A particularly loud snore from Naruto roused Sasuke from his deep sleep. Naruto's arm rested heavily on Sasuke's Adam's apple, causing breath to come difficultly to him. A heavy leg was sprawled across both of Sasuke's thighs, and their combined body heat maintained a healthy atmosphere of warmth underneath the covers. A migraine announced itself, his eyes lazily adjusting to the light.
Sasuke felt rather disgusted with himself when he glanced at his alarm clock and noticed that it was near noon. He'd overslept, if his headache, general malaise, and quarrelsome stomach had anything to say about it. It was customary to sleep in over winter break, but this was absurd. He'd never trained himself to be so lazy, though Naruto obviously couldn't say the same. Sasuke glared down at his boyfriend as he let out another raucous snore, tempted to plug his nose.
The three of them hadn't gone to bed last night until almost three hours past midnight. They commented idly on television shows and even played a round of Uno. Naruto won, remarkably, but he had also dealt the deck. He remarkably had three "draw four" cards from the very start, though he insisted that he didn't cheat. Sasuke believed him, actually, as every single one of his own cards was blue. Naruto couldn't shuffle for shit.
As he recounted the past night's undertakings, he remembered, yet again, that Naruto and he had kissed in front of Itachi. It still felt unreal when he thought about it, but Itachi hadn't dwelled on it. Really, of the three boys, Sasuke had been the most uneasy. The rest of the night proceeded as if nothing unordinary had occurred.
It wasn't as though Naruto's decision to kiss Sasuke actually changed anything. Both Naruto and Sasuke realized that Itachi already knew about their relationship. Sasuke wished he had a brother that was easier to hoodwink. Itachi seemed to figure just about everything out, whether he announced his knowledge or not. However, the one thing that Itachi hadn't seemed to discover is the illegitimate way in which Sasuke had been making money over the past months. If Itachi had known, Sasuke was sure he would have confronted him about it by now.
He wondered how long he could keep this from Itachi. Itachi was bound to figure out that most of Sasuke's friends had gone missing. Konoha High School had just had two of its students busted for armed robbery. This was big news for their sleepy suburb. Kabuto and Suigetsu's imprisonment would get around to Itachi eventually. Of course, after learning that Sasuke was hanging out with a crowd capable of armed robbery, Itachi would likely have other questions for him.
But his thoughts reminded him of one other topic: It was noon, and Sasuke hadn't taken Itachi downstairs. Sasuke quickly got out of his bed, which was no easy task as he'd become so groggy from oversleeping. He didn't bother changing, wearing the same Taco Bell T-shirt he'd changed into last night after the festivities. Perhaps it wasn't his most stylish garment, but his clothes were all dirty, and he wasn't going anywhere. He had to do the wash fairly often, as his wardrobe hadn't yet recovered entirely from the fire. Whatever the case, those clothes probably would have been outgrown by now anyway. He was even outgrowing some of the clothes that had been donated to them after the fire. This shirt he wore now was actually from Suigetsu, who gladly discarded it after his summer job had finished. It was only a little too big on Sasuke. Wearing his friends' old work shirts made Sasuke feel like a bum, so he decided he'd do the wash today.
He quickly made his way to Itachi's bedroom and opened the door by a crack. Itachi's bed was made, and Itachi was nowhere to be seen. Sasuke growled under his breath. Again? He understood that Itachi was recovering, but Itachi wasn't ready to be using the stairs alone yet. How could he get through to Itachi? Sasuke realized that he was beginning to sound a little bit like his mother used to. It seemed like the hierarchy between Itachi and Sasuke wasn't quite so clear cut these days. Itachi still had ultimate authority, but more and more they were interacting as brothers rather than as father and son.
He walked downstairs to find Itachi sitting at the kitchen table, reading a newspaper and drinking a glass of milk. Sasuke glowered at Itachi for several seconds. Without looking away from his newspaper, Itachi spoke out to Sasuke teasingly, "Well, you're up early. Nice getup."
Sasuke didn't respond, still casting his brother the stink eye. Itachi looked back at Sasuke now rather sheepishly. They held each other's eyes for a while, a rather long and awkward silence consuming the room. Itachi knew that he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak, and he knew that Sasuke was annoyed with him.
Whatever, Sasuke thought. He was too tired to scold Itachi, and given that his living arrangement with Naruto was brought into the light just a couple days ago, it would be best not to push his luck. Besides, it was New Year's Day. The look Sasuke gave Itachi spelled out, "I'll let this slide. Just this once." Sasuke knew Itachi could read him.
"Did you eat breakfast?"
"I finished my meal replacement shake an hour ago."
Sasuke knew that said shake had only been about half full. He had put it in the refrigerator for Itachi last night before they went upstairs. It was already noon now. There was no way Itachi was full.
"That's not a real breakfast. Do you want breakfast or lunch?"
Although Sasuke had just woken up, he had to admit that the call was rather borderline.
"Lunch sounds good."
Sasuke rummaged for a pan, already brainstorming ideas for their meal.
"Mn… Sasuke, I know this is odd to ask, but I'm sort of craving grilled cheese."
Sasuke tilted his head. Wasn't that…kid food? It wasn't Itachi's taste at all. The last time they'd had grilled cheese together, Sasuke had been about eight. Their mother made it. The bread was always so crisp, never burned, and with just the right amount of butter.
"You want a grilled cheese?" Sasuke asked dryly.
"For some reason, yes."
"Sure you're not pregnant?"
"You've found me out. How do you feel about being an uncle?"
"Drafting my acceptance speech as we speak."
They didn't speak for the next several minutes. There was no need to. It was peaceful in the kitchen, the only sounds being Itachi's flipped pages and the sizzling of the buttered bread on the skillet. It was a very simple meal. Although Sasuke had never made a grilled cheese sandwich, he'd watched his mother make them enough to know that he could manage it.
If he were going to eat a grilled cheese, he might as well go for tomato soup. However, he remembered Tsunade's warning. Tomato soup was far too acidic for Itachi. That, combined with a grilled cheese, was bound to cause Itachi some rather painful issues. So Sasuke wouldn't make the soup. He didn't want to eat something that Itachi couldn't right in front of him.
One grilled cheese sandwich was finished quickly, the bread appropriately crisp, cheese melting over the crust. He served it to Itachi as he made his own sandwich. The skillet was already searing, so his meal was ready quickly. He placed the skillet in the sink and filled it with hot water and soap to soak before taking his plate over to the table.
