Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine, and I do not profit from this work :)


One

Sasuke stared hard at Itachi. Harder than he'd ever stared in his life. Emotions that had been brewing inside him for years had finally come to a crashing fruition, making the air burn in his lungs and his chest simmer in a roaring conflagration of feeling. He was confused, sad, shocked, and most importantly, betrayed. And yet even as scenes of physical and verbal violence buzzed in his subconscious, all he could bring himself to do was stare.

"Sasuke…" Itachi said quietly. His words were soft, but his tone was impatient. "Just come inside."

The Uchiha turned slightly, motioning with his body towards the door directly behind him. His arms never uncrossed during the movement to protect his chilled body in the cold, winter air of the night, and though he was not uncomfortably cool, Itachi couldn't suppress a shiver when looking at his little brother, standing in nothing but jeans and a blue shirt, completely oblivious to the heavy goosebumps appearing on his skin.

Sasuke felt himself take an involuntary step back at Itachi's words. He felt like he couldn't breathe.

"Come inside, Sasuke." Itachi's voice was harsher now, almost commanding, but once again, the words were soaked in concern. "It's freezing out here."

Sasuke clenched his eyes shut as he stepped back again. "No." he answered simply.

But where will I go? He thought with a tinge of hopelessness.

He couldn't go with Itachi… not yet. But when he the idea of going back home entered his mind, his thoughts became even more heated. No way, not with Itachi just having dropped a bombshell like that. His father would be in an awful mood for the next month, and seeing his mother powerless against his temper, as well as being just as disappointed as his father in his perfect elder brother, would be too much.

"Sasuke-"

"No!" he shouted at Itachi, his voice cracking on the word. He clenched his eyes shut again, so hard that they hurt. It was like he was wishing that everything would disappear if he could just shut it out with enough vehemence.

But when he opened his eyes nothing had changed.

Seeing his brother practically heaving on his doorstep, Itachi softened. Something tight and cool was settling in his chest, and he had a sneaking suspicion it was guilt. "Sasuke…"

Sasuke looked straight into Itachi's eyes, his gaze uncharacteristically penetrating and emotional.

"Sasuke, I don't want this to change things between us. I can handle losing contact with father, but I can't stand losing contact with you." He edged closer. "Nothing's changed."

"Everything's changed!" Sasuke's voice cracked on the loud response as he stepped back again and further into the cold darkness. "You lied! You lied to father! You lied to me…"

"I didn't mean to." Itachi responded harshly. He had never been patient, and now Sasuke was just pushing it. "What could I do differently? I didn't want to keep secrets, and in the end I didn't."

"You're a… a…" Sasuke's voice, now humble under the crushing weight of the silent night, stumbled over the words.

"A gay? A fairy? A faggot?" Itachi interjected Sasuke's rant bluntly, causing the younger Uchiha to wince at the stone-like words. "Just say it, Sasuke. Just accept it and move on. I have." Itachi sighed, biting his lip as he calmed himself. "I just didn't think it would matter, not to you."

Sasuke felt his emotions come crashing back as he watched Itachi cover his face with his hands. There was no way he was crying, but god he looked close.

"I don't… I can't… I…" Sasuke stuttered uselessly. Starting again, he withdrew even deeper into himself. "Itachi, I'm sorry."

Itachi's head snapped up at his brother's tone only to see his back as he walked noiselessly into the dark shadows surrounding the building. Itachi would have gone after him, he really would have, but he couldn't move.

He had been ready for this. He had made sure he was ready. But he hadn't made sure Sasuke was.

Why should I have? A part of him bit back in defiance as he lumbered absently through the door to his small apartment, worry panging in his chest. This is my problem, my obstacle, not his. And while Itachi knew Sasuke was being a little selfish - making his admission about himself - a part of him still sympathized with the arrogant teen.

Itachi had made sure he was ready to tell his parents and his friends. But Sasuke was his baby brother, with whom he shared one of the most genuine, yet oddly temperamental and deeply superficial relationships he'd ever shared with anyone.

I should have told him differently. Itachi glanced back at the darkness outside his doorway before quietly shutting himself into warmth. I should have realized he'd be the only one to care.


