Snakes were not always thought of as symbols of evil, but also of love with no bounds.
"Long ago in Keicho era, there lived a beautiful girl in Senju in the province of Musashi. A bachelor called Yaichiro fell in love with her and sent her many missives of love to her; but she did not respond. Yaichiro died of sorrow, and the girl married someone else. On the morning after the wedding, the couple didn’t emerge from their room. When the bride's mother entered, she found the bridegroom dead, and a snake crawling out of one of the bride's eyes. The villagers believed that the snake was none other than the heartbroken Yaichiro."
Sasuke had been using the sharingan often after he gained the mangekyou, but now that he had reached the level of Tsukiyomi, he quit and focused on taijutsu again for the next few days. Tsunade had finally released Naruto back into the village, after getting a letter from Jiraiya that the information matched what he'd been investigating on the Cloudnin who'd defected to Akatsuki. Sakura knew that that the two of them had been sparring, but she didn't know that Sasuke had convinced Lee to help him polish his taijutsu until Lee limped into the apartment three days later, supporting Sasuke, who had two broken ribs.
"Oh, for. . . ." Sakura moved the pots off of the burners, glad that she hadn't been back long enough to really start dinner, and went to check Lee first.
"You couldn't have just kept sparring with Naruto?" she asked as she finished taping up Sasuke's chest. "I don't need people talking about how my husband and my teammate are beating each other up."
"With his clones, I have to resort to ninjutsu," Sasuke replied with a faint wince. "And it's taijutsu I've been neglecting."
Lee, who'd gone to the kitchen to take over making dinner after Sakura took care of the large bruise on his leg, started humming cheerfully when she called him that. Sasuke paused and then frowned.
"I thought your birthday was in the spring," he said.
"It is," Sakura replied, putting the tape away. "But all that's left is the paperwork and the formal ceremony, so does it matter?"
Sasuke shook his head. He stood up and stretched carefully, testing his ribs. "Do you have half an hour?"
Sakura gave him a curious look, but agreed.
While Sasuke was pulling on his shirt, she went into the kitchen and kissed Lee on the cheek. "I'll be back soon, okay?"
"Sure," he said, giving her a quick hug.
When she asked where they were going, Sasuke didn't answer. Sakura sighed in dramatic annoyance, pulled up the collar of her coat, and strode alongside him.
When they turned off of one particular street and Sakura realized they were walking towards the Uchiha compound, she slid her hands into her pockets. She slowed her pace a little, but when Sasuke didn't change his, she moved to catch up.
Sasuke led her to the Takano shrine without looking around. By the time they reached it, Sakura had moved her hands out of her pockets and was clasping her elbows, not comfortable with walking so directly through the area. She hadn't picked up any of Tsunade's superstitious traits over the years, but the Uchiha compound was closer to being treated as haunted than any of the other still-emptied houses in the village, if only because all of its occupants had died during peacetime.
When they were inside the shrine, out of the wind, Sasuke took a small flashlight out of his side pack and held it out. "Here."
She took it and watched as he started walking toward one of the tatami mats. "Sasuke. . . ."
He pried the mat away and slid it to the side, revealing a basement area that a shrine shouldn't have had. He stayed in the crouch as he looked at her.
"Even if I use the sharingan as sparingly as possible, I'm going to start going blind within a decade," Sasuke replied. "There is no medicnin I trust more than you." He jumped over the edge, landing on the stairs, and began walking down.
Sakura stayed where she was for a moment, watching his hair blend in and disappear. Then she let out a breath and turned the flashlight on.
The stairs were stone and slightly mildewed. Sasuke was waiting at the bottom as she walked gingerly down them. He led her to an alcove at the end of the room, and pointed out a large stone that looked a little like a monument.
"That's the basic description of the mangekyou and its levels," Sasuke said, as he walked around to the back. "These are all the medical descriptions that I know of." There was a scraping of stone, and then of metal, as he spoke; but by then Sakura was already caught up in reading. Sasuke set the small steel box beside her and moved to lean against the wall.
Sakura let out a small, sharp exhalation before she could stop herself when she read how the mangekyou had to be initially attained.
"He already knows," Sasuke replied, still leaning against the wall.
She started to turn towards him, and then thought better of it and pointed the flashlight at the ground first. "That . . . is that why you tried to kill him that time?"
"Three times," Sasuke corrected. "I hit him twice with the chidori, and the other time I drove a hand through his lung."
When she didn't reply, he paused, and flexed his fingers slightly. "I was aiming for his heart," he explained a little more quietly. "He shoved my hand aside at the last second."
Sakura had to swallow a few times before she could make herself speak again.
"Was it really that important?"
"N--yes." Sasuke started to frown. ". . . no."
Sakura waited for a little while, but he didn't explain. At last she decided to kneel down in front of the stone, and shine the flashlight on it, as though she were reading again.
Sasuke didn't let her use the body language, though, and sat down himself to keep them at the same general height.
"If I had . . ." he started out, and then stopped. Then he folded his arms over his chest and made himself start again. "If I had let him keep talking, he could have talked me into coming back. That was . . . mostly why."
Sasuke glared at the ground. "To be dragged back here and have everyone know it was because of him, to have to face Kakashi and you again. . . . That would have been the worst."
Sakura restrained herself from turning toward him again. "So it was better to kill him?"
She supposed it had been hard for Sasuke to realize he had faith in someone again, but that was still excessive.
Since Sakura wasn't sure how to reply to such a blunt statement, she eventually gave up and asked instead, "Was it easier after time passed?"
Sasuke shifted out of his cross-legged position so that his legs were bent in front of him. "No."
Sakura lifted her eyebrows briefly in an unsurprised expression, and turned her attention back to the stone. She read the description of how often the sharingan had to be used and how extensively the mangekyou's illusion had to be applied in order to reach the Tsukiyomi with a similar lack of surprise; Sasuke had already referred to that information.
Sasuke knew when she reached the description of how one had to kill a blood relation in order to attain the Amaterasu. Her hand started shaking.
He looked at the ground in front of him. "I assume it means a blood relation of equal strength," he said. "Shisui was a first cousin, so he should have counted otherwise."
The flashlight made a sharp 'tak' noise when it hit the floor, and Sakura slid around to glare angrily at him, hands clenching into fists on the stones.
"Why!" she demanded, half-choking on the word. "If you knew that this, this was the real--why! Sasuke!"
Sasuke was glad she had dropped the flashlight, because his next words were the reason he had brought it in the first place and had refused to light the torches.
"Because I loved him."
Sakura made a confused, stifled noise and stared at him. Sasuke still couldn't make himself look up from the ground.
