punch line? They littered the old vacuum of space with a prevailing dominance that captivated the residents. Naruto took a lasting glance at the lack of openness in their new home of love. The morning sun was just beginning to reveal itself amongst the skyline of New York.

The maze-like abode was settled in the heart of the historic district of Chelsea. The large and unusually warm abode was originally constructed during the eve of the Second World War and renovated by the hands of out-of-work soldiers returning from the Persian Gulf. The walls were a deep crimson, the color chosen by the previous owner. The walls were a constant reminder of what he left back in LA, and matters were made worse by the lack of variation in his sight due to the fact that there was no furniture to cover the taunting walls. They mocked him relentlessly for being a hapless coward, for leaving his dignity and pride behind for his precious image. He could only wonder where he was, much like he wondered since the moment of their rainy departure.

Charlotte had hired a real estate agent before he had even informed her of his decision to leave LA. She said that she'd been eyeing Chelsea since she was a little girl. The old and historically charming buildings, quaint cafes on every corner, its close proximity to Manhattan, the best boutiques in the country, it entailed everything that a deserving woman could ask for. But there was something that neither of them anticipated. Kushina.

She came up to their door step, bypassing the population of hired movers, the day before they were scheduled for a flight to New York. She had tears in her eyes and she demanded to speak to Naruto. A baffled worker fetched him and she began to pour out a weeping plea for him not to leave LA and to earnestly reconsider his plans with Charlotte and their son. He was not only hurt by her accusation that followed but enraged, Charlotte watched from afar with Naruto Jr. by her side as Naruto berated his mother for being a scheming, lying excuse for a mother and demanding that she never breathe a word to his family ever again.

He could never fathom that his wife could stoop to such depths just to deter someone away from her marriage; especially Gaara. And the accusation that his son didn't belong to him sent him over the edge. She claimed that his father was behind her only to earn Minato the same exile from Naruto's furious and betrayed heart.

He poked into the kitchen littered with boxes and searched for the box that contained the box cutter, only to realize that he would need one to open whatever box that contained it. Dispensing of the mental foil, he ripped open the one labeled 'kitchen drawer 7'. In it were a few t-lights, a screw driver and a photo that had been torn in half. One piece was the image of Naruto with his arm draped around someone, the other half was of a fence covering the other person, and all that could be seen was the top of their head, red as the whispering rose. It was the picture that appeared in the tabloids when he first met Gaara and had taken him out to eat, the one that earned him a fierce scolding from his fair haired manager. He'd never seen Sakura so angry in his life.

And the picture lying in his grasp brought back the memories of that day and how there was not a single thing that graced the surface of the Earth that could take his mind off of Gaara. He wouldn't admit that this was still the case; the only difference was that he had grown more adept at concealing it. He recalled the coy yelp he made when he sneezed, the way he tried to hide how hungry he was, the way he jolted slightly when he put his arm around him, the way his lips reminded him of when the sunset stays beautiful for just a moment longer than it usually does, the small of his back, the way his skin warmed under Naruto's touch, the way he shivered when he came inside him. He could feel his member begin to harden.

He hadn't known the feeling of intimacy in several months. He wondered if Gaara had slept with anyone after him, or if he was even Gaara's first. It could've been a ploy to turn me on, he thought. Then he remembered the way he clung to his shoulders that night in the shower. There was no mistaking that he was taking a step onto new grounds.

It struck him, however, as to why the picture was ripped in half, let alone cut out of the magazine in the first place. Before he could further derive meaning from his discovery the back door opened, letting in his wife after her morning run.

"Hey babe", she called from inside the foyer coming into the kitchen wiping her forehead with a towel. She came into the kitchen staring at two halves of a torn picture, she quickly handed off the used linen to one of the maids that appeared in the doorway before coming over to kiss him.

Lügen

"I missed you on my run this morning"

"I wanted to get started on some of the unpacking"

"Honey, we hired people to do that, they'll be here tomorrow afternoon"

Naruto angrily threw the picture down onto the granite counter top. "Why do we have to hire everybody in the fucking state to unpack for us?"

Charlotte took a small step back, fixing her stare suspiciously into his eyes. "Is everything alright?"

He looked down at her picking half of the picture back up. "Where did you get this from?"

"Sweetheart, one of the maids probably cut it out, I see them reading those filthy magazines all the time", she said cupping his stubbly chin. "And its only 5:00, it's still early enough for you to shave for tonight", she said before disappearing around the corner leading up to the stairs.

The official draft picks would be taking place that night and he was ambivalent on attending at all.

The setting of the sky began to grow brighter and Naruto decided to take a later trip to the 24 hour gym down the street. The wind tussled his hair gently as he walked down the sidewalk, passing a few people who knew who he was. The redness taking form in the sky gave him a strong incentive to push his body to a newer limit that morning. Perhaps if he pushed his body hard enough he could somehow annihilate his stubborn. It was a silly aspiration but he chose to chase it for the time being.


"You're wasting your time. He doesn't want anything to do with either of us"

A vacuum cleaner could be heard running in the next room, constantly bumping into legs of chairs, tables, and walls, sucking every spec from the designer carpet. Kushina brushed a lock of hair behind her left ear before massaging temples.

Their cleaning staff was performing its monthly cleaning of the entire manor. From pool to parkway, garden to garage, every square foot had to be scoured to absolute perfection lest the woman of the house suffer a conniption.

"I don't understand why we have to turn this place upside down every fucking month anyway", Minato reached into the breast pocket of his robe to retrieve a lighter to ignite his cigar. "Half the rooms in this place don't see a face for most of the year".

She sighed. "I can't maintain my sanity in a house this big unless it's clean", she folded her arms across her chest as she sat against the headboard of their bed. Minato scoffed at her rationale as he took a breath of the tobacco at the small breakfast table in the open space of their large bedroom.

The sun was high and blazing; noon was only a few hours away.

The constant bumping against the wall ensued.

"And what do you mean?"

"Just what I said, he wants the both of us out of his life", she sighed deeply again. "After I told him, I've never seen him look at me….talk to me that way". She turned away to look out at the light coming into the bedroom bay window. "We've lost him".

"No we haven't"

"Minato, I'm not making this up. He's furious with us!"

"No, he's in denial", he got up and went to the liquor cabinet neighboring the bathroom entrance before pouring himself a glass of scotch. "Unfortunately, partly on my behalf"

"Can't you at least wait until noon to drink yourself into an early grave?"

He turned around with a smirk. "It's never too early", he said taking a quick gulp. "Not for anything"

"Well I don't suppose you have a plan"

"Oh how you doubt me, K"

"I have good reason to"

"Fair, but not this time", he said confidently. "I didn't want to do this but I'm afraid we'll have to"

"What are you talking ab-", she stopped mid-sentence when she discovered the spark behind his sureness. "You couldn't, y-you mustn't…"

"I can and I will"

"…."

"I've become a lot of things over my lifetime, but a liar isn't one of them", he said placing the glass back in the cabinet. "And it don't plan on becoming one anytime soon"

"…"

"Especially when my son is concerned"

"He'll be crushed", she said fearfully. "If he finds out that all of us knew, he may never trust anyone ever again"

Minato smiled as he felt an inner tugging at the fortress that allowed him to fend off emotion and feeling. As a man in his profession, looking for perfection was a prerequisite. He, in the moment that vacuum in the other room finally stopped and was unplugged, began to sense perfection nearby.

"Somehow, I believe you're wrong, my dear"


A foul stench encased the area of LA where Donovan-Murchisons resided. It reached from the top of the middle-aged living facility to the lyrically draining sewers ducts down below. When driving by the front of the complex, one could see the carcass of a mutilated skunk in the shoulder lane of the road. Skunks were uncommon in that area yet they're dead bodies seemed to be ever-present on the roads of that section of LA.

The older members of the community sometimes said that dead skunks were a sign of great tumult either in the community as a whole or in a specific residents' life. Marcia Murchison's car pulled into the parking lot and stopped in one of the guest spots. She was carrying a copy of a police report and her leopard print styling tool belt that she wore around the salon. She'd never forgotten to take it off until that day. Stopping for a brief moment at the tremendous malodor in the immediate atmosphere, she raced up the stairs to her father's unit on the second level. She heard a silent weeping through the door before putting her key in the lock.

Gabriel was sitting in Harold's chair with a blank and ghastly expression on his aged face. He turned to his only daughter with a dejected look. "If that PR in your hand is for Harold you're wasting your time."

"And what the hell is that supposed to mean?" She came in and sat down in the chair in which he normally sat when Harold came around. "You said he up and left and didn't say where he was going"

"Well you hung up the phone before I could finish!"

"Don't yell, I'm not deaf"

"Sorry"

Marcia Ran her hands through her hair. "Where did he go?"

Gabriel sighed. "If I'm not mistaken, he went to New York"

She paused for a brief moment to process what her father told her. "What?"

"Yep"

She massaged her temples before looking back up at her father's worried eyes. "You know what? This man is going to give you a heart attack, I've told you-"

"Can we please not go there?"

"I think we should go there, dad" she said raising her voice. "Ever since his company went under, he's become a madman looking for any possible way to sneak back into his precious grandson's life and he's dragging you along for the ride, leaving without telling you where he's going, staying away for days at a time, taking out all different kinds of loans, hiring every fucking private investigator in the state of fucking California, and now he's all the way across the whole goddamn country trying to get close to man who thinks his grandfather is dead!"

Gabriel sat silently.

"Dad I know you love him and I know you two have been together for a very long time, but you have to think about your health"

"And your point is.."

"My point is, I think you need to come stay with m-"

"No"

"You didn't let me finish"

"I know what you're going to say and I'm not coming to live with you"

"And why not?"

"You have a son; specifically a 13 year old son who's going through puberty, having a grandfather there can be very awkward for him at this stage in his life"

"I'll tell him to keep his masturbation down to a minimum"

"You know he's still adjusting to the fact that his grandfather is gay"

"And what better what to help him adjust than to have his gay grandfather living with him", she said with a smirk.

Gabriel laughed. "You're really not giving up on this are you"

"Nope"

He sighed deeply. "How about I stay with you until Harold gets back-"

"Whenever that'll be", she said under her breath.

"And if I like it there then I'll consider discussing with him the possibility of living with you"

"Fair enough"

Marcia got up. "Well since I left work to look for your crazy partner we might as well get something to eat, my treat"

"I'll get my shoes", he said as he struggled to get out of the back-un-friendly recliner. His back cracked audibly as he walked to their bedroom closet.

"You must be pretty worried to be sitting in that thing"

"Can you blame me?" His voice was muffled behind the bedroom and closet doors. "New York is a dangerous place"

She scoffed. "Right, because LA is regular Stepford Heaven"

"You know what I mean", he said emerging.

"He must really love that boy"

"He's not a boy anymore; he's a grown man now."


The heat of the evening air rose with an esteemed grace as the façade of the sun fell beneath the mortal line of sight. It had been announced many months in advance that there would be an upscale event surrounding the announcement of the draft picks. The addicts of glamour from New York and a few other states garnered everything they could in their local arsenal of power to make themselves presentable in the eyes of their much worshipped god of fame and precious notoriety.

The venue had recently gone through many renovations before the event came around. The owner of the building transformed its purpose into that of a lounge meant for the young adult crowd upon purchasing it from a man arrested for human trafficking charges.

Previously, the building was a brilliant assurance of the beauty of modern architecture, on the outside. Inside it was a danger to all that were nonsensical enough to walk through it. Wires and pipes that jutted brutishly from the ceiling were simply painted with the same white paint that covered the cracks and lesions that disgraced the walls and floors.

Upon hearing of the prospect of the draft picks' urgency for a suitable venue, Rhukiev Armanpour decided that it was the perfect opportunity to adhere to the public inspectors that paid him monthly visits with written gifts that were beginning to cause him a financial toil. Yes, before he was forced to pay another fine for what his dwindling totality of patrons were beginning to call a 'shit hole in a bigger shit hole'.

He hired his brother, on a work visa from St. Petersburg, to rewire the entire electrical system, he had the walls of the main portion of the facility knocked out, replaced and repainted.

Although the renovations were successful in making the interior concur with the exterior, the funds that went into the ceilings and walls had to come out of the paychecks of the bartenders, wait staff, cashiers, bouncers, and all else whose name was on Armanpour's payroll. He was a parsimonious and callous man of only 30 years wishing to squeeze every cent out of every endeavor, whilst turning a blind eye to all injuries incurred in the process.

Realizing this fact as soon as possible, his staff began to hand in there resignation one by one, some by way of handwritten notions or emails, some by way of abrupt absence, some by heated cursing. With only a few days standing tauntingly in between his barren lounge and the blinding light of the draft pick night, he had to find someone to serve all of the a-list guest s that would be standing on his brand new floors, now covered in marble.

His situation seemed hopeless until he came across an ad in the newspaper posted by a less-than-new event company going by the name of Maine Event. Ironically the name of the founder of the business was Sandra Maine. Rhukiev had heard of her business before but never thought he needed her as long as his downtrodden and underpaid minions muttered not a word of complaint. When they abandoned him, he decided to give Sandra's nest a call.

With a friendly, attentive, and experienced staff of chef's, waiters, planners, designers, valets, and doormen at your service, Maine Event is guaranteed to make your soirée a success.

And a success it was as the night began to unfold.

The red carpet of lies and fragmentation was rolled out as, only about 30 minutes east and a few blocks over the expected star of the evening was adjusting his bow tie that complimented an elegant Armani suit. His dread for the evening's trappings and accessories, he was still being drafted to another team to do what he wanted to do more than almost anything. When he looked in the square mirror, his blue eyes weren't what they used to be, it was as if there was a paucity of the fire and luster that granted them the radiant hue of the recent past.

Sich schӓmen

NJ was across the hall being told a bedtime story by the nanny. Naruto stood in front of the mirror in the hallway beside the entrance to their bedroom. They had only been in their abode for less than a month and it seemed that everywhere he walked he was looking at a reflection of himself. But he knew that with as much happiness Chelsea brought her he could never bring himself to admit his discomfort about their home teeming with mirrors.

It was beginning to become difficult to breathe when Charlotte appeared from around the corner in a recherché and tastefully glittering gown perfectly framed her breasts and coyly drew attention to her figure. Her rich brown hair fell feebly beside her dramatic eyes and bold red lips. Naruto stood dumbfounded. If ever there was a notion that she viewed her position as his wife with any ambivalence, it was decimated when she was borne out of her bedroom.

"Well?" She turned around a few times. "How do I look?"

The dress was backless.

His mouth stood agape as he struggled for the proper words to say. In all of the years he'd known her, he had never felt such an outward exertion of the culmination of pride inside her manifested in an aura that made it a struggle for him to even speak. For one unbeknownst moment he was led astray from his interminable pining for Gaara into the deep and alluring current of womanly energy that was being effortlessly transpired by his wife. It was even present in his mind the thought that maybe this same energy was what could finally break the blissful spell that was cast over his tumultuous heart when he first laid eyes on him.

"You hate it"

"You're beautiful", he said finally finding his tongue. "You're beautiful"

She picked up the small portion of her gown that draped over her bare feet and approached his taller form before his hand swam around her wait to her bare back, the coolness of his flesh making her shiver subtly. In that moment he was convinced that if their impassioned love for each other did not change its intensity from that of that very moment, his life with his family and without Gaara would be a few steps away from suicide. Their met before their lips did the same. How shamelessly he had tossed Gaara aside in that moment, he thought to himself. Charlotte could feel the apprehension inside of him pulling him away slowly. She pulled back. She could see in his deep blue eyes that he wanted her. She ran her hand gently down his firm chest and slowed to a stop right above his belt.

Her eyes followed the trail left by her seductive hands back up to his eyes. "We better go". She smirked at him before turning away to return to the bedroom to retrieve her shoes and purse. He smiled back her, the first time he'd done so in longer than he could recall. When she removed her presence from him, another familiar returned. Yet this time it was different. And it was reassured by the idea that he would never have to see Gaara ever again.

Is that really it? Is it over? Was tonight some sort of sign that Gaara's out of my life for good? I almost feel guilty that it happened that fast. But should I? After all, she is my wife and we do have a son together. What about him? I've been such an idiot all this time. I've been chasing around this twink from GodKnowsWhere, Louisina when my whole life was standing right in front of me.

Or am I just saying this to rationalize my way out of thinking about him? But what for? I'll never see him again. For all I know he could still be on the other side of the country.

Whatever the case, for the first time since I can remember, I can't wait to come back home and make love to my wife.

Even in his mind, the words tugged at something inside him that had been there for more than a few years. Charlotte emerged from their room a second time slightly taller than before.

