Sasuke snaps awake, and knows he isn’t dreaming. He’s trained himself for years to immediately transition from asleep to awake with no middle ground, no life-threatening fog of slumber clinging to him. He is fully awake, and Naruto is wrapped around him in a soft, lovingly mussed bed. They are naked. There is a window partially open and from it he can hear the noises of a town waking up, of birds chirping merrily, of happiness and peace.
Sasuke is not dreaming.
It has been a very long time since he was this scared.
He extricates himself from Naruto’s hold and soft smile in his sleep and is grateful (and confused) to see that Kusanagi is set carefully in a sword rack on the wall, waiting for him. Weaponry in general is openly available around the room, in a blend of his own neatness and Naruto’s unforgettable tendency to store kunai by throwing them into walls and generally not caring where his things land. Clothing is also strewn about carelessly, but he can see his own clothing is carefully set in a nearby wardrobe with Naruto’s intermingled as well. There’s no pain in his body and the only signs of injury are a bite mark on the side of his neck and mildly bruised lips.
He isn’t dreaming. He knows he isn’t dreaming. There is a small damp spot beneath Naruto’s pillow that means he drooled in his sleep. The window is halfway open because one of the shutters is broken and it can’t close. There is a basket of dirty clothing in the corner, waiting to be washed when one of them gets around to it. The fading pink of sunrise makes Konoha look pearlescent from the view out their bedroom window.
Sasuke stumbles into the bathroom – how had he known this door led to the bathroom? – and stares at his own reflection. He’s slightly older, probably somewhere between eighteen and twenty. Naruto is too, and Sasuke tries not to dwell on how obvious it is that he’s memorized the other ninja’s face. He grabs a thin cloth robe from a hook near the shower and wraps it around himself quickly, tying it closed with a ribbon and looking around for anything that could give him an idea of what is happening. The only thing he can find is some mild pain medication and an expired unfamiliar medication prescribed to Sasuke. Going by the calendar in the hall, the bottle is from seven months ago. Sasuke is nineteen and has been living here for at least seven months.
He investigates further after splashing some water on his face and taking a few deep breaths. The bedroom and its attached bathroom connect to a larger room that looks homey and lived-in, again a mixture of neatness and pell-mell organization. Sasuke walks in cautiously, and sees the previously unseen corner contains a kitchen and eating area. The apartment is, overall, a square shape, with their bedroom taking up almost exactly a third of it. There is a second bathroom, which doesn’t have a shower.
There is a picture of Team 7 on the wall, accompanied by a picture of Naruto with a man with his blond hair and blue eyes and a woman with the same facial structure. It barely takes a moment for Sasuke to realize these are not only his parents, but his father is also Yondaime Hokage, and Naruto looks so happy with his mother’s arms around his neck and his father hugging them both that it almost hurts to see.
It also hurts to look at the picture next to it, where Sasuke stands with Itachi and their parents, all smiling, all comfortable with each other, all peaceful. He looks about fifteen in the picture, wearing a chuunin vest. A glance at Naruto’s family portrait makes him think they were taken at about the same time.
He can hear the moment Naruto wakes up, because he obviously rolls himself right off the bed and hits the floor, loud, with a groan that’s more offended than pained.
“Why are we awake this early?” Naruto whines from the bedroom. Loudly, like he knows Sasuke is in the apartment even when he’s not actually visible. Or audible. Sasuke’s presence in the apartment is completely taken for granted.
Sasuke isn’t dreaming. He knew where the bathroom is, and as an experiment he walks into the kitchen and decides to get a glass of water. He opens the correct cupboard. He knows how to get cold water out of the faucet. He knows the water pressure is truly shitty and he has to turn it on full-blast to even get a steady stream of water when there’s a lot of people waking up and taking showers and getting their own glasses of water.
He lives here. He’s lived here for a long time.
Sasuke downs his glass of water like it’s a shot, and turns to see Naruto stumbling his way towards the kitchen, wearing a pair of bright orange shorts.
“Get me one too,” he says as Sasuke refills his glass, and Sasuke complies. When Naruto takes it, he gives Sasuke a small kiss, a thoughtless press of lips to lips in thanks.
Sasuke freezes, but Naruto is too tired to notice. He just shuffles his way to another cabinet – cereal, his mind provides – and pulls out two brands. One is sugary and disgusting and colorful, for Naruto, and the other is healthy and Sasuke’s. He pulls out bowls too. It’s an obvious morning ritual, so ingrained in Naruto’s body that he’s doing most of it with his eyes closed.
They do this so often that Naruto isn’t even bothering to speak. It’s a comfortable silence that is only punctuated by the crunch of their cereal as they chew, of the turning of pages while Naruto reads some sort of report while Sasuke tries to not stare at him, not stare at their apartment, not stare at this fucked up world he’s found himself in.
“Shower’s mine first. I’ve got that thing with Suna today,” Naruto says, stopping to give Sasuke one more of those kiss-because-we-can pecks on the lips, and half walks, half stumbles his way into the bathroom.
Sasuke closes his eyes and concentrates on not hyperventilating.
Maybe he has amnesia. Maybe someone has transplanted some sort of horrible fantasy into his mind and removed this reality from his memories. Maybe Sasuke is going insane and this is the fantasy. Maybe-
“What the fuck, bastard, you stole the damn robe,” Naruto snaps, his head popping out of the bedroom door just enough to point at Sasuke and his pilfered orange attire, accusatory. “We had an agreement!”
Sasuke has no idea what to say. He expects that part of him that seems to know the apartment to know how to reply, to snap out the appropriate response, but he’s left floundering instead, staring neutrally at Naruto.
“You only just noticed?” Sasuke asks.
“I don’t have to be clever ‘til seven in the morning,” Naruto replies, scowling slightly, and then starts making a grabby hand motion. “Gimme.”
The appropriate response to this is obviously make me, idiot, but Sasuke is really fucking scared to see where that would lead, so he just sighs and takes the robe off, throwing it so it smacks perfectly into Naruto’s face. Naruto lets out an angry choking noise, but doesn’t shout at Sasuke. Instead, he shakes the thing out, and then turns it inside out, and Sasuke realizes he’s been wandering around the apartment naked under the Hokage’s robe of office. It’d been hanging inside out in the bathroom so that steam from the shower would get rid of any wrinkles in the fabric.
Naruto is Hokage, and he has a thing with Suna today.
“Hey,” Naruto says, and Sasuke jerks out of whatever shock-induced trance he’d fallen into. Naruto is standing in front of him, frowning in concern. “You don’t look so good.”
“I’m fine,” he replies automatically, and that obviously backfires since Naruto’s frown deepens and he puts a hand on the side of Sasuke’s face, his thumb brushing back and forth against Sasuke’s cheek. It’s one more of those thoughtless gestures, so caring and full of love and expecting that Sasuke will accept them. They make him want to do very unsafe things.
Except it isn’t really unsafe, is it? This is Naruto. Sasuke has stabbed him through the chest with his bare hand and betrayed him and everything he loves repeatedly, tried to kill people he loves, and Naruto keeps coming back. Keeps believing in him. And that Naruto isn’t even in love with him. This one seems to pretty much be married to him – he would probably happily chop his own arm off if Sasuke asked.
Absently, Sasuke wonders if maybe he’s dead and this is what he gets as an afterlife. He was expecting fire and torture and, well, hell, so it would make sense he’d have trouble identifying it as the afterlife.
“Okay, you are really starting to freak me out here,” Naruto says, voice high and getting a little bit panicky and that’s just. No.
He squeezes his eyes shut and grabs Naruto’s shoulders, pulling him in for a kiss. It’s supposed to be simple, and cautious, but Sasuke barely has a moment to think that yes, he could maybe be happy like this, before Naruto deepens the kiss. His hand slides from Sasuke’s cheek to grip his hair, hard, and even after over a decade of training himself to not react to pain it makes him gasp, eyes opening to see that Naruto is watching him right back as his tongue makes Sasuke shudder so hard that the chair he’s in jerks. Only part of it is the kiss. Most of it is that he is kissing Naruto, and he can feel Naruto’s smirk against his own mouth, moving to bite just a bit at Sasuke’s lower lip.
Every move Naruto makes, every brush of his hand down particular patches of skin, every teasing bite, every twist of tongue and press of lips, it’s all so obviously familiar to Naruto that Sasuke ends up closing his eyes tight enough that it hurts. It’s his first actual kiss with the moron he’s been – fine, he’ll admit it, there’s no point in not admitting it anymore – he’s been in love with for an embarrassingly long time and it feels so wrong, because it feels so easy.
Things with Naruto aren’t supposed to be easy. They’re supposed to happen after they’ve dragged each other into it kicking and screaming, probably with a minimum of seven life-threatening wounds inflicted in the process. It’s wrong, how this Naruto hums happily into the kiss, how this Naruto slides into Sasuke’s naked lap without a moment of hesitation.
Sasuke pulls away, but can’t help keeping his hands on Naruto’s face. He looks so confused. He looks dangerously worried. He looks like if Sasuke doesn’t give him an explanation, not a force in the world could stop him from finding out and trying to fix it. Fuck, how does someone deal with this kind of love? How does anyone even function being this devoted to another person?
“I had a bad dream,” Sasuke says calmly, because it’s a good enough excuse that Naruto will take it. And it’s close enough to what might be the truth that Naruto can’t tell it’s a lie.
Naruto doesn’t accept it, though. He looks worried again, like bad dreams are some rare terminal brain disease. “About what?”
Sasuke did not expect that. At all. “Snakes,” he answers, because he’s had those. Rarely. They’re the least harmful nightmare he can think of at the moment. Naruto still doesn’t look like he’s going to let it go, so he rolls his eyes and is a little more honest and says, “A snake bit you and you died.”
Naruto’s lips quirk into an amused smile. The amusement is obviously at his expense. “I whatted?”
Sasuke smacks him upside the head, and is very much reminded that he is naked and Naruto is only wearing underwear when it makes the blond shift sideways in a failed attempt to dodge. “You died from snake. Happy?”
“Man, you gotta stop listening to Kakashi,” Naruto says, and leans in to kiss him again. It’s not the least bit innocent, but it is short. “You gonna start having nightmares about the boogey man next, widdle Sasuke?”
“Go take your fucking shower,” Sasuke says, practically throwing Naruto off of him.
He doesn’t fall down, though, to Sasuke’s quiet disappointment. He just stumbles and then snickers at him. “Widdle Sasuke’s so scared of death coming to get me,” Naruto crows, and fuck this, Sasuke throws his now-empty cereal bowl at the moron. Naruto narrowly avoids it, laughing as it sails right out of one of the windows. Sasuke can hear someone’s outraged shout on the street below.
“Shower,” Sasuke snaps, and Naruto, still laughing like the asshole he is, quickly ducks into the bathroom.
There’s no such thing as death here, apparently.
It’s the scariest fucking thing he’s ever heard.
He could be dead – it stands to reason that if you’re already dead you can’t die again – but he doesn’t feel dead, as stupid as it sounds. And he’s still completely certain he’s not dreaming. If there’s no such thing as death, why the weapons? Why a meeting with Suna? Why do he and Naruto still have all their scars?
You gotta stop listening to Kakashi, Naruto had said.
Some things are more important than showers. He dresses in the outfit closest to his clothes (and notices the ANBU uniforms in the wardrobe as well), equips himself, and hunts down his old teacher.
Kakashi is easy to find, because he is standing at what should be the graveyard. Now, it’s a barren patch of packed earth with a single enormous rock in the center of it. A world of truth is inscribed on it, over and over again. Fanatically.
“Ah,” Kakashi says the moment he spots Sasuke. “You remember again.”
Sasuke frowns. “Again?”
“I can’t say I blame you for choosing to forget,” Kakashi says. “You were happy. I was tempted myself.”
“I don’t care,” Sasuke snaps. He can think about whatever unknown choices he made later. “What’s happening, and how do we fix it?”
Kakashi sighs, and sits down on one of the nearby benches, pulling out a book, per usual. It doesn’t matter than Sasuke’s been away from Konoha for so long, because Kakashi still treats him exactly the same. Then again, this version of himself seems to have never left in the first place.
“Does anything seem out of place here?” Kakashi asks, because he’s never going to give a straight answer to any question, is he?
“The graveyard’s not a graveyard anymore, because there’s no dying here,” Sasuke answers.
Kakashi nods, not looking away from his book. “True. But I was thinking more…natural than that.”
Sasuke falls into old habits, playing his teacher’s game. Trees, normal. Earth, normal. Wind, normal. Sunlight, normal. Moon-
“Fuck,” Sasuke says.
“Yep,” Kakashi says cheerfully.
The moon is not only enormous, its silhouette looming over probably a third of the sunlit sky, it’s also a sharingan. A massive red eye is staring down at the world, and they are all trapped in the most complete, effective genjutsu ever created.
“We’re the only ones who can tell something’s wrong,” Kakashi says. “We’re the only living sharingan-users, aside from the two who cast the genjutsu, and one of those two is definitely choosing to forget.” He sighs. “Everyone’s safe. Nobody’s dead, or ever will die, unless it’s from old age, and even then it’s questionable. Nobody knows it’s going on, nobody hates anyone, and everyone’s happy. It’s as close to paradise as you can get.”
“It’s still wrong,” Sasuke says, and looks away from the moon. “How long has the world been under the genjutsu?”
“No idea how long in reality, but here? A little under two years,” Kakashi says. “You came later than the rest of us. Not sure why. Still ended up here, though.” He shrugs. “Of the two casters, the only one still in control is missing. I’ve tried to find him, but since he’s practically God here, it hasn’t been easy.”
“Do we all have our own version of the genjutsu?” Sasuke asks. When Kakashi sends an inquiring glance at him, he points at the moon. “Simple version: is this one mass hallucination, or do we all have our own deathless dream world?”
“It’s shared,” Kakashi says. “From what I’ve seen, it’s an amalgamation of everyone’s hopes and dreams for the present and the future.” He smiles. “So no, Naruto’s not just Hokage because he wants to be. Turns out just about everyone hoped it would happen, so it did.” He pauses. “And yes, it really is the actual Naruto. This genjutsu has just made him more at peace than he could ever be in the real world.”
Sasuke nods, and hopes that particular topic is dropped. He doesn’t like where his thoughts are leading him – Naruto wants to be loved, Sasuke loves Naruto, therefore slap them together and everyone’s happy – and there’s more important things to worry about anyway. “How do we get rid of it, then?”
“Are you sure you want to?” Kakashi asks.
“Yes,” Sasuke says, because he could barely tolerate a single morning of this. Like hell he’s going to age to death in this prison of a utopia.
Kakashi looks very, very unimpressed. He goes back to his book. “We’ll talk tomorrow, then. I’m expecting company.”
Sasuke scoffs. “In the graveyard?”
“It’s not a graveyard anymore though, is it?” Kakashi says offhandedly.
