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A Crown of Peonies and Primrose

Chapter Text


There was nothing about Konoha as a village specifically that had inspired Sasuke to return.  He didn’t particularly like people.  And Konoha was fairly populated when it came to cities.  It was perhaps the biggest of the hidden villages.  Packed to the brim with civilians and ninja alike.

It was always busy. There were people everywhere.  In the streets, judging, staring, shouting.  And despite the sheer number of them, the community somehow remained close knit, in the way the residents in a small town knew everyone and everything that was going on.  They gossiped, spread rumours.  And on Sasuke’s first days back, some three years ago now, it had been absolute torture for him listening to those voices whispering in every corner.  It felt like his skin was crawling at all moments, the way he knew they were talking about him, about his clan, speculating about everything that had happened and whether or not any of it was actually true. 

Not that it was any of their business.

And yet, Sasuke actually preferred the rumour mongers to those who pitied him.  He absolutely despised the sorrowful looks that sometimes followed him through the streets.  The sad smiles on merchants’ faces as they handed him his bags and change.  He didn’t need their pity.  After all, none of it came when it actually mattered, as Konoha disrespected his clan and pushed them to the outskirts of the village.  Or as they were slaughtered in their own homes at the bequest of the council.

Sasuke wasn’t sure he would have even called Konoha home when he first returned.  He certainly didn’t miss the Uchiha compound, with its blood stains, ghosts, and haunted memories that did nothing but keep Sasuke awake at night wishing he had been born in another time, in another place altogether.

Perhaps it was the fact that it really was his only option in regards to becoming a legitimate shinobi that encouraged him to come back.  He couldn’t exactly rise in the ranks to Jounin in any other hidden village.  And while money could be found for missing-nin, if they knew where to look, those clients also weren’t the sort Sasuke had any desire to work for.  And the missions they needed filled weren’t of much interest to him either. 

Sasuke also could have argued it was duty that made him return to the village.  The promise to revive his clan one day, to respect his brother’s dying words.  Or perhaps the memory of his mother and father in those days prior to their deaths.    

He knew better than that though. 

It was actually the memory of something else entirely.  And in retrospect, he should have made the connection ages ago, named it for what it was instead of pushing it to the side like a coward.  This…feeling he had, deep in his chest.  An ache that swelled into something strange and warm whenever he thought of him.

His laugh, boisterous and loud, filled with joy.  His seemingly carefree attitude masking the same feelings of loss and loneliness that Sasuke wore on his sleeve. His golden blond hair, like a halo that framed an angelic face, one that nearly always sported a smile bright as can be.

He was drawn like a moth to a flame.

Sasuke had always been fonder of the night.  The darkness was far less harsh on his eyes, and it was easier to hide beneath the cover of shadows. It made sense for a shinobi to find strength after sunset, to thrive in a time when it was easier to kill.  He liked the quiet that came with evening, the subtle silence one could find in nature, standing before a lake beneath the stars with nothing but the sound of crashing waves to interrupt his thoughts.

And yet for some reason, he couldn’t stop staring into the sun.

Chapter Text


Naruto’s grin was almost blinding as he flashed his teeth at Sasuke, mouth open wide, smile spread impossibly far across his face. His happiness was infectious, and Sasuke couldn’t help but lift the corner of his lips in response, even though his attention was mostly occupied elsewhere.  They were on a mission, trying to fit in amongst the civilians of a distant Kingdom called Aomi.  It was a harbour port trade hub, packed full of merchants, many with goods for sale from all over the world.  Even Sasuke might have taken more interest had he not been busy, his eyes constantly scanning the crowd for anything suspicious.

The castle was built against the water, its courtyard facing towards the cliffs that overlooked the city to the north.  Boats were docked along nearly the entire coastline as visitors and guests started arriving en masse to witness the upcoming celebrations. In six days’ time, the princess of Aomi would be wed to the prince of Kokuyōseki.  It would be a glorious event.  A political union of two of the wealthiest and most powerful Kingdoms in these parts. The biggest the land had seen in decades.

Unfortunately, that also made the future bride and groom targets for potential attacks.

There had been whisperings of disagreement regarding the upcoming union for quite some time.  And the King of Aomi suspected something foul was afoot.  When handwritten warnings started arriving he had known the risks were no longer a simple matter, but figured they were easily handled by his own personal guard. However, after several attempts on his daughter’s life, including a particularly close call with a poisoned gift of wine, he could no longer ignore them.

It was clear that an attack on the actual wedding day was likely.  The King naturally did not want to risk the life of his daughter.  The easiest route would have been to call off the engagement entirely, but that alternative had the potential to lead to war between the two Kingdoms.  An agreement had been wrought, and the wedding must occur, so instead he’d sent a hefty amount of money to Konoha, the strongest of the hidden villages, to ask for their protection during the event. 

It was an S ranked mission. Seven weeks long, including six for travel, there and back, and one week to prepare for the events leading up to the big day. The location was a nightmare for finding anything out of place. With so many people packed so closely together, it was virtually impossible to spot something amiss.  It would be easy for any competent ninja or even a petty assassin to infiltrate such an event, and they had no idea who or what they were looking for exactly.  The pure scope and possible consequences were enough to have it listed as top priority and greatest risk.

Sasuke’s eyes scanned the crowd quickly, catching nothing out of the ordinary.  These first days would be used more to infiltrate themselves, and get a better idea of the area should an unexpected battle occur.  It was impossible to know who was responsible for the threats, so they remained anonymous, even to the royal family, integrating into society like regular citizens. Sasuke deactivated his Sharingan for the time being, satisfied that there were no imminent threats, and looked back towards his lively companion.

Naruto was wearing a half face mask, something he’d taken to doing on their more public missions, as his face and name had become rather recognizable even in distant lands.  A bijuu was a hot commodity amongst traders and missing-nin, even enemy villages wishing to gain power over the rest of the world.  None too few jinchuuriki had gone mysteriously missing in the past few years, likely to groups such as the Akatsuki that were still roaming here and there.  Naruto wasn’t exactly easy pickings, but he was still at risk, more so than most of them.  He’d had one too many close calls to take excessive gambles so far from home.  Not to mention that he would give away their mission should anyone connect him with Konoha.

The rest of them were better able to blend in without worry.  Even Sasuke’s face wasn’t all that recognizable outside of Konoha.  He kept to the shadows better than most and was no longer listed as a missing-nin.  He was good at going unseen, not like Naruto who had a tendency to stand out.

Today’s mask sported hand painted clouds on a bright blue background, with little jewels inlaid in spirals across Naruto’s nose and temples.  He’d picked it up early that morning from one of the booths they’d seen near their lodgings.  It looked good on him, matched the ornate pale blue yukata he had wrapped about his form, and he fit right in with the crowd, even with his overzealous energy.

Sasuke was dressed in somewhat traditional attire as well, though his robes were draped more loosely over his shoulders than Naruto, as he preferred the freedom of movement that granted him in a fight. His arsenal of weapons was carefully hidden beneath the layers of cloth, but Kusanagi remained strapped to his side, plain to see.  He was disguised to look more like a wandering sellsword. It was believable for Naruto to have one accompanying him on a supposed trip to a foreign nation.  They were common in these parts, where hidden villages were scarce and leaders were born of royalty and wealth.  Kings and Queens instead of Kage or daimyō.  Unfortunately, the threats that sprouted from the shinobi nations reached far and wide.  Wherever money and power was to be found, there would be work for missing-nin or villages with the strength to control it.

Sasuke looked down at Naruto’s bright head of hair.  Close together as they were their difference in height was ever apparent.  It wasn’t so much that Naruto was excessively short, but rather that Sasuke had not stopped growing, and he could easily see the way the locks of spiky blond hair caught the wind and twisted to and fro as they walked. Naruto skipped slightly in his steps, clearly excited to finally be doing something other than travelling and camping in the woods.  Sasuke couldn’t blame him.  Even he had grown tired of sleeping atop dirt. 

To their left, Sasuke spotted Shikamaru leaning at the entrance to an alleyway. His eyes took in everything quicker and more carefully than any other shinobi Sasuke knew.  Even without the Sharingan Shikamaru could calculate hundreds of possibilities in a fraction of a second.  Shino was not far away, slinking further into the alley, likely to plant his insects in the area.  By nightfall they would have complete access to conversations from every nook and cranny in the village. Though he couldn’t see them, he knew Sakura and Neji were set up along the coastline, near the ship dockings, monitoring every boat and person that left and arrived, looking for anyone with a particular affinity for chakra.

Kiba and Chouji walked together much like him and Naruto, covering ground from the opposite direction until they would ‘meet’ at the centre fountain square. Their group was uncharacteristically large for a typical S rank mission.  But it was a complex one, and they needed to cover a lot of ground.

Naruto stopped suddenly, bending over at his waist and startling Sasuke as he came to an immediate halt. It was only Sasuke’s superior reflexes that allowed him to pause on command and retain his balance, like he’d known Naruto would stop there all along.  A vendor was selling gaudy mirrors with intricate golden borders, gems inlaid in decorative patterns and Naruto had paused to peer into one of them.  He tilted his head to the side and grinned at Sasuke’s reflection inquisitively.  To an untrained eye it probably seemed like Naruto was rather distracted by the items for sale, but Sasuke knew he was just better than most at pretending to be normal.

He’d changed so much since they were children.  He’d mastered many techniques that would be considered impossible to anyone else due to his unbelievable chakra stores and sheer force of will.  Training often with Sasuke had quickened his reflexes and improved his taijutsu as well.  His unique relationship with his bijuu also provided him with a strength uniquely his own.  Sasuke knew that behind that carefree façade, he was a force to be reckoned with, entirely deserving of his rank of Jounin.

“Hey, Sasuke,” Naruto muttered, his fingers fiddling idly with the edges of the mirror.

“Hn.”

“Remember Haku and Zabuza?” He asked.  Sasuke blinked a few times in silence.  How could he forget? They had been their first real experience into the world of shinobi.  At the time he’d even been somewhat scared, too young, too inexperienced. He had always understood the consequences of becoming a shinobi debatably better than his teammates, and yet, finally being a part of a real battle…was shocking all the same.

It had been their first true victory too, despite the bittersweet ending. Haku and Zabuza had been devoted to each other, though too stubborn to admit it while alive. It was a tragic fate.  One that could have been avoided, in another time, under different circumstances.  Like so many parts of their history.

“What about them?” Sasuke wondered, eyeing Naruto curiously.  The blond laughed lightly and rubbed at the back of his head.  Even through the mask Sasuke could see his eyes squinting tightly into little crescents.

Naruto shrugged slightly, his gaze downcast when he spoke, “I was just thinking, we kinda look like them a bit.  A wandering swordsman with a masked companion.”  Naruto’s gaze shifted back towards himself then, and he pursed his lips slightly before standing and walking away. “I’m pretty ugly compared to Haku though.  And you’re stronger than Zabuza ever was,” he said with a chuckle. Sasuke raised an eyebrow at both the insult and compliment.  How strange.

He glanced towards Naruto, noticing his grin had somewhat lessened while lost in the memory and Sasuke couldn’t help but think he was attractive, in his own way.  It was odd how easily Naruto could tear himself down like that. Completely opposite to how he normally bragged about being the best at just about everything. Sasuke nearly opened his mouth to say so, but snapped it shut when he realized how ridiculous such a thought would sound, especially coming from him.

“Man, they were…they were so strong to us back then,” Naruto added, looking up at the sky as he reminisced.

“Hn.  I expect you won’t be throwing yourself in front of me to save my life anytime soon,” Sasuke drawled, recalling how Haku’s last moments had been spent protecting the swordsman from a death that found him eventually regardless. How wasteful. To his surprise, Naruto stiffened instead of laughing it off as he’d expected he might. 

“I…would still die for you Sasuke.  Without question,” he spoke with certainty. Quietly. In that serious tone he fell into every once and again. It never failed to throw Sasuke off kilter.

“Fool,” Sasuke whispered, though he couldn’t bring himself to say anything more. His hand gripped the hilt of his blade tightly and it clattered in its scabbard with the movement. Wouldn’t he do the same?  He’d been ready to, back then, when Haku had lunged for Naruto’s body. He would have died for him then. If anything, they were closer now than they had been before. They had a mutual respect for one another, after years of fighting each other and overcoming enemies both together and apart.

“Yeah, I know,” Naruto said. He was smiling again, though it looked a bit forced, and Sasuke could imagine the creases that would have appeared between his eyebrows had they not been covered by the mask. Sasuke’s heart skipped, his hand suddenly slick with sweat, and he wiped it discreetly on his robe before gripping his sword hilt once again. What was wrong with him?

“Sasuke!  Look!” Naruto spoke up suddenly, his smile once again genuine. He was pointing excitedly towards a frog necklace, and he hopped closer, bending down until his nose almost touched the jewellery. His eyes nearly crossed as he peered at it carefully. “Isn’t it cute?”

“Sure, for an idiot like you,” Sasuke teased.

Naruto turned towards him, pouting dramatically before punching him in the arm lightly. “Bastard,” he spat, before stomping over to the next booth. Within half a minute he was already engrossed in whatever new and shiny items they had for sale.

Sasuke rubbed at his arm with a scowl before glancing back at the necklace more carefully. There was nothing special about it. It didn’t even look expensive. Just a simple trinket with a dorky little frog face charm hanging off a cheap chain. It was probably designed for a child, and not meant to appeal to a grown man at all. It screamed of Naruto though. Sasuke reached out his fingers, touching the silver charm lightly. Before he knew what he was doing, his mouth had opened and the words slipped out unbidden.

“How much?”


Their first day exploring Aomi had proven rather unproductive. They hadn’t found signs of any groups or individuals looking to cause trouble. At least not outside of the ordinary gamblers and drunkards one found amongst civilians. There were a few miscellaneous townsfolk discontented about the union between the two Kingdoms, but for the most part, everyone seemed excited for the possibilities of long term peace and trade. 

It wasn’t that surprising. He expected they wouldn’t find anything until closer to the wedding, or perhaps not at all until right up to the event, if the perpetrators were any good at their job.

Shino had managed to set up a network of insects throughout the entire village though, and they had a firm layout of the land.  Shikamaru was already drawing a full diagram and trying to come up with possible locations they should pay particular attention to, marking out key spots where the royal families would be and at what times. The princess, for the most part, was being kept within the security of the castle, but in a few days’ time the prince would arrive by boat, and she would be more exposed to attacks from that point on.

But Sasuke’s attention was elsewhere from the mission for the time being. For whatever reason, he couldn’t keep his gaze from drifting towards Naruto, who was already tucked away to sleep at Sasuke’s side. It seemed that all of the energy he expelled during the day had finally caught up to him. He was snoring softly, chest rising and falling along with the steady rhythm of his breaths. He was relaxed, the tension completely gone from his face. He looked…soft like this. Nothing at all like the high ranking shinobi he was.

Sasuke frowned slightly, suddenly recalling their conversation from earlier in the day. It had been such a flippant comment.  Something that really shouldn’t have stuck with Sasuke the way it had. But he couldn’t get that word out of his head.

Ugly.

The dobe thought he was…ugly. 

Why did that thought bother him so much?

It didn’t really matter did it?  Sasuke had no reason to care about such a thing. Naruto probably said it as a joke, to lighten the mood. Except self-deprecation wasn’t typically a part of Naruto’s vocabulary. He was overwhelmingly positive, even when he ought not to be. So Sasuke could only conclude that Naruto though it was true.   

And honestly, that bothered him. A lot. Because Sasuke didn’t think Naruto was ugly at all. Brash, sure. Careless, almost always. But not ugly. And quite frankly, he wanted to strangle the person who had put such a thought in his mind.

He was perhaps not quite as slender as Haku, his hair neither silky nor straight. But Naruto’s twisted definition of beauty certainly didn’t match up with Sasuke’s own. He was a strong fighter, compact and lithe. He was a bit clumsy on his feet, but he made up for it with his unpredictability, determination, and pure chakra power. Sasuke took a moment to really study his friend’s features without the dobe’s questioning eyes upon him for once.

Sasuke had never seen anyone else that looked quite like him before. His hair was a bolder blond than Ino’s, and it had grown out a bit, fell against his face sometimes when he was at rest. He’d have to start tying it back regularly if he let it keep growing. Sasuke recalled seeing it braided on one or two occasions, close to his scalp on just one side. Sakura’s touch likely, or maybe Hinata’s. Though right now it was loose and a bit mussed from sleep. A spiky tuft was strewn across his left eye and Sasuke brushed it aside, watching as pale eyelashes fluttered against Naruto’s cheeks. He knew that hidden beneath his lids were bright blue eyes, the colour of the sea. 

His nose was…cute, one might say, though Sasuke grimaced at the choice of word. It was what he imagined an elf’s might look like, if they were real. The whisker marks on his face were certainly a unique feature. One only Naruto could possibly have. Sasuke always found them intriguing, how they moved with his expressions, almost like a real animal’s whiskers might. In his sleep a fang was showing slightly, pressing down into his lower lip as he shared in the Kyuubi’s dreams. Sasuke had the urge to touch it, to press his fingers into the fullness of Naruto’s lip and spread the bit of visible shine across rose tinted flesh.

Sasuke’s pulse quickened and he reddened slightly when he realized just what he had been thinking about. He pulled his hand away swiftly and faltered, fingers shaking at his side. Had anyone seen? It took him a moment to calm down his racing heart, but eventually he stood and walked over to the wall nearest the window as he breathed in and out deeply.

“Something on your mind Uchiha?” Shino asked, shifting his legs slightly to make room for him on the sill. Sasuke sat facing him, one leg propped up on the ledge as he leaned back against the frame.

“Nothing of value,” he lied, and he made the mistake of locking gazes with the other man.

“If it was not of value it would not bother you so,” Shino declared. It sounded almost like an accusation, but Sasuke knew it was just his precise way of speaking. He was one of many people Sasuke had never predicted feeling comfortable amongst. He respected Shino from their days at the academy. He wasn’t as annoying as most of his classmates had been back then. He kept to himself for the most part, kept to his studies.  But they had never really interacted prior to Sasuke’s return.

Sasuke still didn’t converse all that regularly with the other nin of the village, but it hadn’t stopped him from forming bonds of sorts with several of them. Naruto’s fault, mostly. He had a way of dragging Sasuke along to events he otherwise would have avoided, and he made it easier to mingle with people Sasuke never would have bothered to. Shino, and the others on this mission, were among the few Sasuke could now call trusted friends.

“No one would shame you for showing emotions occasionally,” Shino stated after a lengthy pause. Sasuke clenched his teeth together and looked outside. So he had seen his lapse in judgment after all. Sasuke wondered exactly how long he had been watching for.

“Emotions are weak,” Sasuke insisted. It was a thought ingrained in him from an early age. The words were more a habit than anything else. But old habits die hard. 

“Tch, I used to think like that too. That it was all just troublesome. But I know better now,” Shikamaru interjected. He was stretching his legs and shoulders out as he leaned back away from his maps.  He put his arms up above him against the wall and propped his head against his hands.

“Our bonds are what make us strong.  Without them, what reason is there to fight?” Shikamaru added.

Sasuke let out a quick snort, “To be stronger,” he said. Like it was the most obvious answer in the world. Because to him, it was.

“Why? Why do you want to be stronger?” Shikamaru asked, his lids half closed as he peered at Sasuke out of the corner of his eyes.

That gave him some pause. 

“To win fights,” he said, with slightly less confidence than before.

“Aye, but for what reason,” Shikamaru pushed.  Sasuke scowled, annoyed with the seemingly endless series of questions. Shino chuckled quietly, and Shikamaru smirked, while Sasuke looked between the two in suspicion, like they knew something he did not.

“It still stuns me how someone so well read and trained could be so very clueless.” It was Neji who spoke this time, and Sasuke glared darkly at him across the room. Had everyone in the damn room seen him fawning over Naruto’s face? How humiliating.

“Think, Sasuke,” Shikamaru whispered. “Who do you fight for? Surely not just yourself. You have no need for revenge any longer. You are already the strongest among us. You will likely always be so.”

The way he could admit such things so easily never failed to surprise Sasuke.  He knew he was strong.  And he was confident he could win against everyone in the village in a fair fight, with the exception of perhaps one other, but he never thought he’d hear any of them admit it to his face. Strength had always been one of his greatest prides.

It was as though Shikamaru didn’t give a shit about such menial information.

No, he doesn’t, Sasuke realized. Shikamaru was a tactician. His strength came from knowing others' strengths, possessing the ability to put them in an optimal position to complete a mission with the greatest consideration and least loss of life. He didn’t care who was strongest. He cared that each person used their strengths accordingly to achieve a goal.

“You could argue you fight to remain so, but surely there is more behind that drive of yours. A reason to take on S class missions. A reason to return to Konoha at all.” The comment hung in the air, startling Sasuke into silence. Shikamaru opened his eyes then and stared up at him, his face devoid of any expression.

It had been several years now since Sasuke had returned, yet the guilt and pain that came with those memories had not yet passed. Konoha had forgiven him surprisingly easily. There would always be those who harboured anger towards him, and the name Uchiha, but generally speaking, he felt a welcome part of the village now. In some ways, it was almost like he had never left at all. Again, likely thanks to Naruto. His gaze shifted once more to where he laid, legs spread eagle beneath his coverings. His toes poked out from beneath the edges of his blankets, and he had rolled slightly onto his side, his hands pressed up in front of his face endearingly.

As his thoughts wandered, Sasuke fiddled with the trinket in his pocket. He wondered why he had purchased the necklace at all. It had been such an impulse. At the time, he had imagined giving it to Naruto and watching his face break out into that stupid grin he was so fond of. The mere thought made his heart rate quicken, and suddenly, he knew the answer. Naruto was the only one that had ever had such an effect on him. Given him a desire to be stronger, to be better, to be…kinder even.

He hadn’t returned to Konoha for himself. He certainly didn’t fight for himself. Not any longer. All of it had been for him. So that he could see him again, fight beside him again, feel that thrill he only felt when sparring with him.

“For those we…I…care for,” Sasuke admitted.

Shikamaru nodded slightly, shifting down so that he was lying flat against the ground, clearly ready to sleep. “Indeed,” he said in agreement.

The room was mostly silent after that.  Nothing but the sound of snoring and shifting blankets as the others slept or pretended to.

“I’m not the strongest,” Sasuke muttered. Shino turned his head slightly towards him, waiting for whatever else he meant to say, while the only indication that Shikamaru had heard him was a subtle shifting of his brow. “He is,” Sasuke said, lifting his chin in Naruto’s direction. That he could admit it now so openly was a shock in itself. At one time, the mere possibility that Naruto was stronger than him would have made him feel worthless. But now…there was a part of him that took pride in Naruto’s strength oddly enough. He took pride in knowing him, in being respected by him.  In being able to hold his own in a fight against him. He…wanted people to see Naruto for how strong he was.

“If you tell him I said that I’ll kill you,” Sasuke added as an afterthought and Shikamaru snorted and rolled onto his side.

 “Ch…troublesome. As if I want to listen to him blabber on about it for days,” he drawled. Sasuke’s mouth twitched and he let his head fall back against the windowsill, gaze shifting to look out into the winding pathway between their building and the next. It was nearly silent outside, the merchants all packed up for the night, and the only people roaming the streets at this time were miscreants and those seeking not so innocent entertainment.

It was then that Sasuke noticed the concentration on Shino’s face. His hand was pressed against the wooden frame, a faint glow about his fingers as various bugs crawled over his knuckles. He’d been listening for information from his swarm of insects for hours now, taking in conversations from all over the city, constantly searching for keywords or unusual interactions. He didn’t look outwardly bothered, but it was likely the day had started wearing on him.

“I’ll take the first watch, you should rest,” Sasuke said. Shino glanced at him, shaking out his arm before nodding in thanks. He settled down atop his futon in less than a minute, asleep the instant his eyes closed behind his goggles. Sasuke envied him that particular skill. The others were in various states of rest. Shikamaru was turned away, pressed up against the wall, his arms now folded over his chest, but you never really could tell for sure with him. He took a quick glance around the rest of the room, noticing Sakura’s soft snores, the way Kiba and Chouji slept practically on top of one another, having both eaten themselves into a coma, with Akamaru curled around their feet. Neji was quiet and unassuming, nearest the door, still as a board. His gaze lingered on Naruto’s form the longest, softening just slightly as he watched his brow twitch in his sleep.

All of them, but especially him, were something for him to protect.


The docks were a sight to see, and Sasuke almost wished they had time to really appreciate the view. Given the chance, he would have liked to rent time on one of the tall ships, sail out to sea and visit some of the smaller islands to the South. The water was sparkling beneath the sunlight, as the Umi no Hoshi moored just off the coast. From their distance he could see many figures climbing into a smaller boat to sail ashore. Several spectators had arrived to watch the arrival of the prince, lining the water’s edge just behind the rows of royal guards. They were cheering, and clapping, excited to welcome one of their future leaders.

There were children skipping down the boardwalk, handing out flowers to each person nearby, ready too, for the arrival of the royal family of Kokuyōseki. Sasuke’s body was tense as his gaze followed the princess and her escort, now waiting at the edge of the dock to greet her future spouse. The area was wide open, an easy place for an attack, and the others were nearby as well in case someone decided to take advantage of the situation. 

The greetings made were formal, the Chancellor of Aomi taking the lead with introductions, and encouraging the two betrothed to interact. The prince stood stoically, his gaze flittering about, actively avoiding looking anywhere near the princess, while she bowed respectfully and stared at her feet. 

“They don’t look very happy,” Naruto commented, perched at his side on the stone around a circular fountain.

“It’s a political marriage. This is likely the first time they’ve met,” Sasuke explained. He had to agree though, neither of them looked particularly excited for this meeting.

“And they are getting married in three days? That’s…kinda sad,” Naruto mumbled.

“They happen more often than you might think. Even in Konoha,” Sasuke said. His own parents union had been a political one.  They didn’t hate each other. In fact, Sasuke thought they may have even loved each other to a degree, though there had been a stiffness behind their movements when they interacted that had always made him wonder how deep their feelings truly went.

“I don’t think anyone should have to marry someone they don’t love,” Naruto stated. He was pouting, nose scrunched up beneath his mask as he watched the prince and princess stand awkwardly at each other’s sides.

“Even if it meant preventing a war?” Sasuke asked, and Naruto breathed out heavily, glancing at him briefly.

“Surely there must be another way,” he whispered.  He was so idealistic, truly wished for the best for everyone. He sported such a sad expression that Sasuke almost wanted to reach out and comfort him. 

As the royal guard moved into position to escort the prince and princess back to the castle, Sasuke stiffened, taking extra caution to observe the so called civilians nearby. He couldn’t see anything amiss.  He watched as Neji and Sakura linked arms, moving into their position some distance behind the escort. They would be tailing the couple to be until they were out of harm’s way, safely within the castle grounds and beyond the protective wards.

Sasuke relaxed slightly, and nudged Naruto, ushering him towards the boardwalk. The two of them would be monitoring the coastline for the rest of the day. It was a strange feeling, walking side by side in such a beautiful place. Like they weren’t on a mission at all. Naruto was grinning softly, his head tilted up towards the sun. He walked with his eyes closed, enjoying the breeze on the visible parts of his face. The water lapped against the heavy pieces of wood lining the harbour, and a seagull landed on a nearby post, shaking out its wings before twisting its head around to search for a quick meal. Sasuke could imagine it would be a nice location to visit, should they ever get the chance again. It was peaceful.

As he looked out at the water, there was a sudden cry from one of the nearby docked ships, and Sasuke’s eyes widened as he saw the sails on the nearest boat twist, swinging out across the boardwalk and right towards Naruto. Naruto who was still walking without a care in the world.

Sasuke reacted on reflex, grabbing at the back of Naruto’s yukata and yanking him against his chest. Naruto let out a shocked cry, and then the two of them stood there, pressed together, staring up at the ship and crew warily.

“Sorry!” the seaman shouted down at them, saluting as he went about tightening the ropes along the mast more carefully.

“Dobe,” Sasuke hissed. “You almost lost your head.” Naruto flinched as Sasuke’s breath tickled his ear before pulling away and rubbing at the back of his head bashfully. “How can you survive hundreds of S ranked missions only to nearly die because you don’t watch where you walk? Idiot,” Sasuke snapped. Naruto merely smiled at him and tilted his head.

“Well, that’s why I have you.”

Naruto looked so confident in that statement, like he trusted Sasuke with his life enough to let his guard down at any moment. Sasuke snorted. What was he supposed to do with this idiot of a shinobi?

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. Naruto bought them some kind of snack native to these parts, that looked suspect but tasted decent, and they sat on the coastline watching ships of all shapes and sizes pull into the harbour. Normally Sasuke would have been bored by such an assignment, but it had been nice, listening to Naruto tell random stories while he watched his arms flail about and his expressions morph all over the place.

It wasn’t until evening that Sasuke felt a strange itch at the back of his neck. The small hairs stood on end, the way they did when he felt he was being watched. Naruto was looking out to sea, unbothered, so Sasuke twisted just slightly, enough that he could peer in the opposite direction out of the corner of his eyes. He could see a man watching the docks, leaning against a stone façade that decorated the nearby pathways which lead back into the city. He was not particularly interesting to look at, apart from the scar running into his upper lip. In fact, he was altogether normal, dressed drably, though perhaps a bit warm for these parts. And yet…

Sasuke was one second away from activating his sharingan when someone yanked roughly on his sleeve, tugging him nearly right down to the ground. He held in a shout, just barely, and his eyes widened as his gaze met with a child’s giddy expression.

“A gift, to celebrate the upcoming wedding,” the little girl crowed, shoving a rose into his chest. He fumbled it, and then glared at it, as if doing so might make it disappear.

“Oh, thank you,” Naruto said beside him, accepting his own happily.

“Come on Sasuke, don’t be so sour,” Naruto chided. He fixed Sasuke’s robe with a smile, and knocked his flower against Sasuke’s nose, earning a glare for himself as well. They walked out on the pier, and Sasuke rolled his eyes as he twisted the flower between his fingers before idly handing it off to some random woman who was all too eager to accept it.  Naruto hung on to his for a while, eventually tossing it out in the water where it floated atop the gentle waves.

Together they watched the sun set over the sea, leaving a slew of orange and pink hues streaking across the sky. Naruto’s hair blew softly in the water’s edge breeze, the colours of the strands shifting with the changing tints over time. Sasuke studied him intently. He watched as his eyes reflected the sunlight when it disappeared over the horizon, and as it changed to the softer light of the moon.  It was oddly mesmerizing. Sometimes his eyes looked a light bright blue, like the sky on a cloudless day, and other times, they were so deep and dark, like the colour of a bottomless ocean.

Long after the stars appeared in the sky, and the harbour front stilled with the arrival of night, both of them began the hike back to their lodging. It wasn’t until they were walking back that Sasuke remembered about the man. He made a point of directing Naruto past the same stone fixture, but whoever it was, had long since disappeared. Sasuke frowned. Hopefully it was nothing. Though he couldn’t quite push aside his dread.


“Any updates?” Shikamaru questioned as they regrouped the following morning. It had been late when Sasuke and Naruto arrived back the night prior, and everyone with the exception of Neji, who was taking first watch, had already settled in for sleep. Between his turn for watch, and going to bed late, Sasuke felt rather groggy as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and struggled to wake up. Naruto looked just as tired, staring up at the ceiling blankly, his eyes narrowed in disgust. He wasn’t the best at waking up early even after a good rest.

“Nothing on our end, the prince and princess spent the rest of the day in the castle after his arrival,” Sakura said, her gaze almost wistful as she thought about what such a lifestyle must be like.  Chouji and Kiba both shook their head no as well as they sluggishly dressed.

“I did overhear an interesting conversation in the early hours,” Shino muttered, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. “There was nothing concrete, but the Chancellor of Aomi was far from the castle, and particularly concerned.  Sounded like…he needed more of something.”

“He was at the docks all afternoon, didn’t look upset.  Maybe it was last minute wedding preparations?” Neji commented.  Shino paused, tapping his finger against his knee.

“I would have assumed that as well, but…the conversation was rushed, and somewhat distorted, like I was only hearing what they wanted me to hear, and I couldn’t seem to lock down on an exact location even with audio,” Shino mused.

“A jutsu,” Sasuke noted idly.

“I think so.”

“I haven’t sensed any chakra ability from him,” Neji said, his eyebrows lowered in a frown.

“No, but it’s possible he’s working with someone else,” Shikamaru considered. “It could be nothing, but we’ll keep a set of eyes on him at all times just in case. Kiba, can you trail him?”

“No problem!” Kiba said, sporting a thumbs up as Akamaru yipped at his side.

When Shikamaru inquired if anyone had any concerns, Sasuke wondered if he should say anything.  It was nothing really, hardly worth mentioning. But if he didn’t, and it was something…

“I saw a man, at the docks,” Sasuke revealed. Naruto gaped at him, twisting over atop his futon as he stared at him in disbelief.

“What? Teme! You didn’t say anything,” he accused, and Sasuke ignored him.

“He had a scar in his upper lip. Other than that, no distinct features. Dressed fairy normal. Nothing odd about him, just gave me a bad feeling,” Sasuke added.

“Hmm, a scar?  There are hundreds of missing-nin with scars like that.  I’d have to see him to get a better idea,” Shikamaru said. He closed his eyes, clearly trying to recall the various profiles listed within Konoha’s Bingo Book. “Did you follow him?”

“Lost sight too quick,” Sasuke lied. He couldn’t exactly mention that he’d been too distracted by a rose, and the ever-changing colours of Naruto’s hair during a sunset. “It might be nothing.”

“Let’s hope so,” Shikamaru said with a sigh.

Chapter Text


Nothing else unusual happened prior to the day of the big event.  The Chancellor had done little more than escort the couple to be around town, greet guests, and direct the flower children to give away their welcoming gifts. It seemed pretty standard duties for the days leading up to a royal wedding.  The man with the scar, had gone unseen. Kiba and Akamaru attempted to catch a scent from his last known location, but there were too many to choose from and all trails lead to nothing.  Sasuke could feel a coil of anxiety building inside of him.  He wished he knew what to expect. 

The morning of the wedding saw all eight of them pulling on fancier outfits to fit in better amongst the crowd.  They tucked away their weapons as Shikamaru laid down a map and pointed to where they would all be stationed.

“Sasuke, Naruto.  I want you closest to the event.  Should a direct attack occur, your arsenals are the most capable of holding it off.  You’re also the best at working in tandem.  Keep in mind that your mission is to protect the bride and groom first and foremost, but I personally expect you to limit casualties to a minimum.  That means the guests, the royal family, even the guards if you can,” Shikamaru directed. “Any enemies should be kept alive for questioning, unless the threat is too great.”

“Yosh!” Naruto shouted, and he slid his mask into place with a grin.  It was red this time, with orange detailing that matched the robes he’d picked out for this particular day.  Sasuke snorted at the sight.  More often than not they were all forced to wear regulation black on high ranking missions, but of course when he had the chance for a change, he jumped at the opportunity to wear orange. 

“Chouji, I want you guarding the rear exit, to the north.  If the guests are forced to flee, it will be in that direction, through the cliffside pass.  I expect you to protect them best you can unless informed otherwise.  Also keep an eye on those coming in,” Shikamaru said then he turned to look at Neji. “I need your eyes everywhere.  You’ll be patrolling the city.  Report immediately if you see any signs of chakra use, or unusual movement patterns.  Sakura, you’re Neji’s backup.  Follow at a safe distance.  If a medic is required we’ll tell you where.”

Sakura nodded, strapping a small pouch filled with supplies around her waist before she pulled her robes on overtop.  

“Kiba, you’re with me.  We’ll cover the west exit.  If anyone is attempting to make a quick escape, it’ll be that way.  We don’t need to worry about the coastline too much, as that would leave someone far too open to attack, but Shino, you’ll be monitoring just in case.  And if Sasuke and Naruto need backup, you’ll move in.”

Shino made no comment, instead holding out his hand to display several insects. There was a universal groan.  They all knew what was coming next.  Sasuke reached out, grabbing one of the insects and placing it just behind his ear.  He grimaced slightly despite his best efforts as it dug beneath the skin and implanted itself around his auditory nerve. When he opened his eyes, Sakura looked particularly disgusted as she did the same, but truthfully it wasn’t a pleasant feeling for any of them.

Revolting as it was, this particular ability allowed their entire group to communicate with ease, completely unnoticed. Any conversation would be passed along the network, allowing them to easily cover ground and make sure each team member was accounted for.  Shino was invaluable on a mission like this.

“Alright, get to your posts,” Shikamaru commanded.  They placed their hands together, forming a brief circle before leaving the inn and blending in with the crowd.

There were more people than ever, many of them making their way to the courtyard for a good view of the event.  Flower children were in abundance and greeting everyone who passed through the ornate archway, and Naruto squeezed against Sasuke as they eased their way inside.  They didn’t get too close to the front.  Instead climbing up on a stone wall so they could watch from a bit of a distance, and hopefully not stand out.  From the location they had a perfect view of where the ceremony would take place, as well as the archway, and the pathway that lead to the castle.  It was where the princess would begin her walk from.

“Ready?” Naruto asked him, his eyes focused for once as they took in as much as possible.  Sasuke knocked fists with him in answer, observing the altar with extra care.

“The Chancellor’s there, with the royal family,” Naruto commented, and Sasuke looked at him with a grunt before searching the crowd.  There were hundreds of people, all of them dressed in decorative kimono, trying to look their best in front of royalty.  It was when his eyes caught sight of an unusually plain set that he tensed and frowned. 

“Sasuke?”

“It’s him, the man I saw.  There, next to the fountain,” Sasuke said, nodding to the opposite edge of the crowd.  The man was sitting this time, his legs out in front of him, hands clasped between them.  He looked bored.

“He doesn’t look like much of a threat,” Naruto muttered, though he tensed as well, expecting something to happen at any moment.

Everything went silent when the officiant walked up the stone steps and took his place behind a large book propped against a stand. Music started as several minstrels began playing their instruments, signalling the beginning of the ceremony.

The groom walked in first, looking stiff, and somewhat pale, like he might pass out at any moment.  It was clear he thought his life was being signed away.  And well, it was, to some extent.  He took his place on the altar, nearly tripping on the final step, standing rigidly as he stared blankly ahead.  His mother walked up and kissed him on the cheek quickly before taking her place to the side next to Kokuyōseki’s  King.

When the bride appeared, distantly at first, walking down the long pathway, even Sasuke had to admit it was like something out of a fairy-tale.  She wore a long gown that fluttered with the breeze, and flower petals floated from her bouquet, drifting in the air about her form.  The crowd was unbelievably still and quiet, staring in awe at her beauty as she approached the steps and began to climb.  Even the groom appeared a bit shocked by the sight of her. Sasuke’s eyes couldn’t help but follow her movements, the music lilting in the back of his mind almost distantly.

He struggled to pull his gaze from her, noticing the way the entire courtyard seemed enraptured, as well as the slight fuzziness at the edge of his eyes.  Like he was in a dream.

“Something’s…strange about this,” he muttered. And when he looked at Naruto, he was staring wistfully towards the altar, a small but serene smile upon his face.

“Hmm?  What do you mean? Everything’s perfect,” he uttered.  He looked surreal as well, his mask glittering brightly beneath the sun. 

Too perfect, Sasuke couldn’t help but think.

I’ve detected something unusual,” Neji’s voice sounded in his head, and Sasuke jerked in surprise.  He’d nearly forgotten they were on a mission. With others.  What had his assignment been again?  Naruto looked equally as startled, judging by his stunned expression.  “The flowers, there’s a strange aura around them,” Neji added.

“The ones the children were giving away?” Naruto wondered, and he looked out at the crowd with wide eyes. “But they’re everywhere! They’ve been handing them out all week! How come you didn’t notice until now?”

“Because they weren’t needed until now,” Sasuke growled lowly and activated his mangekyou sharingan. Naruto tensed at his side, eyeing him warily.  Sasuke only used it when absolutely necessary. 

He frowned, his enhanced vision taking in their surroundings quickly.  Sure enough, he could see the strange chakra emanating from the flowers strewn about the courtyard, as well as the way it wrapped around each individual.  A genjutsu! As he thought! He’d been foolish not to have noticed when it first started, and he broke free from its control in a matter of seconds. He hardly discerned the difference once out, but there was slightly less clouding at the edges of his vision, and the strange floating feeling in his mind was gone.

“It’s an illusion,” Sasuke hissed, allowing his sharingan to fade.

“What is?” Naruto asked, looking towards him worriedly.

“All of it,” he growled, looking over the crowd once again.  He was grateful to find that nothing seemed out of place. They were all caught within the effects of the genjutsu, but unharmed. The officiant had just begun his speech, the bride and groom holding hands, as they stared ahead nervously. It looked painfully normal, but clearly something was going on, if they had gone to such trouble to control the minds of an entire city.

“All of it? But…how?” Naruto gasped in surprise.

“The flowers must be amplifying the effect,” Sasuke mumbled. “A trigger of sorts.  Activated to spread the range of control. Normally it would be impossible to contain so many at once. Focus, break yourself out. It’s not strong.”

Naruto closed his eyes, relaxing his body as he steadied his breathing and found his centre.  Sasuke had trained him to do this, trained all of them, using carefully crafted illusions of his own.  They ranged from simple things, to horrifying nightmares.  He wanted them to be able to break free from anything.  And sometimes it was the most everyday illusions that were the hardest to detect and differentiate from reality.

A moment later Naruto whipped his eyes open, vision clear, and Sasuke smirked at him. He’d improved.

“I’m out,” Neji spoke.

“Same,” Sakura, not long after. It was followed by a chorus of four more voices.

“When do you think it started?” Naruto asked.

“Not sure, but not long ago, I don’t think. I didn’t even notice the change. They’re good, whoever they are,” Sasuke admitted. Though the strength of control was weak, the sheer scope was outstanding.  It hadn’t been designed to withstand a skilled shinobi’s mindset, likely because they weren’t anticipating having to deal with one in these parts. It was merely meant to control a mass of people. It was a complex genjutsu, to convince so many people on such a broad scale. It would have been incredibly draining to maintain the illusion.

We need to find the source,” Sakura whispered through the network.

Sasuke’s eyes darted about quickly. There were only so many places the enemy could hide. Even with an aid to increase the strength and power, they would have to have line of sight on nearly the entire event.  Especially if it was as far reaching as Chouji near the cliffside.  That meant it wasn’t just confined to the courtyard, but the entire village as a whole. 

The castle?  No.  The wards in place were strong.  Not only would it block anything from getting in, but something from getting out as well.

“The peak,” Shikamaru’s voice sounded inside his ear. Both Naruto and Sasuke turned to look together, towards the mountain peak at the top of the cliffs.  It was definitely high enough to give someone a good scope of the entire area, but…

“From so far?” Kiba wondered.

It’s the only possibility,” Shikamaru responded quickly.  Sasuke was tempted to argue.  There were a few other locations that might have worked.  Closer ones, though perhaps not with quite the same visual spectrum.  But if Shikamaru said so, Sasuke believed him.  They all did.  Naruto hunched lower beside him, clearly ready to jump and head in the direction of the cliffs, but Sasuke reached out an arm to hold him back.

“Stop.  Our position is here.  We have to keep eyes on the couple.  The illusionist was trying to hide something after all,” Sasuke reminded him.  Naruto gritted his teeth, but fell back into position despite his annoyance.

I’m on it,” Neji confirmed.  He was the next best choice after Sasuke to deal with a genjutsu master. And Sakura would be with him.  Surely they could manage the threat together, though Sasuke was slightly concerned at the thought of their medic moving so far from the event. 

“Sasuke look! The Chancellor is gone,” Naruto gasped.  He was pointing to the altar, and sure enough, there was an empty space next to the King and Queen of Aomi which he had previously occupied. Sasuke narrowed his eyes, and then turned his head quickly to the left.

“So is the man,” he hissed.

Shit.

He’d been too distracted. He couldn’t see any sign of either of them in the crowd.  But he was shocked to notice there were several others, dressed in the same drab clothing, weaving between the crowds of people as they encroached upon the platform ahead.  His heart stuttered.  Finally, their enemy had made themselves known.

“They don’t see them!” Naruto cried, and his fingers elongated into claws.  He was already poised to jump.

“Of course they don’t, that’s the point. And be patient. It’s too crowded there, you’ll risk hurting the guests.”

“So what, we wait ‘til they’re close enough to kill?” Naruto spat. 

Sasuke opened his mouth to respond, but there was a sudden rush from the left side of the platform, a shadowy figure sprinting quickly with a short double edged spear.  The man with the scar!  He was headed straight for the princess’s back! Sasuke sent chakra to his feet quickly, probably too much, as the stone beneath his feet cracked and crumbled when he jumped.  But there was no time to wait, and he had to move quick.

The man was fast, but Sasuke was faster, and it was a good thing he was. The spear came so close to the princess her dress fabric tore slightly, catching on the end of the point, but Sasuke pushed up against it with Kusanagi, shoving the weapon to the side in the nick of time. The princess didn’t move, caught in the illusion as she watched the priest with tired eyes. The ceremony continued on as if he wasn’t there at all.  Sasuke narrowly avoided falling into her, using all of his strength to push back against the spearman and throw him off.

There was an angry scowl, and the man looked surprised. He hadn’t expected to be discovered. Sasuke steadied himself, easing away from the couple and towards the scarred shinobi.  He had to put as much distance between himself and the targets as possible, lest he risk another close call.  Sasuke’s dark eyes gleamed, excited to finally be in battle again, and he lunged forward, his blade held low.  It was met with a clang, the spearman blocking his swing and then a shuriken came at him, narrowly missing Sasuke’s shoulder.  He ducked, twisting his body and parrying the next attack, sword clashing with each strike sent his way.

He heard shouts, and he could see the other ninja had reached the platform as well. Some of them moving in at his back.  How many were there?  Ten?  Twenty? Maybe more, but most of them were lower level shinobi judging by the way they moved and reacted to the fight.  The one he was facing was clearly the biggest threat.

Naruto landed not far away, guarding Sasuke’s back. When the spearman came at him again Sasuke dodged to the left, not even flinching at the breeze left in the wake of the weapon. He ducked low and kicked, knocking the shinobi back into a pillar hard.  It collapsed from the force, thankfully far enough away from the civilians that it didn’t cause further damage. The man however, merely shook it off and growled at him, bracing himself to attack. Sasuke could already tell this would take all of his attention.

“Naruto! I have this one, can you handle the rest?” he shouted. 

“Easy,” Naruto growled, and already a handful of clones materialized into existence standing as a blockade between the approaching ninja and the bride and groom.

“Keep them off the crowd,” Sasuke ordered.

“Obviously, bastard,” Naruto spat back over his shoulder. They shared a grin. Sasuke would have to trust him to fend for himself. A handful of B-rank nin should be no problem for Naruto to take down.

Sasuke loosened his obi and bent his knees, legs spreading apart as he prepared himself for the next attack.  This wouldn’t be an easy fight.  As he stared down his opponent, Sasuke analyzed the area immediately around them. The space was too small, he couldn’t take any risks using some of the more flamboyant jutsus and tricks he had up his sleeve.  Susanoo was out of the question, and Amaterasu might be uncontrollable as well.  He’d have to rely on his speed.

But his opponent was fast.  Excelled in taijutsu.  The double edged spear glinted in the sunlight taunting him. Thankfully Sasuke had other skills to rely on. He activated the mangekyou again.  He didn’t like to if he could avoid it, but he wasn’t taking any risks.

The fight started in an instant.  One second both men were standing at the ready, the next they had blades pressed together as they wound around each other quickly.  Both dodged and parried, and Sasuke slid through the man’s legs as he spun his spear in his arm, just barely missing Sasuke’s head.  Sasuke jumped and dove, hitting the man with his elbow.  He flew into a statue, its arms falling to the ground at his sides. 

The spearman spat out some blood and scowled, clearly growing tired of their fight before making a hasty decision and lunging towards the princess instead.  But Sasuke intercepted him, grabbing him around his neck and rolling.  They fell together down several stairs, barely missing the first row of spectators below. They left plenty of damage in their wake, but it was better that than taking lives that could not simply be fixed and rebuilt.

Sasuke rushed to his feet, and the man did the same, dashing into the crowd instead of back towards the princess this time.

“There are too many civilians!” Sasuke hissed as they flew down the rows of people. It was odd, fighting between so many people that didn’t even acknowledge his presence.  It was almost easy, to write them off, pretend like they were little more than a part of the landscape.  Sasuke had to force himself to register each and every one of them, to actively avoid hitting them while preventing his foe from doing the same.  It was a difficult job.

He kept his eyes on the other man, matching his speed as he continuously blocked him from stabbing into the guests.  They weaved between them, the audience smiling and staring ahead contentedly, completely oblivious to the fight just feet from their forms. The priest was still talking, the bride and groom about to say their vows. 

Sasuke blinked, startled when the man disappeared suddenly, reappearing behind him.  Out of nowhere he took a fist to the side of the head, and he wanted to vomit as he felt the insect’s shell crack and crumble where it was buried inside beneath his skin. He’d have to dig out its remains later. Sasuke shook off the uncomfortable feeling and turned his body around. He swung out his leg, knocking his heel into the man’s thigh and forcing him to guard with his fist.  Sasuke twisted in his grip, winding around behind him as he swung his blade at his neck, only for it to slide through a shrivelled up rat instead. A substitution jutsu.

“Fuck,” he muttered.  He’d lost sight.  Sasuke held his ground, gaze searching frantically for a sign of the shinobi, eventually locating him atop a flag pole.  He was bruised from blocking so many attacks, and Sasuke would have felt proud if he wasn’t just as battered from doing the same. The man stared down at him, spinning his spear idly in one hand, and then he smirked and threw out several senbon towards the guests.

Sasuke’s eyes widened.  He formed the hand signs quick.

“Katon!” He shouted, blowing out a stream of fire above the crowd, just barely managing to melt the metal needles before they hit their marks.  Sasuke panted, glancing back towards the man only to find him charging back towards the altar. He’d been bated!

“Damn it!” Sasuke cursed. He flashed forwards, using chakra to increase his speed. He could make it in time, if he used his body to block. Sasuke flew through the air, teleporting in front of the princess just in time to block the oncoming spear.

“Sasuke!”

The shout echoed in his damaged ear, and Naruto was suddenly in front of him, crying out as his clawed hands grasped at the wooden pole.  He screamed when the blade pierced his chest, and Sasuke’s eyes widened as Naruto’s body slammed into him, knocking him to the side and pulling the spearman along with them.  Sasuke’s feet dragged along the ground, stones flying up around his sandals as he braced against the impact. He skidded to a halt, arms clasped around Naruto’s body. He’d half expected a clone, but it was the real Naruto.

He’d taken the hit for him.  Why?

“Idiot, I had it!” Sasuke growled.

Naruto coughed up a bit of blood, but he grinned after a short pause. “I know,” he spat. “Just finished with mine…figured I’d join the real fight.” He licked the blood from his lips, and then glanced at Sasuke with intent filled eyes. Sasuke understood immediately.  Naruto held the spearman in place, just long enough for Sasuke to jump at him, red eyes gleaming as he summoned a full body chidori. The moment Naruto’s claws snapped the pole in half Sasuke reached him, hitting the enemy nin with the full force of his lightning attack.

