Summary: Sasuke had always been told to appreciate the good in his life. He never took that advice very seriously. Not until he met Naruto, and never until it was too late. ONESHOT. Introspective fic.
Warnings
: Spoilers on The Hollow Life and Tragedies of Uchiha Sasuke, and basically everything up until Shippuuden.
Can be viewed as a slight Sasuke/Naruto, if you squint. Nothing really intended. It's really just up to how heavily you want to read between the lines.
Disclaimer:
Actually, I do own Naruto. That r-tard, Kishimoto, just plagiarised my work, eh. KISHIMOTOOOOO, I HATE YOU!! DX
:gets hounded by lawsuits:

Rant:
Shut up. I know I should be updating shit, but this was nagging me. I had to get it out of my system!!
And I'm sorry for the random Japanese. I really hate it in fanfiction, but it just seemed appropriate. It's nothing major. Just family titles and the like, all of which I expect you guys to know by now. (Especially if you've been following Naruto for this long…)
And, dudes, don't go railing on me for not including those recent events that transpired in the Shippuuden manga—you know which ones I mean!! That'll just further complicate things, and I'm gonna exclude that so they don't destroy my plot. :P
And one more thing, I wrote this between the hours of 1AM and 5AM. If it sounds a little crazy…well, that's why.


Started: April 26, 2008.
Completed:
April 26, 2008.


Appreciation


Something you've heard said many times over since your childhood was that you would never "truly appreciate something until it's gone."

You never really pondered the meaning of this as a child. Not like you were expected to, really. You weren't very special—but this isn't to say you were common! You certainly weren't average, but, hell, anything after Aniki—Itachi. He's not Aniki.—was average to Kaa-san and Tou-san.

You were a normal kid. Prior to that whole "Aniki Massacred the Clan" thing, anyway, but that really wasn't your fault.

You were normal. Nobody expected you to think about it. Gods. You didn't expect to think about it.

But it was always there. Somewhere, just lurking in the dark recesses of your mind. (And, oh, how dark they are!)

You've thought a lot about it, even if you didn't really notice.

You think a lot about Kaa-san and Tou-san. Maybe more than what's considered healthy. You often long to return to those simple days, to return to the times when your biggest problem was trying to impress Tou-san. You miss having Mother prepare your bento for you, and you miss having Aniki—your Aniki. Not that traitor—help you train so you could prove yourself to Tou-san. You miss those days. You miss them. so. much.

It hurts. It really fucking hurts.

But you won't tell anyone. You never told anyone.

You're Uchiha Sasuke. You don't do things like that. You're too "cool" for that. Too proud for that. You're a prodigy—HA!—and prodigies don't linger on what is dead and gone and can never be.

Or so everyone thinks. You think about these things a lot. All the time. You entertain your morbid thoughts of resurrecting your family, of seeing Kaa-san's smiling face and of hearing Tou-san proudly call you his son.

It is your mission in life, after all. You and your "Avenger" duties. (So kindly bestowed upon you by Anik—no. By Itachi.) Return the Uchiha clan to its days of glory… It sounds nice, doesn't it? So nice and so like how things were back then. It'd be like returning a blessed sense of normality to your life.

Aniki once told you to appreciate the good things in life, too. You took his words a little more to heart. Just because he was Aniki. Sensei's words were not nearly as important.

You realise now that Itachi just wanted you to remember such things so as to further your suffering. You don't want to give him that pleasure, but it's too late for that. You're always in pain, and it's not the type that Kaa-san or anyone else could heal with some ointment and a few rolls of bandages.

Your entire childhood feels like one big, painful memory when it's put into context. You were afraid of getting close to anyone, you coward. Like you did with Aniki's, you took Itachi's words to heart. You didn't want to give into having a best friend.

Especially not if you had to kill him solely for the purpose of killing Itachi. That'd just make him the winner, wouldn't it? The winner of this twisted game you two are playing.

It really is a game you cannot win. You hate that.

There was someone else who could never win. He was always there, wasn't he? He lingered in the background of your mind just as much as Aniki's advice.

It really is a shame that he didn't stay back there.

Not that you expected Naruto to do anything different. He never wanted to be forgotten, that one. He always had to remind everyone of his presence. It was kind of sad. No one ever seemed to want to notice him.

You really didn't want to notice him either, did you? Naruto always had that strange charisma about him that made you feel oddly sick to your stomach. You knew there was something different about him.

You had a barrage of plausible reasons.

Maybe it was because he didn't seem to care. About what others thought or said, what they did…he didn't really seem to care about anything.

You doubt it was that. You acted the same way, after all. And it was just that—acting. Just an elaborate façade, really.

It could have been the fact that you respected his work ethic.

You're dubious about that, too. There are countless of other people back in Konoha who had replaced breathing with training, and Naruto was not exactly one of them. Sure, he tried. But that was really just it. He just tried. He never got better.

When you consider that, perhaps it was just his unending enthusiasm?

