crazy_toffee (crazy_toffee) wrote,

Naruto fan-fanfic: 'Tangled up in Lace' 7/ 8 (Sasu/Naru)

Title: Tangled Up in Lace 7/8
Series: Naruto … Sakific!
Pairing: Sasuke/Naruto (… and Saki ^^U)
Rating: NC-17
Spoilers: Yes, for all things Sasuke – and Orochimaru.

IMPORTANT Notes: This is a fan-fanfic :) Based on askerian’s Lace and Strawberries, the concept of Saki is sole property of Asuka, I just took the idea out for a ride ^^U If you don’t know who or what Saki is… I’ll make it simple: it’s Sasuke dressed up a la gothic lolita. Before you attack this monster I suggest you read her three chapters, or at the very least the 3rd one, In the Rain, which is the one this story is mainly hinged upon.

Summary: I know that look. I remember those eyes.

It was the same stare that had been directed at him from above a colossal statue. It took him back to that day, years back, with a rushing waterfall between them and the end of their future straight ahead.

Warnings: For the fic as a whole: angst, plot, unromantic romance, fights, cursing, sex and lots of crossdressing.

Beta’ed by the awesome cindelius who is TOTALLY responsible for my smooth writing here.

Chapter One: Deferred
Chapter Two: Denied
Chapter Three: Doubted
Chapter Four: Debased
Chapter Five: Damaged
Chapter Six: Disarmed

Toffee says: I'M ALIVE! I was on hiatus, not dead; aren't you glad? XD Here is the next part of Tangled, thanks to all the people who stuck by me with it.

And... Yes, I DID add one more chapter. Though, it’s more like I split the last bit into two, but no one’s really against it, right? ^^U Happily, the entirety of the fic is now written down for real (not just outlined). So... chapter eight is the last one, and the epilogue will come after. For now, here is the seventh part of this twisted little saga. I hope you enjoy it as much as I liked writing it!

Chapter Seven: Dazed

It’s not asking the questions, holding the doubts in abeyance, knowing they’re there and can’t be put away, not finally, not ever, but choosing to live beyond them and to trust that life is good – that’s what real wisdom is (…)
--- David Payne

To Naruto, the trial – and that whole day – lasted a lifetime. That the council would allow Sasuke to live was completely unexpected. Naruto had been ready for the execution, as much as he’d hoped it wouldn’t happen. He’d prepared himself for the worst possible outcome, so hearing the council’s decision left him feeling strangely numb. The numbness turned into a dizzy mixture of feelings when Naruto saw Sasuke walk out of the Hokage’s office. He simply didn’t know how to deal with it.

At first, he’d been dizzily happy, so drunk on relief and unable to hold himself in that he’d found himself punching the training dummies to pieces. Then his relief gave way to silence. In the dark of the night, lying in his bed, Naruto understood that Sasuke wouldn’t be executed, that Sasuke would most likely live a very long life under the present circumstances. After having chased the bastard’s trail for more than four years, Sasuke was right beside him, and he would stay where he was. Sasuke had finally come home for good.

Naruto also thought back on why the council had considered the execution a safety hazard. It was hard for him to straighten out his feelings on the matter. The Hokage – it was hard to think of her as Tsunade-granny now – had agreed to accept Naruto’s possible loss of control as reason enough to keep Sasuke alive. Naruto wanted to believe that she’d done it because she knew how much Naruto cared about Sasuke, not because she thought it was true . . .

But she orchestrated the network that fed Sasuke false reports. She let him to be tortured. She. . .

Her decisions were not based on her personal affections. It was all about the village. Allowing Sasuke to return had been part of a greater plan. Letting him live was a safety measure.

(Do you understand me, Naruto? We have orders to kill you if there is even the slightest possibility of them having touched your seal.)

Tsunade-granny was, first and foremost, Konoha’s Hokage; even where Naruto was concerned.

Naruto had always known this, but a part of him had never fully grasped the fact that, if needs be, Tsunade might even kill him herself.

For Konoha.