So much happened at once.

Suddenly there were screams everywhere, people panicking. Neji must have reached the illusionist. The genjutsu had finally broken.  The princess was hiding behind her husband to be as they watched their surroundings in horror, and the crowd had begun to rush to escape.  Sasuke barely caught sight of the entire Cliffside collapsing, a sure sign that Sakura was fighting alongside the bakyugan master. He hoped Chouji was able to do some crowd control.

Sasuke’s chidori faded, and he wrenched himself away from the spearman, waiting for the cloud of dust to dissipate. The enemy nin was lying prone on the ground.  He looked lifeless, and Sasuke breathed in and out heavily, waiting.  Had they finished it? But no…he was moving, and Sasuke faltered when he saw him ease himself up from the ground like it was nothing.  His skin turned dark and shiny, a bumpy, lizard-like coating appearing and shedding from his body.  He was limping slightly as he discarded the remaining half of his weapon on the ground, instead pulling several shuriken from his pockets, but otherwise unharmed.  Shit.  He was a lot stronger than he looked.

But it was two against one now.

Naruto ducked down, a wild grin on his face as his body surrounded itself in fiery red chakra, the edges of his robes dirty and frayed. He looked vicious with the mask on, fangs out, as his body glowed with the power of the nine-tails. He tore the spear head from his chest with a growl and Sasuke smirked. It had hit off mark. He’d heal in no time.

Sasuke ripped his robe from his body, freeing his limbs to move more easily in just his black combat leggings. He twisted Kusanagi in a series of katas, settling into position once again.

The two of them lunged in tandem.  Surprisingly their opponent’s speed had not decreased in the slightest, despite his injured leg.  He was using a wind jutsu to enhance his movements as he dodged attacks from all sides.  Naruto was showing signs of fatigue too, not fighting as swiftly as usual.  It was understandable considering the hit he’d taken, but still Sasuke felt the need to end this fight quick.  He wasn’t sure he could dodge forever, and he wasn’t going to let Naruto take any further damage.

Sasuke could feel blood dripping from one of his eyes, but he kept his mangekyou active, blocking attacks directed at both him and Naruto.  If only he could have used Amaterasu without the risk of hurting so many. It would have ended their fight in an instant.  As it was, he was limited to physical attacks.

He dodged left, swung right, ducked, jumped, and turned.  A shuriken flew by his cheekbone, and Sasuke twisted to the side. He gasped loudly when he miscalculated and the enemy caught him around his ankle and tripped him. His back slammed into the ground and he would have been crushed had the other man not suddenly frozen in place.

Sasuke gaped as several insects lined the shinobi’s legs, surrounding him up to his knees. The man struggled against the hold, clearly trying to wrench himself away, his expression growing increasingly panicked.

Seemed like it was three against one now.

Sasuke laughed lowly, and pushed himself up, flashing behind the man to lock his head in place too. Just a second later and Naruto shouted, diving down from above to put a Rasengan through the man’s chest.  Sasuke and Naruto fell away from him, catching their breath as Shino revealed himself, kneeling at the enemy nin’s side.

“Dead,” he proclaimed shortly thereafter.

Sasuke heaved a sigh, swallowing around a dry throat.  There were a cluster of other bodies around them in various states of being, the few still alive were groaning lightly, but already being apprehended by the King’s guard. Sasuke had been right about Naruto being able to take them on easily.

He looked towards him, finding Naruto slightly hunched over as he struggled more than usual to catch his breath. Naruto tried to laugh it off, though he was bleeding quite a lot now.  More than he should have been. Even he looked a bit startled by it, holding his hand in front of his body and staring at the blood that coated it warily. In fact, now that Sasuke had the time to study him a bit closer, he was breathing raggedly and his eyes looked a bit glassy too. Sasuke scrunched his eyebrows together and took a careful step towards him. The next second Naruto collapsed into a dead faint.  His knees hit the ground hard, and then his body fell against the stone and all his clones disappeared with a pop. 

“Naruto!”

Sasuke staggered, running towards him and kneeling at his side.  He rolled him on his back and touched his face. It lolled to the side the moment his fingers let go. Sasuke swallowed nervously then tore open his undershirt, pulling the fabric from the wound. He was bleeding profusely. It hadn’t started sealing at all.  It looked like the fox wasn’t helping him even remotely.

“Why isn’t he healing?” Sasuke snapped. He gaped at the blood pulsing from the wound for half a second before placing the palms of his hands atop it and pressing hard.  It was gaping, and the blood still leaked from around his fingers in droves.

Shino looked around, finding the discarded spearhead atop the stone.  He lifted it, stared at the blade, and sniffed it carefully.

“Poison.”

“Where’s Sakura?” Sasuke gasped, filled with sudden desperation. The wound was too great, and the amount of blood he had lost was far beyond acceptable. Naruto was going to die. 

Shino knelt at his side, lifting Naruto’s chin and opening his airway a bit to lessen his strain.  He was quiet, but steady, removing Naruto’s mask, and monitoring his pulse. “She’s on her way,” Shino spoke up. And Sasuke wanted to scream at her to move faster, though he knew it was useless.  She wouldn’t even hear it, his implant had been destroyed in the fight.

His arms started to shake.  He was covered in blood, his hands completely red as they blended in with the site of the wound. It felt like he was fighting against a current, trying to hold in the gush of red liquid with little success.  Naruto’s clothes were completely drenched with it, his chest moving irregularly, and Sasuke shook at the sight of the pools of it now soaking into his robe and the stone around them.  He could vaguely hear Shino talking, sending a message to Shikamaru about their location and status, but the words were like an echo in his head.

Naruto’s chest was hardly moving.  Breathe, Sasuke begged internally. Breathe!

It felt like hours had passed by the time Sakura knelt across from him, when in reality it had been only minutes.  He hardly saw her, so focused as he was on Naruto’s still form. Sakura touched his arms and he flinched, but held them in place stubbornly. “Sasuke, let me see, I can’t help him unless I can see.”

He was so hesitant to pull away, if he stopped, it would keep coming.  He’d bleed and bleed and bleed until there was no more blood left in his body.  Already his breaths were impossibly shallow, his heart rate slower, barely there at all.

“Hey, Uchiha, it’s okay, she’s got this,” Neji spoke from behind him. A moment later there were arms around his body urging him back.  In the end, Neji had to pry Sasuke away, and Sakura quickly got to work.  Sasuke didn’t see anything else around them from that point on. His hands hung in the air in front of his body, fingers trembling as he took in the red coating his skin, the image forever imprinted in his memory. There was a singular thought on his mind.

Naruto. 

Chapter Text


“What happened?” Sakura asked.  Her voice soft as she tended to each of his fingernails, making sure to dig out as much of the encrusted blood from behind them as she could manage.  They were inside, away from the prying eyes of the civilians. The royal family had kindly provided them with access to several rooms within the castle. Somewhere to rest, relax, and hopefully recover. Somewhere to gather their thoughts. Sasuke stared at the ground listlessly, eyeing the gaudy pattern in the rug beneath his feet with distaste.

“He took a hit for me,” Sasuke whispered. “The enemy was lunging for the princess.  I didn’t have enough time to block.  I was trying to get in the way, but Naruto, stepped in between.” Sasuke felt his chest tightening with the memory. “The idiot,” he choked out.

Sakura paused for a moment, studying him briefly before swapping out her towel for a fresh one and moving on to his other hand.  He glared at the hand she had finished with.  It was clean, but he could still feel the blood caked beneath his fingernails, still see the red, entrenched on his mind as it was from his sharingan.

“Why was he hurt so badly? It hit off mark. I’ve seen him heal from wounds far worse than that with no problem at all,” Sasuke questioned. “Even…even if it was poisoned, it doesn’t make sense.”

It didn’t.  Naruto was supposed to be safe.  He was supposed to heal. Sasuke had put his entire fist through Naruto’s chest once, and he’d still recovered from that in record time.

“It was some kind of venom infused with chakra to encourage a quicker spread.  Designed to actively target a person’s organs and shut down their system.  Whoever that was, he was more than a simple poison master.  His chakra itself was toxic, and he managed to harness that. Condense it, into something so potent it would kill any living creature within minutes,” she explained. “The only reason Naruto is still alive is because the Kyuubi is actively working to heal his system cells in time with the venom. Seems like even he’s struggling with it.”

Sasuke clenched his jaw shut, leering at the ground.  He knew Naruto was just a few feet away, fighting for his life atop a bed as Sakura’s medicines worked their magic alongside the nine-tails.  He was almost afraid to look. Afraid of what he might see.

“The initial shock to his system probably threw Kurama off.  He would have been forced to focus on Naruto’s heart and lungs and his nervous system, or he would have instantly died,” Sakura said. 

“Which is why the wound wouldn’t close,” Sasuke realized. 

Sakura pulled away from him with a sigh and stretched out her shoulders. “It’s highly volatile; I’ve never seen anything like it. Thankfully, I’ve managed to get some samples.”

Sasuke knew she would study them endlessly once they returned.  If they could create an antidote to a poison like that, it would prove highly valuable to help form immunities against others.  If they could harness the poison itself, it would be valuable for…other reasons.

“You are very lucky.  A mere scratch would have been enough to kill you in minutes, even with your resistances,” Sakura said as she wrung out the second towel.  Watered down blood dripped from it into the bowl below, and Sasuke grimaced at the sight, turning his gaze away. “Your eye,” she began, peering up at him worriedly. 

Sasuke had been so concerned for Naruto he’d completely forgotten about using his mangekyo sharingan for much of the fight.  He blinked and wiped away the small trail of blood running down his face.  He’d strained it a bit, but it wasn’t anything serious.

“It’s fine, I didn’t overdo it,” Sasuke said. Still, he let her look it over, just in case.  She poked around it, lifting the lid and hovering her palm over his eye for a moment before nodding in approval.

“If you’d just let me do that eye transplant already…”

“When we get back I’ll consider it,” he sighed in resignation.  Admittedly being forced to carefully control the use of his abilities was a pain.  He hadn’t even used Susanoo or Amaterasu in this fight and it was still slightly strained. If he wanted to be quicker he’d have to switch out his eyes sooner rather than later.  He’d narrowly missed getting hit a number of times.

Sakura’s demeanour brightened. He knew she wasn’t excited for him, but rather the opportunity to further test her strengths as a medic-nin.  Still, it made him snort. Maybe it was better to do it before the problem was more serious anyway. Sasuke lowered his head into his hands, suddenly feeling incredibly exhausted. 

“Will he…,” he started, the words sticking in his throat. He was pretending to be calm, but internally he was incredibly worried. “Will he be okay?” 

“Yes.” Sakura stood, gathering up the supplies and walking them over to a nearby table. “The wound is already healing.  Slower than normal, but it is healing.  It’s mainly the poison left in his bloodstream we have to worry about.  I’m confident Kurama will keep him alive while it runs its course, but…he will probably be weakened and quite ill for some time.” She turned around and met his gaze.  She must have seen something in it, because her expression softened and she tilted her head to the side. “I’ll be back to check on him in a few hours, I need to send Tsunade-sama a letter and do a full autopsy on the bodies. You’ll stay with him?”

Sasuke sighed and ran a hand through his hair.  He needed a shower, but it could wait a bit he supposed.  Sakura smiled, walking over to Naruto’s bedside one last time to double check everything. She pulled an object from her satchel and lowered it to the bedside table with a soft clack.

“Tap this if he worsens, okay?”

It was a summoning stone.  He’d seen them before, in the hospitals, just beside the patients’ beds.  It was smart of her to bring one along.  Sasuke nodded and then she was gone and he was left alone with his thoughts.


The first night was difficult.  Naruto tossed and turned despite Sakura’s medicines, and his wound was still hardly healing at all.  Sakura had visited his bedside several times to change out the bandages and attempt to stem the blood flow.  But she needed a rest, so Sasuke eventually found himself sitting in a chair, doing his best to pretend everything was alright while he listened to Naruto’s irregular breathing. 

It had been difficult to finally tear his gaze from the carpet and up towards Naruto’s face.  A part of him was still expecting to find him completely still and cold to the touch.  He remembered the blood so vividly, so when he finally did look, it was shocking to find the complete opposite.  Naruto’s face was flushed, and he was sweating, and though his breathing was a bit strangled, it was clear that he was very much alive.

Sasuke stood, hovering over Naruto’s bedside as he looked over his form.  He seemed to be dreaming, his brow clenching together tightly as he gasped here and there and moved his head back and forth. His hair was sopping wet, sticking to his face and partially strewn out over the pillow behind his head.  Sasuke sat down atop the blankets and reached out, gently pressing his thumb between Naruto’s eyebrows.  He rubbed the skin in steady circles, easing the muscles, before dragging it down the slope of his nose. Blue eyes opened ever so slightly, and Sasuke stiffened in response.

“‘Suke?” Naruto groaned. He blinked up at Sasuke blearily, eyebrows wrenched together again, this time in confusion. He went to sit up, and winced, collapsing back against the sheets with a cry, and Sasuke quickly moved to steady him. 

“Shh, drink this,” Sasuke whispered, grabbing a cup off of the nearby table in a hurry. He eased the water into Naruto’s mouth, wiping up the droplets that spilled down his chin with his sleeve.  It was laced with medicine. A pain reducer. Naruto would be angry if he ever found out. But it was obvious he needed it.

Naruto let out a sigh, clearly grateful to have the dryness of his throat eased.  He glanced down at his bandages and held a hand over the centre where it was already bleeding through.

“Didn’ think he got me that good,” Naruto muttered in surprise.

“It was poisoned.”

“Oh,” he mumbled. Naruto frowned a bit, his eyes glazing over for a moment and Sasuke realized he was talking to Kurama. As time passed, Sasuke grew more concerned. He was so tempted to activate his sharingan and slip into his mind to hassle the bijuu himself, but he didn’t want to intrude. And Kurama wasn’t particularly fond of Sasuke, or anyone other than Naruto for that matter. Still, he’d have to if this continued for much longer. Naruto needed to rest. Thankfully he blinked himself back not long after and stared up at Sasuke warily. He looked worried, which was unusual for Naruto at the best of times. But especially in regards to a wound. Sasuke wondered what exactly Kurama had said to him to garner such a reaction.

“I’s bad?” he slurred, eyes darting between Sasuke and his torso sluggishly.

Sasuke swallowed, trying not to show too much concern on his face. Naruto didn’t need to know exactly how close it had been, that Sasuke had thought for a moment that Naruto might die. “It was, yeah.”

Naruto shifted his arm, his hand drifting just enough to loosely entangle with Sasuke’s atop the blankets. The touch startled Sasuke, and his body stiffened as he looked towards their barely linked fingers in surprise. His instinct was to pull away, but he failed to react at all, sitting there limply as he listened to Naruto talk.

“Good thing I got it ‘stead of you,” Naruto stumbled over the words. It was like each one took every ounce of his energy to get out. “Woulda killed yeh.”

“Yeah,” Sasuke choked out.  He was embarrassed at the way his voice cracked ever so slightly, and he knew that had Naruto’s eyes not already slid closed, he would have seen the unchecked emotion on Sasuke’s face. He clenched their fingers together a bit more tightly.

“Y’ should be more care’.”

The words were so quiet Sasuke barely heard them, and as Naruto’s grip went completely slack he inhaled shakily and wiped a sleeve across his face, blinking the moisture from his eyes. What was wrong with him? He wasn’t like this usually. He’d seen plenty of comrades die in the field and not shed a tear. But Naruto…

Sasuke pressed his fingers against the bridge of his nose, rubbing away the ache building behind his eyes. He needed to get a hold of himself. Naruto was alive. He was fine. Healing, but fine. He’d seen him injured before. Why was he struggling so much to shake this particular encounter off?

He spent some time playing with Naruto’s fingertips, running his thumb and forefinger along them one by one before dragging them across his palm. His skin was so warm to the touch. Sasuke shifted up the bed, sitting closer to Naruto’s head so that he could reach out and touch his face. The heat was practically emanating from him.  Sasuke sighed, reaching for the bowl of water Sakura had left atop the table. He formed a few simple hand signs, blowing cool air across the surface, before reaching inside to squeeze out a small cloth. It was going to be a very long night.


Two days later found their team at a much smaller, much more private location within the castle as the prince and princess tried once again to complete their vows. Though the threat had been removed, their team was weakened, and the village courtyard had taken considerable damage from their fight. Thankfully no civilians had been hurt. Chouji had used his body as a literal barrier to protect them when the cliffside collapsed.

Their pockets were heavy in thanks from both royal families involved. They would be paid formally upon their return, but the extra tip for their efforts was a nice bonus.  Especially considering how deadly the mission had been and all that had been revealed.

While Sasuke and Naruto had been busy protecting the royal couple Kiba and Shikamaru had managed to track down the man who’d orchestrated the attack.  They’d been right to keep eyes on the Chancellor. He’d snuck away before the fight began, clearly hoping to stay out of harm’s way until everything was done, and far enough also so that he couldn’t possibly take the blame. It hadn’t taken Kiba long to find a trail once he’d known he was missing, even less time to force out a confession once he’d been caught.

Turned out he’d hired the ninja to kill not only the prince and princess, but the Kings and Queens from both kingdoms as well, leaving behind a bloodbath and an open position for him to take control upon their deaths as next in line without any surviving blood relatives. It would have led to chaos. Left the other kingdom open for attack, and ultimately under the control of the Chancellor’s rule.  They’d prevented the deaths of thousands.

The genjutsu master, better known as Haruka, was an S class advanced illusionist that had mastered the art of large scale nightmares as well as realistic traps. He wasn’t a problem for Neji, who could see through pretty much every attack presented his way once he knew of the risks, but Haruka was still one of the most wanted rogue nin in the world. He was highly sought after, hired to work alongside many assassins and thieves because of his unique abilities. His attacks often left entire communities distraught, whether through terrifying dreamlike trickery, or standard evasion that allowed him to attain a singular goal. The most difficult part had been finding him. It had been a pretty standard fight for Neji and Sakura after that.

It turned out the spear fighter had been listed in the bingo book as well. He went simply by the name Ka.  S class, ex Anbu from Kirigakure.  He was proficient in mid to close range combat, an experienced assassin, and known far and wide for the variety of poisons he invented and enhanced using his specific chakra makeup.  He himself had been immune to everything.  He didn’t usually work on such high profile cases, but Sasuke guessed the money had proven too good to turn down.  Plus with a genjutsu master that could keep him entirely hidden from sight, it probably seemed like a foolproof operation.

Had Sasuke known ahead of time of the dangers surrounding his particular poisons maybe he could have prevented Naruto’s injury. He certainly would have been less careless.  Shikamaru had recognized the man right away of course, when they’d finally met up after the battle, his face tightening into a grimace as if imagining just how wrong their fight could have gone.  A single misstep was all it would have taken.  One dodge not quite fast enough.  Sasuke really needed to start memorizing those profiles. 

They’d been lucky.  All of them.  Lucky that they had both a bakyugan master and a mangekyou sharingan user on their team.  Lucky that the rest of them had been exposed to a variety of genjutu so frequently as a result, and trained to break free from them so diligently.  Lucky that they’d had a medic nin that could heal almost any wound, and collapse and reform the earth with her fists.  Lucky that they’d had a tracker, and a long range communicator. An Akimichi proficient in body expansion and a team leader that seemingly knew exactly where to place them on such limited information.

They’d been especially lucky Naruto had been the one to take the hit.  He was the only one of them that could have survived.   

Any other team would have failed this mission spectacularly.

As the wedding began Sasuke noticed that the prince and princess looked happier than before. More carefree.  It seemed they’d had some more time to interact, and there were even smiles upon their faces as they said their vows with slightly eager eyes. When they looked into each other’s gazes and kissed, Sasuke wondered if it was perhaps not for the first time. 

He took a deep breath as he eyed the proceedings in relative disinterest.  He was far more concerned with the state of his team, specifically the man currently propped against his side. Naruto was clearly still tired, his limbs shaking slightly as he leaned against Sasuke. His breaths came heavily as he watched the newly married couple walk back down the aisle and smile at all those standing along the sides.  He’d insisted on coming.  Said he wanted to see the mission through to its end, and despite Sasuke’s and Sakura’s better judgement they had relented if only to put a stop to his incessant complaints.  And Sasuke absolutely refused to leave him alone in the room.

Now, he was surprisingly quiet.  In fact, Naruto hadn’t said a single word since they left their room.  Sasuke was focused intently on Naruto’s heartbeat and the pattern of his intakes of air.  He heard every hitch in Naruto’s throat, and Sasuke’s fingers tightened where they were clasped in the loose obi at his back. 

“Do you need to sit?” Sasuke asked, touching Naruto’s elbow lightly when he lurched slightly at his side.

“N-no I’m okay,” Naruto assured him, though his voice was a bit breathy, and his eyelids were at half-mast. Sasuke pursed his lips and found him a seat regardless, and Naruto didn’t even complain as Sasuke lifted the occasional appetizer to his mouth with chopsticks.  Naruto nibbled at them slowly, eating far less than was characteristic of him, and Sasuke’s brow was creased with worry for the remainder of the event.


Truthfully, Naruto was far from okay.

They had left the next day, Naruto insisting he was well enough to start the trip home. They were already a few days behind schedule, and he didn’t want to hold them back any longer than necessary.  All of them could tell he was tiring quickly, and they instinctively moved at a much slower pace so that Naruto could keep up.

Sasuke didn’t like the way he looked.  He was sweating, and his skin appeared almost gray in colour compared to its usual rich glow. He was quiet too.  Oddly, that was perhaps the most worrying thing of all.

Naruto only went so quiet when he was badly hurt.  He whined near constantly with lesser wounds.  He would make sure the entire world knew if he had a paper cut, and just how painful he thought said cut was.  The only time Sasuke had ever seen him go so quiet before was when he’d been nearly on his deathbed.

They were jumping leisurely through the trees, and Naruto was trailing behind slightly.  Unfortunately his next jump didn’t quite make it.  His hands reached out for the branch, only to slip and miss it entirely, and Sasuke jolted as his body fell towards the forest floor. He flashed himself towards Naruto, catching him just before his head hit the ground.

“Idiot! Why didn’t you say you needed to rest!” Sasuke shouted, lowering Naruto to his knees on the dirt and leaves.  Naruto didn’t argue, instead slumping slightly, his arm wrapped about his torso as his face crumpled in despair.

“S-sorry,” he muttered, and Sasuke flinched away, startled at the pain on his face. 

“You aren’t invincible you know,” Sasuke said, actively lowering his voice as their teammates landed nearby. “Kurama may heal you quicker but this was a serious wound. Just say something next time. We could have stayed for another day.”

“E-everyone wants to get home,” Naruto stuttered.  He lowered his head, slumping further as Sasuke removed his travel packs and pouches.

“Not at your expense, silly,” Sakura sighed.  She knelt in front of him, unzipping his jacket while Naruto tried to push her hands away.

“Let me see it,” she growled, and he stopped fighting, revealing the blood stains seeping into his t-shirt.

“You’ve reopened your wound, tsk, Naruto,” she chastised.  It took her several minutes to get him out of his shirt and lying down, even with him hardly fighting against it. The bandage wrapped around his chest was completely soaked with fresh blood, and she unravelled it carefully before wiping away the area.  The skin was red and swollen, a lighter colour surrounding it, revealing the first signs of infection.  And though Sakura acted as though everything was normal, Sasuke could tell she was worried. 

Instead of patching it up again she pulled an ointment from her bag and spread it generously over the area, placing a few large leaves over top of it until the infected wound was completely covered.

“Stay down and rest,” Sakura ordered, her hand pushing Naruto’s shoulders to the ground as he tried to sit up. 

“We’ll stop at the nearest town tomorrow and take a few days to recoup,” Shikamaru decided, already urging Chouji to start cooking a stew from their stores.

“I really don’t need to,” Naruto tried, but he wasn’t fooling anyone.

Shikamaru stared at him incredulously. “Don’t be ridiculous.  It’ll take us several weeks to get home as it is.  We’ll move quicker if we’re well rested and healthy,” he said, and Naruto sighed and pouted dramatically. Sasuke didn’t miss the small hitch in his breath that came with the exhale.

“Akamaru spotted a little resort village to the east on the way here.  They even have hot springs.  With the extra money we got, I bet we can afford a couple rooms. It’s about an hour or so away,” Kiba chattered excitedly.  While Konoha did have a hot spring, it was quite small, only containing a few public baths, as opposed to the private rooms one might find at an actual onsen. It would be nice to actually stay somewhere refreshing for a bit. 

It felt like Sasuke had been on a mission for nearly the past two years straight.  It had taken just a few months to reacclimatise to Konoha and prove he wasn’t going to defect again before they’d put him back on assignments.  Then it had been a matter of passing both the Chuunin and Jounin exams, which he did easily alongside Naruto.  They’d been on active duty ever since.

For Sasuke, it was a way of distracting himself.  Missions kept him busy, kept him away when he needed a break from the suffocating feeling he sometimes felt around the villagers and within the Uchiha compound. But after this one, he found he was actually looking forward to the possibility of a retreat.

“We’ll head that way tomorrow morning then, for now, let’s set up camp,” Shikamaru decided. “Sakura, you’ll take first watch.”

“Naruto, I’ve got one eye on you. If you so much as move an inch I’m going to put my fist through your face,” Sakura threatened, and Naruto huffed and rolled his head the other way.

Kiba and Chouji started chatting about the hot springs, wondering what the rooms would be like and commenting on how they hadn’t had a holiday in forever. Once the food was ready, everyone dug in and Sasuke was surprised to see Naruto hardly taking interest in it at all.  He was staring up at the trees, his hand clenching and unclenching in the fabric of his unzipped jacket, completely ignoring the bowl Kiba had set at his side.  He looked forlorn, biting into his lower lip as his brow furrowed.

Sasuke sighed and stood.

He walked over to the campfire, and dished out a bowl for himself. The group would see him walk back to his spot instead of towards Naruto. Though his teammates were quite skilled at breaking free from genjutsu, they had no reason to suspect one. And Sasuke was incredibly talented with the art of deception. It took little more than a flick of his wrist.

Naruto seemed confused for just a moment when Sasuke knelt beside him and poked him harshly in the shoulder. He glanced around quickly at the group, noting that Sakura did not even look their way.

“Did you…”

“Thought you could use a reprieve and privacy to eat. It looks like you’re sound asleep to everyone,” Sasuke explained. He ignored the little voice in his head that told him he personally wanted to check on Naruto.

“Thanks,” Naruto said with a grin. He tried to sit up with a bit of a struggle and Sasuke helped him, doing his best not to further aggravate the wound. He took a moment to look at Naruto’s twisted expression, wiping the sweaty hair from his face with his sleeve.  Naruto closed his eyes and gasped, letting his head fall heavily back against the tree trunk he was propped against. Shit, maybe it was as bad as Sakura was making it out to be. Sasuke checked the leaves on his chest, dismayed to see them already stained with fresh blood.

“What’s that stupid fox doing taking so long to heal you,” Sasuke growled.

Naruto opened his eyes, and smirked through his obvious pain. “Heh, don’ worry Sasuke.  The poison jus’ takes a while.  Kurama needs to keep my organs working until it runs its course through my body. I’ll be fine in a few days, promise.” He looked down at the bowl nearby, clearly trying to decide if it was worth trying to eat. Instead of giving him the choice, Sasuke picked it up and helped him, spooning the stew into his mouth slowly. After just a few mouthfuls he held up his hand to stop.  He did look a bit nauseous, but he masked it behind a grin. “That was good. Thanks,” he said. It was still far less than he normally ate, but Sasuke nodded and slowly sipped away at his own.

“Why did you do that?” Sasuke asked.  Naruto looked at him with a frown and he clarified, “Jump in the way.”

Naruto was silent for some time, and his face reddened a bit, though it was likely from the fever. Eventually he muttered, “Because…you’re precious to me.”

To Sasuke, it made little sense. He’d betrayed Naruto countless times, and still the idiot did something stupid like get in the way of a deadly attack. “I don’t need protection,” Sasuke insisted, despite knowing that without it, he would have been long dead.

Naruto didn’t say so though, instead smiling softly, his eyes downcast. “I know.”

“Then stop.” Sasuke ordered.

“I won’t. Even if you hate me for it Sasuke…I’ll always-“

“Stop.  Shut up,” Sasuke hissed and he slammed the empty bowl on the ground. “You frustrate me beyond belief.” Sasuke turned his head away irritably.

“Why?” Naruto asked, and it was so quiet Sasuke nearly missed it at all. It was as if Naruto did not actually wish to hear the answer. And Sasuke wanted to scream because he didn’t have one.

“Because!” he shouted lamely.  His voice echoed throughout the woods, and Naruto flinched, looking towards their teammates to make sure they were still locked within the genjutsu. Sasuke pulled his sword from its hilt, and the way Naruto’s eyes widened frightfully at the sight of it hurt him more than he cared to admit.  As if Naruto was to blame.  As if any of this was actually his fault at all. He shoved the blade into the ground, huffing as he held onto the hilt tightly and tried to calm down.

“Because you make me act irrationally.  Because you distract me.  Because you make me feel stupid things, do stupid things,” he admitted. Sasuke huffed and rummaged through his pockets, searching for the familiar feeling of cold metal that had greeted him for the past several days.  He pulled out the chain he’d kept carefully hidden away, opening his palm so Naruto could see.

“I bought it for you,” he muttered.  The chain caught the light of the fire as he twisted his hand, the little frog face gleaming in the darkness, and Naruto’s mouth dropped open in recognition.

“But…why?”

Sasuke stared at him.  His eyebrow twitched as he struggled with himself mentally.  Why was it so hard for him just to say it?  He closed his eyes and scrunched up his face in annoyance.

“Because it made you smile. You idiot,” Sasuke grumbled.  And Naruto’s gaze shifted from the necklace to his face, his eyes still wide, but with another emotion this time that Sasuke couldn’t name.  A smile broke out on his face so slowly it felt like Sasuke was watching it in slow motion.  And the end result was so blinding that Sasuke could have sworn the sun was shining mid night.

Sasuke’s palms started to sweat, as they had that first day in Aomi, and he swallowed nervously before shoving the chain into Naruto’s unprepared hands.

“Dobe, take the stupid thing,” Sasuke growled.  He stood quickly, avoiding looking at Naruto, and then walked away hurriedly.  He ran his fingers through his hair, grimacing as the sweat on them caused the strands to stick out awkwardly.

“Sasuke,” Naruto called out softly, causing Sasuke to halt and look over his shoulder slightly.  Even out of the side of his eye he could see how brightly Naruto was smiling.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

Sasuke acknowledged him with a quick nod, before sitting down in his original spot. He broke the genjutsu, and started rolling out his bedroll quickly, most assuredly not peeking at Naruto the entire time. Shit. Naruto was still smiling, more gently now, his fingers playing with the chain in his hands. Sasuke felt a strange emotion run through his chest.  It was warm.  Comforting, exciting, but terrifying at the same time. A shiver ran up his spine, and he shook it off hastily, barely catching Neji’s knowing look from the other side of the campfire. Had Sasuke underestimated him? Had he seen everything?

Damn it. He hadn’t focused on the genjutsu hard enough, too enraptured by Naruto, yet again. Sasuke sneered at Neji and crawled beneath his blanket, doing his best to ignore the heat forming on his face as he looked away.

“Hey! Naruto, what the heck are you doing sitting up!?”

“Sakuuuuraaaa.”

Sasuke smirked, turning his face into his bedroll with a snicker. He could hear Naruto attempting to explain, trying to prove somehow that it wasn’t his fault, while Sakura chastised him. Naruto didn’t once mention his name, and Sasuke was grateful. He blamed ghosts, forest sprites, even tried to convince Sakura that the stew was making her hallucinate. What an absolute idiot.

Sasuke fell asleep that night with a grin on his face for the first time in ages.


“I’s too hot,” Naruto groaned, his body slumped over the tatami mats in their private onsen room.  He was shivering slightly, his hair completely plastered against his face.  He looked horrendous. His skin flushed darkly, his eyes wet and foggy. The infection had worsened before it got better.

Sakura had helped him bathe with a professional touch, rebandaged his wound, again, and dressed him, but the new bath house robe was already nearly drenched as Sasuke helped her manoeuvre him into a kneeling position at the table.

“It feels like he’s getting worse and worse,” Sasuke spoke quietly as the two of them gathered food for him on a tray.

“He’s not, he’s just not hiding it as well.  There’s definite improvement with the wound today compared to yesterday.  The infection will clear up by tomorrow,” Sakura reassured him.  It was true that Naruto had been nearly completely incapacitated the day prior.  He’d been so out of it in the morning that no one was able to get so much as a response out of him. Sasuke had carried him on his back the entire trip into town, and he’d slept through a full day with the exception of the occasional restless moment. But looking at him now, the way he swayed, his head dropping forward as if it was too heavy to hold up…

Sasuke was no less worried.

“I put one of my draughts in the soup, it’ll help him sleep later. Otherwise he might walk himself into the baths and drown,” Sakura joked.  It might have been funnier had Sasuke not thought it entirely possible. “He might need some help getting into bed,” she added.

Sasuke nodded, seeing her off with a wave, and with that they were left alone in the room.  He’d volunteered to stay in that night while the others explored the small tourist stop.  They didn’t get a lot of chances for such things, and Sasuke enjoyed those activities less than most.  Besides, his mind would have been far too preoccupied with thoughts of Naruto.

He padded over to Naruto’s side, sliding the tray in front of him on the table and kneeling across the way.  Naruto muttered his thanks and reached out tentatively for the spoon. His hand shook just slightly as he lifted it to his mouth, and Sasuke put his fingers beneath Naruto’s wrist to steady it, before giving up and simply grabbing it from his hand.

“Here, let me,” Sasuke muttered, lifting the spoon to blow on it before bringing it to Naruto’s lips. He sipped it gratefully, smiling at Sasuke between each spoonful.  He managed more than usual. Nearly finishing the entire bowl, and Sasuke nodded in satisfaction. Maybe Sakura was right.  Maybe he was getting better, slowly but surely.

“Thanks,” Naruto blurted.  His head was lowered over the table, his hair hanging limply in front of his face.  Sasuke could see the sweat running down his neck, the heavy flush over his skin from the fever.  He looked a bit gaunt, sickly pale and thinned from lack of eating.

Sasuke poured him a cup of tea, placing it between his palms gently and encouraging him to take a sip. He managed to hold on to that okay, despite the mild tremors in his fingers, but Sasuke eyed him carefully the entire time. Naruto paused for a moment, and then suddenly his face crumpled as he blinked at Sasuke in confusion, hands cradled around the cup still held unsteadily in the air in front of him.  Something was wrong.

“Naruto?”

Hardly a second later Naruto dropped the cup with a clatter and the tea spilled across the table and dripped over the floor.

“Naruto!” Sasuke shouted, practically lunging over the table so that he could catch Naruto’s falling form.  He was limp in Sasuke’s arms, looking up at him accusingly.

“Y-you drug me?” Naruto drawled.  His words were slurred, and Sasuke relaxed slightly as he realized it was just the effects of Sakura’s draught.  It had acted fast.  Sasuke wondered if Naruto was simply more susceptible while weakened, or if Sakura’s sleeping aid was really just that potent.

“No, guess you’re just tired,” he lied, rearranging Naruto’s limbs so that he could lift him properly.  Naruto’s legs hung over the elbow of Sasuke’s right arm and his head lolled back and forth against the other as Sasuke walked him towards the futon.

“Liar, teme…, yeh drugged me,” he accused.

“Sakura drugged you.  And she wouldn’t have to if you’d just rest, dobe,” Sasuke spat. Naruto did his best to glare, but the effect was lost as Sasuke lowered him and he scrunched his eyes closed with a whimper.

“Not yeh too, Sakura’s bad ‘nough,” Naruto whined. “Don’ like drugs.” His eyes opened sluggishly, the irises cloudy, and his eyebrows scrunched up together as he tried to fight against it. Sasuke could understand, the helpless feeling, not being able to defend or fight if something happened.  A shinobi’s every instinct was to break away from such a thing.  Giving in was like giving up.

“Don’ leave,” Naruto gasped, his hand reaching out weakly to grip at Sasuke’s robe. He looked panicked, desperate, and his eyes got a bit watery as his fingers loosened and fell away.

“Shh, don’t worry,” Sasuke said. “I’ll be here, you’re safe. Just rest.”

“Kay,” Naruto muttered, his eyes finally closing for good.

It wasn’t often Sasuke saw him looking so vulnerable. The sheer knowledge that there was nothing Naruto could have done if someone attacked him in that moment had Sasuke shuddering slightly with anxiety. It wasn’t right, for him to be so open for attack. He was so strong. To think that something as simple as poison could rend him helpless like this…

They really were all just human in the end.

Sasuke rearranged the blanket, struggling with whether or not to put it over him.  He touched the side of his face, startled at how warm he felt, clearly still fighting tooth and nail against a fever.  But he was shaking too, and the blanket was light, so he settled for simply placing it over his legs.

Sasuke ran his palm down Naruto’s neck and shoulder, wiping away the sweat with a gentle hand.  His fingers caught on the fabric of his robe, pulling it away slightly, just enough for him to see the little freckles dotting his skin. A sign of too much time spent in the sun.  He pushed it away further, exposing Naruto’s chest partially, and catching sight of the bandages wrapped around him. Sasuke fiddled with them a bit, lifting the edges to make sure everything was still holding together well.  Thankfully, there was no sign of bleeding.  Perhaps the wound was finally healed. 

Sasuke spared a moment to look at the rest of his torso, sticky with sweat, and his gaze roamed up to where the frog necklace clung to his skin, the charm nestled gently against his clavicle.  For some reason Naruto refused to take the stupid thing off, even though it was probably uncomfortable to wear when he was sick and sweating from fever.  Sasuke reached out to touch it.  Even the metal was warm to the touch, though as Sasuke’s fingers slid lower, onto the skin of Naruto’s chest, he realized it was nothing compared to the heat emanating from his skin. 

His gaze shifted just slightly, eyeing the little nub at the edge of his pinkie finger and Sasuke’s vision suddenly became hyper focused, his sharingan activating unconsciously. He paused, staring at Naruto openly.  Something about him was just so captivating. He should have looked away, should have stopped, but it was as though he was caught in some kind of mind control jutsu that persuaded him to continue to stare.

They were a rosy pink colour.  His nipples.  And Sasuke found that fascinating. They perfectly matched the tone of his lips. His lips which were currently open ever so slightly, revealing just a hint of his front teeth.  Sasuke wondered what it would feel like. To kiss him. Would his lips feel as warm as the rest of him?  Would they be soft against his own? He’d kissed him before hadn’t he?  But it was so quick, accidental.  He hadn’t really had time to think about what it might be like, to nibble at him and slide his tongue inside and taste him…

Sasuke shuddered. He felt incredibly hot all of the sudden, and an uncomfortable but familiar tightness was beginning to form between his legs. He gasped and wrenched himself away in a heartbeat, breathing heavily as he stared at Naruto’s prone form. What was wrong with him? Having such dirty thoughts.  Taking advantage of Naruto when he wasn’t well.  Touching him at all.  He wasn’t a fucking pervert!

He’d clearly gone mad. Yes. Mad. That was the only explanation.

He stood hurriedly and looked down at Naruto with wide eyes. His hands clenched tightly as he struggled not to imagine what the rest of Naruto looked like underneath those robes, but he just couldn’t push the thoughts from his head. Once they’d started, they wouldn’t stop. Sasuke forced himself to look away. It didn’t lessen the memory. His sharingan had permanently engraved the sight upon his mind forever. 

“Damn it,” he sneered, grimacing as the fabric of his robe rubbed against his overly sensitive skin. He breathed in through his nose, but finally gave in, pushing his palm against his groin with a strangled groan. He had to deal with it, before anyone else returned to the room. It was enough that they had witnessed his staring. This…this was something else altogether, and he couldn’t imagine having to hide an erection from his teammates like some prepubescent school boy.

Sasuke strode towards the small bath adjoined to their room, not even bothering to remove his robe as he practically collapsed in the heated water.  It had been a long time since he last touched himself. Even longer since he last wanted to. For many years it had been little more than a bodily necessity, something he had to take care of every so often in an effort to focus entirely on his training. But this time his hands pushed aside the fabric trapping his arousal eagerly. He grasped his hardness firmly, immediately running his fingers up and down, spreading the precome at the tip along his length.

It felt unreal.  Was exactly what he needed. And he knew it wouldn’t take him long to finish.

He never thought he’d be in an onsen, masturbating as an adult, ten feet from Naruto’s sleeping form of all places.  If he turned his head to the side, he even had a clear line of sight.  He stared unabashedly, giving in to every urge inside that he so desperately wanted to ignore.  Naruto’s robe had slipped further, his entire chest now exposed, and one of his legs had escaped from the blankets of the futon, leaving a new expanse of skin available for Sasuke’s viewing pleasure.  He swallowed, imagining where that leg lead to, wondered if he’d find freckles even in those places hidden from the sun.  He wanted to know what it would be like to kiss along the inner edge of his thigh, to make his way slowly along the inside of one leg, to the place in between them. His hand paused, squeezing tightly around the head of his cock, before starting to move again at a more rapid pace.

Sasuke threw his head back, sinking further into the water.  It lapped at his shoulders, and splashed around his arm’s quick movements.  He bucked up into his fist, gritting his teeth as the pressure built. It took him less than a few minutes in total to finish, and he strained to hold in a groan as he came into the water. His body tensed up with his release, and once done, he slumped against the edge of the bath as he caught his breath.

He tilted his head to the side, blinking sweat from his eyes as he looked into the room. Sasuke really just got off to the sight of his half naked best friend.

His half naked drugged and injured best friend.

And he didn’t even regret it. 

“Shit.”

Chapter Text


Sasuke hadn’t expected to have an existential crisis over being sexually attracted to his best friend in his early adult years, and yet, here he was. Struggling with said crisis.  Fighting tooth and nail to eliminate any of the related thoughts from his mind.

It was fucking impossible.

He was almost convinced the memories of Naruto bleeding out on the stone would have been preferable at this point, but any time those particular images sprouted up in his mind his body physically recoiled to the point of nearly making himself ill. After Naruto had mostly recovered, they had spent three long weeks making the journey home. Sasuke struggled immensely, with little else to do other than stare at Naruto’s ass as he jumped from tree to tree in front of him, or at his shoulders when he swung from one branch to the next, or his toes as he pulled them from his dirty sandals and stretched them out in front of the fire.

Now that certain desires had made themselves known, they seemed intent to overtake his every waking moment. Sasuke couldn’t stop wondering what it would be like to touch him. To have his mouth on him.  To be inside of him.  It felt like the greatest test of his life as he pretended to feel nothing when Naruto’s fingers sometimes found his back, or when his head occasionally fell against his shoulder in rest. When in reality, it was as if a chidori was running along all of his nerve endings.

Sasuke was irritable and tired, hardly sleeping. He spent most nights during their travel staring up into the trees blankly, well after everyone else had gone to sleep, torn between feeling guilty for thinking about Naruto in such a way and exhilarated at the reaction those thoughts ignited inside of him. He was tense at all times, his body constantly straining against his urges to reach out and touch. If anyone had noticed, they refrained from commenting.   

“Sasuke, Sasuke, come on I’m sore. Rub them!” Naruto whined one night, throwing his legs over Sasuke’s crossed ones with a pleading face. He wiggled his toes theatrically and Sasuke lurched beneath him, pushing him away aggressively as he struggled to think about anything else at all.  Anything but the notion of running his fingers over curled toes and up beneath the fabric of Naruto’s pants along his calves. Naruto pouted dramatically and Sasuke glared. He hoped it came off as it usually might. He heard Naruto complaining loudly, but when he caught sight of his expression there was a hint of honest hurt hidden beneath it.  Sasuke could see it in the way his grin faltered just so slightly at the edges, in how his eyebrows scrunched up a bit more than normal, and how his gaze nervously flittered about. Sasuke winced and looked away.

He was almost certain that Naruto had started noticing something was wrong. In the evenings he would eye Sasuke warily, concern etched across his features. He didn’t say anything, probably afraid of what Sasuke might do in response.  After all, they’d been tense like this around each other once before. And that time, Sasuke had left.

Every instinct told Sasuke that he should just push Naruto away entirely. It was the safest method. But he wouldn’t, couldn’t do that again. He’d already isolated himself once, and then isolated Naruto as well as a result, and he wouldn’t make Naruto suffer again for his internal battles. Not now. Not after all they’d been through together.

He’d just have to deal with it himself.

But he needed some time.

Walking through the gates of Konoha was a bigger relief than it ever had been before. He itched to get through their mission report with Tsunade, his eye twitching as she grilled them about the most insignificant things.  Why were they late, why did Naruto get hurt, why didn’t they keep all of their targets alive, and on and on and on. She lectured them endlessly, like always, but Sasuke knew it would be little more than a few weeks before they were deployed as a unit again.  They were Konoha’s best after all.

Sasuke left her office in a hurry, all too desperate to get away from everyone else, even as Naruto shouted after him about grabbing dinner later that night. He didn’t show. Sasuke holed himself up inside the Uchiha compound instead where he knew Naruto wouldn’t intrude. He’d never stepped foot over the entryway before, respecting Sasuke’s privacy and the history associated with his family home. Sasuke spent the evening trying to meditate, but without fail, his thoughts always wandered back to Naruto.

They’d hardly been back a day before Sasuke asked Sakura to do the eye transplant for him.  He needed something to focus on. Something, anything, to get his mind off of Naruto. She gaped at him, asked for a day to make the preparations, and he agreed and actively avoided Naruto up until the time for the operation. He’d thought it was a perfect plan. If only to have more time to think.  But so much time in the hospital alone with his thoughts actually made everything that much more difficult.

He’d also been a fool to think it would keep Naruto from visiting him. The dobe was at his bedside every single day throughout his recovery. The only saving grace was that Sasuke couldn’t actually see him.  Except that he had an incredibly clear visual permanently implanted on his mind.  He listened to Naruto chatter during the days, struggled to sleep without thinking of him during the nights, and longed to actually be able look at him for real again the entire time.

The worst thing about it was there was absolutely nothing he could do to resolve the more physical side of his problem.  It was bad enough jerking off in their shared room at the onsen, but in a hospital bed? Where anyone could walk in at any moment? He refused. He spent a horrifying amount of time picturing the most disturbing images he could conjure just to will away his arousal each morning. In the end, his little plan to get away and sort out his thoughts had done nothing but make them ten times worse.

“Everything looks good,” Sakura said as she eased the bandages away from his eyes.  He kept them closed as she did a few tests before opening them slowly. The light stung for just a moment, and he squinted a bit, blinking rapidly as his eyes adapted. His vision was incredibly clear, more than clear. “I would recommend easing into using your sharingan.  But I know you won’t listen to my advice anyway.”

Before she’d finished the sentence he’d already activated the eternal mangekyo, surprised at how easily it came, and how painless it was. Sakura sighed and rolled her eyes, grumbling about idiotic patients as she packed up her supplies, while Sasuke looked around the hospital room in genuine shock.  He hadn’t expected the difference to be so noticeable. Clearly his vision had deteriorated more than he thought.

He couldn’t wait to test the limits of it, to see how much stronger he was now, how Naruto would fare against it when he could use it freely while they trained. He faltered, his heart rate skyrocketing at the mere idea of sparring with Naruto again.  Then like clockwork the idiot flew through the door and Sasuke’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of him. His hair was standing up all over the place, golden as can be in the early morning light. His eyes bright and bold, the detailing in the irises far more intricate than Sasuke ever could have imagined. His smile was like sunshine and rainbows and everything good in the world, and Sasuke’s heart thrummed in his chest so rapidly he was certain Naruto must have heard it.

He was so screwed.


Sasuke had given some lame excuse about needing time to adapt to his new eyes and disappeared yet again. He said he wanted to face Naruto fresh and ready and well-practiced for their next spar. In truth he was avoiding him like the plague.

He sat atop a small temple near the back of the Uchiha compound. A little river ran around it connected to the various fountains and ponds strewn about his land. It was a quiet area, calm. Furthest away from where the bulk of the slaughter had occurred, and he closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind. He listened to the birds chirping in the trees strewn around him, the running water in the tiny stream, and the leaves fluttering about on the soft breeze. Usually, he could concentrate here. But this time, it was simply impossible. He opened his eyes with a frustrated sigh and stared at the tree across from him. Kakashi stared right back.

“Kakashi-sensei,” Sasuke acknowledged.

“Sasuke,” Kakashi greeted, his visible eye narrowing into a crescent. He held his signature book in front of his face, written by some up and coming author inspired by the works of the late, great, Jiraiya. “You look troubled.”

Sasuke grimaced.  Troubled was one way of putting it he supposed.  He opened and closed his mouth several times, struggling to figure out how to word it. Sasuke really wasn’t one to work out his problems through conversation.  And while he trusted Kakashi, and felt confident that he could confide in him anything and everything, it wasn’t his instinct to do so. They both excelled at comfort in the form of silence. Still, some things couldn’t be explained without giving them a voice.

“I’ve been…having strange thoughts,” Sasuke muttered.  Kakashi stared at him, waiting for him to elaborate. He was likely more concerned than he let on. Strange thoughts could have meant anything. It wasn’t that long ago that strange thoughts meant a desire to murder and destroy Konoha with every inch of his being. But this time, his thoughts were of a completely different nature, and not the result of some external force attempting to take control of his body. These thoughts were all his own. “About…Naruto.”

At that Kakashi lowered his book slightly, meeting Sasuke’s gaze with a somewhat intrigued expression. “What kind of thoughts?” Sasuke merely flushed and turned away.

“Ah, young love,” Kakashi crooned teasingly.

“I d-don’t l-lo…lo,” Sasuke stuttered, his face reddening further as his eyes widened in disbelief.

“Hmm, if you say so.”

“I don’t!” Sasuke shouted, this time turning to glare at Kakashi vehemently. It had little effect.

“I completely believe you,” he said, though it was clear he did not. Not even remotely. He kept that same taunting grin on his face behind his mask, and Sasuke wished he could clearly see it, if only to be able to punch it away. Kakashi tucked his book into his pocket, resting his palms against his knees as his expression relaxed a bit. “Sasuke, the best advice I can give you is to follow your heart. Don’t worry so much, just let what happens happen.”

“What if…,” Sasuke trailed off. He looked briefly around the grounds, his worry evident. “What if he doesn’t want what happens to happen?”

“It’s Naruto,” Kakashi said, his eyebrow raised slightly as though that’s all the answer he needed. But the worry did not leave Sasuke’s eyes and Kakashi sighed exasperatedly. “The kid literally travelled the world for you,” he said. “He begged, pleaded, fought tooth and nail for you to return. At worst, he what, challenges you to a fight and forgives you mid battle?”

That did sound like something the idiot would do.

Kakashi stood up lazily, the tree branch wobbling ever so slightly beneath his weight. “Love isn’t something to fear, Sasuke.”

