In Your Words
Sasuke was lying on his back on the stony ground, eyes semi-closed as he looked into the endless sky above him. For a few moments, no form of rational thinking crossed his foggy mind as he just stared. After a while, he vaguely wished his vision wasn't so blurry so he could see clearly the shapes of the dark grey clouds up above.
A thunder echoed in the air alongside the loud whistle of the wind. Apart from nature's singing, all that could be heard in that seemingly infinite, deserted area around him was his own ragged breathing accompanied by one from another person that he was sure wasn't lying too far from him.
His body was aching painfully, muscles pulsing violently underneath his skin – that felt like it was suffering from a nasty sunburn all over. He could taste blood in his tongue, feel it in his fingers, all over his face, the strong metallic scent filling his nostrils and making him feel nauseous, mixing itself with the scent of sweat and other disgusting odors he didn't feel like considering at that moment.
The fight had worn him out, drained every little bit of emotional and physical strength he had left, and now, just as he had predicted, he was left there, powerless and exhausted as a kind of emptiness he had never experienced before assaulted him.
It seemed like forever had gone by since he felt this hollow inside, and yet, it wasn't a bad thing at all, because, for the first time in many years, he wasn't feeling anger, hatred or sadness. Even his mind was quiet for once.
It felt surprisingly good.
Sasuke knew he wouldn't be able to move at all for at least an hour, but it wasn't like he was in a hurry to go somewhere, or do something, anyway.
He had nothing to do now, nowhere to go, no more designated paths beneath his feet for him to follow. After everything he had gone through these last few years, everything he had done, all the things he had seen and found out about himself and his family – his clan – there was nothing else for him to pursue anymore.
The ground was rough and uneven under him, hard stones sticking to his back and shoulders uncomfortably, but it was nothing he couldn't take for the time being. That small pain was nothing for a Shinobilike him.
At sixteen, it was as if his life's purpose had been achieved already – which seemed fairly wrong since he was ridiculously young. Yet, thinking about it provided a sense of calm he didn't want to ponder on.
After being overwhelmed by others and overwhelming himself during the so-called war he had nothing to do with, it was over. What he had done, the people he had hurt and the ones he had saved didn't mean anything. He didn't care what his actions had looked like in their eyes; he had done it for himself, for his own peace of mind.
After that, there had been but one thing left for him to do, and that was fighting his former best friend and rival, Uzumaki Naruto. That had been his final goal in life, something he had desired and something that he realized he needed badly as soon as his eyes landed upon the orange clad teen in front of him.
Naruto had once said that they could communicate through their fists. He had said that he would carry his burden with him, that they would die together.
How hopelessly heroic of him. Some would call it romantic in an innocent, rather distorted way.
But even something as preached and as searched for as love proved to be cruel and pointless. There was no beauty in it, just pain, and lovehad only brought him grief and loneliness.
They had met in such a deserted location, far away from everything and everyone almost by instinct. They had come face to face with each other automatically, bodies dragging them to where the other was as if fate itself had led them to that moment.
They hadn't exchanged a single word, but the atmosphere carried a heavy, electrical tension that let them both know how much the other was eager to just get it over with.
Sasuke had needed it. In a way, he could say that fighting Naruto was a whim of his, like wanting something useless out of greed just because he could get it.
Naruto had given it to him easily, and there had been no requests for explanations, no questions of 'why', no begging for reconsideration and no futile attempts of tampering with his mind – only the strong, fearless determination in his eyes and the slight, cocky smirk in the corner of his mouth.
The idiot had matured, he concluded.
Sasuke even allowed himself to smirk deviously back. Then, the fight began.
If there was one thing that Sasuke truly enjoyed was fighting. The adrenaline, the fear, the quick thinking, the desperate, constant ache in his muscles as he pushed them to their limits to move faster; the need for air, the struggle for survival. While fighting, he could feel everything so intensely that he didn't know where one sensation began and the other ended. It was the pleasurable rush of pain and anguish, and the satisfaction of letting his torments out through his fists.
All it took was the first punch for Sasuke to realize just how strong Naruto had become and how much he had sweated and bled for it to be possible. It didn't scare him, it only made him all the more excited to know that he was finally going to have a worthy opponent, even if this made him angry for reasons he couldn't fathom.
