"Goddamn," I mutter, and step over another bloodied corpse as the stench of dirty death curls into my nose like cigarette smoke. "Goddamn."
Naruto has stopped somewhere behind me, and I can hear him growl and kick something, something solid. "I was too late!" he snarls, probably frustrated again. He's never enough for himself, it gets pretty sad. He's a big self-martyr.
"We," I correct, leaning over the next body. It's a little girl's face under all that gore. She's wearing a cross and holding an old stuffed bear. I stand up straight again, then fall onto my hands and knees on the blood-mud and dry heave, because there's no food to puke up anymore. I'm pretty empty.
"What?" Naruto asks, breathing heavy and coming up behind me.
"We were too late," I clarify, coughing. I wipe my dry mouth for no apparent reason, habit from when I could still vomit the right way. I stand on wobbly legs and squint my eyes, trying to find the end of the vast field of paling, stained bodies, but I can't see it. I can never see it.
Naruto doesn't answer me, but I don't expect him too. This kind of stuff is the only thing that can quiet him down. I put a curled, reassuring hand on his shoulder and give him a dim smile, and oh god, he's so skinny now, I can feel the bone right there under the skin. He smiles back, but I can tell it's not the same one he used to smile, it's only a ghost of it, a real goddamn ghost of it. His eyes are real dulled, a dead kind of blue, and it doesn't light his face up the way it used to.
Me and him are survivors, we really are, but that doesn't mean we're going to make it much longer.
"Let's go," I say.
We start off in an undecided direction, through the maze of bodies, and find out the carnage lasts for miles.
where the wicked wander
We reach the woods at sunset. The sky's painted pink and orange and purple, but the color from the red sun is leaking out behind the gray clouds too, and it's a bittersweet kind of beautiful. The forest is dead, real dead, and the trees, they look like something straight out of a ghost story. They're all black and skinny and skeletal, and the branches hang like greedy fingers over us, reaching, always reaching. We stop at the border to stare up at the sight.
"Maybe we should," Naruto starts, then stops and coughs. "Maybe we should set up camp for the night."
"Good idea," I tell him, and we ignore the fear in each other's voices, because we are no longer children and should not be afraid of the dark.
We skim around the edge of the woods silently, and I know we're both still thinking about all the bodies, and how many people might still be living if we'd made it on time, and how the blood will never really stop staining our fingers, and how scary it is that we've accepted this fact already.
Now, our version of setting up camp is finding a dry spot on the ground, a spot that's preferably soft, and taking turns sleeping while the other one keeps watch. The only supplies we really have are our weapons, and barely those. It's not pleasant, I can say that much.
We keep walking, scouting out our camp for the night, and between a few of the greedy trees I can see the mouth of a cave, dark and ominous but dry. I point to it silently and we carefully make our way over to it, entering the edge of the army of trees. I can feel my heart beat faster, faster, faster, like it's about to burst, but I don't know why, and I let Naruto go in front of me, while I trail behind like always, and the silence of the forest is broken only by a soft rustling as we brush against branches and step on the fallen, brittle finger-like twigs. The sun is almost fully eaten by the horizon now, shadows are crawling back.
We reach the small opening of the cave and stop, bending at the waist to look inside, but it's futile because it's so utterly black in there.
Naruto swallows thickly and turns to look at me, nodding his head, and I nod back, and he steps inside, and I follow. I hold my breath when I walk through, pushing the moss curtain away from where it hangs in front of the cave's gray mouth.
Inside it smells damp and dirty, but the scent is sweet to us after inhaling the stench of decay for as long as we have. The air that hits our skin is cool and misty. I feel goosebumps rise, so I rub at my arms with my gloved hands. It doesn't help.
"It's dark in here," Naruto calls in his loud voice, and I'm a little concerned by the fact that nothing in the cave stirs after. I can't see him in front of me anymore, but I can feel the almost unnatural heat from his body a foot or two away. I reach back into my pack and pull out one of our few precious matches. I swipe the head of it against the driest part of my boot, and a weak flame licks at the air.
Carefully, I move around with the little lantern. Naruto follows. We find that the cave is a little small for two people, but one of us will have to keep watch anyway, so we're not worried. I bring the dying match closer to the ground, stooping lower, and feel Naruto put a hand on my shoulder.
"Sakura," he says, but that can't be him at my shoulder, he sounds further away. "What is that?"