Sasuke knew Itachi wouldn't follow him. He just knew it. Itachi had never been one of those people – people who chased after you if you left in a fight, or followed you if you ran away. Itachi had told him once that people did those things for a reason, and if they wanted to be left alone, he would leave them alone. He had made himself seem cold and indifferent at the time, but Sasuke knew his brother cared about him, and he also silently thanked him as Itachi let him slink away in cowardice into the cold night.

In the end, he had walked around in the cool, dark air for hours, until his feet hurt and his skin went numb with cold. But still, he couldn't feel anything.

Maybe I'm feeling too much.

His life was falling apart - or at least that's what it felt like to the teen. His family was broken and cracked, kept together with cheap glue that was holding on just long enough to see Sasuke out of school. His mother was desperate to keep everyone together, and his father…

His father, who always seemed to be the personification of perfection to Sasuke as a child, had since become the very symbol of every contradiction in the teen's life. He wanted his father's skill and talent, yet at the same time he was a perfect example of the type of person he least wanted to become. He yearned for his father's approval, to draw out that small smirk of support, and yet, sometimes he just wanted to tell the hard, unforgiving man to go and fuck himself.

And then there was Itachi. Itachi, who had left Sasuke all alone in that shell of a home. Itachi, who had abandoned him when he seemed like the only ally he'd ever had. Itachi, who had trusted Sasuke to be grown-up enough to deal with this drama, when I obviously am not... he thought with a grimace, relishing in the stubbornness of his self-pity.

Sasuke knew, deep down, he had no right to feel this way, or to have treated Itachi like that. Itachi is the one who's dealing with shit right now, not me. He chided himself softly. But he just couldn't shake the feeling of abandonment and loneliness that clung to him like gossamer threads of insecurity.

He got back to his house at about 3 am, and walked through the myriad of halls and rooms slowly, not daring to disturb the darkness. Of course his parents were asleep, not even worrying about where he was or what he, and their elder son, had been doing.

Slipping into bed, he set his alarm for five, so that he could get up before his father and walk to school without having to enter into any semblance of interaction.

Ever the coward…


The day had been a blur for Sasuke – long and boring, slow and monotonous. The work was easy, the teacher just a deadened weight on his frustrated, mercurial mood, and as usual, the students were distracting and annoying, but the whole day's happenings were even more mute than usual – hazed over by a nagging, almost disturbing, deep-blue haze of fatigue and hopelessness. Though… hopelessness was probably the wrong word. Rather, a haze of fatigue and contentment. He was there, alive and breathing, and he was content. He was not happy, and he was not sad. The emotionlessness of it all was suffocating, but the fact that even the sensation of lacking that metaphorical air was muffled and dampened by the haze around him made the state all the more infuriating.

Hn… maybe I am feeling something…

"Oi – Uchiha."

Sasuke turned, the action slow and curiously free of superfluous movement, to set eyes upon Neji Hyuuga, the only person in seemingly the whole building who had enough sensibility and awareness to Sasuke's character to be able to approach him and earn any semblance of a response. The brunette had technically been Sasuke's best and closest friend for years, though their relationship was undeniably one more of convenience than actual friendship or mutual liking.

It was good for each of them to hold the friendship, however superficial it may have been; it helped to get other people off their case.

"Shall we go?"

Sasuke gave a quick, once again unhurried, nod of affirmation, and proceeded to silently follow Neji out of the small classroom with his bag slung over one shoulder.

They walked together in silence until they were well out of the school grounds. Both of them lived in the nearby wealthy suburbs, so, often for the sake of convenience, they walked home together. Usually it was in a nebulous haze of companionable silence, but this time, for whatever reason, Neji was feeling unusually inquisitive.

"You're even more aloof today than usual."

The words were a statement spoken in cool, calm indifference, but something in Neji's tone hinted at a deeper sense of interest… almost concern.

Surely not… Sasuke mused as he hummed a note of rough amusement. "Is that so?"

A moment's silence.

"What happened?"

Hn… Sasuke let a soft smirk spread onto his face at the answers that came to his mind, but none of which he allowed to traverse to his voice. My life's gone to shit... My older brother has been outcast… again... My father's refusing to pass on the business to him, and he doesn't want to pass it to me. My mother is depressed… and I'm fucking content"Nothing."

