And he had been in love for a very long time.

.

.

Falling Stars

I.


He thought he could play it. It seemed so simple.

A pair of tan hands hovered over the piano, the boy's initial hesitance easily smothered by his childish curiosity. His stubby fingers pressed random keys of the piano —immediately creating a dissonance of sound. A noise. A rather unpleasant long tone sounded in the small room. He winced, fierce blue eyes narrowing for a moment. That didn't sound good. It didn't even sound right, he thought. His caretaker quickly glanced towards his direction, frowning.

"I told you not to touch it." The older man mouthed. He didn't seem surprised at the naughty act but the heat in his gaze almost made the blond-haired child flinch. Almost.

As if asking for more trouble, the little boy dared to smile, dared to answer the much older man with a toothy sheepish grin; his naturally tan hands still scattered shamelessly above the smooth immaculate surface of the grand instrument. Fierce blue eyes peeked out from beneath a mess of golden hair, a mischievous spark glinting in them.

"Why you little—" the man growled when the child did not move away from the instrument. He marched towards the boy, his steps wide and loud. He looked too fearful that this time, the blond-haired youth did flinch. He stepped back with fear so clear in his blue eyes, and before the man's hand could reach him, he ran.

And laughed heartily.

Peals of laughter could be heard as the blond-haired child ran outside the room – in the long, empty corridors, challenging the other man to chase him.

The man stayed where he was though. He was left staring at the child's retreating back. There were wrinkles deep on his brows and on the corners of his thin mouth. Clearly displeased, he returned to the music room, grumbling and cursing under his breath.

Disappointed, the little boy stopped running. He looked back warily at the space where the older man once stood. He could feel his oversized sweatpants slipping down his thin waist. Sighing heavily, he wadded it tightly into a ball and glanced one last time at the empty hallway, before slowly continuing on his way. His steps were heavier and slower and the smile that lifted his lips were now set into a thin, wobbly line.

For a reason he couldn't understand, there was a weird aching feeling in his chest. A beating so hard, and heavy, and loud that he gritted his teeth in agitation. He could hear the loud thumping in his ears. He didn't know what it was. He brought his hand to his chest and let his fingers dig into the skin of his above his heart.

He wanted the sound to stop.

He wanted that thing in his chest to stop.

Because it's odd, and it's loud, and he doesn't understand

-why it hurts.


Naruto was barely eight when he met him. On a cold and mundane autumn afternoon. There were nothing special that day and he could hardly remember anything. Just a few trivial things. Like the soft lulling tune Sister Shizune was playing in the piano and the sight of brightly -colored leaves swaying in the cold wind as they fell slowly to the ground.

"Don't go out today, Naruto. We have a curfew." Sister Shizune's playing did not even stop as she looked seriously at Naruto. "Soldiers are out today."

Naruto sighed heavily and proceeded to just look out the window.

A colorful snow, Naruto observed. His eyes followed the small, colorful snowflakes pooling beneath the wide oak tree and sticking themselves to the window.

He was distracted when he heard something below him. Naruto pressed his nose to the blurry glass when he saw a shiny black car pull over near the orphanage rusty old gate. The car was huge and long and really shiny. Like a mirror, the car exterior looked as smooth as the piano keys. Naruto marveled at the sight and pressed his face further to the window, flattening his nose to the blurry glass just to have a better look.

Two people, a woman and a man came out from the front of the car. The man proceeded to the back and opened the passenger door. Naruto watched with bated breath as this time, a child who looked the same age as him dismounted from the car.

A ghost. The kid looked like a ghost, Naruto thought. The child's face was the whitest Naruto had ever seen and the pure black clothes he was wearing matched the grim shadows on his face. His pale lips were set in a very straight line. So rigid. And his eyes -his eyes were unmoving and trained solely on the ground.

Incredibly curious, Naruto ran to the front doors to see the child up close. When he got there, there were already a lot of people crowding the entrance.

Hiding beneath the rickety steps of the enormous staircase of the house, he watched as the grown-ups, most especially the nuns fuss over the newly-arrived crowd. Naruto noticed that even the soft Christmas tune being played in the background had stopped. Shizune-san must have stopped playing the piano.

One of the nuns knelt in front of the silent child and placed her hands on his shoulder. "Welcome to your new home, S- kun. I know this is just temporary but we hope you enjoy your stay here."

Naruto didn't get the name of the mysterious child, suddenly distracted by a little black spider crawling on the step above his head. The little black spider was slowly weaving its house in between the spaces of the steps. Mesmerized, Naruto stretched out his hand and tried to reach out gently for the eight-legged creature.

"Oh no don't go. I won't hurt ya," Naruto whispered. But the spider continued its ascent, uncaring of the little child's effort.

The noises and voices in the background were getting louder and closer but the curious blond child paid no heed to them. Just as Naruto's fingers were reaching the step where the spider was, he heard a small squeaky sound. Followed by a gritty crunching sound.

Naruto came out of his hiding place and saw in horror the body of the spider crushed beneath the foot of the ghost- looking child.

"Sasuke-kun, don't go anywhere yet. You might get lost."

The child remained silent, staring blankly at Naruto.

"Oi…" Naruto started, but couldn't bring himself to say anything else. The child's gaze on him was unsettling, making Naruto feel prickly in his own skin. Unable to take the stare anymore, Naruto tore his gaze away and accidentally looked down to see the severed legs of the dead spider underneath the child's shoe. Naruto frowned and chewed his lower lip, suddenly feeling a burning in his eyes.

"You must be very tired, dear. I'll show you your room first."

One of the nuns approached the child and tried to take his hand.

But the hand was immediately slapped away. Naruto did not see it but he heard the sound even before his mind registered what happened.

"Don't touch me." The child hissed. His gaze was drawn down now but his stance was as rigid as ever.

There was a collective gasp and murmuring from the nuns behind him.

Naruto did not understand what he did next or why he did it, but the next thing he knew, he was being restrained and there were hands all over him. The nuns' panicking voices were all around him.

Beneath him was the ghost child with a newly swollen cheek.

Naruto cannot remember the exact words he said against the other boy. All he could remember at that moment was the sheer feeling of anger. Towards the child he just met.

He was still shouting when they finally pulled him away.

But through all the chaos, the ghost child did not even react or say a word. There was no expression on his face as he stood up from the floor as if nothing happened. He did not even bother to wipe the dust or straighten the wrinkles from his perfect clothes.

The child's deep brown eyes looked at Naruto once again. Naruto stopped thrashing and shouting. At that moment, when they locked eyes again it was as if the world had stopped, the snowflakes had stopped falling, the music had stopped playing, and all Naruto could feel was a sudden heaviness in his heart. He tried to blink back the burning in his eyes.

Because this child reminded him of nothing

-but sadness.


"Hey. What's your name?" Naruto asked.

He wiped his hand against his oversized sweatpants and extended it towards the new child. He stopped referring to him as the ghost child when Shizune-san told him it was rude and unkind. But for the life of him, he couldn't remember the other child's name. It was just mentioned a few days ago and he'd already forgotten about it.

Not that he cared, really.

He just felt bad for the child who was always alone. Sitting by himself near the piano, looking outside the window with a gaze that was always so serious and far away. Like if he had wings, he'd fly far far away from here. Never to return. And never to look back.

It was late afternoon and the orange rays of the setting sun were stretching across the room. The colorful snowflakes were still falling outside, covering the bare, lifeless ground. Winter was coming and pretty soon everything would be white again. Naruto hated the cold but he loved the snow.

Because they covered the graves of his parents and they deaden the sound of screams.

He never really understood the meaning of war.

