crazy_toffee (crazy_toffee) wrote,

Naruto fan-fanfic: 'Tangled up in Lace' 6/7 (Sasu/Naru)

Title: Tangled Up in Lace 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: “Not like this, Sasuke. It can’t end like this.”

Something akin to sorrow – or even anguish – flitted over Sasuke’s face before it was swallowed in the depths of his dark gaze. “Would you have run away with me, then?”

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

Toffee says: Okay, so now I know that there is only one chapter and an epilogue to go... so I can really promise that seven chapters is as far as this poor ficcie goes. Still, not bad, hey? Next chapter will be the last! Woo hoo! Awwww....

Betaed by the awesome cindelius :)

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

Chapter Six: Disarmed

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.
-- Dale Carnegie

The weight of the sunlight was getting to be too much. Naruto shifted away and winced as the residual burn of healed wounds made itself known. It took him a few moments to reorient himself because there was something in the setting that kept throwing him off; the sheets were softer than he remembered, the sun was coming in at the wrong angle.

This wasn’t his room.

Naruto opened his eyes and blinked the sand from his lashes.


There was a lacy glove thrown on the back of a chair, by the bed.

Memories from the previous night – the previous few days – flooded his mind and something in his chest collapsed on itself.

I fell asleep! I fell asleep!

Naruto struggled to gain some measure of composure and fought his body to awaken. He had to think, damnit, think! It was early, the sun had barely risen, the east wall would be decently shadowed, so they could still do something and … damnit! He had to talk to Sasuke, they had to come up with something, fast!

Where the hell was the bastard, anyway?

“Sasuke?” Naruto sat up, taking in the fact that he was stark naked. His clothes were strewn all over the floor and there was a rumpled spot on the bed beside him. He looked at the creases on the sheets and the glove – the one on the chair? – that he’d used to--- “Saki…?”

Still, no answer. He was alone in the room.

For a few seconds, Naruto could only stare at the mess around the bed, at the dip in the mattress beside him. Something raw and ugly wanted to burst from his lungs. He took one deeply ragged breath and then – suddenly - he heard running water from the bathroom. Naruto turned his head slowly, hearing the mad hammer of his heart within his ribcage.

We have to get you out of here… Naruto shivered, suddenly terrified. But I can’t come with you, I can’t leave everyone behind.

And I can’t stand to see you go again, after all that has happened….

But they’re going to kill you, Sasuke. They’ll kill you.

Naruto sat up straighter as Sasuke stepped into the room. He was towelling his hair dry with his good arm, face hidden, and he’d taken off the cast from his other arm. Naruto swallowed, taking in the dark pants and black shirt - a ninja outfit - devoid of any markings of rank, of weapons or of sigils of allegiance. Sasuke rested the towel over his shoulders and gave Naruto a long, bruised look. There were dark bags under his eyes and Naruto could only imagine how little Sasuke had slept.

And I fell asleep! Of all the times to … and when we had to talk and come up with a plan before… before…

They had to start moving. “Bastard.” Naruto grabbed his pants from the floor and tugged them on, glancing nervously out the window. “You should have woken me up.”

Sasuke’s eyes were strangely distant. Naruto could see the flush of fever on Sasuke’s cheeks and swallowed hard against how that made him feel.

Sasuke focused back on him abruptly. “You… looked comfortable.”

Naruto barely stopped himself from jumping on the man and wringing his neck. “Comfortable?” He hissed, despairingly. “Comfortable? Fuck comfortable! Sasuke… we… it’s morning and---“

“I know,” that quiet statement kicked the breath from Naruto’s lungs. Sasuke shrugged and turned his face away. “I know…” It wasn’t fear that clouded Sasuke’s voice, it was something else that Naruto refused to acknowledge. It made Naruto’s insides clench with a deeper, more primal kind of terror. There was an unnatural resignation in Sasuke’s bearing that Naruto could not cope with.

Naruto opened his mouth to say something, anything at all, but a quiet rustle by the window reminded him that they were being watched.

He walked up to Sasuke decisively and pulled him into a rough embrace. Sasuke’s skin was too hot and his heart was beating louder than Naruto’s. It took a moment for Sasuke to register the gesture, and Naruto basked in that instant of perfect silence. Just as Sasuke tensed up and tried to fight back, Naruto stuck his hand against Sasuke’s back and began to trace a message against his skin with his fingers.

