JUST WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH THESE PAST FEW WEEKS?! A small summary: bank appointments, newly developed allergy, have to get a job so I have health insurance and can go to see a doctor about my allergy, fucking EXO, fucking Super Junior coming to London and me going there, fucking RED coming to Germany and me going there, three day anime and manga convention and lastly, my birthday.

Warning: Some major angst. Be prepared. I'm serious. I had to take breaks from writing the end. It was intense.

Chapter XXXVII
– Day 3 –

Naruto was rudely awoken by countless birds loudly chirping outside. Groggily, eyes barely open, he sat up from where he was half-lying on Sasuke's bed, straightening up in his chair. He glared out of the window, as though trying to incinerate those annoying birds. "Rude," he mumbled heatedly under his breath.

For a while, Naruto merely sat staring at Sasuke. He still couldn't believe that Sasuke was actually there. It almost felt as though he would disappear the second Naruto looked elsewhere. As though the fragile form before him was only held together by his attentive gaze and would evaporate the second he averted his eyes. Sighing to himself, Naruto laid his head down on his crossed arms resting on the bed, staring at Sasuke's pale features. His silky black hair splayed out across the white pillow, his chest rising and falling steadily and in a reassuring way. The bandages covering his eyes seemed untouched, even though Sasuke had clawed at them so violently the day before. Just thinking back to that moment sent an uncomfortable shiver down the blond's spine. For a second he had thought that he was losing Sasuke yet again.

Trying to distract himself from the memories and nightmares taunting him, Naruto raised his head to examine the Uchiha's face. The small scratch marks on his cheeks, that thin, almost invisible scar on his upper lip that Naruto had noticed when they had kissed in the theatre. The memory of that event caused a sudden fuzziness in Naruto's stomach, like little fluff balls rolling around in his guts and tickling him from inside. Resting his chin on the back of his hand, Naruto reached out with his other hand to gently poke Sasuke's pale cheek.

No reaction.

Honestly, Naruto couldn't believe that he was thinking this, but he was bored out of his mind. He had never thought that the would ever be bored with how much drama had been ensuing recently whenever Sasuke was around. But he was really, genuinely, sincerely bored. So bored apparently that he even spoke to birds that couldn't even hear, no less understand, him in the first place.

"You rude little bastards," he murmured towards the open window. Outside, on a tree branch in front of the window, sat three or four little birds loudly chirping away as though they were trying to wake the dead. "Shut up for a second. This is a hospital. People are trying to sleep." Turning his attention to Sasuke again, Naruto once again poked the brunet's cheek. He poked and poked, but the other didn't stir. The fact that Sasuke didn't shift while sleeping at all was simply disturbing in and of itself. Upon waking up, Naruto had found the other in exactly the same position he had last seen him before going to sleep. He was sure Sasuke hadn't moved since the folds in the sheets were exactly the same as before and it was impossible to reconstruct folds this perfectly.

Naruto made to poke Sasuke's cheek again, but ended up gently stroking it instead with his pointer. Seeing the Uchiha like this, features void of all the things troubling him, Naruto couldn't help but feel sorry for him. Sasuke had to go through so much and now Itachi's death had been added to the list of the many things that were bringing him down. And now that he understood Sasuke's actions, Naruto didn't know how to deal with the Uchiha anymore.

Especially after what had happened yesterday when he had told Sasuke about that letter. Just like before, the memory sent a small jolt through Naruto's body, like a weak current of electricity shooting through his veins. After all, he had been close to losing his weak grasp on the Uchiha's emotions.

Naruto had passed on Itachi's message asking Sasuke to forgive him and had been watching for the brunet's reaction. Would he cry? Would he be angered? Would he run away? What would he do? Those thoughts had been running through Naruto's aching head as he silently watched the motionless brunet in front of him. What he hadn't been expected was what happened next.

"What about the letter?"

The quietly uttered question shocked Naruto out of his wits. He had been expecting some sort of outburst. Sorrow at realising what those words meant, anger when Sasuke blamed Danzo once again, desperation when he had to admit that he had been powerless in all this. But no such thing. Almost as if Naruto hadn't even passed on the message. But this was Sasuke. Of course he wouldn't openly show how he felt. Especially not to Naruto. Still, was this how things were supposed to be?

"Hey, moron," Sasuke growled lowly, "are you deaf?"

"Uh… the letter! Yeah, sure." Naruto almost handed the Uchiha the letter but quickly realised the issue with that. "But you…" The blond trailed off, letting his unfinished sentence hang in the tense air.

Sasuke suddenly tensed. Had he forgotten as well?

That he was blind.

"I could just…" Naruto pulled his hand back and turned the slightly creased envelope over in his hand a few times, eyeing its blank surface. He almost dropped it when, after sitting there not moving, Sasuke's hands suddenly shot up to his face and the raven began tearing at the bandages around his eyes. "Sasuke!"

