“Place him on the floor,” came the brusque command from Jiraiya, as he peeled off his jacket to roll up the sleeves of his dress shirt. They had finally arrived at the boys’ room and Ms. Fuyutsuki was busy closing the curtains and dimming the lights with a frown of concentration on her features.
Juugo did as he was told, laying Sasuke in the middle of the room before stepping back as he watched Jiraiya fall to his knees to strip the boy down to his underwear. The man winced inwardly at the reddened flesh, wondering why Sasuke would go so far as to break through that dangerous ki shield at the risk of being charred to a crisp. Either the boy was a stubborn fighter who couldn’t accept defeat, or a boy who was amazingly dumb. Either way, he had been impressed with Sasuke’s ability to think quickly in the thick of battle, realizing that the only way to defeat Gaara’s seemingly impenetrable defense was to move much faster than he could conjure it up. It had involved sacrificing his body for this, Sasuke willing to suffer the effects of the ‘shocks’ that were delivered each time he got too close.
You are an amazing kid, Uchiha Sasuke. In more ways than one.
Jiraiya looked up and smiled at the concerned visage of his ward, who was poking his head into the room.
“I thought I told you to wait outside, Naruto,” he said gently yet with firmness in his tone. “Juugo, carry him out will you?”
“But what are you going to do to him? And why is Ms. Fuyutsuki with you?”
The adults exchanged a quick but poignant look and Ms. Fuyutsuki smiled. “We want to help your friend, Naruto. You trust us, don’t you?”
The blond stared into the warm eyes of a woman he had come to see as more than just ‘auntie’ over the years. Memories of her cradling him within her embrace, singing songs or sharing stories…all the cakes and cookies she had baked…the bento lunches she had packed…the secret tears of sadness she had shed after his street fights…her scolding when he misbehaved…or how much fun she’d have with him on their outings to the local park when he was little – all came rushing to his mind as he watched her kneel next to Sasuke’s head.
“Get out of here, Naruto,” Jiraiya said, an edge of impatience in his voice. “We have to get started as quickly as possible.”
“Come on,” Juugo cajoled as he began to push Naruto out of the room gently. “Let’s join the others.”
The ‘others’ were sitting in the main lobby downstairs with either pensive or worried expressions on their faces. Shikamaru, Chouji, Kiba and the girls sat on a long couch. Haku was beneath Sai’s feet, sitting Indian style. Suigetsu and Karin were standing next to Kakashi, and all turned as they noticed Naruto and Juugo approaching.
“What happened?” Amaru asked as she jumped from the couch to run up to Naruto. “How is he?”
“I don’t know,” the boy replied, accepting her embrace absently. “They told us to leave and reassured us that they had everything under control.”
“I had no idea your uncle was into voodoo and stuff,” Suigetsu mumbled.
“It’s not voodoo,” Naruto began in protest, not really sure what it was his uncle or Ms. Fuyutsuki were doing anyway. It just seemed strange that they hadn’t asked for any medical supplies and having Sasuke lying on the floor in his underwear with the adults alone in the darkened room, raised a lot of questions.
“Well if it’s not voodoo, what the fuck is it?” Chouji asked in the midst of munching a cookie.
“Some people do have mystical powers,” Haku said quietly, his brow furrowed in thought as if trying to remember something. “My parents, especially my father, have a strong belief in such things and I’ve seen him heal people with just a prayer. It really is amazing.”
A tense silence fell for a minute before Suigetsu’s voice shattered it. “Soooo….you’re saying Jiraiya has the ability to heal people with prayers? Wow. Now, I know I’ve really stepped into the motherfucking Twilight Zone.”
“It’s not impossible,” Kiba retorted. “My mom said she saw Native Indians doing such things when she returned from the States. She brought a whole bunch of charms and stuff and said they worked especially when she came down with some weird disease and they prayed and chanted some things over her. She’s never been sick since then.”
“I guess that would explain a few things with you, Naruto,” Shikamaru said with a small smile.
“What do you mean?” came the bemused question.
“Your ability to heal pretty fast after all those fights,” Shikamaru replied, which caused everyone to stare at the blond as if seeing a whole new specimen for the first time. “Maybe your uncle and aunt have been working behind the scenes all this time and you never knew it.”
“Hello? My uncle’s away most of the time, dipshit! And if they were doing any chanting thing over me, you don’t think I’d have noticed by now?”
“But…” Amaru began slowly. “After what happened to you at the movie theater the other day…you were completely healed by Monday. How is that possible? You should have been in the hospital, Naruto and yet…”
“All right already!” came the frustrated roar laced with confusion. “Maybe they did something to me…”
The dark mark on your chest, remember?
“…how should I know? Point of the matter is, we should be hoping that Sasuke heals well enough to fight tomorrow. “
“Fair enough,” Suigetsu began, only to push himself away from the pillar he had been leaning against, his gaze drifting past Naruto as he noticed who was now approaching. “Oh oh, looks like the Uchiha clan is here.”
Sure enough, it was Fugaku, Itachi and Mikoto walking towards them. Mikoto looked the most worried even though she was doing a good job of trying not to show it too much.
“Where is Sasuke?” she asked before the men flanking her sides could say anything. “We went to the sick bay, but they said he wasn’t brought in.” She looked to Kakashi. “Where is he?”
“He’s with my uncle,” Naruto piped up as he took a step closer to Sasuke’s family. He suffered Fugaku’s piercing gaze, noticing the man’s lips had tightened in response to his answer. Itachi seemed indifferent, although the light squeeze on his mother’s shoulder to comfort her betrayed his concern.
“Is your uncle a doctor?” Mikoto asked in bemusement. “I thought you said he was a college professor?”
Kakashi took the opportunity to step in. “His uncle and aunt have reassured us that they will be able to help Sasuke. So we need not worry.”
“If they aren’t licensed practitioners , what the hell are they doing to my son?”
For all his seeming indifference to Sasuke, it was a bit surprising to see Fugaku this animated in regards to the whole thing. Naruto wished Sasuke could be here to see this side of his father – the side that really did care for his son despite his sometimes cold attitude.
“My aunt and uncle know what they’re doing.” I hope. “And they’ve helped me plenty of times, so I’m sure they’ll take care of Sasuke. We’ve just got to give them a chance.”
“Come on, Dad…Mom,” Itachi said quietly. “Let’s go back to the hotel and wait. I’m sure Kakashi will let us know if any news comes in.”
