Title: Amicitia

Author: Kenhime

Genre: Angst, Drama, and Action

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Who gets to be with whom? Well, that power is in Kishimoto's hands. The song "Grey Matter" by Finch doesn't belong to me either.

Warning: This is strong NaruSakuSasu friendship, and includes profanity and violence.

Author's Note: An apology for the month-long delay (this was my beta's fault ;). Do any of you play in the FFXI realm? If you do, you would know what my beta's been up to. This is the start of the development section. This means that for the next couple of chapters, you'll be seeing lots of flashbacks. From here on out, it's going to definitely be Alternate Storyline (though I was pleased the manga carried out my plot perfectly so far, mwehehehe)…

Note to some readers: The Sadist, did you know how much I hugged the computer screen when you said Hinata and Neji were foils to the main characters? And Kepelus, what will I do without your reviews? ;) This chapter will serve you a fitting answer… By the way, yes, I did fix that error. Thanks!

Thank you: To my wonderful betas SxStrngSamurai13 and Fierysable! hugs And to my readers, gives them ALL a super hug you ALL make my day with what you say. Thank you.

Readers, ask me all the questions you want because it'll keep me on my toes when I write. And when you read it, you'll find that the answers are there…

Okay, okay, fine! I'll give you a hint. Had Sasuke really wanted to kill Naruto when he ambushed him? You'll find out in this chapter.

Chapter Four – Commemini Development: Cancer Memoriam

Naruto's breath hitched as the acrid liquid flooded the insides of his mouth. He gingerly climbed out of the dent he had made in the tree, coughing out ruby drops that specked his orange jacket. He furiously wiped away the river of crimson running from his cracked lips with the back of his hand.

Bite the tongue

Like the belated thunder that followed the streaks of lightning, the subsequent shot of pain in his broken ribs caused him to double over. He did not have the strength to spit out a curse, let alone breathe. The ribs jutted into his lungs and he fought to stay conscious with the lack of oxygen. He had run headlong into the fight with a huge disadvantage, especially after having lost chakra fighting Orochimaru's cronies. The energy pool granted by the kyubi was hardly enough to power him against the likes of his opponent.

He heard the slow footfalls of his rival and the infuriating clicks of his tongue, which served to push Naruto's anger further, even though he could not afford the luxury of being angry, given the situation he was in. In the dimness of his hazy vision, he could barely make out the monstrously distorted face that was dyed in deep crimson of the level two curse seal. Coils of foreboding, dark energy wrapped around Sasuke, whipping at nearby trees with its sheer force until they splintered and snapped in half.

To live with what you've done.

Sasuke tilted his head to the side, an amused smile twisting his lips as he watched Naruto struggle to stand.

"You never know when to give up, don't you?" he asked, his mutilated and inhuman voice unnerving his old friend.

"Idiot," snarled Naruto as he shakily pushed himself up, "Don't you remember I don't know how to?"

"Then you don't have to."

Naruto turned his head slowly at the three blades that whooshed pass him, the wires attached to it looping around him and binding him to the tree. The string tightened around him until it dug into his skin, pricking enough blood to earn a muffled cry of pain. His furious, shocked gaze locked with Sasuke's insidious eyes.

It's so good.

"Even if you won't give up, you'll die anyway. You're so tired you can't even escape…you won't be able to escape from this." After three quick seals, the flesh of Sasuke's right hand expanded as lightning chakra was collected. The tainted violet energy cackled like the incessant chirping of a thousand birds, familiar knells the blond ninja thought he would never hear for himself.

Naruto's eyes expanded, his cerulean pupils shrinking to dots.


Sasuke plunged the Chidori into his stomach.

It's so good

The howl that followed was chiller than the October night, pricking the hairs on Sasuke's neck as his hand pushed further through Naruto's tattooed abdomen, and it soon pitched to a cacophonous screech that was both inhuman and puerile. Without flinching or pulling out his hand, Sasuke stared at the bleeding pale face, the dilated eyes that rolled over and hid its pupils, and the gaping mouth that had let loose the terrible sound. It seemed almost unfathomable that this boy was Naruto.

