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Intoxicate Me

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At just twenty years old, Sasuke Uchiha was already set for life. As the youngest son of the esteemed Uchiha Industries – which he was to inherit once his father entered his retirement and relinquished his claim to the business – Sasuke was on the road to a life of endless possibilities and a secure financial status. Having graduated from his high school the top of his grade, Sasuke was guaranteed acceptance to any college or university of his choice. Scholarships were flying his way left, right and centre, and it seemed everyone wanted a piece of the young man who would soon to be the heir of the most lucrative business in Konoha.

‘That young man is going places let me tell you.’

‘He may just be even more successful of Fugaku.’

‘At just eighteen years old, dear Lord – now he is a true genius.’

Add to that his astonishing good looks and how women trailed after him like lost puppies and one would call him the luckiest man on earth. All the women wanted him, all the men wanted to be him. Adults respected him before he even had to open his mouth, and the elderly people adored him and would agree with all that he said. Many would claim Sasuke as utterly perfect, devoid of any faults.

But nobody was perfect. Not even Sasuke Uchiha. Even he had something that marred him, tainted him, and dirtied him in the eyes of an always judgemental society.

And the fact he preferred a man chasing him over a woman was his fatal flaw.

Yet he was not ashamed of it. Not one bit. It was no secret that he detested the company of women. In his teenage years he had merely assumed he was a late bloomer, that this lack of attraction to girls was the result of stunted sexual development. But he had soon realised that his distaste of the female population was not temporary, simultaneously his growing desires for the male populace was becoming more of an issue with each passing day.

It was upon his first impulsive watching of gay pornography, completely out of the blue and random, that he realised why he had not had much of a sexual life up until that point. He was focusing his attentions on the wrong gender.

To say he was shocked would be an overstatement. Instead he felt a sense of acceptance fill his entity and he surprised himself with how easily he grasped the concept. Sasuke had had no difficulties with self-acceptance before, his reactions with people on a day-to-day basis was indicative of that. So why should he compromise himself now because of a change in his sexuality?

The answer: he shouldn’t. And he didn’t.

Not to say he went around with a siren and bullhorn announcing to every passer-by his love of the male gender. It was as if things continued on normally in fact. Girls approached him, he rejected them. The difference was he knew what he was interested in now, and all he had to was find willing participants.

Upon his acceptance to the local college (“It would be good for you to stay in Konoha, Sasuke dear. That way you can be close if your father and I ever need help with the company,” His mother had smiled sweetly at him, pushing the Konoha University form towards him) Sasuke found an entirely new name for himself and his identity. A name none but himself could take away from him. Sasuke relished the thought.

His first kiss had been in the University’s library, where he was helping one of his fellow classmates study and revise for the upcoming midterm. They weren’t close enough to be called friends, but Sasuke did find his company rather pleasurable. It had happened suddenly, the two of them were leaning against each other as Sasuke explained one of the topics, and he just initiated a kiss. Surprised, it had taken Sasuke a moment to respond. But once he realised that he being kissed by a man for the first time in his life, he felt a deep desire he had never known was buried deep inside him. Clasping onto his shirt collar, Sasuke pressed his lips against the other’s firmly, trying as best he could and quickly learning the ropes. Once the tongue entered his mouth, he felt something change inside him. This was the first step of truly accepting who he was, and allowing another to share that with him made his heart warm.

Of course it hadn’t lasted. Two or three dates later, Sasuke had found he had no genuine feelings for this man. He was very understanding about it all, for which Sasuke was grateful. It was brief, but their relationship truly changed things for Sasuke. It opened the door to bigger and better things, a world full of promises and experiences that he had yet to fully explore.

And because of his self-acceptance, he found making friends was less of a chore than he had first thought.

“Hey you’re Sasuke Uchiha right?”

Stopping in his tracks in the middle of the corridor, Sasuke turned around and saw a guy with clearly bleached white hair saunter up to him, a shark-like grin on his face. Narrowing his eyes, Sasuke shifted the strap of his satchel to a more comfortable position on his shoulder, face the picture of boredom when the guy finally reached him.

“What do you want Suigetsu?” He remembered seeing the guy in his classes, he seemed rough around the edges and a bit of a ladies man.

Suigetsu’s face lit up and then a cocky grin slid into place, accentuating his rather sharp teeth as he stepped up to stand by Sasuke’s side, and the two started walking again down the corridor.

“Ah so you do know me! I don’t know if I should feel honoured or frightened by that.”

Quirking an eyebrow at him, Sasuke would admit he was amused. It wasn’t often people approached him of their own free will, just for the sake of talking and not pointless offers and proposals. He decided not to brush off Suigetsu yet, and instead make an attempt at actual conversation – a new personal best where Sasuke was concerned.

“Hn, I guess it depends on whether you’re tolerable or not.” As he rounded a corner Suigetsu continued to walk straight, until he caught on Sasuke was no longer with him and he changed course, catching up to Sasuke without a worry.

“Well you’re looking at the most tolerable guy on the whole campus. I mean dude, seriously, the ladies love me. And all the guys look up to me.” Looking up proudly, Suigetsu gave a wink to a pair of girls that had passed them by. Their eyes had been entirely focused on Sasuke however – of course.

“I don’t.” Sasuke said bluntly, and he wasn’t looking at him so he couldn’t know for sure but he was certain Suigetsu’s mouth had dropped open. He collected himself rather swiftly though.

“That’s ‘cause you’re you right? I can’t imagine you looking up to anybody. You’re your own role model aren’t ya?” He grinned over at Sasuke, who spared him a bland look before looking forward again.

Sasuke deigned not to answer the question. Probabilities arose when he started talking about his brother. And he didn’t want to bring Itachi into this, at least not yet.

“What do you want, Suigetsu?” Sasuke said, repeating his question from earlier and fixing the white-haired guy with an almost curious look.

“Ya see I couldn’t help but notice you don’t have many pals ‘round here. And so I got to thinking how mentally retarded everybody was not to want to be your friend because hello your Sasuke fucking Uchiha. So I got a proposition for ya, wanna hear it?”

Furrowing his eyebrows together, Sasuke stopped walking and looked at Suigetsu once again. He was grinning at him like a moron, way too over-confident and clearly not a fan of proper language. And yet, from only two minutes talking with the guy, Sasuke found he didn’t detest him. His company was rather entertaining and light-hearted, not that Sasuke needed anything like that but it was something that unexpectedly drew him in. And he unpredictably found himself agreeing.

“What is it?” Suigetsu seemed shocked Sasuke had actually been pliant enough to illicit an agreeable response from, but he wasted no time in recovering as he smirked and swung an arm around Sasuke’s shoulders, making them walk again.

“You hang out with us from now on. It’s a win-win deal. We get to hang around with a big shot and you get yourself a group of weirdos you can call friends.”

Suigetsu had guided Sasuke without his knowledge to a large tree where a red-haired woman with glasses and a tall guy with orange (did this group have some sort of hair dye obsession?) who was talking with a bird was sitting. He knew the other two as well.

“Suigetsu! Where the hell have yo–OH HI SASUKE!” Karin yelled his name at an ear-splitting volume it caused him to squint. She was one of the girls who followed him around, but she was strange about it. When Sasuke would catch her she would act all pissed off at him and pretend she hated him. She even threw a rock at him once, which he had thankfully dodged.

“Karin, shut the hell up or you’ll scare him off.” Suigetsu admonished bitterly, dumping his bag down in her lap without a care. Outraged, she threw it almost five metres away and glared at him.

“Hey! That has my laptop in it!”

“Serves you right for being a jerk!” She stuck her tongue out at him, which he returned with a single finger salute. Karin then turned her gaze back to Sasuke, fluttering her eyelashes and smiling at him.

“Don’t mind him, Sasuke. He’s an idiot.”

“Hey! I heard that you witch!” Suigetsu’s voice was faint from the distance as he had gone to retrieve his bag.

“Hey, Sasuke.” Juugo gave him a friendly smile and Sasuke nodded at him. Juugo was in some of his classes as well, though he tended not to stick out as much as Suigetsu, even though they were friends. Juugo was a quiet soul, one that Sasuke partly envied for having such peace with the world. He was someone Sasuke didn’t tire of being around as well.

“Are they always like that?” Sasuke had set his own bag down and was sitting next to Juugo, who was still stroking the bird perched on his shoulder.

“Yeah, pretty much. But it’s only because they secretly like each other so much.” Juugo said the words simply, as if Karin had not been sitting three steps away from him, still yelling at and teasing Suigetsu from a distance.

“Makes sense.” Sasuke had to agree, all that fighting was rather pointless at times. There had to be more to it than they let show. But Sasuke wouldn’t pry, because he knew what it was like to be uncertain about something.

“So Sasuke, what do ya say? Do you accept our proposal?” Looking ahead he saw Suigetsu had returned, and had laid his bag down next to Juugo as well, all while giving Karin the evil eye.

Looking at the three of them, Sasuke was almost certain he was sitting with the oddest people in the whole of Konoha University. But that said enough in itself, because usually he’d be sitting alone. And he had had enough of sitting alone.

“I’m hungry. Let’s go eat something.” And with that he stood up and they all understood, gathering their things and they all walked off together as new and very unlikely friends.

XXX

Though Sasuke did indulge himself in his newfound sexuality, he had yet to have sex with any man. He would never admit that it actually meant more to him than he ever let on. Especially since now Sasuke was sure what he wanted. His first time with a man was something he wanted to look back on and remember as a true time of love and liberation. If he ever were to fall in love, that was.

Inside the Uchiha household however, Sasuke was the same person he was when he left high school: assumedly straight and waiting for the right woman to come along and catch his eye. His parents didn’t have the slightest inkling into what his true feelings regarding females were, and he planned to keep it that way. Not for the fear of rejection, Sasuke was more than ready to accept his parents may not feel as positive about this as he was. Rather, it was more out of consideration for them. If he was careful and did things just in the right way, he could ease them into it. It was a big shock after all, and he wanted to make sure when he came out it was on his terms, not on anyone else’s.

That was, until one Friday afternoon when Sasuke had thought his parents would be out of the house until nine and had invited over one of the guys from his class who he had had his eye on for a while, and vice versa apparently.

What a shock it was to Mr. and Mrs. Uchiha to arrive home early and discover their youngest son making out and grinding up against a complete stranger. A stranger who was not the desired gender his parents may have approved of.

After the awkward and hasty departure of his fellow classmate, Sasuke cleaned himself up, sat his parents down, and told them the truth.

“I’m gay.”

It was not exactly the coming out speech he was expecting, but it wasn’t like he could take back the act of making out with a guy on his bed. He refused the whole concept of “confusion” and “experimenting”. Sasuke knew he who he was, and he was proud of whom he was. There was no doubt in his mind that this was who he was supposed to be. And he wasn’t about to deny that for the sake of his parents, despite his deep love for them.

His mother cried. She sat in the seat across from Sasuke and balled into her hands, covering her face and smearing her daily application of make-up all over it. Every sob was like a stab wound to his heart, and Sasuke had to find the self-resolve within him to refuse comfort to her. It wasn’t as if she was crying over the death of a friend, or a bad TV soap opera.

“Where did I go wrong? My beautiful boy, what have we done to you?” Mascara ran down her cheeks guided by her tears, her eyes red and puffy and the same dark, deep blackness that Sasuke’s were.

While his mother was a wreck, his father sat, silent and unmoving. Eyes that were always so hard, so cold, and so very strong stared at Sasuke. An occasional blink and that was it. Large hands were clasped together and sat in front of him, his fingers linked together. Not a word was spoken. None were needed to convey what he truly felt. Sasuke could see it all plainly in his eyes. Disappointment. Frustration. Shame. It was as if Sasuke was an employee who had committed a grievous wrong, having failed to his job properly, and his boss was staring him down just before he fired him and demanded his exit immediately.

Only one other family member was missing, the one Sasuke would have counted on if he were here. But Itachi had more important matters to attend to than family issues. He had abandoned that life long ago, and he hadn’t looked back. Though Sasuke was the only one Itachi bothered keeping in contact with, he hadn’t heard from his older brother in a month. Itachi wasn’t there to save him this time. He was fighting his own battles now. He had to be his own saviour.

Things went on normally for a week after the outing. Of course there was a distinct tenseness in the air that surrounded the Uchiha family, with each of them hardly making conversation and talking only when necessary. But the Uchihas were people of few words regardless, so it wasn’t that different.

Sasuke could feel it though. He could feel their stares burning through his back whenever he would leave to go out, the judgement and disapproval oozing out of them unashamedly. No more did Sasuke bring anyone back home, the underlying but clear message it was not to happen again by his parents. Which was fair enough, since it was their house after all.

So instead Sasuke went out to them, which his parents couldn’t do a thing about. Even though he was undoubtedly their loyal son, they couldn’t control him anymore than they could control fire. He was unpredictable and irrepressible, following the blaze wherever it took him.

XXX

Sometimes things happen for a reason, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re purely coincidental or expectantly accidental. Signing a piece of paper was a well-known routine Sasuke had well practised at this point in his life, so when his parents sat him down and explained they needed a form signed with the entire family’s signature as soon as was humanly possible, he signed the form without hesitation. And also without proper perusal of its contents, something any young person would do.

This very careless action is what led to his current situation of displacement, as he now sat in a room with eyes swarming all over him, taking in every inch of his body as if he was diseased.

It had been an ordinary day. Sasuke had caught the bus to the University around midday, as that was when his Wednesday classes started. He had attended those classes, studied for an hour with Juugo in the library, then drove home at around five o’clock.

But his parents weren’t waiting for him, strange men dressed in black were. He was told he was to come with them and to do so without complaint. Of course that was impossible for Sasuke and he demanded to know the whereabouts of his parents.

“We cannot disclose that information to you as of yet. Please just come along with us and make things easier for yourself.” One of the two extremely muscled and very tall men answered him, and Sasuke narrowed his eyes and shrugged off their arms as they tried to take a hold of him.

“Let go of me! Where are my mother and father? What have you done with them? Just what is going on her–” A rag was shoved over his face and arms grabbed around his waist holding him still. Sasuke struggled against the men, using all the strength he had to try and escape their clutches. But soon he started to feel drowsiness sweep over him and he soon lost consciousness.

When he next awoke he was lying on a bed in a bedroom. It was almost like a hospital bedroom, but it was a touch less homely, much more sterile. His eyes fell first though to his parents, his mother sitting on the end of his bed and his father a distant presence in the doorway.

Immediately he questioned them, told them of the mysterious men, and was shushed by his mother as she began to explain. It seemed that his mother and father had taken it upon themselves to decide what was best for Sasuke, and the answer to that lay in his sexuality. He was to undergo special treatment, treatment that would make him feel better and possibly even cure him of this disease he had.

“We’re doing this for your own good, Sasuke.” His father made sure to add in his two cents worth, stern gaze fixed on Sasuke with enough power to will a lion to sleep.

“One day you’ll thank us for this sweetheart. I promise.” His mother combed her fingers through his hair, tears in her eyes as she smiled sadly at him.

Sasuke hadn’t said a word more after their confession. He just stared at them in silence, and when they had to leave he did not bid them goodbye. That night no sessions were held, it was too late. So Sasuke was confined to his room, where in his utter solitude he unashamedly cried.

But he also made a vow. He would not give in to this man and whatever sick techniques he had in mind for him. He would not give up who he was, not for anyone. Not when he had just finally figured it out.

His fire blazed inside him, and wasn’t going out anytime soon.

XXX

A man named Kabuto arrived at his room the next morning, a fake smile on his face as he offered to escort Sasuke down to meet the man who would save him.

Orochimaru was a disgusting man. From the first moment he laid eyes on him Sasuke felt a chill run down his spine and his insides clenched defensively, on the alert for any attack.

“Good afternoon Sasuke, shall we begin?”

Images of two men kissing passionately, clothes and on a bed together filled the screen before his eyes. Their lips collided together, pushing, sucking, smacking. Their bodies rubbed against each other so heatedly and erratically it looked as if they were fighting. Arousal gripped Sasuke quickly, his hardness starting to make his pants uncomfortable.

Orochimaru chuckled in the background, and though he wasn’t looking at him Sasuke could sense the sinister smirk tilting his lips in a warped sense of pleasure.

“No my boy, you mustn’t get excited. This should cool you off.”

Before he could blink he felt his arm harshly grabbed and a needle plunged into the soft pale skin of his forearm. Biting down on his lip, he swallowed the scream that so desperately wanted to escape. As much as he tried to resist, a violent shudder took hold of his body, hands curling into fists as the liquid continued flowing straight into his veins. All he felt was pain, mind-numbing and excruciating.

And then it stopped, and his body slumped lower in relief. A pungent sense of nausea began to well up inside him, his jerking forward in pain dry wretches as the image of the two men kissing stayed plastered on the big screen. He tried his best not to look at them but it was difficult while being fastened to the seat.

His head hung low as Kabuto rushed in and began to clean up the wound, providing pain killers while the image of a man and woman kissing flickered onto the screen. Their hands were everywhere, all over each other. It looked as if they were trying to eat each other’s faces actually.

He wouldn’t give in. He wouldn’t give up.

His fire was still burning brightly.

XXX

Orochimaru was cruel, crueller than the other doctors were. They both knew that, and yet Sasuke didn’t say a thing about it. Because admitting that would mean he was admitting Orochimaru was getting to him, and he wasn’t. He wouldn’t win this game, Sasuke would hold on until the very end, never yielding up to the moment where he held triumph in his hand.

A white-walled room surrounded him, the black security cameras stark in contrast and drawing in more attention than was needed. He sat in a chai opposite him, the snake leering at him practically dripping with anticipation. It countered Sasuke’s calm visage, face blank and eyes staring unblinkingly ahead.

“I’m going to show you pictures, and you tell me ‘yes’ for the ones you like, and ‘no’ for the ones you don’t. Do you understand?”

That mocking voice gave out the commands as if there was a second option, though Sasuke was not fooled. A nod was his answer and Orochimaru practically emanated excitement as he shuffled and reshuffled the pictures in his hands, more out of eagerness than a nervous tick. As if Orochimaru could ever be anxious.

“Okay, let’s begin.”

A picture was then laid in front of him across the table. It showed a young woman, wild ginger hair pooling around her shoulders, a sultry expression on her face and a lustful look in her eyes that stared straight at him. She wore a strapless white silk negligée, accentuating her breasts and flowing out underneath her to stop at the top of her thighs. A pool table stood beneath her, which she so shamelessly splayed herself upon. Her legs wrapped around a cue stick, her body leaning into it in a provocative manner that clearly stated all were welcome.

“No.” Sasuke answered monosyllabically, and he swore he heard Orochimaru emit a sound of pleasure at the answer.

“I’m sorry, but it looks like you’re wrong Sasuke.”

Raising a hand, Orochimaru left it in mid-air for exactly five seconds before bringing it down and then an electric shock shot through Sasuke’s groin, and persisted for exactly three minutes. Clenched hands shook violently on the white table, his body twisting and writhing, searching for a position in which he would find some sort of relief. Even if it was only for a second it would be enough, but there was nothing, only pain.

And then it stopped, and Sasuke inhaled deeply through his nose so as not to let out any verbal sounds of appreciation of the release.

“Let’s move on to next one, shall we?”

Only after getting his breathing under control did Sasuke grace Orochimaru with an answer in the affirmative. This of course pleased the filthy snake, whose yellow eyes glinted with keenness and hunger.

Another picture was placed in front of him, this time it was a male. He was standing in front of a shower, seemingly having just gotten out if the water droplets rolling down his body were any indication. Brown hair was tousled and wet, yet looking unintentionally amatory stuck to his forehead, his fringe falling over his eyes which he glanced up through. A hand was in the midst of sweeping through it, elbow bent and fingers weaving though brunette locks. He stared at Sasuke, lips drawn together but just begging to be kissed. His chest was bare and well-built, rivulets of water dripping down it. A towel clung to his hips, which tapered down to strong, solid legs.

“Yes.”

A click of the tongue greeted his answer, and he had great trouble from rolling his eyes or making an expression. He kept his face expressionless, unable to decipher by anyone. Well, perhaps one person. But they were not here. He was alone. And he would not be beaten.

“Oh, how unfortunate. Incorrect again.”

Orochimaru gave the signal once more and mind-splitting pain racked his body as once again his lower regions were shocked aggressively. His eyes squeezed shut and he gritted his teeth, pleading with his mind to focus on something else, to trick himself into thinking this was not real. But the sheer unadulterated pain flooded his senses, making him unable to ignore it.

His fire was flickering, the flames licking around the sides of his mind, struggling to keep on burning.

XXX

Feelings of loneliness encapsulated Sasuke constantly. He wasn’t allowed to go back home after a day of sessions, he stayed at the treatment centre all the time. Though he was allowed to walk freely around the centre when he wasn’t being treated, Sasuke still felt a distinct sense of isolation he hadn’t ever felt before.

On the weekends the centre allowed parents to come and visit their children, and have a signed slip permitting them an exit from the place for a few hours to visit home. But that was what it was strictly limited to. No out-of-town trips. No shopping in the local mall. Not even going over to a friend’s house. However his parents only visited him inside the centre, they didn’t choose or ask to take Sasuke home once. And Sasuke didn’t bring it up. If they didn’t want him around then that was their choice, and as much as he resented it he would respect it. They came and went irregularly, sometimes they would come three weekends in a row, and then they wouldn’t come back for another two. It bothered Sasuke more than he’d like to admit.

Sometimes Sasuke would come across other patients in the centre. Some would merely look at him and continue walking, or go back to eating, or staring into space. Others were livelier, attempting constant escape runs from the centre and screaming for their freedom and their rights. Those ones were always caught. Shot with a tranquiliser and put to rest in their room, locked up for a day. That’s why it was less hassle to just not do anything, nothing but sit and wait for the day they would all be released from this place.

In the beginning, Sasuke had tried countless times to escape. He would stay awake all night devising plans to leave this place. Each one he enacted each one he failed. No matter what alterations or precautions he made in his plans, all were foiled and each time he was dragged back to his cell and locked up for a day. Eventually the plans began to stop, and Sasuke started to use the nights to sleep again, because he was so, so exhausted.

Sasuke had currently been there for two months and seventeen days. He wondered how much longer he’d have to keep marking off the days, and changing the month of his calendar.

It was endless, and never-ending.

XXX

Another day and another session, this time involving Sasuke strapped into a chair facing the big television once again. There were restraints around his ankles, his knees, his wrists and his forearms. Orochimaru hadn’t said much, and it was pretty much an established routine by now. Sasuke sat in the chair silently, and Orochimaru went off into the small room accompanied by Kabuto.

A video then started playing on the big screen in front of him. Heavy breathing and grunting were heard as the camera slowed panned from blackness to a bedroom, a shot of a bed and two men together on it. One of them was on his knees, head hung low and ass pointing straight up into the air.

"Ohhhh…hhnnngh…p-please…" His voice dripped with raw desire and need, thighs quivering with the anticipation that was sure to be answered shortly.

"Fuck, you look so gooood right now. All spread out and open, just waiting for my cock." The man kneeling behind the first one pressed every inch of his body up against the other male, causing the both of them to let out guttural moans.

All of a sudden a foul stench filled the air, and Sasuke tried to raise a hand to cover his nose. The harsh restraints quickly made themselves known again however, and Sasuke let out a breath of frustration. The smell was disgusting, something horrid enough to make one want to vomit. It was as if someone had sprayed urine all over the walls of the room and left it to linger for days and days on end, the odour all consuming. Sasuke felt like he couldn’t breathe, every breath he drew in seemed to make the stink stronger, and on and on it remained. He couldn’t hold back the dry wretches jerking his body forward, his throat constricting and stomach tightening as if preparing for the vomit to empty itself onto the floor.

And then the scene changed. A woman and a man lay entwined together on a bed, the man looming over her while pounding her into the mattress. Wanton screams ripped from her mouth, as she rolled her hips and searched for more contact, hands scraping down his back leaving red marks in their wake.

“Fuck yeah, girl you’re so friggin’ tight.” The man growled out, angling his hips for a better angle and thrusting in hard and fast.

“Unngghhh…yes..ohhh…” Throwing her head back, the woman wrapped her legs even tighter around the man, sweat glistening on her body giving it a shiny appearance.

The smell was gone, eradicated completely. Inhaling deeply, Sasuke revelled in the pure air entering his nostrils. He attempted to keep his eyes closed, but for some reason they couldn’t keep from flickering open and being faced again with the footage still playing on the big screen. His head fell back as he got his breathing under control.

And then it began all over again. Another piece of footage played depicting two males; one standing and the other on his knees. A feeling of dread welled up inside Sasuke, slight panic at the thought the horrid smell would return again. He didn’t want to not be able to breathe again. His heart pounded against his ribcage and he desperately tried not to let his growing arousal show. But once he saw his lower regions begin to stir, he swallowed hardly. Orochimaru would see it. He always saw everything, never missing any action Sasuke’s body decided to take.

Soon the noxious odour began to fragrance the room once more, and Sasuke shut his eyes tightly. But it didn’t stop the spread of the smell, and all too soon it overwhelmed him again.

He needed to control his bodily impulses. He needed to be able to breathe.

His fire was nearly extinguished, only a few sparks left that continued to soldier on.

                                                                                                XXX

The day began. Sasuke got out of bed, got dressed, ate a light breakfast, and was then escorted down to his session with Orochimaru by Kabuto.

Sasuke sat down in the white-walled room, and Orochimaru played the picture game with him.

A woman with lustrous ebony hair that flowed all the way down to her hips smiled seductively up at him. She had her thumb caught between her teeth, biting down on it while her brown eyes gleamed up at him. She wore a very revealing brassiere that left not much to the imagination. Her form was slender and soft, and looked smooth.

“Yes.” Sasuke answered immediately, eye fixated on the image until Orochimaru took it away.

Then a picture of a man was put in front of him. His head was completely shaved, but it suited him better than actual hair would. He wore a dirty t-shirt covered by even dirtier overalls, one strap pulled down and his t-shirt ripped to expose a muscled chest. He held a screwdriver in his hands, and was bent over a car and seemingly checking it’s oil levels. But his gaze was directed straight at Sasuke, smouldering and zealous.

“No.” Sasuke said immediately and without hesitation.

Orochimaru smiled. The electroconvulsive therapy was never used on Sasuke again.

A week later he went to the room where the big screen television was. He sat down in his usual seat, his usual restraints all secured into place.

Then footage of two guys having sex was played on the screen before him. The entire time Sasuke kept a stoic countenance, as if he was bored by the entire situation.

Then new footage showed up on the screen, this time of a man and a woman. The woman rode on the man’s cock, hair falling about her shoulders messily as she bobbed up and down, gasps and moans emitting from her constantly. The man gripped her hips with such ferocity that bruising could already be seen starting to form. His things trapped her delicate form between his legs, leaving no escape even if she wanted to.

Sasuke felt his arousal begin to stir, and soon the footage flicked off. No foul-smelling odour filled the room this time.

The same session was carried out three days later, this time with a tray of needles lying on a table beside Sasuke as he sat and watched. And yet again, they were untouched and not needed once.

At the end of the session Sasuke was led back to his room, where he stayed until he was called for dinner.

His fire had finally gone out.                                           

XXX

After four months of intensive therapy, Sasuke was finally allowed to stop his sessions with Orochimaru.

Upon his release his mother embraced him, arms encircling around his neck and her face buried in his shoulder, the tears soaking into his shirt.

“I’m so happy to see you, Sasuke. I missed you so much.”

His own arms raised and wrapped around her body, holding her close to his body as he inhaled the familiar and nostalgic smell that was his mother. He tried to tell her with his body how he too had missed her, how he had thought of her so much, longed for one of her hugs or even just a smile. But she seemed to understand, because she gave a watery laugh into his shoulder as he hugged her tighter and pulled back a little, smiling up at her son.

“I know, sweetie, I know.”

He gave her a small smile and let her go, stepping back to look over at his father. He was standing tall and proud, as always. His face never lost it hardness and blankness, concealing away all traces of subjective emotion. No, it was in his eyes that Sasuke and his father communicated. At this moment, his father was looking at him with an emotion Sasuke only saw on the rarest occasions. Pride.

“Sasuke, we’re glad to have you back son.” Stepping forward his father did the most unexpected and hugged Sasuke. It was not like a hug from his mother. It was not warm, or soft, or even all that long. But it was comforting, and made Sasuke feel a strength inside himself he hadn’t felt from his father for a long time. He hugged back, and when they pulled away gave his father a curt nod, which was returned to him.

Orochimaru and Kabuto appeared at the doorway as well, to collect the last charge for Sasuke’s treatment in cash. Reaching into his pocket, Fugaku pulled out a fine leather wallet and extricated seven hundred and fifty dollars precisely, the cost for a daily session with Orochimaru. Extending a pale hand, Orochimaru claimed the money and counted it right then and there, as if he expected to be cheated right at the last. Although he was apparently satisfied since he handed the money to Kabuto, instructing him to deposit it straight away.

“Your son has responded well to the treatment. Though he was incredibly resilient, I was able to eliminate the illness completely. Sasuke is completely healthy now, in both mind and body.” Smiling at Fugaku and Mikoto, Orochimaru then slid his eyes to Sasuke, who was looking out at the garden with interest, as the outside world had been limited to him for such a long time. Still it was a sacrifice that paid off in the end, because finally Sasuke was back on the right path again.

Sasuke Uchiha was undeniably and irrefutably straight. The person he thought he was was only an illusion, something conjured up by his mentally ill mind to ruin and destroy his life. All his previous encounters with men were disgusting and wrong, a tragic by-product of his illness that had been completely and utterly eradicated. He couldn’t believe he actually allowed himself to commit such repulsive acts in the comfort of his own home.

“A shame about his muteness though. It is very unfortunate side effect.” Three pairs of eyes were on him, but Sasuke didn’t even notice, too distracted with the feeling of warm sun on his skin and clouds in the sky.

For some reason he had lost the ability to speak. Orochimaru had told him that the effect of the drugs they had administered on Sasuke may have caused this inability to speak. Sasuke couldn’t remember why he could no longer speak, he just knew he couldn’t. So now he was a mute.

However not even that could hold him back. Sasuke was going to go back to college and gain his degree, graduate at the top of his class once more, and then officially begin to work for his father and under the Uchiha name with pride. And he would do it all with his muteness, because a mere disability would never be enough to discourage him from achieving his goals.

“Come, Sasuke. We’re leaving now.” Turning his head at his father’s voice, he looked into the faces of his parents, then back at the treatment centre. His mother stepped closer and tucked one of her arms around his, gently pulling him forward.

“Let’s go home, sweetheart.” She smiled at him. His father stopped just a few steps away looking back at them. Finally, Sasuke looked back to Orochimaru and Kabuto, who were both smiling and waving goodbye. Sasuke did nothing, and turned back around, allowing his mother to lead him off to the car.

Now, he was truly heading towards the life of his dreams.

Chapter Text

The car ride was silent, the gentle hum of the engine and the whirring of the air conditioner the only sounds filling the blank space. Sasuke glanced out the window, and kept his gaze there the entire ride home. Seeing the world before him, in all its unrestricted and infinite glory, was something Sasuke had truly missed. He could only see so much beyond those walls, and now he was given the full view unapologetically. He drank it in like a cool drink on a hot summer’s day, his face relaxed and in a world of his own. His parents didn’t seem to mind the silence either; his father’s eyes fixed on the road before him steadily, his mother resting in her seat and occasionally looking over her shoulder to look at Sasuke, and she would smile at him.

So lost was Sasuke in his musings that he failed to notice the black Nissan Leaf that was parked in the driveway to their house.

“Fugaku, is that–” His mother’s frantic voice carried over to Sasuke, catching his attention and breaking him from his trance momentarily.

“That is what I want to know.” With a detached tone of voice, his father gripped the steering wheel a fraction tighter than he normally would. Sasuke noticed, and was perplexed. What had made his parents so on edge all of a sudden?

The car was pulled up abruptly, right beside the Nissan Leaf that Sasuke had just now noticed. That was strange. But somewhere in the back of his mind Sasuke recognised the car. He just couldn’t put his finger on it.

A figure was standing in the driveway, and everyone was quick out of the car to see who the mysterious person was.

As soon as Sasuke was out of the car his eyes widened, and his mouth parted in silent shock.

Standing in the driveway, with his arms crossed over his chest and a faint smile on his face, was his older brother, Itachi.

“Hello Sasuke. I’m back.”

Without thinking Sasuke rushed forward to greet his brother, the two of them exchanging a look before they both hugged each other tightly.

It had been months since Sasuke had last seen Itachi, and he had assumed his elder brother would not be seeing him again until Christmas holidays. It was a wonderful surprise to see Itachi here. Sasuke had missed him so much. The last time they had talked had been five months ago, before Sasuke’s treatment.

“Itachi, what are you doing here?” The stern voice of their father carried across to the Uchiha brothers, and they all locked gazes.

Pulling away from the hug, Itachi looked over to meet their father’s gaze, equally as challenging and equally as stoic. “I came back to see Sasuke. So here I am.”

Fugaku then looked towards Mikoto, and they exchanged a silent look communicating something Itachi and Sasuke couldn’t understand. Not that either of them were paying any attention anyway, as Itachi had turned back to Sasuke after clarifying things with their father, as was per the usual routine.

“How are you little brother?” His brother smiled down at him and Sasuke smiled back, but didn’t say anything. He was aware that his brother had no idea of his treatment he had undergone four months ago, and that he was also in the dark about Sasuke’s loss of speech. Sasuke didn’t know how to tell him, he didn’t want to start waving his arms around and start gesturing like a madman, and he didn’t fancy writing it down.

Itachi’s eyes narrowed and he placed a hand on Sasuke’s shoulder comfortingly. “What’s wrong Sasuke? Why can’t you speak?”

Looking at his brother, Sasuke was lost for words. Literally. What was he supposed to do now?

“Itachi, many things have happened since you left. And we had to act without hesitation; it was for Sasuke’s own good.” Thankfully father stepped in, his firm voice cutting through the brief silence harshly.

Walking away from Sasuke, Itachi stepped closer so he was nearer to their father, and Sasuke could no longer see Itachi’s face. “Father you must tell me what has happened to Sasuke. Why can he no longer speak?”

“Let’s not talk out here in the cold alright? Come on, let’s all go inside and I’ll make some tea.” The soft but firm voice of their mother interrupted the conversation, and her suggestion was met with nods. Breathing out a sigh of relief, she turned to Sasuke and gave him another smile, “Sasuke dear why don’t you go upstairs and change while we get things settled?”

Nodding, Sasuke and the rest of the Uchiha family made their way to front door, Fugaku unlocked it, and they all went inside together for the first time in a very, very long time. Though Sasuke was reluctant to leave his brother’s side he knew he should probably change into more comfortable clothes, and then he could spend all the time with Itachi that he wanted. There were so many things Sasuke wanted to ask him about, talk to him about.

All of a sudden Sasuke’s thoughts jammed to a halt. Talk. No, he couldn’t talk anymore. He couldn’t have a normal conversation with Itachi anymore. A sharp pain dug in Sasuke’s chest, and he paused in dressing himself for a moment to gather his thoughts. Then, he took a deep breath, finished dressing, washed his face, and then headed downstairs.

He heard the distant lull of conversation and knew instantly it was not meant for his ears. Itachi, father and mother were all seated at the dining table, and were in the middle of a heated discussion.

“What have you done to him?” Itachi asked punitively, his fists clenched tightly on the table as he looked to father and mother for an answer.

“All that was necessary.” Father replied impassively, and Itachi’s form straightened.

“What was so necessary that Sasuke had to lose his voice over it?” Itachi was becoming irate,

“Things the like that you will never understand. You are not a parent, and cannot know a parent’s mind.”

Itachi’s voice lowered considerably, though it was more in danger than anything else, “If I find out that you had Sasuke become mute through some pathetic attempt of preserving the company I won’t act kindly, father.”

Father was quick to jump on Itachi’s words, voice raising an octave as he aimed a glare straight towards his eldest son who was completely unaffected, “You have no right to come into this house and speak in that manner towards me. The truth is that you were not here for Sasuke, so you cannot understand what he has been going through. We have remedied the problem.”

“And what problem might that have been, father?” But Itachi was just as quick, and didn’t miss a beat nor any singular detail when it came to important conversations.

“Itachi…” The soft voice of their mother entered the space of broken conversation, with a silent plea to her son. Yet Itachi disregarded this entirely, his attention completely devoted toward the man they called father as he awaited an answer. When he received none, he tried again.

“What problem?” Itachi demanded, his tone imploring a response. When silence was all he received Itachi gritted his teeth together, breathing in and out a few times before he spoke again.

“Please do not tell me this is concerning Sasuke’s sexuality?”

Again, Fugaku and Mikoto exchanged glances, and Itachi noticed and his temper began to rise.

“His so-called sexuality is fixed. All is well now.” Fugaku stated, a tone of finality in his voice.

“How is all well if Sasuke can no longer speak to us! To anyone! Just what have you done to him!?” Itachi’s eyes flashed dangerously as his voice rose, and Sasuke swallowed down hardly.

It was never a good thing when his brother got upset, but more than that why was he saying all these things? Did he think Sasuke was some sort of freak now that he couldn’t speak? The very thought made Sasuke’s stomach churn, and worry grip his heart.

“It’s uncertain whether his loss of speech is permanent or temporary. We’re hoping it will be the latter.” Narrowing his eyes, Itachi’s face morphed from an expression of anger to one of deep resentment, a dark glare aimed straight towards their parents.

“I cannot believe what you have done. How could you do this to him? To your own son? Do you have no sense of familial love?”

“It’s because of love that we took this course of action, Itachi. In time you will see we are right, and do know what is in Sasuke’s best interests.” Mother said soothingly, reaching out for Itachi’s hand and holding it in her own.

“I’m not so sure about that, mother.” Pulling his hand away, Itachi shook his head and looked away from their parents.

No more was said on the topic, it practically dispersed into thin air as Sasuke walked into the living room. His mother smiled warmly at him, his father glanced at him for a moment before standing and moving into the living room, and Itachi stared at him. If Sasuke looked closely enough, he could see traces of hurt in Itachi’s black eyes, hurt that he couldn’t understand.

“Shall we have some tea then?” Turning around, Mikoto pulled some mugs from the cupboard and began boiling some water. “Itachi, you can bring in your suitcase and sleep in your old room. It’s hardly been touched since you left.”

“Yes, mother.”

When Itachi moved to go and take his suitcase, Sasuke followed him. Upon noticing this Itachi stopped walking and turned around, looking at Sasuke. As if on cue Sasuke stopped walking too, glancing back at Itachi in confusion. Then, his brother’s lips quirked upwards and he motioned Sasuke to come closer, which Sasuke did. Of course then his brother tapped his forehead with his finger like he used to do all the time when they were younger. Stumbling backwards a little, Sasuke righted himself and aimed a glare Itachi’s way, which Itachi only smiled at.

“Come, little brother. I could use some help.”

Perking up at the words, Sasuke fell in step beside his brother and they both went out into the brisk afternoon air to empty out Itachi’s car.

After an awkward tea-drinking session, Itachi had gone upstairs to unpack, and Sasuke had followed him, volunteering his help. Currently he was packing away Itachi’s shirts into his dresser drawers, noting how many new ones he had since the last time he had seen them.

“Sasuke, what happened while I was away?” Looking up from the dresser over to where his brother sat on the bed, Sasuke tilted his head to the side. He then turned around and fished through Itachi’s old desk drawer, pulling out a pen and a note pad and scrawled across it quickly. Sasuke handed it to Itachi when he was done.

‘Mother and father told me that I had an illness, a terrible illness that had taken a hold of my body and mind. So they took me to a treatment centre and now I am better.’

Itachi squinted at the message, and then looked back up at Sasuke peculiarly. Handing the notepad back, he asked in a solemn tone, “How are you better if you can’t speak anymore?”

Pausing for a moment, Sasuke considered his brother and noted how sad he seemed. It made him feel sad too; not so much his loss of voice, but what that effect had on others. Scirbbling across the paper, he presented it to Itachi once more.

‘They said it was a side-effect of the treatment.’

Blinking in confusion, Itachi pounced on the statement, asking rather bluntly, “What sort of treatment did you undergo, Sasuke?”

Another pause. Sasuke didn’t want to worry or upset his brother any more than he had, so he decided to reveal the most predictable.

‘Needle injections.’

Staring at the paper, Sasuke knew he was being put under scrutiny. He had learnt early on in his childhood it was damn near impossible to lie to Itachi. “Is that all?” Itachi asked slowly, carefully, as if to catch Sasuke out on a lie. But Sasuke just nodded and Itachi seemed to accept it.

“Well don’t worry about a thing little brother. I’m not going anywhere.”

Sasuke gave a brief smile to his brother, which was returned. They then went back to unpacking in silence. He was really glad to have his big brother back.

XXX

Transitioning from his previous state of talking to sudden muteness was an unusual process for Sasuke. It was only a week before he was released from the treatment centre that Sasuke had lost his voice, so he was not fully adjusted to its full effects just yet. Inside the centre he had been secluded; cut off from the rest of the world and only having to worry about himself.

But now there was an entire world surrounding him, a plethora of interaction and communication that he had become exempt of.

The other day Sasuke had decided to take a trip to his favourite coffee shop downtown, and it was only when he was standing in line that he realised he would have to write down whatever it was he wanted to order. The barista wouldn’t just know what he wanted, they couldn’t read his mind. It frustrated him greatly.

Even in his own home, he had to use means of communication most would consider in a home to converse with his parents. If he wanted to ask where something was, he would have to get a note pad and pen and scribble it down. When his parents would ask him questions, he would either shake his head or nod, as they had learnt to use questions with a definite answer. Which wasn’t really a hindrance; Uchihas never did dance around an issue. But still, the lack of a language did deprive Sasuke of privileges he had taken for granted in the past.

XXX

Upon his return to Konoha University, he was immediately bombarded with the presence of his three overwhelming and melodramatic friends whom he hadn’t seen for four months.

“Sasuke! You’re back! We thought we weren’t going to see you again!” Karin embraced him in a hug, squeezing him tight enough around the chest to cause breathing problems. As gently as he could manage he detached Karin from himself, and looked over to Suigetsu and Juugo, both of which shook his hand and gave him a hug, though not as dramatic as Karin’s was.

“When you didn’t show up the next day we all got a lil’ worried, ‘cause we all know a tight-ass like you wouldn’t miss a single day unless you were practically dying.” Suigetsu bared his pointy teeth in his typical shark-smile, eyes glinting with the familiar banter he and Sasuke used to partake in. Some part of Sasuke was saddened that it would never be the same anymore.

“We went to your house that weekend, and your parents told us that you were away having special treatment performed on you. They didn’t know when you’d be back.” Juugo chimed in, having not taken his eyes off Sasuke since his return. He must have missed having a normal person around to converse with, Sasuke thought, inwardly smiling at the image of a bickering Suigetsu and Karin with Juugo as mediator and terribly failing at it.

Karin then transformed from being relieved to angry in an instant, glaring furiously up at Sasuke as she yelled, “You bastard! Why didn’t you tell us you were sick earlier!? Do you know how worried we’ve all been!?”

And Sasuke did. He could see it on their faces how much they had worried, and judging by their relief they must have thought he was never coming back. And now Sasuke had to break the news to them as well. Itachi had been bad enough, what would his friends think about it? Would they deem Sasuke’s company too high maintenance to handle and abandon him? That thought was particularly unpleasant, and his lips down-turned in a frown.

“Hey Sasuke, I get you’re not much of a talker but you could grace us with your power of speech just this once. I mean, it’s been fucking four months and I actually missed those snarky comments leave your mouth.” Suigetsu grinned cockily at him, but Sasuke could sense the edge in his voice. When Sasuke stayed silent their concern began to rise.

“Sasuke? What’s wrong?” Karin prompted, readjusting her glasses and staring at him concernedly.

Then Sasuke linked eyes with Juugo and it was as if something invisible was communicated between them.

“He can’t speak.” Juugo announced candidly, looking directly at Sasuke as he did so.

“WHAT!?” The other two exclaimed at the same time, eyes wide and disbelieving as they flicked from Sasuke to Juugo to Sasuke again.

Eventually Sasuke got out a notepad and pen, and scribbled down the reason for his loss of voice was a suspected side effect of the treatment, and that it was uncertain whether or not he would ever speak again.

“Holy shit, so you’re really a mute then! But you’re not deaf, is that right?” Still looking down at the paper in disbelief, Suigetsu looked up just in time to catch Sasuke’s nod in the affirmative. A grim silence fell over the four of them, which was eventually broken by Karin.

“B-But, th-that’s…that can’t be right. You can still speak deep down, can’t you Sasuke?” Looking up at him with desperate eyes, Karin clung onto his arm tightly, the fear radiating off of her.

It was strange seeing his group of friends so unstable and insecure around him. Ever since their first meeting Sasuke had never witnessed them acting as anything other than extremely annoying and light-hearted and quirky. Somehow, seeing them this way unsettled Sasuke, and he put a hand on Karin’s back in an awkward attempt at comfort.

They all seemed to accept that Sasuke didn’t know the answer himself. And to Sasuke’s great relief, it seemed they had no intentions of abandoning him. Sasuke was really grateful that day when he had agreed to Suigetsu’s request. Despite their rocky start, the four of them did have a real friendship that existed between them, only cemented in proof further by this act of loyalty.

Sasuke would remember to thank them one day for that.

XXX

Even after the University learned of Sasuke’s sudden muteness it seemed numerous suitors were still willing to try their chances, most particularly the men, who seemed to exude much more confidence in comparison to the women. However all their hopes were dashed when Sasuke would glare angrily at them, and give a shake of his head before walking off without allowing any more words to be said. It was extremely peculiar to the students, when it seemed not four months ago Sasuke Uchiha was most definitely gay. When he was in the vicinity to hear such talk, Sasuke would bubble with barely contained anger, approaching said persons and glaring so deadly at them it caused everyone in a five metre perimeter to steer clear of the Uchiha for the rest of the day. It incensed Sasuke for people to even ponder the very prospect of his sexuality being anything other than straight. He was straight, and there was nothing more to it. But oddly enough even as more female candidates moved forward, Sasuke still rejected them all the same he would as it were four months ago.

Some people became convinced that no one would ever meet Sasuke Uchiha’s standards, be them man or woman. As for himself, Sasuke maintained the true fact that no woman had caught his attention long enough to develop it further. It only proved his theory right that people truly did only see his surface, and not what was underneath. He was a picture of splendour and desire, the perfect being without any faults in their simple-minded thoughts. They assumed his inside was just as beautiful without any clarification. What they didn’t know was that the only part of Sasuke that was perfect was his outside, on the inside he was just a normal person like everybody else, and that terrified people. They wanted the perfect, the illusion, to be real.

But it wasn’t, and Sasuke wasn’t going to parade around as if it was for the sake of some petty fools.

However Sasuke wasn’t so concerned about his love life at the current stage, rather his academic life and his future career ahead of him.

His family operated the very successful cruise line, Uchiha Cruises Ltd., and his father was the head of all operations. They ran three very successful ships: Pāru, Hōseki and Nikkō. Uchiha Cruises Ltd. has been around since the mid-1960s, and has evolved and progressed throughout the decades to become one of the most well-known and popular cruise lines in the entire of Japan. The first time Sasuke had stepped onto one of their ships (Hōseki if he remembered correctly) he was eight years old and full of wonder and curiousity at the great hulking ship his father was in charge of, one of three others to be exact. During his school holidays Sasuke and his brother would often go on one of the cruise ships with their parents, running around the ship and causing mischief.

As he grew older, Sasuke came to have more interest in the functioning of the ships, while Itachi’s interest dulled less and less. It was by natural order though, that Itachi would be the one to inherit the cruise line, and continue running it until his retirement.

From Sasuke’s experience over a lifetime of knowing him, he had a good idea of who Itachi was and what he wanted from life. He was different to the rest of the Uchiha. He didn’t have the career-driven mind the rest of them had. What Itachi desired was to help people, and to make the world a better and more peaceful place to live. Their father had snubbed any and all conversation of such matters when he was in their presence, and each time Itachi’s eyes would get harder and colder. Fugaku would often state how with Itachi’s knowledgeable and well-rounded experiences on the ships as well as his top-scoring marks in his courses at University that Itachi would only be wasting his time on matters such as those that didn’t revolve around the cruise line.

But when it was just he and Sasuke, Itachi would tell Sasuke about all the things he wanted to do, all the places he wanted to see, all the people he wanted to help. Sasuke himself had been silently fascinated by Itachi’s dedication and passion for bettering the world, but wondered from time to time if he would ever get to achieve that dream.

One day they had all been sitting at the table eating dinner and were watching the television as the news was airing. A news bulletin came on which spoke of the refugees in Iraq and Pakistan having nowhere to go, travelling illegally to countries and dying in the process. All it had taken was one comment from their father’s mouth for everything to go downhill.

“It serves them right for trying to enter illegally, not much of a loss of life is it?”

Itachi had exploded in anger in a way Sasuke had never seen before and hoped never to see again. He was yelling, screaming, tearing into their father. And father had gotten angry as well, and Sasuke could honestly say that while he contained his rage better than Itachi had, it was the closest to breaking point either of them had any seen him.

