Title: Perseverance

Author: Silver Symphony

Rated: T

Summary: Blood, sweat, and broken bones are a small price to pay if it brings Sasuke back.


Blood-stained bandages and slings decorate the bare floor; the blood is quite fresh. Blood trickles from the gaping wounds in his arms and legs. An angry gash mars his adorable face. Sprawled on the floor, he gasps for air. Breathing hurts terribly due to the fresh cut across his chest. No amount of antiseptic would be able to stabilize these wounds.

Naruto can scarcely move, apart from blinking. Another training session leaves him incapacitated. Every inch of his body aches; his wounds cry out for the soothing touch of a healer. Sakura offered to lay hands on him earlier, as she always does, but he refused. He prefers to leave the wounds as is; bleeding, throbbing, gnawing away at the vulnerable flesh. Hours will pass, perhaps days until the warm gush of the Kyuubi's chakra soothes and lessens the damage again. Naruto heals slower these days— much slower.

All of the blood shed, all of the self-inflicted anguish serves a greater purpose; a purpose that, without the constant agony, will cease to have relevance. It will cease to be anything worth fighting for, worth giving a damn about anymore.

A violent cough seizes Naruto's lungs; he hacks up blood. Pain courses through his fragile body, pain akin to being pierced by thousands of kunai. Once the attack passes, his breaths are shallow and quick. Another cough like that and he will be committed to the hospital. And hospital time interferes with training. He cannot risk it.

So he stews in his bloody jumper and ignores the mind-numbing pain to the best of his ability. And Naruto handles his pain remarkably well. He's dealt with worse pain. Far worse. His goal transcends earthly injury. Even as his body lies bloody and broken on the floor, his mind is clearly aware as to why he languishes in his current state.

Visions of bringing Sasuke back home dance in his head, as they always do after a brutal session. Saving his friend, his only true friend, from evil's fierce embrace plagues his dreams and consumes what few thoughts he allows himself to indulge in. And instead of the dreams driving him mad with fury and frustration, they empower him. They infuse him with such optimism that he willingly spends hours training, non-stop, without pausing to eat or rest. And he smiles all the while. In spite of singed hands and broken ribs, he smiles. Despite his weariness from sheer exhaustion and near starvation, he smiles. And when frustration and impatience overwhelms him to the point that he claws at his hair, he manages to smile. Pain, such as he endures, should shatter any signs of happiness. And yet, he smiles not because the pain pleases him. It's what has yet to come to fruition that makes him grin. Countless weeks will not have been wasted in vain once he's stronger.

And yes, Naruto is strong, quite strong. Yet it is simply not enough. Confronting Sasuke would require much more strength. Without it, he cannot hope to fulfill his promise to Sakura. Damn it, he swore that he would return Sasuke to the village again. And he never defaults on a promise. Surely, he'll keep this one, no matter if it kills him in the process.

So Naruto doesn't worry. Deep within his heart, he knows, he just knows that he's the only one who can— who will save Sasuke. Sasuke is still that same asshole with the brooding eyes and the scolding insults Naruto considers to be his brother. As bitter with malice Sasuke's heart may be, Naruto desperately believes that part of Sasuke cannot break the connections he's forged with his friends. Something stopped him three years ago by the riverside. And that's the part worth saving, the part worth spilling blood over— even if Sasuke renounced his friendship in favor of his lust for power.

Naruto has forgiven his error. All he longs for is his friend back.

And soon, very soon, reality will reflect the fantasies. A ghost of a grin breaks across his aching face.

And that makes the pain slightly more bearable.