It was strange, he thought dimly, how much bigger someone looked from the floor. Uchiha Fugaku was a tall, broad-shouldered man anyway, but lying supine Sasuke found him to be even bigger. Especially with irrational anger darkening his countenance and making his eyes bulge in their sockets. The boy wished he had the strength and control of his limbs to crawl away. To do more than lie there and watch the blow descend on him.

His father raged, but Sasuke couldn't understand the words. Blood pounded too hard in his ears, a beating, roaring sound that drowned out everything else. Even when the balled fist struck his face, the only thing he felt was the way it jarred him. The pain had finally numbed his whole body. Or maybe there was too much pain now to distinguish individual hurts.

The blood pooling in his eye was new. It stung. He closed his eyes, and that seemed to help. He felt the impression of another blow, this one to his stomach. A kick, most likely. It jarred him so much he thought he felt something snap out of place. A broken bone, maybe. It made him retch, and something hot and wet bubbled in his throat and was forcefully expelled out his mouth. Puking blood. That was new, too.

Then all sensation stopped. Sasuke opened his good eye, the one not slowly swelling shut. His older brother had Fugaku in a sort of wrestler's hold. Itachi looked livid, just as angry as their father. His mouth moved furiously, but Sasuke couldn't hear the words. He closed his eye again, because it was too hard to keep it open.

A door slammed so loudly that it pierced the roaring in Sasuke's ears. The sensation of being lifted caught him unawares and completely nauseated him. He threw up again, and he opened a bleary eye to see blood all over the front of Itachi's crisp, white button-down. It should have made him feel guilty; Itachi's shirts were always expensive. Instead the stark contrast of crimson on white fascinated him.

Next thing he knew he was on the bathroom floor, being held against his brother's chest. He could feel a soft, wet cloth dabbing at his face. It hurt. Seemed he could feel things again. Groaning, he tried to turn away and deny the touch.

"Shh, don't move around, otouto," Itachi said quietly.

And hear again. He wanted to ask his brother where their father had gone, but he couldn't open his mouth. The taste of blood and bile on his tongue was making him sick again. He started dry heaving, and then he was lying face-down on the cool tile with a hand rubbing up and down on his naked back. When had he lost his shirt?

"Easy, Sasuke," Itachi's soothing voice murmured. "It's all right. Calm down."

Strangely enough, his body obeyed. His heart rate slowed. He was manhandled more or less upright, and he felt glass touch his lips.

"Rinse and spit it out," Itachi instructed, his voice so calm. "Don't swallow any of it."

The water tasted strange, sort of salty. He obeyed his brother again and didn't swallow. The liquid he spit out was red. It helped remove the taste of bile. Then Itachi propped him up against his chest again and resumed with the cloth.

Reality faded out for a while. When he finally regained his senses, everything was quiet and the lights dim. He was in Itachi's room, he realized after a moment. The only illumination came from the bedside lamp, Itachi reading by its soft glow. Sasuke was lying between Itachi's legs, using his brother's thigh as a pillow.

He knew why the protective hold. Fugaku only stopped the abuse when Itachi was around. Still too weak to sit up, Sasuke nonetheless felt better than earlier. I must have been out of it for a long time. It's dark outside. He swallowed and nearly started coughing at the dryness in his throat.

"Aniki," he whispered.

Itachi set the book aside immediately, leaning down to hear Sasuke better. "What is it, little brother? Do you need something?"

Sasuke nodded, licking cracked lips. "Thirsty," he managed.

"I'll get you some water," the elder brother said, easing himself out from under the younger.

Making Sasuke painfully aware of his torso. He could feel constrictive binding and knew his ribs had to have been either cracked or broken. The pillow felt feather soft beneath his head, and he breathed deeply of Itachi's scent. He had very few comforts in this world, and his brother was one.

When Itachi came back with a bottle of water, sitting up enough to swallow nearly sent Sasuke down into darkness.

"I had him arrested," Itachi said in a low, angry voice, "but I have no idea how long that will last."

And he would be furious when he got home. Sasuke would take the brunt of that fury. Downstairs, he heard the front door bang open.

"Itachi!" a familiar voice yelled, and feet thundered up the stairs.

"In here," Itachi called, easing Sasuke back down on the bed.

"I just heard that son of a bitch was arrested," the intruder panted, bursting into the room.

Under normal circumstances, it would have horrified Sasuke to think of anyone seeing him like this. At this precise moment, he was too tired and hurting to care. Even if it was Itachi's best friend, a loud-mouthed baka with the idiotic name Uzumaki Naruto. He was another of those aforementioned comforts. Like Itachi he was six years older than Sasuke, but at twenty two he still acted like a kid most times.

"Yeah," Itachi confirmed, brushing black bangs off Sasuke's forehead, "but it probably won't last. The police said that unless I take Sasuke to the hospital, they probably can't hold Fugaku. But you know how much he hates those places."

The bed dipped under Naruto's weight as the golden-haired man sat. "He looks terrible, 'Tachi."

Sasuke didn't have the energy to demand they stop talking about him like he wasn't right there.

"You know that bastard's gonna be livid when they release him," Naruto said quietly.

"I know," came Itachi's grave reply.