But the Uchiha didn't listen. In his violent attempts and ripping the bandages off his face, he nicked his own skin even with his blunt nails, tiny red lines beginning to litter his skin. "I don't need these!" he roared, slapping in Naruto's direction when he felt the other trying to pull his hands away from his face. "Take them off!" He got as far as yanking off half of the bandages, before he felt a weight on his lap and his wrists simultaneously being held in a tight grip. Only when he was forced to stay still, he noticed how much he was panting, taking in loud gasps of air to fill his aching lungs. Was he hyperventilating?

"Sasuke! Calm the fuck down! This isn't like you!"

"I don't care what it's like!" Although Sasuke was yelling, he could feel his energy slowly drain away like sand slipping through his fingers. Against his better judgement, he was relaxing into Naruto's warm touch, even though this situation wasn't exactly comfortable. Releasing a deep sigh and swallowing the lump in his throat, Sasuke let his limbs completely relax, signalling the blond that he wouldn't resist anymore. He was too physically and mentally drained by now to put up much resistance. Even Naruto, beaten up the way he was, was able to hold him down.

"I can read it to you."

The quiet murmur snapped Sasuke out of his own turmoiled thoughts. Clenching his jaw to stop the angry outburst he knew was bubbling up again, he merely nodded his head.

Naruto was soon standing next to the brunet's bed again, letter in hand. "Okay," he breathed shakily, quietly sighing to himself in relief. "Okay," he repeated, a bit calmer. The calming smell of books and wood drifted into his nose when he opened the envelope, memories of Itachi's apartment flashing in front of his eyes. He heard a small gasp from the bed and looked up to see Sasuke clamp a hand over his nose and mouth. "Sasuke?"

"I'm fine," the Uchiha immediately replied, dropping his hand and clenching it into a fist on his lap.

Naruto merely nodded, even though the other couldn't see. The familiar smell must have cut the other deeply, bringing back memories of his brother. Memories that were supposed to not resurface right now.

"I'll read it, okay?" Only when Sasuke nodded, Naruto unfolded the neatly folded piece of paper in his hand. Taking a deep breath, feeling a sense of unease creep up on him, the blond finally looked at the neat scrawl greeting him, making him halt for a second to admire the beautiful handwriting. He quickly came back to the task at hand though and took a deep breath, tightening his grip on the paper. "My dear little brother," he began shakily, coughing to mask how unsteady his voice was, "if you are reading this, I suppose I am already gone. I sincerely hope you are doing well and have by now realised that there is more to life than your past. You are not your own or my past, little brother, and it is not your duty to fix my mistakes for me. My burdens of the past are only mine to carry and not yours.

"With me gone, I hope you can bury this past of ours along with me." Feeling hot tears welling up, Naruto gulped and briefly clenched his jaw. "Do not assume that I chose to leave this world. If I could have, I would have wanted to spend my time with you and be there to watch over you. But with the state I am in, this is impossible. I have been struggling with my sickness for years now and I know my time is near. Soon, I will be gone from this world. And when that time comes, I hope you can finally start anew and let go of all the things burdening you.

"You are not supposed to be the reclusive and distant person you are now. My only wish is for you to return to being the happy and carefree little brother that I have always loved dearly. Learn from my mistakes and refrain from doing the same ones. You still have time to fix everything, Sasuke. Do not let this chance go to waste. Stop wandering around aimlessly in that dark world of yours. All you need to do is let a little bit of light into your life and it will help you to let the past be the past.

"Live a long and healthy life, even without me at your side. I am sure there will be someone accompanying you along the way. Farewell, my dear little brother."

Pressing his trembling lips together, Naruto suppressed his tears, feeling as though he didn't have the right to cry over someone he had only met a few times. Looking at Sasuke, he knew what was going through the other's mind. He didn't have to see the look in the Uchiha's eyes to know. All his thoughts, all his regrets, all his feelings, all of this was laid out for Naruto to see. He simply knew.

I should have paid more attention to him.

I shouldn't have been so selfish.

I should have died, not him.

I should have noticed.

It's all my fault.

Why not me?

Why him?

"It's not your fault, Sasuke."

I know.

But still…

Sasuke hadn't spoken to him after that; hadn't commented on Naruto asking a nurse if he could stay over night and had simply gone to sleep. Naruto couldn't tell if it was because Sasuke didn't care or because he actually wanted him there. A bit of regret was nibbling at the blond's conscience. He hadn't read the entire letter to the Uchiha. There was a second part, but he thought Sasuke shouldn't know about that yet. It wasn't something the Uchiha had to know at this point. Itachi apparently had thought so as well.