The fight had gone on for an hour, with Sasuke and his mother just sitting and watching in silence as the two men had it out. Only when the threat of physical force was becoming increasingly imminent did Mikoto step in, commanding to her husband and her son to cease and desist, or she would pack up and leave and take Sasuke with her. Heads cooled and tempers dropped, Fugaku slipping back into his stoic and silent disposition, while Itachi became stony-faced and swiftly turned, climbed the staircase, and slammed his door. That night had been one of the worst in Sasuke’s memory, and to this day he hadn’t heard his father or his brother utter a single word of apology or regret towards their actions and words used against one another. Sasuke supposed that didn’t happen because neither of them was ready to accept they might have been wrong yet. He didn’t know if things would ever be the same between them again.

After two weeks Itachi had packed his bags and was heading out the door. He had found an apartment on the other side of Konoha where he would be staying for a while until he could make his plans and start travelling around the world. Their mother was devastated about it, not wanting her eldest son to leave yet. Even after Itachi had explained to her how he couldn’t stay here any longer, that he held no desire to take over the cruise line, she still didn’t want to see him go. She was a mother, of course she would be selfish and want to keep Itachi here safely instead of in harm’s way. But he was resolute. He was leaving. On the other hand, his father was distant and aloof upon Itachi’s departure, shaking hands with his son and bidding him farewell. No words of good will or luck were wished, and no affectionate gestures were exchanged. There was just strained silence.

Then there was Sasuke, and Itachi almost expressed regret at seeing the unhappy expression on his younger brother’s face. He and Sasuke were close, really close. And Itachi had stated to him over many phone conversations (in the past, obviously) that the only reason he ever came back to Konoha every so often was for Sasuke and for Sasuke alone. Of course he came for their mother as well, to placate her and spend time with her. But when it came to their father, Sasuke was certain the only words they said to each other were a greeting and a farewell.

So Itachi had left, and suddenly the fate of the Uchiha Industries had fallen to Sasuke. Of course Sasuke met this with the utmost of enthusiasm, and from then on has done everything possible to attain Itachi’s level of brilliance and surpass it, and then take over the Uchiha Cruises Ltd. when his father deemed him capable enough.

Though Itachi was indeed back in Konoha for an indefinite amount of time, he made, it crystal clear to their father that he had no intentions whatsoever of staking his rightful claim on the family business. Fugaku had regarded Itachi with a cold indifference, as if the words slid right off his back and was no news to him. And perhaps, Sasuke thought, it wasn’t. Itachi had made quite an exit three years ago, and even if he desired to come back Sasuke doubted their father would make it easy for him.

“I am here for Sasuke, and nothing else.” Sasuke noted the detached formal tone of his brother that was used so often in the past, and their father met his gaze evenly.

“I would expect nothing less.” Then their father had turned, left and Itachi exhaled deeply.

So Sasuke’s inheritance of the company was still intact.

Sasuke did enjoy his course though. He had always been interested in business, going back to an old rivalry with Itachi that was later dispersed due to Itachi’s total lack of any actual interest in the business world. So now it was left up to Sasuke to carry on his family’s legacy, to uphold the Uchiha name with pride and prestige. He studied hard in his subjects, facing each lecture, study group or assignment with the utmost focus and dedication.

When it came to his midterm tests Sasuke flew through them like a summer breeze. No question was left unanswered and every line was filled. He was unstoppable.

XXX

It was still very difficult for Sasuke to communicate properly. He could no longer answer any questions in class, could no longer speak to his peers or make simple conversation. Facial expressions alone could only convey so much, and most of the time he was misunderstood. This led to his constant carrying of a pen and notepad, just in case he needed to ask someone a question or even just wanted to participate in the conversation.

Itachi had constantly pushed the subject of sign language to Sasuke, and each time Sasuke refused. He refused to show the world his handicap. He didn’t want people to see it. One could almost say it was an act of defeat, of submission towards his muteness and that all hope of ever speaking again was non-existent.

No, he was fine the way he was. Why did he need to change for the sake of everyone else?

“Yo, Sasuke. Mind if I sit here?” Rousing from his musings, Sasuke looked up from his textbook and immediately narrowed his eyebrows.

Kakashi Hatake, one of the lecturers who taught at the University – one of Sasuke’s lecturers to be precise – was standing in front of him, pointing to the vacant seat in opposite Sasuke on the table he was sitting at. Hesitating for a moment, Sasuke gave a delayed nod and watched curiously as Kakashi sat himself down, propping his feet up on the table like he would in his lecture room.

“So I heard you have a bit of a problem now. A speech impediment if I’m not mistaken.” Kakashi addressed Sasuke casually, picking a book up off of Sasuke’s small pile and flicking through it lazily. Changing his suspicious glance to an annoyed glare, Sasuke gave his answer as Kakashi looked away from the book to see it.

“It’s quite obvious you’re not a deaf mute, because judging from the expressions you’re making you can hear everything I’m saying. So it’s just your voice.”

Putting the book down, Kakashi picked up another and did the same as he did to the first one, flicking through it with quite obvious disinterest. His lecturer perplexed Sasuke at the best of times. He just never knew what he was thinking sixty-seven per cent of the time. He wore a face mask for God’s sake! Sasuke had to assume the man wasn’t normal.

“Have you ever thought of signing?”

The sudden question startled Sasuke, and Kakashi noticed. Slamming the book shut, he tossed it back on the pile and faced Sasuke with his full attention this time.

“Sign language. It’s not just exclusively used for deaf people. Those who cannot speak can use it as well. Anyone can use it really, even me.”

Swallowing, Sasuke considered the words. He had known that mute people could use it as well as deaf people, he just still felt uneasy about it all. If he did learn, with whom would Sasuke converse? Well Kakashi for one, but who else? He’d be the only person on campus who used sign language, so was there really a point?

Kakashi then let out a sigh and stood from the chair, leaving it pushed out as he regarded Sasuke. “Well if you change your mind, come see me, because–” Sasuke raised both eyebrows when he saw Kakashi do a strange movement with his hands, evidently sign language.

So he waited for Kakashi to finish his sentence aloud, but all he did was give a lop-sided grin and tuck his hands in his pockets as he turned and left, “Later Sasuke.”

Staring after his retreating lecturer, Sasuke resisted the urge to rub his temples in exasperation. Kakashi was by far the most irritating of his teachers, and the one who bugged him the most. But that was curious. He didn’t know Kakashi knew how to use sign language. It opened up a wide range of questions in Sasuke’s mind, but he quickly shoved them aside. There was no need to think about things that will never be. He had no intentions of learning sign language, especially if it was from that Kakashi.

XXX

Admittedly Sasuke was the sole heir to the Uchiha Cruises Ltd., and the future of the company rested entirely on his shoulders. But as much as Sasuke was the proud and respectable heir of the Uchiha Industries, he was also a twenty year old male, which meant he did attend the occasional party that he was invited to. Invitations were sent to him all the time, but Sasuke always gave them to Suigetsu because he was the one who knew where the most entertaining parties were. So it was under his guidance that they all attended a party. It was for some girl in one of their classes, Sasuke couldn’t care to remember her name. But lots of people were there that they knew, as well as lots of people they didn’t know.

Upon arrival Sasuke had found Juugo standing near the entrance of the house, clearly feeling out of place. He smiled when he saw Sasuke and walked straight to his side.

“Hey Sasuke. I’m glad you showed, I was starting to feel weird just standing there.”

Sasuke nodded at him and scanned his eyes over the house, looking for a head of red or white hair. Juugo, seemed to having read his thoughts, put a hand on his shoulder drawing Sasuke’s attention back.

“Karin and Suigetsu are already here, already smashed, and already making out over there.” Pointing over to a corner of the kitchen, there was Suigetsu and Karin, with Karin sitting on the countertop and Suigetsu grinding up against her heatedly.

Sasuke nodded then looked away. He and Juugo had gotten used to their antics. They had a sort of love/hate relationship, wherein one moment they wouldn’t be able to stand each other and in the next be all over each other. Sometimes Sasuke pondered on whether the two really had deeper feelings for each other that they were too scared of acting upon, but he never said anything about it. Not like it was his business anyway.

Looked like it was just him and Juugo tonight, which wasn’t so bad. Sasuke didn’t really have an option of talking to other people and Juugo didn’t like to either. He was more of a silent giant, harmless and just wanting to avoid conflict. Though sometimes he had a tendency to lose control when placed in stressful situations, something he had told Sasuke had settled down since having met him.

“You want to get a drink?” Juugo asked, voice raising louder over the sudden music some people had decided to just start pumping through the speakers.

Nodding, Juugo turned and starting walking off towards where the drinks were, and Sasuke followed after. They both picked up a beer and began drinking by the table. It was going well until some guy stopped in front of Sasuke and Juugo, his face pulling into a smile.

“Hello Juugo. How are you?”

“Kimimaro? I thought you were out of town this weekend.” Juugo said, slightly shocked as he extended his hand and shook this Kimimaro guy’s hand heartily, a hint of a smile on hs face.

“Well my parents cancelled the skiing trip so here I am. Who’s this?” Kimimaro turned to look in Sasuke’s direction, and Sasuke looked back because he didn’t want to seem rude or impolite. Even though he couldn’t introduce himself, he would still try to make an effort.

“This is Sasuke, he’s a good friend. Sasuke this is Kimimaro, he’s a close friend of mine.” Juugo introduced the two to each other, and the guy – Kimimaro – stuck out his hand for Sasuke to shake.

“Pleased to meet you, Sasuke.” He gave Sasuke a friendly smile, and Sasuke gave a nod in his direction. Thankfully Kimimaro didn’t elaborate any further on that matter.

As the night progressed Sasuke found himself more and more intoxicated and slowly regressing away from the crowd of people, leaving Juugo to talk with Kimimaro and some other people they had met. Sasuke just needed some space, some quiet area to just be in peace.

As he leaned up against the wall of the laundry room, he heard the door knob turn and the door opened, bright light pouring in for a moment then disappearing as the door closed. Looking up, Sasuke saw a girl had entered the room. She was wearing a strapless navy blue dress that reached just the top of her thighs, and she had messy blonde hair that looked to have been in previously good condition prior to the start of the party.

She suddenly noticed Sasuke’s presence, and gasped, before stepping closer and then sliding a seductive smile onto her face.

“Hello there handsome, what are you doing in here?” She cooed, stepping up closer to Sasuke and looking at him drunkenly. Sasuke just stared dumbly back – because he was admittedly drunk too – and she tilted her head to the side, reaching forward and straightening his shirt collar.

“What’s wrong hun, can’t you speak?” Her brown eyes looked down at him questioningly, and he looked up curiously.

A sly smile then took over her features as she used his collar to yank him closer, “Or could it be that you’re playing hard to get.”

Sasuke had never been with a woman before. The only woman he had ever kissed was his mother, and maybe his grandmother before she died years ago. This was something entirely different, entirely new – and he wasn’t sure how to react.

“Oh, so you really can’t speak. You’re that Uchiha guy, aren’t you?” She asked, her words slurring a little as she looked Sasuke up and down. Sasuke didn’t nod, but it was obvious by his head dropping to the side she was correct.

Leaning in closer, she pressed her lips against his pale neck, and whispered against it loudly, “Well, that will make it all the more worth it when I get you to moan my name. Out loud.”

Slamming him up against the wall, thick glossy lips crashed down upon his in a messy kiss. Both of her hands lay flat against the wall on either side of his head, and she pressed her body up against Sasuke’s in just the right position for him to feel the curve of her breasts pushing against his chest. Out of nowhere he felt his lower regions begin to twitch and stir with untapped arousal, and Sasuke unthinking grabbed a hold of the woman’s face and kissed her back just as roughly as she had done to him. Her tongue slithered inside his mouth, the taste of cigarettes and mint chewing gum on her breath as she licked around inside Sasuke’s mouth greedily.

It was as if his body was acting impulsively, accordingly, instinctively. Though he had no prior encounters with a woman of this kind, and his mind was a swirl of mixed emotions, there was no hesitation. It was almost like an out of body experience, and he wondered why he was doing this.

Then he felt one of her hands trail down his chest, tugging at his shirt and then cup his hard-on firmly. He grimaced at the shot of the pleasure that shot through him, lips still moving against hers in a sloppy rhythm. Unsure of what to do with his hands, he moved them from her jaw and placed them on her waist. Quickly she began pumping, jerkily and non-expertly, it was clear she was drunk because the movements were slovenly. Their bodies moved against each other, searching for friction and more contact.

And then the girl moved her hand to unzip his jeans, and the vague foggy pleasure stopped. Sasuke hadn’t anticipated this was where the girl was planning on taking things, just a heavy make-out and some touching, but not actual sex. It was obvious they were both inebriated, and if they did end up having sex Sasuke would not risk being accused of rape against her will. Add to the fact that he just wasn’t ready to take that step with a woman yet, and even in his alcohol-hazed state of mind, Sasuke had enough sense to know he didn’t want to have sex in the back of someone else’s house.

Hands raised and pushed the girl’s slim shoulders back, Sasuke taking in the oxygen he had been deprived of. He was still erect, and his need was pulsing and pleading with him to be taken care of.

The girl immediately gravitated back towards him, lips puckered and Sasuke could see her wetness showing through her scantily-clad dress. He shook his head and held up his arms, pushing her back again firmly. Fuming, the girl – had she told him her name? If so he had forgotten it – glared angrily at him.

“Fucking mute boy, you think you’re too good for me huh? Well let me tell you that it is the complete opposite!” She spat into his face, and Sasuke raised a hand to wipe away the spit. Gross. Thank goodness he hadn’t taken things further, because this girl had anything but class.

Sasuke merely stared at her blankly, face devoid of any emotion. Then the girl huffed and stormed off, moving back into the main part of the house – clearly searching for another more willing participant. Sasuke then smoothed out his crumpled clothes, bid goodnight to his friends who were still having a blast, and walked the twenty-three blocks home.

His first experience with a girl was like a rude awakening, and now he was more aware of the women around him. Even if he had not gone all the way with her, Sasuke felt like the roads had been paved and he was making his way forward.

But it was clear Sasuke needed to find a better way to communicate.

XXX

“Good afternoon, Sasuke. What brings you down here so suddenly and unannounced?” Kakashi looked up from his notes inquiringly, glancing over to Sasuke’s approaching figure.

When he was standing in front of Kakashi’s desk, Sasuke looked at him silently. Pursing his lips, Sasuke dipped into his back pocket and pulled out Kakashi’s square piece of paper. Though it was slightly crinkled, it was still in fairly good condition. Placing it flat on the desk, he glanced at Kakashi who displayed no physical shock or surprise at the offering.

“So you’re finally ready to learn huh?” Amused eyes peeked up at Sasuke, who narrowed his eyes slightly and gave a small but definite nod of his head. A slight smirk could be seen forming under Kakashi’s face mask, as he grabbed the paper and looked it over in his hands.

“Alright. Saturday morning at eight o’clock, come over here and we’ll start your lessons.” Parting his mouth slightly, Sasuke furrowed his eyebrows, trying to figure out how he would ask this.

Yet Kakashi once again displayed his keen sense of intuition and put the square piece of paper down, picking up his abandoned papers and beginning to reshuffle them.

“Yes Sasuke I will be the one teaching you.”

Slightly surprised at that, Sasuke’s mouth pulled into a frown as he glared at the man behind the desk, who dutifully disregarded him.

“See you then.” Waving him goodbye, Kakashi was once more focused on perusing his papers, and Sasuke figured the conversation was over.

So begrudgingly, Sasuke agreed.

When Itachi found out he was positively beaming, and had already went and purchased a ton of books on sign language for both himself and Sasuke to use. It was quite a surprise to Sasuke when he found out Itachi would be learning alongside him. When he had told Itachi about it his older brother had given him a confused look and said,

“What’s the point of learning it if you can’t communicate with anyone?”

And that had answered that question. Sasuke was so thankful to Itachi for so many things, this being one of countless others. He truly didn’t know how he had gotten along without his brother by his side for so long.

So it was that on Saturday morning he drove to the University and went to Kakashi’s lecture room, precisely on eight o’clock and not a minute late.

But Kakashi was late. So Sasuke waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Then finally Kakashi showed up – an hour later than they had agreed upon. Sasuke was absolutely seething by the time Kakashi walked up to him, a cheery smile on his face and two coffees in hand.

“Good morning Sasuke. Sorry I was late, I ran into this lovely young girl at the coffee shop and she just insisted on taking a photograph with me.” Offering a cup of coffee to Sasuke, Kakashi tilted his head at the furious face of the young Uchiha, and then laughed before moving the coffees to one hand and using the other to fish out his keys from his pants pocket.

Exhaling out soundlessly in exasperation, Sasuke snatched the coffee cup out of Kakashi’s hand and entered into the classroom. Chuckling lowly, Kakashi pocketed his keys once more and entered inside as well, closing the door behind him casually with his leg.

“Grab a seat, and we’ll get started right now if you want.” Sending an ‘are you serious’ look in his lecturer’s direction, his only response was a thumb’s up and a concealed grin. Rolling his eyes Sasuke dropped his satchel near Kakashi’s desk and placed his hot coffee upon it and went to get one of the chairs, which he then placed in front of Kakashi’s desk and sat down in.

Rifling through his briefcase, Kakashi pulled out a very large and very thick book, emphasised by its loud THUD on the desk. Raising an eyebrow at his lecturer, Sasuke looked down at the book and noted it was fairly old, most likely much older than the ones Itachi had purchased from him. But it looked by no means devoid of information.

“Alright, let’s begin.” Taking a sip of his coffee, Kakashi opened the book and turned it towards Sasuke. Eagerly leaning forward, Sasuke ran his eyes over the diagrams and the writing, and he looked up when Kakashi began to speak.

XXX

Itachi was like his own personal teacher, and Sasuke wasn’t sure if he or Kakashi were more or less tolerable. As always Itachi picked the sign language up with surprising ease and stunning development, with him soon reaching Kakashi’s level in no less than three weeks. Sasuke was simultaneously astounded and ashamed, that his brother could learn so quickly while he was still struggling with it at times.

Every day Itachi would sit him down and make him learn something, whether it was a new word or a new phrase, he was always there. He never forgot about Sasuke, not for a moment. Guilt filled Sasuke often however when he thought Itachi should be off somewhere overseas by now rather than stuck in the Uchiha house with Sasuke and their parents yet again. But every time Itachi caught these moments he would flick his forehead, give him a small smile, and tell Sasuke he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

His mother had been supportive of the idea. She even borrowed some of the books Kakashi had given to Sasuke and started learning the signs, as well as having Sasuke teach her some from time to time.

His father however, while expressing approval for Sasuke’s decision, had stated in no uncertain terms that he was far too busy to invest time in learning the sign language. Sasuke understood, though it still made his chest ache when he thought about it for too long.

Sasuke had already resolved himself to using it around his family only, so really only his mother and Itachi. He doubted Karin, Suigetsu or Juugo would have the time or constant motivation to learn and keep up with sign language, and Sasuke expected no more of them. They had their own lives, there wasn’t much point learning something they didn’t really have a need for. Besides, they were close enough to Sasuke by now that they could practically understand almost anything he meant by facial expressions and body language alone.

As for his classes, he had accepted the fact he could no longer actively contribute to discussions, and that any input he may have had would have to be written down. It was difficult a first, and annoyed Sasuke greatly. Though he had eventually gotten used to it, and when he had classes with Kakashi it wasn’t as bad. They didn’t sign to each other, but Kakashi – like Itachi – seemed to just know what Sasuke was thinking. It was very gratifying while slightly disturbing, but Kakashi seemed to have no qualms about it.

It was a Sunday afternoon and Sasuke had the day off, so he was sitting in the garden in the backyard with Itachi, and they were practising sign language again, going over the signs Sasuke wasn’t as fluent in.

It was during their break that Sasuke brought his hands together and began to sign, catching Itachi’s immediate attention.

‘Do you think I’ll ever speak again?’

Itachi was quiet for a while, looking over the garden as a gentle breeze washed over them. When he answered he spoke, which was okay with Sasuke. He liked hearing a person’s voice when he could no longer hear his own.

“A lot is uncertain in life, undecided right up until the very moment the defining change is made. However long or short it takes, I have faith that you will find the moment when you can finally take the plunge and speak once more.”

Staring at his brother, Sasuke drew his brows together and asked with a clear amount of scepticism, ‘And if I never find this moment?’

“You will find it, Sasuke. Somewhere, somehow, inexplicably and unpredictably, you will find it. It’s all within you.”

Itachi spoke with such conviction in his voice, as if he truly believed Sasuke would talk again. It filled Sasuke with a sense of responsibility but also with a sense of determination. He would, no matter what, speak again. Just as his brother said, the amount of time it took was irrelevant. One day he would speak again and prove his brother right. Sasuke desperately wanted to live up to Itachi’s expectations of him, even when they were higher than Sasuke had himself.

‘You never change brother. You’re still a complete and utter enigma. Sometimes I think you do it on purpose.’

Itachi then chuckled lowly, and it made Sasuke smile too despite how he tried to keep a stoic façade. He never was very good at hiding his true feelings when he was around Itachi.

“I’m your big brother, what else can I be if not confusing and infuriating at the same time?”

Rolling his eyes, Sasuke gave his big brother a playful shove in the shoulder, and then brought his hands together and signed, ‘Thank you Itachi.’

Itachi looked at Sasuke’s hands, then up to his face, and a small smile stretched his lips, “You’re welcome Sasuke.”

Reaching out a hand, Itachi poked his forehead then ruffled his hair affectionately, making it all messy and stick out everywhere. Sasuke let out a silent laugh as he swatted Itachi’s hand away, running a hand through his hair to try and fix it. He really did miss having his brother around. Now things were finally starting to look up for Sasuke.

Chapter Text

If Sasuke could describe his university experience in one word, he would have to go with eye-opening. He had acquired many skills there, skills that he would carry with him through the rest of his life. He had learnt to adapt to his state of non-speak, picking up the language of sign and forging a friendship with one of his lecturers that he would have never thought possible.

Four years later and Sasuke had graduated at the top of his class, surprising everyone when a mute boy claimed the title of the most intelligent student within his course stream.

As soon as he had graduated, he didn’t even have to bother looking for work like the rest of his classmates. No, instead his father offered him a position at Uchiha Cruises Ltd. immediately, placing Sasuke in a desk job at the office. It was more than fine with Sasuke. His father had entrusted him with the paperwork duties, which were considered vital when it came to cruises. Making sure everyone’s papers were in order and preparing Uchiha Cruises Ltd.’s own papers in case of an emergency or should the situation call for it.

Now he had his own office with his own responsibilities and he loved it. He was working with a team of people who were competent and efficient in their work, trusting Sasuke’s judgement and doing whatever they were told without debate. He could organise himself and his work in peace. There were no team-building exercises, no awkward meetings in the coffee room, and no personal details or office dating. They were all independent and all completely fine with that.

Speaking of dating, Sasuke realised with surprise he hadn’t been on a date in five months. He wanted to feel embarrassed, but he didn’t really feel that way. The last girl he had been on a date with had this obsession of biting her fingernails, chewing on them in public and even in between eating her meal. Sasuke hadn’t even given her a proper kiss goodnight, fearful he might contract some type of disease from the unhygienic girl. A kiss on the cheek and an uncomfortable pat on the shoulder and he had left.

So he was not as successful in the love aspect of his life, as usual. Every woman he met and liked just turned out to have something horribly wrong with her, some habit that Sasuke couldn’t stand. Or they talked too much. Or they didn’t talk enough. Maybe he was being a bit picky about it all, but he couldn’t help it. Though he would admit slight embarrassment over the fact he had yet to take any woman to bed.

Don’t get him wrong, Sasuke had plenty of opportunities to do this, it wasn’t as if he was lacking in that respect. It was just that the women he had all dated just never seemed to feel…right. Like none of the women knew him well enough. He didn’t want his first time with a woman to be random. He wanted it to feel right, and even special. One day the right woman would come along and draw his attention, he was sure of it.

“Busy at work as usual I see, Sasuke.”

Looking up from the mass of papers currently obscuring any part of his desk from view, Sasuke gave a silent sigh and rubbed around his temples, thoroughly frustrated. His brother was his best friend, but sometimes he really knew how to annoy Sasuke at the most opportune of moments. It irked him, and Itachi knew this. Inhaling deeply, he released it soundlessly and he looked down, continuing to make his corrections and suggestions.

“You’re aware that father has requested me to take control of Pāru.”

It wasn’t a question. Though Sasuke never eavesdropped or barged in on the brief conversations his father and Itachi had with each other, he had the knack of ending up in compromising positions and having to hide his presence until they were finished. Added to that was the many whispers and idle gossip that circulated within the Industry, and Sasuke pretty much knew the entire situation.

The cruise director of Pāru had suffered a heart attack the previous week. He was alright, however he was instructed to stay in the hospital for a long time to monitor his progress and perform tests and examinations in order to predict any future heart problems. It was advised upon his release that he remain on the mainland, and not to travel anywhere by car, plane, train or boat. It was completely understandable – except for the fact that Pāru was going on a cruise in two weeks’ time, and had nobody to perform the duties of the cruise director. Of course this caused problems to arise for their father. Hence his last resort choice of Itachi.

In the four years since Sasuke had finished university, Itachi had been there with him every step of the way. Together – along with Kakashi – he had taught and assisted Sasuke to learn the language of sign and now he was perfectly fluent in it. And it was all due to his big brother’s dedication and motivation for the topic. Yet because of that, Itachi had not left Konoha in four years. He had helped in the local causes wherever he could, and even had time to work in one of the second hand shops in Konoha, selling wares and necessities to the lower income earners for affordable prices. It wasn’t much, and Sasuke had on more than one occasion asked if Itachi was truly happy. But all Itachi had said was that he was making a difference and that was all that mattered, not only to less fortunate people’s lives but to Sasuke’s as well.

Though despite his utter disinterest and lack of passion for the family, Itachi was the most talented and efficient worker they had ever produced. More talented than their father, more so than his father before him – and definitely more so than Sasuke was at the current stage. So with his plans shot down in flames, their father had done what he and the rest of the Uchihas had never thought he would do – approach Itachi and ask for his help.

“It’s too late to find anyone that may be more suitable to the task. You are the last option I have.” Father had said, ever so unreadable and distant. Itachi stared at him, not even batting an eye. Sasuke had hid behind the wall, stopping in his tracks for fear of interrupting them.

“I thought you desired my services no longer, or was that just a lie? You are so good at lying father.” Their father hadn’t even flinched at the words, his facial expression remained the same: cold and stony, drenched in absolute seriousness.

“Now is not the time to dwell on the past, Itachi. I am asking you, my son, to do this duty for me, your father.”

“What about your other son? The one you caused to become mute, remember?” Itachi’s tone was chilling, as if there was some hidden menace behind his words as he glared across the table towards their father.

A low sigh left their father’s lips, his clear exasperation of the topic and Itachi’s numerous mentioning’s of it wearing on his mind. “Itachi, are you really still going on about this?”

Silence met his question. It had no need for an answer. In the past four years Itachi had never forgiven or forgotten that his parents had taken Sasuke away and stole his voice. It was in every resentful glance he shot them when Sasuke would have to answer a question in sign language, in every discussion they held where Sasuke was now always silent, in each phone call made to the Uchiha household that Sasuke could no longer answer.

Moving on from the question, their father clasped his hands together, bringing them up to rest in front of his face, “And of course I considered Sasuke. To be honest, he would have been my first choice. But he lacks the interpersonal skills that you undoubtedly have, and his work in the office is outstanding. I don’t know how we’d be if he left for months.”

Sasuke had felt two emotions: pride and disappointment. He felt so proud of himself that his father had deemed his presence so necessary he was unwilling to take him out of the position for a few months. That meant he was truly making a difference to the company, one that his father found vital to keep things steady and secure.

Yet he was also filled with a sense of discontent; how his father had dismissed his social skills without a second thought. But he was right. Sasuke knew he was a less than ideal human being, apparently so because he didn’t connect well with other humans. Four years in university had taught him a lot of things, the most important: people weren’t worth his time. It seemed as if everything had changed since his muteness. People were still attracted to him – that would never change – but they had the tendency to leave after the first few days, coughing up lame excuses that they were busy or they were focusing on their studies, not their social life.

All lies. Sasuke knew it had nothing to do with any of those things; principally it was about his muteness. They didn’t like the barrier – in both senses of the word – that Sasuke put up. His loss of voice made conversation difficult, and he had to try and keep up while they moved onto other topics. But it also had to do with his personality. Sasuke wasn’t the most open person, nor was he amused by the simple-minded pleasures that they seemed infatuated by. They didn’t understand him, didn’t even want to try. It was all too hard. So Sasuke stopped trying as well. And no one even seemed to care.

“So you want me to step in?” Itachi was quick to the punch, deducing all his father left unsaid as quick as that.

A pause, then, “Yes.”

Itachi crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back in his chair uncaringly. “Give me a reason why I should. Why I should listen to anything you have to say.”

“If I am left with no choice but to cancel this cruise, the refund rate will be enormous. I fear the fallout would be too great and we would have to sell the ship to recoup our losses. And I wouldn’t be purchasing another.” He fixed Itachi with a hard glare, hard enough to tear a lesser man’s dreams to shreds and force him to watch. But Itachi was no lesser man, in fact he challenged his father by aiming his own cool glare at him, unwavering and strong.

“I don’t care about the company. That is your legacy father, not mine.”

An eyebrow rose, their father bringing his hands down to rest in front of the table once more, “You may be right, but what about Sasuke’s legacy?”

Itachi was silent. Sasuke was silent. Their father continued on, “Someday he is to inherit Uchiha Cruises Ltd. from me, do you really want him to be the Uchiha remembered for driving it into the ground? For that to be his legacy?”

“You…really do know how to sell a deal, father.” Itachi had submitted, his protests silenced and Fugaku only stared at his son, awaiting his answer.

“Fine. I will accede to cruise director duties of the Pāru.”

And that was that. Neither his father nor Itachi mentioned the conversation to Sasuke later on. He decided it must have been a conversation not meant for his hearing. But oh well, he didn’t really care. His burning jealously of Itachi had mostly faded away over the years, due to Itachi showing a high degree of indifference towards the family company.

"I want you to come with me Sasuke." His brother announced suddenly, and it was perhaps the most surprising thing Sasuke had heard from Itachi.

A single eyebrow rose, and Sasuke put down his pen, focusing all his attention on his older brother. Gathering his hands together in front of him, they moved quickly and formed the signs.

'But I have work to do here. Why do I need to go onto the ship?'

"When you were younger you always wanted to go and work on the ship." Itachi was a master of counter-arguments, and Sasuke had yet to emerge as victor of these arguments.

He signed back, 'That was before…'

Itachi didn’t need to make Sasuke elaborate any further. They were both well aware of that time four years ago, how it had changed Sasuke’s life forever.

A grim expression took over Itachi’s face briefly, before it was wiped clean and his business voice back on, “Nevertheless, I’m sorry if you disagree Sasuke but I’m not leaving without you."

Sending his brother a dubious look, Sasuke readjusted in his seat and rubbed his sor back against the leather chair, 'Don't you think you're being a bit over-dramatic about this? I don't see why you need me, it's not like I'm a people person.'

"Exactly. I’ll deal with the interpersonal duties, being the eyes and ears if you will." Taking a seat opposite Sasuke, Itachi clasped his hands together in much the same way their father did and looked at him. Sasuke raised an eyebrow but made no indication for Itachi to stop. Perhaps Itachi was making a valid point with this.

"And you will be the one who’s actually in charge of everything.” A sense of excitement welled up inside Sasuke but he didn’t let any of it outwardly show, instead inclining his head to the left and Itachi spoke again, “You don’t even have to see the passengers. You’ll have your own room and won’t be interrupted so you can work in peace."

That could work, Sasuke thought to himself. God knew he would have no hope being the type of cruise director to be talking with every person he came across. For starters he couldn’t talk! So they would assume he was just plain rude. But Itachi could, yes he could definitely connect with people in a way Sasuke couldn’t ever mimic. Meanwhile Sasuke would actually be the one behind the screen, pulling the strings and controlling everything.

'So I don't have to interact with anyone?' He had to be certain, he would not go into this without knowing all the facts.

Giving his shoulders a shrug, Itachi nodded and said, "If you wish it so, then yes. You’re the mastermind so to speak." Another pause in conversation and Sasuke was still uncertain about it all. Itachi jumped into the space with the slickness of a cheater about to hunt its prey. "And I’m sure this would please father as well. It would give you a leg-up experiencing your work duties on the actual ship."

'For how long?'

"Three months."

Sasuke considered everything. It would be a great career opportunity, just as Itachi said, and it couldn’t hurt to get some real on-hand experience this time. Not as an assistant, but as the main man in charge. And he was guaranteed strictly limited interactions with the passengers as well as his own quarters.

Exhaling softly, Sasuke finally relented. 'I suppose. It wouldn't be so bad, so long as I have you by my side brother.'

And so Itachi had left with a smile on his face and Sasuke was left with a feeling of deep suspicion and high anticipation.

XXX

Since his graduation four years ago, Sasuke continued to keep in touch with Suigetsu, Karin and Juugo and they were still as close a group of friends that they had been when they had first met. And they had all done quite well for themselves.

Suigetsu was the only one of them still attending Konoha University, his dentistry course still requiring him another year of study before he could gain his Bachelor of Dental Surgery. It irked him quite often, when he was always at the University studying while the rest of them were already graduated, off pursuing their desired careers. “Just because I’m smarter than the rest of you I have to suffer the most, it’s not even fair!” He would often say to them, earning a punch, a glare or a very restrained look of violence depending on who the person was. But he was still enjoying it nonetheless, and was excited for his final year of University.

Karin, having achieved her proper training, began working as a receptionist for the local GP centre. She said the work was a breeze but also intense at the same time, and that she enjoyed the hours. It also paid fairly well, and it was thanks to Itachi’s (Sasuke had managed to persuade him to lend a hand) recommendation along with Sasuke’s that she gained the job. She showed her gratitude every time she came over to Itachi by bringing him back the photos she had stolen in the past. It was a fair trade off, Sasuke had decided – despite the aura of awkwardness that hung over the room whenever such a transaction was made.

Juugo was now employed as a worker at the local zoo, and he couldn’t have been happier. As one of the newer employees his duties weren’t all that glamourous; sweeping out the waste and cleaning up the scraps weren’t jobs anyone would actively search for. But Juugo claimed the job was peaceful, and that he even enjoyed the slight interactions he had with people from time to time. Juugo always said he connected far better with animals than he ever did with people, save for a select special few that were close to him.

They had all agreed to meet up at a coffee shop, following Sasuke’s text to all of them that he had something to tell them. Of course they had all showed up. They always showed up for Sasuke.

So then he told them about his journey for three months on Pāru, of which he would handle all operations of the ship while Itachi was the face shown to everyone. They had taken it better than Sasuke had expected them to.

"Three months!? You’re going away for three months!?" Karin was livid, arms flailing wildly and her glasses down on the edge of her nose, which she kept pushing up aggressively.

"Must be a pretty sweet deal for you to agree to that, and you don’t agree to things easily." Nodding at his own assessment, Suigetsu looked to Sasuke for confirmation, of which he got none. Of course. Never mind, they all knew it was true regardless. Sasuke wasn’t one to bend to people’s will so easily. He tended to work on his own terms.

"It was Itachi, right?"

Snapping his eyes up, he knew just where to look and met Juugo’s brown eyes confidently. Juugo had this strange way of understanding all that was unsaid when it came to Sasuke, at times it was extremely helpful, at other times it was a hindrance. Right now he was caught between annoyance and astonishment. It always surprised him when his friends would say things like this, made him remember that there were some people who could sometimes understand him.

His friends had taken his silence in the affirmative and were already chattering away, coming to their own deductions and thoughts as usual.

“Man, you’re such a little kid when it comes to him! What does Itachi have that I don’t have? Why can’t I persuade you to do things that easily?”

Karin jumped at the question, readily listing the reasons off on her fingers as she faced towards Suigetsu. “It’s because Itachi is sexier than you, hotter than you, handsomer than you–”

“I get it, I get it! The guy is a friggin’ God! Geez, if you love him so much then why don’t you marry him!” Suigetsu rebuked, earning a razor sharp glare from Karin which he returned without complaint, the two of them launching into a vicious argument. Juugo stood there awkwardly, trying to step between them but not wanting to at the same time.

Sasuke wilfully ignored the conversation. His friends had a penchant for talking about Itachi in ways Sasuke had no pleasure in hearing about. One time Suigetsu had come over and had been caught red-handed by his older brother going through his underwear drawer because he wanted to see if Itachi was a ‘boxer’s or brief’s kinda guy’ as Suigetsu had so eloquently put it. Needless to say Suigetsu had never worked up enough nerve to go back into Itachi’s room again.

But despite their many shortcomings, Sasuke was going to miss his friends. It wasn’t like he had any other people he could count on so easily, who could give him company when he wanted some. Even make him smile sometimes.

He then brought his hands together in front of his chest, effectively drawing all their attention to him all at once. It wasn’t often Sasuke signed in front of them; it was more of a family-oriented thing. But when he did they knew it was important. So they stopped their bickering and their talking, and truly listened to Sasuke.

‘I’ll keep in contact with you all. Don’t worry, I won’t forget.’ Sasuke signed slowly, his lips moving and mouthing the words to make it easier for them to understand.

All of them were staring. He brought his hands down, and stared back at him. And then all of a sudden Karin launched herself at him and gave him a tight hug, her stuffy voice muffled by his shoulder.

“Look after yourself, okay. Promise us, Sasuke.”

He nodded, and she sniffed before pulling away, taking off her glasses and wiping at her eyes. He showed her a small smile, and a watery laugh tumbled from her lips as she smiled back.

“Don’t be a stranger, mate. I’ll text you every day to ask what boxers I should wear.” Wiping away a fake tear, Suigetsu smirked at him, and Sasuke rolled his eyes and accepted a one-armed hug from the man.

“Take care Sasuke.” Juugo was, not unlike Sasuke himself, a man of very few words. But the words he used always managed to convey everything he wanted to say. There were no sugar-coating, no inessential phrases, no unnecessary words. Just blunt honesty and that was more than enough for Sasuke. He allowed Juugo to hug him, his huge physique enveloping Sasuke in a bear-like hug. Over the years Juugo had learned to kerb his temper, to keep in check instead of lashing out so easily. Being around Sasuke’s placid company was the main contributor to that, so he knew Juugo would be okay while he was away.

They had stayed together a long while at that coffee house, just chatting and laughing and fighting and Sasuke realised he really would miss them.

XXX

The world was always moving. Whether it was slow, fast, deliberately or carefully, it was always moving in the very sense of the word. It never stopped. Not for a moment. Always it spun, never stopping for the joyful happiness’s, nor the grave occurrences, and not for the memories that were made and remembered. Simply put: the world didn’t care.

Lying flat on top of his bed, Sasuke enjoyed the familiar touch and feel of it against his body, allowing the soft mattress to cushion it and let relaxation sweep over him. He made a mental note to savour this feeling, as he would be sleeping in a stranger’s bed for three months.

Yes, the cruise. Wracking his brains, Sasuke tried to recall the last time he had went on one of his father’s cruise boats. It must have been years ago, before his entrance to University. Perhaps his last year of high school? And even then it was probably accompanying his father for a brief business check-in and such. A day visit. Now he was leaving on a cruise for three months. It hadn’t been the longest he had been away from home, but it was certainly no flippant number.

A couple of years ago he would have jumped at the chance to spend that long of a period on one of the ships and most likely wouldn’t have needed Itachi’s additional assistance at all. However that was four years ago, and in that four years a lot had changed. No longer did Sasuke show as enthusiastic a hunger for the duties of a cruise director.

Firstly, he couldn’t talk – which was kind of essential in the job direction. A cruise director had to be able to communicate with everyone, even expected to know other languages. Sasuke couldn’t even speak one language. Well he could, but he doubted the other people would even know what he was saying. And the language he used to be able to speak eluded him, having vanished for an undetermined amount of time.

Secondly, his social life hadn’t really experienced the greatest highs recently. In fact Sasuke didn’t have any friends, other than the three who had been with him since the start of university. He felt it was superfluous to make more friends than he could remember, friends who would abandon him at the drop of a hat. Perhaps he was being too harsh and reductive, but he didn’t care. He had seen enough of what people thought of him. A body. A shell. An aesthetic. As far as they were concerned, Sasuke looked nice enough but didn’t have a very impressionable personality.

Tracing the intricate patterns carved into his ceiling with his eyes, Sasuke exhaled slowly and deeply, releasing all of his thoughts through it and letting them escape out into the air. Then his mind gradually began to wonder – as it so often did these days – back to times he had already lived and reliving them in the splendour of his memories.

The night had been brisk, the fresh air coming in on Sasuke’s face harshly as he made his way across the campus to his car in the parking lot. He had stayed late to do some extra studying, as the library tended to get deserted after eleven o’clock. So it was around ten minutes past midnight that Sasuke had packed up his supplies into his satchel, and was heading home.

"Hey! You!"

Sasuke stopped in his tracks, looking around at the unfamiliar voice that had called out to him. He glanced around in the darkness, searching for a face, waiting for the person to speak again. But when he heard nothing he just turned around and continued on walking thinking he must have been more tired than he had thought.

"Yeah you! Stop there!"

Spinning around irritably a second time, Sasuke darted his eyes around once more and was half satisfied half surprised upon seeing a small group of guys from campus advancing towards him. From the smell coming off their clothes, they had just been drinking on campus grounds – obviously against the rules of the University.

"You’re Sasuke Uchiha aren’t you?" One of them asked, his voice surprisingly even for someone who looked like he had drank his weight in alcohol. Sasuke only raised an eyebrow, though he doubted any of them registered it in the darkness.

"Not so great now you can’t speak, are you Uchiha?" Another shouted, stomping up to Sasuke and shoving him roughly in the shoulder, which caused him to stumble backwards though he quickly regained his balance.

The group of them – there looked to be about four – were all pressing forward to come at him again. Sasuke walked backwards, quick and keeping his eyes straight ahead following their movements and looking into their faces. Sasuke didn’t know these people, had never even set eyes upon them. And if he had then he had forgotten. He couldn’t fathom what they wanted with him, or what he had done to cause them to hold such a grudge against him.

"Where do you think you’re going!" A large hand shot out and attempted to grip his shoulder, but Sasuke was agile and moved out of the way, narrowly avoiding the hit.

Taking advantage of their slow reflexes, Sasuke turned on his heel and began to run away. Normally he wouldn’t have a problem dealing with such things, he wasn’t weak after all. But that was in daylight, he hadn’t had any skirmishes in the night before. And to be frank, Sasuke felt a little alarmed at the fact that there were four strong guys coming at him, and if he were overpowered he wouldn’t be able to call for help.

"Come back here Uchiha!" A loud bellow echoed across the still atmosphere and Sasuke picked up his pace. He was almost to his car, he parked in the exact same spot every day and he knew where it was. He only had to –

But then a hand shot out of nowhere, gripping Sasuke’s right arm harshly and yanking him backwards. He stumbled and fell to the ground, his satchel strap sliding off his shoulder and falling to the ground.

Then things happened very quickly. One of the guys kicked him square on the back, his body jerking forward and Sasuke rolled to the side again avoiding a hit aimed to his stomach. He was back on his feet rather quickly, and he sensed a presence behind him. Not hesitating Sasuke spun around and punched the guy on his jaw, sending him tripping backwards and groaning out in pain. Another ran at him and Sasuke ducked, elbowing them in the back when he moved around.

Suddenly a fist collided against his cheek, knocking the breath out of him and making his head spin. While he was still collecting himself someone grabbed both his shoulders and kneed him in the stomach.

"Why don’t you call out for help? Come on, scream and yell!" A garbled voice taunted at him, as Sasuke doubled over. He looked up just in time to get out of the way of another punch, rolling across the grass and landing on his stomach. Getting up quickly, he wasn’t prepared for a pair of arms that encircled around his waist, and yet another punch landing successfully on his face. Sasuke felt the blood collect in his mouth. He spat it out, and glared at them.

"Oh wait, you can’t can you!?" Drunken laughs followed the question, the four of them laughing as if it was the most hilarious joke that had ever been told. He struggled against the hold, elbowing the guy in the ribs and stamping on his foot concurrently, earning an agonised moan and the arms loosened.

Taking his chance, Sasuke shoved his arms away and moved out of his hold, running over to where he could see his satchel silhouette in the darkness. Picking it up, he slung it over his shoulder securely and began sprinting away, feeling rocks and beer cans fly past him, some of them hitting him in the back. But he kept on going, and didn’t stop once.

"Now you’re nothing!" A distant voice called out to him, the mocking still continuing. Sasuke didn’t look back and he didn’t stop, he just kept running.

"Even lower than us!" He could still hear them, laughing, jeering, taunting him. He saw the outline of his car, the number plate lit up by the dull light post overhead.

“Pathetic fucking mute! That’ll teach him!” Thrusting his keys into the lock, Sasuke tumbled into his car, shakily removing his satchel into the passenger seat and plunging the keys into ignition.

The Volkswagen Jetta roared into life and Sasuke pushed his foot down, haphazardly clicking in his seatbelt as he drove out of campus and headed home. Thankfully his parents were in bed and Itachi was out on some all-night charity drive down at the local shelter. So Sasuke had slipped into his room, shut the door, and cleaned himself up as best he could.

Opening his eyes, Sasuke left the place of his memories and blinked at the reality setting in around him. Sasuke had never told Itachi about it. Nor any of the other attacks other random people had sprung on him at the most unexpected of times. He could handle it. He didn’t need to be pitied; that was the last thing he needed.

Of course it didn’t happen anymore. He was a grown adult, which meant having a disability magically transformed him from being an outcast to being a valued minority. But still, that memory and numerous others had embedded themselves within his mind, unable to be forgotten. There was a lot to be said about people and their random acts of kindness. Although there didn’t seem to be much said about people and their random acts of hate.

Sure, some people in communities became angered, even started a protest group against whatever issue had risen in the city. But it was all just that: news about the community. The flavour of the week. The kernel of interest. And once it was used to its fullest potential, it was tossed aside, disregarded, ignored.

Sasuke may have been an asshole, but it wasn’t as if the world was innocent. It gave him a reason to distrust, to be wary of others. Everybody wanted something, whether it was money, sex or just someone to mess with. People were cruel because the world was cruel, and they were unapologetic because those who had been cruel to them had been unapologetic.

XXX

It seemed as if the leaving date had crept up out of nowhere. Suddenly it was Sunday afternoon and he was packing his suitcases into Itachi’s Nissan Leaf. They had agreed taking only one car would be enough. They didn’t make that many stops on the cruise and Itachi and Sasuke would be on the ship a lot of the time.

The actual cruise didn’t start until tomorrow, but the crew members were expected to be all packed and on board the night before, so the hassle of boarding passengers could be dealt with swiftly and without delay.

So Sasuke and Itachi were leaving. Today.

Their mother stood out at the front door. When she noticed Itachi and Sasuke had finished packing, she moved over towards them.

“I’ll be going to bid farewell to father now.” Itachi said monotonously, and his mother nodded as he walked around her and headed inside the house.

Then his mother looked toward Sasuke, and smiled at him. Stepping up closer to him, she straightened out his shirt collar and flattened it down nicely, straightening out any crinkles or wrinkles that were there.

“Three months, you’ll have so much fun sweetie. Just think of all the new people you’ll meet, the new places you’ll see,” She then raised a hand to his hair, stroking through it for a moment and brushing some stray locks away from his forehead, her smile turning coy, “Maybe you’ll meet a nice girl while you’re there. Though remember about protection sweetheart. It never hurts to be too careful.”

'Mum!' Sasuke signed quickly, cheeks flushing lightly at the implications his mother was making. He was going there to work, nothing else!

"Ah I’m sorry, was it too much? Did I embarrass you Sasuke?" A delicate hand raised to cover her mouth, attempting to stifle her laughter while Sasuke crossed his arms and pursed his lips together. Sometimes his mother really did say too much.

'I'll miss you.' But he would miss her all the same.Having her around was so comforting; she was always there just to talk to, always open and accepting. Not to say Itachi or his father weren’t, but she was his mother. She just knew.

Her smile then turned sad, and she raised a hand to rest against his cheek.

"I’ll miss you too sweetheart."

Leaning down he wrapped her in a hug, as she did to him. They stood together hugging each other for a while, and neither objected or pulled away. Only when both had satisfied their needs did they pull away, his mother slightly teary-eyed and Sasuke feeling a bit more emotional than he usually was.

Sasuke then made his way upstairs to his father’s study, where he would undoubtedly be right now. He had passed Itachi on his way up there, and was about to ask him if he had bid farewell to their father. But then he thought better of it, if the look on Itachi’s face was any indication.

“I suppose you are leaving now.”

Sasuke nodded, though his father didn’t even look up to see it. He stood there in the doorway, waiting for and watching his father as he worked. It was all a swift, fluid motion, only achievable by years of discipline and practise. A level Sasuke himself wondered whether he would ever attain. It was only when his father had placed his pen down on the table that he closed all of his folders and books, and swivelled his chair around to face Sasuke.

“Work hard, and don’t let Itachi beat you. You have the potential to be great at this, Sasuke.”

Sasuke felt a strange twinge in his heart and felt an even stranger urge to go and hug his father. He didn’t. Instead he turned around, walked out of the room, and closed the door softly behind him.

Getting inside the car, he and Itachi drove away. Their mother was waving goodbye from the front door until they rounded the corner and saw her no more.

