A Sometimes Love
Description: Naruto wants to save his friendship with Sasuke, but Sasuke doesn't wish to be saved. Gaara offers help and advice. AU.
Disclaimer: Naruto, Sasuke, and the Naruto-verse are copyrighted by Masashi Kishimoto and Weekly Shonen Jump. I am making no profit; this is just for fun.
A/N: AU. Mixes in pieces of real conversations and events between Naruto and Sasuke for a different angle. Set early in Shipuuden at Orochimaru's layer.
Translations, jic: Niisan means older brother; tousama means honored father.
"There's a danger in loving somebody too much,
And it's sad when you know it's your heart you can't trust.
There's a reason why people don't stay where they are;
Baby, sometimes, love just ain't enough."
-"Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough," Patti Symth
For the first time in almost three years, Naruto found himself staring up at Sasuke. Around him were Yamato, Sai, Sakura, and the ruins of Orochimaru's lair.
"Sasuke!" Sakura yelled.
The moment had come. Naruto had to get Sasuke back now. For a moment, though, no words entered his mind.
Sasuke frowned down at him. "Naruto . . ."
Naruto took a deep breath. The words just flew out. "It's time to come home, Sasuke."
"Home?" Sasuke sneered.
"We've all been waiting for you," Naruto said. "After Orochimaru stole you — "
Sasuke smirked. "You always were stupid, Naruto. I thought I made this clear: I have no intention of returning. This wasn't an accident; it was a choice. I pursued the darkness. All I want is Itachi — the strength to kill him, the chance to face him, my revenge upon him. From the moment we were first put on Team 7, I have wanted this. It has been my life-long dream."
Struck by the absolute exclusion in those words, Naruto lowered his gaze to Sasuke's chest. "But . . . you were my friend. I know you were. We fought a lot, but I think we really were like brothers. In the Valley of the End, you could've killed me, but you didn't."
Sai glanced at him, clearly struck by the words, but he didn't interrupt.
The smirk faded. "I was your friend." Sasuke gazed at him without remorse. "But you didn't have what I ultimately wanted. What I ultimately needed. I went and got that for myself; I don't need you or Team 7 anymore. I won't need you ever again."
The words stung. Naruto had no intention of crying in front of Sasuke, but tears pooled in his eyes anyway. The world seemed to ripple in response. What a waste!
"I don't know why you're still chasing me." Sasuke drew his sword, his eyes turning red. "I never asked you to, and I never wanted you to. Although if I'm honest, I can say I enjoyed it that you did. Initially. I guess I lied: Part of me wanted you to. Part of me wanted you to chase after me and prove to me that I was wanted and needed. Special." Blue lightning flashed down the blade, accompanied by a chorus of chirping. "But you never understood me and my real intentions, and now you're in my way. I hadn't actually intended to kill you, but you're too persistent. It's time for you to leave forever."
Naruto didn't actually have the will to fight him. Sasuke had rejected him down to the core of his being — rejected everything he was and everything he could be. He had said no to Naruto's love, his friendship, his bond, his ideals, and even his ninja way. The message couldn't get any clearer.
He was unwanted.
Taking his stance, Sasuke extended his right foot and lifted his sword. The charge, when it came, was nothing more than a flash. For a split instant, Naruto didn't react, and then his eyes narrowed, the kyuubi's chakra cloak bubbling out around him. I have too much to live for; I have other people who need me, people who accept who I am. I'm not dying here.
His hesitation decided the outcome.
Naruto saw a flash of brown before the pain erupted in his chest, and then he was hurdling through the air. He landed at the back of the pit, the impact knocking his breath from his lungs. Dust and debris erupted in a cloud.
"Naruto!" Sakura's shriek sliced through the momentary silence.
With some effort, Naruto raised his head so he could see what was happening. Yamato, his wood around him like a shield, was facing Sasuke, apparently having intervened. Sai joined him.
White-hot pain seared Naruto's chest, making it throb with agony, and he could hear the crunching of debris and gravel as Sakura ran to him. The world looked grey around the edges, although he saw Orochimaru appear beside Sasuke, telling him it was time to leave. Letting his head fall back, Naruto gave in to his sudden exhaustion.
Consciousness snapped away from him.
"I call it a Sometimes Love."
The words fired through the darkness, and Naruto struggled to regain consciousness. He felt like he was pushing up through water, trying to reach the surface. The water pushed back.
"I stole the phrase from Niisan. He said it about Tousama. Tousama and him. I overheard it and ignored it. I was twelve then, before I fought you, and I only cared about my own pain. But I always remembered the phrase, and I think it's fitting."