As he ate, Sasuke took his cell phone out of his pocket, skimming through an inbox thoroughly swamped by "Happy New Year's!" texts. It seemed that his classmates were on a mission to show Sasuke every way this sentiment could possibly be expressed through the medium of text messages, at varying levels of intoxication. Sasuke tapped his finger on the screen with each new deletion. How did so many people even have his phone number?
Itachi looked up from his textbook, glancing at his brother's frustrated movements.
"God, Sasuke. Got enough messages?"
Of course, his phone took that opportunity to vibrate and shoot off yet another New Year's message, rather poorly timed. It was nearing the afternoon, and some of the people sending him messages had already sent him texts last night. They probably didn't even remember doing it.
"Apparently not," Sasuke grunted, deleting the incoming message.
It would seem that people had stopped being afraid of him, or were at least reassured enough to send him pointless text messages. The memories were fresh in his classmates' minds when winter break started. With the fight drifting to the back of their memories, they probably weren't as nervous about the whole incident as they had been when Karin most recently told Sasuke about the school's gossip. He didn't particularly care about their opinions, however, other than the fact that being feared wouldn't help him come election time next year.
"I shouldn't even be surprised," Itachi mused. "It's just like last year."
Sasuke noticed Itachi slip out a small white pill and swallow it with the glass of milk he'd poured himself before Sasuke had come down. It looked like his Vicodin. Was Itachi in pain this morning? He hadn't hurt himself on the stairs, had he? Itachi caught Sasuke's eyes, and he knew that Sasuke had noticed. Sasuke, however, let it go.
"And every year before that. I just didn't own a cell phone back then."
Of course, Itachi understood his woes. Itachi had always been extremely popular himself, despite how different his personality was from his brother's. Still, for once, Sasuke seemed to have Itachi beat. Sasuke assumed it was reverse psychology. The more he pushed people away, the more they seemed to want in. Compared to his brother, he found himself having more people after him but fewer real friends.
"Yeah?" Sasuke asked, still reorganizing his phone's inbox and chewing a bite of his sandwich.
"Back when you were dating Sakura, did Dad ever give you the talk?"
"The talk?" Sasuke asked, raising a brow. What was Itachi going on about? Well, he had figured out Sasuke was dating Naruto yesterday, and now he was referencing Sakura… Oh, the talk. He quickly regretted asking for clarification.
"Don't go there, Itachi," Sasuke commanded menacingly.
"He never gave you the talk?"
"I don't need any talk."
Itachi tucked a long wisp of hair behind his ears, the lines on his face making him look especially tired that morning.
"You're at that age. You're not supposed to learn this stuff out of a book, you know."
Yes. That's what Google is for.
"I know everything I need to know."
Sasuke cursed himself momentarily for how typically teenage he'd sounded at that moment. He suddenly felt as if he were every bit as young as Itachi was treating him, sitting before him eating a grilled cheese and wearing an oversized Taco Bell T-shirt. Why did he have to be wearing this stupid shirt? And it wasn't his fault Itachi had some strange grilled cheese craving.
Yet his statement had been true, he believed, no matter how it came off. He didn't need any instruction. Besides, he really just wanted to avoid having this conversation with his brother. Itachi was about to speak, but suddenly it looked like Itachi had some sort of realization. His face sunk.
"Oh God. I'm too late," he said in a rather small voice.
Sasuke glanced away quickly, fussing with the bottom hem of his shirt.
"Look, Itachi… I have an IQ of 180 and access to the internet. It's not rocket science."
Itachi had this look on his face like he'd failed Sasuke. It was a little ridiculous, in Sasuke's mind. He would have much rather figured out things for himself.
"You used protection, right?"
Well, Naruto was a virgin, right? And so was he. What need was there for protection?
"Sasuke!" Itachi chided.
"It's not like pregnancy is an issue. Besides, he's a virgin anyway."
Or Naruto was, rather. Yet this certainly wasn't a slip of the tongue Sasuke felt like addressing.
"You still need to use protection. You can transmit STDs through oral sex too."
Sasuke sighed, rubbing at his temple as his phone vibrated again.
"Did you use lube?"
Sasuke gaped at Itachi, rather horrified.
"You have to use lube! Anal tearing is no joke. It can require serious…"
"Can you please not?"
This was really too embarrassing. He stared down at his shirt, wondering why such a random observation was pre-occupying him. Even the fact that he was wearing something so stupid made him self-conscious. He was just bumming around the house anyway.
"It's dangerous! It can require medical attention and even…"
"We used lube, alright?" Sasuke hissed. "Christ…"
As much as he hated this conversation, at least it hadn't gone into some in depth discussion of his sexual orientation. In fact, Naruto's gender didn't seem to disturb Itachi in the slightest. However, he did care that Sasuke had apparently began having sexual intercourse at the age of fifteen. All things considered, he was taking this pretty well.
"Good. Now, there are different sorts of lubricant. There is water-based, and then there's…"
Sasuke groaned rather dramatically. He'd hoped that his answer was enough for Itachi. Apparently not.
"I will walk right out of this kitchen. I swear to God."
He couldn't stand any more of this from Itachi, grilled cheese be damned.
"Who else is gonna tell you about this?"
"I don't need to hear it!" Sasuke answered emphatically.
"I know this is awkward, but everyone needs to hear this. I'm not going to ask you any questions. You can just sit here like a mute for all I care, but hear me out."
What was this supposed to be, Gospel? The Good Word?
"This is how you bring in 2013?" Sasuke asked.
"You of all people don't get to use holidays as a cop out."
Sasuke grumbled, unconsciously crossing his arms to create a little more distance between his brother and him.
"Look, I know you think this is some necessary rite of passage bonding experience, but just assume I'm the freak occurrence who does not need this talk or any derivation of said talk."
Itachi rubbed his temple, evidently a little frustrated by his brother's stubbornness.
"Just listen, alright? If I find out my kid brother, who is under my guardianship, is having unprotected sex, I have a right to give him the talk."
Sasuke sighed theatrically, acquiescing but making his discontent with the situation as obvious as possible.
"Our folks would never forgive me if I didn't."
Sasuke nodded quietly. As much as he hated this conversation, he had to admit that he'd much rather hear it from Itachi than from his father.
