Chapter 20:

The Other Leaf


The depths of the hearts

Of humankind cannot be known

But in my birthplace

The plum blossoms smell the same

As in the years gone by

-Ki no Tsurayuki





I lifted my lashes to unnerving solitude.


I was still in the clinic, that pungent antiseptic smell - common in all medical facilities - filling my lungs with every breath I took. With a light grunt, I sat up and tried to gather myself; a fruitless attempt to remember how the hell I ended up out here in the first place. The last thing I remember was being examined by that doctor while being pricked with some kind of medication to numb the pain. Unfortunately, any other further thinking was thwarted with the incessant drummer who seemed intent on driving me insane with the thunderous noise ricocheting within my skull. Aside from the splitting headache, I could have been the only living thing left on the planet for there was no simply no other sound around me.


Absolutely nothing.


There was not even the familiar (and perhaps comforting) whirr of the cooling system or muted voices from any other occupant in the vicinity. I glanced to my left to appraise the narrow hallway devoid of life. The nursing station was still there, with seemingly nothing out of place. However, there was no nurse behind the desk (had there been one when we arrived?), and Dr. Woo’s office door was closed as well.


Where the hell was everyone?


Reaching for my crutch, I struggled to my feet and began to hobble toward the exit; assuming that my brother and the blond blabbermouth had decided to wait for me in the main lobby. However, with each haunting echo of the cane upon the slate linoleum floor, I felt a dull sense of trepidation at the notion that I was not going to see anyone...and I wasn’t disappointed.


The waiting room was just as empty as the rest of the clinic. All the patients I had seen at my arrival had left as if in a rush. Why? Because magazines and newspapers were still left open as if they had been discarded quickly. A bright, colorful toy truck lay on its side with its wheels spinning noiselessly along with several marbles that lay scattered around the floor. The small mounted television was still on, but there was only soundless noise on the screen with no images to beam to the vacant room. The receptionist area was no different. Papers and documents remained in their place, but the swivel chairs behind the counter were without occupants. Cups of beverages still sat waiting to be consumed, and there was a half-eaten sandwich beside a pile of beige folders, where a small line of ants were beginning to march toward it.


Somehow knowing this was going to be pointless, I still leaned over the counter to reach for the archaic-looking telephone; having to balance precariously in my attempt to do so. As expected, there was no dial tone, no matter how hard I punched the buttons to get some kind of reception.


Great. Now what?


I lowered the receiver and looked outside, where it was still blindingly bright. Feeling a surge of hope as I noticed that cars and humans were still in existence (as evidence of them moving and going about their business), I made my way toward the glass doors to at least find the mini-bus. Perhaps Itachi and Naruto were outside after all, and lo and behold, my assumptions were true! The two were leaning against the bus licking ice creams...well at least Naruto was, my brother was scooping his from a small plastic cup – while laughing and talking about something together. I ignored the light twinge of jealousy to hit me at how relaxed and comfortable they looked as I placed my hand on the handle to twist it open. Goodness knows I was going to give Itachi a piece of my mind for not waiting for me and –




I rattled the handle a little harder.


What the fuck?!


I shook it harder still, but it just wouldn’t budge! I released it and took a deep breath; telling myself that I had perhaps turned it the wrong way. However, another frustrating minute of twisting the damn knob this way and that still yielded nothing. I couldn’t get out! I could see no obvious locks, and besides, why the hell would they lock a patient inside the hospital even if they had all gone for a lunch break? This was ridiculous!


With irritation and growing anger (fear), I began to bang on the door to get their attention. Surely Itachi would have to hear me or at least look this way.


Help me! I screamed noiselessly; banging and slamming my fist against the glass with every once of strength in my body, and yet with all the noise I was sure I was making, it still seemed as if I was expending unnecessary energy. Deep down inside, I knew he couldn’t hear me. I knew he’d never hear me.


That’s because I’m the only one who cares about you, Sasuke.


I shuddered and felt a million goose bumps break out on my skin at the barely audible yet oh-so-familiar hiss of that slithering voice. I spun around and felt the scream lodged in my throat as I noticed his shadow first before the lanky frame made the turn to block out the flood of light coming from the adjunct hallway.


Disgust, like bitter bile, filled my tongue and made me want to gag. I pressed myself against the door as if hoping it would suck me in and hide me from this horrific scene.


He was dressed in his favorite black robe with the gold trimmings, his walking stick with the diamond serpent head alive with its ruby eyes trained squarely on me. It hissed at me...leered in jest as its master glided closer still toward me. It was impossible to see his feet, but with the way he moved, it definitely did seem as if he was simply gliding across the floor.


The outside world is cruel and unjust, my dear Sasuke, the apparition cajoled as it smiled to reveal its fangs. Come back to where you belong. Byaku-Shinkyou is yours and mine. We do not need him. We’ve never needed him...


No, I screamed within and scrambled desperately for the handle again. No! No! No! I am not ready for you yet. Not in this condition. You cannot take me back yet! I won’t go back!


It is pointless to resist, came the low hiss as his pale hand, with those inky black long fingernails, reached out for me. Come back to me...back to where you belong...back into my arms, Sasuke. Come to....




It was with a desperate wail of anguish and frustrated fury that I lashed out with my crutch to perhaps swat him aside, but the sudden sensation of something warm and comforting upon my forehead had me lifting my lashes (hadn’t even been aware I had squeezed them shut) to look into the concerned and wonderful visage of my precious manservant hovering over me.


“Sasuke-sama? Are you all right?”


I would think not, I wanted to say. I just had the most bizarre nightmare yet.


But my lips wouldn’t move. His face and presence had never meant more to me than at this moment, and if I could wrap my arms around him and hug him tightly, I’d do so.


“You must have had a nightmare,” he was saying as he suddenly leapt out of view, only to return seconds later with a cup in his hand. “Sit up a little, Sasuke-sama. You should drink this.”


I allowed him to place a gentle, but strong hand behind my neck as he eased me to an upright position. With silent gratitude, I downed the cool liquid, feeling relieved as it quenched a throat that felt parched and in need of refreshment. When he was satisfied I was done, he released me with a small smile on his face.


“How do you feel now?”


I nodded and tried to smile back, but it felt more like a grimace. “Alive,” I finally muttered as I took a good look at him. They must have finally found a shop that sold kimonos because he was back in his familiar garb, though it was (thankfully) not as feminine as the ones he had in Byaku Shinkyou. This looked manlier with its brown and black theme which suited him quite well surprisingly. His hair had not been cut as I had overheard them discussing the other day, but it was in a ponytail all the same.


“Did you have fun shopping?” I asked, while motioning for him to refill the cup. I was still thirsty.


“It was fun, Sasuke-sama!” he replied; hopping to his feet to do as told. His voice echoed from the small kitchen as I surveyed my dismal lodgings with an inner sigh. However, I did notice that Haku had done a few things here and there to brighten things up a little. Knowing my love for the gardens that graced my childhood home, he had purchased a miniature ficus penda bonsai within an antique vase as well as two small pots of pink orchids and white dendrobium. The bonsai he kept in a corner of the room, but the other plants were outside on the balcony, which did improve the view. He must have also done some house work because the meager furniture we had as well as the walls seemed a little ‘brighter’ and cleaner. It didn’t smell as musty and dusty either. There was a fresh pine aroma that made breathing a little more tolerable.


He had also opened the blinds revealing a twilight skyline where the faint sounds of cars and people below seeped through the small gap made with the sliding door being ajar. It made me wonder just how long I had been asleep...or even how I ended up here in the first place. As in my dream, the last thing I remember was being given some kind of shot to numb the pain in my leg...which by the way was now throbbing a little. Guess the medication was finally wearing off.


