A/N: I know you guys won't read this. I'll save it for the end.
Beta-read by Nadramon.
It hurts so much.
Was it a reminder that it wasn't over yet…?
I can hear them.
What were they saying…?
Deep in my heart.
What does it mean…?
It is so gentle.
Whose is it…?
He wasn't aware of how much time had passed since he had been last conscious, but it was finally time for him to wake up. The first thing he noted was the fact that his entire body was terribly sore. The next was the fact that his limbs were stiff and carefully bandaged. The third was the knowing that he was lying down on a nice, warm futon with a blanket over him. And the last was the slight pricking feeling that someone was watching him.
His breathing quickened and he woke up. His vision was slightly blurred when he opened his eyes but he caught a faint fuzzy outline of pink to his right. The soft, comforting sounds of rough fabric being rubbed against itself filled his strangely sensitive ears.
The noise stopped.
"Sasuke-kun," a soft voice filled the room. His name was said with utmost tentativeness. Almost afraid of breaking the void of silence, it appeared. "You're awake."
He turned his head stiffly. "Sakura."
He knew that voice. He knew that face. He knew this room, this place, this being. He remembered. And he was glad for that.
"Welcome back, Sasuke-kun."
He pressed his eyes together tightly and let out a breath. He opened them again just to see if it was all a dream. She was still there. "I'm back." The feeling of fitting in, of finally belonging to a place again, flooded him. He was back.
Her face broke into a smile. "Are you feeling okay?" the linen bandages in her lap was momentarily forgotten as she gazed at him happily.
He grunted in response. She didn't look all that well either. A bandage around her neck, some wrapped around her hands, probably more that he could not see. "And you?"
She shook her head. "I'm fine. There's nothing to worry about."
Sasuke turned his head back to stare at the ceiling. He was quiet for a while, running all the events through his head. It was strange that all his memories were back now. It was a good thing, but it overwhelmed him a bit.
Sakura sat there politely, waiting for him to recover from his daze.
A slight hesitation allowed the question to linger in the air, still clinging loosely to Sasuke's dry lips.
"Tsunade-sama is checking up on him right now," she replied with that same, sweet voice.
"Is he okay?"
Her full lips pressed together slightly and her eyebrows furrowed a bit. She resumed her act of rolling up unused bandages. "He…" she began uncertainly.
"… I want to see him," Sasuke told the ceiling above him.
She sighed silently, but stood up slowly. "I'll go get him for you…"
He listened to the door slide open and close again.
A few minutes passed and Sasuke examined the ceiling as if it was the most interesting thing he had ever seen in his life. Finally, he closed his eyes again.
When the dry rustling of the sliding door was heard again, he slowly opened his eyes and turned his head toward the sound. He saw two pairs of feet from his limited range of sight. What appeared to be the tips of three tails brushed by the floor as well. They approached him slowly.
Sasuke shifted slightly in his futon but without much luck. The bandages restricted his mobility and the sharp pain shooting up and down his body was not helping much either. The footsteps quickened and Sasuke found himself being supported by two strong hands.
Naruto had crouched down to help him sit up.
Aah, that familiar warmth again.
He looked up and was immediately trapped by Naruto's still-bright, yet not-so-innocent gaze. The red which tinted his previously pure-blue eyes almost appeared like sins which scarred the man. But as if to reassure Sasuke that he was still Naruto, the blond smiled widely. Sasuke smiled lightly in return.
Once Sasuke was propped up against the wall and comfortable, Naruto and Sakura kneeled next to him. Serene silence flitted about the room as Sasuke examined the pair quietly. All three of them had suffered, to some degree, the damages of their battle. Sakura did not seem to be too hurt which was relieving to Sasuke.
He himself had scraped by with a few broken ribs, a fractured leg, a slight concussion as well as a few nasty gashes and cuts. Luckily for him, Tsunade and Sakura were able to fix him up.
At first glance, Sasuke had not seen the extent of the damages that Naruto had received. He had been simply too absorbed in those eyes, those hauntingly beautiful eyes of his… But now he could feel his heart clench and hurt by just looking at him. He had a bandaged head and wads of gauze stuck onto his cheeks. His neck was carefully wrapped in clean linen and so were his hands. The bandages spiraled up the length of his arms, the rest hidden away from sight by long sleeves.
Some of the bandages were being stained by red. Neither his nor Sakura's bandages were wet with blood.
"Naruto… What happened?" he asked quietly.
