Divergent (3)


That fateful night the car was stalled

Upon the railroad track

I pulled you out and you were safe

But you went running back

-       Mark Dinning



God must be laughing at him. That or someone up there had a really shitty sense of humor.


Naruto hugged the backpack - almost protectively - against his chest and huddled even closer to the door perhaps wishing he could melt into it and find himself back out on the godforsaken road again. The past twenty plus hours had been nothing short of a nightmare, and it all just had to culminate with being back in the ‘Devil’s’ car again, didn’t it?




He stared morosely out the window, at least grateful he wasn’t still stuck out there. The chill - from his walk in the rain for almost an hour - was now settling into his bones, and it was all he could do to control the involuntary shiver and subsequent cough that seemed to be wretched from his lungs. He sniffled and cursed inwardly again. He knew he was going to come down with a cold eventually; his rash decision to leave the bus station at the last minute now coming back to bite him in the ass. All he had to do was wait for the one lone bus going to Yokohoma to arrive sometime this afternoon. However, that would have caused him to sit (and sleep) in that dirty bus station for over twelve-hours with nothing to do but contemplate over and over the mistake he had made with Sasuke.


He decided to wander around town for a couple of hours, being careful to avoid the corporate district for fear he’d bump into the salesman. He had a solitary lunch in an establishment that claimed to sell the best ramen and was hardly surprised to find that he had no appetite. Every bite was laced with Sasuke’s stinging words of farewell, and by the time he was through, he had to run to the restroom to regurgitate everything.


He spent another hour at the docks; watching fishing boats set off to sea or return from their hard day at work. Such scenes brought back memories of his childhood; of happier and simpler times when all he had to worry about was being sure he got home in time for dinner after spending an entire day with his best friends. Unfortunately, those memories were triggered ten times over when he later found himself staring at a series of posters advertising the arrival of a rising band at one of the local clubs.


You’ve got to be kidding me!


He ripped off the poster from the wall, trembling fingers caressing the photograph of the band members; young men he had grown up with especially the drummer. Kiba was finally making it big. The band’s first single was already becoming a hit on the local airwaves, and after two performances on a television talent show, they were finally coming to this town to grace their throng of adoring fans with their presence.


Mingled emotions of envy, pride, and bitterness made him queasy with nerves and anticipation. He hadn’t seen Kiba for a couple of years now, and before he could control himself, Naruto began asking for directions to said Club Lunacy. They weren’t due to perform until tomorrow night (which he was grateful for as it would reduce the pain of watching the guys on stage) but perhaps they would be rehearsing today or something. If nothing else he could at least say “hello” to his buddy and catch up a little.



Club Lunacy was your typical underground establishment buried beneath your everyday normal stores and pachinko salons. You could just about walk right past the flight of steps leading down to the club, if you weren’t observant enough to notice the lone handwritten sign (and a couple of posters) announcing its presence. Graffiti and grime-infested steps led to a dank and gloomy bar, where the décor consisted of deep blues and chrome-y blacks. It was practically empty except for the bored-looking young man sweeping and the towering bartender (his dad?) washing up some glasses.


“Nope,” the bartender replied when Naruto pried about the next gig. “These bands just show up at the last minute and inconvenience everyone.” He eyed the blond warily. “You’re not some damn groupie wanting to hang around with them backstage, are you?”


Naruto reassured the gruff man that he wasn’t and let himself out of Club Lunacy to fading sunlight and a sense of disillusionment. His footsteps became heavier as he trudged back to the bus station. However, one last lingering look at the poster; this time focused on the handsome bassist with the killer smile, trigged the memories of his conversation with Saito on that blistering hot summer day.



“I don’t understand,” he implored the tall, lanky redhead. “You said I could audition.”


“I’m really sorry, Naruto,” Saito replied with what appeared to be sincere regret despite being unable to look at the blond directly. “It was…eh…I mean…the band decided-”


“You mean you decided,” Naruto cut in tightly. “You’re the fucking leader. You have the final say-so.”


“It’s not a dictatorship, Naruto. I have to confer with the group before doing anything. That’s the way a real band works. I’m sorry, all right? I would have really liked to have you, but…”


He shrugged and raised his hands as if apologizing again before turning on his heels.


“It’s because of what happened between us, isn’t it?” came the quiet question that froze Saito in his tracks. Naruto bit his lower lip; his heart shattering when the silence gave him all the answer he needed. “I told you it meant nothing, didn’t I? It’s not as if -”


“I thought we agreed we wouldn’t talk about that anymore, Naruto.”


“Then why have you been treating me differently since then? You hardly look at me an…and I seem to get the feeling that you think I’m disgusting or -”


“You just attacked me without warning, for fuck’s sake -”


“I didn’t attack you! It was just a freakin’ kiss, man! Everyone does it! And besides…you were getting into it too -”


“I’m not gay, all right?” Saito roared as he spun around again to pin angry eyes on the flushed blond. “I don’t know who gave you that idea or what gave you the right to go about touching me unnecessarily, but I don’t swing that way! I’m not about to have a band mate who can’t control his homo-urges. We’ve got to get chicks to like us more, not a bunch of sweaty-smelly dudes running backstage with the wrong idea. Look, I’m sorry, Naruto. There’s just no room for you in our band. I’m sure there’s some…uh… gay band out there that will hire you. You just have to keep looking. Good luck, man. I really mean it.”




Barely three days after that, Kiba had come running with the great news that Saito had hired him as the band’s drummer. If Saito had planned to really hurt him over one measly act of passion, then he had definitely plunged and twisted the dagger right where it would never heal.


An act of passion or as Saito had so succinctly put it, his ‘homo-urges’? Hah. He would laugh for that had almost always gotten him in trouble; the daring to show the boys (or men) that he liked some form of affection. Even if it was something as innocent as a lingering peck on the cheek, watching their body language change was almost always difficult to swallow. It was funny, when he really thought about it. They accepted him when he was ‘straight’, and hugged and jostled him about with no fear for their sexuality being threatened, but as soon as he shyly confessed or dared to act upon his emotions – bam! They did a complete 180 on him.