"Ready?" She said as she briefly paused at the top of the stairs. He simply smiled and followed her down the winding staircase before walking out to the car. Naruto took a deep sigh of relief before turning the foyer light off and closing the door behind him. He'd left Martin behind to be hired by someone else as a driver in LA; his new driver was a younger man from Laos named Nitram. He'd been recommended by one of Charlotte's friends that lived in New York once before but now lived in Houston.

Having a driver was more practical in New York, Charlotte kept stressing in lieu of Naruto's black car sitting on the side of the road in front of their house. He hadn't driven it since the first night they spent there, an act that was better off abstained from in Naruto's eyes due to the actions that happened inside.

When their eyes met the outside sky, the blackness of night had already begun its noble dance. A sudden and unexpected crack of thunder nearly sent Naruto into cardiac arrest before he reached out to open the door for his wife to enter the vehicle. It couldn't be. It's only rain. It's been on the forecast for weeks now.

"We'd better get a move on Mr. Uzumaki. Ms. Haruno and Mr. Uchiha are expecting us", said the driver from the front seat, knocking him out of his momentary period of irrational fear. When the couple was secured in the car the black Lincoln rolled leisurely down the street and on to the coming spectacle.


In the slums where Gaara had not so long ago departed from, a telephone call reached a lonely household.

"What?"

"It's me"

"…"

"…"

"What do you want? I already told you what I wanted and not to call me unless you have it"

"I do"

She stopped at the sudden pause of her heartbeat. She couldn't believe what she'd just heard. "You do?"

"Yes, but there's been a change of plans"

"What do you mean?"

"The option of me bringing him to you isn't open anymore", he said gravely. "You'll have to go to him"

"Are you kidding me? You've heard the news, they're all the way on the other side of the fucking country; I can barely afford to pay on my bus card"

"Listen to me carefully; I'm only going to say this once. It's only 9:00; you have plenty of time to pack a few things. Be up and ready at 5, there will be a car out front to take you to me at the airport"

"Are you coming with me?"

"My wife and I are going"

The words gave her the ultimate chilling of disappointment. "Your wife?"

"Yes"

"Do you think he'll still remember me? It's been almost two years"

"….."

"Please tell me, I won't be able to sleep if I don't hear it from someone"

"A boy always remembers his mother"

"Thank you", she said tearfully. "For everything"

"Don't thank me, I'm not doing this for your son", he said. "I'm doing it for mine"


From the inside of Armanpour's, the waitstaff stood in the kitchen looking out of the side door at all of the celebrity clientele coming into the door. They were filling the room along with the up tempo music playing in the background. Rhukiev could be seen approaching the backroom where they were conversing. He burst through the double doors in a sarcastic huff, something that was to be expected when he felt as though his money was not being put to good use.

"What's the chit chat about folks?" He said in a thick Russian accent.

A blonde waitress was the only one unfamiliar enough with to answer one of his famous trap questions. "Just eyeing the clientele tonight Mr. Armanpour"

"Well here's an idea", he said noisily snatching a silver tray from the pile behind him. "Why don't you get your lazy asses out there and start serving the 'clientele' champagne like I paid your boss 6 fucking thousand dollars for you to do!" He said before slinging the tray at the brick wall behind the stove before barking more orders.

"And I thought I hired 20 waiters, why the fuck do I only see 19?!"

The frazzled blonde pointed out at the only waiter outside serving champagne, a slender red-headed youth with whom the guests seemed to be taking a liking. Rhukiev turned to the other staff and shooed them out of the kitchen to leave the chefs to their jobs. This was the norm of many of the events that Gaara was invited to wait at. Sandra had a system in place for choosing waiters that only he seemed to understand, puzzling the others as to why he got the most work.

Don't drop anything; I swear if you drop something….

Being poised and graceful was never his forte especially when walking around people he'd seen on TV on regular basis. Too concentrated on not spilling champagne on someone's shoes, Gaara naturally refrained from being star struck. He was suddenly reminded of when he would help his father home with the groceries, how he was warned time and time again not to drop anything. If he did he get a short beating, his mother wasn't so lucky. Her punishment for dropping things ensued when he was too drunk to think their son was awake. They're people just like you, he kept telling himself. Just don't drop anything.

About thirty minutes went by before he heard a familiar noise coming from the sky above them all that would judge equally without fail. Thunder. The black car was nearing the lounge, whether or not he was being silly or superstitious meant nothing to Gaara at the moment, all he could think about was making it from the back counter where he had to carefully load the breakable glasses and bringing them back to the floor where guest, like normal people, were eager to get drunk.

Don't drop anything.

It was the first time and, he hoped, the last time he would ever have to be in a situation where he had to serve all of the most important people in Naruto's life, all in one sitting at least. That was all he could hope in his own realm of oddities. If only everyone knew what was going on beneath the flaming hair, he thought. He could hear the slight percussing of rain drops on the roof of the lounge. The car was outside. Gaara's heart began to beat so quickly that his breath couldn't stand a chance. Pink, Sakura entered, closing her umbrella. Black, Sasuke entered behind her taking her coat and handing it to one of the servers. His disquieting breathing began to garner unwanted attention as he saw a man approaching him.

Don't drop anything. Ask them if they want more champagne.

He'd seen the approaching man on the news as a recurring sports reporter. "You ok man?"

"I'm fine thank you", he said in the most polite way he knew how. "More champagne?" The man sympathetically declined out of fear that even the slightest motion from the younger man would leave him unconscious on the floor. Gaara turned to walk away to find someone else to take his mind off of the sudden rise of temperature in the room, when suddenly he'd lost sight of Sakura. Terrified by the prospect of her looking to confront him he quickly averted his direction closer to the entrance where she once saw her.

Don't drop anything.

The rain outside had soaked the red carpet making the ritual unfit for the turn of events at the hands of nature. A tear rolled down Gaara's cheek.

Damn! This wasn't supposed to happen like this. I was supposed to leave and never see him again. It was supposed to be my turn to have a normal life. My mom got hers and I was supposed to get mine. Why is this happening to me? Now they'll all think I'm stalking him and I'll get fired and have to be one of the dignified beggars I see outside my window at night. Not to mention if Charlotte sees me here she'll send Mama back to prison. I can't lose this job. I have to get out of here. I'll lie tell Rhukiev that I'm liable to puke all over the place. If only I can just-

"It's the man of the hour!" Sasuke yelled from an unknown corner of the room. When Gaara turned to look for the direction of the cause of this proclamation, his form caught the gaze of a pair of shocked and stunned eyes. Sakura seemed to be frozen in time as she gazed upon the man who'd left her best friend's life in a rainy haze only to reappear on the biggest night of his life. Just as she began to approach him, He could see Charlotte entering the room on a man's arm. In the brevity of the instance he saw a small tattoo on the man's hand that belonged to a man he once knew. The time had come for his demise, he thought.

He turned quickly to go to the side door of the back room when another drunken journalist cut his path short causing him to drop a few splashes of champagne onto his pants. The man looked at him with an alcoholic fire in his eyes.

"Watch where you're going you fucking faggot!"

"I'm so sorry", he said trying his best to blend his voice in amongst the moderate volume of the crowd as he pulled out a cloth from the breast pocket of his vest behind his gold name tag and handed it to the disgruntled guest.

Before Charlotte or the 'man of the hour' could see him he quietly made his way to the back where he placed the tray of champagne where the blonde server was so consumed with filling enough glasses to meet the demand that she didn't even notice him. The bathrooms were well hidden from the main portion of the lounge and making it difficult to get to safety in time. Before Gaara could burst through the doors to his temporary solace where which Rhukiev would eventually find him…

"What the fuck are you doing here."

It was such a grave and low tone that he nearly didn't recognize her. He couldn't bring himself to turn around, seeing her face would remind him of another and send him to the very place from which he felt like he'd been running for nearly three years. Her sympathy for him had run its course, that much he knew for sure.

"First you nearly end his career, then you nearly end his marriage, then you ruin his relationship with is best friend, his child and his parents, then you leave without as much as an explanation. And then when he even begins to try to start a normal life, you show back to do more damage?"

"…"

"I trusted you, his mother trusted you, hell, we all trusted you!"

Gaara began to recall something his aunt once told him about running.

"You're a bigger snake than she is"

Stop

Gaara whipped around and rushed up to Sakura making her take a few steps back, eventually backing her into the wall. "Let me get something through your pretty little blonde head. I never wanted a goddamned thing from you or your best friend or his precious mother. He wanted me. I'm the one who had to fight off his fag-hating dad and his cunt wife. And it was ME who was trying to start over. I came to Brooklyn to go to college because SHE was threatening to put my mother back in prison for blowing my goddamned father's brains out like he fucking deserved if I didn't 'back off of her husband', who by the way has been stalking me for the past two years. In fact the only reason why I'm in this shithole or dancing naked in an overgrown bird cage or waiting tables for rude drunks is to keep enough coins in my pocket so my landlord doesn't put my ass out on the street! So don't you dare accuse me of ruining your precious Naruto's picture perfect life, ok?

"All I ever did was love him and for that I had to sit on my ass every fucking day and watch him slobbering all over his slut bitch wife, who didn't give a damn about up until a few years ago, all over every channel, every news headline, every magazine cover, being called a slut and a home wrecker and 'a crime to the American family at its prime' by every sports reporter and political analyst with a mic and a camera, not to mention getting shot at, burglarized, getting the shit kicked out of me in a back alley, and having my mother back on trial for something that happened FIFTEEN FUCKING YEARS AGO!"

"And guess what I get to do. I get to go back out there and work for the rest of the night because the owner is the biggest cheapskate on the east coast and if I walk out I'll most likely lose the job that pays enough to pay for tuition. Thanks to you-know-who, I can't apply for financial aid anymore because SURELY I can't tell my dean that some jealous conniving whore ran me out of town. And guess whose outside? Charlotte! The jealous conniving whore

"And the minute she sees me she's going to get on the phone, call up whoever she's fucking over at the Louisiana DA's office and have my mother in the electric chair by tomorrow morning because surely since we're in the same city I must be somewhere stuffing Naruto's cock in my mouth. Oh, and it's a good thing your old pal Sasuke didn't see me because the last time we spoke he said he'd punch me out if he ever saw me again", he said with his voice dripping sarcasm.

"…"

"You see?" He said before he went out to retrieve his serving tray with which he would acquiesce to his potential demise. A ray of tears fell from his green eyes. "It's him that ruined my life. But I don't have a fancy manger to fix my problems. Nor do I have the time to sit around and cry about them", he said before he reached the door. "In fact I shouldn't cry too much. You see after I leave here I have to go to my other job, you know, the one with the overgrown bird cage. My boss won't like it if my eyes are all puffy. Because if I don't swallow his load, he says I'm fired, I hear that's how it works where the pay you a lot"

Sakura placed a weak hand over her mouth as she wept helplessly.

"Welcome to the real world", he said as he made his exit.

The door swung back twice once revealing the absence of Gaara and a second time to see Sakura against the wall still reeling from the unfortunate details of a life that she didn't know was so close to her. She'd protected and defended Naruto with all of her might; little did she know that he was allowing his passions to destroy someone else. She stood against the wall with a ghastly expression, laden with guilt that she would even so much as equate his life with scheming of Charlotte. She picked up her hand bag and stepped into the women's restroom.

The room was beginning to loosen as the rain poured on outside. Gaara was almost positive that Naruto was in the room somewhere. Yet, there was a quality in his eyes that spelled heedlessness towards any notion that things could get any worse. He could see him and Charlotte on the other side of the room speaking with another couple. There was quite a bit of distance between them, yet he felt as if Naruto was only inches away. Not wishing to allow haplessness transform into calamity, he made sure that whenever Naruto searched the crowd for a person of more meaning to him, he was not in his line of sight. This was craftily done without disappointing the requirements of his job.

When his tray of keesh was empty he would quickly look down to see if his face showed any testimony of the wrathful lamenting he'd done to Sakura. He felt slightly guilty for releasing his frustrations on him when she returned to the lounge after nearly an hour. They exchanged quick glacial looks before they began to tend to their own affairs amongst high society; one dwelling, one serving.

As Gaara made his rounds, making sure to avoid the sections of the two-story lounge to which he migrated, he began to feel a heat within, ha warmth he hadn't felt in a long time. This is neither the time nor the place to rekindle anything, remember what happened in LA, everything that happened.

His inner words were futile. He couldn't help standing aloof at the edge of a pillar and gazing upon him. He was sitting upstairs in the VIP room with some other players. He was in a club chair, looking out at the crowd below. The other men and women in the room, including Charlotte, seemed to be preoccupied in conversation. Instead of shaving his beard, he shaped it into a fine cut, his chin was rested in between his index and middle fingers, the way he always did when he was thinking. His blonde hair was slicked back, revealing his statuesque and gallant facial features. His blue eyes seemed to be fixated on something in the air. Gaara turned around, following the direction Naruto's gaze to see that he was staring the large window revealing the pouring outside. Their eyes both soon were captivated by the display.

To everyone else, it was an inconvenience to be dealt with when it was time to call a cab to go home, nothing to pay attention to, for there were more important things to fret over. But to them it was a clandestine vista of the heated passion that was sleeping inside the both of them, brought on by the forced suppression of a world that lacked the perspicacity to know how much they wanted each other.

Gaara stood under the overhanging of the second floor where a dark shadow engulfed him. Naruto sighed deeply into the emptiness of the room that surrounded him.

The darkness that surrounded him brought an unexpected smile to his lips as the image of Naruto's arms replaced the darkness in the most beautiful way. No one was there. There was only the two of them. Even though he didn't know he was only one flight of stairs was, he felt every fiber of his being affirm that the both of them were on a single accord.

The rain outside drove Gaara to run his hands through his hair, to exhale all of the rotten and gritty and bleeding and eruptive feelings that he felt towards the situation concerning the man he could not deny he loved with a scorching passion, to begin to sweat, to yearn to be cooled by the pouring rain. The alluring promise of a quenched and annihilated fire at the hands of a falling blue rain pulled at him incessantly.

The VIP room was beginning to grow too cold, prompting the blonde haired man to leave and take a post leaning against the balcony. He smelled a familiar smell as he leaned in closer, he could shake the feeling there was someone near him that he'd seen before. Before he could look down Sasuke grabbed him by the shoulder.

"What the fuck are you doing out here? They're about to announce the draft picks", he said playfully as the two of them.

The process went by slowly and precariously. Gaara stood in the back as the players came forth and said a few words to the coaches and owners. His stomach was in knots, he knew at any moment Rhukiev was going to be thanked for having the event at his lounge and subsequently he was going thank the wait staff before he barked at us to clean up behind the departing guests.

They called Naruto's name as the new Quarterback of the NY Giants. The room rang loudly in applause. Everyone seemed to be surprised at the finesse of Naruto's plan to move to NY before he knew he was picked, except for Gaara. He inched further into the back of the crowd of servers until his back was pressed against the wall. He could go neither left nor right; he would be in the line of sight.

He could see Naruto up on the stage speaking to the cameras and reporters that showed up less than an hour prior. Charlotte was standing behind him. Her eyes were like lasers, searing through the crowd for any threats, blips or irregularities under her dominion. If I can just get to the back until he leaves, they won't see me.

This is fucking crazy

Gaara moved slowly behind the clump of servers when he heard the retrenching phrase 'Armanpour and his wonderful staff for this event'. The crowds gaze turned to the group of servers standing in a far corner with the exception of one, who was nowhere to be seen.

The power couple stepped down from their distinction from the crowd and Charlotte motioned for Naruto to lean down to her level. "I'm going to catch up with an old girlfriend of mine, and then we can get back home and go back to where we left off", she whispered softly into his ear.

He smiled. "I'll wait down here", he said as she departed her gaze slowly as she walked back upstairs. At the very moment that his gaze left her form it fixated on the last person he thought he'd ever see again in his entire life. The sight before him nearly brought him to his knees. Everything that he doubted, denied and detested about himself was thrown at him at a million miles an hour. He couldn't decipher if his eyes were serving him correctly or if his mind was doing him a disservice by playing a cruel and heartless joke on him in showing him the one person that he loved more than anyone or anything. He was afraid to blink, for when he reopened his eyes, the beautiful mirage would be gone, but it remained. Gaara was caught up in his stare as one would be in rapture, he'd been discovered. His presence in New York was more evident than ever.

Frozen in time and space, he had no other choice but to stay where he was, one still debating reality and the other formulating yet another escape plan. Gaara's eyes began to water, setting off a chain reaction in Naruto's heart. He had to leave before someone else made the connection.

Gaara dashed madly for the back door leading to an alley, praying to anyone listening that Naruto wouldn't follow him. If he followed he would twice as hard to get away from. He wished that Naruto didn't love him back, just so there wouldn't have to be any rude shocks or explanations. Yet, Naruto raced after him before he could get too far away.

Sakura watched the spectacle with concerned eyes from the balcony as many people in the room were looking for the one to congratulate. He was gone; chasing a dream that chased a nightmare.