Before Sasuke can try and make him talk now, he hears a woman shouting Kakashi’s name. There’s another man just a step behind, holding her hand. They’re beaming at Kakashi, obviously thrilled to see him. Sasuke watches as the woman sweeps him into a bear hug, as the man – an Uchiha behind those goggles, Sasuke notices – gives Kakashi a one-armed hug, the woman underneath his other arm. He watches Kakashi’s shoulders loosen, watches him relax, sees him be perfectly peaceful for the first time Sasuke can ever remember.
“Good morning, Sasuke!” the woman calls out, smiling, and gives him a friendly wave. “We’re stealing your teacher for the day. Tell Naruto we said hello!”
The Uchiha in the goggles gives him a happy, cocky salute in greeting, and then they’re all walking away. Kakashi doesn’t even look back at him. He can’t hear what they’re talking about, but he can hear the laughter.
Sasuke doesn’t know who they are. He can guess easily enough that they’re Kakashi’s old genin team, though. That, and the fact they’re actually dead.
He wonders how many other people are finally able to be at peace with their dead loved ones. Sasuke walks back to his (their) apartment quietly, ignoring the occasional friendly wave or greeting. How many of these people are actually dead? He knows Konoha itself was destroyed, which just leaves more questions about the power of this genjutsu. He needs more information, but the only source of information is Kakashi, and from the little he’s seen, Sasuke isn’t sure he even really wants to break the genjutsu. Why he hasn’t chosen to forget, but would want to keep it, Sasuke doesn’t know.
Back in the apartment, Naruto is long gone, although he has ever-so-helpfully stabbed a note into the wall with a kunai. Sasuke is becoming more and more certain that the reason they don’t live in the Hokage Residence is the irreparable damage Naruto would cause.
Sasuke realizes, glancing at the Uzumaki family portrait, that it might also already be occupied.
Living together with Naruto’s parents, or living together in an apartment. Yeah, not exactly a difficult choice, now that he’s thinking about it.
The note is simple and sloppy, just like its author.
No idea where you went but whatever
be in the office by 9 or Gaara will kill me
(or kill you, whatever)
COME ARMED AND ANBU’D!
AKA THE HOKAGE, FUCK YEAH!
“Who else would leave me a note, moron,” Sasuke mutters, not an ounce of affection in his voice whatsoever, and absently wonders what ‘kill’ means here if there’s no such thing as death. He showers, ‘ANBUs’ himself, and equips all his armaments instead of the bare minimum he’d had on his trip to hunt down Kakashi. He doubts he’ll actually be wearing the hawk mask, but he brings it anyway when he makes his way to the administrative building at 8:30. He receives respectful nods and greetings from the other shinobi in the area, and is directed towards Naruto without even having to ask.
Sasuke really wishes he was surprised to see Naruto is slouched in his desk chair, head lolling onto his left shoulder. In the robe and necklace, hat sitting lopsided on a stand on the side of the room, Sasuke can’t help but admit he looks like a Hokage. Even asleep and probably drooling on his shoulder, he can believe it.
He ends up just watching Naruto sleep for a while. He was too confused and worried about going crazy this morning to really appreciate it, and Sasuke figures that since they’re actually together-together, and it really is Naruto, albeit one with different memories, this might be alright. If this has been going on for two years, he probably just doesn’t remember the parts that led here. It’s easy because they already fought their way to this point. Sasuke just gets to cheat and have this without all the work that had to be put into it.
“Naruto,” Sasuke says, trying to wake him up without having to shake him awake. All Naruto does is let out a strangely happy huff of air and mutter Sasuke’s name right back at him. Sasuke rolls his eyes, and shouts Naruto’s name at him.
“Shit, what,” Naruto shouts back, jerking awake and nearly toppling out of his chair in the process. When he finally realizes it’s just Sasuke, he lets out a relieved sigh and rubs a hand over his face. “I hate when you do that.”
“Why do you think I do it?” Sasuke retorts, and nods towards the clock, which is announcing the time is 8:50. “What’s the schedule here?”
“You didn’t already get it?” Naruto asks, frowning, but then shrugs and moves on, pulling a piece of paper out of a sizable pile and handing it to Sasuke. “Gaara comes to the office in ten minutes, we chat for a while and then work out any changes we might have to make for patrols and specialized assistance protocol, and then we head out to try and exterminate whatever it is that’s rampaging all over in the north.”
“You can’t go,” Sasuke says, even though he knows it’s not going to do any good. It’s interesting to know there’s still some fighting done by the hidden villages, and it’s obviously very necessary, although what they’re fighting and why they do it when nobody ever dies remains to be seen.
Naruto doesn’t even bother telling Sasuke no. He just waves a hand through the air like he’s swatting the words away before they even reach him. “Oh yeah, by the way, I’m supposed to give you a genin team,” Naruto says, and gives Sasuke a smug grin. “Academy graduates in a week.”
“You’re not sadistic enough to do that to these kids,” Sasuke says, and sits down in the chair just a little behind and to the right of Naruto’s chair. Considering the small sword rack placed directly next to it, Sasuke has a suspicion he sat here because he usually sits right here, for long periods of time. Sasuke grimaces. What an exciting life he must lead.
He decides the best thing to do while the genjutsu is still working is to be himself, so when Gaara walks in and Naruto beams at him and hops across the desk to give him a huge hug, Sasuke doesn’t even bother standing up.
The small smile Gaara has on his face is a surprise, but he reminds himself that this is ninja utopia he’s dealing with, he should expect this Gaara, just like everyone else in the world, to be a happier, friendlier person. He doesn’t seem offended when Sasuke doesn’t stand up, just gives him a respectful, surprisingly friendly nod. Sasuke returns the gesture. It’s a good thing he didn’t bother standing, since with how Naruto is waving his arms around while telling Gaara how great it is to see him there would be no way for Sasuke to get in to even shake the Kazekage’s hand. Gaara humors Naruto fondly, lets the blond flail at him for a few minutes.
Sasuke wonders for a moment about why he doesn’t feel even a little bit jealous. Then again, as he keeps having to remind himself, this is Naruto. Sasuke knows the man doesn’t even understand the concept of infidelity. If anything, Sasuke feels sympathy for Gaara, now that he’s being swarmed by the blond idiot.
He sighs, and walks over to grab Naruto by the collar and pull him away from Gaara, giving the redhead some breathing room. “Gaara,” Sasuke greets him.
“Sasuke,” Gaara returns, obviously more relaxed now that there aren’t flailing orange limbs in his face. “Where are we negotiating?”
“You’re here often enough to decide on your own,” Sasuke says, since hell if he knows where they’re supposed to have their meeting.
“Hey, hey, let me go, bastard,” Naruto snaps, even though they all know he could get out from Sasuke’s grip if he put a millisecond of work into it. Sasuke rolls his eyes but complies, stepping back and crossing his arms. Naruto takes a moment to readjust his clothing with a hilarious amount of scowling and indignation, before going back to smiling sincerely at Gaara. “I had them set up the second conference room, but we can go somewhere else if you want.”
“That sounds fine,” Gaara says, and Sasuke follows them through the building. He’s starting to understand how things work here – Naruto takes care of the village, and Sasuke takes care of Naruto, by way of keeping his idiocy to a minimum. Sasuke’s job is pretty much the official equivalent of not taking any of Naruto’s shit, and occasionally killing things. He approves.
Paradise, Sasuke thinks to himself wryly, and follows the jinchuuriki into the conference room. He follows his instincts again, and ends up sitting more or less to Naruto’s right one more time.
Most of the meeting is about trade routes and patrols, generally sharing information the other might need for border protection. Interestingly, it doesn’t sound like they’re protecting their borders from other countries. It’s more like the border is the area of protection for that group, as if that’s the extent of area Konoha and Suna can cover effectively. Their border patrol negotiations are more coordination to ensure the areas are as covered as possible than anything else. Everything is based around people, not land.
“We’re running across a lot more forest-core monsters than before,” Gaara notes. “We think they might be migrating from your territory.”
Naruto frowns, nodding. “The monsters here are growing stronger, but we can’t figure out why. There haven’t been any changes that would cause it. I’d offer to take some of my people away from the trade routes, but they’re already stretched thin.”
Gaara looks worried. It’s a strange expression to see on him. “We’ve noticed the same thing. Whatever is causing the increase in power, it’s probably universal. My scientists haven’t successfully captured any wisps for almost four months, either.”
“We’re at nearly eight months for that,” Naruto grumbles. Sasuke was mostly following the conversation until they got to whatever the fuck a wisp is. “I thought that whatever it is rampaging up north could be causing it, but if it’s in your area too, I don’t know what to think.”
“Wisps are chakra-based, right?” Sasuke asks, and is almost surprised that neither of them seem surprised he’s spoken up. They nod, and Sasuke takes a moment to decide fuck it and says, “Is Karin around?”
Naruto frowns at him. “Karin as in my annoying cousin Karin?”
Well, that’s new information.
“You know another Karin?” Sasuke asks scathingly, but ignores it for the most part. “She’s one of the best chakra-sensing ninja I’ve ever met. If anyone could do it, it’s her.”
Naruto is trying very hard to not sulk.
“I strongly doubt she’ll try to make off with Sasuke, Naruto,” Gaara says, amused.
“Fine,” Naruto says, dragging the word out in a whine like he’s thirteen again. “But I am not sending Sasuke to get her.”
“I didn’t want you to,” Sasuke says, and stands. “I’ll get a team together to find her.”
“Oh, hey! Lunch is on the roof!” Naruto shouts at his back, and Sasuke lifts a hand in acknowledgement before shutting the door behind him.
There’s no real need to hunt whatever the beast to the north is, since its tracks are huge chunks of destroyed forest, claw marks on the massive trees that surround Konoha, and, as Sasuke notices with a growing dread, small tufts of orange-red fur.
It takes very little convincing to pull Naruto away from the group and onto the forest floor, pushing him firmly against a massive tree root. Naruto is obviously not expecting Sasuke to then look him in the eye and say, “You need to go back to Konoha.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Naruto asks, frowning. He is clearly not picking up on the mood here, since one of his hands has snuck its way into Sasuke’s hair again. “Didn’t I already shoot that down? Haven’t I done that, like, twenty times?”
Sasuke hopes Naruto can tell how serious he is when he says, “It’s different this time.”
Naruto is, contrary to popular belief, actually kind of smart when he feels like it. “You know what we’re hunting.”
“I do,” Sasuke says, and, because he can, he lets himself pull Naruto forward and holds him tightly. “It’s going to head straight for you, and you can’t take this guy on your own.”
“Well, yeah. I wasn’t planning to try and take whatever monster this is by myself,” Naruto says, baffled. “That’s why you’re here.”
Sasuke tries to think of a way to explain that he thinks this is the Kyuubi and it’s going to try and rip Naruto apart or, even worse, repossess him. Words have never been his strong suit, though, so he settles for letting out a deep breath and history lessons. “Naruto, there’s monsters, and then there’s tailed beasts, which are enormous and impossibly powerful. I’ve never heard of anyone actually killing one – I don’t think you can kill them. I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re chasing. And your family has a long history with this specific one.” Not quite a lie. Then again, it could actually be just as true as he’s making it out to sound; Uzumakis, it seems, are in many more places than he ever expected.
People don’t die here, supposedly, but if something could break that rule, it’d be Kyuubi.
Naruto pulls away carefully, but his expression is as firm as the stone face already carved into the cliffs of Konoha. “If I don’t face it, who will?”
“Me,” Sasuke says, sharper than he intended. “Gaara. The other twenty ANBU we brought with us.” When he can tell Naruto’s about to argue some more, Sasuke holds up a finger and snaps out, “If it sees you, even a clone, it will rampage. You’ll be a liability, Naruto.”
The look Naruto gives him makes Sasuke curl his fingers into his Hokage robe, makes him lean his forehead against Naruto’s, because the last time he saw that he had a hand through Naruto’s chest.
This is supposed to be paradise. Naruto isn’t supposed to look like that in a deathless fantasy world.
“Please,” Sasuke finally says. “Just trust me and…” He sighs. “Please, Naruto.”
“Okay,” Naruto says quietly.
Sasuke blinks, staring at Naruto, because. Well. That was unexpected.
“On one condition,” Naruto says, and pulls out a strange, obviously specialized kunai. There’s some sort of tag wrapped around the handle. Sasuke assumes he’s supposed to know what it is, but he’s actually never seen it before in his life. “You keep this on you at all times, or I swear I will break both of your legs and park you in front of shitty period dramas for four weeks straight while they heal.”
Sasuke’s lips quirk upwards. It’s interesting how insults change when there’s no such thing as death.
“That’s torture,” Sasuke says, and takes the kunai from him, moving to stuff it in his pouch. But that obviously doesn’t satisfy Naruto, since he makes a frustrated noise and pulls it out of his hand. Sasuke only has a moment to make a noise of protest before Sasuke ends up wearing a necklace with a newly-strung kunai on it. He looks down at it, and then looks at Naruto’s bare neck.
“You keep that,” Naruto shouts, jabbing a finger into Sasuke’s chest, and holy fuck, is Naruto blushing? They’ve supposedly been together for something like two years, what the hell is so embarrassing about this? “If I don’t hear anything, I’m coming back in three hours, you understand, bastard? That’s not up for negotiating!”
“Yes, sir,” Sasuke says dryly.
Sasuke is proud to say he is not actually surprised by this kiss. It’s passionate in a way the others haven’t been, and Sasuke realizes that’s because it’s desperate, like they’ve never been able to do this before and might never again. Naruto has a death grip on his hair, lips frantic against Sasuke’s, eyes squeezed shut. It’s the first kiss that has really truly felt right, and he ends up moaning into Naruto’s mouth. He can imagine this being in the real world, with the real Naruto, with all the real history and pain between them.
Naruto pulls away, and there’s no goodbye, no final threat. He just looks at Sasuke for a long moment and then leaps over the tree root, into the trees, and heads the other way.
Sasuke takes a deep breath, reassuring himself that this was the right thing to do – deathless genjutsu or not, people can still get hurt. He’s known that ever since he ended up accidentally bashing some poor bastard’s head with an innocent cereal bowl this morning. He’s going to need Naruto in the best shape possible for the fight to take down whoever is behind all of this. It’s logical that he’s been scared for Naruto’s sake.
He tucks the kunai and Naruto’s necklace, the thing he’s worn nonstop for how many years now, into his shirt, and quickly catches up with the others. He can tell they’d slowed down while he had his discussion with Naruto – they’re far enough away to have no chance of overhearing, but close enough that it would only take five minutes or so to catch up.
Sasuke tries very hard to ignore Gaara’s smirk. At least it doesn’t last long, since he notices Naruto’s not trying to catch up.
“He’s going back to Konoha,” Sasuke provides as explanation.
