Being Dead

Part One: Gravity


Naruto knew immediately that he was dead.

He picked himself up and looked down at the body he'd left behind. There was less blood than all those horror movies suggested there would be.

He remembered being stabbed--remembered the ghthhk of the knife as it tore through his chest. He didn't want to remember the part that came after. Dying had hurt. Being stabbed hadn't. It had just been a shock, a moment defined by what the fuck and no way and this isn't happening.

Sakura was going to be mad at him for standing her up.

He looked down the street. Everything was wet and glossy, because of the rain. It was quiet, and very dark. The trash dump nearby probably smelled worse than Naruto.

Well. Worse than his ex-body.

There was nothing else to do but walk away. Naruto had always been good at going forward and not looking back.

Still. He couldn't help that last glance before he stepped out of the alley.

xxx

xxx

The shrill phone woke Sasuke; he sat up and grunted into the receiver.

Sakura didn't say good morning. "Naruto skipped three days," she said.

Sasuke already knew. He'd called the idiot last night and left a message demanding to know why he wanted to get fired that badly. "Call him, not me," he said.

"He isn't picking up." Sakura didn't waste time. "Cover for him today. Please?"

"No," Sasuke said, even though he was already reaching for his towel.

"You know he wouldn't miss work unless he really had to," Sakura said. Her voice was stern. Sasuke imagined her expression.

"Please," Sakura said again.

Sasuke said, "Alright," and hung up. He would go. He showered quickly, styled his hair, packed his ugly uniform. Just seeing it always made him feel tired.

It's temporary, Sasuke reminded himself. He refused to abuse his inheritance.

He locked the door behind him. The weather was cold.

At the restaurant, Sakura was dark-eyed and harried. She carefully didn't smile at him, and Sasuke didn't smile back. He walked down the line of tables and made sure the shakers were filled.

Sakura met him at the end of the row. She touched his arm. "Thank you," she said.

Sasuke said, "Tell Naruto to thank me himself."

Sakura dropped her hand. "I will," she said. She walked away with lighter steps.

Sasuke pulled on his most stoic expression, and prepared to face the customers.

xxx

It was late when Sasuke finally headed home. He still hadn't changed out of his uniform. Also, there was a cop standing outside his door.

--Wait. A cop?

It was dark, since they'd never fixed the streetlights, but Sasuke could recognize that posture anywhere. He watched the cop step back and walk with heavy steps down the stairs, shoulders shoved down with obvious worry.

As the cop passed by, Sasuke turned his head and tried his best to look casual, which was hard in bright yellow.

What the hell had he wanted?

Sasuke turned to watch him go. Hopefully he would come back tomorrow, when Sasuke had a full night's rest to prop him up.

The stairs creaked under his feet. Someday they'd probably give out. He unlocked the door, kicking off his shoes and nudging them into line with his toes.

It was fucking cold, which didn't make sense. It was near eighty degrees outside, so why...?

Sasuke flipped on the light, and saw Naruto sitting on his kitchen table with his clothes drenched in blood.

He said, "Why aren't you in the fucking hospital, you moron!?"

"Man, I've been waiting forever for you to come home," Naruto said, and then: "What the hell? You can see me?"

"Shut up," Sasuke said, and rushed forward.

Except he couldn't get near. He took one step, two steps, three--and then the cold hit him like a solid wall, and he could only stop and stare. "Naruto, what--"

"You can see me!" Naruto crowed. He slid off the table, and Sasuke was forced to take another step back. He wasn't an idiot. His mind was going, and going fast, and he really, really didn't like the conclusion it was drawing.

"I've been wandering around for days, man," Naruto said, apparently still an idiot.

And now he was a--

"I tried stalking Sakura for a while, but it got skeevy, you know? I saw like an inch of flesh and I was out of there. And then it was just boring, and then I thought, hey, who else could I bother? And I thought of you right away 'cause--"

"They found your body," Sasuke said, more to himself. "The cop was here to ask questions." His lips felt entirely numb, and it wasn't because of Naruto.

"Oh, that," Naruto said. "Yeah. I watched for a while but it was boring, just a bunch of guys looking around and taking pictures. Why's your apartment so empty?"

Sasuke said, "You... you're dead."

"Ah. Well. Yeah." Naruto grinned, like it was something to be embarrassed about. Sasuke's gaze was drawn to his chest, at the blood there. Nausea swelled in his gut--

--and he said, "You're a ghost."

"I am!" Naruto said, and the grin widened.

Sasuke pressed his palm flat against the wall, leaned forward, and threw up.

xxx

"That was disgusting, by the way."

Sasuke was on his hands and knees, because it was better to clean messes up straightaway. He jerked his head up. "Don't come any closer," he growled.

"You're such a bastard," Naruto said.

"Being near you makes me feel like I'm in a freezer. Just... stay there," Sasuke said. "And shut up." He gestured threateningly with his rag and ignored the stench of his own vomit.

