It's been years.
Naruto's here, alone, and it's been years. Sakura is with him, and the taskforce is all around, but that's not what he means.
That's not who he's been looking for.
And Naruto's never been one to recognize a lost cause when it's right in front of him, but even he can't keep this hope up anymore. This silence. This barren wasteland. This hollow life.
This broken bond.
Naruto holds the scroll in his hand, and Sakura is immediately in front of him. She looks at him with panicked, desperate eyes. Naruto's seen them before. And she's seen him have...ideas. Like this one.
She's never seen him give up on them.
"Maybe—maybe he's not dead," she's saying, but Naruto isn't listening. "He could be in hiding—anywhere, even, he—"
Naruto places his hand on her arm, and Sakura falls silent.
She cries, but she doesn't stop him.
When Naruto awakens, he thinks he's done it wrong. He's too late, gone too far—or not far enough. He's too old, his mirror tells him—he's lived here too long, says his barren apartment. Naruto runs out, into the street, and runs into—
"Took you long enough," Sasuke, a child, says, turning on his heel with his hands in his pockets. He's young and smug and happy and what is he doing here? Naruto—
His memories come...scattered. One by one, as he absentmindedly follows behind Sasuke's small footsteps. Sasuke slows down for him, he notices, and he notices again when Sasuke catches the eye of the old lady that used to chase him with her broom. But Naruto barely sees her—barely sees Sasuke, too focused on the...memories, not his memories, but they were his memories—this second childhood, in a world where—
Sasuke's family is alive.
Naruto's head snaps up, and he trips on his feet.
Sasuke pulls him back up not a moment later, muttering something about useless idiots.
Naruto's legs don't feel stable for the rest of the day.
Nothing ever goes right, Naruto thinks. Nothing ever ends up the way it's supposed to. But it's okay. It's fine—still, even now—even with a Sasuke that saves a seat beside him and laughs at the stupid things Naruto says—
There are still things to save, here.
Naruto knows, because he's ten years old, and Danzo walks right past him. He's ten years old, and the Uchihas still live in a compound—isolated, away from everyone else. He's ten years old, and he sees the bandage Neji wears around his forehead.
And he tries, sometimes, to look for things. Shadow clones come in handy, but his chakra control sucks and his endurance is even worse. Not his chakra endurance—he's never had any issue with that—but he's ten, and his body is weak. His brain, too—like he can't piece together stuff he knew he normally would be able to. So he has to be...slow about it.
Patient. He's never been good at that.
Sasuke helps, though. Sasuke is awkward about his family and especially about Itachi, but he pushes past it all to talk to Naruto about it when he asks. Naruto doesn't know why it looks so uncomfortable to him, but he's thankful for it, and he tries to show Sasuke so. Even though he's uncomfortable, too, and he knows Sasuke sees it—
He didn't remember it being so...easy. To be friends with Sasuke, he means. He guesses it's easier since he understands Sasuke on a level he never had at this age, but…
Sometimes, it's like Sasuke understands him too.
Naruto tries to bury those wishful thoughts as they come. He's here for one reason, and that's to fix things. His Sasuke is gone, and so he asks this Sasuke about his life—about his family, about his...brother.
Itachi isn't an Anbu, yet. It's not the first thing that surprises Naruto, but it surprises him all the same—Sasuke talks about the ways his father pushes Itachi towards certain things and how they try to walk the balance between self-care and familial disappointment. Sasuke knows it all too well. Sasuke is focused and he cares way more about grades than Naruto ever thought he did when they'd both been this young. He'd realized his perfection came from that relentless drive long ago, though, but Sasuke had never been so...open about it before. About a lot of stuff, but he still closes up about Itachi, and Naruto knows he should find it weirder than he does.
He doesn't, though. It's the least he can do.
He closes up when Sasuke tries to ask him things, too.
But he learns about more—like Itachi's friend Shisui, who Sasuke gets along with. He thinks it's Itachi, the first time he sees him with Sasuke. It's not—they don't even look alike, but Naruto still isn't used to seeing Sasuke casually stand beside anyone that resembles him at all. Sasuke introduces them, and Shisui looks over at Sasuke like he knows something.
Naruto wonders what Sasuke says about him when he isn't around.
He hides, though, the first time he actually sees Itachi. He isn't proud of it. He didn't want to. It's almost automatic, even though this Itachi is young—this Itachi smiles, this Itachi stands beside Sasuke and ruffles his hair—
And Sasuke flinches, for a second, but then he smiles.
The image burns into Naruto's mind.
It takes Naruto longer than he wants to make a plan. He knows he needs to be able to actually hide himself before he can go anywhere—anywhere other than the places he can make excuses for, anyway. He's already snuck into the Hokage's office a bunch of times, bringing a bunch of paint or chalk or balloons or whatever so he can play the interrupted idiot whenever he's run out of time to snoop. It's been a better plan than trying to talk to the old man—he's tried that, too, whenever he drops off whatever money Naruto's supposed to get. It's never been enough for his appetite, and he tries to bring that up, too—
He doesn't listen, and for once in this strange second life, Naruto isn't surprised.
But he is surprised when Sasuke shows up at his house. With groceries, too—with good ones, saying something about how his mom had bought too much and this was all gonna go bad. But it is fresh, Naruto knows it is—he's learned the lesson over and over of what stuff looks like when it's about to go.
None of it tastes like this.
Sasuke helps him cook, because Naruto's too short to be able to see over the stove without his footstool. He expects Sasuke to laugh at him about it, but he...doesn't.
He just kinda cooks.
So Naruto shuts up too, and lets him. And it happens again, sometimes, from week to week—and Naruto likes it, he does, he really loves it, because it's the first time his pathetic apartment has ever felt like home, but—
Sasuke never invites him over. He notices that. Not that he expects him to, but...he...he just notices. And it distracts him, with stupid thoughts of wondering why—like why Itachi and Shisui are allowed to know they're friends, but Sasuke doesn't want his...parents to…
Naruto answers his own question, and it tastes bitter. He wonders how he forgot how easy it was to hate him, when he was young...and he gets it, he does, he's a reminder of pain and grief and Naruto can only imagine what he'd be like if he had to face a living reminder of all of that every day, but…
Naruto skips school the next day.
For a while, Naruto plays with the idea of flunking out of the academy. Not even making genin—just existing in the guise of useless and therefore harmless for the rest of his life, and doing everything useful in...secret.
He scraps the idea pretty quick, though. It would all come out too easily, too quickly and too irreversibly. And it would ruin what he knew of the future, although he kind of...thought it might be ruined already. But enough had stayed the same that needed to change and that...he'd get to that. If only he could find evidence for it all.
It was harder, now, obviously—not being Hokage anymore. That made it a whole lot harder. And he doesn't know how to go about it all now, but...one step at a time. Evidence, first, and then he'll...figure it out. Maybe, by that time, the Uchihas will trust him, too…
Naruto sighs, and Sasuke shows up again to bring him his homework. He's been doing it every day, and Naruto's been dodging the questions about exactly what kind of sick he's feeling. Sasuke's persistent that night, though, and even worse the next morning—
Naruto tells him he's gonna be late, and Sasuke tells him he doesn't care.
