Title: Inheritance of Hatred: Chapter 16
Summary: In the midst of war, Naruto has only one goal: to bring Uchiha Sasuke home. And to that end, he will risk it all to retrieve the one person closest to his heart.
A/N: Hi again! First and foremost, thank you all for your patience. It’s been quite a while since my last update. Work and other projects have been keeping me busy (and writer’s block got me down a while), but I’m excited that this story is nearing some key moments. Thank you as always to my beta operagirl76, who is wonderfully thorough and so well-researched, and always provides the best feedback!
Just a note: the formatting was okay when I was writing this, looked fine when I sent it off for betaing, and was good when I did final corrections. However, when I pasted it into FF’s document edit/preview box, it was doing all sorts of funky stuff. So if anything looks off in that respect, my apologies! I’ll try to fix it when I get time to look over it closely.
“Ow! Dammit!” Naruto yelped in surprise and pain, dropping the hammer he’d been holding and cradling his left hand. “Stupid thing!”
Rolling her green eyes, Sakura sighed, not even bothering to turn away from her task of painting one of the finished walls. A group of volunteers was scattered around the area, most either painting as well or nailing boards into place. Naruto had arrived yesterday, along with about a dozen shadow clones, to help with the rebuilding of the Academy. Unfortunately, he seemed even more clumsy than usual.
“Do you think that was a clone or the real body?” Sai asked with a hint of mirth. He was running his brush fluidly over the white expanse of the scroll, deftly creating various animal shapes. With a hand sign and a flare of chakra, each of these rose from the paper with new life, immediately moving forth to perform whatever task their creator set them to. “I wonder if they all feel it.”
His teammate smirked, holding back a chuckle. “You’d have to ask Naruto that.” She paused, turning her head slightly. The blond’s other clones worked steadily around them, but each and every single one kept getting into minor mishaps and accidents. It seemed Naruto was distracted, and in turn his kage bunshin were less than adequately focused.
“He appears to have something on his mind,” Sai observed lightly, looking pointedly at Sakura.
The kunoichi stopped, considering. They hadn’t had time to sit down and really talk. Truth be told, she’d been worried about Naruto: he’d rarely smiled in the past week and was unusually quiet. Moreover, he spent every spare moment in the hospital, at Sasuke’s bedside. At least, he had until now.
Nodding, the pink-haired girl set down the paintbrush and wiped her palms on her dusty apron. Quietly and unhurriedly, she wove through the debris and tools littering the ground towards her other teammate. Even from far off, Sakura could see the distant, contemplative expression on the blond’s face, as if he were deep in thought. And she would’ve bet everything that those thoughts were of Sasuke. In all honesty, Sakura had always felt like the third wheel in Team Seven: Naruto and Sasuke each possessed extraordinary focus.
Neither of which had ever been concentrated solely on her.
Deep down, the kunoichi felt an ounce of bitterness weigh down her heart, but she quickly pushed it aside. Three years ago, the prepubescent girl she had been would have been insanely jealous or angry. However, war had a way of changing perspective, and loss had a way of shifting emotions.
“Naruto,” she said gently, sitting down gracefully beside him.
The jinchūriki jumped, jerking out of his daze. “Sakura-chan!” He offered her a halfhearted smile. “What’s up?”
Sighing, she grabbed his hand, concentrating on his injured finger. “I should be asking you the same thing.” The look she treated him with clearly conveyed her refusal to be deterred.
He didn’t speak as she sent a quick pulse of chakra to the fingertip, repairing the split skin easily. An unnecessary action, especially with his healing ability. Nevertheless, he appreciated the gesture. “I’m fine,” he finally said.
“We both know that’s not true.” Sakura squeezed his hand. “This is about Sasuke-kun.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Then let me talk,” she replied, noting the way he blushed ever so slightly at the mention of Sasuke’s name. “I’m not an idiot, Naruto.” Sakura lowered her voice, doing her best to keep her tone reassuring. “There is, and always has been, a connection between you and Sasuke-kun.” She would have been lying if she said she didn’t envy that bond they shared. It was something deep and untouchable, completely and utterly out of her reach. “Did you…tell him how you feel?”
