Antebellum

Title: Antebellum
Pairing: Implied Sasuke/Naruto
Rating: PG
Status: Complete
Summary:  Naruto reminisces on a more innocent time, on sunny days lost to war…and on a budding relationship that was never given a chance. Prequel to “Inheritance Of Hatred.”

Extra: Check out the song that inspired the story.

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A/N: Surprise! A prequel to IOH! This happened completely on accident, since I hadn’t even thought of a prequel before. However, I was re-listening to an older song by one of my favorite artists, and the lyrics seemed like such a great theme for some SasuNaru (for those curious, the song is “Antebellum” by Vienna Teng). Set early in the series, during the Land of Waves arc.

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1.

The sun glimmered hot and bright off vibrant green leaves, warming the earth with its rays. It burned at the apex of the sky, the light heating up the noon air. Small children, adults and animals alike all instinctively sought out shade, a cool place to rest out of the afternoon spike in temperature. Everyone, that is, except two young shinobi in the forest.

Naruto’s breath came in sharp pants, chest heaving with exertion. Sweat poured down his chest and back, completely soaking his inner garments and jacket. The kunai clutched tightly in his right hand was also slick with perspiration, the blade flecked with specks of splintered wood. The tall tree he was standing before was covered with slashes and gouge marks, leading progressively higher up its trunk. He was satisfied to see his rapid progress…that is, until he glanced to the left.

Powerfully, Sasuke charged up the side of his own tree: bark cracked audibly under his chakra-imbued feet, but the dark-haired boy dug his toes in regardless and compensated with bursts of speed. The momentum carried him high above the ground, just a few lengths away from the higher tree boughs.

Damn it, damn it! Naruto tracked his teammate’s progress with growing frustration: Sasuke was still managing to climb considerably higher than him. And the distance between only increased with his every try.

Gravity finally overcame Sasuke’s upward advance, pulling down harder than the chakra in his soles could resist. As he felt himself slide off, the Uchiha thrust his own kunai forward, cutting a hard line into the wood as he began to fall. Gracefully, he flexed into a controlled drop, rebounding off the neighboring tree on his way to the floor. Surprise flickered across his face as he saw the blond’s set of cuts, less than fifteen feet below the highest point of his. Damn it, he’s catching up to me. He couldn’t help but scowl in disgruntlement as he landed, shoes stirring up dust as he skidded to a stop.

God damn it! Naruto cursed mentally again, watching Sasuke with competitive envy. He always felt slow and lumbering when training next to the Uchiha: his movements were always coolly sure, powerfully confident. It was something Naruto hadn’t yet learned to channel into his own style, so he settled for scoffing at his rival. Stop thinking about Sasuke, he chided himself, shaking his head vigorously. I’ll just lose my concentration. Taking a deep breath, the blond averted his eyes away from Sasuke, thinking back to what Sakura had told him earlier when he’d begged for some tips.

“Listen Naruto,” she’d advised him, gesturing with her fist for emphasis. “Chakra uses spiritual energy so you can’t get too excited. To gather chakra to your feet you have to relax and focus on the tree.”

“Okay okay,” he mumbled lowly to himself, stilling his body. “Focus! Focus!” Once more, he closed his eyes and channeled energy to the bottoms of his feet, concentrating on maintaining an even and adequate flow. “Good, this is working.” He waited a few more moments for his heart rate to steady, opening his eyes and visually tracing the path he was going to take. The muscles in his legs tensed, readying to propel him forward. Okay! Here it goes

“Hey, Naruto!”

Shock made his footing slip, causing Naruto to fall inelegantly on his face. His already-frayed patience snapped as he shot to his feet to face Sasuke, spitting out dirt from the ground. “What the hell is your problem!? Can’t you see I’m trying to focus?!” Vaguely, it occurred to the blond that perhaps he was overreacting, but his pride had been bruised frequently during this mission. As a result, he was feeling more brusque than normal.

Strangely, the other boy hesitated, biting his lip. “Well…um.” He looked distinctly embarrassed, a bright blush creeping onto his sweaty cheeks.

It’s rare for him to talk to me... Fuming still, Naruto crossed his arms in front of his chest. “What is it?” He treated the Uchiha with an even glare, daring him to make what was likely a disparaging comment about Naruto.

“What…” Sasuke turned his head slightly, not meeting his teammate’s angry gaze. He hated to stoop to Naruto’s level…but the blond was improving at a faster rate than he was. “What did Sakura tell you?”

Predictably, the other Genin’s eyes bulged with surprise, mouth opening and closing wordlessly as he gaped at Sasuke. After a minute though, Naruto smirked in unmistakable, giddy glee. “It’s a secret!”