Sasuke skips that day, too.
They both get in trouble. Naruto doesn't know if Sasuke got it from his parents, too, but Iruka pulls them aside the next day. And Sasuke bows his head and is quiet, but Naruto looks straight at Iruka and stares at his face. It's so weird—how young everybody is, here. Iruka had always looked so old to him when he was a kid.
He doesn't look that old now. He barely looks old at all.
"Well?" Iruka asks, and Naruto snaps back into reality. He doesn't know what Iruka's asking, and he doesn't know what he's been saying for the past ten minutes, and so he jerks his head to the side, as if staring at Sasuke will give him the answer—
"It's boring," Sasuke says, and Naruto—nods. Better to go along with whatever Sasuke says, Sasuke's probably been listening— "We've been in class for the past six months."
"We don't move all day."
Naruto nods more vigorously.
"Going out into the yard doesn't count as real training," Sasuke says. "I can do target practice at home."
"Yeah," Naruto says—
"We deserve to see more of the world than just the academy."
And Iruka stares at the both of them, as Naruto points at Sasuke and nods several more hundred times. Something clicks in his eyes, though—softens in his face, and Naruto knows exactly what it looks like to get away with something—
"Hm," he says, leaning back. "You make a good point. But, in the future, you could try making your point to me, as opposed to the world outside the academy, don't you think?"
Naruto grins, and Sasuke ducks his head.
"Right," Iruka says, "in that case, I have some plans to make. And you boys are here to help me with them! How fortunate."
Iruka yanks out his whole three binders of paperwork, and Naruto groans.
They end up planning a field trip. Not outside of Konoha—still where it's safe, in here, but it's outside, and the whole planning bit was...kinda fun. Not that Naruto ought to be having fun, obviously, but as far as Iruka's punishments went, it had been...pretty light.
And it's hard to be in a bad mood when Sasuke's so obviously not. They're studying plants for travelling and survival—learning how to camp, what to take, what to dry, what to save and what to throw away. It's a lot of stuff that he'd been bad at learning, the first time around. Sasuke's a natural, and he happily shoves it in Naruto's face. Along with a bunch of plants that make Naruto sneeze his face off. He yells at Sasuke for it, but Sasuke laughs at him, and Naruto can't help himself from loving the way he laughs so easily.
The girls have it rougher. Somebody gets it in their head that the wildflowers are good for arrangement practice, and Sakura and Ino get into a fight over who gets to give Sasuke their bouquet, and Naruto doesn't mean to laugh at them. He doesn't! It's just the ridiculousness of it all—Ino, who doesn't need any teaching about fucking flowers, and Sakura, who had told him more than once how much she'd violently despised this part of school—
They yell at him instead, and Sasuke laughs at him again.
It's the best Naruto's felt all week.
The genin exam comes up...fast. Faster than he's wanted it to. He's barely had the chance to get anything done—all he's found out is that the Uchihas were still stopped from helping, the night Kurama was sealed into him, and that they still aren't...trusted. Generally. And other stuff, of course, like which council members are active (and the answer is too many) and what's known about Akatsuki (and the answer is not nearly enough). Danzo's stuff is way more elusive, and Naruto is both unsurprised and mad about it.
He'll find it eventually, though. And find Sai, and find Sai's brother. Not that he could do anything, but—but—if he could...he knew time was running out, but if he…
"Naruto!" comes the call, and Naruto snaps back into reality. He's already decided to play this out...the same. Too many changes could change too many things, and that night—with Iruka, that night had been—
Something vitally important to him.
And it's going to hurt. He knows it will. But he knows Iruka will be okay and he knows certain things need to happen for other stuff to be able to change, and so Naruto fails his exam. Fails obviously and over and over again. And when Mizuki comes to him with an offer, he accepts it.
He reads the Scroll of Seals, although he's read it plenty before. He pretends to focus on it alone, and not notice as he's snuck up on. He feels a bit like he's watching the scene from another part of himself, letting the motions play out as he remembered them—
Until he can't.
He sees it in slow motion—the fūma shuriken coming towards him—Iruka doing the same. Iruka gets hit, and survives. Iruka gets hit, and survives. Iruka gets—
He spins them around and takes the hit instead.
And Iruka looks horrified. Iruka looks terrified. Iruka looks heartbroken, and betrayed and hurt and Naruto can't help but apologize for it all.
"I'm sorry," he says, and he uses the last of his energy to summon as many clones as he can. And Iruka moves, too—follows the lead Naruto has set, and Mizuki screams his betrayal a thousand times as he's cornered, cornered—
The pain seeps into him, and Naruto collapses.
Naruto's eyes snap open, and it's dark. It's dark, and damp, and dripping. He sits up and stares around the sewer of his mind, he—
"Took your fucking time, kid."
"You didn't think to run this by me, you moron?!" Kurama roars— "It's not just your body, you know!"
And Kurama keeps yelling at him, but Naruto laughs. He can't stop.
He's just so happy.
Naruto offers to break the seal, but Kurama yells at him again. Naruto laughs, and they talk about how to...slowly slip Naruto bits of chakra without making it crystal clear the seal is weakening. There's people who'll be looking for it, after all. And then Kurama kicks him out, because Iruka is freaking out, and Naruto spends the rest of the night talking to the man he'd never had to ask to be there for him.
The headband sits comfortably on his forehead, the next day. But Naruto has a whole new reason to panic, a whole new reason to be scared—
Iruka gets to the number seven, and Naruto holds his breath. It's the longest moment of his life. Sasuke's name is first—long, drawn out, Sasuke tenses beside him and Naruto waits and waits and waits and—Sakura's is second, and Naruto hears her cheer from the most distant part of his brain.
Come on, he thinks. Please. Please, please, please. Please—
"Naruto Uzumaki," he says, and Naruto lets out all his breath at once. It's enough force to send his brain spinning in his head, and he feels dizzy as he turns to Sasuke—
Sasuke breathes out. His shoulders fall, and he glances over at Naruto with eyes filled with relief. He looks away, quickly—as if embarrassed at being caught out, and Naruto—
Naruto looks down at his lap and smiles.
Sasuke had been hoping, too.
The bell test is—
Hilarious. In retrospect, hilarious. He knows Kakashi, now, and he's struggling down a laugh every time he tries to threaten them. He doesn't have the heart to tell him he's gonna be stuck with them from here on out.
They're about to prove it, anyway.
Naruto doesn't get captured, this time. He doesn't get the chance. Sasuke snatches the both of them away, asking if they want to work together, and Naruto's hell yeah is even quicker than Sakura's.
He thinks it surprises her.
It doesn't surprise Sasuke, though.
He leans in, and tells them the plan.
