Thanks to JoIsBishMyoga for the beta job! Any mistakes still left are mine.
And wow, we're going into action now. So weird. The romance will have to take a back seat for a little while. XD

Chapter 2: The Shit Hits the Fan

(ND author: pun not intended XD sorry for ensuing bad mental pictures)

"We're a team, after all."

And they wouldn't get another word out of him on the subject. He just couldn't-- there was no way he would babble on about that a second longer. How was it that they didn't know, that he had to tell them?

How was it that Sakura could be so calm and objective -- sometimes even ruthlessly rational -- on missions, and yet still react like this? If she started to cry he would ... He would... He didn't know what he would do, which was why he hoped so hard she wouldn't. And if they kept going on about their goddamn emotions, eventually the conversation would drift back to his own feelings toward her... Sakura was his teammate, and one of the rare human beings he still cared about -- he did love her, in a way. But he was aware that it was not the way she wanted to be loved, and he wasn't quite enough of a bastard to tell her so bluntly.

So he waited, and watched his girl teammate in her cocoon of blankets, looking too vulnerable with her bare shoulders peeking out and the rest of her body curled up underneath. There were shadows under her eyes, and her tangled hair hung limply, and he didn't like that; he didn't like her looking so raw, so exposed.

At last, Sakura nodded, and her expression relaxed a little; Sasuke sighed, looking away from her to give her a minute to compose herself.

From underneath his bangs, Naruto was discreetly glancing at her, and then at him, and back at her, like a puppy who's not sure he did something wrong but is looking sorry all the same, just in case. He was covered in scratches and bite marks, though Sasuke could have sworn that this particular set of scratches on his hip had been bleeding last night; he remembered well, he had licked it clean--uhm.

Naruto's hipbones really weren't that interesting. No, really, they weren't. Why was Sasuke staring?

... There was a lot to stare at. A lot more than when they had been kids, that was for sure. Broad chest, wide shoulders... Hints of a developing six-pack? Huh, that was new. ... Tattoo? When had Naruto gotten a tattoo around his bellybutton? It was faded, as if old, and hard to see clearly -- the symbols around the main spiral were impossible to read -- but Sasuke didn't remember seeing it before.

And he was still ogling and he should stop before his eyes drifted anymore south, but he couldn't.

Naruto was a natural blond.

He was in the process of pretending it hadn't happened when there was a loud knock at the front door.

"Naruto! Open the door."

Sakura yelped, and the boys jumped on their feet. What was Kakashi-sensei doing here?

And Sasuke didn't like the tone of his voice or the urgency in that knocking.

"Naruto! Are you there?"

Kakashi was now trying the handle. It was locked, but seeing his determination, it wouldn't stay that way for long.

Clothes. Now. There was no way Sasuke would let his teacher see him naked, especially not the waking-up-after-a-good-hard-fuck kind of naked. He rolled off the bed, grabbed his shorts and put them on, and then, just because they were in reach, he threw Naruto his awful orange pants. Sakura's dress was nowhere in sight.

He was still looking for the dress when the front door was kicked open.

Naruto was hopping rather ridiculously on one foot as he tried to get his other foot in his pants when Mitarashi Anko strode in the bedroom, followed at a more leisurely pace by Kakashi-sensei and Sarutobi Asuma. Which meant the three jounin had a rather good frontal view of his body and the love bites decorating it. Sasuke tried not to curse the too-slow moron. After all, with Sakura still naked under the blanket and the distinctive smell in the messy room, they didn't need a clearer picture to know what had just happened.

Asuma took his ever-present cigarette off his lips and winced. "... Well."

Sasuke tensed up. Something was wrong. That reaction -- three Jounins charging into Naruto's apartment -- it didn't fit. If they had been mistaken, if, for some reason, they'd been worried about one of them being in danger, the fact that Team Seven had only been 'fraternizing' should have been a relief.

None of them looked relieved.

The adults were staring at the three of them, especially Naruto, who had finally managed to get his pants on, and Sakura, whose scarlet face clashed horribly with her hair. Anko looked angry and a little bit disgusted, Asuma was having trouble masking his sheer disbelief, and Kakashi ... Too blank. Sure, an eye didn't express a lot, but exactly because it was hard to look at his face for clues, Sasuke had learned to interpret the slightest narrowing of Kakashi's eye, the barest frown.