He didn’t know what was worse; being rejected for his sexual preferences or being abandoned by people he thought he knew. Watching them distance themselves from you; making up excuses so you wouldn’t be seen in the same places, not answering your phone calls, deliberately avoiding eye contact or ignoring you in public places was more painful than he would ever admit.


So to fit in again, he was forced to mask his true identity; buying girlie magazines in the presence of other men to prove that he was like them; watching grotesque pornographic shows despite the churning of revulsion in his stomach, and having to suppress drooling openly over attractive men who sent his heart pitter-pattering at first sight.


He knew he had been courting trouble the moment he laid eyes on Sasuke, but he had done his best to convince himself he could handle it. Perhaps a small part had wished Sasuke was just like him, but the photographs and overall attitude had proven otherwise. Sasuke had a life beyond the confines of this car; a normal heterosexual life that did not need the complication of dealing with a gay man as a traveling companion.


“Well?” came the quiet yet firm question that broke through his miserable thoughts. “Are you going to tell me why you were walking along the road in this pouring rain?”


“Trying to pick up a ride,” Naruto replied tightly. “What else would I be doing?”


“I thought you would have used the bus yesterday -”


“The next bus for Yokohama was arriving later this evening. I couldn’t wait in there for that long.”


There was another long silence. “So you slept at the bus station last night?”


“…yeah? So? It was no big deal.”


Sasuke cursed beneath his breath; his jaw working. “Save your damn attitude for someone else, Naruto. You brought this upon yourself, you realize that, don’t you? If you didn’t want to sleep with me in the same room, you could have just said so and we’d have tried to make other arrangements.”


“I was sure I tried to tell you that, but you didn’t listen,” Naruto argued heatedly. “It’s always going to be your way or no way at all anyway. I’m just the hitchhiker who should shut the fuck up and do as he says, right?”


They glared at each other before turning away; Naruto with a huff and Sasuke with a thunderous scowl.


“I offer you my kindness -”


“Let me out -”


“…and this is the way you repay me by acting like some spoiled selfish brat -”


“Let me out of this fucking car!” Naruto bellowed. He tried to open the door, but the loud click of it being locked had him turning to face Sasuke with mild panic. “What’s the big deal? Let me out! It’s clear you only let me in to bitch and complain, and I don’t want to deal with this shit right now. Let me go! I’ll walk all the way to Yokohama if I damn well pleaseurgh!”


Sasuke had suddenly swerved the car with enough force to have Naruto slamming against the door. He pulled off to the side of the road, turned off the engine, unbuckled his seatbelt and reached out to grab Naruto by the scruff of his jacket. Eyes – darker than night and burning with a fury words could not adequately explain – scorched Naruto as he found himself suddenly mere inches from that face he had shamelessly dreamt of last night.


“What the hell is your problem?” Sasuke snapped impatiently. “Why don’t you just talk about your issues instead of acting like a damn female on her period!”


“It’s none of your business,” Naruto retorted; a hand reaching out to clasp Sasuke’s wrist in an effort to release the grip. “Let me go if  you don’t want to get hurt.”


Sasuke’s eyes narrowed. “You’re threatening me?”


“I’m only warning you. Let me out. You owe me nothing and vice versa. I don’t know why you’re so determined to know about me anyway. It’s not as if I’m your friend or anything.”


“Goddamnit, Naruto! You made it seem like we were going to stick together all the way to Yokohama and you suddenly leave me a cryptic note and expect me to act as if everything’s cool?”


“I was only going to sleep in the car!”


“That’s not the point! You obviously have a reason for not wanting to share a room with me, and the least you could do was tell me so next time I won’t have to wonder whether or not to get separate or single rooms!”


Naruto tightened his grip on Sasuke’s wrist, but the dark-haired man wasn’t budging. If anything Sasuke’s chokehold was getting worse, and he could feel his lungs beginning to protest for air.


“Let…me…go…” he grunted.


“Not until you explain  yourself.”

Naruto squeezed his eyes shut and tried to control his breathing. If he didn’t say something…




“All right! All right!” he finally wailed in resignation. “I find you attractive, all right?! There…happy now?”


As predicted, the chokehold finally loosened and he was able to breathe again – though he had to cough a little to clear his constricted airway. He kept his eyes closed and head lowered as he heard Sasuke fall back against his seat. Naruto could already feel the familiar churn of dismay forming in the pit of his stomach. He braced himself for the revulsion; for Sasuke to tell him to get out of the car (which he would gladly to do disrupt the pregnant silence between them).


Finally, just when he thought he would go mad with the silence, Naruto lifted his lashes and dared to steal a glance at his companion. He wasn’t sure of what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t the pensive expression on the other’s face. Sasuke was looking ahead as if fascinated by the steady trail of Nature’s tears upon the windshield.


“You find me attractive,” came the eventual words that were said carefully though with a tinge of amusement. “That’s the fucking reason you ran away?”


“What the hell did you expect me to write on the note?” Naruto wailed. “I’m sorry, Sasuke, but I can’t spend the night with you because I think you’re hot?”


“That would have been ten times better than your non-reason note,” Sasuke replied with a frown. He shook his head and put on his seatbelt. “I can’t believe you. What the hell are so afraid of?”


“You…you’re not upset?” Naruto asked incredulously as the car slowly made its way back onto the highway.


“Is there a reason to be?” Sasuke queried just as incredulously. “I’m flattered that you think me attractive or hot or whatever, but goddamnit, Naruto, you’ve got to be more open with people about stuff like that.”


The snort of bitter laughter escaped his lips before he could control it. Naruto shook his head and looked out the window again. “Man, you really don’t have any idea what it’s like to be me, do you?”


“Like lying about being an otaku?”


“I am an otaku, but I’m a gay otaku, so there you go.” He paused and looked at Sasuke again. “This is the part where you start warning me that you’re not homo or you don’t swing that way.”


