Chapter 29:

Little White Lies


For some men I grieve;
Some men are hateful to me;
And this wretched world
To me, with all my sadness,
Is a place of misery.

-Emperor Gotoba





In just three days, we were back to being strangers. Odd it seemed, considering just how intimate we had become, but thanks to the newcomer in our lives, getting to even see Naruto for more than five minutes had become a luxury in itself.


“…can’t get over just how well the blueprints turned out. This is going to be more beneficial than you can imagine. We’ll have to send these to Suigetsu and Kiba as soon as we can manage it,” Itachi droned on in the background as I lay my aching head on the table and struggled not to groan.


I was in the underground ‘communications’ room – alone – as everyone else (sans Naruto) had already been given a general briefing of how things were going back home. So far it seemed like Orochimaru had made no overt moves and continued to reside ‘quietly’ in Byaku-Shinkyou, while Akatsuki had begun to plant the seeds of doubt and discord within the DIET regarding Danzo and his past. The goal was to eventually tie in his relationships with the yakuza and Orochimaru and expose this to the general public. Unfortunately, with Danzo’s ‘pristine’ reputation so deep-seeded within the government and people’s psyche, Itachi and his team knew it would take more than a few disgruntled voices within the parliament to uproot the bastard from his position of power.


“It’s slow going,” Itachi admitted with a hint of frustration in his voice. “And we have to be extra careful now since public opinion is against us. So there can be no outright show of force from our end. Secondly, Danzo knows Councilman Onoki has been his loudest critic, which means we now have the double-duty of protecting the old man – and those who support him - at all times. Who knows when Danzo will strike and have any of them assassinated?”


Only a matter of time, I had thought warily. If I had learned anything about the way those two men worked (and I include Orochimaru in this), they were nothing if not resourceful when it came to eliminating obstacles in their way.


“…need Naruto more than we thought,” Itachi was saying, which jarred me back to the present. “I take it Jiraiya will be arriving in a few days?”


“…yes,” I replied reluctantly; suddenly feeling my heart jackhammer within my chest. My gaze drifted to the clock where with every movement of the second hand, it felt like a death knell; a now painful reminder that with Jiraiya’s arrival would mean Naruto’s inevitable departure.


It’s one of the reasons we’ve hardly seen Naruto lately. Time was of the essence with his training, and Sergei had just about decided to focus squarely on him until Naruto could pass for a professional assassin. How do you cram in years of instructions and skills in less than a week? Simple. Monopolize your student’s every waking moment. Naruto was now prone to be out of his apartment no later than five in the morning, and we’d hear him stumble back in way past midnight in complete exhaustion. They no longer trained with us at the warehouse as Sergei felt it was best to take Naruto to a place where there would be no distractions. Being a marksman required intense concentration after all.


“And how is your training going?” Itachi queried.


“As well as can be expected,” I replied as I absently rubbed my right thigh. The bandages were no longer needed and all that was left of my wound was a puckered dark scar that Dr. Woo had assured me would fade in time. Jiraiya had kept his word and delivered a new set of crutches for me (they were lightweight and considerably better than the previous one I had) but, I did my best not to use them too often. If Naruto was determined to become a trained killer by the end of the week, then I would walk on my own two feet by then as well.


“Jae Weong is actually quite the teacher,” I confessed with a wry smile. “Although his style of kenjutsu is unorthodox, he’s proving to be a good training well as Shikamaru and his woman.”


“Good to see you getting along with everyone else.” I could hear the smile in his voice, and I tried not to get too ‘giddy’ at the notion that he was proud of me for being more congenial with those I would have once considered ‘sinners’ and beneath me. If only he knew just how ‘well’ I was getting along with someone in particular. I wonder what he’d say about that.


Nii-san, what I am about to tell you is of the utmost importance. This can never be revealed; not even to the one you consider a lover. For you see, just like you, I seem to be heading in the direction where sin abounds in ways I could never imagine. I had assumed that once experiencing the pleasures of the flesh with a fellow male, I’d be over it. I naively believed it would be washed out of my system, and I’d want to return to the arms of a woman where I would bask and be reminded of mother’s softness and warmth. However, it is proving to be a little more difficult than I had imagined. After that first night, nii-san, it was all I could think about. My body has never felt so alive than when touched by him. His kisses leave me breathless; hard, thorough and sometimes without the gentleness reserved for true lovers, and still I crave them like a drug. We have done nothing more than satiate carnal urges, bringing ourselves to completion in ways we usually do in our shameful solitude. I need not remind you of how sensitive my body is. I refer you to our younger days when tickling me would have me almost wetting myself while you laughed in mirth at my helplessness. But I digress. My body betrays me when touched intimately, nii-san. No matter how hard I try to control myself and prolong the inevitable, I find myself incredibly weak. It really makes me wonder how I managed to survive all these years in Orochimaru’s presence, doesn’t it? My ‘ailment’ has become worse in the two days I allowed myself to become his plaything as he was mine. His hands – calloused and firm – know just where to stroke to get me off. When he moans, I tingle with delight. When tears spring to his eyes, when he can no longer hold on and pleads with me to set him free, I relish in his suffering. And when he finally cries out in release, nothing has ever sounded sweeter, nii-san. The greedy side of me wants to keep him all to myself; to prevent anyone else from ever experiencing such heights of pleasure especially his choice of female companions. I admit it. I am jealous, nii-san, and it is a jealousy that’s worrisome for I know that he does not feel the same way. To him, I feel this is all just fun and games as I try to convince myself of the same. Just like him, I want no real emotional attachment to this thing between us, for nothing good can come out of such trivial feelings. And be brutally honest, nii-san, I am dissatisfied. I want something more than this foreplay. I want to know what it’s really like to be completely fused with him on an even deeper level. Do you understand what I mean, nii-san? Even thinking about it now fills me with shocked embarrassment, but I cannot help it. I think of it constantly; wishing, hoping he’d be the one to suggest we take things a step further. So what do I do now, nii-san? Simply wait? Or risk alienating him completely? For time is not on our side. Once he leaves, there is no guarantee that I’ll ever see him again. Once his revenge is complete, what would make him want to return to Byaku-Shinkyou? What other motivation will he have to want to see again? He will now be free to live his life the way he wants, and I’ll be relegated to nothing more than a mere fling...a memory of a time he’d rather forget....


“...suke? Sasuke? Are you still there?”


I literally had to shake myself out of my dazed stupor to focus on my brother’s concerned query.


“I’m here,” I reassured him quickly.


“Did you fall asleep?”


“No. Just...thinking about something.”


“Ah...did you get what I just said though?”


I blushed lightly. “Uum...sorry. Could you repeat it again?”


He gave a barely audible sigh. “I didn’t want to get you all worried for nothing, and we cannot really confirm this yet, but according to remember who he is, right?”


“Yes. One of the members planted within Byaku-Shinkyou.”


“Correct. He was apparently a childhood friend of Kimimaro’s and both have been trying to catch up on old times.”


I wondered where Itachi was going with this story, but his voice sounded urgent, so I forced myself to pay attention.


“...something about having a lead and sending someone over here.”


