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Applying Torque

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After Itachi murdered their entire family, Sasuke went to so many funerals that he soon knew Konohagakure's funeral rites by heart. They were not as comforting as the Hokage seemed to think that they should be.

The strangers who came to grieve for his kinsmen or support him were a parade of faceless, dark-robed masses that murmured among themselves, loomed over Sasuke, and occasionally mouthed empty condolences to him. Sasuke, who felt small and exposed and ashamed, did not care. He was too busy reminding himself that his continued existence was not a shameful mockery but rather an opportunity for vengeance on the murderer of his clan.

Planning his clan's vengeance on that man meant recognizing the nearly unbridgeable gap between their skills and despairing. Itachi had been both the epitome of their clan's skills and Father's favorite. Sasuke (and his slow development as a shinobi) had been barely acceptable to their father, regardless of the things that Mother had said.

It was impossible not to despair.

Even after a day full of funerals, in the crushing depths of his own misery, and surrounded by mournful strangers, Sasuke noticed the man and his son. They were painfully familiar faces in a sea of strangers.

The man was short and slim with dark, messy hair and a dark band around his throat. Despite the thick black frames of his glasses, the stranger looked a lot like Sasuke's mother. Nestled against the man's chest was a sleeping baby with rounded cheeks and messy, dark hair. The man's body language was all wrong but he and the baby nevertheless looked like Sasuke's cousins.

I'm not alone! Sasuke thought, his heart leaping in his chest. Itachi missed them!

The Hokage's words droning in his ears, Sasuke kept his eyes firmly fixed on his cousins. When the funeral rites ended, people either began to move toward Sasuke or head back to the village. Panicking, Sasuke threw himself into the crowd, shoving and elbowing himself towards where the man and his baby had been.

"Hey there," a man said and a slim hand landed lightly on Sasuke's shoulder. His accent was odd. "Slow down."

His heart pounding in his throat, Sasuke looked up and into a pair of bright green eyes.

Sasuke burst into tears.

Humiliated, Sasuke tried to wrench himself away from the man only to somehow end up leaning against the man's chest with a lean arm holding him tight. Next to Sasuke, the baby was bawling.

"Sssshhh, it'll be alright," murmured the man. "I promise."

Outraged, Sasuke banged a fist against the man's hip but it was too much work to pull away or explain that nothing was ever going to be alright ever again. Sasuke ran out of tears long before he finished crying.

Later, when Sasuke had it within him to start paying attention again, nearly all of the mourners had left except for the Yamanaka clan head and the Hokage... and the stranger that he was leaning against, of course. Next to Sasuke, the baby was tiredly whimpering to himself, despite the way that the stranger was gently joggling him. The stranger's warm arm felt shamefully good against Sasuke's shoulders, even if he was not a long-lost Uchiha.

"We didn't have a chance before the funeral to discuss your claim on the Uchiha name," the Hokage said mildly.

"Or the Yamanaka name," said the Yamanaka clan head with a frown.

"I don't want either surname," the stranger said quickly. "I'm used to being a Potter. And I quite like it. I just want to look after Sasuke."

It was an unpleasant shock to realize that the Hokage and the Yamanaka seemed to seriously think that he and the stranger were actually related.

"He's not an Uchiha!" Sasuke snapped, finally finding the strength to push away from the stranger's solid warmth. "His eyes are all wrong!"

Ignoring the looks that were being exchanged between the Hokage and the clan head, the stranger said, "I have my mother's eyes but my father had eyes like yours."

"He did not!" Sasuke snapped. "Uchiha only live in Konohagakure."

He forced himself to ignore the fact that Itachi lived anywhere but in Konohagakure.

"There was something wrong with his eyes," the stranger patiently explained. "His parents put him up for adoption in a distant land and marked him as a stillbirth within their clans. He was adopted by another clan, later married a girl with green eyes, and here I am."

"No, no, no," Sasuke said, shaking his head as he backed away from the stranger. "You're not an Uchiha! Your eyes are all wrong! Go away!"

So saying, Sasuke turned and ran away. He ran all the way home, hopping over kunai and stepping around thickets of senbon by rote. Gnats and flies gently bumped against his face and hands and were sucked into his mouth on his every gasp breath. He looked neither left nor right or even at his feet, afraid of seeing rust-colored stains on the walls, in the paving stones, or flaking away among the dust.

At home, Sasuke climbed through his bedroom window to avoid the front door that he had come through on That Night, the entryway from which he had heard his parents' choked gurgles, and the main room in which Itachi had - Itachi had -

Shuddering, Sasuke dived into the narrow space between the corner of his room and the side of his bed. As safe as he was ever going to get, Sasuke wrapped his arms around his bent legs, buried his face against the fronts of his knees, and breathed hot breaths against the thin fabric of his yukata. Each breath warmed his knees and thighs, their cadence like sobs.

Sasuke was still there, breathing, when he heard someone clumsily break into his home. The little thefts from his relatives' houses were bad enough but the idea of looters stealing from his own home was unendurable. Outrage propelled Sasuke out of his corner, across the room, and down the hallway, past the dreaded main room, to the entryway.

The Hokage was waiting for Sasuke in the entryway, his sandals still on his feet. The Sarutobi was looking about himself inquisitively. Sasuke felt his whole body flush with shame and embarrassment. Even though the entryway was clean, if a bit dusty, Sasuke knew that someone standing in it could see some of the dried rivulets of blood creeping out from underneath the main room's sliding door.

It had been the rivulets of blood, fresh and crimson, that had first caught Sasuke's attention on that day. And the sounds -

"Sasuke," said the old man and Sasuke startled, his eyes darting around for an Itachi-shaped shadow. When he saw no one but the old man, Sasuke allowed himself to relax into the Hokage's friendly expression and genial tone. "I'd like to talk to you about what happened at the funeral today."

Sasuke immediately tensed up again. Crossing his arms over his chest, Sasuke said harshly, "He was a liar. I don't want to see him ever again."

"Well, that's a bit unfortunate," replied the Hokage. "Because I've invited him to move in with you."

 

 

Later, Sasuke would be embarrassed about his temper tantrum but, at the time, it seemed like a perfectly valid expression of his feelings. In fact, Sasuke was so embarrassed by his behavior that he said nothing when the Hokage left and returned with the not-Uchiha. The little kid was toddling at the man's side, one small hand clutching onto his father's fingers. The man smiled at Sasuke, a small, awkward curve of his lips that reminded Sasuke of the way that Mother had smiled at Itachi in the weeks before Itachi - before Itachi -

Sasuke shoved down the memories of blood and terror and warmth running down his legs. He looked away from the stranger, refusing to look at anything that reminded him of that night or Itachi or his dead family, not that the stranger was really a Uchiha or anything.

"Hullo again," said the stranger. "I'm Harry and this is Teddy."

In an imitation of his father, Sasuke crossed his arms and grunted. He stared as hard as he could at the nearest wall's white plaster.

"It's nice to meet you," the other added.

Sasuke glared at the annoyingly stupid wall.

"I'll leave you two to get acquainted," the Hokage said and, with a pat to the stranger's shoulder, he left.

"Have you had tea yet?" asked the stranger.

Rather than answering the not-Uchiha, Sasuke turned on his heel and stormed back to his bedroom. He slammed his bedroom door behind himself.

How could the Hokage do this to me? Sasuke seethed as he stormed across his room then back again to the bookcase near his door. From one of the shelves, he roughly snatched up the pouch filled with practice kunai. They're not Uchiha!

Sasuke stormed back across his room. He slammed up his bedroom window's sash.

I won't accept them! Sasuke vowed as he noisily tumbled through his open window and onto the back porch.

Sasuke spent a long time on the dock, working off his anger until he was too tired to move. It made him feel better and, when he was lucky, left him too tired to dream.

Sasuke hated dreaming.

He was just beginning to drift off to sleep when someone's steps on the dock set the ancient wood to creaking and swaying.

Itachi! Sasuke thought, his breath catching in his throat. His muscles spasmed and Sasuke forced himself to sit up.

The figure standing further down the dock was all wrong. It was taller and broader than Itachi and had short, messy hair like Sasuke. Moonlight gleamed off of a pair of glasses.

Relief made Sasuke weak. He flopped back onto the dock, his heart still pounding, and shouted, "Go away!" The man's footsteps thumped on the dock, coming closer. Scowling, Sasuke raised his voice and yelled, "Go away!"

Ignoring him entirely, the stranger leaned down and scooped Sasuke up into his arms.

"Put me down!" snapped Sasuke, while half-heartedly struggling against the stranger's grasp. Foolishly, the not-Uchiha was not trying to restrain Sasuke or control his arms. It would have been easy enough to hit the man in a crippling location or stab his fake cousin with a practice kunai, wounding or killing him.

