A/N: Can we all say sap? Say it with me now, Sa~ap...Watch out for your shoes! Truth is, the desert in winter is freezing--there just isn't any snow. I'm treating Yashamura like a girl consistently throughout the story regardless if she is a girl or a boy--it's too late to change now 0_0
The following quotes were chosen in regards to Naruto, Gaara, and the Sasuke-Kakashi-Naruto dynamic. The final quote from Attraction itself describes the overall chapter. Enjoy!
I lie down and blind myself with laughter/ Well, a quick fix of hope is what I'm needing
And how I wish that I could turn back the hours/ But I know I just don't have the power
--Could It Be Any Harder?, The Calling
I want you, I need you, but there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you,
Now don't be sad: Two outta three ain't bad.
--Two Out of Three, Meatloaf
There's a monster, living under my bed whispering in my ear
There's an angel, with her hand on my head, she say I got nothing to fear.
--Put Your Lights On, Santana feat. Everclear
And Gaara had left it at that. It was his concern, his life, not Gaara's.
--Chapter 8, Attraction, gelfling
There were various reasons why Iruka would never be a full-fledged shinobi, not in the sense of the ninja that was only a ninja: Most shinobi weren't. They tended to die quickly. They were sometimes powerful, such as Itachi Uchiha, but he was like Iruka Umino in the sense that he would never be a true ninja.
Iruka was far too honest. It wasn't that he always told the truth, or that he always did the right thing, but he held no illusions.
It was part of the reason why he could never hate Naruto as much as everyone else seemed to, as much as he reasonably thought he should. He knew that Naruto wasn't the Fox; there was no point. It was one of the reasons why he never allowed himself to advance to Jounin, because he knew that there were going to be missions that he wouldn't want to take and couldn't refuse, and it just wasn't his thing. He didn't care about getting stronger: Why would he? For what reason? It was the reason why he never stopped teaching. It was the reason behind a lot of things, his honesty.
Right now, it had him trapped.
One hand said that what he saw and heard and felt couldn't possibly be true, because it was too impossible. There was too much pain to contemplate, more pain that there was even possible to have. It was far too much. It couldn't be true, because if it was then...
He didn't like to think about it. But he knew that if the fox were ever to attack again, it would mean obliteration and oblivion, because now there was no one who could stop it. They hadn't been able to stop it the first time with all their combined might and mind: the supernatural genius that was the Yondaime had merely managed to prolong the fight, stall for time.
And Iruka couldn't help wondering why he had stalled the fight, who he planned to continue it after his death. Had the Yondaime planned anything at all? Maybe he was thinking what that...had said.
Perhaps he had secretly hoped they would kill it. Everything the 3rd retold said differently, but the Yondaime had been part ninja if not full-fledged in the spiritual sense. Ninja said what they wanted to be heard, no more, no less.
"You know that, don't you. You have to. It's more than just shuriken and ninjutsu, more than just our clans and wearing a lot of dark colors and masks...it's more than that. It's how you think, how you live. You know all of that."
Iruka stopped talking momentarily to loosely clasp his hands in his lap, his eyes still idly watching over Lee. The kid was better; he was lots better, and he really didn't need anyone keeping night vigil over him anymore, but Iruka liked to watch him sleep. He had the same honesty, but paired with a shy boldness and curiosity, on top of a ridiculous and endearing bowl haircut. It was cute, in a funny, hopeless sort of way.
"I'm glad I never really got into it. I don't think I would have done very well; after a while my conscious catches up to me. I never did learn how to just leave it behind."
There may have been an insult in that statement. There was no response.
Iruka's sense of honesty was catching up to him something awful. He'd been thinking--that's all he'd been doing--and it didn't comfort him but it did provide some closure. Something raw and painful bled into his voice.
"We really screwed up. Should've gone after him the second he left--he was far too powerful to just let loose like that."
"We did, remember?"
"Don't talk to me like I'm stupid, Kakashi." He left off the 'sensei'. It was a formality that he didn't feel and didn't see the need for. "I mean...it was partly our fault. It was his fault too and he..."
Iruka shut his mouth before his voice could break; shifting on the hardback chair he was sitting on for the creak of the floorboards to fill the sharp uncomfortable silence he left. Nearly invisible, the lank shadow of Kakashi didn't even twitch to breathe.
"I mean we should've seen it coming."
"We should've done a lot of things, and the fact is we didn't. It's done."
"Get over it right?" Iruka didn't pout; there was no emotion coloring his voice because he was far too drained.
He was tired, and his honesty was catching up to him. It had been what Kakashi had been counting on: that he would pull himself out of it. In that sense, Iruka was strong; he could be stronger, but he lacked the ambition and ruthlessness of a true shinobi. And he was stubborn--if Iruka couldn't pull himself out of it, then no one could because he'd fight every step of the way. Lee had been a useful mirror in that sense, and Kakashi didn't smile but satisfaction purred in his visible gray eye at his own manipulation.
Coming from the soles of his feet, a sigh heaved out of Iruka as he leaned on his hands. "So this is the next step then? Setting up a mini-village?"
"Of course not. It's just a way of surviving--"
"Until what? For what purpose?"
"We are inquisitive today."
"Answer my question Kakashi. It's far too late to be weaseling around with words."
There was a long, drawn-out deliberate pause. Iruka waited patiently, because patience was something he knew sometimes. "We're...waiting. We were hit hard, but we weren't destroyed. And I'm more than sure that our initial threat is gone."
Iruka turned his head sharply, brown eyes clear and focused. "How do you know that?"
"I didn't say I knew, I just think it is," there's a petulant note in Kakashi's voice that still manages to raise the hairs on his neck in irritation. "There are rumors. There's too many rumors to really know, but there hasn't been any...proof to say otherwise. And there has been evidence that it is true."
"What kind of evidence?"
"You have noticed that Sasuke's sleeping at night now, haven't you?"
There was a slight condescension in Kakashi's voice that he ignored; that was not important right then. Iruka thought.
"That...he wasn't hurt. He wasn't in a fight."
"Maybe he didn't have to be."
"I don't see how he could kill the fox and not fight..." and it didn't hurt to say that word, "Has he said anything to you?"
Kakashi shrugged carelessly. Iruka scowled, swiftly turning his attention back to Lee. But he couldn't help himself.
"Could it be over? I mean, if he's dead..." Iruka stopped suddenly. He remembered it was Naruto he was talking about. The uncertain silence was pointedly broken by Kakashi.
"No. It's not over. But it isn't controlled anymore. It's not a test of power anymore, which is good because we were losing that way. Now it's a test of strategy, organization."
Kakashi's sole gray eye narrowed, as there was no one he needed to hide from just then. Lee was sleeping, and Iruka was still too raw to be a real threat to him.
//Sasuke's a wildcard now; there's no telling what he'll do. He's as strong as he needs to be, nearly more than he can control. Still, he's useful, but he needs something to ground him. He needs someone to support him.//
"You're gonna be working Shikamaru pretty hard then, huh?"
"I already have been. It's going to get worse. You may be able to hear him complain from here."
Iruka nodded, a ghost of something twitching over his lips, and Kakashi had to admit some surprise. He had expected Lee to draw him out of it, but he hadn't expected him to pull this far. So...that was how the wind was blowing. Interesting. Interesting, but not unexpected. And useful as well; Iruka's next statement backed up his assessment.
"I'm at your service."
"Are you fit for it?" Testing temper, resolve.
"I know my limits; I'm sure you've noticed them. I'll try and do my best to my ability; I can't promise you more than that."
"Really? Can't, or won't?"
"Both." Kakashi raised an eyebrow inquisitively, pointedly studying the younger man in the darkness of the unlit room.
Iruka had too much self-importance to be a good shinobi too--when it came down to the line, he'd go with his gut-instinct and not the mission success. Of course, Kakashi himself had skewed the code a couple times here and there, but not for his conscience, but because survival was right now more important than the mission. It was a blurry line, and he'd jumped from side to side often enough in his life, but Iruka had never even bothered trying to live solely for the mission as he had. He wouldn't even pretend to. So...interesting still.
"You realize this position isn't unfamiliar to me. I'm used to orders being obeyed."
"You were an Anbu captain; I know. But I'm not Anbu, I'm just what you get to work with."
"I was kind of hoping we could work together without antagonism."
Iruka shrugged, "I don't see a problem. I'm just letting you know ahead of time: there are things I won't do, and some that I just can't."
Kakashi was quiet, silently measuring how this would affect his current position and strategy. After a while, he got up to leave. "Fair enough. I'll see you tomorrow."
"What's your position?"
Candles. Lights. Action. Soon. Very soon.
Sasuke had to admit though; the rocking of the boat on the night water was very soothing. The night sky was dark, impenetrable above him. He couldn't even see the stars. He was wrapped up in a dark, slightly chilly void that gave him his space and rocked him gently in a dead mother's arms...it was soothing. He wasn't relaxed, was nowhere near content, but he wouldn't have minded staying there a few extra minutes. At the flat end of the small boat, four lit candles--because Sasuke wouldn't have allowed 3--burned gently, casting some light--not good enough for him to see by because there was nothing to see, but enough for fish to see him.
"There's one to your...starboard side? Port side? What's it called...the one to your left, Sasuke. I think--I'm pretty sure I just saw something go under..."
It was an old fishing trick that worked on squid and other nocturnal fish that were hard to come by else wise; the light attracted, and for some reason the dumb fish always came into the trap. There would be lots of fish for dinner after this--Sasuke only hoped it was decent. The place would reek to high heaven within a day from all of them, he was guessing.
The boat bounced up a little, buoyed up by water sloshing under as the tide came back in. Or something large went under.
"Neji. Neji report. Sasuke can you see him?"
Sasuke decided he liked this feeling, this constant swaying in the darkness with no purpose or point in life, and only the feeble candles providing light useless light since there was nothing to see. He would have liked to stay there.
Sasuke decided he officially hated all fishermen, for living a life where the hardest thing to do was make it to the next day. Bet they never planned for years and years, only to find that when the years came and went and he was officially an adult and stronger than he ever dreamed it would still be years and years more before he achieved his life's goal. Years and years and years running in fucking circles after his shadow.
Stupid fishermen. Bastards. Idiots. Huh...they weren't important. They'd just stink the place up with the damn fish, that was all...
Sasuke was thankful for his dark eyes, eyes so dark that it was nearly impossible to tell where his irises and pupils began and ended. It made it easy for him to watch things while looking like he was watching somewhere else.
Coming from a place with no light and less color, a mermaid's eyes might have been able to tell the difference. Might be able to see that his dark eyes were watching its eyes--it's pupils, since the iris was a tiny sliver of grayish-white around the inky pupil huge like plums. But perhaps the candles blinded it briefly.
There was one hanging off the end near his feet where the candles were.
It wasn't doing anything, wasn't attacking and wasn't singing or trying to touch him, so he more or less ignored it. It was interrupting the formality of the night. He would have liked it to go away, but wouldn't waste time wishing or wanting. Too much energy. Too much effort. The night was perfect, without stars or moon. Just simple, formal grayish black.
The body would be pale gray, almost white but rubbery thick skin with a strong jawbone and workman-like pointed teeth in two or three rows. Slight raisings in the skull at the sides would indicate the ears, and there was a slight nose not meant for breathing, but for smelling. Three complicated gills on either side of the neck for amphibious breathing. The hands were wide with flaps of skin in between the fingers, complicated bone structure showing through. The breasts--on the females, the common ones as males were harder to find in this species--would be small, but evident. The animal ended in a long tail, one not expressly covered in scales, but more made like a dolphin's or shark's. There might be some scales, but there wouldn't be many. The vertebrae would be raised, almost into a dorsal fin but stopping just short of it.