He waved it off, a bit stiffly, with his right hand. "It's not too bad. All of us got beaten up pretty badly."
A small part of Sasuke wanted to say, "Well, yeah, Sakura and I aren't still bleeding to death," but he withheld the comment. Instead, he opted for, "You can't expect me to believe you by just saying that, moron. What's wrong?"
The Uchiha was not particularly pleased when Naruto did not answer him but chose, instead, to stare right back at him with his stubborn gaze.
"Why are you lying to me?" Sasuke's voice rose minutely.
"Bastard, just leave it alone, it's nothing to worry about," Naruto bared his sharp teeth as he gritted out his sentence. "Besides…" Naruto shifted nervously. "There are other things to discuss."
Sasuke scowled darkly at his avoidance of the subject. "What could be so important then?"
Naruto swallowed thickly. "I—I'm not what you guys think I am."
"What do you mean, Naruto?" Sakura looked at him incredulously.
"You know how you've always thought I was one of those humanoid pets?" he looked up at them shiftily.
Sasuke raised an eyebrow.
"I'm… actually human."
"You—What?" Sakura exclaimed.
The Uchiha's eyes widened.
"I'm human except I have the demon Kyuubi sealed in me. Tsunade-baa-chan was the one who did the sealing. The seal she placed on me wasn't so advanced, so my features… changed over the years. But I'm human," he saw their disbelieving faces. "I didn't realize it until today that I never told you guys. I mean, I learned of this right after Itachi banished me and you two were nowhere to be seen… And after that, all Hell broke loose so there was no time for me to explain…"
His blue eyes looked at them imploringly to seek their reactions.
Sasuke's mouth hung open slightly and Sakura was the same.
"It—It doesn't change anything, does it? I'm still Naruto…" he smiled weakly.
The dark-haired man was the first to recover. "Moron, of course it doesn't matter…"
"Do I look like I care whether he's human or not? Male or not? Do I look like I care?"
Inside her head, Sakura remembered the heated phrases Sasuke had yelled at her years ago. She smiled lightly. It was ironic now.
"You already said it. You're still Naruto. The Naruto we love," she said.
He looked relieved. "I'm glad…"
They allowed some quiet time to pass as the information settled in.
Suddenly, Naruto's face lit up, "I—" but that was as far as he got before Shizune interrupted them.
She nodded apologetically to the three of them, obviously knowing that she was intruding on something important, and politely told them, "Some of the elders have heard of your return, Sasuke, and they wish to see you."
The Uchiha pressed his lips together slightly but nodded. There was really no way he could reject the visit anyways. Sakura and Naruto stood up to relocate themselves on the other side of the futon.
Two plump, white-haired women and a man entered the room after Shizune and with creaking joints and complaining bones, they kneeled down by Sasuke. All three of them bowed politely at them.
The first woman smiled toothlessly at Sasuke and Sakura, completely disregarding Naruto. "Aaah," she sighed squeakily under her breath, "It is such a good thing to see that you are well, Sasuke and Sakura… You've worried these old bones with your sudden disappearance and all, don't you know?"
Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto exchanged a short glance with each other before Sasuke spoke up. "We apologize for causing you trouble."
The woman laughed a bit shrilly. "No more problems now, you two are back…" she smiled at them benignly before asking, "Are you two feeling fine? Nothing has harmed you much, correct?"
"Yes, we are fine. All three of us are fine," Sasuke replied with deliberate emphasis. The number was blatantly ignored.
Her female companion eyed Sasuke and Sakura coyly before adding in her two cents. "You two have grown to be so beautiful…"
Naruto sat there stiffly, not quite sure how to react to his sudden shunning. Sakura's hand twitched on her lap, wanting to place it over Naruto's and reassure him, but she could not. Under the sheets, Sasuke's hands clenched slightly.
"It will be wonderful seeing your children run around Konoha…" the second woman said whimsically. Her friend agreed readily.
Finally, the old man spoke up. "Sasuke-san, what will you do with your fox-pet? He has already served his purpose, has he not? Why keep him? He'll only get in the way," he inquired with a strange sparkle in his eye.
The two women squeaked in agreement. "Only get in the way of things…" they chattered and nodded.
Sasuke swallowed a bit difficultly and loosened his jaw to speak. By this time, Naruto had his hands balled into fists and his head bowed. Sakura's lips were drawn tightly together, not daring to speak. Her eyes held something dangerous.
"Elders," the dark-haired man spoke firmly, "I am feeling tired now. I must apologize for my hostility, but might I request that you come visit me at another time?"