Gaara hesitates, but finally he nods and says, “Good.” And means it.
Sasuke is starting to like genjutsu-Gaara.
The signs get more and more obvious the further north they go. It isn’t until they’ve been following the path for a good hour that one of the ANBU – Rabbit, although Sasuke has no idea who is behind the mask – stops in her tracks. “It’s a trap,” she says, breathless.
“Then let’s break it apart,” Sasuke says. Traps have a bad habit of backfiring on people when he’s involved.
“No, that’s not.” She stops talking, and makes a frustrated noise, as if speaking up takes a lot of effort. “This is the trap. Following it is the trap. The signs are more obvious, but they’re older. Whatever we’re hunting, it was smart enough to make these deeper, so that any growth or alteration to the path would make it look just as fresh as the rest of it.”
Sasuke curses. He should have known Kyuubi was up to something. He’s arrogant, not stupid.
He curses again when he remembers that really, Kyuubi is smart. And Sasuke ever so cleverly left Naruto to trek his way back to Konoha all alone in the middle of the forest.
“Oh fuck,” Sasuke says, with feeling, and he can hear the roar in the distance.
Before Sasuke even makes it to the next branch, he ends up flailing in the air for a moment before realizing that he’s actually resting on Gaara’s sand, along with three other ANBU, including Rabbit-mask.
“I may have to drop you,” Gaara warns, voice flat.
“Understood,” Rabbit-mask says, and Sasuke tries to hide his surprise when the three ANBU position themselves behind Sasuke and Gaara, making an obvious queue of who to drop first if he needs the extra speed.
The roaring suddenly intensifies, louder and angrier, and the first ANBU is dropped immediately.
“That’s a good sign,” Sasuke reminds the Kazekage.
“Good doesn’t mean uninjured,” Gaara says tersely.
The other two ANBU are dropped when a massive explosion rips through the forest, most of the trees ripped out from the force of it and most of the rest on fire. The ANBU aren’t dropped intentionally – the explosion rocks even Gaara’s sand. Gaara manages to keep himself and Sasuke on the small cloud of sand, but the ANBU fall. They don’t waste time trying to pick them back up. They don’t bother with the cloud either – Gaara wraps them in a perfect sphere of sand, and Sasuke feels suspiciously like a cannonball.
“You can aim this thing?” Sasuke asks.
“With concentration,” Gaara snaps, and a voice in Sasuke’s head that sounds suspiciously like Naruto snickers and says ooooh, burn.
It takes what seems like hours before Gaara takes a deep breath, and, after another moment, says, “Get ready.”
The sand drops, and Sasuke charges right into the fur of a very corpse-like Kyuubi.
It’s smaller than what Sasuke remembers from other tailed beast misadventures, probably half the size of standard Kyuubi, but that doesn’t keep it from being massive. It’s also not moving, at all. Since Gaara’s sand isn’t attacking anything either, he figures he’s right that the demon fox is dead. He sheathes Kusanagi and immediately shouts Naruto’s name.
“Over here,” a very weak Naruto calls out, and Sasuke runs over to where he should have started looking – Kyuubi’s head. Naruto has always preferred to face enemies head on. He looks ragged and so pale he’s practically green, but he’s smiling at Sasuke anyway, like it’s a pleasant surprise to see him, like he never really expected to. “Took you long enough, asshole.”
“We need to get him to the hospital,” Sasuke says, trying very hard to ignore the way his hands are shaking as he checks Naruto over clinically. Remarkably, it looks like the only serious injury is extreme chakra deficiency. Whatever Naruto did to kill the Kyuubi, it drained his chakra to the point it started pulling energy from his actual life. He glares at Naruto. “Just when I think you couldn’t possibly be any stupider than you are, Naruto, what the fuck.”
“I’ll be fine,” Naruto says, waving away their concern. Gaara has once again made a floating sand platform for them, but this time it is carrying them carefully instead of as swiftly as possible. “Ku-Kyuubi. He didn’t kill me. I’m fine, Sasuke. Calm down.”
“That means let go of him,” Gaara contributes.
“I am calm,” Sasuke shouts at him, but lets go of his too-tight grip on Naruto’s hands.
“Thanks for the assist, Gaara,” Naruto says.
“You hardly needed it,” Gaara says. “Thank me by calming your husband down.”
Something very close to panic crosses Naruto’s face before he closes his eyes. “I’m just gonna fall asleep for a bit,” he says, feeble. “I’m not dead or concussed, I’m just.” He whines. “I’m really worn out. A lot.”
Gaara gets them to the hospital swiftly and smoothly, with Naruto already asleep, holding Sasuke’s hand gently. He shakes in his sleep, expression tight and worried, but physically he’s fine. Sasuke keeps an eye on every potential problem he can find, and the only issue is chakra depletion, but even that seems to be recovering rapidly.
When Gaara pours them into a window on the third floor of the hospital, Sasuke isn’t surprised in the least to see Sakura there, waiting with a small team of medic-nin. There’s a small sand bird on the ledge which absorbs into the rest of Gaara’s sand when they pass over it, pouring Naruto into the nearest hospital bed.
“The chakra depletion isn’t nearly as serious as you made me think,” Sakura says, but doesn’t even bother looking over at them. She’s immediately checking Naruto over, and starts treating him. Sasuke doesn’t know exactly what she’s doing, but he trusts her to do what’s right for their teammate. She’s frowning at Naruto, though. “What happened to him?”
“He fought Kyuubi,” Sasuke says. “And won.”
“He fought what?” Sakura asks, sparing a moment to toss a confused look his way.
Of course. Here, Kyuubi never attacked. There probably aren’t even jinchuuriki. Why there are monsters in paradise, he still has yet to figure out. “An enormous fox monster with nine tails and a lot of rage,” Sasuke says.
“Well, it must have been an easy enough fight,” Sakura says, and steps away from Naruto, shaking her hands out. She smiles reassuringly at Sasuke. “All he needs is a good night’s sleep to recover. Although at this rate, just a nap would probably be enough.”
“Thank you, Sakura,” Gaara says, and Sakura beams at him, the slightest hint of a blush on her cheeks. Sasuke has no idea what to think about that. Gaara turns to Sasuke, then. “I’ll return home in the morning. I hope you’ll join us for breakfast.”
Sasuke feels strangely like he needs to defend Sakura’s virtue, which is bizarre, but it seems that’s not what Gaara is talking about. He gives a respectful nod to those in the room, and then hops back out the window, headed for the Hokage Residence and, assumedly, the guest quarters attached to it. Since this is everyone’s fantasy world, Sasuke doesn’t doubt that Gaara has a guest room devoted solely to him, and it’s used often. Then again, Naruto probably has his own in every other village too. The man sucks up friendship and affection like a sponge, and somehow he seems to get just as much affection in return.
“You can take him home now,” Sakura says dryly, but the affectionate quirk of her lips lets him know she’s not hurt. “Stop scaring my minions, you’re getting protectively twitchy. Do you want some pain medication for him? He’ll be fine physically, but recovering from that much chakra depletion is going to feel like the worst hangover ever when he wakes up.”
“It’ll be his penalty for being a moron,” Sasuke says, and then remembers. “Do you remember prescribing me some medication about eight months ago?”
Sakura nods. “Sure. Ablexia, 50 mg. Why, do you need more? It has to be expired by now. Are you having problems again?”
“Don’t worry, I’m fine,” Sasuke says, even if he’s incredibly confused. He’d assumed from his conversation with Kakashi that it would be some sort of amnesia pill, if that even exists.
“Well, if you start getting even a hint of eye pain, tell me,” Sakura says firmly, arms crossed. “Albexia works wonders for doujutsu-related problems, but it’s only a temporary solution. I’ve had a few Uchiha clan members in this week already.”
Sasuke nods, processing the new information. “Has Kakashi had any problems?”
“No. I think that’s one of the reasons he usually keeps his eye covered, honestly,” Sakura says. Sasuke figures now is as good a time as any to collect the already much-improved Naruto from the bed. He tosses the idiot over his shoulder; maybe the blood rushing to his unconscious head will magically grow some extra brain cells.
When Sasuke turns back around to see Sakura’s dangerously sly expression, he tenses and wonders if he’s just stepped into a trap.
“I heard you’re getting a genin team,” she says instead of trying to murder him.
“I am not,” Sasuke snaps.
“Remind me to come watch you suffer,” Sakura says with a happy, genuine, undeniably sadistic smile, and Sasuke realizes that this is the real Sakura. This is the Sakura who devoted herself to something other than pursuing Sasuke. She’s a high-ranking medic-nin with minions and a vicious streak and maybe a crush on Gaara (and how the fuck did that happen? Why did that happen?) and is truly happy. He likes her a lot more than the other Sakura she tries to be in the real world. They’re obviously close friends here in fake paradise.
Whatever mastermind was behind this genjutsu, they did a very, very good job.
“There’s not going to be anything to see because I’m not getting a genin team,” Sasuke says.
“Be sure to send your medic-nin to me for training,” Sakura says cheerily, and Sasuke doesn’t feel the slightest bit guilty for flipping her off when he jumps out the window – mostly because he can hear her laughter follow him all the way down.
Sasuke wakes in the middle of the night to see Naruto standing over him. His body tenses. If it was anyone else, anyone else, he knows he would have attacked without a second thought.
“You’re on the couch,” Naruto says, voice strangely distant even though he’s directly next to Sasuke. He wonders if Naruto is sleepwalking, but the intent blue eyes staring at him throw that theory out the window like yesterday morning’s cereal bowl.
Since he looks like he won’t leave without a reply, Sasuke shifts to be at least a little closer to eye level. “I didn’t want to disturb you,” Sasuke says. It’s probably too formal, but Naruto is also probably half asleep, regardless of the way he’s watching Sasuke like an owl with a mouse in its line of sight. It’s also true – he put Naruto in bed before the sun had even set. He needed all the sleep he could get, so why risk waking him?
Naruto doesn’t look impressed. He still looks focused, though.
“Are you angry at me?” Naruto asks.
Sasuke frowns. “No.”
“Then why are you on the couch?” Naruto asks. He sounds much more Naruto-like this time, half whine, half teasing, all irritating blond moron. He holds a hand out. “Come to bed, Sasuke.”
Sasuke keeps thinking he’s used to this, that he’s adapted to this fantasy world, that he can navigate it well enough to survive until he releases the genjutsu. He can, for the most part. Except then he ends up dealing with Naruto, and he’s never really been able to deal with Naruto, in this world or the other.
“You need rest,” Sasuke says. He can out-stubborn Naruto at 2 in the morning. Probably.
“And I won’t get any rest if I keep waking up without you,” Naruto says, and wiggles the fingers on his offered hand, as if Sasuke might have forgotten it’s there waiting for him. “You’re not gonna break me. Promise.”
He knows, intellectually, that this is okay. All things considered, it would probably just be exactly what it sounds like – sleeping, in the same bed. Naruto is about as duplicitous as the couch Sasuke is sitting on.
Fuck it, Sasuke thinks, and takes his hand.
Naruto smiles at him and pulls him to his feet, holding his hand all the way into the bedroom. He lets go when they reach the bed, though. Mostly because it’s hard to flop back on a bed like that when you’re attached to another person. Naruto throws himself onto the mattress hard enough that he fucking bounces, and Sasuke barely keeps himself from shouting at the moron. It’s 2 in the morning, and they have neighbors. Sasuke is aware he is not the kindest person in the world, but he refuses to be the sort of asshole who starts fights and screams at people at this hour.
He settles for pinning Naruto with a hand to his chest and glaring. “You imbecile, you are healing.”
“I’m healed, bastard,” Naruto replies, eyes rolling, and takes advantage of the hand on his chest to casually drag Sasuke into the bed. He then rolls Sasuke to the left side of the mattress. They have sides of the bed, apparently. From how he woke up tangled with Naruto in the center of the mattress, he has a feeling the sides are more symbolic than anything else.
“What’s wrong with you?” Naruto asks, half irritated, half genuine concern. He hesitates. “Are you sure you aren’t pissed at me?”
“For once, I’m not,” Sasuke says. This part he can do, at least. He’s also trying to be relaxed, but he’s spent the past three years having to guard himself every waking moment and trying to find some sort of defense for the few he spent asleep. Right now, he is probably the safest he’s ever been in his entire life, and it doesn’t do anything to help.
Naruto sighs, and carelessly tosses a hand across Sasuke’s abdomen before faceplanting in his pillow. He does it like Sasuke’s just in the way of where his arm’s supposed to go and he will just tolerate Sasuke’s presence on his side of the bed, for the sake of arm position. Sasuke can easily convince himself it’s not because he’s half hugging Sasuke.
He’s always wanted to be here, like this. He should not feel like this.
“Whatever,” Naruto says, words muffled by the pillow. “Just do me a favor and don’t leave. I had a really weird dream.”
“Seems to be going around,” Sasuke says.
Naruto makes an affirmative humming noise into his pillow, and he’s already asleep again. That’s Naruto’s own trained sleep capability. Sasuke can snap out of sleep instantly, but it can take him hours to get to sleep.
He tries to spend the time dissecting what information he has on the genjutsu – sharingan users seem to be selectively immune to the genjutsu; there are two casters and one is considered inactive while the other is missing; the source of the genjutsu is technically the moon, which he can’t exactly kill now can he; Kyuubi appeared in a world that is meant to be Kyuubi-less, meaning that potentially death might be able to show up in a deathless world as well; Sasuke chose to forget this is all an illusion approximately a year into the genjutsu, most likely with some medication called Ablexia, an action which suggests that he thought it was impossible to release it, but now he remembers again.
It does nothing to distract him from Naruto sleeping next to him, snuffling into his pillow and treating Sasuke like a disappointingly distant teddy bear. He’s growing more certain by the moment that he’s supposed to feel bad about this. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement here, with Naruto being loved and loving and Sasuke gets to love Naruto right back, and he should feel guilty, shouldn’t he? Sasuke feels like half of everything that normally determines whether he takes action or restrains himself is completely missing. Even worse, he’s happier for its absence.
Naruto eventually shifts closer to Sasuke. And then he pulls Sasuke closer. And then he shifts closer again. It’s a slow process that keeps interrupting Sasuke’s (failed) attempts at figuring out the situation, so he just sighs and does the shifting and pulling preemptively. He shifts to just about the middle of the bed, moving his pillow along with him, and that’s all it takes for Naruto to curl around him. The idiot’s still completely asleep, but it doesn’t keep him from being a fucking octopus, what the hell.
This is all acceptable, Sasuke reasons with himself. He trusts Naruto completely, trusts him even in the real world, and he does want to be here. He does - the genjutsu itself is proof of it. The arms holding him and the leg that has been absently stuffed next to his own are a normal thing for a long-term committed couple like they supposedly are. Sasuke just doesn’t remember that part.