“I…I don-,”

“Don’t let yourself live a life filled only with regret,” Kakashi advised. He was looking away, gaze a bit distant, and Sasuke had to wonder exactly what thoughts he had on his mind. It sounded like he was speaking from experience. Sasuke supposed he likely was. After so many years battling alongside friends, surviving wars, there must have been decisions he greatly regretted. Losses that could have been prevented, words left unsaid. Sasuke certainly had his fair share of regrets already.

Kakashi turned towards him, winked once, and then hopped away, disappearing so quickly Sasuke could almost pretend he’d never been there at all. But his words were fresh at the forefront of Sasuke’s mind. He huffed in annoyance and gave up on trying to meditate, instead jumping down to the grassy knoll below to work through a series of katas. His form was too stiff. He could feel the disparity of balance, and could imagine his brother’s disappointed voice lecturing him for his lack of focus.

Sasuke swung Kusanagi a bit more aggressively than necessary, growling as he twisted it behind him through the air. He jumped and lunged, dancing around an imaginary foe, until he finished, sword held out over the stream as he caught his breath.  He gritted his teeth, relaxing his pose, not feeling any more at peace than he had prior to starting. His gaze dropped, staring down into the water. He could see his distorted reflection staring right back, the bright red irises of his eyes. Itachi’s eyes.

His brother had wanted a better future for him. He knew that now. One filled with happiness, if that were even a possibility for him. Itachi had sacrificed himself to free Sasuke from Orochimaru’s control, to allow his mind to think freely, so that he could make his own choices, hopefully the right ones.

And he had…he thought. He’d come back. 

The first thing he’d thought of once his shock and grief had dissipated had been Naruto. His thoughts had been oddly clear without the strange voice bating him, egging him on, encouraging him to give in to his hatred. The darkness that had clouded his choices was gone, replaced with regret, guilt, and shame. And though he knew what he had to do, it was still a struggle. He’d gathered what he could from his brother’s body, burned him, collected his ashes, and made the journey back alone. 

It hadn’t been easy walking through Konoha’s gates, arms bound behind his back as ten or more ANBU guards escorted him towards the Hokage tower. He’d been immediately arrested and imprisoned, put through questioning for days. He didn’t know how long he was in that dark cell before Naruto coerced his way down to see him, fingers clenching around the bars with wide open eyes. 

He’d looked just as Sasuke remembered him, with the exception of the extreme sadness and desperation behind his gaze. The moment the door opened Naruto collapsed against him, a mess of tears, hands clawing at Sasuke’s shirt as his entire body trembled with his sobs. It was so…out of character. Naruto didn’t cry. He showed his emotions, certainly, but he never openly cried. Not like that. He was always positive, always hopeful.

Sasuke had expected Naruto to hit him first, shout at him second, and perhaps grin at him stupidly third, if he was lucky. But…he’d lost his godfather, Jiraiya, just a few weeks before. That death had hit him particularly hard.  Jiraiya was one of his last remaining links to his father. Someone he considered family. And he was gone, so suddenly. 

Seeing Sasuke, had been even more unexpected, and just another thing on a long list of emotional turmoil he’d suffered. Finally it all came tumbling down, and he just…let go. His carefully crafted mask cracked, and sixteen years of pain came pouring out. Sasuke stayed silent, as always, but his arms had moved without thought, holding Naruto gently as he confided in Sasuke his greatest fears. 

He thought he was cursed. That he would lose everyone who got too close. And he blamed himself for the hurt that others had endured. He blamed himself for Jiraiya’s death, for Sakura’s sorrow. For not being strong enough to stop Orochimaru, or to protect the third Hokage all those years ago at their first Chuunin exams. He even blamed himself for Sasuke leaving. And, well, Sasuke certainly hadn’t helped with that particular notion. If anything, he’d done his best to ensure Naruto thought so, to ensure Naruto hated him, and to convince him he was hated in return. 

And yet…Sasuke’s return still meant the world to Naruto, and he said as much, even confiding that he understood if Sasuke chose to hate him, to stay away. For what he was, for whatever curse was upon him.  Just so long as Sasuke was happy, so long as Sasuke stayed.

He didn’t hate him. He didn’t stay away. He couldn’t. He’d called him an idiot and held him tighter while Naruto cried into his shoulder.

Sasuke waited still, for what must have been weeks, before he was brought to Lady Tsunade to make a statement and plead his case. There were protests, a lot of them. But Naruto had gone so far as to get down on his knees and plead with the council for leniency.  He swore that Sasuke was good at heart, that he’d been manipulated, and that Konoha had done nothing to earn his trust. They had thrown him to the side when his clan was murdered, practically orchestrated the whole thing secretly themselves, and been at the root of nearly all of the problems leading up to the events as well. Then they had the audacity to blame him, when he wanted to seek revenge for his family’s murder. And yet he still gave his loyalty, he still came back.  Sasuke wisely chose not to clarify that his loyalty was to Naruto first and foremost, and that Konoha meant little by comparison.

Even then…even then Naruto was still fighting for Sasuke. With his heart so full of hurt.

Love.

What a foreign word. 

He didn’t really know what it meant to love, to be loved. He hadn’t had much time with his parents, and if they loved him, it had been a cold love. Repressed and hidden, more of an obligation than anything else. Perhaps, under different circumstances they might have showed it more. Itachi too, loved him, he supposed. But it was stilted by his duties and regrets, and the pressures he faced at such a young age to be something he wasn’t. He hadn’t really shown it to Sasuke until the moment of his death. Sakura’s love had been hollow. She loved the idea of him, and nothing more. Thankfully she had grown to realize the truth of that in time.   

Naruto though…

Did Naruto love him?  He wasn’t sure. Naruto certainly knew him better than anyone, had seen the darkest parts of his heart and accepted them without question. He was always there for Sasuke, always willing to listen when Sasuke chose to talk, or fight when he needed to let off some steam. But the idiot also cared for seemingly every person in the village, regardless of how poorly they treated him. He cared for their enemies half the time, always trying to reason with them if he could, as if they would suddenly have an epiphany and decide to be good.

It had worked on Sasuke though, hadn’t it?

Sasuke sighed heavily, his shoulders drooping as he let the sharingan fade from his eyes. Even then, with his thoughts in turmoil, he craved Naruto’s presence. But what exactly was it about him that kept pulling him in? Did he…want something more with Naruto? More than just sparring sessions and shouting matches. More than a quick fuck?

He frowned at the idea of simply using Naruto as a method of release. The mere notion of that felt wrong. Naruto deserved better than that. He’d already been used more than was acceptable in Sasuke’s eyes. Before he’d even had the chance for free thought his body had been taken from him to become a vessel for a demon. The last thing Sasuke wanted was to take advantage of him. 

Naruto was worth so much more.

Sasuke clenched his hands around the hilt of his blade, his body tensing as he was hit with sudden realization. He really should have figured it out much sooner. It was obvious, now that he took the time to really think. It was right there in the back of his mind, so easy to see. And perhaps this was why Shikamaru and Shino had laughed at him secretively, why even Neji, who failed to understand human connections more than most, was surprised he didn’t get it.

Hadn’t it always been about Naruto?

It was Naruto who acted as a catalyst for his sharingan, Naruto who always pushed him to grow stronger, to fight harder. Naruto who made him regret leaving Konoha. Naruto who finalized his resolve to return. 

Naruto, Naruto, Naruto.

He tried to push him from his mind, but found he did not want to lose sight of his face. Of his smile. It was more than simply caring for someone. Of course he wanted more than a quick fuck.  

He wanted to lie with him beneath the sun, kissing languidly as they watched the clouds pass by. He wanted to hold him close after finding release together, draw little shapes against his skin with his fingers and make Naruto guess what they were. He wanted to eat every meal with him, cook with him, for him, and watch the idiot’s face change into a surprised grin every time he tried something new and different. He wanted to hear his laugh as he tangled in the sheets with him, his satisfied moans as Sasuke slid within his body just right.

Sasuke could grudgingly admit that he cared for others in the village. He cared for Sakura, who chastised him near daily, but never failed to heal the wounds he carelessly received in battle. He cared for Kakashi, who taught him, and forgave him, and never treated him like a mere child. He even cared for his classmates, the ones he’d grown up with, and had done his best to ignore for the better part of his life, but who he willingly fought beside now.

But Naruto…Naruto was different. Naruto was special.

He…he loved him.


Sasuke cowardly avoided Naruto for a solid week before the blond finally showed up just outside the Uchiha compound’s front gates. Sasuke sensed his chakra presence immediately and still foolishly considered ignoring it. But eventually he sighed, strapping Kusanagi to his waist as he made his way out to meet him.

After laying eyes on him, Sasuke was immediately glad he hadn’t stayed tucked inside.

Naruto looked so hesitant. Guilty, almost. He met Sasuke’s gaze with that same fearful look he’d shown when Sasuke said he was leaving all those years ago. Except this time it lacked the determination to hold him back. Probably because Naruto thought that whatever was going on with Sasuke was his fault. Sasuke wanted to scream.

“Dobe,” Sasuke said, leaning against the gate nonchalantly, despite the fact that he was shaking on the inside. Naruto brightened immediately, his whole demeanour changing in an instant with just that single word.

“Teme! It’s been a week!” he shouted, pointing at Sasuke accusatorily. “Don’t tell me you need even more time. Come on already! I wanna spar!”

“Get ready to lose, dead last,” Sasuke taunted.

“Bastard, I’ll show you whose last!”

The two of them raced to the training grounds, their favourite location, out over the small lake near the outskirts of Konoha. It provided an extra level of difficulty for them, having to not only dodge and parry each other’s attacks, but also to keep themselves consistently above the water.

They wasted no time, jumping right into battle.

Sasuke had been worried it wouldn’t be like normal.  He thought Naruto would take one look at him and know about every intimate thought that had passed through his head in the week they spent apart. But it was just like always.  They bantered back and forth, relentlessly teased each other, danced around each other until their hits increased in power and speed and started to land.  No one else could spar like they did.  No one else was willing to inflict the damage they did in training.  But both of them could handle it.  They knew exactly what limits they could go to, and it was how they had both managed to increase their strength so rapidly in such a short amount of time.

Sasuke was gleeful at just how much quicker he’d become, simply from his ability to better predict and intercept Naruto’s moves. He could also ease in and out of genjutsu with even more finesse than before, surprising Naruto more than once by trapping him inside his illusions. He kept them simplistic, nothing too frightening, dropping him in and out of them quickly just to test his ability to do so. Naruto didn’t need to face nightmares he wasn’t expecting. There would be time for that later. When they were in the right mindset and Sasuke could pay careful attention to the amount of psychological damage he might accidentally inflict.

He brought out his Susanoo, glad to have the space to really test its new size and form, and Naruto gaped up at it, his mouth opening slightly in awe. He paused atop the water, focusing intently, bringing forth his sage mode shortly after.

They fought for what must have been hours, pushing each other until they were nearly at their limits.  Sasuke’s breaths were heavy from fatigue, Naruto staring at him with three glowing red tails streaking out from his body.  They both grinned before moving in for a final attack. They shouted, drawing on their remaining chakra stores and flew at each other atop the water, leaving hardly a ripple in their wake.  Their arms reached out, Kusanagi clenched tightly in Sasuke’s grip while Naruto’s clones ran alongside him in tandem, right into the middle of the lake, until they suddenly stopped, just inches from each other’s bodies. Sasuke’s sword nearly tickled the edge of Naruto’s neck, lightning flickering along the blade, and Naruto’s fist had paused just shy of Sasuke’s gut, the wind of his rasengan spinning rapidly in his palm.  Both of them deadly attacks, had they allowed them to land. They smirked and lowered their arms to their sides. The chakra dissipated into the air. Naruto slipped out of sage mode with a heavy pant and Sasuke blinked his eyes back to their regular steely black.

It had been one of their better spars. Naruto was clearly fully recovered, might have even taken the win had Sasuke not suddenly been just that much quicker, just that much stronger with the eternal mangekyo. Its power was incredible. Having the ability to use it indefinitely, without any repercussion was unbelievable. Sasuke couldn’t wait to test it more.  He knew that in time, Naruto would grow to adjust to this speed as well. He could have brought out more tails and risked his control, but today hadn’t been about that. They would push themselves like that another time, when they had the space to do so without endangering the village. 

It was a bit gray out, a storm clearly on the way, but it didn’t stop Naruto from shining brightly like the sun. Sasuke was beginning to realize that he looked like that at nearly all times of the day. Naruto could have been hidden in the darkest of shadows and still looked like rays of light were shooting from inside his very being. Sasuke glanced at the water beneath them to hide his smile, and then a sudden thought struck him.

“Hold your breath,” Sasuke drawled.

“Huh?”

Hardly a second later Sasuke smirked and gripped the front of Naruto’s shirt, tugging him down into the water below. Naruto screeched as his chakra control faltered and he fell. He breathed in a hefty amount of water, and sputtered and spat it out as his head resurfaced.

“Teme!” Naruto shouted. The glare he directed at Sasuke would have terrified anyone else, but Sasuke merely laughed at him loudly before they were full on brawling in the water. It quickly turned playful, the two of them dunking each other’s heads and splashing water around with their arms. Naruto squeaked and started swimming away as Sasuke chased him, tugging at his kicking toes. He took a particularly rough hit to the face and Naruto started laughing before Sasuke tackled him and pulled him under again.

“Last one to the shore has to buy dinner tomorrow!” Naruto shouted after they both broke the surface of the water, and suddenly they were racing to swim across the lake at top speed. Naruto made it first and when Sasuke reached the grassy edge he gasped for air and slammed his arms around Naruto’s shoulders, encasing his body against the soil.

“Tch, cheater, you used a water jutsu at the end didn’t you,” Sasuke spat.

Naruto shook the droplets from his hair and stuck his tongue out at Sasuke playfully, turning around to face him. “Didn’t realize there were rules.”

Sasuke tilted his head.  They were so close, closer than they had been even during their spar, and he couldn’t help but take in each and every detail on Naruto’s face.  Several new freckles had popped up across his nose, and his eyelashes were all clumped together beneath the wet strands of hair plastered against his skin.  Sasuke pushed Naruto’s bangs out of his eyes, slicking his hair back and away from his brow.  It made him look younger, brighter, less tarnished by years of missions and loss.

Sasuke’s vision caught sight of the little silver chain around his neck and he snorted.  Naruto was wearing the frog necklace again.  He pulled it from beneath his shirt, gripped it between his fingers and tugged, gently urging Naruto’s head closer. Then his gaze locked and focused on those brilliant blue irises.  So close he could see every detail within them.  The slight variations in colours combined together to create something unique.  He could even see the reflection of the setting sun, the little light sparkles that glistened along his lower eyelids.

He was…incredibly beautiful.

Sasuke faltered, swallowing the little moisture that was left in his throat.  His gaze flickered down to Naruto’s lips, watching as his tongue peeked out to moisten them, and Sasuke did the same with his own.  Naruto wasn’t moving away.  Why wasn’t he moving away?

Let what happens happen, Kakashi had said.

Any reservations Sasuke had about his feelings disappeared in a fraction of a second and it was incredibly easy, too easy, to lean forward and press his lips against Naruto’s. It wasn’t the first time they’d kissed.  Not even the second.  But it was certainly the first time they’d kissed like this.

Hesitant. Soft. Sweet.

Intentional.

Sasuke felt a tremble run through Naruto’s form as he licked gently at his lower lip.  He wasn’t expecting such an obvious reaction, and the thrill that ran through him at feeling Naruto’s shaking body startled him. Sasuke’s eyes were at half mast, but he could see the dark flush rising on Naruto’s cheeks, the way his lashes fluttered as he blinked water from his eyes.  They paused, lips barely touching as they broke away for air, and Sasuke felt a strange tingling sensation run up his spine, almost like electricity, but without the pain.

Fuck.

Was it supposed to feel that good?

Sasuke was hard as a rock beneath his soaked clothing.  He wanted nothing more than to push his body into Naruto’s and take him right there against the riverbank.  But he fought the urge, panting against Naruto’s lips as he stared into his eyes.  They were wide open now, but clouded with an emotion that Sasuke was hesitant to name.  Lust, perhaps? But it felt like more than that as well. 

It had been so chaste and yet Naruto was flushed and winded, shaky breaths escaping from between his lips against Sasuke’s face. It was so clear he wanted this just as much. Sasuke was enraptured.

They were so still. So quiet.

He could have pushed away, could have denied it, feigned temporary madness.  It wasn’t too late. But he didn’t want to. Naruto could have done the same, instead he seemed intent to stare at Sasuke’s lips in wonder. What did he have to run from now? What reason did he have to avoid this, to push it aside? He could not come up with a single one.

Sasuke leaned in again, this time for a deeper, longer kiss. And Naruto hummed against him happily. Their bodies twisted together beneath the water, little ripples splashing at their shoulders as they ground against each other. Naruto’s arms snaked around his shoulders, hands dragging through his hair. His fingers clenched in the strands, tugged at them firmly enough to make Sasuke groan, and he gripped Naruto’s waist and lower back tightly in return, grasping at the wet fabric as he tugged him impossibly close.  He dragged his hand around Naruto’s neck, urging his head back and to the side for a better angle and Naruto moaned against his lips. He opened his mouth with a gasp and Sasuke hopped on the chance to devour him.  His tongue ran across the roof of Naruto’s mouth, making him shudder in Sasuke’s hold. It seemed he’d found a particularly sensitive spot, and Sasuke wanted to exploit that as much as he could. 

At some point Naruto’s legs had wrapped around him, and Sasuke realized he was practically holding his body up.  He ran his arms down, beneath Naruto’s ass and lifted him even further before pressing him more solidly against the shoreline. Naruto cried out, and Sasuke froze, surprised to feel an answering hardness to the one he’d sported long ago. He pushed into him curiously, stunned by the noises Naruto began to make in response. It was too much at once. Sasuke had never felt anything like it. He needed to stop, to slow down, or it would be over far too soon.

It took every ounce of his willpower to do so, and Sasuke nibbled at Naruto’s lip one last time before easing off. When they broke apart, Naruto looked dazed.  He was panting, droplets of water dripping from his hair down the side of his face.  His fingers clenched in Sasuke’s shirt, and Sasuke knew he’d been moments away from releasing in his pants like a teenager. For some reason that made Sasuke smile. He kissed Naruto’s nose lightly, then his cheek, and pressed their faces together as Naruto’s legs slid regretfully away from his hips.

“Come over,” Sasuke whispered against his ear.

“H-huh?”

“Come over tonight,” he said again.

“O-okay.”

They caught their breath for a few moments longer before dragging themselves from the water and starting to walk side by side. It had started to rain. But the droplets were warm, and their clothes already soaked through, so they were in no hurry to get somewhere inside. Naruto was looking down, smiling softly, and Sasuke reached out, touched his fingertips lightly.  Naruto startled, but twisted their hands together shortly after, and Sasuke thought his heart might seize in his chest.  He pushed him away roughly.

“Hey!” Naruto shouted, staggering to the side as his feet landed in a puddle. He stared at Sasuke aghast. Sasuke stood there, still, watching. And then he was smiling, his gaze softening as he took in Naruto’s incredulous face. He didn’t think he’d ever felt quite this happy before.  All he wanted was to keep standing in the rain with Naruto. Like a complete and utter idiot.

Blue eyes widened, staring right back. But then Naruto was grinning at him, and he jumped in the puddle at Sasuke’s feet and ran off down the pathway, laughing obnoxiously all the way. Sasuke snorted before running after him, pushing him right back and doing the same.

It was pouring now, as the two of them laughed and ran through Konoha’s streets, jumping in puddles like children. By the time they reached the large gate with the Uchiha clan symbol engraved at its centre they were both a mess of mud and water. Naruto paused at the edge of the entryway, clearly nervous, but Sasuke reached out and dragged him inside without a second thought.

The compound was almost like a miniature village, sporting winding cobblestone pathways and several homes and even storefronts that had been active once upon a time. When Sasuke was young, the streets were always busy, with clan members roaming freely, and even other villagers who had been invited inside for trades or meetings. Now, it was quiet and dreary, like a ghost town. The police force headquarters a looming presence on the rest of the compound, the empty homes eerie and uninviting.

He led Naruto down the pathway most familiar to him, where his family home sat ominously at the end. Without fail the memories made themselves known. No matter how hard Sasuke tried he couldn’t quite erase the vision of lifeless bodies that once lined the streets from his mind. He’d seen all of them. Hundreds of them. Every single Uchiha clan member gutted and left to die in the paths or inside their homes. Even after years of rain and weather damage he swore he could still see the bloodstains strewn about the brick and stone.

As they walked towards the large house Naruto eyed everything with extreme interest. He hadn’t often been inside any of the clan districts and although the Uchiha district was not the biggest in terms of land mass, it was still quite large and the most intricately designed. During the festivals, the decorations that lit up the streets had been a sight to see. Sasuke wished he could have shown him that instead.

“Wow, you live here?” Naruto asked, looking up at the tall shoji doors and clan symbols over the archway of the home. “It’s so much bigger than my apartment.”

Sasuke stared at the doorway, hesitant to take that last step just yet, to walk Naruto inside of the place where many of his nightmares stemmed from. There were other things he usually tended to prior to returning home each day as well, and he felt surprisingly uncomfortable breaking those traditions. He eyed Naruto carefully, wondering…

“What’s wrong?” Naruto asked.

Sasuke reached out and fiddled with Naruto’s fingers before grasping his hand tightly. “I…have something I want to show you,” he said. Naruto swallowed nervously, and Sasuke tugged him along gently to the side, walking down the small pathway winding around behind his home instead. There weren’t any buildings in this part of the compound, the trail changing to dirt as they walked between two stone fences lining the way.  The rain pattered lightly across overhanging tree branches, the occasional droplet landing on their faces and shoulders. There was another gate at the end, made from simple wrought iron shapes, and it creaked as Sasuke pushed it open and led Naruto into a garden clearing. Sasuke took a second to form a few hand signs, lighting the small lanterns hung throughout the area. This was the only place Sasuke had really paid much attention to on the compound after returning.

There were stones inlaid in the ground, hundreds of them, one for every member of the clan. He’d spent nearly all of his free hours planting the flowers in the gardens, and Ino had helped him carefully pick out the seeds, patiently teaching him how to properly tend to them and the meaning behind each type once she’d realized what they were for. It was the least he could do to honour the memory of those that once lived and thrived before him. He didn’t know many of the names, had only met a select few of the clan members as a child, but they still deserved his respect and proper memorials.

Naruto seemed hesitant, like he thought he might be intruding, and Sasuke could see the reluctance in his gaze. When Naruto’s hand nearly slipped from his grip Sasuke merely grabbed it tighter and continued hauling him along.

“These are my parents, and…my brother,” Sasuke said, stopping before a group of stones nestled together near the centre. Naruto’s hand tightened around his, and he looked back and forth between the stones and Sasuke rapidly. Sasuke rolled his eyes and shoved him forward so he stumbled a bit and stood right in front of them. “Dobe, introduce yourself to them.”

Naruto staggered and bowed low, stammering out a greeting. His face flushed deeply, and his posture was unsure as he raised and lowered his torso several times.

“Th-thank you for letting me visit, I’m grateful,” he spoke quietly towards the stones, hands clasped together in front of his body. “I-I don’t have an offering, I’m sorry.”

After his whispered words Sasuke stepped beside him and pulled him close to his side. He stared down at the stones as he had so many times before, wondering how different his life might have been if his parents were still alive. He pushed his wet hair out of his face, blinked the rain from his eyes. “It’s been thirteen years now, since the massacre. Three since…,” he paused, his eyes drifting to Itachi’s name. Naruto shuffled closer. “I always come here after I train, after we spar.  I talk to them sometimes, when I’m feeling…lost. I know they can’t really hear anything I say, that they might not even care if they could, but-,”

“Of course they can!” Naruto blurted. He pushed himself in front of Sasuke and peered up into his face seriously. “I know they can.  I bet they watch over you all of the time,” he insisted. “I bet they’re so proud of you.”

Sasuke wasn’t sure what to say. He looked at him strangely, but Naruto didn’t back down, the same intent expression plastered across his face.

“Proud of me,” Sasuke stated, trying to come to terms with such unexpected words. No one had ever been proud of Sasuke before, had they? He’d done nothing to earn such a thing. He’d always lived in the shadow of his brother, had only failed time and time again to achieve the same level of greatness.

“Absolutely,” Naruto said. “How could they not be? I know I…didn’t really know your family at all. But look at you now Sasuke. You’re a Jounin! One of the strongest in Konoha, probably everywhere! You’ve helped so many people, and…and…you’ve helped me too.” He placed his hands over Sasuke’s chest and evened out the shirt now wrinkled and drenched with water. “Teme, believe it.”

Sasuke couldn’t help the crumpled expression that formed on his face. He stared at Naruto in disbelief. Standing there, in the middle of that practical graveyard, he’d always felt so undeserving of all that he had. How could he possibly believe that any of these people would have been proud of him? When all he’d done is watch, like the coward he was, as they were mutilated and destroyed one by one. And then he’d gone on to further shame the Uchiha name by defecting, allowing someone else to control his thoughts, and succumbing to the hatred his clan had tried so hard to escape from.

And then there was Naruto, looking up at him like he mattered, like he was the most important person in his world. His voice so very soft. “It’s not fair,” Naruto whispered. “I wish…I wish I could take all your pain away.”

His eyes looked watery, and Sasuke even thought he saw a tear fall, but it quickly blended in with droplets of rain. He reached out and pressed his thumb against Naruto’s cheekbone, wiping the trail of liquid away.  He hated it.  Seeing that sadness on Naruto’s face.  Because of him.  For him.  It was different from the wretched looks that others often directed his way.  Naruto’s sadness was born of pure concern and legitimate anguish.  Because he understood.  He knew what it was like to grow up in an empty home, without anyone there to greet you, or love you, or care for you.  He also knew what it was like to be whispered about, tormented, and mocked by strangers.  He’d been called names, isolated, ignored. 

Sasuke knew that he spoke honestly, that each and every word came from a place of genuine sincerity.  Naruto would have taken his pain, had he been able.  Naruto would have changed their entire history given the ability to do so, if only to spare Sasuke of his loss.

Even when everyone else had given up on him, Naruto refused.  Naruto had chased him, followed him across the country, fought for him, begged and pleaded for him upon his return. Sasuke could not fathom where such loyalty had come from.  He’d done nothing to warrant it.  He’d said terrible things to Naruto, pushed him away aggressively for so long.  And though some of it could be blamed upon the curse mark’s manipulation, Sasuke knew he’d never been kind per se.  Not after the massacre. Even when they were children he’d been so resistant, unable to truly form a bond with those around him.

He didn’t deserve it.  He didn’t deserve him. Naruto was too pure for him. But he couldn’t stay away, couldn’t help but want to have him as his own, even if it meant tarnishing that purity forever. Sasuke ran his hand down the side of Naruto’s face, his thumb along his lower lip, before leaning close and pressing their brows together.

“Naruto…”

He didn’t often say his name like that. Sometimes he shouted it, in the midst of battle, or when the blond was being incredibly stupid, occasionally in conversation with others. Rarely did he just…say it to him, in that quiet way, almost reverently, the syllables falling slowly over his lips with the utmost care.

He wanted Naruto to only know happiness from that point on.  To feel nothing but the affection and adoration he deserved.  He wanted to protect him, from the world, and anyone who looked upon him with anything less than the utmost respect.  Shikamaru had been right.  He wasn’t a shinobi to seek revenge, or greater strength, or power.  He fought because his heart told him it was right.  To see just a hint of happiness on the face of the one he cared for most.  He would move mountains if it meant Naruto could smile for another day.

There was a crash of thunder, and the rain picked up again, falling even harder than before. Naruto blinked up at him, and Sasuke didn’t say another word, instead he held out his hand and Naruto grabbed it. They hurried back down the pathway towards his house, feet splashing in the puddles along the way. Sasuke opened the front door quickly alongside another crack of thunder, muttering a greeting as he stepped over the entryway.

It was much cooler inside, especially with their clothing soaked right through. Naruto held his arms around himself rubbing some warmth into his skin as Sasuke gestured him to move ahead. For the most part he let Naruto browse on his own, following him into the rooms and answering the occasional question with a nod or shake of his head. He let Naruto touch things and fiddle, peer through the cracks in doorways before sliding them open. They left trails of water in their wake, but Sasuke didn’t mind. It would be easy enough to mop up later.

Naruto looked at absolutely everything, picked up everything, touched everything, like he’d never seen anything like it before in his life.  Once upon a time Sasuke would have been annoyed by it. But right then it felt right. Different.  Personal.

“This is…your bedroom?” Naruto asked, as they walked inside the most visibly lived in room in the entire building aside from the kitchen. Sasuke’s weapons hung on the wall, and the occasional book or scroll sat atop his shelves. It was not as organized as the other rooms, but lacked the thick layers of dust found throughout the rest of the house.

“Hn.”

Sasuke walked closer to the bed, slipping off his sopping shirt before throwing a towel around his shoulders, smirking when Naruto blushed and looked away. He watched him clasp his hands together, nervously twiddling his thumbs in circles as he peered at a series of picture frames atop Sasuke’s dresser. There was one of his parents, another of himself and Itachi, and a little picture he’d taken as a child at a festival. But the one Naruto seemed most drawn to was the picture of team seven, taken right after they’d passed the Genin exam, before they started doing missions.

“Oh! I didn’t think you’d keep it!” Naruto exclaimed, picking up the frame to look at it closer. He smiled, turning to face Sasuke excitedly. It wasn’t even a particularly good photo. He looked annoyed in it, and Naruto equally pissed off. Sakura was the only one with a genuine smile. Even Kakashi looked pretty exasperated. But it had been taken before everything had gone to shit. Before Sasuke had royally fucked up. Sasuke glanced from the photo back to Naruto’s gleeful expression, not for the first time wondering what Naruto had seen in him then. Why he had felt so compelled to follow after Sasuke, when he’d done nothing but push him away and belittle him up to that point. Sasuke must have frowned without realizing, because the grin dropped from Naruto’s face almost immediately.

“What?” Naruto asked. “Why are you staring at me like that?”

Sasuke scowled a bit and walked closer to him, backing him into a corner until he had nowhere to escape to. Naruto stammered and stared up at him, eyes wide open. His hair was still wet, dripping all over the place, and Sasuke played with it for a few seconds before tugging the towel from his shoulders throwing it over Naruto’s head. He rubbed it around, drying Naruto’s hair best he could.

“Hey!” Naruto complained, fighting him off half-heartedly. He giggled a bit and grinned at him, and Sasuke stalled, the towel hanging limply from his fingers.

Cute.

He couldn’t even deny it anymore. As much as he hated the word, it was just so fitting. Sasuke’s chest tightened, and he didn’t even try to convince himself otherwise. His gaze lowered. Naruto’s clothing was drenched, clinging to him so tightly that Sasuke could make out the points of his nipples and the subtle dip of his belly button. Naruto’s gaze drifted down as well, following a droplet of water as it rolled along the contours of Sasuke’s chest.  His breathing became heavier, and he squeezed his legs together, hands still clasped on the picture frame tightly as goosebumps formed along his arms.

“Why are you so…,” Sasuke began.

“So…what?”

So fucking perfect, he wanted to shout. Instead he plucked the frame from between Naruto’s fingers, setting it on the nearest shelf, before grabbing the back of his neck and kissing him hard. Naruto let out a surprised squeak and squirmed against him, but made no attempt to push him off. So Sasuke didn’t stop. He kissed him deeply, twisting him around as he lifted his shirt and walked him back towards the bed. Their legs tangled together on the way, and Naruto nearly stumbled as the backs of his knees hit the mattress, reaching out with a shout to hold onto Sasuke’s shoulders.

“Y-your sheets’ll get wet,” Naruto mumbled against his lips, and Sasuke nipped at him to shut him up.

“I don’t care.”

He pushed Naruto back a tad roughly, watching as his body bounced a bit when it landed against the blankets below. He was gorgeous, lying there, looking up at Sasuke with flushed skin and swollen lips, his damp hair fanning out against the bed. He wanted to see more. He wanted to see all of him.  Sasuke growled in annoyance and yanked on Naruto’s legs, tugging him down the mattress so he could more easily slide off his pants and underclothing. It was a bit difficult, easing the wet fabric from Naruto’s legs, but eventually he pulled it over his feet and tossed it to the floor.

Sasuke stopped and stared, took in everything, every inch of skin. He’d seen glimpses of Naruto before, in bath houses and on missions, but never fully naked and bared out before him like this. He really was beautiful, and Sasuke could not tear his gaze away. Naruto flushed under the scrutiny and shimmied away before grabbing a blanket and throwing it over his naked form.

“Teme! Stop staring!” He shouted, curled beneath the blanket with his legs tucked up against his body. He was embarrassed.  Or shy.  Sasuke wasn’t sure. He’d never seen Naruto react in such a way. It made him want to be that much more careful.

Sasuke crawled over him slowly, kissed the bit of his brow that was still showing, before gently tugging at the blanket, pulling it away from his face.

“S-Sasuke?” Naruto stuttered, and Sasuke kissed down the bridge of his nose, over his eyelids, and then claimed his lips with slow but sure movements. He worked his way down Naruto’s jaw, then across the whisker markings adorning his face, licking once along the rim of his ear and causing him to shudder.

“Let me see you, I want to see you,” Sasuke whispered. Naruto flushed heavily, and blinked at him a few times. His grip on the blanket tightened at first, but slackened over time, and Sasuke eased it out of his fingers and pulled it aside. He was reminded of that time in the onsen, where he’d wondered what Naruto would look like beneath his robes, only now he could see everything clear as can be.

Sasuke propped himself up on his knees, sitting between Naruto’s legs as his gaze travelled down the expanse of Naruto’s body and back up again. He really did have freckles everywhere. They were clumped together in nonsensical patterns and Sasuke wanted to drag his fingers across them all, connecting them into imaginary designs. He could draw a line from the little dot just beneath his belly button to the three clustered together on the left side of his hip. Then there were the seven dots in a jagged row on his inner thigh that looked like the beginnings of a constellation map on his body.

Sasuke smile faintly, fingers itching to reach out and touch.

Naruto was half hard, shaking just slightly, his head turned to the side as he avoided meeting Sasuke’s gaze. Nervous. Of what? Sasuke wouldn’t hurt him. Surely he knew that now. Didn’t he?

He ran his hands up and down Naruto’s thighs slowly, trying to lessen the trembles, and then touched his belly, just where the Kyuubi’s seal once resided. Naruto’s abdomen stuttered beneath his touch. Just above Sasuke could see the scar left behind from their last mission, one of the only scars on his entire body, since it had taken so long to heal. Sasuke frowned and placed his palm across the mark, and Naruto turned his head then to meet his gaze. Sasuke clenched his jaw. He would never let something like that happen again.

Sasuke unzipped his pants, sliding himself free of the fabric and Naruto was uncharacteristically quiet as he watched him through half open eyes. Sasuke stroked himself a couple times, looking down at Naruto’s body heatedly, and his eyes widened when Naruto suddenly reached out to touch him in return. Tentative fingers wrapped around his arousal then halted, as though Naruto was half expecting to be reprimanded for doing so. Instead Sasuke thrust forward, urging him on.

After a minute or so he tugged Naruto closer, lifting his lower body beneath his thighs and pressing their groins together. Naruto gasped and threw his head back, his hand loosening and grasping at air. The new position felt incredible. In no time at all they were both leaking with arousal and Sasuke reached for Naruto’s fingers, linking their hands as he lined their erections up more carefully and thrust slowly. Naruto bucked against him and shivered, a little gasp escaping from between his lips.

“Have you ever been with a man before?” Sasuke asked, his voice a bit raspy. 

Naruto tucked his head against his own shoulder on the next downward thrust, his knees squeezing around Sasuke’s hips. His entire chest was flushed now, his nipples peaked, mouth open as he breathed in and out heavily. He looked incredible. “I’ve never been with anyone before,” he admitted, gaze shifting to the side and back again.

Sasuke paused, staring down at him, their hands clasped tightly together. Suddenly he was nervous as well and he swallowed around the lump that formed in his throat. For some reason unfathomable to him, Naruto trusted him with this. To take care of him, to be his…first. Something about that made Sasuke feel incredibly warm inside.

He pushed Naruto’s hands into the mattress and hovered over him, staring into those wide open blue eyes. He was so perfectly lovely, in every way. He leaned down, kissing him slowly. “I’ll be gentle,” Sasuke whispered against his lips, and Naruto nodded his consent.

“O-okay.”

He was. He took his time. Touching every part of Naruto with care. He prepared him thoroughly, taking Naruto to the edge several times, until he was crying and pleading with Sasuke for more. When his toes curled, Sasuke’s fingers played with them as he kissed his ankle and down the inside of his calf. Naruto flinched away at the gentle press of lips behind his knee, ticklish and overstimulated as Sasuke added a final finger and thrust it inside him. Naruto writhed beneath him, and then covered his mouth, biting into his wrist to keep from crying out.

“I want to hear you,” Sasuke said, lowering Naruto’s leg so he could tug the offending arm away. The little gasps that followed were more than worth the effort.

When he finally slid inside of Naruto it was like nothing he’d ever felt before. Slick, hot, tight as can be. It was like they were made to be joined in such away. Their bodies slotted together so effortlessly. He never wanted to let go. His hands found Naruto’s hair, entangling in the strands as he framed his face. Sasuke kissed him over and over again, needing to be closer as he rocked into him gently. Naruto looked at him dazedly and nibbled on his lower lip before he lunged up towards Sasuke and wrapped his arms around him almost desperately. It felt like he was being held for dear life. Like Naruto couldn’t bear the thought of ever letting go.

The feeling was indescribable.

There was no particular catalyst that brought Naruto to his climax. They continued rocking at a leisurely pace, Sasuke’s fingers grazing the sides of Naruto’s face as he moved in and out, in and out. It was almost agonizingly slow, and Naruto shuddered against him seemingly out of nowhere, coming between their bodies with a frantic cry. His legs coiled around Sasuke’s body, toes stretching as he clawed at Sasuke’s back lightly, just hard enough to leave a lasting mark. It was enough to bring about Sasuke’s end as well, and he thrust deep inside of him and came with a low guttural groan.

He panted atop Naruto, grimacing as he slowly slipped from within him. He was exhausted and shaky, but he stayed there for a long while, kissing at Naruto’s drooping eyelids until his breathing deepened with sleep.

Sasuke had experienced moments in time where he felt at peace, happy even. There had been more and more of them lately, as he readjusted to his new life in Konoha. But he’d never quite felt this same sense of ease before, as he looked down at Naruto’s relaxed face, after sharing such an intimate moment. He’d always felt like he was searching for something. For a long time it had been revenge, but after that goal had disappeared, his hatred along with it, there was an emptiness he couldn’t quite seem to alleviate. 

Lying there, with Naruto curled up and tucked into his side, Sasuke thought he might have finally found it. Whatever it was. Nothing had ever felt so right.

Chapter Text


Sasuke woke to an empty bed. He glared at the wide open space at his side in confusion and sat up wearily, wiping the sleep from his eyes. A quick glance outside revealed it was still the middle of the night, so where was Naruto? His heart sank briefly as he felt dread overtake him at the multitude of possibilities.

He pushed himself out of bed, grimacing at how sticky his body was, taking a moment to change into a clean pair of loose shorts. He padded around the house quietly, peering into each of the rooms, looking for any sign of Naruto and growing increasingly more anxious the longer he went without spotting him. The house was dark and gloomy without him, and Sasuke frowned in annoyance. He opened and closed doors a bit harder than necessary, and wondered when he’d become so dependent on Naruto’s presence. Now that he’d invited him there, into the place of his nightmares, he never wanted him to leave.

Sasuke had searched nearly the entirety of his home, and was preparing to get dressed and go out to look when he finally found Naruto sitting beside the unlit irori in his father’s old office. Sasuke froze, fingers clenched around the wall support as he looked at Naruto’s silhouette. He had a blanket draped over his shoulders, and he sat quietly, playing with his toes. He looked small. Vulnerable.  And nothing like the Naruto Sasuke had come to know. The hearth was rather uninviting unlit, and Sasuke made a few quick hand signs, blowing a small flame over to it. The sudden burst of light shocked Naruto, and his head whipped around to face Sasuke, his eyes wide in surprise.

“Why aren’t you in bed?” Sasuke asked, stepping closer, and lowering himself to sit beside him. Naruto didn’t answer. He merely shrugged and went back to toying with his toes, scrunching even further into himself.

“Did I…,” Sasuke started, a worrying thought coming to the forefront of his mind. “Did I hurt you?”

Naruto turned his head towards Sasuke quickly. “No!” he shouted, the loud tone echoing through the room, and his face reddened before he turned away again. He started picking at his nails, and Sasuke watched the movement, barely holding himself back from reaching out to grab Naruto’s wrists and stop him. “I just…,” Naruto trailed off, his voice significantly quieter than before. “Are things…gonna change between us now?”

Sasuke opened his mouth slightly at the question, unsure what to say. He didn’t really want things to change, hadn’t intended for them to. Didn’t really see why they had to. He liked what he had with Naruto. Surely this could just be yet another part of their relationship, couldn’t it?

“Do you want things to change?”

Naruto shrugged again, and Sasuke wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. He wondered if he had made a mistake. The day before, everything had seemed so easy. He’d hardly thought about what he was doing, instead just doing it for once. But it had felt right too. And even then, staring at Naruto’s forlorn expression, all he wanted to do was hold him close again. Was he the only one that felt this way?  Like they were meant for this, meant to be two halves of a whole.

He wasn’t usually this sentimental. But he’d shared things with Naruto he’d never shared before, things he’d never share with anyone else. And while he wanted…an intimate relationship with him, he didn’t want to lose Naruto’s friendship, regardless of that outcome.

“If you wish to stop we will.  But I want you to know I had no intentions of this being a onetime occurrence. If you…don’t want this…,” Sasuke started, some of his own insecurities leaking into the words despite his best efforts to keep them carefully hidden.

“I don’t want you to think of me as weak. Not now. Not after…everything,” Naruto blurted, and then he huffed and pulled the blanket tighter about his form.

Sasuke gaped at him, startled by the confession. What on earth…

“Weak?”

Naruto pouted, his gaze just barely inching towards Sasuke. “After…after last night I thought…you might.  Because I’m…because I…,” he tried, and his face screwed up and he crunched in on himself, his head tucked in between his knees. “Ah fuck, you must think I’m really pathetic.”

So that’s what he meant by change? Naruto thought that Sasuke’s opinion of him would change? Because he…

Sasuke leaned closer, his eyes narrowing in confusion. “Do you mean…because you were the submissive partner in our sexual exploration?”

“Y-you don’t have to say it like that, teme,” Naruto spat, and he reached out and pushed at Sasuke half-heartedly. Sasuke grabbed his wrist, holding onto it tightly.

“Why would that make you weak?” he asked. “Your sexual preferences have nothing to do with your capabilities as a shinobi.”

“I-I know that,” Naruto stuttered, though his ears had gone red, and he still refused to uncurl from his position. Sasuke raised an eyebrow at him and clasped their hands together, leaning closer.

“Or…is it that you would prefer to be the dominant partner?” Sasuke asked. Naruto paused, blinking at his toes, a slight crease between his brows. When he didn’t answer after quite some time Sasuke began to grow concerned. “I thought…I thought you were enjoying it, but was I mistaken?” He was a bit nervous, he didn’t usually talk this much, but the words wouldn’t stop. “I admit I prefer to take on that role, but if you are uncomfortable-,”

“S-Sasuke that’s not it.  I just…I,” Naruto struggled to say. His ears were practically aflame, and he ducked down again and groaned. “You really don’t think I’m weak?”

Sasuke sighed.  It wasn’t that Naruto didn’t want to be with him, or didn’t enjoy being intimate with him.  He really was just worried about what Sasuke thought of him.  What an idiot.  Maybe just this once Sasuke could be completely honest with him.

“I may hassle you when we spar, but you are anything but weak Naruto. You have never been weak.  And this certainly does not make you weak.  You are one of Konoha’s strongest,” Sasuke admitted.

Naruto froze, his head lifting slowly, his eyes impossibly wide as he stared at Sasuke in surprise. “You…you think I’m strong?”

Sasuke frowned, eyeing him with a puzzled expression. Did he really not know? Even after taking down hundreds of enemies, completing missions at Sasuke’s side, sparring with him endlessly, Naruto still didn’t think Sasuke thought him a worthy opponent?

“Of course I do.”

Naruto sat up a bit straighter, crossing his legs as he tugged the blanket around his body tightly with his free hand. He eyed their joined hands, gripping Sasuke’s just a bit more than before. “You won’t…you won’t tease me for it?  Around the others?” he asked, and Sasuke’s expression hardened. Is that what Naruto thought would happen?  Sasuke wanted to scream at him for half a second, but the uncertainty on Naruto’s face made him pause.  The idiot really thought…

But of course he did. What reason did he have to think otherwise?  It was not as if Sasuke had frequently praised him in public.  In fact he often did just the opposite.  Naruto rarely received compliments, from anyone, with the exception of maybe Hinata who was enduringly kind at all times. For the most part, Naruto was actively berated.  His strength and victories were expected.  His failures heavily admonished.  And whenever he turned towards Sasuke, looking for acknowledgement, his instinct had always been to brush those sorts of interactions off.

For a small moment, Sasuke hated himself more than anything in the world.  He had caused this hadn’t he?  He was to blame.  At least partially.  He’d have to be more careful from now on.

Sasuke reached out, grasping Naruto’s chin between his thumb and forefinger firmly. He made sure Naruto was looking right into his eyes when he spoke. “What happens between us, behind closed doors, is no one’s business but ours. And I would never use this intimacy as leverage against you.  Do you understand?”

Naruto’s eyes remained wide and unblinking, and his gaze shifted around just slightly, taking in Sasuke’s intense stare. “Yeah,” he breathed, finally dropping his gaze away.

“Good,” Sasuke spoke softly. He moved his hand, cupping Naruto’s cheek instead, and the blond leaned into the gentle touch. “Besides, I do not need to use such cheap methods to win in a spar with you.”

“Bastar-,”

Sasuke tugged him forwards, kissing him hard, muffling the word against his lips. They broke apart not long after, and Naruto was tackling him, wrestling with him on the floor. Between kisses they fought with each other, competing for dominance, but Naruto wasn’t really trying that hard, and Sasuke was more preoccupied with touching him than anything else.

Naruto was a pile of flailing naked limbs, and Sasuke nipped at him playfully and teased him until he fell back against the floor on top of the discarded blanket. Sasuke leaned over him, dark hair hanging down in front of his face. He held Naruto’s arms up above his head, grip firm but loose around his wrists. He knew Naruto could have won their little fight if he wanted to, broken free if he didn’t like it.

But he didn’t. He lay there beneath Sasuke waiting, face red, flush spreading down his neck and chest. Naruto’s gaze met his for a short moment, but soon enough he glanced to the side, avoiding eye contact entirely.

“Naruto,” Sasuke said. “Look at me.” Naruto’s eyelashes fluttered a bit, and then those blue irises filled his vision once again. He held the gaze, leaning closer, his hair nearly grazing against Naruto’s face. “Be honest with me, did you…enjoy last night?”

Naruto nodded slowly, and Sasuke smiled slightly in return.

“It felt good?”

The question was met with another nod, a bit slower, a bit shyer. Sasuke’s smile softened and he ran his thumb across Naruto’s eyebrow, watching as the tiny muscles twitched beneath the touch. Sasuke kissed him there, lingering against his skin before pulling away. The next question came a bit quieter, murmured just over Naruto’s nose.

“Did you like having me inside of you?” There was a quick intake of air. Naruto didn’t answer right away. His gaze dropped as his teeth dug into his lower lip, the red tinge on his cheeks deepening even further. “If you want anything to change…,”

“I-I did,” Naruto whispered. “I really liked it.”

Sasuke felt his limbs seize. He hadn’t expected the admission to affect him so intensely. His body suddenly felt like it was aflame, his breaths coming quicker, his heart rate accelerating, and he thought the organ might burst from his chest at any moment. He activated his sharingan, red eyes gleaming as he stared at Naruto intently.

“Sasuke?”

“I want to remember every second of this,” Sasuke spoke softly. “Every single detail.” They kissed again. Slower, less rushed. Sasuke’s grip around Naruto’s wrists eased, but Naruto’s hands remained stationary, fingers clenching above his head as his lips parted and gave way to Sasuke’s tongue. He moaned into Sasuke’s mouth, gasping as Sasuke licked slowly over his teeth and lips before moving to kiss down his cheek and neck. Sasuke pressed their bodies closer together, letting their arousals come into contact and Naruto groaned loudly and bucked up against him.

“Do you know how erotic you sound?” Sasuke asked, his eyes dark with lust.

Naruto squirmed beneath him and glared up at Sasuke with a pout. “You’re a pervert,” he uttered. When Sasuke smirked Naruto frowned and turned his head to the side. “I don’t understand why you would want this with me of all people.  You could have anyone. Why me? I’m not…I mean…look at me.”

Sasuke looked, for a long time, and Naruto was certainly a sight to see. How had he gone so long without noticing all of the little details about his features? How badly he wanted him? Every inch of skin drew his attention. He wanted to touch him everywhere, pull on his hair and gaze into his eyes. There was nothing Sasuke found unattractive about him. Even the little annoyances he once had with Naruto had become things Sasuke loved over time. Like the way his chin jutted out when he was feeling particularly cocky, or how he insisted on dressing in the most gregarious combination of colours, or the dazed half asleep look on his face in the mornings when they met up for missions or spars. There was the way he ate as well, quick, and loud, obnoxious even, but somehow all of those things just made Sasuke want him more.

Had he always been attracted to Naruto? Even before he left Konoha there had been something compelling about him. Maybe if Sasuke had been less consumed by his hatred he might have noticed it even then. Everything about him was stunning. And besides that, Naruto was the only one Sasuke could trust, the only one who truly understood him and accepted him for who he was. He would never allow another person to get this close to him, to see this side of him.

“You’re the only one I could ever want this with,” Sasuke insisted. Naruto jerked beneath him, clearly shocked by the statement. He turned his head back, so that he was looking up at Sasuke, and reached out tentatively, running his hands down the back of Sasuke’s neck. He looked as though he wanted to say something, but opted not to, instead lifting his body from the floor slightly so that they could kiss again. Naruto’s kisses were laced with tenderness. Shy little pecks that felt like a butterfly’s wings fluttering over Sasuke’s lips. Each one lasted only half a second, but together they left Sasuke feeling breathless.

He cradled Naruto’s head in his hands, lowering him back towards the floor. Sasuke took control of the kiss again, urging Naruto’s mouth open as his hands roamed lower across the skin of his hips and thighs. He avoided touching Naruto’s arousal, taking pleasure in the little noises of discontent each time his hands roamed near only to drift away. His fingers dipped between Naruto’s legs, teasing, touching, catching the trail of his seed that had leaked from Naruto’s body and pushing it up to the small glob still pooled at his entrance. Sasuke’s gaze sharpened.

