crazy_toffee (crazy_toffee) wrote,

Naruto fan-fanfic: 'Tangled up in Lace' 5/6 (Sasu/Naru)

Title: Tangled Up in Lace 5/6(7?)
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: "Let me love you, as you want me to, you twisted bastard. He didn’t say it though; and the other thing he didn’t say was: I love you, which was also very true, even though he might never get to say it the right way. But even now – or perhaps, now more than ever – it was the truth.

Now, at last, he though he was seeing a bit of the true Sasuke."

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

Toffee says: Oh look, I still don't know if I have one or two chapters left. *sigh* Well, at least this one's REALLY done! (because, truly, there's a limit to how much you can reread something before you turn purple, or IT turns purple XD) Many many thanks to all the people who've reviewed so far, you make me want to polish this fic and tweak it the best I can. :)

Also, special extra-thanks to the lovely cindelius for beta-ing the previous chapters. They now read better because of her!

Chapter One: Deferred
Chapter Two: Denied
Chapter Three: Doubted
Chapter Four: Debased

Chapter Five: Damaged

The Grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.
-- Allan K. Chalmers

Sound echoed around him, metallic and strange, it turned clearer as he gradually became aware of it. Naruto licked his lips and groaned half-heartedly, a stiff ache protested any movement of his. Naruto knew this feeling and detested it, there was nothing worse than the horrible complaints made by his body after being healed from particularly deep wounds. After some internal debate he settled for fighting his eyelids open.

“I think he’s coming round…” Sakura’s voice, most definitively. Naruto frowned and forced his eyes to open.

“S’kura… chan?” He mumbled, wincing as a ray of unfairly bright sunshine speared his pupils. He moved uncomfortably under the sheets, the ache in his limbs receded somewhat as he found a better position.

“Naruto, you---“

Tsunade cut Sakura off, stepping directly into his line of sight. “I should have you executed just for being an idiot.”

If his body hadn’t been one big mass of aches and pains he might have argued more strongly. He wiggled his fingers to make sure they were all in place and managed a slightly contrite smile. The best he could muster was a hopeful: “Tsunade-granny..:”

“Don’t ‘Tsunade-granny’ me, you brat! And you too, Sakura, stop grinning! Stop grinning I said!” Sakura’s smile was nothing short of ecstatic and Naruto feared she would throw herself into his arms. The intensity of her happiness made him distinctly uncomfortable, it was too revealing and too personal and the room was positively crowded.

“Tsunade-sama, Naruto’s fine… just a bit banged up, but he has healed most of the damage already and nothing happened. No Sound-nin managed to tamper with him,” another voice piped in, equally effusive. Naruto flushed, unsure of what to do with so many people fussing over him, enthusing over his health.

“Shizune, don’t you dare take their side on this.”

What… happened exactly? His memories of the battle were, at best, disjointed; a deeply unsettling feeling rumbled in his gut.

“Man, you’re troublesome Naruto.”


(…am I being supervised?)

Naruto shook himself and sat up on the bed, shoving the pillow behind him to lean his back on the headrest. There were even more people than he had originally expected and it reminded him – disquietingly – of how they had all been consistently there when Sasuke had just returned.

“Hey Naruto, if you’re okay then… can I have those chips on your bedside table?”

“I really should have brought my camera---“ Ino smiled, leaning on her boyfriend with a cat-like grin. Naruto hadn’t expected them to be there either.

“No attack could defeat Konoha’s finest youths in the springtime of their—“

“Lee!” Tsunade snapped, turning away from Naruto for a moment. “As Hokage I ORDER you to go back to your bed and LIE DOWN”

“But Sakura-san is here---“

“Sakura, take your boyfriend and tie him down, that’s an order.”

“Ino-pig, wipe that stupid smile off your face!”