Naruto stayed. He didn't shut up. "You know, I can't go through walls. But I can float," he said. "That's how I got in. Do you always keep your bathroom window open? Don't bugs get in that way?"

Sasuke stood up to rinse his rag again. He didn't look at Naruto. "Open windows help prevent mildew, obviously," he said as he turned off the tap. "Didn't I tell you to shut up?"

"Whatever," Naruto said. "Like I'd know that. My place is too cheap to have running water. Was too cheap," he added, and Sasuke flinched. The back of his hand hit the faucet.

"Naruto," he said, hoarsely, "just shut up."

"What is your problem?" Naruto asked.

"I'm going to bed," Sasuke snapped. He thought for a bit, and then reluctantly opened the window above the sink. Then he went towards his bedroom. He did not say: You better still be here when I wake up.

xxx

xxx

It took just one minute for Naruto to get bored of staring at Sasuke's bedroom door.

The city seemed suddenly fascinating, maybe because he wasn't chained by crazy-long shifts anymore. He wanted to explore the high-society clubs, check in on Sakura, finally swear at his boss and fuck the consequences.

There was a problem, though.

He couldn't get away from Sasuke's apartment.

It wasn't like there was any invisible wall keeping him in. But as soon as his thoughts shifted, as soon as his mind recognized he was moving away, his feet stilled and he just. Didn't want to walk away. It was the hardest thing in the world.

In the end, he walked as far as the next street. Even that was difficult, and it wasn't like there was anything interesting to see, so in the end Naruto turned back.

The wind had closed the window shut, so he had to go in through the bathroom again. The door to the bedroom was at least barely cracked open. Naruto had to close his eyes and will himself through.

When he opened his eyes, he saw Sasuke. The bastard slept like Sleeping Beauty: posture straight, hands on his chest, nose pointed straight at the ceiling.

"I think," Naruto said, "that I'm haunting you."

Sasuke didn't reply.

Like this, he looked dead. Naruto sat cross-legged on the floor and watched Sasuke's chest rise, fall, rise and fall, for the rest of the night.

xxx

xxx

Sasuke woke up. It was freezing, which meant--

"You're still here."

"Eheh." Naruto grinned. He was on the floor, close enough that Sasuke dragged the blankets around himself. "By the way, I'm haunting you."

Sasuke rubbed his face. The blankets weren't helping. "Why?"

"I dunno." Naruto looked around the room, as if he hadn't had plenty of time to study it before. "Are you going to work?"

Sasuke said, "I have to. I'm covering for you."

--except that Naruto was dead. You couldn't fire someone that was dead.

Sasuke decided he'd go anyway.

"Can I come with you?"

Sasuke opened his mouth, ready to yell. The words caught mid-throat. Naruto's chin was cupped in his palm; his hair brushed against his cheeks, and the expression on his face was entirely serious.

His eyes were wide, and blue, and sad.

"Just... keep your distance," Sasuke said.

xxx

Naruto kept his distance. The problem was, it didn't help.

Sasuke would turn to yell an order, and he'd see red flash by his vision. Or he'd be serving, and Naruto would be there, sitting on the railing and Sasuke would look immediately at the blood on his chest.

"I asked for the chicken."

"I... excuse me?" Sasuke managed, and yanked his mind back into his awful uniform. The customer was glaring. Sasuke reluctantly tried on his best smile, which had once made Sakura faint. The customer didn't look impressed.

"I asked," he repeated, "for chicken."

"I'm sorry," Sasuke said, and reached for the plate.

"No. Don't. I have a meeting to get to," the customer said, and tugged at his tie as if Sasuke had never met an executive before. His smile slipped.

It slipped even more when he saw Sakura push through the double doors. Her expression was entirely blank. She didn't greet him.

"I'd like a coffee," the man said, imperious.

Sasuke was already gone. Sakura's eyes were red; he grabbed her elbow and pulled her aside, into a corner that held only an old couple and dirty tables.

"Sakura," he started.

"Naruto's dead," Sakura said, and Sasuke thought, I know, but the words died at his throat.

"They made me identify the body," Sakura told the floor. Her muscles were tense against his fingers. "I had to go to the morgue. We were going to go on a date, you know."

Sasuke had known, and too well. He was still angry. But he pulled her close anyway, looked over the top of her dyed hair and met Naruto's eyes.

From so far away, the dead man's expression was unreadable.

xxx

xxx

Naruto couldn't watch.

He watched anyway, through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the restaurant. Other people looked, too. They were probably wondering what was up.

Naruto was wondering too. Sasuke was speaking with the manager; then the two were leaving. Sasuke had to pull Sakura along, as if she'd forgotten how to walk.

Naruto was fine on his perch, until Sasuke's spiky hair disappeared from sight. Then he wanted to follow along, too.