"Okay…" Itachi took in a deep breath, attempting to focus. "There's water based lube, and silicone lube. You should use silicone, because it's thicker and better for anal. I know it's more expensive, but water based doesn't last as long and needs to be reapplied a lot. You need to use lube every time."
Sasuke was pretty sure that if it were possible to die from mortification, he would have done so by now.
"And when it comes to condoms, don't just buy the cheapest. Spend a little more and get something better. Trust me. It'll be worth it."
"Okay," Sasuke agreed, sounding rather defeated.
This continued for what Sasuke privately assessed to be at least a half hour. In reality, it was only six minutes. Sasuke nodded reluctantly, unwilling to directly admit that Itachi had taught him several things he didn't know. The conversation, which was more of a monologue, really, shifted fluidly between the very physical aspects of sex to the emotional. Itachi was being very specific. It was a little strange to Sasuke that Itachi seemed to know so much about same sex intercourse. To his knowledge, Itachi was straight. Had he questioned Sasuke's orientation and versed himself on the subject? Hell, he could've even just started up yesterday. A little strange, really.
Sasuke finally spoke again, his head now rested on his palm in boredom.
"Did Dad…really give you this talk?" Sasuke asked.
"Yes. In excruciating detail. Thought it would make a nice family tradition," Itachi answered, his voice slightly teasing.
The thought of his father being even remotely involved in such affairs was disturbing to Sasuke on every level, however… Itachi and he had to come from somewhere. He just didn't like the thought of his dad discussing condoms and lubricants with him. It had been bad enough with Itachi. Sasuke felt a pang of sympathy for his brother.
"The same talk?" Sasuke asked again, regarding Itachi uncertainly.
Itachi jerked slightly, only now becoming aware of Sasuke's intent.
"Not precisely. He focused more on me not getting anyone pregnant."
This was as Sasuke had suspected. Even though Itachi had been ridiculously busy in past years, it was only women for him as far as Sasuke knew. In fact, he couldn't recall having a single relative who was attracted to the same sex. Of course, Itachi had discussed pregnancy with Sasuke as well. He granted each gender equal focus and didn't ask Sasuke any questions about preference, which Sasuke appreciated. He figured that the only reason Itachi had been so set on talking with Sasuke about this topic was that he felt that he'd failed Sasuke by neglecting it.
"Looks like I don't have to worry about that for now at least."
"Thank God," Itachi grumbled.
Itachi stood to pour himself another glass of milk. This was really the most Itachi had said on the subject of Sasuke's orientation. He wondered what his true thoughts were. It couldn't be that easy, could it?
"Is that really it?"
"I mean… I know you probably weren't…expecting this. Or maybe you were. I have no idea anymore. Lately you've kind of been creeping me out with how much you end up knowing," Sasuke admitted with a grunt.
Maybe that was it. Maybe the reason Itachi was being so easygoing was because he'd seen the signs before even Sasuke did.
"Ah, you mean your orientation? That did surprise me, but I can read people well. Naruto seems like a good kid, so I'm happy."
So he had been surprised after all. Itachi seemed to share Sasuke's philosophy. Orientation was pretty much a nonissue. It came down to the person in the end.
"Our…gene pool is becoming shallower, so to speak," Sasuke stated quietly, pretending to check his phone again. "I thought maybe you'd be disappointed if I didn't…help it along in the future."
Didn't someone have to carry on the family name? Their kin were dying out. Itachi tilted his head, squinting his eyes at Sasuke.
"I don't know if I like what you're implying here, Sasuke."
"It's not certain," Sasuke quickly reassured him. "It's too early to be making my mind up about things like reproducing."
"No, Sasuke. I didn't mean that."
"Do you seriously think you're the only one who can carry on this family's genome?" Itachi asked, staring down his nose at Sasuke. "Don't count your older brother out just yet."
Perhaps Sasuke was being silly. It wasn't as though Sasuke was an only child. Itachi didn't seem like the sort who would be overly concerned with spreading their marvelous genetic traits of intelligence, athleticism, wonderful hair, and perfect facial complexions. Sasuke just had trouble thinking of his brother as someone who also had sexual desires and wants. The idea of him having children wasn't exactly at the forefront of his mind.
"I still got it," Itachi added.
"Did not need to hear that," Sasuke sighed.
Itachi chuckled, shrugging it off.
"I'm happy for you, Sasuke. It's good for you to not be so isolated. He's a good influence, and he's helping you move on."
Sasuke nodded, internalizing his brother's words. It was a relief to hear this directly.
"How do you think Mom and Dad would've taken it?" Sasuke asked with uncharacteristic timidity.
"Hm…" Itachi paused to think. "Mom would've been onboard from the start, other than the fact that you're having sex. She'd probably want you guys to 'just cuddle' until you were twenty, whatever the gender."
Itachi's seemed to light up with nostalgia when he spoke about their mother.
"Dad… I think it would've been a tough pill for him to swallow, at first. But I know he'd come around."
"If it were you, maybe," Sasuke said, a little bitterly. "For me… I don't know."
Itachi was silent, lost to thought for several seconds before speaking again.
"He was perhaps more frank with me because he considered me an adult. You don't talk to a twenty-one-year-old the same way you talk to a fourteen-year-old," Itachi mused, sipping on his milk. "But I know his views on a lot of subjects. I really think he would've been fine with it, given a few months."
"Yeah…" Sasuke answered, not sounding entirely convinced.
"Don't worry about it so much, Sasuke. I know they'd be proud."
Sasuke merely grunted. Maybe they could've gotten past Sasuke's orientation, but what about the shoplifting? What if they had somehow known about Sasuke putting their household at risk to sneak Naruto in? And if they knew about his dealing? Even though Sasuke and Fugaku had reconciled in that hospital room, he didn't know if his father was so understanding as to accept all of this.
"You're not the only one, brother, to think about what they'd have thought."
"You?" Sasuke asked.
"I'm basically taking over their role, you know?" Itachi stated uncertainly. "Hopefully, they're satisfied with me so far."
They'd never directly discussed what they believed happened to their parents, or whether they could observe them or not. Sasuke, honestly, didn't believe he knew about these things any more than he had previously. There was no way of knowing. He didn't do well with the concept of faith, though even he had considered believing in an afterlife to dull his pain.
"I'm sure they'd be praising you nonstop, if they aren't too busy cursing me."
After all, he'd been shoplifting, having sex with a guy, and selling drugs. This wasn't exactly the honor roll behavior he'd been exhibiting when his parents had been around.