“I don’t,” Sasuke admitted with a shrug; failing to notice the brief flash of disappointment to cross his companion’s face. “But then again, I do have an idea of what that feels like.”




“Being treated differently because of the way you act,” Sasuke explained, while wondering if he was going to regret admitting this. “In high school, I was into…well…” He cleared his throat and tried to ignore the rise of color upon his cheeks. “I actually was a fan of Gackt, and did all I could to look like him.”


Naruto blinked at this gem of information. “Gackt? But you said -”


“I lied,” came the blunt statement. “You think I like admitting that to anyone? Look at me now. If I told anyone that at fifteen, sixteen, I was into makeup and jewelry and gothic clothing – that they’d take me seriously? And stop looking at me like that.”


“Sorry,” Naruto replied with a chuckle. “I was just trying to picture you looking that way. Don’t see it…well the hair maybe -”


“Bottom line,” Sasuke interrupted curtly. His cheeks wouldn’t stop burning. “I was one of those kids who kept to themselves and had all sorts of rumors started about me. I was in a gang. I was into drugs. I was a raging playboy. I was gay. I was bi. I was into bestiality. I was a male stripper during the weekends. You name it, they tacked whatever story they wanted onto me.”


“And how did you deal with it?”


“How else? Ignored them.”


“They must have bothered you though.”


Sasuke pursed his lips in thought. “Well…I won’t lie and say some of the stories didn’t piss me off, but for the most part I found it amusing. Good thing I could hold my own in a fight because I had to deal with a bunch of moronic boys who felt their sexuality was threatened whenever I walked into a room.” His lips quirked in a rueful smile at the memory. “They’d tease and mock me with the usual jibes of me being a boy who liked taking it in the ass, or how many dicks did I suck today or how about a rendezvous in the public restrooms after school to pleasure them. Shit like that.”


“Ouch.” Naruto worried his lower lip. He hadn’t been open in high school. He had chosen instead to be obnoxious with his supposed love for one of the prettiest girls in the school. Choosing to lay ‘low’ instead of dealing with the constant rejection. And here was Sasuke, who wasn’t even gay, having to deal with the insults and taunts directed at him on a daily basis.


“I couldn’t do it,” he finally admitted quietly. “I don’t think I could deal with school day after day having to put up with that.”


“It’s all in your attitude, Naruto,” Sasuke said slowly. “You’ve got to own it, and make no apologies for what you are. I’m not saying I completely understand what the attraction is between members of the same sex, but I’m not going to sit here and judge others for the way they feel or who they choose to be with.” He shrugged his shoulders lightly. “So if you’re worried about me acting differently over this announcement, forget it. Besides, once we get to our next stop, you’re cleaning the car again and filling it up with gas.”


Naruto rolled his eyes and then sneezed before he could control it. “Fuck…damn cold.”


“Serves you right.”


For that, Sasuke received the middle finger in response causing him to smile at the silent insult. Naruto huddled closer to the door and closed his eyes. However, after a companionable few minutes, he began speaking again.


“It’s not that easy you know…coming out that is.”


Sasuke kept silent; aware that the blond was about to share even more intimate details of his life. It would do him no good to start pestering him with questions. If Naruto wanted to spill out his guts, then he would be the listening ear he needed.


“You say to ‘own it’, and I guess that was what I was doing in the beginning,” Naruto continued in that same quiet tone; as if speaking more to himself than to the salesman. “I’ve always been an impulsive person…expressive…always willing to show how much I care for someone publicly.” He sighed and lifted his lashes to stare at nothing in particular. “The first time I realized how ‘different’ I was from the other kids was when I was twelve or so. There was this kid in my neighborhood…he was in high school at the time and the best baseball player ever – at least in my humble opinion. He used to hang out with me and my friends, never seeming to mind that we always bugged the crap out of him. He was the kindest, coolest, most awesome human being in the world – and one of the highlights of my day was getting asked to follow him to his home. Sure me and my other buddies used to hang out in his room sometimes, but I got the feeling he preferred me over the others.” He paused. “I know what you’re thinking, but that wasn’t the case. He didn’t go out of his way to groom me or try to molest me or whatever, but I knew he liked me more than the others and I felt the same way. When my buddies would steal girlie magazines and look them over in our secret hideout, all I could think about was how nice it had felt when Haru-chan touched my hair as I lay on his lap, or how strong his hands were when he’d lift me onto his shoulders or how beautiful his eyes looked whenever he smiled. I wanted to show him that I really cared, and the first time I dared to kiss him on the cheek, he only laughed and hugged me; saying how cute I was. I was happy he didn’t reject me, but at the same time, I knew my feelings hadn’t gotten across. He only saw me as one of the kids in his neighborhood, when I saw him as so much more. So what do I do? I foolishly listened to the advice of one of my friends; only I had lied saying that it was a girl I liked instead of a boy. I asked him what I could do to show my feelings for ‘her’, and I was advised to ‘go for it’. Which I did…with disastrous results.”


“What happened?”


Naruto sighed and sat up a little. “Well, I was in his house. He was studying because he had exams coming up to get into college, and what do I do? I climb onto his lap and plant a big wet one on his lips.”


