Italics are flashbacks. I wrote the first part of this story in a different kind of way.
And It Burns
"Naruto, you idiot," Sasuke hissed as he half carried, half led said blonde into a cave, lying him gently onto the floor, apologizing with furrowed eyebrows when Naruto groaned at the discomfort of mere movement, "What were you thinking?" he asked as he brushed back Naruto's bangs from his clammy forehead.
"I was thinking, you're weaker than me," the blonde joked with a pain-filled smile before grimacing as a wave of agony washed over him.
Kunai were flying past him like bullets in a war. Naruto dodged left and right, trying to find where the real enemy was. He punched a man and swore loudly when it disappeared into a cloud of smoke. He couldn't remember how many shadow clones he'd destroyed so far but he was quickly becoming irritated with the situation.
He looked back over his shoulder to see Sasuke fighting a man who Naruto figured was the leader while something caught his attention at the edge of his vision. He saw the enemy summoning the clones sitting in a nearly flawless hiding space, watching Sasuke with a cheater's glint to his eyes. He watched as the enemy uncorked a vial filled with some sort of viscous clear liquid, pouring it over the tip of an oddly shaped kunai. Naruto knew what was going to happen next. He grabbed for a kunai to deflect the enemy's with and swore when he realized he was completely out. He swore louder when he realized he was also clean out of shurienken.
"You wish, dobe. You're the weakest excuse for a shinobi I've ever seen."
Naruto laughed softly before giving Sasuke a berating look that was really only halfhearted.
"Is that any way to talk to your captain?"
"Sasuke!" Naruto warned as he watched the man form a single handseal that made the poison absorb into the blade. Naruto didn't know things like this even existed. But this was the ninja world. Seeing new and deadly things like this wasn't uncommon.
"Little bit busy, dobe!" the raven replied as he narrowly dodged punch after punch before counterattacking. Naruto watched with worried eyes as the man smirked, deeming the weapon ready before poising himself to launch the attack. Naruto's body jumped into action before he could think twice as he darted into the line of fire as the man flicked his wrist, releasing his venom upon Sasuke. The kunai sunk itself deeply into Naruto's stomach and he staggered back, his back colliding with Sasuke's.
"Damn it Naruto!" he exclaimed before realizing what had happened, his eyes widening slightly in shock before the tomoe in his sharingan spun in anger. He turned back to his enemy, ending the fight with one quick glare from his Mangekyou Sharingan, causing the man to fall unconscious after three short seconds. He turned back to Naruto who grimaced before grabbing a kunai out of Sasuke's weapons pouch, throwing it towards the hidden enemy to deflect another tipped weapon that Sasuke didn't even see coming.
"ANBU Captain or not, it was still reckless."
Sasuke followed the trajectory, quickly bolting into the hiding place and killing the man with one swift slash to his throat. He might have been good at hiding and creating clones to do his dirty work, but he definitely wasn't quick enough to even think before Sasuke mercilessly ended his life. As soon as the man was dead, all his clones dispelled and the threat abruptly vanished.
Naruto groaned, stumbling further back when the support of Sasuke left him, his back colliding painfully with a thick tree trunk. He began to slide to the ground before Sasuke was by his side again, holding him up gently.
"Dobe, why'd you do that?" Sasuke scolded, noticing the thin sheen of sweat coating Naruto's face.
"It was tipped. And you don't have Kyuubi – like me," the blonde explained between sharp intakes for air.
"You act – you – you think you're invincible or something. Naruto, you freaking idiot! You better not die," Sasuke gritted out as he pulled out a scroll, summoning the basic first aid kit Sakura had given to him several years ago. He had almost – almost – gotten rid of it. He wasn't used to not having Sakura around. She was usually around to heal them when they acted as reckless as they always did. But this was a recon mission for just him and Naruto and she wasn't here to fix their mistakes.
"I won't die teme! As if I would die from – something like this," he breathed, his voice becoming softer the longer he spoke.
"Idiot, don't speak," Sasuke berated as his eyes darted to the kunai dug deep into Naruto's stomach. Should he take it out or leave it in? He had absolutely no idea what to do. He wasn't a damn medic-nin!
"Take it out. I think the poison's slow releasing and there's only so much Kyuubi can keep me alive through," Naruto mumbled, attempting a glance at his stomach and immediately regretting it. He let his head fall back against the cave floor as a wave of nausea hit him.
"Ok, you want me to do it?" Sasuke asked uneasily as Naruto shot him an incredulous look through narrowed eyes.
"What the hell do you think?"
"Shut up, dobe. I was just asking," the raven stated as he reached for the kunai, steeling himself as he gripped the hilt of the weapon with a sweaty palm, reopening and closing his hand around the handle out of nervous habit to feel for a better grip.
"Hurry it up, Sasuke," Naruto breathed, "I can feel the poison leaking out, so hurry up," he finished catching Sasuke off guard a bit. He hated to admit it, but he was nervous. This was going to hurt and hurting Naruto just sounded like hell right now.
But he couldn't think much more about it. He had to harden his nerves and get this done with. Naruto's life depended on it. So with a new determination set in, he swiftly jerked the blade up, earning a blood curdling scream from the blonde who immediately yelled for him to stop.
Sasuke was at a loss of what to do. The weapon hadn't even budged.
"Don't – don't touch it anymore," Naruto panted as he gripped Sasuke's wrist with his own, removing the raven's grip from the hilt of the kunai. Sasuke looked back down at the wound and wanted to vomit. If he hadn't had the self-control he had, he probably would have winced if not just given it a disgusted sort of look.
Three spikes were protruding just slightly from Naruto's stomach in a triangle around the kunai – three spikes that hadn't been there a few moments ago.
Sasuke bit back the growl attempting to climb the back of his throat. Not only had the bastard used something as dirty as poison, but he had made sure that the kunai stayed embedded in its target by using a weapon as nasty as this one. This was one of those weapons that went it one way and came out another. (1)
"Well that explains why the slow releasing part works," Sasuke mused as Naruto shot him a tired look.
"I knew that kunai looked weird," the blonde stated and Sasuke knew he didn't even have to explain. Naruto probably felt it enough to know exactly what kind of weapon was embedded in his stomach, "Sasuke you still have to get it out," Naruto continued as Sasuke threw him an incredulous look.
"And how do you expect me to do that?" Sasuke asked, earning an annoyed sigh from the blonde.
"You're gonna have to push it all the way through," the blonde stated in an uneasy voice.
Sasuke was shocked into silence for a moment before his gaping mouth was able to form words.
"You – Naruto you can't be serious. How do – how can you even expect to – that could kill you!"
"Well it's either that or let this poison slowly kill me. Your choice Sasuke."
Sasuke bit the inside of his lip, wanting to yell at Naruto for putting them in this kind of situation. It would have been so much easier if he just let Sasuke take the damn hit. Then he would have been good and dead via poison. But no, Naruto had to be the kind of ANBU captain that went around sacrificing himself on the grounds that he had Kyuubi sealed away to fix everything that went wrong.
But this time that might not be enough.
This time Naruto really might die.
"Alright, sit up," Sasuke began as he helped the blonde sit up, sparing a quick glace around the small cave to see if there was any place that might serve useful for their situation. But all he saw were flat walls – no useful holes in the walls which he could position Naruto in front of to use as a base for when he had to push this thing through.
"Can you keep your arms wrapped around my neck or are you gonna let go when we start this?" Sasuke asked. Naruto merely narrowed his eyes in confusion before his head lolled forward, "Alright, I'll take that as a no," Sasuke mused to himself as he reached into the medical kit, extracting bandage wraps, "Hold out your hands dobe," Sasuke began as Naruto did as he was told, "Lace your fingers."
When Naruto's hands were folded as the raven asked, Sasuke wrapped the bandage around Naruto's wrists, earning a skeptical look from the blonde.
