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When It Rains

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Naruto let him go.

The moron spent –what? Four, five, six- years chasing after him. And then he let Sasuke leave. Just like that. No yelling, not a single word of protest, not even the threat of a fight.

It was for the best. The terrain around Konoha couldn’t handle another epic battle between two over-powered god-like shinobi.

So, what was this feeling? It followed him everywhere for weeks. Sasuke couldn’t name it. He couldn’t see or process this- this dark shape hovering in his periphery.

He was… Bothered? Yes. And empty, but hopeful. Expectant… Frustrated? Like he thought he would sneeze, but it never came, so he just sat there gasping like an idiot.

Yeah. That’s as close as he can get to explaining that... Whatever.

Sasuke walked until he couldn’t walk anymore. He paid no heed to the scenery or direction. The constant overcast darkened to a drizzle, which exploded to a torrid downpour. He set up camp in a cave to wait it out. As he waited, Sasuke read, meditated, ate some dried meat, and thought.

There was a lot to think about.

The headband, for instance.

He traced the scar that cut horizontally across the dull steel surface, bisecting Konoha’s beloved symbol. A pang of sweet-sharp pain zinged through his chest. Sasuke clenched his teeth, closed his eyes, and leaned back onto the rough, rocky wall.

Inhale.

Warm, wet, bright. It hurt. It hurt so much. His hand inside his best (first, last, only) friend. Naruto bled. Naruto cried, screamed, and begged. He was hurt. Sasuke hurt him, damn near killed him and for what?

Exhale.

Nothing. The world without that light would be dull, dark and meaningless. That’s why he gladly offered his own life the first time, ‘failed’ to kill him the next, and eventually surrendered.

Deep breath. He wiped a stray drop of moisture- probably rain brought in by a gust of wind- and opened his eyes.

“Hi ya, Sasuke-bastard.”

So… He either fell asleep, or was seeing things.

“Your eyes don’t deceive you,” the Naruto-like apparition grinned, “It’s really me.”

That’s exactly what his subconscious would say. Sasuke closed his eyes and willed the hallucination to vanish.

“Oy, don’t ignore me, asshole. You haven’t seen your best friend in forever and this is how you treat him?”

Sasuke should be embarrassed. He spent so much time obsessing about that idiot (‘until things between us are resolved’) that his mind created this… Irritating imitation.

Why? Sasuke harbored no delusions  about his tenuous grip on reality. Madness runs in the family. Maybe he finally snapped.

Still… Could it be possible?

The Uchiha reached out to touch the orange-clad figment of his imagination. He drew back when his hand came in contact with something solid instead of simply passing through.

“Naruto?”

“Heh,” the blond caught Sasuke’s fingers and gave them a firm, reassuring squeeze, “The one and only.”

An ironic declaration from a guy known for the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu. At any given point in time, there could be several thousand Narutos scattered from here to Suna, loudly proclaiming their uniqueness.

“You’re really here.”

“Well, yeah. Would it kill you to crack a smile? At least pretend you’re happy to see me.”

“How did you find me?”

“Uh.” Naruto’s gaze flickered to the headband in Sasuke’s hand. The Uchiha clenched his fingers around it, feeling exposed. He didn’t want that idiot jumping to conclusions.

“The mark,” Sasuke said before the silence became awkward, “of course.” The Sage’s marks still connected them. Naruto probably used it to track him.

“Yeah, that!” he rubbed the back of his neck, “Totally, totally the hand-tattoo… Thing. It lead me right to ya!”

Sasuke’s eyes narrowed. The idiot was clearly hiding something.

“But there’s no way you could…”

“Catch up?” Naruto finished, almost reading his mind, “Didn’t you say the same thing when we were kids? ‘Hn dobe, like you’d ever catch up to me.’ And yet here I am.”

“Why.”

“Why not?”

“Naruto.”

“I just missed you, ya know.”

“Don’t say such shameless things, usuratonkachi.”

“Any you totally missed me too.”

“Hn.”

Naruto grinned.

“Anyway, I thought you were sleeping, so I didn’t want to wake you up or anything but… Um… You look like you were crying or…” Sasuke glared. “Probably got something in your eye. Right. So. Hi.”

“You already said that.”

“You’re not gonna make this easy for me, are ya!?”