The rain had stopped when Gaara burst out of the door and into the alley. He watched the door with a charged feeling of anticipation as he heard the clocking of shoes on the floor coming after him. He began to breathe rapidly as he began to take steps backwards toward the street to his escape. All he had to do was run.

Naruto appeared through the door and saw Gaara backing away, closer and closer and closer to the street. Through tearful eyes, the red headed youth outstretched his index finger at the approaching man.

"Get away from me", he choked out as Naruto began to lessen the gap between themselves and the wall behind them. "Don't fucking come near me", they were only a few inches from each other. Gaara began to pick up the scent of his intoxicating cologne.

"Gaara…" Naruto reached out to touch him but Gaara smacked his hand away as more tears poured from his green eyes. Each drop tore at Naruto. He lowered his head to Gaara's level before grabbing him by his slender waist.

"Don't touch me", he pleaded. He could no longer promise himself that he could control his feelings as long as Naruto touched him. "Please don't touch me". He could feel himself slipping, faster than sand through the center of an hour glass. Naruto pressed his lips onto Gaara's, ending his failing inner controversy. He could feel his arms encircling Naruto's strong neck. He lost all control as he felt a strong arm bringing his body to a new definition of close. Rational thought was cast away when Naruto pulled away. Their eyes met once again.

For what seemed like the passing of hours, they gazed into each other's eyes.

"You shouldn't be here"

"Neither should you"

"True, it is football season after all. They could have my head"

Naruto chuckled as he wiped the moisture from Gaara's eyes.

"I missed you"

"I can tell", he said looking down. "You're about to impale me"

Naruto smirked. "You should be so lucky"

"I won't comment on that one"

Naruto's hand began to travel down Gaara's lower back as he leaned closer to his ear. "I think you still want me"

"If my memory serves me correctly, I was running away from you"

"And why would you want to do a thing like that?"

Gaara looked away.

"How many cities is it going to take before realize you can't get rid of me", he drew closer again.

Gaara pushed him away. "They're looking for you"

"How do you know?"

"Someone's always looking for you"

"But what happens when I go back in?"

"You'll say goodbye to all of your friends and go home with your wife"

"I was talking about you"

"What about me?"

"…"

"I'll be fine"

"That's not what I asked"

"Of course it is"

"Don't play with me, Gaara"

"I don't know what you're talking about"

"I think you do"

"Well I disagree"

Naruto placed his hand on the wall behind Gaara. "Where are you staying?"

"In New York"

"You think you're funny don't you?"

"Obviously not, by the way you're looking at me"

"I'm not leaving until you tell me"

"Why does it matter?"

"Because you matter"

Gaara sighed deeply. "I go to college here, and I work a few jobs here and there"

"Where?"

"Various places"

"I didn't ask where you worked; I asked where you lay your pretty little red head at night"

"At my boyfriend's place"

"You're lying"

"No I'm not, I do in fact have a boyfriend and he wouldn't appreciate you harassing me about where we live"

Naruto took a step back, smiling to hide his frustration. Gaara's face expressed a satisfactory grin. "You're jealous aren't you?"

"Why would I be jealous of someone that doesn't exist?"

"You tell me"

"You don't have a boyfriend"

"How are you so sure?"

"I know when you're lying"

"Don't flatter yourself", he said looking down for a brief moment. "Besides, what is it about me that so quickly disqualifies me from being in a relationship?"

"I didn't mean it like that"

"Oh but I think you did. You're pissed because I might be squeezing my way out of the little lamp you have me sealed away in, because clearly the very idea of me being in a relationship with someone who only wants to be with me is simply unfathomable to you"

"That's not fair", was Naruto's escalating rebuttal. "You know I would never leave my son without a father"

"The only thing that's not fair is how I was the only one stupid enough to fall in love you and you knew it. Now that you've become the man of the fucking First Family you can waltz in with your gorgeous wife in front of all of you queer-hating friends and then when the lights are out and no one is around to recognize you, you come running to your poor hapless little slut for a little extra ass"

"Don't insult me", Naruto said, his tone pointing at Gaara. "You knew full well what situation I was in and you showed up whenever I called just the same, so don't play the martyr like someone took advantage of you. Don't forget that it was me who bailed your ass out of jail when broke into my neighborhood and trashed my car"

Gaara quickly subtracted the space between them. "No, you don't insult me! Don't you dare play Mr. Good Samaritan like you actually care about me; how quickly you forget, I wanted to take the bus after you bailed me out, but you insisted on fucking me in your back seat!"

Naruto stepped back again.

"Is that why you left? Because you thought I was using you for sex?"

"…", he took a full breath. His tongue was being held by a force that he could not explain. Common sense and pity of nonsensical child's play would have marked his decision before he'd met Naruto, but a difference in his former and present selves blocked his confession.

"Well? Is it?"

"No", don't say anything.

"Then why did you leave?"

Gaara chuckled as a new set of tears rolled down his cold warm cheeks. "You're the superstar. You figure it out."

Naruto dashed over to the door and yanked Gaara away, bringing him close again.

"Let me go!"

"Not until you tell me why you left!"

"And disrupt your perfect little life? I don't think I could live with myself if I did that", he spat sarcastically before wiping the tears from his eyes. Naruto looked as if he'd finally hit the brick wall that he'd dreaded all the days leading up to that moment.

"Look, we're about to go back in there with all of those people and I can't be ok with standing amongst them knowing that I don't have you. So just tell me what you want me to do or say and I'll do it!" His voice cracked under the pressure building in his chest.

Gaara looked up at him with eyes he never knew he could see through. "You really want to know what I want you to do?"

"For god's sake, yes!"

The door swung open to reveal a less-than surprised Sakura.

Gaara yanked himself free of Naruto's dying grip. "Wake up", he said before storming inside. The door swung back and forth until Gaara's footsteps could no longer be heard against that familiar and grueling path that the both of them knew as departure, departure of that kind that they knew not if either would return.

Naruto turned around to face the glowing reflection of street lights, placing his hands in the pockets of his pants. He stared out at the transcendental sight before him, being able to extract all sounds from his conscious state except for the slow and hesitant steps of Sakura approaching him. She sighed deeply at the inner unearthing that she was stuck in an unbounded cycle of wreathing his storms before he did, thus discerning whether or not they were surmountable enough for Naruto to handle without acting brashly.

She couldn't bring herself to admit that the purpose behind not warning him immediately when she discovered Gaara's abstruse presence was to allow Gaara's justified and overdue frustration with his dealings, the same one he'd unleashed on her, to be released upon Naruto; perhaps in order to hew back the world-forged notion that he could only bring joy and mindless pleasure to all those who crossed his ill-forsaking path.

With the inner faith that Gaara had the appropriate grasp to tell his conflicted counterpart what he needed to hear, she struggled to find the words to add. Naruto turned his head slightly to the left.

"I don't want to hear it", he said walking through the alley back to the front entrance of the lounge.

"Fine"

Two encumbered figures disappeared from the view of the ally and reappeared into the view of the front entrance. A pair of stark eyes followed their steps as they misguidedly evaded the sight of Gaara clearing champagne glasses from the VIP room on the second level.

Charlotte, dispensing of the conversation being held with an old companion, met the two seemingly melancholy individuals at the glass doors. She looked back and forth from Sakura to Naruto with a slight and diminishing smile.

"What's going on?"

"Nothing", Naruto said wrangling with his own dejection. "Let's just get out of here".

Like a crippling blow, the brown haired woman could feel a familiar, threatening presence of someone who she'd all but staked her life on preventing from showing up in her life ever again. Before Naruto could see her, she took a quick look around the surrounding area. She couldn't spot him within the immediate vicinity and momentarily let her guard down as she began to receive a strange look from Sakura.

"Looking for someone, Charlotte?" Sakura said with a knowing expression on her face, feeling a gut wrenching guilt that her best friend had to go home with her.

"Why of course not", she said placing a hand on Naruto's shoulder and looking up at him. "Why don't you go and call Nitram around?"

"Sure", he said with a faint simper before leaning down to kiss her lightly. Sakura swallowed the imaginary lump in her throat as she witnessed the display of affection. He made his grand exit as Charlotte fixated her dramatic and deadly eyes onto Sakura as she walked closer to her.

"What a noble thing you're trying to do"

"Well, someone has to keep an eye on all of the disgusting cunts in his life, may as well be me"

Charlotte laughed softly. "That hurts coming from you, Sakura. I thought we were beginning to get along"

"Only a gracious woman can get along with everyone", Sakura said sardonically. "Even the conniving liars"

"Looks like we have something in common"

"Hardly"

"And why would you say a thing like that?"

"Far be it from me to say", Sakura entreated cordially. "But if you ask me, I'd say that graciousness is a quality that can only be earned through virtue, rather than blackmail"

"Careful", Charlotte said smiling salaciously. "I don't take it lightly when my name is tarnished by causeless accusations"

"That wouldn't be the first thing that you don't take lightly", she said with a slight fear growing beneath her courageous layer of fortitude. "And I wouldn't exactly say 'causeless' is the appropriate term"

"So he is here"

"I think you might be losing your edge, Charlotte", Sakura said humorously. "The con artist I know would have known the answer to that one"

"Leaving LA was hard on all of us", Charlotte said feigning a morose expression. "It's no shock that we've lost sight of one another"

"But Naruto's interests come first"

"Rightly so"

"Even the ones that have you scared shitless"

"What ever do you mean?"

"Oh don't play coy, Charlotte", Sakura said leaning in, only inches from the equivocally heighted woman's face. "You know more than anyone that the one reason that's gluing you to Naruto's life is at home with the nanny, and that the minute he finds out where Gaara is, every weapon in your pathetic little arsenal will be rendered obsolete", she said begrudgingly.

Charlotte laughed out loud. "Trust me, neither you nor that degenerate punk have the slightest idea of what weapons I have in my arsenal. You see, mercy is another quality of a gracious woman, because if you hadn't noticed, I could have easily had him killed; and I still can. But I'm feeling especially gracious on this fine evening. You tell you little friend, wherever he's hiding, that I'll forgive him this once for sticking his tongue down my husband's throat a minute ago. But make sure he doesn't fall under amnesia about the terms of our little agreement because if he does, I'll remind him myself"

Naruto walked in the door, pausing at the sight of Sakura and Charlotte inches from each other. "The car's outside", he said suspiciously. Charlotte smirked over at him before walking in his direction. She kissed him deeply as his eyes struggled to remain on Sakura's flustered expression.

"Is everything alright?" He said referring the befuddled question to the both of them. Charlotte looked over at Sakura.

"Everything's just fine", she said as they began out the glass doors. "Goodnight Sakura"

She watched with a heavy heart as Naruto held the door open for Charlotte. She shot a blazing yet coy look at her before the door closed, sending chills down Sakura's spine. The black car pulled away and disappeared into the falsehood and perjury of the night.

Sakura turned around to see a dazed yet concurrent Gaara standing with a pile of dirty trays in the precipice of the kitchen door afar by the bar. She could never explain to another soul how she understood what he was saying to her without moving his lips or vocalizing a single word.


The city was passing by at a nimble rate, which could be seen from the view of a small rental car. The rain drops were still fresh on the corners of the windshield and they concurred with the slight misty being created by the back of the tires, much like it always did after an unexpected rain shower. The driver, not having been in New York since his adolescence of yesteryear, still remembered the basic infrastructural nomenclature in a way that would navigate him to his destination.

He stopped at a red light, surprised at the sudden absence of cars on the street, as opposed to its normal population, especially on a night like that one, all considering the event being hosted there.

He was instantly reminded of his time there, being caressed by sweet déjà vu with the turning of every corner of every intersecting street. Harold Uzumaki suddenly felt the urge to call the man that he loved the most, when he looked at the 45 missed calls on the screen on his phone. Being swept up in the mad search for a boy who knew not who he was, was a task that Gabriel had to shoulder just as much as his husband.

Maturing professionally in Queens, he would stand out on the fire escape of the two-bedroom flat his parents rented out and gaze out at the constellation of Wall Street in the sky. His father was the epitome of a man who dreamed but never achieved, a pinnacle of the perfectly pathetic man, coming home grimy and gloomy from his primary occupation as mechanic over everything that his life lacked. Evading his narrow scope of knowledge, his son was locked away in his room drowning himself in numbers and statistics.

His mother was a dazzling yet charming woman of mostly German roots with golden hair just like her son's. Her eyes were as blue as the realm of the sky when there were no clouds out, or so Harold like to think of them. Her beauty scared him just as much as it did his father. He would dread the days when she would leave to house to go to work, forgetting to put her wedding ring back on. Men would stop her on the street and ask to buy here a drink or in some cases for her hand in marriage. It took Harold a while before he could truly comprehend just why his mother never wanted to be seen with his father in public. It wasn't because she was embarrassed by him. It was because she knew how a man's ego could be likened unto fine china, precious, prized and fragile.

Her evasion soon lost its effect and soon men started knocking on their door. More enraged than ever before, Harold's father brandished a sharp broken whiskey bottle, which had been emptied conventionally, at a terrified fair woman, whose blood curdling scream woke their son, then fourteen years old. Harold dashed from his bedroom in time to pry his drunken father from his mother, her hair mangled from being clutched in her spouse's intoxicated hands.

Leaving Harold with his father, against her will, she, from then until she moved back to Germany before her death, lived with her brother in Long Island in order to be in the same city as her child and at the same time steer clear of her ex-husband, who never drank a drop of alcohol ever again. Harold would only admit to Gabriel how much it broke his heart that his mother never gave his father another chance.

Harold took his laden heart to NYU, one of the many universities that clamored for his secondary accolades, where he engulfed himself in his studies. He wanted to be a better banker than the swindlers and embezzlers he would hear about and a better man than the father he grew up under. He was sure that he would fill his potential and even push its limits. All the while he ignored the urge inside of him than conflicted with both the political climate and the climate of field that he so fervently strived to one day stand out in.

On an otherwise unparticular day he crossed paths with captivating youth that was at NYU visiting a relative that lived on campus. His name was Gabriel Murchison and he brought out a side of Harold that he knew the world would foully reject. After they spent a passionate night together, Harold vowed to never see him again

Graduating at the top of his senior class, he soon discovered that there were hundreds of thousands of men who wanted to attain the same glowing reverie and became sorely exasperated when he discovered that his chances for finding a job on Wall Street were scant and close to non-existent, until he met Rachel Diana Archestypian; the most beautiful woman he'd ever laid eyes on.

Dispensing of his initial aspirations, he humbly took a job at a small scale accounting firm in Manhattan. The founder of the budding firm was one of the few people he befriended during his unremarkable time in college and was more than happy to accept Harold, perhaps the most predictable man he could think of. With this predictability, he had begun to shovel most of the undesirable accounts onto the firm's newest addition much to Harold's silent dismay. His torturous silence was ended when the Harold's colleague hired another accountant. When she walked through the double doors of the front lobby, everyone saw a stunningly beautiful woman, by Harold was nearly brought to his knees after seeing what he initially though was the ghost of his mother coming back to haunt him.

Once in, her eyes locked onto Harold.

"I hear you needed a little help", she said before walking into the elevator. She winked at him before the doors closed. Harold would never know what it was about her, with disregard to her physical beauty, which attracted him to her despite the inner battle being waged within. However conflicted he was, he fell madly in love with her and she with him as their singular relationship manifested itself in two forms; two people in love and two partners that were more dynamic than an entire corporation.

The two worked for the firm for 10 years, during which time they had gotten married and moved into a small flat on the Upper East Side, when the colleague that hired the both of them was escorted out in handcuffs for embezzling near a million dollars in money siphoned from accounts that all of the firm's accountants had been had been entrusted with dating back when the firm was crunching its first numbers.

The incarcerated founder made one more request before being transported to his prison cell in West Virginia; that Harold and Rachel take over his firm, and this they did.

The firm was given a new name and completely different staff. The two would always recall that running their own accounting firm made their marriage stronger than a wall made of steel. The power couple soon relocated the HQ of their firm to LA where things were less cut-throat.

And into their lives came a six pounds-even baby boy who they name Minato Uzumaki. His hair was of sunshine gold much like his mother and father, with their same icy blue eyes, the zenith of beauty and prestige.

It seemed that no one or no entity could stand a chance against the erect and impenetrable empire that the two had built. However, just as Rachel had broken the glass of normalcy in his life, it was broken once again when a young man that he promised to himself that he would never see again with his chubby daughter came too his door after they had been run out of their home with no place to stay.

Harold found himself sitting outside of Armanpour's lounge while the servers were all beginning to leave and Rhukiev was locking everything up. He had come too late once again but he couldn't waste time crying over his failure, his husband was at home worried sick about him, he thought. He pulled out his phone and called Gabriel with a renowned hesitance.