Naruto’s head ends up tucked into Sasuke’s collarbone. That part, for some reason, he doesn’t mind. He takes a deep breath, eyes shut, and concentrates on the feel of soft blond hair against his skin, on the scent of chakra and cheap shampoo and that perfectly Naruto scent that he’s always turned towards every time he smells it. Sasuke raises a hand carefully and runs his fingers through Naruto’s hair. It’s not silky. It’s soft and dangerously staticky, clinging to him like golden dandelion tufts that desperately want Sasuke’s fingers to stay put. He stills his fingers, and Naruto lets out a small pleased hum.
He can feel Naruto breathing against his neck, and he knows this is Naruto, not just limbs and feet and hands and a torso. He’s in their bed in Konoha with Uzumaki Naruto curling around him after a long day, and Sasuke is allowed to have his hand in Naruto’s hair. He’s allowed to twist onto his side and draw Naruto close and cling right back.
Sasuke takes a deep, shuddering breath, holding Naruto tight enough that his knuckles are bare and white against Naruto’s sun-kissed skin, and lets himself be in love.
He wakes up when Naruto kicks him on the way out of bed.
“Shit, we’ve got breakfast today,” Naruto hisses out, obviously expecting Sasuke to be awake now. He rubs his hands over his hair, thinking so hard it probably hurts. “Okay. Okay, we have like twelve minutes. We can totally just put on clothes and run there, right? Right.”
When Sasuke looks at the clock, it’s already 9 in the morning. It’s the longest uninterrupted period of sleep he’s had in years.
“Damn it, Sasuke, you are supposed to be the smart one in the morning,” Naruto yells, flailing in front of the wardrobe.
Sasuke yawns – he may be alert, but that doesn’t mean he’s not regretting being awake. “What are we doing?”
Naruto actually bangs his head against the wardrobe door. “Breakfast. With. Parents.”
“And Gaara,” Sasuke contributes, and rolls out of bed and grabs something that looks passably normal. “That probably makes it even more important.”
Naruto continues to freak out at this apocalyptic turn of events, so Sasuke rolls his eyes and grabs something orange, tossing it at him while he heads to the bathroom to brush his teeth and make himself presentable. And also wonder what the fuck he’s going to do meeting his not-quite-in-laws for the first time two years into the relationship.
“You are such a shitty friend,” Naruto accuses, taking up half of the sink to follow Sasuke’s example.
Sasuke glares at him, and shoves him in the shoulder hard enough that he moves away from the sink.
Naruto shoves back harder. Sasuke stumbles to the side, narrowly avoiding hitting the wall of their tiny bathroom.
Five minutes later, Sasuke is biting Naruto’s hand as he tries to kick the idiot pulling his hair off of him as they roll through the debris of what used to be their kitchen table, elbows doing their damndest to smack the other in the face or shoulder or anything. Their toothbrushes are still in hand, they’re half dressed, and what they did manage to put on now have holes from the broken wood.
Sasuke isn’t sure what happens next. Mostly he knows they were in their apartment, and then there was something yellow, and now they’re in someone else’s hallway. It’s a nice hallway. He gets an even better view of it when someone yanks Naruto off of him like the man’s five years old.
“Sleep late?” Gaara asks from somewhere above Sasuke’s head. Sasuke doesn’t even have to look to know there’s a smirk.
There’s a put-upon sigh to Sasuke’s right, and Sasuke finally notices that the Fourth Hokage is standing there looking like an indulgent parent. Which he is. “We still have some of your spare clothing in Naruto’s room, I think,” he says, and walks towards the loud noises that he assumes are Naruto and his mother.
At least now Naruto’s panic about being on time makes sense. It must be awkward to have a teleporting father.
“How old are you two?” Gaara asks.
“You try dealing with Naruto in the morning and see how you do,” Sasuke mutters, and tries to stand with as much dignity as he can. It turns out that there’s very little dignity to be salvaged. At least he got his pants on. He’s pretty sure Naruto only managed a shirt.
“True,” Gaara concedes, and nods politely before heading towards the family gathering, leaving Sasuke to find his way to Naruto’s room and spare clothing. He finds the stairs, and by the time he’s started walking up the stairs Naruto is tearing through the Hokage Residence right along with him. Pantsless.
“Come on, bastard,” Naruto hisses at him, glancing around like someone will actually care that he’s in a state of disarray (they won’t), and grabs Sasuke’s forearm to drag him into one of the rooms. It definitely belongs to Naruto, considering the holes in the walls and the dangerous amount of orange. Naruto doesn’t hesitate, though. He just reaches into a drawer and tosses another pair of pants and a shirt at Sasuke, pulling out something for himself in the process. “I think the extended family’s coming too.”
Sasuke nods, changing quickly. “Will Karin be there?”
Naruto looks at him like he’s gone crazy and demanded the sky turn into jelly. “Why would she come?”
Sasuke revises his definition of extended family, and tries to look at it from a Naruto perspective. That would mean people important to him, and therefore if he has a family it’s people who are important to his parents as well.
By the time they get downstairs and into the dining area where everyone is waiting, Sakura and Jiraiya are already seated at the table. Kakashi and his two dead teammates are also there, talking happily with the Fourth Hokage. They were his genin team leader, if Sasuke remembers correctly. Gaara and Sakura are talking with Jiraiya, and there’s no sign of Naruto’s mother until he hears a woman shout out, “Minato you get back in this kitchen right this second!”
Since the Fourth Hokage obeys, beaming like a loon at whoever is shouting abuse at him on the other side of the wall, Sasuke is pretty sure his question has been answered.
“This is all your fault,” Naruto says, glaring at him.
Sasuke glares right back. “Do I need to kick you through a table again?”
“You didn’t kick me through the table, you kicked me into the table and it broke,” Naruto says. “It was already about to break from when I threw you against it anyway.”
“Just admit I destroyed the table,” Sasuke says. “We both know it was me.”
“It was a fluke,” Naruto shouts at him. “You only broke the table because I busted it up before you even touched the damn thing!”
“Oh, don’t let your mother hear you curse,” Kakashi sighs from behind them, and smiles at Naruto’s wince. “Happy monthly Saturday breakfast! I saw you get rushed to the hospital yesterday.”
“Ahh, don’t worry, everything’s fine,” Naruto says, waving off their teacher’s concern. “Just chakra depletion after fighting some weird giant fox.”
Kakashi doesn’t react in the slightest. Sasuke is impressed. “That’s the beast that was rampaging up north?” When Naruto nods, Kakashi asks, “Is it dead, then?”
“Well, it sure isn’t moving again,” Naruto says. It’s meant to sound like a boast, but all Sasuke hears is how very much that answer wasn’t an answer. He shifts, awkward, and retreats. “I better go help Mom in the kitchen before she starts yelling at me too.”
The moment Naruto is out of earshot, Sasuke confirms, “It was Kyuubi. It was over by the time we got there, but he’s right, it wasn’t moving again anytime soon.”
“The tailed beasts shouldn’t even exist,” Kakashi says, frowning. “But if one could sneak in, it would be Kyuubi. He’s the only beast they didn’t get any direct essence from.” He glances at where Naruto disappeared into the kitchen. “Naruto may have killed our only ally.”
“He’s been acting strange, though,” Sasuke says. “He was worried I’d left last night. Every other time we’ve been in the apartment he’s just expected me to be there. He also recovered his chakra very quickly, but then again, this is Naruto.” He sighs. “You know more about jinchuuriki than I do.”
“What I know won’t help with this,” Kakashi says, and suddenly drops the topic, instead turning him to look at the two dead teammates. “That’s Rin and Uchiha Obito.”
Sasuke nods, and tries to think of how to reply to introductions to dead people. “I’m glad you get to see them again,” he says.
“In the kitchen is Minato and Kushina,” Kakashi continues. “And my father is currently at home gardening.”
Sasuke remains silent, because he understands.
“Have you noticed anything unusual about yourself, Sasuke?” Kakashi asks, but it’s not a question. Not really. “In your motivation? Your behavior? Your feelings?”
“Yes,” Sasuke says, much sharper than he intends. “And I haven’t gone back to the Uchiha-”
“This isn’t about the dead, Sasuke. That’s my problem,” Kakashi says. “They’re definitely part of yours too, but that’s not the real change for you.”
“Believe me, it’s a change,” Sasuke says, and has to close his eyes to ignore the memories.
“Danzo is in the village,” Kakashi says. “So is Sai, the shinobi they replaced you with. And Kabuto. He’s Orochimaru’s faithful assistant here.”
Sasuke grimaces. “I’ll have to avoid them, then.”
“That’s not your usual reaction to these people,” Kakashi says. “Also, I tried to kill you. Sakura tried to kill you too. Really, the only living person here who hasn’t tried to kill you is Naruto, and he is probably going to surpass you soon. Of course, that’s what you deserve, since you practically murdered him when you were thirteen. Your brother is here as well, but I’m sure he’d be very disappointed in you if he ever found out what you’ve done in the real world.”
Sasuke stares at him. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Hate, Sasuke,” Kakashi says. “They took away death, and hate.”
He knows he’s been ruled by vengeance for most of his life, but before now, Sasuke had never really thought about how angry he’d been at the world. How much hate had controlled him. No wonder he’s felt so peaceful here, comparatively. He’d thought it was just that there was no need to worry about being attacked, but apparently not.
“You don’t want me to try and release the genjutsu,” Sasuke realizes.
“I want you to do whatever you think is right,” Kakashi corrects, and puts a comforting hand on Sasuke’s shoulder. Whether it’s for Kakashi’s comfort or Sasuke’s, he can’t tell. “We may be trapped in an illusion, but this is the real you. These are the things you really feel and believe. Whatever you decide to do, I’ll help you.”
He’s not sure how to reply to that, so he just nods and watches Kakashi return to his dead friends. Sasuke had never really understood how many people his teacher has lost until now, or how few he had to start with. The groups all come together at the table only moments later, since Naruto’s mother comes out of the kitchen with food in hand and starts setting it on the table to be shared. He wishes he didn’t see flashes of Naruto’s sexy no jutsu when he looks at her.
Sasuke sits between Naruto and Sakura for breakfast, and wishes he could enjoy it. Instead, he sees the dead and living smiling and happy and peaceful together, unencumbered with fear or hatred or anger. It’s an unknowable utopia here. How is he meant to make this choice? And how would he even get rid of the genjutsu if he chose to?
He helps clean up after the meal, and finds himself cornered by Naruto’s mom in the kitchen. She jabs a finger into his chest, glaring at him, and says, “What is wrong with my son?”
“He’s recovering from chakra withdrawal,” Sasuke says.
That seems to satisfy Kushina for the most part, but she still doesn’t let him escape. “You need to watch him. He’s acting strangely,” she says.
Sasuke frowns. “How?”
“I don’t know, he just is,” Kushina says with a huff, and steps aside to let him pass. “Just take care of him. We’re always here if you need any help.”
“Thank you,” Sasuke says, because what else can you say to that? He washes dishes, Kushina dries dishes, Naruto keeps bringing in dishes, and it’s a soapy assembly line of ceramic until Kushina literally throws in her towel and leaves to go bother her husband. Naruto takes her place, and they keep washing in companionable silence. Gaara comes in to say goodbye before leaving with no ceremony or fuss despite his status, and Jiraiya leaves after that. Kakashi seems attached at the hip to his old genin team, and the three adults leave together with Sakura, since she and Rin are both headed to the hospital. Sasuke doesn’t know where Naruto’s parents are, and he’s fine with that.
He’s handing the last plate over to Naruto when the blond finally speaks. “Stay close for today, alright?”
“Are you worried about an attack?” Sasuke asks.
Naruto laughs. “Man, you’re getting paranoid,” Naruto says. “Nah, my dreams just really sucked last night. Probably the chakra depletion fucking with my brain, but still weird enough that I’m twitchy today.”
Sasuke doesn’t know exactly how Naruto is twitchy, but the idea of the Hokage with hair-trigger reflexes in a peaceful village isn’t pleasant. “Fine,” Sasuke says, and watches Naruto put away the final plate. “How are you feeling?”
“Nice and recovered,” Naruto says, and grins at him. “Ready enough to survive a lazy weekend, for sure. Come on, let’s go home. I’m pretty sure there’s some furniture left that we didn’t break.”
The day is just as lazy as Naruto suggests. They don’t even bother to clean up the table. Naruto wants to go see friends, Sasuke doesn’t even really want to see Naruto half the time (except he does), so they end up sitting around playing video games and eating junk food and bickering like they’re twelve years old again. They are both absolutely terrible at fighting games, and Sasuke ends up shouting at platform jumping games loud enough that their neighbors start banging on the wall, which is completely Naruto’s fault.
They end up playing Lumberjack VII: Revenge of the Evergreens. It is quite probably the stupidest waste of time in Sasuke’s entire life and he will refuse to keep playing it the moment Naruto stops beating him by about two logs every other game and then bragging about it.
“Hey, do you ever feel like there’s something, I don’t know, wrong with the world?” Naruto asks him. When Sasuke immediately pauses the game and watches him, Naruto shrugs. “I mean. Hell, I don’t know, it’s just.” He makes a frustrated noise, hands obviously trying to explain what he can’t find the words for. “I’m just so fucking happy, you know? I mean, okay, sometimes there’s bad shit, like monster attacks that destroy houses and burn trees down and stuff, but then there’s twitchy days like today and I keep thinking something’s missing, even though I have everything I could ever want.”
Sasuke feels like something just broke.
He just got here. He just started to understand that it’s okay to want these things, let alone have them, and he hasn’t even gotten to see Itachi yet, hasn’t seen his parents, hasn’t gotten to fight Naruto about the stupid genin team thing. He wants to go to the market and buy groceries and put them away in their pantry. He wants to sit in the Hokage office with Naruto and force him to do his fucking paperwork. He wants to eat lunch outside with Sakura and find out what it’s really like to talk with her. He wants to fight with Naruto, not against him, wants to slide into bed with him and sleep with his eyes truly closed and Sasuke’s had what, two days here? If even that?
There’s no hate here, but he knows down to his bones that there’d be some directed at many subjects right now.
Sasuke looks at Naruto for a long moment. He knows his face at age twelve and thirteen, at fifteen and sixteen, and this eighteen-going-on-nineteen Hokage version of him is another new model to memorize before he never sees it again.
The likelihood they’re going to remember this after the genjutsu is released is fairly low, considering the mass effect they’re all under. It will be nothing but a strange, fading dream for everyone but him and Kakashi and whatever poor bastards Sasuke is going to hunt down and somehow murder in a deathless world.
“I’m in love with you,” Sasuke says.
“See, that’s what I mean!” Naruto says, and Sasuke has to stop that right there immediately before he says anything beyond that, so he lunges forward to kiss him. Naruto is used to this, Naruto just automatically lets him in and wraps his arms around Sasuke like he wants him to be there.