"Can you play?" Naruto persisted and approached the child. He was not allowed to go near the piano anymore - not after the last stunt he pulled when he made a spectacle of himself in front of the country officials and the new foster parents visiting the House.

He frowned at the memory. He already knew he was not going to get adopted that day. He had seen the looks the visitors gave him as soon as they stepped inside the room. He had heard the low whispers. The hushed sounds of hateful words. The cold ambience was not really unexpected. He was the son of the defector after all. The son of the Army General who waved the white flag to the enemy. To save millions of lives, they had to lose the war.

Not everyone had understood the sacrifice.

Naruto knew the meanings of the words traitor and loss even before he could write them on paper. He felt the feeling of scorn even before he knew the word.

At the age of 8, he was now considered the longest-staying child in the orphanage. Not the oldest because the oldest one was the child next to him. Just a few months older than him though but the child already looked too old for his age.

"Oi, kid. Can you play?" Naruto repeated the question, wondering whether the other child had heard him the first time.

There was no response. The child's gaze was still drawn towards the window.

"What are you staring at?" Naruto sat beside the other kid and looked out the window as well. The sun was drowning in a haze of red and orange. The skies were darkening and the trees outside were almost barren, the colorful snowflakes filling the ground. It's outstanding. It's like a picture filled with warmth and bright colors. Naruto couldn't hide his smile at the beautiful sight.

"This is my favorite place too, ya know. I always hang out here. And this," Naruto hovered his little fingers over the white piano keys, "is my most favorite thing in the world, because it can make this awesome-mazing sounds. Shizune-san plays it really well!"

Naruto glided his little chubby fingers over the smooth keys.

"She has these super fast fingers and she can play even without looking at the notes or something."

He liked the music because it's soft and it made him feel wonderful inside.

And at night, it drowned out the sounds of sirens and gunshots. And of people's screams.

"And it's peaceful."

Naruto wasn't aware that his voice had gone low. "So, can you play it?" He looked at the child again who still had not moved or uttered a word. His left cheek was still a bit swollen, the angry redness a stark contrast to his milky smooth skin. The child's demeanor was as blank and unresponsive as ever.

Still without a hint of feeling. Like a statue. The small boy looked dead to the world.

Without knowing why, Naruto's fingers made its way to the child's face. Not touching. Just fingers hovering over the small perfect face.

The other child blinked once and looked at the hand in front of his face.

"Who…"

-destroyed you?

"I'm sorry I punched you." Naruto's fingers slowly went down to the boy's cheek. Little chubby fingers were almost touching the swollen skin.

The sudden grip around his wrist made Naruto stop. The grip was tight and the other's hard gaze was focused on him again. Naruto almost flinched. Looking at those deep unsettling eyes made Naruto remember a painting he'd seen years before. It was a painting of a cracked and barren wasteland. There's the color of the orange heat on a land filled with waste and destroyed buildings.

A painting devoid of life.

"Oh yeah I forgot," Naruto chuckled after a few seconds. "You don't like people touching you, huh?"

With much effort, Naruto withdrew his hand.

Dejectedly, he looked back at the window again.

Just as a huge firework suddenly lit the expanse of the dark skies. Naruto's eyes almost bulged from his sockets.

"Oh wow, shooting stars!" Naruto shouted. "Did you see that? Did you see that?!"

Another one came into view. And then another. And another.

The skies suddenly exploded into a canvass of bright lights. For a whole thirty seconds, Naruto's world was filled with explosive lights. Of stars falling onto the earth and embracing the world in glowing, blinding light-

Blue eyes were glued to each and every one of the falling bright star.

At the sight, Naruto thought his heart had simply stopped.

It was all so breathtaking.

"Oi, oi make a wish! C'mon, make a wish!" Naruto shouted at the other child, nudging him by his elbow. He bowed his head immediately just as another one fell from the sky. He clasped his hands together. "I wish - I wish a big bowl of steamy miso ramen with extra naruto rice cakes when I wake up tomorrow! I wish I'd grow taller and bigger. Much bigger than Iruka-sensei so he'd allow me to go with him to the fields. I wish one day I'll be a soldier too, like my dad. I wish I could be like him. Strong and smart… A hero."

And just as the last star fell, Naruto made one final wish. This time, he spoke in a much lower voice. Softer than a whisper.

A wish intended for no one else to ever hear.

"I wish we all get adopted too. Someday…"

"…"

Naruto did not see it but the eyes of the silent child focused on him again. Deep unblinking eyes settled on his form. Naruto's eyes remained closed and his hands still clasped clumsily over his lap.

Like the sudden darkness, silence dropped over the room. It stretched for a long time.

For the rarest moment of his life, Naruto was thankful for the darkness.

Because at that moment even though he was still smiling he couldn't help the thin streaks of salty river from streaming down his face.

"I wish…"

He could feel the wetness soaking through his oversized pants. The warmth of his own tears dripping over his shaking hands.

"I wish… I wish…"

He had a lot of wishes. None of them had ever come true. None of them-

-And then all of a sudden… there was music.

It started with a few slow notes. Then a soft, melodious tune slowly filled the room.

Naruto opened his eyes to the sight of the other child leaning over the piano and playing. His pale fingers were shorter than Shizune-san's but they were as fast. Seemingly moving through the expanse of the piano keys quickly and gently without an effort. Never missing a note.

Naruto had never heard of the tune before but he could have sworn that that was the most beautiful music he had ever heard in his life. Utterly speechless, but with a heart so much lighter than before, Naruto was left staring at the silent child for a long time.

"I'm Naruto, by the way." He introduced after a long while, and though the other child remained silent, the music continued, and Naruto's smile deepened on his face. It was a smile more breathtaking than those of the bright falling stars.

The ghost child... was Naruto's first friend ever since.


The air smelled heavily of burnt paper the next day.

The skies were unnaturally redder and darker. There was also that unmistakable heat blanketing the whole place. Like everything in the world was put inside a furnace overnight.

Naruto woke up sweating. There were noises outside and when he peeked through the window from his room, he saw lots of guards outside the Home. He was soon joined by the other kids, curious and listening to the conversation outside even though none of them could make out any of the words. 'Adult stuff,' one of the older children mentioned when all of them failed to understand what everyone was talking about.

All the classes were cancelled that day.

The commotion did not die down even after lunch and this time, Naruto was getting worried. The inactivity was unsettling, as well as the grim and nervous faces of the grown-ups. Something unspeakable seemed to hang in the air. It didn't help that he wasn't feeling very well today too.

He looked at Sasuke who was sitting across from him at the long table. The silent child had a book in front of him with a toasted bread on his other hand. But even then, Naruto could see that his black-haired friend wasn't really paying much attention to what he's reading. It was odd to say that even Sasuke's focus was torn like the rest of them.

"Oi, do you know what they're saying? What are… missiles, Sasuke?" Naruto leaned in closer to his friend.

Without even looking at Naruto, Sasuke's gaze hardened even more and before Naruto could say anything else, something fell and a loud scream broke out in the hall.

There were suddenly sounds of crying.

Before he could understand what's happening, Naruto's feet were following the pained sounds. When he got there he saw pieces of glasses and utensils scattered on the floor and one of the nuns serving the food was kneeling down and crying. She was being consoled by the other Sisters but she still won't stop crying, her white habit being soaked by her unending tears.

There was something heavy settling in Naruto's stomach.

Something was definitely happening and it deeply bothered him.

"Th-they were suddenly attacked. My parents and my sisters. My family. There were no warnings. They didn't give any warnings…" The crying nun stuttered and cried even more. Broken words and whispers followed. Naruto looked around and saw that some of the adults were covering their faces now. 'They were crying too,' Naruto belatedly realized.