"You made a comeback, though. You've done so well, Sasuke. Raising money and behaving so well…"
He had been raising money, yes. Itachi just thought it was coming from a church rather than inordinate amounts of marijuana and pills. Sasuke stared towards the ground in what Itachi might have mistaken for contemplation.
"But since I'm the eldest, they'd expect more of me. I'm an adult, after all," he said with a forced smile. Or at least he had the responsibilities of an adult; he was twenty-two.
Sasuke shook his head. He knew Itachi felt guilty about getting sick, leaving Sasuke alone, and turning a blind eye to Naruto's presence. It was still rare though that Itachi expressed insecurity to Sasuke.
"I know they could be demanding," Sasuke admitted. "But I think they'd be proud of you."
"They always praised you."
"It's just…kind of fitting… At the end, I was at some stupid…"
Sasuke glanced at Itachi, surprised at Itachi's statement. Itachi quickly shook his head, taking a deep swallow of milk as if he were somehow chasing down the subject matter, trying to stay alert.
"Never mind me, Sasuke. I think my Vicodin's setting in kind of fast."
Perhaps Itachi was searching for excuses, but it was true. Sasuke could tell that the drug was beginning to hit him heavily. He'd watched him take it just when he'd come downstairs.
"Loose lips, hm?"
Itachi nodded, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his hands over both of his upper arms.
"It comes out of nowhere sometimes and catches me off guard."
"Well, I don't mind it."
Itachi nodded again, a strand of hair beginning to fall out of place as it drifted downwards lightly. Itachi's eyes were moving rather slowly. He was beginning to look drugged, though distressed at the same time. Sasuke wondered if Itachi had actually wanted to finish that statement.
"If you wanted to continue along that train of thought, we can blame it on the Vicodin."
"Were you curious?" Itachi asked uncertainly.
Sasuke wondered if Itachi really just wanted an excuse to continue. He'd never press his brother to reveal something so personal out of curiosity. He so rarely got a read off of Itachi, who seemed to tuck all of his demons away. Isn't that what parents are supposed to do? Yet Sasuke still couldn't consider Itachi his parent, even after everything.
"Perhaps. Whether or not you put me out of my misery is up to your discretion, of course."
"It was a party. When you called me, I was at some childish party that meant nothing, like the ones Dad always complained about. It had just begun, but… I still took to the highway like a lightning bolt when I probably shouldn't have been driving. Still, because of that stupid party, I was too late."
Sasuke frowned. He'd always wondered how Itachi had managed to make it to the hospital so quickly. Sasuke had heard the sounds of Itachi's classmates in the background and music. He knew what Itachi had to be doing on that retreat. But Itachi worked his ass off. So what if he decided to go to a damned party once every few months? He deserved that sort of break, and he was barely even twenty-one.
"How fast did you go, anyway?"
"I might just take that one to my grave."
Sasuke smirked at Itachi, rolling his eyes. Itachi had sounded just slightly buzzed to Sasuke over the phone, and it only came across in the beginning of their conversation. Sasuke had to admit that finding out your mother just died had to be one of the most powerful buzzkills known to mankind. He knew that this wouldn't take the liquor out of Itachi's system, but there hadn't been much to begin with. He couldn't have been far from the legal limit, though he still didn't know how fast Itachi had been driving. Still, speeding was pretty understandable, given the news and what exactly Itachi was rushing for.
Sasuke felt that he couldn't judge Itachi for something like this. It wasn't exactly something Itachi could have predicted or ever planned for.
"It's at least somewhat understandable."
"It's not. Please don't ever let my horrible example sway you. That type of driving is completely inexcusable, no matter what the situation."
"I mean it, Sasuke. Tell me you're never going to do something so goddamned stupid."
The younger brother huffed, crossing his arms.
Itachi sounded so oddly small as he spoke, staring down at the table. He looked as though he were having difficulty continuing.
"How much did I miss it by, anyway?"
Sasuke furrowed his brows, staring back at the table. He was wondering why Itachi was worming through such information.
"Why are you doing this to yourself?" he asked uncertainly.
Itachi paused, seeming to second guess himself.
"It's not sudden. I've wanted to know for a while."
Itachi must not've checked his time upon his arrival. It made enough sense. There were plenty more pressing matters than the time.
Sasuke watched Itachi for a few seconds, analyzing Itachi closely before he felt safe enough to continue. Itachi seemed certain now. He knew that the reason Itachi had kept these thoughts to himself was for Sasuke's sake, not his own.
"I'd say about ten minutes."
The way Itachi deflated made Sasuke felt like he'd been punched in the gut. He knew it had been against his better judgment to tell Itachi. He assessed that Itachi was recalling every red light, every lane change. He was wondering if he would have made it had he gone just a little bit faster or had taken a different freeway. Still, enough time had passed. If Itachi still had wanted to know, after so long, it might have never stopped bothering him.
"Look… Dad was in a good frame of mind. He sent me out of the room, so I wasn't there either. It would've been for you, not for him."
"I just… He knew where I was and why I wasn't there. A great way to leave off," Itachi mumbled.
Sasuke was just now beginning to realize that just about every conversation they ever had about their parents' death revolved around Sasuke's feelings and his reaction. Of course, Sasuke hadn't been one to volunteer information, but Itachi's aim was always to make Sasuke feel better. He was always gentle, careful not to trigger a down spell, or even worse, a panic attack. He never pried, but he would always listen. Had Itachi ever come to Sasuke even once for comfort? This was possibly why the situation felt so foreign.
"Trust me. He seemed plenty fine with it."
After all, Sasuke had brought this up during their fight. He mentioned that Itachi was probably getting drunk at that very moment, or would soon. It didn't even faze their father. He was nothing but proud. He would never be anything but proud of Itachi, and he doubted that had changed now.
"Huh?" Itachi asked.
"The reason I wasn't in the house… It wasn't because of my economics report."
That had been the story, after all. Sasuke had told Itachi that his economics group had an unforeseen hitch in their upcoming report, requiring the school night meeting that had caused Sasuke to be absent the night the house had caught fire. Itachi watched Sasuke with both concern and curiosity.
"Dad and I got in a fight, so I stormed out and stayed at Juugo's."
Itachi appeared shocked. He probably assumed that Sasuke would have told him about something so important, but Sasuke hadn't wanted to, especially considering that the fight was partially about Itachi.