“Does this hurt?” He asked, a single finger inching its way inside. Naruto shook his head no, but there was a tiny wince shortly after, and Sasuke paused. “Give me a second.” He pulled away from Naruto despite his protests to search the shelves in the room. He knew what he was looking for though it took a few minutes to find the right shelf. One lined with ceramic containers of different shapes and sizes. Among them were several jars of essential oils, a myriad of scents that had once been used for rituals and incense, and he grabbed the aloe oil and set it down at Naruto’s side before slipping off his shorts.

Sasuke fingered him a bit, sliding his digits in and out slowly until Naruto was loose and wet, pliant against the tatami mats. He slid his fingers free, coating himself generously before lifting Naruto up onto his lap, his legs astride Sasuke’s lap. Naruto gripped his shoulders tightly as he was lowered, and Sasuke urged him to relax, circling his thumbs around his hip bones until he was inside him fully. It felt just as good as he remembered, though slightly different from the new position. They sat together like that, hardly moving as Naruto’s nails dug into the backs of his shoulders and Sasuke ran his hands up and down his back soothingly, waiting for him to adjust.

Naruto gazed at him through half closed eyes, his abdomen twitching whenever Sasuke pushed into him just a bit more. His erection bobbed between them, already leaving a wet trail against Sasuke’s skin. He was so close already, probably would have come on command. But Sasuke wanted to make him feel even better first.

“Do you trust me?” he asked.

Naruto shimmied above him, twisting his hips just slightly from side to side. He looked at Sasuke with dazed eyes then ducked his head in close. “Y-yeah, always.”

That statement alone nearly broke Sasuke. Because Naruto shouldn’t trust him. Not after all he’d done to hurt him. He didn’t deserve it. But perhaps he could work towards earning it. He placed a tiny peck on the underside of Naruto’s jaw, and then reached around him, holding him close as his hands worked through a few simple signs. Naruto’s brow scrunched up at the feeling of them moving against his back, and then he jerked against Sasuke in surprise.

“Ah! What…what are you-,”

Sasuke grinned lightly, focusing on the temperature altering jutsu he’d directed across his skin. It was a simple use of both his fire and ice elemental proficiencies, but required a fair amount of focus because of the delicate nature. Too hot, and he risked burning both Naruto and himself, too cold, and he could lose a part of himself he really didn’t want to. He heated up the flesh of his cock, warming Naruto from the inside before cooling it, alternating between the temperatures as Naruto gasped and clung to him tightly.

“Feel good?”

Naruto seemed unable to speak, his body jerking with each temperature adjustment, but his cock was still just as hard, and his entrance fluttered around Sasuke eagerly. He heated his fingers next, running them down Naruto’s spine, then cooled them as they dragged around his front and up over his nipples. Goosebumps formed across his skin, and Sasuke smirked when Naruto’s nipples hardened beneath his fingertips. He already knew they were sensitive. It seemed this made them even more so.

“Nng…Sasu-,” Naruto panted against his shoulder, his legs tightening around Sasuke. His fingers dug into Sasuke’s shoulders hard, but then unclenched and scrambled to grasp at his back, neck, and hair. “Sasuke, ‘s not fair.”

“Mmm?” Sasuke murmured into his neck.

“I can’t, I’m gonna-,” Naruto gasped, and his entire body went taught as he came between them. Sasuke released the jutsu, grasping Naruto tightly as he slumped forwards against his body. He was breathing rapidly, still clenching around Sasuke’s arousal as he came down from the sudden orgasm.

“S-sorry,” Naruto stuttered against his skin, and Sasuke rocked up into him gently, easing him through the aftershocks. He pulled Naruto close, wrapping his arms tightly around his body. Sasuke wanted to stay like that as long as possible, buried to the hilt inside of him. He was unhurried, simply enjoying the closeness of their bodies as Naruto trembled against him. Sasuke kissed along his neck, sucking at the skin and leaving several marks behind. He was pleased to see they didn’t disappear right away. Once Naruto had settled a bit Sasuke started moving his hips again, thrusting up inside his body languidly. It felt so good, just to be inside of him, holding him. He didn’t want it to end.

“Naruto.”

Sasuke reached lower, hands grazing all over Naruto’s body. Touching his ass, his back, his shoulders. He ran his fingers down his arms, between them and across his belly. Naruto looked into his eyes drowsily. His mouth was hanging open, and he breathed in quickly with every thrust.

“You’re perfect the way you are. Please don’t ever change,” Sasuke practically growled. “Don’t make me say it again, idiot.” He clutched him tighter, tugged his hair back and kissed him deeply. Naruto shivered, the heated skin of his chest splotchy and red. He pulled away, looking completely debauched. His eyes were glassy, his lips wet with saliva. He shuddered and whined and gasped in Sasuke’s embrace.

“T-teme.”

Sasuke came undone.


A few hours later, after a lengthy nap, the two of them showered, and got ready to head out to practice. It was a group training day. Something they’d set up a about a year ago with their friends so that everyone could test each other’s abilities and have an equal chance at improvement. It pushed them all to work harder, to get stronger, and though few people ever bested Sasuke, it was good for him to train against unfamiliar jutsu and techniques every now and then.

Sasuke tossed some clothes at Naruto, throwing on his own gear quickly. He was excited to spar with everyone. It would be the first time unveiling his new eyes publicly. And from what he’d seen against Naruto the day prior, the improvements he’d made even in the last week would be a shock to almost everyone.

He tucked a few shuriken into his pockets and turned to look at Naruto, faltering when he caught him running tentative hands down the front of the black Uchiha clan shirt he was wearing. Sasuke hadn’t realised it wasn’t a plain shirt, and he eyed it curiously. The clan symbol looked strange, merely because he hadn’t seen it worn by anyone in years, apart from himself. But…it looked good on him. Black suited Naruto. And there was something about seeing the Uchiha crest, his crest, on Naruto, that had his heart racing furiously in his chest.

Naruto fingered at the embroidery and looked down, tugging the hem of the shirt a bit lower. “Should I…should I change into something else? Are you sure this is okay?”

“It’s fine,” Sasuke insisted. He swallowed nervously despite his reassurance, but gestured towards the door with his head. Looking at Naruto…wouldn’t it be obvious what had happened? There were still marks lining his neck, which was a bit odd, considering Kurama typically healed bruises in a matter of minutes. Was he intentionally leaving them there? Did…did Naruto ask him to? And now he was wearing one of Sasuke’s shirts on top of it? Sasuke struggled to keep his cool. The way his thoughts were headed, he was five seconds away from throwing Naruto back into bed for round three.

They ate quickly, and walked towards the training grounds in relative silence, though there was a strange energy between them that hadn’t quite existed before. They’d always been a bit tense in each other’s presence. Almost constantly aware of one another. Competing even when there was nothing to compete over. But this awareness was different. Every now and then Sasuke caught Naruto staring at him, but whenever he’d look his way those blue eyes would flitter away nervously. Sasuke couldn’t help the small upwards tick of his lips.

Sakura eyed them suspiciously when they met up just at the edge of the training grounds, her gaze running up and down Naruto’s form curiously. She stared first at the Uchiha clan symbol, frowned a bit, and then peered at Naruto’s neck, clearly also puzzled by the strange red marks on his skin. Sasuke could see the gears turning in her head, connections visibly being made, and he wanted to laugh at the incredulous expression she was trying so hard to hide.

“Naruto, why are you wearing Sasuke’s clothes?” Sakura asked. Her voice was light and airy, entirely too innocent. Naruto stammered a bit, unable to quite form a response.

“He stayed over last night,” Sasuke said easily. He stood casually against a tree, and Sakura studied him then, eyes narrowing ever so slightly.

“Oh?”

“Teme, you could at least explain it properly,” Naruto spat.

“You want me to tell her that we had s-“

Naruto’s eyes widened and he lunged at him in an instant, throwing a fist directly into his gut, and Sasuke keeled over with a grunt. He coughed a few times, his eyebrow twitching as he struggled to stand up straight. It hurt like hell. He’d have a bruise there for weeks. But the flustered look on Naruto’s face was more than worth it.

“We fell into the water at the creek while sparring.  My clothes got…got soaked.  Since I stayed at Sasuke’s he loaned me some dry ones!” Naruto shouted. 

“It’s okay Naruto.  If you stayed over it only makes sense that you’d want to wear clean clothing the following morning,” Sakura said. Her smile was sugary sweet.

“Th-that’s right,” Naruto stuttered. He glanced towards Sasuke briefly, his face reddening further, if such a thing was possible, and then started to jog away. “I’m…I’m gonna go spar with Kiba!”

They watched him go ahead, and Sakura shared a meaningful look with Sasuke, a single eyebrow raised as she crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Of course I do,” Sasuke blurted. Except he didn’t at all. Not really. He just knew that it felt right. He moved to walk past her, but she placed her palm against his chest firmly. Her eyes narrowed, she smirked deviously, and Sasuke felt a touch of fear in his heart.

“Sasuke, spar with me,” she said.

“Eh?”

“I said…spar with me,” she insisted, her voice low and leaving no room for argument. He hardly had a second to think before she was throwing a fist at his face. He barely managed to dodge, but he failed to avoid the kick that came just moments later. His body shot backwards into the ground, skidding to a halt in a pile of dust and rubble.

Sasuke didn’t have a minute to spare, his fists held in front of his body as he attempted to block the full force of Sakura’s blows. It was an impossible feat. Her sheer strength was something he couldn’t go up against directly, and he found himself thrown into the ground time and time again. He was faster than her, had far more advanced jutsu in his arsenal, but she hadn’t given him a chance to prepare, moving in to gain an immediate advantage. And each time he thought he’d managed to get ahead, he found the ground rumbling with chakra so immense that it burst beneath his feet. It worked well.

Hours passed, and though he had managed to land a few hits here and there, he’d spent the bulk of that time trying to avoid being swallowed up by the ground. Sasuke panted from his hiding spot behind a tree, only to catch sight of the earth cracking and heading right for him. He sighed in exasperation and ran, dodging what he could, but even still his feet couldn’t quite escape the near earthquake Sakura left in her wake. She might have been a little more violent than usual.

“Agh, fuck,” Sasuke groaned as he took a particularly hard blow to his back. His face slammed into the ground. By the time he shook himself free and spat the dirt from his mouth, Sakura’s foot landed in the middle of his shoulders holding him down.

“Sakura, what the fuck, damn it,” Sasuke growled. They usually had an unspoken rule not to go quite so hard on training days. So that they might be able to test their abilities against multiple people. Much like Sasuke never used genjutsu during training without permission. And though he stayed true to his silent promise she had apparently abandoned all morals this time around.

She leaned down, her face just inches from his own, chakra emanating from her fist tauntingly. “I hope you know I would do anything for my friends.  And Naruto, is my dearest friend.  Tread carefully, Sasuke. Do you understand me?”

“Message loud and clear,” he grumbled. Her foot left his back a moment later and he slumped against the ground. He scrunched up his eyebrows and winced, wasn’t he her friend too? He rolled over on his back, sighing heavily as the late morning sun shone down on him. They had been sparring for quite some time, though sparring was a generous term for the complete beating Sasuke had taken. His gaze shifted slightly, but he didn’t move, when he heard feet scuffing softly against the ground nearby.

“Wow Sakura really did a number on you today,” Naruto commented. His head appeared just in Sasuke’s line of sight, his smiling face blocking out the light. “She didn’t even bother to heal you!” Sasuke grunted weakly and stared up into Naruto’s eyes lifelessly. He was completely exhausted. So much for showing off his new abilities.  Still, he managed to lift a hand, just enough to touch the whisker marks on Naruto’s face. There were a few tiny scratches on his skin, but it looked like whatever damage he had taken fighting with Kiba was already nearly healed. Sasuke envied him that a bit.

Naruto flushed, and leaned into the touch. Then his gaze dropped and he smiled shyly, lips curving up just slightly at the sides. Sasuke was completely smitten. So smitten he nearly forgot about his aching bones. Naruto’s happiness was so precious. He wanted to protect it with his entire being.

He couldn’t really blame Sakura for wanting to protect it too.


Dinner consisted of ramen naturally. Sasuke worked away at his single bowl, watching as Naruto scarfed down noodles at an abnormal rate. It was their first time eating out together like this, after, well, having sex. And in retrospect perhaps they had approached things in a bit of an unusual way. Typically a date came first. And then sex. But they had made love twice already, and had yet to have an official date. Sasuke tried to convince himself that sparring with Naruto was basically their version of dating, but still, they’d never really done anything formal. The standard dinner by candlelight, or whatever so many of the girls in the village ranted and raved about. Would Naruto like that? Would he like it if Sasuke set up a picnic, or took him on an evening walk, or bought him flowers and cooked for him? The idea of doing any of those things had once seemed stupid and frivolous to him. But now, watching Naruto happily enjoying a meal at his side…he wanted to try.

He was reminded suddenly of the frog necklace that Naruto still seemingly wore every single day. It had been such a cheap little gift, something unplanned and nonsensical, and yet, Naruto clearly loved it. He would probably love other little things like that too. Things that showed…Sasuke cared. No matter how trivial. Sasuke tilted his head to the side slightly, wondering what other things he could do that Naruto might take such joy in. He hadn’t been on any other dates before. Had no experience with such things. He wasn’t sure where to start. But Naruto seemed content just sitting next to him, eating ramen like it was his last meal on earth.

Was this even a date?

Sasuke wasn’t sure. They often ate together after training, and technically this had been a deal made prior to their intimate evening. But it felt…a bit different than usual. Sasuke couldn’t keep his eyes off of Naruto, and the number of times he caught Naruto looking at him with a goofy expression was increasing by the minute.

It felt like a date.

Sasuke paid, of course. That was the deal. He’d lost their race the day prior, and Naruto certainly hadn’t forgotten. What he didn’t have to pay for was the onigiri they had from the little shack just next to Ichiraku, and the dango they grabbed for dessert on the way home. And yet he did. And he was glad to do so. Because Naruto looked so damn happy about it all.

It had to be a date. Right?

He walked Naruto home, because well, it was the right thing to do, after a date. And he stood awkwardly next to him when they reached Naruto’s apartment, unsure of what to say.

“Um,” Naruto blurted. “Guess I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Hn.” Sasuke shoved his hands into his pockets to keep them from doing something stupid. He stared at the ground, watching as Naruto’s toes curled inside his sandals before he jumped up onto the platform outside his apartment door. Naruto paused, nibbling at his lip. He stared at Sasuke, his fingers clasped around the door handle and smiled.

“Goodnight Sasuke.”

Sasuke eyed him, doing his best to hide his internal conflict. He should have kissed him, right? Isn’t that what you were supposed to do on a date? He could have done something cool, like jumped up on the ledge, held on to the railing as he pressed their lips together gently. He could have picked up his hand, kissed the back of it and bowed before promising to meet him tomorrow. He could have pressed Naruto up against the door, tilted back his head and looked into his eyes before whispering goodnight back. Instead he stood there dumbly, watching as Naruto disappeared inside his apartment with a small wave.

Why was the idea of kissing him goodnight so much more embarrassing than ravishing him in the early morning hours.  It seemed like such a simple thing, and yet Sasuke’s face was red as a tomato at the mere thought.

“Tch,” Sasuke sneered. He scratched at the back of his neck and scrunched up his brow in annoyance. If this really was love, it was certainly messing with his head. He dug his heel into the ground for a minute, before clenching his fingers into fists and walking home stiffly.

He should have kissed him. Damn it.

It was totally a date. And he wasn’t cool at all.


Several days later they were assigned to another mission, and Sasuke had yet to take Naruto out on a date. In fact he had yet to do…well, anything. They’d both been busy.

Tsunade had requested Naruto’s help with some seals one of her ANBU squads had recovered, and Sasuke had been sitting in with Hinata for several meetings involving her clan and plans for a stronger alliance and internal changes for the future. He didn’t enjoy clan politics, and neither did she, but it was important for them to at least pretend as though they cared for the sake of pleasing the council and elders. And if they wanted any change to occur in Konoha, it was best to start sooner rather than later. They intended to finally put an end to the silly drama that had resulted from years of unrest, and with Sasuke’s clan relegated to him alone, and Hinata set to take her place as the Hyuuga clan leader, it was as good a time as any. Together they were better able to make their points than apart.

The mission was a welcome relief to get away from it all.

Sasuke sat up on a tree branch, Naruto at his side, overlooking the little campfire where the rest of their team was gathered. They hadn’t settled in to sleep just yet, and Sakura and Ino were arguing about something incessantly, while Hinata tried to calm them down.

Sasuke was team leader for this particular venture, and while the five of them generally worked well together, better than he anticipated, considering the mix of wild personalities, he was eager to finish their mission quickly and return to Konoha. Then maybe he could finally spend a night alone with Naruto.

The dobe was acting strange. In fact, he’d hardly said a word to him throughout the journey so far. Naruto was fidgeting even then, twisting a kunai between his fingers nervously as he nibbled on his lip and avoided looking Sasuke’s direction. It had been nearly three days of similar behaviour. Sasuke couldn’t let it keep going on like this. They had a mission to focus on, and Naruto’s thoughts were clearly distracted. And Sasuke was distracted because Naruto was distracted.

“You have that look on your face again,” Sasuke said.

Naruto froze, his kunai shaking slightly in his grip. “What look?”

“Like…you’re afraid of me.”

“Teme, I’m not afraid of you,” Naruto growled. He pouted and turned away with a huff.

Sasuke frowned, staring at the back of Naruto’s head like it might provide him with answers. “You’re afraid of my reaction then,” he guessed.

It seemed he guessed right, as Naruto’s entire frame jolted, and he kept his face turned away before stuttering, “N-no.”

Sasuke sighed heavily. Why was it so hard for them to just talk? It was true that they hadn’t had a lot of time to really…figure things out. They hadn’t been intimate again since that night.  They hadn’t even kissed. Their private time had been non-existent. What little time they had spent together was in the company of others. And now that they had a moment at least somewhat to themselves, Naruto clearly didn’t feel comfortable confiding in him, and that bothered Sasuke. Because he couldn’t think of much that Naruto could do to disappoint him. So it had to be something else.

Sasuke was beginning to worry that Naruto might be having second thoughts.

“Then what’s wrong,” Sasuke asked. Naruto fiddled with the kunai again and started carving out patterns in the branch beneath their feet. He remained silent, his eyes downcast, shoulders hunched forward, and Sasuke hated how insecure it made him look. “Naruto, you can talk to me about things that are bothering you.”

Naruto stopped scraping at the bark, glancing over towards their teammates for a moment. Sakura and Ino were bickering over the leftovers at the campfire, who had eaten more and who should have the remainder, and Hinata was lying down, eyes wide open, clearly giving up on getting any sleep. They were far enough away that their conversation would go unheard, should they wish it to, but close enough to see clearly even with the limited lighting. Naruto breathed in deeply, and exhaled, finally turning to meet Sasuke’s gaze warily.

“It’s stupid,” he blurted, nibbling at his lip more harshly than before. Sasuke waited for him to gather his thoughts, watched as he tucked his arms around his body and tapped his fingertips against the metal handle between them. “Do you…not want anyone to know about us?” Naruto asked, and Sasuke stared at him blankly. Before he had a chance to comment Naruto was babbling again. “It’s just that, you haven’t, you know. Since we left. Well since that time really…and I know I sort of pushed you away at training last week, with Sakura…but it’s not that I don’t want people to know…I was just surprised…’cause I knew you were just joking and wouldn’t actually say it…and if you did say it it’d be okay…but you also said it was no one else’s business and I just…I don’t really know how to act around y-,”

Sasuke cut him off, leaning over with a kiss. It was soft and tender, no tongue, just a light nibble against his lips. Slow and languid. Naruto squeaked at the first contact, nearly losing his balance atop the tree branch, but Sasuke held him in place, and kissed him just a bit longer. It had gone silent around them, the girls clearly watching the scene, likely shocked at the public display, but Sasuke didn’t care.  Naruto’s face reddened, but he didn’t pull away, and when Sasuke finally stopped, and pressed their brows together Naruto let out a shaky breath of air.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Sasuke muttered.

Naruto blinked a few times, still processing what had happened. “Oh…okay,” he gasped eventually, and then Sasuke kissed him a few more times, gently, just to really reinforce the message.

He’d missed it. Kissing him. Loving him. It had only been a few days and it felt like years since he’d touched Naruto’s body. He suddenly desperately wanted to do so again. 

“Can’t wait to take you apart again,” he whispered against Naruto’s lips. They trembled a bit, and then Naruto turned his head slightly and pressed his face into Sasuke’s shoulder, his ears red to match his cheeks. His knuckles had gone white, hand gripped so tightly around the kunai Sasuke thought it might break in half, and he eased it from Naruto’s fingers and tucked it away before sliding his hand into his grasp instead.

“Ha!” Sakura shouted suddenly, and then she pointed at Ino with a devious smirk. “See! I told you! Ino-Pig, you owe me four thousand ryo!” Sasuke raised an eyebrow watching as Ino stared at him, her eyes wide as dinner plates before she reached into her pocket in a daze. Sakura gloated, eagerly counting the coins Ino had reluctantly handed over. Hinata looked a bit shocked, covering her mouth with both hands as she flushed deeply. But soon after she smiled faintly and turned away to give them their privacy. Sasuke snorted and pressed a kiss into Naruto’s temple before propping his chin on top of his head.

Naruto spent the rest of the night curled into his side, too embarrassed to make eye contact with the rest of their group, but too happy to leave the comfort of his warmth.  Sasuke wasn’t bothered in the least. Though once the shock had worn off and Ino had resorted to making several kissy faces at him, he couldn’t help the small flush that rose upon his skin. Sasuke glared at her, and directed his gaze out towards the forest around them, but his hold on Naruto only tightened.


It was a beautiful night. Cloudless, and quiet. The stars were visible even amongst the little lights scattered here and there throughout Konoha. It was a shame. Sasuke would have liked to enjoy it more.

“How long ‘til you have to leave?” Naruto asked.

“Soon, an hour, maybe.”

They walked side by side, winding between the buildings at a leisurely pace, not really heading anywhere specific. They just wanted to spend the moment together. It might be quite some time before they had the opportunity to again.

Sasuke had another mission. Only this time Naruto wasn’t on the roster for once. It was a recovery operation, for another nation’s jinchuuriki. Sasuke was going to infiltrate a suspected hideout with a group of Hyuugas, along with Kakashi and a select few high level operatives. Despite his protests Tsunade had demanded Naruto stay in Konoha for this one. If it really was just a simple recovery, it would be an easy task, especially for the group assigned to it. But the truth was, they had no idea what awaited them. Their target might already be dead, the hideout abandoned. Or perhaps the power of the bijuu had been harnessed, and they were lying in wait for an attack. Sasuke could contain a bijuu for a limited time with his sharingan, but they just couldn’t risk Naruto going headfirst into a potential trap. It was too dangerous for him. And he knew it.

But it hadn’t stopped him from sulking about it endlessly.

The more time that passed, the less Naruto talked, and the tension in his shoulders became ever more apparent. Sasuke could practically see him thinking. His jaw was clenched tightly, and his eyes glazed over periodically as he argued with Kurama. It seemed like the bijuu agreed with Tsunade this time around. The pouts that often followed would have been cute if they weren’t tinged with sadness.

Sasuke reached out, picking up Naruto’s hand so that he could kiss the backs of his fingers. It drew Naruto from whatever inner conflict he was having. He flinched slightly, and his eyes widened as he looked around them and back to where Sasuke’s lips were pressed against his hand.

“Dobe. Why are you always so shocked?” Sasuke asked. He yanked on Naruto’s hand and started pulling him along again, and Naruto skipped at his side with questioning eyes.

“I guess…, I’m just surprised you aren’t ashamed to be seen with me,” Naruto mumbled. “Everyone else would be.”

“Then everyone else is an idiot.”

Naruto paused, and Sasuke stopped with him, their hands held out between each other. “There was a time when you didn’t want to be within three feet of me.” Naruto laughed it off, grinning broadly, but Sasuke could see the pain behind it, and his heart ached at the sight. He’d made many mistakes. Far too many. He pursed his lips and stared at Naruto, ignoring the few villagers that walked by them and directed curious stares their way. Eventually the grin fell from Naruto’s face, and his eyes became a bit glassy as he looked around almost frantically. His fingers tightened within Sasuke’s grip and he sniffled a bit. Was he…was he going to cry?

Sasuke pulled him quickly aside, dragging him hurriedly through the streets until he found an alleyway just off the main pathway. He huddled Naruto up against a wall behind some barrels and gripped the sides of Naruto’s face gently, rubbing his thumbs across freckled cheeks slowly.  The tears never came, but Sasuke could see them there, clinging along the edges of Naruto’s eyes, ready to fall at any moment.

He didn’t want this. He didn’t want their last minutes together before his mission to be filled with this…sadness. He couldn’t leave Naruto behind with these dark thoughts lingering in his mind. It was simply unacceptable.

“I have a lot to atone for,” Sasuke started, searching for the right words. Words that might help Naruto understand. “I hurt many people.  I hurt you most of all. I never wanted to hurt you. I regret that more than anything.” Sasuke gritted his teeth, suddenly overwhelmed with anger. He’d been a fool to think that Naruto would ever fully forgive him. That everything he’d done hadn’t left a lasting mark on him. He slammed his fists into the wall at Naruto’s sides. The stone cracked and crumbled around his fingers, and he leaned forward, his nose grazing Naruto’s neck.

“Sasuke…,”

Naruto huffed and wrapped his arms around him, pulling him close as he leaned back against the wall. “I know…I really do, I forgave you a long time ago,” he said. Sasuke’s eyes widened and he tucked his face further into Naruto’s neck, nudging beneath his ear as he let his hands fall to his sides before wrapping around Naruto in return. Sasuke closed his eyes, breathing in the scent of satsuma that lingered in Naruto’s hair. He didn’t want to let go. It was clear Naruto didn’t either. His hands trailed up, dragging in the fabric of Sasuke’s shirt, and he tucked his nose along Sasuke’s collar bone. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be like this tonight, I just wish…we’d known about this mission earlier. I mean half a day’s notice? That’s ridiculous!”

Sasuke agreed. Had he known sooner, he would have made love to him for the days leading up to the mission, and finally taken him out on a proper date. Made sure Naruto knew without a doubt that he would come back to him. He would have mustered up the courage to finally tell him how he felt. Instead he’d been forced to spend what little time he had making preparations. Despite his annoyance, he also understood why. They had to act quickly. The sooner they left, the more likely they would find the jinchuuriki alive. Plus any more time and Naruto would’ve definitely figured out a way to weasel himself into going.

Naruto eased out of his grip slightly and leaned up, initiating their kiss this time. It was a bit hesitant, and Naruto’s gaze strayed away the whole time, his eyelashes fluttering a bit as he flushed and pressed against him shakily. It was impossibly sweet, and Sasuke could feel the love that came with each tender touch. He wanted it to last a lifetime.

He loved him so damn much.

Fuck he sucked at this. He wanted to tell Naruto everything he was feeling, but he just…couldn’t. He tried to show him in other ways, through actions, through touch, but even there he was lacking. He wished they had more time. He wished he wasn’t so damn emotionally stunted. He wished he wasn’t such a coward.

He pulled away and looked into Naruto’s eyes. They’d been together just a few weeks. But he could tell him, couldn’t he? He’d already admitted it to himself. It was just a matter of forming the words, of actually saying them. His mouth opened slightly, and he was seconds away from spouting some kind of ridiculous confession before Naruto spoke instead.

“I want to try something.”

Naruto’s face was bright red, his neck sporting a deep flush as well, and he looked anxiously down the alleyway and leaned forward to make sure no one was watching. After a few moments he came to some kind of decision and slid down to his knees.

“What are you doing?” Sasuke asked. He watched as Naruto licked his lips and reached out towards Sasuke’s pants, unzipping them and pushing away his shirt. Sasuke’s eyes widened and he jerked in surprise when Naruto’s fingers reached inside to pull his cock free.

“Don’t worry, it won’t take long,” Naruto whispered against his tip, and Sasuke eyed him in surprise. He glanced towards the nearby path as well, then back down at Naruto’s face.

“Fuck, Naruto, we’re in the middle of the street,” Sasuke growled lowly. He eyed Naruto intensely, hair hanging in his face, gaze darkening as Naruto’s fingers stroked him slowly to hardness.

“Then you’ll just have to be quiet.” Naruto glanced up, but immediately shied away. He swallowed and pursed his lips, swatting at Sasuke’s leg lightly. “Bastard, don’t look at me like that.” And then his mouth was open, sliding across Sasuke’s flesh and encasing it in a wet, hot cavern of pure pleasure.

“Ah, shit,” Sasuke blurted. He fell forwards a bit, nearly choking Naruto with his sudden thrust. He threw a hand out against the wall to support himself, the other immediately reaching down to entangle in Naruto’s messy locks. Naruto for his part, took it in stride, groaning a bit as he started moving back and forth in a steady rhythm.

“Naruto…,”

It was irresponsible. They were in such a vulnerable position like this, even in the middle of Konoha. At the very least they risked getting apprehended for public indecency. Sasuke did his best to keep his eyes on their surroundings, watching the edge of the alleyway for passers-by, but he couldn’t stop looking down at the sight Naruto made, listening to the noises coming from his mouth as he sucked.

It felt unreal. And slowly Sasuke’s focus faded entirely as he zeroed in on the vision between his legs. His fingers tugged at Naruto’s hair a bit harshly, and he started thrusting against his will. Naruto hummed happily and eased his throat, letting him do so. Naruto had been right. It really wasn’t going to take long.

“Dobe, I’m going to…,”

Instead of pulling away like Sasuke had expected, Naruto started moving faster, more intently, his lips tightening a bit around Sasuke’s arousal. Sasuke let out a guttural moan, his hand snaking around the back of Naruto’s neck and holding him firmly in place as he came down his throat. Naruto swallowed it all, licking away at anything that was left behind before he tucked him away and zipped him back up. He stood up a bit shyly, fiddled with the front of Sasuke’s shirt as he straightened it out, and Sasuke eyed him in disbelief. Sasuke thought his legs might give out at any minute. How was he supposed to leave on a mission like this? He’d be wobbling unsteadily the entire trip. And there was Naruto, standing coyly in front of him, avoiding his gaze, like he hadn’t just sucked the life out of Sasuke’s entire being.

“What?” Naruto asked, finally glancing up to look into Sasuke’s eyes. He had a bit of cum on his face, just at the edge of his mouth, and Sasuke fixated on it, all too aware of where it had come from. He reached out, pushed it between Naruto’s lips, his heart nearly stopping when Naruto spared a few seconds to suck on his thumb as well. Damn.

“You’re…incredible,” Sasuke breathed.

Naruto flushed at the praise and started twisting his hair between his fingers. Sasuke did little more than look. He couldn’t believe he’d almost let this go. He’d almost abandoned all of this for a chance at power and revenge. The last few years had really put things into perspective for him. Made him realize what was most valuable in life, what really mattered. The last few months…had been incredibly eye opening in a multitude of other ways.

“T-teme…don’t stare,” Naruto muttered, and Sasuke smirked before pulling him close and kissing him. It was strange tasting himself there, but thrilling at the same time. He wasn’t sure how long they stood like that, Naruto’s back pressed up against the building as Sasuke tried his best to kiss the life out of him. When a sparrow landed nearby, Sasuke glanced towards it and pulled away with regret. He sighed as it fluttered its wings before taking off.

“I have to go.”

He looked at Naruto regretfully. Naruto sighed against his shoulder, “I know, it’s okay.” They hugged each other for a few seconds. “I’m gonna miss you,” Naruto complained, the words muffled against Sasuke’s shoulder.

“It’s just a few days,” Sasuke said. In truth it could have been weeks. It could have been months. There was no telling with a mission like this. If they found other leads, they’d be forced to follow them. But it was nice to pretend.

“Still gonna miss you,” Naruto groaned, his head bowed against Sasuke’s chest.

“Me too.”

He’d definitely take him on a real date when he got back. Flowers, candles, ramen, all of it. Anything, to make him happy. And one day…he’d tell him. How much he loved him. That it was like his heart was being wrenched away when he finally pulled back and left him standing there in the streets.


The mission lasted three and a half weeks.

All things considered, it had gone fairly smoothly. They had managed to recover the jinchuuriki, though not in the exact location anticipated, and had even taken out a few members of whatever organization was behind it. There would be further missions to investigate in the future, but for now, Sasuke was off duty.

As soon as the mission report had been handed in he jumped across the rooftops in Konoha towards Naruto’s apartment. It was the middle of the night, around two or three maybe, but Sasuke didn’t want to wait a second longer. He hopped up onto the ledge overlooking the street beneath Naruto’s apartment and rolled his eyes when he noticed the window had been left open slightly. Careless idiot. It was easy for Sasuke to slide it up and slip inside.

Naruto was sound asleep, spread eagle atop his bed, the covers half kicked off as he snored lightly. Sasuke knew he would have woken up had it been someone else, but they were so familiar with each other’s chakra signatures at this point that Naruto wouldn’t recognize his presence as a threat. Still…it was impressive how heavy a sleeper he was.

Sasuke stared down at him as he set his travel pack on the ground and removed his sword and weapons from their sheaths. He was still covered in blood and dirt from travel, hadn’t bathed in a few days. He desperately needed to wash it all off, but he couldn’t resist leaning over and kissing Naruto once on the brow then again on his lips. Naruto mumbled something unintelligible and Sasuke slid his tongue inside, kissing him a bit deeper. He’d missed it so much.

The only thing on his mind the last three weeks had been Naruto. The memory of his lips on Sasuke’s skin, the way those blue eyes had looked up at him, the deep flush upon his skin. He’d done his best to stay focused on the mission, so that they might finish fast and he could return to Naruto’s side. But as the days dragged on it was impossible to keep such alluring images from dominating his mind.

Naruto’s eyes slid open, and then they widened a bit and he reached out, tugging Sasuke’s body down on top of himself. Sasuke grunted, barely managing to keep himself from crushing Naruto, and then they were kissing more desperately, and Naruto’s hand tugged at his shirt, pulling it away from his body.

“I should shower first,” Sasuke mumbled against him, and Naruto nipped at his lips and pulled him back in.

“Mmm, no me first,” he groaned against Sasuke’s lips.

“Shower and you.”

“Okay, yeah, that.”

Naruto wrapped his legs around him and Sasuke lifted him from the bed, working his way towards Naruto’s overly small washroom. The shower stall was equally tiny, the water pressure shit, and the temperature lukewarm. But they ended up on the tiled floor in the end anyway. They made a mess of the room, water spilling all over the place as Sasuke ground into his body. It was cold, and uncomfortable, and they would have to shower again afterwards, but Sasuke didn’t much care. He was glad to finally slide inside Naruto, to be close enough to touch and kiss him after so many nights thinking about it in the wild.

They took their time cleaning off when they were done, exploring each other’s bodies with roaming fingers and kissing in between. Naruto was clearly looking him over for possible injuries, but there were little more than a few scratches on his skin, and he finally gave up his search and just held on to Sasuke while the rapidly cooling water cascaded over their faces.

Sasuke yawned as he followed Naruto back to bed. He was already planning to spend the following day fucking Naruto into oblivion. But first he needed to sleep for ten hours, ideally with Naruto wrapped around him. He was climbing atop the mattress when his eyes caught sight of a pillow on the other side of the bed. A pillow with a very strange pillowcase.

“What the hell is that?” Sasuke asked, nodding towards the pillow that very clearly sported one of his t-shirts pulled around it, Uchiha clan symbol and all.

“N-nothing!” Naruto practically threw himself at it, wrapping his arms around it in an attempt to keep it hidden. But Sasuke had already seen all that he needed to. He snorted and couldn’t keep the smirk off of his face. “Don’t laugh, teme,” Naruto blurted, pouting dramatically as he pushed his face into the shirt. “I was lonely.”

That hit Sasuke particularly hard, and he felt the air disappear from his lungs as he watched Naruto cuddle the pillow stubbornly, turning away to face the wall. Sasuke lay down, propping his head up on a fist as he studied Naruto’s back. He reached out, rubbing soothing circles over his shoulders, before he wrapped an arm around Naruto’s belly and pulled him flush against his body.

“You know you can stay at the Uchiha compound when I’m gone right?” Sasuke kissed behind his ear as he pushed his hand beneath Naruto’s sleep shirt and dragged his fingers across his skin. “You can stay there whenever you like.”

Naruto tensed for a second then turned his head to look at Sasuke over his shoulder. “R-really?” he asked, eyes wide, and Sasuke narrowed his in return. Why was he so surprised?

“If you want you can even move in, I don’t mind,” Sasuke said, and Naruto twisted so that he was lying on his back, the pillow still clasped tightly between his arms. His eyes were a bit moist and Sasuke was struggling to understand why this was such a big deal to him.  He had tons of room after all. An entire compound to himself and nothing to do with much of it. What did it matter? If Naruto wanted, he could even have a house to himself, or three, though Sasuke would prefer to share a bed with him. “I’m back now dobe, you don’t need that pillow. Come here,” Sasuke added, and he pried the pillow from Naruto’s fingers before pulling him close. He was surprised to feel tears soaking into his shirt. “Idiot, don’t cry.”

Despite Sasuke’s best efforts to soothe him, Naruto’s soft sniffles followed them into their dreams.

He made true on his promise, sleeping well into the afternoon the following day. Naruto surprised him with a cherry tomato salad once he woke up, and Sasuke spent the next several hours showing Naruto just exactly how much he’d missed him. They were exhausted by the time evening arrived, but still managed to pack Naruto’s favourite items into a couple boxes and carry them to the Uchiha compound so he could move in. He didn’t have much, and it would be easy to gather the rest of it later in the week.

It wasn’t until Naruto paused just at the gate, his box clutched tightly between his arms, a soft and timid “I’m home,” upon his lips, that Sasuke finally understood.

Sasuke blinked at him and leaned in close, pressing a quick kiss against his nose. “Welcome home, dobe,” he whispered back, and Naruto lit up like the sun in a clear blue sky.

Chapter Text


Sasuke leaned back against the railing of the The Salty Stalker, looking out as the shoreline slowly disappeared while they started their journey across Amado Sea. It was a hefty ship, old, but sturdy, clearly having navigated open waters for many years. It looked as though it had once belonged to royalty of some kind. The etchings in the wooden frames that still remained spoke of wealth and decadence, though it was cracked and heavily damaged now. The sails were a drab brown, torn in several places and in need of repair. The shrouds sagged, several ropes falling free and thinning from endless days of water damage. Sasuke could see the remnants of other names and colours hidden beneath the layers of chipping paint on the hull and he wondered what the ship might have been used for in the past. How it had found itself in the possession of such a questionable name and equally questionable looking crew.

It was little more than a meagre lumber ship now.

Kakashi stood across from him, reading his book, his eye occasionally glancing out to sea in search of possible threats. He was a bit tense, and Sasuke wondered if it was the saltwater getting to him or if something else was on his mind. Naruto, in contrast, was bouncing around above deck, inspecting all of the items on board and already visibly wearing on several members of the crew. He was acting like he’d never been on a ship before, though perhaps it was just the sheer size of it that had him excited.

More than ever Sasuke wished he could have taken Naruto out on one of the tallships in Aomi. He would have loved that. If his reaction to the ship they were currently on was anything to go off of, he would have been completely over the moon. Sasuke could picture him leaning over the edge of the boat, wind in his hair, grin on his face, absolutely blinding Sasuke with his smile. Sadly, such a chance was unlikely to occur any time soon, with the constant threats Konoha and the surrounding villages faced.

There was a heavy sigh to his right, and Sasuke turned towards the sound. Sakura knelt at Sasuke’s side intently focusing on their bags. She was sorting through their remaining supplies, trying to salvage what she could. Team seven had been sent out on a few consecutive missions in the Land of Earth, and this was their last before returning home. The first had gone incredibly smooth, better than planned, but the second had taken an unexpected turn, and they had been forced to sacrifice most of their resources in the midst of it. Thankfully, the current mission was an easy one, by all accounts. They would get by with what they had.

They were meant simply to stay on board and protect the ship from any unwanted attackers until it safely reached its destination. Their orders were quite clear. They were to stay above deck at all times, unless resting, and had specific rooms to use as sleeping quarters. The lower storage decks were private, the captain’s quarters were private, and under no circumstances were they permitted to explore beyond the upper hull without permission.  It was fairly typical for a mission of that nature. Most merchants didn’t want to risk their merchandise disappearing in the hands of shinobi. Even shinobi from reliable nations.

It was a bit odd that this particular mission had been assigned such a high level team. Experienced Genin would have been more than capable of such an escort mission. Lumber, in theory, shouldn’t attract anything more than the usual thieves and pirates. But it was on the way for them, and there was no sense sending out another team when they would be walking right by on their way back to Konoha.

For them, it would hopefully be an easy and relaxing end to several weeks of nonstop work.

The series of missions was almost like a reunion of team seven. They hadn’t worked together just the four of them like this in quite some time. A few months at least. And they really did have a different sort of chemistry when it came to completing missions. The four of them trusted each other in a way that was hard to understand for an outsider. They could communicate without speaking, with simple hand gestures or shared gazes, and could rely on each other for cover when in need of rest or a quick break. It was for that reason Sasuke felt comfortable taking a moment to relax. He knew Kakashi would be sure to monitor everything carefully, no matter how distracted he seemed.

Like always, Sasuke’s gaze was drawn towards Naruto’s blond head of hair. He was at the stern, the Captain, whose name had not been shared, showing him the wheel and even seemingly letting him steer for a few minutes. Naruto grinned wildly as he twisted the wheel just slightly, gasping a bit when the rudder whirred as it shifted in the water. The captain leaned around him, and Sasuke’s eyes narrowed when he smirked and edged in a bit too close for comfort.

He was a friendly man. A bit too friendly as far as Sasuke was concerned. He’d already made several passes at Sakura, all of which were hastily pushed aside as she slapped away his roaming hands. Eventually Sakura had whispered something in his ear, a terrifying glint in her eyes. He hadn’t so much as looked her way since. However, now it seemed he’d found his next target.

Naruto was completely oblivious to it, chattering away while the man leered at him. The Captain had an air about him, looked like the sort of sleazebag one might find drinking and gambling in the taverns of whatever villages they passed through. Sasuke had difficulty picturing him doing any of the actual logging work required for preparing the wood for sale. It was more likely he had his crew do it all for him. He probably spent his evenings exclusively in brothels, or perhaps didn’t need to, instead luring in men and women with his long wavy hair, dangling earring, and rugged looking tattoos. Sasuke sneered.

He wanted to storm over and push the guy aside, make sure he knew just who’s hands Naruto wanted roaming all over his body. But Naruto looked happy, so Sasuke took in a few deep breaths and ignored it. It wasn’t like Naruto couldn’t defend himself if it came down to it. And it wasn’t like Naruto was interested. The idiot probably didn’t even realize what was happening.

It turned out he was silly to worry at all, as a few minutes later Naruto skipped over and sat down beside him, raving excitedly about how he’d steered the ship all on his own. Then he started talking about returning to Aomi one day, to see the big ships there, and maybe even taking a trip on one of them with Sasuke.  He had a wistful look in his eyes, and he grinned so brightly as he leaned into Sasuke’s side, tufts of his hair grazing Sasuke’s neck. The tension in Sasuke’s shoulders disappeared and he eyed Naruto fondly. He couldn’t resist leaning over and pressing a discreet kiss to the top of his head. It was heart-warming to know Naruto longed for the same thing as he did.

The four of them stayed above deck all day, keeping a lookout and observing the crew, all of whom seemed fairly normal despite the gruffness and odd looks a few of the men directed at them here and there. The crew spoke amongst themselves sometimes, clearly trying to keep their conversations unheard, but the topics were dry, and relatively disinteresting. The men mostly seemed intent to reach their destination, their only concern the goods aboard the ship, and what they planned to do with their pay. Anytime Sasuke made eye contact with the Captain he waved at him with a wink, and Sasuke merely raised an eyebrow before looking away.

“What do you think the Captain’s quarters are like? You know, since we aren’t allowed to see them,” Naruto asked, and he pushed the simple black mask on his face firmly against his nose.

Sasuke eyed the man, who was now lounging atop a stool, a bottle of ale hanging from one of his hands as he napped away the afternoon. One of his deckhands was at the wheel instead. “Probably nothing special,” Sasuke said. He imagined the sleeping quarters would reflect state of the rest of the ship. Worn down, unkempt, and reeking of sweat and booze. A shadow of their former glory.

“You’re no fun Sasuke. I bet they’re fancy. We should totally sneak a peek, don’t you think?” Naruto egged him on, nudging his elbow into his side a few times, and Sasuke rolled his eyes and pushed it down.

“Private quarters are private quarters.  We have to respect that, Naruto,” Kakashi said wearily. He turned a page in his book before holding up a finger. “It’s outlined in our mission guidelines anyway. Going against that will forfeit us any payment, and tarnish Konoha’s reputation.”

Naruto huffed loudly, pulling his knees up so he could wrap his arms around them. “You’re no fun.” He pouted and looked over at the stack of wood nearby. “I don’t get why this mission is so important anyway. What’s so special about wood? It’s not even nice wood. Look! It’s all mouldy, like it’s been out in the rain for weeks,” he complained, and he pointed at the pile with a glare. To be fair, the wood above deck did look pretty grungy. It was black in places, and much of it showed wear from both the saltwater and bugs that had found their homes inside the stacks. Considering they’d just started the journey, it was a bit odd that the quality looked so terrible. It definitely wouldn’t sell for much.

“The lumber in the storage hull is probably of higher quality,” Sakura commented, though she was also looking over at the pile curiously.

“Why bother storing any up here if it’s just gonna get like that. Whatta waste,” Naruto ranted. Sasuke reached out and touched his hair, running long fingers through the strands and Naruto sighed and leaned into the touch, letting his legs stretch out in front of him. Even he was starting to tire of everything, focusing on insignificant details, letting it get to him.

“I wanna shower,” Naruto groaned. Sasuke could relate. They’d been bathing in rivers and lakes and the sea for too long now. He felt like there was a week’s worth of grime coating his skin, despite having washed just that morning. His hair was getting a bit greasy, and his clothes, now that he was down to the single set, were dirty and thinning after days of wear and rough salt water scrubbing. Consecutive missions made for a great paycheque, but they really were incredibly draining.

Just a couple more weeks. That’s all they had to get through. And he and Naruto would be back in Konoha, in bed together, wrapped around each other, clean and refreshed, no longer worrying about these missions, or pirates, or the state of shoddy lumber.

Just a couple more weeks.


Their first evening at sea was spent eating some dubious looking food and listening to a few of the deck hands tell ghost stories while they drank. The tales were unrealistic at best, and Sasuke mostly ignored them in favour of watching Naruto’s enraptured eyes. He seemed to be equal parts entertained and terrified, eating up every slurred word as though they were factual.

The sun had long since disappeared beyond the horizon by the time Sasuke knelt behind him, tucking his arms under Naruto’s and lifting him to stand.

“Time for bed,” Sasuke whispered into his ear, and Naruto shivered but turned around and looked up into Sasuke’s eyes imploringly.

“Eh? But it’s just getting to the good part!” he exclaimed. He bounced a little, his eyes bright beneath the moonlight, and Sasuke smiled despite himself, but started pulling him away regardless.

“I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more of them tomorrow night,” he insisted. They waved at Sakura and Kakashi who had agreed to take first watch, and opened the trap door that lead down into the upper hull where the guest quarters were located. The boat rocked back and forth on the large waves mid sea, and Sasuke and Naruto both struggled to stay upright as they navigated through the dark and cramped hallway below deck.

The two of them stumbled up against their doorway, Naruto gasping as Sasuke fell against him, their heads nearly crashing together. They leaned against each other for a minute, noses brushing, staring at each other in the darkness. The hallway was silent, apart from the faint crashing of waves that could be heard at all times, the incessant groaning of the ship, and the occasional movement above deck. No one would see them, no one would hear him. And it had been so damn long…

Sasuke leaned in, his lips just grazing Naruto’s when there was a strange creak, like the entire structure of the ship was shifting, followed by some very distinctive sounds beneath their feet.

Tap, tap. Kshhhhh. Tap, tap. Kshhhhh. Tap tap. Kshhhhh.

Naruto shivered against him, his gaze dropping to the ground as he swallowed. It had almost been like…footsteps, and the sound of metal dragging across the floor.

“S-Sasuke, did you hear that?” he whispered.

“Hn.”

They waited, and then there it was again.

Tap, tap. Kshhhhh. Tap, tap. Kshhhhh. Tap, tap. Kshhhhh. Tap, tap. Kshhhhh.

More this time. The hair on Sasuke’s arms rose, and he looked down as well. He didn’t sense any sort of chakra presence, and when his sharingan activated, he saw nothing out of the ordinary. Only the old squeaky wood panelling that lined the floor. The crew quarters were on the other side of the ship, and the only thing below was the storage hull.

“Ghosts!” Naruto hissed, and Sasuke frowned at him.

“Idiot it’s not ghosts.”

Despite his statement Sasuke was unsure of what else it could be. Rats maybe? Though they were too small to make such a noise. It had sounded distinctly human. Like the pitter patter of feet moving slowly across floorboards. And…something else. But there shouldn’t have been any other people so low on the ship. Sasuke shuddered. The storage hull was locked up by key, accessible only by the Captain and a few of his high ranking crew members. All of whom were either drunkenly singing away their woes above deck or sleeping. Perhaps it was their minds playing tricks on them.

They stood there in silence, waiting, but the soft tapping didn’t happen again. Neither of them were quite willing to move, frozen as they waited. And then there was another loud groan, followed by a very distinctive creak as the heavy door at the end of the hallway slowly opened. Wasn’t it supposed to be locked?

Sasuke and Naruto held their breaths, their bodies tensing as they clutched at each other’s arms and stared into the darkness towards the door. Sasuke could just barely see the shadow of it opening, and his fingers clenched in the fabric of Naruto’s shirt as the gap widened and a tall figure moved into the hallway. He could make out the silhouette, a bit stocky, longish hair, and then there was the faint glint of jewellery from the figure’s ear. Sasuke let out a heavy breath of air, his body relaxing as he realized it was just the Captain.

The man blinked at them, then grinned wryly before locking the door and stepping down the creaky hallway towards them. “Ah, sorry to startle you boys, just checking over my inventory before bed,” he said. He smirked at Sasuke’s impassive face, and then leaned against the wall next to them, glancing towards Naruto curiously. “Ah, Naruto, wasn’t it?” Without waiting for an answer the Captain reached out, grabbing a lock of Naruto’s hair and curling it around his finger. Sasuke saw red. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in taking a look around my cabin tonight? I promise you won’t regret it,” the Captain asked, completely ignoring Sasuke’s presence as he looked down at Naruto’s shocked eyes.

“R-really?”

Naruto’s eyes lit up at the prospect of actually getting to see inside the captain’s quarters and Sasuke started to fume. He knew it was borne from innocence. That Naruto truly had no idea he was being lured into another man’s bed, but it still pissed Sasuke off to no end. He wrapped an arm around Naruto’s neck, tugging him away from the Captain, and whispered into his ear, “He means sex, you idiot. He wants to fuck you.”

