Request fic for Smiter. He wanted me to do something NaruSaku (dealing with chapter 309), so here it is. Hope y'all enjoy!

Naruto has known failure all his life.

Failure to graduate from Academy. Failure to impress the girl he loves. Failure to pass the Chuunin exam. Failure to depend on others.

Failure to understand the science of revenge.

"As long as I have it, the world can go to hell. Nothing else binds me here, Naruto. Nothing. Not you, not Sakura, not Konoha. You're in my way."

He just doesn't get it. And even if he does, the ability to admit it is beyond his reach. What would Naruto do if he had a family and lost it? What shape would his anger wear?

"Alone, I do not have the strength to defeat him. If I join with Orochimaru, my chances will increase."

Snakes. Slithering, sliding, hissing, winding…wrapping around and around and around him, squeezing tighter, killing him a little more, making him forget that he is human…

Or is he?

Use my power, brat. Show them all. Show them my legacy…

Their chakra is merging. He can feel it sometimes, a slight flash of bloodlust that does not belong to him, a hunger for dominance. And then Naruto wonders. Does he want to become Hokage, or does Kyuubi?

A snake and a fox. A deceiver and a demon. They are different….are different…different…

"We'll camp here for the night, move out in the morning," Yamato says in a subdued voice, and sits down beside his pack. "Godaime-sama will want to know the details as soon as possible." He looks at Sai. "And I'm sure Danzou is anxious to hear from you."

Sasuke's replacement inclines his head, takes a seat near the captain. "I'll have to lie to him, of course. He'll be so disappointed."

"You're taking this lightly," Sakura says, lips curled up in the barest hint of a smile. "The mission is incomplete. You didn't kill…him." Kneeling, she rummages through her pack for some bandages and disinfecting ointment. "Here, Yamato-taichou. Let me fix that." She gestures at the older man's wound, which has begun to ooze again, and he obediently moves his arms out of the way so she can get started.

Sai has his notebook open on his lap, and holds a brush in his right hand. "Nobody's perfect," he says, dipping the tip of the brush into the inkwell by his feet. "Danzou won't be happy, sure, but I'm prepared for the worst." A crease forms between his brows as he begins to draw, pausing frequently to re-ink the brush. "My motives were just, so the retribution's worth it."

Gently peeling Yamato's shirt away from the gash, Sakura murmurs, "Thank you, Sai."

Concentrating on his sketch, he does not respond, but grins instead.

"Naruto," Yamato calls, "come here and eat something."

The blonde boy stands with his back to his teammates at the edge of the clearing, unmoving, the wind whipping his hair against his cheeks. His energy is sapped—he cannot find the will to speak, to scream, to breathe

Sasuke was here. Here and gone, like a wisp of smoke, like a cyclone that destroys everything it touches. He was here.

"Please, Naruto."

That voice…not Yamato…Sakura.

"You need to eat or you'll collapse."

Her face. He wants to see her face.

Naruto turns.

She's looking at him, her eyes hooded, soft. Has she ever looked at him that way before? He can't remember…


And before the world fades to black, he hears her cry out his name.

"You're not alone, you know. I haven't left you, and I don't plan to."


"We have to be firm now, Naruto. We have to keep going. He's made our path clear."

He can't. He promised her he'd get him back, and he failed.

"We'll be okay. I swear it, Naruto. We'll be okay."

Will they?

"I'm watching over you."

Why? He doesn't deserve it…


He sleeps.

The walls around him rise to the skies, rise up so high that even when he cranes his neck, he cannot see where they end.

He is in a dark, dark place. No light…no dancing shadows…only stillness. It's as if he's imprisoned in a tableau, limbs frozen, lungs filled with stale air, waiting to exhale.

Let me out, he screams, but the walls absorb his cry, and all he's left with is silence, deep and penetrating.

It terrifies him, the silence, because Naruto has always had words. Alone for most of his life, he needed words to keep him company, to express what he felt and why he felt it, to give his dreams form. As long as he had words, he wasn't truly alone, but the words are gone.



"You're pathetic."

Not gone. No, he senses them, senses him.

Where are you? Show yourself!

"You know where I am."

Show me!

Slowly, two slits in the wall opposite him appear and open, revealing reddish-yellow irises, elongated pupils. The eyes stare at him as, below the blank space where the nose should be, a mouth stretches into a sharp-toothed sneer.


The creature laughs, a low, rasping sound that reminds him of decay, of disease.

What have you done? What have you done to yourself, Sasuke?

"I have made…improvements. I am ready to take what I want. What have you done Naruto? How much closer are you to becoming Hokage? You allowed me to slip away."


"You watched me leave."

Stop it.

"You failed."


A forked tongue darts from the gaping mouth, a slithering snake, wrapping around and around and around…


He sits up, eyes wild, chest heaving, fear sweat coating his skin. He does not know where he is.


He feels the cool hand on his forehead, though he doesn't realize who it belongs to until she comes into focus a few seconds later, and the first thing he sees are the circles under her eyes.