"Sorry… I didn't know."
"Yeah, well… It was…" Sasuke sighed, composing himself. His palms were sweating. "He kept bringing you up. And I threw the whole party thing in his face. Er…sorry."
Itachi flinched, causing Sasuke to feel rather painfully guilty.
"He just wouldn't stop talking about how much…better you were. So I really wouldn't worry about his disapproval."
"He never thought I was better, Sasuke. He was just trying to motivate you and had a crappy approach. He thought he was doing you a favor."
Sasuke didn't respond. He sincerely doubted this. He wouldn't believe that his father prattled on about Itachi at work parties just to motivate him. He'd always feel that Itachi had been the golden child of the two of them, but he knew that his father loved him a great deal as well. That was enough for Sasuke.
"Dad really loved you, Sasuke. He was always proud of you."
Sasuke shrugged, and they were silent again.
"How did he react?" Itachi asked.
"He kept on singing your praises and got even madder at me. He didn't seem the slightest bit thrown off by it. Pretty typical, really," Sasuke stated, but his tone was more nostalgic than it was bitter.
Itachi sighed, and he seemed to grow visibly lighter. It seemed silly to Sasuke, for Itachi to cling onto such fears. It was so obvious how proud their parents had been of Itachi. It seemed to be all they ever talked about. Still, he knew that death could cause people to have some pretty irrational regrets.
"I'm sorry he was giving you such a hard time," Itachi told him, though he appeared relieved.
"Is it really such a surprise? You were his dream child. I'm sure they'd think the same if they were still here."
Sasuke nodded quietly. He wouldn't pick up his book until Itachi picked up his, he decided. Itachi yawned, sipping again at his glass.
"Did you and Dad… Did you guys make up?"
Sasuke nodded again. Itachi had to have figured out that this occurred in the hospital, as Sasuke had run off immediately after the fight.
"I'm glad to hear that."
"Yeah. But you and Dad left off great, so…"
"It's not that. I can handle missing Mom a little better, because there was just no possible way I ever could have made it, no matter what I'd been doing. She wasn't the sort of parent to be easily disappointed either. But Dad… I actually stood a good shot of seeing him one last time."
Sasuke knew exactly how that felt. He didn't know what he would've thought if he hadn't caught his father before he passed away. After all, what would their last words to each other have been?
"What would you have said if you'd have made it?"
"I don't know. I guess I just wanted to be present."
"Look, Itachi…" Sasuke felt the corners of his lips sink as he continued to speak. "Dad…"
He found himself having trouble speaking. Detailed images of his father were returning to him, and they were still fresh. Some days, if felt like so much longer than a year since then, and other days, it felt like much shorter. He assessed that today was one of the latter. Whenever he thought about that night in the hospital with his dad, it felt like it had been just a couple weeks ago. How could memories one year old be so uncomfortably vivid?
"It wasn't pretty. Consider the possibility that you were better off not seeing it."
Itachi glimpsed at Sasuke sympathetically. Sasuke had been awfully young since his parents passed. Itachi had already become a legal adult and had left the house for college years ago, so the loss of their parents hadn't been quite as traumatic for Itachi as it had been for Sasuke. It was quite an adjustment for Itachi, nonetheless. He had to move back into the suburbs very quickly for Sasuke's sake. It wasn't all that far from his college, and Itachi didn't want to pull Sasuke out of school and away from his friends on top of everything. But Itachi had to admit that of the two of them, Sasuke was the one whose life had changed the most radically.
To make matters worse, Sasuke found out that his mother was dead by returning to a house in flames. He had been on the front lines. He didn't get to hear the news over the phone from a family member. He stood in his father's hospital room as his life hung in the balance. Itachi had never asked Sasuke for details regarding their father's state before he died. He knew it would have been too painful.
"I'm sorry, Sasuke. But no matter what anyone tells me, I can't help but wish I was there."
Sasuke found himself wanting to say something childish and spiteful, along the lines of "just be glad that you only remember Dad whole." He remembered his father's useless stump of an arm, the gauze and blood on his face, and his voice slurred from pain and morphine. The sentence had been on the tip of Sasuke's tongue, but Itachi was correct when he phrased the sentiment the way he did. He couldn't help but wish he was there. It was hardly even his choice. It was basic psychology to find regret in death. As logical as Itachi was, even he couldn't control his feelings completely.
"Okay. Just know that Dad was cool with it. At least don't beat yourself up for that."
He wondered if Itachi would have been glad he'd seen their father, if he'd have made it. For someone who had lost so many people and who had nearly died himself, Itachi had seen very little blood. It always seemed to be Sasuke who ran into it, in the cases of their parents as well as Itachi himself. Yet seeing their father had clearly meant a great deal to Itachi if he'd taken such risks to make it to the hospital on time. Sasuke and Juugo had done the same, really, and Sasuke still wondered how Juugo's massive clunker of a truck managed to reach such speeds. Maybe all of the traumatic memories would have been worth it. Sasuke wouldn't be so stubborn as to refuse to consider this.
"Okay…" Itachi answered, beginning to sound tired. He rested his head on his hand, which he'd propped up on the table. He appeared to be getting hit harder by his medication now.
"Want to lie down?"
"That might be for the best," Itachi acknowledged, sounding a little embarrassed.
Itachi remained at the table, however. He assumed that Itachi either wanted to go to bed or was too distracted to walk to the couch. Sasuke took Itachi's newspaper in hand, walking towards the stairs with him. Sasuke braced himself against the stairs, offering Itachi a firm arm. He seemed just slightly unsteady on his feet, so it was good to get him upstairs before the drug's full effect set in.
"Don't rush yourself."
Itachi paused, breathing slowly. He was beginning to pale.
He nodded, going up several more stairs. Sasuke was practically hoisting Itachi up at this point, careful to avoid his wound. Itachi was fully capable of ascending the stairs himself, but it would have been risky. He'd finally made it up the stairs and to his bed. Sasuke pulled the sheets back so that Itachi could get in promptly, tucking him in. Itachi was still plenty awake though, grunting as he turned from one side to the other.
Of course, Itachi's stomach pain probably had a lot to do with it. Still, Sasuke could tell that something else was disrupting him. Even Sasuke felt a little off of his game after the conversation they'd just had. Sasuke placed his finger between Itachi's eyes, his brows knit together so closely that it had tensed all the surrounding facial muscles. The unexpected contact caused the surrounding muscles to surrender.