Huh? I really sat up this time with my brows creased. “Say that again?”


Itachi sighed heavily. “As I said, I cannot confirm this, but I’d suggest you all be careful with your outings from now on. It seems like they might have a lead and someone might have been sent to scope out the city.”


My head was beginning to whirl with all sorts of possibilities; my mind racing through all the different people we’ve met so far that could be suspects. It definitely couldn’t be Sergei, since his main function seemed to be to train us all to death especially Naruto. So maybe it was Temari...Shikamaru’s woman. Could she be the one responsible for leading Orochimaru’s spy here? It was highly likely that she could be working for both sides. We didn’t know much about her back story, so just how reliable was she?


“I know what you’re already thinking,” Itachi chimed in before I could open my mouth to tell him my theory. “But I can assure you that Temari is clean. She was never a part of any organization we are aware of, as Shisui and I did a thorough investigation, and besides, after her man was incarcerated for so long, do you really believe she’d want to work for someone like Orochimaru?”


I rolled my eyes and tried not to sneer too loudly. “Ever considered the possibility that Orochimaru might have convinced her that giving us away would reassure that she and Shikamaru would be able to live freely with no worries about being pursued for the rest of their lives? Most women are weak. I’ve seen how fickle their hearts can be especially with some of the cases I worked on in the past. Give them an incentive and most will sing like a canary at the drop of a hat.”


“You are way too cynical, little brother,” Itachi replied quietly. “But if you are so determined to accuse her of being a spy, why don’t you question and test her yourself, hmm?”


“I intend to do that.” And I really did. As soon as this conversation was over.


“Temari aside, has there been anyone else you might suspect as a possible spy?”


I ran through the files of memory in my mind, seeking out faces and trying to see where each one fit. There was that girl Naruto had met at the festival. I cannot recall her name now, but it had been odd how she had gravitated towards Naruto back then. However, Naruto had reassured me that he had given her no information about where we lived or his real name, so it was likely she was really innocent. There was Jiraiya of course, but his allegiance to Orochimaru was about as likely as he giving up women for the rest of his life. Then there was Jae Weong’s friend – who acted as a driver sometimes when the other man was too busy – but he wasn’t likely to betray us either. Was he? I had only met him a handful of times, and when he did speak, it was only to give instructions on what needed to be done. He lived on the first floor and was a certified loner. I doubted he was the one responsible for betraying us, or if he did, wouldn’t Jae Weong be the first to know?


“Anyone coming to mind?” Itachi asked.


“No,” I shook my head slowly. “Nothing at the moment, but I’m still going to be wary and caution the others as you suggested.”


“Just make sure you do not make it seem too dire,” Itachi warned. “There’s nothing worse than planting the seed of paranoia within the minds of people and watching them self-destruct as every damn person they even stand next to becomes a suspect. I’d rather you kept this news to yourself until we can verify for certain that there is a plant in Buk-gu. For all we know, this person might be in another part of the country.”


“Still not reassuring.”


Itachi gave a light chuckle. “Fair enough. I figured you’d be stubborn about this. So...I am just about ready to sign off, little brother. Give my regards to Naruto whenever he returns.”


“If I see him,” I mumbled, but Itachi didn’t hear me. With some last minute instructions and embarrassing motherly advice about making sure I get plenty of sleep and eat well (urgh. Why must he baby me all the time?), he hung up and left me alone to my thoughts.


A plant in Buk-gu. Well...not necessarily, but one could never be too cautious. I’d first alert Haku about this seeing as his gregarious nature was bound to get us in trouble.


Speaking of Haku...


(he’s changing)


I stepped out of Jae Weong’s office and almost got run down by one of the children that lived in the building. I gave a wan smile to his quick apology before he dashed outside to what looked like a cool evening. I entertained the idea of taking a walk since there was really nothing else to do for now. I could go back to the gym to train, but with Haku away again, and no Naruto to spend time with, I decided a quick walk around the neighborhood would suffice for at least an hour. Besides, it would give me an opportunity to stretch out my legs and see how far I could walk without straining anything.


Haku’s changed. This...has changed him.


This being the ‘outside’ world.


It would have been foolish of me to assume that such exposure to other elements besides what he got to see on a daily basis at Byaku-Shinkyou wouldn’t have expanded his thinking and way of seeing things in general. In Byaku-Shinkyou, Haku had lived a sheltered life where all he knew was obeying orders and doing whatever was requested of him. He had no access to television or the news as I had not allowed him such pleasures. He hadn’t gone shopping regularly or been to a laundromart or ridden in cars, buses, and boats. He hadn’t been given the freedom to make friends as easily or engaging in random conversations with others whenever I was around. Haku’s world had eventually come to revolve around me and only me, so it wasn’t surprising that he was as devoted and loyal as he was.


However, we’ve been here for just over two months now, and a lot can happen in two months I’ve come to find. Though he had always been easy-going and a talkative – especially when prodded, the ‘outside’ Haku had become a dam whose floodgates could barely be controlled...sometimes. He was willing to experiment and try new things, always feeding me stories of what shenanigans he and Karin had gotten into – from allowing himself to be dressed and made up as a girl (and playing a few tricks on some unsuspecting young men in the neighborhood), to daring to shoplift...just for kicks. He did admit they returned what they took eventually because he felt really bad about it. At least it was good to see he was still maintaining his integrity.


Beneath that, however, there were the more subtle but gradually visible changes when it came to our relationship. Yes, we were still technically master and servant, but hadn’t I told him that he would no longer have to regard me in such high esteem now we were no longer home? Hadn’t he almost been in tears at the fear of me abandoning him? Hadn’t he vowed that he’d never leave my side no matter what kinds of freedom he had been given? And hadn’t I felt my heart swell with admiration at his candor?


Where was all that now?


Especially in the last week or so, his behavior has left me confused and rather bewildered. So yes, he still went about his duties; making sure all was well with me and taking care of me as deemed fit, but there was absentmindedness in his actions these days. It was as if he simply couldn’t wait to leave my presence, a thin undercurrent of impatience whenever he’d have to wait for me to eat or take a bath.  There were moments when he’d have a spaced out expression on his features, so much so, it would take me calling him about three times before he would even acknowledge my presence. However, the most obvious and perplexing change of all was his sudden (extra) interest in Naruto.


Perhaps I should have suspected something the first day of training with Sergei at the warehouse, and of how Haku had seemed unable to take his eyes off Naruto for the most part. At the time, I hadn’t put much stock into it, simply assuming it was his same hero worship of the blond I was all but used to. However, looking back now, I should have seen the signs for what they were. I should have known that those heavy sighs he’d give every now and then – especially when he would be told that Naruto was not yet back from his training – were a sign of where my dear servant’s loyalties now lay.


So when exactly did this all begin to happen? Wasn’t it right after the night I had spent with Naruto?


I came to a halt beside an abandoned railroad track, where tall elephant grass stuck out from rusty rails and steel bolts that would never host another train in this lifetime. I kicked absently at a jutting piece of concrete and frowned in thought. I was trying to piece back the events of that morning to see if I had missed anything in particular.