Lie to myself while I lie with myself.

The shrieking ended. He slowly withdrew his hand from the boring hole he had created, the thick blood oozing down from between his fingers. Staring at the death in his hands, he impassively wondered how far he had gone into insanity. Was this how his brother killed his own best friend to obtain greater power? He had killed the boy his brother had sought to capture, the teammate who had saved Sakura and earned her grateful smile, and the rival who had surpassed him. These augmenting emotions of jealousy and hatred had drawn to a climax that then plummeted to an almost surreal conclusion of nothing. Would he feel the same emptiness at his brother's death?

He sucked in his breath when a swift shot of pain seared the backs of his eyes. As his eyelids became hot with chakra, he pressed five fingers to his forehead, too preoccupied to see the sudden movement.

A bloodied hand seized his wrist.

It's Monday and it's raining.

His shocked reddened eyes slowly traveled to Naruto's face, where the eyeballs in his sockets were still white. The moving hand tightened its grip around Sasuke's wrist enough to cause a startled cry of pain to escape his lips. If his head had not been aching under the Sharingan transformation, he would have shaken his head vehemently in terrified disbelief. He could have sworn it was an illusion—a genjutsu that had succeeded in eluding his Sharingan.

Naruto's opened stomach glowed red with chakra as his exposed organs slipped back into its place inside the trembling body, seared tissue healing as quickly as it had been burnt by the lightning's heat. His blood that had pooled his insides gurgled as the veins and thin connective tissues reformed like the threads of life being re-sewn. The steam caused by chakra healing hissed as it left the swiftly repairing skin in its wake, and the disjointed black scrawls on his abdomen gradually molded together to make the swirl tattoo again.

It's Sunday in the sun.

Once it had completely healed, his chest began to heave in and out with circulation, his lungs hungry for air. Sasuke desperately tugged to free his hand from Naruto's death grip as beads of cold sweat trickled down his face and neck. There was something unworldly about Naruto's regeneration, and a fear consumed the Uchiha that was more terrifying than when he had fought Orochimaru those many months ago. Those once-dead eyes snapped shut; when it opened again, the pupils had returned.

It's so good, but...

They were ablaze in bestial, dark red.

This time, it was Sasuke who screamed.

The stars whirled and twinkled mischievously in the black enigma that stretched from the horizon and beyond, as the nightly breezes swept over the village, tousling the wild blond locks of the star-watcher lying on the roof. With his crisscrossed hands making for a pillow (though he knew his arms would be numb by morning) and the cold tile roofs his bed (though it would do no wonders for his back), he closed his eyes and sighed contently, willing his mind to lay rest the burdens and concerns of the day. One night of repose was what he only asked for; then he would begin again his tiresome journey.

But no one ever listened to what Uzumaki Naruto wanted.

Would it be so bad

One lethargic eye opened, a side of his mouth curved slightly down in a frown at the shadow that drew over him intrusively. For someone who was shorter than even he, the ninja of the desert had quite an intimidating umbrage.


Even in the dark, the sand ninja's eyes still glittered in lucid blue, a color so pure that it forced open the windows into the minds of anyone who came across such a pair of enthralling orbs. It was disconcerting at the very least.

"Instead of staring at me like that, why don't you sit down and watch the stars?" Naruto suggested languidly in hopes of avoiding the probing questions Gaara would most probably send his way.

The insomniac gave the suggestion a moment of grudging consideration, as he did not like the insecurity and immobility sitting down had, but he decided to entertain Naruto's request. Willing the sand to form a comfortable cushion (eyeing the slight discomfort Naruto had lying on the hard roofing), he took a seat and followed Naruto's gaze up at the skies. The stars, he noted absently, were imperturbable to the chaos that ruled below…

"So what brings you here to watch them?" he found himself asking quietly.

"Nothing really," was Naruto's offhanded response. "Why are you here?"

"I can't sleep."

The understatement sent Naruto rolling with laughter. It was not particularly funny, but with the tension mounting on his shoulders every day, anything that had a miniscule of hilarity in it was something to be laughed about.