Don’t tell me, Sasuke pleads to nobody in particular, and stands up to drag Naruto towards the bedroom because if this is his last chance he is going to take it, fantasy or not. Naruto follows with zero resistance, chasing Sasuke’s mouth through the small apartment.
“You are really tense,” Naruto says against his lips, and pulls away. He doesn’t stop following where Sasuke leads, though. Naruto follows like the loyal moron he is. “You were fine a minute ago.”
“Stop talking,” Sasuke says, and pulls him onto the bed, straddling Sasuke’s hips.
Naruto kisses him again, but it’s a small thing, more an attempt at reassurance than anything else. There’s tenderness, but no actual passion. “Okay, you have been weird for the past couple-”
“Stop. Talking,” Sasuke snaps.
“Since when do I listen to you?” Naruto bites back, and holds Sasuke down with a single hand on his chest. He looks worried. “Maybe I should have Sakura-”
“What the fuck do I have to do to convince you I want to have sex with you?” Sasuke nearly shouts at him.
“Wow,” Naruto says, and shifts off of Sasuke, but keeps him pressed down with the stupid hand and Sasuke cannot stand this moron. “I know what you look like when you want to have sex and this? Is not that.”
Sasuke scrubs a hand down his face, groaning. “Then what do I look like, genius?”
“Scared, mostly,” Naruto says, and Sasuke doesn’t get a chance to deny it. His mouth is too busy with a simple close-mouthed kiss, delicate and sweet. When Naruto pulls away, he’s smiling that awkward self-depreciating smile of his, where he feels like he’s doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. “You know I love you, yeah?”
Sasuke seriously considers punching him. The angle would be awkward for it, though, since Naruto just slid down behind him. He’s pretty sure this is called spooning. It’s stupid.
“I think it’s mostly because you’re an asshole,” Naruto says, and Sasuke can feel his breath on the back of his neck. The hand on his chest is still there, but it’s not holding him against Naruto or anything. He could get away easily. “This one time, I tried to imagine myself with someone who wasn’t an asshole, you know, someone who doesn’t punch me as often as kisses me.”
“That sounds boring,” Sasuke says.
“No shit,” Naruto agrees. “I’ll stick with what I’ve got, thanks. Not that Mom didn’t keep making suggestions every time we fight, all find yourself a nice ninja who doesn’t kick you through tables.”
Sasuke ends up snickering.
“I know, right?” Naruto laughs. His lips move against the side of Sasuke’s neck, nose brushing through his hair. His chest is flush against Sasuke’s back, his hand slowly moving up Sasuke’s chest. The light fabric bunches beneath his fingers. “As if I’m ever going to find someone else who makes me feel like you do.”
Breathing is suddenly much more difficult.
“I was so angry when you were my first kiss,” Naruto says, and there’s nothing innocent about the way his lips are moving against Sasuke’s neck. “But now I’m so fucking glad it was you, Sasuke. First and last and every other kiss in between.”
Sasuke’s eyes slide shut, and he presses his back tight against Naruto’s chest. He has kissed other people. He wanted every one of them to be Naruto. He knows Naruto can feel his pulse, and he doesn’t give a shit about trying to stay calm and cool and composed. Not here, not now.
“I liked waking up with you this morning,” Naruto says, and the hand that had been carefully moving up to Sasuke’s collarbone slides down to the edge of his shirt, sneaking beneath to touch skin, barely grazing his abs. “I always like that. I like touching you.”
“That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Sasuke says, and grabs Naruto’s hand with his own. It stills immediately, but after a moment he moves, so much faster than before. His hand presses up, pulling the shirt with it, and Sasuke takes a deep (pathetic) breath when he brushes against a nipple.
“I’m trying to tell you I’m in love you,” Naruto says, voice rough, teeth nipping at Sasuke’s skin, and fuck, fuck, Sasuke ends up moaning just from that. He has had Naruto sitting in his naked lap while they kissed each other breathless and it was nothing like this. It makes Naruto chuckle a little, in a purely Naruto way, and he says, “Guess you like that, then.”
“Observant,” Sasuke breathes out, and doesn’t give a shit that he has to bite back another moan when Naruto guides their hands down to Sasuke’s pants.
“Want to help me out here, bastard?” Naruto asks, mischievous but still somehow managing a pretense of innocence, like he’s asking Sasuke to help him carry a couch up stairs and not to pull his pants down so he can get his erection out. Sasuke doesn’t hesitate, though. He can’t think beyond Naruto’s voice and hands and mouth, which he should really care more about than he does. “Mmm, thanks.”
He expects Naruto’s hand to immediately grab his cock, but instead his fingers raise to wait in front of Sasuke’s open mouth. It takes him a moment to even realize what he’s asking for, but then he practically lunges forward to get his mouth around Naruto’s fingers, eyes sliding shut at the taste of his skin.
“Fuck, Sasuke,” Naruto breathes out. His mouth is between Sasuke’s shoulders now, and Sasuke doesn’t give a shit if it’s going to slow things down, he pulls his shirt off, even if it means he has to release Naruto’s fingers. He tosses it away from the bed and grabs Naruto’s wrist because he wants to keep his hand right there, wants to see how deep he can taste them. “Shit, hold up, let me just. Come on, I swear I’ll give them back.”
He obeys reluctantly, but doesn’t regret it in the slightest since Naruto wraps his fingers around Sasuke’s erection and slowly, slowly strokes him.
“Don’t you dare torture me,” Sasuke warns breathlessly.
Naruto is nipping his way down Sasuke’s spine, but he stops to let out a puff of laughter. “You’d love it if I did,” he promises roughly.
Fuck, he probably would.
He doesn’t torture Sasuke, though. He speeds up just enough that Sasuke won’t snap at him, keeps biting and kissing and licking at his spine. Sasuke digs a hand into Naruto’s hair and thrusts into Naruto’s hand and thinks that this is Naruto and doesn’t doubt it for a single fucking second. It makes him shudder. He knows the perfect pressure, the perfect speed, and it is driving Sasuke crazy.
Naruto must have gotten his other hand free from beneath Sasuke, since it slides Sasuke’s pants all the way off his legs. He can hear them flung against the wall and does not give a shit where they land, they could be sliced to pieces on his sword and he does not give a fuck because Naruto just bit his ass and it felt amazing. The hand not stroking him to insanity is still running up and down his spine, like Naruto can’t decide what he wants to touch and where to put his mouth because he wants everything.
“Talk to me,” Sasuke says, because of all the things Naruto’s mouth could be doing, that is what he wants right now.
“I can talk. I’ll do anything for you,” Naruto blurts out, and fuck, he doesn’t even think about what he’s saying, does he? He means every fucking word of it, because he is Naruto, and he is impossible. He laughs a little bit desperately against Sasuke’s tailbone. “I was thinking of rimming you but this is also really great, everything’s great with you, fuck, I love you so much, I want to spend a whole fucking month with you in a bed. Or a wall. Or a bathtub. Or-”
“Fuck,” Sasuke chokes out, because Naruto is jerking him off expertly and biting him just hard enough to sting but not hurt, there’s not the slightest bit of pain, only love and pleasure and he can feel Naruto’s hair beneath his fingers, sweaty and soft and perfect and Naruto fucking loves him and he comes against Naruto’s beautiful, beautiful fingers. He feels like he’s dying for a moment, but Naruto is there holding him again, back against his chest, still talking, and Sasuke shudders against him, feels like every nerve in his body just exploded and he’s slowly knitting himself back together.
“You are super pretty,” Naruto blurts out.
“You’re the most attractive man on the planet and don’t even know it and it drives me crazy, I end up wanting to hurt so many people,” Sasuke says. “I want you to fuck me.”
“Nope,” Naruto says.
“Oh come on,” Sasuke groans, head sliding back to rest on Naruto’s shoulder. “Do you want me to say please?”
“You could beg for the next four hours and I still wouldn’t fuck you,” Naruto says. “You’re-”
He doesn’t want to hear the why for that stupid fucking policy, so he shoves Naruto onto his back and kisses him silent, pressing his thigh against Naruto’s hard cock, which is still stuck tenting his poor pants. Laundry is going to be a bitch tomorrow. Naruto is already panting, clutching at Sasuke’s shoulders like he’s drowning.
Sasuke breaks away from the kiss and smirks at the way Naruto’s mouth follows him as he retreats. When he moves his thigh, Naruto makes a protesting noise, but stops after he figures out Sasuke wouldn’t really be able to get his pants off if he hadn’t moved. “That’s better,” Naruto pants, smiling at him.
Fuck, he is really humiliatingly in love with this moron.
Instead of saying that, he leans down and swallows as much of Naruto’s cock as he can manage. Which, it turns out, is all of it. His eyes are watering and there is a disgusting amount of drool involved, but fuck, the high-pitched gibberish whining its way out of Naruto’s throat is absolutely worth it. One of Naruto’s hands clenches in Sasuke’s hair, the other clutching at the sheets, and Sasuke only has time to make eye contact and feel incredibly smug at how ripped apart Naruto looks before he moans out Sasuke’s name and comes.
Sasuke has barely pulled away before Naruto hauls him up by the shoulders and practically tosses him back onto the mattress, kissing him sloppy and tired and so full of love that he feels like he’s flying. Blankets cover them, and Naruto tucks himself in perfectly against Sasuke, and he falls asleep feeling like the world could burn to the fucking ground in the next few hours and he’d still label it a beautiful, beautiful night.
It’s Monday morning all too soon. Sasuke is very tempted to see if the Hokage can call in sick. Or call in just to stay in bed for another 24 hours. He’s had more sex in the past day and a half than he ever expected to in the next ten years, and would not say no to some more. Naruto is too good of a person to do that, though, so he pries himself out of Sasuke’s hold at seven in the morning and the world has to continue on.
From the way nobody seems the slightest bit surprised at the occasional visible bite mark and the fact he and Naruto seem to be drifting close together regardless of what’s happening, Sasuke thinks this is probably how they spend most weekends.
“Oh, right, the Academy graduates are expecting to meet their teachers around two today,” Naruto says during lunch, not even looking up from his food. “You’re Team 2.”
Sasuke glares at him. “No I’m not.”
“Yes you are,” Naruto crows at him, finally looking up just to laugh right in Sasuke’s face. “It was either you or Sakura and apparently she’s indispensable for the hospital, so suck it up.”
“I already have a job,” Sasuke says.
Naruto shrugs, still grinning like an asshole. “And now you have a different one.”
“Aren’t we supposed to be dealing with monsters and wisps and irregular monster migration patterns?” Sasuke asks. “And you need me here to keep you from being even more of a moron.”
“I am Hokage and I say you are getting a genin team,” Naruto says loftily, a steel edge beneath the words. “Deal with it.”
This is probably the only time a ‘because I said so’ statement between them is actually a good argument. A winning one, actually. He has no choice but to obey.
“We are never having sex again,” Sasuke says.
Naruto outright laughs at him, because yeah, they both know that’s the most futile threat ever. Besides, Naruto has yet to outright start anything beyond kissing. The sex is pretty much all Sasuke and Naruto seems very happy with that arrangement.
“I’ll make it up to you,” Naruto promises, and that is about a hundred times more effective than the threat.
“I hate you so much,” Sasuke says, but stands up to leave.
“Love you too, Sasuke,” Naruto shouts at his back, loud enough that the entire building and the street below probably hears it. Sasuke flips the moron off, and jumps out the window.
Policy is that a shinobi can never wear an ANBU uniform when not acting as a member of the elite forces, so he has to go home and change. They really need a new table. He dresses in the same outfit as when he finally woke up, trying to get close to something that feels as natural as the ANBU uniform has started to. He arms himself as if he’s headed into battle (or out his bedroom door, really), and makes his way slowly over to the Academy. He arrives only a few minutes after two, just in time to see Ino leave with her own team of genin, and also see that Shikamaru is sprawled on the grass outside with probably zero intention of moving for the next four hours, and Hinata already leaving with her own team.
Apparently Naruto wasn’t lying about it being either him or Sakura. Naruto’s too busy being Hokage to do their generation’s duty, and Sakura’s too busy being the best medic-nin in Konoha, so Sasuke ends up with the job.
Team 2 is waiting patiently in the classroom, for the most part. There’s one with pale hair that is practically vibrating in place. The other two, a girl with long black hair and a stance like she’s waiting for everyone else in the room to bow down to her and a boy with messy brown hair and the most sincerely calm expression Sasuke’s seen in a very long time, look like they’re trying to get him to stop shaking like they’re naked in the middle of a blizzard. It’s a bad sign – they’re probably already good enough at teamwork that he won’t have that as an excuse to fail them.
He doesn’t bother introducing himself. He just makes eye contact with them and points out the door before leaving. They follow so fast that Sasuke winces. Enthusiastic twelve year olds. He’s not looking forward to this. They trail him all the way to the lake dock he decides is good enough for this, and when he sits down to finally face them, they follow his example again. Twitchy nearly falls down. Sasuke ends up wondering if that kid is really all there in the head.
“I’m your teacher, Uchiha Sasuke,” he says, and is proud of the way he doesn’t wince. He tries to remember how Kakashi did this part. “Introduce yourselves, and tell me why exactly you thought it’d be a good idea to be a shinobi.”
He expects Twitchy to be the first one to speak, but it’s the girl who speaks up. “I’m Uchiha Kyoko! You’re my third cousin once removed but you’re never around so I think I only met you once when I was like six, but I’m my Uncle Obito’s niece, and I like my family and fighting and love cake but hate cinnamon, and I want to help out everyone in the world by kicking some monster ass!” She says it all with a firm, excited, sweet smile on her face.
When they realize Sasuke’s not going to respond, Twitchy finally speaks. “I’m Minotomi Haru, and I’m twelve years old and I’m here because I want to be.” When Sasuke gives him a disbelieving look, Haru starts shaking again and says, “Okay, my twin is the one who wants to be a ninja and she’s always better at everything and I want to prove I’m just as good, and support her, but I thought I’d be on the same team as her instead of being with you.”
“They always separate family members,” Sasuke says. He should probably be more insulted by that, but the kid’s twelve.
“You and Kyoko are related,” Haru points out.
“I’m as related to Kyoko as you probably are,” Sasuke says. “Konoha isn’t exactly a hotbed of genetic variety.”
The sloppy brunet snickers. It’s a perfect opportunity to focus on the final genin, and the boy swallows, taking a long look at the team before closing his eyes and introducing himself. “My name is Ichibiko Ren. I’m twelve, and I like chemistry and plants and learning things and hate being stuck in small spaces, and I’m a shinobi because I think someone has to be, and I’m as good as anyone else.” He pauses. “And you get to explore outside the walls.”
Sasuke is pretty sure this is the least ambitious genin team he’s ever heard of. Then again, maybe this is normal in a world with no hate or death.
He sighs, and rises to stand in front of them. “You need to understand first and foremost that you aren’t my number one priority,” Sasuke says. “You’re just my current mission.”
