“How are you feeling?”
Naruto shifts nervously where he’s sitting and looks down, furrowing his brow. His clothes and hair are still mussed from bed. He's moving the fingers on his left hand, curling them and uncurling them over and over, while he stares at his right hand as if willing it to do the same thing. It doesn't. He looks up, seemingly unfazed.
“Good,” he manages, and that word is strong, at least. Sasuke nods. The blonde keeps going, more confident now. “I had…only one…um…” He trails off, eyes wide, clearly wanting help. Sasuke doesn’t know if he can’t ask, or if he’s still hanging onto that part of him that’s too proud to ask. He’s guessing it’s probably the latter.
“Dream?” the Uchiha finishes for him, and the blonde nods, grateful.
Naruto reaches forward, picks up his chopsticks, and stabs a piece of meat hidden in his ramen bowl. He brings it to his mouth easily, chews, and swallows. Five months ago it would have seemed like a given, but now it’s enough to fill Sasuke with warmth. Naruto’s getting better. He smiles at his one and only friend like it’s all normal. Like he’s not mentally celebrating how good the boy’s left hand coordination has gotten because his right hand still can barely change position.
“He’s still the same idiot kid,” Tsunade had told him. “His thoughts are perfect. It’s only his words that have changed.”
He’s still the old Naruto inside his head, and the old Naruto would probably threaten to kick his ass if he congratulated him on anything short of perfection. Anything short of besting every other person in the room, especially Sasuke,
“What was the dream about?” he asks instead.
“Itachi and, um…” The younger boy makes his good hand into a fist and mimes stabbing something into his left temple. Sasuke shudders slightly. “And dying and…and you. Same like…every…”
“Yeah, you dream that one a lot, don’t you?” he says, trying to keep his tone indifferent. His wild rage when his brother had managed to stab a kunai through Naruto’s skull had been witnessed by enough bystanders on the battlefield and in the hospital. He didn’t need it being seen through the windows of their home. People milled about on the street outside.
“Did you?” Naruto asks, and the concern on his face means he knows exactly what he’s trying to say and maybe Sasuke should just tell him. Maybe Naruto should know that he spent last night, and every other night, going over and over the last ten minutes of the fight in his head. And reimaging it that he got there in time and shoved the kunai into his big brother’s neck instead.
“No,” he answers easily, “No dreams. I’m fine.”
Naruto can probably tell he’s lying. He always used to tell Sasuke he was a shitty liar, meanwhile not being able to fib to save his own life. Still, he doesn’t press his teammate further, either because he doesn’t want to fight or he doesn’t want to talk any more than he has to. Likely the latter; Naruto always wants to fight. Sasuke feels despicable.
“The chunin exams are coming up soon,” he says to change the subject. “Looking forward to seeing candidates from other villages?”
“Kind of,” the jinchuriki answers slowly. “But the, um…when you talk with so many…”
“The announcements?” A nod. “I know. But Kakashi and Iruka are working on it. You shouldn’t have to explain too many rules.”
“Pretty sure,” the Uchiha tells him, and in his head he’s thinking that if he’s wrong, he’s going to personally tear Tsunade limb from limb. They had been informed they’d be monitoring the next set of exam nominees before this whole mess and Sasuke wouldn’t dare tell Naruto he had to sit out, but he wouldn’t let him be humiliated either. “They probably want them explained perfectly, you know? So there’s no misunderstandings.”
“Chunin leading, um...can’t talk,” Naruto noted as bitterly as he was able, flashing a set of fierce eyes across the table. Sasuke frowns. “Might scare.”
“You think genin that come will get scared to continue when they see you?” he asks, just making sure.
“I don’t think so.”
Naruto raises his eyebrows, a question. Seeing permanent injuries on older and higher ranking ninja’s was common, but they both knew ones with severe brain damage were rarely seen out and about.
“They’d be scared if it made you weak,but you’re still the second strongest person in the village after me.” He slides the jab in casually as if he’s just stating facts because he knows that’s the delivery that will raise Naruto’s hackles the most. But the blonde just snorts and casts a half-hearted scowl down at his near empty bowl. The injury had affected his appetite too, shockingly.
