Warnings: Blatant male/male relationships, violence, swearing, and there'll probably be some smoking and drinking thrown in there somewhere, too. If any of this offends you, you may want to click the "back" button now. :smile:

Disclaimer: I never have, and I never will (well, never say never, but...), own "Naruto." Since this is a fanfiction website, I should think that that's pretty obvious, but in case that small detail was somehow overlooked, no, I don't. I'd love to, but I don't. Clear enough for you?

Author's Note: Wow. Yet another Naruto story. Am I making a record here or something?

I really shouldn't be starting yet another multi-chaptered story, but I couldn't help myself. :sigh: This story is going to be different from my others. For a start,it's not an alternate universe! Cool, huh? That means that it could actually happen!

...Well, sort of. :sweatdrop:

Okay, another difference is, if you couldn't already tell by the horribly and unforgiveably cheesy title, this fic is going to have angst. You got that? ANGST. Why? Because I feel like it. What can I say? I'm mildly to moderately sadistic. :grins Uzumaki-style: Um, yes, angst. And FLUFF! Yes, FLUFF! A hell of a lot of fluff. Why? I DON'T KNOW! Probably because I'm romance starved and desperate for some love. So what so I do? Go out and find a boyfriend, you say? Don't be silly! I make some up, of course!

So! Here you go! An angst-ridden, fluff-stuffed, semi-realistic version of a fictional character's life! Woo hoo:throws confetti:

No, but seriously, I hope you guys like it. Believe it or not (believe it! Heh heh heh...had to throw that in there...), I spent a hell of a lot of effort on this. I wrote it super-fast, too. Except for the last part. I wrote the last part first, about five days ago. Then I wrote the first part...maybe two days ago. Then I filled it in all of yesterday, and finished it today. Anyway! The point is, I worked really hard on this, whether or not it shows. Also! This is my first attempt at something a little more heavy, emotion-wise. So I really do hope you guys like it. Please please PLEASE tell me what you think! (Preferably if what you think happens to be good. :nervous smile:)

Okay, then! Here you go, for real this time!

No more stalling!

I mean it!



Like Tears of the Heart

Hatake Kakashi kicked open the door to Tsunade's office, an unconscious Uchiha Sasuke cradled in his arms, and an unconscious Uzumaki Naruto flung over his shoulder.

Tsunade looked up and stared in shock for a split second, taking in the sight before her. Kakashi looked fine (physically, anyway), which implied that he had not been in the area when the two boys had been knocked out. Haruno Sakura ran in beside her teacher, tears streaming down her face and blood running from several semi-serious wounds. Naruto had some scraps on his arms, legs, and face which were all minor, but there was a large, horribly gory injury in his side —a sizeable chunk of flesh was missing, almost as if something had taken a bite out of him. But the situation, unfortunately, was probably a lot more complicated than that. Sasuke was the one who seemed to be in the worst condition. He was even paler than usual, with bad bruising, but the corner of his mouth and a lone cut on his cheek were the only places that he bled from. That could be either very good or very bad. In this case, it was probably bad.

Tsunade stood up then, various paperwork on her desk flying off in every different direction.

"Jesus Christ! What happened?.!" she shouted.

Kakashi gave her no answer as he strode toward her desk, his mouth set in a grim line through his mask. Tsunade was at Kakashi's side in a second, guiding him to her desk and sweeping off the remaining contents.

"Here, put him down," she instructed unnecessarily, Kakashi already placing Sasuke gingerly on the large wooden surface. "Careful—watch his head. Give, ah, actually, hold Naruto a second. Oh, God. MEDIC!" she bellowed toward the open office door.

"They're on their way," was Kakashi's terse reply.

Tsunade placed a hand on Sasuke's neck, searching for a pulse. It was there, but frighteningly slow. She glanced at Naruto, who was still bleeding heavily from his wounded side. Sakura was sobbing uncontrollably, her tears mixing with the blood on her face, creating a noxious pink liquid that dripped off the end of her chin.

Tsunade stared into Kakashi's eyes as a team of medics rushed in. The two adults shared the same terrifying thought—were they too late?


Naruto awakened to the overwhelming sensation of pain. It was everywhere—in his arms, on his thighs, across his cheeks, but mostly, it was in his side. His side hurt so badly, he could've sworn it was on fire. He moaned.

"Na-Naruto?" the voice was familiar, female. "Oh, God—Naruto! Naruto, say something!"

"Mmuh..." Naruto gurgled. "Hurts."

"Oh, Naruto! I'm so glad you're alright!" Naruto would've made a dry comment about blinding pain and the concept of "alright," but he quickly realized that he lacked the energy to do so "Oh, thank God! Thank God you're okay! I'll—I'll... Iruka-sensei!"

The following pounding of footsteps almost perfectly matched the pounding in Naruto's brain.

"Sakura," Umino Iruka's concerned voice said. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"Naruto's awake!" the female voice, now easily recognizable as Sakura, yelled ecstatically.

