After blowing off each other’s arms like the morons they are, Naruto and Sasuke spend nearly a month in the hospital mostly recovering from severe chakra exhaustion. They end up in adjacent hospital rooms, and Sasuke wakes up first. Sakura walks in to check on him and nearly tears the door off its hinges to find he isn’t there.
Of course, he’s in Naruto’s room. No one told him where he was; he just found him on his own. As if reacting to his very presence, Naruto opens his eyes not even an hour later, and after that it becomes impossible to pry the two apart.
They talk, or at least they try to. It’s hard, at first, to actually say things. They have a kind of soul link now, and they know that they love each other and suffer for each other's pain — it’s ingrained in them so thoroughly at this point that everything else barely feels real by comparison. But it doesn’t automatically make the things that have been setting them at odds go away. Naruto still wants to be the leader of a system that doomed Sasuke’s entire family. Sasuke still wants to thoroughly demolish that same system.
Naruto still thinks of Konoha as home. Sasuke doesn’t.
The first few nights they almost rip each other’s throats out, because that’s all they know how to do. That's all they've ever done with feelings too massive to comprehend. Even then Sasuke never considers returning to his own room. Eventually they just sigh, and they stop.
So they talk.
Well, Naruto talks. Mostly about their classmates, and about the time he spent outside the village with Jiraiya. Sometimes about how much he missed his best friend. Sasuke rolls his eyes and snorts and hums in response. Their conversations gradually become less one sided, starting with Sasuke opening up about his very unpleasant time with Orochimaru. Once, and only once, does he admit that for the first six months or so he missed Konoha (Naruto) so viscerally he had dreams almost every night, until he started exhausting himself to such an extent during training that the memories would fall away for dreamless sleep to take its place.
When that stopped working, he just stopped sleeping for days at a time altogether. Even now he has trouble falling unconscious at night.
He talks more after the sun sets. His voice falls quiet like he's wary of ears against the wall. Naruto would rip his other arm off with his teeth before he admits it but he really, really, really loves Sasuke’s voice, especially when it goes soft like that.
Talking doesn’t make the bad things go away, but it does make them feel a bit lighter. It gives them a common ground. They agree that they never want anyone to go through the things they did.
It gives them the chance to apologize, too.
Sasuke left to obtain power, yes, but he was also afraid. Naruto was changing him. He made him happy. More than once Sasuke would have willingly — gladly — exchanged his life for Naruto's, and the thought of it sickened him and scared him. He couldn't allow himself that. He wasn't strong enough to be an avenger and a protector without sacrificing one for the other.
So he ran, and as he kept running he told himself he spared Naruto's life on a whim, when in reality he kneeled there in the mud for god only knows how long staring at his face and counting his breaths. After four years continuing on alone was easier than facing the feelings he put so much strength into dampening, and destroying the person who was most precious to him — the one thing Itachi couldn't do, even for Konoha's sake — meant he could erase any lingering possibility of causing himself that kind of agony again if he ever lost him. It meant he could finally follow in Itachi's footsteps.
In the end he only regrets the things he did because of all the grief it caused Naruto. He's sorry he nearly killed his best friend out of sheer cowardice.
Naruto apologizes for trying to stop Sasuke from going with Orochimaru without trying to understand why he did it. He would have died if he had continued on that path, and that was enough of a reason for Naruto to drag him back kicking and screaming if he had to. It wasn't until their meeting in the Land of Iron that he realized he'd been bending and twisting his image of Sasuke until the other boy fit into the mold of the best friend he thought had to be rescued. But Sasuke's hatred wasn't something he could fix by simply bringing him home. It was a part of him, and he didn't need someone else to save him from it. What he needed was someone to shoulder the burden of that darkness with him — to be his anchor, to hold him back from letting himself be washed away by it.
Perhaps that's why Naruto thought the idea of them dying together was a good one. He was desperate enough that any course of action seemed better than the powerlessness he felt in the face of Sasuke's misery.
He's sorry for that, too. Dying wouldn't have been "bearing the burden with him"; it would've been a cop out. It would've been admitting defeat to all the cruelty and unfairness of the universe. He should have told Sasuke he wanted to live with him instead, to stay by his side and help him change the world, help him save himself, Konoha and everyone else be damned.
From now on, more than anything, that's what he wants — to live with him.
Sasuke lapses into silence for the rest of the night after Naruto tells him this. The next morning the first thing he says is, "I can't stay."