For starters, I had awakened to silence; my initial panicked thought being that Naruto had fled in humiliation and disgust at what had taken place. However, seeing that he had taken the time to clean up the mess we created last night (read as being stained with our semen), including the hastily scribbled note he had left behind of going to take a bath, I realized it was perhaps an opportunity for me to leave without garnering the attention of anyone else. After all, we had promised to keep this a secret between us.


My hope, however, was that Haku would still be fast asleep, so I could avoid his queries of concern. I must confess I felt a little guilty not letting him know I was safe and sound before jumping into Naruto’s bed. Knowing Haku, he must have been worried sick about me all night long. I mentally braced myself for the ‘confrontation’, but was surprised to find the apartment empty. I knew he couldn’t have left the building, because his outdoor slippers were still in position beside the door, which could then only mean that he was probably having his bath...with Naruto.


I told myself not to be too concerned about that. It wasn’t the first time those two had been alone in the bathroom before, and I did even entertain joining them – at least to make sure Naruto didn’t accidentally slip up and reveal what happened between us the night before. I knew Haku’s ability to prod the answer out of anyone, and it would have been quite easy to get Naruto to blab everything with just enough cajoling.


The next ten or so minutes would turn out to be the longest of my life as I replayed every possible horrific scenario, which almost always ended with Haku glaring at me with disgust and revulsion. After all, I was the very same master who had abhorred his relationship with Momochi Zabuza, and now...I was engaging in the very same thing. Wouldn’t that make me a hypocrite in his eyes? How would I even begin to explain my justification for engaging in such an intimate relationship with Naruto when I did my best to discourage him from such things when he needed it the most?


And yet, while I agonized over my moral failures, seeing him walking into the apartment minutes later with flushed features and the most beautiful smile yet, had me wondering if I hadn’t been worried over nothing. He seemed way too happy to see me again, and even went as far as giving me a quick hug in welcome. He later explained that Naruto had told him about our encounter with the thugs and our night in jail (and my stomach was in knots at this point), but luckily, Haku ended his story there. It meant Naruto kept his end of the deal by not exposing anything that took place in his apartment, and yet...recalling now, I should have read more into that knowing glint in Haku’s eye at the time.


He must have known. He must have guessed...figured it out. He might be loyal and obedient to a fault, but Haku was no fool. He was one of the sharpest knives in the drawer and could put two and two quickly. He must have known anyway!


I cursed out loud as a sudden gust of wind nearly took me off my feet. Having to steady myself against an electrical pole for a second, I bit my lower lip and considered myself the biggest fool on the planet. What good would it do me now to confront Haku about that night? Where would I even begin the conversation? But most importantly...why wasn’t he upset with me? I would have expected him to pout and complain about not bothering to let him know I was back, but I could only assume that my being ‘alive’ superseded any petty feelings about miscommunication.


Still...some things were not adding up. His eagerness to always be with Naruto for one thing, and those soft sighs or dazed countenances that he was prone to having every now and then. Just what did it all mean?


And why should you care? Came the tiny voice that seemed to taunt me.


Shaking my head angrily, I made the decision to speak to Haku as soon as I returned, and yet the closer I got to our apartment building, the more stupid my decision became. Just how the hell was I going to approach him about the subject? “Oh, hello Haku. I was just wondering why you keep daydreaming about Naruto and seem to act even more depressed now that he’s occupied with our dear manly man Sergei? Is there something you’d like to share with me?” Bah. I really did have to stop over thinking every –


“Aah...ex...excuse me, please?”


I stiffened and turned my head a little at the soft question. For a second, the mousy-looking girl in the plaid overcoat did not register in my muddled thoughts until she gave a tentative smile and it all quickly clicked into place.


It was Naruto’s ‘friend’ from the festival! What the fuck was she doing here?!


Our apartment complex was just a block away and yet this did she know where we...?


“I’m sorry for bothering you,” she stuttered shyly in Korean. “But I was shopping over there and noticed were with Kim Junghyun at the festival the other day, weren’t you?”


I couldn’t speak, or trust myself to speak. Not that it deterred her. She grinned and tucked a strand of her straight black hair behind an ear. She could be considered pretty in this light, but admiring her looks was the least of my concerns. I did not want her to know where we lived. For all I knew, she could very well be the fucking plant Itachi warned me about on the phone.


“ around here?”


“What?” I asked aloud, my voice seeming to come from a mile away and quite harsh at that. She seemed taken aback at the tone and her smile became less friendly.


“I asked if Junghyun lived around here,” she said warily. She clutched her handbag tighter to her chest as if afraid I would steal it. “I was hoping to see him again -”


“He already has a girlfriend,” I stupidly blurted out before I could control myself. I really had no intention of saying that, or rather my mind had thought of saying some lie about not knowing who Junghyun was, but damn if my mouth didn’t run away from me. Her expression, however, was both gratifying and sickening. The smile was now completely gone, and she looked genuinely shocked and saddened at the same time.


Damn it.


“Oh...I see...” She whispered and clutched the bag even closer to her as if hoping to draw strength from it. She lowered her gaze to prevent me from seeing the tears that were now filling the large brown eyes, but she wasn’t fast enough. Her sniffle would have told the story anyway.


“I’m...I’m sorry for bothering you,” she managed to squeak out. “I just...wanted...” With a firm shake of her head, she spun on her heels and strode away fast; nearly tripping over her leather boots before steadying herself and walking even faster.


Great job, Uchiha Sasuke. You’ve managed to ruin yet another life...and you didn’t even have to use a sword this time around. Your mouth is enough of a weapon in itself.


Still, I wouldn’t lie that a part of me wasn’t glad she was no longer in the picture. The last thing we needed were ‘outsiders’ discovering who we really were. Waiting until I was sure she was no longer in the vicinity, I finally made the turn home and braced myself for an interrogation that might not be taken too well.





And I was right.


Shikamaru was all but ready to punch (or kill) me for my audacity, but I wasn’t going to forsake my stance in the matter.


“It’s okay,” Temari was saying to appease the furious man beside her. “He does have a point, and I can see where he’s coming from.”


“You do? Because I sure as hell don’t. His attitude really pisses me off,” Shikamaru growled as I did my best to ignore him and admire what they had done to Itachi’s former apartment. I hadn’t assisted with the decorations when Temari was arriving, so this was unofficially my first time as a guest in their ‘home’, and I had a feeling it was likely to be the last. Not that I gave a shit.


“Sasuke,” Temari said quietly, still holding onto Shikamaru’s hand as if afraid if she let go, he’d spring up and clobber me. “I can assure you that I come from a neutral background and have no affiliation with Orochimaru or Danzo. If anything, I’d love the opportunity to kill him myself, but I realize that’s a job reserved for you.”


I focused my attention on the blond female, who had let her hair down this evening. I do believe it’s the first time I’ve seen it this way, and I had to admit it made her look much more feminine and approachable. The black and red kimono she wore fit her nicely, though with the way she was sitting, its front was opened just enough to reveal a very well-endowed least much curvier than Karin’s.


Wait...why am I focused on her goddamn breasts?!