The other shinobi didn’t answer, but he didn’t need to. That forlorn, wounded look in his eyes told her everything.
And it didn’t surprise Sakura in the least. Because after all this time, she felt like she finally understood. “Naruto, I think we both love Sasuke-kun more than anything else. In our own ways, that is. But that isn’t enough.” She exhaled, feeling his gaze turn toward her in confusion. “What I mean is, it isn’t enough for Sasuke.”
Vaguely, she remembered with some embarrassment days spent plotting and daydreaming about a certain Uchiha. She and Ino had been fiercely competitive with each other, both vying for his attention and affection. “I was never someone Sasuke could love back. At least, not in the way I wanted him to.” Sakura closed her eyes, feeling a strange calm steal over her. Realizing all this saddened her, but it was a relief at the same time in a peculiar way. “I think I loved him more for myself than anything else: he was the handsome boy from a prestigious family. It would have been the perfect match. I wanted to be on his arm. I didn’t stop to think about how he felt or what he wanted.” She turned to face Naruto, smiling sadly. “I guess it was kind of selfish, huh?” She expected him to disagree, so Sakura plowed on. “The truth is I could never understand Sasuke-kun.” The pink-haired girl crossed her arms. “And how could I? He suffered more than I ever had, endured so much beyond my own experiences. My love can’t protect him, nor can it save him.”
Naruto stared wide-eyed at her, Sakura’s words washing over him like a tide. “S-Sakura-chan, I-”
“No, it’s all right,” she said, giving his hand a comforting pat. “Because I know you can.” Sakura felt regret brush at her thoughts, but it was passing. “You and Sasuke have always gotten under each other’s skin, always focused on each other. And I see now that it’s because no one really gets him better than you do, Naruto. And vice versa.”
For a long minute, her teammate was silent, turning slightly away. “It doesn’t matter anyways,” he said, quietly. “He doesn’t want to see me.”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Sakura-chan.”
This time, she caught the finality in his tone, and saw the closed-off look in his eyes. Sighing, the kunoichi nodded. She squeezed his shoulder comfortingly before rising to her feet. Naruto didn’t move, watching her turn gracefully and start back towards where the other volunteers were working.
Before she’d taken two steps, though, Sakura paused. “Naruto…I think what Sasuke needs the most…is love.” Her voice was soft, musing. “But at the same time, it’s also what he fears the most.” And with that, she left.
Shoulders hunched, Naruto considered her parting words. It was an idea that had never occurred to him. And why would it have? He’d grown up hoping with all his heart that love would someday find him. For the jinchūriki, love was a gift too precious to fear or turn away. But perhaps that was where he had erred, in thinking Sasuke was exactly like him. Loneliness was a common ground they both had shared, but they stemmed from vastly different sources.
Idly, he dragged his left sandal several inches across the ground, watching the disturbed dirt. Sakura had said her feelings for Sasuke were rooted in her own selfishness, and it made him wonder: did he himself love Sasuke for the right reasons?
Exhaling wearily, Naruto allowed himself to lean back, flopping heavily onto the gritty floor with his eyes half closed. Dobe. Usuratonkachi. Fool. Moron. These were just a few words the Uchiha had selected in the past to describe Naruto. But not monster. Never a monster. Sasuke had sneered at his physical weaknesses, but never questioned his right to live.
And in that, Naruto had found a tiny bit of hope.
Even when their arguments were fierce and unrelenting, he felt distinctly alive. Because those dark eyes that had glared angrily right back at him…acknowledged him. Despite their bickering and fights, he could always see that Sasuke recognized him as a capable shinobi that he had to work to stay ahead of. But above all else, Sasuke had saved him. Unhesitatingly and unselfishly, he’d taken the blow Haku had intended for Naruto.
It was during those cold moments when he’d thought Sasuke was dead that the jinchūriki realized one thing: he wasn’t ready to let the dark-haired boy go. And even now, that feeling had not changed.
Gradually, he let his eyes fall shut, the sounds rising and falling around him growing faint. The darkness that flooded his vision slowly changed, melding into that dim part of his consciousness that Naruto shared with the beast sealed within him.