Making sure the brunet was sleeping soundly, Naruto got up from the uncomfortable chair he had been sitting and sleeping in. It was still early in the morning and he had about two hours to get back home and go to school. All he had to do was read whatever Itachi had wanted him to look at beforehand. He quietly left the silent hospital room, making sure to close the door behind him without a sound. Taking his phone from his pocket, he opened one of the messages Itachi had sent him. It was the only one with instructions that he hadn't followed yet. Sighing to himself since the meaning of the message was still somewhat cryptic to him, Naruto quickly made his way towards the one office in this hospital that always had the answer.

Standing in front of said office after a minute or two of walking, Naruto could already hear loud snoring from inside. He rolled his eyes and softly rapped on the door with his knuckles. The snoring abruptly stopped and was replaced by the noise of paper being shuffled and someone rummaging around the room.

"Come in," someone groaned out from inside.

Sighing to himself, Naruto opened the door and finally stepped inside. "Hey, Granny," he greeted the obviously hung-over woman sprawled over her desk. "I hope you're not gonna perform surgery on someone today or something."

"You take care of your own fucking business, you brat," Tsunade barked, straightening up on her chair and hastily shoving away an empty sake bottle that she had probably overlooked. She knew that Naruto was aware of the countless other bottles underneath her desk, but the teen still didn't have to actually see those. "What do you want? Isn't it a bit too early for you to be awake?"

"Don't mind me. Look at this." Ignoring the way Tsunade sent an indignant glare at him, Naruto stalked up to her desk, slapped Itachi's letter on it and shoved his phone in her face. "Can you tell me anything about this? Itachi wanted me to show you this. Said you'd know what this means."

After looking about ready to kill the teen, Tsunade's attention quickly shifted to the things Naruto had shoved at her. After reading the text message on Naruto's phone with narrowed eyes, she hastily looked at the second letter, her expression gradually growing more shocked.

"What?" Naruto inquired impatiently. Tsunade obviously understood those things in Itachi's messages and whatever it was, it was something that unsettled even Tsunade.

"Go to school."


"Just go to school!" the blonde roared, pointing at the door with a manicured nail. "This has nothing to do with you! Leave now or you'll be too late!"


"Have you ever seen what a plane crash victim looks like? If you haven't, you will definitely see cause you're gonna look like that if you don't get your annoying ass to school right now."

She was right. For a moment though, Naruto considered arguing with the woman and throwing a tantrum. After all, this had something to do with him. He couldn't accept just being brutally excluded like this. "Fine," he ground out through clenched teeth. He turned on the spot and loudly marched out of the room, slamming the door closed behind him. For once, he had to comply and not throw a tantrum. This matter was too important for him to be acting like an immature kid.

After all that had happened, going to school now seemed like such a trivial and pointless thing.

But alas, it was Tuesday and Naruto had duties, which was why he was currently stalking down the sidewalk, the school building already visible in the distance. For once, he was actually looking forward to today's practice for the school play, although he hadn't gotten to practice much aside from when he had slept over at Kiba's. Kiba had been Juliet, a very buff one, while Chouji and Shikamaru had mimed all the other roles. Naruto didn't even know if he would be able to participate in the actual play when it premiered, but he would give his all for practicing, if only to have a goal to look forward to, something he could use as motivation to not give up.

The fact that Kakashi wanted to go ice-skating with him didn't escape his mind either. It seemed extremely cheesy to him and given Kakashi's actions towards him in the past, Naruto wasn't sure if the man had any ulterior motives. He couldn't trust that kind smile of his from Sunday when he had brought him to Shikamaru's place. Narrowing his eyes in suspicion, Naruto grumbled to himself. "Weird old man. Asking me to go ice-skating with him. What's he thinking? I'm not a girl." But no matter how much he bitched and moaned about it, Naruto couldn't deny that remembering Kakashi's invitation and kind words always elicited a warm and fuzzy feeling inside him.

Now that he thought about it, he suddenly realised that he hadn't seen the man since that Sunday two days ago. He had thought Kakashi would wait in front of the Nara household in the morning to pick him up, seeing how protective he had seemed, but no one had been there and even calling him hadn't gotten Naruto anywhere. He had assumed Kakashi was off to work at Akatsuki, snooping around some more or doing whatever he did during his undercover work. But that Kakashi hadn't contacted him or picked up a call even once slightly unsettled Naruto. Gaara had disappeared like that as well. Without a trace.

He really hoped it was just a coincidence.

School passed by in a blur.

Watching the other students around him live their lives all day with seemingly useless worries made Naruto feel bitter. Bitter since he was sick of people being so carefree, sick of constantly having something soil his happiness, sick of living this way.

A chipper voice calling his name from behind had Naruto sluggishly turn in his seat. Sakura was beaming at him, a glimmer of worry in her emerald eyes.

