Naruto knew nothing of the Uchiha Massacre until a week after, when Sasuke finally returned to class and everyone fell silent wherever he walked. Even the teachers spoke in stilted voices, volume dropping into a cautious lull as they called his name to confirm his presence. Sasuke raised his hand rather than answer verbally, and all breath in the room seemed to catch at his movement.

And oddly enough, Naruto felt eyes on him too, expectantly horrified, just waiting for whatever brashly misinformed idiotic attempt at communication would spill out of his lips next. And any other day he would have spoken – would have shouted – because he did hate Sasuke and everyone was treating the guy like he was so special for some reason. But this time, Naruto felt something large and hard and sick in his throat, and he bit his lips till they bled into his mouth and he tasted the tang of iron, and stared out the window with great concentration, as though he wasn't bothered by or even aware of the tension threading through the air and around him in taut twines of thread that would snap if he moved at all and would be all his fault. And Sasuke didn't speak all day either, which he didn't usually anyway but this time the silence was overwhelming, pressing down on everyone and they looked without looking in a way that made Naruto's insides pang with an automatic pain at the sight.

Once class was let out for the day, Naruto forewent his usual attempts at self-training in favor of scouting out the town until he knew what was wrong. He was confident in his ability to find out; Naruto was intimately acquainted with every public street and roof Konoha had to offer, even if his observances of the higher-class areas was limited to what he could see as he ran down them pell-mell, getting as far as ten metres once before a member of the police force swiped him up by the back of his jumpsuit and shook him until his teeth rattled, then dragged him away to apologize to merchants who would make him repaint their walls and de-leech their bathrooms and forever charge him extra for the trouble he'd caused them, when their charging him extra for no reason was why he'd pranked them in the first place so the whole venture would have been pointless. But Naruto wasn't trying to cause trouble today, just listen to the gossip, and so all he had to do was find the right streets and walk down them casually, acting like the empty space around him in the otherwise crowded market didn't matter and forcing himself to not tune out everyone's voices as he had long since learned to do.

The strange thing was, this didn't really yield any results. Naruto could tell that people were talking, that they all knew something he did not, every one of them, but they were quieter even as they haggled loudly and laughed and shot glares in his direction. It seemed as though the whole village was muted, underwater somehow in a way that revolved all around Uchiha Sasuke who didn't deserve this, no one did, and Naruto had to resort to more extreme techniques.

He returned to his apartment late that night, far past his self-imposed bedtime and with a large bruise already blooming on his cheek to show for it, but drunken men talked and Naruto knew now. He'd even gone by the police headquarters to confirm, and it was completely empty, dark in that way that told you all you needed to know. Naruto might have also gone to the Uchiha compound, but he didn't quite have the courage. What if he ran into Sasuke there? Or had Sasuke been taken to the orphanage now? – Naruto had left it as soon as he turned six, supplied with an apartment and monthly allowance by the Hokage, but so far as he knew he'd been the only person to do that. But Sasuke was probably adopted or allowed to live by himself just because he was oh so special – except now he really was, in the worst way, Naruto realized with a grimace.

Troubling thoughts firmly shoved aside, Naruto fell across his futon and into sleep, and when his alarm rang in the morning he thought of being Sasuke – of having family and then suddenly not – and almost didn't get out of bed. But then he remembered the silence yesterday, the blood on his tongue and the oppressive silence and Sasuke all alone, everyone letting Sasuke be alone through this.

Naruto knew being alone, and he knew being lonely, and he also knew something that it seemed most of the village didn't: when someone doesn't want pity, it doesn't mean that they don't want anything else either.

So Naruto made himself some ramen and drank some milk, and he went to class and sat down in the back of the room listening to Shikamaru's quiet snoring and Chouji's chips crunching in his teeth and Iruka droning through the weighty quiet. And Naruto waited until it was time to spar each other, waited with the tension wrapped tight around his throat, waited until Sasuke's turn came and silence fell and longer until Mizuki began to offer that Sasuke didn't have to and only then did Naruto move.

He leapt forward with a snarl, said, "I'll defeat you this time, Sasuke!" and for the first time in his life, got a punch in.

Sasuke's head snapped back – noise erupted, Iruka was shouting at Naruto about not obeying the proper forms – and Naruto bared his teeth at his rival. He pulled his arm back again, focused on his victory, already forgetting his plan: and then Sasuke moved like liquid, had Naruto flipped in the dirt with nose cracking under the impact, and immediately disengaged, just as he had done every other time they'd fought in the past year.

"It's my win," Sasuke said flatly, voice quiet but with that tinge of arrogance Naruto so despised, and normalcy smashed back into being like air after a lightning bolt.

Naruto lay in the dirt for a moment longer and felt the pain in his nose fading, and he listened to the sound of his classmates and teacher and for just a moment, just one, let his eyes well up with tears and his insides rip themselves apart and wanted to punch Sasuke again and again and again endlessly until nothing was left.

And above him, for one moment Sasuke was grateful. For just a single moment Sasuke loved Naruto more than anyone else in the world, valued Naruto as his best friend and wanted to reach out and cling to him and never let go, because Naruto had saved him.

Then the moment ended. Naruto bounced back to his feet with a grumble about Sasuke cheating, and Sasuke let Iruka shout the obvious answer to that accusation for him; Naruto was the one who'd cheated, began the instructor.

Naruto didn't listen to the lecture as usual, glaring at Sasuke. He could already feel the chasm closing, the sick silence gone as if it had never existed, and Sasuke was glaring back at him rather than being so silent and small and all-wrong like Naruto had once almost become and at times still nearly was. Naruto hated Sasuke just as much as ever, but for once he almost thought Sasuke might become his friend. Maybe they did have something in common, now if not before, and maybe Sasuke would realize what Naruto had done and he'd just talk to Naruto without any prompting, he'd relieve a little of Naruto's own emptiness as Naruto had just done for him. Naruto glared at Sasuke, hatred and hope warring in his mind along with a quiet, constant sort of terror that no one would ever rescue him, nothing would ever change.

Sasuke glared at Naruto, already regretting his rush of gratitude. Naruto hadn't saved him – in fact all Naruto had done was be his usual idiot self, unaffected even by Sasuke's pain, cheating to steal some sort of pathetic victory. Worthless. Sasuke glared at Naruto, even as he realized he would have to become willing to do the same thing now – there was no such thing as honor anymore, no grieving allowed when Itachi was still out there, and Sasuke's parents and clan remained unavenged. He couldn't afford to let himself fail here, Sasuke realized, couldn't ever allow someone like Naruto to get even just one hit off of him – he had to get stronger. And he breathed slowly, reaching an odd sort of peace for the first time in a week, even though this peace was made up of nothing more than a determination to repress his issues and get stronger, stronger, hating Itachi, following his brother's instructions as he always had.

-xxx-

Eight days after the Uchiha Massacre, the village began to breathe again, even as two boys began to choke from lack of air. They clung to each-other for a moment of drowning panic until they finally managed to resurface as well. The air was sweet to their aching lungs, and they gasped it in, too relieved and too furious with each-other to notice the way that the current still wrapped round them, endlessly and insistently and in the end inevitably sinking them down, down, down again.