"…."

Harold could hear his breathing on the other line. "Look, I know you're mad at me"

"….."

"And you have every right to be. I was completely wrong for flying across the country without telling you or calling you to tell you where I was until now. I know this all must've been hard on you too. Naruto may be my grandson but you've been weathering the process of me looking for him just as much as I have and I know I don't tell you that enough. And I know I'm not there for you as much now that I'm looking for him and working an extra job on top of that. Marcia's probably already asking you to move in with her because she thinks I'm putting you through too much stress and I can't blame her. Not that I don't love you living with me, it's just that I understand where she's coming from if in fact that's the case"

"…"

"And I know I don't tell you enough but I love you more than anything or anyone in the world. I may not say it or show it but I think about you every second of every hour of everyday and I can't wait to come back home to you, Gabe"

"Are you finished?"

"Yeah, that's all I got for right now", he said sheepishly. "Get back to me when I have some Viagra in my system"

Gabriel burst into laughter.

"What's so funny?"

"Since when have you ever needed Viagra?"

"Since I read somewhere that it improves eye sight"

"I hope you didn't pay for that information"

"The other effects aren't so bad either"

"I suppose so", Gabriel said with a smile. "How's the search going?" He began to feel like he said that far too many times out of the day.

"I'm too late", he said before a grueling pause.

"I'm so sorry, Harry"

"Don't be, baby", he said affectionately. "I'll just have to come home and try again"

"Of course", he said with a feigned assurance. "We'll find him"

"But first I think we need a break for a while"

"You don't have stop looking for your grandson for me Harry"

"I do, Gabe", he said sincerely. "I love you too much to put anything before you"

"I can never stay mad at you"

"You can be mad at me for as long as you want, Gabe", he said smiling. "I'm still coming home to you"

"Where are you going to sleep? Are you in a hotel? Is it one of those flea ridden places?"

"I'll stay somewhere safe and dry"

"I'm not satisfied with that answer", he said. "But I'll give you a pass this one time, you always knew how to manage"

"Goodnight Gabe"

"Goodnight Harry"


The night had begun its unvarying decay with the streets finally drying of their previous drenched state as the morsels of the few trees being free to take flight in the cool night wind. Leaves were beginning to litter the streets, a momentous effect from a small entity. Couples as well as individuals were taking their extoling pets out from their captive homes and walking them along the drying streets in primped coats and designer shoes, the night filled with revilement and subterfuge.

Herbst

Shortly after returning to their home, Naruto crept into their son's bedroom. Only the little boy's small face was visible underneath the action figure blanket under which he slept soundly. His father silently treaded over to his bed. His time spent with the young image of him was sparse due to the numerous cities he found himself in from month to month. He hadn't gotten much of a chance to talk to him since they had moved to New York.

"Hey little guy", he said as he brushed his blonde hair out of his innocently dreaming eyes. "I know you haven't seen much of your old man these days"

He fidgeted slightly as his father sat next to his sleeping form.

"But I promise it's not because I don't love you", he said as a small tear rolled down his face. "Because kid, you're the best thing that could ever happen to a man like me"

"Daddy's got to go back to work in a couple of months, but until then it'll just be me and you"

"We'll go to the movies, bowling, ice skating, Disney World…"

"I know how you always tell us how much you want to go"

"And guess what?"

"You're old man's going to be playing for the New York Giants"

"Your favorite team"

"Me, you and mommy will all go on a big vacation before I go back to work"

"You know you're crazy old grandpa says you're not mine"

"That's crazy; anyone with eyes can tell that you're my boy"

"You've got my eyes, my nose, my mouth, and even my hair"

Naruto leaned down and kissed the younger version of himself before departing from the room of teetering love and affection and closing the door softly behind. He walked down the long hallway that led to their bedroom as he could faintly hear Charlotte in the bathroom undressing. His stomach dropped, much like it did just as he was about to enter the field. He didn't stop on his track to the fresh air available on the balcony, not wanting her to sense his momentary desire for solitude.

Leaving the events if the draft picks at Armanpour's lounge, Gaara's parting remarks smoldered within him. Worth more, he was in turmoil over that idea that Gaara was beginning to lose the sense that he would always have someone there for him. With the knowledge of a large portion of his life and all that he was faced with at such a young age, Naruto would forever simmer with the thought that the one person for which he could not process his feelings for had been numbed by disregard.

He found a warmth and rapturous solace in wondering where he was, now that it was confirmed that he lived in the same state. He could well have been anywhere, but much like in LA, he'd fallen into the similar whirlwind of pining after the one person for which pining a shunned.

The older man could still smell his ambrosial scent, the delectable saccharine taste of his soft lips still afresh upon his own. He longed to be against him again, cornering him like a beautiful and tantalizing fantasy, liable to fly away at any moment, never to return.

Naruto stood out on the balcony of the second floor of their house as the night air caressed his bare chest, looking with a nostalgic eye out at the cumulonimbus clouds coving the moon. The more he stared, the more their hue transformed from a silverfish gray to a rose. Not sure whether or not his ghoulish subconscious was playing another trick on him he averted his vision to the street below, which was only lit by a few prevailing street lights that managed to illuminate their entire block. Out of the corner of his eye he kept being lured into a recurring mirage, an igniting infatuation under the street lamp closest to him.

Knowing for sure that the afterimage of Gaara was in fact another one of his mind's many duplicities played at his expense, he looked away. But there he was again, standing under the second light pole, clinging to it. He could see the nude phantasm, his bare back against the cold metal pole, as he ran his fingers through his hair, then past his lips, into his mouth, delving into the sweetest invisible taste as he closed his eyes. He then reached behind his head, wrapping his hands around the metal pillar, and revealed the decadent arch of his back as he pressed his heat onto the cooling surface. His impassioned cries could be heard as if they were coming from right near his ear.

The seductive mirage looked up at Naruto from underneath the warming light of the street lamp with tears on the horizon of his green eyes as he cried out the older man's name at the top of his lungs, screaming his pleas for Naruto to fuck him harder, faster and deeper. The blonde haired man looked around frantically as he ran a hand through his hair. Someone had to be an additional witness to the sultry and impure sounds coming from someone he prayed he wasn't the only one he saw, yet there were no witnesses on the street, the concrete infrastructure was barren.

I need a drink, I'm losing my mind.

Just as he prepared to turn around to his bedroom he was nearly brought his knees when he saw the same haunting unveiled youth approaching him from the double doors of their bedroom that led to the threshold of the balcony. Naruto backed away until his back was pressed against the iron fence at the end of the ledge. It looked more like Gaara than the real version that he'd seen only a few hours prior to his current ordeal. He wanted to speak but the controlling notion in the back of his mind reminded him that it was Charlotte walking towards him.

"Are you coming to bed, Naruto?" The red headed dream said as he approached the fearful and bewildered man. With the seductive and light voice of Charlotte and the slender and inviting body of Gaara, Naruto was left speechless, not knowing whether to advance towards the frightening coalescence, he rushed past the dizzying mirage to the bathroom where he doused his hot face with a barrage of cold water.

He looked back at his dripping features in the mirror as his breath stabilized. I can't do this for much longer, something's got to give. But what?

"Are you ok?" Came the worried voice and bare body of Charlotte who came up behind him. She pressed the side of her face into his strong back before she snaked her hands around his waist. Her dainty hands traveled lower, massaging his throbbing manhood. Naruto sighed deeply, his body allowing her soft touch to sink in and his heart writhing in pure agony. Never knowing what it felt like to commit adultery, he'd never felt closer to doing so then at that moment. The two hadn't slept together in longer than either could remember.

"I'm so proud of you, Naruto", she said as she reached into his pants. "You've worked so hard, and it's all starting to pay off"

Naruto closed his eyes as she wrapped her fingers around his length. Gaara's face reappeared in his vision, his eyes a fountain pouring for him.

Wake up.

Charlotte reached for his hand and proceeded to lead him into the bedroom.


A small ray of light escaped through the blinds of a dark apartment unit in LA as the sweet singing of a song of constancy by the city birds outside. A blaring alarm clock was stopped after only a few seconds of urgent assonance, the only occupant in the lonely space was awake long before the blaring began. She brushed her hair out of her eyes as she looked out at the faint blue light coming from her living room window, knowing that there would a car outside for her in less than an hour.

The curling clouds above her complex blatantly spelled out the approaching of the morning light as the nights cool air escaped into the sky. A bottle could be heard as it smashed against the pavement in the parking lot of the facility, the breaker stumbling hopelessly to a cooled spot underneath the concrete stairs.

Her body ached endlessly as she trudged to the bathroom to look at her tired reflection in the mirror. She could scarcely stand to behold the woman she saw before her. She didn't see a stripper, a prostitute, a woman, a girl, a friend nor an enemy. She saw a woman who gave up her child to avoid incarceration. She saw a woman who fell victim to blackmail, yet she couldn't bear to call herself the victim. In her mind, the real victim was in another state, dazed, scared, confused and bewildered as to why he hasn't seen his mother in almost three years. The real victim was the boy whose mother gave him to a conniving woman out of fear of what she could do.

Ember reached to her face to wipe her tears, but there were none to dry. She's cried over her groundbreaking mistake for far too long, the time had come to leave this sign of weakness behind because the day of atonement was at hand. She was finally granted the opportunity to rectify the mistakes she'd made as mother.

The tumultuous youth refused to allow her son's life to grow any more similar to hers as her resolve was spontaneously bolstered. Her reflection was suddenly given the potential to be blank and fresh. So long as she could retrieve her son from the clutches of her own shortcomings and give him the love that was known as the unrivaled force of nature, the love that could electrify an army of a hundred men, the love that never slept or ceased to exist, a mother's fierce love, then she could look at her reflection not with contempt but with true pride.

She showered, dressed in a pair of black jeans, her favorite black heels and a black spaghetti strapped shirt, a necklace given to her by her father, and placed her suitcase near the tattered sofa. She heard a faint honking outside in the parking lot adjacent to her unit prompting her to gather roll her light luggage to the door.

The collage of pictures on the shelf stopped her, however. There they were, at the park, after his first day of daycare, with one of her best friends, when they first moved in, at the carnival, at his first birthday and his second, and at the delivery room in her arms when he was born. The car outside continued to honk for her. A thought struck her.

She grabbed the makeshift anecdote and stuffed it into her suitcase before bolting out the door.

Scattered curses and expletives were shouted out of random apartments at the frustrated driver. The young man looked through his side view mirror and saw a charming scurrying down the steps with a rather large yet seemingly empty suitcase. Her wavy caramel colored hair was tossed behind her by the playful and faint morning breeze as she quickly made her way to the vehicle. Her breathtaking eyes batted, lustrously fighting off the strands of hair in her face. He quickly got out to open the door for her. She paused briefly to catch her breath. The two exchanged a silent glance before he spoke up.

"Good morning Ms. Salazar"

She reached over to shake his hand. "It's Ember. And I'm sorry I had you waiting", she said apologetically.

"No worries"

She smiled, sealing his fate. The young woman entered the car and the enamored driver closed her in before returning to the driver's seat, tripping over a portion of cracked pavement on his way. Ember placed a hand over her mouth to hide her amusement.

Flustered and helplessly embarrassed, he began their journey to LAX.

The two sat in the car, writhing uncomfortably in the silence. Ember looked at him in the reflection of the rear view mirror, finding courage in the idea that she most likely would never see him again should she make a fool of herself.

"Do you like driving people around?"

Taken aback by the blunt question, he chuckled.

"It pays the bills"

"I'd rather do this job than do what I do"

"Which is?"

"I'm a stripper"

He paused, laughing nervously. "Well, I guess than can be a pretty rough job too"

"You don't know the half of it. I'd quit if it didn't pay as well as it does"

"If that's not what you want to do, then that's a pretty bad excuse for not quitting, if you think about it", he said, processing his words afterwards. "Sorry, that's overstepping my bounds"

"Not at all, that's a good point in fact", she said smiling at him. "I guess another reason is that I'm too chicken shit to tell my boss I want out"

"Is he violent?"

"He can be"

"Why don't you get your boyfriend or your dad or brother to back you up?"

Ember laughed. "Well, I'm an only child, my father is bedridden and lives in a nursing home in San Francisco and I'm single, if that was your way of asking"

He smirked back at her. "You're onto to me, I see"

"It's kind of cute"

"Well, I'm 25. If 'kind of cute' is the best I can do, I should be worried"

"I wouldn't be too worried"

The two propelled themselves into the continuity of their genuine conversation as the car mirrored the future. But miles ahead, at the origin of the day's later event, Minato sat impatiently in the terminal with his equally impatient partner waiting for their third party to arrive. He rested his heavy head on his intertwined fingers, contemplating the course of action he would make in the following hours. Kushina placed her hand on his back.

He wasn't prepared to lose his son, yet he was sure that would occur at any rate if he chose not to act.

"What are you thinking about?" He looked up to see Kushina looking down at him.

"I'm thinking about what'll happen when we come in with her, we're about to tell him that the son he loves and thinks is his own belongs to someone else. It'll be like his son has died", he admitted gravely.

"Would you rather him go on believing a lie?"

"No"

"And didn't Ember say she was going to do exactly what we're doing, with or without us?"

"Yes"

"And isn't there a possibility that he might come around to us eventually once he knows the truth?"

"Yes"

"And won't the child go back to his mother?"

"Yes"

"And-"

"I know what's going to happen, Kushina", he said in heightened tone.

"Then what's bothering you?"

Minato sighed. "I keep imagining someone coming to me one day and telling me that Naruto isn't mine. I couldn't fathom how much that hurts. And on top of that, he just got drafted into one of the best teams in the country. Now he'll have to go in with all of this on his plate"

"Fine, we'll go back to the baggage claim, get our things, tell Ember to take a hike, get our money back for the flight, and continue letting him raise someone else's child like a blind cuckolded fool until the inevitable day when his lovely wife forgets to dye the kid's hair, then she'll concoct another lie to pull out of her ass and feed it to our son", she said nonchalantly sitting back in the chair.

"You know that's not what I want"

"Then when Jonathan's mother gets here, you're going to get your ass on that plane to go and tell our son the truth before the kid turns eighteen", she said pointing out to the giant run way of landing and departing planes.

"Um….I'm here", said a nervous mother with a small carry-on bag around her shoulder. Kushina got up from her seat to shake her hand.

"You must be Ember"

"And you must be Kushina", she smiling. Her eyes quickly averted to a sullen Minato in the other seat. "Minato"

He looked up from his downward countenance, giving her a quick nod as he too rose to his feet. Despite the noisiness of the terminal, the three were inches from drowning in their own silence when Ember turned to Kushina.

"It's nice to finally meet you", she said nervously. "I really appreciate you guys doing this. I can't thank you enough"

Kushina smiled down at the shorter woman. "You can thank us by taking your son home and giving him all the love he deserves. He's been through a lot in the few years of his life"

"I will", Ember felt as if she had been pierced with a whetted arrow dipped in guilt. She smiled up at the woman whom she knew meant well, but her unbeknownst dart began to eat at her all over again, prompting her to remind herself of the reason why she was standing in front of two people she would otherwise have never crossed paths with.

"Flight 560 to Newark is now boarding"

"That's us", Kushina said as she retrieved her belongings from the side of the uncomfortable seat. Minato sighed deeply as he made his way through to the exit of the terminal before either of the women. After looking concernedly at his quickly departing form, she turned to Kushina, someone who she was sure knew him better than anyone.

"Don't worry about him; he's just having some second thoughts"

"It's a little late for that don't you think?"

"Try telling him that", she said knowingly. "Come on, we had better get going"

The two mothers continued towards the exit of the terminal.

"I should be the one having second thoughts, you know", Ember said looking ahead.

"Why is that?"

"I've never flown before"

Kushina smiled over at her with a shocked air. "Never?"

"Never", she said bashfully. "I know, I need to get out more"

"Don't be embarrassed. Everyone has to be first time flyer at some point"

They entered the jet entrance and a small tingle graced Ember's gut. She continued her stride with Kushina without hesitation as if each fearful step towards the place was a necessary and proper retribution to the cause and plight of her child. Kushina place a caring hand on her back.

"Just breath, everything will be just fine"

Before she knew it, she was inside of the plane witnessing the rest of the first class passengers placing their carry-on luggage above their luxury seats. She could see Minato up ahead, already in his seat. Kushina brushed past him and sat next to the window. Ember sat directly behind them, taking a deep and collective breath as she placed her messenger bag in her lap that contained her phone, the collage and a few documents.

"First time flying?" Minato asked gruffly from in front of her without so much as turning his head. His head was rested against the head rest and his eyes were leisurely closed as if flying was as mundane as any daily task that had to be done.