XXX

It had been years since Sasuke had laid eyes upon any of the Uchiha ships. Yet they were still as they remained in his memory: big, and breath-taking.

Only the finest of people with the highest of incomes could afford such a luxury as the Uchiha Cruises. That was one of the things that annoyed Sasuke the most. While he admitted he wasn’t the nicest person in the world, there were some real snobby people who thought the earth revolved around themselves that Sasuke had seen on the ships throughout his life.

They weren’t normal people.

Not that there wasn’t anything wrong with that. Sasuke couldn’t even understand normal people sometimes. People in general just confused him. They had become so much more complicated since his muteness. And he didn’t wish their company as much as he had in the past.

When you’re silent and the only one who’s listening, you tend to hear a lot of things you never wished you hear. And like they always say, silence speaks louder than words.

Not that Sasuke cared. He hadn’t had much of a need for people in the past anyway. Always he was an individualist; thinking his own thoughts and being content with them. He didn’t need the added complication of complicated people. They always spoke and spoke, always wanting to be heard. Sasuke often wondered what they would do if they ever lost their loud voices.

“Come, we have to board now. It’s setting out first thing in the morning and we need to get settled in.”

The deep voice of his brother alerted him to his outside thoughts, and he looked around to see other people lining up and preparing to board. The crew.

The Uchiha cruise line was known for a lot of things, mostly wealth. Mouth-watering food that none could resist. Luxurious bedrooms one could merit on the level as one on land. And the most superb and high calibre of entertainment all would flock to see.

Sasuke remembered in his youth of the spectacular performances his mother had escorted him to. They were experiences he never forgot, engrained in his memory perpetually. One evening Sasuke had witnessed Circus performers. The girls with the ropes, how they climbed ever high with the raw power of their muscles and spun so effortlessly towards the Earth only to repeat the whole thing again.

Comedians shook the entire ship with the amount of laughter they produced. Sasuke had learnt to appreciate this as he grew older. While he was not the most comical person who liked to laugh and joke around all the time, he could appreciate a well-delivered joke. His laughter had been softer, almost like a chuckle that none heard unless they were listening for it. Long ago his mother had said that his laugh could make even the demons smile in content. Not that any of it mattered anymore, because the ability to laugh had long escaped him.

Then there were the actors, who would perform plays that had the audience on the edge of their seat, thirsting for the next line and hanging onto the plot like it was the next breath they would draw. Always the people were left in a stunned daze once it was over, chatting with each other about certain parts or actors or references they had yet to make the connection to.

And then the singers, who captured everybody’s attention demandingly, their presence in itself prevailing as they strode across the stage. Their voices belted out the high notes, nailing them to the roof and making the entire audience rise in excitement. Alternative their voices could turn down low, bathing the room in a sensual and dreamy glow as they poured their very hearts into the performance. Those performances left not a dry eye in the house.

Yes, the Uchiha Cruises entertainment was never dull, never boring, and most importantly always memorable. Like an experience that one never forgets, these performers made sure you never forgot them. Even if you wanted to.

XXX

Having settled in, the evening had lazily rolled around, and Sasuke was busy showering on the ship bathroom. When he exited it was to find Itachi standing and looking out the ship window, a clean suit on Sasuke’s bed. He had explained to Sasuke that there was one more act of business they had to attend to today.

“It’s the crew party, where we introduce ourselves to the crew and have some food, maybe some drinks.” Itachi explained, looking around the room in interest. After all, he hadn’t seen its walls in over seven years.

Sasuke rolled his eyes and glared at his brother, not appreciating his over-explanation. He had been at sea just as long as Itachi had. He knew the ropes of the operation as well as the back of his hand. ‘Yes, thank you brother I know what the crew party is.’ Sasuke signed irritably, and a smirk then settled across Itachi’s lips.

“Well you have to attend.”

That statement was not well received on Sasuke’s end, and Itachi sighed as he stepped over closer to his younger brother. “Come on Sasuke, it’s one night of socialising. It’s not like I’m asking you to be the life of the party.”

‘When I agreed to come on this ship you stressed the point to me that there would be no interactions with the passengers.’ Sasuke was not pleased. He should have known. His brother had a way of tricking Sasuke into things while Sasuke thought he knew it all.

“And there isn’t. This is the crew.”

‘They are passengers are they not?’

“Well yes but they aren’t here for leisure.” Rolling his shoulders, Itachi took out his hair band and let the ebony locks fall messily down his back. He still had yet to change for the party himself, but Sasuke was sure he was not looking forward to it either.

‘Itachi…’ He didn’t sign any more than that, and Itachi knew what it meant.

“Come now, it would do you good to get out of that office. You haven’t left since we boarded the ship. It will be good to go out and get to know the people who are serving under you.”

‘Yeah, I’m sure we can get a great conversation going.’

Furrowing his brow, Itachi shook his head disconcertingly at Sasuke, slight disapproval in his actions, “Sasuke don’t be like that. You make things more difficult for yourself than they need to be.”

‘No I don’t. I just don’t see any point in wasting my energy trying to get to know people who won’t remember me.’

“You said you would take over the Industries after father went into retirement, am I correct?”

“Then don’t you think you should make solid contacts now and try to demonstrate you are actually trying rather than coming in a couple of years from now, unannounced and appearing as an entitles brat with no experience whatsoever on the seas?”

Anger rippled through Sasuke. More than anything he hated older people deeming him inexperienced and incompetent when it came to the working s of the ship, as if he hadn’t been on it for his entire life. Drawing his hands together he began to erratically sign at Itachi, ‘That’s not true! Even as a child, I always showed interest in the on goings of the ship!’

“Do you they’re going to know that? Or care? Sasuke, sometimes you have to put aside your personal dilemmas to make sure you have none in the future.” Tying his hair back up, Itachi turned around and levelled Sasuke with a strange look in his eyes.

Confusion marred Sasuke’s features as he unsurely signed, ‘What does that mean?’

Sparing him a blank stare, Itachi sighed and began to walk out of the room. “It means get dressed. You have to be down there in an hour. And don’t forget to comb your hair. It looks like you just woke up.”

Sasuke was about to retort at his older brother’s choice of words, but wasn’t given the chance because he had already vanished – probably to prepare for the party. Letting out a soundless sigh, Sasuke turned and looked down at the suit Itachi had taken the liberty of laying out on his bed for him. It was going to be a long night.

XXX

Looking himself up and down in the mirror, Sasuke crinkled his nose a little. He didn’t wear suits often, not even when he was at the office. They were tight, and they were uncomfortable. He couldn’t sit down, he couldn’t stand up. It was just weird.

Not to say he didn’t look good. On the contrary he looked better than he had ever done in his life. Well, maybe. People often told him he didn’t have a bad side, or a bad day. They had clearly never seen him in the morning (Itachi had been right, his hair truly was a mess).

He wore a crisp white shirt, covered with an ironed and creased black jacket. A simple black tie rested against his chest, tied in a simple knot that had unspoken elegance. Newly shined dress shoes adorned his feet, laces tied in neat double knots. Having managed to tame his rather unruly hair – with a heavy dose of hair gel that is – it jutted out at the back of his head in stylish spikes, his bangs framing either side of his face nicely.

“Are you ready little brother?” Itachi came walking into his room, completely without announcing himself by the clearing of his throat, or knocking on the door.

Itachi wore the same crisp white shirt as Sasuke was, except with the addition of a black vest. Covering that was a black jacket, as well as shined and polished shoes. His hair was tied back in his usual loose ponytail, and Sasuke wondered why Itachi always chipped him about his hair when Itachi’s was even wilder and more untameable. Much like his lifestyle, he refused to change it for anyone.

‘Do I have a choice?’ Sasuke’s face was the perfect picture of boredom, and he was not shy in letting Itachi know how much he detested the current situation.

Running sharp eyes over him in a once-over, Itachi nodded to himself before locking gazes with Sasuke and verbally replying, “No, not really.”

Itachi then offered him a smile and Sasuke puffed out his cheeks, letting out a breath and feeling rather pouty. He didn’t notice Itachi walk up to him until he felt his forefinger press against his forehead, drawing his eyes upwards.

“It’ll be okay. An hour, two hours tops. That’s all. And then you’re done for the rest of the cruise.”

Sasuke’s defiant expression faltered, his gaze averting to the side as he shifted from foot to foot in nervousness. ‘No one is going to want to talk to me.’ He didn’t even look up when he made the signs, but he knew Itachi was frowning at him right now.

“Of course they will. You just have to try and be a little…gregarious.” Sasuke’s eyebrow twitched in irritation as an unfriendly glare made itself at home on Sasuke’s face, aimed to no one of course but Itachi.

“Oh and don’t glare off into space. No one will come up to you if you look angry.” Itachi added, moving in front of Sasuke to look at himself in the mirror, fixing his tie and straightening his jacket.

Narrowing his eyes, Sasuke signed deftly to his brother while keeping the glare on his face, ‘I don’t glare off into space.’

“Yes you do. Be out here in five minutes, Sasuke.” His brother was already walking out the door as he called over his shoulder to Sasuke, shutting the door behind him. Footsteps became fainter as they travelled down the hall.

Drawing his brows together, Sasuke turned back to the mirror and began to ponder if he really did glare on a subconscious level. He shook his head, deciding it was ridiculous and that Itachi was just messing with him. As usual. Then he ran his eyes over himself, nodding in satisfaction. Slipping his hands inside his pockets, he exited the sanctuary that was his room on the ship and followed after Itachi down to the dining hall.

He hoped the food would be good. Though knowing it was his father he was talking about, he knew it would be exquisite. Food of the highest quality for the people of the hugest quality – supposedly. There always was an occasional meal that tasted foul even though it was expensive, in the same margin that a cheap, homemade meal could satisfy one’s taste in the greatest of ways no high quality food could match.

Rounding a corner, Sasuke descended the steps from his cabin and made his way across the floor to the elevator. He pushed the button, waited for it to ding, and inwardly sighed at the amount of people in there. Stepping inside, he manoeuvred himself near towards the back of the elevator, where the buttons were located. He poised his finger to tap the button for the floor the dining hall was on, until he heard the voice of someone yell out.

“Hey! Wait up! Hold the elevator would ya!?” His onyx eyes tore themselves away from the wall covered in buttons and looked upward to see who had called out. But his vision was obscured by the heads in front of him, as he had of course moved towards the back of the elevator. So he waited regardless, and it was only until he heard the footsteps coming closer and closer and then stop that he pressed the button and the doors closed.

And Sasuke waited for his thanks from the person who had come in late to the elevator, but it never came. Not one word of gratitude from that person, not even a glance towards the back to see who had held the lift for him. By the time the elevator dinged signalling the arrival of their small party; Sasuke was much more annoyed than he had been prior to his little trip.

Ungrateful people, Sasuke thought and felt a scowl form as he strode out of the lift. So the crew were rude, he was wearing a suit, and he had just arrived at a party where he would be forced to socialise for an hour.

Could it get any worse?

Chapter Text

Finally out of the crowded elevator, Sasuke strode into the dining room and glanced around at the ever so familiar dining hall deck. He didn’t even bother to look for the person he had so inconveniently waited for. They weren’t worth his time.

As he took in his surroundings, Sasuke found a somewhat warm feeling in his chest. Nothing had changed on the Pāru.

If one positive thing could be said about Fugaku Uchiha, it was that he was a man of class and very refined taste. Walking out into the dining hall floor, the first thing all would notice was the elaborate chandelier hanging in the centre of the room from the ceiling. It was a more traditional one, but its presence radiated a sophisticated aura that none could help but marvel at. Either side of the ship walls were taken up by an expanse of full length windows, reaching from the floor to the ceiling and giving the view of the dock during the twilight hours.

Tables were splayed in a vast array of such exquisite dishes it was almost a crime to want to devour them and leave not a trace behind. Platters of mouth-watering food covered the entire length of the oblong table, such as small sandwiches, some hot food bakes and even a section of seafood was allocated. Then there was the dessert table, which included pastries, cakes and slices all of interesting and exotic flavours and all in endless supply. The chefs hadn’t ever, in Sasuke’s history, received any complaints from the passengers or crew about their food.

And then there was the bar, which was set up over in the far corner of the room in a nook. Sasuke had less experience with this part of the dining experience but he would soon become well-acquainted with. A very wide range of alcohol was offered, ranging from beers to wines to cocktails to martinis – any type of alcohol really. Sasuke would be looking forward to tasting some. Though he didn’t indulge in it excessively, Sasuke did enjoy his occasional drink very now and then. And there were drinks on the list that he hadn’t even heard of.

Yes, only the very best hospitality service on the Uchiha cruises, because the best hospitality equivalents to the most mollified of customers.

The room lulled in softly held conversation, with the occasional laugh or snippet of conversation becoming loud enough to be heard over the murmurings of the crowd. Some people were dressed formerly, like Itachi and Sasuke, with a smooth suit or an elegant dress adorning their bodies. Others were more casual in their fashion, some even going as far to wear jeans. Nothing lower than that though, and it wasn’t as if they looked ugly. Sometimes simpler equalled better.

Scanning over the room, he quickly located Itachi among the faceless people. He was standing alone, a glass of champagne already clutched in his hands. Immediately Sasuke set a course towards his brother, ignoring the friendly greetings that were tossed his way as he walked through the people. There was no point in responding, no one would understand and Sasuke didn’t have the time to explain.

Itachi spotted him when he was metres away and a relieved look flitted across his face, as it did on Sasuke’s. Turning around, Itachi called over a waiter who was walking around with a tray of champagne glasses exactly the same as the one Itachi held. When Sasuke finally reached him he handed the full glass, which he accepted gladly.

“Good to see you made it here without causing a massive conflict,” Itachi slightly smirked and in turn Sasuke scowled. Of course Itachi’s way of becoming comfortable once more would be to make fun of him.

“I have to say a welcome speech in a couple of minutes,” Itachi murmured lowly, nodding to an elderly man who gave him a friendly wave, “You can go and stand in the crowd if you would like.”

Sasuke nodded agreeably. He didn’t really entertain the idea of standing in front of a large crowd of people who would stare at him judgementally.

The two of them had agreed that they would acknowledge they were related – brothers of course – and that Sasuke had just tagged along with Itachi for the cruise ride, seeking for a brief holiday. Nothing more than that. Only a few vital crew members would be informed of this, those of whom included the captain, the head chef, and a few of the higher ups concerned with the maintenance and boarding of the ship. Other than that, as far as everyone else was concerned the director of all activities on the Pāru was Itachi Uchiha.

“Okay, you can go now.” Placing his empty glass down on the table, Itachi straightened out his suit jacket and a formal aura now surrounded him.

He was making his way towards the centre of the room, smiling at those who acknowledged him. Before his defection Itachi had become quite a success on the cruise line (in the short amount of time he had worked there) and many people would book a cruise just because he would be on it for whatever reason. If only Itachi had any passion whatsoever for the job, he would have made a phenomenal cruise director.

Sasuke silently slipped back into the fray, making his way through. He kept walking until he arrived at the dessert table, where he stopped and stood, looking and feeling bored. A girl was standing not so far away, and she giggled at him when he looked at her. He only rolled his eyes and looked back to the front.

There wasn’t any point pursuing it, because there was a very strict rule on Uchiha Cruises Ltd. and that was to not get romantically or sexually involved with any of the staff or crew. Well, that rule only applied within the Uchiha family, the rest of the crew were free to do as they wished. But father had made it quite clear that relations with a co-worker made things difficult, clouded the mind and distracted one from his duties.

And Sasuke couldn’t agree more.

Then Itachi cleared his throat, smiled that charming smile, and just like that everyone’s attention was captured by him as he began to speak.

XXX

Once the speech was over, everyone applauded and many people came forward to shake Itachi’s hand and strike up conversations with him. So now Sasuke was alone as well. Damn his brother, damn him for making Sasuke come and suffer with him too.

Letting out a fed up sigh, Sasuke turned around to inspect the sweet desserts on the table. He hadn’t ever really had a great liking towards sweets, which had proved to be a good thing in the long run seeing as how girls would approach him with boxes of chocolate and he would have a valid reason to say no. Well, it was valid enough in Sasuke’s mind. So he wasn’t so interested in all the colourful desserts, no matter how appetising they may have looked to the eye.

Intending on heading towards the bar and taking a seat there for the remaining forty or so minutes, Sasuke tucked his hands in his pockets and started to walk off. But then –

“You should’a seen it, dry as a dead dingo’s donger I’m tellin’ ya!”

Sasuke froze. That voice. He knew that voice. The cogs in his mind began to turn as he tried to pinpoint the moment when he had heard the loud, brash voice. Where had he heard it? It had been just recently, he could tell that much. Searching through his memories, he traced back from boarding the ship, where he then entered his room, Itachi told him to prepare for the party, then he got dressed and went to go catch the–

“Hey! Wait up! Hold the elevator would ya!?”          

A scowl twitched at Sasuke’s lips. So it was that moron he had waited for in the elevator. He looked around for the source of the voice, walking away from his spot near the table. Sasuke didn’t often do nice things for others so easily, but he wasn’t rude. He would hold the elevator for someone, open a door for a lady and shake hands with new people he met. Yet this person, this man (for it had clearly been the voice of a man), had completely disregarded and ignored his small gesture. Not to say that Sasuke was looking for recognition or even a word of thanks, but some sort of appreciation would have been nice.

Sasuke said nothing, of course. But he felt that even if he had the ability to speak it would have deserted him at this point. He stared at man, unabashedly and without sense of his surroundings or the situation. He was…he was unlike any other person he had seen. Blonde hair was wild and unkempt, but suited him in the most bizarre way. On his cheeks were whisker-like marks and Sasuke silently wondered whether they were tattoos or scars of some kind. For an odd reason he would have preferred the first option. And he was ridiculously tanned, and not in the fake way. He could tell just be looking at him that it was all natural – this man was clearly not of Japanese descent. And even though Sasuke was only looking at him side-on, he could tell his eyes were blue. A blue unlike any other he had encountered.

There was another guy next to him. He had even crazier hair, but it was more in a devil-may-care sort of way. It was rich brunette in colour, and red triangles lined down both his cheeks – clearly tattoos. He was a natural tan too, and had the same untameable appearance as his counterpart. Their loud laughter was filling the empty void in the room when light conversation would pause, and of course they were included of the group of people who wore casual dress to the party.

But even though Sasuke noticed the brunette, his eyes couldn’t seem to move away from the blonde. He wondered why he couldn’t look away, walk over to him, do something. All he did was stand and stare.

Suddenly a strange and unwelcome sensation started in Sasuke’s stomach, and he winced a little. What was that about? Had he eaten something bad? No, he didn’t think so. Not in the last few days. Then why did he feel so uncomfortable? It was the type of sensation that wasn’t enormous and extremely painful, but it did hurt enough to not be able to ignore it.

The blonde man was gesturing wildly, throwing his hands around and a smile on his lips as laughter tumbled from it. And then he threw his hand backwards and his champagne emptied straight onto Sasuke, drenching his hair and dampening his hair.

Seeming to finally realise his glass was empty, the guy turned around in confusion and a mix of shock and fear crossed his face when he laid eyes upon Sasuke.

“Huh? Oh shit, I’m so sorry. It-it was an accident! Honest!” His tone was panicked, rapid and slightly embarrassed.

Sasuke only stared at the man, eerily silent as he ever so slowly lowered his eyes to glance at the state of his suit. Completely ruined, and it was only the first night. The guy with brown hair had a hand over his mouth, evidently attempting to stop his laughter from overflowing into the room. Some people had stopped their conversation to observe, while others only glanced before carrying on with their business.

“Oh crap, here let me help.” The guy picked a napkin off the table and was suddenly all up in Sasuke’s personal space. He began dabbing at Sasuke’s suit, earning a thoroughly confused and highly irritating glare from Sasuke.

He was touching Sasuke, hands clasped on his suit collar holding it firm while he dabbed furiously at the champagne splattered all over Sasuke’s top half. Sasuke could only stare, dumbfounded and his mouth oddly dry as the blonde man drew closer to him. Why was this idiot getting so damn close!? He didn’t even ask first! His stomach clenched painfully when the strange scent of the man invaded his senses.

What the hell was going on!?

“There! It’s not so bad!” A bold declaration sounded across the room much louder than Sasuke had thought it would – if he had ever seen it coming!

Whatever state of stupor he had previously been caught up in disintegrated. He slapped the man’s hands away, furious glare in place as he took a deliberate step backwards. Shock filled the blue eyes, which widened dramatically. They then narrowed and the guy closed the distance Sasuke had created between them by taking another step forward.

“Hey, I said I was sorry. I didn’t do it on purpose, mate.”

More people were paying attention now, and it bothered Sasuke to no end. He hated public attention, despised it. He had no need for people to stare at him anymore than they already did. As a result Sasuke’s face became even more closed off and even more lethal. Onyx eyes darted around, searching for his brother. There was no way he was getting involved into something like this, he just wanted to go back to his room.

“Why are you glaring at me?” The blonde man took another step forward and Sasuke refused to believe his heart rate increased.

There was something about this man that Sasuke couldn’t quite put his finger on, but he got the message his mind was telling him to get as far away from his as possible.

But still on he continued, trying to make Sasuke answer him, “Are you deaf or somethin’? Can you hear me?”

That particular statement made anger flash across Sauske’s eyes. He was so sick and tired of people assuming he was deaf just because he couldn’t speak. It didn’t matter if it was accidental or on purpose, it was irritating all the same. Explaining himself to other people was a prospect he had learned to abandon – it never did him any good in the past, so why should it now?

When he wrote questions down, people laughed at him. When he made motions with his hands and his body, people laughed at him. And when he didn’t say a word people thought he was rude and unsociable. Trying to please all those people and be the version of him they wanted – that being the sociable and loving kind – was just a fantasy. Sasuke didn’t like to be around people a lot, and he wasn’t exactly a loveable person. He knew that. But that didn’t mean it had to be reinforced and drilled into his skull every single day of his life.

With his eyes boring into startlingly blue ones for a last moment, he stepped back away from the man. Then he turned around sharply and began to walk away.

But the man, it seemed, had other plans.

“Hey, come back! I was just–” And the guy pulled on Sasuke’s arm, making him stumble backwards and out of reflex Sasuke shot out a hand to punch him in the face.

Collective gasps sounded around the room as the blonde man stumbled backwards, maintaining a rocky balance as the brunette guy with the red triangles moved forward to grab onto his friend’s elbow to steady him.

Then there was silence.

Sasuke looked down at his hand, still curled tightly into a fist. It was trembling. What…what had he done? He just punched a complete stranger, who – despite spilling his drink on him – had done nothing to harm Sasuke. He was completely innocent.

Flashes of his past flickered across Sasuke’s mind’s eye, and he remembered that dark night at the University. He remembered the late afternoon in the park on his daily walk. Punches, kicks, spit, blood, gagging, coughing, vomiting – and of course the bruises. Sasuke shook his head to return to the present. Closer and closer these days the past crept back upon him, and it was starting to agitate him.

Sasuke bit his lip as whispered voices began to surround him. Dammit, this was that entire idiot’s fault! If he hadn’t been so goddamn persistent and just moved on then this wouldn’t have happened!

Accusing faces began to look towards him, and Sasuke felt a stab of unease in his chest. He stepped backwards a few more steps, until he bumped into someone. Turning around fearfully, the distress lessened instantly at the sight of his brother.

Itachi didn’t say anything, only looked down at Sasuke and back up to the blonde man who was being crowded by people. Feeling something twist inside him Sasuke squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before walking past Itachi and breaking into a run. Voices called out, particularly his elder brother’s. But Sasuke didn’t stop. He was almost there, back to his room, back to safety.

This night had been a disaster.

XXX

Slamming the door open so that it crashed back against the wall, Sasuke stormed into his bedroom, kicking off his shoes and furiously untying his tie. The nerve of that moron! He knew this night was going to be a train wreck, and he was just proved right. Why did everything have to be so hard, why couldn’t he just stay by himself? He didn’t need to socialise, he didn’t need more friends. He had friends. What he needed was seclusion, aloneness, space to breathe.

Still trembling fingers clasped around the knot of his tie, as he began to undo it and throw it to the floor. Next he shed his jacket, leaving it a crumpled heap right beside his tie. He was in the process of unbuckling his belt when Itachi strode into the room purposefully, closing the door with a firm click behind himself. Sasuke didn’t even look up; only kept fumbling with his belt, the rage surging through him and the panic still tingling at his fingertips.

He felt rather than saw Itachi approach him, and tried to turn away but Itachi planted a firm hand on his shoulder, stilling his movements. He waited until Sasuke stopped struggling and got his breathing under control and then retracted his arms. Then, he brought his hands together and started to sign to his little brother.

‘What happened Sasuke?’ Itachi’s eyes were swimming with worry and concern, and Sasuke felt guilty for causing his brother unneeded stress. If only he could have controlled himself better.

Pushing his lips in a tight line, Sasuke looked up to his big brother and was signing quickly, in a manner that could be described as angry, ‘That crew member! He’s so obnoxious! Talking to me as if he knew it all!’

‘Who was it, Sasuke?’ Itachi urged, eyes not leaving Sasuke’s face even though Sasuke’s were wondering around the room uncertainly.

‘I don’t know! He had blonde hair, blue eyes – and a stupid look on his face! He sure seems like a moron to me!’ Walking away from his brother, Sasuke kicked off his shoes and didn’t even bother to put them together neatly. He couldn’t care less at the moment.

“Are you talking about Naruto?” Itachi asked calmly, now speaking again and Sasuke stopped messing up his hair to look up at his brother. Itachi took this as a sign to continue.

“Naruto Uzumaki. He has marks on his face does he not?” For added effect Itachi pointed a finger line down one of his cheeks in an imitation of what he meant.

It was a shock to Sasuke that Itachi seemed to already know this person, and hadn’t said anything in his support yet. Nonetheless, he slowly nodded his head in silent agreement.

Itachi seemed to breath out relief as he shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest, walking over to take a seat on Sasuke’s king size bed. “Sasuke, I’m sure you’re mistaken. I’ve met Naruto and he seems like a genuine person.”

‘Well you obviously were blind, brother. Because he is the most loud-mouthed idiot I’ve ever met!’ Sasuke outrageously signed, eyes blazing and fist clenched tightly. The man’s scent still stuck in his nostrils, and it was making him gag.

Waving a hand, Itachi seemed to no longer have any worry or concern for Sasuke left, and it pissed the younger Uchiha off.

“I’m sure it was all a misunderstanding. Sasuke, you can’t be causing conflict with the crew members. Even if they are not aware you are the person in charge, you should still maintain good relations with them. It cements a positive impression.”

‘I know, I know! It’s just he was being infuriating! Treating me like some wretched fool, just because I can’t speak!’ When Sasuke finished he glared at the ground, the remnants of the insulting question still floating around inside his mind.

A sigh tumbled from Itachi’s lips (he had been doing that much more lately, which annoyed Sauske. He wasn’t that exasperating!) and he moved his long hair out of his face, “Sasuke, you must have misunderstood each other. You tend to come off rather closed-off and isolated, what are people supposed to think? I thought you would be happy someone wanted to talk to you.”

‘Like his intentions was that innocent! I’m sure the moron was making fun of me, to his idiotic friends.’ An image of the brunette flashed across Sasuke’s mind for a moment and he narrowed his eyes, dragging a hand through his hair agitatedly.

Noticing the behaviour, Itachi silently stood and moved over to where Sasuke was, placing his hand back on his younger brother’s shoulder and giving it what Sasuke supposed to be a comforting squeeze. His eyes flew up in an instant, and Itachi had that sad look in his eyes again. It didn’t happen a lot, but Sasuke always remembered when it did. Just like they did the first time he saw Itachi four years ago after his treatment.

“Sasuke, you have to stop pushing people away.” He said softly.

Sasuke’s face scrunched up a moment and he shook his head, signing speedily, ‘I wasn’t pushing anyone away! And besides, I wouldn’t want a guy like him near me anyway.’

And then Itachi looked at him. It was undecipherable look, the only one that Sasuke could never understand. Then the hand left his shoulder and Itachi fixed his shirt collar, folding it back down and schooling his face back to indifference. So Itachi was going back out there, Sasuke hoped he wouldn’t have to go back.

“You will apologise tomorrow morning, before the passengers’ board. And then we will speak no more of it.” His elder brother’s tone was strict and final, and was strangely similar to how their father would speak.

Dread came over Sasuke and he hastily began to sign, ‘But, brother–’

“Though you may be the one in charge here, I am still your big brother. You will do this one small favour for me, please.” Itachi turned around to meet his gaze, face serious but eyes portraying all that Sasuke needed to see.

All future protests died in his throat as Sasuke lowered his eyes and cast his gaze downwards. He knew he was sounding spoiled and self-centred, and he hated it. Each day Itachi was there for him, Sasuke knew, and without him by his side Sasuke also knew a lot of the things that were possible now wouldn’t have been without Itachi. His brother was the person he could tell anything and everything to, when his parents were too bust wrapped up in their own affairs. Yet even if Itachi happened to be busy, he would stop, and help Sasuke with whatever he needed. He felt incredibly guilty for keeping Itachi here for so long – he was only here for Sasuke after all. Itachi had his own dreams, and watching over a cruise ship was not one of them.

When Sasuke had promised him he would speak again, he also made a promise to himself. That he would finally become strong enough so Itachi wouldn’t have to worry anymore. He didn’t know how long that would take, but each day was a day closer.

So it was that Sasuke swallowed his pride, looked his brother in the eyes, and signed, ‘You’re right brother. I will apologise for my actions first thing tomorrow morning.’

It seemed a lot of the tension fell out of Itachi’s face, as it became less tight around the edges and his tone a little less sharp.

“That is all I ask, Sasuke.”

XXX

A verbal apology was out of the question, and even if he could speak Sasuke doubted he would actually apologise. Sasuke wasn’t the type to regret his decisions so easily, even if they proved to be not so rewarding for others.

Writing it down wasn’t appealing in the least. Written apologies, to Sasuke at least – seemed fake and not all that meaningful. Not that he was actually meaning this apology – he still very much detested this Naruto and refused to believe it had been his fault. But he had to seem like he was trying.

So Sasuke had decided to go with an apology that was both informal yet personal all at once. He had gotten a bottle of champagne. The exact replica Naruto had spilled on him for that matter.

Reaching the door number Itachi had told him to go to, he raised a hand and held it inches away from the door. Did he really have to do this? What if he left the bottle with a note that just said his name? That would suffice wouldn’t it?

Giving his head a shake, he pushed away any such thoughts. No. No, he was doing this. He would not complain, nor whinge nor whine. He was a grown man for God’s sake! It wasn’t like he was eight years old again. All he had to do was hand him the bottle, pull an apologetic look onto his face, and bid the guy goodbye, never to (hopefully) see him again. It was a simple task, one he could deal with.

Inhaling quickly, he rapped the door with his knuckles exactly three times. He would be the bigger man in this situation, he would hold true to the Uchiha standard of appropriateness of conduct. Admittedly, he had acted rashly and in a way that was uncalled for. So it was his duty to set things right again.

Just as impatience nearly got the better of Sasuke and he was about to knock again, he heard the shuffling of feet and movement from inside. Then the lock clicked and the door knob turned, and there stood Naruto Uzumaki, still dressed in his pyjamas and still looking half-asleep even though it was already past nine o’clock in the morning. Though his mellow counterpart seemed to disappear into thin air upon his realisation it was Sasuke at the door, an unwelcome frown marring his face.

“What are you doing here?”

Of course Sasuke couldn’t answer. Didn’t the idiot already know this by now? He really must have been as dense as he looked.

“So you’re still not gonna speak to me?”

Silence – as if Sasuke was going to justify himself to this Naruto. He had suffered more than enough last night, and didn’t fancy having a repeat. Sasuke knew he had overreacted, and if the tiniest morsel of guilt could be felt then Sasuke felt it.

“Should’ve figured. A guy like you wouldn’t say sorry to anyone.”

Naruto’s eyes then travelled down to Sasuke’s hands, where he clutched the bottle of champagne so tightly he was mildly amused it hadn’t broken yet. His temper was rising, and this guy was awakening feelings he didn’t want to remember.

“Gonna break that over my head?” He asked, crossing his arms over his chest casually and leaning against the doorframe as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

Oh, how Sasuke wished to. Instead he just narrowed his eyes, and thrust the bottle towards Naruto. He would restrain this unnatural urge to punch this guy in the face. Again. It was odd. Even when it came to the most abhorrent of clients or people Sasuke saw, none could raise his temper as quickly as this guy. Sasuke didn’t know what it was, but looking at him filled him with an uncomfortable sensation in his stomach. This guy was clearly bad news.

After a quiet moment, Naruto reached out and took the bottle out of Sasuke’s hands. And Sasuke thought it was over until –

“So what, is this it?” The unamused tone drew Sasuke’s focus back to the blonde-haired man, who was looking at the champagne bottle disapprovingly. Sasuke raised an eyebrow in question and of course Naruto answered.

“I still haven’t gotten my apology.”

Sasuke’s blood boiled. Well neither had he! Since his arrival Naruto had not uttered a single word of remorse or apology for his actions. He just stood there, expectant and looking at Sasuke as if he was an idiot. Suddenly Sasuke wasn’t feeling so apologetic anymore. In fact the only thing that kept him still standing there and talking to the idiot was Itachi. He said to Itachi he would apologise, and he would. It was just that Naruto was making it extremely difficult to do so without wanting to punch him in the face.

“You know if you just opened your mouth and said two little words this would all be over.”

Furious eyes shot up and a dark glare stole over his face. There he went again, assuming this or that about Sasuke without even knowing the facts! Just who did he think he was!? He had barely known the man for a day and already he hated him. He just exuded over-confidence and it pissed Sasuke off. A guy who looked like he knew what he was doing but really didn’t have a single clue – that’s all he was!

And then Sasuke wondered why the hell he was still standing there. He had given Naruto the bottle, he had done his job – and now he was leaving. Swiftly he turned on his heel and began stalking off down the corridor.

“Oi! Where are you going!? I wasn’t finished!”

Sasuke ignored the calls of a clearly disgruntled Naruto, and continued on his way. It had taken all his willpower to give Naruto the bottle without a condescending look on his face. If he stayed any longer he was sure to start another fight. There was just no way he and Naruto would ever get along. Sasuke made a mental note to avoid his company as one would do when the plague was rampant. Though, of course Sasuke would be spending most of his time in his office, so there was no chance of seeing Naruto again until the end of the cruise.

Crew member or not, Sasuke wouldn’t be getting along with Naruto Uzumaki anytime soon.

XXX

When he returned to his room he found Itachi standing in front of his mirror, appearing to have just finished dressing himself. Standing in the line of the mirror, Sasuke signed irately.

‘You’re aware you do have your own cabin, aren’t you?’

“Yes, I am.”

Not looking away from the mirror, Itachi examined his appearance and Sasuke rolled his eyes, taking off his shoes and running a hand through his hair. Ick. The gel he had to wear was so weird to touch. And his hair didn’t really need the added spikes; it was just sort of spiky anyway. It just made him look more presentable, Itachi had said to him.

Sasuke just dropped the subject. There was no point in trying to explain it any further, Itachi seemed inclined to doing whatever he pleased and Sasuke couldn’t complain because he had the exact same tendency.

“So how did it go?”

Sasuke stilled. That was oddly straight to the point, ‘Fine.’

“So Naruto accepted your apology?” Itachi continued to probe, tilting his head to the side and fixing his own hair. It didn’t have the same spikes as Sasuke’s; it was more like their mother’s hair, long and dark in colour.

Sucking his teeth for a moment, Sasuke signed to his brother before heading into the bathroom to wash his hands, ‘I apologised, and that’s all.’

Sasuke knew Itachi knew things hadn’t gone exactly as planned. There was no hiding from his older brother. But he didn’t feel like talking about the topic anymore. It was finished. He had apologised and as far as Sasuke was concerned Naruto had forgiven him.

“I suppose it’s at least a good thing you seemed to appear to express feelings of regret.” Itachi conceded, and Sasuke rolled his eyes as he exited the bathroom, taking off his shoes and placing them neatly in the corner.

“I am to be going now. The passengers will be arriving soon and I must be there to greet them.”

‘I’ll just revise over the activities schedule and I should have all the copies printed off and laminated by the time you run through the safety procedures.’ Sasuke pulled his laptop out from his carryn bag, plugging it on the charger and starting it up.

“Perfect, then you can make it just in time to run through them as well.”

Sasuke shot his brother a confused look and Itachi barely hid the smirk threatening to tug at his lips, “The safety procedures are mandatory for both crew and passengers to attend. You should know this already, Sasuke.”

‘Is it really so necessary? I already know them all off by heart.’ Itachi raised an eyebrow and Sasuke knew he could hear the complaining in his voice – even though Sasuke couldn’t speak.

“And how long has it been since you have set foot on a ship?”

Silence. Damn Itachi and his logic. He always outdid Sasuke, like he made it his mission to have the better comeback.

“A refresher will do you good.” Giving a nod in place of Sasuke (who did not) Itachi turned away from the mirror and started walking out.

“See you at two o’clock sharp. Don’t be late.” His brother had waved to him as he exited the room, and Sasuke rolled his eyes and waved back, sitting down at his computer and opening up the schedule to revise.

As if he would be late.

XXX

And Sasuke was late. Of course. But he wouldn’t have been if the printer hadn’t jammed and he hadn’t had to go fetch the maintenance guy to come and fix it. Once he finally received all the printed copies of the cruise schedule though, he was satisfied. He then distributed it to the head cleaner to pass onto all the other cleaners to distribute in the rooms on each deck before the passengers would arrive. It was a pretty good schedule if Sasuke did say so himself, and would suffice for a month before it would have to be revised and re-distributed.

So it was that Sasuke had a full length view of the demonstration – from the very back of the room.

“Good to see ya again, bastard.”

Closing his eyes for a moment, Sasuke pleaded that that voice was not the one he thought it was. Turning to look to his side, he exhaled loudly through his nose.

None other than Naruto Uzumaki was standing right next to him. And Sasuke was grateful for the fact he could no longer speak because he surely would have let out a yell of frustration. This guy was everywhere.

“We never got to finish our conversation this morning. You ran off so fast. Why? Was the stick you have lodged so tightly in your ass starting to fall out?”

The tightening of his lips was the only indication Sasuke gave that he had heard him, his eyes facing back to the front once more. Since his time spent with Suigetsu, Sasuke liked to think he had become more accustomed to more profane language. Almost every swear word in existence was known to him now, and his understanding of crude jokes had developed. But the way this guy spoke was so…unapologetically apologetic, if that made sense. Well, it did to Sasuke at least.

Naruto still stood there next to him, evidently waiting for some sort of response to his supposed joke. All Sasuke did was raise an indignant eyebrow and curl his upper lip, facing his body frontwards to feign attention on the speech being given.

Though it seemed Naruto already knew about the evacuation procedure or didn’t really care, because he proceeded on with speaking to Sasuke.

“Not really a conversation though, since you didn’t say anything.”

Breathing out a harsh silent sigh, Sasuke stepped away from where Naruto was. There wasn’t a lot of room but he managed to find a place next to one of the full length windows. Turning his eyes to the front of the room, he picked up on the trails of the evacuation process, one which he knew quite well.

It was an employee Sasuke was unfamiliar with (a lot had changed in four years) who was speaking out the instructions, pointing to a large map of the ship on the screen behind him. His hair was greasy and stuck so tightly to his head it would be almost impossible to hold any in between your fingers.

He was barking out loudly to the passengers, “Now once you evacuate your room, you will find emergency exits at the back of the floor hall you are staying. Please, despite the panic and confusion, please attempt to conduct yourselves in a manner–”

“What are you doing?”

Jumping a little at the voice in his ear, Sasuke turned abruptly around and widened his eyes. The moron had followed him! There he was, standing next to Sasuke, with his hands in his pockets and a perplexed expression on his face. Sasuke scowled, turning back to the front and paying attention despite how he already knew the entire drill and very well could be the one up there reciting it – if he could only speak of course.

A massive glare stole over Sasuke’s face – aimed to none but the blonde man who continued looking at him so nonchalantly. It made his blood boil, his teeth clench. This moronic moron just couldn’t take a hint!

Folding his arms over his arms over his chest, a sigh escaped Naruto’s lips as he cocked his head to the side, gazing at Sasuke, “You know, I really don’t know what you’ve got against me. We only met the other night and you act like I just opened my lunch every time I see you. I don’t get it.”

Knitting his eyebrows together tightly, Sasuke frowned. What the hell did that mean? Naruto wasn’t eating any lunch, and if he would why would Sasuke want to leave? A flicker of frustration ignited in him and he wished this Neanderthal would just leave him alone already.

Sasuke couldn’t care less for this blonde man, for his stupid grin and cocky personality, barging in wherever he pleased and demanding this and that of Sasuke. Yet he was so persistent. It was supposed to be one interaction and then nothing. Done. No more should he ever see him. Why was he being put into these unfortunate situations?

“Hey, are you listening?” A hand reached out and wrapped around his wrist and Sasuke froze for a moment, before jerking his hand away as if he had been scolded by boiling water.

And the touching! The familial touches that were indicative of closeness had no place in their relationship. In fact they had no relationship. They were nothing more than two strangers, both members of a crew on the boat. And for some reason these touches were making Sasuke feel greatly uncomfortable. They were unfounded and completely unnecessary, making his stomach churn and gurgle in repulsion.

Naruto opened his mouth to speak again but it was drowned out by the poignant ring of a whistle blasting across the room at an ear-splitting volume. Many people covered their ears while others grumbled quietly about it. Only Sasuke seemed to be unaffected, as the sound of a life-saver whistle had been a long-accustomed sound for him.

When he was certain the idiot wasn’t paying attention, he quietly took a few steps backward. And then he turned around and made a swift and silent exit. The procedure was coming to an end and he wanted to beat the rush of people who would flood out the doorways. Hopefully Itachi wouldn’t mind his early exit, but it didn’t matter if he did. Sasuke was going back to his room where he would sit down, order a coffee, and get back to his work. And try to stay in the company of people who weren’t utter morons.

XXX

Once the whistle finished blowing, he rubbed at his ears irately. When he looked back to the side he was met with the sight of an empty space. His acquaintance had apparently made the dash, and had ditched the meeting. Looking around the crowd, Naruto tried to spot a walking figure with spiky black hair but was greeted with nothing instead.

That was rude. Naruto had just been trying to smooth things over and the bastard had to keep being so goddamn difficult. He wasn’t the type of person who liked to leave awkwardness or tension in the air, preferring to clear it as soon as possible. But this guy with the black hair was making what was usually an easy task two hundred times harder.

Just then Kiba rushed up to him, apparently having found him amongst the crowd. Naruto gave a him a smile but Kiba was more intent on talking right now, which wasn’t really out of the ordinary if one who knew Kiba well thought about it.

“Dude, do you know who you were just talking to!?” Kiba half-yelled, half-spoke, brown eyes bugged out and an eager expression painted on his face.

Tilting his head to the side, Naruto pursed his lips as he jabbed his thumb behind his back, “You mean the asshole that just left? Not a clue.”

“That was Sasuke Uchiha!” Kiba finally shouted, unable to contain his voice any longer. He grinned sheepishly when many pairs of eyes landed on him but Naruto’s mind had slammed to halt.

“Uchiha?” He asked, drawing his brows together whilst Kiba nodded his head enthusiastically – probably so as not to shout again.

Naruto paused for a moment, and then asked again hesitantly, “Are you sure?”

“Dude that was him! Itachi Uchiha’s little brother, Sasuke Uchiha! I don’t know how you didn’t recognise him to be honest. He looks just like Itachi.” Waving his arms about, Kiba’s voice fluctuated between volumes as it rose and he caught himself and brought it back down and that was pretty much the process. He then pointed to the man standing off to the side at the front of the demonstration, which also wore a blank expression and had dark, ebony hair.

Staring at the man for a minute, Naruto looked back to the spot in which the man who had punched him once stood, “No, he’s…”

Kiba waited, silently urging Naruto to go on. But Naruto cut himself off before he could say anymore. Instead a dry, humourless chuckle escaped his lips as he tucked his hands back into his pockets. “Of course he’s an Uchiha. How could I be so stupid?”

Naruto knew enough about the Uchihas to realise that this guy was definitely no different. Clearly he was just an asshole, for no particular reason. A spoiled brat. He knew the Uchihas were self-obsessed, career-orientated, cash-driven, deceitful people. Oh yes, he knew this very well. Burning resentment and anger began to build up inside him, as the image of that man flashed across his eyes.

That day, when everything had changed and that man had come barging in where he didn’t belong.

“What were you talking about?” Bringing him back to the present, Naruto glanced over at Kiba, who was waiting with an anticipated look on his face.

Glancing back over to the doorway, Naruto stared at it for a while before replying, “Nothing.”

As Naruto glanced back to his best friend, a dubious look appeared on Kiba’s face and Naruto was sure he had seen an eyebrow lift up in disdain. He took a step closer to the blonde, crossing his arms over his chest and trying to look as intimidating as he could. Which of course he hopelessly failed at, because even when they rough-housed Naruto was never afraid of Kiba. He wasn’t really afraid of any human actually. It was more the figurative things that frightened him, the what-ifs and lost dreams and squandered hopes.

That was why he was on this ship after all, working for the Uchihas.

Pulling a smile onto his face, Naruto shook his head and started to walk out of the room, heading back to his cabin. Kiba made haste and quickly followed after him.

“No really, it was nothing.”

“Alright then.”

It seemed as if he would definitely not be getting along with Sasuke Uchiha anytime soon. And he would bank his savings that it was the same vice versa. For some reason that filled Naruto with a disgruntled feeling, but he shook it off as he exited through the doors and made his way to the elevator with Kiba jabbering on about the clearly fake hair the boat safety guy was sporting.

At least this Sasuke wouldn’t have to worry about Naruto bothering him anymore.

 

Chapter Text

A full week had passed since the Pāru had set out from Konoha, and Sasuke couldn’t have been better. Since the first three encounters with the rambunctious Naruto Uzumaki, Sasuke had made it a personal mission of his to avoid his presence. And it was working fairly well for him, for he hadn’t set eyes upon the man since. It was a very satisfying feeling, and Sasuke’s theory had been proved right. That Naruto must have had some repellent, because all uncomfortable feelings Sasuke had had vanished.

As well as not seeing hide or blonde hair of Naruto Uzumaki, Sasuke had also completed all of his social duties for the trip. Well, of course there would be the farewell party towards the end of the cruise, where all the crew gathered once more and where Itachi would congratulate and thank them for their hard work and efforts over the time period. But other than that, Sasuke had no other responsibilities to fulfil except those of his own, which he was currently doing right at this very moment.

Itachi had been pretty much swamped the entire week, having to entertain and introduce himself to basically all of the passengers on board – a grand total of three hundred. Sasuke didn’t envy him one bit. His last encounter with the crew had resulted in him punching one of them in the face, which even though he didn’t feel guilty about it, he felt regret at losing his temper in front of such a large crowd. He didn’t really fancy taking his chances with the passengers, who could produce even worse results as they tended to get on Sasuke’s nerves a lot easier.

And at the end of a day Itachi would return to his own cabin and go to sleep as soon as his duties were over. So there had been no annoying elder brother to get on his case about socialising or not working so hard or combing his hair even when he already had ten times before, which Sasuke had to admit was a relief. Though he loved Itachi more than anyone else, and would do anything and everything for him, he could be a bit overbearing and overprotective at times.

So now he was sitting at his desk with a hot tea beside him, in a black hoodie partnered with grey sweat pants and running over some paperwork that Itachi had made the time to dump on his desk this morning. And it just so happened to be eleven in the morning. Sasuke didn’t care, and didn’t feel the need to dress up properly when he was in his own company.

Taking a moment for a brief break, Sasuke brought the warm mug to his lips and drank in the hot liquid. Looking out his window distractedly, he pondered what activites he had scheduled on the ship as of now. At eleven am today there was crane-making on the third deck, and musical entertainment on the fifth deck.

Setting his cup back down, he exhaled out softly and resumed his work, examining the written words extensively.

XXX

The gentle thrum of the strings was the only sound he could hear in the small room backstage, as he tugged at the strings and tuning up his guitar.

“Mr Uzumaki, you’re starting in ten minutes. Wait for the signal.”

“Right, thanks mate.” He gave a nod and a friendly grin towards the tech guy, who didn’t even respond and just turned around talking into his shirt collar.

Even though he had moved to the big smoke that was Konoha in Japan of all places, Naruto never lost his modesty. It was just something that was instilled into him from his father, who had always given so much yet expected nothing in return. To Naruto, a please and a thank you could go a long way.

Naruto had not had plans to become a cruise line entertainer. None in the slightest. If he was honest the thought that such a position could exist had eluded him for the majority of his life. It was only when Kiba had jokingly pointed the job position of entertainer in the newspaper that he had decided to apply for it.

He didn’t have a degree in music, only his VCE and the word of his past teachers. Naruto wasn’t one to brag excessively (unless he was trying to piss someone off, in which case he could be very annoying to a point of exhaustion) but he had achieved the highest score not only within his grade, but one of the top in all of Victoria. His ATAR had not been overall that impressive, perhaps a little but above average. His music course was at the very top of all the courses he took.