"Ready for practice?" she asked with a hopeful smile. "I hope you learned your lines properly this time."

Noticing her teasing tone, Naruto couldn't help but smile back at her slightly. He nodded silently, knowing Sakura probably had realised that something was off about him. She wouldn't pry though and he was thankful for that.

It had been announced to the class that Uchiha Sasuke would be absent from school for at least two weeks. Perhaps long enough for his eyes to recover enough for him to not lose his eyesight completely. If he was lucky. Although Tsunade had said that there was a very slim possibility that Sasuke could regain his sight somewhat if he let his eyes rest long enough, she hadn't exactly gotten Naruto's hopes up. Sasuke would more than likely remain nearly completely blind for the rest of his life.

"Come on, don't be so down!" Kiba tried to cheer the blond up, walking up from behind and wrapping an arm around Naruto's shoulders. "The asshole's gonna be up and running in no time, just wait."

Naruto could only smile back weakly, nodding his head tiredly. No one but him had seen the things that were happening to Sasuke. None of them had seen his anguish. Naruto knew what it was like to feel as though the entire world was against him, piling on trauma after trauma, suffocating him with both physical and mental pain. And he could do nothing but stand by and hope everything would turn out all right.

He was almost out of the classroom, Kiba still chattering his ear off and Sakura walking in front of him, occasionally turning to argue with Kiba or throw Naruto a soft smile. The blond was beginning to muster up the strength to talk to them instead of simply staring off into the distance and letting them talk at him. When he had barely parted his lips to speak, his arm was suddenly grabbed from behind and he was yanked back into the classroom. The grip was so painfully tight around his arm, it would probably leave a few nasty bruises.

Upon turning, Naruto found Kabuto staring at him with a not too happy expression.

"I would be more careful if I were you," the white-haired teacher hissed, a frown lining his features. His eyes briefly swept around the room in a suspicious manner, before settling on Naruto again. "I can't give you any details, but something is going on. Don't trust anyone."

Frowning back at the man, Naruto pondered the words for a moment. He relaxed only a little once Kabuto eased his grip slightly, but didn't release him. "So I shouldn't trust you either?"

Kabuto seemed slightly annoyed at the blunt question, but soon enough, an amused smirk pushed away the displeased frown on his pale face. "If that makes you feel safer."

Suddenly wary of the man, Naruto forcefully pulled his arm out of the man's grip, fixing his teacher with a suspicious glare. "I need to go to practice."

His smirk relaxing into a harmless smile, Kabuto held up in hands in a peaceful fashion. "I won't stop you," he laughed.

Still suspicious, Naruto quickly made his way out of the classroom, Kiba and Sakura already giving him suspicious looks from outside. He waved them both off with a nonchalant shrug, motioning for them to go towards the theatre room.

"No need to hurry," Kiba grinned with his hands in his pockets. "Kakashi-sensei's just gonna be late at least half an hour again."

Sending the brunet a glare, Sakura violently poked Kiba in the arm, eliciting a sharp grunt from the taller teen. "What if today's the day he actually arrives on time, huh?"

"You know that'll never happen," the teen shot back meekly, rubbing his aching arm. Sakura's pokes were painful. It felt as though he had been hit with the pointy end of a freaking hammer!

They continued idly chatting on their way to practice and arrived not even two minutes later. They greeted the rest of their class in front of the locked room. People had already split up into several groups to practice lines or discuss costumes. After all, they were supposed to finally get their final costumes today. Peolpe were mumbling about the room being locked, since Kakashi usually sent someone to open it for them so they were able to practice even when he was late.

The locked room was another indication to Naruto that something wasn't right. Something was very, very wrong. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something was deeply unsettling him. First Gaara had disappeared without a trace and now even Kakashi seemed to be absent. What was going on?

Even after half an hour, Kakashi didn't turn up. A few students, among them Sakura, decided to go to the teacher's lounge to ask if Kakashi was perhaps sick. Sitting against the wall next to the locked room together with Kiba, Naruto anxiously waited for the small group of people and the news they would bring. Perhaps Kakashi was just sick. At least he hoped so.

"Stop biting your nails," Kiba suddenly chided, slapping Naruto's hand away from his face. "You're starting to bleed."

"What?" Seeing the both annoyed and concerned expression on his friend's face, Naruto eyed his fingers, only to flinch a little when he saw the slightly bloody finger tips of his right hand. "S-Sorry," he mumbled at a loss for words. He had bit his nails a lot as a child, but Mizuki had seen it as one of many reasons to beat him up, saying it was sick and nasty. So he had stopped. That the habit suddenly came back with a vengeance like this could only mean that Naruto was beyond stressed.

"Don't apologize," Kiba chuckled quietly.