It was afternoon, and the mall was beginning to swell with people looking for lunch. Naruto kept his eyes straight ahead, on the back of Sasuke's shirt.

He remembered himself, and looked at Sakura instead.

They went up to the highest floor, where it was mostly deserted. Naruto stepped off the escalator and stood by the posts. Five meters away, Sasuke sat Sakura down on a bench.

They were talking. Or at least, Sakura was talking, and Sasuke was listening. Naruto couldn't see his face, but Sasuke's body language was protective. He was half-bent over her. It looked like they were about to kiss.

"You never pay attention to me," Naruto said.

Obviously, neither heard. Naruto turned around to look at a line of flat-screen TVs.

He couldn't go inside; there was a glass door in his way, and he couldn't move anything. He couldn't really feel things, either, as if his ghost-body respected barriers but not texture.

His mind remembered, though. Naruto pressed his palm flat against the door and thought, This is glass. It's smooth and cold.

When he turned around, Sasuke was gone.

His first instinct was panic. He couldn't be too far from the bastard--who knew why, but it wasn't an option, dammit. Then he saw Sakura, alone, sitting huddled on the bench. Her elbows were on her knees.

Naruto hesitated. He walked towards her and knelt, looking up at her bowed head. She was crying. Her shoulders were mostly still but Naruto could hear the hitches in her breath.

He said, "I'm sorry."

He said, "I never meant to make you sad."

He said, "I'm really happy you're crying for me, though."

Sakura didn't reply.

So he said, "I think I was almost in love with you."

"Oi!"

It was Sasuke. He was looking at Naruto, and holding coffee cups in his hands. Naruto stared blankly, until he remembered that Sasuke didn't like him nearby.

He scrambled up and away. Sasuke nodded at him, a thank you, and then sat down by Sakura.

Watching Sakura cry, Naruto couldn't help it. It was suddenly important. He had to say it, had to ask, he had to--

"Do I get a funeral?"

Sasuke paled.

xxx

There was a cop at the restaurant when they got back. He had a cool uniform, although everybody looked like they wished he would piss off.

"Whoah. His scar makes him look like a pirate," Naruto said.

Sasuke snorted. His fingers were entwined with Sakura's.

"I'd rather... could we go somewhere else?" Sakura said.

Sasuke said, "No. We should help the police find who's responsible."

"I don't really care, though," Naruto told Sasuke's back. "It doesn't matter."

"It matters to me," Sasuke replied, and Sakura said, "Then, we should stay."

They stayed. Naruto drifted to the front. Telling the customers off got old quickly, though. A few kids had seen the cop and were interrogating their weary parents. Naruto stepped behind their parents and berated them.

Why was Sasuke taking so long?

He flew around the shop. One half of a disrespectful couple was balding. He dodged around them and discovered he could, if he concentrated, walk on walls. It was cool.

"Stop that!"

"What's with you? It's not like anyone can see--oh, you're yelling at the kids," Naruto said. He jumped across the tabletops.

Sasuke rubbed his arms and said, "This is a restaurant, not a playground. Where are your parents?"

"They're at table 17," Naruto said. "What took you so long? When are we going home?"

Sasuke couldn't answer. Naruto went back up the walls and watched the black-haired man scold the parents, just like Naruto had a few minutes ago. He grinned.

xxx

xxx

Sakura announced she was leaving early. She accepted their co-workers' condolences with a sad, brave smile. An hour later, Sasuke announced he was leaving early as well, and exited before he was hit with their pity.

He couldn't tell them he was only going home because Naruto was pissing him off.

He couldn't even say it to Naruto, so he said instead: "They could probably release your body to me."

"What?" said Naruto. "Speak louder, man."

Sasuke looked left, right, and ran across the highway. He jumped over the barricade. "Walk closer, then."

"You said it got cold," Naruto said. He didn't look left or right. He didn't have to.

"It's not real," Sasuke said. "It can't be real, since no one else notices."

"No one else notices me," Naruto said. "Do you think I'm real?"

Sasuke nearly missed the words, because they were so quiet and Naruto hadn't moved closer. He turned around to glare. "I'm having a fucking conversation with you, aren't I?"

Naruto couldn't have heard, because a truck flew by, drowning them in noise and fumes. The idiot grinned anyway and drifted near enough to touch.

"I'll get them to release your body to me," Sasuke said, quietly. Naruto could hear him clearly now, though. He walked down the road that led to home. "Since you wanted a funeral."

"You'd seriously do that?"

Sasuke shouldn't have looked. When he did, he noticed it wasn't cold at all, and that there was a bruise on Naruto's cheek. He said, "Yes. I'm good at arranging funerals," and his lips twisted. He looked away.

He'd have to make a lot of calls. He wondered if Naruto would mind a cremation. Coffins were expensive.

