|chibirisuchan (chibirisuchan) wrote,|
@ 2005-10-02 21:26:00
(pant wheeze) Did it. Been Naruto-wrestling (and Sasuke-wrestling) for the past hour and a half trying to fight my way through to where I could legitimately cut the scene. (Don't be surprised if you see two spots that look like they could have cut a scene. Trust me. They couldn't. You'll see why.)
(I'm so evil..)
When Sasuke gasped in a futile moment's struggle and then slumped against
the sofa, limp and unconscious in the grip of the Mangekyou, his kitten made
a curious little noise, sleepy ears pricking toward its person's face.
Itachi watched as the tiny creature jumped almost onto the sofa, back legs
scrabbling for purchase in the fabric until it could scramble its way up beside
Sasuke's sleeping face. It cocked its head this way and that, bent to snuffle
at Sasuke's nose to be sure he was breathing, batted at his nose with a paw,
and waited for a reaction. When none was forthcoming, it batted at his cheek
and waited, and then shoved its face against his, and then stood on his face,
both forepaws balanced on his cheek, to shove its nose into his ear and snuffle
Apparently, the little thing was accustomed to deep sleepers who wouldn't
swat it away by reflex; still, Itachi picked the kitten up and smoothed its
fur until it stopped struggling in his hands and settled in to sniff at the
new person. It licked at Itachi's thumb, then tried a tentative nibble, careful
of its teeth; Itachi suspected that the Kyuubi-bearer likely kitten-wrestled
with the tiny thing, but his brother likely wouldn't, and so it was testing
the new person's wrestle-inclinations. Itachi simply held it in Iruka's tanned
hands, and rubbed between tiny fragile shoulderblades until it gave up its
halfhearted gestures toward gnawing and yawned hugely. Then he settled it
on the sofa next to the curve of his younger brother's cheek, and held it
still for a moment.
"Stay," he told it, "and be polite. If you can."
The kitten blinked enormous blue eyes up at him, and Itachi thought that
they must have chosen the kitten for its resemblance to the Kyuubi-bearer:
wide shining sky-bright eyes, a sweetly mischievous disposition, and far too
many trouble-instincts for its size.
It reached over and patted at Sasuke's face again, clearly upset by its person's
unresponsiveness; and Itachi sighed a bit and set a fingertip beneath its
chin, crouching on his heels to meet its innocent stare with the power in
his own gaze.
"Sleep, then," he murmured, "and dream of milk, and catnip."
The sudden volume of the kitten's purr actually startled him for a moment
as the kitten yawned and licked its chops and snuggled against Sasuke's tousled
hair, all but vibrating with happy rumbles.
Itachi watched them rest for a moment, then straightened
the blanket over his brother's unconscious form, smoothing it against the
shape of his body, tucking it about his shoulders; he left a lingering palm
to rest against the curve of that heavy round belly for a moment. One of the
children stirred beneath his hand, and Itachi sighed, unwillingly amused despite
"You are your parents' children, after all," he said with a wry
quirk tugging at his lips. "Too stubborn by half, and unwilling to simply rest and accept anything when
you could be squabbling about it. It is unfortunate that I cannot grant you
rest as well; but at the least you shall not disturb him now."
He stood, and made his way silently toward the kitchen and the groceries
that the children had carried to increase the plausibility of his borrowed
facade's visit. Much as Sasuke had guessed, one of the bags held healthy food,
and the rest held instant ramen -- well, and there was also a package of dango
in there, because he would have some time to spend before anyone with the
power to break his hold on the boy realized what was going on. First, though,
he busied himself with putting away the groceries; it was a simple, mundane
thing for this body to do, allowing him to spare the concentration to turn
his focus inward, to where his brother still struggled uselessly in the snare
of his mind.
At first, there was nothing, in a world carved of shadow and crimson flame,
not even sound; Sasuke could feel himself trying to scream, trying to see,
trying to move, and yet there was nothing, until there was Itachi beside him
with a face sculpted of midnight and hair like a shred of silk torn from a
"Impatient," Itachi said, blood-filled eyes burning like coals.
"Always so impatient, always so eager to bite off more than you can chew,
until you choke on it--" He reached a cold iron-black hand up to trace
a kanji that burned upon Sasuke's forehead, and whispered, "Deeper."
There was something that was supposed to be wrong, Sasuke remembered that,
but it was hazy and distant, as though he was looking up from the bottom of
some dark, still pond at the glimmer of moonlight so far overhead, so far
out of reach, and nothing mattered, not even air really, because the underwater
world was so cool and calm and still. He was somehow surprised to realize
that he could breathe without choking, but moving was beyond him; even opening
his eyes was too much effort, and so he floated in the dark and listened to
the sound of his brother's voice.
There was something he was supposed to remember about his brother...
...it slipped out of his grasp, like some swift silent
fish, a mere flicker and then gone.
"All of space," his brother murmured to him, "all of time,
all of matter -- beneath the blood moon of Tsukuyomi, all rests within my
He felt his brother's hand upon his shoulder, and then remembered that he
had a shoulder.