Everything about Naruto irked him and rubbed him the wrong way, especially because he could feel the raw power of both his and Naruto's feelings clashing with every strike. He could hear Naruto speaking to him loud and clear even if he never opened his mouth to say anything beyond an occasional curse or a growl. Sasuke wondered briefly if this sort of communication was mutual or if it was him that was imagining things.
He had no wish to be heard or understood by Naruto; he just wanted to fight, too eager to release himself into the oblivion of physical pain to care about anything else. He wanted to feel nothing at all, and yet, somehow, Naruto had forced his anger out of him and unleashed his own unceremoniously.
Naruto had always been able to rile him up easily and bring out the best and worst out of him. Right there, as they hurt each other, screamed, scratched, punched and kicked, it was no different. There were all sorts of good and bad feelings involved as memories kept flashing through his mind – memories he had thought (and hoped) he had erased from his heart a long time ago.
That made him furious because Naruto had no right to do that to him. He was stealing his willpower and his convictions, just like he had stolen Itachi's trust.
Sasuke didn't care about how that battle would end. He had once said to Naruto that he would kill him if Naruto didn't kill him first, but now things were different.
Living and dying…those two things weren't opposites in Sasuke's mind since he was sure that he had died long ago the moment he killed his brother, and that if he was still walking it was because his soul was driving him, having been shattered to pieces that he had been dropping along the way until the moment he faced Naruto once more.
Sasuke's body was just a vessel carrying the last bits of his stubbornness around. If he died, he wouldn't be able to tell difference at all, of that he was sure.
He wasn't suicidal. He hadn't planned on dying by Naruto's hands and yet, he could see no path ahead of him if he came out alive.
He just didn't care. He was too tired to care, too tired to think.
They both fought with the intent to kill and simultaneously struggled for survival, which was something Sasuke considered surprising because he didn't peg Naruto for being the type to be that serious in battle, what with his ideals that everything could be fixed without need for such extreme measures – and yet, he had been the one to say that they would die together.
At some point, Sasuke honestly thought they would because Naruto had been just that serious in beating the shit out of him. However, in the end, they both knew that the other would counter-fight their attacks.
It seemed to last for hours, days, but maybe it only lasted for a few intense minutes. They gave it their all, non-stop until they no longer knew how to breathe. There was blood everywhere, staining the clothes that were ripped in multiple places, their sweat dripping skins making it hard for them to hold on to their weapons.
Sasuke's legs had begun to shake brusquely as well as his arms. He was in horrible pain, and Naruto didn't look any better.
When they finally collapsed, they did it together.
And now, like two old bags of potatoes that had been accidentally dropped in the middle of the road, there they were, unmoving, and Sasuke was too tired to attempt anything else – he didn't even think about what he should do, he just knew that he would have to stand up eventually, and if Naruto was still there when it happened, Sasuke would have a decision to make: to kill, to stay, to let himself be killed, or to walk away.
Not that Naruto would ever kill him willingly. Sasuke would've scoffed had he had the strength, but it seemed like such an impossible accomplishment at that moment that he didn't bother.
It sounded simple in Sasuke's exhausted mind. Just pick one, make your choice and get it over with, once and for all.
"Sasuke…" A shaky, too familiar voice drawled, accompanied by a heavy, afflicting breathing, not too far from him.
The crack of a second thunder echoed amidst the dark clouds above as the noise of several stones rolling alerted Sasuke that Naruto was moving with excruciating effort.
Carefully and very slowly, he turned his head towards the rustling and saw through his blurry eyes that the other teen was on his stomach, panting and literally using one shaky arm after the other to drag himself closer.
Sasuke narrowed his eyes to try and focus his vision, but apart from the contours of Naruto's body and the perception of his trembling movements, he couldn't really see him clearly.
He attempted heaving a sigh but ended up coughing instead, blood erupting from his lungs and filling his mouth that he didn't hesitate in spitting out so as to not choke. He felt it flowing down the side of his cheeks to his neck and ears, dripping to the dusty ground.
He turned his head towards the sky once more and closed his eyes just as Naruto's presence became strong beside him, the top of the other's head bumping against his temple helplessly.
Naruto's breathing was loud in his ear. He cursed a few times and hissed his pain before dropping his hand heavily over Sasuke's chest in a feeble attempt to gain his attention, to make sure he was alive.