Naruto opened his eyes slowly, squinting in the brilliant whiteness. There was a faint hum, a vibration in the air, and it made his ear drums thrum. He identified the sensation with something he'd only once experienced: being just close enough to a canon firing to physically feel it in his ear but just far enough away to not be deafened. "Where —" am I?
With some effort, Naruto adjusted to the glaring light and found nothing but empty space. Instinctively, he could sense he wasn't alone. He could feel two people standing behind him, although he couldn't quite command his body well enough to turn and look at them. Wait, I'm standing up? He managed to zero in on the owner of the voice, though. He was in front of him, slightly to the right side.
Gaara, dressed in his maroon trench coat but missing his gourd, stood with his arms crossed, a faint smile playing about his lips. A woman with light brown hair and wide eyes stood behind him silently, her hand on his shoulder.
Naruto's curiosity about the woman was overridden by his shock. "Gaara!"
"It's only for a moment," Gaara said. "Sakura is busy healing you." He pointed to Naruto's left. "I understand better how this works, since you reached inside this space to find me."
Naruto looked to his left and could see out of the whiteness: Sakura was bending over his body, her hands glowing with green chakra. Yamato and Sai were standing behind her, with Yamato looking openly worried.
"I'm dead." Naruto understood the significance at once.
"Momentarily." Gaara's voice was as calm as usual. "Your heart stopped. And while it's stopped, this small piece of me I left behind here can speak with you. So listen."
It was an odd explanation, but Naruto didn't focus on it. "You mean about the Sometimes Love."
Gaara closed his eyes, the black rings eclipsing them. "Yes." He paused, clearly gathering himself, then opened his eyes again. "I didn't want to accept this when I took your philosophy as my own. After all, love is the strongest force in the universe; if we fight from love, we fight at our strongest. But it's true: love isn't always enough."
Naruto flinched, worried about where this was headed. "You're talking about Sasuke. But I'm not giving up on him! I have to save him. I can't give up on him just like I couldn't give up on rescuing you."
"Thank you." Gaara gazed at him fondly. "And I realize that."
The building pain burning in Naruto's chest eased, and he relaxed, his shoulders slumping.
"But it takes more than love."
Naruto frowned at him, distinctively not pleased. "So what does it take?"
Glancing away, Gaara stared into the distance thoughtfully. "Cooperation."
This didn't seem to be headed anywhere good. "What do you mean?"
Gaara slanted him a glance. "Tousama wanted to get rid of me, so I can't speak for myself. But Niisan says that he loved Temari and him."
Naruto noted with vague interest that Kankuro had managed to earn the title of older brother. "Yeah?"
"The problem was it didn't make a difference. You can feel love for someone, but if you don't treat them with love, then the love is merely self-gratifying in the end." Gaara faced him squarely again. "Tousama might have loved Kankuro and Temari, but all of his choices were selfish. He wanted things from them all the time, constantly — obedience, cooperation, duty, work. But he only rarely ever gave them what they needed from him. In the end, they, like me, ended up being nothing more than honed tools. The process was different and more subtle, but the outcome was the same."
A sick, black dread was pooling in Naruto's stomach. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because Kankuro and Temari couldn't change his behavior. They couldn't make him treat them with consistent, real love. So Kankuro dubbed that a Sometimes Love." Gaara frowned. "And it happened because that was Tousama's choice."
Naruto took a step backwards, fighting the urge to flee. The two presences behind him seemed to draw closer in support, as though trying to reassure him. "You're saying — what you're really saying is . . . all this is Sasuke's choice."
Gaara nodded. "It was my choice to change my path and pursue bonds. It was Sasuke's choice to change his path and pursue darkness. He's right: you need to stop chasing after him, and the reason is for the sake of your own sanity and health. He had to choose to love you more than his need for revenge, and he didn't make that choice. You reached out to him; you offered him another way. He clearly told you he wasn't interested. In fact, he rejected you and everything you are. The choice has been made. The situation is closed. There is no purpose in your continuing to pursue him."
Bile climbed up the back of Naruto's throat. "Shut up! Shut up!" An icy wave of panic crashed through him, stealing his breath and making his heart pound.
With a look of gentle compassion, Gaara watched him silently.
"He'll destroy himself," Naruto managed to bite out. "I can't watch that happen."
