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Solace

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Following the final fight at the Valley of the End and the subsequent hospitalization paired with the lecture from Tsunade and Sakura, Naruto doesn’t think he has ever been more happy in his life.

 

Happy in that he finally won Sasuke back, coupled with a foreboding sense of uneasiness at the fact that Sasuke was going to leave him again.

 

This wasn’t news and he shouldn’t treat it as such; Sasuke made it clear that he could not stay in Konoha and that he did not want to either.

 

That didn’t change the fact that Naruto wanted him to stay.

 

The council of elders, too, wanted Sasuke to stay, but for an entirely different, though in Naruto’s eyes, equally as selfish reason.

 

“His hearing is soon, you know.” Sakura was placing down a tray of food next to his bed, moving to then fluff a pillow behind him. She made sure to keep him comfortable. He appreciated it.

 

Naruto didn’t look at her when she told him that. Kakashi just told him the same thing the other day. He didn’t want to think about the impending hearing.

 

He didn’t want to think about Sasuke’s life being tried by the people that caused his misfortunes.

 

Sakura furrowed her thin brows, picking up the cup of water on the bedside table to bring it to Naruto’s lips. “Did you already know? You know you can make an appearance as a special audience member, given your relationship with him.”

 

Naruto noted how she refrained from saying Sasuke’s name, as though it were cursed, a taboo phrase to never be uttered in the presence of “Konoha’s Hero” or whatever title they gave him now.

 

He sipped tentatively from the cup.

 

It made him more nervous to know that even Sakura would regard Sasuke like everyone else in the village did.

 

No, he shouldn’t say that. She cares about him, knows what he went through, knows why he did and didn’t do what he happened to have done and not done.

 

Sakura knows.

 

She just wants to spare him, he’s sure.

 

Sure that Sakura knows how deeply Naruto cares and wants to preserve his feelings by speaking abstractly about a person that is arguably the least abstract person to come out of Konoha.

 

What did he even mean by that?

 

“Are you ever going to respond to me, Naruto?” He looked over to her, seeing the few strands of her pink hair fall from a loose ponytail as she shook her head in near disbelief, lowering the cup from his mouth.

 

He blinked up at her. “I’m sorry.”

 

She shook her head again. “You boys are so silly, I swear. Sasuke did similar things when I told him you could be present, except he refused to turn to face me.”

 

Naruto almost smiled at that.

 

“You haven’t seen him since that fight, right? What got into you two anyway? Had to hash out your feelings one last time?”

 

He hated her questions as they were so close to being accurate.

 

“I’d guess so.” He felt it come out in a more reflective manner than he would’ve hoped. He would’ve hoped to answer her definitely; yes, the fight was to settle their long-term emotional dispute on whether Sasuke’s feelings or Naruto’s feelings were the most logical, this he knew.

 

“We kinda just had too much to say to each other that we couldn’t even say it anymore.” He allowed himself to find humor in his voice.

 

That was about right anyway. More or less.

 

Sakura stood up straight and put her hands on her hips. “He said something along those lines too. You two really are best friends, huh.” The smile on her face gave away her newfound relief.

 

He would love to think so. To think that their bond goes so far to even account for their mannerisms when answering questions about the same tender subject.

 

Naruto smiled at that. “Yeah, we sure are.”

 

She clapped her hands together. “Well, I think you to should see each other. Talk. At least before the hearing, you know?”

 

Naruto’s smile dropped immediately, his eyes darting away from Sakura’s face as he contemplated the idea. That may not be for the best, despite how much he wants to see Sasuke and hear his voice and understand how he feels right now.

 

The blond teen brought his hand up to his chest and grasped at the cloth covering it, clutching it in his fist.

 

Hopefully, his silence would be understood.

 

Sakura was getting impatient with him, he could tell.

 

“Will you think about it, at least.” That was no longer a question. “He needs to talk to someone in more than three-word sentences or code and right now it won’t be me or any of our friends or Kakashi or Tsunade. It’ll be you. This hearing decides if he’ll be imprisoned for treason or executed within the month. He needs to talk to someone.”

 

Naruto sat in silence again, registering what she said.

 

His mouth went dry, the area behind his eyes stinging with the emotion that was pushing towards the front.

 

It made him feel ill.

 

“He needs to talk to someone.” She repeated.

 

“Sasuke will be fine. I believe in him.” Naruto felt the panic well inside of himself, filling his chest with a pressure so hard that it threatened to burst.

 

“Your belief can only go so far. I thought you’d be eager to talk to him and help him through what may happen, but it looks like you aren’t.”

 

“Don’t think I’m not, I am, I am.” He rushed out. This wasn’t what he wanted to think about. The thought of Sasuke not being pardoned hurt him too much than he wanted to admit.

 

Sakura shook her head again. “Why did he want to kill you?”

 

That question held too much power in it. He felt winded after she asked it, not wanting to divulge Sasuke’s thoughts but also wanting to remain honest. Every time someone asked it before the war or even before their resolution, he got on Sasuke’s defense, absolving him of any ill intent he may have had before anyone could judge him or their relationship.

 

This wasn’t the same. It came from a place that held similar overwhelming feelings, he knew that to be true, but they were of a different variety.

 

Was he even allowed to say that Sasuke either wanted him with him or with no one?

 

“He’s selfish and-” he paused to gather the phrasing properly. “He thinks in ultimatums.” The words came out strained, uneasy; they betrayed his feelings and let her know that he felt something about what they meant.

 

Sakura smiled at that. “He said the same thing.”

 

Naruto looked over at her again, eyes widen slightly. “Take me to see him, then.”

 


 

There had to be some way to get the hell out of here before Naruto could come talk to him about the hearing.

 

It was beyond selfish and irresponsible but if Sasuke had to be honest with himself, and he surely would be honest with himself right at this moment, he needed to continue the trend of selfishness and irresponsibility until the hearing was over.

 

Sasuke knew the dangers of the outcome of the hearing; if he didn’t try to explain himself or express an ideological shift significant enough, he would get executed. If not execution, they would imprison him for the rest of his natural life.

 

Kakashi explained it all too well.

 

Then there was Sakura’s idea of bringing Naruto to the hearing. For support she implied but he knew that it just makes him look better if the “Hero of Konoha” or whatever title they give the blond showed up.

 

Somewhere inside of himself, he knew that Naruto was more stressed about this hearing than he could ever be, and that hurt him in a way. It hurt him to know that the person he holds most dear to himself is in pain due to his apathy.

 

Again.

 

For maybe the third time he guesses.

 

If he wasn’t so hung up on being expressionless he would have sighed then.

 

It was for the best if Naruto didn’t show up to the hearing, didn’t come to his hospital room to talk to him, didn’t put forth any more compassion towards him and left him to deal with his problems himself.

 

He does suppose that was a factor that played heavily into the situation he was currently in now, but hey, what is done is done, and Sasuke has only a handful of options to go on.

 

Firstly, he could ignore everyone that attempted to talk to him from here on out. Then, during the hearing, he would explain in as objective as a way he possibly could why he ran away in the first place and why upon making a reappearance he committed treason. There was enough evidence to substantiate his claims of metaphysical unrest following the death of Itachi, but it was going to mainly be his personal testimony of the account, which the council may not enjoy.

 

That would most likely end in him being convicted of all charges and executed. Not that he hasn’t come to terms with such a gruesome outcome, but he didn’t want to cause any more pain to Naruto than he already has.

 

Which is something he is now, unfortunately, factoring in.

 

His next option would be to allow Kakashi to speak for his actions, character, and prior motivations, in order to add substance to his claims of anguish. Sasuke’s mentor was one of the only people left that could give an unbiased account of the circumstances surrounding his actions and was basically the only person left that would do it.

 

But he, in a way, wanted Kakashi to be hands-off with this, and he knew Kakashi wanted to be hands-off as well. Sasuke knows that Kakashi wants to get him as light a sentence as possible, but if he has to expend any effort that Sasuke wouldn’t, be would rather not do it.

 

Which sounds as though he were discounting the assistance Kakashi would bring, but he isn’t, not intentionally least.

 

That would get him life in prison, guaranteed. Parole would be on the table, but good behavior to the council compared to good behavior to him was like apples to oranges. It would be a miracle for him to gain such based on how well Sasuke knows his personality.

 

If he were to add in Sakura as a character witness he may get a lesser sentence, but that would be a gamble as well. She can both attest to his motives being out of deeply seeded duress, and that he was and currently is a danger to the village.

 

She cares for him, sure, but she knows what is right as well, and to say that he is harmless and learned his lesson would be incorrect.

 

His final option would be to involve Naruto. That was a surefire way to get out of jail free, or come close to it more realistically, but it didn’t sit right with him.

 

To have Naruto, the person closest to his heart, be emotionally raw with the council in order to absolve him of his sins was deplorable in his eyes.

 

So it was basically off the table.

 

And if he were to be honest, which he certainly is, he didn’t want the council to free him from the burden of his past actions.

 

He wanted to pay what he owed, and to be forgiven after he has exhausted his sorrow to those it is obliged.

 

Meaning that, if all things were equal, the first option was the best for him. Execution wasn’t something that struck fear into him as it may strike fear into anyone else, but he knew as sure as he knew the sky was blue that Naruto would be devastated.

 

Which makes it the worst option, then.

 

“Are you ready to talk to someone besides yourself, Sasuke?”

 

He didn’t turn upon hearing Kakashi’s voice, his frown deepening. “Do us both a favor and go back to where you previously were.”

 

Kakashi yawned. “Not happening. You’re being too quiet given you have a hearing in a few days.”

 

“I actually feel like I’m being pretty loud.” He mumbled out, flexing his hand gently in his lap, looking at it intently.

 

“This is the most you’ve spoken since you woke up. Was there a new development after Sakura visited you?”

 

Sasuke knew Kakashi just wanted him to say that he knew Naruto would be available to come to the hearing. He was outside of the door, for goodness sake, he knew that he knew, and he knew that he knew that he knew.

 

He tsked at the thought, not giving Kakashi any more satisfaction.

 

“I won’t tell you what to do. You don’t listen anyway. But know that you can’t keep this up forever. Forever may come too soon for you.”

 

That was the most aggravating thing he heard since Sakura spoke to him.

 

Why won’t people let him be selfish for a little while longer?

 

Sasuke laid back down and turned his back to Kakashi.

 

“Naruto will be here soon, I’m sure. Hopefully you’ll talk to him.”

 

He pulled the sheet further up his body.

 


 

At some point Naruto did come to Sasuke’s room to talk.

 

And they did talk.

 

At length.

 

In a manner that one may not find conducive to resolving any of their concerns, certainly, but they did talk.

 

Naruto looked physically better than when he last saw him. Covered in gauze and bandages, hospital gown for modesty but nothing else, a slight, tired smile on his face.

 

Sasuke sat up to meet his gaze.

 

“You look like shit.”

 

Thank the heavens he was still an idiot.

 

“And you don’t look too great yourself. Wonder who did that to you?”

 

There was the light chuckle he knew Naruto still had. Great, just great.

 

“Just some jerk I know. He’s getting better at that, though.”

 

They held each other’s eyes as Naruto moved to ease himself into the chair. Sakura was lingering at the door, Kakashi standing across the hall, two Anbu guards on either side of the door, out of view.

 

Sasuke lowered his eyes to the hand that was resting in Naruto’s lap, fixating himself on the fingers and the lines from the bandage. “My hearing-”

 

Naruto nodded, cutting him off as he spoke. “I know that I can-”

 

“You don’t have to do that, Naruto.”

 

Sasuke saw blue eyes grow larger at the sound of his name, cheeks tingeing a slight pink in what he could only guess was embarrassment and light frustration.

 

“There has to be an end to you doing things on your own.”

 

“Let me be selfish.”

 

Naruto huffed, leaning slightly forward. “Is it still selfish to keep me away? At the end of everything?”

 

“What I have to atone for is my burden, not yours even if you take it upon yourself to feel as though it is.”

 

“Don’t speak cryptically like this, Sasuke,” hearing his name fall from his lips made his chest tighten and his eyes flicker back up to meet Naruto’s. “This is your life on the line here.”

 

“Why doesn’t anyone think I understand that?” Naruto looked taken aback. “I fully understand how far reaching my decisions from this moment on will be, and I have resolved myself to honor this path I have chosen to follow.”

 

“Quit that! Please, Sasuke, just quit it.” His lip was trembling, eyes wet but without tears. Sasuke wouldn’t think Naruto to cry out of frustration.

 

Sasuke turned more towards the blond in the chair. “Let me go.”

 

That halted him. “I’m not,” he paused to gather his words. “I’m not touching you.”

 

“No, let me go, Naruto.”

 

“No, Sasuke, I think you have to let me go.”

 

That was a kick in the face. “I won’t.”

 

Does Naruto not understand that he is doing this for him? That after the Valley of the End he is only thinking of him? They can’t be together, that was the point of the whole fight dammit, and living apart when there is so much clashing is hell, so they can’t do this anymore.

 

“Then how is it not fair that I do the same to you?”

 

“Let me be selfish.” He repeated. He pleaded. He needed this to be heard.

 

Naruto shook his head. “I can’t. Not anymore I can’t.”

 

“Don’t come to my hearing.”

 

“Why?”

 

Don’t make him answer that.

 

“Don’t make me answer that.”

 

There was a look of disapproval. “Please. I want to know.”

 

Why?

 

“Why?”

 

“Because you’re my friend and I care about you. Damn, this is what I’ve been saying for years. I care about you Sasuke, even when you don’t care about yourself or anyone else, I have enough in my heart to care for you and to care for me and Sakura and Kakashi and everyone on your behalf.”

 

The air was sucked out of his lungs, and Sasuke felt like he was free falling from a cliff. “That’s why you can’t come.”

 

“What?”

 

“Because I care about you.”

 

That level of frankness was unfounded in the black-haired man, especially involving feelings. The statement was foreign in his mouth, a new flavor he is experiencing for the first time, an unfamiliar dish from a new village he has come across.

 

“I know that you care about me.”

 

Naruto is an idiot.

 

“You’re the closest person to me.”

 

“I know that we’re close.”

 

“No, you don’t, because I didn’t until recently.”

 

“I knew when you came to help during the war.”

 

“Stop talking.”

 

Sasuke had enough of it. This was beyond him, and he couldn’t be bothered to explain himself to anyone, even the person he probably needs to explain himself to the most.

 

“You hate the idea of needing me, Sasuke.”

 

“You don’t even know what you’re talking about right now. Go lay down in your bed until Tsunade clears you.”

 

Naruto scooted his chair closer to the bed. “You can’t stand that I can help you.”

 

“I can’t stand your stupidity.” he breathed out. “You don’t even know what you’re talking about.” He repeated.

 

There was a break in their conversation, both using the time to connect thoughts and feelings. “Then tell me what-”

 

“You’re right in that I hate something.” This got Naruto to tune into what Sasuke was saying. “I hate the idea of hurting you anymore.”

 

Naruto remained silent. “Then why won’t you let me come?”

 

“For you to get there and bare yourself to the elders in order to get them to free me from a burden I should carry is a misuse of our relationship.”

 

“But I want to do that. Do you think the other option would hurt me less? Do you think that I would be keen on you dying?”

 

“Which is why you need to let me go.”

 

“We had an entire fight about this, Sasuke! We literally lost arms over this same topic and guess what, at the end of it, you gave in and put the last bit of your trust into me, because you knew you cared about me too much. So I won, and now you have to pout while I care about you.”

 

If Sasuke weren’t physically incapable of doing so, he would have hopped on Naruto and punched his teeth out. Again.

 

“I’m tired.”

 

“I am too.”

 

“Then leave.”

 

“Not until you understand that I care about you.”

 

“I understand it all too well, unfortunately.” Everything was so unfortunate today.

 

“Does that make any sense to you? You say that you want to stop hurting me, but you actively want to stop me from helping you,” he held up a finger, “which does hurt me, first off, then you want to go through with the outcome of your hearing that ends in your death ,” he held up another finger, his voice holding back emotion that his face is letting through, “which, second off, hurts me more than anything else could.”

 

Sasuke remained silent, looking over Naruto’s face. His brows were furrowed, lips pressed into a thin line, face turning a soft shade of red, eyes getting wetter by the second.

 

“You want to stop hurting me,” he repeated, “but you keep making me feel more pain. Aren’t you supposed to be smart or something?”

 

Naruto had a point there. A couple actually, and they all made sense in a way, he supposed.

 

He finally sighed. “I’m sorry.”

 

“What?”

 

“You heard me, don’t do this Naruto.”

 

“No, what did you say?”

 

“I’m sorry, Naruto.”

 


 

The hearing went as well as Sasuke expected it to have gone. They read out his crimes, said that what he has done has amounted to treason, labeled him as a terrorist, asked him why he committed his crimes, the whole thing.

 

Turns out they don’t deliver the verdict immediately after the proceedings.

 

Also turns out that he didn’t get to see who was in the special audience, nor was he allowed to know, during the hearing, who gave a testimony.

 

Sasuke’s idea of a hearing was flawed, it seemed, but he just hoped that no one did anything out of the way when he explained the bare minimum of his version of his actions and motives.

 

He, of course, started with the Uchiha massacre. He was smart enough to know that if he started off with that heavy tragedy, he would be able to leverage his actions on that.

 

Moving from that he described how he felt following it; how overwhelmingly torn he was by the perceived betrayal of his brother and his love for him, the confusion he felt at the lack of address Konoha gave him regarding the incident, and the final message from Itachi that night.


After that, and the council’s clarifying questions (“what age were you? How close were you with your brother, mother, father, clan? Did you have friends preceding and succeeding the incident?” things of that nature), he described getting to know Naruto, Sakura, and Kakashi.

 

It was obvious that they were conflicted at hearing Sasuke’s recount of how close he and Naruto are. The Hero of Konoha, the Savior of the War, best friends with a criminal.

 

He made sure to give an honest account of how deep and intricate it was, despite his pride. Sasuke’s phrasing was careful, deliberate; he gave a precise and accurate description of how they impacted each other.

 

Next was Orochimaru, Kabuto, and the Sound Village.

 

That was tough. Much more so that he thought it would be when he mentioned it initially. The detail he went into did not phase them, however.

 

He forgot that they were aware of the nature of Orochimaru’s research.

 

Verbalising what happened over the few years from when he met the Sannin to when he killed him was also tough. He knew they could tell he was holding back, straining.

 

After retelling how he sought after and killed Itachi, he felt as though he was pulled by his ankles into a frozen lake. His hand gripped his opposite shoulder as he told them his thoughts following the battle, how clouded, muddied, numb he felt.

 

He talked about Akatsuki. Pein. Tobi who was then Madara who was then Obito. Danzo. They listened and questioned and clarified as he got closer to the Five Kage Summit and Obito’s declaration of war.

 

While it was what they wanted to know about the most, he couldn’t answer it as clearly as they wanted. That time was the most confusing to him. He never felt more lost in that point in his life, besides, of course, the months following the Massacre.

 

They seemed to allow this, but one elder asked something he didn’t know if he ever thought of.

 

“Would you consider yourself mentally stable during that time?”

 

That took him aback; he paused for the first time during the hearing.

 

“I don’t think I’m the proper person to ask if I would consider my actions to have been from a place one would consider stable.”

 

“Elaborate.” Another, a woman, asked.

 

“I would, naturally, regardless of my mental state, say that I knew what I was doing. I wouldn’t know if I knew if I were right or wrong.”

 

They moved on after that.

 

The Five Kage Summit, declaration of malintent towards the village, and the start of the Fourth Shinobi War were easier to explain.

 

He was very hands off during the majority of the war, it was revealed. He couldn’t tell them anything of the battles and who fought who and when. He wasn’t even there when Madara resurrected and laid waste to the Allied Shinobi Forces. And everyone, literally, who wasn’t dead, was there.

 

Even a few dead people were there.

 

Sasuke didn’t go into detail of what he talked to the past Hokage about, but he included that they were the reason that he decided to help more than harm.

 

That, and Naruto, who he did end up bringing back into the story (it felt like he was just telling his life story more than anything, but if that was what they wanted he would give it to them), were the last things he covered before speaking of how he fought the final battles alongside Naruto and released the Infinite Tsukuyomi.

 

They let him out of the chambers after that, no questions following.

 

It was a waiting game, and a guessing game, to see what they asked of who and who said what and what they want to do with him.

 

There was a feeling in his temples that told him he fucked up somehow and they’d imprison him for the next eighty years.

 

That same feeling told him that he can’t properly atone in a hole under the earth, that he needed to understand all of what he told them and why he felt this way after telling them, after speaking it, after looking Naruto in the face and saying that he would stay with him knowing that he couldn’t stand to stay in this village that ruined them both and Itachi and countless other lives.

 

God, he could not do it.

 

He had to leave.

 


 

“We appreciated Sasuke Uchiha’s level of candor, and we expect to have the same of you now, Naruto Uzumaki.”

 

That statement chilled him to the bone, tied his guts together, grabbed him by his hair and jerked him to his feet after he was kneeling in sorrow.

 

“I will do my best to give you as accurate an explanation of whatever you need me to.”

 

They immediately asked the nature and extent of his relationship with Sasuke. He only said that they were best friends, at first, but that was not enough at all for them.

 

“We would like you to detail exactly the circumstances surrounding your relationship with Sasuke Uchiha.”

 

Oh. Well, that was complex. Much more so than Naruto thought he had the ability to articulate to them at the present time, and the idea of doing so left him feeling something he couldn’t begin to describe.

 

Their bond transcended that of rivals, they both realized, and was far more intricate than that of run of the mill best friends, also, as they and everyone else around them realized.

 

He told them that. He hoped that helped them. Helped Sasuke.

 

“Can you attest to the mental state of Sasuke following the death of his brother?”

 

That question threw him off.

 

“He-” Naruto swallowed the fear from the tip of his tongue. “He was lost. He had no clue who or what to believe, especially after Danzo told him the truth about the Massacre. It was only after he saw things from Itachi’s eyes that he knew what was right.”

 

“You are dismissed, Naruto Uzumaki.”

 

He didn’t question why.

 


 

Sasuke was filled with the need to leave the village as fast as possible. He had very few clothes and could work for food and lodging, he figured.

 

But he needed to leave.

 

Damn anything they tell him. They could say he was the going to be paid reparations for the trauma he went through and he would still leave.

 

There was nothing holding him to the village besides Itachi’s legacy and-

 

And Naruto.

 

Always, always Naruto.

 

He shook his head as settled under a tree in a secluded area of a training field. No one would come to these training fields, at least not during this time of the day, given all the repairs that need to happen.

 

Sasuke took to meditation as a way to ease himself out of roundabout thoughts. The reflection helped greatly, he found; he needed to reflect more.

 

Kakashi appeared about an hour after he began to meditate.

 

“Why did I know you would be here?”

 

“Why did I know you would find me?”

 

Kakashi waved his hand as a way of brushing that off. “I was nominated as Hokage.”

 

Sasuke didn’t open his eyes. “What other competition do you have? There can’t be anyone else in the village that has the credentials you do.”

 

“The other people that do are too young or are currently on trial for treason.”

 

Sasuke frowned at that. “Leave me be. I would like to continue my meditation.”

 

“How did it go?”

 

“Can you not see that I don’t want to talk about that? Your eyes work well.”

 

“Sasuke, listen for a moment. You need to stay in the village until they finish deliberating and issue a verdict. That may not happen until after I’m inaugurated.”

 

“I thought you said you were just a candidate?”

 

His mentor ignored that. “The point is, you need to stay somewhere long term, it cannot be with me, and seeing as you’re regarded as a criminal, you won’t get funding for an apartment or any subsidies or a job to pay for one by yourself.”

 

“Did you interrupt my solitude to tell me that I’m kicked out of your house?”

 

“Did you hear anything I said?”

 

He huffed. “Fine. What do you suggest I do?”

 

“Ask a friend.”

 

Sasuke wanted to roll his eyes. “I have two friends that I have burdened enough. Sakura also lives with her family still and I doubt they would want me to be in their house as I await the outcome of my trial.”

 

“Naruto won’t say no to you.”

 

He ran his hand through his hair. “I will not be asking him anything.”

 

“Then I’ll tell him that his best friend has no roof to lay his head under and he will make room for you in his apartment.”

 

Sasuke’s eye twitched.

 

“Do not tell him anything. I’ll tell him later today.”

 

“Good.”

 

“Is that all you came to tell me? That I need to ask Naruto to let me stay with him for a few weeks?”

 

“More or less.”

 

“Great.”

 


 

When Sasuke told Naruto that he needed a place to stay, he first thought that it was a joke.

 

A weird joke that lacked humor, but a joke none the least.

 

But Sasuke did not jest.

 

And the small bag of personal items in Sasuke’s hand did not seem indicative of a small prank, unless he happened to go far with his jokes, then it was just too much attention to detail for Naruto’s current tastes.

 

“Come inside, I guess.” He wasn’t even dressed to entertain guests. Boxers, a stained tee shirt, and frog slippers were not attire to have in the presence of house guests.

 

Would Sasuke even count as a guest if he were to live here for an extended amount of time?

 

The black haired teen explained what Kakashi had explained to him before. “Wow, he’s going to be the new Hokage? I don’t know if I’m happy or bummed out right now.” Naruto laughed out in surprise.

 

Sasuke didn’t seem to want to find the humor in that with him.

 

“Well, it’s uh, good to be roommates? To tell you the truth, I always thought that it would be fun for us to live together for a little bit after you came back. When I was younger, of course, and traveling around.” He scratched the back of his head, another chuckle escaped his lips as he moved Sasuke into the living room area, nudging the door closed behind him.

 

Sasuke hummed at the statement. “That’s good to hear.” He took off his shoes and left them near the entrance.

 

Naruto smiled more. “So you can have the living room. This place isn’t big, so there’s no spare bed or anything to offer you, unless you want mine, then you can have it.”

 

“I won’t be taking your bed, you can keep it.”

 

“Right.” Naruto trailed off, looking towards the kitchen. “All I really have in cup ramen, which I know you probably would hate to eat every day. If you want anything in particular, I can go to the market and-”

 

“I can get my own food, thank you Naruto.”

 

The blond let out a half laugh at that. “Oh of course, with your boatloads of money, right?”

 

Sasuke knew what he meant. “Shut up, idiot.”

 

“Okay, jerk! You know I have to feed you right?” Sasuke turned his head and scoffed, sitting down on the couch.

 

“Anything else?”

 

“Shower’s over there,” Naruto mumbled, pointing to a closed door. “That’s my room.” He continued, gesturing towards the open door. “You can see the kitchen. You live in the living room. Your bed is the couch.”

 

“Right.” Sasuke muttered.

 

Naruto scratched his belly. “Do you, uh, have any pajamas or something? I don’t think a cloak and combat pants are good clothes to sleep in.”

 

He stared at the blond. “I’ll manage.”

 

“I’ll find something for you to wear. We’re about the same size so-”

 

“I’m bigger than you-”

 

About, ” he stressed. “The same size, so nothing should fit too uncomfortably.”

 

Sasuke hummed again.

 


 

“Sasuke, please wash your bowl, the water in it looks gross now.”

 

It has been about a week since the two best friends began living together.

 

“Naruto, throw away your ramen cups, and stop leaving your dirty underwear in the bathroom in front of the tub.”

 

They were having as good a time as anyone would expect the two to have. The two kept a respectable distance from each other, not taking their closeness for granted, not invading where the other didn’t want.

 

During their days they were separate.

 

It was definitely for the best, as they still needed to grow as people apart from each other. Their daily activities clashed anyway, so there was no harm done.

 

Naruto would go hang out with his friends. Grab tea with Ino, play a game with Shikamaru, eat lunch with Sakura, go window shopping with Sai, walk in the park with Hinata, train with Lee, visit Ten Ten at the her family shop, spar with Kiba and Akamaru, help out with errands alongside Choji, talk about books Shino, things of that nature. Sometimes he would try to bother Tsunade, but she seldom allowed him.

 

Sasuke was more of a homebody. He read whatever scrolls or books Naruto had in his living room, cleaned up as much as he could without it looking like he became the blond teen’s housekeeper, cooked a few times so they could have a decent dinner that incorporated proteins and vegetables, things of that nature. If he wasn’t inside he walked to training fields and meditated or worked on training.

 

They almost never went out together.

 

Most nights they talked. About things that didn’t matter from when they were both traveling and training, like a meal they ate in a certain village, or a particularly bad training day that was funny in hindsight. They kept odd hours, Sasuke cutting conversations short when he noticed Naruto slipping into a slumber.

 

Some nights, Sasuke would fall asleep in Naruto’s bed reading a book or listening to him mumble about Jiraiya. It was never intentional, and when Sasuke woke up a couple of hours later, he would look over to Naruto and carefully remove himself from his position beside him and sleep on the couch. He would always take the extra pillow along with him.

 

A few nights, Sasuke saw vulnerability in Naruto that he would never have imagined possible from the blond. He talked about how he felt in those times, how certain events impacted him, shook him for lack of a better word. Those nights, Sasuke would rest his head on the wall behind Naruto’s bed and run his hand through blond hair, soothing the everlasting heartache out of him.

 

One night, Naruto turned to Sasuke and asked something that the black haired teen didn’t think he would hear from his best friend.

 

“If I cried right now, what would you do?”

 

Sasuke shook his head, eyes never leaving Naruto’s somber looking face. “Let you.”

 

There was what Sasuke would describe as a near audible crack in the blond teen’s expression, the sad smile crumbling away to allow hiccups to fall from his quivering lips.

 

Naruto began to cry next to Sasuke that night, and Sasuke sat there as Naruto sniffled into the pillow Sasuke normally took with him to sleep on. As Naruto’s body trembled from his choked back sobs, Sasuke felt waves of cold wash over him, shaking him too.

 

When Naruto finally fell asleep, tears staining his cheeks, Sasuke didn’t move to go to the couch. It felt irresponsible to do so.

 

He thought he should be responsible, at least for that moment. 

Chapter Text

“Why weren’t you at Kakashi’s inauguration?”

 

Naruto barely got into the door before he shouted that at Sasuke, who was on the couch reading a novel he got from Sakura the other day.

 

The black-haired man glanced from his book to Naruto, then to his book again. “I wanted to read.” He turned the page of the novel slowly.

 

“You can read at literally any other time in the world. A Hokage only gets inaugurated once! That was history unfolding outside and you wanted to read instead?”

 

“That’s about right, actually. Good job on putting the puzzle together, Naruto.” The blond huffed and walked into his room, closing the door roughly but making sure not to slam it.

 

Sasuke smirked at the closed door.

 

There was no reason in his eyes for him to have gone to that inauguration, and he’s glad to have missed it. Not for any ill intent towards Kakashi, none at all.

 

Distancing himself from Konoha was a must if he wanted to commit to leaving for his journey.

 

Sasuke did a great deal of thinking in the last couple of weeks, and it was well-appreciated thought, he came to realize. He was right to say that Konoha was not the place for him to be; for how deeply he cares for Naruto, Itachi, and his clan, he can’t be in the village that caused them to suffer unimaginably for years any longer than he is required to be.

 

It pained him constantly to see how much love they all put into a place that hates and uses them for its own gain.

 

Naruto’s tears that night a few weeks ago were the proverbial nail in Konoha’s coffin.

 

There was also his path to atonement.

 

If fate has it that he is to atone through death, he will be ready for his execution date. He has made peace with everyone besides Naruto, and he hopes to either find peace shortly before his possible untimely death or afterwards in his second life. There will be payment, he is sure.

 

If he gets off with jail time, he doesn’t know at the present moment if he would run away or face his time. Being in the village, stuck as a prisoner just like Itachi and Naruto and his clan and everyone who was controlled by them is heinous. The cycle would repeat. He would not learn anything except how to continuously resent Konoha.

 

But at the same time he was tired of running. It was exhausting. Running away from one thing in order to chase another has gotten old as he’s aged. The appeal is gone.

 

His legs can’t run anymore, his lungs ache at the thought of it. Not when he could face his problems would he run.

 

Getting absolved of everything charged against him seemed like the best option, though Sasuke could even admit to being idealistic when it came to that notion.

 

If he got off with multiple attempted murders of officials from the five major villages and attacking the Kage Summit, he would do everything in his power to make what he personally made wrong right again.

 

The amount of time he would have for contemplation, to give back from whence he’s taken, to sow seeds where he plucked too harshly at the root would be just the beginning.

 

Sasuke knows that he owes multiple lifetimes to Naruto, to Itachi, for everything they have every done for him, and his undying gratitude Sakura and Kakashi for simply tolerating his whirlwind of emotions and inner turmoil.

 

But he also knows that it isn’t something he can do in Konoha, and that he needs to learn his place in the world for himself, through his own eyes, not through the ascribed placements of others.

 

Naruto came out of his room, a towel wrapped around his waist. The blond didn’t look at Sasuke as he went straight into the bathroom and harshly closed the door to it as well.

 

Sasuke thought Naruto was hilarious.

 

There were these moments between them, the silence, the frustration that the other knew one had, the latent anger that goes unacted upon due to wanting to move forward and not back.

 

In these, Sasuke just read, or meditated (he found himself doing that a lot lately and it’s a development he has to admit he's fond of), and Naruto left to go walking or training or talk to someone that wasn’t living with him.

 

After these moments, they always talked, worked through what they thought and felt, which was new to Sasuke in that he was used to action, not passivity.

 

Naruto assured him that talking out feelings does not equate to passivity, but Sasuke would wave that away on the fact that Naruto likes to talk. If he weren’t so hellbent on becoming the Hokage, he could’ve become a speech writer or an orator. Those sorts of professions would suit him.

 

Later Naruto wandered out of the bathroom, wet from head to toe, his feet slapping the hardwood flooring as they carried him back to his room.

 

Sasuke didn’t look up from his book again.

 

Naruto came out dressed in striped boxers and a tee shirt that seemed to match. The blond teen plopped himself down next to Sasuke on the couch, their armless shoulders touching briefly as he got comfortable.

 

“Sorry.”

 

Sasuke raised an eyebrow, but didn’t look up from his book. “Please say something back Sasuke, I don’t think I can keep letting you not talk to me.”

 

“We talk every night until you fall asleep. Naruto, we talk enough.”

 

He sighed. “I mean about today. Sakura and Kakashi and I wanted you there.”

 

“Kakashi knew I wouldn’t come.”

 

“Sakura and I, then.”

 

“I know that Sakura is smart enough to know that I wouldn’t make an appearance.”

 

“Well then I wanted you there, okay? Me alone, does that make you happy to hear me say?”

 

“That’s not news. You want me to go everywhere with you.” He turned the page in his book. The plot is finally picking up; he has to thank Sakura for this one.

 

“Not true. This was an important event in the life of someone that cares about you. There was almost an obligation from you to make an appearance.”

 

“Where you see an obligation, I don’t. I’m indebted to Kakashi, yes, but going to his inauguration, which is just a huge show, is not a part of that.”

 

Naruto didn’t press him anymore. He settled into the couch cushions more, his head lolling back to meet the back of the couch as he slouched down.

 

“I’m going out with Hinata tomorrow.”

 

He does that every few days, this wasn’t a new development.

 

“You do that every few days, that isn’t a new development.”

 

Naruto sighed. “I mean out. ” Sasuke flicked his eyes up at the blond teen, then moved back to his book. “Out, out. On a date.”

 

“Is that what you’re calling it now? Lunch with friends is a date? That sounds fun, I suppose.”

 

There was a groan. “No, Sasuke, I mean as more than friends.”

 

That got his attention. Sasuke folded a page in the book to mark his spot then closed it, turning his head towards Naruto fully now. “Do you regard her as more than a friend?”

 

“I- well- we-” he was stumbling over his words. Sasuke’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t. But she wants this, at least that’s what Kiba and Ino said.”

 

Seriously? “So you’re doing it because Kiba and Ino said to, not because you want to?”

 

“If Hinata wants to go out with me on a date, I’ll take her.”

 

“Why.” Sasuke wasn’t asking questions anymore.

 

“It’ll make her happy.”

 

“You’re sacrificing your happiness for another?”

 

“I never said it wouldn’t make me happy too.”

 

“Meaning you do regard her as more than a friend.”

 

“Never said that either.”

 

Now it was Sasuke’s turn to get frustrated. “You’re taking her on a date for her sake, saying that you don’t feel the same as she does about you, then saying that this is what you want to do?”

 

“Making her happy will make me happy. I enjoy her as a friend, so I want to make her happy, and if going on a date makes her happy then I’m happy to do it.”