No. Just…no. That was plain annoying. Usuratonkachi… He never did shut up. That stupid, useless, weak Dobe.

(You ignore the fondness you find in the name—the insult. It really wasn't an endearment. You don't have a soft spot for the Dobe. There's nothing to admit.)

In the end, you think it must have been simply because he was just like you.

He was, and you can't deny that. He was, but at the same time, he was worlds away. Like you, he had nothing. But unlike you, Naruto had never had anything to begin with.

Perhaps you were the less fortunate, in that sense.

Naruto had an appreciation for the little pleasures in life that you can never understand. Like with things as mediocre as cup-ramen. You cannot fathom his unexplainable love for the dish. It's full of useless carbs and is soaking in cancer-causing broth and Styrofoam. It's literally a shinobi's suicide dish. Yet, nevertheless, that stupid boy would scarf bowl after bowl of it down like he had been starving all his life. He worshipped that poisonous vat of noodles like it was some sort of demigod.

You've tried ramen. Hell, you went to that same, low-class ramen stand with Naruto dozens of times, and each time, he was the only one that really seemed to enjoy the poor excuse for a meal.

There was something that Naruto saw in those noodles that was special. And you seriously doubt it was his namesake.

You've always had the strange impression that Naruto must have been told that very same advice as you, but, rather than pushing into a dusty corner of his mind as you had, he had committed himself to it. He certainly seemed to get much more of a kick out of little stupid things than you did, be it pranks or ramen or girls.

Girls.

That was another thing that you appreciated about Naruto. He didn't treat you like all those other people—all those idiotic girls—did. They put you up on that pedestal, always comparing you to people like Hatake Kakashi and—you cringe—Aniki. They all expected great things from you, and you did, too.

But not Naruto. He…well… He put you in your place, as much as you hate to admit it. That boy saw that you were the same as him. You were just a boy. Albeit a very troubled and slightly spoiled boy. And he treated you as such. And for that, you are thankful.

Naruto has always been your taste of reality. He always stopped to pull you back up when you started to fall.

You never really bothered to consider his importance to your existence. He was just that dumb kid with the blinding smile and the voice that was too loud. You never stopped to think about what he meant to you. What he was becoming.

You're Uchiha Sasuke. You don't make ties to other people. They can't become anything to you. You never think about these things. They don't happen. There's no point in thinking about it.

You never thought about it that time, either. That time on the bridge in Nami no Kuni.

You exhale a shaky breath as you remember, your heartbeat spiking as you recall the trepidation.

Gods. He nearly died that day, didn't he?

That whole mission is a bit of a blur to you, a blending of one stressful moment after the other, Naruto gluing them together and coating the whole affair in his gaudy persona. But it really ended up being all about the Dobe, that day.

Actually, no. It wasn't about the Dobe. It was about Naruto. He wasn't just a troublesome team-mate, a burden to be dropped. He was a comrade. A…friend. (Or what passed for friends in your mind without actually being called "friends".)

That boy in the mask was going to kill him. You could feel it. You knew that you weren't the target for that attack. It was obviously directed at the slumped blond. You knew. But you still ran to cover him.

You didn't even stop to think.

It's like you told Naruto, "My body just moved on its own." He meant that much to you.

And that realisation alone terrified you more than anything else had ever before.

What will I do?

You despaired, didn't you? Once you woke from your false death and realised what had happened, you knew that things would be different. They would be complicated. Much more complicated. And they would not have a happy ending.

And there is no happy ending to be forged now, is there? It's impossible.

The temptation of Orochimaru was just a little too much for you. You gave in. You dismissed all possible ideals of living a life free of the curse Itachi had placed above your head. You forgot about Naruto and all his unconscious lessons. You threw all thoughts of him out the window in lieu for the regeneration of your resent and the melancholy inflicted by Itachi. You regressed, you stupid boy. You didn't learn at all.

When you fought Naruto at the Valley of the End, it finally struck you that this would not end well at all. He knew this, too. It couldn't. This time, you were the one fighting Naruto. There would be no one to save him from you, or you from yourself if he failed.

Looking down upon his unconscious form, so open and vulnerable to the whims of your bloodied hands, you found you couldn't kill him. You just couldn't. The idea of such an act was worlds more painful than reliving That Night via Tsukiyomi. It was simply unbearable.

You spared him. Left him there to be found, thinking idly to yourself that the two of you had saved each other's necks so many times, this basically equated to the same thing.

You lied.

You left the Valley of the End knowing that everything good in your life had officially come to an abrupt end. You had willingly destroyed the best thing you had since your childhood, and there was nothing good left in your life. All you had left was your hate, largely centred on yourself, at this point, and your regrets.

All you seem to do in your life is regret.

And, it seems, this might be the largest one.

It's been so long since The End. Close to four years, in fact. There's something painfully nostalgic about seeing Naruto and Sakura again, and something painfully ugly about seeing that sketchy, pale addition to Team Seven standing in your place, approaching you on Naruto's behalf and actually speaking about him like the friend you weren't. That stupid Replacement doesn't have the right to speak about you or Naruto. He doesn't know you, and he certainly doesn't know Naruto. There's no way. Naruto never opened himself up to others like he had to you, and the only time you two seemed to bond was through your fists.