“No,” he says. “Not like, um…uh…” He frowns, clearly wanting to help but unsure what he’s trying to say. “Us,” he finally finishes.
“You’re not as strong alone as we are together?” Sasuke guesses, dropping all pretense of teasing him. This sentiment is not necessarily a new one in their relationship, but it’s one they don’t explore often. Too sensitive. They’re both too proud. Or were. “I mean, that’s true, but neither am I.”
“No, no.” Naruto shakes his head and makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat, looking for the word but unable to find it. “Um...Kakashi?”
“Oh, like a shinobi? You’re not strong like a shinobi?”
“Yeah,” he says, relief spreading over his face.
“Bullshit,” Sasuke chides, almost smiling. “You’re stronger than all of them, dobe.”
“Yes,” Sasuke insists. “Yes you are. Trust me, I’ve hung around all of them lately, and almost none of them could handle this shit.” He relaxes as he speaks; he’s telling the truth this time. He’s been training since he was a kid and now that he’s back in the village he’s still never seen anyone who fights like Naruto does. Mentally and physically.
“Besides,” he adds with finality, “You’re getting better.”
The first weeks were worse than any fight Sasuke had ever been in. Worse than maybe even coming home and finding his entire family slaughtered. It was probably worse because he wasn’t expecting it. He’d seen Naruto fall to the ground with that kunai in his skull and had fully expected to die fighting his brother for revenge. When Sasuke woke up back in Konoha, he figured they would say Naruto was alive, but he also knew there was a chance they would say he was dead, and then the Uchiha didn’t know what he’d do. He’d never expected to hear the words, “He’s alive, but…” come out of Sakura’s mouth.
He’s alive but he can’t speak, or move his right side. He's alive but brain damage is too hard for even Tsunade to fix. He's alive but we don’t know if he’ll ever really come back.
The Hokage hadn’t expected this. She'd planned for both ninjas to come back perfectly fine, but Naruto hadn’t. And there were things ninjas of their ranking had to do that he just couldn’t do; not at first. The mission debriefing had been postponed by weeks and when it finally came time to hold it, all Naruto could do to communicate during the three-hour recap of the disaster was squeeze Sasuke’s hand and blink at him, a thousand words behind his eyes. The endless barrage of questions that followed was worse. Tsunade had to direct every question that had been meant for Naruto to his partner and Sasuke tried his best to answer them, but the blonde was staring at him the whole time and he knew he must hate it just as much as Sasuke did but there was nothing for it.
That night was the last time he lost himself to a fit of rage. He always hated when he screamed and broke shit, when he couldn’t stay in control. It made him feel so weak and childish and that was the one unspoken condition of their relationship since he’d returned. Naruto would be with Sasuke as long as he trusted him, but he could only trust him if he could control himself. And he’d been doing well too, but this was the one thing he couldn’t take. His knuckles left bloody spots on the dented walls of the house they now shared.
Naruto recovered seemingly in spite of Sasuke’s temper. He was walking again within a week, and his limp was almost gone within two. That part was fine, but the rest was almost unbearably slow. The fact that Sasuke had absolutely no idea what to expect probably didn’t make it feel any faster.
“It’s called aphasia,” they’d informed him. He didn’t even know why they’d told him at the time, because Naruto hadn’t even come around to tell them he and Sasuke were together and the hot-headed former deserter could be trusted with his medical information. “It’s a result of damage to the left side of the brain. The blow not only damaged his right-side motor skills, but also his language center. He can understand us perfectly, but speaking, reading, writing...It’s likely that he’ll recover some words, and some people are even able to speak normally at a certain point, but every case is different. There’s no way to know for sure.”
“Aphasia,” he’d repeated slowly, feeling like just the opposite of what the medi nin had described. He could say the word easily, but he couldn’t force himself to understand what it actually meant.
