Disclaimer:I don't own Naruto. If I did, Naruto would wear boots, Sasuke's shorts wouldn't be so short, and Sakura would have a purpose. Okay, fine, I'll shut up.
Summary:How do you cope with the death of someone you love? Naruto and Sasuke deal with Sakura's sacrifice in different ways.
AN:Well, this piece was hard to write. Not only did I have to really get inside the heads of these characters, but I also had to age them. It was a workout, but an interesting one. I would love to get any feedback-- was I successful? Do the characters need tweaking? Do my fight scenes suck? Give me anything, because I really want to improve my Naruto-writing ability. Also, if anyone is interested in serving as a Beta reader (for any future Naruto fics I write, or even to help me revise this one), I'd be very grateful!
This fic obviously takes place a year or so down the road. That being said, I made a few assumptions about how current events in the manga pan out. These should be apparent in the story, but lets just call this AU for the discrepancies it will no doubt have with canon. Also, I'm assuming that Naruto and Sasuke passed the Chuunin exam a little before Sakura's death.
The Mourning After (1/2)
Her eyes were open. That was good. She had to be alive.
"Sakura-chan?" She didn't respond. He knelt down above her head, which was resting on Sasuke's knee. "Sakura-chan?" He tried again, as if she might not have heard him the first time.
"Sasuke…she's okay, right?" He looked up at Sasuke's face. "Right, Sasuke?"
The Uchiha bowed his head slightly, before slowly shaking it to the left and right.
Naruto felt the air rush out of his lungs, and he dropped onto his heels. He could only stare dumbly as her upside down eyes stared back up at him.
Sasuke moved his left hand, which had been cradling her neck, and brought it up to rest on her forehead. Naruto noticed that it was shaking. And that it was covered in blood. It was covered in her blood. Sasuke moved his palm down her face, stopping once he'd reached the bridge of her nose.
He'd closed her eyes. It was over.
Naruto sat cross-legged on his bed, elbows leaning heavily on his knees.
The wind outside pushed against his window, trying to force itself in through the small opening near the sill. He should probably open that more; the room was getting warmer, and even though he'd removed his shirt, small beads of sweat were forming on his skin.
But he didn't move. He couldn't. It hurt too much.
It wasn't his physical wounds that had kept him confined to his small apartment for the past two days. No, he could deal with cuts, scrapes, bruises and broken bones better than most, thanks in no small part to the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox that he housed in his body. Whenever he got injured, the chakra from the Kyubi could usually mend most of the damage. More importantly, it had saved him from death on more than one occasion.
He brought his palm down to silence his alarm clock as the fifty-nine changed to double zeros. Another night without sleep…his third in a row. How long would this go on for? When would he be able to get a good night's rest again? When would his dreams stop being filled with blood and broken bones? When would he be able to close his eyes without seeing hers staring up at him vacantly, filled with death.
"Shit," he muttered, jabbing the heels of his palms into his eye sockets. He had to get out of bed. He had to get ready. She'd knock him on the head if he showed up at her memorial service unshowered and unkempt.
Well, no, that wasn't true. She wouldn't pound his scalp until his knots had knots. She wouldn't scream at him for being crude in her presence. She wouldn't punch him for trying to be affectionate with her. She wouldn't call him an idiot for trying to goad Sasuke.
She wouldn't, because she was dead.
He bowed his head forward, and pushed his hands into his stomach to try and quell the nausea. He forced the bile to stay down by sucking in breaths of air through his teeth. One. Two. Three. His stomach slowly settled, and he pushed his head back up. He could do this. He could do this. He just needed to take it one step at a time. First he needed to put his feet on the floor. Left, then right. Good. Now he just needed to stand up. He pushed off the bed and put his weight on his newly planted feet. His knees shook slightly, but didn't give way under him. That was a good sign. Now he just needed to get to the bathroom. Then he could shower, brush his teeth, comb his hair, put on his clothes, go outside, walk to the memorial, stand through the speeches, the flowers, the tears of Sakura's mother, and finally bury his teammate forever.
His knees buckled, and the ground rushed at him fast. Bracing the impact with his forearms, he leaned his head against the cool wood floor. "Shit," he cursed at himself, a little louder. He couldn't do this.