 

“You speak of happiness as though it were a magical cure all.” 

 

“And you speak of happiness like it’s something you can’t share.” Sasuke felt chilled at that statement.

 

Naruto groaned again. “I just want to say that’s where I’ll be tomorrow.”

 

“Okay, thank you. Can I read now?” His head felt hot, his throat dry with a clump of sand in it.

 

“You should take Sakura out.”

 

No the hell he shouldn’t.

 

“Why?” it came out as a sigh, a maker to his exasperation.

 

“She loves you.”

 

“And that’s specifically why I can’t.”

 

“Don’t you love her too? She’s your friend. All she’s ever done is care for you.”

 

Sasuke wanted to slap his forehead. “What she feels for me is beyond what I feel for her. She has complex feelings about me that I won’t try to mimic because I don’t have them.”

 

“For her?”

 

“Yes, I don’t have them for her.”

 

“But you have them?” Was Naruto asking if Sasuke had the capacity to love another person?

 

“Sure.”

 

“Then you can develop them for her, on her behalf.”

 

“That doesn’t seem possible.” Naruto is an idiot.

 

“Why?”

 

“Please understand that I don’t love Sakura and I can’t love her in the same way she would want me to.”

 

“You owe her the effort.”

 

“Stop trying to get me to give things to people they don’t need. Kakashi doesn’t need my audience at his inauguration, Sakura doesn’t need my fake love to pretend to match her real admiration. It’s rude to try to give her or anyone something that I don’t have to give it to them.”

 

“Then who do you love, Sasuke, that’s taking up all of the love you could be giving to someone that never gave up on you?”

 

Naruto was an idiot.

 

“Shut up.”

 

He’s stupid, just plain dumb.

 

“Who is it?”

 

“Just think about your date tomorrow.”

 

“No, Sasuke,” he nearly whined, elongating his best friend’s name. “I want to know.”

 

“It’s past my bedtime.” he forced a yawn. “And way past yours.”

 

“We stay up until all hours of the night for weeks and you want to turn in at the break of dusk when I want to talk to you?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Naruto groaned again. “Sasuke-”

 

“You’re taking up room in my bed, Naruto.”

 

The blond teen huffed. “Fine! Act this way!” He stood up and glared at Sasuke, walking back into his room and closing the door.

 

There was about a minute of pure silence through the apartment before Sasuke stood up and Naruto opened the door.

 

“I’m sorry.” both said, not meeting each other’s eyes.

 

“Can I come in?”

 

“Do you want to come in?” They said this simultaneously, both nodding.

 

Naruto didn’t ask what Sasuke meant earlier, and Sasuke didn’t shut himself out during conversation.

 


 

“You’ve been pardoned.”

 

Sasuke had to stop himself from laughing at the words. Kakashi looked unimpressed, waiting for his protege to say something in response.

 

“You’re serious, aren’t you.” Sasuke muttered.

 

Kakashi nodded. The air that surrounded him in the Hokage seat was papatiably different than when he was simply “Kakashi Sensei” or “Kakashi Hatake”; it was more intense, yet subdued, as though the new status humbled him while elevating him.

 

“Why would I joke about that?” There was humor in his voice. He found delight in Sasuke’s slight confusion. “There’s no stipulations on your pardon; you’re free to go and do as you please,”

 

The Hokage looked at Sasuke intently. “That is, of course, as long as you don’t commit the acts you have again.”

 

“One mistake and I’m going to be hunted, I take it.”

 

“You’re still smart, I see.”

 

Sasuke smirked. He made it out.

 

“You’re dismissed, Sasuke. I hope you make good use of your newfound freedom.”

 

That he will, Kakashi has no need to worry.

 

Sasuke didn’t immediately go back to Naruto’s apartment. He first wandered around the village, collecting his thoughts as they fluttered through his brain at a pace he couldn’t quite keep up with. After a while he ended up at the hospital where Sakura worked, thinking to pay a visit to her.

 

The receptionist paged Sakura to the front without much fuss, luckily, and the pink haired teen came quickly to greet him.

 

“I’m on a break right now, so we can go get lunch or tea if you want to.” Sasuke just nodded. Naruto was right in that he should do things for her sometimes.

 

She led him to a small restaurant close to the hospital, both ordering something light and quick. Sasuke was glad that she understood that he didn’t particularly want to be at a restaurant right then.

 

“What’s going on? Did you get news about your hearing?” He was so happy that she was this perceptive. Again, he nodded, sipping the water one of the restaurant staff brought them. “I’ve been pardoned.”

 

Sakura jumped out of her seat in excitement, coming around the table to hug her teammate, pressing her cheek against his. “Oh, Sasuke. I’m so happy for you. I’m so happy.” she was speaking heavily, her words holding back her tears of joy.

 

It felt good to have someone so unashamedly happy for him.

 

“Thank you, Sakura.”

 

She quickly sat down after he spoke, hurriedly asking when he found out and what he wanted to do now that he wasn’t going to be punished.

 

There had to be a better way to phrase that he was going to seek his own punishment.

 

“I would like to travel.” That was simple enough. “There are somethings in the world that I have to see for myself, and now is the best time for me to do so.”

 

Sakura hummed to show she was listening. “Anything in particular?”

 

“Whatever the world has to offer me, I would like to see it and appreciate it in a way that’s unfiltered.”

 

He hoped she would understand what that meant in its entirety. “That sounds exciting!” she clapped her hands together, resting her cheek on the back of her hand. “Have you told Naruto yet?”

 

“No. I came to you after Kakashi told me.”

 

That took her by surprise. He would guess that the change from generally disregarding her to treating her like his friend was too swift. “I thought you would tell him first.” she muttered quietly, a small smile growing on her now pink tinged face.

 

“You were closer.”

 

Sakura nodded. “Right, right.” Her smile was bright, eyes crinkling slightly in her joy, her happiness genuine and palpable.

 

Their food came out quickly enough. They ate and chatted quietly, mainly about Sakura’s work and what Sasuke thought he would do to celebrate.

 

He hurriedly dismissed the notion from her mind; there was no need for celebration, and he refused to entertain one.

 

They parted soon after finishing their meals, Sakura paying for them both as a gift for being pardoned, she told him.

 

Sasuke didn’t want to tell her he didn’t need any gifts from her.

 


 

Upon getting the news that Sasuke was pardoned, Naruto did three things in a very particular order.

 

He first hugged Sasuke tightly, as tightly as one can with a singular arm, mumbling into his shoulder what sounded like “Thank God.” repeatedly.

 

Sasuke let him. This was something important. Naruto’s groggy voice rumbled through his torso, and his messy blond hair, tossed in every direction from his slumber, tickled Sasuke’s neck.

 

Why was he still sleeping so late in the morning?

 

Naruto then turned around and headed immediately back to his room, leaving it open for Sasuke to follow if he would like. The blond teen curled back into his bed, covering himself with a bright blue blanket and turning his head into his pillow.

 

“Did you have anything else to talk about, Sasuke?” it was muffled, but the tone was evident; there was a layer of defeat and exhaustion within it, telling Sasuke that his best friend needed to rest from something.

 

“No.” there was a pause that filled the air in the room. “I thought you would want to have lunch or something.” he wasn’t hungry but he knew that Naruto woul-

 

“I’m not too hungry. I just need to lay down.”

 

That was the third thing that told Sasuke a lot more information about Naruto’s current state than he would’ve hoped to gather.

 

There was a subdued ambiance coming from his blond friend, making Sasuke unsure of what to say to him next, hoping that there wouldn’t be a misunderstanding from the two due to the nature of the conversation and the mood (could it be called a mood?) Naruto was in.

 

“I’m leaving in a couple of days.”

 

“Okay.”

 

There should’ve been combat to that statement. Sasuke came further into the room, standing above the bed where Naruto laid.

 

“I told Sakura.”

 

“That you’re leaving?”

 

“That I was pardoned.”

 

“Ha, before me.” It held no humor, coming out as dry as a summer’s day in Sunagakure.

 

“I saw her first.”

 

“Of course.” the responses were coming out slower.

 

“I’ll leave you, then.”

 

“In a few days?”

 

“Now. To let you sleep.”

 

There was silence before Naruto breathed out, “Stay.”

 

Sasuke sat on at the foot of the bed, staring the bundle of blanket down. “Now?”

 

“Forever.” it was rushed and muffled, like he shouldn’t be saying it at all, like he was hiding it.

 

“I can’t.” He couldn’t, not here, not when so much happened in this village.

 

“I know.”

 

Sasuke stayed until he heard soft snores from beneath the blanket.

 


 

“Well, to be honest with you,” Kakashi was walking with him and Sakura to the village gate, “under normal circumstances, you’d be imprisoned for life.”

 

This was the day Sasuke would set off. It felt less climactic than he thought it would, but that wasn’t anything to put thought into.

 

After Naruto left his more somber state (as Sasuke noted it), the black haired teen told him again, getting more conversation than the first time, but not too many varied responses. He was told that Naruto thought he would leave, and had already accepted it as fact and that he supports him in his journey.

 

Part of him still wanted Naruto to tell him to stay.

 

Only part.

 

Kakashi finished telling him to be cautious and to not mess up again, that while Naruto helped immensely in the council’s conclusion of his case, he played a significant as well as the Sixth Hokage.

 

All which Sasuke is thankful for.

 

Sakura worked her way through trying to get him to stay a while longer, first talking about the prosthetic arm Tsunade was preparing for him, moving to asking if she could accompany him on his journey after he told her what he needed to do.

 

She could understand that this was a mission he needed to complete by himself and that if he needed company, it wouldn’t be her.

 

The amount of care she still displayed for him was comforting, and much appreciated. Sasuke could almost say he regretted not caring for her more when he had the chance to.

 

Almost.

 

His attention was too far shifted now, and this focus was one that he thought worth it.

 

Upon walking away from two of his former teammates, he saw the third. Naruto was curt, giving him his old headband, the cross marked through the Konohagakure symbol as fresh as the first night he did it.

 

Things still weren’t settled between them, this he knew.

 

This they both knew.

 

Sasuke told Naruto that anyway.

 

This journey was going to be well worth it, Sasuke could feel this.

 


 

What had to be the most difficult part about living in an empty apartment after Sasuke left was admitting that he missed having him around.

 

Despite their arguments over minor things (eating ramen for every meal was not as unhealthy as Sasuke said it was, Naruto was sure of it) he did enjoy his best friend’s company.

 

At least Naruto believed that to be the extent of his feelings on the matter, not that it warranted further thought.

 

From himself.

 

At least.

 

It wasn’t boring per say; Naruto had lived alone majority of his life, picking up habits that allowed him to be fulfilled beyond the immediate company of another.

 

There was just something that was bothering him, an itch that crept deeper into his skull, begging to be scratched.

 

“What plans do you have next?”

 

His chest tightened, air fleeing his lungs. That snapped him back to where he should be.

 

Shikamaru looked tired, his eyes giving Naruto a nearly bored gaze. “What?” Naruto’s response came out sharp, pointed in surprise.

 

“What’s next?” He simplified.

 

“In what?”

 

Naruto didn’t exactly know what he meant by that. “Your life, I guess. You have to have some idea of what you want to do with yourself.”

 

Of course he did. There was becoming the Hokage-

 

Well.

 

“You can’t say you’ll be the Hokage anymore-”

 

“I can-”

 

Shikamaru waved his hand to stop the blond’s train of thought. “I mean that you filling the seat and training for that is far off. It could be a decade or two; we don’t know when Kakashi will get sick of the hat.”

 

He was right, unfortunately.

 

“Well, what do you want to do, Shikamaru? Have you put much thought into it?”

 

“Probably work in the tactical units, train for that. Become a jounin first and all, have a genin team probably, since most jounin do at some point. It’ll be annoying for a while but that’s what I have to do.”

 

That was pretty thoughtful of Shikamaru, actually.

 

Since the war was over and there weren’t any dire threats to the village (or the ninja world, or humanity), Naruto felt a bit lost. For the last few years of his life his goal was Sasuke and his safety along with evading and defeating the Akatsuki. While he hates to say it, without that he doesn’t really know what he wants to do with himself.

 

He supposes he didn’t think about it too much, given all of the other things he had to deal with.

 

Things that he does think are pretty significant, if he can say so.

 

“Got you stumped?”

 

“Shut up, Shikamaru.”

 

“Seriously though, what are you doing next?”

 

Naruto knew he wanted to help people; that was the only thing he’s ever thought he deeply wanted to do, but at this current stage, he was unsure.

 

And that uncertainty was bothering him.

 

There was something within his soul that he felt was gone, if he put thought into it. A gap that was filled but now is not, one that is in need of being filled. What could he possibly need anymore? He had the love and admiration of the village, the security that brought with it.

 

But god, he needed to feel full; to feel whole and unashamedly present, in a way. His heart was here, with the village, but his mind and soul and essence were pulling him to go and find what he needed and stay with that until he could say definitively where his consciousness wanted to be.

 

“Naruto?”

 

He looked at Shikamaru again, focusing back on the black haired teen in front of him. “Yeah? Yeah, I-” Naruto paused, thinking himself over again. “I probably need to find myself.”

 

“What?” It was Shikamaru’s turn to be confused.

 

That’s probably what Sasuke meant when he-

 

Oh shit.

 


 

Two months into traveling the countryside alone and Sasuke has come to realize he both loved his solitude and loathed it.

 

The time and freedom to contemplate what his life means to himself currently was appreciated immensely. It allowed him to put his life into perspective, contextualizing what he thinks and feels.

 

Seeing the Land of Fire through an unfiltered lens helped him, soothed him almost. There was a sort of gentle emotion that washed over him as he watched the country folk go about their daily lives, unbothered and not bothering him, for the most part.

 

Relishing in the coolness of the winds that blow seemingly endlessly and the warmth from the sun that seemed hit him so much more kindly than when he was in Konoha, there was something that healed him in the air he breathed, his lungs no longer aching for untainted breaths.

 

Sasuke felt wonderful . Not often in his recent years had he felt more like himself, an unaltered, non-influenced, true version of himself.

 

But also he felt as though a part of himself was missing.

 

As though a literal piece of himself was missing, besides his arm, of course, but still the barrenness of a lost part.

 

And honestly he was no longer hesitant to say that he was missing a person, physically, emotionally; that was something that clicked for him while he was in Konoha.

 

Yes, he did travel with people before - with Taka for a time - and he was grateful to have people that didn’t judge him for a past he couldn’t control and valued him for his present, but Juugo and Karin and Suigetsu were not the people he needed to remain by his side indefinitely.

 

While Sasuke was in Konoha, however, he noticed that he felt whole. It was in no way the village, not at all, but he knew it was the people, a person in the village that he needed to have close to his heart.

 

And dear God he was grateful to say that it was the brightness of Naruto that he needed.

 

He knew it was ridiculous; to say he needed a person was absurd.

 

So he supplimented it by writing to his best friend. Letters back and forth, once a week, updates on their life, brief exchanges of thought that tied Sasuke together in a manner he knew he needed.

 

Most messages were simple. Sasuke was in this village and it had a port and this kid was sort of stupid and it reminded him of Naruto; Naruto was out in the shopping district and saw a black outfit that looked like something Sasuke would wear.

 

Things like that.

 

Sometimes Sasuke would get messages detailing a day Naruto spent with Hinata or Shikamaru or Kiba or Sakura, sometimes Sasuke would send back messages detailing everything he observed in a village or on a road or in the forest, telling him how much he experienced.

 

A few times, Naruto said he wished he were with him to see it, complaining almost comically.

 

A few times, Sasuke said he thought Naruto would enjoy the places he went.

 

Most recently, Naruto sent a message that struck a chord with him. It said that Naruto wanted to be there with him.

 

Nothing else, no complaints, no words telling him to stop bragging, no underlying meanings, just simply a sentence saying Naruto wanted to be there with him.

 

Sasuke wrote back that he would be staying in his current village for a week, to assist with a family here whose son was taking a trip. He spoke of the goings on of the townspeople, and how quaint it all was, how the location of the town was perfect for their crops to grow, and how this season was great for them.

 

He would give Naruto the week.

 


 

Naruto did not disappoint.

 

Within the week, Sasuke saw his best friend walk into town, a small bag on his shoulder, a new working arm wrapped in bandages, the same bright, blinding smile on his face.

 

“Good to see you, Sasuke.”

 

It felt like air was entering his lungs for the first time in months.

 

“Good to see you too, Naruto.”

 

He laughed lightly, hugging his friend and patting him on the back. Sasuke allowed himself to smile. This was great. This is what he needed.

 

“So this is where you’ve been? Are you still staying?”

 

They started walking further into town, passing people that greeted Sasuke kindly and nodded at Naruto in acknowledgment of the black hair man’s friend.

 

“The family’s son is back, so I’m not required to stay. We’re heading out now.”

 

“Damn, that’s such a quick turnaround.”

 

“That’s what I do. I come, I stay for a while, I leave.”

 

Naruto nodded, rubbing his chin. “I see, I see. Where to next?”

 

“Wherever.”

 

Sasuke was happy to see Naruto walk next to him, smiling, happy to be here, willing to be with him.

 


 

Naruto noticed a huge difference between the Sasuke that was in the village with him three months ago and the Sasuke that was laying next to him currently.

 

This Sasuke smiled.

 

Not that Sasuke in the past didn’t ever smile, he definitely did, but this one right here smiled a lot for someone who used to reserve the action for particular things. And he smiled and laughed at things Naruto didn’t think he would find amusing or enjoyable, like his lame jokes or stories.

 

He also talked openly a lot. Which, again, he did before, but Sasuke of the past was much more of a listener than a talker. He matched Naruto’s stories and was actively humorous, but in his own distant sort of way that still held the essence of Sasuke and his aloofness.

 

The two stayed up and talked more but now the topics were broader.

 

They spoke of “what if”s and “maybe”s now; of “possibly”s that Naruto wished Sasuke could do with him in the past.

 

“Hey Sasuke, who do you think would’ve made a good Hokage?”

 

The black-haired man turned to look at his companion then sat up, pulling his knees closer to his chest and resting his arm on them. “The best person for the job is in the seat right now.”

 

Naruto waved his hand to dismiss that. “No, no,” he put his prosthetic hand under his head. “I mean out of everyone you know, alive or dead.”

 

Sasuke raised an eyebrow at that. “Itachi would’ve been good.”

 

He also did that; he spoke more of Itachi than Naruto would have thought he would. It must have been a mix of gaining closure with the situation and his ever-growing comfort with Naruto that allowed him to. When they lived together in the apartment for that month or so, he never even came close to talking about his older brother.

 

It was interesting, to say the least.

 

“I believe it. He was pretty kind, and selfless, from what I’ve heard.”

 

“Yeah. You’ve met him, a couple of times.”

 

“Well, I don’t think the times where I thought he was gonna snatch me were enough for an impression.” Naruto let out a slight laugh.

 

“You’ve got a point. Shizune would also make a decent Hokage, if everything was lined up accordingly.”

 

“You’re right about that. She’s pretty great. Granny Tsunade had a good secretary in her.”

 

Sasuke glanced over at him, the light from the moon casting into the cave they took shelter in, hitting the side of his pale face. “Who do you have in mind?”

 

Naruto thought for a moment before muttering, “Obito probably.”

 

Sasuke rose an eyebrow, a nostril following suit, the look of both confusion and disagreement appearing clearly on his face.

 

“Don’t look at me like that, I meant it!”

 

“And that is exactly why I’m looking at you like this.”

 

“No really, think about it for second Sasuke.”

 

“Firstly he’s crazy, secondly he literally couldn’t make rational decisions to save his life, did I say crazy?”

 

“That’s your cousin!”

 

“I had a ton of crazy cousins. Doesn’t make them less crazy. Sort of made them more crazy, actually.”

 

Naruto turned on his side to face Sasuke and laughed with him. “But really, if what happened to him didn’t happen and he grew up proper I think he would be in the seat.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Really.”

 

“What else happens in this world where Obito lived a normal and happy life?”

 

That stopped Naruto for a moment, making him take on a more reflective thought process. “Uh,” he started. “Well I would hope that I also lived a normal and happy life. Childhood mainly.”

 

Sasuke turned more towards Naruto’s body, his eyebrows furrowed, his mouth tightly closed, jaw clenched as he looked at the blond teen’s face.

 

“And,” he was speaking slowly, reflectively, “I would’ve wanted my folks to be there with me. And for you,” he looked up to meet Sasuke’s eyes, ever piercing, resigned, “that you grew up how you should’ve, with all your family together.”

 

The black haired man nodded, his face relaxing a small amount. “The Fourth would have been great. He was very kind, and understanding, and optimistic.”

 

“Yeah, you don’t say.”

 

There was a brief silence between them. Naruto inhaled deeply, thinking of what he wanted to say next. “Why do certain things happen the way they do?”

 

“Fate,” Sasuke said without hesitation. “The chain reaction of things other people have done finally colliding at the end to make the outcome that we see.”

 

“Those aren’t the same thing at all.”

 

“I know what I said. They’re obviously different.” He saw Naruto roll his eyes and huff.

 

“So which is which and what counts as what?”

 

“Give me an instance and I’ll try to say what it is.”

 

“Us.”

 

“Definitely fate.”

 

Naruto felt winded. “How? What makes this fate?”

 

“Think about it.”

 

And he did. Them being on the same team, developing their rivalry, that turning into a friendship that in turn shifted to a best friendship. The journeys they both went through, Naruto’s compulsion to get him back, how every time they met or thought of each other it was visceral, how they’re actually connected beyond that.

 

Such strong evidence.

 

Sasuke leaned over Naruto’s face, his dark eyes meeting the blond’s blue ones. “What did you find?”

 

“That you’re right.”

 

The black-haired man hummed then leaned back.

 

“What about choice? I know there’s plenty of choices we make.” Naruto sat up, turning himself towards Sasuke, awaiting his answer.

 

“We choose more minor things, like clothing and what we eat, our favorite foods.”

 

“Pretty sure I didn’t pick to love ramen so much, it just happened.”

 

“That’s more difficult, complex. You didn’t directly pick it, but someone choose to not make sure you ate properly as a child, and you then found that ramen was cheap and tasted good despite being unhealthy, no one chose to correct it, you developed a relationship with it that ended up being positive in your eyes. A series of choices that are now your life. You like ramen because people made choices.”

 

“Are you sure this wasn’t just a long-winded way of saying that you don’t approve of my diet?”

 

“It wasn’t.”

 

“How is that not fate? I made no choices.” God, was this amazing to hear Sasuke talk about.

 

“It wasn’t and doesn’t have to directly be you, it can be other people.”

 

Naruto sat in silence before saying, “All of this is hurting my head.” He laid back down, his eyes closing.

 

“Funny.”

 

“Why?” Naruto muttered.

 

“I’ve thought about this a great amount.”

 

“I see. You had time to.”

 

“It’s well worth it for us to think of ourselves and the people around us, why we’re together and how we affect each other.”

 

“Me and you?”

 

“Me and all the people in my life, you and all the people in your life, everyone and all the people in their lives. It’s worth us all to think about it.”

 

The blond inhaled deeply. “You think about me?”

 

“Every day since I’ve met you.” That made Naruto’s chest tight.

 

“You’re so dramatic.”

 

“And you act like you don’t think of me as well.”

 

“While I do-” He stopped himself. There wasn’t anything else to say.

 

“Exactly.”

 

“You’ve got to think of others. Sakura, Kakashi, the people on your other team, Orochimaru.”

 

“I do. I think of Sakura and Kakashi, how they’ve cared for me, and Juugo, Karin, and Suigetsu, and how they’ve supported me, and Orochimaru, for how he impacted me. You, on the other hand, that I no longer have.” he trailed off.

 

Naruto laughed at Sasuke’s joke. “I think about all of that too. Not your team or Orochimaru, I guess, but Kakashi Sensei and Sakura and all of our friends, Granny Tsunade and Jiraiya. And you, probably more than any of them combined.”

 

Sasuke hummed again. “You think about me?” He asked, almost mockingly.

 

Naruto nudged him with his foot. “Shut up, jerk! You do it too!”

 

“And my question goes unanswered.”

 

Thinking of Sasuke was honestly more than just every day; he was the only thing on his mind for three years straight, even after seeing him and Sasuke declaring the didn’t care about him anymore, he thought about Sasuke to the point of excess.

 

And it never felt he thought of him enough.

 

“More than I’ve ever thought of anything.”

 

“That doesn’t say much, Naruto.”

 

He pushed Sasuke’s thigh with his hand. “You’re such a jerk!”

 

Sasuke leaned over Naruto’s face, his bangs dusting Naruto’s forehead. “Yet you think of me more than anything.”

 

Naruto smirked. “Unfortunately.”

 

“I don’t believe you actually think that’s unfortunate.” Sasuke got closer to his face.

 

God, was he getting close.

 

“Well I can’t keep much from you, huh?”

 

“Never.” His eyes flickered to Sasuke’s lips after he finished. Sasuke returned the gesture, smirking as well.

 

Naruto leaned up slowly, Sasuke moving back as the blond teen came to a sitting position, right in his best friend’s face.

 

His eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Why’d you move back?”

 

Sasuke blinked. “I didn’t want you to hit my head. Your headbutts hurt.”

 

Naruto was too busy laughing to stay confused.

 


 

They started talking about the past more after they made it to the next village.

 

Sasuke accumulated a small amount of money, enough to pay for one night at a small inn; he was tired of sleeping in caves and didn’t know of an old hideout in the area they could seek cover in.

 

After they ate for the afternoon, Naruto was sitting on Sasuke’s bed, playing absentmindedly with the loosely hanging black sleeve of his best friend’s shirt. Orange and pink tones from the sunset came through the window, catching the side of Naruto’s face and part of his hair, it nearly glowing in the light.

 

“There has to be something that wasn’t existentially significant that happened to you while you were traveling with Taka. There were plenty of things that happened to me when I was traveling.”

 

“I’m aware, you’ve told me.”

 

“Then you tell me your stuff! There was a girl on your team right, and she liked you?” Naruto rose his eyebrows and smirked. “Something had to have happened.”

 

Could he give it a rest?

 

“If you think that then I have to assume you’ve done something with Sakura after you got back.”

 

Naruto shook his head quickly. “God, no! She doesn’t even like me and I stopped liking her a while ago.”

 

“Sai, then.”

 

Naruto repeated the same action, saying “No, he’s- just no!”

 

Then why the hell does he think he would do anything with Karin?

 

“Then why the hell do you think I would’ve done anything with Karin?”

 

“You cannot tell me that you did nothing with no one. You’re a teenager, you had to have your first kiss at least.”

 

What the hell? He was almost tired from this.

 

“Yes, I had my first kiss a long time ago.”

 

“Now we’re onto something! Who, who?” Naruto’s tone was peculiar. There was excitement, sure, evidently excited to talk to his best friend about his pseudo-romantic endeavors, but with an underlying feeling of unease from his voice, a slight shake that Sasuke knew only he would pick up.

 

“You.”

 

He smirked when Naruto slapped his forehead. “That’s not what I meant.” he groaned out. “Not our kiss, literally anyone else.”

 

“Were you the very first person I kissed? Yes. Have I kissed other people besides you? Also yes but that wasn’t your initial question.”

 

“But you knew wh- you know what, okay. Who else?”

 

Naruto was on the right track when he asked if he did anything with anyone in Taka. He glanced at the soft peach color of the wall then back to Naruto.

 

“They don’t matter, you asked about the first, the first was you.”

 

“You make it all sound so mysterious. I can’t even pretend to hide secret kisses, there haven’t been any.”

 

That was surprising. With how much he’s grown in popularity from when he was thirteen to a month ago, it was odd that Naruto never got the chance, or took the chance.

 

“Seriously?”

 

“Don’t make fun of me, Sasuke.”

 

He wasn’t. “I’m not, I want to know. What about Hinata?”

 

“What about Hinata?” he repeated back, maintaining Sasuke’s tone.

 

“Aren’t you dating her?”

 

Naruto sighed. “We went on a date but we aren’t dating. We’re still friends. I haven’t kissed her and I don’t know if it’ll get to that anyway.”

 

Wow. Sasuke hummed, turning to face his friend, getting closer to his face. “You, Naruto Uzumaki, have yet to kiss anyone besides me?” He knew Naruto could feel how teasing his tone was, accenting it with a smirk.

 

“God, you’re such a jerk. Yes, you caught me, I haven’t kissed anyone besides the great Sasuke Uchiha.” He rolled his eyes as he said this, his tone mocking.

 

“Maybe you should keep it that way.”

 

He hopes Naruto would get it.

 

“What do you mean?” Damn this idiot.

 

“It’s simple. What do you think it means?” Sasuke glanced at Naruto’s lips, then back up to his eyes. “Tell me what you think I mean.”

 

Naruto glanced at Sasuke’s lips as well, lingering a bit longer than he did before meeting his eyes again.

 

“It means,” he leaned in closer to Sasuke. “That this time you shouldn’t lean back.”

 

If Sasuke had the time or was the sort of person to do so, he would have gasped when Naruto grabbed his head and smashed their lips together.

 

They moved their mouths at the same time, Naruto gathering breath as their lips parted, the two roughly pressing their lips against each other in their rush to feel all they could possibly feel.

 

Sasuke couldn’t count how many times he thought about this moment, how he thought of Naruto when he kissed Suigetsu or Juugo all those times, how he wished it was the blond teen instead.

 

Naruto’s fingers wove themselves into his hair as Sasuke wrapped his hand around his waist and pulled him closer to his body. The black-haired man parted his legs to let Naruto’s body fit closer, Naruto putting his legs on either side of Sasuke’s hips as he was pulled even closer to him, tugging lightly on his hair as he moved.

 

He could feel Naruto gasp against his lips every time Sasuke squeezed his waist, gripped his hip, and Sasuke was aware of how Naruto could feel him hiss every time he pulled at his hair. They couldn’t get close enough to each other and it was infuriating him; Sasuke’s tongue running along the roof of Naruto’s mouth as he hoped they could get closer, impossibly close.

 

There was no real way for him to know if Naruto was having as good a time as he was, besides the light groans and moans he could hear and feel as they kissed, but god did he hope the hell so.

 

Sasuke pulled away briefly to look at Naruto’s eyes, how half-lidded they were, hazy. That was enough for him.

 

They met again, desperately almost, their hunger for each other palpable. It was so rough, rushed, sloppy, but Sasuke needed it more than anything in this moment.

 

Naruto pulled away this time. “Oh my god.”

 

“Yes?” Please let him continue.

 

The blond tugged Sasuke’s hair. Ouch. “Shut it, jerk. We really just- we really are-” he looked at Sasuke’s face, the slight red of his lips, the saliva surrounding his mouth, the yearning in his eyes. “This is actually happening.” It came out as a whisper.

 

“Definitely real. The most real I’ve felt.” Sasuke pecked the side of Naruto’s mouth, taking Naruto’s bottom lip in between his teeth gently, sucking on it briefly before kissing him full on again.

 

He could not get enough, not when Naruto leaned even further in, not when he moved to hold him up as best he with one hand, not when Naruto moved his hands from his hair to around his neck, arms resting comfortably as they continued.

 

He did have to pull away when he needed to breathe again. “God.”

 

“Yes?”

 

Sasuke squeezed Naruto’s hip at that. “Don’t. We-” he stopped and looked around, seeing how disheveled his blond friend was. “We’re-” he couldn’t think of anything to say, he just wanted to kiss Naruto again and it was such a strong sensation that he was just compelled to lay him there and kiss him until they both ran out of breath.

 

Naruto pulled away, sitting back on the bed, keeping one arm around Sasuke’s neck while his other hand moved to wipe the saliva from around his mouth. “What was that?”

 

“I know you’re not used to kissing people, and I know you’re an idiot, but if you really don’t know what just happened then it’s worse than I thought.”

 

He smirked as Naruto spoke. “Hey, I’m serious right now, Sasuke! What the hell did we just do?”

 

“Well that’s called making out, and we did so for maybe ten minutes.”

 

“I’m not a damn idiot-”

 

“Yes you are-”

 

“Shut up! I know what we did, but I mean what we just felt . Those- that heat, that emotion, that, uh, passion and desire and ache and longing, what was that?”

 

“You say you aren’t an idiot but you’re questioning something you just answered.”

 

“I mean why did we, so naturally.” He wasn’t asking any longer. Sasuke moved his hand from Naruto’s waist to his face, gripping his chin and looking directly into his eyes. “I will tell you right now that I know what I feel, and it involves you in such a way that I can’t even think to explain. What I feel is something so powerful that I have to think of ways to not try to kiss you again right now instead of talk.”

 

“But what is that?”

 

“I told you, I can’t put words to it.”

 

“You can put words to anything, aren’t you supposed to be smart or something?”

 

“Do you feel the same way? The same sort of powerful force that I do?”

 

Naruto nodded. “Yeah. I felt it.”

 

“Then that’s your answer.”

 

There wasn’t anymore talking for the rest of their night at the inn.

 


 

Naruto doesn’t know if Sasuke knows that sometimes he makes no sense.

 

Naruto also doesn’t know if Sasuke knows just how much he needs him.

 

For the first time in a while, Naruto felt at ease.

 

He knew that it was Sasuke, and his dry humor and his sarcasm and wit and his presence and how deeply he held him in place that soothed his heart.

 

Sasuke helped him figure out that he did need to back to the village. They spoke about it one day while walking to their next location, how Naruto felt lost since he had so much time before Kakashi retired from the seat and Naruto’s training for being the Hokage began.

 

The black-haired man was positive he would get the seat, and was happy to hear that he had such a clear goal. He gave Naruto his full support, saying that if he did need anything he could have it from him.

 

But the one thing he needed from him was something they both knew he couldn’t sacrifice himself for.

 

Regardless Naruto found an ally in Sasuke, one that he could confide in and count on.

 

One week Naruto asked Sasuke to help him find out about his clan.

 

That week they went east in Land of Fire, finding all text they could that spoke of the Uzumaki, picking up text that also spoke of the Senju and their connection.

 

When they found text describing what Uzushiogakure was like, Naruto teared up in happiness. To find out that his clan was vibrant, brilliant, influential in Konoha, was better than he could have hoped for. His chest was bubbling with warmth, his ears and cheeks red in his excitement.

 

Naruto couldn’t put the books and scrolls down they found, reading and rereading and sharing everything he saw.

 

When they found text describing the destruction of Uzushiogakure and the genocide of his people, Naruto’s face dropped, blood running cold as the air was snatched out of his lungs and replaced with water.

 

He couldn’t even bring himself to cry about it; Naruto spoke solemnly, his voice remaining quiet.

 

Sasuke resolved himself to giving Naruto time to grieve, not questioning him, allowing him to process what he just learned.

 

When they found text about the lineage of the Uzumaki families, Naruto didn’t put it down, trying to figure out if he knew any of these names, if he heard Tsunade or Jiraiya or the Third Hokage talk about them.

 

Then he found it.

 

“This is my mom.”

 

Sasuke shifted his eyes to Naruto, noticing the contrast in his black pants to the lush green of the grass before moving to meet his eyes.

 

“Her name is in the book?”

 

Naruto nodded, smiling softly. “And her younger brothers. I had uncles. There’s Hashirama’s wife, a couple of generations off from her, not too closely related.”

 

Sasuke hummed. “Anything else?”

 

“I had cousins. I lot of cousins. My grandma had a lot of siblings.”

 

“Big family.”

 

“Yeah.” Naruto trailed off. He began to read a passage from the book, detailing their physical characteristics, how they have bright red hair, an amazing ability to heal, a strong life force that’s allowed the clan members to carry on after critical injuries and live over a hundred years.

 

“My hair isn’t bright red.” Naruto muttered, twirling a piece in his fingers.

 

Sasuke chuckled. “You also have a father.”

 

“True.” Naruto looked up from the book, staring at the sky as he pulled together his words. “Nagato was an Uzumaki too, and his hair was bright red. He also was able to live for a while even though he was under a great amount of physical strain. Tsunade too, not about the red hair, but she is physically strong and has a strong life force and great healing abilities.”

 

Naruto put the book down, continuing to look up at the sky. This was painful, but he felt closure. Having Sasuke there was also comforting, to have him not taking over in trying to ease him down and allowing him to feel his own emotions.

 

It was important to him, and Sasuke knew what was needed in this moment.

 

They sat in the sunlight, Naruto bathing in the rays, Sasuke watching him as he sat in his thoughts.

 


 

Sasuke knew that he and Naruto were riding the high of them understanding their mutual feelings for each other, and he knew that they would either gradually come down from it, or crash.

