“You can come out,” Naruto said, closing his eyes and breathing in deeply; the air smelled like spring and wood smoke. “I know you’re there.”
In the years since Orochimaru’s death, Naruto had gotten used to that presence at the edge of his awareness. He hadn’t been able to get Sasuke to come back, but he’d been followed anyway. He wondered sometimes if it was because of Itachi, or if his one-time friend had some other reason to haunt him. He wondered, too, if maybe it would be easier to have Sasuke gone completely.
The air was cool in that damp, fresh way that promised daffodils in the morning. It clung to his skin and his hair, cold but comfortable. Naruto licked his lips and pushed the thought of tomorrow out of his head.
When he opened his eyes, Sasuke was perched warily on the edge of his balcony. It was the first time in gods alone knew how long that Naruto had gotten a good look at him. It wasn’t quite what he expected. Black smudged the lids of Sasuke’s eyes, and dark purple stained his lips. His skin was powder-pale in the vague light from Naruto’s apartment. He was older, his face thinner now, shoulders broader under the dark clothes that half-hid him from neck to toes. Mesh flashed here and there, showing the curve of a bicep or the arch of a collarbone. His expression was carefully blank under his paint.
Naruto thought he could still see the young Sasuke in him though. Maybe in the curious lift he couldn’t quite keep out of one brow. Maybe in the way his fingers flexed on the balcony rail. Maybe it was just wishful thinking.
“Was that all I had to do?” Naruto asked, smiling wryly.
Sasuke shrugged. He was a little shorter than Naruto remembered. It seemed to him that Sasuke had been very tall, but now he looked about average. “What do you want?”
Naruto sighed. He had the words to this all planned. He’d practiced them. Somehow, they didn’t seem as dramatic now that he was going to say them.
“I wanted to know if I’m still your best friend.”
Sasuke’s eyes narrowed. “You what?”
“You said once that I had become your closest friend. You said, then, that you had to break that tie.” His throat tightened, but his voice sounded firm. “Am I still your best friend?”
“Tch.” Sasuke slid off the rail, feet hitting the floor with a soft thud. “Is that what you wanted? What kind of stupid question is that?”
“Is that a no?”
The pause that followed stretched, until Sasuke finally answered, “I don’t have friends.”
“Then do you still want to kill me, at least?” The question was supposed to sound grim. Instead it came out hoarse. He could do this, damn it.
Sasuke’s eyes widened at that question. Good. At least Naruto could still surprise him; it was nice to know some things didn’t change.
“Why do you ask?”
Naruto looked down at his hands. The nails were hard, opaque, and sharp. He made a fist, felt the claws against his palms, and snorted. “Do you want to come inside? I don’t feel like shouting about this.”
Half looking away, Sasuke leaned back against the rail. His purple lips turned into a frown. Naruto decided he didn’t like the color. It looked wrong on him - too affected, too unnatural, like the black clotted around his eyes, and the artificial white of his skin. A minute might have passed before Sasuke said, “I like it out here.”
“Fine,” Naruto told him. “Then I’ll go out there.”
The balcony was small for two people, but somehow they arranged themselves so it felt bigger. There was one long step between them, when Naruto took a spot on the other side, back to the wall. Miles and miles.
Sasuke waited patiently while Naruto found his words again. This time, he didn’t look surprised. “I think you know what’s in me,” Naruto said. “I think a guy like you would have figured it out, after everything you’ve seen.”
“Kitsune Tsuki,” Sasuke whispered. Fox lunacy. It was an old term for someone possessed by a monster fox.
“Something like that,” Naruto agreed. “It’s sealed inside me, but not for much longer.” He added then, more quietly, “I think you can imagine what will happen when that changes.”
The moonlight turned Konoha grey and black. Windows made warm pools here and there, and streetlights broke the darkness up into manageable bits. It wasn’t so late that there weren’t people out, eating dinner or having drinks, visiting friends. The cherry trees were flowering, but they looked white instead of pink. Wind ruffled their branches and sent a chill up Naruto’s bare arms.
The Kyuubi had nearly destroyed it all once, and Naruto doubted there was anyone strong enough to stop it if it were to get free again. Tsunade and Jiraiya were well past their prime, and Kakashi fell short. Neji or Sakura might try. Hell, all of them would try. Every last ninja in Konoha would try. Kiba would try, even though he’d just become a father, and Ino despite the fact that she’d retired when she got married. Shino would try, even though an injury six months before had left his left arm next to useless. Konohamaru would try, and while the young man had spirit, he lacked his grandfather’s genius.
Naruto gritted his teeth. One way or another, he was going through with this. But he’d rather it was Sasuke. Even now, he couldn’t think of anyone he’d rather have stand second for him.
Naruto took a deep breath. He was ready to argue. Sasuke cut him off. “No, I didn’t kill you before, and I don’t intend to now. I made that choice.”
“Sasuke...” He rolled his thoughts around on his tongue, looking for the right one. “I know you were willing to die for something once. I think you still are. Well, so am I. It might not be Hokage, but it’s the best I can do.”
Sasuke’s jaw tightened, his lips thinning into a hard line. Those lips should have turned pale, but the purple hid whatever natural color might have been underneath too effectively to tell. This close, Naruto could see the mascara clumped in his friend’s eyelashes.
“What should I do?” Naruto pressed, holding on to his temper. Did Sasuke think this was easy? “Do you have a better idea?”