“We don’t get an introduction from you?” Kyoko asks, like Sasuke hasn’t just tried to tell them he doesn’t give a shit about them.
Sasuke rolls his eyes. “I’m Uchiha Sasuke. I like.” He pauses, trying to decide exactly how to answer. It doesn’t really matter what he says, so he mentally shrugs and continues, “I like fighting and reading and my best friend. I hate a lot of things, usually, but now I don’t hate anything in particular. And I became a shinobi for vengeance.”
The children look incredibly confused. Sasuke doesn’t really care.
“You still aren’t officially my team,” Sasuke says. “You are going to be tested, and I will probably fail you, because none of you seem to actually have the drive someone needs to be-”
Someone shouts out his name. Sasuke twists to see an ANBU guard with a rat mask speeding towards him, and he immediately curses. Why did Naruto think it was a good idea to send him to take care of three worthless genin when he should have been keeping the Hokage safe and under control?
Worst case scenarios are whirling through his mind by the time Rat-mask has stopped, kneeling in front of him, and says, “We’ve located Karin. The Hokage requests your presence-”
“I’ll be there soon,” Sasuke says, watching Rat-mask immediately nod and take off again. He turns to see the children staring at him. “I have to go. Stay here for two hours, and if I don’t come back or I send a messenger, be here tomorrow at 8 in the morning. You’ll be tested then.”
He doesn’t wait for a reply. He just heads straight for Naruto, running across the lake and then rooftops before sliding through Naruto’s office window. Sasuke can’t help but be amused that Rat-mask is only now arriving.
“Need something?” Sasuke asks.
Naruto groans, slumping in his chair from his dignified posture of before Sasuke arrived. “This was such a bad idea,” he whines.
“Yes it was,” Sasuke agrees, and places Kusanagi in its waiting space before sitting down. “You should know not to follow your own plans, they’re always stupid. What’s happened?”
“We found Karin. I’ve got her waiting in one of the meeting rooms,” he says, and scowls. “She’s refusing to help until she gets to see you.”
“Are you sure she’s the best chakra sensor?” Naruto practically whines. “Because I would be really okay with asking someone else.”
“I’ve never seen her equal,” Sasuke says, and hoists Naruto out of his boneless sprawl in the chair. “Explain exactly what we’re asking her to do, like I have never seen a monster in my entire life.”
Naruto gives him a weird look, but when Sasuke just looks back, he sighs. “Okay, there are these things called monsters. They love destroying as many things as possible, even better if there’s a human involved. They can be anything from as big as Kyuubi but shaped like a massive samurai frog to shaped like a two year old girl. When you kill one, the body kind of burns up and turns into a gas sort of thing called a wisp. And usually wisps can talk, or cry, or scream, and we’ve been trying to figure out what they’re all talking about since it all seems weirdly related. But we can’t collect the wisps anymore because they’re getting too big – like, one exploded to the size of an entire valley the other day - or sometimes they don’t appear for long enough, since they’re only visible for a little bit after the monster is killed.”
“And you need someone who can sense chakra so they can capture the wisp after they’re no longer visible,” Sasuke says.
“We capture them so we can get a better idea of what they’re saying,” Naruto says. “And there’s something weird about them, I’m not an expert or anything, but it’s like, I don’t know, they’re kind of…negative I guess? They’re really upset all the time, I don’t like going in the labs. People like Orochimaru are welcome to them. I’m fine with just reading the reports, you know?”
“That should be enough,” Sasuke says, and Naruto gives him a relieved smile before leading him down the hall and into a room where Karin is sitting, waiting.
She doesn’t stay seated for long, though. Karin is on her feet the moment Sasuke steps through the door, and the only thing that keeps him from being tackled is Naruto’s arm stopping her in her path, a grip of steel keeping her put. “Sasuke! I haven’t seen you in so long! I heard you need my help, I would love to help you-”
“Sit down, please,” Sasuke says as calmly as he can manage, and Karin is more than happy to oblige. Sasuke sits across the table from her and keeps his feet tucked firmly under his own chair. “Did the Hokage explain the situation to you?”
“He did,” Karin says, voice icy but somehow nonthreatening. “I don’t see why it really matters, though.”
“It matters,” Sasuke says. “Can you help us?”
Karin frowns, leaning back in her chair, and Sasuke is relieved to see that the fanaticism is gone. She may be halfway to insane, but her moments of sanity show a very skilled and intelligent woman. “It’d be hard even for me. I killed a monster just a couple of days ago and the wisp was just this enormous scream that blasted me off my feet, there wasn’t even anything to catch,” she says. “But I’ll try. I don’t see how it’s so important, but if you say it is, I’d believe it. What do you need me to do?”
And that’s all it takes, really. One of the scientists comes in to explain the situation to her, and another group comes in with equipment to go monster-hunting with her, and all her help costs them is a very fast, very light hug from Sasuke before she’s out the door and starting the mission.
“I’m calling it a day,” Naruto declares from where he’s sitting in the corner. “Let’s go home.”
Sasuke checks the time, and shakes his head. “Those kids are still waiting for me,” he says.
“I’ll come with you, then,” Naruto says cheerily. When Sasuke scowls at him, he shrugs. “Least I can do for making you deal with Karin.”
He has a feeling this is a bad idea, but Sasuke just nods and lets Naruto – still wearing the Hokage robe, much to Sasuke’s amusement – tag along to where Sasuke left Team 2 waiting about an hour and a half ago. They’re obedient enough, sitting there waiting. It’s interesting to see what they’ve spent their time with – Kyoko is leading Twitchy through several hand seals, while the sloppy brunet pulled a book out of somewhere and is holding it, but watching the other two. Sasuke scowls. Teamwork is definitely not going to be a problem.
Sasuke makes a point of stopping in a huge crash of water in front of the dock. Kyoko and Twitchy shriek, but the quiet one – Ren, he thinks – actually pulls out a kunai, like he needs to defend himself from getting wet. Naruto chose to sit down behind them on the grassy hill, stretched out and obviously getting some sort of schadenfreude from watching Sasuke be forced to be a teacher. He’s also concealed his chakra. Sasuke admits that he’s looking forward to when one of the children notices the Hokage is lounging around behind them.
“We waited!” Kyoko says proudly, not bothered in the least by how completely drenched she is. “Is everything okay?”
“It will be,” Sasuke says smoothly, stepping onto the dock, completely dry. Ren is looking desolate over his waterlogged book and Twitchy is trying to shake water out of his hair. “Before we get to the test, tell me what you’re best at.”
“Taijutsu!” Kyoko says, first to speak as ever. Sasuke nods – he’d expected as much. She may be tiny, but she has the eyes of a true brawler. “And doujutsu, when I get my sharingan.” Sasuke’s not so sure about that part, but he nods anyway.
“Traps,” Ren says simply. When Sasuke raises an eyebrow, he frowns. “It is! I’m not done learning genjutsu and my ninjutsu’s not the best, but my henge is great and I know a lot about plants and trapping monsters.”
Monsters, Sasuke reminds himself. These kids don’t even know war exists.
Twitchy, who Sasuke really needs to start calling Haru, shrugs. “I don’t really know. I’ve never really had any problems with doing anything in the Academy, though, so I guess a little of everything?”
Sasuke sighs, and decides that he really doesn’t want to deal with this today. Still, they waited for him, and that deserves at least some effort on his part. “I want an essay of no less than two hundred words on your motivation, and another two hundred on your strengths and weaknesses for tomorrow morning,” Sasuke says.
Naruto snickers from where he’s lounging. It makes all three of his students jump, and then gape at their Hokage just hanging around. “That’s not the usual kind of test for genin teams, bastard.”
“They’re my team, I can do what I want,” Sasuke says. “I don’t want to take idiots into a fight with me, I’ve done that enough just dealing with you.”
“Wow,” Kyoko says. “I can see why you guys have won Most Dangerous Couple two years in a row.”
Of course that would be a thing here.
“The Hokage and I have things to attend to, so we’ll meet back here tomorrow morning, at eight,” Sasuke says.
“Eight?” Naruto says.
Sasuke rolls his eyes. “Fine, make it nine. Just be here with your essay ready,” he says, and walks over to collect Naruto before walking back into Konoha. “It’s not like you gave me time to think of an actual test for them. We were tested on teamwork, but that’s not looking like it’ll be an actual problem with them.”
“Then why are you testing them?” Naruto asks. “Just call them good and start training them.”
“I need to talk to Kakashi,” Sasuke says.
Naruto laughs. “Is he really the guy to ask for advice?”
“Probably not,” Sasuke agrees, but doesn’t change his mind. All things considered, he did a pretty good job. It’s not Kakashi’s fault he got stuck with them for students. “Where do you think he is?”
“Try his house,” Naruto says, and smiles at him. “I’ll go get us a new table. See you around dinner?”
Sasuke nods, and Naruto gives him one of those quick happy kisses before walking off, greeting people left and right. He wonders how long it takes the man to get anywhere on the street. Sasuke, on the other hand, has no idea where Kakashi’s house is – he only had an apartment from what Sasuke remembers – so he follows his old teacher’s chakra to the best of his ability.
It’s a nice house, two levels with a small garden in the back. It looks as anti-Kakashi as Sasuke can imagine, practically glowing warmth and comfort. He knocks on the door, since it’s the polite thing to do, and wishes he was surprised that Rin is the one who answers the door. He can see Obito’s head peering through a doorway further into the house, too.
“Sasuke! Are you here to see Kakashi, then?” Rin asks. When he nods, Rin turns her head into the house and shouts for the other man. Sasuke can hear a vague whine in the house, but Rin just turns to smile at Sasuke again, opening the door and obviously expecting Sasuke to follow her inside. “He’ll be right down. Want some tea? I just brewed some oolong.”
“Thank you,” Sasuke says, and sits down at the kitchen table she leads him to. Rin is very nice. He can vaguely see the appeal. Vaguely. Obito makes a little more sense to him, but since Sasuke just gets a queasy sense of déjà-vu when he looks at the dead man, he hasn’t spent much time observing him. Mostly, he seems like an older, calmer, less interesting Uchiha version of Naruto.
When Kakashi finally makes it into the kitchen, Sasuke is politely sipping Rin’s tea and making small talk about the weather and the Academy graduation. “I got stuck with a genin team,” he says.
Kakashi laughs at him.
“Are you really expecting advice?” Kakashi asks, sitting in the opposite chair as Rin politely leaves them alone. “From me?”
“You’re a better choice than my other mentor,” Sasuke says.
Kakashi winces. “True.” He watches Sasuke drink his tea. “I have to admit, I didn’t think this would be your choice.”
Sasuke frowns. “What do you mean?”
Kakashi tenses, leaning forward and staring intently into Sasuke’s eyes. “Did you start taking Ablexia again?”
“No,” Sasuke says, and finally, finally his brain catches on what Kakashi is talking about.
Fuck, he’d practically forgotten this was all wrong. He’s not even angry about it anymore. More than anything he’s frustrated, although whether it’s about the fact this isn’t real or that he’s been going along with it so easily Sasuke can’t tell. He’s been so busy being stupidly mindlessly happy that anything more concerning than broken tables and clingy Karins had vanished.
He takes a deep breath, and rests his hands over his face. “Fuck. No, I didn’t.”
Sasuke realizes that his genin team might be made entirely of dead children. Uchiha Kyoko might be nothing but a figment of his imagination.
“It’s easy to get lost in it,” Kakashi says calmly. “Maybe I shouldn’t have reminded you.”
“No, I need to remember,” he says, far more harshly than he intended. Sasuke remembers again how Naruto had said that something felt wrong. The monsters ninja fight in this world are, at their core, nothing but pain. The moon has become a giant red eyeball enslaving the entire world in a fantasy world. He takes a deep breath. “I need to release the genjutsu.”
Kakashi doesn’t say a word.
“It’s perfect here,” Sasuke says, repeating Naruto’s words over and over in his head. They get jumbled, though, something missing even though I have everything I could ever want mixing with as if I’m ever going to find someone else who makes me feel like you do and a thousand other beautiful things, and Sasuke grits his teeth. He clenches his hands into fists so tightly that he can feel his fingernails cut into the skin of his palm. “It’s perfect and wrong and if I don’t find some way to release this genjutsu in the next few days, I know I’ll be lost and never get out. It has to be now, before it’s too late and we’re all doomed to a lie for the rest of time.”
Sasuke notices for the first time that there’s a book of baby names sitting on the kitchen counter, smudges of flour decorating the paper cover.
“You don’t have to-”
“I do,” Kakashi says, and smiles. “After all, we’re saving the world.”
Sasuke nods, and feels like he’s going to be sick.
When he gets home, Naruto is waiting to show off the new wooden table, which looks almost exactly like the old one. Sasuke ignores it. He watches Naruto’s proud smile fade into concern, and Sasuke steps forward, gathers Naruto into a hug that the blond immediately reciprocates, holding Sasuke just as tightly.
“What’s wrong?” Naruto asks.
“I hate doing the right thing,” Sasuke says quietly, and Naruto is perfect here, so he doesn’t get more than a finger’s distance away for the rest of the night. They go to bed tired and desperate, and Sasuke doesn’t dare look out the window. The night here is tinged with red.
There’s not supposed to be any hate here.
He wonders what it is that’s eating a hole in his heart, then.
Sasuke wakes up before Naruto. He wakes up when Sasuke gets out of bed, but falls right back asleep after Sasuke kisses him and mutters some nonsense at him. He takes a shower, dresses, arms himself, and is out of the apartment before the sun is even up. He goes to what used to be the graveyard and is now a fanatical maniac’s tribute to lies, sits on the top of the massive stone that repeats world of truth over and over again, and watches the sun rise. The sharingan moon has yet to set even once while Sasuke has been fully aware. He doesn’t have to be an astronomer to know that’s unnatural.
Naruto finds him, and looks haggard when he looks up at Sasuke. He has his Hokage robe on, and his necklace on again. They’d compromised with Sasuke giving the necklace back while Naruto makes him keep the irregular kunai on his person at all times.
“You’re acting weird again,” Naruto shouts up at him.
“I know,” Sasuke says, not the least bit repentant. Naruto makes a frustrated noise. He looks like he’s fighting the impulse to start shouting at Sasuke. He takes pity on the idiot, and says, “Calm the fuck down, loser, I’m just thinking. Some people actually do that.”
“Oh,” Naruto says. He’s already calmed down, already accepting Sasuke’s explanation. “You figure out a test for your genin team?”
“I did,” Sasuke says. It’s a terrible test for a world where the only thing they have to worry about is protecting civilians from monsters, but he wants to know how the children would do in the real world. If some part of them is real, he’d like to see that sliver of truth in action at least once. “And I’ll be working plans out with Kakashi tonight, so I probably won’t be around for dinner.”