Even though he knew exactly where to hit the man and his kunai pouch was within easy reached, Sasuke did not even try to seriously hurt the not-Uchiha. Instead, Sasuke contented himself with weakly punching at the man's shoulders.

"You missed tea," the stranger said, his tone agreeable. He hitched Sasuke higher against his chest. "And now, it's nearly your bedtime."

"I wasn't hungry," Sasuke said sulkily. He fiercely ignored his stomach's rumbling at the mention of food. "And I would've been fine on the dock. I slept there last night." And the night before that too. In fact, Sasuke had slept there most nights since That Night. Fiercely, Sasuke added, "And you're not my father! You're not anything to me!"

"Do you not want to sleep in the house?" the man asked, his tone worried. "We could live somewhere else if you want."

"No!" Sasuke shouted. He began to struggle more earnestly. "I'm going to live in my house!"

"Okay," the man agreed before Sasuke could grab one of his kunai and stab him. "I just wanted to make sure that you felt comfortable here."

"It's my home," Sasuke said, his voice small even to his own ears. "Where else would I feel comfortable?"

He steadfastly ignored the fact that he had not set foot in the main room since That Night and that he was climbing through windows to avoid the front door that he had come through on That Night and the backdoor that Itachi had left through after - after murdering their parents, their entire clan, and sparing Sasuke.

Sasuke had not even been worth killing in Itachi's eyes.

The stranger made a noncommittal noise and hitched Sasuke up again, breaking Sasuke's miserable reverie. For that reason alone, Sasuke stopped being difficult and leaned against that man's shoulder. The not-Uchiha carried Sasuke into the house through the backdoor, through Mother's kitchen, down the hall, and into the bathroom. The stranger gently deposited Sasuke near the bathtub, which seemed to be filled with mounds of fluffy white bubbles.

"What did you do to the tub?" Sasuke demanded, horrified.

"It's bubble bath," the stranger said as he put a folded towel on a stool near the tub. "Haven't you ever had one?"

"No!"

"Teddy likes them," the stranger said cheerfully. "They're quite nice. And they're very relaxing. I thought that you might like one."

"You can't put anything but water in the tub!"

"Why not?"

"You just can't!"

The stranger stared at Sasuke, studying him with his unnerving green eyes for a long moment before he shrugged and said, "Okay. But try the bubble bath tonight, anyway. You might like it."

Sasuke favored the man with his most scornful look. "I'm not a baby!"

"Of course not," the man agreed. He looked suspiciously close to smiling. "I'll see you when you get done."

Left to his own devices, Sasuke quickly stripped, showered, and scrubbed off. Then, because he was in a hurry to get done, Sasuke slipped into the tub with all of those stupid bubbles. The water was wonderfully warm.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

"Sasuke? Are you okay?"

"Fine!" Sasuke shouted, sitting up. The water had gone cold and his fingers were wrinkly. He had stayed in the bubble bath much longer than he had intended.

"Good! Your meal is on the kitchen table."

Sasuke got out of the tub, sloshing water over the side in his haste. He wrapped himself in his clean towel, dumped his dirty clothes into the dirty clothes hamper, and cracked the bathroom door open. He could hear that man talking, his voice rising and falling from behind the door to Itachi's room. It sounded like he was telling the little boy a story.

Ignoring the way his stomach tightened and ached - they were in Itachi's room! - Sasuke slunk down the hallway as quietly as he could. He was not silent the way a ninja should be but he was definitely quieter than the stranger or the kid were.

Mother always said not to compare himself to the bottom of the barrel.

Sasuke immediately cast the comparison out of his mind.

When he was in his room, Sasuke dropped his towel and changed into clean underwear and his pajamas. Then he went to inspect the kitchen table. On it was a sandwich on a plate, a bowel filled with orange broth that had what looked like chunks of chicken and vegetables in it, a sake bowl filled with little green peas, and a glass of pear juice.

Sasuke only ate the food because he was hungry and he was sick of eating instant ramen. The peas and sandwich, which had thin strips of ham and cheese in it, were okay but Sasuke really enjoyed the soup. It tasted like there was tomato juice in the broth and there were definitely tasty little chunks of tomato among the bits of chicken and vegetable.

Sasuke loved tomatoes.

He did not, however, drink any of the pear juice. Mother and Itachi had always liked sweet things.

When he was finished eating, Sasuke carefully stacked his used dishes next to the sink.

"Don't worry about that," the stranger said as he entered the kitchen. "You go brush your teeth and get ready for bed. I'll do the dishes."

Since Sasuke had discovered that he hated doing dishes, he chose not to argue with the man's offer.

Sasuke was laying in bed and half asleep when someone knocked on his door, startling him badly. For one terrifying second, Sasuke thought that Itachi had come back to murder him too before that strange man said, "Good night, Sasuke."

Sasuke rolled over, refusing to say anything in response.

He fell asleep before he could decide if he hated himself more for being the only Uchiha that Itachi had spared or for being so grateful that the not-Uchiha had not been Itachi.

 

 

The baby woke Sasuke with a bloodcurdling scream.

Itachi!

Before Sasuke could roll out of bed, he heard footsteps rush past Sasuke's bedroom. Itachi's bedroom door snapped open and then a man was saying soothing things to someone.

Not Itachi, Sasuke remembered. That man and his baby.

It was impossible to go back to sleep immediately. Sasuke's heart was pounding too hard. But, when he finally did go back to sleep, Sasuke fell asleep to the sound of the baby's whimpering sobs and the man's low murmurs.

 

 

The next time that Sasuke woke up, he was the one screaming. Then someone else was screaming with him and Sasuke stumbled out of bed. He was still fumbling around for his practice kunai when his bedroom door snapped open.

"No, big brother!" Sasuke shrieked, hunkering down and hiding behind his arms.

"It's not Itachi," said an unfamiliar voice over the other's screams. "It's just me, Harry."

Then the stranger was kneeling down to gather Sasuke into his arms with the sobbing baby. Sasuke went to him easily, wrapping his arms around the man and hanging on as hard as he could.

The baby only stopped crying when Sasuke did.

Sasuke was leaning against the stranger, tired and snuffling, when he realized just how cold he was from the waist down. Mortified, Sasuke shoved himself away from the man.

"I'm fine," Sasuke said thickly. He dragged his sleeve across his eyes and then wiped his nose on it. "Go away."

"Would you like to take a shower?" the man asked, making no move to leave. "You might feel better."

"Yes, please," Sasuke said, choking the words out past his strangling embarrassment. Hating that he had to do it, Sasuke collected a clean pair of underwear and a new set of pajamas.

He stayed in the shower until the water ran cold.

When he finally returned to his room, Sasuke found the stranger - Not a stranger anymore, Sasuke thought sourly, his face heating with renewed humiliation - that man and his baby in his bed.

While Sasuke had been in the shower, that man had cleaned up Sasuke's mess, remade the bed, and rearranged Sasuke's furniture so that the length of Sasuke's bed could be lined up against the wall of the bedroom. That man was sitting near the edge of the bed, his back resting against the headboard and a mountain of pillows. He was sitting on top of the blankets, his legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles. He had open a slim book bound in battered green leather, holding it up and open and propped against his flat stomach with one hand.

"What are you doing?" Sasuke demanded, his voice strangled.

"Reading," he replied. As if to demonstrate his point, he turned a page in his book. "Teddy couldn't wait up for you."

The toddler, who was tucked under a couple of thin (and new and dry) blankets, had a fluffy purple pillow under his head that Sasuke had never seen in his house before. He was snuggled up against his father's leg, Sasuke's dinosaur tucked under one of his chubby arms.

"Hey!" Sasuke hissed indignantly. "That's mine!"

"Do you want it back?" the man asked, finally looking up from his book.

"No," Sasuke said. Looking away, he crossed his arms over his chest. "I hate that dinosaur."

Itachi had given it to him to protect him from nightmares and monsters.

"Okay," that man said. "Are you going to come to bed?"

"No."

"Then where are you going to sleep?"

Sasuke thought about sleeping in his parents' bed. Then he thought about sleeping in Itachi's bedroom.

Without saying a word, Sasuke crawled up the length of his bed to insinuate himself between the sleeping boy and the wall. Getting under the thin summer blankets was surprisingly easy, probably because that man helped him. Sasuke refused to acknowledge that, however.

After Sasuke was settled on his own, familiar pillows (and had maybe turned the littler boy into a substitute stuffed animal), that man began to pet the his son's hair. Watching him stroke the other boy's hair was soothing and rhythmic and Sasuke soon found his eyes fluttering shut.

