A/N This is it! The final chapter :D Hope you enjoy (:
Naruto awoke with his head resting on Sai's lap. The sun wasn't yet up but the sky had lightened considerably, warning Naruto that it was close to morning. He sat up abruptly, realizing where he was and who he was with. Sai.
When he searched his team mate's face he found the other male was fast asleep. He quickly moved away from Sai and sat on his own, making sure he didn't stir his resting teammates from their slumber. He had forgotten his partner when he was so lost in the moment and now with the realization of what he had done, he was plagued with a sense of guilt that seemed to be eating away at him. He had cheated on Kiba. For once all his guilt centered around his lover and Sasuke never seemed to cross his mind.
He hadn't slept a wink by the time the others woke up as well, he hadn't even tried because he didn't think he could. Sakura was the first to emit a soft yawn and stretch. Her pink hair stuck in awkward directions and looked rather comical.
"Morning Sakura, sleep well?"
Came her sleepy reply. Her eyes were still half closed and she looked like she was ready to pass out again. Kakashi stirred beside her and was next to sit up, only he looked more awake.
"Are you two ready? We'll wake Sai and be on our way, there's no time left to lose. We've wasted enough already." Before either of them could reply Kakashi was already waking up Sai and getting everything underway. Sakura quickly rolled up her sleeping bag and Naruto gathered his things. He kept his back turned to Sai all the while, too scared to face him.
Sai stood and walked off. "I'll be back." He told the squad, and no-one said anything. When he was out of sight, Sakura turned to Naruto and watched him slowly packing. He wasn't in any rush and it almost unnerved her to see him so halfhearted about something he'd worked so hard for. He still wanted to find Sasuke right? After fighting so hard for this mission, he hadn't given up had he? Sakura closed her eyes and sighed before making her way over to him.
"Naruto, are you okay? You've hardly packed anything! you still want to find him right?"
There was a hesitation before he said "of course" that threw Sakura off. She nodded any way though and returned to packing her own things, while Kakashi finished packing for both himself and Sai. Not wanted to arouse any more suspicion, Naruto stuffed the rest of his things in his bag and swung it around his shoulder.
"Alright! Let's go!" He said, making a show of being ready before the others in an attempt to seem normal, Sai emerged in time to hear.
"Well, we better get a move on then, so you can bring Sasuke back quickly." Naruto turned in time to see a bitter grimace cross Sai's lips, he smiled in return and nodded, a gesture that the others didn't realize was snide and spiteful. He didn't want to be around Sai anymore, he wanted him to leave but Sai was the key to finding Sasuke, and Sasuke was the key to getting rid of Sai. As well as that, Sasuke would drive away Kiba, and Sai would be a constant reminder of what he'd just done. Either way, no matter what he did now, it would be the wrong decision.
Sai seemed to ignore the look he was given and began to lead the small group.
Dark orbs slowly opened before shutting again. Drifting in and out of consciousness, Sasuke was barely able to keep himself awake. Chizuru tended to him in silence. He still shivered, which was a good thing. He still had feeling in his body. When he tried to part his lips to speak they refused to cooperate and remained shut. It wouldn't be long until Naruto arrived. He half wished he would get to him even sooner.
"Sleep. There's not much point wasting your strength, you'll need it when they arrive."
Sasuke finally gave in and let his eyes slip shut and succumbed to sleep.
"There's a lot of thick forestry up here, but it's just beyond that. It'll be a bit tough to get through but if we cut through that will save us half a day depending on how fast we can get through."
Naruto stood beside Sai, despite the hidden animosity he felt, and tried to rush things along.
"There aren't snakes in there right? And spiders? We won't see any will we?" Sakura found herself being the only one who didn't so much agree with Sai's short cut. The more she looked the more terrified she became. He wasn't serious right?
"Probably." Was his short reply before the group ventured onward. No-one else said anything and Sakura was forced to follow behind with much distain.
The air was heavy and it was near impossible to see. The trees loomed over head and blocked out the sun and the bush was so thick and close together that it made moving hard. Pakkun raced ahead and cleared a small path for them, but it barely made things easier for them. Naruto found himself at the back, and bore the brunt of tree branches that were pulled back and flicked him in the face. Sakura didn't seem to notice his agony, her only concern was avoiding anything creepy like spiders. She ignored Naruto as he yelped in pain and continued to yell for her to 'watch it' but she wasn't listening. Somewhere up a head Kakashi chuckled while Sai simply focused on the task at hand. Finally realizing how absent minded she was, Naruto stood still and waited until Sakura was a considerable few feet ahead of him before he trudge along, not wanting to catch up in fear of another branch to his face.