"Aaah," they all exclaimed, quite alarmed. "But there is still so much to discuss with you about!"
"Please—" Sakura began, but her plea was drowned out by their squabbles.
"We know you must feel awkward discussing such things, but there's no such thing as rushing in making a family. You both are more than ready to start one, aren't you? As for that fox," the first woman said in her sickeningly sweet way, speaking as if Naruto did not exist, "it is simple to get rid of it if that is what is bothering you, Sasuke-kun…"
"Please leave," the politeness drained.
They were cut off from mid-sentence. Shock.
"Shizune-san?" Sasuke called out loftily, ignoring the effect his rudeness had inflicted on his elders.
She had been standing close to the door the entire time.
"Please do me the favor of escorting them out," he said softly.
She glanced over at the three stiff figures before complying with the request. "Please come with me," Shizune bowed slightly, leading the three ruffled and insulted elders out of the room, leaving, once again, the three of them alone.
The door slid close.
"I forgot," Sasuke forced himself to be calm, "about that small fact."
Naruto looked up. For a brief second, Sasuke and Sakura saw his eyes fade from a brilliant red back to its previous red-rimmed blue. Like lines being erased, his scars became less prominent.
"We'll need to discuss this…" Naruto said lowly, his voice rumbling through the room.
"They don't know," Sasuke suddenly realized.
"'They'?" Sakura asked, completely confused by the random fact.
"Everyone. Everyone except for Tsunade, Kakashi, Iruka, Jiraiya, Shizune, and us. No one knows," he said quickly, the words not making any sense to Sakura or Naruto.
"Sasuke, what are you talking about?" Naruto's voice had turned back to normal in his confusion.
He became slightly frazzled. "No one except for us knows the situation at hand right now… The fact that you, Naruto," he stopped and looked at him, "are human and that I," here he paused and looked slightly apologetically to Sakura, "only love you as a sister."
The silence enveloped them as they thought about it for a while. It was true. Not even their closest friends knew of these two facts.
"We need to tell them," Sakura began softly.
The two men nodded slightly.
Dark silence once more.
"Oh, Sakura! You're back! And you're safe, thank goodness!" Ino exclaimed as she stepped through the door. The two girls greeted each other cordially, swapping small scraps of gossip and news as they waited for the rest of their friends to enter.
One by one, their childhood friends entered the room until it was very much uncomfortably packed. They all chose a seat near Sasuke's futon and chattered amongst themselves for a few moments, occasionally asking about their health.
Kakashi, Iruka and Shizune had gone through the trouble of helping them call up all their childhood friends together .The news of their return was happily accepted and all of them were eager to check up on them.
The three adults poked their heads in momentarily to check up on the large group. Quickly, they exchanged a few glances but nodded and smiled. They knew what the three were going to do. They were confident that their friends would not reject them.
Iruka lingered by the door even though Kakashi and Shizune had already left to give them privacy. He looked at all three of them slowly. They had all grown up so quickly. For him, who had treated them as his own children, it was a bit difficult to see them be forced to mature so quickly.
He sighed contentedly and closed the door behind him.
Once everyone had settled down and their health was checked up upon more times than enough, Naruto attracted their attention.
"Everyone," he said and the room slowly went quiet. "We apologize to all of you," he bowed slightly. Sasuke and Sakura did so as well. "We have lied to you."
There were hushes and small interjections such as, "Oh, silly guys, what are you talking about? Nonsense!"
"You do not know our situation and we apologize for not having told you earlier," Sakura picked up, looking apologetic. She glanced over to Sasuke, waiting for him to continue.
"The things you know about us," Sasuke said softly, "some are false."
Now there were a few nervous shiftings throughout the room. What could they possibly be saying? they wondered to themselves.
"I married Sakura, but I do not love her that way," the Uchiha told them. "To me, Sakura is a sister, not a wife or a lover."
A few shocked murmurs rippled through the small group. How could that be?
Naruto did not want to wait any longer for the confusion to rise. He just wanted to get over with it. He had confidence that his friends would not see him differently for what he is, but for who he is… And yet, that sick doubt sat deep in his stomach, making him feel sick. Saying it once in a day in front of the people closest and dearest to him was nerve-wracking enough, but twice was incredibly hard.
"As for Naruto…" the dark-haired man continued, trying to make the group fall silent again. "He is not a creature."
The room did fall silent this time. Deathly silent.