If you were to pretend that you were so happy?

"Of course, of course…I forgot about that…" he grinned. "Well, you've got a buddy tonight, then. I can't sleep either."


"What? Am I that bad a companion?"

The sand ninja managed to still look pokerfaced. "I worry for my sanity."

"That wasn't fun—you never had a sense of humor before!"

"That is your undoing."

"True, everything is my undoing, huh?" His careless grin was awfully ironic to Gaara.

Keep it to yourself,

"You're on the Road to Perdition and Everlasting Self-Pity. Congratulations."

"Shut up," Naruto grumbled. "I've had enough of that from Neji. And I don't need you—a foreigner—to tell me what to do. You don't know everything that's going on."

"True," Gaara replied coolly. "But I know you enough."


"Uzumaki Naruto did not become the Sixth Hokage to die, did he?" He continued to speak tonelessly. "He didn't make sacrifices just to let it all go to waste, did he? If he did, then I am truly a demon."

Naruto snorted. "You are."

"Then so are you," was the brisk reply.

"Does it matter to you?"

A corner of Gaara's mouth barely lifted in an almost-smirk. "Does it matter that you need to die for your village?"

"Damn it! I—"

The sand jounin closed his eyes, feeling the breezes sweep his face. The sand scattered a little until the tiny rocks moved back to form his cushion again.

"You are the pillar of the Leaf, who'll die for the safety of your village…" he said slowly. "But have you ever thought of living for Konoha?"

"The Third and the Fourth died for the village," the blond ninja answered quietly, "Why shouldn't I? I don't have a choice."

"Why?" Gaara opened his eyes again.

Don't let the secret go.

"Because I just don't," Naruto said exasperatedly. "Stop asking me questions. I'm sick and tired of explaining."

Teal eyes faintly glinting, Gaara waited a beat before saying nonchalantly, "Perhaps it has something to do with your seal weakening."

"How the hell did you know!? Weren't you wandering around the village for info?" The Hokage lifted his head to glare at him.

"I have my sources."

Naruto noticed how red Gaara's left eye was, a good indication that it had been out of its socket for some time and doing spying activity. He dropped his head back, muttering.

"Damn you and damn your freaky sand eye."

"Thank you for your charitable blessing," Gaara responded dryly.

"If you want another blessing, I don't mind clobbering you."

"One was enough." The sand ninja absently rubbed his left cheek. "Judging from the way your mouth moved, you were talking about saving the village by dying. Why is your seal weakening?"

What an easy question for Gaara to ask, and hard for Naruto to answer.

If you were so willing.

Rather than to verbally explain, Naruto sat up straight and lifted the hem of his shirt, revealing an obtrusive scar that jagged the swirls of the fading seal on his muscled stomach, the jagged brownish-red marks shaped like lightning bolts pointing to his belly-button. It had long since healed, but the streak it left was horrendous. Upon close inspection, Gaara recognized it as identical to the scar on his left shoulder.

"This is—"

"Know who did it?" asked Naruto as he covered his abdomen again.

"That was fourteen years ago, when we were sent to take him back…"

Naruto looked down, shaking his head slowly, before he brought his bitter eyes to meet Gaara's questioning gaze.

"He wanted to kill me. Sad, huh?"

Gaara turned his head away, grunting. Naruto's mouth curled as he said ruefully.

"But what's sadder…is that I almost killed him."

The trees surrounding them disintegrated in the monstrous energy that was generating off of Naruto. Sasuke tried to shield his sensitive eyes from the long bangs that whipped at them as the winds grew stronger, air displaced by the sudden appearance of unnatural heat. The tour de force of Naruto's chakra easily surpassed his own curse seal.

But let's pray for this suicide

The Sharingan was not making the situation any easier. His vision had been divided into shards of images, a red-tinted kaleidoscope that was characteristic of the Mangekyou. It was difficult for his mind to process the light through his hurting, hot eyes. The abnormal amount of chakra running through his brain made his head feel light and constricting at once. The pain brought about by the alteration should be temporary.