It was warm and sunny. It shouldn't have been warm and sunny. It should have been cold and dark and rainy and miserable. Like he felt.
Naruto clenched his fist to keep from tugging at the collar of his black shirt. He was uncomfortable and sweaty. "God damn." Were they going to start soon? He looked around at the other mourners. They'd filled in to form a grid, as was typical at funerals of shinobi. He'd made sure to stand in the front row, close to the center. Most of their former classmates were there, scattered around them. Ino was standing behind him, flanked by her teammates. She would sniffle raggedly and then choke back the sounds with a hiccup. Shikamaru and Choji alternated between looking helplessly at her, and then back to the ground. Obviously, they'd never seen her cry.
Naruto, too, was surprised to see the blond so emotional. He'd heard that Ino and Sakura had once been good friends, but for the past few years at least, he'd only seen them bicker over that jerk Sasuke.
He turned his head to his right, where his own teammate stood. Sasuke was in his black tunic, and his dark hair fell around his forehead protector the way it always had. His mouth was set in a thin line, and his eyes were forward. Naruto couldn't read him, which wasn't uncommon. The Uchiha was always trying to act like a tough guy. Bastard.
Naruto was surprised when Sasuke spoke--he hadn't even seen him open his mouth.
"I'm not fidgeting."
Sasuke didn't look at him, but mumbled something under his breath that sounded distinctly like "Baka."
Naruto's nostrils flared slightly, but he kept his voice low. "Arrogant jerk."
Sasuke didn't respond for a while, and Naruto thought that would be the end of the conversation. He was wrong. "Why do you have that?"
"In your pocket."
Instinctively, Naruto reached his hand into his pocket and clasped his fingers around the cool metal band. He pulled it out and opened his fist, staring at the dented leaf spiral and torn bindings. He'd found it ten feet away from her body. It must have fallen from her head after the explosion. It was soaked in her blood.
He'd spent the night last night scrubbing and polishing it, trying to get the crusted red stains off. He'd gotten the metal plate to shine again, but the dents and nicks were permanent. So were the rips and discoloration in the blue fabric.
His hand closed tightly around the forehead protector again. "I found it…that day. I couldn't leave it."
"You cleaned it."
"She always kept it so neat. It didn't feel right to see it so…" he swallowed, changing the direction of his thought. "I thought maybe her parents would want it."
Sasuke puffed out a breath. "Idiot."
Naruto drew his eyebrows together and glowered. "What's your problem?"
"They won't want it."
"How do you know? It's the symbol of Konoha, and Sakura-chan died fighting--"
"It's meaningless. It won't make their pain easier. It will only remind them of what they lost."
Naruto clenched his jaw. "You're wrong. And I think--I know they should have it."
For the first time during their conversation, Sasuke looked at the blond boy. "Then you're stupider than I though."
Naruto's eyes widened, and his muscles began to shake. All the sadness and grief he'd been feeling transformed into anger, which he promptly directed at Sasuke. "You cold, arrogant, son of a--"
"Hey, you two, calm down. You're going to make a scene." Naruto heard Shikamaru whisper "What troublesome guys," under his breath after interrupting the small feud between him and Sasuke.
Sasuke glanced back at Shikamaru, and then faced forward again with the same stoic face.
Naruto trained his eyes on his teammate for a moment longer before looking away too. Sakura-chan wouldn't have wanted them to be fighting. He needed to calm himself down. No, he needed to stop letting Sasuke provoke him like this. Just because the guy was unable to show any kind of compassion (or emotions, it sometimes seemed), didn't mean he had the right to get worked up about it. But, man, did it piss him off. Even Kakashi-sensei, a Jounin trained to master his emotions, was more sensitive than Sasuke…
Where was his perverted teacher anyway? Another quick sweep confirmed that the Copy Ninja hadn't arrived yet. It wasn't surprising, just a little disappointing. He'd hoped his teacher would make an exception of his bad habit at least this once. What could he be doing that was more important than this?
Well, that didn't matter now. The old hag had taken her place in front of a small picture of Sakura, ready to begin the service.
