God give us strength.
Strength to hold on,
And strength to let go.
~Michael Leunig

Chapter 3:
Scars of Friendship

"There he is."

Through their small glass window, Naruto could just barely make out the shape of a boy loping towards them, too far away to make out any identifiable feature. But Naruto already knew who it was.

He turned to Sakura, crouching beside him, her head next to his under the windowpane. She nodded, seeing the figure inch towards them. "And he's alone."

"Not surprising," Naruto said. "The only reason they would ever be in a group is if they all happened to be going the same way." Sakura nodded again.

"So what's the plan?" Naruto lowered his voice as the boy came closer into view.

Sakura hesitated. "We'll have to kill him."

Naruto's jaw tightened. "How can we kill what's already dead?"

Sakura winced.

"You have to remember," Naruto said, "that's not him anymore. He's gone; all that remains is the vessel."

Sakura's fists clenched around the window sill. "Doesn't make it any easier."

Naruto sighed. "Never said it did."

They could see the figure with more clarity now: his short, jet black hair was made even darker with dirt and blood. Both sandals were missing, along with a good section of his already short shirt, showing various wounds that had long ago stopped bleeding.

His face was soon visible, along with the vacant, hungry look of a predator who had long forgotten his soul.

Sakura exhaled loudly and turned to Naruto. "You ready?"

Naruto nodded. They had been planning this for quite some time now, especially after this particular monster kept escaping from them.

"Alright." Naruto stood and slipped a kunai into his hand. "Here we come, Sai."

Racing upstairs, he opened the window in his room and slipped out, grabbing the top and flipping up to the roof. Sai was now at the front of the house, wandering aimlessly around it. Naruto took aim, hoping he could end it right there. Just as he was about to throw, Sai looked up at the rooftop. Naruto faltered, seeing the Konoha headband still intact on his teammate's decaying forehead like a slap in the face. When the knife did leave Naruto's hand, it missed its intended target, and buried itself in Sai's exposed stomach.

Naruto made a noise of exasperation. This was why they kept failing.

A noise to his left made him turn, heart in his throat. To his surprise, it was Sakura. "Did you get him?" she asked anxiously.

"What?" Naruto asked stupidly. "What the hell are you doing here? The plan—"

A crash from below cut him off and told him that their window was officially broken. "Aw, hell," Naruto murmured. Now he was in the house.

No. Now it was in the house.

A peek over the lip of the slanted roof proved him wrong: Sai had indeed broken one of their only windows, but he was standing outside it, unable to climb over the ledge. He howled his frustration.

Naruto winced at the sound, and Sakura blanched. Her impatience to end this game of cat and mouse drove her to the ground, where she gave her former teammate a good, swift kick to the head. Unfortunately, the momentum of the blow sent Sai through the broken window.

Naruto groaned. Well, now he's in the house.

No. Not he.

Sakura cursed, and Naruto dropped to the ground next to her. They listened as Sai crashed around in the kitchen, effectively knocking over the table and breaking most of the dishes on it. "What the crap do we do now?" Naruto asked, agitated.

"We go in after him, obviously!" Sakura started over the windowsill, but Naruto caught her arm.

"Zombie," he said slowly, "plus confined space," he gestured to the house, "equals bad."

Sakura made a noise of impatience. "So what should we do, Mr. I-Know-Everything?"

"We wait," he said simply.

"Wait for what? For him to open the front door, apologize for the mess, and offer to fix the window?"

Naruto's mouth twitched. It was a rather amusing image. "He'll wander out eventually."

"I hate waiting," Sakura muttered.

"Well, we wouldn't have to wait if you'd stayed on the ground!" Naruto flung at her. "That was the plan! Why didn't you stick to the goddamn plan?!"

"I thought you got him!" Sakura screamed back. Her voice quivered slightly. "I thought this was finally over! So excuse me for jumping to conclusions!"

Another crash from inside brought them back to reality. Naruto exhaled sharply. "Well, that doesn't matter now."

"We should open the doors," Sakura suggested.

Naruto nodded. They had only two doors: front and back. With an unspoken agreement, Naruto took front, and Sakura, the latter.

With the doors open, they retreated back to the roof and waited. And waited. And waited.

"This is not working," Sakura said.

"I know, I know," Naruto snapped. He ran a nervous hand through his hair. "Alright, let's go in after him." Fear cut through him, white hot and sharp.

"What about your equation?"

Naruto ignored her.