The first time that one of the man's hair-pats went astray, Sasuke opened his eyes and looked at the man. His attention was seemingly glued to his text. Reassured, Sasuke closed his eyes again. The next time that his hair got stroked, Sasuke did not open his eyes.

His hair got stroked a few more times after that. It felt nice.

Sasuke soon drifted off to sleep, not waking again until the next morning.

 

 

Mother's cooking breakfast, Sasuke thought sleepily, feeling a spike of excitement. By the time that he finished scrambling over the sleeping toddler, Sasuke remembered that his mother was in no condition to cook anyone's breakfast.

Even though Avengers did not cry, Sasuke shed a few quiet tears. But only a few. Sasuke pulled himself together when the little kid woke up and started crying too.

"Don't," Sasuke roughly ordered the boy. He wiped his face on the hem of his t-shirt. "She wasn't your mother. They weren't your parents. And this wasn't your clan."

The kid cried harder, little fists balled against his face. As Sasuke watched, the little boy's hair grew down to his shoulders, turned purple, shortened again, and shifted to dark blue. Between his hands, his nose changed shape too, as if it had suddenly turned to soft wax.

It actually took Sasuke a few moments to remember that man's name.

"Hari!" he shouted, tipping his head back so that the sound would travel further. Stripped of its proper suffix and the respect due to it, the man's name felt odd in Sasuke's mouth. But he was going to have to get used to it because he was nothing like Itachi, who had always been unfailing polite and encouraging, except for those last, awful weeks before the end of everything. Sasuke was going to be better than Itachi. "Hari! There's something wrong with Tedi!"

A few seconds later, that man was in the room and comforting his son.

Sick with envy, Sasuke slipped out of the bed, yanked yet another set of black clothes out of his drawers, and went to get ready in the bathroom that he had once shared with Itachi. (And now seemed to be sharing with his unwanted house guests. At least they were not using his parents' bathroom. Sasuke carefully avoided thinking about where that man must have been sleeping earlier in the night.)

When Sasuke was dressed and ready for another day of funerals, he ventured into the kitchen. The other boy and his father were already there. They both had short black hair and green eyes again. They were both wearing black. Startled by their attire, Sasuke demanded, "Are you coming again today?"

"Yes," the man said. He was standing at the open window and laying out two dishes of food, one of water and the other filled with brown pellets. Next to the two dishes he laid out a few slices of bacon. "At least for awhile. Teddy will get bored and act out if we stay too long and I've got a few business matters that I've got to take care of today."

"You won't stand at the front with me," Sasuke ordered as the man gently set plates of food in front of Sasuke and his son. "You're not their family."

The man hesitated, his lips thinning and his bright eyes suddenly sharp. Then the moment was gone and all he said was, "Okay. Teddy and I will stand in the crowd."

"Good," Sasuke said. Then he shoved a bite of scrambled egg in his mouth.

Sasuke found that he had nothing else to say to the man throughout the rest of breakfast. Surprisingly, the man seemed fine with his silence. He and his son kept up a running conversation, saying things to each other in a foreign language that made no sense to Sasuke. It was impossible for Sasuke to follow the conversation, which was fine because Sasuke did not care about them anyway.

When they left the house, the man lightly set his free hand on Sasuke's shoulder. It seemed like too much effort to tell the man to keep his hands to himself. And, aside from last night, no one had touched Sasuke in days. Despite himself, Sasuke enjoyed the warm, steady weight of that hand against his shoulder.

That day, like every day since the massacre, was filled with funerals. As a member of the family - as the only living member of the family - Sasuke stood next to the Hokage. That man stood at the edge of the crowd, his expression solemn but unreadable. Tedi sat on the ground at the man's feet, growling at bugs, trying to catch colorful bubbles, and playing with a stuffed wolf and Sasuke's green dinosaur.

No matter how many times Sasuke glanced over at them, he could not figure out where the bubbles were coming from. If this were Before, Sasuke would have loved those bubbles. Since it was After, Sasuke scorned them.

When there was a break in the funerals for lunch, that man took Sasuke and his son out to eat.

"What do you like to eat?"

Sasuke shrugged.

"Where does your family usually eat out?"

Sasuke shrugged again. They had always eaten at the clan's restaurants.

"Okay," said that man, apparently unaffected by Sasuke's unfriendliness. He nodded at a stall that they were passing. "That place looks good."

Following that man, Sasuke and the boy ducked under the hanging flaps of fabric. When the boy tripped on a particularly thick patch of air, Sasuke caught the boy before he could fall down and skin his hands and knees. It was a reflex, nothing special. His not-cousin smiled at Sasuke like he had done something extraordinary.

His face warming, Sasuke scowled and looked away from the not-Uchiha.

As they claimed three stools at the counter, the girl standing behind it smiled brightly. She welcomed them to the grill and put menus in front of that man and Sasuke. Rather than reading his menu, that man asked the waitress what their two most popular dishes were and then cajoled her into describing them to him.

"Teddy and I will have those," Sasuke's not-cousin decided. "What do you want to eat, Sasuke?"

Sasuke, his face carefully hidden by his menu, shrugged.

"He'll have what we're having."

"That's four dishes," the girl behind the counter protested.

"It'll be fine," the not-Uchiha assured her. "What we don't eat, we'll take with us as a snack."

Sasuke cringed. His parents would have disapproved of such crass behavior.
 
The girl smiled, whisked away their menus, and put their order in to the kitchen.

While the little boy bounced his stuffed animals along the counter and talked to his father in a foreign language, Sasuke pretended not to know either of them. His mother never would have approved of Sasuke associating with such coarse people. His father never would have accepted either of them into the Uchiha clan, weird bloodline limit or no weird bloodline limit.

Sasuke was going to make his parents proud.

 

 

Sasuke and his new not-cousins settled into a routine.

Every morning, Sasuke woke up cuddled up with that boy. Ignoring it, Sasuke rose, dressed in black, and ate breakfast. He tried to ignore that man's tendency to leave food out on the windowsill.

"If you keep leaving food out, you're going to attract wildlife," Sasuke predicted darkly once while the idiot laid out cut up bits of sausage, water, and those food pellets on the windowsill. Sasuke chose to ignore the fact that the rotting food in his dead relatives' houses was also attracting wildlife. And that he sort of like it when the clan's cats came around to eat the food on the windowsill.

"That's the idea," the idiot said cheerfully. "I have a way with animals."

"Where are you getting this stuff, anyway?" Sasuke demanded. He poked at one of his sausages with his chopsticks. "I didn't have anything like this in the house."

It was nice to eat something other than rice or instant ramen but all of his not-cousin's cooking tasted strange. He had yet to make anything that Sasuke could even identify by name.

"It's the last of our traveling provisions," that man replied. "I thought I'd better use them up before they go bad."

Sasuke grunted. Apparently, his fake cousin did not know that things sealed into sealing scrolls were supposed to last forever, provided that they remained sealed and the scroll remained undamaged.

Civilian, he thought grumpily as he shoved another bit of sausage into his mouth.

After breakfast, Sasuke spent his morning attending funerals.

Sometimes, that man and his son attended too. The man appeared to listen as the Hokage gave the same speeches day after day, only varying in the details of the lives of the people that they were burning. During the funerals, the boy played quietly near his father or threw tantrums, depending on his mood.

There were so many dead Uchiha that it had been impossible to burn them all in a single morning. If they had, the village would have been covered in a thick cloud of smoke and the scent of burning flesh, which, in Sasuke's now considerable experience, tended to linger and cling to hair and skin, and clothes. It was impossible to ignore and difficult to get out of clothes and gear.

But there were too many dead Uchiha to hold individual services either. Instead, Sasuke bore witness as they held funerals and cremations for entire nuclear families at a time.

Hundreds of dead and not a single name would be added to the Memorial Stone.

Sasuke was only furious about that every time it crossed his mind.

Every day, the man took them out to lunch.

In the afternoon, Sasuke attended more funerals. If the man and his son came along with him, the boy usually napped through them. When the funerals ended, they went home to Sasuke's house where Sasuke changed, crawled through the nearest window, and escaped to the dock to train.

He training until either it was too dark to see or he was too exhausted to continue, whichever happened first, ignoring the man's calls to come in for dinner. Regardless of which happened first, Sasuke collapsed to the dock and stayed there until that man came to gather him up and carry him into the house. He always took Sasuke in through the door that Itachi had left by and through Mother's kitchen to deposit Sasuke in the bathroom.

Sasuke would scrub off, take a secret bubble bath, and listen through the wall as the man's voice rose and fell, the individual words indistinguishable but the tone comforting. When the water got cold, Sasuke would get out, dry off, dress, and go to the kitchen.