And for a while Naruto is...a kid. He feels like a kid. He feels like a kid with a whole bunch of weight and guilt and confusion and that isn't anything new. They go on stupid missions and catch a cat a few hundred times and it's great. Sasuke laughs and makes fun of him and eggs him on until Naruto finally starts the fight he's been begging for. Kakashi is scolding them more everyday, and poor Sakura doesn't know whether to jump in the middle of it all or just leave it as the lost cause it's always been.
Naruto's nose is bloody, he's in the mud, and he's laughing.
Sasuke is smiling as wide as him.
And Kakashi is mad again, but Naruto isn't listening. He's thinking about Sasuke. He's thinking about how this Sasuke is his Sasuke, in every single way. Even crease of his brows, even the fatigue deep in his eyes—this Sasuke has never felt what his Sasuke had and yet…
Kakashi heaves him up by his jacket, and Naruto gives him his best messy, bloody smile.
They'd never made his job easy, had they?
The first big issue—in trying to keep things straight—is trying to figure out when the hell he got bored enough to get them that C rank. He can't remember for the life of him. He's getting there, though—he's way more patient than he was before, but...fucking hell.
It doesn't help that D ranks pay shit, and now he's got weapons and clothes to keep and repair. And he wants to eat, he wants to eat like he'd finally learned to, especially now that the food doesn't taste like ash in his mouth anymore. He's almost tall enough to reach the stove, anyway, and Sasuke is too tired after the days to hang out with him every night.
So Naruto...tries to remember. And thinks about doing it anyway. But time away from Konoha means time for those corrupt to stay unchecked, and so he thinks that maybe he should just...stay. Stay patient and stay here—but then, he thinks, those in Waves had needed Gato to be defeated. What good is fighting corruption if he only does it in one place? Naruto…
They get assigned another D rank.
Sasuke shifts, and Naruto looks up to meet his eye—pained and longsuffering, every bit of what Naruto is feeling. Sasuke tilts his head once, and then jerks it to the side, and Naruto—
For fuck's sake.
"These aren't missions!" he yells, and Sasuke moves to stand behind him. "These are just chores!"
The old man explains missions ranks for the billionth time, and Naruto yells at him again—
Something...settles in him, when Tazuna walks in. Maybe it's the familiarity, maybe it's relief that it was him that came in, and that meant this was the right time—or maybe it's the feeling of Sasuke at his back, crossing his arms as Tazuna immediately insults him.
Naruto pretends to be mad, but he just wants to laugh.
Fights are...dangerous. In a lot of ways, but the biggest one for Naruto is that he acts, and then he thinks. And that means he's dangerously close to doing stuff that he shouldn't've learned yet, and there's about thirty times where he nearly does.
(It doesn't help that Kakashi's chakra gets exhausted, and Naruto spends thirty seconds feeling for a pulse that he knows is there. Fuck. Fucking hell.)
Still, they wrestle with how to move him around, and Naruto ends up making a bunch of clones to help them along. They get there...safely enough, all things considered. Nothing different, weirdly enough—and Naruto's mind tumbles over the moment he'd frozen, when he recognized Haku, dressed as an Anbu.
He could have fought him, but he didn't. He let Haku take Zabuza away. He hopes that isn't a mistake.
It's hard to lash out at someone who affected him so deeply. Even if they are enemies, right now. Naruto had nearly killed him, once…
He wonders if there's any way to stop Kakashi from delivering the blow.
Inari lashes out, as they get there, and it snaps Naruto back into reality. It's a familiar, frustrated, desperate anger, and Naruto barely hears the words Inari is pretending to say.
The grief is too loud.
Naruto eats a dinner that he doesn't taste, and wonders if there's a way he could have made it here sooner.
The good thing about stupidly trying this with Iruka is Naruto can't even play with the possibility of letting Sasuke take a hundred needles for him. Even if he could stomach the sight. Even if it had shaped him, molded him, sunk its teeth into his head and defined the rest of his life—
There's no amount of benefit that can convince him to let Sasuke lay down his life like that. Not again.
And so he tries. He slips away unnoticed—he sends clones out when he can, and he tries. He really does. But Gato is hidden, almost as well as Danzo, and Naruto spits out the comparison as soon as he makes it. He hates the way it tastes, but Naruto can't find him either.
And then Sasuke doesn't leave, when Naruto falls asleep after training, and Haku never comes to find him.
The days come too quickly, after that. Naruto snaps at Inari's incessant hopelessness, and barely sleeps as he lies on the futon. He catches Sasuke's eye, at night, too many times to pretend they're both sleeping, and so he sits up, and he tries again.
And Sasuke seems confused—why Naruto wants to save people who haven't done anything to deserve it. But that's the point, isn't it? Shouldn't everyone get a chance? And Zabuza might not be innocent, and Haku might not be either, but—
"If we get attacked again," Sasuke is saying, "we can try. We can try to convince them."
Naruto looks down, and swallows.
"They aren't going to listen," he says quietly, "are they?"
He hears Sasuke shift. He feels like the first time they were here, their futons were way further apart…
"With you involved?" Sasuke says. "Who knows."
Naruto glances at him, and Sasuke lifts an eyebrow. Familiar. Familiar, everything about this Sasuke was so—
"Thanks," he deadpans, "teme."
It all happens the next day. To the letter. It's a little scary how scripted it all feels—but then, Naruto thinks that might have something to do with how obsessively he'd tumbled the memory over in his head…
He doesn't sleep in, though. He can't bring himself to, because what if he was too late? He can barely sleep at all. And so he's trapped, too, when the ice appears all around them.
But it works just as well. And Sasuke is staring at him, as Naruto begins to talk, but Haku doesn't move, and so he keeps talking. Gato is a traitor, a betrayer, a deceiver to everyone around him, and surely Haku must know. He will backstab them as quickly as he did all else to get to where he was, and—
"You misunderstand me," Haku says, his voice ringing from all around them. "I do not stand here for money."
And Naruto breathes in, because he understands. In that moment, he understands—
"Zabuza doesn't want you to die," he is saying, "he doesn't want you to die for him, you're more than just a tool to him, you could live if you leave and be more than—"
"I could just as easily allow you to leave," Haku says. "If it will save you, will you so easily abandon a person precious to you?"
Naruto shifts to stand in front of Sasuke. Immediately, quickly and furiously—his lifeless body in Naruto's arms flashes through his mind like a thunderbolt—
"Over my dead body," he says, and Kurama's chakra lends itself to the growl.
Haku's masked face lifts up.
"Then you understand."
And Haku lunges, then, and Naruto meets him in his hollow, frustrated desperation. He hates that he understands, he hates that he knows, Haku will never abandon Zabuza just as fiercely as Naruto will never abandon Sasuke, he'll fight tooth and nail until the very last—
The sound of a thousand screaming birds fill the air.
Haku disappears, but the ice does not.
