If Only

by Mari Falcon

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto (it applies to all chapters).


Uzumaki Naruto sprinted along the mountainside, legs and arms pumping madly, chakra holding him at an angle parallel to the ground. By now, his breath was huffing and his face was red; he'd unzipped and tossed off his black and orange jacket an hour ago. He flew over Tsunade's face, then the Yondaime's nose, Old Man Hokage's beard, and the First and Second's eyeballs, which, as far as he could tell, didn't have pupils. Why was that?

"Alright," he wheezed. One more to go, he thought, unable to find the breath to talk.

Five minutes later, the blond Chuunin flopped down on top of the head of the Godaime.

"Why?" he panted. "Why did I let Lee talk me into this?"

"Cause you're a loser."

Naruto tried to jump up and pummel Sasuke, but all he managed was a half sit-up before collapsing back down. "Who asked you?" he demanded, putting as much anger into the question as possible between gasps.

"I thought you just did." He lowered himself onto the ground next to Naruto and appraised his friend/enemy with a skeptical eye. "You look like crap," he commented and dumped a canteen of water on him.

"Aauggh!" Ahhhhhh.In truth, it felt so good. But because it was Sasuke doing the pouring, he had to pretend he hated it.

Sasuke snorted once and took a swig from another canteen. He hauled the fellow teen up to a sitting position and shoved the water at him. Naruto rolled his eyes. "Like I'd take water from you."

"Tsunade's orders." He offered the canteen again. "She says if I don't make you drink, she'll skin you."

"Me?!" Naruto exclaimed, outraged. "Why me? Shouldn't she skin you?"

". . ."

Naruto snarled. "Sasuke. . ." But took the canteen and drank from it. Then he dumped the rest over his head.

"You're getting me wet," the black-haired teenager snapped, shifting several inches away.

They sat in silence for a while, just watching the sun set and the shadows lengthen over Konoha. Their sharp ears could pick up the sounds of life below. Mothers calling their children in, overworked husbands stumbling home, shops closing down as the village prepared for night. It was peaceful, Naruto knew, to simply sit here and watch the world go to sleep. He sidled a glance at his friend.

Sasuke sat, staring straight ahead. He still had the same black hair going slightly up in the back, the same smirk-prone mouth and the same sharp eyebrows. There was a thin scar under his chin, leftover from the fight with Itachi. Naruto tried hard to force the image of a broken and bleeding Sasuke out of his mind. He knew that losing to his older brother again hurt the avenger, and not just physically. Right now, Sasuke was still mostly healing from the near-fatal fight, but Naruto worried that he'd be out of the village once his body would allow it.

Tsunade had probably sent Sasuke out of the hospital with specific orders to find Naruto and several ANBU tailing him. She didn't trust Sasuke, but hoped Naruto would be able to do something to help him. Because I did so much last time.

"Sasuke. . ."

By the silence, Naruto knew he was listening. Sasuke had different kinds of silences; if you listened close enough, you could tell which one. The blonde bit his lip. Should he ask? Would Sasuke answer?


How can I help?

"Do you have any more water?"

Sasuke rolled his eyes and pulled another canteen out of his pack. Naruto unscrewed the top, took a sip. He waited, waited. Now!

In one smooth motion, when Sasuke wasn't looking, Naruto dumped the bottle over his head and jumped to his feet-successfully this time. Sasuke's bellow of rage following him, Naruto sprinted away, his legs already back to full power.

"Loser!" Sasuke shouted as he chased him. "If you don't want to be followed, quit laughing!"

Naruto only laughed more maniacally at this. He shot a look over his shoulder to see the Uchiha catching up quickly. He lengthened his stride and—

--fell flat on his face?!

He heard Sasuke's snicker as he pushed himself up to his hands and knees. "Shut up!" Naruto roared, raring to fight.

Suddenly, the smirk faded from Sasuke's face. He held up his hand, signaling Naruto to silence. In the dimming light, Naruto saw the red of Sasuke's Sharingan.

He opened his mouth to ask, but quickly snapped it shut. Sasuke was staring intently at a square of dirt-right around where Naruto had tripped. Smoothly, the blonde moved to a crouch position across from his friend. He waited, scanning the trees with his eyes and chakra to detect any traps.

"There's something here," Sasuke murmured, moving his hand in a vaguely box-like shape.

Assuming it was safe to speak now, "Is it what I tripped over?"

"You mean other than your own feet," Sasuke snapped. "Yes."

"What can you see?"

Sasuke's lips pursed. "Nothing, actually."


The other teen sneered. "Are you deaf? I can't see anything, but I can sense the power right about here." He moved his hands in a vaguely box shape in the air.

"Here," Naruto offered. "Let me try. My senses are sharper than yours."

Sasuke backed off, making room for Naruto.

Naruto stretched his hands out to the area Sasuke had indicated. Right away, he could feel the power flowing off it.

"Whoa." This thing, whatever it is, has got a lot of power coming off it. How could I not sense it before I tripped over it?

Carefully, he channeled a little bit of chakra into his hands and reached again for the whatever. Instantly, the thing's output increased. Naruto pulled back, or tried to.


He shook his head. "I tried probing it with my chakra, but now I can't pull back. It's like-" He shifted his legs and tried again. "I'm glued to it through chakra or something."

"Then cut your chakra."

Naruto snarled. "You don't think that's the first thing I tried?"


"No, duh."

Sasuke shot him an annoyed look, the kind only Sasuke could shoot. He focused on the thing again with his Sharingan. "Wait a minute. This is worse than I thought. Now you're starting to fade too. It's like the thing is pulling you somewhere."

Oh, crap. Naruto tried again to pull away, putting all of his formidable strength into pulling himself away. Unfortunately, this rather backfired as his foot slipped on a loose pebble and skidded forward to connect, solidly, with the thing.

He felt a surge of power into his hands and foot from the thing. He tried to push back, but it was too much. The wave traveled up, through his limbs into his torso and finally into his head. The last thing he heard was . . .