A/N: Recently I've been coming up with ideas for stories faster than I can write them. This one is heavily based on a drama I just finished watching, called 49 Days. If you're not familiar with Korean dramas, but really like sad, yet heartwarming love stories, I highly recommend watching it. You can find it on Hulu.
Anyway, the basic idea of my story is that Sasuke is left in a coma after the showdown with Naruto at the Konoha hospital goes horribly wrong. Technically Sasuke is still alive, but his brain activity is essentially zero. Sasuke's soul, however, still lives, and he has a chance - though a slim one - to come back to life fully. The Shinigami gives him that chance, but Sasuke has to satisfy two requirements: first, he must find three people who truly love him, enough to shed tears that are purely out of love; second, he himself must cry out of love for another. Only then can his soul return to his body. Note that love does not mean romantic love, necessarily – this will not be a harem fic or anything like that. The love between true friends counts, but as you might guess, Sasuke is going to have quite a hard time finding three people who love him wholeheartedly.
In order to achieve his goal, the Shinigami lets Sasuke's soul possess Naruto for 14 hours out of every day. Using Naruto's body during the day, Sasuke must find people who love him, and someone that he can bring himself to love. The time period: 1 year. The challenge: a boy who has walled himself off from the world, allowing hatred to fester inside, must open himself to love.
Very last thing, I promise: this first scene is a little bloody, so if that kind of thing bothers you, then this fic probably isn't for you. I can promise you, though, that there won't be much gore at all starting from next chapter. This story is first and foremost about relationships, and the love that one finds in the most unlikely places.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, nor do I own 49 Days
Chapter 1: A Tragic Mistake
Kakashi was not used to hurrying anywhere. Except on missions, he liked to take his sweet time – and even on missions, you could generally find the time for a nice nap or two. But when Tsunade gave you an order, explicitly telling you to move your ass, you didn't even think about dawdling.
"Sasuke and Naruto are on the roof of the hospital," the Godaime Hokage said, a worried crease marking her forehead. "Sasuke's been unstable since his visit from Itachi – if they start to fight, he might do something stupid. Get up there, and bring them down immediately."
"Yes, Hokage-sama." Kakashi saluted and left Tsunade's office. He made his way to the hospital roof with all the speed he could command, but he wasn't overly worried. Sasuke and Naruto were teammates, after all, and Naruto was the closest thing Sasuke had to a friend. He wouldn't seriously want to hurt Naruto… right?
When Kakashi arrived on top of the hospital's broad, flat roof, the sight that met his eyes sent a cold fear shooting through his chest. Sasuke and Naruto were squaring off, each gathering energy for techniques of tremendous power. Kakashi immediately recognized Sasuke's Chidori, and was that… No, it couldn't be! The rasengan was the Fourth's technique, and Naruto was only a genin!
But the truth was right there before his eyes. Sasuke had initiated the Lightning Blade jutsu, and Naruto held a swirling ball of blue-and-green chakra in the palm of his hand – it could only be the Fourth's assassination technique. Kakashi felt as though he'd fallen into a nightmare. Did they really want to kill each other? Those techniques were only to be used on the most deadly of enemies!
Kakashi had never in his life moved as fast as he did then. His Body Flicker jutsu, if it had been seen by anyone, would have earned him fame almost equal to the Fourth Hokage – he was barely a flash of white streaking through the air. But as fast as Kakashi was, he wasn't fast enough.
He was reaching forward, ready to grab both of his genin by their arms and redirect their strikes, but the attacks landed a split second before he reached them. Sasuke's outstretched chidori met Naruto's rasengan, and the world disappeared in a blinding flash of white light.
The next thing Kakashi felt was the spray of hot blood against his face. When the light from the explosion disappeared, Kakashi's worst fears were realized. Naruto and Sasuke stood apart, their poses mirror images of each other, their hands reaching towards each other. The force from their attacks had mostly canceled out, but the rasengan, as Kakashi knew, was a different kind of attack. It focused chakra in a high-density, high-velocity technique, and then unleashed the energy through contact with the target. Some of the energy had overcome the strength of Sasuke's chidori, and continued straight behind… to where Sasuke had been waiting, helpless.