And Sasuke . . . that was an even tougher topic for Naruto. Despite Sasuke being alive, none of their issues had been resolved. Quite frankly, things had been verging on disaster before Orochimaru’s attack, and now . . .

Sasuke was feeding Orochimaru information. Okay, so he did it to kill the snake-bastard, but… Sasuke really . . .

(Sasuke always made his own choices and this was just that, Naruto…)

Kakashi was right. Sasuke had spied against Konoha, he had acted upon his own wishes and had saved them, but not because that had been his original intent. It had all been about revenge, again.

Sasuke’s actions certainly merited a greater punishment. But Naruto -- as angry as he was at the Hokage -- still remembered what he’d felt as he waited for the verdict in Sasuke’s room. Even now, he couldn’t say for sure that he wouldn’t have turned on Konoha. He wanted to believe that he wouldn’t have done it, but . . .

The truth is . . . I might have.

Lee had seen this in Naruto’s face, and he had forgiven him for it all the same. But Naruto wasn’t as quick to forgive himself. It was hard to accept, but the Council, the Hokage – all of them were right. Naruto might have let the kyuubi loose, not because he didn’t love Konoha, but because he loved them too much, without loving Sasuke any less. If Konoha killed Sasuke, then---

Then I might have done what Sasuke did. I might have thrown it all away in the name of revenge.

Or maybe he wouldn’t have. Naruto wasn’t Sasuke, and there was no way of knowing what he would have done, in reality.

Sasuke, on the other hand, had not taken the news of his verdict well. Naruto was torn between surprise and disappointment. He couldn’t quite define it, but he had an inkling of why Sasuke was so angry. He wouldn’t flatter himself by believing that Sasuke was angry on his behalf because Naruto had been used as an excuse. Sasuke was too selfish for that kind of reaction. But his anger was related to the Council’s excuse concerning the Kyuubi, Naruto was certain of this.

Sasuke’s reaction might have also been related to the fact that things were still completely messed up between the two of them. Their breathless fear, the admissions, the confessions that were touches instead of words… all of those idiotic things that were torn from people in moments of desperation; they made Naruto feel foolish when he remembered them now. He didn’t even want to imagine what Sasuke felt, if he felt anything at all.

Sasuke had apologised to Naruto. He had said he was glad to return to Konoha.

I almost let him fuck me. It was an even more mundane and rattling thought. And he refused . . .

Blindfolded as he had been, Naruto had felt that it had genuinely been Sasuke that he spent that night with. Not Saki, nor some shadowy remnant of Orochimaru’s games. It had been Sasuke.

It was also Sasuke who willingly handed himself in to be executed, facing up to the consequences of his own stupid decisions. All of those actions had been thoroughly Sasuke. It had given Naruto more reason to hope that someday Sasuke could be himself, even where their relationship was concerned.

Yet now, faced with life, given a new chance . . . Naruto had thought Sasuke would come to his room that night, or the next; but, as usual, Sasuke’s mental twists were beyond Naruto’s control. The next few days passed by in a blur, and neither Sasuke, nor Saki, were seen or heard from. Before Naruto knew it, a week had passed since the trial.

In many ways, not seeing Sasuke was a relief. Naruto wasn’t sure of what to say to the bastard when they finally ran into each other. Worse still, the possibility that Saki might show up instead of Sasuke, after that one night before the trial, was unbearable. Not seeing Sasuke at least gave him some hope that. . . But the more time passed, the more Naruto realised that he might not be meeting Sasuke at all. It might even be Saki who the Hokage had saved, in the end.

* * *

The scent of sun-baked earth mixed oddly with the odour of charred buildings. It clung to the structures even days after they’d been burnt by the explosions. Naruto touched a piece of carbonised wood and rubbed his fingers together. The sharp smell of ash contrasted with the meaty, savory steam that floated through the streets where they’d set up open-kitchens to feed the currently homeless civilians. Konohamaru tiredly stirred a huge pot while Moegi spooned the broth out into the waiting plates.

There was an air of unnatural calm as Konoha picked its rhythm up again. The funeral had been like most mass-funerals were in a ninja village: rushed and raw. There was too much emotion in the air, and the service was too massive and too impersonal. Even with the historically low death-rates they had suffered, it was still painful to them all.