And I look down, and in the dim light I see a cooled fire pit and small pack and some sort of old sword, and, panicking, I turn around to look at who is behind me, but the match flickers out. A thin wisp of smoke curls into the air like a slip of cloudy silver. The hand that slips over my mouth smothers my shout.
The air in here is damp and heavy, and it feels like it's weighing down my chest. It's harder to catch a full breath, and even when you do it's just recycled, far from fresh.
The person behind me takes a few steps back and does not speak, except for two words.
The voice isn't a girl's voice, it's a male's, and it isn't friendly. Unable to catch my breath in here, I squint into the deep dark and ask, "Who are you?"
"Sakura?" Naruto calls faintly, a few feet behind the stranger.
I hear him walking closer, and I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do, I knew I wasn't cut out for our mission.
"Get out," comes the voice again.
"Dammit Sakura," Naruto calls, "Who's there?"
"I... I don't know!" I call back, failing to hide my panic. I see the whites of the stranger's eyes. His irises are too dark to see, but I can swear they flash red. I'm scared for me, I'm scared for Naruto. We're weak with thirst and hunger and disillusionment, we can't fight properly. But I curl my fists in preparation anyway, feeling the satisfying wrinkles of my thin gloves sliding across my skin, and aim my knuckles in an unsure direction.
"Who are you?" I ask again, with more bravado, my eyes roving over the stranger's silhouette, shrouded by shadows, but before I can even blink I feel a cool rush of air and he's behind me, right behind me again. That kind of speed isn't human.
Before I can react, he murmurs into my ear, breath warm on the back of my neck and shell of my ear, "No one of importance." And then I feel hands gripping my shirt, and Naruto calling my name blindly again, and I am thrown outside, into the night, onto the hard forest ground.
"Oof!" I gasp as my elbow hits a swirling upturned root, and I feel my knee bleeding from a scrape, and I feel the dirt smear across my clothes, and I hear the angered chitter of an animal nearby. It takes a second for my brain to start back up, and when it does I can hear the uneven, clumsy footfalls of Naruto running out of the cave.
"Sakura!" he shouts, stopping right next to me. He grabs my elbow and helps me sit up, and immediately my hands move to hover over my knee and I am healing my scrape, fingertips glowing emerald with little effort. The wound is gone within seconds. I look up at Naruto, and he looks at me, and then we both look to the entrance of the cave, because the stranger is doing little to mutter his footsteps.
He steps out to face us, and in the fractured moonlight I can make out a pale slip of a teenaged boy, no older than us, no younger, tall, with dark tousled hair and narrowed black eyes, and a scowl on his pretty face. He is wearing black pants, and no shirt, he looks injured, his torso and forehead are wrapped in white. He crosses his arms over his bandaged chest and looks from me to Naruto, who steps foward.
"You bastard!" my friend shouts. I stand up on my wobbly legs, and Naruto turns to help me for a second, and I can see the anger written on his face, so I refuse the help. He turns back around towards our silent, impassive visitor, and opens his mouth to say something, but I interrupt him.
"... one ... us," I say, but my voice is still hoarse from having the wind knocked out of me. I clear my throat and say it again. "He's one of us."
Naruto turns to look at me, as if I've grown insane. As if I hadn't already. "What?"
"The last one," I say, hardening my eyes and looking at the boy. "He's the one we've been looking for."
Naruto shakes his head, and gestures at him, and the boy has yet to move, still just looking at us with intimidating blank eyes. "No way," Naruto says.
"What?" I snap at him, whirling to look into his wide too-blue eyes. "You think I'm lying?"
(The boy's face betrays nothing, nothing at all, so I don't know if he's confused or just plain pissed off, but I don't really care, because I learned how to not care and now I'm a damn expert at it. I'm tired and hungry and thirsty. God, am I thirsty.)
Naruto is quick to shake his head, but I don't really give him the opportunity to speak.
I look back at the stranger, into his blank intimidating eyes, and say, "He's fast."
Naruto scowls. "So?"
"Faster than us."
Naruto shakes his head stubbornly and crosses his arms over his chest. "That's not possible, and you know it."
"Well then," I say, grinding my teeth because Naruto should be relieved that we found him, not in denial, "Don't believe me. Sure, I'm just fucking making it up to screw around with you!"
I feel my chest heave a little, it feels good, so good, to vent, to scream out all the pain and self-hate, to have something else to focus it on. I hope he yells back at me, I really do. I want an argument. I need one. We rarely have serious fights, much less the screaming kind. But no, Naruto's too good of a person to fight with me. He's not flawed, not like the rest of us. I think this spitefully as I wait for a fight, a good, cleansing fight.