And--

--the thought of having one Naruto underground, slowly rotting, while another was walking right beside him--

--it wasn't right.

xxx

He woke up that night to see Naruto on the ceiling.

Was he dreaming? No. Naruto was a ghost, and he'd been--walking on walls.

Not a dream, then. But the moment felt like a dream; everything was muted and blue. Sasuke said, "Oi, come down."

Naruto did, floating down like a feather.

(No. Like a ghost.)

"What?" Naruto said.

Sasuke sorted through the questions in his head, like cards. "How did you die?"

"Huh?" Naruto's expression was odd. "Why do you want to know?"

"Because," Sasuke lied, "if the police know what happened--"

"Why are you so fixated on finding out who killed me?" Naruto's eyes slid half-shut. Sasuke could count his eyelashes, but he felt no body heat.

"It's important," Sasuke said.

"No it isn't," Naruto said. "I'm the one who got a knife stuck through my chest, right? Listen to me."

"It is," Sasuke said, thinking of his parents, his brother, all the answers he'd never have.

Naruto ignored him. "Anyway, I got stabbed. I don't remember much other than that, though. Oh, but," he added, "it wasn't a mugging. He didn't take my wallet or anything. Maybe he was bored. And afterwards it was kind of.... Nevermind."

"You're different," Sasuke said. "I wouldn't expect a ghost like you."

"Like you've met any before." Naruto snorted.

Sasuke wanted to laugh. Instead he said, "I wonder if I can touch you."

"That's disgusting," Naruto said immediately.

"No, I mean--"

Sasuke reached out. He put his palm on Naruto's cheek, where the bruise was. Probably from when he'd fallen. After the--after being stabbed.

Naruto wasn't hot or cold, or hard or soft. He wasn't anything. Sasuke traced his hand's path with his eyes, saw it slide down Naruto's neck, his shoulders, to rest at his ruined chest. He didn't feel any of it.

"Why did you die?" he whispered.

"Bad luck," Naruto answered.

Sasuke had been so sure Naruto was real. He wasn't anymore. He said, "Why are you haunting me? Why not Sakura?"

"Well, I was kind of in love with her," Naruto said, staring up at the ceiling as if nothing was wrong. "But she wouldn't deserve that."

"And I do?"

"Well... yeah," Naruto said, and then: "Bastard."

Sasuke's gaze dropped. He said, "Moron," and reached for the buttons on Naruto's shirt.

It opened. He hadn't actually expected that.

He studied the wound with his fingertips, and with his eyes. It was so much smaller than he'd imagined, and yet--the sight of it had him frozen.

No. No, it was Naruto, emanating cold again. Sasuke pulled his hand away. "Sorry," he breathed. "Could you--go to the other side of the room?"

"What? Hey, you said you were okay with--"

"Just go," Sasuke said, and pulled the sheets over his face. He felt like throwing up again.

Naruto said, "Fuck you." He stayed on the bed. After a moment, Sasuke shifted.

"How long?" Sasuke said. His voice was muffled. "How long did it take you to die?"

"I... what?"

"The wallet. You said he didn't take your wallet. And you mentioned 'afterwards.' You were conscious, then. For how long?"

Sasuke heard a chuckle, like the conversation was funny. "Not long at all!"

"That's good," Sasuke managed, and got up to go to the bathroom.

"Oi, Sasuke--"

"Shut up! I'm allowed to piss!" Sasuke snapped, and closed the door. He stayed there for a long time, with his hand over his mouth.

Naruto had lied. Naruto had obviously lied.

The knife had probably perforated his lung. So--how long? How long had Naruto lain there, dying, with no one nearby, no one to help? Had he called out? Had he even been able to?

How long?

Sasuke sank in front of the toilet and hugged the sides, and did his business as quietly as possible, and hated the way the question stayed, and stayed, and stayed.

How long?

How long had it taken for Naruto to die?

xxx

xxx

Sasuke was acting weird.

Naruto let him brood. It was his first time properly exploring Sasuke's apartment. There was a bathroom, a bedroom, a kitchen, and even a living room. To Naruto, it was huge. The living room even had a flat-screen TV. Naruto said, "Cool," and went to find Sasuke.

Who was shrugging on a dark gray shirt that matched with darker jeans. "Where are you going?" Naruto said.

"To meet with Sakura," Sasuke admitted.

Oh. "Are you guys going out now?"

Sasuke shoved his wallet into his pocket and didn't answer. Naruto said, "Could you turn on the TV?"

"You're not coming?" Sasuke said. He looked surprised, and slightly hurt.

"No," Naruto said. The word came out flat. "Turn on the TV."

"I thought," Sasuke started, but he didn't finish the sentence. He went through the apartment first, opening all the doors, before he turned on the TV.

After he left, Naruto sat on the back of the couch and stared blankly at the screen while Jerry kicked Tom's ass again. Sasuke and Sakura, he thought. Sakura and Sasuke.