 

They still stayed up until the odd hours of the night, talking, filling themselves with each other in a way they never did before, exposing their emotions more rawly, becoming impossibly closer over the span of the month or so they spent together.

 

More often than not they fell asleep together, Naruto cradling Sasuke’s head close to his chest sometimes, the physical contact being new to the black haired man. It wasn’t uncomfortable, quite the opposite actually, but Sasuke knew that getting used to it would be more negative than positive.

 

But damn him, he liked this a great amount and he will let it continue.

 

They also would be more physical with each other, touching and feeling and getting to know each other inside and out, in a way they couldn’t before, never would have been able to back in the village, under everyone’s eye and their expectations of each other.

 

Some nights they would whisper to each other, staying as quiet as possible, hiding their words from the outside world, making their true feelings a secret to anyone else, Naruto’s voice taking on a hopeful but melancholy tone when he talked about staying with Sasuke and his plans for the future.

 

How open they’re able to be with each other, Sasuke being able to meet Naruto on level ground for the first time in years, Naruto being able to meet a Sasuke that was no longer drowning for the first time in years, was beautiful to them. It made them understand each other even more than they did before, and Sasuke was ever so grateful, and he knew Naruto was as well.

 

“Sasuke.”

 

He turned over to face his companion, his dark eyes meeting Naruto’s bright blue. “What?”

 

“I know what I want to do now.”

 

That was interesting. Naruto spoke often of what he wanted to do or what he would do, but not in definitives.

 

“And what is it?”

 

“Help people.”

 

Sasuke chuckled lightly. “You, of course, want to help people.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“So you want to help people?”

 

“I want to protect everyone I care about, and I care about you and I care about everyone in Konoha.”

 

What was his point in saying this? Sasuke stayed silent, allowing Naruto to finish speaking. “I want you to stay with me.”

 

“I can’t go back to Konoha with you.”

 

“You can. You can continue doing what you’re doing there, with me.”

 

Sasuke sat up at that. “I can’t. There isn’t anything in the village for me. Everything I need to do, where I need to be, is outside Konoha.”

 

“I can’t do this without your support.”

 

“You have my full support, in everything you want to do. I want you to do what you feel you need to do, and if that’s protecting Konoha, I want you to protect Konoha.”

 

“I need you, Sasuke.” Naruto’s voice was cracking.

 

“You have me, Naruto. My place may be next to you, but there are things that I have to do as well.”

 

“I need you.” He repeated.

 

This almost hurt Sasuke. “I want you to become the Hokage, Naruto.” He ran his fingers through Naruto’s hair, his voice getting lower and more gentle. “I want you to protect the village, and to continue to use your heart for what you felt to be right. I trust you more than I trust myself. You say you need me,” he brushed blond hair out of Naruto’s face, looking into his eyes. “But you have me.”

 

Naruto’s eyes started watering. Sasuke used his thumb to wipe the forming tears away. “I live for you, I think I may have always lived for you, but I do so now more than ever.”

 

“God, why do you have to say that, Sasuke? You’re giving me too much credit.”

 

“Don’t cry for me unless it’s out of joy.”

 

“Jerk. I can’t stand you at all.” Naruto’s laugh was humorless.

 

“You’ll become the Hokage, and protect the village. In turn, I’ll protect you from anything that happens to come your way. You can help Konoha, and I will support you.”

 

Naruto pushed Sasuke’s face away weakly, trying to turn his head so he can tear up without being watched.

 

“There’s going to be too many things we can’t do if you’re not with me.”

 

That was maybe the only thing that worried and angered Sasuke. Their relationship, what they have here, won’t hold up in the village. And if Naruto had resolved himself to lead Konohagakure, he had to follow a certain order of things.

 

Sasuke leaned down, pushing past Naruto’s hand, brushing his lips against Naruto’s. “I trust you, and always will. Everything that you need to do, I understand, and support.”

 

“You’re the most important person to me, Sasuke.”

 

He kissed Naruto, softly, stealing the breath from the blond’s lungs, cupping Naruto’s head with his hand. Naruto gripped the front of his shirt, pulling him closer to himself.

 

They broke apart, Sasuke bringing Naruto to sit up with him, Naruto still clutching his shirt. “You have to let me go.” Naruto kissed him again, breathing out of the side of his mouth while tightening his grip on Sasuke’s shirt.

 

“I can’t. I just can’t.” Naruto mumbled against his lips.

 

Sasuke let Naruto kiss him, exhausting themselves on each other, feeling the deep sorrow Naruto was as they realized the ramifications of their relationship.

Chapter Text

About a week after Naruto’s revelation, he said he would start to head back to Konoha.

 

Sasuke had no questions, he simply offered to walk back with him, as it would take a while to get from the Southeastern coast.

 

Naruto couldn’t say how happy he was to still have his company.

 

The air was filled with a coolness, telling of the changing seasons, washing over them gently as they spoke of more “what if”s. Sasuke was starting to develop a complicated relationship with the phrase “what if”. It was powerful, it gave him hope, it made him want to change Naruto’s dreams to realities but he knew that it was just conjectured on their current circumstance. It was them trying to soften their own aches, a self-medication whose side effects turned into its own illness.

 

“Do you have a favorite Hokage?”

 

Sasuke looked over to Naruto, the blond hair man having his hands resting behind his head as he walked along the dirt path.

 

“You love to talk about the Hokage. Why do you ask?”

 

“Humor me. You have to have thought about it, you think about everything. And you met them all! It must’ve been crazy to have that much history in one room.”

 

“You really love history.”

 

Naruto shook his head. “I like to think of the future. Thinking of the past limits us. History is cool though. Seeing how we are now from what used to be is amazing. Especially since we can track the, what is it-”

 

“Developments?”

 

“Totally.” He dismissively waved his hand. “Anyway, favorite Hokage, go!”

 

“Either the First, Fifth, or Fourth. Actually, them in that order.”

 

There was a pause before Naruto muttered. “Whoa.” He spoke up louder to ask, “Why?”

 

Sasuke shrugged. “The First was pivotal. He was the start, the one that made the village and wanted it to be successful. When I spoke with him, he sounded taken aback to hear that Konoha was in the middle of a war, and all of the corruption that the village had- has going on. No one is called the God of Shinobi for no reason. The name fits.”

 

Naruto hummed and nodded. “That’s amazing.”

 

“He was, for lack of a better word, amazing.”

 

“What about Granny, and my dad?”

 

Sasuke thought for a moment. “Tsunade was the most worldly experienced in my opinion. She fought hard through multiple wars and even with her desire to remain hands-off with the village, she understood responsibility and assumed it. It takes a great deal to do something that you otherwise wouldn’t. She is deeply empathetic, similarly to Hashirama and Minato, but her empathy also comes from her having experienced so much.”

 

He turned to look at Naruto for a second. “The Fourth had accomplishments, was powerful and renowned even before becoming the Hokage. He was ambitious and driven. He wanted change. Even if he didn’t get the opportunity to do any at all, the thought was there, and that’s impactful. That coupled with the fact that he very willingly gave his life basically the first day on the job to save the village.”

 

“Isn’t it a bit, uh, presumptuous to say that the Fourth had more drive to change than the Second or the Third, or even the Sixth?”

 

“No.”

 

Naruto wouldn’t leave it at that.

 

“Okay, but why though?”

 

Sasuke sighed. “Kakashi barely wants the seat. Tobirama did want change, yes, but a great amount of the corruption we have in Konohagakure today is due to the policies he put into place and didn’t manage. I’m not the biggest fan of Hiruzen Sarutobi for very obvious reasons-”

 

“He let Tobirama’s policies stay.” Naruto trailed off.

 

“Exactly. Among other things. Who are your favorites?”

 

“The ones you don’t like.”

 

Sasuke rolled his eyes. Of course they would disagree. “Please explain to me.”

 

“Well,” he started, moving his hands from behind his head so he can count on them. “Tobirama was driven and what he wanted he got. He was also a genius; almost every modern justu was either created by him or derived from ones he made. That takes something. He was a great help when Hashirama was forming the village with Madara, making decisions that the other two couldn’t. He also gave his life to protect the village, as did Grandpa, who was like, an ancient artifact at the time.”

 

Sasuke hummed.

 

Maybe he didn’t like how Tobirama immediately called him an evil little boy upon meeting him but his opinions still stand.

 

“It’s the very beginning of Kakashi’s era! We can’t write him off because of how goofy or aloof or unconcerned he is with us. Wasn’t the First also very silly when you met him?”

 

“I think the God of Shinobi can be as silly as he wants to be.”

 

Naruto actually let himself laugh this time, patting Sasuke on the shoulder as he tried to cover his mouth. “Okay, okay but let me finish!”

 

“Go ahead, Naruto.” The blond composed himself briefly.

 

“Grandpa,” Naruto paused for a second, “He was just as empathetic and powerful and ambitious and driven as everyone else, I just think he couldn’t do much given the circumstances. He tried. That, and he very readily assumed the seat again after retirement due to a call of duty, not ego or anything. Grandpa got the seat in almost the same way.”

 

“Trying doesn’t get you too far if you don’t produce results.”

 

“But you applaud the Fourth for his attempts and promise.”

 

“That’s your dad.”

 

“I can acknowledge it isn’t fair to give someone credit when they couldn’t do anything, but you’re contradicting yourself.”

 

“Hiruzen let you stay an orphan and become traumatized, let me stay an orphan while traumatized, plenty of other things as well.”

 

“It’s more nuanced than that.”

 

“You’re too forgiving.”

 

“Maybe you aren’t forgiving enough.”

 

That stopped Sasuke. Naruto turned around to face him, eyeing him for a moment.

 

“Maybe I’m not,” the black haired man continued walking. “But we can’t forgive everyone for everything.”

 


 

Upon entering the village for the first time in five maybe six months, Sasuke and Naruto noticed a few things.

 

Well, it was more like one thing that happened to feel like three.

 

Sakura was awaiting them at the gate, hands on her hips, her mouth turned downwards in a frown, eyes piercing even from the dozens of meters away she was.

 

Naruto broke into a light jog when he saw her, eager to greet her. Sasuke shook his head, meeting her eyes.

 

The pink hair woman immediately punched Naruto, putting him into a headlock upon him reaching to hug her. That’s not a good sign. Sasuke grimaced.

 

“Sasuke, you better hurry up, I want to talk to you too!” She shouted, waving him over.

 

“Sakura I don’t think I want to get any closer! I’ll send a hawk to get your message-”

 

“I’m not joking with you right now Sasuke, just get over here.”

 

Dear God, what is happening?

 

Sasuke quickly made his way over, looking at a red-faced, lightly chuckling Naruto holding onto Sakura’s arm for what looks like dear life.

 

“So I already knew he was an idiot,” she shook the blond haired man in her grasp, “but I didn’t think you were an idiot too.”

 

Sasuke blinked rapidly, shaking his head in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

 

“Naruto just up and left one night after an unexplained goodbye dinner with all of us, says literally nothing , no message saying he found you or was safe or anything, for five months, only to send a message saying he was on the way back.”

 

Okay, so that makes sense now.

 

“And you didn’t talk to anyone to say he was with you!”

 

“In his defense, he was writing to me-” Sakura shook Naruto again.

 

“Stop it! After meeting with you he said nothing! Kakashi had to cover your asses, trying to tell the council that no of course their hero didn’t run away with his best friend, yes we hear from him weekly, they’re not doing anything crazy!”

 

Sasuke was at a loss for words. “Well I didn’t think I would be back,” He looked both of them in the eyes quickly before adding, “this soon.”

 

The pink haired woman released Naruto, who dramatically wheezed upon hitting the ground. “What were you two even doing for six months?”

 

Exploring each other, finding the greenest of fields among the most barren of lands, seeing the sun as pure as it was from the reflection in Naruto’s eyes as he muttered his dreams to the sky and hoped for a deity to bestow upon the two their most intricate desires. Learning the inner recesses of Naruto’s soul, peeking around the corners of his psyche to see how everything outward manifested, diving deep into places no one dared go, where no one was allowed access until Sasuke peeled back the layers of-

 

“Philosophising.”

 

Sakura rolled her eyes. “You two are philosophers now?”

 

“Yup!” Naruto cosigned Sasuke’s assertion.

 

He was such an idiot.

 

“Well I hope it was worth it. You had to have learned or realized something, being gone so long.” The trio began to walk into the village, Sakura in between Naruto and Sasuke, matching their pace as she spoke.

 

“Definitely. It was really important for me- for us both- to have that time.” Naruto’s tone was reflectively optimistic.

 

Sasuke cleared his throat, the air seeming to fill his throat, blocking his breath. “There’s always more to learn, experience. While these months have been impactful, and I discovered a great amount, I still have more to grow.”

 

Sakura nodded, smiling at her black haired teammate. Naruto looked more passive behind her, keeping silent as they walked.

 

“My journey is not even close to being done. What I’ve tasked myself with is something that will take years, even decades for me to possibly come close to completing.”

 

She rolled her eyes then patted him on the back, muttering something along the lines of “so dramatic.”

 

“That sounds so amazing, Sasuke. You’ve put so much thought into your development. I wish you all the best.”

 

He appreciated Sakura.

 

“It sounds all mystic and fancy but Sasuke isn’t doing anything too crazy. Silent walking, silent training, silent sitting in a field and reading some old scroll, silent everything.”

 

And he found Naruto to be his saving grace.

 

They couldn’t speak on their long nights of whispers and secrets, unspoken vivid conversations about what it means to be with each other. There’s no telling how she’d take it, who’d she tell.

 

“It’s reflection. And it’s necessary.”

 

“You know what else is necessary? Us finding something to eat.” Sakura nodded at her own comment, Naruto smiling and looking between the two.

 

“Please tell me we can have ramen.” Naruto said, walking further in front of Sakura and Sasuke, looking back at the two of them.

 

Sasuke rolled his eyes. “You should be eating healthy. Vegetables, proteins, anything besides ramen, actually.”

 

Naruto groaned. “That’s all I’ve heard for six months, Sakura! We didn’t eat anything unless it grew from the ground.”

 

“Not true. We also ate meat.”

 

The blond haired man held up a finger. “Once a week!”

 

“We ate what was available to us. More grains in the north, fish along the coasts, pig and boar near the mountains, goat and beef in the southern plains.”

 

“Stop making it sound like a balance. I was deprived of ramen and I require restitution.”

 

Sakura shook her head and laughed at them. “You’re both ridiculous.” she looked Sasuke in the eyes as she continued to say “You’re good for each other.”

 

What does she mean by that?

 

They went to Ichiraku’s, and Naruto ate his fill of ramen, telling Sakura about the sights from all over the Land of Fire and recounting what they learned and theorized about, who they met and what they’ve done thus far in between waiting on bowls.

 

Sasuke was thankful for the exclusion of some things.

 

“Everytime we had to move, Sasuke would do this great thing where he thanked the head of the village for letting us stay. You’d think he was an all around jerk by how he acts, but he’s such a softy.”

 

“If I roll my eyes too much they’ll roll out of my head.”

 

Sakura almost cooed, laughing at Naruto when he started to defend his statement. “It must’ve been hard to find lodging every place you went.”

 

“Tell me about it.” Naruto down the rest of his ramen, turning to get yet another bowl.

 

Sasuke mumbled, “Among other things.” The pink haired woman shook her head at that.

 

“Oh I can tell. Couldn’t find scissors in any village in the Land of Fire?” She reached up to touch his hair, it reaching below his shoulders now, bangs far too long to be considered such anymore.

 

Sasuke had to restrain himself from grabbing her hand. She was just going to touch his hair, there was nothing to worry about.

 

She twirled a piece, muttering about how shiny it was. Sakura then moved to Naruto’s head, gently grabbing a piece of hair that framed his face, repeating her actions. “His hair is so soft. Seriously, you’re both ninja, there had to have been a kunai lying around.” The pink haired woman withdrew her hand.

 

“We had other things to care about.” Sasuke muttered.

 

“Oh, I can imagine so.” Her tone was almost mocking. Why is Sakura so funny now? “Both of you guys have longer hair than mine. Not that it doesn’t look good, don’t get me wrong, it just grows so fast.”

 

Naruto smiled lightly at that. “I think I might keep mine. Sasuke said he liked it before,” they made brief eye contact. “And if you’re saying so it must be true that it looks good.”

 

“Are you saying that I would lie, Naruto?” Sasuke rested his arm on the bar the sat at.

 

The blond chuckled lightly. “No, never, just that you don’t have the best taste.”

 

Sasuke rose an eyebrow. “I have bad taste?” it came out almost playful.

 

Sakura had a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing. Naruto opened his mouth to say something, then quickly closed it, looking away from the black haired man in the process.

 

The black haired man noticed something peculiar about Sakura, something that had changed, or was at least more evident than it was previously.

 

She spent a lot less time asking him for input on his and Naruto’s experience, listening intently to the blond, giving Sasuke these intense looks, almost as if she can feel something from the both of them.

 

He wasn’t too sure how to take that.

 

Soon after they departed from Sakura, her telling them not to get into too much trouble in the remaining hours of the night.

 

Naruto just laughed behind his hand at that.

 

The blond slung his arm over Sasuke’s shoulder, happily guiding him back to his apartment.

 

It wasn’t long before the made it back.

 

“Oh God I never thought I would miss this place.” he tossed his bag onto the floor next to the couch, taking his shoes off and stretching himself until he yawned. He unzipped his black jacket, allowing the blue tank top underneath to breath.

 

Sasuke eyed Naruto, placing his bag onto the ground and slipping his shoes off.

 

Upon closing the door fully, Naruto wrapped his arms around Sasuke’s neck, raising an eyebrow and smiling, glancing towards his room then back to dark eyes.

 

“Stay.” it was accented with Naruto briefly going on his toes to kiss Sasuke’s forehead.

 

“The night.”

 

Naruto kissed his cheek then. “The month.”

 

Sasuke wrapped his arm around the blond man’s waist. “The night.”

 

This time it was a peck under his ear. “The week.”

 

He nearly growled as he palmed the small of Naruto’s back and pulled his torso flush against his. “The night.”

 

Naruto cupped his face and kissed him, biting lightly at his lip when he pulled away. “The weekend.”

 

Sasuke went for Naruto’s neck, sucking on a spot right where his shoulder met his neck. He smirked against his neck as Naruto sucked in a breath. “We’ll see.”

 

All verbal communications ceased after that point.

 


 

Sakura was more observant than Naruto gave her credit for.

 

Hell, Sakura was far more observant than Sasuke gave her credit for.

 

They were hiding something, obviously moments they shared while alone for six months, either that are too embarrassing to recount or too intimate to share in mixed company.

 

From what she knows about the two, Naruto seldom hides his embarrassments and Sasuke does things without regrets.

 

She already knew that Sasuke thought himself to be more mysterious than others, for lack of a better word, thinking that “no one understands him” or that he’s “too complex” when actually he wore his feelings on his sleeve.

 

Naruto, on the other hand, thinks he gives away all of his feelings all of the time, and that there isn’t anything within himself that he’s hiding. This leads him, according to all she’s noticed over the years, to act on feelings he doesn’t understand or know he has until later.

 

All that being said, she can clearly see, as clearly as their personalities would let them, that they value and care for each other a ridiculously massive amount.

 

To excess, almost.

 

Which, yes, she thinks is evident in their behaviors over the course of the years, but more now so than ever, especially in the last, say, year or so.

 

It would take a blind person to not see that the confused fool in Naruto is attached at his very core to the dramatic asshole that is Sasuke.

 

Actually, a blind person would be able to know, since it’s tangible .

 

For crying out loud they were basically feeding off of each other’s voices the entire time during dinner, and Sakura can tell when the look in a person’s eye isn’t just simplistic.

 

She sort of wanted to tell somebody her observations.

 

But she won’t, in an attempt to keep Sasuke’s (very public) feelings private.

 

Also, there was the issue of Naruto.

 

Who, for some ungodly reason, thinks that his clear cut strong emotional attachment to Sasuke is divisible, and wants to give everyone he can a piece of his soul.

 

It was a slippery slope for the blond, who had the most recognizable face in the village besides the six carved into the side of the mountain. He couldn’t let on that he had any sort of long term profound relationship with Sasuke while he was still mending his image in Konoha. Naruto would be watched by everyone like a hawk, and people would pry.

 

If Sakura were to consider herself a friend of either of them, she would try her best to keep whatever they happened to be going through hidden.

 

Regardless of if they knew or not.

 


 

Given the amount of time that has elapsed since his and Sasuke’s last night together and the current moment, one would think that Naruto would have gotten beyond the ache in his chest when he thought too much about his best friend.

 

Whoever thought that would be wrong, of course, and Naruto shames himself in being the person that initially thought such.

 

It was months, multiple months, nearing almost a year and he was still filled with slight longing for Sasuke. He knew it was wise to wean himself of the emotions and touches and energy he missed from the black haired man. There had to be something for him to shift his focus to, logic would dictate such.

 

The morning Sasuke left was hard for them both; Naruto was solemn, pensively looking at the bag in Sasuke’s hand as his best friend told him that he would always be with him. Sasuke was being more mature than him, acknowledging that this was not permanent, that they would meet again and that their bond was beyond physical, though he expressed if he could have it his way, they would continue together after Sasuke found himself.

 

He did not let Naruto go until they had to leave the apartment.

 

Naruto knew that Sasuke was right. They were linked, it was beyond their present, their bond would maintain itself if even they were inactive.

 

All he could hope was that he would soon move past the need to fill his nights with constant contact with Sasuke.

 

After a few months from leaving him, Sasuke stopped sending weekly messages, saying that he was traveling up North, passing through Yugakure and that it would take too long for the messages to go and come back timely. When Naruto got his next message a month later, it was detailing all of the old scriptures in the various temples found there, and how religion in the country was more heavily regarded than in the Land of Fire. Sasuke told of how he would spend the month there researching and training, and that he would tell him when he moved to another country.

 

Naruto was happy to hear how fulfilled Sasuke was. He often shared Sasuke’s experiences with Sakura, the two commenting on how much he must be learning, more than any of them could learn from staying in Konoha.

 

He found that as the time apart and distance from Sasuke grew, it got easier. Naruto hung out more with his friends. They were almost as great a support as Sasuke was, and he didn’t feel the same compulsions with them as he did after sitting with Sasuke for hours.

 

“You’re basically on track to becoming the only Hokage to not be a jounin when they take the seat.”

 

Ever so often there were “guy’s nights out”, gatherings his guy friends put together for drinking and eating and to catch up.

 

Turns out Sai and Shikamaru can hold their liquor, while Lee and Shino were gone after a couple of drinks.

 

“No,” Naruto took another swig of his drink, looking at Chouji. “No! The First wasn’t a jounin when he became the Hokage.”

 

Shikamaru waved his hand, “Wasn’t a system at the time so you can’t even count that.”

 

“Naruto, you gotta admit that it’s pretty damn cool.” Chouji followed back up.

 

“Guys, you’re giving me too much credit! I’m not even sure if it’ll happen yet!”

 

There was a chorus of groans from around the table.

 

“If you do not become the Hokage,” Lee started slowly, his speech noticeably slurred, “I will run three thousands laps around the village, on my hands, backwards.”

 

“Don’t you already do that every day anyway? It isn’t much of a promise.” Kiba laughed out, picking up his drink to sip from.

 

“It still holds up! I will do so if Naruto does not secede Lord Kakashi, then that is what I will do.”

 

“If Naruto doesn’t become the Seventh, I’ll shave my head, make a wig out of Akamaru’s shed fur, and wear it until he becomes Hokage.” Shino responded. Kiba grimaced at the thought.

 

Sai spoke up. “Now we have a bet. That is something I would like to see.”

 

Laugher rang out from them all, the mood light and almost freshing to Naruto. Lee left soon after that, needing to sleep off the alcohol in his system, Shino following to help him back to his house.

 

After Lee and Shino left, Kiba shifted the conversation. “When are you gonna see Temari again, Shikamaru?” Kiba moved his eyebrows up and down quickly, in a nearly suggestive manner.

 

There was a shrug and dismissive noise from Shikamaru. “She’s not passing through anytime soon, and she’s pretty busy with all of the stuff in Suna anyway.”

 

“Awe, long distance relationship must be killing you.” Chouji muttered, an understanding tone leaking into the statement.

 

“You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you. Karui almost never leaves Kumo.” Sai noted.

 

Chouji nodded. “I’m going to travel up there soon enough anyway. I want to do some speed training and Kumo has some of the fastest ninja in the world.”

 

“You sure it isn’t just to see your girl? If I were you, I’d sure as hell want to see Karui as much as possible too.” Kiba looked at Sai and the two nodded in agreement, Chouji sputtering.

 

Naruto shook his head. “I didn’t even know you liked people, Sai.”

 

“I have an entire girlfriend.” he said plainly. “You’ve all met her.”

 

Oh shit, that was right.

 

“Even Sai has someone! When are you gonna get a girlfriend, Naruto?” Kiba said in between putting pieces of barbeque in his mouth.

 

The blond felt a smirk come onto his face. “Same day you get one, dog breath.”

 

“Dude, come on, seriously. I just haven’t found the right lady for me.” Kiba said, pretending to wipe a tear from his eye. “You, on the other hand, need to start making moves on Hinata before she gets tired of your flaky ass.”

 

Naruto was taken aback. “We’re friends! I told you that the last time you told me to take her out!”

 

“She still wants to date you, Naruto.” Shikamaru said, placing down his drink. “God knows why.” Sai said after him.

 

“Sai is just happy that his girlfriend is both hot and in town.” Kiba said, rolling his eyes.

 

“Did you just call Ino hot?” Shikamaru and Chouji said in unison.

 

“Of course he did, he has eyes.” Now Sai was just being a dick.

 

Kiba shook his head. “Ino is definitely good looking, Karui is out of this world, Temari is really pretty, I’m just damn jealous.”

 

This was a lot for Naruto. The topic of relationships was so weird to hear from all of them, as he never thought of them as the sort to put much thought into relationships. He guessed it was just that sort of time; the war was over, everyone is older, things are calm, it may be time for budding relationships.

 

And that was concerning for Naruto.

 

“If you’re really interested in someone, Sakura and Tenten are both single.” Naruto said quickly.

 

Kiba groaned. “Sakura is married to her job and probably still pining for Sasuke,” Naruto’s eyes widened in mild surprise. “And Tenten is kinda outta my league. She’d get tired of me quick.”

 

Naruto shook his head again. “Sakura still likes Sasuke?” That would, well, complicate things. He swore she was over him, but Naruto could never be sure. Plus he was more than positive Sasuke wouldn’t reproach.

 

“I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she did. He’s a good looking guy, I will say that.” Kiba picked up his glass and clinked it together with Sai’s, the two smirking at each other. Naruto was beyond confused.

 

Shikamaru laughed. “Hey, where’s all of this coming from?”

 

Kiba shrugged. “If I were a girl and I saw Sasuke, I’d want him. He’s got that whole cool vibe with him. Tall, dark, and handsome, you know.”

 

“Okay, but he also wanted to destroy the village a year and a half ago.” Chouji muttered. Kiba made a long “Oh!” sound, covering his mouth and laughing along with Shikamaru.

 

Naruto waved his hand, chuckling almost nervously, his head filling with water, swimming with a mix of irritation and anxiety. “Don’t even think about that, he’s fine now.”

 

“You’d know, right, you spent six months with him.” Shikamaru commented.

 

“That’s enough time for all the crazy to settle out. I’m sure he’s cooled off now. Meaning,” Kiba paused, holding up a finger, “if a girl wanted to and thought he was attractive, which, let’s face it, he is, that guy’s an option.”

 

The blond found himself tapping his fingers on the table out of nervousness, letting out a chuckle. “He said something about attraction back when we were travelling together.” All of the men at the table tuned in to listen to Naruto, as though he were divulging an ancient secret. “It was something like,” Naruto put on his best aloof face, deepening his voice slightly to try to match Sasuke’s pitch, “physical desirability will only last a person or couple an ephemeral amount of time if the two have no mental or emotional compatibility.”

 

“Damn, is he always like that? Physical desirability, that’s one hell of a term.” Kiba muttered.

 

“He just means you can’t stay attracted to anyone long if you two have nothing going on up top.” Shikamaru stated, taking a swig of his drink.

 

“It’s not too often he keeps up the big boy vocabulary, it was just one of those days.”

 

Naruto recalls that Sasuke gets more convoluted and overblown with his speech after they spend nights together exploring one another, their inner workings, their outer capabilities, how far each can bend before breaking, before the other can succumb to their desire an-

 

This was making his head spin just thinking about it.

 

“Are you finally getting drunk over there Naruto or are you remembering something crazy Sasuke said once?” Kiba said, smirking behind his drink again.

 

Naruto rose his eyebrows and shook his head. “No, no, I’m fine.”

 

Kiba sighed. “What the hell was I saying before? Oh yeah,” he pointed to the blond. “You gotta take Hinata out.”

 

How did they even get back onto that?

 

“And I said it probably won’t happen.”

 

“Come on, man. She’s sweet, beyond beautiful, in love with you, what else could a guy ask for?”

 

Naruto could think of a few things, actually. If this were last year, before he traveled with Sasuke, before his best friend finally convinced him that he didn’t have to be with a person he didn’t want to be with, that he could stay with Sasuke and that he would be all he needed, he would definitely be on their side. Hell, he actually agreed with them before then, giving her the effort she deserved.

 

But he didn’t have to do that, and Sasuke got him to understand that if he wants or needs anyone longer term in his life, it would be his best friend.

 

God, he sounded like a lunatic.

 

“Why don’t you ask her out if you like her that much?”

 

Kiba dramatically covered his eyes with his arm, turning away. “As a man, I am sacrificing my admiration for her in order to assure her happiness. And you,” he pointed to Naruto, “also have to realize that you should do the same.”

 

“May as well give it a try” Shikamaru started. “Love doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process. You think I woke up one morning out of the blue and thought, wow, Temari is the love of my life.”

 

Chouji nudged Shikamaru, chuckling at him. He rolled his eyes. “No, it started tiny when we were genin, I met with her and talk more, we both realized we had something, and now we’re together.”

 

Naruto was conflicted. They all had a point, good points, and he wasn’t really trying with Hinata, not anymore. He brushed her off, considering her a friend, a close one, and nothing more. Maybe if he keeps going out with her, keeps trying, it will work.

 

“You know,” the blond raised his glass, “you’re right. I’ll ask her out on a date tomorrow.”

 

The table cheered, clinking their glasses together, and Naruto felt a small prickling sensation in his chest.

 

He would ignore it. This was for the best.

 


 

Sasuke felt like a fucking walking stereotype.

 

A man of mystery, wandering the continent, filling his mind with all that was once hidden, reading every book and scroll, talking to village and clan heads about their people, exploring temples and ruins. No one knows who he is; he’s gone just as soon as he appears, bringing knowledge and wanting people to share their experiences with him.

 

One month he almost literally found God in the mountains.

 

After herding damn sheep with a family of herders and counting bundles the wool for the upcoming winter, Sasuke found himself exploring the cliffs and stone valleys of the Land of Earth, meandering through the winding rock paths that lead to nowhere he wanted to be, but also everywhere he needed to be.

 

Finding a cave hidden in the mountainside, away from anyone’s eyes, filled with carvings that had to be centuries, maybe a millennia old, describing the history of an unnamed people, telling the story of a being that held infinite wisdom but no power, infinite benevolence but no ability, infinite ideas but no ambition.

 

The rest of the story was lost to him, as it was almost nonsensical in his eyes, but he cannot deny how this riddled him with an emotion that lifted his head and took all thoughts from his brain, replacing them with the purest air he ever breathed.

 

Someone or something powerful once stood on this ground, and it was not a being with chakra, he felt it.

 

Sasuke was never a religious man. Quite the opposite actually. He always thought that if there were to be a God, they were a dick, but there probably wasn’t one or any because his life and the world around him were a mess.

 

But in that moment, Sasuke believed in something higher than anything he’s ever seen, thought of, experienced.

 

The black-haired man knew in the back of his mind that he was being ridiculous, that it was just a story, that the energy felt there was a weird chakra impression or something, possibly even Otsutsuki signatures, but god, was he unable to deny what he was feeling in that moment.

 

He even studied the many Northern religions, finding all of them to be interesting but otherwise objectively being able to say that while he appreciated the different explanations of the world and humanity, he didn’t believe them.

 

So maybe saying that he found God in the mountains was an exaggeration; it was much more like he found a site when an ancient religion exercised their spirituality and it was left untouched for centuries.

 

Though while there in that spiritually charged spot, he had found an emotion within himself so strong that it lifted him beyond what he thought he could ever be.

 

Sasuke would practice the traits of that being more willingly.

 


 

Hinata Hyuga was not a stupid person.

 

She knew that Naruto didn’t love her, at least not in the same way she loved him, and that his heart was either too big to be divided among singular people or that it already belonged to another.

 

Hinata had gotten over him maybe a year ago, while he was gone, while she trained to become a jounin and spared with Hanabi and worked day and night to gain the same title that Neji had.

 

Everyone, however, seemed to think they still knew what was best for her.

 

They keep asserting that Naruto should take her out, and that they should date, and that they would be such a beautiful couple, and that the marriage will be amazing, and everything would be amazing because they’re so beautiful together.

 

And it was irritating.

 

If Hinata wasn’t as reserved as she is, she would tell Ino and Kiba and her father to leave her alone about dating and marriage and to ignore her title as a Hyuga noble and to let her work her way up in the ranks to join the intelligence squad since that is what she finally decided that she wanted to do.

 

It was difficult, and she knew it was.

 

Hiashi was adamant about her marrying a person of status, and while he was more kind to her, saying that she could choose who marry and that it was in her hands how everything was handled, he suggested that there was no room for discussion. To him, she was still infatuated with Naruto, and Naruto was going to be next in line for the Hokage seat.

 

She was basically tasked with making sure she has her own arranged marriage with the future Hokage.

 

All Hinata wants to do is be a ninja. After so long, after people not thinking she could do it, after fighting herself and enemies and giving everything her all, Hinata finally is on the cusp of being able to do it.

 

But her father is giving her the duties of the Hyuga heiress, a title that he stripped from her, to find a husband, and to bear children, and to give up her ambitions.

 

At this point, if Hinata were to be honest, she wasn’t even sad anymore. She was sad when her father made her out to be worthless, when she was babied by Kurenai, when Neji refused to give her the time of day, when Naruto remained clueless of her feelings, yes, she was sad then.

 

Now? Now when her father understood that she had other strengths, when she proved herself to Kurenai and her team and to everyone as an asset, when Neji reproached her care and gave it to her a thousand fold, when she no longer loved Naruto so wholeheartedly, now she was angry.

 

Hinata struck the tree with her palm again, for maybe the hundredth time that session.

 

Possibly even beyond angry, that her wishes and ambitions are now being cast aside for a marriage that she doesn't care about.

 

Not even to say that she refuses to marry Naruto, don’t get her wrong, if he wanted to date or marry her she would do so, but to be under the obligation to bear children and care for them at the expense of her future is disrespectful in her eyes. Especially since Naruto doesn’t seem to want to do so either.

She fell to the ground underneath the tree, back pressed against the tree she was just practicing on, looking back at all the other trees she broke in half hours ago, remembering the hundreds of open palm strikes it took to break them.

 

Being under obligation was the worst.

 


 

Naruto had no idea what to think when he was summoned to the Hyuga clan head house and basically ordered to ask for Hinata’s hand in marriage.

 

They had been dating for a couple of months now and he could say it was going pretty well.

 

If anyone could call whatever they were doing dating.

 

It was more of a series of planned outings with each other that really seemed like more of a show for the people of Konoha to watch than two people actually being in a relationship.

 

On certain days they would go to the park, on other days they would train together (Hinata was a great sparring partner he found out. Gentle Fist was still a lot to handle), some days the two ate at some restaurant that invited them, talking and laughing with each other and enjoying each other’s company, generally.

 

Sometimes, when the moment struck them, they would kiss, a quick peck on the lips, more long and passionate ones on the occasion, enough to get comfortable with each other, enough to make their relationship look real.

 

Their feelings, however, never exceeded that of friendship.

 

And Naruto thanks everyone and everything he can that Hinata was the first to bring up that this was not out of romantic feelings on her part and that she knew of the obligation they were both placed under.

 

She explained how her train of thought went, how she had goals but Hiashi wanted her to fulfill her duties as a Hyuga noble, and how she was basically required to be married and have children before the end of the next year.