“Talk to that old hag of yours,” Sasuke snapped back immediately. “Or Sakura. Ask me if I’ve seen any seals that might help. Use that hard head of yours for something other than - “
“It won’t work.”
“How do you know that? You haven’t tried.”
“I don’t have to.” Naruto raked one hand through his hair. Realizing what he was doing, he forced it back to his side. He didn’t want to look nervous now. He wasn’t nervous. Fuck it all, he was terrified. “It’s not the seal that keeps him in me that’s the problem. That is fine. That isn’t breaking anytime before I die, and when I die, it’s going with me.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Sasuke spat.
“The problem is keeping him out of my head,” Naruto said. He met Sasuke’s gaze and held it, hoping the other could see what he was saying. That he could make him see without having to say it. But Sasuke’s dark eyes were implacable. He didn’t see it.
“Because there’s only one of us in here,” Naruto explained finally. “It’s been this way too long, and it’s much fucking bigger than me. It’s ancient, Sasuke, and it’s not human.” His voice dropped. “I don’t think it’s even a damned animal. It’s like... it’s a monster.”
“One of you in there?” Sasuke had his voice back under control again. He’d perfected that hard, condescending tone he’d practiced as a boy. “What the hell does that mean?”
“It means there’s nothing you can do about it. The Fourth did the best he could, but I have to finish it.”
“And if I won’t accept that?”
“Then I’ll find someone who will, or I’ll do it myself.”
Black rimmed eyes narrowed. Purple mouth flexed unhappily. It was a familiar expression in strange colors, and it made Sasuke look very young all of the sudden, and sadly fake. Naruto didn’t know why Sasuke painted his face, and he didn’t care. He didn’t like it. Sasuke’s skin wasn’t that pale. His eyes were fine without all that crap around them. His mouth was better when it wasn’t “plum” or whatever the fuck it was supposed to be. Underneath all that was someone he’d known. He could see it.
“I’d rather it was you,” Naruto said at last. He didn’t know what else to say. “Please.”
Sasuke pushed away from the rail, shifting as though he wanted to come toward Naruto, or storm and pace, but there wasn’t enough room for either. Instead, he used his narrow advantage in height to look down at Naruto. “Please?”
Black eyes attempted to pin him to the wall. Naruto wondered if Sasuke was going to hit him. Under the circumstances, he wasn’t sure whether or not that was fair. Probably. He would have punched Sasuke if he’d done the same, he was sure of that. Sasuke’s hands clenched; his fingernails matched his lips. What was the point? Hands like that shouldn’t be painted, and it reminded Naruto uncomfortably of Itachi.
Naruto looked up at Sasuke. If the ass thought it was going to intimidate him into changing his mind now, then he would have another thing coming. Naruto never had been tall; looking up to people had lost its impact a long time ago. He wasn’t going the back down on this.
Sasuke’s mouth looked glossy from this range, and livid against paper white skin. It wasn’t real.
Hardly sure what he was doing, Naruto reached out to touch Sasuke. Sasuke’s shoulder was real and solid. His neck, warm. His jaw was rough from stubble, invisible under the makeup he wore. The makeup itself was strange, oily and soft. Naruto pulled his hand away, rubbing his fingers together thoughtfully. Sasuke froze. Bald shock showed in his features and his hands relaxed. Then Naruto touched him again, cupping Sasuke’s cheek in his own broad palm.
His finger tips brushed Sasuke’s hair, found it coarse. His thumb rested on Sasuke’s lower lip. It was waxy, almost sticky. Naruto licked his own dry lips. Sasuke’s breath fanned his hand. It seemed like there was a little red in his eyes for a moment, the hint of a swirl.
Sasuke’s throat moved in a thick swallow.
Naruto rubbed Sasuke’s lower lip, pulling it down just a little. The point where his lips had met was pinker and moist. The natural color showed through the paint, there. His teeth were white, shining faintly in the light from the apartment.
The ridge of Sasuke’s teeth was hard against the pad of Naruto’s thumb. The tip of his tongue was soft and textured.
Naruto ran his thumb over Sasuke’s lip again. The motion stuttered over his lipstick, smearing it. He kept going, smudging makeup and leaving a brighter purple streak across Sasuke’s cheek.
It was strange.
“Naruto...?” the other’s voice wasn’t so cold now, nor so steady. Naruto’s hand slid into Sasuke’s hair. That was the way he’d wanted it to be. Thick, scratchy and soft against his hand.
Naruto tilted the other man’s face to his, pressing their foreheads together. The makeup was oilier there than on his cheek, it seemed. It didn’t feel like skin on skin.
Naruto licked his lips again; Sasuke turned his head, closed the gap to kiss him. Naruto returned it. It wasn’t a deep kiss. Lips brushing lips, dragging a little. It tasted like wax, but it felt warm and pliant.
Sasuke’s hand pressed against Naruto’s chest before moving up to his neck. There it curled up, seeming to forget its original purpose. Naruto ran his tongue over Sasuke’s upper lip, pulled it into his mouth and tugged gently.
The air he breathed seemed thin and electric. Sasuke’s other hand found Naruto’s waistband and pulled their bodies into line. Their thighs bumped, and their hips. Naruto framed Sasuke’s face with both hands. He could have fallen into this, and never cared if he didn’t come up again, but he forced himself to break the kiss.
“Please,” he asked again, and hated the thready tone in his voice. “I don’t want to ask anyone else.”
Sasuke’s eyes squeezed shut. “You don’t have to.”