Crossed Wires

I don't know where this sideplot comes from and I'm not sure how it will impact the rest of the plot. It wasn't planned. But it's making the fic fun to write once again, and right now that's all I care about. Oh well, I'm already flying by the seat of my pants anyway.
Thanks to Mandy for the help with the beta. :D

Sasuke : Chapter 11

"--do you hope to accomplish?"

"--on't know -- something! There must be --"

Sasuke goes still in the middle of the empty corridor, two steps away from the elevator. It's the top floor of the hospital -- more of a house that sits on top of the hospital's roof than a normal floor, really. It's where Doctor Tsunade has her private office and her personal apartment.

He didn't see Naruto coming in through the front gate, which he was manning until a couple of minutes ago. That’s a short time to get inside, climb to Doctor Tsunade's office, and get into an argument with her, especially since Sasuke is using the shortest path and hasn't seen even the tip of his blond tail.

"-- can't just sit here and pretend--"

"Naruto! Stop being an idiot, how -- stop -- stupid -- out of control, what can you do?"

"--on't know, help, maybe!"

Sasuke blinks thoughtfully at the door. On one hand, he has orders -- Shizune has paperwork she needs Doctor Tsunade to sign. On the other hand, this sounds like a private disagreement and maybe he should let them finish -- they sound exasperated and worried more than truly angry at each other. He doubts they're about to get violent.

Also, he's still annoyed at the amount of things he doesn't know about Naruto. Eavesdropping on his employer doesn't sit right with his sense of ethics, though, so in the end, he knocks.

Doctor Tsunade and Naruto are facing off over her desk. In between them, spread across the piles of late paperwork and part of her keyboard, is today's newspaper. Naruto is doing some vigorous pointing at one of the articles, but the angle is wrong for Sasuke to get anything even when he zooms in.

"Seriously, I can't just--"

"Sasuke. What did you want." It isn't a question. Tsunade's voice is flat -- a warning, both for Sasuke to be quick, and for Naruto to keep quiet.

"Shizune needs this signed." Sasuke steps closer and hands her the forms.

Naruto is already folding the newspaper, hiding the article. Huh.

The woman huffs in annoyance and sits down heavily. "I'll bring it down; go back to your duties. Naruto -- get out. I'll talk to you tomorrow." Sasuke wonders if the sentence ends in 'when I'm not feeling the need to hit you with my medical dictionary anymore.'

"My shift is over," he reminds Tsunade; he doesn't need her angry at him when she realizes he's not at the door anymore.

"Good! So you can walk that idiot home and sit on him. Make him work on your arm, make him build you a little tricycle, I don't care. Now shoo!"

Naruto snarls, incensed. "You shitty old hag!"


"If you think you can just -- just -- argh!"

The woman leans back in her chair, legs crossed, and gives Naruto a cold, unimpressed stare. "Naruto, do I have to pull out the dog whistle?"

Throwing his arms up in disgust, Naruto stomps out. Sasuke follows, more slowly, nodding a goodbye at Tsunade. Pondering the clues he caught, he joins Naruto, who is fuming in front of the elevator.

Something happened in the paper that Naruto has insider info about. He wants to do something about it. Tsunade thinks it's stupid -- dangerous, maybe? She wouldn't get angry otherwise.

Also, she knows about the job Naruto is doing for Sasuke, but maybe that's not too surprising; they're close, after all. Maybe it just came up in a casual discussion. It doesn't mean she knows more than the fact he happens to need an arm.

He waits until they're in the elevator before he asks. "What was that about?"

Naruto gives him a sour look. "You heard, huh."

"Naruto, if there had been anyone else on that floor, they'd have heard, too."

Naruto grumbles something uncomplimentary under his breath and kicks the elevator's wall, blue eyes flashing. "Nothing important."

Sasuke arches an eyebrow. That didn't sound like nothing important to him.

"It's just -- of all people, she should understand why I -- argh!" He breathes out, rakes a hand through his hair, and sighs. "It's just some dumb personal shit, don't pay attention."

"Mmh. Can I see the paper?"

Naruto stiffens. "No, you can't."

The first thing he does upon leaving the elevator is to throw it into the trash bin.

The first thing Sasuke does when he pops into the staff room to clock out is to pick up the copy Lee abandoned on the desk. When he stalks out to catch up to Naruto, he's already unfolding it.