This time the gravity of the situation was finally sinking in in his young mind. Naruto's little hand was clenching the fabric over his stomach. The butterflies in his stomach seemed to be multiplying and having a war of their own.

He knew the day wouldn't be good the first time he opened his eyes to the scent of burning wood.

"It's them… It's those—"

Naruto's heart stopped. Somehow, somehow he knew what she's going to say next. And he didn't want to hear it. Naruto didn't wait for her to finish and ran as fast as he could outside the dining hall.

He nearly stumbled on the way out but never once looked back. Never once stopped even though he heard someone call out his name.

He couldn't recognize the voice.


Darkness found Naruto still hunched beneath the massive piano in the music room. His knees were hugged close to his chest; blue eyes fixed blankly on a stain on the wooden floor. He was humming a childish tune repeatedly in his head. Trying to forget the pounding in his head because of hunger. He hadn't eaten since this afternoon. But right now, he couldn't honestly care.

Naruto heard the door creaking and promptly shut his eyes. Lowering his head even more as though he could hide from the world.

A shadow loomed over his form.

Naruto looked up to see his silent friend staring at him.

"I was waiting for the falling stars," Naruto jokingly said. "Maybe, they'll appear again tonight, ya know."

Naruto's smile didn't last very long as the other's blank stare remained unchanged.

A nervous laughter. "It's… worth a try I guess."

"…."

The dark shadows were stretching in the unlit room. What remained of the moon light was fading away quickly too. Even though the day started quite humid, the night was as cold as every night.

Colder, even.

But Naruto was still thankful that the skies were no longer red. The unnatural heat was no longer there.

Naruto loosened his grip on his knees and looked up towards the window. Like always, blue eyes were drawn towards the endless skies.

After a while, Naruto felt the other sit next to him. He didn't hear any movement. Even in the tiniest of actions, Sasuke was always so quiet. If he had not heard him speak the first time before, Naruto could have thought Sasuke mute.

It never mattered though. Regardless of what he was, Naruto will always feel pity for his silent friend. He couldn't help it.

Because Sasuke never smiled. Not even once.

He always had this look in his eyes. This sad, this very sad look that made Naruto feel really bad. Even though he couldn't fully understand what it was.

The only thing Naruto knew was that Sasuke had never been happy.

Naruto promised that if he'd be lucky to see another falling star again, he'd wish to see his friend smile. Even if that would be his last falling star. Even if that would be his last wish. He'd do anything just to make Sasuke—

".?!"

There was a sudden tremble on the ground – just as a blinding light pass from the window. Standing up abruptly to have a better look, Naruto walked towards the window.

Another blinding light streaked through the skies and this time, Naruto had seen it clearly.

"No, no way!" Naruto's eyes gaped widely in shock as a barrage of shooting stars lit the night sky once again. He couldn't believe it. Just moments ago, he'd give anything to have one more wish. And now, he's being given a lot more. He couldn't believe his luck. Someone up there must have finally noticed him. Naruto nudged his friend immediately. "Are you seeing them, Sasuke?! Are you seeing them? The shooting stars! They're back!"

His silent friend did look at the window but there was something in his deep black eyes that changed.

Not paying much attention to the odd look on his friend's face, Naruto walked even closer to the window. For some odd reason, the shooting stars seemed to be closing in. There's this heat again too, and it was spreading. He could feel the growing warmth on his skin.

"…Those are not falling stars." Sasuke's voice startled Naruto. He turned to look back at Sasuke, blinking a few times. Still too stunned to hear Sasuke's voice, Naruto did not register what he had said. This was the first time he really heard Sasuke's voice. Up close. Sasuke's voice was hauntingly low and his gaze was too serious and terrifying to belong to a kid.

"Get away from the window."

"Wha-?"

"Get away!"

Naruto heard the crash of the window glasses breaking even before his eyes registered the blinding light. He felt Sasuke grab his arm tightly and pulled his body towards him. At those painstakingly long seconds, all Naruto could remember at that moment was Sasuke's cold hands as the brunette pushed him below him and shielded him from the pieces of glasses that rained down on them.

When he opened his eyes again, Naruto could see a big hole adorning the wall and the crackling flames of the huge fair raging outside. There were pieces of burnt wood and glass all around him.

"I told you," Naruto heard Sasuke utter through gritted teeth, "to get away from the window…"

The boy's body was still over Naruto. His arms were shaking in a losing fight to support himself. But there was no anger or pain in his voice as he muttered an almost inaudible 'idiot,' and finally closed his eyes.

"S-Sasuke…" Naruto whispered brokenly.

"…."

The boy fell. Right on top of Naruto.

Naruto stayed staring at the ceiling for a long time, his hands still gripping Sasuke's shirt. He could feel warm wetness, dripping over his trembling form and soaking through his clothes.

The air smelled of blood. His friend was bleeding.

Naruto's legs were trapped under some debris and he couldn't move. He couldn't even save his friend. And he wanted to be a soldier. He wanted to be a hero. Naruto almost laughed bitterly at the thought – but his lungs were steadily filling with soot that he was starting to lose consciousness for the lack of air. He couldn't even scream or shout or cry for help.

Sobbing pathetically, Naruto's arms tightened around his friend. He could feel some shards of the broken glass piercing his arms too but he didn't care.

"Help… H-help," he gasped. "Anyone. Help, please. Save Sasuke. Please. Please…"

And just before he blacked out, Naruto saw one last star falling from the burning sky.


"…I hate you. If you do that again, I'll punch you in the face, you hear me?"

It was Christmas Eve, and the heavy white snow had already covered everything outside. Like a white blanket, the snow had draped over everything it could touch. All the trees were now barren and the harsh bitter wind was unrelenting. Naruto was struggling to peel a pear from his position at the side of Sasuke's hospital bed. As predictable as it was, his silent friend did not respond and his gaze remained focused outside –unblinking towards the dull ashen skies.

For days, Naruto had nightmares of the sound of the bombs falling from the skies. Those weren't falling stars. Those were explosives being dropped to the ground to hurt people. Naruto had realized his mistake too late and had paid dearly for it. Almost at the cost of his best friend's life.

Though covered in bandages and obviously hurt, Sasuke had never once blamed him for what happened. It wasn't his fault. He couldn't have known, Sasuke explained curtly and left it at that.

But Naruto had never accepted that. Deep inside, he knew he'll never be able to forgive himself if his friend died protecting him.

"Promise me, damn it." Naruto insisted.

"…." A heavy sigh. Naruto saw his friend finally remove his gaze away from the window and looked at him directly. Sasuke's eyes were as serious as ever.

"I don't need to promise you anything." Sasuke said slowly, as if punctuating every word for his stubborn friend.

"Sasuke-!"

"Because I'll do it again."

Naruto stopped.

"If something like that happens again, I'll do the same thing. I will not hesitate to repeat what I did." The seriousness in Sasuke's eyes did not waver but this time, his voice seemed to be softer. Gentler.

"But why-?" Naruto heard himself ask, still gaping openly at his friend. "Why would you do that-?"

Through the haze of the recent events, Naruto couldn't remember if he had made his final wish. He remembered seeing the last falling star before he blacked out but he couldn't remember if he did make his final wish.

But looking at Sasuke's face right now made him think that maybe, he did.

A small upward curve in the corner of a pale face. This was the first time – the very first time—he's seeing a smile on his best friend's face.

Sasuke was smiling.

And Naruto's heart could have stopped at that very moment.

"Idiot." Sasuke's hand was on his head, ruffling his unruly blond hair. Tears were gathering on the corner of Naruto's eyes. The peeled fruit now ruined and forgotten in his trembling, sweaty hands.