“...when Shika was arrested,” Temari was saying, and I shook my head a little to pay attention. However, she wasn’t looking at me; rather her gaze seemed distant though she was now absently caressing her boyfriend’s hand. “It was hell for me when he was taken away. Your fellow watchdogs wouldn’t let me visit him at the local prison; saying I was denied my rights to see him until he was taken to Byaku-Shinkyou.”


The way she spat out the words ‘watchdogs’, you’d think we were lower than filth; not that I blamed her for rationale for assuming as much. There were some officers that were despicable after all.


“So for three months, I pleaded for them to let me see him...even speak to him on the phone, but they refused. They made threats, saying that if I was to ever show my face again, they’d have everything I owned and knew destroyed. Can you imagine that? Still I refused to give up. I did my best to raise some money to hire a lawyer for him, but even that was denied. His crime was so, allegedly, grave that it would not require a trial. He would be judged and condemned by the powers that be at Byaku-Shinkyou, and if he was lucky, he’d be spared from Gudan by the merciful”


I cleared my throat and squirmed a little. I could vaguely recall Shikamaru’s sentencing, since I had done so many over the years, but I did remember that his crime wasn’t that bad enough to warrant having his head chopped off. The haughty side of me argued that this frowning man before me owed me his life, and yet being imprisoned for two years over a drunken dare was hardly worth patting myself on the back for.


“Do you want to know what I really think about my accident?”


“Don’t, Temari,” Shikamaru cajoled softly. Now it was his turn to squeeze her hand and place a tender kiss on her cheek. “You don’t have to -”


“I will,” she insisted, with her gaze now trained squarely on me. It felt searing, scorching and accusing. If it were possible to burn me alive with her eyes, I was sure I would be nothing more than a pile of ashes in seconds. “I will say it because I believe it’s the truth. They were out for me.”


“They...?” I prodded with a raised brow.


“Yes. Maybe not you directly, but those who definitely worked for Orochimaru. They knew I was beginning to make noise by insisting that Shika be free. I had contacted several members of my local government and some councilmen, hoping they would make his case an example for the injustices being carried out by that madman’s so-called purification rites. I wanted to expose Orochimaru for the joke he was, and on the day I was to go visit Shikamaru...I was ‘conveniently’ struck by an oncoming vehicle on the highway. I was lucky to get away with my injuries, but I was clearly left there to die.”


“I hardly see how you can blame a random accident on us,” I began in protest, though this sounded weak to me. This was Orochimaru we were talking about, and if Temari had really gone all out to make his life a living hell...


(they will stop at nothing to eliminate all obstacles)


“I know it sounds far-fetched, but how far-fetched is it to be struck by a truck in the middle of a highway with no traffic around for miles? You do know the highway leading to Byaku-Shinkyou, don’t you?”


“Yes...” An endless desolate road that was bound to make sinners even more depressed as they approached their (possible) final destination.


“I could see it approaching me from the opposite lane, speeding up as it approached. I was confused as to why this damn truck was swerving into my lane, and before I could maneuver my car out of the way...”


She visibly trembled and I watched the color drain from her features; her eyes haunted as the memories of the day she almost lost her life came rushing back. Shikamaru held her tightly to him and placed a loving kiss on the top of her head. I couldn’t hear what he was whispering to her, but I could guess he was trying his best to comfort her.


“She suffered extensive injuries,” Shikamaru said quietly. His dark eyes watched me like a hawk, and as he spoke, he seemed to want to drill every single word into me. “Several fractured ribs, her lung almost punctured, a torn spleen, a fracture in her pelvis and second degree burns in an area I’d rather not show you. While I was locked away, she spent almost a year in the hospital and rehabilitation. Every damn yen I made in Byaku-Shinkyou was sent to her via Asuma for her bills. Are you aware of how hard and painful it is to know that you can do absolutely nothing for the one you love, living each day never knowing if the next news you hear will be her last? I put in petition after petition and it was always denied. All I wanted was for one day to see her for hold her in my arms and tell her that I was still alive because of her, and it yet that little request was never granted. And why? Because to you all, I was nothing more than just another purified statistic that wasn’t worth saving.”


I winced inwardly for his was right. I had  never seen them as anything more than -


“She almost lost her life for me, and now you come here...with your self-pretentious air trying to accuse her of being a traitor.” He shook his head and gave a low snort of derision that made me want to suddenly bow my head in forgiveness. “Sometimes I really do wonder if you’ve learned anything at all from all this.”


“Shika...” Temari squeezed him gently.


“Nah, it’s okay, babe,” he whispered back. “I don’t expect anything different. We’ll always be inferior to him. It’s ingrained in his thinking after all. No matter what happens, the rest of us will never be good enough in his eyes.”


That’s not true, I wanted to scream, but my voice remained stubbornly locked within my throat. I could only dig my fingers into my palms and struggle to find a way to apologize. Not just for this, but for...every damn thing he’s experienced. He had a right to be bitter. Who wouldn’t be after the story they’ve both shared?


What...what do I do, nii-san? Asuma...if you were here...what would you suggest I do?


“Shika doesn’t really mean that,” Temari was saying with a weak laugh. “He’s just been bottling up a lot of frustration about everything and now -”


I couldn’t let her finish, and even ‘til today, I couldn’t tell you why and how my body moved of its own accord to do this. And I was, on my hands and knees actually bowing in apology to this man and his woman who had been wronged on so many levels. I could literally hear them gasp in shock at my action, and the old me was just about ready to have a heart attack as well.


“I am sincerely and deeply sorry,” I muttered into the tatami mat. “I know my words now seem meaningless to what you’ve been through, but from the bottom of my heart...I vow to make things right when I return to Byaku-Shinkyou. I can only ask that you find it in your heart to eventually forgive the sins committed against you.”


The silence was deafening, but I didn’t dare raise my head until I was sure they had forgiven me in some way. I did not expect to have them hugging me or singing my praises, but I definitely didn’t expect to hear the sniffle that was a clear signal someone was crying. I doubted it was Shikamaru.


“ don’t have to do that,” he finally said in a gruff voice as if embarrassed on my behalf. I finally lifted my head to look at them, and sure enough, he was looking away, though still holding onto to the woman sobbing quietly against his chest. I think I have done enough damage for one day.


“I’ll excuse myself,” I said quietly. “And again, I apologize for barging in on you with such...accusatory tones earlier.”


“No worries,” Shikamaru replied with a light shrug. “We’ll be on the lookout as well.  We can’t be too careful.”


With a gentle shut of the door behind me, I leaned against the wall and expelled a soft breath of air in relief. For some reason, it felt like a little weight had been lifted off my shoulders, for one apology did not – in any way – make me less responsible for my actions over the years. However, I knew what I had done today was a start of sorts; a beginning of the righting of the ship that had been going off course since the murder of my parents. I could almost feel and see Asuma smiling at me at what I had done, and it felt really good.


Still, there was one other person I would have to give a proper apology to for I realized that despite our ‘friendship’, I was yet to fully tell him how sorry I was for simply being stubborn and petty with his sentencing. I smiled softly as I closed my eyes and entertained the idea of Naruto’s shocked expression when I fell to my hands and knees. However, the sound of the bathroom door opening had me lifting my lashes quickly.