 

That was scary as hell to Naruto.

 

Especially given that now he was under obligation to fill the spot as husband for Hinata.

 

It wasn’t said verbally, but both Hinata and Naruto knew that the elders backed Hiashi’s choice, probably even giving him the idea and telling him to go ahead with this in the first place. It all had overtones of something very specific and important; Naruto’s candidacy for the Seventh Hokage would be at risk if he did not marry into the Hyuga clan. Or, rather, restart the Uzumaki clan’s presence in Konohagakure.

 

Which, to him, made no sense for a number of reasons that he was too impassioned about to name.

 

Naruto didn’t want to question why; he felt that he shouldn’t even have to go through with this, that half the Hokage were unmarried and all were judged on their character content, shinobi ability, and capacity to lead.

 

Hiashi was persistent. He explained that it would be the best thing for everyone; for the Hyuga, for Hinata, for Naruto, for the village.

 

Naruto was anticipated to marry Hinata, to marry a noble from a prominent clan, to have children with her, and to love her openly.

 

That was pressing for Naruto, but he found it hard to not follow through.

 

The next day he came to Hiashi and formally asked for Hinata’s hand in marriage. The clan head nodded and smiled softly at him.

 

He was set to ask Hinata to marry him. Officially.

 

So one night, when he and Hinata were at an upscale restaurant they were invited to, he asked the staff to help him propose to his girlfriend of two and a half months.

 

It went off without a hitch; the staff was overjoyed to help, the patrons at the restaurant were excited to be witness to such an important event, Hinata even got teary-eyed when he finished his speech and the proposal.

 

Their wedding date was set to six months after that day.

 


 

Sasuke didn’t know why he thought that going to Sunagakure in the winter would make it less hot or arid, but it, in fact, did not impact the dryness and the heat of the Land of Wind.

 

Guess he forgot how climates work, and that a desert remains a desert regardless of the time of year.

 

Never before had he been more thirsty, or dry, or hot. Making it through the Land of Stone before the colder seasons began, and through Amegakure before their most harsh rainy season began to go through the Land of Wind in winter made perfect sense in his mind when he first thought of it.

 

He should have stayed in Ame. Nothing really goes on there, it just rains and rains and the people are kind though secretive; Sasuke could have explored the old Akatsuki bases and monuments to their old leaders that were present in certain parts of the village, discovering more about the religion he heard about that appeared surrounding Pein.

 

That was what he would do next.

 

After he got to Suna.

 

And rehydrated himself.

 

Despite all his inner complaining, he made it to Suna and was greeted by Kankuro and Temari, who lead him to the Kazekage tower to meet Gaara.

 

“No one knew you were coming until some guards reported seeing a man dressed in black with one arm wandering in the desert,” Gaara said smoothly, motioning for him to take a seat, dismissing Kankuro and Temari.

 

Sasuke kept his eyes on the window behind the red-haired man, trying to focus his mind on cooling himself down.

 

Gaara smiled gently at him. “Allow me to get you water.”

 

“Please.” he breathed out.

 

When they were younger, Sasuke didn’t have any sort of relationship with Gaara, the two know each other very impersonally, their only real interaction being during the chunin exams.

 

Which, Sasuke knew, was not the best impression of either of them.

 

Well, Gaara much more than Sasuke, as he knew that he just got worse after the chunin exams.

 

Sasuke learned very quickly that the Gaara then and the Gaara now were polar opposites.

 

This Gaara had such a deep kindness it was ground shaking; he spoke evenly, measured, thoughtful, with a tone that told Sasuke that the man before him was thinking solely of whoever his audience was.

 

He felt relaxed by Gaara’s soothing nature.

 

This Gaara also treated everyone as though they were apart of himself, and in need of his care and sympathy. The Kazekage was selfless, and his people admired him for it, rightfully so.

 

Naruto did speak highly of Gaara, saying that he was probably the second closest to his heart, besides Sasuke, of course. The two had a bond that impacted Gaara powerfully, noticeably.

 

Sasuke felt a sense of pride in being first in Naruto’s heart.

 

“When was the last time you spoke to Naruto?” Gaara sat on the edge of his desk, facing Sasuke, watching him as he gulped down the water in his hand. “Don’t drink too fast, you may get sick.”

 

The black-haired man ignored him. “When I was leaving the Land of Stone, so three months ago.”

 

Gaara hummed lightly at that. “I’ll let him know that you’re doing well.”

 

Sasuke shook his head. “There’s no need. I’ll send him something soon enough.”

 

The Kazekage smiled again. “Very well. While you’re in my village I want you to be as comfortable as possible. I can get you a room prepared for however long you plan on staying.”

 

He eyed him curiously. “Why?”

 

“Because you’re a friend here.”

 

“Since when?” Gaara looked unsurprised by the statement. “Since you decided to give Naruto the same feelings he gave you.”

 

Oh, okay that makes sense.

 

“Would you have done the same if I hadn’t?”

 

Gaara turned his head to the side, looking down at his hand that gripped the side of the desk. “Hard to tell.” he looked back up at Sasuke, “In the past you’ve hurt him. Over the last two years you’ve healed him. He’s the person I care for the most, so it would only make sense that I try to help those that help him.”

 

Sasuke felt a warmth rise in his chest, climbing up his throat, clawing its way out of his mouth in him saying, “You care for Naruto more than your village.” This was an observation, they both knew.

 

“It takes something to care for Suna.” Gaara exhaled deeply. “They placed their faith in me, they want to trust me. In return, I have to want to care for them and I do. It’s a give and take. With Naruto, it doesn’t have to be that way. If I give him everything I have it wouldn’t be enough, there would still be more to give him.”

 

That was staggering to Sasuke. “You care about him more freely than you let on.”

 

“I love him with everything in my soul, Sasuke.”

 

A chill ran through his veins, almost shocking him. “How do you know that this is love?” it came out quickly, forcefully, tinged sour and bruised.

 

“I’ve known what it is to be like without love. Naruto has taught me what it is to be full of it. I now know what love is. For that, I love him.”

 

Sasuke’s jaw clenched. “It must hurt to know he doesn’t love you back.”

 

Why was he so bitter? Why did he feel his voice become laced with something acerbic?

 

“That’s a bold assumption, Uchiha.” Don’t tell him he struck a chord in Gaara.

 

“It’s purely out of sympathy.”

 

“Not that I need that from you of all people. Reserve it for someone in more need.” Gaara’s ability to maintain the smoothness of his voice made Sasuke’s throat burn.

 

“My intention wasn’t to offend.”

 

“You haven’t, but for you to think you have means that you did have the intent.”

 

What the hell are they even talking about anymore?

 

Sasuke stood up. “I’m sorry.”

 

Gaara blinked. “What for?”

 

“Talking about him.”

 

“Naruto?”

 

“Yes.” He shifted his vision to look outside of the window, the setting sun casting shadows on Gaara and the desk, bathing the room in a harsh yellow light.

 

“Don’t be.”

 

They were speaking more slowly with each other, statements becoming undemanding, Sasuke knowing that it’s in an attempt to not divulge any more of their thoughts to each other.

 

“He hurt you. You feel hurt that he doesn’t love you back.”

 

The red-haired man flinched, nearly unnoticeably, his eyes widening slightly, as though he thought that he would be stuck. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

“I think that I do.” He took a step closer to Gaara.

 

“You don’t in the slightest.”

 

“He doesn’t love you like you love him and it’s tearing you apart.” He doesn’t have to be this harsh, he doesn’t have to say anything anymore but God is it difficult for him to not.

 

Gaara shook his head. “I’ll say again that you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

“I know all too well.”

 

There was a look of realization on the Kazekage’s face, his chest falling slightly. “Oh.”

 

What is he thinking?

 

“What are you thinking?” Sasuke ended up right in Gaara’s face, standing over him as the red-haired man was still sitting on the desk. The was a steely look in Gaara’s eyes as he steadied his breath.

 

“That you’re talking about yourself.”

 

Sasuke felt his veins boiling over. “I’m leaving.” He turned towards the door. “Sorry to bother you so much.”

 

“No, stay. You’re welcome here, that hasn’t changed.”

 

If Sasuke were a different person, or, rather, the same person he was two years ago, he would have punched Gaara for his insinuations. The red-haired man was patronizing him . He was extending empathy when he doesn’t know anything about the depth of his and Naruto’s feelings, comparing their complexities to how trivial Gaara’s own relationship with the blond.

 

Gaara put a hand on Sasuke’s shoulder, gripping it lightly, in an almost gentle manner. “You don’t have to,” he loosened his hand. “But you’re welcome here.”

 

Sasuke turned fully around after those words, leveling his breath, willing the heat that was climbing out of this throat to cool.

 

The look on Gaara’s face enraged him. That look of understanding, of sympathy that ran deep to his core, the tenderness that was in his eyes that he knows is only out of a malplaced feeling of relatability, all of that pressed down upon Sasuke’s chest as though it were a hot stone, eating into his skin. He placed his hand on Gaara’s arm, gripping it tightly, almost too much so, in return.

 

“Okay.”

 


 

The first letter from Sasuke in months was like seeing the first tree change colors in the fall.

 

It wasn’t lengthy, as Sasuke never wrote him more than a page for simplicity’s sake, but it was full of convoluted phrases accented with such banal sentences that Naruto wanted to laugh.

 

It almost felt comical how much detail he put into this message.

 

Sasuke spoke of how he traveled in the mountains, the scenery, how there was an ancient site so spiritually charged he felt God’s presence among him as he was standing in that cave.

 

He continued on to talk about how he traveled south to Amegakure, how despite them being a reserved village that stayed on the defensive, they were very warm to him. Sasuke writes that he would be going back very soon.

 

Most recently, it seems, Sasuke was in Suna, staying with Gaara and Temari and Kankuro, studying the traditions and history of the village, exploring all the sites around it.

 

His best friend spoke briefly on Gaara, saying that he was a nice person who spoke highly of him, and that he was glad to have talked to a person that cares about him so much.

 

Naruto smiled upon reading the words.

 

“Is that from Sasuke?” Hinata wiped her forehead, sitting down next to him on the training grounds.

 

He nodded, turning back to reread the letter, running a hand through his freshly cut hair. “I have to figure out what to write back. I want to tell him about,” he paused, glancing at her, “About what we’re doing, everything that’s going on.”

 

Hinata got a resigned look in her eyes. “I know you do. He’s your best friend, you want to share it with him, but for this to work out, I don’t think you should.”

 

Naruto felt his mouth go dry. Her bluntness, a sort of roundabout bluntness, was still new to him. He liked Hinata as a friend a lot; she was kind, much more outspoken than she was when they were kids, and very thoughtful.

 

They came to the agreement that in order for them to maintain their outward relationship, the fact that they weren’t in love had to remain a secret.

 

Nobody (that they know of) is onto them in the slightest. Naruto jokingly called it the biggest cover-up in modern Konoha history, but it was actually turning out to be that way.

 

For the most part, it worked; they acted engaged. All of their friends supported it, even if it was a fairly fast turn around to only have been dating a few months ago. They were so happy for them, getting them little gifts and wanting to take pictures and the like.

 

He needed that. He and Hinata both needed the confirmation that people were buying what they were selling. It was important for the village to think that he and Hinata were in a strong, stable, romantic relationship.

 

But Sasuke was different.

 

Naruto wants Sasuke to be aware that what is happening between him and Hinata isn’t real. This marriage, the family that they’re going to be starting, the outward love that he is showing her was just for show. Sasuke needed to know that but he can’t tell him and it leaves Naruto’s abdomen aching and head pounding just thinking of hiding it.

 

Transparency with Sasuke was imperative.

 

The blond needed it for his own sake and damn does he know Sasuke needed it as well.

 

“You shouldn’t tell him.” Hinata repeated.

 

“I know.” Naruto put the letter down in his lap. “Maybe we should stop training for today. Sakura said you should be resting more anyway.”

 

The long-haired woman smiled softly at him. “Don’t worry about that, I’m taking care of myself. I’m stronger than you think.”

 

Naruto smiled at her, lightly bumping his head against hers. “That you are. Stronger than me.”

 

She chuckled at that.

 

“I want to invite him to the wedding.” Naruto mumbled, hoping that she heard him.

 

Hinata nodded. “Sasuke would be happy to see his best friend get married. Regardless of what the marriage really is.”

 

“That’s true.”

 

He hoped to the God that Sasuke met in the mountains that it was true.

 


 

Naruto fucking Uzumaki was to get married to Hinata Hyuga in four months time.

 

And he was invited to come to the event as a guest.

 

Sasuke was at first happy to get the letter back from Naruto, right on the day he was to leave Sunagakure. He saved it for until after he left the desert country and made it to the Land of Fire, to a place where he wasn’t hot and dehydrated for hours on end.

 

But for Sasuke to open it and to first see a lilac toned wedding invitation in the scroll was aggravating. As though it were the most important thing for Naruto to be saying.

 

Oh no, the message he read after that, what was printed on the scroll was more important.

 

They were to have a child. Hinata was a few months (it literally said a few, he didn’t even have the decency to write exactly how far along she was) pregnant, and Naruto wrote it as though it were expected.

 

Sasuke barely even remembered what Hinata looked like.

 

Wasn’t that Neji’s sister? Or was it cousin? Wait, he’s sure it was cousin now and he remembers her black hair and pale face and sweet features that-

 

Even thinking more made him angry.

 

He wasn’t even mad at Hinata; if he remembers correctly (and he hopes he does now) Hinata was infatuated with Naruto, even going as far as to risk her life for him.

 

Oh no, he was mad at how in the dark he was.

 

Sasuke wasn’t even aware that they were dating, let alone set to get married and have children.

 

The message even ended with Naruto cheekily telling him not to tell Sakura or Gaara since he wanted to invite them, as though he wrote to Sakura or would be in Suna long enough to tell Gaara.

 

This was causing him almost physical pain to think about.

 

He headed towards Orochimaru’s Southern Hideout, not caring if he saw the man or Kabuto or anyone else for that matter. Sasuke wanted to be more secluded for the time being in order to rationalize his thoughts.

 

The trip did not take long; he was able to rent a boat easily enough, and he knew which island the hideout was on.

 

Upon arriving he first noticed another boat docked off the shore, then what looked like activity in the complex.

 

Great.

 

“Sasuke? Is that you? Oh my god your hair is so long!”

 

Great, it’s Karin.

 

The red-haired woman ran up to greet him, her open lilac (of course it would be fucking lilac) blouse fluttering as she hopped down a few rocks to get closer to him. She held out her hand as a gesture of kindness, familiarity, wanting to help him up the rocks.

 

He took it and climbed up onto the path leading up to the entrance to the hideout, letting go of her as they started to walk. “It’s good to see you too, Karin. You look well.” he strained out, trying hard to not sound angry.

 

Karin looked up at him inquisitively, her face betraying her confusing; he must have had a bite to his voice, a noticeable coldness.

 

“It’s not often you come here, Sasuke.” She held the door open for him, the black haired man looking around, taking in how unchanged the laboratory was. “Is there anything going on?”

 

Where the hell does he begin?

 

Sasuke doesn’t often find himself in a position of vulnerability, but there was a hard heat pressing harshly down on his chest that was unbearable, to the point that he couldn’t refrain himself from exposing his thoughts.

 

This shocked her nearly instantly. Her eyes widened in that moment, grabbing Sasuke’s cloak and pulling him towards an area for them to sit down.

 

Upon sitting, Sasuke told her almost everything that has happened to him in the last month. He told her of the conversation with Gaara, how charged the room was when they spoke, the feelings they released afterwards, how he felt the need to free himself from Gaara because he knew how Gaara felt and it ate him.

 

He told her of how upon receiving the first letter from Naruto in months it sucked the light from his eyes, the pleasure he typically gets from reading what his best friend has to say dissipating into nonexistence once he saw the words “married” and “pregnant”.

 

It took him a lot to try to describe what he felt to her, and she patiently nodded and remained distant from him, allowing Sasuke to vent everything that he needed to in the space that he needed.

 

“That’s heavy, Sasuke,” Karin mumbled, shaking her head. “So you’re angry that he’s getting married to and starting a family with this, uh, Hinata?”

 

Yes, exactly.

 

“No, I’m dismayed that I didn’t know any part of their relationship.”

 

Why can’t he just tell her?

 

Karin locked eyes with him, her concern minimal. “We’re best friends, he’s the one that kept screaming it from the highest point in the village, so why keep me out of this important part of his life?” Sasuke continued on to say.

 

“You care about him so much. Maybe he’s just, moved on?”

 

No he fucking did not.

 

Sasuke’s throat and chest immediately burned, his temples throbbing at the statement the red-haired woman just said.

 

“He can’t move on even if he tried.”

 

“But what if he did? It isn’t impossible.”

 

It was impossible. There was no way in hell that Naruto Uzumaki, the man that stayed up multiple nights whispering to him that they needed to stay together, that he couldn’t live without him, that would kiss the side of his mouth crying over the idea that they wouldn’t feel the same way again, would ever, ever move on.

 

Sasuke’s jaw clenched.

 

“No way.” He harshly bit out, his eyes setting themselves on her face.

 

Karin glanced down pensively. “Sasuke,” she said slowly, moving closer to him. “I care about you,”

 

He wanted to roll his eyes.

 

“Juugo cares about you,” she continued. “That dumbass Suigetsu cares about you. Naruto is a grown man, he chose to do these things, obviously without thinking out telling you out of courtesy.”

 

God was she wrong.

 

“There are people who won’t give you empty words when they say that they care.”

 

“You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”

 

“Maybe I don’t,” she threw her hands up in exasperation, “but I know if I had a best friend that I valued beyond just the words that I said, I would tell him that I was in a pretty serious relationship with another person.”

 

Sasuke felt like something was trying to claw its way out of his mouth, trying to burst through his chest, the pressure and heat more than bothersome. “Shut up.” he said, standing.

 

“What?” she stood as well.

 

“I’m going to need you to stop talking, Karin.” he moved his eyes over her body, stopping at her face again.

 

Her fist were clenched at her sides. “You can deny wh-” Sasuke grabbing her arm, willing her to stop talking.

 

He couldn’t stand her voice at that moment.

 

“Sasuke, you need to relax. You’re really wound up right now.”

 

He gripped her arm harder. “Help me, then.”

 

Karin’s face dropped her worried expression, shifting to one of content understanding.

 


 

This had to be one of the most beautiful days of the year.

 

Everyone was bustling with excitement and happiness. The marriage of Naruto Uzumaki and Hinata Hyuga was the most important event since the inauguration of the Sixth Hokage.

 

Shops closed down, people left work early; this was a huge event.

 

There had to be no one in Konoha that was unhappy about what happened.

 

It was a beautiful wedding. There was not a hair out of place or a mismatched color in sight. The couple looked happy and in love, Hinata even going as far as crying out of joy at the altar.

 

Sakura could not be more proud to bear witness to the event. Her friends were so sweet together it made her teeth ache.

 

They were the perfect couple.

 

But that didn’t make any sense to her.

 

How, in the span of two months, did Naruto go from not wanting to be in a relationship to proposing to Hinata? And marrying Hinata? And having a child with Hinata?

 

She saw how he and Sasuke acted around each other, how Naruto seemed to only be able to focus on the black haired man. It was comforting to see that they could care about each other in a way that helped them more than hurt them, finally.

 

So what changed?

 

Naruto was extremely contented to live out his days without a wife, the companionship of his best friend being enough, until eight months ago at least.

 

It was weird. Just plain weird.

 

And the fact that Sasuke was nowhere to be found was also weird.

 

Everyone was certain that Sasuke would come and support Naruto. There was an expectation of it, for him to be sitting on the first row, dressed handsomely in traditional attire, to give a speech afterwards about how caring Naruto is and how wonderful he will be to his new wife.

 

But he wasn’t there.

 

At all.

 

Not even watching from afar.

 

It actually bothered her to know that Sasuke didn’t show up. It was too telling of his feelings, ones that she knew he didn’t want people to be cognizant of.

 

His absence sent a message to Naruto, she knew; it told him that he didn’t approve of this marriage.

 

And that took Sakura back. For as reserved as he is, he is figuratively shouting them for all to hear.

 

Hopefully Naruto didn’t hear what Sasuke was saying.

 


 

It was about an hour that Sasuke sat staring at Karin’s naked form, trying to conjure back the memories and feelings that would have compelled him to do what he did with her.

 

He knew there was anger, annoyance, desperation perhaps, but beyond that he couldn’t even pretend to remember what exactly they did.

 

Besides, obviously, sleeping with each other.

 

What exactly he was feeling all those hours ago were lost to him, he released them all in the moments he spent against her body, trying to make sense of his own emotions.

 

That was probably not the best idea, now that he thinks about it.

 

But damn, he was really upset last night! How can he fault himself for acting on a whim? Doing impulse things aren’t always bad, and if he happened to feel less stressed and angry about it, then so be it.

 

Though he couldn’t really call it an impulse if it happened again the next night.

 

And all day the following day.

 

And onto the next week. And the week after that. And the week after that.

 

Shit.

 

Every morning after, he would stare at her in her nakedness, eyes following her curves and dips, willing back his memories, trying to piece together any residual feelings that he could that may explain why. It never worked.

 

Each time he awoke before her, by probably an hour or so, simply staring at her or the wall until she too woke up, groggily, stretching lightly before wandering out of the bed they shared and into the shower or to make breakfast or something.

 

This time, however, was starkly different.

 

Karin woke up with a start, quickly jumping up and out of the bed, picking up her blouse from the day prior and throwing it on, running towards the nearest bathroom, feet pattering heavily in their haste.

 

“Fuck!” he heard her scream from down the hall. “I fucking got it on the floor!”

 

Sasuke just stared at the doorway. What could have gotten her sick? All they do is eat fresh seafood and greens, nothing that would harm them.

 

The red-haired woman staggered back into the room, a hand over her mouth, the other gripping her stomach. She plopped back down onto the bed, reaching down to find some underwear to slip on.

 

She groaned as she turned over.

 

“Was it something you ate?”

 

She swatted her hand at him. “I don’t know, Sasuke. I’m just feeling like hell right now.”

 

“I’ll make you breakfast.”

 

“Make it for yourself. If I eat anything I’m going to puke up my stomach next time.”

 

Sasuke glanced at her again before leaving the bed and heading to the bathroom to shower.

 

He grimaced. Karin did get it on the floor. He moved to clean it up, as she wasn’t in any sort of state to try to herself.

 

Sasuke glanced at the mirror before quickly turning away. He couldn’t look at himself, his hair was too long. He then showered, trying to wash away everything that they did last night, the same as every morning for the last few weeks.

 

After finishing and dressing himself, he noticed Karin had yet to move from the bed. Her red hair was haphazardly splayed on the pillows, her bare thigh peeking out from beyond the grey blanket she was covering her face and torso with.

 

Karin stayed like that for a while, only starting to move when he left the hideout.

 

Sasuke had gone out into a neighboring village in the Land of Waves, helping the inhabitants with odd jobs in exchange for money.

 

Upon coming back for the evening, he saw Karin pacing in one of the labs, a hand on her forehead and the other on her hip, muttering something.

 

By the looks of it, she had dressed herself, wearing a darker colored blouse than the one yesterday and white shorts that hugged her hips.

 

Okay, he can admit that he was either clouded by superficial physical attraction or really desperately stressed.

 

Maybe both.

 

Karin looked up at him with hard-pressed eyes.

 

That’s new. “What?” he asked plainly.

 

She shook her head. “We’re stupid, is what.”

 

Whoa there, Sasuke doesn’t think that he’s stupid. And if he did, no one else should say it.

 

“What are you talking about?” it came out a bit harsh.

 

She met his eyes and placed a hand on her chest. “I’m pregnant.”

 

She’s what?

 

“You’re what?”

 

“Pregnant.”

 

Excuse him.

 

“What?”

 

“Pregnant!”

 

“What?”

 

She threw her hands up. “Sasuke! You got me pregnant!”

 

No he didn’t.

 

“No, I didn’t.”

 

Karin turned around to the computer monitor and waved him over. She pointed to the screen that displayed her urine test, it coming up with high levels of some hormone, next to that the screen had a health checklist for what was detected from the test.

 

It indeed said she was pregnant.

 

Well.

 

“It wasn’t me.”

 

Her fist shook slightly. “We had sex almost three times a day for over three weeks straight! It could only be you!”

 

This could not be happening to him.

 

Of all the people for this to happen to, it had to be him, huh.

 

Sasuke looked around to find a seat, Karin staring at him with her arms crossed over her chest as he sat down.

 

“So what do we do now?”

 

She sat down at the computer, looking over the screen again, her back to him. “I’ll tell you right now that I didn’t want to, don’t currently want to, and never want to be pregnant.”

 

He didn’t need to hear anything else. It was obvious what she was saying. “I ask again, what do we do now?”

 

The red-haired woman turned around in the chair to face him. “It’s up to you.”

 

That statement struck him like a volt of electricity. “Why?”

 

She laughed humorlessly. “You just seem to love questions today.” she paused to cover her eyes, a shaky breath escaping her mouth. “This is your heir. You are the very last of your clan, and this child could be the start of its resurgence.”

 

Sasuke’s eyes widened slightly and he nodded. “I understand.”

 

“And I’m one of the few left in my clan.” He saw her shoulders shake when she said this.

 

He never thought about Karin heritage before. “What clan are you from?”

 

“Uzumaki.”

 

A bucket of cold water seemed to have been dumped straight onto Sasuke’s head.

 

“You’re kidding.”

 

“I would never, not about that. My mother was a member of one of the more prominent families, my father was from Uzushiogakure. I’m an Uzumaki in name and in birth.”

 

“And that child would be so as well.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

Oh God.

 

“This would be the start of the Uzumaki clan again.” he breathed out.

 

“Exactly.” she repeated.

 

“That is an important child.”

 

“It’s up to you. Have an heir, restart your clan, link the Uchiha and Uzumaki clans, or forget it all.” he could hear her voice shake.

 

This child was so important. This child would mean so much, would be so significant that Sasuke’s head was spinning.

 

“Yes.”

 

“To what?”

 

“You having this child.”

 

Karin swallowed a sob. She was a wreck from this. “Okay.”

 

“Can you do this alone?” she looked taken aback. “With just us two?”

 

The red-haired woman shook her head. “I can’t. I’m not in the place to take care of a child, and I probably never will be. I know myself and I know that I can’t give up what I want to do and my freedom to raise a child. I worked hard to be able to live freely.” she was terrified. Upset, worried, and terrified.

 

He could understand that. He understood that pretty well, actually.

 

“We can’t raise this child together, Sasuke.” Karin was shaking her head as she looked at him.

 

“I can’t stop what I want to do to tag along with you to raise a child that, oh God,” she paused to cover her mouth, trying to avoid letting out her sobs. “This is so fucked up, oh God why do I think that? Why did I let this happen?”

 

Karin was distraught.

 

“I will find us help. Are you okay to travel for a while?”

 

She looked confused. “Yes, I should be. Why?”

 

“Because I’m going to get us help.”

 


 

No one expected Sasuke to come back to Konoha after being gone for so long.

 

Well, no one being one person.

 

And that no one was Sakura, who received a message from Sasuke himself to meet her at the gate to the village, ready to listen to him, telling her to bring a pair of scissors

 

Which made no sense at all but she complied. Once seeing her, Sasuke lead her away from the village, down a path that went into a shaded area of the forest.

 

“First, Sakura,” he said before she could barely process this situation. “Can you cut my hair?”

 

What the hell was going on?

 

She nodded. That’s what the scissors were for. The black hair reached many inches beyond his shoulders, messy due to its length but he very obviously took care of it.

 

“Are you sure? It’s really pretty like this.”

 

“It’s too long, cut it to my shoulders.”

 

She went along with it. He sat in the grass silently, allowing her to clip away the locks.

 

It was too quiet. “Sasuke what is going on?”

 

He took a deep breath. “You know Karin?”

 

Red hair and eyes, glasses, a little on the tall side. “I met her once or twice. She’s a medical-nin right?”

 

Sasuke hummed lightly. “She was in Taka with me.”

 

His old terrorist group, right.

 

“What about her?”

 

He took another deep breath, exhaling deeply but remained silent.

 

This was getting annoying. “Sasuke, wh-“

 

“She’s pregnant with my heir.”

 

Sakura had to stop cutting his hair.

 

“Why’d you stop?”

 

“Is this a joke, Sasuke?”

 

“Why would I joke about this? That’s a little sick.”

 

She yanked his hair harshly. “This is not funny Sasuke. No one hears from you in months, you miss Naruto’s wedding-”

 

“I was never coming to his damned wedding.”

 

“You avoided Naruto’s wedding, and you come back telling me this.”

 

“That’s about right.”

 

She steady herself. There needed to be less tension in her body before she continued listening.

 

“Okay, so what happened since the last time you talked to Naruto?” Sakura began cutting his hair again, making sure to have it even.

 

He wasted no time explaining to her what he did upon leaving Sunagakure; Sasuke spoke about how he read Naruto’s message, flying into what she would describe as a frenzy of emotions that he couldn’t grasp.

 

Then he described to her how he has no clue exactly what compelled him to have sex with Karin, and how he can’t describe what he felt because he wasn’t sure if he felt anything at all. Sasuke finished with saying that Karin was fraught about having this child, but that she was willing to go through with this.

 

“That’s-” she paused to gather her thoughts, “that’s a lot to handle.”

 

“I know, this is my life right now.”

 

Sakura dusted some of the hair off of his shoulders. “Why tell me? Why not tell Naruto?”

 

Sasuke was silent for a full minute before saying, “I can’t. Believe me when I say that I can’t.”

 

She didn’t press him. “What are you two doing going forward?”

 

“That’s why I told you all of this.”

 

“What?”

 

“We need help.” his voice wasn’t as steady as it normally was. “Karin,” he paused. “She can’t do this alone. She’s terrified.”

 

The pink haired woman nodded. “Rightfully so.”

 

“And she has a life to live that I won’t take from her.”

 

“Are you two going to have this child?”

 

“Yes, we are. And afterward, she’ll leave from me and I’ll raise my child.”

 

“What, while traveling the world and getting lost in the desert and the mountains, acting recklessly? That’s no way to raise a child, you carting around an infant while you explore is just plain irresponsible.” She knew her words were harsh, but this situation was angering her.

 

Not even due to her past feelings for Sasuke, but because he is acting without regard for anyone else. He was getting his hair cut in a clearing in the forest while Karin was somewhere else, still feeling confused and hurt by everything that’s happened to her.

 

Oh shit he's so messed up right now.

 

“Your reckless behavior got you into this. Even if you think that you’re going through all of this and being wise and growing, the fact that you got someone pregnant that you aren’t married to and don’t intend on staying with is proof against what you think.”

 

Sasuke released a breath he was holding. “I know. You’re right, Sakura, and I’m sorry.”

 

Sakura finished off his hair then backed away from him, waiting for him to continue.

 

“I know now that I don’t know anything. About myself, about this world, about other people.” He glanced around before continuing. “I want to still travel, I know now that I need to learn and grow. I need humility, and much more introspection than I have had in the last year, exponentially more.”

 

“What changed from when Naruto was with you to know? You seemed fine a year ago.”

 

Sasuke looked like he was struck. “He kept me grounded.” he sounded strained in saying this.

 

She didn’t need to know anything else. “So again, Sasuke, I ask why I’m here right now.”

 

“Could you please be Karin’s midwife? She can’t go through this alone and I’m not proper support.”

 

All of this was far too honest for Sasuke to be saying. He was being too open for these not to be his true feelings. It was obvious that this hurt him more than anything to admit, and for him to come to her specifically was a sign of his desperation.

 

It was the compulsion to take care of her friends that solidified her decision. Sasuke was a mess since he and Naruto parted, she could tell that was the issue, but his presence wouldn’t be a magically fix.

 

“Yes.”

 

“You’ll be her midwife?”

 

Sakura nodded. “I’ll do everything that I can to help her. To help you both.”

 

Sasuke looked like a weight was removed from his back.

 

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Over the course of a month or so, Sakura spent a great deal of time just talking with Karin.

 

She was a good conversationalist, and actively wanted to talk to Sakura about things that weren’t training or metaphysical conundrums or how if a person were to track the trends of whatever they could see how this nation developed or all the (stupid) “deep” shit Sasuke keeps trying to bring up.

 

They talked about nearly everything they could think of; first medical care and techniques, then their interests and goals, moving to whatever they happened to feel like talking about in the moment after they became more familiar with each other.

 

It was refreshing to Sakura.

 

Karin was an interesting person, Sakura found out. She was strikingly open with her thoughts, and very reservedly smart, contrasting Sasuke’s intelligence that he tries to bear in every moment, coupled with his inclination to withhold his feelings. Sakura found her wit to be much more pleasant and charming than Shikamaru’s or Ino’s and definitely so than Sasuke’s. The red-haired woman knew a great deal about human anatomy and how chakra systems worked, almost like she was a book on the subject. She described that her research surrounded that, but she was looking for more things to study regarding medicine as well.

 

Whenever Sasuke did try to join in on their conversations, Karin was the first to speak up and provide her opinion on what his topic was. Whether it be historical relevancies or the profundity of the human mind, she could speak on it and would entertain Sasuke’s theories.

 

This was great in Sakura’s eyes seeing as she seldom contemplated things that weren’t concrete and fact, just by her own nature.

 

There was absolutely no question as to why her old teammate would have sex with this woman. Karin had a lot going for her in terms of looks. Sure, her hairstyle may be a little weird, but other than that she was everything anyone would have wanted; all legs, curves that you could get lost looking at, a pretty face that caught your attention, she was the whole package.

 

So their dynamic didn’t make too much sense to Sakura.

 

Both Karin and Sasuke were very short with each other, to a sort of excess that Sakura noted to be coldness on their part. It was almost like they were barely even friends, let alone lovers.

 

If they weren’t all in a conversation together, the two wouldn’t talk. Sakura doesn’t know the extent to which they were intimate with each other, or the nature of their relationship before becoming sexual, but if she had to guess, it was either important to them both so this entire thing just damaged it or just a courtesy that the two extended to one another.

 

What she gathered from their very limited explanation of the course of events that lead to their current situation was that after they both found out about the pregnancy, they were in a spiral that wasn’t exactly the best for either of their minds, Sasuke significantly less so than the red-haired woman.

 

Karin was deeply emotionally unrested then and now, for good reason, yes, though it still concerned Sakura to no end.

 

Not that Sasuke was helping either.

 

He was either brash and demanding or entirely closed off; he would make plans to move to certain countries at the most random times, nearly disregarding the other two people in his party.

 

If it wasn’t his decision making, it was his attitude that got in the way of progress.

 

Sakura realized Sasuke was used to independence, or at least he liked the idea of it far more than the idea of relying on people or people relying on him. When Karin was in need of something, let food or a hand on rough terrain, he would almost rush to help her, but she noticed that more often than not he would let Sakura handle anything else regarding her.

 

Which was a pretty annoying, oddly passive aggressive move on his part.

 

“I don’t think I ever asked you about how you and Sasuke’s team was back when you were kids.”

 

Sakura shook her head. “No, but now’s as good a time as any.”

 

The night was finally setting in, the moon high in the sky as it shined through the window of the cabin they were staying in near the border of the Land of Frost and the Land of Lightning.

 

“So,” Karin nudged her playfully, a smile gracing her face. “Go ahead. What was it like on a team with him?”

 

Sakura had to think on that for a minute, gathering her thoughts accordingly. “Tough.” she nodded slowly, then gave a firm nod before continuing. “Tough but fun.”

 

“Sounds like there’s more to that.” The edge in Karin’s voice was really funny to her.

 

“Not even!” she laughed out. “He was a natural at almost everything. Training with him was uneventful since he and Naruto would be so strong and it felt like I was kinda lagging behind. At first even Naruto would fall behind him, but he got level with him real quick. They’d go and do all these specially crafted training regimens, learning so much so fast.”

 

She hadn’t really thought about her genin days much in recent years. This was an experience for Sakura. “Both of them ended up being mentored by top-notch ninja really early on.” she continued. “I started studying under Lady Tsunade more heavily only after Sasuke ran away and Naruto left with Jiraiya.”

 

“So I’ve heard a bit about Naruto before. What is it with him?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Karin glanced towards the door quickly before answering. “Sasuke would talk about him a little when we were still in Taka, now too, but I still don’t really know what it is between them.”

 

Ah, that was it. “You know, I can’t really pinpoint it either.”

