Naruto wondered, idly, what day it was.
It was hard for him to tell. There were no windows, no lights. The only person he ever saw was his jailer, and only when he was given his food. Even that wasn't enough for him to grasp how long it had been; often, the hunger gnawed at him so fiercely that he could think of nothing else, and after he was fed, a lingering echo remained. He could not tell how much time had passed based on that, and that was all he had.
All he knew was that it had been a long time.
Sometimes, he would dream of the sun, of the wind on his face, the sound of laughter, but every time he slept, these dreams became more and more vague. He did not mourn this loss; he only wished that it could have kept the dark away from him longer.
It had been hardest in the beginning. He had fought, viciously, desperately, despite being more than half dead from the fight with Sabaku no Gaara. It had made no difference; he had still been too weak. He no longer remembered who had thrown him in this tiny cell; all he remembered was a throat raw from screaming and shouting, hour after hour; the attempts to escape every time his jailer brought him his meals, and the soul crushing ease with which he was subdued; the stubborn hope that someone would break him out, someone would free him, which died a little every day.
"But someone will come and get me," he had said fiercely to the silence in the room. "All I need to do is wait!"
He ran his fingers along the stone of the wall.
"Sakura-chan, just wait a little longer, ok? I'll kill that bastard if he's done anything, for sure," he mumbled to himself. His fingers seemed to follow a pattern, as if tracing the line of someone's face.
He didn't know how long it had been when Iruka-sensei's head was tossed into his cell. It had remained with him, in the dark, for a long time. Sometimes he wasn't sure if it was gone or not, and on those days he either held himself tightly to a corner, or kicked the empty air again and again as if to prove that it was gone.
"Damn bastard," he muttered, "I'll kick his ass for this." The boy let out a soft sigh, head arching upwards to nothing. "But I'll get that snake bastard next time. Just you wait, Sakura-chan! Next time for sure." He grinned, hands running across the stone.
There were many things that scared him these days. The dim light that shone into his small, small cell when his food was brought to him. It hurt his eyes, and he didn't like to look at himself. It was harder, in the light, to deny what was so obvious. But like so many other things, there was nothing to do for it. And sometimes he was just so grateful for the food, for a chance to quell some of the unyielding ache, that he even forgot to fight his way free.
And his jailer would watch, a small, smug, curious smile on his lips.
But it was the dark that terrified him the most.
"Kakashi-sensei... I'm sorry, if I had been stronger..."
It lay on him, like a blanket, like death. He didn't always know if his eyes were even open. Some days, he woke up and screamed because he thought he was blind. His hands would roam the walls, the floor, the lone door... desperately searching for the light, desperately craving the pain that told him he could still see, that his paranoia and isolation were merely getting the better of him.
It had been easier when Sasuke had been sharing this cell with him.
He knew it had been before Iruka-sensei, but how long before, he couldn't say. It had been a long, long time ago, though. Before the light began to hit his eyes like a beam of liquid fire, when he only had a moment's disorientation when fed.
It was the only time he saw the light not accompanied by food.
Sasuke had been struggling, spitfire in his eyes, bruised and dirty and a little bit bloodied. He had stopped, though, when he saw Naruto.
"I've brought you a visitor, Naruto-kun," his jailer purred, shoving the other boy inside. The jailer's dark hair moved like a curtain over his shoulder, partially covering skin as pale as snow. "An old friend to keep you company. Isn't that right, Sasuke-kun?"
The black-haired boy swung around and glared death at the man.
"Tsk, tsk, Sasuke-kun. I would think you would be more grateful; after all, weren't you just asking where they were?"
"This isn't what I meant," the boy snarled. "And what have you done to him?"
He looked back at Naruto for a moment, and the blond didn't understand why the other boy looked so horrified.
"What are you looking at?" Naruto snapped at him. He turned and glared at his jailer. He wondered if he could make a break for it, but then what would happen to Sasuke? He couldn't, wouldn't, leave without him.
And he still felt so weak; he wasn't sure if he could fight past him. But maybe, with Sasuke here, they could plan something together...
"Enjoy yourselves, boys." And the light went out with the closing of the door, and there was nothing but the dark.
Naruto could hear the fear in Sasuke's voice.
"Bastard, how'd you get caught?" the blond growled at him. "Who else does he have? Is Sakura-chan okay?!"
"Idiot!" Sasuke snapped back, something undefined in his voice. "Don't you even know what's going on?!"
Naruto fumed. Of course he did! That freaky snake bastard caught him, took him to some strange place, and was keeping him captive!
The silence stretched out for so long when Naruto told Sasuke this, that for many moments, the blond wondered if it had been a figment of his imagination, Sasuke being in his cell.
And then another voiced started laughing. It wasn't a happy sound: it came out like bitterness and sobs, like hysteria and heartbreaking regret. Naruto backed up against the wall, wondering if this was really his teammate in this room with him, or some sort of fey creature waiting to attack.
