A/N: Updated this chapter because the first version sucked something fierce.
Chapter I: It Begins
"So...whadda ya think, Sasuke?"
"About what? This? It's the same as last time, dead last. It's always the same."
Cerulean eyes closed for but one calming second, then opened again. "I hate when they drag us here. Out of respect, I don't mention it but it's starting to wear on my patience…."
A grunt was his response from the person next to him. Sighing, Naruto leaned even more heavily against the tree at his back, one leg up, hands in his pockets.
"It gets harder and harder to keep them smiling after what happened," muttered Naruto with an almost lifeless twinge. "Coming here all the effing time ain't helpin'…."
"What, so you're regretting it then?" Sasuke wondered, standing next to him, arms crossed over his front. He, like Naruto, stared out at the figures of Kakashi and Sakura, the latter of which was hunched over the huge granite obelisk built to honor fallen ninja. "I'm pretty sure that goes against your idiotic 'shinobi way', doesn't it?"
Naruto chuckled morosely. He would have punched that arrogant, raven-haired punk but he didn't have the will. The sound of Sakura crying was hard to drown out, almost annoyingly so, but he tried his damnedest.
"It...does. I just...I dunno, I just wish things could've turned out different back there…."
It was a sight to behold when the corner of Sasuke's lip jerked up in a smirk. "You and just about everybody else in the village. Gotta say, for an idiot, you got me good."
"Yeah, but I wasn't supposed to get anyone," corrected Naruto sullenly, mentally wondering how long this 'session' would last. Last time he and cell 7 came here they didn't leave for six hours. Six hours full of crying...sobbing...screaming names of the dead...praying...it all took a mental toll on him and Naruto wasn't quite sure how long he would be able to last. "It was a simple retrieval mission...no one was supposed to die...to be lost….They were supposed to be found."
"Yeah, well...sometimes hardheaded people pay the ultimate price," said Sasuke almost mechanically.
Naruto glared at him. "How can you say that? Standing there with that stupid smirk—like you got what you wanted! Like it's a damn joke! How can you say that and be okay?" he yelled, his voice barely carrying over Sakura's weeping.
"Because," and Sasuke lifted his head, his hair catching in a cold zephyr blowing through the clearing. "Thanks to you…I'm free."
"Damn it! You bastard, you weren't supposed to die!" Naruto raged, feeling emotions long since bottled up begin to pour forth. His eyes stung. "Why'd you have to push me like that? Why couldn't you have just come back? None of this...none of this had to happen! You did it! This is all your goddamned fault!"
And what little sun there was struck the Uchiha's body, shining its iridescent light through his semi-transparent body; it refracted like a diamond and Sasuke smiled at the warmth filling him.
Tears were rolling down Naruto's whiskered cheeks now but he kept on yelling at the boy standing beside him, cursing him, hurling every type of insult known to mankind at him. But none of it made him feel better in the slightest and by the time he was through, he was on his knees, drained of will...just like last time.
Like watching an overactive child calm themselves, Sasuke stared at Naruto, then towards his former teammates. "In a way…I'm glad I died during that clash instead of you, dead last. I feel...I don't know why but I just feel you'll do the ninja world more good than I ever could."
"Shut up," spat Naruto, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. "It's not about—damn it…it's not about that…."
….Two months ago….
The Valley of The End. Naruto clearly remembered the transformed creatures that he and his rival had turned themselves into, one deformed by pure hatred, the other by the threat of being abandoned. In the end, before the two of them clashed for the final time Naruto recalled Sasuke stating smugly that he wouldn't be able to even scratch his headband, a challenge Naruto planned on beating right then and there. He remembered how Sasuke's Chidori suddenly dissipated—he remembered his greatest rival of all time smiling, a shred of the innocent boy from long ago returning to his eyes—he remembered the horror he felt when Sasuke purposefully steered himself up—he remembered the cold scarlet liquid that splattered over his face—
He was screaming, crying, pounding the ground next to the body of his best rival, once best friend.
"Why? Why didn't you follow through? You—you wanted this so bad and then you go and—" The rest of Naruto's words became garbled under his cries; he was speaking nonsensically, simultaneously clutching Sasuke's hand while berating him and shouting at the top of his lungs for help that never came.
"I...I s-saw it," gurgled Sasuke, shivering where he lay. One hand was in Naruto's, the other covered the gaping hole in his chest. "I saw what I...what I was b-becoming…."
"Shut up! Damn it, quit talking!" roared Naruto, his body drenched in the rain, his strength all but gone. He would've have thrown Sasuke over his back and ran to the nearest village but from the waist down was numb. His vision was blurry, he wanted to pass out but Sasuke needed him now. "You'll be okay—you'll be okay! I swear!"
"To k-kill my rival...n-no...to kill my best friend," continued Sasuke in barely above a whisper. Everything from the neck down was dead already; he only felt warmth where he knew Naruto was desperately squeezing his hand. Why…? Why was it hard truths only came during moments when you couldn't take them back and try again? "I deserved this—"
"No you didn't!" Naruto argued back. The sight of so much blood splurging from his friend frightened him like never before. "You—it wasn't like that! You were confused! People don't deserve to die from being confused!"
