ganbatte = 'do your best' or 'don't give up'; no warnings

by vernajast

naruto and sasuke

"If you'd said 'no,' maybe I would've given up."

Blunt, tan fingers press into the blue fabric tie of a worn hitai-ate, thread-bare from caring calluses repeatedly catching on the loose ends.

His reflection in the cold metal of the forehead protector appears slightly older than that day, but that doesn't make it any easier to reach out to the memory and touch it, accept it, acknowledge it.

"Every time I said I'd bring you back, you would just...look at me..."

He clutches the relic tighter and holds it against his chest, making his way through the village along winding alleyways and over slanted rooftops of cracked tile and bamboo leading.

His final destination is no surprise though he doesn't remember consciously deciding. The academy looks unchanged in its plain regulation brick and concrete stairs. The swing still bears his weight, and he can't help but hate it just a little for not collapsing and dumping him on the dry, dusty ground.

"The last time I said it, I almost smiled."

The notched texture of the chain that has replaced the rope supporting his swing rests cold and alien against his palm, and when he pushes off with his feet, it twists contrarily and bites into his skin.

He coughs out a laugh that is just as dry as the dirt below and lacks that unique something, the essence of Uzumaki Naruto.

"You. You almost fucking smiled."

His own lips turn up at the corners, a parody of what once was—occasionally, still is—the brightest smile in Fire Country. He launches himself into the air. Chakra-heavy legs pump furiously, carrying him across the valleys and canyons of the village, atop the surface of the private lake, and up a certain beloved pier.

He stomps loudly on the proud steps of a falling-down estate that only just keeps up the appearance of normalcy by its austere facade. Blue eyes narrow as the door opens without effort. Strong wards shimmer as he passes right through.

The irony—the meaning-is completely lost on him, but isn't it always...

There's the schnick of metal, a trap, and the bite of a shuriken—one of five—nicking his arm, and his yell of surprise fills his best-friend-enemy's home. His blood spatters the floor, an offering, and bright blue eyes rise to meet Uchiha Fugaku's stony gaze from the family portrait above the mantelpiece.

"But you never said no. You never refuse. So I gotta believe that I'm right."

Another drop of his blood soils the polished floor to mingle with the stains that never wash away, with their blood. He squats down and swirls his finger through the forming pool, leaving a morbidly sanguine uzumaki to stand vigil over the house until its owner returns.

"Because I can't give up on you, bastard. I miss you too damn much."

Holding his arm as he stumbles back down the steps, Naruto jumps a little when the door slams shut at his heels. He doesn't question it, but he does walk a little faster, suddenly wondering if the ghosts of the Uchiha are trying to tell him something. They can't deter him from his goal, though.

The living shadow perched atop a neighboring roof is certain of this as he tracks the blond shinobi through the empty streets and out of his clan's walled-off district. He suppresses a shudder when the heady chakra contained inside Naruto slides intimately over his skin. Amusement plays across a perfectly formed smirk when his enemy-best-friend glares over his shoulder at the house, just as if it were himself. He's pleased to see determination burning brightly in too-blue eyes, but Sasuke sighs and shakes his head. Leaping over the high wall of the village, he wonders how much longer they have.

Distantly, just before he loses sight of Konoha, he dares to look back once, and his lips move to form a silent prayer: Don't give up, dobe.

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