The cheerful tones everyone put on were real, but Naruto could still sense there was something else lurking underneath, a hidden shard of ice. Tsunade’s eyes in particular were alarmingly glassy. A snapshot memory scrawled itself across Naruto’s mind: Tsunade, leaning back and panting, her fist dripping with blood while Jiraiya supported her.

Orochimaru… is….?

“Oi, Naruto, we brought you ramen!” Kiba declared triumphantly, settling the warm cup right beside his table. “Hinata say’s she’s sorry she couldn’t come, by the way.”

And now Kiba is bringing me ramen. The world is coming to an end…Naruto leaned back into his pillows and smiled, “You guys are the best.” And you are terrible liars.

Again, this comment earned him a round of laughter and mockery that he might have tried to live down, if it hadn’t been just too dear to him. He loved them all, especially now, when it was obvious that they were trying to distract him from asking a very particular question. Naruto’s smile thinned and turned bitter for a moment before he managed to smooth it out again. Yes, he loved them all and their half-assed attempts at keeping him occupied.

Under any other circumstance he might have played along, just to save them the discomfort of having to face up to what they were trying to keep from him, but he needed to know. Fear was a cold hand twisting around in his guts; Sakura’s kept blinking back tears when she met Tsunade’s steady gaze.

“Guys… I’m sorry to smash the party here but… where is---?” He waved an arm vaguely, letting the question hang in the air.

Kiba’s feral smile faded into a glum stare. Tsunade seemed to freeze momentarily, then she slumped with a sigh. “Ok everyone, I’m sorry but I’ll have to ask you to leave—not you Sakura!”

Sakura flinched and gave Tsunade a bruised look. “I’ll make sure Lee’s in bed and—“

“--- Lee can do that himself, can’t you, Lee-kun?” Lee nodded sharply at Tsunade and gave Sakura an apologetic look before following everyone out of the room. Naruto’s chest tightened.

“Tsunade-granny…?” Naruto looked at Sakura from the corner of his eye, but she pointedly fussed with some towels on a cupboard, avoiding his gaze.

Tsunade gave him a long look. “Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke was released from the hospital this morning.”

Naruto’s spirits rose and fell with a crash when Tsunade’s formality registered. “…and?”

Sakura sighed, hands curling into fists. “He is in the ANBU Headquarters right now…” Sakura’s eyes fell on Tsunade as she spoke, Naruto didn’t know what to make of that look. “But, as a doctor, I think he should have been kept under observation for a while lon---“

Tsunade made a sharp, dismissive gesture that silenced her. “He was stable and that is all that was needed.”

Naruto’s mind turned in on itself. “Stable? As in… out of danger? What---“ Another image, that of Sasuke retching a thing dribble of green oil, the pungently herbal scent of it… “He was shaking badly during the battle, and he threw up this weird green stuff… is he…?”

“Weird green stuff…? Oh… yes, of course.” Tsunade nodded to herself and rubbed her knuckles uncomfortably. “He is stable, Naruto,” Tsunade murmured. “That ‘green stuff’ was a mixture of oil and the antidote to a particularly nasty poison.”

“Poison!?” Naruto cried, struggling to get up. “He was poisoned by someone?” Sakura put a hand on his arm and shook her head.

“Uchiha Sasuke poisoned himself, Naruto,” Tsunade muttered, frowning deeply.

“He… what!?

“Though it happened merely by accident, I believe.” Tsunade went on. “We also found traces of that same poison in Orochimaru’s bloodstream.” Her voice was cool and collected, so much so that Naruto could feel the unnatural cadence of it.

Poison in Orochimaru’s….? And Sasuke threw up the antidote… that’s… Naruto’s mind stopped and he breathed in sharply. “The senbon.”

Tsunade nodded approvingly. “Yes, indeed. We found a needle-mark on Orochimaru’s throat, the point of entry for the poisoned needle.”

“I saw Sasuke shoot it. He drew Orochimaru in and shot it. He…” He pretended to fish for a weapon under his shirt to throw the snake off. “He spat it into his throat.”