And that bastard didn’t even show up at the end.

That was a thought Naruto didn’t want to pursue, though. The more he wondered where Sasuke was, the more uneasy he felt. One would have expected Sasuke to be happy, or at least relieved, not to disappear completely.

. . . as if he had died.

Naruto swallowed a sigh and sat on a broken plank beside the twisted remains of a small apartment.

Are you ever going to come out? Sasuke . . .

A shadow cast itself over him, blocking the sun from his face.

“Naruto . . . could I talk to you for a minute?”

He had felt her approach. He’d stayed where he was because he had suspected she wanted to talk to him after all. “Sure thing . . . Gr---“ The word got stuck in his throat somehow, he really couldn’t push it past his lips. “Hokage-sama,” he finished lamely.

Her eyes narrowed, and Naruto regretted the pettiness of his actions, even though he couldn’t quite help himself. He pasted a winning smile over his face and beamed up at her as she sat down beside him. The smile must have looked fake, from the look in the Hokage’s eyes.

She was silent for a while, staring down at her hands irritably. Naruto kept his smile in place. “So, what brings you down from the tower? Off to get a few drinks while Shizune-san sleeps?” Naruto asked, forcing the cheer into his tone.

Tsunade smiled, a tad devilish despite the darkness in her eyes. “Insolent brat.” She paused with a superior air in her smile, clearly for effect. “I manipulated her into doing the paperwork for me. How’s that?”

Naruto whistled appreciatively and leaned back on his seat.

A few people passed them by and stared. The Hokage and the Demon Fox, lounging on the rubble of a fallen building, under the shadow of a tree: it must be quite a sight, Naruto mused.

“Shizune-neechan gets kicked around far too often,” Naruto said gravely, nodding his head. “You’ll have to lend her to me when I become Hokage.” The last statement he crowned with a cheeky grin. It was remarkably easy to fall back on their usual banter, despite all the things that had happened.

“She’ll be old and wrinkly by then, brat. Get your own assistant.”

“If you teach her your jutsu, she could at least avoid the wrinkly part.”

Tsunade’s smile widened and then faded, fragmenting into something that was almost a wince. Naruto held back a sigh. He felt too tired and drained of strength to be having this conversation. Smiling came naturally to him, so did grinning. Believing in a better way would always be his way, but right now . . . he didn’t really feel up to it.

“So . . .” Naruto pressed, kicking a pebble with his toes.

“So . . .” Tsunade agreed, bowing her head slightly.

“Have you been overworking Sakura?”

“Not really, she’s more usefully employed in keeping Lee in bed.”

“Ah . . .” Naruto’s chest shook with a brief chuckle. “That’s a challenge, if you ask me.”

“Indeed,” Tsunade murmured. “And you? Have you seen Uchiha since the trial?”

Naruto blinked once, not really taken off guard by her approach to the topic at hand, but surprised that she’d ask about---

“No. He hasn’t left his house since that day.”

“And you haven’t even tried to see him?” She goaded, a sly quirk in her eyebrows.

Naruto turned on her with a flare of temper. “Is this really what you wanted to discuss with me?”

Tsunade blinked, face impassive. Her lips thinned into a bloodless line. “No, not really.”


“So…” She agreed, looking monumentally uncomfortable.

It struck Naruto that she was probably trying to find a way to apologise to him, which would be rather difficult to do without declaring herself to be the council’s puppet, which she wasn’t. How could she apologise for something that was essentially true, even more, a decision that was strategically correct, as befitting her role?

I know you care about me, Granny, and I know why you did what you did. But it still hurts.

Naruto didn’t know how to act around her, not when he could still remember the stifling air in her office and the Councilwoman’s words. Tsunade cared about Naruto, but the Hokage . . . the Hokage was bound to protect he village, even from their own weapon.