‘We have to move now,’ Naruto scrawled into Sasuke’s back, fear making his writing sloppy. ‘If we’re fast you can—‘ Sasuke leaned back and pushed Naruto away, making it all too clear that he had said something and – damnit – there were ANBU watching and listening in on them, and Sasuke knew it! He was giving them away!


“Sasuke---“ Naruto warned, wishing that the other would hold his tongue and not ruin their chances of… of what?

“I won’t run. How can I? Naruto… there’s nothing for me out there.” Naruto opened his mouth to protest, but Sasuke gave him a dark stare that effectively shut him up. “Naruto, even if we did try to bolt, there’s an ANBU cell watching this house already, and they’re waiting for me to try and escape, because it would give them grounds to take me down right there and then. I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of calling me a traitor again and killing me for it.” A smirk, suddenly. “Or trying to kill me, at least.” Sasuke’s voice was soft, low enough that it might pass unheard by their spies.

Naruto could not avoid wondering, suddenly, how much the ANBU had seen the night before. And how much did they know, for that matter? Was Sasuke’s case already decided, and if it was, why bother making him go to the Hokage’s office? Did that mean… that he would live? Or was this just the honourable way to take down Konoha traitors? Or…?

(They want to be sure that he was never, under any circumstance, going to defect again and that his loyalty truly remains with Konoha)

Tortured, poisoned, robbed of control, and having accomplished his goal, what had Sasuke admitted to?

“Sasuke… do you remember what you told the ANBU yesterday?” Sasuke’s gaze tightened, the muscles in his neck jerked. “I mean… is there a chance – any chance- that you won’t be---“

“---executed?” Sasuke interjected, smiling coldly. “Who knows?” Naruto could sense the change in him already. After the ANBU interrogation was mentioned, Sasuke went from cold and oddly afraid, to chillingly sarcastic. It made Naruto want to kill them!

“Don’t you even have an idea?”

“Naruto…” Sasuke’s eyes were flat, like polished stone. “I don’t really remember.”

“Then we have to get you ou—“ Sasuke slapped his hand over Naruto’s mouth and squeezed his cheeks unkindly.

Sasuke’s frown was animalistic, lip curled like a beast’s. “No, Naruto. You once accused me running away from the consequences of my actions. Well, this is it, and I won’t escape them again. There’s nowhere for me to go, don’t you get it? It’s over… all of it: Itachi and Orochimaru are dead and—“ Whatever he might have said, Sasuke stopped himself. “It’s over,” he repeated, dull-voiced.

Naruto shook his head, breathing edgily. Sasuke let his face go, stepping back. “Not like this, Sasuke. It can’t end like this.”

Something akin to sorrow – or even anguish – flitted over Sasuke’s face before it was swallowed in the depths of his dark gaze. “Would you have run away with me, then?”

Naruto jumped as if scalded. He parted his lips to say something, anything at all, but the truth was condemning, and he couldn’t lie to Sasuke. “Sasuke… I…”

Naruto’s breath hitched when Sasuke’s eyes closed, a pained frown stealing over his features. “Forget my question, it’s not like we would have, anyway---“ Sasuke murmured finally, keeping his eyes focused away from Naruto.

No, no, NO!

Naruto took two steps forward, closing the space between them, and gripped Sasuke’s arms fiercely, staring deep into his face. “Let’s go now.” His mind was a roaring void, and he willed it to stay like that. He didn’t even know what he was saying, except that he had to say it.

Sasuke blinked, once, very slowly. “What?

“Let’s go now, Sasuke. The two of us … we … as long as we’re together…” Naruto took a deep, unsteady breath. “Together we’re unstoppable, no one in Konoha could take us down, not even the ANBU, if I use the Kyuubi’s power—“ Sasuke was shaking himself from his grasp, but Naruto didn’t let go. “--- Tsunade-granny might be able to beat us, but if we’re fast enough they will never catch us, and if we never come back, we’ll just be names in a bingo book and nothing more, and they’ll forget us, even Sakura-chan and Lee w-will forget us, and K-Kakashi-sensei will get over it someday! I know where Jiraiya goes, so we can avoid him, and Iruka sensei wouldn’t… I mean--- Sakura w-would understand and … we could run and n-never come back! If we run now, we can m-make it o-out and--- and--!”

“Naruto…” Sasuke’s voice was still hoarse from the day before. “You’re crying.”

Fingers traced his cheek slowly, carefully. Sasuke was shaky and his eyes were immeasurably sad, but there was a hint of awe in the way he touched Naruto’s cheek and rubbed the wetness between his thumb and forefinger. “You’re crying, moron,” he hissed, as if that were the final proof of how things stood between them. Naruto couldn’t, for the life of him, feel the tears at all, or decide if they were for Sasuke or for Konoha.