The stranger interrupts us anyway.
"If you two are done talking about me like I'm not right over here, then I'm leaving." He turns to do just that, but me and even the disbelieving Naruto panic, because even though he doesn't know it yet, we need him.
"Wait!" me and Naruto call in perfect unity. I turn to look at Naruto, the hypocrite, who only grins sheepishly and murmurs, "You never lie." It makes me smile.
The stranger pauses, and says, not a question, "What."
"Didn't you hear what I just said?" I ask him desperately. "We've been looking for you."
"And," Naruto proclaims, "Now we found you!"
"... And?" The boy looks unimpressed.
"We know what you are," I tell him, and watch his dark eyes harden and narrow.
"What's that?" he asks, taking a step forward, progress.
"You're like us," Naruto says, grinning, no longer shouting but loud all the same.
The boy snorts. "Sure I am," he responds, closing his eyes and walking forward, right around us and deeper into the forest, slowly, but I put a clenching hand around his shoulder, and now I know he is like us because I can feel his bones under his bare white skin, rounded and hard. He's hungry and thirsty and disillusioned too, even if he hides it behind his guarding eyes.
He turns around, faster than a flash of white-striped lightening, and wrenches his shoulder free, glaring heavily at me from a few feet away.
Naruto whistles. "I guess you were right," he admits.
I curl the fingers that were just grabbing the boy, unconsciously, where they fall limply next to my hip. I glance fleetingly at Naruto, and when my eyes flash back to the stranger, he is gone. Naruto points up and a few yards away. Sure enough, the boy is poised gracefully on top of a tree branch, hard to see in nothing but pale moonlight.
"If you two aren't gone by morning," he says lowly, and then disappears again, for a second longer than before, and then reappears right in front of Naruto with the old sword from the cave, long and silver and deadly, and holds it against Naruto's twitching pulse, the one in his neck, "you're both dead." And then, he is gone, for good.
Naruto, eyes wide and breathing shallow, looks at me and falls into an easy grin. "Cool," he says, a if his life wasn't just threatened. I sigh.
"We should sleep," I say, because we both know we aren't leaving, not after finding him. I look over at the cave. "But, first thing's first..."
"Ah," Naruto says from where he is looking through the boy's abandoned pack with reckless disregard for privacy. "He has food!"
I look over, and Naruto is holding what looks like an empty bag, sticking his face close to the opening and sighing. "Never mind," he says glumly, stuffing it back into the small pack.
I poke at the fire that cost us another precious match with a blunt stick. We haven't had real warmth in while, the world's like that now. I rub my arms and sigh happily, wrapping myself tightly in the one worn blanket we're borrowing form the strange boy. The heat feels so good, and I'm in a better mood now that we found the person we've been looking for. The bitter taste in my mouth is all but gone, like blood washed away. I look at the small slice of the night sky that I can see through the moss at the opening of the cave, and I think of the place we left behind.
"Naruto," I call without looking away, and hear him perk his head up. "Do you think... do you think they're done rebuilding back at home?"
Naruto crawls over so that he sits next to me, and I share half the ripped-up blanket with him. He rests against my shoulder and grins up at my face.
"Of course they're finished," he says, and the genuinely heartbreaking optimism makes the pit of my stomach twist. "By now, they probably made it even better than before!"
I finally look down at him, then down at the dirty ground, then at the hungry all-consuming flames of the fire. "Do you miss her?" I finally ask.
"... You mean Hinata?" His face gets this sad smile, the one that can bring down a whole room of happy people and more, and his eyes get all dull and point at the ground. "Yeah, I miss her. I miss her a lot."
I nod aimlessly, afraid to look at his face.
"But," he continues, voice rising in its optimism again, "after we win, we're gonna go right home, and everyone's gonna treat us like we deserve. Like, like..." He struggles for the right word, then grins a big grin. "Like heroes!"
"Heroes?" I ask listlessly, lacking any real conviction.
"Yeah, like heroes, like real heroes. That's what they're gonna call us, and we'll get to see everyone again, and Hinata will have that pretty smile on her face, you know the one, and all this fighting will be over."
I chuckle humorlessly.
"Don't laugh at me, it's the truth! You'll see. We'll beat the bad guys, the good guys always do. And then..."
I fall asleep, lullabied by Naruto's proclamations of victory and declarations of unfulfilling grandeur.
I wake to the cold tip of a sword pressed against the hollow of my throat.