“Tch. Dobe.” Sasuke frowned, regretting his question. Turning away with a grunt, the dark-haired shinobi reapplied himself to his training with stiff, irritated motions. Without another sound, he ran fiercely at the tree, leaping and letting the chakra at his heels adhere to the wood. His control was still imperfect, the trunk splintering wherever he stepped from too much energy applied to the surface and pushing his foot off. It only held for a handful of seconds, so Sasuke had to move fast: surging upwards with all his might.

Naruto watched as Sasuke took off, the amusement he’d felt moments ago quickly dissipating as he watched his rival increase his lead even more with a vehement swipe of his kunai and start to fall perfectly back to the ground. “That bastard,” he muttered disgustedly. He wasn’t as calm as he was a minute ago, but tore towards his own tree regardless. I’ll show that smug asshole who’s the better ninja!

For the blond, it was like running up an icy hill: the energy on his soles was tentatively gripping the bark, too weak for him to stroll leisurely up its side like Sakura or Kakashi had. For every step he took up, his body slid a little ways down as he moved the other foot ahead. It was exhausting him to the very bone, leg muscles burning from the repetition. Working next to Sasuke didn’t help things either: the Uchiha’s greater achievements seemed to taunt him every time he glanced over.

He felt his momentum drop precipitously, until he’d reached the peak of his trajectory. Infuriatingly, Naruto saw that he’d lost about two inches in height, widening the gap between him and Sasuke even more. Impulsively and recklessly, he took several more steps rather than tucking into a prepared drop. There was no way he was going to keep losing to Sasuke-

In his distraction, he miscalculated the second step, foot sliding off the trunk completely. The blond flailed in a panic as he tried to compensate for the awkward positioning, yelping as his head smacked sharply against the tree. His hands instinctively clutched at his aching skull, wasting crucial seconds better spent grabbing at a handhold.

On the ground, Sasuke’s sharp eyes caught Naruto’s mistake, rolling his eyes when the other boy began to plummet down. Falling from that height wouldn’t be fatal to a ninja like that idiot…but it would definitely hurt. Pushing aside his annoyance, Sasuke quickly moved a few feet to the right, estimating where Naruto would be falling. When he was almost a meter away from eating dirt, the Uchiha jumped. They collided mid-air, his opposing momentum slowing down Naruto’s descent. The blond was remarkably heavy in his arms, but Sasuke gritted his teeth anyways and steered them to a safe if rough landing.

Even as the Uchiha’s sandals hit the floor, Naruto was rolling out of his arms, sputtering shrilly. “Put me down, bastard! I’m not a woman!”

The other Genin smirked, suppressing a chuckle as he sat down wearily. “You’re welcome.”

A scowl was instantaneous as Naruto threw himself on the ground several feet away, rubbing his bruised head. “I didn’t ask for you help, teme.”

“Fine, next time I’ll let you smack into the dirt instead.” Oddly, he was still rather amused at Naruto’s indignation. The other boy was so adamantly determined to succeed and be recognized, to the point where he butted heads with Sasuke constantly. But his drive was admirable anyway, in a rather pigheaded way. “And lay off the ramen. You’re ridiculously heavy, usuratonkachi.”

“Whatever, asshole.” He turned away from that smirking face, running a dirty hand across his damp forehead as he stood back up. Stupid Sasuke always coming to the rescue. Still, he could have twisted an ankle or something, falling from that high. His rival had done him a favor, no matter how he looked at it. “Sasuke,” he said unwillingly, quietly. His ego protested soundly, but Naruto pushed it down for once. “Thanks.”

Getting up as well, his teammate shrugged. “Just be more careful next time.”

Naruto hesitated for another minute, debating internally as Sasuke went climbing up the tree once more. With a resigned sigh, he finally came to a decision. Before he could change his mind, the blond shouted up at his friend. “Sakura said relaxing would make it easier, bastard!”

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2.

Pain radiated from countless points on his body as Naruto slowly returned to consciousness. He felt nauseatingly dizzy, body protesting as he forced himself up. Ice-cold air bit at his skin, raising goosebumps on his cut and bleeding flesh. He became aware of someone standing in front of him, eyes recognizing the back of Sasuke’s legs. A little ways past him, the crumpled form of Haku lay twitching feebly on the ground, apparently defeated.

“Geez…all you ever do is get in the way…” Sasuke’s voice sounded gritty, rough from effort.

He’d won? “Sasuke, you-” He took a good look at the Uchiha for the first time…and felt his heart fall like a stone. Blood poured generously from innumerable wounds, long needles protruding from Sasuke’s neck like a hideous necklace. Even Naruto’s untrained eye could see they were  probably fatal, piercing many key blood vessels.

“What’s…with that face…you…moron,” the dark-haired boy coughed, crimson liquid dribbling over his chin.

He saved me? Naruto moved forward, confusion and shock freezing his thoughts. “Why?”