There was another series of rushing footsteps, then Naruto felt a calloused hand gently touch the side of his face.

"Naruto?" Iruka asked. "Naruto, are you okay? Please, if you can hear me, say something."

"Hurts," Naruto mumbled again.

Iruka sighed—in relief, presumably. "Oh, Naruto. I—was so worried. I'll get you some pain medication right away. Sakura, could you please help him sit up?"

"Of course, Iruka-sensei," Sakura said, her voice sounding choked.

"I'll be back in just a second, Naruto. Hang on, okay?"

"I'm not going anywhere," Naruto muttered, clenching his teeth in pain as Sakura carefully eased him into a more upright position. She leaned Naruto back until he was propped against a headboard—of a bed, probably. Naruto let his head touch the wall behind him, relaxing with a sigh. He grimaced once more before opening his eyes.

At first, the sunshine-lit room was a shock, and he immediately shut his eyes again, hit with the absurd notion that his eyeballs would be burned out of his head. He opened his eyes again after a moment, more slowly this time, and stopping when his gaze was only at half-mast.

He was in a bed. In some sort of hospital ward, it seemed. Having never been a sickly child, Naruto had never required medical attention that needed him brought to a hospital (not that anyone would have noticed or cared if he'd needed it, of course). Naruto had been briefly hospitalized after a few rough missions since he'd become a chuunin, but he'd managed to avoid serious injury for a while now. The room he was in currently was different than the one he had stayed in last. This one was smaller, with almost no furniture, a closed curtain on his left, and a lot—a lot—of light. The room's sparse, well-lit design made sense, Naruto supposed. If someone was in dire need of medical attention and required, say, complicated surgery, it wouldn't do to have things get in the way. And it would be awfully inconvenient to have to operate in the dark.

Sakura was sitting next to Naruto on what appeared to be the only chair in the room. She had a few bandages wrapped around her forearms and had a nasty-looking bruise on her right cheekbone—evidence of being back-handed. She was staring into Naruto's face with enormous, tear-filled eyes, a watery smile on her pretty face. Naruto couldn't help smiling back at this open display of concern. It was true that they'd gotten a lot closer over the years (unfortunately for Naruto, not in that way), but it was rare for Sakura to show such obvious affection for him. Usually, it would have totally made Naruto's day to see such an expression directed at him, but in this case, it probably meant that he was in seriously bad shape.

Naruto winced a little as he tried to sit up further.

"Hey, Sakura-chan," Naruto said, his voice hoarse.

"Hey," she answered, a few tears spilling over onto her cheeks as her smile widened.

Naruto laughed softly, then quickly regretted the action—a fresh wave of pain had washed over his right side because of it. He tried not to show his discomfort. "Sakura," he said. "Why're you crying? Not worried about me, are you? Whatever it was that put me here, don't worry—it'll take little more than that to put Uzumaki Naruto out of commission. Believe it!"

Sakura cracked another smile at Naruto's childhood mantra.

...Actually, who was he kidding? "Childhood mantra"? Please. He still said that phrase, like, a zillion times a day. He couldn't help it. It was a reflex.

Just then, Iruka rushed back into the room holding a large glass of water and something clenched in his other fist. He visibly relaxed when he saw Naruto leaning against the headboard, now wide-awake and smiling—albeit grimacing.

Iruka smiled as he walked to Naruto's bedside, handing the blonde both the glass of water and two pills.

Naruto looked down at the pills for a few moments, then grinned. "Hey, cool!" he said. "These pills are orange! This is awesome!" He downed the pills cheerfully, then swallowed the entire glass of water after it.

"Ahh..." he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He glanced at Sakura again, who had managed to stop crying but was now sniffling rather pathetically, then to Iruka, who was gazing down at Naruto as if he had just descended from the heavens.

"Jeez, what is with you guys?" he asked, looking between the two, bewildered. "How long was I out, anyway?"

"You've been unconscious for nearly three days," Sakura said, swiping at her eyes. "For a long time you wouldn't stop bleeding. For a while, we...we thought you were going to die. We really thought you were going to die! It was horrible!"

Sakura's face contorted and her green eyes overflowed again, the stream of tears now unstoppable. Naruto blinked hard, frowning.

"…Three days, huh," he repeated gravely. "…No wonder I have to pee so bad."

Iruka and Sakura stared at Naruto with identical flat expressions. He stared back, wide-eyed and confused.

"What?" he asked. "It's true!"

Iruka sighed. "I'm sure it's true, Naruto, but it's not something that Sakura or I is especially worried about right now. Besides...there's something else that we've got to tell you."

"Yeah, yeah, just a second," Naruto said, arching his back slightly. "I've really got to go. Like, seriously. Where's the can?"

Iruka sighed again, then wordlessly pointed to a door Naruto hadn't even noticed.