"Sasuke…" He called out yet again, his voice a very weak whine. "I…"
"Don't," Sasuke gurgled, too worn out to brush his hand away. He just wanted to sleep, didn't the moron understand that? "Leave me…alone…you…"
"Ah…" Naruto panted, forcing out a relieved chuckle. "You're…okay…"
Did he look okay to Naruto? He was almost drowning in his own blood.
"Hey…" Naruto called out with audible effort. "Listen…"
"I don't want…to hear it…" Sasuke whispered, effectively cutting off Naruto's sentence. His head felt like it was about to burst as it was.
"Pff…" Naruto snorted, in an almost comical, disdainful way. "You don't deserve it, anyway."
Sasuke merely sighed, not really in the mood to reply to that. He doubted he would ever be in the mood for anything ever again if the way he felt presently was any indication.
"Ahhhh…" Naruto let out a pained moan, the sound causing his brain to ache and throb as dizziness took over him. "…just…don't die….Sasuke…"
The idiot sniffed pathetically, and that was the last Sasuke heard of him before he, too, fell into blissful oblivion.
"Man, I really love it here!"
Sasuke threw a sideway glance at the young man sitting beside him before resuming his previous task of poking the logs that were slowly being consumed by the lively flames of the bonfire in front of them with a stick.
The mild summer night was peaceful there, in the depths of the woods. The air carried a slight chill to it, and once in a while, the noise of nocturnal animals moving amongst the bushes could be heard, as well as the rustling of the leafage from the tall trees above them.
Of all the places he had been to, and all the so called 'homes' he had temporarily resided in, Sasuke enjoyed that one the most.
The forest offered him no threat he couldn't handle easily in a few seconds, and he found out that, as isolated as it was from the outside world, he didn't miss the constant presence of other useless human beings around him. Of course he would travel to the closer villages once in a while. Although nature often provided him with everything he needed, he would sometimes need to find some sort of short-termed occupation that granted him money to buy clothes, shoes and other necessities to his daily life that his humanity could not grow unaccustomed to.
Still, he wouldn't trade the small cottage he had built with his own hands for any comfortable house in those villages.
Sasuke and Naruto were sitting side by side on a fallen tree trunk. The blond seemed to be in high spirits, slurping noisily on his tea as he gripped the clay cup in both hands. To Sasuke, it seemed contradictory that the idiot had prepared himself a hot drink despite having just put on a t-shirt and sweat pants.
Neither had any idea what time it was, but in such a place, they both reckoned it hardly mattered. Days like those – nights like those – were a rare occurrence.
Naruto lowered the cup until it was resting on his left thigh and let out a long, contented sigh.
"You know…" He muttered, tilting his head upwards towards the starry sky. "Sometimes I wish I lived here as well."
Sasuke snorted softly as he threw the stick into the fire with a precise gesture. Orange sparks floated upwards before the fire settled once more.
"What?" Naruto inquired, turning his head to him.
"Nothing." Sasuke replied nonchalantly, eyes glued to the flames in front of them.
"Aw, come on!" Naruto insisted, elbowing his right side playfully. "Tell me or I'll nag you until you succumb to my annoyance!"
Sasike all but elbowed him back twice as hard, causing him to gasp in pain and chuckle afterwards. Seriously, no matter how many years passed, the moron didn't change. Not that 25 was that mature of an age, anyway – not for someone like him, at least.
"I was just thinking that…" Sasuke muttered impassively, straightening his back and moving a bit to the side so that he and Naruto weren't so close. "…even if I ever said you could, you wouldn't."
Naruto's childish chuckle died in his throat almost immediately and Sasuke could swear he felt him blink stupidly at him.
"I wouldn't, what?" He asked, tone suddenly serious. "Stay here and live with you?"
"Yes." Sasuke glanced at him, masking his features carefully. "Konoha is still first in your priority list, is it not?"
Naruto lowered his eyes to the flickering flames, lips slightly parted as if he was deep in thought.
"I guess…I still have things to do there," He admitted in a gentle tone. "I have people I want to take care of, events I want to be witness to…I mean, I haven't even become Hokage yet."
As a bitter taste filled Sasuke's mouth, he couldn't help but to snort once more.
"You talk as if you want to leave Konoha, and yet, achieving your goals will only chain you down further to that place," He said, dryly. "If that's what you want, don't speak as if you feel guilty for wanting to pursue your dreams."