"Each breath you take, each beat of your heart, all that you are and
all that you feel -- all of this is subject to my control. Do you understand?"
Sasuke was nothing but a leaf floating deep in the silent water, with no
will to reply; Itachi sighed, and touched his cheek, and he remembered that
he had a face, and so he nodded in the water, pliant and unresisting.
Itachi simply gazed at him for a moment, and then put an arm about his shoulders,
and they floated together toward the surface again, where there was light
and air waiting, and as they drifted upward Sasuke could feel his body again:
hands, and fingers, and his feet were cold, and breath in his lungs, and weight
pulling at his lower back -- so much weight, why so much? He looked down,
and remembered: oh, that's right, I was-- I am--
Sasuke gasped for breath, and pushed himself up on one elbow, and shook his
head as though expecting water to splatter from drenched-flat hair; he was
oddly surprised when it simply ruffled, dry and wild as ever.
There was a fire crackling in the firepit of an old-fashioned, oddly familiar
room, and an old wooden horigotatsu-style table with a dark-haired figure
seated beside it. Long, black hair, gathered at the nape of his neck, blood-red
Sasuke lunged to his feet and overbalanced wildly; he clutched at one of
the roof-posts and stared down at himself. He was too light, his clothing
hung loose on his body -- too loose, far too loose--
"What did you do to them?"
Itachi sighed. "Sit," he said, and Sasuke found his knees folding
despite himself. He opened his mouth to shout, and suddenly the fear and the
panic had drained out of him too, leaving nothing to fill the hollow but a
With the last bit of self-control left to him, Sasuke whispered, "What
are you doing to them...?"
Itachi gestured toward a futon spread on the floor on the other side of the
table; three wriggling little bundles all swaddled in white were nestled into
each other. Sasuke couldn't see their faces, but he could feel the horrible
lightness of his own body, and he would have been sick and furious if that
much control had been left to him. The resentment was just as faint as the
bewilderment had been. "Why...?"
"You let your emotions control you too much for your well-being, or
for theirs," Itachi said calmly, slowly, as though explaining to a dim
child. "The adrenaline of panic, of anger and rage and fear -- you would
not be able to control your emotions through this discussion; you've already
proven that. And so I keep your consciousness at a distance from your body's
functions, both for your sake and for theirs. They seem to be in a playful
mood, and you can concentrate more clearly when you are not distracted by
the discomfort of too-strong movements within. I do expect you to concentrate;
this is a lesson you've never been willing to accept from any of your teachers,
myself included, and I have never been a patient man."
"...they're going to be all right?"
"Certainly," Itachi said, bending to tend the fire. "Far better
than they would have been had we held this conversation with you driving yourself
mad over your fury and pain and guilt, unable to simply think and listen."
After a long minute's struggle with the haze in his mind
that separated him from anything resembling emotion, Sasuke asked,
"May I touch them?"
Itachi didn't respond aloud; but this time when Sasuke tried to move, his
body responded, and so he crept over to where his children lay half-drowsing
in a puppylike tangle of wriggling arms and feet. They were warm, and so terrifyingly
tiny, and when he reached a hesitant finger toward one little hand, the tiny
fingers curled about his.
If he'd been able to feel his heart, it might have broken just then. "Tell
me," Sasuke said, oddly light-headed at the lack of the fear and protective
fury he should have been feeling. "Tell me what I have to do so that
you'll return them to me safely."
Itachi sighed again, and took the old iron teapot that had been hanging over
the fire, and poured two cups of tea. "You're not listening,"
he chided, weary-voiced. "You never have listened."
"Then use small words," Sasuke said, proud of the hint of a growl
in a voice that had been almost smoothed flat by the haze. "Talk to me
like I'm Naruto."
Itachi seemed to consider it for a moment, and then he stood and stretched
and blurred, his body broadening, his ash-pale skin warming with a touch of
gold and tan, and then familiar dark eyes blinked down at Sasuke from a scarred
and friendly face.
"Damn it, not like that!" Sasuke snapped, shuddering. "What
did you do to Iruka-sensei?"
'Iruka' gave a much more exprssive sigh than Itachi had. "Contrary to
popular opinion," his teacher's mild voice said, "I find no challenge
in slaughtering those significantly weaker than myself. One would expect that
the evidence would tend to support my claim. If I did make a habit of such
things, you would not be here to argue with me, after all."
"What did you do--"
"The last I saw of them, your academy teacher and the copy-nin were
in his apartment watching some horrible barely-plotted pornographic movie
with ridiculously insinuating music and even worse effects. --To be accurate,
the copy-nin was drooling over the movie and your teacher was struggling not
to spontaneously combust from humiliation. The only threat to their evening
would be if the teacher bursts a blood vessel, and it will be none of my doing;
I am not so great a fool as to confront both Copy-nin Kakashi and his excessively
protective and loud-voiced young lover in the very center of Konoha."
