Omg, this is such an amazing moment of my life, for serious. This, THIS is the Shizaya love-child; a collab between me and La Vita a Colori and I am in love with it! Like mad love right now! Its so amazing and so damn full of everything both me and Izaya love in the boys relationship; the angst (OMG THE ANGST), the smex, the slightly insaneness of Sasuke and Naruto, the pages upon pages of describing every damn detail, and the dialogue is just something else to me. This thing is just.. wow. Its so long and intense (because Izaya touched it with her talent!) and it took SO LONG, I'm talking over half a year. GAH!

I love it and I hope you guys will love it too *bows low*

Izaya! Thank you for doing this with me! I love you so much! Lets get started on the next oneeee! *spamslove*




Naruto felt the fatigue washing over him in waves, a heavy blanket against warm skin as he stood at attention in front of his commanding officer. The tick in the corner of his left eye came and went as he focused on the shifting clouds in the evening sky.

"You don't have to take it, Naruto. I understand. We can do without you, I know its terrible timing but this mission is…" Tsunade trailed off and Naruto felt her eyes watching him closely, although he was staring pointedly just an inch to the right of her forehead, willing away his sagging shoulders and the dark circles accumulating beneath his eyes.

It had been a hard year since Sasuke came back.

He smiled anyway, a shiny set of white teeth betraying the stress he'd been under as of late.

"I'll think about it," he replied and left the office with a small salute.

Konoha was warm and still even at this time of night. Naruto watched the sky as he walked back home. There was no one else on the streets. It was an eerie sort of calm that did nothing to quiet the young man's nerves. He ran one hand lazily up the opposite arm, eyes darting back and forth to the gathering shadows as night neared.

At the place where the road split into a fork, a small child raced past Naruto. The rustle of the movement of paper from the parcel beneath his arm was crisp in the soft air. Naruto stopped where he was and watched as the boy's sandals skidded on the dusty path in front of an open door, left agape to invite the air inside when it had cooled. The light from within spilt onto the ground under the boy's feet.

"Kei! Kei! Sorry I'm late! My mom didn't get back until just now." called the boy, hooking his fingers into the backs of his shoes to hurriedly pull them off as another boy, slightly taller, appeared in the doorway.

"That's ok, you're here now right."

"Yeah! Happy Birthday! You're eleven already!" The boy whistled at his friend, impressed. "I got you the coolest present. Mom said not to spend all my money but you're my best friend ya know…" The conversation faded out and Naruto continued to watch the scene, the voices silent inside his head. A cold wave washed over him making his insides swoon.

'Happy Birthday.'
The two boys stayed in the doorway for another moment that seemed to last forever to Naruto, their expressions warm and glowing at the edges. The boy who had arrived late had eyes like moonlight, a strange kind of grey, bright with excitement. Naruto's fingers came to his face, just below his eyes and found himself wondering if he had ever, at that age (what had the kid said? Eleven?) had eyes that bright, that full to the brim with happiness and pure delight over well, anything.

He blinked and realized the boys had gone inside and that his breathing had turned shaky.

'Just some kid's birthday. It's nothing. Get yourself together. Nothing wrong with celebrating. Nothing at all. You're just tired as hell and stressed over the mission and worried about… about… Keep walking damnit!'

His feet moved as if possessed and he stared straight forward at the fork in the road. He'd take this right, then turn right there and walk all the way in a straight line to the edge of the village. He'd walk home and fix something to eat and get stuff ready and Sasuke would…

"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…"

The song reached out and grabbed by Naruto's throat, choking him and he couldn't breathe again until he moved with eyes wide and mouth open in a small 'o', to face the window of the house still sitting pretty on the corner. The singing continued and it was as if Naruto was ensnared by the tune. He felt heavy; someone was dribbling thick honey all over his body.

Standing with arms dangling uselessly at his sides he watched a group of shadowy children standing around one seated boy. The room was dark save the glimmer of the eleven candles on a huge cake. In the glow Naruto could make out 'Happy Birthday Kei'. And then they sang the song again when a woman, presumably Kei's mother, bustled in with a dismayed frown having missed the song. And still Naruto stood and watched and watched, not caring that anyone could take their eyes off the goings on inside the house and see him staring. His breaths stumbled over each other.

That one boy. The late one. His eyes were the brightest. That funny grey. Their clear colour showed the feelings of each and every child the best and Naruto could swear something came loose inside him. His fingers jumped to his face again. And then the boy blew out the candles and the room went dark. Naruto spent a very long moment fighting the terrible urge to cry out.

"Tadaima!" Naruto flicked the lock with a quick wrist and proceeded to sit down where the entry rose into the house and pulled off his sandals one by one.

"Okaeri." Came the quiet answer, so soft that one wouldn't hear it unless they knew what to listen for. The rich voice trailed from the table where Sasuke was sitting reading a book. Pulling himself away, the raven looked up and blinked at Naruto as the blond came through the door, head cocked to the side in silent contemplation. Sasuke's face was a carefree blank and his eyes were a warmer black today. Although it could be a trick of the light, the blonde ninja couldn't help but smile.

Sasuke had come back to the village after killing Itachi, eliminating any traces that the man had actually existed within the criminal organizations outside of the Leaf, and he had been working on regaining his status with a surprising quickness as one of Konoha's ninjas. He was as blunt and annoying as ever and generally a jerk.

Just the way Naruto liked him.

Yet still it was sometimes that his eyes would narrow and fade to a cold black, avoiding anyone's gaze and repelling those that dared get too close. Sometimes the corners of his mouth were turned down like he didn't want to talk, and Naruto once theorized he was concentrating on not going ballistic on the general public. Sasuke still had a lot of problems. Sometimes Naruto would notice the pale man get up in the middle of the night to take icy, cold baths and then climb back into bed simply for the sake of pressing his cold body against Naruto while the other man pretended with an intense focus to be asleep instead of doing something foolish, like try to comfort him. Sometimes Sasuke didn't come back to bed and Naruto would at first be curious, then anxiety would take over and he would wander to the bathroom just to have to lift the unconscious Uchiha out of the stone cold bath and carry him back to bed.

It was wearing Naruto down just as much as it was eating away at Sasuke.

The Uchiha had changed a lot and had never been quite the same Sasuke that they had known. But it seemed today had been a good day; maybe because Sasuke had had the day off and spent most of it lazing in bed with his nose stuffed in a book. Whatever the reason, Sasuke was warm and Naruto was glad.

"What did Tsunade want?" Sasuke asked.

Naruto blink and hesitated, but only for a moment.

"Ah.. Th..There's a mission tomorrow. Early morning start…" Blue eyes skirted off to one side as Sasuke blinked and then narrowed his eyes slowly before he picked up his book again with a grace that should not have been there.

"I see." A pause."Good luck then."

Naruto's eyebrows arched up under his bangs and he stared at Sasuke.

'What kind of reaction was that?'

"What?", he whispered incredulously.

Sasuke didn't look.

"Good luck," the raven quietly repeated, turning a page with the flick of his finger.

Naruto felt his brows draw together and a small tingle of urgency wandered up his spine.

"Th—that's it?"

Sasuke leant back in his chair and looked at Naruto out of the corner of his eye. Cool, calm, collected inside his little Sasuke shell.

"What are you expecting me to say? Have you been making up conversations in your head again, Dobe?" he teased emptily, the humor not quite touching the words. Naruto bristled and fists automatically clenched tightly at his sides.

He began quietly. "You know what tomorrow is right? There's a calendar right over there..." A terse hand gestured indirectly at the far wall where the calendar hung displaying the different types of ramen. The very next day's date was circled in red pen, dark and profound by Naruto's hand, and at some point had gathered multi-colored hearts from Sakura. Sasuke sighed as Naruto continued with a confused expression and quaking form, anger he didn't realize was building inside (anger for so many different things that just seemed to boil down to July 23rd) began to dribble from his mouth in the form of words and sentences and harsh breaths. "It's your birthday in case you forgot. I tell you I have to go away on a mission, which I might die on, might I add, and all you can say is 'good luck'?"

The slightest twinge of exasperation entered those dark eyes.

"Yes. That's what I said. Twice."


"What do you mean why? It isn't a big deal, Naruto."

The blond started before taking a few steps forward and then stopped just short of the small, wooden tabletop. Sasuke had turned away again but Naruto's eyes were trained on the scratch marks at the edge of the tabletop, a flash of heated passion flowing through his exhausted brain as he recalled the way Sasuke had forced himself upon him in that very spot with a fervour of such urgency that Naruto could do nothing but comply.

Steeling himself, he took a deep breath.

"You'll be alone Sasuke. You don't want to be alone on your birthday... Don't you want to do something? Dinner or a cake or going out somewhere nice with Sakura-chan and the others or… Y—you really don't want to be by yourself." Now Naruto was at Sasuke's side looking down on the man who had lowered his chin and moved the book into his lap, half hidden in the shadow of the table. Through his dark fringe, Sasuke's eyes didn't move from the crisp, white pages.

"Where would you get that idea?" Naruto furrowed his brow, unable to comprehend Sasuke's lack of emotion and complete dismissal of something Naruto took to be of the utmost importance.