There was a huge, circular gash in Sasuke's chest; it was a cavernous red ruin that spouted blood. Kakashi and Naruto wore twin expressions of horror, and watched helplessly as Sasuke's eyes glazed over. He fell to the ground without making a sound – the light in his eyes went out like lamps that had just been switched off.
A shrill cry split the air. Kakashi turned, and saw that Sakura had made it to the roof in time to see the terrible conclusion. She held out her hand, hopelessly, helplessly.
"Sensei…" Naruto said, his voice trembling, "I didn't mean it – I tried to pull back. He made me fight, I didn't mean-"
Kakashi could hear the hysteria bubbling up in Naruto's voice, and he acted immediately. He delivered a precise jab to the bundle of nerves in Naruto's neck, and caught his genin gently as he fell unconscious towards the ground.
"Come here," Kakashi snapped at Sakura, who was edging forward nervously, afraid to get close as if it would mean accepting what had happened. "Carry Naruto downstairs, and put him in the Hokage's office. Tell no one what happened, understand?"
Sakura didn't respond, too busy staring at Sasuke.
"Sakura! I gave you an order!"
She came to attention immediately, and wrenched her gaze away from her fallen teammate. "S- sorry, sensei. But what about S-" she stopped, unable to say his name.
"I'll take him," Kakashi assured her. "Just go."
He was gone before she had time to respond. Kakashi scooped up Sasuke as gently as he could, and disappeared in a flash of white. He had only one thought in his mind – he needed to find Tsunade. If he only found her in time, she could make this right. He repeated this over and over in his mind, but it wasn't enough to silence the voice in his head, the one that said it was all happening again.
You couldn't save Obito, the voice told him. You couldn't save Rin. You won't save Sasuke, either.
Shut up! Kakashi thought with anguish. Not this time! Not again, oh please… not again.
He found Tsunade in Surgery, just washing her hands after setting a civilian's broken leg. She looked up in surprise as he came in, but her expression soon changed to one of utter concentration and dispassionate assessment.
"Shizune!" she barked, gesturing to her assistant, who came running through the hallway when she heard the Hokage's voice.
"Clear the room," Tsunade barked. "Get a team of chunin guards down here at once, and summon two jonin-level medics."
"Right away, Hokage-sama!" Shizune became a whirlwind of activity, shooing everyone out of the room, including the civilian who had to hobble on his recently broken leg.
Kakashi went to the nearest operating table, waiting as Tsunade spread a sterilized sheet on top, and then laying Sasuke down gently. The sight of Sasuke's terrible wound seared itself into Kakashi's memory.
"Move back," Tsunade ordered brusquely. "Your chakra signature might disrupt my technique."
Kakashi obeyed hurriedly. Tsunade placed two fingers on Sasuke's neck, and made a worried sound. "No pulse," she muttered, sending a wave of fresh fear through Kakashi. "This will be close."
Without another word, she brought her hands together in an unfamiliar seal – and if it was unfamiliar to Kakashi, who was master of over a thousand techniques, it must be truly powerful indeed. Tsunade became wreathed all over with glowing chakra, originating from the seal in her forehead and spreading until it became like a cloak encasing her from head to toe. Her eyes glowed a terrifying red, and her hair and clothes began to defy gravity by rising into the air, stirring as if caught by a gust of wind.
Tsunade brought her hands down, directly over Sasuke's wound, and channeled her energy through it. Two things began to happen simultaneously: first, the hole in Sasuke's chest grew smaller, shrinking and retreating to be covered by pink, healthy flesh; second, Tsunade began to age before Kakashi's eyes. Small wrinkles appeared in her previously flawless skin, and her hair became streaked with white.