And Naruto smashes through it, he can't help it—bursting through with a force he knows he shouldn't have yet. But Sasuke is right behind him, and Naruto distantly wonders when his eyes grew red, because he'd yet to see any tomoes, let alone three—
Haku takes the hit, and Naruto feels as if he takes it too. It's a blurry, fast, numb next few moments—Zabuza channeling his grieving rage into Gato's body, Kakashi quick to follow and Naruto just awake enough to do the same—
But dazed enough to scream at him. Scream at him all over again, because again. Again, Zabuza did this, again Haku died thinking of himself only as a tool to be used, and Naruto is angry and crying and—
And Zabuza is crying, too.
It snows all around them, and Naruto closes his eyes and lets the regret bite at his skin with the wind.
He feels Sasuke's weight at his side, but he still feels cold.
They stay the night. Naruto isn't sure that they would—after all, last time, it was only to make sure Sasuke was okay.
And he is okay, and that is something to be thankful for. And the village is celebrating, feasting, yelling out their happiness and Naruto knows he should be thankful for that, too, but all he feels is…
He goes to bed early, and Sasuke follows him up. He doesn't think he can fool Sasuke for a second, but he tries anyway.
"What, um," he says, swallowing as he turns away, "when did you—your eyes went all red. For a bit, there. What's that?"
"So did yours," Sasuke says, and Naruto jerks. He forgets, sometimes, that Sasuke doesn't know. And then he tenses, he breathes in, remembering Sasuke's words the first time he'd seen him that way—
What the hell are you?
"The sharingan," Sasuke says instead. "It's an ability in my bloodline."
Naruto nods. He doesn't trust himself to do much else.
"...Itachi's been helping me with it," Sasuke adds, after a moment, and Naruto nods again. He's uncomfortable and hollow, and he doesn't have the focus to think straight right now. He guesses it makes sense, anyway, that Sasuke would learn things quicker this time. He'd had to do it all on his own, before…
Sasuke moves closer, and Naruto feels himself crumbling. He feels the words on the tip of his tongue—in his throat, like they were the thing swelling it up. The voices from downstairs are muffled and quiet, the window's dark outside and Sasuke is here, standing beside him and listening. Waiting. He breathes in and it feels like he'll burst, but he knows he can't. He will, at some point, inevitably, but not yet. Not while Sasuke is still a kid—still happy, still okay. Who wants to hear about a world where their entire life went wrong? Naruto can't. He can't. He can't even start, because who knows when he'll stop—
"Each tomoe is activated," Sasuke continues, and Naruto is so startled he nearly jumps, "one by one. By some—extreme emotion. It's usually pain."
Naruto's head swivels to the side.
"Itachi hasn't been—"
"No," Sasuke said immediately, and Naruto breathes out his relief. "No, sorry, I—no. I...happened to activate them. They've always been accidents."
Naruto breathes out again, and nods. But he's made the mistake of catching Sasuke's eye, and that...that…
That is irreversible.
"I have a demon," he hears himself say, "sealed inside of me."
The silence isn't peaceful anymore.
Naruto breathes out and turns away, shoving his hand through his hair—
"It's the—the nine-tailed fox. That attacked Konoha back—the day I was born. Um." He pulls at his hair again. "He's sealed—in me. I can use his chakra—that's—that's what you saw."
"Oh," says Sasuke, and Naruto's stomach twists.
"Right, so," he says, breathing through the lump in his throat, "the adults know. If your—your parents told you to stay away from me, that's, um. This is why."
And it hurts. It hurts more than Naruto expects it to—like he's never been confronted with this before. It's a truth he's known for years—two lifetimes, even—and he should—he should be used to it by now.
"If you want to go back downstairs," he says, turning around, "go for it. I can ask Kakashi to change rooms or something. Um…"
He closes his eyes as Sasuke shifts.
"Ah!" he yelped, snapping them open again— "A—ow, ow, ow, Sas—"
"You're an idiot," Sasuke says, letting go of his ear.
Naruto looks up, and the world stops.
Sasuke's eyes are dark and gentle. They reflect something in the lights outside and it makes them glitter—makes them shine, piercing through Naruto as if they could read him from the inside out—
Maybe they could. Naruto can't pinpoint the moment Sasuke had learned to do that.
"You—you don't care…?"
"Why would I?" Sasuke asks, rolling his eyes. "You distracted me, anyway."
"You did," Sasuke said, crossing his arms. "You're blaming yourself."
Naruto looks down, and his eyes are blurry. Sasuke doesn't—
"You can't save everyone."
Naruto heaves in a bitter breath. What's the point, then? Why is he back here? If he can't fix everything that went wrong, he—
He swallows the words, but not the tears.
He turns away, and Sasuke moves back up. He expects him to leave—again. This is uncomfortable, and it's not worth anything. Sasuke has better things to do than comfort his insecurities, his guilt, his weaknesses—hesitation is a mistake, for most ninjas, and yet Naruto had never been able to swallow that truth—
Sasuke sits down in front of him, and pulls Naruto down too.
Naruto doesn't have the strength to fight him.
"I could have stopped him," Sasuke begins softly, "and I didn't. I'm sorry."
"I could have. I don't want to explain how."
Naruto pulls back, for just a moment. How? Maybe Sasuke thought he could've convinced him, but—
"I didn't," Sasuke said. "Kakashi—he's stronger than Zabuza. We knew he'd win. And if Haku—I didn't—"
He looks away, and it makes Naruto finally look up at him.
Sasuke's face is filled with pain, too.
"I didn't want to force him to live a life without the person he...cared for."
The words hit Naruto in a place he didn't even know was exposed.
"Yeah," he breathes out, looking down again. "You're right. I'd abandon that life in a heartbeat."
"You think so?" he asks, and Naruto glares at his half-smile— "For Sakura, then?"
And Naruto tries to hit him, but Sasuke only laughs. It's a break in the moment—he breathes a little easier, his chest a little less tight, his throat a little more free—
Sasuke laughs again, and Naruto tackles him to the floor properly.
They stay up for the rest of the night.
Naruto stays distracted until they reach Konoha. His mind stays back there, with Inari, with Haku, with Zabuza...but Sasuke's words ring through his head, and they help. He thinks about it, though. He thinks about it all, especially if...if he was in Haku's shoes, if he—if Sasuke left again, for example, and Naruto went with him, for example—
If he came face to face with someone who didn't want to fight him, and Sasuke refused to lay down his arms. Would Naruto leave? Would Naruto be okay, waking up to find out he'd survived, and Sasuke had not? Would he—
No. The answer was always the same.
So Naruto breathes out, and Sasuke falls back to bump their arms together again. He's been doing that—tripping Naruto and bugging him and just generally...breaking him out of his own thoughts.
Naruto starts to wonder if Sasuke had always done that when they were kids, and he just hadn't noticed.
But they're back in the village quickly. Faster than when they had travelled away—he supposes Tazuna isn't with them, now. It's busier than usual, he notices, as they enter again. Busier—both with more people, and with more things happening. As if the village is preparing for something. As if—
Naruto stops in his tracks.