There was always a warm plate of unidentifiable foods waiting for Sasuke on the kitchen table. It was usually good, even if Sasuke rarely knew what he was eating. Then Sasuke brushed his teeth and went to bed.

After that first night, the boy did not have any more nightmares, probably because his father stayed with him. Sasuke was not so fortunate.

Night after night, Sasuke shamed himself in front of the strangers. It was humiliating.

And night after night, the little boy would mimic his grief, losing control of his features in his distress.

The man would coddle them, holding them close and murmuring to them, easily switching between languages as he tried to comfort them. Sasuke only ever noticed how cold and wet he was when he was calmer.

The man never made fun of Sasuke or scolded him. Instead, he would gently squeeze Sasuke one last time and then send him off to the bathroom to shower and change while he cleaned up Sasuke's mess, dried out the bed, and remade the bedding. No matter how many times Sasuke wet his bed, how many times he had to clean it up, how often he had to remake the bed, or how much laundry he had to do, the man never, ever suggested that Sasuke sleep on plastic sheets, like Father had when Sasuke had still be quite little and prone to wetting, but for different reasons.

Sasuke was indescribably grateful to his not-cousin for his silent kindness.

By the time that Sasuke returned from the showers, the man and his son would be settled in Sasuke's bed. More often than not, the little boy would be sound asleep, his stuffed animals tucked under his arms. Sasuke could either join them or sleep elsewhere.

Sasuke did not want to sleep with them. But he wanted to sleep in one of the other houses or, far worse, one of the other rooms in his house even less. That was the only reason that he crawled into bed with them. With the three of them in his little bed, cuddling with the littler boy was unavoidable. It was simply too crowded to do otherwise.

Once Sasuke was settled into the bed with his son, the man would read books or letters and pet their hair until Sasuke drifted off to sleep.

Sometimes Sasuke would have another nightmare but, when he did, that man would wake him before Sasuke woke himself with his screaming or, worse, wet the bed again. Sasuke was secretly grateful to him for that too.

Sometimes, if Sasuke woke early enough, he would catch that man sleeping, his face soft and relaxed. His book, glasses, and a stick would be on Sasuke's bedside table and there would be plump pillows scattered all over the floor. When that man woke up first, Sasuke would awaken to disorienting breakfast scents and nauseating amounts of good humor. Tedi never woke up first.

Then they would do all of the same things all over again the next day.

One night, Sasuke went to get into bed after eating dinner and brushing his teeth only to find that man and his son already in his bed. Although he was not in his pajamas, the man was sitting in his usual place along the edge of Sasuke's bed and leaning against his customary mound of pillows. On Sasuke's bedside table was his usual green book, a few folded letter peeking out of its uppermost edge. His son was sitting next to him, the wolf and Sasuke's dinosaur tucked under his arms. There was a narrow, empty space between the little boy and the wall.

Sasuke knew whose customary spot that was.

"What're you doing in here?" Sasuke demanded, trying to ignore the way that the man and his son stared at Sasuke with identical green eyes. "This is my room!"

There used to be hundreds of people with the same eyes as Sasuke. Now, he was the only person in the village who had Uchiha eyes. Someday, he would be the only person in the entire world to have his eyes. Even thinking about it made Sasuke feel lonely.

"Teddy has been a little unsettled since we left home," the man said. "I'm sure he'll eventually settle in but until then he sleeps best with a buddy."

Sasuke did too. Before That Night, Sasuke had often sneaked into bed with Itachi, who had always welcomed him with a sleepy smile, even before Sasuke grew out of wetting the bed. Now, Sasuke slept better when his fake cousins shared his bed.

"He's been sleeping with you," Sasuke said suspiciously. Every night since they had moved in with him, Sasuke had listened to the low murmur of that man's voice as he told his son bedtime stories.

"There are a few things that I've been neglecting lately," the man said. "It'd be an enormous help to me if you'd look after Teddy while I'm busy."

Sasuke thought about that. They already knew his secret. And he did not mind sharing with the boy - Tedi.

"Okay. But just for tonight."

"Just for tonight."

Sasuke crawled up the length of his bed, settling himself between Tedi and the wall. Next to him, Tedi snuggled down with his stuffed animals. Sasuke snuggled down with Tedi and that man turned off all of the lights save for the lamp on Sasuke's bedside table.

"Once upon a time," the man said as he rejoined them, the bed dipping under his weight. "There was a very ordinary boy who lived in a very ordinary house with his absolutely horrid aunt, uncle, and cousin. That boy was called the Boy Who Lived..."

 

 

The next night, Sasuke came when the man called him in for dinner. He took great pleasure in that man's surprise. Sasuke rushed through his shower, took a shorter bubble bath, and ate dinner with Tedi and his father.

Sasuke sat quietly, watching as the man cut the meat into tiny chunks for his son and listening as they talked. It was still frustrating to understand only half of the conversation, especially since the baby was doing most of the talking. Interrupting the flow of the others' conversation, Sasuke asked, "Why doesn't he talk normally?"

"We're from a very distant land," that man said. "He's speaking our language. If you want him to speak your language, you're going to have to teach it to him."

Sasuke thought about that for awhile. When dinner was nearly over, he said abruptly, "I wouldn't mind if Tedi shared my room tonight. If you still needed to work on stuff."

"Thank you, Sasuke," that man said with a smile. "That would be very helpful."

After dinner, Sasuke brushed his teeth and got ready for bed as quickly as he could. If that man was going to tell another story about the Boy Who Lived, Sasuke wanted to hear it from the beginning. When he went into his bedroom, Tedi and his father were already there and waiting for him.

They must have used my parents' bathroom, Sasuke realized and then promptly refused to think about it. Instead, he crawled up the length of his bed to join them. Tedi snuggled down with his stuffed animals, Sasuke snuggled down with Tedi, and Tedi's father turned out all of the lights except for the lamp on Sasuke's bedside table. Reclaiming his perch on the edge of Sasuke's bed, he began his story by saying, "Hagrid took the Boy Who Lived to get his school supplies in a secret wizarding place called Diagon Alley..."

 

 

The first time that Tedi shifted his eyes to look like Sasuke's, it was like a punch in the chest.

"Oh," Sasuke gasped as, for the first time since That Night, eyes that were so brown they were nearly black stared back at him. Tedi's eyes were perfect, like Sasuke's own.

If I showed him sharingan, could he make his eyes into them?

Not that it mattered. This was everything.

 

 

Every night, that man told Sasuke and Tedi a story about the Boy Who Lived. Every night, Sasuke listened, enthralled, as the Boy Who Lived rode a magical train to his village's academy, made friends with a boy named Ron Weasley, got sorted into a little practice village called a House, and took jutsu lessons.

Sasuke looked forward to that man's stories about the Boy Who Lived. He even thought about them when he should have been paying attention to other things, like his clan's funerals or training or remembering to hate everyone, especially his fake relatives.

Worst of all, he started to rely on the idea that somewhere out there was another boy who had seen his parents murdered. A boy who was better and stronger than Sasuke because he survived the killer's attack and killed him right back. He had gotten vengeance for his family. If the Boy Who Lived could do it, so could Sasuke.

Sasuke wanted to be just like the Boy Who Lived. That was why he had to make that man stop telling the stories.

"No more Boy Who Lived stories," Sasuke ordered one night. "Let's just go to sleep."

"Why not?" asked Tedi's father. He looked surprised.

"Because he's not real!" Sasuke snapped. He rolled over to face the wall rather than snuggling with Tedi like he usually did. Space was so tight in the bed that his back ended up pressed to the younger boy's back. It was warm. And comforting.

"Of course he's real," Hari replied. "I should know."

"How?" Sasuke demanded suspiciously. "Were you there?"

"Yes. I shared a dorm room with Neville and Ron and all the rest. We were all in the same year at school."

"You did?" asked Sasuke, unwilling hope blooming in his chest. He rolled over to face that man again, the better to see if he was telling the truth. "Really?"

"Yes," he said with a bright smile. "I know Hermione and all of the Weasley brothers and Hagrid and everyone else."

"So you had classes with the Boy Who Lived?" demanded Sasuke. "You practiced with him?"

"That's another story," the man said with a strange smile. "I'd rather tell you about our first flying lesson. If you don't mind?"

"Okay," Sasuke said as he snuggled closer to Tedi. "What's it like to fly?"

That man's smile lit up his entire face. "It's the most amazing thing that I've ever done."

Sasuke surprised himself by smiling back.

 

 

"Mother always made sticky white rice for breakfast," Sasuke informed his house guests one morning over their breakfast of cooked flat bread with butter, syrup, and bacon. Tedi had shifted his eyes to brown again, which always put Sasuke in a sharing mood. "She cracked a raw egg over it and put fruits or cooked vegetables on the side."

