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A/N: The last chapter! :D Thanks for reading, I really hope you enjoyed! And I'd love to hear feedback. ^^
Blackness and pain. Naruto's world was wrapped in these, passing the days in a disoriented haze. All he could ever see was the stone ceiling, or men with masks who periodically hovered over him. All he could feel was chafing at his wrists where the cuffs bit into skin, and occasionally a soul-sucking pain from his stomach.
They kept him sedated all the time now. They hadn't been so smart at first, had actually been stupid enough to think that three layers of solid rock wall would slow him down or something.
It was really dumb of them. After all, he couldn't afford to stay here. He trusted his people. He knew they were strong, and he knew Gaara would help them if they needed it. But he needed to be there for them.
He'd lost track of the days that had gone by, but it couldn't have been that many. They'd tortured him once, in the very beginning. They'd thought he knew how to unlock his own seal. As if he had drawn it on himself when he was a baby, or something equally dumb.
He had told them to go to hell. They'd told him that by now, most nin were begging to die.
Which was stupid. If he was dead, he couldn't get back to Konoha.
Then they'd tried all sorts of fancy jutsu on him, drawing things all over his body and chanting. He'd been scared, a little. He remembered Gaara on the floor of that cave, empty and dead. He didn't want to end up like that.
But every time they tried – every time that tugging got so bad he felt like his stomach was about to rip open and he whited out – he saw a flash of his father in his head. Not the real man, not any more, but a reminder that no one would ever be able to pull the entirety of Kyuubi out of him.
He hoped, during the rare times when they let him become conscious, that Sakura wasn't crying over him.
Which was why he had to get back, even if it took him months. Or years. Or until he was old and grey and everyone in this enemy village had dropped dead of old age.
He could wait. His determination was another thing they'd never pull out of him.
Today, they were working on him again. Some lady with a bunch of dusty scrolls was muttering over his stomach, hands held in a complicated mudra. It was very impressive, in an I-really-hope-this-doesn't-work-sorry kind of way.
Although in his hazy, nauseous state, her tight expression of concentration could have passed for constipation.
They must have had him on new sedatives, too, because for the last few minutes, he'd been hearing odd noises. There was usually nothing but silence – they kept him away from their main dwellings, and behind a lot of locked doors.
So he had to be hearing things. Things that were getting louder. He should probably be worried. If Sakura-chan were here, she could list a million reasons why that was a bad sign.
She was a really, really good medic-nin, Sakura-chan.
The yelling in his head – though it sounded like it was coming through the walls - was growing. The woman over him started chanting louder. It was obvious that her technique was building to a climax. He squeezed his eyes shut, and –
There was an explosion. His eyes flew open, but all he could see was dust and bright light – a hole had been blown in the wall up to the ceiling - he coughed ferociously, eyes watering and looked down his body –
The lady was gone. In her place stood a familiar, dark-eyed ninja.
The lady's technique had gone all wrong.
She had turned herself into Sasuke.
He started to laugh. A tiny bit at first, and then hysterically. It was wild and oh God his stomach hurt, but he couldn't stop.
The lady-Sasuke was staring at him with an expression he would have called "bewildered" if it wasn't so emotionless.
"Have they done something," lady-Sasuke said, "to your brain?"
"ME?" he managed to choke out. "YOU used to be a GIRL."
"They've done something," lady-Sasuke muttered to herself, "to your brain."
Naruto's shakes died down, leaving him gasping for air. "My brain's fine," he coughed out. "I'm not the one who had a sex change."
The lady-Sasuke just reached over to unbuckle the reinforced straps holding his wrists and ankles down.
Naruto stared. They'd never done this before. They knew better by now.
Maybe he was hallucinating. Or maybe they thought he wouldn't attack someone wearing Sasuke's face. Which was dumb, because he and Sasuke attacked each other all the time.
Gingerly, warily, Naruto hoisted himself up on one shaky elbow – and something flashed in the corner of his eye.
He blinked, and glanced down.
There was the lady. Unconscious on the floor, still holding the unraveled scroll in her right hand.
But if the lady was down there, that meant –
Slowly, he looked up. The… person (Sasuke?) was staring at him still. Blank-faced. Well, almost. There was a tiny crease between his eyebrows.