Glancing to my right, I noticed that our small television was on, and I assume Haku must have been watching it because there was some ridiculous variety show where contestants were asked to wade around in a tub of soap suds in an effort to win some kind of prize. I rolled my eyes as a hairy fat guy wearing a hideous and embarrassing neon green bikini ended up winning. It didn’t help that he began to hop up and down causing just about everything to jiggle in the most unpleasant way possible.


Urgh. This was considered entertainment?


“...took us to some great stores!” Haku was still recounting as he returned to kneel beside my futon with cup in hand. As I drank, he blabbed on and on about his fun day with Karin and Shikamaru; of how they had visited different stores in the shopping district and stocked up on new clothing and food (which was a good thing because if I had to eat one more cup of ramen, I’d go mad). He praised Karin’s ability to haggle with shopkeepers, especially those who thought they could take advantage of them. Karin was apparently quite fluent in the language of the natives and must have visited the area before since she seemed to navigate around town effortlessly.  


“We bought you only one complete outfit, Sasuke-sama. I don’t really understand the clothes sizes here, so I couldn’t really buy any more. Itachi-sama said that when you wake up and feel much better, then you and Naruto-kun can go buy your own clothes yourselves. It would be better that way.”


How magnanimous of him, I wanted to sneer as echoes of my dream and how he had ignored me came rushing back. I rubbed my forehead and shook it off. This was no time to focus on a situation I couldn’t control. Besides, the brief flash of a shopping expedition with Naruto was headache inducing in itself.




That’s right...I haven’t even given him an answer yet, have I?


“What day is it?” I asked aloud instead.


“Friday,” Haku replied automatically. He was back to watching his show; rapt and apparently cheering for one of the contestants; a pretty young girl who could pass for Haku’s sister actually. But wait...had he said Friday?


“...I was out for almost a whole day?” I asked incredulously.


“Uh huh. Ooooh!” Haku groaned as the girl fell off the narrow bridge she was supposed to be balancing on. “She was this close!”


“Who brought me in?”


“Itachi-sama. You were out cold, Sasuke-sama.”




Su go!” Haku suddenly wailed and waved his hands as the audience members chanted out the same thing. Consider it the equivalent of ‘banzai’ in Japanese.


“What the hell are you doing?” I finally asked in exasperation. “Why are you watching that ridiculous thing?” Now some idiot was trying to balance a champagne glass on his head while walking across a wobbling rope bridge. Good grief!


Haku glanced at me with a pout. “Naruto-kun said the best way to learn a language quickly is by watching the television shows here. He says it’s how he learned how to speak Korean when he was in Japan.”


Of course. Why would I have expected anything different? Trust Naruto to teach Haku the most stupid way to learn anything.


“I’m sure there are better shows than that you could watch,” I muttered, but Haku was not paying any attention to me because the commercials were over and it was game time again. Sigh. Why did I get the feeling that ordering him around here would not be the best of ideas? Hadn’t Naruto told me the obvious back at the clinic? We were no longer within the walls of Byaku-Shinkyou. Out here, we were all on the same level playing field, so if Haku wanted to kill a few more brain cells by watching senseless Korean variety shows, who was I to stop him?


Unfortunately, nearly three hours later, I was reluctantly hooked...not on the variety show, but on a soap opera/drama type thing which Haku had started watching yesterday while I was in my comatose state. I really had no idea what the storyline was about (though Haku tried his best to narrate as best he could), but I needn’t have worried so much. It was a riveting tale set in the era of the Three Kingdoms, and there was something rather cool (though slightly ridiculous) about the way the actors spoke and carried themselves. They do tend to over exaggerate things, don’t they? Talk about melodrama. Since I was more fluent in the language, I had to translate a few things for Haku, and I had to felt...well...good to interact with him in such a manner. Like an eager child, he’d pepper me with questions, and I’d do my best to answer them, while throwing in a few Korean words here and there that he could pick up on his own.


In Byaku-Shinkyou, I did not watch television and though I would have rather spent an evening listening to him playing the shamisen while reading, it was slowly dawning on me that he could have other interests besides keeping me entertained all the time. I realized I had never really asked Haku what things he did like to do outside of serving me; yet another blimp in our so-called relationship. In this new life of ours, I guess it was going to be up to me to get to know him on a more personal level, and learning about his love for be more specific – soap operas (and stupid variety shows) – Haku was revealing a little more of the real him. There was an inexplicable glow on his features that I had never seen before; an aura of ‘freedom’ that made him even more beautiful...and not just on the outside.


I could appreciate that.


It was evening now, and between eating the quick dinner Haku had prepared (I was pleased to see it was a familiar Japanese meal thanks to a store that specialized in them), we were only bothered by Karin and Itachi. Karin – to see how I was doing and to show me a way to change my wound dressing quickly and as pain-free as possible before administering the medication prescribed to me, and later Itachi, who stayed for a few minutes to check up on me.


It was a little awkward, I have to confess. His presence not only brought my dream to the forefront, but had me recalling my decision to confront him about his relationship with Shisui. However, with Haku being in the room and the drama show being on at the same time (and I really had no inclination to stop watching especially since they were at a mesmerizing battle scene), I decided not to bring it up.


If he was going to mock me about my sudden love for Korean dramas, he did not say it openly. Instead he watched with us for a while, and just as I had done, spent some time answering whatever questions Haku fired at him as patiently as possible. Somehow, that blond loudmouth entered into the conversation, and though I had not asked, I was still curious to know how he was doing; after all, he had gone to the clinic to get checked out as well.


“ tell you thank you,” Itachi was saying.


“He liked it?” Haku all but squealed in delight. “It’s just plain miso soup though...”


“Plain or not, Naruto enjoyed it all, and said he wouldn’t mind having some more in the morning.”


“Then I’ll make some more for him!”


“I’m sure he’ll appreciate it, considering he’s been out of it for a while thanks to all the pain medication he was given.” Was Itachi looking at me? I felt he was considering he had raised his voice a little as if making sure I heard it loud and clear. So why the hell was my face suddenly burning at the notion that he knew I was interested? Damn him.


“Poor Naruto-kun,” Haku was saying. “He was speaking gibberish too.”


“That medication is powerful stuff,” Itachi agreed. “Makes you say things you don’t really mean...”




Might be my imagination, but again, it appeared he was directing this at me, and I threw a bewildered glance in his direction. However, his gaze wasn’t trained on me as I had assumed. He seemed more interested with the television, which was now showing a commercial for a women’s hair removal product. All the same I felt a little uneasy. Was he trying to tell me something?


“We’re going to have a little meeting in the morning if you’re up to it,” Itachi said as he prepared to say his farewells for the night half an hour later. “It will be held in our room -”


“Why there?” I blurted out before I could stop myself. The idea of sitting in that place...on that floor where...just no.


“Because it’s more conducive there,” came the quiet reply. There was a pause and then... “Do you have a problem with my room, Sasuke?”


I wasn’t sure of why that question seemed loaded (making me wonder if he knew that I knew that he was...well...), but I only shrugged and tried to act nonchalant. “I just wanted to know why we had to have it there, that’s all.”


Though I wasn’t looking directly at him (the main character had been stabbed in the torso during the battle by the emperor...fucking traitor), I did manage to catch the quick flicker of amusement that filled Itachi’s visage before it was replaced with the familiar noncommittal expression. “Shisui has a lot of things we can’t lug about, so we have to have the meeting there. Sorry...if you don’t find it too comfortable.”


“I’ll manage,” I bit out tightly. Now, I was sure he knew. Did he really think it was funny?!