Kakashi looked like Zabuza had come into their lives again. A sort of "I really don't WANT to fight that guy, but I must. And someone's going to die and it won't be me" expression, serious and sad and determined. And pissed off by the fate that made such a waste necessary.

Sasuke's bad feeling wasn't getting any better. It didn't match. It just didn't. Disbelief, Sasuke could accept. But a woman so blatant about her sexuality shouldn't have reacted like a preachy spinster. And Kakashi...

Kakashi wouldn't look at him. The gray-haired man exchanged a quick glance with Asuma, and then lifted his hand to quiet Anko when she opened her mouth. Sasuke was sure he didn't want to hear what she had been about to say. Her contempt-filled glare was clear enough.

"Get dressed. Sakura, you'll go with Asuma. Sasuke, go home. Naruto, we have to talk to you."

Kakashi turned to leave the bedroom, catching Anko's shoulder to pull her out after him. The woman glowered, but followed, and Asuma closed the door after them.

Naruto's hands balled into fists, and he glared hotly at the door. Once again, his eyes flashed crimson as he growled angrily.

"What right do they have to barge in like that--"

"Naruto, calm down," Sakura pleaded between her clenched teeth.

Sasuke was mildly relieved to see Naruto's eyes return to their usual color and the pupil abandon that slit cat-eye shape. He didn't know why that was happening -- Naruto had no special bloodline as far as anyone knew -- but he did know that he didn't want either of the teachers to see.

"Calm down."

"But they -- how dare they --"

Sasuke shook his head, scowling. "I don't think it's about that. Something's going on. Keep your cool."

Naruto huffed, but a look at Sakura's tense expression and white-knuckled grip on the blanket made him settle down.

He found Sakura's dress eventually, but the seam was ripped, as if someone had lowered her zipper all the way down as quickly as possible and then kept going. He gave it to her anyway, along with a length of rope to tie it closed around her waist. Naruto looked into his dresser and pulled out a large, orange sweater, which he offered to her. Ordinarily, she would have screamed bloody murder to be dressed in that horrible, flashy color, but she looked too mortified to protest.

Sasuke didn't even think of looking away while she was changing. After everything that had happened between them, it seemed stupid to bother. And neither of them was in a state to watch her lithe body or her small, perky breasts, or the fact that her hair color was apparently natural -- okay, perhaps he was looking. He hadn't been aware he had hormones, but after yesterday night, it was like they were still lurking in a corner of his brain. He'd been right; emotional and physical entanglement made you lose your focus. Damn it. 'Concentrate,' he berated himself, 'or you'll end up a second Kakashi.' He gave them both a stern look that he privately thought he deserved more than they did.

"We stay calm. We listen to what they want."

We share the info later, he mouthed silently. He was pretty sure the adults were listening in. His teammates both seemed to get it, because they nodded.

"I'm still pissed off that they barged in like that," Naruto grumbled, but his eyes stayed sky blue.

"They must have a reason," Sakura commented softly. "They must think that it's good enough to justify it."

Neither wondered out loud if that reason would be good enough for them.

"Sakura, are you done?"

She was tucking a few kunai under her shirt. Naruto frowned, and went to help her, slipping his hands under the sweatshirt casually to angle the blade so they wouldn't be seen. Sasuke saw her blush, but she didn't protest.

Sasuke approved. She had the right idea. Something bad was going on, and it couldn't hurt to be armed. He got his own weaponry back from where it had spilled from his pouch, regretting that he had only been carrying his usual kunai and small shuriken.

"Okay," Sakura said after taking a deep breath.

Naruto leaned toward her and kissed her lips gently. She closer her eyes, a fleeting expression of gratefulness on her face.

Contrary to the two boys who responded with anger and-or aggression, Sakura responded to emotional upheavals by stress. None of them knew where Asuma would take her nor why, and she needed the support. His decision made, Sasuke strode forward and touched her shoulder gently, and when she turned toward him, he brushed his lips against the corner of her mouth just like Naruto had done.

"We're a team," he whispered quietly, reminding them both -- as much as reminding himself -- that they had backup. They had guarded his back so many times without conditions. He was not about to abandon them, even though the teachers' orders made him pretty sure that, whatever was going on, his teammates were in a lot deeper than he was.