Naruto’s face reddened, the grin faltering and morphing into an expression of disbelief. Then he twisted away, tucking his face against Sasuke, and stumbled over an apology. “A-ah, actually I have to be getting to bed so n-no thank you.”

“Oh? That’s a shame. Perhaps another time,” the Captain drawled. He didn’t look all that bothered by the rejection. He stayed right where he was, watching them with the same leering eyes as always, and Sasuke couldn’t resist snorting as he directed a meaningful glare at the Captain before kissing the side of Naruto’s head pointedly.

“I’m afraid he’ll be otherwise occupied, good night Captain,” Sasuke said, and he opened the door to their room and tugged Naruto inside before slamming it loudly behind them. They listened at the door for a moment as the Captain shuffled away, his heavy steps leisurely walking the rest of the way down the hallway.

Sasuke let out an annoyed sigh. He’d let his emotions get the better of him. It was one thing to display such affection in front of the people he trusted. But it wasn’t particularly smart to reveal romantic relationships like that to strangers.  Feelings like that could be so easily exploited, used to manipulate, especially while on a mission. If the Captain had been an enemy nin, they could have been in a lot of trouble. Sasuke knew better. He did. And yet he just couldn’t stop himself when it came to Naruto.

He couldn’t wait to finish this stupid mission.

Sasuke pushed away from the door and squinted around them. The room they’d been provided with was almost completely dark inside, the small port side window offering hardly any light at night other than a small sliver from the moon. It was just as cramped as the hallway, and Sasuke stumbled over towards the bunk bed and started rummaging around the blankets, taking off his shirt and shoes before sliding beneath them. Naruto hovered at the edge of the bed, staring at the tiny ladder that led up towards the upper bunk before his gaze drifted back down.

“Can I…can I share with you?” he asked, arms wrapped around himself nervously.

Sasuke eyed him for a second and shifted backwards against the wall. “Dobe, what do you think. Of course you can, come here.”

Naruto grinned and slid his shoes off before practically diving beneath the covers next to him. Naruto cuddled into his side, giggling a bit as their feet and knees got tangled up, and then, his fingers pressed against Sasuke’s chest hesitantly. “You know I…I wouldn’t…,” he started. “I mean…I didn’t realize…”

Sasuke rolled on top of him, and Naruto squeaked, swallowing when Sasuke looked down at his face in the dark.

“Don’t be stupid,” Sasuke muttered, before he leaned down and kissed him.  Of course he knew. Naruto was definitely not the sort to play around. He was loyal to a fault. Sasuke would never doubt him in that way, no matter how much it had annoyed him watching the Captain fawn all over him. Naruto wouldn’t see someone flirting with him if they were two inches from his face. Even if you told him he’d still doubt it. He was so oblivious.

In fact, it pissed Sasuke off. He had no business being so completely unaware of how gorgeous he was. With his innocent wide blue eyes, and pouty lips. It made Sasuke want to ravage him.

Sasuke’s mouth moved over Naruto’s eagerly, and he ground down into his body a bit and swallowed his moans. It had been weeks since they’d been able to do this with any kind of privacy. And now, after a full day watching that man touch him, stare at him, Sasuke just couldn’t wait any longer. His fingers tangled in the soft strands of Naruto’s hair, then worked the ribbon of his mask loose before sliding it from his face. He was happy to finally see those whisker marks again, even if they were barely visible in such low lighting. Sasuke could feel the slight indentations beneath his fingertips as he ran them across Naruto’s face, and he leaned down and kissed his cheeks before starting to peel away his clothes.

Having Naruto naked beneath him was quickly becoming one of Sasuke’s favourite things. He wondered if Naruto knew. If he had any idea just how often Sasuke’s mind was preoccupied with thoughts of touching him, being with him like this. His hands ran up and down Naruto’s body, just feeling, before he parted his legs and knelt in between them. It was a cramped space, and Sasuke’s shoulders rubbed against the underside of the upper bunk bed as he looked down into Naruto’s dazed eyes.

He needed to be inside of him. Now.

Sasuke touched his rim hesitantly, frowning as he realized he didn’t have anything to slick him with. He stuck a finger just inside, and Naruto gasped and squirmed a bit, reaching up to grab hold of Sasuke’s arm.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Sasuke said. He stared at Naruto’s hole, watching it twitch around the end of his finger before scooting down the bed and leaning closer to lick at him instead.

“What…ah!” Naruto bucked up, his hands flying down against Sasuke’s shoulders. “Sasuke that’s…I’m…I haven’t bathed since this morn-,” he gasped. Sasuke didn’t bother responding, his tongue easing inside of him, slowly getting him wet. He used a finger to push his saliva in a bit deeper, and lapped at Naruto’s rim teasingly, taking pride in the way Naruto’s thighs trembled.

“Sasuke!”

“Shh…keep your voice down,” Sasuke whispered. It was doubtful anyone would hear him, unless the Captain decided to linger in the hallway outside. But they didn’t need to risk Kakashi or Sakura checking on them because Naruto let out a particularly loud scream. Sasuke licked and fingered Naruto until his hole was fairly wet, and then he sat back, running his fingers up and down his length. Naruto was covering his face, trying to hide even in the dark of their cabin. But he was hard as a rock, cock leaking all over his stomach. Sasuke stroked himself a few more times, spreading precome down over himself before he lined himself up. “Tell me if it hurts,” Sasuke said before sliding inside of him.

Fuck. It was so tight. Just a few thrusts had him on the verge of finishing. He moved agonizingly slow, watching Naruto carefully for any sign of pain. He didn’t appear to be hurting at all. Sasuke grazed the side of Naruto’s face with his palm, brushing back a few stray hairs. His hands had moved down to cover his mouth, holding in little moans and gasps as Sasuke thrust inside of him gently. He clenched around him every so often, whenever Sasuke hit a spot inside him that was particularly sensitive, and Sasuke winced as he struggled not to release. They had to start doing this more often if Sasuke ever wanted to last longer than five minutes.

The bed frame creaked as they moved, the thin mattress shifting beneath their weight atop the supporting wooden flats. Sasuke knocked his head a few times against the upper bunk as he adjusted his position, lifting Naruto’s hips slightly for an angle that allowed him to go a bit deeper. Naruto cried out, unable to hide his voice at the sudden change, but he quickly slapped his palms over his mouth again to stifle any further moans.

Sasuke definitely needed to make quick work of things because he wasn’t going to last.

He reached in between their bodies and wrapped a hand around Naruto’s cock, pumping him slowly in time with his thrusts. Naruto groaned, and he shivered and kicked upwards, his foot slamming into the wooden bedframe with a loud thwack.

“Fuck, ow, ah, Sasu-,”

Sasuke kissed him, and then dragged his fingers across Naruto’s chest, pausing to pinch a nipple gently. Naruto’s legs clenched around his body best they could, and he wiggled his hips and jerked with each tweak of his sensitive skin. Sasuke took a moment to lick his fingers before playing with the small bud again. If they’d had more time, and more space, he would have spent an hour alone licking at each one, drawing Naruto to the edge over and over again.

He could make him come just by playing with him like that if he wanted to. He didn’t even have to touch him anywhere else on his body he was so sensitive. It didn’t take long for Naruto to buck up against him as his orgasm tore through his body almost violently. He clenched so tightly around Sasuke that he let out a surprised groan, reaching around Naruto’s body to hold him tight as he came inside of him. The two of them held fast to each other, grinding together for several long moments, eventually slumping against one another as they finished. Naruto’s body trembled as Sasuke eased his legs down towards the mattress.  He seemed almost in shock, so surprised by the suddenness of his release that he couldn’t quite fathom what had happened, and Sasuke watched him carefully as his gaze became focused again.

He pulled out as slow as he could manage, but Naruto still flinched a bit at the drag of their skin. Sasuke kissed him apologetically. He hadn’t meant to be so rough. Thankfully any tenderness would heal by morning, but he still mentally swore to be more careful next time. Sasuke wiped them both off with the worn blankets while Naruto blinked up at him dazedly. He gently padded at Naruto’s rear, checking him a bit more carefully, before kicking the blankets from the bed. They’d be a crusty mess in the morning but had probably seen much worse.

The two of them lay next to each other after that, sharing lazy open mouthed kisses. Sasuke fiddled with the chain around Naruto’s neck, and Naruto pulled away slightly, staring at him as he reached out to touch Sasuke’s hair. He smiled softly and Sasuke couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking about.

“Sasuke…,” Naruto started, his gaze shifting lower as he nibbled at his lower lip. “You know…you know I’m yours right?”

Sasuke’s heart jumped, and he clutched the chain between his fingers just a bit tighter than before. Only Naruto could say something so impactful in such a seemingly innocent way. “I…I know.” Naruto grinned and shimmied closer, tucking his face against Sasuke’s chest and Sasuke kissed the top of his head. He wanted to say more, but again, was at a loss for words. Everything felt too contrived. Like he couldn’t properly convey just how he felt with only words. He wished he could say what was on his mind as easily as Naruto.

He felt fingers fiddling against his sides, tapping and drawing patterns in a lazy, distracted sort of way. It was already very late, and they had just a few hours to sleep before someone would be knocking at their door. “Get some rest, it’ll be our watch soon,” Sasuke said, yawning as he struggled to relax himself. He was uncomfortably sweaty and overly hot packed in against Naruto in such a confined space. He definitely needed that shower.

Naruto wiggled around, trying to find a comfortable position with little success. Sasuke felt even the slightest movement, his eyes wide open as he stared at Naruto’s hair. Now that they were actually trying to sleep, every sound around them seemed impossibly loud. The wood of the ship creaked and groaned as it rocked over the water, and the wind howled, rattling against their tiny cabin window. A loud guffaw from above deck followed by a series of hoots and hollers echoed down, and Sasuke wondered what stupid story the crew was sharing now.

Naruto shifted for the hundredth time, kicking away at the single sheet still crumpled near the bottom of their mattress. He turned around in Sasuke’s arms, sighing as he gazed wearily out into the darkness of their room, and Sasuke peered at the back of his head. From that angle, he could just see the side of Naruto’s face, the way his whisker marks were twitching along with the skin as he puffed out his cheeks.

“Sasuke…,” Naruto started, and Sasuke acknowledged him with a soft hum. “Do you think those stories, you know, the ghost stories. Do you think they’re true?”

Sasuke snorted, but pulled him in closer, cuddling against his back. “No, there’s no such thing as ghosts you idiot.”

“What about…you know…the weird sounds and stuff?”

“It’s just the wind, the structure of the ship settling,” Sasuke muttered. His brow furrowed as he struggled to come up with any other reasonable explanation. “Probably,” he added.

The boat rocked back and forth, and they both tensed at the strange groaning the wood made along with the motion.  Naruto’s fingers tightened against the mattress and Sasuke looked around their room, spotting nothing out of place.

Tap, tap. Kshhhhh. Tap, tap. Kshhhhh. Tap, tap. Kshhhhh.

They both stiffened, eyes widening, and then Naruto shot up, hitting his head on the upper bunk.

“Ow damn it!” Naruto cursed, and then he shivered and turned towards Sasuke frantically. “You heard it didn’t you? You totally heard it!”

Sasuke gulped, sitting up slightly as he peered warily at the floorboards.

“Teme, it’s gotta be a ghost!”

They didn’t get a wink of sleep.


Sasuke and Naruto stared unenthusiastically out at the water. Their eyes were bloodshot, eyebrows scrunched together as they struggled to stay awake and aware.  The strange sounds and creaks and groans had persisted throughout the entire night. Once their watch had started it hadn’t improved. They had both practically gone into shock when the rapping came at their door to wake them, and then they spent the rest of the night alone above deck, the ship anchored for a few hours while the rest of the crew slept. Beneath the dark cloudy sky, every single sound had set off their nerves.

They were definitely taking an extended holiday when they returned.

By the time afternoon arrived Sasuke’s head was drooping. The motion of the boat was even starting to get to him and he startled upright when a loud horn blared not far off. His eyes widened, his sharingan activating as he tensed and hurried to look out to sea. He was already reaching for a kunai when Kakashi touched his shoulder lightly to settle him down.

“Relax, it’s just a goods inspection ship,” Kakashi explained, and Sasuke took a few deep breaths in an attempt to settle his nerves. He would have been pretty useless in a fight, and he kicked himself for getting so worked up. Naruto plopped his chin down over the railing beside him, eyeing the approaching ship blearily. They watched as a few men boarded, the Captain immediately greeting them with his usual smarmy smile. The crew was met with judgemental looks, the inspector peering at several of them from head to toe with narrowed eyes.

“You’re a lumber tradesman?” The inspector asked, gesturing towards the wood piled up on deck as he wrote a few things down on his clipboard.

The Captain leaned casually against the nearest mast. “You bet, all kinds. This outlines everything currently on board,” he said, and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a rolled up piece of paper.

“You keep some of it stored below deck?”

“The bulk of it,” The Captain said. “Well protected too,” he added, nodding towards where their team was currently lounging.

“Oh, you have a shinobi guard?” The inspector asked, the surprise evident in his tone. He brightened a bit, nodding their way, and Kakashi ducked his head and offered a small wave.

“Never can be too careful against bandits these days, always trying to take advantage of an honest businessman. We’ve got the best of the best from Konoha they say,” The Captain said. He winked at Naruto, who flushed slightly and turned away. The inspector followed his gaze, nodding to himself briefly. He adjusted his jacket, standing up a bit straighter.

“From Konoha?”

“I’ve lost too many shipments to thieves and the like to risk going alone.” The Captain chatted with him for just a few minutes, about the weather, and the nearby struggling fishing villages, as the inspector skimmed the list half-heartedly. He stamped it with approval before handing it back. They didn’t hang around much longer than that, making their way off the boat and towards their next destination.

“Kakashi-sensei,” Sakura spoke quietly. She was staring after the departing inspection ship with a puzzled expression. “They didn’t even look.”

Kakashi’s visible eye narrowed, and he tilted his head to the side in thought. “Hmm…so they didn’t.”

Sasuke blinked his tired eyes. He looked between his teammates and the Captain, who was sitting atop the railing as he watched the inspection ship disappear in the distance. His hands were twirling the rolled up paper in his hand. He sported his usual smirk when he finally turned around to face them, offering a single salute before heading back towards the stern. Sasuke didn’t like the smug look on his face one bit.


Two more days at sea and they reached their destination, and Sasuke was beyond relieved.  The strange noises had persisted, and even Kakashi and Sakura admitted to hearing unusual sounds while trying to get rest in the evenings.  To be honest Sasuke had been hoping to get at least a single night’s rest ashore before setting out again, but unfortunately the port lacked any kind of hospitality. It wasn’t a town or village, but rather a small isolated storage camp of some kind, with just a couple buildings not far from the shore. He saw only a few men roaming the grounds, walking around the perimeter and guarding the doors. Had he been sailing by, Sasuke might not have even spotted it, so hidden it was along the shoreline. The entire place was surrounded by forestry, and Sasuke wondered why anyone felt the need to purchase wood from overseas with such an ample supply so close at hand. He wasn’t an arborist, but it seemed like a waste of both time and money.

They docked and team seven disembarked quickly, eager to finally have a moment on dry land, however short-lived it was. The four of them stretched out their legs and prepared to board a tiny rowboat to make the trip back on their own. Naruto was catching fish, trying to get them a small supply of food for their journey home, and Sakura was filling up several canisters with fresh water from a nearby pump. The trip back shouldn’t take as long, if they could use jutsu to enhance their speed, but they wanted to be ready just in case.

“There is something really suspicious about this,” Sakura muttered under her breath. She peered out of the corner of her eyes towards the crew that was still lazing about around the ship. They didn’t seem in a hurry, even the Captain was chatting idly with one of the men from the encampment, glancing over towards them every so often. Sasuke felt the same, but he wasn’t quite sure why. They’d escorted hundreds of similar ships before, for a wide variety of merchandise, often for even more questionable characters. But there was just something off about this one.  A terrible feeling he couldn’t shake.

Eventually the Captain treaded over their way and signed their scroll to confirm the mission had been completed.

“You didn’t really need us, I’m afraid you wasted quite a bit of money by hiring a shinobi guard,” Kakashi said. He rolled up the scroll and tucked it in his pack. He looked relaxed, but Sasuke could see the slight tension in his form. It wouldn’t be noticeable to someone who wasn’t familiar with him.

The Captain grinned and crossed his arms. “You never can be too careful. Afterall, this is my livelihood.”

“I can’t imagine lumber fetches you enough to cover the cost,” Kakashi commented.

There was an uncomfortable pause, and the man smiled, staring into Kakashi’s eye. “Oh you’d be surprised what my goods will sell for.” The Captain lowered his arms, his posture relaxing as he let out a bit of a hollow laugh. “Thanks for the escort. I’ll keep you guys in mind if I’m ever travelling these waters again.”

Sasuke frowned as he walked away, his gaze boring into the man’s back with each step he took. His fingers tightened around the ropes he was twisting together into a net, but he kept working at it while observing the ship’s crew carefully. He didn’t bat an eye when the Captain greeted the man clearly in charge of the small trade port, only watching as they had a brief conversation and then began their transaction. Sasuke was tired. More tired than he had been in a long time. But not too tired to miss that the Captain was paying the tradesman instead of the other way around.  Odd.

Sakura had seen it too, and Kakashi paused ever so slightly which meant he had as well.

“What is it?” Naruto asked, looking up from the water he’d been stabbing a pointed stick into. Sasuke gestured at him silently, urging him to keep catching fish. He did so, but his expression hardened in suspicion, and he glanced over at Sasuke several times as he continued to work.

They boarded their boat soon after, piling the fish in one corner and their limited supplies in the other.

“I don’t like this, we’re missing something,” Sakura whispered.  She was right. It didn’t make any sense. What could the Captain possibly be buying from a trade port like this.  A lot of money had exchanged hands. Way too much money for mere lumber.  Even if it was made out of gold. And the crew hadn’t started unloading anything.  In fact it seemed like every single person ashore aside from them was simply waiting. Almost like they needed them to leave before they could take action.

“It’s not our business,” Kakashi said. “Our mission here is complete.”

“But you agree,” Sasuke stated. There was no response, but he didn’t need one to know.

Sasuke frowned and looked out towards the horizon. The sun had just started to set, and they wanted to get at least a bit of travel in before nightfall, so he loosened the ropes holding them ashore before pushing them off. The four of them sat in silence, watching the shoreline get smaller as they rowed out to sea. It was nearly dark by the time The Salty Stalker was barely visible in the distance, and Sasuke knew they would be little more than a dot on the horizon to those ashore. Naruto unfastened his mask, rubbing at his face as he stared back towards the port. He looked pensive, his expression clearly displaying his hesitancy to leave. A hesitancy they all shared.

Kakashi sighed.

“Throw down the anchor. We’re shinobi after all, the least we can do is check.”


They walked underwater, on the ocean floor, using chakra to pool air around their heads to allow them to breathe.  It was dark by the time they reached the lumber ship, well after midnight, and the four of them climbed up the side of the boat facing away from the dock. Water dripped from their clothes and hair as they clung to the side of the ship, shimmying up the paneling as quietly as possible. It looked like there were still people aboard, and that they were getting ready to leave soon. It was a very odd time of day to start a journey. The lumber too, was still strapped across the deck, having never been unloaded at all. Sasuke knew something wasn’t right. They held themselves against the hull silently, listening in on the conversations above deck, waiting for a signal from Kakashi.

“Where’s the next pickup?” someone asked.

“Makko Port, then on to Andori with the lot of them.”

Sasuke met Naruto’s puzzled expression with one of his own. There had been no information regarding further travel in their mission report, which didn’t necessarily mean anything, but the rhetoric was still unusual. They waited as the voices distanced a bit, moving to the other side of the ship, and Sasuke lifted himself up enough to peer over the railing. He nodded towards Kakashi, who gestured for Sakura to follow him around the other side of the boat. She tossed Sasuke one of her summoning stones before moving, and Naruto climbed into place behind him. If there was nothing amiss, they wouldn’t need to use it, instead sneaking back off the ship like they had never returned at all. But if he and Naruto found something…that would let her know.

They pulled themselves over the railing, ducking into the shadows and taking a quick count. There were roughly ten people above deck, the Captain nowhere in sight. If they timed it correctly they should be able to sneak through the trapdoors leading down into the hull without being seen.

He caught sight of Kakashi and Sakura moving into place across from them. They would stand guard, making sure to take care of any threat headed their way. At the signal Sasuke and Naruto hurried along the floorboards, making not a single sound as they opened the doors and jumped down into hallway where their cabin had been. It was empty, but they didn’t lower their guard, treading lightly down the hallway to the door at the end. Sasuke twisted the doorknob, finding it locked, unsurprisingly. Naruto formed a few hand signs, and then pressed his palm against the door, and several markings shot out from his fingers creating a silencing seal. He grinned and Sasuke smirked and snapped the knob from its place, pulling the door open without a single sound.

He peered around the edge carefully, but beyond the door there was nothing but a gaping hole in the floor. There was a pulley system hanging into the gap, likely for offloading goods in large quantities, and a single sturdy ladder was propped up leading down to the next level. Sasuke slowly lowered himself, testing each rung for creaks before stepping down on the next. Once at the bottom he peered around himself quickly and then lifted his arms up, easing Naruto down beside him. Right behind them was another door, clearly leading into the storage area of the ship. They held fast to each other for a moment, listening carefully, but not hearing much beyond the usual creaking of wood…and…

Tap, tap. Kshhhhh. Tap, tap. Kshhhhh. Tap, tap. Kshhhhh.

The strange sounds were louder, much more obvious, and clearly coming from the storage bay. Not a figment of their imagination after all. Sasuke and Naruto glanced at each other before staring hesitantly at the door. It had a handle much the same as the one up above, decorative, old and rusty, but with one small difference.  The lock was on the outside of the door.

Naruto reached out, his fingers pausing for a second before he twisted the latch to the side and turned the handle. The door opened just a crack, and there was nothing but darkness. Naruto’s fingers clenched around Sasuke’s forearm, and then he pushed it open, wincing as it creaked. He’d forgotten to seal it this time.

Nothing greeted them but silence. Sasuke couldn’t see anything in the dark shadows, even with his sharingan, so he created a small circular flame, and Naruto surrounded it with a wind jutsu, blowing it out to hover in the centre of the room. There was a rush of movement as clothing shuffled and several figures inched away from the light. Multiple pairs of eyes peered back at them, and he startled, Naruto’s fingers grasping at his chest and tightening in his shirt. There were children, fifteen, twenty maybe, all chained up and sitting on the ground, staring at them with fearful, exhausted gazes. Their feet were bare, their clothes ragged and dirty, and they clutched at their knees and scrunched up against the walls of the room.

Was this…was this the trade?

“Oh…fuck.”


It was Sakura who cornered the Captain, blowing a hole in his cabin before dragging him off of the ship. She held his head beneath the water, not even flinching as he struggled in her hold. In the end, he was no match for her sheer strength, and she held fast until his body stopped moving and he eventually succumbed to death. Her face was stony as she threw his limp form onto the deck along with the rest of the crew, and Sasuke eyed her with concern.

He wasn’t sure what made her react quite so violently, but he could imagine. After summoning her with the stone, she had looked over the children in stunned silence, using her medical jutsu to scan each one of them for anything urgent. She had been oddly quiet. If she’d found something, she did not speak on it. Her stilted silence and steely gaze was evidence enough that there was more than met the eye, and Sasuke was fairly certain he didn’t want to know.

“Sakura?” Naruto had asked, his hand reaching out to touch her shoulder. She didn’t respond. She simply stood and climbed back above deck, knocking her fist into the first crew member she came across and threatening the next for the Captain’s location.

It didn’t take them long to overpower the rest of the crew, as well as the men in the encampment on shore. Sasuke and Kakashi checked every inch of the buildings, but found no more children. It seemed all of them had been sold to the Captain and his crew. They’d been quiet, quick, and merciless. They killed them all, stacked them on the ship, cleaned up the mess left behind, and then escorted the children off and into a couple lifeboats.

When they were a safe distance away Sasuke activated his mangekyo and directed his gaze back towards The Salty Stalker one final time.

“Amaterasu!” he hissed, watching as it went up in black flames, collapsing into dust in the water along with its crew. There wouldn’t be a single scrap left behind.

Going against mission parameters was dangerous. Without Hokage approval they risked losing their ranks, perhaps even facing arrest. Sudden decisions could impact potentially hundreds of people in ways no one could predict. Ultimately Kakashi would take the brunt of the fall as their team leader. But under the circumstances even he didn’t care. Those men didn’t deserve to live. And they couldn’t just leave the children to suffer. None of them were willing to let a single child get sold into slavery for the sake of a stamp of approval from the Hokage.

It took them longer than predicted to get back, with the twenty some odd children in tow.  Konoha wasn’t a port town, so once they reached the shore, they’d had to make the rest of the journey on foot at a much slower pace.  And with the extra mouths to feed, they’d needed frequent stops just to have enough time to gather and prep meals.  They avoided cities, and veered off the paths whenever travellers approached. It was best to stay hidden to avoid any further complications.

Naruto had done his part to keep the kids entertained on the trip, though his eyes betrayed the hurt he was feeling inside. Sasuke carried their supplies while Naruto made a couple clones to play and chat with as many children at a time as possible, even carrying them on his back when necessary. And while he was able to get the occasional smile out of the children, for the most part, they were lost, scared, and confused.

It was impossible to sneak so many into the village, and so they were watched and followed as they ushered the group between them through the gate and pathways that lead to the Hokage Tower. They were pulled away almost immediately to receive medical care and questioning.  Tsunade’s reaction was one of absolute silence.  It was highly unusual for her, and none of them were quite sure what to make of it. If she’d been drunk, she sobered quickly, spending three hours looking over several of the kids herself, not a single word uttered the entire time.

Now, she sat behind her desk, listening to their statement with a blank expression on her face.  When Kakashi finished, Tsunade lifted her chin and sighed.  She closed her eyes and pursed her lips, sitting in silence for nearly ten minutes before speaking.

“How many witnesses,” she asked. Her eyebrows were scrunched together and her eyes remained tightly shut.

“None, apart from those who saw us walking within Konoha’s gates,” Kakashi confirmed. “Sasuke’s genjutsu ensured we remained unseen the few times civilians came too close.  

“And you left no evidence,” she added.

“None.  Everything and everyone was burned to dust in the sea. The ship included.”

Tsunade nodded. She ran a hand through her hair, and then sat up a bit straighter, opening her eyes as she clasped her fingers together atop the desk. “As far as all of you are concerned, this mission never happened,” she said. She stared at them for a few seconds and then held up the mission scroll, gesturing for Sasuke to burn it. He did so without question. 

“This will be the last I hear of your version of events.  The mission report is as follows. Upon returning home you spotted a shipwreck off the Northern coast of Steam. As many children as possible were evacuated into lifeboats, the remaining passengers unfortunately drowned with the ship before you could reach them. You managed to recover the lifeboats, and rescue the children.” She pulled out a new scroll, writing out the description quickly and stamped it as though it were the one they’d just completed.

“But that’s not-,” Naruto began, but Sakura nudged him in the ribs with her elbow and he quickly shut up. 

Tsunade looked up at him, her eyes steely, her teeth tightly ground together. “I do not wish to hear a single word that suggests otherwise.”

“You seem to be forgetting that there were several other sets of eyes as witness as well. Young ones, that won’t easily forget all that has happened to them,” Kakashi mentioned.

“That will be dealt with.”

Sasuke swallowed as he directed his gaze towards the floor. He knew they had ways of course, of manipulating memories to fit their narrative. It was cruel, but necessary. And though he didn’t like the idea of meddling around in the minds of innocent children, perhaps it was for the best in this case. Naruto’s fists clenched at his sides, and Sasuke wanted to reach out and grab him, but he refrained from doing so.

“What’ll happen to them all?” Naruto asked, his voice deceptively calm. Sasuke could see the way he was shaking, using every ounce of his remaining energy to keep himself in check.

“We will integrate them into Konoha society best we can.”

Naruto jolted, his eyes widening and his arms flew out to his sides. “But what if they have family still!”

“Naruto, their families are dead, it says so in our mission report.” Tsunade stared him down, holding up the scroll as if daring him to disagree with her. He didn’t. “We have no idea how wide this operation spans. Someone out there is waiting for a delivery that will never arrive. A very expensive delivery. They will be angry when they realize it has gone missing. We have no idea who else may be involved. We cannot risk the threat searching for them might otherwise bring upon our village.” She sighed wearily, her expression softening slightly as she looked Naruto in the eyes. “This is not your mission any longer, you will not speak of it again. This is for your safety, as well as the safety of these children.  Understood?”

Sasuke could see the instant Naruto fully grasped the gravity of the situation at hand. His body slumped, the days of exhaustion finally taking their toll. His face crumpled with his anguish, and Sasuke reached out to rest his palm against his lower back, unable to resist offering him comfort any longer. They left the room in silence.


Sasuke and Naruto spent the afternoon together wandering town. They were both in desperate need of sleep, but after an emotional shower, in which Naruto cried softly against Sasuke’s shoulder, clutching at him like a lifeline, they couldn’t bring themselves to do so.

Instead they found their way to Ichiraku, but the ramen that so often brought Naruto comfort was unable to lift his spirits. In fact, for the first time maybe ever, Naruto did little more than stare at the noodles floating in the broth, hardly touching it at all. He poked at the egg nestled to the side, and Sasuke eyed him worriedly, sipping at his own bowl unenthusiastically.

Sasuke could tell that Naruto needed to talk, but he wasn’t sure how to broach the subject.  Instead he just stayed at his side, waiting. Naruto bit the inside of his lip and shoved his chopsticks aggressively into the egg before he sat back on his stool. “Do you think…they’ll be okay?” he finally asked. Sasuke didn’t have an answer. Thankfully Naruto wasn’t really looking for one. “I just…I don’t want them to be alone like we were.”

Sasuke paused, a clump of noodles just a few inches from his face. He put them back in his bowl and closed his mouth, lowering his gaze towards the counter. Konoha didn’t have a proper orphanage, most of the hidden villages didn’t.  There were simply too many children left behind from wars and missions to accommodate in that way. Instead they were thrown into an adult life at a young age.  Expected to fend for themselves.  Naruto and Sasuke had both been victims of a broken system. 

Naruto was an example of the best possible outcome from such a situation. He was positive, hardworking, determined, kind. Though he still had many confidence issues that could have been prevented with a better support system, with a family. But Sasuke…

Sasuke had been everything Naruto wasn’t. Cold, calculating, incapable of forming bonds with those around him. Though he was in a much better place now, largely because of Naruto, there had been a time where he was little more than a lost cause. An enemy of Konoha, a missing nin. The majority of fugitives came from broken families or war-torn countries. The hidden villages cultivated almost all of the threats posed against them themselves, purely by throwing children into war and adult life at far too young an age. Before they were able to make decisions with a fully developed mind. Konoha was lucky Naruto had turned out so unerringly good. A jinchuuriki with a mind set on revenge would have been a terrifying prospect.

“I wish I could do more to help.  Like find their families. And there could be other children out there, being sold as we speak-,”

“Naruto,” Sasuke hurried to stop him there. “You’ve done so much already. We were lucky to have found them at all.” Sasuke let go of his bowl, turning on his stool to face Naruto directly. “I’m sure Tsunade will do the best she can to find homes here for them.”

“And the ones she can’t?  What about them?  Will they just be thrown into the streets to fend for themselves? Left to grow up alone without anyone to…to care for them?” Naruto pushed his bowl away irritably, ducking his head as he stared down at his feet hanging below. “It’s not right.  It’s not fair.”

Sasuke blinked at him, at a loss for what to say. He was right. It wasn’t fair. Sasuke knew that better than most. But he also understood Tsunade’s decision to keep the children confined within the village. “Sometimes…a leader has to make difficult choices, in an effort to protect the village, and all those within it.”

They sat in silence for a while, Naruto kicking at his stool while Sasuke tried to come up with anything that might comfort him. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He wished there was an easy fix, but Naruto’s mind would be stuck on this for days, possibly years. Any time he saw one of those children in the streets it would rekindle the memories. And he’d find a way to blame himself, to convince himself he hadn’t done enough to help.

“If being Hokage means making decisions like that, I don’t think I want to do it.”

The words were whispered, but Sasuke heard them clear as day. His mouth fell open a bit and he stared at Naruto with wide eyes. They were words he never thought he’d hear from him. How often had he spouted nonsense while growing up about becoming Hokage. It was his singular goal, for so long. And though Naruto mentioned it less now that they were older and more preoccupied with missions, Sasuke knew without a doubt it was still his greatest ambition in life.

“You’d…give up on your dream?”

Naruto shrugged, his eyes flittering about as he grasped the stool between his legs. “I…I don’t know.” He looked so torn. “I already like what we do.  Helping people more actively, you know? Is that…wrong?” The guilt in his expression was heart wrenching.

Sasuke shook his head, reaching out to brush back some of his hair. “Dreams can change. Wanting to help people is…a good dream to have,” he said softly. “What does it matter if you’re a Kage or a Jounin in the end?”

Naruto looked at him for a moment before smiling faintly. It was such a relief. The first real smile Sasuke had seen on his face in ages. Even if it was a shadow of the usual Naruto cheer. Naruto turned away, facing his food as he mulled over his thoughts. His fingers fiddled with the bowl, tapping at the chopsticks and twirling them around the rim. Finally, he picked them up and actually scooped a few noodles into his mouth. He didn’t eat with the same vigour as normal, but it was something.

“What’s your dream now Sasuke?”

The question caught him off guard. He tapped his fingers against his thigh and tilted his head to the side as his thoughts drifted away. “Hmm…”

Sasuke’s greatest ambition had always been to kill Itachi. And he’d accomplished that, and felt nothing but a hollow emptiness in his heart afterwards. Achieving his dream had brought him little peace. It was bittersweet, discovering the truth behind Itachi’s actions, the truth behind all that had happened to his clan. The goal he’d worked so hard to attain had turned into one of his biggest regrets. 

His other dream, to revive his clan, seemed almost futile now. What reason was there to do so? Would it just create more problems in the future? Would the clan in fifty or sixty years give in to the darkness in their hearts like he had so easily? Would Konoha attempt to strip the sharingan from them, to use them for gain on a political playground he wanted no part of? Sasuke didn’t like the idea of the Uchiha name dying out with him, but perhaps carrying on its legacy was too great a risk.

But on a more personal level, the idea of having a family was…intriguing to him. He didn’t think he’d hate it. Raising children. If such a thing was even possible for him now. But he was afraid he wouldn’t be good at it. That he’d be too much like his father. Too strict, too distant. But a part of him also desperately wanted to do better. And well, if Naruto wanted that as well…

He turned to look at him, welcoming the sense of calm that came with having Naruto so close to his side. He might not have had all of the answers about his dreams anymore, but there was one thing he was sure of.

“The only thing…I really want, is to make you happy,” Sasuke said. He looked away almost immediately, embarrassed that he’d said something so completely stupid. But when Naruto startled, practically choking on the ramen he was scooping into his mouth, Sasuke glanced back at him in concern. He coughed a few times and turned to look at Sasuke incredulously. 

“T-That’s not a dream.”

Naruto looked so completely shocked. Like he couldn’t fathom the idea of someone caring for him in such a way, and it tore at Sasuke’s heart. Hadn’t he promised to fix this? To make sure Naruto knew he was special? That he was worthy of love? He frowned and gritted his teeth. “Isn’t it?” Sasuke asked. He reached out to clasp Naruto’s hand, running his thumb gently over his fingertips. “It’s what gives me the greatest joy.” He didn’t even care that his words were ridiculously sappy anymore. Because clearly Naruto needed to hear them.

“S-Sasuke…”

Naruto gaped at him, his fingers tightening in Sasuke’s grip. His eyes watered, and he blinked them rapidly but had to turn away to wipe at his face with a sleeve. Sasuke sat up a bit straighter and leaned around, looking at him worriedly.

“And now I’ve made you sad.”

Naruto laughed and punched him lightly in the shoulder. “Teme, tears aren’t always sad.” He sniffled and wiped at his face aggressively while Sasuke stared at him. It had been a long day, after several even longer ones. They were both teetering on the edge. It was only a matter of time before one of them let it out again.

Sasuke shimmied his stool nearer so that he could hold him close. He tucked his nose into Naruto’s hair, smelling the familiar citrus fragrance that clung to him after a shower, and Naruto pressed his face into him, giving up on wiping away his tears. Sasuke was grateful it was a bit of a grey day, that the villagers out and about were few in number. It allowed them some privacy while they leaned on each other for support, their ramen left unfinished on the counter top. Even Teuchi left them alone, thankfully, only occasionally peering their way with sad eyes.

As Naruto settled down, Sasuke took some time to think about the future. He’d been so stuck in the present and past for so long, he’d hardly even considered what life might be like in the years ahead. For some time, he didn’t think he’d even make it that long. But now, he wanted to make a difference in Konoha. If not for himself, then for Naruto. It was time for things to change. He and Hinata had already taken the first step towards that change, but there was so much more that could be done to improve Konoha’s politics, and in return the safety of all those within the village.

“I have a lot of money,” Sasuke muttered, and Naruto twisted his head, peering up at him curiously. It was no secret that the Uchiha clan was wealthy. And though much of that wealth had been taken by Konoha when he’d defected, Tsunade had gracefully returned a hefty chunk of it upon his return. “I couldn’t possibly use it all. Perhaps some of it could be put towards sponsoring the construction of an orphanage. A proper one. It might be the start to a better Konoha.”

Naruto jolted upright, staring at Sasuke intently, his hands pressed against the tops of Sasuke’s thighs as he looked into his eyes. He opened and closed his mouth several times, and then his eyebrows scrunched together. The tears fell almost immediately, and he didn’t even try to stop them this time. Sasuke looked at him, completely baffled. He hadn’t meant to make him cry like this. It was the complete opposite of his intentions.

Sasuke reached out, framing Naruto’s face with his hands. He brushed away his hair, now wet from tears, and held his chin up as he wiped away the tears himself. “Idiot, stop crying,” Sasuke pleaded, but if anything the tears only came harder. Sasuke was on the verge of panic, completely unprepared for this kind of reaction.

“Sas-suke,” Naruto snivelled in between his sobs. He hiccupped a few times and smiled through his tears. “You make me so happy. So happy.”

Sasuke froze, staring at him in disbelief. His shoulders relaxed slightly and he exhaled, relieved that Naruto wasn’t really upset, but rather…overwhelmed. Sasuke smiled at him a bit sadly, and rubbed his fingers across his whisker marks before leaning forward to press a quick kiss against his lips. He pulled him back against his chest, wrapping his arms around his body and cradling Naruto’s head against his shoulder.

“I’m glad.”

Chapter Text


Sasuke gazed through the flames flickering nearby, watching the patterns that danced across Naruto’s face on the other side of their campfire. The forest was silent as night approached. They were about halfway to Suna, and in a day or two the dense woods would taper out into sand and dry brush. Sasuke was already a bit tired, but once they no longer had cover from the sun things would be even more difficult, so he refrained from showing it best he could. Fresh water would become increasingly harder to find, food and shelter, a rarity. His complaints could wait until they were more justified.

He breathed in deeply and studied Naruto intently, who seemed perfectly happy to be camping out in the woods even after so many days of travel. He had a soft grin on his face, and though he did look a bit weary as well, it did little to lessen the brightness in his eyes. He was likely excited to see an old friend. Little things like that had a tendency to energize him.

Their last visit with Gaara had been more than two years ago. At the time, Sasuke had still been coming to terms with his role in Konoha. His relationship with Naruto, though certainly on the mend, had been in the midst of evolving. Compared to present day, it felt like ages ago. Sasuke had spent much of that trip glaring daggers at the Kazekage, and vice versa. So much had changed since then. He wondered if this visit would prove to be better or worse.

Sakura sat next to Naruto. She was picking the dirt out from beneath her nails with a senbon, and Sasuke could feel her gaze on him, watching him watch Naruto. She’d been doing that a lot lately, and though he sensed no malice from her, rather an intense curiosity, it was a bit tiresome at times. He was constantly tempted to hide his thoughts from her, to turn his gaze away from Naruto, afraid of what she might see within it. But lately that fear of discovery had begun to dissipate. He didn’t mind so much, if others knew how strongly he felt for Naruto. In fact, he almost…wanted them to know instead.

Behind Sasuke, Shikamaru, Lee, and Sai were already lying down, tucked into their bedrolls and attempting to get some rest. Lee spouted something poetic every now and then, earning scoffs from Sakura, and inquisitive stares from Sai, but for the most part they were quiet as they settled in to sleep. Without the weariness and aches and pains from travel, Sasuke might have found it a very pleasant evening.

It had been a relatively peaceful journey up to that point, and there was no reason for that to change. So Sasuke was surprised when he felt something slightly out of place. It had been a very brief surge in chakra, so faint he wondered if he’d imagined it. He paused for just a moment, the hairs on the back of his neck lifting as he froze.

“What is it?” Sakura asked, noticing immediately as his gaze drifted from Naruto’s face towards the darkness of the woods around them. He didn’t answer her, his eyes narrowing as he focused on sensing their surroundings. As far as he could tell, there was nothing there. He met Naruto’s worried gaze, and didn’t register anything more before something whooshed by his head and hit Naruto in the neck. He watched as it happened in almost slow motion. The way Naruto’s entire body jolted to the side from the impact, the blood that spurted from his veins. He hadn’t noticed in time to use a substitution. Sasuke’s eyes widened, and he flinched in surprise. He hadn’t seen it coming at all either.

Mere seconds later Naruto’s body collapsed to the forest floor in a series of short spasms as several seals streaked out across his neck, and Sasuke’s heart practically seized in his chest. Naruto screamed, and both his and the fox’s chakra started flickering around his body like they wanted to escape and stay contained all at once. He writhed in place, hand grappling at his neck, his eyes wide and laced with pain. Sasuke lunged towards his body, but before he managed a single step his vision swayed and he was drawn into darkness.

He blinked rapidly, his footsteps halting as the scenery around him morphed into something altogether too familiar. It was the Uchiha compound. Every building was there, the stone pathway beneath his feet, the traditional homes, down to the last detail. If he hadn’t been trudging through the forest just moments prior he would have believed himself actually there. But in that moment it was so clearly a genjutsu. It was almost laughable how obvious it was. He smirked, activating his sharingan and attempting to break free from it, but frowned when the scene only morphed before his eyes, this time with the added element of hundreds of dead bodies on the ground. Sasuke nearly choked. There was only one other person that would have known these exact details, and he was dead.

Sasuke faltered. Had his sharingan not activated? It felt like it had, but then again, perhaps that was part of the illusion as well.

His focus broke just long enough for him to succumb to an onslaught of entirely new nightmares. Or were they memories? It was so precise, the way every detail was in the exact place from that one night. And yet…there was something distinctly off about it. Sasuke looked down, peering at the bloody sword gripped in his hand warily. That wasn’t…right. When he looked up, a young Itachi stood before him, his expression a mix of confusion and pain.

“Why?” He hissed, and Sasuke staggered back. “Sasuke why?” It was then he noticed the way his brother clutched at his gut, the deep wound overflowing with blood. “You killed them all, why did you kill them little brother?”

Sasuke shook his head and narrowed his eyes. He hadn’t…it hadn’t been like this. But then there was an influx of altered memories and Sasuke wanted to retch. He saw himself in Itachi’s place, sliding the sword so easily into the backs of his mother and father. He watched their bodies fall lifelessly to the floor, neither putting up so much as a fight. He saw himself mutilating the rest of the clan, taking joy in their blood as it smeared over the pavement, and then finally lunging at Itachi, doing the same to him. His sword sank into his brother’s body so easily. He tugged at it, trying desperately to wrench it away, but in the end it only caused him more pain. He stared at Itachi in disbelief, caught his body in his arms as it collapsed. His brother’s eyes gazed up at him lifelessly, and Sasuke saw himself reflected in them, the anger, the hate, the lust for blood.

It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He knew it wasn’t real. So why couldn’t he break free? He dropped Itachi’s body from his arms and tried to ignore the way it fell limply to the ground with a loud thwack, standing up and searching around himself for a way to escape. He was shaky and confused. He was starting to mix real memories with fake ones, and that brought about a whole new level of panic Sasuke had never experienced before.

He closed his eyes, steadied his breathing, focused on really feeling, and when he opened them again he saw it. A slight shimmer, a mere tear in the genjutsu. He ran towards it desperately and clawed his way through. He prepared himself to fall back onto the solid ground of the woods. He would activate his sharingan immediately, get to Naruto’s side, and destroy whoever did this to them. Except when he landed, it wasn’t on solid ground at all.

Sasuke cried out as his body sank briefly, inhaling instinctively as a disgusting liquid filled his lungs. He choked and struggled against the suffocating feeling before straining to swim upwards. It was exhausting, and he thought he might not make it in time. His arms burned as he desperately tried to reach the surface, and when his head finally burst through to fresh air, he spat the liquid from his mouth, eyes widening as he realized he was swimming in a sea of blood.

He treaded anxiously through the viscous liquid until he managed to drag himself free from it, coughing the blood from his lungs and panting as he knelt on the ground. He could feel the pain in his throat, the exhaustion in his body from nearly drowning. He could taste the blood on his tongue, feel it dripping down his skin. His eyesight blurred slightly as he watched it dribble from his body to the ground. He shuddered as he blinked the blood from his eyes.

Why? Why couldn’t he see through it?

This was no mere illusion. It was too real. Built on his real experiences, and yet crafted into something much more terrifying. Even Itachi’s illusions hadn’t felt quite so frightening. The sharingan should have allowed him to escape easily, and yet here he was, caught in his own distorted memories, unable to make use of it at all.

“S-Sasuke?”

The tone was so familiar, and yet…so weak compared to normal. Sasuke raised his head tentatively, swallowing as he realized he was face to face with Naruto. Except he was much younger, his body torn to shreds. They were so close, close enough that Sasuke could feel his tiny gasps of air on his face, and Sasuke shuddered when he realized it was because his fist was in Naruto’s chest.

He remembered that day so clearly. He never wanted to revisit it.

“Sasuke it hurts,” Naruto whispered. He was older now, the Naruto that Sasuke had become so much more familiar with. His tortured expression bore into Sasuke’s eyes, and Naruto lowered his head, staring at the gaping wound with fascination, the place where Sasuke’s arm disappeared between his ribs. Sasuke shook his head rapidly as Naruto clawed at his own wound, pulling it wider, making it so much worse. He watched him scream in pain, watched him panic as the blood poured from his chest. Sasuke wrenched his arm away, cringing at the scream that came from Naruto’s throat. He reached out towards him, but couldn’t reach him, and Naruto collapsed on his knees with fearful eyes. Sasuke shook his head in disbelief, stepping towards him, but the more he moved, the greater the distance between them became. Sasuke tripped over his own feet, running endlessly, until Naruto was so far away from him he could no longer see him at all.

He turned in the empty space around him, searching for anything, but finding himself alone. His arms were covered in blood, and it dripped steadily towards the ground. It was Naruto’s blood, Itachi’s blood. The blood of every single loved one he’d managed to destroy.

He felt panic set in. He couldn’t do this. His breathing quickened and he started to violently shake.

The ground shifted beneath his feet and Sasuke glanced down at it just in time to watch it crumble and cave in. He fell into the hole, twigs and stones scratching at his skin on the way down, his nails tearing from his fingertips as he grappled against the dirt fruitlessly. His body slammed down hard, trapped inside a long rectangular trench, and then he was met with a sight he would not soon forget.

Naruto’s lifeless eyes, his body half in decay, Sasuke’s old scratched up hitae-ate clenched in a bony hand. And Sasuke screamed. He screamed so much his throat went raw. It couldn’t be real, it couldn’t possibly be real. He needed to wake the fuck up! He had to regain control of his physical body, so he could activate his sharingan and stay the hell away from whatever place this was.

Sasuke gritted his teeth and focused on his hand. He willed it to move, not just inside the illusion, willed himself to reach into his own pouch to withdraw a kunai with shaking fingers. It slipped unsteadily against his sweaty palm, but Sasuke clenched it hard, lifting it up high, forcing his physical body to comply. His eyes were wide and afraid as he wrenched it down into his own thigh, hard as can be.

It was like he’d been thrown into a bucket of ice when the genjutsu finally broke. He fell forward onto his hands, gasping for air. His leg throbbed where he’d stabbed it, and Sasuke trembled on the ground, taking in his surroundings with panicked eyes. He was back in the forest, enemy nin all around him and the others. Except Naruto and Sakura were gone. And Sasuke hadn’t seen what happened.

Shikamaru had several of their enemies trapped within his shadow imitation technique, but he was struggling to maintain the hold on so many clearly strong shinobi. His face was straining under the force, and though Lee was acting quickly, knocking them to the ground one by one, it wasn’t fast enough for him to possibly reach all of them in time. Sasuke spotted Sai, standing still, not far away, staring at his side in wonder, a kunai lodged in between his ribs. Their eyes met briefly, and he knew the other had just escaped from a genjutsu as well. One of similar strength if Sai had also been forced to react with such a desperate measure.

Sasuke activated his sharingan immediately and wrenched himself to his feet. He threw out several shuriken on wires around him, lodging them into the chests of the enemy nin, even as he staggered against the pain in his thigh. He cast amaterasu quickly, blowing the fire down the wires, watching in fascination as the bodies of the shinobi went up in black flames. He hurried to control the spread, keeping it away from the brush and trees around them, and then flung himself into another nin currently in the midst of forming several hand signs. He wouldn’t be caught in an illusion again. His red eyes gleamed down at the man, and a second later Sasuke sliced his head from his body with a chidori infused Kusanagi.

He bared his teeth and trapped another inside his own mind, returning the nightmarish tortures tenfold. Sasuke took sick pleasure in his screams, and it wasn’t until Sai broke the man’s neck that they stopped. He fought through as many more as he could, the others doing the same behind him. Sasuke paused just long enough to register the cult markings on their enemies’ arms. Damn it! They really didn’t need this right now. He was ninety percent sure he knew what they wanted too.

His gaze darkened, Kusanagi crackling with lightning and mimicking his erratic thoughts, and he attacked the next man in a rage. Long after he was dead Sasuke stabbed at him, screaming out his anger as blood pooled around the shinobi’s body. Sasuke fell away from him in disgust, staring at his coated hands as he breathed in and out rapidly. He was covered in it. So much blood.

Naruto’s blood, wasn’t it?

He remembered those lifeless blue eyes, the pain filled expression on Naruto’s face as he’d put a hole through his chest. Naruto…where was Naruto? He turned around frantically, searching for any sign of a tuft of blond hair. Had he killed him? Had the vision been a memory after all? Sasuke wasn’t sure. Why couldn’t he remember? Why couldn’t he separate the real from the fake?

He didn’t even realize he was screaming until a swift punch to the face broke him out of his mental breakdown. Sasuke panted against the ground, and stared up at Lee in shock, gasping for air. His face throbbed violently, but he hardly noticed the pain. He was shaking, and it wasn’t until Shikamaru put a hand on his shoulder and counted him down that his breathing evened out.