Naruto sort of wanted to lick it.
He coughed one last time. His head was spinning. "Look, I don't know who the hell you think you are, but obviously, you don't know me at all. Imposter tricks like that never work, okay?"
Hell, did the person's lips just… well, they hadn't twitched exactly, but they'd sort of flattened as if to stop themselves from doing so. That settled it. There was no way in hell this person was Sasuke.
"Look, dumbass, I'll explain it to you," Naruto said, flexing his ankles. He was weak and drugged and malnourished, but if they let their guard down just for a second, he could make a dash for it. "Sasuke, the guy whose face you're wearing? He'd never come rescue me. Okay? Even if Sasuke gave a shit, they'd never let him out of the village, so just quit before you embarrass yourself too much."
The person across from him was silent. His expression was definitely displeased now, though. Well, good.
"See, the thing about Sasuke," Naruto continued, "is that he's great, yeah? I mean, he's… my best friend, in the whole wide world, best out of everybody. But the problem is he's an assface. Really. Or not really. But almost."
His head was still kind of fuzzy.
"Right," the person (not Sasuke, couldn't be) said after a moment. "They've obviously done something to make you even more of an imbecile than before. Someone should award them for accomplishing the impossible."
"Shut up, not-Sasuke," Naruto said mulishly. "Sasuke wouldn't be here, yeah, so you've got to be a real amateur. I bet you couldn't find your ass with your – your ass."
"That's it," not-Sasuke snapped, and then he was reaching for Naruto. Naruto tried to scramble away, but he was too quick, and after a second of dizziness, Naruto found himself hanging upside-down off of the person's shoulder.
"Kakashi and Sakura are outside," he was saying. "I don't know what these people did to what small amount of brain they were able to find in your head, but she'll fix it."
"Kakashi… and Sakura?" That wasn't right. That couldn't be right. "Wh-"
Then he had to clamp his mouth shut, because they were moving and Naruto was sure this person (Sasuke?) wouldn't appreciate vomit all down his back.
They broke into the sunlight, and he could see that the ground was strewn with bodies. Unconscious, most of them, but certainly down for the count.
And standing above them –
Kakashi-sensei, forehead protector pushed up to bare his Sharingan, grey-faced with chakra exhaustion but standing strong. Sakura-chan, gloves on, a sharp frown on her beautiful face. Both of them with charred clothing, and minor burns.
They were bloody and dusty and hard-faced and tired and they looked like angels.
Naruto tried to call out, but his voice was fading.
Sasuke beat him to it, either way. "Oi."
The two of them turned sharply, eyes widening –
"NARUTO!" The scream came from Sakura and then she was running towards them, skidding to a stop and running her hands over him urgently, professionally, feeling for hurts and broken bones.
"M'fine, Sakura-chan," he managed to whisper.
"You can let him down now, Sasuke," a voice said from above them, and Naruto caught a glimpse of Kakashi nearing them before Sasuke lowered him to the ground.
He laid there, feeling annoyed at his own weakness and looking up at them all. "Think I'm dreaming," he said.
"Nope," Sakura whispered, and then she was hugging him, fiercely but gently. He felt wetness seeping into his shoulder from where she'd laid her head.
"You're real," he mumbled in wonder. And then slowly, tentatively, turned his head to the third member of their group, the one who'd carried him, the impossible one - "…Sasuke?" he whispered.
"Took you long enough."
"You… came after me?"
"No need to sound so surprised," Kakashi said. Naruto felt his hand, warm and comforting, on his head.
"C'mon," Sasuke said quietly, looking away. "We have to move."
They ran until they couldn't see the village, Naruto keeping his complaints to a minimum as he bounced along first on Kakashi's then Sasuke's back like a bag of potatoes.
By nightfall they had made camp by a small stream, providing shelter and water for Sakura to heal Naruto by the campfire.
The superficial wounds were nothing permanent, and as soon as the drugs were out of his system (Sakura mixed him a poultice to purge them from his system that had him sipping mildly on hot tea one minute, and squawking and running for a private spot in the woods the next), he woke up.
Kakashi had taken a quick look at his stomach seal and pronounced it still holding strong.