"He was . . . cool," he added quietly, folded his arms on his knees and leaning toward them. "He was everything I was trying to be. That's why . . . more than. . . ."
Sasuke trailed off, and then clenched a hand into a fist and made himself keep talking. If he couldn't meet her eyes even in the dark, then he could at least answer the damn question.
"More than never getting my father's approval," he said, hating the words even as he spoke them, "more than earning my survival, more than . . . more than any of that. I can't--" Sasuke cut himself off.
He paused for a moment, and then said: "I won't forgive him for not being who I thought he was."
Sakura sat back on her heels. She made a noise like she had tried to speak while still biting her lip, paused, and then whispered, "But . . . why . . . why can't you just . . . I know I don't understand, I know I have a family, but why can't you just look away from it?" Her knuckles scrapped on the stones slightly as she clenched her fists tighter. "Why can't you just . . . just look to us? We're here, now."
"Because I don't care for you three as much as I did him," Sasuke said, still staring at the ground.
Sakura slumped slightly, and let out a ragged breath.
Several long moments later, she shifted and pulled her legs up to her chest.
". . . I wish you'd said it was because you were an avenger," she murmured, pushing her bangs away from her face. "I could have hit you then."
Sasuke didn't try to smile at the comment, but a moment later he did let his fist unclench. He looked up to the wall across from him.
It wasn't easy to tell how much time passed like that, but when Sakura shifted to wrap her arms around her legs, the sound of the cloth rustling was startling.
"You know . . ." she said quietly, and clasped her elbows. "You know what I'm most afraid of?"
Sasuke didn't reply, but it wasn't necessary for him to. "That when I die, somehow it's going to look like Lee's fault," Sakura told him. "Like if he had been just a little faster, or if he had been in the right place, or whatever there is. . . . I'm afraid that Naruto's going to think he should have prevented it. And if he did think . . . what he might do. . . ."
Her grip tightened slightly. Sasuke finally looked over, but she was staring down at the flashlight.
"It's scary, you know?" she asked quietly. "I don't want to . . . belong to someone like that, when it . . . and with you. . . ." She looked up at him. "That was the other reason I wanted you to tell me so I could drug him, if you were going to leave us. So that he . . . I think he'd rather see you dead than walk away again, he'd think it was more logical, since it's not like . . . he's not. . . ."
She realized that her words were stumbling and stopped talking then, but Sasuke could finish the sentence himself.
Naruto wasn't completely human anymore. Not after spending so long being that intertwined with the fox demon.
That was the second aftereffect, and the one that Sakura and Sasuke were doing their best to keep to themselves.
"I know," he replied. Sakura nodded her head once, and bit her lip again briefly and looked back at the flashlight. Neither of them spoke further.
Finally, after a few minutes had passed and the silence was beginning to unnerve her, Sakura picked up the flashlight and turned her attention to the metal box. She began reading through the first of the several small scrolls inside.
She had just opened the second one and had started reading it when she reached a description of the treatment prescribed for anyone who had used the mangekyou too much at once and was consequently exhausted or suffering from a migraine. The list of ingredients was nearly the same as the one that she'd received when she'd taken Kakashi's pills to the hospital, down to the feverfew and yarrow and trace amount of henbane.
Sakura gave the list a tired look, and then glanced over at Sasuke from the corner of her eye. He was leaning against the wall now, gazing up at the ceiling; but she could just barely see that he was running his thumb over the nail of his middle finger, and that small movement was enough to show he was still agitated.
She glanced back down at the scroll and debated. Soon, though, she decided that revealing it down here might go better than anywhere else.
"Huh," Sakura murmured, half to herself.
Sasuke glanced over; but when she said nothing else and unrolled the scroll a little further, he stopped his hand and said "What?"
"This list," she replied, lifting the scroll slightly. "This part's a description of a treatment for your headaches--it matches most of what's in those pills Kakashi-sensei has." She unrolled the scroll another few lines further, keeping the flashlight and her gaze trained on it. "It's just weird . . . while you were unconscious, Naruto told me about this hangover cure he picked up that he wanted me to use on you. It had all this stuff, too."
There was about another minute of silence.
Sakura assumed that Sasuke had worked it out when he snarled under his breath: "Fucking fox."
But Sasuke's voice didn't sound like he was going to go out and put a fist through Naruto's stomach, so she didn't say anything when he went on.
"I'm not surprised," Sasuke sneered viciously, "they don't have any sense of fucking decency anyway." He shoved himself onto his feet and started pacing.
"Theft," Sasuke added, after he'd reached the opposite wall and turned around again, "that's what they're best known for."
Sakura rattled the scroll faintly, showing that they were still there. Sasuke ignored her.
"Theft, and destroying things, and . . . seducing humans, and pulling those fucking pranks--no wonder everyone hated him for those, always reminding them of what he was, an--"
Sasuke froze mid-step and mid-sentence.
Sakura frowned at the sudden silence, and looked over at him. "What is it?"
Sasuke was still for a few more seconds. And then he turned and ran up the stairs.
Sakura stood, the first scroll falling out of her lap. "Wha--Sasuke!"
He didn't answer and was already out of sight. Sakura grabbed the scroll on the ground and the metal box, and ran for the stairs as well. She shoved the two scrolls into the container and latched it as she ran out of the shrine, trying to catch up.
The other teenager still didn't answer when she called out to him, and once they were past the gate of the Uchiha compound, Sasuke jumped onto a nearby roof and began moving along those. Sakura stopped wasting her breath and just kept pace.
When they reached Naruto's apartment building, Sasuke skidded down the roof to the walkway in front of his door, not even bothering to land gracefully. He was banging on the door by the time Sakura jumped down beside him.
"What the hell? Sasuke!"
"Where is he?" Sasuke muttered, mostly to himself.
Sakura shifted the container under her arm and grabbed his wrist. "What is wrong?" she demanded, keeping her voice even to hide the fact that Sasuke's actions were beginning to scare her.
"I need to know what kind of foxes were following us," Sasuke hissed. "If they were. . . ." He didn't finish, and kicked the door.
Sakura let him pull his wrist out of her grip to do so, and tightened the fingers that were holding the box. Sasuke paced across the short space of the walkway once, paused in front of the door, and then kicked it again.
If he'd been kicking near the handle, the lock would have broken. As he was kicking near the center, the wood just cracked.
"Sasuke," Sakura said calmly and emphatically. "Calm down. Why is--"
"He'll notice faster if I'm angry," Sasuke snapped.
"Okay," she said. "Fine. Why does it matter what kind of foxes were--"
She didn't get to finish that question, either, because by that time they could both sense Naruto's chakra nearby.