In that moment, Sakura and the two students, that had accompanied her to the teacher's lounge, rounded the corner and joined up with the rest of the class. Immediately, they were bombarded with questions.

"Can we leave?"

"Is Kakashi-sensei here?"

"Do we have practice?"

Naruto didn't even have to ask. He saw Sakura shake her head with a perplexed expression and instantly he knew that Kakashi wasn't in school. When was the last time anyone had seen him? Was it when he had brought Naruto to the Nara household? That was two days ago. Two days was a long time for someone to be gone. Did someone count as missing after two days?

"Now what?" someone asked with a confused expression matching the rest.

"We can go outside and practice," another student suggested.

Most voiced their agreement, nodding and immediately heading towards the exit. Naruto, though, only reluctantly followed the rest. Some were already rehearsing their lines again, eager to perfect their acting even if they only had minor roles. Considering how chaotic and all over the place their class had been just a while ago, seeing something like this was remarkable.

Naruto couldn't quite enjoy the shift in attitude though. Although Sakura had told everyone that Kakashi was supposedly sick, Naruto knew that couldn't true. He had been alone in Kakashi's apartment after coming back from the sleepover. He had assumed the man was working some sort of night shift, either as policeman or at Akatsuki. Kakashi had told him beforehand that he probably wouldn't be at home much, so the blond hadn't thought much of the man's absence. Kakashi being gone for longer periods of time was definitely nothing strange. But Naruto had to admit, although the man was a lazy bum that always arrived late, he was diligent in his own way. Even if he always came late, he did come. Naruto couldn't remember Kakashi ever missing a day of school, despite his extra work outside of school.

"Ino?" Naruto tapped the blond girl on the shoulder, smiling at her a little when she turned to him. "Would you mind if I left already? I don't feel so good and I want to go home."

A mix of annoyance, concern and anger pooled in the girl's eyes, seeming to darken her clear sea foam green eyes. "Is it that bad?" she inquired with an edge of worry. "Can't you stay at least for the costume fitting? It's really important. We're not going to focus on the main roles today anyway, so you won't have to do much. We did a lot of practice for the main roles already, but it still would be nice if you could stay."

"I don't know." Naruto sighed, suddenly feeling his muddled feelings making him sick to the stomach. Not too much, but enough to make him feel uncomfortable nonetheless. He held his stomach, feeling the colour drain from his face.

"You look really pale," Ino noticed, pressing the clipboard she was holding against her chest as she reached out to press the back of her fair-skinned hand against Naruto's cheek and forehead. "You don't have a fever, but you still don't look so good," she mumbled. "I guess it's okay if you leave," she smiled, albeit reluctantly. "I'll tell a teacher you left early. And I think Kiba's about the same build as you, so we'll just use him as a reference. Just promise me to practice your lines at home. You still have problems with the long monologues. I know it's challenging, but at least try."

Naruto nodded at Ino with a steadily broadening smile, relieved that she was so compliant. He had almost expected her to force him into practice, especially with how passionate she was about organising everything. But she wasn't that bad after all.

"Naruto?" Sakura appeared behind Naruto and shot him a puzzled look when he turned to face her. "What's going on? You're leaving?"

"Yeah, sorry," the blond sighed guiltily. "I don't think I can handle practice right now. I'll call you later." He felt bad about it, but Naruto left without another word, giving Kiba a curt wave. He could imagine Sakura crossing her arms as she watched him leave with those imploring eyes of her. She probably knew what was going on. Ever since he had told her the truth about his stalker and since she had gotten involved in the whole Sasuke affair, she seemed to have become this all-knowing being that could read each and every one of his thoughts and emotions. Just like when they had been kids.

Once he stepped out of the stuffy school building, a gush of biting cold air hit Naruto's face, cutting across his cheeks and feeling as though leaving scratch marks. He pulled his flimsy jacket closer around his body, hoping to keep in at least some warmth before the painfully cold air chilled him to the bone. Burying his hands in his pockets, the blond fumbled with his phone inside, pondering whether or not he should try to call Kakashi. He would have tried to call Gaara already if he had the redhead's number. Somehow he doubted Gaara was even in Konoha. Perhaps he had to go back home? Wouldn't he have been in school otherwise? And Kakashi was probably busy with work.

There really was no reason at all to worry. If anyone were to attack the people close to Naruto, they would have gone for Sakura, Kiba and Iruka first, the people he cared about most. He cared about Gaara and Kakashi a lot as well, but they weren't people to be taken down easily. They had both kicked his ass in some way at least once, so Naruto was slowly feeling ridiculous for worrying about them. It was like worrying about a fish drowning in a lake during a heavy rainfall.

Really, he was reading too much into these coincidences.