It had been a big change when he had packed up three years ago and left his parent’s house back in Melbourne to move half-way across the world to live in the fast-pace city of Konoha. Though he had lived in the capital city of VIC, he hadn’t lived in the metropolitan area of the city. In fact his parents’ property had rested just on the outskirts of entering into Melbourne. It was a beautiful property, where the skyline met the land in a gentle embrace each morning and each night. And then pulling back and then falling over them again like an enormous curtain.

He missed the quiet, country life. Though the exciting bright lights of Konoha were amazing and made him catch his breath every time, there were times when he would miss the soft breeze that would flow over the property just as night fell. He remembered his mother’s laugh, how it would tinkle and bring a smile to his own lips as well. He remembered his father’s words, always wise but never condescending, and his devotion to their property and to them, and how he felt humbled by being a part of such greatness.

But it wasn’t so peaceful when he was the only one living there.

When his parents’ had died he had inherited the property, the winery and all their worldly possessions. It was strange, he was given so many things he had often day-dreamt about having, but he would have traded it all if he could have his parents’ back, alive and well once more. All the happy memories had become shrouded in sadness and broken promises, and it had broken him for a long time.

But he had a mission. He would not fail. He would make his parents’ proud, return back to Melbourne and everything would shine brightly again.

So yes, he had the vision. Now all he needed was the money, which drew back to his original point of why he was exactly on Uchiha Cruises Ltd. in the first place. He scowled just thinking about the name, and the image of that man popped up in his head before he forced it away, shaking his head. It wouldn’t do to get angry right before a show, no matter what the circumstance.

The red light in the ceiling began flashing and he stood up, slinging his guitar over his shoulder and walking down the hallway. His converses squeaked across the floor with each step he took, and he readjusted the guitar strap on his shoulder, smoothing out the material of his shirt. At least the dress code wasn’t overly strict, almost like business-casual.

Squaring his shoulders, he walked out onto the stage with a smile on his face and the same swagger in his step he always had.

“Good mornin’ ladies and gents. How are we all on this lovely cruise?” He called out casually to the audience into the microphone clipped onto his shirt collar. He was met with mild chuckles and cheerful murmurings.

“Hope y’all enjoy the show.” Flashing a friendly smile, he slung his guitar around to rest on his lap as he sat on the stool, earning many blushing faces and giggling and slight grumblings from the women and men respectively.

Then he placed his fingers on the strings, and began to play.

XXX

Luckily he had only scheduled one show for the day, which meant the remainder was left to him. So Naruto decided to go to down to the dining hall deck and get a bite to eat for lunch. Having never set foot on a cruise as a passenger or crew member before Naruto didn’t know what to expect with the food. But he was definitely not disappointed. It was probably the second best food in the world he had ever tasted, right behind his mother’s home cooking.

He had seated himself at one of the booths right next to the window, where he had a nice view of the blue ocean water and equally as blue sky above them. There were lots of white caps on the water today, he noted. It was funny how even though he had been on the ocean waters of both Australia and Japan they were so similar, but the lands themselves were so completely different. But he supposed that things that remain untouched never change.

“Fuckin’ hell, I swear my mum has some issues. She just emailed me that while I’m gone for three months she’s gonna flush my room out with disinfectant, and then get rid of all the junk. What the hell! What fucking junk, those are my fucking possessions!”

The voice of one Kiba Inuzuka bounded across the dining hall, bouncing off the walls and ensuring everyone heard his outburst. Heads turned to look towards their table, and Naruto would offer an apologetic smile in place of his frustrated friend which was generally well-received.

“Come on, she’s just got a lot of shit to deal with while you’re gone.” Naruto lifted his coffee and brought it to his lips, swallowing the warm liquid quickly. Coffee – he had found – worked wonders in any situation, especially when you were employed on a cruise ship and expected to perform anywhere from one to three times in a single day.

Growling at his screen, Kiba reached on his plate and shoved the last of his meat pie in his mouth, “She’s got some freakin’ kangaroos loose in the top paddock, that’s what she’s got! Fuck me.”

Naruto chuckled to himself all while Kiba glared down at his phone, muttering obscenities under his breath while he tapped out a hasty reply.

He had met Kiba just when he had graduated from high school. He had gotten a part-time job at the local dog shelter, which just so happened to be run by Kiba’s mother. Of course Kiba had been employed (forcefully and with minimum pay) by his mum so he and Naruto had worked on shifts together. It didn’t take long for them to start talking and realise they had a lot in common.

It only took two weeks for them to become best friends, and they had been ever since. They had gone to the same university, and had pretty much been through thick and thin together. Naruto was there when Kiba’s dad decided to pack up and leave without a goodbye, and Kiba had been there when Naruto’s parents had both been killed in that car crash. To sum it up, they were inseparable.

Hell, it was thanks to Kiba that they both had gotten this job! Despite his aversion to the company itself, Naruto knew that they paid well. And the job was easy, and he did enjoy performing from time to time. Plus he got to pay half as much as the passengers did for accommodation and food and drink, so it was a pretty sweet deal.

“Hey, is that Hinata?” Naruto nudged Kiba, he looked over lazily but then seemed to freeze on the spot.

Naruto’s mind flashed back to the shy girl they had met on campus three years ago, with the dark hair and surprisingly light eyes. Looking at the woman standing across the hall, Naruto could tell it was her just by those distinct eyes. She hadn’t really changed all that much, only becoming less of a girl and more of a woman.

“It is her. Hinata! Hey, Hinata over here!” He yelled out, drawing the attention of all passer-by’s and unappreciative glares. He didn’t care though, and he marched across the room to where she was, Kiba straggling on behind.

She seemed to have finally heard Naruto’s shouts (who hadn’t?) and startled a little in surprise, then smiled sweetly when she realised who the voice belonged to. Walking over, she met them in the foyer next to the elevators, where she was waiting to catch one to her deck.

“Oh, h-hello Naruto, Kiba.” She still kept her stutter it seemed, probably a trait she would never go out of. Hinata always had been extremely shy. A small smile graced her lips, as she switched her gaze between the both of them. Naruto grinned back broadly and Kiba just sort of stared.

“Hey, didn’t think we’d run into you here! This is like some crazy coincidence, right Kiba?” He nudged the brunette in the arm, and it seemed he either wasn’t expecting it or was really out of it because he jerked forward from the force of it.

Righting himself, Kiba dusted off some dirt that Naruto couldn’t see from his jeans and looking around distractedly, “Huh? Oh, yeah. It is.”

Noticing but choosing to ignore Kiba’s strange behaviour for the moment, Naruto turned back to face Hinata and asked, “What are you doing on here?”

Hinata’s shoulders jumped up at the question, as if she was startled by Naruto asking her such a thing as simple as that. But she soon let them relax as she tucked some stray hair behind an ear, looking at Naruto as she said, “W-Well my father wanted to take a family holiday, and Hanabi said she wanted t-to go on a cruise, s-so here we are.”

Nodding at her words, Naruto looked out of the corner of his eye for a moment to gauge Kiba’s response. He seemed oddly despondent, which wasn’t normal considering Kiba’s personality. He tended to be loud and proud, if not a little offensive from time to time.

Resting a hand on her shoulder for a moment, he gave her a friendly smile and observing how Kiba’s stance stiffened, “Ah that’s lucky! One more friend to spend time with.”

She blinked a few times, before a light blush covered her features and she gave him a small smile back. “Wh-What are you two d-doing on here?”

Her lavender eyes looked from Naruto over to Kiba, who was still looking over at the elevator like he was impatient to leave. Furrowing his brow, Naruto was going to say something to him but decided it wouldn’t be prudent in front of Hinata. Why was Kiba acting so uninterested? After all he had been a closer friend to Hinata than Naruto had been – at least in Naruto’s point of view.

Crossing his arms up over his head in his signature stance, Naruto shrugged his broad shoulders and said, “Ah well I tried out for a spot on the cruise, y’know like an entertainer? So yeah here I am.” He cast a glance sideways, and then added with a cheeky grin, “Oh and Kiba just decided to tag along for the ride, he’s my back-up so to speak.”

That one was always sure to set Kiba off. And set him off it did.

“Oi! I’m not no-one’s back-up ya tosser!” Outraged brown eyes bore into his own, his brow crinkled and his mouth drawn into something similar to how a dog would growl.

Naruto smirked, and turned to him casually, “Then why am I the main course and you’re just an entrée?”

Just as an actual growl could be heard rumbling within Kiba’s throat, a light laugh filled the silence. Both of them turned to see Hinata holding a hand over her mouth, and giggling softly as she looked at them in amusement.

“You two n-never change. A-Always the same.”

Naruto chuckled at that, and practically all of Kiba’s bite seeped out of him as he faced Hinata, now openly gazing at her with a weird look on his face. As her laughter subsided, Hinata let her attention stray to Kiba, and Naruto watched on in interest.

“H-Hello, K-Kiba.” Hinata smiled at him, and Naruto noticed how his best mate stiffened as tight as wooden board.

His face did a spasm before a too-wide grin plastered itself onto his face, and he waved at Hinata as he started to speak very fast, “H-Hey Hinata! Long-time no see huh? Man, it’s chilly outside today isn’t it? Really brisk, brisk, heh, it rhymes with risk. Never know what risks you’re gonna take! Have to be careful, ‘cause you know we’re on a cruise and like, sh-stuff happens!”

Naruto gave his friend a clear ‘what the fuck’ look but it was totally lost on him. Kiba’s brain had packed up and left and all that was left was a mushy pile of goo. And did he stutter? What the hell, Kiba never stuttered. It was a wonder he wasn’t swearing by this point, though Naruto was pretty sure he almost heard Kiba say shit before he changed it around. He crossed his arms over his chest and watched on with interest. This side of Kiba was definitely a new and interesting one to behold.

Hinata blinked in confusion – which Naruto could fully understand – before a soft smile tipped her lips upward in a friendly manner towards Kiba. Naruto could have sworn he saw his friend blush.

“A-Ah, I s-see. Y-You’re right, i-it is a bit c-cold.” She hugged herself as a brisk breeze flew in through the open windows, rubbing up and down her bare arms blithely. Kiba’s eyes followed the action, and Naruto’s eyes followed his. Something different was going on here, and he couldn’t quite figure out what it was just yet.

“W-Well I better go. F-Father wishes me to c-come and have l-lunch with him and H-Hanabi in our room.” Dropping her eyes downward, she checked the time on her silver wrist watch and then rested her hands by her side again, as if she was afraid of being impolite.

“Ah, too bad. We gotta catch up some time soon, just the three of us! And reminisce on the good ol’ days!” Naruto said with excitement in his voice.

Thank God there was someone else to talk to on here. Don’t get him wrong, he loved Kiba like a brother, but it would be nice to talk to someone else for a change. Someone who didn’t receive daily email updates from his mum and bitch about it to any listening ears.

“Y-Yes, m-maybe after y-you do a sh-show one time.” Hinata offered, and Naruto nodded enthusiastically. Kiba only gave a half-hearted “Yeah”.

“See ya later, Hinata!” He waved her off as she pressed the button for the elevator, stepping inside and waving goodbye to both of them with a smile.

As soon as the doors closed Naruto turned to his downcast friend, more than ready to get some answers to all of his newly formed questions.

“Mate, what the hell was goin’ on back there? You looked like you just swallowed a thumb tack, and I would know.” That had been a really interesting dare. Even more interesting were the results that evening. Needless to say Kiba’s mother had robbed him of his dessert privileges for two whole weeks.

“What? Nothin’ is goin’ on. I feel fine.” Kiba gave his shoulders a seemingly carefree shrug, as he regarded Naruto with a lazy-looking gaze.

Raising a blonde eyebrow, Naruto crossed his arms over his chest and nodded sagely while, “Really? ‘Cause to be honest to me it looked like you were shittin’ bricks just looking at Hinata back there.”

All notions of a carefree nature abandoned Kiba’s physique, his body stiff again and his eyes averting his. “Th-That’s rubbish.”

“What, you like her or somethin’?” He said it the way they would when they would joke around; playful and stupid, not having any actual meaning.

But the look on Kiba’s face was not playful or stupid. In fact it was utterly blank – an expression Naruto had rare acquaintance with when it came to his best friend.

It didn’t take long for him to catch on.          

“You like her.”

Kiba finally looked away from the space where Hinata had been, and Naruto hadn’t seen him looking s dejected since they cancelled One Tree Hill (Kiba had been a serious devotee). It was like all liveliness had drained out of him, and everything that made Kiba who he was.

“Why–” He didn’t get to ask anymore because Kiba knew what he was going to say.

“Because in uni the only one she ever looked at was you.”

Blue eyes widened at the blunt revelation, and Naruto’s mind linked their previous conversation and his actions towards Hinata and her responses with Kiba’s actions and response. He sighed. Yeah, he knew Hinata had had a huge crush on him in university, but he never felt the need to act on it because he only saw her as a friend.

“That was years ago–”

“Exactly. So if my feelings haven’t changed then why should hers?” Again those brown eyes weren’t looking at him, and Naruto didn’t like how distant things were between them all of a sudden. It was as if a wall had been erected right then and there, and he was powerless to stop it.

“Kiba–”

“I’ll catch ya later. I gotta go take a dump.” Kiba waved him off, shoving his hands inside his pockets and turning around in the direction Naruto knew didn’t lead to the bathrooms.

He nodded, and raised his own hand in a parting wave, “Alright, mate. See ya.”

Naruto may have let the conversation go for the moment, but he would talk to Kiba about it sooner or later. He didn’t like it when issues came up between them, and Hinata was looking like she could very quickly become an issue if he didn’t fix it soon.

Sighing, he walked across the floor and went out the door leading to the deck. Stepping outside, he walked up to the railing and leaned against it, breathing in the sea salt air and letting the breeze hit his face lightly. At least the sea was peaceful, for now.

XXX

Having finished his paperwork duties at the delightful time of ten past twelve midnight, Sasuke stretched his arms up over his head and heard three distinct cracks in his back and shoulders. Slumping over, he caught a yawn on the back of his hand, and rubbed at his eyes tiredly.

There were certain facilities on the Pāru that were open past the regular trading hours of a business on land. All the toilets on all the decks remained open, as well as the coffee lounges on decks four and seven. Most of the bars also kept their doors open all hours, welcoming any person with a need for alcohol to come along.

But what Sasuke was interested in right now was the gym. It was open 24/7, and both passengers and crew were allowed to use it at any specific time of the day, even without the trainers. Back in Konoha, Sasuke had access to the Uchiha’s personal gym which was built-in to their house. His mother had used it often, and his father would use it on rare occasions. Itachi used it as well, but would only do so when Sasuke was in there too, which Sasuke didn’t mind. Itachi was a good gym partner, and sometimes they would have competitions just like they used to when they were young. And Sasuke used it himself probably the most of anyone, working out when he felt stressed or needed to stretch out his body from all the desk work.

Standing up from his leather chair, Sasuke gave a roll of his shoulders and searched through his drawers, pulling out the clothes he wore for gym. It was past midnight, which meant the place would be pretty much deserted. There was a quiet dignity in attending the gym during twilight hours, as if he could work to his fullest potential without being interrupted by the sweaty, smelly aura of other people.

And Sasuke hadn’t done a day of exercise since setting foot on the ship, unless all the walking routes he did counted. Getting back into the grind would do him good. He was starting to feel his muscles tighten up.

So off Sasuke went to the gym, all set to blow off some steam.

For the first fifteen minutes it was enjoyable, and Sasuke found himself loving the impulsive decision he made. As if anyone would show up to the gym past midnight. These were all rich snobs and they all did their exercise in the morning, having a meticulous schedule planned out and goals to achieve. Things were much more peaceful when there were no voices, Sasuke knew this very well.

That was until, the silence had to be shattered and his world of solitude invaded.

“Oi,” A familiar voice called out, drawing the other man’s attention immediately and Sasuke felt like banging his head against the wall repeatedly, “Who goes to the gym at one in the morning anyway?”

Sasuke was on the cross-trainer, and was grateful he wasn’t able to stumble over when he saw him. Instead he kept up his fast pace, but only flicked his eyes up to meet the cerulean ones already looking at him. Internally Sasuke sighed. Just when he decided to avoid the moron, he had to be here of all places! Naruto fucking Uzumaki. What was he doing here!? And how dare he question Sasuke about his decisions! If he wanted to work out at one in the morning than he would! Unapologetically.

Raising an eyebrow at him, Sasuke made it clear he was asking the very same thing. Naruto Uzumaki sighed, and he took a moment to stare at Sasuke, running his eyes up and down his figure. For some reason Sasuke didn’t like the feeling those eyes gave him when they looked at him. It made him feel like he was being…Sasuke didn’t know how to describe the word. Violated? But Naruto wasn’t even doing anything. He was just looking at him. Maybe–

But his thoughts broke away when he heard Naruto let out a bark of laughter. Breaking out of his thoughts, Sasuke furrowed his eyebrows wondering what the hell was so funny.

Dropping his bag on the rack, Naruto pulled out a big bottle with some powder inside it, walking over to the water fountain and filling it up, “Nice tights, do they come in men’s sizes?”

A vicious glower was thrown Naruto’s way as Sasuke looked down at his own attire. What was wrong with his tights? Itachi had told him they were good for absorbing the sweat and allowed easier movement, making him more flexible. He had even gone to all the trouble of buying Sasuke a pair, saying he would need them a lot in the future. Sasuke thought they didn’t look so bad, nice even. Pursing his lips, he looked back and narrowed his eyes, turning back to his exercising.

He didn’t even ask for his opinion, so why did Naruto Uzumaki just offer it so boldly? Like he didn’t even care what Sasuke thought about it? That was – Sasuke couldn’t stand it when people preached their own views without even listening to others. Though he supposed he couldn’t really offer his own opinion, given the speech impediment and all.

“You’re really somethin’, Saskay Ucheeha.” Naruto shook the now full bottle, making the powder dissolve and turn the water a creamy yellow colour.

Sasuke frowned while lookin g down at his screen monitor, noting he had just hit the two kilometre stepper mark. Did the moron just say his name? Surely not, that was nowhere near close to how his name sounded. Sasuke couldn’t hear past the heavy accent of Naruto, one that he had at last deduced as Australian. Figures. He was brash, rude, and outspoken. Not that Sasuke thought ill of Australia, but all stereotypes come from a place of truth right?

“Looks like you got yourself a gym buddy for the night, Saskay.” Snapping his eyes upwards, they widened in disbelief as he saw Naruto grab his towel and head over to where the treadmills were lined up, stepping on top of one and setting his stuff down.

The moron wasn’t actually staying, was he? Sasuke thought desperately, hoping more and more with each passing minute that Naruto Uzumaki would pack up and leave, go back to his deck floor, or something. He didn’t want someone else in here with him, especially if that person was that Australian idiot. And there was no way Sasuke was packing up to leave either – he had only just gotten here! No, Naruto had to leave.

He glared over at him, but Naruto was oblivious as he stuck some earphones in his ears and pressed start on the treadmill. When he started running Sasuke knew he wasn’t going anywhere. The guy looked to be a regular attendant of the gym, judging by his size and clearly strong muscles – it seemed like Naruto had no body fat on him at all. Not that Sasuke was staring, he was just very observant.

Having finished on the cross-trainer, Sasuke steadied himself on the stepper legs and grabbed his towel, giving his face a wipe. Grabbing his water bottle, he moved over to where the exercise bikes were, which were unfortunately closer to the row of treadmills. Holding back any facial signs of dissatisfaction, Sasuke set down his drink in the bottle holder, and folded his towel over one of the handles before sliding onto the seat.

As he began to pedal, he felt the distinct presence of eyes on his back. How inconvenient the exercise bikes were placed in front of the treadmills. Naruto could see him, but he wouldn’t be able to see Naruto. It made him a tad anxious, just because he liked to know what was going on around him, and didn’t like to have his back to strangers.

And now all the strange feelings were back, again. To Sasuke it was a strong indicator (like he needed one) that he was definitely right. Naruto Uzumaki was someone who you didn’t want to be in the same room as. Even as he increased his speed, Sasuke felt his palms start to sweat, and it wasn’t from the exercise.

It was really confusing, Sasuke had never felt so completely irritated and so completely puzzled by anyone in his life before. And Naruto also seemed different from the last time they talked, how he would follow Sasuke around and make conversation with him. Something was different now, he seemed like he had purposefully distanced himself from Sasuke. What the hell was going on!? So he had wanted Sasuke’s forgiveness, and now he wanted to act like they were strangers.

Sasuke growled silently, increasing his speed on the screen as he pedalled faster. That was what Sasuke had wanted from the beginning! So why now did the idiot want to play the stranger card? Was he mocking Sasuke, trying to make a fool out of him because he couldn’t speak? Infuriated, the anger spurred him on and his breathing began to pick up, his heart beating against his ribcage loud in his ears. On and on it went, until finally the time ticked over to ten minutes and he pulled away from the handlebars, tipping his head back as he sucked in greedy breaths of oxygen.

While his vision was upside down, he unintentionally caught sight of Naruto, who was still behind him on the treadmill. He was running at an extremely fast pace, sweat sheening on his well-tanned body. Sasuke let his head fall back down and twisted it so he was looking over his shoulder at the blonde man. His steely blue eyes were focused ahead on something Sasuke couldn’t see, and he was clearly in the zone. But then, the eyes flicked away out of focus.

And of course they locked straight onto Sasuke’s, who had just realised he had been looking at the moron for all that time.

He wanted to look away, but something in those eyes kept him staring. It was almost like a challenge, a challenge of something Sasuke was not all that sure of, but a challenge nonetheless. Naruto’s blonde fringe stuck to his forehead, sweat dripping down his face and aromatising the room in its foreign stench. Sasuke found it horribly intoxicating, having such a foul scent mixed in with his own. The smell lingered, and it became entrenched in his nostrils unable to disperse.

Then, a painful stabbing sensation was felt in his lower stomach, and Sasuke tore his gaze away as he placed a hand against it. The stabbing didn’t stop, and he could feel a slight headache was coming on.

But he wasn’t sick, was he? He hadn’t eaten anything out of the ordinary the last few days, and didn’t remember having contact with any sick or ill people on board.

Deciding he must have pushed himself too hard, Sasuke slid off the bike seat and grabbed his towel, wiping the sweat from his hairline and forehead away. Then he took his drink bottle and had a long swig, letting the liquid cool his heated body from the inside out.

As he turned to walk over to the exit, he once again got caught in Naruto’s vision. He was off the treadmill now, and was over where his bag was, headphones resting around his neck while he drank some of his protein shake.

When the pain increased Sasuke quickened his pace, heading past the blonde and out the door in less than a minute.

Right now he needed to go back to his room, have a shower and take some aspirin, and get a good night’s sleep.

                                                                                                XXX

Having tossed and turned in his bed sheets for a full half hour, Sasuke gave up on the notion of sleeping and decided to do the next best thing. And if that meant aiding the process along with a little drink or two, then who was Sasuke to object?

Pulling on some jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, Sasuke ran a comb through his hair half-heartedly and shoved his cash card in his pocket as he headed out the door. On the Uchiha cruise line, you didn’t pay for food or drink with actual money. The regular three meals a day were included in the price of the cruise, but any extra food or drink consumed other times of the day were charged on a cash card. Basically each passenger was allotted a card with a set amount of cash for each week, which was renewed every Sunday.

Even the crew were assigned the cards, and that included Sasuke and his brother. Though they may be the staff, they still were expected to pay their fair share, which Sasuke agreed with.

The soft lull of elevator music guided his ascent towards the bar, and when the doors opened and dinged he stepped out to the utter relief of a deserted hallway.

Making a left, he turned down a short hallway that led to the open bar. Not wasting a moment, Sasuke slid gratefully into the cushioned seat of the stool. The rest of them were empty, not a person to be seen sitting on them.

Reaching out for what he assumed was the cocktail menu Sasuke began to peruse it, searching for something that might tickle his fancy. Though he had tried a few of the combinations listed, there were a lot more on the ‘haven’t tried’ pile.

“Drinkin’ with the flies are we?”

Looking up from the menu, Sasuke internally groaned when he met the face of Naruto Uzumaki. Again. Was he some sort of professional stalker? Twice in the same day (and it was the same day technically, as both meetings had been after midnight) they had had these encounters. And where the hell had he come from!? Sasuke hadn’t even seen him, yet it looked as if he had been there for longer than Sasuke had. If judging by the empty beer can in front of him was any indication Sasuke would wager he was correct. But then again Sasuke had only looked on the right side of himself, neglecting the left. If he had noticed sooner he wouldn’t have even bothered and just ordered alcohol from his room.

“We gotta stop meetin’ like this, Saskay.”

And the moron still couldn’t get his name right. Spectacular. Figures a simple-minded guy wouldn’t be able to pronounce a three-syllable name except for his own.

The bartender decided to walk up, noticing he had a new customer. But Sasuke shook his head, indicating he hadn’t chosen yet and was still looking. And besides, Sasuke didn’t really want to write down his order in front of Naruto. The idiot would surely have something to say about it.

So the bartender turned to Naruto instead, who was already reaching for his wallet as he said, “Gimme a schooner.”

Raising an eyebrow in confusion, the bartender cleared his throat and asked as politely as one could do in almost three in the morning, “I beg your pardon, sir?”

“Ah, crap I forgot. What do you call it here? Like a medium glass of grog?” He demonstrated with his hands, one high and one low in his imitation of a medium glass, “Thanks mate.” Smiling, he handed over his cash card to be scanned by the perplexed bartender.

“It’s hard to remember the names for shit this side of the ‘Quator.” Naruto said conversationally, and Sasuke wondered why the hell he bothered for. It wasn’t as if Sasuke was about to answer him back, even if he wanted to. And he most definitely did not want to.

“So you seem to like comin’ out during the night. Just like me eh?” Picking up his emptied beer can, Naruto traced patterns in the condensation still lingering upon it. When he finished he flicked those engaging eyes up at him and both of Sasuke’s eyebrows rose in an almost-questioning expression.

Staring at him a while more, the blonde finally dropped his gaze and the can at the same time, looking ahead as his glass of beer was placed in front of him. He gripped it around the handle, staring down into its contents as he said, “Do you do it for the same reasons I do, I wonder.”

Sasuke was speechless. And not only in the literal sense. His mental speech had left him as well, as he pondered upon this man. Naruto Uzumaki. What was his deal anyway? For such a basic guy Sasuke had never felt so stumped in his life. For the first time he couldn’t figure this person out, and it was bugging him more than he would like to admit. Even to himself.

A low chuckle resonated in Naruto’s chest and Sasuke looked over at him, tilting his head and frowning in disgust when he upended the glass and drunk half the beer in one go.

“Look at me, talkin’ to you like we’re old friends or somethin’. I should have gotten up and left the moment you sat down.”

Well, maybe they weren’t so different after all. It had become clear to Sasuke now that Naruto didn’t hold a particular strong liking towards him either. He was interrupted from further thoughts however as Naruto went on, “But I don’t know, I guess I’m still waiting for you to just speak and say somethin’ to me. I don’t know why, I just am.”

That threw Sasuke for a spin. And just when he had thought he had it all figured out! What was with this guy and wanting to hear him speak? It wasn’t going to happen, it was just a fact. At least not now and his first words would certainly not be directed towards this bumbling, blonde Australian.

So why? Why did he seem so…

“Naruto! There you are! Gosh, I’ve been looking for you everywhere! Oh–!”

All of a sudden a pink-haired woman dressed in more than revealing pyjamas had come running up to them, stopping in between Sasuke and Naruto. She had been looking for Naruto it appeared, but now all her attention was focused on Sasuke, and he was pretty certain her green eyes had sparkled.

A sweet smile touched her lips and she twirled a strand of her pink hair in between her manicured fingers as she addressed him, “Hi there, I’m Sakura. What’s your–”

“What is it, Sakura?” Naruto interrupted before she could get any further, earning a very frustrated glower from the pink haired woman apparently called Sakura.

“What could you possibly want at,” Naruto looked down at his watch, which Sasuke was surprised he could read, “A quarter past three in the morning.”

After gathering herself and looking away from Sasuke to face the blonde, she seemed to forget her anger as a pleading tone leaked into her voice, “I misplaced my schedule for tomorrow and I need to know if I’m on early or late or both.”

Naruto sighed, taking another drink from his glass before answering, “Can’t you just ask Ino?”

“She’s preoccupied right now.” Sakura huffed, placing her hands on her hips and Sasuke could’ve sworn he saw Naruto roll his eyes.

“Of course she is.”

Sitting up, Naruto inhaled deeply and exhaled as he finally answered, “Fine, fine, just let me–” He didn’t bother finishing his sentence as he upended the glass and skulled the rest of the liquid in one shot. Sasuke scrunched his face up, what a disgusting habit.

“Alright, I’m coming.” And with that Naruto stood and left without another word, ushering Sakura in front of him as she tried to shoot Sasuke specific looks that he was dutifully ignoring.

Finally, now he could order.

XXX

Arriving at his cabin, Naruto pushed the key card into the lock, successfully making the light go green. Clasping the door handle, he opened the door and allowed Sakura to go in first, himself following after.

While he went to retrieve his schedule from his bedside drawer, Sakura perched herself upon his bed and waited.

After a short moment she softly called out, “Naruto?”

Inhaling deeply through his nose, Naruto exhaled with a soft sigh. Though he hadn’t known Sakura all that long, he had been around enough women to know that tone of voice. It was the tone they liked to use when they wanted to know something really badly.

“Yeah?” He asked, trying not to sound too sympathetic or too uncaring.

“Who was that guy you were sitting next to? The one at the bar, with the black hair.” Her eyes went dreamy just upon remembering his face, and Naruto worked hard not to roll his eyes.

Of course she would ask about him. Who wouldn’t want to ask about Sasuke Uchiha? Even though the guy was a jerk everyone still loved him, and Naruto couldn’t fathom why. But to be fair even Naruto felt this undeniable pull towards him. He wanted to find out more about him, and most of all to hear him speak. He wasn’t sure why he wanted it so much, it was just something he couldn’t control. Every time he would see Sasuke he couldn’t stop himself from interacting, to see if maybe somehow by luck or chance, he could get him to speak.

“Don’t know, didn’t catch his name.” Handing the schedule to Sakura, Naruto ran a hand through his locks and still felt the remnants of sweat from his workout earlier line his scalp. He would take a shower as soon as he was finished with Sakura.

He found it would be best if Sakura remained in the dark about who Sasuke was. And Naruto didn’t want to add any unnecessary problems to his life. And also he didn’t want to reveal who Sasuke was purely because it was a private matter, and he didn’t have the right to tell Sakura Sasuke’s identity when he may not even want it.

“Really? Because it seemed you two were having a chat or something.” She scanned her eyes over the schedule and Naruto gave a shrug.

“Just because I chat with a guy doesn’t mean I know his life story.”

Standing up, Sakura raised an eyebrow questioningly at him, “What’s gotten into you? Geez, it was just a question.”

“It’s three in the morning, I wanna go sleep. Are we done here?” He moved over to the door, opening it for her to give her a head start.

“Yeah, thanks for this, I’ll just slip it under your door when I’m done photocopying it.” She said as she waltzed out of his room and out into the hallway.

“Righteo. G’night then, Sakura.”

“See you tomorrow, Naruto.” She smiled before turning and Naruto shut the door.

Rolling his shoulders, he went to his cupboard and pulled out his pyjamas. A shower sounded really good right now.

 

Chapter Text

Since his repeated encounters with a big, blonde Australian, Sasuke had retreated back into the safety of his private cabin. Some days he would spend all his hours in there, even having room service ordered to his room to avoid the annoying task of going out to replenish himself with food and drink. It had worked so far, and he planned to keep it that way.

It was so peaceful inside his cabin, the soft sounds of the waves crashing against the ship and the occasional cry of a bird the only noises surrounding him. He was completely up to date and on task of his work on the ship, even doing a little extra work he really didn’t have to worry about just yet.

Sometimes he had thought about messaging Juugo, Suigetsu or Karin, but had never actually gone through with it yet. He just didn’t want to bother them, and add to the fact he wasn’t really in the mood to be sociable with his friends. Talking to them through message instead of face to face wasn’t fulfilling enough anyway, and perhaps he was a little bit lonely.

But as he was sitting at his table, preparing to eat the noodle dish he had ordered from room service for lunch, his brother had so carelessly waltzed into his room, removed his shoes, and unceremoniously fallen into the other chair seated at the small table opposite Sasuke.

‘Itachi, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be out doing your work?’ Sasuke immediately signed, concerned for his brother because Itachi wasn’t a person who would shirk his responsibilities unless something absolutely important demanded his attention otherwise.

‘It’s lunch break, and my duties for the day have been dismissed. It seems some of the co-directors are eager to take hold of the reigns for a while. Thank goodness, I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep it up.’ Itachi signed back, and even his signs looked lazy and tired, not his usual sharp and precise motions that Sasuke had been jealous of many times in the past. But Sasuke was glad, of course he should have known his older brother would never half-finish a job.

“I am sorry little brother, I haven’t been around as much as I should’ve been this past week.” Itachi spoke this time, and Sasuke looked up to meet his brother’s slightly sad eyes.

‘It’s alright Itachi. I don’t expect you to be around all the time.’ Sasuke wasn’t a child anymore. He knew Itachi had responsibilities of his own and duties to fulfil. They couldn’t be together every day, but even just a little was enough for Sasuke.

“No, I suppose you’re right. You just want me to be around all the time.” A half-smirk curled Itachi’s lips and Sasuke had to fight his own from appearing but failed miserably.

‘Yeah, that’s definitely the reason.’ Rolling his eyes, Sasuke wound some noodles onto a fork and placed it inside his mouth.

Silence followed for a while, and when Itachi spoke again the light-heartedness had disappeared to be replaced by a strict, overly concerned tone. “Sasuke, please tell me you have left this room at least once while I was absent.”

Apathetic indifference was his façade, and Sasuke played it so well as he looked up from his half-eaten noodles and signed quickly and emotionlessly, ‘I did go out for your information. I’ve made quite a good use of the gym and bar facilities.’

“Is that so? I never saw you at any of the group activities on any of the decks.” Itachi added, taking a sip of the glass of water he had poured himself a few minutes ago.

Indifference crumbled as irritation took over, and Sasuke stabbed at his dish a few times and then replied, ‘Brother, you know I don’t like being around other people. Of course I only went out past midnight, when no one else was around.’

“When I said you didn’t have to leave your cabin I didn’t mean it literally. Sasuke, you are becoming a recluse.” Eyes as black as his own bore into him, and Sasuke didn’t look away even though his mind was telling him to.

‘No, I’m not. I just don’t want to be around those people.’ Sasuke shut down Itachi’s words swiftly, fearful of contemplating them for too long and mistakenly believing his older brother was right.

“Those people by which you mean your passengers? Sasuke, isolating yourself from everyone won’t make you happy.” Placing the glass down, Itachi crossed his arms over his chest and his leg over his knee, looking sophisticated and smart and oh-so-much-more-knowledgeable than Sasuke and a spark of anger ignited within the younger brother.

‘Being around people tends to end badly in my case, or have you forgotten the very first night of this cruise already, brother?’

Just because Itachi was older than him, didn’t mean he was better. Sasuke had a long and hard time accepting that, and even more so he had struggled with it after his muteness. It felt like the gap between them was growing, and that one day Itachi might really leave for good. Sasuke hated the thought, despised I with every fibre of his being. He told no one, he never did. He was alone, that was the fact of the matter. And the sooner everyone accepted that, the better.

“Sasuke, I’m worried about you. You hardly ever go out anymore, and I’m not only referring to this cruise. Even at Konoha, you were in the office six days a week, ten hours a day. It’s not healthy, and it’s certainly not helping your frame of mind.”

Scraping his chair back across the beige coloured carpet, Sasuke glared at his older brother as he stood to his feet, noodles forgotten and rage chosen instead, ‘Stop lecturing me! You don’t know what it’s like to be around people who talk and talk and don’t give a damn about listening! And by the time I say what I want to, they don’t care anymore. Why should I waste my time on such fickle people, I ask you?’

“Sasuke…” Itachi looked so old then, when he said his name like that and in such a way, it was enough to make Sasuke cringe. But he didn’t. He kept his glare, his defiance, and wasn’t planning on abandoning it soon.

‘No, I don’t think so brother. Thank you for your advice, but I am fine with how I am. I don’t need to change.’ Sasuke signed with finality, as he turned on his heel and walked off towards the bathroom.

Itachi didn’t make any movements to stand, and silence stretched between them once again. Just as Sasuke reached the bathroom door, he heard his older brother call out, “Mother is going to call tomorrow. I’ll let you know when. I’m sure she would like to speak with you.”

A curt nod, and then Sasuke disappeared behind the door, effectively closing it. Both on Itachi, and their conversation.

XXX

Dazzling yellow lights shone above him, creating a glint on the hanging champagne glasses and giving them a sparkling aspect. The buzz of vibrant conversation and many a laugh could be heard across the bar vicinity, at nine forty-nine at night. Naruto among them, an easy going smile etched on his face as he sipped at his glass of beer leisurely.

He was at the traditional post-show get together – which only occurred on the last performance of each night so not everyone was present. It depended on which shifts you were given really. Luckily for Naruto he was one of the entertainers that had last performed, which was good because he was in the mood for a drink tonight.

It had been a good day. He had basically slept til noon and then eaten lunch and went to watch a movie in the ship's theatre. Then in the evening he took to the stage to perform. Naruto was pretty pleased with himself, having gotten to play two songs and even requested an encore performance. Having the last shift at night was his favourite. Somehow, everything seemed different after dark. More magical, and less focused on the petty issues that reality brought to one's life.

Not so lucky because Kiba bailed on him claiming he felt sick but Naruto knew it was a lie. It was as if Kiba had been walking around on eggshells around him. Kiba would still joke around and laugh with him, but it would be stunted; subdued, like he didn’t want to say too much or not enough.

Neither of them had mentioned Hinata since, even though catching her around the cruise occasionally. How Kiba’s eyes would linger on her, and how Naruto would watch. If it wasn’t obvious to Naruto before then it was crystal clear now.

So he was hanging out with the other performers, deciding to get to know them better. He had gotten to know a few of the other guys, though they seemed to have a bit of trouble understanding him. One of the guys only spoke the barest of English and would make vague hand gestures to keep up with the pace of the conversation. He was from some part of China that Naruto didn’t catch the name of. He got a few laughs though with his obscene gestures and phrases that seemed to highly amuse them.

As the night had progressed and it had gotten darker, the crowd had petered out, leaving only a few stragglers one of which included Naruto. All the guys had left, either to sleep or with some other plans. Naruto wasn’t really in the mood for either at the moment. No, he much rather preferred the sparkling golden liquid sitting in front of him and sliding down his throat like liquid gold.

“Oh my god, that is Sasuke Uchiha!” Ino squealed, drawing the attention of the barman, a small group of elderly passengers towards the back of the bar, and Naruto himself.

Blue eyes looked to either side of him, then around the perimeter of the bar room, but there was no sign of Sasuke Uchiha anywhere. Turning his narrowed gaze back to the two melodramatic girls, he gathered quickly they were having a conversation about said Uchiha, and decided to innocently listen in for a bit. Just to see if it was worth his time.

“WHAT!?” Sakura shrieked just as loudly, wine glass tipping over by her exaggerated hand movement then sloshing as she quickly righted it, “No way, you’re joking Ino. I know you are!”

“I’m telling you that’s him! Black spiky hair, pale complexion and dark, smouldering eyes anyone could get lost in.” Periwinkle eyes clouded in veiled lust as an image could be seen forming within her mind of her previously described visage, “Look, oh crap I think I have his picture somewhere! Aha! Here!”

Leaning over subtly, Naruto let his eyes fall on the small newspaper clipping of Sasuke Uchiha. And it was him; same spiky black hair, same sour-but-constipated expression. Since Naruto hadn’t been living in Japan for long he wasn’t sure how old he was but it looked no more than maybe a year.

“Oh my god, that really is him. No doubt about it.” There was a tremulous quiver to Sakura’s voice, as her emerald eyes remained glued to the small newspaper clipping with Ino’s joining in as well.

“He must be here with Itachi. You know how inseparable they are.” Ino nodded at her assessment of the two brother’s relationship, while Naruto gave a sceptical look to the bench top below him so as not to attract their attention or fury.

Sakura began nodding too, and Naruto noted how they looked like a pair of bobble head dogs with permed and crimped hair. “And of course, he’s mute as well. I haven’t seen him say a word to anyone.”

A blonde head whipped up from inspecting the white marble bench top to flick in the direction of the two females, who had pitying looks on their faces as they exchanged soft, solemn words together too low for Naruto to hear.

But did he just hear those last two sentences correctly? It would certainly explain a lot – quite a few things actually. Coming to the decision he wanted – not needed, no – to find out more, he scooted his stool over closer and chimed into the conversation with the simplicity of a gentle breeze.

“Hey, what were you saying about Saskay?”

Two mortified looks were his first choice of answer, eyes narrowed down angrily and lips pursed while dainty champagne glasses had been slammed down to the bench top in such indignation that if Naruto were a lesser man he may have cowered a little under their glares.

“It’s not ‘Saskay’, you idiot. It’s ‘Sasuke’. Ino admonished sharply with her even sharper tongue, practically spitting the words into Naruto’s face heatedly.

“You have to say it lightly, like cotton candy is on your tongue.” Sakura added, and Ino agreed vehemently with the sentiment.

Rolling his cerulean orbs, he made a dismissive gesture with his hands before continuing on, “Yeah whatever, what were ya sayin’ about him?”

After a minute or two longer of taunting Naruto about his poor pronunciation skills and obvious lack of knowledge about the Sasuke Uchiha it seemed the two women became bored and were eager to say more about him. So they resumed their earlier conversation, only this time with Naruto in the mix as well.

“He’s mute. He has been for four years.” A notable tone of sadness laced Sakura’s words delicately, her eyes once again falling to the paper clipping still clutched in Ino’s hand.

“He…he can’t speak?” Naruto was dumbfounded. To know the guy he had been pestering all this time actually had no ability to speak was somewhat depressing, not to mention it made an unwelcome feeling of guilt start to build up within him.

“Well duh! Of course he can’t! Gosh, don’t you know anything about the person whose father’s ship this is, Naruto!?” Quick to the punch as Naruto had almost immediately learnt and associated with Ino upon meeting her, the blonde eyed him with disapproval and frustration, sighing roughly and shaking her head with Sakura contributing along as well.

Meanwhile Naruto had become lost in the newly acquired thoughts inside his mind. Sasuke Uchiha was mute. How had he not known that? It was true there wasn’t much known about Sasuke publicly, but Naruto had quickly gathered that this was a well-known fact. All of his actions towards the young Uchiha up to now replayed back in his head, from the first moment they met and Sasuke punched him, to his apology that seemed a lot more sincere now, and their last few meetings around the ship. Naruto had just thought Sasuke was some stuck-up asshole who didn’t want to waste time talking to someone like him.

Well, now Naruto was the one who felt like the asshole. A massive asshole. Granted, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but how could he have possibly missed something like this? That explained why Sasuke had been so unresponsive and so…silent. He supposed it was because he just assumed Sasuke was stuck up and snobby, based on his own preconceptions experienced in his past. The thought had never crossed his mind that Sasuke didn’t speak simply because he couldn’t.

When he came back to his senses it was to find Ino and Sakura gushing over some facial feature of Sasuke’s, he couldn’t keep up with the pace of their conversation and the audacity of their combined squeals made both speaking and listening impossible.

“His jawline is just so–”

“And his hair! I don’t know–”

“I know! Oh my God just imagine–”

Raising a blonde eyebrow in obvious judgement of the floundering women before him, Naruto cleared his throat to speak, and had to do so twice more before he caught their attention – and even then it was divided.

“So is he deaf too? Like did he become a deaf mute? Uh, I think that’s what it’s called.” Naruto squinted slightly, scratching at the back of his head awkwardly.

Naruto had never been so good with remembering names for conditions. In general his memory was sub-par at best, especially when he was back at school. While other students survived by memorising formulas and quotes, he had to go over them again and again until they finally became stuck in his brain. The same process followed him through college, and was still effective today.

His brain instead chose to remember the things that had been the most important or of great significance to him, like the last home meal his mother had cooked for him, or the first time his father had looked at him man to man instead of man to child. It was a special gift, but a painful one as well.

Rolling her similar blue eyes, Ino brandished her champagne glass at him as she said, “No, moron. Sasuke isn’t deaf. One day he just stopped talking, and no one knows why.”

“I don’t think even Sasuke knows why. It’s sad, no one deserves to have something like that happen to them.” Swirling her glass around in her hand for a moment, Sakura then upended the liquid into her mouth and Ino was quick to follow. Those two were almost as in sync as he was with Kiba. Well, most of the time.

“Yeah, no one deserves that.” The words left Naruto’s mouth before he had a moment to think about them. Neither girl said anything, but they exchanged pointed looks before making vocalised sounds of agreement.

But he did mean them. Even though Sasuke Uchiha had punched him in the face a fortnight ago, Naruto couldn’t find it in him to be as pissed and angry as he had been prior to this night. Knowing someone like Sasuke Uchiha had such a flaw about them, one that was inescapable, gave him an odd sense of sobriety.

Living that way had to be lonely. With no voice to communicate with, how much left unsaid was there inside the vessel that was Sasuke Uchiha? How many people could claim to truly know such a man inside and out?

“Anyway, we’re heading out now. See you later, Naruto.” Startling out of his inner thoughts, Naruto looked up to meet the ever impatient and busy eyes of Ino Yamanaka, and Sakura was sure to be standing by her side.

“Have a good night, Naruto.” The pink-haired woman added with a smile before walking after the already departed Ino, and Naruto waved his farewell before dropping his arm back down and returning to his almost-empty drink.

Maybe he had been wrong after all. Maybe he and Sasuke were not as different as he had first thought. Bringing the warm liquid to his lips, Naruto drank it all away in order to keep the tortuous thoughts of his past at bay. At least, for now.

XXX

“Hello sweetheart! Oh gosh, this screen is terrible. Can you see me? Sasuke?”

Sasuke smiled at his mother’s vague stares into the monitor. Though both his father and his brother – and himself, in fact – were all adept at using technology his mother had never quite got the hang of it. She understood the basics, but for most things she would call on Sasuke to help her figure out how to do it.It was late afternoon, around five-thirty when his mother had called, just as Itachi had said she would. After conversing with her briefly, Itachi had called Sasuke into the room and promptly departed, probably to go and take care of some business on the ship.  Sasuke was having a relaxing time today, curled up on his bed and reading a good book. With his coffee of course, what would he do without his precious coffee? And now his mother was calling him, he felt it was getting better and better.

He waved at the screen to let his mother know he could see her, and a happy smile spread across her lips. It made his insides feel warm, and it also caused a pang of home-sickness to hit him. It was only half-way through the second week on board and he was already starting to miss home. Maybe he really was becoming a hermit.

“How are you darling? Are you having fun? I hope you’re not working too hard. I know your father said to do as much as you could but don’t push yourself too hard. It is a cruise after all.” She said, that familiar tone of worry in her voice where Sasuke was concerned. Sasuke couldn't recall a time when he had head her use such a tone with Itachi. But he and Itachi were two very different people, despite being closer than ever.

‘No, I’m doing fine. The work is very different to that of work in the office. But it’s interesting to learn.’ He signed at the screen, slower than he usually would so as not to confuse his mother because the quality wasn't all that good to begin with.

“Have you made some new friends?” She chirped, excitement barely concealed through her over-eager tone of voice and lit up expression, as if she was hoping he would answer yes.

‘Mum, I’m not twelve years old anymore. Why are you asking that question for?’ Sasuke signed back to her, a touch of irritation in his movements as she sighed and he heard it. It cut him somewhere deep inside where he couldn't see, but he could most definitely feel. Gaining his parents' approval was something Sasuke was starting to think and starting to slightly fear of never growing out of. His constant hunger and thirst for their words of acceptance and praise was in his motivation for doing almost anything in his life.

“Sorry sweetie, I’m just curious is all.” She soothed, and he felt a calm at her words that he would be too ashamed to ever voice at loud. Like he could.

“Or maybe you’ve made a new special kind of friend. You know, one you might be shy to tell us about.” Sasuke was certain he had seen his mother wink at him, but he refused to think so. That it was just the glitch monitor making him see things that weren't really there.

‘I didn’t meet any girls if that’s what you’re asking. Well, there was one, but we didn’t get to talk before she went off somewhere.’ He was referring to that pink-haired woman he had seen the other night dressed in very short pyjamas, who was asking after Naruto Uzumaki. Saruka or something? He couldn't really remember. He just remembered that moron looking at him with this weird look in his eyes. They were blue, Sasuke remembered. Which was a rare thing to see in a place like Konoha, Japan. They were so bright, and full of such light and something else Sasuke couldn't name. But why should he care anyway? It was just a pair of eyes, there were plenty of others just like them out there.

“Oh, maybe she is playing hard to get. I used to do that all the time when your father courted me. He was so persistent, it was actually endearing.” A giggle escaped his mother's mouth that Sasuke couldn't help but wince at. Those were times he didn't want to know about, especially if they involved the two of his parents' doing those types of...things.

‘Mum, don’t talk about that. I don't want to know what you and Dad did back then.' Sasuke must have had an uncomfortable look on his face because his mother laughed again and at that moment Sasuke just wished he could run away and hide.