“I’m sorry,” she said abruptly. “I don’t regret it . . . but I’m sorry, Naruto. I never wanted to---"

“I know,” he said, leaning his forearms on his knees. “I know, Gr—“ he paused for a moment, then he just ploughed on. “Granny. . . S’just the way things are.” He didn’t have the courage to look at her. As with Iruka and Kakashi, Tsunade had been a cornerstone of his childhood. With time, however, he had begun to understand just how fallible these people were. Naruto still wanted them to be proud of him, to a certain degree. He still wanted them to love him, but that was an issue he would have to take up with himself, in the confines of his own mind.

He couldn’t live life the way he wanted to and always make Iruka proud. He couldn’t claim that Kakashi didn’t care about him at all. He couldn’t expect to be Tsunade’s first priority in everything. But he could take what they gave him and be himself for them. It was a life worth living.

I wish that bastard could figure his shit out as well . . .

“Naruto-- “ Tsunade murmured, leaning a fraction towards him. Naruto did face her then, smiling sadly.

I get it. I really get it, Gran.

The smile tugged at his muscles after a while. He let out a short, mischievous laugh and let the smile slip into a grin. “I heard that Ichiraku’s reopens today.”

Tsunade blinked. Naruto’s grin widened.

“Naruto . . .” The Hokage muttered his name like a curse, sounding terribly amused all the same. “You’re not going to wheedle me into -- “

“So you really don’t love me, then!” he declared in mock horror and watched her face twist up in all sorts of funny expressions. A hearty laugh bubbled up in his chest, and Naruto didn’t do anything to stop it. “Wow . . . you really are cheap! I mean, the old pervert kept saying you were as stingy as any old lady, but that -- whoa!” He barely dodged the fist that imbedded itself in the rock behind him.

“Right. Two pork ramen coming up.”


“We’re going together, aren’t we?” She ground out, not as exasperated as she pretended to be. She looked, in fact, fit to laugh herself to tears and then some.

“Yeeess . . . but what are you going to eat?”

Life would go on for both of them, and that was enough for Naruto.

* * *

When Sasuke finally appeared, it was not in the way that Naruto expected.

He’d given up on training with the insane bastard months ago, so waiting for him at the training grounds hadn’t even been an option. It was tedious and rather pathetic for Naruto to wait at his apartment in case Sasuke showed up. He’d decided to give Sasuke space enough to think things over and to let Sasuke approach him at his own pace, so Naruto had studiously avoided going to Sasuke’s place. In truth, he’d been expecting Saki to show up at some point, so he’d taken to keeping an eye over her favourite tea houses, but no more than that. The rest of the day he spent on the training grounds, testing his chakra balance as Sakura recommended.

Occasionally, he even sparred with Lee or Neji if they showed up while he was there. Lee enthusiastically tried to prove to Naruto that nothing had changed at all, and asked him about Sasuke whenever they met. Neji never touched that topic in Naruto’s presence, but he did try to keep Naruto occupied in his own Hyuuga-esque way.

If Sasuke had died, all of these things would have happened anyway. They would all still be here for me. One day, we might have trained together like this.

It was a terrible thought, but one that Naruto found circling his mind more and more often. Sasuke’s extended absence was slowly driving him mad, he decided. It was almost as if Sasuke were gone for real, save for the pain. Naruto knew that the bastard was in his home; he could feel the distant chakra signature of both Sasuke and Kakashi. This knowledge was one of the few things that were keeping him together.

And Kakashi…

It was childish, but it rankle Naruto’s nerves that Sasuke would choose Kakashi over him to sort himself out. After all that had happened, after Naruto spent that last night with him and even offered to betray Konoha for him . . . Sasuke hadn’t even deigned to appear since the trial. Naruto had practically spelled out the soppiest love confession in the history of shinobi relationships, and Sasuke just---

Fuck, don’t think about that, idiot. Just . . . don’t.

It took him a few minutes to get his chakra back under control.

With all of this on his mind, Naruto had not expected Sasuke to reappear in the training grounds, and certainly not by kicking Naruto’s face in, out of nowhere.

* * *

“I can’t believe you didn’t see that coming.” Sasuke’s voice held no disbelief whatsoever. In fact, he sounded positively smug. “That’s just . . . so like you, dead-last.”