Tsunade appeared thoughtful for a moment and Sakura – who’d been oddly quiet up to then – turned on Tsunade with a look of profound hope in her eyes. Naruto shivered; he had an inkling of what was going on and it was scaring him breathless.

“I saw him shoot it,” he defended staunchly.

Tsunade nodded and bit her lower lip. “That was already factored in, but it is good to have visual confirmation. Apparently Uchiha coated his mouth and throat with a mixture of oil and antidote to be able to hold the poisoned needle without being affected… much. It was a strong poison.”

“How strong?” Naruto demanded, sitting up straighter.

Very strong, Naruto.” Sakura replied softly. “Strong enough to seriously harm Orochimaru.” These last words were spoken while staring at Tsunade. The Hokage, however, turned her back on Sakura.

“But he’s okay, isn’t he?” Naruto growled, chilled by the interaction between these two women whom he knew so well.

“He is stable,” Tsunade punctuated.

Naruto clenched his hands on the sheets. “Then why was he released if he was only just stabilised?”

Sakura’s shoulders shook. “Naruto… it seems that Sasuke was in contact with Orochimaru...”

(Once a traitor, always a traitor, or so goes the saying)


(If he does turn coat, or even dares to look like he will, all Konoha-nin have strict orders to take him down)

“Naruto---“ Sakura sighed, clutching a towel to her chest. “So far, the evidence is undeniable. Sasuke was taken by the ANBU to determine if this was really true… or not.”

“And why,” Tsunade added, giving Sakura a pointed stare. Sakura’s lips turned upwards and Naruto realised that – at some point during the argument – she’d exacted a small victory from the Hokage.

Why he communicated with Orochimaru…? If the Hokage pointed out that there would be considerations over Sasuke’s reasons… had Sakura won Sasuke the benefit of a doubt? Naruto wished he was better at controlling the blatant manipulations that were going on around him.

Sasuke is in the ANBU Headquarters… with the ANBU… Naruto could hear the raggedness in his own breathing, unable to stop it. Tsunade’s eyes were torn between rage and pity. “Is he… he’s… is he going to be…?” He stared up at the Hokage in terror and she looked away.

“We will determine the order of events surrounding this matter before taking any definitive choices.”

“He helped KILL Orochimaru!” Tsunade’s eyes flashed at his outburst and Naruto remembered – oddly, disturbingly – that Orochimaru had been her teammate once. Orochimaru had been her Sasuke. “He’s not a traitor,” and realising what he’d said, Naruto amended: “Not this time.” And, gods, it sounded horrible even to his own ears.

“… Naruto,” Sakura whispered. “It’s out of our hands now, at any rate.”

“Sakura…” Naruto whispered, aghast. She bowed her head and shrugged. “Sasuke must have known the consequences he would face.”

(And now you don’t even have to guts to live with the consequences of your own decisions. That’s just pathetic, even Itachi could tell you that)

“And when will I be released?” Naruto murmured, feeling the tightness of the bandages that were wound around his head and neck.

“I would prefer to keep you here for another day or two.” Tsunade moved to the window and leaned on the sill, staring out. “But I guess you could be released right now if you want to risk it.”

Naruto didn’t know whether he should be thankful or if he should hate her. “Then I want to go now.”

“You won’t be allowed to see him. I already tried,” Sakura whispered, splaying her fingers against the cold plaster of the wall. It was slightly cracked and she traced those crevices as if to distract herself.

Naruto pushed himself off the bed and shrugged. “Still.”

“I guessed as much,” Tsunade sighed, a wistful smile on her face. Naruto looked away, discomfited by her affection when she was telling him that Sasuke might be---

He almost jumped out of his skin when Tsunade leaned forwards to stroke his hair. The gesture might have struck him as motherly, but Naruto didn’t have a mother so he didn’t place the feeling. It left him both hurt and warm inside; he gave Tsunade a confused stare.