"Obsessed...over him...wanted power...I—I…." Tracks of water to match Naruto's began to leak from Sasuke's eyes as the pain reached such a peak that everything began to brighten. Crying felt so nice…so freeing. "Naruto...I—"
"NO! Damn it, stay with me! Please—Sasuke, please! I wanted to beat you but—but not like this! I was supposed to beat you in a sparring match—full of people to watch you go down!" Naruto sobbed, leaning over Sasuke until they were face to face. "Please, don't do this…."
"Naruto...I can't see anything," croaked Sasuke, somehow managing to lift his free hand. His fingers brushed the whisker-like marks over Naruto's cheek and a smile broke through the pain, one that tore Naruto's heart beyond repair. "Friend," he struggled, rasping, "always...my...friend…."
His hand thudded to the moist earth and Naruto's eyes widened. "S...Sasuke…?" He called the name tenderly, putting a hand to Sasuke's cheek. The warmth was quickly fading yet Naruto didn't want to believe it. "Sasuke, I...you—you're just playing...right?" His subconscious told him Sasuke never played jokes and his face fell into a simpering frown. "No...you can't...friends don't leave their friends behind…."
His forehead met Sasuke's still chest and a wounded cry akin to a dragon's roar erupted from deep within, bursting almost painfully through his mouth to drown out the sound of the thundering storm.
Now, a little more than two months later, everyone with ears had heard about the legendary retrieval mission…and how the life of the one sought had been lost. Naruto missed a good majority of the chaos that occurred due to hospitalization but upon being discharged if he wasn't hounded day and night by those looking for him to recount his side of the tragedy it was being struck with accusations that he intentionally killed Sasuke because of his superior lineage.
"The hell you've put me through just so you could find freedom," muttered Naruto in the present, sitting cross-legged now with his back to his teammates. "Unreal. If you weren't dead right now I'd fuck you up somethin' fierce…."
While Sakura still soldiered on it was clear to all who knew her that a huge part of her life had been torn away leaving only a shadow of her former bossy, know-it-all persona. Compared to how bad she used to treat Naruto—always striking him at the slightest disturbance—this new attitude was even worse: she treated Naruto like he was a piece of expensive one-of-a-kind China. Whenever they were called together for a mission she went out of her way to protect him, even if it meant breaking rank or disobeying a direct order. Being the type of sensei that Kakashi was, he didn't write her up for insubordination considering her trauma. Everywhere Naruto went she was at his side, paralyzed at the thought of losing him as well.
"You know she actually stands guard outside the bathrooms every time I use 'em?" snapped Naruto, glaring up at Sasuke who lost his smirk at that. "Yeah, makes a good picture doesn't it?"
"Hn. Deal with it," came the sharp response. "Be grateful she didn't fall like a sack of potatoes, or worse yet, grow to hate you."
It was hard to find that as a silver lining but Naruto knew full well that if he didn't appreciate the little things in his bleak life he would hate everything.
Conversely, Kakashi treated Naruto no different. He didn't blame Naruto for what happened, nor did he offer any comforting words apart from, "Such is a Ninja's life." For that, Naruto was extremely grateful as sympathy was the last thing he needed, sincerely doubting his mentality would hold strong otherwise. He needed firm words to build him back up again and Kakashi was no slouch in that section, having been in Naruto's situation plenty of times in the past.
The thing standing over him that looked and sounded like Sasuke...was his spirit, his ghost, his chakra in human form—whatever the hell it was, Naruto didn't care. It created a sort of distraction while the healing took place. He began to see Sasuke again just after regaining consciousness in the hospital. He was overjoyed at first…until he tried to grab the Uchiha and fell right through him.
None of the rookie nine wanted much to do with Naruto, avoiding him like the plague, all of them except Shikamaru, Chouji, and Kiba. Hinata didn't shy away from him as well yet her family felt the publicity too muddled and forbade her to make contact with him, though she still did, and she suffered every time, and every time Naruto would curse himself, wishing she would just follow everyone else's lead and avoid him.
But he had to think. Would this go down in history? Him, once the village pariah, being the one who put an end to the illustrious Uchiha family line, the once proud police force of Konohagakure. With Itachi Uchiha supposedly rogue, that left only Sasuke to rise up and restart his clan from scratch.
"Guess everyone can give up that hope, eh?" said Sasuke, reading Naruto's mind and Naruto groaned.
One thing he hated about Sasuke was the fact that in death he had grown a strange sense of humor. Somehow, he was tied to Naruto through means neither could figure out yet it was causing some of the blonde's antics to wear off on the usually stoic Uchiha and vice versa.
"That's not funny, you ass."
"From where I'm standing it is. It's kind of comical seeing how much of an impact I had on this village despite how I acted. I mean, really, I was a dick but most everyone is all down and dour—I was actually expecting a parade or something after my death." Sasuke shrugged, ignoring the aghast look adorning Naruto's face. "Guess I did something right after all."
