Unwavering Gaze - Chapter 29 (Naruto's POV)-(Spoilers for recent chapters of the manga)

"SASUKE!"

My keening wail caused birds to vacate the area as Yamato-taichou clamped a hand onto my shoulder.

"Naruto…" Sakura approached me, her voice soft with Sai not far behind. The others…they worked so hard for my sake, and for Sasuke's on several occasions. My eyes trailed over the forest floor of the border of stone country; it was deeper now. The hurt was worse than ever before…

Enveloped in familiar warmth I sunk deeper…deeper…until the strength filled my body, and the anguish fueled it. Sasuke…

Sasuke…

My goal…is…

--

I heard voices faintly as I began to wake up and become aware of my surroundings. Cracking my eyes open slowly until they were open enough to focus on everything around me, I saw that the ones who were talking weren't very far away.

Yamato-taichou and Kakashi-sensei were the ones speaking softly while Sakura-chan and Sai stood around them, taking in information.

I searched my memory for what had led to this, but couldn't come up with any reasonable excuse to why I was the only one resting.

Then I remembered, a flash of Sasuke's face and I could feel my facial features contort.

I realized I had lost it, and drew on Kyuubi's chakra to feed my desire, my anger, and my need geared towards Sasuke.

I'd been so weak…

"H-here you go Naruto-kun. I'm sure you're parched."

I looked to my right where Hinata knelt with a cup in her hand.

Pushing my thoughts aside I sat up, a bit more sore than I should be, and took the cup from her small hands. I downed the contents wistfully, only after emptying the cup replying a soft 'thank you' and flashing Hinata a weak smile before she replied an equally soft 'you're welcome' and moved away.

I laid back down with my hands cradling the base of my skull. I would have sighed when memories of Sasuke started filtering through my mind, but I couldn't. As I went over the memories I tried to find that one point where everything crumbled, but even though I'd known Sasuke for as long as I have, it was hard to pinpoint.

"Teme…" I muttered more for myself than for anyone else. Defeat, I felt defeated.

"Naruto," Sakura called out a few feet away her expression not that of despair, but rather challenging green eyes focused on me. Sai stood beside her with his lips stretched into a smile, the others not too far away from where I sat all looking at me with kind expressions.

Kakashi-sensei strolled up with Yamato-taichou at his side, "Yo, Naruto! Feeling better?"

I wanted to grumble, wanted to be angry and mad and sad…but I couldn't. Cracking a grin and rubbing the back of my head, I knew I couldn't feel pessimistic about the situation. When everyone was trying so hard I knew I couldn't feel down or I'd let them down. I couldn't fall into the pit of despair again. Everyone looked fine at first glance, but a flashing memory of how I hurt Sakura-chan not too long ago made me want to scowl and berate myself for letting myself slip so far again. I knew I had to rely on my own power to attain my goals, but Sasuke…

"Aa, then lets continue our search."

"Eh?" I blinked up at Kakashi-sensei.

"For Sasuke-kun, baka!" Cringing I half expected Sakura to give me a lump on the head, but it never came. Hesitantly I looked up into Sakura's smiling face and chuckled grinning widely before leaping to my feet.

"Yosh! Let's go find Sasuke-bastard!"

--

Staring up into the starry night sky, I couldn't help but think…of Sasuke.

His trail led us back into fire country, and in pursuit of him our group encountered a masked man who no one could land a hit on. Even rasengan had failed. All of our attacks went right through him. Even Shino-kun's swarming bugs failed. Though, the fight had not lasted long to try more tactics or find more information about the man, he abruptly left…after the announcement that Uchiha Itachi was slain by Sasuke.

I squeezed my eyes shut against the bright stars and dark cumulous clouds still hanging high in the sky. We'd been too late.

To be so close yet so far away, tore me up inside. I felt like I failed him. I felt weak.

Gritting my teeth and clenching my fists I held back tears of self loathing.

Kakashi-sensei and Yamato-taichou decided it would be best if we resumed our search the next day. Even though they knew the rain had probably washed away all of Sasuke's scent, and were more than likely to end up with nothing to go on, they wanted to continue on in hopes of finding something.

I smiled and sniffed at that thought, then wondered…since Sasuke had finally achieved his revenge, would he…come back to Konoha?

Feeling like he felt something if anything toward any of his former friends, allowed me the hope that he would, but it was Sasuke…

Slowly I let my fists relax as I shifted on my bedroll and glared up at the endless sky.

Even now I wanted him beside me, it felt wrong not to have him there. To not feel his reassuring weight and warmth near me caused me to have deep pains in my chest.

Grunting I shifted again to alleviate my discomfort, but couldn't seem to find the right position.

"You shouldn't dwell on your misfortunes, you'll only lose sleep."

Yamato-taichou stood above my head looking down as I gazed upward in the faint moonlight.

"Besides there's always tomorrow to rectify the pitfalls of today."

"Aa…hai…" I replied, his soft reassuring smile comforted me some, but the underlying swirling of dark emotions were still haunting my thoughts.

"Sleep well, Naruto."

I smiled weakly up at Yamato-taichou before he walked to the tent that he and Kakashi shared even though Kakashi had just taken over watch. The others were also in their tents. Shino and Kiba. Sakura and Hinata. And Sai by himself in the tent nearest me. I would have joined him if I didn't feel the need to be alone with my thoughts, though it was getting chilly.

Rising I grabbed my bedroll and pushed the tent flap aside. "Sai, make room," I whispered into the dark tent. He shifted, but did not reply.

After I settled in beside him, he shifted to face me. I could hear the smile in his voice as he spoke, "I told you you'd freeze your balls off if you tried to sleep outside."

AN: I'm alive! It's been a while ne? I was waiting to find out what was going to happen in the manga before I wrote anything that would conflict with the story line. So, I'm very sorry that it took so long! I hope you enjoyed this chapter and look forward to the next one, however I'm sure it will take a while as more things unfold in the latest manga chapters. Also, did anyone notice how Kishimoto captured Naruto's emotion when team seven lost Sasuke after their short battle at one of Orochimaru's hideouts, and then again when they didn't reach Sasuke in time after his battle with Itachi? Gah…made me want to cry in agony for him!