"Goddammit, moron," Sasuke said, sobbing and laughing, "you don't know anything!"
"Shut up! I know enough!"
"You idiot! We lost! You're still in the village! We're still in the village!"
"...what?" Naruto whispered."But... but.. ! The old man Hokage..?! Didn't he...?"
"Dead," Sasuke said bitterly. "Dead fighting Orochimaru. And he's not the only one."
He wasn't sure he wanted to know who else, so he said nothing. It was a while before Sasuke calmed down, until the hysterical sobs and giggles quieted to hiccups, before becoming nothing. Neither of them spoke after that first exchange for two whole meals, but Naruto was comforted by the second set of lungs, by the other's quiet breathing that told him he wasn't alone any longer in the dark. Somehow, it made the room seem brighter, the blackness not so deep.
The second exchange came before their third meal together, after the first time he had slept.
"How long have you been in here?" Sasuke asked him abruptly.
"I don't know," Naruto said. "There's only light when I'm fed, and it's not real."
"Count it by meals then, idiot," the other boy snapped.
Naruto bristled. "How should I know if I'm getting fed three times a day? I'm hungry all the time!" Not to mention that sometimes it was only one meal between sleeping, sometimes two, but rarely three. He had no idea how often he slept, or for how long. All sense of time had been lost.
"...is that all you have to say?" Naruto asked him suspiciously.
The sigh reverberated throughout the cell. "You look like you're starving, and the meals aren't that small. I... I just... dammit it, Naruto! Haven't you been trying to escape?!"
"Fuck you, asshole! Of course I have! But nothing works!"
Nothing for a moment, and then: "I know. I tried to use jutsu in here too."
And that ended that.
It hadn't been long after Naruto woke for the very first time in his cell (his body aching, throbbing, his head like a lead ball) when he had discovered that no matter the signs he used, the jutsus he attempted, nothing worked. In between the screams to be let out, and the times when his throat was raw, he tried numerous different ways. He tried during the first three times his food had been brought to him. But it didn't work then, either, and on top of that, he ended up losing all three meals. Eventually, he realized that some how there was something on the cell that blocked the use of jutsus.
"Do you know what's going on out there?" Naruto asked Sasuke after another meal had passed.
"Chaos," he replied. "Madness. Suna fell too, not long after we did. I've heard Sabaku no Gaara is in a cell somewhere down here. Hidden Grass is trying to negotiate a treaty right now, too."
Silence as Naruto pondered this.
"Why?" he said. "Aren't they strong?"
Sasuke laughed once, sharp and bitter. "Leaf and Sand were the two strongest of the five most powerful shinobi villages, idiot, and we've both fallen to him. I'd be trying to negotiate a treaty, too, if I thought it would spare my village."
"What about Kakashi-sensei? Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked after a moment. "What about them?"
"I don't know about Sakura; I think she's still alive, though. But Kakashi is dead."
Naruto gasped. "Kakashi-sensei?! But how?"
"It wasn't in the initial fighting," he said. "He managed to escape before the Sound and Sand over ran the village. There's a group of citizens out there, in hiding; I don't know how big they are anymore, but in the beginning it was everyone in Hokage mountain. But Kakashi was part of a group a while ago that raided the village for supplies. He was caught. Orochimaru had him executed."
Naruto collapsed against the wall, slid down to the ground. "Who else?" he said.
A moment passed. "Most of the Hyuuga," he said. "Hinata's alive, but she's here in the village, under constant surveillance. I think her sister is alive too, but not sure about anyone else. Her father's dead."
Naruto looked up to where he thought Sasuke was. "Neji?"
"Dead. His whole team is, too. They went pretty early."
Something about that statement bothered Naruto, but it didn't register with the knowledge of Fuzzy Brow's death, of Kakashi-sensei's death. And... "Iruka-sensei?"
"Alive and in hiding."
He breathed a sigh of relief, and it was then that the words the other boy was using implied a longer stretch of time having passed than he realized.
"Sasuke... how long has it been?" he asked him, dreading the answer.
Naruto heard a small thump against the wall, and he imagined Sasuke having leaned his head against it. For a moment, he pictured him in his mind: pale, tense, and wary. There was sun in this vision, and blue sky, and wind. He missed the wind.
"It's been about 6 months," he said finally. "Kakashi was caught about 4 months ago."
Naruto asked no more questions for a while after that.
But it turned out, he hadn't needed too. Sasuke, after a couple more meals, would just start to talk. He talked about the weather, he talked about the seasons since the Invasion. The rain on the leaves, the sun on the river... the flowers in bloom, even going so far as to ask the blond what his favorite was. He talked about how the village had changed since the chuunin exam.
"Ichiraku is still there," he told Naruto one time. "I don't know how, but it's still intact. The ramen is just as crappy, though."
