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in his arms

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Sasuke squashed the emotion that tried to overtake him as he glanced down at his unconscious squad mate. Despite his best effort though, a derisive snort escaped. Sakura was such a child, she was so naïve and looking at her limp body and sleep slack face it was even more apparent. How could she claim to love him? Her emotions held all the depth of a puddle, a schoolyard crush.

The image of her lying helpless on the stone bench was more telling than any words she’d spoken. Her features were relaxed and softened and her posture open and unguarded. Her heart was just as visible even with her pale green eyes closed. Sakura didn’t know enough about life to guard herself when she was awake, let alone while she was unconscious. A part of him hoped, futile though the rest of him knew it was, that she would never know different.

The raven haired nin resolutely turned his back on the pinkette and continued his lonely march away from the village he’d been born and raised in. Away from the innocence and the sweet lie he’d been offered there, away from the momentary illusion of hope this place had offered. Even his disillusioned mind could not help notice the symbolism of his steady determined gait down the dark lonely path he’d chosen. The slight breeze felt cold against his nearly luminously pale skin as his insides turned frozen and his heart, which had relearned to beat for a while, turned back to stone.

“You!”

The sound broke the silence like an explosion and stopped Sasuke in his tracks. Ironically, Naruto’s voice had probably never used a softer tone to address him, it was only the suffocating and heavy atmosphere that made the softly spoken exclamation seem louder than it had actually been. Sasuke didn’t have to look to know where the blonde shinobi was, he’d never had to. He was always painfully aware of him, even when he’d rather not be, especially then.

The Uchiha turned only his head, the rest of his body faced towards the gate and the freedom that was nearly in his grasp. His vision was suddenly filled with the sight of bright hair, bright eyes and bright clothing that had somehow gone unnoticed as the shinobi they belonged to had sat crouched upon a tree. Said shinobi wore an uncharacteristically blank expression, made more eerie by the shifting shadows of leaves that moved over his body as the light wind persisted. Naruto looked much older with the sombre expression he wore. Something that had been silent before lurched violently beneath Sasuke’s ribcage at the sight, the blonde was so hauntingly beautiful in the way tragic art always was.

“Are you going to try and stop me too?” Sasuke’s voice was cuttingly mocking, he was never more grateful for his ability to hide his emotions than he was at this moment when he was being rushed by so many. The silence from Naruto was unnatural because there were many ways to describe Konoha’s Number One Knuckleheaded Ninja but quiet was not one of them.

Sasuke’s next sentence contained more malice though the tone was still cool and calm, “Don’t tell me you came to talk about old times.” He forced himself to scoff lightly to convey his disdain even as the next words twisted him up inside, “Are you going to declare your undying devotion too?”

In a heartbeat the blonde was before the dark haired boy, blocking his path. Some powerful emotion seemed to roll off of him in waves, his large expressive eyes, whose colour was indistinguishable in the dark, still had the unique ability to reach the very depths of Sasuke’s soul and squeeze. Yet Naruto’s face was still immobile and devoid of any trace of emotion. The dark haired nin found himself trapped in that gaze as it stripped him naked and laid bare all his shortcomings and reminded him of every single thing he was leaving behind more strongly than Sakura’s heartfelt tearful words had had any chance of doing.

Unbidden, Sasuke was flooded with memories. He hadn’t lied earlier when he’d told Sakura that he didn’t remember the genesis of their relationship and yet, in sharp contrast, he could remember every moment he’d spent in Naruto’s presence. Each second of it seemed charged with the emotions that were so myriad and varied between them: Anger, disappointment, excitement, curiosity, annoyance fear, battle lust… the list went on and on.

Having looked at that deeply familiar gaze Sasuke had to work for the emotionless calm he’d reached, he had to work at hardening his heart. The effort added fuel to his determination, Naruto made him feel weak in so many ways, and Sasuke would not, could not, stand for it anymore.

When it seemed that the blonde would only stand there unmoving, Sasuke began to walk again, keeping his pace steady and unconcerned even as his instincts screamed at him to eliminate the threat the other shinobi posed as Sasuke passed him. But Naruto was not like Sakura, it would take a fight to incapacitate him and so far he’d done nothing to warrant the risk.

Sasuke was perhaps five steps away from him when Naruto chose to speak again, “I held you in my arms when we both thought you were dying.”

Instantly the memory came of needles pricking him in too many places to count and the desperate disappointment that he would die without fulfilling his one goal in life, his dream. He remembered speaking for the first time in his life in the presence of another of the thing that drove him, “My dream is to kill my brother.”

Sasuke went utterly still, Naruto’s softly spoken words holding him more firmly than Kakashi’s wires had earlier that day. When he spoke again his tone was as patronising as possible so that none of the frightening emotions the blonde stirred in him were audible, “Are you going to give me some speech about how you’ve been there and how you want to help me from this ‘dark place’ I’m at?”

“No.”

That single syllable contained an ocean of sorrow and yet unlike Sakura, Naruto sounded far from tears. There was a hard edge of bitter disappointment and anger in that single word that flayed and chastised the brunet more than any pleading words.

Sasuke’s heart contracted painfully in his chest. The thoughts he had been trying to bury was suddenly at the forefront of his mind, this was a betrayal. He was letting so many people down. He was letting his parent’s memories down. What sort of Uchiha stooped so low as to consort with filth like Orochimaru? Was he truly so pathetic? So desperate?

The answer to that question gave his voice a razor edge, “So why are you here Naruto? Will you try to stop me by force?”

“No,” the blonde replied in that same harrowingly soft tone, “Not yet.”

“Then what?!” the helpless frustration he felt was no longer hidden in his voice. Sasuke felt bound to this course, his hands were tied. There was no choice, even though he knew that the only one binding him was himself.

“I held you when you were dying the first time,” Naruto sighed gently, as close to crying without tears as the blonde ever came. Both boys understood that some sadness, some grief, was too great to ever be expressed with something as trivial and ordinary as tears. “And I will hold you when your journey ends again.”

And then the blond ninja was gone, leaving only a cold wind and falling leaves in his wake. In those few words Naruto had driven the point home, the thing Sasuke had refused to see. This road he was taking would only end in death. Whether or not he found Itachi, whether or not he avenged his family, it would end in death

When he started walking once more his pace was as sedate as it had been before, his face completely neutral and his posture utterly disciplined. To an outside observer it would seem that he had walked his path steadily and without interruptions. Inside though, was a different matter. Inside, where no-one had ever seen but a blonde haired, blue eyed loudmouth, Sasuke ached.

Inside, he wept.