Not in this Konoha: the Konoha that destroyed his life, the Konoha that allows children with no families to waste away on their own. Naruto, for once, doesn’t argue.
“I'm coming with you," he states, "and if you have any complaints you can talk to my fist, asshole.” Because really, what was he expecting? That Naruto would just let him leave, by himself, on some dumb journey of atonement — when he has nothing but maybe his rudeass personality to atone for — without kicking up a fuss?
Sasuke just huffs, "Usuratonkachi," and then he smiles and it’s small and a bit tentative, but it’s real and it’s also the most beautiful thing Naruto has ever seen in his life. Which is pretty amazing since Sasuke himself is already pretty damn beautiful, have you seen him?
So Naruto kisses him, a little, and half a beat later Sasuke kisses him back, presses against him, swallows every little noise he makes. Fingers comb through dark hair while another hand yanks at a shirt collar and they’re trying senselessly to pull each other closer and closer and —
— It's — new. They're not exactly gentle with each other, but they're hesitant. Clumsy. It feels like they're twelve years old all over again. Neither of them have ever been touched like this, but somehow it feels... safe. Comfortable.
And if they both cry a little afterwards out of sheer joy and relief nobody else has to know.
Before they leave Sasuke meets up with Taka, who were offered residence in Konoha should they ever need it. They very, very tentatively accepted, but only because Sasuke voluntarily returned. They know what Danzo did and there’s no way in hell they would touch Konoha with a fifty meter stick otherwise.
They decide to clean out the remainder of Orochimaru's bases, arrest anyone still helping him, and bring the test subjects back to Konoha for treatment. After that Suigetsu and Juugo decide to travel, fully enjoying the freedom they never had as lab rats. Sasuke is a bit worried about Juugo at first, until he learns that Shizune and Karin teamed up to make medicine for him to keep his bloodlust in check. They send him new batches via his bird friends when he needs it.
The two of them only keep in contact erratically, but at one point they decide to take an extended stay in Kiri. The Mizukage needs extra muscle to settle the remaining infighting in her village and the two of them were beginning to get restless from all the lack of violence.
Karin goes with them to keep them out of trouble initially, but sometimes she’s called back to Konoha to help out at the newly created Research and Development Department — her expertise as Orochimaru’s former subordinate is immensely useful. She may not have liked the idea of being part of the village at first, but she gradually warms up to the people there. A year or two later she gets her own headband.
Now that Sasuke is no longer trying to maim everything in sight he has time to realize that discarding Karin to get to Danzo was a spectacularly dickish move that he only gave a half-assed apology for. He says sorry again, and this time he tries to inject at least some sincerity into it. Awkward romantic advances aside, all Karin ever did was help him and he turned around and spat on her efforts.
She jokingly tells him to give her a kiss if he’s so remorseful, but he looks her straight in the eye, then glances at his missing arm, and says, “I can’t.”
Obviously, Karin thinks, and she might not be in love with him anymore but she’s never felt so impossibly fond of him either.
Naruto and Karin have a super dramatic meeting, if only because Naruto spends the entire time all up in Karin’s business because wow she’s his cousin! She has Kushina’s hair colour!! Karin is a bit overwhelmed at first until it sinks in that she still has family, and after that they sit down and pelt rapidfire questions at each other for a long while.
Their combined volume is probably enough to break glass. Sasuke wonders if it's a familial trait.
Sasuke is quickly given a full pardon — not that Naruto would have allowed for any other outcome. The entire idea of Konoha being the one to do the forgiving is ludicrous, but for now they grit their teeth and bear it. They leave the village after attending the mass memorial for the fallen.
Naruto takes his forehead protector off and stows it away in his bag after they pass the gates. "Uzumaki Naruto of Konoha is taking a break," he proclaims when Sasuke looks at him questioningly.
The purpose of their trip is threefold.
First, to track down Orochimaru himself and throw him into jail permanently. Sasuke volunteers to kill him since he was the one who brought him back in the first place, but Naruto stops him. Not out of sympathy or anything — he just doesn’t want Sasuke to have to dirty his hands like that ever again. Besides, they don’t have to kill him. Even missing an arm each Orochimaru doesn’t stand a chance in hell against both of them.
The only time they return to Konoha in their time away is to deposit him in jail themselves, in the cell right next to Kabuto. Naruto is over the moon the whole way back, because he might be a saint when it comes to people who have hurt him but when it comes to people who have hurt Sasuke? Nah.