He'd thought he had more time. The chūnin exam couldn't be now, it couldn't come yet—they were supposed to have more time, more time to be kids and more time for Sasuke to be happy and more time to—
"C'mon, moron," Sasuke says, and Naruto wonders if it will be the last time his voice will ever sound so free. "We still have to hand in the mission report."
For the next few weeks, Naruto is in overdrive. He has both more time than he expected, and less—so, so much less. But the seal's weakened enough for Naruto to be able to talk to Kurama, at least, and that means he has a chance to plan. And plan, and plan, and plan.
And when he isn't debating whether sneaking off and killing Orochimaru is the best plan, how to save the Sandaime if he doesn't and how the hell to get Tsunade involved if he does (Jiraiya's around too, he knows, although the thought puts a lump in his throat—and so is Gaara, who he also desperately, desperately needs to meet—)
When he isn't overwhelmed with all of that, he gets up and he goes. He starts with familiar places—the Hokage's office, the deep storage...he knows how to get there, even if his own set-up had been...a little newer.
He goes back to Danzo, too. Root has countless old hideouts—meeting rooms, whatever they used to be. And the place is barren—all of them are, which Naruto's assumed to be illusions and tricks to turn him away, but—shouldn't there be people here, too? Guards? All the documents say that Root's disbanded, but they'd all said that last time, too—
Naruto breathes in, and darts into the shadows.
He didn't know what that was. Something that had sent a shiver through him, but he couldn't sense anyone around him now. Was someone in here? Maybe someone was—
His kunai barely manages to block the sword that swings down. It swings again and Naruto darts back, again and Naruto blocks it better, blocks it right back, pushes forward and lets his chakra flare just as the figure does the same—
Naruto screeches to a halt. The figure does the same. Naruto feels out that chakra three more times, staring at—
"Naruto?" Sasuke breathes out, wrenching his blade away. His sword, Naruto had never seen him use a sword in this—
No—it can't be. It can't be. It's not possible, his Sasuke is dead. Isn't he? Isn't he? Isn't—
"Sasuke?" he begs—
Sasuke's eyes grow wide.
"We need to go," Sasuke says quickly, eyes scattered and panicked, "somewhere—follow me. You didn't, what did you—"
He cuts himself off as he grabs Naruto's wrist, staring at him as if he's going to disappear into the darkness again.
Naruto stares at him right back.
They end up at Naruto's apartment. Sasuke paces all around Konoha before he picks the place—but it's where they've been almost every other day, and Sasuke relies on it. They sit on opposite ends of Naruto's bed, hesitant and distant—
Sasuke opens eyes that are more black than red, and Naruto tells Kurama to back off as he looks into them.
In Sasuke's genjutsu, it's safe to talk.
But they don't.
They stand and stare, and Naruto wonders if Sasuke's head is so filled with questions that he can't pick a single one, too. Sasuke's eyes scan over him and Naruto breathes in, breathes in, breathes in—
"It's you, right? It's—"
Naruto breathes out the rest of his words, feeling like he might collapse if he keeps going. His legs feel weak and his head feels dizzy, he wants to fall forwards and grab at every inch of Sasuke until he's sure he's real, and not—
"I travelled here from...a future, yes," Sasuke says, and it's reserved. It's careful, it's emotionless, and if Naruto had had any doubts, they're gone now. "Why did you follow me?"
"I—I didn't," Naruto tells him, shaking his head. "I thought you were—"
He looks down.
He's never been able to say it out loud.
He feels Sasuke's eyes on him, but he stays quiet.
"Who else is here?"
"No one," Naruto says, looking up again. "I—it's just me."
Sasuke's brow furrows, and Naruto isn't sure which part of this is the hardest to believe. He doesn't blame him, though—he's feeling a bit like at any moment, he'll wake up with a knife in his gut and this will all have been some sick—
"You were gone," Naruto says simply, and Sasuke shakes his head.
"No," Sasuke says. "What else? What happened?"
Naruto blinks at him.
"Nothing," he says, confused and lost. "Nothing. I—you—I thought you were—I told you. I told you I'd abandon that life in a heartbeat."
Sasuke looks as if he's been struck. Naruto manages to meet his wide eyes for a few more moments before they break him.
He hugs Sasuke, like he's wanted to for his entire life.
And Sasuke doesn't hug him back, but he doesn't flinch away—not even as Naruto breaks a little more, not even as the tears finally push past his eyes and his breath pushes past the lump in his throat in harsh, stifled sobs.
Sasuke doesn't move, and so Naruto holds him. Holds onto him. He thinks he might never let Sasuke go again, at this point. He thinks he might never be able to. He'd thought he'd lost him—again, he thought he'd lost him over and over and over again, and Naruto thinks if he has to live that a single other time than he might not survive it—
He feels a pressure on his back.
One of Sasuke's hands, and then another—Naruto feels his jacket tighten as it bunches in Sasuke's hands, he feels Sasuke's head fall onto Naruto's shoulder, feels Sasuke start to tremble in his arms—
Feels Sasuke start to cry.
Naruto holds him tighter. It's all he can do, because Naruto's tears triple the moment Sasuke's break free. He feels them catch on his neck and feels his jacket grow wet, but he holds Sasuke tight, thinking—
Finally, finally, finally. It didn't matter where he was as long as he was at Sasuke's side. He'd do whatever it took to prove it to him. He'd live as many lives as he needed to. He pulls back and grabs Sasuke's face with both hands and stares at him, memorizing his face, hoping he can read all Naruto is thinking on his own—
"I wanted to fix it," Sasuke says, as if reading the question in Naruto's eyes. "There was—there was too much I couldn't, there."
Naruto nods, because he understands. It hurts, though—it hurts, that Sasuke left him behind again. He stares off to the side, the blurry floor of the genjutsu, suddenly terrified it might be an inevitable truth. Something bound to happen again, something that would keep Sasuke pulling away, keep Naruto running no matter how out of breath he'd become—if only he'd turn around and ask Naruto to come with him—
"I couldn't," Sasuke says suddenly, and Naruto looks up.
"I couldn't ask you to—you had everything."
"I had nothing," Naruto snaps back, and he surprises himself at how quickly it comes. How true it feels. Yes, Naruto had been Hokage. Yes, Naruto had friends he loved dearly and friends who held him just as dear. Yes, on paper, if he wrote out a list of everything he had, it would be longer than all he didn't—
But his heart said something different, and Naruto had never been able to ignore it.
"I—" Sasuke starts again, and it sounds panicked. "I tried. I tried, in this—I couldn't go far enough. I was barely born, but I tried to save them—"
"Your parents," Sasuke says. "The Uzumaki clan was already gone. I couldn't—"
He cuts himself off, and for a moment, Naruto feels like he's looking in a mirror. Both of them trying—both of them wanting to save everything they could, hoarding every life as if it was gold. Sasuke had…
Sasuke hadn't only come back for himself.