Neji pursed his lips incredulously, and, in a fit of motion, managed to stop walking and grab the raven's forearm in a tight grip, effectively swinging the Uchiha backwards.

"What are you planning to do tonight?" Neji questioned suspiciously. It was not an invitation, the Hyuuga's intonation made sure there was no mistaking that, but Sasuke knew the teen well enough to be able to sense the mistrustful air to the tone even if it had been a third as obvious… and once again, the words were bordering on a quality suspiciously akin to concern.

Sasuke smirked, wrenching his arms free of the strong hold with a surprising display of strength. "Nothing."

An exasperated sigh emanated from Neji as they slowly continued moving.

Sasuke rolled his eyes at the Hyuuga's stubbornness before he reluctantly gave in and supplied a little more information. "I might just head down to see Shikamaru."

The silence that came in response could hardly be called silence at all. The tension radiating from Neji was more telling than most words ever could be.

Shikamaru was a middle class, average looking, unenthusiastic individual who, like all truly gifted and talented teens (despite his advanced intelligence) was failing all his classes. Even though he went to the same high school as Neji and Sasuke, situated in the midst of wealthy, high class housing estates, he spent most of his time hanging out with the kids on the other side of town, a past time that usually involved copious amounts of alcohol and loud music.

"Shikamaru's still alive, is he?" Neji mused softly as they continued walking.

"Hn." Sasuke smirked again. "He's smart enough to steer clear of complete and inescapable trouble."

"Are you?"

The question hung in the air between the two teens, heavy and dark as they continued to walk past increasingly large and private properties. But what was really bothering Sasuke was a nagging question in the back of his head – deep and teasing.

Do I want to be?

"Look," Neji began as the pair of them stopped at the intersection of two long, wide streets of sizeable houses masked by elaborate front yards. Somewhere from behind them, a child laughed, and in the distance, a dog barked.

Sasuke crossed his arms, looking to his friend with slight humility after gazing lingeringly down the Hyuuga's street.

"I just don't want you doing anything dangerous."

The raven rolled his eyes, turning away, but Neji continued.

"I mean, honestly, you've always been a little self-destructive. And I don't know what's happened to you, but 'nothing' wouldn't make your…" the Hyuuga pulled his eyebrows together and motioned to the area around Sasuke as he struggled to find the right word, "cloud…" he settled for the description with a slight grimace, "this much darker."

My cloud? Sasuke thought with a smirk, deciding not to challenge Neji's words, however cryptic he might have found them. "Don't worry about me, Neji." Sasuke said as he began to turn around. "I'll be fine. I just plan to let off a little steam."

At the lack of an answer, Sasuke continued to walk away until he was almost down to the edge of the next, large property that occupied the street, but stopped when Neji called after him.

"You're a real son of a bitch, you know that, Uchiha!" He shouted down at the raven with a remarkably neutral tone. Across the street, a woman eyed the teens warily, turning to walk inside her sizeable house with as much normalcy as she could muster.

Sasuke ground his teeth a little. Anything coming back to his parents was always a bad thing, and he'd think it would be the same for Neji. It was a small neighborhood. Everything came back around eventually, even a moderately loud teenage insult on the street. With a slight grimace of tediousness, Sasuke turned back to Neji and walked a little closer, until Neji, who was obviously not done, no longer had to shout to get his message heard.

"Just because you don't care about anybody else doesn't mean nobody worries about you!"

Sasuke stared at Neji, his expression, as always, harsh and impenetrable. "I didn't ask for your concern."

Neji sighed and rubbed his eyes a little, moving the strap of his bag further up his shoulder as he fought to hold back a smirk of frustrated disbelief. "I know. I'm sorry of my humanity is an inconvenience for you."

Sasuke watched, his expression unchanging as the Hyuuga began to turn around.

"You know what?" He said softly, the brunette's tone warm in such an emotionless, indifferent manner that it served to make his words much colder. "Just don't go and get yourself killed. My uncle would be very displeased with me if he found out I let a future business associate slip through my fingers."

Sasuke ground his teeth subtly as Neji turned and walked away, disappearing down the wealthy street like a tiger into savannah.