It was better after all the bed rest and daily medical testing was finished. Technically both of them had their own houses, but the living situation wasn’t even a question. They’d as good as agreed on it back when the Uzumaki could still speak. He slept better in Sasuke’s arms. If he was alone the dark would frighten him. Plus at the very end, blood gushing from his head wound around the blade, he’d told Sasuke he loved him. It was almost the last thing he said before he slipped into unconsciousness. The absolute last thing he whispered was, “Sasuke…”
The medi nin they assigned from the Hokage’s office for speech therapy was Sakura, and Naruto didn’t like that fact at all. Or maybe he just didn’t like speech therapy in general. Sasuke didn’t blame him. It reminded him a lot of the brief training sessions he’d had with Itachi before he was in the academy; basically two straight hours of asking for help. However, Sasuke didn’t mind at all. Naruto would get better, he knew it, and he wanted to be there every step of the way to see it. And he did. He was right there next to Naruto when he turned to him with startling intensity in his eyes and shakily, very shakily, said, “Sasuke…”
“Can you get his last time too for me?”
“Uchiha. Sasuke Uchiha.” Naruto’s voice sounds stronger than usual. There's a reason Sakura always asks this first. He's good at this question, better at it than any of the others. Even though Sasuke knows it would probably be more useful if he were best at something like objects around the house and village, he can’t even pretend it doesn’t make him smugly happy. He smirks, playing down his elation, and squeezes the jinchuriki’s right hand. He feels Naruto’s fingers twitch slightly in response, which makes him smile wider. Maybe that’s getting better too.
“And your name?” Sakura goes on.
“And how old are you?”
“Seventeen.” It’s faster and clearer than he’s ever answered that one before and he turns to Sasuke, smiling, as proud of himself as he’s capable of being these days. Sasuke’s proud too so he tries to look happy, even though he knows what’s coming next.
“That was great,” he says, hoping to stall for a little bit of time. Because mostly he likes watching Naruto in speech therapy, but there's one part he can barely stand and it’s coming next. “Your numbers are so fast now, I mean even next to last week—”
Sakura cuts him off with an understanding but firm look. Technically he’s never supposed to interrupt unless Naruto specifically asks for it, and even that’s a rule that Naruto made up himself, because Sakura hates it when he talks at all. Tsunade’s instructions on her methods are very precise, or some bullshit like that. Sasuke just thinks she still hasn’t forgiven him for leaving.
“Do you remember what happened to you?” the pink haired girl asks now, and Sasuke has to fight the urge to stand up and leave the room, preferably running with his hands over his ears. Naruto needs him. He needs him and it’s his own fault.
“Mission,” Naruto starts, and Sasuke takes advantage of the fact that he’s staring straight ahead to press his free wrist hard into the wood of the table. “Yeah, mission, and Sasuke and me and Itachi and um…” He stops, closes his eyes. Sasuke distracts himself by glaring across the table. He hates how long Sakura makes his search for a word. Maybe it’s making him get better faster, but he doesn’t see how letting him get upset helps anything. Sure enough, when Naruto opens his eyes again, he hasn’t found the word and his eyebrows are knit much tighter than they were before.
“Us…me and Sasuke and him and like, um…like hit?” he tries.
“You had a fight?” Sakura finally offers.
“Yeah. Fight, and then Itachi with the…” He bangs sharply on the table. Sasuke jumps and hopes neither of them notice.
“Yeah. Itachi had the kunai and he stab…and it was dark and hurt and…and Sasuke. And I…not dead.”
“Why didn’t you die, Naruto?”
“They said, um…Sasuke…help and...run-”
“I ran you back to the village,” Sasuke says instantly, drawing two irritated looks. Usually even he will let Naruto think for longer than that, but right now he can’t stand it. He just wants him to get the explanation out of the way. Naruto shoots him a glance that says, far clearer than his words can, ‘ If I need help I’ll ask. I’m not stupid’ .
“Sorry,” the Uchiha mutters quickly. He wonders if Naruto is picking up on what’s wrong. He’s being more obvious today than usual and he’s not quite sure why, but he does know that if they don’t move on soon he’s going to start to panic, and that’s definitely not something either of them need to see. He’s broken in front of Naruto a few times, and the blonde still loves him so it’s okay, but it always upsets him and that makes his limited speech even worse. The boy feels guilty if he can’t think of the right words to say to make his partner feel better, and the fact that he can’t find words just makes Sasuke feel worse and panic more, so it’s really just better for everyone if he stays calm.