"Okay. Thanks," the blonde said, getting up out of bed. He almost tipped over as soon as his feet touched the floor, but he pressed his right arm against the wall and managed to remain standing. He waved off Iruka's offer of help and shuffled uneasily to the bathroom. "Just a sec," he said, stumbling inside and shutting the door behind him.

A few minutes and several stubbed toes later, Naruto slid back into bed with a sigh, briefly silent while he caught his breath. Man. Pissing was getting harder and harder these days.

After a moment, Naruto looked up. "Okay," he said. "Now, what was the thing you guys wanted to tell me?"

Iruka's face immediately turned somber. "Naruto...what I've got to say...it might—"

"Hey, wait a second!" Naruto interrupted furiously, his sky blue eyes bulging from anger. "Where the hell is Sasuke?.! That bastard think he's too good to even come and see me? Ugh! That prick! As soon as I get better, I'm gonna kill him!"

"That may not be necessary, Naruto," Iruka said sharply.

Naruto's heartbeat skidded to a halt. His blood froze in his veins, and the suddenly silent room seemed to spin.

"...What?" Naruto got out, not even allowing himself to comprehend Iruka's statement.

The dark-haired teacher's face was set like stone. "We're not sure if he's going to make it, Naruto," Iruka said. "Unlike you, almost all of his injuries were internal, and they were incredibly severe."


This couldn't be happening. Sasuke was...Sasuke was...Sasuke was—!

Iruka's dark eyes flickered with surprise. "You don't remember?"

"Remember? Remember what?.! Iruka-sensei—what's happened to Sasuke? What do you mean, he was injured?" Naruto lurched forward, crying out and grasping his right side when he felt his wound twist unnaturally. "Where is he?" Naruto demanded, panic starting to flood his system. "Where is Sasuke? Well, where is he? What happened to him, Iruka?.! Tell me what happened to Sasuke!"

Iruka looked taken-aback from Naruto's sudden outburst, and he remained silent.

"Iruka!" Naruto bellowed. "Please!"

"It was supposed to be a simple mission."

Two male heads swiveled to look at Sakura, who both had almost forgotten that she was there. Sakura's head was bowed, her pink hair falling forward and concealing her face. Her voice was frighteningly emotionless.

"All we had to do was retrieve a scroll," Sakura continued tonelessly. "And we did, without any trouble. We stayed the night in the other village, just like we were told to, and the next morning, we set off for home. For several hours, everything was fine." A pause. "And then...I'm not sure what happened. He appeared so fast. It must have been a ninja, but no ninja like I've ever seen before. He wore all black, and his eyes were kind of yellow, and almost slitted, like a lizard." Sakura's shoulders shook slightly as a tremor ran through her delicate frame. "We saw him approach us on the road, and I could tell something was wrong, but he was just walking, with his hands in his pockets and his face down. He gave us no reason to start a fight, so we didn't. Until..."

Sakura stopped again. Naruto almost reached over to shake the remaining information out of her, but he knew that the girl was trying her best to get out what were surely some very traumatic details. Even so, Naruto had to clench his fists to keep himself from grabbing her and forcing the words out.

"We...We were almost passed him," Sakura finally continued. "And then all of a sudden, he whipped his arm around and grabbed you by the hair, Naruto. He was so strong, he swung you around without pulling any hair out at all."

No wonder Naruto's head hurt.

"Sasuke and I both charged the attacker, but he used you as a human shield. It was amazing—he fought both Sasuke and I off, and he held on to you, Naruto, and you were still struggling as all get out. Eventually Sasuke managed to land a kick, and you used the distraction to pull a Replacement Jutsu. But the guy saw right through it the second it happened. I didn't know that, though, and I came in close with my kunai. He—he hit me across the face, so hard, I was seeing dots. You hollered my name, giving your location away, and the guy swung the long—what you used as a replacement—straight into your stomach. You flew backwards into a tree, then you rolled down a hill, onto some jagged rocks. That's how you got the wound in your side, I guess. The man kicked me then—once in the chin and once in the chest—and I remember flying through the air. I must have hit my head on something. The last thing I remember was Sasuke switching on his Sharingan and directly facing the attacker, and the attacker grinned."

Sakura audibly swallowed. Drops of water fell onto her lap.

"Um—!" Her voice broke.

"Sakura..." Iruka started. "You don't have to—"

"No!" Sakura said vehemently, scrunching up the fabric in her lap. "I'm fine." She took a deep breath and let it out. "Um, when I came to, both you and Sasuke were knocked out. You were bleeding everywhere, and Sasuke...Sasuke was even worse. He showed almost no blood, but I could tell...something was wrong. Very wrong. You had somehow gotten back up the hill, and the attacker was dead—a chest wound, I think. There was blood everywhere. I managed to pull you and Sasuke the rest of the way back home, and I ran for help as soon as I was close enough. I found Kakashi-sensei, and he carried you and Sasuke into Tsunade's office. She made me leave the room, a medic treated the few wounds I had, then I was given drugs to make me sleep."

