Sasuke returned to Konoha with Naruto and Sakura, a heavy weight in his heart that felt like betrayal. Konoha was the reason he was all alone, the reason Naruto was all alone, the reason everyone in it was kind of alone.
He didn’t quite know where he fit in now that he was back. Sakura patched up his arm and healed him to the best of her ability, a hopeful gleam in her eyes. He couldn’t look at them, they were too much for his brain to handle. Her voice was too gentle and understanding, begging for the boy she knew years ago to return to her. He knew that, deep down, Sakura understood that that boy would never come back; he’d been destroyed long ago with no hope of recovery.
When he walked out of the hospital and into what used to be the Uchiha compound, he felt the weight in his heart sink lower. His home was gone. His family was gone. He was gone. If he could have, he’d have the decency to cry, to mourn his family once more. But in place of tears was a dry emptiness. He’d have to find another place to live, he supposed.
Dirt shifted behind him. He didn’t have to look to see who it was.
“I thought I’d find you here,” Naruto whispered. He took his place standing next to Sasuke in the ruins of his home. “We can rebuild it.”
“They were just houses,” Sasuke said, though he didn’t really mean it. They were much more than that, but not to anyone but him.
“That’s not what I meant.”
Sasuke looked at Naruto, finally. He had dark circles under his eyes and blood staining his clothes. The stub of flesh where his arm used to be was wrapped in the same bandages Sasuke wore. There was a softness to his face that Sasuke couldn’t hate. It wasn’t the pity or sadness everyone looked at him with years ago. It was understanding.
No matter what Sasuke felt toward Naruto, he knew no one else understood his loneliness the way he did. Naruto had grown up without a family, hated by everyone who knew who he was, what he was. It was a different tone of loneliness than Sasuke’s, who’d had his family taken from him a million times over, who was adored by people who didn’t know who he really was, what he’d really been through.
When it was too much to keep his gaze, Sasuke dropped his eyes to the dirt. “I can’t revive my clan. Any children I’d have wouldn’t deserve to have a father like me.”
“Well, not right now. You’re allowed to take time to figure yourself out.” Naruto reached up to wipe sweat from his forehead. “I think the first order of business is finding out where we’re gonna live. Baby steps,” he chuckled.
Naruto found a quiet flat on the outskirts of the village and, with a nervous smile, invited Sasuke to live with him until they’d rebuilt some of the Uchiha compound. To Sasuke’s surprise, living with Naruto was peaceful. They both woke around sunrise and sat at the kitchen table in companionable silence as Sasuke sipped his tea and Naruto slurped instant ramen. They each went about doing their own business each day, Naruto going to help rebuild buildings and sit in meetings, Sasuke sitting in the flat unsure of his own destiny - Tsunade and the elders were still deliberating on what to do with him. When Naruto got home, they sat down for dinner that Sasuke would throw together with whatever they had in the fridge. Then, they went to their respective rooms, pretending they could sleep.
When Sasuke was alone in the flat, he often let his mind wander. What was next? What would his fate be? Would he be forced into being a ninja again? Would he be executed? He figured the latter would be more realistic, but he didn’t know what to think anymore. His mind drifted often to darker things, like Itachi’s horrifying truths and the pains of being utterly, truly alone.
Right about the time Sasuke would slip into the deep corners of his depression, Naruto would open the door with a smile and a bag of groceries for Sasuke to cook with or a handful of flowers from Ino’s shop. Then, Naruto would fill the silence and Sasuke’s brain would settle into complacency at the ups and downs of Naruto’s deep voice. Sometimes, between looking at the stove and focusing on Naruto’s stories, he would catch Naruto letting his eyes linger. Softness overtook the blue of his irises and his smile resembled that of a drunkard. He never knew what to do with it, so he turned away without pointing anything out, focusing on the meal.
“You know, Sasuke,” Naruto mumbled through a mouthful of homemade ramen, “this turned out better than I was expecting.”
Sasuke scoffed. “I know how to cook noodles, idiot.”
With a curl to his lips, Naruto amended, “I meant us. Living together.”
And Sasuke had to agree.
There were often nights where Sasuke couldn’t lay in his bed and pretend to rest. His head filled with too many thoughts, too many memories – or worse, dreams. He had to escape his room and get out somehow. Usually, this meant wrenching open the window of the living room and gulping in fresh air and the quiet chirp of crickets.
One of those nights, Sasuke burst from his room only to find Naruto already at the window, incense burning in the corner of the room. The air was filled with a soft smokey smell, oddly sweet, and Sasuke felt it in his lungs. Naruto straddled the windowpane, eyes gentle and unfocused on the night sky, but Sasuke knew he was aware of his company. Sasuke stalked toward him and sat on the floor by his feet, leaning his head against the wall.
After a moment of silence, Naruto whispered, “Sometimes…in my dreams, I never save you.” His words echo in Sasuke’s mind, throb at his heart. “Or anyone, really.” Naruto finally turned his head to look Sasuke in the eyes.
“Dreams aren’t real,” Sasuke replied. He wished he had it in his heart to call him an idiot, to tell him to go back to bed and forget this nonsense. Sasuke knew it wasn’t nonsense, though, and he wasn’t in the business of pretending. He never had been. “In my dreams, my clan is still alive. Itachi is with me and he’s at peace. But even before I wake up, I know it isn’t true.”
“I never realize I’m dreaming. It all feels so real. It’s all stuff that’s happened before.”
Sasuke thinks of all the people Naruto hadn’t been able to save – Jiraiya, Neji, almost the whole village at one point, and, for the longest time, Sasuke himself. It was hard to think of these as failures when he looked at Naruto, he’d never felt like Naruto was a failure in the first place. “You’ve saved more than anyone I’ve ever met.” And he didn’t just mean people.
Naruto looked at him for a long moment. The air was tense, but not. It was filled with a thick something, but it wasn’t unpleasant or uncomfortable. It was new, strange, but welcome. Naruto clenched his hands in his sleep pants before sliding to the floor in front of Sasuke so they were at eye level. He reached forward for Sasuke’s hand, lax in the cradle of his crossed legs, and linked their fingers together loosely.
The touch was new, too. It tingled down Sasuke’s spine, something he hadn’t felt in many years. A touch of kindness, of understanding. Of love. Something beneath his skin buzzed at the contact and he felt so out of his element. No amount of girls chasing him as a child could have prepared him for the feeling that Naruto’s touch brought to his chest, the way Naruto’s eyes didn’t look away from Sasuke for a second, the way his mouth parted in the moonlight.
Suddenly, Sasuke blurted out, “I’ve never felt this before.” He’d meant to say he’d never done this before. His stupid, stupid mouth.
Naruto understood, though. With a kind smile, he whispered, “I’ve been feeling this for years.”
They both leaned into each other, breathing into each other’s mouths and trembling at the touch of lips. Sasuke felt his heart stutter with nerves and he felt like a kid again. He supposed he was a kid, but he’d never truly felt like one. Now, he couldn’t stop his hands from shaking as they gripped Naruto’s shirt, couldn’t stop his eyes from fluttering closed as Naruto coaxed his lips into relaxed movement.
Sasuke supposed he’d felt this for years, too.