If Sasuke told him he was going away on his birthday, Naruto would have smacked him across his forehead (Uchiha respect, be damned!) and told him he wasn't going anywhere! It was an important day—possibly the most important, by Naruto's standards. Dull images of his own lonely birthdays from his childhood filled Naruto's mind, flitting behind his eyelids like old movie film in sepia tones and crisp around the edges. No one had ever acknowledged his birthday then. The day he was born and the celebration of it was nil in the minds of others.

No one saw his existence.

He was ignored entirely.


He had hated his birthdays for the sole reason that he was alone. But Sasuke—he didn't show anything. It wasn't like he had to ask Naruto to stay, nothing that direct, but the bastard had brushed it off and simply assumed Naruto would be the kind of person to leave.

"You want to be alone then?" Naruto asked bluntly. He remembered how Sasuke had often murmured to him in half sleep, 'Don't leave me'. The blonde man couldn't understand it. He knew well that at those times Sasuke probably wasn't much aware of what was coming out of his mouth but they had been together for a long while and the possibility that Naruto could read Sasuke like the book he presently held in his hands was more likely than not. It was only natural to want to be together—to have the privilege of asking not to be left alone on an important day; a day that must have been as lonely for Sasuke as it always had been for Naruto.

"I don't care."

The soft whisper came unexpectedly and the muscle in Naruto's arm spasmed, the heat of anger seeping through his very pores.

"You can't not care!"

"I can do whatever I want, Naruto." The response came quickly snapping at him and Naruto's shoulders rose, trembling. What was with him? This reaction?! And then those same shoulders slumped as a thought struck him albeit ridiculous in retrospect, causing the blond's mouth to hang open slightly as he stared wide-eyed down at the black mop of hair.

"Do you want me to go…?"

Was it not that Sasuke didn't want to acknowledge his birthday, but rather that he didn't want to spend it with Naruto? Sure, the blond had an overly affectionate personality... He was clingy and his utter lack of family for the better part of his life made him hold anyone close to his heart. And the fact that he couldn't hold his liquor very well, but surely those weren't any viable reason to—

"You're free to do whatever you want. Just write your letter and get ready. You got home so late it's almost morning anyway. You said early start." The snapped responses were short and mechanical, and the tone knocked into Naruto harder than a slap in the face. There was no question in Sasuke's voice.

Naruto watched his face closely. Saying that so easily… He even spoke of the letter like it was nothing, the letter for if he should die… And in that voice as if... as if Naruto—

'As if I mean absolutely nothing.'

His jaw clenched tightly, nails digging into his palms to create perpetual indentations of his inner rage. Seething, he stated, "So you do want me to go...?" Emotion pressed behind Naruto's eyes at the actual admission of such a thought. With little preamble, he slammed his fist down on the table making it buck back and forth before settling and Sasuke stood up suddenly in response, dropping his book.

His black eyes trained on the other with a matching fire.

"What the hell is the matter with you?"

"Me? What's wrong with me? I'm pretty sure you're the one with problems, Teme! Who the hell doesn't want to be with their lover on their birthday, damnit!?" Naruto's voice jumped up in the wrong places angrily. He felt Sasuke's shock at the blond's little outburst fade away and that cool composure returned, watching Naruto like he was an emotional moron.

Uchiha Sasuke, standing a few inches over him, wider shoulders, and a beautiful look of maturity. That beautiful man was definitely the one in the wrong and yet here he was, doing his high and mighty act?

"You're being ridiculous, Naruto. You're obviously tired. You should sleep if you're going on this mission, you-"

"Don't you dare tell me what I am and don't tell me what to do! I'm talking to you bastard, and you'd damn well answer me!"

"You're not talking. You're shouting."

"Shut up! I tell you I'm going away and you don't care?! That's fucking weird, you lunatic!"

He was aware that he was way too worked up, that this matter could be settled with inside voices and seated across the table calmly with some tea to help cleanse the nerves. Maybe he was just overworked. Maybe he really was exhausted and maybe he really was taking this way out of proportion. Maybe a lot of things.

But it was blatantly obvious in Naruto's mind that the prickly bastard didn't want him! That he really didn't care what Naruto did! That he would rather sit back and read rather than tell his boyfriend not to go, not to be hurt and to stay by his side.

Because Sasuke had never—even though Naruto had smothered him in teary confessions in the middle of the night amongst sweet nothings and mindless pleasure, kissed it onto his very lips—Sasuke had never said…

"I love you."

The words fell in a whisper from Naruto's mouth and he twitched at the ease with which he'd spoken, noticing the way Sasuke himself had tensed. Shaking it out, Naruto took a step forward and opened his hands in a supplicating manner, bated breaths coming shakily.

"I love you, and you still don't…"

He reached for Sasuke, seeking comfort, looking for the request to stay in the other man's arms, in the place he knew he needed to be because he was too angry and too emotional and he knew it. So maybe if he could just—

Sasuke didn't take to the change in mood.

"Don't," the raven commanded, even sounding powerful, if not a little more than apprehensive, with a whisper and stepped away as Naruto's blood all but ran cold.

Sasuke was... turning him away?

Sasuke, who he always came home to? Sasuke, who had pinned him down time and time again. Sasuke, who hung over him in the mornings when he couldn't wake up properly, telling him that he was going to be late for meeting with his Genin team and not to forget to brush his teeth—


Don't what?

Don't touch me?

Was that it?

Don't ask questions?

Don't talk?

Don't what?

What was it?!

"What the fuck?!" yelled Naruto. "'Don't,' he says... What, do you hate me now? You don't want me to touch you with these dirty hands, Sasuke?" The Uchiha said nothing. Naruto backed off, eyes opened so wide he could feel the burning at the edges of his vision and he trailed them down to the book lying half open on the ground, lowering his chin and curling into himself. He could feel the sob wanting to escape, even as he attempted to regain control.

"I get it. You want me to go. You don't want to spend your special night with some orphan kid, is that it? You want me to go so you can go off and spend it with someone else? C—'cause you could get anyone, I get that. You're fucking gorgeous." Naruto clenched his fists to try and stop his hands from trembling and a tear threatened to leak over baby blues. He continued quietly, voice wavering in hurt. "You're turning 21, right? It's a big birthday so you want something different. No attachments? Or maybe you're just looking for a girl so you can carry on those special genes of yours." Naruto looked up at Sasuke, tears now rolling freely over his cheeks, caressing them softer than a lover. The other man watched him with his mouth in a tight, thin line.

"What, you want someone new, is that it? I'm good enough for just whenever you want, but when it counts, I'm nothing, huh?" A nasty scowl marred his scarred features and he turned his eyes with great difficulty to focus on some random corner above Sasuke's head. "Yeah... That's probably it."

God, he was tired. Worn out. Being eaten from the inside out...

"Naruto! What are you-"

"I'm just your play thing? Is that it?!" Naruto couldn't remember which part he started yelling at, or when his nails bit through his skin and his palm bled slowly onto his fingertips. All he knew was that he could never recall a time when Sasuke had said to him he loved him and now Sasuke had as good as told him that he wasn't necessary on the day that was solely Sasuke's. His silence spoke so much to Naruto (even if the silence was really just a chronic liar). It was too painful to think about. This man that he spent all this time chasing! This man who had taken all of him! Almost subconsciously, one of Naruto's hands shakily grappled at the material over where his heart lay, pounding angrily against his ribs and threatening to beat right out of his chest cavity.

"I'm just a good fuck right!?" Naruto suddenly cried and it was in that moment that Sasuke's anger spiked in the room.

Before Naruto knew it, Sasuke was upon him, grabbing his collar and tossing him brutally against the wall. A picture frame fell to the floor and clattered loudly while the force caused a crack to slowly rift up from the floorboards where Naruto's feet stood limply in the quiet of both male's heavy breath. It was near primeval the way they eyed each other, so fed by blind fury.

Sasuke's eyes were red.

Sharingan red.

Like two pools of blood, spinning languidly.

Naruto struggled against the forearm at his neck but Sasuke held him down on the wall, pushing his shoulder blades further into the plaster. The air was thick with hurt and Naruto shuddered; he vaguely realized it was getting harder to breathe.

" 'A good fuck', that's all you think this is?!"Sasuke rarely yelled, especially with eyes so alight with emotion and something that could only be identified as hurt wavering in his voice, and even though it momentarily startled Naruto, he bit back like the reckless idiot he was, words flowing before his mind could catch up in the race.

"How the fuck would I know?! You never tell me what you're thinking! You never say one god damn thing to me! Even though I say it all the time, you just watch me! I tell you everything. You never-"

Sasuke cut him off harshly, accompanied by nails digging into the black material of Naruto's shirt, "Don't you see all the shit I go through just for you, you imbecile? Do you know who I am?! You're not just anyone's."

"Oh, so our relationship's just shit to you now, eh?! The shit you just go through 'cause you know what you'll get at the end of the day, right?!" Naruto roared right back.

"You're wrong!"

"Then why? W-why don't you want me?"

He could feel the unwanted sobs beginning to build up at the base of his throat again, but he choked the bile back down, biting harshly into a lower lip.

"When did I ever fucking say that, Naruto?"