"What–?" the blonde questioned, trailing off as Sasuke draped his tan arms around his pale neck so that Naruto's palms were wrapped around the back of Sasuke's neck. If the situation had been different, Naruto might have laughed at how affectionate this position looked.
"You have to stay sitting up. This whole thing will be pointless if I just drive it into the rock floor. It could make it worse," Sasuke explained as he climbed onto Naruto's lap, straddling his legs just above his knees to hold him down.
"You ready?" Sasuke asked as Naruto shut his eyes tightly, his head tilting back as he swallowed thickly.
"Yeah," he replied dryly, his breath coming in quick short gasps – out of nerves or preexisting pain, Sasuke didn't know.
"Ok," Sasuke began, steeling himself for what he was about to do, "Sorry, Naruto," he whispered before swiftly, and with as much force as he could use with the accuracy he needed, thrusted his palm forward onto the hilt, feeling as it quickly disappeared into Naruto's stomach, the blade now protruding from Naruto's back. Sasuke felt Naruto's hands jerk uncomfortably at his neck but he knew it was nothing next to what Naruto was feeling. He could tell by the choked groan that slipped from his lips. If the air hadn't been knocked out of him, he probably would have screamed.
"Sasuke–" Naruto choked, groaning as his body writhed with pain, "Stop, just–"
"Just hold on, Naruto. I'm almost done," Sasuke stated as he analyzed the situation he was in now. The weapon was now imbedded deep into Naruto's stomach and the only way he could get it out was by gripping the sharp end of the blade to yank it out. It wasn't that he didn't mind grabbing a blade and slicing the tips of his fingers for Naruto, but he knew he wouldn't be able to get a good enough grip to be able to remove it.
He slipped out from under Naruto's arms and moved to support the blonde's back with his own, the kunai barely touching the edge of his own stomach. He gripped the edge of the blade and with quick preciseness, bent the tip into a clean ninety degree angle which gave him a handle he could grip the kunai with. He turned back around, gripping the bend of the blade with his right hand while he held Naruto up with his left hand on the small of his back.
And with one last swift tug, he pulled the blade free. His left hand slipped to the side, sending Naruto to the floor on his injured side from the momentum who groaned as he bit back a scream of pain. Sasuke hurried to help him back up before cutting the bandages tying his hands together.
"Stay up if you can."
Sasuke quickly grabbed the first aid kit before pulling Naruto's shirt up, causing him to wince and sharply inhale as it stuck to his injuries from where the blood had already clotted to the fabric. Sasuke tried to ignore the pain he was putting Naruto through; he knew that treating the wound came first. Comfort was just a luxury. It didn't give itself the opportunity to come around often.
Sasuke quickly and tightly wrapped Naruto's stomach, hoping that the fox would quickly heal the wound because with how heavily it was bleeding, Naruto was soon going to bleed out.
But several moments after he had wrapped it, the wound kept bleeding through, dripping down the bandages and soaking into his pants. Naruto leaned forward until his chin was resting on Sasuke's shoulder and his chest was flush against his teammate's. Naruto's shaking fingers wrapped around Sasuke's upper arms near his shoulders and Sasuke realized he was trying to pull himself back up.
"It's ok," Sasuke assured as he placed an apologetic hand on Naruto's bicep in a gesture to tell him he didn't need to move.
Naruto's grip loosened and his arms fell back to his sides lazily. It wasn't often he accepted help so easily, but it wasn't often he was this close to death either. Sasuke looked down over Naruto's shoulder, noticing that the gash had healed mostly in the back, enough so that it stopped bleeding, but the laceration in Naruto's stomach was still gushing blood. It looked almost as if the demon had quit half way through, leaving the job quite unfinished.
Why isn't the fox healing all of it? Damn it! Sasuke swore to himself as he unwrapped and rewrapped the wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
"Naruto, tell the fox to focus on stopping the bleeding in the front too. Now. Or you're gonna bleed out," the raven advised as Naruto panted and gasped in his arms, attempting to gain some sort of control over his pain.
"He can't do anything else about it," Naruto explained in a voice so soft that it made Sasuke's stomach acid boil with unease, awarding him with a heavy feeling of nausea, "The poison was too much. I'm on my own for this one."
Sasuke's eyes darted back and forth as he tried to grasp at some sort of idea. What was he going to do? The bleeding wasn't stopping and Naruto was only going to get worse if he didn't do something to stop it. But he didn't know the first thing about medical ninjutsu. All he knew how to do was destroy a body. He knew nothing about how to fix it.
But suddenly, an idea presented itself. And he had to jump on it. It was either that or let Naruto die which he refused to do.
He gently laid Naruto down before straddling his hips as he preformed several hand seals.
Naruto merely shot him a painfully confused gaze which quite clearly asked Sasuke to explain what he was doing.
"Hold on Naruto. This won't feel good," the raven stated in an apologetic tone as he felt his fingers heat up as he summoned his family's element. A small fire formed around his hand and he concentrated on keeping it hot but small and controlled as he used his free hand to push Naruto's shoulder firmly into the ground, pinning him securely to the floor. This was much more difficult than just using the element in a jutsu. Spitting fireballs proved easier than the chakra control needed for this task. But he couldn't be bothered with complaining about it. He had to burn that wound shut and he had to do it now. Naruto's life was depending on it.
He gently placed his palm over the gash and almost regretted it by the agony he seemed to be putting Naruto through. Naruto had grabbed onto the arm Sasuke was using to pin him down and had a dead fast grip on it, using the appendage as an anchor while he teetered on the edge of sanity as he writhed and screamed in agony, begging for Sasuke to stop.
His voice echoed painfully back, bouncing off the stone walls of the small cave and Sasuke thought he might lose his sanity if this went on much longer.
"I'm almost done, dobe," the raven promised as he watched the bleeding slow to a stop before removing the flame and relaxing as Naruto released his hold on him, his body going slack with relief from the biting flames. Sasuke sighed in relief. He was out of the woods for now.
At least he thought he was.
If Sasuke thought the screaming had been bad, it was nothing compared to the choked and broken sobs emitting from Naruto's frailer than usual form now. Oh god, he'd do just about anything to make them stop. Especially since he knew it should have been him there, crying like a child. Not Naruto.
Sasuke was a bit of at a loss of what to do. He'd never really comforted anyone before but it was never clearer to him that Naruto needed it.
But before he could even think about giving his best attempt at consoling, Naruto choked on a wet cough and Sasuke felt his heart stop when he saw blood speckle his lips and chin, running down the side of his cheek. That was a bad sign. No, not even close to a 'bad sign' – this was an omen. The fact that Naruto was coughing up blood meant there was internal bleeding somewhere and no matter how steeled he was to do whatever he had to do to save Naruto, he just didn't know how to fix anything any more complicated than what he had already dealt with.
He quickly pulled out a scroll, writing down a quick and messy note with shaking, bloodstained hands requesting for medical backup before jotting down their coordinates and summoning a small snake which he handed the scroll to.
"You know what to do," Sasuke told the creature who nodded before taking off with a surprising amount of speed for an animal lacking any limbs.
He hoped that his bloody fingerprints stamped all over the note would be enough of a sign to indicate that the need was urgent.
But for now he had to just worry about how he was going to keep his best friend alive until medical help arrived.
"You're gonna be ok, Naruto, someone will be here soon," Sasuke assured in some sort of tone he thought might sound convincing. Naruto merely shot him a tired look that told Sasuke to get real. He clearly thought otherwise.
"Oi, stay awake, ok?" Sasuke asked as he saw the blonde's eyes being to shut as he attempted to fall asleep to escape the pain coursing through his being.
"I don't want to," he whispered back.
