The world has turned black-streaked-red and there's a terrible heaviness that pulls at his limbs like lead weights. The world spins, and when he moves his head the ground falls away from under him.

Naruto doesn't realize he's hit the dirt until he almost retches because nothing is still,and this place has two colors but they keep stealing into and out of each other.

But soon enough, everything goes dark.f


The missing-nins in a vicious way that bares his teeth and, off to the side, his slender friend watches silently from beneath folds of blood-colored clouds.

He says, in response to the barked question, "How the fuck should I know, the old bag never lets me – " only he can't finish because a thick fist cuts across his face and he loses another tooth.

The friend doesn't flinch, but his lip twists – barely visible beneath the huge collar, but it happens – and says something prudent.

Because he has the ears of a nine-tailed fox demon, especially now it's been years since the barriers decayed, he catches it. Shows his teeth right back.

"Yes," he says simply. "Everything you've heard is true."

The man with sharky blue skin gets pissed, but Naruto only has eyes for the black-haired man with the deep lines under his eyes – they're the eyes of a man who never sleeps.

"Naruto-kun,"the man says politely. "Do you think you can break through the chakra locks?"

He's only taken off-guard for an instant, because the only thing in Uchiha Itachi's voice is frank curiously.

"Might be," he says, moving his tongue around his bloody mouth. "You're trying to get the bastard out, yeah? I expect he'll come, one way or another."

The sharky man looks shocked and a little worried, and maybe a little nauseous. But Itachi smiles faintly.


By the time he's finished, there aren't any trees left for a twenty-five mile radius,and all he has to show for a few short hours of admittedly difficult work is black blood on his paws – hands, I'm back now – and an odd craving for sushi.

Except he's also missing both his eyes, and the hole in his stomach does not belong solely to his flesh.

He feels, fleetingly, that odd sensation of something spilling out – his guts or blood or breath, whatever he runs on these days – without any pain at all, and only the ebb and flow that keeps time with his heartbeat until the world walks away from him again. This time he's scooped up in empty, clean white that is infinite instead of oppressive; ambrosia that steals down his throat, cools the hole where the kyuubi ripped free and takes him home.


He's in a garden when he wakes up.

The first question he asks receives a knock to the head.

"No," is the murmured reply. "Don't be an idiot."

Naruto pulls a face, then rakes his fingers through his hair. "So that dimension trick Kakashi pulls – "

"I have no idea. Something like that." Dark eyes rise and meet his own, oddly bare,oddly readable. "We're corporeal, and – well, sixteen again."

Naruto twists his lips. "I guess that's cool. Not like I did much after that." Sighs, digs his nails into the grass, all nervous energy.

"It's how I remember you," his dark companion says softly.

"Yeah," Naruto says. "Hey – do you know about," he stops, shakes his head because God, that wasn't real.

Sasuke, who has his arms thrown around his knees, lies back with a huff. A silence stretches between them, and all Naruto can think is, I don't want to have made it up, and even though he knows,intellectually, the last time he say his former teammate, and the circumstances – knows them now, at any rate – all he can recall are Sasuke's brooding eyes, sullen, and then backlit with passion. All he can see is what he drew up in his head.

"I killed your brother," he says. A gift, because he has nothing else to do with it.

"Had to drive my clan to extinction, didn't you."

Something old and familiar flares up in his chest, but Sasuke is smiling and it even reaches his eyes.

"I didn't –Orochimaru. I had to." It makes him sick to think about it;Sasuke, strangely, scoots a bit closer.

"I know." Leans companionably against him, and Naruto realizes that Sasuke doesn't have anything left to revenge, doesn't have hate to rule his heart. And they are both dead, or whatever it is happens – rebirth or other worlds or a waiting-room garden.

He exhales, braced for the images – Sasuke in a pool of blood, half a monster; Sasuke disemboweled, Sasuke all cut up with curse seals, Sasuke pale as a snake. Sasuke dead by his hand.

But the Sasuke that is not in his memory laughs at him. Puts his hand on his shoulder.

Says, "Well,let's get to it. Took you long enough."

Naruto raises his eyes, colored like and filled with the great sky pearled above them. Sasuke stands and, after a moment, offers a had. "Dead last."

I killed you, Naruto thinks as he takes it. I killed you and I broke a promise and I had to kill Orochimaru. And then I fabricated your ghost. And then I killed your brother, because it was all I could do for you.

Only he killed me, too.

The place is huge,full of flowering shrubbery and ripe berries and fresh fruit,fantastic animals come from dreams, though one tree in particular looks especially enticing.

And you waited for me.

"We can't go back the way we came," Sasuke tells him, looking at his face. "But we can stay here, at the dawn of time. Or we can start at the beginning."

"Why did you wait for me? Sasuke."

He makes a stab at enigma, but smiles crookedly. "Who else would come after me?"

He takes Naruto's hand, like that day at the Valley, and what was left after exhaustion peeled away all the hostility and left the painful, unbreakable feelings underneath.

Dead, and sorely relieved, and finally returned to their proper places – in relation to each other – they stand before the tree, and look at the sky, and take their time. They have all of it now.