"Well, when have you said otherwise?"

"You're so unreasonable!"

"I hate you." The words slipped surprisingly quiet from Naruto's mouth and Sasuke's hand trembled on his shoulder. There was a sense of rapid cooling in the room and it was a dangerous sort of quiet. Sasuke's eyes had fallen beneath his fringe once again, giving Naruto no chance to look into his soul.

He began slowly.

"You hate me? Heh. That sounds familiar."

The raven looked up with the same lethargy, his eyes icy and sharp. The same type of black they had been for a long time before coming home. Before he even had a home to come back to.

"Fine, you want to fight, Naru, then let's fight. C'mon, just like the old days." Naruto recoiled, his back hitting the hard plaster as Sasuke's tongue wrapped around the pet name like it was something rotten he ate and had spat back out onto the ground to wither. Sasuke let him go with one hand and quickly reached around, pulling a kunai from Naruto's weapon pouch as the blond stood stock still, teeth grinding so hard he could feel it reverberating to his brain.

With surprisingly ease, he pressed the weapon into Naruto's palm and pointed a finger at his own chest, face devoid of what might really be lurking underneath. All that Naruto could see was that bland, creeping stare, but he couldn't will himself to look away even as those tears that seemed to come so easily still drenched his cheeks.

"Right here, na?" Sasuke's face was calm and his black eyes were still. Dead still. Heat prickled in Naruto's hands and unwanted itches tingled at the base of his neck, his fingers twitching in the desire to rub at it in the nervous habit he'd adopted as a child.

And then, the anger began to resurface in even more force.

How dare Sasuke wear this face in his presence—this expression that he always used when they met after going rogue.

How dare he make a sick joke of this.

"Fuck you."

Sasuke dragged the corners of his mouth down slowly. How quickly this had gone from a good day to bad one. The kunai fell with a solid thunk on the floorboards.

"Are you finished then?" Sasuke snarled into the quiet.

"You're sick," came the shuddering reply.

"And you're deluded."

"Get out."

"I live here, if you hadn't noticed."

"I said to get the fuck out!"



"Naruto," he growled and Naruto pressed his body tightly back into the wall as Sasuke's movement brought them slightly closer, but Naruto couldn't have that. He couldn't have Sasuke touch him. Being this close was becoming way too much, spiking his anxiety in all the wrong places.



The slam of the door that accompanied Sasuke's departure had Naruto sinking to the floor in a boneless heap, head still foggy and half delusional, tears running train tracks across his vision. He couldn't focus. He couldn't hear. He couldn't see. All he knew was Sasuke hadn't returned that one, simple sentiment. All he knew was the black brow twisted up in utter disgust and contempt as he left without one look back.

Naruto stood with his hand on the sheet of lined paper on the table, gently pressing it down into the table top. The pen lay untouched off to the side, a solitary witness to Naruto's indecision. Finally, it was easier to breathe and he could once again stand on his legs without having to consciously remind himself how to walk. His face had long since been cleaned of the salty tightness left behind on bronzed skin. It was early, but he didn't really know what time. The lights in the house were still on and had been throughout the night Naruto spent sat staring at the ceiling. So time stood still with the blue curtains closed and the world shut out, although he could hear the soft dribble of water from the pond out in back of the Uchiha main house.

Soon, he would go.


Naruto knew he should write something—anything would suffice. They always wrote before leaving, but-

A warning growl dragged between the man's clenched teeth and he fisted his hand, now bandaged around his palms from the unintentional self-harm, the paper crumpling inside his grip as fingers grappled together. A hot, sour taste rose in the back of his throat.

He licked his lips and swallowed it back down.

'Like he cares.'

There was nothing to say.

Absolutely nothing.

And yet, the icy sting would not fade.

Missions had almost always been easy for Uzumaki Naruto. Because he was 'Thee Uzumaki Naruto, Future Hokage'. He was constantly running off hero lines and agreeing with his superiors who told him he was a natural born leader, such a valuable asset and the like. A wide smile that showed all his teeth and a thumbs up at his comrades, especially when they needed it most. A fist pumped in the air. A pat on the back. Optimism to last a normal human soul for years to come. And they always came out alive. Because he was just that talented and passionate.

But that wasn't all of why Naruto threw himself completely into his missions—why it was he came out alive and victorious. There was more. To simply succeed wasn't why he stood on tired legs and dragged others to their feet, urging them forward when it looked like hope was a completely foreign sentiment. Why it was that he fought with such limitless drive.

Yes, because he wanted to be Hokage.

Yes, because it was his duty to the village.


It was because of that single letter he would leave on the kitchen counter, in the right corner near Sasuke's favourite mug, each time he would take a stuttering breath and head out the door towards all the dangers and the alien territory it contained.

Pages and pages of confessions.

Stupid, sappy lines.

Tear marked snippets of memories from the most seemingly unimportant of times.


Things that no one should ever have to know.

Many things that he kept bottled up inside that he wished could be projected far off from his body but that he just couldn't voice. He couldn't will himself to expel them from his mouth, dribbling over parched lip and covering the pores found there.

Every time he left through the gates, he felt embarrassed about what he'd written or felt like he hadn't conveyed a particular feeling the way it felt beating deep inside his heart. Originally the letters were his idea, but even so he hadn't thought it through much before suggesting it and never knew if what he was putting down was the right thing to say. He always had to come home as soon as possible; safe and warm and breathing and alive, so that he had another chance to try and get it right.

It was also to fulfil a promise that was always left with that letter. At the end of each one, scribbled in quick and flustered words blushing softly against the page, Naruto would write something that he felt was the only thing he had ever gotten right in all the letters he'd written to the other.

"As long as you let me know you believe in me, swear to me the envelope will be sealed like I left it when I get back, that you'll be here waiting; all through that one kiss you give me before I leave… I promise to come home safe."

And Sasuke always kissed him.


But not today.

Today, there had been no enamoured letter and no lingering kiss. No promises and nothing to run back to, just to act out and steal the letter back in clever and moronic ways and to ultimately hide away from Sasuke until he was certain that he could get the wording right.

No, nothing.

As Naruto made his way to the gates, he watched the ground. One more turn around the corner and he'd have to become a ninja, a sharp and precise weapon. He'd have to show a smile or he'd unnerve the others. He'd have to square his shoulders and drown the tension from his back and weary legs. He'd have to wear that stupid human mask, and hide the fact that he really hadn't been sleeping for far too long. He had to escape the realm of being Naruto the person. He had to forget everything.

The giant gates came into sight, teeming with leafy, green foliage in the trickle of morning light. The other members of the mission's team were waiting for him, their confident stances and sure faces bathed in the dusty blue of daybreak before the sunrise completely took over the sky.

"Naruto-kun!" Hinata called out him as he approached and Naruto lifted his chin, his expression melting into a brilliant smile that felt tight at the edge of his cheeks.

"Let's get going, Naruto." Shikamaru looking pretty unenthused but still with a lazy smile. "The sooner we get this done, the sooner I can get back to sleep."

"Yes! I'm so amped! I haven't had a decent mission in aaages!" Kiba, seemingly appearing behind the blond ninja from out of thin air, slapped Naruto on the shoulder.

"Keen, Naruto?"

The blonde smiled but the light wouldn't touch his dampened baby blues.

"Keen, Kiba."

A few days later...

'Ah… It's even warmer here.'

Dragging his feet, the man made his way through the gates of the village. He was exhausted and the heat of Konoha after the cold danger of the mission made him dizzy. The air smelt like wet wood. Maybe it had rained a little while he'd been away. He looked up into the clouds. Maybe it would again later.

"Naruto-kun…" Hinata was at his side again and Naruto fought the urge to sigh. She'd been following him closely all mission and he didn't know why.

"What is it, Hinata?" The girl jumped and blinked nervously. Naruto growled quietly to himself. If having her attached to his hip wasn't enough, he had scared her with his tetchy tone and now she was going to take forever to say what she wanted to. Naruto tried not to look angry. He wasn't really. Well, not at her anyway.

"I…um.. It's just that I…"

'Please let this be something important.'

Hinata's eyes were all over the place and Naruto ran his hand over his face tiredly, his fingertips touching the circles surely forming complex patterns under of his eyes. They felt swollen. When he looked back she was watching him.

"N-Naruto-kun," she said. "A-are you alright…?"

At that, an unpleasant sensation ran the length of Naruto's spine like cold fingers, trailing softly and simply waiting to strike out and sink into his flesh. He straightened his back, drawing himself to his full height with a loud breath through his nose. He rubbed his thumbs against his fingers, digging his thumb nail into the soft flesh and relishing minutely in the sharp sting that reminded him he was alive. Taking a moment, he mustered the strength to smile for her.

"I'm fine Hinata."

"Really?" The question stopped him.

She was still watching him and now he understood why she had stayed so close to him, chasing him with her –not worried—but knowing eyes. Her voice was unwavering and near-harsh as she continued to speak. "You look tired and you have hardly rested at all on the mission… I was wondering about…" Her voice resumed its soft caressing, trailing off as if she were scared to ask about what she had already guessed. Utterly afraid to know the truth; that her hero wasn't so invincible. Naruto's shoulders slumped and heavily shadowed eyes slipped beneath grimy, unwashed hair, looking darker and more crisp that usual. He felt light headed.