"You have to, dobe," Sasuke stated as he brushed back Naruto's bangs in an attempt at comfort, only to find a fever already set in. But Naruto didn't respond. He had already slipped into a state of unconsciousness where Sasuke knew he wouldn't be able to reach him. Sasuke grabbed one of his tan hands, holding it tightly with both his, noticing how cold the tips of his fingers were. That was no surprise though; blood flow to his limbs had probably been neglected in the battle to fight off looming death.
And before Sasuke could neglect his own inner turmoil, something snapped, sending him over the edge. His anxiety, fear, and exhaustion overwhelmed him as the thought of Naruto's body slowly going cold in the aftermath of death, triggering a profound fear he hadn't felt since the death of his clan. He wondered if his own heart, too, would die along with Naruto's. He couldn't imagine having to live without him. He was positive he wouldn't be able to survive the death of yet another precious person.
He hated Naruto for this – for making Sasuke want to have another important person. Naruto knew Sasuke saw it as a weakness to have those kinds of people in his life again but he had wormed his way into a sensitive place in Sasuke's heart regardless.
He honestly didn't want to survive this if Naruto didn't survive this. It was an absolutely rash thought to have, but he didn't care. If Naruto was gone, he'd have nothing left to care about. If Naruto died, he'd have no one to impress – no one to strive to do well for.
He bit his bottom lip as he rested his forehead on the blonde's captured hand, his shoulders shaking as he attempted to fight back the tears he knew were coming. Naruto's chances were so slim it was difficult to even see them at all and he knew that. Worst of all, it was all his fault.
"Don't die, Naruto, please," he begged, praying that maybe if he held on tight enough, death might misunderstand that there was a difference at all between the two of them and steal them both away to somewhere quiet.
"Crying over me already? Tch, pathetic Sasuke," the blonde breathed, cracking an eye open to gaze at Sasuke with a flash of amusement dancing behind his unfocused cerulean eyes.
"I can't help it," the raven admitted in an uncharacteristic show of insecurity as tears flowed down his cheeks from his tightly shut eyes, "I can't – I don't want to even think about living without you."
"Have some faith in me, Sasuke. I won't leave you here alone. I promise," he began before forcing himself to open both his eyes.
Sasuke could only pray Naruto wasn't lying.
"Tsunade-sama!" a brunette yelled as she quickly let herself into the spacious office, a note in her hand and a snake at her feet.
"What is it, Shizune?" the blonde woman asked, her eyes never leaving the document lying on her desk.
"It's a note: from Uchiha Sasuke," she explained as she laid the scroll onto the desk, earning Tsunade's alert attention from the smeared blood coating the white paper. She quickly split the seal before opening and reading the scribbled writing, a disbelieving look overtaking her rigid features.
"Is Sakura back from her mission yet?" the blonde woman asked in a tone of urgency, tossing the note to the side as she stood from her chair.
"She just returned. I think she's on her way here," Shizune explained while she watched the Hokage cross the room, grabbing medical supply scrolls off the bookcases lining the walls of her office.
"Go find her. Give her these," she explained, handing the younger woman a set of scrolls, "Tell her I'm sorry for sending her out again so soon but she'll understand when you give her this," Tsunade continued, grabbing the bloody note and handing that to Shizune as well, "Get Shikamaru and Kiba to accompany her immediately. They don't need briefing from me before they leave. They need to go now."
Shizune quickly left the office, grabbing a quick glance at the note hanging open in her hand.
Naruto's hurt. He won't live without help from a medic-nin. He might not live even with it. Please hurry.
"Sasuke, it's getting cold," Naruto whispered softly, shivering as a gust of crisp evening air bit at his skin.
"I'll build a fire," the raven assured as he stood from his place next to the blonde to grab pieces of wood near the cave entrance, returning quickly and lighting the fire with haste. Naruto couldn't catch a cold. It would only worsen his already critical condition.
"Is that better?" Sasuke asked after he got the fire healthily started and burning.
But before the blonde could respond, he turned his head as he was overcome by a fit of coughs producing thick beads of blood that stained his lips and the cave floor with yet another layer of deep red. Sasuke felt the pit of his stomach coil with fear for Naruto's life and guilt for the pain he was clearly experiencing each time he moved: each time he breathed. He wondered where the hell his backup was. Tsunade would shut down the entire village if Naruto needed help. She was just that attached to him. Everyone was. It was Naruto.
Naruto breathed in harshly when the coughing finally subsided and his breathing only became more erratic and labored, each exhale accompanied by a soft and nearly inaudible moan of discomfort. It seemed it only got worse each time he coughed. Or maybe it was only just more noticeable when the blood on his lips and teeth was still bright and not yet clotted like the dark puddles on the floor, making his skin look paler than was natural. Either way, he couldn't help but wring his hands tightly together as he watched Naruto wreathe in pain as the bits of poison Kyuubi had neglected pumped itself through his veins in an attempt to silence the quick and erratic beat of an organ that wouldn't quit.
The sun was nearing the horizon and Sasuke feared if backup didn't come soon, finding them would be difficult.
And just as the last beams of the sun's rays faded from the sky, Sasuke was sure heard someone calling his name and hoped to god it wasn't just his mind eager for the help he knew Naruto needed.
"Sasuke-kun!" the familiar voice called once again and this time, Sasuke knew it wasn't just his imagination. He darted from his seated position next to Naruto and sprinted toward the mouth of the cave.
"Sakura! Over here!" he called, surprised to find that she had already made her way into the cave and had sprinted past him, falling on her knees at Naruto's side, beginning her assessment before he had even reached the entrance to the cave. Kiba and Shikamaru also soon entered the cave, their presence alone explaining why she was able to find the hidden entrance with such ease. Kiba's sense of smell was uncanny. He had probably known their exact location for miles out.
Sasuke looked back over his shoulder to find Sakura with several scrolls laid out behind and next to her and several items already summoned.
"Sasuke-kun, Kiba, Shikamaru, come help me," she demanded in a distracted tone while she poured water from a pitcher into a basin. The three quickly joined her at Naruto's side, Kiba and Shikamaru hardly suppressing sympathetic winces at how close to death the blonde looked. "I'll need your help holding him down. There's a dangerous amount of poison in his bloodstream and I need to remove it now."
Shikamaru and Kiba each held down one of the blonde's shoulders while Sasuke straddled his legs just above his knees to keep his movement restricted, watching with curious eyes as Sakura placed her hands on the water in the basin next to her, her hands glowing blue as she lifted them, the water following in a graceful sphere.
Naruto cracked an eye open to see what she had planned before groaning in anticipation. Kiba, Shikamaru, and Sasuke all eyed the young woman with similar looks of curiosity – none of them had seen anything like this before. Naruto, however, had seen this procedure preformed once before; he knew exactly what was coming and knew it wouldn't be pleasant.
But at least it wasn't as terrible as having the wound on his stomach cauterized. Not to mention that he was so close to unconsciousness by now that he hardly registered much of anything going on around him. He was probably in pain but he couldn't, for the life of him, remember how he was supposed to react to it. Not to mention the fact that just about the only thing he had the energy left to do was breathe, and that alone sounded like a chore.
Sakura eyed the blonde with a significant amount of worry laced behind her green eyes. Sasuke, Kiba, and Shikamaru had all relaxed in their tense positions, having expected for Naruto to have fought harder against the procedure. His slack demeanor was disconcerting to say the least.
"We need to get back to Konoha. Now," the young woman stated, her anxiety working like a domino effect, earning three worried glances from each of the shinobi surrounding the blonde in return.
And without any further explanation, Naruto had been hoisted onto Sasuke's back before the team sprinted back toward the village, not one member of the team complaining about the strenuous pace the Uchiha had set. Time was definitely a factor; Sakura's demeanor made that much clear.