Even in the vanishing light of the dusk and the unending flood of the snow outside, Naruto had never felt happier in his life. He couldn't contain the happiness in his chest. For the rarest moment of his life, his dreary world seemed to be a little bit brighter and his heart felt so much lighter.

Naruto wrapped his arm around his friend, burying his crying face on his shoulder.

"B-But I'll still punch you if you do that again, you bastard." Naruto sobbed, tightening his hold on his friend as if hecould fly away from his grasp. "And I promise… I promise I'll be the one to protect you next time."

Sasuke's smile only deepened on his face.

They were inseparable ever since.


Because you're my friend. Idiot.


.

.

II.

(Eight Years Later)

It was in the middle of July when Naruto received the letter. It surprised him because he wasn't really expecting the letter till the end of the year.

Naruto stared at the white envelope lying innocently on the table in front of him for a long time. The letter was already opened, courtesy of one cheeky scarf-wearing brat currently sitting beside him.

"Konohamaru you little shit."

"I'm so sorry boss!" The younger one clasped his hands together in a dramatic display of apology. "I couldn't help it! I was too stoked when I saw your name. I knew I just had to open it or I'll dieeeeee!"

Naruto smacked the brat on the head, earning a pained grumble. "Shut up, brat. I ain't hearing your excuses this time. It's still isn't yours. You have no right—"

"Yeah Yeah, boss. Just open it will ya? I wanna see it too."

Naruto grumbled a curse and snatched the letter from the table, his earlier nervousness now forgotten because of his annoyance. The letter was already opened so he didn't have much choice but to read it. He really wanted to wait. He wanted Sasuke to be there when he reads it. Because this was the letter he's been waiting for practically his whole life. Where all his childhood dreams were centered.

Seeing the kind of envelope and signature used, he already knew where the letter was from. It was the content he was most worried about.

With a heart that was almost beating its way out of his chest, Naruto unfolded the paper very slowly and read-

"You… enlisted?" Sasuke asked in obvious disbelief. His tone was hard. Naruto noticed that he was still in his pristine altar knight robes. Being raised by nuns, most of the orphans who were not adopted ended up working in the City Cathedral. Sasuke was one of them. But unlike Naruto and the rest of the orphans, there had been a lot of parents who wanted to adopt the youngest Uchiha. But to everyone's surprise (and disappointment), Sasuke had turned all of them down. Nobody knew the reason. Even Naruto couldn't get a straight answer from his stoic best friend.

Even Sasuke wanting to work for the Church shocked Naruto for a long time. Everyone knew that his silent friend had the emotional capacity of a rock and never genuinely liked people. Sasuke doesn't believe in God and had already denied wanting to become a priest so why was he still in this Church? Sasuke never answered him but Naruto never stopped asking though.

"Wait. Why are you angry?"

Sasuke had almost torn the rope wrapped around his waist in anger. He tossed his vestments on the bed with much force and stalked towards Naruto with wide angry strides.

Naruto gulped and almost took a step back at his best friend's suddenly changed demeanor. What in the world did he do this time.?

"And you're just telling me this now?"

"Eh? Well, I just received the letter bastard, and what's the deal anyways? You know I always wanted to join the army. I told you that before-"

"When we were fucking nine, Naruto!"

Naruto stopped. Sasuke rarely swore. In their nine years of friendship, this was only the second time he heard him swear.

They fought a lot but this was the only time Naruto was completely at lost as to what they are fighting about. Try as he might, he couldn't understand what the other was furious about.

"It's isn't my fault that you forgotten all about it—"

"Cancel it."

"What? I can't… WHAT?!" Naruto was gaping at the other now. He couldn't believe what his best friend was saying. He thought Sasuke would be happy for him. Because this was his dream. This had always been his goal.

"I said," Sasuke was leaning towards him now, his slightly bigger form almost towering over Naruto. "Cancel it now. Joining the army isn't mandatory as it was before-"

"!"

The punch had been stronger than Naruto intended but at that moment he couldn't help himself. The sickening crunch of bones resounded in the small room. Naruto's knuckles were throbbing as he withdrew his hand from his best friend's face. Sasuke's lips were bleeding and there's an angry red bruise forming on his left cheek. Naruto had punched his friend many times before but didn't know why this particular one hurt him even more.

He waited for Sasuke to throw the next punch but the brunette stayed where he was. Unmoving. His eyes were dead-set on the floor and his fists clenched tightly at his sides.

"I don't know what your fucking problem is-"

"I hope you fail." Sasuke gritted out. "I hope they fail you and they all see the deadlast that you really are."

Naruto tried to hide it but the hurt must have shown so clearly in his eyes that Sasuke's demeanor quickly changed.

"Fuck you." And Naruto immediately stormed out of the room. He slammed the door closed with all his strength that it almost broke out of its hinges.

A second heated curse slipped past pale lips. Sasuke buried his face in his hands.

That would be the last time they will see each other again for months.


Blue eyes were focused solely on the rifles poking out from the make-shift turrets. Naruto crouched lower from his position.

"Damn. It's too guarded."

"Ahh, are you giving up now blondie?" The cadet next to Naruto whistled. He gave Naruto a playful wink as he readjusted the holster on his side.

"Shut up Kiba. I'm concentrating here." Naruto hissed. He blinked away the sweat from his eyes. The air was hot and dank. Almost unbreathable. This was his first time in a desert and Naruto didn't like it one bit. He had never felt so hot and thirsty in his entire life. His water canteen had long been empty. He hadn't even eaten since the morning. Being late as usual, he had to rush to the dawn exercises before their oh-so-gracious Captain took notice of him again. It was no secret that the old man had been extremely prejudiced against him since day one.

The Captain took one look at Naruto's faded and oversized green jacket and sneered.

"Children shouldn't be allowed in the battlefield."

Sure he was the shortest one in all the recruits but Naruto felt that there was more to the Captain's heated glare towards him. He had people look at him with hatred before but the Captain's eyes showed a much deeper grief and anger than most. He could maybe understand the anger but grief is a different matter altogether.

The man named Kiba chuckled, distracting Naruto from his thoughts. "Yeah right. You know rookie, concentration actually requires a brain which I don't think you have-"

The only response he got was a smack from the butt of Naruto's pistol.

"Ouch, you-!"

"Oi you two! Shut your asses down. They'll gonna notice our position, damn it." Someone shouted from the back. Naruto recognized the voice belonging to their group leader. Shikamaru looked like he was going to piss his pants anytime soon. Naruto couldn't really blame him.

They had a plan. A very smart plan that only a genius strategist like Shikamaru can think of. Even a blockhead like him had thought the plan really impressive—but it had all crumbled to the ground when Shikamaru failed to take into account the number of the enemy.

They were severely outnumbered. And with rifles poking out in every opening of the tower, clearly outgunned as well.

Naruto knew there was only one thing he could do. Something that even his genius friend had not thought of. Naruto was a loose cannon. A bit unhinged sometimes. And a fearless risk-taker. Naruto would rather go down charging and fighting than staying in his position and waiting for the sun to roast his brain. Or the enemies to snipe them from the towers. No, sir. Naruto unloaded his gun and counted the remaining bullets on his palm.

"Dude, what are you doing?"

Naruto threw his empty canteen at the side. He stamped out the sand from his dusty boots and winked at his loud friend.

"What I should have done hours ago, dog breath."

Kiba didn't even mind the insult. He looked at their group leader meaningfully, wondering if this all was part of the plan.

Shikamaru quickly understood the meaningful look and shook his head. 'Fuck no,' he mouthed and threw a small rock at the blond's head to get his attention.

"Oi Naruto, don't you dare." The leader hissed; eyes widening as Naruto's smirk merely grew.