In truth, mermaids were nothing new--it was fact that only Kakashi knew that a very long, long time ago, the shinobi of the Mist had tried to breed with them, in an attempt to make a stronger, more specialized shinobi. It had worked, but the ninja had proven to be too unstable, and hard to control. The practice stopped, but the idea proved effective enough to have a few clans continue the bloodline by in-breeding and getting new mermaids. That kind of shinobi still existed, but they were extremely rare.
And that had always fascinated Kakashi. Okay, breeding with animals...happened. It was more than a little questionable, but it happened. Horses, sheep, er, even some dogs...at the root they were all mammals. They were all somewhat based on the same biological blueprint. But how on earth did people ever manage to breed with fish? They didn't even have vaginas! At least not one's made for human use, and the males were buggers to find, but it was still pretty damn unlikely that they had something resembling the human penis.
...In the end, Kakashi always went back to his sanctified porn. There were some things out there that were better left...out there. But you really had to hand it to the Mist ninja; when they wanted to do something, they found ways how to do it.
Ino had nearly thrown up at his explanation, and had called him all manner of names that had even surprised Shikamaru.
"...I can't find Neji. He isn't responding, and there's two on either side of you Sasuke, and I think one more at the end. Sasuke? Sasuke respond. Sasuke? ...Quit fucking around you ass-hole, this is serious!"
Sasuke closed his eyes in irritation. The formality was just...
"Shut up and worry about yourself," he grumbled, eyes still closed.
The boat jerked as it swung over, capsizing into the freezing water. The candles didn't even have time to sputter, and--suddenly pissed off that no one was letting him enjoy the night--the water exploded around him.
He used up his energy in a flurry of anger, and took one out in clear perfect crystal focus as scratched the front of his neck with his claws drawing blood and touching his collar bone--and the Sharingan burned away at it's brain, freezing it for the one precious moment he needed to shove a knife up through the soft underside of the jaw, and felt claws rip along his back, through his armor and into his skin.
There was a familiar silver feeling coming closer...a strange fluctuations in energy...
Well. At least now he knew where Neji went. He wondered how long he'd been under water, before deciding he didn't care. His fingers bent into familiar patterns, and he didn't hold it back.
In his ear, even underwater, he could still hear Ino screaming in pain.
"Mission report. No paperwork please, I'm about to drown in this stuff as it is," //and I've already shoved off as much as I could to Iruka...geez, no one actually expects me to read all this, do they? It's all junk! Firewood! ...Firewood. Yeah. We could use a nice barbeque...mmm.//
"Mission went." Neji stated dryly cold.
"How? Did they jump out of the water and do a little dance for you?"
"No. But Sasuke's slacking off--I'm not sure what's wrong with him, but he put the mission at risk, as well as the team. Ino's still in...medical care."
"I heard you were the one not responding."
"That's because I was underwater at the time, sir. Attempted murder by drowning. It didn't work quite right."
"And he didn't catch that?"
"Wouldn't know. He might have and not cared enough to do anything about it. They weren't as strong as you led us to believe, and yet for some reason the mission almost killed us, despite requiring a lower level of ability." Neji allowed a significant pause, and Kakashi ruffled through papers that he had every intention of burning later for the look of things.
"I ask he be taken off the team, and the team itself disbanded. Temporarily, perhaps. As he is, Sasuke Uchiha isn't fit to be on team missions, much less solitary ones. Missions of two people are too risky--Ino's not strong enough by herself and no one else is fit." //I won't take Hinata. I'll forfeit the damn thing before you make me work with her.//
"That's your evaluation of it," and the words Not mine hung unspoken in the air. "How did you react when the dust settled? How did he react?"
Neji shrugged, "Ino yelled at him. I stood by, as no further comment was required. His reaction was...mild, if not nonexistent. I doubt missions are the most pressing issue for him to be facing at the moment, and not a high priority." And now it was Neji's unspoken words of And I have no idea what other damn issues he's facing, the ass hole, hung in the air.
Kakashi nodded half-awake, and then threw the papers back on the table. Had there ever been a murder case where someone was suffocated with paper? Probably. What an evil, evil creation. Death by paper work.
It killed trees too; Kakashi would bet solid money (that he had no intention of ever paying up on) that not one of the clients thought for one minute about all the trees they were killing with all their little demands. Killing lots and lots of trees!
And...what? Oh yeah, Neji was still standing there. Right. Waiting for him. ...Right. Yeehaw, Hokage--just what he had never wanted to be. Gee golly wow.
"Granted. For at least this week, maybe longer. We can survive on what we have for a while."
"What about the demons?" and even Neji would admit that it was unusual for him to be worried about somebody else, but he was interested to know what Kakashi would say. He was also a bit surprised Kakashi had relented so quickly and realized...Kakashi probably hadn't relented at all. He'd been there when they'd brought Ino in. He'd been planning this earlier--Neji was simply in the right place at the right time for him to act.
"It's not like people don't have other places to turn to, is it? This mermaid job should've been given to the Mist Village, but I guess we're charging less then they are. Maybe they don't do group discounts or whatever...but only the Leaf, Sand, and Stone were taken out. The Mist, Grass, Lightening, hell, even the Sound were left intact. There are others...and they've forgotten about us pretty cleanly, can't help noticing. Not even a little 'Hello, How Are You?' card with kittens on it."
Neji was already too pessimistic and observant to not notice that also, so there was no danger of destroying morale in him. And it was a fact that had been niggling at the back of Kakashi's mind. It was true that when the stakes were down it was every village and clan for itself, but a little cooperation would've saved a lot of lives and money in the long run. But for some strange, indiscernible reason, people just weren't feeling inclined to helping a neighbor out. Funny world.
"So we're disbanded then?"
"Sure, go out partying or something. Get drunk, relax..." Kakashi shrugged and picked up another paper, "take a nap. We're not doing anything for a while. We can afford it, and I think we need it more than a little."
"We've progressed quickly," Neji observed with some irony. Not two months ago there was still the smell of smoke in the air, and to look at them now one might think there had never been a problem at all. Sasuke was as crazy as ever, Iruka back to talking and fulfilling his academic default by looking after Lee, and Ino still bitched at every available occasion when she wasn't squealing over some new dress. Shikamaru was sleeping somewhere right now, avoiding work fervently probably on the roof despite his leg.
Or at least, that was what Neji had been thinking. But Neji was relatively young, even for a ninja, and in sheer distrust and disappointment with the human race and its intelligence and compassion Kakashi outranked him in by a supernova. He just didn't show it as much, because it wasn't always useful. Which was why his final question caught Neji off guard, even though the temperature had gone done warningly.
Neji blinked--a rare feat. "Well, we're self-sufficient now..." His words died in his throat not strangled from fear, but from lack of interest to get out. Kakashi tilted his head sharply like a bird.
"Is that progress? Are we better than we were?"
It was a big question.
Neji stared at him for a while, and then decided somewhere in the back of his head that having Gai-sensei (queer, thunderous, and just plain ODD Gai-sensei (don't say 'queer', that always pissed Lee off to obscene levels of loudness)) must've been a lot better than having Kakashi as an instructor. The man saw too much.
Neji nodded curtly, and then walked out without a word.
Kakashi stared after him contemplatively for about 1/4 of a second before collecting a pile of useless-seeming paper and rummaging in his pockets for some matches. He'd talk to Sasuke later, and either be walked-out on again or wind up getting into a fight with him. Right now, a million trees were saying, "I don't want to be pulp! Don't let me be pulp!" too loudly for him to really concentrate on anything else. Trees! People needed trees!
He never found the matches, but found a brand new use for his blender that even a million years would've taken him a good 10 minutes more to figure out how the thing worked than it did now.
Paper-mache...oooh. The possibilities.
Across the years, people have long sought the perfect description for the sound of rain falling. It's been described as a pattering of feet, drumming, a quiet rushing, tiny pebbles, but the truth is that nothing quite simulates the sound of rain falling. The rain was falling now.
Gaara's eyes slid open, before blinking and turning to look at the window. He hated and loved this apartment, because windows made it too easy for people to break in and he could look out at the world outside from his spot on the bed next to Naruto, see the world while still feeling safe and comfortable.
Naruto's eyes looked a little tired, but he still winked at Gaara, the corner of his mouth turning up. Hard aquamarine eyes looked rigidly at him, before disengaging all his limbs and pushing himself out of bed.
Naruto blinked absently for a few seconds, before shifting to stretch and yawn. It wasn't like Gaara to say 'Thank You' for anything; he really couldn't be expected to start now, could he? His boxers hit him in the mouth.
Gagging, he snatched them from his face to see Gaara standing by the open window, already clothed in some shorts and his shirt and staring at him with that bright hard look. Naruto sat up in bed. Gaara slipped out the window.
A few minutes later, Naruto was flinching as drops of very, very cold water were hitting his face. Gaara was clinging to the wall by the window, his shirt shoulders and blood-red hair already damp, and staring at Naruto with that bright hard look on his face. Naruto sighed heavily, and ducked his head back inside.
A few minutes later, he stuck his head out again to find bright eyes staring up at him from the street below. Gaara had strange eyes; nearly blue, but with a touch of green rimmed with the heavy black markings that made his eyes seem brighter and bigger and his face paler. Naruto threw down a pair of sandals before dropping down.
He was shoved up against the wall as soon as he stood up, Gaara's mouth covering his.
They strolled out of the alley into the street a little ruffled in perfect silence, Naruto's shoulder and arm sometimes brushing against Gaara's until he suddenly jumped and splashed Gaara with a puddle and was shoved roughly into the street.
Naruto strolled comfortably like that for a while, until dashing and splashing Gaara up to the waist. They were both already wet, but it just felt good to irritate him. Naruto steeled himself for an attack, eyes bright and light on his toes, and Gaara suddenly---scowled and stuck his tongue out.
Naruto paused. Face faulted. Before completely collapsing and broke out laughing. Gaara just snorted softly, as the echoes of hysterical laughter bounced off the walls, and kept walking.
Rain would never stop city life, but it did slow it down. They had some time before the late-night/early-morning wore off and people really started trudging out into work and taking up space.
Presently, Naruto returned to his side, thoroughly wet as he was.
Again his shoulder brushed his, but this time Naruto stumbled as he was pushed slightly back into the street. It could have been an accident, it could have been intentional. Gaara glanced at him briefly before returning his attention to wherever. He was slammed into the wall, Naruto sprinting ahead, Gaara so close to his heels he was still getting splashed.
Leaping and scaling up building sides in blinding bursts of speeds, Gaara clipping Naruto's ankle and yanking him down in mid-air, glinting just out of reach as the edge of Naruto's hand came slicing at his chin.
Tag! You're it!
There were various times when Naruto would wake up, reach out, and touch only the empty bed. He'd be alone--all traces of Gaara gone.
The sand demon never carried much: just a bit of sand for water or rock terrain (and even then he was still hard to fight), a few changes of clothes in an old black backpack, and himself.
When Gaara wanted to leave, he left.
It was just something about him--it was pain to deal with, but for as long as Naruto had known him, Gaara had never been reliable, not really, not even when he was a 'team member' with Temari and Kankuro, still officially working for the Sand. As Naruto's semi-equal/semi-second-in-command, he'd done the same disappearing trick, showing up again when he felt like it. Perhaps it was a bit much to expect him to make such a drastic change just because they had sex now.
Still, it would have been nice for him to be there more often, but you couldn't change people.
It was one of the reasons--one of the many--Gaara never saw Naruto sink into himself. One of the ways Gaara broke his promise.
You couldn't change people, and neither did.
There was a room. It was a little dusty, with a thick curtain securely draped over the one big window in the apartment.
There were the basic necessities--bathroom, kitchen, table, bed, lamp, and small dresser for clothes.