"Is that why we were friends?" Naruto asks, scanning the way Sasuke's emotion betrayed him. "By the time I got here?
"It was like pulling teeth," Sasuke sighs, and it surprises the laugh right out of Naruto. "When did you come? The week you stopped coming to the academy?"
"No, um, no—before that. I—"
"What was that about, then?"
"I—it's stupid," Naruto huffs out the thickness in his breath, "just pieced it together that your parents hate me. I hadn't thought about it before then, but—y'know. All the adults right now…"
Naruto shrugs. "S'fine. They'll change their minds eventually."
Sasuke's eyes stay on him, but Naruto is back to looking away again.
"My parents don't hate you," he started carefully, and Naruto holds the scoff in his throat. "We stopped the coup, but only temporarily. Having access to you—on their side—if they—"
Sasuke's lips thin, and he looks to the side. Naruto stares at him with dawning realization—
"You were protecting me."
"I was protecting myself," Sasuke snaps, as if it's some sort of rebuttal. "I'd never forgive them."
And Naruto thinks it might have been a backfired attempt to save his pride, from the way Sasuke flinches as soon the words leave his mouth. All it does is make Naruto's heart skip a beat—
Sasuke held his family close to him. Closer than anything in the world, and yet, if they hurt Naruto…
He hugs Sasuke again, and Sasuke doesn't stop him. Naruto thinks he really ought to start, because if he gets away with this over and over again, he might never stop—
"We," he says suddenly, pulling back. His hands stay on Sasuke's shoulders and Sasuke looks at him through red-rimmed eyes— "You and Itachi?"
Sasuke shakes his head.
"Me and Shisui."
Naruto doesn't know how long they're in there. They talk about everything—starting with how Sasuke found the technique. How he immediately threw it aside—how he immediately dismissed it.
How he couldn't forget about it.
How his mind kept catching things, obsessively, that were irreversible in their future, but ones that could be fixed in a different one. The ways they could be fixed. He hadn't been going to use the technique, of course, but he could certainly think of everything to be fixed, and how…
And Sasuke told him, softly, about how he'd accidentally begun to plan.
Pulling Shisui aside was Sasuke's first idea. Befriending Naruto along the way had always been the plan, but Sasuke had been blindsided at how much more difficult it became when Sasuke had a family and Naruto didn't.
Naruto hadn't trusted him. Even after they were friends, Naruto hadn't trusted him. Even after Naruto came back in time—
Naruto hadn't trusted him.
"I did, though," Naruto says. "In Waves. I told you—"
"You expected me to leave," Sasuke says, and Naruto lets out a breath.
He cuts himself off. But Sasuke lifts his head, and Naruto is afraid he heard the words anyway—
Well, you have before.
"See," Sasuke tells him. "Some things are irreversible."
And Naruto huffs out a breath at that and glares at him, asking if Sasuke really fucking honestly expected him to hold a grudge after everything they'd been through. And it's not the grudge, Sasuke says—it's the hurt, and Naruto can't deny that it's there, but he can deny that it's irreversible—
"Hurt can be healed," Naruto insists.
"Not all hurt," Sasuke says, with the knowledge of a man who knows better.
But Naruto knows better, too.
"This one can," he says, glaring at Sasuke as if daring him to disagree.
He doesn't, and the conversation continues. They tackled Root and the coup d'état at the same time, Sasuke tells him. Root was well and truly disbanded, and that meant—meant that Sai was somewhere...as not a ninja? Naruto didn't know. But it was, thanks to a technique that Sasuke and Shisui have that Naruto doesn't totally understand—
"I have one of Shisui's eyes," Sasuke tells him, and Naruto spends ten minutes forcing Sasuke to stay still so he can try to figure out if he can tell.
He can't. Maybe it's a result of it being the same eye that had been Itachi's—which hadn't come with him, Sasuke tells him. But he'd had his own eyes, and his own memories, and that had been enough to awaken his sharingan...enough.
(Naruto stops himself from hugging him, there, but only barely. Sasuke doesn't say anything about the hand on his forearm.)
Shisui's technique can...manipulate, and Sasuke is uncomfortable as he talks about it. Regretful. Naruto wonders if Sasuke expects him to judge him for the use of it—not so much against Danzo, but against his own father.
It's a desperate, desperate last resort, and Naruto has the memories of a future where all other options are exhausted. He nods at Sasuke to keep going, and Sasuke breathes in, and does.
It's a...scary technique. In the way that it makes you think that it was your own idea—that's the part that freaks Naruto out the most, and it clicks in his head that this is the one Itachi jammed down his throat with the crow.
But Konoha is largely the same, and that means the desire for rebellion will start again, Sasuke thinks. And Danzo's quest for power won't be quelled so easily. Naruto agrees with both points, and so Sasuke keeps talking, telling him what he's planned out with Shisui, what he's planned on his own, and what he isn't sure about at all.
Naruto holds onto him, and he listens.
Sasuke doesn't leave Konoha. Naruto thinks the thought with a breathless relief, although he knew it would be like a stake in the heart for Sasuke to tear himself from his family. It's a risk they both agree to take, though, because Orochimaru's base can be dismantled in other ways, and Sasuke is not the only Uchiha he has his eyes on anymore.
The years blur by, from there. They make progress every day, even when it feels like a step backwards. They spend more time together than apart, and Naruto sinks into a habit of throwing himself around Sasuke, as he sleeps, instead of the pillow he used to hug.
Sasuke never tells him to stop, so he just...keeps doing it. It's comfortable, and it lets him know when Sasuke is having his nightmares—it wakes him up, too, and Naruto never lets him wave it off.
The truth comes out—unsurprisingly—to Kakashi, first. Kakashi, and Sakura, who had both been side-eyeing them for way too long.
"I just thought you were dating or something," Sakura tells them, and Naruto dissolves into laughter at the thought.
Sasuke doesn't find it nearly as funny.
Kakashi seems both surprised and upset that it ever comes to something like that. He's immediately distracted, though, when Naruto brings up Obito—
And that becomes a whole different thing.
Sakura is quiet during most of it all, and waits until Kakashi leaves to corner the both of them and demand why she hadn't come too.
Naruto blinks at her, and Sasuke answers for the both of them. And Sakura seems...frustrated, with the response—that Sakura had too much left to leave behind, and the both of them didn't. She doesn't say anything more, though.
She goes to "bed", probably along similar lines as Kakashi did—lay awake and think about the mountain of information that had just been dumped all over them—and Naruto turns to Sasuke with a grin.
"Dating might not be a bad cover."
Sasuke flips him off.
They're well into their teenage years by the time Sasuke finally feels comfortable enough to bring Naruto around. Bring him home. He'd already spent enough time with Shisui—whose offhand comment about knowing so much about him had had his heart doing some strange thing in his chest (and had Sasuke glaring so fiercely it was a wonder he didn't activate his eyes by accident)—
"Oh," Sasuke's mother says, with a laugh so happy Naruto thinks his knees might give out on the spot, "I finally get to meet the boy Sasuke's been sneaking off to visit since he was four. It's a pleasure."