But as the kaleidoscope of fiery eyes stared back at him, nothing mattered to Sasuke anymore save for the one instinct that all earthly creatures naturally possessed in their minds one way or the other…

He wanted to live.

Instead of repaying the raven-haired ninja the time he had given him to scream before death, Naruto unfairly hacked off the end of Sasuke's terrified cry by seizing his throat with a vein-bulging hand. The kyubi's incarnation swung his right fist forward to catch the raven-haired ninja across the left cheek. The force of the blow sent Sasuke flying into a tree…and into another tree behind it. Blood sprayed from the Uchiha's lips.

A feral grin molded Naruto's thick-whiskered face into something unimaginably inhuman, sanguine skin folded and stretched around his flaring crimson eyes and canine-baring mouth. His eyes widened lustily at the sight of the thick life liquid running down the Uchiha's pallid face, watching it seductively roll down in swift rivulets of red.

Blood. It had been long since the demon has shed it. The stupid boy never killed anyone, but who was to stop the kyubi now?

Stop it, you—you damn fox!

The demon-infused Naruto looked down in his abdomen, feeling the boy's soul unsettle in the pit of the seal. Demons needed no voice to speak; their communication laid in empathy.

Stupid kid…his best friend tried to kill him and he still wanted to save the traitor?

I…Sasuke would—he wouldn't…!

It was because of the seal that Naruto was saved. It was because of the kyubi's power that he still existed. Naruto had no right to make the decisions in these circumstances. Let the demon fox devour the evil boy.

The voice was weaker now. Don't…don't you dare….

The demon-controlling body crouched low in a ready stance.

Dared to stop the strongest demon in the universe?

The soul-tingling coming from his stomach ceased.

He lunged forward.

Sasuke's incredulous eyes squinted, unable to comprehend the situation, the turning of tables. He lifted his quivering hand to touch the warm fluid flowing down and over his forehead, but when he caught the flicker of movement with his Sharingan, he tried instead to push himself up and away. However, he was not fast enough to dodge Naruto's savage grip again. He was pinned to the tree, struggling to get free while more blood gurgled up from his throat and out his mouth. Naruto looked almost amused.

Sasuke stared at Naruto's free hand, pulled back and fingers tensely bent in a gripping pose. The ruby energy that had wrapped around his thickened fingers gathered at the center of his palm, circling faster and faster as more energy was amassed for the jutsu Naruto was about to do. Sasuke had only seen it once, and once was enough for him to recognize what damage it could do once Naruto would smash it through his skull.

"Try escaping from this," Naruto snarled with a deep voice that was gruesomely jarring and beastly.

It was at this untimely moment for Sasuke to chuckle, but the irony was just too much. The play was being repeated once again, except now the roles have been switched. Except…he would really die. He had nothing that would heal him like Naruto did.

Unfortunate how Naruto actually lived the Chidori. Unfortunate how he was unable to kill his brother. It was all misfortune how everything came about, anyway…

And all these pictures falling down around me

Howling, Naruto drove the Rasengan down. The blood splattered and the wood splintered from the impact. As the energy dissipated and the whistling of circling chakra faded away, the forest grew silent again.

And yet, as he continued to stare into a pair of bloody brown eyes, Sasuke still heard himself breathe.

The wind spiral had drilled a wide hole into the tree beside Sasuke's raven head, and the close proximity of the wind energy had disturbed the river of blood coming down his temple. The hold on his neck gradually loosened. Stands of his slick dark bangs struck his ashen cheeks with Naruto's each breath. A tortured sigh escaped from the blond as he bent his head tiredly over Sasuke's shoulder. His voice was strangled and hoarse, but it had returned to its boyish tenor.

"I…I made a promise, Sasuke…a lifetime promise to her. Did you know…?"

I've surrounded myself with all I have inside.

Blinking away the memories that had invaded his vision, Naruto looked to Gaara and was answered with silence. The Hokage flopped down on the tiles and cradled his head in his arms again.

"I've almost died twice and because of the kyubi, I've survived twice. But the near-death experiences have weakened me enough to widen the leak on the seal. For the past fourteen years, the crack's been growing and it won't be long until it breaks."