Everyone else seemed to have noticed this too, as most of the crowd simultaneously stood straighter. It would have been amusing, if it wasn't so depressing.
"I don't have a speech written," Tsunade began, and Naruto rolled his eyes. Lazy ass. "It's not because I didn't want to, or didn't have time. I sat for hours last night, thinking about what I should say. Trying to find words of wisdom, or inspiration, or comfort. But the truth is, nothing I wrote seemed fitting. Words couldn't capture Sakura's spirit, or beauty, or kindness. And they certainly couldn't capture her greatest strength: her love. If anything, Sakura's life was defined by her steadfast loyalty and devotion to those she cared about…"
Naruto noticed the vehement nodding of the black bobbed haircut standing a few rows down from himself and Sasuke. Sakura had developed a soft spot for Fuzzy Brows after the survival test of their first Chuunin exam, something that had surprised the hell out of him. In any case, Lee was probably taking her death as hard as he and Sasuke were. Well, as hard as he was, at least.
He looked again at Sasuke through the corner of his eyes, trying to see if the Fifth's words had had any affect on him. The other boy's expression hadn't changed. Unemotional bastard.
He tried to catch back on to Tsunade's speech. "…because it's never easy to lose someone that young. Sakura's medical proficiency was developing at an extremely rapid rate. She had so much potential to become one of the best medical nin…"
Naruto felt a small draft brush against his ear. He turned against it, drowning out the eulogy again, and was startled to see his teacher standing next to him, as if he'd been there the entire time. At least he wasn't too late. "Let me guess. You got lost?" He whispered.
"No, unfortunately. Today, I was very much aware of my surroundings."
He hated when Kakashi-sensei spoke so ambiguously, but dropped it. What did it really matter anyway.
"…Earlier this morning, her name was carved into the memorial." Tsunade paused, and Naruto followed her gaze to where Kakashi stood. Oh, so that was it…
"She has joined the ranks of the shinobi who gave their lives to protect Konoha and its assets. Haruno Sakura," Tsunade said, lifting the white flower in her hand, "We shall honor and remember you always." She placed the Carnation on the small alter in front of Sakura's picture, then stepped aside, indicating that others could now do the same. Out of respect, no one moved until Sakura's parents had placed their flowers on their daughter's grave. Appropriately enough, it was a sprig of Cherry Blossoms.
Naruto pulled himself up to his full height, trying to gather the courage he needed to approach her mother and father. Few were still present; the service had ended almost forty minutes ago, and the heat had become unbearable. But he was still here, because he had to do this one last hard thing.
"Okay, go," he ordered himself as he began walking towards them. They were talking to Ino and her family, but that conversation seemed to be wrapping up. He came up behind them, and cleared this throat. "Mr. Haruno, Mrs. Haruno," he said, bowing slightly.
"Naruto," they both acknowledged, excusing themselves from the conversation with the Yamanaka's.
"I…I wanted to say I'm sorry. And…" he glanced to his right nervously, and saw Sasuke staring at him with what appeared to be a very deep frown. That steeled his resolve. "And I wanted to give you this." He held out his palms, across which Sakura's forehead protector was spread. "I--It was Sakura-chan's."
Mr. Haruno closed his eyes, squeezing them tightly, while his wife's green eyes began to water in a very familiar manner. Naruto's stomach sank a little as he realized that Sasuke might have been right. He'd done something inappropriate. But then, he felt the weight of the band lift from his hand, and a palm clamped down gently on his shoulder. He looked up to see Mrs. Haruno holding the protector to her chest, eye's glassy, but not angry. Mr. Haruno gripped Naruto's shoulder a little more firmly. "Thank you, Naruto-kun. This means…this means a lot."
He opened his mouth in surprise, but then closed it and offered them a small smile and nod before backing away. He'd done what he needed to do. Now they needed to be alone. He searched for Sasuke again, wanting (not so) slightly to rub in the fact that he'd been wrong. But the Uchiha genius had disappeared.
"Go left. I'll go right. We'll cover more ground." Sasuke ordered.
"Who made you boss?" Naruto hissed back from their refuge in the woods.