The Nine-Tailed Fox sat lithely behind the bars of its cage, head resting languidly on its front legs. What is it now? It regarded Naruto briefly with its bright eyes, before closing them again with a huff of exasperation. You waste your time pining over that Uchiha boy, brat. In the last few weeks since their fight with Kabuto and then Madara, the Kyūbi’s perpetual rage seemed to have been quelled, dying down to disgruntled annoyance instead.
The blond didn’t respond right away, running a hand distractedly over the metal. It was smooth and surprisingly warm to the touch, pulsing with quiet power. “You’ve been different.”
Snorting, the demon fox cracked one eye open. Don’t change the subject, Naruto.
“I’ve been thinking about it.” He lifted his face, staring up at the fierce, familiar features of the Kyūbi. “Killer B said I couldn’t use the bijū mode because you and I don’t get along. So why did you help me?”
This time, the fox opened both of its eyes, considering the teen before him with suspicion. Why does that matter to you?
“I said I’d help you with your hatred too, remember?” The blond shifted his weight, walking slowly along the front of the steel bars. He stopped, a sudden thought occurring to him. “Hey, Fox. Do you have a name?”
The demon’s long tails whipped the air briefly in surprise. Flexing taut muscles, it sat up a little straighter. What concern is that of yours? Its voice was a low growl, tinged with confusion and wariness.
For a long moment, Naruto reflected wordlessly. Madara had regarded all the jinchūriki and their Tailed Beasts as mere tools, powerful weapons he could use for his own purposes. The full impact of that had not occurred to him until their final fight. He’d watched as the man dispassionately and mercilessly tossed around the bodies of his victims like possessions: it had disgusted Naruto to his very core. And Madara had fully intended on adding Naruto and Killer B to his grisly collection. Nauseatingly appalling, inhumane, and…
And yet, was this how a Tailed Beast felt?
He, like most of the shinobi world, had thought of the bijū as simple monsters: powerful entities of destruction only capable of feeling anger and hatred. But if that was the case, then why did the Nine-Tailed Fox help him? And why did the Hachibi and Killer B get along so well?
The Kyūbi sighed, a short puff of hot breath. Naruto’s confusion drifted across his awareness like an insistent whisper, niggling at his thoughts. Shinobi have long used us as pawns in their everlasting wars, child. With a grunt, it sat back on its haunches. Madara was the worst in his actions, but his thinking wasn’t too far from the norm. Humans forget that we have free will and treat us as ignorant animals. He narrowed his eyes, assessing Naruto’s reactions. But we’re more similar to you than you might think.
The jinchūriki frowned. “So what’s changed?”
Loud and obnoxious though you are…you are different, Naruto. The Fox tilted its shaggy head, contemplating. He’d felt the boy’s indignation at Madara’s atrocious actions, heard his sincere vow to avenge the murdered jinchūriki. Naruto could have defeated the man and then found a way to take the strength of the Tailed Beasts for himself. However, that thought had never entered the boy’s mind. Instead, his concern was for his friends…and for Sasuke. The blond was clumsy at times and unshakably obstinate, but he didn’t have a shred of that greedy thirst for power many men had.
Grudgingly and unwillingly, the Nine-Tailed Fox found its host to be admirable. Maybe you will finally change things for all of us. Its mouth twitched, considering. I’ll be watching.Show me with your actions, Naruto.
One side of his lips curved up into a lopsided smile. “All right, Nine-Tails.” He ran a hand over the seal, shaped like a large, circular lock in the center of the demon’s cage. More and more, he hoped there would be a time where such a restraint would not be necessary. It might not be today, but he swore wholeheartedly to work towards it. “Can I ask you a question?” The Fox didn’t reply, but Naruto took his silence as assent. “Where did you come from?” It was a mystery he’d been pondering for a while. Had it always been a demon? The Kyūbi said they were more similar than he thought: how deep did those similarities run? “Did you have a family?”
For a while, it seemed as if the Fox wouldn’t answer. It had settled back into its former languid position, feigning sleep. It was only when Naruto turned to leave did it growl lowly, I did. A very long time ago.
The blond ninja turned in amazement, curiosity rising. “But how?”