Mikoto looked unsure, but seeing the determination in Naruto’s eyes seemed to ease her worries a little. “Well here is the phone number to the hotel room we’re staying in,” she said, digging through her bag to find the courtesy business cards handed to guests. “Please, be sure to call us as soon as you hear anything.”
“You bet, ma’am,” Naruto replied with a smile, only to blush as he noticed Itachi staring intently at him. What now?
However, all he said, with an amiable expression on his features was, “My brother has surrounded himself with good friends. I’m glad to see that. Uzumaki Naruto, right?”
“Yea…yeah? What is it?”
“Take good care of him on my behalf, hmm?” He gave a wink and turned away to catch up to his parents, leaving the blond slack jawed and Suigetsu snickering behind him.
“You have very nice in-laws, Naruto,” came the tease from the other boy. “When’s the wedding?”
“Shut the fuck up!” Naruto retorted, even though his face was doing a good impression of a tomato. He ignored the chuckles from the others as he plopped into a seat and stubbornly turned his face away from them.
From all Sasuke had told him, the impression he had of Itachi was completely different than he expected. He had sensed no animosity and if anything, Itachi had looked like he was genuinely happy and pleased for his younger brother. Naruto wondered if both boys had had the chance to talk since the tournament began. If they hadn’t, he was determined to get them to do so, even if Sasuke proved to be difficult about it.
Half an hour passed to find Kakashi reading a novel. Suigetsu’s announcement of being hungry and going to grab something to eat at the cafeteria, had he, Karin, Juugo, Chouji, Kiba and their girls all following him. Sai had mentioned something about wanting to see another part of the hotel for his sketches, and Haku was all too glad to push him, saying they’d return when any news was received.
Only Naruto and Shikamaru were still awake, with Amaru’s head on the blond’s lap as she dozed off. Naruto glanced over at his friend.
“Visited Temari yet?”
Shikamaru nodded. “Yeah. She’s doing much better even though she’s going to need crutches for a while. What about you? Visited Omoi yet?”
Naruto felt guilty at the reminder. With all that was going on, he hadn’t even thought about his friend since Deidara’s antics. “I’ll check him out as soon as I make sure Sasuke’s all right,” he finally said. “I’m sure he’ll be fine though. Omoi’s much tougher than he looks.”
“That worried about Sasuke, eh?”
Naruto had the grace to blush at the insinuation. “He’s my teammate,” came the low mumble. “Of course I’m supposed to be…”
Shikamaru chuckled at the discomfort on his friend’s face and decided to let up the teasing. “I wonder why Gaara didn’t finish him off. It was clear he could have made a last charge for Sasuke and might have won.”
Naruto was more than aware of what Shikamaru was implying and he too wondered why the Sand fighter had not continued. He had noticed the Gaara looking at him a few times throughout the fight, and Naruto wondered if he had said anything to cause the outcome of the match. Either way, he had to thank Gaara for not going all the way. He really had given Sasuke something to think about in regards to his match tomorrow. Watching Sasuke bear the pain throughout the match had been brutal to watch. It was all Naruto could do not to dash up to the ring to stop the fight, but he knew Sasuke wouldn’t have appreciated it.
You had better make it, Sasuke, he prayed fervently. I’m begging you!
Naruto eyed the large clock in the lobby and then at the elevators with longing. He wished he could get back upstairs, but the weight on his lap was a reminder that if he moved, the girl would want to follow as well. He eyed Amaru with an inward sigh, realizing he’d really have to have a talk with her in regards to their relationship. But until then…
He glanced at the elevators again, and Shikamaru cut into his thoughts with a soft chuckle. “I’ll take care of her, Naruto,” he said, moving closer to pull the sleeping girl against him. “Go on. I’ll tell the others when they come back.”
“Thanks, Shika,” he whispered, sliding away from Amaru and all but dashing towards the elevators. However, there seemed to be a considerable amount of people waiting to use it as well and being too impatient, he ran towards the stairs and began to climb them two at a time.
He burst onto the sixth floor, panting and trying to catch his breath. The corridor was empty and eerily quiet, but as he approached their hotel room, he felt an unexplainable cold chill. He froze before the door, eyes widening as there seemed to be a blue glow emanating from the tiny slit at the bottom. He couldn’t be sure, but was that a dull hum he was hearing? Unaware of his hands trembling, Naruto reached out for the handle, but hissed and withdrew his stinging fingers at how hot it felt to the touch.
What the hell’s going on in there? Sasu…
A sudden howl of anguish that seemed to be wrenched from the gut, had Naruto’s eyes widening in fear and panic. He dashed towards the door and would have reached for the handle when he remembered how it had almost seared his flesh. With near desperation, he began to pound on the door, calling out Sasuke’s name.
“What are you doing to him?! What the hell’s going on?! Open the motherfucking door and let me in! UNCLE! Goddamnit!”
He slumped to the floor after five minutes of this, biting his lower lip so hard he could taste blood. He was shaking so bad, he could barely see and with a groan of dismay, he raised his knees and buried his face against them - not wanting to break down in tears at the overwhelming feeling of helplessness that washed over him.
Sasuke is dying. They are killing him all in an attempt to heal him. Shit. Shit! Shit!!
In his deep funk, it took him a while to finally realize that Sasuke wasn’t screaming anymore and that the door was slowly opening…on its own. He lifted his head, blinking dumbly at the dimness in the room, before jumping to his feet and pushing the door the rest of the way in to see just what was taking place.
“I swear one of these days, I’m going to tape your mouth shut for good, Naruto,” Jiraiya mumbled from the chair in which he had slumped in. He looked exhausted but satisfied, and even managed to give his ward a small smile.
Ms. Fuyutsuki was tucking Sasuke into his bed, and as Naruto walked closer, he could see the boy looked…well… normal enough. The blood that had once caked his face from his wounds had been cleaned. In fact, Sasuke’s face looked as if he had not received a single scratch. If anything, his skin looked flawless and unblemished, but most importantly, he looked peaceful as he slept.
“What…what did you guys do to him?”
Naruto looked into Ms. Fuyutsuki’s face, noticing for the first time how young she really looked. He had never seen her hair down before, and had to do a double take to be sure it was actually the same woman who had nursed him all these years.
“Who are you?” He turned to Jiraiya. “What’s going on here? Uncle?”
“I think it’s time to tell him,” Ms. Fuyutsuki said as she walked over to the windows to pull aside the curtains, letting in the fading light from sunset.