"We don't have time for this. The longer we stay here, the easier it'll be for him to track us. We're not Genins anymore. He's not going to make this simp--"
"I know that. God." Naruto glared at Sasuke, clenching his fist. He hated when Sasuke condescended to him. "I just don't think we should split up. Our attack could be stronger together--"
"We don't have time for this," Sasuke iterated again, before disappearing to the right.
"Hey!" Naruto almost began complaining, but shut his mouth. No one was listening. Grudgingly, he headed to the left, keeping himself hidden in the foliage. If he'd learned anything from Kakashi-sensei, it was that stealth was important. He frowned as he remembered the rather unorthodox jutsu that his teacher had attacked him with at their first training session.
Their training today was a variation of the bell test. This time, their sensei wasn't waiting for an attack in the open. He'd concealed himself, and was tracking them as well. Their objective, a string of bells, was tied to the branch of one of the trees in the area. They had to locate and secure the bells, without getting caught. And with a Jounin on their tail, Naruto was positive that splitting up was a stupid idea. "I wish you were here, Sakura-chan," he whispered to himself as he jumped from branch to branch. "Maybe you could have talked some sense into that arrogant jerk." He wasn't sure that she would have been able to, but he wished her presence none the less. It had been two weeks, but training sessions just didn't seem right without her there with them.
He shook his head, trying to dispel her from his thoughts. He had to focus, not wish for the impossible. He quickened his pace from branch to branch, being careful not to upset the foliage too much. Both Kakashi-sensei and Ero-Sennin had impressed upon him the importance of subtlety in his approach. Well, they couldn't say he wasn't trying.
He stopped his trek abruptly, ear twitching. Remaining completely still, he listened again. As the slight wind brushed across him, he heard the faint jingling. His mouth titled upwards, and he jumped towards the direction of the noise. Approaching a grassy clearing just beyond forest, his eye caught two small glints hanging off the lower branch of the far most tree.
He stopped abruptly again. He'd located the bells. Now he had to worry about the 'don't get caught' part. If Sasuke had been here, the task would have been much easier. "Go left my ass," he muttered as he surveyed for signs of his teacher. He didn't see anything, so he pushed forward slowly. "I know you're somewhere around here, Kakashi-sensei, and I'm going to beat you." He placed his middle and index fingers in the shape of a cross. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" Four copies of himself appeared on the tree branch. "Get those bells," he instructed. The five of them leaped down.
And immediately, flying kunai stabbed two of them, eliminating the shadow clones in puffs of smoke. The remaining three Narutos immediately took cover within the trees. "Shit." He hadn't been able to pin point the source of the attack. Not that it mattered; the Jounin had probably changed position already. He needed a sacrificial lamb, so to speak, and nodded to one of the replicas. It nodded back, and carefully made its way to the bells, still hanging untouched. It had barely made it within ten feet of the target, before it, too, was eliminated by flying shuriken.
That was all Naruto needed. He leaped up, kunai in hand, flinging himself in the direction the ninja stars had originated. Screw subtlety. He could stall Kakashi-sensei now that he knew his position, and his last clone could get the bells. Game over. Sasuke could go right till that stick got dislodged from his ass. Bastard.
Within seconds, he'd lifted himself to the appropriate level, and saw the rustling of the dense leaf covering. "Kakashi-sensei," he yelled, raising the dagger in his hand, "I've got you this time!" He crashed through the leaves, but instead of finding his Jounin instructor, he found a startled squirrel. "Eh?" His surprise didn't last long, as a blur slammed fast into his face. He fell backward, and was barely able to flip gracefully and land feet first on the ground. He saw his last clone disappear as it attempted to grab the bells. "Crap."
"Naruto," a voice admonished from above. "Never directly engage the enemy before you've conducted proper reconnaissance."
Naruto shielded his eyes from the sunlight streaming through the top covering as he looked up. He still couldn't see his teacher.
"Now you've lost all four clones, and have made your position known to me."
"It's not over yet."
He got no verbal response, but heard the whirring of daggers cutting through air. "Shit!" He swore, positioning his own weapon to deflect the incoming ones. Before he got the chance, two kunai flew passed him from his left, knocking Kakashi's away from his face. He reluctantly turned his head, knowing full well where this defense had come from.