"Finally," Sasuke muttered under his breath, and a few moments later Naruto and Iruka landed on the roof.
"Damn, Sasuke!" Naruto said, crouched and staring over the edge of the roof at them. "What the hell is it! With you like that, and Sakura getting . . . geez, I thought they'd come to arrest you."
He said that with a half-laugh and a grin, but it didn't reach his eyes. Iruka, kneeling beside him and rubbing the ache of a sudden force of chakra out of his leg, couldn't see it. Sasuke and Sakura pretended not to.
"Were the foxes following us back hito-kitsune?" Sasuke demanded.
"What?" Naruto replied.
"Were they hito-kitsune?"
"How would I--"
"Ask," Sasuke snapped. "Now."
Naruto's eyes narrowed. "What the fuck is so--"
Sasuke caught the edge of the roof and swung himself up, landing in a crouch next to Naruto. "The hito-kitsune can possess people," he hissed.
It was quiet for a few moments.
Then Sakura's grip on the container shifted, until she was clutching it and pressing it against her stomach. "Oh, fuck," she whispered.
Naruto glanced down at her, then started and looked back to Sasuke. "Wait, you don't mean--" He shook his head, but leaned forward. "But there was only seven or something following us. That's not so--"
"No one sends all their forces on a scouting mission," Sasuke said flatly. "And even seven anbu from this village is enough."
Naruto sat back and ran his hands roughly through his hair, staring down. A moment later, Sakura shifted her grip on the metal box enough to jump onto the roof beside Iruka, and the man began discreetly questioning her.
A few moments after that, Naruto tensed and then tilted his head back up to look at Sasuke's eyes.
"Shit," Sasuke said quietly.
Iruka set a hand on Naruto's shoulder. "Are these the foxes that you guys thought were from Akatsuki?" he asked, looking at Sasuke.
"Yeah," Naruto said roughly.
"Then we have to inform the Hokage," Iruka said, standing. "Come on."
They took off again over the roofs toward the tower. Sakura fell behind just long enough to henge the metal container into a grocery bag.
When they reached the end of the explanation, Tsunade looked tired.
"You're certain about this?" she asked, leaning against the front of her desk.
Sasuke nodded. She looked over at Naruto, who was sitting on the arm of the couch, and he said, "Yeah. H--it confirmed that's what they were."
Tsunade gave him a sharp glance at the slip, but didn't say anything. "So we're at risk of seven people being possessed?"
Naruto shook his head and started tapping his ankle against the side of the sofa. "It would be more; those were just scouts."
"How many more?" she asked, and both Naruto and Sakura looked to Sasuke. He folded his arms, frowning out her windows.
"Well?" Tsunade said more sharply after several seconds.
"I can't remember if it's twenty-five, ninety-nine, or one hundred," Sasuke replied. "Two of the stories might be false, or they might all be correct based on different families."
Tsunade let out a breath.
"And how do we prevent it from happening?"
Sasuke paused again. "There might be a way to ward people so that they can't be possessed." When Tsunade raised an eyebrow at him, he shifted his footing in a small, frustrated motion; but his voice continued to be the flatly even tone that he always used when speaking to her. "My training in this area is extremely superficial. You need to get the advice of a real onmyouji."
"Haa," Tsunade said quietly, and began tapping her fingers against her arm. She looked over at Iruka. "Go tell them to get a hawk ready to fly to Lightning country. And then go to Shizune's apartment and tell her I want to see her here as soon as possible."
Iruka nodded. "Yes, Hokage-sama."
Tsunade watched him leave and continued to stare at the door after it was closed. She was still tapping her fingers against her arm.
"I want the three of you to spend the night at Naruto's," she said. "Set up traps once you get inside, and don't leave until you're contacted. I'll have several anbu stationed around the area."
Naruto let out an annoyed breath, but had the sense not to argue. Sakura nodded. "Yes, Tsunade-sensei."
Tsunade glanced back over at Sasuke. "Why didn't you mention this sooner?"
"I didn't recall it until now," he answered.
She raised an eyebrow. "And why was it just now that you happened to recall it?"
Sakura fidgeted. Sasuke was silent for a second, and then said, "I was insulting fox spirits. I remembered this ability while I was trying to think of their other bad traits."
Naruto paused his ankle long enough to glare at him. "What? Bastard!"
Tsunade refused to smile. "And why were you doing that?"
Sasuke was silent for much longer than a second.
"We were talking," Sakura finally said. She shifted the grocery sack to her other hip, and quietly added, "We were discussing a hangover cure."
Naruto froze and then tensed up. He looked in the other direction.
Sasuke was still glaring out the windows, and Sakura was wearing that innocent but blank expression that Tsunade could recognize but never fully interpret. The older woman assumed that they were speaking in code or at least in shared memories, made a note of it, and said, "I see."
She stopped tapping her fingers, but continued to rest her hand on her arm. "Very well. You can go."
Sasuke strode out first, and Tsunade noticed that Naruto waited until Sakura was between them to slide off the couch arm and follow.
"Does she really think this is a good idea?" Sasuke said as they made their way to the apartment, quietly and rapidly, before the anbu could be informed and get close enough to overhear. "They can possess us as easily."
"It makes sense," Sakura replied, just as quiet. ". . . If worse comes to worse, we know each others' weaknesses and fighting habits better than anyone else."
She jumped from the street to a roof, and began moving along that. When Sasuke and Naruto followed, she added, "And we'll be less likely to use killing attacks in that kind of situation, than some of the anbu."
"How considerate for her favorite," Sasuke replied.
Naruto growled faintly. Sakura jumped to a balcony a level above them.
"Don't, Sasuke," she said. "Just--don't."
He snorted, but said nothing else.
After that, Naruto and Sasuke hadn't spoken toward each other, but for a while after they got to the apartment they could pretend that it was because the three of them were busy setting up traps along the door and windows.
Sakura left it alone. When they were done, she washed a pot and threw some rice into it, and picked a fight with Naruto over the expired milk in the small fridge so that he would have an excuse to remain in the kitchen while Sasuke stayed in the other room and checked the traps for the eighth time.
Dinner was slightly more awkward. Sakura leaned against the counter to eat, Naruto sat on the table rather than the chair, and Sasuke took the floor with a wince. After she finished, Sakura healed his ribs further, so that the bruises were just an ugly sunken yellow.
"Every time I plan to leave you to heal on your own because you annoyed me, something comes up and I have to fix it anyway," she muttered when she was done, as Naruto rinsed the bowls in the sink.