Tsunade shrugged and smiled weakly. “Nothing, Naruto. Just....” She seemed to change her mind for a moment, then she shook her head. “Nothing. Let me check you up one last time before you run off.”

* * *

Naruto stopped in front of the plain looking building that currently housed the ANBU Headquarters. As a jounin with considerable clearance he knew for a fact that the real Headquarters were at a hidden location; these small buildings that were changed every few months or so were the tip of the iceberg, and the full extent of the ANBU organization remained a secret to all but the actual members.

As usual, Shikamaru sat in the main room, staring out the window with his chin cupped in the palm of his hand. Naruto – and all of the Rookie Nine - suspected that Shikamaru was more than a mere strategic assistant, but that was a question that would never be answered in full. For the time being - having the responsibility of a genin Team to deal with - Shikamaru did not disappear as often as he did when he was first hauled into the organization under the pretence of ‘helping out with minor details’.

Today, however, there was an edgy nervousness to Shikamaru’s ordinarily-relaxed posture; his narrowed eyes did not stare out into the distance, they were turned inwards on himself. When Naruto stepped in Shikamaru did not seem in the least bit surprised to see him; and though Shikamaru was rarely surprised by anything, Naruto felt there was a more sombre meaning to his present lack of response.

Naruto grinned forcibly. “You’re here already? You were at the hospital with me less than an hour ago…”

Shikamaru smiled thinly. “I used up my lunch-break to visit you.”

“Oh… should I be flattered?”

Shikamaru swatted Naruto’s shoulder with no real force and gave him an annoyed look. “Troublesome is how you should feel.” The familiarity was soothing, it was something he found himself holding onto, in the face of what might or might not come to pass within the next few days.

“Come on, Shika, I don’t have to feel troublesome, it’s what I am!” Naruto grinned, self-consciously adjusting one of the bandages on his hand. At least Tsunade had taken off the ones on his face and neck; his ribs hardly hurt now; Naruto judged he’d be healed by nightfall.

“And that you are…” Shikamaru breathed.

Naruto smiled but got no answering gesture. Shikamaru’s gaze was steady and careful, measuring whether to take the initiative or wait for Naruto to jump in head-first. “Naruto… I can’t let you in. You know that, don’t you?”

Naruto’s eyes flicked over to the door behind Shikamaru. “You have him here?”

“Naruto…” There was a warming in Shikamaru’s voice, a knife-edge reminder of what his own standing was where the council was concerned. “Just… don’t.” Which might mean that Sasuke wasn’t there after all, but in the real Headquarters. Or might have been a general statement regarding the way Naruto usually handled himself.

“Shika…” Naruto nibbled on his upper lip and shrugged. He wanted to say that Sasuke was no traitor, but that wasn’t true; Sasuke had betrayed both Konoha and Orochimaru already, his records did not help his situation at all. “Shikamaru, Sasuke didn’t betray us, he fought for us.”

Shikamaru sighed and tapped his foot irritably for a few minutes. “I believe that too,” he said, after a moment. Naruto’s head snapped up in surprise. “But what I believe or doubt holds no relevance with the council’s decisions. The facts are… that Sasuke was in contact with Orochimaru’s ninja before the attack.”

“I don’t believe that…”

“Sasuke confessed to it already, Naruto.” Naruto sucked in a sharp breath that cut like glass. Shikamaru moved to sit by the window and leaned back against the wall. “Having confessed to that, the best he can hope for is that his motives are taken into account.”

Naruto’s belly turned to lead. “His… motives?” The Hokage had said something on the matter, Naruto recalled; or rather, Sakura had managed to get this point taken into account. Clearly, Sakura must have known already… Naruto closed his eyes and steadied his breathing.

“I haven’t heard all of it, but, apparently, Sasuke was informed of a possible attack, thought not of a specific date.” Shikamaru’s eyes spoke volumes of his deep disapproval even when his voice was as bland as milk.

