CHAPTER 4: CONVICTION

During the rest of that week, Kakashi showed up later than ever and assigned them longer hours without warm-ups. They were forced to handle the grueling heart of training the moment the jounin's voice would erupt from somewhere in the trees or from behind them.

Sasuke's attitude had not changed with regards to his treatment of team seven as a whole. He preferred to eat alone, walk alone, sleep in his own tent if he had the chance, during the long missions. But every now and then, he would catch a glimpse of soft pink hair, or hear her demure voice inquiring with Kakashi, or even look at her and catch her looking back.
She always gave him a small smile, and he, a slight curl of his mouth.

Needless to say, Sasuke's professionalism had not suffered greatly from the dramatic events he'd been placed under during the past few days.

Today, they were on another mission that sent the team far into the bulks of thick forest a few miles away from the Earth country.
It had taken a span of a day from Konoha's north gate to the river's edge where they set camp and Sasuke was already starting to feel the toll on his arms and legs as he bent to survey a row of plump, brown mushrooms against the base of a nearby tree.

"Ne, sensei! ..."

Sasuke's attention wandered over to an exhausted-looking, pouting Naruto. The blonde ninja's eyes were narrowed once again into tiny inquisitive slits and his mouth was pulled out in a thin, flat disapproving line. He crossed his arms and then pointed one grand finger at the bent-over back of Kakashi.

"Why don't you just show up on time! It's all your fault, we have to skip the warm-ups just to complete the harder stuff. Now that we're on this mission all in one place, you still manage to show up late!"

Sasuke turned his gaze indifferently towards Kakashi and watched as their wizened-looking teacher's visible eye curled into what looked like a smile. "Alright, alright, Naruto. I'm sorry."

And before the blonde boy could ask more questions or start complaining again, he tossed a fresh fish over to the orange-clad ninja.
"Ah-ta-ta-ta…Sensei?" the genin fumbled with the wriggling, slimy fish as it jerked across the crook of his arms.
Finally Naruto managed to wring it behind the gills.
He gave Kakashi a hard glare and screeched, "what the hell should I do with this!"
"Cook it." came Kakashi's lazy drawl, before he turned to squat over the river-side once again, tugging at the thin bamboo fishing pole to entice the fishes.
Sasuke returned his attention to the fat, brown mushrooms lining the sides of the trunk near him. His basket was already half-full, and he didn't like mushrooms, so this little would have to do with the food later. He got up and walked away, wondering vaguely where Sakura was. He decided to take a little hike through the shrubs, thinking perhaps that it wasn't such a bad thing to bump into her, alone.
He smiled to himself.

After ten minutes raiding berry bushes along the way and not finding her, he dismissed the idea and walked towards the direction Kakashi had set camp.
Walking quietly into the clearing of the camp grounds, Sasuke immediately spotted his blonde teammate seated on an old, mossy log.
Naruto was grumbling, as he held the pointed stick with the fish, over the flickering flames. It popped satisfactorily, and Sasuke heard the slight clamor of his own stomach for food. He collapsed unto the log, putting the mushrooms, pepper corn and berries he'd gathered close to Naruto's leg. Above their heads, the sky had started to burn pinkish orange, signifying the sun's decent.

"Sasuke."

The soft voice of the ninja next to him was entirely new to him.
The raven-haired boy looked sideways at his most despised rival and closest friend.

"… Kakai-sensei sure doesn't like explaining his being delayed all the time. I wonder who it is he visits on the cenotaph every morning."

Sasuke didn't even bother rationalizing it in his mind. He crossed his arms and leaned into a thick stump behind him.
"You stick your nose too much into problems that don't concern you."

He heard the low growl of the boy next to him and then a shuffling motion, before he saw out of the corner of his eye, a piece of a flat twig hurtle straight at him.
Without even glancing at the boy, Sasuke tilted his head back and felt the twig barely scratch the tip of his nose.

Calmly, he turned to Naruto, who was now standing with the fish-on-a-stick still gripped in his right hand. If the ninja had fur, Sasuke could just imagine a patch of it bristling across his back. For some reason Naruto really did remind him of an animal. Like a wolf or a fox of some sort.
"You're a hot-head." The dark-haired boy commented in his usual, expressionless voice.
"At least I care about other people. You only care about yourself." He declared.