Camouflage… an internal facet of his subconscious commented dryly, unsuccessful in squashing the small ember of jealousy that burnt inside him before its heat could come seeping into his conscious mind. I wish I were as good at it...


As Sasuke stepped into the large house, he felt the air leave his lungs in one slow, seeping leak. Stepping over the threshold into the large, open reception room, he felt his chest buzz with a curious mix of forces: explosion or implosion – a choice of emotional death.

He could hear his mother crashing about in the kitchen, and the theme music of the news channel wafting into his ears from the lounge room to the raven's right. He stood there, empty and silent and out of view as he quietly shut the door, feeling the familiar lead weight settle on his chest as he stared at the staircase that wound up one side of the large, open two-storey space with cool indifference.

It was a catch-22 of the most classic kind. He didn't want to go up the stairs, but he didn't want to see his parents either...

"Sasuke?"

Too late… the raven thought, emotionless. He turned a little and forced a soft smile onto his face as he saw his mother peek around the left-side entry to the reception space. She wiped her hands on the pale blue apron tied around her waist, her soft features tired in their smile.

"How was your day?" She asked, smiling a little more fully as her son approached her.

Sasuke kissed his mother on the cheek lightly, noting the soft hint of wine that clung to her breath as he pulled gently away.

"Good, mother," he answered, trying to drive a little more emotion into his words than he usually managed to force believably. "I got an A in the biology exam from last week."

It wasn't a mark that Sasuke was particularly proud of, but he knew his mother appreciated, if not the grade itself, any conversation or sharing of his life that she could get. Sasuke knew he wasn't the most open person in the world, least of all to his family (excluding Itachi), and while he usually didn't give it much thought, he recognized the fact that it was at least a little hard on his mother.

"Sasuke, that's grea-"

"You got an A in biology last semester." Fugaku's loud voice came shouting to the pair from the lounge room on the other end of the front of the house. Since he hadn't even gotten up to share the criticism, and couldn't even be seen from two rooms away, Sasuke decided to pay the comment no mind. Instead, he turned back to his mother and gave another, albeit weaker, smile.

"I'm going upstairs, and I'll probably be going out tonight."

His mother nodded, taking in the information slowly. "You have a lot of study groups recently." She commented softly.

Sasuke nodded, playing their usual game perfectly – not challenging her assumptions in the slightest. She had no idea what he did, but subconsciously she didn't want to, so he wouldn't tell her.

"Oh, and Sasuke," she added as an afterthought. The raven glanced back at his mother as she spoke, becoming much more interested when he caught the way her eyes glanced almost nervously towards the lounge room, the steady hum of news commentary seeping into the rest of the house like disease. "Itachi called."

Sasuke took a breath, knowing he was letting more emotion show on his face in that moment than he had managed all day.

Mikoto didn't have to say any more than that – she didn't want to. Itachi had always been a rather taboo topic since he'd moved out, but with the recent happenings to do with him, he had become strictly off limits. Mikoto knew this, but Itachi knew this too – and for him to call at all meant much more because of it.

Sasuke nodded, absorbing the two words silently as he turned and began climbing the stairs with slow, firm steps.

"Will you be having dinner with us?"

Sasuke swallowed, heaving the bag further up his shoulder. "No."


"Well, well." Shikamaru sighed as he sat down on the old couch next to the Uchiha and handed the raven a cup of nameless liquor. "What brings you to this side of town?"

"Would you believe it if I said I liked it here?" Sasuke asked as he gratefully took a full mouthful of the liquid in the cup.

Shikamaru looked around, appraising the surroundings in silent comprehension. The two of them were lounging on a broken couch in the front yard of a dilapidated house that had been left unoccupied for years and had long since fallen into the hands of the youths of the area. Somewhere from inside the broken building, loud, bass-ridden music pumped out waves of vibration, and the constant haze of smoke in the air suggested a curious mix of cigarettes as well as various, more illegal substances. Around them was a steady stream of movement, people walking to and from the house in groups or alone, as well as some milling about the front garden and the small bonfire that had started in one corner of the block.

"Yeah – 'course." Shikamaru smiled to the raven. "I like it here."

"You just like watching people."

Shikamaru shrugged. "You can't really see clouds at night." he looked to the Uchiha next to him. "And besides, humanity is interesting."