Her eyes glitter, and her teasing smile widens in a way that Naruto thinks could perfectly be fitted onto Sasuke's face. He turns to him, as if to check, and finds Sasuke blanched, as if caught out—
"Don't make that face, Sasuke," she says. "I am your mother, after all."
Naruto teases him about it for the rest of the night.
The next person to find out—to Sasuke's unpleasant surprise—is Itachi. By Shisui's insistence—by Shisui's absolutely un-fucking-bearable insistence. It's been long enough, he keeps saying, and Itachi knows something is up right now. Sasuke's quiet distance has been hurting him more every day, and if only Sasuke would just tell him why—
Sasuke refuses. Sasuke refuses over and over again. But Shisui insists that a temporary, searing pain will be less than a lifetime of knives, and then he doesn't give them the choice anymore.
He pushes Itachi in, and puts a silencing seal over the door behind them.
"No," Sasuke says again. "No. Absolutely not."
He turns around, and Itachi stares his hurt at Sasuke's back. It unsettles something in Naruto, as if he's recognizing something that might be that kind of irreversible Sasuke had been so terrified of.
"Everything is coming out tomorrow," Shisui insists. "He'll piece it together on his own, if we don't—"
"I won't do it," Sasuke says, and Naruto moves to stand in front of him. Back to back, just covered enough that they couldn't see the way he grabs and pulls Sasuke's hand between them.
"I will," he offers, and Sasuke grips his hand so tight it's painful. He doesn't let go, and he doesn't stop Naruto, not once as he begins to speak.
Sasuke's relationship with Itachi is...strained, over the next few years. Itachi is deeply apologetic for something he didn't do, and Sasuke is insistent that no regret is necessary for a past that doesn't exist anymore.
And since neither of them know how to talk about it, it's just kind of...there. It gets worse every time a new piece of Danzo or the council or whatever is unravelled—once they'd convinced Tsunade to take over as Hokage, it had been the perfect time to start pouring it all out. Sasuke had been hoarding the evidence, who knew. (The dick. No wonder Naruto couldn't find anything.) And Hiruzen passed in his sleep, quietly, after their old chūnin exams—and although Sasuke had had no lost love for the man, Naruto was grateful. The nuances in whatever he felt for the old man were something he'd...well, he was still figuring that all out. Still figuring himself out.
And so was Sasuke, and so was Itachi, and so Naruto finds himself beside Itachi, talking about just about everything he can to try to make things better.
It's Itachi who brings it up, though.
"I can't even begin," he says, staring somewhere ahead of himself. "How can I possibly make amends? I can't—I can't even begin to relate to what I—what that—that version of myself was thinking."
"He was desperate," Naruto says, thinking it over. "You do crazy stuff when you're desperate."
"Like travel back in time," Itachi offers, and Naruto laughs.
"Yeah," he says, "like travel back in time. I think you...I don't know. I'm probably wrong."
"Tell me anyway."
"I…" Naruto lets out a breath. "I think you were scared. And desperate. And you were given a choice, and a time limit, and a bunch of adults that had a thing for manipulation."
Itachi lets out a small, bitter laugh.
"It was a bad choice," Naruto says. "You know that. I know that. Sasuke knows that. But it was too late, once you made it, and I think the only way you could think to make things right was to have him take out all the pain you caused on you."
Itachi is quiet, and Naruto shifts in place.
"But that didn't work, either, because that hurt him most of all," Naruto says. "He still loved you. Even after all of it. He still does."
"He couldn't possibly," Itachi says immediately. "He can barely look me in the eye."
"Because he loves you," Naruto insists. "He watched you pull further and further away until you revealed his entire life was a lie and then left his life forever. But that—"
He looks away, because he feels his next words coming from far too deep inside of him for comfort—
"That betrayal," he starts carefully, "wouldn't hurt nearly as much if he didn't...love you. He chased you to the ends of the earth. Everything was second. He would have thrown away his whole life to catch you."
Itachi lets out a breath, and Naruto...pushes his own thoughts to the back of his mind. He's good at that—picking out all the stuff he probably needs to think about and then never thinking about it again.
"But I betrayed that love at every turn," he insists, and Naruto shakes his head.
"No, you haven't," he says. "Not here."
He finds Sai, and he finds Gaara. Not in that order. He finds Killer Bee and ends up, uh, yelling at Jiraiya more than he'd meant to when he finally meets him. He pretends Tsunade let the connection to his parents slip.
And they do, actually, end up having to tell Tsunade. There are only so many ways information can just be...casually slipped into convenient places, and since she's already proven herself an ally over and over again, they tell her.
She isn't the first one not to believe them, but she is the first to refuse. Against all evidence. And it takes several hours of increasingly heated discussion for it to finally come out that she—
That kind of technique can't exist, it can't, because she's already tried.
Naruto feels his heart break, and Sasuke grabs a blank scroll, and starts to draw.
It's the theory that convinces her, finally. She doesn't cry, although it's written in every part of her that she wants to, and Sasuke bows his head and quietly apologizes that they didn't save who she'd needed them to. Naruto stands beside him and does the same. He knows who they are, and he knows they couldn't—the same thing for his parents, and his clan. They do what they can. It's something he's had to come to terms with—and Sasuke, too. They do what they can.
Naruto isn't sure what it is about what they say that snaps her out of it, but she does. She swats Naruto up the head and tells them both to get it together, or their guilt will eat them alive.
She tosses the scroll back at Sasuke and tells him to burn it—
Because they're going to do this right.
Pein does a number on the village, and Madara does a number outside of it, but they do their best to rebuild. It's all a mess of good points and flawed methods, and Naruto tries to reason with everyone that gets in their unfortunate earshot—
It works on Obito, though. That's something.
That's about it, though. A whole lot of it plays out the same, and a whole lot of it is meant to—including letting them fall into that dream world only for Sasuke to pull him out. Naruto saw...only a glimpse of it, but…
But he knows he was married. He was at his wedding, actually, and he'd seen his parents on one side and seen—and seen—
Seen Sasuke's on the other.
He hasn't had a chance to think about it until now.
"Do you always get this contemplative in moments of celebration?" Sasuke laughs, coming to stand beside him. He's grown up, now—with brighter eyes, and a happier smile. He's grown into every bit of the person Naruto knew he could be, and Naruto just cannot fucking get past the way he'd seen Sasuke look at him in that dream.
"Probably," Naruto responds in kind, but it's just unconvincing enough to make Sasuke look at him. It makes Naruto shrug and pull away, shuffling awkwardly. It gives him away even more, but it's automatic, and he's never been able to hide himself from Sasuke anyway—
"There was a time where I didn't think you capable of thought," Sasuke says, leaning right into Naruto's personal space with that stupid fucking pretty smile—damn it, damn it, he could have lived his whole life with those dots unconnected—
He nearly had.