Unexpectedly, the boisterous ninja's words stung Sasuke deeper than he wanted, and he was about to retort obscenely when they heard a high-pitched scream pierce the grounds to their left.
"Sakura-chan," "Sakura!" the two shinobi shouted at the same time. For a moment, Naruto froze and glanced distractedly at Sasuke, who seemed as surprised as he was that he'd bothered this time to even call out her name.
And then the blonde ninja uttered an impatient growl and tore through the nearest shrub. Sasuke stood for a moment, and his mind worked the direction of the scream. The wind toyed with the thin strands of his hair and he realized Naruto's direction was a little bit off. He would find her, but not as quickly as Sasuke was about to.
An image of Sakura with a broken leg in a deep ditch shocked his legs into motion. He clenched his teeth, deciding on skimming the branches of the trees for more visual advantage as compared to Naruto's ground approach. With a leap up, he was traveling, his eyes darting from right to left, below him scanning for any signs of broken branches or a red dress.

After a minute, movement to his right, forced him to stop and direct his gaze at a dark lump of an object, a few meters away from the next tree. The object moved and Sasuke's eyes widened. It looked like an overgrown hog that was a shade darker than red or brown. Its hairs prickled and glistened in the fading light of the sun, and as it grunted and tossed its head, Sasuke caught sight of a small arm underneath. Sakura.

Panic seized him and he remembered nightfall at the genin survival course, when he faced Orochimaru for the first time. He recalled that feeling of certain death, of helplessness and hopelessness as he watched his opponent's torn face, the portion where the skin clung, loosely over one eye, twisting into a sick smile.

"Sakura-chan!" Sasuke heard Naruto shouting from the far left of the forest. The hog raised its head and gave a short squeal before pounding a sharp hoof a few inches from the lifeless arm. "That stupid bastard." Sasuke muttered, his brain frantically thinking of an approach.
His eyes surveyed the terrain of his surroundings, settling over the jut of a jagged cliff a few meters above him, and the remains of a tree stump that lay there. Glancing to his right, his eyes lingered on a particularly thick tree branch. Experience pieced everything together and a simple tactic struck him.
Without wasting a moment, the genin leapt towards a branch and forcing his holster open, he snatched at the coil of hair-thin, metal wires he always kept with him.
In the flick of a wrist, he winded it once, twice around his first two fingers. Inside his mind, he was reviewing Kakashi's tutorial and the jounin's voice erupted in his mind.
The movements of the wires are based on how you control your chakra. Think of the winding coil around your index finger as an antenna. Bend it to your will. Make it lash out, wind around objects, or even puncture skin. Your chakra is as flexible as rubber and you can will it with both a balance of physical and spiritual control. Are you ready?
Chakra to the feet!

He leapt upward, landed lightly on the cliff's edge, flicked his wrist and sent the metal flying around the log.
Stretching a coil of it out towards his other hand he pinched at the other end of the wire, focused a certain blast of chakra towards the tip and let the end fly from his finger. He jerked his wrist, and the wire snapped further and faster rocketing towards the hind legs of the hog. With a few tugs of his arm he willed the thread around the animal's limbs and felt the sharp tug of it at his wrist, as it tightened over the boar's hooves. There was a loud squeal as the hog kicked out and Sasuke took the opportunity.
With a grunt, he released chakra through his right leg, and fired a powerful kick at the log, aiming it towards the thick branch to his right and sending it flying out over the edge of the cliff. The stretch of wire bit into the bark of the branch to his right and the log flew a few feet over it. Gravity did the rest as the heavy weight of it plummeted towards the ground. The solid branch acted as an axle, yanking the legs of the hog upward with a sharp jerk.
The surprised animal's cry echoed around the forest grounds and the hog rose into the air with a shrill squeal, its hind-quarters firmly tied together. It tried to buck, its front hooves clawing at emptiness as it dangled heavily from the branch. The log crashed to the ground and the dirt around it flew up in a thick cloud of brown. Pebbles flew and slammed around the trees surrounding the animal and in a blur of speed, Sasuke had disappeared from the cliff and re-appeared inches from Sakura.
His heart gave a tight squelch as he saw the girl lying sprawled, bloodied and motionless in front of him.

No.

Naruto burst out of the bush, and the sight of an overweight pig above his head, threw him back towards a tree trunk. "What the hell is that?" he shouted, looking over at Sasuke.
The boy paid no attention to his comrade. His mind was completely focused on Sakura, and on trying to stop the flow of blood from a deep gash at the side of her neck.
Naruto's face paled when he saw the lifeless-looking body of his friend and the pool of blood near Sasuke's leg.