"That's nice," the man said. He ruffled a hand through his hair. "I wish I knew how to make sticky white rice."

"You don't know how to make rice?" Sasuke demanded, aghast. Everyone in Konohagakure knew how to make rice! It was the very first thing that they learned in survival classes at the academy. "Why are you not dead?"

"I have obscenely good luck."

"Hmph."

Even though the flat bread tasted good with butter and syrup on it, Sasuke made a mental note to wake up especially early tomorrow.

 

 

The next morning, Sasuke woke up slightly earlier than that man or his son. He took advantage of the opportunity to wake the man up and teach him how to make sticky white rice.

"Are you sure that the egg's supposed to be raw?" the man asked.

"Yes. It's good that way."

"I'm going to cook mine and Teddy's," the man decided as he got a skillet out of one of the cupboards. "And maybe I'll fry up some bangers. Would you like some bangers, Sasuke?"

"...Bangers?" Sasuke asked warily. It sounded more like a taijutsu attack than a breakfast food.

"You like them," that man assured Sasuke.

Bangers turned out to be that man's strange sausages.

As was his habit, that man left a portion on the windowsill for the flies and animals, although there seemed to be few flies hovering over the Uchiha compound lately. The air in the ghetto smelled better too.

When a half dozen white owls with tufted feathers that looked like horns swooped down to devour the pellets, the only surprising thing was seeing so many arctic owls so far south.

I told you so! Sasuke thought, shooting a triumphant look at his not-cousins. The kid, who was busy stuffing bits of dried cereal into his mouth, had no idea what was going on. The idiot was so busying fiddling with his tea that he failed to notice Sasuke's superiority. Huffing with irritation, Sasuke viciously stabbed his chopsticks into one of his own sausage links.

 

 

Even though Itachi had murdered their entire family, Sasuke found it difficult to hate him. Sasuke still loved Itachi too much. So Sasuke practiced his hatred, mostly on Ron Weasley, who had non-murderous older brothers and a whole entire clan to take for granted. The fact that Ron was a good friend, a brilliant strategist, and a superior teammate did nothing to lessen Sasuke's loathing. Itachi had probably been all of those things too.

Sasuke was thinking about all of the ways that Ron Weasley was like Itachi when he suddenly noticed that the Uchiha ghetto was cleaner than it used to be. The rusting kunai that Sasuke was used to stepping over were gone, as were the thickets of senbon needles. Most of the stains that Sasuke had carefully avoided looking at were gone too. And the air smelled fresher, like someone had gotten rid of all of the garbage and rotting food in people's houses, bins, and the shops.

Sasuke's steps halted. He whirled on that man, forcing his hand to drop away from Sasuke's shoulder.

"Have you been cleaning?" he demanded.

"Yes," he admitted. Sasuke's fake cousin looked confused. "Is that a problem?"

Feelings, strong and tangled, rose in Sasuke. Instead of answering, Sasuke ran away. He ran straight to his dock and stayed there, practicing and blowing fire, for the rest of the afternoon even though he smelled like thick, oily smoke and burning flesh. When that man called him in to dinner, Sasuke ignored him.

Sasuke stayed on his dock until his not-cousin came to get him, Tedi in tow.

"Sasuke?" he asked, standing on the lake's bank with Tedi's little hand in his own. "Dinner's ready."

Ignoring Tedi's father, Sasuke blew another fireball over the lake. Further away, that man whistled. Peeking from the corner of his eye, Sasuke watched as the owls that showed up at breakfast times swooped down to land on Hari's shoulder.

I told him not to feed the animals, Sasuke thought. He blew another fireball to prove that he definitely was not paying attention to Hari or Tedi or the owls or the fact that Hari was apparently entrusting the baby to the owls. Who leaves wild animals to watch over a little kid? Idiot.

When that man stepped onto the dock, it swayed beneath his weight. He walked down the dock, stopping about halfway down its length and turning to stand at an angle to Sasuke so that he could keep an eye on both Sasuke and Tedi. Sasuke turned to look at his not-cousin, mostly to keep an eye on Tedi since Tedi's father was a moron.

Tedi seemed to be chasing the owls around the back garden, oblivious to Sasuke and his father as he raced after the enormous birds, who obligingly seemed to flutter from tree to bush to tree, staying close to Tedi but never quite within his reach.

"Did you not want me to clean up?" asked Tedi's father, wrenching Sasuke's attention back to himself.

"No!" Sasuke shouted, suddenly furious again. "You should've left everything exactly where it was!"

"What if Tedi stepped on something sharp? Or put something spoiled in his mouth? And you couldn't've enjoyed living in a cloud of flies."

"I  never noticed," Sasuke lied. He narrowed his eyes when some emotion flashed across the adult's face too quickly for Sasuke to identify it. "Really," he insisted. "Because I am someone who focuses on what is most important: my revenge."

"Vengeance isn't everything."

Rage, hot and potent, flashed through Sasuke, pushing words that Sasuke would never have said past his teeth.

"You don't understand anything!" Sasuke shouted. He lunged at that man, shoving at him with every word. "You don't know what it's like to be the last! You don't care about not being good or brave or strong enough! You don't have to know that you weren't worth killing! And it's not your whole entire family that everyone is going to forget after the funerals end because the Hokage won't put them on the Memorial Stone and now I don't even have anything to remember-"

Sasuke's words dissolved into ragged gasps. When that man tried to move him or pull him close, Sasuke shoved at him again for good measure.

"You're not going to forget them or the night that they died," the man murmured. "And they certainly deserve a better tribute than rotting food or pestilence."

This time, when that man put his hand on Sasuke's shoulder, Sasuke hurled himself at that man. Sasuke had every intention of pummeling him into oblivion but, when strong arms caught Sasuke, pulled him close, and held him tight, Sasuke ended up slumped against Tedi's father, sobbing.

"It's going to be okay," the man said, his hand coming up to smooth Sasuke's hair, just like he did when Sasuke and Tedi were falling asleep. And Sasuke banged the side of his fist against that man's side again because it was never, never going to be okay ever again. "I promise, Sasuke, that I'll make things okay for you, starting with a Uchiha Memorial Stone."

Even though Sasuke knew the man to be a liar, he had to be, Sasuke clung to him and his lies and his promises.

Sasuke cried himself raw.

When he was calmer, made lethargic by exhaustion, Sasuke's not-cousin picked him up and carried him back to the house, Tedi abandoning the owls to follow his father like a duckling. The owls, however, followed them, bright shapes dipping and soaring against a darkening sky.

They took Sasuke to his room and put him to bed. That man disappeared for a few moments and returned with a damp washcloth, which Sasuke used to clumsily clean his face. Then he went and got Tedi's dinner plate and set Tedi up at Sasuke's desk. Sasuke closed his eyes, listening to the sound of Tedi scraping his not-cousin's odd eating utensils against the plate. When the bed dipped beneath someone's weight and a familiar hand began to smooth Sasuke's hair, Sasuke finally let himself drift off to sleep.

He was too exhausted to dream.

When Sasuke woke up, Tedi and his father were right where they always were. Even though he did not care about them in the least, it was reassuring to see them where Sasuke had come to expect them to be.

Sasuke rolled over, snuggled an arm around Tedi, and buried his face in Tedi's soft, black hair. And there he stayed, thinking.

In the end, Sasuke could not decide if that man had meant any of the things that he had said or if he was just trying to stop Sasuke from making a scene and embarrassing himself.

It doesn't matter, Sasuke told himself. He tried his hardest to believe it.

But it really did.

 

 

Tedi interrupted the second to last funeral. In the middle of the Hokage's speech, he started squirming and whining. When that man put his son down, Tedi lifted his arms up towards his father. His face crumpled up, his hair turned dark purple, and he began to shout, "No! No, no, no, no!"

Despite himself, Sasuke stopped listening to the Hokage in favor of paying closer attention to Tedi. In the time since Sasuke's fake cousin and his son had moved in with him, Sasuke had only seen Tedi's kekkei genkai a few times. The bloodline limit was weird and fascinating and utterly grotesque.

Tedi's dad immediately scooped Tedi up and rubbed his back. Tedi, however, was having none of it. With a quick, apologetic look to Sasuke, that man slipped away from the crowd of mourners just as Tedi began to wail and flail and shout, his words impossible to understand.

Even though Sasuke should have been grateful to see the back of them, he was sorry to see them go. When a Yamanaka, his hair bright against the mourners' dark clothes, slipped out after Tedi and his dad, Sasuke began to worry. Even though he did not care at all, Sasuke did his best to fade into the nearest shadow so that he could go after them.