 

Sakura couldn’t let Karin know about what she’s observed, the palpable, passionate relationship the two men had with each other. It would be a betrayal of both Sasuke’s and Naruto’s trust as teammates, in her eyes.

 

“He was beat up as hell about Naruto’s marriage.” The expression on her face changing to a more reflective one, though she tried to maintain the same inflection in her voice.

 

“They’re tricky, you know,” Sakura started. “When they met more formally it was at a rough spot in both of their lives.” Karin was nodding as she spoke, attentive to what Sakura had to say. “Well, Naruto had it rough, terribly so, for a long time, but Sasuke-” she paused a moment, swallowing a breath. “He was anguished for maybe the first time in his life.”

 

“After his clan was killed.” Karin stated it so bluntly, so a matter of fact. It was something they both knew as a turning point in Sasuke’s life, but her voice when she said it held a sort of objectivity that was shocking.

 

There was a chill that ran down Sakura’s spine. She nodded. “Those two would always butt heads over everything. The tiniest things would set them off arguing or competing to one-up each other. For Naruto, it gave him a goal, and for Sasuke, it gave him stability. A constant in his life.” She smiled at the thoughts of them in their academy and early team days. They had all changed so much from then.

 

Karin nodded again. “They went beyond that, I take it.”

 

“Oh definitely.” Sakura had to gather her words properly before continuing. “They became best friends. There wasn’t anything the two wouldn’t do for each other. They both almost died for the other a couple of times, if memory serves right. It transcended what started off as a simple rivalry, becoming, well, what you’ve seen or heard about.”

 

“Yeah.” Karin grabbed a handful of the beige blanket they sat on. “Sasuke had a complicated relationship with how he felt in general and what he knew Naruto was feeling, I could tell by his words and actions even without knowing Naruto.”

 

Sakura looked Karin in the eyes; she could almost see her brain working to carefully form the sentences she wanted. “Sasuke was not okay when we formed Taka. He wasn’t okay after we were in Taka for a while. There were moments when he did reckless things or things without think of us, but it was minute, fixable, ignorable. He was worse after his brother’s death and joining the Akatsuki and the Kage Summit and everything. He didn’t get any better until after most of the crazy shit passed and the war was over, like entirely over.”

 

She was downplaying this, Sakura could tell. Whether it be out of loyalty to Sasuke and her groups’ feelings or distrust, she was able to tell that Karin was holding back. “They hurt each other a lot.” the pink haired woman said. “But they’ve helped each other more than anything. If it wasn’t for their influence on each other, I’m not sure how either of them would’ve made it this far. They needed each other, and I think they still need each other.”

 

How in the hell did they even get to talking about Naruto and Sasuke’s complicated relationship?

 

Karin just nodded, remaining silent.

 

They sat in the silence, stewing over what was put out into the air, the two women staring into blank space.

 

The red-haired woman broke it.

 

“Sakura?”

 

She turned her head at the sound of her name, raising an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

 

“I’m scared.”

 

The break in Karin’s voice was saddening. Sakura reached for her hand, lacing their fingers together.

 

“This is scary.” Sakura affirmed, trying to give Karin as much sympathy as possible.

 

“I’m not afraid of a lot, Sakura. I didn’t think that I would ever be afraid of anything besides death, if even that, but this-” she paused to even her breathing, “is the most I’ve been scared since I was a kid. I’m scared of what will happen down the line and what I’m supposed to do after the birth, I’m scared about if we’ll even make it to a birth. I’m just so scared.”

 

“You have the right to be afraid. This is something that’s life-changing, so being scared is entirely normal.”

 

“I’m angry, too.” Her voice took on a different tone, a more bitter one, though it held the same subdued nature that it previously had.

 

Sakura squeezed her hand to will her to continue.

 

“He- he’s acting like this isn’t a fucking big deal. Like a pregnancy or a child is something to shrug off. I had plans, ” Karin turned away for a moment, then shook her head. “I wanted to travel and learn too, he’s not the only one. Every time I want to do something I feel like it gets stopped somehow. It’s tiring.”

 

She laughed a little, straightening her shoulders a bit. “When I met him, I thought about how hot he was all the time.”

 

Sakura chuckled at that. She could understand that entirely.

 

“Even when he did stuff that I thought was irrational or ill-planned or just idiotic, I just thought about how damn good looking he was.” Karin continued. “We never did anything, not even close, and it was okay, because after all of it I thought of him as a friend, and I stuck to that. Along with Juugo and Suigetsu, I supported him, tried to give him as much strength as I could give. We all did. Trying our damndest to support him through everything he went through.”

 

There was a brief pause, Karin wiping her eyes. “So imagine my surprise when Sasuke comes up out of nowhere, after not seeing him for a couple of years, hair reaching down to the middle of his back, still fucking beautiful, being all raw with me and spilling his guts after whatever happened. Obviously I wanted to comfort him, we were friends; he was upset after all, even if he couldn’t tell he was upset. Then his emotions escalate and one thing leads to another and we’re fucking nonstop for like a month.”

 

The humor had left Karin’s voice by the time she finished. It was evident that she was bitter, her tone taking on hints of her anger. “I thought that this was great! I was over him and everything but sex is sex and sex with him was good. If he likes me enough to do this, then I’m game, no harm done. We can part ways and I’ll see him again in another few years, maybe with him not being so withdrawn from himself that he breaks down at the most minor discomfort. But now this is fucked up. What is happening now is fucked up, Sakura.”

 

The only thing Sakura could do was rub circles into the back of her hand. There was nothing much to say, she just needed to let Karin get this out of her system.

 

“Everything that’s happening now is really fucked up.”

 


 

What no one told Naruto when he and Hinata got married was that every little thing would be stressful now.

 

Hinata was due soon, he hadn’t heard from Sasuke in months, Sakura up and left one day to go journeying with Sasuke, and Kakashi was trying to get him to take on more responsibilities around the village.

 

God did he miss being with Sasuke.

 

At least when he was with his best friend they could talk, and comfort each other, sharing any and everything.

 

With Hinata, it was harder. She was a great listener, but the connection wasn’t there, and he knew it drained them both to try to talk out problems or their feelings.

 

He knew they had to move in together and start this family, regardless of whatever they wanted to do besides this.

 

Hinata wanted to do so much. Her describing what she wanted to do back when they first started pseudo-dating was one of the highlights of any of their conversations. Naruto genuinely supported her, and waited to hear all about what she was going to be doing going forward. They trained together with her goals in mind and they both wanted to see it happen.

 

But it couldn’t.

 

At least not anymore.

 

This pregnancy was hard on her. Hinata was already a bit on the frail side when she was younger, definitely coming out of it and working on strengthening herself upon aging, but this was testing her limits.

 

There was a reason why kunoichi waited until the end of their careers to have children.

 

And Hinata was a case in point; even though she nearly had the physical capabilities of a jounin, it would be hard for her, post-pregnancy, to work on high-level missions and take care of a child.

 

That, for lack of a better word, sucked, according to Naruto.

 

Now that Hinata remained entirely at their shared home in the Hyuga compound, Naruto spent less time with her and more time doing paperwork in the Hokage’s office with Kakashi.

 

It was time well spent, he figured; working with the current Hokage had its benefits, obviously, and it gave Naruto something to do besides train or think about the next time Sasuke will come back into town.

 

One of the two was better than the other.

 

“Do you want to spar for a little while, Naruto?”

 

The blond looked up from his station next to the Hokage’s desk, looking Kakashi right in the eyes as his old sensei stood above him. “Don’t you have work that you need to be doing? I know that I have work that you need to be doing.”

 

The subtle movements of Kakashi forming a smile could be seen from under the mask. “It’s good to get out and stretch your legs every once in a while. We won’t do anything too crazy, just taijutsu mostly.”

 

Naruto stood up, following the Hokage out of his office and down to the closest training fields.

 

They were quiet the entire walk, as though Kakashi had something planned once they arrived and started sparing.

 

“Let’s just go best two out of three easy rounds. First to fall on their back loses that round. No exceptions.” the silver-haired man held up three fingers, Naruto nodding in agreement as he listened.

 

The two assumed a fighting stance, both eyeing each other, thinking about their respective courses of action given all they understand about how the other fights.

 

Naruto knows that Kakashi knows he’s faster than him, and will have more stamina than him, for a number of reasons. He also knows that they both know that Naruto isn’t as versed in taijutsu as the older man is, nor is he as precise with his hit as Kakashi, so his attacks will have to be more creative if he wants to have an offensive advantage.

 

Kakashi stands waiting on Naruto to make the first move, this the blond knows, but if he gets too cocky in his movements, Kakashi will be able to dispatch him quicker than he would like.

 

Turns out the Hokage struck first, coming at Naruto with a few, well-aimed punches. He dodged the first two, to the left then by bending backward, but upon coming back up he had to block the third. Then Kakashi followed with a sweeping kick than Naruto dodged yet again.

 

“Have you heard from Sakura and Sasuke yet?”

 

Naruto grunted as his sensei started throwing faster punches. “No, not a word from either of them.”

 

Kakashi hummed, aiming a roundhouse kick at Naruto’s head. The blond man caught it and tried to flip him, but Kakashi was able to free himself. “That’s interesting.”

 

“How so?” Another blocked kicked from Naruto.

 

“Before Sakura left,” Naruto began a series of quick jabs while Kakashi started to dodge them. “Sasuke would send me one or two sentence letters every few weeks.” he paused as he jumped over Naruto’s attempt at tackling him. “Stuff like that he was still in a certain country,” he ducked under a kick, “or that he was moving again.”

 

“Wait,” Kakashi looked inquisitively at Naruto as the younger man spoke, still coming at him with precise punches. “If Sasuke was talking to you and me before Sakura left, then something must have happened between them to cause her to leave and him to stop saying anything.”

 

“Naruto.”

 

“What?” He looked more focused at the Sixth Hokage, then felt his legs getting swept from under him. Naruto fell straight onto his back, looking up at the sky from his new position.

 

Kakashi appeared above him. “You got distracted.” He extended a hand out to the blond man.

 

Naruto took it. “Talking about Sasuke is distracting,” he muttered this as he was pulled to his feet.

 

“We have two more rounds.” Naruto continued, speaking more loudly.

 

“Right.”

 

They started up again.

 

Naruto took the offensive this round. “It’s just weird that he asked Sakura to come with him when he said he wanted to go on this journey alone.”

 

Kakashi blocked all of Naruto’s punches. “Is it really that weird given that you also went with him at one point?”

 

That struck Naruto almost as hard as the kick to the stomach Kakashi delivered soon afterward. “My bad.” He muttered.

 

He was positive that his journey with Sasuke was entirely different than anyone else’s possible journey with him. It had to be.

 

There was no way that Sasuke Uchiha, the person that told him that their feelings and connection was the most significant thing in his life, that stayed up night after night after night softly kissing him and muttering about how special their bond was and how nothing could ever come in between their relationship, would ever flip his switch and just go on with anyone. Absolutely nothing could change Sasuke’s feelings on the matter, on how he knows he needs to find himself either with Naruto or alone, on how he knows he needs Naruto or no one at all.

 

Especially given that it was Sakura. She great and everything, a wonderful teammate, friend, and person, but Sasuke made it clear that whatever he needed, he would find it outside of Konoha or within Naruto.

 

So why her?

 

Why not him?

 

What was she going to be doing, providing to Sasuke that Naruto can’t or hasn’t already? He’s given Sasuke his damn soul and for him to go back on saying that the only person he would ever need was him was just too much to think about.

 

He hadn’t talked to the black haired man in so long that he couldn’t even guess his location to send a message to. This was getting more and more confusing by the second.

 

Naruto grunted as he was pinned to the ground, an arm twisted and pressed against his back.

 

“You’re distracted,” Kakashi muttered in his ear, his voice husky, releasing his arm then quickly grabbing his leg and flipping the blond onto his back. “Again. That’s twice, I win.” Naruto released a sigh in exasperation, not moving from his spot on the ground after Kakashi got off of him.

 

He covered his eyes with his hand, then slid it down his face. “Like I said, Sasuke is distracting.”

 


 

If Sasuke had to spend another day with both Sakura and Karin, he was going to explode.

 

Having Sakura around was a great cushion for him and Karin; the two have been stressed over each other for the majority of their time traveling together, and he was sure that if Sakura wasn’t there, he would have done something he probably shouldn’t do. She would soothe Karin and keep her occupied while he went to research things in the area, or would act as a median when they had actual conversations. The two were getting along very well, and Sasuke couldn’t be more grateful for her presence.

 

But she was draining him.

 

They both were.

 

Karin was pretty far along now and it showed . She was much more combative, and expressively upset with things that wouldn’t have upset her in the past, besides being, well, more rounded in the stomach region. There was a lot of physical strain being put on her, and he knew that it was all very intense for her.

 

He didn’t like how she was suffering because of him. This was the last thing he would have wanted to happen to Karin, most particularly because of how much she’s given him in terms of support and care. If he hadn’t allowed himself to act so thoughtlessly, they wouldn’t be in this situation.

 

Well he can’t keep thinking about what he should have done.

 

Now he has to worry about what was should be doing.

 

And what he should be doing was really difficult to pinpoint.

 

Sasuke can’t provide Karin with any prenatal care, that’s the whole reason why he brought Sakura along in the first place, but he also couldn’t assist Sakura in any of her duties either. He was just not knowledgeable enough and he frankly was fine with his lack of knowledge.

 

Besides providing food, water, shelter, and protection, Sasuke couldn’t give much.

 

There was still other stuff he could be doing or thinking about to help, obviously, there had to be, but he couldn’t for the life of him think of anything.

 

They keep telling him what his behaviors should be, how he should act more sympathetic and less aloof and should be more hands-on but they never tell him what he can do to help them.

 

Being freely tender with people was difficult for him. Doing such things required a great deal of thought that he wasn’t used to exerting, but that he knew he was able to do so since he and Naruto held such a deep and passionate relationship.

 

But that was natural to him. Giving Naruto all his care and compassion was as easy breathing to him; the blond man knew him very well and understood what certain things meant without ever having to ask, and Sasuke never had to explain himself to Naruto, because he knew that what he was doing was him caring.

 

Acting freely with Naruto was simple, he liked to do it, and it eased him to do so.

 

Other people, especially a moody pregnant woman and her midwife, on the other hand, were entirely different.

 

And it was stressful! Admittedly stressful, overtly so. He wanted to help but could figure out how regardless of how much thought he put into it. Knowing that he was of able body and mind but was virtually being useless to them was painful. It hurt him to be unable to do anything.

 

All he knew how to do was what he had been doing for the last couple of years: travel, explore, learn, contextualize life, think about what’s higher and beyond him.

 

Which, again, obviously, wasn’t helpful to the two of them.

 

He couldn’t help it, though; there were things that he needed to find out about the world, and unfortunately he also happened to be tasked with a responsibility he never thought he would have.

 

A responsibility that he now was required to face and be actionable about.

 

What the fuck was he going to do when this damn kid is born?

 

“Ugh!” he groaned out loudly, running his hand through his hair as he looked out of the window at the setting moon.

 

“What the fuck are you groaning about? Karin is sleeping!” Sakura opened the door to her and Karin’s shared bedroom, hissing out her statement in an angry tone.

 

Sasuke furrowed his eyebrows and looked at her, confusion and dismay evident on his face.

 

God, he hated being expressive.

 

“Hey,” her voice softened as she came fully out of the room, walking over to the table he was sitting at. “What’s going on over there?” Sakura sat down across from him, tapping her finger on the dark wood of the table.

 

Where the hell does he start?

 

Should he even start?

 

Every time in recent memory that he told another person his feelings, something crazy happened.

 

Mostly sexual stuff, but after that just odd things would happen.

 

He sighed. He may as well, hopefully Sakura would be more emotionally helpful.

 

“I’ve been thinking.”

 

She moved one hand to rest under her chin. “About?”

 

“Everything.” his eyes shifted up to meet hers.

 

“What exactly? You have to have had a specific thought.”

 

“About everything that has happened and about what needs to happen.”

 

Sakura hummed lightly, glancing down at the table. “Right.”

 

They sat in silence for a moment.

 

“Have you come up with any ideas on what needs to happen?”

 

No.

 

“Yes.”

 

Why does he do that?

 

“Okay then, tell me.” She sat back in the chair, looking at Sasuke intently.

 

“My child needs to be taken care of.” Obviously. That’s just a fact.

 

“Good. How would you go about doing that, Sasuke?”

 

He looked out of the window again, looking at the treeline and how it meets the sky. “I will take my child with me. I’ve decided that.”

 

She rolled her eyes. “Why you? What about Karin? This is her baby just as much as yours, so she has just as much, if not even more, say in what happens to it.”

 

“I know she won’t want to take care of a child-” he quickly stopped himself. “That’s wrong. She doesn’t know how to take care of a child. It will be too much for her, and I can’t task her with doing so when it’s my fault she’s pregnant.”

 

Sakura exhaled deeply. “Okay,” she said pensively. “All of that that is wrong, first of all.” She started counting on her fingers. “Second of all, you don’t know how to take care of a child just as much if not more than Karin does. You can barely take care of yourself. You assign blame really easily when there is none to give. This was a mistake on both of your parts, not just yours, not just hers, both of you.” she paused a moment to collect her thoughts. “I told you a few months ago when I was cutting your hair and I’ll tell you now, you can’t, under any circumstance, care for that child alone.”

 

“Why?”

 

She groaned and slapped her head. Was it really that exasperating?

 

“You won’t budge.”

 

“What do you mean by that?”

 

“You aren’t going to stop journeying or whatever the hell this is. You’re going to keep on going throughout the continent and collecting data and wisdom and knowledge and all that crap until your brain and heart are filled to the brim and you can call yourself satisfied. But the kicker is, Sasuke,” Sakura paused to look at him again, her hand on her forehead, pushing back her hair.

 

“You’ll never be satisfied.”

 

Sasuke felt a coldness press down on his shoulders. “Once I find what I need, I-”

 

“No, you won’t. You won’t be satisfied. There is nothing that I’ve seen that can satisfy you, and I doubt there is anything out there that can.”

 

That was bothering him. How much she read into him and analyzed him was bothering him, mainly because of how wrong she was. “You obviously must not know me well enough.”

 

There was something that could ease his soul and rub away all the sharp corners of his heart and soften his mind and-

 

“But Naruto isn’t going to come exploring with you. At least not any time soon.”

 

The coldness that was holding him down boiled away as a heat rose in his chest and throat. “Watch what you say, Sakura. You sound illogical.”

 

“Do I really now?” Her tone was almost condescending as she folded her arms in front of her and sat up straight. “Being kind and soft with you doesn’t work, Sasuke. I won’t beat around the bush with saying this. You and Naruto impact each other very visibly. I don’t know what it is, I won’t try to find out, I don’t even care to find out, but the both of you act much more soundly and at ease when around each other. Even from when we were kids. Well, when neither of you were in danger, that is.”

 

He had to stay quiet at that. She can see how deeply connected they were, and if she could, there was no telling who else could. That unnerved him.

 

Sakura continued to speak. “As best friends, you two need to understand that you’re important to each other. I don’t think either of you know this. Both of you act like you can go on without each other’s friendship, but you can’t.”

 

Oh thank God she was misunderstanding this.

 

If all of this wasn’t as intense as it were, he would have relaxed at that observation. They were safe. Their relationship was safe, their feelings were safe, what they did and do and still want to do was safe . She couldn’t tell that they know they need to be together, and that it was so inexplicably hard for them to part that he knows he hasn’t felt right since.

 

“But what does that have to do with anything?” Sasuke felt like he had his footing again.

 

Sakura looked at the ceiling briefly in thought then snapped her fingers. “Right! This entire thing, you exploring and atoning, would be eased by Naruto. But he won’t come with you. He’s just starting his life and I know you won’t want to take that from him. You care too much.”

 

Well she has a point.

 

“And he cares too much about you too. If it were solely up to him, you’d stay in the village. The same for you; if it were solely up to you, he’d come with you. But you both have your own goals and won’t budge.”

 

“So what does this have to-”

 

She waved her hand to silence him. “I’m getting to that. You want to continue this expedition and won’t stop until you’re satisfied, and you want to take care of a child, but the two can’t happen at the same time. There’s no one to come along with you that you would want for more than a couple of months, and you won’t settle in a village. Unfortunately, Karin-”

 

“Is similar in that regard.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

He thinks he gets what she’s saying now.

 

“Then what am I supposed to do? I won’t stop Karin, I can’t and I don’t want to. She also can’t stop me and has no intention to do so.”

 

Sakura threw her hands into the air. “There’s the question of the hour.”

 

This was utterly pointless.

 

To sit there and be lectured by Sakura about something he understands was pointless. A waste of both their breath.

 

“Now what?” he muttered, staring the woman down.

 

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and I want you to know that before I say this, it has very little to do with you.”

 

“Just say it already, Sakura.”

 

“I can take care of you and Karin’s child.”

 

What the hell did she just say?

 

“What the hell did you just say?”

 

“I can take care of you and Karin’s child.” she repeated in a measured tone.

 

“While I heard you the first time, I don’t understand why you would do such a thing for-”

 

Oh. That’s why she said that beforehand.

 

This was not a “let me win Sasuke over” action, this was a “my friends are in need and I want to help” action.

 

“Oh my God.” He let out all the air in his lungs, his head buzzing with thoughts he doesn’t think he can process.

 

“Now Sasuke, you don’t have to-”

 

“Give me a moment, Sakura.”

 

And a moment she did give. The pink haired woman stood up and walked to where the bathroom was in their suite. That would give Sasuke plenty of time to think this over.

 

Besides making his head hurt, it was a tempting offer. Sakura was a trustworthy and responsible person. She thinks rationally, only putting energy into things that are substantial and definitively conclusive. There was a tenderness with her that was backed by a tremendous amount of compassion. She has a steady job and is admittedly a very smart person.

 

If there was anyone that could take care of a child by themselves, it would be her.

 

Sakura walked back into the room, closing the door quietly behind her then sitting down across from the black-haired man at the table again.

 

“Well?” She tilted her head to the side slightly.

 

Sasuke sighed, rubbing one of his temples. “I think it’s a good idea, but I have no clue how Karin would feel about this.”

 

“Oh, if that’s what’s bothering you, I already talked to her about it.”

 

“And?”

 

“She’s behind it if you give the go ahead.”

 

Well damn then.

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yeah, she said so herself. If you want, you could ask her in the morning, but I’m sure nothing will have changed about it.”

 

“No, Sakura, are you sure that you want to do this?”

 

She nodded adamantly. “I am. I’ve thought about this for a while. Taking care of you and Karin’s child, I mean. Especially after I got to know her. She so vibrant and multifaceted, with so many ideas. Karin has plans, and I believe in her.”

 

“What about you?”

 

That peaked her interest, her very relaxed posture now straightening. “What do you mean?”

 

“Don’t you also have plans?”

 

Sakura put a finger on her cheek, then glanced up at the ceiling in thought. “I do, definitely I do.” She focused her green eyes on him again. “But a child won’t get in the way of that. I’m staying in the village, and what I want to do is there.”

 

“So this isn’t a burden to you?”

 

“Not one that I can’t handle or won’t be prepared for. And, to be honest with you,” she paused a second.

 

“I thought you were being honest with me.”

 

She laughed a little at that. “Really though, I’ve always wanted a baby.”

 

Ah, that was also a factor in this.

 

Sasuke hummed lightly at the statement. “I see.”

 

“Yeah. And if you and Karin can’t take care of one, then I will. Happily so.”

 

“That’s very kind of you.”

 

“Surely you’d think so. So, what do you say?”

 

What else can he say? This was almost too good to be true.

 

“I say yes. You can take care of my child- my and Karin’s child.”

 

Her eyes brightened, the smile on her face becoming softer. “Thank you, Sasuke. I won’t let you down.”

 

“No, Sakura, thank you for this. For everything.”

 

That was like a weight being lifted off of Sasuke’s shoulders. No longer did he or Karin have to worry about how this child would be raised.

 

God was he happy.

 

Wait.

 

Wait a second.

 

“Sakura.”

 

She looked up at him again. “Yeah?”

 

“How will that story hold up?”

 

The pink haired woman put her hands under her chin. “What do you mean?”

 

“It will look weird for you to come back to the village after being with me for almost a year, alone, carrying a child that isn’t yours, that will probably look like me , unmarried.”

 

“Well- I don’t know.”

 

This was tricky.

 

Sasuke couldn’t do that to Sakura; he couldn’t ruin her image like that. Have her look like some sort of whore that brings back an Uchiha child to care for after making a mistake with him. It was already enough that she would be caring for the child, now the possibility of her being stigmatized was even more heavy. That would ruin her standing in the village at best, have her ostracized at worst.

 

He couldn’t let that happen.

 

He knew what he needed to do.

 

“Sakura.”

 

“You gotta stop just saying my name without saying the rest of your statement.”

 

“Marry me.”

 

She blinked rapidly in confusion, her eyebrows raised far onto her forehead.

 

“What?”

 

“Marry me.”

 

“What?”

 

Sasuke’s toned dropped in annoyance.

 

“Marry me.”

 

“What?”

 

Maybe it was the phrasing.

 

“Will you marry me?” Hopefully she’ll get it then.

 

“What?”

 

“Sakura! I am asking for your hand in marriage!”

 

Is this how Karin felt when he was doing this?

 

“No you aren’t.”

 

This had to be what she was feeling. “Who else is here? And awake? That I could possibly be asking?” he was frustrated. It was a simple question.

 

“Uh-” She glanced around, eyes widened by shock and confusion. “Why?”

 

It is not this hard, it cannot possibly be this hard. “It makes much more sense and is far less scandalous if we happened to be married and you go back with my child than if you come into the village with a random baby that happens to look like me.”

 

“Okay, okay,” she was nodding at him, her face relaxing again. “That makes sense.”

 

“Good, it’s settled th-”

 

“But what if the baby looks like Karin?”

 

Oh fucking hell.

 

“I don’t know,” she continued, “if I walk back with a bright red haired and eyed baby, I think it would look worse if we were married.”

 

Also the fact that red hair and red or violet hued eyes were a characteristic trait of people from the Uzumaki clan. Uchiha genes may be strong but so were those of the Uzumaki.

 

Fuck, Karin was an Uzumaki.

 

He cannot let people know that. He cannot let Sakura know that. There was a reason why Karin hid her last name and traveled so much; people were still after them, over thirty years later they were still after the remnants of the Uzumaki clan and it was dangerous for any survivors to make it known they were such. Naruto was fortunate to grow up in Konoha under the loose protection of the Third Hokage and Kakashi. No harm came his way about his heritage due to people glossing over his clan name, but it was easier then.

 

If Sakura knew, she would want to tell Naruto, guaranteed she would, and this could only work if Karin, Sakura, and himself were the only people that knew the truth about the baby.

 

This was a fucking mess.

 

But a mess that would work if no one knew what they weren’t supposed to know.

 

“Well, we’re just going to have to hope to God that the baby comes out looking like me.”

 


 

There was only one other time in Hinata’s life she felt such intense, burning white-hot pain, and it was when she got thrown around the stone valley during the Pein fight then subsequently impaled by an iron rod.

 

Compared to about a month ago, however, it may have been beaten out of the number one spot.

 

It was probably the most hectic event in her life, besides, of course, the war and everything, but still, there was a lot that happened.

 

After giving birth to her and Naruto’s son, Hinata has been on bed rest.

 

And it was boring as all hell.

 

Boruto Uzumaki was a loud baby boy, much like his father in his younger years, with bright blond hair that had slight waves to it.

 

She loved her son so much. He was everything she could have ever asked for and even more; she had never been happier in her entire life than when she held her son for the first time.

 

But staying in bed all day, only to get up to groom herself or eat, was horrible.

 

It made her remember that she wanted to do something with her life, but was nearly forbidden to do so. Boruto was her greatest blessing but also a constant reminder of her current situation.

 

Hinata looked down at her son, wiggling her finger in his face, watching happily as he laughed and grabbed for it.

 

He was so sweet it hurt her. So innocent, so small, so full of life and promise. She wanted everything he would ever dream of to come true, and she hoped that when she was able to leave this damn bed she could give it to him.

 

She knew that this was the beginning of her new life, if she didn’t feel it before she felt it then, looking at the pure blue eyes of her baby boy, thinking how wonderful he would be and how great his life would become.

 

If she had to live for anything, anyone else besides herself, she now knew that it would be her son. Whatever he needed, at any time, she would work day and night to get it for him.

 

There would be nothing to stand in her way now. If this is what people wanted her to do, if she couldn’t join the intelligence units and serve Konohagakure, she would work to make sure her son was able to do anything he could possibly ever want to do.

 

Hopefully it didn’t sound like she was giving up her previous goal; oh no, that was just on hold for the time being. Maybe she may never fully recover from this birth, maybe she couldn’t exactly do what she wanted to do in the past, but dammit she will try and she will try again. The work she put in and the faith Neji bestowed on her would not go to waste.

 

She can make sure she has it all; her son happy and successful, her life full and rich, her place in the world solidified.

 

Hinata resolved herself to making sure it happened.

 


 

Just past midnight one cool spring night, Sasuke was awoken by a guttural scream that rang from the other room of the cabin they were in.

 

Sakura must have also been woken up, because Sasuke heard her from the other room yelling, “Shit! The baby is coming!”

 

Oh, it was something about the baby. Nothing that he has to worry about. Sasuke rolled over and covered his head with the blanket. Hopefully they’ll figure it out then go back to sleep. It’s too late at night to be having all of this activity.

 

Wait.

 

What did she just say?

 

Oh, fuck.

 

Sasuke threw the covers off of himself and ran to the door that divided their rooms. “Now? Right now?” he said in a panic, opening the door. He saw Karin laying on the bed, her head thrown back as she groaned in pain again, Sakura moving pillows to sit behind the red-haired woman.

 

“What- do you need me to do any, Sakura?”

 

The woman looked up at the sound of her name, quickly running over to him. “Sasuke, get me all the towels and blankets in the cabin.”

 

“I can do that.”

 

And he did, gathering as many blankets and towels as he could, making multiple trips to get them all to her.

 

“Okay, what’s next?”

 

Sakura pushed him towards the door. “Do not, under any circumstance, come in here. Regardless of what you hear, don’t open the door.”

 

What the hell?

 

“Why?”

 

She shook both her fists at him in exasperation. “Sasuke! I don’t have the time for this! This is a very private thing for Karin. It’s already going to be stressful for her to give birth, she doesn’t need you in there asking questions and making her nervous or uncomfortable.”

 

“How would I make her nervous? This is my baby as well.” This was already annoying and stressing him out.

 

“Ugh!” Sakura grabbed at her hair. “You aren’t giving birth!”

 

“That’s my child, Sakura!”

 

“Yeah, but that’s not your wife, Sasuke! You don’t have a say in anything!”

 

His mouth pressed itself into a thin line at that. She had a point. “Okay, I’ll stay out here. But,” Sakura was pushing him out of the doorway and closing the door. “If you need anything, if she needs anything, please,” he looked her in the eyes from the crack in the closing door. “I’m right here.”

 

The pink haired woman nodded and fully closed the door, the sounds of her footsteps rushing over to Karin’s bedside coupled with groans of pain echoing in his ears.

 

Sasuke turned his back to the door, pressing against it, sliding down the door and sitting on the floor outside of the room.

 

He could tell that this was going to be a long night.

 

After about an hour of just groaning, he heard Karin screaming much more, louder, and Sakura trying to hush her.

 

More hours passed, and the screaming just got louder and louder it seemed, reverberating through Sasuke’s head, filling every part of his body with a coldness he never experienced before.

 

“Fucking hell! Sasuke!” The man looked at the door at the sound of Karin calling his name.

 

“Yes? Karin are you okay?” he rushed to try to open the door.

 

“Do not fucking come in here Sasuke, I swear to the God you pray to that you’ll regret it!” It was Sakura that time. He quickly released the doorknob as though it burned him, holding his hand up near his head as a response.

 

“I won’t! I just want to know if K-”

 

“Sasuke Uchiha I will fucking kill you!” That was Karin’s voice alright. Another scream followed that. “You did this to me you bastard! I’ll murder you! Why-” She let out another scream. “Why God why?”

 

“Ignore her, Sasuke! She’s just in pain right now!”

 

He doesn’t think that he could ignore all of that.

 

“I don’t know, Sakura, I don’t think I can ignore that.”

 

“Just stay out there Sasuke! She’s doing really well, I promise you, just stay out there!”

 

All of this was very intense for him and he wasn’t even in the room. He felt as though he could feel every second of pain from Karin, each scream compounding on itself as she cursed him and his soul with such a potent venom that it could kill.

 

And this continued for hours.

 

So many hours that Sasuke stopped counting after a while.

 

It had either been the fact that Karin was screaming so loud or screaming so much that her voice went hoarse, the cracks in her wails even more audible than the initial screams themselves.

 

Then, at the very break of dawn, as the sun just started to rear its head over the horizon, it all stopped, and was replaced with crying.

 

“It’s a girl! It’s a girl!”

 

His daughter was born at daybreak.

 

There was an overwhelming feeling of warmth in his chest that trickled down throughout his body, pooling in his stomach before rushing to his head, leaving a ringing in his ears.

 

His daughter brought the sunrise with her as she was born.

 

“Sasuke.” He heard his name through the door, Sakura’s voice now significantly more calm than it was hours ago. “You can come in now.”

 

There was no hesitation from him when he turned the doorknob and walked into the room.

 

Karin was breathing heavily, a tired smile on her face as she looked down at the bundle of towels in her arm.

 

He staggered into the room, glancing at what he thought was a pile of bloodied blankets and towels in the corner of the room then quickly turning away, going to Karin’s bedside.

 

Sasuke peeked over into Karin’s arms, catching the first glimpse of his child. She was small, her skin slightly damp, with hair as dark as the night she willed away with her birth.

 

“She’s beautiful.” He muttered, trying his hardest to contain his awe. His daughter was already so loud, her cries not stopping as Karin shushed her.

 

“She looks like you.” Karin said in return.

 

Sakura came up behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder, looking between him, his child, and his child’s mother. “What are you going to name her?”

 

“Sarada.” Karin said immediately, her tone taking on notes of exhaustion. Sasuke’s eyes widened at the sound of it.

 

His daughter, Sarada. The name struck him, it held power, a sort of all-encompassing will that grabbed his heart and didn’t let go.

 

“That’s perfect. Sarada.”

 

The red-haired woman looked up at Sasuke and smiled almost sheepishly. “I didn’t really mean it when I said I was going to murder you.”

 

“I understand.” He still kept his eyes on his daughter, on Sarada, as she cried on.

 

“Do you want to hold her?”

 

Never more in his life did he wish he had two arms.

 

“I-” he paused for a moment. “Don’t want to drop her.”

 

“Stop being dumb, Sasuke.” Karin glanced down at the spot next to her on the bed. “Sit down. You can hold her while I’m holding her too. So she doesn’t fall.”

 

He nodded then sat down next to Karin, the woman leaning up to allow him to sit in closer. Sasuke settled his arm under Karin’s, holding up the weight of his child along with her.

 

Had he been another person, he would have teared up in that moment, the feeling of seeing his daughter’s face full on filling him with such an odd feeling in the back of his eyes that he didn’t know what to do.

 

Karin teared up in his steed, her voice joining Sarada’s as they both cried out, the woman smiling as she looked at her daughter then him, the collimation of relief and joy sliding down her face.

 

If he had to say it again, he would; Sasuke was not a religious man, not in the slightest in his past, but right then, he felt something powerful that he couldn’t quite explain.

 

And he doesn’t think it will ever need to be explained.

 


 

The next few months had been fairly interesting for the trio, Sakura noted.

 

Sasuke was definitely in shock, she could tell immediately from the way he acted after Karin gave birth. He was much more subdue she would say, wanting to look at the baby Sarada almost every second he could.

 

He didn’t argue with Karin anymore either; whatever she said or did he took in stride, even smiling sometimes at little things.

 

While the attitude change didn’t give any indication of being characteristic of Sasuke, it was a step in the right direction. There wasn’t any regret evident in him, he was actively trying to be better towards Karin, giving the expression of caring deeply for his newly born child.

 

The way he worked himself from nervous indifference earlier on to a sort of passive kindness and tenderness was easing to the women.

 

It was a shift Sakura appreciated, but didn’t know how long it would last.

 

Karin was definitely doing better too.