"Sakura-chan!" his blue eyes widened, and he stumbled over to where Sasuke silently cradled her broken body. The Uchiha's pale hand moved to her neck, supposedly to feel for a pulse. After a few seconds, the blonde ninja heard his flat voice: "Get Kakashi."
Naruto frantically looked over to Sasuke and then to Sakura's closed eyes. The sight of it all suddenly drained his mind of comprehension and Naruto felt himself almost swaying.
"Get Kakashi now, idiot!" Sasuke's suddenly panicked voice broke into his thoughts, forcing Naruto to break into an awkward half-paralyzed run,
away from the sight.

"Sakura..." he tried to get her to stay awake. But she kept closing her eyes. Each time he'd call her, her eyes would open slightly, and then as if every drop of blood to the ground was draining her off her awareness, the lids of her eyes would drift closed.

Sasuke didn't know how long he had been sitting there, with two of his fingers plugged into her thick gash to control bleeding. But he could feel the pain of pins and needles firing at the soles of his feet.
Still he didn't dare to move, fearing for the life of the one who lay in his lap.
Drops of sweat trickled down the sides of his face, and Sasuke noticed the sun's rays starting to disappear behind the foliage.

He held her head carefully, so it didn't roll to the side. He didn't want to see any kind of motion that might remind him of a life that was slowly ebbing away.
So badly he wanted to kiss her cheek. Some part of him believed that if he did, she would open her bright, green eyes and smile up at him and everything would be okay.
But once again, he could not stop the rationality of his mind.
Instead he turned his head towards a clump of grass nearby, trying not to bite his tongue, trying to calm down.

"…Sakura." He barely heard his own voice.

There were so many things to say. But why did nothing occur to him now. Was his pride so stubborn that he would not admit more than necessary even in a situation such as this?
Her lips twitched, and he thought they had turned a shade paler than how he remembered them this morning… when he had kissed her behind a boulder, and smirked at the surprise on her face.
His hand brushed at a bloodied strand of her hair, and at the gesture, Sakura's eyes parted slightly. Her green irises appeared disoriented, only remotely aware of anything.

A pain he found all too familiar started to creep back into his chest.
The same flashback that had been haunting him all these years was slowly replaying itself in his mind. The darkness of the room, the red-stained eyes much like his own. The glint of the kunai as it cut across his cheek and embedded itself into the solid wooden door behind him.
He was a child again, breathing hard, and staring at the lifeless bodies of his mother and father. Asking the shape in the shadows, the murderer, why, why he had done such a thing and discovering his brother, hidden in that darkness, step out to reveal himself. His bladder wanted to give out from shock, and he knew if he lost his grip on the situation, he would piss all over the floor.
The pools of blood he saw in front of his eyes were barely visible, barely shimmering in the light of the moon, and Sasuke was so thankful for that darkness.
No. Why was it all happening again? Why was fate so cruel as to take everything he grew to love away, from him?
Inside, rage reared its ugly red head and snarled at his whimpering helplessness. Fighting his panic, Sasuke jerked his head down, pushing his teeth together as he shouted down at her.

"Do you think it's easy! Dealing with a wild animal as large as that! Baka! Always thinking you can do whatever the hell you want without hurting yourself, you're just like that idiot-Naruto! Thick-headed… stubborn-" His throat suddenly tightened as her eyes glazed over, and her heavy-lids started to lower.
"-and you're not gonna close your eyes, Sakura!"

Sakura. Sakura. It was so much easier to tell her things he had been holding back when her eyes were shut like this. It horrified him, the thought of exposing his most sensitive side. In a way, it felt like revealing a blind spot during battle, a vulnerable access point that spelled the secret to your downfall, the dreaded Achilles heel. But the need was so great, pushing against the insides of his chest, the need to pull her back from whatever state she was starting to slip into, that his mind decided on the total dismissal of his dignity.

"Sakura!" he snapped, and then his eyes squeezed shut and he bit down hard on his lower lip, as if he were giving himself pre-ordained punishment.
"I-…"
Say it, you coward.

"I don't want to lose you." The wind seemed to carry his words away, or perhaps it was the sudden decline of his vocal abilities. He felt the weight of the one confession lift from his chest, even as he felt the blow to his pride.

"… I… need you." This second confession came out much easier. And in a rush of heated words he proceeded to unfold an entirely new facet of himself to her.