At last, Tsunade used up all of the energy of the technique. She ceased to glow, looking somehow smaller now that she had aged so much. Sasuke just lay there, as if asleep; the hole in his chest was gone, but there was still no indication that he was alive. His chest wasn't rising or falling, and his stillness was the stillness of the grave.
Then, suddenly, his eyelid gave the slightest twitch. Kakashi held his breath – he couldn't have inhaled at that moment even if he'd wanted to. The silence was broken by the softest of sounds, an inhalation. Slowly, so imperceptibly that Kakashi wouldn't have seen it if he hadn't been looking, Sasuke's chest rose.
Relief flooded through Kakashi. Sasuke was alive.
"Aaaaaaaaah!" Sasuke sat up abruptly, his heart thumping wildly. The last thing he remembered was charging Naruto. Then light, and pain. Then… nothing.
Sasuke looked around confusedly, trying to get his bearings. He was in a brightly lit room, with hygienic-looking counters and gauzy white curtains. Ah… Konoha hospital. Had he lost, then? No… there was no way he could have been beaten by the dead last! If Sasuke was in the hospital, Naruto must be too… or worse. No, he couldn't be dead! Naruto was too tough to die from one lousy chidori.
But if he wasn't dead, then where was he? In looking for Naruto, Sasuke saw the only other people in the room: Tsunade and Kakashi. They were talking together, their heads bent gravely, and worried frowns creasing their faces. The Hokage looked different, somehow… it took Sasuke a minute to realize that the difference was that she looked older. A lot older.
"Hey!" he said rudely, "I'm awake. And I'm not about to stay in this hospital, so let me go home!"
Kakashi and Tsunade didn't even stop their whispered conversation. They ignored him as completely as if he wasn't even there. If there was anything that pissed Sasuke off, it was being ignored.
"Hey!" he yelled, louder now. "Is this some kind of cold shoulder treatment, or something? Stop ignoring me!"
Nothing. It was almost like they couldn't hear him. Sasuke prepared himself to get down off his table, so that he could really give him a piece of his mind. As he looked down, preparing to swing his legs to the ground, he saw… himself.
Sasuke saw himself sleeping on the table, a mirror image as real as could be. Sasuke's lower body seemed to melt into the other Sasuke's body, almost like… like he was a ghost…
Fearing the worst, Sasuke held out his hands in front of him. They were misty and insubstantial, and through them he could actually see the gleaming hospital floor.
Sasuke's shout was loud enough to wake the dead, but apparently not loud enough to get Kakashi-sensei's attention. Or to wake Sasuke's sleeping body, which remained motionless on the table. Sasuke stood up, and realized that even though he was insubstantial, he still walked normally.
It might have been the shock of it all, but Sasuke found he was able to keep control of himself. At least, he didn't break down crying, though he thought about it.
Don't think about this, he told himself sternly. There's some explanation. You're not a ghost. This is some kind of dream, or maybe a genjutsu. Maybe Itachi came back, and is torturing me by making me believe I'm dead. Yes! That must be it…
Once Sasuke had a possible explanation, it allowed him to function, and think about what was best to be done. He would start with Kakashi and Tsunade, even though they might not be real at all. He walked over to them, making no attempt to be stealthy. He went right next to them, until he could have reached out and touched their clothes if he wanted to. He started listening to their conversation, and soon realized that they were speaking about him.
"He's alive, though, isn't he?" Kakashi asked, his voice worried.
"Of course I'm alive!" Sasuke squawked, waving his arms around like a madman. Nothing. Sasuke snorted – he could already tell he was going to get extremely tired of this.
"Yes," Tsunade answered, but that only reassured Sasuke for a second. Then she said, "technically. He's breathing, and his organs are all functional, but that's about it. He was dead when you brought him to me – his brain had shut down. I regenerated all of his organs and gave his nervous system a careful application of chakra, like an electrical shock; however, his brain activity hasn't resumed."
"You mean…" Kakashi trailed off.
"That's right," Tsunade nodded. "He's in a coma. Stuck essentially in a living death."
"Can't you do anything?" Kakashi asked desperately.