Naruto launched himself at his cell mate almost immediately after the insult to his favorite food, and the only fistfight they had during the whole time they were locked up together happened then. But it was short: one good hit to Naruto's ribs knocked him out, and he woke to Sasuke's frantic pleas.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," the other boy was babbling. "Naruto, wake up, it's too dark in here!"
Two meals had come and go, he had been told after he calmed Sasuke down.
He understood why Sasuke was talking so much, though, and he couldn't blame him. He had talked a lot at first, too, after the initial rush to get out had mellowed. He had talked to fill up the silence, to make him forget the dark, and every time Sasuke spoke to him, every time he drank his words in like water in a desert, he envied him too: that Sasuke, at least, had someone to listen back, and he had had no one.
But he forgot about that every time Sasuke came up with a new escape idea.
None of them ever worked, but the feeling of productivity, the knowledge that at least he was trying again, led him to keep going.
But, eventually, the ideas stopped coming. Disillusioned from all of the failed attempts, Sasuke stopped trying. But Naruto, ever hopeful, managed to convince him to give it another go; but this, too, only lasted so long. The last idea Sasuke ever came up with was the one they tried on their fifty-eigth meal together.
They went hungry for a very long time after that, and it was the last time Sasuke ever tried.
"You looked like you had been starving for a very long time," he said, one day out of the blue. It hadn't been long after they had eaten, and Naruto was curled up in a corner. He looked up at nothing.
"When I first saw you," Sasuke said. "Your clothes... they were loose, and I could see the bones under your collar. It scared me."
Naruto said nothing.
"How do you stand this?" the other boy said. "I don't know how much longer I can last in this."
"What do you mean?" Naruto asked, disturbed. There was a tone in his voice that frightened him, made him think back to the fey looking creature their jailer had first locked into the cell with him.
"How do you stand this?" Sasuke asked, and Naruto could hear the desperation.
"I have no choice," he told him.
"Where are you?" Naruto asked next.
"Corner near the door," Sasuke said.
Naruto kept his hand along the wall, and made his way over to him. Both boys knew that in the middle of the cell was a very deep hole, the only way to get rid of bodily wastes. But in the dark, the only way to avoid it was to stick to the walls.
Finally, he felt something soft, something that wasn't him.
He followed along the dark haired boy's arm until he found his hand, and gripped it tightly in his.
"Don't you dare give up," Naruto hissed at him. "Don't you dare! Someone will come, we just have to hold on!"
"Is that what keeps you here?" Sasuke asked him, incredulous. "Idiot! No one is coming. They can't even save themselves, let alone us! This is it. We can't win, and we can't escape." He sounded defeated.
"I don't believe that," Naruto said stubbornly, sliding to the floor, arm in contact with Sasuke's. The other boy leaned into him. "He can't win!"
"He has won, Naruto," Sasuke said, resigned. "He already has."
Naruto hid his face against the other boy's shoulder, forgetting, for a moment, about the darkness.
"How do you stand this?" Sasuke asked him again.
"I have no choice; this is all I have. You have no choice, either, asshole."
Sasuke squeezed his hand. "We had wondered what had happened to you; no one knew. Everyone thought you were already dead."
Silence fell after that.
Naruto fell asleep against him.
The next time he woke, he was lying on the floor, and all he heard was his own breath. He listened desperately to the dark, for the other beating heart, the other sound of breath that told him he was not alone. But there was nothing. He didn't know how long, after that, he yelled, screamed for Sasuke, but there was no answer.
And once the reality set in, he broke into sobs. It was the last time he ever cried.
Suddenly it was just him in the dark, and it terrified him more than anything else ever had.
And when his jailer tossed in the head of his most beloved sensei, he felt something break inside.
After that, he sometimes forgot he was in a cell, and talked to teammates, friends, both dead and gone. He had conversations with Iruka-sensei over ramen, shouted at Kakashi-sensei for being late, could hear Sakura-chan echo him in his ears.
And then the veil over his mind would lift, and he would apologize: for failing, for letting those he cared for and loved die, for being unable to escape. The guilt and despair ate at him, worse than his hunger, and he would keep his face to the wall, so as to not look out into nothing.
He stopped trying to escape altogether, but never gave up.
And slowly, everything started to fade. Each day became the echo of Sasuke's voice, the need to hide from the dark, and a lingering need for food, and what he remembered of the outside world.
And one day, the face that brought him his food was Sasuke's.
"Naruto-kun," Orochimaru's throaty voice said through Sasuke's lips, "hungry much?"
He looked into the eyes of his teammate, and saw nothing but cruel nonchalance. There was nothing of Sasuke left in there. It was dark, just like his cell, just like his life. The only thing he wanted to get away from, the one thing that wouldn't let him go. The thing he was afraid of most.