"Am I supposed to say 'lucky me'?" Sasuke replied, pulling his shirt on gingerly. Sakura rolled her eyes.
They checked the traps again, individually noted the placement of anbu around the apartment for different reasons, and then Sakura pulled the shutters closed and finally unhenged the grocery bag.
"When was the last time you washed your sheets?" she asked Naruto, standing next to the bedroom door, metal box in hand.
He blinked. "Uh. . . ."
"I'll sleep on the blanket," Sakura decided, and then said "Good night" and shut the door.
Sasuke gave it an irritated look before turning around. "I call the couch."
"Hey, it's my house," Naruto retorted.
"So be hospitable to your guests."
"You're not a guest, bastard, you're a teammate," he muttered, but as he spoke he was moving to the bedroom to bang on the door and demand that Sakura at least let him have the bottom quilt. She acquiesced, but refused to give up the pillow.
The couch was a lot nicer than most of the other stuff in Naruto's apartment, since Iruka had given it to the teenager when he'd replaced his old one. Naruto had refused at first--covering pride by saying the thing was too much of a hassle to try and fit through the door--but Iruka had told him that it was good to keep a spare surface for times when he came back from missions and lacked the energy to wash off before sleeping. He'd informed Naruto that it was easier to clean blood and dirt out of sofa cushions than a futon.
About an hour later, Naruto had wrenched a cushion out from under Sasuke's feet, and was using it for a pillow as he lay on the quilt and Sasuke lay on the couch and they listened to Sakura pacing in the other room.
After she'd punched a wall and taken a break for a shower, Naruto snickered half-heartedly.
"I'm surprised she's not in here swearing at you, with some of the crap written on those things," he muttered, cracking the silence.
"Don't insult my clan's secrets, asshole," Sasuke replied in a flat voice.
He was quiet for several seconds, and then added, "She's probably worried that the anbu would overhear."
Naruto made a noise in the back of his throat that was either an agreement or another insult. Sasuke didn't try to figure it out. "I'm sure they're already wondering why she's beating up your walls."
"When we went to get the furniture and stuff for you, that was the only place on the compound you'd visited," Naruto said abruptly. "Besides the graveyard. I didn't go looking for it, I was just--I dunno, I thought you must've also had some stuff stored there. Other weapons you didn't want Kakashi-sensei to know about. When I found the basement area, I waited and came back after the sur . . . after. So none of the anbu saw it."
Sasuke didn't reply immediately, to see if Naruto was finished. When the other teenager didn't say any more, just waited for his reaction, Sasuke replied, "I didn't assume that you would have let them," without moving.
Naruto fidgeted a little, and finally rolled onto his back. He draped the jacket he was using as a blanket back over his chest before folding his arms above his head. Sasuke shifted onto his side, facing the back of the couch.
"You're a fucking idiot," Naruto finally said.
"I made this choice before I ever met you," Sasuke replied. "So shut up."
Naruto clenched his hands into fists, and pulled one of his legs up. He began agitatedly working his toes into the quilt.
"Yeah," he muttered. "Yeah. I get it, bastard. Everything I've done for half my life has been to become Hokage. If that's how bad you want to kill Itachi, then . . . fine. Fine!" he snapped, glaring over at Sasuke's back. "But don't think you're gonna run off and try and get yourself dead and blind alone! Got it!"
Sasuke had to swallow before speaking, and he hoped it hadn't been as loud as it had seemed. "Whatever."
The quilt rustled as Naruto shoved himself onto his side. "I mean it, asshole! I won't let--"
"Fine," Sasuke snapped, back still to him. "Next time, actually take out the shark bastard instead of standing around and making the pervert sannin do all the work."
Naruto was quiet for a moment. Then he flopped over onto the quilt again.
"Shut up," he retorted, folding his arms under his head again. "That was the first time I'd seen those Akatsuki guys. I'll beat them next time!"
"Beat him," Sasuke corrected, keeping emotion out of his voice.
Naruto made a half-growling noise that Sasuke took as an agreement.
Half an hour later, after they'd heard Sakura get out of the bathroom and go to sleep, Naruto said quietly: "You're still an idiot."
Sasuke didn't contradict him.
The anbu guard had changed sometime last night, Naruto noticed as he checked the traps at the window the next morning. They were in the same places, but the masks were different.
Sakura had still been in the bedroom when Sasuke woke up, so he had washed his face at the kitchen sink. He was back in the main room, drying it with the sleeve of his shirt, when Sakura entered and said: "I want you to use the mangekyou on me."
Naruto pulled the shutters closed again and looked behind him. Sakura was tying on her forehead protector, and Sasuke was still drying his face.
He finished a moment later, and let his arm drop, giving Sakura a look that Naruto couldn't see since Sasuke's back was to him but that he could guess.
Sakura finished tying the knot and let her arms drop as well, settling on her hips. "This is only chance we may have to find out how badly it backlashes on you, and why. You're strong--according to those scrolls, you shouldn't have been affected as badly last time as you were."
Sasuke had folded his arms. "That was different--I told you, that was because I increased the level of it."
"I read the black scroll, too," Sakura replied, giving him a look. "It was still too drastic--your fever shouldn't have gotten that high. I need to see if it's the curse seal." She paused, and then added with a raised eyebrow: "Or you could just tell me whatever it is you're hiding."
Sasuke didn't move abruptly at that statement, and he didn't freeze up, but it was hard to miss the sudden tension in his body that came from not doing either of those things. Naruto frowned and turned fully around.
It was even harder to miss if you could see his expression, Naruto supposed, because Sakura barely took a breath before dropping her arms from her hips and pushing her bangs away from her face.
"Either way," she went on, and the tension in Sasuke's shoulders didn't dissipate, "I want to check it now before the Akatsuki come crashing down on us. And you need to know your limits, since this--" she waved a hand back towards the bedroom, indicating the box "--isn't helping."
"It'll affect you," Sasuke warned, fingers tense where his arms were still folded.
"Are you going to attack me?" she asked.
"No," he replied.
"Then the affects should be negligible," Sakura said, and sat down on the floor.
Sasuke didn't move. "We should at least eat first."
"I don't want to risk throwing up," Sakura replied. She looked up at him. "Come on--the sooner you use it, the sooner you'll recover later."
Naruto took a step closer. "Hey, hey, Sakura-chan, this is a bad idea. If it affects you, you're not going to be able to study him better afterward, right?"
"Yeah," she agreed, still looking Sasuke straight in the eyes. "But he has to use it on someone for me to be able to judge the backlash, and there's no one else but you."
Sasuke let his breath out in a hiss. And then he unfolded his arms and sat down on the floor across from her.