Naruto blinked up at the sky for a few moments. There was blood in his mouth, and his ears were still ringing from the force of that blow. A disconcerting emotion came over him and Naruto sat up, turning slowly toward Sasuke’s voice.

No way, bastard . . . Is that really . . . is it really . . . ?

Hope swelled in him like a tide, dragging his feelings to the fore. It sounded like Sasuke, it smelled like Sasuke. Not Saki. Not Saki. Naruto’s heart picked up a hammering pace, making his chest twinge.

Not her, not her, not ---

“You . . . bastard . . .” Naruto got to his feet, feeling a dazed smile crawl over his face. He dusted his knees to give himself a moment to regroup, and only then did he really see Sasuke’s face. Naruto’s half-formed smile froze in place.

Sasuke looked terrible. His face was deathly pale, and there were dark rings under his eyes. But his eyes . . . There was no taunting superiority, no mocking anger. Sasuke’s voice was the same as always, but his eyes were not. It wasn’t even the sharingan that got to Naruto, it was the depthless, overwhelming flatness that stared back at him. Sasuke wasn’t angry, he wasn’t taunting . . . he was unnaturally, chillingly furious, and cold to it all the same.

“Sasuke,” Naruto said lowly. “What the hell…” he wiped the blood off his mouth and spat on the ground. “ . . . was that?

“An opening strike, idiot. What else?” Again, those familiar tones, with the completely wrong look in his eyes. Naruto had thought he would be beside himself with joy if Sasuke ever showed up as himself, instead of Saki. He had waited so, so very long for this. To fight Sasuke again, to scuffle with him, to . . . to . . . But this wasn’t Sasuke.

This was . . .

I know that look. I remember those eyes.

It was the same stare that had been directed at him from above a colossal statue. It took him back to that day, years back, with a rushing waterfall between them and the end of their future straight ahead.

“Opening . . . ?” Naruto mumbled, trying to piece the situation together in vain.

Sasuke sneered and shifted his legs to a more aggressive position. “Yes, moron, an opening strike. So get your act together and fight me.”

Naruto blinked. He had certainly wanted to fight Sasuke for so long, but those eyes . . . it was just wrong. Alarms were going off in his head. “Fight you?”

“Are you deaf as well as retarded?” Sasuke growled amicably, voice level. He pushed forward suddenly, giving Naruto barely a moment to dodge. “Fight me, Uzumaki!” Sasuke’s swinging fist tore a strip of his orange pullover.

Naruto stumbled back, barely managing to gather a truly defensive stance before Sasuke came at him again. Naruto felt the hair on his arms stand up as Sasuke’s hands crackled with barely contained electricity.

Oh hell. What the fuck is this?

“What on earth is wrong with you, bastard?” Naruto cried, dodging another blow that almost clipped him on the shoulder. The earth cracked where Sasuke landed.

“I’m finishing this today.”


“The hell?” Naruto roared, using the momentum of a spin to throw a backwards kick at Sasuke’s ribs. Sasuke leaped out of range and smiled belittlingly.

“Pathetic,” he declared, and then he winked out of sight. Naruto took a step back, trying to figure out where Sasuke had moved to. The next blow landed on his face before he could even spot Sasuke’s shadow. It threw him back, making him skid on the hot earth. A cloud of dust rose around them; through it, Naruto could see Sasuke’s flat stare. “Let’s finish this, so that I don’t owe you any more favours.”

Naruto spat out blood. One of his teeth felt wiggly and loose. “What the hell are you talking about, you shit!?”

“Did you plead much for my life?”

It took Naruto a few moments to make sense of the question. When it finally clicked, his stomach dropped to his ankles and froze there. “ . . . What?”

“Was it hard to get them to agree? Did you go there and threaten to destroy everything if they didn’t let me live? Or did you just threaten to side with another village?”

Naruto’s blood ran cold. “Don’t you dare---“

“You’re full of shit, Naruto! So much for ‘facing up to the consequences’ or ‘living my life’. The second I turn my back, you’re interfering again!

“Do you honestly think I’d threaten my own village like that?” Naruto demanded in a rough-voiced whisper. The muscles on his back twitched painfully, and he barely kept himself from lashing out like a beast.