"I thought I could keep living for myself, and maybe, usuratonkachi, if you didn't show up at my doorstep that time, I'd still be…
But, Sakura, it's too late." He shook his head once resolutely and his hair slipped unnoticed towards his transfixed eyes, his gaze was hard and his mouth barely opened as he talked. Quietly the words flowed out shattering the tension in the air around them both.
"I already see it…
Your irritating cheerfulness, your endless talking, your damn recklessness and naivety, the way you always think I'm right, and how you never hesitate to throw a fist at anyone who will defy me…
"I hate it, Sakura…"
His low voice subsided entirely and the wind sullenly preened through the branches.
"I hate it that I love it." He finally whispered. A brown leaf scraped against his cheek in resolve to his admission.
But her body remained motionless, her eyes showed no flickers of awakening.
"And I hate you…" he continued, his tone stated it flatly.
It hung in the air, and so did the Uchiha's hope, thinking that she would definitely transcend all common sense and open her eyes in horror.
"…because whenever you're laughing I have to try so hard to hide my own smile, whenever you're nearby, I keep acting a little less like myself… It makes me feel stupid! Do you know, Sakura… I don't seem to care anymore that I'm not good enough to satisfy my own standards. I've lost the will to perfect every single thing I do." For a moment, he was shocked as the words solidified the stark truth of the matter.
I've lost the will for revenge.
Swallowing the tremor in his throat, he continued.
"…I'm already good enough for you, right? …I don't want to admit it ,Sakura…" his eyes lifted and his lips formed an almost bitter smile.
"But maybe being good enough for you… actually… matters." And before he could change his mind, he shut his own eyes and said his final confession.
"You wrecked my completely structured life. And now I have no idea what my next move is. I should hate you.
But... I… don't... I can't hate you."
He didn't notice her eyes open for a moment.
His face studied hers but it was much too dark to see. Was it the play of the fading light on her features? Did her lips move to form a smile?
Did he really see it? He was too busy thinking.
What did it matter now? So he had declared everything. So what?
Sasuke only knew he wanted her alive, because this was an absurd way to die.

The boar was still shrieking above their heads, but Sasuke barely noticed. He knew the wires would hold, and the branches had not shown signs of snapping. Besides, if it did fall, an insane part of him wanted to selfishly die along with this woman. With her, he realized, was one of the few places he didn't mind being.

Now, as he cradled her head in his heavy arms, it wasn't so hard to forget revenge.
Her head jerked in his lap, and he realized how cold she had gotten. Again the panic came, and with it a bout of nausea. He forced the sudden lurch of his stomach down and turned his head around, his eyes scanning the trees around them desperately for any sign of the blonde ninja or their gray-haired mentor.

A hollow gasp from below forced him to look down. The girl he'd despised almost half his life, the girl he now discovered he actually loved, was starting to struggle for the air that would not come.

"Kakashi!"
Sasuke had never hollered before, at least, not in that way. And he hoped he never would have to again. It sounded too much like the scared, sniveling child of his past, the weak little boy who quickly learned about moments more terrifying than Kaimas hiding in your futon, and his being powerless to stop them. A coward, who ran away from his murderer brother, away from his dead family when he himself should have died fighting to avenge their lives.

He refused to acknowledge the undeniable smell of iron that filled his nostrils and the thick wetness that was starting to soak the grass around his right knee.
Sakura's fingers slowly started to loosen over the kunai she was gripping moments ago and the terror of watching the spearhead slip from her hand, almost forced another scream from him. His mind considered carrying her towards the campsite… or perhaps even straight to Konoha, but her critical condition forced him to stay rooted to the spot. He trusted Kakashi. After all, the man had fought alongside heavily injured comrades before. He'd know how to handle this. Sasuke had seen the full-extent of the man's speed, but only with his Sharingan. Without it, his movements were too quick to track, even for a jounin. He would be able to bring her back to Konoha in time.

"Sasuke?"
He turned towards the voice, he recognized as Naruto's, even if he knew the trees obscured his friend from view. They were only a few meters away now, but even as he peered into the bushes he could see no sign of orange or army green.
"Naruto! Kakashi!"
A flash of white just to his side, and Kakashi was in front of him. His visible eye which always seemed to give him an air of laziness was now alert as he briefly looked at Sasuke and then studied Sakura.
"How is she?" Naruto's voice hollered a second before his small body burst through the bushes and clambered over to them.
Sasuke found he could not answer. At this point, his mouth was dry, his throat hoarse. And for fear he would sound as if he were on the verge of actual panic, he kept an agitated silence as Kakashi spoke.
"Incline her head a little, and don't remove your fingers until I say so."
There was a quick tugging and unzipping before Sasuke caught sight of a long stretch of white gauze, and a reddish, clay bottle that had the kanji character "wine" written in black ink, at the side of its circular bottom.