Blushing slightly, Sakura leaned against him, and Naruto punched his shoulder gently. He punched him back, his other hand patting Sakura's back awkwardly. He hated, HATED these emotional occasions, but for some reason he didn't move away.

Kakashi knocked briskly at the door once again, ending the moment.

"Are you ready?"

Abandoning them, Naruto opened the door, his chin lifted up stubbornly.

"Yeah. Now what do you want?"

Asuma gave his still bare chest a dubious glance, but didn't comment.

"Sakura, come with me," he asked quietly. He was trying for a reassuring look, Sasuke could see it, and looked more embarrassed and worried than angry. He was a better choice to accompany Sakura than Mitarashi Anko, because the bitch was still glaring at her as if Sakura was something disgusting she had found on the bottom of her sandal. Sasuke was starting not to care very much about the discrepancy between her attitude and the situation.

Sakura nodded quietly and after a nervous look at Naruto and Sasuke, she followed the bearded man out, burrowing in the too-large orange sweatshirt for reassurance.

Naruto and Sasuke exchanged a long look, and then Sasuke stepped toward the door. He would have asked what was going on, but he already knew that he wouldn't be told. Kakashi-sensei had his stubborn "this is grownup stuff" frown firmly on.

He ignored Anko as he walked past her. He wouldn't have minded slamming her against the wall and promising a painful beating if she ever dared to look at Sakura like that again, but he didn't fancy being reported to the ANBU; he knew that, while officially forgiven, he had been under watch since his desertion to Orochimaru. That, and Anko would probably keep doing it anyway just to spite him, because she had too much will and not enough sense to know when she was outclassed.

He walked out of the building slowly, casually, as if nothing special had ever happened in that small apartment, and as if twinges of pain for every step he took didn't remind him how forcefully Naruto had slammed into him last night. And the seam of his shorts chafed against his abused ass -- fuck! His boxers were still on top of Naruto's chest of drawers. No wonder he felt a draft. He hoped Kakashi wouldn't notice any embarrassing stains.

Forcing the soreness -- and what had caused it-- out of his mind, he slipped in the shadows of a small backstreet, letting his clone go on to his apartment. Copying the Kage Bunshin had been well-worth the embarrassment at borrowing Naruto's signature move. None of the ninja lurking in the shadows would be able to tell it wasn't really him.

Now, to find a good vantage point to see what was going on in Naruto's apartment...

He found out quickly enough that the only place that let anyone get a view of Naruto's living room was on top of a small tower, three blocks away. Even with a long-distance vision jutsu, he would have trouble seeing well enough to read their lips...

The storage room at the top of the tower was occupied.

It wasn't a habitation -- it was too small, drafty and bare to be lived in -- but it did show signs of frequent use. If Sasuke judged by the Chuunin leaning on the windowsill and staring in the direction Sasuke happened to be interested in, he wasn't the only one who wanted to know what was going on in that flat.

It was easy enough to climb the other side of the building, avoiding the few traps, and to take place on the roof, just above the man who was spying on Naruto. Sasuke didn't know why his teammate was under surveillance, but all signs pointed out that it had been going on for a while. Way before last night happened. That Chuunin looked too boredly watchful for it to be anything but routine.

Maybe the surveillance had something to do with the distrust and hate of most adults toward Naruto. Maybe there was more to that sleepwalking thing than he wanted them to believe.

Maybe it was about the strange tattoo on his belly. Because, now that he thought about it, those symbols reminded him quite a bit of the symbols Kakashi had drawn on the floor to control the curse Orochimaru had placed on him.

So... One of Naruto's abilities was sealed, and it made people hate him, and his eyes go red, and his mind shift into a sort of feral state...

Maybe that was why there were no other Uzumakis in the village. But that was only suppositions so far; he didn't know enough to be sure either way. It was the only explanation that came to him, but that didn't mean it was the right one; they had been taught to avoid that trap at the very beginning of their ninja training. He decided to think when he would have gathered more information, and concentrated on trying to read on Naruto's lips; his blond teammate was the only one Sasuke could see, and not so well because he was pacing angrily.

Waitasecond. Had he seen right? He mouthed the words he'd read on Naruto's lips.

"What the fuck... mean, kyu ... rut ?! "

Naruto had been in rut? Like -- animals did?