"Naruto! Don't wander too far, if you lose us you won't catch up."
Kakashi called back to him. Naruto still had sight of Sakura and felt fairly confident he couldn't get left behind, that was until he actually did. When she at first disappeared he didn't think anything of it. She wasn't that far ahead and all he had to do was catch up a little and he'd see her again. Moving a little quicker he headed in the direction he thought he'd seen her head in, to his surprise though he still couldn't see her or any of the others for that matter. Naruto started to panic slightly and tried to break into a jog, but the trees were too thick and there were too many obstacles for him to really move any faster than he already was.
"Sakura! Sakura wait!"
He tried calling but she didn't respond, she probably couldn't even hear him. He couldn't understand how he'd managed to get himself so lost. He continued heading forward, not having a clue where he was going, and simply hoped for the best.
"Sakura!" He continued to call out but received no reply. With the sudden realization that he wouldn't be able to find them, he started to panic and ran blindly forward with his arms in front of his face as a shield. With no vision, it wasn't any wonder that his foot caught on a tree root and he tripped clumsily face first, out of the thickness of the forest and into a clearing. He looked up to see Sakura and the rest of his squad looking down at him.
Without giving him time to stand the group continued and Naruto rushed to his feet and caught up with them. He was not going to let himself get lost again.
Within a couple of hours the group finally made it out of the forestry and reached a path along a cliff edge. Their view of up ahead was blocked and Sai stopped the small group momentarily to warn them that just up ahead was the Uchiha himself.
"Sasuke could very well be just up ahead. I want to make sure you are prepared to face him."
According to the reports he had received, Sasuke looked like a right state and he didn't want Naruto to panic at the sight of the weakened raven. Sakura nodded and stepped forward, as did Kakashi. Naruto however froze in place.
'He's there; he's just up ahead… What happens now? Will he run? Will he try to kill us? If he doesn't… What will happen then?'
Sai could sense his unease, as did the other two.
"Naruto, it'll be okay. We should go to him quickly." Kakashi told him. He understood how nervous Naruto was, because he'd never been more scared himself. He was scared about what they might find, what had happened to Sasuke? Something wasn't right, it was all too easy. He pushed the group forward regardless of his growing fears and remained on edge. As they walked they walked in silence. Each of them lost in an internal battle, they all wanted to turn and run, but they all knew it was far too late for that. Somewhere in the distance the clouds darkened and thunder rumbled, warning them of a storm that threatened to hit. After the brief clear weather the rain fell yet again in heavy droplets that stung exposed flesh and soaked their dirt stained clothes. As squad seven rounded the final corner Naruto felt his heart burst through his chest. Any second now he would be face to face with an unrecognizable Sasuke.
He found he'd been holding his breath, seemingly scared that if he let it go Sasuke would be gone again when he finally got there. A single tree came into view and Sai nodded, this was it. Kakashi strained his visible eye to spot two figures, one lying beneath the tree and one hunched over the body.
Sakura whispered. She spoke to herself more than anyone else.
After all these years, she'd never forgotten his face. She could sense his chakra too, but it was weak, far weaker than it had ever been. She looked at Kakashi who glanced back at her with an unreadable expression. He was ill, she could tell and so could Kakashi. Sai must have known, but could Naruto see this? She turned to him and saw tears had started to form in his eyes. He quickly wiped them away and tried to hold back the growing pain in his chest with a brave face.
Chizuru spotted them approaching rather slowly. She stood up and went to greet Sai who walked ahead of them.
"He's here, as promised."
Sai nodded and stayed in place. He had no need to approach the unconscious body and watched as the rest of the team did. Up close he looked thin and fragile. At any moment it seemed he would simply stop breathing, his chest was barely rising as it was and he took in short gasps of air every so often. He hadn't been eating properly and Sakura could see his ribs clearly through the thin material that stuck tightly to his body.
"He's so pale…"
She spoke quietly, but loud enough to break the silence that had blanketed them. They ignored the pelting rain that tried to disrupt the moment, and stared intently at their comrade.
"He's sick; he has been for some time."
Kakashi confirmed their fears.
"He's been poisoned."
He had spotted it earlier; on the material they were given, it had stained his clothing.
"Who did it?"
Naruto asked Chizuru. She must have known, she had been with him this whole time.
"It happened when we fought the sand ninja, he'd been wounded. It wasn't until later that we learnt the kunai had been dipped in poison. Sasuke knew."
'Is that why you didn't try harder to get away? Sasuke? You knew you wouldn't last much longer so you let us come to you.'