"Yes"

"Let's hope we don't die"

"Don't scare her like that!" Kushina punched him in his arm, momentarily waking him from his half rest. "Remember what I said sweetheart, just breath and everything will be just fine"

Ember nodded, acting out her suggestion. Just breath and everything will be just fine.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We're about to enter the departing runway. We ask the you please follow the instructions of your flight attendants, and be sure to enjoy our world class cuisine. We will be arriving in Albany in approximately seven hours. It's a clear day throughout the Midwest, so we shouldn't expect much turbulence…."

"You see?" Kushina said smiling over the back of her seat at Ember. "Don't let my asshole husband scare you", she said making Minato roll his eyes.

"Make sure to buckle your seat belt, we will be sure to notify you when you are able to move about the cabin once we reach the desired altitude. Enjoy your flight"

The plane, at a moderate speed, began to maneuver through the lanes leading to the departing runway. Ember's heart began to beat quickly. She began to feel resentment towards the other passengers for expressing such a sense of disarming serenity and calm. What made them so sure that everything would go as planned?

Just breath and everything will be just fine

The young distressed mother began to do the very thing she had grown quite adept at over the past grueling years. She put all of her anguish and fear of plummeting from and astronomical altitude to her death into the place where all of her fears went; in the place where they became quintessential in atoning for the relinquishment of her son into another's hands. In her mind, every ounce of consternation that she felt for being on a plane for the first time was owed to her for her shortcomings. She felt that if, instead of a complete stranger, it was her equally frightened son sitting in the seat next to her, she would be able to muster up the dauntlessness to comfort him.

They entered the track that was so long that it seemed to lead into the sky. The plane gradually began to pick up speed and the entire cabin began to shake, it was like something that Ember had never felt before in her entire life. She felt as if she were being pressed with increasing pressure toward her deformities, her struggles, her calamities, and all that her child was forced to accept as normal until she was given not even room to breathe. The plane seemed to be going faster than the speed of sound; she closed her eyes tightly, bracing herself for whatever catastrophe that lied ahead of her. Her eyes were closed so tightly that her tears weren't abundant enough to break through.

Sadness and regret were stopped along with the feelings of nausea, intense shaking and unusual speed. She was doing what a mother would do, an imperfect mother, the only kind of mother she knew that existed; she was going across the country to get her son back. She opened her eyes, releasing her tears, yet when they escaped her brown eyes, they shouted joy instead of fear. She turned her head slowly to look out the window to see the blinding yet radiant light of the sun.

Ember turned back to the back of Kushina's seat and smiled to herself.

I'm coming, Jon Jon.


A call was made from the outside of the dance studio of a university in Manhattan.

"Hello?"

"Hey mom"

"Gaara is that you? Is that really you? I almost didn't recognize you", she said sardonically.

"I forgot how much of a drama-queen you are".

"I'll let that one go", she said laughing slightly. "So how's the Big Apple?"

"Big"

"Yeah…I figured that much"

"I get lost a lot, and the subway smells awful, but other than that I love it"

"I'm glad"

He paused, sinking to the floor against the wall of the outside of the rehearsal room. He looked around at his dull and modern surroundings, picking up on the fact that his mother was onto him.

"So when are you planning to tell me the truth?"

He sighed.

"I get lost a lot, the subway smells awful, I get pushed and shoved on the sidewalks, everything is expensive, I'm working three jobs and I hate all of them, there's dog shit everywhere, my entire body hurts from my slave-driving ballet professor, I've been mugged four times since I moved here, I was bitten by a rat yesterday, my neighbor has to let all of Brooklyn know that her boyfriend found her G spot, I can't even afford to buy clothes, and Naruto is here".

"I know"

"You knew? But how?"

"It was all over the news last week. 'America's Favorite Athlete Plants His Roots in the Historical District of Chelsea, NY'"

"I should have known"

"Chelsea isn't exactly next door to Brooklyn, it's not like you have to see him every day"

"I've already seen him once"

"Figures. Leave it up to you two to magically run into each other"

"You're not helping"

"How exactly did this happen"

"I work for an event company and I had to serve at the draft picks"

"I'll bet that was awkward"

"Mom!"

"I'm sorry, honey, but you have to admit that this isn't a coincidence"

"What do you mean?"

"Gaara, it isn't normal to move to the opposite side of the country just to run right into the very person you were running away from"

"Are trying to say that its fate?"

"Could be…"

"That's ludicrous"

"I don't suppose you have a better explanation"

"He's mentioned the Giants before; it's only natural that he's here now. Naruto never talks about something he doesn't plan on doing"

"Of course you would know that"

"I didn't call you so you could me feel even worse"

"And I didn't answer the phone to lie to you"

"Then you'll agree with me when I say that Naruto is married with a child and therefore unavailable to me or the rest of the population of America"

"That may be true but it's also true that you still have unresolved feelings for him"

"So your motherly advice is for me to sleep with a married man?"

"I never said that"

"Then what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that it's all fine and good that you have his life figured out but what about yours? How do you feel? Have you even thought about that?"

"Of course I have"

"Could've fooled me"

"Do you really want to know how I feel about Naruto?"

"It is in my job description as a mother to identify with how my child feels, and it would do you some good to vent a little, so that would be a yes"

"I want to hate him", he said flatly before not saying another word.

"…Is that all? You want to hate him?"

"I've racked my brain for months, trying to figure out how I feel about him and all I can come up with is how much I want to hate him. From the moment I walked out of the break room at Maude's, I had seen him on TV a few times, but I other than that I never gave two shits about football. He took everything I thought about people like him and turned it upside down. He risked everything just to be with me, I mean literally everything. His father hated me, his best friends thought I was a gold digger, his fans thought I was a trick, and he didn't even care. Even when I tried to push him away, that only made him love me more."

"….."

"I didn't want to, I swear I didn't, but I fell in love with him. I fell so deeply in love with him that I couldn't even go a minute without thinking of anyway that I could make him happy. I did things that I would never do. I said things to him that I would never say to anyone else. I took every part of myself, as much as I was scared, and gave it to him because I thought he loved me and that he would give me anything. And I never wanted his money; he knew he never had to spend a penny on me. I believed every word he said, every single word. I would give anything just to be near him. When he touched me I felt like I was in someone else's body, I knew that I wouldn't be able to take it if I felt his touch for myself. I almost hated being near him because I knew that eventually he would have to leave me. I loved everything about him and I just knew he loved me just as much"

"…"

"But it seems like everything changed when she came to his door, with her long dark hair, and her kid…their kid, I mean. Have you ever felt so invisible that you couldn't even see yourself anymore? That's how I felt. I didn't exist. As long as I didn't live for him, I didn't live at all. I wished it wasn't like that but I couldn't help it no matter how much I tried. I couldn't cry hard enough or scream loud enough. For the first time in my life, I wished that I was a woman. Because maybe, just maybe if I could give him a child, then perhaps he would still love me. Maybe if I were more attractive, or if were more masculine, or more feminine, or more aggressive, or more submissive, or smarter, or if I stopped playing hard-to-get, or if I dyed my hair, or cut it off, if I lost weight or gained wait, anything. I would do anything to make him love me again. I hated myself because I wasn't her. She was the one he loved, she was the mother of his child, she was the wife, and who am I? Nobody"

"…"

"I hated myself and for that I blame him. He drew me in just to shut me out and I want to hate him. I wish every day for the strength to hate him, but it never comes. I couldn't hate him even if I were the hateful man on Earth. I can't afford to move again; I'll be in New York for a while, even if I can't get a job as a dancer. And every day when I hear about him, or even see him, I'll always be reminded of how much I can't hate him"

Karura placed her hand on her heart. "Now, you see? Don't you feel better?"

"No"

"Neither do I. My goodness you're messed up"

Gaara laughed boisterously. "You're going to make me late for work"

"Call me when you make it home tonight"

"You'll be asleep when I get home tonight"

"No I won't"

Gaara sighed. "Fine I'll call you"

"Bye, Gaara", she said before hanging up.

Gaara got up sorely from his sitting position and made his way to the exit, opening the doors reveal the blinding light of day.


"What time do you think you'll get here?"

"Probably late tonight"

"I forgot how long of a flight that was"

"Yeah", he sighed deeply. "I'm getting too old for this. I haven't even gotten on the damn plane and my neck is already killing me"

"Take an Advil"

"I'm out"

"You always have Advil"

"I always have you; you normally give me some when I run out"

"Oh yeah"

"…."

"I'm sorry Harry"

"For what?"

"I just wish you didn't have to do this"

Harold massaged his temples. "Come on Gabe, you know what his father said. He doesn't want Naruto to have anything to do with me"

"How do you know it's not too late to change his mind?"

"He told the kid I'm dead!"

"Well when you put it like that…"

"How the hell else am I supposed to put it Gabriel?"

"Don't get mad at me. All I'm saying is that there's got to be a better way to solve this than to stalk the guy like a prowler in the night"

"I suppose you have a better way?"

"Try talking to your son for goodness sake, it's been almost thirty years. People can change, you know"

"You don't know my son"

"After all this time you don't know him any better than I do"

Harold rested his chin in his palm as he looked out of a similar terminal window.

"You're right; I don't know your son. But I do know that if he's anything like his father, then he isn't any happier about his decision than you are"

The older man sighed in defeat. "That's just it. Minato isn't anything like me. He's stubborn and unforgiving, just like his mother".

"Start with her then"

"It isn't that easy"

"Well, why not?"

"Don't you remember? Rachel is 'dead' too"

Gabriel shuffled audibly. "Just come home"

"I love you too, Gabe"

An anticipated gale grazed the hind side of a glorious manor on the hillsides of California near the roaring Pacific shore as a few sagacious rays of light from the sun peered through the dampening clouds onto the vaunting abode. From above, people could be seen out on the lush green pasture, tending to the gardens. The windows were all dim with the exception of the one that allowed sight into the back of the dining area.

Their conversations about the ruthless and unkind woman of the manor that transpired atop the roses and geraniums gave a sour and infertile air to the blackened soil that they overturned, prodded and raked, all of her fears and current tumult being sewn into the dead ground.

"Did you hear?"

"Hear what?"

"Beth walked in on Harold telling his mistress not to call him"

"You can't take anything that old croon says seriously. I'm surprised their still letting her clean their house, poor thing probably inhaled too much Lemon Pledge"

"Say what you want, but I know she's telling the truth"

"How do you know?"

"It's been going around this place for months before this happened"

"Who is it?"

"Who?"

"The mistress, you idiot. Who is she?"

"Oh, it's no 'she'. It's that guy from Texas, you know, the one who came with his kid a few summers ago"

"Him?! But I thought him and Harold were just old friends"

"Apparently they're more than that. And I'll bet that explains why he goes on those monthly 'sabbaticals'"

"And why that guy moved out in such a hurry last month"

"I always thought that was sort of strange. He stormed out, like someone had burned him bad"

"Old Harry probably told him he wasn't going to leave the bitch"

"Serves her right"

"I never pictured Old Harold as a fairy"

"You and she have something in common"

"She saw it coming, probably didn't want to believe it"

"Poor thing"

"You can't have everything"

The house was built on the side of a tall hill such that one could only see it once around the bend of a small county road that led to it.

The dining area was coated in wood. Wooden chairs, wooden tables and wooden supports beneath the sofas and chaise lounges. Sounds bounced languidly from the wooden floors to the darkly painted walls. The tall ceiling over the grand dining table was paneled with wooden planks that touched perpendicularly with the wooden crown molding.

Pages from a newspaper were turned.

A tea cup was placed back onto its saucer.

The wildest of fantasies were questioned as the hyperborean silence coupled with the cool air coming from an above vent made even the slightest of motions from the two bodies. The blonde haired woman cleared her throat, the way she always did when she knew something she shouldn't.

Her husband glanced at her from across the table to see her looking down at a book. A door could be heard opening and closing in the far corner of the house as the two relayed their silence to the prospect that the end of their marriage as well as the fall of an empire rested in the hands of a man living in a small apartment in LA only forty-five minutes away. This prospect was the fire under her skin, she hated him. She hated his brown hair and small frame, the same frame she her husband delighted in thrusting into behind the walls of whatever seedy apartments he called home.

Every day of every year, she thought she was pacing every ounce of womanly energy into being able to rest assured that her husband was attracted to her, if not her body, then her suaveness as a businesswoman, and if not that, at least in the fact that she was the mother of his child, and if nothing else at all, all of the many things that composed her personage.

She had nothing left that he wanted, or so she thought. But she would rather die than to allow her inner turmoil to be discovered, even though she was almost certain that this very thing was sure to happen in the near future. Whispers of her failures and of the concurrent events being the piper that was to be paid for the way she governed her household and their business ate at her incessantly. She looked up at him over the brim of her cup with much contempt and dissonance. He could never know how much, at that moment, she wanted to toss the scalding liquid upon his bare ivory skin, perhaps making him feel a portion of the burning pain and frustration that she felt.

"Did you remind Bill to look over the Nesslinger account?"

She looked up to see him staring at her from across the large table with his familiar deep blue eyes that always seemed to penetrate her hate for him and his dealings with Gabriel. Rachel sighed deeply.

"Yes"

There was a brief pause in between them.

"Did you remember to look over the Murchison account"

Harold's heart was chilled when he saw her icy glare from across the table.

"There is no Murchison account"

"No?" She spat sarcastically.

"No, there isn't"

"Because I could've sworn that every time, for the past few years, I ask what account calls for the mysterious disappearing act you perform every month and your assistant tells me that it's for the Murchison account"

"…"

"Now isn't that funny? Your old pal…..Gabriel I think it is; the one with the adorable little girl, his name is Murchison as well, isn't he?"

"…"

Rachel picked up her tea cup, staring at the painting of a rose that ran around the cup before slinging it at the wall. She got up from her seat and stood over a non-responsive Harold who could only stare into the page of the newspaper that may as well have been blank.

"I can deal with the fact that you're find your little slut more attractive than me, but what I cannot deal with is the fact that you thought I was stupid"

"I didn't mean for this to happen"

Rachel laughed a loud and salacious laugh. "What? You thought I would be ok that your little rendezvous? Is that what you meant to happen?! Well guess what? I'm not ok with the fact that my husband waited until we've been married for a fucking decade to stop liking pussy!"

"That's not what this is about!" Harold said standing to his feet.

"Then what the hell is about? Huh? How much you love him, how much we've grown apart?! You're sick! You know that?"

"Don't act like you're the victim. You've had plenty of affairs!"

"With men!"

"And that makes it better?!"

"At least I know who I am", she seethed. "Who are you anymore? Ever since that whore moved here, you've become just like him, a raging fag!"

Harold stood silent for a moment. "Is that how you feel?"

Rachel concurrently glared up at him.

"What do you want from me, Rachel?"

She looked away for a moment. "I want what you took from me and gave to him", she said before storming off in the other direction to the second staircase that led to the master bedroom. Harold rubbed his forehead before his ears picked up a faint sniffling coming from the opening of the hallway that led to the foyer.

A blonde haired boy of twelve years looked upon his tall father with great bewilderment and disgust. Harold initiated movement in his son's direction but the young boy ran away as fast as he could, his warm tears spilling helplessly on his way to any part of the giant void of a house where neither of his feuding parents could be found. Harold leaned against a wooden pillar near the dining area as he ran his hands through his blonde hair.

Year after year, with the knowledge that both of his parents were resolving their marital difficulties with the intervention of outside romantic methods, the same tearful boy's extreme hatred for the both of them grew like a fire fed with kerosene, be fueled each time his mother came home with her underwear in her purse, or when his father returned after a week of absence.

There was something about the carelessness about which they executed infidelities that created an inner resentment so strong that he knew, by the time he'd reached his freshman year in high school, that once out of their sickening grasps of failed attempts to reach out to him, he would never speak to either of them and neither would the family that he would one day convoke. His words in conversation to the both of them began to dry and narrow as the months of his tumultuous life passed by.

Harold and Rachel spoke only to slander and eviscerate one another, giving their only child a harsh and unbridled accurate scope of what he wanted to do. He stopped bringing his friends home, when Rachel asked for an explanation he simply replied, "I haven't any friends". This became a model for his normal responses to the both of them, which usually were followed by an abrupt slamming of his door. The second study was where he spent nearly all of his time, telling any intruders to "fuck off".

On several occasions he would become belligerent after being reprimanded by his father for giving another confused teen a bloody nose.

"What the hell were you thinking?!"

"I guess I was thinking about how much of a faggot he was. I should've broken more than his nose", he seethed in response, secretly pointed his boiling hatred towards the unseen man who tore his family to shreds.

"Don't talk like that!" Rachel interjected.

"Why? Are you afraid that I punched out one of Dad's little boy toys? At least there will be less tight ass around for you to compete with!"

She slapped him, her nails leaving red imprints on his cheeks. He turned back to her with a ghastly scowl.