Snorting, the Nine-Tailed Fox looked down his nose in disdain. I was not always a demon, brat. A millenium ago, I was born a simple fox kit, in an insignificant den in the forest. He watched Naruto closely, gauging his reactions. I was my mother’s first and only offspring.
The blond jinchūriki’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Why were you the only one?”
Because my mother was killed shortly afterwards by hunters. His voice was dangerously low, laden with quiet anger. I hid for days before hunger finally drove me out. I was weak and unable to defend myself, easy prey for anyone who came by. Abruptly, the Fox straightened up. But instead, he came along.
“Who?” Naruto was riveted by the demon’s story.
The Rikudō. The Nine-Tailed Fox spoke the name with unexpected reverence. He found me, shivering and half dead. To my surprise, he took me back with him and nursed me back to health. He cocked his head quizzically. You look surprised, brat.
Naruto shook his head slowly. “It’s just…you sound as if you liked him.”
I did, the Fox barked, swishing his tail reflexively. He was extraordinarily kind to all nine of us: a rag-tag bunch of creatures he’d rescued in some way or another. It was through him we learned to be more than mere animals. Here, the Fox hesitated. But the days left to him were not many. The Sage knew he would soon pass from this world, and was worried about the terrible force sealed inside him. Each of us in turn offered to be the Jūbi’s host, but he wouldn’t hear of it. The Ten-Tail’s malevolent power was too strong for any one of us. We pleaded with him, until the Sage finally agreed to split its power and seal a fraction of it within the nine of us. The Kyūbi closed its eyes, as if telling the tale had wearied it greatly. Memories it hadn’t brooded on in centuries rose up fresh and painful, constricting its throat.
Naruto had a million questions on the tip of his tongue, but he felt like the time to ask them had not yet arrived. Instead, he pressed his palm to the barrier separating them. “Thank you,” he whispered, before moving to leave.
Naruto, the Fox added lowly, face averted. I helped you because…of Kushina.
The jinchūriki’s eyes widened, confused. “I don’t understand.”
Kushina was an even more annoying host than you, the demon said fervently. But she was still your mother…and what that Kabuto did was unforgivable. Tailed Beast though he was, the Nine-Tailed Fox had felt the same rage and anger Naruto had. He himself had only experienced his mother’s love and protection for several short days, but it was a memory he still kept closely guarded in the deepest depths of his mind.
Emotion abruptly seized his chest, and the blond shinobi nodded jerkily. “Thank you, Nine-Tails.” The room began to tilt and fade as he parted from their joined consciousnesses, but he caught the Fox’s quiet, final words.
Naruto, my name is…Kurama.
Sasuke sat stiffly in the wooden chair, knuckles white with tension as he gripped the edge tightly. He’d been given a pair of dark, regulation-issue shinobi pants to wear, along with a matching shirt. His skin itched, but he couldn’t say for sure if it was because of nerves or the fabric. Either way, he was growing increasingly tense with each passing minute.
Sitting in a small, closet-sized room didn’t help things either. The walls, floor, and ceiling had been painted white. Even the two chairs set inside were bone-white. It was starkly bare and slightly unnerving. Kakashi had said it was a chamber built specifically for containing prisoners, a cell for them to sit and stew before their trial began. He could feel the dense layer of seals and wards set into every inch of the space. Sighing, the dark-haired teen turned to face forward.
The Jōnin sat calmly in the other chair, arms crossed loosely over his chest. The eye not obscured by his forehead protector was closed, his chakra relaxed and languid. He appeared, for all intents and purposes, to be asleep. But Sasuke knew better. His gaze bored into Kakashi’s still form, until he was certain the other man could feel it.
And perhaps he did. “It won’t be too much longer, Sasuke,” the older ninja said, still not opening his eyes. “The Kages requested to hear testimony from Naruto first.”
At the mention of the other boy, Sasuke turned away. He hadn’t seen the blond in a week, not since…what had happened between them. He’d tried his best not to think about it either. It only further confused his already tormented thoughts. The Uchiha had thought he was done with doubts. Three years ago, he’d sworn to himself to devote his life to one goal: to avenge his clan. And that meant crushing the Leaf, utterly destroying all traces of the village that had betrayed the Uchiha. That objective left no room for doubts.