"That's his choice." Gaara stepped forward, reaching out and squeezing his shoulder. "I know you want to save everyone, and I admire that. I want to be like that. But there is a problem: Sasuke chose his own goals over your friendship. It's a valid choice. But it ended your friendship. Or what I should say is this: You'll be his friend forever, but he's no longer your friend. To him, you are a relic of a past he once lived. I'm sure he remembers it fondly; I'm sure he loved you as a brother. But you're a fixed point in his past, and he doesn't see you in his future. That choice is his to make. He has the right to the path his life takes. Now it's your turn to live your future as well and fill it with new friends."
Naruto slapped his hand away. "You know I can't do that! Orochimaru intends to kill him and steal his body. He's going to die! And you and I both know there is nothing in the darkness —"
"Except a self-feeding destruction." Gaara nodded once more. "I know. But so does Sasuke. He's not a fool. He knows Orochimaru's intentions, and you must believe he has a plan." He caught Naruto's gaze. "And that also is his choice. You offered him the hand of friendship again, and he didn't accept it. Your job is done. You can't take away his freewill. If you really mean to alter Sasuke's headlong flight through this world, the only option left open is to kill him. And I don't think you're ready to face that outcome."
Naruto stared at him in blank horror.
Gently grasping Naruto's shoulders with both hands, Gaara caught his gaze again. "I'm sorry, Naruto. But I am your friend, and that is my choice. And as your friend, I wish to save you as well. Whether I can or not entirely depends on your choice. But like you, I have to try."
The logic of that was inescapable. So was his reply. "I won't kill Sasuke."
Gaara smiled faintly. "I know. But the point of our conversation is choices. People can make all sorts of choices. There is always a best possible choice, the one that leads to the best possible outcome. There is also a worst possible choice with a worst possible outcome. And people aren't puppets. Kami is not like Niisan; we are not controlled by strings on our limbs. Everyone has a choice to make in every situation, and the wrong choice can lead to death, destruction, and devastation. Even among innocents. That is the evil contained in the worst choice. But we were granted freewill, and our task is to use it responsibly. Many of us don't. This causes pain." He squeezed Naruto's shoulders. "You didn't ask to carry this pain, Naruto, but Sasuke has made his choice. In your opinion, the worst possible choice. People will die. Maybe him. But to force your will upon him is impossible, and even if you could, it would be the wrong choice. Since we were granted freewill, this means that stealing freewill is evil."
For a moment, Naruto could barely comprehend what Gaara was saying to him. He landed on the one piece that struck him. "It sounds hopeless. For all of us."
The woman who had been at Gaara's shoulder stepped up and put her hands on his shoulders from behind. She leaned her head to the side, peering around Gaara and smiling at Naruto. "Neither of you is without protection even when people do make wrong choices."
Although the two people behind Naruto didn't speak, he could somehow sense their agreement.
Gaara gave Naruto's shoulders a second squeeze, then lowered his hands. "It's true. But we also have to make choices that protect ourselves. For you, the best possible choice is to let Sasuke go."
Naruto stared at him with abject misery.
The whiteness pulsed, abruptly jerking him away.
Sakura's voice reached inside the darkness, calling him back. Naruto opened his eyes to brilliant light again, although this time it was sunlight. He squinted, adjusting, then focused on Sakura's face.
She slumped in relief. "We almost lost you. That was too close."
"But Sakura-chan saved me with her amazing medical jutsu," he said, mirroring words he'd said about another in a different situation. Given that he'd apparently just been speaking to a piece of Gaara's spirit, it seemed apropos.
Smiling sadly, she lowered her head. "I saved you, yes."
Naruto looked from Sakura to Yamato, then from him to Sai. A totally different version of Team Kakashi. The past seemed to be slipping to where it belonged; the future was emerging right before him. "I'll always consider Sasuke my friend, though," he said stubbornly, arguing with someone who wasn't there anymore.
The people before him didn't seem surprised by his non sequitur.
Sitting up, Naruto shook his head. "I can't do it. I can't do it." I can't just cut all ties to Sasuke, let him walk away, stop caring about him, leave him to be killed by Orochimaru, or watch the darkness consume him. And I could never decide to kill him.
He thought the words. But something in him had shifted. Because he saw a horrible vision, the epitome of the worst possible outcome: Sasuke's thirst for revenge unabated and turned upon Konoha.
And himself having to kill Sasuke in order to save everyone else.
"Oh, God," he groaned, utterly crushed. "Oh, God!"
It wasn't a choice he wanted to have to make. But this was all about choices — Sasuke's choice, and his corresponding choice. This meant Spirit-Gaara had been right:
In a situation like that, love wouldn't be enough.
A/N: Since Karura's spirit/will is in Gaara's sand, I can imagine a version in which she would be in the white space with Gaara. And if she is, then Kushina and Minato are with Naruto, too.
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