Sakura's shoulders began to shake.

"Naruto," she sobbed, reaching up a hand to wipe away the tears. "I—I'm so sorry! If only I had been a little stronger, or a little smarter, than I would've seen the attack coming. You and Sasuke were talking when the guy first showed up, and I was the one who should have been on her guard the most. I'm so sorry! Naruto, I'm just so sorry!"

Sakura dissolved into sadness, hot liquid pouring from her eyes and the room swelling with the sound of her misery.

But Naruto was deaf to her anguish.

He was listening to another sound, the sound of the attacker's voice, which was suddenly loud and painfully clear in his head.


A man in black held Naruto firmly against his chest, the attacker's left elbow hooked around Naruto's neck. Sasuke and Sakura were attacking the man that held the blonde captive, without a single success. Naruto did a Replacement Jutsu when Sasuke's foot finally connected with the stranger's jaw, and the blonde concealed himself a few feet away, preparing for a surprise attack. But when Sakura got hit, Naruto couldn't help yelling out her name. The attacker swung the log Naruto replaced himself with into his gut, and Naruto flew backwards into something unforgivingly hard—a tree, presumably. His vision faded after that, and then a sense of flying, and then...extreme pain. And then...blackness.

The next memory Naruto had was waking up on a pile of knives. No, not knives—rocks. Enormous, unbelievably sharp rocks. One of which was completely imbedded into his side. Naruto's vision started to darken again, but something broke into his fading consciousness—a voice. Two, really, but only one that mattered.


And he was in trouble.

Naruto gritted his teeth and pulled himself shakily to his feet. His surroundings swam magnificently as he experienced the most powerful head-rush of his life. He wobbled back and forth on the uneven ground he found himself on, but by some miracle, he managed to remain standing. He reached down to his right side, his fingers closing around the butt the stone that had shoved itself underneath his ribs. Naruto took a deep breath, clenched his jaw, closed his eyes, and yanked.

The stone came out with a gush of blood and scream of agony.

Naruto swallowed down the reflexive tears that had sprung into his eyes, taking in slow, even breaths. He would have given a handful of teeth to simply die where he stood, the pain was so terrible. But he couldn't. He could still hear the sound of Sasuke's voice, and he was screaming, too.

Naruto turned toward the noise. It came from the top of a hill that Naruto stood at the base of. Naruto set his jaw determinedly and started to climb.

When he reached the summit, he found Sasuke bruised and gasping, his left arm curled protectively around his abdomen, the Sharingan blazing fiercely in his face. The stranger didn't seem injured, but he was breathing a little heavily, Naruto noticed.

The stranger smiled then—a feral baring of teeth. He slowly raised his right hand toward Sasuke, seeming not to notice Naruto yet. The man's hand glowed yellow for a moment, then he snapped his fingers closed. A crunching sound was heard.

Sasuke doubled over, his eyes bulging. He looked like he might vomit, but when his mouth opened, all that came out was a horrible, wracking cough.

And a lungful of blood.


Both the attacker and the black-haired shinobi turned to look at Naruto, who was stumbling almost desperately toward his friend. Sasuke seemed to whisper a garbled version of Naruto's name, and the attacker simply grinned.

"Ah," the man said. His voice was cold and incredibly dry, as if the sound itself was shedding its skin. "There you are, Blondie. I was beginning to wonder if you'd up and died on me. Good to see you haven't." The grin widened. "I want to do it myself."

Naruto felt his blood literally run cold.

Sasuke whispered something through blood-splattered lips, his beautiful black eyes wide and imploring.

The attacker's grin turned into a sneer. "Don't do it?" he asked. "Why do you say that, love? It wouldn't do for me to have any competition, would it?"

Naruto barely had time to comprehend the man's words before the attacker raised a yellow-glowing hand in his direction. Naruto took a half-step back by instinct, terrified. Naruto had seen the damage that glowing hand could do just moments before. He knew that, coupled with the severity of the injury in his side, Naruto would not survive the attack. Or, if by some miracle he did survive, he would die soon after from blood loss—painfully coughed up until his throat tore out.

He closed his eyes tightly and waited for the inevitable.

...There was a loud crunching sound.

"Fuck!" the attacker shouted.

Naruto opened his eyes, thoroughly confused. What happened? Didn't that guy want him dead just a second befor—

Naruto's thoughts halted abruptly, as did his pulse.

"Ss...Sa..." Naruto couldn't even form the name. It wasn't until a moment later, when a ridged Sasuke collapsed in the dirt, that Naruto could move.

His numbed state of shock was violently ripped away, replaced by absolute horror.


Naruto started forward, but he barely moved a foot before his knees buckled beneath him. He crawled forward, feeling his blood ooze sullenly into his chuunin vest. The pain was nothing compared to the complete panic thrumming in his chest.