Sasuke shook his head as he took another big gulp of the liquid in the cup, grimacing in subtle delight as it knocked the air from his lungs. "Thanks for letting me keep coming."

Shikamaru chuckled lightly. "That makes me seem very powerful." He mused, once again turning his gaze to the people around them.

"You are." A slight hesitation. "Here at least."

"No. I'm just smart." In the soft silence that followed, Shikamaru gazed over at Sasuke, the usually uptight, regal raven slouching in the old couch with his legs slung wide apart, pulling off a sleeveless hoody and skinny jeans with as much attitude as the best of them, leaving the spoilt brat-of-a-rich-kid vibe behind, or at the very least using it to his advantage.

"Look, Sasuke – it's no secret I don't like you," Shikamaru said, causing the deep, bottomless eyes of the raven to glance back at him, unsurprised, "but you are seriously one of the most interesting people I've ever met."

Sasuke smirked, looking back at the bonfire as a loud crack of wood echoed above the heavy music. "I don't get that one often."

Shikamaru looked ahead, deciding immediately to pursue his investigation. "So… what happened this time?"

"I don't really want to talk about it."

Shikamaru threw the raven a glance that spoke volumes. Sasuke didn't really have a choice. Talking about it was his payment for being there, and even though both teens knew that Shikamaru would never really push that hard for the Uchiha's personal information, they both also knew, on some level at least, that it was a good outlet for the raven to have.

"I really don't want to talk about it."

… And an outlet that he sometimes didn't use…

"It's about Itachi, isn't it?" Shikamaru asked, holding back a smirk at the sudden onslaught of transparency that graced the Uchiha's usually cold, impenetrable features. "Ha, hit the nail on the head with that one, didn't I?"

"Shut up."

Both teens settled into a soft, companionable silence as the conversation dried. The loud music was seeping into Sasuke's chest, and the almost empty cup in the raven's hand had him nicely buzzed and numbed up just enough so that everything seemed that littlest bit easier.

Sasuke was just about to ask Shikamaru for another cup of the substance when something caught his eye – a flash of red.

What is that? He thought slightly drunkenly as he rubbed his eyes.

He was a little taken a back to notice that the red was in fact hair, beaming from its place atop a teen who was stalking out of the entrance of the dilapidated house in what could only be described as completely unselfconscious discomfort. The redhead was pale, and while not necessarily handsome or beautiful, came across as undeniably remarkably aesthetically pleasing. That being said, despite his noticeably femininely lithe physique and stature, as he approached each person he passed with a never-changing expression of mildly disguised concern, they backed away in fear.

Hn… Sasuke found his eyebrows crease slightly in confusion.

"Hey Shikamar-" Sasuke addressed his companion in an effort to find out who the curious character was, but his voice stilled when he found the Nara in the midst of a quiet conversation with a teen on his other side.

Biting his lip, Sasuke returned his gaze to the redhead who was steadily approaching as his brief, uncomfortable conversations with the people milling about the front of the property heeded rather obviously fruitless results.

Clearly frustrated, Sasuke felt himself straighten in slight apprehension as the redhead set eyes on Shikamaru and, somehow reluctantly, made his way closer.

Sasuke understood why the others were backing away when the redhead came within a talking distance. It wasn't anything obvious – nothing as overt as a scar or wound, and nothing as obviously unnerving as a stance or habitually intimidating expression. It was something deeper than that. It was impossible for Sasuke to pinpoint, at least in the brief moments of staring he could safely execute without the subject's knowledge, but there was something in the teen's eyes, some depth that made the owner of that otherwise sweet, tender face seem dangerous, mercurial and… violent

Oh… Sasuke thought with an audible intake of breath as the redheaded stranger raised his face in the nearby light of the bonfire to illuminate a relatively large tattoo that covered one side of his forehead. Maybe it's the weird vibe… and the tattoo…

He came close, until he was no more than a meter away, standing directly in front of Shikamaru, who, through some amazing switch of observance levels, failed to notice the dark stranger's presence and continued with his conversation. The redhead stood there silently, simply waiting in stillness for almost a full minute before the Uchiha finally cracked.

Throwing the rather intimidating teen, who had not looked at the raven once, another curious, slightly heated glance, Sasuke impatiently tapped the genius on the shoulder.