Sasuke…” Naruto pleaded, at the end of his wits.

Sasuke stared down at his fingers and then up at Naruto. His face was set. “No, Naruto. I have to do this on my own, and…” Sasuke removed Naruto’s grip from his arms. “I don’t want you to escape with me. I gave everything up once, and I--- I can’t--- I won’t be---” Sasuke bit his lip before finishing his statement and turned his back on Naruto again.

Naruto reached out and spun him around harshly, mindless of Sasuke’s wounds. “Don’t be a bastard, not now of all times---“

“Naruto! You don’t want to leave Konoha! You love this bloody village!”

But I can’t let them kill you!

“I did this to myself, Naruto!” Sasuke shook him once, roughly, and Naruto stopped breathing for an instant. “I brought this on myself, no one forced me to do anything, ever. I’ll own up to it. But I won’t be the reason for you to…” He shook his head angrily. “I won’t.”

Naruto licked his lips and swallowed back the thickness in his tongue as best he could. “I can’t just stand here and let them…”

A gentle rap on the door made them both start.

Naruto took a huge breath and watched Sasuke’s face as a hundred different emotions warred within him.

“The ANBU are waiting outside, to take me to the council,” Sasuke whispered. “I had hoped you would stay asleep…”

Naruto felt a deep cold splash his spine. “What?

“I… don’t want you to come with me, Naruto. I don’t want you there when---“ Sasuke stopped and bit his bottom lip, shielding his eyes under those long lashes of his. “I don’t want you to see, or be there at all.”

“I want to be there,” Naruto growled. Anger was churning inside of him, obliterating everything else. The bastard had tried to sneak away from him, to leave him sleeping there and go away to… to… “How dare you make that choice for me, how DARE you—“

“Naruto!” Sasuke cut him off abruptly. “I have already watched the people I love die in front of me…” Sasuke’s arms shot out, they gripped Naruto’s neck, thumbs splayed over Naruto’s scarred cheeks. Naruto almost punched him reflexively. The touch was intimate and strange, and it made Naruto want to scream. “---and I will not do that to you. I can’t. If I am sentenced to execution, then I DON’T want you there, do you understand? I don’t… want you there,” the last words where a barest whisper.

Naruto circled Sasuke’s wrists with his hands, felt the wild pulse that beat in his veins. Sasuke, despite his accepting demeanour, was terrified and Naruto could smell the fear on him like an animal would.

“You can’t ask me that.” I can’t let you go alone, this can’t be the last time we… “Sasuke, please…” Even begging seemed acceptable now.

Sasuke shook his head. “Don’t do this, Naruto. Just… don’t do this. I knew what I was getting into when I left Konoha… and you already chased me once, and I never ever want to see… not again.” Sasuke sucked in a sharp breath. “I also knew what I was doing when I prepared the poison and contacted Orochimaru… it was something I HAD to do, but I knew the consequences, and you’re right, I should accept them, as a shinobi, as a man.” Sasuke’s eyes were fierce and strong. Despite the fear, they seemed to say to Naruto: you taught me that.

Naruto’s hands dropped from Sasuke’s wrists and his arms fell limply to his sides. “You honestly think they will execute you, don’t you?”

Sasuke smiled thinly. “They will if I try to run away, that’s why they confined me to the house. They wanted to tempt me to betray them and save the council the extra paperwork. Didn’t you figure that out?”

I’m not like you and Kakashi, bastard.


Sasuke smiled, and Naruto tensed. The smile was so warm and tentative that it didn’t really belong on Sasuke’s face, it made him look like Saki, except that it was Sasuke smiling. “I guessed as much… you clumsy idiot, there’s no making a ninja out of you.”

Naruto gave him an incredulous look, part of him wanted to lean into the hands that touched his face and--- he started when Sasuke let go of his neck to adjust his clothes once more. There was another, less polite, rap on the door and they both turned. Naruto’s knees felt like jelly as he forced them to move.

Sasuke opened the door and nodded politely to the cat-masked woman who waited there. Naruto flushed, suddenly aware of the fact that he was wearing nothing more than his trousers, and she had probably been there all night anyway so---

Did you watch Sasuke get his last fuck before he’s sentenced to death? Did you like it, bitch?