“Wouldn’t you?”

“Not Konoha!”

Sasuke laughed. “Truly?”

“I’m not a traitor like you!” The words fell like pebbles into a dark lake. Sasuke sucked in a long breath and said nothing for a few minutes. There were no traces of laughter on his face now, and Naruto was thankful for that. That laugh was just so much like Sasuke’s laughter back then, in the Valley…

Sasuke raised a brow and said: “You offered to betray them for me already, idiot.” Naruto’s head snapped up at Sasuke’s declaration. “That night, at my place, you suggested that we run away and leave them all behind.” Sasuke’s voice lacked inflection, and his eyes were polished stone. “So, had you already negotiated my release and reeled in the extras, or did you do it after I left?”

Anger churned in Naruto’s belly. “I didn’t buy you your freedom, you ass. I had nothing to do with that.”

I didn’t want to lose control. I never would have wanted to . . .

“Fuck you, I don’t believe that.”

“Then fuck yourself! Do you honestly think I’d use that as leverage!? You’re out of your mind!” Naruto swung his arm out, casting a kunai in Sasuke’s direction.

Sasuke dodged the blade expertly and fixed his dark stare onto Naruto once more. “Am I? Isn’t this whole thing about you and the kyuubi? Hasn’t it always been?”

Naruto licked his lips. “You’re insane…”

“When Itachi came here, it was for you. Doubtless, Kakashi was assigned to Team 7 because of you. You were what Akatsuki wanted, what Orochimaru wanted to defeat. You’re that Frog-fuck’s prize student, and the only reason they’re letting me live is because of you.” Sasuke took a ragged breath. “Well . . .”

(So you’re special . . .)

“I’m fed up with you!” Sasuke’s voice cracked with the force of his raging cry.

(But I’m more special than you!)

Naruto’s fists shook as he balled them. “I didn’t do any of that to you.”

“No, you just want to be my ‘reason to live’, right?” Sasuke smiled darkly. “Everything is about you, and you want to make it even more about you, and . . . I’m sick and tired of this crap!”

Naruto shivered. “You think you’re the only one who’s tired? How do you think I feel, fucker?”


Naruto closed his eyes for an instant. “Asshole.”

They stood in silence, staring at each other.

Then, Sasuke seemed to shake himself. He flexed his knees and gave Naruto a challenging stare. “Enough talk. Fight me, and let’s finish this.”

“Why are you doing this?”

Sasuke smirked. “Didn’t you say you wanted me back? Well here I am, Uzumaki.” Sasuke spread his arms mockingly. “Have at.”

“Why are you doing this!” Naruto roared.

“Didn’t I just tell you?” Sasuke murmured chillingly. “I want to end this once and for all.”

No you don’t.

“No, tell me the truth,” Naruto growled.

Sasuke’s eyebrow twitched. “You really are deaf, aren’t you?”

You’re lying. You’re not trying to kill me at all.

Sasuke was angry, but not for the reasons he was voicing. He was pissed over Naruto being the excuse that saved him. He was angry because it was probably yet another event of a long list of events in his life that he’d had no control over. Then again, when Sasuke did take control of things . . .

(You can’t even deal with me . . .)

But it wasn’t that Naruto was the reason he had lived . . . No, Sasuke was insanely furious because . . .

. . . because he’d lived, period.

You . . . bastard.

“Fight me, Naruto! Or are you chickening out at last?”

That’s it, isn’t it? You really. . . really expected to die.

“Are you that weak, dead-last? Fight me!”


“I’m tired of you being the ultimate excuse for everything in my life -- ”

I made Saki . . .

“ -- you’re just screwing me over to get whatever you want!”

And Kakashi killed Itachi. Because you chose to save me instead.

“Am I that good a fuck, Naruto?”

But you chose that on your own, you can’t ask me to make it up to you…

“Tell me! Did you crawl over to Tsunade and threaten her because you were afraid you’d never get laid again?”

. . . and now you’re just trying to get me to fight you . . .

“Who would want to fuck the village monster, right!?”

