This is a sequel to my oneshot, Smoke In Spring.
Warnings: Blood, violence, and a big, fat, bolded angst. Also, yaoi.
Pairing: Naruto/Sasuke. Yes, really.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, its characters or world, and I'm not making any money off this.
Sasuke couldn't remember the last time he was so self-conscious with a sword; he'd trained for years with them. The weapon should have been part of him, something essential as a hand or a foot or an eye. Now the accustomed grip felt clumsy in his hand. He caught himself holding it too tightly, and consciously eased up. Even when his mind told him his grip was flawless, looking at Naruto bowed before him and waiting for the blow, it felt foreign. Unbalanced.
"It has to be an immediate kill," Naruto said.
He was kneeling, knees pressed into cold, bare dirt of the Hyuga training field. A seal marked the ground around him in an elaborate ring intended to control the Kyuubi if it lashed out. Naruto didn't think that it would be able to attack with any strength immediately after losing its vessel. But he didn't know. None of them knew. Everything was guess work at this point.
Neji and Hinata had arranged the space for them so they would be away from the rest of the village, just in case. And so they would have what little privacy they could afford at this point. Ten pairs of white eyes, all of them belonging to disciplined shinobi, were better than dozens of gawkers.
Naruto's ruddy tan skin, yellow hair, and blue eyes stood out vividly against the drab yard. His voice was husky and warm, like a breath of late summer in the cool air. "Anything less will heal."
Licking his lips, Sasuke nodded.
"Make sure to burn the body immediately. I don't know how well the seal will hold, and it might try to leap into a new body if it realizes it can't heal this one."
"I know. It's already planned."
Naruto drew a deep breath. "Is the pyre ready?"
"Yeah," Sasuke told him. The words were broken glass in his throat.
"You won't let them near right? Promise me."
He nodded again, squeezing his eyes shut. "I promise."
"I worry about them," Naruto said by way of explanation, or maybe apology. Sasuke wasn't sure he could tell the difference at this point, but the sentiment wrung a harsh chuckle from him.
Naruto grabbed his wrist. Sasuke's eyes snapped open, and he drew back instinctively, surprised. The other's skin was feverishly hot against his own. "I worry about you, too. Don't turn your back on me."
"I won't," Sasuke agreed reluctantly. He could hardly breath around the words. They'd been over this before. Fuck, but they'd beaten out every last tiny detail. They'd discussed every possible thing that could go wrong.
They all knew what was at stake.
"Don't hesitate. I'm not sure that... that I'll die as easily as I should. Be ready, in case. Don't hold back."
Sasuke's grip tightened again. His knuckles whitened, and his hand threatened suddenly to cramp.
Bright gaze pinning Sasuke, Naruto said grimly, "Whatever you do, don't hold back."
"I know," Sasuke snapped.
Naruto paused a long moment, eyes tilting up, corners of his mouth dropping in an ominous scowl. Then he sighed. "Make it quick. Please."
It hurt. Dear god, how it hurt - as though someone were gripping his heart in their hands, as though he was being pressed on a wheel. He hadn't expected it, couldn't remember if it had felt like this when he'd threatened to kill Naruto before.
Was that proof he had lacked the conviction to follow through?
Sasuke was all too aware of Sakura watching him, and Jiraiya, and the Fifth, mixed into the small knot of impassive Hyuga that stood some thirty feet away. Sakura's fixed, tired stare was the worst. He felt more than naked.
He felt exposed in a way that was more than physical, like they had caught him in some intimate moment.
"I will," he whispered. He didn't want the others to hear it.
Naruto's face relaxed fractionally.
Sasuke turned his mind inward, stilling himself, and looked for the cold part of him that let him kill someone without provocation. The exercise was harder than it should have been. Eventually, though, his hand found the right way to hold his sword, so metal and bone lined up naturally. His arm was steady; his breathing, deep and regular.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
Clasping his hands behind his back, Naruto closed his eyes. The line of his shoulders was strangely loose. Naruto's chin dipped in acquiesce. He was ready.