A smile broadening on his until then gloomy face, Naruto's gait became less slouched and uncertain. He strolled across the side walk with a bit of a bounce, trying to savour this peaceful moment. He knew for sure that soon enough he wouldn't get to enjoy this kind of carefreeness for a while. Things would change. Forever.

After that, it didn't take long to reach Kakashi's apartment. Situated in a large box-like grey building, it could be easily overlooked. It was as bland and unobtrusive as Kakashi seemed on first glance. The apartment building easily blended into the rest of the scenery. The perfect place for an undercover agent, probably.

Releasing a loud sigh and feeling his bag slowly slide off his aching shoulder, Naruto wandered up the many flights of stairs. He flinched when his bag suddenly hit the dusty ground with a thud. Its strap had broken, the bag slipping from his shoulder. Dropping his head back to stare up at the grey ceiling caked with dirt and spider webs, he groaned in annoyance, a long, dragged out sound of pure frustration. After leaning down to pick up the damaged bag, he continued on his way with only two flights of stairs left to ascend. Why did Kakashi have to live so far up anyway? Couldn't he have gotten an apartment in the second or third floor? Why did it have to be the seventh floor? And in a building with no elevator!

Groaning once again, Naruto slowly shuffled the rest of the way up the stairs, rubbing at his tired eyes. He ruffled his hair once he arrived in front of Kakashi's door, let his bag drop to the square carpet in front of the door and kneeled down to rummage around his bag for his keys. Only after some cussing and annoyed frowning, he found them at the very bottom, immediately straightening up to unlock the damn door. But when he inserted the key into the key hole, he noticed something off. Kakashi usually looked his front door at least three times, but now it opened with only half a turn of the gleaming silver key.

It wasn't locked.

Gulping, Naruto pushed the door open a little and picked his bag back up.

Kakashi's probably back.

Feeling a shaky smile curl his lips, Naruto felt a sense of relief wash over him. If Kakashi's door was unlocked, that meant he was back, right?

Pushing the door open further, the blond entered the apartment with a loud "I'm back!". After locking the door behind him as Kakashi had told him to, Naruto dropped the keys on top of the wooden cupboard next to him, the jingling of the keys grating on his tense nerves. The sound suddenly reminded him of bullets hitting the ground. The noise seemed to echo throughout the small entrance way, bouncing off of the bare white walls and back into Naruto's ears a thousand times.

Although there was only utter silence.

Feeling the tips of his cold fingers go numb and tingly, Naruto took off his jacket and hung it up on the small black coat stand to his left. He gasped when the jacket slipped right off and onto the floor, making the stand waver dangerously. Naruto steadied it first before picking his jacket back up and hanging it up properly.

Still, deathly silence.

A very distinct smell drifted into Naruto's nose, seeming to spread through his entire system in an instant, taking over his mind like a raging tidal wave. At first he couldn't identify the smell, only feeling a cold chill run down his spine, a dizzying sense of impending doom washing over him. Heart racing, chest aching, a cold numbness freezing him in place, Naruto finally recognised the smell.

That horribly pungent fragrance.

That disgusting smell of buried agony, broken dreams and whispered lies.

Of blood.

The scent first hit him with a sickeningly volatile and sweet fragrance, before morphing into that distinct metallic stench and dissolving with a salty undertone. Feeling his body tense up, joints locking, Naruto could almost feel the warm blood drifting through his fingers, the thick red liquid sliding across his skin like a deceptively soft caress.

Mind numb, body numb, he stepped forward, through the thick waves of poignant phantom pain. The wooden floor boards gave way and creaked beneath his quiet steps, the eery sound racing through the air like a thin trail of needles. The singing of silence drew him towards the living room to his left. He ignored the stairs and wandered towards the slightly ajar door, slowly reaching out towards the door knob. By the time his fingers slid over the cold metal knob, the stench of blood was engulfing him like a sweet blanket.

Heart hammering in his chest, he let his unfeeling fingertips linger on the knob. What would he see when he opened this door? What would change?

Naruto couldn't tell if it happened because of him pushing it, but the door suddenly creaked open painstakingly slow, inch for inch revealing the inside. He kept his gaze trained on the carpeted off-white floor, hearing his own blood rush in his ears.

First, he saw a pale hand, clad in a black fingerless glove.

Another step forward.

He saw the arm belonging to the pale hand.

Another step.

A shoulder.

Another step.


A pool of glistening liquid.

Shut eyes, tousled hair, torn clothes.


Sinking to his knees, Naruto's eyes jumped back and forth between all the cuts littering the man's skin, the various gashes that streams of blood were leaking from. Kakashi was sprawled in between the couch and the shattered glass table, shards of glass embedded in his deathly white skin. Out of the corner of his eyes, the blond saw something peak out from behind the black couch.