The thought snaps something in Naruto, and he stares down at the floor again.
"Naruto," Sasuke tries again, "moron. I haven't seen you this absent-minded since Hinata decided you were the love of her life."
Naruto grimaced at the reminder, but it fades quickly, too. It fades fast—it fades with the thought that that—that had been love, too. That had been love again—what the fuck was it about love and loving people and people loving him that had him alone, floundering, in a sea with no land to be seen? Naruto felt completely lost—
Sasuke grabbed his face and forced Naruto to look at him.
"Usuratonkachi," he says, and Naruto feels found again. Damn it.
Sasuke lets go, and Naruto lets out a breath. He—
"Do you regret it?"
Naruto's head snaps up again. Sasuke's gaze is worried and hesitant—something like terrified, but he raises his chin and meets his eye the same way someone braces for a hit—
"Coming back," Sasuke continues. "Now that it's over. Do you regret—"
"No, no, Sasuke, are you fucking—" Naruto can't even bear to let him finish. "Not for a second. Never. And it's not even over, what are you—"
"Welcome back, moron," Sasuke says, catching him by the collar of his shirt as if they're about to fight. But a punch doesn't follow, and Sasuke doesn't let go. "Care to share what has you even dumber than usual?"
Naruto steps on Sasuke's foot. Sasuke gives his ear a good pull, and waits until Naruto yelps to let go.
"I—I don't—I don't think it's a good idea. Um. It's not a...great thought."
"Yes," Sasuke deadpans. "I'm familiar with your usual setting."
But he's smiling as Naruto tries to fight him again, and Naruto knows Sasuke is slowly, slowly egging him into his comfort zone. Their comfort zone. Bickering back and forth, with these excuses to touch each other…
Naruto stares at his own hand as if it's the one that's betrayed him. How long has this feeling existed, then? Forever? Forever, and he was just a dumbass? Has he been in love with Sasuke this entire—
Sasuke snaps his fingers under Naruto's nose, and Naruto jumps.
"Where are you?" he asks. "Do you—should we go—elsewhere?"
Naruto shakes his head. They're in Sasuke's family home for the night, and it's just as solitary up in his room as it would be in Naruto's apartment. Or his mindscape, or Sasuke's genjutsu, or whatever.
No, it's not the place.
Naruto breathes in and looks down, and Sasuke...moves away. The panic spins Naruto around and nearly sends him running, until it becomes clear that Sasuke has just moved to the bed.
He sits, rests his head on his propped up knee, and waits.
Naruto still doesn't see a way out of this.
"I'm thinking of the dream," he says honestly. "The—Madara's—you know."
Sasuke inclines his head.
He does know.
"Your parents?" he asks quietly, and Naruto shakes his head.
"No," he says, but then— "no—well, yes, they were there, but it wasn't—"
"It isn't them bothering you."
Naruto's mouth opens and closes.
"Hm," Sasuke says, and he lets his feet fall to the floor as he leans back. "Sakura?"
Sasuke raises an eyebrow.
Well, he'd been in the audience, but—
"No, oh my god—"
Naruto's voice stops working, and he freezes in place. Sasuke stands up again, moving around him to lean against the wall instead—
"What was I doing?" he asks, clever and keen and beautiful and— "Bowing to your greatness?"
Naruto lets out a laugh.
"Losing to you?"
"You've done that before," Naruto deadpans, but the words only move Sasuke closer—
"Doing all of your paperwork."
"You've done that before too!" Naruto laughs, and he's facing Sasuke when he opens his eyes. And Sasuke is close—very close, too close—he's been this close before, but not when Naruto has known what these fluttering nerves in his chest and throat and fingertips mean—
"Just tell me," Sasuke asks, and it's soft. It's a question, not a demand, and it plays long with the look in Sasuke's eyes perfectly.
"Married," Naruto breathes out, and it's irreversible. "We were getting married."
He falls back with the words, stepping away. Turning away. He stares straight at the walls and holds his hands together, closing his eyes—
"What's so bad about that?" comes Sasuke's voice, and it spins Naruto right back around.
"I thought you knew I loved you by now."
Naruto's knees nearly give out. He stumbles, slapping a hand to the wall behind him, staring at—
"What?" he breathes out. "No. No, you don't—do you?"
Sasuke holds out his arms, as if beckoning Naruto to just look at him. Look at him. Think about where they are and where they'd been. Think, for a—
"Oh my god," Naruto whispers, and then Sasuke is in his arms. He hugs Sasuke tight, feeling the way he buries his face into Naruto's neck and grips the back of his clothes—Naruto knows what it feels like to have Sasuke hold him back, and it's the best. It had always been the best. How had Naruto not known why—
"I didn't know you did," comes Sasuke's voice, muffled and thick, "I'm sorry. I would have told you years ago—"
"No," Naruto says, pulling back, "I'm an idiot. I'm an idiot, Sasuke, I didn't know until I was in that goddamn ceremony and looking at you in the face—"
That breaks a laugh out of Sasuke—disbelieving and teary-eyed.
"Did you love me before now?"
Naruto groans and tries to dodge the question—literally. Sasuke catches him by the hand and pulls him back, and Naruto is forced to—forced to—
"God—yes. Yes, fine, yes, okay? I loved you in our last life. Like an idiot, I—"
Sasuke cuts him off.
It's the first kiss he's ever felt. (This time around. The last one was Sasuke's, too.)
It feels like he's been waiting for a lifetime.
(Or maybe two.)
They go downstairs...some time later. Naruto is nervous and blushing and knows he looks like an idiot, but Sasuke holds his hand tight and pulls him down the steps. Shisui is the first to see them, and he immediately throws his elbow into Itachi's side, who smiles wider than Naruto thinks he's ever seen—
"Oh!" Mikoto claps her hands together and laughs. "Finally! I thought they were never going to tell us."
She shares a glance with her husband and Naruto shares one with Sasuke.
"Uh?" Naruto asks, putting their thoughts into words—
"Sorry, sorry—" she says, sitting up and waving a hand. "Go ahead."
Naruto ducks his head and laughs, and Sasuke turns away with his hand over his mouth.
"We're," Sasuke says, waving that same hand as he pauses to clear his throat, "we're dating."
"Oh," Mikoto says, turning to Fugaku again. "I thought they were married."
Fugaku gives a playful shrug, and Naruto starts coughing. Sasuke looks considerably more panicked than a moment ago—
"What?" he says.
"You know," she says. "In the other life you lived."
The room falls silent. Fugaku continues to stir his tea, and Naruto catches the eye of Itachi, who shakes his head, and Shisui, who shakes it even more violently—
"You know," Fugaku says, "that this house is well protected, and includes sensors for any...suspicious techniques used within the rooms. Including silencing seals."
He gives Shisui a look, and Shisui shrinks into his chair.
"And the natural response to such suspicious activity is to monitor it," Fugaku continues. "In secret, of course."
He clears his throat and picks up the teapot.