Sure enough, Sasuke was there, staring at him with an expression that screamed "idiot."
Sasuke was gone from his position in a blur, and Naruto felt something grab hold of his waist and push him deeper into the forest. "Ay, Sasuke. Let go!"
The other boy stopped his fast run, but their momentum sent Naruto crashing ungracefully to the ground. "Damn it!"
Sasuke stood there, scowling at him. "Idiot. What did you think you were doing?"
"Me? I was trying to get the bells. With no help from you, I might add."
"Shh." Sasuke looked up, listening. His red eyes narrowed. "He's found us. Split up. You go straight for the bells, and I'll come around and cover you."
"Split up, split up, split up. No. We should stick together this time. We know where the bells are. We stand a better chance against Kakashi-sensei if we're both there."
But Sasuke wasn't listening. "We have to move. Now. Go straight. Keep your guard up. I'll wind through and cover you. Just go for those bells, and I'll take care of the rest."
"But--" He was gone before Naruto could argue. "Damn it, Sasuke!" He was the Uchiha's teammate, not his subordinate. There was no option now. He had to follow the plan (or as much of it as he was told about) that was being forced down his throat. Checking his surroundings, he was glad that Sasuke hadn't propelled them too far from where the bells were. He picked himself up, gathering enough chakra in his feet to repel upward. He'd tried approaching level with the bells before. This time, he'd come from above.
He reached the clearing again, this time with an aerial view of the bells. He did a quick sweep for his masked teacher. Kakashi was definitely around here somewhere, but had hidden himself well. Naruto searched for Sasuke, too, but couldn't make out his position either. "Alright, Sasuke, you'd better be here." He jumped off the branch he was on, heading straight for his target below.
This time, he was being more careful. From the corner of his eye, he detected the blur of motion coming at him. His mouth twitched into a smile, and his arms formed the cross again. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" His four shadow clones appeared by his side, and simultaneously turned towards the motion, legs outstretched to deliver a roundhouse kick.
Kakashi easily deflected the blows, grabbing the orange pant leg of the last Naruto to attack him and twisting it. The clone exploded into smoke, but provided enough of a distraction for the remaining four orange clad boys to safely reach the ground.
Kakashi landed too, and all four Narutos groaned when they saw his unmasked Sharingan. "Sensei-i-i," they whined in unison. "That's not fair."
"Enemy nin will not bother with fairness, Naruto," he was informed before at least a dozen shuriken flew at him and the replications.
Naruto and one clone leaped, while the two others ducked and rolled. A shuriken stabbed the chest of one on the ground, and it disappeared easily.
"Your defense is sloppy. A Chuunin should be able to provide me with much more of a distraction."
Naruto scowled, and flipped in the air. Maybe if he'd had reliable back up, instead of that moody, brooding…
He landed a safe distance from his teacher, catching his breath. "You want a distraction? Fine." He outstretched his palm, tensing it slightly. Turning to the shadow clones, he said, "Get those bells. I'll hold him off." The clones stood, making their way towards the tree. Kakashi let them go, staring lazily at Naruto. He hated when his teacher got so cocky. At least he hadn't pulled out his book.
Focusing his chakra into his hand, he felt the air around his palm swirl. "Rasengan!" He wouldn't make it too potent; he didn't want to hurt the Jounin, after all. He just wanted to wipe that bored expression off his face.
He charged forward, crying out as he ran. As the energy in his hand grew, he focused his sight on Kakashi's form. Just a few more meters and--
--his eyes widened in surprise. The lazy figure had disappeared from his line of sight. "What…?" He felt a strong grip on his forearm, before his momentum was used to pivot him about. Before he knew it, he was flying through the air, in the opposite direction he'd been running in. The backs of his remaining replications came into view, growing larger as he sailed towards them. "Get out of the way!" He ordered, unable to control the power in his palm. They weren't able to move quickly enough, and his jutsu was executed against himself. Two puffs of smoke later, Naruto found himself sliding along the dirt before he flipped feet first into the base of a tree.