“Is it too much information? But you need to know these things Sasuke, one day you’ll be doing the same.” That made his cheeks colour a faint shade of pink he had hoped he'd be able to hide. But no, she saw it. She always saw everything, something she and Itachi had in common as mother and son.

They spent the rest of the afternoon catching up and having a nice chat. Sasuke omitted the parts of the cruise that had involved his punching up of a crew member and his chronic reclusiveness in his cabin. Things were going well back at Konoha apparently, with Sasuke's replacement Shikamaru Nara doing a fine job at handling all the paperwork and data. He was incredibly intelligent and his IQ was off the charts falling over the two hundred point mark easily. He wasn't available to meet Sasuke just yet, but his mother said sometime soon she would get him to speak with Sasuke face to face - because it seemed the Nara could understand sign language as well. It ticked Sasuke off, thinking that perhaps his father was thinking of replacing him for such a guy. But his mother had assured him that Nara had only expressed interest in the position for the amount of time Sasuke was away at sea only.

The clock was at eight thirty-seven by the time he had finished talking with his mother. His father had been away on a business trip, and said he was sorry he couldn't be able to be there to check in with Sasuke. Sasuke understood, of course he did. This was a routine with their father by now. That was why he felt traitorous and childish for having thoughts of jealousy and sadness and pain at not being able to see the man he looked up to, besides Itachi.

He decided to order some more room service, eat it, and return back to his book. Perhaps later he would go for a stroll around the ship - at midnight hours of course.

XXX

Having not seen Kiba for the whole entire day since yesterday evening after his show, Naruto had had enough and took things into his own hands. He didn’t have any shows on today, so on his day off he marched up to his best mate’s room and banged on the door, not letting up until a groggy looking Kiba answered with an even groggier, “Who the fuck is up this early?”, even though it was three in the afternoon.

What a shock he got when he realised it was Naruto. He seemed taken aback by his presence, that he was a stranger rather than his best friend.

“Hey, Kibs, we gotta talk.” Naruto said, tone light but face completely serious and clearly not in the mood for a muck around.

Kiba knew the look well, and being friends with Naruto granted him with the knowledge that the blonde wouldn’t take anything other than no for an answer. Sighing, the brunette gave a jerky nod of his head and mumbled a, “Lemme get dressed and we’ll go.”

A half an hour later they were out on the top deck of the cruise ship, where some people were swimming the pool and many crowded around the tables enjoying freshly cooked hamburgers sizzling on the open flame barbecue. They had both bought themselves one, and were sitting on the deck chairs facing out towards the huge flat screen above them showing Shakira shaking er body to some funky song neither knew the name of.

“So what is this about? And for the love of fuck if you so much as go on about how ramen is some sort of sacrificial divine whatever the hell you said for the Gods I will staunch you.” Kiba said, a bit more relaxed and open having gotten himself something to eat.

Naruto emitted a short, sharp laugh before shaking his head, “Nah, not today mate. It’s about Hinata actually.”

Kiba paused in taking a bit of his giant hamburger, pulling away to look at Naruto for a second before loking away again, “Oh yeah? What about her?”

“Y’know I don’t have any feelings towards her or anything, right?” Naruto said, making sure to keep eye contact with Kiba even if Kiba was resolute to avoid it. He had to know Naruto was sincere, or there would never be an end to this.

“Yeah, sure. Of course I do.” The brunette’s strong shoulders gave a non-committal shrug, and Naruto rolled his eyes before elbowing Kiba in the ribs to gain back his attention.

“Come on, I’m bein’ serious here! I don’t even think of her like that, heck I don’t think I ever have. I mean yeah, she’s cute and stuff, but she’s not my type.” Kiba’s eyes had widened at that, and for a brief second met his before glancing away again, and Naruto added, “And it’s also way obvious that you like her.”

Straightening up in his deck chair, Kiba stared straight ahead a few seconds. Then, he slowly turned his head towards Naruto and finally met his gaze solidly, “Is it really?”

A smile stretched across Naruto’s face as he leaned back in his chair comfortable, having already finished his burger and feeling much better about where he and Kiba stood now, “Stands out like a shag on a rock.”

“Fuckin’ hell, I am so screwed.” Dropping his head down into his hands, Kiba grumbled profanities into his palms and Naruto chuckled, reaching forward to pat him on the back.

“Whoa, slow down. You haven’t even bought her dinner yet.”

Kiba pulled away from his hands to shoot an ‘are you fucking kidding me’ glare, and Naruto scratched the back of his neck again nervously before answering, “Aha, just having a dig at ya. She’ll be right mate, trust me.”

“Yeah well my relationships with girls tend to fizzle out within the first week of dating. After a good fuck they just–” Kiba’s sentence cut off as soon as he caught sight of a woman that could only be Hinata walking across the top deck with her father and younger sister, a pretty smile on her lips as she and her family descended down the staircase to lower decks.

Naruto saw the whole thing, and it was plain to see that Kiba had it bad. How had he not noticed before? Kiba had insinuated the crush had gone back as far as their uni years, but maybe he was too focused on himself back then to worry about Kiba’s feelings. It made an uneasy sensation settle deep within him, but he shook it off and clapped Kiba’s shoulder, saying with confidence, “Dude, why don’t you just go talk to her already? You’ve been staring at her each time she walks by.”

“You know that there’s no way I can do that!” Kiba shouted, then realised the volume of his voice and sunk lower in his seat.

“Huh?” Naruto asked confusedly, and Kiba let out an agitated sigh.

“Look, the thing is with me is that girls can’t spend too much time with me all at once. I’m like a chewie, good when you first bite into it but the longer you chew the grosser it tastes.”

“So you’re saying you want Hinata to chew you?”

“Fucking no! Moron! I’m sayin’ that my personality isn’t all that flash.” Kiba’s anger deflated into a morose feeling, and Naruto knew it was his lack of self-confidence seeping through. Kiba always talked tough and looked strong, and he was. But sometimes things would get to him deeper than other people gave him credit for.

Naruto rushed to reassure his friend of his awesomeness, “What? That’s crazy. I mean you’re…you’re really, uh…”

And his mind drew up a blank. The longer he hesitated the more Kiba seemed to get pissed off, so Naruto said the first thing that came to mind and transformed it into something attractive, “Honest.”, instead of rudely blunt.

“That’s the best you can do!? I thought you were supposed to be encouraging me!” Kiba spat madly, pushing the rest of his burger aside and crossing his arms over his chest huffily. Naruto grinned.

“Well what can I say? I guess your personality is more of a seasoned type. The more time you spend around it, the more you like it.”

Then Kiba’s whole persona lit up like a neon sign, and he grinned doggishly, punching Naruto on the arm and saying, “Ah, no need to get mushy on me man.”

Naruto punched him back, and they exchanged a grin together. Things were back to normal again, and that made Naruto a very happy guy. He hated it when he and Kiba got into fights or disagreements.

“You should talk to her.” He reassured, and Kiba shot him a grateful smile, and they eased into their usual banter for the rest of the evening.

XXX

There was something about walking around on the ship at night that was forbidden; like a lost secret that only a few could find the key to. Such quietness filled its entity, it was so serene. Sasuke had walked along the third deck, the forth, and he was just now walking along the fifth deck where the gym just so happened to be located. Though he wasn’t attending tonight, he would probably go later on in the week.

Just as he passed the gymnasium, his eyes had unintentionally met with those of crystal blue and Sasuke quickly looked away, and continued on walking. He had done well so far to avoid Naruto Uzumaki, he would not be thwarted so soon. If luck was on his side, he could make it around the corner without drawing and attention to himself–

“Oi! Saskay! Wait up!”

Luck, it seemed, was laughing at him when the brash voice of Naruto rung out across the silent hallway, and he stopped in his tracks, sighing silently to himself. What could this idiot want? To mock and make a fool out of him again? Turning around, he aimed one of his most hated glares towards the sweaty, tanned man now standing opposite him. For some reason his own palms began to sweat, and Sasuke blamed it on his excessive layers. It was much colder up in the higher areas of the ship than all the way down here.

Naruto was just staring at him, slightly panting probably because of his work out. Sasuke stared on, and when he still said nothing he rose an elegant black eyebrow in clear question of what Naruto could possibly want from him at a time like this.

That seemed to jumpstart Naruto’s reactions, his blue eyes blinking rapidly and a hand reaching up to scratch at the scruffy blonde hair at the base of his neck.

“I just-just wanted to say that I’m sorry. I uh, I didn’t know that you, you er…you can’t…” The man was stuttering, and from what Sasuke had observed from him previously Naruto Uzumaki wasn’t one who hesitated often. He folded his arms over his chest, and waited on patiently for him to finish his sentence.

Swallowing tightly, Naruto pulled his hand away and looked Sasuke straight in the eyes when he said, “I didn’t know you were a mute.”

Instantly Sasuke’s walls rose up ten foot high, his defences on high alert. A common practice whenever someone outside of his immediate family or his close, small circle of friends talked about his inability to speak to his face. His face remained impassive, his stance upright and revealing none of the unsureness that lay buried within him. And Sasuke waited for the pity, for the commiserative eyes and the condoling expression and the sympathetic words – because that was how it always went.

“I just feel really bad about it. I said a lotta things that weren’t right.” Naruto said, eyes downcast in disappointment, but not in Sasuke, in himself.

Sasuke was completely thrown. What the hell? What was the moron saying? He didn’t say a thing about how unfortunate it was, or how there was still hope one day or that at least he had a language to still communicate with. He was…

“I thought you were bein’ an asshole but you were just bein’ yourself–” Blue eyes widened the length of saucepans and Sasuke raised both eyebrows in both confusion and ire.

Waving his hands in front of him frantically, Naruto attempted to dispel any bad feelings between them as the words spewed out of his mouth frenziedly, “Gah, that came out wrong! What I’m tryin’ to say is that I misjudged you.”

Black eyebrows dropped down again, and Sasuke tilted his head to the side inquiringly. So Naruto didn’t pity him after all. He was referring to his own behaviour around Sasuke? But why? Why would a moron like him who barely knows someone like Sasuke feel so obligated to do such a thing? Sasuke was boggled, and boggled further by the fact that such a simple person like Naruto Uzumaki could actually boggle him.

Taking a deep breath, Naruto exhaled and said with such sincerity Sasuke hadn’t known was possible, “I’m sorry.”

Sasuke blinked once, twice, then released a silent breath. He gave a nod at Naruto, and Naruto responded with a grin so wide it looked like it would pull his face apart. But it was oddly nice-looking, the type of smile that people would call infectious.

“I’ll see ya around, Saskay.” Naruto waved goodbye as he turned back into the gym and Sasuke was still rooted to the spot as he stared after him.

Slipping his hands inside his pockets, Sasuke continued on his walk down the hall, the spotlights above him shining down and giving the halls a warm yellow glow.

Naruto Uzumaki…perhaps he wasn’t as thick-headed as he seemed. Either way Sasuke was unaware of the slightest tilt of his lips upwards, showing the barest of smiles.

Chapter Text

“Time to wake up, little brother.” A deep voice called out to him, and Sasuke soundlessly groaned and groggily pulled away the covers to reveal his face.

Sasuke peeled open his eyes to stare blearily up at the blurry figure of Itachi. He tried to manage a scowl but pretty much ended up doing a cross between a scowl and a pout as he bunched the covers up high to his ears, burying his face in the warm fabric.

Itachi smiled. Then managed to poke Sasuke’s forehead as he so often loved to do, making Sasuke roll over and away from the contact. He was having a nice sleep in, why did his stupid big brother have to come and ruin it!?

“It’s already noon, Sasuke. You see, this is what happens when you roam the ship at all hours of the night. You end up wasting half the day in bed.” Itachi’s voice was becoming clearer and clearer and it made Sasuke’s more irritable, to the point where he knew the realm of sleep had vanished and the waking reality before him was setting into place.

Angrily, Sasuke threw the covers away and made a show of standing up and making sure Itachi knew he was awake and ready to go – despite still being a little sleepy. He rubbed at his eyes and yawned, running a hand through his bed hair. It made his spikes stick up even more, which was annoying because he would have to actually comb them. Unlike other guys, who could roll out of bed and greet the day without combing their hair at all and still looking fine.

“What is the reason you have woken me up so early for, brother? And it better be reasonable.” Sasuke signed; his signs still a little sloppy as his hand joints weren’t completely awake yet.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to go out and experience some of the wonderful activities the ship has to offer.” Itachi signed back, and Sasuke’s raised an eyebrow as he pulled his pyjama t-shirt off over his head and replaced it with a dark grey one.

He and Itachi were completely comfortable around each other’s bodies – they used to take baths together when they were younger and there was pretty much nothing the other hadn’t seen before.

“Didn’t I already say I wasn’t interested in that? Besides I have work to do. Some more papers need to be completed by tomorrow and I have barely made a start.” Off went Sasuke’s pyjama pants, replaced by some dress jeans. Sasuke noted Itachi was dressed in his usual combination of dress pants and dress shirt to match. Today the colour was a dark, rich purple, which actually complimented Itachi quite well.

“Well I have decided that at least once a day you will leave this cabin to go and do an activity on the ship. Starting today.” Itachi signed before inspecting himself in front of a mirror, as he so often did. Though it was needless, Itachi never looked awful even if he was dressed down.

Meanwhile Sasuke gaped at his older brother in shock. Just when did Itachi taken it upon himself to decide Sasuke’s daily routine for him!? He was a grown man for God’s sake! He didn’t need his big brother to plan his days for him.

Glaring over in his direction, Itachi seemed to feel Sasuke’s eyes on him as he looked up and met his gaze with a concerned smile. It threw Sasuke for a moment, but he held his ground. Over and over again, he and Itachi had this conversation; about his anti-social behaviour, his seclusion and isolation, his inability to hold a relationship with a woman for more than week and a half. It always ended the same, with Sasuke extremely pissed off and holing himself away even further. Sometimes he felt like no one understood him. Not even Itachi. Sometimes he would feel like what he was doing was pointless, but that he just had to keep doing it. He didn’t want anyone to know, he just kept quiet. Besides, it was an Uchiha family value to not complain and just do what needs to be done.

Sighing softly, Itachi walked over to his little brother, and pulled some strands of stray hair out of his face.

“One activity with other human beings a day won’t kill you, you know.” Itachi signed gracefully, and Sasuke narrowed his eyes shook his fringe back into place, earning an amused chuckle from Itachi.

“Fine, if it gets you to stop worrying so much I’ll do the stupid one activity a day thing. But just one a day.” Reaching for his comb, Sasuke started to tease out the knots from his bed hair and he could see Itachi’s smile from the mirror.

An hour later when Sasuke was fully dressed and ready, he and Itachi went down to attend what would be the first of Sasuke’s ship activities once a day. Apparently Itachi was taking him to watch some of the ship’s entertainment, which Sasuke couldn’t really contest with. At least he wouldn’t have to do anything.

However as they entered in the auditorium Sasuke’s sharp eyes caught sight of a performer’s name blazoned in gold letters on the stand outside and was going to dig his heels in but Itachi was faster and had already ushered him inside the auditorium with his unnatural speed.

Sasuke glared at Itachi and looked over his shoulder to glare at the board, hoping to melt it with the intensity of his glare and leave it clear of the caption: Musical Entertainment – Naruto Uzumaki.

He was onto his big brother immediately, “What the hell is this, Itachi? You bring me to see this of all things?”

“I thought you would enjoy this Sasuke. You always said you enjoyed the musical entertainment on the cruise ships when you were younger.” Itachi said, eyebrows drawing together in a convincing show of confusion as they entered in deeper to the vast auditorium. But Sasuke knew better. He knew his brother, and it was certain in Sasuke’s eyes that Itachi knew exactly what he was doing.

“Don’t give me that rubbish. You know exactly who is performing, you planned this.” Sasuke signed, a frown marring his features as people brushed past him in their haste to get to a seat.

Itachi placed a firm hand on his shoulder, and his eye twitched as it was brought to his attention again that Itachi was and always would be ten centimetres taller than Sasuke – an annoyingly short but noticeable difference. Even when it came to height Itachi was taller, bigger, better. Though it didn’t bother Sasuke as much as it did in his teenage years, it was still irksome.

After looking around, Itachi seemed to find some suitable seats and coaxed Sasuke forward, to which the younger brother rolled his eyes at before he began to walk on his own. Climbing up the winding staircase, the two brothers took their seats right beside an elderly couple, who greeted Itachi enthusiastically and, as usual, completely ignored Sasuke. Coming second best to his brother had become second nature to Sasuke by now, and he liked to claim it didn’t bother him anymore.

“As a matter of fact, I don’t. Here, let me check the programme.” Itachi said curiously as he reached into his coat pocket, continuing on with their previous conversation, as if he had no idea who was about to perform – which Sasuke knew was complete and utter bull crap.

For as good as a liar Sasuke was, Itachi was always ten times better. And what was more, he could always manage to detect Sasuke’s lies, whereas Sasuke could never really be sure whether his older brother would be telling the truth about something or not. Sasuke supposed it was one of the few traits Itachi had gained from their father.

“Well wouldn’t you know it? It’s Naruto. You remember Naruto Uzumaki, do you not?” Looking up from the programme, Itachi locked gazes with Sasuke, who was silently fuming at his brother’s antics and trying not to think of objects he could use to dismember Itachi’s limbs.

For what reason Itachi thought this was a good idea was fathomless to Sasuke. But then again, his older brother had always been a little strange, doing unexpected things at the weirdest of times for absolutely no reason at all. One time Sasuke had walked in to find Itachi painting his fingernails black and he asked Sasuke if he wanted his done as well. However that was in his younger years, just as Itachi’s rebellious attitude kicked in. Now that he was out on his own, Itachi had much less eccentric tendencies. Well, tendencies that he let everyone else see at least.

“Itachi. Quit playing games with me.” Sasuke narrowed his eyes for emphasis, but Itachi just kept on staring at him innocuously.

But still, Sasuke didn’t have a clue as to why Itachi would do something like this. He was certain his dislike for the blonde Australian wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret from Itachi – Sasuke had punched the guy in his face for God’s sake. There had to be some underlying reason, and it unnerved Sasuke that he couldn’t pinpoint it yet.

“I’m just trying to help you, Sasuke. You can’t stay cooped up in that cabin doing paperwork all the time. You should enjoy activities on the deck from time to time.” Itachi decided on – his explanation to justify himself.

Sasuke scowled and signed fluidly, “Then why didn’t you let me pick the activity?”

“I’m your older brother; of course I get the first choice.” Itachi answered immediately, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, a renowned fact even.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Sasuke resigned himself to leaning back in his chair and glaring down at the stage. He may have overreacted a little but he felt his reaction was justified. Though he didn’t hate the moron with every fibre of his being, he did dislike him very much. Just because he apologised to Sasuke didn’t make him any more likeable. He was still a loud and overbearing moron, and that was more than enough reason for Sasuke to want to have nothing to do with him.

Then he noted a figure start to walk onto the stage. Uzumaki. Of course. Sasuke resisted the urge to roll his eyes or let out a silent sigh, pressing his lips together firmly and peering down at the stage. Naruto even walked stupidly, Sasuke thought, with an easy-going swagger in his steps with what appeared to be a guitar case resting on his back.

“G’day ladies and gents! How we all doing this arvo?” He spoke into the microphone, smiling out at the audience happily and already earning a round of applause. Sasuke looked around in confusion and made a face when he saw Itachi was clapping too.

What the hell did that mean? Arvo? He had never heard such a half-witted word in his entire life. He was right in his first assumption that this guy was a moron – he was probably the type of person to make up words and claim them as actual English ones.

“Hope you all enjoy the show.” Naruto said, as he took a seat and swung his guitar around to face his front.

The room was silent as Naruto began plucking at the strings, watching in awe. Sasuke raised an eyebrow to himself, wondering what the hell was so amazing about a guy playing a guitar. Sasuke ignored the voice jabbing at him in the back of his mind that reminded him when he was little the guitar was his favourite instrument to be heard played on the cruise ship performances.

Then, Naruto opened his mouth and began to sing. And Sasuke wondered how such a big and insanely loud mouth could sing so smoothly. It was certainly not what he had been expecting. Naruto sang and kept in time with the song, all whilst playing the guitar. Sasuke noted a drum player in the background, who chimed in when needed but it was clear all the attention in the room was on the guitarist.

Sasuke didn’t know the song, but the way in which Naruto sung it made it irrelevant as to whether you were familiar with it or not. Everyone was mesmerised, listening in wonder. He hadn’t really thought about what Naruto was doing on the ship – he didn’t have a reason to. Finding out he was a musician was a tad surprising, since he figured such a thick-headed guy wouldn’t have a musical bone in his body. But he was wrong it seemed, but as if Sasuke would ever admit to that.

At some point towards the end of the performance Naruto had looked up and Sasuke couldn’t be sure if he had seen him or not, it was a fa way away from the stage where he was stated. Regardless Sasuke remained unresponsive, only watching with an emotionless expression and soon Naruto was looking away somewhere else in the crowd.

As he sang out the last note surprisingly softly, he looked up and the sound of booming applause filled Sasuke’s ears once again. Only this time he was joining in. Granted he wasn’t as enthusiastic as some of the other crowd members, but he did clap.

“Thanks folks! Have a good evening y’hear?” Naruto stood up from his stool, waved to the audience and grinned broadly as he walked off the stage with his guitar in hand.

People began filing out and Sasuke made to stand, but caught Itachi looking at him curiously and raised an eyebrow in question.

“Was it as unbearable as you first made it out to be?” Itachi was barely holding back a self-satisfied smirk. Sasuke glowered at him and stood up, dusting off his jeans.

“Shut up, Itachi. You’ve had your fun, so now I’m going back to my room.” Sasuke signed irritably, and he turned and made his way down the staircase and out into the lobby.

He wouldn’t dare admit that it wasn’t unbearable as he first thought it would be. Nor would he admit to enjoying the sounds Naruto could make with the guitar. He was a guitar player for a reason, he knew the instrument. Just like thousands of other people out there. There was nothing special about it. Sasuke nodded assuredly as he rounded a corner and made his way to an elevator.

XXX

“Hey Hinata! How’d ya like my performance? I was pretty damn good wasn’t I?” Naruto said as he, Hinata and Kiba seated themselves at a table in the restaurant.

He had just finished his last performance in the evening and Hinata, who had watched, suggested they all go to dinner together. Naruto jumped at the idea, well, at the idea of food. And Kiba smiled awkwardly and agreed a bit too loudly and a bit too much.

Hinata smiled and shook her head, placing a napkin in her lap, “Y-You always know how to l-light up a room N-Naruto.”

Naruto grinned, but then noticed the rather gloomy aura surrounding Kiba and started nudging his best friend in the ribs, “But hey, this guy was electric am I right? The most badass backup in all of cruise line history!”

Kiba growled angrily and swatted Naruto’s hands away, but he saw Hinata laughing and stopped his grumbling immediately. She then showed Kiba a smile and he seemed to freeze up a little before showing the most awkward smile Naruto had ever seen on his best friend’s face.

It looks like he’s having cramps or somethin’, Naruto mused, then had to hold back his laughter as he imagined Kiba freaking out seeing blood coming out of his ass. Sometimes he loved his ability to visualise, sometimes he hated it, and other times it was just weird.

“Y-Yes, you were great, K-Kiba.” Hinata said, a hint of blush staining her cheeks.

Kiba blinked a few times, before flushing as well as he chuckled nervously and said with a smile, “Ah, thanks heaps Hinata.”

Naruto inwardly rolled his eyes. Around most girls, Kiba could be described as crude, rude, blunt, stupid, flirty and even a little sexual. But in front of Hinata it was as if he was experiencing his first crush on a girl. And perhaps, Naruto thought as he brought his glass of water to his lips with a smile, he was.

The food came and they ate, talking between bites and laughing and remembering all the old times they shared together. The conversation was never dull, the atmosphere never awkward. When he noticed the time ticked over to eleven, Naruto pushed out from his chair and pulled out his wallet, charging his meal to his cruise money card.

“I better get goin’, got a performance bright and early tomorrow so I gotta get my beauty sleep.” He winked at Hinata who lightly blushed and giggled and Kiba rolled his eyes, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

“It was nice meetin’ with ya again Hinata. Make sure the mutt gets in his kennel on time!” Naruto ducked as Kiba aimed a punch at his head and walked off down the hallway, grinning back at them.

Kiba would be alright by himself; probably wanted a chance to be alone with Hinata. And Naruto had already decided he wouldn’t stand in the way of whatever was going on between his best friend and Hinata Hyuuga. Because as much as Naruto had noticed the strange look in Kiba’s eyes when he looked at Hinata, he was certain there was something of the same sort in Hinata’s.

Either way when she looked at Naruto now it was only with friendship, and her reactions were modest rather than shy. And Naruto was more than happy with that. If he was honest, Naruto was more than happy with the idea of being single. His last relationship had been messy, and wasn’t even worth all the trouble it took to actually getting to the point of breaking up. She had said he wasn’t making it work, that they were falling apart and he wasn’t doing anything about it. Naruto hadn’t said anything, only looked at her. She had walked away.

Slipping his hands inside his jean pockets, Naruto rounded a corner and pressed the button for the elevator. He watched as the lights illuminated each numbered floor before finally dinging and the doors opened.

Relationships just weren’t really his thing, unless it involved his relationship with his stomach and ramen. And there was no shame in that, plenty of people felt the same.

Tapping the button for his floor, his blue eyes watched as the doors closed and the metal box started moving upwards.

Maybe he was just too used to being alone.

He sighed heavily and rubbed his face. He was thinking too much and it was already late. Deciding to forget about it, he stepped out of the now open elevator and walked down the hall towards his cabin. Ordering some room service sounded really good right now.

XXX

The next morning Kiba had a grin which looked to be permanently plastered to his face. Oh yes, he was feeling like one lucky dog this morning!

After Naruto had left, it was just him and Hinata. And they had a really good time too. After all, he had been close friends with her before he had actually developed his not-so-small-kinda-huge crush on her. It was only when he had made friends with Naruto and introduced him to Hinata that he realised he saw her as more than a friend. They way her eyes would widen and shine when Naruto was around, how she would blush deeply and stutter profusely. All of this had left Kiba feeling so upset that it had finally dawned upon him that he didn’t want her attention on other guys.

“I…I think I really like him K-Kiba.” She had told him one morning when they were studying in the library. Kiba hadn’t needed to ask twice to know who she meant.

“You mean Naruto?” But he had humoured her, pretended not to know a thing.

A hurried nod was her answer accompanied by a bright red flush, which Kiba would have usually found endearing but in that moment just wanted to look anywhere else.

Despite Naruto being his best mate, he had harboured resentful feelings towards him, which he had tried to cover up as much as possible. It wasn’t his fault, really. After all, Naruto was denser than a boulder heaped on top of another boulder covered by an avalanche of boulders. His obliviousness to Hinata’s feelings often left her feeling saddened, but she never once got discouraged. That was one of the things he had always admired about her.

Although extraordinarily dense, even Naruto wasn’t beyond figuring out eventually that Hinata had feelings for him. The homemade pastries, the small gifts and trinkets, how she would play with her hair and never seem to be able to take her eyes off of him – even an idiot could figure out she was head over heels for him. And well, Naruto was pretty much the perfect idiot.

However after having seemed to understand Hinata’s actions and reasons for doing so, Naruto didn’t flat out reject her. He still accepted everything she gave to him, but with a much friendlier aura. He refrained from physical contact that could be taken the wrong way and his smiles towards her were more kind than anything else.

Kiba had often mused that when he actually put his mind to it, Naruto could actually be a considerate person. Not that he wasn’t considerate, but Naruto had this bluntness about him – something he and Naruto shared in common in fact – that made things he said come out in the wrong way sometimes.

It had been bittersweet when they had graduated and Hinata headed off to Okinawa to work with her father’s business. He and Naruto opted to stay in Konoha, where they shared an apartment and lived together like best mates do.

But now, in a one in a million chance, Hinata was here. Kiba had made his mistakes when he was younger. He did admit he was scared. Heck, he was still scared. Yet he wouldn’t back down this time. He would let Hinata know how he felt eventually, and had made it a goal for himself to summon the courage to actually confess to her before the end of this cruise. Even if she was going back to Okinawa, he wouldn’t give up. He had finally found her again and wasn’t letting her go until he knew for sure whether something could come of them or not.

Walking into the buffet room, he immediately caught sight of blonde hair and soon he was being waved at by Naruto to come over, which Kiba did.

“Had a good night eh?” Naruto was grinning broadly at him, which made Kiba’s smile seem to widen of its own accord. He was dressed rather formally, which meant he was about to go and perform soon. Kiba was glad he had managed to catch up with him.

“You bet, mate. Don’t get me wrong, I missed having you and all but – actually no, I didn’t miss you. It was awesome.”

Naruto laughed and punched Kiba in the arm good-naturedly, “So, did you tell her yet?” The blonde asked, eagerness and a hint of teasing in his voice as he raised his eyebrows expectantly.

Rolling his eyes, Kiba shoved him in the ribs playfully as he took a seat beside him. “Ah, no. Not yet. But, you know, we’re meeting up for lunch on Wednesday to catch up some more so, I don’t know man, maybe I’ll get lucky.”

“I’m happy for ya, Kibs. I really am.” Naruto smiled at him, and Kiba knew it was genuine from the way it reached up to his eyes, crinkling them at the ends. He felt a stab of guilt pierce him as he remembered how pissy he had been acting around Naruto lately.

“Yeah. Hey listen, about how I was acting before–”

“Don’t even worry about it. We’re cool.” Naruto cut through, holding up his fist with a carefree smile and Kiba smiled wolfishly back at him, raising his own fist to bump against the equally tan one.

“We’re cool.” He reiterated, and Kiba had never felt so good. Life was good!

XXX

Since he was (forced) to participate in activities outside of the comfort of his cabin, Sasuke had the absolute delight of going to people-orientated activities. Seeing as how he had slept in again this morning, he had ever so conveniently missed the performances or comedy acts – basically activities where he only had to sit down and watch.

Itachi wouldn’t be joining him today. He had important duties to attend to. Sasuke didn’t mind however. At least he wouldn’t get roped into doing something ridiculous with his unpredictable older brother.

So now he was left with the interactive activities; activities where he would have to engage and pay attention and actually participate. It was troublesome, and he had considered skipping and saying he went instead when Itachi asked. But that plan had been blown to bits when he realised that Itachi made a point of visiting each activity operating once during the daylight hours, and that his older brother would see through his lies anyway. It would be easier to just go and suffer through one activity compared to an entire evening under Itachi’s scrutiny.

It was four-fifteen in the afternoon, which meant he had three choices: open mic karaoke, bingo or to attend a ballroom dancing class. Obviously the karaoke was out, no point in miming a song. And Sasuke didn’t fancy standing up in front of an audience either. Ballroom dancing was a no-go. The women would flock to him and be too busy drooling to actually bother with the steps (he wasn’t arrogant it was just the truth), and besides he didn’t really dance well with other people.

Which meant his only choice remaining was bingo – fucking bingo. He would be surrounded by elderly people who would cheat with their chips and scream bingo when they only had a bin. Well, that’s what Sasuke assumed anyway. He used to play bingo in primary school when the teacher would allow it, and he didn’t mind it so much. It was boring as hell, but at least no one would try to talk to him.

He stopped at the door entrance however, waiting for an elderly man to walk through. Sasuke wasn’t such an asshole as to push past old people. He did have morals – despite how Suigetsu liked to claim he didn’t have a soul. He smirked slightly at the memory of his idiotic friends. He tried to remember vaguely in his mind what each of them would be doing right now. Suigetsu would be at the university of course – though whether he was studying or swimming in the pool was another matter. Juugo would be starting his rounds of animal waste pick-up at the zoo, and Karin would be preparing to finish work in half an hour.

Just as he remembered it all, the man had moved inside and Sasuke swiftly stepped in as well. The room was full of round tables at which people were already seated. A quick glance over the room proved his suspicions correct. The majority of the room was filled with elderly people. He saw maybe one or two families with their children, probably showing them how to play bingo for the first time or something of the sort, but mainly old people – and no one his age. Sasuke didn’t know whether to be thankful or not, so he just shrugged and automatically made his way towards an empty table, purposefully ignoring the vacant seats at other tables or people asking him to join them.

Sasuke was grateful no other people came up to him; that was until the staff member in charge of bingo came sauntering over to him. He was a middle-aged man, with a round stomach and black hair showing the beginnings of grey on his hairline. There was sweat trickling down his temples coupled with a huge smile. It made Sasuke a tad uneasy, but he kept up a stoic façade.

“Hello there! Welcome to bingo! Would you like to join another table, we have plenty more seats available!” The man exclaimed over-eagerly, gesturing a large hand around in the general direction of the tables.

Sasuke’s eyes followed the motion then slid lazily back to the man. He shook his head four times, then crossed his arms over his chest and looked away from him. No one would be making him move anywhere. Bingo was not a game exclusively played in groups, so Sasuke was quite content to stay exactly where he was.

A confused look came over the staff member’s face before it brightened again, his voice an even jollier tone Sasuke had not thought possible.

“Well if you change your mind please don’t hesitate to move! Everyone’s here to help! Enjoy the game!” The middle-aged man grinned enormously at Sasuke again and then turned and changed his direction towards a group of old ladies.

A breath of relief escaped Sasuke’s lips, his eyes flicking away from the man to look down at his coloured bingo board. He pondered as to whether if he got bingo they would accept him raising a hand. But then, that defeated the very purpose and name of the game. Furrowing his brows together, Sasuke considered possibly writing it down and showing it to everyone, but then tossed the thought out of his mind. Screw it, if he got bingo he just wouldn’t say so. It wasn’t like it mattered to him.

“Heh, never pegged you for the bingo type.”

Sasuke stiffened in his seat. He huffed out a silent sigh. Sasuke was beginning to think because he had punched this guy he was now cursed to have him follow him forever – or, at least the remainder of the cruise.

“Surprised to see me again, Saskay?” Looking up, Sasuke was dully surprised to find none other than Naruto Uzumaki standing in front of his table, a smile on his face and his hands in his pockets. Sasuke inwardly scoffed at the typical casualness of the man.

“Well, I’m gonna sit with you ‘cause everyone else here is old enough to be my godfather. I don’t wanna find out if they’re into the same things he is as well.” Sasuke grimaced and watched on helplessly as the man pulled out a chair and sat down next to him, ruining his isolation.

Both were silent a little while, well Sasuke obviously had no choice but Naruto was being oddly quiet. Sasuke wasn’t complaining, on the contrary he was trying to ignore the idiot as much as he could. He figured Naruto was only trying to be a nice guy and give him some company, but Sasuke honestly didn’t give a damn. Yet he couldn’t tell him to piss off because he would end up causing a scene and then Itachi would become involved and things would only get worse. Crinkling his nose, he breathed out and told himself he could do this.

“I saw ya at my gig yesterday.” Naruto nudged Sasuke in the arm with his elbow, apparently tiring of the silence between them.

Sasuke threw him a glare before shifting over a little in his seat. He disliked it greatly when unfamiliar people touched him. Uzumaki wasn’t unfamiliar as such, but Sasuke didn’t know the man personally and that was reason enough to not want contact. He decided not to answer, which seemed to frustrate Naruto as he propped his chin up on his hand and stared at Sasuke quizzically.

“Well? Did ya like it or not?” The blonde prompted, his eyes wide and his aura no different to how it had been when they had interactions before.

It was as if Sasuke’s muteness was irrelevant, which was a new concept for him – seeing as how nobody could look at him the same after having learned of his disability.

Sasuke rolled his eyes and raised a slender brow at the Australian. There was no way Sasuke was going to comment on Naruto’s performance, even if he had been able to speak. It wasn’t worth his time to puff up the ego of moronic morons who probably received way too much praise anyway.

Naruto had his head tilted to the side, trying to determine what Sasuke’s expression meant, and eventually grinned and said, “Heh, well I saw you clapping at the end so that must have meant I was good. So thanks mate!”

A hand clapped Sasuke heartily on his back and Sasuke glared venomously, scooting his chair over more and side-eyeing Naruto suspiciously. The blonde idiot just chuckled and looked down at his bingo board, which had already been distributed and lay on the table in front of them. Damn Uzumaki and his damn touching! Sasuke was starting to feel a bit queasy, and wondered why. Then he realised he had skipped breakfast while sleeping in AND he didn’t have his coffee either.

Suddenly the middle-aged man was back out the front, sweating even more but still keeping that huge smile of his on his face. It was a little creepy how long this guy could maintain a smile for.

“Welcome everyone to bingo! I’ll be your host, Damien, this afternoon. Please have your pens at the ready as I just go and warm up the bingo cage ball!” He then walked over to a large cage ball standing on the ground, as people started to murmur amongst themselves in getting ready and going over the rules.

“Ah, you just gotta love bingo y’know? It’s fun for everyone! Plus I totally rock at this game.” Naruto exclaimed suddenly, and Sasuke side-eyed him as the moron looked down at all his board excitedly, pen in hand and already scrawling a variety of different numbers.

Sasuke snorted soundlessly at the over-confident grin Naruto was sporting, while picking up his own pen and jotting down his chosen numbers in each square. It was a game of chance, sheer dumb luck even. Nobody could claim to be ‘good’ at bingo. Too bad he couldn’t tell the idiot that. One of the down-sides to being mute was that all the snarky comments and clever insults Sasuke had inside his head were wasted, never to be used nor heard. But at least he could keep himself entertained.

“Alright everyone! Ready to go?” Damien was already spinning the cage ball around, the numbered colourful balls inside rattling and clacking against each other and the cage. Everyone agreed rather enthusiastically, with Naruto being the loudest with “Yeah!”

“Remember we have three gift vouchers of $400 each that can be spent on any facilities on the ship. I hope luck is on your side!” He winked and some of the old ladies tittered, while Sasuke just rolled his eyes and rolled his pen around in his fingers.

“Okay, we’re starting now,” Damien announced loudly, giving the cage ball one last spin before stopping it and pulling out a yellow-coloured ball.

“27!” He yelled, and everyone immediately looked down at their boards. Sasuke dully noted he had the number and put a cross on it. He saw Naruto looking at his board in his peripheral vision and resisted the urge to look at him and make rude gestures.

It was going to be a long hour…

Two games later and two people had won; an elderly lady won the first round, earning a voucher which she was so pleased with she got up and left immediately. Sasuke wished he could have followed. The second winner was a young child, who wouldn’t stop screaming bingo and was doing Sasuke’s head in until the kid was given the voucher – pocketed by the parents of course with a promise it would be spent later.

The last game was currently taking place. Sasuke noticed that his board was filling up with x’s through his boxes. It didn’t really faze him. It wasn’t as if he needed something as materialistic as a voucher.

Naruto on the other hand was blazing with determination to win. He would get extremely excited when a number was called that he had written, and then get annoyed when one he hadn’t written was called. Although when someone would win a voucher Naruto would be ecstatic, clapping and calling out his congratulations. Sasuke, as per usual, remained still as stone and as didn’t say a word.

Surprisingly though, it wasn’t as bad as Sasuke had thought. Naruto played the game, made a few comments, and occasionally asked Sasuke how he was going with the game. But he wasn’t unbearable. But still, Sasuke kept that distance between him and Naruto.

“14!” Damien called, voice still booming and sweat still running. Sasuke looked down at his board and located the number, putting a cross through it and looking as he awaited the next number. Hopefully someone would get bingo soon and then he could leave.

“Hey, you got a bingo!” A tan finger pointed at his board and Sasuke lazily looked up at Naruto, who was looking surprised. Then Sasuke looked back down at his board, and noted all the boxes had a cross through them.

Looking back up, Sasuke eyes clicked with blue ones for a moment, and then a smile slid onto Naruto’s face as he looked out to the front. Raising his hand high, Naruto yelled embarrassingly loudly, “Bingo! Oi! We got a bingo over here!”

Sasuke ducked his head, hoping no one would catch a glimpse of his face and he would not be associated with the moron sitting next to him. He was scowling, and wanted nothing more than to stand up and walk away. But that would cause a scene, wouldn’t it? Damn Itachi.

Damien came sauntering over as he always did, and picked up Sasuke’s board, examining it closely and the sheet he had written the called numbers on. Accuracy was extremely important in bingo apparently. Sasuke had witnessed how seriously some of the elderly people took the game.

“Looks like you’re our third winner! What’s your name?” Expectant eyes and gazes looked over at Sasuke, and he suddenly wished he had gone ballroom dancing instead.

“It’s Saskay.” Naruto inserted for him, and Sasuke glared at the blonde Australian.

“Well then Sasuke, congratulations! You have won our third and final voucher worth $400! Here you go, use it well!” A white, rectangular piece of paper was presented to him, and Sasuke glanced up at Damien and then back down at his hand.

When he took the voucher, everyone applauded him. Especially Naruto, who seemed much too excited that he was sitting next to the winner. Sasuke didn’t make eye contact with anyone and instead looked down at the table. Soon the applause died out and Damien’s voice was filling the room again as he began to conclude the session.

Naruto leaned back in his chair, running a hand through his short blonde locks as he looked over at Sasuke, “Damn, I never lose at bingo. You bastard, you must’ve taken all my luck for yourself.”

Sasuke raised a sceptical eyebrow at the blonde’s words, which made said blonde start to chuckle. It hadn’t taken long to figure out Naruto was the type of guy who liked to laugh, and make other people laugh too. He was the complete opposite to Sasuke.

But then a vibrating sound was heard, and Sasuke automatically reached inside his pocket to get his phone, but stopped upon realising it was Naruto’s.

Looking down at his phone, Naruto rolled his eyes and taped out a quick reply before pocketing the device and standing up, “Ah, gotta go meet up with Kiba. Geez, that guy can’t survive without me for five minutes.”

Sasuke just looked at him then looked out at the front randomly. He wasn’t used to people he had just met acting so at ease with him. He hadn’t done anything for Naruto to act this way – was this just how he was? Even so, Sasuke couldn’t help feeling a little wary. Something about Naruto was just not right.

“See ya around, Saskay!” Sasuke watched as Naruto walked to the doorway of the room and looked back around to wave, which Sasuke did not return.

Instead he just raised an eyebrow and looked down at the gift voucher. He didn’t know what he would use this for, since he pretty much had unlimited access to the ship’s facilities. He’d considered giving it to someone, but didn’t look forward to them asking any questions he would be unable to answer. So he just folded it in half and stuck it in his pocket. Maybe if he wanted a really expensive drink he could use it then.

Having completed his outdoor activity for the day, Sasuke stood from his seat and made his way out of the room, manoeuvring briskly around the elderly people who would surely attempt to start up with a conversation with him. No one could hold a conversation with him, even if they liked to fool themselves into thinking that they did. Fools like Naruto, who thought a one-sided conversation was enough communication between two people.

Sasuke didn’t like Naruto. He didn’t hate him. He didn’t feel anything either way really. Except that every time he was near him this underlying something would tug at him. The only problem was that Sasuke couldn’t identify what it was. It was why he felt so uncomfortable around the man, he knew that much. If he actually sat down and thought about it, then perhaps something might come to light. But he didn’t have time to waste on forgettable morons and their empty words.

However he did have time to stop by the open bar and grab a quick glass of champagne. After writing down his order for the bartender, Sasuke sat and waited. Itachi would probably be beaming at hearing the news.

Unfortunately it seemed his elder brother held a liking towards Naruto – obviously none of the romantic or sexual kind because his brother was much too good for someone as low-level as Uzumaki. Not to mention his intelligence level would go down from just being in the same room as the guy, of this much Sasuke was sure.

No, Itachi probably liked his ‘guts’ or his ‘spirit’ or whatever crap it was that made up a regular good guy. Itachi was liked by everyone, and in turn liked everyone as well. He was a human rights activist of course, the connections he held with other people were important to him. And from what Sasuke had witnessed at the performance, everyone loved Naruto. Sasuke personally didn’t care. He didn’t want or need to be loved by everyone, and that was okay with him. Although it irritated him that he would probably be seeing more of Naruto than he had ever wanted – the ideal being not at all.

All annoyance dispersed however at the sight of his champagne glass appearing in front of him, and Sasuke gave a friendly nod towards the bartender in thanks as he picked it up and took a long sip from it. It felt good to have the cool liquid run down his dry throat.

Just as he was three-quarters of the way through his glass he felt someone tap his shoulder and say chirpily, “Sasuke?”

Looking around, Sasuke was surprised as he saw the same woman who had stumbled upon one of his late night bar sessions – that Naruto had been inconveniently present at.

“Hi, my name is Sakura Haruno. I’m an entertainer on your ship. It’s so great to meet you.” She held out a hand, manicured but by no means looking dainty.

Sasuke looked at her for a moment before obliging and slipping his right hand into hers and giving it a strong shake which was not unreturned. Silently, Sasuke mused as to whether this woman did some sort of Spartan exercise routine. Despite her slim build there was an inner strength that emanated from within her. Pity the poor fool who would try to mug her, Sasuke thought with amusement. She would probably crush his hands before they could even touch her purse.

“I-I was wondering whether maybe you would like to have a drink or something with me? I’d love to get to know some more people on this cruise and well, you seem nice.” Sakura said, stuttering a little at the start but gradually gaining more confidence.

Her eyelashes were batting prettily, her lips pulled up into a clearly perfected pout, and her eyes glimmered with promise of something good indeed.

Sasuke gave a small but concise shake of his head in the negative, and he didn’t miss the way her expression seemed to falter, the sparkles dimming in her eyes.

“Well, o-okay then. Here, take my number – just in case you change your mind in the future.” Without waiting for an answer, Sakura shoved a small pink card into his hand with an eager smile, which Sasuke had no choice but to accept.

“Come catch a performance some time!” She called out, a smile on her lips as she waved to him and walked off to the elevator.

Sasuke looked down at the small card. He scoffed soundlessly and rolled his eyes. Women were always so easy to attract, like flies to honey. He didn’t even have to try for them to take an interest in him – he literally didn’t have to say a word and they would still fall over him.

Shoving the pink card carelessly in his pocket, Sasuke continued making his way out to the deck. As soon as he opened the door a gust of cool air hit his face and he almost smiled.

Stepping out, he walked up to the edge of the ship, his hands coming up to rest on the wind-chilled bars. The water was churning, white foam leaving a quickly vanishing trail behind the thunderous beast of a ship. He closed his eyes, allowing the breeze to hit his face.

Moments like these were what made him truly comfortable nowadays. Just himself and his surroundings. No people. No background conversation. It felt as if he could be himself and no one would give a damn. He didn’t need inessential people around him to make him happy.

Or maybe he had become too accustomed to being by himself.

He snorted at the thought and how that would be exactly something Itachi would say. As if Sasuke should pay any mind to such a thought. He was perfectly happy in his solitude. It hadn’t always been how he had lived his life, but things had changed in the past four years. He had changed.

Pushing the thought away after becoming sick of thinking about it, Sasuke just contented himself to watching the ocean waves until the dark cloak of night began to fall. Then he went back inside and quietly made his way up to his cabin, alone.

Chapter Text

“Hey, man! Where ya been?” Kiba stood up from his spot on the stool, as Naruto strolled into the sitting room leisurely and rolling his eyes.

“Kiba, you texted me ten minutes ago. I came as fast as I could.” He assured, taking his seat and gladly picking up his drink Kiba had so thoughtfully pre-ordered for him – which meant the next round was on Naruto. Kiba always was a bit of a cheapskate, to the point where he was re-using tissues in their shared apartment until Naruto couldn’t take it any longer and bought ten boxes with his own money.

“Felt longer.” He heard his best friend mumble dejectedly, and couldn’t stop the taunting grin.

“You sound like a clingy boyfriend. I’m sorry sweetie, it won’t happen again.” Naruto cooed, placing a hand over Kiba’s and stroking it soothingly.

“Fuck off, Naruto!” Kiba growled, snatching his hand back and crossing his arm over his chest angrily.

Laughing amusedly, Naruto sipped at his drink before placing it back down and resting his forearms on the shiny bench top.

“Hey, guess what I just did?” Naruto asked, and Kiba grunted non-committedly and took a long swig from his drink. He was still pissed off, but Naruto couldn’t care less and went ahead anyway with what he was saying.

“Played bingo with Saskay Uchiha.”

That got Kiba’s attention, stilling the brunette’s motions as he looked over to face Naruto fully, “Are you fucking serious?”
“Did you know he was mute?” Naruto continued on as if Kiba hadn’t spoken at all. It still jarred him that after so many encounters he still hadn’t realised Sasuke’s muteness.

Something like this shouldn’t have bothered him so much, but it made him feel weird when he had goaded Sasuke all that time into speaking when the Uchiha couldn’t speak at all. He wasn’t a spiteful person, he didn’t mean to hurt other people – wait what was he even thinking? Sasuke didn’t even seem hurt by his incorrect misinterpretation. If anything he had probably gotten it all the time. He was probably used to it. Closing his eyes a moment, Naruto pushed the thoughts aside as he listened for Kiba’s answer.

“Uh, no actually. Never knew that.” Kiba said, his voice lowering as he rubbed at his nose – a sign Naruto knew to mean Kiba either felt nervous or uncomfortable – and judging by the situation he would presume Kiba felt uncomfortable about it. Naruto could relate.

“Me either.” Naruto wanted to stop thinking about it, but it was annoying. Sasuke just wouldn’t get out of his head. Not since the first night of the cruise when they had first met. He was either feeling pissed about Sasuke, surprised about Sasuke – he didn’t even know the guy. What was he so damn worried about!?