Sasuke took a deep breath, then circled to stand behind the other man. It was only the two of them within the seal. Sasuke fought to narrow his world to just that. Just them.
He picked a spot just above the prominent curve of the lower cervical vertebrae, where Naruto's hair fell to the sides, revealing his neck. Marking the spot in his mind, he took his stance. He wanted to take Naruto's head off in one stroke. They'd agreed that would probably be the best way - quick and efficient. A sense of gravity settled over Sasuke. This was happening. Even if the ground opened up to swallow them, they couldn't stop now.
In a way, it felt like it was already done. Sasuke's mind just hadn't caught up yet.
Naruto should have had someone else do this, someone who could be clinical about it.
A breeze picked up, stirring Naruto's hair, tugging at their clothes.
Sasuke turned on foot out. He coiled, tensing in the legs, and in the shoulders.
Naruto took a deep breath - Sasuke imagined he felt the change. Still, he didn't look afraid. The bottom dropped out of Sasuke's stomach.
He moved naturally, reflexively, stepping forward and bringing his sword around in a silver arc for an instant kill. The blade hit flesh and sank in. The sensation rang up Sasuke's arm, familiar as coming home, even when it was his best friend taking the blow. It was quick. Quick enough that Naruto couldn't have reacted if he wanted to; quick so that Sasuke didn't have time to realize the nausea that gripped his belly as warm blood splattered up his arm and across the ground.
Naruto's body swayed unsteadily. It hadn't hit the ground before a wave of scorching red chakra washed out, strong enough to take Sasuke's breath away and force him back a step. The smell of fire and musk filled his nose. The pressure of a mind, so old and alien as to be unrecognizable, staggered Sasuke. His sword fell from his suddenly numb hand.
The ground seal that surrounded them flared to life, shifting and glowing pale green. They strained to hold the fox. It rushed over Sasuke as it filled the confines of the seal. It clawed at him, needling his skin. The air was so hot, he wondered how his hair and clothes didn't combust. The chakra crawled into his ears, sounding like wildfire. It lay on is tongue, a strange flavor, like burnt cardamom and cloves.
He felt it try his mind and body, looking for a way in. He grit his teeth and called his own chakra. His strength was meager by comparison, but it pushed the red chakra back a little. Red and black swam at the edges of his visions.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Kyuubi's power ebbed. Sasuke was left breathless and dumb while the Hyuga rushed forward to carry away Naruto's body. Sasuke fell to his knees, struggling to focus. He tried to look away from the splash of red on the dirt, but it kept dragging his eyes back. The red was too bright against brown, sharp in the grey spring light.
The funeral was a tense affair. Naruto was cremated less than an hour after he died.
Sasuke watched with his friend's blood still tacky on his hands. His stomach seemed like lead. This wasn't real. It couldn't be. Naruto would open his eyes at any moment. But his head wasn't attached to his shoulders; his forehead protector had been artfully laid over his neck to disguise it.
Sasuke had seen many corpses before, and the emptiness that normally marked them was conspicuously absent in Naruto. If only the proof of what had shared that body hadn't been so undeniable, Sasuke had wished vaguely as he stood there. He didn't leave until the ashes were collected. They were buried outside Konoha, and a makeshift shrine built over the site. A more permanent structure would come later.
Most of the village turned out, many wearing weapons discreetly under their mourning black. They stood in ranks by clan, or by their place in the military. Sasuke stood to the side - face freshly painted, and somehow insubstantial. Like whatever made flesh and bone was firmer in his old comrades than in him. He had no place among them. There wasn't a row for the Uchiha, nor for missing nin.
Sakura spoke. She looked dazed as she faced the crowd. The scent of incense smoke mingled that day with the smell of raw lumber and freshly turned earth. Sasuke could still smell the perfume soaked wood of the funeral pyre.