"He's gonna take his anger out on Sasuke, like he always does."

"I know."

A heavy sigh. "Let me take him outta here, 'Tachi."

Sasuke finally stirred. "What the hell does that mean, dobe?"

Naruto snorted. "Figures you get the energy to talk and it's a criticism."

"He'll tell the police Sasuke was kidnaped," Itachi said. "He won't let him go, no matter what his actions would seem to indicate."

"Then I'll go somewhere he can't find us," Naruto said.

"I'm not going anywhere," Sasuke said, hoping that was more than just a thought.

Apparently not. "Why the hell do you insist on staying with the bastard?" Naruto demanded. "All he does is hurt you."

A good question, considering the abuse had gotten exponentially worse as he got older. But Naruto's assertion wasn't true. Fugaku had many, many times embraced Sasuke to his chest so tightly he could barely breathe.

"You're all I have left of her," he'd sobbed every time. "Don't go anywhere, Sasuke. Don't leave me like she did. You're so precious to me, you look just like her, you're all I have left. Don't disappear. It would kill me."

Those pleading words hurt so, so much worse than any physical blow. It always reduced him to crying like a girl, and then Fugaku would rock him and kiss his tears away.

This all started after okaa-san died. How could I leave him? He needs me, it's so obvious. A small voice in the far back of his mind whispered that an attitude like that was dangerous. As always he quieted it.

"He needs me," he mumbled.

"What he needs is someone to fucking bash his sick head in," Naruto growled. "Itachi—"

"I'm sorry, Naruto," Itachi cut him off. "This isn't the best time to talk about this. Would you mind grabbing my guitar? He loves hearing you play. It'd probably help him sleep."

The soothing sensation of Itachi stroking his hair was helping a lot, too, Sasuke thought muzzily. He heard some rustling around, heard the pleasant sound of Naruto tuning the guitar. Then those talented fingers, which he loved watching, were picking at the instrument's strings. Sasuke couldn't name the tune, but the melody was sweet and comforting. The random notes made it impossible to concentrate, which lulled him and made his body feel like it was sinking into the bed.

He fell asleep to the feeling of a soft kiss pressed to his cheek.

o0o o0o

Even after Sasuke fell asleep, Naruto didn't stop his plucking. The continuation of notes would drown out their voices. "Itachi," he said, low and forceful.

Itachi didn't stop stroking Sasuke's hair. The boy looked worse than ever before. His left eye was swollen shut, a mass of purple bruises surrounding an abrasion just below his eye. His lower lip was split, and there were hand-shaped bruises around his neck and throat. His ribs had been bound with clean white bandages, and more bruises littered his abdomen and upper arms.

"I thought I would honor his wishes," Itachi said quietly, "but I can't. I can't watch that man kill him because he can't control his rage. I want you to take him, Naruto."

Naruto struck a sour note and winced, repositioning his fingers. "What do you mean?"

"Take him out of Tokyo. Out of Japan. Get him away from that man. Sasuke will never agree, they've developed a kind of codependency." He moved away from the bed and raked fingers through his disheveled hair. "I'll give you enough money to last you for a long time."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Like I'd accept that, you dick."

Itachi turned to him, black eyes glacial. "It's not a gift, idiot. It's wage. For being his caretaker. These wounds won't heal overnight. I'm reimbursing you for the cost of his care."

It was just a way of rewording the obvious, but Naruto gave up the resistance. He didn't have enough money to get very far, and Itachi was right. Sasuke would need a lot of round-the-clock care. He broke into a grin.

"Yanno, Sakura and Kiba and I have been talking for a long time about going on a road trip. Maybe it's time we got ourselves a Winnebago and hit the road." Kiba might not want to uproot for a long period of time, but he didn't think Sakura would mind. She hated her job, she hated her mother, and she hated Tokyo.

Itachi just nodded, digging around in his closet. He came up with a laptop and set it down on his desk. "Don't stop playing. I'm going to create a credit card for you, one that you can use anywhere and will be paid off with my Caiman accounts. It won't have your real name on it, so make sure you never hand it to anyone else."

Knowing full well the kind of influence the Uchiha carried, Naruto didn't question. He wasn't even surprised. "What name? Do I get to choose?"

"The account already exists," Itachi said. "I made it some time ago in case I could convince Sasuke to leave. Cameron Reid."

"That ain't Japanese."

"So much the better. You look like a foreigner anyway. I'll have the new card overnighted to me, so it should be here by day after tomorrow. Sasuke will be enough recovered by then that I can safely drug him. Look for your RV tomorrow and have the seller work up a purchase order. I'll pay in cash so my father can't trace the transaction to me. I doubt he'd accuse me of having anything to do with Sasuke's disappearance, but I won't take any chances."

"You've been prepared for this for a while now, haven't you?" Naruto asked, a little amazed.

"Yes. I thought I might be able to do it myself, but that's not possible. I trust you."

The enormity of his trust wasn't lost on Naruto. He plucked a few more notes, then stopped and put away the guitar. "I'll call you tomorrow."

Itachi nodded, finally looking up from his rapid typing. "Thank you, Naruto."

"I'da done it a year ago if I could," the golden-haired young man said quietly.

"I know."