“Do I have to?” Jiraiya groaned, eyeing Naruto who looked ready to explode if he didn’t hear the truth anytime soon. “Fine, fine. Have a seat, you annoying little brat. Maybe I should explain everything from the beginning.”
By the time Jiraiya was done, Naruto was sitting on the chair opposite him with a dumbfounded expression on his visage. He eyed the couple sitting side-by-side and realized he should have put two and two together all this time. No wonder his uncle had never really bothered to hire another maid. With Ms. Fuyutsuki and her ‘special ability’ as a priestess, it would be a cinch for her to do all the housework without complaining or needing extra help.
“Well?” Jiraiya finally asked after a long minute of silence. “Ready to move out of the house and away from the weird people living with you?”
“Are you kidding? Where the fuck will I sleep?” came the quick retort. “And where else can I get to eat all the delicious foods auntie cooks, huh? Or who the hell am I going to keep calling perverted old man, eh? Pfft.” He rose to his feet and stretched his arms over his head. “Don’t think you’re getting rid of me that quickly. I’ll decide when I get to leave and that’s that.”
He began to leave the room, not wanting to look into the grateful and surprised expressions on the adults faces. Perhaps they had really expected him to be angry about the truth, but how could he be? They were his family and had always been there for him. Losing them now was not an option.
“Oh, and one more thing.”
“What’s that, Naruto?” Jiraiya asked.
Naruto smirked and looked over his shoulder. “Just marry her already, Uncle. I need a little brother or sister and soon.”
With that, he left the flummoxed adults, closing the door to the room behind him to lean against it with a soft chuckle.
That should give them something to think about.
“For now…” He grinned and jogged towards the elevators with excitement. “Time to tell the others the good news.”
Suigetsu hummed to himself as he slipped into his pajamas bottoms before sliding beneath the blanket to prepare for much needed sleep. He had contemplated being with Karin tonight, but she was in one of her funky moods (must be her PMS or something) and so hightailed it. There was no getting to her when she became uber bitchy.
They had all marveled at the way Sasuke looked after Naruto told them the news. Their captain was still sleeping and hadn’t moved a muscle since the voodoo magic Naruto’s folks had performed on him. All Suigetsu knew was that they were geniuses and he’d have to convince the old man and his woman to work on him one of these days.
The bathroom door opened and Naruto stepped out in a pair of black boxers, still slightly wet from the shower he had taken. He glanced at the sleeping Sasuke, wondering just how long the boy planned to sleep, but then again, he himself had slept for over twelve hours after his ‘treatment’ so it really wasn’t much of a surprise.
“Think he’ll be awake in time for his match tomorrow?” Suigetsu asked, slightly joking and yet serious. It wouldn’t do for Sasuke to oversleep and not have time to practice at least.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Naruto replied as he flopped on his bed with arms beneath his head.
The boys remained silent for a while lost in their thoughts, before Suigetsu spoke up.
“That guy…Pein or whatever. You might end up fighting him tomorrow.”
“I wonder why he didn’t show up today.”
Naruto shrugged, wishing he still smoked. He was feeling anxious even though he did not show it. The soreness from last night was ebbing away and he was sure by tomorrow he’d be able to fight with no problems. However, Suigetsu had posed a good question. He couldn’t really remember what Sai’s report on Pein’s fighting style had been, but after watching the other Akatsuki fighters, it was clear that their abilities lay in being able to absorb their opponents’ ki. Naruto knew he’d have to be extra careful tomorrow if he hoped to win.
“…that Kisame guy.”
“I said, I wonder how Sasuke would do against that Kisame guy.”
Naruto smiled grimly. “He’ll win. He has to.”
Suigetsu slid a glance at the blond. “That confident, eh?”
“He promised he would and I believe in him.”
It took another second to realize how his statement sounded and he turned crimson at the soft chuckle from his teammate.
“Man, you two are hopeless,” Suigetsu muttered as he closed his eyes. “Never really thought you’d end up swinging both ways, Naruto. So…how was it?”
Naruto blinked. “How was what?”
“The butt sex, dipshit.”
Naruto felt even hotter and he tried to ignore his discomfort by giving Suigetsu the finger. “Go to bed, asshole.”
“That great, huh?” Suigetsu laughed as he opened his eyes. “I knew Sasuke was the man, but damn, now I’ve really got to consider him The Man, know what I mean?”
“All right, all right. I’ll quit.” A long pause and then the sing-song tease. “Sweet butt sex dreams, Naruto.”
He couldn’t escape the pillow that was chucked at him from across the room, and before long, both boys were engaged in as quiet a pillow fight as they could manage, neither wanting to wake their sleeping captain from his much deserved rest.
At the crack of dawn, Sasuke finally lifted his lashes. Light snores heralded his waking state, and he noticed Suigetsu…again lying the wrong way on his bed with drool accumulating on the blanket which lay askew around him. He turned his head the other way to see Naruto wasn’t sleeping any better. He was almost falling off the bed, mouth slightly open…drool in place and looking simply delectable in only his boxers.
Unfortunately, Sasuke knew he’d have to curb whatever early morning desires he had as he struggled to remember what happened to him after his fight with Gaara. He remembered being in a lot of pain and barely able to walk…falling into Naruto’s arms and then…nothing.
Come to think of it…why aren’t you aching all over anymore, Sasuke?
He lifted his right arm and stared at his hand – the one that had managed to penetrate through Gaara’s shield. The ki had left deep red welts on his flesh, but to his chagrin, there was nothing there now. His arm looked as good as it had always been, if not better (a cut he had suffered from trying to pry open a can last week, had vanished as well). He pushed down the blanket to look at his torso, and again, it looked as if he hadn’t been involved in any fights since the day he was born. Faint scars he had accumulated over the years were no longer there…except for the tiny black mark (about the size of a coin) that was now etched above his right nipple.
He caressed it gently, wondering if one of the boys had played a trick on him by drawing the circle there. But try as hard as he might to rub it off, it wouldn’t go away.
The hell is this?
Naruto squirmed and turned on the bed, and as Sasuke turned to look at him again, his sharp gaze caught something familiar on the blond’s bare chest…besides the necklace which he didn’t even take off in sleep. Sasuke swung his legs off the bed to take a closer look, and was more than surprised to see that Naruto had the same dark mark.
Wait…that’s always been there, hasn’t it?
He had only assumed it was a birthmark and never really thought much about it, but on closer inspection, both marks looked exactly alike. Before he could control himself, he reached out to caress the mark on Naruto’s chest, causing the blond to shiver and moan at the sensation. Smiling, Sasuke’s fingers danced across Naruto’s chest to flick the nipples gently and he was rewarded with a firm grip on his wrist from the blond who was now wide awake.