“Why didn’t he say anything..?” Naruto whispered, clenching his fists.

“That’s anybody’s guess but… I think it was because his standing with all of us was…” Shikamaru trailed off uncomfortably. “Well, the first question this would have begged for was on the veracity of his sources. Even if Sasuke didn’t contact Orochimaru himself, he still kept in touch with him… and whether it was to defect again or keep tabs on the Otokage… he still maintained the contact, knowing Orochimaru was one of Konoha’s greates enemies. Knowing it was a crime for him to do so.”

Naruto’s mind went cold and a sharp sense of clarity pierced him. “Sasuke wanted to kill Orochimaru himself.”

Shikamaru nodded shortly. “I believe so too. I also believe that Sasuke had become aware of the fact that he was under surveillance, suspected of spying; under those circumstances, he couldn’t really expect us to believe him… and to have surrendered this information would have made it impossible for him to get close to Orochimaru in the first place.”

Naruto shuddered.

Shikamaru went on. “Of course… the council has their own point: by not handing himself in and extending this information to us, he placed Konoha under a great risk, and he kept the possibility open for him to return to Sound. First and foremost though, is that he leaked information to our enemy. The problem with double-spies, Naruto, is that you can never really know for whom they were working.”

You might even have been working for yourself, bastard.. right? You wanted to take the snake down with your own hands… and perhaps not even be for Konoha, but because of what he did to you. Just like you did with Itachi. Bastard.

“… Shikamaru---“

“--- I think that’s enough, both of you.” Naruto jumped slightly and turned to face the person who’d spoken with a sense resignation. Really, he was surprised it had taken the man this long to show up, but Kakashi, as always, was better at sneaking up on someone than it was fair for anyone to be.

One deep grey eye regarded Naruto warningly. “Shikamaru, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to talk to Naruto… in private.” Naruto had the distinct impression that Kakashi’s asking for Shikamaru’s permission was some form of perfunctory politeness, something in Kakashi’s tone and Shikamaru’s lack of complaints was very… ANBU, if there’s a better way to describe it.

Shikamaru nodded - a deferential nod - and waved his hand towards the closed door that lead to the main building. “There’s hardly anyone in, today.” Which could mean anything, Naruto realised.

Kakashi put a hand on the back of Naruto’s neck, guiding him forwards. His fingers were warm through the gloves he wore – reminiscent of Saki… somehow – but they gripped his neck with a firmness that spoke of Kakashi’s own tension. As with Iruka, Naruto was now old enough to be allowed to see the true fallibility of his teachers.

The door closed behind them with a creak of finality.

Naruto pulled away form Kakashi’s hand and turned around to face him. “Kakashi-sensei, you have to talk to them! Sasuke wasn’t going to betray us, he was just going to kill Orochimaru!” If he hadn’t been set on that, he wouldn’t have put on those clothes and coated his throat with antidote… he wouldn’t have put his own life at risk if he hadn’t really meant to…

Sasuke did more than put his life at risk though, he truly could have died.

The reality of it sunk in, suddenly. Sasuke could have died under Orochimaru’s hands if his plan had failed… he could have even died from the poison, because he’d been foolhardy and reckless and Sasuke was never foolhardy unless he felt there was nothing to lose. And he had felt – Sasuke had – that he had nothing to lose, that much was clear.

Naruto’s hands shook badly and he stuck them into his jacket pockets to hide it, knowing that Kakashi could tell they were shaking. “He didn’t betray us.” It came out sounding sullen, like a boy fighting back tears. It was damnably humiliating.

Kakashi sighed lowly and moved to sit on a couch that had been set in the darkened hallway. All the doors around them were closed and a gas lamp flickered as a moth struck it repeatedly. “Sit down, Naruto.”

“He didn’t.”