“Sasuke ran me back,” Naruto is saying, and Sasuke forces himself to tune back into his words. “No…was dead then back, but Sasuke…” He stops and beams at him. “Fucking perfect.”
It’s undeniably sweet, and even Sakura has to smile at it, even though she tends to be against swearing during official business. Naruto can communicate about half of his emotions using various inflections of the word fuck , and while it’s good for getting Sasuke to understand him, it’s not helping him recover any new words, which is what the whole point of speech therapy is. Naruto leans in to kiss him and Sasuke tries to look pleased as he should be. He’s so lucky. But Naruto;s comment about him being perfect reminds him of just how imperfect he was that day. He should have guarded him better. He should have attacked Itachi quicker. He shouldn’t have taken so long to run the blonde all the way back to Konoha and left the stupid kunai in his skull. Most of the damage didn’t come from the direct blow, the medical ninjas told him. It came from cells dying because of the pressure inside his head. What it means is he could have done more. He’s the reason Naruto’s like this. He kisses the boy again, quickly, trying to distract himself. Hating himself won’t help his one and only friend get better.
Naruto likes sex a lot. It surprised Sasuke at first. Well, not much, because everyone likes sex, and he fucked enough girls before coming back to Naruto to know that he’s pretty good at it too. But between the two of them, Sasuke was always a bit hesitant. It’s not like they could have done much while on missions with Team Seven, but even when Naruto took kissing just a little too far, Sasuke was always quick to draw away. Then there was the first week after the injury, when he barely did more than peck the blonde on the lips. Maybe that deprivation made Naruto want more, or maybe his close brush with death made him realize all the things he didn’t want to miss out on in life. Sasuke has quite a few theories. The one that scares him the most is that Naruto feels like a burden, and wants to somehow repay him for still loving him in spite of the damage to his brain. But Sasuke’s told him more times than he can count that he’s never seen him that way.
Right now Sasuke’s main theory, though, is actually something Naruto kind of told him once, after one of their first times. Sasuke was breathless, nearing his peak, unable to do anything but swear and moan his name, and Naruto smiled at him and said, “Like me.”
His head wasn’t very clear at the time, so it took him a few minutes to figure out that the words weren’t a teasing attempt to further turn him on, but rather a comment. A taunt, almost. Naruto had reduced Sasuke to the same level of barely coherent speech he was at constantly. His guess is that the boy likes that. He likes, if only for a moment, taking away the imbalance of power between them that he tries his best to ignore but undeniably exists. The Uchiha guesses it makes Naruto feel useful too. That also came from his mouth. Another time, when he had just finished giving Sasuke possibly the best blowjob of his life, he smirked, pointed at his mouth, and said, “Not useless.” It was a joke and he laughed at it, but it made him feel so undeniably warm.
So Naruto likes sex at least partially because it makes them equals, and also because he’s good at it. And he is good at it. It might not be fair to call his friend the best he’s ever had because Sasuke loves Naruto and that probably makes it a whole lot better, but he’s not stupid either. Because the blonde can’t speak much the two of them are constantly reading each other's nonverbal cues. They’re always perfectly in sync. So when they come at the same time, it’s really no surprise. And then Sasuke pulls out, rolls off him and onto his back, and grins up at the ceiling, breathing hard. Quiet, for a few moments, it always takes him a second to remember how to form words.
“Damn,” he breathes.
“Damn,” Naruto echoes easily, and then says, “Sasuke.”
“Naruto,” he bounces back. He leans over and trails a row of kisses over his collarbone, which again, for a moment, leaves his speechless.
“I love you, you know that, right?” he says softly.
“Yeah. I love you too,” he responds. He does better when he hands him the words first. It doesn’t work all the time, obviously. Otherwise he’d be the only one steering their conversations. But here, now, he’s pretty sure they want to say the same things anyway.
Sasuke set up the target about a week after they first moved in. He pretended it was nothing. He pretended he’d just unpacked all of his family’s old training stuff and set it up without thinking, made a half-hearted promise to take it down later, and then never did. He doesn’t quite know how to explain it to Naruto, because it’s not like he gives a shit if the boy can throw shurikens or not. Sure, it used to turn him on, but it’s not like Sasuke has a shuriken fetish. It was part of their ongoing competition that fueled the fire of their friendship and now their relationship. He has a Naruto-being-impossibly-good-at-difficult-things fetish. Once the Uchiha started to realize just how much the jinchuriki had to fight inside his own head, even before the kunai hit it, the weapons became almost boring.