Sasuke carefully ignored the way that the Hokage seemed to be twinkling at him.

It was easy to follow the others' trail. Sasuke simply followed the baby's shouts. Tedi's father was standing under a tree, his expression distracted. In his arms, Tedi was in the middle of a full blown temper tantrum, complete with red face, melting facial features, fluctuating hair, teary cheeks, and flailing limbs. He threw himself back and forth, relying on his dad not to drop him. Judging by his father's expression, it was hard to hold onto someone whose size, shape, and weight were fluctuating wildly.

Tedi's father seemed completely unaware of the Yamanaka standing behind him. Sasuke, who was crouched in bushes, thought as hard as he could at Tedi's father, Turn around! Turn around! Turn around!

Tedi's father swung around, looking surprised. "Sasuke?"

"Not quite," the Yamanaka said dryly, his blue eyes lingering on Tedi. His expression a mystery to Sasuke, he added, "It's difficult."

The tone of his voice was different. Sasuke did not understand it or what the Yamanaka was trying to say but Tedi's father must have heard something in it because his expression softened. He smiled at the Yamanaka.

"Yeah," said Tedi's father as he put Tedi down.

As soon as his feet touched the ground, Tedi began to scream even louder. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Tedi lifted grasping hands towards his father and shouted his father's name. When his father failed to pick him up, Tedi threw himself on the ground. Tedi screamed and kicked and shifted shapes, looking like nothing so much as a blob of flesh and color.

Sasuke put a hand over his mouth and willed himself not to vomit.

Tedi's father, who clearly had a stronger stomach than Sasuke himself, squatted down next to Tedi and patiently waited for him to get it out of his system. Crouching on Tedi's other side, the Yamanaka clan head said, "When my wife died, I was fortunate enough to have my clan to help with our daughter."

"I'm the last Potter," said Tedi's father, striking a painful chord in Sasuke. Hari stroked his son's spiky pink hair. "There's only me." After a beat of silence, he added, "Tedi usually has a very sweet temperament but none of us have been getting enough sleep lately."

Sasuke flinched so hard that he made the bushes rustle. His entire body hot with the force of his shame, Sasuke willed Hari not to say anything else about that.

Nodding, the Yamanaka said, "New homes are often unsettling."

"Yeah," Hari said, his grin lighting up his face. "When Teddy gets used to this place, I imagine thing'll begin to settle down around the house."

"Your son possesses an interesting kekkei genkai."

The Yamanaka's blue eyes seemed to be fixed on Tedi but it was hard to tell since Sasuke was doing his absolute best not to even glance directly at Tedi.

Looking confused, Hari said, "I'm unfamiliar with the term. We don't use it where I'm from."

What do they call it in his village? Sasuke wondered.

"It's a technique limited to inheritance by blood," the Yamanaka said carefully. "Or a bloodline limit. Regardless, only those directly related to the carrier by shared blood have the ability or the possibility of inheriting it."

"Oh. Then yes, it's a kekkei genkai. His mother's, in fact," Hari said, smiling fondly down at the back of Tedi's head. Sasuke accidentally glanced the same way that his not-cousin was looking. Teddy's hair was currently long and bright blue and his skin was currently bright green. He also seemed to have grown spikes out of his elbows. Grimacing, Hari added, "Unfortunately, he also inherited her sense of balance."

"It's a fair trade," the Yamanaka clan head opined. "Your wife must have been quite a woman."

"What?" squawked Tedi's father. his face flushed bright red. Waving his hands between them, Hari exclaimed, "Tonks and I were never like that! I'm Teddy's godfather!"

"Godfather?" asked the clan head. "That's not a term that we use here."

"It's a promise between close friends," Hari said firmly. "When a woman becomes pregnant, she and the father ask one of their closest friends to be the unborn baby's godfather or godmother. Accepting means that you've promised to be a part of the kid's life and look out for the kid's best interests. And, if something should happen to the child's parents, it's the godfather's duty to raise the kid as if he was his own."

"You and Tedi's mother must have been close."

"We were friends," Hari agreed. "And she was my godfather's favorite cousin. But I was closer with Teddy's dad."

So he's Tedi's cousin too, Sasuke mused. Then, realizing what he had just thought, Sasuke scowled. Not that Hari's my cousin, he amended. He's not even a Uchiha. His eyes are all wrong.

"Did his mother's clan mind when she chose a godfather for her child who was not one of them?" asked the Yamanaka.

"I don't think that they ever thought that it would come to me raising Tedi, even after the war got serious," Hari replied. "His mother was an extremely talented member of our military police force and his father was our version of ANBU. Unfortunately, by the time that the fighting ended, Tedi and his maternal grandmother were the only surviving members of either clan. And his grandmother died about six months ago."

"I'm sorry to hear that," murmured the Yamanaka clan head. He could afford to lower his voice because Tedi's shrieks were starting to settle into whimpers. Tedi was probably beginning to settle down but, after his last glance at the younger boy, Sasuke did not feel up to seeing for himself, not until he was certain that Tedi had reasonable control of his kekkei genkai again.

"Not as sorry as her killers were," Hari said cheerfully as he picked up Tedi. When Hari stood, Sasuke was quite relieved to see that Tedi, who was clutching onto Hari's shirt and sniffling, was his normal shape and size and had decidedly black hair again. "She took all seven of them with her and blew up an entire street while she was about it."

"She sounds like she was quite... formidable," the Yamanaka said politely as he rose to his feet in one smooth motion.

"She's the most terrifying mother-in-law that I'll ever have," Hari agreed. His hand was already moving up and down in a rhythmic fashion as he smoothed Tedi's messy hair and rubbed his back. Sasuke knew from experience how nice it felt when Hari did that. "Merlin, I miss her."

"Merlin?"

"It's an expression where I come from. He was quite famous."

"Ah," said the Yamanaka. He tugged on the end on his high ponytail of hair just once and then said, "Would you like to come over for dinner some night? You and your godson and Sasuke, I mean. I know how hard it is and you don't have a clan... And my Ino's the same age as Sasuke. In fact, they're in the same class at the academy."

Despite Sasuke's mental chant of, No! Say no!, Hari No! No! No! Hari grinned and said, "That'd be great, thanks."

Sasuke groaned, mostly silently.

 

 

Thankfully, Tedi slept through the afternoon and the last funeral, curled up against Hari's chest. Afterwards, Hari waited until the last of Sasuke's cousins' friends and acquaintances filed past Sasuke and back into the village to approach Sasuke and rest his free hand on Sasuke's shoulder. Even though he was too old for that, and an Avenger and an Uchiha besides, Sasuke let Hari do it anyway. His hand was warm, the touch was light, and it was strangely comforting.

"That was the last one," Sasuke said to Hari. "Tomorrow, I'll have to go back to school."

"Maybe you could go back the day after tomorrow?" suggested Hari. "We could spend the day together. I'd buy you any new school thing that you needed and you could show us around."

"I have everything that I need for school," Sasuke said impatiently. "And I can't get behind. I'm going to graduate early like Ita - like my older brother."

"You can do that?" Hari inquired, sounding surprised.

Sasuke huffed at Hari's ignorance. An Uchiha should never betray his innermost thoughts but Hari was just so infuriatingly clueless about everything.

"Yes, I can do that," Sasuke gritted out. "Because I am an Uchiha and thus a superior ninja."

Hari looked bewildered. After a moment he ventured to ask, "Is that what your parents told you?"

"Father used to say it to Ita - my older brother all the time."

"Ah," said Hari. "Maybe you could show me around before it gets dark?"

"I have to practice."

"It won't hurt to take one day off," Hari wheedled.

"A shinobi must be disciplined," lectured Sasuke.

"Can we at least go grocery shopping?" Hari sighed. At Sasuke silence, he added, "Otherwise we're not going to have anything to eat for dinner."

"Fine."

 

 

For Sasuke's first day back at school, Hari made him sticky white rice with a raw egg over it, steamed vegetables, fresh blackberries, and a glass of milk. It was the first and last thing to go right all day.

First of all, Hari wanted to walk Sasuke to school.

"I don't need to be walked," Sasuke gritted. He was strapping on his kunai pouch. It was full of practice kunai. "I'm not a baby."

"Of course not," Hari agreed. "Hey, what are those?"

"Practice kunai."

Then, because Hari seemed to have no idea what Sasuke was talking about, Sasuke generously passed his fake cousin a kunai. His cousin promptly sliced his hand open.

"Sasuke! Those are too sharp!" Hari complained as if blood was not pooling in the palm of his hand. It was very red. It reminded Sasuke of That Night. "Sasuke?"