"Naruto… you…" Ino opened her mouth and closed it a few times. It appeared as if she could not make up her mind.
Hinata had her hand clapped over her mouth. The rest of them were equally shocked.
To learn of this now, and news this big as well, was simply… unbelievable.
Kiba was the first to laugh. "You're… You're kidding right? Just some kind of joke and we'll laugh about it later?" He looked around nervously. "Right guys?"
They looked at each other uncertainly.
"No," Sasuke said. "Not a joke. This is the truth. We thought it would be best if we told you instead of keeping you in the dark about it."
"We need your help, guys," Sakura said with a slightly pleading voice. "You realize what it is that we are doing, don't you?"
A few pairs of eyebrows furrowed, some lips turned down, a couple of hands clenched.
"We're defying the norms of society," blue eyes searched the few upturned faces. The rest of them had bowed their heads in deep thought.
"The rules of a man and woman marrying and carrying the bloodline, the rules of staying together forever, the rules of discarding a 'pet' after it has fulfilled its purpose, the rules of so, so many things…" dark hair shielded Sasuke's eyes as he, too, bowed his head.
"We're breaking them," carefully bandaged, slim hands curled into loose fists in Sakura's lap.
"You know what will happen, won't you, guys?" the blond asked slowly.
They still wouldn't answer yet.
Sakura did not allow the silence to linger for too long, "They won't like it at all. But you are our friends. We need your support."
"Please help us," Sasuke looked up and gazed at the many faces of their companions.
Everyone's breath seemed to be withheld as the seconds ticked by silently.
"Naruto-kun! I'll be happy to help you guys!" Lee pumped his fist into the air.
Sakura let go of her breath.
Shikamaru was the next to reply to their request. "I'll help."
"You know that such trifle things won't keep me from supporting you guys…" Ino smiled lightly.
"E-Even though you are not w-who you appeared to be… You are s-still Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura after all…" Hinata timidly added. She blushed in her boldness, hiding behind her sleeve a bit.
One by one, the voices answered back.
"What kind of friends would we be?"
"Of course we will assist you!"
"Don't worry, we'll stick by you."
Naruto's lips turned upward slowly until he was wearing a full-fledged grin. Saskue's features relaxed from its previously stiff position. Sakura looked so grateful at the positive feedback.
"Thank you… Thank you so much."
"Sakura, are you sure about this?" Sasuke asked the pink-haired woman tentatively.
She looked at him serenely and nodded, smiling. "Yes, I'm sure."
"Sakura-chan…" Naruto began quietly, his eyes filled with worry. "You don't have to do this if you don't want to, Sakura-chan."
Slowly, she shook her head, pink strands of hair shifting in the gentle action. "It is my choice."
The dark-haired man sighed heavily. He leaned back on the wall again. "They won't like this. You'll be an outcast. They won't accept you for who you are, Sakura. You know that fully."
"I understand," she stated simply.
"Do you not need more time to think about this? It has not even been a day…"
"I need no more time, Sasuke-kun. I am ready."
Sasuke closed his eyes and tilted his head back. "You will not regret?"
"No. I will not regret this," Sakura replied. "Please, just sign it."
"Sasuke, if you do—!" the blond started.
He was hushed by Sakura. "Naruto, please. Please just let me make this decision."
He pressed his lips together worriedly and bowed his head.
"I'm sorry, Sakura."
"It was not your fault, Sasuke-kun. I am not mad at you. There would be no reason. I still love you, Sasuke-kun. But not the way that they perceive it. I love both of you so much. Please allow me to do something that would seal your happiness together," Sakura took hold of both their hands into her own.
"Sakura-chan…" Naruto brought the fragile hand up to his cheek and pressed it against his warm skin. "Thank you."
Sasuke squeezed her hand gently and looked at her. "Thank you."
She smiled gently, green eyes gazing at them with motherly love.
They sat like that for several minutes before Sakura's hands were released and she proffered a scroll and ink brush to Sasuke. He took it slightly hesitantly before unrolling it and dipping the tip of the brush into the prepared ink. With utmost carefulness, he signed it.
The official decree of divorce.
They were right. They did not like the news one bit. The village was enraged.
What a foolish thing to do! The Uchiha couple, the perfect couple, divorced! Foolishness! Blasphemy! Vile! Evil! Ridiculous!
And their tempers were not soothed the next day either.