He should've went with Sasuke. The apartment was suddenly too big, and too empty. He didn't belong here. He was aware of a slow, creeping discomfort, one that froze his limbs and slowed his thoughts.

Sasuke. He had to find Sasuke.

How far away could the bastard be? Naruto scrambled to the kitchen, to the sink, and out of the apartment. A too-awake neighborhood greeted him: a group of mothers on the corner, their young children nearby on the pavement. Their faces were all alien.

Naruto glided from streetlight to dead streetlight, looking for familiar, spiky hair. Where could he have...?

Sakura's place, maybe.

It was easy to travel down the highway now. He didn't dodge one car fast enough; there was a strange, blurred moment, and then Naruto thought, That thing just went straight through me, didn't it?

Sakura lived in a village, like Naruto. It was just off the highway and part of an increasing, and not entirely legal, sprawl. There were three lines of stalls always selling food, and clothes, and cheap toys.

Just past the bazaar was Sakura's apartment building. Naruto walked past the windows to her floor and eased onto the balcony.

They were kissing.

Sakura and Sasuke were kissing. Sakura was holding a tea cup in one hand, and the other was buried in Sasuke's messy hair. It was frantic, and desperate.

The two of them were as strange and alien as Sasuke's empty house, as Sasuke's neighborhood. Naruto scratched the back of his head and tried a sheepish laugh (oops, what did I stumble in on?). It didn't feel real.

He dropped back off the balcony, down thirteen floors, and landed on the roof of someone selling drinks.

He felt lost, like he'd been just after death. Maybe he really wasn't haunting Sasuke. Maybe he was just desperate for a place to be, for a place to go.

"I could always go home," Naruto said, and stared out at a crowd of busy people, none of whom could see him.

xxx

Naruto found himself locked out.

Then he remembered: I'm a ghost. Holy shit, I'm a ghost, and he just slid through the window and past the curtains.

His bedroom looked exactly the same. The bathroom wasn't even a bathroom at all, just a tiny, tiled room where Naruto had squeezed in a giant bucket. He'd had to get the water from a tap outside. On colder nights, he'd heated it, one kettle at a time.

His plants were already dying. Naruto felt sorry for them. It looked like his landlord hadn't come by. She was a distracted lady, blonde and busty, with an old photograph of two men on her desk.

Naruto sat on the bed.

He would never wake up here anymore. He would never listen to crappy early-morning shows while he brushed his teeth, would never eat ramen on that wobbly desk-chair, would never lean out the window and watch the village children set off fireworks.

He didn't belong here anymore.

He needed to go back to Sasuke's apartment. But he didn't want to--not if Sasuke wasn't going to be there.

"You're a ghost," Sasuke had said, and then he'd thrown up. It had been--really gross, actually, but.

But.

Would anyone else have? Would anyone else have cared enough?

Naruto leaned back on the bed, and--

--wondered.

xxx

xxx

Sasuke came home to an empty apartment.

He didn't let himself panic. He searched through each room methodically; Naruto wasn't hiding anywhere, and he wasn't watching TV.

Don't panic, Sasuke thought again, and turned it off. No blond idiot emerged to protest. Sasuke grit his teeth, checked the windows. The noise from outside only stressed the quiet in his apartment.

He had to find Naruto. No, he had to get ready for work. Today was his shortest shift. That was good, because Sakura--

"Shit," Sasuke said, and stepped into the shower. He had no idea what he was doing. He had no idea what they were doing.

When Sasuke got out of the bathroom, Naruto was--there. He looked at Naruto's bruised face, his nose, his eyes. "Where were you?"

Naruto said, "Why'd you turn off the TV?"

"It's not as if you were watching," Sasuke said. "You weren't here."

"Yeah," Naruto said. "Yeah, I went home."

Sasuke raised his towel, rubbed at his hair. No replies jumped to his mind.

Naruto asked, "What's going to happen to my stuff, you think?"

"I don't know." The reply was short. "Do you want--"

"Nah. Forget it. I never had much, anyway." Naruto hugged his legs, looking vulnerable in a world that couldn't harm him anymore. "I'm following you out this time, okay?"

Yes. Good. Except--"I'm going to Sakura's, after," Sasuke said.

"So you are--"

"We're not," Sasuke decided. "She just--I...." Shit. He dropped the towel in the hamper. "I'm not trying to take her away from you."

"I never had her in the first place," Naruto said.

His bitter tone made Sasuke look up sharply. Naruto was smiling, but he wasn't meeting Sasuke's eyes.

"She's just trying to deal with it," Sasuke said. "She's trying to deal with--you."

"So you're the rebound guy? Man." Naruto unfolded himself. Sasuke changed, and Naruto didn't bother leaving the room.

"No," Sasuke said. "I'm trying to deal with you, too."

"... What?"

"Forget it. You wouldn't get it," Sasuke said.