I all but glared at him as he left with a polite bow; faintly aware of just how tense and on edge I was (my shoulders were literally aching!) until Haku suggested we take a bath together. My initial reaction was to refuse the offer, but considering the incident that happened the other morning, and risking being harassed by Naruto (and what was the need to be ‘ashamed’ in front of a servant who had seen me naked many times already), I sighed and agreed with a light shrug.


With some careful maneuvering, we found a way to get my now cumbersome body out the door and toward the bathroom. The hallway was mercifully deserted, though I could hear voices behind the closed doors: music from Karin’s room, loud laughter from Naruto and Shikamaru’s room, and barely audible voices behind my brother’s room. At least they were talking...unless they talked while they...


Do Not Think About That!


“Are you okay, Sasuke-sama?”




Haku appeared uncertain. “You looked annoyed all of a sudden. Is it your leg again?”


I shook my head and tried to smile at him. “I’m fine. Just thought of something...unpleasant, that’s all.”


“Ah...okay...” He didn’t sound too convinced, but he did push open the door to the bathroom which was actually big enough to host more than one person at a time in it; keeping his doubts to himself.


Akin to a typical Japanese bath house, there was an anteroom for your personal belongings to be kept. It was nothing more than a rickety wooden shelf with wicker baskets in each divided section, where Haku (shameless as ever) stripped quickly and tied a small white towel around his waist, while humming the theme song to the drama show we had just watched. Efficiently, he helped me into a towel as well, though it was slightly tricky considering the floor (with its ugly green tiles) was a little slippery and I nearly lost my footing a few times. Eventually, we made it to the section where we could sit on plastic stools to scrub off the grime from the day. Unfortunately, ‘sitting’ didn’t really apply to me as I was more like half sitting/half leaning against the wall since I had to stretch out my right leg. Not a very comfortable position, but it was better than nothing.


Aaaaah...feels good...


I had almost forgotten how great Haku’s massages were, and all but melted into a puddle of pleasure as I lowered my head to give him better access to my back. He was careful not to aggravate bruises that were yet to fully heal, and knew just the right areas to touch to make me feel good. I had to bite back helpless groans as I adjusted the towel on my lap to hide what was gradually becoming obvious. Haku, bless his clueless soul, was still humming away happily and unaware of the effect his actions were having on me. I adjusted myself as discreetly as possible and felt the need to speak; perhaps hoping it would kill this embarrassing situation.


“When you’re done...” I began quietly.


The humming stopped. “What’s that, Sasuke-sama?”


“I said...when you’re done...I’ wash your back too.”


I think I must have shocked him to the core with this statement because I could literally hear him gasp and drop the sponge he had been using to the floor.


“ don’t have to, Sasuke-sama,” he finally stuttered when he could find his voice again. I glanced over my shoulder to see him looking downcast and wringing the sponge between his hands. His face was as red as I’d ever seen, and I tried to blame it on the steam emanating from the main bathroom with the waiting tub. “I’m supposed to serve...”


“We’re no longer in Byaku-Shinkyou,” I explained with a small smile. “So you don’t have to keep treating me like I’m your master -”


“But you are my master,” Haku interrupted vehemently. He looked up with what seemed like panic in his eyes. “Are you getting tired of me, Sasuke-sama? Is that it? Do you want to get rid of me?”


“, that’s not it,” I replied quickly with a firm shake of my head. “I would never let you go...unless you wanted to.”


He shook his head again; a fiery glow of stubborn determination in his eyes. “Then I am yours until my dying day, Sasuke-sama. I made a vow to be by your side no matter what, so I’m staying...for as long as you want me to...” He trailed off with downcast eyes. I really deserve someone like you by my side?


Feeling my heart twinge with such intense gratitude for his loyalty and companionship, I was unaware of my hand reaching out to cradle his chin gently; more to force him to look up and to perhaps thank him for being so generous with his complete devotion...but the sudden sound of laughter and the loud bang of the door opening had us both turning around like deer caught in headlights.




You could hear a pin say the least.


“Whooops!” Naruto finally broke the silence after we had all gawked at each other in shock for an eternity of a second. “Didn’t realize we were interrupting something.”


The bastard was smirking with a mischievous glint in his eyes that had every fiber of my being burning with mortification at being caught in a somewhat compromising position.


Shikamaru – who was behind him – cleared his throat and lifted a hand in apology. “Sorry, door was unlocked. We didn’t realize it was occupied. We’ll just be leaving -”


“Why?” Naruto replied as he shrugged off the hand Shikamaru had placed on his arm. “I have a right to take a shower too you know. I’m dirty. Been sweating like a goddamn pig all day.”


“There’s plenty of room for you, Naruto-kun,” Haku piped up with what was obvious relief in his tone. He grinned and motioned toward the other empty stools. “You can join us!”


No, he cannot! I wanted to scream or kick Haku off his stool in disbelief. What the hell did he think he was doing?!


“See? Plenty of room,” Naruto agreed as he grinned in kind to his partner-in-crime. “Let’s hurry, Shika. I don’t wanna miss the movie. Pass me the towel.”


I turned away to reach for the shampoo, angry to find my fingers were trembling as I picked up the plastic bottle, while their casual banter continued to float over me. So what if he saw me nude? Besides my mother, father (probably), Itachi and Haku, no one else had seen me in this state before, and I had never – in my life – felt as vulnerable and exposed in every way possible, to these two relative strangers.


This. Was. Humiliating!


“...lock the door in case Karin comes wandering in and gets an eyeful,” Naruto was saying as I felt and heard him walk past me. I stubbornly kept my head lowered and scrubbed at my hair even harder than before; perhaps wanting to rip out the scalp in an attempt to focus on what I was doing instead of the guy(s) now sitting barely inches away from me.


“Want me to wash your back first, Shika?” Naruto was asking.


/Want me to wash your back, Sasuke? /


I shivered at the unspoken words; memories of my shameful antics in the safety of my bathroom, back at Byaku-Shinkyou, suddenly returning with a vengeance. The very idea of Naruto touching me that intimately...




“Sure...can you do that with one hand though?”


“Hardy har har. I can move the other one, just not too much. Hey, take it easy when you’re washing mine. Don’t get the bandages wet.”




The jarring scrape of stools across the floor had me looking up a little. I could see their feet and it was worrisome just how close those two were to each other. However, a part of me mocked my concern, since Haku was not too far from me either. Coupled with the fact that I had been touching my manservant, was it any wonder Naruto and Shikamaru must have assumed something wrong when they came in? How had Haku and I appeared to them? Would Naruto assume that I was really that way after all? That all his allusions to me being interested in members of my own sex were finally coming to light in his warped mind?


God...what a fucking mess.


“I’ll rinse you off, Sasuke-sama,” Haku was saying as he rose to reach for the hand shower. I bit my lower lip to control my cry of shock as a douse of water pricked my heated skin like a million icy needles. Haku apologized and adjusted the temperature quickly; though I was sure Naruto and his companion were laughing at my helpless reaction. With hands that still trembled, I rinsed off my face, which forced me to finally look up, and I immediately regretted that decision.


They were indeed close to each other, with Naruto’s back bowed a little to give Shikamaru access to it. Shikamaru, whose black hair was always in a ponytail, had been released to cascade down to his shoulders, and I had to admit it made him look a little different (not as reserved I think). Naruto’s usual spiky locks were now plastered to his scalp and cheeks; reminiscent of that first night within The Pit during their initial cleansings.