"Sasuke, I need you to focus a minimal amount of chakra on your palm, just enough that you can clearly see the waves around your hand. Then hold it about an inch above Sakura's neck right before I tell you to pull your fingers away. The point is to stop the sudden depressurization of the damaged artery. Got it?"

The usually, indifferent ninja now turned to Kakashi, his mouth was drawn tightly, and the usual closely-knitted eyebrows were now furrowed in worry. A feeling of dread had spiraled through him when he heard the words "damaged artery."
But he nodded and did as he was told. He cast a look in Sakura's direction.

Things would be okay. Hang on. Hang on.

Just as he willed his left arm to stiffen, spreading his fingers out as he would moments before the eruption of Chidori, she coughed once and a small trace of blood and spittle grazed the side of her lip. The first signs of Sasuke's visible chakra fizzled away.
"Sasuke!" the firm voice of Kakashi, jerked him to turn away and look directly at the man.
Kakashi's eye was trained on him, and for the first time Sasuke saw the lines of stress and worry hidden within the small black center.
"Concentrate."

"I'll do it!" Naruto's agitated voice rang out from behind them. Sasuke could feel his comrade's hard stare burning into his back and perhaps even in the direness of the situation Sasuke didn't want to lose to someone like him.
He closed his eyes, stretched his left arm out and spread his fingers, drawing the energy from the chakra gateway near his shoulder down into his open palm just as he had perfected so many times back in the academy and during countless training sessions.
His arm started to tingle and he knew the familiar blue light of his chakra was radiating from his pores, dancing down his outstretched limb in soft waves. Mentally, he closed the gateway and stopped the continuous release, then he opened his eyes and placed his palm just where Kakashi told him to.
Another bead of sweat trailed down his temple but he barely noticed. Behind them, Naruto had collapsed to the ground, numb as he watched the horrible scene unraveling in front of him. The powerlessness was slipping into him, that particular negative feeling he had learned to push away and fight against since the day he made a vow by the blood of his left hand. He had sworn to never have to run away, to forbid any sign of weakness, to never be a hindrance or remain useless.

But now, even if he would move mountains for Sakura, even if he felt like screaming at them for wasting precious time and felt like snatching her away and running for the nearest village hospital, he finally realized all there was left to do was place his hope and trust in his teammate and teacher. Kakashi must know what he's doing, and hopefully, so did the boy he had always hated and loved all at once.

Naruto looked fearfully at Sakura - the white arch of her neck, the shadows under her chin, the deep slash that opened from just behind her earlobe and stopped an inch from her collarbone. The blood that dribbled through the cut made it impossible to tell just how shallow or deep the damage was.

All that blood, how can there be so much of it from one small neck. Much of it stained Sasuke's knee and shorts, a small puddle of it was smeared over the ground, glistening in the light of the fading sun, the thickness of it coated the Uchiha's right hand.
Naruto couldn't help it. He felt the bile rise to his throat and crouched to the side as he gagged. The ramen and rice patty he'd had for breakfast and lunch thankfully didn't come back up even if a part of him actually wished it would.
Maybe then he wouldn't have to deal with the unsettling feeling in his gut.

"Fingers away, now. And keep the chakra flowing."
Briefly, the young ninja glanced at Kakashi, then at the girl below him. Do it.
Gritting his teeth, Sasuke withdrew his fingers and placed a flat hand over the portion of torn skin where most of the blood gushed out. A second passed, two, blood continued to leave her broken body and Sasuke's eyes widened when he noticed the situation did not appear to be getting better. Time seemed to pass them by, taking along with it the little ounce of hope and reserve the Uchiha still held.

"Kakashi. It's not stopping." Sasuke almost choked out, all manner of suppressing his terror had been forgotten. Now that the hard reality of the situation was starting to penetrate his world of denial, all he wanted was some form of assurance.
"Calm down and don't lose yourself, this is important." The jounin spoke slowly, as his fingers pulled at the cork on the wine-bottle. It squeaked and then popped out with a tug of his hand. Quickly, he poured some of the odd-smelling alcohol over Sakura's neck, and squinted closely at the extent of the cut. Sasuke held his breath and looked down, dreading but needing to see. It was deep, so deep that for a moment he felt separated from himself, an outsider watching a very gruesome, terrible movie.
In that moment his eyes were staring but were seeing nothing, as if his brain wished to spare him from the harsh cruelty of this, and her. He could no longer feel the inward-outward rush of his own breath, just that anesthetic shock spreading like a thick blanket over his head. This was as real as it could get.