Naruto could help but find irony in this. They finally found Sasuke. He made no attempt to run or hide in their final efforts to bring him back, because he was going to die. It was their last mission, their last chance to save him and here he was, pathetic and on his death bed.
"Sasuke, we made it. But we're too late aren't we?"
He earned himself a mumbled response and a cough. Sakura expected to catch Naruto crying, but she didn't. His voice was shaking but his eyes were dry and cold. A harsh wind brushed against his wet skin and made him shiver. He glanced around him before moving forward to sit beside Sasuke who had slowly woken and was blinking to get his eye sight back.
Sakura closed her eyes. His voice was so shaky and weak, he sounded foreign. This was not her comrade, this was someone else. No way was Sasuke lying before them, he would have put up a fight, not just accepted this.
"Sasuke, this isn't a genjutsu is it? You're really here? We really found you?"
She asked. She kept her eyes shut tight knowing that he was looking at her. She refused to see him in this light. He coughed slightly and nodded.
"It's me. Naruto, you're finally here… I've been waiting for you. You took your time."
This time when he coughed a small amount of blood came up and splattered his face. Naruto remained emotionless. Any feelings he may have had were gone, or at least untraceable.
"To think, you, Sasuke Uchiha have reduced yourself to nothing. You look pathetic."
He spat. Like a game of poker the two of them exchanged blank looks that held nothing. There was nothing to be read in their eyes despite the bitter pain that stung them deep inside. A small chuckle emitted from Sasuke but his amusement wasn't genuine.
"You haven't changed at all… Looking at you now, I still see the young idiot I once knew."
Hidden in his words were the memories and feelings he never could let go of. Of all the things that separated them and changed him into the bitter, resentful man he had become, none of it changed how he always felt about the blonde. He always loved Naruto and never did manage to severe their ties. Their love brought them both nothing but hurt and anger, more so than his choices did.
"Do you regret your life? Do you hate yourself?"
"Naruto, that's enough..."
Kakashi tried to cut him off but Naruto had already decided that he would not hold back on Sasuke. He would not humor the man who'd caused so much grief to everyone. He was like an infection that had spread, everyone had caught it. He had consequences to deal with, he didn't care if Sasuke was preparing for death, he chose to run and he chose to cut loose everyone who cared about him. He deserved to be treated in a harsh manner.
"No Sensei, I have to know. Was your life worth it Sasuke? Worth all the hurt you put yourself and others through? You always wanted kids, and I couldn't give you that, but here you are, still without kids. You could have been happy, but this is what you chose."
Naruto waited for a response, finding he was working himself up too much so he paused and waited for Sasuke to answer him, but the raven remained silent.
"Well Sasuke! Are you happy now?"
He had pushed the limits of everyone's patience and ultimately his own life. He tried to sit up but could only manage a slight movement so instead he turned his head to face Naruto.
"No. I'm not happy. I never was and never would have been. I may have chosen the wrong path but if I had stayed in the village with you, I would have resented everyone. Myself, you, and everyone around us. Surely you can see that? I was fated to always be unhappy, from the very beginning."
Naruto lifted his head and allowed the rain to cleanse his face. To him, Sasuke had always been selfish for leaving; he'd been cold and self centered, but now… Was it him all along? Was he the one in the wrong? If he had forced Sasuke to stay, the outcome could have been worse. They would have been unhappy together and he'd never been able to see that. He was so focused on how happy he and Sasuke could have been together that he didn't realize they wouldn't have been. He had been so blinded by what he once had, that he couldn't even see what was in front of him, and what he had gained from his loss, Kiba.
When Sakura opened her eyes she could see something else in the two male's eyes. She could see how hurt Sasuke really was. Now it was too late to fix anything or change the past and it seemed he had always known this.
"Is that why you refused to come back? Because you knew, how unhappy you would make him?"
Sasuke closed his eyes, a simple gesture that said more than he needed to. Was that really the reason? She had always thought it was his pride and self hatred that kept him from returning but now she could see it wasn't, it was his feelings for Naruto that kept him at bay. He had heard about Naruto's relationship with Kiba and chosen to let the two be in the hopes that Naruto could finally move on and be happy. But Naruto couldn't. At least not before.
"So that's why you… Why you wouldn't come back."
Before Sasuke could answer he feel into a coughing fit, this time it was blood instead of the dark poison that ran through his veins. Flinching, Sakura realized he only had a short time left. In fact, he should have already been dead. The group surrounded him and watched as he coughed and carried on. Naruto was the only one to speak out.
