A ficlet I wrote awhile back, meant to be a sequel for Naruto Shippuden's second ED. Yes, I wrote a sequel to an ending sequence. Needless to say, it's a high school AU. Originally written for a SasuNaru fanbook, but it's really more gen than anything. Ensemble cast.


A Shared Sky

-x-

The black coat is the only scar that he could remove at will, so to Naruto, the act of undressing has always seemed like the closest he's ever gotten to healing.

On certain days, it's important just to remember this fact. He's so used to people judging him on the basis of his appearance, the flaying gaze that bruises from head to toe, the brutalizing brush-off. Although the coat contributes to this situation – is, in all likelihood, the leading factor – it's still nice to believe he has ability to jumpstart the recovery process every night before falling into bed.

It's control, or the illusion of it. Tsunade-baba used to call it, "The ailment of all who are tragically mortal," but Naruto knows the old hag is mostly full of shit.

-x-

Rather embarrassingly, Naruto ends up in the hospital.

It's bad enough he took such a beating from Tanaka and his pompadour'd crew; to have treatment forced on him is just humiliating. The local school district apparently frowns upon students attending class with broken ribs. They should probably reserve the effort to actually keep him in school, but for now, he doesn't mind. Sure, prolonged bed rest and hospital food suck the hairy one, but he gets to enjoy an arctic blast of AC while the rest of the world wilts under the late April heat.

Additional perks include ringside seat to Sakura-chan's struggle with the can of condensed milk she brought to supplement his diet.

"Do you need some--" he offers for the third time, and is again cowed by her glare. Her choppy, newly-short hair falls to frame her face, and she's ultra-cute, all intensified by anger like that. As Sakura's generally enraged when speaking to him, it's no wonder they're meant to be together forever.

"How are you feeling?" Sakura asks. The way her voice softens fills him with hope that she's here for him, and not out of misplaced guilt over the Tanaka incident. "Has anyone else been to see you?"

"Well, Shikamaru, but he was just cutting. Spent the entire time kipping on the empty bed over there, until the nurses kicked him out. And Neji! But he just sat there and stared at me for like ten minutes, it was really weird. Then he said, 'I am gladdened by your decision to abandon the path of delinquency,' and took off. What a strange guy. And his cousin, that shy girl, what's-her-name, Hinata-chan! She was outside all afternoon, but I don't think that technically counted as a visit since she never came into the room – hey, whatssamatter?"

"Nothing," Sakura says, frowning. "It's just odd, I could've sworn…"

"What?"

She shakes her head quickly. Then, "Hey, Naruto." Her voice falters, green eyes flickering to a space to her immediate left. "Why do you keep that around?"

He follows her gaze, to the other chair in the room, which, while unoccupied, has been taken over by the long black coat draped over it. They had taken all his personal belongings and outfitted him in hospital gown upon admission, but he had asked to keep his necklace – and the coat.

"Eh, you know," he begins, consciously prevaricating. "It's custom-made, I don't really trust it in the hands of the goons running this establishment."

Sakura says nothing. For a moment, both their eyes are caught by the symbol on the back, swirling white on a sea of threadbare black.

-x-

The next day, Shikamaru drops by again with a bouquet the size of a bulging rucksack. "Just returned from a wedding?" Naruto asks, and receives an exaggerated eye-roll for his trouble.

"Ino sent it," Shikamaru says, dropping the elaborate floral contraption on the bedside table with zero ceremony. He immediately beelines for the spare bed like a moth to light. "There's a card from everyone inside, to wish you a speedy recovery, yadda yadda."

Enthusiastically, Naruto grabs for it, and quickly scans the messages inside. Two sentences in, his face begins to twitch. "Hey, you sure you didn't tell them I was on my deathbed or something, 'cause this thing's full of condolences… Shikamaru!"

His queries are met with a steady stream of snores.

-x-

Later that afternoon, he is visited by Lee and the gym teacher, Gai-sensei, whom Naruto is positive he's never spoken to before in his life. Really, he can't see why. The green-clad man falls squarely into the category of Awesome – now he understands why Lee likes to go on and on about him.

Sadly, the two are now permanently banned from hospital grounds.

-x-

Naruto's asleep, and dreaming about Tsunade-baba – which automatically puts this dream in the territory of nightmares.

He's dreaming about the day he left, the light spring rain dampening his overcoat, adding weight. The day Tsunade had given him her heirloom necklace. "Don't get into any more fights at your new school, you punk," she'd said, flicking his forehead "fondly", and even though he's clearly, totally sound asleep, the jewel on his neck seems to press down a little harder under his hospital gown nonetheless.