(He tells Sasuke this when he asks, and the latter just wrinkles his nose — which Naruto finds annoyingly cute — and calls him a moron. At this point Naruto’s seriously starting to think there’s something wrong with him — being called a moron should not be so unbelievably endearing.)
(And then Sasuke turns his head away, which may hide his face, but unfortunately for him Naruto can still see the red on the tips of his ears.)
(He doesn’t tell him that, of course.)
Second, to check out Danzo’s “vaults”. During their hospital stay Tsunade and Kakashi started their own investigation into the man. What they found were hints to ten locations outside of Konoha where Danzo has hidden his secrets: mission scrolls, forbidden jutsu, lost artifacts belonging to those that Root have wiped out, information on his allies. Tsunade picks up everything they find via her most trusted ANBU, which at this point amounts to Sai, Yamato and Kakashi — who is temporarily back for the sole purpose of fully dismantling Root. At some point Shikamaru is recruited as well to help organize these materials.
They end up with over four hundred mission scrolls alone — over four hundred unsanctioned and illegal missions dating back over four decades. These and the forbidden jutsu are set aside to be used as evidence later. The artifacts are returned to the proper people, or in some cases, the proper graves. Investigations into people whose names are mentioned or alluded to in relation to Danzo are conducted in secret.
In one hideout are a number of the Uchiha clan’s eyes, perfectly preserved, most likely for Danzo’s arm. Naruto has to physically haul Sasuke out of the room to prevent him from setting fire to the whole place with his chakra alone.
He burns the eyes after taking them to the Uchiha’s hideout. Naruto tries to give him space; Sasuke is the one who reaches for his hand, albeit hesitantly. They stand and watch the smoke rise from the funeral pyre for hours.
And third, to see the world. To see how the shinobi system has adversely affected ninjas and civilians alike, and to see different governing systems outside of ninja villages and how they work, how they don’t work. Tsunade tried to keep Naruto in Konoha to train him for the Hokage position, but he didn’t want to learn about the world from behind a desk. He’s better at retaining information when it’s tangible to him.
Sasuke devours every history book in every library they find. Given Naruto's distaste for book learning, he doesn’t try to force him to stay with him. Instead he summarizes everything neatly for him, going into unnecessary specifics only when Naruto asks, which is quite often when he's genuinely curious about something.
Naruto loves talking to people, learning their life stories and helping with whatever he can. When they plan to stay somewhere for an extended period of time they always lend a hand with reconstruction and occasionally fighting off bandits who try to take advantage of the post-war chaos.
Sometimes, they can't help. All the physical strength and powerful jutsu in the universe can't generate enough food to feed hundreds of mouths, or undo the countless scars inflicted upon the earth by past battles where homes or farmland or treasured landmarks once stood. Neither a Rasengan nor a Chidori can give a grieving family or an orphaned child the love and closure they need.
Sasuke doesn't know what he expected, but he certainly didn't think it would hurt. He'd spent so long closing himself off from everything but vengeance that now it's like a slap to the face — learning to care again. Realizing that he does care, for reform and revolution for more than just his and his family's sake.
(This is now where he channels all of his rage, all of his hatred — into relentless motivation. Sasuke never does anything by halves.)
For Naruto, this only reinforces his resolve. He carries his predecessors' wishes for peace everywhere he goes.
It’s a bit easier to talk when they’re away from the village, but it’s still ridiculously difficult to lay the past out in the open when they've buried it so deeply for so long. Not just for Sasuke; for all that Naruto loves to talk he never says anything about the things that cause him pain.
They start with their families: how they wish the people they loved would never leave, things they would tell them if it were possible. How it hurts to always be the one left behind.
Naruto talks about his dad, how cool it was to meet him, how amazing and natural it was to fight side by side as if he hadn’t spent sixteen years of his life without a single clue as to who Namikaze Minato was. He talks about his mom, too, who was “absolutely beautiful, Sasuke, she had this really really pretty red hair and it was so long and she was an even bigger badass than dad! She beat up all of her bullies herself and she never let them put her down!!”
He wishes, desperately, that all three of them could’ve had even a few minutes together. He wonders if his childhood would have been any different if he or the villagers knew he was Minato and Kushina’s son.
He wonders if it’s fair that he had to fight so hard for so long to receive the kind of love any other kid would have had the moment they were born.
