Epilogue

Groggy, his eyes heavy with fatigue, Sasuke groaned at the incessant beeping somewhere to his left. Struggling to wake, he blindly searched for the source of annoyance like turning off the alarm clock in the morning, but his hand struck warm flesh instead. A warm familiar voice helped rouse him, and a large hand quickly caught his.

"Hey, Itachi-chibi. You among the world of the living?"

After mustering what little energy he had, Sasuke forced his eyes open. Blinking in the somewhat dimmed light of a white room, his eyes traced his arm to his hand tightly clasped in Kyuubi's. He blinked tiredly at his boyfriend's brother, trying comprehend the scene.

In the agent's lap, Itachi appeared fast asleep with his legs slung over one arm of the uncomfortable plastic hospital chair and his head tucked against Kyuubi's neck. Though one hand held Sasuke's, Kyuubi's other arm wrapped around Itachi's body to support his boyfriend.

Sasuke opened his mouth to speak, but his voice came out as a nearly inaudible rasp. He coughed, his throat dry.

A low chuckle rumbled in Kyuubi's chest. "Hold on," he said blowing Itachi's flyaway bangs out of his mouth. "I'll get water, 'kay?"

Rendered mute by disuse of his voice, Sasuke nodded helplessly.

"Alright, I'm gonna have to let go of your hand," Kyuubi said. His chest constricted at the panicked expression that briefly flickered over Sasuke's face.

Reluctant, Sasuke released Kyuubi's hand, but not before he tightened his grip to nearly painful proportions. To Kyuubi's credit, the agent didn't even flinch. As he watched Kyuubi easily lift Itachi's limp body without waking him and place Itachi on the empty bed on the other side of the room, Sasuke noticed how pale his brother was. The usual incandescent skin was sallow and gaunt. Itachi hadn't eaten or slept properly since Sasuke had gone missing. Sasuke bit his lip and stared up at the ceiling as Kyuubi tucked Itachi in with a tenderness rarely displayed by the hardened agent. To Sasuke, it felt as though he intruded on a private moment.

Quiet footsteps echoed through the room, the door opened, and then softly clicked closed. Sasuke inhaled deeply. His mind drifted; his thoughts a jumble.

"He hasn't left your side since we brought you in," Kyuubi said suddenly startling Sasuke at his stealth re-entrance. He lightly touched Sasuke's shoulder and squeezed for comfort before handing him a glass of water. "I've been in an out, but he hasn't moved."

"How..." Sasuke swallowed the large lump forming in his throat and gulped down half the glass of water. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "How long?"

Kyuubi wrestled with what, and how much he should tell Sasuke. He felt it was Itachi's decision, not his. "Thirty four hours," he finally admitted. Immediately, he wished he had kept that information to himself when Sasuke's expression morphed into pure horror.

"Naruto!" Sasuke struggled to sit, his body still weak. Determined to leave the hospital for reasons unknown to him, he picked at the tape holding his IV tube in place and kicked off the starchy sheets that itched his sensitive skin, but a firm unrelenting hand shoved him back against the raised back of the bed and held him in place.

Heartbroken, Kyuubi refused to budge even an inch while Sasuke fought against him. Sharp nails bit at his skin, and Sasuke's curses and voiced hatred rang in his ears. He understood. Sasuke was in pain, but he couldn't properly display the overwhelming emotions he felt.

With what little strength he retained, Sasuke fought for his freedom. The idea that Naruto was still in the hands of that monster was something he couldn't accept. He began to tremble. "Let me go!"

"It's okay to cry," Kyuubi whispered.

Still fighting against Kyuubi, Sasuke shook his head adamantly, but tears stung his eyes. "No," Sasuke choked. His breathing came in sharp pants, and his vision blurred. "I promised him. I promised I'd be strong."

Kyuubi crushed Sasuke to his chest and grit his teeth. Not even eighteen, and Sasuke had already experience unspeakable horrors. "You don't need to be anymore. It's over."

With that finally push, Sasuke broke. He sobbed into Kyuubi's chest while the man- who for all intensive purposes was his brother - comforted him with soft murmurs in his ear. He couldn't understand a word Kyuubi said to him, but the gentle tone struck a chord. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry. I couldn't protect him. I tried..."

"Shhh..." Sighing as Sasuke's warm tears soaked his thin black t-shirt, Kyuubi rubbed Sasuke's back in small calming circles just like he had for Naruto when they were younger and his brother came to him after a bad dream, or when their father died. "Naruto would be so proud of you."

"But he's not here..."

"We'll find him," Kyuubi promised. His own voice grew husky and thick with emotions he hid for days. "I'm not giving up, and neither should you."

Across the room, legs swung over the edge of the hospital bed, Itachi watched his brother fall apart. The sight filled him with a deep sense of helplessness. For days, he was forced to sit idly by, and even now, he could do nothing to ease his brother's pain. As a big brother and a protector, he failed once again. Slipping off the hospital bed, he quietly snuck around the end of Sasuke's bed and slid onto the mattress beside his brother to take Sasuke from Kyuubi, and the three of them mourned together.

After what seemed like hours, Sasuke's sobs began to quiet until he only gave the occasional hiccup or sniffle. Never again. He hated feeling useless. Naruto took care of him, protected him, and what did Sasuke offer him in return. Nothing.

Jaw set, Sasuke wiped the the lingering salty tears from his cheeks with the sleeve of his hospital gown and met Kyuubi's gaze with bloodshot and puffy eyes from where he leaned against Itachi's side. His hands tightened into fists around the starched sheets. He was sick of being weak. "Train me."


After much deliberation, I decided to end the story here for several reasons. The main being that I find this story rather childish. I feel I've outgrown it, and would like to create a more mature piece for work. Therefore, Naruto's rescue and their adult lives will continue in a sequel, which I already have material for. So look for that in the future.

Feel free to voice your opinions. I'm sure many of you are not happy, and others may be thrilled.

Review!