“Make what easy for you?”

“Uh. Just… Being with you.”

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.

“On your travels, I mean. I’m coming with you, Sasuke.”

“No.”

“It wasn’t a question.”

“Go home. You belong in Konoha. You were training to be hokage.”

“Oh yeah, about that.”

Naruto told him the story.

Well, it wasn’t so much a story as it was two hours of continuous whining.

“… so boring, ya know. It’s just a lot of reading and signing stacks on stacks on stacks of documents, like what the fuck? Kakashi-sensei said it was only the tip of the iceberg, which got me thinking, you remember that mission we had in Snow Country? With that actress? Shit, she was hot. Anyway, the tip of the iceberg- the part you can see- is a lot smaller than the whole thing. Like, whoa, I did not sign up for that crap, ya know.”

“Hn.”

“So I said, I said keep the job, leave it, give it to whoever ya want as long as it’s not me. Turns out I wasn’t even the first in line. Sakura-chan, of all people, was their number one choice.”

“Makes sense.”

She was Tsunade’s apprentice, and an intelligent, capable kunoichi in her own right. Her insipid crush on Sasuke… Well, in light of everything, he could forgive her for it.

“Yeah. I guess so. Anyways, I was never…”

“What?”

“Never in Konoha for long when, uh, when you weren’t there too. Hadn’t thought about it before, but somehow, the whole place feels…” he coughed “anyway, I’m here now. Lead the way!”

“Naruto.”

“Yeah, yeah, ya prissy bastard. It’s raining. Guess we’ll have to wait it out.”

Naruto shifted, leaning on the cave wall next to Sasuke. Their shoulders touched. That single point of contact warmed Sasuke to the bone.

I didn’t even realize I was cold.

“I’m gonna take a nap,” Naruto announced suddenly, “hope you don’t mind.”

What a loser. “Why would I mind if you- oy, what are you doing, idiot?”

The blond laid flat on the ground, resting his head on Sasuke’s thigh as if it was normal.

“I told you,” said idiot yawned, “’m taking a nap. Wake me up when it stops raining.”

Sasuke should have objected. Pushed him off, pushed him away, called him names, told him to go back home, something.

Instead, he moved his hand –his only hand- to rest gently on the other boys head. Long, pale fingers moved through soft yellow hair, untangling small knots and feeling the warmth underneath.

Naruto hummed softly and drifted off to sleep.

Some time later- he didn’t know how long- it hit him. Sasuke shifted, careful not to move his sleeping moron. The forehead protector. He activated his sharingan, smirking when he found it: a teleportation seal.

So, he thought, I was wrong. You didn’t let me go.

How strange.

For the first time in his life, Sasuke felt free.

Chapter Text

Sasuke stared.

Like, a lot. His eyes- well, technically just eye, what with the rinnegan and his bangs and okay back on topic- glazed over as they alternated between looking at the right side of Naruto’s chest and his bandaged arm.

“Sasuke, you’re doing it again.”

The Uchiha blinked, shook his head, and returned to skinning the rabbit. The bastard always insisted on setting up camp, doing all the hunting and cooking, taking first watch, yatta yatta, chores really suck balls, every single night.

At first Naruto thought Sasuke did it to be an ass. Like it was his way of saying ‘Tch. Idiot. You can’t be trusted to do anything right.’ Sure, it was annoying, but it also made him pretty nostalgic. He remembered cute little genin Sasuke- okay, so the bastard’s still technically a genin, but he’s definitely not twelve anymore- with his puffy arm warmers and permanent scowl (pout). Damn, he missed those days.

But there wasn’t a trace of that signature Uchiha arrogance in Sasuke’s actions. This made Naruto wonder if the jerk was actually trying to be… Nice. And yeah, that’s what it was, but why? Sasuke wasn’t nice for no reason, not unless he was dealing with stray cats or homeless war orphans.

And why did he keep looking at Naruto like that, at the right side his chest, the place where-

Oh.

Well.

Fuck.

No, that wouldn’t do.

“If it’s not one thing,” Naruto grumbled, “it’s the other. Damn it.”

“What are you on about, dobe?”

“I’m tired of this shit. Give me the rabbit, teme.” The blond snatched the animal carcass from his rival and set to work.