"I'm…"His own voice sounded strangely high, like he had something stuck in his throat. His breath shook. Hinata touched his arm hesitantly. Fatigue seeped through him, aching in his muscles and bringing the bitter scent of tears. Naruto bit down hard on the inside his lip.

'Be strong. Be strong.'

Lifting his hand to cover her small white one, he smiled weakly.

"I'm ok. Really…" Pushing her hand away softly, he turned and left with a quiet, "See you later."

Hinata's eyes watched him all the way down the road scanning his chakra flow, noting what was not operating correctly, before her gaze lowered to the ground, feeling utterly powerless.

Naruto could feel the eyes and subconsciously sent thanks to whatever deity was out there when he felt the pressure her gaze caused lessen slightly. 'Just two more steps. One step.' When he came to the corner, he took off in a run, blood roaring in his ears as he fought the primal need to scream.

Upon reaching the house, still not knowing what he should say when he came face to face with the bastard again, Naruto came to a sharp halt and didn't step past the entry for a good five minutes.

The door had been unlocked.

The place was a mess.

It was empty.

He shook his head to clear his tired mind. Something was wrong and he needed to focus at a critical time like this. Cautiously, he stepped forward to assess the damage, not bothering to take off his shoes as he would normally do.

The table was on its side, one of the legs kicked into at an odd angle and splinters fell haphazardly here and there. Every picture on the wall was on the floor, glass scattering the floorboards and Naruto continued to step over and around the random pieces. The cushions on the sofa had been slashed open with what could only have been a kunai. In the kitchen, all the food, ramen included, had been pulled out of the cupboards, thrown to the tiles and crushed with a blunt object, most likely underfoot. The tap was on, the sink gurgling too loudly and nearly halfway filled with some unidentifiable muck, too strong in the absolute quiet of the house. The message board Sasuke had bought him so he would remember various important matters was hanging sideways, one screw bent in half. He made his way into the bedroom and viewed with tired eyes the way all the sheets had been torn from the bed and the pillows were slouched against the wall, lying where they had landed after being thrown.

Some might have suspected a robbery, but the blond knew better.

It had to have been Sasuke.

His scent was everywhere.

"Fucking lunatic," Naruto spat as he walked into the bathroom, ignoring the way his shoulders shook with barely suppressed emotion. The shelf in the shower had been ripped off the wall and the shampoo bottle lay burst open on the floor in a slippery mess of semi-transparent blue.

The blond slowly eased over to the sink and, resting his forehead against the mirror on the medicine cabinet, watching his reflection in the glass. It was cold and soothing against his burning skin. To his right, the bath was full of cold water, chaotically swirling back and forth in a makeshift tidepool. Sasuke's shirt was draped over the rim of the sink under Naruto's hands that gripped the sides. He could feel where the coarse material, rough with wear, had once been smooth.

No matter how much he tried to hold back, hot anger flared under his chest.

He could almost hear Sasuke wrecking the house in the other room; hear him breaking the table that Naruto had taken forever to pick out after they broke the last one, throwing open the cupboard and sweeping the food onto the floor. In his mind, Sasuke sat in the cold bath smacking the back of his head against the wall like Naruto sometimes heard him do at night, his eyes unfocused on the ceiling. And then, he had left the place like that. Cold, wet and alone.

The blonde man straightened up and glared at himself in the mirror.

"How dare he lose it like that. How dare he act like he's the victim!" Naruto said loudly and leaned in to stress the point to his reflection. He squeezed his eyes tightly closed. "This is bullshit!" He opened his eyes and his image, clad in that bright and uplifting color, scowled back at him and Naruto stood up straight, watching his own face until he couldn't stand the way his hair stuck in disarray onto his forehead and shut off the bath water before stomping back into the kitchen.

He muttered lowly under his breath, turning off the tap and getting down on his hands and knees to rescue any ramen survivors. "...Stupid Teme. What a bastard."

He blinked.

Hearing that felt kind of good. So, he took a deep breath and...

"Stupid Teme!" he yelled and let it echo throughout the empty house, alone deep in the Uchiha district.

"STUPID TEME! STUPID! STUPID! ASSHOLE!" His voice assaulted the thick silence that had taken residence in his home while he was away, unwelcomed and uninhibited. He gripped the side of the counter as he shouted and blew that silence to pieces. He yelled until his voice was hoarse and raw.

After a moment, he finished, quickly and succinctly. Naruto drew breaths long and deep, light headed again from the use of so much oxygen.

"Stupid…" It came out chalky and half-hearted. He wrinkled his nose and, giving up on the ramen rescue, fell onto his side and rolled onto his back, spreading his arms and waving them up and down slowly. 'I'm making a ramen angel.' From here on the kitchen floor, he couldn't see beyond the counter to the destruction in the living room. It was a contained space he'd forced himself into, cornered and tight.

But what he could see from the corner of his eye was Sasuke's favourite mug…

Naruto turned his face away sharply. The corner of his mouth twitched and he rubbed at it with the back of a hand, trying to make it stop. Again, the scratchy sensation bit at his eyes. Squeezing them shut, he heaved his body weighed down with exhaustion onto its side. The energy he had a moment before bled invisibly onto the tiles and left the young ninja motionless, his eyes closed and body tense from either the effort it took not to cry or the traces of battle still lingering in his muscles.

After a moment of controlled breathing, Naruto moved a little once again and let gravity pull him onto his back for the second time. His face was hot and sweaty but he didn't notice it. His eyes shifted back up to that corner on the counter.

"Don't watch me," he ordered the mug and threw one arm over his eyes. He wanted to sleep, right there on the cool tiles amongst the food, but Naruto hadn't slept properly for so long and now it was more than normal not to sleep.

The house was too quiet again, seeping slowly back into that dense buzzing, making Naruto feel sick in the pit of his stomach, like he should yell or bang something together just to make noise and fill up the empty space and dead air Sasuke had left behind.

He couldn't just lie there.

It was suffocating.

'Something productive, I should do something productive if I'm not going to sleep.'

Naruto got up and, even though his joints screamed at him for the movement, there was nothing he could do about it. Sasuke had stolen sleep away from him long ago.

"Productive, productive, productive." Naruto chanted loudly as he wandered the ruined room, mantra firmly set in place. He walked the perimeter of the large open room, leaving the pictures he passed facedown on the floor because he didn't want to see what kind of scene they showed (Would the faces be smashed? Or maybe he'd taken them with him?). At the door to the bedroom he stopped.

Something he hadn't noticed before caught his eye, a canary yellow glimmer in the light. The notepad he and Sasuke used for farewell letters lying belly up on the floor. Naruto automatically bent down and touched the first page with just his fingertips.

He shook.

The paper was scribbled on and almost black with ink, ripped in places; evidence of the pen moving angrily, as if Sasuke had somehow, in his rage, forgotten how to write.

The blonde's face pulled into an anguished frown as he picked the paper up and lifted it so he held it in front of his face, sitting back on his haunches.

Sasuke had even gone so far—

Wait. What was that? Naruto squinted, trying to read, turning it upside down and sideways until he found which way the word went. His lips moved without sound as he slowly made out the characters between the black slashes.

'Fu... For..give.'

Blue eyes widened.

"'Forgive," he whispered. Warmth fluttered in the bottom of Naruto stomach and his mouth softened into a tiny smile but he shook his head and scowled, flashes of the fight stealing across his vision. His hand tightened slightly around the paper but he still couldn't bring himself to rip it apart just yet. The pain was resurfacing though, and Naruto instead threw the note pad, clutching at the front of his shirt with the opposite hand. He rocked back and forth on his heels murmuring to himself but out of the corner of his eye he stared at the canary yellow pad, mocking him in its lightness.

For a long while he did nothing.

Sitting, staring, waiting for something to happen.

And when nothing did, he pulled the notepad back and ripped away the ruined first page.

Finding the pen tucked into the small dip where carpet met skirting, he bit his lip.

"I'm still mad. Definitely."

The envelope was sealed with a thin piece of semi-transparent tape, placed next to Sasuke's mug.

Naruto lowered his eyes, brushing fingertips across the edge of the envelope before he pulled open the curtains to reveal the sun beginning to slink behind the horizon.

Half the day had already passed him by.

And still there was only one in the house.

"Right," he murmured.

Naruto thinned his lips and nodded to himself, catching his orange jacket with two fingers as he rushed through the door.

It was almost completely dark and drizzling lightly by the time Naruto found him.

Cutting through a training ground at the outskirts of town, Naruto made his way through a thin expanse of trees before coming upon the graveyard.

And there he was.

As soon as Naruto saw him, there wasn't any sense of time. No fight and no uncertain future. Any thoughts Naruto had had about finding the raven—yelling at him, storming home and locking him out for the rest of the night—were gone.

In this moment, alone, there was Sasuke.

In the gloom, he was kneeling in front of not just one tombstone but between two with his hands limp in his lap, holding what Naruto guessed was incense, the box all damp and soggy in his soft grasp. His clothes were stuck closely to his skin, hugging too snug and in all the wrong places, making him look long and thin as he sat curled in upon himself.