Sasuke couldn't remember a time when they had reached Konoha so quickly. He glanced back once as he sprinted through the village gates, his eyebrows furrowing slightly at how far behind the remaining three members of the team were but continued heading straight for the hospital nonetheless.
It was just his luck that he'd run – and almost quite literally – into Tsunade upon entering the building. Sasuke could trust Naruto's life with Tsunade. He could handle giving up the blonde to someone so skilled in the medical field and be able to sit quietly in the waiting room.
At least, he thought he'd be able to sit quietly in the waiting room.
He could have sworn the clock on the wall was broken. There was no way that minute hand hadn't moved yet. He was able to sit quietly for about the first thirty seconds before he was up, pacing back and forth across the rows of empty chairs.
It wasn't long before he saw Sakura arrive, a young nurse with a clipboard running next to her, explaining the situation as she sprinted straight for the same room Tsunade had brought Naruto into.
Kiba and Shikamaru had soon found their way to the waiting room not long after that. They didn't need help finding it; not one shinobi in this village needed help finding the waiting room at the hospital. They'd all spent plenty of time in it.
"So," Kiba's reluctant voice began, breaking the waiting room silence, "What happened?"
Sasuke's jaw clenched slightly, his eyes remaining locked on the floor before him as he pointedly ignored the question. Was this entirely his fault? Yes. Was Naruto's pending death the cause of his own stubborn nature to ignore the blonde in battle? Yes. Why didn't they just ask the questions he knew they were probably thinking? This probably never would have happened if Naruto were on a mission with a more competent shinobi. This wouldn't have happened if Sasuke had never returned to the village.
Shikamaru eyed the raven haired teen with calculating eyes, watching as his hands formed angry fists and his eyes filled with what looked vaguely like self-loathing. He sighed as he resolved himself to say what clearly needed to be said.
"Guilt doesn't flatter you, Sasuke. Whatever happened, it was the enemy's attack that put Naruto in that room, not you."
Sasuke looked up, his eyebrows furrowed slightly as he stared incredulously at the young genius, unsure of what to make of his words.
"It was my fault," he stated, his eyes shifting away once more, "That kunai was directed at me, not him."
"And I'm going to assume you didn't push him in front of it so stop blaming yourself. What Naruto did was of his own free will. Nothing you say or do will ever change his self-sacrificial nature."
Sasuke wanted to believe those words and wished it was just that easy. But he couldn't help but feel responsible. There had to have been something he could have done to change the situation.
And then there was the fact that Naruto was always so altruistic and he had to face it – Shikamaru was right. Nothing he could do or say would ever change it and that thought terrified him. This scenario was destined to be repeated, possibly multiple times, because Naruto was ANBU captain and was more than willing to die in the place of any one of his comrades.
"God damn it," he swore under his breath as he sat stiffly in a chair in the corner of the room nearest to the door, his hands wringing together in his lap as he ignored the two sets of eyes on him. It wasn't often that Uchiha Sasuke showed this kind of emotion – or any emotion at all – so it was difficult not to watch.
Shikamaru pulled his eyes away from the young Uchiha as he took a seat at the closest chair to him, Kiba following suit not long after.
It was going to be a long wait.
Several hours had passed before Sasuke saw his pink haired teammate exit the operating room, his eyes meeting hers and feeling his stomach drop at the look in her green eyes. He quickly got up from his chair, rushing to meet her halfway.
"Naruto?" he asked as he exited the waiting room, the busy hum of the hospital nearly drowning out his voice.
"He slipped into a coma. I don't know when he'll wake up, if ever. He's so incredibly lucky to even be alive right now. It'll be a miracle if he makes it to tomorrow morning," she stated, finding no need to beat around the bush. Sasuke deserved the truth, not some watered down version of what might happen.
Sasuke felt the muscles around his chest tighten and almost found it difficult to breathe. No. No! This wasn't happening! Naruto was too persistent to die.
"Can I see him?" he asked, wondering if he'd even obey if he was told no.
"Yes. He's being moved to a room right now. He'll be one floor up, 242. I'm going to go talk to Kakashi-sensei and Iruka-sensei," she breathed, her voice sounding tired and afraid and on the verge of breaking.
Sasuke assumed he should have preformed some sort of gesture of comfort but, for the life of him, couldn't figure out what was appropriate. Her shoulders began to shake and she turned before briskly walking down the hall toward the hospital exit before he could even attempt to reach out to her.
Maybe she had finally stopped expecting empathy in response to displaying her silly emotions so openly.
He turned toward the waiting room, shooting a significant look at the two young men still waiting inside it, watching him with similar looks of anticipation, before turning and heading toward the stairwell at the other side of the hall.
Kiba and Shikamaru took that as just about the best gesture of welcoming that they would receive and got up quickly to follow, falling in step next to each other but behind the Uchiha out of some sort of silent reverence.
As they entered the stairwell, their footsteps echoed back eerily and Sasuke was glad to reach the second floor landing, his eyes immediately darting for the first room number he could find. There was a plastic sign fastened to the wall in front of him with numbers and arrows pointing in different directions. He tried to ignore the name labeling this floor but with its bold letters, it was hard to miss. Intensive Care Unit. It just made the situation that much more real.
He veered to the left, following the arrow that promised the room he was looking for was in that direction, his heart skipping a beat when his eyes finally landed on the plastic tag nailed to the wall next to the door labeled 242, Naruto and Tsunade's names scribbled hastily on the paper slipped in the slot where patient and the residing doctor's names were written for reinforcement.
He slid open the door, freezing in the door frame when his eyes landed on the body lying in the bed before him. How was he even alive? There was a tube down his throat, another down his nose, one breathing for him, one feeding him. There was an IV drip with at least three different bags attached to it and the heart rate monitor was beeping too fast, the number on the screen showing 163. Sasuke wasn't a medic but even he knew that was too high.
"It should be closer to 60," a voice stated, causing Sasuke to jump, unaware that someone else was already in the room. Tsunade had been watching from the far side of the room as the raven haired teen eyed the heart monitor, her posture alone showing how exhausted she was.
Sasuke didn't say anything as his eyes shifted back to the blonde. He stepped further into the room, giving Kiba and Shikamaru an opening to enter the room behind him. Their reactions hadn't been much different from his.
This was too much. This didn't make sense. This room was too loud with all the wrong noises. The beeping sounded crisp and harsh and loud. Every few seconds, the machine on the pole next to Naruto's bed would make a grinding sound and the contents of the tube would be forced down his throat or into the needle stuck in his hand, and even more frequently, the machine under that would force air into his lungs since he was unable to draw in oxygen himself.
There was no conceivable way of coping with this.
Sasuke turned, throwing an incredulous and terrified look at no one in particular before exiting the room, sliding the door shut silently behind him. He should have stayed but something within him couldn't remain in that room. The anxiety was choking him and even as he briskly exited the building, the feeling just wouldn't stray.
Shikamaru and Tsunade watched with furrowed eyebrows as the youngest Uchiha left the room, their eyes meeting in a moment of pity when the door slid shut behind him. Kiba couldn't tear his eyes away from Naruto long enough to even notice Sasuke's presence, or lack thereof.
"Should I go talk to him?" Shikamaru asked, hoping the answer would be no but knowing something should probably be said.
"Sakura will be back soon," the blonde woman explained, her eyes shifting slowly back to the unconscious form of Naruto, "She'll talk to him. She'll know how to handle it."
There had been knocking on the door but Sasuke couldn't hear it. He was too consumed by the only thing he could do to keep from driving himself mad. He didn't sense the chakra signature that was letting itself into his house and was too pissed off to care that it was careless not to, but he was busy beating the shit out of his training equipment. He didn't have the mental energy to spare on worrying about it.
So it was no surprise that when Sakura had finally called out his name that he was shocked to find her standing on the back porch, watching his poor attempt at sharpening his skills.