“Wait, I thought you said you were gonna stay away from him. Did you change your mind?” Kiba’s questions bombarding his mind dispersed his thoughts away and he looked up from his drink, frowning a little.

“Well no, not really.” He murmured as he looked away so he wouldn’t have to meet Kiba’s confronting gaze.

Naruto had mixed feelings about Sasuke Uchiha. The first impression he had – and still had – was that he was a conceited bastard who didn’t know how to be civil or kind to people other than himself.

While the second impression was that he was different. He couldn’t say how, perhaps he was just conjecturing the man’s muteness for his supposed ‘difference’. It wasn’t as if Sasuke thought of Naruto in any kind terms. He glared at him, had punched him, and somehow Naruto always knew behind that sneering mask insults were bursting at the seams to be let out and thrown in Naruto’s face.

“Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not sayin’ I like the guy. I mean I have no reason to like him.” He stated, and Naruto couldn’t help but think he was trying to convince himself of this more than Kiba.

“Naruto, you always wanna be everyone’s friend. Just admit you wanna be this Sasuke guy’s friend as well.” Brandishing his glass at him, Kiba then drew it upwards at the end of his spiel and downed some more of the golden liquid.

“But I don’t! I mean, I can be civil but it’s not like I want him to be my friend.” Naruto tried to explain, it all made sense to him – why was Kiba being such an idiot?
Being friendly to people was just his way. Naruto hadn’t been brought up to act any differently. But although he was sociable, it didn’t mean he was going to start a lifelong friendship with every person he met and was nice to.

Kiba didn’t look at him, but only raised an eyebrow as he inspected the rim of his glass, and Naruto felt a twinge of annoyance at that.

“I bet you’ve seen him other times than at bingo just now.” Kiba said suddenly, still not looking at Naruto, who was frowning at his best friend at the current time.

Clearing his throat, Naruto admitted in a low voice, “We’ve had a few run-ins.”

And you talked to him.” Kiba finished, turning back to Naruto with a superior look in his eyes that made the blonde scowl in annoyance.

“Well, yeah – so what? Can’t I just make conversation with someone I know?”

Kiba laughed loudly, and then shook his head, “You’re talking around in circles, dumbass. Stop it you’re making me dizzy.”

Opting to glare instead a verbal response, Naruto turned back so he was facing the front again. Kiba seemed to notice his discomfort and sobered up, his smile all but gone when he continued, “He might be different to the Uchiha you’ve known.”

Naruto knew that. He knew that because he had thought the very same thing himself. Madara was in a complete league of his own when it came to what people called scum, not only because of what he did to Naruto, but how he treated people in general. Like they were the dirt beneath his boots, and Madara was too worthy to even be in their lowly presence.

When Naruto thought about his situation with Sasuke, he wasn’t sure what he was doing. But he was pretty sure he was overthinking it, which was something Naruto did not like to do. So he decided to put an end to the conversation.

“And he might not. Look, it doesn’t matter alright? It’s just a cruise, I’m not gonna be making any lifelong bonds on here. He’s just another guy.”

Kiba didn’t say anything, and a silence fell between them. It was true enough, Sasuke was just a guy. It wasn’t like they were friends – because they weren’t friends – or anything so Naruto wouldn’t pay it any mind. Even if Sasuke was ridiculously pretty and couldn’t go anywhere without catching Naruto’s eye. It was like a magnet attraction, Naruto couldn’t stop himself from gravitating towards him.

“Anyway, didn’t you have something you wanted to tell me?” Naruto eased away from the current topic of conversation. Though he was nearly expert at giving them, Naruto really disliked when he was given a confrontation. All the things Kiba had said kept ringing in his ears, and in an attempt to drown them out he picked up his drink and took a long sip.

“Well, if you’re done gracing me with the detail of the great Naruto Uzumaki’s day, I guess I can say my piece now.” Kiba said sarcastically, a sardonic smirk on his lips as he said so.

Naruto grinned and nodded, “You may.”

“I just wanted to ask you if you could cover my shift on Wednesday. I’ll take your slot, so don’t worry I’m not gonna mooch off of ya.” Kiba asked in a rush, his words slightly running together and Naruto raised an eyebrow in question.

“Uh, yeah sure. But why?”

Shifting in his seat, Kiba was silent for a while but Naruto waited until he was ready to speak, “Well, remember how I told you I had that lunch with Hinata? Well it turns out the time we agreed to meet is during one of my sets.”

Ah, that explains it, Naruto thought, suddenly enlightened. He was really not used to Kiba’s mess of emotions, which apparently occurred whenever concerning the Hyuuga. Especially since Kiba was not exactly the type to pursue a relationship that wasn’t sex-orientated.

“Couldn’t you just change to a different time with her? I’m sure she’d understand.”

“She’s only available during lunch on Wednesday, other than that she’s going to be busy with her family. So I didn’t want to disappoint her or anything so I just thought–”

Naruto held up a hand, barely holding back a smile as he said steadily, “Kiba, you’re babbling. It’s no problem, I get it. So long as you take my shift in return it’s all good.”

“Ah, mate you’re the best! Thanks heaps!” Kiba punched him in the arm good-naturedly, and Naruto shrugged and grinned back. His friend was definitely falling fast, or well, he had already fallen. This was just Naruto’s first time seeing it.

XXX

The next morning Sasuke resolved not to leave his cabin for his socialising until the evening. Then the morning and afternoon was his to do whatever he liked – and Sasuke would be getting on with more paperwork.

At some point Itachi walked in, and he took a seat on Sasuke’s bed, claiming he couldn’t talk long but couldn’t resist checking in on Sasuke. He actually managed to get the young Uchiha up to take a stroll with him around the top open air deck of the ship.

//“What social activity did you do yesterday?”// Itachi asked, smiling as he nodded at a crew member that passed them by.

Sasuke paused at the question, and then sighed soundlessly as he signed, //“Bingo.”//

Itachi raised an eyebrow and though he was masking it well, Sasuke just knew his elder brother was desperately attempting to smother a smirk, //“Really, Sasuke. I knew you were a bit of a bore, but I didn’t think you had progressed to an elderly mindset so quickly.”//

Sasuke glared furiously up at Itachi, bringing his hands together as they passed a table of gossiping women who paused to look at the strange sight of a man throwing his arms around, //“Shut up! It was the only choice I had. I wish I had gotten up earlier, and then I wouldn’t have had to go and run into Naruto again–”//

//“Naruto was there?”// Itachi interrupted, also signing to make Sasuke feel more comfortable as he so often did when they spoke in public.

Sasuke sighed soundlessly, shaking his head as the memory of yesterday filled his mind’s eye, //“Yes, unfortunately. He sat next to me while we played.”//

To Sasuke’s surprise Itachi chuckled at this, and he raised an eyebrow as his brother replied, //“So it seems the act of making friends is not completely lost on you, I’m impressed.”//

//“He’s not my friend, I hate him.”// Sasuke replied automatically. There was no way Itachi could thin he’d ever be friends with someone like Naruto Uzumaki.

//“Sasuke, that’s not very nice. You shouldn’t hate anyone. And Naruto is quite likeable in my opinion.”// Itachi rounded a corner and Sasuke followed after him as the elevator lobby came into sight.

Rolling his eyes, Sasuke pushed the button for the elevator and stepped back beside his brother as they waited for it to ding, //“I knew you liked him. I just knew it.”//

There was a slight pause in Itachi’s reply, not extremely long but long enough to draw Sasuke’s attention to him. Once Sasuke’s gaze fell on him, Itachi signed back, //“Is that a bad thing?”//

Pursing his lips together, Sasuke frowned at the strange question. He didn’t even know why Itachi would bother asking something so pointless, so he just answered with the first and foremost thought that came to mind, //“It’s annoying. He’s annoying.”//

The elevator dinged. They both waited as people filed out, and luckily it was empty and seemed Sasuke and Itachi were the only people entering inside. Sasuke disliked being inside cramped spaces. All the conversations going on and all the noise irritated him.

//“Maybe you’ll see soon you two have more in common than you think.”// Itachi signed, stepping inside and selecting the deck where many of the entertainment halls were located.

Snorting mutely, Sasuke slipped his hands inside his pockets and played around with the loose lint inside them with his fingertips a while. Sasuke would never admit it to Itachi, but he did wish he could be more social sometimes. All things considered, he did miss Karin, Juugo and Suigetsu. He missed having friends around him. And so far on the cruise, Naruto had been the closest thing he had to continuous human contact (besides Itachi obviously). In some small way yesterday, it had made him bizarrely reassured to have Naruto’s presence with him.

Yet he still kept coming back to that thing. That thing about Naruto that made him want to be as far away as possible. That getting any closer to the man would be nothing but trouble for him. And Sasuke’s mind had never failed him before, so he would listen to it and stay away if that’s what he had to do.

//“I don’t see how that’s possible, Itachi.”// Sasuke finally signed, his hands warm from being in his pockets.

Itachi’s face examined him, and it seemed as if his older brother had something he wanted to say. But before Itachi could open his mouth the elevator dinged, signalling that Itachi had arrived on his requested deck.

//“I have to go, more duties to perform. I’ll see you later this evening, little brother.”// Itachi signed, and even though he couldn’t hear his voice Sasuke knew that there was disappointment in there. Itachi didn’t want to leave.

Sasuke refrained from rolling his eyes. Sometimes his big brother was just too much. A small frown tugged at Sasuke’s lips when Itachi poked him in the forehead. Itachi just gave a mild smile, then stepped out of the elevator.

//“Bye.”// Sasuke then pressed the number of the deck for his cabin and moved back when more people entered.

Perhaps he could get in a quick nap before his evening activities began.

XXX

“Sasuke! Hey, over here Sasuke!”

Turning around, Sasuke searched for the source of his name and found it in the pink-haired woman sitting on one of the lounges, with another blonde-haired woman sitting beside her. Sasuke also noticed a familiar looking guy with brown hair, and another woman with bluish looking hair, though it could be classed as bluish-black.

After a successful napping session, Sasuke had decided to go and complete Itachi’s absurd request that he interact with members of the ship. He had been walking through the bar-lounge area when he had heard the pink haired woman, Sakura he thought her name was, called out to him.

“Come and sit with us!” The woman, Sakura, who had talked to him the other night, called out loudly, a smile on her lips as she waved over at him.

Sasuke wasn’t a social person, but if he had to choose between sitting with some people who looked around his own age or sitting in on yet another round of bingo with the elderly passengers of the ship his mind was made up. Changing his course, he started walking towards the group of people and if it was possible Sakura’s smile grew even sicklier in sweetness. They made room for him on the lounge, however Sasuke headed straight for the sole armchair that was sitting separate from the lounge. He ignored the disappointed stares they shot their way.

“We’ve already met but these are some of my other friends.” It appeared Sakura only lost heart for half a minute, as her perkiness returned as she gestured to the other people sitting around.

The blonde-haired woman moved first, actually standing up and walking over to Sasuke to shake his hand, “I’m Ino Yamanaka. Gosh, I can’t believe I’m actually meeting you, Sasuke! Can I call you Sasuke?”

Not knowing what else he could do, Sasuke nodded and Ino squealed in delight, smiling happily at him before taking her seat beside Sakura once more.

The brunette was next, as he gave a wave of acknowledgement, “Kiba Inuzuka, we haven’t met formerly but I’ve heard some things about ya.”

Sasuke was a bit puzzled at the second part of that sentence, and it must have shown on his face because Kiba let out a short bark of laughter and gave him a wink. Raising an eyebrow, Sasuke merely averted his gaze and shrugged it off. People were strange, he thought.

“H-Hello, I’m Hinata Hyuga. P-Pleased to meet you, Sasuke.” A small voice stuttered, and Sasuke had to look around Kiba to see the bluish-haired woman called Hinata.

He gave a nod at her in response and she blushed. Sasuke thought she seemed very easily embarrassed, if her stuttering and flushing was any indication. Or it could have just been Sasuke. He was rather intimidating to look at, completely silent with a steely look in his eyes. Not a lot of people approached him willingly when he looked like that.

“Ah, hey guys! What’d I miss?”

Sasuke’s entire form stiffened in surprise when he heard that voice he had come to recognise, unfortunately. Looking up, Sasuke saw the man who had been plaguing his mind never-endingly standing next to his armchair as he greeted the group who apparently were his friends.

“Naruto, you’re late again!” Sakura piped up, eyebrows drawn downwards in exasperation. Sasuke could relate. Seeing this moron everywhere was driving him nuts!

“What do you even do with your time? Geez, you’re so lazy.” Ino added in scornfully, lifting her champagne glass to her lips and managing to roll her eyes as she took a sip at the same time.

“Hey, I was busy! And I prefer the term laid back.” Naruto looked affronted then a casual grin slid into place on his lips, conveying his usual carefree attitude. It annoyed Sasuke to no end, as he narrowed his eyes at the idiotic Australian.

And it seemed at that moment Naruto finally noticed who he was standing beside, as he looked down at Sasuke. Their eyes locked. Naruto then looked away and faced the group again, jabbing his thumb in Sasuke’s direction as he spoke.

“What’s he doing here?”

Sakura sighed audibly as she stood from her place on the couch, walked over to Naruto, and flicked him in the ear before scolding in his face, “Don’t be so rude to Sasuke!”

“Ow! Freakin’ – what was that for? I was just asking a question.” Naruto sulked, clutching at his ear which was admittedly looking a little red. Hinata had a hand over her mouth as if Sakura had punched Naruto rather than flicked his ear, and Kiba was looking like he was having trouble trying not to burst out laughing.

“You could have asked it more nicely, you moron.” Ino chimed in, scooting over in her seat as Sakura re-joined and making room for Naruto as he walked away from Sasuke to sit down next to them.

“So I should just keep my mouth sealed shut with duct tape, that way I’m guaranteed not to say the wrong thing right?” Naruto quipped with obvious sarcasm, yet it seemed the girls were taking it somewhat seriously.

“That could work.” Ino nodded, eyes lighting in hope as she turned to Sasuke and said, “Sasuke, quick go find us some duct tape. His silence only lasts so long.”
Sasuke was unsure of how to respond to that and didn’t say anything but he didn’t have to anyway because Naruto filled the silence quickly enough.

“I hate you all. Except you of course Hinata, you’re my favourite.” He winked at the timid girl sitting across on the other couch with Kiba and she, of course, blushed heavily. So maybe it wasn’t Sasuke after all.

“What about me? I’m your best mate!” Kiba complained noisily from his place beside the blushing Hyuuga.

Naruto waved his hand and shook his head, though he couldn’t stop the grin from quirking his lips upwards, “Nah, not really.”

Kiba crossed his arms and grumbled, “Asshat.” Naruto laughed, which led to Sakura and Ino joining in and even Hinata giggled quietly. Only Sasuke remained quiet, because he honestly didn’t see what was so funny and he couldn’t laugh if he wanted to.

XXX

Sasuke was grateful for once that he wasn’t the only silent member of a group of people. Hinata sat there next to Kiba, listening intently to everything, but never speaking a word. Sometimes her eyes would wander over to meet Sasuke’s, and she would smile at him a moment and then look away when someone else started speaking. Occasionally she piped in, when asked a question or having a small comment to say. She and Naruto appeared to have a close friendship, and Sasuke briefly pondered whether the two were ever a couple.

But the way Kiba had ever so casually slung his arm around the back of the lounge did not go unnoticed by her, or Sasuke for that matter, and he watched as she blushed but still said not a word.

It also seemed that Sakura was not the only one who was interested in him. Ino was clearly trying to flirt whenever she saw an opportunity, with Sakura chiming in as well. Sasuke paid them no mind, and entertained the idea that even if he wasn’t mute he would probably treat them with the same response: silence.

They talked of trivial things, things that had no interest for Sasuke yet he listened anyway. Not only was Naruto a performer on the ship, but Kiba, Sakura and Ino were as well.

Kiba provided musical entertainment just like Naruto, most notably the drums. “Gotta love the drums, they’re just so expressive!” Kiba had stated overexcitedly, bouncing up and down in his seat at the mere mention of the instrument.

Sakura was an actress that was cast in some of the on-ship plays, but she could also sing as well. “You should really catch a show some time Sasuke, I’ll save you a seat in the front row.” She said with a hint of playfulness, batting her eyelashes at him which had little to no effect on him.

And Ino was one of the dancers, which she had highlighted very clearly for Sasuke’s benefit, “I can do all kinds of positions, I’m really flexible when I want to be.” She even had the gall to wink saucily at him but that didn’t last long when Sakura subtly pinched her friend’s arm in warning.

From hearing the conversation Sasuke had learnt Hinata was a passenger, not an employee like the others. Sasuke could also gather that she was of a high earning family; coming from one himself Sasuke could easily tell by her clothes, which were much nicer than everyone else’s. Well, maybe not nicer than Sasuke’s, if he did say so himself.

Whereas Naruto, he was the centre of the conversation. Even if he wasn’t the one talking, he was the person who made the conversation interesting. Whether it was his comments, his jokes – even his laugh, it all lead back to him. And though the girls made endless fun of him, Sasuke could tell it was harmless.

“It’s getting late. I should g-go.” Hinata stood up gracefully, brushing off her skirt and picking up her purse.

Kiba was quick to follow, “I’ll walk you back. Catch ya tomorrow, girls. See ya mate.” He slapped Naruto on the shoulder and Naruto grinned back at him as he waved Kiba off.

“G-Goodnight to Sasuke as well!” Hinata said hurriedly, blushing as she looked over to where the silent man was sitting. He blinked in slight surprise, but inclined his head as if to return the words. She smiled then turned.

Before following after her, Kiba added, “Yeah, ‘night Uchiha.”

“Naruto, you should go to bed too.” Sakura instructed after they left, as if she were his mother, sharp emerald eyes glaring at him.

“Yeah, you know what they say. Fools need their sleep.” Ino added her two cents worth, nodding knowingly and shooting a discreet glance towards Sasuke.

Snorting at that, Naruto rolled his eyes and only shifted to get more comfortable in his chair. Of course, these two were fans of Sasuke, so why wouldn’t they want him out of the picture so they could make a move on him? Not that it bothered Naruto; he was kind of used to people not wanting him around. But that didn’t mean he was going to listen to them.

“The saying is fools never catch a cold, actually.” Sasuke handed the two girls the paper he had been scribbling on. They leaned in close together to read it and promptly flushed in embarrassment.

Curious, Naruto leant over the arm of his chair to read and an unpermitted smile crossed his lips. He looked up and for a brief moment locked eyes with Sasuke, before the latter looked away in favour of taking a sip from his drink.

“O-Oops. I got that so wrong.” Ino stuttered, blushing as red as a beetroot as her eyes flicked between the slip of paper and Sasuke.

“It’s an old saying yeah? Just mixed them up a little.” Sakura added in as well, equally as flushed and equally embarrassed as Ino was.

A sly smirk made its way on Naruto’s features, as he leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands around the back of his head, “In that case, I think I’m good. What about you, Saskay?”

Said man gave a shrug of his shoulders, and Naruto grinned in triumph at the two girls who just huffed and crossed their arms, their cheeks still red.

The idiot still couldn’t get his name right.

XXX

An hour later, Sasuke decided he had had enough and stood up from his seat, indicating his desire to depart. His head was starting to buzz from all the talking and he needed to go back to his cabin for some silence and maybe a lie down.

Sakura and Ino – both very tipsy by this point – looked up at him wide-eyed with blushes painting their cheeks.

“You’re not going, are you Sasuke?” Ino drawled out the ‘s’ sounds in his name, her expression one of pleading.

“We’re not done talking! There’s so much more left to do!” Sakura slurred loudly, her volume increasing tenfold when she was drunk it seemed.

Sasuke only raised an eyebrow in response, and then all of a sudden Naruto was standing up too and walking over to Sasuke.

“Sorry, girls, but Saskay isn’t feeling too good. He doesn’t want to bring you both down so he’s just gonna go now.” Naruto said reassuringly, and Sasuke had to resist raising another eyebrow. What was the idiot up to now!?

“What, no! We don’t mind, it’s okay Sasukeeee!” Ino called out, and Sakura nodded vehemently in agreement.

Naruto shook his head, “Maybe some other time. But don’t worry, I’ll walk him back to his cabin to make sure he’ll be alright. Okay?”

Sasuke realised then that Naruto was giving them both an excuse to leave, therefore didn’t fight what he said. Sakura and Ino slumped into the couch in disappointment, but waved and said their goodbyes nonetheless.

So it was that Sasuke was walking out of the bar-lounge area with Naruto Uzumaki by his side. It was a conflicting feeling.

“Thank god you gave me an excuse to leave. Those two can be a handful even for me,” Naruto said as they walked down the hallway and into a lift as it dinged open.

Sasuke turned his head to look at him. He was looking ahead tiredly, running a hand through his golden locks absently. The sight held Sasuke’s attention longer than usual, and when he realised this he jerked his head away.

What was that? Sasuke didn’t even know. That was weird. His chest felt all jumpy, he felt unusually flustered. Dammit, this feeling again? Sasuke thought to himself, but was distracted when Naruto spoke again.

“You should hang out with everyone again, y’know.” Naruto said offhandedly, catching Sasuke’s attention incidentally.

“It’s just I haven’t really seen ya sticking close to anyone since you set foot on this ship – except me I guess.” He felt the need to explain himself, for what reason he was unsure but he felt he just had to.

Sasuke stared at him impassively, blinked a few times, and then slipped a hand inside his pocket, unclicking a pen from his shirt pocket and scrawling across it.

//“Thanks for the offer. I’ll keep it in mind.”//

At that moment the elevator doors dinged and automatically opened. Sasuke looked up and noticed it was his deck number and looked back at Naruto.

“G’night, Saskay.” The blonde said, watching Sasuke exit the elevator until the elevator doors closed and he disappeared from sight.

Sasuke stared at the closed doors of the elevator for a while, then walked down the hallway towards his cabin, extracting his key and entering inside.

“Why are you smiling?”

Sasuke jumped a little at hearing Itachi’s voice, and swivelled around to find him sitting at the table with his hands linked together and resting out in front of him.
Frowning at the words, Sasuke shook his head and signed, //“Huh? I’m not smiling.”//

“You were, Sasuke. I saw it. Don’t think you can hide things from me. Who were you talking to out there?” Itachi asked, and Sasuke felt a sense of dread crash down on him, like the way the waves crashed down on the ship.

He knew if he revealed it was Naruto Itachi would have a field day. As much as Itachi was a good brother, his teasing and taunts were something Sasuke could have lived without. Especially since he had told Itachi exactly what he thought of Naruto earlier, and now it would seem like he was following Itachi’s advice – which he was, sort of, but he didn’t want to hear the gloating.

Hesitantly, Sasuke brought his hands up and signed the name, //“Naruto Uzumaki.”//

“Oh really? The annoying one?” Itachi’s voice was full of amusement as he looked up from his place at the table.

Sasuke rolled his eyes. //“Yes, okay. What’s the big deal? A group of people called me over to sit with them and he showed up later on – I couldn’t just get up and leave, that would’ve been too rude even by my standards.”//

Sasuke thought he was justifying himself well. He was even trying to act social, which was what Itachi wanted. That was, until he saw the curling of his older brother’s lips upwards into a rarely seen action.

//“Now why are you smiling?”// Sasuke asked, narrowing his brows in misgiving as he observed his big brother’s expression.

“I’m not.” And just like that the smile was gone. And it became obvious to Sasuke that Itachi was teasing him yet again.

//“Itachi! Stop it!”//

Sasuke pursed his lips together tightly when he heard his big brother chuckle lowly, and he glared at him a moment before stepping into the bathroom and stripping.

He was not smiling because of that moron. He wasn’t even smiling, he was certain Itachi had been messing with him. Nodding at his deductions, Sasuke stepped under the heated water and closed the door.

If Itachi wanted to eat then he would have to wait another fifteen minutes.

XXX

“We set into port at Sunagakure tomorrow late afternoon. I expect the ship to remain fairly empty,” Itachi said as he stabbed his fork into a piece of cut-up steak, raising it to his mouth and eating it.

Sasuke wasn’t a big eater, so it didn’t take much in a meal to make him full. Pushing back his half-eaten steak, he wiped around his mouth politely and cleaned his hands before signing in response, //“Are you planning to be accommodated in a hotel?”//

Itachi shook his head.

“No, I think I shall remain on the ship. It would be troublesome if I were to leave all host duties to you, little brother.”

Confusion and slight concern marred Sasuke’s face for the moment, as he internally questioned why Itachi would do such a thing. He had assumed his big brother would take the earliest chance possible to escape the confines of the ship, even if only for a few nights.

//“But, you don’t like being boarded on ship.”//

Smirking at him as he sliced a piece of carrot with his knife, Itachi spoke, “If I’ve survived the sea life for two weeks already I think I can hold out.”

Sasuke was vastly different, as he had no plans of leaving the ship any more than he had to. He really wasn’t fond of staying in a random hotel somewhere, and he had no interest of exploring the city. Honestly, all Sasuke wanted to do was to stay in the warmth of his cabin, alone and away from everyone else, so he could do some work and perhaps even read a book.

But he could sense that something was off. Itachi seemed as if he wanted to talk about something, although Sasuke didn’t think it involved where they were staying whilst in Suna.

//“Don’t feel you have to do it for my sake, I’m fine–”//

“Now I wonder about that.” Itachi said before Sasuke had even finished his sentence, and that confirmed Sasuke’s suspicions that there was something wrong.

//“What do you mean?”//

“Sasuke, pursuing your career goals are important. But you realise that there is more to your life than this,” Itachi gestured around the cabin in a sweeping motion, “don’t you?”

Sasuke hardened his gaze, eyes boring into Itachi with that dull empty technique the two brothers possessed, //“Whatever you’re going to say, just say it, Itachi.”//

Itachi let out a deep-winded sigh, placing down his cutlery and wiping around his mouth with his napkin. Sasuke had all but lost whatever small amount of appetite had been left in his stomach, his irritation with his older brother making him distracted. Sasuke did not like confrontations, especially from his perfect older brother.

“I want you to be happy Sasuke. I want you to go out and meet new people, experience new things. You cannot be bogged down by your work all the time.”

Itachi’s gaze was not hard like Sasuke’s was, but it had something in it that made it almost impossible not to listen to whatever he had to say. Sasuke had always been jealous of that ability that had not been graced to him as well. Itachi could persuade anyone of anything if he wanted to.

Silence ruled the room. Sasuke could feel his palms sweating, his fingernails digging in to his soft skin that would surely leave crescent moon marks once he unclenched his fists.

//“This again?”//

“Sasuke,” Itachi began, but stopped when he saw Sasuke’s hands moving. He never interrupted Sasuke when he was ‘speaking’, it was just one of their unspoken acceptances as brothers.

//“I’m sick and tired of these deep conversations. Stop acting like it’s so serious, that it’s actually a problem. If I tell you I’m fine, then I’m fine. That’s that, and nothing more.”// Sasuke ignored the trembling of his hands as he placed them back in his lap.

He didn’t want to fight with Itachi but sometimes his older brother went too far. And he knew that Itachi knew he was pushing past their usual limit, he was approaching unchartered waters that neither of them had learnt to map out yet.

“When was the last time you went out with someone on a date?” Itachi asked after a while, and the question was so unexpected it left Sasuke unable to answer due to shock.

Itachi tilted his head to the side, an eyebrow raised as he asked, “You can’t remember?”

Hesitating for a moment, Sasuke shook his head, eyes looking down towards his plate at his unfinished meal. Sasuke barely even remembered the face of his last date. All he remembered was that it hadn’t taken long for him to dump her. His dates with women weren’t something he was exactly expert at, despite how he only had to snap his fingers to get one. Sasuke maintained his belief he was waiting for the right woman to come along, that he would just know her when he saw her. Not love at first sight, but knowing after meeting her that she would accept him for who he was, despite his disability.

Itachi continued on as if he had suspected as such, “I remember. It was exactly two months and thirteen days ago.”

Part of Sasuke wanted to listen to what his brother was saying, yet he couldn’t. Just because he hadn’t been on a date with a woman didn’t mean anything, he wasn’t depressed. He was just busy, he had priorities to attend to. The more logical section of Sasuke’s brain told him to stop making excuses, but his emotions pushed it all away.

Whilst Sasuke had been musing on his words, Itachi had taken a long drink of water. It seemed that he had also lost his appetite, the rest of the food left on his plate untouched. Sasuke felt slightly guilty for putting his older brother off-eating, but he wouldn’t be apologising.

“You’re on a cruise around Japan to places you’ve never even been to before. Instead of holing yourself up here, go out and spend time with people. You’ll see that not everyone is as insensitive as you think. Like, for instance, Naruto–”

Sasuke’s blood shot up from temperate to boiling. He should’ve known! All of this led back to that blonde-headed idiot Australian, Naruto Uzumaki. All these annoying problems seemed to lead back to him. It occurred to Sasuke in that moment that ever since the beginning of the cruise Itachi had been encouraging him to interact with Naruto, to be friendly with him.

And it made Sasuke so furious he stood up from the table, eyes narrowed in a dangerous glare as he signed, //“Don’t even mention it Itachi, I’m not in the mood to hear it.”//

“Sasuke, I’m just trying to help you.” Itachi’s eyes were locked on his, softer around the edges than they usually were as his voice remained it same level of calmness.

//“I don’t need and didn’t ask for your help, so just mind your own business. I’m tired and I want to sleep.”// And with that Sasuke spun on his heel and stalked into his bedroom.

“Think about it, Sasuke.”

Itachi’s voice was a murmur, so quiet it was almost unheard in the small cabin. Yet, Sasuke did hear it. Though that didn’t automatically mean he would listen to it. He didn’t listen to a lot of people these days.

Chapter Text

“Ladies and gentlemen, we will be sailing into port at Suna in about an hour’s time. Make sure you have all essentials packed that you need, as you will not be allowed to re-enter the ship until our departure a week from now. If you wish to retrieve your car…”

Sasuke lost interest in the loud speaker message at that point, all necessary information now stored in his memory. He had an hour left. An hour until mostly everyone will be off the ship and he would be in solitude for the week. Not even Itachi would be around to pester him.

A small part of Sasuke twisted uneasily. He didn’t like to fight with Itachi, but he also didn’t like being told what to do and how to act all the time. Even though Itachi was doing it for him, Sasuke needed his space too.

Nevertheless, a small bubble of gloom formed in his chest at the thought of Itachi not being with him for a week.

XXX

“Got any plans for this week?” Kiba asked, aiming and throwing a small crumpled up ball of paper into the bin. And he missed.

“I’m gonna go meet up with Gaara, remember?” Naruto said, haphazardly throwing clothes into his suitcase, trying to make sure he had everything packed.

Having had a late set last night, Naruto hadn’t had time to pack. Well, to be fair, he could have had time to, but he was dead tired and couldn’t be bothered getting all his shit together. Kiba had come over to ‘help out’ as he had put it. Little did Naruto realise that Kiba’s concept of ‘helping out’ was sitting around in his room and running his gums. Naruto mentally slapped a hand to his forehead at his lack of foresight: Kiba was even less organised than he was.

“Ah, that’s right. How’s the raccoon doing?” Kiba said with mocking fondness, his mouth twisting into a sickly sweet grin.

Naruto rolled his eyes, crossing the short distance into the bathroom and gathering together his toiletries, “I told you it’s because of his insomnia, and I thought you swore never to say that word again when Gaara kicked your–”

“Too bad he’s not around, I miss that little guy.” Kiba declared loudly, talking over the top of whatever Naruto was going to say.

Moving back into the main room of his cabin, Naruto chucked his toiletries bag into his suitcase, “You’ve met him twice, Kiba. And you know full well that height is not equal to strength.”

“Change of topic please, before I show the full power of my strength and start pounding on your nuts.” Kiba groused, standing up from the armchair in the corner of the cabin, kicking Naruto’s clothes on the floor into a pile.

Naruto chuckled. Gaara wasn’t exactly the easiest person to get along with; even Naruto hadn’t been on good terms with him when they had met. But Naruto came to see how lonely Gaara really was, and sympathised with him. After a particularly brutal fight between the two one day, Gaara had finally broken down and opened up to Naruto, and the two of them had been close friends ever since.

“So what are your plans then, eh? Oh wait, let me guess, they involve Hinata.” Naruto said, scooing up his pile of clothes on the floor in his arms and messily folding them, stuffing them into his overflowing suitcase.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Kiba’s form stiffen, and he grinned victoriously.

“You’re such an asshole, Naruto.” Kiba’s voice grumbled low in his throat, his arms crossed over his chest like a petulant child.

“Ah, so I am right. Am I also right in assuming your stalkerish ways shall continue once we set foot in Suna?” Naruto quizzed, as he struggled to zip up his very full suitcase.

“What the–hey I’m not a stalker! And Hinata likes having me around, she said so!” Kiba erupted heatedly, but the flush spreading steadily across his cheeks said otherwise.

“Mate, I once saw you wait outside the ladies bathroom when you saw her go in and you just stood there til she came out.”

“That was a coincidence!”

Naruto laughed, having finally managed to shut his suitcase and now doing his last minute check for anything else he might need to take with him, “Who knew you being in love would be this much fun?”

“I never said I was in love.” Kiba mumbled, flopping down on Naruto’s bed moodily.

Holding back another laugh, Naruto dropped to his knees to look under his bed, “Ah, yeah. Right.”

“Oh crap, I still gotta book a hotel room.” Kiba outburst, then groaned at the realisation he wold have to do something.

“Sucks to be you, I already have that figured out.” Naruto stood up from his place on the floor, in his arms a pile of socks and underpants he had neglected to gather up until this point. He grabbed one of his plastic bags and placed them inside, putting it inside his backpack with just enough space to spare.

“You’re staying with Gaara?” Kiba asked, a hint of jealousy in his voice at the realisation Naruto was more prepared than he was.

Naruto nodded and grinned, “Sure am, the whole week.”

“He might kill himself…or you.”

Finally finished with his packing, Naruto turned around, leaning against “What are you implying?”

Kiba snickered sardonically, “You’re a slob, Naruto. I remember one time I walked into the bathroom I choked – literally choked – on the toxic fumes I still can’t identify to this day.”

“Like you can talk. Ever changed a goddamn toilet paper roll in your life, Kibs? Or did your mum do that for ya too?” At the end Naruto made a kissy face and dodged a pillow flying his way from the bed.

“Fuck you!” Kiba growled.

“Not on your life, mate.” Naruto saluted him, and Kiba rolled his eyes, sighing in exasperation. Glancing down at his watch, Naruto noted the time, “We’d better head out now, it’s gonna be hectic getting off this ship.”

“Yeah, I’ll just go grab my shit and then we can go.” Stretching his arms up over his head, Kiba got to his feet and walked out the door, heading down the hall to his own cabin.

Meanwhile, Naruto slung his backpack over his shoulder and wheeled his suitcase out into the hall; shutting the door behind him and listening to it automatically lock. After arriving at Gaara’s, he would have to go shopping. He was running low on sustenance!

“Ok, let’s go.” Kiba wheeled his own suitcase along as he met Naruto in front of his room, a benefit that their cabins were close to each other, and they headed down to the main deck as indicated by the loud speaker message.

XXX

Sitting cross-legged on his bed with his reading glasses on, Sasuke turned the page of his book and paused to take a sip of his green tea. With everyone off the ship, Sasuke was privy to a cacophony of silence in endless supply.

The ship had been empty for a few hours now, and Sasuke was enjoying every minute of it, Itachi included. Even if it was a bit too quiet for his liking, it was still wonderful having some real time devoted to himself. He had made sure to complete all of his paperwork for the next three days at least, and was planning to enjoy three days of leisure.

Suddenly Sasuke heard his phone ping! from its place on his dresser. Curious as to who it could be, Sasuke uncrossed his legs and slid off his bed, padding over to check his messages.

Alarm flooded his system when he saw it was from Itachi.

Sasuke, I’ve had an accident. I’m okay, so don’t worry. But I need you to come out and meet me in Suna, I require your help. Make sure you pack as much as you can, I don’t know how long this will take –– Itachi.

Hurriedly, Sasuke pulled out his pen and pad that he always kept on him and scribbled down the address Itachi had texted him, then typed out a quick reply saying how he would be there as soon as he could. Then Sasuke hauled out his empty suitcase from the cupboard and started throwing in all his clothes whilst still trying to maintain neatness to maximise the mount he could force inside.

If Itachi was in trouble, nothing could keep Sasuke from going to him. Even if Itachi hadn’t asked for him to come and help, Sasuke would still go. He may not have been happy with Itachi’s behaviour lately, but he was still his brother and Sasuke would do anything for him.

Approximately half an hour later, Sasuke moved down to the main deck where everyone exited onto land, signed out of his on-ship residence, and was off the ship in less than fifteen minutes. He noticed a taxi waiting in the carpark, and the driver was standing out and holding up a sign with his full name on it.

Walking up to it, Sasuke looked at the man confusedly, who then spoke, “You must be Sasuke. I’m Colin, your brother called me to come here and pick you up. Please, get in.”

Sasuke nodded in understanding, and was internally grateful for his brother for thinking ahead and arranging transport for him, placing his suitcase in the boot of the car. Itachi always knew what to do, even when he was incapacitated in situations, such as now.

“Where are we going?” Colin asked, sitting down in his seat and turning around to face Sasuke.

In response Sasuke handed the piece of paper with the address of the place to Colin, who examined it and then nodded.

After ten minutes, the drive came to an end as they arrived at the location. Sasuke nodded his thanks and paid the amount due, stepping out of the car and grabbing his suitcase. He was standing in front of a huge hotel, obviously of high luxury, called the Lotus.

Slightly perplexed at the location, Sasuke walked in through the front doors with his suitcase and looked around. He had no idea what kind of accident Itachi had had, and being Itachi it could be just about anything a person could imagine.

After scanning around the spacious lobby, Sasuke couldn’t see Itachi anywhere. So he headed towards the front desk, intent on finding the whereabouts of his older brother, but was stopped by an unexpected hand landing on his shoulder. Spinning around quickly, Sasuke eye’s widened.

“Hello, Sasuke. Good to see you found your way.”

It was Itachi, and massive relief flowed through Sasuke’s body that he almost smiled. But he didn’t, because he was much too muddled as to what was going on here.

Bringing his hands up in front of his chest, Sasuke signed to Itachi, “Are you alright, brother? What’s going on?”

“Don’t worry, I’m fine, Sasuke. I just needed your help.” Itachi said, and Sasuke was keenly listening now.

“What’s wrong?”

“You see, I accidentally dirtied my suit jacket, and I was hoping I might be able to borrow one of yours for the day.”

And to show what he meant, Itachi gathered the jacket that was resting over his arm and showed Sasuke what looked to be an abnormally large stain of coffee. Sasuke stared at it in disbelief. This is what he called me for? Itachi couldn’t have been serious, yet the chance that Itachi would do something like this as a practical joke was a near impossibility.

“You called me out here because of a suit jacket?”

“Yes, is there a problem?” Itachi asked, folding his jacket and returning it to rest over his arm.

“I thought you were in trouble! I was worried out of my mind, and this is all you wanted!?”

Sasuke was outraged, not to mention how scared he had been that Itachi had been hurt badly. It wasn’t often that the two of them lied to each other, and in turn Sasuke found lying to Itachi was utterly pointless since he saw through everything.

But conversely, Sasuke could never seem to tell when Itachi would tell him a lie. He didn’t know if it was because he was his big brother and he trusted him too much to doubt him, or because Itachi himself was a very convincing person, but it pissed Sasuke off when it happened. Like now.

“Sasuke–”

“No! I could be on the ship right now, by myself, and–”

“You didn’t honestly believe I would let you be by yourself for a week on that ship, did you? Little brother, you should know me better.” Itachi remarked, and Sasuke, while he was still pissed, silently and begrudgingly agreed. He really should have known after their conversations recently that leaving Sasuke alone was not a priority in Itachi’s mind.

“What are you planning?” Sasuke signed hesitantly, not really liking where this was going.

“Nothing at all. I just want you to become acquainted with the city, since Suna is one of the more frequent cities you’ll be visiting once you start your career hosting cruises, such as this one.”

Pausing in his actions, Sasuke considered this, and realised with clarity it was true. When they were kids, their father would almost always pull into port at Suna. It was a widely regarded and populated city, an eager-to-see city for all tourists and travellers.

“Then why didn’t you just ask me? Instead of just making up some excuse.” Sasuke asked, readjusting his grip on his suitcase. Now that he wasn’t on high alert, fearing for Itachi, he felt the heaviness of it in his hand.

Itachi gazed at him a moment, then simply stated with a sigh, “I couldn’t be sure you would agree. But now that you’re here, you might as well get settled. Come, let’s go up to the room. We’re on the fifth floor.” And with that Itachi took Sasuke’s suitcase out of his hands and carried it over to the stairs.

Sasuke was confused, looking over to where the elevator was then back at his brother, “The elevator–”

“–is currently under repair. So we shall have to take the stairs.” Itachi then began to climb the stairs, carrying his suitcase with him.

Feeling an uncomfortable squirming in the pit of his stomach, Sasuke sighed soundlessly. If Itachi went to all this trouble, the least I can do is give him what he really wants. As he ascended the stairs, Sasuke kept the pace with his brother and caught his attention.

“Fine, and then I’ll go out and explore the city.”

Raising an elegant brow, Itachi turned his head to look at Sasuke whilst climbing, “Really? On your own?”

“Of course! What, are you saying you think I’ll get lost?”

“No, no. I’m pleased actually. This is a good thing.” Itachi said, and Sasuke could have sworn he saw a smile gracing his brother’s lips.

XXX

Sasuke was a confident person. He didn’t need to be constantly surrounded by people to feel safe and secure, he was fine being by himself. Completely capable, one could even say.

Yet, when he was on a street corner of a place he hadn’t visited in over twelve years, his confident exterior slightly deteriorated.

He had departed with a plan of navigating his way around the popular areas of the city without trouble, this being a very firm ideal in his head. Even with Itachi doubt’s…

“Is your phone fully charged?”

“Do you have enough money?”

“Don’t lose your map.”

“If anyone you don’t know offers you a ride, don’t take it.”

For someone who wanted Sasuke to go out and socialise, Itachi was quite badgering on the subject. Sasuke knew it was just his older brother’s protective instincts kicking in, Itachi always wanted to look after Sasuke, and the younger of the two brothers always valued that. But Sasuke had to prove that he could actually do this, so he wouldn’t be convinced out of it.

When he had finally set out, Sasuke had been feeling good, and for the first hour things had gone along without a hitch. He had visited a few well-known shops, and had walked around without losing his way.

But after the first hour, things started to go downhill.

He had lost his map. But it was entirely accidental! He had gone into a shop, and must have put his map down as he browsed through the clothing. And then a few blocks down when he wanted to change course, Sasuke had realised it was not with him. He had briskly returned to the shop he last remembered possessing it, but it was nowhere to be seen.

And then half an hour later, while he was using the map on his phone, it had promptly died and shown him the black screen of death. If Sasuke had been able to speak he would have been screaming curses to the sky that were currently trapped inside his head. He had sworn it was charged before he left! It was the shitty battery quality, he was convinced of it.

So now, Sasuke was lost – had no idea at all where he was at all – and had no way of contacting Itachi for help. He had money, but he had no way of calling for a taxi to come and pick him up. He didn’t even know the address anyway, so that idea was pointless.

And he just felt he was walking around in circles. He was starting to really get worried now.

“Saskay? Is that you?”

Stiffening at the annoyingly familiar calling of his name, Sasuke turned around and came face to face with Naruto Uzumaki. Dressed in faded blue jeans and from the looks of it an old football jumper, he had stopped still in front of Sasuke, a plastic bag clutched in his left hand.

“Holy shit, it is you! What are you doing out here?” Naruto asked, with a hint of incredulity in his tone that made Sasuke raise an eyebrow.

Was it really so ridiculous to see him out in the city? Or was Naruto just that stupid he thought Sasuke never left the ship? Sighing soundlessly, Sasuke looked down at his watch and noted he had been lost for three hours now. The sky was starting to darken, and the chill of the night air was settling in. Sasuke regretted his decision to forgo his scarf now, but then again he had never had ‘getting lost’ written in as a part of his plans.

“We should get going,” Naruto suddenly said, placing his free hand around Sasuke’s forearm and leading him forward on the footpath at a quick pace.

Drawing his brows together irritably, Sasuke looked up and was about to pull his arm back, but stopped at the expression Naruto wore. He was staring straight ahead, but his eyes were darting from side to side in frantic motions. His grip on Sasuke’s arm was tight, too tight.

Copying him, Sasuke looked around and realised he was being stared at. A lot. So many pairs of eyes were on him, eyes that held no notions of kindness or goodwill. Sasuke had seen those eyes before, when his attackers of his past would approach him and just stare at him with such hate. It brought back unwanted memories Sasuke had hoped to leave behind him, his heart rate increasing sharply.

It was for that reason he didn’t fight Naruto, allowing him to guide the way. He may not have been fond of the idiot, but he would take following him over finding his own way out of this place.

“Jesus, Saskay. How the hell did you end up in that part of town? You’ve gotta be more careful.” Naruto said once they had gotten far enough away from the street, and Sasuke thought it sounded almost like an admonishment.

He was certainly looking at Sasuke concernedly, and the latter seemed to notice Naruto was waiting for an answer of some kind. Blinking a few times in quick concession, Sasuke looked down at the pavement, then back up at Naruto. Then his gaze flickered to his right, then his left. He really didn’t know what else to do. There was no use signing, and Sasuke didn’t have any paper or pen on his person.

“You were lost?”

Sasuke widened his eyes, staring at Naruto unabashedly. Then, he gave a single nod of his head and Naruto sighed.

“Well, where’s your map? You’re an impressive guy, I admit, but even you can’t magically find your way around unaided.”

Glaring at the man, Sasuke inclined his head to the side as if to say ‘What do you think happened to it, idiot?’

“Oh. You lost your map, didn’t you?” Naruto deduced, and Sasuke crossed his arms and looked away, giving his answer in the affirmative.

“You’re not a frequent traveller, are you?”

Sasuke would have growled if he had his voice. Instead, he just glowered at Naruto’s shoes. Did this guy ever shut up? He knew Sasuke was lost, so why did he have to keep going on about it and asking so many idiotic questions?

A short silence spanned for a few minutes between them, Sasuke standing there arrogantly attempting to maintain his pride and Naruto looking at him, lost in thought about what to do. Why Naruto was staying here with him Sasuke had no idea. He had given Naruto no reason to do anything for him, and he would admit he hadn’t exactly shown the blonde his nicer side.

Then, just like he had done since their first meeting, Naruto barged into his thoughts and spoke up.

“Well, since you nearly got yourself killed just then I suppose I could help you get back to wherever you have to be.” He showed a brief but big smile and Sasuke was nearly blinded by the flash of white teeth he saw.

“If you want, I mean.” Naruto added, and Sasuke drew his brows together thoughtfully, considering the offer.

Sasuke was a proud man, and he didn’t want to hear Itachi scold and tease him about how right he was when he suggested Sasuke prepare himself properly when going out. But he had very limited options left, and Naruto was unfortunately the best one.

Just as he made his decision, Naruto waved his hand in the air and his smile lost some of its strength, “Ah, just forget it. I’m sure you know what you’re doing.”

But then Sasuke surprised not only Naruto, but himself as well, as he reached out a hand and clamped it around Naruto’s wrist, stopping him from going anywhere. Sasuke didn’t know why he was accepting his help, not when he had only thought of the blonde Australian as a nuisance from the moment he had met him. But Naruto had helped him back there, without Sasuke even having to ask for it. And again, he was offering to help purely because he wanted to.

“So, I’ll take that as a yes?” Naruto asked slowly, a traitorous tilt of his lips giving away how amusing he thought the predicament was.

Looking off to the side to salvage some of his pride, Sasuke nodded three times.

“Great! But, uh, Saskay,” Sasuke looked up, irritation flashing in his eyes. He had given in to the moron’s selfless request, embarrassed himself, what more could he want? “Are you alright?”

Confused, Sasuke stared at Naruto questioningly. Then, those blue eyes looked downwards and Sasuke involuntarily followed their direction. He felt his cheeks heat up at what he saw. He was still holding onto Naruto’s wrist, and it was not a loose hold at all.

Getting a hold of himself, Sasuke unfurled his fingers from around the warm, tan skin and promptly dropped his hand by his side again.

Clearing his throat, Naruto looked up the street, inspecting their whereabouts, “So, where is this fancy-schmancy hotel you’re obviously staying at?”

Sasuke lifted an eyebrow in obvious offence, but Naruto just shrugged it off. Internally huffing, Sasuke motioned for something to write with.

Getting the message quickly, Naruto patted his hands over his pockets, but was only able to extract a pen.

“Dammit. I can run into one of these shops and get a notepad, though it might take a whi –whoa, okay.”

Sasuke ignored Naruto babbling as he grabbed a hold of the idiot’s arm, keeping it steady as he scrawled the address and name of his hotel in black ink across the sun-kissed skin. Sasuke also ignored the way his fingertips tingled when they occasionally brushed across the very same skin. He had done a lot of ignoring his own body lately.

When he was finished he remembered to let go of Naruto’s arm this time, holding onto the pen while Naruto brought his arm up in front of his face, peering at it with his nose scrunched up. Sasuke gave a tiny glare at him. His writing wasn’t that bad, so what if he liked to add a lot of loops?