Itachi met his gaze squarely from behind Iruka's face. "Now will
you believe me? I am not naive enough to ask for your trust, but I do expect
a reasonable amount of suspension of disbelief."
"...Fine," Sasuke muttered, trying to get his glare back if nothing
else. "Just -- get the hell out from behind Iruka-sensei's face. It's
Iruka shrugged a bit, and crumpled inwards, dwindling back into Itachi's
own slight, pale, deceptively fragile-looking body. "Is there another
teacher whose voice you would accept more than you accept mine?"
"Just tell me what I have to do!"
"I've tried," Itachi said, with a thread of frustration in his
normally too-calm voice. "You simply need to listen and think. I have
done all I can to answer you, and yet you never listen..."
"How can you expect me to want to listen to you?" Sasuke whispered.
"You know what you've done, you know what I've
"That would be why I've taken these precautions."
They stared at each other for a long, silent moment, caught at an impasse.
Itachi lifted one of the cups of tea from the low table, and offered it.
Sasuke struggled with himself for a moment, then moved to sit at the table
and took the cup from his brother's hands.
"I'm listening," he said.
"We'll see," Itachi replied, weary-voiced, and reached across the
table to trace another mark upon his brow.
This time when Sasuke came to himself, he was in the old Uchiha training
grounds in a grove on their lands, with faded and crumbling straw targets
still tied to the trees from years before. He spun on his heel at the sound
of footsteps, grateful for the first time that the children were safely elsewhere
in this mad nightmare world of his brother's, so that he could face whatever
challenge Itachi planned for him without fear of his own inability to fight.
And then he clutched at the nearest tree for support, because the person
who came crunching happily through the trees was his six-year-old self, dragging
a too-young Itachi along with him.
The older Itachi put a steadying hand on his shoulder; Sasuke shrugged it
off, still unable to summon as much anger as he needed, but his brother faded
back into the shadows and left him to watch their younger selves.
The truth was, he hadn't been very good, and Itachi hadn't been all
that patient with his six-year-old fumblings. Sasuke remembered his
own awe at his big brother's talents, and even from
the vantage point of a dozen years, the child Itachi had been was still impressive
-- not yet flawless, but absolutely driven, and unwilling to accept distraction.
Eventually, the child Sasuke had been gave up on earning his brother's attention,
and simply watched until he fell asleep. He woke briefly when Itachi lifted
him onto his back to carry him home, and giggled a little sheepishly.
"I'm sorry I fell asleep, nii-san..."
Itachi didn't reply, simply adjusting his brother's weight and balance on
his back before picking up his nin-pack and his brother's.
"I'm going to be strong someday too," Sasuke confided, "and
make you and Father proud of me."
"Are you now," Itachi replied, almost smiling. "What is your
"I'm your little brother!" Sasuke said proudly. "I'm going
to grow up and be just like you!"
Itachi reached over his shoulder and flicked his little brother's forehead
lightly, and set off into the woods.
When Sasuke moved to follow them, the older Itachi stopped him again. "Have
you learned where you were mistaken?" he asked, holding out a shuriken.
Sasuke took it from him, and stared at it, and then at the target, and he
said bitterly, "Yes. I didn't cut your throat when I had the chance."
He threw the shuriken, and the world spun madly beneath him, and then his
own shuriken landed in his shoulder; the haze over the world kept it from
hurting the way it should have, but he looked at the blood trickling down
his arm in morbid fascination.
"Try again," Itachi said, and handed him another shuriken. "What
was your strength, back then?"
"I had no strength," Sasuke whispered, and this time he threw the
shuriken at Itachi's throat. Itachi simply inclined his head; the shuriken
passed close enough to sever a few long dark strands of his hair.
"Wrong again," Itachi replied, and pulled the shuriken out of the
tree it had stuck to, and tossed it lightly back to Sasuke. "Have you
ever understood the source of your own strength?"
"My strength is my hatred for you," Sasuke spat, and threw the
shuriken at him again, harder.
It cracked the chalkboard of the academy classroom, and his classmates turned
to stare and giggle; Iruka looked up from his lesson book with one brow twitching
dangerously, and for the first time in years Sasuke found himself stammering
an apology as he sank into a seat that was too short for his lanky teenager's
build. Next to him, Naruto pulled down an eyelid and stuck out his tongue;
his rude gesture of response was pure reflex, and on his other side, Itachi
made a sound of amusement.
"The course of love was a rock-strewn and badly-paved road, it seems?"
"Shut up," Sasuke snarled, and realized he could snarl again.
"Sakura-kun," Iruka said from the front of the room, "why
do you want to become a ninja?"
"So I can impress Sasuke-kun!" she said, with a giggle.
"And has that wish made her stronger, Sasuke-kun?" Iruka asked.
The old preteen impulse to blush and sink lower in his chair was hard to
fight off. "...Not that I know of."
Sakura sniffled, watery green eyes and a blubbering
lower lip threatening tears at any minute. "But... but... I really want
to impress Sasuke-kun...!"