"I thought," comes the voice of our forgotten stranger, quiet, "I told you to leave."
I open my eyes fully, and stare at the top of the cave. It's rough and gray and not as pretty as it looked at night. Early morning light peaks through the moss curtain and floods in from the open entrance.
"We can't leave," my heartbeat moves to my throat and makes me choke on my own words. I clench my fists at my sides, open, closed, open, closed.
"Tch." The sword leaves my quivering pulse, and I hear it slide smoothly into a sheath. "Annoying."
I sit up, very, very slowly. I can see the stranger above me, with his arms crossed, arms covered in bandages like his torso and forehead, sword at hip. I take a deep swallow and turn to look at Naruto, who is snoring obliviously, sprawled across the ground carelessly.
"Are you ready to listen to what we have to say?" I ask the boy, voice slightly shaking. Corruption has eliminated shyness, but amplified fear. "Or are you going to run away again?"
The boy cocks his head slightly to one side, face unchanging, but eyes considering. After a moment of deep silence, he says, "I want proof."
"Proof?" I ask, trepidation crawling in. "What kind of proof?"
"I want to see what you meant when you said we were the same."
I stand, and oh god, the boy is an entire head taller than me, even taller than Naruto. But I hold my ground. "Will you come with us if I show you your proof?"
He looks me in the eye carefully, calculated. "It depends on the proof."
I leave Naruto to sleep, because he needs more rest, and me and the boy go outside and yards and yards away.
"Stand back," I warn, determined to make an impression. The boy lifts an eyebrow, but listens. I pull my gloves back further, and take a deep breath, and walk over to the thickest tree, to my left. I stop there, then turn again to face where the boy is standing.
I lift my fist, feel the energy accumulate there, like a cold kind of heat, in a big concentrated knot. I look the boy in the eye.
Then I bring my fist down onto the ground.
The crack starts at my feet and then trails along the dirt, splitting the forest floor in half as if a giant had ripped it open. It leaves a great crater in its wake and makes the ground tremble, and the frail black trees sway dangerously.
I straighten myself and lift my nose haughtily. "There," I say. "Satisfied?"
The boy, looking determinedly unimpressed, simply shrugs.
I step forward angrily, careful not to fall into the still-rippling cavern I've just created, but the tirade bubbling up behind my lips is kept contained, because Naruto runs into the small destroyed clearing.
"What," he pants, then stops to gather himself, leaning his hands on his bent knees. "What the hell is going on?"
I huff and turn on my heel to walk straight past my friend, not trusting myself to talk, and Naruto straightens and follows, still panting.
But I crack into a smile when I hear the boy follow after us too.
"What's your name?"
The boy looks over at me with his eery eyes and takes a long moment before answering.
"Sasuke Uchiha," he says.
Sasuke is sitting far away from me and Naruto, so we inch a little closer, and he looks at us with distaste. There is an uncomfortable silence for a while, and I hear Naruto shifting, unable to keep still.
"Were you at that battle?" he finally questions, looking at Sasuke with distrusting narrowed eyes.
Sasuke turns to look at him, slowly. "Battle?" he asks deeply, waiting a moment before closing his eyes and leaning back against the cave wall.
"Yeah," I say, glancing at the messy bandages. "The one about two miles northeast."
Sasuke takes a few seoconds before answering. "No," he says, "I got here after." He pauses again. "But I saw the results."
"We," I start, then stop, sighing and shaking my head.
Naruto finishes for me, because he is better at simplifying complex concepts. "It's our job to stop stuff like that. Your job too, actually."
"What?" Naruto bristles. "You think shit like that is funny, you asshole?"
"Who said I was laughing?" Sasuke responds, opening his eyes. "But I do find it amusing that you assume you know so much about me."
"We know more than you think," I snap, cutting. I hate people, I hate people that talk like that. No one's superior these days, but everyone thinks they are. I hate that. "We're like you. We have... gifts. We..."
"Can stop all this fighting," Naruto finishes for me again.
I nod. "Me and Naruto are reincarnations, of these heroes from the Sannin legends."
Naruto holds up three fingers. "There were three of them though. After our village was attacked, our leader sent us to find you, so we could stop the wars. Together."
"You two," Sasuke says, sounding extremely unconvinced, "you think the three of us can end a war that's been going on for centuries?"
"Well." Naruto blinks. "Yeah."
"Look," I say. "I know it sounds... impossible, but..."
"It's not," Naruto finishes, eyes narrowing in determination. "It's not, and even if we only make a really small difference, it's still a difference, right? Someone has to take the first step, it might as well be us. No one else has our abilities."