Lee hovered over him worriedly, his fingers wringing together in front of his body. “I’m so sorry to have hit you my friend, but...,”

“Where’s Naruto,” Sasuke hissed, as soon as his brain started functioning enough to form the words.

“Safe, probably,” Shikamaru reassured him.  Sasuke blinked at his surroundings in surprise, sighing as he remembered that the blood was from their enemies, whose bodies were strewn about the forest floor all around him. Enemies he’d helped take down. He breathed in and out shakily, closing his eyes briefly before staring down at his hands. That’s right. Naruto wasn’t dead. He hadn’t killed him. That part at least wasn’t real. It wasn’t. Sasuke swallowed, sitting up gingerly, wincing as his thigh throbbed from the movement. His gaze shifted to the wound and he spotted the growing deep red stain on his pants. Shit, he was bleeding pretty bad.

Sai stood a few feet away, clutching his side with one hand. He was staring listlessly at the ground, and it would have been disturbing if such an expression wasn’t so commonplace on his face. Lee had a wound on his upper arm, which he dabbed at for a moment, before looking down at him in concern. He was just as coated in blood, his arms and legs completely drenched as he unravelled his bindings.

“W-what happened?” Sasuke stuttered, his legs still refusing to support his body. Shikamaru sat back on his heels and sighed in frustration.

“You saw Naruto get hit,” Shikamaru commented. Sasuke nodded and took a shaky breath. “They did the same to Lee.” He nodded to Lee who held out a strange looking weapon, and Sasuke gripped it between his fingers carefully. It was long and thin, much like a senbon, though several faded seals lined the metal, clearly meant to activate on impact. He remembered the way Naruto had struggled against it, his chakra flowing erratically around his form as it fought to leave his body.

“A chakra displacer?” Sasuke wondered. And then he looked at Lee and snorted. No wonder Naruto was so effected by it. He had an overwhelming amount of chakra inside of him, both his and Kurama’s. It would have completely crippled him. And done absolutely nothing to Lee.

“He…disappeared not long after, with Sakura,” Shikamaru added. Sasuke breathed in quickly, his shoulders relaxing slightly. He felt almost sick with relief. If he was with Sakura…if they had disappeared together…

“He’s…he’s okay then.”

Shikamaru shrugged, looking out into the forest with wary eyes. “Like I said, probably.” He turned back towards Sasuke, looking him up and down with narrowed eyes. “What happened to you?”

“A genjutsu, of some sort.”

“It was more than just a simple genjutsu,” Sai interjected. Sasuke turned towards him curiously. “Fears. It showed us our worst fears. And greatest regrets.” He looked at Sasuke with emotionless eyes. “It was a projection from within our own minds.”

“I thought you weren’t susceptible to those sorts of things,” Sasuke commented and Sai grimaced slightly. It was more emotion than typically showed on his face and Sasuke couldn’t help but wonder what he had seen under the genjutsu’s control.

“I do not yet fully understand fear, however what I saw was still sincerely disturbing. I’m sure you…understand.”

Sasuke nodded weakly and pushed himself up, Shikamaru lifting him beneath his arm. Shikamaru sighed then, turning to look at the bodies, or what remained of them, and Sasuke shuddered as he was reminded of the bloodbath from his mind.

“Mokushiroku,” Shikamaru noted, lifting one of the tattooed arms before letting it fall limply to the ground. The cult was rather new, but already growing in size, especially if they were able to send such a large group for this one attack. Konoha had very limited intel on them. Just whisperings. But they appeared to be collecting ninja from around the world with unique talents, often against their will, then indoctrinating them, and harnessing said talents before mutating them. Some of their known targets had included jinchuuriki from the other villages. They should have expected such an attack sooner or later.

“They wanted Naruto,” Sasuke said.

“Most likely.”

“Fuck, we were careless,” Sasuke realized. They’d been travelling on the paths, not attempting to hide at all, with their campfire lit late into the evening. They hadn’t even made any attempts to disguise themselves, so clearly from Konoha, leaf symbols adorning their jackets and gear. And Naruto was unmasked for once. It was like they were asking to be attacked.

Sasuke turned towards their scattered travel packs. Both Naruto’s and Sakura’s were missing, which meant she’d had the forethought to grab them before they disappeared. Surely they would have been left behind had they not escaped. That at least, gave him some sense of relief. But it didn’t stop him from worrying. “We have to find them.”

“Later. We’ve got work to do first.” Shikamaru gestured towards the bodies and Sasuke grimaced.

He collected his thoughts, took a deep breath and pushed his shaking body to move. All he wanted to do was search for Naruto, but Shikamaru was right, they couldn’t leave such an obvious mess behind. They spent a few hours disposing of what remained of the Mokushiroku members, dismantling them in search of anything that might be useful at a later time. It was dirty work. Typically ANBU took care of that kind of thing, but they didn’t exactly have easy access to Konoha black ops so far from home. And if they left the bodies, or tried to hide them, they risked losing all of the information to thieves or other members of the cult. Thankfully Sai was well versed in extracting secrets from a corpse. Unfortunately the rest of them had to help him do it.

They spent a few hours looking for Naruto and Sakura after that, awake well into the night, but came up with nothing. Sasuke couldn’t sense Naruto’s chakra at all, which meant they had gone decently far, wherever they were. Or they were dead. He tried not to let that particular worry take control of his mind.

He practically threw his shirt off of his body, growling at the sheer amount of blood that coated his skin. It hit the ground with a wet splat, blood splattering across the dirty floorboards below. His pants were drenched in it too, but there was no sense changing out of them without a place to clean prior to putting on his spare set. He kicked his pack to the side of the small abandoned cabin they’d taken as their own, growling as he tried with little success to calm the shaking in his limbs. It wasn’t the most hospitable lodging, but it was the best they could do so late at night and under the circumstances.

Lee walked up beside him sluggishly. His vest was torn so much he didn’t even have to lift it over his shoulders to remove it. He threw it in the corner, where an animal skittered out from beneath dust and discarded bones and discarded the extra packs and equipment they now had at his feet. He pulled out some bandages and changed the one tied around his upper arm before slumping on the ground. Shikamaru and Sai trudged in after them, the latter propped over Shikamaru’s shoulder. The wound in Sai’s side had gone untreated for too long, and it was finally starting to take a toll on him.  

Sasuke leered at the hasty bandage he’d wrapped around his thigh, gritting his teeth when he noticed the blood seeping through. There wasn’t much more he could do to stop it without Sakura’s healing jutsu. He hobbled to the other end of the cabin, running dirty fingers through his hair, before walking back again.

“Uchiha, stop pacing,” Shikamaru drawled. “We’ll find them.”

Sasuke paused, remembering the way Naruto had looked when he’d last seen him. Torn apart by pain. The visions he’d been forced to endure distorted everything as well, and his jaw tightened. Five seconds later he slammed his fist into the wall. The cabin shook, and dust fell to the ground around them sending Lee into a fit of sneezes. Sasuke stood there, looking down towards his feet, hand pressed against the cracked wood.

“I’m sure Naruto is fine,” Shikamaru spoke up. “You know it wasn’t real, whatever you saw.”

“It looked real.” Sasuke let out an annoyed growl and stepped away from the wall, holding on to his wrist in an attempt to stop his hand from trembling. “You were wrong, emotions do make you weak,” Sasuke snarled. He turned towards Shikamaru, eyes ablaze with the mangekyou. “Look at me. Look at me!” His hands were shaking, his entire body trembling with rage. “I can’t fucking control myself because all I can think about is him!” He hadn’t felt such overwhelming anger in years. It was driving him insane. Not knowing whether or not Naruto was dead or alive.

Shikamaru stared at him impassively, hardly reacting to his shouts whatsoever. He looked almost bored, except for the small dip just above his eyebrow, which revealed he was actually concerned. He blinked a few times, and then stepped closer, placing a hand firmly on Sasuke’s shoulder. “Sasuke, what would you do to get him back?”

“Anything.” He answered immediately. Without taking a second to think. Because he knew without a doubt that he would sacrifice his entire being if it meant Naruto was alive and safe.

“There’s your strength,” Shikamaru said. He looked into Sasuke’s surprised eyes, his grip tightening on his shoulder. “Harness it, focus it. We’ll find them.”

When his hand fell away Sasuke’s energy seemingly left right along with it. His shoulders drooped and he leaned against the wall tiredly. His leg was aching more than ever, and all he wanted to do was to curl up beneath the blankets of his bed, in the house he was slowly starting to love again. He could imagine holding Naruto in his arms, pressing his face into his blond hair and just breathing in. He missed him so much already.

“We’ll head to our first rendezvous point tomorrow, okay? There’s no sense in us running about and wasting our energy any further right now. Besides, both you and Sai have pretty bad injuries, and you need to chill the fuck out before we put ourselves in further possible danger.” Sasuke winced at the pointed words. Shikamaru was right of course. He was always right. Sasuke was too unstable to fight should they come across more enemies. And he didn’t want to aggravate his leg more than he had to. When he turned to look at Sai he found him stitching himself up, not even flinching as the needle pierced his skin. But the wound was deep. They were strong shinobi, but in their current states they would struggle.

He sat down gingerly, dropping his head into his hands. Lee propped himself against the wall not far away, stretching out his legs as he removed a few weights from within his bindings. “Do not worry my friend, Naruto is a strong shinobi!  And Sakura is the most brilliant kunoichi of our age. We’ll be back together as a team in no time!” Lee said with a nod, and then he turned towards Sasuke with a sparkling grin and a wink. Sasuke admittedly tried not to sneer at him, but despite his best efforts his face still morphed into a disgusted scowl. He wished he had an ounce of Lee’s will.


Naruto was whining incessantly, which meant he was fine. 

Sakura sighed as she rolled her eyes. She had a feeling she wouldn’t be getting much sleep. Between Naruto’s constant complaints, and her own worries, there was no way her mind was going to relax enough to let her rest.  She turned her head slightly, eyeing Naruto’s shadowy form where he kicked at his bedroll on the forest floor just a few feet away. It seemed his chest still hurt from the teleportation seal Sakura had slammed into him in a pinch.  She’d left a few bruises behind, but her quick thinking had probably saved his life, and the marks would be gone by morning anyway.

At first she hadn’t been sure what to do, just staring at Naruto as he writhed on the ground in pain. The chakra emanating around his body had looked daunting, and it took all of her courage to even reach through the twisting energies and wrench the object causing the problem from his neck. She was lucky she hadn’t lost her arm.

It burst free with a disgusting pop, the strange seals on his skin dissipating in a cloud of steam. Naruto had collapsed, panting against the forest floor as his chakra settled back into place, a steady stream of blood leaking from the wound in his neck. Thankfully it had missed his artery. It still bled profusely, but she’d healed it best she could, and it shouldn’t be causing him any major problems.

Naruto had been an obvious target, the way their attackers had zeroed in on him from the start.  Sakura had recognized the strange tattoos on their arms immediately, and admittedly, panicked a bit.  Despite knowing little about them, this particular cult frightened her more than most. While Akatsuki removed the bijuu from their host, and harnessed their power in that way, the Mokushiroku instead wished to control the jinchuuriki themselves. They searched far and wide to collect shinobi with particular skillsets in chakra control and thought manipulation, then mutilated bodies and minds to combine those skills and harness them. It was a debatably worse fate. To be forced to be the one behind devastating events instead of dyeing before they occurred.

She’d acted recklessly, but hadn’t been able to come up with any other option on such short notice.  Her only thought had been getting Naruto safely away.  He was always the priority.  There was an unwritten rule for Konoha shinobi to safeguard the jinchuuriki at all times. A rule she wasn’t even sure Naruto was aware of. But they simply couldn’t risk it. If his control was tampered with, if Kurama could be torn from him and his power harnessed, or he himself manipulated and used against Konoha or other villages, it would create unfathomable destruction, and wars would erupt between the shinobi nations. Not to mention there was the possibility of Naruto’s death and suffering. 

They’d been careless she supposed.  Naruto wasn’t as disguised as usual, since they weren’t strictly speaking, on a mission. They were delegates, heading in Tsunade’s stead to the upcoming nation peace summit in Suna. It was meant to be more of a holiday for them. A chance to get away and meet with old friends while engaging in plans for continued peace at the same time. If threats like these were becoming more prevalent, they’d have to work harder to hide Naruto’s identity. Perhaps even send out more organized groups to search for and apprehend the threats. They should warn Gaara as well. She mentally added it to the long list of concerns to bring up on Tsunade’s behalf.

Sakura cracked her knuckles before rolling on her side with a huff.  Naruto usually didn’t need the protection, but sometimes they did get caught unawares, and it was foolish to assume stronger shinobi did not exist anywhere else in the world. This time had been one of those regretful encounters.

It wasn’t even so much that they had been stronger. Just better prepared. She hadn’t had much time to think. Unfortunately, she’d scrawled out the kanji for the seal a bit too quick, given the circumstances, and she wasn’t all that great at sealing at the best of times, so they had absolutely no idea where they were. Neither she nor Naruto sensed the chakra of the others, or the existence of people at all in their surroundings. And if even Naruto in sage mode couldn’t find sign of anything, it meant they really were in the middle of nowhere.  She should be grateful they hadn’t ended up underground or split in half by a tree she supposed. Their best bet was to get some rest, and do a bit of searching in the morning. Maybe with some time to focus Naruto could create a better transportation seal and return them to a rendezvous point.

“Sakuuuuraaaa…”

“You’re fine Naruto, just sleep,” she groaned. She shifted beneath her own blankets, suddenly annoyed at how trapped her legs felt confined within the bedroll. She swore there were bugs crawling all over her skin too. And though she’d slowly gotten used to such things, having gone on missions for several years now, there were times where even the smallest things annoyed her beyond belief. This was one of those times.

“Sakura.” It was softer this time, and Sakura blinked, gaze shifting as she peered up at the bit of starry sky visible between the treetops.

“Mmm.”

“How do you know…if someone loves you?”

The question seemed out of left field. But Sakura supposed it wasn’t really. All of them thought about the ones they cared for on missions. Especially dangerous ones, where the very people you cared for were at risk. The fact that Naruto was confused about this in particular however, shocked her immensely. “It’s hard to know for sure, unless they tell you Naruto,” she sighed. “Though I suppose there are little things. Tells. A look in a person’s eyes. The way they touch you, act around you, the things they do for you.” She wondered if Naruto really couldn’t tell. The answer was so obvious to her.

“Sasuke…I,” he started, rolling slightly on his side. “I really really love him.”

Sakura couldn’t help the tiny smile that formed on her face. Something like that might have hurt her once, when she had been blinded by a preteen crush. But now, the idea of her best friend, falling in love with her other best friend…it was heart-warming. “I know Naruto.”

“It’s obvious?”

“Perhaps not to him. But to me it is. Have you told him?” she asked, and she closed her eyes as she waited for his answer, relaxing against the ground as the cicadas chirped around them.

‘I’m afraid,” Naruto whispered. He remained silent for a few moments, and then he huffed and rustled beneath his blanket. “I’m not good enough for him.”

Her eyes flew open at that, and she turned towards him, staring into the darkness at the vague outline of his form. “What makes you say that?” She couldn’t quite see Naruto’s expression, but there was something about the way he clutched at his bedroll, how his knees were tucked up against his body, which left a strange ache in her chest.

“I just.  I feel like…I’ll let him down. Or that…he’ll realize he can have better with someone else. That I’m not really what he wants.  I mean…why would he want me of all people? I just don’t get it.”

Sakura’s brow furrowed, and she scowled in the dark, wondering where the overconfident idiot she had grown so fond of had disappeared to. It wasn’t like Naruto to play himself down in such a way. She didn’t like it.

“Naruto. That’s enough of that. Don’t ever talk down about yourself like that. Anyone would be lucky to have you.” She rolled on her side completely, staring at him intensely. “Do you really think Sasuke would have lowered himself to be with someone he didn’t actually want? Does he strike you as the kind to be frivolous about these things?”

“Not really, no,” Naruto grumbled. He fidgeted a bit, and then sighed. “There were times, before, with the seal…”

“He wasn’t himself then. You and I both know that.” Sakura stared at Naruto intently. She was tempted to question whether or not Sasuke had put such ideas into his head, but she knew otherwise. That idiot was completely head over heels. He looked at Naruto like he’d hung the stars and moon in the sky. “You two are both unbelievable,” Sakura drawled. “Naruto this, Naruto that, Sasuke this, Sasuke that. You’ve both been obsessed with each other for as long as I’ve known you.”

Sakura rolled onto her back again, glancing up at the sky with a wry smirk. “Even as kids you were all he looked at.” She’d been too blind to see it then, but thinking back on their days together, before Sasuke had left…it was so obvious now. They were always going to end up together. Either dead or alive.  “And then you chased him across an entire continent, completely disregarding the rules set in place for Genin I might add, and you’re foolish if you think he came back to Konoha for anything or anyone other than you.”

Naruto was silent, and Sakura could almost feel the doubt rolling off of him in waves. She pursed her lips and scrunched her eyes shut. “Even after screwing each other you’re both insufferable.”

“What? We haven’t…we…,” Naruto spluttered, and Sakura whipped her head to the side and glared at him. He froze, even though it was unlikely he could see much of her expression.

“Naruto, quite frankly I don’t care what you have or haven’t done,” she spat. “But I’ve seen enough marks on you to know you aren’t just having leisurely walks on the beach holding hands.” Naruto gaped at her his hand flying to his neck in surprise. “And you aren’t exactly quiet. Sasuke’s genjutsu are strong, but he doesn’t always remember to use them. And they have a tendency to…weaken when he’s emotionally invested.” Sakura didn’t mention that she suspected that Sasuke ‘forgot’ to use genjutsu intentionally half the time.

Naruto jerked in surprise, rolling onto his front and tucking his face into his bedroll in embarrassment. His fingers wrapped around the back of his neck and he whined against his pillow in frustration. Sakura raised her eyebrow at him in the dark. She wanted to laugh, because the two of them were so transparent. Obvious about their love to every single person except each other.

“Why is it I wonder that Kurama won’t heal the marks he leaves on you?” Sakura asked.

“Because he’s a giant prick that’s why,” Naruto growled, his head shifting just to the side.

“Or does he know you like having them? That Sasuke likes seeing them?” Sakura couldn’t see his skin, but she was certain he was red as a tomato.

“Sh-shut up.”

She’d hit the nail on the head.  Sakura smirked and chuckled to herself quietly. Naruto was worried for absolutely no reason. Of course Sasuke wanted him. She could have spotted it from a mile away. There was the way Sasuke leered at him, stared at the marks on his neck, even touching them occasionally and tugging his shirt down so they were more readily seen. The way he would lean in close and smell Naruto’s hair, gaze at the Uchiha crest that Naruto sported more often than not, almost proudly. Hardly a moment passed when Sasuke wasn’t staring at him intensely. He was a possessive fucker. But truly seemed to care about Naruto, so she let it go. It would have been weird if it was anyone else. It would have made her wary. But she also suspected that Naruto, on some level, liked being wanted like that. Craved it even.  

He’d probably gone years without being touched or held.

That thought made her a bit sad. Because she could have been a better friend from the start. She could have been there for him, hugged him when he was sad, laughed with him on his birthdays that he almost always spent alone. She wished she hadn’t been so blind. That she had valued different things at a younger age. She’d treated Naruto like a pariah for most of their time at the academy, and even well into their early years as team seven. He deserved so much better than that. He was one of the kindest, most sincere people she knew.

Sakura hoped that Sasuke might be able to give him what he needed. That together the two of them might find peace. They completed each other, like partners, lovers should. And Naruto did seem happy with him. His eyes were so bright whenever Sasuke was near. Like his mere presence was all that Naruto needed to get through a day. If there was ever any sign that Sasuke was hurting him however…she wouldn’t hesitate to cut him into pieces.

There was a long pause, and Sakura wondered if Naruto had finally fallen asleep, but then he shifted in his bedding, turning towards her fully.

“Sakura.”

“mmm.”

“Do you think Sasuke’s okay?”

“Of course he is, it’s Sasuke,” she replied, her jaw tightening as she remembered just what situation they’d been left in. “And he’s with Shikamaru, Lee, and Sai.  The four of them would be so annoying the enemy would probably eat their own hands rather than deal with them.”

“Right, yeah.”

In truth, she was more than a little worried.  There was no telling what their enemies had been capable of.  She hadn’t had much of a chance to really observe them. And they had been coordinated.  The attack was premeditated, and well thought out. If they could shut down all of Naruto’s chakra pathways in a matter of seconds, there was no telling what might have happened to the rest of their team. They’d managed to go unseen as well, which pissed her off even more.  What kind of Jounin couldn’t sense an ambush?

She didn’t doubt her teammates. Not one bit. However she was concerned about what other cheap tricks the Mokushiroku had up their sleeves. They clearly had some intel on Konoha nin, knew who to attack and with what. Hopefully, their intel was incomplete. They probably put all of their effort into focusing down Naruto and Sasuke thinking the rest of their team would be easy to pick off. She tried to calm herself down with that logic. Her heart lightened a bit when she remembered they had Lee with them. At the very least, chakra obstruction wouldn’t do anything to him, and Lee was far stronger than anyone ever gave him credit for. They would have underestimated him.

Perhaps, if Lee had managed to fend them off, she might even let him take her out for lunch. Once. Just once. She scrunched up her face in annoyance and tried not to sigh out loud. If only to keep Naruto from worrying even more. All she could do now was stay positive and hope for the best.

“I hope Sasuke doesn’t kill one of them, you know how he is with Sai,” Naruto muttered suddenly, and Sakura did sigh then.

“Naruto.”

“Sorry.”

She listened to him rustle around a bit, clearly struggling to find a comfortable spot on the bumpy ground. It was probably made that much more difficult because his mind was so preoccupied with worries. Sakura closed her eyes, breathing in deeply as she tried to ignore the strange sounds of the woods around them. She needed to rest. There was always the chance they could be thrust into battle again. Fighting so exhausted was dangerous.

“Sakura,” Naruto whispered once again, and she nearly shouted at him, but the soft tone kept her from doing so.

“Mmm.”

“Thank you.”

She blinked up at the stars, her expression softening a bit. She wasn’t sure if it was for saving him, or for listening, or perhaps both. But it didn’t matter.

“Anytime.”


Sasuke was pissed. 

After several long hours of searching, Naruto and Sakura were both nowhere to be found. Not a single trace. They’d reached the first rendezvous point nearly an hour ago, and there was still no sign of either of them. He was pacing again. He couldn’t help it. At this point he was starting to wonder if the two of them had blown themselves up while teleporting away.

Sasuke ran shaking fingers through his hair and strode out of the underground shelter they were staying in. He couldn’t take it anymore, he had to get out and do something or he was going to end up setting the place on fire. He pulled his shirt off with a huff, heading towards the patches of pond water that surrounded the area. If all he could do was wait, he might as well make some attempt to clear away the dried blood on his skin and clothes. Sasuke nodded briefly as he walked past Shikamaru, who was meditating on a rock nestled between the trees at the water’s edge. Sai was…somewhere, Sasuke didn’t really care, while Lee was resting inside. He’d stayed up on watch nearly the entire night before, not quite trusting that they were in the clear. Sasuke was tired too, but his worry was now keeping him awake and on edge.

He didn’t bother rolling up his pants as he stepped into the water and shoved his hands beneath the murky surface to wring out his shirt. Squeezing the cloth helped relieve his tension a bit. His fingers tightened in the shirt and twisted it to and fro, but eventually his grip eased, and he moved on to rinsing off his limbs. The water only came up to his knees, and it wasn’t exactly clean, but he scooped it over his arms and legs regardless and felt better for it.

He’d spent so long just staring at the blood crusted over his fingers that he was starting to wonder again just where it had come from. It was driving him mad that he was still having difficulty distinguishing between his memories and the illusions he’d been met with the night prior. He rubbed vigorously at the back of his left hand, watching as the blood melted away from his skin, turning into a pale reddish mist beneath the water. If only he could have washed away his worries so easily.

He stood up and cracked his neck, taking a moment just to breathe in the fresh air when he heard a loud pop, a large splash, and two voices arguing loudly nearby.

“Damn it Naruto! This was my last clean pair of socks! Now they’re soaked!”

“Hey I did the best I could! You’re the one who sent us into the middle of nowhere!”

Sasuke’s head whipped to the side, and he felt all of the air in his lungs disappear as his gaze fell upon Naruto and Sakura standing together in the water a few metres away.

“And saved your life! Ungrateful idiot!” Sakura shouted, and she reached down and pulled off her sandal and sock, tossing the wet cloth at Naruto’s face. It hit him with a thwack and slid down his cheek slowly.

“Sakura ewww,” Naruto whined, his face falling into a disgusted grimace as he watched the offending garment fall into the pond water below. “Come on, do you have any idea how hard it is to teleport so far when you don’t know where you are, and you’ve never been to the place you’re going?” Naruto held his arms out at his sides, and then his face lit up for a moment, and he was leaning in close. “Besides, I bet Lee will loan you a clean pair.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively and then Sakura fumed, chakra surrounding both her fists as her hair billowed out to the sides.

“Okay woah woah! I didn’t mean it! It was just a joke!” Naruto shouted.

Sasuke stared at them, completely agape, unable to move from his spot in the water, and when Naruto finally turned his head and met his gaze, it was like the entire world stopped spinning on its axis.

“Sasuke!” Naruto shouted. His eyes lit up, and then there was a relieved toothy grin flashing across his face. A minute later and Naruto was hopping through the mud and puddles towards him, his eyes widening as he got closer and saw the wrappings around Sasuke’s leg. “Sasuke you’re hurt!”

He was barely an arm’s length away when Sasuke reached out, tugging him close to his body. He wrapped both his arms around Naruto fiercely, trying to stop himself from shaking.

“S-Sasuke?”

Sasuke just squeezed him even tighter, pressing his nose into his hair and entangling his fingers in the blond strands. He met Sakura’s gaze over Naruto’s shoulder, eyes wide open and teary. Her expression softened immediately, and she smiled faintly before approaching to take a look at his injury, wet sock long forgotten. She didn’t bother trying to move him, instead unravelling his atrocious bandaging attempt and immediately tending to the wound right then and there. Sasuke held fast to Naruto the entire time. He hardly even registered her prodding fingers. His only thought was keeping Naruto close as can be. Naruto didn’t struggle in the hold, though his fingers clenched in Sasuke’s shirt nervously, and he kept trying to twist his neck to look up.

It took just a few minutes for Sakura to finish her handiwork, and when she stood and stepped away, Sasuke glanced towards her and nodded. “Thank you. Sai will need tending to as well,” Sasuke muttered, and then he grabbed Naruto’s hand before dragging him away.

“Sasuke! Sasuke wait!”

Sasuke ignored Naruto’s shouts and pulled him through the water towards a dry patch of land, and then tugged him along behind him as they walked out in between the trees. Twigs scraped against his legs, and though Naruto tripped over several roots along the way he didn’t pull away or attempt to stop him. Sasuke threw him up against a tree once they were far enough away for some privacy. He tore open his shirt, hovered a shaking hand over Naruto’s heart and fervently checked the scar just above his belly. Perhaps it was foolish, but he needed to know. He needed to make sure it had all been an illusion. That Naruto was safe, that he hadn’t left him to die yet another time.

Sasuke stared at the scar intently. He remembered the poison tip that had caused him so much difficulty, and he pressed his fingers against the long healed skin. He dragged them up higher, finding no new wounds, no other scars, before looking into blue eyes desperately. Naruto stared back, searching his gaze for answers with worry.

“Sasuke?” Naruto whispered, reaching out to brush his fingers over the skin of Sasuke’s face. “Sasuke, it’s okay. I’m…I’m okay.”

Sasuke knew that now, but he still felt such desperation. He needed to be closer. He needed to feel him breathing against him, listen to his heart beating rapidly, to his voice crying out in pleasure instead of pain. Sasuke kissed him then, a bit roughly, hands gripping Naruto’s hips hard enough to leave marks. He didn’t even care if someone was creeping on them from the bushes, he just needed Naruto.

He wasn’t as gentle as usual, and perhaps he should have felt more guilt in the moment for that, but his only concern was being inside of Naruto then and there. He needed to be connected to him, to feel completely surrounded by him. Naruto gasped out his name as Sasuke pressed their lips together and slid his pants from his body hurriedly. Sasuke didn’t even take the time to prepare him, his hands too unsteady to do much of anything other than lifting him up against the tree.

Naruto’s arms flew around his neck, and Sasuke grunted as he pushed inside his body. The initial slide was tight, and Naruto grimaced but didn’t complain, grasping at him with a similar sense of urgency. He was impossibly hard too, and Sasuke gripped his erection and thrust inside him erratically.

“Sas-,” Naruto breathed into his ear, his legs tightening around Sasuke’s hips as they ground together. They moved like that for a few minutes, but the bark was raking at Naruto’s back, and Sasuke’s legs began to tire from the strain of holding him, so he slid to the ground, his knees hitting the soil hard as they rocked together a bit slower than before. He went deep and with intent, pulling grunts and moans from Naruto with each thrust.

He was sure it must have hurt. The roughness of the ground, the lack of oil, the fierceness of his hold on Naruto’s hips and cock. But Naruto’s arms wrapped around him, fingernails dragging along his shoulders as he gasped out his name between heavy breaths of air.

“Sasuke, Sasuke, ah!” he cried, and then Naruto came between them suddenly, and Sasuke grabbed him as he shuddered. When Naruto latched onto him just as hard he felt his throat tightening as his eyes burned and started to water. He wasn’t crying. He was absolutely not crying. Except the tears were running down his face in droves and his shoulders shook as he held fast to Naruto’s still trembling body. They fell to the forest floor together, Sasuke holding his body up with his forearms as he looked down at Naruto, his tears falling onto his face one by one. He held Naruto’s head in his hands, thumbs rubbing at his temples as the droplets landed on his skin and Naruto blinked up at him in surprise.

“Sasuke?” Naruto whispered, and he pressed his fingers gently beneath Sasuke’s eyes, across his face, until Sasuke kissed him again. Their lips moved together wetly, but Naruto pushed him away, just enough to look him in the eyes. The tears just wouldn’t stop. No matter how hard Sasuke fought against it, they only fell harder.

“Sasuke what happened?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Sasuke slurred.

And it didn’t. Not now that Naruto was there, back at his side, unharmed. He wished he could better explain, but instead he fell against Naruto shakily and wrapped his arms around his body. Sasuke held him impossibly tight and cried unabashedly into his shoulder. Naruto’s fingers ran through his hair, stroking down his back and back up again. Sasuke didn’t know how long he cried. His throat was dry, his face heated, and his nose stuffed and filled with snot, and yet still, more tears came. And all the while, Naruto lied there patiently, holding him in his arms.

“Sasuke, I love you.”

The words startled him, and Sasuke froze, hiccupping slightly as they were muttered into his ear. Naruto loved him. Naruto did. Him. Of all people. Sasuke gritted his teeth and held him closer, pressing his brow against Naruto’s shoulder as his nails dug into his clothing. He felt the little kisses against his hair, the side of his face. The touch behind his ear.

“I love you. I love you so much.” Naruto whispered again, and Sasuke shook his head and squeezed him desperately.

“I-idiot,” Sasuke stuttered. Naruto loved him and he didn’t deserve it. He didn’t deserve him.

He hated himself more than anything for not saying it back.

Chapter Text


The rest of the journey to Suna was expectedly tense. Anxiety levels were extremely high, and they moved much more carefully, avoiding paths and streets, and talking far less than before. Once they reached the desert their pace considerably slowed due to the heat of the sun and the difficult terrain. The lack of cover was worrisome, and Sasuke circled around Naruto like some kind of vulture eyeing its last meal. Even on his watch he insisted on sitting with Naruto tucked against his body. His fingers consistently found their way into Naruto’s hair, tangling in the strands and tugging his head close. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing him again.

Sasuke felt so many emotions inside that he didn’t know what to do with them. The first among them regret. After their rough romp in the woods Naruto had been so obviously sore, no matter how much he tried to hide it. Even with the fox’s quick healing, it was obvious that Sasuke’s haste to have him had hurt him quite a bit. He hated himself for losing control. He hated that he’d been so careless.

The vision of Naruto’s bleeding body still haunted Sasuke as he slept, and his dreams became a distorted and violent mix of reality and illusion to the point that he almost considered distancing himself again. But he was smart enough to know now that it would only make everything that much worse.  He couldn’t leave Naruto. He couldn’t push him away. So he did exactly the opposite and hardly left his side.

He apologized in his own way. Quietly, without words, doing his best to make sure the rest of the trip was as painless and easy for Naruto as possible. There were a few moments when Naruto looked ready to protest, but he always hesitated as soon as he took in Sasuke’s guilt-ridden posture and tortured expression. Naruto often found his eyes, worry evident in his blue gaze, but Sasuke never elaborated, and Naruto didn’t ask him to. Nevertheless he seemed to understand that Sasuke needed the closeness, and Naruto lingered nearby even when unnecessary. Sasuke appreciated it more than he could say. His sharingan had been active nonstop, his eyes constantly scanning their surroundings for any sign of another ambush. Thankfully, no such attack occurred.

It was a huge relief when they finally spotted the great cliffs of Suna at the peak of a cluster of sand dunes. Their group hurried the remaining distance but it still took them nearly a day to travel through the flats, scarves tucked across their faces as the harsh winds blew sand into their eyes. When they reached the passage into the valley Naruto leaned into Sasuke’s side with a sigh and wiped the sweat from his brow. He was clearly tired, likely thirsty and hungry as well, and Sasuke rubbed a hand gently against his lower back and urged him forward. They were nearly there, and once inside, Naruto would be safe. Suna was far too difficult to invade without notice. It was one of the reasons they had chosen to hold the summit there in the first place.

The group of them trudged through the pathway leading up to Suna’s gates with slouched shoulders. Under the cover of the cliffs, their exhaustion truly set in. They no longer had the bite of the wind pushing them on, or the incessant heat of the sun burning into their skin. The temptation to simply stop and rest right then and there was huge. But they weren’t in the clear yet, not quite, and the prospect of actual lodgings encouraged Sasuke to continue on. The rest of the group did so as well, though Naruto whined the entire way.

They were met by Gaara and his siblings just inside, and finally Sasuke felt the tension begin to leave his shoulders. He hadn’t realized just how high strung he’d been throughout the entire journey, and suddenly all he wanted to do was fall face first into a bed and sleep for days. He tore the scarf from his neck and wiped it over his eyes, dabbing at the sweat and sand that had built up on his skin. While he was busy brushing away the sand on his clothes Naruto sped away from his side. It was the first time he’d moved more than a foot away in days and Sasuke felt put off by the distance between them immediately. His chin jerked to the side and he followed Naruto’s movements with narrowed eyes.

“Gaara!” Naruto shouted as he ran over and hugged his friend eagerly. His feet practically lifted from the ground and Gaara’s eyes widened ever so slightly as he was nearly barrelled over, but he managed to stay upright as he gently patted Naruto on the back in return.

“Naruto! He’s the Kazekage, show some respect,” Sakura chided, walking up beside them with a heavy sigh.

Naruto stepped away, ducking his head as he rubbed at the back of his neck. “Heh, sorry Gaara.”

“It’s good to see you Naruto, it’s been far too long,” Gaara greeted with a nod. He turned slightly gesturing towards the long pathway that led into the centre of the village. “There’s food waiting for you inside the Kage Manor. And private rooms, should you need to rest. The meetings won’t begin for a few days yet.” He glanced towards the rest of them curiously, taking in the rough state of their clothes and weary disposition. “Did you have complications on your journey?”

“Mmm, kind of. But we can talk about it later,” Naruto said, laughing it off a bit as he grinned broadly. He nibbled at his lip and glanced sideways at Sasuke for just a second before turning away. Then he practically started jumping in place, his head shifting rapidly towards the aforementioned building. It was a wonder that he still had any energy left at all, but the prospect of food always lightened his spirits. “Is there ramen?” he asked, the excitement clear in his eyes. Gaara raised an eyebrow slightly and nodded, and then Naruto ran off towards the manor without a second thought.

Sasuke clenched his hands and forced himself not to tail him. They would be okay for now. Naruto would be fine. And it was unrealistic for him to be at his side every second of every day. Still, he watched him run away worriedly, only switching focus when Gaara walked directly into his line of sight. Gaara’s expression hardened slightly when he acknowledged him, eyes narrowing as his gaze bored into Sasuke’s intently. They stared at each other, each waiting for the other to move first. Gaara had grown quite a bit since the last time Sasuke had seen him, and in his Kage robes he made quite the imposing sight. And though his temper had drastically mellowed since they first fought each other during the Chuunin exams, Sasuke knew a shinobi capable of creating a bloodbath still hid beneath his calm exterior. Sasuke’s jaw stiffened slightly, and his fingers clenched even tighter into fists, but otherwise he didn’t move. Eventually, Gaara relaxed, his gaze shifting up and down Sasuke’s body with interest.

“Your eyes are less clouded by darkness than when we last met,” he commented, and Sasuke couldn’t help but look towards Naruto’s disappearing back at that. Of course he had changed. Even Sasuke could admit that. Naruto had lit a spark inside him he had no longer believed existed. He was surprised that Gaara had noticed so quickly, but perhaps the change had been greater than even Sasuke knew. He met Gaara’s gaze once again, his jaw less tense, his fingers loose at his sides. “Good,” Gaara commented. He nodded slightly, and Sasuke was shocked to see a small, barely there smile, before the Kazekage turned on his heels and beckoned the rest of them to follow.

Perhaps he would survive this trip in one piece after all.


With several free days to do whatever he wanted before any conferences began, Sasuke took his time really exploring the hidden nooks and crannies of Suna while Naruto caught up with friends. He wanted to do something special. To finally take Naruto out on that date he’d promised him. After all, Naruto had confessed to him, hadn’t he? And if Sasuke insisted on being too incompetent to say the words back, the least he could do was express his love in another way. With advice from Shikamaru, a regrettable conversation with Lee, Sakura’s insistence, and even Temari’s unexpected help, he’d managed to come up with a few ideas. He had a plan, of sorts. And the time to execute it, finally.

On their third day in Suna, he put his plan into action. But as per usual, Sasuke’s ability to convey his intentions properly to Naruto was non-existent. And Naruto’s ability to be completely oblivious to every romantic act persisted.

To be fair, Sasuke had never told him it was a date. But as he escorted Naruto around the city to a small bakery where they had a snack together and chatted over some of Suna’s greatest delicacies -and he knew they were the greatest, because Chouji had once told Shikamaru, and Shikamaru had told Sasuke- he had thought it was obvious it was a date. It’s not like he would take anyone else out for food like that. He couldn’t be bothered sitting and listening to other people chat while nibbling away at sweets. In fact, the entire situation was somewhat detestable to him, but Naruto liked baked goods, and he seemed happy enough talking about his time spent with Gaara the day prior as he licked the sugar from his fingertips.

Sasuke didn’t really care about Gaara, or about what Naruto did with Gaara. If anything, he felt a small bit of jealousy at the thought of him spending so much time with him. But Naruto was happy to share. So Sasuke sat and listened, all the while going over the rest of his plans in his head and wondering if they would prove more successful.

Admittedly the flower would not have been his first choice. But Lee had insisted that the way to someone’s heart was with a rose. And though Suna did not have traditional roses readily available, like Ino’s family shop did in Konoha, there were desert roses, which in Sasuke’s opinion possessed a unique sort of beauty. He bought just one, and tucked the shortened stem behind Naruto’s ear so that the pink and white petals sat flush against his head. The bold colours looked striking next to Naruto’s hair, and his bright blue eyes stood out as he stared up at Sasuke in wonder. Naruto giggled a bit and grinned at him, though he tilted his head to the side in confusion, clearly unsure about the sudden gesture.

“What’s this for?” Naruto asked, his fingers touching the petals lightly as he blinked at Sasuke in surprise.

Sasuke felt his cheeks heating slightly, and he coughed and turned away. “N-nothing,” he stuttered, and then he grabbed Naruto’s arm and hurried along towards the restaurant he had chosen for dinner. He couldn’t believe he’d let Lee talk him into doing something so silly. And yet, each time his gaze found its way back towards Naruto, it was a struggle to look away. He looked so stunning, and the flower only added to his naturally playful aura.

The two of them winded through the dusty pathways until they came upon a particular archway that led into one of the upper end establishments in the city. Vined plants and cacti lined the entrance, and Naruto peered up at the hanging baskets overhead as Sasuke led him inside.

“What’s this? More food?” Naruto wondered as they were seated, Sasuke even taking a moment to help him into his chair. Naruto lifted his arms awkwardly as the seat hit the back of his knees and he tumbled down into it before Sasuke sat roughly across from him.

“Aren’t you hungry? The sweets weren’t enough right?” Sasuke muttered, and then he opened his menu and hid behind it. He squeezed his eyes shut, willing away the redness from his cheeks, just barely peering over the top as Naruto eyed him with a strange expression.

“Oh, well…yeah, I guess,” Naruto glanced at the patrons seated around them, and then looked down at the plain clothes he’d hastily purchased shortly after they arrived. He fiddled with his hem, and Sasuke wondered why he looked so insecure for a moment. Did he not like this sort of thing? It was clean enough inside, and the atmosphere was nice, though perhaps a bit stuffy. Sakura had assured him it was the finest restaurant in all of Suna, and that if she were to go on a date somewhere, it would have been there. Sasuke clenched his teeth in annoyance. She wouldn’t have lied to him, right?

He looked at Naruto again and felt his jaw begin to tense. The idiot hadn’t even opened his menu yet. And why did he have that expression on his face? The strange sad one, where his eyebrows scrunched together, and his eyes glazed over a bit as he went somewhere distant in his mind. The one Sasuke hated the most. He nearly growled, and he slid down in his chair slightly before kicking Naruto’s shin beneath the table.

“Ow, bastard, what the hell?” Naruto yelped as he jolted and grimaced in pain.

“Just pick something, dobe,” Sasuke hissed and Naruto tossed him a glare before pouting and finally opening the menu to look. His eyes scanned it quickly, and then they widened, before he leaned forward and tugged Sasuke’s menu away from his face slightly.

“Sasuke this is expensive,” he whispered, covering up his mouth and doing an absolutely shit job of hiding their conversation. Sasuke rolled his eyes and shook Naruto’s fingers off of the menu, sitting up straight in his seat.

“Don’t worry, it’s my treat.”

Naruto made a strange face and raised an eyebrow at him oddly, his fingers hanging between them limply. He scratched at his nose and sat back as well. “If you’re sure…” His eyes squinted as he tried to read about the overly descriptive dishes, and he scrunched his eyebrows together whenever a word confused him. “Hmm…no ramen,” Naruto muttered, and Sasuke grimaced slightly. Maybe it was a mistake picking fine dining after all. But he knew that the ramen shops in Suna would never live up to Ichiraku, so what was the point?

After several minutes of listening to Naruto grumble under his breath Sasuke sighed and leaned forward, yanking at Naruto’s menu and pointing towards one of the dishes on the left side. “This is a red bean soup, with grilled five spice chicken. You’ll probably like it.” Naruto nibbled at his lip, his eyes brightening a little bit. He nodded, but then saw the price tag, and once again his jaw nearly hit the table.

“Sasuke! This costs enough to buy groceries for a month!”

“I said don’t worry about it.”

“How can I not worry about it? That’s completely ridiculous!”

In the end Sasuke ended up ordering for him, and the two of them argued about it right up until the dishes were placed in front of them, to the chagrin of everyone seated nearby. Sasuke glared at those staring their way, and that seemed to do the trick, and finally Naruto quietened as he took a hesitant spoonful of the soup. He paused for a moment, licking at his lips as he stared down at the dish, and then took another and another. Eventually he glanced up at Sasuke from beneath his eyelashes and muttered, “It’s good.”

Sasuke huffed and dug into his meal tiredly. Of course it was good. The idiot.

Once they left, night had fallen, and Suna was surprisingly cool without the sun beating down on their skin. Naruto huddled into his side and let out a heavy breath as his shoulders relaxed. He fiddled with his fingers for a bit, avoiding Sasuke’s gaze. “I’ll never understand why places like that charge you so much for so little,” Naruto commented. He shrugged into himself and wrapped his arms around his body, and Sasuke exhaled noisily in exasperation.

“I thought you said it was good.”

“Huh? Well yeah it was, why?”

“You…look glad to be leaving,” Sasuke commented, shoving his hands into his pockets.

Naruto wobbled a bit on his feet and gazed down at his toes, wiggling them in his dusty sandals. He looked sad again, and Sasuke pursed his lips in annoyance. “Everything was just so fancy. Most of the restaurants like that in Konoha wouldn’t even let me…,” Naruto began, but he stopped suddenly and coughed a few times, tugging his sleeves down over his fingers. Sasuke felt like his body was freezing over. He grimaced, just barely holding in his rage. Wouldn’t what? Wouldn’t let him inside? Let him order? He clenched his fingers into fists and hardly flinched as the nails dug into his palms. “I mean…I’ve never eaten something that expensive before!” Naruto held out his shirt then, staring at it with a pout before letting it fall back against his torso. “I think I was a bit underdressed too.”

“You look fine.” It wasn’t what Sasuke meant to say at all. Not even close. And he felt his eye twitching irritatingly. Naruto didn’t move or look up and Sasuke bared his teeth slightly and lifted his chin up as he looked down the nearly empty pathway ahead. “You look good, Naruto.” That wasn’t quite right either, and though Naruto smiled faintly at the compliment, he still stared unsurely at the ground. Sasuke groaned, running his fingers through his hair. Why was he so bad at this? Couldn’t he do anything right? Couldn’t he just make Naruto smile for once? He stepped forwards roughly, standing in front of Naruto and placing a hand at the back of his neck, forcing him to look up. Sasuke stared into his eyes, and he swallowed nervously before blurting out, “You look beautiful.”

Naruto blinked at him, face flushing a bit as he mouthed the word back in surprise, and Sasuke felt his skin reddening in response. He pulled away and ducked his head before grabbing Naruto’s hand and tugging him down the street. “Come on.” Naruto sputtered as he tripped over his feet behind him, but he kept pace, and soon the two of them were lightly jogging down the near empty pathways.

“Where are we going?”

“The library.”

“Isn’t it closed?”

Sasuke smirked at him, but didn’t answer, instead leading him down several winding alleys between rows of clay buildings and homes. They turned a corner, slowing to a walk, and after just a few more streets they neared the centre of the village. Temari was waiting on the large stone steps out front of the library as promised, and the two of them walked up to meet her. She glanced towards Naruto then looked Sasuke in the eyes.

“Don’t stay all night, lock up when you’re done, and keep the doors sealed while you’re inside. I expect these keys back in my hands tomorrow morning, got it?” she drawled, one hand on her hip as she stared them down intimidatingly. Sasuke plucked the keys from her hand with a nod, and then ushered Naruto inside, sealing the door tightly in their wake. Naruto fumbled along after him as Sasuke headed towards a room at the back which housed several of Sunagakure’s more valuable scrolls. He slid in the correct key and watched in fascination as the entire framework of seals lit up and loosened, allowing them access.

“S-seriously?” Naruto gasped, as they pushed open the door and inched inside. The room was completely dark, and Sasuke focused on forming a few very specific hand seals. He glanced at Naruto briefly out of the corner of his eyes, and a moment later hundreds of small flickering flames spouted from his fingers and floated up towards the ceiling. They lingered above their heads, lighting up the entire room with a soft glow. It was a jutsu he’d never had a chance to put to use before, and quite frankly, he never thought he would find use for it at all, but it was perfect for this moment. He’d found it in his family archives ages ago, labelled as the firefly release technique. It required both fire and lightning proficiency to master, and was surprisingly difficult to get just right. Sasuke had been shocked the first time he used it. He’d imagined something far more explosive, but it was named quite literally, after the little insects the flickering lights mimicked.

Naruto gasped and looked up in surprise, turning around in circles as he watched the lights dance above their head. “Isn’t…isn’t this dangerous around so many books and scrolls?”

“Sure, if I was completely inept,” Sasuke drawled, and Naruto nudged him playfully before looking at him strangely. His mouth opened and closed a few times, and Sasuke began to feel uncomfortable under the scrutiny. “What?”

“N-nothing.” Naruto turned away almost shyly, switching focus towards the hundreds of scrolls stacked on the shelves that framed the walls. They varied in techniques, though most were unique to Suna clan nin and would not be found anywhere else in the world. There were several shelves dedicated to puppetry, some for cloth binding techniques and sand manipulation, others for survival techniques in desert regions. Sasuke knew that the most valuable jutsu would not be found even in such a room, but there was plenty for them to learn from what was present. “How’d you swing access to all these secret scrolls? Doesn’t seem like something Sunagakure would want in the hands of foreign shinobi,” Naruto commented. He stood on his tiptoes, pulling a hefty scroll off of the shelf filled with various sand release jutsu.

“An awful lot of people are fond of you Naruto.” Sasuke grabbed a scroll as well, one that appeared to outline possible methods of harnessing moisture in the air and earth to create drinking water for travel in tough terrain. It might prove useful for their journey home.

The two them sat cross legged on the floor, facing each other as they unravelled the scrolls over their knees. “Fond enough to share their nation’s secrets?” he asked.

“You have no idea what kind of impact you have on people.”

Naruto looked towards him, tilted his head to the side and frowned. He rubbed at his nose and jutted out his lower lip deep in thought, but eventually turned his attention back towards the scroll in his lap. Naruto peered at the contents curiously, clearly confused by the unfamiliar hand seals, but it wouldn’t take him long to figure them out. He was good at learning in such a hands on and visual way. Their academy learning had been largely descriptive, requiring lots of theoretical memorization. Naruto struggled with that sort of thing. He’d always had difficulty with reading and writing assignments, probably because not enough attention had been given to him at an early age when learning to read and write was important. But if you showed him a hand sign, or fixed his hands into position for him, he’d easily be able to form that same sign again. And once he felt the way chakra should feel as it was released to create a specific jutsu, it was a battle won.

Naruto groaned in frustration after a few failed attempts, and Sasuke shimmied closer on the ground to press his fingers against his, manipulating them into the correct form. It didn’t take him long to figure out a few basic techniques after that, moving a small clump of sand out of a vase to practise. It was quite the accomplishment for a shinobi who had no prior experience with sand techniques, but Naruto always was a bit of an enigma.

Sasuke smiled slightly as he watched him practice. The little flower was still tucked behind his hair, and his bright blue eyes widened each time he managed to create a new and different shape with the sand. Every so often he’d squeak in delight, and Sasuke’s gaze would find his for a moment, before Naruto was back to rifling through the rest of his scroll. Sasuke spent far more time studying the way the warm light flickered patterns across Naruto’s face than he did looking at any of the jutsu around them. He couldn’t help it. There was just…something so special about him.

It was fairly late when Naruto sighed loudly and rubbed his fingers across his eyes. He fell back against the shelf behind him and groaned, rubbing at the space between his eyebrows. “I’m tired of studying, my head’s getting all fuzzy.”

Sasuke visibly deflated. The last thing he wanted to do was wear Naruto down when they were supposed to be resting. And besides, visiting a library was probably nowhere near the top of Naruto’s list of things to do for fun. If anything, it was self-indulgent of Sasuke to bring him there in the first place.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted, fingers tightening around the edges of the scroll in his lap. Naruto spread his fingers apart and stared at Sasuke from between them.