Gaara scoffed. "Not enough willpower to hold it in, have you?"

"Stupid," Naruto shot back, "how could I have not enough!? I've slowed down the process, but I can't avoid it any longer. No matter how determined I am to retain the kyubi, the truth is my strength is getting sucked up by it. The more I fight, the more I realize how much I'm depending on the stupid fox. I've gotta stop it."

"So you leave your jurisdiction to travel up north to secluded Lightning Country…?"

"Kakashi's temporarily in control until Konohamaru takes succession," the Hokage explained slowly. "And I'm in search of someone in Lightning, who might have an inkling of how to seal it back..."

"In exchange for your life, isn't it?" Limpid teal eyes glanced beside at Naruto, whose face was hardly visible in the dark. But the highly-perceptive gaze could see the gloom that had dampened the blond's usually jocose countenance.

Naruto never replied, but his aberrant silence was more than enough of an answer.

Neji strode through the halls of the Department of Defense, his steady footfalls as quiet as the leaves that hit the ground in soft pats. Although back in the safe administration buildings of Konoha, he walked noiselessly. Perhaps it was because he did not want anyone to be aware of his presence or know he had a new assignment. Perhaps it was a natural inclination of his to walk in such a way. Would he care to know?

Behind his expressionless façade lurked the troubling feeling of apprehension that centered on his former anbu captain of the hunter-nin division. His anbu leader had been recently promoted to Commander of Military Defense, in which consequently released Neji from subordinate duty and allowed him to perform missions independently. However, as second only to the Sixth Hokage and Elder Council, the Commander had the authority to call upon any ninja for missions directly related to the village's security. In any case, what the hunter-nin on solo duty had anything to do with the defense forces puzzled him.


He suspected Nara Shikamaru had ulterior motives, and he suspected that he himself knew exactly what they were. And yet, somehow, Neji had no scruples about it.

Would I bite my tongue?

His eyes momentarily caught the name plaque beside the door as he placed his hand on the cool metal knob and twisted it to open the door. When he stepped inside and closed the door behind him, he made a straight military stance, waiting for his new task from the Commander, who stood gazing out the window.

Shikamaru turned away from the small back window to face his old teammate with something much less than enthusiasm (that was to be expected) or even indolence (which was perturbing). For once, the sleep-loving, lazy man showed symptoms of insomnia and anxiety, his worn eyes drawing dark circles around them and his face unshaved. He gestured to Neji to take a seat and was politely declined, although he had known already that the taciturn ninja never sat down in briefings. Slumping down his chair, Shikamaru dropped his head on the cluttered oak desk and moaned.

And live with what you've done?

"You look like…" As he took off his mask, Neji searched for a word. "Hell."

"Gee, thanks," Shikamaru mumbled, voice muffled by stacks of paper. "I've never been so overworked in my life. I was supposed to retire by now, but the idiot just had to give me a promotion. What did I do to deserve this??"

The Hyuga did not bother to reply. "Where is my mission?"

His face still buried in paper, the pineapple-headed Commander felt around for the black envelope. "Ah, found it." He tossed it to the hunter-nin, who took it and opened it. Shikamaru listened for any reaction as Neji unfolded the paper and read.


Just continue sleeping?

The silence prodded Shikamaru to lift his head and ask, "Well?"

"You are in charge of the defense forces, yet you give me an assassination assignment," Neji narrowed his silvery eyes. "Are you aware that you might get court-martialed for abusing your authority?"

"Tch, court-martialed? This order came straight from the Elder Council," drawled Shikamaru. "The geezers were scared out of their wits when they got a telegram from Naruto saying that they were ambushed and needed a medic. So they're gonna send you to act as a guard accompanying Shizune there. But you needa finish your real objective before you return."

"Does Kakashi know about this?"

"Nope; won't find out until another two days. The old folks don't want him knowing that they're planning to kill his student. Naruto doesn't know either." Shikamaru pushed himself off the desktop and stared at him hard. "Do you think you can do it?"

"Do not doubt me."