"Comin' from you…" Itachi mumbled.
"I have a stress ball for that."
"So that's your secret," Itachi muttered as he grew more tired.
Sasuke snickered, reading Itachi's newspaper as he sat on the side of his large bed. He picked a random article about the California job market. Itachi began to yawn again, his eyes drifting over to Sasuke. Sasuke didn't feel that it was right to leave Itachi until he fell asleep. Logically, he couldn't explain why, but he'd learned to trust his instincts when it came to reading his brother. Perhaps their conversation, coupled with the Vicodin, had left Itachi in a fragile state of mind. Only a handful of minutes transpired before the room was filled with Itachi's deep and nearly inaudible snoring.
As quietly as possible, he set Itachi's newspaper down on the bedstand and tiptoed out of his room, turning the knob of Itachi's door as he shut it to avoid the disruptive click. Itachi's door was still warped from the night Sasuke had kicked it down. He wished that Itachi hadn't had to see it and be reminded, but they didn't have the luxury for expensive home repairs.
Upon entering his bedroom, Sasuke glanced up at his dollar store calendar. The month of January displayed a detailed picture of the Messier 83 galaxy, which Sasuke knew was part of the Hydra constellation. Pinned directly above his computer, it was a little blurry from where he was standing without his glasses. He could still make out the numbers noting the days, printed in large and clear blue font. January 6 was the day that Naruto would leave. This was a Sunday, exactly one week past Naruto's "discovery." Sasuke's spring semester would begin on January 7, a Monday, so Sasuke would be available to see Naruto off. What a lovely couple days those would be. On January 6, he would say goodbye to Naruto, even if just temporarily. On January 7, he would be forced back to school, back into the meaningless palaver and irrelevant assignments. Who would he sit with at lunch, anyway? There was only Karin. Everyone else was gone. People were leaving.
Sasuke refused to mark the day of Naruto's departure in any noticeable way. He didn't want Naruto to be reminded of the inevitable deadline every time his eye caught the all too visible calendar. So Sasuke wrote "ARC 3:30" on January 13, the box directly below that of January 6. He looped the R into the box of January 6. The acronym "ARC" meant nothing to Sasuke, but he was fully prepared to lie if Naruto asked. It was the most discreet way Sasuke could think of marking the date of January 6. It was not as though Sasuke could forget it, but he still felt that he needed to do this.
Sasuke plunked down on the bed rubbed the bridge of his nose as he took in a deep breath and released it.
"You were gone for a long time, babe," Naruto said quietly, leaning back in the office chair.
It still sometimes felt strange when Naruto gave him any affectionate nicknames that were not insults. Sasuke didn't mind it, however.
"Yeah. Got caught up."
Naruto walked over to Sasuke with eager strides, placing his hand against Sasuke's cheek and kissing him.
"I missed you."
Sasuke wondered if Naruto could tell that something was bothering him. For as oblivious as the man could be, he could be shockingly perceptive at times. Sasuke certainly wasn't an easy read, but Naruto had figured him out at least somewhat. Really, other than Itachi, he was the best at it out of anyone. Sasuke smiled as he kissed Naruto back, glad for the distraction.
"Clingy," he muttered.
"Fuck you too," Naruto answered, still smiling and not sounding the slightest bit put off.
Sasuke initiated the kiss this this time around, slipping his tongue quickly against Naruto's.
"I'll be the one fucking you, actually."
"Alright…" the older boy sighed in exasperation, wiping his forehead with the back of his palm. "Okay. I walked right into that one."
Naruto gave Sasuke's shoulder a brisk shove, which Sasuke didn't respond to. Naruto leaned down on the bed, bringing down his face to meet Sasuke's directly, staring at him.
"Hey, what's up? You're acting weird."
"Am I? I'll remember to punch you next time."
Naruto ruffled Sasuke's hair, which Sasuke also didn't protest.
"You'd be willing to deck me just to put my mind at ease? You're such a thoughtful boyfriend."
Sasuke didn't answer, appearing somewhat dazed.
"I'm serious though," Naruto said. "If there's anything you want to talk about…"
The younger of the two sighed, sounding rather frustrated now. He'd done enough talking with Itachi.
"I'd rather not talk about it."
Naruto's lips scrunched together, the corners undulating. It appeared that Naruto was trying not to smile.
"It's cool. Don't worry about it."
Naruto was biting the inside of his lip. Sasuke wondered why Naruto was amused until he remembered what he was unfortunately wearing.
"You're not really…" Sasuke groaned quietly, resting his forehead into his hand. "Let me guess. 'I'd rather not taco 'bout it.'"
The blond nodded, allowing himself to laugh at last now. Sasuke shook his head. He was about ready to throw this shirt in the trash now, or at the very least dump it on Naruto instead.
"I'm not sure which is worse: your jokes or your sense of timing."
"Heeey now," Naruto answered, grinning and gripping Sasuke by the shoulders. "You basically told the joke for me, so it's not fair to diss my sense of timing."
Sasuke's mood was lifting. He'd had quite the intense conversation with his brother. It hadn't been a bad one necessarily, just…heavy. It seemed to go from one difficult topic to the next, but he felt that the conversation had brought both of them closer. He even believed he put Itachi's mind at ease.
Yet talking wasn't what he needed right now. He'd had more than enough of that in the kitchen. Naruto's playful and off topic bantering seemed to be doing the trick. Naruto was steadily acquiring the ability to know when Sasuke should and should not be pressed, as Sasuke did sometimes need a little push to open up.
"Don't implicate me in that travesty. You were glaringly obvious."
"You could've just as easily ignored it."
"Call it morbid curiosity."
"So…" Naruto said, sitting next to Sasuke and peering at him with a comically distorted expression. "You admit that you were at least partially to blame for that joke?"
"Think what you will."
"You came up with it on your own, actually. The only thing I did was smile, so I refuse to take any more than…say…twenty percent of the blame. The rest is on you."
The sentence "I don't know how I'll stay sane without all of your shitty jokes to entertain me" was on the tip of his tongue, but Sasuke closed his mouth. Sasuke knew from experience that when people leave, it's often the annoying stuff you miss first. He didn't really want to think of his room so quiet, without Naruto's horrible jokes, his off key singing, or the ruffling of candy wrappers.
"You have the cheesiest sense of humor."
"At least I have one at all," Naruto baited mischievously.