They ate dinner in silence. The silence lingered into the next morning. It grew awkward, heavy, and unbearably boring. Not that Sasuke seemed to notice.

Clouds gathered, thickened, and rumbled. A faint flicker of lightning rippled in the distance. Naruto frowned.

It’s going to rain again.

He hated rain. It reminded him too much of that day all those years ago. Ya know, the day Sasuke tried to- Shit. Naruto stopped walking and glared at the sky. He took a deep breath. Here it goes. No use putting it off anymore.

“Sasuke?”

“Hn.” The bastard halted a few paces away.

When’s the last time you looked me in the eye?  Naruto sucked the inside of his cheek to distract from the burning pain in his chest. “Why’d you leave the village?” He asked instead.

Sasuke walked (sauntered) to a nearby tree. He leaned back on it, crossing his arms in his signature ‘cool guy’ pose. “Which time.”

“Hardy-har, smartass. Answer the damn question.”

I’m talking about the most recent one. Don’t play dumb.

“I already told you.”

“Yeah, well. I’ve given it a lot of thought-“ Sasuke raised an eyebrow in mock surprise. Naruto fought the urge to punch that perfect Uchiha nose and settled for a “-shut up, bastard. Make your predictable jabs at my intelligence later, kay?” This comment earned him a genuine look of surprise. Which was even more insulting, but he had to stop getting distracted, damn it!

Naruto huffed, took a deep breath, and continued, “Anyways, that whole thing you said about redemption and trying things my way or whatever- most of it was a steaming load of shit. Dunno why it took me so long to figure it out,” Sauske smirked a little at this, “I said, shut up asshole- but oh, actually, it’s because the best lies always have a nugget of truth. That’s what Kaka-sensei said. You were always a good liar.”

“I’m a ninja,” Sasuke shrugged, “What’s your point?”

Naruto laced his fingers behind his head. He squinted at the a lone bird flying overhead. “You called this a journey of redemption, but… What exactly are you trying to make up for?”

For, like, the billionth time, Sasuke’s eye flickered down to the right side of Naruto’s chest and then to his bandaged arm.

“Sasuke.”

That’s when Sasuke knew that Naruto knew, and from the way the Uchiha started walking away, Naruto knew that Sasuke knew he knew- wait, is that- augh, not important!

“Sasuke!”

The Uchiha walked faster with his eyes fixed on the ground. “It’s going to rain again and the next town is-“

Suddenly, Naruto was in front of him (fuck yeah, teleportation!) holding him firmly by the shoulders and giving him That Look. The trademark Uzumaki glare of stubborn determination. He could see Sasuke debate internally, on whether or not he should fight it but the last time that happened, well.

(It’s my loss.)

Naruto took Sasuke’s hand. He brought it to his chest, pressing it against the fabric of his blazer.

“Feel that? See, it’s fine. No scar, nothing, almost like you,” he swallowed and cleared his throat, “it uh, never happened.”

By ‘it,’ he was referring to the fist-sized hole from their first fight at the valley.

Sasuke pursed his lips. He removed his hand from under Naruto’s, moving it to the zipper at the blond’s throat. Pulled it halfway down, then slid his hand under the fabric and pressed firmly against that place. Something like lightning (chidori) zinged through Naruto’s flesh at the point of contact, making his heart race. He shivered.

Sasuke made to pull away but Naruto tightened his grip. “And the new arm?” He chuckled a little breathlessly. “Even better than the old one, I swear. It never gets tired or sore or anything. You should give it a shot.”

“I’m sorry Naruto, I should have apologized before.”

I can’t bear to see that look on your face.

“Shut up,” he growled, taking a half-step forward.

“You should hate me,” the Uchiha breathed.

Look at me, damn it!

You should forgive yourself,” Naruto countered.

“How?”

“Bastard, I told you. I told you how I feel when you take stuff on and get messed up for no good reason and then try to-“ aha! An epiphany “-to punish yourself by being all alone when- when- damn it, Sasuke! Just let it go, will ya? Who cares? You did some stupid shit. Big deal, you were a teenager-”

“I’m still a teenager, idiot.”

“-and yeah, you hurt me. And a lot of other people. But you also saved the world. Ever think of that, genius? Also, you almost died saving my life way before you pretended to want to kill me.”