Whatever made him different was of an animal nature then-- he remembered that the Inuzuka brat was particularly desperate for a date at some periods so it wasn't so exceptional a behavior amongst the advanced bloodlines of the village... And they had never known anyone of Naruto's clan, so who was to say it wasn't natural?

Except that... For animals, rut equaled reproduction.

Reproduction of something -- a particularly dangerous bloodline limit would be one of the possibilities -- that they hated and feared.

-- Reproduction. Sakura.

That was why they had taken Sakura away.

Jumping from the roof, he promptly circled the areas the ANBU had followed him through earlier, taking care to stay close to the walls and take the narrower streets so that he couldn't be spied on from the tower. Naruto was big enough to deal on his own for a little while; Kakashi seemed to want to talk, not drag him away and throw him in prison, anyway. First, Sasuke needed to find their teammate and make sure she was okay.

From a gesture Kakashi had made during the discussion about Sakura -- that he was sure had been deliberate -- he had a clue as to the general direction, but he didn't know more than that. If they had been in the forest, he could have followed her tracks or located her chakra easily enough, but they were in the middle of a fairly big village where almost everyone had developed their chakra abilities. It made pinpointing her location very difficult.

Discreetly, he asked shopkeepers around, but he couldn't find anyone who had seen Asuma and Sakura walk past (that, and it was hell to leave the Yamanaka flower shop once Ino had caught sight of him). After the fifth negative answer he allowed himself to glower angrily at every passerby he happened to cross paths with. His instincts were telling him that Sakura needed help and -- he'd just reaffirmed their team bond. He just wasn't allowed to drop it and go home.

Scowling, he stomped around the corner to go to the next street.

"Ow-- oh! S-sasuke-kun! "

Big whitish eyes were blinking at him.

"... Hinata," he replied as a salute as the black-haired girl started apologizing profusely for running into him. He didn't know what to say, and he wasn't in the mood to be social anyway -- wait a second. Her eyes-- the Byakugan! Maybe she'd seen something. He grabbed her arm impatiently. "Have you seen--"

"Hey, you let go of her!" snarled Kiba as he stalked toward them from the other side of the street. "What the hell's gotten into you, Uchiha?"

"Shut up, dog-boy", Sasuke threw back at the quickly advancing teenager before turning to the girl he was still holding. "Have you seen Sakura?"

Hinata gaped at him, startled by his change of attitude. "Um-- no... That is-- I don't think so, I... Why? Is there a problem?"

Sasuke sighed, aggravated, and shook his head sharply. "No matter." He stepped away, letting her go, just as Inuzuka finally joined them.

"Why're you such a jerk-- uhh?"

He saw Kiba's nose wrinkle and his slit eyes widen slightly, and bit back a curse as he remembered that he hadn't showered yet. No doubt as to what -- who -- dog-boy had smelled on him. Damn it. Like he wanted the whole village to know!

"Oh-- wow, what the hell..."

"Inuzuka," Sasuke hissed warningly.

The imbecile was staring at him, and Sasuke let his eyes flash red for a second, welcoming the sharp clarity of things and purposes the Sharingan gave him.

He had intended to remind Kiba that he wasn’t in the mood to hear remarks on his bedroom activities, but Kiba wasn't as disgusted by the strong scent of sex on him, or by the fact that there was a male's scent, as Sasuke would have believed. In fact, he looked kind of... scared.

"Inuzuka!" he repeated, his tone sharp. Kiba blinked and considered him warily, but he seemed to have snapped out of it. "Have you seen Asuma or Sakura?"

"No," the other boy growled, his lower lip jutting out. It reminded him of the way Naruto would pout when he was feeling stubborn. What Sasuke wouldn't give to have that idiot here, now. Naruto knew how to talk to Kiba. That, and Kiba didn't still resent the blond for the Orochimaru fiasco.

"Kiba-kun," a soft voice interrupted their glaring contest. To be frank, Sasuke had forgotten that the Hyuuga was even there the second she admitted she couldn't help. "W-whatever it is, I'm sure it's important for Sasuke-kun. Couldn't you help...?"

Help? Oh, right! His dog. It could track Sakura. He covered up his hope as he looked down at the other half of the pair, now about thigh-high, too heavy for his master to carry around anymore. The white ninja-dog was watching him just as warily as his master did, ears flattened back on his skull. Kiba looked as unconvinced as his mutt. They were way too alike, really. What the hell were they waiting for?