So why, then, had he acted the way he had? Weeks ago, it had been so simple to just jump into battle, adrenaline rushing and without a thought to the consequences. It had been a gut reaction, an instinctive response that clashed with the person who thought he was supposed to be. Now, it seemed his fears and uncertainties had fully caught up.
Every time he closed his eyes and every time he dreamed, he saw and felt those bright blue eyes pierce him with their sincerity. Naruto was many things, but he wasn’t a liar. His confession rang true and clear as a bell, and it shook the Uchiha to his core. Love complicated things, weakened a man when he ought to be merciless. Already, Sasuke realized his resolve towards revenge wavered, his heart no longer focused solely on murder and retribution. And that agitated him to no end.
Because he was the last of his line, shouldered with too many burdens already. He needed strength and conviction, but it seemed Naruto continually sapped him of both. Emotionally and physically, he felt vulnerable: the headstrong side of him hated Naruto for affecting him in such a way. But there was also a part of him that wasn’t so sure, that yearned desperately for what the jinchūriki was trying to give him.
But it’s not that simple.
Not for the first time, he clenched a hand over his chest, trying to force his energy past the seal placed there. He’d discovered it not too long after awakening, and had concluded it was some sort of energy suppression technique. At least, that was his calculated guess. Whoever had created it had utilized a technique he didn’t recognize at all. But it made sense, he fumed silently. Uchiha Sasuke was not to be trusted. After all, he was the enemy of Konoha.
Like the last few times he’d tried, Sasuke’s chakra responded minimally, flaring lazily before settling back into an unhurried flow through his body. He sighed, irritated but not surprised. He’d tried questioning Kakashi about it, but all the other man would say was, “Ask Naruto.”
None of this made any sense-
Sasuke sat up straighter as Kakashi finally moved, folding his long arms across his chest. The Jōnin inhaled deeply, gaze focused on the locked and bolted door. He could instinctively feel the nervousness coursing through his former student, felt his apprehension nudging at his chakra. But more importantly, the Copy Ninja could see right through that stoic mask Sasuke struggled to maintain. In his opinion, the last Uchiha was still a work in progress: he continually struggled to find a foothold and purpose in a world that had been short in kindness. The older man had been relieved to discover that Sasuke retained some shreds of humanity beneath his former vengeful and crazed demeanor. However, the battle was far from being over on that front. But he had hope now, and it came in the form of a certain blond jinchūriki.
Naruto’s feelings for Sasuke were unorthodox, but Kakashi had found himself unsurprised by them. If ever there was a person with a near-limitless capacity for compassion, it was Naruto. And in so many ways, he was also probably the only one who could really reach Sasuke. But Sasuke was not a person who could be won over with mere words. Like the jinchūriki, he was an individual of action, and thus only actions could sway his loyalties.
His senses perked up, sensing the approach of several ninjas. Rising smoothly to his feet, Kakashi gave Sasuke a look devoid of emotion. “Nothing in this world is perfect, Sasuke. Konoha, like everyone else, has made its fair share of mistakes.” His eye cut to the door, feeling the warm pulse of a familiar energy signature. “But sometimes, all it takes is one person to change things for the better.” Turning to face the door, he added one final comment over the sound of the disengaging locks. “All he needs is a chance.”
Sasuke only had several moments to ponder the man’s words before two men stepped into the room. They both wore the distinctive uniform of the ANBU, fearsome painted masks hiding their faces: one resembled a bear, while the other had been decorated to resemble a tiger. They both bowed deferentially to Kakashi. “Senpai,” the man with the tiger mask said politely, gesturing out with a gloved hand. “The council is ready for you now.”
The Jōnin didn’t move for a second, glancing back at the dark-haired teen. A wordless question.
“He will be escorted to the courtroom when the Kages are ready for him, Kakashi-senpai,” the other ANBU added obligingly, catching his intent.
Nodding, the silver-haired man strode briskly out of the room.
Sasuke watched the two remaining men warily, all the while forcing his body to relax. Their porcelain disguises perfectly concealed any expression that might have been on their faces. He wondered what emotion they felt when they gazed upon the notorious Uchiha Sasuke. Without a word, though, both men retreated from the room and shut the door crisply behind them.