Naruto wanted to call out to him, but he found himself shaken scared. The other hadn't even noticed his presence or at least acknowledged that he felt the spike in chakra flow. No, there was nothing.

He watched a bit longer but Sasuke didn't move, didn't speak.

He was stone still amongst the dead.

So Naruto moved forward, forcing himself to be a little brasher, and stood over him, watching the rain drip off Sasuke's long dark bangs. Still, he didn't take notice of him. The blond could barely tell that the man was breathing at all.


The other gave no response.

"Sasuke, can you hear me?"

Still nothing.

Naruto looked around, left and right, before getting down on his knees as a mirror image of Sasuke's pose in the cold, sticky mud and looked into the raven's vacant face.

The other man's gaze was unfocused, eyes at half mast and unblinking. He seemed as if all thoughts were blank and appeared not to have any physical senses at all. He simply stared at the carved red letters in the stones beyond the blond-haired man sitting in front of him. Three character to make 'Uchiha' on both and then 'Mikoto' and 'Fugaku'. Naruto called him again and paused before he put his hand on the other man's shoulder.

That got a reaction.

Sasuke started a little and turned his eyes, slightly wider, to Naruto and the blond had to clench his teeth to stop from crying out in anguish, as if he had failed the other man entirely.

Sasuke just couldn't have a face like this—pale and sickly, all thin and indistinguishable in the dark. His eyes were a strange black, shiny like they didn't belong to him or were unseeing of what was going on in the physical realm. A funny gleam, like being glazed over but looking straight through Naruto at the same time.

Sasuke said nothing.

He just looked at Naruto with his empty expression and, after a moment, allowed his head to hang, hiding it all away in soaking hair. Naruto's hand was still on his shoulder.

"Sasuke I-", began Naruto, but he stopped when he realized he didn't know what to tell the raven.

"I broke the table…" whispered Sasuke suddenly and Naruto jumped.

"Ah... I know."

"I cut open the pillows." Sasuke's voice wobbled at the edges and his shoulders hunched, although no normal civilian would be able to see the difference.

"I know."

"I broke things."

"I know, Teme."


Naruto cut him off quickly.

"I know Sasuke, I know."

Again the silence ensued. If the rain hadn't been there it would have been deafening but the drizzle kept its steady beat. Naruto tried not to shiver in his discomfort.

His concentrated gaze snapped back up to the other's face when Sasuke suddenly began talking, "You know… when I was little, I really liked having my hair washed… its pretty long you know." Naruto frowned at Sasuke's babbling and tightened his grip on the other man's shoulder, his other hand automatically pressing into the mud below so he could lean forward more.

It was unnatural.

He'd never seen Sasuke so distraught. The man spoke like he was talking to himself. Naruto fidgeted on the balls of his feet, not being sure whether it was the correct course of action to answer, but did it anyway.

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah…" Sasuke turned to Naruto with a sad smile. Rain streamed over his white moonlight face like tears. "Today, my mother used to always tell me that I was much too dirty for me to wash all of me by myself, so she would come and do it even though she never really did it any other time. I'd lie back and she'd comb her fingers through my hair and sometimes I'd fall asleep. She always did it on my birthday, even though father always told us…" Sasuke's mouth closed slowly and he pulled his eyes away, hiding them away again.

Naruto persisted, "Told you what?"

The black eyes, still hazy and unfocused, flicked back to the blond, "I heard father scolding her. I was afraid he might hit her. He didn't. He loved her more than anything…" He trailed off for a moment, the haziness returning full force as the edges of his eyes relaxed and opened further, making him look like one of the living dead. "Mother used the good plates and Father yelled at her. Itachi always came home for dinner and I wasn't put to bed on time sometimes too…" Sasuke had been watching the place where Naruto's hand was pressed down into the mud to support himself but moved his gaze back to the headstones. His shoulder tensed under Naruto's fingers. The blond moved his arm so that he could rub circles on Sasuke's back.

"Telling her off about what Sasuke?" he asked patiently.

"It's not about the individual, but about the family." replied Sasuke mechanically staring straight ahead. Naruto's hand stopped its circles when Sasuke's eyes snapped to focus upon his, albeit unseeing. "It's not about the person. It's not about the boy."

It was Naruto's turn to tense as his hand twitched minutely from the place it held on Sasuke's back, his brows having furrowed together. His voice came out barely above a whisper, "What the hell are you talking about?"

Sasuke was still staring at him, unnerving. His face was completely blank, rivulets of water falling from clumped hair and into the corners of his eyes, but they never turned away, never blinked, never stuttered. He was still; he was stone. It created an ache deep in Naruto's chest.


"I am an Uchiha, but..."

He trailed off there, blinking twice before the corners of his eyes softened around the edges and pulled at the tightened crow's feet as he let out a heavy sigh, shoulders sagging instantly into Naruto's touch. Naruto only felt slightly guilty that Sasuke's sudden change to depression filled him with relief. Anything but that unholy nothing that had convened across Sasuke's features before.

He wanted him to go on, but did not want to push; Sasuke would pull away if he did.

So, he continued with the soft circles, waiting. The rain around them had surrendered to a calm drizzle, still icy and menacing in its soft touch.

Naruto did not draw any closer, as much as he would have liked to—to pull the man into familiar arms, sooth him with calm words and warm his chilled skin, no matter how feminine the actions might seem.

The next breath came out haggard and Sasuke's body rocked forward and backwards, short and jerking movements that looked less and less human as the moments passed.

"I'm an Uchiha, god damn it! "

Naruto jumped, startled at the too-loud sound blaring into the quiet of the graveyard.


"And I shouldn't care about birthdays. They're useless. It's useless to celebrate something like that. Making it another year. Surviving another year. Bringing you around for another fucking year." His fists clenched tighter around the incense box, and Naruto's gaze instantly flicked down to it.

"I shouldn't care about Itachi's face when I fall asleep. Seeing him behind my eyelids, like he's haunting me." A much more lucid Sasuke looked up at Naruto suddenly, harsh whispers still permeating the atmosphere as he disclosed secrets long kept to the open air.

"Y-you know, I used to see him everywhere? Still do sometimes. And don't look at me like that; I'm not hallucinating. He's there reminding me what I could have done better. He's told me specifically. How I could have just talked to him more. He said all he wanted was to talk—not to be looked up to, not to be kept quiet, and not to be pressured. He said I should have seen those signs, and I should have."

At that, he turned disgruntled eyes back to the headstones, scowl marring pale features, almost sickly as he swallowed slowly. Naruto still continued to rub at his back slowly and cautiously, as if any sudden movements would set him off into another violent rampage. Thus, he kept quiet and calm, a life raft, should Sasuke need something to grab a hold of when floating over his sea of emotions.

"I shouldn't care about how good it feels when you touch me. I shouldn't care about how I could hear every creak and groan in that empty house. I shouldn't care about the blood stain still in the wood, especially when I still see them around. My father. My m-mother. I—"

His voice caught in his throat suddenly as a sob was wrenched out and Naruto felt his own constrict. Seeing Sasuke like this was utterly wretched. Instead he waited for Sasuke to continue, whose voice seemed to lower pitifully.

"As an Uchiha, I should have been able to do something to protect the clan from being hurt. I couldn't. As, an Uchiha, I should have been able to get stronger—carry out my revenge swiftly and concisely. It took me three years, Naruto—three fucking years, to kill Itachi. As an Uchiha, I should have come back and settled down with some pretty, young thing, but I failed there too—"


Sasuke's head snapped to the right, eyes wide and dilated, mouth hanging slightly agape as his mumbling came to a quick halt with Naruto's well-aimed hit. He paused a moment, eyebrows drawing together slowly as he turned back towards the Kyuubi holder.


"I am so sick and tired of you thinking of us as a failure."

The murmur was so quiet and quick that Sasuke barely caught it, but he jerked at the words, trying to catch his blond's eyes beneath damp fringe. Sasuke didn't even realize when he had begun to shake his head slowly back and forth, intent on convincing himself that "No, that wasn't what you heard" and "Naruto would not say that" and "what did I say wrong", until he stopped and reached forward, dropping the incense box to the ground. His pale fingers neared the blond's cheek, blue eyes still not visible, pausing momentarily before he opted to twist some of the blond hair, still able to shimmer in the dank light, between his fingers.

Licking his lips quickly, he whispered resigned, "Are you leaving me?"

The response was instantaneous.

Naruto snapped his gaze back up to Sasuke, pretty blue orbs blazing in the lowlight as he gripped the fingers in his hair, clenching down almost to the point of pain and instinctively pulling Sasuke closer. He maneuvered to hold Sasuke by the wrist, so close that they were face to angry face.

"Sasuke, you know me better than that. I'm not about to give up on you now."

He growled low in his throat, irritation having set in. 'And he's supposed to be a genius.'