"... Please." He forced the words out, angry that he had to resort to pleading for help. But as superior a ninja as he was, they still had specialties that he didn't.

Kiba snorted, but the white-eyed girl was looking at him hopefully, encouragingly -- waiting for him to prove that he could be mature and get past his resentment. In the end, Inuzuka turned around -- Sasuke suspected more because he didn't want to disappoint the girl than because it was 'the right thing to do'. Kiba put a hand on the back of his dog and they started to trot up the street, nose to the wind.

Hinata gave Sasuke a shy, encouraging little smile, but didn't comment. Staring at the ground intently, Sasuke allowed a quiet "Thanks" to slip out of his mouth. Hinata was a much nicer person than he would ever be.

She shook her head no, jogging at his side on Kiba's heels. "Don't worry about it. We want you to find Sakura-chan, too."

Sasuke expected her to ask what was going on, but she didn't. He looked away, concentrated on scanning the crowd. He didn't like being in debt, especially to someone who didn't even think about asking anything in exchange.

"Got it," Kiba announced after a few minutes. Sasuke drew closer, following as they sped up.

"... There. Scent trail goes right down that staircase and to the door."

They were on a footbridge, three blocks away from the Hokage's cliff, and Kiba was pointing at the small square facing the large office building that housed the village's administration. Nodding sharply, Sasuke readied himself to jump on the tiles of a roof under the bridge and keep going alone, but a hand closed on his sleeve, startling him enough to make him pause.


The boys turned back, blinking at the Hyuuga girl. There were veins bulging around her eyes, making her pixie-like face ugly. She pointed through the buildings, to a side of the place hidden by the corner of the street. If Sasuke's memory wasn't messing up, the Village Council usually gathered there.

"There are people -- that's my father! And -- and Akimichi-san, and Kiba-kun's mother, and Tanaka-san--"

Heads of clans, Sasuke realized as he listened with dread to the names Hinata listed shakily. Oh fuck.

"--and there are Kurenai-sensei and Asuma, over in the corner, but I don't see Sakura-chan there... Sasuke-kun, what happened?" she asked him, worried and frowning.

"Can't tell you," he replied honestly," I don't have a clue myself." He quieted them both with a sharp gesture of his hand, or maybe it was the kunai he was holding suddenly. "If you see Naruto, tell him we're here. Thank you for your help."

He leaped away, slipping unnoticed past the chuunins guarding the building.

Infiltrating the building proved easier than it should have been, even with his usual high quality Henge. The secretaries and the chuunin were chattering quietly, worriedly; from a few conversation he overheard, no one really knew what was going on, but something was indeed going on. He didn't like it, he really didn't. He tried to think it didn't have anything to do with their problem, but his usual pessimism said otherwise.

Maybe he should have brought Hinata along. He didn't know where to start searching, and he wouldn't be allowed to stalk through the corridors long before someone thought of asking him where he was going.

So where the hell would have Asuma taken her? It sounded important enough to call for a Council meeting, he reasoned, so... maybe he should go visit the higher-ups first and work his way down. If he came close enough, he would feel her anyway.

Surprisingly, he didn't have to search very long. He was reaching out to push the door of the Hokage's office when he heard Sakura's name. It wasn't in the office, but close. He slipped through the corridor silently, following the sound.

There were two ninjas standing by a door at the other end of the corridor, luckily more interested in what happened inside than out. Sasuke stayed behind the corner, listening.

Ah! His teammate's voice. And-- Hokage-sama's?

"--Sorry, Sakura," the older woman said gravely. "I'll try to help any way I can, but even I can't go against the whole council armed with only my gut feeling."

There was a moment of silence and Sasuke strained to listen in, but really, there was nothing to hear -- and then he heard his teammate's breath hitch.

"May I see my mother?"

She sounded scared, still holding together by pure force of habit. Sasuke felt a surge of protectiveness flood him.

"I'm sorry." Tsunade repeated, almost gently. "You are to be kept in isolation until... Until."

With a last murmur, just a little too low for him to make out, the Hokage exited the room. She looked... grim. Dead serious. A bit pissed off, too.

She didn't seem to notice his presence, but she noticed the guards at the door, and snapped at them harshly. Something about not being trusted to defend herself against a genin, when she was the Hokage-- but Sasuke didn't really care what she said, and he didn't care if such an oversight was or was not deliberate, because when Tsunade bitched at the guards, none of them were looking his way, and the door was still slowly swinging closed...