Naruto strode over, but by the time he reached their sides, Sakura's gaze was already unfocused.
They were standing in a large field--grassland, but it ended in a cliff in the distance and she could see the ocean, heavy and gray, just past it. Sakura watched with an impressed interest as a wind blew and the grass bent beneath it in waves.
"Where is this?" she asked, still staring out at the ocean in fascination.
"An area in Sound," Sasuke replied. "Waterfall village allied itself with the Leaf early, so we had to travel by boat to reach Earth country. You should see the port to the left."
Sakura shielded her eyes with a hand and squinted in the direction he was pointing. ". . . It's blurry."
Sasuke frowned at the area, focusing, and a moment later he asked, "Better?"
"Yeah," she said, letting her hand drop. "I can see the mast of a ship." She caught a handful of the tall grass and tugged, noticing that it ripped with a natural sound.
"This should be equal to the amount of chakra I'll have to use on him," Sasuke said, sliding his hands into his pockets. She nodded.
"Okay," Sakura murmured. "I should be able to get a good idea from this." She tossed the grass into the air, watching the wind catch it and carry it for a few seconds. "There's only one thing I don't understand."
"Just say it," Sasuke replied. "This habit is irritating."
Sakura made a little face, but turned to the side to look at him. "It said you can't gain the first mangekyou without killing your closest friend--but Naruto's not dead."
Sasuke made a motion to pull his hands out of his pockets and fold his arms, but then stopped. ". . . If I'd managed to kill myself when I tried, I would have left him alone surrounded by what was left of the best of the Hidden Sound. No one should have survived that."
"Was that your intention?" Sakura asked, folding her arms. The motion made it look like she was interrogating Sasuke, who had refused to defensively fold his own arms, but in the back of her mind Sakura was painful aware that Sasuke controlled everything she was currently seeing and that there was no question who had the power here.
And the gesture might not matter, anyway, since Sasuke was still staring out at the dim blue ocean and not looking at her.
"No," Sasuke replied. "I." He made another motion with his hands, and Sakura saw that he was agitatedly tapping his fingers inside his pocket. "He--told me once that the people he takes control of don't . . . they leave remnants of their consciousnesses in his own."
Sasuke finally noticed his fingers, and pressed them flat. "I didn't want to live like that."
Sakura was still for a while, watching the grass sway in the breeze. Finally, she nodded slightly.
"Is that why it backlashes on you so badly when you use it?" she asked.
"Yes," Sasuke said shortly, and, "Don't tell him."
Sakura nodded again. "I promise. And I'll see what I can do about it."
Sasuke didn't bother to tell her that there was nothing to be done, and continued to gaze out at the sea. Soon, though, he frowned.
Was it that color before?
Sakura looked away from him again, to the right where the grass tapered down to a valley. "I'm glad you knew--the curse seal was aggravating it, but not to that extent. I couldn't figure out what I was missing."
"It's nothing, Lee," she heard herself say from behind her.
Sakura turned around to see herself in Lee's living room, applying antiseptic to a line of claw marks on her right forearm. Lee was holding her wrist gently, staring at the bleeding wounds with a worried look that mostly covered up a growing anger.
"Lee, please," she said. "If you start questioning his right to mark me, then it'll just start a whole fight about who's alpha male and we don't need this right now!"
Sakura watched as her words sunk in a moment later, and she let the hand holding the antiseptic drop. "Oh. . . ."
Lee wrapped his arms around her when she sunk against him, careful of where her arm fell. "Sakura?"
"I can't believe I said that so . . . this shouldn't. . . ." Sakura watched herself swallow thickly, watched Lee tighten his grip around her when she shuddered.
"I'm so glad I met you," she murmured against his chest. "Just . . . don't provoke him. Please."
Sasuke couldn't have known about this, Sakura thought to herself with a sick feeling, remembering the exact night that was now replaying in front of her--the second time Naruto had accidentally clawed her and the first time Lee had seen it. He wasn't here.
She realized someone was behind her, and turned around to tell Sasuke to release the genjutsu.
Naruto was sitting casually in the entryway. The deep, thick scars on his cheeks shifted when he smiled, but the expression wasn't reaching the slit pupils of his eyes.
"I hate seeing you with him," Naruto told her. "It was bad enough with Sasuke . . . but I would've put up with it, since you would've still been with us. But he's taking you away."
"No," Sakura said quietly. "No, he's not, Naruto you know that. . . ."
Naruto stood up languidly, scratching the back of his neck with too-sharp nails. "C'mon, Sakura-chan," he said, still smiling, as he began to walk past her. "Can you really love him, and Ino, and us too? You're already pulling away from anyone you don't want to see who you've become."
Don't turn around!
The thought wasn't hers, she knew, because it was too far away.
Don't--I'm trying to--
Sakura knew the sound of skin ripping open, and she also knew the sound that Lee made when landing a spinning kick on someone.
She closed her eyes, even though it violated all her training as a kunoichi to keep her back to a fight, and pressed her hands into a seal.
This is genjutsu, Sakura. You remember that? The technique you're trained in? Now stop sucking and get out of here.
That thought was her own, because she recognized her sense of sarcasm. She tightened the interlocking of her fingers slightly when she heard the wet, thick sound of organs being pierced, and focused.
What happened next could only effectively be described as an explosion.
Sakura discovered that she was collapsed on the floor, face wet and head aching and arm burnt from where Naruto had forced chakra into her system. She managed to shove herself onto her forearms, and saw that Sasuke was hunched over as well with a hand pressed against his temple. She jerked back when Naruto knelt next to her.
"Sakura-chan! Are you okay?"
"Get away from her," Sasuke said roughly.
"No!" Sakura managed when Naruto turned to look at him. She grabbed the blond's fingers, squeezing them tightly.
"Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked, a little more quietly.
No claws, she thought to herself. I did this. I know we have years until things get that bad again. Hinata-chan said we got all the strands. I trust Hinata-chan. Sasuke said he sealed the bad part. I trust Sasuke. Naruto said he'll never hurt us. I trust Naruto.
"I'm okay," she said, and squeezed his fingers again lightly and let go. "Just--a little shaky. I'm okay."
Sakura pulled one of her arms over to rest her forehead on, because getting up was too disagreeable. "Okay. It looks like that jutsu can access people's memories to use their fears--" her breath strangled despite herself, and all she could manage for a moment was "scary."
"I'm sorry," Sasuke said. "My control slipped. It wasn't supposed to--"
"Yeah," she said, opening her eyes. "I think it happened because you got upset. Otherwi--"
"What?" Naruto snapped viciously. "Dammit, what'd you do!"