Naruto gaped. "Hell no! You can't just say shit like that and leave."

"Why not? I have work," Sasuke said. "I have to earn money, and pay my bills, I have a living to earn--"

He stopped. Naruto was standing in front of the door, blocking the way. His arms were crossed.

His feet weren't touching the floor, as if his body was remembering less and less how to interact with the world. Sasuke's keys dropped from suddenly limp fingers.

"Deal with what?" Naruto said, softly.

Sasuke pressed his palm against his temple. He breathed in, out. It didn't help. So he sat down instead, resigned to being late. "I'm allowed to mourn you, too."

"But," Naruto said, "I'm right here."

"But you could leave," Sasuke said. "You could leave me anytime."

"I'm here," Naruto said. "I'm haunting you."

"That's not what I meant," Sasuke said. "I mean... there's nothing keeping you here. It's not a guarantee." He pressed his lips together, merging them into a flat, disappointed line. "Nevermind. You don't get it. You don't fucking get it!"

Naruto's eyes narrowed into that familiar, bewildered expression. "Why are you getting so mad, damn it?"

"Shut up!"

Naruto moved. "Fucking fine, if you want me to shut up so badly, I'll just go and--"

Sasuke said, "No."

"... What the fuck, Sasuke."

"Don't go," Sasuke said tiredly. "Please."

"I was," Naruto said, "only going to the other room."

"Just sit here," Sasuke said. His head sank down, pillowed by thin arms on thin shoulders. "Just. Sit. Please."

"O... kay," Naruto said. Sasuke didn't, and couldn't, hear him move, but when he turned his head, Naruto was there. Confused, but there. And he needed that, he needed the idiot to never leave.

He'd just call in sick. He was a terrible waiter, anyway.

xxx

What Sasuke discovered was that planning funerals wasn't much easier when the dead person in question was helping.

"But I don't want flowers," Naruto said.

"Fine," Sasuke said. It would save money, anyway. He'd been looking into orange flowers--everything from asiatic lilies to roses to gerberas. Nevermind.

He'd decide on the venue by the end of the week. No churches. No grand halls. His mind kept conjuring open-air places: beaches, lakes, parks. He made a note.

Naruto hovered. "I could get buried in ramen!" he suggested.

"You... no," Sasuke said. The table was covered with papers and figures. The wake... it would have to be at home. They'd play Naruto's favorite music. First he'd have to ask Naruto what his favorite music was.

"Why not? It would be--"

Sasuke slammed his palm against the table, and then hissed when the sting shot his arm. "Shut up," he said. "Your body's getting cremated."

"What, you're sending me through an incinerator?" Naruto said. "That's cool."

"Not you," Sasuke stressed, because the difference was important. "Your body."

"Yeah, okay," Naruto said. He was grinning. "Hey, are you going to make a speech?"

"Do you want me to make a speech?" Sasuke asked wearily.

"Sure. It'd be funny, seeing you talk all grand while I--"

"Okay," Sasuke said. "Okay. I'll do it."

Naruto blinked. "Sasuke? Why d'you look so--"

"Nothing." Sasuke scraped the chair back. "I'm going to get dinner."

"You should eat ramen," Naruto encouraged. "It's good for you!"

"Shut up," Sasuke said.

xxx

xxx

Naruto's funeral took place two weeks after his body was found.

"You know," Naruto said, "I don't think I ever looked that good when I was alive."

"Still thinking about the visitation?" Sasuke asked.

"Yeah," Naruto said. He was showing off his latest trick--sitting mid-air, legs crossed, above people's heads. It was cool, even if Sasuke didn't think so.

Next to Sasuke, Sakura smoothed her palms over her gray dress. She looked gorgeous. "Yes," Sakura said. "I've never seen him look so--peaceful. So quiet."

Sasuke took her hand. He'd been doing that a lot lately. Naruto lifted himself a couple inches higher.

There were way more people than he'd thought there would be. There were even a few of his old college professors. Everyone from the restaurant was there, and some kid from his high school. His landlord, too. She looked stunned.

Naruto didn't mind that some were obviously bored. He was a little bored. Still....

He circled slowly in place, like a top. "Wow."

"They all care enough to say goodbye," Sasuke said.

Naruto glanced down. "You're gonna look crazy if you keep talking to me," he said.

Sakura said, "Of course they do. He was always so happy. So bright. You know, I think I was almost in love with him."

"What?" Naruto said.

Sasuke's features stilled. He said, "Ah."

Sakura said, "I'm sorry. Maybe I shouldn't have said that."

Sasuke shrugged. He didn't let go of her hand. Instead, his tilted his head down towards her.

--They didn't kiss. Sasuke was whispering. Naruto met his eyes, soft and black. Sasuke smiled. It looked painful.

Naruto said, "Sasuke? What--"

Sakura was frozen. "Since when?" she said.