"Yeah," Sasuke added fervently. "Um… please?"
"What do you think I've been doing?" Tsunade snapped. "I sacrificed all of the energy I stored up in my seal just to bring him back from the dead. But not even I can fix a brain that's stopped working."
"So there's no hope?"
Sasuke leaned in, hanging on Tsunade's next words.
"There's always hope," Tsunade answered in a tired voice. "I'll begin studying the human brain in more detail, and make Sasuke my priority. We have time, after all. His body can sustain itself as long as we keep him fed and free from any illness. Time is, in fact, almost the only thing young Sasuke has at the moment."
"Kami," Kakashi said wearily. "I don't know how I'm going to break this to the team. Sakura will be devastated. And Naruto… I don't even know how Naruto will react, but I'm afraid to find out."
At that, Sasuke realized he'd forgotten something important. Naruto!
If this was real, and Sasuke was going to assume for argument's sake that it was, then that meant Naruto had beaten him. Not only that – Naruto had killed him! Sasuke clenched his fists together, noting that clenching one's fists when one was a spirit was much less satisfying that when one inhabited a body.
"Damn you, Naruto!" he said aloud. Kakashi and Tsunade hadn't heard him yet; they probably wouldn't start now. "It wasn't supposed to end like this!"
At that, Sasuke froze. Was this really… the end? It couldn't be! Because that would mean that he had failed. If he was dead, then Itachi would survive. He would never be able to bring him to justice. Sasuke let out a roar of rage and frustration, sinking to his knees and pounding his fists against the hospital floor. They passed through the tiles, which only enraged him further. He cried tears of denial and desperation, and Itachi's face appeared before him, seeming to taunt him. "Damn you!" Sasuke screamed – or tried to scream, since his voice was by now a ragged echo.
"Well, now." A dry, dispassionate voice cut through the air, startling Sasuke into silence. "The Fetchers told me what it was like, but I didn't believe them. Still, it was true – you humans blubber like babes when you think you're about to die."
Sasuke whirled around, jumping to his feet and preparing to react to the threat, when he realized… he was a spirit. He couldn't even get his sensei to hear his voice, so he might as well forget about protecting himself.
In front of him was a small, dry little man, who wore a crisp business suit and horn-rimmed glasses. His hair was starting to thin out on top, and his eyes watched Sasuke with an expression that was as devoid of interest as it was emotion.
"Are you done?" the man asked pointedly. "I don't have all day."
"Who…" Sasuke stammered, "who are you?"
"So rude!" the man tsked. "The Fetchers warned me, but it really is something else. Don't you know you're supposed to introduce yourself before asking someone else's name?"
Sasuke glowered, but given that he didn't have the slightest clue who this man was, or what level of threat he presented, he decided to be cautious. "Sorry," he said grudgingly. "I'm Sasuke."
The man snapped his fingers at him impatiently. "I know that, you silly fool! Honestly, wasting my time with useless information…"
"Hey," Sasuke snapped, beginning to get pissed off, "you asked-"
The man waved his hand sharply, cutting him off. "I don't care what I asked. I'm a very busy person, and I don't have all day to spend with you. Why the boss couldn't send a Fetcher, I don't know, but I guess nobody ever thought to take my feelings into account. Anyway, I plan on getting rid of you before the day is up."
"Getting rid of me?" Sasuke tensed up. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, don't get your nose bent out of joint. It's not what you think – you're not dead. Or at least, not yet. For some reason the Boss decided to give you another chance. I think he's crazy, myself. Give one person a second chance at life, and next thing you know everybody will want one! What comes after that, you ask? Anarchy, that's what! But no one ever listens to me…"
Sasuke had stopped listening after the phrase, "a second chance at life."
"Are you serious?" he gasped, and then hated himself for how desperate he sounded. Like a little child.
"Of course I'm serious," the man snorted. "Do I look like the joking type to you? Honestly, I don't know how the Fetchers do it. Dealing with obnoxious humans day in and day out-" but the man cut off his own rant, and pointed an accusing finger at Sasuke.