Folding his fingers together over his lap, Sasuke eyed his Shinobicompanion openly, searching for his true feelings, trying to understand what he was thinking. It used to be an easy task when they were younger, but now he couldn't read the frown on Naruto's forehead at all.
"It's not that, Sasuke," Naruto whispered, licking his lips. "You don't understand. I gave up trying to drag you back to Konoha because I realized that going back would only bring you pain. I understood that, as long as you are alive and well, that's all that matters to me. The fact that you listened and that you're keeping that promise is…"
"I made no promises to you," Sasuke cut coolly. Naruto shivered a bit, head snapping up so that his blue eyes met Sasuke's charcoal ones. "If I'm alive it's because I want to. I don't do it for your sake."
Naruto pursed his lips together, but instead of looking pained, he just stared at his friend challengingly.
"Yes, I know," He stated firmly. "And that's what makes me happier about it. I would thank you, but I can't thank you for something you're doing for your own benefit, right?"
Sasuke stared back at him for a few seconds before shaking his head from side to side. Naruto cleared his throat and proceeded. "Still, I think you're misunderstanding something here. We can't take it personally, Sasuke, either of us, because this is as much about me not leaving Konoha for you as it's about you not coming back with me."
Sasuke bit his lower lip, nostrils flaring as he inhaled deeply.
"I don't take it personally," He denied, in a low tone. "I never asked you to choose. In fact, I never asked you to come and see me at all; you do it on your own accord."
"Yeah, because you're still my friend and, one way or another, I want to see you," Naruto pressed on, intensely, turning slightly and placing one of his hands over Sasuke's wrist for emphasis. "Even more so now that I know you've acknowledged me. If I get lonely, even now that everyone has accepted me, I can't imagine how you feel. And I never wanted you to feel that way, so…"
Sasuke eyed the hand with disinterest, even if the contact of Naruto's digits on his skin sent tiny jolts of electricity running up his arm.
"Our paths remain different, even now." He whispered, almost bitterly. "I don't know why you insist on wasting your time with me."
"Because we're still friends," Naruto said, offering a small smile, hand squeezing Sasuke's wrist. "No matter what happens, or how much time passes, I'll always come to see you, even if that's about all I can do for you to grant you some form of happiness."
Naruto thought Sasuke became happy during those two weeks they spent together once a year, but Sasuke had mixed feelings towards it.
Throughout the year he would convince himself that Naruto wouldn't come and that the thought didn't disturb him. He would force himself not to hope, not to feel, not to expect, and would convince himself that he wouldn't be disappointed. He would get used to the idea that Naruto would never come back. But then, when the blond came to him, his resolve would falter and his intense emotional training would go down the drain.
Had he remembered what it felt like to be happy he would've entertained the idea that seeing Naruto made him happy, and yet, a heavy weight would come upon him every time he looked at his cheery rival.
It wasn't sadness, or regret, but it wasn't happiness either. Solitude was easier to deal with than the empty feeling of longing he felt whenever he and Naruto met. Naruto made him want to live when Sasuke wished he could pretend he was dead inside and feel nothing at all.
Every fucking year was the same – that sheer torture that he hated; yet, something made him accept those visits just because he could.
Lost in his own thoughts, he didn't notice Naruto had leaned on him and was currently resting his head on his shoulder, until the blond spoke.
"Do you want me to stay?"
Sasuke blinked but didn't flinch at the contact because it didn't upset him; it wasn't negative, or threatening, and he had the sudden realization that he had no reason to draw away from it – or to reciprocate it, for that matter.
He felt Naruto's rebel hair tickling his neck in a strangely comforting way. With a sigh, he closed his eyes.
"No." He spoke the harsh word without hesitation, honestly, ignoring the little buzz on the back of his mind that told him that it wasn't entirely true.
Naruto swallowed, the sound resounding loudly in Sasuke's hears. Then, without warning, he let go of him and stood with unnerving energy.
"You wait here!" He said, shoving the cup into Sasuke's chest – forcing him to grab it – and making a few drops of the clear liquid wet his dark pants. "I got you something!"
Sasuke didn't even have the time to groan because Naruto was already jumping over the trunk and running to the small wooden cottage behind them, his sandals making a whole lot of noise as they stepped on dry leaves and small branches.