The second thing to catch my attention was their backs etched with scars...welts they must have received from being flogged during their incarceration. While Shikamaru’s was all but faded, Naruto’s were a little more obvious, and I felt something heavy sink into the pit of my stomach as I watched that flesh treated gingerly. Shikamaru seemed to know just where to scrub without causing any more damage to his companion. For in addition to the scars, there were also the bruises and wounds sustained not just from our fight, but from the battle with Hidan.


It’s the price you pay for the sin you committed, a voice within me reasoned. Every scar....every deserved. Those are your battle scars, aren’t they, Naruto? Literally and figuratively. In some weird way, I envy them. While your scars are visible...mine will always remain hidden.


He seemed to stiffen (or maybe it was just my imagination playing tricks again), before throwing me a glance over his shoulder with a bemused frown on his visage. Had he heard me? Or was I being naïve enough to believe that we had some sort of telepathic communication thing going especially after that incident at the arena?


Stop being so stupid, I chided myself and closed my eyes to allow the water Haku was still pouring on me to wash away the few soapy residues left. That was nothing more than a fluke.


“Hey, Haku,” came the sudden call from Naruto just as Haku and I were getting ready to head to the tub for a much-needed soak. “Did you watch Heavenly Kingdom tonight?”


“Oh yes!” came the thrilled reply which had me sighing in resignation. I already had an idea of where this conversation was going. “Sasuke-sama and I watched it together.”


Did you really have to mention that?!


“Eeeeh?” Naruto drawled lazily as he sat up to motion for Shikamaru to turn around. With blatant amusement on his visage, he began to scrub his friend’s back though he was still looking at me. I had no idea why I was glad to see he had the small towel draped over his lap to prevent us from seeing his privates. Thank God for brief moments of decorum where necessary.


“I didn’t know you watched T.V,” he added with a grin.


“Sasuke-sama loved it!” Haku revealed; which promptly had my cheeks flaring with color. Where the fuck was my crutch?! I had to get out of here. “He was translating some of the words and teaching me the language as well. Weren’t you, Sasuke-sama?”


“I would like to head to the tub now,” I replied tightly, while attempting to rise to my feet. “You are free to keep chatting about the drama, but...shit!




Gravity betrayed me as my feet suddenly began to slide awkwardly along the wet floor. I knew it was inevitable I was going to fall on my ass or bang my already throbbing leg against something again, and mentally bracing for the pain, I desperately tried to steady myself (pathetically I might add) against the tiled wall. However, when even clutching onto that failed, it was the sudden and every unexpected sensation of strong arms encircling my waist, which had me stumbling back into something warm and definitely not as painful as the floor might have been.


“Goddamnit!” came the muttered grunt beneath me. “You could have at least worn slippers, and how the fuck do you plan to be in a tub anyway with your leg like that?”


It was Naruto, and the idiot had used himself as a cushion to stop my fall. I would have praised him in gratitude if it wasn’t for the dawning realization that the towel I had draped around my waist had come undone...Naruto’s was lying inches away from my foot...and that sensation of something familiar... hard and very much with a mind of its own was now nudging against my backside in a rather disconcerting way...


Oh...oh God!


I all but scrambled off him quickly; ignoring the pressure I was inflicting on my leg and grabbing my wet towel to hide a shameful and embarrassing natural reaction to the situation.




What the hell was natural about getting an erection from being in such close contact to another naked male?! Getting a back scrub from Haku didn’t count. At least he hadn’t gone out of his way to press his body against mine. But then again, considering the last time I had been this close to another naked body, it had involved a rather passionate encounter (with a female, I might add). It made a suitable excuse for why it was behaving this way. That was all. Memories of that night were only being triggered at this moment.


Now, if I could only control my racing heart beat and stop feeling as if I was blushing up a storm, we’d be in business.


Haku was busy fretting over both of us, while Shikamaru assisted Naruto back to his feet with queries of concern.


I should be the one doing that...


I honestly hadn’t meant to look at him, but for a heartbeat of a moment, our eyes did meet and I could have sworn there was an expression that was a mixture of genuine bemusement and ...and...and what exactly? It was hard to decipher what that other emotion was (though it appeared to be an upgrade from the warm looks he had given me in the bus when we first met). Either way, it was enough to send my cheeks burning hotter still. I was really beginning to loathe just how much he was affecting me in this way. Thankfully, he was the first to look away; his voice casual as he replied to the concerned question from his friend. The moment between us was broken, and I was glad for it for I could breathe a little easier again. I didn’t need to have this new problem weighing on my already troubled mind.


“Come on,” he was saying to Shikamaru. “Rinse me off so we can go back.”


“Won’t you use the tub?” Haku asked.


“It’s cool. You and your master can use it. I need to go lie down,” Naruto replied and immediately grimaced as he favored his shoulder. A sharp pang hit me then as I realized he must have landed on it in an attempt to stop me from falling.


This would be the perfect time to thank him, don’t you think?!


And though my mind screamed this, I couldn’t get my fucking lips to form the words! I could only listen to Haku thank him on my behalf, and for his efforts, Naruto gave him a warm smile and pinched his cheek gently. With a final reminder for Haku to not forget making his delicious miso soup in the morning, our uninvited guests eventually left, leaving behind the sweet scent of the soaps and shampoos they had used as well as a stifling silence between Haku and I.


Suddenly the idea of soaking in a tub didn’t look too appealing, and Naruto was right was I planning to sit in it without messing up the dressings?


“Sasuke-sama?” came the tentative call of my name that had me looking at my companion. Haku wasn’t really focused on me, and he was back to wringing the wash cloth between his hands, which was a sign he was about to ask me something I wasn’t sure I wanted to answer.


With an inner sigh, I replied warily. “Go ahead, Haku.”


“Why don’t you like Naruto-kun?” came the blunt question that just about threw me off guard.


I flailed for an answer. “I...I mean…”


“You don’t talk to him much, and when you do, it always seems like you’re mad at him,” Haku continued in a rush of words; his eyes brimming with unshed tears. “He’s really trying to be nice to you, Sasuke-sama, and he’s funny and great to spend time with, if you get to know him. He...he’s got a good heart...and he was the one who told me to take care of you when he assumed he was going to die at Gudan. I...I just don’t understand why you two can’t...can’ fri...friends...”


He sniffled and angrily scrubbed at his eyes before bowing his head to me. “I’m sorry for speaking out of line, Sasuke-sama, but...I just wanted to say that and get it off my chest.” He looked up at me with eyes that were reddened with his sorrow, and it made me realize just how much this must have weighed on his heart and mind all this time. He hesitated and looked as if he wanted to say something else, but eventually lapsed into miserable silence and went about his duties like an automaton while I struggled to come up with a reasonable excuse for my actions.


He is a sinner.

He mistook me for a female.

He is crude, crass, uncouth, and incredibly stupid...sometimes.

He has a penchant to upset me with most of the things he says and does.

He makes me uneasy with the way he looks at me.

He wants to see right through me and that worries me more than anything else.


Unfortunately, saying any of this aloud would give Haku the impression that I was being petty and superficial; hence my decision to remain mute created an evening filled with uncomfortable and awkward pauses.


It took a lot of inner debating, much weighing of the pros and cons, much tossing and turning –as best I could – as my restless thoughts superseded the cobwebs of sleep. Finally, around two in the morning (and having stared long enough at the fucking ceiling); I decided I might as well get it over and done with. What was the use of keeping up with this charade? Again, I wasn’t planning on becoming a Shikamaru clone anytime soon, but we definitely could try to be civil with each other by accepting the ‘truce’. Hence, with that firm thought in mind and doing my best not to awaken my sleeping roommate, I made my way out of the room without the aid of the crutch. It would be too noisy, and besides, I could put a little weight on my leg now without rupturing any stitches. Progress was agonizingly slow, but I eventually reached Room #632; leaned heavily against it to catch my breath before lifting a hand to knock on it.