"Confuse the enemy. And engage them." Naruto mouthed-

-and without waiting for anything else, he boldly pushed the ground and ran.

He knew that this was only a simulation. But Naruto wasn't Naruto if he doesn't give his all to everything he does.

A shot was fired in the air. Naruto's first hit was a miss but that was enough to get the enemy team's attention solely on him.

Shikamaru cursed under his breath and signaled for everyone to move. Naruto's action was unplanned but it gave them all the few seconds they needed to carry on with their original plan. It took a couple more shots to be fired before Shikamaru finally motioned for the big brown lug to knock the tower down.

The last thing Naruto heard was the slight rumble in the earth as the tower collapsed to the ground. Something hit him square in the chest. It was a bullet.

He was wearing a Kevlar, but damn, did it hurt.

Wounded and incredibly dehydrated, Naruto just lay there on the ground. Under the glaring heat of the desert sun. He could feel drops of cold sweat trickling down his neck. He licked his cracked lips. With the light almost leaving him, Naruto could only remember a memory of a small boy hunched over a huge piano. Playing a tune he had never heard before-

He remembered the small birthday gift he had left beneath Sasuke's bed before he left… wondering if his silent friend had ever seen it.

Three months. Naruto had not heard from his friend for three months. None of his letters were ever answered. He had left the Orphanage in the middle of July. It was now late October.

"Sasuke." Naruto whispered against the spreading darkness.

He could only wish his friend had already forgiven him.


"It's just a fracture in the chest area. A bit close to the sternum but he'll be okay. Are you his family?"

"…No."

A shiver passed over Naruto at the sound of the voice. He had been awake for quite a while now and was just resting his eyes when he heard the door open. He could hear the unmistakable sound of boots approaching his bed.

"Then, you are-?"

"A friend." The man answered curtly.

The voice was as low as he remembered. Naruto opened his eyes immediately, blinking at the sudden assault of sunlight to his face.

He only caught a sight of that familiar pale skin before Naruto launched himself towards the other man. Regretting it almost immediately as he felt the sting of the fractured rib on his side and almost fell out of the bed. Sasuke caught him just in time and proceeded to scold him. Just like old times. Naruto couldn't help the smile from spreading across his face.

"You moron-"

"Missed you too, you bastard." Naruto was clinging to his friend for dear life now, wishing to all the gods out there that this wasn't just a dream. Never mind that his friend did not return the embrace or said anything more to him. There were no words of apology exchanged. Naruto merely hugged his best friend for a long time. And Sasuke just stayed there. As silent as ever.

When Naruto finally pulled away to look at his best friend, his eyes widened- and felt his heart sinking slowly into his gut. Sasuke was wearing the same green jacket that he has.

Though the green uniform fit his best friend perfectly, Naruto felt that the military garb doesn't suit his friend in any way. Naruto was used to seeing Sasuke in his white robes with a bible or a rosary in hand. Sasuke never wanted to be a priest but Naruto had always thought that the silent man will devote his whole life to the Church.

"Since when?" Naruto asked.

His friend didn't reply.

"Sasuke." Naruto's fist clenched around the other man's collar. "Since when are you-? And why-?"

The cold, deep-set eyes that suddenly turned to look at him made Naruto stop. He could feel the sting from his fractured rib throbbing in his chest, but he never dared to voice it out loud. Here was Sasuke in front of him. Unchanged and seemingly older and more mature-looking than him, dressed in that green military uniform, and looking at him with those cold, cold eyes. Just like the day he left. It was as if absolutely nothing had changed between them. The gap separating them seemed to have become wider.

"Only a few months here and you're already beat up like this." Sasuke started. "How can you even expect to last here being as pathetic as you are?"

Naruto blinked. He was expecting the barrage of insults but this was way-off the topic. "That's not what I—"

"You left me." Sasuke gritted out. "Just like that. You left me, Naruto."

Sasuke's grabbed Naruto's wrists, prying them away from his shirt.

"And you expect me to just sit there and wait for you."

"…Sasuke." Naruto winced at the tight grip, feeling the pain in those words. There was so much hurt in his best friend's voice.

Sighing heavily, Sasuke released him eventually and supported Naruto back to the bed.

"Get some rest."

"Sasuke, I…" He couldn't bring himself to continue. Sasuke's eyes were now drawn down to the floor. Refusing to look at him.

Naruto remained silent even when Sasuke finally turned away and left the room without another word.


"You're chasing a dream that's not even yours." Sasuke told him once. They were both lying on the trunk of the Old Pervert's truck. Looking up at the skies.

Sasuke had a book draped open on his chest.

Naruto had his hand stretched high up in the air.

The midnight air was cold, penetrating through Naruto's threadbare clothes.

"And what would you know about chasing dreams, Sasuke? You never had one." Naruto jabbed his friend at the side, chuckling at the other's annoyed expression.

"You're a fool, Naruto. It's not even what you want."

They were just children. Naruto was barely ten. He could not have known what he wanted. But it was the time of war, of uncertain futures, and fleeting lives - no one could have known what they truly wanted.

At that time, all Naruto knew was that he wanted to protect the people most precious to him.

He wanted to protect his friend most of all-


There was that pungent smell of the decaying bodies hanging in the air. Even from the outside, there were a lot of flies buzzing around the small shanty. Naruto scrunched up his nose at the horrible scent. If he had a say, he wouldn't go inside the ominous looking house. It didn't even look like a house. The walls were filled with unreadable graffiti and signs.

The door was unhinged.

Blood was spilling from the inside.

Shikamaru ordered two of the rookies to stay outside. Naruto was almost tempted to volunteer as a look-out as well. Only the determined look in Sasuke's eyes forced him to brave through this. His friend had barely talked to him since the incident in the hospital. But even then, Sasuke stayed with him. He went wherever Naruto go. Joined Naruto's team. No questions were asked. They were inseparable since they were kids. Naruto was obviously wrong to think that their different goals in life could separate them.

With rifles all ready and aimed, they approached the house silently. Their heavy boots not even making a sound over the dusty earth. This was their first real assignment. First real mission as a team after their graduation. It was just a simple mission. An inspection. They were tasked to investigate an abandoned enemy headquarters in the south of the Capital. A memo from an unidentified informant revealed that the headquarters may not be "abandoned" as everyone thought.

When they finally got inside, Naruto almost dropped his gun. The walls were covered with human entrails and blood. There were two bodies on the floor. Both of them were gutted from the inside, with their blood coursing through the cracks on the floor. Like a river. There was something embedded inside their body but Naruto didn't care to look anymore.

Someone vomited beside him.

"Aw gross, man. Keep it together will ya." One of the soldiers shouted.

Naruto fought the urge to ignore the sickening smell. He turned around, eyes tightly shut, and leaned against a table.

He should have been expecting this. This gruesome sight. Since the day he dreamed of becoming a soldier, he prepared himself for the brutality of the war. He always believed he was ready. Physically and mentally ready for the consequences of the battlefield. But now, looking at the gutted carcasses in front of him-

He was sweating. His heart was pounding in his chest. The last time he felt this kind of fear was when he was nine. That was the time when Sasuke almost died on him. He could remember that memory as clear as day. Helplessly alone and blinded by fear.

"Uzumaki. Are you okay?"

"Yeah I'm fine…" Breathless. He doubted if that was even his voice.

Beneath the stars, around the crackling flames of a huge campfire, they were told of countless stories of men who sacrificed themselves for the greater good. Naruto kept some of these stories in his heart because they reminded him of his own father's sacrifice.

But now… now he couldn't remember even one of them.