It was funny, because...actually it wasn't funny at all. Only it was. Only it could be, if he knew how to laugh. If he had a sense of humor at all.
But Kakashi was too damn clever for his own good.
Really. It wasn't that he planned elaborately, or that he was a wiz with words, because he wasn't. What Kakashi was, was observant. He had taken away the missions, the reports, and told them to take a break for, oh about...um...yeah. About four days. Four days sounded good.
That was what he had said six days ago, and so far nothing had happened.
Sasuke had lost the unnatural, destructive anger the same day Naruto lost nearly half of his blood. Now, Kakashi had taken away the missions--his point for being. There was still his life mission, the personal one, the family one, but that was something not even Sasuke wanted to think about just then. There was so much more to feel, to think about, that opening that door would be far too painful right then. If he hadn't fallen off the deep-end yet, the thought of his brother now, now that he was alone, would really push him the rest of the way.
Sasuke had never put in the effort to make friends, associates, to construct the invisible bonds that held people together.
The only one to really make him say Hello, to really get him to leave his house for more than just training, had been Sakura, mostly because she wouldn't go away until he did. Because she had seen what he was--really--and who he was, and for whatever reason, be it love or stupidity, wouldn't give up on him. He was cruel enough to still reject her, but not so much that he'd turn her away once she started crying.
Naruto, by that point, had been so far away he might've been dead, and Sasuke treated it as such. People died all the time--he knew that. Oh, he knew that.
Still...Kakashi was too damn clever. He had made his point, dished out the punishment, but still hadn't bothered to come see him, to be sarcastic at him or grown-up. Hadn't even tried. He had made his point, and left Sasuke to think about it, long and hard. His point came across quite well.
Sasuke didn't really have a life anymore.
So, without need, without the aching hunger, there was no pain.
So, without drive, without reason, there was no purpose.
So, the journey continued.
The journey that wasn't going anywhere except everywhere that wasn't here, somewhere without trees that reached into the clouds themselves and sang lazy slow songs in the afternoon breeze. Anywhere without girls with pink hair and pleasant laughs, without boys with sharp eyes and sharper tongues. Naruto even avoided the taste of ramen. Wouldn't eat it even if Gaara got it for him.
In all honesty, Gaara hadn't been expecting a shock--this was unfamiliar territory to him. He was even less equipped to maneuver in another's depression than he was in sensing it.
Gaara had nothing to avoid--everything that could be feared or could be considered dangerous was destroyed and already dead to him. Now there was only one thing left worth having, one thing worth keeping, and he wasn't sleeping much and eating less than that, though Naruto still smiled and joked. Gaara barely knew how to comfort himself, much less the boy (the boy who destroyed everything he had loved and hated save one, save one precious dangerous one that alone went unscathed) he found himself following Naruto everywhere like a lost wolf--there when Gaara hurt and wanted company, and away when Gaara lost interest.
If the suffocating obsessive-compulsive loyalty annoyed Naruto, he didn't show it. And Gaara watched for it, watched his movements and how his eyes went to him and away, laughing painfully but sometimes relaxed, peaceful for a few minutes in Gaara's arms, his neck damp with sweat and purring slightly with relief and pleasure. It made him...it made him a little proud that he could bring Naruto relief--bring anyone relief.
Then Gaara would wonder if Naruto was pretending he was in someone else's arms.
The sex was still fantastic, needy and eager like the teenagers they were, exploring how far one's tongue could go into a certain orifice and how deep one could swallow the other.
But Naruto was still badly damaged--nearly as bad as he had first been in the cheap hotel room that smelled like suicide and liquor. So even though Gaara had him--had him, had him all to himself, his to hold, his to touch, his to kiss, his--Naruto still wasn't healing right. Eating made him happy for a little while, as did alcohol and sex and killing sprees, but the truth was that the happiness never stayed.
It just...didn't stay.
And for the life of him--because now Naruto was that important, was that deep a part of him--Gaara couldn't figure out what was eating him, because Gaara had only felt true regret once in his life: When Yashamura died by his hand. One might say that Gaara's humanity had died with her that night.
Whatever Naruto was suffering from, Gaara couldn't understand, because Naruto was nowhere near as inhuman as Gaara was.
So the sex remained--the kissing, the touching--but the late-night talks over a glass of rice-wine or sake that had characterized their early, long-lasting relationship just ended. Naruto didn't talk much anymore--wouldn't talk much anymore, and Gaara had no idea what questions to ask, what words to say... In all fairness, Gaara barely realized there were words he was supposed to be saying.
So the words were never said at all.
The movie had been all right, but in all truth it really wasn't either's cup of tea. It wasn't the ghosts or the gore it was more...the main character. A boy who could see ghosts, who stood out in a crowd of millions and haunted by things no one else could see...that was entirely too close to home. They had left early, and Naruto couldn't even make some cheap joke, but he'd called the kid a "wimp" later on.
After a while walking side by side in silence, Naruto had glanced to his side and silently put his hand in Gaara's. It was squeezed painfully, and they made their way into the rich suburban part of the town, breaking into an empty house (Gaara had killed the dog and family minutes before they entered. Naruto didn't comment, only closed his eyes and squeezed his hand) through the backdoor, noting the luxurious three stories and red-tile roof complete with a heated chlorine pool in the backyard.
The fridge was investigated and raided, two boys drinking milk straight from the carton, poking into the odd casserole and inhaling the gallon of coconut ice-cream in the freezer (next to slushees, Gaara liked ice-cream. Anything cold and sweet, Naruto learned with a thrill).
Later sated, now naked to the waist, lips and wrists bruised, covered in ice-cream and whipped cream that Naruto picked from his hair to lick off his fingers, they wandered out-of-doors to the heated pool. Naruto stepped on the water's surface and it easily supported his weight, small ripples undulating as he took his shoes off and threw them on the peppled edge.
Gaara had his head tilted to look at the night sky--still balmy in the southern part of the country even though winter was pretty much here, back in the richer areas of the Desert he might've called home. Palm trees stood still as there was no breeze, and there was the faint smell of something like rosemary on the dry air--probably from the herb garden on the side. Time had been good to Gaara, his time with Naruto doing nothing much really.
The burn-marks and scars were practically gone, and there was an easy, tolerant light in his eyes that hadn't been there before. His jaw didn't clench and his lips weren't strained anymore--the anger had been beaten out of them with too many kisses and too much chatting and the rare smile. Gaara still didn't laugh (at least not when he was sane) but it wasn't so impossible to imagine anymore. He dressed better now too--his clothes were often new, though they didn't stay that way long.
And if one stopped...just stopped thinking about the past and what he had been and how fucking ugly he could get when he was angry and what a vicious little bastard Gaara could be one really had to admit that he really...
He really could be quite handsome.
Naruto caught himself staring, at the delicacy of his neck and the quiet brutal intelligence in teal eyes, at the fact that his hair would always look blood-red and a little crinkly against his skin that still didn't have a scar...
Naruto grinned suddenly, a blush on his cheeks. Gaara was watching him watch him through the corner of his eye, and the edge of his lip twitched ever so slightly in response.
"Find something interesting up there?" Naruto drawled carelessly as he pointedly undid the button holding his blue jeans up, fingers playing more on his stomach than on working the pants off.
Gaara arched one eyebrow, "Maybe. There's a storm coming soon--probably hit tonight. Should get inside," but he stepped onto the water's surface anyway, lighted a pale blue color from underwater lamps.
"Nah, let's stay outside--haven't you ever wanted to have sex in the rain?"
"No, not particularly. It'll get muddy..." but there wasn't much conviction in his voice. He brushed his nose against Naruto's, not so very interested in sex right then...not really. Just wanted to kiss him...just wanted to feel him care about him, feel him tease him.
Just, really, wanted to touch him. Wanted to know he wasn't alone.
When Naruto pushed him though, forced him, Gaara didn't fight. He couldn't help Naruto fight the things that were in his head, the things that kept him awake at night and silent, so he didn't stop him from getting what he wanted. He needed Naruto stay with him, needed him there, so he didn't stop him from getting anything he wanted.
It was possible Naruto didn't hurt him intentionally, but even if he was, even if he did, Gaara wouldn't stop him.
Why didn't you kill me?
"I...I don't know," and Naruto scuffed the grass under his sneakers distractedly.
You had the chance. What are you waiting for?
"I don't think I actually said I was going to. I never...I never planned to kill you. Really--not seriously. It crossed my mind, but my position of power was a lot different from yours. It's different when you're calling the shots, when all the responsibility is on you...I had to cover all bases, think of everything," Naruto shrugged, not quite apologizing but not proud.
You've never taken responsibility for a damn thing in your life, traitor. Don't come to me with that.
Naruto turned his head and sniffed disdainfully, "You're a fine one to talk--most people have a few skeletons in their closet, you've got a whole graveyard, Mr. I'm Going To Be A Creepy Snake-Guy When I Grow Up So I Can Beat The Crap Outta My Brother. We're the same like that. We're still the same like that."
We are nothing alike!! Nothing! I had my reasons--and I never killed indiscriminately, I never lost my mind and soul for something so cheap as that. I was willing to sell my soul to get what I needed: I'd never throw it away like you did. Never. We're nothing alike.
He couldn't see Naruto's face, but he still knew that Naruto was rolling his eyes exasperated.
You own Hell. Hell. You've got your own little Holocaust to your name, your own people--
-- your demon soul be damned for it. So stop dodging it...there's only one thing I want to know from you now: Why'd you let me live?
Naruto kept his arms crossed tightly in front of him even the sun wasn't cold nor the wind strong--there was only a faint stain of ash on it, a stain that had vanished from the real air, but not the choked-dead space behind Sasuke's eyes. He hesitated, considered, and then said, "You can't honestly expect me to answer that. I'm not going to answer that. I'm a little crazy, I'll admit I went a little crazy, but you don't actually expect me to answer that."
Why not? With everything you shoved down my throat, with everything you shoved into me...
There bitterness was palpable--almost as bad as feeling a cancer consume his heart at a million cells a split-second. Naruto knew the rules, deep down. One didn't spend so much time with the wild-folk without learning them, and even a hybrid and alien of two worlds had to admit that there was something to the Rules. He owed Sasuke something of an explanation...something. He owed him something. What it was though, what he gave Sasuke, was absolutely up to him.
"I...I can't tell you. You can cut my head off Sasuke...you can cut me and hurt me, but you can't kill me. I can't die anymore--I'm not gonna risk it by giving you that bit of information. You'd really get me then, and there wouldn't be any death waiting for me when the pain was too much--you could make my life a living Hell with that answer, so I'm not gonna give it to you. My life's bad enough as it is--I don't need you making it worse."
You selfish self-centered son of a bitch! That's all you can ever think about! You! It's--
"Trust me, I didn't have a mother at all. And if I did, she wouldn't be a bitch; she'd be a vixen. They're different," but Naruto didn't raise his head. His shoulders stayed slanted and his head hanging, defeated. "You won Sasuke. Get over it."
I won? I won? What are you on now? You raped me.
Naruto lifted his head up to the sky, but he still couldn't see his face, "You won. I won against the village, you won against me. Hurrah. So we both got what we were after, who we were after... Tell me Sasuke. I mean, I'm just curious. A little. Are you happy?"
"Not now. No fighting, not here. There's enough real life for that sort of thing..."
...this isn't real. This is another illusion.
"Nnn...not quite. This is a dream. Your dream--I'm just a tourist. Maybe you created me, maybe I'm the dead ghost of your old rival back to torment you," Naruto closed his eyes, gaping red moist hole slashed in front of his throat and staining his orange shirt, "but I...I really don't feel like fighting."
I told you. Fuck you. Get out.