“Good morning, Naruto,” Sasuke said softly.
“Sasu….mmm.” His words were trapped between the meeting of their lips, a low moan muffled as he parted them to allow Sasuke more access. He let go of Sasuke’s wrist to wrap his arms around the other boy’s neck, forcing their bodies together as the kiss deepened.
“Mmm…” he finally muttered thickly as Sasuke pulled away a little to catch his breath. “And good morning to you too, Sasuke.”
His captain smiled and buried his face against Naruto’s neck, placing tender kisses there as they remained in that position for a while. They knew they didn’t dare give in to their growing arousals, for not only was Suigetsu in the room, they had matches today and needed all the strength they could conserve.
“How do you feel?” Naruto finally asked, his fingertips tracing small circles across Sasuke’s bare shoulders.
“Right now? Trying not to suffer through a serious case of blue balls.”
Naruto flushed. “Shut the fuck up. You know what I mean.”
Sasuke chuckled and looked up and into the blue eyes he found so beautiful. “I feel great to be honest. What happened to me, Naruto? The last I remember is falling into your arms and being in so much pain, I couldn’t stand it.”
Naruto smiled and reached up to cradle Sasuke’s bemused countenance between his hands. “My uncle and auntie healed you.”
Sasuke blinked. “What?”
Naruto nodded towards the mark on Sasuke’s chest. “That wasn’t there yesterday, right? Same with me, after that whole thing with Kisame.” He told Sasuke of Jiraiya’s story, watching with interest as Sasuke’s eyes seemed to widen in either disbelief or surprise, Naruto couldn’t be sure. Finally, the dark-haired boy crawled off Naruto to lie beside him, gaze fixed on the ceiling as he tried to digest all he had heard.
“Wow…I guess I ought to really thank them for this.” Absently, he caressed his chest and then turned his head a little to look into Naruto’s curious eyes. “You do know what this means now, don’t you?”
The blonde looked confused. “What?”
Sasuke smirked. “We’re bonded now, stupid. We both have the same seal or whatever inside of us. Which means…”
He leaned closer, resting his forehead against Naruto’s, a hand reaching for the blond’s to entwine their fingers together. “It means we’re connected for the rest of our lives, Naruto. You belong to me and I to you…always.”
His heart pounding harder in his chest, Naruto struggled not to feel like he was melting into a puddle of goo. Why Sasuke felt the need to spout such mushy things to mess his head up like this, Naruto would never know. “You’ve been reading way too many romance novels, Uchiha Sasuke.”
“I don’t read that crap.”
“Well, stop saying such things then.”
“What’s wrong with what I’m saying?”
“It’s…it’s…it’s embarrassing…” Naruto finished lamely, lowering his gaze, only to feel Sasuke’s fingers beneath his chin forcing him to look up again.
“I don’t care, Naruto.” He teased the blond with a feather light kiss, whispering thickly against them as he finally said the three words that sent Naruto’s entire being flaming with heat.
“We should get ready,” came the sudden command as the boy got off Naruto’s body to stretch, before heading to the bathroom without a look back. “Wake up, Suigetsu. We don’t want to be late.”
Naruto blinked at the door slamming behind Sasuke, sitting up and wondering what he had done to cause the other boy to leave so suddenly.
Geez! And just when I was about to tell him how I felt too.
In the bathroom, Sasuke slid to the floor to bury his face against his raised knees in misery. Telling Naruto that he loved him had been the easy part, but he had ‘run away’ before the blond could say anything else. He knew Naruto was still not ready and not wanting to deal with the boy’s fickle emotions, he had broken the tension with his reminder for them to get ready for the day. Besides…it was better this way. The ball was now in Naruto’s court and he’d have to make the final move.
“Are we going to a funeral?” Suigetsu grumbled as he chewed on his toast, eyeing the table where his teammates seemed too lost in their thoughts. “What’s with everyone looking morose? We’re in the motherfucking finals! We should be celebrating or something.”
“We’ll have plenty of time to celebrate if we win our matches,” Kakashi said with a small smile.
“Don’t you mean ‘when’?” Naruto replied, stealing a glance at Sasuke who wasn’t reciprocating the gesture. Must be trying to get into the fighting mood or zone or whatever. The boy hadn’t cracked a smile since they left their hotel room.
“There they are.”
Naruto perked up at the familiar voice of his friend, noticing Omoi leading the way as Team Cloud made their appearance. His face was still swathed with bandages, which only revealed his eyes and lips. Yugito was walking with crutches, Samui close by her side, while Karui had made a beeline for the breakfast bar to help herself to something.
“Hi ya, brother!” Naruto greeted, standing up to hug the other boy. “Come to wish us luck?”
“Yup. Hey, everyone,” he hailed as the other members of team Taka waved back or grunted or nodded in response.
“Just a warning,” Yugito began, not exactly looking friendly as she eyed the group. “Akatsuki will try to win by any means.”
“I don’t think Deidara will be fighting,” Samui added. “We just saw him still limping. However, you have to realize that they are extremely fast. Uzumaki Naruto…”
“We have not seen your fighting skills, but we did get a chance to see Pein in the preliminaries. His technique seems to be the ability to expend a tremendous wave of ki that can paralyze you in an instant.”
“He doesn’t break a sweat,” Karui chimed in as she approached the table with a muffin in hand. “Don’t look at his eyes either if you can help it. I think they hypnotize you or something.”
“How do you know that?” Karin asked.
“We asked the fighters from the schools they fought. One of the guys said he felt his whole body shake when Pein looked at him…like the kid was manipulating him with his eyes or something. Just don’t look at them.”
Naruto nodded solemnly. “Thanks for the tips. Really. You guys didn’t have to do this…”
“You’re damn right we didn’t,” Yugito said curtly. “But if we can avenge our defeat through your victory, we can at least leave this tournament with our heads held high. Good luck.”
“Yeah, good luck,” Omoi said, eyes alight since the act of smiling was still a bitch. “We’ll be rooting for you in the audience.”
Naruto smiled as he watched the Hiro fighters make their way to the opposite end of the dining room, and taking a deep breath, he rose to his feet with a determined glint in his eyes. “All right! Now, I’m really eager to get this fight started. Sensei! Let’s go already!”
“That’s fine,” the teacher said as he stood up. “But first…Sasuke, your family’s waiting for you in the lobby. I promised to give them word on your condition and they’re eager to see you.”