"I'm angry—I'm so fucking angry, Sasuke. I'm angry that you broke the table; we only got it last week! I'm angry that you tore up that big, squishy pillow I like to use when you're away—don't act like you don't know I do—and I don't even want to describe how I felt with my ramen all over the floor." He heaved a heavy sigh, fingers loosening around the grip on Sasuke's wrist, even though the man wasn't pulling away, as if he felt he deserved even the slightest pain. "I'm angry, but that won't stop me. I mean," suddenly, the corners of Naruto's lips quirked upwards in an unsure smile, hesitant and less brilliant as he'd been lacking sleep, as he said, "Who do you think I am? I'm Naruto Uzumaki!"

The blond then ducked his head down slightly, eyes scrounging over Sasuke's figure now checking him for any outer injuries or injustices warred against his pale body. His hands took to running affectionately up and down the raven's biceps, squeezing slightly as he felt the muscles tense and release beneath his fingers.

He knew Sasuke was confused and angry with himself, and lacking the ability to control when all he'd wanted since he was young was just that.

And just like that, Naruto felt his compassion overwhelm him, the burning at the back of his eyes becoming too great and he let out a half-hearted sob, even though the tears were kept at bay. His fingers dug into the other's shoulders and Naruto leaned forward until his forehead was resting against Sasuke's own. The whisper passed softly, "You think you can see, but your eyes aren't even open." His lip twitched again, and he felt the overwhelming need to itch at his face. "I bet you don't even know who you really are..."

As he trailed off, the jab seemed to cause a spark of disgruntlement in the other man, who responded expectedly. "Dobe, I'm Sasuke Uchi—"


The sudden yell caused Sasuke to jerk back slightly, but Naruto had a good grip on him, and being stuck out in the drizzling rain all night did nothing to help him from the fatigue quickly settling in.

"What is your name?" the blond questioned, brows scrunched together in an unattractive scowl and his lip kept twitching.

"Sasuke Uc—"

"NO." This time it was accompanied with a shake, and Sasuke growled low in his throat, reaching up to grip tightly at Naruto's hold on him.

"The fuck you ta—"

"Is your name Itachi?"

Sasuke flinched, but ground out the, "No."

Is your name Fugaku?"


"Is your name... Mikoto?"

"NO!" His voice was forceful, but the hands surrounding Naruto's own wrists shook slightly. At that, the blond softened his gaze and loosened his grip slightly on the other.

"Your name is Sasuke." He paused, blinking large eyes at the other as if waiting for him to interrupt—to tell him what an idiot he was—but nothing came. "Uchiha... is simply the added bonus that you were a part of. Uchiha allowed you to meet Itachi and Fugaku and Mikoto. Uchiha allowed you to be a part of something special—a family." His voice shuddered lowly as Naruto took a breath in. He knew he shouldn't be addressing Sasuke's parents by their first name, especially when they two of them were practically draped across their graves in the dead of night, but Naruto had come to realize Sasuke was keeping himself tethered. He was a slave to those he felt he'd wronged by surviving and continuing forward, which was exactly why he was...

"... like a dead living kind of thing," Naruto mumbled under his breath and opened his eyes to catch Sasuke's, unknowingly having closed them.

"Sasuke, no one expected you to know what Itachi needed; you were only eight years old. An eight year old could not protect an entire clan by himself, when he has had no experience protecting anything. It's tragic, it's sad, but you can't let it hold you back. An Uchiha would overcome it and better himself for the future."

Another breath and Naruto blinked again, slowly. It was so overwhelmingly intimate staring into Sasuke's eyes when he was two steps away from looking like a corpse.

"Sasuke, I will not have you be ruled by the dead. You would not be paying proper homage by dipping into despair whenever these thoughts come back to haunt you."

Naruto brought his hand up—slowly, cautiously—to trail goosebumps along the side of Sasuke's neck, and he felt relief in the fact that the man was still breathing.

"You should be celebrating what they were when alive. When they took you to school, or washed your hair or when you all sat around at the dinner table—" Naruto's lip twitched into a frown momentarily, the itch burning as he blatantly ignored his own lack of familial dinnertime conversations.

"I mean," he began, sounding slightly weaker, not really wanting to be pitied (and especially by Sasuke), but he couldn't help himself. "If you keep your mind and heart so filled with what they are now... then, what's left for me?"

Sasuke's own eyes widened barely, but it was enough for Naruto to know he was affected by the words. So, Naruto's other hand ran up to mimic the other, both gripping lightly to Sasuke's jaw, holding him afloat and unable to turn from piercing baby blues.

Gradually, as if the sun was rising across a crisp morning sky, Naruto's lips pulled outward and up, a small grin stretching out a bit awkwardly against the glassy sadness of his eyes. Sasuke felt his breath catch as he took in – really took in—the blond's face, noticing the way dark patches clung underneath his eyes and his hair appeared more wiry and distraught, the corner of Naruto's mouth obviously having developed a nervous tick.

"You are such a good Uchiha." It should have sounded corny and it should have made him want to wring the idiot by the neck, but all Sasuke could do was swallow nervously. "You love them so much. Why not share that love with the rest of your family, ne?" Naruto's head tilted sideways, the grin reverting to a distressing smile and he blushed lightly. "I am the one living in that house with you. I am the one cleaning the floors with you, cooking with you, being there with you. I am your present, Sasuke, and I am your family. So..."

Abruptly and without warning, Naruto leapt to his feet, reaching down to pull Sasuke up by his arms, and continued with a small, "Let's go home?"

Sasuke stared down at the other for a moment from his new height, having been kneeling practically all day and a hard look adorned his face until he closed his eyes slowly and dipped his head up and down. Maybe... it wouldn't be so bad if he relented himself to the other for a while. If his mind could be kept safe while safety seemed a distant, unattainable luxury.

At the small nod, Naruto's eyes lightened, his smile brightening slightly and he began to pull Sasuke in the direction of their home... only to have Sasuke trip and fall against his back.

Luckily, Naruto still retained his quick reflexes, even when tired, and was able to keep himself firmly planted on the ground while Sasuke shook out his leg, muttering something about pins and needles.

At that, Naruto took in the sight of his boyfriend, looking scrawny, pale and disgruntled in the evening rain, and something that sounded suspiciously like a giggle (a sound that hadn't rattled his chest in so, so long) rang out, before he quickly covered it with a hand. Sasuke squinted a glare at him (though a lot of the potency was lost with the whole "drowned rat" look), and Naruto pulled the pale man's arm over his shoulder to help him hobble home.

"Well, it appears you haven't fallen into despair just yet. You just tripped a little on your own two feet."

A snort.

And, "Dobe."

Naruto hadn't bothered when Sasuke reverted to silence as they returned to the house, entering through a side door and moving towards the guest rooms which Sasuke had (hopefully) left untouched. He would look back every once in a while to calm his uneasy mind with the thought that, 'See? He's there; he's fine.'

The black hair may have been damp and the pale man may still have appeared haunted, but his eyes were no long glassy, unwavering marbles. They were calm and soft—pensive.

Naruto closed the door when they entered the room, letting out a soft breath to see everything in order and nothing either ripped or torn. He led the quiet male across the room towards the bathroom door. Pushing in, he pointed to Sasuke's pants.

"Those. Off."

Sasuke obeyed.

It was strange, Naruto pondered, how easily Sasuke was listening to him. It gave the blond a small sense of purpose to see that he was able to help guide the other during troubled times, even if it were for something as simple as a shower.

He bent down to turn on the water, feeling the wavering of Sasuke's presence press closer. Standing and looking over his shoulder, Naruto met Sasuke's eyes. Just observing before that lithe body pressed even nearer.

Refraining from making a joke about how Sasuke couldn't take a shower by himself, Naruto peeled his shirt off and dropped sopping pants and boxers to the floor before stepping under the warm spray. He hissed lightly, the warmth a sharp contrast to the needles of rain stabbing into his pin cushion arm earlier in the night, before turning around and motioning to Sasuke with a hand.

The pale man shuffled forward, still appearing weary and (dare he think it?) weak as he once again moved to press his body as close as it could come to the others.

Naruto was turned away from him, already rubbing the water through his hair and squirting body wash into his palm as he felt the others' breath at his neck, lips bearing down to just barely press against the tissue there. His body instantly shivered as Sasuke's frame pushed right up against his own, although there was nothing overtly sexual in the touch. As Sasuke moved, the cold skin of the raven's forehead touched heavily upon Naruto's shoulder, and a bronzed hand instantly came up to run fingers through the locks of hair, stroking back and forth in a calm lullaby of the phalanges.

It must have worked because Sasuke had taken in a heavy breath before sighing into Naruto's skin, his breath released in soft tufts of humidity amongst the water.

Naruto took up the task of cleaning them, only opening his mouth to instruct. A turn around or a lift your arm when necessary. It was methodical and soothing, the way they bathed in each other's presence amidst warm trickles of water—pure and healing.

It was so simple.

And yet the small touches and comfortable silence aided so much.

Naruto would pause in his ministrations whenever Sasuke swayed close, instantly pulling the other into a hug, even though Sasuke's arms never returned around him. He knew it was okay and wouldn't pry. He would turn his attentions back to the pale man when he was taking too long on washing the shampoo from his own hair, a light touch against his side alerting the whiskered man of Sasuke's still fragile state.

Slowly, so slowly, they became clean.

All the dirt was washed away in a little tight cyclone above the drain.