"Not so easy--just tell me. Are you happy? Is this...I mean a year ago--hell, four months ago...did you ever think it'd be this way? Like this? I mean I know...I didn't."
What were you expecting then? Balloons? Jelly? Death?
"Death," Naruto agreed. "I was sure the ero-sennin and the old-hag would be able to kill me, I mean, they practically raised me; if anyone shoulda been able to kill me, it shoulda been them." There was stale green bitterness in Naruto's voice, like rotten pistachio nuts, "Wasn't though--it was you. Can't say I'm surprised."
Why'd you do it then?
And for once, Sasuke's patience held, watching the ghostly silhouette of Naruto's body against the plain white sky, his hands shoved lanky-like into his pockets and his back curved. It was a long time before Naruto answered, and it wasn't the answer he'd given Iruka, nor the answer he'd given himself when he first started out.
"Because I had to."
Sasuke didn't even have a body, not like Naruto did. He was just a hovering consciousness in his own mind, watching Naruto and talking to him. He never saw his face, never saw his eyes, because they were obscured somehow.
Sasuke had spent a good deal of his life reading his partner--he would've been tricked into buying far more ramen than his pocket could afford if he hadn't. He knew when Naruto was lying, and when he wasn't.
No. You didn't.
You wanted to.
Naruto didn't disagree. He didn't move in fact--there wasn't even a reaction. Somehow, Sasuke would have felt better for a reaction.
"So," Naruto said non-commitedly, because the silence was painfully sharp. But he didn't continue, and Sasuke said nothing at all.
If there was any doubt Naruto had been lying before, that he'd been a puppet of the demon fox against his will or oblivious to the fact before--it was absolutely erased. In Sasuke's mind, in Naruto's--for all purposes and intents.
"What if I did want to?"
It was a gamble, and they both knew it. Cold dead silence met it.
Naruto had lost again, but nobody knew if it was Sasuke who had won.
The blonde teen shook himself visibly, and rubbed his left arm. "I answered your question. You answer my mine."
"What did you expect to come out of this fiasco?"
You lied on your answer. I can lie on mine.
"Can't stop you."
...I expected you to die too.
Naruto's shoulders bounced up once like he was laughing, "Oh yeah? Hehe...think: it's so funny that neither of us was right, huh? Geez...what a crazy world. Just can't tell what it's thinking, sometimes."
I expected to die too. Reasonably.
Naruto turned to kick the nauseatingly green grass again, and shrugged. "Well...weird things happen. You didn't, I didn't...that's it. It was most everyone else who died, except for the two traitorous bastards who deserved it the most..." even though Sasuke couldn't see it, he could still feel that cheeky smile flashed at him. "That's us."
We're nothing alike.
"No. No we're not. But we're more alike than we wanna admit, more than anyone else out there...even old Gaara-kun isn't alike to me as you are. At least he's...he's got a good heart, underneath it all. He's an innocent old softy, really, just got one hell of a bite," and the invisible rueful, slightly jealous and bitter smile was tangible in the Dream air. "I'm not innocent. You're not either."
We're nothing alike.
"Hn," Naruto stretched his arms and twisted his back, "whatever Sasuke. I'm not gonna twist your arm over it."
There were some things that shouldn't be done, no matter what. But many of those things were done anyway, because they had to be. It wasn't much of a decision, just a conscious necessity, like urinating or bathing. What Sasuke said next was an example one such thing.
I always expected to wind up in bed with you. Somehow.
Perhaps as rape, definitely not sober, and probably not as friends but maybe so...but I knew... From the moment I saw you standing there, in the stone hall dressed in red and black with that fucking goddamned smile on your twisted lips I knew I'd have sex with you before I died. One way or the other.
I just...wasn't expecting it to happen and be so...
So aware of what was going on. For it to feel the way it did. I...I could've stopped you. I was never helpless. I'm never helpless.
Did you know that?
"...no. No I didn't. I..."
The bottom had fallen out of Naruto's world.
Sasuke watched on dispassionately, as an observer, not as a participator in the pain nor torment.
Shell-shocked would have been an appropriate word to use, as cold and distant as it sounded.
"Did...did you want to?"
It wasn't possible for Sasuke to shrug, since he didn't have a corporeal body, but the sentiment still came through.
It doesn't matter.
"It matters to me. It fucking matters to me Sasuke! Did...did you..."
That's none of your business.
You never said why you spared me. You lied when I asked you why you committed genocide. I don't have to tell you a damned thing, demon.
"You son of a bitch."
I knew my mother. She was a proper lady, human as well, not that you'd know anything of that.
Naruto bounced back, perhaps a bit clumsily, but he bounced back. He was good at bouncing back. "So I die, you die, and somewhere before that we have sex? That was your plan? That was your great plan? Geez Sasuke...you sure know how to pick 'em."
Naruto hesitated, then his shoulders bounced like he had laughed again. "Sure thing Sasuke. After all, it's only a dream, right? Have a fucking nice day." The world went dark, swallowing the misty figure bleeding blood onto the grass, showing nothing at all.
And then Sasuke woke up, the pillow under him and the bed small and empty. His body was there as he touched himself nervously, not bothering to sit up, just unsure if his heart was still beating or not. His skin was clammy and flat. The air was cold, and bothered his nose, but he didn't burrow under the sheets, since they seemed colder than the air, with only his own body heat.
Eventually, he got himself up and into the shower, turning the water to scalding hot before getting in.
Several miles and many hours journey away, by Gaara's side, Naruto opened his eyes a slip of the way, not looking at anything in particular, but running from the darkness behind his eyelids.
The taller pale boy (Naruto wondered if there was some sort of irony at work here) ran his hand through his hair, rubbing Naruto's temples with his thumb--there was no doubt Gaara had been watching the whole thing. Naruto didn't even know if he had talked in his sleep. He could've, and there wasn't a thing he could do about it now. Instead Naruto pressed his face into the spot below Gaara's neck, and closed his eyes.
The air was thick with words that were not said, with words that Naruto could not pick out of the one of the few minds locked to him and the only mind he needed to be reading at all. The only one he might've been able to help at all right then. Shukaku cannot be blamed for this.
And so Gaara steadily broke his promise, and was too much in something he might've described as 'love' to himself with Naruto keep it.
"Why don't you talk to him?" Gaara asked casually, closely inspecting the bottle in his hand while he asked it.
Naruto grinned impishly at, and kicked his heels against the building. Sugar always put him in a good mood for a little while. "How do you know I haven't talked to him?"
There was only one guy Gaara would ever bring up with that clinical, uncaring tone in his voice. Only one guy Gaara ever really bothered to talk about at all, really. He didn't know about Iruka, and Naruto had never really explained. He wouldn't ask.
They sat on the edge of one of the really tall buildings, seven floors total with half-empty bottles in their hands and two more in the cardboard crate. The sky was a comfortable velvet black with navy highlights, impossibly white and tiny stars hanging on invisible threads. Pale city lights and muffled sounds came from down below their feet, traffic in the early morning-late night oozing through the oily streets. Slow classical piano music was coming from the fifth floor by a fellow insomniac.
"Because you won't stop moping."
Sharp lime green shot through with pale sapphire offered no further explanation when Naruto shot him a sharp glance. Had anyone ever identified the color of Gaara's eyes? "All you do is think of him," Gaara added on a gamble, not completely sure, but pretty damn sure and a little angry about it in a hopeless way.
Naruto didn't answer immediately. He was still wary of Gaara's emotions, though he tried not to be.
Jealous of Sasuke. Oh god, not again... It was something he didn't want to talk about, something Gaara didn't need to hear about, but... But...why not take the chance? Maybe it'd get Gaara off his case for once. And--he really wanted someone to talk to. Talking to Gaara had always been easy; it'd been getting him to understand anything he didn't want to or didn't care about that had always been a pain in the neck.
"You know he was the only..." Naruto fiddled with the bottle's lip, "Only one who ever really hated me...because I was me? Not the kyubbi like everyone else did, or 'cause I was just some loser."
When in his memory had he ever given Sasuke the submissive respectful worship everyone else had? When had he been anything but rebellious, aggressive? He had admired him, sure, but he would still show him up whenever possible. Or try to, at least.
"He always saw me. Maybe 'cause he grew up alone; no parents to tell him not to talk to the weirdo. Even when I started growing stronger...started showing...what I really was...He never did figure it out. Really. He thought that power was mine. He felt that power, that hatred..."
Naruto fell silent. The stars shone. People lived. The atmosphere closed in, and Gaara waited. There was a lightening quick painful smile on Naruto's lips, and his eyes shone with memory.
"He thought it was me. Thought--Good old Naruto Uzumaki could do that, somehow. Could feel that... Hated me for it. For passing him up. I did what he couldn't. And he never really guessed...that it wasn't me."
Gaara sat still, and silent, but that was no different from before. But he looked at Naruto differently, and understood. He was Shukaku to everyone else long before he was ever Gaara to anyone, even to those closest to him--Yashamura and Temari, though sometimes he wasn't sure about that. To have that type of acknowledgement...that was existing.
And it wasn't all hate Gaara knew--he knew pure hate when he saw it, and it wasn't just hate, though they were drowning in it... None of that was very good for his interest though.
He had Naruto all to himself before. And now he was going away he was going away again, inside his head. Had been going away for a while, and for a long while he'd done nothing about it because he didn't know what to do--he still didn't. Sasuke always had something to do with it. Always. Naruto was silent still.
"I saw you. When I met you."
Naruto grinned sardonically. "Gaara-kun, you thought I was a punk when you first saw me. You were too busy wanting to kick Sasuke's ass."
"You thought I was a freak when you met me."
Naruto seemed to panic a little, a little bit of welcome life and goofiness coming back into his eyes. "Well...Yea~ah, but you snuck up on us, damn it! And you were hanging off the tree and you were just being, you know..." Naruto's hands fluttered, "Weird! I mean I...I don't think you're a freak anymore though."
So sensitive. He stretched out the tension a little longer, just for the hell of it. Naruto nearly looked contrite. "I mean I--"
"I still think you're a punk."
Naruto blinked, face faulted and blanked quickly, before swearing loudly, "Jerk!" and sticking his tongue out at him, turning his head away to take a big swallow of Peaches & Cream soda. Gaara had Orange & Cream. It was revoltingly too sweet. Gaara relaxed; Naruto smiling a little now, rueful and sharp, but smiling still as he kicked his heels and stared out at the lights.
The stars were pretty, and bright. God, they were so very pretty. So far away from everything and they were always there, even when you couldn't see them. They were always there; they didn't go anywhere or run away or say stupid things or cut anyone's throat at all. They just...were pretty.
Naruto was captivated.
Presently, he reached out his arm upward, fingers extended and stretched.
He wanted to hurt him. He wanted to kill him. He wanted to make him bleed, because it felt good to destroy something beautiful. Because there was something hauntingly irresistible about fallen angels. Because it gave him power. Because it made him stronger.
Naruto stretched his arm out further, trying to touch the stars.
He wanted to leave him. He wanted to fuck him, over and over and over again. He wanted to make him writhe in pleasure, screaming in ecstasy, to forget everything and everyone except for the feelings he was evoking, he was creating. He wanted to kiss him, gently and hard and madly and as often as he could.
He wanted his rare small smile and sarcasm, quiet strength and unshakeable trust and constant aggressive friendship and tragedy and pain and loneliness and hate and...
Naruto wanted to scream.
"They're pretty, aren't they?"
Naruto didn't answer. He couldn't stretch any further. This was as far as his arm went.
Gaara was glaring at him darkly. "Idiot."
Naruto didn't even turn his eyes.
Gaara's fist knocked into his jaw, sending him flying out over the empty space and the lights and action of the city. For a few seconds Naruto was without gravity, and he wondered if this was what freedom felt like, seeing the world far below you and feeling nothing at all...