“I wasn’t-“

“C’mon,” Naruto forced a grin, “if you really wanted me dead, I would’ve died ten times over by now.”

“Don’t flatter me, dumbass.”

“That wasn’t a compliment, asswipe. Stop trying to distract me.”

“Like I have to try, usuratonkachi.”

“Shut up, bastard. Anyways, if that’s what this journey is about-“ hurting me, Sasuke feels guilty for hurting me that one stupid time all those years ago “-and don’t get me wrong, I’m having a blast- but- but…”

Naruto really didn’t know where he was going with that sentence. He had something he wanted to say. This burning, electric feeling jolted through his chest, in his stomach, but especially the place on his chest where Sasuke’s hand still was. When words failed him –which is pretty much all the time- actions always seem to do the trick. So, Naruto inched forward a little more.

“Naruto…” Sasuke tried to move away.

Stop running from me.

Naruto tightened his grip, then leaned forward until their foreheads touched. Well, the leaf symbol on Naruto’s forehead protector rested against Sasuke’s skin. It was oddly fitting.

After all, Konoha was the thing that brought them together, even as it kept them apart.

Huh.

Naruto blinked. His eyes struggled to focus on Sasuke’s clear, black iris. They were so close- maybe two inches apart, and Sauske was actually letting him- Shit. Shit, he couldn’t hold back anymore. Here goes nothing.

“Sasuke, I-“ A sharp, cold prickle stung his neck. “You know I’m in-” a few more raindrops fell in rapid succession. Damn it!

“See, what did I tell you?” The Uchiha took advantage of the distraction, shaking Naruto’s grip and turning on his heels. “We have to get moving.” He pulled up the hood on his cape and resumed a brisk pace. “Slow down, bastard! Are you that scared of getting a little wet?”

“One word.”

“Hm?”

“Pneumonia.”

“What the fuck’s-“

“Just try to keep up, dead-last.” And then, the asshole started running. Of course he did- Sasuke made everything more difficult than it had to be.

Naruto was cold for all the wrong reasons. He zipped up his blazer and, as he’d been doing for most of his life, went after Sasuke.

Chapter Text

Naruto has nightmares.

The nightmares vary. In one version, he’s sixteen again, standing in the demolished ruins of Orichamaru’s base, staring at a silhouette against the blinding sunlight. He blinks. The silhouette is gone. Sasuke stands in front of him. His eyes are closed; his face uncharacteristically peaceful.

Naruto reaches forward. His hand rests on the a pale, smooth throat.

“Sasuke,” he whispers.

Sasuke opens his eyes.

Naruto wrenches his hand away. He stumbles back, shaking his head in denial.

“No. No, no, no!”

“I’m sorry, Naruto-kun.” Sasuke’s mouth moves to speak in Sasuke’s voice, “you’re too late.”

Familiar lips twist into an unfamiliar expression- something too wide, too cruel for those small, symmetrical features. Once-black irises are now a sickly yellow. The slit-pupiled eyes narrow in sadistically.

When not-Sasuke draws his katana and lunges for his chest, Naruto doesn’t fight back. Pain slices through him, solid, sharp-

-until he jolts awake with a start.

Sasuke, the real Sasuke with one black eye and hair covering the rinnegan, crouched in front of him.

“Bad dream?”

A bead of sweat trailed down his temple. Naruto nodded. “Say,” He cleared his throat and wiped his eyes, “wanna go kill Orochimaru? Again, I mean.”

Sasuke tilted his head. He looked off to the side, seemed to considered it, scoffed, and offered Naruto a flask of water, which he accepted.

As Naruto drank, Sasuke asked, “Why?”  

He choked. The Uchiha sighed and left him to his coughing fit.

“Idiot.”

 


 

Naruto has dreams.

He’s walking home. The world is drenched in twilight gold. Dead grass crunches softly under his small feet. A blue butterfly flutters lazily about a dandelion. Naruto chases it just as lazily. There’s no rush to get home. It’s not like anyone’s waiting for him. So, he takes his time.

The butterfly leads him to the pier. Naruto crouches and slowly reaches out. Just as he cups his fingers around the creature, it flies away.