Naruto was rummaging through the cabinet behind their bathroom mirror, pulling out some gauze and a healing ointment, teeth gnawing at the edge of his lip. He was a bit ruffled at leaving Sasuke by himself in the guest bedroom for too long, unsure whether the other man would go completely AWOL on their furniture if he left him alone. Nonetheless, he had pushed the pale man to sit on the bed, instructing with a smile to sit and dry off.

He turned, heading back into the other room and the side of his lip quirked at seeing those long figures carding through unruly, dark tresses, a small scowl marring Sasuke's features as he warred an epic battle with the tangles.

The blond placed both the roll of gauze and ointment on the end table before he felt a pull at his wrist. Looking back, Sasuke's fingers curled around the appendage and pulled, slowly guiding the blond to stand at the edge of the bed between his legs, dark eyes heady in the lowlight as both attempted to discern the other.

Naruto smiled a wavering smile once more, the dark bags under his eyes emerging with the action, but he shoved his fatigue to the side in favour of bringing his own hands up to twine within the glossy strands of black, fingertips curving and playing along Sasuke's temples and down to the nape of his neck. The blond pulled the small towel draped over the other man's shoulders up to rub gently at Sasuke's head, drying his hair in the rhythmic way a mother does to her child: softly, side to side and in figure eights.

He couldn't keep the small grin off of his face as Sasuke practically melted into the motion; heaving a sigh before those same strong hands came to rest easily on Naruto's slim hips. Pulling without hesitance, Sasuke guided Naruto forward until peach-pink lips hovered against the middle of Naruto's stomach. His breath came in tender, slow puffs, seemingly stifling in the cool atmosphere and as they shifted, Naruto's towel dropped dangerously low.

The blond hadn't even noticed that he had dropped Sasuke's own towel in favour of wrapping strong arms around the other's neck, bringing him into his warmth.

"You…," came the soft intonation from Sasuke before he pressed forward to ghost thin lips over Naruto's abdomen, lean muscle clenching and shivering beneath such nimble touches and tenderness.

The press became harder, lips pulled back and teeth grazing lightly over the taut skin and heading lower, across strong muscles and he licked a faltering trail down the middle of Naruto's abdomen to dip slowly into the blond's belly button. Slowly and surely he tasted him, re-evaluating the curves and sway of Naruto's body. Sasuke's mouth then made its way with shuddering breaths over to the sharp hipbone at the same time his nimble fingers pulled Naruto even closer until the blond could do nothing but kneel on the bed, hovering over Sasuke's ministrations. His own fingers were a soft plea against Sasuke's cheeks, soft and shaking, and low groans spilled over his lips as it only took the raven a flick of his wrist to rid Naruto of his towel and lower his face to nuzzle at the blond's growing arousal.

What could only be described as a purr rumbled from Sasuke's mouth as the heady scent of Naruto's excitement washed over him, and he pulled the other further onto the bed and, dipping his head to rain kisses along the crease in Naruto's groin, mumbled carelessly as he delivered his blows.

Small I just want's and even if's poured onto the tanned skin between sucks and bites, pale hands wrapping around to knead and squeeze at a firm backside. It was all about the blond, his pleasure; to shower Naruto in utter devotion at their most fragile.

He felt Naruto's own hands caressing the sides of his face, the rear of his neck, across a wide back and over sturdy shoulder blades as he relished in the warm skin beneath his tongue and the tantalizing scent of sea salt and something deeper, intoxicating—wholeheartedly Naruto—that Sasuke could do nothing more than be taken over.

Naturally, as if they had performed the movements every day, Sasuke leaned down to take Naruto's hardened length between his lips, suckling lightly as the blond began to thrust and his head lulled back to groan out towards the ceiling. It was a slow-building tempo, strong and steady as they had all the time in the world to pleasure each other and re-learn what they had almost lost in the little guest room at the side of the Uchiha house.

The blond's hands clenched rhythmically with the way Sasuke pushed and pulled his hips, guiding Naruto deeper and deeper into his mouth while the blond tried to remain upright on his haunches. He had to clench his teeth, eyes squeezed tight while his lover's mouth wreaked havoc on his body, playing each note according to the melody of Naruto's voice, so open and honest in its evidence of pleasure.

Sasuke moaned around the hard length, precum melting down into the back of his throat as his tongue trailed the thick vein on the underside of the blond's cock.

"S-sasuke…" Naruto intoned, and was rewarded with a drawn out hum, feeling his coil spring tight as the raven's hands pulled his cheeks apart, slowly, softly and the pad of one finger ghosted over Naruto's entrance before he completely lost himself to the soft caresses.

With a jerk and a slight whine, the blond came into his lover's waiting mouth, hands gripping to the black locks as he pumped his hips over and over. On shaking legs, he tilted his head back, shuddering breaths into the open air as Sasuke's throat muscles constricted around him, a testament to the raven's own desire as he swallowed Naruto's load. He was conscious of not letting any cum escape him, and Sasuke could feel his heart swell inside his chest at the apparent pleasure of his love. It was always gratifying to satisfy the blond, feeling the skin move beneath his fingers and lips as he brought Naruto right to the edge before shoving him over into a cacophony of passion.

The raven pulled back his head, nose running up the blond's stomach and chest as Naruto's entire body grew limp and melted into his hold.

Shaky arms wrapped around Sasuke's neck as Naruto slumped into his embrace and a call of "Want you..." was left lingering like music to the Uchiha's ears. He turned his face into the side of Naruto's neck, taking in the air about them, heady and dark in their arousal.

Sasuke lifted his head further and panted against a tanned cheek, heart nearly beating right out of his chest at the evidence of Naruto's ardour still adorning his lips.

"Gonna pull you apart at the seams..."

Trailing thin lips everywhere he could reach without having to loosen his hold, Sasuke mapped out the length of Naruto's neck and down to nip lightly at his clavicle, the blond shuddering in response and rolling his hips down into the raven's, teasing and caressing his lover at their most intimate.

Rolling them over leisurely, Sasuke struck fire along the outside of a golden thigh, shining so brightly in the dim lighting, speaking soft and low as he laid waste to the blond's jawbone, "Unravel you till you're bare to me- to my eyes- and then I'm going to sew us together at all the loose ends..."

A moan was Naruto's reply, arms thrown haphazardly over his head to grapple at the canary yellow sheets and legs spreading apart allowing his lover access to his core. Sasuke shook lightly, his eyes lidded with passion and flecks of red dotting along his retinas; it was a subconscious activation to burn the picture of this blond god into his mind for the rest of his life. Never would he let another be able to grip Naruto along the sharp ridge of his hips. Never would he let someone else find a home cradled between thighs doused in honey. Never would he forget the burn of his skin where Naruto's eyes focused, marring it to a charbroiled black with the care and compassion and utter devotion he found lying there.

He would never allow Naruto to look at another that way.

Not ever.

"Come," came the blond's simple command.

Naruto raised a hand, luring Sasuke's lips down to his not with a grip but a light touch against his cheek until they came together once more. This was where they belonged—together. They were home.

It was with a grunt that Sasuke pushed himself up onto his knees, pulling Naruto's hips towards him so that tanned thighs hugged his own hips tight, and guided his arousal towards the blond's entrance.

His eyes told Sasuke all he needed to know, and thus his gaze remained on those baby blues as he manoeuvred himself into the other's body.

A twitch and a gasp was all that escaped the blond's ravaged mouth as Sasuke slowly pressed in inch by inch, pausing often for Naruto's body to adjust as he surveyed his reaction, barely breathing in his fervour. Naruto was shivering, legs spread like a sacrificial lamb upon the alter and body taut as Sasuke invaded him. His breaths came in haggard pants and he was sure that something was tearing and then Sasuke heaved one last push with his hips—and oh God!—forced himself in to the very hilt.

It was then that tears sprung to the blond's glassy eyes, the proof of the pain trickling down the sides of his face in an array of rivers and streams, and yet, he could barely register it.

Looking up at Sasuke through the bleary tears and rattling chest, he couldn't blame him for his haste. They had both been lacking for far too long and the reassurance that came with being connected at their most intimate caused a heat to flare through Naruto's spine.

He cantered his hips, releasing a deep breath and rolling his body in tandem with the beginning of Sasuke's slow strokes, in and out at a near maddening pace.

The blond was still tight, not being prepared, but they'd been together long enough to know he would adjust quickly. Naruto watched Sasuke watching him as they rocked together. The act would have looked strange to anyone else as they simply stared.

Sasuke was the first to look away, head lulling forward to drop against strong pectorals and he instantly began kissing the skin there, leaning further down to suckle at an upright nipple as the other was teased between pointer finger and thumb.

The distraction worked as Naruto almost instantly keened and the tight hold of his entrance loosened to allow a better flow. He arched his back, chest heaving up into the raven's mouth as Sasuke's hips continued the heavy push and pull, gaining speed until Naruto all but screamed into the quiet that had settled around them and his hips spasmed in the burning assault.

"There?" Sasuke questioned, gripping at the blond's hipbones and tilting them up as he began snapping his own hips forward.

Naruto nodded quickly, both arms raised above his head and aiding in pushing himself down upon Sasuke's length, moaning lowly at the way the slow drip of precum made their union easier.