Not that you cared. You don't feel like you were substituted. You don't feel as betrayed as Naruto did when you fought to end his life. You're not hurt by this at all. You don't care.

After all, you're Uchiha Sasuke. You don't dwell on stupid comrades. You don't worry for them. You don't feel remorse for your actions. You don't despise yourself and your inability to comprehend your blessings.

Naruto still has that same look of betrayal on his face. You openly scoff him. That usuratonkachi can never fully understand you. He may the most similar person you have found to yourself, but he can never understand. He never saw the things you saw. He never felt the same anguish you suffered at having everything good in life brutally ripped from you.

You're Uchiha Sasuke. You are an avenger. Your purpose in life is to wreak destruction on those who have stolen the life from your life. You don't care about the life you've stolen from others.

You're so close to him, now. Your arm is wrapped around him in an awkward half-embrace. The closest you've come to him in so long outside of those dreams he haunts. He's taller now, not much shorter than you. So much has changed… His breathing is even, controlled and calculated, chakra is rolling off him in torrential waves, and you know that it's being subdued. And his hard, blue eyes are focused and staring straight ahead, past you and never into your eyes.

You're Uchiha Sasuke. You are not the source of the mistakes in your life. You do not make mistakes. You do not care for others. You do not form bonds. You do not make friends. You do not want to feel Naruto's eyes on you, again.

But even then, you relish the fact you can feel the tightening in his chest and the tremble in his chakra. His lips are dry and chapped, pressed firmly together in a thin line, his whole face closed and yet completely open to be read.

You know Naruto inside and out, despite the labyrinth he erected to keep others out. You know what he's thinking.

"Come to think of it, isn't your dream to become Hokage?" you breathe in his ear, ignoring Sakura and their new "team-mates". There was once a time when your voice used to illicit such active reactions from Naruto, but those times are over. "If you have the time to chase after me, you should be training."

Naruto's chakra flares slightly, a muted response reminiscent of better days. You can't help but feel a small sense of disgusted pride in yourself. "Isn't that right, Naruto?"

When you receive no outward reaction, that small sense of sordid joy dissipates and an ugly haze clouds your eyes. "That's why, this time, at my whim…" You slide your hand to the hilt of your sword, coaxing it out in a fluid motion, the silence stained by the scratching of your blade against its sheath. You inhale deeply, almost smelling the turbulent emotions radiating from him. "…you'll lose your life."

At last, Naruto's eyes waver from their cool, darkening slightly as he furrowed his brows. You pause, granting him unspoken permission to speak. His reply is so silently tormented that you almost reconsider.

"Can someone who can't even save one of his friends become Hokage?"

Something tightens in your own chest, and it constricts to match Naruto's.

Naruto isn't looking at you, but you know instinctively that you're the centre of his eyes. "Isn't that right, Sasuke?" he asks softly.

You freeze. Then, like that first time on the bridge, you act without thinking. You raise your blade and stab.

You're Uchiha Sasuke. You do not need the stupidity of friends. You do not identify with Naruto in the slightest. You do not wish you could take everything back and do it over—do it correctly.

And you certainly do not wonder if Naruto appreciated your love and friendship when you gave it.


Owari


The Afterword: In all honesty, Naruto is my favourite anime and manga. It's held this position since I was about eleven, and it still holds that status today. I've been mulling over different fanfic ideas for this series for an incredibly long time, but I could never really pick an angle that I really felt a pull to write from. I've gone through tonnes of ideas, ranging from your classic AUs,—because those of you who know me from my other works just know how I love those—to your crossovers, to your epics.

In the end, this is what I chose. It's not really something that was greatly premeditated. I just was walking around Gerrard (that's a pretty dense "India Town" for those of you who aren't Toronto-savvy), today, and I overheard this squabble between a woman and, presumably, her child. Anyway, the mother basically said something along the lines of "You don't know how lucky you are! Learn to appreciate what you have! There are people who have nothing!"

Really not the most inspirational thing to hear, I know. If I'd been that kid, I'd have been dreadfully pissed and thrown a fit. But honestly, that sort of got me playing around with the idea of appreciation. And later tonight, while I was brushing my teeth, I was like, "Dude, that'd be something cool to write about." (Except not in those exact terms…:coughs: Well, maybe it was. XP )

But, yeah, then I just plopped down in front of my laptop and started typing. Here's the result.

I hope you guys like it… I've got a lot of Kingdom Hearts fans breathing down my neck at the moment, but I had to give the Naruto community some love, man. 8D Hopefully, they won't kill me. (The KH fans, that is.)

So, reviews would be greatly appreciated! Tell me what you thought, etc., etc. Who knows, maybe once I've gotten some of my other stuff updated, I'll work on some more fics for this fandom.