"There is a world of difference between this trembling little girl and
the Godaime Hokage's earth-shattering apprentice," Iruka said, but his
eyes were blood-red again. "What made that difference in her possible?
What gave her the strength to both ask for her training and to flourish under
"She was determined to marry you," Itachi said from the front of
the class, dry-voiced, and yet none of Sasuke's fellow students seemed to
have seen the difference. "If determination were all it took, she would
be your wife, I would be dead at your hand, and the
nose-picking, rude young Kyuubi-bearer at your side would have been the first
thirteen-year-old Hokage of Konohagakure no Sato."
Then he spoke in Iruka's voice again, the clear strong voice and teacher's
practiced enunciation at odds with the secrets held in Itachi's bloody gaze.
"Naruto, come down here."
Sasuke reached to stop him reflexively, but Naruto had already bounded out
of his seat and climbed over the heads of several classmates to hurry to where
'Iruka' called him. He flung his arms around his teacher's waist and said,
"Hey, hey, if I get this one right, will you treat me to ramen?"
"All the ramen you want," Iruka's voice promised him, as Itachi's
pale hand smoothed that untamable thatch of spiky straw-gold hair. "What
makes you strong, Naruto?"
"Ramen! And wanting to be
"Is he right?" Itachi asked Sasuke.
"Of course not," Sasuke muttered, glaring from behind his hands;
it was getting easier with practice.
"Then what is the source of his strength?"
"The Kyuubi," Sasuke said.
"Wrong again," Itachi said, and the walls of the academy fell away
as though they'd been peeled apart.
Sasuke was lying on the ground in the forest, with Iruka on his hands and
knees above him, coughing blood with Mizuki's huge shuriken in his spine.
He couldn't move; there was nothing he could do but stare in horror as Mizuki
readied a second weapon for the final strike.
"Did... did Naruto ever tell you... how he graduated?" Iruka coughed,
wiping blood from his lips with the back of his hand. "Did you know...
I would die for him...?"
"The man is not strong," Itachi said calmly, sitting on his heels
beside them, "but he is extraordinary for what he is. His strength is
a fool's strength, self-sacrificing, but it is his own, and he pours it out
at the feet of his students as though his blood were water. It is his curse
and his tragedy that so few have the courage to accept his gift, or even to
understand it, when it will kill him one day."
"DO something, you asshole!" Sasuke screamed at his brother.
Itachi stabbed a kunai into the ground, and the world burst open and poured
away, leaving Sasuke sprawled on hands and heels staring up at Zabuza's blade
caught on the back of Kakashi's steel-plated glove.
"I am broken," Kakashi said cheerfully, his visible eye smiling
as though he were simply standing there reading porn.
"I had to be broken before I could even begin to understand what strength
was. I have been broken so many times I no longer remember what it felt like,
when I thought I was whole; but I'm stronger than I was when I was a child,
and unscarred, and a fool. Some people only learn through pain. I wish you
weren't one of them, Sasuke-kun; you're more like me than I'd ever wish on
either of us..."
"You don't let your comrades die, right?"
Sasuke challenged him furiously. "You're strong -- Obito was your friend,
Obito was my cousin; why did you let him kill my family?"
"It's not that easy," Kakashi said, and pulled a little orange
book out of his pocket. "None of us knew. None of us expected it. And
if we had -- I told you, I've been broken and remended so many times I've
lost count, and each time has left me stronger. I'm fairly sure I'll die of
it someday, of course; but until then I grow through being broken, and healing
to something more than what I was before. But, Sasuke-kun-- your brother never
needed to break to find his strength. If I'd fought him,
back then, with what little I understood, I would have died. As
surely as you would die fighting him now."
Kakashi flipped a couple of pages with his thumb, still holding back Zabuza's
blade with the other hand, and added brightly, "I don't know about you,
but I've always found the power of bad porn to be inspirational! Maybe you
should start your quest for self-knowledge by studying Icha Icha P--"
From somewhere in the distance, two horribly familiar voices shouted, "LIAR!"
An eraser bounced off the top of his shaggy silver head, and Kakashi poofed
into nothingness in the resulting cloud of eraser dust; and, now unchecked,
Zabuza's sword came down.
There was nothing Sasuke could do but close his eyes and tell himself, It's
a lie. It's all his lies, it's all in his mind, all
his sick, psychotic fantasy world--
In the darkness behind his closed eyelids, the scarlet clouds on Itachi's
Akatsuki cloak glowed like banked embers, like the crimson fire in his eyes.
"You're not listening again," Itachi said, and flicked his forehead
with a fingertip. Sasuke felt himself falling backwards,
and opened his eyes in a panic, landing on his rump in the middle of the training
"What do you want from me?" Sasuke shouted at the tall shadow
standing among the trees.
"Like hell!" There were tears burning in his eyes, and Sasuke
scrubbed at them with a mud-streaked fist, because he'd be damned if he let
his brother see him cry again. "You killed them! You killed them all!