Naruto noticed the faint blush that filled Sasuke’s cheeks as their captain nodded and prepared to leave. “Hey, Sasuke.”
“What is it, Naruto?”
“Itachi…” He wondered how to put this without pissing off the other boy. “I think you should talk to him. He doesn’t seem so bad and was actually quite friendly.”
Sasuke looked bemused for a moment before realizing that he hadn’t told Naruto about his meeting with Itachi yet. “Thanks,” he said aloud with a small smile. “We’ve already spoken…and things are going to be okay between us…I think.”
Naruto grinned in genuine relief. “Awesome!”
“Yeah, your future in-laws are all one big happy family,” Suigetsu teased and was rewarded with Naruto making a dive for him and trying to grab him a chokehold.
Sasuke hid his blush by turning away quickly to make his way out of the dining room. In his haste, he bumped into someone and automatically reached out to steady whoever it was, when he met the familiar teal eyes that had caused him great pain yesterday. Both boys stared at each other with Gaara’s eyes widening as he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. This couldn’t possibly be the same Uchiha Sasuke who had been bleeding and barely able to stand, was it? It had to be an imposter. No one could heal that fast in so short a time!
“Hello, Gaara,” Sasuke greeted calmly. “Good thing I caught you here as I have a question that’s been bugging the hell out of me.”
Gaara said nothing, but Sasuke wasn’t deterred. “Why didn’t you finish me off yesterday? You had your opportunity. Why did you stop?”
The shorter boy made as if to move past Sasuke, but the Konoha fighter was having none of it. He placed a hand on Gaara’s wrist to hold him prisoner. “Well?”
“You said you made a promise to your friend,” came the even reply. “I can understand not wanting to break such a thing. Besides, you fought well, Uchiha Sasuke and I was unable to keep up my shields much longer. It would have been only a matter of time before I lost the match anyway.”
He eyed his wrist. “Will you release me now? You have a match to prepare for, correct?”
Sasuke withdrew his hand and both boys shared a final look of mutual respect before going their separate ways. He and Gaara weren’t going to be friends anytime soon, but at least they could agree that the match had given each a sneak peek at what they were capable of. Next time, if there was a next time, both would be more emotionally settled enough to fight with no distractions.
“Heh, I see Sasuke’s not here after all,” Deidara said aloud as he hobbled in with Sasori holding onto his arm, much to the blond’s inner irritation. He hated feeling helpless in any situation. However, he smirked at the Konoha fighters stretching. “Too bad for you guys. This final isn’t even going to be that exciting.”
Team Taka members shared a knowing look amongst themselves, neither saying anything. Sasuke was late due to the meeting with his family. They were going to bring him to the auditorium themselves and if his last text message to Kakashi was any indication, he should be arriving any minute.
Pein and Kisame walked in soon after, neither boy talking to each other as they too eyed their opponents. Naruto watched Pein carefully. The redhead walked with a slouch, that long hair of his still covering most of his face.
/Don’t look into his eyes if you can help it./
Was that the reason why his eyes were ‘blocked’ by his hair? Were they that dangerous that he was afraid of anyone looking into them even when not fighting? Naruto couldn’t help flinching as Pein lifted his head to stare directly at him. The blond waited for some kind tingle or feeling of being hypnotized (not that he knew how he was supposed to feel actually), but he felt no different. If anything, he noticed Pein seemed to be … blushing? Before he turned away quickly to read through the event program which had been distributed to the audience.
“Where’s the girl?” Naruto finally asked.
“She’s not going to be needed,” Kisame replied with a grin, which was supposed to be amiable one would assume, but had the opposite effect. “She has chosen to remain in the hotel room to rest.”
Naruto shook his head in disbelief. He didn’t buy that for a minute, after all, Konan had made it clear she was eager to watch him fight.
“All right! Are we all here?” came the booming voice of the announcer guy, who bounded into the room, rubbing his hands together in delight. “Are you all ready to get started, hmm?”
“Wait…” Naruto said as he rose to his feet. “We’re missing one person.”
He almost burst out laughing at the brief but undeniable looks of bemusement that came to the Akatsuki members’ faces. To them, Sasuke was no longer in the picture, so what could Naruto possibly mean by…
“Sorry, I’m late,” came the familiar voice of their captain as he walked into the arena, trying not to show that he had been running like a madman to get there. He barely glanced at Akatsuki as he walked past, but did catch Kisame’s eyes, a cold smirk coming to his lips as he noticed the aghast look on the bigger boy’s face.
“No problem, Sasuke,” Naruto said with a wide grin, holding out a clenched fist to greet his teammate with a fist bump. “Ready?”
“More than ready.”
Suigetsu sneered and eyed their opponents, especially Deidara who looked like he had eaten something gross. “Hey, douche bag! You were saying?”
Deidara scoffed and turned away to hobble out of the room with Sasori in tow. He definitely had to let Konan know about this.
“Fantastic!” the announcer guy cried out oblivious to the tension amongst the fighters. “Now you all know the protocol and rules by now, so I won’t even bother you all with that. So go out there, make it good and enjoy yourselves all right? Win or lose, you’re all winners for making it this far. Congrats and good luck!”
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! WELCOME TO THE FINALS OF THE 85TH MARTIAL ARTS TOURNAMENT!”
The audience erupted in applause as the umpire made the long-awaited announcement. The performance groups had just finished and the auditorium was buzzing with anticipation. Most were wearing Konoha’s colors of green and red, waving flags and blowing party horns, giving the place an atmosphere of being at a baseball game instead of an indoor martial arts tournament. Akatsuki wasn’t short of supporters either, as the somber colors of red and black made up a nice chunk of the crowd, their voices eager to be heard over the more boisterous ones of the opposing side.
“We started with 32 schools and have dwindled down to only two, ladies and gentlemen! We’ve seen the best fighters dazzle us with their skills, but today, I’m sure you’re going to see moves like never before! So without much ado, let’s welcome our finalists! From Seihou Gakuen…AKATSUKI!”
Only Pein and Kisame walked up to the ring, causing a few bemused expressions to flicker across the spectators faces despite the raucous applause.
“And from Konoha High … TEAM TAKA!”
Sasuke led the way, followed by Naruto, Suigetsu, Karin and Juugo bringing up the rear. They bowed to the grandmasters and V.I.P before turning to the audience to bow in appreciation. They could make out their main cheering section and Naruto was surprised to see Fugaku sitting next to Jiraiya, both men engaged in conversation despite the chaos around them.