"Since when what?" Naruto asked, wanting in. "Oi, Sasuke, what did you tell her?"

"I mean, I--oh." Sakura was staring. At Sasuke. She was more stunned than the landlord. "Is that why you paid for--all this?"

"Hey, hey, what did you tell her?" Naruto said.

"Yes. It's a secret," Sasuke said seriously.

"That's unfair!" Naruto said. "You know, I'll find out anyway. I'm with you all the time."

"Of course," Sakura said, and then: "Do you ever wish you'd said something, before he--died?"

"Yes," Sasuke said. He stepped away from her. "It's time."

Sakura's fingers slid out of Sasuke's grasp. She raised them to her chest. "I--yes, okay. Sasuke... I'm sorry."

"Yes," Naruto said, "but for what?"

Sakura walked towards the microphone. The sun was shining; the seats were white, and plastic. Sasuke looked relieved, and lighter somehow.

"Sasuke!" Naruto said. "Seriously, what did you tell her?"

Sasuke didn't answer, just gave him that pained not-smile. He sat down. Sakura coughed into the microphone, and began to speak. People began to find their seats.

It had already been quiet. It was even more quiet, now.

Naruto drifted back, and then even farther back, beyond the last row. His feet touched the ground. He imagined he could feel the grass, feel the same breeze that ruffled people's hair and clothes but left him untouched.

It was a good day for a funeral. Naruto looked straight ahead at Sakura.

He let her words flow over him--through him, really. He'd been a good friend. He'd been funny. He'd been sweet, and kind, and brave.

He would be missed. He was missed.

Naruto thought, I really am dead.

He tried it again: I'm dead.

So why am I here? Why am I staying?


Sakura stepped down. Sasuke stepped up.

Their gazes met, over nine rows of friends, aquaintances, and half-strangers. Naruto grinned, as wide as he could. He mouthed: Thank you.

Sasuke didn't smile back. He began with, "Naruto Uzumaki was my best friend."

xxx

xxx

When Sasuke entered the bedroom, he saw Naruto framed by the window. His eyebrows drew together.

"I liked that other CD better," Naruto said.

"I was looking for you," Sasuke said. He was holding a wine glass.

"That's your fourth, ain't it?" Naruto said.

Sasuke shrugged.

"Sorry. I just... sorry." Naruto turned back to the outside world. "You should go drink some more. You deserve to be completely trashed after the weeks you've had."

"So do you," Sasuke said. He sat on the bed.

"Yeah, but I'm dead."

Sasuke tilted his head back and drank the wine like it was beer. "This is the first time you've said that."

Naruto floated next to him. "No it's not."

"Yes it is. Those two words. 'I'm dead.' " Sasuke frowned. "You've stopped walking."

"I'm dead," Naruto said.

"Yes," Sasuke said quietly. "You are."

"How much have you had?" Naruto said, suspicious.

The door opened. Sasuke jumped. "Sasuke? They're playing Scrabble. Do you want to join?" It was Sakura, back in her habitual bright colors.

"Scrabble?" Naruto said. "You're playing Scrabble at my wake?"

"I'll stay here," Sasuke told her, carefully not smiling.

"Oh. Um." Sakura worried her lip. To her, the room was empty, and Sasuke was alone. "Are you alright? I have vodka."

"I want vodka," Naruto said.

Sasuke said, "He never really drank," in what was hopefully a reminiscent tone.

"Yeah, but I want to now," Naruto said.

Sakura said, "Yes, but we do." She sat down on Sasuke's other side.

They passed the bottle back and forth. Sakura had brought shot glasses. They didn't speak, and neither did Naruto.

It was eerie. Sasuke kept looking to his left, to make sure Naruto was still there.

"What are you looking at?" Sakura said, from his right.

Sasuke shook his head. Shit. "Nothing." He looked at her.

She was warm, and Naruto wasn't. Her eyes were bright, and green. Naruto's had been closed. Sakura was right; Naruto had looked--at peace.

"Sasuke," Sakura said. "This is--totally inappropriate, and I shouldn't, but I'm going to kiss you."

"Oh, wow, okay. Bye," Naruto said. "I'm going to watch that Scrabble game."

"Wait," Sasuke tried to say, but--

But. Sakura.

It wasn't what he wanted. She wasn't what he wanted. Still, Sasuke didn't move away. Her lips were slick with gloss. Sasuke put one hand on her hip.

"I'm sorry," Sakura said. "I'm so, so sorry."

Her breaths were uneven. Sasuke brushed her tears away with his thumb. He said, "Yeah," and let her tug off his shirt.

He pushed her down. She was soft under him, and hot. Her skin was smooth. Naruto was in the other room, watching people play Scrabble, listening to his favorite CDs, and he was dead.

Sasuke kissed Sakura's neck, and gave in.

xxx

Sasuke woke up.