Naruto wrapped his arms around the backpack; feeling a familiar sting of unshed tears burning in his eyes. “What did I know? I was just a kid. All I wanted to do was tell him that I cared about him, and I was made to believe that if you kissed the person, it was okay. I was so scared, but plunged ahead anyway. I did it a second time and that was when he…well…pushed me away so hard I bumped my head against the wall and blacked out for a minute. When I came to, it was to see him looking over me in concern and asking if I was all right. He hadn’t meant to hurt me, but I had taken him by surprise. Just what was I doing anyway? Why did I suddenly climb his lap and kiss him on the lips? “Because I like you,” I confessed. “I really, really like you, Haru-chan, and I want to be your boyfriend.” He laughed self-consciously. “Pretty dumb, eh? You can well imagine Haru’s reaction. It was shock…then this mixture of disgust and pity, and then the long painful explanation of why he couldn’t return my feelings. “And I don’t think you should come to my room anymore,” he had added when the lecture was done. “Maybe we shouldn’t see each other for a while.” And that was it. It would be the last time I got close to Haru. He stopped hanging around us, and he didn’t even say goodbye when he left for college. I figured his lecture would sink in and I would ‘change’ and start liking girls, but it didn’t help. I dated a few times and even lost my virginity to some older girl, but...it really did nothing for me. It was humiliating to find myself checking out some guys and wondering if I dared to tell them how I felt. It was always a fine line between friendship and pouring my heart out. I was foolish enough to try that a few more times over the years; assuming that they would reciprocate or understand, but for some reason, I only did more to push them away.”


“I find it a little hard to believe that there wasn’t at least one person who you didn’t get involved with for some time -”


“There was,” Naruto admitted, “but that didn’t last long. He had to leave the country, and even at that we had to keep our relationship hidden from others. It sucks not being able to show your feelings for another in public, and in time you eventually develop a sort of hatred for heterosexual couples. How come they get to walk around holding hands and making out in public and yet when I dare do the same with the person I love, I get ostracized? It’s really not fair when you think about it.”


It wasn’t, Sasuke thought with an inner sigh. But that was the unfortunate reality of society today. It was okay for entertainers (see all the visual-kei bands for example) to act effeminate and tease others about their sexuality for it was seen as nothing more than…well…entertainment. However, for the common folk like Naruto, who were forced to live in the shadows over who they chose to love, Sasuke couldn’t imagine the daily stress they had to go through.


“Well if it makes you feel any better,” Sasuke said aloud, with a wry smile. “Heterosexual relationships aren’t as cracked up as it’s made to be. The number of break-ups and divorces you hear about everyday should be enough to make your head spin.”


Naruto chuckled weakly. “Yeah…maybe we should ban marriages altogether. But then again…you might not fall into that category.”


“What do you mean?”


“The woman…in the photographs…the pink-haired one.”


Naruto, who had finally dared to ask (well it wasn’t as if he had planned it), held his breath and slyly studied Sasuke’s reaction. He wasn’t disappointed, for there was a barely blink-and-you-just-might-miss-it tightening of his jaw and sharp inhalation of breath.


“Were you snooping into my things?” he finally asked quietly.


“Not on purpose,” Naruto said quickly. “It was when I was cleaning  your car and one of the portfolios fell and all the pictures tumbled out. I just noticed them that’s all, but it’s okay anyway. You don’t have to answer -”


“Yes, she was my girlfriend,” came the curt response. “Actually, we were supposed to get married.”




Supposed to? Was my girlfriend? In other words…


“You two aren’t together anymore?”


Sasuke smirked. “No shit, Sherlock.”


There was a long pensive silence in which Naruto’s curiosity was palpable. Sasuke would have loved to torture his companion a little longer, but he sighed and finally gave in.


“Her name was Haruno Sakura -”


“Haruno?” Naruto sat up, eyes as wide as saucers and jaw somewhere on the floor. “You don’t mean that…”


Sasuke nodded. “Yes, that famous Haruno family.”


Naruto whistled in appreciation. The Harunos were literally an institution in Japan just like the Uchihas. In fact, it was safe to say that both families could freakin’ buy out the entire country if they wanted. They were so filthy rich, they only hobnobbed with Kings and Emperors and everything else in-between. Not many knew of the children’s personal lives since they were so shielded from society, but to think that the daughter of such a great family would be seen with someone like Sasuke. That was damn impressive. So why the hell did they break up? Did she realize that he was not as rich as she had thought? Or did the family not approve or…?

“It was an arranged marriage,” Sasuke answered the unspoken question. “Between our families.”


“Eh?” Naruto frowned and rubbed his temple. “Between your families? What are you talking about? Your last name is Madara, right? Why would the Harunos want anything to do with you…?”


“My real last name is Uchiha,” came the firm but quiet statement that successfully stomped Naruto into silence. Sasuke glanced at the blond and fought the urge to roll his eyes at the awe etched across that visage. Great. He knew he should have kept his fat mouth shut. Now Naruto would look at him in a different light. As everyone always did once he mentioned who he really was or if he was recognized.


“I don’t believe it,” Naruto finally blurted out. “You…I thought -”


“There was only one of us? Sure. That was my brother. Itachi. I’m sure you must have seen his photograph amongst the bunch in the portfolio, correct?”


“Yeah, I did…but…I’m confused. I mean, the media makes it seem like he’s the only son your Dad has and -”


“That’s because my father cut me out of the family fortune when I decided to become a salesman,” Sasuke explained with a wry smile. “I had become a stain on the family name, so I had to sever my bonds with them. I was no longer needed, and I didn’t need them either.”


And yet Naruto would have been a fool not to notice the edge in that tone even as he uttered the words as flippantly as possible. Despite the family feud, it was clear that Sasuke wasn’t completely unaffected by the disownment. I mean, it must hurt knowing that your family – especially your own father – didn’t give a damn about you anymore.


“I don’t get it,” Naruto finally muttered. “I mean, I would think he’d be happy you wanted to do something on your own.”


“You don’t understand what the Uchiha family’s  like,” Sasuke replied tightly. “We are…a prideful bunch and the patriarchs don’t exactly take too kindly to members who try to carve their own paths from their pre-ordained destinies. God forbid you decide to be an individual.”


“So that’s why you left home and cut off your relationship with Sakura?”


“No, I broke off my relationship with Sakura because she was having an affair with my brother…”


Naruto choked on his saliva and had to pound his chest, but apparently Sasuke wasn’t finished with his bombshells.


“…which I discovered when I paid a visit to his holiday home and found both of them having sex in the living room. So I did the right thing and called up her family to let them know that the engagement was off. Two weeks later, I told my family that I was going to become a salesman. I wanted out of that godforsaken household.”