It might be that hearing Naruto lay bare the most vulnerable parts of himself makes Sasuke feel obligated to return the favour. Whatever it is, it’s easier, after that, for him to talk about Itachi.
About how, as a child, he loved his older brother more than anything in the world. How after the massacre he clung onto his hatred with all the power he could muster because if he didn’t, he would have been crushed by disbelief and devastation instead.
And how, in a way, he still hates Itachi more than anything in the world.
Because he chose the village over his family; because he unleashed Tsukuyomi on a defenseless seven year old boy; because he emptied Sasuke out and turned him into a vessel that feared connection and attachment so much he filled himself with hatred instead; because after all he did to and for Sasuke he still left him alone with nothing but his fucked up notion of love, as if death is an appropriate atonement for all the years he manipulated him.
As if hurting the people you love is okay as long as you’re doing it out of love.
And yet. Despite everything he still loves and idolizes Itachi so much it burns. The logical part of his mind that tells him Itachi was fucked up, he wasn't a hero, look at what he did to you, he would have used Kotoamatsukami on you wages war against the part of him that screams he loved me and I loved him and he was the kindest and saddest man in the world and it was my fault my fault my fault. There's a battle raging on in Sasuke's heart that he is powerless to stop; all he can do is hold his hand to his chest and watch helplessly as rivers of blood spills through his fingers.
It's a meaningless dispute, in the end, because Itachi is still dead and Sasuke is still the one who dealt the finishing blow, and for what? He sacrificed everything to kill the man who gave up everything he ever loved except for him. He sacrificed the happiness he could have had — he sacrificed Naruto — for misplaced revenge. What kind of blind, foolish idiot did he have to be to allow himself to be toyed with to that extent?
And after all that he couldn't just stop. If he stopped he would have driven himself mad. If he kept going he would have driven himself mad. But someone had to pay, and if Sasuke had to join an organization of terrorists and rip his sanity to shreds in the process then so be it. Better to self-destruct while reducing this hateful, abhorrent world to ashes than doing so after letting crippling self-loathing catch up to him.
And then as if that wasn't enough, in tearing himself apart, he nearly took Naruto down with him. Sometimes when he’s having a particularly bad night he thinks he might deserve to succumb to the same end as his brother: killed by the person he loves most.
He doesn’t intend to say that last part out loud. He expects Naruto to punch him for it so he tilts his head forward, lets his hair fall over his face and stares at his lap.
Naruto just reaches forward and sweeps Sasuke's hair back over his forehead, forces him to look at him with the gentlest gesture imaginable.
"You know," he says, his voice low, "I loved the Third, and I loved the pervy sage. Still do. But sometimes I can't help asking — I know the old man cared about me, but did he just not care enough to let me know my parents didn't hate me and abandon me? Did Jiraiya never come back to the village for twelve years, even once, to see his own godson because he just couldn't be bothered?"
His fingers tremble a little against Sasuke's forehead as he continues. "I don't know. But I think —" he pauses to wet his lips — "I think it's possible to hate someone and love them at the same time. And you don't have to be sorry for that. It's just how you feel."
Sasuke is suffocating. Something inside of him, cracked and torn by his fight against Naruto at the Valley of the End, starts to fall apart once and for all.
"And as for the other thing — knowing you this won't sink in for a longass time, but I'll say it anyway — it wasn't your fault. None of it was your fault. You have nothing to be sorry for."
Naruto rubs his thumb against Sasuke's hairline, then moves his hand back to tuck his hair behind his ear. Sasuke almost reprimands himself for immediately leaning into the touch.
Oh, he thinks as his heart clenches and his lungs expand. Oh, he doesn't want to live without this anymore.
“Just you wait," Naruto declares, eyes clear and beautiful and painfully earnest. "I’m going to make you the happiest man on earth, and unlike your dumbass brother I’m going to do it right.”
After a few seconds Sasuke reaches up and pulls Naruto’s hand in front of his eyes (Itachi’s eyes) as he squeezes them shut, and clutches his fingers like he’s proposing, like he’s asking for a promise he isn’t sure he has the right to ask for.
Like he’s holding onto a lifeline.
(Someday, when he maybe hates himself a little less, when he can be sure he'll be able to do it, he'll say the same words back to Naruto.)