A soft, wistful smile tugs at his lips. Naruto turns towards the lake. He sees a familiar figure dressed in black.

Sasuke turns around. Naruto freezes.

Pride- okay, fine, fear of rejection, battled with the overwhelming urge to just- just-

He raises his hand and waves. Dark eyes widen fractionally. Black brows furrow in confusion. Naruto prepares himself for Sasuke to turn around and pretend he didn’t exist, just like everyone else.

Instead, Sasuke waved back.

Naruto grins. He takes it as an invitation, finds himself running down the hill, and stops at the edge where the grass bordered the wooden pier.

“Hey,” he greeted a little breathlessly.

Sasuke stood. He dusted himself off.

“Hi.”

“Um. I was on my way to get some ramen-“ he wasn’t “-if you…”

Sasuke shrugged.

“Why not.”

Those two words made his heart swell like it could burst out of his chest. Finally, they could-

Naruto woke up with tears in his eyes. Sasuke leveled him with a long, hard stare.

“It’s nothing,” he said, because it was; just a memory and a wish all mixed up. Just another thing that could have happened, but didn’t.

In that way, his dreams and nightmares were the same.

 


 

Amegakure was so…

“Fucking depressing,” Naruto grumbled as yet another storm interrupted their progress, “what are we doing here, anyways?”

Sasuke said nothing. He walked towards a bakery and tossed a sidelong look over his shoulder. Naruto grumbled. Maybe, he could stay outside just to be stubborn.

In the end, he followed Sasuke.

A bell chimed when they opened the wooden door.

Water pooled at Naruto’s feet. Blond hair drooped over his forehead protector, covering the leaf symbol.

The bakery was small and dingy. Spider-thin cracks marred the ceiling. Flowery, faded wallpaper peeled and frayed where the wall touched the floor. A single lightbulb hung from an exposed wire, swaying and flickering feebly.

But the smell. And the bread- all that fucking bread. Wow.

“I’ll take one of everything,” Sasuke informed the girl at the counter.

“R-really?”

He nodded.

“Naruto, give me the money.”

“Hey, hey, hold on a second. We can’t-“ the bastard gave him A Look “-fine, whatever.”

Guess they’ll be finding another dingy cave to sleep in instead of a nice, warm inn. Oh well.

Sasuke paid for the bread and generously told the girl to keep the change. Naruto was caught between irritation -who was that bastard to throw their money away recklessly?- and, uh, that other thing.

(Admiration.)

Shut up.

Sasuke turned to leave.

“Wait!” the girl called. “You’re not from here, are you?”

“No, we’re not,” Naruto said when Sasuke refused to answer.

“I have an extra room, if you…” The question was obliquely addressed to Sasuke. Actually, she didn’t spare poor Naruto a single glance since they walked in. Yeah, typical.

“Sorry, lady,” he piped in before the silence got awkward, “we can’t afford it.”

“I won’t charge you. It’s the least I can do.”

“Seriously? Awesome! We’ll take it. Oi, oi, where are you going? Teme, wait up!”

And then, he followed Sasuke to a bad –well, worse- part of town.

“What are we doing here?” Naruto asked in a low whisper.

His question was ignored.

Just as he was about to grab that jerk by the collar and pound some answers out of him, Sasuke stopped. He walked into a wooden shack, and promptly found a blade pushed against his neck.

Naruto almost had a heart attack.

“Teme! Stop being so careless! Hey, hey, get off him.”

Bright, violet eyes flickered between the intruders.

“What do you want?”

She was a child, Naruto realized; no older than ten, dressed in rags. A long, jagged scar bisected her left eyebrow. The skin on her neck was covered in grime, bruises, and painful-looking welts.

Sasuke didn’t back away from the kunai.

“How many others are here?” he asked, though he probably knew the answer.

Naruto sensed five children, all smaller than this girl, huddled and shivering in the far corner.

She hissed, pressing the blade enough to draw a trickle of blood.

“Leave us alone.”

Sasuke held out the bag of bread.

“This is food,” he said, “I trust you’ll share it fairly.”

The girl faltered. “I- what? Is this some kind of joke?”

In a flash, Sasuke took her knife and tossed it to the side.

“Take it or leave it,” he said, and walked away.

Naruto had questions.

So. Many. Questions.