Damn. Naruto worried his lower lip again; not quite sure of where to begin or what he could possibly say. Just the pain alone of knowing that his brother had betrayed his trust in such a way would have been enough to cause him a permanent heartache. And what about Sakura? How could she cheat on the man she was betrothed to? The photographs had made it seem like they were nuts over each other and to think that she might have been two-timing Sasuke? Urgh.


“So…are they married now or what?” Naruto finally asked carefully.


“No,” came the quiet reply. “They are dead.”




“Last year. In a plane crash. They were both traveling in Itachi’s private jet for a vacation in the Caribbean when it suffered a malfunction and plunged into the ocean.” He paused and eyed the blond. “You really don’t keep up with the news, do you? The funerals were a big deal.”


Naruto had the grace to blush. “Hey…I was occupied with my problems, all right? So sue me.”


“I’m sorry,” he finally muttered after several moments of silence. “I had no idea, really. I didn’t…I mean…”


Sasuke sighed heavily. “There’s nothing to apologize for. What’s done is done, and we only have to move on.”


“Did you go to the funeral?”




Naruto gawked at the other man in disbelief. “You didn’t?! Why?!”


“Didn’t I tell you I was no longer welcome to the family?”


“Yes, but that’s your…brother! I mean even if it meant going in disguise or something -”


“Why would I attend the funeral of the one person who betrayed me?” came the cold question that sent a chill down Naruto’s spine. “What he did to me was unforgiveable, Naruto, and if I had been there, I would have probably danced all over his fucking coffin.”


“But -”


“But what?”


“Your mother…she must have at least wanted you there.”


“Yeah, so much so she really put up a fight for me after my Dad kicked me out. She’s never really given a damn either, Naruto, and besides, why are we even talking about this? Consider this particular conversation over.”


To emphasize this, he turned up the volume of the radio; allowing the sounds of some obscure folk band to saturate the tension-filled car with its brand of noise. Naruto slumped back into his seat and focused his gaze out the window. So yes, he had managed to get out more information from Sasuke than he could have possibly imagined, but what was the end result? He had opened a wound that Sasuke might have been trying to heal with a weak Band-Aid all this time, and with an ache in his heart, he wondered if he could do anything to stop the bleeding.





I shouldn’t have said anything, was the mantra spinning in Sasuke’s mind as the hours (and road) stretched on endlessly. And yet despite his trepidations and worries, he had to admit that it did feel good to finally talk about something he had bottled up inside for so long. Naruto had managed to scratch only the surface of the dysfunction that was his family, and it had managed to dig up memories he had done his best to suppress for so long. He could still remember the way he had heard the news about the plane crash, and how mingled emotions of shock, horror, sadness (and vindication) had coursed through him.


They both deserved it, a part of him had cried. It’s what they get for lying and cheating behind my back. It’s Karma, that’s all. It always comes back to bite us in the ass when we least expect.


And yet…hadn’t he cried like a damn baby several nights later? Hadn’t he found himself bursting into tears while reading sales reports and feeling as if his heart was being ripped into shreds at the notion that he was no longer going to see a man he loved and admired with an intensity that no one else could possibly understand? And what about Sakura? He had loved her well enough even though the marriage had been arranged. In the beginning, she hadn’t seemed too keen on the idea either, and their relationship had started off stilted and polite. However, as the months had gone by, he had come to appreciate just how resourceful, fun, and strong she was. She had plans to become a neurosurgeon – just a couple of years away from completing medical school and beginning her internship. She definitely had a bright future, and even if it wasn’t with him, even if it turned out that she really did love Itachi more than him…




The loud sneeze and congested sniffle had Sasuke turning toward Naruto with concern. That didn’t sound good, and considering Naruto hadn’t spoken since the abrupt end to their conversation, Sasuke wondered if his foolish decision to walk in the rain was finally showing its effects. Naruto was curled up against the door, features contorted into one of restlessness despite his state of repose. He shivered and sneezed again; the gross sound of collecting phlegm a signal to Sasuke that the other man needed some medicine and a bed to rest for the night. He had planned on driving until morning, but at this rate –


“Damn you, Naruto. I swear if I catch your flu germs before I get to Yokohama, I’m going to kick your ass. Sick or not.”


All the same, he queried his GPS for the nearest town and was rewarded with a place about ten miles from their current location.


Not surprising, it seemed to be more of a village hidden beneath (and amongst) the mountains. The buildings were a throwback to an era long gone, and instead of modern high-rise hotels or motels, there were modest traditional ryokan with promises of warm futons and soothing warm springs to ease the aches and pains from weary travels.  


It took some careful maneuvering of the Honda (try driving around winding uneven rocky roads in a drizzle), but eventually he pulled up to the Hamidaya Inn with its rather breathtaking perch on the mountainside complete with a waterfall as a backdrop.


“Naruto?” Sasuke called out. When he received no response, he reached out to shake the blond’s shoulder and was rewarded with a heat that had him withdrawing with an inner grimace. Good grief! The guy was burning up. He tested again with a hand against the slightly sweaty forehead, and it confirmed his worst fears. Naruto had a fever. The sooner he got him indoors, the better.


It was with an effort, but he somehow managed to drag Naruto to his feet; having to wrap an arm around the guy to prevent him from falling flat on his face.


“Come on,” he grunted as Naruto sagged against him and muttered something unintelligible beneath his breath. Even his breath seemed hot against Sasuke’s neck. He led them as fast as he could toward the building, where the owner must have been expecting them because the sliding door was thrown open almost immediately.


“Is he all right?” the homely woman, dressed in a rather nice-looking kimono, asked in concern as Sasuke stepped into the warm confines of the lobby and briefly admired the rustic setting complete with traditional lanterns to light up the rooms.


“He’s got a fever,” Sasuke explained with an apologetic smile. “Can we get a room for two…well two futons?”