“Naru...” My lips parted to call out his name foolishly; perhaps assuming he had finally come back early today and was taking a bath (of course mentioning that my heart rate had quickened and I felt a little hot and flustered would be of no real consequence). All the same, my disappointment at seeing the familiar shock of red hair was too great. I sighed and leaned back against the wall, hoping she wouldn’t notice me and simply walk into her apartment.


Should have wished/prayed harder.




She blinked at me – since she was without her glasses – before breaking into a smile as she tied the sash of her pink bathrobe a little tighter around her waist. “What’s wrong? Why are you out here?”


“I was just -”


“Ooh! Come, come!” She interrupted while reaching out to grasp my hand. Ignoring my protests, she all but dragged me into her apartment. “I found this really great balm at a local medicine store – they specialize in herbs and all that good stuff – and it’s guaranteed to remove scars like magic!”


“Listen, Karin, I don’t really -”


“Sit here,” she instructed as she kicked the door shut and ran into the restroom to rummage through what sounded like a bag full of medication. “It’s painless,” she shouted to me as I reluctantly sat on a chair. My leg was beginning to ‘hum’ with pain now, but I could at least be glad that I had gone without crutches all day. Progress indeed.


“Here we are,” she said breathlessly as she appeared again with what looked like a small jar filled with a murky, black substance. It didn’t exactly look trustworthy.


“It’s called ‘saeng myeong ui ssi at’ – the seed of life,” she explained as she knelt before me and twisted it open. Whew! The stench was repugnant to say the least. It was as if someone had left a bucket of boiled eggs to rot in a hot room.


“Are you seriously considering rubbing that disgusting thing on me?” I asked while doing my best not to cover my nose.


She took a deep breath and nodded firmly. “It’s going to help with the scars...speaking of which, take off your pants.”


“I don’t think so,” I retorted and tried to rise to my feet. “I must go back to my apartment. It’s been a long day.”


“Come on, Sasuke. This is to help you -”


“I appreciate your concern, but I’ll be fine,” I snapped impatiently. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”


I rose to my feet...maybe too fast, because the next thing I know, she was wheeling backwards; arms flailing to keep her steady but to no avail. She fell back in a graceless heap, revealing more than I would have cared to see. She had just stepped out of the shower after all, and besides Ino, this would be the second woman (well not counting the whores in Naruto’s magazines) I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing her private least the hair color matched.


“Eeek!” she screamed and promptly sat up to cover herself, but her attempt to cover her lower region resulted in the top half of her robe opening a little wider, which now gave me a view of at least her left breast with its dusky rose nipple. I was alarmed to find myself reacting to the sight of this, a part of me blaming my earlier admiration of Temari’s bosom to culminate in this unscripted moment.


Good grief! I must get out of here!


“That’s right,” came the low words that seemed muffled and thick just as I placed my hand on the doorknob. “Run away as you always do. I must have some kind of disease I think.” She gave a weak laugh and clutched the top of her robe between trembling hands. “I really don’t know why you can’t stand me or don’t want to spend some time with me, but it’s okay. I understand when I’m not wanted.”


Where...what is this? Where is all this coming from? Have I been cursed today to make all females cry? And it is clear that she is crying, or at least close to it since her low sniffle and subsequent rubbing of her eyes tell the story. I curse inwardly, close my eyes and count slowly to ten.


What could be the harm? I had already made that girl on the street cry over my blunder/lie. I had gotten Temari emotional with my apology, and now...the least I could do was try to show that I wasn’t a complete cad to this woman who has done nothing more than nurse me back to health as best she could. I lifted my lashes and took a deep breath before turning to face her again.


“Karin -”


“Go,” she insisted firmly as she staggered to her feet. “You don’t have to stay to feel sorry for me. I’m a big girl and I can deal with rejection. I’ve had to learn how to do so all this time, remember?”


“What are you talking about?” I asked in genuine confusion.


She gave a bitter laugh and turned to look at me; eyes red-rimmed from her silent tears and lips turned in what could pass as a sneer, but not quite. “From the start, you never liked me, did you? You were always comparing me to her, weren’t you?”




“Ino!” she snapped impatiently. She bent to pick up the small jar and for a second I wondered if she would fling it right out the window. Instead, her shoulders suddenly deflated and she looked lost and miserable. “I knew I could never compare to her...and it’s even worse knowing that she had you first. She was just always so...perfect.”


“No one is perfect,” I replied automatically.


“She was,” Karin insisted with a louder sniffle. “Who would look at me with my glasses and limp hair and stupid acne?”


“Karin -”


“I was only good for being everyone else’s nurse, and no one gave a damn about my feelings.” She sank onto the chair I had just left and lowered her head to her trembling hands. “I knew it was stupid to even allow myself to let this happen, but just can’t control it, you know? Your heart...the heart is such a fickle thing and there are times I want to rip it out and stomp all over it...but you’ve been doing a damn fine job of that anyway.”


Ouch. What could I possibly say to that?


She lifted her head to give me a weak smile. “I know I’m not stunningly beautiful, and I act like a boy more often than not, and I’m not as curvy as some of the other women you know, but...I thought...foolishly thought that for a second, you’d look past the outside and see how much I really ...cared about you...”


“I do care about you,” I insisted as I took a step closer to her.


“No, you don’t,” she argued. “You care about me the same way as you’d care about...about some...some obligation you have to deal with. You don’t see me as human, do you?”


“What on earth are you talking about? Of course I see you as human!”


“So why don’t you like me?!”


“Who said anything about not liking you?!”


“, insensitive jerk!” She stood up suddenly to strike me hard against the chest, almost sending me toppling to the floor in surprise. “You have no idea how you act sometimes, do you? The way you look at me as if I’m some bug crawling on the ground you want to squash, or how you talk to me as if I’m some mere slave of yours to order around. I can’t stand it! You have no idea how much it hurts!”


She strikes me again, or would have, if I didn’t reach out to grab her wrists. “Calm down,” I hissed angrily. “If you were so upset about all this, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”


“Like it’s easy to talk to you?” she retorted. “At least Naruto makes an effort to be friendly, and I still wonder why I’m stupidly attracted to you and not him! At least Haku got it right with his feelings!”


“...what?” I asked in bemusement.


She shoved me away and sank back onto the chair; all the fight now gone from her. “You idiot,” she groaned and shook her head. “Poor sweet...”


“Will you stop that and explain what you meant by Haku getting his feelings right?!” I snapped in annoyance, and yet I could feel my head heart pounding as I realized I was probably about to hear something I wasn’t ready for; something I was sure I was not going to be willing to accept.


Karin took a deep breath and tried to compose herself. “Yesterday,” she finally began quietly, though she was still looking at me with a mixture of hate and love (I’m guessing). “Haku confessed his feelings to me.”


“He’s in love with you?” I asked incredulously.


Karin gave a short bark of laughter. “I wish. That boy is so gay, even he playing the role of straight guy would be next to impossible. Don’t tell me you didn’t realize this. You’ve lived with him for so long.”