His cheeks puffed with the effort of holding everything in as they walked back to the bakery.

The girl, Akane, showed them to her apartment above the bakery.

“I’m just down the hall if you,” blush, fidget, glance at Sasuke, “need anything.”

Sasuke hn-ed. Naruto hmph-ed. Who needs ninja skills to be invisible. All a guy had to do was stand next to that bastard.

“So,” Naruto wasted no time peeling his wet clothes off, “mind telling me what that was all about?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, I mind. I’m taking a bath.”

Naruto, on the other hand, was sick to death of water and being wet. He dug some dry clothes out of his pack and changed, then wrapped a shirt around his dripping hair.

The bed…

Oh. There was only one.

Sasuke wouldn’t like that.

Eh, they’ll work something out.

 


 

It turned out not to be a problem.

Sasuke claimed the side of the bed beside the lamp. He pulled out a book and started reading. Naruto tried to get comfortable on the side by the window, closed his eyes, and…

Yup. He wasn’t tired, just bored enough to crawl out of his skin.

“Sasuke,” he whispered.

No response.

“Psst, Sasuke,” he rolled onto his stomach, resting his chin in his hands.

More silence. Fuck this! Naruto sat up and poked the stoic jerk.

“Oi, teme!”

“Keep your voice down, dobe.”

Finally.

“Whatcha doin’?”

“What does it look like?”

Damn that smartass and his obsession with books. How could Sasuke stare at all that boring paper when the amazing, colorful, good-looking Uzumaki Naruto was right there?

“Hmph. Kay then, whatcha reading?”

“Hn.”

“That’s not an answer!”

This earned him A Look Of Death.

“Wait, is that, like, like, a book on a super secret jutsu? Are you still trying to one-up me? Hell no! Lemme see, damnit!” Naruto leaned over Sasuke’s shoulder. Sasuke pushed him away.

“Idiot, back off. It’s none of your business.”

“Like hell! You’ve been, like,” Naruto continued to flail for the book, “weirdly secretive all day! I’m sick of it!”

Sasuke stretched back, keeping it out of reach. “Oh, as if you tell meeverything.”

“Uh…” Naruto sat back and crossed his arms, “Since there’s no one else to talk to, yeah.”

Sasuke shot him an incredulous glance.

“What, are you calling me a liar?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“If you’re lying.”

“You!” Naruto jabbed an accusing finger.

“Something’s bothering you.”

“Duh!” He threw his hands up, “Your shitty attitude is getting on my last nerve!”

“Stop deflecting.”

Okay, something was up. Naruto scrunched his face and tried to puzzle out the… well, puzzle of that cryptic jerk.

“Is that why you’ve been ignoring me all day? Trying to teach me a lesson about ‘hiding things’- which I’m not, by the way- by being all mysterious and shit?”

“…Surprisingly astute,” he muttered.

“Joke’s on you, because I tell you everything. Literally everything. Like, like, remember last week when I ate those weird colored noodles and my shit turned green –green!- and-“

Sasuke pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Stop talking.”

“Yup, that’s what you said then too. See? I’m an open book, so…”

“You’ve been mumbling and crying in your sleep, asking me strange questions every morning, and if you look at me like that one more time-“

Naruto tilted his head. “Like what?”

“You know.”

“Uh.”

“You actually don’t know.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying. Geez.”

“Forget it.” He went back to his book.

Naruto stared at the ceiling for a good three hours. Minutes. Fine, seconds, but he’s not really the most patient guy around.

“I screwed up. That’s what’s bothering me.”

Sasuke set his book down.

“With you, I mean. There lots of stuff that could’ve… Like, if I asked you to get ramen with me…”

“It’s past midnight.”

“Not now, I mean back then. At the academy or when we were kids, would you have said yes?”

Sasuke thought about it.

“Maybe.”

“And if… When you left the village to go to that crazy pedo-creep-“

“He wasn’t-“

“Yeah, yeah. So you say. The guy literally wanted your body, bastard.”

“Not like that.”

This was another item on the long list of things Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto would never see eye-to-eye on. For once, Naruto let it slide.

“Okay,” he shrugged, “what if I offered to come with you instead of dragging you back? What would you have said?”

“I don’t know.”

“Damn it, Sasuke!”