He groaned, opening one eye, then the other. His teacher's upside down body came into view, hands shoved into his pockets. His lazy expression was gone, replaced with one of…disappointment. "Naruto, using the Rasengan shouldn't have been necessary during this training. As your master technique, and as a jutsu that consumes much chakra, it should only be used in dire situations. Now, not only have you failed, but you've used up most of your own chakra."
Naruto rolled so that his entire body was on the ground. His arms shook as he pushed up on them. "I…do…not…fail," he rasped out.
Kakashi sighed. "Perhaps you haven't yet…" He pulled his right arm out of his pocket, extending his index and middle finger into a peace sign. Two flying shuriken easily landed on them. "…since Sasuke has decided to announce his presence."
"Katon Housenka no Jutsu!" Sasuke flew forward, releasing balls of fire from his mouth. Kakashi jumped, avoiding the flames. Naruto used this opportunity to pull himself up. His body still felt shaky, but he ignored it. He wouldn't fail. Grabbing the tree trunk, he pulled himself along the sturdy wooded support.
Sasuke launched a second wave of attacks, sending every weapon in his arsenal towards his teacher as he repelled upwards. The kunai and shuriken impacted Kakashi's chest, and his body fell downward, hitting the ground with a loud thud.
Sasuke pulled out his Fuma Shuriken, knowing that his instructor would not be beaten so easily. As he predicted, the body on the ground puffed into a fallen log. So where had the real Kakashi gone? He looked up just as a blue sandal descended on his face. Calling on his taijutsu skill, Sasuke blocked with his forearms, and spun quickly, trying to get behind his target. Successfully deflecting most of the impact off his arms, he shadowed behind him mentor, grabbing the Jounin's vest to execute his Lion Combo. As soon has he touched the green material, he realized his mistake. "A replication." It wasn't a technique Kakashi usually employed. "Damn." Why hadn't he noticed it with his sharingan? It was a rookie mistake, and it was going to cost him.
Turning his head, he realized the Jounin was already on top of his other target. "Naruto!" He kicked the replication in the back, and then spun, grabbing a kunai while launching the Fuma Shuriken in his hand.
Kakashi stretched his arm in front of him with perfect timing, grabbing the large shuriken by its open center and condensing it back into one blade. Simultaneously, he grabbed Naruto by his spiky blond hair, pulling him backwards. He snapped the blade of Sasuke's shuriken to Naruto's neck.
Sasuke planted his feet on the ground, bring the kunai across to his right shoulder, ready to strike. He saw the situation in front of him, and his eyes widened, fingers tensing around the weapon handle. He didn't move.
"Eh, Baka! Why are you just standing there?" Naruto yelled to Sasuke, struggling against his captor.
Sasuke's eyebrows drew together, and a bead of sweat formed on his forehead. Kakashi's eye's narrowed at him.
"Yes, Sasuke, what is your next move? It seems an impossible situation. One mistake, and Naruto will die." He pulled the blade closer to Naruto's neck.
Sasuke stood, kunai still drawn back, breathing heavily. His forearm twitched with the rising and falling of his muscles. He still didn't move.
"Sasuke, what are you doing? We'll lose at this rate!" When Sasuke still didn't respond, Naruto stopped struggling, looking questioningly at the boy. "Sasuke?"
The Uchiha tensed before dropping his arm. The kunai blade stabbed itself into the ground. "This training is pointless," he said, turning on his sandal to walk away.
Naruto's eyes widened with surprise, then with anger. "What the hell are you doing?" Sasuke ignored him.
"I was hoping you two would be better today, but it is obvious you are still not at your best." Kakashi lowered the blade, and released his hold on Naruto. "There was no cooperation. Launching separate attacks only hindered your performance."
Naruto folded his arms, casting a glare at Sasuke's back. "Wasn't my idea," he grumbled. "Wasn't my idea to give up either. I'm not a coward."
Sasuke stopped, turning his head slightly. "You're the one who got caught. These exercises are useless to me if you can't keep up."
"Stop acting like you're better than me!" Naruto clenched his fists, ready to run after Sasuke.