White fingers gripped his jacket when it became apparent that Naruto wasn't going to try and get back on his own, twisted him hard in the air and threw him down wrestler-style, the roof crashing into Naruto's face, the gravel digging into his skin as he skidded back, his jaw feeling pain now. There was a vision of a dark figure outlined by the city lights and stars approaching him, vibrant green eyes blazing...Naruto rolled so he was slightly crouched with one foot on the ground and the other under him and not on his knees or his back because adore Gaara as he might, they were still demons.
But Naruto didn't bother to adapt a defensive position. He waited where he was, how he was, and was not afraid. His attention was half on the green eyes, half on the stars behind.
Gaara stopped in front of him. Silence for a few seconds.
"Talk to me," Gaara said softly.
Nothing. Not even the piano playing anymore.
"You make me nervous. Talk to me."
He didn't wince at the admission, but Naruto let his eyes fall. He talked.
"I'd kill him if I could. If he were right downstairs I'd be down there in a blink. I want to kill him. I want to end him. I want to end this!" Naruto did scream. "I don't want to dance anymore, not like this! I can kill him, you know. Too easily. I hadta be careful I didn't on accident. I want to. I can. I should."
Nothing. A faint squeal of tires from below as a stoplight was run or someone was killed. Or both. Gaara's constant questionable place beside him, sometimes there and sometimes not.
"If he were down stairs..." Gaara started slowly, watching for a reaction Naruto didn't give. "You wouldn't. You can't."
Nothing. Not the slightest hint of denial, really.
"And if I tried it... You'd fight me for him. Just like before. He's tearing you apart, but you'd still die for him, kill for him. Kill me."
Nothing. Complete lack of a twitch.
"No. I wouldn't kill you. I don't hurt you. You're crazy."
"You have before, Naruto," Gaara stated, using his name on purpose. Stretching it on purpose, because...because it had been so long since anyone had called him by his given name, by his human name, that Naruto had started to forget it.
Blank and very bright blue eyes stabbed his. He had left Gaara to die while he went to hold onto Sasuke. He might've abandoned him completely if he hadn't still been useful, if he had lost Sasuke anyway. With all this time, and Naruto had never put as much effort into making Gaara smile as he foolishly had into making Sasuke need him.
"You'd fight," Gaara continued, more than a little sure. "If I were serious, you'd kill me."
"Liar," Gaara spat firmly, softly, before pivoting on his heel and walking off the roof along the wall away from the street. He didn't have the patience for this; he didn't need this crap.
Naruto didn't watch him leave. After a while though, he turned to look back up the stars. Alone. Alone again.
They had returned to the desert on Gaara's request: he had thought it'd get Naruto's mind off the trees. But the stars were brighter in the desert than they were in the city, and Naruto's insomnia was starting to rival his own.
When it came to words, things deep and comforting, drops of water that healed the soul, Gaara really didn't know what to do. What he did know was that when he got pissed off enough it was time to take it out of the closest thing possible.
Naruto was always convenient, which may or may not explain the towering towers of melted warped glass that now towered amongst the desert dunes and were shattered with remarkable regularity and accuracy the night he did attack. Finally break the silence with a scream. The scream belonged to someone else.
The two demons were fighting, and making sure everyone knew about it.
Occasionally, an inhuman scream would break the sound of explosions and impact of sand hitting a wall of fire. They strayed too closely to a town (deliberately? Towns were pretty scarce to find in the desert, and Naruto had to wonder how deliberately Gaara had planned it all), because fights wandered in area among animals. Blood that wasn't demonic at all painted them now.
Naruto remembered the air slamming out of his lungs as his back hit something hard (adobe brick) that fell back a little under his weight and momentum. He remembered looking off to his side and seeing...something that wasn't Gaara. Someone that wasn't Gaara, wasn't Sasuke, wasn't Sakura nor Kakashi nor Iruka nor Konohamaru or anyone he knew lying in the rubble, the chest a punctured red cheese-board-looking thing. One hand was still moving though.
And Naruto was even more surprised to find that he, himself, had no impulse to help it. No impulse whatsoever. He wondered what could be causing the hand to move, //Rigor mortis? Muscle spasm? Remains of a nervous attack?// but as for helping it, for even easing the pain for an easy death...
There was a surprising lack of compassion on his part.
There was mercy in an easy death. It was an easy, cheap mercy for one used to killing without mercy. But Naruto, as he watched himself watch the child with the cheese-board chest, didn't even feel the urge. Not even a hint. He would've eaten a bag of potato chips in front of him without question before he helped that kid with the cheese-board chest.
It wasn't that he was so badly hurt that he couldn't get up--he just...didn't see the reason why he should. What was one life, compared to hundreds? Demons couldn't save anything, not even themselves--they could only destroy. Anything they owned, they destroyed. Anything and everything, and hadn't Naruto found that out yet? Didn't he know that already? Should have--he'd done it and destroyed every single thing he had, right down to his own body and neck.
Then the kid died.
Naruto turned his head and looked up against the crescent moon that Gaara was theatrically standing in front of. Sand slid on and off of him like water, lapping up blood that Gaara's own tongue stole out of his mouth to lap off his lips and cheek. He looked amused. Gaara was the first to speak, jerking his head at the kid that had captivated Naruto's wayward attention for the better of 10 minutes.
"Enjoy that, did you?"
"Tactless. You wasted time," Naruto answered without feeling.
"It's mine to waste. And I don't see what you're complaining about. You've done worse," and it was a terrible thing to see Gaara smile. It was always crooked, always a little malignantly perverse. He smiled then, said with a slight mocking tone, "You wanted to do it. You're a demon. This is what you do--this is what you are. Get over it."
Naruto saw red as he attacked.
In the desert, Gaara had the advantage. The whole living earth was his weapon, his defense, his sword and shield in the same neat moment. Gaara was fated to win, and they both knew it--perhaps on solid rock or the plains, hell, even near the ocean it would've been a fair fight, but in the Desert Gaara was The demon, and there was nothing Naruto could do about that.
Still, the outcome of the fight surprised even Naruto.
He remembered the feel of his elbow in Gaara's stomach, shattering through the sand armor and delighting in his pain and Gaara's, in feeling the twin stimulations of fear and hunger tear at his mind as he tore through the earth to reach the blood beating behind it. Pleasure in hearing his bones crack as he bent one arm back, wide green eyes startled and even more pleasure when he felt the bones break under his hand and through Gaara's skin until the ulna bone cut into Naruto's claws. Ecstasy when he heard the human boy and demon scream together in sync and out of pitch through agony--live shadow men running down his throat.
Gaara was torn up--his back, his arms, even his face; one eye was closed and bleeding thickly. It was possible he only had one eye left. His hands were especially beaten up. He'd put his arm back together again--it'd still be a while before he'd be able to use it again. His demon blood and sand was barely holding it together--one good hit, and he'd lose it forever. Might not even be able to keep it anyway.
Teeth and claws had had a good time at him--once Naruto realized his defense was just a minuscule slower, he had taken full advantage of it without thinking. His skin was burned again--he had more hair on one side of his head than the other, and his right shoulder was blackened below the skin. That really had to hurt.
Naruto kept his face twisted in a snarl, feeling his heart pound in his temples as the sand crushed his still-struggling body and kept his hands open and fingers apart, grains burrowing into his flesh and going into his blood to kill him that way if need arose, arms twisted behind and away from him. He was angry.
He didn't doubt Gaara would kill him--they'd kill everyone else around them by that time, everyone who mattered and everyone else who didn't and was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They killed--it was all they could do.
Gaara stared at him, one eye bruised and the other closed.
He'd...well he had started the fight because he was frustrated, because something needed to clear the air and everything had just sort of...spiraled from there. He hadn't expected Naruto to go for the throat. Hadn't expected Naruto to take it personally, to actually try to kill him, to want to. He...he nearly had.
Anywhere else, and he might've. Naruto could move unbelievably fast in fox-form, and was still tricky to predict. If not for the sand...not for the acres of his weapon, his defense, his mother's spirit haunting him and slithering to his rescue...
"This is what we are," Naruto rasped back, the good old gallows humor kicking in now. "This is all we can do--this is all we can ever do. What are you waiting for?"
Gaara's fingers twitched as he startled, but that was it. The promise was broken in its entirety then, and only Gaara realized it.
He meant it. He could hear it in his voice. Just...he just wanted to...
Naruto the Bastard. Naruto the Demon King. Now and forever.
You were never loved!
The sand slid away, crept away, went crawling for something to hide in or under but there wouldn't be relief for it because the blood wouldn't come off the grains until the next rain, and that wouldn't be for a while. Not for another month or so, or perhaps a thousand years.
Naruto dropped to his feet with the funny double-ankle effect, hands already ready for an attack in front of him, teeth and claws flashing and blue-green flame hissing as it ate the empty air near him. His eyes were focused, narrowed sharp, and still ready to continue it.
For a stretched, painfully long second like a skein of silk being stretched and stretched impossibly until the threads started to warp around each other as they struggled not to break, not to separate, not to be alone, Gaara stared at him, one eye bruised and the other bleeding.
"You love him," was all Gaara said.
There were a dozen things he could have said, a hundred things he meant to say, but what it all boiled down to was that. Just that. Simply that.
Before...that...Naruto hadn't blinked at killing, hadn't been so goddamned hateful of himself because of what he was and of Gaara because he was just the same. When Naruto had created and taken the title of Demon King, it had been in a spree of pure mad pleasure, finding the ability to win ridiculously easy, finding the taste of power to be heady and intoxicating. He had reveled being what he was, and Gaara had to admit some...pride also, watching Naruto enjoy himself. Had to admit some pride, and some admiration, and...and something else, that he still hadn't told Naruto about.
Gaara had thought...had hoped...that they could be together because they were alike. Because they were the same thing. But Naruto hated being what he was now.
Hadn't Yashamura said love could change people? Make them heal...or make them break. And that...that explained it all. That explained everything.
Gaara lowered his eyes.
Gaara stared out emptily into space. Not here and not there. Definitely not here. So sad.
"No. No I don't! I don't love anybody..." and that was still the wrong thing to say but Naruto really didn't give a fuck. Screw him! Gaara had hurt him--reflexively, Naruto hurt him back without thinking, without consulting the human part that Sasuke had scorned and forgotten him--left him because Naruto didn't want to be human anymore. But he couldn't stand to be a demon either.
He watched Gaara wince--because of what he had said. Because of what he had said covered in someone else's blood, the blood of someone who had never known him. To a demon or an animal spirit, it wouldn't have mattered, because demons didn't have morals they had to live up to. They just lived as they were; no problems. But neither Naruto nor Gaara were really demons--they just had the power. That was it, but it was very easy to forget that clothes do not make the man.
Naruto snorted, before standing up to his full height, towering a little over Gaara, the sand dead all around them. Dead and still. //I asked him to kill me, didn't I? ...yeah. I did. Told him to actually, but...yeah.//
Naruto watched silently. He could feel Naruto's eyes walking on him, sliding over and into his eyes. Just silently. The blue-green flames tore and slashed through Naruto's knees without hurting him, agitated.
"And I wanted you for me. Just for...."
Finally Naruto spoke, voice cold as stone and flat as the sky "Selfish?"
Gaara winced, but he didn't turn away. If Naruto was angry, then he should be. And somewhere in the childishly innocent area that Gaara still had preserved in him somewhere, he honestly...hoped at least, that Naruto wouldn't hurt him. Not Naruto.