“I’m not the same person I was back then. It’s like looking into a mind of a stranger. I can’t… It doesn’t matter. What’s done is done.”

“But- look, I just. I’m sorry.”

Sasuke pursed his lips, waiting for Naruto to elaborate.

“I wanted to help you, y’know,” he picked at a loose thread on the checkered blanket, “But how’s taking you back to the place where your family… Where everyone treated you like… And they threw you in jail. When the war ended, they tied you up and- and- after everything they put you through, after you saved the world…”

Naruto went on for a while. He talked about how, his whole life, he only allowed himself to feel what he was supposed to feel. He was supposed see the best in people. He was supposed to be forgiving. Everyone tried their best, didn’t they? People always had their reasons.

Besides, the villagers accepted him in the end, just as he accepted them. It was a conditional acceptance, but acceptance nonetheless. Isn’t that what he wanted?

But what about Sasuke? How could Naruto love the place that destroyed his best friend’s family, freedom, and sanity? Even if he became Hokage, he couldn’t help Sasuke. He’d just make himself miserable and…

“That’s when I realized what I really felt. Right now, to be honest,” he took a deep breath, “I can’t stand Konoha. How they treated me. What they did to you.” His jaw worked as anger washed over him. “I shouldn’t have brought you back and I’m glad that they let you go even if I couldn’t. Uh. Let you go too, I mean.”

“Is that so,” Sasuke commented wryly.

“Teme, I just poured my damn heart out.”

“You do that all the time, idiot.”

Naruto pouted. “I really wanna punch you right now.”

“Go ahead.”

“Like I’d attack a cripple.”

“This cripple kicked your ass the last, oh, five times we sparred, but who’s counting?”

Naruto did punch Sasuke for that, but in a gentle, playful way.

“Anyway, I accept you apology. It took a few years; that can’t be helped considering how slow-“

“Teme!”

“-your poor pea-sized brain is. If you’re done-“

“Nuh-uh, I answered your question-“

“What question?”

“The, um, implicit… implied… y’know what I mean! Now you gotta answer mine.”

Sasuke sighed.

“Seriously, what’re you reading?”

“Icha Icha Tactics, volume three.”

Naruto snorted. “Yeah, right.”

“Kakashi gave me the first one and said it could keep me company on this ‘lonely journey,’” Sasuke turned the page, “Perhaps he was trying to make amends.”

“You have a really weird sense of humor.”

“At first, I thought it was boring, but now…”

This was really too much.

“I d-don’t believe you!” Naruto stammered. He yanked the book from Sasuke’s hands, took one look at the contents and- “Nu-uh. Nope. You can’t read this, no way.”

Sasuke tsk-ed, frowning. “Give it back.”

“No! As your best friend, it’s my duty to- to protect your innocence! This crap’s for perverts, Sasuke, you can’t be exposed to it.”

“Like you’re one to talk.”

A beat passed as Naruto remembered that time he tried to seduce Sasuke with his sexy jutsu. Call him crazy, but he swore Sasuke was thinking about the same thing.

Whoo. Was it hot in here or…

Uh. Nevermind.

Naruto’s blushed. He glanced up and saw a twinge of color on Sasuke’s cheeks.

“Are you,” he coughed and cleared his throat for a good ten seconds, “thinking about the time when-“

“-you kissed me if front of the whole academy?”

“I- what- no! I didn’t, I mean why- that was an accident, y’know!”

“Oh.”

Wait.

Somehow, Sasuke seemed disappointed. You had to listen and watch real close to catch it, but no mistake. All these years, did the bastard think that Naruto did that on purpose?

“Have your damn book back,” he grumbled, tossing it at Sasuke’s face, “’m gonna sleep.”

He crawled under the covers, curling up as close to the edge as he could. Rain pattered relentlessly on the window. An occasional flash of lightning illuminated the room. Naruto drifted off to sleep.

They were at the Valley of the End. Naruto lay on the ground. His eyes were open. The clouds closed around a single sun beam until it disappeared. Sasuke knelt above him, mere inches from his face. Naruto closed his eyes.

Soft warmth brushed over his lips for a too-short moment.

In his ear, a voice whispered, “Naruto, I…”

When he looked up, he was alone, soaked to the bone in never-ending rain.