Still, Sasuke likes it when Naruto is happy, and Naruto is happy when he feels good at things, and Sasuke knew that he was good at throwing shurikens. At one point. It’s ridiculous to him, but Naruto doesn’t understand and this is one thing he can’t describe any better than he can. Sasuke doesn’t even want the old version of the boy back, but he wants him to feel amazing again. He leaves the target up.
Occasionally he’ll hear the loud thumps of shurikens hitting the target, or sometimes the surrounding trees behind the house, but it never lasts long. He still trains, both of them do. He likes lifting weights, he likes running. When he runs, he can measure his progress down to the second, or by how much he lost to Sasuke. The Uchiha yanks the sharp weapons out of the surrounding trees and leaves them on a table inside. Naruto never picks them up, just gives them a sad half-glance whenever he passes by. He's never said a word about it. Maybe he doesn’t know how, but Sasuke figures he just doesn’t want to.
When he hears the sound again, he half thinks he’s dreaming. He waits a few minutes, just listening, waiting to hear if it will stop. When it doesn’t, Sasuke cautiously wanders out the back door. Naruto stands near the tree line with his back to Sasuke, several shurikens laid out on the ground next to him. A few dozen more have already been thrown, most of them into the outer rings of the target, but Sasuke does spot one that’s almost a bullseye.
“Woah,” he whistles lowly, drawing a pair of sharp blue eyes to him. Naruto looks smug.
“Not bad?” he gloats, smiling a little.
“Have you been practicing?”
“No,” he says. “Um...training. Jiraiya? If good arm gets bad, you have to learn…but a little.”
“Right,” his partner agrees. Sasuke vaguely remembers doing right-handed sword training at some point. He also remembers getting in a shouting match with Kakashi about how he was too good to ever lose the use of his left hand in the first place. How was he ever so stupid? No one’s too strong for that.
“It’s good,” he praises lightly. “I bet you could get back to what you did with your right hand pretty quickly if you tried. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Naruto agrees. For a second, he looks hopeful, proud. Then he picks up a shuriken off the ground and all the joy abruptly falls off his face. “Sasuke,” he whispers, and if he didn’t know better he’d say the boy looked terrified. “What’s this?”
“What’s what?” he asks, and then it dawns on him, because there's only one thing in the younger boy’s hand. Sasuke tries to appear casual as he tells him, “Oh, that? That’s a shuriken.”
“Shuriken.” Naruto inhales sharply. “I…I knew that.”
Without warning, he raises his left arm and throws as hard as he can. The blade lodges in a tree about a yard away from the target.
If there's one good thing about the time Naruto almost died, it’s that it was one hell of an ice breaker. The last few days of that particular mission were a swirl of emotions that were certainly shown, but still desperately unspoken. The love was blindingly obvious, but apparently not quite obvious enough for either of them to risk talking about it. Things had been going perfectly. They couldn’t take the slim chance that saying it would ruin everything. And then everything was ruined, and as the kunai split open their tightly corked bottle of secrets, it looked for a moment like they had nothing to lose.
Naruto said it first then, because he didn’t know if he’d ever get another chance; he thought he was choosing last words. In a way, he almost was. He choked on the words with his quickly-fading breath and Sasuke screamed them back like a plea, begging the blonde not to leave just yet. Naruto couldn’t really talk anymore by that point, but he could listen, and he did. He said it first then, and it was good. That one time was enough for Sasuke. It had to be.
The Uchiha didn’t realize he was saying it every day for quite a while, and then when he did realize, he decided to make an extra effort to keep it up. That was incredibly easy. For maybe a month, the only answer he got was a soft smile, and maybe his name said in a soft voice that lingered on every sound and said more than he ever would have thought one word could. When Naruto first said it back, Sasuke almost cried, but it became clear pretty quickly that nothing had actually changed. Naruto could repeat almost anything by then and he’d been as good as telling him for weeks. As amazing as it felt to hear the words come from his lips, it wasn’t anything new.