"Two unidentified bodies. Both armed. Both dead." Shikamaru's voice was toneless on the phone. "There's nothing here. No stash. No resources. The HQ's swiped clean. We're moving out—"

"..!" Naruto heard the faint wheezing seconds before a gloved hand suddenly appear beneath the table and enclosed around his ankle.

The man's grip was strong. Naruto gasped and stumbled back, bringing the man along with him.

"Don't move, punk." The man's eyes were bloodshot. A bandanna covering most of his face. He was wearing a frayed black jacket and khaki pants. Trademark enemy clothes. Naruto's heartbeats seemed to have slowed down or stopped altogether.

With trembling hands, the man raised a gun towards Naruto. "Or I'll shoot you in the bloody face."

The last thing Naruto saw was the barrel of a gun aimed at his face before a pale hand descended onto the man's head. "Look away." Sasuke hissed and grasped the man by his shoulder, pushed him roughly to the floor, and without another word plunged an army knife in the man's neck-

-and twisted.

Blood sprayed everywhere.

The man's gurgling scream drowned out even Naruto's.


"This dream… isn't for you."

...

"Let's go home, Naruto."


There's heat in his chest. Spreading, spreading. Like a river. Like the sea. Flowing just beneath his skin.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, he'd wake up. With his dreams full of falling stars and raging fires.

He would never be able to sleep again. For the rest of the night, he would distract himself with the sound of the boots walking outside the tents. Touring the campsite.

He'd have a headache in the morning, but it didn't matter. Because physical pain made him forget.

Of the sounds of the bombs. Of the cries for help. Of the sight of lifeless bodies being thrown into a ditch. Nameless. Without ranks. Rebels. Comrades. Civilians. It didn't matter who they are. They all die anyways.

Sometimes Naruto wondered what he's fighting for anymore.

The bodies kept on piling up. And there's always a black smoke billowing from the distance. Another village torn apart. Innocent lives being taken away. Bombs had never stopped falling down. The skies had been burning for a very long time.

"Eat."

Naruto didn't even look at the tray of food. He kept his eyes down, only having a glimpse of Sasuke's impossibly spotless boots, before turning around and removing his jacket. He tossed the soiled garb to the floor.

"Naruto."

"…."

Naruto ignored it and bent down to remove his boots when Sasuke appeared before him and grabbed his hand. Naruto tried to wrench it away, pushing the other man off. But Sasuke somehow anticipated it and seized his wrist. Naruto grunted in pain as Sasuke twisted his arm behind him and pushed his body towards the bed.

Sasuke's knee descended heavily on his back, ceasing any struggles.

"I… I couldn't save them." Too drained to fight, Naruto gave up. He buried his face on the covers. Shame filling him as tears began to gather at the corners of his eyes.

"It was an ambush. No one could have saved them."

"Those people," Naruto almost shouted, "didn't deserve to die."

"They didn't deserve to live either. Helping the rebels—"

"Sasuke! They were children. They were people. They didn't know—"

"Naruto."

"They didn't know." Naruto repeated. "And even if they did, we could've saved them. We should've been there to save them. They weren't given a choice. They're just… people, Sasuke."

"…."

His cries were muffled by the bed sheets pooling in his mouth. Even the bed covers smelled heavily of blood and dust. "…What kind of soldier am I if I couldn't even save them? If I couldn't even save anyone?"

The heat that descended upon his back was unexpected. Naruto felt warm breaths fanning over the back of his neck. He shuddered at Sasuke's voice so close to his ears.

"You're not a hero, Naruto. Stop painting yourself as one." Sasuke said. "You're not a soldier either. This isn't you."

"I'm not—"

Sasuke turned him on his back. Cold hands were suddenly on his face. Sasuke leaned in towards him. Their foreheads touching.

"This dream isn't for you. It's not too late, Naruto. Let's go home."

Naruto's eyes widened at those words, but before he could say anything, a cold softness descended on his lips. Sasuke had closed his eyes and pressed his lips against his.

Water. Vaguely, Naruto thought of water. Sasuke smelled of rain.

He remembered running into the sea and dragging Sasuke along with him. He remembered the cold splash of water on his face. The taste of salt lingering in his tongue. He remembered the scent of the rain falling into their already drenched bodies.

And he remembered Sasuke's eyes as they looked at him. Beneath the glittering light of the stars. Sasuke's deep-set eyes focused solely on him. Always. Always on him.

"Why are you reading the Bible, Sasuke? You don't even believe in it."

"Why are you working in the Church? I thought you hated these priests."

"Why is it always you to come and pick me up?"

"Why… didn't you even bother to say good bye?"

"Why are you here in the Academy, Sasuke?"

"Why?"

"Let's go home."

The heat is spreading in his chest. Like a river. Like the sea. It's growing inside of him. Naruto felt dizzy

Light was flickering and fading from the only lamp in the room. A moth was flying around it, caught in the dance of the dying flames.

"Why…?" Naruto whispered when Sasuke pulled away. He wasn't expecting an answer and true enough, the other man didn't give any.

But somehow, deep inside, Naruto had known already.

And somehow… even with this realization, Naruto didn't know why the fear that gripped his heart increased even more.


"Hey bastard, bet you haven't been in love…

have ya?"


The sky was heavy with ash when they finally left. The village that they were assigned to was burned to the ground. There was no one alive when they got there. If there were survivors, they must have retreated back to the mountains. The rebels must have done the same, dispersing in squadrons and leaving their tracks in the jungle.

"Back to the deserts, huh? I hate the desert." Kiba muttered. He's walking beside their leader, Shikamaru who had his nose in a tattered map.

Naruto nodded in agreement. He also preferred the confusing maze of the forest than to the dead slopes of the desert. In the desert, there was no getting away from the cruel heat of the sun or the deathly cold of the night. There's no middleground. It's like a slow death.

They were all walking very sluggishly. Drained to the bone, all of them had a long night. With Shikamaru expecting an ambush just after the recent attack, none of them had a good peaceful sleep. And it had been three days since they got their last ration of food.

Bringing his canteen to his mouth, Naruto drank the last of his water. It wasn't enough to quench his thirst. Grumbling, he was about to put the water canteen away when Sasuke offered him his own.

"Eh-?"

"Just drink it."

"But we have a long trek, Sasuke. You need to save it."

Sasuke didn't put his hand away. Naruto shook his head a lot of times but relented eventually when he realized that Sasuke wasn't backing down. Sighing heavily at the other's stubbornness, he took the canteen, poured a quarter of the water to his own container and gave the canteen back to Sasuke.

"Happy?"

The other man just narrowed his eyes at him. Bet he wasn't expecting that.

"I told you to drink it, Naruto. You need it more than I do. Any more slower than that and you're a deadweight."

"Uchiha." Shikamaru called from the front. "We're all tired here. Quit it with the names."

"What the fuck did you say, bastard?" Naruto was on Sasuke's face now. "I ain't walking slower than you."

"Naruto," Shikamaru was approaching them now, "I'm pretty sure that's not what he meant."

Indeed. Naruto was sure of that too. Naruto was absolutely certain that his infuriating best friend did not mean what he said. That he was just looking out for him. Like he always do. As convoluted as it may seem, this was Sasuke's way of caring. But does he always have to be such an asshole about it.

"You're going to be more of a burden if you keep this attitude of yours." Sasuke continued, uncaring that Shikamaru had now stepped in front of him. "You're distracted easily. An easy target. You'll only bring us down. Why don't you just go home? You don't belong here."

Never mind that this had escalated faster than Naruto could imagine. Never mind that Sasuke was only doing this for him. Naruto has had enough.