“Whoa, my uncle and your dad are buddies now?” Naruto whispered into Sasuke’s ear.
“I told my parents what you told me, so I guess he’s thanking your uncle or something.”
Naruto grinned and watched his family noticing too that Ms. Fuyutsuki and Mikoto were sitting next to each other, waving Konoha’s school flags and acting like excited teenage girls. Poor Itachi looked like he was constantly being squeezed and hugged by the overzealous women, and seemed to plea with the boys on stage to rescue him. Also in the mix were, of course, Shika, Kiba, Chouji and their girls. Amaru was next to Haku and Sai, who had a small smile on his pale visage. His good luck wish to his teammates had been heartfelt and genuine and all who listened realized how much it had meant to Sai. If legs could be traded, Naruto felt he would have gladly done so, only to give Sai an opportunity to be a part of this. He could also make out Team Cloud and the Sand members – not really sitting next to each other, but still watching and applauding for them all the same.
Thanks everyone, Naruto thought and took a deep breath. Somehow, just knowing he had those people on their side, made him less anxious.
They were ushered off the stage and down to their sections, where Kakashi was quick to pull aside the three fighters for the day’s matches. Sasuke, Naruto and Juugo.
“Looks like they’re using only Pein and Kisame…with the assumption they won’t be needing a third fighter, or if it comes to that, Kisame will probably go again.”
“Damn bastards keep taking us lightly,” Naruto growled.
“Then it’s up to you to set the tone, Naruto,” Kakashi replied, with a gentle squeeze of the blond’s shoulder. “Remember what Karui said.”
“I got it.”
“Fighters to the ring please!”
Naruto bounced up and down and cracked his knuckles. It felt like it had been ages since he got into a fight…at least a real one (the Lin match had been a joke), and his insides were beginning to thrum with that familiar rush of adrenaline.
“Kick some ass, blondie!” Suigetsu yelled.
“Yeah, Naruto! You can do it!” came Karin’s cheer.
Juugo simply gave a warm smile and Sasuke…well, he didn’t need to say a word, for his eyes said it all. Naruto felt a welcome warmth in his heart at the sight and gave a soft nod of understanding. Leaping onto the ring, he walked up to the umpire, tightening the belt around his waist as they waited for Pein to approach. Naruto, feeling suddenly good-natured, gave his opponent a genuine smile as he bowed in greeting. Pein, however, seemed taken aback by this and actually looked a bit horrified, causing Naruto to blink in confusion.
Geez. What’s his problem?! You’d think he’s never seen anyone smile at him before. Creepy bastard.
Naruto fell into his stance, eyes narrowed as Pein duplicated his movement.
From the onset, Naruto knew he was going in for close combat and wasn’t disappointed as Pein seemed ready for him. His fist was blocked quickly, Pein moving with an agility that betrayed his slouchy demeanor. Naruto struck out with his other hand and that too was blocked, both hands now trapped within Pein’s as the redhead raised his knee to deliver a blow. However, Naruto was quick to jump out of the way, spinning above Pein in a surprise move that forced the redhead to release his grip. Landing to the floor, Naruto deftly lifted a leg to perform a side kick, and that would have worked beautifully, if it wasn’t for Pein doing a nice back flip to dodge the incoming attack. Hardly giving the blond a chance to recover from the missed opportunity, Pein dashed towards Naruto and delivered a solid roundhouse kick to the blond’s side.
Naruto staggered backwards, holding his throbbing side while fighting back the urge to scream in agony. For a scrawny kid like Pein, his kicks sure packed a punch.
At least he’s not paralyzing me yet so…
He crouched and with that blinding speed that had taken Lin by surprise, he gunned for Pein, smirking at the boy’s gasp as he wrapped an arm around his waist…
Cripes! Does he eat?!
…twisted them around and bent over backwards to perform an unconventional German suplex.
“I didn’t know we were in a wrestling tournament,” Suigetsu commented as Kakashi slapped a hand over his face. Sasuke was trying not to laugh and had to turn away from the ring to compose himself. No one could say that the blond loudmouth wasn’t full of surprises.
Naruto gave a light grunt and extricated himself from the other boy, watching as Pein seemed to flop back to the floor, unable to move. Naruto wondered if he had slammed the boy too hard, but was rewarded with a surprise as he made the mistake of looking directly into Pein’s exposed eye. He had always assumed the boy had black pupils, but was stunned to see that it looked blood red…as if he was suffering from internal bleeding that make it look frightening.
Naruto tried to move away quickly, but his legs suddenly felt as they were anchored to the floor. He growled and tried to get them to cooperate with him, watching warily as Pein staggered to his feet, obviously still in pain thanks to Naruto’s barbaric technique. He rotated his neck and then shook his head, but that was his mistake, for he had taken his eyes off Naruto, who was now charging for him again. Try as hard as he might to dodge, Pein was unable to prevent the left side of his face from exploding in blinding pain as Naruto struck with a punch obviously filled with ki. He stumbled back to the floor, holding his aching face and looked up at Naruto who was running towards him again.
Naruto was definitely not expecting what happened next, for Pein had simply thrust his hands out before him, sending him flying across the ring with deep welts on his flesh from whatever technique Pein had just used. Falling to his knees, Naruto tried to catch his breath, but realized with growing panic that his lungs felt too tight…his airflow passage constricted. It was the same sensation experienced after Kisame touched him, only this time, it was ten times worse.
He couldn’t control the cough that escaped his sore throat and wasn’t surprised to find a mixture of phlegm and blood on the floor as a result of this. Odd as it might seem, Naruto could distinctly hear Amaru’s cry of ‘Naruto!’ from the audience. Not that it was surprising she’d be concerned, after all she had been there the night it happened.
Goddamnit! I thought uncle and auntie had taken care of this…guess it wasn’t meant to be attacked again so soon…
“Argh!” He hardly dodged Pein’s series of kicks and punches, for the more he moved, the more difficult it became to breathe. It finally got so bad, Naruto couldn’t control or prevent the second wave of ki that was sent his way. The already dark welts on his flesh broke open and to anyone watching, it looked like Naruto had been brutally whipped. His gi was ripped in several places and with a sickening thud to the floor, he lay still and unable to move a muscle.
“Oh God, no…” Karin whispered and slumped to the floor, unable to watch anymore as the tears fell.
Suigetsu was gritting his teeth as he pounded a fist on the ring’s tarp surface in frustration. “Naruto!” he yelled. “Get up! Come on! Naruto!”