"So what happened?" Naruto asked him. "I mean, Sasuke."
"Ah. Well, yes. As I'm sure you've noticed, Sasuke has never particularly cared much about the rules."
Naruto grinned briefly. "So, what happened? Did you blackmail him into coming, or something?" The question was throwaway and Naruto's grin was casual. His eyes looked huge, like he would be hanging onto Kakashi's every word.
Kakashi thought about explaining. About the subsequent attacks, and the fake Naruto, and Sasuke's spying skills and the… everything. In the end, he just said, "He wouldn't be left behind."
They kept running. Ran on for days, until Naruto finally had the strength to go some of the way on his own. Until, one night, they set up camp by running water just inside Konoha's forests.
Naruto found Sasuke by the stream.
He was alone, his back to the campsite. The forest was thinner here, and from the sky above, the hot afternoon sun was beating down on the leafy canopy, filtering in through holes between the branches and streaming down through the air to make cheery gold patches on the mossy carpet.
The brook was bubbling merrily, and Sasuke was standing on one of the larger stones poking up from the earth. Back to the sun, he was a silhouette in a halo of golden light, the breeze tossing his dark hair and kicking up leaves around his feet. His stance was confident, and secure: feet apart, the palm of one hand resting lightly on the pommel of his sword. For the first time Naruto could remember, he exuded calm.
Naruto scuffed one foot into the earth to announce his presence, although he was sure Sasuke had noticed him a long time ago.
"Tell me," Sasuke said suddenly. "If they had managed to take the demon from you, what would you have done? Afterwards?"
Naruto frowned. "They wouldn't have been able to."
"I said if," Sasuke repeated in a tone suggesting he was ranking Naruto's intelligence around the level of a gerbil.
"Yeah, I heard you," Naruto said. "And I wouldn't a' let them. Not ever. I'd beat them. I'll always beat them. Cause I swore I would protect Konoha forever and ever, and what kind of Hokage lets his own weaknesses be used against his people?"
"You think you couldn't govern Konoha without kyuubi?"
"Course I could. First I'd kick the asses of the guys who took it, and then I'd train until I was just as strong as I had been before."
"No matter how long it took?"
"Gaara did it in three years. I'd do it in a half," Naruto declared.
"So you wouldn't try to replace your skills with… research?"
Naruto stared at him uncomprehendingly.
"The library, moron." The library, gerbil.
"….What would I want with a library?"
"Hn." Sasuke said nothing for a moment, then, "There was an imposter of you. A clone, almost."
"…Did he hurt anyone?" Naruto asked, trying to wrap his mind around the idea.
"A ninja died."
"…Godammit," Naruto whispered to himself. "I knew I had to try harder… dammit, I should have tried harder…"
A snort. "As if you could have gotten out of there on your own."
It wasn't your fault.
"I could too!"
"So, um, anyway," Naruto said awkwardly. "Sakura told me to come wash all this stuff off." He gestured at himself with one hand, at the black painted marks still peeking out from beneath his clothes. "I haven't exactly had a bath in a while, so. Um." And he walked to the river, shameless as ever, stripping his stained shirt over his head as he went. He was dirty, from months of confinement; plus, the day had been hot, and there were beads of sweat making his skin damp and trickling down his stomach.
He was paler, from time in captivity, and less muscled from lack of exercise. He was also too thin.
But not by much.
Sasuke glanced at a clear bead of sweat trickling down tanned skin – fairly golden in the dusty forest light – and looked away again.
"Anyway," Naruto added, not even bothering to turn away as his hands went to his waist and he pushed the thin pants off his hips, "can't wait to get back and see everybody. They're having to spare the four of us –"
"They would have come," Sasuke said, still looking away. "The entire village turned out to volunteer to come get you. Hyuuga Hiashi volunteered half his family. Neji and Hinata weren't included in the offer, because he knew they would go even if he forbade them to. Nara came up with a list of completely logical bullshit reasons why we'd need him. Lee was raving about promises and the things he'd make himself do if he failed to bring you back. Sai didn't say anything at all, he just showed up. Iruka was looking for replacements to teach his classes while he was gone –"
There was a choked sound, and Sasuke glanced at Naruto before huffing and looking away again. He wasn't used to seeing so much wide-eyed emotion on one face. As if Naruto was actually surprised, or something.