“No problem,” she said quickly. She snapped her fingers and two young women appeared from nowhere to unburden Naruto from Sasuke. “Don’t worry. My daughters will show him to your room and take good care of him. I’m sure you’ll want to get your belongings. Would you like any help? My son will be of some assistance.”


“It’s all right,” Sasuke replied as he watched the women lead Naruto down the corridor. “I don’t have much to bring in. Thanks for the offer anyway.”




When he returned to the inn with his luggage and Naruto’s backpack, the landlady was waiting for him. As she led him to the room, she explained that the inn was family-owned, and though her husband had passed away several years ago, she was able to run it efficiently with her grown daughters and son by her side. Sasuke listened absently, more concerned about what was happening to Naruto than hearing some family history.


He needn’t have worried for the women had done their best to get Naruto as comfortable as possible. For starters, the room was quite spacious; the sepia-tones of the décor adding more warmth to the golden glows from the lanterns situated at the corners. Two cozy futons had been laid out, and Naruto was tucked snugly beneath one, now clad in a pale blue yukata. He was still fast asleep, his features flushed, though the women had been thoughtful enough to place a cold towel on his forehead. One of them did the honors of changing it ever so often, while the other appeared to be stirring something that smelled minty in a small wooden bowl.


“It’s nothing more than traditional herbal medicine,” the landlady explained as the older of the daughters – the one stirring – pushed aside Naruto’s yukata to smear the white paste (the smell was now much stronger) upon the hairless chest.


“The paste will seep into his flesh and as he inhales it and it will clear up his blocked sinuses,” the landlady continued; dark eyes watching her daughters’ ministrations attentively. “By morning, he should be breathing much better and his health should be restored…well after a final soak in our sacred hot springs.”


“Sacred?” Sasuke asked with a raised brow.


“Yes. There was a reason my husband’s ancestors chose this location to build this inn. Long ago, it was believed that the springs contained magical healing abilities, and over the years we’ve had guests who have sworn that their ailments and afflictions were cured after a soak. I’d recommend you and your friend try it once he’s awake. You will not regret it.”


Thanking them for their kindness -including their thoughtfulness in leaving a hot pot of green tea and some traditional ohigashi in lovely flower-shapes and pastel colors – Sasuke couldn’t help giving a sigh of relief when they finally left the room. He helped himself to one of the sweets and began unpacking his things quickly; noticing there was a small closet where he could keep their personal items and away from prying eyes.


The first order of business, however, was calling his contacts in Yokohama to tell them he might be arriving a little late for their scheduled date. They had understood his need to be in Noshiro, and he couldn’t help wondering if they’d forgive yet another delay. He might be one of the best salesmen out there, but he was just ‘one’ of many others who would lunge at the opportunity waiting in that particular market. His hope was that Naruto would be well enough by tomorrow afternoon so they could get back on the road. If he was lucky (and drove fast enough), they could be at their final destination Friday morning at the latest.


A low moan – as he began peeling out of his damp clothes – had him swiveling his head toward Naruto. The towel draped across his forehead had slipped to the floor, thanks to the blond’s restless tossing. Sasuke padded across the room to change it, wincing as the heat from the cloth showed just how bad Naruto’s fever had become. The white paste thing on Naruto’s chest looked like someone had playfully rubbed toothpaste all over his flesh. Unfortunately, the smell was so pungent it was all he could do not to cover his nose and mouth in protection. He held his breath and changed the towel quickly before making his escape; sighing deeply as he realized his night was probably going to be spent babysitting the blond.


Fan-fucking-tastic, he lamented to himself while changing into the extra yukata. You owe me big time for this, Uzumaki Naruto.




The phone conversation with Aburame-san had been an interesting one to say the least. It was clear the chairman was not too happy to hear that their rendezvous would be delayed, but he was willing to give Sasuke the benefit of the doubt. However, there was one very worrisome catch. If he didn’t see the salesman by Friday evening at his office, the deal was officially off. That was the loss of a possible six-figure contract all riding upon a certain hitchhiker getting his ass out of bed as soon as he could manage it.


His stress level now at simmering point, Sasuke slid open the screen doors leading to the outside to let in some fresh air. Considering it was only about eight in the evening, darkness tended to fall fast during this time of the year, and the damn drizzle hadn’t let up either. All the same, it was a cool reprieve to his heated flesh, and dragging the tray and snacks to the small veranda – with its (currently dreary) view of ominous looking forests and mountains below and around him, he made himself as comfortable as possible. The gentle roar of the waterfall accompanied the chorus of unseen night creatures; a setting that might be considered romantic for those who were more inclined to think that way. He tried to read a novel he had purchased in Kyoto a few weeks ago; every now and then glancing at his ward to make sure he was all right.


Unfortunately, ten pages in and the lines began to jump, dance and run into one another across the pages. He struggled to enjoy the ‘riveting’ tale of the dragon warrior on his quest, but the combination of weariness from driving, the ‘excitement’ of looking after Naruto, the tea and sweets, including the lull of the rain finally had him giving up the fight to stay awake. He hardly felt the book drop from boneless fingers, his head lolling until it hung in somnolent defeat. In mere minutes, his breathing evened and mingled with the pattering of raindrops on the roof.


He was not surprised to find himself suddenly wandering the massive and impeccable gardens of just one of the Uchihas’ countryside residences. He was in his school uniform, clad in the stifling pants and blazer of the exclusive private school his parents had tossed him into last year. He was only thirteen; not yet the rebellious teenager he’d become. Life was good – well as good as it could be. It was a picturesque summer day and their European-style home seemed to shimmer in the distance. A happy bark heralded the appearance of his beautiful Golden Retriever – a gift from his grandfather all those years ago. He heard himself giggling and laughing as Rosaline leapt on him in greeting. They fell to the cushiony grass, rolling around like two children. He knew he would be scolded later for dirtying his clothes, but for now…nothing mattered but this very moment with his best friend. He was happiest in times like these. Happiest when he didn’t have to worry about skipping out piano, fencing, and kendo lessons, getting a B in any subject, not making the student council, chewing too loudly, forgetting his manners, not dressed properly, or most importantly – not being as ‘perfect’ as his older brother. Out here – away from the stifling rules of tradition – he could just simply be a ‘boy’.