Sasuke shook his head hard, trying to dispel the memories.

"Idiot!" Sasuke shouted. "Why haven't you pressed something to it?"

Without waiting for the idiot to respond or even do it himself, Sasuke fished his handkerchief out of his pocket and pressed it to Hari's bleeding palm. Hari hissed and wriggled his hand, trying to get it away from Sasuke. In response, Sasuke tightened his grip and pressed down harder with his handkerchief. It was already scarlet with Hari's blood.

"Sasuke, you can't have these," Hari persisted. "They're too sharp for... anyone, really."

"They're practice kunai," Sasuke snapped. He was trying very hard not to look at the bloodied kunai lying on the kitchen table, put there by Hari. "They're not even half as sharp as the real things."

"I definitely don't want you to have any of those then!"

"I'm a shinobi! Of course I'm going to have a set of real kunai someday soon," Sasuke argued. His handkerchief was only getting wetter. Worried that Hari had somehow found an artery to cut or maybe had a blood disorder that prevented clotting, Sasuke added, "You need to go to the hospital."

"I'll be fine!" Hari insisted. He tried to pull his hand back from Sasuke but Sasuke refused to let go of it. "I can fix myself up easily enough. I'm just glad that you weren't the one who got cut."

"You might need stitches," Sasuke said doubtfully. "Do you know how to give yourself stitches?"

"Of course not! That's barbaric!"

"We're going to the hospital," Sasuke decided. It would make Sasuke late to class but Hari was dumb enough to stay home and let himself bleed out. "Let's go get Tedi."

"Sasuke, this really isn't necessary," Hari argued as Sasuke led him by the wrist first to stomp their shoes on, which Hari did, and next to the bathroom door. When Tedi came out, Sasuke told him to put his shoes on. Tedi stared at Sasuke blankly then looked at his father. Sighing, Sasuke started dragging Hari towards the door, relying on Tedi to follow his godfather like a duckling. Tedi did not disappoint him.

"Sasuke! Stop!" Hari yelped. "Tedi can't walk barefoot outside!"

"I used to do it all the time."

"That was probably before your brother trashed the place," Hari said and Sasuke stopped cold. Hari took advantage of Sasuke's weakness to scoop Tedi up with his good arm. Giving Hari's other arm a hard yank, Sasuke started for the front door again.

Sasuke dragged Hari all the way to the nearest hospital, where Hari got a bunch of temporary stitches, Tedi got an orange sucker, and Sasuke got a lecture about letting stupid civilians touch his ninja tools, even the practice ones.

Afterwards, Sasuke ignored Hari's requests to stop for groceries, a snack, or a shirt without blood on it. He took Hari and Tedi directly home, retrieved and cleaned his kunai, and left for class. When Sasuke refused to make an excuse for being late, Sensei yelled at him.

Sasuke's usual seat was taken so he had to sit at the front of the room, the better to be stared at by everyone. After being away for so long, Sasuke was behind in everything. Morning classes were torturous.

Since all of his cousins were dead, Sasuke had no one to help him or borrow notes off of or sit with at lunch. Sasuke sat alone, quietly ate his lunch, and thought about the Boy Who Lived.

Sasuke was too old for bedtime stories. And Avengers did not have time for such foolish things. Nevertheless, Sasuke really liked Hari's stories about the Boy Who Lived.

They were both orphans, who had their families murdered in front of them. They were both living with unwanted relatives. They were both attending their village's academy. They both got stared at a lot. And the Boy Who Lived was fearless, just like an Uchiha ought to be. The Boy Who Lived was better at teamwork than Sasuke was but Sasuke was pretty sure that he was better at techniques. Best of all, Hari said that they were both real.

If the Boy Who Lived had been a citizen of Konohagakure no Sato, Sasuke would not have minded knowing or being friends with or even sharing a house with him because the Boy Who Lived would have understood about That Night and being alone and becoming an Avenger. Instead, Sasuke was stuck with Hari and Tedi and a bunch of stupid kids who stared at him and whispered about him when they thought that he wasn't listening. None of them understood what he was going through at all.

The unfairness of it all made Sasuke's mood even worse. He scowled and stomped all the way from the classroom to the taijutsu area. No one asked him if he was okay, not like the Boy Who Lived or his teammates Ron and Hermione would have done, and that just made Sasuke madder.

Taijutsu practice did not go well, since Sasuke was behind in that too. Neither did lunch or the classes after lunch. When the teacher finally dismissed them, Sasuke was the first one out of the classroom's door and one of the first to escape the academy.

He was actually grateful to see Tedi and Hari waiting for him at the academy's front gates. Sasuke scowled at them extra hard. Oblivious, that man grinned and waved, the sunlight glinting off of his thick glasses.

Sasuke stomped over to them. Tedi, who had been poking at a line of ants with a stick, seemed surprised to see him. Then he smiled at Sasuke, just like his stupid dad was doing.

"Ready to go?" asked Hari.

Sasuke grunted.

"Great!"

That man took hold of Tedi's hand, the one that was not holding onto his poking stick, and put a hand on Sasuke's shoulder. It was warm and light and Sasuke could feel the lump of bandages where Hari's hand would normally curve to cup the line of Sasuke's shoulder. Sasuke shrugged him off as violently as he could manage, despite how much he wanted the comfort of Hari's injured hand on his shoulder. Pretending to ignore Hari's quiet yelp, Sasuke snapped, "I'm not a baby!"

It was one thing to do stuff like that when they were alone or at the Memorial Stone but it was embarrassing to have Hari treat him like a little kid in front of his classmates.

Hari looked genuinely surprised. "What if Teddy and I get lost?"

Sasuke stared at his fake cousin as hard as he could. Hari stared back at him.

"How did you get here?" Sasuke demanded.

"I asked for directions. It took us forever to find the right building."

The shinobi academy had a giant sign over the front gates that said in enormous characters, 'Shinobi Academy'. The only way someone could miss that was if they did not know how to read.

He might've missed the giant sign, Sasuke thought, while staring into the man's enormous green eyes. His thick lens probably made them look bigger than they actually were. He is an idiot. And possibly blind.

"From who? That Yamanaka?"

"Strangers," Hari replied. He was looking at Sasuke strangely.

"Strangers?" Sasuke shrieked. "You can't talk to strangers! That's dangerous!"

"I am an adult, Sasuke," Hari said, grinning. "I can talk to strangers."

"You live in a ninja village now! You can't just walk up to people that you don't know and talk to them! They might be dangerous!"

"Then how does anyone ever meet anyone?"

"They know them from school or they get introduced by a friend or a parent!" Sasuke snapped. "Or they wait to introduce themselves to people until they're at least a chunin and dangerous themselves."

"Well all of that's out for me," Hari said cheerfully. "I guess I'll just have to take my chances."

Sasuke stared at Hari for a full minute. It did not seem to bother the man. Idiot.

"What about Tedi?" Sasuke asked, striking at Hari's greatest weakness. "What if you introduce yourself to a stranger and Tedi gets hurt?"

"I can look after Tedi," Hari assured him, some of his good humor fading from his expression. He looked very nearly serious.

Not that he understands why what he did is stupid and dangerous and not to be done, Sasuke thought despairingly. Civilian.

Sasuke sighed, allowing himself a moment to wallow in his frustration. But only a moment. Then Sasuke straightened his shoulders and edged slightly closer to Hari.

"Go ahead and put your hand on my shoulder," Sasuke commanded. "Otherwise you might wander off and get yourself killed by someone."

"Thank you, Sasuke," Hari replied, thankfully doing as he was told without managing to injure himself.

Sasuke tried not to notice how warm Hari's hand was or how lightly it rested on Sasuke's shoulder. He absolutely, positively did not miss the way that Hari's hand usually curved to cup the line of Sasuke's shoulder. The hand on Sasuke's shoulder squeezed ever so lightly.

"Can we buy groceries on the way home?"

"Fine," Sasuke groaned, only because he liked to eat dinner. A shinobi needed to maintain his energy levels so that he could be ready at any time to perform missions for the village.

Sasuke led the others first to a grocery story, where Hari made Sasuke read all of the labels to him which added credence to Sasuke's suspicion that the man might be illiterate. Then Sasuke helped his not-cousin carry the groceries home, but only because Tedi was too little to help. Mostly, Tedi seemed to want to poke things with his stick.

At home, Sasuke carried the groceries into the kitchen and then went out to the backyard to practice.

He came inside when Hari called him, showered, soaked a bit, and ate dinner before getting ready for bed. Like every other night, Tedi and Hari were waiting for Sasuke when he finally went to bed. And, like every other night, Sasuke crawled up the length of the bed to lay claim to the space between Tedi and the wall.