"I hope he gives you AIDS", he spat before storming out to the front door.

Minato soon graduated high school as valedictorian, reluctantly inviting his parents to his graduation ceremony. He left for Dartmouth at the first opportunity that presented itself to him, failing to tell his blindsided parents that he had gone.

Once he was away, the two mutually filed for a divorce, giving them ample reason to sell off the bulk of their assets, including their extravagant edifice, as the condition of their accounting firm began to decline in productivity. It was a clean dissolution that was over in a matter of months. Neither of them wanted anything that could remind them of their nightmarish sham of a marriage whose sole purpose was to coddle a child that wanted little to nothing to do with either of them.

During the period of their son's hiatus from their life, their business was hurdled into bankruptcy, forcing them to end their seemingly ancient partnership and sell off all of their firm's financial assets

They eventually forgave each other and began to dedicate their separate lives to the reparation of the damaged relationship with Minato. Harold, then a small scale banker, moved Gabriel into a modest one-story in the suburbs. Rachel, after starting up an upscale restaurant, moved into a loft near Melrose Place.

Eighteen long years passed without them hearing a single word from him until he appeared in the newspaper during the fifth summer of his absence from their lives. They'd tried calling him, only for him to change his number. They even tried to visit, which usually ended in them being escorted away by the police when Minato told the authorities that he didn't know who they were.

Minato began gaining notoriety when he began a career in energy and petroleum. Harold and Rachel, who were beginning to slowly dispense of their futile crusade towards Minato's heart, as a final effort, stood in a crowded elevator slowly ascending to the twenty-eighth floor. The two exchanged a quick glance before a slight 'ding' notified them that they had arrived. They squeezed through the mass of suits, briefcases, coffee cups and designer perfumes and colognes.

"Are you sure we shouldn't have brought Gabe? I mean, it could maybe show him-"

"Are you crazy? This is between us, your….."

"Partner"

"Whatever, he has nothing to do with this"

They approached a round desk as the receptionist gave the two a strange gaze. She had never seen anyone look as much like her boss as they did. But the words of gossip around the office as well as general knowledge in the world of non-renewable energy said that his parent died in a car accident when he was twelve.

"Can I help you?"

Rachel rested her arms on the desk. "Yes, we would like to see Mr. Uzumaki, if he's not busy"

"Actually he's in a meeting that should be wrapping up about now", she said before pointing to a door that opened to release a group of associates that dispersed to various areas of the floor, like tiny petrified roaches scuttling to any available refuge from freshly lain poison.

"I'll tell him you're coming"

Rachel smiled down at her. "Thank you so much"

"Um, who should I tell him is here to see him?"

Harold spoke up. "Two old friends"

The receptionist nodded before picking up the receiver. "Mr. Uzumaki you have two visitors here to see you"

"…"

"Two old friends"

"…."

She hung up. "It's the third door just that way", she said pointing to a hallway behind them. They continued to the door as if approaching the precipices of failure and death. Rachel knocked on the cold door before receiving a faint, "Come in".

"Whoever you are, I'm not giving you any mon-"

He stopped before he could finish his dismissal to see the older version of the couple he and his world knew as his deceased parents. Harold closed the door behind him and turned to face a shocked and seemingly emotionless Minato. He put down the stack of paper he previously held in his hand on the desk the he leaned against.

Rachel's eyes began to water as her red lips curled into a smile. "Minato"

She approached him and embraced him, so engulfed in shock that she was so close to the boy that she could once hold in her arms, that she failed to notice Minato's glacial response. Harold simply smiled in his direction. Rachel pull back to take another look at him.

"Look at you", she said laughing with glee. "You're a man now"

"What are you doing here?"

His frigid eyes locked onto hers.

"We haven't seen or heard from you in so long, we just came to congratulate you on all of your success", Rachel pleaded. "We didn't come to cause any trouble"

"We also came to apologize", Harold said, coming closer as well.

"Your dad's right", Rachel concurred. "We couldn't sleep at night until we came and said out peace"

"We know we've been shitty parents to you, pretty much all of your life"

"With the affairs"

"And the fighting"

"And how we were never really there for you"

"You're perfectly justified in hating us"

"For the rest of our lives"

"We deserve it"

"But you've got to understand that it was never our intention to hurt you, sweetheart"

"We mean that"

"And no matter how you feel about us, we'll always love you more than anything else in the world"

"And even though we aren't together anymore, I still love your mother very much, for your sake of course"

"As do I "

"We live completely separate lives now, and it's working out better in so many ways for the both of us"

"We only wish we could have realized that earlier"

"Instead of perpetuating a lie"

"We were only thinking of ourselves"

"We realize that now"

"We never thought about how that affected you"

"We've forgiven each other"

"Abundantly"

"We didn't come here expecting anything from you"

"We just wanted to see you"

"Are you finished?"

Flabbergasted and ultimately disappointed that their groveling proved useless, Rachel's blue eyes began to reflect the light from the open windows as they bled tears once more. "What do you m-"

Her train of thought was derailed as her vision caught a sight on the corner of Minato's desk that made her want to fall to her knees. She placed as hand on her chest as she drew closer to the object as if in a hypnotic trance, driven by the culmination of a fear that had been growing within her for eighteen years.

Her hair was a fair brown and her face was glowing with the dawn of motherhood. She was a beautiful woman who seemed to be around Minato's age. Her eyes were warm, caring, intuitive and inviting. Rachel assumed that her name was the one engraved on the base of the picture frame. Yet, the most ghastly of sights was the bundled, pinkish, sleeping genesis in her loving arms. He clung to his mother in slumber as Minato embraced them both for the sake of the picture.

Rachel picked up the picture as she wept helplessly. "Is….Is this your family?" She felt as if she could vomit after having to inquire about the existence of her son's family. She was locked in a sorrowful trance by the uninviting picture.

Minato sighed deeply. "You need to leave; I have another meeting in five minutes."

"But…", Harold placed a hand on her shoulder signifying that it was best that they did as he said. Rachel looked up at him once more before accepting defeat and Harold's sad eyes gave him the confirmation she had hoped she wouldn't need.

She turned to Minato, stopping herself before she reached to hug him again. Her shaking hands intertwined.

"Well, as long as you're happy, you won't have to worry about us anymore", she said before turning to the door. She wanted to turn back and say more but she knew that if she did, she would only be reminded that her neither her daughter-in-law nor her grandson would ever know that she existed.

She made her exit, leaving Harold behind. He looked over to Minato one last time.

"Your son will never know his grandparents. He'll never know where he came from. Is that what you want?"

"He came from me", Minato said coldly. "That's all he needs to know"

Harold closed the door behind him to see Rachel sobbing only a short distance from the elevator. He went to embrace her as she cried into his shoulder.

"What have we done?"

A subtle vibration from a landing plane overhead woke Harold from his sordid journey down the roads of his failures. He ran his long fingers through his whitening hair.

The bustling Albany airport terminal created a natural noise that began to slowly fade out of Harold's range of hearing as he slipped deeper into thought. He looked behind him to see the absence of his flight number on the giant LED screen. He momentarily cursed his habit of arriving earlier than necessary, one of the many things that he did that made Gabriel laugh. His flight wouldn't depart for another two and a half hours, forcing him to wallow in his ponderings for the duration of that time.

He began the process of mulling over the weight of his mistakes, a process that he'd habituated over the course of the discumbering of his existence. His firm, his mansion, his perfect façade of a marriage and his money were all distant memories floating amid the abyss of the past, never to be recovered again.

He could only wonder, silently, never vocally, whether Minato missed him, or thought about him at any time during the seemingly endless time that they were apart. He pondered over the outlandish and silly idea that he missed his father as much as Harold missed his son and that one day in the future, after years of agonistic waiting, they would reunite and all would be buried and forgotten.

I guess it isn't too far-fetched. Even old men can dream, I suppose.

For an reason he couldn't decipher, he felt somehow that his flight home to Gabriel would be delayed. There was a crowd of people of people taking pictures of a man and two women in the distance, evading Harold's preoccupied attention. He suddenly felt the green tea he partook in earlier that morning beginning to take effect and made a quick exit to the urinals located around the corner near the center of the crowd of people taking pictures.

An unpleasant smell befell his highly bridged nose as he entered the restroom that was filled with men. All of the stalls were occupied as well as all of the urinals, with the exception of two. He hurried his pace before someone else got to it, unzipped his pants and began to relieve himself. He closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the idea that his flight wasn't for quite a while, and for a brief moment in his life there was nothing and no one pressing him into something that had to be done.

He could hear the crowd of people near the entrance of the restroom as the swinging door opened.

The noise stopped with the closing of the door.

A clocking of shoes was heard as a man about the same height as Harold approached the urinal parallel to his.

The child like idea that he had before was more childish then than it ever was as the man next to him began to relieve himself as well. He smelled like designer cologne, Harold silently deduced that it was probably one of the people that attracted the swarm of people outside the restroom.

Out of the view of his peripheral vision, he could see that the man had hair that was an ivory-white; he was once a blonde in his younger days. He noticed that he was finished.

The older man walked in the other direction without taking another look at the one next to him. But he failed to realize that a pair of blue eyes was watching him instead. The blue eyes were blinded by pain, his nose insulted by the foul scents of the past, his ears brutalized by the shouts of curses and expletives of yesterday.

Harold let the cold water run over his soapy hands, splashing some of the refreshing liquid onto his tired face. The water got on to his hair, allowing a few locks of the white hair to drop down over his eyes. He was suddenly reminded of the way his father used to wear his hair before his death. Only a few locks gone array.

He looked down at his feet as a few men left the restroom, using the sink on the other side of the restroom. He could see from his peripheral vision that the tall man was washing hands on the opposite side of the abhorrently smelling restroom. His reflection was perfectly bonded with the smell of the room as he began to connect the sinking of his cheeks and the whitening of his hair with the life of worry and stress he'd led. Contrasting to even his beloved, he was in his seventies with not so much as a trace of a relationship with the people he called his family, the very same people who didn't know that he existed.

The sporadic spots and splotches littering the surface of the mirror that began to block the image of a weeping man were his only refuge from the shame that was presented explicitly before him. His immense sorrow for the loss of the family, living elsewhere in his own world in a place where he failed to reach them, cloaked his shortcomings in the tears that fell from his eyes. He sobbed helplessly, not caring about the strange glances that were pointed his way. The tall figure stopped briefly before leaving the restroom.

Harold departed from the haunting glass and exited the restroom as well.

The crowd of people had dispersed once he was given the chance to breath in air that didn't reek of urine, and a new set of people were sitting in the row of seats he occupied only a few minutes earlier. He couldn't help but notice the sight of two women, one older, the other younger, both with brown-ish hair, one sitting on the end of the row, and the other sitting in Harold's seat. He was instantly reminded that he'd left his bag underneath the chair.

He slowly approached his former seat, not wanting to appear brutish.

"Excuse me, miss", he said to the older woman. "My bag is underneath your seat, I was sitting hear a few minutes ago"

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry", she said reaching underneath the seat and retrieving the small luggage for him. "Here you go"

"Thank you"

She smiled back up at him and looked back down at her phone. Harold turned around and sat across them in another row of seating and they commenced to sit in amongst the moderate chatter coming from the mouths of the people waiting for their flights and waiting for taxis to take them from the airport to their respective east coast destinations. The younger woman seemed to be intrigued by the name stitched in black thread on the sleeve of his grey leather jacket. Her eyes were fastened onto the name as he lips silently mouthed its pronunciation, being baffled by both its lettering and her sitting distance away from Harold.

Harold caught her staring and she laughed softly.

The older woman remained occupied by her phone.

"Forgive me for staring, but that name on your jacket, its sounds awfully familiar", she said as Harold shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "How is it pronounced?"

"It's easier than it looks, its 'U-zu-ma-ki'"

The older woman's head shot up as she too fixated her eyes on Harold. She had never heard the name in association with anyone outside of her immediate family. She would admit that it was indeed a strange name, surely a name that was at the most exclusive to her and her relatives. Suddenly, her eyes were splashed with the precious waters of speculation as the strange man's features began to resemble someone she knew too well, his cheekbones, his height, his hair, his long lanky fingers, his deep blue eyes.

"That's my last name", she said, still in a subtle state of shock. "I'm Kushina, by the way"

"Harold", he rose to his feet and shook her hand. I suppose someone was bound to have my last name.

Unless…It couldn't be…

"And I'm Ember", she said shaking his hand as well. "Salazar, not Uzumaki", she laughed.

"Pleasure to meet you ladies", he said taking a seat next to Ember. "So are you two together?"

"Yes, actually she's my…um….."

"I'm a good friend"

"Yes, we're good friends", Kushina smiled. "My husband and I are going to see our son in Chelsea"

Erlӓuterung

Could that really be his mother, Minato's wife, this can't be a coincidence, her name is Uzumaki, and so is her husband's, as well as her son who lives in Chelsea, that's where he lives, maybe…

"Forgive me for being invasive, but would your son's name happen to be Naruto?"

"Yes it would, I mean yes it is", she said with a puzzled look. "How did you know?"

"He's the famous football player isn't he?"

"Why yes, I suppose that would explain it"

"And your husband, his name is Minato, right?"

Kushina's cordial smile began to fade. Ember looked from him to her feeling the magnitude of the secret that was unfolding in front of her. During her following of Charlotte she'd read Naruto's biography, which said that his grandparents were killed in an undocumented car accident before he was born. She sat silently as her previous notions were slashed lie hay fresh from the earth.

"You must've heard about him in the news, he's become quite famous ever since he started in energy", she said rationalizing to no one.

Harold sighed deeply. He knew he would regret the words that were boiling in the back of his throat. He was about to transform her husband into a son and liar, something she most likely wasn't expecting from a complete stranger at an airport in another state. Yet there was something about his age that made everything fine and good. After years of flogging himself over the mistakes he'd made, he felt that the time had truly come to dispense of his guilt.

"He has brown triangular mark on his inner thigh; it's been there since he was born. He hates anything with a slimy texture, he always wipes his mouth with his right hand even though he's left handed. He's allergic to pollen from oak trees. He has a pattern for each individual day of the week and only deviates from it for his family. He never lets anyone know that he's afraid. He believes in image. He lays out all of his clothes for the week on Sunday right before it gets dark. And he'd do anything for the people he loves, even kill"

Kushina placed a hand over her mouth as tears formed at the brim of her blank eyes.

"Minato is my son"

She couldn't speak as his words didn't sink in as fast as she wanted them to.

"My ex-wife and I were terrible to him as a child. We were both involved in extra-marital affairs, and we let our hate, or what we thought was hate, for each other bleed into our relationship with our son. Rightfully so, he's hated us ever since he was a boy. Once he established himself, he let it be known that Rachel, that's my ex-wife's name, and I were both killed in a car crash. We tried reaching out to him but his mind was made. He wanted neither of us to have anything to do with his own life, and neither did he want to let our mistakes dictate his life. For almost thirty years I've been looking for your son, that's actually why I'm here. I came here hoping to meet him, but I was too late. My flight back to LA is in two hours, I'm going back home to the only man I cheated on my wife with. I met him when I was in college and lost touch with him. After being run out of his town for being gay, he came to LA. I was never honest with myself about how much I was in love with him, and for that Minato harbored a hate for me that probably still exists. And the most painful part is that I deserve it"

Kushina's stark eyes soon shifted to a chagrined man standing a few yards away from the three of them. His eyes were fixed onto the older version of himself, he was soon filled with the same emotions that fled into him on the occasion of the last time they'd seen each other.

"How much did you hear?" Kushina said rising to her feet and approaching Minato.

"I heard enough"

"Is the taxi outside?"

"Yes", he said grimly.

Ember rose to her feet as well. "We'd better go before the traffic gets too bad", she turned to Harold. "It was nice meeting you"

"Likewise"

"Kushina, please just listen to me…"

"Listen to what? Another lie? You are the most selfish man I have ever known. I can't believe you would deprive your own son of knowing his grandparents over a silly grudge from when you were a child, that you deprived your own parents of knowing your family, and most of all that you would lie to me for all these years. I thought I was worth more to you than the mistakes your parents made, but I guess I was wrong"

Ember, with her bag over her shoulder and her more own family reunion in mind, began walking to the exit. Kushina slowly began to follow after tearing her hurt eyes away from her husband. The image of the two of them walking down the hallway reminded him that the cares of the day would soon increase.

"I didn't mean to cause any trouble", came a standing voice from behind him. "I had to tell her the truth"

Minato turned menacingly around to his father. "And ruin my life again?"

"I never ruined your life. You ruined mine"

Minato approached his older counterpart. "What did you just say to me?"