Sasuke snorts at the word abilities and the cave hums slightly with the echoes of Naruto's loud proclamation.
I watch the shadows dance across the gray walls gracelessly. "So," I finally ask, next searching Sasuke's face, "Will you help us?"
He opens his eyes, and sits forward.
Naruto trips over another tree root, the fifth one in the past hour, and another curse is ripped from his mouth as he stumbles to regain his balance. I sigh, and Sasuke, who is walking behind the two of us, makes no sound.
"How long have you been camping around here?" I finally ask, over my shoulder.
"Not long," Sasuke answers vaguely. He is wearing a shirt now, a black one with blood stains and slashes in it, and I can see some of the bandages still peeking out.
I turn forward again and only look at him from the corner of my eyes, Naruto doing the same, trust still not built.
"Where'd you get those injuries?"
He lifts his dark eyebrows as if he knows we're looking at him, and says, "Does it matter?"
"Yeah, it kind of does," comes Naruto's snappy reply. He stops walking, and turns around, and treks back over to Sasuke, crossing his arms like a real tough guy. I stop but stay where I am, observing.
Sasuke remains unmoved and unaffected. His face still never changes in its expression. He takes a deep breath.
"Tell us," Naruto says. "If you ever want us to trust you, then tell us."
"I was in a battle," Sasuke finally mutters.
"Yeah?" Naruto takes a couple steps back. "With who?"
I think of the dead civilians, the families, the women, the children, the old men, and my eyes start to burn and my fists clench. I wait for his answer with held breath. It better be a damn good answer, because if he was involved with that slaughter, I will not hesitate in killing him.
Sasuke says, "One of the war lords."
"You went up against one of the war lords by yourself?" Naruto asks, with disbelief. I even find it hard to believe. The war lords control the only organized fighters in the world, and with good reason. They're probably some of the strongest people anyone could face. They were probably behind the carnage up north. I lick my lips and narrow my eyes.
"What was his name?" I ask. We've killed a couple before, only for them to be replaced. We read the files. I know their faces.
"Itachi Uchiha," Sasuke says.
"Uchiha?" I ask. I pick out the face and information and the history and bite my lip. "Does that make you his--"
Sasuke nods, and me and Naruto turn around to start walking again, silent.
"Did you win?" Naruto asks after a few minutes.
Sasuke pauses as if hesitating, then says, "I'm still breathing, aren't I?"
As the sun gets lower in the sky we scout for a camp. I find a spot near a dirty river. We put our packs down and Naruto sets out to gather dry sticks for our fire.
When he leaves, I get up to check the water of the river and see if it is drinkable or not. What I don't account for is the slippery slope that leads to it. I fall in the mud and splash right into the cold murky water, and rise up, spluttering, spitting out the water that tastes like blood and dirt. I cough and climb on my hands and knees onto the bank, looking up to see Sasuke leaning against a tree nearby.
When I finally get up and look up again, he has disappeared. I walk slowly and angrily back to our camp, seeing Naruto jump when he sees me from where he is arranging our campfire. Sasuke isn't here.
"Sakura!" Naruto stands up quickly. "Jeez, what happened? You look like a drowned rat!"
"Gee, thanks." I fall down to my knees next to the dry, black wood. I ring out my hair, and watch the ground greedily drink up the puddle of moisture. "I slipped, but I'm fine."
"Well, that's good. Sorry for calling you a drowned rat." He grins sheepishly. "Wanna start the fire then? It's getting pretty cold pretty fast, and you're gonna freeze if you're that wet."
"Yeah," I say, reaching for the matches at my hip. "That sounds like a good idea."
I pull out one of our last matches and swipe it against my boot, but it doesn't light. I try again, but still no luck.
"It's wet," comes Sasuke's voice from above. "It won't work."
I look up, and he's sitting on a low hanging tree branch a few feet away, staring down at us.
"Dammit!" I curse quietly, then throw the match far away, falling back to sit on my butt. I try in vain to rub the goosebumps off my arm.
Sasuke snorts and jumps down, walking over until he is right by the pile of wood.
Naruto walks over next to me and cocks his head a little.
Sasuke closes his eyes, draws in a big breath, and when he opens his mouth he spits out a stream of flame at the wood. It immediately ignites and grows in size. I blink for a full thirty seconds and then sigh happily.
Naruto grins. "Cool," he says, sitting down next to me. "Thanks, man."
Sasuke snorts again and sits down across from us.