Life continued. Sasuke said it every day, and every day, Naruto said it back, and it was both otherworldly and mundane at the same time. The words would never get old, but the order in which they said them never changed, and sometimes he had to force himself to remember that very first time to really believe that Naruto would tell him first if he could.
It’s almost been four months when they’re sitting in front of the academy and Naruto goes quiet. It’s not that strange for him to be quiet, but he’s not relaxed, he’s focusing, just like he does when there's a word he’s trying desperately to find. And that’s not strange ethics, except for the fact that that usually goes on for maybe a minute, not twenty. He looks so urgent, but if it were that important, he’d just try and get Sasuke to guess. The older boy watches him intently. He's twisting his hand through his yellow hair so roughly that it must hurt, eyebrows knit together in a tight line.
“Are you okay?” he finally asks, concerned, and his heart speeds up a bit when he gets no answer. His mind starts flying. What the fuck happened? Has he lost all the words again? Will he ever get them back? “What’s going on?” he asks, trying to hide his panic from the Uzumaki. If he picks up on it, he doesn’t make it obvious, because all of a sudden his face is eerily calm. He takes a deep breath before he speaks.
“I love you.”
The world stops, if only for that one second. A beat. Then two. His tanned face grows worried again, like he’s afraid he said it wrong. Sasuke forces himself to speak.
“I love you too,” he tells him, because if this were normal, it would be the right thing to say, only now it feels like the complete wrong thing to say. “Uh, wow, you…”
“Like me,” the jinchuriki teases softly, and it’s enough to pull Sasuke out of his trance, out of his sitting position and directly to his partner’s side. He kisses him, and it’s soft and raging and joyous and desperate and he never wants to stop, but when he does, he can almost think straight.
“I’ve never heard you try that one with Sakura,” he says, infinitely more calm than he feels. “Have you been practicing?”
“Little,” Naruto admits, eyes sparkling. “Some way to make you…”
“Happy?” he guesses.
“Crazy,” he corrects him, laughing. “And, um…favor?”
“Return the favor? What, cause I’ve been saying it first?”
“That’s not a favor. I just—”
“Love you,” Naruto cuts him off before he can finish, and kisses him again.
Naruto once told Sasuke, for him, every word is a battle. He probably didn’t say it quite like that, but he’s so used to mentally translating everything the boy says that the Uchiha can barely ever remember his exact words. He wants to. He wants to be able to think of something beautiful he told him and only think of that, not of the way his lips curled into a tight frown as he struggled to form each syllable. He tries to convince himself it’s better now, and in some ways it is, because they’re both safe and they love each other and he really has a whole lot of shit to be grateful for. He is grateful. He’s grateful every day. But it’s like having a broken arm and thanking the world that the arm didn’t fall off. Of course it’s better, it just fucking hurts.
Naruto once told Sasuke that, for him, every word is a battle, and he’s the best fighter Sasuke’s ever met, but sometimes he wishes Naruto would just give it up, if only for a while. He can’t even imagine what it would be like to be trapped inside his own head. Maybe he’d try to break that prison every second of the day too, but it just looks so exhausting. It’s hard and it’s painful and it’s always his fault. If it were just that, maybe Sasuke could ignore it. Maybe he could tell himself it didn’t matter how he felt because he had done this and now his only job was to try and make it right. But if every word is a battle for Naruto, his armor isn’t going to last forever.
It’s the stupidest thing. It’s winter; nearly six o’clock, but dark outside.
“No sun,” Naruto comments, gesturing out the window.
“Yeah, it’s getting dark early,” Sasuke agrees. “Cold too. I thought you were going to freeze when we went on that walk earlier. You need a new coat.”
“Tomorrow?” he asks.
The older boy shrugs. “Whenever.” He shakes his head. “I fucking hate winter.”
“I like it,” Naruto says. “Not so…um, hot.”
“It’s never that hot.”
“Not that cold,” the blonde counters. “But in…um, the…you know?”
“No, sorry,” Sasuke says. He thinks, but Naruto could be about to say almost anything.
