Title: Segments of Time
Author: WolfPilot06
Warnings: Randomness, shonen ai, slightly AU, maybe some spoilers
Pairing: SasuNaru, one-sided GaaNaru if you take a magnifying glass to the fic.
Notes: This isn't really new material. I posted this on the sasuxnaru LJ community back in November 2005, but never got around to posting it here.

I've sort of reached a plateau in writing – I have neither the time nor inspiration to write or read any fic, and this lack of inspiration has inevitably led to the delays in any new material coming from my corner of the internet. I'm hoping to peck out a new chapter of my multiparters in the next month, but can't really guarantee any sort of regular updates anymore. I apologize to my readers for this. Thank you for sticking with me for so long. I really appreciate your support.

Twenty four hours later, he still can't stop smiling. There's no emotion behind the expression, but he still can't stop himself.

"It's the promise of a lifetime."

Belatedly, he wonders if Sakura-chan realizes if the promise itself might take his life. Would she still hold him to it if she knew?

Still, he gave her his word, and he'll keep it. That's his way of the ninja.

Three years later, he is taller – taller even than Sakura-chan, and that's enough of a surprise that he has to prove it to himself by comparing their heights with his hands, and as inaccurate as that method of measurement is, it's quite true: he's no longer the shortest of the rookie nine – and broader across the shoulders, and he's traded in his eye-smarting orange jumpsuit for a toned-down version half in black.

Unlike the rest of Konoha, he's had a chance to grow into this new him, so it's a little funny to see the surprise on Sakura-chan's face when she turns at the call of his voice, almost as if she was expecting to see the twelve-year-old him running up the street behind her.

It's nice to see the honest pleasure in her face when she recognizes him, though. Three years ago, her pretty face would've expressed irritation instead of pleasure.

Naruto can understand. Three years ago, she had someone else to smile at.

Less than ten hours later, before he can really settle down and take in the changes that Konoha's undergone during his absence, he finds himself on the road again. He feels an odd kind of déjà vu to find himself bounding alongside Kakashi-sensei and Sakura-chan again instead of Ero-sennin, but something's missing. It's not until he finds himself turning to taunt Sasuke about being slower when he realizes what that something is.

He has no time to think about his wayward teammate now, though. Gaara's in trouble, and so he focuses on his goal, focuses all his anger and impatience and rage and guilt into getting his one-time enemy back.

He couldn't save Sasuke, but maybe he can save Gaara. He certainly hopes so.

Naruto's getting a little sick of losing his friends.

A day – maybe two, or even three; it's kind of hard to tell at this point – later, he finds himself lying on his back, exhausted, the midday sun burning into his retinas until he's forced to close his eyes, unable to summon the energy to even turn his head. Gaara's lying somewhere near him, just as exhausted, no doubt, his armor of sand stained red by his own blood and burnt black in some places by chakra.

He tries to urge himself to his feet, tries to open his eyes and call out to see if the others are okay, but the world's spinning around him relentlessly and won't let him get his balance.

As it is, it takes him quite a while to realize that Sakura-chan's at his side, holding his hand – he can't feel hers, but he imagines that it's soft and warm, with a few calluses along her palm and fingertips from holding kunai and medical needles – and calling his name. She sounds desperate, and Naruto wants to assure her that he's fine, that she's not going to lose another teammate.

Before he can say more than her name, though, the darkness comes sweeping up around him.

His last thought before he passes out is filled with more than a little irritation at himself. Really, he sighs, you'd think the future Hokage'd be stronger than this.

He doesn't know how long it's been since he's passed out, but as the first thing he sees when he cracks his eyes open is Gaara's inscrutable face, he knows it's probably been a few days. The Kazekage doesn't bother saying something trite like, "you're awake" when it's obvious Naruto's returned to the waking world from the way he's groaning and complaining croakily about the pain that seems to permeate his every limb. The only thing he says is a surprisingly gentle chiding remark when Naruto drinks too greedily from the glass of water he presses to Naruto's lips after helping him sit up slightly and dribbles water all down his front.

There's something resembling relief in Gaara's eyes, though, as he lays Naruto back down again and cleans up the mess. Much to Naruto's dismay, he finds himself yawning and slipping rapidly back into slumber, despite the fact that he just woke up. He's indignant that his body's failed him now after so many years of faithful service, but it's hard to fight the soothing timbre of Gaara's voice as he urges Naruto to sleep again.

When Naruto dreams, it is of sand and cool green eyes that watch him through the night.

An uncountable number of hours later, Naruto finds himself jolted back to awareness by loud voices.

Well, one loud voice and one quiet, calm one. Despite the fact that back when they were both thirteen-year-old genin, conversation with Gaara had comprised of a steady stream of "I'll kill you" and "I exist to kill others", Naruto has no trouble recognizing the other jinchuuriki's voice.

It takes a while to place the other voice as Sakura-chan's, though Naruto groggily wonders how Sakura ever made it this far as a medic nin if she didn't even realize that patients need peace and quiet to recover. She sounds agitated, though, and Naruto struggles to translate sound into language just so he can figure out why she's upset.

Apparently, Sasuke's been spotted lurking about the outskirts of Konoha. Nobody has successfully cornered the renegade Uchiha long enough to question him as to why he's there, but it's fairly evident that it has something to do with Naruto, seeing as how two ANBU intercepted him as he was infiltrating the hospital earlier this afternoon.