A hot, searing anger twisted in his belly, making the rest of his body squirm uncomfortably. Sasuke stiffened and gave Naruto a long, assessing look. Naruto felt the beast inside of him coil in delight and for a moment, all he could think of was of how he should best kill that woman. The ANBU tapped her foot, not irritably, but indicating that they were late. Naruto touched his own belly and forced himself to breathe.

Sasuke reached out and grasped Naruto’s shoulder, running the pads of his finger over the twitching skin. There was a wordless plea imbedded in that caress. Naruto forced his anger into the background, feeling Sasuke’s inept farewell smoulder against his nerves.

“I’m sorry, Naruto. I…” Sasuke paused, his eyes flickered and settled – as if shy – on a point above Naruto’s shoulder. “I was really glad to come back, in spite of it all.” Naruto’s chest threatened to crack open. He stared at Sasuke, incredulous, wounded beyond belief. That was something he’d never thought he would hear, and this was not how he wanted to hear it. “I’m sorry,” Sasuke whispered again, and his eyes seemed to want to say something else… but then Sasuke was looking away as he moved towards the door, and that was the end of everything.

“Uchiha Sasuke, the council will see you now,” the ANBU intoned formally, perfunctorily.

She closed the door behind them.

* * *

If you really love someone, you can forgive them anything.

If someone really loves you, they’ll always forgive you.

But… the only people who can ever love you like that are your family, and if you don’t have one, then there’s no way you’ll know for sure that there’s still a place for you to…

Naruto hunched up further on the bed and sucked air in through his teeth. His lungs burned, though not because he was choking; everything around him blazed and if he thought about it too much there was a brightness trying to crawl over his senses that he could not deal with. It was like sex, only worse, because there was wet craving and cold ashes beneath it all. It was choking him in a very different way, yet it held him galvanized for action. Torn in half, he stayed as he was, shaking on the bed.

If you really love someone, you can---

(I’m sorry, Naruto. I… I was really glad to come back, in spite of it all)

He scrunched his eyes shut and bowed his head for a few moments, breathing hard and fast.

They’re going to… they’re really going to…

(I did this to myself)

Every breath was a struggle against his lungs his body wanted to curl in on itself, and his muscles were pulling in all the wrong directions. Distantly, he knew this was bad. Distantly, he knew the roar in his ears was not just blood, not just his own heartbeat; the staccato rhythm of claws being tapped was a thrumming wave at the back of his mind.

The room wavered in his sight, and he tasted copper on his tongue and iron when he breathed. There was a purr trying to settle in his chest along with his own gasps of horror.

Distantly, Naruto knew what this was; it was a feeling he remembered. It felt like this when it first came to him, on a valley, breathing steam and blood through his nose, dripping wet, Sasuke laughing, the cold wet stone beneath him as it began to rain. But it was different now; this helpless ferocity was new. Never had he desired for it, never with himself agreeing and … It had never been like this and that scared him, but there were other things that scared him more.

Tsunade-granny… you can’t… honestly…

That thought too, faded into a buzzing whisper in his own ears. Naruto mouthed the words to keep himself still. It was hard to say them out loud when it felt like there was too much noise in the quiet room already and his mouth was full of teeth. His tongue stung where he’d sliced it against a fang and that was bad, Naruto knew. He swallowed and his upper lip burned as it was stretched over his teeth. There was blood in his mouth.

Something in his mind was purring.

Naruto licked his lips and gasped for breath as that awareness shook within its cage and his whole body ached with the force of it. He wondered if it was possible for him to come flying apart if it--- no, of course not, the seal was stronger than that. Akatsuki had messed it up badly, but it wasn’t … it couldn’t … it wouldn’t

“If you really… really love---“ What had he been saying, again? And why had he started repeating that in the first place? The end of the sentence escaped him, quite suddenly. He remembered it wasn’t about ashes and blood, though he could almost taste that idea and it tasted… interesting and--- “You fucking beast, stop it!” The cry felt loud in his own ears, and it made him wonder if the room was really so noisy or not.

It shouldn’t be noisy, there was no one but him there. It was Sasuke’s room, but he was alone in it. When he saw a string of pearls under a chair, Naruto turned over on the bed and closed his eyes

Would they send him to clean up Sasuke’s belongings after---

Damnit! Damnit! Stop it! They won’t kill him, he was trying to save us! He helped Konoha! They can’t kill him for that! They have to forgive him again, they have to… have to…


… have to…

Why did it have to sound sensible, interesting, tempting… why did his mouth taste of blood? Ah… his tongue, yes. It was that, only that. His tongue.