Rosaline barked again and dashed off, fully expecting her master to follow. He did not disappoint. Laughing, he rose to his feet and jogged after her; his youthful voice mingling with the warm breeze as he called out her name. When she began to run into the wall of trees just beyond their garden, Sasuke froze in mid-stride; a familiar dread beginning to creep up from the tips of his toes until it became a cold clench of fear within the pit of his stomach. He tried to call out her name; to warn her that it wasn’t safe to go into that place, but he was powerless and his voice seemed smaller and non-consequential.


Come to us, Sasuke, the trees seemed to whisper as they bowed and swayed to the sudden gust of wind to nearly knock him off his feet. Come inside and see what we have in store for you.


(leave me alone…please leave me alone)

Within their frightening cocoon, he could hear Rosaline’s happy bark; though now fading until it got lost within the rustling leaves and threatening shadows.


Come to us, Sasuke. They’re both waiting for you. They’ve been waiting for you for a long time. They’ll be quite glad to see you, Sasuke, after all…you wished for both of them to die, didn’t you?


(no…no, I didn’t. I didn’t)


Bright summery clouds gave way to the murky grays and blacks of an incoming storm. He could hear the silent screams within his throbbing head, and though he covered his ears to stop them from deafening him, he could not prevent the burrowing holes bored into his skull. He fell to his knees and willed the scream to escape, but it remained stubbornly lodged in his throat; mocking…teasing…taunting him only to release salty, painful tears that ran down his cheeks and into his mouth. He felt he was choking; that some unseen force was sucking the life out of him, and all he could do was curl into a ball and wail his suffering to anyone who cared to listen. However, he knew it was all going to be fruitless because no one would come…no one would find him out here…he was all alone and it was all his fault. Because he wished it. Because he wanted it. Because he was really that horrible a person inside and it was all his damn fault.


Yes, it is, Sasuke, the trees tormented relentlessly. Your heart is much darker than you let on. You sent them to us, didn’t you?


(no…I didn’t mean it…I didn’t meant itIdidn’tmeanitIdidn’tmeanitIdidn’t-)


His raw scream of terror magnified when he felt the slimy black tendrils clutch his arms. They began to tug him with greedy shrill cries of hunger that permeated into his very being.


(someone…help me! Please someone…somebody…anybody…help me!)




(help me! They want to kill me!)




That voice. It sounded so familiar and yet he couldn’t seem to figure out who it belonged to. The forest, however, seemed to recognize it for another shrill cry – this time of fear - escaped them; the greedy tendrils shuddering as the voice seeped through to call his name again.




(…who…are you?)


It’s okay, Sasuke. You’re just having a nightmare.


Something pungent (minty) yet warm and strong (and caring) enveloped him. He tried to withdraw, but could only watch in stunned disbelief as the forest seemed to shrink (cower) at the presence of this growing warmth. This warmth was strong enough to break through the gray clouds; forcing blades of sunlight to burst through them and to coat the earth with its beauty again. In the distance, Rosaline’s bark could be heard and all appeared to be right again, but damn if that piquant smell wasn’t about to make him sick to his stomach…


Sasuke? Are you all right?


He lifted his lashes slowly; they felt like they weighed a ton. For a second, he tried to make sense of what was happening for something like slimy paste and the sound of a beating heart against his cheek and ears – just did not compute.


(what the fuck?)


“You were crying and called out in your sleep,” the gentle voice was saying above his head. “I didn’t know what else to do but to hug you…”


(hu…hug? Oh my God!)


He snapped out of his daze and pulled back so quickly, he nearly sent his ‘savior’ to the floor in his haste. He reached up to wipe his cheeks; his fingers coming away with the white paste which had been rubbed on Naruto’s chest.


“Gross,” he grumbled and wiped it upon the napkin which had been placed in the tea tray. He noticed that the snack tray was empty, and looking up with a raised brow, he was just in time to catch the hurt expression on Naruto’s visage. Sasuke felt his heart sink; recalling Naruto’s story about being rejected at such intimate contact before. He opened his mouth to explain that he hadn’t meant to be that rude – it was just embarrassing to be caught crying like a baby in his sleep – but Naruto was already masking it with a smile and shaky laugh.


“Sorry about that,” the blond was saying as he scratched the back of his head. “Guess old habits die hard and all that. I apologize for touching you, but it was the only thing I could think of. I kept shaking you awake and you wouldn’t budge. You just kept…moaning and crying, and I panicked. I then remembered that when I was little, my mom would hug and rock me back to sleep and figured that would…eh…help.”


His cheeks burned as he met the dark eyes still watching him carefully. He fidgeted with the hem of his yukata and lowered his gaze; trying to squash the gnawing ache within his heart and stomach at Sasuke’s rejection. It wasn’t as if he was trying to come on to the guy, and besides hadn’t Sasuke said he wasn’t bothered with his sexual orientation? So why had he been given that same look of revulsion like so many others? Why was Sasuke suddenly acting like – ?


“The reason I pushed you away was because you had that disgusting thing on your chest. I couldn’t breathe.”




Naruto looked down; noticed the smear (which had now gone onto the cloth actually) and raised his head to meet Sasuke’s gaze again; somewhat relieved he wasn’t loathed for an entirely different reason after all.


He had seen the white paste earlier confused as hell as to what it meant and why it was there. He assumed Sasuke had played a prank and it was nothing but toothpaste, but one taste of the gel-like substance had him almost throwing up in disgust. The urge to use the bathroom had stirred him awake, but a ravenous hunger had followed soon after. His stomach growling, he rose unsteadily to his feet to find a bathroom (not even sure where the hell they were), when he noticed the tray of snacks just waiting to be devoured. Figuring the bathroom could wait for a few more minutes, he helped himself to the snacks and took the time to survey his surroundings including the sleeping man before him.


