Sasuke barely knew himself anymore. His days were spent in a dull, aching stupor broken only by the occasional bath and meal. His nights were spent in a fast blur of images and sensations so confusing and vivid in their swiftness that he could hardly tell if they were of the same reality as his baths and meals. He could only guess that they were not true dreams, which were always so much softer and sweet, though he could only true know them for such short periods, as so painfully soon after beginning they would often end to the blackness that he knew too well.

He wanted his mother and his Daddy to protect him. He all too often felt tight, sharp hands all over his body. He would feel freezing colds and blistering, over-pressuring hots. He would feel so dry and parched right up until he would feel the wetness and sourness of water gone bad poor not only onto his weak body but nearly drown under its unsteady weight. And then, in his shock, he would sink firmly down into the darkness once more and know nothing until he cautiously came awake again.


Shin and Gin had been only at the "pimping" game for three weeks, though it had only taken a week and a half for them to realize just how much work the boy required in upkeep. The drugs, especially the Devil's Breath, kept him sedate and quiet, but those were much more expensive than they had originally thought, especially given that the boy was beginning to build a tolerance. The morphine would make it impossible for him to keep food down, and the stimulants they could find from the dealers on the street would leaving him twitchy and too feisty for the clients.

Their typical hull for a week had been 34,300 yen*, though most of that money had gone to the boy, the various hotel rooms, and other necessities. Shin especially wanted to bring in more customers, but with the boy so ill and weak, it was an impossibility. Who wanted to sleep with a child when they were unable to move on their own? Who wanted to touch a child who was covered in sours and filth? Those few who did never wanted to pay very much. They couldn't hold out from the hotel owners, many of whom gave them discounts and free meals for their innocent, sick nephew. However, they were forced to move from place to place every time they suspected that they may be found out. All of the moving meant that the boy couldn't sleep, couldn't rest. Gin usually wrapped him in a soiled sheet and carried him like a big swaddled baby. The boy would groan and whine until they drugged him again, which would mean they would have to buy more of the drugs.

They had tried it without the drugs only once, and it had left them with a bitten customer and an inconsolable brat who screamed so loud it woke up the hotel owner. No, Shin would not take that chance.

The boy was currently in his place on the futon. He was tangled in the thin sheet Gin always carried with him. He was muttering and turning in his sleep. Gin was out buying supplies, which left Shin in charge of the boy.

"Look at you. What an idiot," he said. "I bet your mom couldn't give you away."

He went back to his paper, snickering at the image of the ugly boy's mother pushing him onto unsuspecting passer-bys. No one wanted him, so she dumped him in a trash bin. Yep, that's exactly what happened. Shin flipped through the paper he was reading, paying special attention to the police announcements and wanted ads. He didn't notice the smell of human waste until the boy began crying and thrashing.

"What the hell now?" he said as he rolled the newspaper up into a tight cylinder.

The boy had vomited and most of it was now plastered to his face and hair. Shin could smell the reek of piss and see the dark spot on the blanket. The boy's eyes were opened, and he was whimpering.


He grabbed the boy's shirt collar and pulled him close.

"I'm gonna make you stop this shit," he said.

The boy fell back onto the bedding when Shin let him go. He wrapped his soiled blanket tight around himself, shaking.

"You little shit! You stupid bitch!"

Shin hit the boy, then hit him with the rolled paper. The boy didn't move from his place on his bedding; he stayed still and tried not to whimper. Finally, Shin stopped. His breathing was hard and loud, but his face was calm. He sat back into his place and unwrapped his paper, calm. He didn't say much to a confused Gin, who returned hours later with a small amount of rice and water.

"Did something happen?" Gin asked. "He's really quiet."

"He had a nightmare and shit himself again. That's a normal thing for him, isn't it? We're not buying him another damn blanket."


A week later the rest of the customers stopped paying. Oh, Shin could talk them up to the room, but the kid was sick. He was pale and shaky and smelly and skeletal, and no one wanted to pay to sleep with him. Shin didn't think the boy looked so horrible, but the customers disagreed, and left without so much as giving the boy a second glance, or Shin a cent.

"We can't afford him," he told Gin. "We're running low on the Devil's Breah. What're we going to do when it runs out?"

Gin wiped a warm, wet rag along the unconscious boy's flushed skin.