I would later blame my rash decision, to awaken him at an ungodly hour, on my medication. I was still experiencing some residual effects of it (having taken a little more than necessary thanks to the incident in the bathroom earlier), so even if he cursed me for bothering him, I would ignore it and try to take it all in stride. But what if Shikamaru answered the door instead? I wasn’t sure I wanted to speak to the other man first. I really didn’t need them both awake to hear my potential ramble.


Good grief! Open the fucking door already!


I knocked again, and this time I heard the barely audible sound of muffled voices and someone finally shuffling toward the door. I stepped back and rehearsed my words again, figuring it was going to be quick and painless. I would just get it over and done with and tell Haku about my ‘escapade’, so he wouldn’t keep sulking around me. I couldn’t deal with him in a depressed mood because it really could be fucking contagious.


There was the rattle of the lock...




(goddamn heartbeat)


...and then the door creaking open slowly as if afraid of seeing what was behind it. I swallowed as a light sheen of sweat began to break out on my skin. Was I about to experience a panic attack? Or were the strains of my little trip across the hallway finally getting to me? Either way, a pair of cautious, sleep-induced blue eyes blinked slowly at me as if unsure of what they were seeing.


I opened my mouth to recite the words I had practiced while lying on my futon, but everything evaporated in a second at the husky, drawled words that slipped out of his mouth.


“Are you sleepwalking?”




“What?” I squeaked out breathlessly; not quite sure where this was go-


“Your room is at the other end of the hallway,” he continued with a barely stifled yawn. He opened the door a little wider to point in said direction as if I was that stupid not to know where my own room was. However, I was quick to notice that he was in a wrinkled plain orange tee shirt and a pair of black shorts tonight akin to what I was wearing...well not the same colors anyway. Still! What the hell did that matter? He was distracting me from my original intentions!


“Listen,” I begin with a lick of my lips and a deep breath taken. “Um...I...”


“You need help getting there?” he asked with a raised brow and a quick glance at my leg. “Ah...probably that’s why you came by. You forgot your crutch and you need -”


Oh, for crying out loud!


“Will you just shut up for one second and let me say what I came here for?” I hissed in frustration.  


Now both brows were raised and I could tell the sleep was fading quickly to be replaced with an expression that was definitely not going to make this easy if I kept up in this way. I spoke quickly and firmly.


“I wanted to thank you for the bathroom...when I was going to fall?” I ended with a question when it seemed like he wasn’t making any attempt to remember what the hell had happened. Those damned blue eyes continued to watch me carefully, before they lowered and he scratched the back of his head. He finally looked up again, and there was no mistaking the hint of a smile that tugged the corner of his lips.


“Bit of a delayed reaction, ain’t it?”




“You woke me up at...” He looked back into his darkened room and then turned to me again; the smile now a little wider. “You woke me up at two-forty five in the morning just to thank me for something that happened last night? Geez. You really are something, aren’t you? Why couldn’t you tell me this in the daylight I mean?”


“I...” I what?


“What?” The smile became a knowing smirk. “You’re embarrassed to be seen talking to me? Is that it?”


“Actually, I only did it because I didn’t want to see Haku upset,” I blurted out defensively...and immediately wished I hadn’t because he literally seemed to pull away from me; an unreadable expression filling his visage.


“Ah...Haku, huh?” he finally muttered. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have taken the initiative to do so on your own, eh?”


“I didn’t mean it like that...” I began hastily, but I knew I had screwed up in some way. It now seemed like the wall I had tentatively began to push aside to get to him, was now ascending at a rapid rate.


“I know exactly what you mean, Sasuke,” Naruto clipped. He was for some reason. I didn’t understand why he would feel that way. “Give your precious Haku my thanks for having the balls to teach you how to become a decent human being. Besides, I don’t need your fucking thanks. His was more than enough. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to bed.”


He made to turn away, but I slammed a hand against the door jamb, effectively blocking his path with my outstretched arm. This motion forced me to move a little closer to him, but I couldn’t be bothered with proximity issues at the moment. I had to make him understand for God’s sake. He had no idea how difficult this was for me!


“I didn’t say it right,” I grated out tightly. “What I meant to say was that Haku...” I shook my head. “Look forget about him, all right? You offered a truce at the clinic -”


“I take it back since you’re such a dickwad -”


“...and I wanted to say yes...why do you have to insult me, you bastard?”


“You’re insulting me too,” he hissed back. Might I add we were pretty much arguing in harsh whispers so as not to wake up the rest of the floor. “You think it’s fun having to listen to you calling me ‘sinner, sinner, sinner’ all the fucking time?! Oh, and there’s the bastard thing too.”


“I am trying to be nice to you -”


“Try harder.”


I banged a clenched fist against the door. This was infuriating! “What the fuck do you want me to do to prove it?!”


He gave a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes and leaned close that I could feel his warm breath bathe my fevered flesh and flecks of gold swimming within those twin pools of blue. My irrational and frenzied thought was that it would take only one more step and those soft-looking lips...especially the lower one he was now biting ever so gently...were going to meet mine and then...and then...  


(he wouldn’t dare. He is just as disgusted as I am about the whole thing. He wouldn’t dare think of doing something as sinful and humiliating as

(but...I am curious...)

(curiosity killed the cat. Remember that)

(...what would it be like?)

(don’t even entertain the thought)

(what would he taste like?)


(...just one more step and...)


(heh...who is the sinner now?)


Mocking laughter filled my head, and I was sure it sounded like Orochimaru’s cackle of glee at the stray thoughts filtering through my mind. I groaned in misery and silently begged for forgiveness, and still my knees were beginning to feel a little weak; the faint buzzing in my head growing louder by the second. My vision swam and it was with trembling hands that I found myself reaching out to clutch his tee shirt; more to steady myself than anything. Gratefully, I wasn’t shunned or pushed aside.


Are you all right, Sasuke?


It was him...he was the one calling my name, but it seemed to be miles away; disembodied...faint.


Geesus. You shouldn’t have come out without your goddamn crutch. Here...hang on to me...


Somewhere, a door was opening. There was a new voice now; familiar...


“...think he’s about to faint. Can you help me with him?”


They were talking and at the same time strong arms lifted me like a child to carry me off somewhere. I must have blacked out at the point, for the next time I opened my eyes, I was staring at the familiar uninspiring plain pattern of the ceiling in my apartment.


A... dream?


Perhaps it really had been nothing more than that, for that thin line between my dreams and reality were becoming even more blurrier with every passing day.


So why…why was there this inexplicable ache in my heart at that notion? And what could it possibly mean?





It’s official, Naruto thought sullenly. Uchiha Sasuke has to be the most perplexing human being on the fucking planet.


Was he going on insane? Or did what happened last night actually take place? Had Sasuke really come knocking at his door at two in the morning wanting to thank him for the help rendered in the bathroom? Had he actually mentioned something about agreeing to the truce he initiated at the clinic? And what was with that expression on his face anyway? Why did Sasuke have to look so damn...damn...weird (oddly even more attractive), what with the way his lashes became hooded as if aware of some secret Naruto wasn’t privy to, or the way his lips had parted ever so slightly...sort of like the way a girl would act when she wanted to be...




Argh! No fucking way! he wailed in silence with a furious scratch of his head. It was the pain making him act that way, that’s all! I mean look at him this morning. He hasn’t even spared me a glance, and as usual, he’s pretending as if I don’t even exist.