How in the hell am I ever supposed to understand that?"
"Not comprehension of me," Itachi murmured, and moved to sit on
his heels beside him. "Comprehension of yourself. Because you've spent
your entire life fighting your own nature, and you have nothing to show for
it now but self-inflicted pain."
"Self-inflicted?! You bastard--
you -- I've done every damned thing you've ever asked! I've hated you
and hated you and I almost killed my best friend, my lover,
because of you, because you wanted me to hate, you wanted me
stronger, and it's not enough, it's never enough, I can never even scratch
"I know," Itachi said, softly, and gathered him into his arms,
and held him still. "I asked more than you were able to endure, more
than you were able to become. I do regret that my misestimation of your ability
has led you through such pain. But... how were you able to remember the words
so clearly, without ever understanding the meaning?"
"You told me to hate you," Sasuke choked, pain burning in his throat
as though he'd swallowed fire. "I did that. I hated you so much..."
"You never understood hate, either," Itachi murmured, resting his
cheek against the crown of his brother's head. "Hate is cold, and calculating,
and uncaring of any consequence. You never hated me, little brother. You were
furious with me, and in pain, and lost in denial
of everything -- denial of love, denial of courage, denial of passion, denial
of your own humanity -- and yet you never learned to hate anyone but yourself.
I never meant for that to be the lesson you learned from me."
The regret in his voice was as hushed as any of Itachi's muted emotions,
but it was unnervingly sincere, and it made Sasuke's stomach turn to think
about it. "Aniki--"
"Have you ever had any glimpse of what it is that gives you your own
strength?" Itachi asked. "Or have you simply spent your entire life
grasping at my shadow, at the Copy-nin's Chidori, at the thieving snake's
cursed seal, at anything and everything that could be a quick and dirty substitute
for the need to discover and master your own power..."
"...Bastard!" He couldn't even lift his hands to beat at
his brother's shoulder; he spat at him instead. "I did what you told
me to! I lived like filth, like worse than filth, I clutched at
whatever scraps of power I could claw into my hands, and I hated you
-- don't ever tell me I didn't hate you enough--"
"Foolish child," Itachi murmured, still holding him close, effortlessly.
"Hatred was only ever to be your first step. You should have outgrown
the need for hatred -- or for the anger and pain you call hatred -- long ago,
at the time when you should have begun to understand yourself."
He couldn't fight; he couldn't scream; all he had left was a sick, cracked
half-laugh. "And you understand me, do you, you sick psychotic freak?
What is my strength? What would have made me strong enough to kill you?"
"Those are two different questions," Itachi said, "and you
would not believe me when I answer either of them for you."
"Try me. What have you got to lose? You pull all the strings here."
The venom in his voice was somehow not as satisfying as he'd wanted it to
"What I have to lose," Itachi told him, "is your ability ever
to accept the truth. These are truths you must realize on your own, learned
through understanding your own mind and heart -- and I am both willing and
able to keep you here for however long it takes. Both time and space are irrelevant
here beneath the illumination of my dark moon."
Itachi sighed just a bit, and added under his breath, "And waiting for
you to come to realize anything emotionally or spiritually significant can
take a very, very long time, little brother."
Sasuke really wished he could have punched his brother in the face
and broken that aristocratic nose for him. He got as far as twitching a fingertip.
"You're closing down again," Itachi said. "Whenever you face
anything you don't wish to hear, you turn to denial or to flight. All right. Rest a bit. There is a small nuisance whom I should
keep from attempting to disturb you... again." The faintest flicker of
irritation crossed his face as he added, "Is there any rational
reason why your cat enjoys walking on your head as you sleep?"
"She's hungry," Sasuke said, warily.
"And this has approximately what to do with sitting on your face and
pawing at various sensory organs?"
"I'd imagine Naruto and I wake up a lot faster with a paw in the ear.
--Under normal circumstances, that is."
"...Ah. I should feed her for you, then. I
believe the kitten food is still in the lower cabinet next to the cooking
"Yes. Thank you," Sasuke said, rather blankly, since the whole
conversation was rapidly becoming too surreal for him even in a 'day' filled
with banana-peel-open academy classrooms and eraser-banishings of perverted
Oh, God. I'm sitting here trapped in my homicidal psychopath brother's
doujutsu and talking about where the cat food is... I can't let him get to
me, I can't let him get me to agree to what he asks-- I don't know what he
wants or why he wants it, this could end up with a trigger left in my mind
-- something he could use to make me capture Naruto for him, to give him the
children, to give him whatever the hell it is he wants this time--
"I told you to rest," Itachi said, reproving. "You
always were terrible at accepting advice." He brushed Sasuke's bangs
back from his forehead, and kissed his brow lightly, as their mother had done
years and years earlier.
Sasuke struggled blindly, trapped by rage and grief and furious rejection
-- "You have no right!" he gasped, shaking all over. "You
sick, psychotic sadist-- you have no right--"
"Whoa, calm down," a far too familiar voice said next to his ear,
still holding him close, holding him still. "Last time I checked I was
your dead-last imbecile, not a sadist. Sasuke-bastard, wake up already..."