"I'm not saying we need to kill or anything, Gin. We could just leave him somewhere, like that bench by the grocery? Someone will help him, I promise."

The boy groaned, moving weakly under Gin's hold.



Sasuke awoke to the pitter-patter of soft rain drops hitting his face. He didn't know they were raindrops. No, they felt too cold. They had to be droplets from an ice cube. He tried to turn over, but the bed was so hard. He opened his eyes, and felt dim surprise to find himself outside, on a bench, under a dark, cloudy sky. It was dark, and what little light could shine through was reflected in the tiny droplets of water that fell from the sky.


The street was narrow and empty.


He tried to sit up, but his arms wouldn't work. Hot tears blurred his vision as the rain drops fell harder and harder. His arms wouldn't work to move to shield his face or cover his nose, and the water was clogged in his throat, trapping the air. He couldn't breathe. It was cold, he couldn't breathe and he was cold. Where was he? Mommy wouldn't leave him alone. Was it Daddy? One of his games?

He cried when the thunder struck. The tears felt hot when they ran down his cheeks. He tried to be a big boy. Big boys don't cry at the rain or thunder. He couldn't stop. Each loud boom brought more fear. He cried and screamed until his throat felt raw. But he couldn't stop. He shut his eyes tight.

He was in his room. Momma would be with him soon. She wouldn't leave him when he didn't feel good. No, Mommy loved him-


He screamed. The water was caught in his nose. It made him cough, it hurt, it hurt!

He couldn't breathe, he had to keep coughing.

He couldn't breathe.

He wanted his Momma.

The rain stopped falling on his face. He kept coughing as warm hands gripped his shoulders, sitting him up.

"Hey, you okay?"

The hands that held his shoulders were warm, gentle, and firm.

"What's wrong? It's freezing! Why are you outside?"

The voice was loud.

"Hey, I can take you home! Where do you live? Hey!"

It was too loud. He opened his eyes slowly. The face in front of him was golden. It looked scared. Why did it look scared? But then another emotion came into his blue eyes.



Naruto's day hadn't been very eventful. Jiraiya had left him to practice his meditation while he left for his precious "research," but Naruto hadn't stayed put for long. He first went to the local ramen stand. After finding it not up to his standards, he tried another. After his sixth bowl, he explored the small village, which was considered to be ones of the largest towns in the Nation. It was centered on a large, ceremonial palace that attracted thousands of visitors a year. Not that Naruto really thought much of it. No, he to the shops and food stands. He didn't buy much of anything, just a few snacks; it was the time off, of not having to think of anything or do anything particular that mattered to him. Jiraiya, when not in a town, made him practice every day, sometimes for the entire day.

But nope! He wasn't going to think of any of that today! Today was time for him to have to himself! And he had a wonderful day! Until it began to rain.

At first, it came down softly, just a few little tickles of rain here and there. And then a few harder, larger drops fell, and then those were followed by harder, larger drops. Soon it was a downpour, with cold winds and sheets of rain. And thunder! Lightening! The deserted streets were empty save for the quickly forming puddles. There was nothing to do but go back to the hotel, which would at least be warm. Yeah, he thought. He would go back to the hotel and have a nice long bath, take a nap. He smiled all the way back, happy with his day off, until he saw the boy on the bench. At least, he thought he was a boy. They were on their back, on the bench, an old, faded thing that itself looked like it could be downed by the next strong wind. The boy's hair was long, and matted in every direction from the pale skin of his face, the features of which were contorted in a painful knot. A blue t-shirt was the only thing covering him in the cold rain, and Naruto felt himself grow uneasiness at the…thinness of the boy's arms and legs. It was like he was already a skeleton, just waiting for the rain to wash off the rest of his skin.

The boy was sick, it was raining, he couldn't leave him-

The boy had black eyes, though they were red and puffy. And his shirt fell off from his shoulders, making the black marking visible and glaring given his pale skin.

"D-Daddy? M-Mommy?"

But Sasuke didn't make sounds like that.


The boy nuzzled his chest. He was crying, he was shivering and cold, though Naruto could feel the fever radiating off of his face. This couldn't be Sasuke…

He took him back to the hotel room, because he couldn't leave someone so sick out in the rain. He snuck the boy in through a window so the front-desk wouldn't see him. The boy was asleep, shaking but asleep. He was still crying. Why was he still crying?