They were going to kill Sasuke

Konoha was going to---


--- they were going to kill Sasuke.

They were going to execute him. For saving them. They would---


--- Sasuke.

Naruto curled up on the bed and pressed his face into his knees, panting. They weren’t going to kill him, they would weigh his actions and consider how he’d saved them all in the long run, so it would be okay. The council had deliberated and that had to mean something, something other than ashes and---- blood --- blood in his mouth, blood in his mouth, blood in his…

The feelings, invasive like incense smoke, were slipping under the doors of his mind and curling around the empty spaces in his body. He could almost feel the tendrils of rust-hued thoughts sidling up to his, saying something about kill? now. yes. … about…?

Naruto unwound with a gasp and dug his fingers into the muscles of his belly, shaking. He wasn’t thinking this, damnit! It wasn’t him! It wasn’t him!

I love Konoha!

I LOVE Konoha!

If I forgave Sasuke for almost killing me, I can forgive Konoha for -- kill! - killing Sasuke! I can forgive them! I can still look at Granny and not hate her, not hate. yes. kill! I can--- gods, I can! I love this town. I wouldn’t ever hurt Sakura-chan, or Lee or anyone, even if they … if Konoha… killed…


Every muscle in his body was shaking, threatening to tear him to pieces, and if he could only get enough air into his lungs to scream – or roar – he might get this to stop.

Why was he even doubting them? They wouldn’t kill Sasuke. They wouldn’t kill Sasuke because he saved Konoha, and Konoha knew dangers enough, oh yes, it did, Konoha wouldn’t kill Sasuke because, if they did, he would kill them all, yes, bloody death and laugh over their corpses because no one took from him what was his and---

“Stop it! STOP IT! STOP IT!

( The two of us … we … as long as we’re together…)


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

“Oh gods, gods, PLEASE STOP!”

“Naruto!” His name, his name! Yes, that was his name!

Naruto turned his face jerkily and held himself impossibly still when he saw Sakura at the door. She rushed in and Lee stepped in behind her, looking pale and---

Don’t look at me like that, I wasn’t going to, I wasn’t! I didn’t even think it!

Naruto’s eyes stung. He pulled his face away when Sakura touched his forehead. He didn’t want her to touch him, not when even Lee could see and feel the torrid chakra that swirled around him, promising – heralding – a terror greater than any of them had lived to see. “Sakura-chan… stop.”

“Naruto, breathe, okay? Just breathe… it’s okay, it’s okay.” Sakura’s voice was shaky and terrified, but Naruto could well imagine what he looked like, and he did not begrudge her that fear. He could see the expression on Lee’s face, even though Lee was trying to remain impassive. No, he didn’t hate them for fearing him, he didn’t hate?--- he didn’t!

Don’t look at me like that, please.

“Sakura-chan…” His teeth were too big for words, it made speech strange. “Sasuke… is he…? Has the council said anything?”

Sakura stroked his hair gently, shushing him when he tried to speak again. “The council has reached a final decision, it seems. The Hokage has been talking to them all morning.”

“Do you know---?”

“No, Naruto. I don’t know yet. But Tsunade-sama said we should send for you…”

Naruto closed his eyes against the terrifying hope in her face and trembled for a few moments. “Sasuke doesn’t want me there.”

“That’s not his call, now, is it? The Hokage demands your presence.”

I can’t go like this, Sakura.” Naruto ground out, waving a hand in the general direction of his face. Sakura looked deep into his eyes, and Naruto saw how she forced herself not to flinch while still caressing his hair and his cheeks.

“No, you can’t, so breathe, okay? Lee and I are here and everything will be okay. Just breathe, Naruto. Everything’s alright now.” It sounded like a mother cooing to her child, and it made him want to laugh - or cry – there was air in his lungs again. A bit of warmth stole into his limbs, dispelling the cold burn somewhat, and he found that he could swallow the glass of water that Lee had brought over, and he could breathe…

Naruto leaned his forehead against Sakura’s shoulder and shivered. “Sakura-chan, I’m sorry I---“

She put a hand over his mouth to quieten him. “Don’t apologise. It’s okay, Naruto. It really is, I’m sorry we left you alone.”

Naruto wondered if this was a bit like what Sasuke had felt when he heard that Itachi murdered his clan. Itachi hadn’t just wronged Sasuke, it had been, to the child Sasuke, his most loved person, killing all the other people he loved.