If Sasuke had been corporal, Naruto would have jumped up and punched his jaw to the back of his head. He was trembling with anger that he wanted to unleash but he merely sighed it out and hung his head.
"It's not over."
Sasuke looked down at him. "Beg pardon?"
"You heard me. I said, it's not over." Now Naruto lifted his head again, his face ablaze with determination. "No, not by a long shot." He suddenly stood, brushing grass from the seat of his pants and fixed Sasuke with a victorious smirk. "I'm going to bring you back."
Sasuke blinked like Naruto had spoke in a foreign language. "Again I say, beg pardon?"
"No matter what kind of dick you were or what you said, you didn't deserve to die. It was an accident, a fucked up accident that I'm going to fix. I swear on my life that you'll breathe again."
"Dead last…I understand you get a bit loopy when you visit my grave but listen to yourself. You're talking about bringing back the dead, which, in case you didn't notice, I happen to be. I'm dead. You don't bring back the—"
"Other people may not, but I will," interrupted Naruto. "I've been working on this plan for a long time—it's foolproof. Barely. But, if I bring you back you'll go through pain again, man. You'll be able to catch some disease, get stabbed with a kunai, blown up by an explosive note, or you'll more than likely be obliterated by Orochimaru...but at least that way it'll be your own fault."
Being a part of his fragmented mind, Naruto could feel some of his excitement molding into anger within Sasuke, punctuated when the ghost of his best friend turned to face him, one hand balled into a fist.
"It was my own damn fault when I died in the first place, you dolt! I stopped myself and let you win! You beat me like you always wanted!" he shouted, his enraged voice never straying outside of Naruto's mind. "Don't go spouting nonsense like that because you're swept in the moment!"
"I didn't win a damn thing!" Naruto shouted back, refusing to back down. "I never wanted to beat you like that! God help me, Sasuke...I don't care what you say, I'm doing this. Friends don't kill each other—I'll bring you back and we'll have a real sparring match to see who's the best!"
Looking deranged with anger, Sasuke opened his mouth to yell, paused, then closed it with his usual indifference, turning to stare at the monument where Sakura and Kakashi had turned to look back at them. "Look sharp, dead last. Whatever you're planning, I'm pretty sure they'll have one of the final say-so's in it."
Naruto shook his head. "No, they won't. Even if Tsunade herself forbade it...it's going to happen. You're going to breathe again."
"N-Naruto?" sniffled Sakura, drying her eyes.
He ignored her as Sasuke chided him with, "Are you sure you've the brains for this plan? You do realize human life is a complex form of variables and ought not be tampered with, especially by a dead last like you. You might condemn my soul to hell."
"If it happens, I'll die and join you there so it won't matter," spoke Naruto without a shred of hesitancy.
With those hollow black eyes, Sasuke sized the blonde-haired genin up. After a few moments, during which Sakura and Kakashi had joined them, he smirked and turned away, beginning to walk towards the forest. "Well, alright then...we'll see, won't we? In the meantime I'm going to rest. Call me when you eventually need help or give up."
And like the morning mist, Sasuke's form faded as though he had never existed, leaving Naruto alone to deal with the two around him.
"Mind explaining, Naruto?" said Kakashi casually, and his only visible eye seemed to x-ray the blonde for any signs of deceit. "What was all the yelling for? Who were you talking to?"
"Yeah, you were pretty lo—wait a second…you're not the hurt are you?" flustered Sakura, grabbing his hands in hers. Despite everything that had happened, this new caring side of Sakura had turned what was only blind love for Naruto into something real, something that he felt white-hot behind his chest whenever she grabbed him like that. She flipped his hands over and gasped.
Confused, Naruto looked and wanted to laugh. Somehow, probably during his argument with Sasuke he had pierced the palms of his hands with his own fingernails. Groves of flesh had been dug out to the white meat; his hands were saturated with blood. Looking up, he could see Sakura about to have a conniption but thankfully Kakashi placed a hand over her shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly.
"Before you go on your tangent, Sakura, let's hear what he has to say first," he offered. "Then you can kill him."
Leave it to sensei, Naruto thought with a weak smirk, snatching his hands back and hiding them in his pockets. He could feel blood seeping through the fabric and running down his legs and ignored it. "Sakura...Kaka-sensei...this might sound a little stupid—"
"Coming from you little is an understatement," interjected Kakashi and Naruto mentally thanked him when Sakura offered up a watery giggle. Nowadays her laughs were few and far between. Whatever had to be said to get Sakura laughing again was okay with Naruto, even if it was insulting.
"Right, right. Anyway, as I said, this might sound a little stupid but I've got a plan," he began, swallowing audibly, fearing what impact his next words would have. He steeled his nerve. "I have a plan and if it works—and that's a pretty big if—but if it does…it might bring back Sasuke."
Only the wind whistled.
"Guys? Didn't you hear—?"
Sakura exploded. "WHAT?"
A/N: I feel much better about this edit. The first chapter was killing me on the inside. Like 'you know you can do better than this—look at all those errors, you noob!' So, yeah.