"Sakura-chan," he starts to say, but she shakes her head, and, putting one hand on his back and the other on his chest, eases him back onto his bedroll. Drained, both physically and emotionally, he does not object.

"You were thinking of him, weren't you?" She says quietly, to avoid waking the others—Yamato had fallen asleep soon after his treatment was finished, and Sai followed an hour or so later, once he'd completed his painting.

Naruto swallows, wincing. His throat is raw. "How did you know?"

"You said his name."


Sakura blinks a few times and rubs her eyes. "It's been a crazy day, huh?" Her head droops, as if it's too heavy for her neck to support.

He frowns. "How long was I out?"

"Six hours, give or take."

"You didn't sleep," he accuses, once again focusing on the bags under her eyes.

"No," she says frankly, "I didn't."

And that makes him furious. "You're gonna get sick! Look at you!" Despite the warning glare she gives him, he props himself on his elbows, and then uses them for leverage to sit up all the way. "I should've listened when you told me to eat. I knew my body was low on juice, but I was too fucking busy feeling sorry for myself…Why can't I ever do anything right?" He snarls suddenly. "He was there, Sakura! All I had to do was reach for him, and…"

"I was there, too," she replies, seeming to wilt more and more as the time passes. "And, in case you hadn't noticed, I was about as effective as a gnat." She rubs her eyes a bit harder than before. "You did what you could—"

"Oh sure," Naruto says, voice sardonic. "If you call dicking around with my jaw hanging open while Sasuke mindfucked me doing what I could."

Sakura glances at him sharply. "Now you're just being an asshole. Quit it." She runs trembling fingers through her hair, raking it almost savagely away from her face. "I'm trying really hard not to cry," she says, voice barely above a whisper. "And this isn't helping."

Horrified, Naruto says, "I'm sorry, Sakura-chan. I didn't mean to—" A wave of dizziness washes over him, and he squeezes his eyes shut.

"Idiot," the medic admonishes, and puts an arm about his shoulders. "You never learn, do you?"

"I guess not," he groans, and, before he can think about it, he's leaning into her, face pressed against her neck. "Hold me," he says, and his voice cracks. "You can cry on me…but, God…hold me while you do it…"

For a fraction of a second, a heartbeat, a sigh, there is hesitation, and then both her arms are around him, clinging tightly, as though he is her anchor to the world, as though she wants to meld with him, to share his suffering, to share her suffering.

"It isn't our fault," she says hoarsely. "Yours or mine. We…he chose his road, Naruto. You know Sasuke-kun better than anyone else. He's as stubborn as you are."

Naruto's sobs are noiseless, but they wrack his whole body. Her arms tighten on him, and his own move to encircle her waist.

"I'm not stubborn enough," he croaks. "Not enough…"

"Me neither," she agrees, resting her forehead on his crown. "We'll have to work on that."

Naruto shudders. "I don't want to watch him destroy himself, Sakura-chan. It's so stupid! Revenge…revenge…what good is it doing him? It won't bring his fucking family back!"

"I know," she says, tearstains on her cheeks. "I know."

The wind howls through the trees surrounding the clearing like a lament. In their bedrolls, Sai and Yamato sleep on, dreaming or not dreaming.

Sakura holds Naruto, holds him until his tears run dry, until her eyes finally drift shut and exhaustion consumes her, until he is the one keeping vigil over her.

This is the difference between him and Sasuke. This is what makes Naruto who he is, not who he might be.

This is why, when next they meet, he will treat his best friend as an enemy, because it is the only way he knows of to save him.

Sakura…Sasuke's agenda threatens her, threatens everything that Naruto loves, and his ties are not so easily severed.

Because she did the same for him, Naruto remains awake the rest of the night, guarding Sakura as she sleeps.

"Here," Sai says the next morning after they break camp and start for home. He passes Naruto his notebook, flipped open to a particular page. "I would've shown it to you yesterday, but I don't think you were ready yet." He winks and joins Yamato, leaving Naruto and Sakura to walk side by side.

Brows raised, Naruto peers at the painting, and flushes.

"What is it?" Sakura says, snatching the notebook from her companion. "He refused to let me peek—" Her cheeks burn. "Oh…oh that little…Sai! Why did you…what were you…"

"Adorable picture, no?" Sai remarks cheerfully. "I believe I'll call it 'Cyclical.' Quite fitting, when you think about it."

Yamato chuckles. "Leave them alone, Sai."

"Cyclical?" Sakura says, blush deepening. "Do you even know what that means?"

Naruto doesn't catch the rest of their banter, because he is transfixed by the image drawn on the paper.

A boy and a girl, the boy with blonde hair and whiskers, the girl with pink hair and soft emerald eyes, hold one another, clasped hands thrust in front of them as if they were dancing a tango.

Tangos, perfect ones, require both partners to be in synch, able to lead and be led.

He smiles.

Cyclical. He likes the sound of that.