He made it over to his fallen comrade. Sasuke was lying on his stomach, his face to the side. Naruto gently rolled him onto his back, assessing the damage. Aside from the blood around his mouth from the coughing, Naruto didn't see anything. That was bad. Very bad. It meant the damage must have been internal, maybe in or around vital organs.

Naruto's breathing was dangerously fast as he fumbled to check Sasuke's pulse. It was so faint, Naruto wasn't sure if it was real or just a contour of his neck.

Naruto swallowed.

"Sasuke?" he asked hoarsely. "Sa-Sasuke? Sasuke?.!" Naruto swallowed again, trying to clear the painful lump that was stubbornly lodged in his throat. "Sasuke, please. Please wake up," he begged, his voice dropping to a ragged whisper. "Sasuke. You can't...you...Sasuke, come on. Why'd you do it, Sasuke? That was meant for me! Why'd you have to get in the way? .!"

Naruto seized Sasuke's collar, as if that would somehow garner Sasuke's attention. "Why did you have to get in the way, you stupid idiot bastard?.!"

"Because he didn't want you to die, obviously."

Naruto slowly looked up. The attacker watched him with a decidedly pissed expression. "The attacker?" No. Not anymore. Now he was so much worse than just an attacker. Now he was the man that had hurt Sasuke. Which made him the most foul creature on the face of the Earth.

He had hurt Sasuke.

And just like that, it happened. All of Naruto's panic, horror, and desperation mutated in a flash to an emotion fairly unfamiliar to the sweet little blonde—uncontrollable fury. And now, now that Naruto had come in contact with a monster more horrifying than anything else he could imagine, the monster inside of him didn't seem so bad. In fact, in comparison, it seemed pretty fucking good.

So when Kyuubi clawed at Naruto's insides and howled for freedom, Naruto obliged him.

And the demon was released.

And it was magnificent.

...For Kyuubi, anyway.

The fox-demon charged forward, his incredible power barely contained by Naruto's human flesh. The Man Who Hurt Sasuke looked pretty startled for a moment—a supposedly down-for-the-count opponent gaining red eyes and a visible aura of power can do that to anyone—but he managed to get it together by the time Kyuubi got to him, blocking Kyuubi's first kick effectively. However, he found himself loosing ground as he was forced to back up under the heat of Kyuubi's blows. Essentially, being attacked by the demon felt like being attacked by a rock-slide. That is, a coordinated rock-slide. Each punch felt like a flying bolder, and each block felt like a granite wall.

Kyuubi strung his attacks together with effortless grace, aiming to force The Man Who Hurt Sasuke around in a circle, pushing him towards the edge of the hill. Kyuubi increased the speed and strength of his blows as they came closer to the edge, his delicious bloodlust almost making him drool. Personally, he couldn't care less who he was beating up, having no real attachment to Sasuke himself. However, he felt a bit of uncharacteristic sympathy for Naruto, whom Kyuubi had come to almost be fond of. Plus, Naruto's own anguish and fury fueled Kyuubi's desire to kill, and the blonde's personal chakra added another deadly layer to the ruthless onslaught of lethal attacks.

The Man Who Hurt Sasuke attempted to counter with little success. He felt a twinge of fear, something that he could not remember ever feeling before, as he realized that he was totally out of his league. He didn't even realize that he had a league. He had simply believed that he was undefeatable. Clearly, this misconception was quickly leading him to the end of his life. When he felt the edge of the hill beneath the heels of his feet, the twinge of fear turned into a full-fledged spasm.

He looked up into the red eyes of his blonde-haired attacker, suddenly finding himself at the mercy of a teenaged boy. No, not just a teenaged boy, he realized. This kid...was different.

The kid—the thing—cocked his head. "And now, The Man Who Hurt Sasuke," he said. His voice was strange. It was two-toned—one voice was a young tenor, the other was a deep growl. "I will kill you."

In a movement too quick for the human eye to follow, Kyuubi thrust out his right arm, claws outstretched. The Man Who Hurt Sasuke let out a flesh-crawling scream as Kyuubi's fingers ripped into his chest. The fox-demon fished around inside a bit, relishing the way shattered rib fragments brushed against his forearm, and the sound of the man's blood squishing and squelching as it spurted onto the grass. Then the fox-demon found what he was looking for, and seized it in a coal-crushing grip. He gave a grin, his red eyes flashing brilliantly.

With a tremendous gush of blood, Kyuubi ripped out the man's heart, still beating in his hand.

That is, until he crushed it.

The Man Who Hurt Sasuke fell suddenly silent, and he tipped backwards, falling off the edge of the hill. As he plummeted to the ground, Kyuubi's eyes turned back to blue, and they rolled back in his head. The Man Who Hurt Sasuke and Naruto hit the dirt at almost exactly the same moment.


Naruto opened eyes that he hadn't realized he'd shut. He looked up slowly. His face was expressionless, but his blue eyes held an unreadable emotion that most closely resembled horror.

"I...don't feel very well," he announced to Iruka and Sakura.

And then he vomited.