It had been their decision to tell the village. There was no use in keeping it a secret anyways. More trouble was involved if they didn't tell the village. Their friends were there to support them. A mass mob of angry people could be difficult to deal with…
They had called for an impromptu meeting at the village square that afternoon. Surprisingly, despite the fact that they were now hated, a majority of the village showed up. Be it simple curiosity or the simple wanting to sneer at them, the village had arrived.
A small stage was set up in the center of the square.
Nervously, Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto, still bandaged and even limping slightly, walked up. Their friends were located near the stand in case a riot broke out. They knew that the village's reaction would not be as mellow or accepting.
An angry silence fell over the village as they noticed the three of them standing up there. A few hateful whispers and points flitted throughout the huge mass of pressed-together people.
Naruto felt his neck become wet with sweat. His ears were pricked up in anxiousness. Sakura and Sasuke were not all that far off from his state either.
"Villagers of Konoha," Sasuke addressed them, ignoring the few hisses that immediately erupted from the group, "We have something to announce today."
The obvious signs of rolling their eyes and rude hand gestures were seen. The infamous Uchiha name had sunken so very low within the span of three days. And yet, Sasuke couldn't have cared less.
"You have heard, yesterday, of my divorce with Haruno Sakura," he had to stop when the crowd erupted with angry jeers and shouts. Sasuke's eyebrows furrowed. He only waited for a few moments before he continued, knowing the crowd would be curious to know the rest of his speech. The awful curiosity of humans always made them stop talking. "Then who," he started, barely heard over the insults, "will I be spending the rest of my life with?"
The noise level died down a bit when Sasuke turned around from the crowd and held out his hand slightly for Naruto. The blond looked deep into his eyes, searching for reassurance. This was dangerous.
Sasuke nodded slightly. Naruto took his hand and wrapped his fingers around his tightly. Sakura watched the crowd carefully. They were treading dangerous grounds right now.
The pair turned to face the crowd again.
It was quiet again.
The monosyllable word rang through the silent square.
"This is who I will be spending the rest of my life with," Sasuke stated.
A harsh laugh.
A rough jeer.
"You'll spend the rest of your life with that piece of crap?"
A snort of disbelief.
"Whatever would your parents say if they saw you now, Uchiha brat?"
Sasuke's hand tightened around Naruto's slightly.
"Sasuke…" he whispered slightly, hoping that he would not lose his cool.
"He is no animal," Sasuke's voice did not shake. His eyes had suddenly gone cold, void.
"You have forgotten," the dark-haired man said loudly. "The child whom you used to hit and abuse so, so many years ago. Because he was different. Because he held 'Kyuubi,' the Nine-Tailed Demon. You don't remember him, do you? He disappeared one day, do you remember now? Disappeared."
Stunned silence. A few of the villagers exchanged looks.
"Had he died? Well, you would not have cared anyways. As long as the nuisance was gone, correct?" Sasuke stopped here, pressing his lips together. "He stands here. This is he who has the demon inside of him. He is human. Do you remember now?"
Sakura became scared. This deliberate riling up of the crowd. What was Sasuke trying to achieve?
"He is alive and well. Always have…" Sasuke trailed off, staring at the restless crowd below him.
The first attack.
The second assault.
It was Naruto's turn to clench Sasuke's hand. Sasuke squeezed back reassuringly. He smiled lightly before his expression turned bitterly cold. It made Naruto shiver in the sudden wrath that enveloped Sasuke.
"I don't care what you say!"
A collective gasp.
"This is my choice and my life. I don't care what you think, what you say, what you do. It's my choice to love the people I love, do the things I do, live the way I live!" Sasuke yelled at the people. "I don't care what the hell you say about me because I—wont't—change!"
And all Hell did break loose now.
People began to push and to yell, throw things and scream, rage and hurt.
Don't believe it.
From their respective locations, Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto searched for their friends in the angry mass of people.
Count of three, Sasuke mouthed.
They disappeared, carried by their friends, hindered by their own wounds. They leapt onto rooftops, walls, treetops, escaped.
Slow, lazy spirals of smoke drifted up from Jiraiya's pipe up onto the ceiling. He watched critically as Tsunade removed and inspected Naruto's wounds. Though he pretended not to care, he was peeking at Tsunade and Naruto from the corners of his eyes as his pipe huffed out steady streams of ashes.
Tsunade frowned and lines appeared on her forehead as she changed the remaining bandages on Naruto's wounds.
"Tsunade-baa-chan, what's wrong?" he asked her.
She shook her head. "They're still not completely healed yet. They're not starting to close yet."