"What is it? I'm busy," he stated rudely, turning back around to give her nothing but his back to respond to.
"What are you doing?" she asked, her tone more disappointed than questioning.
"Training," he answered curtly while he flexed his fingers, feeling blood dripping down them as he did.
"I know you're upset. I guess I shouldn't have explained the situation so callously when you asked. I just – I handled it badly and I'm sorry. But your teammate needs your suppo–" she began before being cut off.
"What am I supposed to do Sakura?" Sasuke asked, his voice filled with genuine concern. He sounded completely at a loss for what move he should make next, "This is all my fault and I have no idea how to fix it. I can't fix people like you. I can't do anything and it's driving me insane! What am I supposed to do?" he nearly yelled, turning to face her, his eyes filled with desperation.
"Not this," the pink haired kunoichi stated as she slowly walked over to him, taking his bleeding hands into her own and healing the broken skin across his knuckles.
"Don't waste your chakra," the raven reprimanded as he pulled his hands out of hers, "Save it for Naruto."
"I know you think it's your job to take care of everything, but it's not. You two take care of what you need to do out there," she stated, gesturing toward the way the village gates were, "And when you come home, leave the rest to me. I'm a member of your team Sasuke-kun, your friend, Naruto's friend. This is not your fault. You're reckless; Naruto is reckless. This situation is going to present itself again because that's just what our job entails and you're gonna have to find a way to deal with it. But lay this part on me; I'll pick up these broken pieces."
Sasuke lowered his gaze, unable to meet her green eyes any longer. This was so unusual; showing this kind of emotion brought out his insecurities. He was just glad Sakura at least wouldn't judge him for it.
"What should I do?" he asked again, his voice soft and unsure.
"I'm not going to tell you that you should be at the hospital for him but he'd be there for you. He wouldn't give up on you so don't give up on him," she stated, finally regaining eye contact with the brunette who took a deep breath before nodding slightly in concurrence.
I won't give up on you, dobe, so please, don't give up on yourself either.
One week and three days: that's how long Naruto had been unconscious and that's how long it had been since Sasuke had slept in something that wasn't a chair.
After surviving the first night, Naruto's condition only seemed to improve until about three days ago when it seemed to plateau off into a void where he wasn't getting worse but he wasn't getting better either.
But Sasuke was just glad he wasn't dead.
He woke when the heart monitor started to beep faster than it was beeping when he had fallen asleep. He sat up straighter in the chair he'd been sleeping in, wide eyes watching as the muscles around Naruto's eyes began to twinge.
He leaned over stiffly, pushing the Call Nurse button on the side of the bed as he watched the blonde's eye lids clench tightly as if to escape from the light suddenly seeping through them, or the sudden awareness of it if anything.
"Naruto?" the raven breathed, feeling the air leave him when his blue eyes finally opened. But he winced, shutting them tightly almost immediately as his hand rose to his throat, a strangled groan escaping his lips, "Hey, it's ok, you're ok," the young Uchiha promised as he stood, placing his hand on one of Naruto's shoulders to stop him from attempting to get up and grabbing the wandering hand before it could grab the tube and pull it out of his throat. The blonde's eyes opened once more, his eyes meeting with Sasuke's, a desperate look overtaking his features. He attempted to form words but closed his mouth as far as he could almost instantaneously before just looking up at the older boy. He seemed to have something to say but before the raven could try to decipher the look in his eyes, Tsunade slid the door open, freezing in the frame for a moment, her eyes wide with shock and what looked like relief.
"Ok just keep him down," the blonde woman advised as she quickly made her way across the room to stand over Naruto, her eyes catching his the moment she shifted into his vision, "Do you want me to take the tube out?" she asked, watching as he shut his eyes tightly again, nodding in confirmation, "Ok, relax your jaw," she advised before gently pulling the tube out, earning a groan of discomfort in the process.
The blonde coughed a little as the tube left his throat, his face scrunching in disgust from the taste it left in his mouth.
"Gross," he whispered, his voice sounding sore and underused.
"You're awake!" Sasuke stated, the fact only setting in when he heard Naruto's voice respond to the outside world for the first time in the past week and a half.
"Am I?" he asked, feeling rather disoriented and confused as to where he was and how he got there, "I feel like I'm kinda dreaming," he mumbled, rubbing his eyes tiredly as he took a deep breath.
"Naruto!" a voice yelled from the doorway before a flash of pink darted through the room, landing gently next to the blonde. Sakura hugged the blonde tightly, her eyes streaming with tears.
"Ah – ow," he managed to choke out, causing the young woman to pull back immediately, an apologetic look in her gleaming eyes.
"I'm sorry," she apologized as she folded her hands together in an attempt to keep them to herself, "I'm just so glad you're awake."
"Do you know where you are?" Tsunade asked, cutting through the moment without apology or explanation. She had questions to ask and she had to ask them now before his memory was tainted by retellings of what happened. She needed to know how much he could remember on his own.
He looked around once before meeting her eyes again.
"Do you know why you're here?"
"Ah, no, not really," he admitted, his eyes squinting as he tried to remember what had landed him here this time.
"What's the last thing you remember?"
"I don't – I dunno, recon mission with Sasuke? Is that right? Why am I in so much pain?" he suddenly asked as his arm reached for his stomach, the pain seeming to originate from there.
"That poison did a nasty bit of damage to you internally, you're lucky there's nothing permanent. Not to mention that your friend here decided to burn your injury closed. That's probably where most of it's coming from," the woman explained, a hint of a wry smile on her features, causing the raven to scowl in distain.
"Thanks a lot, teme," Naruto mumbled facetiously, throwing the older boy a soft smile that told him he was only giving him a hard time, his eyes showing his gratitude.
"He saved your life," Sakura explained, her voice a fearful whisper as if she were thinking of what might have happened if Sasuke hadn't cauterized the wound shut, "You're both so stupid! You're going to get yourselves killed! What the hell were you thinking!" the young woman yelled, suddenly sounding more afraid than angry.
Naruto watched the outburst with puzzled eyes, his gaze meeting with Sasuke's for a fleeting moment, both wondering what the hell had gotten into her.
"I'm sorry?" he tried, still unsure of what it was he did.
"Don't apologize," she began, her voice filled with apology, "Just – please be more careful. I can't lose you, either of you," she stated, throwing the same desperate look at both young men, "You two are so important to me. Please, just try not to act so reckless," she begged, earning two similar looks of incredulity.
"I'm sorry, Sakura-chan," he apologized again, this time sounding genuinely repentant.
She smiled fondly at him before leaning over and kissing him on the forehead. Naruto looked up, his eyes filled with shock and skepticism. Since when did Sakura show this kind of affection for him? Sure, she openly expressed her friendship with him now, but never before had she performed such a meaningful and loving gesture. The thought warmed his heart. He couldn't help but smile.
Sasuke watched with jealous eyes. Something inside him wanted to throw Sakura out the window but he refrained from doing so, knowing that the exchange was anything but sexual.
Still, the idea of her lips on his skin made him angry and he very suddenly and very distinctly knew exactly why.
Sasuke was head over heels for the blonde lying in that hospital bed.
The air felt almost tense, but the silence was broken as Naruto winced, his eyes watering from the pain he seemed to be in.
"Do you want something for pain?" Tsunade asked, watching with pity filling her eyes as he shook his head quickly.
"No, not that stuff," he mumbled, his voice sounding almost afraid as he tightly shut his eyes to block out the dizziness accompanying the ache in his stomach.
"I know it sucks coming down off it, but I think you need it," Tsunade stated, earning a significant look from the blonde that said it had nothing at all to do with coming off the drug and everything to do with the kind of sleep it put him in.
Being knocked out that hard was a difficult impairment for any shinobi to deal with.