“Did I hear that right?” Naruto asks. “Was that actually optimism about your genin team passing your test?”
“Don’t get used to it,” Sasuke says, and figures it’s as good a time as any to head to the dock and wait for the kids to get there. It gives him more time to puzzle things out, too.
If Kyuubi got in, and Sasuke’s memory came back after he intentionally forgot, then something must be going wrong. The genjutsu is weakening, and he has to act fast before it strengthens again.
He drops down from the enormous rock and stops to give Naruto a small kiss, because he can, before making his way to the lake. It’s more of a pond, really, but in his mind it’s been a lake since he was six years old learning to blow fire with his brother.
It’s barely 8 when he gets there.
All three of his students are waiting, paper in hand.
Sasuke just holds out a hand, and the three genin quickly hand their essays over. Quiet, messy Ren’s is handwritten. He’s pretty sure Ren is real. He’s probably just not an orphan here. Kyoko and Haru turn in typewritten pages. Kyoko obviously isn’t a real Uchiha, if she even is real. Haru, he can’t even begin to guess.
The three watch him slowly dissect their essays, shuffling awkwardly and uncertain of what they’re meant to be doing.
It’s Kyoko his mind sticks on. Kyoko the impossible Uchiha. Sasuke has never heard of half the family members she rambles on about in her essay – family is obviously very important to her. The only one he knows is Uncle Obito, which is strange for some reason. No mention of Kakashi or Rin, though. Just Uncle Obito.
He reads Ren’s essay and becomes even more certain the boy is real and only has an altered life in the genjutsu. Haru’s is just confusing, like he’s not sure where half of his brain went but is desperately trying to find it. Sasuke wonders if this might actually be something to have Sakura look at. It’s a fifty-fifty chance that Haru and his twin sister are just a figment of someone’s imagination, but he still feels responsible for it.
Only Uncle Obito, Sasuke’s mind catches on, again and again.
He nearly drops the pages when he realizes. If Kyoko isn’t real, then someone must remember her. Someone grieves her. Nobody living knows Kyoko.
Unless Obito is actually alive.
He thinks back to the conversations with Kakashi, always saying there’s two casters but only one could possibly be problematic. Sasuke doesn’t remember the hows and whys of the genjutsu for some reason – actually, he’s not sure he was even there when it was cast – but he does know that if there’s two parties involved, removing one probably nullifies the genjutsu completely.
Sasuke changes his genin’s test.
“Your test is to get Uchiha Obito right here, and dump him in the water,” Sasuke says. “Kyoko is only allowed to touch his back – no communication whatsoever. Only Haru can speak to him, but he can’t touch him. Ren can’t speak or touch his back, but everything else is fine. You have two hours.”
Kyoko and Ren gape at him. Haru looks like he’s going to be sick.
“You have two hours, or you fail and go back to the Academy for another year,” Sasuke repeats.
The three run off immediately, and Sasuke is polite enough to go ahead of his students. Kyoko might know where they live, but three twelve year olds running through the streets aren’t exactly going to beat him as he bounds across rooftops.
Kakashi is waiting for him, because originally, Kakashi was the target. “Change of plans,” Sasuke says. “I decided it was too easy if their target knew they were coming. I thought about making it Naruto, but he’s too high-profile, so it’s Obito now.”
Kakashi laughs. “I look forward to seeing that.”
“Kyoko looked like she was going to punch me when I said she couldn’t talk to her uncle,” Sasuke says. “I don’t know him that well, but he seems like a good sport.”
“He is,” Kakashi agrees, and sobers. “I was planning to stop by the wisps and see if there’s any new information we could use.”
“You never told me who the genjutsu casters are,” Sasuke points out. “Who are we hunting down?”
“The only one we really need to worry about is Madara,” Kakashi says.
Sasuke stares at him.
“Now you know why I had trouble,” Kakashi says. “And no, not the masked man who was going around claiming the name. He’s taken care of. The actual Madara was resurrected and wants to destroy the world, more or less.”
Sasuke sighs. “At least that’s a starting point,” he says, and can feel his students’ chakra approaching. He knows Kakashi can sense it too, so Sasuke just nods and hides himself to watch his students’ attempt.
They knock on the door, and Kakashi answers. Haru asks where Obito is. Kakashi goes from impossibly vague to so precise it’s absolutely no help. It takes them a few minutes to realize they’re only disallowed to speak to Obito, so (surprisingly) Ren asks with pin-point accuracy where Obito is located in relation to the front door of the house they are in front of which Obito, Kakashi, and Rin currently live in. Kakashi asks why he wants to know.
Kyoko has to be held back from hitting him. Haru actually thinks to bribe him. It works immediately.
They have Obito halfway there when there’s a flurry of orange and white to Sasuke’s left. “How are they doing?”
“They have an hour to get Obito to jump into a lake,” Sasuke says. “Even if they don’t manage it, they’ve already improved significantly.”
“Mostly thanks to me,” Kakashi comments. Sasuke concedes the point with a nod – Kakashi is an excellent irritating gatekeeper. It was good to see the genin think their way around how to get information beyond just directly asking.
This is the part Sasuke is nervous about. He’d taken a quick moment earlier in their test to ask Naruto to get Kakashi somewhere far away and keep him there for a couple of hours. Naruto agreed, but subterfuge isn’t exactly the moron’s strong suit.
“Thought they’d be done by now. I was gonna ask you to come with me to check on what’s left of Kyuubi’s rampaging grounds, but you’re busy,” Naruto says. “There’s been another attack, even though we know the damn thing is taken care of.”
Sasuke frowns. “If it’s not Kyuubi, what is it?”
“Hell if I know,” Naruto says, and shrugs. “Still, if it’s the damn fox again, I do not want to deal with it alone. The thing went crazy when it saw me. I wanted to be there and back before my meeting at two, but-”
“I’ll go with you,” Kakashi offers.
Naruto shakes his head. “You’re busy. I’ll ask-”
“Go with him,” Sasuke says. He’s worried that this really is a genuine threat to Naruto. He’s also worried that Kyuubi showing up might not have just been from the genjutsu weakening. Sasuke glances over at Kakashi, and the other man nods, obviously understanding Sasuke’s concern. “I’ll make sure they don’t accidentally kill your husband.”
“Likewise,” Kakashi says, something like startled happiness in the word, like he didn’t think Sasuke would understand or be okay with his unconventional…thing. Naruto gives Sasuke a quick kiss, grins, and the two are off across the rooftops of Konoha.
Sasuke believes in life-long learning. He’s grateful for that, since if he hadn’t spent so much time reading obscure ninjutsu scrolls and seal techniques this plan wouldn’t work at all. He watches his team successfully get Obito to the lake, successfully get him to look out at the water from the very edge of the dock.
Kyoko won’t push him in. Haru can’t convince him to jump in, and no matter how hard Ren tugs at his arm or pushes at his shoulder it’s not going to be enough to push a jounin-level shinobi into a lake. They’re still stuck at the final hurdle when time runs out, and Sasuke shifts out of the shadows to call time. The kids look fucking heartbroken, and Obito looks confused but like he is having a stupidly good time toying with the genin.
“Thank you for your cooperation,” Sasuke says, and turns to his genin team. “You failed to accomplish your objective.”
“I’m so sorry,” Kyoko says, quiet and small, and it just sounds so wrong coming from her. Sasuke isn’t stupid enough to think the apology is directed at him. “I just couldn’t push Uncle Obito, he obviously didn’t want to go in the water.”
“I said you failed to accomplish your objective, not that you failed the test,” Sasuke says.
He sees the light come back into his students’ eyes, sees the excitement and hope growing in them, and Sasuke knows it’s now or never. He will be completely lost if he lets himself get attached to these children and he will never want to get out.
Sasuke doesn’t hesitate. He rushes the genin and picks all three of them up, tossing them out of the area like they’re nothing but feather pillows. They shriek, but Sasuke knows they’ll survive. If they’d survive the fight Sasuke’s about to start is another matter entirely.
It’s only a matter of six hand seals to swallow Sasuke and Obito in a massive dome of electrified wire– nothing’s getting in or out until Sasuke dies or runs out of chakra. Not even Karin could read the chakra of whatever is happening inside.
He draws Kusanagi, but doesn’t raise it. Not yet. “Release the genjutsu.”
Obito stares at him through his stupid goggles like Sasuke has gone insane. Considering he (supposedly) doesn’t remember this is all an illusion, it’s justifiable. “I’m not doing anything!”
Sasuke makes a frustrated noise. He should have asked Sakura more questions about the Ablexia, namely if it has a fast-working antidote. Fuck, he can’t take this guy seriously when he’s wearing those goggles. Obito is technically a jounin, but Sasuke is fully aware that he and Naruto are on an entirely different mountain-destroying level. He moves forward and rips the goggles off Obito’s eyes.
And then he starts to cry. He falls to kneel on the dock, covers his face with his hands, and sobs.
What the fuck is wrong with this man? His opinion of Kakashi is dropping by the second.
“Obito,” Sasuke says.
“Give them back,” Obito says. His voice is rough and angry.
It only takes Sasuke a moment to actually understand it. The genjutsu is technically cast by the moon. Ablexia is used for doujutsu-users who are having eye problems, predominately irritation with the cones in the undeniably irregular visual cortex. It’s a pill that helps doujutsu-users’ minds filter specific wavelengths.
Goggles filter wavelengths too.
“You remember now,” Sasuke says.
“Please,” Obito begs. “Please, I just want to be happy, aren’t you happy here?”
“I’m trapped in a lie. Everyone is trapped in a lie. How can I really be happy here?” Sasuke demands. The man obviously can’t even fight him, he’s so crippled by reality suddenly slamming back into him.
“If you didn’t know there’s anything wrong, you wouldn’t feel that way,” Obito says.
“Naruto feels this way,” Sasuke says. “I’m betting a lot of people feel this way. They just ignore that feeling because it’s easier.”
“What’s wrong with easy?” Obito snaps, and curls even further in on himself. “How could you not be happy with paradise?”
“It’s not paradise, it’s falling apart,” Sasuke says. “People’s dissatisfaction is making screaming ghosts that turn into rampaging monsters. That is not paradise, Obito.”
Sasuke ends up pacing the dock, feeling like a caged tiger doing its best to not savage a baby someone tossed in with him. He doesn’t have the answers needed for this conversation. He doesn’t have the surety, the belief that he is absolutely doing the right thing. This is the part Naruto is good at, not him. Sasuke isn’t the one with heart.
He takes a deep breath, and carefully, carefully sheathes Kusanagi. And then he kneels in front of Obito.
He may not be certain about wanting to destroy the peace and laughter he can hear beyond the invisible dome, might not be certain about even wanting to fight it, but there is one thing Sasuke will never, ever doubt.
“I’m in love with my best friend,” Sasuke says.
Obito lets out a harsh laugh, and Sasuke doesn’t doubt the empathy there. He doesn’t know the whole Kakashi-and-Rin-and-Obito situation, and he’s not sure he wants to, but it’s even ground for this conversation. Sasuke pulls Obito’s hands away from his face as gently as possible. What used to be a perfectly normal face is now a massive disfigured scar on one side. Sasuke doesn’t even blink at the change.
“I’m in love with my best friend,” Sasuke repeats, “and he loves me too here. But I don’t know if it’s real. I don’t know if he would ever love me this completely, ever want me like this, if your genjutsu wasn’t fucking with everyone.” He takes a deep breath. “And I would rather have a single chance to confess to him than fifty years of fake bliss here.”
Obito’s tears have almost dried up by now, but he still looks torn apart in so many more ways than the physical. “Rin’s dead.”
“Kakashi’s alive,” Sasuke counters. “And he thought you were both dead for years. It would hurt without Rin, but you’d have each other to get through it.”
Hate rules Sasuke, but it’s grief that has wrapped around Kakashi and refuses to let go.
Obito shakes his head, like if he moves his head fast enough it’ll make the whole encounter nothing but a bad dream. “And here, he can’t die, nobody can die. We’re all together here and it’s easy-”
“Easy doesn’t mean good,” Sasuke snaps. “Easy doesn’t mean true. Kakashi is happy here, but imagine how much happier he would be if you were together in reality.”
“I wouldn’t be happier,” Obito says.
At that, Sasuke can’t help but punch the fucking idiot in the face. He punches Obito so hard he goes flying onto his back, cracking the wood beneath him.
“If he isn’t a higher priority than your own fucking cowardice, you don’t deserve to even know his name, let alone claim you love him,” Sasuke shouts. “Love is sacrifice, you son of a bitch, not playing pretend in some fantasy world! It’s supposed to hurt! It’s supposed to be hard! That’s how you show you love him and you show him you are committed to making him the happiest fucking idiot on the planet!”
Obito is outright staring at him, like Sasuke is death itself looming above him. Sasuke grabs him by the collar and pulls him up to stare him straight in the eye.
“I have done shit to Naruto that you would not believe. I have punched a hand through his chest. I have tried to murder his friends. I have pushed him away again and again as he hunts me down just because he fucking believes in me, and he wants reality. If I can only do one thing for that moron, even if it kills me, I am going to make you release this genjutsu.”
Obito swallows down what Sasuke hopes is his cowardice. “And you want to go back to a world where he’ll know all of that happened?”
“I want to apologize,” Sasuke says, as calmly as he can manage. He’s shaking now, shaking and furious and terrified but he hasn’t felt this steel core of determination inside of him since he nearly died for Naruto when they were thirteen. “I want to beg for his forgiveness and make him ramen at four in the morning and watch him achieve everything you just decided to give him here. I want to stare Konoha in the eye and make them see how bloodstained they really are. But most of all, what I want is to live in a world of truth.”
Obito is crying again, but it’s gentle tears now. There’s no sobbing. There’s pain, certainly, but there’s no rage or denial. He understands.
“Madara isn’t here,” Sasuke says.
Obito is obviously confused.
He sighs. “Obito, can you think of a single living person in the entire world who would want Uchiha Madara to be here?” When he sees Obito’s eyes widen, Sasuke nods. “You’re all that’s holding this together.”
“I’m the only cause now,” Obito says, and Sasuke doesn’t like the moment of horror that crosses his face. “It’s all up to me.”
This isn’t good – he doesn’t want Obito to turn into a nervous, guilty wreck. Sasuke only just managed to make him stop sobbing. He squeezes Obito’s shoulders and says, “No, it isn’t.”
He takes Obito’s hands, and moves palms and fingers and wrists expertly until it only takes one word for Obito to release the world from his personal fairytale land.
“You can be happy in reality too,” Sasuke says quietly. “It’s more difficult, but now that Kakashi knows you’re alive, you’ll find happiness. I promise.”
Obito nods, and takes a deep, shuddering breath.
Outside his chakra dome, he can see Naruto is standing with Kakashi, both of them desperately trying to get through the barrier. His students are there too, scared out of their minds. Rin is bent at the waist, crying, and Naruto’s parents are rushing forward to try and help their frantic son.