"Naruto, enough," Kakashi told him, sticking his hands in his pocket. Naruto stood down. "Your attacks today showed a lack of planning. You are usually able to use your jutsu with more sophistication."
"But--" Naruto stopped himself and stared hard at the ground, not surprised that his sensei had taken Sasuke's side. Sasuke was his protégé, after all, and now Naruto was all alone. He allowed himself to wish for Sakura's presence again. "Things have been tough lately, Kakashi-sensei. I may not have been at my best."
"Ah, yes." Kakashi said looking down at him. "Sakura's absence is weighing heavily on all our minds." There was no admonishment in his voice, just understanding.
Naruto looked up at him, slightly surprised at his teacher's astuteness. Reminding himself that Kakashi wasn't trying to play favorites, he forced his bitter annoyance away. "I can't stop thinking about her," he said, voice low. "Can't stop wishing she was here."
They both looked up when Sasuke grunted. He didn't turn, but his voice carried clearly over his shoulder. "You've allowed this to affect you too much. You need to learn to control your emotions. Like a true shinobi."
Naruto frowned, then made himself taller. "That's not my ninja way."
Sasuke shook his head. "Baka."
He'd pushed just the right buttons, and Naruto fumed. "How can you act like this doesn't affect you?"
"She was a comrade who died for her village. I honor her for that. She knew that death was a real possibility for a ninja. We all did."
"She loved you so much, but you dismiss her so easily!"
Sasuke stayed quiet.
"Answer me, damnit!"
"I don't have time for this. I have to train." He began walking away again.
Naruto wasn't done with him, though. "I hope I never become like you. So used to death that I start disrespecting my important people--"
Kakashi placed a hand on Naruto's shoulder, cutting off his rant. "Enough. Let's end training for today."
Sasuke grunted, but kept walking away, disappearing into the forest.
Naruto hung his head, not looking up at his teacher. "I know what you're going to say. That he doesn't show his emotions like me." He took a deep breath. "I know that. But he acts like none of us matter. Like Sakura-chan's death doesn't matter. She…she deserves a lot better than that."
Kakashi didn't respond, and Naruto finally looked up at his teacher. "Sensei…?"
"There's no template for grieving," the Jounin told him, staring off into the forest. "Sasuke's dealing with it in the only way he knows how." He kept his hand on Naruto's shoulder, pushing slightly to make Naruto walk. "Come with me."
"Something that will make you feel better."
Naruto shook his head. "I'm not hungry."
"Good. Because I'm not feeding you."
Naruto stood next to his teacher on the circular platform. The sun was sinking, casting a dim yellow glow on the clearing. "Kakashi-sensei, I don't understand. What are we doing here?"
Kakashi placed a gloved hand on Naruto's back, prompting him to walk towards the center of the circle. They stopped in front of the prism shaped monument, which looked more golden than teal in the sun's decaying light. "Talk to her."
Naruto looked up, confused. "What do you mean?"
"You will never be able to forget her, Naruto. This will at least help you grieve." He moved his hand from Naruto's back to his shoulder. "Talk to her," he reiterated.
Naruto studied his teacher's face with arched eyebrow, trying to figure out if he was extremely crazy, or extremely wise. He settled on the latter. Turning to the monument, he kneeled in front of the rows of carved names. The edges of most of the engravings had dulled with time, but hers was still crisp. He hesitantly reached out a hand, tracing over the strokes of her name.
The red and white fans on the wall flickered yellow with the candle. He placed the holder on the alter in front of his family memorial, watching the shadows play on the walls. They created shapes, images, scenes--none of wish he could notice. He'd trained his mind to understand reality, not the imaginary. And when reality was too much to bear…
He threw his hand out, sweeping it hard across the altar. The candle and holder clattered to the ground, extinguishing easily on the cement. The room turned black against Sasuke's hollow breathing.
To Be Concluded…
AN2:This was originally going to be a one shot, but when your one shot is 25 pages long, it's probably best to split it up. I hope to have the next part up in a few days. Also, I have to apologize for the use of "......"s between scenes. I prefer asterisks, but for some reason ff.net deletes them from the story. Formating nightmare. In the mean time, like it? Hate it? Don't think Naruto should ever ever wear boots? Let me know!