Sakura sighed unhappily. "Don't get yourself killed, idiot." With that, she was gone.

Willing his hands to stop shaking, he followed.

The house was a disaster zone.

Broken glass and pieces of dishes littered the floor, and the table had been overturned—though still in one piece, thankfully. The chairs weren't as fortunate: many of the legs had been snapped off and were strewn about the room. The walls had deep, bloody scratches all the way to the stairs, and their almost-useless stove now had a new dent in it.

And that was only the kitchen.

Naruto swallowed audibly and headed upstairs, where it was deceivingly quiet. As he crept upwards, he saw more lines of blood in the walls, almost like a taunt: here I am, come and get me.

He reached the top and scanned the small hallway. One his right were two rooms: Sakura's and the bathroom. To the left, his room and a spare. At the end was a larger room that had probably been used for storage once upon a time. At the moment, it was their rather empty pantry.

The doors to all the rooms were open. Pushing the fear aside, he went to the closest: Sakura's.

Poking his head in, he looked around. Nothing there but her bed, a desk, and a stool. On the desk was their Team 7 photo.

The floor creaked behind him, making him whip around, kunai in hand—the fear, cold and familiar, was back, choking him with its intensity.

"Holy crap, it's just me!" Sakura took a small step back.

"Dammit, Sakura! I almost put a kunai in your brain!" Shoving the knife back in his pocket, he willed his heart to slow down.

"I checked this whole floor," Sakura informed him. "He's not here." She sounded unsettled.

"He must be," Naruto countered. "Where else would he be?"

The crack! of wood was his answer.

Did we just lose a door? Naruto thought randomly.

Rushing downstairs, the two saw that they had, in fact, lost a door. The back door, to be specific. It lay on its side beside their little washing station outside, ripped from its hinges.

Naruto and Sakura stared at the fallen door, and brought their gazes up to peer outside. Running off in the distance was Sai, who had gotten away from them yet again.

Sakura groaned in defeat. "Not again!"

But Naruto could only laugh. "Son of a bitch!" he exclaimed. "He's good."

Cleaning was always the worst.

They had managed to scrub the blood off the walls, but the deep scratches would be there to stay—a reminder that he was still out there.

The glass was cleaned up off the floor, though the gaping hole in the wall where the window once was another matter. They weren't sure what to do with it; for now, a bed sheet with duct tape would have to do.

Making a mental note to pick up more dishes on the next outing, Sakura carried the garbage to the pit they had dug in the dirt near the house. It was small, but deep. Sakura dumped the load into the ground and came around the back, where Naruto stood, considering the broken door.

"What should we do about that?" Naruto asked.

Sakura bent down and ran a hand across the side, where the hinges had connected to the wood. "It's ripped right off," she said. "But it looks fairly clean, so we might as well try to reattach it."

Naruto sighed at the thought of work. Together they stood the door back up and pushed it back into the frame. In both places where the hinges and the door connected, there were large holes: not huge, but big enough so that the door couldn't simply be reconnected.

"Lovely," Naruto muttered. "Damn door."

"Let's leave it here for now," Sakura suggested. "We can get a new one later."

"Where are we gonna get a new door?"

Sakura gestured to the outside world. "There are plenty of doors still out there. We'll just find one that fits."

Naruto made a noise of exasperation. "Yeah, because it'll be that easy."

Sakura huffed. "Stop your bitching and let's finish up!"

Scowling, Naruto turned and headed upstairs to assess the damage, while Sakura cleared away the last of the debris in the kitchen. He checked his own room first, and found it to be in order. He was turning to leave when a dark spot on the floor caught his eye. Puzzled, he stepped towards it and bent to pick it up. Just as his hand was about to brush the object, he jerked back with a sharp intake of breath.

The object was a piece of cloth almost as long as Naruto's forearm, its once black colouring now faded to a dull gray. Dirt and blood competed for space all along it. Naruto nudged it until it was face up, and his fears were confirmed: it was a Konoha headband.

"Oh, geez." Naruto's pale face turned towards the door.

"Hey, Sakura," he called down in a shaking voice. "You're going to want to take a look at this."


My inspiration came back. Something a certain somone said at a certain time gave me the will to finish this chapter.

I hope you all stick with me until the end! I'm sorry for the huge delay!

Are disclaimers honestly necessary here? I mean, fanfiction. I obviously don't own Naruto. Do I really need to say it everytime?

Anyways, reviews and constructive criticism are encourage and appreciated!