It felt like it had been too long—the sensation of coming together in love and instinct as Sasuke tried to push deeper and deeper into the blond had Naruto reeling back.

He moaned unabashedly into the evening, Sasuke's length stretching him wide apart and the ridges catching against the soft tissue inside of him, setting the tips of his nerves on fire. His legs quivered in their hold around Sasuke's waist and his mind was slammed with colour as Sasuke reacquainted himself with that little bundle of magic deep inside the blond.

He snapped his hips in faster, pulling Naruto's legs up under the knees suddenly to gaze fondly upon the place where their bodies meshed, cursing at the sight of his erection, swollen and weeping in the glow of the room, forcing the quivering, needy hole to take him in again and again, the sense of "MINE" almost overwhelmingly him as he leaned back over Naruto.

"S-Sasuke..." Naruto moaned out, bent in half and spread out as a feast for the eyes, skin glowing with sweat and hair matted to his forehead as his pleasure spiked unexpectedly soon.

The raven nodded, running his chapped lips against the blond's and dipping his tongue in to run along the edge of a perfect row of teeth, mumbling heated words against them.

"I know... I know..."

"God, I just—Ah!"

With a low growl and his teeth bared, Sasuke used both hands to push tanned thighs further up and out, the rhythm of his hips quickly losing control as the new angle had Naruto practically writhing in his grasp. He leaned down, bending his lover over to nibble at the soft skin of his ear.

"I'm going to cum inside of you, Naruto..." His response was a keening whine, Naruto's sturdy arms coming up and around Sasuke's neck as they viable melded into one. "I'm going t-to cum..."

"Ah—fuck! Inside me, S'uke... Now!" Naruto couldn't stop the flow of words if he wanted to and it was as Sasuke slammed home once, twice, three time and leaned down to savagely latch onto Naruto's neck with his teeth did the blond's world explode.

His body jerked, spasming in Sasuke's lap as milky rivulets of cum shot from his cock to stream down his chest and stomach in a vast array of patterns and swirls as Sasuke's hips pounded away in a near-blur, wanting—no, needing—to fill Naruto with his seed.

Naruto's hypersensitive skin tingled at every move as he took a strong grip on Sasuke's hair to jolt the raven's head back and met with lidded crimson eyes before the blond smashed his lips to his lover's. Sasuke instantly pressed himself in as deep as he could reach, pressing his chest and stomach along the length of Naruto's body, wherever possible, and came as the sticky dampness against his skin registered through the haze in his mind as a testament to Naruto's satisfaction.

With a curse moaned out into the blond's mouth, Sasuke rolled his hips into the blond as he spilled his seed, cock pulsing and shivers running marathons up and down his spine while they kissed.

It took a moment of simply breathing in each other's air before Sasuke was able to roll his head forward against the covers, eyes hazy and staring off into a nondescript corner of Naruto's neck while the blond continued to suck in oxygen, chest pumping beneath Sasuke's weight. The raven trailed his chapped lips along the length of Naruto's clavicle before wrapping his arms around slim hips and rolling over so Naruto lay spread atop him and he slowly pushed and pulled his length from the pliable body. Groaning as his limp cock slipped out of the blond, he pressed a cheek tenderly to the other's.

The purr that reverberated from Naruto's chest, through their epidermis and into his own caused Sasuke to heave a sigh, wrapping long arms around Naruto's lower back as he attempted to pull the other man into his torso.

A moment and then a soft sigh later, and Sasuke buried his face deeper into the crook of Naruto's neck, the blond hair tickling at his temple as he tried to float off between the soft hum of sleep and a warm body. Naruto's shifted though, and pulled back slowly to prop himself up on his elbows above the other.

"Sasuke..." It was barely above a whisper and the raven opened warm eyes to soft fingertips against his cheeks.

He said nothing, but continued to watch the gears in Naruto's head turn and grind before the blond's eyes hardened slightly.

Running the pad of his thumb beneath Sasuke's eye, he murmured, "Your eyes still look haunted." He pulled a face then, although he still placed soft caresses wherever he could reach, simply basking in their combined scent as Naruto arranged his thoughts.

"Sasuke," he repeated, a bit more breathless. "You know, no one really blames you." He paused for only a moment, observing Sasuke's eyes and pushing back any argumentation with his own. "I never blamed you. Not once; not even after all the fighting and all the lies and you—YOU—I just..." The blond gripped Sasuke's jaw between his fingers before taking a deep breath. "You have so much courage. To be able to still walk around with your head held high."

Sasuke's mouth opened slightly but a blond head shook it closed.

"No, the past is gone, understand. You can't change it and you can't let it rule you because, Sasuke, you aren't alone anymore. You have me, and I refuse to be in constant competition with your demons."

Naruto suddenly choked back at the bile, the realization that his eyes were once again tearing up caused him to shudder before Sasuke threaded one hand through blond locks and pulled Naruto's forehead to his, letting out a tired sigh.

Lowly, he spoke, "I'm not a good person, Naruto... I can't simply wash my hands of this. I cannot turn the other cheek to what has been done, in our time or the time of my forefathers."

Opening black orbs he didn't realize he'd closed, Sasuke stared up into watery blues, and his eyebrows drew together slightly, the prick of liquid stinging at the corners of his own eyes.

"I can't just let it all go and pretend I'm okay—"

Tanned hands came together to grip the sides of Sasuke's cheeks tightly as the blond leaned forward to kiss each of Sasuke's eyelids before pressing a shuddering kiss to the other's lips, soft and chaste as their souls intertwined.

"Sasuke..." he whispered, a light glow dusting his face as he pulled back to hover over Sasuke, the blond's bare form straddling his lover's and noses rubbing together tenderly.

"Sasuke, can you feel this, right here." Naruto pulled one of Sasuke's hands up to rest against his chest, the ba-dum ba-dum beating low and long within his chest. "You loved your family," he said sternly, even as the raven's eyes flinched minutely. "Any idiot can see that, but my heart is here and beating for you."

He pressed his palm flat over Sasuke's, keeping it pressed to warm skin as he continued, voice rumbling with verve, "It's always been for you, even when you so much as had your sword to my throat, this heart was yours. So..." He paused for a moment, eyelids fluttering in a moment of uncertainty. "So, where would it leave me if you just continued to let yourself be tied down by the dead? What would the idea of my village, of my people, of my love mean to me if I couldn't even save my most important person from his solitude?"

He released Sasuke's hand and instead bent himself forward so that his cheek pressed tightly against the raven's, heaving a sigh.

""It's just... things fall apart. The strings in our gloves get thin and worn, and you gotta get them repaired. Nothing seems to hold forever anymore, and while you're out on a mission, you have to know how to be able to sew your clothing back together. Cauterize the wound so you can fight another day."

Nuzzling against the warmth of his lover, Naruto smiled a small smile as Sasuke's hands came up to trace up and down his spine, lightly and with great care as he really took in the things Naruto was saying.

"Ne, that's what us ninja do, right Teme?"

A soft snort was huffed against his cheek before something akin to "idiot" was muttered and soft, butterfly kisses were being pressed to his face, his neck, his eyelids, his cheeks—

As Naruto pulled the raven's jaw up to search out Sasuke's mouth with his own, he knew that they might never be okay. He knew Sasuke might never overcome this disability and might never be able to see past the massacre and all that had befallen the once proud household of Uchiha. Sasuke might never be able to give himself completely over to Naruto like he so desired—like he'd told Naruto he so wanted to.

But that was okay.

After all, Naruto knew him.

This beautiful, butchered person; and he'd take him, old scars and all.

Long, fine fingers played slowly around the rim of the mug on the counter as he settled it back down, blue ceramic against white. With the other hand he turned the envelope over. The flap was carefully stuck down with tape. Thin lips quirked into the smallest of smiles as he set it back and turned to look down on it, palms flat on the countertop.

A letter for him.

Even though he wasn't the one who had left.

A letter that must have been written after the blonde had returned home.

His thumb moved to flick at the corner of the tape that lifted from its place all too easily. Sasuke smoothed it back and then pulled it up again. Over and over until it didn't have any stick left.

He pictured Naruto down the hall, sleeping just as he'd left him, wrapped in the yellow sheet; one arm in, one arm out, both his legs poking out at the bottom. Sunrays sneaking under the curtains were caught in his messy hair and his skin was as warming to the touch as it was to its rich, creamy colour. His mouth was open and he had been facing where Sasuke had been lying, breathing his child-breath; still so strangely sweet, all over the still warm space.

The noise of the tape peeling back was loud in the quiet air.

'I'm allowed to open it. It's not a mission letter if he didn't write it before he left…'

The rustle of notepaper being unfolded and then a small shiver. A sharp intake of air through his nose and two seconds holding it slightly outward from himself as Sasuke stared at the words before letting the breath blow softly past his lips in a less distraught fashion. Dark eyes wandered along the floor and up the door frame to gaze in the direction of the guest room where the sun rested amidst sweet dreams and long-missed hush.

Unconsciously, a thumb stroked across the ink that was Naruto's scratchy, messy scrawl forming the words:

'Forever and always.'