“How should I know?” Sasuke felt overwhelmingly drowsy, the pain in his body fading disconcertingly. His energy was gone, muscles barely able to keep him upright. “Pft…I hated you…”

Grief tore through the blond’s chest like fire, pulling at his heart with new pain. He didn’t understand it, didn’t get why Sasuke would do such a thing. “But…why! Why me?” His questions weren’t really looking for answers: rather, he was trying desperately to deny that Sasuke…had given his life to save Naruto. “I never asked for your help!” Even as he yelled it, felt unshed tears burn at his eyes, disbelief warring with a sadness he’d never known possible.

It was difficult to breath, agony to draw breath. “I don’t know…” Sasuke felt himself falter for the last time, knees giving out as awareness drifted away. “My body just moved on its own…idiot…” He didn’t know if that last part was for Naruto or for himself, but it mattered little. He couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer.

He fell heavily into Naruto’s arms, barely noticing the stings from the needles dotting his back. One final regret pushed itself out, softly falling from his bloody lips. “That…man…” He whispered, taking in the sight of Naruto’s stricken face. “My brother…I told myself I wouldn’t die until I killed him…” He’d never before looked so closely at his friend’s eyes, never appreciated their unfathomable blue color. It wasn’t a bad sight to die with. “Don’t you die too…”

Time seemed to still for an awful moment as his eyes fell shut and Sasuke went limp in his hold. A shiver ran involuntarily up his spine, the blood feeling cold in his veins. Hot tears seeped out of his eyes as he sat there, clutching his teammate’s body like a lifeline and stared at his unresponsive face. They dropped lightly onto the upturned cheeks, mingling with cooling skin.

“He landed a blow on me and without flinching…died to protect you.” Haku got to his feet with effort, wincing from the wound the Uchiha had dealt him. “To protect a precious person, knowing it was a trap, he was still willing to jump in. He is a shinobi that deserves respect.” The young boy’s breaths were harsh, reverberating inside his mask.

Respect. The word niggled at Naruto’s thoughts, shattering his frozen composure. Who was he to talk about respect, seconds after killing Sasuke without any qualms? He didn’t deserve to use that word, nor to use Sasuke’s name so callously and calmly.

“Is this your first death of a friend? This is the way of the shinobi-” Haku stopped, an unexpected sensation blasting through his body. Killing intent, razor sharp and ruthless, raked over him with the intensity of a whirlwind.

“Shut up.” Gently, carefully, Naruto lowered Sasuke to the ground with a heavy heart. His hands trembled with a strange mixture of grief and anger, fingers threaded through matted locks of dark hair. I hated you too. Oddly, it didn’t feel like hate anymore: whatever contempt he’d directed as Sasuke felt superficial now, pushed aside by a rising tide of emotions he didn’t recognize and didn’t know how to name.

Haku’s very presence grated against his nerves unacceptably, pushing his anger over the edge and completely cracking his self-control. The hand cradling Sasuke’s head tenderly finally lay him to rest at his feet, pushing up against the concrete floor. A new, consuming anger was flooding his awareness, focused only on dealing damage and seeking revenge for his fallen comrade. His eyes blazed with furious light as he turned to face his opponent, appearance quickly becoming fox-like.

I’ll kill you!

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3.

He didn’t there would be anything more painful than watching a friend die in his arms. But Naruto had been wrong. Because this tore his heart apart so much more efficiently. He sat stiffly in the hospital, covered in bandages and wrappings. His thoughts, however, were far from worrying about his own injuries.

Just shut up for once! What the hell do you know about it?! It’s not like you ever had a family in the first place! You were on your own right from the beginning, what makes you think you know anything about it?

The scarred hitai-ate lying in his hands felt unnaturally heavy, weighed down by the guilt and regret crushing his soul. He should have done more, could have done better…but now it was too late. Sasuke had gone to Orochimaru, and Naruto had been powerless to stop him.

I’m suffering now because I had those ties, how on earth could you possibly understand, what it feels like to lose all that?

He’d thought they’d been alike, thought he understood Sasuke like no one else did. He couldn’t believe how wrong he’d been, how grievously he’d erred. Their first real mission in the Land of Waves seemed a lifetime ago: was the Sasuke that had unflinchingly sacrificed himself to save Naruto even there anymore?

Doubt echoed in his memories with treacherous whispers, urging him to forget, to let go. His now-ex-teammate had almost killed him…the message in that was anything but ambiguous.

“No…” He tightened his hold on the forehead protector, feeling the cold steel bite into his palm. He refused to give up: he would not let Sasuke turn away from them so easily.

Regardless if it took months, years or an entire lifetime…Naruto would chase his rival down. He didn’t accept defeat and would not relinquish Sasuke without a fight.

That was his way of ninja.

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I know the borderlines we drew between us
Keep the weapons down, keep the wounded safe
I know our antebellum innocence
Was never meant to see the light of our armistice
But how much would I give to have it back again?
How much did we lose to live this way?
– Vienna Teng, “Antebellum”

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