Sasuke, who gave an outward appearance of being calm and collected, was a mess inside. His arms, which were folded across his chest, had hands that were clenched into fists to control his trembling. He stared at Naruto’s prone figure and felt his heart tighten. Every punch and slash of the blond’s body had affected him in ways he couldn’t describe and now…
Get up, Naruto! For today…unleash that beast inside of you, goddamnit! You cannot fucking leave me now!
It began with a sudden thump of a heartbeat that had slowed down. Within, his heart seemed to expand and contract, forcing the rapid flow of blood through the once blocked arteries and veins. There was the familiar coil of heat in the pit of his stomach, getting hotter with each forced thump of his pumping heart. His fingers twitched on the tarp, and Pein, who had been ready to leave the ring – since it was apparent his opponent was defeated even if the stupid umpire was still hovering over Naruto as if hoping the blond would awaken – felt something…different. He paused in mid-stride and looked over his shoulder. It still looked as if Naruto was comatose, and as the umpire began to motion for the medics to come closer, Pein walked back into the ring to eye Naruto with great interest.
“There’ll be no need for them,” he finally said to the umpire. “Look…he’s waking up again.”
“What?” The umpire looked back at the blond and what he saw had him wondering if he needed to buy himself a pair of glasses. Naruto’s face was scrunched up as if tasting something that did not appeal to him, but what was more amazing was that the bleeding had stopped. The wounds were still there, but the blood flow had ceased completely.
Kakashi felt the sudden change in ki and frowned in growing worry. This was definitely not what they needed now. If Naruto went berserk and couldn’t control himself…
“Let him be, sensei,” Sasuke said quietly as he noticed his teacher about to step into the ring to stop the fight. “I’ll take care of it if it gets out of hand.”
The umpire meanwhile was in euphoric heaven. “Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s not call this fight yet! Seems like Uzumaki Naruto is getting a second wind! Amazing!”
The fire in him grew hotter still and Naruto struggled to hold it back in. He hadn’t been practicing all this time to control his ki, only to have it all go to waste now. However…he looked up and noticed Pein about to perform that damn ki wave thing of his again, and with a light grunt of concentration, he disappeared from sight.
A collective gasp of shock went through the audience. Even his teammates had to blink to be sure they weren’t seeing things. Naruto was simply…gone.
“Uum….it looks like we’ve lost Naruto, ladies and gentlemen,” the umpire announced as he looked up, down, left and right in growing anxiety. “But I’m sure he must have taken a bathroom break and will return shortly.”
His lame attempt at a joke was not appreciated by many…except one person who suddenly reappeared behind Pein with a feral grin on his features. “Nice one, Mr. Umpire.”
The redhead’s eyes widened in disbelief. “What the…argh!”
With no warning, he found himself crashing into the table of judges, who again had to scurry out of the way. Naruto lowered the leg he had used to kick his opponent and seemed to disappear again. He appeared seconds later in front of Pein, lifting him by the scruff of his gi to deliver a clenched fist, filled with ki, into his stomach. Pein’s gurgle of agony was punctuated by the spurt of blood that escaped his lips and splashed on Naruto’s face and gi. He tried to protect himself, or better yet to get a good gauge of where Naruto was, but each time the blond seemed to disappear and reappear, each time leaving Pein with a little extra present.
By the time he was through, Pein was a quivering, bloodied mass on the floor. He desperately tried to use his eyes to hold Naruto in place, but he couldn’t explain the surge of power that made Naruto nearly invincible. He looked at the boy hovering above him and trembled as his eyes ‘deceived’ him. For instead of Naruto, Pein could something else in his place. He knew he was only imagining things, because he just couldn’t have seen Naruto’s ki take the form of a beast that seemed to be engulfed in fire. No…such a thing was definitely impossible. He squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the final blow, surprisingly feeling a little at peace with himself. He had given it his best and now…
“No! You’ve defeated him, so let him go!”
He lifted swollen eyelids to stare at the girl who was kneeling before him, arms spread out to prevent Naruto from delivering the punch intended for her teammate. Her normally cold eyes were filled with angry tears, her lips quivering as she stared defiantly at the blond teen.
“Please…” she begged, her voice trembling as the tears finally broke free. “Let him go, Uzumaki Naruto.”
Just as suddenly as it had come, Naruto felt the fire weakening and he blinked a few times as if trying to regain his senses. He stared dumbly at his bloodied fists and slowly lowered them in shame, taking a step back as he realized what he had done.
“I’m…I didn’t mean to…I’m sorry…”
“Why are you apologizing?” the girl asked. “A fighter never apologizes for defeating an opponent. He put up a good fight, but you were better today. That is all.”
“Does he need a stretcher?” the umpire asked as he hovered in the background.
Konan shook her head and helped Pein to his feet. “No, we’ll be fine.” In a much gentler voice, she smiled (something Naruto had never seen before and which, quite frankly, made Konan even prettier) at Pein. “Come on. Let’s go back.”
The redhead blushed and nodded softly, allowing himself to be led away, but not before looking over his shoulder to give Naruto a weak smile. “Good fight, Uzumaki Naruto. Next time, I’ll definitely be ready for you.”
“I look forward to it,” Naruto replied with a smile of his own, barely registering the appreciative applause given to the two of them as cleaners appeared to wipe the floor. He leaped out of the ring and into his teammates’ relived but excited embraces and handshakes, wincing as the effects of the fight began to make themselves apparent with Karin’s overenthusiastic hugs.
“Do you need to go to the sick bay?” Kakashi asked.
“And miss the next fight? No fucking way,” Naruto replied as he smirked at Sasuke who chuckled, but then looked serious as Kisame was already stepping into the ring without waiting for his name to be announced.
“Looks like he’s way too eager to get started,” Naruto muttered.
“No mercy, Sasuke,” Suigetsu growled, now wishing he could have his chance to fight Kisame next…not that he hoped Sasuke would lose of course.
Their captain leapt onto the ring, dark eyes narrowed as he stared at the sneering boy before him.
“I won’t say I’m not surprised to see you here, Uchiha Sasuke. Last I saw, you looked like you were on Death’s door.” Kisame grinned. “I’ll be more than glad to send you back there.”
Sasuke said nothing, preferring to turn around to bow to the grandmasters and audience in respect, before turning back to his opponent.
Sasuke, who had fallen into a traditional stance, did not move. Neither did Kisame who had his arms still folded across his chest as if observing an interesting specimen.