 

More than likely the entire pregnancy and the prospect of her future and her child’s future worried her the most, and now that Sarada was born and the three had a plan to keep her safe in the village under the guise of Sakura and Sasuke’s daughter, she felt better. Of course she loved her new baby, but the idea of her being safe and well taken care of and loved was enough to soothe the ache of separating from her.

 

Everything that Karin did now had a more happy tone with it. She remained her calculated self, not allowing too much to get past her, but she maintained a great disposition.

 

Sarada was doing well too, as well as a baby could. Her mother gave her more attention than her father, as Sakura would have expected, though Sasuke wouldn’t shy away from entertaining the baby very a tiny bit.

 

“We’re almost to the forest surrounding Konoha.” Sasuke said, glancing back at Sakura, then to Karin and Sarada. The young mother was making cooing noises at her baby, poking lightly and playfully at her tiny cheek.

 

She was so happy now, Sakura could see it.

 

The three stopped upon reaching the outskirts.

 

“Well, Mrs. Uchiha,” Karin started with a smile, winking at Sakura, “it was more than great being with you for this year, give or take.”

 

Sakura smiled back at her. “I can say the same. I’m really glad I got to know you, Karin.”

 

The red-haired woman looked down at her daughter, her smile turning more somber the longer she looked. “Okay now Sarada, mommy,” she paused for a moment to swallow back her tone. “Mommy has to go. I love you, Sarada, I hope you know it.”

 

“Do you need a minute, Karin?”

 

She shook her head. “No, no, I’m fine. I literally signed up for this.” Karin looked back at her baby. “Sakura is going to take great care of you. Much better care than I could have. She’ll be your mama, okay Sarada? You love her just like you would love me, okay? She already loves you like you’re hers.”

 

Karin looked up at the sky then back to Sarada, kissing her head gently. “You are hers, Sarada. I love you, and I know Sakura will love you too.”

 

Sakura looked over at Sasuke, who was off to the side away from the two, looking towards the road they just came from. The pink haired woman turned back to Karin, who was unwrapping the blanket from around herself and handing the baby to her.

 

She began to look more at her daughter, then at Sasuke. “Aren’t you going to say goodbye to your daughter?” Karin leveled her voice considerably, the tone being much less aggressive than Sakura would have thought she would carry in that moment.

 

Sasuke walked over to the two, looking at his child in Sakura’s arms. “You’re in good hands, Sarada.” His voice was even too, very measured. “I know your life will be great. You’ll grow up happy, educated, and will be successful.”

 

“Is that all you have to say? No I love you or anything? To your only daughter?” Karin was obviously becoming cross with how Sasuke was behaving.

 

The black-haired man looked up from his daughter to look her mother in the face. “She’s of my blood, she knows that with every fiber of my being I love her. That won’t be any more emphasized by saying words she doesn’t yet understand.”

 

Karin huffed and rolled her eyes. They were almost comical. Sakura looked down at the baby in her arms, pulling her closer to her chest. “Are you coming back to Konoha, Sasuke? Even for just the day?”

 

She knew it was futile to ask that of him.

 

“I can’t.”

 

Of course.

 

She saw Karin walk closer to her, putting her hand on Sarada’s head one last time. “Bye bye, my sweet baby girl.” She kissed her forehead again before looking up at Sakura.

 

“And bye bye,” she leaned in and pressed her lips to the side of Sakura’s mouth, lingering as she left a long kiss in its place. “Sakura.” her voice was low and held a depth to it that Sakura couldn’t describe.

 

Sasuke’s eyes widened slightly as Sakura’s eyebrows shot up her forehead.

 

“Come on, Karin, don’t hold Sakura up. I want to make sure you get to the Southern Hideout safely.”

 

Oh thank goodness for Sasuke’s lack of tact.

 

The three parted ways finally, and Sakura had a lot to think about for the half hour walk to the village.

 

She knew that she had to get everything in her story correct. Her and Sasuke had an intimate connection while alone together for the year, and the feelings in their relationship ended up in a marriage and a baby. It was very solid and straightforward, nothing too much to question.

 

Okay, she didn’t even buy that.

 

How in the hell was anyone in the village going to believe that the coldest most aloof jackass in the world would fall for her and that they then decided to have a child.

 

It was dangerous to say anything that required more proof. They got their marriage officiated in the Land of Fire, with Karin as their witness, so that was fine, and she literally had a baby that was the visage of the Uchiha moniker, all the way down to the dark as night eyes and hair and pale skin, so she was safe on that front too.

 

Luckily Sasuke was a well know generally minimally expressive person, so having little to no tales of their so-called love would make sense.

 

All of that put her more at ease.

 

As Sakura approached the gate, she saw a head of bright blond hair before she saw anything else.

 

“Well, well, well, Sakura, it seems as though the tables have turned, haven’t they?”

 

Oh did she miss Naruto. A smile crept onto her face as she came up to him, the blond man putting his hands on his hips and squaring his shoulders as he stared into her eyes, his smile making his triumphant attitude. He waited until she was right in front of him before continuing to speak.

 

“I leave with Sasuke for six months and say nothing and everyone throws a fit, but when you,” he pointed at her, “leave with the jerk for a year without a single word to anybody the entire time , no one says anything. Well that’s not gonna work for me. I want to know what was happening during that year.”

 

“Naruto, do me a favor and look at what I’m holding.”

 

“Oh no, Sakura, there could not possibly be anything that you’re holding that could make m-” he stopped upon looking down at her arms. “Oh my god is that a baby? It’s so cute! Whose baby is th- Oh my god no you didn’t.”

 

Really?

 

“She’s mine. And Sasuke’s.”

 

This was the ultimate test, actually. If Naruto, the person closest to Sasuke, could buy that they got together, then everyone else in the village would.

 

“That jerk? Sakura Haruno this is some crazy stuff. She looks just like him too! All dark haired and everything. Are her eyes black too? Or did she get your green?”

 

“Sakura Uchiha, now. And yes, her eyes are black.”

 

Naruto covered his mouth. “You two got married? And I didn’t even know?” It came out as a shocked whisper, his eyes closing slowly, opening to look her in the eyes, closing again then opening to look at Sarada.

 

“I’m so happy for you guys! This is amazing! I never thought the cold bastard would ever warm up to anyone, but here it is!” He chuckled brightly after saying that, his eyes shifting between her and the infant in his arms.

 

He began to walk further into the village, asking her very simple questions (What’s her name? When was she born? Things of that nature) that she could answer honestly.

 

If Naruto was able to buy this, anyone would be able to buy this.

 

Their plan would work.

 

Sakura was sure that everything would go fine.

 


 

Never in his life did Naruto feel a more numbing and empty coldness than when Sakura said that she and Sasuke had a child and that she was married to him.

 

It just meant way too much that wasn’t ever said to him, and it was painful to think about.

 

Sasuke had moved on.

 

No one needed to tell him, there was no sort of explanation that had to be given; sometime during that year, Sasuke had fallen for Sakura, so much so that they got married and had a child together.

 

The man who told him that he would only need to have Naruto in his life, and that his only focus besides his own growth would be the blond, had lied.

 

Lied or changed his mind.

 

He hoped that Sakura had mistaken his shock for excitement; she deserved the happiness that he knew Sasuke had brought her.

 

When she first left to go to Sasuke he was sure that it was because Sasuke was injured and required medical attention that he didn’t trust anyone else to give him, but after the first couple of months he was generally unsure of why she went.

 

Now it all made sense.

 

And it hurt Naruto inexplicably so to think about.

 

Who was he kidding, it had to have been a matter of time. Why did he somehow think that his marrying Hinata and them having Boruto would be the only thing that happened? Of course Sasuke would also find someone else, and have children, and start a family.

 

But Naruto knew that what he personally was doing was out of some sick obligation that he and Hinata were placed under. From what he gathered, Sasuke and Sakura were just doing this for the full meaning of it. They wanted to show a sign of their commitment to each other, and it was a pretty significant sign if anyone were to ask him.

 

He couldn’t even bring himself to ask Sakura where Sasuke was so he could send a message demanding an explanation. The blond hadn’t heard from him since before he sent out the invitation for his wedding.

 

Naruto curled in on himself, pulling his legs closer to his chest, grabbing the blanket covering him and pulling it further up his body.

 

There had to be something he could do about this, about the aching feeling he had, about how much he wanted to scream and cry at finding out that his best friend was in love with someone enough to start a family.

 

But there was nothing.


What could he do?

Chapter Text

At the very least it was clear to Sasuke that when he was in deep emotional unrest over Naruto or if such happened but more generally and the blond wasn’t present to console him, he sought after physical pleasures to distract himself.

 

This he understood about himself perfectly fine. It wasn’t difficult to pinpoint, he has had enough instances for it to be noted as something significant and not just bursts of spontaneity, all of that was evident.

 

That didn’t make it any less concerning, though.

 

That also didn’t make it any less absurd that he just realized it, instead of realizing it beforehand.

 

The new fact was all that ran through his head as he watched Suigetsu get undressed in front of him, the lithe body moving with a rushed though measured speed.

 

He liked Suigetsu’s body well enough; there was muscle but he was slim, lean, hips narrow, legs and thighs and arms all very neatly toned. There was no excess anything, and he was light enough that any position they tried was easy, but he wasn’t a small person in stature, having an attractive height.

 

The white-haired man crawled up to Sasuke, kissing his neck, letting his sharp teeth graze lightly over his skin.

 

“You’re not very eager today.” Suigetsu muttered in his ear, that subdued tone contrasting his typical one considerably.

 

Sasuke glanced down at the curvature of his body, how his back arched just right and how his waist was small but not insanely so. Yeah, he really liked what Suigetsu had going for him.

 

“I don’t ask you to come here to talk,” He felt the man grin against the skin of his neck, “I asked you to come here to sit on my-“

 

“I got it, I got it,” Suigetsu maneuvered his body to angle himself in Sasuke’s lap, a grin plastered on his face, “less talking, more fucking.”

 

After those words, Sasuke doesn’t remember much. He never remembered much. Well, he obviously remembered images and the sounds and faces Suigetsu made but beyond that, he doesn’t recall anything.

 

It both hurt and soothed him for that to be the case. Part of him doesn’t want to have felt anything during that time, to fully remove himself and come back later a person that’s more cleansed, but the other part despises it. Sasuke wanted to have something, anything at all, that acted as a sign that he was doing better, feeling like a normal person, but he never got that.

 

So there he was again, looking at the naked body of another person while they slept, trying to will back to his mind the feelings that he felt during the act they committed.

 

They never came.

 

They never do.

 

He doesn’t know why he kept trying to remember any of his feelings when he had sex, he should just forget them anyway, they mean nothing and won’t ever mean something even if he could remember them.

 

But that doesn’t stop him from still trying. The want to feel something was ever present, a force in his mind that he couldn’t just shake away.

 

Why the hell could he not feel anything? There was nothing at all, no inkling of anything, and it bothered him to no end.

 

Other people felt, he was sure of it. If memory serves right, and believe him it fucking did serve right, everyone he’s ever been with felt something when they had sex with him. If their sounds during and words afterward were any indication, then he was positive that it was normal to have some sort of emotion attached to the actions, not just a pervasive numbness that rained all over the body.

 

Is it too much to ask to not be insensible?

 

And he knew that he could feel emotions generally speaking; when he traveled with Naruto all those years ago or was even constantly communicating with him, he felt something so overwhelmingly good and positive and amazing that during the time if it were to have stopped he’d be broken up about it.

 

Granted, he was broken up about not talking to Naruto at that moment, but he liked to think that his reasoning was different and just.

 

Sort of.

 

He hoped.

 

Even when it came to sex with Naruto, he felt and oh boy was that something alright. Every second was euphoric,awe-inspiring, the best thing he could have ever asked for and more. To be that connected with another person was phenomenal, the utter joy he had was compelling; that was what sex was supposed to feel like, he was sure of it, so what the fuck.

 

No, seriously, what the fuck?

 

Sasuke sighed and ran his hand through his hair.

 

It got too long again.

 

He doesn’t even remember the last time he looked at himself it’s been so long.

 

Okay, enough was enough he decided.

 

Nothing could be worse than his wallowing in his own self pity about how much he wants (needs) Naruto physically and mentally and emotionally and how upsetting it was that he’s emotionally shocked for the time being (last few some odd years).

 

There was nothing to be gained besides the vague feelings that came after he’d have sex with whoever he happened to be with at the time.

 

He had to take charge of the situation, do things to actively help himself. Sasuke can admit that he was acting irresponsibly, filling his mind with a distraction that he doesn’t even need.

 

If he could just understand what it was that he could fill the emptiness with, or, rather, become more comfortable with the idea that his idea of fulfilled was flawed, he could start to ease himself onto the right path.

 

Sasuke wanted to scream; there was something undesirable about trying to fill his mind and soul with something besides Naruto, but there was something equally undesirable to think that he required him.

 

Who was he to try to subvert the plan that Naruto had set in motion for himself? Despite how much he wanted to hold Naruto to his chest and never let go of his hand.

 

He needed to leave.

 

And he told Suigetsu that he would be leaving, not that the white haired man particularly cared, but he did offer to come with him since he was travelling through his native country, upwards to Kirigakure and to other locations afterward.

 

Which left him with a physically attractive companion that acted as an emotional distraction just like he previously was.

 

But this time they were travelling instead of staying in an old hideout.

 

Which made his entire revelation a nearly moot point.

 

Great.

 

Absolutely great.

 

At least Suigetsu knew how to work his body.

 

Sasuke looked over at the white haired man walking beside him, running his eyes over his smooth skin. For someone he knew to be rough and reckless, the white haired man had a weird sort of softness to him, especially now that he’s seen Suigetsu in a manner that accentuates that tenuity.

 

“This area has a loads of old temples, mostly abandoned I believe. Not too sure what you’re exactly looking for, but these were the ones that were closest together in the region. There’s some others on the northern islands, but they’re totally dilapidated.”

 

Fuck, those ones may have what he’s looking for. But they were in the southeastern part of the main island, which meant move travelling.

 

Which meant more time with Suigetsu.

 

Which meant more afternoons spent fucking the hell out of Suigetsu in order to not blow up at or shut down from the biting thoughts that itched at the back of his mind.

 

Something that he had hoped he would get himself out of by going to these religious sites and studying more and actively praying.

 

God, was everything about this a big fucking quandary.

 

Everything about the last few years had been a huge quandary.

 

Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t talked to or seen Karin in about a year, though Suigetsu affirms that she’s alright. Sasuke felt horrible about it, about not talking to her, about how she refuses to talk to him in return, about the entire situation that happened.

 

It was a couple of months after Sarada’s first birthday, so a while ago he sent Sakura a message telling her how grateful he was and that he wishes his daughter a happy birthday.

 

That was the very least he could do.

 

Not that she responded to him, she didn’t need to, and he didn’t have any reason to expect a message back.

 

Then there was the issue that he knew was probably weighing the most on him - he hadn’t heard from Naruto in around two years, hadn’t seen him even longer, and it made him almost itch from the amount of discomfort.

 

As much as he didn’t want to admit it (even if he had just come to the very solid conclusion of such), he didn’t even just miss Naruto, he was craving him. Everything they had, the touches and sights and sounds and raw deep profound emotions they felt when with each other, he needed it.

 

Right then he felt too empty and confused and angry oh so damn angry that he had to fuck it out of himself or he’d combust.

 

The two former teammates were stopped for a while, taking a small break for lunch in a secluded clearing that was close to the temples Suigetsu spoke of previously.

 

Suigetsu glanced over at Sasuke before maneuvering himself in front of him, leaning up to Sasuke’s ear, resting his hands on the black haired man’s shoulders, his knee in between Sasuke’s thigh as he brushed his lips on the lobe. “You look tense.” He moved back to look him in the eyes. “What’s on your mind?”

 

Sasuke exhaled sharply then looked away from him. “There is nothing that you should be concerning yourself about.”

 

The white haired man sat back away from him, removing his arms from his neck, still eyeing him suspiciously. “Are you thinking about Konoha?”

 

That was annoying. Suigetsu didn’t have a filter, and he was surprisingly intuitive when it came to his thoughts. “You shouldn’t try to talk about things you don’t understand.”

 

Suigetsu rolled his eyes. “I know you have history there and you feel like everything bad ever has originated from there but for fucks sake, you gotta talk to someone about your problems.”

 

No the hell he doesn’t.

 

“No the hell I don’t.”

 

Every time he talked to someone about his problems, things went south really fast and he wasn’t about to test the waters again.

 

“Literally just anyone, Sasuke.”

 

“I’m talking to you right now.”

 

Suigetsu rolled his eyes again. “I don’t count. I won’t even pretend to count and be your shoulder to cry on and rub your back. It won’t be me. Your friend Naruto or Sakura maybe, Karin or Juugo even, but not me.”

 

Just at the thought of talking to either women about his issues made a chill run down his spine. And Juugo. He won’t subject Juugo to that, he’s too nice. But Naruto was something else entirely.

 

The very idea of talking to Naruto about what he’s been through legitimately uneases him. Naruto was too precious, too significant for him to unload what he has been feeling onto him when he has so much going on. Everything that Naruto had done in the last few years made him ache in a way that he couldn’t handle. The marriage to Hinata, their child that he’s sure is about a year or so old by now, his insistence on remaining in Konohagakure when Sasuke pines for his company was just all aggravating.

 

He was so important, too important to Sasuke.

 

“Have you ever had someone that was important in your life?”

 

It was out of the blue, he knew, but he wanted to get his head around what he was thinking.

 

“Yeah, of course I have. There was my brother, and Kisame, definitely them. I’d even go as far as to say you and Juugo, Karin too I guess. You’re all significant to me, and have impacted me, so yes, I’ve had important people in my life.”

 

Okay.

 

“Anyone singularly more important than others?”

 

Suigetsu sighed and looked Sasuke in the eyes. “Not really. I don’t think that it’s like that, or at least I don’t I think like that. Everyone impacts me differently, not more or less than anyone else.”

 

“What about people that you can’t live without?”

 

“That sounds kinda romantic,” he chuckled. “and pretty intense. No, I don’t, but I hope that I don’t get to that point with a person. Are you saying you have someone like that? That you can’t imagine being without?”

 

Yes, of course he does.

 

“No, of course I don’t.”

 

Why does he keep doing that?

 

Suigetsu moved himself closer to Sasuke, so he sat almost in his lap, directly in his line of sight. “Sounds like you do.”

 

Fuck he hated when he did that, when he made such relatively correct statements that felt like he just knew Sasuke. The grimace on his face must have given him away, because Suigetsu continued on speaking. “Whoever it is, you should probably talk to them.”

 

No, absolutely not, he couldn’t even try to face Naruto after everything he’s done and thought for the past few years and how hurt he was from everything that the blond was doing. Not a chance in hell, even though he wanted to so desperately look at his blue eyes that were more expansive than the ocean and feel the soft tenderness of his skin. Even beyond all of that, he couldn’t under any circumstance do that, even though it pained him to be so far apart from him for so long.

 

“No.”

 

“Why?”

 

“They’re too important, I can’t burden them with what I have going on. They mean too much to me for me to hurt them like that.”

 

“Sounds like you need to talk to them.”

 

God was Suigetsu an annoying little piece of ass.

 

But he was right.

 

And that fucking hurt him to no end, making his ears ring and his chest become hot with pressure building up.

 

Sasuke would have to talk to Naruto. He knew this, he promised himself that he would do so, but that doesn’t make it any less damn annoying to think about.

 

He needed to do something else.

 

And while the intrusive (that really wasn’t even intrusive anymore, much more like compulsory) thought to tell Suigetsu to lean back, take his pants off, and spread his legs appeared in his mind, he knew that was not the something he needed to do.

 

Not any more.

 

“Come on, Suigetsu. The temple is close and I want to compare the different texts from religious sec to religious sec.”

 


 

“You and Hinata’s anniversary is coming up! That’s so exciting!”

 

If by exciting, Sakura meant scary and saddening, yes, insanely so.

 

Everything with Hinata and their baby and their living situation was going very well, shockingly so. They were still the “it” couple in town, people still fawned over them excessively, almost absurdly so now that they had Boruto.

 

And it ate at Naruto.

 

The notoriety of their relationship was the talk of the village, which may not have been too bad if they were actually in love and weren’t forced into this, but the fact that everything was fake was painful to Naruto.

 

Hinata didn’t say so, and she never would, but this entire thing was eating her too.

 

To the point that she ended up having to talk out her next steps with Naruto. She told him that she was going to keep her determination, and try to continue on the path she had in her head for herself, this time expanding on it to include how becoming a stronger individual will help in raising their son. She also spoke of how they could benefit from a bit of space, and he was more than happy to agree and support her.

 

After Boruto was born and she had recuperated enough, she went ahead and initiated as a jounin.

 

Everything was going great for her, and he was happy, and Hanabi was happy to see her sister doing so great. If he could work in the Hokage office and run missions and help Kakashi in hopes of being ready to assume the seat, she could become a jounin and work on intelligence gathering.

 

They worked out taking care of Boruto too; since Naruto basically didn’t leave the village, when Hinata had a mission, he would stay home and care for Boruto. Kakashi wasn’t too hard pressed to have Naruto around, as he did have actual formally appointed aids, so it was easy.

 

Which, yes, taking care of an infant was hard, and Hinata wasn’t all too pleased to come back and see their house messy, but he was able to do it and didn’t have any issue with it.

 

But that sense of ease was snatched away, their sturdy foundation pulled from under them.

 

Naruto and Hinata were both told by Hiashi, very soon after Hinata had come back from a very successful tenth mission, that they were expected to have a second child.

 

And of course, Naruto was angry. Primarily on Hinata’s behalf, secondarily because it felt arbitrary to have more children. They have a son, so Naruto did not understand at all why they would need to have a second child.

 

The heads of clans were supposed to have two (or more!) children, in order to, as Hiashi put it, guarantee the line continues on.

 

Why in the hell do they have to do this!

 

Hiashi knew that carrying Boruto pushed Hinata to her limits, and she proved ten times over that she was stronger than people took her for, but a second child would absolutely decommission her.

 

It was beyond cruel.

 

And it was happening to his wife.

 

Who, while he may not be in love with her, he did care for dearly.

 

So the anything involving their situation at that time was just painful for him.

 

“Yeah, it’s exciting stuff.” he told Sakura, trying to keep his tone upbeat, his eyes glinting away as to not meet hers, reaching his fork over to get a piece the differently flavored of cake from her plate. “How is working going and everything? I hear the hospital is undergoing a few renovations.” If he deflected the conversation, he wouldn’t have to keep thinking about Hinata and what was happening.

 

Sakura reached over with her fork to take a piece of his cake as well. “Oh, work is fine,” she started, pausing to pop the bit of cake into her mouth. “I’ll be taking off from working with patients to doing some research with Tsunade soon.”

 

Naruto nodded at that, smiling at his friend. “That’s wonderful. Tell Grandma I said hi when you see her again.” he looked down at his arm briefly before continuing. “Where’s Sarada, by the way? I haven’t seen my little niece in a minute.”

 

“Let me go get her, then.” With that, Sakura stood up and went into another room, presumably to get her daughter.

 

There was something sweet about seeing Sarada. She was less fussy than Boruto, and Sakura was just the kindest person when she was present. Naruto liked the happy look Sakura got when doting on her daughter.

 

Sakura came back into the room with her wide eyed baby in her arms, handing her to Naruto.

 

The baby looked up at him with her deep dark eyes. “Well hello, baby Sarada.” Naruto sat her up in his lap, gently holding her and playfully rocking her on his knee. “Aren’t you excited to see Uncle Naru?”

 

Sarada babbled happily in response, shaking her fists at him. Naruto smiled brightly at her. “Say Uncle Naru, baby girl. You can do it.”

 

She babbled again, a little less enthusiastically Naruto noted, waving her tiny fists to hit his chest.

 

“Bleh, you’re like your mama, always trying to hit me!”

 

Again, more babble, gibberish falling on his ears. Naruto babbled back, his tone light, as though he was responding to her words. They started having a nonsensical conversation, both of their intonation changing in a similar way that it would during an actual coherent conversation.

 

Sakura was chuckling lightly at the sight. “Since you like to play with Sarada so much, you should bring Boruto over for a play date once in a while. They’re going to be friends, so may as well get them more acquainted.”

 

Naruto could feel his smile shift from one of mirth to a more measured one, trying to maintain his happy expression. Sarada started reaching for his face when he stopped talking to her, spouting more gibberish in what could be interpreted as tiny baby anger.

 

He would bring Boruto over. He should bring Boruto over. He should try to spend more time with his son when others were around, should stop treating playing with Boruto and caring for him as something obligated and more as something that he wanted to do.

 

Which he did want to, of course.

 

Playing with Sarada was fun, he did find out that kids weren’t as scary on their own as he originally thought, so it should transfer that he also wanted to play with his son.

 

But it was just too much of a reminder.

 

Boruto was a symbol of his and Hinata’s union, of the resurgence of the Uzumaki clan, of the power the Hyuuga clan could now claim, of the pressure of the obligation on their family, if it could be called that, of the utter cruelty done to Hinata, of the life he couldn’t live because of all that was happening to him and Hinata.

 

It was too painful of a reminder, and he hated that his current headspace made him feel like that.

 

Not to say he didn’t love his son, oh no that was not the case at all in the slightest, but he just couldn’t juggle that many conflicting emotions. His unwavering love and adoration of his son was at near constant battle with his love and adoration of his wife. And it shouldn’t be that way.

 

Why couldn’t he just do it? It’s easy with Sarada, his little niece, so why not with Boruto, his son?

 

Why did it hurt to acknowledge the direction his life took?

 

Why was he so out of control?

 

“Naruto?”

 

The sudden concern in Sakura’s voice snapped him back. He looked down at the baby on his knee again, Sarada’s small hands reaching up towards his face, making a grabbing motion at it.

 

He leaned down so she could reach his face, and the baby immediately smacked him in the mouth.

 

“Thanks, Sarada,” he grumbled, the infant making happy giggly noises at him. “I’ll think about it, Sakura. Hinata may want to keep him at home though, not too sure yet, I’ll have to run it by her.”

 

Sakura snapped her fingers after a few seconds of thought. “Oh! Here’s an idea, you and Hinata come over and we have lunch while our kids play! Or I could even go over there.”

 

Naruto could feel his smile falter, though he quickly made up for it by responding in a chipper voice. “Sounds like a good plan!” Hopefully he sounded sincere. “When I get home I’ll ask Hina.”

 

That made Sakura smile, her eyes shining brightly in her happiness at the idea.

 

Sarada smacked both Naruto’s cheeks again and babbled some more, giggling loudly at the slapping sound. “Okay, baby girl, go back to your mama. Uncle Naru is going to head on out.”

 

His head felt like it was swimming.

 

God what was happening to him.

 

Naruto stood up and walked around the small wooden table, then handed Sarada back to her mother, reaching around to give Sakura a hug and plant a small kiss on her forehead.

 

“You two don’t get into any trouble okay?”

 

“Says the Number One Knucklehead Ninja twenty-one years running.”

 

He managed to laugh at that, pulling away and heading towards the front door. “Alright alright, seeing you again soon Sakura.”

 

“Bye, Naruto.” she picked up Sarada’s arm to wave at him. “Say bye bye to your Uncle Naruto.”

 

A soft smile broke onto his face. “Bye bye, Sarada.”

 


 

Once she locked up the front door and put Sarada in her play area to stretch out and crawl around, Sakura sat down to think about the interaction she just had with her long time friend.

 

Naruto was acting way too calculated for her tastes. He was normally more free flowing, spirited, unwound. And he was his usual self when he was playing with Sarada, and before she asked about H-

 

Hinata. And his family. He was much more at ease before speaking about his family and Hinata and whatever was going on with them.

 

He also tried to change the conversation quickly when he finished answering her about his family. Which she could, should, and would count as odd, if only for the reason that Naruto was not normally nervous and deflective when talking about anything else.

 

Which begs the question of why was Naruto Uzumaki acting like he was hiding something.

 

Sakura noticed a few more absurdly telling mannerisms from their conversation.

 

Like how his tone changed when speaking of Hinata, or how his face dropped at the mention of Boruto, or how it took him a full minute of silence to respond to her about getting their kids together to play. Even though they were small things, nearly unnoticeable to probably everyone else, it was something disconcerting.

 

It was all too telling.

 

And Sakura did not like what it was telling her.

 

Not one bit.

 

Naruto’s inability to stay on topic when talking about his family told her too much about what she previously thought; it added fuel to the fire in her brain at the idea that Naruto and Hinata’s marriage and subsequent family was odd. The idea that the circumstances around it were odd, and that there was a papatable shift in demeanor from the couple made it harder to not come to a certain conclusion.

 

One, or most likely both of them, weren’t in love with the other.

 

Their marriage was a marriage of convenience, almost as bad as if not worse than her and Sasuke’s own marriage.

 

Sakura groaned, her hands sliding over her face, elbows resting on the wood of the table helping to hold her head up.

 

This was crazy.

 

To think that they married for any other reason besides love was crazy.

 

But it wasn’t crazy. Not at all in the slightest, actually.

 

If Sakura were to think about it, the idea that the two got married for another reason made more sense than them getting married for love.

 

With how expressive Naruto is, even with how much he is able to control his movements and reactions, it was only a matter of time for her to figure it out.

 

With how upset, just down right beaten Hinata looks around the village now, after having to go on leave from the intelligence units, it was only inevitable that Sakura would find out.

 

Only it shouldn’t have been an inevitability. Sakura shouldn’t have been able to piece it together, she was never meant to know this knowledge.

 

At the very least she should’ve found it out from one of them, as they sat down and explained it to her, walking her through their process so she could understand and help them.

 

It was supposed to be something that if she found out it would be decades down the line, when they were all retired and old and content, and it would be a story of how they grew to love each other or something, anything more positive than what this was.

 

And sure, Sakura can admit that it was all conjecture on her part, a thought merely. A thought substantiated by observations and lived experiences with Naruto to understand the micro expressions he had and what each pause meant.

 

She was no super eternal bond best friend Sasuke Uchiha but she was a shinobi and she did have eyes and she did pay attention.

 

Ugh, but then again they needed to have hidden it better. They’re shinobi in a ninja village full of more shinobi. If she was able to figure it out, then someone else would be able to figure it out as well, and their entire story crumbles.

 

Sakura was not supposed to be able to figure out the facade of Naruto and Hinata’s marriage while sitting at her kitchen table resting her head in her hands.

 

And even though she also wasn’t supposed to be having any more visitors today, there was a knock on the door.

 

She stood up slowly, eyeing the door while taking small steps toward it, glancing quickly at Sarada in her playpen stacking wooden blocks. Passing the foyer, Sakura saw the kunai standing up innocently in a pot, next to the stem of a plant. If worse came to worst she could grab that.

 

Once at the door she took a deep breath and relaxed her shoulders. She opened the door with a small smile as to not look like she was suspicious at someone coming unannounced to her house in the early evening.

 

Sakura nearly gasped when she saw who was standing in front of her.

 

“Well hello, Sakura. Shouldn’t you be inviting me in and trying to make me tea and asking me how I’ve been for the last year or so?”

 

It took her a lot in her not to knock Karin to the ground when she hugged her. “Oh my god, you have no idea how good it is to see you!” Sakura wrapped her arms tightly around Karin’s shoulders, pressing her head into her neck, her fingers running through long red hair.

 

Karin hugged her back, placing one hand on the small of her back and the other on a shoulder blade, releasing a sigh and relaxing in the embrace.

 

Sakura pulled away after a minute and shook her head then let out a chuckle as she looked at Karin fully.

 

“God, come in, come in! And you definitely need to tell me how you’ve been as well as how you found me.”

 

Karin was truly a sight for sore eyes. She was still oh so absolutely pretty, her red hair falling over her left shoulder, exposing the smooth skin of her neck and collarbone, her white top fitting snugly over her chest and torso, showing off her figure amazingly, the end of it disappearing into her impossibly short and tight lavender shorts. Karin laced her fingers, roughened from use, together with Sakura’s, smiling a bit smugly and a bit playfully at her, glasses covered eyes closing slightly as she raised an eyebrow.

 

Sakura let the door close as she pulled her into the house, sitting her down at the table she’s been at all afternoon, letting go briefly to go get Sarada from her playpen.

 

The expression on Karin’s face as she saw her daughter was absolutely priceless. Karin took in a breath then held it, the smile on her face softening and nearly crumbling as she swallowed back her sob. She gratefully took the baby, pressing her lips to her forehead as she smoothed back her black hair with one hand and cradled her to her chest. Sarada grabbed at her shirt and let out a tiny giggle.

 

“If that happens to be any indication of how I’ve been, there you go.”

 

Sakura allowed herself to laugh as she sat down across from Karin, eyeing her and her child fondly. “Oh, it says something, but I’d rather you tell me more.”

 

And she did. Turns out after getting safely back to Orochimaru’s southern hideout and separating from Sasuke, Karin set herself on another project to research for. She skimmed a bit of the details, but she wanted to figure out a way to heal more severe injuries, particularly broken bones, in a more efficient way. This sent her very far north, and she spent a good amount of time going between the smaller villages in the Land of Earth and Iwagakure, and they both agreed to pick up that particular line of conversation later.

 

Hearing that Karin was doing well made Sakura happy to no end. Seeing Karin doing well and being content with herself and holding Sarada like she was the most precious and rare and delicate thing in the world, well, made Sakura’s chest swell with a mixture of pride and delight.

 

“So tell me how everything is going here in Konoha. There must be something exciting going on in such a large village.”

 

Well, there actually was something very “exciting” so to speak happening in Konoha, something that Sakura just recently figured out but that certainly does not mean that she should share her conjecture with Karin. It would be one thing for Sakura to figure out about Hinata and Naruto’s possibly failing marriage, but an entirely different thing to tell someone that doesn’t really know them that well.

 

“Really soon I’ll be joining in on research with Lady Tsunade and moving away from working with patients.” Soon she went into more details about their upcoming work, talking about how working at the hospital has been in general. Karin was nodding happily, smiling and engaging her with more questions to get her to expound.

 

“Look at you, Sakura,” the way Karin says her name gets her every time, her breath catching as she watched Karin’s lips move to form each syllable, “certainly getting ready to do some big things. I’m really happy to hear it.” God, her smile, too, caught her.

 

“I try to stay on top of things. Lady Tsunade makes it so much easier by letting me take Sarada around too.” Karin nodded as she said that, glancing down at her baby again.

 

“Speaking of,” she stood up carefully, her hand gently cupping Sarada’s small body close to her as she looked back at Sakura, “looks like this sweet girl has to go to sleep.” Sakura waved her hand to gesture Karin to the room Sarada sleeps in. They both walked in, and Karin gingerly laid Sarada down in her crib and moved her into a comfortable position. She placed a tiny kiss on Sarada’s cheek, Sakura moving to gently brush a bit of hair back behind the baby’s ear.

 

They moved out of the room quietly as to not disturb the infant, Sakura glancing at Karin before saying, “You’re more than welcome to stay here.”

 

Karin met her eyes and smiled again, grabbing Sakura’s hand lightly, waiting for her to guide her to where she’d stay.

 

“Good, I can’t wait to get into your bed.”

 

Oh God.

 

She must have made some type of face, because Karin laughed sweetly then pat her shoulder. “I’m just teasing you. I can stay on the sofa or something. Maybe a cot if you have one.”

 

“No! No,” she started quickly, “We spent an entire year together, Karin, I’m sure sharing a bed for a night or two will be fine.”

 

Karin cracked a smile and lifted one of her shoulders in a half hearted shrug. “Your house, Sakura.”

 

At that, she led her into her room and released Karin’s hand to find some clothes for her to wear for the night.

 

“May I say that I love your place.” Karin sat squarely in the center of the bed, leaning back on her hands as she looked at Sakura approaching the bed.

 

Sakura sat down in front of her, placing the clothes near her at the edge of the bed. “It’s home. Sasuke getting his assets back helped a ton so I got this place that’s big enough for Sarada to grow in comfortable enough and for if he ever wanted to come back and stay for a little while.”

 

She wouldn’t dare imply he would stay indefinitely. Mainly because he most certainly wouldn’t and there wasn’t much to change his mind, but since it was a definite, she wouldn’t try to entertain the idea of a Sasuke staying in Konoha.

 

Karin moved to sit closer to Sakura, looking at her in the eye while lolling her head to the side in what Sakura had to guess was amusement and boredom, her edges of her mouth tilted downward in a slight frown.