Did anyone try to tell him it would be okay? Did anyone tell him it was okay to cry and be weak, when he was so hurt? Did anyone realise how lonely he was… other than me?

It struck him like a bolt of lightning. I could have helped him then, too. And I didn’t.

But I still can. I can be there for him today, regardless of what the council decides.

Somehow, that calmed him down even more. Sakura’s fingers were stroking his hair and neck as if she were soothing a wayward kitten and Lee was kneeling on the bed, right beside him, looking scared and worried and relieved all at once, but most of all, looking worried about him.

I’m not alone.

“I think I’m okay now, guys.” Naruto smiled weakly.

Sakura leaned back and gave him a long look. “Yes… I think you are.” She seemed close to tears. She got up unceremoniously and dusted her tunic. “We can go now,” she muttered, looking at Lee.

Lee squeezed Naruto’s shoulder as he got up from the bed. The gesture was so surprisingly warm that the last icicles faded from his lungs and Naruto managed to take the first step towards the Hokage’s office on his own.


The truth is, I…

I still believe, Bastard.

So you have to believe with me.

* * *

Naruto stepped into the room, fighting down the sense of foreboding that weighed down on his shoulders. Sakura touched his elbow, once; a gesture of comfort, he supposed, but it did not help him. He felt noticeably calmer; the burning in his belly was only a rough purr now and easily ignored. But Naruto knew how bad it could have been and it tore him apart, because he still felt it to a certain degree.

He didn’t honestly know how he’d feel about Konoha – about Tsunade – if Sasuke was sentenced to death.

I don’t think… I can love and protect you guys as I want to. I don’t think I can forgive you … even though I know why it’s… fair. That’s justice. But I can’t accept it, because it’s just, but it’s not… fair.

Naruto knew very little of justice, having been robbed of most choices from the moment he was born. Sasuke, though, was robbed of many choices as well during his childhood. He’d simply picked the strangest times to enact his own terrible will.

And now, you want to face up to it, bastard.

Naruto didn’t honestly know whether to be proud or horrified that Sasuke would choose this time, of all times, to take on the consequences of his idiotic life. In a very sad way, it was very Sasuke of him, Naruto judged. A bitter smile curled around his lips at that last thought.

“We’re here…” Sakura sighed and knocked on the door three times before pushing it open. “Hokage-sama,” Sakura greeted curtly. “I have brought Uzumaki Naruto.”

The formality chilled Naruto; seeing Tsunade’s stiff stance behind her desk was even worse.

Something dark jerked at the edge of Naruto’s vision, and it made him flinch, to think Sasuke would be so shocked by his presence as to react like that. Two ANBU flanked Tsunade, three more stood by the two elderly council members a little to the side. Morino Ibiki stood on the other side, staring at Naruto with uncannily penetrating eyes. Naruto bowed formally in greeting and risked a sideward glance.

Sasuke stood with his arms bound behind him, with the cat-masked ANBU on one side and Kakashi – in plain jounin garb – standing behind him, a hand on Sasuke’s neck. Naruto didn’t know if Kakashi held Sasuke in order to steady him, to comfort him, or to keep him at bay.

Sasuke did not look at Naruto at all, but his voice was rough and loud when he spoke up. “Why was he brought here?”

Tsunade leaned back in her chair and crossed her fingers, elbows on the desk. “Your present fate is, in many ways, connected to him. The council has seen it fit to give your sentence in full now and to clarify the reasoning behind it.”

“The… reasoning?” Sasuke growled. “What the hell do you mean?”

And why am I here to hear it? Naruto’s mind spun, unable to find the coherence to the events unfolding around him. The cat-masked woman turned to face him and Naruto felt the combined stares of all six ANBU skimming over his face.

They heard, Naruto realised, cold with fear. They were listening when I suggested to Sasuke that we should… oh gods. They heard! And had allowed it, apparently. It made Naruto wonder if they had accurately interpreted his words as mad despair, or if he was – to some extent – on trial now as well.

The three ANBU that flanked the council members turned away from him in unison, as if obeying a silent command. The Hokage’s two guards did not turn away at all.

Granny, what’s going on…?

Ibiki moved forward slightly and Naruto’s eyes caught the way Sasuke paled, muscles bunching up. He didn’t want to see that: it was worse than revulsion, it was worse than Sasuke’s reaction to snakes, it was something more visceral and terrified, like an animal that has been kicked far too often. “Uchiha Sasuke, the ANBU have agreed on a few facts that we wish to make clear to you, will you listen?”