//...he loved him. Not...never...//
//I was stupid.//
//Foolish...that was all.//
//I don't feel better.//
"..." he tried to answer, but his throat was stuck. And his lips wouldn't move. They could move, they just wouldn't. Barely discernible, Gaara nodded. He wasn't shaking, but he was bleeding badly--in more places than could be seen.
Naruto knew he should be shifting, knew he had hurt someone that he...that he hadn't wanted to. Knew he should be feeling some type of guilt, remorse...but like that thing with the village, like that thing with Iruka and his father, like that thing with Sasuke and the betrayal of his own demons, he didn't feel a thing at all. He found himself analyzing the situation instead.
//...I didn't have the right to hurt him.//
//No, I had the right.//
//I said I wouldn't.//
//No, he said he wouldn't let me.//
//But he did.//
"You should have...you could have killed..." thankfully but too late, Naruto didn't finish the sentence, but it was painful that he had started it at all. Gaara still didn't shake, his mind still whirling and heart still aching with what he knew now. He swallowed, and was tired. More than anything, he wanted to lie down and never wake up. Never.
Something flickered through Naruto. Flickered, and he acted before it died.
Fingers brushed lightly against Gaara's cheek, pushed back the rebellious red hair that wouldn't stay behind his ear and watched it slip back out again. Fingers tipped with claws, larger than normal and leaner like paws touched the bleeding eye carefully with the back of them, because the front tips would cut no matter what, and then went away. Gaara would keep both his eyes.
//You had me if you wanted sex. You had me if you wanted kisses, if you wanted someone to pet you and talk with you...someone to insult you, because that's all he ever did to you but you...you...//
Almost instantly, but still holding back at the last minute, Gaara leaned into the touch, his head still securely tied to his neck and body, his one good eye closing and his chest heaving more than a little painfully. Gaara's nose and forehead touched the center top of Naruto's chest when he leaned against him--he'd forgotten how much taller he got like this.
He couldn't see Naruto's face, could only feel his fingers running through his hair and down his neck. Naruto couldn't see his face, so he wouldn't know if Gaara was lying or telling the truth.
"For myself. All for myself. It...is selfish, isn't it?"
Was that a statement or a question? Was he asking Naruto if it was selfish to want him that way, if it was bad to want him exclusively? Or was he saying it was?
"Selfishness happens. It's a thing in life. It's nothing to be ashamed of." Nothing at all like Naruto had to be ashamed of. If he could even still feel ashamed now. He didn't feel it now; didn't feel much of anything except maybe vague pity and acceptance that something big had happened, that something had changed.
He had seen Gaara hurt before, seen him vulnerable and weak, but he'd never seen him helpless. He tried to find it in himself to hate himself for making the red-head he sometimes thought of as 'cute' hurt that way, but didn't. Didn't feel any more sympathy than he had for the cheese-board-chest kid, and Naruto wondered absently what the hell was wrong with him.
"I wanted you the same," he lied to make the nicer boy happier.
Gaara's eyes dimmed. "You want Sasuke the same. Not me. Sasuke." //Because you can't have him. Because he'll kill you...and that's what you want now.// Green eyes clenched closed tighter in pain, and his jaw ached. His heart had stopped beating; his lungs had dissipated into acid that was eating through his stomach like tapeworms.
The fox answered truthfully with a shrug, "Sort of."
Gaara was silent for a little while. What kind of answer was that? That wasn't even a real answer! //...anger. I need anger. ...help me. You son of a bitch...you help me now! I actually need you now. Give me the anger I need--the hate. That's what I need. That's all I ever needed.// There was a silence in Gaara's head. The demon didn't answer.
Naruto finally smiled a little, but only with his mouth. His eyes told a different story. Gaara couldn't see it anyway, and with the fox's half-body every smile looked like a snarl or sneer, so it was a good thing. "Selfishly still. But not so much."
Now Gaara could either take that as a compliment, or he could take it as an insult. It all depended on how he saw it. Mostly, it didn't make sense. But he had the feeling he had just been insulted.
A rough hand lightly settled over Naruto's thigh; not exactly a sexual gesture, but more of a possessive one. Inside him, Gaara was screaming in pain. Outside, he was quiet and mature, which was another word for hiding or denying. Vaguely, Gaara nodded. "You love him."
Naruto said nothing. The more he kept saying No, the more Gaara kept saying Yes. He had already answered that question, and Gaara was stupid to keep asking it. Thinking it. Just stupid.
"Don't worry. It's not..." Gaara paused, and then seemed to rally himself. His voice was strained, but he still managed to speak. The restraint could have been from fatigue.
"Not a problem. Won't do anything. Don't worry," he said quietly, his voice breaking and trembling just slightly, so slightly that you wouldn't notice it unless you were listening for it. People always did what he wanted because they were terrified of what he would do if they didn't, if he didn't threaten they wouldn't do anything for him. He didn't want Naruto to be like that.
Naruto rubbed his shoulder, squeezed and massaged it, holding him closer as Gaara squirmed and rubbed his face against his chest, his free hand coming up to grip his side, rising carefully on his toes to place his head on his shoulder without allowing Naruto to see his face. Naruto's double-ankles lowered themselves, so Gaara could rest his head better. Kisses touched his neck gently, not to excite him but to calm him, soothe him.
Kisses to help him through.
Arms around him, rocking him gently. Arms around him strong, not letting go, keeping him safe and keeping him from being alone. Strong hands rubbing over his back, completely unafraid of him. Worried, perhaps, perhaps not, for him. But not afraid of him. His armed burned--it would heal to working-order before morning.
"You deserve somebody better than me, Gaara-kun. You really do."
Gaara was grinding his head against his shoulder, good bloody fingers digging into his back.
//No. No. No.//
//Just you. Just you. Always, just you.//
//Shut up! Shut up just...just shut up. You don't know anything. You don't know a damn thing.//
//...I know how he looks out the window when he thinks you're not looking. I know. You know. Soon. Soon you'll be all mine again.//
//...fuck you. Never. Not letting him go. Never letting him go. Mine. He's mine.//
In his head, Gaara could hear laughter. Laughter at him. He closed his eyes, and concentrated on Naruto's smell close to him, and shut the darkness out.
And that was how Gaara broke his promise to Naruto.
It was a good thing Kakashi was secretly awake, or else Sasuke would have found himself with a broken arm the minute he tried to touch him, especially his face, especially while Kakashi was--to be very specific--in his own bed and not someone else's on accident. As it was, Kakashi had taken precautions to sleep with his mask on the past few nights ever since he noticed Sasuke had been getting restless again, only this time he isn't haunting the wilds anymore--just Kakashi's bedroom window.
Children were so precocious.
He opened his eyes and glared feebly because it was too much work to put more effort into the act, expecting Sasuke to draw back and leave or maybe try to feed him some lame excuse. Or maybe simply act weird. Sasuke decided to act very weird, because he didn't leave his side, nor his fingers the edges of Kakashi's lips through his mask.
"Sasuke." Kakashi pushed down the urge to force his hand away; he had been around with enough people to recognize what someone was thinking when they touched him like that. It didn't happen often, but then he didn't let himself be touched often either anyway. And he was tired--Iruka had made him go through the paperwork. Right then, Kakashi hated Iruka, paper, and people who woke him up. Mostly, he hated paper. Most of it was still there. Sasuke was too, but Iruka was not, so one out of three was...okay. Not great, but okay.
"You don't know what happened to me." Sasuke's voice was calm, collected, and cool. It sounded vaguely rehearsed--Kakashi wondered mildly if he practiced in front of the mirror first before coming. //...well. Strip me naked and spank my ass, he's speaking. Huh. Wow. ...why don't I like that color in his eyes? Probably because it looks like he's been drinking. Yeah. That makes sense.//
"You never said," Kakashi pointed out. The fingers didn't leave his mask--and through the mask, his lips. They kept tracing and pushing against them lightly, feeling them push back. Sasuke wasn't stupid; he knew he looked...good. To his everlasting resentment and advantage, he did look handsome. He kept his voice purposefully deep, soft, thoughtful while still being charged.
"I saw the way you used to look at Iruka. You don't look at him that way anymore."
"Stop it," he bit out, not anticipating an attack from that angle. Not anticipating an attack at all. He sat up and forced the fingers away, not surprised but not pleased when Sasuke's wrist twisted around so he could grab his own. His skin was feverishly warm, and his eyes too bright, too avid. He didn't seem intimidated at all. "That's enough."
Sasuke shook his head once, "No. No it's not." The bright look never left his eyes. He smelled like sex, and his fingers still stroked at the underside of his wrist, at his pulse seductively.
//Stay cool, think it through.// "You're not thinking clearly. You're drunk."
"I'm thinking clear enough. I know where I am and I know what I'm doing and I know why. That's clear enough." His voice was level, and reasoning sound. Hell, it'd been Kakashi himself that taught him to think like that. "And I'm not drunk--I don't drink."
"Only thing worse than a guy who drinks is a guy who doesn't. What do you want?"
Even through the darkness, he could still see the chilly uncertainty and confusion in a single gray eye. But no disgust. No disgust, not yet...and maybe desire? It was too early to tell. It was too hard to tell. It was too hot to tell. And Kakashi hadn't shoved him away yet, which made the moment as good as any he would get.
Sasuke moved in.
Kakashi startled back and didn't get away, his breath going out in a burst and really not expecting this. Sasuke was kissing him. Sasuke had his hand buried in his hair and one arm wrapped around him and was practically sitting in his lap and kissing him passionately through the mask. And, Kakashi firmly decided, if this wasn't an 'Irk?' moment, he didn't know what was. He grunted/squeaked unattractively slightly in surprise.
//I haven't gotten laid in two years...that girl didn't count.//
//I've never been molested by anyone younger than me...this is unusual. Oh wow. I will write this day down in my calendar.//
//Why is he doing this? Did I miss something?//
Sasuke tried to make sure he realized his eyes were shut closed tight before shoving down the mask and running into Kakashi's hand shoving him away hard, his fingers firmly over his eyes but not gouging. He let go of the mask, eyes dark and wild in his face and Kakashi's own winter gray eye simply regarded him quietly, dispassionately, mask back in place. He let go of him again, sitting back to see what would happen, not really caring as long as Sasuke didn't try to yank his mask again.
//...no. No I haven't missed anything. I hadn't been expecting him to be this forward though, this...//
Kakashi hadn't pushed him out yet. Hadn't said anything and didn't feel offended yet, just surprised and mildly agitated. He tried again. He really did. He tried hard. Not as hard as he could have though, because...
//...this needy. This desperate. So. You haven't grown up at all, have you kid? Not really. So this is what happened to you. This is what he got you thinking.//
Kakashi was thinking. Why he was doing this, why him, what made him act now--useful things. Shinobi things. Actual thinking and stuff. Sasuke closed his eyes, chest heaving and head hurting and just wanting one simple easy little thing and curled up on his shoulder. Kakashi finally wrapped his arms around him, held him.
He tried kissing his neck through the cloth, rubbing his nose against it and still felt a tingle run through his body but it was more giddy-surprised and repulsed than satisfied. That didn't stop him from rubbing his hands along his back, rumpling his shirt or rubbing against him. He wanted something. He needed something. This was a different type of hunger, one that he couldn't fix by going out and killing something or that he could just pick some nameless whore to take care of because he needed more than that. He wanted more than that. And he couldn't get the little phantom touches out of his dreams.
//I always hoped...I always knew you two would pull each other apart if you didn't pay attention. Damn it. If I didn't paying attention. Looks like you two managed it after all. You've made each other's life a living hell after all.//
After a while he slowed down, stilling, but continued trembling in his lap his cheeks still flushed. But his hand relaxed on Kakashi's back, clinging to the long-sleeved dark blue shirt he wore to sleep.