Naruto realizes that, of course, his former teammate wants to talk about Itachi. What with his weird inferiority and brother complex, it's no surprise to find that Sasuke might want to discuss how Naruto nearly killed the genocidal Uchiha for him in their recent fight against Akatsuki. Really, Naruto thinks sourly, it was nothing but pure chance that one of the airborne Rasengans – a trick he'd figured out while traveling with Jiraiya – he'd been hurling at the Akatsuki members had found its way into Itachi's chest. The man had been busy facing off with Kakashi-sensei at the time, and the look of surprise that had come over his otherwise impassive face as the Rasengan burrowed its way into his gut had almost been comical.

Itachi had escaped with the rest of his twisted cult, but most likely, Sasuke had taken offense to Naruto almost getting his revenge for him. He has this entire thing about needing to carve out Itachi's guts with his own bare hands, and even though Naruto thinks it's more than a little morbid and undoubtedly the stupidest thing he's ever heard of, he kind of understands where Sasuke is coming from. After all, the man had become inexplicably homicidal one day and killed his entire family for reasons known only to himself.

Still, Naruto decides as he slips into unconsciousness again, it's time he and Sasuke had a little heart-to-heart about priorities. Maybe a few well-placed Rasengans will get his point across where they haven't before.

Four days after Sakura-chan finally deems him well enough to walk out of the hospital on his own – it's only after he stops falling asleep mid-conversation that she decides this, though – Sasuke turns up on his doorstep. Naruto's been expecting this; hell, he even has a pot of tea ready for his former rival and a few tomatoes sliced up for the man. God knows he wouldn't even touch a tomato if he wasn't trying to placate the apparently hereditary homicidal urges that run in the Uchiha blood.

Their conversation is surprisingly polite, onyx eyes staring into sky-blue ones impassively as the two boys discuss such mundane things like why Naruto tried to kill Sasuke's brother when he knows Sasuke wants to be the one to drive a Chidori through the man's chest and why Sasuke tried to do the same to Naruto a few years back. Naruto didn't bother putting on a shirt before answering the door, so the faint, fist-sized scar in his upper chest isn't hard to see.

Secretly, Naruto is delighted by how Sasuke's eyes keep drifting to the scar before jerking away elsewhere. If he really wants, he can convince himself that his actions are due to Sasuke's guilt for trying to kill Naruto, but part of him thinks that maybe it's because Sasuke is disappointed that he couldn't. Naruto's the chink in his armor, and both of them know this. Sasuke's lucky, though, because Naruto doesn't press that issue past a jibe at how Sasuke literally had Naruto's life in his hands and gave up the chance to prove which one of them was stronger once and for all.

Neither of them needs to say out loud that Naruto would've won.

Four more years later, and Naruto can't see past the blood in his eyes. Something's thundering in his ears, and it takes him a few dizzying, burning breaths to realize that it's his heartbeat, frantic and pounding in tandem with his fear.

He's afraid.

His fear has nothing to do with the fact that he can't feel his chakra or hands, bound as they are with the jutsu-laced manacles chaining him to the wall; it has little to do with the fact that he's lost all sensation below his waist, that he distinctly remembers hearing - feeling – something snap and slither in his spine when Shark-face threw him against that boulder earlier. No, his fear doesn't stem from his injuries, or the fact that he may never walk again, that he might not live past this hour.

Sasuke is fighting Itachi.

Fate has a cruel sense of humor, Naruto decides, gritting his teeth as he systematically breaks the bones in his left hand against the wall. Figures that the first time he sees Sasuke in years is when he's bound to a wall and fucking helpless as Sasuke throws himself time and time again at his implacable brother. Helpless does not apply to Naruto under normal circumstances, but Itachi lied. Sasuke's why Naruto came to Akatsuki and gave himself up; Sasuke's why Naruto let Itachi do things to him that nobody had ever done before – but Itachi lied. Sasuke wasn't here.

Naruto gave himself up for nothing.

Naruto can't decide if he's glad that he can feel the horrible agony in his mangled left hand or not – for now, he settles on being grateful as he extricates his hand from the shackle and draws a lock-pick from the carefully woven packet of hair at the base of his neck. He concentrates on maneuvering his nearly-useless left hand towards the manacle clasped about his wrist and tries to pick the lock, painstakingly listening for the subtle click to warn him before he collapses to the ground. There's a sound like the chirping of a thousand birds in the background, but Naruto ignores it and feverishly picks at the lock, trying not to pass out from the pain.

Something that feels suspiciously wet trickles down his face as he clumsily drops the lock-pick, something that feels like tears – but Naruto hasn't cried for years, he can't –

Aw, fuck no.

He's crying.

An interminable number of hours – or perhaps minutes – later, Naruto has given up.

It's gone quiet.

Naruto doesn't look up when he hears quiet footsteps approaching. There's a cold hand at his cheek, and it's lifting his face up with deceptive gentleness, tracing chilled fingertips against tense jaw muscles as slowly, reluctantly, his eyes lift to meet with a swirling crimson gaze.

He can't breathe.

"Worthless idiot," says the man before him, and his eyes are still blood-red, cut by the violent black points of the Mangekyou Sharingan. Naruto can't look away. "Can't even escape from chains properly."

"Fucking bastard," Naruto replies, and his voice is shaking; he's on the verge of crying again. He takes a deep breath and grins – just a faint little quirk of his lips, and it's been so long since he last smiled like this – slowly exhaling as an answering smirk touches pale lips. "You're late. I've been waiting for you."

Sasuke says nothing and reaches up, and when he releases Naruto from the chains and catches him as he begins to fall, Naruto feels everything come to a stop. It's been a long, long time, but Naruto can finally rest.

He's come home.

The End