I sighed and ran fingers through my hair in frustration. “I am more than aware of Haku’s sexual preferences, Karin. Do not patronize me.”


“Well then,” she smirked lightly and leaned back to cross her legs. “You’ll never guess who our lovely pretty fairy has the hots for. Even without saying it out loud, I suspected something like that from the moment we met.”


“What...what are you talking about?” My mouth was feeling incredibly dry; my tongue heavy in my mouth. I didn’t want to hear it, but it was true. It must have been true all this time.


“I’m saying that Haku is head over heels for Uzumaki Naruto,” Karin stated flatly. She shrugged lightly. “At first I assumed it was just infatuation over Naruto’s brashness and worldliness, but...when you look at that kid’s face when he talks about can tell. And it makes me so damn envious; I can’t even begin to tell you.” She gave a heavy sigh. “To be so honest with your’s a rarity these days. All I could do was wish him luck and hope he gets to tell Naruto how he feels. Naruto will probably not agree to it or might laugh and assume Haku’s simply joking around, and it will hurt to be rejected – no fucking doubt about that – but...the way I see it...being in love sucks.” love with...Naruto?


The world swam for a second and I had to close my eyes to re-orient myself again. I couldn’t believe it...or maybe I could. I had seen all the classic signs these past few days, but I had remained stubbornly obtuse about it; refusing to acknowledge that Haku could even harbor such intense feelings for a man who was more than likely not to reciprocate them.


But then again, hadn’t Naruto admitted that he found Haku just as attractive? And to make it worse, if Naruto could find our intimate encounters not as repulsive...what in the world stopped him from accepting whatever advances Haku made?!


“What’s wrong with you now?” came the weary yet guarded question from Karin. “You don’t look so good. Is it that much of a shock that Haku feels that way for Naruto? Or is the thought of two men hooking up just disgusting to you?”


“No...” I croaked and then shook my head. “I mean...I have to go. to Haku...” I was this close to rambling, but my mind was still in a tizzy. I did have to speak to my servant and hear this directly from him. I had no idea why this suddenly meant so much to me, but for my sanity’s sake, I had to clear things up before...before...


(I lose him)


But who was I afraid of losing the most? I simply couldn’t tell you.


Hardly saying goodbye to Karin – though I doubt she would have heard me anyway since she was so deep in her self-induced depression – I stumbled out of her apartment and into the quiet hallway. A quick glance at the bathroom showed that it was unoccupied (the door was slightly ajar and no light seeped through). Naruto’s door was locked; a clear sign he was still not back and it was now almost eight in the evening, but as I approached my apartment, the smell of Haku’s cooking permeated my senses and made me salivate. It was a reminder that I had not eaten anything in a while, and I would have loved nothing more than to be served in peace and quiet with no swirling thoughts about my servant’s feelings for my current...what exactly? Lover? Was that what Naruto was to me now? No...that word seemed far too intimate for what we had. There was no real love attached to what we did. We were simply two young men fulfilling a natural desire and nothing else.


“Ah! You’re back, Sasuke-sama!” came the cheerful greeting from the kitchen as I stepped into what had now become my home away from home. His shopping (or sightseeing or whatever the hell he did these days) had gained us a new set of colorful Korean-themed sitting cushions, a basket of fresh fruit, two new potted plants and what looked like a snow globe featuring a beautiful figurine of a ballerina dancing. What oddities...and yet so Haku.


“Would you be taking a bath first or would you like supper first, Sasuke-sama?” he asked while stepping out of the kitchen.


He smiled, looking absolutely no different than he usually did. His hair was down tonight, and the dark blue kimono fitted him nicely. He swayed a little on his feet, as if dancing to unheard music (though the T.V. was on and a singing competition of some sort was being held at the moment), but with his hands clasped behind him – he really looked like an innocent child eager for praises from a guardian. It was all I could do not to reach out to pat his head gently, though he was almost as tall as I was.


“Sasuke-sama?” he asked again, the smile wavering a bit. His large brown eyes seemed to shift ever so slightly as if perhaps aware that I knew what he had been hiding from me all this time. “Is everything all right?”


No. Nothing is all right. I cannot allow you to have those kinds of feelings, Haku. Do you not understand how complicated you are bound to make things? And besides, what would you do if Naruto turns you down? You are too innocent to deal with the pain of rejection, but then again, who am I to tell you how to feel about such things? Look at what I did to Karin.


“I will eat first,” I finally managed to say through lips that felt dry. I licked them nervously and settled onto the cushion, which he was quick to explain he had purchased at a thrift store for a killer deal. As he chattered on about his day, I struggled to find a way to ease into the conversation about Naruto, and yet every time I felt I could get a word in, he’d find something new to talk about. It was as if he didn’t want me to speak at all!


Finally having enough, I stuck my chopsticks into my bowl loudly, which in turn had him freezing in mid-speech with his chopsticks in mid-air. The look he gave me was as if I had caught him doing something illegal, but he eventually lowered his gaze and bowl to ask quietly.


“Is there something wrong with the food, Sasuke-sama? You’ve hardly eaten anything.”


“How long have we known each other, Haku?”


He looked up again; this time the guilt was like a beacon that was, however, quickly erased with a guarded look that was unlike the Haku I knew. “If you mean on a personal level, Sasuke-sama...then for over two years...if you mean otherwise, then since we were children.”


I nodded and picked at one of the succulent grilled shrimps he had prepared. “And during the time you’ve been with me as a servant...would you consider me a good master?”




I eyed him carefully. “Yes? Is that all?”


“What do you want me to say to you, Sasuke-sama?”


I sighed and lowered the chopsticks again. “Listen...Haku. I realize that Byaku-Shinkyou made you live a sheltered life, and now that you’re out in the real world...things might seem a little...overwhelming. You want to do new things and experience new things can lead to situations you may not want to find yourself in.”


He was looking at me as if I had grown a second head, and I couldn’t blame him. Even I didn’t know where I was going with this.


“What I’m trying to say is,” I cleared my throat and spoke a little firmer. “Emotions run high and sometimes what you think is one feeling might actually be nothing more than infatuation that will wear out eventually. I just...I just don’t want to see you get hurt, that’s all.”


There was a silence so heavy; I could hear nothing but my heartbeat drumming in my ears. He had lowered his gaze as if in thought...mulling over my words. I watched a gamut of emotions flicker across his face before he whispered softly.


“So he told you?”




“Naruto-kun,” he continued in that same whisper that felt pained. “He must have told you what happened in the bathroom then.”


My stomach dropped, but I did my best to control my features. I knew I’d have to lie again...if only to hear the truth.


“Yes,” I said with a slow nod. “He...told me.”


Haku sucked in a harsh breath and formed a fist on his thigh. “He promised he’d keep it a secret!”


Keep what a secret?! Just what the hell did you two do in there?!




“You weren’t supposed to know, Sasuke-sama,” Haku blurted out, now lifting his head to reveal a face that was flushed with indignation and pain. “Although it was partly my fault for...for doing that, it was still none of your business!”


What in the world...?! How dare he speak to me like that!