After almost a straight hour of his body attempting to empty his already void stomach contents, Naruto passed out, both from trauma and exhaustion. Iruka sent Sakura home not long after, worrying for the girl's own health. Iruka, Kakashi, and Tsunade held shifts watching Naruto and...their other fallen patient. Sasuke had, in fact, survived the incident, but he had not shown any sign of consciousness since his rescue. Tsunade and her numerous medical assistants had fixed as much damage as they could—it was up to Sasuke, now. If Sasuke's subconscious mind gave him a valid enough reason to live, then God willing, he would. And if that wasn't the case...

No one dared to think about what would happen if that wasn't the case.

Naruto slept the rest of the day and well into the next. He woke up around noon, and under strict orders, swallowed down some broth and juice without gagging it back up. He chatted a little with Kakashi, who was watching him at the time, and seemed fine for a while. That is, until he worked himself into a state of such hysteria, frantically searching for Sasuke and shrieking out the other boy's name, that it took three able-bodied shinobi to hold him down, and another two to inject him with a sedative.

And Naruto slept some more.


Naruto opened his door a crack, peeking into the empty hallway.

It was about three weeks after...that thing happened...and Naruto was beginning to go a little crazy. Well, if he was being completely honest with himself, he was a little crazy to begin with—he was going very crazy, then. The point was, he'd been cooped up in that tiny little hospital room of his for twenty-four and a half days (yes, he'd been counting), and he was loosing it! Stupid Tsunade-baa-chan was convinced it would Naruto at least (ha! "At least"? Was the hag totally bonkers or what?) for Naruto to completely recover. He was recovered already!

...There was, however, one thing that was bothering him. Naruto had yet to see Sasuke. Everyone was ordered not to tell him anything, but Iruka had slipped up a couple times, and Naruto had managed to ascertain one extremely, heart-swellingly important fact: Sasuke was alive.

For the time being. Clearly, he was not well. If he was, he would've come to see Naruto. The blonde was sure of it. They may both act like they hated each other, but in reality, the boys were...well, they were best friends. It sounded very cheesy and third-grader-ish to say, but it was true. Naruto and Sasuke were best friends. They had more in common than people thought. They were both very powerful, they were both extremely determined, but most importantly, they were both alone. Well, they weren't completely alone. They were both alone, which implied that they had a natural bond, which meant that they were together, somehow.

Ha. "Alone together." How cheesy can you get?

But...Naruto couldn't deny it. Sasuke was the most important person in his life. He had been for a long time. If Sasuke had died...Naruto didn't know what he would have done. Well, actually, that was a lie. He was fairly certain what he would have done. If Sasuke had died, then Naruto would have gone with him.

So it was a good thing the bastard held on then, wasn't it? Because Naruto still wanted to be Hokage, damn it! And if that bastard kicked the bucket and made Naruto go with him, then Naruto would be like, so pissed! Believe it!

Well, at least Naruto's "chaperones" (guards) had decreased in "number" (security) due to Naruto's increased "good behavior" (lack of freak-outs) over the past few weeks. Iruka, Kakashi, Tsunade, Sakura, and his other friends didn't hold watch over him anymore, and only came for visits now. Tsunade had assigned some other losers to make sure Naruto stayed in his room, satisfied with Naruto's "stable condition" (inability to escape).

But he was doing it this time! He really was! Naruto had managed to knock out his current guard when the guy bent over to pick up a dropped quarter, and he set up a kick-ass clone to pretend to be him until he got back. The guard was just some unknown chuunin, and he probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Even if the guy suspected something, he certainly wouldn't stab the clone to test his theory!

"Hee hee," Naruto giggled to himself, creeping out into the empty hallway. "I'm just too good."

Naruto passed and open window and paused. During his past attempts to escape, Naruto had tried to do just that—escape. But today, he didn't want to. There was something in the hospital, he believed, that he wanted even more than his freedom.


Okay, given, Naruto didn't exactly know where they were keeping him, but he had to be somewhere around here, right? Right. And as a trained, fully qualified, and otherwise brilliantly talented chuunin, Naruto should have no trouble finding Sasuke at all. Right? Right.



"Oh, my God," Naruto grumbled, shuffling through the hallway with hunched shoulders. "This place is a fucking maze."

Naruto had been trudging along for almost forty minutes, and still there was no sign of Sasuke! Even sick, that bastard was still making Naruto's life difficult! Ugh! Stupid Sasuke! As soon as Naruto found that guy, he was so going to throttle him. And then maybe he'd beat the ever-lovin' shit out of him, just for making Naruto worry so much. Damn that Sasuke! Naruto was probably getting gray hairs and everything!

Naruto threw open another door on his right, hardly caring to be quiet anymore. He glanced around half-heartedly. Large windows, a closed door in one wall, a bedside table, a cot made-up with very clean-looking white sheets, Sasuke, a small wooden chair—



Naruto dashed over to the cot, dropping to his knees two feet away and skidding the last twenty-four inches. Sasuke was fast asleep. Thick bandages around his chest were visible through a dip in his collar. Naruto could only imagine that there were more under Sasuke's shirt, but the only others Naruto could see were a couple wrapped around his forearms and wrists. There was a tiny, healing line on his right cheek. His face was even paler than usual.