Another hand.

Just as pale. Caked in dried blood. Unreal.

Digging his fingers into the soft carpet beneath him, Naruto cautiously crawled towards the hand. Slowly rising to his feet, he used the couch as a support as he glanced around the piece of furniture.

Again, he fell to his knees, hand clamped over his dry mouth as his stomach turned at the sight currently burning itself into his retinas.

Cold, dead eyes sucking the light out of his own, staring into nothingness. Skin white as a sheet, splattered with red. A gash as wide as his palm, mostly hidden by the shirt on top. Maroon hair glistening in the sunlight streaming in through the window. Those ruby strands were the only thing that seemed alive in this room.

The sight of the gaping wound across Gaara's stomach made something boil in Naruto's guts. Something that soon enough came shooting up his throat like a burning lump of liquid metal. The blond had the common sense to rush towards the hallway to hurl the contents of his stomach onto the wooden floor instead of the carpet in the living room. His hands trembled when he scrambled back into the living room and collapsed beside Gaara. His wound wasn't bleeding. Not much, at least. Was that a good or a bad sign? Gulping, Naruto hesitantly peeled away some of the torn shirt covering the wound. He immediately pulled his hand away when he caught a glimpse of the full extent of the injury.

Was it possible to survive with that kind of wound?

Pressing shaking fingers against Gaara's ice-cold neck, Naruto felt for a pulse. Hoping to feel that reassuring rhythm against his fingertips. Hoping for a sign of life. But nothing. There was no pulse. Nothing.

Dropping his hand, Naruto could only stare into those dead turquoise eyes, their colour reminding him of murky ocean water.

Was this reality?

It couldn't be.

Something in Naruto's mind didn't click. Couldn't put two and two together. Stuck like mismatching cog wheels. And so he rushed over to Kakashi to check on him as well. His current guardian didn't seem to have any deep wounds, but they were bad enough for the man to have a pool of blood surround him. When Naruto pressed his fingers against Kakashi's cold neck, he again couldn't feel anything.

But then he felt the steady rhythm against his finger. A pulse. A faint pulse against his fingertips.

Before the action even registered in his mind, Naruto was holding his phone and dialling emergency services. Not even a second later, a click came from the other line, along with a passive voice.

"Emergency services, where is your emergency located?"

Naruto gave the operator his name and the address of Kakashi's apartment, struggling to keep his voice steady, vision blurry with tears that wouldn't fall. "S-Someone… attacked them." Naruto wanted to say more, so much more, but his throat closed up the moment he tried to force out more words. The dispatcher kept asking him questions about the victims, asking if they were conscious, if they were breathing, how severe their wounds were. All these questions made one thing clear in his mind.

They could both die.

Two of the most important people in his life could die.

Naruto hung up once the dispatcher assured him that an ambulance was on its way, ignoring all her other questions. Trying to remember the instructions the dispatcher had given him, he began to hastily take care of any injuries as best as he could, stopping any bleeding, dressing injuries, throwing blankets over the two. Soon, blood stuck to his fingers, his wrists, his face. Like paint. When he felt like there was nothing else he could do for Gaara and Kakashi, he sat cross-legged in front of Kakashi's motionless form. Suddenly, it was as though the world around him was darkening rapidly, as if someone was throwing a heavy black vail over his head. His world was crumbling around him, breaking down, caving in. It buried him in its rubble, tossing him down into a deep, dark hole he couldn't get out of no matter how much he struggled.

With confusion he realised that he was weeping without crying. No tears escaped his eyes, yet he was screaming. Was it supposed to be like this? Wasn't he supposed to shed tears?

It's all his fault.

Once that thought crossed his mind, Naruto silenced completely.

If it wasn't for him…

He was on his feet faster than he could even think to stand up.

None of this would be happening.

Glancing at both Kakashi and Gaara one last time, he stormed towards the front door and tore his jacket off the rack on his way.

He needs to pay.

Once outside, he pulled on his jacket and yanked his phone out of his pocket to quickly write Sakura a text, telling her to immediately come to Kakashi's apartment to let the paramedics in, letting her know the location of the spare key. He wouldn't be here to do that.

He needs to suffer.

A burning coil of rage unfolded in Naruto's guts, hot anger seeming to overtake all of his mind, his body. An enraged scowl etched into his features, he locked the front door and dashed down the several staircases.

He knew that sick fuck was probably watching him even now.

I'll make him pay.

Blinded by rage, fingers itching to destroy, mind tumbling, Naruto roughly shouldered past people, sky blue eyes brimming with boiling anger. The few people meeting gazes with him by chance felt as though burned by a poisonous fire.

Come out, you fucker.

Naruto was rushing around aimlessly, waiting for the unknown to show up like it always did.

I know you're there.