“Naruto… sit down.” It was the weariness in Kakashi’s voice that got him to comply, more than anything else. “I do think you have a point and I’m not the only one… however, Sasuke’s little plan placed Konoha in considerable danger—“

“---Orochimaru would have attacked anyway!” Naruto cried, his temper getting the better of him.

Kakashi sighed again, more loudly and with considerable annoyance. “Yes, probably, which is why Konoha needed to be prepared as a community. It helps no one to have a single rogue ninja going his own way and building up his own missions. There’s a reason why we are a town, why we are separated into levels, why we are put into groups and controlled by a council. You know this Naruto, everyone does, but Sasuke… it was not his place to arbitrarily decide that Orochimaru was his to fight. Not under these circumstances.”

“Kakashi-sensei…” Naruto wanted – desperately – to defend Sasuke, but he could think of no counter-argument that could out-weight Sasuke’s offence.

“Even if he didn’t have his less than starry records… this is the kind of thing that gets a ninja demoted, or worse.” Kakashi lifted a hand to quiet Naruto’s rising outburst. “And Sasuke was well aware of all of this, Naruto. If he acted as he did… it was not in ignorance.” Naruto could hear the pain at the back of Kakashi’s voice, the depth of an emotion that was not based on disappointment but… futility. Kakashi had always liked Sasuke best, after all, and it probably pained him that Sasuke had, at the very end, felt that this was the only thing left to him.

It’s my fault, isn’t it? If I hadn’t pushed him… if I had just let Saki be… if I had let Sasuke be what he needed to be…

But Naruto had wanted more, he had wanted Sasuke, and these were the kinds of things that Sasuke did.

(…you can’t even deal with me in reality)

“Is he going to be executed?” Naruto got it past his throat in a rush. His legs felt shaky and he had to sit down beside Kakashi on the couch.

Kakashi looked up at the flickering light of the lamp and remained silent for a long while. “Probably.”

A violent shudder coursed up Naruto’s spine and he had to swallow hard because he thought he’d throw up, or cough… or something. Kakashi’s hand was on his neck again, warm and understanding, but offering no real comfort. Kakashi had not lowered his gaze from the ceiling in all this time.

“His best chance is to prove his motivations – his true intentions – were in Konoha’s best interests…”

“How will he be able to prove that?” Naruto wondered despairingly, feeling Kakashi’s fingers tighten on his neck. “It’s not like they can read his mind.”

Kakashi was very, very quite then. Naruto stiffened and turned to look at him.


Kakashi’s one eye was hard and flat when it focused back on him. “Naruto, when Sasuke came back, after Itachi died… “ and Naruto could not help miss how Kakashi edited himself from that event. “He was questioned thoroughly until his intentions were ascertained - as much as that could be done without coercion – and he was allowed into Konoha because the Hokage herself interceded for him. But the truth is… Naruto… that many of us wondered if Sasuke would hold back and keep some connection to Orochimaru. Many hoped he would, because it would give Konoha the upper hand, whether Sasuke did it for Orochimaru or himself.”

Naruto stared down at his shoes, feeling small. “You were feeding him the information that confirmed him as the leak… weren’t you? You and… Shikamaru too?”

“Yes, and a few others.”

“And you knew about the upcoming attack?”

“… we had strong suspicions of it, yes.”

“So Sasuke knew about the sleepers who set the explosions off?” That was a sickening thought, in itself.

“No, Naruto, Sasuke didn’t know about them. In fact, it seems that they were ordered to watch over Sasuke, not the other way around.” Naruto hunched forwards as Kakashi confirmed that there were limits to Sasuke’s revenge this time, and his gut twisted as he realised that this kind of information… was not something Sasuke would have surrendered at the drop of a hat.

Naruto shook his head, trying to clear it, to go beyond the fear that whispered traitorously in his mind. “But then… how the fuck did Sasuke get his messages to Orochimaru or any of his ninja if he couldn’t leave the town?”