"What?" the Nara asked; also annoyed, but his voice stilled as he finally set eyes on the figure in front of him.

His reaction to the boy's presence was not what Sasuke had anticipated. Shikamaru's expression, after a short stint in surprise, quickly fell to a light, panicked version of fear – unlike that of the people the redhead had spoken to before, but nonetheless wary.

"Gaara, what the fuck are you doing here?" he asked hurriedly as he got to his feet, the words and actions still somehow managing to seem rather lethargic in his haste. The sentence, while it might have seemed somewhat heated, was spoken in genuine worry.

Sasuke watched, not moving from his spot as the pair continued to talk right in front of him.

"I'm sorry, Shikamaru," the redhead… Gaara… replied – his voice gravelly and low. "It's Naruto, I…" the words ceased as the redheaded teen cast a somewhat wary glance towards Sasuke, causing Shikamaru to literally groan in annoyance as he remembered the raven's presence.

"What?" Sasuke asked, the alcohol barely hiding his angry annoyance at the tired gaze he received from the Nara. If he wanted him gone, all he had to do was say so.

Shikamaru shook his head, taking a deep breath at the troublesome situation, and finally found it easier to ignore the Uchiha in favor of turning his attention back to Gaara. "What happened?"

Taking Shikamaru's disregard towards their raven listener as a good sign, the redhead hesitantly continued, his tone soaked in surprisingly sincere concern. Sasuke watched intently, either not willing or unable to hide his interest in what they were saying.

"He just… disappeared. I've searched everywhere – I didn't want to trouble you, but-"

"Yeah, yeah – it's alright." Shikamaru reassured softly. "The blonde idiot..." he muttered for a moment as he thought. "Have you checked inside?"

"Yes, but only briefly." The reply was immediate.

"Okay, I'll check around the back, you go double check the second storey – people have been going through those bedrooms all night."

The redhead nodded, moving away alarmingly quickly and gracefully, leaving Sasuke with only one final, wary glance.

The raven frowned in slight perplexity, feeling strangely on edge by the pair's exchange. "Is there anything you want me to do?" he asked the Nara just as he began moving away.

Shikamaru paused, his expression making it seem like he was considering utilizing Sasuke's help, but ultimately decided against it. "No." he bit his lip a little, looking rather concerned. "Just… don't move."

A familiar weight was settling on Sasuke's chest. One of being protected, ordered, and left uninformed.

Blonde idiot… huh?


Sasuke threw the cup onto the ground in a swift, ungraceful movement racked with proof of drunkenness. He'd left the congregation of booze and people that could hardly qualify as a 'party' pretty much as soon as Shikamaru had told him not to move, and… as could really be expected… he'd gone looking for the 'blonde idiot' pretty much only because he wasn't supposed to.

Seeing as the only description of the unnamed subject of Shikamaru's and the redhead's previously intense conversation was that he was blonde, named Naruto, and an idiot, Sasuke didn't really expect his self-important quest to culminate in any real discovery, but the fact that he was looking, despite the fact he was looking in an abandoned warehouse almost a block and a half down the road and was now quite heavily buzzed, gave him a sense of fulfillment that he had been seeking for a while.

Putting his cool hands into the pockets of his black skinny jeans, Sasuke coughed a little as he stepped through an old doorway into the hollow, decomposing, and massive interior of the warehouse.

It was a sad part of town, this street, but one that held its own beauty. Even in his intoxicated state, Sasuke could appreciate the eerie, peaceful calm of the warehouse – the concrete and stone floor splashed with silver by the moonlight that ghosted through the windows; also shattered and scratched. The walls were cracking, and the roof – three regular storeys above Sasuke's head at least – also had holes and fractures that leaked silver moonlight, making the whole space seem somewhat ethereal in its decay.

A steady breeze wafted through the open space, low and quiet, and suddenly, Sasuke found himself forgetting why he was out there at all. He forgot… all of it – his father, his mother, his brother, his house, his life. Before he could think why, the raven had shut his eyes and tilted his head back, taking a deep, calming breath and sighing as he felt the calm spread from his chest to his fingertips in one soft, flowing wave of cool oxygen.