He tried desperately to turn, to see if it could be real this time, and the
moment he took a breath he felt it: the reassuring, solid bulk that filled
his body, the children that made it so awkward to move or walk or even breathe.
The bedside light flicked on, and Naruto's eyes were as wide and bewildered
as the kitten's.
"Must have been one hell of a nightmare," he said softly.
All of the pent-up panic and terror and revulsion and fury that he hadn't
been able to feel in the grip of Itachi's control rushed over him in a wave,
and Sasuke scrambled out of bed and staggered into the bathroom to be violently
Naruto had followed him every step of the way, all but hovering, and crouched
at his side with a wet washcloth, like an anxious puppy not sure if it was
about to be cuddled or kicked. "Bastard, you -- aw, hell, obviously you're
not okay -- what happened...?"
Sasuke clutched at Naruto's hand as though it were his last lifeline, struggling
to keep from retching again at the thought of his brother's effortless invasion
of their life, of his mind, of everything that had ever mattered.
"Itachi," he whispered, leaning hard on the wall, trying to force
his heart to slow and his breathing to steady before he set off another round
of emotionally-induced contractions, because he would die before he allowed
his brother to take these children from him -- even through his own fear.
"Oh, God, Naruto, he was here. He was Iruka-sensei, nobody ever
questions Iruka-sensei, not when he comes to visit
the two of us-- he--" Sasuke stopped short, and swallowed hard again.
"When did you get home...? If he'd still been here-- he still wants you,
he-- oh, God..."
"Slow down," Naruto said, cuddling him close and smoothing his
hair, as much for his own comfort as for Sasuke's. "You're sure
it wasn't a nightmare?"
"It was a nightmare," Sasuke agreed with a short, sharp
laugh, "but it was worse than that. Listen to me, Naruto. We have
to think of something to do about genjutsu -- I can't keep Sharingan in place
to check every person who walks by on the sidewalk, Kakashi-sensei can't be
here all the time -- Itachi -- he said it himself, he should never have been
allowed to just walk in the door even if he was Iruka-sensei -- except he
wasn't-- oh, God--" Sasuke gulped back another wave of panic by sheer
force, and shook his head sharply. "When did you come home? How far could
he have gone before you came home? --why the hell did I wake up so easily...?"
Naruto's brow was furrowed. "I'm not saying I don't believe you,"
he said cautiously. "Whatever the hell happened, whether it was Itachi
or just a really nasty dream, you're scared enough to make yourself sick over
it, and that's so not good right now. So we're gonna fix it. I'll get
the guards to scan everybody from now on, okay? Sharingan or no Sharingan,
just about anybody can dispel henge. But... are you really, totally sure you
didn't just drowse off on the sofa? You were so sound asleep you didn't even
notice when I carried you to bed..."
Sasuke dragged both hands down his face, still struggling to keep his breathing
even and to bring his heart back under control. "It was Itachi,"
he said flatly. "I've had too many nightmares of him for too many years
not to know the difference. My nightmares let me wake up."
Naruto wrapped an arm around him and squeezed gently, chewing his bottom
lip. "Come on, walrus boy, let's roll you back
to bed. Linoleum floor isn't exactly the world's most ursapedic sitting-spot
for hugely pregnant people; let's get you some pillows and some back-rubbing
so you don't tie yourself completely in sick-knots while we figure this thing
The insane normality of it was enough to send Sasuke shaking with reaction
again. "'Ursapedic?' ...'walrus boy?'"
"Isn't it ursapedic? Where they make things that fit the way your back
wants to go?" He lifted Sasuke to his feet and more than half carried
him back to the bed, settling him in a bundle of blankets and pillows and
tucking and fluffing things at random.
"Ursapedic would be 'bears' feet,'" Sasuke growled. "And you're
saying I look like a walrus?"
"Well, yeah," Naruto said with a grin. "Sakura-chan says any
women on the jury would give you a sympathy acquittal if I called you a cow
or a hippo or made oinking noises or anything and you went and murdered me
in my sleep. I figured walruses were safer than cows. Different number of legs and stuff, right? And you kinda move
like a walrus, all waddling side to side hauling that belly around. It's hilarious.
I wish you could see yourself."
"You-- you-- insensitive asshole--!"
Sasuke ground the heel of a palm into his eye, fighting to keep from surrendering
to tears -- not from Naruto's teasing; from the sheer overwhelming relief
that Naruto was here, teasing him, that the
kits were safe, that Itachi had set him free for whatever lunatic purpose
he pursued. But Naruto didn't seem to recognize that; his eyes were huge with
"Aw shit, bastard, don't cry on me! Don't tell me -- this is that hormonal
shit again, right? Sakura-chan's gonna kill me if I make you cry again. If
you don't kill me first. --Are walruses that bad? I thought
they were kinda cute, how they waddle and stuff..."