Naruto looked away from her honest face. Even Sasuke and Sakura's worst wounds were beginning to heal themselves. He clenched his hands. "Baa-chan, isn't there anything you can do?"
Again, she shook her head. "Nothing that I am doing is helping, Naruto… I wish, I wish there was something I could do… If only there was something I could do…" She pressed one of his hands between her own. "Naruto, I'm so sorry."
He looked back at her. Her brown, honest eyes. He smiled at her. "It is not your fault."
She squeezed harder. You know it is, Naruto, her eyes seemed to say, but she did not say it out loud.
"The effects—they're irreversible… Naruto… You're literally eating yourself inside out. The power that I have granted you so long ago are going against you now…" Tsunade said softly. "Your healing speed will decrease until the point of going backwards and wounding you even more…"
Tsunade had forewarned Jiraiya of the possibilities of such things happening to the blond. He didn't want to believe it at first, but here he was shown the evidence of such theories coming true. His eyebrows furrowed in worry. After all, even though he was a brat, Naruto had grown on him.
Naruto pretended not to have heard her and instead, thanked her, "Thank you, baa-chan, for tending my wounds."
"Naruto—" she started.
He cut her off. "Please do not tell Sasuke or Sakura. I don't want them to know."
"But Naruto…" she stopped when she saw his firm gaze.
She looked away from his imploring eyes.
"Promise me, please?" he pleaded.
"Naruto, I can't promise you that. They should know. They really must…" Tsunade replied.
"For me, please… Don't tell them…" he persisted, ignoring her reasoning.
Jiraiya closed his eyes. He was a stubborn brat. There was no way to change his mind.
Tsunade's brows furrowed even further. "You… fool," she muttered, pulling him into a loose embrace. She closed her eyes.
"Thank you, Tsunade-baa-chan…"
Naruto cried out loud in pain.
Sasuke's hand jerked away. "What's wrong?"
"N-Nothing," the blue-eyed man replied a bit too quickly.
The Uchiha grabbed Naruto's arm before he could turn away. He pulled his sleeve up. The bandages were still there. A faint tint of red seeped through the white linen.
"What is this?" he accused Naruto firmly.
He looked away. "It's nothing! I just hurt myself again the other day."
"Don't lie to me, Naruto. This is the same wound you got from the battle! All our wounds are practically healed by now. Why hasn't Tsunade healed yours yet?"
Naruto glared at Sasuke. "It's nothing!" he snatched his arm away.
"Naruto!" he called after the blond. "Stop it!"
Sasuke grabbed the back of his robes and pulled him back, forcing him to face him again.
"Tell me what's the matter, Naruto."
Their steely gaze did not falter for many moments.
"I told you already, nothing."
He got his breath knocked out of him when Sasuke roughly pushed him up against the wall.
"If I ask you and you don't tell me then I'll have to force it out of you, Naruto. Tell me," he growled.
He tried to escape futilely and ultimately gave up. He slumped against the wall, not wanting to look at Sasuke's face.
"Why won't you tell me?" his voice softened to one of the gentlest concern.
Naruto looked at him finally. He reached behind Sasuke's head and pulled him in, kissing him deeply.
The Uchiha was shocked by the sudden act of affection but returned the kiss.
It was a short kiss.
Naruto pulled away and pushed Sasuke away.
"Don't make me. Please don't make me."
They both stood there with their hands by their sides, their gaze not meeting again.
"I don't want to lie to you, Sasuke."
"I don't want you to keep secrets from me."
"… I'm sorry."
He walked away from Sasuke, leaving him standing there alone.
It was too early. He knew that. Perhaps Tsunade was right. He was a fool.
Either a fool or brave.
He chose the former.
Naruto stepped out into the streets and looked around. Though the palace had plenty of breathing space, he wanted to be outside, outside for once. He hadn't been able to get out of the cramped confines of the palace since they'd returned from their rescue.
Never mind the fact that it had only been two weeks. Never mind the fact that Sasuke told Naruto not to go out until the village had simmered down. Never mind the fact that Tsunade had warned him about going out so soon. Never mind all that. He just wanted to get out.
What a vast mistake that was.
It began with a whisper.
A mouthed whisper.
"Over there! He's over there!"
A muttered word.
They grew louder.
"Get away, monster."
And more cruel.
"Why don't you go crawl back to whatever hell-hole you came out of?"
"You're the reason why they split up. You're the one who made them divorce. All your fault."
"Monster, you're nothing but a little toy to be thrown away."
And then a punch came out of nowhere.