He sighed. "I'm not. Just asking, that's all." As he absently massaged his neck, eyes looking blankly down, he added offhandedly, "'Cause I don't know what to think."

"Was it not what you wanted?" Neji dropped the letter back on the desk.

Selfishly consumed with everything you've wrought.

"Yes…and no. I don't know," Shikamaru admitted as he grabbed the letter, gazing at the one name written for death.

"I mean," he continued, "I've went this far, waiting for this day to come. But when it comes down to it, with all the stress, all the troubles, there's no point. This has been troublesome from the beginning."

What an understatement, Neji thought. Snorting derisively, the hunter-nin replaced his mask.

"Is there anything else I need to know?"

"Yeah…" The Commander said slowly, crossing his arms. "Sakura was with Naruto when they were ambushed. She's in coma right now, but she's the only one of Naruto's bodyguards who survived. Naruto never mentioned it, but it's not that hard to figure out what had happened. Just keep that in mind. She was our teammate, after all."

There was a pause of consideration before, "Understood."

There's nothing I can do.

Time had marked the birth of the new moon. In these darkest hours, the forest held an ethereal tranquility that belied the turmoil surrounding the human dwellers that night.

Neji absently fingered his katana that rested on his shoulder as he leaned back on the tree. Across from him, Shizune huddled in her blanket as she gazed at her guard, watching his features grow more livid and scarier until it could have looked like he could skewer an innocent rabbit with just his face.

No…make that a bear.

Her eyebrow twitched as she tried hard to stifle her laugh at the image. Nevertheless, the hunter-nin noticed and shot a wary glance at her.


Shizune managed to school her expression into that of nonchalance.


"I will have you know that we will be moving again in the next hour," he said severely. "I suggest you sleep for the time being."

"When an anbu's glaring kunais at me like that? I hardly can," she muttered. It made no sense to her. She was the senior of the two, the medical director of Konoha and his doctor for goodness's sake. And he suggestedthat she shouldsleep? It took much effort to keep herself from scoffing. Kids, these days! They had no respect for the older, more experienced ninjas.

"Something's bothering you. You've been more unbearable since we've left the hospital," she commented lightly instead.

"Brilliant observation," Neji replied flatly. "But I bear much more than you think."

"Everyone has their own burdens to bear, not only you." She laid her head back on the tree trunk, smiling softly. "Really, if things could've been easy..."

Neji was about to reply when a warning flare of chakra took over his senses, a vile, tainted energy that he recognized immediately. His brows furrowed as energy began to fluctuate and weaken. Shizune stiffened at the chilly sensation of the intruding energy, for there was something uncannily familiar about it, something that reminded her quite immediately of a certain serpentine sage… But it was beginning to taper off. She shot a glance of askance at her guard, but Neji had already gone to track the intruder. Frowning, she began to maneuver quickly to catch up to him.

"I…I made a promise, Sasuke…a lifetime promise to her. Did you know…?"

Sasuke blinked. "No."

Without breaking his fatigued gaze on his rival, the blond ninja quietly pulled his fist out of the puncture he had made and drew back. He then raised his head to the orange skies that were framed by the tall pines, watching—feeling—for a moment the cooling breeze of the afternoon. Cerulean seeped into the irises of his eyes until finally the color was completely back to its bluish state.

Sasuke watched his old friend stand still in the ring of sunset light, curiously fascinated by how the sun seemed to strike his blond hair in such a way that it turned into a golden halo. He glanced down with his brows furrowed and lips curled up in disgust with himself. How pathetic it was for the Uchiha to notice inane things like that. It was then that he saw his own hand, which rested near his side. Pale, cracked and bleeding…but all pale nonetheless. He finally touched his white, unmarked cheek.

But let's pray for this suicide.

A chuckle drifted to his ears and he looked in Naruto's direction. The idiot was shaking his head to himself, smiling wryly.

"Of course you wouldn't have known…"


"Because you weren't there. You were never there, Sasuke. Only I was…except she never chose me. But you know, I didn't come back for you just because of her. I came back to settle what we never finished, or at least continue what we shared. I didn't want it to end like this."