Unable to speak around the knot in his throat, Sasuke dredged up his best
glare despite the wetness in his eyes, and grabbed Naruto by the collar and
shook him a good one, and then he flung both arms around Naruto's ribcage
and clung tighter and tighter until Naruto squeaked like one of the kitten's
He was still shaking. That was... unacceptable. The whole damn day was completely
unacceptable. For right now, though, it was enough just to hide his face in
Naruto's excessively orange shoulder and wait until he was certain the world
had stopped heaving him around like a rag in a tempest.
"Air," Naruto wheezed. "Need... air... breathe... grk..."
into his throat, and loosened his hold a little. Just a little, because Naruto
was warm and solid and orange and comfortably infuriating; Naruto made him
shake with outrage in a way he was accustomed to, a way that didn't involve
blood and pain and torment and old, old grief like ashes thick in his throat.
So he held on tight instead of saying what he wanted to say, because even
after Itachi had walked through his mind and left scrawls of shame as easily
as defacing a child's picture book, Sasuke still couldn't say to Konoha's
leader and the Rokudaime Hokage, don't leave me alone; I don't care what
it takes, I don't care how many boring council meetings I have to sit through
or who stares at me in the Tower or what I interrupt -- don't ever leave me
alone again, because I'm too weak to fight now and I know it, and I'm scared.
He was still Uchiha Sasuke, and he still clung to the tattered remnants of
what had once been worth calling pride.
Naruto was patting him, awkwardly, because his elbows were pinned to his
sides by the force of Sasuke's desperate hold; he shifted a little, wriggled
and stretched until he could turn the awkward pets into something more solid
and soothing, his fingertips rubbing a pattern up and down the small of Sasuke's
back, where the strain of the weight gathered. "It's okay," he murmured,
"it's all okay now. You're fine, the kits are fine. Nobody's going to
hurt you. --Unless you count me saying something stupid, but I'm always doing
that. It's gonna be okay. Come on, cuddle-buns, just relax and let me give
you a good backrub..."
"What's the matter now? You don't like walruses," Naruto grumped,
his fingertips finding the knots of tension in Sasuke's lower back and kneading
at them lightly. "I mean it. Let me get my hands free so I can work on
you better. You're all tensed up."
"No shit," Sasuke muttered, both hands fisting in the fabric of
Naruto's shirt to keep himself from cracking and pouring it all out: I’m
scared, I'm so scared, I've never been this weak, never cared this much for
anyone so vulnerable, they're so vulnerable, I'M so vulnerable, and there's
not a damn thing I can do about it but trust you and the ANBU, and I'm never
going to trust the ANBU again, not after today, so please, don't ever leave
me alone again, not ever, I can't stand it anymore...
He swallowed back the tangle of horror and sick panic, and bit his lip hard,
and shifted his hold so that he was clinging to Naruto around the ribs instead
of around the forearms. It was as much as he could do; even his own furious,
injured pride couldn't get him to stop clinging, or to stop shaking.
Naruto was rubbing his head against Sasuke's cheek almost like the kitten
did, both hands busy kneading at the tension in his back, bringing their bodies
closer so that Sasuke's bulge was warmly cradled against his stomach and hips.
Naruto seemed to be doing his level best to manage a full-body hug, and murmuring
reassurances under his breath almost like a purr -- or a growl.
"Come on, head against my shoulder, just let yourself go limp -- let
it all go, let me hold you together. I'm right here holding you, I'll keep
you safe -- it's going to be fine. Nobody's going to get through me. Nobody. So you can let go now... just relax, just let
me hold you..." He gathered up a bundle of blankets and wrapped them
willy-nilly around them both, then started kneading again. "Don't go
all tense again, but do you want to talk...? Stupid question, I know, but
one of these days the world's going to flip over like a pancake and you're
gonna say yes..."
With his face buried against the warm crook between Naruto's throat and shoulder,
Sasuke mumbled, "What is there to talk about? My psychotic brother walked
into our house without so much as a nod from the ANBU, and if he'd wanted
to kill me I'd be dead right now. What is talking going to do to change that?"
Naruto rubbed quietly for a long moment, and then offered, "Assuming
it wasn't all a really, really nasty dream -- if he'd raised killing-levels
of chakra, surely they would have sensed that. And he'd have known they'd
sense that, too. So... was this like the psychopath version of a baby shower
or something? 'Cause you're fine, other than being panicky -- don't get me
wrong, I totally understand you being panicky, it's just that I'm a lot more
used to thinking of Sasuke's-psycho-big-brother-equals-blood-e
of events, and unless the kitten went and scratched you when I wasn't looking...
anyway, I think I'm saying since he didn't want you dead, what did
"What does he ever want?" Sasuke whispered, eyes
shut tight. "To preach about strength, to mock me for a weak failure
who still hasn't learned enough hatred..."