Naruto decides to slide closer to our new friend, being the friendly blond that he is, and attempts to entertain him with stories from our childhood. They're funny, but they make me depressed as hell. I space out so I don't have to hear any of it.
The sun has gone down by now. The sky is black; no blue, just plain absolute black that makes me feel lost. I've never seen the stars. There are legends that say they left when the war started, and others that say the stars came down as warriors and sacrificed themselves helping the innocent, and others say stars never existed, but I'm not one for fairytales. Besides, the sun's still there during the day, isn't it?
"Sakura!" Naruto snaps his fingers in my face, grinning, looking feral with his elongated canines and scars in the firelight. "C'mon, sleepy time."
"Huh?" I say smartly, breaking out of my trance.
"Sasuke's taking first watch." Naruto stands, walks over to the fire, and begins to stomp it out, thinking out loud about "not taking any chances".
I sit up more and search for Sasuke, who I cannot find now that it is dark.
"Up in a tree again," Naruto calls, walking back up to me. Small glowing embers trail behind him, falling from the soles of his boots and fading within seconds. I notice now that he is holding Sasuke's worn blanket in his hand.
He sits down next to me, and wraps us both up as much as he can with the small cover. Then he looks around, almost suspiciously.
"Hey," he whispers, very quietly. It makes me feel nervous.
"What?" I whisper back, cautiously.
"He's from Sound, Sakura."
My eyes go wide, and my heart leaps up and down and up again. "Y-you mean Sasuke?"
Naruto nods solemnly. "Yeah."
"Naruto," I say, "Naruto, you know what kind of people come from there."
Naruto lets out a strange sound, through his teeth, and looks away from me. "You know I don't like assuming things like that."
I shake my head. "This isn't the time to be self-righteous. We knew he was dangerous from the beginning. Now we know where he comes from, and..."
"You know I don't like assuming things like that."
I sigh. "I know. I'm sorry, Naruto, but one of us is going to have to stay awake. We can't trust him yet."
"Not because of where's he's from," I say quickly, partly true. "I mean, we've only known him for a day, and he's already threatened our lives. He could've easily killed us."
"He didn't though," Naruto mutters, the most quiet yet, and I hear the defeat toning his voice, which means he agrees, if only a little.
"You sleep first, because you have watch next."
I give him a punch to the head. "Sleep."
We travel for three more days, with no specific destination. None of us left our homes with a map or plan. On the third night, Naruto leaves to bathe in a nearby lake, and I am left alone with Sasuke. It makes my stomach feel light and heavy at the same time.
I watch him. Every move he makes has a purpose. He reaches into his pack and pulls out a thin roll of bandages. The ones he is wearing now are ripped and yellowing. He gets up to leave, probably to do another hack job, but I stop him.
"Wait," I call, and he listens, turning to look at me with his soulless eyes. "I can help," I offer. "I have healing abilities."
He hesitates for only a second before walking back over and sitting near me; close, but not close enough.
I feel myself shift into doctor mode. He peels his tattered black shirt off, and I slowly unravel the bandages that are wrapped about his torso. There is a gash, many inches long, probably infected, and a broken rib or two. Not to mention the old scars that litter his body. I sigh and stare at the contrast of blackbluebruise over smooth white skin.
I hold my hands over the gash first, and gather my energy in my palms, letting it flow all the way to my fingertips. My hands begin glowing a soft shade of green. I feel Sasuke's eyes on me, and it makes my face feel warm. After a minute or two, the gash is a barely noticeable strip of white scar. I move to his ribs quickly, accidentally brushing against them with one hand, and Sasuke doesn't even wince.
"You should have mentioned these," I scold, with nothing better to do. I look at him, and then back down to continue with the healing. "One of them is close to puncturing your lung."
He shrugs indifferently and looks away. I finish in due time and then sit back.
Sasuke nods slightly, pulling his shirt back over his head. "Thanks," he mutters, his hand passing briefly across where his injuries were.
I smile and look at his other bandages, on his arms and forehead. I stretch my hand towards them and ask, "Do you want me to...?"
He pulls away, and shakes his head. "It's fine," he says.
My hands falls back down, slowly. "I... okay."
We sit there in uncomfortable silence for a minute or two. I prod at the fire and dimly wonder what's taking Naruto so long.
Sasuke is looking at something far away, something beyond the trees. I examine him, drawing my knees up, wrapping my arms around my legs, and resting my chin there. If I wasn't so distracted by war, I might just love him. My eyes wander down to the sword at his hip.