Mere formality; Sasuke nodded.

“Then,” Ibiki started, rubbing his hands together. “It has been agreed - after the autopsy and research - that Orochimaru’s demise was greatly helped by the poison you injected him with. By your own admission, this poison was designed specifically for this purpose during your stay in Sound?”

“It was.”

“Your intentions to take this S-criminal down were always firm, then?”

Sasuke’s body tightened even further and Naruto saw Kakashi squeeze his neck warningly. “I have already answered these questions.” Tsunade’s frown deepened at Sasuke’s response, but she said nothing.

“You have, indeed,” Ibiki intoned calmly, before continuing. “This is solely for the Hokage’s benefit. Now, during your interrogation, you denied having intended to bring harm upon Konoha, at least not by direct action.”

Unless if would have helped him kill Itachi, Naruto thought to himself, darkly.

“I never… intended that, no,” Sasuke’s anger was… not strange. He was being stripped naked before Naruto and his teacher and the very Hokage, bared by information he probably didn’t even remember saying from the pain. Naruto tried to get a better look at him, but Sakura nudged Naruto to keep him facing mostly forwards.

“And you did not – at any point – intend to betray this village again.” Ibiki did not say it as a question, it was a firm statement. Six ANBU shifted in unison, focused on Sasuke alone.

Sasuke sneered darkly. “I don’t remember saying that.” Naruto’s vision went red and only Sakura’s hand on his arm kept him from going over to Sasuke and punching his face in. When he looked to the side, he saw that Sasuke was sweating, holding Ibiki’s stare with something that could only be defiant…fear.

The ANBU had not moved.

Ibiki smiled. “You did, in fact, swear to this.”

Sasuke looked away stiffly. Sweat trickled down his neck, onto Kakashi’s tight-fingered hold.

The council members shifted restlessly, old as they were and still distrustful. Tsunade was sphinx-like in her silence. Ibiki nodded, once. “Then, for the record, let it be stated that Uchiha Sasuke’s motives were tried and confirmed, and from the moment he returned from Sound his actions have – without fault – been dedicated to the welfare of the people of Konoha.”

Naruto thought the world swayed slightly as Ibiki finished his pronouncement. Sakura’s little gasp was too high for him to judge if it was delighted or terrified or what..

The councilwoman sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “As has been said, we have viewed the information gained through your interrogation and have deliberated much on your actions, Uchiha Sasuke. The fact that you are the last of your bloodline did not escape us, but it was the least of our concerns. However, the ANBU assure us that your intentions were always towards the protection of--- “ She paused and her eyes rested heavily on Naruto and Sakura, too heavily perhaps. “—the people of Konoha. Indeed, without your aid, we might not have been able to defeat Orochimaru with so few casualties.”

Sasuke was shaking. It was barely visible, but Naruto could see it and Kakashi could undoubtedly feel it, his one eye was unfathomably grey. Sasuke cleared his throat. “What does this mean then? Am I not… being executed?”

“Is this what you expected, Uchiha Sasuke?” The councilwoman spoke again, with little warmth in her voice. Her face was a mask, but Naruto could scent out her hatred and uncertainty.

“It was.”

Tsunade closed her eyes, avoiding Naruto’s look. Both council members shifted before the elderly woman spoke up again. “It does seem like the best option, does it not? However, we’ve been persuaded by several ANBU and former ANBU that your execution would put Konoha at risk, directly or indirectly. Both, most likely.”

Naruto swivelled to stare at the woman, confused.

It was Sasuke who spoke for both of them. “You argue… that my execution would endanger Konoha?” Sasuke’s rough voice held a wealth of anger Naruto could not immediately puzzle out.

“It is a safety hazard we cannot risk, Uchiha-san.” When she spoke, she stared directly at Naruto.

Naruto rocked back as if he’d been slapped. Sakura’s hand on the small of his back kept him steady, but barely so.

How dare they… how DARE they…?

But he couldn’t lift his voice to protest, not when, less than an hour ago, he’d been about to let the kyuubi loose in order to avenge Sasuke and---

Granny… how could you?

Naruto looked towards Tsunade, unable to mask how much the accusation hurt, even if it meant Sasuke would live. That they would keep him alive, just to stop Naruto from turning on them, was a blow he could not cope with, not there and then.

“That’s an unfair claim,” Sasuke hissed, and Naruto wanted to laugh at the unlikelihood of being defended on this account by Sasuke, of all people.