(Uchiha Sasuke)


If anyone had told him he’d be spending a couple of days on the road with possibly the most richest (well not anymore, if you believed the story he told about his family’s issues) guy in the country, Naruto would have laughed his ass off.


It would take wild horses pulling his teeth, to get him to confess that he had spent those precious few minutes memorizing every feature of Sasuke; knowing full well that their time together was eventually going to come to an end soon. He studied the way his black hair seemed to fall and stand on end in just the right places (ah, how he longed to run his fingers through them just to see what it felt like), to just how pale his skin really was – at least compared to Naruto’s – and how his chest would rise and fall with every breath he took.


Naruto allowed himself to fantasize about caressing that skin or pulling that body close to him (not knowing how soon that fantasy would come true), of threading his fingers through Sasuke’s leaner ones and imagining how they would feel upon his flesh in the throes of passion. He blushed at the sinful images that conjured up; worse when Sasuke muttered something forcing Naruto’s attention to those lips that just begged to be kissed or sucked and nibbled on tenderly. Either way, Naruto knew he wasn’t helping his cause; considering how long it had been since he was with anyone intimately. It wasn’t as if he could just walk down any street and request a male prostitute to keep him company for the night, so it was back to pleasuring himself to completion when he could find the time to be alone.


He sighed  and polished off the last of the dessert; mind now focused on trying to find the bathroom. He was just about to rise to his feet when the first choked sob had him sitting back down with concern. He assumed it was just his imagination, but when Sasuke’s legs twitched restlessly and then his fingers began to clench and unclench, Naruto realized the guy was either having a nightmare or experiencing night seizures. He tried to reach out to shake Sasuke awake, but the other man suddenly gave an anguished cry that just about ripped Naruto’s heart in two. There was something so unearthly desolate about that sound, it was enough to make him want to cry for the child still trapped within.


Maybe he’s just having a nightmare about his brother, Naruto thought morosely. Talking about him today must have triggered those memories I’ll bet. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked anything about -


“Why were you up?” Sasuke asked as he leaned forward; ignoring the flood of color to fill Naruto’s face as a warm hand was placed against his forehead. “At least the fever’s down. Thank God.”


“I needed to pee,” came the blunt response. “I don’t know where we are -”


“A ryokan in the mountains,” Sasuke explained as he pulled back again and eyed the empty tray. He would have loved to have one more of the sweets. “And your appetite’s not waned either. What time is it?”


“Uumm…” Naruto looked around at the room before noticing the small clock upon the low table in the corner. He crawled toward it. “Almost four in the morning. Is that a waterfall I hear? I’ve been wondering what that sound is -”


“Yes it is,” Sasuke interrupted with a rub of his eyes. “Look…we need to take a bath – get that disgusting paste off you - and then use the hot springs. The landlady swears it’s bound to get rid of the rest of your fever. The sooner we get you healed the better.”


“This early?”


“As good a time as any. Besides, it allows us to bathe in peace and avoid the other guests – if there are any.” He hadn’t noticed anyone besides the landlady and her family. “Get your things.”




They grabbed their toiletries, making small but hushed talk of the décor as they left the room and walked down the quiet corridor. Both were more than aware of the fact that they were avoiding the issue of Sasuke’s nightmare, but Naruto didn’t want to pry and be shot down again, and Sasuke wasn’t quite ready to begin spilling his innermost thoughts and fears to Naruto just yet…if ever (he surmised with a dull pang in chest).


“…are we lost?” Naruto finally asked when it appeared they had walked around in a circle and were right back to where they started. “What the hell, Sasuke?”

“Shut up,” came the embarrassed hiss. “There isn’t exactly a map around here to -”


“May I help you, sirs?” came the sudden quiet greeting that had both men nearly jumping out of their skins. They spun around to notice the smiling pale-skinned man (who was about their age) with close-cropped black hair dressed in a white and black yukata. He bowed and looked up again, still smiling though his gaze seemed a little more focused on Naruto this time around. It was a look that spoke volumes, though it appeared that the blond either didn’t notice or was still too spooked out by the ghostly appearance.


“We need to find the bathrooms,” Sasuke said; his voice strained for reasons beyond him. There was something about the way this guy was acting that bugged the hell out of him.


“Ah yes, please follow me,” the man invited as he walked between them and began to lead the way. “My name is Sai by the way. You must have met my mother and sisters earlier.” He looked over his shoulder; this time catching Sasuke’s watchful expression. “I know I look nothing like them, but that’s because I was adopted.”


“You go about telling everyone that?” Sasuke asked with a frown.


“Only because I like to get that out of the way first. I’ve come to notice that over the years, it’s the first question people ask whenever I’m introduced as the landlady’s son.”


His voice was too soft; his mannerisms ambiguous and open to whatever interpretation. He tried to make small talk, mostly training his questions at Naruto – who was uncharacteristically less chatty than usual.


“There are some courtesy towels and toiletries available for you,” Sai said once they finally saw the sign leading to the Men’s. “If you need anything please call me. I’m available at any time.”


Sasuke felt the hairs at the back of his neck rising at the obvious inflection in that word, and again, Sai’s gaze was fixated on the flushed blond. He watched as Sai placed a towel upon Naruto’s hand; his fingers remaining a little too long on the other man’s flesh before withdrawing. This time, Naruto, who must have finally gotten the hint, met Sai’s gaze and for one very heated moment Sasuke was sure he no longer existed in their little world.


He gritted his teeth and cleared his throat loudly. “Let’s go, Naruto,” he snapped impatiently. “And thanks for your help, Sai. That will be all.”


He maneuvered his way between them and gently nudged the blond into the bathrooms; making sure he threw a look over his shoulder at Sai to send him a clear message. Recalling Naruto’s story - and knowing he had already been hurt one too many times in the past with unsuccessful relationships - he’d be damned if some random guy in the mountains was going to take advantage of him. 





Chapter 04

Naruto Home





















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