"You heard me", he said, his voice not changing. "You've experienced nothing but success since you left home. You have a perfect wife, and your son is one the best athletes of this generation. Not to mention your oil company is one of the most lucrative entities in the country. Me, on the other hand, I spent all of the money I saved after my accounting firm collapsed to bail your mother and I out of jail after you had us arrested for trying to talk to you. I've been so busy punishing myself for the past forty years for what I've done that I failed to realize you've been punishing me enough. I can't get a job anywhere because every accounting firm in LA thinks I'm an imposter because the 'real' Harold Uzumaki is supposed to be dead, I have no family, no money, and I had to move my husband and I into a shithole apartment that reeks of old flesh and death. And the best part of all of this is that I get to go back to LA I'll be up to my ass in debt from this blank trip, with no nothing to show for it"

"Flight 311 to Los Angeles is now boarding, flight 311 to LAX is now boarding."

"I know we've made our mistakes, and if you think we deserve to be completely cut off for doing so, far be it from me to stop you. I'm 74 years old; I can't do this anymore. I'll never be content with all of this, but I don't know what else I can do to show that I still love you. So this is what I'll do. I'll go back to LA, live out the rest of my life and then I'll die, sooner or later Gabriel will die as well, and so will your mother. Then you won't have to worry about us anymore"

"Final call for flight 311 to LAX"

"Have a nice life, son", he said before walking past a frozen Minato, into the hallway that led to the jet passage to the plane. An over waged air of guilt and shame was left behind as the bearer left it to die, he would never bring down the hand of shame upon himself even again as the hand was lain to rest.

Minato ran a hand through his hair as he turned towards the exit of the airport to join the others.

The light of the sun poured over the sleeping forms of two distant bodies underneath the crisp cool white sheets. The crevices of their flesh that remained untouched by the surface of the covering cloth were lit like small lamps of persistent hope. A pair of blue eyes greeted the design of the gold ceiling and the slowly spinning fan. They moved back and forth as to make sure that his surroundings were what they appeared to be, a habit that he formed over the course of the past few years.


A slender woman laid deep in complacency beside him as the sun's rays peered through the windows of the double doors that led to the haunting balcony. The slight sound of life outside the lifeless room tugged at him to get out of bed and tend to his morning exercise routine before the gym got too crowded. He didn't want to disturb her slumber. He knew what he had done the night before, and so did she. But his recollection was soaked not with vigor and ecstasy, but with shame as red a blood. His heart was miles away but he felt a pair of eye on his back as he sat up in bed, the same bright green eyes that haunted him in his sleep when he dared to sleep.

The night's angled passion weighed heavy on his broad shoulders. He looked at the abstract clock on the night stand.

11:00

He would have to wait until noon to go to the gym. It was most likely crowded with people.

Charlotte shifted in slumber, sighing deeply when she found comfort again. Naruto turned his head slightly to the left, only catching a glimpse of his sleeping wife in his peripheral vision. He rich brown hair was the only thing visible as the overly plush pillow all but swallowed her soft profile. She seemed to fall deeper into the starving object with every move she made.

Schuldigung

He rose to his feet and made his way to the bathroom. He could hear the nanny waking up NJ in the room down the hall. He felt a familiar notion in his gut, the only one he felt when he was home and surrounded by the people in his life who weren't afraid of life outside of the aura.

He brushed the quiet idea out of his way as he entered the bathroom. The first image he could see was his own, the image of what was decided to be the most effective version of himself. How could he accomplish more with a lesser being? How could he be greater?

He brushed back his blonde hair as he grabbed the sweat pants and the black tank top that were draped over the counter, the maid must've have laid them out before he woke up.

"Good morning", came a sultry purr from the bedroom. Naruto's stomach tightened as he grabbed a towel from the golden rack behind him. He paused before he returned anything to her. He was beginning to grow weary of the game they played, the game that no one seemed to be in on. He turned the light off in the bathroom before exiting.

He simply smiled at her as she sat up in bed. Their eyes met for a brief moment before Naruto grabbed his duffle bag and attempted to make a quick exit.

"Naruto wait", she said laughing softly. He stopped in the doorway, his hand clutching the knob.

"Yeah?"

"Where are you off to in such a hurry?"

"You know I go to the gym every other morning"

"But don't you want to stay for just a little while longer so we can…you know…"

"I wish I could but I have to get there before it gets too late, I promise I won't be long", he said approaching the bed. "I don't want to get soft before training starts"

She sighed into a comfortable smile. "I understand", she cupped his chin, running her fingers across the in-coming hair. "Remember we're taking NJ to the zoo today"

The doorbell rang a few times. The both of them looked towards the door as if gazing upon the storming of a mysterious beacon of altruism of which neither wanted the other to know they had the knowledge. The maid could be faintly heard scuffling towards the glass door downstairs.

Charlotte pulled herself out of bed and combed her hands through her tousled hair as she made her way to the bathroom to freshen up. "Can you go see who that is honey?"

"Sure", he said, sighing with relief at the arrival of his saving grace. He walked down the hallway and saw that NJ's room was empty and his bed was made. All of his toys that littered the floor the night before were put away in the pigskin printed chest in the far corner of behind the bed. His freshly washed clothes were folded neatly on the foot of his bed. The sun coming in from his window reflected of the gallant shade of the blue that covered the bed spread.

"Mr. Uzumaki, your mother and father are here", came the German accent of the maid from the end of the hallway, a few steps away from the top of the stairs.

He gave her a blank expression, yet she knew he was boiling on the inside.

"What are they doing here?"

"I don't know sir, they're waiting downstairs", she said going into the other room to finish getting NJ ready for the day.

Naruto ran his hands over his face in frustration before taking steps toward the top of the stair at which point he saw his parents and an unfamiliar young woman sitting on the couch in the area behind the foyer. They all rose to their feet when he made his way down the stairs. Kushina was the first to approach him, yet Minato and the young woman lingered behind as if bearing a burden that was keeping their feet.

"Hi, sweetheart", she said throwing her arms around him, kissing him, her eyes already watering. "Off to the gym?"

"Son", Minato said lowly as he stepped forward. The shadows of the three standing figures created an unsettling constellation across the shining floor.

"What are you doing here?" He said flatly, keeping his blue eyes fixated on his trembling mother. "I told you, I don't want you near my family"

Minato massaged his temples at the utterance of his failures.

Kushina grabbed his hand, and just as she opened her mouth to speak, the unfamiliar woman stepped forward and placed her hand on the taller woman's shoulder. Kushina looked down at her, tearfully marveling at the freshly revolutionized woman as she stepped forward in the name of her child.

"Who is this?" Naruto asked directing the question at his parents.

"My name is Ember Salazar. You don't know who I am. But we do have something in common", she said momentarily looking down at her hands. "What I'm about to tell you will come as a shock, but you deserve to know. A few years ago, I was arrested on prostitution charges and the state was threatening to take my son away from me if I was convicted-"

"Stop right there", he turned to his weeping mother and frozen father. "I don't have time to hear any more of your fairy tales about my son not being mine, I told you before that if you don't want to be apart of my fa-"

"I wasn't finished", Ember said, a hint of anger broiling from underneath her demure surface.

Naruto turned to her before leaning closer to her. "Well, I am", he seethed to her, his voice rising. "Now I want you and these two to get the fuck out of my house!"

Her face was unmoved. She didn't step back or cower away like she would have done in the year prior to that day. She was holding on to the glimmer of hope that promised coldness and guilt if she were to ever let go.

"I gave my son to your wife in exchange of her expunging my record. She was going to tell you that he was abducted and killed so that she could give him back to me when he turned seven. I came here because I want my son back"

Naruto's face drained of all emotion. He looked up at his parents. Kushina wept harder than before. Minato stood silently as Ember detailed the affair.

"What did you just say to me?"

Ember looked up at him, undaunted as she braved the icy storm of his gaze.

"I said, Jonathan Salazar is my son and I want him back", she said reaching into her bag and pulling out two crumpled pieces of paper. She held the documents in front of his face only for him to snatch the birth certificate out of her hand to skim over it. Kushina stepped forward.

"Now honey try to stay calm"

A set of feet could be heard behind them coming down the stairs. Charlotte, in a pair of black jeans and silk open blouse, approached the huddle of tumult with a look of suppressed horror and fury when she laid eyes on the brown haired woman standing in front of her husband. Kushina wiped her eyes and Minato put his arms around her waist. She looked back at him with an expression of love that she could find a reason to give him in longer than she was proud of.

"Naruto, what's going on?"

He handed the document back to the shaking alleged mother and turned to Charlotte as his heart began to pound violently against the interior of his chest.

"Nothing, these people were just leaving", he said walking past his parent to open the door for them to exit. Minato looked over to Ember with graveness in his eyes. She didn't perceive the weight of the cost of shattering man's world, but she knew it meant nothing when compared to not having her child.

"Go ahead", he said to her.

Ember bit down on the inside of her bottom lip and pulled out a taped together collage. Charlotte took a step in retreat closer to the stairs when she saw Kushina's eyes fixed onto her trembling form. She didn't say a word, she only looked, a with the look she heard everything Kushina said to her.

"Everything you've done to us is all over now"

Alles, den Sie zu uns getan haben, ist überall jetzt

Ember turned to him with the cluster of memories in her hands and handed it to him. They exchanged a glance before he closed the door and took the item from her. The streets, the kitchen, his mother sniffling, Charlotte bursting into tears as well, the maid shushing a chattering nameless child in the bathroom upstairs, were all muted as his eyes glazed over the collage of the fears that he'd put behind him. His strong hands felt as if they had no strength at all. His blue eyes shimmered as a tear dropped onto the picture of the child and his mother at his first day of daycare. It was clearly the boy he'd comme to know as his own with his hair in its natural brown state, yet as long as he could convince himself otherwise, his sanity was still in his possession.

"I'm sorry", she said as she watched the wires being cut. "I never meant for it to go this far, but I can't live another day without him"

He looked up at Charlotte with hot river pouring from his eyes. "Why is our son in these pictures?" He walked closer to her as he let the photographs slip from his feeble hands. His eyes couldn't leave hers, he couldn't bear to see the boy standing at the top of the stairs. He could never look at him again, his soul couldn't take it.

Charlotte opened her mouth to speak but words did not cross her lips.

"Answer me!" He shouted making her jolt in fear.

Before Charlotte could open her mouth to speak again, a small boy with wet, freshly dyed hair walked down the stairs. Naruto watched in gut wrenching horror as he walked toward the woman standing in the foyer. She fell to her knees, the impact of her bones hitting the floor reverberating off the rest of the tile floors. Her dead eyes were granted with the gift of life once again as the boy hurried his pace into all out running into his mother's arms. After years of holding her breath until the point of blacking out, she was finally able to breath in the scent of her child.

She closed her eyes as she embraced him even tighter. "Mommy, what took you so long?"

Minato dashed across the floor to pull Naruto away from the screaming woman on the ground. He grappled with the wild man violently before pulling him away to a safe enough distance for Charlotte to escape up the stairs.

"You bitch! How could you do this to me?! How could you do this to me?!" He yelled to no one as he fell to the ground, falling victim to an uncontrollable fit of sobbing. Kushina gathered the mother and child and escorted them out the door to the car.

Minato knelt to the ground and embraced his son as the blinding light from the adjacent window bathed them in their own filth.


Flashing lights and a few small beggars standing outside was the tawdry scene of the exterior of a New York nightclub. The night air smelled of the fresh aftermath of a fire that had been put out a few nights before in the adjacent building. A line of women and men stood against the wall of the establishment between the graffiti-stricken stone and a velvet rope. A burly man in a tattered stitched together leather jacket stood by the double-doors checking IDs, marking wrists, and turning away red-faced teenagers and men wired on crystal meth.

The rhythmic thumping of the music coming from inside could be felt by the people waiting to get in, fueling the wary feeling in their stomachs, the feeling of being unprepared for being morphed into the cosmic warmth of a larger mass of humanity.

The sky-brushing buildings were lit and

A dark vehicle pulled to a stop just outside the building at the end of the same block.

Rot

The soft lit sign above the entrance was a small declaration of the popularity of the dancery. It flickered every few seconds as more people were permitted to enter. The doors were blacked-out, preventing everyone inside from seeing the exasperated faces of those waiting in the endless line outside and providing a perfect view of strobe lights and beautiful people for the people in the line. No one knew where they came from and no one knew where they were going. It was a statue for the lost.

When the doors were opened to let someone in, the bright lights shined onto the back of the security guard, projecting an eerie constellation against the surface of the street.

There was a faint coat of condensation that began to appear on the outside of the double doors. The heat of flesh and radiating bodies plastered itself onto the glass like sweat dripping down a brow.

A slender body began to tremble on that night and a pair of hazel eyes watched the expanding, contracting and rippling body of patrons. He placed his arm onto the railing of the balcony of the second level eyeing every move, every bead of sweat, ever cent paid for a drink, basking in the partaking of his poison.

Gideon Peat was a native to New York and not a stranger to nepotism. His father could be found in the backroom on the weekdays managing the books, his recently convicted and released younger brother guarded the door and his sex –addicted cousin worked at the bar, all but begging women to buy more drinks and stay for a while

The club started out as an organic food store before it became the dance mecca of the lower east side. The owner was a French immigrant who'd only been in the country for a few years. He saw the property in a magazine and the bank happily let him the money to open a store on account that he had a similar store in Toulouse. The store was bustling until his much younger wife left him and cleaned out his IRA. Boarding up the establishment, he moved back to France to live with his sister.

Peat had been eyeing the place for a while during the three years that it remained unused.

He finally saved enough money selling sports cars at a dealer in Queens to renovate what would become one of the highlights of the area, among a huddle of tax offices and small scale restaurants.

His vision was locked onto the newest addition to his ever rotating staff of young dancers.

The cage had been taken down when the steel rope intended to hoist it up rusted the night before, trapping one of the dancers until Gideon's brother lifted the cage himself. A pair of bare feet stood atop a fat lit white platform dancing until the clock ran out of ways to torture him.

His short red hair swayed as a cold bead of sweat could be felt rolling slowly down the back of his neck. Eyes followed his every move and he knew the owner of those eyes and their intentions, they haunted him. They warned him not to leave this place, or else he would be devoured by his most prevalent fears. The black eyeliner caked onto his eyelids made it hard to blink when he looked in the direction of his boss. He was a detestable man.

He had been making advances at Gaara for the duration of his employment at Red but the youth had been successful thus far at formulating an escape plan. He knew that success would soon run dry, however. The older man had been standing afar licking his lips for nearly an hour.

I wish I knew how to fight.

He was well aware of the lack of possibilities lying in the hands of his previous love affair, but he couldn't help but admit that he'd habituated preserving his passion for the same man. He was beginning to think that he was saving himself for a fantasy, an untouchable delusion whose validity was only visible to him. He cursed himself for running away that night.

The men below him shouted disgusting things up at him, throwing money at his trembling feet. He could feel their eyes pulling and tugging at his skin, taunting his fears, exploiting his insecurities, biting into his passions, squeezing the life out of him in every way. He grew embarrassed at how much he was beginning to sweat. The black eyeliner dribbled down his eyelid into his eye, prompting his hand to tend fiercely to his burning eyes.

"Hey!"

He looked over to Gideon who was snapping his fingers with a faint smirk hiding beneath his facial hair. He mouthed 'keep dancing' before turning to leave. His figure could be seen in quick frames as he walked down the stairs and to his office.

As the music played on and his time on the terrifying platform inched closer to expiration, he began to dread what he knew his boss was thinking of. Half of his face was smudged with black makeup; from far away it looked like he had been given a black eye.

A weakening premonition settled onto Gaara's gut. He looked around him, dancing all the time. He smiled, knowing that he was the only one who knew the source of his joy and excitement. He was the only one in the whole room who knew how it felt when Naruto used to press his fingers into his milky flesh, driving him to the peak of his desires. He found trouble believing that he was so close by. Was he real? Or was his subliminal fear of losing him playing a cruel joke on him.

Why the hell would he be here?

How does he even know I'm here?

It might just be gas.

An hour and a half passed and people were beginning to show up in droves when the clock struck 11. Gaara's shift was coming to an end and he, with assistance from a man below, jumped down from the platform.

"I haven't seen you around here for very long", yelled the shorter man over the music. He was shirtless and had a tattoo of a heart on his chest.

"I've only been here for about two months", Gaara said playfully, trying to get away.

"Maybe I just haven't been paying attention", he laughed softly. "Hey, if you're not in a hurry to leave I'd love to buy you a drink"

"Oh, no thanks. I don't drink"

The man laughed out loud. "You mean to tell me a young guy like you doesn't drink?"

Gaara simply smiled, still looking for a reason to get away.

"What, are you not old enough?"

"No, my father was an angry drunk who beat my mother and tried to kill me", he said still smiling. He patted the man on his shoulder before walking in the direction of the dressing room.