“Far. And hidden. And hot, you know? And made…um, made of?” He’s starting to breathe too fast, and his hands are shaking. Sasuke makes the mistake of looking closely at his face and finds no clues, just a panicked expression. “I don’t…but not Konoha...”
“I don’t know, I’m sorry.” Sasuke glances at the clock.He gets up from the bed, moves toward the door, and looks back expectantly, but Naruto is just staring at his hands, his distress growing by the second. “Hey, dobe, it’s nearly six, and you barely had lunch. Do you want to eat something?”
“With the sand and...Gaara, but not here…” Naruto looks up and Sasuke’s startled to see tears welling up in his blue eyes. “Help me.”
He’ll be fine if he helps, Sasukee knows that, but he can’t. He’s trying, but he just doesn’t know what his teammate’s trying to say. Maybe if they sat here another minute he could figure out a way to explain it, but Sasuke’s hungry and tired and he just doesn’t want Naruto to be hurting anymore.
“I told you, Naruto, I don’t know,” he says, a bit more firmly. “It’s fine. You can tell me later. Now come on, let’s eat.”
His jaw tightens and his eyes shine. For whatever reason, he wants to do this. He wants to fight with this word until it kills him, but Sasuke’s done watching. The more insistent Naruto is, the more determined the Uchiha becomes to make him stop it.
“Come on,” he insists, walking over to his side of the bed and taking the blonde’s wrist in his hand, trying to get him to stand up.
“No,” he says again, louder, and then, without warning, he screams it. “No!”
Sasuke lets go of him, startled, and something shatters in his chest as he sees the first tear slip down his scarred cheek.
“It’s okay, dobe, it’s not important, you’ll think of it—” he starts, but even though he’s trying to be as comforting as possible, his words have the opposite effect.
“Shut up!” Naruto shouts, and gasps for breath like he’s a second away from drowning. “Shut up! SHUT UP!”
“Naruto,” he tries to say, but it’s become a chant now, and the boy’s just sobbing and screaming it in his face
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” Sasuke feels sick. “I can’t.” Naruto draws his knees up to his chest and buries his head in his hands. “I can’t.”
“What?” his partner asks, almost robotically, but it’s honestly a surprise to Sasuke that any word can make it out from behind the lump in his throat.
“I can’t talk. I can’t fight. I can’t do…” Naruto cuts off his words with a muffled scream. “This. I can’t…this.” His voice breaks, and he raises his head for just long enough to wave his hands around. It takes Sasuke a moment to realize that he means everything and he can’t think of a single thing to say. “Mistake,” he whispers. “I live. Why?”
“I tried, really, I just couldn’t think,” Sasuke whispers, and then swallows hard, trying to think of how he can do this, how he can apologize. He’s run it over a million times and he can never get it good enough for Naruto to stay.
“No,” he cuts him off. “I live, but I’m not…and…and weak and, um, and I can’t. It’s too hard. I can’t.”
“Of course you can,” he chokes out. Can he? He doesn’t know. It is hard, too hard, too hard for anyone and it doesn’t really matter if he can or not, because he shouldn’t have to. Sasuke doesn’t realize he’s crying too until Naruto starts staring at him, wiping at his own eyes.
“You,” he breathes, momentarily distracted, “Why?”
The Uchiha shakes his head, and before he can stop himself, he’s asking, “Why are you even here, Naruto?”
“I…I know,” he replies, and he realizes too late that he’s trying to agree.
“Not like that,” he corrects himself angrily. “No, I mean here, with me. Why?”
“Why?” Naruto repeats, not understanding. Tears have stopped tracking down his face, but he still looks distraught. It infuriates Sasuke to no end.
“Yes, why?” he shouts, too far gone to even regret it. For a second, the pain is gone at least from the blonde’s eyes, replaced only by sheer confusion. “Are you a fucking idiot, Naruto? I did this to you! I did this and you should hate me, but you’re just still here !”
“Me,” Sasuke confirms. He swipes his sleeve over his face and the motion scrapes across his eyelids too roughly, which only makes his eyes keep burning. “I wasn’t fast enough. I didn’t protect you. I fucked up everything and now you’re…you’re…”
“Useless?” Naruto finishes. “Um, pathetic?”