When Sasuke was settled beneath the thin blankets and Tedi was settled against him, Hari said, "The winter break was soon upon Ron, Hermione, and the Boy Who Lived. Ron, who was one of the two best mates a bloke could have, decided to stay at Hogwarts that year so that the Boy Who Lived wouldn't be alone in Gryffindor Tower. Ron's three older brothers, who thought that family ought to be together during the holidays, decided to stay at Hogwarts for the holidays too. The twins claimed they were only staying to get into mischief and Percy said that it was his duty as a prefect to help the teachers keep order over the holidays, but..."

 

 

Sasuke's second day at school was no better than his first but, at the end of the day, Hari and Tedi were waiting for him at the academy's front gates, both of them grinning that same stupid grin. Tedi shouted something that might have been Sasuke's name and waved at him.

This time, when Hari tried to put his hand on Sasuke's shoulder in front of everyone, Sasuke let it happen. Who knew where Hari and Tedi would wander off to or, worse, talk to, if Sasuke did not have a means of constantly keeping track of them? That was the only reason that Sasuke put up with Hari's touching.

"How was school?"

Sasuke grunted.

"That bad, huh?" Hari asked, sounding sympathetic. "Want to get ice cream on the way home? Or tea? Or, uh, something?"

Sasuke hesitated, wavering. "Tomatoes?" he asked hopefully.

Hari grinned. "Okay. Let's get tomatoes. And ice cream."

Sasuke grimaced, which made Tedi and Hari laugh.

 

 

They were back home again, Sasuke eating tomatoes while Hari and Tedi ate ice cream, when Hari said, "So, school was bad. How were your classes?"

Sasuke scowled again. He savagely chomped his way through a cherry tomato, Hari waiting in patient silence, before Sasuke reluctantly admitted, "I'm behind in everything."

"What classes are you taking?" Hari asked. Seeing no harm in it, Sasuke listed them for Hari, who nodded and, flexing his bandaged hand, said, "I can help you with everything but the combat classes."

"That'll probably be safer for you," Sasuke agreed. "I can catch up in those on my own."

"Good." Hari smiled. "School is important, Sasuke."

"Yeah," said Sasuke. Mother and Itachi had often told him the same thing. "I know."

After dinner, Hari set Tedi up on the other side of the table with a book of uncolored pictures, outlined in black, and a box of colorful wax sticks. Sasuke carefully arranged his textbooks and notebooks along the other side of the table. When Hari sat down next to him, Sasuke nudged the first textbook, his math one, towards Hari. Sasuke looked at Hari expectantly.

"What do you want to start with?" asked Hari.

"Start here," Sasuke said, helpfully tapping the first problem for Hari.

"Would you mind reading it to me?"

Sasuke squinted suspiciously at first Hari, then the textbook with its large print, and then Hari again.

"Can you even read?"

"I can read my own language!" Hari huffed defensively.

"You can't even read! I'm not sure that I want your help after all."

"Sasuke, I can't even really speak your language," Hari admitted, far too easily for Sasuke's tastes. "You just think that I can. Now, read that first problem to me."

Sasuke wanted to ask Hari what he meant but, remembering Tedi's gruesome kekkei genkai, he was reluctant to do so. Tedi's shifting appearance never bothered Hari. If Hari had a kekkei genkai, it was probably even worse.

Sasuke read his first math question aloud to Hari. He blamed being distracted by Hari's potentially disgusting kekkei genkai for his easy acquiescence to Hari's demands.

Hari turned out to be a very good teacher.

 

 

Sasuke was uncertain how he had ended up at the Yamanaka Flower Shop. He suspected Yamanaka jutsu, despite the lack of Yamanaka involved in his kidnapping. That had mostly consisted of Hari looking large-eyed and stupid as he cheerfully threatened to ask strangers for directions again. Sasuke was still trying to work out why he cared if Hari got himself and Tedi killed by an unbalanced jonin while Hari knocked on the blackened door of the apartment over the flower shop.

"Relax, Sasuke," Hari soothed as he returned his hand to Sasuke's shoulder. He gave Sasuke's shoulder a little squeeze. "This'll be fun. His daughter's your classmate."

"Ino," Sasuke gloomily agreed. "She's the number one in our class."

Father had always been so disappointed by that. As the Uchiha in his class, Sasuke should have been the number one.

"Maybe she'll be your Hermione."

"Unlikely. She's too bossy and mean."

Hari laughed. "Hermione can be pretty bossy and mean, especially when she thinks she's right."

The door swung open. The Yamanaka man was standing there with Ino peeking around the door frame.

"Hi, Sasuke-kun!" Ino popped out from behind the door. "Welcome to our house!"

Smiling, her father opened the door wider and stepped back to allow them inside. Sasuke went first, then Tedi, and finally Hari.

"We've got slippers for everyone!" Ino cheerfully informed them as she passed out fuzzy blue slippers to Hari and Sasuke. They looked brand new. Sitting down in front of Tedi, Ino said, "And I'll help you!"

Tedi beamed at Ino, his hair lightening and lengthening until it was shoulder length and platinum blonde. His eyes shifted color, the pupil disappeared, and his eyes instead became ringed by a thick black line. Ino startled and Sasuke grinned, enjoying being the one who was comfortable with Tedi's bloodline limit for once.

"That's a really neat trick!" Ino enthused as she wrestled with Tedi's shoes. "I bet you'd make a fantastic intelligence nin."

Tedi happily burbled at Ino in that language that he and Hari shared.

"Yes, you would," Ino cooed as she slipped Tedi's house slippers on. She was holding hands with Tedi when she stood up. To Sasuke, Ino said, "Want to see my room?"

Despite himself, Sasuke slanted a look at Hari who nodded, smiled, and said, "Keep an eye on Teddy."

Nodding, Sasuke followed Ino out of the room. The last thing that Sasuke heard was Ino's father murmuring to Hari, "His eyes, will they work properly?"

"This is my room!" Ino announced as she threw open a white door. There was a lot of orange and blue and yellow inside. Ron Weasley probably would have loved Ino's room. It hurt Sasuke's eyes.

"It's very nice," Sasuke offered, because he had not yet forgotten all of his mother's lessons on manners. And, well, Tedi was chattering and giggling and looking around the room like it was amazing.

Ino beamed at him.

 

 

Dinner was not as terrible as Sasuke had expected it to be, even though Hari ended up producing one of those strange eating utensils that he and Tedi used at home for Tedi to use instead of chopsticks. But it was really unsettling to see Hari and Tedi eat as if the Yamanaka clan was not known for their poisons. Ino and her dad looked amused.

Sasuke hated that they were quietly laughing at his not-cousins, that they thought Hari was an idiot. Only he was allowed to do that!

"Why don't you ever think?" Sasuke scolded Hari on the way home. "What would you have done if they'd poisoned you?"

"I would've been very disappointed in them," Hari said, with entirely too little concern in Sasuke's opinion.

"What would you have done if they'd poisoned Tedi?" Sasuke persisted, appealing to Hari's biggest weakness.

"I would've given him the universal cure."

"There's no such thing!" Sasuke snapped.

"I would've taken care of it," Harry insisted, his tone surprisingly firm.

"You can't even take care of yourself," Sasuke scoffed.

"Well, then it's a good thing that I've got you to look after me," Hari said agreeably, his slight moment of temper melting away as if it had never been. Hari was often frustrating like that.

"I'm not even sure how you're still alive," Sasuke complained.

"I'm very lucky."

"Obviously."

 

 

Several weeks later, Sasuke woke up to find an enormous stack of papers and scrolls on his desk. Hari was sitting on Sasuke's desk chair.

"Hey, do you have school today?" Hari asked, his voice low so as not to wake Tedi, who was still sound asleep.

"No," Sasuke said slowly. Hari and Tedi had been living with him for months by that point. Hari knew that Sasuke never had school on Sundays. "Why?"

"I need you to write a list of your relatives, their birth and death dates, and maybe something that they liked or were known for next to their names," Hari replied. Sasuke's chest tightened and his breath caught. "It doesn't have to just be the ones that were killed recently. You can go back as far as you'd like. I've got plenty of space on my stone. And I'll copy exactly what you have on the paper so make sure that you spell everything correctly."

Sasuke nodded once, sharply. Hari stayed where he was a few moments longer, as if waiting for something, and then rose and left the room on mostly quiet feet.

Civilian, Sasuke thought fondly as he slipped out of bed, careful not to wake Tedi, who was curled up next to Sasuke in the bed. He went straight to his desk to start working on his list.

Several minutes later, when delicious cooking smells began wafting through the house, Sasuke smiled and thought, Hari's cooking breakfast.