"Ok, fine!" he finally gave in when another wave of pain washed over him, feeling almost unbearable.
She quickly left the room, returning only moments later with a syringe of some kind of clear liquid. She unscrewed a cap on the IV near his hand, pausing the drip as she screwed on the syringe, slowly pushing the liquid into the tube and watching as his features almost instantaneously relaxed.
"Is that better?" she asked when she was finished.
He nodded as he took a deep breath, sighing in content. It would be great for a little while at least.
Tsunade watched as Sasuke eyed the blonde, a million unsaid words swirling behind his dark eyes.
"Sakura," she suddenly addressed formally, earning the attention of her student almost immediately, "Come help me fill out the paper work on Naruto's chart," she demanded, throwing the raven a distinct look who returned it with a look of gratitude. She figured she'd do him this one favor.
"What? But who will stay here with Naruto?" she asked, suddenly sounding worried as she watched Naruto's eyes glaze with the high he was feeling from the pain medication.
"Sasuke is here. He'll be fine," she stated as she nearly dragged the young woman from the room, leaving the two young men alone as she shut the door behind them.
Sasuke's eyes returned to the blonde in the hospital bed, watching with fond eyes as his cerulean eyes shut and his lips curled into a content smile. Naruto was definitely feeling the effects of that drug. The stuff they gave shinobi here was top notch. Sasuke himself couldn't even deny that.
"How do you feel?" Sasuke asked as he sat back into the empty chair he had abandoned when Naruto first woke up.
"Tired," the blonde whispered, opening his eyes again to share contact with Sasuke's obsidian ones, "What if I stop breathing?" he whispered, sounding genuinely concerned about what he should do in that situation. Sasuke smiled softly at how childish the idea was.
"Then you just start again," the raven explained, earning a glare from the blonde.
"I mean if I don't have the energy to. What do I do?" Naruto explained, a hint of distain in the soft whisper before his hand raised to itch his forehead, the motion looking sluggish and difficult to perform.
"I'm sure you'll figure something out," Sasuke assured, his voice sounding confident in Naruto's abilities for once. Maybe if Naruto weren't so high, he would have picked up on it, but he doubted it.
"You're probably right," the blonde concurred, his hand dropping before his eyes, watching with glazed fascination as he waved his hand back and forth sluggishly, the motion somehow causing him to smile widely.
"Dobe, what are you doing?" the raven asked, sounding incredulous at his odd actions.
"As if you don't know," Naruto responded with a wry grin. Sasuke knew exactly what Naruto was doing. Something about the drug flowing through his veins made the hand before his eyes just that much more interesting and Sasuke knew exactly how that felt. He had spent plenty of days lying in a hospital bed just like this one, wasting away hours at a time staring at things similarly as weird until the effects would wear off. What else was there to do in a hospital anyway?
"And don't call me that!" he suddenly reprimanded, his voice cracking from underuse as his tone raised in volume.
"Better late than never I guess," Sasuke joked, watching as the blonde poked his tongue out in response.
Sasuke had to fight the urge to lean over and bite it.
"Naruto?" the raven began, earning a curious look from the blonde that told him to continue, Why'd you jump in front of that kunai?
But the words never left his mouth, because he was afraid to ask.
And Naruto never seemed to catch on to the fact that Sasuke seemed so hesitant to continue. He was too far gone and too tired to be observant enough to.
Sasuke watched as his eyes closed, his breathing coming slower and more even and his heart skipped a beat. He reached out hesitantly, shaking the blonde's shoulder and waking him from his drug induced sleep.
"Yeah?" Naruto asked, his eyes looking tired and slightly irritated.
"Well…don't fall asleep," the raven chastised, unsure of if that was ok or not.
"Why?" Naruto asked, rubbing his eyes tiredly again.
"Well because – you just slept for a week and a half. Is it ok to fall asleep again so soon?" he asked, earning an incredulous look from the blonde.
"What the hell are you asking me for?" he shot back before processing the information he'd just earned, his expression changing to impressed and slightly shocked, "A week and a half? Woh."
Nothing had ever knocked him out for longer than a day.
"What happened?" he asked, sounding generally interested.
"A lot happened," the raven sighed, his eyes shifting away, earning a curious look from hazy blue eyes.
"Did I screw up?" the blonde asked, his eyes squinting into a sheepish look that showed he pretty much assumed that's what happened.
"No, I screwed up. Big time," Sasuke admitted, his tone sounding apologetic.
"You did?" Naruto asked, sounding surprised and somewhat amused.
"I'm really sorry," the brunette began softly, causing the amusement to slip off Naruto's tired features, replaced by something close to understanding.
"I get it. So you think it's your fault."
Sasuke shook his head softly, more in disappointment than disagreement.
"It was entirely my fault," he stated before recounting the events during the mission. Near the middle of the explanation, the memory began to flood back to Naruto, although in bits and pieces that felt like an old dream.
Naruto let a comfortable silence envelope the room when Sasuke had finished with his brief explanation of the account, sharp memories flashing back to him in spontaneous moments.
"I can't – I don't want to even think about living without you."
Naruto felt his chest tighten at the way Sasuke had said those words then; they were so desperate – so afraid. He turned his head in his pillow, his eyes catching Sasuke's.
"I don't want to think about having to live without you either," he whispered, earning an amusing look of surprise from the raven who almost looked as if he were trying to suppress a blush. Naruto wondered if he'd been too bold and if he'd regret those words later when he was coming off the drug. But for now he just didn't care.
"Idiot!" the raven suddenly indicted, earning a devious cackle from the blonde in the hospital bed, "That wasn't anything like how it sounded. I couldn't care less if you fell off the face o–"
"I knew it! You like me!" Naruto accused ecstatically, his IV free hand coming up to clench victoriously into a fist, a wide grin overtaking his features.
"Don't jump to conclusions, loser," the raven mumbled, a blush firmly set in place.
"Sasuke," the blonde suddenly whispered, the humor in his tone gone, and a serious look of gratitude overtaking his features, "Thanks for not hating me, really."
Sasuke seemed to scowl childishly before looking away pointedly as he reached out and rubbed the blonde's locks affectionately.
"You're so stupid," the raven stated, his blush deepening at the demonstrative contact.
Naruto moved to swat away at the hand, the motion so slow and sluggish that Sasuke was easily able to move his arm out of the way, a smirk easing its way across his lips at the puzzled look adorning Naruto's features when all he managed to swat at was air.
"I hate how impaired I am by this," he suddenly voiced, his tone clearly afraid, "What if Akatsuki comes? Or the village is attacked? I can't even walk very far I don't think," he stated, his eyes lifting to meet Sasuke's, a longing for some kind of comfort showing behind them.
"When Orochimaru attacked Konoha when we were twelve, he barely made it past the village gates. He was lucky to make it as far as the arena where the Chuunin exams were and that's on the outskirts of the village. You're in the hospital next to the Hokage tower: directly in the center of the village. Nothing's getting to you here."
"I don't care about that," the blonde explained, his voice hardly louder than a whisper, "What about the villagers?"
"For once, worry about number one," the raven chided, poking the blonde gently on the forehead – an affectionate gesture he picked up from Itachi – and earning a childish pout in reply, "You nearly died, dobe. Just take some time off. The village does just fine when you're away on missions, it'll do just fine while you recover as well."
"Oh, I guess that's true," Naruto agreed, earning a smirk from the brunette.
"Of course it's true. Who do you think you are? The village would not only be just fine without your idea of help, it'd probably be better off without it," Sasuke joked, earning a chorus of laughter from the blonde, his smirk expanding into a wide smile at the sound of his laughter.
"That's not true! I'm great!" Naruto argued through his laughter, "If I wasn't so great I wouldn't be your captain, Mr. Lowly Not-Captain Man."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Sasuke asked, watching as Naruto's triumphant features faded into a puzzled look from the tone in his voice, "You don't remember being demoted after the mission?" he asked, a wry smile slipping onto his features.