 

Looks like she still wasn’t the biggest fan of Sasuke. In response, Sakura let out a short laugh.

 

“When he isn’t here, which, let’s be real, is more often than not,” she sat up straighter and got closer to Sakura’s face, then lowered her voice, a small, nearly innocuous smile on her face, “I can be here.”

 

She felt a soft hand moving slowly up from her hand to her shoulder, then her neck and cheek, moving to brush a piece of hair behind her ear, Karin’s glasses falling low on her nose as her red eyes looked at Sakura for her reaction.

 

“Are you teasing me again, Karin?”

 

There was a short laugh heard after that question. “I sure as hell hope not.”

 

Oh.

 

Oh.

 

Well Sakura wasn’t sure what to do at that particular statement, but from what it looked like, Karin got the reaction part covered.

 

Karin leaned in slowly and gently, as though she might shatter, and pressed her lips to Sakura’s.

 

It took a moment to figure out what was happening. Karin’s lips had a taste, one that was subtle and sweet and that made Sakura want to melt right then. Her lips were soft, insanely so, and moved in a very measured and kind way, almost as if she was performing some sort of specialized feat.

 

They pulled away all too soon for Sakura. “I’m sorry.” That caused Sakura to blink in surprise, her face dazed by how good of a kiss it was. “I know you’re married and that your status as being married isn’t much of a concern since neither you or Sasuke actually want to be together but you’re probably seeing someone and I just went ahead and-“

 

“Karin, you’re rambling.” Her tone was soft as she tried to sooth her friend. “This is- I’m not seeing anyone. We can- if you to- it wouldn’t be- what am I trying to say?”

 

God was her head spinning.

 

“That if we wanted to do anything beyond this that you’d-“ she paused for a second, looking up at the ceiling before saying, “be willing to?” It definitely sounded uncertain, poised as a question of confirmation rather than a statement of clarity.

 

Sakura just nodded and leaned in again, capturing Karin’s mouth once more.

 

Before Karin must have been hesitant, giving a tiny test to try and establish emotions and connection, to tell Sakura that yes she did indeed like her and did want to tell her that. This time, all of that foundationary preamble was gone, leaving behind the fierceness Sakura came to like from their time traveling together, the bold physical confidence that Karin just radiated.

 

Lips moved with each other in some sort of nearly coordinated dance, as though this was something they were both used to, like partners reuniting for another time. Sakura parted her lips and sighed as Karin’s tongue found its way into her mouth, the two of them maneuvering closer to one another to get a better angle.

 

They kept their fingers laced together, one of each other hands hold the back other’s head. There were only quick pauses to gather a bit of air, but they otherwise didn’t break apart. Karin moved her hand from Sakura’s head and down her body, her fingers dancing down the front of her chest to rest lightly on her hip, toying with the hem of her shirt and the band of her pants.

 

“Can I?” it was breathy; the small question filled Sakura with an inexplicable amount of desire. As Karin retook her lips, kissing her more fully, she nodded then moved her head to the side as Karin attached her lips to her neck, kissing and sucking at a spot on it.

 

A hand moved slowly underneath her shirt, feeling it’s way up and down her curves, gliding over skin to make a map of the body, finding its way into the band of her pants again and her fingers slipping partly in, the hand resting on her hip as Karin deepened the kiss even further,.

 

Sakura wanted to think. She really did want to have some sort of coherent thought besides “oh god, this was really happening right now” but it seemed like that wasn’t going to happen. She heard a moan ring out through the room, light and unsure.

 

“Must be doing something right then.” Karin muttered against her neck, removing herself from that one spot to take up another.

 

Oh, that was Sakura. Well, that would make sense.

 

She knew she had to do something in return, so Sakura unlaced her one hand and moved the other down her friend’s back, slowly and gently. She grabbed her hips, her fingers digging into the softness of the flesh slightly, Karin sucking in a breath before raising off the bed onto her knees above Sakura, her hand following the movement and pulling her shirt up as it rose to cup one of her breasts.

 

There was another moan that escaped her. She felt Karin taking off her shirt, so in return she moved to take off Karin’s shorts, sliding them down over her hips and thighs, noticing the body suit she was wearing, Karin stepping out of the shorts without breaking contact with Sakura’s neck.

 

Karin left that spot on her neck with a pop of her lips, moving to kiss another spot as she licked and kissed her way up Sakura’s neck to her jawline and her lips. “Let me-“ Karin cut herself off as she trailed her hand down to Sakura’s pants, her fingers tugging at the band of her pants. Sakura obliged, taking her pants off and chucking them across the room, getting a laugh from Karin.

 

Once her pants were off, Karin worked her fingers down to rest lightly (everything so light and gently and careful and sweet and delicate) on the front of her panties. “Can I?” she breathed into Sakura’s mouth. All Sakura did was give another nod before she felt fingers slide into her panties and over her.

 

There was another sigh and a moan, which from who it was hard to tell, but it was very soon joined by others.

 


 

There happened to have been a lot of good news from when Sasuke finally finished gathering information from the temples and altars scattered around the eastern and northeastern countryside.

 

While the spiritual presence amongst the people was weak, the old religions were well preserved, and one of the consistencies through them all was rather unsurprising.

 

The inscriptions at the temples that had them all spoke of beings of pale skin and eyes, and hair as white as snow or bone, depending on the location.

 

A discovery that Sasuke would, if he were ignorant, find fascinating, as it heavily suggested the evidence of such a omnipresent being as the religions claimed.

 

But, both fortunately and unfortunately, he knew exactly what they were all talking about. And it was frightening to say in the least.

 

It would be just Sasuke’s luck that he made the connection that the majority of religions across the various lands worshipped the Otsutsuki clan as gods.

 

He just knew that since he became religious, truly devout, something would ruin his enlightenment, so to speak, for him. The fact that it had to be white interdimensional aliens, one of which he fought and beat, just made everything, and he did mean everything, that much more irritating.

 

Well, there was no use in moping or being angry at the idea; Sasuke found that grounding emotions in reality and more consistent substance than allowing himself to deflect or become busied by any fleeting moment was better for his mentality and spirituality. He would never have come to that conclusion had he not researched or prayed or meditated.

 

So this entire spiritual journey was overall good, at least to him. Even if he knew that the gods spoken of and referred to by the majority of older religions were the Otsutsuki, he felt that his god was something else. And there wasn’t too much harm if it made him feel that much more whole.

 

The only thing that would made sense for him to do then would be to go explain his findings to Kakashi.

 

From what he was able to gather, the Otsutsuki had a waning presence on their world, connected in a way that the people following them couldn’t explain. No one had seen any of these “gods” for centuries, millennia even, so it wouldn’t be a simple question to ask anyone. After he told Kakashi, he would just have to figure out if they still posed a threat seeing as Kaguya was no longer around to do anything.

 

If they were benevolent like the majority of the descriptions said they were and Kaguya was a megalomaniacal outlier, then it would be much easier to handle (once he developed a plan).

 

Though if they were all some sort of conquering fanatics and Kaguya was just the first to actually try to enact a plan, then everything would be far more complicated and dangerous.

 

He didn’t even know where they came from yet.

 

Sasuke guessed he just had to head back to Konohagakure. If he sent a messenger hawk, there would be too many questions he had to answer and things he had to clarify and explanations for his particular thoughts, so even if he didn’t want to (and believe him, this was something he did not want to do) it was necessary. So he just sent a hawk ahead to Kakashi, alerting him of his arrival in the coming month.

 

A bit too necessary for his tastes, but necessary nonetheless.

 

The trip back wasn’t difficult; he wasn’t too far from the Land of Fire, and the trip was much easier than the last time he went due to the lack of companions.

 

To stand under the gate to Konoha would always fill Sasuke with a pressurized feeling of unease, regardless of how many years away he spent.

 

Kakashi had someone meet him at the gate, some jounin from a younger class than his that he didn’t recognize. They traveled quietly through the village, neither speaking a word as they walked through the warm night time air.

 

Sasuke rose an eyebrow in curiosity as he noticed a vaguely agitated expression on the younger shinobi’s face. It seemed like despite not being in the village for years, some people still held him in a negative regard.

 

Upon reaching Kakashi’s office, Sasuke felt as though he were punched in the throat.

 

There was Kakashi, of course, in the center, sitting at his desk, the hat of fire resting on his head, a face mask still obscuring the bottom half of his face. Next to him on the right was his advisor (Sasuke wouldn’t even try to remember the name; he most likely hadn’t even met this advisor), staring Sasuke down with a gaze that was seemingly passive, but held a sort of latent malice to it.

 

And, of course, of course, on Kakashi’s left, stood a radiating warmth, a beacon of light, the one he would call this village “home” for, the one that beckoned him back to Konoha nearly every time.

 

Naruto, taller than he was before, shoulders squared in pride, smiling at him softly, fondly, more matured and subdued than any other smile he’d ever seen before.

 

He refused to falter at one glance from Naruto.

 

“It’s good to see you back here, Sasuke.”

 

He refrained from rolling his eyes. “Is there a chair I could have? As you know from my message, there is a great deal of information I need to relay to you.”

 

“Still very straight to the point, huh?” Kakashi muttered then gestured towards the seat behind him, Sasuke nodding curtly as he sat down.

 

“In the years I have been gone, I was researching a trail of information that has led me to conclude that Kaguya Otsutsuki was not the only one of her clan that had a presence on our world.”

 

The room held a tense silence after a Sasuke finished. “Continue.” Kakashi said tersely, shifting his hands to clasp together, elbows sitting on his desk, resting his chin on their backs. The Hokage’s eyes narrowed as Naruto’s eyes widened slightly.

 

Sasuke gave all of the information he had on the Otsutsuki clan that he gathered from his studies, providing all of the theories he’s come up with as well as giving Kakashi a copy of a rough time frame the aliens should have been most active corroborating with the raise, height, and fall of certain sectors of religions.

 

He made sure to avoid including anything that was too personal; keeping everything factual was important to him.

 

Once finished, Kakashi told him that since this situation required a large amount of attention and care, he would have to stay in town for a day or two to work out a course of action.

 

Which was a damn annoyance but expected.

 

“You can spend some time with your wife and daughter this way. Congratulations on that, by the way, Sasuke. I wish I could’ve said so before but- “ Kakashi made a vague gesture towards Sasuke with his hand, sort of to say that he was aware of why he couldn’t.

 

As he was, obviously; Sasuke hadn’t given anyone his location for the worse part of three or so years, so that was warranted.

 

Kakashi then stood up and walked over to Sasuke, patting him on the shoulder, his smile reaching his eyes. “Tomorrow.”

 

He nodded again, at the Hokage first, then his aid and Naruto (which he was still a bit confused on why exactly Naruto specifically was asked to be there), before heading out of the door.

 

Sasuke left quickly, not stopping to talk to Naruto, not stopping to let Naruto catch up with him, not at all looking back to see if he was even behind him; there wasn’t enough energy in him right then for him to talk to Naruto.

 

It was lucky that Kakashi slipped him Sakura’s (and his own?) address as he patted his shoulder, otherwise he would’ve had to ask Naruto or someone else or wonder the village for her (their?) home.

 

It was also lucky that she lived right near the old Uchiha part of the village. He knocked on the door, three short and solid knocks, then waited for Sakura to answer.

 

“Hello, ca- Oh my god!” That was certainly Sakura.

 

“Who is it Saku- Oh my god, Sasuke!”

 

And that certainly was Karin. A Karin that was not wearing any pants, and a shirt that was not a style she typically wore. Similar to how she looked when they spent that month together in the-

 

Oh.

 

Oh, this was something interesting. Sakura pulled him into the house then closed the door, the three of them standing in the foyer.

 

“Karin, are you fucking my wife?”

 

He probably shouldn’t have said that, especially in that slightly entertained tone, especially when he didn’t even greet either of them.

 

“Hello to you too, Sasuke. Way to drop by unannounced.” Karin rolled her eyes at him, her voice sarcastic and hard, the hand on her hip digging into her skin.

 

Sakura slapped her hands over her face, covering her entire face then sliding them down and groaning. “This cannot be happening.” She said, her expression becoming exhausted.

 

“I know that our marriage is one of pure convenience but this is not what I expected.” Sasuke said as he kept eyeing them, flickering his eyes back and forth between the two women.

 

This was honestly too funny.

 

“I really didn’t want you to find out about it this way.” Sakura muttered, pushing her hair out of her face as she shook her head in disbelief.

 

“Or at all, probably.” He couldn’t help but continue after her. Karin crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you serious right now, Sasuke?”

 

“So how long has this been going on?” He asked, leaning his shoulder against the creme colored wall, an eyebrow raising as he waited for a response from either of them. It was tangible how tense the air in the room was, the three of them knowing that these circumstances were far more uncomfortable than they should be.

 

Karin answered first. “A couple of months. I just come in and out of town sometimes.” That would make sense, Sasuke could definitely see that.

 

“Got you on one of the in times, it seems.”

 

“Seriously, Sasuke, this is really bad timing and I’m sorry that we couldn’t sit and talk about this.” Sakura started up again. He rose an eyebrow at that too.

 

“You don’t have to apologize, Sakura. Really.” If anything he was almost happy, in a sense; they were good for each other, Sakura and Karin. And especially after everything he put them through, those two above all else deserved happiness. If it happened to be with each other, he wasn’t anyone to judge it. Hell, he would be their number one supporter if it meant he could start making it up to the two of them.

 

Even from when they were travelling together, he noticed how fond Karin was of Sakura, the tiny teasing moments and the flirting that he recognized from his previous time with her, mixed with something more warm and inviting. Sasuke was also able to see all the glances Sakura stole from Karin, all the times she consoled her beyond what was required of a friend, the touches and smiles that rippled through all her, making her radiate a soft happiness. How easy they were around each other, how much they wanted to make each other feel safe and cared for, it was all telling, probably more than they even knew.

 

It was something he could understand.

 

“But you can imagine that she still feels bad, not that I don’t think you’ve done much to deserve her feeling this way.” Karin set a glare on him, and he almost smirked at that.

 

“The mother of my child has been sleeping with my wife for months and I’m supposed to be the bad guy here?”

 

But his approval didn’t mean that he would let it go easily.

 

“You’re a real piece of fucking work, Sasuke! Seriously!” She sounded exasperated, Karin rolling her eyes again and huffing out her response.

 

Sakura covered her eyes again. “Oh my fucking god, this is actually the worst.”

 

“While I do know what’s happening, I still want you two to tell me. For transparency’s sake.”

 

“For the sake of,” Karin paused to look at Sakura, then back at Sasuke. “Transparency.” She sounded like she didn’t believe what he said.

 

Sasuke nodded. “Transparency.”

 

“Karin and I are in a romantic and sexual relationship and have been for months.” Sakura said firmly. “As you said you understood.” She finished, locking eyes with him.

 

He had to hold back a chuckle. “I can see why. Well, at least half of why.”

 

“God, I cannot stand you at all.” Karin turned away from him, sighing loudly as she threw her head back in frustration.

 

Sakura looked between the two and pinched her nose. “Fuck I can’t believe I’m about to do this.” She muttered under her breath. “Naruto and Hinata aren’t in love.”

 

Who and who aren’t in what?

 

Karin whipped her head around and strained to keep herself from shouting. “Naruto and Hinata aren’t actually together?”

 

This was-

 

It didn’t-

 

How did-

 

Why then? Why did he get married to her ? Why would Naruto do that?

 

There was a sort of numb feeling racking its way over his body, the patter of what felt like cold fingers tapping it’s way up his back and over his shoulders, grasping his throat. Sasuke didn’t even think he could breath, could think, right then. If he wasn’t leaning against something already he might have swayed.

 

“What is the point of telling me that, Sakura?” Was it to rub it in? She was perceptive, so did she figure out something? What did she figure out?

 

Sakura let out a long sigh. “Naruto and Hinata aren’t in love. He never loved her. She fell out of love with him, too, probably. I’m not too sure exactly why they’re married, I want to say due to a similar situation that we have but-“ she cut herself off and looked between Sasuke and Karin, “this is something else entirely.”

 

She rubbed her eyes before continuing. “They aren’t together for love, it’s convenience. Just- I don’t know.”

 

Hinata was from an older clan, much like his own. They married often, using marriages to form alliances with other, powerful clans, to try to get a hand in politics, to keep their kekkei genkai alive, to uphold the regality of the clan, the bloodline, to keep it strong and pure.

 

Fuck. “It was arranged.” He gritted out.

 

Naruto’s dumb, sweet, stupid, caring, idiotic, stubborn, selfless ass got arranged to marry Hinata Hyuga then was locked into it indefinitely.

 

Karin let out a small gasp, almost unnoticeable, while Sakura covered her mouth as her eyes widened. “Of course it was.” Sakura started. “That’s why the turnaround was so fast, and why they go out so much, and why- god it makes sense but it’s so sad.

 

“What turnaround? What are you talking about?” Sasuke had to know. He had to understand. Naruto- fuck, Naruto was in something and he could just tell he was handling it bad for Sakura to even pick up on it.

 

“When they got married. They- uh- ah-” she began to stammer in her raising anxiety, “they were only dating for a couple of months. Like literally two months before getting engaged. And with how quickly and easily everything was for them, it was just- I knew something was off with everything they did.”

 

Sasuke didn’t know how much more he could handle. “Something else had to lead you to this.”

 

His wife nodded, her face turning grim. “He’s- Naruto is miserable, Sasuke. It isn’t because Hinata is some sort of horrible partner, it’s because he isn’t doing what he wants, what he feels is right; he’s living a life the Hyuga clan wants, and Hinata’s getting dragged along for the ride because of some kind of duty.”

 

“She’s miserable too, I just know she has to be, she’s just better at hiding it than Naruto.” Sakura added, her eyes closing again in frustration. “It only makes sense. He can’t be bearing all the bitterness.”

 

Sasuke nodded at this revelation.

 

There was a reason he hated Konoha, a reason he felt ill thinking about it’s inner workings and it’s past. Neither Naruto nor Hinata deserved to be stuck like that. It hurt him to think about how horrible they feel, how they’re both probably coping with their situation.

 

At least with him and Karin and Sakura, it was what they all wanted. This setup was what all three of them agreed on and felt was right and it was working.

 

They all stood in silence for a minute or so, soaking in the news.

 

Fuck.

 

“Can I see my daughter?” At least once, he had to at the very least one time.

 

Both women looked at him then each other, Karin rubbing her shoulder and nodding at Sakura, the latter waving him over to follow her to a room off down a hallway. It was Sarada’s baby room, her crib nestled near a wall, twinkling pale red lights dancing overhead.

 

Sasuke peered down into the crib, his eyes softening as he watched the rise and fall of her tiny chest. He reached his hand down to rub a finger against her palm, his daughter gripping the appendage in her sleep.

 

“Sarada,” he whispered, closing his eyes then bowing his head. “Sarada, in this night, I ask god to watch over you, in my place, to guide you, in my place, and to care for you, in my place. I cannot do as well a job as god, for god is the one that no one can match.” He kept his voice low, almost a mummer, inaudible from Sakura and Karin’s vantage point at the door.

 

This was this first time he’d pray over someone. Admittedly, a handful of times, he’s prayed for people, himself included, and he’s given thanks as well, but never over someone, directly attempting to pass his message to god above the subject of the message.

 

He took to silence to finish the prayer, thanking god for his daughter’s health and safety, for Sakura’s continued care, and Karin’s positive impact.

 

Sasuke removed his finger from Sarada’s grasp and gently ran his knuckle over her head to smooth back her hair before lightly tapping two of his fingers on her forehead.

 

“I will see you next time.”

 

The two women in the doorway were looking at each other, their hands clasped together, Sakura slightly in front of Karin as though she was poised to protect her.

 

There was no doubt about it; those two would be really good for each other.

 

“Were you,” Karin paused to look him in the eyes, “praying? For our daughter?”

 

“And for my wife, and for my daughter’s mother.”

 

Karin nodded then stepped forward, wrapping her arms around his torso and pressing her cheek into his shoulder. “You’ve- That was- “ she stuttered out a sigh. “Thank you.”

 

She pulled away after he nodded, Sakura taking her place, giving him a small squeeze before quickly pulling away. “That was good, Sasuke.”

 

He made a small noise of appreciation in the back of his throat before walking out of the room. “I’ll be heading out now. Tonight was, something else.”

 

Sakura let out a short laugh. “You’re right about that.” Karin gripped her hand and kissed Sakura on the cheek before turning to Sasuke and saying, “Won’t say it was particularly nice to see you, but I’m glad you’re doing alright for yourself.”

 

“See you sometime, Karin.”

 

“Not if I see you first.” He cracked a smile at her reply. She gave Sakura’s hand another squeeze before wondering back into their shared bedroom.

 

Sakura gestured in front of her, the two walking in a cool silence as they approached the door. She pat Sasuke’s shoulder one last time before she grasped the doorknob. “Give me a heads up next time you’re in town, alright? You scared the hell outta me.”

 

“No promises.” He allowed himself a small smirk.

 

When Sakura opened the door, it took a lot out of him not to swear.

 

Naruto stood on the other side, ready to knock on the door, a confused look on his face.

 

“I was going to ask where Sasuke was but it looks like I found him.”

 

Sakura spoke before he got the chance to open his mouth. “He was just heading out, actually. It’s been a long day, and I’d really like to get some sleep.”

 

If he hadn’t already prayed he felt like he would have right then. “Night.”

 

She closed the door after them once Sasuke stepped out.

 

Looking at Naruto was like breathing fresh air after being trapped inside for a decade. He was taller, not by much, though it was noticeable, and he was more mature looking, his cheeks not as round, his jaw still soft but it didn’t make him look so young anymore. The moonlight caught in his eyes, the blue almost glittering, impossibly deep and rich and captivating.

 

Neither of them spoke for about ten minutes, the soft hum of nightlife filling their silence comfortably. The air wasn’t as thick as before; the dampness was still there, sticking to his skin, also giving Naruto’s skin a thin glist.

 

Sasuke was enchanted by Naruto; he was beautiful, bright and beautiful and comforting and everything he felt that he didn’t deserve but simultaneously everything he wanted, everything he desired.

 

“Welcome back.” Naruto’s voice was still light, a bit rough around the edges, from age or use he didn’t know, or care, but it was so slightly different and it filled him with a warmth he so desperately needed.

 

In response he glanced over at Naruto, giving him a quick smile before looking ahead again.

 

“You’ve cut your hair.” Sasuke knew it came out in a plain tone, very nonchalant though still dusted with notes of disdain. He liked Naruto’s longer hair. It was a piece of Naruto that Sasuke felt was some bit of an extension of himself.

 

Naruto chuckled a bit before scratching the back of his head. “Yeah, Hinata likes it short, and it’s a bit easier to take care of.”

 

Cut his hair for Hinata, don’t make him fucking laugh.

 

“I liked it longer though.” Naruto glanced at Sasuke quickly before looking ahead again. “It was nice.”

 

“I like it longer, too.” It came out, again, plain, nonchalant, tinged a bit bitter.

 

“Not sure if I’ll grow it out again. I’ll just have to see.”

 

“That you will.”

 

“I still have that old apartment. Since it’s owned by the village, Lord Kakashi did some workarounds so that it isn’t sold and the stuff isn’t tossed away. Furniture, mainly, I mean.”

 

He said nothing, nodding curtly and glancing at Naruto before turning in the direction he remembered the apartment was in.

 

Naruto furrowed his brows then let out a sheepish and short laugh. “I’ve missed you, Sasuke. I really have.”

 

“And I, you.” More than he would ever know.

 

The rest of the trip was silent. It was comfortable, Sasuke was for once at ease. Naruto unlocked the apartment door and when Sasuke looked into for the first time in years he noticed that barely anything had changed.

 

Sasuke wasted no time in shutting the door and pushing Naruto up against it, his hand over his jugular as he looked him in the eyes. Before he could say anything, Sasuke pressed his mouth against Naruto’s, softening his grip to move his hand up his neck and to the back of his head, cradling it.

 

It felt as though they’d never parted, like they weren’t apart for years, god, years , their lips moving in tandem, Naruto shuttering out a breath against Sasuke’s lips, almost trembling as he clutched his best friend’s shoulders. There was no hesitation, just heat and passion and emotion that Sasuke knows he hasn’t had for so long.

 

Naruto pulled away, his features pinched in a grimace as though he was refraining from crying. “I- Sasuke I’m married. We can’t- I have a wife , Sasuke, and so do you. You can’t do this to Sakura. I can’t let you do this to her.”

 

Was he worried about him cheating on his wife? Oh, if only he knew! Wait, he could know.

 

A little bit, not all of it, but enough.

 

Sasuke sighed then captured Naruto’s eyes in his. “Sakura and I aren’t married for the reason you and others may think we are.”

 

Blue eyes widened, and Naruto removed a hand from Sasuke shoulder to place it over his mouth, a chuckle escaping from it after he removed his hand, pressing his forehead together with his best friend’s.

 

“And I know you aren’t in love with Hinata.”

 

Naruto tensed up then relaxed. “Of course you know. I don’t even know how you know but of course you do.”

 

“Sakura.”

 

“And of course she was the one to tell you. If anyone would figure it out it would be her. I don’t know why we tried if it would just end up with people knowing that we-“ he cut himself off and captured Sasuke’s lips, relaxing himself against him.

 

God, he needed him. He needed this so much and for so long.

 

Sasuke pulled them into their- their - old bedroom and all but tossed Naruto onto the bed- their bed- before kneeling over him, breathing against his neck.

 

“These years without you, Naruto, these years have been like I was walking around in another person’s body.” Sasuke leaned his forehead against Naruto’s neck, the warm radiating from him making him more at ease. “I didn’t know how to think, my mind was thrown around and I couldn’t do anything to help myself steady it.”

 

Naruto pressed himself against Sasuke, their bodies flush together, Sasuke feeling a hand pressing on his back to pull him down more.

 

“I hated it. I hated living without you, hated that you weren’t with me.” He continued on, planting a kiss on Naruto’s neck, speaking into his ear again. “I was lost. It hurt. I was so hurt.”

 

He felt the welling in his voice as he bit out with a crack, “Why did you marry her? Why didn’t you stay with me?”

 

God, Naruto looked like he was going to cry.

 

“Damn, Sasuke, every fucking time you say anything like this I get overwhelmed.” He moved a hand to wipe his eyes, his voice drawing to a whisper as his breath hitched and he swallowed a sob.

 

“I told you, the only tears I want from you are tears of joy.”

 

“Fuck you, Sasuke!” Naruto clutched his torso to his body, the cloak on Sasuke’s shoulders enveloping them both in a sea of black cloth. “I am happy. I’m so happy! I- fuck- I haven’t been this happy since my-” he sobbed before shaking his head and tossing it back onto the bed underneath them. “Since my son was born.”

 

Sasuke pressed a kiss to Naruto’s neck, then trailed softly and lazily along his jaw, up to his cheeks before sighing deeply and burying his face in his neck again before he inhaled. He smelt like grass and the sun and iron, he smelt like all things pleasant and safe and correct with the world.

 

“I’ve- I haven’t been sad, I know what it’s like to be sad,” he whispered, the tears leaving his voice, “this, what I was feeling, Sasuke, that- oh god that was worse. I couldn’t do anything. I felt heavy, all the time I felt so heavy and tired and numb and I know I felt like that sometimes even when we were together but it was so much more intense after you left.” Naruto shook his head and let out a laugh, devoid of any sort of humor.

 

“I had to pretend so much. Hinata was- is hurting so much and I can’t stand it and I need you so badly right now, Sasuke.” And god, was it easy to admit that Sasuke needed him then too.

Chapter Text

“This is surreal.”

 

Sasuke’s hand played lazily with Naruto’s hair as he muttered those words, black eyes looking at him with affection and warmth, a tired smile on his face. Naruto missed that so much, how satisfied Sasuke looked when he woke up in the morning, the sun bouncing off his pale skin as it filtered gently through the blinds, his eyes half-lidded but lit ablaze with admiration.

 

“I’ve thought a great deal on how I would face you again, how angry I would be with everything, if I would even be able to say anything to you again, if I should.” Naruto ran his hand along Sasuke’s chest, feeling the soft vibrations from is as he spoke, his head resting on his best friend’s bicep. “I thought I would be prepared to hear you tell me that we didn’t need each other. I thought that I wouldn’t need you anymore. But I do.” Sasuke’s voice hit a whisper. “Seeing you is like getting water after being in the desert for a year.”

 

“Didn’t you actually travel through the desert without water?” He saw Sasuke’s eyes roll after he said that.

 

“Idiot,” he mumbled, stretching over to kiss Naruto gently, the smile on his lips soft out of sincerity. “You’re so much more valuable to me than water in the desert.”

 

Naruto laughed at that, moving his hand down to Sasuke’s abdomen to rest there. Sasuke would forever astound him. The low rumble of his voice, how it seemed to stay level and measured while holding so many different tones and expressions in it, was far more telling of his emotions than his face ever could. He noticed his hair was long, a sea of black splayed on the pillows under his head, tickling Naruto’s cheeks, longer than he typically likes it, long enough to be a length that bothered him. Naruto should cut it for him soon.

 

He looked breathtaking like this; content, relaxed, bathing in the soft light of the early morning’s rays as they came through in bars, illuminating parts of Sasuke’s face and and chest like some sort of art piece, specially crafted to show off the hard pointedness of his jaw and the contrast of his dark lashes on his pale cheeks, the dip in his collarbone and the curve and thickness of his bare smooth neck. This was a mesmerizing man, and he could look at him all day and night and still not be satisfied.

 

All he wanted to do was lay with Sasuke the rest of the day, not worrying about anything that happened to occur later, ignoring the meeting they had to go to in the approaching hours, disregarding any other part of their lives, just staying tangled together in the sheets of this bed.

 

God, he hoped Sasuke knew how much he meant to him. Never in the last few years had he felt this much comfort and safety, this much security. It was earth-shattering; no one, there was no one in his life that could do to him what Sasuke does in a word, or a glance, or a graze of skin on skin. The amount of care Sasuke gives him was more than anything Naruto could ask for. He could feel how much he meant to Sasuke. All of his words the previous night spoken in that wavy tenor that held both his tears of relief and his shouts of anger, how he refused to stop clutching Naruto’s torso, as though he would disappear if he let go, how he kissed him like it was the very last thing he would ever do, it all said so much more than anything else. To say that he was more important than water in the desert, man was that a heart clenching statement.

 

Speaking of the desert-

 

“I didn’t hear from you after you made it to Gaara all those years ago,” Naruto said, squeezing Sasuke’s hip lightly. “I always wondered what happened.”

 

Sasuke tightened his grip on his hair, shifting his gaze to the ceiling and setting his jaw.

 

What the hell was that about?

 

“Ow, what the hell are you gripping my hair like that for?”

 

He didn’t speak for a solid minute, Naruto nearly dropping the subject altogether in favor of kissing Sasuke more, but the black-haired man cleared his throat then glanced at Naruto, flickering his eyes back to the ceiling before closing them, exhaling deeply.

 

“Sas-“

 

“When you wrote me back, I was relieved.” he started, his voice almost toneless, simply recounting the event. “I wanted to hear from you, I enjoyed it.”

 

Naruto remained silent, looking Sasuke in the eyes as he waited for him to continue. “But I saw this invitation to your wedding with Hinata .” He spat it out like acid burning his tongue, the subdued emotion trying hard not to rear its head, Naruto being able to tell that Sasuke was trying to hold back but had failed miserably at it.

 

It was telling.

 

“And I was upset. At first, I was, at least; angry, tense, morose. I- I adore you.” Sasuke’s voice wavered, becoming hard and pitched dark, something Naruto hoped he wouldn’t hear.

 

He was furious . The very act of him thinking about that moment made Sasuke, his best friend, inexplicably mad. There was only so much left to imagine how he must have felt when he read the news, everything he must have done afterward, what his actions lead him to do. If Sasuke could get as angry as he was then just from thinking about something that happened years ago, there was no telling how he must have felt when it happened.

 

“Even after seeing that message, I adored you. Which is why it hurt me so much. You marrying her when you’re mine.”

 

Naruto shook his head, moving his hand up to cup Sasuke’s face, running his thumb on his cheek. “It wasn’t because we fell in love, Sasuke.” The voice Naruto found himself using was soft; he tried his hand at a soothing tone, at a woeful reverberant that conveyed all he wanted Sasuke to know.

 

He huffed, dropping his forearm and the hand attached to it from Naruto’s head. “But I didn’t know that. There was no way for me to have. You didn’t tell me, not that you would have, I gather, and now I understand why. It’s dangerous; your reputation, Hinata’s reputation, the Hyuga clan’s reputation would be at risk if the truth of your arrangement was found out.”

 

Even though it was Sasuke, it still made him uneasy that he put the puzzle together nearly completely. No one was supposed to know.

 

“And, peculiarly, I would’ve never known if Sakura hadn’t put it together.”

 

While he did know that Sakura knew, it didn’t ease his mind about someone knowing about him and Hinata in general. It felt like he failed her in some way.

 

“No one was supposed to put it together.” Naruto let slip out, his voice betraying his unease.

 

Sasuke sighed and shook his head. “She won’t tell. I certainly wouldn’t be saying anything to anyone.”

 

“Still.” In his mind he knew that they would never try to hurt him and Hinata and Boruto and now Himawari like that, but still.

 

“Regardless,” he continued, lifting his hand again to touch Naruto’s head. “it hurt me. For years.” He let slip a humorless laugh, his chest rumbling from the noise. It was mirthless, bitter, hollow.

 

“Sasuke.” he trailed off. What was he supposed to say? What was there to say? Naruto couldn’t even think about asking for forgiveness; it wasn’t necessary anyway and it just felt rude. It wouldn’t do any good at this point. He could do nothing to fix the situation.

 

His best friend leaned over to him again with closed eyes and touched their foreheads together, not speaking, not looking him in the eye, just feeling and breathing, getting their breath in sync.

 

It wasn’t fair; for them to feel so strongly about each other wasn’t fair to either of them or the people around them. Why did these feelings have to manifest at this point in their lives? Why at all? Why them? Why was it not easier?

 

Naruto lifted himself up slowly and shifted to laying fully on top of Sasuke, earning a groan from the black haired man. “Ugh, Naruto,” he started, dropping his arm and keeping his eyes closed, “I thought just your head was heavy but it seems the rest of you is as well.”

 

He found himself breaking into a lazy smile at that. “Oh stop, you can handle this.”

 

“What have you been eating? Are you back on an all ramen diet? I’ve told you how bad that is.” His tone was teasing, mocking almost in Sasuke’s own edition of playfulness.

 

He rolled his eyes and chuckled. “It’s better than your vegetables all day everyday lifestyle.”

 

“That isn’t even true.”

 

“Is too.”

 

“Is not.”

 

“Certainly is more tasty.”

 

“Vegetables happen to taste very good, thank you.”

 

“Yeah, if you like grass.”

 

Sasuke leaned up to capture his lips, gently, with a soft fondness and care. Naruto slipped his arms under Sasuke’s bare torso, hugging him as Sasuke slung his arm over Naruto’s waist, grabbing a handful of grey tee shirt. He broke the kiss to rest his head on Sasuke’s shoulder.

 

“When,” Naruto paused to swallow, gathering his words carefully, “Sakura came back and told me she had your child and that you got married, I was happy, but hurt too. Really badly hurt. I didn’t know why, and I don’t think I tried to figure it out.” Sasuke rubbed a small circle into his back and nodded as Naruto spoke.

 

He knew he could say a great number of things to paint the circumstances for Sasuke. He could tell Sasuke that all he knew was that after Sakura told him that they got together over the course of that year it was harder to pretend anymore. If Naruto decided, he could describe how everything in his life was more difficult, things that didn’t use to be hard were suddenly harder, how he had to take more and more time to just lay in bed and gather energy or think.

 

“It was,” he settled on, exhaling slowly through his nose before continuing, “hard.”

 

He leaned into Sasuke’s shoulder more. “Hinata had no idea; she was recovering from the pregnancy and making motions to get her strength back up to become a jounin but I just knew she could tell something was up with me even if I didn’t know what was wrong. This wasn’t fair to her.” Naruto paused briefly, lowering his voice. “She had problems too but she was worried about me and I was confused about myself while still being concerned for her too. We sat and we talked and talked and I felt secure about our future but not about myself, I guess. It hurt when I thought about you, and I hated that because of how I feel about you. Thinking about you should make me happy because you make me so happy , but for a time it just hurt.”