He said, "Fuck," and rolled over. There was a glass of water next to his bed. It pinned a scrap of paper.

I'm out buying breakfast. - S

"Fuck," Sasuke said again. "Naruto, what time is it?"

No answer, of course. He probably hadn't come back into the room. Sasuke would have to apologize later.

He imagined it: I'm sorry for getting drunk and having sex with your almost-girlfriend at your wake.

Maybe not.

Sakura had closed the windows. Sasuke opened them again. He was used to the insects by now.

He showered and dressed. The living room was trashed. The stereo was still going; Sasuke turned it off. There were blankets and pillows where some people had probably slept. They were all gone now, though.

The game of Scrabble was on the floor. FRANKALMOIGN, Sasuke read, and wondered if it was a word.

"Naruto?" he called.

Not in the kitchen, either. Not in the living room. And he hadn't been in the bedroom.

"Hey."

Sasuke turned. "Na--"

No, it wasn't. It wasn't, and Sasuke's insides were ice-cold with realization.

Sasuke shoved past Sakura, throwing on his flipflops. She said, "Sasuke, where are you going?"

He ignored her. The steps clanged under him.

He was in a hurry, so he took a taxi. There was no traffic, which fit the fear rising in him.

He should have banned alcohol at the fucking wake.

The car stopped. "Wait here," Sasuke said, and thrust a bill at the driver. The man said, "Yes, yes."

Sasuke located Naruto's former home by memory. There was no elevator. The walls in the stairwell were bright green. Maybe Sasuke was at the wrong place. He reached door 9-4-A. There were no shoes in front of it, and the orange welcome mat was gone.

Sasuke looked at the door like he might glare it into opening.

"Can I help you?"

He turned around. The woman had dyed blonde hair and a low-cut shirt. She was too old for her clothes. "You're... Sasuke," she said.

"You're his landlord," Sasuke returned.

"Was. Why are you here?" she asked.

Sasuke said, "I was--"

And couldn't continue.

The woman was unimpressed. "His stuff is cleared out. I'm getting the place ready for the next tenant." She looked him up and down. "But I have some of it in a box on my desk. I'm giving it to you."

Sasuke shook his head. "I wanted to see his apartment."

"I'm giving it to you," she repeated. "And it's, 'I wanted to see his apartment, please.' "

She took out a key and fitted it into the lock. The click made Sasuke's heart beat faster. "My office is on the top floor," the landlord told him, and left. Sasuke didn't think she liked him. He turned.

Sasuke didn't let himself hesitate; he entered the room.

Naruto's apartment was too empty.

It was tiny, too. Sasuke stood for a long moment. The bed was stripped; the mattress was stained. There was no other furniture.

The potted plants were gone.

He backed out and closed the door with shaking hands.

He took his time walking to the top floor. The landlord was waiting for him, with a box. It was sealed with more packing tape than strictly needed.

Sasuke picked it up. He said, "Thank you."

She crossed her arms. "He was a good kid," she said. "Reminds me of my brother. And my husband."

"I see," Sasuke managed.

She studied him. "You gave a good speech."

Sasuke already knew that. Naruto had told him so.

Naruto. His fingers tightened. He had to keep looking for Naruto.

"I... have to go," he said. "Tsunade, right?"

She nodded, and didn't say goodbye. Sasuke's expression tightened. It was long, long walk to the ground floor. His shoulders ached.

The taxi wasn't waiting for him. Sasuke closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, and simply flagged down another one. His hand trembled slightly, but it was just from carrying the box.

xxx

Sakura wasn't at her apartment, so Sasuke felt free to bang on her door and call Naruto's name. There was no answer. A passer-by stared. Sasuke left before security could evict him.

He took the elevator back down thirteen floors. Where would he search next? He'd drop by the restaurant, Naruto's favorite parks... where else could he search?

The street where Naruto had died.

Sasuke got into the taxi. At least it hadn't run off, this time. He gave vague directions.

He put his hand on the box next to him. It was brown, and small, and full of Naruto's things. They rattled. He considered dumping it.

He didn't need reminders, not with Naruto's ghost hanging around. If he could find the idiot--

Or maybe he would have to keep it, now.

"Stop here," Sasuke said.

"Sure," the driver said.

"If you wait," Sasuke said, "I'll pay double fare." He'd learned.

"Sure," the driver said, with a bit more enthusiasm.

Sasuke took the box with him, still, feeling paranoid.

When he reached the alley, it was empty except for the trash dump. There was a darker stain on the ground. Sasuke looked left, right, up, down. His shadow was long, and disfigured. He called, "Naruto?"

Nothing. Sasuke clutched the box to his chest. The alley smelled.

He went back to his taxi. He told the driver to go to the mall, where the restaurant was. After that, he would go to the parks. He'd search all week. All month, if he had to.

He put the box in his lap, and watched the city go by with dull eyes.