"I do have a sense of humor," Sasuke pouted, which caused Naruto to smile instinctively. Perhaps Sasuke hadn't meant to look so sulky, but it was rather endearing.
Naruto sighed, resting his body against Sasuke, "Then why have you bean calling me cheesy? Are you trying to get a rice out of me?"
Sasuke just shook his head, though he remarkably had to suppress a smile. Maybe all of that serious talking had exhausted his brain to the point where these jokes actually had a ghost of an effect.
"Yes, Naruto. I am trying to get a rice out of you," Sasuke replied sarcastically.
Laughing uproariously, Naruto basked in satisfaction that he had gotten Sasuke to participate in yet another one of his jokes.
"Well holy guacamole, color me sorpresado."
"It's 'sorprendido,' dumbass."
Naruto tilted his head. Sasuke even seemed to have the accent down.
"You speak Spanish?"
"Of course," Sasuke answered rather arrogantly. "You're required to take a second language in high school."
Naruto had heard that people have to select a language in high school, so he wasn't so thrown off by it. Still, even if Sasuke had only been on his second or third year, the bastard was probably nearly fluent in it. He just learned that quickly. Why had Naruto even been surprised?
"I'm surprised you didn't take French of something."
"It seems like you'd take French."
Sasuke arched a brow.
"Do I seem French to you?" he inquired in a rather demeaning tone.
"I'd guess you were French before I'd guess you were Spanish, ya snob."
At Konoha and most other public schools in the area, French and Spanish were the only offered options.
"Meaningless stereotypes aside, I took Spanish because it's the most practical language here."
Naruto sighed, rolling his eyes histrionically.
"Everything has to be 'practical' with you."
"I intend on practicing medicine in southern California. It's relevant."
Sasuke had planned so far ahead. It wasn't exactly surprising, though.
"Okay, okay. But still, you always act like that. Don't you ever just do something for the hell of it? Just because you like it?"
This was awfully similar to what Sasuke had said to Itachi in the hospital, urging him to satisfy his own desires. The concept had even been fairly similar to the argument he'd had with his father, which Itachi and he had just been discussing. Perhaps this was a family trait. Pleasure and enjoyment were always seen as so much less significant than success and accomplishments. It had been in both his and Itachi's upbringings.
"What, you mean like you?" Sasuke asked provocatively, snidely smiling at Naruto.
"Oi, are you calling me impractical?" Naruto asked, spunkily nipping Sasuke's neck. "Or better, you like me?"
"Like you?" Sasuke asked with mock surprise, shoving his palm into Naruto's face to push him away. "Now you've gone too far."
"I'm your passion, right? Your impractical passion that has just about dislodged a certain stick that got crammed up your ass before you can even remember."
"Going on about a stick up my ass again? How boring. Find some fresher insults."
"Will do, Captain Asslamp."
"A promotion? You flatter me."
The conversation Sasuke had had earlier was drifting to the back of his mind. The fact that Naruto would leave in six days was being forgotten, if only in the moment. This ridiculous bickering was causing him to forget. During these times with Naruto, he remembered what he used to feel like when he'd hung out with Sakura or Juugo before the fire. It was a side of him that hadn't been given much reign over the past year.
"Ah, but I, Captain of the S.S. Too Awesome for Your Bullshit will never surrender."
"You're horrible at this. Have you even successfully named a pet?"
"Like Mr. Squoobles? I don't know if I can live up to that, Sasuke. I'm sweating."
"I was three years old."
"Make excuses all you like! And what about Ferret?"
"I didn't name Ferret," Sasuke corrected. "Itachi did."
Naruto gaped at Sasuke openly for a few seconds.
"Itachi did? He doesn't seem the sort to pick such a nonsensical name."
"Well, he was six. People tend to be nonsensical at that age."
"Why'd he name him Ferret?" Naruto inquired, resembling the aforementioned cat as he tilted his head inquisitively.
"I don't know."
"You gotta be shittin me!" Naruto remarked in alarm, his skeptical eyes open wide.
"Itachi would never tell me," Sasuke told him with a shrug. "He just said that Ferret seemed to be the proper name."
"And you didn't press it?"
"Who cares? It's just a name."
"It's not just a name! It's Ferret's name! What if it's her raison d'être?"
Naruto had mangled the pronunciation of that phrase almost beyond recognition. Sasuke was pretty sure Naruto read it somewhere and was eagerly waiting for his chance to use it.
"Do you even know what a raison d'être is?" Sasuke inquired idly with proper pronunciation.
"Of course I do," Naruto answered, meanwhile wondering how Sasuke managed to nail that French accent so well if he took Spanish.
"Then what is it?"
"I don't need to prove anything to you."
Sasuke stared at Naruto victoriously, and Naruto held his tongue until he was too frustrated by Sasuke's expression to endure it.
"It's…kinda like her essence."
"Raison d'être" was a really cool looking phrase. Some really smart bad guy in a book he'd been reading had used it. He couldn't wait to impress Sasuke with it, but it didn't look like that was going so well. Sasuke snickered, almost laughed.
"Raison d'être is French for 'reason for being.' It's the reason for one's existence. And even if it did mean her essence, that still makes no sense."
"Same difference," Naruto grunted, resenting Sasuke's smug attitude.
Sasuke almost felt guilty when Naruto frowned, his lover seeming rather deflated.
"With your arrogance, you seal your fate, Corporal Douchecanoe."
With that, Naruto shoved Sasuke down on the bed, madly tickling him from head to toe. He tried Sasuke's neck, his stomach, his sides… Sasuke lay there limply, staring up at Naruto impatiently. His facial expression hadn't budged the entire time.
"This isn't fair!" Naruto cursed.
Sasuke quickly got up and forced Naruto over onto the bed. It wasn't rocket science. With a yawn, Sasuke tickled Naruto's neck, his stomach, and his sides. He'd assumed that Naruto had instinctively gone for his own ticklish spots on Sasuke, which was proving correct. Naruto laughed loudly…perhaps a little too loudly. He hoped that they wouldn't wake Itachi up. But revenge was sweet. Naruto's face was going red as he gasped for breaths.
He was guffawing, unable to control himself. Sasuke had never tried to tickle Naruto, and he was shocked at how sensitive he was. This didn't take much effort from Sasuke.
"Imma kick you in the mouth if you don't stop!"