“Haku,” I began with a low growl. “You must remember -”


“But you said it yourself, Sasuke-sama,” he said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Out here, we are no longer really master and servant.”


“We might not adhere to the strict rules of Byaku-Shinkyou, but you will recall who rescued you from the clutches of Orochimaru,” I hissed coldly.


“Maybe I would have been better being back there,” came the low mutter that was a direct slap to the face. It hurt, but at the same time a fury unlike any other, for this young man who claimed to be devoted to me, was enough to make me want to strike him.


“Get away from my sight,” I said quietly, while counting inwardly to ten to control my temper. “This conversation is over.”


“Why? Because I did something you are now guilty of?”


“Haku. That order was not open for negotiation. This conversation is over.”


But unlike the meek and docile Haku of the past, this new version no longer felt awed by my presence. Or maybe this Haku had been buried within him all this time, and it was simply his moment to be set free from the shadows. With tears in his eyes, he slammed his fist upon the low table in frustration. “Why are you so upset with me, Sasuke-sama?! Is it because of what I did to him? Or is it because of my feelings for him?”


“I do not really give a flying fuck what your feelings are for Naruto,” I replied coldly. “The bottom line is that it will not be reciprocated. He will not return them and you’ll only be hurt. Is that what you want to deal with for the rest of your life?”


“And why wouldn’t he return them?” came the low question that had me shuddering at his stubbornness. “Is it because you believe he belongs to you?”


I sucked in a harsh breath at the accusation that struck a chord deep within me. That was it, wasn’t it? The reason why I was so bitter and angry at this ‘revelation’ was all because of my deep-seeded desire to have and own Naruto completely. I was supposed to have no competition in this; not that girl from the festival and especially not from my own servant. This was preposterous.


“It’s true, isn’t it?” Haku repeated with a smile though it felt cold and bitter. “You think he’s now your property just like everything else you’ve ever gotten in your life. who always looked down on me whenever I spoke of my love for Zabuza-san. You who lectured me about the sins of the flesh and how I was bound to be sent to the depths of hell for the way I felt for another man. You who could never understand what it felt to be separated from the one you loved simply because of your archaic doctrines.” He shook his head slowly as if disappointed in me, and for a moment, I did feel an ache within; a realization that he was right in accusing me of being nothing more than a hypocrite. “I saw you that and Naruto-kun in the hallway, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.”


Oh no...oh God no...this is even worse than I imagined!


“You spent the night in his apartment,” Haku continued in that same quiet tone that kept driving the nails of accusation deeper within me. “Do you honestly believe that I’m that naïve to assume nothing took place between you two? Do you have any idea how much it hurts to know that the one person you do end up having such deep feelings for...ends up in the arms of someone who once ridiculed you over the same actions? I couldn’t reconcile the fact that you were now happy with Naruto-kun...of all people. And to be honest, Sasuke-sama, it was one of the reasons I went down on pay you back for how miserable and guilty you made me feel over being with Zabuza-san.”


He gave me a sad smile that was compounded by a tear running down his cheek. “I know Naruto-kun will never reciprocate my feelings, but there is no law that says I can’t keep trying until he finally acknowledges me in some way. That day may come, or it may never come, but I have resigned myself to whatever fate has in store for me. Still, I can take a little solace in knowing that maybe...just maybe you are already going through something like that, and you still don’t know it yet.”


“I can assure you that my feelings for Naruto are not as...involved as yours,” I somehow managed to say in a voice that sounded anything but mine. I felt small and empty – simply devoid of any emotion. “So you are welcome to keep fighting for his affections as you wish to.”


He stared at me for a long searching moment. “Really?”




He gave a barely visible nod, lowered his head, and I watched with bemusement as his shoulders began to shake a little. It wasn’t until he threw back his head to laugh out loud, did I realize he wasn’t experiencing a seizure of some sort. It was a mirthless sound; this laughter of his, and I almost felt it was mocking me in some way.


“Ah, Sasuke-sama,” he chuckled with a breathless giggle when he was finally in control of himself. “You really aren’t that good a liar, are you?”


I felt my cheeks burn. “I don’t understand what you mean.”


He chuckled again and sighed. “Your feelings for just don’t realize it yet, do you?”


“As I have said -”


“Yes, you did say you feel nothing for him, so...why did you look furious when I mentioned I had gone down on him? How did you react when he told you about it? Hmm? Knowing you, you would have sulked all day and hardly spoken a word to me.”


My cheeks were now literally flaming for I was clearly caught. I did tell you that Haku was one of the sharpest knives in the drawer, didn’t I? It was obvious that he damn well knew Naruto had told me nothing of the sort to begin with.


“Haku, I -”


I wasn’t sure of what I was going to say, but I needn’t have bothered for he suddenly reached out to gently cup my cheeks within his warm hands, forcing me to look into those beautiful brown eyes any sane man would fall helplessly in love with.


“I do not regret what happened between Naruto-kun and I, for it was something I chose of my own free will, Sasuke-sama. It was a decision I made for me, and not to please anyone else. For years I have lived under the thumb of someone...including you, and though I will forever remain grateful for your kindness to me, you – and Naruto-kun - have also taught me something quite important, which is to find my own voice and to become my own person. I have buried this side of me for almost eighteen long years, Sasuke-sama, and I can only think this is a blessing or a sign from the gods, that it is time for me to grow up. We are no longer under the shackles of master and servant, but my vow to you will remain and that is to be by your side for as long as you need me.”


He absently caressed my cheeks with his thumbs, seemed to take a deep breath before continuing in a voice that was barely audible. “However, and until Naruto-kun blatantly denies my overtures, I refuse to give him up to you that easily, Sasuke-sama. You will have to earn his true feelings just like everybody else for you will soon learn the very first lesson about loving someone else truly, madly, deeply.”


“...and what is that?” I whispered as he smiled and placed a tender kiss on the tip of my nose. It was a gesture that was so loving and kind; it almost brought tears to my eyes.


“That love hurts, Sasuke-sama. More than you’ll ever know.”





He arrived sometime past one in the morning; the dull ping of the elevator heralding his arrival.


My first instinct was to get up and see him...even if it was just a glimpse before he turned in for the night, and yet I could not get my body to move off the futon.


(I am a coward)


I gripped the blanket tightly and cursed bitterly into the darkness; Haku’s light snores my only companion in my brief moment of self-doubt and despair. I stole a quick look at the lump beneath the blanket beside me, envious that he could sleep so soundly after such an earth-shattering conversation earlier in the evening. I don’t think I’ve stopped trembling since he released me from his soul-piercing speech and pretending as if our little argument hadn’t happened at all. We barely spoke to each other, and I had made my escape by taking a bath for almost an hour – left alone to thoughts that swirled and made me almost sick with the direction they were going.


Haku had just about proclaimed himself as my rival...for Naruto’s affections of all things!


I would laugh at the incredulous notion if I wasn’t still feeling taken aback at the whole situation. Just how the hell had things ended up this way? Why had things ended up this way? The crux of the matter was that I was in a no win situation. If Haku’s feelings were not reciprocated in the long run, would that make me happy? Was I content to watch him wither away in his pain and suffering at the knowledge that Naruto didn’t feel the same way for him? And what if the situation was reversed? What if Naruto ended up - and I highly doubt this - but for the sake of argument that he ended up having those kinds of feelings for me...then what? I would still be unable to find any joy in that for I’d know it was at the expense of someone I cared about.