"Now see, I've got one hell of a bone to pick with the bastard there,"
Naruto growled. "That whole true-strength-is-hatred thing is a total
load of bullshit, and I want to kick his ass up between his ears for
screwing your head up like that for so damn much of your life already! --Even
aside from the multitude of other reasons for kicking his ass up between his
ears, which is saying something!"
Sasuke heard himself make a noise that could have been a chuckle if it hadn't
been half muffled in Naruto's shoulder.
"The whole problem is that he's always been right," Sasuke murmured.
"I'm still shaking. If I can't even control my own emotions enough
to keep my hands steady the next time I see his face -- how am I ever going
to kill him when I can't even stand straight and look him in the eyes, because
I'm half blind with the pain and the fear and the memories? I can't defeat
him until I can defeat myself, until I can truly drive out every emotion
when I need to fight..."
Naruto made an extremely rude noise that sounded like it had the word "bullshit"
stuffed in the middle of it. Sasuke lifted his head a little, blinking.
"Look at me, bastard. I'm strong," Naruto told him fiercely,
"and you know I've never been all Zen rock garden calm like that
in my life."
Sasuke snorted. "You don't need to control your temper when you've got
a demon in your gut to back you up as you start tearing chunks out of the
landscape. We don't all have that kind of firepower to draw on, so intellect
has to make up for brute force for some of us."
"What makes me strong has got nothing to do with Kyuubi," Naruto
said, still kneading Sasuke's lower back. "If Kyuubi was all there was
to it, there'd be no difference between me and the way Gaara used to be. And
I get creeped out when I think about you and somebody like old-style-Gaara.
The two of you would so have brain-icicled each other to death it's
not even funny."
"You know. That 'I'm-more-badass-than-thou' silent-glare-eye-stabbity-hmph
thing you and Gaara and Neji do at everybody." Naruto squeezed his eyes
mostly shut and curled his lip in a comically bad attempt at looking forbidding;
it mostly looked constipated, and Sasuke clamped a hand over his mouth to
keep from laughing aloud at him.
"You should have seen me getting slept on by the little nuisance earlier,"
he admitted, because with Naruto he could admit these things sometimes. ...Mostly
because Naruto laughed at him whether or not he admitted anything, so it wasn't
like trying to keep a secret would spare him from getting laughed at. "Nobody
can look aloof and imposing when they're being slept on by a snore-purring
kitten. Poor Iruka-sensei looked so..."
Then Sasuke stopped, and swallowed hard again.
"You're all right," Naruto reminded him, rubbing his shoulders.
"The kits are all right. He didn't hurt you."
Sasuke sighed deeply, and reached past Naruto toward the curtains. The rain
was pattering against the glass again, without sounding like it intended to
"Hey, stop squirming--" Naruto tried to pin his hand; he dropped
a shoulder and twisted by reflex, and his fingertips touched the drapes.
Sasuke's blood turned to ice in his veins.
Beneath the bloody not-light of the Tsukuyomi moon, Naruto's hair was dyed
the color of hellflame.
"Aw, shit. You were calming down and everything," the not-boy said,
with half his face painted in a bloody mask by the unlight. "Well, he
said you were impatient. Don't suppose I can convince you to just close the
Sasuke's hands laced around the thing's throat, and he slammed its head against
the window so hard it was a shock that the glass didn't splinter -- but then,
this was still his brother's sick warped world. He couldn't see for the tears
burning in his eyes, and he couldn't speak around the knot of rage and agony
and sick betrayal in his throat, but his hands knew the shape of Naruto's
throat, warm and fragile, life pulsing beneath his fingertips, and he squeezed.
"Don't say that!" Sasuke snarled. "Don't say my
name in his voice -- you --"
"Stop that," Itachi said from the doorway. "It was challenging
to come up with a construct that tapped into enough of your memories of him
for you to believe it."
Sasuke let go of the thing's throat and twisted about and threw himself blind
at his brother. But the thing caught him around the waist -- gently, terrifyingly
gently -- and then Sasuke was flat on his back in the bed, and the not-Naruto
was standing between Itachi and his brother.
And it had claws.
"I told him nobody was going to hurt him. I told him if they tried they
were going through me," it rumbled. "I don't go back on my word."
"You are not Naruto," Itachi said, nonplussed.
"I'm damn well close enough," the thing said, with a fox-fanged
grin. "You made me that way yourself, remember?"
Itachi's mouth flattened, and then with a sharp flick of a hand the room
melted away. The not-Naruto thing cried out and reached for Sasuke in the
moment before the orange and gold bled away into the fire of the old room
where Itachi sat at the table and the kits drowsed in a bundle of blankets.
"You bastard," Sasuke choked, hollow-bodied and numb again,
his ability to feel bleeding out of him like an open wound. "You bastard--
you-- killed him, killed it, you--"
"You were going to break its neck with your bare hands a minute ago,"
Itachi reminded him, unimpressed.
"That's different, that's-- you--"
"This is becoming tedious," Itachi said, and reached over and touched
a fingertip to Sasuke's brow. "Sleep."
He couldn't even rage as the world bled away into nothing.