Naruto was beginning to cough, trying to catch his breath through all the laughter. Sasuke finally did give him a break, only to have Naruto lunge at him and make another desperate attempt to find his ticklish spot.
"How stupid are you? It's not going to work."
Naruto growled, still determined. Sasuke rolled his eyes and lay there.
"Impossible! You have to be ticklish somewhere!"
Except it was Itachi speaking this time, yelling from his bedroom. It would appear they'd awoken him. Sasuke couldn't help but looked shocked, and Naruto grinned as he noticed Sasuke's expression.
"Yeah?" Naruto yelled back.
"The back of his knees. It's his weak spot!"
For the first time in years, Sasuke had a strong urge to punch his brother in the face. That asshole had just betrayed him. Sasuke tried not to look perturbed by the announcement, though Naruto's face screamed pure evil.
"That's old news. I haven't been ticklish there since I was ten."
Naruto look like he was buying it.
"Then you wouldn't mind if I gave it a try."
Naruto reached for Sasuke's knee. This was it. Sasuke knew that if he resisted Naruto, he'd just find a way to go for Sasuke's knees later. There was bound to be a time when he let his guard down. So the only thing to do was to allow Naruto to tickle him and pretend not to be influenced. When Naruto's fingers quickly brushed over the back of his knees, Sasuke bit his tongue hard. Against his will, the corners of his lip rose. Naruto was on to him, and he couldn't endure this much longer.
A smile seized Sasuke's face, and then a chuckle, and before Sasuke knew it, he was laughing.
"Itachi, you asshole!" he yelled.
"You're welcome, brother," Itachi shouted back, using only what volume was necessary to be heard.
Sasuke supposed that this was his reward for waking Itachi up. He contorted, aiming to protect both of his knees.
"Stop! That's enough!"
Sasuke reflexively brought his knee up to his chest, and chomp. Shit, he'd just kneed Naruto in the jaw. He genuinely hadn't meant to do that, though he wouldn't deny considering it.
"What the hell, Sasuke?"
"I told you to stop tickling me."
"So you knee me in the fucking face?"
Naruto grumbled as he rubbed at his jawbone, his lover refusing to apologize.
"Tickling me is dangerous. You should've listened."
Naruto quickly shimmied up the bed, pinning Sasuke down to the sheets.
"Bastard," Naruto swore.
He lay down on Sasuke, straddling him. Sasuke looked back at Naruto with expectant resentfulness, lazy and dark eyes compelling him to make up his mind. Naruto bit his tongue for a moment before kissing Sasuke. Sasuke returned it, not bothering to free his wrists from Naruto's grasp as his tongue clashed against Naruto's. He could always do something about his wrists later.
Naruto moaned in shock as Sasuke returned his affections, which caused Sasuke to stop.
"Quiet," Sasuke ordered, gesturing to Itachi's room with his jaw.
Naruto nodded. Itachi had heard them tickling, after all. He clearly wasn't asleep anymore. He kissed Sasuke and began to plant kisses up and down Sasuke's neck, but something was holding Sasuke back. It disturbed him that his brother was so close, and his words from earlier echoed in his mind.
"You have to use lube!"
This? Really? He was sure he could tune it out.
"Anal tearing is no joke."
Sasuke went stiff, but not in the proper areas. He was sure he could just forget that conversation. After all, his mental fortitude was a strongpoint.
"Uh, Sasuke?" Naruto asked, lifting his head back. "You okay there, homeslice?"
Sasuke edged his body away from Naruto subconsciously.
"You're such a dork," Sasuke answered.
What was with the lingo?
And of course, Itachi was right across the hall from them.
"Seriously, Sasuke… What's up?"
"Trust me. You don't want to know."
"I'm sick to my stomach," Sasuke clarified, technically being honest. "Not today."
"You are?" Naruto asked with a frown, flinching away from Sasuke quickly and lying down next to him. "And I was even tickling you and all…"
The way he apologized was so earnest that it made Sasuke feel guilty. It was rather endearing.
"Don't apologize. It doesn't suit you," Sasuke answered with a soft smile.
"Pft. Who says I was apologizing?"
Sasuke grunted, locking his hands and placing them beneath his head.
"Want me to make some toast? It might help you feel better."
"You don't have to do that.
"I won't burn it," Naruto assured, as if that was all Sasuke needed to hear to reconsider.
"Now you're talking nonsense."
"Hey, I'll have you know…"
Naruto was cut off before he could continue.
"I just had lunch with Itachi," Sasuke confessed. At least he was being honest about that much.
"Oh? What'd you guys have? I thought I smelled something good when I woke up."
Sasuke was surprised that hadn't been enough to lure his increasingly restless boyfriend out of the bedroom, though he was thankful for it all the same. How awkward would it have been had Naruto walked in on the two brothers in the midst of The Talk?
"You're serious?" Naruto asked, his brows knitting together plaintively. "Without me?"
Naruto seemed to blanch in dismay, clearly distraught by the idea that Sasuke and Itachi would dare to eat bread fried in butter with melted, gooey cheese without him. The world could be such an unfair place sometimes.
"You were upstairs."
If only the idiot knew what he had been saved from. Sasuke wasn't sure he'd ever look at grilled cheese the same again without thinking of some of the disturbing medical terminology that he had been so kindly informed of.
It was quiet for several moments.
"What?" Sasuke responded with a reluctant sigh.
"You should make me a grilled cheese."
"Weren't you the one who offered to cook?" Sasuke asked incredulously.
"But you're not hungry!" Naruto insisted. "No reason for me to starve just 'cuz you already ate."
"Make your own damned grilled cheese."
Sasuke clutched a loose bed pillow in his hand before swinging it directly at the older male's face. Naruto mock gasped.
"Abuse! It's abu-!"
Sasuke shoved the pillow harder, subsequently drowning out his boyfriend's grating voice, causing him to flail about the bed histrionically. He began to croak and reach out his arms, dying a very slow and melodramatic "death" underneath the smothering pillow. Sasuke couldn't believe he'd fallen for this guy. And yet he couldn't shake the sense that things were somehow okay again, at least for now. Naruto had that effect on him.
Naruto ripped the pillow from Sasuke's hands, but didn't return the blow as he'd expected. Blinking suddenly, he was surprised when warm lips met his own in a brief kiss.
"Oi, you're lucky I love you, bastard," Naruto told Sasuke with a grin.
Sasuke just scoffed and rolled his eyes.
Yeah, maybe he was.