It was a quick, confused ceremony, and it left Sasuke unsatisfied.
Three days later, the sweet and resinous smell still lingered. The flowers were wilted, and shed petals on the altar in front of Naruto's photo.
"I guess you really were my best friend," Sasuke addressed the picture. The words were surprisingly hard to say. "I have the Mangekyou Sharingan."
Wind blew into the small shrine, carrying the rain with it. Icy drops stung where they hit Sasuke's bare arms. A draft tugged at his hair. The photo was wrinkled from the moisture; no one had thought to make sure it was better protected from the elements. Naruto grinned from his picture, eyes narrowed to bright crescents, teeth showing. The expression was familiar. Naruto looked like he knew something the photographer didn't.
Sasuke cleared his throat. "I feel like I should thank you or something."
Looking away from the picture, Sasuke wondered why he'd come. "I'll be leaving soon. I still have to find Itachi. Besides, I don't have a fucking clue what to do here. I think Neji wants to kick my ass. Maybe you should have had him be your second. I don't know. And Sakura… It's awkward." He swallowed hard. "To say the least."
The wind tickled the back of his neck, plucked at his clothes. Wind chimes clattered somewhere in the distance.
"I don't expect I'll be coming back. Even with the Mangekyou Sharingan. Not that it matters, as long as he dies with me, I don't really give a shit."
The chimes jangled. The wind snaked down the back of his shirt, tickled his nose with the smells of the forest and the new shrine. Faintly, scorched earth and spice. Sweat broke on his back, cold and warm at once. The taste of ashes was heavy in his mouth.
His gaze returned to the picture reluctantly. It fluttered in the breeze.
"I thought it would be polite of me to say goodbye, since I don't suspect I'll see you again. I'm not going anywhere good when I die, that's for damn sure."
The rain sounded like a rapid drumbeat against the roof of the shrine. Sasuke drew four sticks of incense out of his pocket, arranged them on the altar before Naruto's picture, and lit them as reverently as he could manage. Spirituality had never been his way.
Sandalwood and pine, both distinct in the cold forest air. He continued, watching to smoke rise in languid swirls, "I'd like to believe you're somewhere good, but somehow, that doesn't seem likely either.
"You'll be here for quite awhile, if I'm any judge."
It would be mid spring soon, but the forest was still bare with winter. Early flowers pushed through the thick banks of leaf mulch. Red buds mottled the trees, and bright new growth stood out against the bluish needles on the evergreens. Mushrooms and daffodils spotted the ground with brown and yellow.
"It's not a bad spot. Even if it's not the one I'd have picked for you."
The skin between Sasuke's shoulders itched. The forest was old, and the weight of that age pressed down on him. The fox was there, hiding in it. Sasuke knew enough to know that, and even if he hadn't, the display when Naruto died would have convinced him.
It was weaker, reduced to a mere fraction of its strength, but for a beast that had been around for over a thousand years and was treated as a force of nature, even death wasn't insurmountable.
Sasuke wished Naruto had been wrong. The proof of his accuracy was too plain in the atmosphere of the small shrine to deny, though.
"One could hope for better company, too," he muttered, rubbing his temples.
"Could be worse." The words were almost heard just inside his ear, more aural memory than sound.
Sasuke closed his eyes, his throat tightening uncomfortably.
A sudden heat brushed his back, tempting him to turn. It ruffled the short hairs on his neck and prickled his back through his shirt. Sasuke gasped sharply. He tried to ignore the feel of it, keeping his eyes on Naruto's picture. He should leave. There wasn't anything left to accomplish here. He probably shouldn't have come here in the first place.
Fighting down a shiver, he crossed his arms protectively across his chest. Hair fell into his eyes.
Rain and wind filled Sasuke's ears with a queer kind of silence, drowning out the smaller sounds. He gritted his teeth. He felt someone watching his back. The sensation was eerie: not quite threatening, not yet, and not quite human either. Like ants crawling down his spine.