Sakura was dying.

He almost thought he heard a small sound from somewhere inside his throat, a sound close to the first bouts of grieving. But even as he gave up his restraint, the noise stopped as quickly as it had started.
Now it was replaced by another sound.
Sasuke's breath stopped.

A low humming that didn't reverberate from a voice-box, and the sudden peculiarity of his body feeling different. A moment passed before he realized the source of the sound to be his extended left arm, the one hovering just above Sakura's pale neck. His lips parted slightly in surprise and he suppressed the urge to blink.
His chakra - the motion of the waves along his pores somehow felt unusual and appeared far from normal. From the typical, irregular swirling flow, it now seemed to wash over his skin like strong, magnetic ripples and pulses. His right hand started to grow cold, several degrees colder than the temperature of the forests around them, and a sudden bout of weariness slipped like a coat of thick paint over the whole right side of his body.

"Kakashi…" the boy's voice trailed off. "I know it's difficult to regulate energy, but don't move your hand, Sasuke. And look." The teacher's eye seemed to gesture at Sakura's neck.
He looked and saw. The glow fringing the sides of the wound — his chakra energy… was it his imagination? The skin seemed to be healing. The torn edges were starting to fuse together and the redness just began to turn into a lighter shade, perhaps pale pink. "It's… sealing up." he murmured, eyes widening slightly despite a sudden wave of exhaustion.

Kakashi's eye was curved into its reassuring, cheerfulness and he rested a hand on Sasuke's back. "After this, you'll have to rest. Leave it to me to return Sakura to the village."
Sasuke barely had the energy to summon a nod. It was impossibly quick, how his chakra had been depleted in a matter of seconds. He felt his heart rate slow, the way it did after he and Naruto had spent a day and night scrambling up their separate trees during chakra control, and during that time he had first opened Sharingan with Haku as his opponent and he had barely escaped death. Even his outstretched hand, trembled with the effort of maintaining its leveled stance. But thankfully the wound was much more shallow now and the blood was gradually starting to stop.

"Naruto, take care of Sasuke. I'll come back for you soon. If you must, carry him back to camp." Kakashi gave out the orders as he inclined Sakura's neck and firmly wrapped it in gauze.

"Sensei, I can carry Sasuke and follow you back to Kono-"
"Naruto," the teacher cut him off, focusing a sincere gaze at the panicked genin, "understand that I am going to be traveling very fast and you will not be able to catch up. You might get lost."
A second passed that Naruto fought against the bubble of defensive retorts he wanted to give Kakashi.
"okay, you got it…" Naruto's resigned affirmation finally came. He remained motionless, staring at Sasuke, and then at how Sakura's chest now rose and fell evenly. Her eyes were closed almost peacefully as Kakashi scooped her up and stood.
Sasuke's body slumped to the ground moments later, just beside the pool of blood. He shut his eyes as his body shuddered, cold and weak. His muscles felt like lead, and his breath came in tight puffs, but he moved his head to the side, just so he could see Sakura safely in his teacher's arms.
"Kakashi… will you reach Konoha… by tonight?"
The exhausted ninja knew his voice was barely audible, and the hog had started squealing again. Naruto stood slowly, hovering just behind their mentor.

The jounin crouched a little to look at Sasuke. And Sakura's hand slipped just a bit off the crook of his arm. There was something in his teacher's eye that seemed to regard him carefully before he spoke in his muted voice. "I will get her there in less than an hour. Rest. You need it."
Sasuke tried to move his lips, but even that was difficult, he discovered.
Perhaps this is what it feels like to die, aware of the world but slipping away.

In a good way though, the comfort of reassurance unfolded inside him as he let his eyelids close. Not bothering to move at all.
Let that annoying, blonde-boy carry his body back to camp.
He wasn't a slave-driver by nature, but he would savor the feeling of being pampered.
Kakashi had turned to Naruto now. He was giving more instructions. But Sasuke didn't bother to listen in. All he wanted was to slip into that dark hole of sleep beyond exhaustion.

How uncomfortable, yet how wonderful.