Naruto's hands trembled at his sides…

"After all we've been through, you're just gonna throw it all away? So—so you could become a monster?" He gestured at his seal, his whiskered cheeks, his eyes, and his fist. "You want this?! You saw what I could've done to you. I could've killed you. This isn't power, Sasuke; it's hell.

And all these pictures falling down.

"You've always been the prodigy, the one everyone liked, the top of his class, the one the boys respected, the girls liked. For all you cared, you could've pissed on everybody and still be admired. Well guess what? You can't do that to me because I hate your stinking ass!" he spat out furiously. "Everyone despised me for the demon I held. They all thought I was stupid, that I didn't give a damn and that I was a good-for-nothing. For all they cared, I could've saved the Hokage and still be hated! But you know what sucks the most?"

"Do you know what sucks the most?" he shouted.

Hearing no reply, he pivoted away from Sasuke, wrenching his blonde hair and feeling the urge to scream. But he inhaled and exhaled deeply to ease his frustration until finally, he dropped his hands to his sides to carry on with his tortured tirade.

His voice was soft, almost choking. "That you saved me; that you called me your teammate. That you thought I was strong. And…And that's all that mattered. Because as much as I hated you, I wanted to be like you. That I could be acknowledged by you. That there could this minute possibility that you'd be my closest and most hated friend. Does it make any difference that I'm a monster or you're the last of your clan? Should this stop us from reaching the top together? Because I know how it feels like to have this power. It leaves you isolated, hated, angry…insane. Tell me, Sasuke, if this is what you want. And I'll tell you, no matter the answer, that I will bring you back, no matter how long it takes. Because it's a lifetime promise…and I never go back on my word."

One wish full, step to the side.

His chest rose up and down as he recovered his breath from the long tirade. The tingling red chakra had yet to recede from his body, and its therapeutic warmth soothed the riled up feelings within him until he was calm again.

Sasuke's shoulders shook with faint laughter. A genuine, raw laugh, far from Orochimaru's malicious cackles.

"What?" Naruto asked, annoyed.

"I almost kill you," Sasuke answered between chuckles, "and you can still babble on and on like an idiot. You'll never change."

The blond frowned and with a humph, looked away.

The Uchiha picked himself up from the floor, feeling incredibly weary and barren inside. He did not like this cold fatigue, stripped of the surging hot power that ran in his veins when he used his curse seal. It was just like their rivalry: intense to the point that it wore the both of them out. He was tired of it.

"…So what now?" asked the blond, hesitant yet hopeful.

And please just let me know...

"Nothing. There was never a 'now' for me, Naruto," Sasuke wiped the blood from his lips. "I can't go back because this was what I've always wanted. Because I chose to do this."

"So we mean nothing to you?"

Are you happy?

Naruto was expressionless, but the hurt was evident in the question.

"You are something," the raven-haired ninja responded truthfully. "You made me believe that for just one year— one moment—in my life, everything was all right. In those days, with you and Sakura, I saw my future and enjoyed the present. But nothing will be right until I reclaim my past."

Never had Naruto heard something so honest come out of his usually enigmatic teammate. The fight and their near-deaths had made them oddly candid in their words, a sincerity that was sorely needed after their heated emotions burnt out.

"And if you do? Will you come back?" Naruto asked after a long moment.

Sasuke snorted faintly. "By that time, the curse seal has taken full control of me. It's bound to kill me someday. The only way you can bring me back is if you kill me and take my corpse back home to be buried with the rest of the clan."

I'll decide.

The reality of Sasuke's decision finally sank in for Naruto.

Uchiha Sasuke…dying? The infallible Uchiha prodigy. The irritating, arrogant, callous bastard. The constant, admittedly-always-there-to-save-Naruto's-butt teammate was going to die sooner or later?

There had to be another way to bring him back.

But until then… Naruto understood, to a point, that his teammate had a goal to fulfill. Sasuke knew what he was doing, and he knew of the consequences. Even when Naruto knew his friend would fall into the darkness, his mind twisted by the Orochimaru's malevolence, suffering through the madness of his solitude, and screaming for a salvation that would not appear…

These stories are so old,

"I'll still take you back after," Naruto raised a determined fist, defiant of Sasuke's foreboding future. "Because no matter where we go, we're still who we are. And a promise is a promise."