A quick burst of speed -- all Taijutsu, so he wouldn't alert them by using chakra -- and he was inside the small room. The door clicked shut behind him, not even a second later.

He stayed unmoving, not breathing, as the argument kept on going-- but farther and farther away from the door. The guards were following Tsunade.

"Sakura," he whispered urgently, eyes searching the room for anything that might help an eventual escape. "Did you..."

He had intended to ask her if she'd noted the guards outside and the weak points in the building's security, if she knew what they wanted yet... but when he saw her, he couldn't. Because she looked terrified, shell-shocked. More than the first time they'd seen real fight, faced a real risk of death, more than the time they'd faced Orochimaru for the first time and he'd let them feel his intent to kill.

"... Sakura?"

His back hit the wall when she threw herself at him. She wasn't even crying, just sobbing, choking dryly. He froze, for a few seconds, and then lifted his arms and held her tight, because that was what he was supposed to do in these cases, wasn't it? Or was it slapping?

But she wasn't hysterical. She was scared. And since it wasn't any immediate threat, he was going to let her get some of it out of her system so she could function better later. Making her ignore such distress was only recommended when in the middle of a fight, with no other choice. Right? He would let her cry a little -- it was just going to cost him a wet shirt and a few minutes of uncomfortable physical closeness and-- and fuck, who was he trying to pretend for? He didn't have a clue what to do.

He held her tighter. It may have been too tight for comfort, but she didn't protest.

"Sakura, tell me what's wrong."

He didn't ask. He commanded her, because if he was to fix it, he needed to know what the matter was.

"P-pregnant," she managed to stutter, struggling to bring her breath under control. Then she started shaking.

Sasuke gritted his teeth. That fitted with what he'd managed to overhear. They didn't want Naruto to breed. But it was odd how they'd known mere hours after the fact... before they'd even checked out the bedroom, in fact. Wasn't it supposed to take a little longer than that before a pregnancy could be confirmed? He wasn't sure, school was too far away.

"That's your--" No, he had to think supportive team sappy stuff, "--our problem. What's theirs?"

She twitched. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her lightly to get that glazed look out of her eyes.

"Haruno Sakura, concentrate! Did they say why?"

She shuddered, pushed away from him.

"Yes. Yes, they told me. You shouldn't be here, Sasuke-kun. Leave. Go home." 'Forget me and save your own ass' was left unsaid.

Sasuke hissed. "Like fuck I will."

There was silence for a little while longer as he waited for her to reply, but she didn't, keeping her eyes lowered and trying to pull out from his hold. Except now he was feeling stubborn and refused to let her go.

"Why don't they want Naruto to have children?"

She answered. He heard it wrong. He made her repeat.

She mumbled it again.

"Because he's Kyuubi no Youko."

His first response was laughter. But it sounded weird, would have sounded weird even if he'd been used to laughing at jokes more often, so he stopped. There was no way in hell Naruto -- bouncy, loudmouthed, clumsy Naruto-- was the Kyuubi. "No."

He must have sounded harsh, harsher than usual, because she flinched badly. She was already too pale for her color to change much, though.

"He is-- well, he's NOT, Tsunade-sama said, not really -- but she says he's its vessel -- that the Kyuubi is sealed inside him, except Tanaka Watanabe-san said there was no Naruto, that it was just the youko pretending to be a normal boy waiting for the day the seal would finally disappear for good -- Kagami Akindo-san said the seal was fading, and no one understands what the Fourth did with the seal and maybe-- maybe-- no one knows what it does and how and maybe--"

"How can you?" Sasuke hissed. "How can you believe for one second that Naruto is not real? He's risked his life for yours more times than you can count. He's laughed with you, whined at you, played pranks on you, LOVED you -- he fucking loves you and don't you dare, don't you DARE tell me he's not real because --"

because he could see those eyes -- those red, slit eyes -- facing him, and Naruto's obnoxious voice shifting into a low, mocking growl -- red eyes and fangs and an outraged, betrayed snarl -- 'If that's what it takes then I'll break your arms and legs and carry you back home!' -- and they were fighting to the death and he hated himself and yet, there was a grim satisfaction, a dark pleasure in the pain he felt in betraying everything he loved -- fighting -- being beaten -- and beaming Naruto despite the blood and the broken jaw and the chakra burns, Naruto and his brilliantly sky-blue eyes and so much happiness at having Sasuke back with him, even by force -- and the overwhelming certitude that all would be okay, that if Naruto willed it to be okay, then it would be, so long as Sasuke stayed with him.