Naruto sighed. He awkwardly placed a hand on Sasuke's chest, almost afraid to touch him. Sasuke shifted in his sleep, and a few strands of raven hair fell into his face. Naruto absently pushed them aside, his fingers brushing against Sasuke's forehead. Naruto was momentarily startled. He'd never realized quite how soft Sasuke's skin was. Silky, almost. It was...really nice.

Naruto lightly ran his fingers across one of Sasuke's temples, unaware that his touch had become a caress.

"Sasuke," he said softly. "Why'd you do it? Why'd you have to put yourself in danger like that? Just like...with Haku." Naruto shook his head. "You're so much more important than me. If anyone should...should've..." Naruto broke off. He tried again, his voice barely above a whisper. "If anyone should've...been hurt...it should've been me."

Naruto clenched Sasuke's shirt in his hand, squeezing until his knuckles turned white.

"I'd rather die a thousand times...than see you like this, Sasuke," Naruto said, hoping that by some miracle, Sasuke could hear him.


"Well, I'm back again," Naruto announced, closing the door behind him. He walked to Sasuke's cot and dropped into the small chair there—his "home away from home," as the expression went. It had been another two weeks since Naruto had first found Sasuke's room, and although he was released from the hospital ward a week ago, Naruto found himself spending the majority of his time here. Sasuke's color had gotten better since Naruto had started talking to him, and he was convinced it was because, a subconscious level, Sasuke could tell that Naruto was there. But it didn't really matter. Naruto would have visited all the time anyway.

Naruto crossed his arms, pouting. "Guess what, Sasuke? Tsunade-baa-chan was all mad at me again today. She said I was coughing yesterday, so I shouldn't come visit. Can you believe that? I thought the matter was settled the first time she chewed me out over coming to see you. Annoying hag. She knows I'd come to see you anyway."

Naruto paused. When Sasuke's only response was a quiet sigh, Naruto continued to pout.

"I'm still pissed at you, by the way," Naruto informed Sasuke sullenly. "As soon as you come around, I'm kicking your ass, you got that? I could be training now! Or at least getting some sleep or something. You're wasting so much of my time!"

Naruto paused again, slumping lower in his chair. He then glanced over at his best friend's sleeping face.

Unbidden, a delicate blush bloomed across Naruto's face. Bright light streamed into the room softly, lightly brushing the young shinobi's features, accentuating the chiseled forms of his cheekbones, the regal slope of his nose, the gentle curve of his cheek. Now, asleep and at peace, the usually dark, brooding creature looked...innocent. And...so achingly beautiful, it almost hurt to look at him.

"Sasuke," Naruto whispered, the tone of his voice totally different from a few moments before. The word was little more than a breath, a group of syllables uttered so reverently and with such perfect sweetness, the name sounded like a prayer.

Naruto leaned in close, much, much closer than was appropriate for two boys to be—even for a concerned friend. But Naruto couldn't help it—the movement was a reflex, an impulse, a subconscious urge far beyond his control.

Now Naruto was barely an inch away. He was closer to Sasuke than he had ever been to another human being. He could make out each individual black eyelash. He saw the pale etchings of tiny veins, lightly pulsing beneath the fragile skin under Sasuke's eyes. Naruto noticed the miniscule, colorless dusting of hair on Sasuke's white cheeks. He saw the way air drifted from between Sasuke's lips as the boy exhaled.

Sasuke's lips...

Suddenly, Naruto could look no where else. Dreamy azure eyes dilated and refocused as Naruto studied those lips. They were...the most beautiful pair of lips that Naruto had ever seen—on anyone, boy or girl . Pale, smooth, and full to the point of being luscious, Sasuke's lips were like none that Naruto had ever seen before.

Naruto was hit with the instant memory of the time that he and Sasuke had accidentally kissed. It had been nearly three years before, but Naruto still remembered how it felt...to be kissed. He had feigned revulsion, of course, but during that moment, Naruto had been more confused then he'd ever been in his life. He'd...liked the kiss. Really liked it. It had made his body blush all over, and something in his chest clenched like a fist. It was weird —he'd always liked girls, he knew that he liked girls, he thought girls were great. But...he liked Sasuke, too.

He liked Sasuke, too.

Naruto closed his eyes briefly, and when they re-opened, they were at half-mast. His eyelashes felt unusually heavy, he discovered, and suddenly his heart was beating way too fast. Naruto found himself leaning even closer, once again overwhelmed by urges he couldn't control. His tanned nose grazed Sasuke's pale one, and the feeling of the other boy's face brushing his made something flutter in the pit of Naruto's stomach.