Sasuke set the cup aside, on the ground, for some reason feeling his cheeks hotter than usual at the prospect of receiving a gift from Naruto.
No more than two minutes had passed when something landed on the top of Sasuke's head and he grabbed for it just as Naruto was sitting down again, facing him with his legs crossed Indian style.
Sasuke felt the soft, light fluffy fabric and brought it down to his lap, eyeing the shiny white, abnormally long item that was more than creased from Naruto's lack of care.
"A scarf?" He inquired, feeling very stupid and finding Naruto to be very stupid as well. "In the middle of August?"
"It's still chilly today!" Naruto protested, pouting. "And you can wear it during the winter, duh."
"Ah…" Sasuke mumbled, staring at the poor thing without knowing what to say.
The scarf was made of a good material, and it was beautiful in its simplicity, even all creased like that – it was obvious that Naruto had put some thought to it while buying it.
"I got it from a merchant in one of my missions last year," The blue eyed one explained, bouncing from one side to the other and scratching the side of his nose almost embarrassingly. "I felt a little scared of how you might react, and I never really gave you any gifts, so I didn't give this to you last year because…well, it doesn't matter, but I hope you like it. It's a late birthday present."
Sasuke did like it, and it was an odd feeling, too.
"Thank you." He ended up saying solemnly.
Naruto beamed at him with one of his huge, idiotic smiles that made Sasuke's stomach jump and feel like it had hit his lungs.
Absently, he looked down at the scarf and ran his rough fingers over the fabric in silent contemplation, very conscious of Naruto's sky blue gaze on him.
"Hey, Sasuke…" The other then said, in such a soft tone that Sasuke felt his facial muscles twitch. "Look at me."
The older one of the two considered not obliging, but then decided against it and lifted up his dark opals to find Naruto still smiling with that disturbing familiarity he always offered.
The smile, the gentle tone, just Naruto's presence itself annoyed him then – he still didn't know how to deal with the only person that, in spite of everything, remained his loyal friend through it all, and it upset him to realize how broken he still was, and how much they had broken each other, until then.
But his heart seemed lighter as well, because moments like these proved that they had been fixing each other at a very languid pace, and yet, it was happening nonetheless.
"What is it?"
It wasn't fair that his voice had sounded so vulnerable.
Naruto's eyes dropped to the scarf, his hands grabbing his crossed ankles now.
"We're still out of sync," He mumbled, choosing his words carefully. "And we're still not looking at the same things, and I still can't get through to you on most things. We both have to grow up to know what we want. Right now, both you and Konoha are important to me, but I can't have you both, so…if you're willing to wait…for me…I'll definitely stay, someday."
And it was Sasuke's turn to look at the top of Naruto's prostrated head, his throat suddenly running dry.
Those words should be considered a sin.
For the briefest of moments, Sasuke could swear he was experiencing, for the first time in many years, the subtle tingling of desire for something, accompanied with the excitement of the possibility of its accomplishment. It took him by surprise, overwhelming him, but it didn't scare him for the simple reason that he knew he would still have a lot of time to cope with it, to accept within himself that he wanted to accept it – to accept Naruto and all the undertones Naruto's proposal carried with him.
Sasuke wasn't ready to delve into it yet, but he would, eventually. Naruto would help him along the way, he was sure of it, and even if, right now, he still thought he could handle everything by himself, the day would come when he would be thankful for everything that had happened to him ever since the war came to an end.
He knew that, one day, he would find the courage to put his pride aside and admit to himself that he was thankful for Naruto's existence.
Someday, he wouldn't have to watch Naruto leave. He wouldn't travel alone with only his Katana beside him. At least now, until then, he had something else to carry with him that would remind him exactly why he was alive.
He was not alone.
So he nodded once and carefully folded the scarf.
"For my sake," He said, with unfaltering seriousness. "I will keep this scarf for long as you hold on to that promise. I will make sure you keep it, like you do with me. Consider it a fair trade."
Naruto grinned and nodded as well, stretching out his hand promptly.
"It's an official mutual promise, then!" He exclaimed happily.
Sasuke offered him a tiny smirk but grabbed Naruto's hand in his and shook it.
"This time, it is."
- The End -
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Story notes: Canon verse. I don't believe Sasuke will ever go back to Konoha, anyway, but I'd be kind of happy with a sort of an ending like this, I guess.
Chapter end notes: I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you think ;D