Page five, a full one; a photo, several sidebars. Another Beach Murder. Another body, male, thirty-three, cyborg -- both arms redone with black chrome armor, a "bruiser" model; died of massive internal trauma that isn't explained by the couple of scrapes and bruise on the outside. The implants were "heavily damaged;" the article doesn't expand. There are theories -- toxins, new virus, experimental sonic weapon, animal attack, even an interview with a neighbor who rambles on about hexes and curses and 'el mal de ojo.' The only revelation is that most of the previous victims were cyborgs, too. Maybe all of them; it's hard to say when so many bits are missing or pulped beyond recognition.

Naruto glares at him resentfully when Sasuke catches up at the door; Sasuke doesn't bother looking guilty.

"If you know something, why don't you--"

Naruto growls and stomps down the street toward the closest subway stop. "Don't tell me to go to the cops."

Sasuke grits his teeth. "It's a serial killer, Naruto." The furry flinches, ears flattening on his head. Sasuke pushes. "If your little life is more important than that, you could at least give an anonymous tip!"

Naruto whirls around, grabs him by the collar -- Sasuke locks his forearm blade before it can spring out, though he still elbows Naruto's wrist, forcing the blond to let go of him. Instead of stepping out of his personal space, Naruto just uses his other hand to push Sasuke under an abandoned awning and gets in his face.

"I can't! Okay? I can't. So get off my case already. You don't know anything."

Sasuke pushes against the wall and gets in Naruto's face right back. "So why don't you just tell me?"

"What gives you the right to know all my big secrets anyway!?"

"You know mine!"

Sasuke clenches his fists, glaring right in Naruto's eyes. He doesn't remember being so angry in a long time. Naruto's own glare lessens, though, slowly melting off his face. Now he just looks tired. Sasuke knows that's a no.


"Never mind." He pushes Naruto aside and starts back down the street, back stiff, refusing to acknowledge him. He's too angry, too -- he doesn't know. Disappointed. Something close, at any rate.

They climb into the same car. Sasuke stares at his reflection in the window and the tunnel zipping past behind it. He can see Naruto standing a few steps to the side, watching him.

He thought he was all right with Naruto not going to the police about the attack on the hospital. Well, not all right, but that was a compromise he could learn to tolerate. And now Naruto knows what's going on with a serial killer and doesn't even want to warn the police.

Sasuke doesn't think he can live with that.

He ruminates the whole way home. Perhaps the situation is justifiable; but Naruto refuses to justify it, and that makes him seem even guiltier.

Damn it. He should have paid more attention to the difference between unlikable and amoral. Then maybe he wouldn't be so surprised. He knew Naruto was shady from the first day he went to buy some parts the furry shouldn't even have owned. Why did he stop computing it into their interactions?

On autopilot, Sasuke reaches the parts shop, and he still hasn't made a decision. He stands in front of the door, stares at the patchy shack masquerading as a respectable building. If he steps inside, goes to sit in his usual chair, and listens to Naruto's usual babble, does this make him tacitly accepting of the situation?

He has his salary now; maybe he should go live elsewhere. Keep things professional.

When did they stop being professional?

"Hey, Sasuke."

Naruto is standing at his side, hands in his pockets, staring at the front door and making no move to unlock it. "You're right. I should tell you," he says quietly.

"But you're still not going to."

"I would if it were just me, but it's not just my secret."

"It's the secret of that serial killer, too."

Naruto looks away. His tail is hanging like a dead thing. "Yeah." He sounds strangled, about to choke. "Him and a dozen other people or more, who aren't killers and didn't deserve it, but if it comes out they're all going to get it." He sighs, weary. "Listen, can we just get in?"

Sasuke grits his teeth; but when Naruto unlocks the door and steps in, he follows.

At least the blond doesn't try to go around and start in on his little routine, as if nothing special was going on; he takes down the 'be right back sign,' turns the 'closed' sign face out and signals at Sasuke to follow him past the shop, to his personal area. He slouches on his bed. Sasuke takes a stool from the desk and sits facing him. It's so cramped in here their knees almost touch.

"I really wish I could tell you. There's no one else who'd even understand. Tsunade knows everything, but you heard her, she thinks I'm being retarded."

It sounds sincere, and that mollifies him a little. "What does she want you to do?"

"Nothing." Naruto laughs bitterly. "Nothing at all. Stay put and pretend it's not happening. Yeah, like fuck I will."

Sasuke frowns. She's a doctor, he expected some more care for the killer's victims.

"I know it bugs her too, but she thinks I'll just go and get killed. And 'it's not my responsibility anyway,' but I don't see anyone else moving their ass! What am I supposed to do?!" Naruto whines in frustration and falls on his back, arms flung out to the sides.