Bottom line Haku was making things extremely difficult with his confession tonight, and I knew now that this was probably a sign from the gods about my wayward decisions. I could not win this fight; not without causing further damage to others. This was my punishment for daring to assume that this kind of a lifestyle was even to be considered after my upbringing.


/ The person whose mind is always free from attachment, who has subdued the mind and senses, and who is free from desires, attains the supreme perfection of freedom from Karma through renunciation. /




I sighed and squeezed my eyes shut at the inevitable. I would have to nip this in the bud before it became something uncontrollable and disruptive to the lives we now led.


Yes...that was definitely the best way to deal with this. I could almost feel the old me swelling with victory at finally making the new me see reason. I had been weak in mind and body, but it was time to take control of them again. Besides, Haku was more than welcome to have him. I could always make Karin a suitable companion and prove to her that I wasn’t such an insensitive jerk after all.


Decision made, I pep-talked myself to my feet and slipped out of the room as noiselessly as I could. I was sure to tighten the sash of my house robe, that way Naruto wouldn’t assume I was trying to come onto him so late at night. However, I sincerely hoped he wasn’t already asleep for if he was going to keep up with his schedule, this was the only time I could catch him and explain things to him before he vanished again in mere hours.


“Just say it quickly,” I muttered as I wrapped my arms around my waist and tried to steady my thudding heart and trembling legs. “Just make this as quickly as possible...”


The sound and sight of the door to his apartment suddenly opening nearly had me choking on my words. I froze in mid-stride as he shuffled into the hallway dressed in nothing but a pair of shorts, a towel draped around his neck and carrying his usual basket of toiletries. He hadn’t noticed me yet, but it was enough for me to drink him in and to see what only three days of training with Sergei had done to Naruto’s physique.


My God. He was fucking...ripped.


Those once slender and somewhat slumped shoulders now seemed to have broadened a little; more wiry and taut with muscles accumulated from doing so many pushups (and goodness knows what other strict regiment Sergei was putting him through). The shorts hung low on lean hips that I had once explored before kneading that finely toned buttocks. My fingers itched with desire, for I could still feel every damn clench of those muscles while he had exploded with his orgasm. The insane urge to savor every inch of that back and suck on his flesh had me biting back a groan of need. So much for adhering to my doctrine. I needed this man like a junkie desperate for his fix – and yet here I was about to do something that would kill least emotionally.


“Sleep walking again, Sasuke?” came the low but weary question that had me blushing in embarrassment since I had been caught staring. He was at the door of the bathroom, his features illuminated from the lights he had turned on. He looked haggard and just about dead on his feet, and my heart literally stirred with an emotion so intense it was almost painful. I didn’t understand it, but I wasn’t about to stand here to question why such a ‘motherly’ instinct to embrace and reassure him that everything was going to be all right, was downright overwhelming.


“Want to keep me company?” he asked with a nod into the bathroom, a small smile on his visage that I would have reciprocated, if it wasn’t for the sudden memory of Haku telling me just what had taken place in there a few days ago.


You were never planning to tell me about it anyway, were you, Naruto? You and Haku would have kept it your dirty little secret if the truth hadn’t been revealed to me, wouldn’t you?


Allowing this (un)justified emotion of betrayal to supersede my lust, I felt a little more in control of my emotions and able to continue with what I had planned to say in the first place.


“Tempting,” I replied neutrality, “But...I just wanted to say something quickly before going back to bed. I know you’ve got a long day tomorrow.”


He raised a brow and said nothing; simply waiting for me to speak again.


“What...” I cleared my throat for I had sounded like a dying frog. “What happened between us the other time...was a mistake. I...we got carried away with our desires and it resulted in what happened in your apartment. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I wanted to apologize for giving you the impression that our actions will be a continuing occurrence ... because it will not.”


Naruto stared at me for a long minute as if uncomprehending of what I was babbling about, before running his fingers through his hair and giving a heavy sigh. “ pretty much regret what happened, right?” he finally asked in a voice that sounded flat and cold.


“Yes...that is what I’m saying.”


“So...we’re done with all that, right?”




“No more touching, kissing...all that shit, right?”


“Yes. No more.”


He seemed to ponder this for all of a second before shrugging. “All right then. Whatever you say, Sasuke. Anything else you want to share with me?”


Wait...where was the argument? Where was his anger at me breaking this off? Why wasn’t he more upset? Did he just not care or was he already thinking of his next time with Haku? I opened my mouth to rage on him for that, but realized that I was only going to sound like I gave a damn. Wasn’t my purpose to break this tentative bond between us as cleanly as possible? Besides, it was clear he was still not going to reveal what had taken place between him and Haku, and for some reason, that hurt more than anything else.


(but he didn’t reveal what happened between you two to him either. Haku was just ‘lucky’ enough to catch you both in the act. At least, Naruto’s keeping the end of the bargain by not blabbing about your infidelities.)


“It was a sin,” I said flatly as I tightened my arms around me as if to protect myself from the inscrutable expression now leveled at me. “You know it as well as I do...whatever we did...was nothing more than a sin.”


“...sin, huh?”


I couldn’t look him in the eye anymore. I stared at a point above his head and wished he’d turn away already.


“Well,” he said with an exaggerated sigh. “Guess I’m gonna have to purify myself in a bit. Wouldn’t want to remain stained from all that sin we’ve been infecting each other with, would I?”


And with a mock bow and a two-fingered salute, he finally left me standing alone and cold in the empty hallway, but not before slamming the bathroom door shut loudly behind him – a gesture that spoke so much of his mindset over what had just taken place.


He was angry.


He was angry and that showed that he cared after all. Or was I simply projecting my feelings onto him? If he really did care about he have been so quick to give in to Haku’s flirtations? And yet as I lay on my futon and thought even more about it, I realized that Naruto’s behavior was not all that unusual. He did not know my true feelings about what we had done that night, and as I had always assumed, our foreplay was simply nothing more than an experiment in something new and exciting. Why would he attach anything emotional to it? Why would I expect him to feel the same way I do? If I had come to know Naruto by now, I should be aware that he wasn’t the kind to dwell too much on the consequences of his actions. He was prone to act first and think later, and though this has helped him a lot in the past, it had gotten him in trouble as well.


I was not a woman, and in Naruto’s world, I did not ‘fit’ into the conventional role of a normal relationship. To him, there as nothing ‘normal’ about what we did. It just simply felt good to him and that was all there was to it. To compound matters, the break up tonight would be taken the wrong way for I had been unable to tell him the real reason behind it. He would only assume the worst of me, and I tried to convince myself that I could and would deal with it...if only to show Haku that I meant every word I said.


Whatever will be, will be.


I would leave those two to make their own beds and lie in it – figuratively or literally; and sincerely wish them the best of luck.


Little would I know just how much Haku’s words would eventually come to haunt me in the worst way possible.




Chapter 30

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