Sakura grabbed his arm before he could move. "It's okay!" she said as firmly as she could. She pulled herself up, using her grip on his arm. "We weren't fighting. I'm fine."
Naruto settled for glaring over at Sasuke, who wasn't paying attention due to still being hunched over. Sakura let go of Naruto's arm and waited until most of the dizziness and nausea had receded before asking, "It's not starting already, is it?"
"No," Sasuke replied, voice tight. "You and Naruto pushed chakra in at the same time I was trying to deactivate it. It'll pass."
Sasuke's face was pale. Sakura wondered if he had seen what she hadn't when she'd refused to turn around.
Then she shuddered and started wiping away her tears with her sleeve.
None of them spoke for a while, and finally Naruto went to the kitchen and came back with two glasses of water. Sasuke still hadn't moved, so Naruto set the glass on the floor next to him. Sakura had to clasp hers tightly, because her hands were still shaking.
"Stop that," she said with a small smile, when she noticed him watching her hands carefully. "It's not a big deal. My nervous system is just trying to tell me I'm still terrified." Sakura set the glass down carefully and studied her trembling hand. "That's kind of cool--in a fight, even if I hadn't collapsed from the mental attack, I still wouldn't be able to hold a weapon or throw properly."
"It's cheating," Naruto muttered.
"There's no such thing as cheating," Sasuke replied, finally looking over. Then he blinked, and held a hand up to his face. And then he swore under his breath and pressed the heel of his hand against the bridge of his nose.
Sakura shifted her legs beside her, leaning against the couch, and rested one hand on them with the other clutching her opposite elbow. "Is it the same, or worse?"
"Too early to tell," Sasuke replied. He swore again, and then muttered, "I'm never going to be able to use the Amaterasu after I gain it. What idiot medicnin recommended breeding this gene?"
"Oi," Sakura replied, "don't insult my profession just because you like to over-exert yourself."
"I didn't insult your profession, I insulted an idiot in it," Sasuke answered.
She picked up her water. "From what I've been able to tell, whenever you use a jutsu like the mangekyou or even the ordinary sharingan, it damages the cone cells in your eyes. It's still temporary now, but soon. . . ."
Sasuke nodded; he already knew.
"It doesn't seem to be affecting the rod cells as badly, though, or the chakra strands or rodopsin or optic nerve," she added. "So I think it's your fovea centralis that's going to go first."
Another nod from Sasuke. Naruto blinked at her and said, "His what?"
"It's the part of the eye that contains only cones," Sakura explained. "Those are what let us see in color and fine detail. Rods control vision in low light. The optic nerve is, you know, what connects the eye to the brain. As long as it's undamaged, and the retina continues to produce the chemical that changes light to electrical impulses, he'll still be able to see."
Sasuke made an irritated noise and picked up his cup. Naruto still looked a little lost on the details, but took Sakura's word and didn't ask for further explanation.
It was quiet again, bordering on uncomfortable, until Sakura thought of something. She shifted her legs to her other side and grinned.
"I guess eventually I'll have to proscribe you glasses!" she said cheerfully.
Sasuke looked at her over the rim of the cup.
"You might even have to wear bifocals by your mid-twenties," she added, still grinning.
"I am not wearing glasses," Sasuke said flatly.
Naruto draped an arm over the arm of the couch, grinning. "Hey, at least if you have those, you'll never have to worry about irritating girls hitting on you again! Four-eyes."
"Oh, come on," Sakura said, looking over at him. "If anyone could make glasses look cool, it would be Sasuke."
"Glasses are not cool," Sasuke replied.
"Damn right," Naruto agreed.
Sasuke gave him an irritated look. "Shut up."
"What?" Naruto said theatrically, waving the hand thrown over the couch in the air. "I agreed with you!"
Sasuke refused to take the bait, and took another sip of water.
"Of course, you'll have to readjust your whole fighting style to incorporate them," Sakura said thoughtfully. "It'd suck if you died because your glasses fell off in a fight."
"I am not wearing glasses," Sasuke repeated.
Sasuke only managed to stay sitting for a few more minutes, but Sakura passed out first.
"You need to get a doctor to look at her," Sasuke said tiredly, from where he was stretched out on the floor. "Her chakra system has to be stabilized before she'll be okay."
"How?" Naruto replied, setting Sakura on the quilt. "We're quarantined."
"Flag one of the anbu," Sasuke answered, closing his eyes. "They won't attack in the middle of the day unless they just want to slaughter this place. And if she's sending that message out for a real onmyouji, then word should get back and they'll have to change their plans."
Sasuke's voice had been slowing down as he spoke. Naruto watched him out of the corner of his eyes. "What're we supposed to tell them?"
"What else?" Sasuke replied.
When Sasuke fell asleep, Naruto moved him onto the couch, then got the pillow from the bedroom and tucked it under Sakura's head. He hid the metal box in his small closet, and piled as much junk on top of it as he could find. The he went back to the front room and paced a lot, stopping in front of the door or the window and then changing his mind.
She said someone would contact us, he told himself, and went to shake Sakura awake.
"Whaaaaat?" she whined irritatedly once he managed to get her conscious.
"I didn't think you were supposed to sleep," he said, sitting next to the bed and giving her a grin.
"It's not a concussion, Naruto," she said wearily. She shook her head slightly, and pushed herself up on a forearm. "How's he?"
"Asleep," Naruto answered, pointing to the couch.
"Muh," Sakura said, flopping back onto the quilt. "Are any of the anbu good? You need to get a message to Kakashi-sensei; we need that medicine."
Naruto shook his head. "All the masks I could see belong to unfriendly ones."
"And Oukei's still on forced vacation. . . ." Sakura yawned and closed her eyes, even as her voice remained worried. "We might have to use one of them anyway . . . he'll start getting a fever soon. . . ."
After she fell back asleep, Naruto scrounged through the kitchen until he found a rag. He ran it under cold water and put it on Sasuke's forehead, before waking Sakura up again.
By the time there was a knock at the door, he'd changed the rag three times, paced so much that the downstairs neighbors had banged on the ceiling, and had woken Sakura up enough that she'd stopped trying to convince him she could sleep and had started swearing. The latest time, she punched him in the shoulder hard enough to bruise for a few minutes.
Naruto never had been and never would be as glad to see Lee as he was when he opened the door.
"Gai-sensei told me--" and that was as far as Lee got before Naruto yanked him into the apartment.