//Good job. Congratulations. And here I was wondering if you had it in you or not--silly me. Of course you did.//
"Sasuke. What happened?" Not that he couldn't guess, but more to make the younger talk, make the younger realize what had happened had happened and that was just it. More to make him get it off his chest and on with his life, wherever that happened to be. He shuddered and clung to him harder, eyes shutting. Sasuke's voice was raspy, fast, "I wouldn't take up your time."
"You are taking up my time. What happened?"
The body tightened against him. "Nothing. Nothing. It doesn't matter now."
"I think it does."
Sasuke shook his head and nibbled on the cloth over his neck. No, it didn't matter. It didn't. It didn't matter at all.
"Sasuke, you can either talk, chill out, or get the hell out of my room. But stop doing that."
"Does it bother you?" he whispered softly, caressing the silvery hair at the nape of Kakashi's neck. Yeah right, like he'd believe some threat like that. Kakashi had never thrown him out before; he wouldn't do it now. People would start doing like they were supposed to again. They wouldn't act strange anymore. He could count on Kakashi for that, surely.
Sasuke coughed something that may have been a self-effacing laugh on anyone else, and smirked as he felt Kakashi's shoulder blades through his shirt.
"I'm not who you want me to be," the stroking stopped. "You've got the wrong guy." The body went stiff on his lap, and Kakashi kept his hands free and ready for anything.
He expected Sasuke to swear or deny it, maybe even try to hit him. Something. Nothing happened though. His body went cool. //Fuck. How deep is this?// And Kakashi held him warmly for the first time, overriding his own instincts, and securely in case Sasuke suddenly decided to bolt and kissed the temple of the boy he had always imagined his son would be, if he ever had one.
Sasuke didn't move. He was barely breathing. He didn't trust Kakashi; he knew better than that, but he was kind of hoping that it wouldn't be too much to...ask. Just for a little while. Nothing real. Just a little...away time. Just for a while. When he felt arms hold him and hands scratch and rub gruffly at his back, he thought there was still a chance.
"Just a while."
"It doesn't have to..."
"Because that's not what you need." //You should know better than that. I thought you did.//
"I don't...wanna sleep..."
Kakashi didn't respond immediately, but after a while hugged him hard. "You can stay here."
"No. You can stay here. No questions. But not that; it won't help you, and it won't help me either."
"Doesn't have to mean anything."
Kakashi was free to leave him in the morning--he wasn't asking for emotional compassion, just physical release. That was all--there was too much inside him that needed out, and Kakashi was the only one he trusted enough to even approach for fresh bandages of left-over food. This...this wasn't asking much. He had seen the way Kakashi looked at other males sometimes--not provocative, but simply evaluating.
Sasuke knew he measured up--already knew that, though Kakashi had never looked at him that way. Whatever he wanted, whatever kink he had in the closet (probably a thousand), he could do. Sasuke just...just didn't want to be asleep. Didn't want to be alone. And Kakashi was the only one he trusted now.
//And where did you learn that?// "That's not the point. The answer's no. But I'd like it if you stayed here," he hugged him again, playfully this time. "Gets cold at night."
"Just once..." and he can feel a slight...twitch in the elder. Nearly a...surrender? Maybe? Just once, just once and that would be enough to chase that thing out of his dreams, out of his nightmares. Just once. Just enough to chase that ghost out of his bed, just once, just enough.
The younger boy slipped back, and again Kakashi kept his hands free and ready. Sasuke pulled the headband down, over his eyes so he can't see, and reached out for his face and for his mask, tugging it down with still gentle but no-nonsense fingers. And...he let him. What the hell; let him get it out of his system.
He tasted like spiced ramen and faintly like burnt cinnamon and salty sunshine, his lips shaped like candy and agile strong from all that smiling and laughing and swearing he was always doing. Sasuke had dreamed about how he tasted. Now he knew. Now he knew, and it was better than he had dreamed.
Kakashi tasted cold. Cold and hard. He didn't fight, but that was all the encouragement he got. He tasted...well he tasted like dinner. That soupy thing that he didn't want to ask what the meat was or where it came from and didn't believe was a domestic animal at all. And he felt just like Sasuke did. Nothing special. Nothing wholesome he could feed on or off of.
Sasuke leaned back, head down and hands drawn to his sides but not quite wrapped around his body. "You don't know what he did to me..."
Kakashi didn't say a word. //So it was Naruto. Damn; I wish I wasn't right.// Silently, he pulled his mask back up.
"I could have fought." //You didn't? Why the hell wouldn't...//
"I killed it. It won't go away. It doesn't matter what I do. It won't go away. It's worse than before."
//Worse than before? Worse than...Worse than Itachi? Is that...no. No, I don't know what he did to you. I have no idea. This goes beyond rape--that's what I figured.//
//...How the hell am I going to get Hinata to get a good look at you? Damn. That's gonna be a trick.//
//But you did kill it... Finally learning that doesn't cure everything? Death doesn't solve everything...I had hoped you'd learn that earlier, but now is good enough. Good enough to work with.//
Sasuke didn't seem eager to say anything else, and after a while, Kakashi pulled him closer, held him loosely in his arms with his headband still hiding his eyes.
//...you killed it. You killed him. ...God, what did that cost you? More than you had? Have you even paid yet? Yet for him...for him to be dead and you to be without a mark...you're not that amazing, not that inhuman Sasuke. You have limits still, I've seen them. So for you to have killed him...//
//...he let you. He let you do it. He let you...and you know it, don't you? You know it. You're not that strong. He let you.//
//What the fuck were you two thinking?//
"He wouldn't stop..." there was heavy breathing on against his shirt, but Sasuke's body was still cool, still sluggish and tired. Very tired. No wonder he'd been falling up on missions; he hadn't slept for a very long time. And he hadn't slept much during the rest period--not real sleep. Kakashi had been watching for that.
"You're staying here tonight."
"He wouldn't stop..." Kakashi stayed silent, but tilted his head down enough to indicate that Sasuke had his full attention if he wanted it. If he wanted it. He was too good at closing up, far too good. "I don't know if...I don't know what I would've done. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair. It--"
He swallowed hard.
"It should've been me."
"What...what I don't get is..." he trailed off. His voice wasn't breaking, didn't carry much emotion, but there was a lining to it that it usually didn't carry. //...what it cost you was too much.//
Kakashi blinked thoughtfully, somber. "He made his choices freely, and he made them to be permanent. For whatever reason...maybe it was revenge. It isn't pretty." The body in his arms and lap didn't twitch, but he was still hoping the message got through to him--now Sasuke had a strong physical example of what revenge brought for him to contend with, maybe not enough to throw him off course but maybe, hopefully, strong enough to make him think about it.
Sasuke always thought he'd be the one to fall from grace; after all, he was the one without dreams, without hope, the one who couldn't get close for fear and need. He wasn't like his teammates, with something nobler and bigger than themselves to chase after, something great to be one day. Sasuke only needed to be his brother's killer--that was all. He never intended to continue the Sharingan line after he was dead, never planned to marry, never planned to have kids. He didn't plan to do anything besides be his brother's murderer. After that, he didn't plan to be anything at all. He wasn't like the others--never like the others.
If anything bad had to happen, it'd happen to him. The others...Sakura and Naruto...they'd be well out of it. It'd just be him.
He'd been so sure when he left with the Sound, that it'd be the first and last time he would wear the Leaf insignia. He'd been so sure.
He didn't want to talk about it.
"I should go."
"No. You shouldn't."
"I hurt those around me. I'm tired."
"It's not you...you're tired. You need to sleep, you'll feel better in the morning."
Kakashi wondered if Sasuke could hear the hesitation in his voice, and hoped he couldn't. "Sure."
"Liar. You always lie to me." //About everything. About nothing. I don't care anymore. Hurts.//
"Not always," Kakashi answered with a slight smile in his voice that he didn't feel, because Sasuke spoke the truth and that really hurt, especially when you were so used to dealing with illusions and lies of what was really there. Comforting in a way.
"You're staying here tonight."
"You can't make me."
"Can't I?" Kakashi asked quietly.
Sasuke was silent in a disturbing way, still in his arms. He hadn't taken the headband off his eyes, blinding--the headband with the Leaf insignia on it, saying he belonged to a place that didn't exist, a place that he wasn't sure if he had ever belonged to even when it was there.
Cool slender fingers found his mask once more, and tugged it down, running over his lips and along his chin, gently holding his face in place. There was a limit to how far Kakashi would allow things to go--for God's sake, he still thought of Sasuke as his son. His brat. His stupid little kid who ran in first and thought second that he had taught the Chidori to that Gai used to yell at him for, because he was either a Copy-cat or a creator of his own attacks, but he couldn't be both at once! It wasn't fair!
The only one Kakashi had taken a special interest in his training, because he was so much like himself at that age--stupid and reckless. Because a debt was owed, and those had to be paid, one way or the other.
But...but who was he to tell a guy to go find comfort somewhere else? He hadn't denied Obito when he used to ask him--and Sasuke was so much like him in some twisted dark pretty way that it was just stupid to deny him too.
So when cool, slightly feverish lips touched his again, nervously, dark hair trembling a little and eyes still covered, Kakashi kissed him back no harder than he would've kissed some girl he just met and had no idea who the other was. Sasuke was firm--he'd known that already--and cool. But willing, and deeply terrified at the same time. Whatever the hell had happened to him had happened hard. Broken in bits, and barely holding himself together with spit, the boy shivering in his arms and kissing someone he knew because he wouldn't kiss someone he didn't. He really didn't want to be kissing anyone at all, but he didn't want the phantom kisses he was getting either.
For a few minutes that was all it was--cold, simple kisses traded because there was no one else to trade with. Kakashi's arm around his waist and hand petting his back like a cat, nibbling his lower lip until Sasuke's muscles relaxed. When Sasuke started...going a little harder, trying stuff with his tongue, fingers poking under his shirt and touching age-old scars, all Kakashi had to do was say his name, and he stopped. Not because Sasuke was afraid of what he would do, but because Kakashi really wasn't the one he wanted, and he wasn't about to let him forget that. Simple.
His back fit against his chest nicely, since Sasuke had grown straight up but still had lots of time and space to fill out in and Kakashi was still bigger than him, and taller. Kakashi kept one arm wrapped around him, and had to share the same small pillow in the same not-really-big bed, and woke up the next morning in an empty bed and a crick in his neck that made it impossible to turn his head even a little to the left.
The punk hadn't even made him breakfast before he left. Kakashi sighed. //Little punk...God I hate kids...// Then he pulled the badly made Thai take-out of the fridge and popped it in the microwave, and eventually had something decent to eat.
Two nights later Sasuke returned to him without words, slipped into the bed, but that time, that time...Kakashi made sure he made breakfast before he left. There were scrambled eggs with bits of shell in them to eat--as a whole Kakashi guessed it could've been worse.
Naruto carried him.
Where and to what he didn't care because it really didn't matter, but he had carried him somewhere with a bed, shower, and empty refrigerator. That said a lot. Wherever they went, the refrigerator was always empty, because they never settled down, never called one place home or safe more than a few nights at best, and that was what they needed most of all. A physical anchor, because they were too unstable to provide an anchor for each other.
Naruto had left him on the bed bleeding while he went to take a shower, and Gaara had already checked the fridge and small kitchenette for something decent or even indecent to eat and found nothing. His arm ached and worked, and he washed his face in the kitchen. He could open both eyes now, and it pained him to do so.
Gaara's time with Naruto wore well on him--but it all depended on Naruto. Once that was taken away, it was over.
Eventually the water stopped running and Gaara waited with the reusable sheets against his cheek, curled on his side facing the bathroom door. When Naruto came out he didn't look up, just watched the wet thighs and human knees coming towards him, until they vanished as Naruto sat down near his legs, not touching.