"Are we just going to stand there and watch? Sakura! Do something, help him!"
She shook her head and everyone remained silent as they watched. There was nothing she could do, not a thing now.
"It's too late, Naruto…"
Kakashi placed a warm hand on his shoulder but Naruto shrugged it off and stared at his dying former lover. This was it, Sasuke didn't have the strength left to speak and he was on his last breath. After today, the once proud and strong Uchiha clan would become extinct.
"I never thought in a million years I'd live to see this day. I always expected more of you Sasuke."
Being his former tutor, Kakashi felt a stab of pain as he watched his pupil close his eyes for the last time. The rain had slowed to thin droplets that fell barely noticed. After a short moment Sai stepped forward between Kakashi and Sakura.
His words seemed to trigger something in Naruto that forced him to collapse to his knees and Naruto finally let himself cry. As Sakura watched her team fall apart, she felt a stabbing pain burning in her chest and she too started to cry.
Naruto collapsed onto him and wailed into his chest but the raven was still and silent. Too scared to move, the others stood and watched with heavy hearts.
"Naruto, please. He's gone."
Too grief stricken to hear, Naruto continued to plead for the life of his comrade and Kakashi had to step in. He tried to touch him, but Naruto pushed him away and held on more forcefully.
"Stop sensei! No! Don't take him from me!"
Sakura turned her back on the scene and welcomed Sai's comforting arm around her shoulder. When he was sure Sakura couldn't see, Kakashi in one swift motion knocked Naruto out with a strike to his neck and threw him over his shoulder.
"What should we do with his body?"
"We'll leave him here, there's no sense in carrying the extra weight with us, it's too far to travel. We'll leave, but not before we've said goodbye."
They had decided that under the tree would be the best place for his grave. It didn't take for Kakashi and Sai to finish digging it, the rain had softened the soil and the two worked quickly to get it over and done with so they could be on their way while the other three had taken shelter a few feet away. Sakura watched as the two men lowered Sasuke's body into the hole and started to cover it up. Her breath hitched and after having settled herself down she started to cry again.
Gentle kisses were placed on soft exposed skin and he could feel the hairs on his neck stand up with each and every slight touch. He felt his heart race considerably as the other males fingers brushed over already formed goose bumps. When moistened lips pulled away, it was so dark eyes could meet the gaze of half opened blue orbs. He gently smiled and his lover smiled back in return.
"I've missed you, I knew you'd come back though. I always knew that soon you'd be with me again."
The fingers that explored his body now brushed delicate locks of blonde hair back off the boys face and their lips pressed together in a bitter sweet kiss that Naruto hoped would last forever. He closed his eyes to appreciate the moment he'd been longing for, and when they re-opened his vision was blurred by the tears that had formed. Concerned, the dark haired male wiped the spilling tears off his cheeks and kissed his forehead.
"Naruto, don't cry. It's over now, we're together again."
He couldn't understand why he was still unhappy. The truth was, Naruto wasn't unhappy; he was relieved to be reunited with the love he'd lost so long ago.
"I know, which is why it hurts. To think I'd let us fall apart in the first place, I couldn't see what was right in front of me all along, Kiba."
He pushed himself up slightly to catch Kiba's lips with his own but only found air. It had suddenly become cold and when he opened his eyes he found he was no longer in the comfort of their shared bed, he was in a cemetery, standing over a recently dug grave that awaited filling.
There was no reply. Looking down, he tried to make out the initials on the gravestone.
Shocked, Naruto turned on his heels with the intention to flee but somebody blocked his path. It was Sasuke, a pale, sickly version of the Uchiha.
"You're not here, you're dead."
He tried to sound strong but his voice was shaky and the fear that coursed through his veins was evident. Sasuke did not reply. Instead he stared blankly at Naruto through glass eyes. Before he could run a voice called and kept him in place.
"Sakura? Was that you?"
The Sasuke before him vanished, and Naruto searched the graveyard for his friend, but she was nowhere in sight. As her voice grew louder the graveyard appeared to vanish slowly and warp into reality, the last thing he saw was a crow perched in a tree. It opened its beak but no noise escaped. All he could hear was Sakura's voice and his own responding to her.
He opened his eyes finally and waited for them to adjust to the light.
"Naruto, we're saying our goodbyes and then we're leaving, I thought you'd want to be the first to say something to Sasuke."
She kept her voice soft and spoke gently. She wasn't sure how he'd react, if he'd be mad or upset. Surprisingly, he simply nodded, stood up and made his way over to the freshly dug grave.