"Lies! I would never be demoted! How cruel Sasuke, to use my disadvantage of recent memory for such a trick!" Naruto chided, his voice rising in comedic anger.
Sasuke laughed softly and was about to respond when the door was slid open harshly, revealing Tsunade who was glaring at Sasuke as if to say 'well I gave you plenty of time to say it'.
"Naruto, do you think you can stand?" the woman asked, her eyes losing all sharpness almost instantly when her attention was redirected toward the blonde.
"Probably," he assumed with half a shrug, "Why?"
"Well then it's time to pull that catheter out," she stated, almost harshly as if to prepare him for what they all knew – at least the men anyway – would be awful no matter what.
"Catheter? No! I'm not ready! Knock me out first!" the blonde pleaded, his body tensing with each step closer she got to him.
"Relax, dobe. I know it sucks but it won't take long."
"No please I'm not ready!" he nearly yelled when Tsunade had reached the side of the bed opposite from where Sasuke was sitting, her hand slipping under the blankets and finding the tubing with ease.
"Naruto, if you don't relax it's gonna be a lot worse," Tsunade insisted, waiting several moments to see if he would heed her warning and calm down.
"No I can't! I'm too unprepared!"
"Relax," Sasuke demanded one last time, his sharingan spinning wildly, sending Naruto into another place completely, his features smoothing out and his body relaxing.
By the time Sasuke lifted the genjutsu, the catheter in whole was gone and Naruto was trying to remember what he was supposed to be struggling against.
"Bastard!" the blonde insulted, pointing an accusing finger at the raven haired teen sitting next to him when he realized what had happened, "I hate when you do that!"
"You should thank me, dobe. Because of my kindness, you didn't have to feel anything just now."
"I'd rather a lifetime of pain then being indebted to you!"
"You two bicker like–"
"Don't say it!" the blonde suddenly yelled, cutting through what Tsunade was trying to say, "We aren't 'bickering', that's what friends do. We're fighting through insulting each other. That's what rivals do."
"If saying so makes you feel better," she agreed airily, waving her hand carelessly, earning two identical glares.
"So when can I go home?" Naruto asked, suddenly forgetting his anger.
"When you can eat food and keep it down and take three walks a day without breaking a sweat," the woman responded crisply, earning a determined look.
"Gimme some clothes, I'm going for a walk."
Sasuke smirked as he watched the blonde dress himself while lying down (and still under his blankets), his efforts seeming difficult but comedic to watch. When he had finally slipped into his boxers and a pair of sweatpants, he deemed himself ready for a walk.
"Ok, now move slowly–" Tsunade began, watching as he tried to sit up by use of just his core muscles before groaning in pain and gripping his stomach where the burn was still healing.
"I said slowly for a reason!" she scolded as she reached for the bed frame, her fingers finding the buttons along it with ease. She pressed a button, making the head of the bed slowly rise until Naruto was nearly sitting up. "Just go easy on your stomach."
"How?" he asked, laying back slightly in fear of upsetting his wounds further.
"Pull yourself up on this," she recommended, her hand resting on a section of the bed frame where Naruto could easily grab.
"This is harder than I thought," he stated as he tried to pull himself to the edge of the bed, sweat glistening across his forehead.
"Here, give me your hand," Sasuke offered, earning an incredulous look from the blonde who, after several moments of profound silence, reached for his outstretched hand.
"Thanks," Naruto breathed when he was finally on his feet.
"Are you sure you're ready to walk?" Sasuke asked, a sense of unease detectable from somewhere within his usual degrading tone.
"I'm fine, Sasuke," the blonde assured with every intention of defending his capability to recover quickly – that is until his sweats fell off his slim hips, exposing his boxers to the entire room, "Oh god damn it! Did I lose weight?" he asked, his voice sounding irritated and disappointed. With his metabolism, gaining weight was difficult. As it was, he was one of the smallest shinobi in his generation. Losing weight was a big deal to him; it put him at an even further disadvantage than his small stature already did.
"Just a little," Tsunade lied, attempting to ease his temper.
"Jesus Christ, Naruto, have some decency," Sasuke scolded earning an incredulous look from the blonde.
"If you think I'm bending over to pull these up then I think we're both speeding down two different roads to recovery," Naruto stated, his demeanor showing that he had no problem at all walking around in just his boxers and the light green hospital shirt.
"Tch," Sasuke scowled as he bent down, pulling the cotton pants up before yanking the drawstring once the hem was resting on Naruto's tan hips, making sure to tighten the knot to avoid a repeat of what had happened.
"Here, you can use this to help you walk," Tsunade suggested as she rolled the IV pole in front of the blonde who grabbed on to it almost instantly.
He took two steps toward the hallway, sweat glistening across his skin from the effort and his breathing quickening slightly before he stopped to balance himself.
"So how far does it have to be to count as a walk?" he asked, a wry smile slipping across his lips.
"It only counts when you make a lap around the ward," the blonde woman explained harshly, her tone suggesting she wasn't letting Naruto out until he proved he was a hundred percent ready this time.
"Well how 'bout I just make it to that chair and we call it a day?" he compromised as he pointed to the chair nearly three steps ahead of him, "And if anyone here claims to love me they could bring me some ramen," he added in an undertone, as he stumbled toward the chair, his eyes darting to Sasuke who looked away pointedly, a scowl set in place as he scoffed in disgust.
"Dream on, dobe. Besides, you still have your feeding tube in. You don't need food yet," the raven haired teen stated, watching as a tan hand darted to his face to feel the tube he had been less than aware of until just now.
"Well so! Maybe I just want it!" Naruto countered before sitting back heavily in the chair, his IV free arm lifting up to drape over his forehead as he closed his eyes, "Oh Jesus, I'm dizzy."
"You're overdoing it," Tsunade scolded, knowing she shouldn't have let him try to get up so soon, "Just take slow deep breaths."
But Naruto didn't seem to have heard. His arm slipped from his forehead and she was quick to catch him before he slipped off the chair, Sakura at his other side in an instant.
Sasuke jumped out of the way as they carried him back to the bed, watching with worried eyes as he was laid down and the bed was reclined low enough for him to lay comfortably in it. His eyes darted between Sakura and Tsunade as they exchanged brief words of discontent to the fact that he'd already pushed himself to unconsciousness so soon after waking up before shifting back to Naruto's relaxed features. He wanted to ask what this meant. He didn't understand a thing about the human body and had wondered if this meant Naruto had slipped back into his coma but was too afraid to ask in fear of sounding stupid.
"He should wake up soon, Sasuke would you mind staying for when he does?" Sakura asked, unknowingly answering his question and earning a nod in confirmation from the dark haired teen, "I want to go find Kaka-sensei. He said to let him know the minute he wakes up if he wasn't here for it."
She left with one final look of content at Naruto's unconscious form before Tsunade turned to Sasuke to speak.
"I have to go make a few rounds. Being at the hospital for Naruto has inevitably dragged me into a couple other cases involving a few patients. I'll be back in a few hours. If anything happens, push the call button and don't hesitate to tell a nurse to find me instead if you feel he needs me. He's my first priority."
Sasuke nodded grimly, having heard this all several times before but taking the message this time with much more disappointment than he probably should be. Every time she'd said that before it was because there was a very good chance that something was still bound to go wrong. Up until this point, Sasuke had felt very good about Naruto's recovery since waking up. He seemed fine; he was talking and laughing with him only moments ago.
What if something happened and Naruto's condition plummeted again? Why didn't he ask the question that had been burning at the back of his mind for a week and a half now when he'd had the chance? Tsunade had given him a good half an hour with the blonde for that specific reason; she knew he had something to say and he blew that precious time with little of the necessary things to say and a lot of small talk.