Then, without warning, his dreamscape shifts – and he suddenly finds himself on the sun-filled roof of Konoha High, under an endless, shockingly blue sky. He's sitting in the cool shade of the water tank, where he usually goes to eat lunch, and sure enough, there's an instant-ramen cup gripped between his fingers, radiating steamy deliciousness.

But what's that fruity-looking bento box doing there at his feet?

He opens his eyes, and Kakashi says, "Interesting. You don't look near death."

Several outbursts and a near head-on collision later, Naruto is slumped against the headboard, clutching dramatically at his thumping heart, while Kakashi lounges casually in the visitor's chair, surveying his surroundings with mild curiosity.

"Freak bastard teacher," Naruto says reproachfully. "What the hell are you doing here? Isn't it way past visiting hours?"

"I wished to investigate the rumors of my student's imminent passing," Kakashi says solemnly. "You don't have to worry about the hours – even though you've managed to alienate the entire nursing staff in two days, they're actually quite fond of me."

"That's not what I'm worried about," Naruto counters. Then he narrows his eyes, and asks suspiciously, "Wait, did you put that bouquet in water? I don't remember that vase being there before."

"Wasn't me," Kakashi says, completely unperturbed. "Honestly, I just got here – perhaps you have a secret admirer, Naruto-kun."

Naruto ponders this possibility. It sounds rather exciting. He turns his approving glance to Kakashi, but does a doubletake. "Hey, what the hell?!"

Kakashi stares at him in puzzlement, but Naruto is looking at the chair to his left. The empty chair. Where his coat used to be.

-x-

The next time Naruto opens his eyes, he is ready.

"Visiting hours ended at seven," he says coldly, eyes fixed on the ugly ceiling. "And give me back my coat, you thieving bastard!"

"You want to be careful with those accusations," comes the reply, gratingly tart. "You shouldn't blame others if you get into the habit of misplacing your belongings."

Naruto bolts up in his bed, ignoring his ribs' ardent protests. "Okay, you wanna fight or something?"

Sasuke, because he lacks the proper manners befitting a functional human-being, is not making use of the perfectly comfortable chairs next to the bed, but is instead perched like a moron on the edge of the open window, with one leg dangling to the side. Even though the room is dark, the silhouette of his idiotic hairstyle is clearly visible against the nightscape, traced in orange street light.

"I have no problem with it," says Sasuke. "But you seem to still be recovering from the last fight you got yourself into."

"Bastard," Naruto snarls – really, why would people call him a broken record? "Let's get one thing straight. I would have been just fine without your help." Well, eventually. "Still, it was …decent of you to lend a hand. Make sure Sakura-chan and Hinata-chan didn't get hurt or anything, I appreciated that. But I could have handled myself just fine, got that?"

"Could have, should have," Sasuke says, tilting his head out the window. It brings the expression (of smugness!) on his face into sharp focus. His pale complexion has a remarkable capacity to hold light. This is something that occurred to Naruto early on in their rocky acquaintance, the first time Sasuke had walked up to him on the roof carrying his dumb bento and said, "You're sitting in my spot."

That day, under that shared patch of blue sky, Naruto had been entirely convinced that Sasuke was an irredeemable asshole, that the world couldn't possibly be big enough to hold the both of them without promptly self-destructing. Only one of those two things seems true now.

And. He did appreciate the assist.

So instead of biting out something clever like, "What kind of man eats out of a purple bento box?" he just rolls the kinks out of his shoulders slowly, gripes, "If you're going to visit, at least do it during normal hours. I was trying to get some sleep." Not strictly true, but it sounds better than, "I was lying quietly in wait."

"Can't get out here during the day," Sasuke says, almost in a whisper, and for what seems like the first time, that customary haughtiness temporarily leaves his voice, leaving something intangible that might be taken for vulnerability. It takes Naruto by surprise – if Sasuke could be bothered to turn around, the jackass would see Naruto staring at him, utterly slack-jawed.

"Figures," he says in the end, and throws himself back onto his pillow in resignation. The room is quiet – almost too quiet: he can hear the faint sound of Sasuke's breath, all the way there by the window. It's strange to be in such close proximity to another person at this late hour. It occurs to Naruto he's never really experienced that before.

"I'm sure your coat will turn up – eventually," Sasuke says, with the same inflections as before.

"Yeah, well," Naruto says, closing his eyes, "I'm in no great hurry." He'll have plenty of new scars to deal with once this ordeal is over, why rush to put on old ones? Besides, it's time he got some new custom-made clothing anyway. Maybe orange, he thinks, watching the light that idles on Sasuke's face.

-x-

The End