Kakashi’s fingers rubbed Naruto’s neck, willing him to stay calm, a gesture that only aggravated his unease. “Orochimaru… must have been almost ready to take over his body when Sasuke left Sound.” Kakashi leaned back on the couch, making the springs squeak. “By that time, Sasuke had already signed the summoning contract with the Snakes. That’s how he got the information through our borders.”

But Sasuke hates snakes… he hates them! And probably, Naruto realised, with reason. Naruto didn’t want to know what Manda had demanded of Sasuke in payment for the contract, it made him think, more than ever, of Sasuke’s eyes in the harvesting canals, the way he’d folded up and retched because of a snake touching him through his clothes.

“Sasuke hates snakes,” Naruto muttered, unable to think of anything else to say.

Kakashi merely nodded, sadly. “I know he does, Naruto. Believe me, I know.”

“So… if the council knows that he wanted to kill Orochimaru, and he wasn’t betraying Konoha… what else is there to know of his motivations?”

“The council and the ANBU feel they won’t be safe enough until they have made sure of Sasuke’s real feelings on the matter. They want to be sure that he was never, under any circumstance, going to defect again and that his loyalty truly remains with Konoha.” Naruto stiffened. What Kakashi spoke of was an invasion of Sasuke’s mind, of his very nature; finding out his feelings to ascertain his motivations? That was impossible! Furthermore, Naruto didn’t think Sasuke’s loyalties were that strong, and if he had indeed doubted, then…

It’s an excuse to kill him, Naruto realised.And Kakashi knows…

“You’d have to crack his skull open to get to that,” Naruto murmured, keeping his real thoughts to himself. He wasn’t even sure of what Sasuke’s reasons were. The last time they had discussed this, Sasuke seemed to have none, save that of following the momentum of his situation. “He won’t speak of it.”

But then… that doesn’t really matter in the ANBU headquarters, does it?

“No, but even if he did, no one would believe him. Naruto… Sasuke’s word holds less weight than a feather at present, and the only answers that will be considered real are those that are exacted of him… against his will. His real thoughts on the matter. This is also why and how – this time, unlike the last – the intent is to pry all information from him.”

Naruto clenched his teeth. His jaw ached and it was hard to see straight.

(… as a doctor, I think he should have been kept under observation for a while lon---)

(He was stable and that is all that was needed…)

“How will they make sure of it, then?” Naruto asked, and his voice felt as if it wasn’t his own. He already knew the answer to his question and it made his insides feel torn.

Kakashi’s grip on his neck was almost painful and his eye was hot and strange. “Because Sasuke isn’t being questioned, Naruto; he is being interrogated.” Naruto stared at Kakashi and Kakashi bowed his head uncomfortably. He let of Naruto’s neck, but before he did, Naruto had felt the way his fingers shook and it made him remember that, indeed, Team 7 had been more than a duty to Kakashi.

Maybe Kakashi hated Sasuke a bit too, for taking that away from all of them.

Naruto never thought he’d find himself in a situation where he wished he could comfort someone as difficult as Kakashi, and it brought him to him just how similar this man and Sasuke were.

“Kakashi-sensei…” He wanted to tell them man that it would be alright, but Kakashi was too smart to believe that. “I’m sorry.”

“Why? It’s not your fault, Naruto.”

“I… if I hadn’t… pushed Saki…” Kakashi shook his head and bid him silent.

“No, Naruto. You can’t blame yourself for that. Sasuke always made his own choices and this was just that. Sasuke felt he should kill Orochimaru and he set himself out to do it.”

“For us.”

Kakashi smiled sadly, the mask pulled taut over his curved lips. “You truly believe that, don’t you?”

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

“Yes, I do. I really, really believe that.”

Kakashi gave him a long appraising look. There was respect there and it made Naruto flush. “I hope you’re right.”

