It always amazed him that after the storm, after such hard, grueling battles where chakra was molded into towering weapons of destruction, it always ended up in silence, and in the white-washed rooms of the hospital.

The blood had been wiped from the skin, the dirt and the grime and the dust had been sluiced away, the steel of the weapons had been dislodged from the flesh, and the veins had been mended. There had been tubes, bristling needles, called-out orders, and agonizing hours of waiting on the other side of the door. But now this too had been cast away, and all that was left were two bodies, breathing quietly, gently lain out between a tender mattress and pure, crisp sheets.

There was still the faint scent of sickness, of death, in a recess of the air. But as days passed, it grew fainter, and the lungs kept breathing, in and out, in and out, even if the eyes stayed closed.

He came every day, not out of devotion or concern for his former students (this was not the time for concern anymore, and if they had to die, they would've done so already) but simply because he felt it was his place to do so. There was a nook here – a chair, green and sturdy, where he always sat down – and it was his to spend an hour in. Reading, thinking, asking the medics a few simple questions.

He was a man of routine, quiet and undemanding, at least when his missions allowed him to be. When they would both be out of the hospital, he would easily find another way to occupy his time. That was what he liked so much about books – as long as you had one handy, you were never bored.

The habit of filling up his time had come to him rather late. With Obito and Rin gone, there wasn't enough training in the world that could have distracted him. When he wasn't fighting, he was reading. When he was doing neither, there was a good chance he was asleep.

But he could feel himself getting older. He didn't mind letting his mind wander so much as before. His students had made the difference, he supposed – they had grounded him, made him alert. And then… well, and then things had gotten so bad there wasn't much time for anything else than helping them not to get killed, at any rate.

I guess that makes my teaching somewhat of a success, he thought to himself, leaning back on the chair. After all, all three of them were alive. Battered, wounded and drained, but alive.

**********************************

Rocks and grass digging into his knees. Metal digging into his skin. The sun shining brightly overhead, making the smell and color so vivid it felt like it was sinking down into his stomach like sludge.

There had been others. Dozens of others. Blood flowing. It was of no importance. This was no different.

The sky was blue, blue were the eyes looking up at him.

There came a fresh splatter of red from between the split lips, in a sickening gurgle, and he understood that one more blow would be enough to kill his opponent.

Words. He frowned. A name.

Itachi.

Go on, the others urged. Go on and do it. Win this battle. Win this war. With the host dead, there will be no stopping us.

Red blood, everywhere. Torn orange cloth sodden with it. He was waiting – waiting for the red chakra, the red and fiery chakra of the demon to pour forth, to annihilate them, to save the host even it killed him.

But nothing came. The horrifying grin of the nine-tailed fox did not appear.

Naruto was dying, but he was smiling.

*************************************

And together, for the first time in seven years. Although two of them were still unconscious, that had to count for something.

"Oh, Kakashi-sensei, I didn't know you were visiting."

Kakashi looked up to see Sakura standing on the threshold of the room. "I come here every day after lunch," he said. "I don't usually see you here at this hour."

Sakura gave him a little smile. He noticed that her arm was no longer in a sling. Healing from a triple fracture and poisonous gangrene in two weeks, he thought. She's well on the way of matching Tsunade.

"Well, I usually come a bit later, but Tsunade-sama gave me some free time, so…" She blushed slightly. "Still no improvement?"

Kakashi shrugged. "It'll take time – nothing much to do about it. Naruto is showing some signs of waking up, though – he almost mumbled the other day, or so I've been told."

Sakura sighed. "Well, I thought I would freshen up the flowers in the room," she said, putting a new batch in the vase adorning a small table in the corner and throwing out the old ones. "Soon everyone will be well enough to come visit them, it'll get crowded in here."

"I don't think that's a very good idea," Kakashi said evenly. "Sasuke, especially, needs time before – ah – jumping back into the action."

Sakura visibly tensed. Kakashi noticed that she was pointedly avoiding his gaze.

"I'll make sure they're not bothered, Kakashi-sensei," she replied, turning back around and heading towards the door again.

"You're going to have to stop calling me sensei soon," he said with a smile, trying to lighten the mood. "Remember, the jonin exams aren't so far away, and then you'll be a sensei as well."

"Whatever you say, Kakashi-sempai."

They both laughed. Kakashi hoped the prospect of the jonin exams would be enough to give Sakura heart, but as she walked out, there was still a indelible trace of sadness in her bright green eyes.

Kakashi sighed. Even when they did wake up, troubles were far from being over. But for now, he would sit in his chair, and stay where he belonged. Wherever he was, he never had anywhere else to go.

******************************

You think I should fight back, don't you? You think I should use that damned Kyuubi to kill you and those others… But… a man who kills his best friend is already dead anyway.

A cough. More red.

I had – had to tell you, before you let those others finish me off… Itachi.

Red eyes, boring into the back of his memory. A man who kills his brother, he thought, is worse than dead.

Itachi… did he tell you… about Madara. Madara let the nine-tailed beast lose. The Uchihas… he wanted… the clan… all dead. He knew they would send Itachi… He did it because… because…

Naruto's shaking hand, waving towards his face. His eyes. Red, like Itachi's, and carrying a small part of his brother inside of them.

The last Uchiha… he would have them all, wouldn't he?

And then sky toppled.

Wake up, Sasuke. Wake up. Get up. Fight, and save his life. Fight with Itachi's eyes, and his heart.

Wake up.