"Let me help," Sasuke replies -- quietly, because he wishes and he wishes and yelling never helps with that.

Naruto pushes himself up on his hands and stares at him. Sasuke thinks he sees a flash of shock, and then... Something he can't interpret. Too complex, too subtle.

"Oh hell, Sasuke..."

And then there's a hand reaching for his face, and he's not sure what's going on, so he doesn't move. Naruto's palm cups his cheek, and he smiles. It's a weird smile, a little crooked.

"Thank you."

... That's still a no. Still an 'I don't trust you enough.'

"Come on, don't make that face -- I'd take you along in a minute. But you've got all that shit in your head, all those subroutines and secret army stuff. And if I tell you, you won't even be able to help it, you'll tell the cops, and if you tell the cops, they'll try to do their duty and they'll all get killed. I'm not going to send them to their deaths."

"So then what do you plan to do?" Sasuke snaps, frustrated.

"... Go there. Fix it." A pause. "Come back."

That was convincing. Really. Sasuke's eyes narrow. "Fix it how?"

"I can't tell you."

"Kill him?"

Naruto closes his eyes and crumples, forehead on Sasuke's shoulder, and Sasuke freezes. "Oh hell, I don't want to."

Sasuke doesn't like the bleakness and pain in Naruto's voice. At all. Ever. It's wrong. It doesn't belong there. "... Then tell the cops about the dangers too. Warn them. Make sure they go prepared. If it's that bad, they'll send an elite team -- they have those, so why don't you trust them to do their jobs?"

Naruto lifts his head and snaps, exasperated. "Like you trust the cops with that guy you want to kill?"

Sasuke forgets to pretend to breathe, and stares back at him, unable to come up with a response.

"... That was a low blow. Sorry. But that -- it's personal. I can't send strangers into it blind."

The gesture is a little more hesitant this time, but Naruto's forehead ends up against his shoulder again. Sasuke shifts his weight lightly, and settles down again. It's strange. But Naruto is visibly distressed, and Sasuke knows that some people require human contact when they're under emotional duress; it's a comfort thing.

"... I don't have enough details to advise any course of action. Is there no one else you can talk with? Shikamaru..."

Naruto shakes his head minutely. "I trust Shika with my life, but he doesn't need that. It's a pretty shitty mess from start to finish, and he's a pretty normal guy. Smart as hell, and he knows there's lots of bad stuff out there, but I still don't wanna fling that at him. He doesn't deserve it. Chouji even less so -- it would kill him. And Sakura, oh god, no. Heh. Face it, Sasuke, you're the only one of my friends who could even vaguely understand, and with that fucking programming I can't even tell you."

"I thought you said it wasn't your secret to share," Sasuke says, because it's the only part of the tirade he can comment on intelligently. Understand? He's an android, and he's horrible at empathy.

... Friend? On the same level as Sakura, Shikamaru, Chouji?

"Yeah, well, it would be different if I was sure that the junk in your head isn't gonna force you to share it."

Sasuke shrugs to dislodge Naruto's forehead and places a hand on top of his head to angle it so the furry looks straight at him. "Stop mumbling into my shoulder. Do you want my advice?"

Naruto blinks, and reddens a little. "If it's gonna be more than 'go to the cops,' yeah," he replies with an awkward little chuckle.

"But you're going to go to the cops anyway. Though hypothetically, if calling them right away wasn't the best option, I'd ask you what they would need to know, so that when you do call for them -- and you will -- they don't get killed."

Naruto blinks, and then laughs. "Hypothetically? Heheh."

Sasuke waits. And consolidates the little program in its little narutorulz folder. It's all theories anyway, because the second he hears enough to be useful to the investigation, he's going straight to the phone and calling in.

He doesn't think too hard about how much "enough" can get relative. They use AIs on the field because they want them to be able to make judgment calls, after all.

"So hypothetically, say there was a group of guys. Got together because they had something in common to bitch about. They didn't hate it for the same reasons, for some it's personal, for some it's about money, for some it's a question of principle, but, you get what I'm saying."


"Eh, maybe. Or maybe it was the taste of broccoli soup. Seriously, what do they put in that shit."

Sasuke arches an eyebrow. Naruto grins, unrepentant. He does seem to feel a little better already. Sasuke is -- relieved. Slightly.