"WHAT-?" Naruto's cheeks were burning now. Red and angry. He stalked towards Sasuke. "Go home? I'm not going home, you asshole. I can't just throw this away. I'm doing this to protect people important to me. Everyone. To protect you—"

Naruto didn't know what hit him until he saw Sasuke's now empty water canteen drop to the ground. There was water splashed on his face. For the longest time, Naruto was left staring blankly at the empty canteen at his feet as drops of water trickle down his face.

"I don't need anyone's protection," Sasuke ground out bitterly, almost spitting the words out. "Least of all, from you." Even from his distance, Naruto could hear the tremor in Sasuke's voice. The disgust was so palpable in those last words that Naruto was rendered utterly speechless for a long while. Sasuke had always known where to aim. Where to hurt the most-

Never mind that this had all been a lie from the very beginning.

Joining the army wasn't because of his father. It never was. Naruto hated the military ever since he'd known about the truth about his father's sacrifice. He never truly aspired to be a soldier. It was a dream that he made everyone believe so they can finally take of notice him. But that little boy in that perfect little black suit just had to come to his life. That little silent boy who played him a song in the piano and stayed with him ever since. That little perfect boy who had almost thrown everything away just to save his sorry ass. Without even knowing him, that little boy once gave up his life for him.

There was nothing in Naruto's world that could have meant so much more than that. And right at that very moment, Naruto made a promise that he'll do anything to protect his friend. This time, he'll be the one to save him.

But he was such a fool. To believe in something like that.

Because Sasuke had always been stronger. And he's always been the weaker one.

Naruto's knees were shaking as he stooped down to pick the water canteen from the ground. Water was still dripping from his face.

Maybe Sasuke was right. This isn't for him.

It's time to go home…

The water canteen was shaking in his hands.

"…!"

Naruto felt the rumble beneath his feet before dust suddenly filled his vision. Blinded- instinct kicked in and he grabbed his rifle immediately, crouching low as fires were shot from all sides. There were gunshots and screaming everywhere. From the chaos, Naruto could faintly hear Shikamaru frantically giving out orders.

Through the thick cloud of the smoke, Naruto couldn't identify anyone or anything. He could've closed his eyes and it wouldn't have mattered. A plan formed in his head and before he hesitated, he fired multiple shots in the air and shouted the only words he knew will get the enemy's attention.

Naruto waited for a full second of silence before pushing the ground and ran.

As fast as he could.

And true enough, just seconds after he took off, he could hear heavy footsteps running closely behind him. He fired more shots in the air. The enemy cannot see him but they can hear him perfectly well. And they can follow the noise he's purposely making.

Naruto knew that using himself as bait might not be the best idea but it always worked. Shikamaru will be royally pissed again for undermining his authority but right now, the team's survival's their top priority. Their leader can chew him out all he want later.

Glancing back to check the situation, Naruto regretted it almost instantly. He might have miscalculated a bit. Five fully armed men were chasing him and gaining proximity very fast. Naruto cursed loudly, dropping his rifle and bag to the ground. He couldn't outgun them. He might as well give all his effort in outrunning them.

They're shouting now. As if they could intimidate Naruto even more.

"Hah."

Naruto slid under a branch, narrowly missing a 30-ft drop. Vines and twigs were piercing his skin. He was panting heavily now and his knees were beginning to protest. If he slowed down, that'd be the end of him.

Fingering a grenade from his belt, he counted five seconds before he removed the pin and threw it behind him. A couple more seconds and the forest exploded into a fury of red and orange. Naruto's ears were ringing when he came out of the smoke. Naruto stamped out the flames beneath his foot. Assessing that he had gotten a bit of a distance from his pursuers, Naruto slowed down to a stop. He clutched a tree trunk for support, struggling to catch his breath.

"You little dipshit."

It was a wrong move as not even two seconds later a rather large hand grabbed him by the back of his neck and slammed him to a tree.

"Think you can run away from us?" The man's voice was gruff. He smelled of burning flesh. Naruto grimaced at the feel of sticky peeling skin against his own.

A gun was pressed into his cheek. "Kill this little punk." Spoken in a different language. But even Naruto knew what that meant.

Naruto struggled, twisting his arm to get his gun. But the other men noticed it—grabbed his wrist and broke it.

"Fuck you- fuck-!" Naruto bit his cheek to stop his scream, but his eyes watered. The pistol was pressed closer to his cheek then it drifted higher to his skull. Naruto could feel the heat from the barrel of the gun against his skin.

"Wait. We can still use him."

Now Naruto didn't know what that was. But he didn't have time to translate it when something hard hit him on the head- and he passed out.


"Breathe."

His body was soaked with sweat, his skin melting under the glaring heat of the desert sun.

"Come on, breathe, boy."

Through the haze of the dizzying heat, Naruto was beginning to remember things. The whole world was the wide fields surrounding the old Orphanage Home, and on the porch there were two childhood friends sharing the same stale bread. In his memory, he could hear Sister Shizune playing a tune inside the house. It's a church hymn. Singing the words aloud, Naruto nudged his friend to sing along with him. Sasuke just gave that small, rare smile, telling him that he got his words wrong. Naruto only laughed back.

"This ain't gonna kill ya-

... Yet."

Naruto felt the strap tighten against his bare skin. They stripped him of his clothes, only leaving him with his camouflage pants. Even his belt was removed. The feeling of pants slipping down his waist wasn't very comfortable. He tried to pull them back up but the warning glare that he received made him stop.

"Walk." He was shoved forward. Guns were aimed at him from different directions. "Run and you die, kid."

Naruto snorted weakly. As if he could run in this condition. He didn't know how long it's been since he was captured but with the way his intestines were dissolving in his gut, Naruto assumed it was quite a while. He couldn't remember the last time he ate. His memories were a bit foggy. He knew he's been transported a couple of times. They hadn't fed him and they only gave him water once. That's the moment he realized he wasn't getting out here alive.

He could only hope that his team had escaped.

Or none of this will matter.

"Sasuke…"

"Stop."

A young man with scared eyes was pushed in front of him. He had his hands tied behind him. Poor kid, he was visibly shaking. The older man who pushed the youth looked like their leader. He wasn't wearing bandanna on his face. His eyes were grim. Face unshaven. Thick lips pursed in an eternal grimace.

The older man spoke in a different language which the youth translated in a shaky voice.

"Y-You'll go back to your c-camp." One of the men put a phone inside Naruto's pocket. "This is how we'll know you're in t-the right direction."

Naruto could only stare at the young man's stuttering lips. He knew where this was going.

"If you step out of line. Just one step out of your d-destination—" The young translator paused, unable to continue.

"BOOM." The old man finished with relish, his hands mimicking an explosion. He showed Naruto the trigger. It's just the size of a cellphone with a single button in the center. Like what they have in movies. Only in this one, there were no multicolored lines. No red and blue. Only black wires tangled messily together. Even Shikamaru will have a hard time diffusing this one.

The explosive strapped to Naruto's chest felt heavier all of a sudden.

"General." One of the rebels next to Naruto approached the old man and whispered something to his ear. The General sneered and with one flick of his hand, the young translator was removed from sight.

"We're moving. Take him outside."

Guns poked him at his back. Naruto didn't move.

"Walk!"

Naruto still didn't budge.

Unlike the poor translator, they didn't tie his hands, probably not expecting that he'll run. Probably because of the bomb. Or he looked like a kid who can't take care of himself.

["You don't belong here."]

Sasuke's words had never sounded so right.

"I said, walk! Move it!" Someone shouted behind him. The last words were uttered in his own language, probably thinking he hadn't understood them the first time.

Naruto lifted his hands and everyone stiffened immediately. He had an 8-kilogram bomb strapped to his chest. Situated in an enemy territory. He's the only hostage in the perimeter. From the looks of it, he had nothing to lose.