“Huh? For what?”

“Today was probably boring for you. I’m sorry.” Sasuke sighed heavily and rolled up the scroll before squeezing it in his hands tightly. “Damn it, I knew we should have gone to the greenhouses instead. The lights were stupid too weren’t they?”

Naruto’s eyes suddenly widened, and he sat up quickly, kicking several scrolls to the side in the process. “Wait, was this a date?”

Sasuke choked. Wasn’t it obvious? “Of course it was a date.” Naruto gawked at him, hands flat against the floor in front of his body.

“W-why?” he asked softly.

Sasuke contemplated stubbornly ignoring the question, but eventually he huffed and muttered, “I thought…you might like it.” Sasuke turned away a bit bashfully. “I don’t really know what I’m doing. I wasn’t sure what…,” he trailed off. Sasuke tugged his top down away from his neck and swallowed nervously. “It’s been a few months already and I haven’t taken you on a proper date yet. I just wanted to try.”

Naruto was still staring at him, mouth agape, almost like he couldn’t fathom the concept of dating whatsoever. He wasn’t saying anything. Why wasn’t he saying anything? The room suddenly felt so suffocating, and Sasuke was a second away from standing and storming out when Naruto reached out and touched his chin, gently urging Sasuke to meet his gaze. He looked up at Sasuke in wonder, blue eyes flickering along with the lights.

“Thank you Sasuke,” he whispered. “Today’s been perfect, the best date I’ve ever had.”

“The only da-,”

Naruto practically fell forwards onto him as he moved quickly to connect their lips and Sasuke’s head knocked into the shelf behind him hard. He winced as Naruto climbed into his lap and kissed him deeply. Sasuke sat limply for a moment, giving in to Naruto’s tongue and desperate kisses, but eventually his hands found Naruto’s hips, and he pulled him tighter against his body and pushed back just as hard. Naruto gasped as Sasuke nipped at his lower lip, and then he pulled away and pressed their foreheads together.

“Let’s make out,” Naruto said breathily, grin wide on his face.

“Aren’t we already?” Sasuke teased, and he snapped his teeth at him tauntingly before leaning in to kiss him again. Their mouths moved together more gently this time, and Naruto shivered and moaned as Sasuke’s fingers dragged through his hair and guided his head to tilt back. He kissed along Naruto’s jaw, and then sucked a mark into the skin of his neck, moving to lick across his chin. “They’ll never let us back in here if they find out,” Sasuke muttered, closing his eyes as Naruto’s arousal pressed against his own.

“Guess we better make the most of it then.” Naruto shoved him to the ground roughly, and Sasuke let out a surprised noise as he found himself flat on his back.  He stared up into blue eyes in wonder, at a loss for words. Naruto straddled him eagerly, lining up their clothed groins, and he pressed down against him, drawing out a deep groan.

They rocked against each other like that for a bit, until Naruto grew impatient and reached towards Sasuke’s pants, but Sasuke grabbed his wrist tightly and pulled him down onto his chest instead. “I’m not fucking you here Naruto,” he growled and Naruto pouted at him, even as Sasuke pressed little kisses against his lips.

“Why not?”

“I don’t have anything to slick you with.”

“Didn’t stop you last time.”

“Yeah, and you were sore for days,” Sasuke insisted. Their gazes met, and Sasuke rubbed at his cheeks, running his thumbs across the whisker marks gently. He felt his brow creasing together as a hint of guilt settled once again in his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut and forced the thoughts away, before staring at Naruto seriously. “I’ll take you apart soon. Properly. I promise. But for now, just kissing, okay?” Naruto shifted on top of him, nibbling at his lower lip before he conceded and relaxed atop his body.

“Kay.”

Sasuke hummed against his skin, and then pulled Naruto’s head closer, easing their mouths together once again. He kissed Naruto leisurely for a long while, satisfied at the little noises he made and the squirming of his body that hinted at just how good he was feeling. Sasuke’s hands ran up and down his back, drawing out several shudders as he pushed his tongue in between Naruto’s lips. He was so warm and wet, so pliant beneath Sasuke’s touch. The temptation to make love to him was incredible. It took every ounce of Sasuke’s will to keep from doing so. When they rolled onto their sides, Sasuke immediately wrapped his arms around Naruto tightly. He kissed beneath his eye, then over his eyelid and brow, pausing as Naruto tucked his head beneath his chin and hugged him tightly back.

“I…I liked the lights Sasuke,” Naruto whispered. “And the bakery. And the flower. Even the horrendously overpriced dinner.” He wiggled away a bit, just enough so that he could look into Sasuke’s eyes. “But you don’t have to worry about doing things like this for me. No matter what, I’m happy just being with you.”

Sasuke felt like someone had reached into his chest, wrapped their fingers around his heart and squeezed. Wasn’t that exactly how he felt about Naruto as well? They could have been doing little more than sitting on a dock together, or walking through the market picking out vegetables. Time spent at Naruto’s side, was all that mattered. But somewhere along the way Sasuke realised he actually liked doing things like this for him. He liked the soft little smiles Naruto made when surprised, the incredulous expressions on his face whenever he discovered something new, and even the stupid arguments they had about insignificant things like which dessert was best in combination with which entree.

He breathed in deeply, and combed Naruto’s hair away from his face with his fingers, pressing another kiss to his nose. “But…you liked it.”

“Yeah,” Naruto muttered. He sucked in his lower lip and glanced away, and Sasuke watched as blond eyelashes brushed against reddened cheeks. “And if you…wanted to buy me dinner again, I wouldn’t complain.”

Sasuke couldn’t help but smile.

“Hn. We’ll see.”


The peace summit kept all of them far more busy than expected.

The meetings spanned over several days, and each nation took their turn bringing up various issues that needed tending to, with Gaara at the helm moderating and ensuring a proper discussion. There were many arguments, shouting matches at times, and suspicions between a few of the nations were heavy, especially those with previous war time history, but eventually they were able to create terms and agreements to satisfy most of those present.

It was on the last day of the summit that Gaara brought up their newest threat, a threat that concerned all of them equally.

“I was informed you were ambushed on your journey to Suna,” Gaara commented, his eyes searching each of their team’s faces one by one.

“Yes, the Mokushiroku,” Shikamaru said, only slightly caught off guard. All of them had meant to discuss it earlier, but the various trade agreements had proven a distraction. It was easy to forget certain issues when half your day was spent verbally sparring with others over economics and potential war threats. Naruto stiffened in his seat, and Gaara glanced towards him briefly. His expression did not shift in the slightest, but Sasuke knew he was worried for Naruto, even if he did not show it on his face.

“Then they are going to greater lengths,” a delegate from hidden Rock jumped in.  

“It seems so.”

“I’m surprised they felt confident enough to attack such a large group of you.” It was a delegate from Cloud this time, and she folded her fingers in front of herself atop the table, steely grey eyes passing over each one of them.

“They knew who they were up against. At least most of us,” Sasuke added. “They had methods of controlling the greatest threats.”

“Then…there are spies,” Gaara presumed. He breathed in through his nose and turned his head to look around the large table slowly. It was impossible to know if certain nations had already given in to demands and even made alliances with the Mokushiroku. They certainly had things to offer that some villages would feel tempted by.

“At the very least within Leaf. But most likely they are widespread to many of the villages now,” Shikamaru explained.

“It would appear their reach is much further than we thought. It would be wise for the individual nations to take action against this threat immediately. The jinchuuriki must be protected at all costs, as well as those with kekkai genkai,” Gaara insisted. The Mokushiroku posed a risk to all of them, especially with such unknown goals. But there were few reasons for someone to harness the power of a bijuu, and most of them ended in severe loss and destruction. If all of the nations agreed to do their part and fight against this threat early on, they should be able to eliminate them easily.

His comment was followed by several nods, and a few more discussions about possible joint missions and plans of action. There were specific groups that would be best suited to the tasks, and each nation knew their own jinchuuriki best and what it might take to protect them.

Gaara stood then to summarize the day’s events. He took a moment to give the nation representatives time for any additional topics. There were mostly trivial issues brought up, things that were easily resolved.  One of the delegates from Mist took the opportunity to brazenly request a marriage proposal with a delegate from Moon, which was adamantly refused and followed by hidden smiles and snickers from around the table. An additional trade agreement was offered between Sand and Waterfall, and as Gaara’s gaze shifted to the Konoha delegates Sai raised his hand, sitting up straight in his seat, to the surprise of all those around him.

“A question if I may.” He was met with a quick nod from Gaara, and the eyes of everyone present. “Tell me, is it a jinchuuriki trait to confuse pain with pleasure?”

Gaara tilted his head, eyes flickering to Naruto briefly before his gaze returned to Sai. There were a couple other jinchuuriki present who also blinked at him oddly, but offered no answer. Naruto narrowed his eyes and jutted out his lower lip, and Sasuke eyed Sai warily. What on earth was he getting at?

“I ask only because Naruto seems to very much enjoy when Sasuke penetrates his rectum, despite his anguished screams.”

Both Sakura and Shikamaru spat out their drinks, unfortunately drenching the poor delegates seated across from them. The entire room froze, and Sasuke was pretty sure he felt the blood drain from his face and leak out onto the floor through his toes. Naruto spluttered indignantly at his side, his cheeks going a very particular shade of red. The Kazekage and his siblings for the most part, looked at him blankly, and then Lee clapped his hands together, his expression filled with wistful joy.

“Oh! To bear witness to the romantic fortitude of two virile young men. Such a wonderful day to celebrate the coitus of two of my most cherished friends,” Lee sang. 

“S-Sai!” Naruto finally shouted, his shoulders hunching up so far they almost hid his ears, and Sasuke lunged over him and the three others seated between himself and Sai with intent to murder.

“Sasuke! You can’t kill him! We’re in the middle of a political meeting!” Sakura cried, just barely managing to hold him back as his arms reached out wildly and he narrowly missed taking hold of Sai’s collar. Sai only tilted his head to the side and stared at him with his stupid expressionless face.

“Fuck the meeting!”


He might have slammed the door behind them a bit more aggressively than necessary, but he had to take his frustration out on something. Sasuke wanted to crawl into a hole and not resurface for a hundred millennia. He couldn’t imagine how Naruto must have felt. Neither of them had said a word as they sped through the Kage Manor towards their shared room. Anything to get away from that stupid situation, and the threat of Sasuke outright committing murder in front of several witnesses.

Sasuke took a steadying breath, counting down inside his head as he tried to reign in his anger. He didn’t want to direct it at Naruto by mistake. He practically ripped off the decorative robe draped over his shoulders, tossing it over a shelf as he unstrapped his sword and placed it on top. His eyes shifted slightly to the right, and he scrunched up his face in disdain as his gaze zeroed in on a small container of oil suspiciously. He was certain that hadn’t been there before.

“Ugh, how embarrassing,” Naruto complained, and he collapsed on the mattress heavily, pressing the palms of his hands against his eyes. Sasuke’s anger dissipated slightly at the sight of him.

“He didn’t seem that surprised,” Sasuke commented. He twisted the container of oil around, and sure enough, the Kazekage’s stamp stood out clear as day on the side. Sasuke wasn’t sure if that made him feel more or less mortified than before. He tapped on the lid briefly before picking it up and walking towards their bedside table. At least it would be useful.

“Who, because the delegates from Frost looked pretty horrified from my perspective.”

“Gaara,” Sasuke clarified. He lowered the container with a soft clack, and then walked over towards Naruto, stepping into the space between his knees at the edge of the bed. “I half expected him to threaten me.”

Naruto sat up, leaning back on his arms as he stared up at him. “Why?”

“Because he knows I hurt you. That I…left you.”

Naruto’s gaze distanced for a moment before he focused again on Sasuke. “Gaara understands better than most what it’s like to lose control to external forces.” He sat up fully then, wrapping his arms around Sasuke’s hips and pushing his head against his abdomen. “And he knows I can take care of myself. He trusts me. He trusts my judgement.”

“Tch, you’re always getting into trouble,” Sasuke grumbled, even as he carded his fingers through Naruto’s hair. “Without m-”

Sasuke was interrupted as Naruto tugged him down roughly, pulling his face close to kiss him. His arms flung around Sasuke’s shoulders, and Sasuke hunched over him, hands on the edge of the mattress as he supported Naruto’s weight and kissed him back.

“I’ve…loved you for a long time Sasuke,” Naruto whispered against his lips. “Gaara…knew that. Probably even before I did.”

Sasuke looked over his face, startled once again by the confession. “Did he now.”

“Mmhmm.”

Naruto grinned at him happily, and Sasuke couldn’t resist capturing his lips in a slow, languid kiss. “Why didn’t you act on it sooner?” he asked, placing one last peck against him before pulling back.

“Didn’t want to risk losing you again.” Naruto’s gaze shifted to the side in shame, and Sasuke’s fingers tightened in the blankets. “I thought…,” he tried to say, but he had to let out a sigh and close his eyes before finishing. “I thought if I could just be by your side, that was more than enough. I was just…so happy to have you back.”

Sasuke nodded slightly, staring at the freckles beneath Naruto’s eyes intently. He raised one arm, leaning heavily on the other as his fingertips grazed over the little dots gently. “What changed?” He was met by the sweetest smile, and Naruto’s eyes opened up as he blinked at him shyly.

“You kissed me.”

The words were spoken so quietly. If Sasuke hadn’t been watching Naruto’s lips move he might not have heard them at all. He couldn’t believe that his one little impulsive act had changed so much between them. How long would they have gone on dancing around each other like lovesick fools otherwise? With them, it could have taken years. They likely would have stubbornly pretended nothing was amiss and pined away until one of their friends got fed up with it all and quite literally knocked some sense into them.

Sasuke kissed him again, and they fell onto the bed together as his hands reached out to encase Naruto’s head. Sasuke crawled over him, yanking his body further up the mattress as he started untying Naruto’s clothes. The shirt came loose easily, and Sasuke eased it over Naruto’s shoulders, never once breaking away from his lips.

“Mmfff,” Naruto groaned. He tugged weakly at Sasuke’s shirt until he eased off, sitting up astride Naruto to remove it himself. They were naked against each other in no time, kissing reverently, and Sasuke slithered down Naruto’s body, pressing his lips against every inch of available skin along the way. He kissed over his nipples, pausing to lick at each of them while Naruto twisted atop the sheets beneath him. Then he went lower, dragging his tongue over Naruto’s bellybutton and down towards the base of his cock. Naruto spread his legs apart eagerly and Sasuke rubbed at his thighs, kissing up the inside of one before moving to tend to the next. Naruto was wracked with little shivers, tiny gasps escaping between his lips as his hands tangled in the sheets at his sides. He stared up at Sasuke with glassy eyes, mouth open as he breathed in and out deeply. He was far too gorgeous not to kiss. So Sasuke did so, leaning down again to push his tongue between wet lips.

He didn’t know how long they were like that, just leisurely enjoying being so close to one another, legs entangled atop the blankets. Eventually Sasuke pulled back slightly, switching to shorter closed mouth kisses. He took a moment to gaze down at Naruto’s glazed over expression, running his fingers down Naruto’s sides and back up again. They were such pretty blue eyes. It was like staring out to sea. He tickled at Naruto’s hip bones hesitantly, leaving a trail of goose bumps in the wake of his fingers, and Naruto shuddered beneath him.

“I hurt you last time,” Sasuke muttered against his lips, and Naruto shook his head slightly.

“Not…not really.”

Sasuke sighed, pushed back Naruto’s hair and sat up. “I still want to make up for it.” He glanced down Naruto’s body and back up before nudging his side and urging him to roll over. Naruto did so, but stared over his shoulder at Sasuke with curious eyes. “Let me make you feel good,” Sasuke said. He lifted Naruto’s hips and shoved a few pillows beneath his belly, then pushed one under Naruto’s head and pressed him down against it gently. Naruto cuddled into the pillows, but kept turning his head to glance at Sasuke, like he was unsure of what was about to happen.

“T-this is kind of…,” Naruto trailed off. His cheeks were tinted a pretty pink, and Sasuke tucked back a few blond strands of hair that had fallen against the side of his face. He wanted to see him better. To make sure he wasn’t feeling any pain.

“Hmm?”

“It’s embarrassing.”

Sasuke’s lips lifted in a slight smile, but he didn’t say anything in response, instead leaning over to grab the jar of oil. As he unscrewed the lid he was glad to note it was a fairly mild scent. Just enough to be pleasant. He coated his fingers generously, and then dragged them between Naruto’s legs, sliding them over his rim before circling the edges. Naruto gasped in surprise, bucking forward on the pillows, and his hole twitched a few times as Sasuke coated it completely with the oil.

He prepped him thoroughly, running his fingers across Naruto’s hole before sliding one inside nice and slow. He used far more oil than necessary, but Sasuke didn’t mind getting him messy if it meant he only felt pleasure. Naruto’s head shifted on the pillow, his hair fanning out around him, several strands already slick with sweat against his temples. Every so often his eyes opened and he glanced to the side, just barely taking in the sight of Sasuke kneeling behind him. His skin was flushed, splotches spreading up his back and over his shoulders, and to Sasuke’s delight even across his ass. Sasuke ran his free hand over the expanse of skin gently, drawing out several pleased groans from Naruto’s throat. He couldn’t wait to be inside him.

They’d hardly started and Naruto was already hard and leaking, precome dripping down towards the bed between his legs. It was hot as fuck. Like something from a fantasy. Sasuke couldn’t believe Naruto was his alone to enjoy. As Sasuke added another finger he reached between Naruto’s thighs, rubbing at his erection a few times, stopping whenever Naruto’s fidgeting became a bit too desperate. He was so close already. Writhing against the pillows and even whining when Sasuke hit something inside him with the drag of his fingers.

“Sasuke please,” Naruto begged, and finally Sasuke relented, pulling free his fingers and shifting up into place. He coated himself thoroughly, lining his erection up and pressing in, eyeing Naruto’s face as it slid inside of him inch by inch. He was surprised at how deep he could go like this, and when he stopped he was pressed right up against Naruto’s ass. His hands ran around Naruto’s hips, dragging along his belly as he thrust deeply a few times, fully taking in the sensation of being completely surrounded by his heat. It was incredible. The way he felt so connected to him. He felt his vision blur for a second, and Sasuke blinked and took a deep breath, willing himself to stay focused.

Naruto panted against the pillow, a line of drool sliding from his mouth as his lips pressed into the soft fabric. He almost looked drugged, the way he was limp and pliant, expression so fucked out. Sasuke wondered why they hadn’t done it like this ages ago. It was so. Damn. Good.  He liked looking at Naruto’s face, feeling his arms wrap around him as they made love, but if he could give Naruto this kind of pleasure it was worth it every now and then. And the view, though different, was no less lovely.

They were both sweating. It didn’t take much in the desert heat, and Sasuke licked the salt from his lips as he pulled out and thrust back in at a steady pace. “How is it?” he asked as Naruto’s fingers grappled at the sheets, opening and closing as he rocked back and forwards along with Sasuke’s motions.

“Um…I…,” Naruto gasped. He couldn’t seem to say anything coherent, and Sasuke grinned as his hands ran all over his body. He placed a steadying palm in the centre of Naruto’s spine, and waited for a moment as Naruto’s trembles eased off.

Sasuke pressed up against him, pushing forward as much as possible. He was surprised at the pleasure being so deep inside granted him, and he mentally fought against his body’s need to climax. “Feels like I’m deeper inside you than ever,” he practically growled. Sasuke dragged his fingers up Naruto’s back, into the fine hairs at the base of his skull, entangling in the silver chain around his neck. He pulled out all the way, and then thrust slowly back in, bottoming out in a single motion. Naruto flinched beneath him and let out a deep guttural groan. His fingers loosened in the sheets and his arms wound around the pillows desperately as his hips began to spasm.

“Sasu-”

“Naruto, tell me how it feels.”

“Nng!” Naruto bit his lip as he moaned. His eyes opened just a crack as he glanced back at Sasuke. His lashes were wet and clumped together, sweat lining his under eyes, and Sasuke wiped some of it away before tugging gently at his hair. “You’re deep,” Naruto breathed. “Y-you’re filling me up.”

Sasuke snapped his hips a bit harder than before and Naruto yelped, his fingers tightening and toes curling as his legs scrambled to keep himself upright even with the support of the cushions. Sasuke exhaled heavily and bent forwards to whisper in his ear. “You feel amazing.”

“Sasuke, I have to…,”

“Not yet,” Sasuke said hurriedly. He reached around him, sliding a hand between Naruto’s hips and the pillows to squeeze at the base of his cock. Naruto jolted against him, letting out a little cry. His legs trembled as Sasuke held fast to him, and he squeezed them together as he struggled not to come. “Mmm, that’s it.” Sasuke leaned over Naruto’s body, and he breathed in an out several times, trying to settle himself as well. Once the urge lessened he pulled away, lifting Naruto’s body to join him.

He shifted so they sat at the edge of the bed, Naruto in his lap. Their legs dangled off the end of the mattress as Sasuke pulled their hips flush together, and then Naruto started shaking, his fingers gripping hard at Sasuke’s thighs. Naruto’s head drifted to the side, and Sasuke realized his eyes were actually teary, the little droplets barely clinging to the ends of his eyelashes.

“What’s wrong?” Sasuke asked, holding him close as he kissed the side of his head.

Naruto shook his head, blinked a few of the tears away and stuttered, “N-nothing.” He turned his head into Sasuke’s chin, taking in a few uneven breaths. “It’s just…a lot.”

Sasuke understood. Being with Naruto was a lot for him as well. He’d never felt anything so powerful before. Even when his body was thrumming with the energy of his chakra, electricity flickering about his arms erratically, it didn’t even come close. It was to the point where he sometimes thought his heart might give out. Like he would stop breathing, or pass out, because he loved Naruto so much. He couldn’t believe he’d ever thought leaving this behind was a good idea. That he could possibly be stronger without Naruto than he was with him. It was such an absurd concept to him now.

He held him close, ran his fingers over Naruto’s belly and thighs before cradling the side of his face and kissing into his hair. Neither of their erections had flagged in the slightest. If anything, they were even harder than before, and Sasuke gripped Naruto’s arousal gently, running his fingers up and down the sticky length. Naruto’s head flew back against his shoulder, and he gasped shakily, lips trembling a bit as Sasuke stroked him leisurely.

His other hand played with a nipple, teasing Naruto just right, bringing him to the edge over and over again. It was surprising they had both lasted so long. Sasuke’s climax hovered just on the edge, and Naruto was clearly overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of everything. His eyes were so glazed over that Sasuke wondered if he was even aware of what was going on. But he turned again, and whined pleadingly, his hole tightening around Sasuke’s cock for a second before loosening. “Wow,” Sasuke blurted suddenly, his lips dragging over the back of Naruto’s neck as they moved together seamlessly.

He shifted them again, lying down on the bed on his back, drawing Naruto’s body with him so he could thrust up inside of him slowly. He was so slick. Sasuke didn’t remember using quite so much oil, but between it, the sweat, and his precome, Naruto was wet as can be. The slide was incredible, and Naruto rocked against him in time with each thrust. He knew he couldn’t keep going for much longer, so he rolled on his side and pulled Naruto’s knees up to his chest. It was a surprisingly intimate position, and Sasuke nibbled at Naruto’s neck, drawing out several whimpers as he hit a particularly sensitive spot inside of him.

Sasuke nipped at Naruto’s ear and muttered, “You can come now Naruto.” It didn’t take anything more than that. Naruto shuddered in his hold, and his hole clenched tightly when he did. His hips shook as he released across the sheets and Sasuke gritted his teeth. “That’s it, come for me.” Once the spasms stopped, Sasuke thrust inside him completely, pressing fully into his warmth. He came more than he ever had before. He felt the seed leaking down around the base of his cock, leaving a wet mess between their bodies, even as he jerked a few more times inside him.

They lazed next to each other for a long time, not quite ready to move apart. Their chests rose and fell as they caught their breath, and Sasuke mouthed behind Naruto’s ear mindlessly as he settled into the afterglow. He felt incredible. Exhausted, but completely satisfied. It was by far the best sex they’d ever had and he hadn’t thought better was even possible.

After he softened enough to pull out with ease, Sasuke turned Naruto in his arms and kissed him thoroughly. He stared lovingly into Naruto’s droopy eyes as their legs entangled atop the bed. Sasuke pulled away slightly, and spent several minutes just looking at Naruto as he rubbed his fingers through blond hair. He really was so damn beautiful.

“Teme, what? You’re staring.”

“Hn…I love you.” It was just a whisper, he could barely hear it over the beating of his own heart, but Naruto’s eyes widened, and he shot up in bed. Sasuke stared up at him, wondering about how easily the words had slipped out. He hadn’t even thought about it, they had just been right. It wasn’t so hard to say it after all. In fact, now he almost wanted to say it ten more times.

“You…”

“I love you Naruto,” he muttered idly once more. He was smiling. He could feel the slight lift to his lips, the stiffness in his cheeks as the muscles strained. “I love you.”

“You can’t just say something like that and expect me to be fine,” Naruto spat, and then he tackled Sasuke, and rolled them off of the bed. Sasuke’s back hit the floor with a loud thwack, and he winced as Naruto landed on top of him, one of his legs still caught up on the mattress. Once the shock wore off his arms wrapped around Naruto easily, and he pressed kisses into his cheeks and held on to him tight.

“I love you, I love you, I love you,” Sasuke repeated as his lips grazed against Naruto’s heated skin.

“Sh-shut up.”

Naruto nuzzled against him and no matter how much he tried, Sasuke couldn’t wipe the silly grin off of his own face. “I’ve known all along. I should have said it sooner, I’m sorry. I kept you waiting.”

“Teme,” Naruto hissed, and then he punched him lightly and huddled into him further. “I love you so much Sasuke.” His shoulders shook lightly, and Sasuke thought he might have been crying, but he didn’t comment on it. Sasuke was too surprised at the burning feeling building behind his own eyes, but Naruto had said that tears weren’t always borne of sadness. He understood that now.


Sasuke woke the next morning feeling completely at peace. The early morning light was just starting to peak in through their window, and Sasuke turned his head to the side, blinking drowsily at Naruto’s sleeping face. He smiled faintly, reaching out to touch Naruto’s cheekbone. Even coated in a sleek sheen from the heat his skin was smooth to the touch. Sasuke watched as Naruto’s nose scrunched up, and his whisker marks moved, then two blue eyes opened shortly thereafter and gazed at him tiredly.

“Mmm…Sasuke?”

“Shh, go back to sleep, it’s early yet,” Sasuke grumbled, his voice still low and gravelly after a few hours of disuse.

They shared a couple sleepy kisses, and then Naruto’s eyes drifted shut again as he muttered, “Mmm…kay.” Sasuke watched him fall back asleep, the way his breathing deepened, how his mouth fell open slightly as he relaxed. He could have stayed there for hours doing little more than studying Naruto’s face, but he forced himself out of bed, doing his best not to disturb Naruto’s rest.

He dressed in something casual, with plans to do nothing particularly straining with his day. Sasuke walked leisurely through the Kage Manor, nodding at the few other delegates and Suna nin who passed him by along the way. It was too early for most people to have awoken, but he found Sakura out on one of the balconies overlooking the village, legs up as she sipped at a drink and waited for the sun to rise fully over the cliffs. She hadn’t always been a morning person like he was, but in recent years her sleep schedule for missions had altered and forced her to become one. To the point where she was often awake long before him, even on their days off.

She turned to look at him as he hopped over a ledge and leaned against the railing nearby, then handed him a cup of tea.

“Thank you,” Sasuke muttered, sipping at the liquid slowly as they watched the morning activity of Suna in silence. He was actually smiling as he looked out at the sun slowly rising, his thoughts drifting often to the blond man still sleeping away in their shared bed.

“Have a good night?” Sakura asked. She was eyeing him curiously, cup held in between her hands as she blew at the steam.

“Mmm.” Sasuke tapped his fingers against his own cup, slouching over the railing as he pondered over something that had drifted into his thoughts more and more frequently in recent days. He stared down at the pathways below, not really taking in much of the activity. “I think…when we get back to Konoha, I’m going to ask Naruto to marry me.”

Sakura snorted into her cup, then coughed several times as she worked the liquid out of her lungs. She gaped at him for a moment, and then wiped some of the spilt liquid from her shirt before frowning at him. “So soon?  You two have only just-”

“Whatever this is between us has been building for much longer than a few months,” Sasuke insisted. He turned around, propping his elbows up on the railing as he stared her down. She narrowed her eyes at him, clearly deep in thought. He’d thought this might happen. That she wouldn’t support his decision. But it was one of the reasons he insisted on telling her first. “You disapprove.”

Her expression was guarded as she eyed him, and not for the first time he didn’t have the slightest idea what was on her mind. Was she mad? He didn’t think so. She no longer held any interest in him, and he knew that despite his past mistakes, she had mostly forgiven him.

“It’s awfully quick Sasuke. I just…don’t want him hurt,” she voiced. Sasuke wasn’t sure how to respond.  Surely she knew by now that Sasuke had no intention of hurting Naruto. “I can’t help but feel like this is an impulse decision on your part.  You have goals.  You want to rebuild your clan.  You can’t exactly do that with another man.  And I don’t want him to get left in the dust when you decide you want another life.”

He felt his jaw tense up, and his eyes narrowed as he glared at her. “I wouldn’t do that to him.”

“You already left once Sasuke. It was not that long ago you were trying to kill him instead. How can you possibly think you’re ready for such a commitment?” Sakura took a sip of her tea, and waited for his answer, and he found he couldn’t bring himself to stomach his own any longer. He looked away, feeling guilty for his past. But as he stared out at the rising sun, he reminded himself that he was different now.

“I won’t,” he insisted. “I won’t leave him. Not again.”

“And your clan?  Have you given up on that?”

Sasuke paused, thinking long and hard. He hadn’t…given up on it. It just wasn’t as important to him as it once was. “We could adopt. There are plenty of children without families in Konoha.”

“And sacrifice your blood line limit.”

Sasuke sneered, whipping his head around to glare at her. “The council cared more about that than I ever did,” he spat. She didn’t flinch at the anger in his voice, but Sasuke reigned in his emotions regardless. He hadn’t intended to lose control. “Besides, if there’s anyone who could come up with a way for us to…conceive in a more traditional way, it’s the medical mastermind, Sakura Haruno.”

Her eyes widened, unable to hide her surprise at the implication, like the mere idea had completely thrown her off, but he could see the gears already working in her mind. She tilted her head, eyes shifting around as she processed the concept more thoroughly, and then she pursed her lips and glanced towards him tauntingly. “And if he does not wish to have children?” she wondered, taking another sip of tea.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes as he looked at her. Why was she being so persistent about this? Would nothing he said be the right answer? It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. All that mattered to him was being with Naruto. “I’ve chosen him.  If it’s not…something he wants, I’m prepared to face that. But the option is there if he does.” He thought he saw a glimpse of a smile on her face, and then she lowered her chin, looking down into the steaming liquid as she twirled it around in her cup.

“And what about you?” Sakura glanced up again, meeting his gaze head on. “A family.  Is that what you want?”

Sasuke relaxed a bit then, closing his eyes as a light breeze fluttered through his hair. He smiled faintly, recalling how Naruto had felt pushed up against him the evening prior, how captivating he was even in the morning still fast asleep. “With him...I can imagine something like that. I care about him. More than I’ve ever cared for anyone.”

Sakura chuckled softly and smirked at him. “You can say the ‘L’ word you know.”

“He’s the only one who gets to hear that,” Sasuke muttered.

Her eyes widened then and she sat up almost excitedly. “Then you’ve told him?” Sasuke flushed and sipped his tea, ignoring the question, but her smirk only broadened.

“Didn’t take you for a sap Uchiha.” The voice came from above them, and Sasuke startled as he looked up at Shikamaru perched atop the overhanging archway. Sasuke snarled and threw his teacup at his head, annoyed that he hadn’t noticed he was there.

“Ow, damn it,” Shikamaru groaned as the ceramic bounced off his skull. Sasuke’s skin burned in embarrassment. He’d heard everything. Sneaky piece of shit.

Sakura laughed at him and sat back in her chair, shaking her head in disbelief. “I can’t believe he was worried. Idiots, both of you.”

“Worried? What was he worried about?”

Sakura sighed a bit sadly, her eyes downcast. “He’s always worried, that he’s not good enough.” Sasuke wasn’t sure exactly what face he made, but when Sakura looked at him she laughed and her expression softened.

“You were testing me,” he realized.

“Of course.” Her eyes sobered, and then she stared him down, willing him to even attempt to disagree with her methods. “I told you, he’s my dearest friend.  I can’t let just anyone marry him now can I?” He looked away, caught the grin on Shikamaru’s face, and slumped against the railing with a heavy sigh. He was grateful, in a way.

“Sasuke, be good to him, okay?”

He nodded slowly, turning back to face the rising sun. He had her blessing. And though he didn’t feel as though it was required, he was glad to have it none the less.

Chapter Text


Marriage.

It was something Sasuke had never really thought about in the years prior, beyond the obvious necessity of reviving his clan. But even when he was younger, he hadn’t connected that goal with marriage specifically. He hadn’t really understood what marriage entailed, or desired to be with someone in any romantic context. To him, it was just a means to an end. It wasn’t until the possibility of waking up each morning to eyes the colour of the sea presented itself that the idea of marriage became something he…desired.

But actually taking that final step was a lot more difficult than he expected.

Sasuke pondered how to ask for days on end. And if he had thought planning dates was difficult, this proved to be ten times worse. He was torn between doing something casual and preparing an extravagant event. Should it be a traditional proposal? With a family relic, or perhaps at one of the village temples? Probably not. Naruto didn’t have any family traditions, so such a thing would only hold value to Sasuke, and he wanted this to be for Naruto and Naruto only.

Should it be public? At one of their group sparring sessions? In front of all of their friends? Definitely not. The mere idea of that had Sasuke cringing and his breath quickening from anxiety. While Naruto might actually appreciate something like that Sasuke would never survive such an experience.

Perhaps something spur of the moment? Just in bed in the morning, or on a walk through town. But that felt wrong as well. Even Naruto, for all of his reckless nature, took care with things that were of great importance. And this…was incredibly important. He hoped, for both of them.

All Sasuke knew for sure, was that he wanted it to be special. Something Naruto would like.

He had a ring. And he had narrowed his plan down to a few select ideas. But the real clincher, the one thing that kept him from taking that final step, whatever route he chose to go with, was the possibility that Naruto might actually say no. He knew that Naruto loved him. He knew that Naruto liked being with him, and spending time at his side. But marriage…was something else entirely. It was a promise. For forever.

What if Naruto didn’t want forever?

Days passed, and then those days became weeks, those weeks months, and still Sasuke had yet to ask. Sakura had even brought it up on one occasion, questioning if he had perhaps changed his mind. He reassured her otherwise, and she seemed to understand, if a little amused at the idea that Sasuke was struggling so much with something so…pedestrian. Even with her words of encouragement, it wasn’t until a very particular moment that he found his resolve.

He and Naruto were on a mission, just the two of them. It wasn’t that odd for them to be sent out together alone. Although in recent days it had occurred less frequently with the increased threats against jinchuuriki. But in this particular case, there really wasn’t anyone else for the task at hand. And even the Mokushiroku and Akatsuki were unlikely to send shinobi so far north.

The two of them trudged through the icy terrain in the northern most part of the Land of Snow. They had the difficult task of finding a needle in a haystack, or in this case, a gemstone in the mountains. It wasn’t just any gemstone either, which was the reason they were assigned to the task in the first place.

After the peace summit in Suna, and the prospect of new threats, several of the shinobi nations had rushed to find alternative methods to defend against potential attacks. Snow, in particular, had made the mistake of trying to imitate the power of the bijuu, creating their own version of the beasts by manipulating the chakra of their strongest shinobi and sealing it into diamonds. The experiments proved largely unstable, and the program was shut down when Lighting discovered it and grew wary of the possible dangerous outcomes. Unfortunately the failed attempts had already been sold to the highest bidders and scattered across the land.

Sasuke and Naruto had the ill-fated job of tracking each artefact down and disposing of them all before they found themselves in the wrong hands. They had just one left to go, but it was also the most potentially dangerous. The experiment that had come the closest to succeeding, and the one most at risk of a sudden violent explosion.

The salesman who had purchased this particular gemstone had turned himself in. He’d somehow managed to lose the diamond on his journey through a mountain pass. He had searched for days with no luck, and it wasn’t until the nearby villages reported unusual bursts of chakra that he realized the threat it posed, not only to his hometown, but also the village his wife and children resided in. It seemed he feared for those losses more than the money he could gain from the sale.

“How does someone just lose a gemstone infused with a chakra beast,” Naruto groaned. He rolled over in his bedroll atop the snow irritably. “Was the guy just keeping it in his pocket?”

Sasuke stared up at the cloudy sky, his own bedroll pulled up to his nose. “Mmm.”

“Like it didn’t have the power to eradicate an entire village if the seal broke?” Naruto continued. “And besides that, who the heck would just be walking through this icy pit of hell for fun?”

“People do actually live in these parts,” Sasuke drawled.

“Can’t imagine why.”

Sasuke closed his eyes tiredly as he listened to Naruto shuffle around. “You and Kurama still can’t sense anything concrete?” he asked, also looking forward to getting the mission over with. 

“Nothing.” Naruto sighed for the millionth time and turned towards him. “How long do you think it’ll take to find it?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“Well…either we spend days searching until we happen to come across it,” Sasuke started, opening his eyes as he turned his head to the side.

“Or…”

“Or something happens to trigger the seal to release. I’m sure it’ll be really easy to find then,” he finished, and Naruto groaned loudly.

“This sucks!” Naruto shouted, the sound echoing in the mountain pass around them. Sasuke silently agreed.

There was a time Sasuke would have said he preferred winter climate missions to desert ones, but now, he was beginning to think the opposite. There was nothing worse than a persistent feeling of cold deep inside one’s bones. He could hardly feel his toes anymore, and his thighs and face hurt from the constant icy wind. Even with a fire nearby, the temperature ate at both of them, and Sasuke willed his mind to think of warmer places as he struggled to fall asleep.

“I hate the cold,” Naruto blurted.

“Well if you hadn’t rolled into the fire last night and ruined your jacket, maybe you’d be a bit warmer right now,” Sasuke grumbled irritably. Naruto huffed and turned around to face away from him, scrunching his knees up to his chest and wiggling like a worm inside his sleep sack. He looked ridiculous huddled up like that, and Sasuke stared at his back with narrowed eyes. He was shivering. Sasuke could see the way he trembled, the puffs of air that came with his shaky breaths. Unlike Sasuke, Naruto had never liked the cold. Even the slight chill on summer nights was enough to bother him, and Sasuke figured the temperatures in these regions must have been virtually unbearable for him. He sighed heavily and shifted closer, tugging his bedroll apart and pulling Naruto inside.

“I’m fine,” Naruto insisted, but Sasuke still zipped him in beside him, ignoring his pathetic attempt to get free.

“Bullshit, come here.” His hands shuffled beneath the thick sleeping bag as he formed hand signs against Naruto’s body, and then the small bit of air surrounding them heated to a comfortable temperature. Naruto shimmied back against him, and let out a noise of contentment as Sasuke held him close. “One day I’ll teach you how to do this.”

Naruto turned slightly in his arms with a look of surprise. He stammered for a moment before managing to say, “I…I don’t think I could control it like you.”

“You’re better at those things than you think you are,” Sasuke reassured him. “If you couldn’t focus you never would have achieved sage mode.”

Naruto hummed softly and then snuggled into Sasuke’s elbow. Sasuke kissed the back of his head gently and after a few minutes he felt himself beginning to drift off. He was floating somewhere in the space between dreams and reality when the ground began to rumble beneath them. His eyes shot open, and Naruto rolled onto his front, staring into the darkness around them in surprise.

“Is that…”

“Avalanche!” Sasuke shouted. “Naruto get up! Run!” He grabbed the back of Naruto’s shirt as he struggled with the zipper, both their feet getting caught in the bedroll as they shimmied out of its cover. Naruto grabbed their packs off the ground and Sasuke just barely managed to pick up his sword and holster when he saw a cloud of falling debris approaching horrifyingly fast.

Sasuke jolted, reaching out to drag Naruto along behind him, and their feet hurried through the thick snow. They used chakra to jump further, but weren’t particularly well practised for such terrain, and the avalanche gained speed on them quickly.  

Sasuke cursed as a tree trunk flew over his head, snow flying above them as it hit various branches and stones along the way. They ducked to the side, barely escaping getting buried, and then Naruto stumbled over a tree root and suddenly they were rolling down the mountainside, hitting every bump along the way. Sasuke watched as one of their packs flew from Naruto’s hand, lost forever in the mounds along the cliff. Naruto clutched the other tightly against his chest, eyes scrunched shut as he tumbled, and Sasuke groaned as his own shoulders and legs landed harshly with each twist and turn of his body. They rolled for a long time, until the rush of snow tapered off behind them and both of them ended up face first in the slush.

Sasuke had barely managed to lift himself up and spit the flakes from his mouth when the ground beneath them cracked and started to separate. He sensed the burst of chakra and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. It appeared they had found their diamond in the rough.

He groaned and stood up, then faltered when he realized Naruto wasn’t at his side. “Naruto!” Sasuke shouted when he spotted him a fair distance away brushing snow from his hair. Naruto looked up, his eyes widening as he saw the ground sinking in, snow falling like a waterfall into a gaping hole that only grew in size between them. He staggered to his feet and backed away, and Sasuke gripped his sword in frozen fingers. The snow beneath his feet started to crumble away, and he had little more than a second to bite into his finger and form the seals for his summoning jutsu. A massive hawk burst from the air in front of him and Sasuke barely managed to crawl atop its back before the ground completely caved in beneath him.

It was then he saw the beast that emerged from the large hole, a bundle of swirling chakra energy that looked to hold no particular shape or recognizable animal form. It had eyes, and a toothy grin, but beyond that, it was little more than a monster, perhaps the reflection of the many shinobi that had helped to create it. He watched as it began to climb free from the hole, claws sinking into the snowy landscape and breaking it further apart.

He could control a bijuu, to a certain extent, but bijuu had complex minds, not all that different from a human. This…thing in front of him, was completely unpredictable. There was no telling what exactly it was capable of, or how it might react in the face of Sasuke’s sharingan. He hadn’t had the chance to test it with any of the others as he and Naruto had made sure to find them before they were able to fully break free. The last had been close, but Naruto had managed to redo the seal in time, giving them enough time to destroy it without so much as a fight. Their only option now was to subdue the chakra beast long enough for Naruto to come up with a new fuuinjutsu. One that could lock away whatever chakra they were facing and force it back into nature. Which meant Sasuke was on his own for an undetermined amount of time. He’d have to take a risk.

“Sasuke! Wait!” Naruto shouted as Sasuke urged the hawk to follow the beast, but he ignored him, already set on his goal. They had to act quickly. The wind was frigid on his face, and he held his arm up to shield himself from the biting cold. He flew just far enough above the creature until he was lined up with its head. It would take the perfect timing. He counted down, willing himself to jump at just the right moment. His knees bent, and then he flew away, landing hard atop the beast’s brow. It jerked suddenly to a stop, and Sasuke nearly flew from atop it. He slammed a kunai into its head, dragging himself down the front of its face, holding fast as it tried to shake him off. His mangekyo activated, and he stared into its eyes before crawling into its mind.

He was met with absolute chaos. The creature’s headspace was just as uncontrollable as the chakra that swirled around its hulking form. There were little more than screams of pain, not a single coherent thought, just an energy that was desperate for release and fighting even against itself to do so. Icy flames wrapped around his body and Sasuke felt his control cracking after only a few seconds.  He panted against the strain on his mind, but held it still for a solid minute, until he was forced out and thrown from its body. He slammed into the ground with a loud groan, thankful for the slight cushion as his body tumbled across the snow.

Sasuke rolled onto his knees a mere second later and drew his sword as the beast charged at him. The ground thudded and Sasuke braced himself. There was no room for mistake. Too soon, and the creature would catch him off balance, too late, and it would already have him clenched between razor sharp teeth. As it approached he clenched the hilt between his fingers and swung, slicing through a chakra arm with his chidori. It flew off and dissipated into the air, growing back as quickly as it was lost, this time crackling with lightning as well, and Sasuke growled and sprinted away. He danced around its lunges, dodging each swipe and hacking away at the limbs he couldn’t quite avoid. Flames chased him across the snow, and the wind swirled and tossed him to the side. It was as if every single chakra element was combined into one form, and Sasuke realized that was exactly what the shinobi of Snow had done.

They’d created a true monster. One constantly at war with itself. It was the opposite of how the elements coexisted in nature. Here they each sought for control, to eradicate the others. There was no balance. Just raw, untamed power.

When he had more than a second to spare he glowered into its eyes, locking it down once more. They were face to face. Sasuke’s gleaming red irises staring down the beast intently. He fought harder this time.

Its mind was no less chaotic. It was spinning with energy. Water, wind, rocks, electricity, and fire all whipping about and nipping at Sasuke’s clothing. He felt himself sinking, and he spread his legs, willing his body to stay afloat just a little bit longer.

Fuck. It was draining.

This time when he was thrown from its mind Sasuke lay stunned atop the snow for much longer. He saw the creature charge at him, and he tried one more time to trap it, unable to lift his own body from the ground. It held for just a few seconds.

Sasuke was sure he was about to die. The claws inched towards him, and he gritted his teeth for impact, only to take a shuddering breath when a huge toad crashed into the monster’s side in the nick of time. It missed Sasuke with its claws by a hair. Gamabunta’s cloak billowed in the wind, and Sasuke sighed in relief when Naruto jumped off of him, punching the beast in the neck. It lurched to the side, and then Naruto was on the ground between them, forming several seals with his hands. He was already in sage mode, and his toad-like eyes barely spared Sasuke a glance as three tails sprouted from his body all at once.

“Naruto, you’ll have to seal all the elements separately!” Sasuke shouted.

Naruto stared straight ahead, and then he pressed the palms of his hands together and formed several more seals before crashing his fingers into the ground. “I know,” he growled, and sure enough, five sealing papers floated up around Naruto’s form, already marked up with various symbols and scratches that Sasuke couldn’t even attempt to comprehend.

He let out a half laugh, pleasantly surprised that Naruto had seemingly already figured out exactly what needed to be done. He must have come up with the runes on Gamabunta’s back. Sasuke panted on the ground for a moment and then urged his body to its feet, shaking out his head as he prepared to help Naruto set them all in place. When Gamabunta teleported away, he took action, running back at the creature and attempting to distract it while Naruto placed the first seal. He flew between the beast’s legs, throwing out attacks the entire way. The creature took the bait, and Sasuke glanced to his left where Naruto shot around behind it, towards the chakra twisting around in little tornados at one of its feet.

It howled as the seal was slammed against its limb. Chakra seeped from its body, curling into a ball of energy as the paper wrapped itself around it and disappeared into the air. Wind. It was Naruto’s easiest element to control, and thus, the easiest for him to seal. The others would be much more difficult for him to place.

The beast didn’t appear to lose its power, if anything the assault only made the remaining chakra more violent and unpredictable. Streams of it shot out at random, and Naruto was forced to join the fight for a few moments at Sasuke’s side. He created some clones to help in the battle, but too many right now would be risky. He needed to reserve as much chakra as possible. Sealing such violent energy required an unimaginable amount of power. It was like fighting against a natural disaster. An impossible feat for most. Sasuke was surprised to already see five tails swirling behind Naruto’s form now. He rarely went past four, only using so much of the fox’s power when absolutely necessary. It was proof of just how much strength these particular fuuinjutsu required.

Naruto glance briefly at Sasuke, and he took the hint, trying once again to control the beast’s mind. He just needed a few seconds. Just long enough for Naruto to place the second seal. Sasuke cried out as his mind strained against the hold. He could feel his arms burning as fire licked across his skin. When the beast shrivelled away slightly and shrieked in his mind Sasuke released it, falling to his knees to catch his breath. He was surprised to find the burns were real, and he stared at his arms in wonder before searching for Naruto desperately. He was a fair distance away, but the second sealing paper hovered in front of his body, flames flickering violently inside of it, and Naruto bared his teeth as he scrunched it between his fingers. It fought against his hold the entire way, eventually dissipating into a cloud of smoke.

Naruto’s clones were busy distracting the beast, but they were disappearing quickly. So Sasuke lunged again, grunting as he trudged through the snow. He sliced at one of the beast’s legs, and then stabbed up into its gut, while Naruto took advantage of his quick attack and drew out yet another chakra type, this time launching the electricity up into the sky.

There were just two left now. Surely they could make it.

Yet when he looked at Naruto this time, he was down on one knee, visibly wearing thin. Sealing was one of his greatest strengths, but working against elements he was less proficient in took a huge toll on his body. And the sheer size and strength of the beast he was sealing away was enough to leave a lasting mark on even Naruto’s chakra stores. He could only borrow so much from the fox. Any more…would be far too dangerous.

Sasuke immediately brought forth Susanoo. It took much of his remaining chakra to do so, and he knelt atop the snowy ground as the hulking form towered over them, reaching out to hold the beast in place. Pain thrummed through Sasuke’s veins as the armoured structure fought for him. But there was no way he could attempt to reach into the beast’s mind again.

The fourth sealing paper launched away from Naruto. Sasuke heard him scream as it wrapped around the creature’s belly and vibrated until the chakra exploded into a gush of water, completely soaking the landscape around them. It splashed up in waves over their bodies, and Sasuke jumped out of it as it began to freeze and harden atop the ground. He slid across the ice, his head pounding as his eyes throbbed from overuse. His sharingan faded and Sasuke blinked down at his fingertips. They were starting to turn white, and he used what remaining energy he had to warm them, unable to move in the slightest.

He shook water from his hair, shivering against his cold and uncomfortably wet clothes. His eyes found Naruto, who looked equally as drenched. His pointed teeth were chattering, and Sasuke wished he was closer so he could warm him too. But the monster still stood between them, its hulking form far less chaotic than before.

It was weakened now.

It fumbled atop the snow, unable to control the direction it was headed. But earth was Naruto’s worst element, and he looked tired. He was slouching slightly, sweat dripping from his brow despite the cold, and then Sasuke watched in horror as a sixth tail sprouted from his form. Sasuke stumbled to his feet, his limbs cramping up before he could take a step closer. His eyes sought out Naruto’s desperately, but no matter how long he looked, Naruto’s gaze remained lowered towards the ground. Surely the strain on his body would be too great!

When he finally glanced up, his eyes were elongated like a demon, and his jagged teeth bared as he pulled the fifth and final paper in front of himself before slamming it forcefully into the creature’s head. The chakra rumbled, quaking the earth around them as it thundered atop the ground. Sasuke watched as it strained against Naruto’s hold, pushing him back along the ice. Naruto slammed a foot down, cracking the ice beneath him so that he could hold himself in place, and then he wrenched the beast lower, pushing the seal towards the surface of the earth. The chakra started sinking, but it pulled Naruto along with it, and his eyes widened as he fought against the pull. It was like quicksand, except he was surrounded by ice and mud, and Naruto cried out as his legs disappeared into the frozen soil.