"So hypothetically, if they hated their broccoli soup so much, they would petition, right? But the soup makers don't care, they've got the market cornered. Here, have some mashed broccoli, and puree de broccoli, and some more of that soup. And broccoli cake, happy birthday, you damn kids. Mwahaha."

... Sasuke stares, and wonders, once again, what Naruto's train of thought looks like. He's not sure it's a roller coaster anymore, unless roller coasters have a tendency to jump off their tracks and go for a trip on the neighboring ride's rails from time to time.

"So then petitioning wouldn't work. Maybe if they, uh, okay that metaphor doesn't work anymore. But... Hypothetically speaking, when the petitions don't work, those anti-broccoli people decide to use, well, other ways. And they find people, who they teach to do... Stuff."

Illegal stuff, Sasuke thinks, and then tries telling the subroutines that he's reading too much into Naruto's woeful lack of vocabulary. The subroutines aren't convinced.


"But then imagine the broccoli factory goes belly-up. They wouldn't need their trained people anymore, right?"

"Of course."

"So it probably would be, 'so long, thanks for the help we didn't need, forget we ever did something as silly as protesting broccoli soup, good luck with your future endeavors,' right? I mean, I dunno, but that would only be logical."

Sasuke nods patiently, and tries not to translate it into what it could mean in real life. It's a mental exercise, is all.

"So there's this one guy who does pretty well, and forgets he was ever trained for that shit, and hey, sometimes, if you cook it right, broccoli is even kinda tasty. ...Only the kind that comes from the marketplace, though. Forget about that green puree in bricks, it's hideous."


"--Sorry, sorry. And there's this other guy, who -- the first guy thought did okay, but -- it turns out... He didn't. Apparently."


Naruto doesn't seem to have heard much about the other guy since they went their separate ways; he had to learn of his actions through the newspaper. And in the newspaper, there was only one thing to identify him by.

He recognized the way he kills.

He can kill the same way.

Sasuke know it's only a matter of time before he shifts into Sharingan mode again, and once he does, it will be the end. All the amount of 'this conclusion is a baseless leap of logic' in the world won't change anything. He can't unthink it.

Sasuke sits, rigid on his stool, hands at his side, feet tucked behind the metal legs -- with a little luck they'll hinder him a little. "Do you plan to kill him?"

Naruto gives him a sober, dispirited look. "...I don't want to kill him. But if anyone does, it's got to be me."

"That's vigilantism."

"Yep. Somehow I don't think that particular thing bugs you, unless your programming is an incredible hypocrite."

Sasuke shrugs; it comes off as more of a nervous twitch. "It won't trip my subroutines, no. It's not difficult to reclassify as citizen's arrest." Kakashi showed him how, and he had the security clearance to make it count as tacit permission. Sasuke never thought he'd have reason to use it for anyone but Itachi.

"So, say I went out and did some vigilantism..."

"Hypothetically speaking, I assume your -- friends -- would find you going with backup more acceptable than letting you go alone, even if it's not as acceptable as calling the cops."

Naruto shakes his head, and drops all pretenses. "Sasuke... I wish you could come with me, but you can't. It's too dangerous."

There. It's out in the open. Not that it was hidden worth shit anyway, but it's different now. You're my friend. I know the killer. We're the same.

You can't come with me.

Sasuke knows Naruto is too stubborn and not logical enough to accept the argument, but he glares at him and he points out the obvious anyway. "I'm an Uchiha unit."

Naruto doesn't even bother trying to smile. "And he knows how to terminate you."

If the murderer knows, then Naruto has to know, too. Sasuke forgets to put any kind of inflexion in his voice; it comes out unnatural, tinny. "Naruto, don't joke around like that."

Sasuke thinks he doesn't want to die like that, not before he kills Itachi -- but if Naruto lied, then he's the one who's going to die. That's a direct admission of guilt, forbidden knowledge; it's like a tidal wave and Sasuke's not going to hold on.

Naruto arches both eyebrows. "Hypothetically speaking, I think my friend looks like he might need a hacker."

Sasuke's fingers dig into the underside of the stool, denting the metal. "... I think, hypothetically speaking, that if you were going to attempt to hack a Law Enforcement Unit, you would need to do that knock-out trick again. The one you wouldn't tell me about."

Naruto blinks at him, and leans closer to peer at his face with much confusion. "Huh? Knock-out trick? What are you talking about?"

Sasuke glares at him, frustrated and a little scared. He can feel the narutorulz program losing ground. "I mean that trick you used the first time we met, when I was--"

-- Darkness.

He barely has time for relief before he topples onto Naruto's bed.