"Kakashi, Sai. I want to be alone for a moment, do you mind?"
"Not at all."
With a brief nod the two took their leave and let him be. When he was sure he was relatively alone, Naruto looked down at the unsettled dirt and let out a low sigh.
"Sasuke. I don't actually know what's left to say. At least now I know the truth."
He had planned to keep his words brief but felt that maybe it was too short. Sasuke had been so important to him for so long, and yet all the words he'd wanted to say slipped from his tongue, all that was left to say was a final goodbye.
"Well old friend, it looks like this is it. Thank you, Sasuke."
The words came out easily and Naruto felt a heavy weight lift from his shoulders.
'Goodbye Sasuke, I'll always miss you, but I have to move on. You always knew that, didn't you?'
With that he turned his back and retreated to his teammates all gave him feeble half smiles.
"So, have you heard yet?"
Kiba looked down at his food and fiddled with his chopsticks but didn't say anything. His heart raced immediately but he kept his poker face. Shikamaru took it as incentive to continue.
"They didn't bring Sasuke back."
He watched as Kiba's blank face contorted into a look of confusion. He hid it well but a large part of Kiba was glad, but at the same time he found he was angry, sure Sasuke was out of the picture but he could only imagine how much more Naruto would be obsessed with him. He probably wouldn't even notice the absence of his lover now.
He silently scolded himself. He had to remember it was over between the two of them. He'd made the decision to move on for the both of them.
"What happened? Was there a fight?"
He wanted to ask if Naruto was okay, but he didn't want to give away too much. Shikamaru shrugged.
"No, apparently he died when they got there."
"What! He's dead!"
Expecting to be greeted by his lover, Naruto felt a sharp stab of pain when he all he found was the mess left behind.
All of his things were gone and all of Sasuke's things had been destroyed and thrown about. More so than the hurt of his abandonment, Naruto felt angry at himself. Not for having pushed Kiba away but for not foreseeing just how hurt and impatient Kiba was. After dropping his bags Naruto headed for the kitchen and started to prepare a bowl of ramen, he wasn't hungry but he knew if he didn't force himself to eat then someone else would. He hadn't realized just how hard things had been on the people around him. He'd been in a state for years and he dragged the people around him down with him.
'I can't say I don't deserve this. I should have known.'
Sasuke was a tragic loss, but it hurt so much more knowing that he'd let everything else slip away as well. Looking around he noticed just how empty everything was. His apartment was meant for two; it was meant for him and Kiba. He'd never realized just how few possessions he had and the emptiness was confirmation of his loneliness. He almost let himself cry but how could he? It was his own fault and crying wouldn't bring Kiba back to him.
Sakura's gentle voice broke the heavy silence that had fallen over him. He ignored her and put the jug on to boil.
"I talked to Kiba a few moments ago. He said he's sorry."
He paused and furrowed his brows before turning to her, his attention having been finally captured.
"About Sasuke or about leaving?"
His tone was angrier than he should have been. It wasn't like he had a right to be, after all he did. She knew but instead hung her head and sighed.
"About Sasuke." She didn't want to say what they both were thinking; instead she held her tongue and closed her eyes. She couldn't turn away but she couldn't look at him either. Naruto was a mess. His blonde hair was tangled, wilder than usual. His bright blue eyes were dull and lifeless, a sight she thought she'd never see. He looked completely crestfallen.
"What else did he say? Did he say anything to you about us?" He knew her answer though. Kiba would be there with her if there was still a chance they could savior their relationship.
"He loves you… He just needs time."
And with that said she turned to leave. There was a brief pause as she did, she hoped she could say more but that was it. There was nothing left to say. He felt like there was nothing left for him at all. Sasuke was dead, Kiba was gone and he was right back where he started: cold and alone.
Kiba passed Sakura as she left Naruto's house and headed home. Their eyes meet and there was a brief nod before they continued their separate ways. He stood at the door and waited until Sakura was out of sight before he took a deep breath. He had to force himself to enter against his will. He thought he'd done the right thing but now he didn't know anything at all. He pushed the door open and entered silently.
He called out. His voice was soft and timid and he didn't expect Naruto to hear him. His breath caught in his throat when Naruto appeared. The two of them stared at each other without saying anything. After moments that seemed to stretch out forever, Kiba finally broke the silence.
There were no long explanations, tears or meaningful words exchanged. The two of them embraced and accepted everything that had happened. Things felt alright again. The pain was still there but for the two of them it felt easier to deal with, now that they were reunited.
"I love you Kiba."
"I love you too, I'll never leave again."
Things were going to be okay.