"Can you do me a favor?" Naruto said. He let go of Lee's arm, and the other teenager went to Sakura, shifting the small sack he was carrying. "Go to Kakashi-sensei's and ask him for the headache medicine he has. And . . . damn, not her--and get Shizune. Not anyone else, but her? And ask her to come here?"
"What happened?" Lee asked, checking Sakura's pulse and looking over at him.
Naruto crouched midway between the couch and the quilt, facing Lee. "It's a long story. I need you to do it fast."
Lee looked back down at Sakura, then over at Sasuke. Then he nodded and stood up.
He held the sack out to Naruto. "I brought this for Sakura . . . if she wakes up before I get back, will you tell her about it?"
"Yeah," he said, taking it. "Hurry."
The anbu let Lee leave again with a minimum of arguing, which Naruto listened to through the shuttered window.
The sack was open, so once Lee had been allowed to pass, Naruto glanced inside. It held a dress and Sakura's medical pack and spare weapons pouch, and on top of those, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Naruto smiled faintly when he saw those, and took the sack to the bathroom. Then he came back and shook Sakura awake, only to get punched once more for his trouble.
She'd fallen asleep again before Kakashi arrived, looking like he'd come straight out of bed after falling into it after a mission--which, as Naruto learned, was the case. He managed to explain a majority of what had happened before Lee returned with Shizune.
When Shizune shook Sakura awake, she caught the teenager's fist with the ease of someone who'd spent years traveling with a very strong woman who liked to drink. "Up, Sakura-kun."
"Shizune-sa--?" Sakura pushed herself up quickly, and then closed her eyes at the rush of dizziness. "Sorry! I thought you were Naruto."
"Hrm," Shizune replied, holding back a smile. "You shouldn't assault people looking out for your welfare."
"He wouldn't let me sleep . . ." Sakura replied half-heartedly, rubbing at her eyes before opening them.
Shizune immediately checked her pupils. When she let go of her chin, Sakura's gaze drifted over to the right, where Lee and Naruto were standing.
And then she was hit with the harsh, gutting memory of what had happened in that illusion, so visceral that she shuddered as violently as if it were a spasm.
Shizune pressed a hand against her back, the other bracing her shoulder. "Sakura-kun?"
"It's nothing," she said quickly, closing her eyes. "Dizzy."
Shizune gave her a disbelieving look, which wasn't effective since Sakura still hadn't opened her eyes. Kakashi looked over from where he'd been standing by Sasuke, gauging what Sakura had looked at based on the angle of her face.
A moment later, he made a hand motion and caught Naruto's attention. Kakashi pointed to the kitchen, and soon Naruto caught on and dragged Lee out of the room.
Shizune ignored it all. "Now, what happened?"
"I had Sasuke test the mangekyou on me," Sakura replied quietly. "I wanted to--"
"I see," Shizune interrupted. "Then, lie down and don't exert yourself any further. I'm going to start stabilizing your chakra--tell me the rest when I'm finished."
"Yes," Sakura murmured, and lay back down.
It took Shizune the better part of an hour to finish her work. During that time, Kakashi managed to shake Sasuke awake long enough to get him to swallow three pills, which the man took as an excellent sign. Sasuke fell back asleep again afterward, but he only had a low-grade fever and he wasn't too unconscious to respond to physical stimulus, so it was better than the last time.
By the time Sasuke woke up for good, Sakura was almost finished explaining to Shizune what had happened, and Naruto had run out of excuses to keep himself and Lee out of the room. All five of them noticed that Sakura didn't look at either Lee or Naruto the whole time she spoke, but only Kakashi and Sasuke understood why.
(Sakura refused to describe what she had seen in the mangekyou, and chose her words with such vagueness that Shizune eventually rolled her eyes and quit asking.)
"Do I even need to tell you how foolish this was?" the woman said when she finished, sitting back.
Sakura folded her hands in her lap. "No, Shizune-san."
"Good." Shizune let the word hang there for a moment, before letting out a breath and tilting her head.
"Next time, contact me or someone else first," she said. "Don't try to do these things on your own."
"Yes," Sakura said.
"You can't attempt to gauge something so unknown as the mangekyou sharingan without knowing more about it," Shizune added. "I expected you to know better. Anything could have happened. And as for the timing. . . ."
Sakura interlocked her fingers and didn't reply.
Shizune studied her for a moment, and then glanced at Sasuke from the corner of her eye. He, however, had his eyes closed and was slumped against the corner of the couch, revealing nothing.
"Don't make more trouble for yourself, Sakura-kun," Shizune said a moment later, standing up. She looked down. "Is there anything else you want me to say when I go back?"
Sakura shook her head. "That's everything that happened."
"That isn't what I asked," Shizune replied.
"No," Sakura said, firmly but not looking up. "I have nothing else to add."
"Hm," Shizune said with a small nod, and left.
When she was gone, Sasuke opened his eyes, glaring at the door. They were still in the sharingan. "She suspects."
"Shizune-san is smart," Sakura replied.
"Will she report it?" he asked.
"Don't be paranoid," Naruto said. "She didn't ask a bunch of questions or anything."
"Don't make that mistake," Sakura interjected, stretching out her legs. "Shizune-san's first loyalty is to Tsunade-sensei."
Sasuke let out an irritated breath.
"This is why people are talking about you guys being too close," Kakashi said evenly, reminding them that he was still leaning against the wall beside the couch. "You're keeping more secrets than is appropriate for a team."
They didn't reply.
Kakashi waited for a minute, and then pushed away from the wall, unfolding his arms. "You should start forgetting in a few years," he told Sakura, not indicating either Naruto or Lee.
". . . Okay," Sakura murmured. ". . . Thank you."
"You probably shouldn't offer information on yourself to someone who controls a jutsu like that," he added casually.
Sasuke hunched in on himself slightly. Sakura started to bite her lip, and then stopped. "It wasn't deliberate on his part."
Kakashi nodded. "All the more reason not to, then."
Kakashi left not long after, tired and injured visibly enough from his latest mission that Sakura insisted he at least get more sleep and rebandage the wound on his arm before coming back.
Lee excused himself several minutes after that--having learned that none of them had eaten since last night--with the intention of going back to his and Sakura's apartment to get enough food to make a decent lunch.
That left the three of them alone in the apartment again; but it didn't feel the same as before, now that other people had come and gone. They sat in silence for a while, Sakura on the futon, Sasuke on the couch, and Naruto on the floor, leaning against the old stove that stood less than half a meter from his bedroom door. They'd said so much, quantity-wise, to each other in the last day that it felt like there was nothing left.
So they all started a little when Sasuke spoke, including himself.
"Do you remember your dreams?" he asked Sakura.