The dark-haired teen sighed, tipping his head back to stare at the plain white ceiling. He’d endured more than his fair share of hardships in his life, but simply sitting here and waiting was grating terribly on his endurance. But more importantly, nothing here in this barren chamber distracted Sasuke from his tumultuous thoughts.
Kakashi’s parting words bothered him. Obviously he was urging him to give Naruto a chance, to put trust in the blond. But what use was it? What strength did Naruto have to offer him? He didn’t need or want any more burdens, and refused to expose further vulnerabilities. And yet, Sasuke felt that traitorous urge within him rise again, whispering at him ideas and memories designed specifically to wear away at his resolve. There was comfort there with Naruto, tantalizing him with hints of assurance and safety. The jinchūriki was a constant, unrelenting force, and he stubbornly demanded a place in Sasuke’s life. No matter how many times the Uchiha pushed him away, Naruto clung with tenacity unmatched by any. Ironically, Naruto was perhaps the most reliable presence he knew.
All he needs is a chance.
“No.” Sasuke’s hands clenched tightly on the chair, willing that thought away. He’d sacrificed too much, come too far to let childish notions of infatuation cloud his judgment. More likely than not, the Leaf and her allies would have no mercy on him for his crimes. It was better to let go of those small hopes and prepare himself for that inevitability. But more importantly-
Sounds outside of his cell jerked the Uchiha from his thoughts. It was difficult to make out words from the muffled noises filtering into the room, but he thought he discerned three distinct male voices. One was slightly louder than the others, his tones insistent and authoritative. For several moments, it was completely silent. Then, Sasuke heard a low murmur of assent.
He sat up straighter as the bolts were drawn back once more, and the door was pulled open slowly.
“Thank you,” said the newcomer, his voice uncomfortably familiar to Sasuke. His footsteps sounded jarringly loud in the still air as the blond entered the room. He didn’t look back or flinch as the door was shut promptly behind him. His sharp blue eyes immediately found the dark-haired teen’s, conveying more emotions than his words ever could. “Sasuke.”
“Naruto.” Sasuke didn’t mean for the name to slip from him lips, but his thoughts had stuttered to a halt with his sudden appearance.
The jinchūriki smiled faintly, hands fisted at his sides. Sasuke noticed vaguely that the other shinobi was also wearing the standard Konoha uniform, though he’d thrown his usual orange and black jacket over it. “It’s good to see you.”
On reflex, Sasuke scowled. “What do you want?”
Naruto was unsurprised by the question, settling himself down into the chair Kakashi had so recently vacated. “I thought you’d want someone to be here with you.” He looked back at him steadily, undaunted by the hostility Sasuke practically emanated.
“What does it matter?” He returned coldly, furious at the implications. “When they execute me, do you really think your being here would-”
At those words, Naruto’s tranquil mood snapped. He was instantly on his feet, closing the distance between them within seconds. “They won’t kill you, Sasuke! Why do you keep saying that?” His eyes narrowed, expression indignant and agitated.
“Because it’s the right thing to do!” As always, the Uchiha found it impossible to rein in his emotions around the other boy. Every pulse of anger and annoyance bubbled straight to the top and out, unfiltered and unchecked. He jabbed an accusing finger at Naruto. “You’re naïve, usuratonkachi. There is no room in the ninja world for mercy or compassion, least of all yours! No one showed it to the Uchiha, and I intend to repay that in kind if given the chance!”
“No, Sasuke!” Naruto snarled, seizing him by the wrist. “You don’t mean that! I know in my heart that you aren’t just the avenger you want everyone to think you are.”
Yanking his hand back, the dark-haired shinobi narrowed his eyes. “Save me your sentiments, Naruto. Can your so-called love bring back my mother? Can it resurrect my brother? Can it wash the blood off my hands?” His breath came harshly, fine beads of sweat dotting his temple. “This is the fate Konoha pushed me into, and there’s nothing you can-” Faster than he thought possible, Naruto abruptly jerked himself forward. Sasuke found himself pinned to the wall, strong hands gripping his shoulders tightly. His still-recovering body protested with a flare of pain, but the Uchiha ignored it, schooling his expression to exhibit only contempt.