Sasuke loves travelling almost as much as Naruto does, but doesn’t like sleeping outdoors. His insomnia worsens in open spaces where he’s vulnerable to attack. There are times when he'll spontaneously wake up in the middle of the night — assuming he's able to sleep in the first place — sword drawn and right eye fiery red, reacting to imaginary enemies.
When he does manage to fall unconscious, he tends to succumb to violent nightmares. Naruto listens to the pitch of his voice and watches fear twist his face, and learns when to step back and let him thrash and when to step in and hold him as tightly as he can.
It helps to stroke his forehead when he sobs Itachi’s name. Naruto's heart aches when he learns why.
A travelling monk they meet on the road teaches Sasuke how to meditate so he can "learn how to deal with the anger and unease simmering in his heart". He takes up the habit doubtfully at first, but after four nights in a row with little to no sleep he turns to it just to get a few minutes of shuteye, or the closest thing to it. It helps; it pushes back his insomnia and mellows his temper. He meditates for at least half an hour nearly every night.
He’s not a morning person. At all. That doesn't change no matter how much sleep he gets. Naruto tries to wake him up once and almost dies.
<> <> <>
Naruto talks a lot. Nearly every second of their trip is filled with mindless chatter about mindless things, and Sasuke finds that he doesn’t mind. After three years of silence in Orochimaru’s caves Naruto’s voice is the auditory equivalent of sunlight.
When he stops talking, when they’re passing through a town filled to the brim with memories of his mentor-slash-godfather, physical contact is the best way to bring him back to reality as gently as possible.
Conversation isn't the only area in which they're opposites. Where Sasuke's body is honed to be still until the situation demands otherwise, Naruto is constantly in motion. He hops and skips and waves his arms as he walks, he kicks his feet when he sits, and he twitches and mumbles mostly unintelligible words even when he sleeps. It's almost dizzying to watch him, but Sasuke can't draw his eyes away.
Not surprisingly, Naruto is a morning person — but only after a good night's rest.
His nightmares, as rare as they might be in comparison to Sasuke's, are mostly some variation of the latter leaving again. Even if it isn't his name he's crying out Sasuke always makes sure that his face is the first thing Naruto sees when he opens his eyes. Afterwards he leaves his hand on his lower back and waits for the other boy to come to him. He always does, eventually. He presses his ear against Sasuke’s chest and cries as Sasuke runs his hand through his hair, always uncharacteristically quiet.
That's another thing they've gotten better at — allowing themselves to cry in front of each other and knowing that the other won't judge them for it.
Panic attacks are another thing entirely. They're loud and sudden and downright frightening, but Sasuke learns that it helps to have him close, so whenever it happens he sticks to Naruto like glue. When Naruto gasps and reaches for him in a blind panic Sasuke reaches for him back, kisses his eyelids and his cheeks and the bridge of his nose, murmurs reassurances in his ear — anything to make him feel even the tiniest bit less terrified. It demands more affection out of him than he's comfortable with, at least for the first few months, but he couldn't care less.
Naruto is mortified after the attacks pass. Sasuke might have believed them to be a humiliating sign of weakness, too, once upon a time, but not now, when it comes to Naruto. Never when it comes to Naruto. So he refutes it every time, quickly and absolutely. He's more than relieved to see the shame in Naruto's face lessen every time an attack happens.
It means he's helping him for once, instead of harming him.
They stop in Kumo for a short while to finally settle things between Sasuke and A. Things are understandably tense as they stare each other down. Just as Naruto and B start to seriously worry they’re going to duke it out right there, A sighs and says, “Well the future Hokage isn’t gonna be very happy with me if I kill you, is he.”
Sasuke barely holds himself back from rolling his eyes. He does, however, apologize to B, much to A’s surprise. It surprises Sasuke a little too, that he was able to do it so easily and mean it. His pride is one thing he’s never been good at letting go of. Naruto and Karin were different; he knows them and cares about them.
Later that day A tells Sasuke about the events preceding the Five Kage Summit in the Land of Iron, and he isn’t even fucking surprised anymore, but —
He gets back to the room they’re staying in looking absolutely livid and for a second Naruto half-expects him to send him flying out the window, until Sasuke reaches forward and rests his hand on the side of his neck, right against his pulse, and bends forward until he's staring at the floor.
“If you pull that kind of shit again, Naruto, I swear I’ll —“
Naruto waits and waits but Sasuke doesn’t finish his sentence. He just kneels there, shaking.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers after a few moments, “and thank you.”