Naruto swallowed. Now he was close enough to pick up on the subtle, almost non-existent scent of Sasuke's skin. It was...sweet. Not sweet like sugar or sweet like flowers, but sweet like...water. Glassy, misty water that was so cold it made your teeth hurt. Water you can only find in the earliest hours of sunshine, water so still and clear and glossy you don't even want to touch it, because disturbing such beauty would be a crime.

Naruto exhaled softly, gently releasing a lungful he didn't realize he'd been holding. His breath came out as a warm sigh, mingling seamlessly with Sasuke's own. Naruto could feel the other boy's body heat now, a delicate layer of sensation hovering just above Sasuke's lips.

Sasuke's lips...

They warmed Naruto's mouth, now. The heat spread throughout Naruto's entire face, and raced down his neck, then into his chest, where it delved into his heart. From there, Sasuke's heat was pumped into Naruto's blood, and it raced beneath his flesh, flooding his body in a complete and instantaneous rush. And Naruto wondered...Were Sasuke's lips as soft as he remembered?

Naruto lowered his face the remaining hair's width of distance, and his mouth touched Sasuke's—the first real kiss either of them had experienced.

Naruto's lips fit Sasuke's flawlessly. Naruto felt another flutter in his stomach, and this time, the feeling was unequivocally stronger. Sasuke's lips weren't, in fact, as soft as Naruto remembered—they were softer. A familiar full-body blush began to appear over Naruto's skin, and another kind of blush coated his insides, a blush hotter and more intense than any rushing of blood could ever be. This was a blush of emotion, a surge of feeling instead of blood, a gush of something hot and sweet and sad all at once, like tears of the heart.

And then Naruto pulled away, softly, his lips almost seeming to stick to Sasuke's. He was shivering slightly, though he couldn't begin to fathom why—he was hot all over. Naruto barely moved back two inches, wanting to remain close. He gently brushed a strand of hair from Sasuke's eyes, his pulse still racing.

Naruto realized then that things could never be the same again. Yes, Sasuke had been unconscious during their first real kiss, but Naruto wasn't. Naruto would remember it. He'd always remember. He'd remember the way Sasuke looked, smelled, and felt, all in excruciating detail—and it would hurt. It would hurt because Sasuke would never look at Naruto that way. He'd never look at Naruto at all, except to fight him or insult him. When Sasuke woke up, Naruto would see Sasuke every day, and every day he'd know that they'd never kiss again. Naruto would never feel the way he did a moment ago ever again, for the rest of his life.

That is, if Sasuke woke up.

Something wet ran down the side of Naruto's face. He lifted two fingers to his cheek and brushed the wetness away. He stared at his damp fingers, fascinated. Tears, he realized. These were tears. How odd. Naruto couldn't remember the last time that he'd cried.

What was he crying for now? The answer should have been obvious—for his comatose team mate, of course. But that wasn't all. He was crying for Sasuke, yes, but he was also crying for himself. He was crying for everything that he'd been suspicious of for a long time now, and everything that had been confirmed by that one kiss. He was crying for...what?

...Maybe...all the—everything—that could have existed between himself and Sasuke, but never would. All of the...what? Trust? No. They had that. Friendship? No, they had that too. Naruto's feelings for Sasuke went deeper than that, went down to the very core of his being. He cared about Sasuke more than anyone else in the world. He wanted Sasuke to be safe, and happy, and—and...he wanted to be with Sasuke, too. More than anything.

Is this what they called...love?

Love, then.


Well. Of all the reasons in the world to cry, Naruto figured this one was worth it.

At least he wasn't wasting his tears.

Naruto let his head fall into his hands. He dug his palms into his eyelids, trying in vain to keep the sudden influx of water from overflowing. Once he started crying, Naruto realized, it was amazingly difficult to stop. In fact, Naruto found it to be impossible. Soon he was shuddering, shaking from the effort of muffling his sobs. His breaths turned to ragged gasps—he was choking more than breathing. Actually, he was quickly becoming dizzy—from the lack of air or from the pressure of too many intense emotions, he wasn't sure.

He set his head down lightly on Sasuke's chest, bizarrely calmed by the steady way the older boy drew breath. The sobbing stopped, and tears streamed quietly and copiously, and Naruto felt a sadness that he had never known. It was strange—he'd been without friends for almost his entire life, but now, physically touching his most important person, Naruto felt true loneliness. No, it went beyond that. The empty, clawing hurt inside of him wasn't just loneliness—it was heartache.

Heartache. He was feeling heartache. He must really be in love, then.

Naruto walked his fingers up the sheet until he found Sasuke's hand, naturally curled in a demonstration of perfect grace, resting by his shoulder. Naruto laced his bronzed fingers through it, marveling faintly over the striking difference in skin tone. Naruto squeezed Sasuke's hand fiercely, hanging on with all his strength.

And then...it must have been a reflex, or some sort of subconscious muscle contraction, but somehow...Sasuke squeezed back.

And Naruto smiled.