“No! No, you’re not, you’re perfect , but you’re hurting and it’s my fault! I love you but…but every time I look at you I just remember…and I can’t. I can’t do it either. I’m trying but…you’re right. It’s too hard.”
The bedroom is quiet except for the sound of choked sobs and ragged breaths. Sasuke climbs back into the bed and Naruto bunches up a handful of the fabric of his shirt and doesn’t let go. Before long, their breaths are in sync. Neither of them really means to move toward the other, but they’re tangled up together just the same.
“Leaving?” Naruto asks, after a few minutes.
“No,” Sasuke replies hollowly, furious with his past self for ever making Naruto think that would be an option for him. “No, never.”
He exhales shakily and almost manages a smile, but has to wipe more tears off his face. The jinchuriki wraps one arm around him. His shoulders are still shaking. Sasuke considers asking if he’s okay, but decides against it. He doesn’t know what he would answer himself.
“How’d we get here?” He doesn’t even really mean to ask the question out loud. They’re sitting on their roof, watching the sun set over the village.
“You want to be…not here?” Naruto asks.
Sasuke replies instantly, “No, not at all. Here is…”
He stops, searching his mind for the correct word. He can’t exactly say perfect, because it’s not. It’s far from it. There are about a million things he’d change, but those are just outcomes. How’d he get here? He’s not quite sure, but of all the tiny steps he took, he wouldn’t take a single one differently. Not knowing what he does now. It’s easy to see what isn’t, he figures, but there's a lot of things that could have changed for the worse. Sasuke closes his eyes. He sees a world where it took him years and years to finally get up the nerve to say I love you. He sees a life of danger, taking every step on thin ice, knowing that fate saw him and Naruto as too lucky and waiting for him to take every bit of luck away. He sees a time when he and Naruto didn’t even make it as far as being reunited, killing each other on the falls all those years ago.
He opens his eyes again and sees Naruto, the real Naruto, staring intently back at him. Fatigue pulls at the corners of Sasuke’s mind. He stayed up too late again. He didn’t want to see Naruto nearly die like he does every night, but maybe it doesn’t matter so much. He gets to see him more alive than ever when he wakes up.
“I love you,” he says. “Don’t go anywhere.”
The blonde moves closer to him and rests his head against his chest. His hand creeps up, under Sasuke’s shirt, feeling the spot right over his heart.
“Not planning on it,” he says. “You’re…um, you know…” His eyes darken for a moment, a cloud passing over the sun. Sasuke doesn’t bother guessing. There are too many options, and he doesn’t want to sit there and list off compliments for himself.
“You too,” he says instead.
Naruto gasps loudly, false shock on his face. “Rude.”
“Was it?” Sasuke asks. He kisses the top of his head once, twice. “Well, you really brought that on yourself, didn’t you?”
Naruto’s raspy laugh makes his heart fly. “So rude, teme. Can’t believe you.”
And just like that, the last traces of the cloud are gone. Another will come soon; Sasuke knows it and he can’t even pretend he’s ready. It’s been almost a year and it still hurts him every time, but maybe that’s just the whole love thing. As far as he’s concerned, Naruto deserves the fucking world. And as long as he doesn’t have it, maybe Sasuke will always hurt, if only just a little bit. He’ll stay quietly in awe of Naruto for every second that he survives whatever shit the world has decided to throw at him. He knows he’ll keep winning, and if he doesn’t, well, that’s what Sasuke’s there for.
“Do you want to be here?” he asks and there’s a moment of terror as the blonde opens his mouth to answer the question, because fuck, Sasuke got him here. Maybe he’s learning to live with all the imperfections, but he might hate it. Might want it all gone. Might want to just start over and never go chasing after Sasuke. The Uchiha doesn’t know if he would blame him, but that doesn’t mean he won’t die inside if Naruto says it.
The jinchuriki raises his head and looks him directly in the eye, their faces only inches apart. Sasuke feels his breath on his cheek as he opens his mouth.
“I want you.”
He holds his gaze for an impossibly long moment. Then he blinks and looks away. Sasuke follows his eyes down to his right hand. It’s shaking, but slowly, very slowly, he unfurls his fingers and then closes them again, this time around Sasuke’s wrist.
They don’t speak. They don’t need to.