The General stopped in his tracks. He was looking at him warily now.

"Move, boy." The old man warned and pointed a gun to his head.

Naruto's hands were on the surface of the bomb; tan fingers in the loop of the tangled wires. With a dramatic display, he extended one random wire and squeezed it- threatening to cut it.

All the men surrounding him moved a long way back. Even the General.

"What are you doing?!" The General was now shouting, looking at Naruto with horrified eyes. Naruto ignored the frantic shouts and made his way to the General. He wasn't suicidal, but right now this was the only plan he could think of. It's just his feeble luck that even with all his movements, the bomb wasn't triggered yet.

And then, just as he was nearing the General, the trigger was dropped to the floor.

Damn it, he spoke too soon.

In a frightening half-second, Naruto saw the button pressed to the ground. Something whirred inside the explosive-

-and the countdown on his chest started.

"Shit."


It turned out that there's a village beneath the enemy headquarters. As soon as Naruto realized this, he was running as fast as he could away from it. There were no brick walls at the edge of town. No towers to oversee the outside. No line of defense whatsoever, so it wasn't surprising that it got infiltrated so easily.

The bomb was strapped tightly to his chest. Any means of removing it might trigger a premature explosion. Naruto thought it'd be wisest to run away from the town as far as he could before attempting to diffuse it.

With the city disappearing behind him, Naruto kept on running. Never once stopping even though his whole body's starting to burn up with the heat. The desert sun was too hot on his bare back. With his panic and confusion, he forgot to get his jacket back. Now, he's in the middle of god-knows-where, without food or any means of communication and more importantly, with barely half an hour to his life.

The clock was ticking on his chest.

He finally stopped running when he couldn't see the city anymore.

Naruto looked around him. Standing in the middle of nowhere, now he really was all alone. He dropped to his knees, feeling weak with thirst and hunger. If the explosion doesn't kill him first, then severe malnutrition surely will.

The cellphone (GPS) in his pocket was vibrating. Naruto ignored it.

They already killed him. What more could they want? Their bomb back? Naruto was laughing hysterically now, which then turned into wheezing. Before he knew it, he was clutching his chest and gasping for air.

When he was able to breathe well again, Naruto looked up at the azure sky, trying to imagine snow falling from the sky. That the air wasn't as hot and dry as this. He imagined catching the little snowflakes on his tongue. He imagined hearing Sasuke playing the piano while they both watch the endless white snow filling the world outside. He imagined Sasuke giving him that rare, small smile whenever he sang along. The lyrics were mostly wrong with Naruto barely knowing the words. They were Latin, for Christ's sake. Naruto never really understood Sasuke's fascination with Church hymns. Actually he'd never really understood Sasuke, period.

"Sasuke," Naruto whispered against the dusty wind.

He's all… he's all he could ever think about.

Every minute of every waking day.

God, he could only hope he's safe. And everyone. Naruto prayed that all of them made it back to the main camp alive.

The skies were darkening. Rays of sunlight fading away into the distance. The bitter cold was beginning to drape over the entirety of the sandy plains.

With his eyes still on the skies, Naruto thought he saw a falling star. It could've been only his imagination but Naruto didn't care. He closed his eyes and made one final wish.

"I wished Sasuke… find his way home."


"We saw a thousand falling stars that night, and you didn't even wish for anything. Anything at all?"

"Hn."

"You wasted them, ya know. We might never see 'em again."

His silent friend didn't reply for a long time. And just when Naruto was sure the topic's already forgotten, Sasuke spoke, looking at Naruto with those gentle yet unwavering eyes, "Because it would be a waste. I already have what I want."

"…." Naruto's brows furrowed, trying to get the meaning behind his friend's words.

"And I'm going to keep it/him as long as I live."


The first thing Naruto noticed was the wind growing in intensity around him. Then suddenly it was dark.

An enormous shadow draped over him. With dust flying everywhere, Naruto strained his eyes to look up. His eyes widened at the sight of a chopper closing his location. It was a military jet.

"Holy—"

Stunned, he could only stare at the helicopter as it landed a hundred yards away from him. Shikamaru's ridiculous hair was the first thing he recognized from afar. As the genius stepped down, he was followed by a man dressed in an oversized bomb disposal suit. Relief filled him but it was gone the moment he accidentally touched his chest. One look at the remaining time at the clock and Naruto was running as fast as he could away from the helicopter.

Eight minutes.

Eight-fucking-minutes.

They couldn't make it. He would only endanger them.

"Naruto!"

Someone tackled him from behind and he fell face-first on the sand. Panicking, Naruto stood up immediately to check the bomb's condition. "Fuck— are you crazy?!" But before he could fully inspect it, he was suddenly pulled into a body so achingly familiar- that Naruto's heart stopped at that very moment.

"Uchiha! Get away from him. Right now." Shikamaru shouted from the back. But his best friend's hold was unyielding.

"Sas—" The name was lost in Naruto's throat. Sasuke had his arms tightly around him. Naruto could feel his best friend's body trembling against his frame. Sasuke's breaths were heavy and loud, and his shoulders were shaking uncontrollably.

Vaguely, Naruto noticed that his best friend also smelled of sweat and dirt. Very unlike him who had always smelled clean.

And fresh like the rain-

And he was crying. His unemotional, unyielding friend was crying

"You," Sasuke ground out, "have no idea…"

Naruto was expecting a barrage of insults and painful words. But these four words stabbed him deeper than anything else. Had they been searching for him all this time? How long were they—?

"You fucking moron."

And that was it. The insult he was waiting for. Tears were already dripping down his chin before he knew it. Sasuke had no idea how Naruto longed for that. Lifting his hands, Naruto hugged his best friend back as tight as he could. With all the strength remaining in his malnourished body.

Here, in the middle of nowhere, dying of thirst and hunger, and with an exploding device strapped tightly to his chest—was when Naruto finally realized… he was in love.

And he had been in love for a very long time.

"Sasuke," Naruto said with a teary smile, "let's go home."


FIN


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Epilogue

"I swear, you two," Shikamaru's voice was almost drowned out by the sound of the helicopter blades, "are gonna be the death of me someday. Seriously. Insubordinate rookies."

Naruto laughed a bit, his throat still dry and itchy. Sasuke's jacket was draped over his bare body. He couldn't fully wear anything for the meantime because of the second degree sunburn.

"I'm sorry Shika! Really sorry—"

"It's not his fault."

Shikamaru gaped at the hardness in the Uchiha's voice. But Sasuke's eyes were gentle as they focused on Naruto's form leaning against his side. Pale fingers were combing through the disheveled blond locks. With that treatment, it didn't take long before Naruto was snoring on Sasuke's shoulder.

"He saved all of us, didn't he?" Sasuke said after a while. "As well as the villagers. The bomb could have detonated right then and there."

Shikamaru sighed heavily at that. Indeed, the Uchiha was right. Naruto, as reckless as he was, still saved a lot of lives that day. When Naruto unconsciously leaned further towards the Uchiha, Shikamaru tried to hide his smile. A bit of color dusted the Uchiha's face.

Muttering "troublesome," Shikamaru focused his sight elsewhere to give the two their privacy.

Just as he looked outside, something caught his eye. A lone star was falling from the sky.

He knew the Uchiha caught it too when Sasuke stared outside for a long time. He then closed his eyes, pulled Naruto closer to him... and smiled.


Falling Stars

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Notes: Thank you all so much for reading. This little oneshot is dedicated to all my readers. This is my final story and I wanted it to be at least a happy ending. Sorry, this is really the best that I can do for a happy ending. Still with heavy themes but at least it's quite happy. :-) Thank you all for the support!