“I happen to agree,” Kakashi stated, stunning them all for a few moments. Naruto let out a short breath as it struck him that Kakashi was defending his capacity to control the kyuubi over Sasuke’s life. Naruto didn’t know how to feel about that.

Tsunade sighed and spoke up, finally: “I, too, am not entirely sure that it is a valid claim, but I support it on the basis of it holding reasonable doubt for us to consider.” She avoided Naruto’s eyes altogether and turned to stare at Sasuke. “Uchiha Sasuke, this council has decided that your actions were in Konoha’s best interests. Given this, you do not merit execution, and – furthermore – this execution could represent a greater risk than we are interested in courting. However,” and here she raised her voice, a warning anger burning behind her words “You have been found guilty of rogue actions that could have resulted in tragedy, not to mention that of acting as a spy to lure the enemy into your line of fire. These are all highly punishable crimes. Do you understand?”

“I understand, Hokage-sama,” Sasuke ground out, head bowed. Naruto thought, personally, that he was looking at the floor to keep himself from going for her throat.

“Then, as it was agreed upon before you were brought here, Uchiha Sasuke, you are hereby divested from your rank as jounin and chuunin. You will receive your genin markers tomorrow. Your direct superior shall be Hatake Kakashi – at his own request- under whom you will continue to serve all the missions that are worthy of a Konoha genin, within our city gates. Hatake-san will supervise all your missions and, for the time being, you shall remain behind when he is required to be outside of Konoha premises. Beyond this, your life is your own, Uchiha-san.”

“Then… I am a prisoner in my own village, as before?” Sasuke’s voice was a deadly whisper. Both council members shifted and Naruto could see the slight change of stance in their flanking ANBU. Sasuke was treading on thin ice with his reaction to his sentence. Naruto didn’t know what to think, he knew what that punishment was to Sasuke, what it represented.

Death, by stagnation.

But he would live, they would allow him to go on living and that, in itself, was enough to make him weak-kneed and dizzy.

Sasuke wouldn’t be executed, he would still be there tomorrow, and the day after.

Sasuke would live.

“You are not a prisoner, Uchiha,” Ibiki warned him coldly. “Konoha takes you back as you were when you left, as a Leaf genin. You are allowed, and accepted, as a citizen of Konoha. It is more than you deserve--“

“Morino-san!” Tsunade snapped harshly, silencing him. “Uchiha, as you have heard, Konoha will continue to accept you as a citizen. Whether the terrns of your parole are changed in the future will depend on your behaviour henceforth. I suggest you are thankful for the chance you’ve been given, and in particular, to those to whom you owe it, once more.”

Sasuke’s shoulders jerked. Kakashi had moved his hands to grip Sasuke’s arms and it looked, from this angle, as if Kakashi was the only thing holding Sasuke on his feet.

Naruto wanted to run and tear the council members’ throats open for daring to accuse him of being a danger to Konoha, but he also wanted to run to the top of the mountain and laugh, because Sasuke wasn’t being taken away again.

The cat-masked ANBU shifted away and allowed Sasuke to step out of the room after Kakashi unbound him.

Sasuke’s first step was greeted with silence; so was the next step, and the one after. Naruto turned to stare at Tsunade and found that he had no words – not of thanks and not of hatred – there was nothing he felt he could say to her. He gave Sakura a brief glance and moved to follow Sasuke.

In the hallway, Sasuke’s slow steps were a faint echo… distant, but solidly real.

He might not be free, but he was alive.

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
-- Kahlil Gibran

REVIEW! YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO! XD Ahem... what? Subconscious messaging? *looks around* Where?

The next part will be - to some extent- the aftermath of the events in this chapter and a bit more on how the whole NaruSasu vs NaruSaki issue is advancing. I realise that this trial came out oddly occidental, but you'll just have to bear with me on that one. There's a lot I wanted to put in here, but Naruto's single POV restricts some of that and, in the end, there's only SO MUCH ninja-village-plotting one can squeeze into a single fic.

Sasuke, as usual, proved himself to be remarkably hard to write. But, again, the toughest character to write, is in fact, Naruto. ^^U I can only let you people imagine how long the Naruto-and-Kyuubi overlapping scene took to be written.

Ah... I have enjoyed this fic too much, but... it will also be very rewarding when the last chapter is 100% done and posted. For now, at least, I refrained from pulling another cliffhanger no jutsu. Heh.

Love and thankyous to cindelius and askerian! And just as much love to all the people who've taken the time to leave comments. You've all truly made this worth every ounce of effort!

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