He groaned painfully as the chakra dragged him down, and Sasuke forced himself to move to his side, wrenching his body upwards so that Naruto could focus his attention again on the seal. Sasuke’s muscles strained, and Naruto was shaking in his hold. He tensed, tails whipping around his form, and he yelled loudly as the seal finally flattened against the earth fully, trapping the chakra beneath them in the ground. The two of them fell away at the sudden release of power, Sasuke flat on his back while Naruto toppled forwards into the slush.

They barely moved, hearts beating rapidly as the quiet of the snowy landscape surrounded them once again. Sasuke watched the tails disappear from Naruto’s form one by one and then his body sagged completely as he slipped out of sage mode. Sasuke struggled to sit up, eyeing Naruto’s prone form like a hawk until he shuddered and pulled himself to his knees weakly. He stared at Naruto’s back with worry, but was glad to see him moving at the very least.

“Thanks dobe,” Sasuke wheezed.

There was a moment of silence, during which Naruto’s shoulders tensed, and then he was up in a flash and punching Sasuke in the face.

“You idiot!” he shouted as Sasuke fell back against the ground again hard. Sasuke cradled his jaw in his hand in surprise, staring up at Naruto with wide eyes. “You could have died!”

Sasuke sputtered for a second and then pulled himself to his feet. “To complete the mission! If I hadn’t attacked when I did who knows what might have happened!” He stomped over to Naruto, exhaustion forgotten, and stared down into his angered expression. “Imagine the destruction! It could have desecrated an entire village. It could have found its way to Konoha, or into the hands of Konoha’s enemies. Don’t act like you wouldn’t have done the same thing in my position.”

Naruto’s nostrils flared as he breathed in and out heavily, and then he pushed Sasuke backwards, pressing his fingers into his chest hard. “You don’t get it do you!” he shouted. “You will always be my first priority Sasuke, always! Not Konoha, not some mission, not the rest of the world.” He took a shaky breath and punched Sasuke weakly then, eyes starting to water. “You, always you.” And then his gaze filled with rage again and he was pulling at Sasuke’s collar and shaking him roughly. “You could have waited! Just five minutes for me to prepare, so we could start the fight together!”

“It would have gotten away!” Sasuke cried, holding his arms out to the sides.

“It was a hundred metres tall! We could have found it!”

Sasuke staggered at that. His anger fading as he stared into Naruto’s eyes. Now that he put it like that…Sasuke felt a bit foolish.

“What the fuck am I supposed to do without you huh!?” Naruto hissed, and he tugged Sasuke closer, knuckles turning white as his fingers clenched in his jacket. “You think I’ll just be okay? Fuck you Sasuke! Fuck you!”

His fingers loosened then, and he pressed his palms against Sasuke’s chest, shaking his head as tears started to fall. “I love Konoha, but a K-Konoha without y-you…” Sasuke felt the air leave his lungs. He stood limply as Naruto wrapped both arms around him, sobbing against him loudly. “Please don’t leave me again.”

Sasuke cringed.

He’d forgotten.

For just a small moment, he had forgotten that he had more to live for now than just a mission, or a goal. He’d been so caught up in the adrenaline of the fight. So intent to take the beast down that he’d not even thought of the possible consequences. He knew better.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, reaching out to clutch Naruto to his body. “Naruto…I’m so sorry.”

Naruto was the reason he was there in the first place. The reason he had a place to call home, a life worth living. He’d promised that he wouldn’t leave him again. They were two parts of a whole. It was together, or not at all.


They started their journey home in awkward silence. Naruto trudged along in the snow in front of him, and Sasuke tried to discreetly warm him, though he knew it would be obvious what he was doing. Naruto hadn’t looked at him once since pulling away from his grasp. And Sasuke was afraid to say another word. He was fairly certain he had already ruined everything, that he’d lost Naruto’s trust.

They took a short rest at a frozen over pond, and Sasuke melted the ice and heated the water so it was comfortable enough to bathe in. He was so tired. But he knew it was dangerous to get too relaxed. They had a long way to go, and he couldn’t heat such a large area for too long on his still limited chakra reserves.

Naruto sank down beneath the water to his chin, and Sasuke watched him from a distance, neither saying a single word. Even Naruto’s chakra was nearly depleted. The little scratches all over his arms and legs hadn’t healed even slightly. The fox was likely already sleeping, and Naruto seemed on the verge of passing out, but he didn’t rest long. He pulled himself above the water after only a quick dip, tugging on his still wet clothes so he could trek back out into the snow. Sasuke fumbled after him, frowning as he kept up with his hurried pace.

“Naruto, take it easy,” he spoke, eyeing the way Naruto’s breaths came much harsher than before. But Naruto pushed on, not so much as turning his head at the comment. “Naruto!” Sasuke lunged forward, pulling Naruto back by his arm, but he wrenched it out of Sasuke’s grasp angrily and continued on. “Can you just slow down for a minute?”

“We need to get back,” Naruto panted. He sounded winded, and Sasuke pulled him into his chest, holding him tight in his grasp.

“Just wait, just…,” Sasuke gasped against him. He squeezed him in his arms, and breathed heavily into his hair.  “I need you to know, that I love you more than anything.” Naruto blinked at the ground for a minute before nodding and continuing to walk. But Sasuke didn’t let him get far, reaching out to pull him back in again. “Naruto, please.” He felt the shaking in Naruto’s shoulders before he saw a few tears fall down to the snow below. They left tiny little holes in the white mounds, and soon enough there were so many that the snow began to flatten away into ice.

“I’m being s-selfish,” Naruto cried, and he lifted his hands, holding them in front of his face, even as Sasuke rubbed at his back. “A-asking you t-to put me above a mission.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes I am.”

Sasuke breathed in the cold air, reaching around Naruto to tug his hands away from his face. “If you’re selfish, then so am I, because I would ask the exact same thing of you.”

“Then why didn’t you wait? When I called out to you, why did you…just fly off?”

Sasuke clenched his jaw and turned Naruto to face him, cradling his cheek in his palm. “When I’m fighting alongside you…I don’t even think about the risks,” he started. “It’s no excuse, but I…I knew you would get there in time.” Naruto sniffled a few times and looked at him then, eyes moist and reddened.  “I would never leave you. Never. But I trust you Naruto. To always have my back. No matter what.” Naruto took a shaky breath and Sasuke tilted his chin up a bit more. “Do you trust me?”

“Of course,” Naruto whispered. “I just…” he glanced to the side and back again, blinking his eyes rapidly to clear them. “You scared me, and I froze…and I thought I wasn’t gonna to make it in time.” He sucked his lower lip into his mouth and bit down on it hard, clearly trying to stave off his sniffles. “Sasuke…I…I want you by my side always. Do you understand?”

Sasuke ran his thumb across his lip, easing it free, and then he watched the wet trails drip down Naruto’s cheeks before wiping them away. He opened his mouth slightly, overwhelmed briefly with emotion. “I do.” He encased Naruto’s face between his hands, so gently that his skin just barely grazed at the hairs on his skin. “I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful next time.”

Naruto sighed and nodded, then pressed his face against his collar firmly. They hugged for a while, just standing and taking comfort in the closeness. Eventually Naruto muttered into his jacket, “We’re both idiots.”

Sasuke grimaced, and nudged Naruto with his chin. “Yeah.”

Naruto pulled away then and stood on his toes to kiss him chastely. Even his lips were cool to the touch, and Sasuke rubbed at his back and eyed him in concern. Now that really he looked, Naruto’s lips were turning blue, and his entire body was trembling slightly. He was just about to say so when Naruto beat him to it.

“Can…can you keep me warm?”

Sasuke exhaled in surprise, and then pulled him in again, already forming the seals. “Of course.”

They would be okay. They loved each other. They loved each other and they would get through everything, together, no matter what.

He wasn’t afraid anymore, of asking for Naruto’s hand in marriage. Compared to the things they had faced together, it seemed like such a foolish thing to hesitate over. They were already committed. Already dedicated to each other. Even if it meant facing death at each other’s sides. For this life, and the next.

Sasuke knew without a doubt, that Naruto would say yes. He just had to ask.


Sasuke woke Naruto early on their third day after returning to Konoha.

He had spent much of the night sitting in the kitchen, anxiously wringing his fingers together as he waited for the hours to pass. He knew there was nothing to be afraid of, but he was nervous regardless. His eyes drifted towards the little clock propped on the wall repeatedly, and he counted down the minutes as his leg bounced up and down. Eventually he stood, deciding he couldn’t wait any longer regardless of the time. He found Naruto sprawled over their bed, drooling into his pillow, the blankets twisted haphazardly around his body.

Sasuke stared at him, feeling his heart swell at the sight. He loved him. So very much.

It was the small things that he’d begun to appreciate the most. The simple things. Like dipping their feet in the pond, watching Naruto laugh as the koi fish nibbled at his toes. He enjoyed reading while Naruto practiced new jutsu from the Uchiha archives, helping him occasionally with the ones that were particularly complex. He liked visiting the temple with him on the southern edge of the compound, ringing the bell, making wishes, and leaving offerings for the gods. They cooked together, cleaned together, and on those odd days that Sasuke needed spend a few hours away, writing mission reports and doing work for the Hokage, he missed him dearly. 

Sasuke sat down on the bed, leaned over him, and touched his face, and Naruto woke immediately. He scrunched up his nose and peered up at him through sleep clouded eyes.

“Wha’s wrong? Mission? I thought we had a few weeks off,” he slurred, and Sasuke smiled at him fondly.

“No, nothing’s wrong.”

Naruto blinked at him, and then his mouth inched upwards into a playful grin. “Wanna, you know?”

Sasuke chuckled lowly but replied, “I was hoping we could watch the sunrise together.” His gaze shifted, running down Naruto’s form. He had a t-shirt on, but it was bunched up his chest, and it seemed he had forgone putting on underclothes after they’d made love the night prior. Sasuke swallowed as he reached down, sliding a hand between his legs and finding him still slick. “But I suppose there’s time yet.”

He pulled his arousal free from his shorts, not bothering to take them off as he pushed one of Naruto’s legs up against his chest and crawled above him. He slid inside of him easily, and Naruto sighed happily, throwing his head back against the pillows.

Naruto was sleepy and pliant beneath him, and Sasuke revelled in the soft sounds of contentment that came with every thrust. He didn’t intend to make it last long, and he was glad to see Naruto’s cock leaking across his belly. Still, he couldn’t help but get a little caught up in the act. He bent down and kissed him, licked at his lips and breathed against him heavily.

Sasuke rocked into him quickly, and Naruto whined, wrapping his legs around Sasuke’s hips before reaching between them to stroke himself. It was Sasuke who came first, grunting as his hips stuttered along with his release. He pulled out as soon as he regained control and fingered Naruto deeply until he followed.

It had been quick, but satisfying none the less.

Sasuke kissed Naruto’s nose and pulled his fingers free, wiping them against the sheets carelessly. He’d worry about that mess later. “Let’s hurry and wash up, we don’t want to miss it.”


There were three things that Sasuke knew without a doubt that Naruto loved. Ramen, Konoha, and him.

It was with that thought in his mind that he led Naruto up the Hokage Mountain to await the rising sun. The pathway was clear, no other civilians or shinobi making the climb on that particular morning, and Sasuke was grateful. He was jittery, and his eyes flittered over to Naruto every few seconds, taking in the flush from their lovemaking still high upon his cheeks. Sasuke already missed feeling his body wrapped around his own.

Every now and then Naruto tried to peek over his shoulder and into the bag hanging from his wrist, but Sasuke evaded his reaching hands, and held it away from him teasingly. The contents were part of the surprise after all.

The two of them reached the top, and Sasuke jumped over the guard rails in place for one of the lookouts, helping Naruto settle with him atop the stone shaped into the Sandaime’s hair. It was the highest point in the village, and they could see all of Konoha from so far up, as well as much of the surrounding land.

It was still a bit dark. The sun hadn’t made an appearance just yet, but there was an early morning glow on the horizon that spoke of its nearness. Naruto was like a beacon of light amongst the shadows at his side. He was grinning, his eyes forming little crescents as he sat back on his hands and kicked out his dangling legs in front of him. Sasuke smiled secretly and then reached into his bag, pulling out a small foam container.

Naruto’s eyes widened when he spotted it, and he lurched forward, mouth opening in a wide grin. “Ramen for breakfast? What’s got into you?”

“Who knows,” Sasuke laughed. “It’s not Ichiraku, but…”

“Well I’m certainly not going to complain.”

Sasuke pulled out the thermos he’d poured hot water in and filled a cup for Naruto, then one for himself, before passing him a set of chopsticks. The two of them sipped at their noodles for a while, and Sasuke paused as the sun finally poked up above the horizon, spreading an array of pinks and oranges across the sky. He watched as the colours shifted over Konoha, and then at the way the rays cascaded across Naruto’s face while he leisurely sipped at his bowl. He looked so soft, like he was a part of the landscape himself, like he belonged there with the wind lightly blowing through his hair, and the sunlight reflecting in his eyes.

“My mother would have liked you,” Sasuke said suddenly.

Naruto glanced towards him in surprise, smiling a bit shyly as he ducked his head and slurped at a few noodles. “Y-you think so?” Sasuke nodded, holding his chopsticks above his cup as he studied him. She had appreciated the softer things in life, more often than the rest of his clan. “And your father?”

Sasuke paused, the smile fading from his face slightly as he turned to look out at the sky. “My father…didn’t really like anyone. Not outwardly, but I think…he would have come to see what I see.”

“Oh? And what do you see?”

Sasuke glanced towards him again, expression serious as his gaze flickered over Naruto’s face. “A strong shinobi, with a heart of gold. Determined, hardworking, bright, unerringly loyal.”

“Beautiful.”

“Like a ray of light.”

Naruto scoffed, turning away from him as he muttered, “I doubt he would’ve seen all that.” His ears had reddened, and he twisted his fingers around the now empty cup in his hands.

“I guess it doesn’t matter now anyway, what they would have thought.  Not really. I’ll always care for them, and miss them, but I have another family now,” Sasuke admitted. He set down his own cup, leaning to the side to kiss Naruto softly. Sasuke was hesitant to stop, but eventually their lips parted, and he pressed their brows together gently. Naruto bit his lip, glancing down, and Sasuke nudged him with his nose. “What is it?”

“I…,” he started, eyes blinking a few times. “I never had a family. Not one I can remember,” he commented. He pulled away, staring at Sasuke intently. “But…I think I understand. This feeling…it’s something to protect.”

Sasuke eyed him and swallowed nervously. All of his earlier anxieties had suddenly reappeared. He fidgeted, and exhaled heavily, trying to muster up his courage. “Want another bowl?”

“You bet!”

Sasuke was much more careful as he reached into his bag this time around, digging for one cup in particular. The lid was already pried open just a touch. He fumbled it from the bag in shaking hands, and then eased back the cover partway to pour in hot water. As he passed it to Naruto, he struggled to hide the slight tremors in his arms, but thankfully they went unnoticed.

Naruto thanked him and dug in eagerly, sipping away at the noodles as he looked out at the sky every so often. Sasuke didn’t look away from him for a single second. As Naruto swirled his chopsticks around in the ramen he startled suddenly, peering down into the foam cup, and Sasuke froze.

“Huh? There’s something in here.” He poked around a bit, frowning as he plucked the object in question from the noodles and pulled it free, holding it up to the light. “Sasuke someone lost a ring in my ramen!” Sasuke was tempted to groan, but he felt such a fondness in his heart in that moment that he could do little more than stare.

It was indeed a ring. Sasuke didn’t have to look to know. He was the one who put it there after all. It was fairly plain, with little fans and spirals etched around the outside. A few small black diamonds were inlaid in between them, seven in total, to symbolize the team that helped them form a bond. At the base of the ring was a single unique symbol engraved in the metal. An Uchiha fan, split in half, completed with the Uzumaki spiral. It had been custom ordered, and Sasuke had even gone so far as to sketch it out on paper before showing it to the recommended jeweller in town. Sasuke had long since memorized the way it looked, having spent hours staring at the thing while he struggled over how to finally gift it.

Naruto stared at it curiously where it was trapped between his chopsticks, a noodle wrapping around the band and falling out the other end. He twisted it in the low lighting, mouth slowly opening as he recognized the markings on it. Sasuke inhaled deeply and stood, balancing out on a bit of rock just to Naruto’s left. He stared down at him for a minute as Naruto looked between him and the ring in confusion before getting down on one knee.

“Marry me?”

Naruto stared at him blankly, and then his eyes widened slowly, and he gaped at the ring, dropping it back into the ramen in surprise.

“Is it…too soon?” Sasuke wondered, and he clenched his fingers in his pants as he watched Naruto flounder around.

“It’s not that,” Naruto blurted. He stuttered a bit, not saying anything intelligible, until finally gasping out, “Why me? Why would you choose me? You could have anyone Sasuke. Anyone.”

“I want you.”

They gazed at each other unblinkingly, and then Sasuke stood again, stepping closer to Naruto’s side so he could crouch down beside him and pick up one of his hands. “I want a home with you, a family, if that’s what you’d like as well.” He kissed his fingers and held them tightly between his own. “You are my equal.  There will never be another. And your smile is the greatest happiness I’ve ever known.” Naruto’s eyes watered and Sasuke leaned forward to touch his cheek. “I love you, Naruto. I know I don’t say it much. But I love you, so much. I can’t imagine my life without you.”

Naruto breathed in quickly, and then he fumbled the cup of ramen in his other hand before practically tackling Sasuke, who just managed to steady both of them and keep the cup from falling towards the village streets below. He stared at it with gritted teeth, catching his breath before turning to look into Naruto’s eyes. “Is that a yes?”

“Of course, teme.”

Sasuke grinned, and let out a shaky laugh, before he tore the lid off of the ramen completely and pried the ring from the noodles. He poured some water over it, and then blew on the metal to cool it before putting it on Naruto’s finger with shaking hands.

“I can’t believe you put it in the ramen,” Naruto snickered, staring at his finger as he touched the ring in wonder.

“You have no idea how much it hurt my soul to do so.” Sasuke pulled him forwards by the back of his neck and kissed him hard. “But for you, anything,” he promised. In the end, they didn’t watch the sunrise at all. But Sasuke didn’t really need to. Not when he already held the sun within his arms each and every day.


They had a small wedding. Private. With just close friends, and those they called family in attendance.  There was no need for more than that. Naruto hadn’t stopped smiling for a single second, and Sasuke hadn’t been able to tear his gaze away from him. After some research, they’d planned a traditional Uzumaki ceremony, painting runes and seals on their skin that told stories and promises they meant to keep. Sasuke was enraptured by it all, glad to share in a tradition that was new to both of them.

They wrapped a ribbon around their wrists, binding their arms together as they told their vows, and then Sasuke kissed Naruto like he’d been waiting to do so since the beginning of time.

Iruka might have been crying, his face pressed into Kakashi’s shoulder, their sensei having abandoned his risqué literature for a single day. The rest of their friends were either drunk, dancing, or snacking, and Sasuke smirked when Lee began singing loudly to Sakura, who looked about ready to kick him six feet underground, even as he twisted her around in a gentle waltz.

Sasuke had never been a fan of parties, and Naruto knew that, so when he distanced himself to allow others to enjoy the festivities Naruto only caught his gaze every now and then and smiled at him brightly. He watched Naruto mingle, listened to him laughing in the distance. Watched him dance and eat and run around excitedly.

He couldn’t help but get caught up in the joy that radiated from his being.

When Naruto approached him, hand held out, palm facing the sky, and said, “Just one Sasuke?” he relented. They stepped on each other’s toes, chuckling and tripping over each other to the upbeat music and Sasuke stared at Naruto’s face as they spun around each other. Naruto was so beautiful.  Smiling and laughing as he twisted, the decorative fabric of his kimono swirling about his form with his free flowing movements. There were two braids in his hair, just on one side, and the loose tufts on the other fluttered over his brow and eyes. He danced without inhibitions, like he wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything. Sasuke pulled him closer, placing a hand at the small of his back. He pressed his face against Naruto’s hair, hiding the smile that broadened with each passing second.

He’d never imagined he’d be in such a place. Laughing and having fun as he danced with his most precious person wrapped in his arms. “I love you Naruto.” He whispered the words against Naruto’s ear, pulled away to kiss him when Naruto’s head twisted in his hold. It wasn’t a happiness he’d ever thought he would feel. He certainly didn’t deserve it. But there was no way he would ever give it up after holding it in his grasp.

It was late evening when they started the walk back towards to the Uchiha compound, Naruto’s head leaning on his shoulder as they padded through abandoned streets. The sky was clear, and Sasuke peered up at the almost full moon then back towards Naruto’s tilted head. The flower crown Ino had placed on him somewhere during the night was still nestled in his locks, and Sasuke lifted a hand to toy with the petals that encircled Naruto’s head. He looked like a fey creature. The way his hair shone beneath the moon’s light, how the details on his kimono glittered slightly as the fabric shifted about his form.

Naruto stopped suddenly, and Sasuke turned fully towards him, holding Naruto in place against him. When guarded blue eyes met his own Sasuke frowned and bent down, kissing Naruto tenderly. There was nothing for them to hide from each other. Not anymore. He held Naruto tightly against his side, brushed his hair back, and waited. Naruto twisted in his arms, standing on his toes to kiss him back, and when he pulled away just a fraction of an inch, Sasuke was breathless.

“Sasuke,” Naruto muttered against his lips. “Do you want me?”

“Yes.”

They kissed again, deeper this time, and Sasuke’s hands slid down Naruto’s back, over the thick fabric of his obi, and down to his ass. Naruto teased him back, dragging his fingers between their bodies, lower, and lower with each passing second. Sasuke groaned. He wanted him so much, even if it was right there in the middle of Konoha’s streets. He was desperate for him, and just as Sasuke moved to push him up against a wall, Naruto disappeared from his grasp. Sasuke blinked at him in surprise, and then Naruto smirked deviously, before creating a bunch of clones.

“Gotta catch me first,” Naruto taunted. He let out a little teasing laugh, and held his chin high as the clones scattered out to every side. Sasuke’s eyes widened, and he activated his sharingan immediately. He rushed towards the real Naruto, reaching to hold him close, but Naruto held a hand out, palm flat against his chest, forcing Sasuke to falter.

“Stop. Teme, no cheating.” Naruto pointed directly at Sasuke’s eyes, staring him down heatedly. “You have to follow the clues.”

Sasuke frowned, but he let the sharingan slip away as he searched Naruto’s gaze. “Clues?”

Naruto blinked at him, and then nodded. “You’ll find the first one with my favourite food,” he said before placing a quick kiss on Sasuke’s lips and disappearing into a cloud of smoke. Sasuke’s eyes widened as his jaw practically dropped to the street. It had been the real Naruto, he was sure of it. And yet clearly he’d been wrong. When had he used a replacement? Sasuke stood up straight with a snort and then smirked. It didn’t matter regardless. He knew exactly where to go.

Sasuke hurried through Konoha’s pathways, eager to get to the first destination. If Naruto wanted to play this little game, he’d go along with it. He knew what awaited him at the end, and it was more than worth whatever plot Naruto had up his sleeves. The first clue was easy to figure out, and after just a few twists and turns Sasuke found himself perched atop the correct building. As promised, Naruto was leaning across from a long closed Ichiraku, pouting dramatically as he glared up at Sasuke’s form.

“That was too easy wasn’t it,” Naruto said. Sasuke jumped to the ground in front of him and walked closer. He leaned down for a quick kiss and was glad when the clone reciprocated, even if just for a moment. “The second clue, is near the place I grew up,” Naruto muttered, and the clone disappeared with a pop. Sasuke stared at the empty space in front of him, and then flashed around the corner. If all of the hints were this easy, it would take no time at all.

He found the next clone hanging upside down from a clothesline near Naruto’s old apartment. Naruto’s hair hung down towards the street, and Sasuke walked up to his dangling body, holding his chin between his fingers. “Are you even trying to make this a challenge?” Sasuke taunted, and Naruto, raised an eyebrow and huffed. His arms crossed stubbornly, but when Sasuke kissed him, he spluttered and flapped around awkwardly. Several of the hanging shirts and socks fell away as Naruto writhed around in his hold, and Sasuke laughed against his lips, before kissing all across his chin and jaw.

“Okay, okay, that’s enough!” Naruto sputtered out between giggles. He struggled to keep a straight face, glancing at Sasuke briefly before looking off to the side. “This next one will be more difficult. Find me where we had our first kiss.” Naruto grinned at him, and a moment later he was gone.

Sasuke was tempted, of course, to go to the training grounds by the lake. The place where their relationship had transformed into something entirely different. Where Sasuke had finally worked up the courage to kiss Naruto, with intent. But he knew that wasn’t where Naruto would be. Their first kiss had been unexpected, completely unplanned, and at the time, unwanted. Sasuke looked back on it fondly.

As predicted, Naruto’s next clone was sitting on a swing outside the academy. He looked a bit lonely until he spotted Sasuke, his eyes lighting up slightly before he tried to feign disinterest. But when Sasuke stepped forward and gave him a light push, his eyes lit up in excitement. Naruto kicked forwards and backwards on the swing for a moment, giggling happily as Sasuke watched. His kimono billowed out at the sides as the wind blew into the fabric, his hair caught on the breeze and flying about his head wildly. As the swinging slowed, Sasuke came to stand before him, placing his hands on the chains as he looked down into his eyes.

“Where to now?”

Naruto leaned his head against the chain and smiled. “The place we became a team,” he said before disappearing into a cloud of smoke. Sasuke gazed at the empty swing, remembering the day Iruka had announced his teammates in their classroom. He’d been so indifferent at the time. It wouldn’t have mattered who he’d ended up with, his reaction would have been the same. Back then, he’d wanted only one thing, and everything and everyone else was little more than a distraction. But Naruto…had been so distracting that he’d actually managed to break through Sasuke’s barriers.  

He glanced towards the school, briefly wondering if Naruto wanted him to actually step inside. But back then, they’d been a team by title alone, and Sasuke was certain it wasn’t what Naruto meant. He sprinted towards the training grounds instead. Sasuke smirked when he spotted Naruto sitting atop the post he’d been bound to by Kakashi after their first test. Sasuke remembered the way he had put on a strong face, pretended to be fine, despite the angry rumbling of his stomach that told otherwise. Sasuke wasn’t sure what made him share his lunch that day. A moment of weakness maybe. Or perhaps his barriers had already begun to crumble away, even then.

“Where are you taking me to?” Sasuke asked, sliding out from between the trees at the outskirts of the grounds, and Naruto glanced towards him and kicked his feet against the wood beneath them.

“You’ll find out,” he teased, his eyes glistening as they reflected the light of the moon. He tilted his head to the side and waited for Sasuke to walk closer before jumping down at his side.

“Where our biggest trial began,” Naruto instructed next, and before he had a chance to disappear Sasuke grabbed at his arm.

“Wait,” he breathed, panicked. “That could be…many places.”

Naruto’s gaze softened, and Sasuke felt his brow scrunch up as the blond shuffled closer and pulled him in for a hug. Sasuke’s eyes widened in recognition as Naruto pushed aside his collar and kissed the side of his neck, just over where his curse mark had once resided. “You’ll figure it out.”

Sasuke stood there alone for several minutes, his fingers touching his skin gently.  He still wondered…how different things would be, had Orochimaru never targeted him in that forest. Would he have been compelled to leave? Would he have sought out power without the curse mark upon his skin? Sometimes he wasn’t sure. But there was one thing for sure. The curse upon him had altered his thoughts of those he held bonds with. It had forced him to look upon Naruto as a mortal enemy instead of a friendly rival. Made him believe him a weakness, instead of a strength.

And though he’d often wished he could reverse time and go back before it all, there was no use dwelling on events of the past. They were irrevocable. A stain upon his memory he must accept, and hope to one day bury.

The Forest of Death was yet another place he’d avoided since returning to Konoha, mainly because it reminded him of everything he hated about himself. But as Sasuke spotted Naruto huddled up against the fence just outside, looking hesitant, and startlingly small, he pushed aside his reservations and strode towards him. Naruto’s clone avoided looking up at him, tightening his hold around his knees as he picked at a blade of grass.

“I’m sorry Sasuke,” Naruto muttered.

Sasuke gaped at him, frozen in place. “For what?”

“I wish I…had been stronger.”

The blade of grass split in Naruto’s fingers, and he scrunched up the pieces before letting them fall to the ground, only to pluck another one soon after. Sasuke watched him toy with it for a few moments before he crouched down in front of him. He stared at Naruto’s downcast eyes, eventually flicking him on the forehead. Naruto startled and looked up, and Sasuke smiled.

“Dobe,” he said fondly. “We were a team. A Genin team. Going up against an S ranked nin and his cohorts on our own.” Thinking back on it, they’d been foolish to even try and fight at all. “We couldn’t have possibly done any better. It’s a miracle all of us survived.”

Sasuke breathed in deeply, remembering how overwhelmed he’d felt in that moment. The ease with which Orochimaru had cornered them, spoken to them, attacked them. He hadn’t had a single second of doubt in his mind. It was that confident power that had lured Sasuke over to his side. “Besides, I’m the one who gave in.”

“Sas-”

“Don’t,” Sasuke interrupted, pressing a finger gently over Naruto’s lips. “If it had been you, you absolutely would have fought back, to the very end.” Naruto didn’t even try to argue that. He’d been fighting against the power of another his entire life. A being even more powerful than Orochimaru. And never once had he given in. Never once had Naruto thought of betraying his friends or Konoha. It would have killed him to do so. And in the end, you could argue he’d even tamed the beast inside of him. He was so damn stubborn. So damn…strong.

 “It doesn’t matter now anyway,” Sasuke quietly added. “We’re here now, aren’t we?” Naruto blinked at him, and then his lips morphed into a soft smile as he nodded. Sasuke was relieved to see it. Even on one of Naruto’s clones, he hated seeing expressions of pain.  “Well, get on with it then. I know this wasn’t the end of your little tour.”

Naruto scoffed, but he pushed himself up slightly and pressed his nose against Sasuke’s. “Next, is a place meant for…fonder memories,” he said. “Where I met those you hold dear.”

When the space in front of him emptied, Sasuke’s jaw stiffened and he looked towards the ground pensively. His family memorial site. It had to be. Sasuke had introduced Naruto to his family there, hadn’t he? But Sasuke wouldn’t really describe the memories that place brought him as fond.

But Naruto was right. It was meant for them.

He pushed himself up, glanced one last time out at the Forest of Death, and made his way home. Sure enough, Naruto was in the middle of his family’s plot, standing just before the gravestones of his parents and brother. He had lit the lanterns already, and Sasuke noticed he was just finishing placing an offering and lighting incense at the base. There were fresh flowers in the vases, matching the peonies and primrose Naruto had twisted about his head all evening. Sasuke swallowed and stepped closer, circling around him.

Before he could find his voice Naruto stood, turning and pushing a small bouquet of flowers into his fingers. “The last one is more difficult,” Naruto whispered, holding onto his hands firmly. “Are you ready?”

Sasuke nodded, staring into that blue gaze he’d become so attached to. Naruto loosened his grip, running his fingers up Sasuke’s arms, to his shoulders and along his neck. He encased Sasuke’s face gently, and then pulled him in for a single, unbelievably gentle kiss. After, with their lips still pressed together, Naruto sighed against him and whispered, “Find me, where I lost you.”

When the clone disappeared, it caught Sasuke so off guard that he nearly fell to the ground. His feet staggered forward, and his heartbeat thundered in his chest. He stared at the ground searchingly, realizing there was only one place Naruto could possibly mean, but it would take him time to get there. Nearly a day, if he moved quickly. He breathed in deeply and gazed towards the north. It didn’t really matter how far it was. If Naruto wanted him there, he would go.

He paused only to place the flowers in the single remaining empty vase, and then stepped inside his house to pack a few items for the journey. On a whim he tied his sword about his waist, but didn’t waste time changing, setting out on foot immediately.

He would find Naruto. Of that he was certain. And this time, he would be the one to bring him home.


The sun hadn’t quite set when Sasuke saw the statues lining the falls at the Valley of the End. Even from a distance he could see Naruto’s form sitting atop the giant figure of Hashirama. Sasuke slowed his pace, approaching from the other side, finally pausing atop Madara’s statue as he took a moment to study Naruto carefully.

He was still dressed in his kimono as well, and he had a beautiful fox eye mask tied about his head. Sasuke was glad he’d had the foresight to disguise himself even for this short journey. Though his eyes were closed, Sasuke knew Naruto would recognize his presence, and sure enough he turned his head towards Sasuke shortly after and stood. He untied his mask, tossing it to the side carelessly before meeting Sasuke’s gaze.

“You found me.”

“Of course.”

Naruto smirked, tilting his head to the side as he studied Sasuke from head to toe. “Expecting a fight?”

“I wasn’t sure.”

Naruto stared at him, strangely quiet. Sasuke felt as though he could see right into his soul. That all of his nerves and worries were on display. But he held his stance and waited.

After some time, Naruto voiced, “Taijutsu only. No chakra, no sharingan. I’ll make an exception for kusanagi.” and Sasuke raised his eyebrow in return. It wouldn’t be a fair fight at all. He’d easily win. Although Sasuke would be sacrificing his sharingan, Naruto would be surrendering his greatest asset, pure chakra power, while still granting Sasuke use of one of his strongest skills.

“And you may block with light weapons,” Sasuke insisted. It would hardly be a fight if Naruto was unable to even defend himself. Naruto pursed his lips and hummed in agreement, and Sasuke regarded him curiously before nodding in return.

He didn’t quite understand.  Why would Naruto set himself up for such a loss? He knew Sasuke was a skilled swordsman. He knew that in such a direct traditional style fight, Sasuke would beat him in speed, technique, and strength. It didn’t make any sense.

He jumped across to the other statue then, his haori billowing out behind him as he landed just in front of Naruto. He looked down at him, recalled the last time they had met in such a similar way.  While he was still under Orochimaru’s control. Though this time there were a few slight differences. Like the way Naruto watched him, gaze open and trusting, his posture relaxed, if a bit jittery with excitement. And there was the lightness in Sasuke’s heart. The pure affection he felt, looking down at the man he’d chosen to live out his life with. The urge to protect, to comfort, and to hold. It was so very different from the intense need to destroy that had once consumed Sasuke’s every waking moment.

He drew his sword, and Naruto stepped back and crouched, twisting a kunai between his fingers as he prepared for an attack. The two of them stared at each other, forms thrumming with anticipation and energy only the two of them possessed. Each waiting for the other to make the first move.

Sasuke charged and Naruto reacted instantly.

He chased Naruto backwards, down the slope of Hashirama’s form and across the bumpy terrain surrounding the water. Their footsteps were light as they strode over rocks and grassy soil. Speed was Sasuke’s friend as he caught up to Naruto quickly. He lunged forward, and Naruto dodged to the side, but it gave Sasuke a chance to swing. His blade clashed with Naruto’s kunai, both weapons slicing through the air as they twisted about each other in more of a dance than a battle.

Once upon a time Sasuke had thought Naruto’s fighting to be clumsy and unrefined, but now, after years of training, it was elegant in its own way, while retaining an edge like no other. Sasuke found himself smiling as the two of them swapped blows, kicking out at each other and dodging side to side. Naruto was unpredictable in a way that no other shinobi could hope to achieve. His movements often confused his opponents, and Sasuke was no exception. When Naruto swayed against his body’s natural flow, edging around Sasuke to kick at him with a sandal covered foot, Sasuke gasped and responded quickly, laughing as he reached up to snag Naruto by the ankle. He expected him to twist away, but instead Naruto leaped at him, launching his body up at Sasuke’s torso. The two of them fell to the ground and grappled against each other before regaining their footing.

They panted and grinned as they circled one another like two lions fighting over their territory.  Sasuke twisted the hilt of his sword in sweaty fingers, eager to begin again. It was always a rush. No one else could make him feel this alive, and Sasuke revelled in it. He became a little more reckless, a little less refined.

Naruto bared his teeth tauntingly and egged him on.  A challenge Sasuke was all too willing to face head on. The second time he lunged, Naruto ducked low, attempting to trip him, but Sasuke was ready for it. He jumped in the air, landing behind Naruto as he swung his sword quickly. Naruto blocked it in the nick of time. The blades clanged loudly, and Naruto skirted away, running along the rocks lining the cliff side. Sasuke chased after him, and eventually Naruto was forced to defend once again, the two of them exchanging blows as the waterfall behind them crashed into the river below.

The rocks were slippery, dusted with water from the falls, and Sasuke took care as he parried and swung, making sure his feet landed securely. He watched Naruto’s form stutter a bit, but he was moving as confidently as ever, crouching low to jump from rock to rock. He was no match for Sasuke’s form with a blade however, and eventually it started to show. His blocks became more desperate, his dodges less quick. Sasuke pressed forward, then with a final swing of his sword Naruto staggered back and landed slightly off kilter. His feet flew out from beneath him, and he cried out as his body tilted back over the falls. Sasuke’s heart thundered in his chest, and he reacted instantly, reaching out to tug at Naruto’s robes and hold him firmly in place. The two of them stared at each other in surprise, frozen as one of Naruto’s sandals fell down into the rough waters below, his body hanging precariously over the edge of the falls. Sasuke glanced into wide blue eyes, and then tugged Naruto against his body hurriedly as he pulled him away from the edge.

“Idiot!” he shouted, and his free hand clenched tightly in the fabric bunched against Naruto’s lower back. “You nearly fell to your death!” He could feel Naruto’s heavy intakes of air, the small tremors in his arms as he clung back just as tightly. Sasuke let out a hefty sigh and dragged his fingers through Naruto’s hair. He massaged his scalp for a few minutes, until both of them had calmed down. “You’re too careless,” he muttered, pulling back slightly to meet Naruto’s gaze.

“That’s what I have you for,” Naruto said. He smiled softly, and Sasuke swallowed and tightened his hand at the back of Naruto’s neck as gentle fingers slid beneath the flap of his own kimono. Naruto’s touch felt like electricity across his skin, and Sasuke shivered. He saw the absolute trust in Naruto’s gaze, not a hint of fear, despite the fact that he’d come close to tumbling to his death. They were shinobi, but they weren’t invincible. And yet Naruto didn’t seem worried at all. As though he fully expected Sasuke to protect him in those moments he could not protect himself. Just as Sasuke expected Naruto to be there at his side for every brush with death.

Sasuke sighed, leaning down to touch their noses. His sword was still clenched tightly between his fingers, but his will to fight had long dissipated. “Do you concede?”

At first Naruto looked ready to disagree. His expression darkened, and he glared at Sasuke stubbornly, because of course Naruto would never surrender in a battle. He’d fight Sasuke to the death if needed. Had done so several times before. But he blinked suddenly, expression changing to something more thoughtful in mere seconds. Sasuke frowned when Naruto looked down, pout morphing into a barely there grin. His gaze deepened, and he looked up at Sasuke beneath lowered lashes sultrily. “You win this round teme,” he breathed, lips grazing against the edge of Sasuke’s chin. “So take your prize.”

Sasuke was certain his body went up in flames.

He growled, immediately dropped his sword, and pulled him in.

They kissed deeply, mouths never separating as Sasuke walked Naruto backwards toward softer ground. He kicked off his footwear on the way, yanked at Naruto’s obi, tossing it away from them as he pushed the robe over his shoulders. Those beautiful freckled shoulders. Sasuke kissed them too. He Sucked along Naruto’s collar bone, up the side up his neck and towards the base of his ear. Naruto writhed against him, his garments slowly falling away as Sasuke worked them free of his body.

When Naruto was before him, completely naked, Sasuke just stood and looked at him. He’d seen him like this hundreds of times now, but the sight never failed to take his breath away. Only this time Naruto was his. His husband. His life partner. Forever. Sasuke swallowed against the nerves overtaking him. He suddenly didn’t know what to do with his hands. He wanted to touch him, but remained frozen in place, taking in the beautiful sight of Naruto over and over again.

Naruto stepped closer, reaching out his fingers for Sasuke’s robe. It was a hesitant gesture. Sasuke could see that Naruto was just as nervous, the way he fumbled the fabric between shaking hands. But he stood still while Naruto started to untie his clothes. Soon enough his pants were open, shirt hanging loosely about his frame, robe still slumped over his shoulders when Naruto reached to stroke him. He gripped Naruto’s ass in one hand, tugging him close as he moaned at the feeling of Naruto’s fingers wrapped around his cock.

It felt good. Good enough to get off to. But Sasuke had other things in mind. He pushed Naruto’s hands away and yanked him down atop the grass.

“Ah! You didn’t let me finish!”

“I know. Can’t wait anymore,” Sasuke hissed. And then he was all over him. Dragging his fingers over Naruto’s entire body. He kissed his belly, continued a trail of light touches downward, licking at the head of Naruto’s cock as he pushed apart his legs and knelt between them. Sasuke touched his inner thighs, dragged his thumbs up slowly, inching ever closer to his entrance. When they grazed the sensitive skin there he was surprised as his fingers sank into Naruto’s wetness. He was prepped and ready. Already open and waiting for Sasuke to have him.

Sasuke groaned.

He looked up, catching sight of the darkened blush on Naruto’s cheeks. “You never intended to win.”

Naruto huffed, but avoided his gaze, and Sasuke knew he was right. Naruto had planned this. Had planned to challenge Sasuke. Had known he would lose. All so he could give himself to Sasuke as a prize. It was so out of character. So odd for Naruto to premeditatedly give in like that, to completely surrender to him like that. They were both extremely competitive. Both took an incredible amount of pride in their strength and victories. Naruto may have submitted to him sexually more often than not, but to intentionally submit in a sparring match? That was a whole different level of trust.

Sasuke…felt a bit overwhelmed. He clenched his fingers into the ground and swallowed against the burning moisture that threatened to drip from his eyes. Why…why was he so…

“Sasuke?”

“Give me a second,” Sasuke whispered. He ducked his head, gazed at the vast expanse of gorgeous skin laid out before him, even as Naruto eyed him worriedly. His fingers just barely grazed the side of Naruto’s thighs, and he found himself itching with an unbearable urge. He wanted to give Naruto everything. The world, if he could have managed to do so. He wanted to take him anywhere he could dream of, and he supposed in a way he could with the sharingan. But it felt too contrived in that moment. He was with the one he’d hurt the most, in the place he’d hurt him, being offered the greatest gift he could imagine and hadn’t even remotely earned.

“You’re staring,” Naruto mumbled.

“I am.”

Naruto frowned, but instead of questioning it further he sat up and shuffled into Sasuke’s lap. He leaned in close and kissed Sasuke’s nose, reaching up to press his thumb between his brows. “Teme, stop thinking so hard, your face is scrunching up and it looks weird.”

Sasuke couldn’t help but snort. It was impossible to believe that just a few years earlier he had been sitting in a lair, completely controlled by his anger, nothing but hatred in his heart. The pain he had felt then. The sadness, the regret, lying alone in a room, wishing he could turn back time and make a different choice. 

“What?” Naruto wondered.

“I’m…I’m not very good at…,” Sasuke struggled. He sighed and ran his fingers up Naruto’s back, taking in that open blue gaze. “I care for you so very much. Saying…’I love you’, doesn’t feel like enough.” Naruto’s eyes widened, then moistened, and he paused, simply sitting in Sasuke’s lap. “Thank you,” Sasuke quietly added.

“For what?”

“For never giving up on me.”

Naruto pursed his lips then, his face scrunching up as well. He nibbled at his lower lip, and picked at his fingers. “Thank you…for coming back, for choosing me.”

“It’s always been you Naruto. Only ever you.”

Naruto’s eyes teared up again, and he squeezed them shut, trying to stop the droplets from escaping.  He sniffled a bit but smiled, and when he opened his eyes they were watery, and bright, and filled with so much love. Sasuke pulled him even closer. Their bodies slotted together easily, and Sasuke sighed as his cock slid between Naruto’s legs. He kissed his neck, and dragged his fingers down to the crease of his ass, sliding one inside easily. Naruto tensed briefly, before slumping against his shoulder with a moan. It encouraged Sasuke to continue.

If Naruto was his prize, he would enjoy him thoroughly, and make sure he enjoyed everything in return.

His hands roamed all over Naruto’s body. He touched every inch of him, spread apart his ass and kissed him more gently than before. Ever so slowly Sasuke guided Naruto down onto his cock. It was almost too easy, the way Naruto sank down around him, how his body took all of Sasuke inside so well. Like they were destined to be together like that.

Naruto moved atop him, lifting his body languidly as he rode him. It was impossible to think that Naruto hadn’t been some kind of gift from the gods. How else could Sasuke have been allowed such happiness? He looked up at Naruto’s flushed face and body, then to the little crown of flowers around his head. Petals fell from it like raindrops, cascading around him as he rocked up and down, and Sasuke wondered for a brief moment if he was dreaming. It was far too perfect to be reality. He flashed his sharingan just to make sure it wasn’t an illusion, only to find himself even more at a loss when his vision of Naruto became that much clearer.

He knew reality. The pain it so often brought. That this could possibly be real as well, was unbelievable.

He wanted to do more, to give Naruto pleasure, but the bliss filled expression on his face told Sasuke he was more than enjoying it, so he settled for running his hands around the base of Naruto’s hips as he watched. It soon became too much.

“Naruto…tell me what to do,” Sasuke groaned. “What do you need?” Naruto didn’t answer, but he peered at him with dazed eyes and guided Sasuke’s hands across his chest. Sasuke pinched his nipples gently, running the pads of his thumbs over the pointed nubs, and Naruto gasped in response and ground against him. “You like that?”

“J-just touch me,” Naruto breathed.

“Where?”

“Anywhere.”

Sasuke dragged his hands lower in response, across Naruto’s belly, tickling at the tiny baby hairs there. He gripped him firmly, squeezing his thighs and dragging his palms up his sides. His thumbs grazed over his nipples again, and Naruto squeaked and tightened around him. It made Sasuke jerk, and he tensed and tried to ward off his climax. He’d just managed to control the urge when Naruto leaned in close, wet lips brushing against his ear.

“C-cum inside me.”

Sasuke’s entire body went rigid. He felt his throat tighten, and he gritted his teeth and choked out, “Yeah? You wanna feel that?” Naruto whined into his hair, and Sasuke smirked deviously. “You like when I fill you?”  He felt his skin flush at the words coming from his own mouth, but Naruto reacted in such a lovely way he found he didn’t much care.

He pushed Naruto away slightly and manoeuvred him down on the ground. When he thrust inside of him fully, Naruto cried out, his eyes flying open as he stared up at Sasuke in surprise. Sasuke stared right back. He took a few moments to take it all in again, studying Naruto’s body beneath the colours of the setting sun. He was every bit as gorgeous as always. Sasuke touched his cheek and ran a thumb across his lip before he grabbed one of Naruto’s legs, propping it up over his shoulder as he continued thrusting inside him. The angle allowed him to go that much deeper, and Naruto threw his head back as his hands grasped at nothing between them. Sasuke toyed with his nipples again, and then held onto one of his feet, rubbing the arch in a gentle pattern. He turned his head, bit softly at his calf, then kissed atop the red mark left behind in apology. 

“I will…but after you,” he promised, and Naruto scrunched up his brow and let out a strangled pleading noise. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you,” Sasuke said. He reached down to stroke Naruto slowly, matching the smooth timing of his thrusts. He could tell he was close. He was squirming so desperately, and leaking all over himself. But Sasuke wanted to watch him finish. He wanted to look down into his eyes as the pleasure took over his body. “Go on, let go.”

It took a few more gentle strokes to bring him to completion, and Sasuke thrust inside him slowly as he revelled in the way Naruto squeezed around him so tightly. Naruto cried out loudly, uninhibited, and Sasuke figured someone must have heard it somewhere, despite how far away they were from any of the villages.  He didn’t much care. Right now, the only thing he was concerned with was Naruto. He leaned down and pressed their lips together as he released inside of him, hiding his own moans with the kiss.

After, it was difficult to pull away. His muscles complained, and Naruto groaned as he slid from within him. In the end he chose not to move much at all, instead hovering over Naruto as he kissed across his nose and face. He watched Naruto’s blue eyes blink blearily up at him, stroked the skin just beneath them as they slowly slid shut, and then cradled his head as the tiny muscles in Naruto’s face shifted and relaxed with sleep. He was certain the love he felt in that moment went unmatched, and it struck him again suddenly that he had married this man. He had pledged himself to the serene creature resting so peacefully in his arms. And that same creature had pledged himself to Sasuke in return.

Sasuke shifted only enough so that he wouldn’t crush Naruto in his sleep, and rolled up a discarded garment to place beneath their heads. He watched Naruto well into the night. Up close he could see even the slight movement of his eyelashes on the subtle breeze, and each and every detail of his skin. Eventually Sasuke’s eyes drifted shut, and they dozed together side by side, limbs entangled beneath his kimono with the sound of the falls lulling them into pleasant dreams.


Sasuke’s muscles ached. He was hungry, thirsty, and he missed the comfort of a bed, but he had no intention of quickening his pace. Naruto strolled along at his side, for once not bouncing around or racing to get somewhere. They walked together leisurely, simply enjoying a rare moment of calm and quiet between them.

It was a comfortable silence. Sasuke found himself listening to the soft padding of their feet on the ground and the chirping of birds in the treetops above them. More often than not his attention became drawn towards Naruto. Seeing him there at his side brought him so much peace.

Sasuke had never felt happiness quite like this. He couldn’t pull his gaze away.

Naruto’s fox mask was back in place, but he still looked recently ravished, hair falling out of the braids, kimono sliding down his shoulder. The little bites and nibbles had left marks all across his skin, and Sasuke’s focus dropped slightly, to where he could see the outline of Naruto’s legs moving beneath the fabric. He knew there would be even more marks down there, more evidence of their lovemaking. He followed the vague shape of his legs down to the ground towards Naruto’s bare feet and frowned.

“Dobe.”

Naruto turned to look at him in a scandalized manner, but Sasuke merely clicked his tongue disapprovingly and whisked him up into his arms. He hoisted Naruto’s legs around his waist and glared at him. “You’ll hurt your feet walking like that.”

“Teme.”

“Idiot.”

“Bastard.”

Sasuke paused, halfway to another insult as he looked up into Naruto’s eyes. He smiled, annoyance forgotten as he was overcome with fondness. “Hn…I love you,” Sasuke said before stretching his neck to kiss the edge of Naruto’s jaw. He stood still, holding Naruto in his arms and breathing deeply as he pressed his cheek against his collarbone, and Naruto shivered and looked down at him as his shoulders and face reddened in response.

Whether it was the Mokushiroku, or the Akatsuki, or something entirely new. Whatever threats they faced, they would do it together. As a team.

Sasuke had so many regrets. He’d faced so many challenges, suffered so much pain, and pushed aside hundreds of tears in the process. Many others had done the same because of him. And perhaps it was a selfish thought. But he’d do it all a thousand times over if it meant his path always lead back to Naruto. To that specific moment in time. Exhausted and sore, with a hefty journey ahead, and holding the very definition of the sun within his grasp.