Thanks to the ‘strange’ visit, sleep had not come easy the rest of the night. He had lain awake; going over what had transpired as well as rehashing that scene he had witnessed in the bathroom between Sasuke and his ‘servant’. There was definitely no denying his assumptions now. Sasuke did have a thing for the guys. How else could you explain the loving expression on his face and the way he was touching Haku’s cheek? Hell, if they had come in a minute later, he might have caught those two doing something pretty damn inappropriate.


To compound matters, he and Haku showed up late to the meeting (they were all now in Itachi and Shisui’s apartment), and both had taken up a corner of the room; sitting between Karin and Shikamaru. What was the cause of the delay? Had they been so busy finishing up what they had started last night? He ignored the friendly smile Haku flashed his way, with a barely perceptible nod, as something Sasuke said last night came rushing back to mind.


/Actually, I only did it because I didn’t want to see Haku upset./


Naturally. Why upset your boyfriend or lover…or whatever the hell they called themselves?


He plucked absently at a piece of the tacky rug on the floor; watching their interaction with hooded lids. He told himself that those words hadn’t bothered him at all, but then again, he would be a big fat liar if he didn’t admit it either. He really had no idea why they would make him so pissed off, but they did. It was as if Sasuke was so damn willing to make Haku happy, and would only do things to please the guy at the expense of others.


Hell! So if it wasn’t for Haku, he wouldn’t even speak to me? Well fuck it. I’m just going to have to tell Itachi that this whole babysitting job is gonna be a burst. I have no intention of helping a guy who’s only trying to be ‘civil’ with me because his servant asked him to. Like I need his damn pity...


“Everyone had breakfast?” Shisui interrupted as he towered over and surveyed the motley crew with arms akimbo. If he noticed the cold look Sasuke was giving him, he paid no attention to it, for there was a rare smile on his face, despite being dressed in a black yukata that was a rather poignant reminder of the uniforms worn by the watchdogs.


At their mumbled replies of ‘yes’ or nods, he gave a light grunt of satisfaction and plunked himself on the floor with legs crossed. Itachi, who was sitting beside him – and dressed in similar fashion - reached behind to drag a pretty large gray traveling bag toward him. It was lifted (with a grunt of exertion) and dumped before Shisui, who promptly unzipped it and began to talk in his usual no-nonsense tone.


“As most of you know, I went to do a little reconnaissance the other day...or better yet, spoke to a few people back home to see the state of affairs.”


The occupants in the room were too busy gawking in disbelief at what the older man was removing from the bag. Several pistols (a Glock G26, a Glock G21, a Ruger Blackhawk, and a Smith and Wesson .357), a semi-automatic rifle, boxes of cartridges, bullets, empty magazines, throwing knives (Haku’s eyes literally glowed at the sight of these), two very impressive-looking wakizashi and matching katanas to go with it. Naruto had no doubt that the guns, at least, were illegal around these parts. They weren’t exactly the kinds that Kojima had used. All the same, he resisted the urge to wipe his sweaty palms upon his lap at the sight of the weapons; faintly aware of feeling a mild sense of relief at actually seeing the damn things.


(I need them for protection...that’s all...that’s all it is...really)


“Needless to say...” Shisui continued as he picked up the Glock and began to check it with a skilled eye. Sure and steady fingers took the weapon apart, and the others could only watch mesmerized as he began to load in a 10-round magazine with an expertise that was nearly jaw-dropping. “Things are not looking too good. A prisoner who managed to escape during the chaos gave me a few details. As far as he knows, Orochimaru has begun rebuilding the sections of Byaku-Shinkyou that were destroyed in the fire. You also know he set up the fake funeral to essentially finish off Sasuke, right?”


At their nods, he continued, this time now working on the Smith and Wesson. “Turns out he’s getting quite impatient. Since Danzo’s still stuck in the hospital, Orochimaru is making a move without him.” This time he turned his attention to the flushed Naruto; a dark unreadable expression in his eyes. “Word is, he’s got the entire Bakufu Syndicate doing his dirty work for him now. You do understand what this means, don’t you, Naruto?”


Naruto clenched his hands tightly on his lap and nodded with a faint smile. “Yeah...Itachi filled me in the other day. I’m pretty much a bounty, right?”


“Just about,” Shisui agreed with a faint smirk. “Who knew you could be such a threat to them after all.”


“I know I took out Kojima who was his nephew or something,” Naruto mumbled; feeling a dark heat flush over him at the realization that all attention was now focused on him. He decided to look at Itachi since he was the harbinger of the bad news in the first place. “And now they want to finish up what they started, right?”


“It’s more than that,” Shisui began, but at a shared look with Itachi, he shrugged and continued from where he left off. “Bottom line, Orochimaru has started to take out anything and anyone that could be remotely connected to us and he’s hired the Bakufu to take care of business behind the scenes. All the more reason why Itachi and I have to head back as quickly as possible. We need to remobilize members who might be considering fleeing or jumping ship.”


“And Danzo doesn’t know about this, you said?” Sasuke asked tightly. His features looked strained, but there was no mistaking that he was pissed off.


“I don’t think so,” Shisui replied with a purse of his lips. “You should Orochimaru’s tactics by now. If he has the opportunity to grab the bull by the horns, he’ll do it, even if it means betraying his best friend.”


By this time, he had loaded all the guns with new magazines before laying out the weapons neatly before him. “Either need to protect yourselves, which is why I have these available. Pick your poison, but be careful. My hope is you never have to use them, but it never hurts to be prepared just in case.”


For a minute, no one seemed to move a muscle, but finally Sasuke reached out to pick a katana and wakizashi, which didn’t seem to surprise anyone in the slightest. Though the katana wasn’t as magnificent as Riku-sama’s, it was still an impressive sword as he slowly unsheathed it to admire the glint it gave off when the sunlight hit its sharpened steel blade. He could almost taste the blood of Orochimaru (and maybe Danzo) dripping off its tip. How he would delight in driving it right through their hearts.


Karin chose the Smith and Wesson, and with the way she double-checked its chamber, there was no doubt she was quite familiar with the weapon’s workings. Haku chose the set of throwing knives with a bow of gratitude at Shisui, while Shikamaru picked the second katana and matching wakizashi.  


“Well...pick one, Naruto,” Itachi cajoled quietly when it seemed as if the blond was still in a trance-like state as he stared at the guns left. “Or are you not comfortable with those weapons?”


“...not really...” Naruto confessed in a small voice. He could hear the deafening (yet muted) echo of the gun going off in his hand; could still feel the arm numbing recoil as he fired and the subsequent smell of hot lead and metallic blood as dark as night.


/Sometimes you’ve gotta do the unthinkable just to survive, Naruto. /


The haunting voice seemed like a combination of Kojima and Asuma speaking to him, and still stuck in that seemingly trance-like state, Naruto finally leaned forward to choose the Glock 26. Unaware of the expression on his face; a vacant, somewhat cold detachment that was chilling to see, he checked the chamber (recalling Kojima’s ‘lessons’) and saw that Shisui had loaded a 19-round magazine within. He clicked it back in place and tested its weight on his palm. Light…hardly cumbersome…easy to hide within his pants if he went around town. Not too bad…


“Perfect,” Shisui stated with a smile that seemed to know so much. “And now…”


The rest of the meeting was spent explaining how they were to lay low in the apartment for at least two more weeks before doing any major exploration of the city. Sasuke and Naruto were reminded of their task to create blueprints of Byaku-Shinkyou for the next major plan was to stage another attack, though they were sure Orochimaru would have taken extra precautions to protect his fortress. More money was given to them, and Sasuke was tempted to ask how and where they were getting all this cash from. However, recalling that his brother was technically connected to the Chinese triad, it would have been a foolish question. Special telephone numbers and codes were given to each of them in case of an emergency, and each was to keep the other informed of where they were going at all times. If they made friends, they were never to step foot into their apartments, no matter how nice they were. They were not to court the attention of the authorities if they could help it, and if for some reason they were caught, they would feign ignorance claiming they were Koreans who had lived in Japan for most of their lives, and had just returned ‘home’ for a vacation. Jae Weong Seo would back up their story.