“Whoa, the Lotus? Definitely a fancy-schmancy hotel. Looks like I was right after all.” Naruto then grinned at him, and Sasuke just stared back stonily, a small crease in between his brows that was indicative of his twinge of annoyance towards the blonde idiot.

“Though, it’s a fair way away. I think we’ll have to get a taxi.” Naruto then looked around, as if expecting to see a taxi drive by and stop specifically for the purpose of picking them up.

Eventually however, he did get out his (annoyingly bright orange) phone and dialled for a taxi to come and get them. How Naruto knew where they were Sasuke had no clue, he couldn’t even see any street signs.

It just made a part of Sasuke want to ask Naruto why he had been in that part of Sunagakure, since he seemed to be quite familiar with the area in general. But since he had no way of asking that, and deciding it was a far too personal request anyway, Sasuke let it slide.

“Should be here in a couple of minutes,” Naruto said, slipping his phone back inside his pocket and bouncing up and down on his feet as if he had to go the bathroom. Sasuke made a face at the thought, and instead looked off to the side, watching as a pigeon landed on the concrete pavement and began cooing and pecking around.

Sasuke narrowed his eyebrows when he heard the crinkling of what sounded to be food wrapper, and looking over to his companion he noticed Naruto was munching on some potato chips. Rather loudly, Sasuke might add.

He stared a little too long, however, since Naruto looked over at him and grinned, extending his arm in what seemed to be a gesture of offering, “I’m so damn hungry I just couldn’t wait anymore. You can have some if ya want!”

Shaking his head in the negative, Naruto shrugged and shovelled another handful into his already full mouth. Sasuke didn’t get why some guys ate that way. He was a guy, but he at least ate with some class.

“What?” Naruto asked, noting the displeased expression Sasuke wore on his face.

Looking between the potato chips and Naruto, Sasuke raised his chin in a rather superior manner. Naruto tilted his head to the side, still chewing as he scrutinised Sasuke.

“Are ya saying you don’t like the way I eat?” The blonde asked, after downing another dosage of chips he had clearly not chewed enough times.

Rolling his eyes, Sasuke breathed out exasperatedly through his nose and shook his head. Naruto looked at him in confusion a few moments before his ace split into another one of those grins and he burst out a single laugh.

“Oh well, excuse me, sir. Would you like to show me the proper way it’s done?” Naruto asked, in an over-the-top posh voice, presenting the potato chips to Sasuke once more.

Glaring at the idiot, Sasuke looked away, nose in the air and looking every bit as posh as Naruto was pretending to be. He wasn’t going to give in to the moron’s games. Sasuke couldn’t even talk, but Naruto was pretending like he could and basically blabbering every five seconds!

“Could it be that even you can’t do such a thing, Saskay?” Naruto taunted, brandishing the packet in front of the Uchiha before gobbling down more chips.

Darting his eyes over to Naruto rapidly, Sasuke gave him a challenging stare. There was no way he was just going to stand around and be insulted! So, Sasuke lifted an arm and raised his left hand palm-up, waiting to be gifted with a mountain of potato chips.

Grinning in amusement, Naruto stuck his hand inside the packet and pulled out a cluster of golden-toasted chips, depositing them on Sasuke’s hand eagerly.

“Eat up, princess.”

Sasuke glared extra hard at Naruto for that one, and made a mental note to pay him back later on. Picking up one of the chips with his right hand, Sasuke examined it for a few seconds, then brought it to his mouth and bit down on it as quietly and with the least amount of mess he could…

…Which resulted in the chip itself breaking in half down the middle, some crumbs falling down his chest and getting caught in the creases of his long-sleeved shirt. Naruto had started laughing again, watching Sasuke as he chewed with more dignity than the blonde had ever seen someone chew a potato chip.

“One down, five more to go!” Naruto said through his laughter just as Sasuke swallowed the last of his first chip. It had tasted grainy and a bit salty, enough to make his tastebuds tingle. He didn’t usually eat potato chips, and he couldn’t say he entirely disliked them. But they weren’t something he would buy when he went shopping, much unlike Naruto it seemed.

Just when Sasuke aimed another glare at the blonde, a taxi pulled up beside the kerb. Once the window had been wound down, a man with sallow skin and a shaved head looked over at them.

“You Naruto Uzumaki?” The taxi driver asked, chewing what appeared to be tobacco.

“Yep, that’s me. You can take us to the Lotus hotel, can’t you mate?” Naruto replied, stepping closer but Sasuke just stood where he was. He didn’t like the look of the taxi driver, but then again he didn’t like people in general so it wasn’t that surprising.

“Sure can, hop in.” The driver then faced the front again and Naruto turned around to face Sasuke.

Sasuke didn’t know how, because he was so good at masking his emotions, but he knew Naruto could tell something was wrong. It wasn’t that Sasuke was being childish; but being lost in a city and then getting into a car with a stranger was a bit much.

“Hey, what’s up? Somethin’ wrong?” Naruto reached a hand out and placed it on his shoulder, and Sasuke couldn’t help but think again how carelessly physical this guy was. It was like he had no sense of personal space.

Glancing up at Naruto, Sasuke looked off to the side, and brought a chip to his mouth and started munching on it uncertainly. Naruto suddenly leant closer and said in a voice so the driver wouldn’t hear, “Don’t worry. I’ve got your back.”

Sasuke blinked, and then stared up at Naruto in bewilderment. Naruto only gave him a reassuring grin, and then slapped him on the back as he said in a louder voice, “Now hurry up princess, and quit keeping us waiting!”

Scowling noiselessly at the idiotic nickname Naruto had dubbed him, Sasuke gave a self-satisfied smirk as he dropped his handful of chips to the pavement and got in the car.

“My chips! Hey you tosser, I paid a lot of money for them!” Naruto cried out in despair, looking at his crushed chips on the ground and then sulkily getting into the back seat beside Sasuke.

“You’re lucky I still have some left, or you’d be in big trouble Saskay.” Naruto grumbled, poking through his chip packet and eating some more.

Sasuke was still smirking as the car started to drive, basking in his win over the idiot, that he completely forgot his anxiety of getting in in the first place.

XXX

Fifteen minutes later they had arrived at the Lotus, and when he got out of the car Sasuke noticed how dark it was getting. If he hadn’t run into Naruto when he had, would he still be lost out in the city?

“That’ll be $13.50. Each.” The driver said, leaning out of the window, clearly waiting for his money.

Pulling out his leather wallet, Sasuke extracted the correct amount of money and handed it over to the shifty taxi driver.

When Sasuke turned around he was faced with Naruto, who was rifling through his own tattered wallet, searching for some money.

“Crap, I thought I had enough on me.” He heard the blonde mumble, and Sasuke shot a side-glance at the taxi driver. He didn’t look too pleased. Sasuke also noticed that Naruto wasn’t carrying any credit cards on him.

“Is there a problem?” The driver probed, an unwelcome edge to his voice that Sasuke didn’t like the sound of.

Blue eyes whipped up quickly, staring at the driver. Naruto let out an awkward chuckle, scratching the back of his head and looking – or at least trying to – completely at ease with the situation.

“Ah, well you see, the thing is–”

As soon as the thought passed through Sasuke’s head he acted, unzipping his wallet once more and removing the exact same amount and pushing it into the driver’s hand hastily.

“Wha–Saskay! You don’t have to do that!” Naruto exclaimed, stepping over closer to him, tan hands clutching the tattered wallet desperately and blue eyes wide.

Sasuke was somehow caught in them for a while, but then remembered himself and looked off to the side. Then, he shrugged his shoulders up and down in one fluid motion, almost as if to say ‘Don’t worry about it’. Inwardly, Sasuke just wanted to be rid of the driver’s presence, and he did owe Naruto. If it wasn’t for him, Sasuke didn’t know where he would be right now.

The driver spent some time counting the money, then put it inside a container, “Alright then,” and with that he drove away without so much as a goodbye. Not that Sasuke was really worried by that.

“But!” Naruto took a few steps after the taxi, even after it had sped away and there was nothing but road.

Slumping his shoulders in defeat, Naruto turned back around and walked back onto the pavement once more. Then, he turned to Sasuke and said, “Thank you so much, Saskay. I’ll definitely pay you back, I promise!”

Sasuke raised an eyebrow, perplexed. He didn’t need Naruto to pay him back, he didn’t even want it. Sasuke had more than enough money, in fact he sometimes thought he had too much. And it had given Sasuke a surprisingly light feeling spending money on someone other than himself for once. Even if it was for that idiot.

“Whoa, I knew this place was big, but up close it’s even bigger! You actually have to crane your neck to see the top!”

Sasuke’s brows knitted together in thought as he observed Naruto, speculating on how something so pedestrian was able to grab Naruto’s attention so fully. Sasuke conceded the Lotus was a considerably large building, but it wasn’t the biggest he had ever seen, nor been inside.

With that thought in mind, Sasuke decided to end this little adventure. He deposited his wallet back inside his pocket, and walked over to the entrance of the hotel. What he didn’t count on was Naruto following him. He stopped just in front of the door, and deliberately caught Naruto’s attention with a sharp, questioning gaze.

“What? You didn’t think I was just gonna leave, were ya? I’ve gotta make sure you get back inside safely, a lot can happen in that distance.” Naruto said, reasoning out his logic to a very critical Sasuke.

He shot Naruto a glare for good measure, but it only brought about a sunny grin. Sasuke sighed inaudibly, closing his eyes when he blinked longer than he normally would before opening them again. He was starting to think his glare wouldn’t work on Naruto anymore.

Figuring he would just be fighting an uphill (not to mention pointless) battle, Sasuke acquiesced and scowled at Naruto’s much too happy grin.

As he opened the glass doors, Sasuke was immediately hit with the warmth only indoors could provide, and revelled in the feeling of it heating his chilled skin. Beside him, Naruto was gaping at the interior of the Lotus, openly impressed by its structure. His sounds of enthrallment of the marble bench-tops and the various oil paintings adorning the walls filled Sasuke’s ears as they both moved in closer towards the centre of the huge space that was the lobby.

“Naruto,” Sasuke winched at hearing Itachi’s voice. His big brother was waiting for him in the lobby, standing next to the front desk with his arms crossed over his chest. Oh God, there was no way he would escape the torture now.

“How…surprising to see you,” Itachi said lightly as he closed the distance between them, and Sasuke positively steamed in his direction. There was no mistaking that tone in his older brother’s voice; he was not going to get away with this.

“Ah, hey Itachi! Figures you would be here too.” Naruto said with a laugh, and Sasuke resisted rolling his eyes. Without a doubt this moron was definitely a natural blonde – and Sasuke didn’t even care about the stereotyping. With Naruto he could justify just about anything.

But wait a moment, Sasuke furrowed his brows. So Naruto could say his brother’s name properly, but not his? Was the idiot just trying to aggravate him on purpose? Or was he just woefully ignorant and stupidly naïve?

“How did you two find each other?” Itachi questioned, a hint of amusement in his voice that would go unnoticed by Naruto but very obvious to Sasuke, who was glaring up a storm.

Naruto, seeing Sasuke wasn’t making any moves to communicate, jumped in to elaborate. “Well, ya see I was down in Sterkoi Street, picking up some food, and I ran into Saskay. Luckily I helped him find his way out of there. That ain’t a street you want to linger around in.”

Itachi then turned to Sasuke, “Oh, so did you get lost, Sasuke?”

When Itachi received no response except an even angrier glare, Naruto decided to explain instead, an uncertain chuckle accompanying his words towards the end. “He lost his map, so I guess that sorta doesn’t help with finding your way around, ya know?”

Itachi nodded. “Indeed. Thank you for being courteous enough to bring my brother back.”

“That’s alright, it wasn’t a problem at all!” Naruto gave a salute and Sasuke rolled his eyes. Idiot.

“Hey, we should meet up again Saskay. I know some great places around here if you want a tour or somethin’?” Naruto said, excitement causing his voice to raise in volume as he looked at Sasuke with gleaming eyes.

“Excellent idea,” Itachi cut in, and Sasuke aimed an irate gaze straight at him, “I think tomorrow you have a clear slate, Sasuke, no paperwork needs to be completed and you’ve already revised the new ship schedule enough times. Come around, let’s say, ten in the morning? Does that work for you Naruto?”

Before Sasuke even had a chance to answer back, Naruto spoke, “Yeah, that’s sweet for me!”

“Then it’s settled. Do you have suitable transport to go where you need to now?” Itachi asked, and Naruto smiled gratefully.

“Thanks, but it’s fine. My friend’s place isn’t too far from here actually, and I could use a walk.” Naruto gave an even broader grin – which Sasuke didn’t even know was possible, and started to walk away, turning back around to wave goodbye as he went, “Catch ya tomorrow Itachi, Saskay!”

Itachi returned it, Sasuke didn’t. The two brothers watched as he exited the glass doors and his figure disappeared around the corner. Sasuke frowned. Does the idiot know what time it is? Well, it’s his own fault if he gets mugged.

“’Saskay’, hm?” Itachi asked amusedly, coaxing Sasuke out of his thoughts and back to reality.

Seeing the smug smirk settling upon Itachi’s lips, Sasuke ground his teeth and signed irritably, “Shut the hell up Itachi, I swear to God.”

“Well, that’s not very polite Sasuke. I just helped you plan your day tomorrow–”

“–Which I had no say in at all! Why did you do that, Itachi?”

Itachi turned around and Sasuke followed after him, walking out of the main area of the lobby and heading towards the elevators at the end of the hall.

“Just because you’re off the ship doesn’t mean your daily socialising stops. You’re lucky Naruto is so kind as to show you around for a day.” Itachi said, casually strolling around the corner of the lobby as if he hadn’t a care in the slightest about Sasuke’s dilemma.

“What is it with you and Naruto? Why are you so fixated on him? With him being around all the time?” Sasuke demanded to know, eyes flashing with an eagerness that seemed to pique Itachi’s interest.

Itachi paused momentarily, then, “Like I said before, I think he is a good, genuine person. If you would just look past your pride and open up to him, I’m sure you would see it too.”

Sasuke blanked at the reply. “Open up to him? I can’t even speak to him, what’s the point in even trying?”

His big brother only shook his head, “You still don’t understand. But soon you will, I promise. Little brother.”

“Whatever.” Sasuke signed, pressing the button for the elevator and trying to keep his thoughts off of the last hour.

He grimaced. He could still taste the damn potato chips in his mouth.

Chapter Text

He was awoken by the clanging of what Sasuke assumed in his sleepy state to be pots and pans being placed – not at all lightly – on the stovetop. Groaning soundlessly, he squeezed his eyes shut tighter and burrowed deeper into the frangipani-scented sheets. As if by doing this he could ward away the insufferable racket.

Yet the more he tried to hold onto his dreamless sleep, the further away it slipped from his fingers. Internally sighing, he opened his eyes and looked around in a blur at his room. The hotel room was nice – the walls were a soft eggshell blue colour, with navy curtains with patterns of silver squares in fine embroidery over them. At least the room wasn’t obnoxiously bright and hurt Sasuke’s eyes – like that one time he and Itachi had stayed overnight in a cabin where the walls were lime green.

Sitting up, he rubbed the crust from the corners of his eyes but still found he could only open them about half-way. A blurry glance at the digital clock on the bedside table told him it was 8:47 in the morning. Much too early for his tastes, the thought punctuated by the scrunching up of his face.

“Sasuke, are you awake?” He heard Itachi’s voice echo down the hallway whilst he was in the midst of rolling his shoulders.

Immediately followed by his words was more of the evil clanging and banging of kitchen utnesils, setting Sasuke’s teeth on edge and grating at his ears like some sort of heavy machinery drill.

“Well, at least I know you are now.”

Sasuke glared at the doorway as he heard Itachi chuckle amusedly to himself. In a fit of anger at having being prematurely awoken threw his pillow to the ground. He did not like waking up early! He wondered why the hell he was awake anyway, as he waltzed into the bathroom and turned on the shower, stripping down and covering himself with a towel. Watching as the water sprayed from the shower head in crystal droplets, Sasuke suddenly remembered his encounter with Naruto yesterday, and how the idiot and his brother had roped him into some sort of tour of Suna for the day.

Glowering to himself, he folded the towel covering himself over the railing and stepped into the warm water. He made himself momentarily forget the frustration of the situation, instead focusing on enjoying his shoulder. Tilting his head back, he let the water cascade over his face and down his cheeks. Despite how womanly it sounded, he really did enjoy his showers. Sometimes Sasuke would stay in there for an hour, maybe two if he was at home by himself. The feel of the water sliding down his back was soothing, and even the mere sound of it beating against the tiled floor was like some sort of symphony to Sasuke’s ears.

After he had washed himself and his hair thoroughly, he broke from his trance and turned off the taps. It was one of his lesser times, a mere twenty minutes spent in the shower. Of course, he couldn’t waste time, since he would be going out soon. Glaring again instinctually, Sasuke dragged the fluffy beige towel all over his body and then dressed in some formal-casual clothes. He noted the time was now a little over 9, which meant he had less than an hour left to himself. Terrific.

Trudging down into the kitchen, he was greeted with the sight of Itachi seated at the kitchen table eating a breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast. Sasuke didn’t fail to notice how Itachi had only use one pan for the meal, meaning all the noise from earlier was especially for Sasuke. The asshole.

“Are you ready for today?” Itachi’s condescending words made a fire rage in Sasuke’s stomach, and he glared menacingly at his older brother.

“You didn’t even ask me or give me a chance to decide if I want to go. You just decided on your own.” Sasuke signed, inspecting a bowl of fruit on the table and deciding against it.

For some reason Sasuke felt uneasy this morning. His insides curled and coiled with some sort of discomfort, which made the thought of eating something or even walking around unappealing. Sweat perspired on his palms and beaded at the base of his neck, not anything major but it wasn’t the typical sweat brought about by a hot day or rigorous physical activity.

“Of course, or else you wouldn’t have agreed.” Itachi stated, as if it were the simplest notion in the world and Sasuke was a simpleton for not knowing it.

“Don’t you think that’s my choice to make?” Sasuke looked at his brother as he signed the words, and was extremely irritated when Itachi sighed and glanced away. He was getting to his wits end with his older brother and his antics.

“It’s the same choice you always make, Sasuke. You say no, turn away and shut everything out. Why not try something different for a change?”

It was the same conversation they always kept coming back to. Itachi would push Sasuke to go out, Sasuke would fight him on it, and Itachi would always end with how anti-social and isolated Sasuke was. While Sasuke just thought his older brother was sticking his nose in where it didn’t belong. It was his life, so he should be allowed to live it however he wanted.

“Whatever. I just want to get this over and done with.” Checking his watch, he cursed as he noted that it was only 10 past 9. He did not like waiting for something when he couldn’t do anything productive in the meantime, it just seemed like such a waste of energy in his opinion.

“Aren’t you going to eat something?” Itachi queried, almost having finished his scrambled eggs. “I can make you some eggs on toast as well if you’d like. I haven’t washed up the pan yet.”

“No, I don’t feel hungry.” Sasuke did not like the way his stomach was churning, it was usually a bad sign. Though he couldn’t tell Itachi about it, or he would just assume Sasuke was making an excuse.

“Have something.” Getting up from his chair, Itachi motioned to the plethora of coffee sachets on the bench near the sink. “Have a coffee, at least.”

Relenting, Sasuke sighed noiselessly and nodded. Despite how horrible he felt, he could never refuse coffee. It rejuvenated his senses and made him more alert in any situation, not to mention it was delicious.

Half an hour had passed, Sasuke’s coffee made, drunk and mug washed up, when Itachi turned and said to him, “We had better go down there now. It would be appropriate to meet in the lobby.”

Cursing Itachi to Hell and back in his mind, Sasuke swiftly stood from his position on one of the rather comfortable lounge chairs and walked out the door without waiting for Itachi to follow. The sooner he got down there, the sooner this would all be over.

Sasuke didn’t know whether he was relieved or surprised or annoyed at seeing Naruto already standing in the lobby entrance. The blonde was wearing a red and black checkered flannelette shirt rolled up to his elbows that was unbuttoned to reveal a simple black t-shirt underneath. Cheap, navy jeans covered his lower half, leading down to a pair of rather ratty and obviously worn black converse shoes.

It was a direct contrast to Sasuke’s v-neck black sweater, which stopped at the elbows as well – though it was by design, not by his own modifications as was the case with Naruto. As well as his slimming, expensive pebble-stone grey jeans, tapering down to a pair of black designer boots on his feet. It was starting to get colder these days, but today the weather was looking particularly fine.

“Hey, Saskay! G’day!” Cheerful as ever, Naruto’s carried across the entire length of the lobby as soon as he had laid eyes on the young Uchiha, who had to resist the urge to slam his palm to his forehead. Does the moron know of the term ‘subtlety’?

“Hope you don’t mind I brought a friend of mine to tag along.” Naruto smiled as he inclined his head in the direction of his red-haired friend.

Switching his gaze to said friend, Sasuke noted that the man probably suffered from some sort of sleep disturbance as the dark rings under his eyes, while slightly disguised with what appeared to be eye-liner, were obvious. He also noted the kanji tattooed on his forehead for ‘love’, and couldn’t help but wonder what the story behind it was. Because Sasuke could instantly tell that he and this friend of Naruto’s were strikingly similar.

“My name is Gaara. It’s nice to meet you, Sasuke.”

The voice that emanated from Gaara was not what Sasuke had expected. Yet, he wasn’t quite sure what he expected in the first place. It was soft, yet held a firm undertone to it. If Sasuke were to compare it to his own voice back when he could speak, he would make the assumption they both had a distinct monotone attached.

They both shook hands and Sasuke could feel Gaara’s teal irises on him, almost examining him. Sasuke had a fleeting wonder of his connection to Naruto, but somehow Sasuke wasn’t surprised. Naruto would make friends with a rock if he could, Sasuke thought irritably, though truthfully the thought did amuse him. The mere image of Naruto conversing with an unresponsive rock was so palpable, Sasuke internally smirked.

“It looks like you beat us to the punch, Naruto.” Even without looking behind him, Sasuke could recognise the voice of his older brother anywhere. So he finally caught up, huh?

Naruto grinned and nodded, “Yeah, I’m an early riser so it was no problem for me. Gaara here though is like a bear. If you poke him awake, you’re risking potential loss of limb.”

Gaara glowered at Naruto, who was too busy laughing at his own explanation to care. The expression on Itachi’s face was almost amused, whilst Sasuke expressed the same sentiments as Gaara. Well, at least he wasn’t the only one who seemed to think Naruto was an idiot.

“I’m Sasuke’s brother, Itachi.” Itachi said, introducing himself to Gaara properly because Itachi never acted in a way that wasn’t proper – most of the time at least. Gaara nodded and they shook hands as well.

“Well, we have a super busy day ahead! So we better get goin’ if we want to keep on schedule.” Naruto announced, and Sasuke just felt like telling the idiot to find his noise button and turn it down – all the way down. He was almost certain that by the end of the day he would have a splitting headache.

“Message me if you need something, or if anything happens.” Itachi murmured, and Sasuke could see despite his brother’s amusement at Sasuke’s predicament he was still concerned for his wellbeing.

“I will.” He signed, and Itachi nodded and gave Sasuke’s shoulder a gentle squeeze.

“Okay! So first I thought we should go to Suna Wildlife Zoo. They have heaps of cool animals there, some that are only native to Suna.” Naruto said, practically buzzing with excitement as they walked along the pavement.

“You always want to go to the zoo every time you come here, Naruto.” Gaara stated plainly, “You’re just using Sasuke as an excuse to go and see it again.”

“What!? That’s ridiculous! Everyone needs to see the zoo Gaara, that’s like a necessity or somethin’!” Naruto announced proudly, throwing one of his winning grins at Sasuke. The Uchiha raised an eyebrow but didn’t do much else.

“He’s already visited the damn place two times already.” Gaara mumbled lowly so only Sasuke could hear, and Sasuke raised another eyebrow bemusedly.

“Besides, who doesn’t love seeing animals?” Naruto cooed, causing Gaara to roll his eyes and glare at Naruto’s back.

Sasuke counted to ten in his head before he lost his mind. This was going to be a long day.

XXX

Well, Sasuke had been to the zoo and he could say it was one of the strangest zoos he had ever visited. Since Suna was a dry city, and was famous for its nearby deserts, it had animals native to the desert mostly on display. There were many types of lizards and reptiles, as well as some unique nocturnal mammals, as well as many different species of desert birds. Sasuke actually found them quite interesting, and read the little inscriptions about each one, which made Naruto impatient since he just wanted to see the animals. Yet, he didn’t move on without Sasuke. Gaara for his part didn’t really care, having visited the zoo probably countless times before and only putting up with Naruto’s antics.

“Alright! Next stop is the Desert Flower Park!” Naruto declared as they left the park an hour and a half later, and Sasuke emitted a soundless sigh. Does he always have to be so excited about everything?

The three men legged it again, with Naruto proclaiming it wasn’t that far away and taking a taxi or a bus would be “boring”. Sasuke didn’t mind since he was used to rigorous exercise, but Gaara seemed to be burning holes in Naruto’s back with his eyes. Sasuke could relate completely.

“Ah, we’re here!” Naruto announced, turning to look at Sasuke with an excited smile which the latter did not return, but he didn’t glare either so he supposed Naruto should at least be grateful for that.

The park was covered in green, strange since there wasn’t much rainfall in Suna. Sasuke supposed the people must place great value on this park, to keep it so well-maintained and aesthetically pleasing as it was. Huge trees of Silver Birch, Weeping Cherry and Japanese Maple were distributed all throughout the park, providing big patches of shade for people, with some families sitting under them and having a picnic or couples having a date. In the centre of the park was a huge, decorative fountain, which spurted water upwards in a spiral formation from the centre pillar. People were surrounding around there too, notably more tourists as Sasuke recognised the cameras hanging off their necks and the awed expressions on their faces.

“This park is the oldest park we have in Suna. It has, of course, been renovated and improved to suit the needs of each generation. However it has generally maintained the same general form since its creation back in 1893.” Gaara explained, and Sasuke nodded as he continued to look around.

They didn’t have such a park in Konoha, rather they had many smaller parks. Yet even though Konoha had many parks and they weren’t neglected by any means, they didn’t hold as much fascination as this one, huge park in Suna.

He snapped out of his thoughts when he saw Naruto and Gaara moving ahead, and swiftly caught up with them. They were heading towards the fountain, and even though he sounded like a tourist Sasuke admitted he was eager to see it.

“Here is what the locals call the Flower Fountain, where supposedly you throw a coin over your shoulder and into the fountain, making one wish.” Gaara clarified, gesturing around to some of the people who were throwing coins over their shoulders as he spoke.

“It totally works.” Naruto interrupted, earning a glare from Gaara but the blonde was now focused on Sasuke as he continued, “This one time, I wished for some ramen and when I got home there was ramen!”

“That’s because you had a huge stockpile in the cupboard, Naruto.” Gaara interjected, bursting Naruto’s triumphant bubble as he spun around in indignation at his friend.

“Why’d ya have to ruin it, Gaara? Now Saskay’s gonna think I’m lying!” Naruto swiftly turned around to face Sasuke, who startled a little bit, “It’s true! Don’t listen to him, make a wish Saskay!”

Sasuke pursed his lips and clasped his wallet that was in his front pocket, appearing indifferent and uncaring which made Naruto fret, “Come on Gaara, back me up here!”

Gaara nodded, cleared his throat, and said, “If you want to waste your money, make a wish.”

Slapping a hand to his forehead, Naruto groaned and shook his fist (playfully of course) at Gaara, “Gah! You’re no help!”

“Let’s just go, you’re dragging things out too long Naruto.” Gaara complained, gaining a barrage of “No I don’t!” “I’m not slow!” “You take that back, Gaara!” from the blonde.

When the two had their backs turned, Sasuke looked down at the coin he had in his palm. Glancing again to make sure Naruto and Gaara weren’t paying attention; Sasuke closed his eyes and tossed the coin over his shoulder and into the crystal water. He didn’t open them until he had finished making his wish, and once he had he took two quick strides and caught up with the two.

Of course he didn’t expect it to come true, but for some strange reason he didn’t see the harm in losing a coin’s worth of money. Sasuke refused to admit that the blonde idiot had any influence over his decision, which is why he made the wish in secret in the first place. Naruto would gloat until the cows came home.

“Ah, all this walking is makin’ me hungry! What do you guys think about stopping for a lunch break?” Naruto turned around as he was walking to grin mischievously at the two.

“As long as it’s nowhere that specialises in ramen. Not all of us are obsessed as you are.” Gaara remarked, slipping his hands in his pockets and shooting Naruto a warning glare of sorts. Sasuke approved greatly.

“Hey! I’m not obsessed, I’m in love.” The blonde exclaimed, clasping his hands together in front of his chest. A disgustingly dreamy expression crossed his face, becoming starry-eyed as the enticing thoughts of ramen filled his mind, “And of course we have to have ramen! It’s a tradition to eat ramen whenever you go out!”

Gaara snorted, and shot Sasuke a ‘He’s-a-lying-bastard’ look before replying, “No, it’s not. That’s your tradition.”

Oddly amused at the exchange between the two, Sasuke reached for his paper and pen and scrawled a message, handing it to Gaara. Naruto leaned over closer to try and read it but Gaara only moved away, holding the paper so the blonde couldn’t read it.

It read: “His taste palette is simplistic at best, underdeveloped at worst.”

A rather devious smirk curled Gaara’s lips as he folded the note neatly and tucked it into his back jean pocket – an area Naruto wouldn’t dare breach unless he wanted to become a paraplegic.

“I take it you’re not a fan of ‘the food of the gods’ either?”

Shaking his head and crinkling his nose in distaste at the mention of the unappetising dish, Sasuke glared at Naruto as if it was his fault the food was even invented.

“Two against one, majority rules Naruto.” Gaara stated plainly, and Sasuke was thankful that at least one of Naruto’s friends was normal.

Naruto wilted before them, hanging his head low and sighed, “Ahh man, you guys have no sense of taste for the finer foods.”

“Ignore him and he might go away.” Gaara said to Sasuke, making the corner of Sasuke’s lips twitch when he heard Naruto’s outraged splutters in the background as he proceeded to yell at Gaara.

Eventually, though not without much fussing and disagreement (mostly on Naruto’s behalf) the three of them all agreed to eat lunch at a Deli. That way Naruto could stuff himself with big meaty sandwiches, Gaara could get normal sandwiches and Sasuke would have his salad.

Despite how Sasuke was adamant he was just going along with everything so he could get back to the hotel, it wasn’t as unbearable as he had first thought it would be. He was almost certain that was because of Gaara, who kept Naruto in his place and said all the comments Sasuke would definitely verbalise if only he had the voice. Yet, even Naruto wasn’t so bad. Sure, he was annoying, obnoxious, loud, mischievous and stupid – but he did have an energy about him that made it impossible not to make the best of things, in a way encouraging people to enjoy themselves.

Finished with their meals, they all seemed to sigh in satisfaction. Sasuke didn’t think he would get so hungry, even when at the start of the day he hadn’t felt like a thing to eat. His stomach was still feeling funny, and he was starting to get a headache, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle.

“Ah, well that was awesome! Not ramen, but still pretty damn good!” Naruto grinned as he stretched his arms out, Sasuke watching him for some reason. He snapped himself out of it though, throwing out his plastic container.

“Now we all gotta walk this off!”

Gaara verbally groaned at Naruto’s vibrancy, whilst Sasuke merely closed his eyes for a moment and sighed soundlessly. I wonder what it takes to actually make him tired, the Uchiha held the thought for a while, and found he could come up with nothing.

“I hate you, Naruto.” Gaara grumbled, getting out of his seat and they all made their way outside of the shopping complex.

“You know that I’m right, Gaara.” The blonde winked and laughed, and the redhead scowled and didn’t say anything more.

Just as they started to walk down the street, something caught Sasuke’s eye. It was nothing, really, just the profile of two people obviously very close to each other. It was nothing out of the ordinary. At least, that was what Sasuke thought, until he realised that the two people obviously in a relationship wasn’t a man and a woman…but a man and another man.

As soon as he had realised what it was he was seeing, Sasuke had stopped dead in his tracks, the other still walking on ahead as they hadn’t noticed the absence of his soft footsteps.

Sasuke watched, unable to tear his eyes away, as the two men leaned in close – much too close –towards each other. His breath hitched and caught in his throat as their lips pressed together. All of a sudden he was bombarded with uninvited memories, his eyes widening impeccably large as they flashed across his mind.

Images of two men kissing passionately, clothes shed and on a bed together filled the screen before his eyes. Their lips collided together, pushing, sucking, smacking. Their bodies rubbed against each other so heatedly and erratically it looked as if they were fighting. Arousal gripped Sasuke quickly, his hardness starting to make his pants uncomfortable.

Orochimaru chuckled in the background, and though he wasn’t looking at him Sasuke could sense the sinister smirk tilting his lips in a warped sense of pleasure.

“No my boy, you mustn’t get excited. This should cool you off.”

Before he could blink he felt his arm harshly grabbed and a needle plunged into the soft pale skin of his forearm. Biting down on his lip, he swallowed the scream that so desperately wanted to escape. As much as he tried to resist, a violent shudder took hold of his body, hands curling into fists as the liquid continued flowing straight into his veins. All he felt was pain, mind-numbing and excruciating.

“Oi, Saskay? You alright?”

Naruto’s voice was far away, and the world felt like it was crashing down upon him, crushing him under its weight. It was squeezing the life out of him; quite literally in fact since he could feel his breathing become erratic. Stumbling out of the way of oncoming pedestrians, Sasuke slumped against the nearest wall he came close to, sitting on the ground with his knees loosely drawn up to his chest, his arms lying limply on the concrete ground. He distantly registered the looming figures as Naruto and Gaara.

“Shit,” Naruto murmured, his voice barely comprehensible as he crouched down beside Sasuke and examined him warily, “He’s having a panic attack.”

“What do we do?” Gaara questioned, unsurprisingly calm in the face of alarm.

“Saskay, look at me. Focus on me.” Naruto’s voice was like a foghorn through the haze, and for some reason it managed to catch Sasuke, anchoring him slightly even though he was still floating; lost, “Breathe out firstly, nice and slow. And then we’re going to just breathe together, okay?”

Naruto spoke in a purposely slow voice, his usual fast-paced blabber forgotten and discarded. He vaguely registered Naruto’s hand reaching out towards him, probably to rest on his shoulder or against his arm. But when Sasuke flinched at the movement, it was as if Naruto hadn’t ever lifted it in the first place, his hand back by his side once more as he only looked at Sasuke.

“Okay, go.” The Australian commanded, and in that moment Sasuke didn’t care that Naruto was an annoying, moronic idiot – he just wanted to be able to breathe, to get out of this place because he knew what it was like to get himself lost in this.

So Sasuke released the breath that was choking him, the tightness in his chest subsiding slightly. Even as his arms and legs were shaking like mad, he made sure the breath he let out was as calm and steady as he could manage. Then, he watched the movement of Naruto’s torso as he breathed in, and Sasuke copied the movement, as well as the speed with which Naruto breathed at. Slowly, he found the hazy fog clouding his mind was starting to evaporate, the outside world becoming sharper to his eyes, clearer in focus.

The amount of time which had passed he was unsure of, but all Sasuke knew was that when he was aware of his surroundings once more the amount of people around had lessened considerably. With his breathing now under control and the attack over, Sasuke refused to make eye contact with Naruto and Gaara. How humiliating, to have lost control of himself in public like that was a disgrace. Surely his father would disapprove of his over-emotional behaviour.

And Sasuke could feel Naruto’s gaze on him, burning through him. Wasn’t the humiliation enough already? Why did this have to happen? Why now? Sasuke’s mind was a jumble of thoughts, and it was as if the world was upside-down to him.

“I think we should let your brother know so he can come and pick you up. We’re done with sight-seeing today.”

The intrusion of Gaara’s voice into his thoughts startled Sasuke, his jumpiness making concern flash across both pairs of eyes watching him. He wanted to bury his face in his blankets and hide, as childish as it sounded. Anything to escape the sad faces of people observing him, it was more than he could take.

“Can you unlock your phone please, Saskay?” Naruto asked, not as unexpected as Gaara, more as if he was easing into the question. His body after having lost control was now on autopilot, and so he spared a quick glance to both Naruto and Gaara before looking back down again.

Hesitantly but eventually, Sasuke pulled his phone out from his pocket and unlocked it, wilfully ignoring the way his fingertips trembled across the slick screen. For a second Sasuke considered typing out a message to Itachi himself, but when he looked up he saw Naruto looking down at him, eyebrows drawn together tightly and blue irises swirling in worry. When the blonde realised Sasuke was looking back at him, he startled out of his silent observation and blinked rapidly.

When Sasuke only continued to stare at Naruto, he rubbed the back of his neck and said, “Do you, uh, want me to call him or something? It’s just – it might be easier than a text, y’know.”

Sasuke noticed how Naruto didn’t mention his shaking hands as he gave him the phone, and he was actually grateful. More than anything he hated drawing unnecessary attention to himself.

“I’ll be right back.” Naruto said, phone to his ear as he turned and walked away a few metres in the distance.

Trying to ease some of the tension in his body, Sasuke leaned back against the wall. His stomach was still restless but was beginning to settle down.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

The young Uchiha barely smothered the small jump the unexpected voice elicited from him. Turning his head sideways, he found Gaara was staring at him quite intently, with a face even more stoic and closed-off than his own. He really has to work on his communication skills, Sasuke criticised sourly, not caring at all about the fact he was making a hypocrite of himself.

Sasuke ground his jaw. He was drained and just wanted to be alone. The very question made Sasuke want to punch the redhead in the face. Just as his eyes narrowed, Gaara spoke again.

“Just because you can’t speak doesn’t mean you couldn’t have made your discomfort shown.” Tilting his head to the left, Gaara seemed to analyse him further still, “You seem to hide many things, Sasuke. I was like that once too.”

For the first time ever, Sasuke was relieved to see Naruto when he returned, handing Sasuke his phone back and effectively ending the somewhat conversation Gaara was having with him.

“Okay, I got a hold of your brother, and he said he’s gonna be down here in fifteen minutes,” Sasuke nodded, and finally got to his feet, still leaning against the wall for support though.

“How’re you feelin’ now?” Naruto questioned, and their eyes connected with each other for a long moment.

Shrugging his shoulders once, Sasuke glanced off to the side, effectively breaking the contact. He didn’t want to talk about what happened, especially not with Naruto.

For once, it seemed the idiotic blonde could take a hint, since he didn’t talk any more after that.

Eleven minutes later, Itachi had arrived in a taxi (driven this time by Colin, and Sasuke was partially relieved to see a familiar face rather than the last taxi driver he had) and Sasuke bid farewell to Naruto and Gaara. Some part of himself told him to thank the two of them, especially Naruto – but that would involve interacting and honestly Sasuke was just too damn tired to give a damn at that moment.

So he hopped inside the car, and soon enough they were on their way back to the hotel.

XXX

“Did you know he suffered from panic attacks?” Gaara inquired, as they walked slowly along the footpath. Neither of them was in a hurry to get back, and after what had just transpired Naruto needed time to let it all sink in.

“No, I didn’t.” Naruto admitted, cerulean orbs clouded in worry and confusion at the entire situation.

He hadn’t had a clue that Sasuke suffered from panic attacks. Of course, it could have just been a one-time thing, but Naruto was wracking his brains and couldn’t come up with anything that might have caused such high level stress in the area they had been in. So it had to have been a trigger, something that had caused such panic and chaos within Sasuke he couldn’t contain it.

“I wonder if it might be related to his muteness.” Gaara piped up, and Naruto couldn’t help but think he was more talkative today than normal.

Slipping his hands inside his jean pockets, Naruto watched as a soft drink can rolled across the footpath and into the gutter, “Could be, I dunno. He is a pretty busy guy, maybe the stress just gets to him sometimes.”

“Don’t say things you don’t believe to be true.” Gaara admonished, and Naruto hid his wince with a well-placed shrug.

Naruto didn’t want to talk about this with Gaara – he didn’t even want to think about full-stop. He wasn’t usually such an elusive guy, yet the sight of Sasuke suffering from a panic attack unsettled him so much – not to mention it brought back some unpleasant memories. Truthfully, he knew that the cause of Sasuke’s panic attack couldn’t be work-related – the guy was a workaholic Naruto could see that, but he knew how to handle himself. Something like work wouldn’t make the calm and controlled Sasuke fall apart like that.

“Besides, it didn’t seem to have anything to do with work-related issues.” The redhead continued, the two of them stopping at the street corner as the red man flashed signalling to the pedestrians it wasn’t safe to walk yet.

“Maybe he’s got social anxiety or somethin’? Wouldn’t surprise me, I hardly see him around on the ship.” Naruto commented, actually finding some truth in his answer this time. Maybe the Uchiha had gotten overwhelmed and just couldn’t take it anymore.

Even so, Naruto knew there was definitely more to him than met the eye.

“It does seem strange. This Sasuke Uchiha certainly is mysterious,” Gaara glanced at Naruto from the corner of his eye before the green man started flashing, and the two made their way across the street, “Perhaps you could offer him some guidance. After all, you know what it’s like.”

“It’s gettin’ pretty cold out. We should hurry on back.” Naruto said frankly, deliberately skirting around Gaara’s words as they reached the next street.

He knew Gaara wouldn’t push it, because the redhead was aware of how he instantly shut down whenever anybody mentioned about ‘those times’. Naruto had resolved that if he didn’t think about it, then he could pretend it never happened. It was pretty stupid, but Naruto never claimed he was the most intelligent guy.

Besides, it was in the past. It was done. He needed to move on.

XXX

Sasuke felt disgusting. His fingertips would not cease their trembling, still shaken from the event that had happened almost an hour ago. His mouth and throat were dry, and when he swallowed it was slightly painful. Not to mention that his entire body was aching and he felt like he could throw up at any time. All he wanted at that moment was to take a hot, relaxing shower and hop into bed. He was exhausted.

It had been a long, long time since he had been exposed to anything like that. The shock from seeing it was too great; had left him so shaken that he couldn’t force it back. He had thought he had a handle on his panic attacks by now, what a foolish thought. Of course, Orochimaru had told him time and time again that he wasn’t the controller of his body, rather his body controlled him.

As soon as Itachi had unlocked the door to their room he was in like a flash and headed straight towards the fridge – he needed a drink of water badly. Sasuke ignored the way his hand and wrist quivered as he poured the water from the jug to the glass, and he liked to think that Itachi would ignore it too.

But it wasn’t like Itachi to leave things concerning him alone.

“Sasuke, what happened?” Itachi signed, meaning he was truly concerned and needed the most intimate form of communication they had between them to discuss all that had happened.

Sasuke was known to withstand a lot of things, and considered himself a patient, tolerant person. But even he knew that things with Itachi were heating up, and though he had done his best to repress as much of all that he was feeling, the dam had finally burst.

Slamming the glass down on the bench, Sasuke glared up at his older brother with fiery, angered eyes as he signed rapidly, “You, Itachi! It’s all because of you!”

Itachi actually looked shocked, which was something Sasuke hadn’t seen on him for quite a long time. It felt oddly satisfying.

“I told you before, that I have no interest in spending time with Naruto, and you didn’t listen to me at all! I told you how I didn’t want to leave the ship, how I wanted some time alone, and you completely ignored me!”

Sasuke’s face contorted in fury, his brain buzzing with the sudden burst of adrenaline that was flowing through his body because of Itachi. At this point in time, Sasuke didn’t care that Itachi might not be the only one to blame – all he knew for sure was that his big brother was a part of it, and that’s all he needed.

Itachi’s hands began to sign, as the older Uchiha made his way over to the kitchen, closer to Sasuke, “Sasuke, it’s not as you think–”

Taking step back as if he was burned, Sasuke’s eyes narrowed dangerously until they were almost slits, “You’re doing it again! Interrupting me, silencing me! Even when I don’t have a voice, is that still not good enough for you? Am I to be a puppet you can control, brother? Do I not have my own thoughts, my own feelings, too?”

So full of unleashed rage was he, that Sasuke was mouthing the words as he signed them, unable to stop the natural reaction to want to yell and scream in utter frustration, despite the fact that he couldn’t. His hair was falling in his face, he could feel his body trembling again, and his eyes were black liquid pools of fire.

“Ever since I became mute, you’ve been hovering over me like some pesky annoying fly. And I know you just want to help me, but I’m not completely voiceless! I’m not invisible, so stop treating me like a child. I am a grown man. I can take care of myself.” Sasuke signed, the movements of his hands fluid and executed without reluctance.

He was sick of being told what to do, when to do it. Without a voice, Sasuke was limited already, and with time he had grown to accept that. But he refused to let Itachi or anyone else for that matter decide things for him, even if they only had the purest of intentions in mind. Ever since that time four years ago, when Itachi had returned and Sasuke had finished his treatment, it was as he returned to that 8-year-old boy – seen as nothing more than a vulnerable kid who didn’t know what he was doing.

“I’m going back to the ship, to finish the work that I came here to do. Do you understand me? I came here to work, not play the star role in whatever stupid plan you have in your head. You do not get to manipulate me, Itachi.”

Silence was not unusual between the two brothers. They were both reserved people who had no qualms about being in each other’s company even without communicating. This time however, the silence that existed between them was not comfortable. This silence only showed the distance between them, each of their minds caught up in their own thoughts, neither of them looking at each other.

Itachi was, surprisingly, the first to break the silence – though this time, with his voice, “I’m sorry, Sasuke. I misunderstood everything.”

“Yes, you did.” Sasuke was finished with the conversation, turning his back on Itachi and making his way back to his bedroom without looking back.

“I’ll call for Colin to come and collect you immediately.” Itachi’s voice drifted faintly to Sasuke’s ears before he closed his door, and sagged against it for a few minutes.

In less than an hour and half’s time, Sasuke had his suitcase packed and ready to go. He had decided to wait until he was boarded back on the ship to take a shower, and had kept himself busy with packing in the meantime. Now that he was finished, he collapsed on his back against the bed and threw his right forearm across his eyes.

It had been a year since he had had one in public, and the repercussions when it did happen in public were always worse. At least when they happened in private, Sasuke could fall apart without a care. In public, so many eyes were watching him, silently judging him to the point he wanted to scream. The whole thing kept replaying itself in Sasuke’s mind, how helpless he was, how pathetic he was.

And now Naruto knew about it, Gaara as well. Sasuke wondered if the two were discussing right now what had caused the great Sasuke Uchiha to become a paranoid freak. Yet even as he wondered so, he couldn’t truly imagine Naruto speaking ill of him – of anyone. Besides, the blonde had been surprisingly calm and helpful during his attack, and Sasuke was secretly grateful that he had been there. If Sasuke had been by himself out in an unknown city experiencing an attack he didn’t know what would happen.

This was getting to be too much – how was it that he kept getting caught by Naruto in his most unguarded moments? Days ago when he had been playing bingo all alone, the blonde was there. Yesterday when he had gotten lost, the blonde was there. And today, during his panic attack, the blonde was there.

He hated for other people to see him as weak.

Roughly twenty minutes later, he heard three knocks on his bedroom door.

“Colin has arrived and is waiting for you outside.” Itachi stated, looking nowhere except at his little brother whilst Sasuke was effectively keeping his gaze anywhere except on Itachi.

Not bothering with a response, instead picking up his suitcase and walking straight past Itachi and into the main living area.

“Please look after yourself, little brother.” Itachi’s voice  was a low timbre, irritatingly soft and void of any resentment. Dammit, why did Itachi never get as angry at him as Sasuke did?

Halting, a tremor rippled through Sasuke’s heart. Even if he was still angry at Itachi, he could at least look him in the face to say goodbye.

So, turning his head over his shoulder, Sasuke stared at his brother a short moment. Then, giving a solemn nod of his head, Sasuke faced forward again and headed out of the hotel room and started his descent down the stairs.

XXX

After those eventful first two days, the rest of the week went by fairly leisurely for Sasuke. Sticking to his original plan, he was back inside his cabin and back to reading his book. Of course, he was still completing the necessary paperwork, budgets, timetables and schedules that were required to be done. As an Uchiha, he knew work never stopped and was never put off even for a second.

He had not heard from Itachi the rest of the week, except for a text message on the second night after he had returned to the ship which was just making sure Sasuke arrived safely. Sasuke had replied he had and they had left it at that. Sasuke was still in no mood to deal with his brother, and was not looking forward to his return. Why couldn’t Itachi understand that he didn’t need his help all the time? That, sometimes, he needed that personal space?

Unable to be stuck in his cabin alone with his thoughts any longer, Sasuke decided to go for one of his solo walks around the ship. They always helped him when he needed to clear his mind, even when he was a little boy. It was mid-afternoon, and the sky was a murky grey, although the weather wasn’t cold. As he was on the highest deck, he decided to start from there and move downwards. A slight breeze played across his face, gentle enough to almost pass by unnoticed. Glancing down, Sasuke saw the forms of many people and luggage bags boarding the ship. Of course, since today is the last day in Suna.

Returning to the interior of the ship, Sasuke started his walk down the various hallways of each floor where the cabins were located. These were the quietest areas; places like the bistro restaurant or the bar were crowded, and Sasuke couldn’t handle background noise right now.