Who knows when he'd get another chance to talk to Naruto alone?
"That's a pretty pathetic look, Sasuke," he heard a hoarse voice state from the hospital bed and he looked over to see Naruto smiling wryly at him.
"You should talk," he bit back, earning a scowl from the tone of his voice, "You couldn't even make it to the door without passing out."
Naruto was about to retort when he was cut off by another voice from the doorway.
"So it's true, you're awake," a lazy voice droned, earning a smile from the blonde and an irritated 'hn' from the young avenger for the interruption.
"Kaka-sensei!" Naruto greeted, his face splitting into a wide smile.
"That was quick," the raven stated, his tone barely laced with contempt to let the silver haired man know he'd been interrupting.
"Well Sakura just happened to catch me at the elevator. Coincidentally, I was already on my way up," he explained, smiling with his visible eye as Sakura peeked around from behind the silver haired man, a smile slipping across her lips as they stepped into the room.
"So," Kakashi began as he pulled a chair from the wall closer to Naruto's bed, "How are you feeling?"
"Great!" the blonde lied, a wide smile stretching across his features, "I'll be outta here by tomorrow I bet!"
"I don't think so Naruto," Sakura interrupted, a single eyebrow rising in skepticism, "I think you're really misjudging how injured you are."
Naruto's smile faded into a unique mixture between a pout and a scowl. Only Naruto could make a look like that seem cute.
"I know, it's bad. I just hate it here."
"I know," Sakura breathed back, her voice filled with a good amount of pity that almost made Naruto visibly flinch. He hadn't been fishing for pity.
But Naruto tactfully ignored it and the group wasted hours away on small talk and whatever else might amuse the bedridden blonde counterpart of team seven.
It wasn't until Tsunade returned long after the sun had set that the prattle was interrupted and ground to a screeching halt.
"Visiting hours are over and I'm enforcing this Naruto so don't bother arguing. You need sleep so out you two."
Naruto had assumed she'd been talking to Kakashi and Sasuke. Surely she wouldn't have to tell Sakura to leave; she was hospital personnel. But he was surprised when it was Sakura and Kakashi who rose from their seats to leave, offering Naruto a pleasant goodnight before exiting the hospital room, followed closely by Tsunade who flipped the light switch and closed the door behind her.
Naruto turned to stare incredulously at the raven seated next to him. Had Sasuke suddenly disappeared from everyone's cognition? Why hadn't anyone said anything about him leaving to? It didn't make sense…unless–
"Oh my god, you exist right?" Naruto asked, watching as Sasuke's features melted into an annoyed glare in the low lighting.
"I'm not a figment of your imagination if that's what you're thinking," the raven snapped, his tone irritated, "And they didn't forget about me. I'm just allowed to stay. I have been since day one."
Naruto processed the meaning behind the words slowly, his eyebrows furrowing softly in disbelief.
"You've been staying here?"
It was open season and Sasuke's pride was the trophy kill.
He watched as Sasuke sighed softly, his gaze shifting to the window where a majority of the light was coming from, the full moon throwing the room into a pool of ghostly looking hues. The light reflected off of Sasuke's pale skin in an ethereal way and Naruto couldn't bring himself to pull his eyes from it.
"How could I not?" Sasuke replied simply, his tone unguarded and his features completely surreal in Naruto's eyes. Sasuke looked…content. And that was how he knew this wasn't time for games. The defense was down and Sasuke was just speaking to him, as a friend, as a teammate. Their words weren't a front during times like these. There was no face to save. Pride was on vacation.
Sasuke was baring his soul and Naruto was willing to accept it.
"Why'd you jump in front of that kunai?" Sasuke asked, catching Naruto off guard who shot him a genuinely puzzled look.
"Because you're my teamma–" the blonde began before Sasuke smoothly cut him off.
"It's because you love me, isn't it Naruto?" Sasuke asked as Naruto blinked before forcing a halfhearted smile in reply.
"Don't be stupid, Sasuke," the blonde whispered, his smile fading as Sasuke shot him a heavy look before standing from his chair. All he could do was watch with calculating eyes as Sasuke climbed on top of him, leaning over him and closing the distance until their faces were only centimeters apart and their foreheads were touching. The look in Sasuke's eyes told him this wasn't just some impulsive notion he was acting on – Sasuke wasn't impetuous in nature. That look told him these words had been mulled over. These words had been thought about, probably since the moment that kunai pierced his skin and their foundation seemed to date back months…years possibly.
"Love me, Naruto. Please? Just say it was because you love me," the raven pleaded, his eyes shifting away from the blonde's which held a piercing glaze of uncertainty and something that looked like fear. Naruto assumed his incredulous look probably seemed insensitive and cold which might have caused Sasuke to shut his eyes in an attempt to escape the indecisiveness, afraid for what answer it might bring.
"Sasuke," he whispered, unsure of if he could even say the word. Thinking back, he had never told someone he loved them before. He wasn't sure that he'd ever even spoken the word aloud before. He was almost afraid of pronouncing it incorrectly. "I–" he began, trailing off in an impulse of insecurity.
"I don't care if it's a lie. Please just say it."
But Naruto didn't know if it really would be a lie to admit something like that. And somehow, he honestly didn't care if it was. He knew it was fucked up and he knew it was wrong, but he didn't care if the affection he receive from Sasuke was right or wrong, real or fake, he just knew he needed it. He didn't care how unhealthy it was to attempt to return those feelings if they weren't real. But somehow, he knew it wouldn't be too hard to create that emotion. Whether it was because the emotion was real or because he just knew he needed what Sasuke was offering that badly, he didn't know, but he assumed feelings like these weren't unfoundational.
All he knew was that from what he'd heard and what he'd seen, being loved and being needed was satisfying on a completely unearthly like level. The affectionate interaction he'd been deprived of all his life was something he'd always craved and he was willing to give up anything to just taste what it was like: even if it meant breaking his own heart to see if Sasuke was really being serious with him.
Even if it meant breaking Sasuke's heart to see if he was serious with himself.
And the only reason he was ok with gambling something as serious as that was because Sasuke seemed willing to take the risk as well. Sasuke seemed willing to allow himself to drop all defenses just to see if this could happen: just to see if it would.
And it did.
The words slipped through Naruto's lips like liquid air, humidifying the stale atmosphere with uncertainty as thick as mist, a ringing silence following for several moments after which were spent staring each other in the eye, ambiguity and anticipation flowing through both their veins.
"That sounded real," the raven commented, as his eyes lowered slightly, the forlorn want clear in features.
"It might have been," he admitted softly, unsure of what move should be made next.
Maybe because they were both rash, or maybe because neither of them could bring themselves to care about the consequences, Sasuke leaned closer, closing the distance between their lips, sealing all the pent up emotion he'd held inside for the blonde into this moment – into this touch.
And Naruto let him.
Because even if this was just infatuation and physical attraction, he just couldn't bring himself to care about what negative repercussions this might bring around.
Besides, he was pretty sure this was more than just a crush.
I was thinking of making a sequel with like…a lemon kuhuu. Let me know if you guys would even want that.
1. If you were confused by what the weapon looks like, think of it kind of like a small umbrella. If you stuck an umbrella through a hole in the wall and tried to pull it back out, it would open and catch on the other side of the wall. It's kinda like that. And I have no idea what the name is for that kind of weapon and my research to find one left me empty handed so I'm sorry if I confused any of you!
Oh my gosh, so this wonderful person, La-Vita-a-Colori, did this really wonderful artwork for this story (which made me so happy omg!) and you can find it at http : / / browse . deviantart . com / ?order=11&q=and%20it%20burns#/d33cywz (just remove the spaces of course) but if you're too lazy, that's ok! The full link is in my profile :]