Another moth struck the gas lamp and rocked it on its hinges. Naruto looked up briefly, realising that this was the first time he and Kakashi had talked for so long since Team 7 split up, and it was the first time Kakashi didn’t treat him like a student. It had bothered him with Iruka, but there was a proud reassurance in Kakashi’s acknowledgement.

He was breathing glass shards, but Naruto realised that if Sasuke died… he might still go on living, there might still be a life he could strive for.

I’m not alone.

Acknowledging that to himself was a step he had never wanted to take, the pain that came with the realisation was a cold brush-stroke on the inside of his mind. It felt like a betrayal, somehow.

Naruto might be capable of going on living, but right now, the very idea of it made him want to stop breathing altogether. Naruto got the distinct impression that Kakashi knew what he was thinking and, worse still, that he understood it.

But I won’t give up on you yet, bastard.

Naruto steadied himself and forced his mind to look past the current situation. Sasuke wouldn’t be executed, Naruto wouldn’t let them, regardless of the consequences. He hadn’t come this far only to give up at the last minute and if it hurt and it was hard to follow the path he’d chosen, then that only meant it was really worth the effort. I might go on living, but it wouldn’t be me, not really, so I won’t give up. I can’t.

Lee would have been proud of him then.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Kakashi murmured, watching the sad twitches of the moth on the floor.

Naruto give him a sidelong glare. “What do you think that Sasuke’s real reason was?”

Kakashi looked up at the ceiling and crossed his arms. “Revenge.”

Naruto snorted softly. “Predictable answer.” Very Sasuke, he agreed to himself.

“Sasuke is a predictable person, Naruto, whether you believe this or not.” Kakashi chewed on his lip, wrinkling the fabric of his mask somewhat. “He chased down Itachi because Itachi took something from him and had to pay for it. This was just more of the same.”

“Orochimaru didn’t take anything from Sasuke.” Not even his virginity, a darker side of Naruto’s mind supplied unhelpfully.

Kakashi’s sad smile was clear through the mask. “Maybe he wasn’t avenging himself this time.”

Naruto’s head listed sideways, trying to follow Kakashi’s logic, but the door creaked open and Shikamaru stepped in. “I’m sorry to interrupt you two but… Naruto, I thought you’d want to know, Sasuke is being treated by a healer right now…” And for what, Shikamaru did not say; it did not make Naruto any less sickened by the truth. “… he will be sent to his apartment, under house arrest, when he’s released.”

Kakashi nodded and closed his eye. “Ah…”

Naruto merely blinked. “House arrest? House arrest? What kind of punishment is that?”

“It’s not a punishment Naruto, it’s a test,” Shikamaru groused but Kakashi gave him a look that stopped him from saying anything else. Naruto gave his former teacher a nasty glare, lip curling in anger.

So like Kakashi, to refuse an answer if he believes one can figure it out alone.

“Forget that Naruto. If he’s under house arrest… well, that’s good, because it means the council will take the time to deliberate on his case,” Kakashi’s voice was studiously calm.

“Deliberate,” Naruto echoed quietly. “Meaning, they’ll decide whether to---“

Yes,” Kakashi agreed. Shikamaru had the grace to look away, letting Naruto deal with the full weight of this reality. Naruto didn’t know what his face looked like, but Kakashi paled and turned away as well. It made Naruto wonder if his eyes had bled red, like blood.

“How long?” Naruto asked in a thin, deceptively mild voice.

“Until tomorrow morning, probably.”

His hands jerked. “I have to go,” was all he could get past his throat.

Kakashi said nothing and Shikamaru nodded, as if he’d known Naruto would say that – and he probably had, which was why he came to tell Naruto about Sasuke’s whereabouts – and let him pass through the door.

Naruto stepped out into the streets and shivered, surprised by how mundane it all looked, with a fish-vendor driving a cart down the road and a few girls laughing at the corner.

Sasuke might die tomorrow, but Konoha moved on, relentless. Somehow, that just made it all worse.

Continued here...

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