Restlessly clenching and unclenching his fists, he turned corner for corner, ignoring the people he ran over in his frantic search, not even feeling the impact of bodies slamming into him. Indignant shouts and insults followed him on his way, shocked gasps and shouts surrounding him wherever he went, his blood-stained features a terrifying sight.

"He'll curse you."

"Don't meet his eyes."

"It's the Kyuubi brat."

"You'll die."

Shut up or I'll kill you.

Naruto sent pointed glares of hate at anyone that dared to look at him in that typical disapproving way. Even after so many years, people still held on to their ridiculous beliefs.


He suddenly stopped at an intersection and let his eyes trail over the countless people wandering about. The surrounding people sent him wary glances, speaking in hushed tones and either nervously shuffling past him or purposely ramming their shoulders into him.

Releasing a frustrated sound when he couldn't make out anyone suspicious, Naruto lowered his head and tried to burn a hole into the asphalt with his glare. Crossing his arms tightly and tapping his foot restlessly, he tried to find a solution. Today was the day. Today was his last day. His last day of peace. Had his stalker finally given up on him? Then who had attacked Kakashi and Gaara? Mizuki?

No way…

Mizuki was a terrifying sociopath, but nowhere near capable of taking out both Kakashi and Gaara like that. Or was he?

Doesn't matter.

No matter if it was some creepy freak following him around or his sadistic adoptive father, Naruto would find them and give them a piece of his mind. And not just that.

Maybe I should go somewhere more secluded.

Uncrossing his tense arms, Naruto slipped his fidgety hands into his pockets and again shoved past people while ignoring the fact that he was running others over. He couldn't care less what random strangers thought of him. They already had their opinion about him set in stone and nothing would change that. Nothing at all. He used to agonise over why people didn't like him, but now he simply accepted it as part of life. He had friends and family. He didn't need random strangers to like him.

Keeping his eyes trained on the ground, Naruto soon wandered into a less populated part of Konoha. When he glanced up to check where he was, he found himself in front of a diner. Inside, he could see the stereotypical happy family eating and laughing together. The clean-cut father joking around with the delighted daughter and the caring mother wiping sauce from the mischievous son's check.

Naruto didn't want to admit it, but he was jealous. Why wouldn't he be? But he quickly tore his eyes away from the sight and continued on his way. He wouldn't be that pitiful orphan standing in front of the diner longingly staring at the happy family. He had his dignity. He didn't need that kind of family. He had Iruka and Kakashi and his friends. He didn't need the stereotypical family. To him, family didn't have to be a mother and a father that he was related to by blood. He had Iruka to fuss over him and Kakashi to protect him and that was enough.

A brief smile stole away the scowl on Naruto's face. How could he have ever been so unhappy, drowning in self-pity? Iruka had always been there. His friends had always been there. There had never been a reason to be so unhappy. Well, aside from everything related to Mizuki and the fact that everyone in Konoha but a selected few absolutely hated his guts and would love to see him dead.

Cold fingers suddenly slid across Naruto's face. Like thin spider legs they danced across his skin, closing over his mouth. An arm wrapped around his middle, squeezing his sides painfully, the sudden pressure almost making him gag. His feet left the ground, all his weight hovering in the air. With a jab and a shove he was suddenly being dragged away. Away from the bright, inviting light emitted by the small diner, away from the colourless cars in the distance about to pass by, away from people.

Engulfed by numbing darkness, something glinted in the shadows. It raced towards the blond like a bullet, piercing into his neck, breaking skin, tearing into his flesh.

A blood-curdling scream made its way from his chest to his throat, but never passed his lips as he suddenly felt himself grow numb. Light and shadow faded into nothingness, any pain and any feeling disappearing into a void. His legs grew weak and the hands he had raised to defend himself against his assailant limply fell to his sides. He could feel himself being picked up and carried away like a rag doll, before his world seemed to cease to exist, dipped in black.

I know this chapter turned out shorter than some of the past few ones, but I wanted to end it at this point and tease everyone with another malicious cliffhanger. This chapter would have been out three weeks ago if I my hard drive hadn't failed right before I was done writing it and I hadn't gotten really sick afterwards. And it would have been out way sooner if it wasn't for fucking EXO suddenly coming to Berlin and ruining an entire week for me.

I've been extremely busy with both my tumblr blogs, mostly my secondary blog (fuckyeahzitao, in case anyone's interested). It just reached over 1,100 followers and it's to the point that when you google 'Huang Zitao', it's the second result after EXO's official Wikipedia page, like holy shit what the fuck is going on.

I'm genuinely surprised I managed to squeeze in time to write this chapter in between all that, even though I had to take a break for a few weeks.

P.S. I think I was high or something when I wrote the second half. Seriously, what the fuck, me.