He had not even seen it. His reflexes were suddenly slow.
He fell to the ground.
His hand came back with blood when he wiped his cheek.
Dust picked up. More people were coming. Naruto found that he could not stand up, couldn't defend himself. His limbs were not functioning for him anymore.
Were these the effects of Kyuubi's destructive powers?
He braced himself.
The hits never came.
Slowly, he looked up.
Neji and Lee stood in front of him. The man's fist was caught in Neji's hand and he was restrained by Lee at the neck. Next to them, Hinata was offering her hand to him. Naruto stood up with the help of the girl.
"Are you harming our friend?" Lee asked them lowly. "I cannot allow that."
The man opened his mouth angrily. He was about to say something but Neji glared at him.
"Don't," he said. "If you mess with him, you'll have to deal with the entire Hyuuga clan."
"Don't mix with low-life like him, Hyuuga-san!" an anonymous person yelled out.
Pale eyes immediately drilled into the eyes of the person.
He was silenced.
"We aren't afraid!" another foolishly-brave person yelled out.
"Then I'm afraid you'll have to deal with the Nara clan as well," Shikamaru stepped out into the streets, his head tilted down as he looked at the crowd.
"The Inuzuka clan isn't fun to mess around with either, don't you know?" Kiba leapt down from a nearby rooftop.
"Can't forget the Yamanaka clan," Ino walked past the crowd. The mob parted ways for her. "Are you okay, Naruto?" she asked and took out a handkerchief for him. He nodded numbly.
"Or the Akimichi clan for that matter," Chouji followed Ino slowly.
The crowd shuddered slightly as Shino seemed to shift into view. "I assure you that the Aburame clan is not at all pleasant when needed…" he said quietly.
Naruto smiled weakly at his friends. Of course he could depend on them.
"Any objections?" Neji asked the crowd.
They backed away.
"Any objections?" he asked again. "None?"
They were silent.
"Then get out of here and leave Naruto alone," he said evenly.
The villagers were quick to depart from the scene.
The group huddled around Naruto.
"Naruto, you've got to be careful!" Ino scolded him gently. "You could have been hurt…"
"Why were all of you here?" the blond asked shakily. He was still worrying about his reflexes.
"We knew Sasuke's orders and everyone else's warnings wouldn't keep someone as wild as you inside the palace," Kiba told him.
"Sorry for not noticing the man's objective sooner. Had we realized it, you would not have gotten hurt!" Lee said.
Naruto shook his head. "No, it's okay. I'm fine…" he smiled just to reassure them.
"You're so troublesome. Next time stay inside. The villagers won't keep Neji's advice in mind for too long," Shikamaru grumbled.
He hung his head slightly. "I'm sorry."
Chouji spoke up. "We don't blame you, Naruto. Being stuck inside for so long can drive anyone crazy…"
"W-We just don't want you to be h-hurt…" Hinata shyly supplied.
"It isn't like we can keep guard for you forever…" Shino added in quietly.
"I know. I'm sorry."
"It's fine… Just watch out next time," Neji said. A pause. "Here comes Sasuke."
"Naruto!" the Uchiha cried, slightly startled to see all of them standing there. Sakura chased out after him. "Moron! You—" he stopped in mid-sentence when he saw the forming bruise on the blond's cheek.
"What happened?" Sakura asked hurriedly as she joined the group.
"A small scuffle, nothing big," Ino told her.
Sakura did not look too convinced. Sasuke was nowhere near believing her either.
"Thank you for looking after him," the Uchiha bowed slightly.
Kiba grinned. "What are friends for, after all?"
Sasuke smiled in return. "I'm sorry for bothering all of you like this though. I'm sure you all have other things to do other than sit outside the palace doors."
"It i-isn't too much trouble, Sasuke-san…" Hinata's stuttering and deep blush accompanied her sentence.
The Uchiha bowed again. "Thank you for your help."
"It's nothing," Shikamaru waved it off.
Sasuke glared at Naruto slightly. "I'll make sure he's stuck inside until things boil down. Please, everyone, return to your homes and priorities. I do not want to bother you all."
One by one, they nodded and bade them good-bye, going in their respective directions.
"Moron," Sasuke sighed. "Must you worry us like this?"
Naruto frowned. "You know fully that I do not like being trapped inside the palace walls."
"Still, Naruto!" Sakura cried.