“You were always calling me an idiot, Sasuke, but you’re the biggest one of all,” Naruto hissed, eyes wide and angry. “You charge down this vengeance path like it’s the only way to go! You’re supposed to be a genius: use that stupid brain of yours! You and I are more than the sum of our circumstances or of our families. We are more than just bitter fragments of the Uchiha or the Uzumaki.” His grip relaxed slightly, but he didn’t move back. “You think hate is strength and love is weakness, Sasuke. But tell me this: why don’t I hate you? Because I should! More than you even realize! The Uchiha are why I am an orphan, why I grew up never knowing my mom or dad. It was an Uchiha that ripped the Nine-Tailed Fox from my mother’s body. It was an Uchiha that forced my father to sacrifice himself in order to save the village. That was all Madara’s doing! Were you much better, throwing in with him? And yet, I love you, Sasuke. I know there’s good in you, no matter how hard you try to hide it.”
“What good is your love to me!” Sasuke ground out tersely. It was easier to ignore the rest of Naruto’s speech, less damaging to his resolve that way. And yet, beneath his anger Sasuke couldn’t help but wonder: was it true? Konoha’s faults had created the man he was today, but had the Uchiha really played such a pivotal role in Naruto’s life? These were doubts he hadn’t considered and lacked the will to contemplate. “Love has always failed me, never met my expectations! And you-”
“Don’t act like you understand my love, bastard!” Naruto’s nails dug into his skin. “Don’t compare me to your past and dismiss my feelings. You have no idea-” he broke off, chest heaving. Suddenly, he grabbed the collar of Sasuke’s shirt. With a vicious pull, he yanked it down, exposing the seal to their eyes. The black markings contrasted vividly with the Uchiha’s pale skin, and the jinchūriki felt his heart skip at the sight of it.
“Do you even know what this is, what it means?” Naruto whispered, hands clenched. “This is a seal created by the Uzumaki clan: my dead family.” Almost reverently, he reached out a finger, barely tracing the dark swirls and lines. “This is how I chose to repay the Uchiha…by saving you, Sasuke.”
Sasuke’s dark eyes were wide and troubled, and he scarcely believed his ears. “You’re lying; this is just some trick-”
“It’s not a trick,” the jinchūriki whispered softly. “You were dying. And I…didn’t stop Madara in time.” He lifted his face, looking at the other teen with a strange calmness. “This was the only way I could think of to save you.”
The muscles in his neck suddenly felt painfully tight, and the dark-haired shinobi found it difficult to force words out. “But my chakra-”
“Your chakra system was damaged when Madara tried to kill you. You were gonna die…and we were so far from help…” Naruto lowered his eyes finally, as if embarrassed. “I’d never used this technique before, but I figured that there was nothing to lose.”
His words echoed in Sasuke’s mind, pushing his emotions in a direction he’d tried fervently to avoid. “What-” But he stopped, unsure of how to ask his question and uncertain if he wanted to hear the answer.
However, Naruto seemed to guess his thoughts accurately. Slowly, and with faltering movements, he hesitated for a minute before pulling the zipper down on his jacket. He allowed the garment to fall into a pile on the floor, his body suddenly tense. He was acutely aware of Sasuke’s watchful eyes, but forced himself to seize the edge of the dark-colored shirt underneath.
The Uchiha looked on with confusion, trepidation swirling in his thoughts. For some reason, he felt tendrils of anxiety crawl up his spine. It was as if his subconscious sensed something and it shook him to his very core.
At first, his attention was caught by the gracefully swirled pattern of the Eight Trigrams Seal, centered around Naruto’s navel. This he had seen before and expected. After a moment, though, his gaze was caught by the sight of another marking, smaller in size and situated directly over the jinchūriki’s heart. His sharp eyes traced its broad strokes and rough edges, realizing with a start that he’d seen it before.
It was identical to the mark Sasuke had found on his own chest.
“What did you do?” The Uchiha’s voice came out hoarse, visibly unsettled.