The fiery conviction of the village's number one loudest ninja returned to those cerulean eyes. It was a foolish confidence, and Sasuke had always scoffed at it before. But oddly, a rare smile slowly graced the Uchiha's lips as he looked at his best friend with charcoal eyes. A small contrite smile.

"You total moron…"

How they match your eyes.

Sasuke trudged onward, one stumbling step after another. His vision swirled and blurred, eyes ceaselessly closing and opening, turning red and then black…red, black, red…black. Things he saw that felt tangible in one moment were transparent in the next, and feelings he felt seemed to discolor his surroundings in hues of blue, pink, and orange. Everything was blue, pink, and orange now.

Are you happy?

The searing pain of the curse seal shook him with a jolt and he leaned a hand against to tree to steady himself. Gasping and trembling, he attempted to push the curse seal back into the original seal Kakashi gave him, but it seemed as if he had already used up all of his willpower in his last fight. He let the curse seal unravel and scrawl across the surface of his skin, smoldering and consuming him with its empty power. He would have welcomed it before, when his stamina was still left intact and he was still a—

/When you were dead./

Alive. He shut his eyes as if it would expel the unrelenting voices. He gritted his teeth. No, when he was truly alive.

I'll decide.

His usually indomitable expression now contorting under the agony, he slammed himself fully against the tree and slid down to the floor. Why was the curse seal hurting so much? His chakra pool should have been replenished; he had rested and taken the medicine earlier that day. He sunk his teeth into his cracked lower lip to keep himself from crying out. This pervading pain was nothing like before…no; perhaps it was reminiscent of the time when he first received the seal—

/When you first died./

These stories are so old,

He bent over and then abruptly twisted to the side, his throbbing head hitting the floor. He writhed to keep himself from thrashing about and worsening the excruciating feeling. The pain built up to the point that his senses were numb; then the body began to systematically shut down. The heart that was beating erratically before had now slowed considerably down to exhausted, small thumps. His unsettling, constantly changing eyes glazed over…

How they match your eyes.

Was this how death felt like? So peaceful…just like that time when he almost died saving Naruto, when he still had his dreams with him, his friends with him, his life with him. There were no voices, no more pain, no more emptiness.

Death…felt nice.

Even when that total moron had failed to bring him home…

"……Uchiha Sasuke…?!"

But let's pray for this suicide

And he imagined himself tipping, arms spread out in welcome, over the brink of consciousness.

"Stop it, Neji! I need to save him, let me go!"

As he fell through the abyss, the greeting white light flashed into his eyes.

"I have been ordered to kill him. It is better he dies this way!"

And all these pictures falling down

He saw the images of his family.

"We can't let him die! I can't! Damn it, let go of me!"

Of his mother, smiling at him beautifully as she once had.

"He is a threat to the safety of Konoha, and tried to kill the Hokage. His death is well deserved, Shizune-san."

Of his father, his gruff face showing pride as he had once imagined.

"Why did Haruno-san live then? Why was she the only one of the decoys to survive? Why was he mumbling Naruto's name to himself? He doesn't deserve this, Neji—he has to live!"

Of his brother, his eyes ever so worn and kind as they once were.

"Don't do this, Neji. Please, let me go!"

One wish full, step to the side

Of his teacher, his one heavy-lidded eye constantly watchful as it once was.

"I can't feel his pulse. Don't just stand there, you dolt! Go get some water! I swear, useless hunter-nins…"

Of his teammate, her expression pleading and hopeful like it used to be.

"One…two…three! Come on, you can do it! One…two…"

Of his best friend, grinning idiotically like he always did.

And pick these pictures from the ground that surround me

"Three! Breathe, will you!? Come on, breathe! One…two…"

Of himself, smirking confidently as he…

"Live! Just live! Live for goodness's sake! Please! One…two…two and a half…"

As he…

"Three! Breathing…he's breathing!"

Always would.

To be continued...