He forgot all of it… until…

"Um…"

The sound snapped Sasuke's eyes open before the syllable had even been completely spoken.

In front of him was a teenager, he'd guess probably around his own age, but he looked much worse for wear. Even in the clear bias of the almost solely grey light that was cast upon him, the teen had an unmistakably pale pallor to his skin – his forehead shining wan with the slight sheen of sick perspiration.

Sasuke slowly crossed his arms, eyeing the figure before him somewhat warily. Something wasn't right. The blonde was sick, that was for sure… but it wasn't a usual sort of sick.

"Could you…" the blonde's words were cut off as a shattering, stuttering breath racked his sturdy frame. "Please l-leave."

Sasuke frowned, more than mildly disturbed by the sight before him. He couldn't place it, but even as the figure coughed, scratching at his chest somewhat wildly as he groaned out the feeble instructions, something else was echoing in the back of Sasuke's slightly drunken mind – some thought that was trying to make itself heard, but couldn't quite push through the haze of intoxication.

Oh… That's it… "Are you Naruto?"

The figure's entire frame locked tight at the question, the blonde raising his face to appraise the Uchiha with newly focused eyes. Sasuke was surprised, and more than a little put on edge to find they were shining a glistening red.

There's no way that's normal…

"H-How do you… know that?" the blonde stuttered the words as the moment of clarity was once again replaced with a hazing ache of pain.

Sasuke bit his lip, unsure of what to do. "Shikamaru and a redhead…" the raven paused, trying to recall the name, "Gaara, are looking for you."

Coughing, the blonde… presumably Naruto, let out a huff of pained laughter. The moonlight was casting his golden hair in silver but even though the ethereal light muted the colour of the rest of his body, the red of his eyes inexorably continued – shining like they were illuminated by their own internal energy; the only real colour in the grey-scale warehouse.

"And they sent you?"

Sasuke shook his head, concerned as the teen collapsed silently to his knees and one of his hands bunched in his shirt right above his heart.

"Are you okay?" the raven asked, leaving the figure's previous question unanswered.

The blonde seemed distracted enough not to mind as he continued coughing and holding his chest as if he believed that if he let go he would physically fall apart. The only sounds in the abandoned warehouse were that of the teen's heavy, labored breathing, interrupted every now and then by a soft groan or sibilant hiss of discomfort. It was eerie, to say the least, but something in Sasuke stopped him from feeling completely unnerved or panicked.

I should be screaming… right? A rational part of himself asked in slight confusion as he glimpsed at the burning red colour of the teen's eyes once again, a drop of sweat beading down the unnaturally pale cheek slowly, teasingly without haste.

"Are you okay?" Sasuke asked again, overriding his bodies panic systems to step towards the teen slowly. The eyes were pulling him closer, not hypnotically, but like he knew he should be doing something.

"Go. Now."

The words, like those before them, had been groaned out from clenched teeth, but now they were different – deeper, and darker. Something was seriously wrong.

"But-"

"Now!" The blonde grated the syllable through resisting vocal chords as he bent forwards to slam his fists into the ground, as if fighting an unseen enemy.

"But, you need hel-"

Sasuke's sentence was left unfinished as the blonde raised his head. Whatever battle he had briefly begun fighting, he'd obviously just lost it. The red eyes were now deeper – the pupils having transformed into elongated black slits like those of a feline – his skin had become marginally darker, erasing any sign of fatigue or sickness that had been present barely a moment before, and even his hair, previously a dull gold, had instantly distorted to a deep, cloudy crimson.

What the fuck? Sasuke's mind hummed in a flurry of adrenaline as the boy, now beast, stared at him from all fours, prowling like a canine demon on the hunt.

Sasuke tensed, deciding on some whim of his inner-most reptilian brain not to run, but the speed and dexterity at which the possessed being came at him was so sudden an unexpected that the raven could do nothing to stop himself from being pushed to the ground. In one swift movement, the previously blonde stranger was on top of Sasuke, crouching over him with a strong hand around his neck and a twistingly sinister grin on his face.

Sasuke faltered for a moment, but then he saw it – the teeth. Peeking out from behind darkened lips were two white canines, pointy and long and sharp. And that was when something inside the raven suddenly and irreversibly clicked.