“I-” The blond stopped, sucking in a shaky breath. For the first time in a long time, he felt truly afraid. But not of Sasuke. Naruto understood well that what he feared was for it to not be within his ability to reach Sasuke. He’d chased for so long and given so much…and now it seemed they were both on the cusp of something crucial. But still, Sasuke didn’t understand. And it was imperative that he did.
“I can’t bring back your family,” he whispered softly. “But…you can’t bring back mine either.”
Those words struck him like a physical blow, and Sasuke barely stopped himself from recoiling. An unfamiliar emotion was stealing over his awareness, tugging painfully at his heart and shattering his rage into forgettable pieces. Was this remorse he felt? “Naruto, I-”
“It’s okay, Sasuke. Because I forgive you.” Naruto finally lifted his face, eyes bright with clarity. “And I want you to forgive me, and forgive Konoha. Who can say who the first to do wrong and cause all this was? Was it this village? Was it the Uchiha? The Senju? Madara?” The jinchūriki bit his lip, shaking his head wearily. “You lost your clan; I lost my parents, my teacher…and we’re not the only ones. It goes on and on and never ends, Sasuke. We’re all connected in this history of hatred. We carry on the sins and betrayals of the past. But it doesn’t always have to be this way.”
He tapped two fingers to the seal on his heart. “This seal doesn’t restrain you, Sasuke. When you’re completely recovered, you’ll see that. All it does is transfer my own energy to you when yours gets low.” Naruto smiled then, though it was tinged with sadness. “You saved my life once.” He reconsidered, remembering their final battle with Madara. “Twice,” he amended. “So from this day forth, I swear to do all I can to save yours.”
Though it was fairly warm in the cell, Sasuke felt a distinct chill settle in his bones. It was as if his entire world had been inverted, sending his convictions and beliefs tumbling down like leaves from a tree. This was love like he’d never experienced: unrelenting and vibrantly alive, stubbornly aiding him in spite of obstacles and his own protestations. And though Naruto’s words echoed in him with the encompassing quality of an ocean wave, it was something else that finally pierced through to his closely guarded heart.
Dimly, Sasuke was aware of a gentle hand closing around his fingers. Coaxingly, Naruto drew the Uchiha’s hand towards him, until the tips of those pale fingers brushed the seal he’d placed on his heart.
Perhaps it was Naruto’s doing, or perhaps it was because Sasuke was finally willingly receptive to it, but at last, the dark-haired teen felt the change within himself. Chakra, brighter and softer than his own, intertwined with his energies, encouraging his body to heal and return to its former strength. And strangely, he could practically feel the emotions running off Naruto like rivulets of water. There was nervousness, hope, fear…and utter devotion.
His knees felt weak, and Sasuke felt as though thousands of words were bursting to fly off the tip of his tongue. “Naruto-”
With a sharp metallic clang, the cell door slid open without warning. The jinchūriki flinched, caught off-guard. “What is it?” He looked over his shoulder in frustration, eyebrows lifting at the sight of a squad of ANBU.
One of them stepped forward, a shock of long violet hair curling around her cat-like mask. “Our apologies, Naruto-san. But the Kages have finished deliberating. It is time for Uchiha Sasuke to receive his sentence.”
Naruto opened his mouth to protest, but another voice cut him off.
“You have to come too, Naruto.” Kakashi stood at the edge of the gathered group, hands in his pockets. His tone left room for no arguments.
For a moment, it looked as though the blond would refuse. However, he looked once more at the other teen and sighed. His head drooped a bit as he stepped to the side.
Immediately, four of the ANBU surged into the room. Two seized Sasuke by his arms, guiding him firmly out into the hall. The other pair took up position behind them, guarding from the rear. Panic flooded his thoughts, and Sasuke struggled in their grip. “Naruto!”
The blond looked pained, but tried his best to look reassuring. “It’s okay, Sasuke. I’ll be-”
“No.” With a burst of strength, the Uchiha managed to break the ANBU’s hold on him. He whirled around to face Naruto, but was unable to push past his assigned guards. “Naruto, I-” For once, Sasuke didn’t think to measure his words or restrain his feelings. It bubbled up raw and consuming, but they had run out of time to talk. “I’m sorry.” He ignored the ANBU forcing him away, ignored the surprised look on Kakashi’s face. All he could see was Naruto. “Forgive me.”