Because Naruto has his own pride, too, and he abandoned it without a second's hesitation. He laid it down before a man who had every ability and incentive to kill him right then and there for begging for the life of a wanted criminal.
Naruto just grins at him, hooks his arm around his back and pulls him forward so that Sasuke's head rests on his shoulder, and murmurs, “Anytime, asshole.”
Sometimes Sasuke lies awake at night thinking, “How the fuck did I get here, how the fuck do I have this.”
For the longest time he didn’t think he’d even reach adulthood. He was expecting to die with Itachi.
And he knows there are parts of him that rub people the wrong way. He's never given much of a fuck about what people think so he never let it bother him. It was what it was.
But he cried at the Valley of the End because he’d forgotten — forced himself to forget, because surely that's what he deserved — what it felt like, to be loved like that. To have someone wholeheartedly believe in you, believe that you are good and worthy of love and loyalty to that extent.
It felt like someone had opened up his lungs and swapped out all the air for sunlight. For a moment it chased every single fear of abandonment out of his mind. For the first time in years he allowed himself to want.
Sasuke never cared about changing himself before, probably never even considered it a possibility — but maybe that was the moment he found a reason to try.
They still fight, sometimes over things like where to set up camp, other times over things like bureaucratic policy and whether or not to erase a particularly nasty band of thieves from this plane of existence. They both have very strong personalities of the extremely stubborn variety. Sasuke is also more prone to jealousy and possessiveness. It isn't so much that he thinks Naruto will leave him — those thoughts occupy more of his nightmares than his conscious mind — it's just that he doesn't want to share.
And when two people know each other as well as they do, it's much easier to hit where it hurts the most.
One time they walk around passively-aggressively bitching at each other for over six days. They go through multiple periods of pissed off silences, four physical fights, five verbal arguments complete with every expletive known to man, and two angry makeout sessions before they give it up.
It's all very unnecessarily dramatic. They both admit it was a shit week and neither of them can really recall what they were mad about in the first place. So they set rules: all dumbass pissing fights must be resolved within forty eight hours of the end of the first argument — no ignoring each other, no kissing in place of actual conversation, and only minimal punching allowed.
It gets better from there, sort of.
They spar and train a lot still. They have to figure out how to use jutsu independently sooner or later — they’re not always going to have the other’s hand to make seals with.
Sasuke has probably way too much fun experimenting with the Rinnegan. Of course, when he's casually throwing house-sized pieces of the landscape left and right with the power of his mind alone, Naruto can't just let that slide. His powers are awesome, too, dammit!
A mountain or two may or may not disappear on occasions when they get too excited but shush okay no one can prove anything.
(Also? Post-sparring sex is the best.)
If they're asked what it is they love about each other, their knee-jerk reaction would be to make a face like they've just been told to eat a cockroach, and scoff. But they won't deny it.
If they're pressed, their mouths would twist. They'd shrug. Eventually they'll admit that they simply enjoy being around each other. Somehow, despite being opposites in almost every way, they fit. Somehow, their connection runs so deep a single glance is enough to share what would require others entire conversations.
Maybe, if pressed, Sasuke would admit that he loves Naruto’s energy and charisma, his persistence, his cleverness and ability to come up with unconventional solutions to unconventional problems, his loud and unconditional kindness, his endless optimism, his willingness to carry the world on his back if it means taking the burden away from someone else.
Naruto would be a bit more open about how much he loves Sasuke’s cutthroat honesty, his practicality and single-minded perfectionism, his intelligence, how he never takes any shit from anybody, the small gestures he uses to express affection, his fierce and unwavering love for the few people he considers more important than the entire planet.
But some things are beyond the realm of words.
Sasuke has never been talkative, but the way his head tilts in Naruto's general direction even when they're apart speaks volumes. A planet can't resist the gravitational pull of the star it orbits.
Naruto would try, but struggle. Ultimately he'd tell you a story about two men withering away separately in the desert until someone scooped them up and dumped them together into an oasis as deep as the sea.
Some days it’s all so overwhelming it feels like they’re going to drown in each other.
Sasuke is the one who says it out loud first. He curls himself around Naruto's body and whispers it into the nape of his neck when he thinks he’s asleep.
He isn’t asleep. Sasuke finds that out when Naruto suddenly rolls over and latches onto him like a koala bear would wrap itself around a tree, and starts sobbing "I love you, love you" repeatedly into his collarbone.