Abruptly, just as the fanged teen began to lower himself closer to the Uchiha's face, Sasuke tensed and thrust his fist up into the being's ribs. Not pausing for a second after registering the sickening crack and the slight groan of shock and pain the force of the blow drew from both of them, Sasuke quickly brought one of his legs up to utilize the momentary weakness and flip them over.

Suddenly finding himself on top of a pained, snarling, and angry… thing… the raven panicked. While he was in peak physical condition, Sasuke had never really done any physical training, but even so, he had somehow managed to seemingly expertly situate himself atop the teen. His knees were pressed into the blonde's hips and his shins pinned the thighs down, while his elbows held two strong, tanned arms to the concrete floor with one of his wrists pressing threateningly into the suddenly extremely delicate-seeming windpipe.

In the moment of shock, both of the boys had fallen silent and still, completely frozen in disbelief. For a long, drawn out second, they just looked at each other, wide, red eyes meeting large, alarmed black. But then, something strange happened.

The bright red flashed pure, crystal blue.

Sasuke jerked back in surprise at the sudden change, his breath catching in his throat, but just as quickly as the force he'd held on the blonde's windpipe was lessened, the red came surging back, and a low, demonic growl ripped forth from deep within the possessor's lungs – twice as loud and three times as angry.

Adrenaline flooding his system, Sasuke took in the sudden moment of complete and utter helplessness and absolutely and unflinchingly gave over to whatever reflexes had managed to get him there in the first place. Closing his eyes, Sasuke grit his teeth and prayed as, somehow, his fist managed to connect with the blonde's cheek, once again causing a sickening crack that put an immediate stop to the deafening growl that had surrounded them.

Opening his eyes and heaving in deep breaths, Sasuke looked down to see a gasping, what looked to be terrified teen with red hair, tanned skin, pointed canine teeth, but clearly, undeniably, inescapably blue eyes. Desperately, the crystal irises locked onto Sasuke's and, wasting no time in surprise, the blonde spoke.

"Again!" He shouted, having to force the word through his throat with sheer power of volume in order to articulate the syllable into comprehensible sound.

Sasuke sat up slightly, his eyes widening at the momentary sanity appearing in the orbs below him. "What?"

"HIT ME! HIT ME AGAI-"

Sasuke gulped as the desperate shout, bordering on a scream, was abruptly overcome by a deafening, thundering howl as the bright blue once again succumbed to deep, glowing red. Around them, the air buzzed with energy, and all the while that scream – piercing and deadly, shook Sasuke to the core.

He didn't waste any energy on shock this time. Swiftly and without hesitation, Sasuke pulled back a fist and plowed it into the tan face.

Grunting and taking just one moment to swallow his surprise, the raven repeated the action again, and again, and again – until his knuckles bled and his wrists ached. Groaning, he continued, tensing his arm as tightly as he could and forcing his entire upper body weight into each blow to the blonde's cheeks, nose, temple and jaw.

Slowly, with hit, after hit, after hit, the growling began to subside; sinking deeper and deeper into a silence that was punctuated only by the deep, nauseating crunch of skin on skin, bone on bone.

Taking deep, heaving breaths, Sasuke halted his methodic actions and, as he made sure all he was met with was silence, slowly and warily unclenched his fist.

The teen was lying beneath him, blood oozing from his nose and mouth, his eyes closed, resting above already-bruising cheeks. And even though the eyes were shut, the Uchiha could feel that the red power was no longer present in the body beneath him. The teen's hair had returned to a golden blonde – dim in the silver light of the night that surrounded them, but nonetheless obvious. His skin had paled slightly, though only to a healthily tanned glow, and his mouth – lips parted slightly as he breathed unbelievably deeply and peacefully – displayed the presence of only bloodstained, white teeth of a much more normal length.

After taking one more extended second of inspection, Sasuke closed his eyes and released a long, endless breath that he had not, until that moment, been aware he'd been holding.

Unable to hold up even his own body as the adrenaline dissipated from his system and left him with a tired, overworked shell of a body, he fell forward onto his forearms that supported him from either side of the bleeding teen's peaceful, sleeping face.

"Fuck…"

And that was when something really went wrong.

My eyes… my eyes!

"FUCK!"

TBC