. . . because you know I wanted you to live, above all else.

(I won’t stop hurting you, Naruto. I don’t think I can…)

(Sasuke is a predictable person, Naruto, whether you believe this or not)

Sasuke was angry because Naruto had taken something from him, and what Naruto had taken was . . .

A suitably honourable death.

Naruto closed his eyes, drowning out Sasuke’s voice.

He could still feel Sasuke’s skin under his fingers, that erratically beating heart. He could still hear the soft sounds of pleasure, the shaking of those pale limbs as he touched them. Sasuke’s fingers were still on his face, eyes still searching his as he said . . .

(I’m sorry, Naruto. I . . . )

With his eyes full of light, ready to face death, Sasuke had said . . .

(I was really glad to come back, in spite of it all.)

And that was probably the truth, which Sasuke had only been able to utter because he was certain that that would be the end. He had thought he would never have to own up to that moment of terrifying honesty. Sasuke hadn’t just expected to die . . . he had wanted it, rather than face the mess of his own life.

The knowledge that he had to dress in drag to be able to express his own feelings and desires; the fact that he had betrayed everything he loved for a vendetta he hadn’t been able to carry out on his own; to know that he probably loved all the things he’d left behind; that he was a pawn to this village; that Kakashi would probably never forgive him . . . that Naruto could hardly forgive him -- all of those things were the truths of Sasuke’s life, the results of his choices.

When Naruto had told him to face the consequences, he had not expected Sasuke to take it to the next level, but Kakashi was right; Sasuke was predictable. Sasuke had probably decided to take Orochimaru down and die a warrior’s death. It would have been a suitable death, but the poison didn’t kill him, and Konoha didn’t execute him.

A grand finale for the Uchiha clan and their story of blood and murder . . . except that it didn’t happen.

Sasuke had lived.

And there he stood now, shaking with fury, blaming it all on Naruto, because Naruto was the only thing Sasuke had, the one thing that kept him afloat, time after time. Because Naruto loved him and Sasuke didn’t even know how to deal with that, not without hurting both of them. Not without putting on girls’ clothes so they could at least pretend that there was no Valley of End between them.

“You coward,” Naruto hissed.

Sasuke’s shoulders snapped back. “What did you call me?”

“I called you a fucking coward, Uchiha,” Naruto repeated. “That’s what I said.”

Sasuke reached behind himself and pulled out his katana. His sword-arm was still wounded, so he shifted the blade to the other hand. “Come here and let me show you just how scared I am.”

“Everybody is scared, you fuck! It’s just that not everyone backs down like you do!”

Sasuke took a step forward. “Mind explaining yourself before I spill your guts on the arena?” Sasuke intoned icily, moving like an uncoiling snake.

“If you want to die that badly, then just slit your own fucking throat!” Naruto roared in anger. “But leave me out of it!” His voice fell. “Just leave me out of it already.”

Sasuke face had taken on a sickly pallor. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I know you, Sasuke. Even when you claim you don’t know yourself, I know you.” Naruto’s eyes stung, but not with tears. It was a burning rage that flashed in his eyes. “I would know you if you dressed up as a fishwife and not a sexy goth chick.” Sasuke shivered, mouth pulling down in a grimace. “And I’m not letting you take the easy way out. You lived, so deal with it; deal with all of it. Dying is pointless. You want to honour your family? Then live, damnit!”

“What would you know about honouring a family? You don’t even have one.”

The barb didn’t even manage to hurt as much as it should have. “Yes I do. I have a huge, whopping family. You’re the most important part of it . . . but you’re not the only one there,” Naruto stated, watching Sasuke’s eyes unthaw, going from nothing to black rage.

“Live for them? You think my parents would be happy about me fucking the kyuubi vessel? Do you think shacking up with you will help me perpetuate my family line? The last Uchiha, dressed up like a high-maintenance slut and putting out for a monumental idiot like you?” Sasuke laughed suddenly, a bitter sound. “Yeah, my parents would love that.”

Naruto put his kunai away. Sasuke’s eyes followed the movement with increasing fury. “I think they would content themselves to know you’re alive and happy.”