"Fine…" the blond muttered quietly. "I'll stay inside for now…"
The dark-haired man stared at Naruto suspiciously for a long while before looking away. "Let's go inside. It'll be cold soon…"
"Naruto?" Sasuke called out softly.
"Hm?" Naruto replied. He was leaning against one of the wooden beams outside. His legs dangled out in front of him. The hallway was elevated from the garden in front of him.
A familiar jingle caught his ears.
"I found it in your clothes. You still keep it with you?"
The old collar Naruto used to wear dangled from Sasuke's fingers.
"Aah," he nodded to confirm the fact.
Sasuke crouched down next to him. He kissed him on the cheek.
Naruto smiled at him.
The crickets were starting to sing their nightly song.
"Do you think it'll ever end?" he asked.
"… It will. One day it will," Sasuke replied.
"I hope so. I'm already tired of this."
The Uchiha sat down as well and leaned on Naruto. "I am too."
"Why is it so hard, Sasuke?"
"I don't know."
Naruto looked at the garden contemplatively.
"Is it worth the trouble?"
"Of course, moron."
"Of course, moron," he repeated.
For that one instant, nothing else mattered except for each other. Life had finally unraveled to this point. As dark and dreary as it was, they were happy.
Too much had happened over the short span of a few weeks.
Sasuke had not asked about their battle that day. About Itachi's death.
Naruto had not asked about his time spent at Orochimaru's. About his reason of being there.
They had silently agreed to not speak of it. It would taint their happiness. And all they wanted to be now was happy.
And they were.
"I'm thirsty. Fetch me a cup of water please?"
"You're so lazy, Naruto."
"I know. Please?"
Sasuke placed the collar between Naruto's hands. Surprisingly cool. He kissed him lightly on the lips this time. "Fine."
He stood up and walked away slowly.
This seemingly never-ending battle.
Naruto really was tired of it. He wanted to win it. But it was a village against two. So difficult to fight it, but he didn't want to give up. Never give up.
Suddenly he was tired.
All he wanted to do was to close his eyes and rest for a bit. Sasuke will be back later and he'll wake up. Probably splash the cup of water right on his face.
Naruto snickered lightly.
It was evening now. It would be fine to fall asleep right now.
His eyelids grew heavy. He closed them.
In his hands, he clutched the old collar loosely.
So many memories now.
He was happy. All the years spent in confusion and rush.
He was happy now that Sasuke was with him.
Content with life.
A sudden pain clenched around his heart. The regular 'doki-doki' beating of the organ was no longer regular now. Erratic beats overtook it.
He coughed harshly. He could not feel it, but his lips were sprayed with blood.
It will all end soon, this chaos.
He sighed lightly.
Breathing so quietly, almost as if he didn't exist now.
In, out, in, out.
Gently breathing as if to go against the irregular 'do-do-doki-ki-doki' of heart.
He pressed his eyelids together closer.
He knew that the battle would be won no matter what.
He smiled lightly.
His hand slacked.
The old, familiar jingle of the bell on the collar was heard as it fell to the floor.
A/N: Okay, here's the note since people always rush at the beginning. This, to clarify, is the last chapter. There will be no epilogue simply because I'm so darn tired of this thing. I'm happy that it's finally over and I'm sure that Nadra is as well.
But everyone, thank you for sticking with us for so long (seven months!) and supporting us for so long! Even though this story had considerably degraded, fallen into the point of no return, and I do not consider this a very good story, I still appreciate everyone for their patience and willingness to go through this with us.
I'm fully aware that you guys are probably not in the mood to listen to me being all grateful and stuff. You guys are probably going, "What the HECK just happened?" right? Yeah, and half of you probably want to rip my head off for being such a mean person.
Alright, I'll leave off that stuff. But if you guys have anything to ask me about this chapter or the entire story in general, feel free to drop me a PM or leave a review here. I'll answer your questions. But before you do, please know these things!: 1) the ending is supposed to be this vague, 2) I will NOT write a sequel or epilogue to this no matter how much you want me to, and 3) no I will not explain to you want happens at the end of this story. I want you guys to take the ending in your own way. I left it open-ended for a reason, so have fun with that. If someone asks me, "What happened to Naruto?!" I'll just shrug and say "I 'unno!"
On a happier note though, Nadra and I are currently working on two new stories. One will be decidedly more cheerful and upbeat than DNS while the other one will be darker and angst-y. I think we decided to post up the happier one up first. XD
Okay then, this A/N is about as long as my chapter! Thank you again for sticking around, and thank you, Nadra, for being such an awesome beta-reader!