"You've got me chatting again. That will never do. Look, you just be quiet and follow me, all right? Is that easy enough for you?"
It took all of Sasuke's self-control to be polite in the face of the man's rudeness, but the hope of being reunited with his body provided the necessary incentive. "Yes, sir," he said through gritted teeth.
The mysterious man gave a self-satisfied smirk. "That's more like it. Stay close to me, and don't dawdle."
He waved his hand grandiosely, and suddenly a stairway appeared before him. It materialized out of thin air, made of a translucent shimmering material that didn't seem entirely solid. But when Sasuke went up the first step, it supported him well enough. The stranger led the way, walking up step after step toward the ceiling.
Sasuke followed, hesitant at first, but the stairway went right through the ceiling, and the stranger wasn't slowing down. Sasuke forged ahead, and passed directly through the hospital ceiling. The stairway went all the way up, through the many floors in the hospital, and at last emerged going up above the roof. Sasuke paused for a moment, looking at the place where he had fought Naruto. Before his world had gone completely crazy.
"Keep up," his guide snapped. "I'm not getting any overtime for this."
"Where are we going?" Sasuke asked. The stairs kept going higher, supported by nothing and leading them into the clear, evening sky. Soon Sasuke realized they were higher than the Hokage monument. All of Konoha receded underneath him, until the people in the streets seemed to be no more than ants.
"We're going to the Waiting Room," the stranger replied.
The man snorted with exasperation. "Because someone's waiting for you, that's why! Are all humans as dense as you?"
Sasuke shut his mouth. He might not be able to risk offending this man, but he sure as hell wasn't going to listen to any more of his abuse.
The stairs wound ever upward in a looping spiral, until they passed the lowest layer of clouds. The world was very different when seen from up high. Sasuke could almost forget his own frustration and anger, and became lost in the beauty of the world far below. The staircase at last came to an end, leading to an archway that housed a door. It was a remarkable door, made of oak and painted a dark red color, almost like blood. There was a knocker in the shape of a skull.
"This is where I leave you," the stranger said abruptly. "A Fetcher would bring you all the way in, but I'm not a Fetcher."
"I know," Sasuke said wearily. "I don't know what the hell a Fetcher is, but if I've learned anything today, it's that you aren't one."
"I will tolerate your rudeness only because my time with you is happily at an end." The strange turned up his nose, and continued walking. More stairs materialized, leading him farther up into the sky, away from the red door.
"I suppose I should go inside," Sasuke mused. He was apprehensive, and more than a little afraid. It was not a nice feeling, and one he hadn't often felt before. Burning rage was more common – that, and hatred. Those were familiar emotions, helpful emotions. Fear was useless.
That's right, Sasuke, get a hold of yourself, he thought firmly. Whatever was behind that door, he would meet it with his head held high, like a true Uchiha.
He approached cautiously, and swung the skull knocker three times. It created a hollow booming sound, and then slowly, the door swung open.
As Sasuke had half expected, the door did not open onto more empty sky. Instead, Sasuke could see a dimly lit room, not very large, with chairs placed in a wide circle and a fireplace against the far wall. And in the very center of the room was a person, whose back was facing Sasuke.
From the long, black hair reaching past her shoulders, it was clear that the person was a woman. There was something about her, perhaps the way her hair fell down her back, that was strangely familiar. Sasuke had the oddest sense that he'd seen her before.
"Hello?" he ventured, edging nervously into the room.
"You've come." The voice, warm and kind and hauntingly familiar, flooded Sasuke's veins with ice. He froze, standing like a statue as the woman turned around. The first thing he saw were her eyes, black as coal. Just like his.
Uchiha Mikoto smiled, her eyes crinkling around the corners. "Hello, my son. I've been waiting for you."
A/N: This is a first chapter to gauge interest. If there seems to be a positive response, I'll keep it going. The next chapter will have more explanation, and go into detail about how Sasuke's situation has affected everyone in Konoha. Please review!