And Sasuke had stayed. And it hadn't been okay for the longest time, but Naruto had hung around, Naruto and Sakura and Kakashi, and eventually, he'd stopped hating Naruto for stopping him. And he would never leave Konoha again, because Naruto would always be here to fetch him back if he ever tried it, so there wasn't any use tiring himself out by thinking about it. Unless he was willing to kill Naruto -- and he wasn't, he was never going to be his brother -- betraying Kohona would never bring him anything else but a swift beating, and like that -- with Naruto making sure of that -- it was easier to resist the temptation to seek power elsewhere.

And it didn't matter if Naruto's eyes were red or blue or fucking gold with pink polka dots. It just didn't. Because he could not disappear. Especially not by being eaten from the inside by some stupid, mangy furball that had gotten its ass kicked by the Fourth over seventeen years ago.

Sakura had the grace of looking ashamed. "... Right. You're right. I'm panicking. I'm sorry. I don't really believe Naruto can be -- not real. I just..."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes at her, and then sighed and tried to calm down. She was distraught, understandably so after learning that she was pregnant and Naruto -- the man who'd gotten her in that state -- was ... not like everyone else.

It's just like an advanced bloodline, he repeated to himself, trying not to wonder about how the seal worked, not to think about how it had seemed to be faded that one time he'd seen it. Kakashi-sensei trusted Naruto, and the Hokage, and that white-haired Sennin geezer, and they were all old and powerful and knowledgeable enough to know if they should or not. Tanaka didn't know Naruto personally, he didn't have a fucking clue what he was talking about, and who was Kagami Akindo to criticize the Fourth Hokage's work? Before his marriage into the Kagami ninja clan, he'd been nothing but a fat-ass businessman. He had no business acting like he knew about ninja stuff when he had only ended up clan head by accident.

"But he still could -- that is, the seal... it's been over seventeen years after all! Who heard of an active seal lasting this long? It could be weakening... "

"It's not."

"Then how do you explain the whole thing yesterday night? How do you explain how he gets in battle sometimes? How do you--"

"He's always gotten like that in battle, and if you remember right, it was always to save our lives. And that night -- well, maybe it's just that he was too young before!" he snapped, trying not to think about the haze of pleasure-desire-belonging that had overtaken him the night before.

"Ah," Sakura protested, her eyes blazing in challenge for a second before fear dulled them again, "but he also said it happened more and more often to him, that he sleepwalked and --"

"He said he could pull out of it anytime he wanted. Don't you believe him?"

"I believe he DOES believe it! But what if he's wrong? What if --"

He speared her with the coldest look he could muster.

"I believe that he's trusted us with everything he has, everything he is, countless times over, just like you and me and everyone we know had to trust him at some point, and your doubting his abilities is an insult to him. He's the most stubborn idiot on the planet and there's no way he would let it happen. That's what I believe."

Sakura beat her fists against his chest, tears brimming in her eyes. "I believe in him too! But I just don't know who he is anymore, okay? I can't think, everything's jumbled and I need some space and I can't get ANY and I want to leave and sleep -- and-- and..."

Slapping her seemed a more and more tempting course of action, but he couldn't bring himself to lift his hand and hit her, as much as he'd heard that it was good for hysteria, because if he started hitting her --or anyone-- for good reasons...

"You're hysterical. Take a deep breath and think, instead of letting your paranoia drive you."

She snarled at him, furious and desperate, and under that, an anger of a strength he had not believed she could possess.

"You don't understand! I'm pregnant with Kyuubi no Youko's spawn! And they-- the council -- they think it's controlling him, they're not ALL clueless about how a seal works and they think -- that I'm bearing a new vessel for IT, and then -- then -- it will rip itself out of N-Na-- its current vessel and into a new one-- my b-b-baby-- and there will be no seal on that one and we'll die and I'll die first and we'll all die and--and--"

There was a pained whimper over them, on the other side of the bars blocking the skylight.

Naruto was crouching there, on the roof, looking down at them.

[Awakening] [Escape]