/Watch out for his hands./
Easier said than done, Sasuke thought as he took a step forward. If he received even a single blow from Kisame, he had no doubt the bastard would absorb his ki. Time to get this started.
Swiftly, he phased out – his intention to attack Kisame from above. However, he wasn’t prepared for Kisame to do the exact same thing, and was stunned to see the bigger fighter mere inches from his face as they seemed to float in midair. He only just ducked in time to avoid the outstretched palm which had been heading for his face. It was the same technique Deidara had used on Omoi, and Sasuke wasn’t falling for it. A few strands of his hair suffered the brunt of the attack, thought, as they were sliced off neatly.
With a growl, he spun around in mid-air and delivered a spinning hook kick to Kisame’s back, smirking in satisfaction as the other boy was taken by surprise to fall back to the floor with a grunt. Kisame recovered quickly, leaping into the air again with a speed that stunned Sasuke who received a sharp kick to his chest from Kisame’s knee.
Even before falling to the floor, Sasuke felt the dull surge of energy escaping him. It made him feel a bit lightheaded, and he had to shake his head quickly to get rid of the sensation. Kisame dove towards him with a beastly yell, and Sasuke rolled out of the way, wincing as he noticed the noticeable dent Kisame’s blow left behind. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like Kisame was done yet. Relentlessly, he continued to deliver his punches, each time destroying a little more of the ring as Sasuke did his best to dodge.
“Stop running away, Uchiha,” Kisame snarled, crouching and licking his knuckles. “Face me like a man, eh?”
A little out of breath, as the ‘chase’ had gone on for a while, Sasuke blinked away the trickle of sweat that dripped into his eyes and thought quickly. If he could only get to Kisame’s…
“Whoa!” He leaped into the air to avoid the incoming attack and smiled grimly as he got the chance he was looking for. With intense concentration, he focused all his ki into his middle and index finger and twisted in the air to land behind Kisame. Before the bigger boy could turn around, Sasuke thrust the fingers against a section of Kisame’s neck and tried to skid away, but found himself suddenly struggling to breathe. Kisame had caught him, his big hand wrapped tightly around Sasuke’s neck to squeeze mercilessly.
“Sasuke!” Naruto, who had been watching every move with manic intensity and his heart in his throat, screamed in horror at what was happening. He would have gotten into the ring himself if it wasn’t for Kakashi dragging him back to the sidelines. “Let me go, sensei!”
“Be calm, Naruto!” he commanded harshly, even though his gaze was trained on the fighters in the ring. A frown of worry was etched on his features, but he knew he couldn’t allow his team to see his distress. He had to trust that Sasuke would get himself out of this.
Sasuke wheezed, feeling even weaker – his vision wavering as there now seemed to be two…no…three Kisames standing before him. He reached up to try to pry away the hand from his neck, but his attempts were thwarted each time as just the act of lifting his quivering arms alone seemed almost impossible.
“You should be lucky I’m being this benevolent, Uchiha Sasuke,” Kisame drawled. “I will enjoy breaking your spine and then….urk!”
His eyes widened, and his face seemed to contort into a grotesque shape. His grip on Sasuke’s neck slackened, and soon he was forced to release the boy completely as he grabbed his own neck, staggering backwards with disbelief filling those beady eyes.
Sasuke was on his knees, coughing and trying to gather much needed air into his lungs. He rubbed his throat which felt raw to him. He was still weak, but he was beginning to get a second wind.
“Idiot,” he panted, glaring at Kisame whose neck was swelling into the size of a tennis ball. “I promised I’d make you pay, didn’t I?”
Forcing himself to his feet, Sasuke gathered strength from within and dashed towards Kisame, delivering a solid axe kick on the boy’s shoulder which sent him stumbling to the floor. Not giving Kisame a chance to fight back, he attacked again – this time connecting with Kisame’s jaw which caused his head to snap back and a spurt of blood to escape his cracked lips and broken nose.
Kisame growled in unbridled fury and in a desperate move, tried to capture Sasuke’s leg, but the Konoha fighter spun away from him and joining his hands together, he yelled and delivered a hammer blow into Kisame’s lower back, forcing the Akatsuki fighter to his knees again.
“Not done yet,” Sasuke grunted. A flurry of punches to Kisame’s face – which the other boy was trying to block as best he could – almost sent him out of the ring. But Kisame was a stubborn bastard and he was still able to brace himself (just as he got to the edge of the ring) long enough to thrust out a leg to topple Sasuke to the floor.
With his face bloodied and sweaty, Kisame now hardly looked human. “I’ll kill you, Uchiha!” he said through a gruesome grin that revealed his blood-filled mouth and a few missing teeth. “I’ll fucking kill you!”
“Kill me?” Sasuke said quietly, as he rose to his feet slowly, forming a fist as all the anger he had been storing up since the moment Sai told him the news, began to brim to the surface. His ki became so strong, many were able to see the visible blue energy now forming around the boy’s trembling but clenched fingers.
“Kill me? Only one person is allowed to kill me, asshole, and it definitely isn’t you,” he stated in that deceptively quiet tone, now looking up to meet Kisame’s eyes. What the bigger boy saw had him taking an uncertain step backwards. He had seen Pein’s eyes turn that horrible shade of red when he was angry, but to see the same thing in Sasuke’s eyes…
The Konoha fighter’s lips parted to reveal a grin that was nothing short of wicked, and sliding backwards, he growled beneath his breath. “This is for Naruto, motherfucker.”
No one saw him move, especially not Kisame, who would never be able to explain, in words, the mind numbing pain that wracked through his body as he found himself flying through the air, body doubled over, before landing in the first few rows of the scattering/screaming audience.
A hushed silence filled the once loud auditorium as everyone stared at the immobile figure amongst the broken chairs and then at the panting blood-streaked boy who stood all alone in the middle of the ring.
Sasuke closed his eyes and took a deep breath, realizing that it was finally over. It was a bittersweet victory, but a victory all the same. He finally lifted his lashes and turned to the grandmasters and V.I.P section. He bowed in respect and was just about to make his way off the stage when something ‘flew’ towards him with a speed that took his breath away.
He felt strong arms around his neck and subconsciously bracing himself for another fight, it took him only a second later for the familiar scent to assail his senses.
“Naru…Naruto…?” he gasped in pleasant surprise, arms automatically wrapping themselves around the blond’s waist to hold him tightly.
And in the midst of thunderous applause and cheers, Sasuke finally heard them – those three whispered words that filled his heart with an emotion so strong he forgot how to breathe.
“I love you…Sasuke…”