He sees Itachi, then. Itachi smiling and happy, with a two year old son on his shoulders. Sasuke has a nephew. He wonders what his name is.
Naruto is screaming at the barrier. Sasuke doesn’t dare read his lips.
“Do it,” Sasuke says, feeling hollow.
Obito can’t see, though. All he sees is water and wood and grass and a beautiful sky.
Obito closes his eyes, and chokes out, “Release.”
Sasuke wakes up sixteen and alone in a barren cave.
He vomits, but doesn’t cry.
It takes a week for Sasuke to finally leave the cave and surrounding areas. He’s been hunting through the mountains the cave is located in, and the game is good, but he refuses to live a life without at least occasional access to plumbing. The nearest town is a small village that is thrilled to see Sasuke and his money. They don’t ask any questions. He pays to use a spare room in the mayor’s house, politely informs him there’s double the payment if the man lets him use up his water supply for the entire week in the bathtub, and isn’t surprised that the man agrees.
Sasuke showers, and then he takes a bath, and then he showers again. He still feels dirty. He’s rubbed his skin from pink to red and ends up washing the tub when he finally gets out. The mayor tries to give him some money back for that, but Sasuke is too tired to deal with that. He just walks past the man and crashes in the bedroom and hates that he thinks the bed smells wrong, hates that his hands are restless and looking for something that isn’t there.
Since Sasuke wouldn’t take the money back, the mayor and his daughter have a massive breakfast waiting for him. He wakes up late into the afternoon, but the food is somehow still warm.
The mayor takes a long look at him and asks if they can do anything to help him.
Sasuke asks how to get to Konoha, and then has to ask how to get to the Land of Fire, and Sasuke heads the opposite direction.
Nobody seems to remember Obito’s fantasy world. Sasuke only remembers about a week of it. He wonders how much of it Obito remembers, let alone Kakashi. Sometimes he lets himself wonder about if Naruto remembers, but he isn’t stupid enough to let himself dwell on it. When Sasuke runs out of money, he does the sort of work a wandering shinobi can get. He doesn’t call himself a missing-nin and for some reason nobody assumes he is one.
“You’re lost, not missing,” one woman says with a surety that Sasuke finds strangely unsettling. She pays him far too much for helping her remove rowdy patrons for a week, and doesn’t let him leave before he tells her where he’s from.
Sasuke could easily evade her, even more easily take her out and just walk over her body. “Konoha,” he answers instead.
“Why aren’t you going back?” she asks him.
Sasuke doesn’t have an answer for that. All the hate and rage that had been guiding him for so many years is gone now, and its left a hole in him. It’s slowly filling with self-loathing and guilt, but every person he meets seems to be glad to have met him, everyone he helps is too kind and too grateful. All that means is that there’s still emptiness inside of him, but it’s not filled with poison. Not yet.
The woman nods. “How long would it take you to get home from here?” Before Sasuke can answer, she holds up a hand and specifies, “walking, not whatever you shinobi consider travel.”
Walking, like a civilian. It makes Sasuke’s lips quirk. “Probably three months. It depends how slow I walk,” he answers.
“Sounds like enough time to find some answers,” the woman says bluntly. “You can always take the even more scenic route, if you think you need to.” She gives him a considering look. “I can’t imagine you did anything unforgivable.”
“You’d be surprised,” Sasuke says, but he listens to her advice. He sleeps in a bedroom above the bar one last time, and in the morning he starts back the way he came. Every town he’s already passed through greets him like an old friend, and somehow word has gone ahead of him every time. They all expect him when he arrives. Only half of the villages will take his money. He hadn’t realized how long he’d been walking away from Konoha, not really. It takes him a month of walking just to get back to that first village.
They’re so fucking nice to him that it almost physically hurts. He ends up crying in their bathtub, hands slapped over his mouth in an act of desperation to stay silent, and he has no idea why he’s crying. Sasuke hasn’t cried in a very, very long time.
Somewhere along the road, he turns seventeen. He tries to cut his own hair with a kunai before he reaches the Land of Fire, and it looks terrible. Sasuke hasn’t intentionally looked in a mirror for months, but even glancing into ponds is enough for him to know. He thinks about getting to Konoha and looking like shit and decides that he’d rather suck it up and finally look at his own reflection.
He ends up getting a haircut. It’s done by a professional and it looks fantastic and costs more than he’s spent in one place for probably an entire year.
The villages are turning into towns, and the pay is better for the kind of work Sasuke can do. He starts to get more looks, too. They aren’t suspicious, but they notice him a lot more than the previous villages.
He buys new clothes about three weeks of walking away from Konoha. The tailor doesn’t bat an eyelash when Sasuke carefully adds the Uchiha fan to the back of the shirt.
There are signs of a war, but there have been signs of an old war everywhere he’s gone. More important is that the signs of war are already covered with rebuilding. The war is over, and Sasuke has never seen people so friendly and happy when they’re standing next to the burnt-out remains of their old house.
He’s a week away from Konoha when he starts to freak out. Sasuke recognizes all the places he passes, knows the landmarks. He knows it’s barely a day’s journey from here to Konoha if he was traveling normally instead of taking the slow path. He thinks about slowing down even more, maybe. He thinks about just blasting through the rest of the way to get it over with.
Sasuke is three days away when he gets company. He is camped out a safe distance from the road. Nobody has bothered him yet, which he knows means that someone is bothering someone else. They know he’s coming. Naruto probably just managed to scream at Konoha long enough that they’ll let him slip through the gates.
His company appears in a whirl of empty space, a spiral of impossibility, and Sasuke wishes he didn’t have to deal with Uchiha Obito before the rest of them.
Then again, it’s probably better this way. Easier clean-up if they fight.
Sasuke remembers all the evil, manipulative things this man did to him. But he also remembers a sobbing coward begging to keep living a lie, and the fact that the coward finally did the right thing in the end.
Or at least did what Sasuke told him to. Whether or not it was the right thing, he’ll probably never know.
“I wanted to thank you,” Obito says, awkward but sincere. “I mean…you said what I needed to hear. You helped me realize what was important and how completely I’d been manipulated.”
Sasuke sighs, and wonders if he can really do this. “The feeling’s mutual,” he says.
“You need to know that I took Madara out, he’s not going to come back ever again,” Obito says firmly. “And Naruto-”
“Don’t,” Sasuke says, and Obito stops speaking immediately.
They’re quiet for a very long time.
“I’d like to walk with you the rest of the way,” Obito says quietly, with a small, honest smile.
Sasuke just nods, and figures now is as good as any to try and get some sleep. It’s easier with Obito there, oddly enough.
When he wakes up, he’s going to reach Konoha the next day.
Obito does talk occasionally, mostly about misadventures he had with Rin and Kakashi when they were young. He’s moving on, but Sasuke can tell Obito is still more than a little bit broken. There’s progress there, though.
“Was Uchiha Kyoko real?” Sasuke asks him.
“She’s real, but not an Uchiha,” Obito answers. “She’s an orphan. Her real name is Nozuka Kyoko.”
Sasuke snaps for some reason, turns and glares at Obito, and when that doesn’t feel like enough he pushes the man, makes Obito take a step back. “Why are you walking with me? Why did you think this was a good idea?”
Obito laughs, and smiles awkwardly. “Well, you brought me home, so I figured I could return the favor.”
Sasuke ends up shuddering, stepping backwards and then forwards and then back again. He doesn’t know which way he wants to go.
“It’s supposed to hurt,” Obito says quietly. Sasuke stops moving, still panting and finding it hard to breathe for no reason at all. He doesn’t know what to do and he doesn’t know why he doesn’t know. “Uchiha Sasuke, if you don’t finish this journey I am going to drag you through those gates myself.”
“Fuck off,” Sasuke snaps.
“He is waiting for you!” Obito actually shouts at him, and Sasuke stares at the other man. “He has been waiting and waiting and blindly trusting you’re going to come back. For the past two weeks he’s spent all of his free time standing at the gate-”
“Shut up,” Sasuke says.
“-and he’s probably still standing there-”
“Shut up!” Sasuke shouts, loud enough that he hears birds rush away in the trees, loud enough that the rest of the forest obeys him even if Obito doesn’t seem to care. He rushes forward to slap a hand across Obito’s mouth, panting. “Shut up, stop talking, I don’t want to know that.”
Obito, it turns out, is impossibly strong. He plucks Sasuke’s hand from his mouth like a tissue instead of a limb being pressed against him with the unnatural strength of an S-rank shinobi behind it. He doesn’t say anything, though. The forest is deathly silent.
Sasuke breathes, calming himself down to the best of his ability, and walks towards Konoha. Obito trails behind him like a scarred supportive shadow. Sasuke wonders if this is how Naruto ended up with Gaara, and if so, how to make it go away.
The sun sets, and Sasuke keeps walking.
“We should stop and make camp,” Obito says.
Konoha’s walls are enormous. He’d forgotten how large they are, glinting huge and white in the moonlight. He can see them now.
“You’re welcome to,” Sasuke says, and doesn’t stop. He feels like he couldn’t stop even if he wanted to. He had his chance to run, and it’s past. It’s supposed to hurt. It’s supposed to be hard. He doesn’t want the easy way out. He is going to make it to Konoha, and he is going to make it through those gates, and he is going do what he’d promised himself he’d do almost a year ago.
Obito doesn’t speak again. It takes Sasuke another three hours of walking to realize the other man isn’t even there anymore. It’s not abandonment. He doesn’t need someone pushing him forward anymore. It means Obito believes he can make it on his own.
Sasuke sees the gate when the sky becomes the darkest blue of that time when night isn’t quite over and the sun hasn’t yet risen. The world is cast in dark grays and strange moon shadows, ethereal, like he’s walking in an impossible landscape. It keeps a thousand memories of going in and out of the gate at bay.
There’s a figure sitting in the middle of the gate, waiting.
Something clenches in Sasuke, and he ignores it, and puts one foot in front of the other. He’s tired in a way that has nothing to do with exhaustion, and he’s so close to being able to rest. He wants to run, and he wants to stop and take deep gulping breaths, and he wants to give up and turn and go the other way. But he walks, and sees the orange and black the figure is wearing. There are differences to when he was fifteen and sixteen, and differences to when he was eighteen or nineteen.
Naruto waits patiently, and doesn’t rise from where he’s planted himself in the dirt like a five year old waiting for storytime to start. His eyes are just as blue as Sasuke remembers.
He stops walking when he’s in front of Naruto, standing in front of the seated figure looking up at him like he’s the most fascinating thing Naruto has ever seen.
Sasuke takes a deep breath, and kneels in front of him. They’re more or less at eye level. Good.
“I’m sorry,” Sasuke says quietly.
“You don’t have to be,” Naruto says, and he means it. He always means what he says.
“No, I don’t,” Sasuke says. “But I’m sorry anyway. I should never have-”
“Hey, don’t start that,” Naruto says, frowning. “You had your reasons. You always do. I might think they’re really stupid sometimes but that doesn’t make them-”
“I’m sorry, and I’m in love with you,” Sasuke says, because he has to. He doesn’t dare step foot through this gate without having said it.
Naruto doesn’t look surprised, or uncomfortable, or confused. He looks like he could die happy right here and now. Naruto reaches out carefully, slowly, and pulls Sasuke forward just enough to lean over the line. It’s Naruto’s turn to lean forward, then, and this time he doesn’t hesitate for a moment. He tilts his head to the side and kisses Sasuke tenderly, like pressing his lips to Sasuke’s is the most important thing in the whole of creation and he has to savor every second of it. Sasuke’s eyes slide shut and he wraps his arms around Naruto’s neck, and smiles, because he can.
Naruto doesn’t pull away. He slides his mouth to the side, pressing his cheek against Sasuke’s own, and hugs Sasuke so tightly it hurts a little. If Sasuke feels warm tears on his cheek, he isn’t going to say anything, just like Naruto isn’t saying anything about the way Sasuke is shaking in his arms, a hand buried in Naruto’s hair as he squeezes his eyes shut and tries to breathe. Sasuke doesn’t know if he’s rocking Naruto back and forth or Naruto is rocking him and he doesn’t care.
“Will you stay?” Naruto blurts out. “Are you really going to be okay here?”
Sasuke sighs. It sounds more like another shuddering breath than anything else. “Yes, moron, I’m staying. For good, if they’ll let me.”
“Of course they’ll let you, you’re amazing,” Naruto says immediately.
“Seriously, you rehabilitated Obito when he and Madara were about five seconds away from destroying the world, I think that’s a pretty good step towards redemption in the eyes of these brainless council members,” Naruto says. Sasuke can feel his smile against his skin.
This is real. He’s not dreaming, and this is real.
“I’m in love with you too, Uchiha Sasuke,” Naruto whispers into his ear, like it’s something he never wants anyone else to ever hear, and Sasuke has to kiss him then. He pushes Naruto all the way through the gate, following Naruto’s awkward squawk of surprise down and kissing him until he has to break away or run the risk of suffocating. Naruto laughs. “You still like that, huh?”
Sasuke pulls back slightly to stare at him. He’s sprawled in the dirt and is the happiest, most smug moron the world has ever seen despite the fact he’s going to have a massive amount of grime to wash out of his hair. “You remember?”
“Some of it,” Naruto says, and Sasuke notices they’re holding hands. “I remember everything after Kyuubi. Enough to know what you did.” Pain clenches in Sasuke’s chest, but Naruto stops it with nothing but a smile. “Thanks for saving the world.”
“That was a one time thing,” Sasuke says, and finally decides to stand. He pulls Naruto up with him, never once letting go of his hand. “You’re in charge of beating sanity into people, not me.”
“Oh hey, did you know we won Most Dangerous Couple, like, twice in the fucked up genjutsu world?” Naruto asks.
He does. “Not exactly surprised,” Sasuke says, and follows when Naruto starts moving through the gate. It’s as deep as the wall of Konoha, strong and safe.
Sasuke notices the sun is finally rising.
He barely realizes when he officially hits the grounds of Konoha. The village is still being rebuilt, but there’s life even at this hour, and it’s obvious that the inhabitants are determined to make a town even better than the last. Progress, Sasuke thinks.
“Hey, Sasuke,” Naruto says, and Sasuke realizes they’ve stopped moving. He looks at Naruto, sees him almost ecstatic smile, and Sasuke smiles back. “Ready?”
Sasuke frowns. “For what?”
It doesn’t dim Naruto’s smile in the slightest. Sasuke really wishes he could at least pretend to be annoyed right now. Naruto leans forward and kisses him, like he can transfer over all the extra giddiness about to overflow from him. Sasuke is pretty sure he’s too busy being full of gratitude and disbelief and something close to bliss to accept it even if he wanted to.
Naruto pulls away, smiling like the sunrise. “Welcome home.”