“Shisui and I will be leaving tomorrow night,” Itachi said. “Remember…when we do get to Japan, do not call us directly. There might be a likelihood of phone calls being traced. Use the special intermediary I spoke about. Karin is familiar with him and he can be trusted. We will be in touch with you more often than not, and if there is any movement towards Korea…we’ll let you know so you can be on your toes.” He looked into each strained face before him with a dull sense of sadness; only intensified as he noted his brother’s pinched expression.


This is no kind of life to live. Not for you…or me…or anyone…


“I know this is going to be difficult,” he began in a soft tone of reassurance, “but this is the time for you to get stronger in our absence. Keep your appointments with Dr. Woo and perform your physical therapy exercises diligently. Train with your weapons of choice as often as you can. If you need more bullets or your blades sharpened, Jae will be of assistance. You two…” He looked pointedly at Sasuke and Naruto. “You both hold your fates in your hands. From now on…every second you spend training your body back into shape, should be focused on why you are pushing yourself so hard. You are each fighting for one thing…freedom…which comes at a sometimes painful price. Our roles are to be your support system. We will always be here should you need us.” He gave them a small but warm smile. “So…any questions?”


Sasuke opened his mouth to say he did have something to say, but when everyone else shook their heads and began to rise to their feet, he felt the opportunity had passed. However, he was surprised to notice Itachi motioning for him to remain seated.


“I need to talk to you for a minute, Sasuke,” he said as the others filed out.


“And I need to talk to you, Naruto,” Shisui announced as he pulled out a dossier from the traveling bag and threw an arm around the bemused blond’s shoulders. “Come walk with me, eh?”


With the gentle close of the door behind them, Itachi and Sasuke were finally left to their devices...though the first minute was spent in an awkward silence before Sasuke lowered his gaze to eye his new swords all over again. Well...this was the moment he had been waiting for, wasn’t it? To be alone with his brother and to question him about Shisui. And yet as the seconds dragged on, Sasuke knew that whatever he was going to say, or how he was going to begin that particular conversation, was going to sound nothing more than foolish and somewhat unnecessary in the grand scheme of things.


Throughout the meeting, he had watched their interaction like a rabid hawk, but if they were really a ‘couple’, they did not go out of their way to make it obvious. Hell, if he hadn’t caught them together in bed, he would never have known they were that intimate. However, though it wasn’t blatant, there were still things they did, which now made sense to Sasuke. It was their ability to communicate so much with only their eyes; how a simple nod or a quick glance would let the other know what the other was thinking. It was the subtle touches here and there; a gentle caress of hands or a light squeeze on the shoulder. It was a sign of their closeness over the years; countless seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks spent in each other’s company. Still...was that really an excuse to gravitate towards each other sexually? Sasuke was sure Itachi could have had his pick of any one else (of the female persuasion) because the brother he had known did have girls fawning all over him when they were children. So why Shisui? What kind of evil incantation had the other man chanted to convince Itachi that being in a relationship with him was the right way to go?


“I think I owe you an explanation,” Itachi finally said softly. He had been busy packing away the rest of the weapons not picked and with a foot pushed aside the bag before crossing his legs again to focus his attention on his brooding brother. “You must have seen Shisui and I...together...correct?”


“You’re always together,” Sasuke replied as flippantly as he could; feigning ignorance. He caressed the scabbard with slightly trembling fingers.


“You know what I mean, Sasuke.”


A shrug. “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about. Please clarify.”


Itachi sighed heavily and ran a hand down his face. Tread carefully, he told himself as he watched his brother’s expression. Sasuke was pretending not to care, but there was an obvious tension around his shoulders that revealed all wasn’t as it seemed to be.


“Do you mind me asking you a question first?”


“Go ahead.”


“What is your definition of love?”


It would have been amusing to see how red-faced the younger Uchiha became at this blunt question, but Itachi was too concerned with the mild look of panic and confusion that had filled those dark eyes before they were quickly replaced with irritation.


“What kind of a question is that?”


“It’s a simple question really,” Itachi replied with a wan smile. “You believe mother and father loved us, right?”


“Yes, they did.”


“And what kind of emotions did that bring out in you? How did knowing mother and father loved you, make you feel?”




“You felt warm, protected and peace, didn’t you?” Itachi revealed out loud, causing Sasuke to glance at him sharply. It really was uncanny how Itachi seemed to know how and what he was going to say before he even said them. As a child he had marveled at that ability, now it just pissed him off...a little.


“And how did you feel about me?” came the soft, almost tentative question.


“You?” Sasuke repeated with a blink.


“Did you love me as well, Sasuke?”


He felt his cheeks burn with heat and he lowered his lashes to hide what Itachi was likely to see in his eyes. Of course he had loved his brother. Itachi had meant the fucking world to him! If Itachi had told him to jump into a lake of fire, he would have probably done so with no questions asked.


“You know I did,” Sasuke finally mumbled in embarrassment. He tugged at his ear gently – a childhood, nervous gesture he had the tendency to do when caught in a tight situation. He had no idea why Itachi was interrogating him like this, and really didn’t see how this was in any way related to his decision to become Shisui’s lover.


“Thank you,” came the two whispered words, of such genuine gratitude, that it brought a hard lump to Sasuke’s throat. “I love you just as much if not even more, Sasuke.”


Love...not loved. He still loves me...after all this time...

The lump was turning into a familiar burning sting that was beginning to form at the back of his eyes. Sasuke squeezed them shut to control himself. He hadn’t come here to begin bawling like a baby. He really wished Itachi would move away from this topic and get to the crux of the matter.


“So...” Itachi cleared his throat which had come out thick and strained as if too holding back his tears, and tried again. “So what does this have to do with Shisui? I want you to imagine all those emotions you’ve just remembered, Sasuke. Those feelings of warmth, protection...peace...and happiness. I want you to hold on to those emotions and toss in a little bit of devotion and the way Haku loves you in his own way.”


Like Haku’s devotion...


“When you’ve got all that together,” Itachi continued. “Add a little something extra...”


Sasuke looked up with a raised brow. “Something...extra...?”


Itachi gave a small smile. “Yes...that something intangible that is a culmination of passion and desire...almost like a craving for something dangerous and intense...something that brings out the fire within you, and I don’t mean the kind of fire that makes you want to kill something, but more like a flame that always ignites once this person walks into a room. Can you picture that?”


An intangible feeling...a passion that ignites me once a person walks into a room...


(spiky blond hair, blue eyes that could darken with anger or mischief, those soft lips that I would love to bite...)


Oh God. Sasuke groaned and buried his heated face within his hands. I don’t fucking believe this.




“What?!” came the frustrated cry of intense inner turmoil.


“I realize I’m perhaps triggering the other side of all this...what you must have probably gone through with Orochimaru.”


“How do you know what I went through with him?” Sasuke asked with a sneer as he lowered his hands. At the mention of that bastard’s name, the so-called-ignited-passion had faded into that familiar boil of disgust and loathing.


“Asuma did mention some of the wild parties Orochimaru used to have...and I’m afraid it gave you a distorted view of what being in a real loving relationship is like.”