I think of all of the avaible black market technology, the really advanced stuff, and slightly cock my head.
"Why do you use a sword?" I ask, gesturing to it with my chin.
Sasuke narrows his eyes without answering me, and in the next second he pushes me to the ground and leaps up. I shake the dizziness and shock from my head, and sit up, and Sasuke is already at the edge of the clearing. I look at the ground next to me, and see scorched dirt. Some kind of attack?
I gasp softly as three figures swoop in on hoverboards, hoverboards equipped with the lasers that just shot at us, in a small circle around Sasuke. They jump down, each uniformly terrifying in their smooth, faceless silver masks and unisex rigs. Footsoldiers, goddamned blank, inhuman footsoldiers. They rush at Sasuke, and I stay frozen, as if I am watching some grim but attractive and horrific accident.
Before I can blink, before the footsoldiers can make even one command in their bone-chilling metallic voices, one is thrown into a tree, and falls limp to the ground. Sasuke is behind the next one now, but it turns around and grabs him, and the other one comes up behind him and grabs him too.
"Submit," comes the command. The voices of footsoldiers are all the same. They are monotone, and hollow, and emotionless, and cannot be deciphered as male or female. Each of the soldiers lifts a single hand, and my heartbeat speeds past the limit, because they are going to kill him, oh god, they are going to kill him.
Sasuke, I can see from where I am, smirks.
I make a move to race over and help him, but before I even finish the decision to do so, Sasuke has lodged his old sword into both of the footsoldiers. I think this is impossible, because a simple sword cannot break through the skin of a footsoldier. But then comes the blinding, screeching sight and sound of blue electricity, crackling like lightening over the sword and Sasuke's body. It travels over Sasuke's skin without harming it, and travels through the slim sword, and into the footsoldiers, who begin smoking like crazy. Their heads begin twisting and twisting and twisting, their bodies twitching, and the worst and most blood-chilling screech of demonic despair comes from them.
Then they fall limp, and the electricity stops. Sasuke pulls out his sword, and the two bodies collapse to the ground. The blade is covered in slick oil and chrome chemicals. Sasuke wipes it off with a look of pure disgust on his face.
Then he turns around and, with the crackling sound following in the deadly swing of the blade, chops off the head of the third soldier.
He turns to face me, an eyebrow raised, a smudge of silver blood smeared across his right cheek.
"I..." My eyes still feel a little wide.
"That's why I use a sword," he says simply, punctuating the end of the sentence by sheathing the blade.
Before I can respond, Naruto tumbles into the clearing, leaning on his knees and out of breath. We turn to look at him as his frantic blue eyes sweep over everything.
"Oh man," he groans, dropping to the forest ground and pouting like a child, "Why do I always miss all the good stuff?"
I can't help it. I laugh.
It makes me feel a little lighter.
Naruto falls onto the ground from the hoverboard for the fifth time in the past three minutes with a surprised shout. I float over him on my own with grace and ease, performing a trick or two, just to supply him with more motivation.
"Ugh," he grumbles, climbing back onto his board, "I really suck at this."
"You can say that again," Sasuke snorts. He is sitting on the forest ground a few feet away, under the barely-there spider web string shade of a thin tree.
I laugh, and fly up higher, higher, higher.
"Naruto!" I shout. "Naruto, watch your back!"
Battle, battle all around. Blood and screams and bodies and footsoldiers and a red sky of black ash. The village is so small. It is burning to the ground. Efficiently.
Naruto falls, a laser shot to the heart.
I scream and cry.
"Sasuke!" I shout next.
But he's already on the ground next to Naruto, looking up at me with dead black eyes and a face splattered in blood.
I look to my left, and see me and Naruto as children, hiding under a stone bench in a park during an air raid and holding each other.
I look to my right, and see me and Sasuke as adults, holding hands as we fall to the shots of the enemy.
I look forward, and see a path of carnage and dead bodies. I see corpses. I see Ino and Hinata and my parents and Kakashi and everyone dead in the smoked ruins of our village.
I look behind me, and I see nothing.
When I wake up, tears are streaming down my face in a steady trickling river. I wake Sasuke up, I guess, because he sits up beside me and asks me what's wrong, but I only sob. Naruto is off on watch somewhere.
Sasuke sits up further, and actually looks surprised when I fall into his chest and cry and cry and cry. He eventually puts his hands around me, hesitantly, unused to being comforting.
"What's wrong?" he asks again, voice soft (more out of practice than concern).