“Oh yes, my father would just love that.” Sasuke’s voice was savagely hoarse. “And you think I’m happy?”

“I think -- “ Naruto took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh. “That you could be, if you’d let yourself stop dicking around. You don’t have to pay for their deaths. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Like the Kyuubi’s killings weren’t yours?” Sasuke drawled.

Naruto shrugged. “Life will still go on. We’ll both be here tomorrow, and the day after. What I feel for you . . . will still be there next year. And it’ll probably still . . . ten years from now.”

Sasuke had stopped moving, and his fingers now shook on the hilt of his katana.

Naruto let go of a breath, it left him feeling even hollower. “If you really can’t live your life, if it’s that terrible . . . then . . . fine,” he spat. “Kill yourself. End your own life on your own terms, but don’t come bitching to me because you couldn’t die with all the theatrics you would have liked. It’s true, I wanted you to live, but I didn’t plead for you, I’m as much under watch as you are. So, if you really can’t go on and face your own mistakes . . . then sure, go ahead. You have a shiny-sharp thing right there. Just leave me out of it.”

His head felt light as he started to walk. Sasuke stared down at the sword and then back up at him. He called out to Naruto: “So, what’s this . . . you’re finally giving up?” There was something unsteady in his smirk; something was breaking in his eyes.

Naruto’s shoulders slumped. “No, I could never do that. But I can’t pull you up if you don’t reach out, bastard. The question is . . . are you giving up?”

Sasuke was very, very quiet.

Naruto shrugged again. He turned his back on Sasuke so that he wouldn’t see the look in his eyes. “If you’re still around later today, I’d like to take you out for dinner.”

“Fuck you.”

“Only if you bend over, Uchiha.”

“Do you like fucking girls with boots so much?”

“No, just you.” Naruto turned to look over his shoulder and smiled helplessly. “I’d do you with the clothes you’re wearing now much more gladly, though.”

“Screw you, Uzumaki.”

Naruto simply walked away.

* * *

The next few hours were a nightmare. Naruto paced around his apartment, trying to calm himself down as he stared morosely at the clock on the wall. No one came to tell him terrible news, and he dared to think that maybe, this once – just this once – things didn’t have to end in disaster.

I don’t feel guilty, I don’t. Damnit! He deserved to hear it!

It was way past time for Sasuke to pull his head in. It was time for someone to lay things on the table for him.

It was time for me to draw the line . . .

The only other person who could have confronted Sasuke on this was Kakashi, and Naruto doubted the older jounin would give it a try. As much as Kakashi cared for Sasuke, there was still a good deal of bad blood between them; Kakashi was not as quick to take the teacher’s role as he was once, in the past. Of the people that could approach Sasuke, that left Naruto, but as much as Naruto cared for Sasuke, even he had limits.

I can’t keep dragging you back all the time, not if you fight me on it.

Naruto knew what he wanted, and it pained him that Sasuke was so steadfastly against it. Naruto didn’t want to become Sasuke’s anchor, he just wanted – wished for – Sasuke to find his own balance.

We just picked radically different dreams, didn’t we?

Naruto had wanted to be acknowledged. His quest had been for a place in life, a place to call his own. Sasuke had set out to take revenge for the life that was stolen from him, and he had never bothered to look beyond that final blow. Sasuke’s entire life had been revenge, and his very self was defined by it.

It wasn’t really surprising that such a man could find no reason to live now.

But life goes on, bastard, and as long as one hopes . . . if one keeps on believing . . . then there will always be a tomorrow. So please try and believe in it for once. If you can’t believe me, then at least . . . just . . .

Don’t give up.

The hours stretched on, ticking away into silence.

You're not obligated to win. You're obligated to keep trying to do the best you can every day.
--- Marian Wright Edelman

Comments really REALLY make me happy. They also give me an awesome writing-boost. What? Since when do hints have to be delicate?

That aside, I would really like to give a serious and honest thanks to all the people who have taken the time to comment on that they liked, what they didn't like, or just to tell me they read this. It has been wonderful to see what you all think, and it made this story so much more enjoyable to me as well.

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