When it came down to it, what did Gaara have to offer him that he didn't already have? Understanding, yes, but no solution. Affection, but couldn't show it right.
What could Naruto offer him? What could Naruto give him, if he chose? //Everything.//
//But he won't.//
//...you don't know that.//
Gaara reached up without looking and touched his lips; felt Naruto's fingers close over his hand gently. When he glanced up, he noticed that Naruto had already cut his hair--probably with a razor in the bathroom, so it hung at odd angles and lengths around his face. The whisker marks looked like they had been outlined in mascara, but they weren't much bigger than normal. At least his eyes had turned back to pale blue again--that was...that was...
Gaara pulled him down.
His clothes were still hanging off him and bloody, and around his neck was still the leather thong that five shards of handmade rough glass were tied to. He didn't think Naruto still had his glass orb necklace--hadn't seen it on his neck for about a month or two now. Had just stopped wearing it altogether. Maybe he'd lost it--it was the sort of thing Naruto would do.
His jaw tasted like water, and his skin and hair were freezing because he hadn't used hot water to bathe in. Gaara made a point of not kissing his mouth, of not touching it with anything more than fingers. His skin was smooth, unbroken. One couldn't even tell that Naruto had been in a fight at all.
Still, he turned Naruto onto his back, fingers tangled in wet cold hair, and put his fingers over his lips when he started to speak. Whatever Naruto would've said, wouldn't have been "I'm sorry." Naruto had made a point to never apologize for anything in his life, not for anything and not to anyone. It was a rant Gaara had heard a couple times before, as if Naruto was trying to convince himself by convincing Gaara first who at the time hadn't cared. Even now, that wasn't what he cared about. It wasn't the apology he wanted--he just wanted him to stay. All he had ever wanted. Ever.
So he kept his fingers against lips that were soft now, slightly rosy in a masculine way against skin that was still sunburnt-brown, and eyes that were still pale blue and that he loved to look into. But...there had always been something in them. In his eyes. Some emotion, some life. There wasn't anything in them now, so Gaara kissed them both, first the right then the left, and sat up to take off the rest of his broken clothes.
Naruto just stared up at him quietly, not understanding a damn thing but not wanting to make another stupid mistake and not wanting to encourage him but not wanting to hurt him either. So he did nothing.
Did nothing while Gaara nibbled down his neck, to his collarbone, taking the full initiative with full permission to do whatever wherever he wanted. When he got to his nipples, kissed them first before licking them, finally suckling hard before biting once Naruto pushed his head into the bed, eyes closed and his hands found Gaara's hair, but he didn't pull. Didn't push either, just let him do what he wanted, stroking his fingers through red hair stiff with blood in some places.
The sound of Naruto's breath hitching, feeling his fingers running over his scalp pleasantly and knowing that his head was pushed back with the calm look of pleasure on his face was more than enough to keep Gaara going, more than enough to persuade him that this was good.
//He still wants me.//
//He'd do it for any woman.//
//I'm not a woman.//
//Not far from it. He wouldn't care anyway.//
Gaara bit down on his stomach, and Naruto yelped and his eyes sprang open. But he didn't stop him, didn't hurry him either. His fingers rubbed over Gaara's neck, feeling his bones and squeezing the tension gradually out of them, not wanting to hurt him anymore than he already had, while at the same time not caring what happened to him. Not caring a thing about him, or about himself, really.
Fingers that were luke-warm and slightly wet poked into him, and for a minute Naruto almost got up and threw Gaara out the window. He'd been crappy at it before, and Naruto wasn't the quivering heap of misery he'd been anymore--Gaara didn't have any right to try that type of shit with him.
But he didn't get up, didn't try and do anything. Just let him. What the hell.
Gaara felt--oddly uncomfortable, watching Naruto watch him, pale blue eyes taking in every movement but giving out nothing of himself. And that fact, the idea of Naruto actually being reserved was more than enough to weird even Gaara out. If anything, he was almost evaluating him, judging him. That thought was worse.
Still, he went through with it, entering him roughly, breathing hard and looking down at pale blue eyes that were fogged over slightly but still watched him closely, the angle of his mouth, the line of determination in his brow...everything. It was tighter than he remembered, and cooler too, and Gaara's stomach flipped with some pleasure and confusion at the same time as he continued slowly thrusting into Naruto's ass hard.
Naruto, for his part, was wondering if this was what it had felt like for Sasuke.
At one point, Gaara had to close his eyes, had to picture the winning smile and trickster grin and cheerful blue eyes that he had fought and bled for, the voice that made him feel at home even after he had wrecked his home to the ground. Had to picture that, picture that person, that sensation of light-hearted simple joy and completion, felt his movements speed up and hands grip hips, feeling hot and hopeful and tight and finally came, biting his lip.
The body under him warmed up, the breathing sped up, as did the slight moans. Truly, Gaara was a bit rough, holding his hips a bit too hard and not always hitting his prostrate right, so while the sensation and pressure was there, there was no pleasure. But it was pleasant still for Naruto, to have someone suck at his neck and stroke him between his legs, even if Gaara wasn't good at screwing him. Good at being screwed, but not the other way around.
The motions sped up, so that the bed moved a little, to the point where Naruto was finally participating, moving Gaara where he wanted him to hit the good-spot, hissing slightly and arching into Gaara's nails raking down his chest and mouth that bit his fingers idly. Gaara had never been gentle, but Naruto didn't feel like gentle right then, so eventually they both came, with a sigh and a gasp of slight surprise.
Gaara rested his forehead against his shoulder, resisting the urge to bite his neck. He liked doing that; liked the idea that he could claim and visibly mark Naruto as his for no one else to touch with a simple movement, but it wasn't that simple anymore. Naruto had never liked it when he did that...and it took him this long to realize it. This fucking long to realize it. To accept it. To figure it out. Not the fact that Naruto didn't like a little pain or roughness, because he did. What he didn't like was Gaara trying to take possession of him.
And it took him this fucking long to realize why.
"I love you," Gaara said flatly after sitting up, staring straight into Naruto's eyes with his fingers against his lips again.
His green eyes were flat, and stuck somewhere between indifference and honesty. Gaara's fingers were feather light against his lips, no real obstacle at all. Partly, it was to keep Naruto from answering until Gaara was finished. Partly, it was to keep from knowing that Naruto had nothing to answer with. Naruto didn't answer.
"I don't expect you to answer now," Gaara said flatly. "It didn't end with Sasuke, and it didn't start with sex. If you reject it, it will continue."
Hard aquamarine squared cut rocks, rich red hair and porcelain skin, with a hint of grease and sweat. And blood--there was always blood. Either in his skin or outside on it--there'd always be blood where he was. Tribal black eye make-up. It sounded like he was threatening Naruto, challenging him, but he really wasn't expecting anything, was fully prepared to take anything.
What kind of mind could greet pain and pleasure at once? What kind of person could walk through a door not knowing if Heaven or Hell was on the other side? Black and white. Red and green like a jungle's banner.
Fingers slipped from his lips with a butterfly's touch, dark circles becoming complete as Gaara closed his eyes and leaned down and kissed him, kissed Naruto just like he always wanted to, the way he never really had dared to. The first time he had kissed him since Naruto broke his arm, nearly took out his eye, since it all made sense.
He felt their lips brush as he pressed down, let his lips part open to cover Naruto's mouth. He tasted heat and sunshine, salt and spice and the bland flavoring of ramen. The kiss was passionate and gentle, carnal and warm, a slow exploration of Naruto's open mouth while sentiment simmered through the nerves.
Gaara broke it slowly, softly, still savoring the flavor and feeling, before opening his eyes. Naruto's eyes were already open, baby-blue confused, still silent. He'd done nothing to deserve that type of statement, that type of shock...hadn't he?
Gaara slid off him and out of bed, stoically walking around to the bathroom, letting himself in and closing it soundlessly. A few seconds later Naruto heard the lock click.
It was a gesture, simple, powerful--If Naruto wanted in, a simple lock wouldn't keep him out. But for that, Naruto had to want to be in. Naruto let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding, and raised sweaty fingers to lightly touch his lips. In the silence, his mind was yelling. He looked at the bathroom door, and didn't get up from the bed or even sit up straight. When he did get up, an hour later, it was to search through the empty fridge.
On the other side of the door, Gaara leaned back against the door carefully, one hand pressed against the door as if to keep it closed, one arm wrapped around his chest protectively. Irrationally, he wanted to cover the front of his throat. His stomach was turned up into painful wire-thin mesh of empty knots, his skin chilled, with a pounding at his temples and a twitch in his neck. And it was hurting again.
It was hurting again.
Both arms were wrapped around him protectively, hands inching up to cover his neck, and he stepped away from the door. He didn't dare lean against it, because his weight would make the hinges creak just slightly so; enough to tattle his weakness. He didn't want that.
With an effort of will, Gaara urged one hand down to open the faucet, turn on the shower. He was careful to check the temperature before stepping in, sitting on the cold plastic floor. His arms were still wrapped around him protectively, and unheeded tears fell over his cheeks with the warm shower water. He didn't feel them, didn't care. Didn't even realize he was crying; he would've been surprised if he had known. His face reflected nothing; was smoothly blank. Even his eyes were flat, empty. His mind was silent. Shukaku was silent. His heart hurt.
He felt empty.
"We've been over this Sasuke. The answer's no."
"Then give me something to do! This--I need something to do."
"There's nothing to do right now--relax."
"I'm sick of this crap old man. I don't owe you a thing."
There was a silence, not because there wasn't anything more to be said, but because those words needed to echo in the speaker's ears. Sasuke's ears didn't flush, but he did blink. It was enough to tell Kakashi he had won.
"...You're being an ass hole and you know it."
"This is my room, Sasuke. I am, pretty much, team captain. I'm not risking you on anymore solo missions."
"You can't keep me here."
"No. No I can't. You thinking of leaving?"
"Oh. Where you planning on going?"
"That's none of your concern."
"Well, not explicitly. But if we ever need to contact you for whatever reason, I'd like to know where you are."
"...I don't know."
"Hm...the Grass country does need some aid. If you feel like a breath of fresh air, I'd recommend going there."
There was another silence filled with a good deal of anger. Betrayal. His bluff had been called--Kakashi had known exactly what he was doing. The slam of the trap door closing behind him hurt Sasuke's ears and made his knuckles whiten.
"You'd let me go."
"I can't hold you against your will--I won't do that. But as you are, Sasuke...as you are, you are the best in the field. You know that. But I'm worried that if I let go on a mission, you're not going to come back."
"I'm more qualified than anyone else here."
"Yes, and you also haven't eaten in two days or done your laundry in over a month now. I don't even want to guess when the last time you showered was--your hair looks terrible. Not even Herbal Essence will fix it up now. Hinata had to break into your room because she was worried about you and did your laundry for you, and since then you haven't thanked her or touched it. Sasuke."
"...You can help me. You won't."
"You're being stupid. That's not going to help and you know it. You're just being a stubborn brat."
"...What do you want from me?"
"I want you start caring about yourself. To start being responsible for yourself, more than just training, more than just improving your ninjutsu and martial arts. Once you've proven that to me, the missions start again."
"Then...then I'm...I am going. ...Grass, you said?"
"...I need some time alone. I think I'll be back."
"Your room will be waiting for you."
The next morning, Naruto was not surprised to find Gaara gone. By the time they met next, Kakashi had already done the damage.
A/N: Insert super big "Hee!" here. I am a happy noodle. Have finished chapter that's been stewing forever. This chappie struck me as a little angsty, so if you're looking for a happy-Gaara fix, there's a drabble-smut featuring him and Kakashi on my livejournal. The link to that is on my profile, under my homepage, a quicklink to the drabble will be on the profile itself.
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