"N-nightmare," I tell him.
"What happened?" he asks next.
I shake my head and we sit in silence for a minute or two longer, and the tears just keep on coming. I thought they dried up long ago.
"What," I ask at one point, swallowing the lump in my throat, "What if we fail?"
Sasuke looks at me. "Fail?"
"What if we, if we can't save everyone? What if more villages like the one up north suffer because of us? What... What if any of us die?"
Sasuke takes a little while to answer, and he doesn't look at me when he replies. "I'm not going to pretend I know what will happen if any of that is true," he says. "But when it happens, it happens, and there's nothing you can do about it."
I feel very tired and very heavy. "That's not very comforting," I whisper to him, tiredly smiling.
He shrugs against me and says, "But it's the truth."
I wake up to the sound of Naruto snickering. I groggily open my eyes and wince at the sunlight that filters through. When I notice that I'm sleeping on top of Sasuke, who is just in the process of waking up, I gasp and shoot up and scramble a couple of feet away, face feeling hot and heart thudding like the wings of a hummingbird.
Sasuke sits up and Naruto is no longer making an attempt to hold his laughter in. My supposed friend is clutching his stomach and not controlling the tears that are leaking out of his scrunched up eyes. I stand up angrily. Huffing, I pick up the nearest rock and weigh it in my hand, before smirking and chucking it at Naruto's head.
He lets out a satisfying shout and clutches at his head, but I oddly don't feel justified. I take a covert glance at Sasuke, who is smirking slightly at Naruto's misfortune, and I feel my face get hot again.
When his black eyes catch my gaze, I instead turn to stare at the ground.
Then I walk away and gather wood for the fire tonight.
If there is one rule during war, it is to no get too close to anybody.
Being close to Naruto was inevitable, but if I can distance myself from Sasuke, I sure as hell will.
I won't take that chance.
It is later that day, when we are eating some sort of animal hybrid that Naruto killed, that we realize we really need some sort of strategy if we ever plan to complete our mission.
"Really guys," Naruto preaches, "How else are we gonna be heroes?"
I sigh. "What can we do? We don't know the location of any of the war lords, or when they're going to strike next."
Naruto stares down at the chunk of cooked meat in his palm. His face gets this hard to read look on it, and he stands up, and chucks the meat into the trees. Then he stomps off, muttering, "I'll be back later."
Sasuke looks at me and lifts his eyebrows.
"He... does that sometimes," I tell him. "He just needs to clear his head."
We sit in an uneasy silence for a few minutes. I nibble at the meat, but it tastes like chemicals. Probably an experiment that escaped from a nearby lab. I get lost in my thoughts, considering if the way this meat tastes might mean there is a laboratory nearby, and if that will help us.
And then Sasuke is kissing me.
I don't realize this for about three seconds. I pull back immediately, eyes wide, and hesitantly ghost my fingers over my tingling lips.
"W-what was that for?"
Sasuke smirks. "I was clearing my head."
I nod numbly, fingers still lingering on my lips. "That's, um.... that's good."
When Naruto comes back, his head is hanging, but then he immediately perks up and screeches, and I am forced to sheepishly pull away from Sasuke, who just blinks.
"Y-you, you two... you... Ugh, my eyes!" He covers his face with his hands and hops around, making a grand show of it all.
"We were just kissing," I say, face red.
"More like swapping spit," Naruto hisses. He marches right up to where Sasuke is sitting, and pokes his chest harshly with each word. "You! You stay away from her!"
Sasuke lifts an eyebrow and then looks at me, and I burst out laughing at the scene.
Naruto turns to glare at me. His face is all red and scrunched, and it just makes me laugh harder. "What's so funny?" he growls.
"Just," I laugh. Sasuke stands up and walks over to us, crossing his arms. "Just, it's just..."
Naruto's face goes from angry to confused to amused in a matter of seconds, and then he is laughing too, and then Sasuke is smirking, and then we are all sitting on the ground and joking around with each other as we make plans to look for the lab, and we stay in good humor well into the night.
It takes us exactly two more weeks to finally get out of the haunted forest. When we do, we see tall, silver mountains, shrouded in fog and cloud.
"There," Sasuke says, pointing up at the tallest mountain. I look at his face, and his eyes are blood red, spinning with black. "The lab is up there."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Naruto grins, vulpine, and starts walking forward, and we follow.
I don't know what's going to happen. But here, grabbing Sasuke's hand and listening to Naruto chatter on about us becoming heroes, I don't really want to care.