She blinked and then frowned at him. "What do you mean?"
"Do you recall them well, or not?"
"Ah . . . not, I guess," she said. "They're usually pretty blurry."
He nodded. "It should be sooner, then."
Sakura nodded slowly for a moment, and then let out her breath in an almost-laugh.
"I'll be fine," she said. "I've had worse nightmares. This one time. . . ."
She trailed off, and then held up her hands. She made a little shaping motion with them as she spoke.
"A couple weeks after Tsunade-sensei started training me in torture, we caught this group of Mistnins. The rest of them were killed afterward, but Tsunade-sensei decided to send one back to make it clear that we knew about their alliance with the Sound." Sakura shifted on the quilt, pulling her legs up to her chest and letting her arms drop over them. "She'd . . . been really generous with my training before. It took me a couple weeks to stop throwing up all the time, and she didn't make me actually do any of it for a long time . . . except realigning a broken bone wrong, but that was later . . . just had me learn through watching. But eventually I had to pro--show that I'd learned and that I would be able to use it later, so the one we left alive, it was decided to break his thumbs and wait a few days before sending him back so that he wouldn't be able to handle weapons for a long time."
Sakura stopped for a moment, until she felt she could continue without trying to string all her words into one long sentence and therefore get it over with. Sasuke was watching her with an impassive expression, and Sakura found it much easier to concentrate on him than to turn and see what the look on Naruto's face would be.
"So I broke his thumbs," she said, with a small, casual gesture. "I passed, but later Tsunade-sensei decided to cut his tongue down the middle, too, before he was escorted back. She was busy meeting with the clan heads, so it was supposed to be Shizune-san's job; but I had her take me with her and let me do it." Sakura folded her hands over her knees. "I was angry at myself because my hands shook the other time."
"That was pointless," Sasuke said. "Unless you cut his hands off, he could still eventually write down whatever she didn't want known."
"Write dow . . . oh, no," Sakura explained. "He hadn't overheard anything important. He had just insulted us a lot."
Sasuke blinked once, then again more slowly, but said nothing.
"Even that wasn't as bad as that Soundnin who cut out her tongue," Sakura added. "That one was my fault. The other one, the male, Tsunade-sensei left him with me because Jiraiya-san came to meet her in the middle of it, and I told him I would give him some rosary peas--they're extremely poisonous--if he would tell me what had happened to you."
Sasuke shifted on the couch, and Sakura pushed her hair back again, blocking his view of her face.
"He said you'd been training, but Jiraiya-san and Tsunade-sensei had been coming back down the hall right then, and the side effects of the peas are really obvious. . . ." She dropped her hand from her hair and brought it back to her knees, intertwining her fingers and then tilting her palms out.
Sakura was aware that she was fidgeting uncontrollably, but even the small noise of her motions helped hide the fact that Naruto hadn't said a word.
"So I hid them again," she confessed. "And because of that, he didn't break later when Tsunade-sensei tried to bargain, like he would have. That gave the girl plenty of time to bleed to death--she'd tried to sever her wrist, too, before she must have fallen unconscious. And Shizune-san told me later that they barely got back to the boy in time before he could slash his femoral artery. They never found where he'd hid that damn blade--he wouldn't talk."
"The rope," Sasuke said, and Sakura looked over at him. His face was still impassive, and she was grateful for that favor--even if he didn't have the right to judge her, anyway. "At the back, there's a small slot in the fibers to hide it in. The knot of the bow obscures the visibility."
Sakura shook her head. "They were wearing genin clothes, though. We caught them in the village."
Sasuke paused for a moment, and then said, "It would have been folded into the forehead protectors, then." He touched his own, fingers just above the etching of the leaf. "You can scrape it off against a wall or the floor, and then unfold the cloth with your teeth and get it around to your hands. Unless you were chained to a wall."
". . . That's brilliant," Sakura said, impressed despite everything. "We rarely remove the forehead protector, since it's an additional reminder that they're an enemy. Plus, there's not much you can do with the scalp without getting blood everywhere. Punching's crude, and electrical burns so close to the brain are--this is stupid."
She stood up abruptly. "Are you thirsty?" she asked neither of them in particular, heading to the kitchen. "I am."
Naruto reached out and caught her leg when she started to pass by him, pulling. When Sakura sunk with a yelp and a reflexive motion toward a weapons pouch she wasn't wearing, he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her over.
"I'm sorry," Naruto said roughly, pressing his forehead against the nape of her neck. "I didn't do anything. I didn't even notice. I'm sorry, Sakura-chan." His arms tightened.
She wasn't sure what to say.
On the couch, Sasuke had shifted forward to the edge, but he had stilled once Naruto spoke. Sakura stared down at the scarred wood flooring for several long moments before she thought of swallowing and speaking.
She placed a hand over Naruto's arm, and patted it a moment later. "I was doing my best not to let you know," she said gently. "The only person I ever told was--was Lee. Even my parents and Ino still don't know. It's okay."
Naruto was silent for almost a full minute before saying, "Sasuke knew."
"I figured it out on my own," Sasuke replied.
"Both of you, you talk to each other and you don't tell me shit." He glared at the other teenager over Sakura's shoulder. "I'm not that fucking perceptive, okay? If you won't tell me stuff, I can't do anything about it!"
Sakura didn't give Sasuke time to respond. "It's not that," she said, rubbing her thumb against Naruto's arm in what she hoped was a calming gesture. "It's not like that, Naruto. It's. . . ." She bit the tip of her tongue slightly, and then went on. "It's easier for me to tell Sasuke some things, because I don't . . . his opinion doesn't matter to me as much as yours does."
She looked up at Sasuke. "And the same goes for Sasuke. Right?"
He was staring down at the floor himself, now; but he didn't deny what she said.
They stayed like that for a few minutes, and Naruto let Sakura continue to rub her thumb absently against his skin.
When he let go, it was as abrupt at the first movement, and he pushed himself back a little against the stove to give her room. "Lee brought you some stuff," Naruto said. "Toothpaste, and weapons and a dress."
"Toothpaste!" Sakura said gleefully, standing up. "Thank you!"
"Yeah." Naruto jerked a thumb toward the bedroom doorway. "I put it on the sink."
He looked at Sasuke once she'd left the room, but the other teenager was already up and peering the traps along the window again.
Lee was back a quarter of an hour later, with enough food for into breakfast tomorrow. He lectured Naruto on the masculinity of keeping a clean and healthy kitchen, while Sakura and Sasuke argued over his ability to see well enough to chop the vegetables.
If they ignored the tripwire along the window and the hidden anbu guard outside, it was like a normal meal.
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