 

Naruto took another breath, sinking into Sasuke’s embrace more, feeling a tremor rip through his body. “Then it felt numbing .” That was it, that was a good word- numb. He said it last night and the word was still a good fit. “It was painful and sad and I knew I was hurt but it didn’t feel like I felt anything for a while. I had to think about how I acted and looked to people a lot.”

 

Once he started, Naruto didn’t find himself stopping. “There was a lot happening to both of us, stuff that would break a person, and I every time I thought we had a good footing or would make it out and would be fine with everything, finally happy, it got hard again. I bounced between feeling like nothing and feeling angry because of what was happening to Hinata. Whenever I tried to reason with myself I just kept thinking about how much I didn’t want to think anymore.”

 

Putting the words to the feeling he had made it that much more real. Naruto had thought about everything around him but to actually say it aloud made it hit harder. He couldn’t even share this with Hinata. It was damn near pitiful. He was about to cry (he was always fucking crying over Sasuke) in his best friend’s arm for maybe the third time in the last twelve hours because he was upset over a misunderstanding. He was pressed against the chest of a man that held him so securely and made him feel so safe, taking refuge in the messy sheets and closed blinds of a bedroom he shouldn’t be in anymore, almost hiding away from his troubles when he should be facing life.

 

Naruto finally saw that his life was a mess (that his mind was a mess) and he couldn’t fix it and for some reason, it was linked very heavily to Sasuke.

 

He wasn’t okay. It was near unhealthy how upset he was and he didn’t- couldn’t have done anything about it.

 

There was probably nothing at all that could be done about it.

 

By the time he was done Sasuke was holding him even more tightly, his eyes focused on a spot on the ceiling, unwaveringly fixed while he took in the information.

 

“You didn’t know why we got married.” It came out slow, measured, each word falling from Sasuke’s mouth evenly.

 

“I still don’t know.” He had his guesses, sure, but-

 

“I needed an heir, I needed someone to take care of my heir, Sakura wanted to care for a child.” Sasuke sounded like he was just talking about the weather like it was simple and easy and nothing to put too much thought into. There had to something else to it.

 

Naruto held his breath.

 

The rest of Sasuke’s explanation never came. He released the air slowly, sinking into Sasuke’s shoulder.

 

“Makes sense.” He breathed out. In a way it did. It didn’t answer too many of his questions, but he wasn’t too sure what his questions even were.

 

“We- rather, I suggested it to her. So everything would be legitimate and no one could come at her with too many why’s. There’s no lie if we did actually want to get married. It just wasn’t out of affection for each other and luckily people don’t tend to ask.” This he said calmly as well; there was no further processing for him.

 

Naruto understood that perfectly. Didn’t mean he particularly liked it, but he understood.

 

“So is Sakura okay with that?” She cared about him a great deal. Naruto just hoped she wasn’t getting left out to dry because of this.

 

Sasuke scoffed softly. “She’s raising my child and happily so.” He loosened his grip on Naruto’s waist. “You talk too much. Give me a break, will you?”

 

Even in his short, almost cold tone, Naruto heard the underlying feeling; it was a lot to process. He let him have that.

 

They sat in silence for a few moments, their breath aligning with each other, heat melding together under the thin sheet and worn softness of the comforter.

 

“Remember years ago, how we would do this and talk for hours on end about ‘what if’s and such?” At that question, Sasuke rose an eyebrow and glanced at Naruto in the eyes before grunting lightly.

 

“Thought I told you to shut up,” Sasuke grumbled out before answering. “You mean us repeatedly mumbling to each other until we fell asleep or had sex?”

 

Naruto smiled and squeezed Sasuke’s side. “It was much sweeter back then.” Their feelings were so kind and gentle back then, not this maelstrom of miscommunicated emotion that tore at them even when they were hundreds or thousands of kilometers apart.

 

“I’m sure. Where are you going with this?”

 

He took an inhale. “What if we could be together? More than we are now?”

 

There was no hesitation in Sasuke’s answer. “I’d try to see you smile every day, a pure heartfelt smile for me and my eyes only. And I’d try to have purged all the orange from your closet by now. Hopefully successfully.” He ended with a lazy half smile, one that reached his eyes while barely playing on his lips.

 

“You like the orange! You’ve even said so!”

 

“Contrary to popular belief, you make orange look good, not the other way around.”

 

“Ugh, Sasuke!”

 

“I’d also make you breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Everyday. No more ramen.”

 

“This is starting to sound more bad than good.” He joked, kissing a bare shoulder.

 

“You’re the one with less muscle than me.”

 

“Less defined muscle. I’m sure my muscle is more functional anyway.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“I am!”

 

Sasuke made a short humming sound in the back of his throat before half smiling again. “I know.”

 

“I would try to make you laugh every day.” Naruto started before turning his head into Sasuke’s shoulder more. “Not one of your snarky laughs either, a real honest to god wholehearted laugh. And I’d get you some plants. Ones that you don’t eat, but ones to raise. We could care for them together.”

 

There was a humming sound from Sasuke. “I would like that a lot.”

 

Naruto thought the same. His best friend moved his arm up to cradle the back of his head with his hand, holding Naruto in place on his shoulder.

 

“We could stay here. Make this place truly ours. I’m sure Kakashi wouldn’t care if we did. I’d certainly be back more than once every four or five years because I’d have something to come back to.” He felt his breath hitch when Sasuke said that, his best friend maintaining his good-hearted tone the whole way through his statement.

 

“Do you not have something to come back to now?”

 

“I love my daughter, but I’m no good for her as I am now. She doesn’t need someone that walks in and out of her life on a whim, that will just hurt her in the long run.”

 

“And Sakura is fine with this?”

 

Sasuke sighed. “She’s said such.” He took a moment to think before continuing. “The mother of my child probably thinks it’s best that I’m hands off, anyway.” There was an almost sarcastic amusement in his voice when he said that. “Sakura specifically doesn’t need me. I’ve taken her as a wife for her strength and resolve, and there is no one better suited to raise my child.”

 

“If I didn’t know any better I’d say you do like her.” Naruto teased lightly, earning a short laugh and a kiss on the cheek from his best friend.

 

“I value her. I appreciate her as a friend, and I suppose on some level I do like her. Sakura is a good person.” He spoke firmly but softly, “I’m sure you feel affectionate towards Hinata.”

 

He did. Hinata was a wonderful person and a great friend. Without her constant support, he would’ve gone insane with all the stress they were under. “We’re in the same boat, and we both want to steer the boat in the same direction and we both want to stay afloat. The water is rough but we’re co-captains. I do love her as a friend and as a human.”

 

Sasuke responded with a deep rumbling hum. “That’s good. She seems nice.”

 

“She’s pretty great.” An understatement, definitely.

 

“Wouldn’t expect anything less.”

 

Naruto leaned up to capture Sasuke’s lips again, melting into the warmth that was his mouth and the security that was his hold on him. He needed this more than he needed anything else. That moment, the moments they’ve shared, were priceless.

 

“You’re my light,” Sasuke whispered against his lips. “My very core and being.” He shifted his arm to lay possessively on Naruto’s waist, the blond shifting his hands to cup Sasuke’s face as they both closed their eyes and kissed each other once more. “My dream. Something I don’t deserve but want all the same. You’re so annoying and frustrating and lame but it makes me wish for you even more.” The words tumbled out of Sasuke in a soft growl, all desirous and almost tender toned with tiny bites on his lips as he spoke.

 

There was a tightness in his chest, a bundle of heat pooling in his abdomen from Sasuke’s sweet words. “Can’t let anyone else hear you say all of that, they’ll start to think you’re not a cold bastard.”

 

Sasuke smirked and kissed him again. “Wouldn’t want that,” he mumbled against Naruto’s lips, “not at all.”

 

Everything Sasuke could do and could say about what he thought about him, he did. It was like he was an artist; he could break out into a carefully crafted monologue about he much Naruto meant to him. Or could, with a touch he could make a fleeting moment feel like it lasted for hours of bliss.

 

Through simple but effective means Sasuke could make Naruto feel every emotion he ever felt for him at a much greater intensity. Sasuke felt so much more open when he was caring for him when he let himself freely express that he did actually care.

 

“I’m so glad to have met you.” Naruto started, pushing the hair out of Sasuke’s face and brushing it behind his ear. “Fighting for you was the best decision I’ve ever made. You’re-“ he paused to think of the words. Damn, Sasuke was so much better at this than he was, “so important to me. So incredibly important to me.”

 

They sighed softly, Naruto resting his head on Sasuke’s shoulder again, Sasuke moving his hand up to scratch lightly at blond hair. “What time is it?” he mumbled.

 

Naruto looked over towards the window briefly. “Morning.”

 

“Stupid,” Sasuke whispered, pressing his lips to Naruto’s forehead. “I wanted a more specific time.”

 

“Early morning. We woke up with the sun.”

 

“You woke up with the sun then whined in my ear to wake up.”

 

Sasuke didn’t know how many times Naruto thought about waking up next to him, and how this was a moment he wanted for so long that it tore him to shreds when he thought that it may never happen again.

 

“Blah blah blah.” Sasuke looked up at him with a smug expression as Naruto said that, a slightly devious look in his eyes. His hand slithered down his hip, palming at the blond’s lower back, creeping lower and lower still.

 

“We should try to start the day.” He slapped Naruto’s ass playfully. “Get up.”

 

Naruto let out a groan. “Don’t want to. You’re comfortable.”

 

“Time to shower.”

 

“No,” he drew out the end of the word, “stay, Sasuke.”

 

His best friend then slipped his hand into the waistband of his boxers and grabbed a handful of warm flesh, the coolness of his hand causing Naruto to shiver slightly. “You’re coming with me.” Sasuke squeezed Naruto’s ass firmly before muttering, “I want you cleaned up.”

 

“I guess.” His voice held a playful reluctance, a complaining tone spilling from his lips. He moved off of Sasuke, who let out a satisfied groan. “Come on,” Naruto started, wrapping both of his hands around Sasuke’s, tugging lightly on it. “I got up so now you have to.”

 

“Ugh.”

 

“Sasuke!” It came out as a laugh as he tugged on his hand again. “I’ll wash and cut your hair, too.”

 

His best friend rolled his eyes before sitting up and stepping out of the bed. “Fine.” The word held his fake annoyance with Naruto.

 

Naruto laughed as Sasuke lead the way to the bathroom, grumbling the entire way there.

 


 

Hinata just knew something was up.

 

After dinner, Naruto told her he had to handle something for Lord Kakashi with Sasuke and that he would be back as soon as he could, then left.

 

And didn’t come back.

 

No word back from him, it was the middle of the next day now, so whatever was happening was surely important.

 

But just how important that Naruto couldn’t come back home.

 

Never before when working on some sort of assignment with the Hokage did Naruto have to stay somewhere overnight.

 

So that was just perplexing.

 

She got out a jar of baby food for Boruto and sat it on the counter before glancing over at Himawari in her arm.

 

Naruto was supposed to be here to feed their son.

 

Which, to be fair, she isn’t upset at that exactly per say, but more the fact that she has no idea where he is or if he’s safe or when he’d be back.

 

“Mama! Hungry! Mama! Mama! I hungry!”

 

“I’m coming little one, don’t shout.” Hinata sighed lightly before trying to open the jar without wobbling Himawari too much.

 

Ugh.

 

As if right on cue, Naruto opened the front door, a smile plastered on his face as though he didn’t have a care in the world.

 

“Hey, Hinata, I’m back.”

 

Very astute, Naruto, now please, help with the children.

 

“Welcome back, Naruto.”

 

Before she could make motions to hand Naruto the infant so she can feed Boruto, she saw, silently standing behind him with that forever impassive look on his face, Sasuke, just peering down at her, his eyes almost judging.

 

She was stunned. Sasuke looked different but at the exact same time, he looked just like how she remembered he looked. Tall, his dark cloak almost dusting the floor in its length, this cream-colored tunic peeking from behind the darkness. From what she remembered he kept his hair very short, but now it was longer, the black hair falling very slightly below his shoulders, framing his handsome face elegantly, his expression turning in the subtlest of ways from unimpressed to-

 

Almost derisive.

 

His eyes narrowed minutely, but instead of his face hardening as one would expect from a person that was ever so slightly unsettled by something, it softened while his lips twitched upwards, in a quick sneer that she could assume he didn’t want her to see.

 

He turned that lapse in expression into a half smile. “It’s- nice to see you, Hinata.” His tone was compressed into being even instead of it naturally being so, she could tell by the small pause between “it’s” and “nice” that he probably thought she wouldn’t notice.

 

Definitely derisive and prideful and he definitely didn’t want her to be able to tell.

 

Naruto took Himawari from her arms as Hinata cast Sasuke another glance before saying, “This is such a pleasant surprise!” Hinata knew the sweetness in her voice would throw him off since she kept her eyes pinned to his.

 

Sasuke blinked rapidly under her gaze, then squared his shoulders as he recovered his composure completely. All of this happened very quickly, missable by anyone not looking, probably by anyone that was untrained as well. She moved her hands to clap together in front of her mouth to sell the pseudo shocked look.

 

It would fool Naruto entirely, this she knew (her poor husband; he was smart but when it came to reading people outside of fighting he fell short. Didn’t help that she was trained in this), but it would get her message to Sasuke loud and clear: what are you doing in my home?

 

The three of them walked into the kitchen, Hinata picking up the baby food and opening it, spooning a little to a fussy blond boy. Boruto happily ate, while Hinata listened to the two behind her.

 

“So this is my little princess, Himawari.” Naruto started, showing his daughter to Sasuke with fondness on his face and love in his voice. “She’s so sweet and cute and wonderful. Just like her mommy.”

 

Hinata didn’t need to turn around to hear the smile that Naruto had. He was such a kind person.

 

“About a month old or so?” Sasuke asked. She turned around at the question. There was a shift in his tone.

 

“A bit under four weeks, yeah.” Hinata responded, wiping the dribble from Boruto’s mouth as he slapped his tiny hands down on his tray table.

 

“Hima! Hima! Hima!”

 

Naruto went over to the excited toddler and leaned over so he could see his sister. “And the loud one that looks like a sunflower is my bubbly boy, Boruto.”

 

Sasuke raised an eyebrow. “I see the resemblance.” There was a slight humor in his voice.

 

“Say ‘hi’ to your Uncle Sasuke! Say ‘hi Uncle Sasuke’, Boruto.”

 

“Don’t make this child say that.”

 

Boruto did not fail to deliver. “Hi Unc’ Sas’!”

 

Naruto cooed the child happily as Sasuke groaned. Boruto repeated the phrase while making a grabbing motion at Sasuke.

 

Hinata hid a smile behind her hand. This was so cute. “He wants you to pick him up.”

 

“He doesn’t even know me.”

 

“Unc’ Sas’!”

 

“Yes he does, Uncle Sasuke,” Naruto said with a grin on his face. “Go on, pick up your nephew.”

 

“Nar- He’s not my- why does no one understand that I have one arm? Singular?”

 

Naruto rolled his eyes. “You’ve picked up heavier things with that one singular arm of yours.”

 

The look on Sasuke’s face shifted between emotions very quickly. First, there was surprise, then annoyance, then humor, then something vaguely tender before settling on light irritation. “Fine.” He bit out, then turned to her before asking in a softened, light, even voice, “May I?”

 

Such manners and warmth in a man known for being aloof.

 

She smiled and nodded, Boruto making more excited motions towards the black-haired man. “Up!”

 

Sasuke responded to the toddler by muttering “Sure,” to him before scoping him out of the chair slowly and leaning him on his shoulder. Boruto immediately latched his little arms onto his neck, which then Sasuke took the opportunity to shift the child so he was holding him up from his bottom.

 

Boruto giggled before hugging his uncle. “I’m up high!” He pressed his cheek to Sasuke’s and giggled more.

 

“You sure are buddy!” Naruto laughed while rocking Himawari in his arms.

 

The look on Sasuke’s face was hilarious. Though the change in features negligible, she saw them plain as day; he was embarrassed, evidently, with tiny flickers of what she could place as affection in his eyes.

 

“It looks like he likes you, Sasuke.” She told him, cooing the blond child on his shoulder. “Don’t you, my little sunflower?”

 

He made a low grunting noise in response as Boruto giggled and smiled brightly and nodded his head. Sasuke looked over at Boruto and sighed with a soft resigned look on his face before glancing at her and smiling briefly then turned to Naruto with softly furrowed eyebrows and a half smile.

 

This was an interesting man. For someone that tried to maintain his aloof image, he was vibrant, giving off so much with his microexpressions and body language that he probably thought was very controlled a measured.

 

Hinata saw him look at Boruto with care; compulsory, genuine affection, that which anyone would display for a child but is somehow surprising on Sasuke.

 

Hinata saw him look at her with at first vague contempt (she’ll put time into why that may be later) then with respect.

 

Hinata also saw him look at Naruto with a great amount of admiration. A lot of his disdain was teasing, she noticed, and over the course of the next hour, she observed a lot more of how Sasuke looked at Naruto.

 

And how Sasuke reacted to what Naruto said.

 

And how much Sasuke couldn’t contain everything he thought he was able to contain.

 


 

The two men both told her as much as they could about what they met about so suddenly yesterday. The Otsutsuki clan was something important, gravely important.

 

“There must have been a lot of information to cover if it lasted so long into the night like that.”

 

Oh was she bold. Playing the part of the oblivious doting wife was so simple. Being trained to mislead and misdirect in order to gain information made it even more simple. Hinata did enjoy working in the intelligence units. And Kiba said her training wouldn’t transfer to anything else in her life.

 

Well, analyzing her husband’s best friend wasn’t the best thing she could use her training for, but it is worth it.

 

Naruto paused before dropping his shoulders and scratching his head sheepishly. Typical reaction from him, she expected it. Sasuke, however, paused for a quick second and allowed his eyes to widen slightly (so very slightly) before flickering over to his best friend then relaxing his eyes again. All very fast.

 

How peculiar.

 

“We-“ they both started at the same time before Sasuke backed off without missing a beat and allowed Naruto to continue speaking, “sort of crashed after talking again. Went through a bunch of stuff, prepping for the meeting today, plans and courses of action.” He stopped scratching his head then said, “Also we were catching up on each other’s lives.”

 

“Nine at night became three in the morning pretty fast.” Sasuke finished off for him, his lips twitching up slightly.

 

Okay.

 

Okay, that’s fine.

 

But Hinata wouldn’t let any part of their reactions go.

 

Maybe she was going too far and thinking too hard about everything and calculating too much and processing information from body language incorrectly or too critically but she could not ignore something so interesting right in front of her face.

 

“I’m just glad you two got to talk and catch up. Wish it was only under better circumstances.”

 

In response, Sasuke gave another low grunt in what she could assume was agreement.

 

“Definitely.” Naruto answered after him.

 

Soon the three moved to lighter topics, chatting and primarily the two best friends entertaining Boruto while Hinata nursed Himawari, looked on, and listened politely.

 

“Little sunflower, tell Uncle Sasuke how old you are!”

 

So she was free to observe.

 

Sasuke rose an eyebrow at Naruto then glanced at the man’s son in his lap. “Go on, tell your uncle.” Naruto nudged the toddler a bit.

 

Boruto looked up at Naruto before looking down at his hands, trying to remember what he was supposed to do. He then looked up at Sasuke and held up two little fingers. “I’m two years old!”

 

“Very good, Boruto.” Sasuke said lightly.

 

“You did a great job, little sunflower.” Naruto cooed his son.

 

Sasuke smiled at the blond duo as Naruto began to talk to his child about something nonsensical. It was very cute, and she was used to Naruto acting silly with Boruto.

 

She and Sasuke had very similar reactions to the display; soft, fond smile graced both of their lips, Hinata knowing that she was smiling at her husband with light humor, but Sasuke sighed as the warmth of his expression hit his eyes and relaxed his face.

 

Oh!

 

That was definitive.

 

After a bit more light banter between the three (sometimes four when Boruto added in a comment), Sasuke called it a day, claiming that he should probably head out.

 

Sasuke and Naruto stood at the same time, the black haired man walking over to her and giving a curt nod. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

 

She smiled and returned the gesture. “Hopefully you’ll be around more, Sasuke.”

 

He shrugged before turning to Naruto, who moved in front of him to guide him to the door, poised to open it for him upon them reaching it. She lingered in the hallway leading up to the foyer.

 

“You’ll be here the rest of the week?”

 

Sasuke hummed in affirmation to Naruto’s question.

 

“Then I’ll be seeing you.”

 

“If all goes well.” Sasuke paused as he looked Naruto in the eyes again. “Thank you, Naruto.”

 

A shift in tonality. He moved to step outside of the door.

 

“Anytime, Sasuke.”

 

Naruto closed the door behind and stretched, walking over to Hinata and taking Himawari from her arms.

 

“Sorry for not coming home last night.” He wiggled a finger at Himawari, getting a tiny happy noise from her.

 

“It’s okay, Naruto. You were doing important things.”

 

“Still, I shouldn’t have stayed out so late.” He rocked the infant gently before saying, “You go rest. It’s Hima’s naptime anyway and Boruto isn’t going to be a problem.”

 

“There’s no need! I can help you with them, Naruto, really!”

 

He was already nudging her into their shared bedroom. “Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of me being a good husband and taking care of my children while my wife rests.”

 

“Naruto!”

 

“I’ll see you in a little while, Hinata.” He closed the door and Hinata sat down on the bed with a number of things running through her head.

 

At least with this mandated rest time, she could think about everything she saw over the last hour and a half or so.

 

There was really nothing different to be observed from Naruto. He was typically excited when things that he liked happened, and he was evidently happy to have seen his best friend after, what, almost half a decade? Made sense.

 

Sure, there were moments where he seemed to be a bit more antsy than normal but she’d chalk it up to his guilt of being out with Sasuke all night. He probably stretched the truth a little and they celebrated his return with drinks or something, but that wasn’t anything to get upset about.

 

So the real box to unpack was Sasuke.

 

Everything and she did mean everything he did was so carefully measured and reserved that it read as him being uptight or even generally uncomfortable being in the house. It was certainly mistakable as the Uchiha being awkward. Which he very well may be, but it was also mixed heavily with very natural and genuine moments of smooth ease of honest thought and communicative body language.

 

He, at first, wasn’t too happy to be seeing Hinata, she could firmly say that after everything was said and done. Sasuke didn’t want to be there, at least not in front of her, and he was sort of put back by his own feelings (she thinks? It’s odd) as he used to be (and frankly still is) the sort of person to let someone know they aren’t liked.

 

Then he almost literally warmed up to her. She could write that off as him initially being uncomfortable in a new space but he was far too proud and self-assured to be intimidated by a simple visit to his friend’s home. So something about his opinion of her changed for the positive while they were talking.

 

Sasuke interacting with Boruto was really interesting to observe as well. To her understanding, he traveled a great deal and handled a lot of people, so he may have experience with children, enough definitely to tolerate but he looked like he was enjoying himself a bit. In a sort of passive way that didn’t require a lot from him at all but still, enjoyment nonetheless.

 

Which was sweet. Very cute.

 

Also proved that he was a naturally warm person. He genuinely enjoys things in a way not all too different from anyone else. He teased a lot, was very very dry though humorous, made light fun of himself, used sarcasm liberally, but generally kind and warm under that thick skin of hardened coolness.

 

And that just so happened to lead to something that was probably the most fascinating of their interaction.

 

The looks he gave Naruto were full of a tenderness she’d never seen from anyone, let alone him. It was a consistent expression that followed after Naruto did something goofy or funny or typical Naruto like, one that was preceded by an eye roll or shake of the head. He stayed very close to Naruto, but not at all in a following or safety sort of way that one may think of when someone was nervous or in a new place.

 

No, the way Sasuke stood slightly in front of or directly to the side of Naruto when he could, oh, she didn’t know, sit or stand further away, at a distance that was still familiar yet not as nearly invasive as what Sasuke was doing, was different.

 

It was protective.

 

Which made no sense seeing as they are the two strongest shinobi the world over. Come on, she knew she looked so much like the helpless housewife it was laughable, so she knew he wasn’t doing it out of concern for Naruto’s safety.

 

Leaving that Sasuke was displaying a more possessive move than a protective move. Or even if it was a subconsciously protective action, it was much more out of wanting to preserve something that he enjoyed rather than guard Naruto.

 

Coupled with his initial reaction to her, the one of near contempt for lack of a better word, all of that lead her to one solid conclusion.

 

Sasuke Uchiha was in love with Naruto. Overt, intense, all-consuming, full-bodied, passionate love. The sort of love that was years in the making, the sort that probably ate at him.

 

Hinata slapped her forehead and groaned.

 

And Naruto may not have even known about it.

 


 

Even after however many years, Sasuke still had a complicated relationship with the phrase “what if” and any of the many spins on it there happened to be.

 

What if Naruto could be with him? What if it wasn’t this weird clandestine game they played? What if they didn’t have to hide behind closed doors just to be together? What if every time they met they weren’t trying to make up for lost time? What if they didn’t get married? What if they did raise small plants together? What if they woke up by each other’s sides every morning? What if the circumstances that lead him to breaking and swearing revenge on Konoha never happened? What if he never co-signed a war declaration in front of the Five Kage? What if he never crashed then subsequently attacked the Five Kage Summit?

 

What if, what if, what the fuck if.

 

He was tired as hell of “what if” and everything it made him think about.

 

Seeing Naruto was everything he hoped it was and wasn’t; it healed him, it enraged him, it eased his heart, it set his heart ablaze, it filled his lungs with oxygen, it kicked him in the back of the knee and made him beg.

 

Suigetsu was right. There was a great need within him to talk to Naruto.

 

And talking helped!

 

A lot, actually!

 

But they didn’t talk about a good amount of the stuff they should have, like how they needed to communicate when Sasuke was away more or how they both should be aware of any harebrained plans they get wrapped up in.

 

Like marrying a noble from a (probably the most) prominent clan in an arranged marriage while faking being in an actual relationship with her.

 

Or having a child out of nowhere and spending a year wandering around the northern border with a pregnant woman and her midwife that he happened to marry in order to fake a relationship with her so she’ll be able to take care of the child she didn’t birth without much hassle.

 

Sasuke sighed heavily and rubbed his temples, his thumb stretched to touch one while his first two fingers rubbed the other.

 

But, talking about what they did was great. As were the multitude of emotions that radiated off of them post-outburst of repressed feelings.

 

So he’ll call it a win. That helped a lot, and he can only thank God and be grateful for it.

 

Once he reached his house (which was still weird to think about. His house), he knocked and waited for it the door to open.

 

Sakura has a relieved look on her face as she looked him up and down. “Welcome back.” He nodded.

 

“Could I come inside?”

 

She stepped out of the doorway and motioned for him to walk in, Sasuke going to the kitchen table as Sakura closed up the door.

 

Now that he was aware that Karin was there, he wasn’t shocked when she walked out of Sarada’s baby room, holding a smiling baby- no, toddler in her arms, planting tiny kisses on her cheek.

 

“Afternoon, Karin.” He sat down while keeping his eyes on the mother and daughter.

 

“Afternoon indeed, Sasuke,” she giggled at Sarada rubbing her hands down her mother’s cheeks and making a kissing face. “I’ll play in a second, sweet girl, I have to talk to him first.”

 

When Karin told her child that, Sarada blinked up at her then looked over to him. He cast her a small smile, to which she blinked at him in response, then looked back over at Karin. She leaned over into Karin’s shoulder and asked in what she probably thought was a quiet voice, “Who he?”

 

Karin cast a look at her then at Sasuke, moving a hand up to smooth back to wily black hair on her small head. “Oh, sweet girl, that’s your papa.”

 

“Who?”

 

Oh, give him a break.

 

Sakura came over to Karin and took Sarada from the redhead, cooing at the child then sitting down with her on her lap. “Papa. Just like you have a mama, you have a papa. Can you say ‘papa’, sweetie?”

 

Sarada looked at Sakura then at Sasuke and pursed her lips, as though she was skeptical of something. “Papa?”

 

Dear God was his daughter cute. Her voice was tiny and smooth, as smooth as a baby's voice could be, quiet and sweet.

 

“Very good, sweetie! Call your papa over to you! Say ‘papa’ and he’ll come to you.” Sakura said in a honey-laced voice, Karin looking at the two girls with an affectionate gaze.

 

She looked over at him and said, “Papa,” in a little voice, before reaching her hand out and waving at him, as though to beckon him over. “Papa.” Sarada said in as firm as her small voice could get.

 

His heart clenched. Sasuke stood and walked around the table then knelt down on one knee and touched her hand with two of his fingers as she took them to grip them in a weird handshake.

 

“It was only about a month ago that she started talking. She’s learning super fast.” Karin said, moving to sit in another chair at the table.

 

Sakura nodded and smiled at the sight of him shaking his daughter’s hand with his fingers. “I think it’s from hanging out with Boruto. Must have gotten competitive when she saw him saying a few words and just started mimicking him and me and Karin.”

 

He knew how much Boruto could speak. A smile appeared on his face at the thought of his daughter trying to keep up with his (again, weird) nephew.

 

“First thing she said was ‘more’ when Sakura was finished reading her something. Two-word sentences is where she’s at now.”

 

“Expansive vocabulary?” he joked.

 

Sakura bounced Sarada on her knee before saying, “Typical baby things. Yes, no, hi, bye, up, down, give, food, more, less, who, what, mama, mommy, and,” she looked down at the small toddler, “now papa.”

 

“Papa.” Sarada echoed.

 

Sasuke felt a welling behind his eyes that he tried to ignore.

 

“Papa.”

 


 

After lunch, Sakura finally asked Sasuke what he happened to need to come to town for.

 

And he told her and Karin.

 

“So what you’re saying is the alien thing that tried to take over the world has family?” Karin inquired, her eyebrow arching up in her confusion. He looked at her with an impassive look

 

“Yeah.”

 

“And the Hokage and his cabinet?”

 

Sasuke sighed. “Trying to piece together a course of action.”

 

Sakura nodded and held a cup up to Sarada’s mouth for her to drink. “Which is difficult due to how intense and vague the situation is.”

 

“Certainly.”

 

Karin rested her chin on her hand. “It’ll take a while. The Sixth will probably need you to stay around until everything is said and done.”

 

“Rest of the week.” So a bit over five more days.

 

“Afterwards where are you headed to?” He glanced at Karin then furrowed his eyebrows.

 

Well, he did plan on training. “North.”

 

“To where?”

 

“To the East.”

 

He could hear Karin’s exasperation with him. “North to the East?”

 

Sasuke hummed in confirmation.

 

“So Northeast?”

 

Oh. “Sure.”

 

“Fuck you Sasuke.” He smirked at her reaction.

 

Sakura swatted at her girlfriend. “Karin! Language!”

 

She rolled her eyes at Sasuke then said, “Talking to him is like pulling teeth!”

 

He gave another smirk. “Must not have pulled teeth before.” Teasing them was fun.

 

“When will you stop being such a b-”

 

“And where will you be staying while you’re here, Sasuke?” Sakura asked, cutting Karin off before she could swear again, sticking her tongue out at Sarada then poking her nose when she mimicked her.

 

Hopefully there.

 

“Hopefully here.”

 

“I don’t ask to imply you’ll be put out if you wanted to stay here, but you’re too big for the sofa and it’s not like we have anything else for you to sleep on.” Sakura sounded very level when she told him that.

 

Okay, that made him feel a bit better. “I’ll order a bed, then. In the meantime, I’m fine with the sofa cushions and the floor.”

 

Sakura gave a bouncy nod. “That’ll be good for the future too.”

 

Karin hummed in agreement before saying. “But now I wonder where you were last night. Since you want to stay here for the rest of the week.” Well, she and Sakura know where he was or at the very least can guess so this was just Karin being cheeky.

 

Simple. “With Naruto.”

 

“His place?”

 

He hummed as his response. Wouldn’t be a lie; the apartment is Naruto’s place.

 

Sakura was clapping her hands with Sarada as she asked, “You and him talking ran long?”

 

Karin added soon after, “Yeah, what did you two end up doing all night?”

 

Fucked and cried. Then talked and cried and fucked. Again. Repeatedly.

 

“Talk.”

 

Well, it was a version of the truth, he’ll give himself that one. Progress!

 

“Not buying it, but okay, don’t tell us.” Sakura said mostly to Karin, who shrugged in response to her.

 

Seriously?

 

“You’ve got to be kidding. What else would we do?”

 

They both shrugged. “You were out so long and didn’t come home until late today. Of course it had to be something besides talking.” Karin pointed out.

 

“I wouldn’t put it past you two to get a drink or two or go off sparring.” Sakura added. “Though you aren’t the drinking type.”

 

He wanted to roll his eyes. “It got late. We fell asleep. Talked more this morning,” among other things, “then went to a meeting with Kakashi and his aids.”

 

They dropped it after that, but Sasuke could tell that it was more out of tiring of the subject than of satisfaction with his answer.

 

Sarada reached out her arms for Karin, who took her happily from Sakura. “Hi sweet girl.” she cooed.

 

“Hi mommy.” The small child said back. Karin smiled brightly and kissed Sarada’s cheek, to which she responded to by giggling.

 

For a while Sasuke just watched the mother and daughter interact. Karin was so happy, all smiles and kisses and excited expressions given to her baby, and Sarada ate it up, enjoying the attention.

 

One would find it very sweet. He was glad his daughter was so well loved by her mother.

 

“Sleepy,” the child said while palming at Karin’s face. “sleepy.”

 

“You want to take a nap, sweet girl?”

 

Sarada nodded. Karin stood with her in her arms and swayed from side to side slowly. “You can take a nap, then, okay?”

 

“Mommy too.”

 

He saw Karin’s eyes become half lidded in her smile. “I can nap with you.” She cast them a look before turning back to look at the small toddler in her arms. “Can you say ‘bye bye’ to mama and papa?”

 

The child looked at Sakura and said, “Bye mama,” opening and closing her hand in a makeshift wave, looking at him next and adding, “bye papa.” She waved at him as well.

 

“We’ll be in the bedroom. It’s her nap time anyway.” Karin started humming as she walked around the corner away from them.

 

There was a beat of silence before Sakura spoke. “It’s cruel.”

 

All Sasuke could do was raise an eyebrow and tilt his head a bit to the side.

 

“Her work takes her away and she’s gone for long spans of time. Karin is leaving tomorrow, I believe to go to Ishigakure for a couple of years to research at a hospital but Sarada enjoys her so much.”

 

“Karin is her mother.”

 

“And she loves Sarada so much.”

 

“Sarada is her daughter.”

 

“And I think that I love Karin.”

 

He fell silent at the and looked Sakura in the eyes.

 

Very interesting development.

 

“You’re unsure?”

 

Sakura shook her head then shrugged. “I’ve only been in puppy love before. Nonsensical and overwhelming. But Karin is- she’s so bright and gorgeous and mesmerizing , Sasuke. She makes me happy just looking at her play and dance with Sarada or hearing her sing some lullaby from her home country that I’ve never heard or talk about some experiments she’s doing with some medicines. I love her.”

 

Wow.

 

“You’ve been together a few months.”

 

“It feels longer.”

 

This was really interesting to Sasuke. He guessed he was under the impression that what they had was something smaller and more simple.

 

How desperate though serious Sakura sounded painted the picture well.

 

And he supported it.

 

“Karin doesn’t have family, Sasuke.”

 

Fucking hell- Karin! He hoped she didn’t tell Sakura her heritage. That would just make everything (more) complicated (than it already happened to be).

 

“Did she tell you what happened?”

 

Sakura shrugged. “Wasn’t much at all to tell. She’s of no name and drifting from Land to Land.”

 

He hummed in response.

 

“All of her relatives are dead.” This he knew, but Sakura was under the impression that he didn’t. He nodded.

 

“She said she can count on her hand how many friends she has. This poor woman has lost so much and if she wants one she has to make her own family and she has, with me and Sarada,” she paused to release a breath.

 

“And me.” Sasuke added during the silence.

 

It was reflexive. He didn’t even know if he meant that but it came out with a tumble, the clumsiness masked by the solidity of his voice.

 

Sakura’s eyes widened and she nodded. “And you.” The laugh she released seemed to being freeing for her, as her shoulders relaxed and her face smoothed out into a humorous look. “Funny little family we got here, huh?”

 

A flighty father, his (that happened to turn into everyone’s) daughter, his daughter’s mother, the daughter’s mother’s girlfriend also known as the father’s wife.

 

He almost couldn’t believe that after so long he was sitting in front of someone and referring to them as family. Everything about it felt both weird and correct.

 

“Definitely.”