"Have a nice night", were his last words to the dumbfounded man.

The dressing room was empty when Gaara opened the doors and sat down in front of the mirror. Gideon wanted the guys to take their clothes off if someone paid them enough since a percentage of their tips went back to the club; luckily he maintained his secrets that night.

He reached across the counter and grabbed a moist napkin to wipe his face. He felt a sense of warmth seeing his face in its natural state, there was one thing that they hadn't taken from him just yet. He heard a faint buzzing noise coming from the lockers behind him. He got up and opened the metal door to reveal his clothes, his bag and his buzzing phone. He had three voicemails from the financial aid office. He was in default on a loan that he took out in LA.

He sighed deeply before shutting the door. He put on a pair of short black denim shorts and a black tank top. A pair of shoes could be heard approaching from the hallways amid the faint thumping of the music coming from the dance floor. Gaara squeezed his fists as tightly as he could; trying to muster as much courage as he possibly could in that moment.

You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. You are in control of your body and no one can take that control away from you.

"Anybody in here?"

Gaara, still behind the lockers, hesitated before answering. "Yeah, I'm in here"

The taller man came around the corner with his hands in the pockets of his slacks eyed his newest employee lustfully before approaching.

"Leaving?"

"Yeah, my shift was over a few minutes ago"

He propped himself against the wall of lockers next to him. "You were great out there tonight"

"Thanks", he said nervously, feeling the promise he'd made for himself slipping through the cracks of make-shift life.

"Listen, my brother's going to close up for me; I think I might head home for the night…"

"Oh, ok. Well goodnight", Gaara said, seeing a light of hope for escape shining. Suddenly his ratty apartment began to grow in appeal. Gideon chuckled momentarily before stepping out in front of Gaara in a calm manner. He reached for Gaara's waist. He pulled back, feeling the sting.

"What's wrong?"

"I…I…um"

He pulled him closer until Gaara could feel his breath bouncing off his face. The hair on his chin was inches from Gaara's face when he began to resist.

"I'm just not ready right now"

Gideon chuckled again. "Come on, don't be coy. I've seen the way you move up there"

"That's what you pay me for"

He crushed his lips onto Gaara's, pressing him into the wall behind them. The red haired dancer shoved the taller man away from him with as much strength as he could muster in the quick instance and darted for the door. He smiled through his tears. He'd saved himself once more.

Gideon was shouting something from the inside of the dressing room but Gaara didn't bother to listen or stop running. His heart was beating faster than it did when he got robbed for nothing earlier that week.

Das Leben ist grausam

Gaara sped through the hallway leading to the door to the alley exit.

Du bist mein Romeo gewesen

He didn't care if he never looked back at that place ever again. He didn't care if he had to drop out of school. He didn't care if he ended up in a shelter or on the street. He didn't care if he didn't have the money to go back home. He didn't care if he never saw the interior of the New York Metropolitan Ballet. He didn't care if he was blackballed by every restaurant and club in the state of New York. The only thing that he was certain of was that he couldn't bear to stand on that dreaded platform for another second.

He opened the door to the door to the alley and walked towards the street opposite to that of the entrance of the club. A street lamp lit the pathway, giving him a bit more assurance, yet he felt that he wouldn't be afraid anyhow. He wasn't afraid of anything anymore.

Thunder rumbled faintly in the distance. He could smell the rain in the air mixed with the frying grease coming from the metal stack of the Cajun restaurant that he was walking past. He felt lost for words as he ventured onto the sidewalk and could see a few people walking down the street. A taxi or two drove past. And then there was nothing.

He could hear an engine idling in the distance. It was a far walk to the subway but he was looking forward to seeing the city.

"Need a ride?"

Gaara was prepared to sprint across the street when he turned around to see a tall figure leaning against the wall with his hands in the pockets of a brown leather jacket.

"You scared the shit out of me!" Gaara yelled putting a hand on his chest. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

"I figured you needed me, so I came", he said smirking.

Gaara felt a warmth inside. "Why are you really here?"

Naruto scratched the back of his neck before motioning to the black car in the shadows. "To take you home"

"I'm taking the subway"

"Why do that when you have me?"

"I don't have you"

"But I've had you"

"I knew it was coming"

"What do you mean?"

"You came because you wanted to sleep with me"

"Not particularly, but since you brought it up…", he said running his eyes over Gaara's nearly bare legs.

"My boss just shoved his tongue down my throat, so I hate to tell you but I'm not in the mood"

"I can make it a quick one"

"Pig"

"You haven't seen me in two months and this is the greeting I get?"

"I don't watch football, if you were expecting me to ask for your autograph"

"Everybody loves football"

"Everybody doesn't include me"

Naruto chuckled. "So what's the real reason why you won't let me take you home?"

"Because I'm taking the subway", Gaara said. "I'm starting to think getting smashed around is messing with your hearing"

"I'm not letting you take the subway"

"You're not my father"

Naruto winced inside.

"Why do you want to take me home so badly anyway?"

"Everybody needs someone to talk to every now and then", he said with a sly smile. Gaara held his ground for a moment before giving in.

"Fine"

"I know this great Chinese place in Chelsea"

"That's nice, but I don't live anywhere near Chelsea"

"Who said I was taking you straight home, I'm starving", he said opening the door for Gaara to get in. Naruto took a secretive breath of Gaara's scent before closing the door and walking to the other side of the car. Gaara exhaled deeply before Naruto got into the car.

They started off down the street before Naruto spoke up, not wanting to hear the silence that was eating him alive.

"You know you really can't blame your boss"

"What do you mean?"

"I'd wanna nail you"

"Thanks for the compliment"

"You know what I mean"

"For your information, my former-boss is a sleaze with a napoleon complex"

"Why do you say that?"

"One of the other dancers that slept with him said that it's literally the size of a crayon"

Naruto burst into laughter.

"No thanks", Gaara said folding his arms across his chest.

They stopped at a red light and Naruto turned to his passenger. "Am I the biggest you've had?"

Gaara smirked. "Why?"

"Just curious"

"No"

"…"

"If you hadn't noticed already, you're the only guy I've been with"

"You're lying"

"No I'm not. I haven't slept with a single guy other than you"

Naruto smiled. "That does wonders for my ego", he said sardonically.

The silence returned.

"But then again, I don't feel like size matters very much"

"Of course it does"

"How would you know? You're a top"

"I just don't see how size won't matter, especially with Mr. Crayon"

"What matters is how well you work with what you have, not how loud you can make someone scream"

"Do I work well with what I have?"

"I'm not about to give you a performance report"

"Why not?"

"For one thing, it's been a while", he said feeling slightly uncomfortable.

They pulled into the parking row in front of Sing Sing's Chinese Bistro. It was a two level restaurant that was open twenty-four hours during the weekdays and was moderately populated. It still baffled Gaara how Naruto deflected any fears of being seen in public with him, no matter how he was dressed.

"Why didn't you tell me this place was upscale?"

"Slipped my mind", he said getting out of the car and opening the door for Gaara.

"Slipped your mind?" Gaara said getting out of the car. "I should slip my fist across your face. Look at the way I'm dressed", he could see Charlotte's face in the back of his mind as well as his mother's.

It's only midnight; the paparazzi are probably watching us right now. I shouldn't be gambling with my mother's freedom like this. She'd never do anything like this to me.

"You look fine to me", Naruto placed his hand on the small of Gaara's back as they walked closer to the double doors.

"Of course I look fine to you. I could walk in in pasties and a thong and I'd look fine to you"

"Don't tease me"

"Fucktard"

"Look, we'll sit in the back", he said wrapping his arm fully around Gaara's waist, pulling him closer. "Don't worry."

Gaara looked up at him as if he were a madman.

"Naruto what are you doing?"

"When we get a table I want to hear how school is going"

Before Gaara could say another word they were at the front desk and the host came to greet who she expected to be Mr. and Mrs. Uzumaki on their usual evening stroll down the avenue after NJ was put in bed. She opened her mouth to speak but stopped short when she laid her eyes upon the scantily dressed red-headed young male on his arm instead of the beautiful brunette that was there nearly three weeks earlier.

"Good evening Mr. Uzumaki….", she paused looking an embarrassed Gaara from head to toe. "Is the misses not feeling well", she said pretending to be naïve.

"The misses is a lying conniving bitch and I hope she rots in hell", he said smiling. "I'd like a table for two"

The mouths of the host, Gaara and a few people sitting near the front of the restaurant hanged a gape at the sound of the country's most famous athlete blatantly denouncing what they knew as the mother of their child. Gaara looked up at him as the bewildered host led them to a table towards the far end of the restaurant.

"A waiter will be right with you", she said in a stark voice before hurriedly putting their menus in front of them and scurrying to the back. Upon her departure Naruto began to scan over the menu only for Gaara to snatch it from his grasp. Naruto gave him a surprised look.

"What did you do that for?"

"Because you're a lunatic!"

Naruto smirked. "Damn you're sexy when you're mad at me"

Gaara sighed deeply and momentarily closed his eyes, collecting his wits before he went into cardiac arrest.

"Naruto, will you please tell me what is going on?"

He paused for a moment before beginning. "Two months ago my parents told me that NJ wasn't mine. I didn't believe them so I told them that I didn't want them near my family anymore. They came back a week later with….Jonathan's biological mother, an ex-prostitute who let Charlotte pretend to be his mother in exchange for getting the charges dropped…"

Gaara placed a hand over his mouth.

"I don't know what came over me, I just got so mad. I would have really hurt her had it not been for my father. She was threatening to call the police and have me arrested. But my mother brought up the fact that she and someone from the Louisiana DA's office had been illegally obtaining files and evidence from your mother's case. Once that got aired out she agreed to a divorce; she moved back to California with her parents. N…..Jonathan is back in LA with his mother", Naruto said as his countenance was cracked and broken with every word he spoke. A lone tear fell from his eye.

Gaara's growling stomach dropped.

"I'm sorry, Naruto"

"Don't be, it wasn't your fault"

"No, but I knew what was going on and I didn't tell you"

Naruto chuckled. "Don't beat yourself up. Odds are I wouldn't have believed you if you did tell me"

The red headed youth slightly dropped his head.

"It's a terrible thing she did to you and your mother. I only wish I could've pulled my head out of my ass long enough to do something about it"

"She's safe now. That's all that matters", Gaara said with relief in his voice.

"I won't lie. It'll be a while before I can move on from this whole thing. But I'm on the right track, right?"

"Two months wasn't that long ago"

Naruto cracked a small smile. "I guess you could say it's easier with someone you can trust"

Naruto smiled as he delved into Gaara's eyes.

The waiter came out with a steaming plate of cream cheese wontons. He set the plate down in front of them and Naruto refrained from laughing at his nearly drooling counterpart. The fury of his hunger was more evident than the color of his hair. He told the waiter that they needed a few more minutes before they were ready to order.

Gaara stomach growled audibly.

Naruto laughed. "When was the last time you ate?"

"Today"

Naruto gave him a knowing look.

"Yesterday"

The look remained.

"Wednesday"

"You haven't eaten in two days?!"

"You might want to yell louder, I don't think the people on the second floor heard you"

"Why the fuck haven't you eaten in two days?"

"I had rehearsals, classes, I work three jobs-"

"I still haven't heard a valid reason for not eating in two days"

"Since when did you become my father?" Gaara quickly realized what he'd said. "I shouldn't have said that, I'm sorry"

"It's fine", he said. "What's not fine is that you're not eating"

"I haven't been that hungry lately, that all"

"If I got in my car and drove to Canada I could hear your stomach growling"

The smell of the steaming wontons compelled him to pick one up. He put it in front of him giving it time to cool off.

"Look, just because I'm going through a little rough patch doesn't mean you have to go all super-hero on me. I can take care of myself"

Naruto sighed deeply "I'm not saying you can't take care of yourself. But even you have to admit, this is a little insane"

"….."

"Look, at least let me buy you a few things to hold you over until whenever"

"No"

"Why not?"

"I can't ask you for money after all you've been through"

"Trust me, I'm fine. And you don't have to ask, I'm offering"

"Naruto-"

"Then it's settled", he said looking at his menu again.

Gaara smiled to himself before biting into his wonton.

"I hear you're in ballet school now"

"How did you know that?"

"Lucky guess?" Naruto smirked as the waiter came back to their table and the both of them ordered.

"I always knew you were stalking me"

"In my defense, the stalking was requested"

Gaara smacked his forehead with his palm. "How did my mom get your number?"

"She didn't say"

"I'm going to put her back in jail myself"

"Go easy on her, it's tough having her baby so far away", he said chuckling.

"I'm 20 years old"

"I think it's kind of cute"

"What exactly did she tell you?"

"Oh, nothing too bad. She wanted to know how things were going with me, how the games are going, she said even though we weren't technically an item she still wanted me to keep an eye out for you"

"How caring of her", Gaara said sarcastically.

"I have to admit, it did get a little awkward when she asked if we were still sleeping together"

"What did you tell her?"

"I told her I have you handcuffed to my bed every other day"

"You're lying"

"I know, I just wanted to see your reaction"

"Trust me; I'm concealing my reaction because I'm pretty sure your fans wouldn't want to see you get your ass kicked by a guy smaller than you"

Naruto growled playfully.

"Is there a button on you that turns your libido off?"

"You're welcome to look for it"

"I walked right into that one"

"Yeah, you did"

"I hope this isn't how you treat your dates"

"Only the ones I plan on fucking later"

"I guess that makes this a non-date"

"Can't blame a guy for trying?"

"For the record, you're supposed to be looking out for my safety not looking for ways to get me into bed"

"My bed's pretty safe", Naruto smirked across at him making his entire body tingle.

I won't last another second if he keeps looking at me like that. It feels like it just got ten degrees hotter in here. Gaara shifted in his chair.

"Can you at least give the guns a rest while I eat?"

"Fair enough"

They say in silence for e few moments as they ate. Gaara's stomach prompted him to wolf down his food but he resisted. Naruto looked up at him after finishing his food in a few short minutes.

"So how's ballet school?"

"Tiring. But it's all worth it if I want to get hired for a dance company"

"I've just got to see you dance"

"I'm not sure what your game schedule looks like but there's a showcase in a few weeks. You should come by if you're still in New York"

"I'll be there", he said smiling slightly.

Gaara felt a chill run from his heart to the soles of his feet. I want him so badly.


Naruto's car pulled up to the broken curb of a shabby looking apartment building in Brooklyn. There were groups of people on the sidewalks playing poker and a few people walking by. Gaara dug hopelessly through his junky bag for his full key chain. As the two of them got out of the car Naruto's face contorted into an expression of pure disgust.

He looked around to see buildings that were in similar conditions. He noticed the stark difference between these and the apartment that his younger counterpart resided in in LA. A heaviness began to form in his heart as his eyes took in the sight of the Brooklyn complex.

"Don't look at my building like that"

Naruto pointed at the building. "You live in this thing?"

"It's affordable and it doesn't have rats. What else can you ask for?" he said flippantly before approaching the front doors. The building was more or less tall with a few of the windows broken on the upper floors. A loud yelling could be heard coming out of the one of the windows that was lit.

Naruto closed the gap between them as Gaara opened the door fixing his gaze on the source of the yelling. "I think I better walk you to your door"

Gaara chuckled softly. "Are your LA rich kid instincts going off right now?"

"Yeah, something like that", Naruto said looking at all the cracks in the walls and children running up and down the hallway. Gaara's unit was on the first level adjacent to a door that led to the alley next to the building. The door was a dark burgundy and had been painted over several times in the past.

The left side of the door was lined with several locks, each requiring an individual key. Gaara finally found his keys at the bottom of his bag before turning around to see Naruto still scowling at his surroundings.

"You know, it really isn't that bad once you get used to everything"

Loud music could be heard in the next apartment. Naruto stepped closer to him. Gaara could smell the mesmerizing scent of his cologne and the cool rush of his breath against his face.

"Thanks for the dinner"

"Anytime"

"I guess I'll see you around", Gaara turned around to open his door but something inside him prevented him from moving. His heart started beating quickly, his breath shortening. He lost all feeling in his legs and began to grow weak from the heat radiating between their bodies.

Naruto's piercing blue eyes sliced through Gaara's warm flesh. His strong hands cupped Gaara's face before ravaging his quivering lips with an enlivening passion. The red headed youth moaned softly as he felt the rough hairs on Naruto's square chin bristle against his face. He could feel the passion of the kiss causing his body to melt.

Gaara yelped softly when Naruto pinned him against the door and proceeded to bite into his neck.

He paused in his assault of Gaara's flesh for a moment to look into his green eyes.

"What is it?" Gaara asked softly.

"I can't go another night without you", he said hoarsely. "Come back to my loft tonight"

"But I can't", he said without much conviction in his voice. Their passion was more than their will to resist.

"Let me grab my toothbrush"