What he didn’t expect to see down one particular hallway was Naruto and his equally dopey friend, Kiba. The two had their suitcases, and Naruto had his guitar case slung across his back. That was odd, Sasuke mused. Was Naruto the type of person who had to take their instrument everywhere they went? Maybe he was performing outside gigs, or even–

Wait, why do I care? Sasuke frowned at himself, and it was at that moment the two young musicians suddenly became aware of his presence. Kiba shot him a grin and a nod in greeting as they passed, which was better than Sasuke expected. But Naruto just had to stop right in front of him and ruin it, didn’t he?

“Hey.” Naruto showed him a friendly smile, quite unlike his usual huge, dopey grin. It was softer somehow, and Sasuke couldn’t help but feel suspicious.

“Naruto?” Kiba called out, having stopped a few metres ahead of them when he didn’t see his best friend beside him.

“I’ll catch up, mate. Won’t take long, I promise!” Naruto declared, and Kiba rolled his eyes and started walking again.

“If you’re late again I’m not gonna cover for you!”

“Yeah, yeah. Quit your yapping.” Naruto said in a quieter voice, so that only Sasuke could hear. He exchanged a secret smile with Sasuke, which the latter did not return. He didn’t feel like talking to Naruto again, not after he had seen.

“You can relax, y’know. I’m not gonna tell anyone ‘bout what happened in Suna the other day.”

Sasuke’s head snapped up and he looked Naruto unswervingly in his cerulean eyes. How did Naruto know what was bothering him? He hadn’t even said anything, and Sasuke admitted he wasn’t the easiest person to read; was something he made sure he was a near expert in, because the idea of just anyone reading him and judging him was unbearable.

Naruto still had that smile on his face, readjusting his guitar case strap on his shoulder – Sasuke suddenly noticed how broad Naruto’s shoulders were, perhaps even more so than Itachi’s. Back when he had been obsessively competitive with his brother, Sasuke had sworn he would be stronger and taller than his brother. Of course, genetics weren’t something that could be manipulated so simply. Without a doubt, he had well-developed muscles and was quite fit. Yet, he was lean rather than stocky – in more ways than one, he was the complete opposite of Naruto.

“Don’t look so shocked. Do I seem like a guy who has a blabbermouth?” The blonde joked, chuckling at the end of his sentence. Sasuke’s answer came in the form of a raised eyebrow and Naruto frowned, and then pouted.

“Well I can keep it shut when I wanna, alright?”

Rolling his eyes, Sasuke inspected invisible dust on his pants whilst Naruto scratched at his nose, the both of them a little unsure around each other for some unknown reason.

“Er, you know if you ever want to talk about stuff, I’m always an open ear.” The blonde piped up, catching Sasuke’s attention again – Naruto had a knack for that.

“I actually used to get panic attacks myself.” Naruto continued, something in his voice changing, as if some of the sunshine that seemed to emit from his ass faltered and flickered for a moment.

That caused something to twinge in Sasuke’s chest, and his eyelids lifted up in curiousity. Despite how he wasn’t one to judge others for their outward appearance, he just couldn’t imagine this big, happy idiot getting panic attacks.

“Surprised, aren’t ya? See, there’s more to me than people think.” And just like that Naruto’s smile was back, making Sasuke wonder if he was seeing things before since it seemed the moron always had that smile on his face.

“Anyway, I’m sorry our tour didn’t go so well. If I’d noticed you weren’t with it sooner, we might’ve been able to avoid it.” Naruto then frowned – he was quite expressive – and Sasuke was perplexed at the down-trodden expression on his face, as if he truly meant the words and they weren’t just a cover; something that you say to make the other person feel less guilty.

If anything, Sasuke couldn’t fault Naruto’s genuineness.

Inexplicably, a pen and pad was suddenly in his hands and he saw himself write out the words and then tear the sheet of paper off, giving it to Naruto.

“It’s not your fault.”

A small but significant moment of shared silence passed between them, and Sasuke was locked in Naruto’s gaze. The uncomfortable feeling that formed in his stomach when he was around Naruto took hold of his body, and he could swear he had never been so affected by one single person before. There’s something about him, Naruto…

Then, Naruto’s radiant smile returned to his face, and he gave a nod, as if he understood, “I’m really glad you’re okay, Saskay.”

The weird feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. But it wasn’t the same weird feeling he got just before he had a panic attack. This was an entirely new kind of weird, and Sasuke wasn’t sure how he felt about it. In a way, it felt nice, but it also felt like it was painful in a way he couldn’t explain.

“I’ll see ya around, gotta go get ready. Life of a musician never stops.” And with a smile and a wave, Naruto walked past him and followed Kiba, leaving Sasuke alone once more.

The young Uchiha stared at the same spot Naruto had been in for a full minute before he realised he wasn’t focused. Closing his eyes briefly, he carded his fingers through his hair and grimaced at how oily it felt. He would have to wash it tomorrow.

His earlier attempts to avoid Naruto were fruitless, and would continue to bear no fruit as it seemed the blonde had cruised into his life, coming and going as he pleased. Ironic, perhaps, that they had et each other on a cruise ship. He and Naruto weren’t strangers – not anymore, at least – but they weren’t classified as friends either. If Sasuke had to give them a name, it would be acquaintances. And yet, an acquaintance wouldn’t go out of their way to make a phone call to another acquaintance, would they? Naruto had called his brother for him...no, he had done more than that. He had helped Sasuke out of his panic attack, something Sasuke had up until now only believed Itachi or himself was capable of doing. What sort of person does that for another person they hardly know well? Maybe Naruto was just strange, maybe he was the type of person who thought that everyone he met was a friend; regardless of who they were. 

The thoughts continued to swirl and tumble over in his mind long after he had finished his walk. He was going to need a long shower.

Chapter Text

Flicking the switch on the kettle, Sasuke released a silent sigh as he leant his weight against the back of the bench, folding his arms over his chest. He was inside his cabin room, and had just gotten through eliminating unnecessary expenses so as to lower the budget. It was an easy enough task that Sasuke didn’t really have trouble with, but it required a lot of brain power to make cost-cutting measures that weren’t too crazy but weren’t too few.

So, he needed some nice, hot black tea to reboot his depleted energy levels. As it was, he was dressed in simple grey sweatpants, along with a black long-sleeved shirt. Nothing fancy, since he had no immediate engagements today – he could dress as he pleased and nobody, not even the seagulls, would give a damn. This is how Sasuke would have it all the time, if it wasn’t for this small yet vitally important detail in the world of business – professionalism.

Talking of professionalism, he had barely heard from his brother at all unless it was in passing on the ship. That was more than fine with Sasuke – he was still pissed at Itachi. His big brother had been acting like an overprotective control freak the entirety of the cruise so far. Not to mention he lied about being in some sort of trouble just to get me off the ship, Sasuke thought sourly. That was just taking it too far. If Sasuke had pulled the same stint on Itachi then he wouldn’t have heard the end of it.

Even if Itachi only had his best interests at heart, he went overboard sometimes, crossing boundaries and doing so without remorse.

It was especially true concerning Itachi’s insistence with Naruto, which was bordering on obsessive. But still, Sasuke had a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach that he shouldn’t be reacting the way he was around the blonde. It shouldn’t be hectic to think about him, or when he bumped into the Australian from time to time. Was it supposed to put him this much on edge, the presence of one insignificant man that had traipsed into his life?

The click of the switch alerted him to the boiled water, and he left his thoughts to pour some into his mug. The tea bag inside floated to the top, and Sasuke grabbed the string as he began dunking it. He grimaced, watching as the tea began mixing in with the water. Usually he would drink tea brewed in a teapot freshly, but Sasuke had no time to waste on that.

Just as he dumped the used teabag in the bin, he heard a knock on his door, followed by a low murmur, “Sasuke, it’s me. May I come in?”

Leaving his steaming cup of tea on the kitchenette, Sasuke padded over to the front door and unlocked it, opening it wide and stepping aside to let his brother in. Itachi smiled at him as he walked through, and Sasuke stiffened but didn’t return with a smile of his own.

“Was I interrupting?” Closing the door, Sasuke turned and found Itachi having seated himself at the table and looking at him.

Shaking his head in the negative, Sasuke returned to his cup of tea and brought it over to the table, sitting down in his spot – where he had been the majority of the morning. As it was, he was feeling a bit feisty this particular morning. So, Sasuke put down his mug and began to sign, catching Itachi’s attention immediately.

“You’re not going to ask me where I’ve been or who I’ve been with?”

Itachi didn’t reply straight away, despite there being no lack of understanding in his facial features. Sasuke guessed it was something his brother was expecting but at the same time was unexpected to hear. Taking his mug in his hand, he brought it to his lips and blew on the hot beverage before swallowing a small mouthful.

“No.” Was Itachi’s monosyllabic answer, his tone completely neutral.

Sasuke snorted soundlessly, setting down his cup to retort, “What a surprise, I might need to sit down.”

Ignoring the snipe for what it was, Itachi addressed his reason for actually coming, “I wanted to see how the budget is coming along. Do you have all of the files in order?”

Raising a questionable eyebrow at the abrupt subject change, Sasuke nodded his head at the neat pile of papers in the left corner of the table. Itachi said nothing, but picked up the pile and clipped it onto his clipboard.           

“What are you playing at?” Sasuke signed, suspiciously eyeing Itachi across the table.

What was going on? Itachi was acting normal for a change, not forcing conversation on Sasuke or pushing him to do things. It wasn’t like his brother to give up so easily after being so determined.

Itachi didn’t look at him for a while, instead looking around the room calmly. Sasuke was used to not getting instant replies from his brother in some topics of conversation, so he wasn’t frustrated about Itachi’s lack of answer. He would answer, in his own time.

“As you said little brother, I interfere too much with your personal life. I realised after your panic attack how much pressure I was placing onto you, when I believed I was someone you could depend on to have no expectations from you. I’m sorry.”

Pausing in bringing the cup to his lips, Sasuke couldn’t stop the slight widening of his eyes. It wasn’t like Itachi never said sorry, it was just that someone like Itachi had very little cause to apologise for anything, really. So hearing that word from his big brother’s lips was always sort of a startling thing to hear. Itachi’s onyx eyes, so similar to his own, were gazing at him openly – truthfully.

“What about the daily social activities?” Sasuke signed after a minute, looking for some sort of loophole Itachi may have left in which he could trick his little brother again.

“Forget the social activities,” Itachi dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand, and Sasuke was further surprised, “Do what you will with your time on this ship, I am only here to oversee your work after all.”

Silence settled in the room once more, and Sasuke set his cup down as he weighed Itachi’s words in his mind. His brother was basically undoing every action he had taken upon boarding the ship with Sasuke, and admitted to being at fault over the things that had happened thus far. What’s more, Sasuke could detect nothing but truth in what his brother said, and he was wondering just how badly his panic attack had affected Itachi.

Sasuke smothered a wince at the thought, as he knew how terribly Itachi worried whenever he did have a panic attack. At the time, Sasuke had been so angry with him he hadn’t even given his brother’s feelings consideration. A wave of guilt suddenly rushed through him, and his expression must have portrayed his mental state for Itachi smiled and reached his hand across the table, tapping Sasuke’s forehead with his fingers – a quirk he had never shaken from their childhood.

“I don’t want to make you live a life you don’t want to, Sasuke. I was just blinded by my concern for you that I ended up stealing your voice entirely.” The slender fingers then began brushing Sasuke’s bangs away from his face and he looked at his brother’s smiling face with an undeniable feeling of warmth.

“I must go. I’ll have someone return this after I’ve checked over it and printed out multiple copies. I’ll have them slide it under your door.” Coming to a stand elegantly, Itachi nodded at Sasuke and was about to leave. Suddenly, Sasuke found himself on his feet and grabbing at his brother’s shirt for attention.

“Itachi,” Sasuke signed, stepping after his brother hastily.

A sudden desire to tell Itachi everything had burst forth. Sasuke had mulled over everything for days, keeping it all inside his head and simultaneously psyching himself and calming himself down. He missed his brother, he really did. He wanted to tell Itachi about it all. He wanted to tell him the real reason behind his panic attack, about the strange way he felt when he was around Naruto…

“What is it, Sasuke?” Itachi asked, facing his little brother with an impartial expression. Yet it was the lines creased ever so slightly in Itachi’s brow that told Sasuke he was mildly concerned.

Blinking his eyes twice, Sasuke took a step back, shook his head, and brought his hands up in front of himself while looking at the ground, “Nothing, never mind.”

He had just fought tooth and nail to be taken seriously by Itachi. He was an adult and he would figure out his own problems. If he told Itachi any of that, he wouldn’t be able to help himself and become the way he had been before: overbearing and overprotective. No, he could handle this himself.

A hand on his shoulder made him look up, “You can always talk to me, little brother. About anything, please remember that.”

Itachi had signed the words to him, had used their special language just for them to tell Sasuke those words. Swallowing tightly, Sasuke gave a short nod and managed a small smile to curve his lips. Itachi didn’t smile back, but he put his hand back on Sasuke’s shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. Then, he turned on his heel and was out of the room.

Looking back to the table, Sasuke eyed his tea and inwardly cursed as it would have cooled down by now. He would have to reheat it – he was not fond of reheating hot drinks. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply and released the air through his nose. Then he checked his watch and cursed inwardly once more. In less than an hour he would have to be out of his room and perform his check-ups on the public entertainment areas on the ship. Sticking his cup of tea in the microwave, he darted off into his bedroom and began to transform his casual clothes to business casual clothes. If he was lucky enough and didn’t waste time, the check-ups wouldn’t even take that long.

XXX

“Didn’t expect to see you in here!”

A voice he had come to know so well called out jovially to him, and Sasuke grit his teeth. He had been doing so well, and had managed to perform check-ups on every entertainment area so far without much trouble or delay, and had noted what needed to be fixed and what didn’t accordingly. His luck had seemingly run out it appeared, as he was in the music hall now and apparently so was Naruto Uzumaki.

Turning around, as he had been checking the state of the stage and whether it needed a polish, he saw Naruto standing off to the side. His guitar was in hand, and he seemed to have been backstage with the instruments or something.

Whipping out his notepad and pen he carried on his person, Sasuke scribbled his reply and closed the distance to Naruto, showing it to him, “I’m performing a check-up in the musical entertainment hall.”

“Ah, right. Sorry if I’m in the way, I was just jamming solo backstage since nobody else is around.” Naruto’s grin was apologetic, but it was also unapologetic, and Sasuke was stumped on how anyone could pull off such a look – but the proof was right in front of him.

“It’s fine. It won’t take long.” Sasuke scrawled back, and Naruto nodded but didn’t make any moves of going backstage again.

At this point, Sasuke was sure it was some higher power that kept him running into Naruto again and again. Someone up there had to be messing with him for some sick pleasure, and Sasuke decided a dull indifference was the best way to handle this. So, after being certain Naruto had read his message, tucked the notepad and pen away and continued checking over the stage. It didn’t seem too bad, but in a week or two it would definitely need a clean-up.

“Y’know, I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I think learning an instrument has to have been the smartest decision I ever made.” Naruto said conversationally, and Sasuke didn’t deign to reply. He didn’t know why the blonde was bothering with conversation when chance of hearing a reply from Sasuke was slim to none, but nonetheless he let the idiot carry on.

However, on a whim he wanted to try being polite. So, he looked over at Naruto, letting him know he had heard, but looked away just as quickly. He then trotted down the steps and started performing his check of all the tables and chairs. It was oddly amusing to Sasuke when he heard footsteps down the stairs – Naruto was following him. And still talking, actually.

“I mean, I know doing well in school is really important. But I just think that some things in life are worth learning, even if other people think they aren’t worth teaching.” The blonde had pulled up a chair and sat so comfortably in it, one would think he was at home.

Sasuke side-eyed him, but the blonde wasn’t paying him any real attention and didn’t seem to mind if Sasuke wasn’t listening. Despite deciding to be indifferent, Sasuke found himself contemplating Naruto’s words. Strangely enough, they were making sense to the brunette – and even stranger, he was agreeing with them. Sasuke had held a secret fascination with music in his childhood, and had often longed to know what it was like to play an instrument. Going on all those cruises when he was young, what he remembered most was the musical acts he had seen. He had never, admittedly, grown out of the fascination. Had rather buried it, like most things in his life, never to be thought of more than fleetingly.

“People have a real connection with music, y’know. It says the words we’re all too afraid of speaking out loud. Makes us feel like we’re not really alone even when we are.”

Sasuke’s head shot up, and he found himself caught in a gaze with Naruto. That last sentence had went straight through Sasuke’s core, and he couldn’t hide how affected it made him. Naruto seemed to have noticed, and for a moment there was just silence. As if, a brief exchange of inner truths had passed between them. Somehow, Sasuke knew in that moment that Naruto understood what it meant to be alone, just as he did.

His pulse quickened, and Sasuke broke the gaze and looked down at the table he was currently examining. Naruto was still looking at him, Sasuke could tell even without turning around. Ignoring the sweat beading on his forehead and starting in his palms, Sasuke continued checking the rest of the tables and chairs diligently. Naruto didn’t say anything more, and had taken to softly plucking the strings of his guitar in a quiet melody.

Sasuke really liked the sounds, and wasn’t sure why but he could feel himself relax in the presence of the person who had caused him more stress than any acquaintance should.

Soon enough, he had completed his check-up of the musical entertainment hall. That being said, he wasn’t leaving. No, in fact he was moving over to where Naruto was still seated – he hadn’t moved the entire time, still plucking his strings tenderly.

The playing faded out, however, when he sensed Sasuke’s presence in front of him. Raising his head, Naruto’s blue eyes widened at the sight of the notepad in front of his face. He leaned in closer, focusing his eyes on the neat writing.

“Not learning a musical instrument is something I regret.”

Blonde eyebrows rose when he finished reading, and when he glanced up Sasuke was already looking at him, awaiting a reply.

“Really? You never learnt how to play an instrument? Not even the recorder? I thought everyone learnt that in like second grade or something.” Naruto immediately smiled, and Sasuke could practically see the memories flashing across the blue eyes of a time when he played the recorder as a kid.

Moistening his lips, Sasuke wrote his answer down and lifted the pad in front of Naruto’s face once more, “It was never an option for me.”

Those words couldn’t have been truer. His father had been quite adamant that even at a young age Sasuke would adhere to and follow the sensibilities of a sophisticated life. Things such as music were fine for entertainment from time to time, but when it came to future possibilities they were in total a ‘complete and utter lack of energy and time’ – the very same words his father had told him whenever the topic of music came up.

His light-hearted expression falling a bit, Naruto looked at him sympathetically, “Well then, that kinda sucks.”

Sasuke would have nodded his head, if he wasn't so respectful towards his father. He couldn't judge what choices his father made for him when they were made only with Sasuke's best intentions in mind. His father did want him to succeed, and success was very important...

“You wanna learn now? I can teach ya if you want.” 

Doing a double-take as he processed the words, Sasuke blinked at Naruto before reaching for his pen and scrawling down a blunt, "What?”

In a classic light-bulb moment, Naruto straightened in his seat and looked as if he had just come up with an idea that could save mankind…or something. The point was it was ridiculously optimistic, and being the pessimist that he was Sasuke automatically glared in response.

Leaning over his guitar excitedly, cerulean eyes were shimmering as Naruto revealed his great idea, “How about this? I’ll teach you how to play an instrument, and in return you’ll teach me some of that sign language I’ve seen you using.”

Taken aback by the request, Sasuke frowned and not a moment later was writing down what was swirling through his mind, “Why would you want to learn that?”

“Well, I mean, it might be easier than you always scribbling stuff down on a notebook right? Besides, I’ve always wanted to learn it!” Naruto was so brimming with enthusiasm, Sasuke was mildly surprised he wasn’t bouncing in his seat like a child.

Narrowing his eyes in irritation, he put pen to paper and composed his reply to that, “Then why don’t you take a class online or something?”

“Why would I do that when I have you to teach me?” Naruto shrugged, flashing what Sasuke supposed was his “winning” smile at him. Scoffing silently, Sasuke looked away and inspected the other instruments. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt put off when he looked at Naruto when the idiot looked like…that.

“Come on, it’s a fair deal right?” Naruto urged him eagerly, looking like he wanted to tug on Sasuke’s sleeve but opted instead to pout pathetically.

Yet, Sasuke saw a true inclination in his face – the blonde was serious about wanting to learn the sign language. It was something that Sasuke wasn’t used to hearing. He was the one who had to accommodate other people due to his disability, never had someone actively tried to engage themselves with Sasuke with a respect for his way of communicating. Well, except of course for his brother – but Itachi would do anything for him and it Sasuke would do anything for his big brother. This was Naruto, a guy he had only just met, wanting to essentially get to know Sasuke more.

The thought did funny things to his body. He felt unbalanced but stable at the same time, and for some ridiculous reason he felt like blushing. Thankfully, he had repressed the urge and gave a light shake of his head. He realised this was the first conversation he’d had with Naruto that he had willingly initiated himself.

Perhaps, he wasn’t as indifferent as he thought he was.

“Fine.”

One simple word, yet would change so much. Sasuke wasn’t entirely sure what he was signing up for here, but the way Naruto’s mouth pulled into a wide, triumphant smile made him disregard his doubts.

“Sweet! So, which instrument are ya interested in? I know the drums, the flute, the piano, the recorder,” Naruto paused at this point to chuckle, and Sasuke glared again. That was almost certainly at his expense, that idiot.

“Oh, and of course the guitar!” Naruto added, lifting the one in his lap up and smiling again.

Five instruments...that actually was quite an achievement. Even though his father would deem it as frivolous hobby-making, Sasuke could appreciate the dedication, time and effort Naruto and all other musicians put into their craft.

Furrowing his brow, Sasuke considered all the instruments Naruto had listed.

First and foremost, Sasuke thought of the piano, and he knew straight away that he was not even touching that thing. It was no secret that he and his brother were competitive, most of the time in a friendly manner. Yet, even Sasuke knew that if he spent his life dedicating himself to learning the art of the piano, Itachi could still manage to be better than him. He didn’t need another disappointment, and besides he wanted to be better at Itachi at something, so choosing his own instrument was very important.

The drums were completely out of the question. To Sasuke, the drums were just loud circular boxes of annoying noise, not really contributing much but unable to be gotten rid of. Not that he didn’t respect the talent of drumming simultaneously with both hands, but it just didn’t sit well with him.

As for the flute…well, it could be interesting. Mastering the flute was tricky, there were many holes and you had to have fast fingers to keep up the rhythm of the song. It would definitely be impressive to learn. Yet…he just couldn’t stomach the idea of using an instrument that someone else (probably people before them as well) had put on their lips and run their tongues over. Disgusting.

He was not even going to give the recorder a second thought. Somehow, he got the feeling if he picked that one Naruto would have way too much fun with it. He’d probably end up mocking him and laughing his ass off when Sasuke would mess up on some simple song that Naruto had known how to do since he was a kid. So not happening.

Then his thoughts drifted over to the guitar (particularly, the one perched on Naruto’s lap) and he tilted his head to the side. He considered it, remembering that playing a guitar was far more difficult than it first appeared. He would be using both hands, it was nowhere near the mouth area, and he could sit or stand when he played it – that was definitely impressive if one could master it correctly. So without further ado, Sasuke simply pointed to the guitar Naruto was holding.

“The guitar? Really?” Naruto’s voice was full of undiluted shock, as he looked from the guitar to Sasuke as if wondering how the two fit together.

Sasuke felt a crinkle appear between his brows, clearly irritated, and wrote on his notepad to show to Naruto, “Are you surprised?”

To Sasuke’s own surprise, a short chuckle tumbled from Naruto’s lips as he nodded and shrugged, “Yeah, kinda. I thought you’d go for the piano myself.”

Pausing for a moment, Sasuke absorbed the words. He could see why Naruto thought that, seeing as how he didn’t exactly emit a ‘rock n roll’ vibe, and he didn’t much listen to that sort of music.

Swallowing quickly, he was writing before he could think about it, and he turned the notepad to face Naruto.

“Itachi plays the piano.”

Even though their father had condemned music lessons, Itachi never liked to conform to the rules. He had taken lessons for the piano with their cousin, Shisui, back when he was in high school and would supposedly go over to his place to ‘study’. Only to Sasuke had Itachi divulged the truth, and he made his little brother promise not to tell anyone since their father would surely put a stop to it. Of course everything had come out when Itachi had the major falling out with their father all those years ago, and it was no secret now.

And now Naruto was going to give him that look, or judge him, or tell him there is no reason to be jealous of a sibling. Not that Sasuke was jealous! He knew he could achieve things in his own right. It was just that Itachi was so above-level compared to everyone else, it made it hard to consider his own achievements actually achievements at all.

Except, Naruto didn’t do any of that. No, he nodded his head a few times and then said, “Well, you’ve picked pretty much the most awesome instrument there is – in my opinion anyway. The guitar is my absolute favourite, and it was the first one I learnt.”

Sasuke didn’t know what to make of it. Wasn’t Naruto going to say something about Itachi? He looked at the blonde, and found nothing in his eyes that spoke of pity or judgement. He just moved past the moment, and for that Sasuke decided he would do the same.

“How long have you been playing?”

“Ah well, I started at 13 and I’m 24 now, so that’s…uh…”

Squinting his eyes, Naruto frowned and scratched at the back of his head, the perfect impression of thinking hard if Sasuke ever saw one. Too bad it’s wasted on simple arithmetic, the Uchiha thought, unsure of whether he was amused or appalled at the Australian’s complete lack of mathematical skills.

Naruto was still trying to work it out by the time Sasuke had written it down and showed it to him.

“Eleven years.”

“Yeah! That’s it!” Naruto snapped his fingers, grinning sheepishly and Sasuke wasn't sure he had ever known a person that could get so happy over the smallest things.

That same person had spent over a decade learning, playing, mastering an instrument. Sasuke would admit, that was no small feat. Perhaps he may have been a tiny bit impressed at the blonde, but he wasn’t about to tell him that.

“I didn’t think you would be the type to have that much perseverance.” Sasuke wrote, masking a small compliment within an insult. He wondered if Naruto would pick up on it.

“Oi, don’t insult me, bastard!” Naruto exclaimed indignantly.

Sasuke rolled his eyes. Of course not, he’s too dense to pick up on such social cues.

Naruto’s eyes narrowed at Sasuke, and he wasn’t finished as he continued, “When I’m really devoted to something, I’m not gonna just give it up.”

He didn’t know what it was. Perhaps it was the fiercely loyal tone coming through his words, or perhaps the way those blue eyes flashed determinedly, but in that moment Sasuke found himself believing Naruto. This marked a distinct silence, in which Sasuke was silent and Naruto was looking at him, waiting for another comeback, or challenge to his words.

But Sasuke’s hands were still. He thought about himself in comparison to Naruto for one whimsical moment. Could he say the same about himself? Could he argue that he, Sasuke, would never give up on something he wanted?

Could he really say that, when the fact remained that he was mute?

As soon as the question entered his mind, countless others started flowing in, as if some sort of a wall had broken down. Questions that he had known along some line were always there, but were now front and centre of his mind.

Was he simply unable to speak because of the results of his treatment? Or was he just telling himself that to escape from the reality that he, possibly, was cowering in the face of confronting his disability?

“So, when do you wanna start?”

The sound of Naruto’s voice stopped all the questions, and made him refocus his gaze and look at the blonde. He had a curious look in his eyes, and Sasuke inwardly scolded himself for blanking out like that. In public. In front of Naruto Uzumaki, no less. How embarrassing.

Composing himself in a manner that was much practiced, Sasuke held Naruto’s gaze with his usual stoic countenance. His ability to intimidate people without even speaking was something Sasuke had worked hard to achieve, and he was proud to say he had earned respect because of that. Yet, when he applied this to Naruto, it was useless. It was as if he was just another person to Naruto, of no less or more importance than the blonde himself, or anyone else for that matter. And Sasuke didn’t know how he felt about that.

Inhaling a breath to reign in his frustration, he put pen to paper and when he finished, ripped off the page from the notepad and held it out to Naruto. After looking at him for a moment longer, Naruto’s gaze shifted down and he reached his hand out to take the paper. Their fingers grazed against each other’s for the shortest moment, yet it felt like the longest time.

“Thursday, 2pm. Meet here, don’t be late.”

Sasuke selected a period of time he knew they were both free of any responsibilities. After all, he was the one who coordinated the schedule of the entire ship, so naturally he was aware of Naruto’s shift times and his own meetings and responsibilities.

After reading the paper, Naruto’s head tilted to one side, and he looked up at Sasuke with a questioning expression, “Does it have to be at 2? That’s kinda early, right? I feel like 3 in the arvo would be better.”

Sasuke didn’t have to think about that as he wrote down his answer, “2pm or nothing. I’m not waiting around all day.”

A frown formed on the tanned face, frustration starting to seep through his face, “Geez, it’s your way or the highway, huh? What if I already made plans during that time?”

“Cancel them.” Sasuke wrote without hesitation, and Naruto snorted at that, shaking his head.

“You’re really somethin’ else, you know that?” Naruto glared at him, and it was a sight to see.

For someone who usually smiled so much, the sight of anything else on his face was oddly comical to Sasuke. Nonetheless, he was not changing his arrangements now that they had been made. People were to accommodate around him, not the other way around.

“This was your idea. Or have you changed your mind now?” Sasuke inquired, raising an eyebrow for emphasis, as he revealed his reply to the blonde.

“What – no! I mean, it’s just that – ugh!” Naruto spluttered, face scrunched up as he tugged at his hair angrily. He’s so easy to rile, Sasuke mused inwardly.

It took a moment for Naruto to calm himself down enough to answer. When he did, it was with annoyance as he pointed a finger at Sasuke, “You could appreciate my personal life a bit more, y’know. Just because I’m not running the ship or anything, it doesn’t make my responsibilities or plans any less important!”

Onyx eyes widened involuntarily at the outburst. It had been a long time since someone had addressed him so forwardly. Naruto was mad at him, and he wasn’t even trying to mask it. Sasuke pursed his lips in irritation, considering that the blonde had some nerve speaking to him like that. He was Naruto’s boss, and right now he wasn’t being very respectful. Yet, in the same token, Sasuke pondered on whether he was really as shallow as Naruto made him sound.

His teeth clenched together, and he tightened his grip on the pen and notepad. This was why he always felt so uncomfortable around Naruto Uzumaki! He made him question things, made him stop and reconsider whether his actions were correct, and he hated that. Things were the way they were, and that was that! Sasuke didn’t need all those questions floating around inside his mind, he knew what he was doing.

A maddened sigh was dropped from Naruto’s mouth, and he let his head fall backwards, before rolling it from side to side. Sasuke found himself looking at the man’s throat for some reason, watching his Adam’s apple bob and a queasy feeling erupted in his stomach. Thankfully, Naruto started speaking and Sasuke forgot about it for the time being.

“Look, I have nothing on Thursday. It just would’ve been nice if you could’ve asked me first, okay?” Sasuke didn’t have anything to reply with, so he settled for looking at the blonde, a cool expression that made him appear unaffected gracing his features.

If Naruto was waiting for an answer, he soon realised he wasn’t going to get one and sighed again, a quieter one this time.

“I gotta go now, believe it or not I have things to do too.” Naruto’s sarcasm was subpar at best, but Sasuke didn’t think the blonde would appreciate an evaluation on that right now.

Having gathered all his belongings, Naruto faced Sasuke once more, neither a smile nor a frown on his face, “I’ll see you Thursday.”

Sasuke barely nodded before Naruto had turned in the opposite direction and began heading out the door.

The brunette had never met someone who was capable of making him feel so many emotions in just one single exchange. It was the same every damn time they interacted!

Stuffing the pen and notepad inside his jacket pocket, Sasuke squared his shoulders and left the room with his head held high. He wouldn’t let the blonde affect him so easily next time. He was Sasuke Uchiha, he could handle anything anybody threw at him and he would do so with irrefutable logic and grace that left everyone wondering how.

Until then, he would try and ignore the tingling that was still in his fingers, the brush of another’s against them still fresh and the warmth they left behind still lingering.

XXX

Later the same day, sometime in the evening, Sasuke had sat himself in one of the less crowded bar areas, and was nursing his second drink – a scotch on the rocks. Sasuke wasn’t any sort of connoisseur when it came to alcoholic beverages, but he knew what he liked and that wasn’t a very limited list. He could drink almost anything without complaint, so long as it was strong. He was by no means an alcoholic, though. He just drank whenever his mood deemed it fit, and that was the situation at the moment. 

He was drinking steadily, and more to soothe himself rather than work himself up. Even though some hours had passed since seeing Naruto, Sasuke still had a jittery feeling that he had come to associate with the blonde. It was like his senses were hyperaware, a slightly panicky, paranoid feeling overtaking his mental state. Drinking like this calmed him down, made him not so focused on his internal state.

It was a funny thing, Sasuke mused, that he had agreed to Naruto’s proposed deal. Even though Sasuke had always harboured a hidden desire to know a musical instrument, he didn’t think he’d be so impulsive as he was in agreeing. Honestly, he could have had some professional guitarist tutoring him when he returned to Konoha – one that certainly didn’t have such a ridiculous accent and obnoxious personality. He idly wondered whether he should cancel the whole thing, and tell the idiot he had changed his mind.

But no, Sasuke’s pride was much too big for him to ever consider that option. If he backed out then Naruto would most certainly want to know why, and then accuse Sasuke of this and that. No, he would do this. Just because he and Naruto were doing a mutual exchange, it didn’t have to change their relationship.

Despite the fact that Naruto was learning sign language, partially for Sasuke’s sake. Creasing his brow, pale fingers gripped the glass more tightly and he took a long sip. That didn’t matter, who even cared what the idiot’s motives were? As long as he kept up his side of the bargain, Sasuke couldn’t care less.

The moment he placed his glass back down on the counter, he sensed movement beside him. Turning his head, he looked just in time to see a familiar woman take the seat beside him.

“H-Hello, Sasuke. We’ve met before, but I d-don’t know if you remember me?” The woman tucked stray locks of her shimmering, bluish hair behind her ear, smiling timidly as she made herself comfortable in the chair.

Sasuke did, in fact, know who she was. Her stutter for a start, was very distinct and could be traced back to her after hearing her speak once. Additionally, he remembered the woman being in close relations with Naruto Uzumaki, and that other annoying Australian with the wild hair and cheek tattoos. He was surprised she decided to sit with him, given they hadn’t really had much interaction the previous time they were in each other’s company.

Reaching for one of the napkins on the bar (he didn’t have any pages left in his notepad, wasted on his last conversation with Naruto), he took out a pen and wrote out a reply. Then, he slid the napkin across the table, and the woman leaned down curiously to peer at it.

“I do. Your name is Hinata. We met some nights ago.”

“That’s m-me.” She smiled sweetly at him, nodding her confirmation that yes, she was indeed Hinata.

Taking the napkin back, Sasuke wrote neatly underneath his previous words before pushing it back to her, “Is there something you need?”

Her eyes widened, as if startled by the words, and she blushed faintly, “I just wanted to t-talk to you. Y-You don’t have any company.”

Sasuke didn’t have to look around to know that he was sitting in a secluded area – people were there when he sat down, but had eventually left when they had tried to make conversation with him and found themselves basically ignored.

“That’s because I don’t want company.” He replied, and watched as Hinata’s hopeful expression fell.

“Oh, I’m s-sorry. If I’m bothering you, I can go.” She stuttered out awkwardly, tugging at the hem of her blouse uncertainly as she looked at him.

Sasuke knew he was a bore, a tight-ass, a stick in the mud – whatever you wanted to call it. Everything that was dull and uninteresting, that was him, Sasuke Uchiha. People had told him enough times, to his face and behind his back, that he just accepted his personality was nowhere near as attractive as his physical appearance to other people. When people were in his company, they usually tired of him very quickly. Sasuke had accepted this over time, and therefore saved them the trouble in the first place and just secluded himself. It was easier that way.

However, he didn’t find Hinata’s presence annoying. She seemed to know when to be quiet, and didn’t push him for conversation like so many others. From what he could discern, her motives seemed to be sincere, so he decided he would let her stay. If she proved to become an annoyance, then he would simply leave.

Raising his hand, Sasuke waved it slightly and shook his head, as if to say, “It’s fine, I don’t mind.”

Inferring Sasuke’s meaning from his gestures, Hinata’s expression perked up once more, and she sent him a grateful smile before softly calling the bartender and ordering a glass of wine. They didn’t have any further communication, sitting peacefully in each other’s company. Sasuke couldn’t help but think how different it felt to have someone with him like this. It reminded him of being with Juugo, which in turn made Sasuke think of Suigetsu and Karin. His lips downturned, and he realised he missed his friends. He would have to skype them soon – he was sure they would be ecstatic to see him.

The bartender slid Hinata’s glass of wine across the counter, to which she politely thanked him and took a sniff, before daintily sipping at it.

“S-So, how are you enjoying the cruise?” She asked, putting her drink to the side and looking at Sasuke once more.

Sasuke shrugged in response, to which Hinata nodded. Deciding to expand, Sasuke reached once more for the napkin and wrote, “I’ve been on a lot of cruises so what excites others doesn’t faze me.”

“R-Really? But there must be s-something that’s still interesting about them.” Hinata stated, clearly thinking in her mind about all the things one could do on a cruise.

She sat up straighter, her eyes shining as a thought struck her, “You can always meet n-new people on cruises.”

Sasuke stared for a moment, then inclined his head, giving her that. It was true, even when he was young Sasuke had never once seen anyone twice (unless of course they were his father’s business associates or employees). It was a great way to socialise – Sasuke almost laughed at the irony of the statement. In his case, this career path was anything but desirable. Yet here he was, making the best of it.

“Like, f-for example you and N-Naruto,” Hinata continued, a small smile on her mouth when she said the blonde’s name.

Deadpanning, Sasuke’s response was instant and as soon as he was done, he pushed the napkin at Hinata, “He’s not my friend. He’s annoying.”

To his surprise, Hinata giggled at his reply. Raising an eyebrow at her, she blinked and another blush filled her cheeks.

“Naruto is a g-good person, even if he is s-silly sometimes,” Her voice was warm when she spoke of him, and Sasuke wished they could have a change of subject. He had done enough thinking about Naruto Uzumaki for today. From his expression, Hinata must have guessed along the lines of what he was thinking, and continued speaking.

“I know he can be a bit much, sometimes. B-But he really is the type of person that you find yourself wanting to be around all the t-time. Everyone w-wants to be the center of his attention, he’s like a magnet. You can’t help but be a-attracted to him.” Blushing darkly at the last sentence, Hinata timidly picked up her glass and took a sip.

Sasuke didn’t need to ask to know that Hinata had very strong feelings regarding Naruto. Again he speculated on the nature of their relationship. What was going on there?

But then there was that other guy, Kiba, was that his name? That other night, the two seemed quite close…

Picking up his own drink, Sasuke let the thoughts float away. Not like it was any of his business anyway.

“How long have you known him?”

He wasn’t curious, he was just making conversation. Even though he wanted to change the subject, he felt to do so would be rude to someone like Hinata.

“O-Oh, it was back at university. That was when I met Naruto and K-Kiba.”

Flipping the napkin over for more writing space, Sasuke inquired, “Where did you attend university?”

“In Melbourne.”

“That’s in Australia.”

Hinata smiled, yet her eyes carried a hint of sadness in them, “Yes. I am originally from Okinawa, but I wanted to study abroad. The confines of my f-family were becoming a bit too much.”

A sudden, slight amount of sympathy filled Sasuke briefly as he considered Hinata. He was correct in his assumptions earlier that she was from a prestigious family as well. For that reason, Sasuke sympathized with her struggles. The intense pressure, the endless expectations, always having to uphold to family name above all else. Although Sasuke loved his family more than anything else and would sacrifice everything for them, he couldn’t deny the resentment he harboured towards them. Every child resented their parents in some way, no matter how big or small.

Extending his hand forwards, he slid the napkin back towards himself, then slowly wrote out a reply. When he was done, he picked it up and handed it to a mildly startled Hinata.

“I understand.”

He watched her expression as she read the words, and saw the raw emotion in her face as she looked up at him. Then, a sincere smile curved her lips as she nodded her head, her eyes glistening but Sasuke ignored it. No point bringing attention to it, or he would just embarrass the woman more – a fairly easy task.

When she had gathered herself, she cleared her throat and spoke once more, “I only stayed for t-two years, and then my father wanted me to come back home. As heiress of the Hyuuga Industries, I have m-many duties.”

It made sense. In their types of families, it was essential not to leave the area for too long – familial responsibilities. Not that Sasuke had ever considered it, but his parents would never have allowed him to spend a year of his degree studying overseas. The risks were too high, his responsibilities were getting heavier and larger in amount, and he needed experience that would be useful to him, or so his father had always said to him.

He blinked out of his thoughts when he heard Hinata’s soft voice was speaking again, and looked over at her as he heard her speak.

“It’s why I was so sh-shocked to bump into those two again. They haven’t ch-changed though. N-Naruto is still Naruto, and K-Kiba is–” Hinata then cut herself off with a hushed squeak, it was so quiet Sasuke wasn’t sure if he had really heard it or was imagining things.

The woman had a hand over her mouth, and her cheeks were rosy once more. Drawing his brows together, Sasuke realised she had stopped because she was about to say something potentially embarrassing – more than likely about her feelings.

“A-Anyway! Let’s make a t-toast, Sasuke!” She professed all of a sudden, her glass up in the air and moving closer towards the brunette,

Blinking confusedly for a moment, he was about to question Hinata’s odd behaviour, but upon seeing her pleading eyes and darkly flushed cheeks, sighed noiselessly and reached for his own glass. Lifting it up, he raised an eyebrow as he awaited to hear what they were toasting.

“To new beginnings! T-To new friends, as well!” Her expression changed now, to quietly eager and Sasuke found himself not entirely detesting the company of this woman.

Nodding his head in agreement, she beamed at him and they clinked glasses together.

For the rest of the time they drank their drinks, it passed in companionable silence. Sasuke was oddly mollified to have found someone who didn’t make him feel stressed out or paranoid, or anything else along those lines. And it also seemed that Hinata held no secret desire to be with Sasuke in a romantic or sexual way, and the brunette had already seen with his own eyes that the woman had a love life of some sorts already going on – however complicated it may have been.

When they had both finished their drinks, Hinata looked down at her watch and gasped softly at the time, “I have to g-go now. I’m going to watch the music entertainment tonight. Kiba and Naruto are p-performing.”

Fondness was laced in her tone as she said their names, and she began looking through her purse to make sure she wasn’t missing anything. Giving a small, satisfied smile, she looked back up and bit her lip, and just when Sasuke was about to ask if she had something to say she beat him to it.

“W-Would you like to come as well?” She asked, her gaze on his but he could see she was fiddling with her fingers. Most likely a nervous tick she’s acquired in childhood.

Sasuke was about to shake his head, but thought better of it and opted instead for a written reply as he reached for the napkin one last time.

“No, thank you. I have other business to attend to.”

Hinata wasn’t crestfallen or disappointed with his response, smiling warmly at him as she got to her feet, “Th-That’s okay. It was nice talking with you. Hopefully I’ll s-see you around again.”

In response, Sasuke felt a small smirk tug at his lips. That was enough to have Hinata’s smile widen, and she thanked him for his company before turning around and heading out of the room. Just as she was at the door, she turned back and gave him a little wave. Sasuke was too surprised to even think of returning it, but Hinata was already gone before he could do anything else.

This day was certainly unexpected, but for the first time in a while Sasuke felt like he was lighter.

XXX

“Don’t tell me you’re in la-la land again over him?” Ino rolled her eyes, but grinned mischievously as she caught sight of the pink hue filling her friend’s cheeks.

Sakura pursed her lips together tightly, but didn’t avert her eyes from the figure she was currently staring at. Across the bar, sitting so handsomely on a stool, was the one and only Sasuke Uchiha. Sighing dreamily, she admired the way his silky raven hair fell in front of his perfectly sculpted face from time to time, and the way his gorgeous lips parted whenever he brought the glass up to take a drink. God, he was breathtaking!

Ino and herself had come out for some drinks, to unwind after a heavy working day on the cruise. Sakura loved her job as an actress on the cruise circuit, even though she wished for something more in the future she was content with what she had now. Even more so, since the arrival of Sasuke. She had been obsessed over the youngest son of the prestigious Uchiha family for the past four years, even before he had blown the press away with the bombshell that he could no longer speak. Sakura kept up with any and all news regarding the Uchiha family, and she still couldn’t believe the man she had fantasized about for the longest time was within walking distance!

Photographs and video footage didn’t do Sasuke justice, Sakura had decided. Because once you saw him in the flesh, it was impossible to really capture how gorgeous he really was. Every small detail that people would simply gloss over in a magazine, was so clearly visible in real life. She really was in love with Sasuke, and wanted nothing more than to make him hers. It didn’t matter that he was mute, and would probably never speak a word to her. What mattered was being the person Sasuke could rely on and who could make him feel normal. Sakura so badly wanted to be that person. To cherish him and give him every happiness she could in life. He deserved so much to smile.

She was jolted out of her admiration, however, by a sharp dig in her ribs. Breaking her gaze on Sasuke, her eyes flicked to Ino’s and she gave her friend a disgruntled glare. It rolled of Ino’s back like water off a duck’s.

“Honestly, Sakura, why don’t you just go up and talk to him?” She said, waving her drink around and finally settling it in midair in the direction of Sasuke, looking pointedly at her best friend.

Sakura sighed, letting her head drop a little as she brushed off any dirt and fluff on her skin-tight jeans, “It’s not that simple, Ino. You know how tongue-tied I get around the guys I like.”

Unfortunately, it was true. For all her bravado, Sakura really was embarrassingly bad when it came to talking to men she was interested in. It had started in high school, so she assumed she’d naturally grow out of it. Yet here she was, half a decade later and still hopeless with her love life.

Satisfied with the clean state of her jeans, she looked up and caught Ino’s questioning gaze, “It’s worse since he can’t even speak up and reject me and I know I’ll just make a total fool of myself in front of him,” Sakura continued, swirling her straw around in her drink and unable to help the way her eyes drifted back in Sasuke’s direction.

She heard her best friend scoff amusedly, and she could already picture without looking at her the way Ino would be pointing her finger and shaking her head, “You can’t let a little thing like nerves get in your way of something you want! More specifically: get in the way of what would be an amazing fuck.”

“That’s your philosophy for everything, you crazy bitch! If everything went your way, you’d be fucking that cheesecake right now!” Sakura said, nodding at the half-eaten piece of cake in front of Ino, which caused the blonde to look down at it too. Her eyes widened, she looked back up at Sakura and then laughed at the absurdity of her best friend’s words. Not long after, Sakura broke down in giggles and soon the two were caught up in their laughter.

“I don’t even know if he likes me though,” Sakura sighed forlornly, now chewing on her straw in her drink, “I mean, when I went up to him before he didn’t even smile at me. Just stared at me with that infamous poker face of his.”

“Well, duh! He’s gotta be playing hard to get! Or, or! Maybe he’s just shy and can’t express his feelings right.” Ino encouraged, nodding her head vigorously.

She too was obsessed over Sasuke, but merely over the idea of him. She had told Sakura she only fantasized about him so much because she knew she would never have him, and Ino was okay with that. Said it made him seem untouchable, which was so fucking hot, according to her.

Sakura on the other hand, hadn’t been able to shake the man from her mind ever since she had laid eyes on him. He was so…mysterious. There was something about him that just screamed of a deep, dark misunderstood soul and Sakura couldn’t deny how much it enticed her. To get close to him, to see inside of him and understand him the way nobody else could.

“I don’t know. I really don’t want to lose my chance to be with him, but I don’t want to mess things up either.”

Sakura knew if she was persistent enough, and brazen enough, she could possibly break through Sasuke’s barriers and get close to him. It was just that he was so intimidating, the way he could stare a person down with no words whatsoever. She so desperately wanted to please the man, to make him look at her in a way different from all the rest.

“Look, you’ve been all over him for years. Now that he’s here, right in front of you, on the same cruise at the same time – don’t you think that’s fate?” Ino questioned, putting her drink down and returning to her cheesecake, all the while still shooting Sakura looks of reassurance.

The pink-haired woman straightened in her chair, watching as Sasuke stretched his arms up high, his head tilting back slightly in the stretch. She swallowed tightly, imagining what it would be like to press kisses up and down that neck, and to have those arms wrap around her tightly.

It was true though, what Ino had said. It was a strange coincidence that she took this cruise job in place of another actress who had dropped out, and then found herself in the same space as Sasuke Uchiha. This had to be more than a coincidence, her green eyes sparkling as thoughts filled her head.

Nodding, she took a long sip from her drink before replying, “Yeah, you’re right Ino. I can’t let this opportunity pass me by, this is my chance to show Sasuke my true feelings!”

“That sounds more like my best friend talking!” Ino grinned brightly at her, and Sakura returned one of her own.

“From now on, I’m going to make Sasuke see me for who I am.” She declared, and the two woman clinked glasses in agreement before taking a sip. Her eyes were once again on Sasuke, who seemed to be starting to leave. Her spirits fell slightly, but she promised herself next time she saw him she would make her move.

Yet, somehow, through the lust-filled haze she associated with Sasuke Uchiha, she could sense something deeper. He was hiding something. She couldn’t say what it was, but there was no doubting the aura the raven-haired man emitted. And if Sakura was sure of anything, it was that she would be the one to discover what exactly it was that Sasuke hid behind his ten feet tall walls.