There was a sniff, and then Naruto mumbled, "Oh." His voice sounded clogged. "So," he said after a minute, more under control. "How come it's just you guys, then?"
Sasuke shifted on his feet. He could turn around now and look Naruto in the face, he thought, or he could not. It was his own choice. Option A, or Option B.
He turned. "Because this was a job for Team Seven, idiot."
Naruto choked. He was staring at Sasuke's forehead.
He'd only put it on moments before Naruto had approached him. He had been trying to figure out how it felt.
There was still a slash through it, of course. But then, the Hokage had put it there himself. So that was okay.
Naruto stood. Eyes wide, staring, just staring at Uchiha Sasuke, standing at his ease within Konoha's borders, wearing his old hitai-ate for the first time in near on ten years.
He made another choking sound, and his face crumpled.
Sasuke just stared at him curiously. He didn't think he'd ever seen happy tears before.
"Bout time," Naruto mumbled, hands wiping at his face roughly. "….Fuck. I need that bath."
There was a giant splash, and Naruto had disappeared from view. The stream was more a bubbling brook than a river, but it afforded enough depth in the running pools for it to reach his chest if he crouched. He stayed that way for a minute, shivering as the cold water ran around him and cupping it in his hands to wash away the last dried smears of ink and blood from his limbs. Then he knelt on the pebbly, muddy bottom and dunked his head, fingernails raking his scalp vigorously.
Sasuke looked away, focusing on what little of the sky he could see. The light filtering in had changed – suddenly, as it does in deep woods – from golden to a tint of amber. Sunset was not for hours yet, but these woods would darken much sooner than that.
There was a great splashing, and a shivering Naruto – newly clean, skin scrubbed pink and goosebumping from the icy water – was standing beside him.
Stupid idiot hadn't brought any extra clothes with him, and the ones he's been wearing before weren't fit for much more than being burnt.
His skin was cold, beneath Sasuke's lips. He pressed them to Naruto's shoulder, warming the skin there with his breath before scraping his teeth across it. A droplet of water had gotten on his nose.
When he lifted his head, Naruto was staring at him, blue eyes enormous.
Sasuke just smirked at him before dipping down again, licking a short, rough stripe across Naruto's collar bone, before trailing up again and stopping just short of Naruto's lips. He stared at them, eyes heavy and lidded, and waited, head tilted just to the side. He'd made his move. It was time for Naruto to make his.
Naruto stared at him for just one more second before pushing him away roughly and stepping back, one hand clasped bruisingly on each of Sasuke's shoulders.
He stared at him for a moment, looking into his eyes, as if needing the confirmation that this was what he thought it was, that Sasuke was sure – and then shoved him hard, sending him flat on his back against the earth.
Then Naruto pounced on him like a fucking wildcat, and there were tan fingers ripping Sasuke's shirt open, legs clenching around his waist. They were – Sasuke was – lying against the forest floor. There were sticks poking into his legs, his sword was a hard strip of metal against his lower back and sharp rocks under his shoulder blade. Naruto's toes were digging into the loose dirt. It was messy and painful and should never have worked, but it did.
Kind of like them, Sasuke thought vaguely, unable to see through the cloud of blond hair blocking his vision, and the feeling of teeth moving down his jaw and throat with a lot of enthusiasm and somewhat less skill.
Naruto – wet, naked, grinning devilishly – yanked up his torn shirt and straddled his bare stomach, and it got very hard to think at all.
Then the two of them were kicking and pulling his pants off and his black sandals were still on and there were leaves getting stuck in his hair, and Naruto had suddenly yanked them both into a sitting position, and leaned over to whisper dirtily in his ear, "I want you to ride me."
Sasuke punched him, just on principle.
But nigh on an hour later, as the shadows were lengthening and the hot sweat had begun to dry on both of them as they lay twisted together in a sticky, panting heap, Naruto mumbled quietly, "So now what?"
Sasuke expended a ridiculous amount of effort, and managed to raise his eyebrows. "That wasn't enough for you?"
"Naw, I mean – like, in general. Now. Now what?"
Sasuke was quiet. "Now, we go home."
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