“Is that all he told you?” Sasuke asked in a voice that was barely a whisper.


“That was all he knew...” Itachi paused and clenched his hands tightly. “Did he...he didn’t...?”


Their eyes met and Itachi saw the answer he was dreading within the haunted gaze before him. He felt his heart sink with sorrow, and yet felt the flickers of anger at Orochimaru’s audacity to violate his brother in ways he could never imagine.


“That son-of-a-bitch!” he hissed with a pound of his clenched fist onto the floor. “That sick...!”


“At least I was lucky he didn’t get too far with me,” Sasuke admitted; feeling a surge of gratitude at Itachi’s anger on his behalf. “He did try many times, but I never gave him the opportunity to take advantage of me...until that night we were in Kyoto.”


And though he had sworn never to tell anyone his shameful experience with Orochimaru, Sasuke found himself spilling his guts to his older brother. The more he spoke, the more it felt like a huge weight was being lifted off him, even speaking about the mauling now seemed as if it had happened to someone else.


“But what happened later that night...seemed to supersede his actions,” Sasuke continued softly. He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes; this time painting the picture of his encounter with the beautiful blond female who had initiated him into manhood. “It was the first time I realized that being touched wasn’t always a bad thing,” he confessed with a dark blush staining his cheeks. “Being...that intimate with someone else who genuinely cared about you could result in an experience that is almost spiritual. I wanted to feel that again...but Orochimaru stole that pleasure from me as well.”


His hands formed tight fists at his sides as the memories came rushing back with a vengeance.


“Who knows? Maybe Ino and I could have know...” His words trailed off, but Itachi understood all the same with the light nod he gave.


“I’m sure she awaits you in the next life....though I must confess that I was extremely proud of you for finally breaking free of those chains to get your first experience. Asuma was just about drinking himself into a stupor in celebration.”


Sasuke had the grace to turn a bright beet red at this. “That idiot,” he grumbled and scratched his nose in embarrassment. “Either still haven’t told me why Shisui.”


“You want the honest answer?”


“I think that would be very beneficial, don’t you?”


Itachi smiled and rubbed his chin in thought. “Well...remember all that stuff I listed earlier with the warmth, peace, passion etc. etc.?”


Sasuke remained silent; though his gaze was now watchful.


“I feel that way for Shisui, and perhaps I always have.”


Sasuke shook his head. “I’m sorry...are you trying to tell me that even when you were children, you had those kinds of feelings for him?! That’s just...sick!”


“No, no, no. I can assure you I had no intentions of sleeping with Shisui as a child. What do you take me for?” He reached out to playfully tease his younger brother’s locks; though Sasuke tried to dodge from getting his hair ruffled. Didn’t Itachi know just how long it took him to get it down just right? “I did have an intense devotion to him when we were children. I would have done anything for Shisui back then...still will.”


“You’re insane,” came the low mutter.


“I does make you insane sometimes.”


“I still don’t get it...why did it have to be him?”


“Love is no respecter of persons, Sasuke. It doesn’t go about selecting someone so obvious.” He gave a small, but beautiful smile. “Sometimes it pops up when you least expect...with someone you least expect.”


“Please don’t tell me I’m going to fall in love with Haku...”


“But you’re already half-way in love with him, aren’t you?”


“I do not feel any passion igniting when he’s the room, goddamnit!”




“Ah?” Sasuke raised a brow.


“So is there anyone who does that for”




“....I see.”


“What do you see exactly?”


“Nothing. I just...see.”


“You see too much,” came the low grumble of irritation.


“It’s just...”


“What?” Sasuke snapped; feeling his heart beat begin to quicken. He swears if Itachi dares mention that name...


“...might be just my imagination.”


“What the hell are you talking about?”


“Why are you blushing? I haven’t even said anything yet.”


“I am not blushing!”


“Is it too hot in here then? Maybe I should turn down the thermostat -”


He pounded his crutch, on the floor, in annoyance. “Itachi!”


“Yes?” The older blinked innocently, while biting his inner cheek to control the laughter that would have burst out. Sometimes, his younger brother was just too easy to read.  


“I know what you’re thinking, and I can reassure you that is not the case.”


“So why were you at his apartment last night?”


Sasuke choked on his saliva and had to pound his chest to get some air into his lungs again. Talk about being blindsided with that out-of-the-blue query.


“I...I just went to thank him, that’s all,” came the stutter. “He helped me in the bathroom when I was about to fall and I forgot to thank him then.”




“It’s the truth!”


“I didn’t say you were lying, did I?”


“Wait...wait...” Sasuke held out a hand as if to wad off his brother, while rubbing his forehead as if to get rid of a headache. “This conversation is going way off its original intent.” He took a deep breath and tried again. “ long have you and Shisui been...doing this?”


“Hmm...we started a year after we were reunited...”


“Good grief...”


“...and haven’t stopped since.”


“God help me.”


“Shisui can be quite a demanding partner...”


“No kidding...”


“...but he is fiercely loyal to me and would take a bullet for me if it came to that. The feeling is quite mutual, Sasuke.”


The joviality was gone and as Sasuke lowered his hand to really look at his older brother, he could tell that this meant a lot to him.


“I am not asking you to accept us or embrace our relationship that easily,” Itachi continued in that quiet yet firm tone. “I just wanted you to understand why I chose him to be my life partner. Love comes in many shapes and forms, and you’ve been fortunate, or unfortunate, to experience both extremes so far. I do not expect you to shake off years of Orochimaru’s brainwashing, but I do want you to try to latch onto those other good and wonderful feelings you experienced with Ino; draw strength from the love you felt for mother, father and myself, languish in the devotion and loyalty Haku showers upon you on a daily basis, and eventually accept or find that passion to ignite you. It’s still an ember at the moment and when the flames finally roar deep within, I pray that it will be with the one person you simply can’t be without. Male or female.”


He leaned forward, and before he could be stopped, placed a warm and tender kiss on Sasuke’s feverish forehead.


“Stop it. I’m not a baby anymore,” came the low, embarrassed response from the younger as he swiped at his forehead, though he was still flushed (and somewhat giddy) with Itachi’s heartfelt words and how hard they had hit him.


Find my own ignition, huh?


(you don’t have to look very far, do you?)






“I need to find a temple to be purified. Seems like it’s been ages since I did that.”


“I’m sure we can find a temple for you to bathe in...”


“Not bathe in it! Purify, you jerk...!”


They both turned as the door opened and Shisui leaned against the door jamb, arms folded across his chest with a small knowing smirk on his handsome visage.


“ I officially a part of the family now?” he asked with a nod at Sasuke; an obvious sign that he had either eavesdropped or Itachi had forewarned him about this conversation.


Sasuke eyed the other man warily...glanced at his brother who gave him a sheepish smile...before shaking his head with an inner sigh of weary resignation.


If his brother was happy this way then...


“Fuck you,” he finally replied with a lifting of his middle finger in salutation.


Shisui grinned and bowed. “I will take that as a resounding ‘yes’. I look forward to sharing a cup of sake with you, Sasuke.”


Itachi chuckled and rose to his feet. “And where’s Naruto?”


The grin wavered and even Sasuke noticed the sudden change in body language. With his heart rate now picking up its pace again, he clutched his katana tightly as Shisui’s low response resonated deep within him.


“He needs some time you might imagine...not exactly the kind of story a guy wants to hear about his family...”


Itachi nodded solemnly and took a deep breath; a pensive expression on his visage. Sometimes the truth could be harsh, but Naruto at least deserved to know just how he had come to be and why the eternal thread of revenge would continue to unravel with him until his dying day.


The second phase of his life had only just begun.




Chapter 21

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