Written 15 June 2007
Written for the contest on Y!Gallery, courtesy the Yaoi Digest Club, for the theme, “it’s cold.” Please note that there’s NCS in this. I had to rush a bit to meet the deadline, and depending on its reception, it might turn into a multi-part or just stay a oneshot. Any and all concrit is welcome.
(When flesh comes into contact with extreme cold, the heat is absorbed from the skin so quickly that it burns.)
When Sasuke finally realized that with growing power came the cold, he was too far gone to go back.
The snow was thick between the trees, where the forest had begun to thin out at the northernmost border of the Land of Fire and morph into the wasteland that made up the Land of Sound. For Naruto, being Kyuubi’s host was usually a curse, but sometimes the fire-demon’s general ambivalence towards temperature was a blessing. Lacking their own physical demons, the other chuunin were close to shivering in their open-toed boots.
But there were more important things to worry about.
“The Hokage’s gonna kick our ass,” Kiba muttered. Akamaru whined sympathetically at his side, but Naruto shot him a hard look.
“The old hag won’t find out until we get back, and then it won’t matter anyway.”
This is so troublesome. “Focus,” Shikamaru commanded, because as much as he really did not want to be here, he wanted to make things riskier even less. “We wait until Shino’s bugs return with their reconnaissance. Until then…” His dark eyes narrowed at Naruto, uncharacteristically sharp, because there was no way in hell he was going to lose a teammate through carelessness and go through the trouble that would cause, “we remain silent.”
The blonde was sitting on his haunches in the snow, preternaturally still, like a predator waiting for the scent of prey on the wind. He gave Shikamaru a red-tinged glare, but the team leader was not particularly bothered by it, knowing that Naruto especially would do nothing that might endanger this unauthorized mission.
Sasuke had tolerated the sidelong looks that lingered a little too long, the not-quite-touches that brushed his skin and raised goosebumps, figuring that they were small sacrifices in getting what he wanted in return. Besides, Orochimaru had invested far too much in him by now to damage the body that would soon become his own. But no matter how often Sasuke told himself that he was meant to be nothing but a tool—that his life was forfeit so long as his vengeance was fulfilled—there were days where he would scrub a little too hard in the baths and refuse to think why.
There were other days, especially when the scent of Konoha’s forests had long disappeared from his clothes and the small details of his former Village were blurring in his memory, where he would draw the water so hot his skin turned angry-red. Kabuto would scold him disinterestedly when this happened. Sasuke told him it helped his body (taller, leaner, stronger) to relax, and fuck off already. In his head, he added that it made the cold spreading through his limbs a little more bearable.
He never said anything. He was there of his free will, and he would not show weakness.
(i don’t need you naruto)
Just to be able to give the blonde something to do, Shikamaru assigned watch to Naruto, Lee, Hinata, and Neji, as the reflexes and physical senses of the first two would work well with the Hyuuga bloodline limit. Sakura was wrapping an already perfect bandage roll for the third time, murmuring quietly with Tenten, as Kiba absently stroked a subdued Akamaru, and Shikamaru was thankful that the other members of his own old genin team had remained behind in Konoha. Hopefully, Ino and Chouji would be able to prevent the discovery of eight chuunin absences until their mission was finished.
Shino leaned against a tree near the edge of the border, waiting for the return of his insects with the stillness of a statue, ignoring the cold that grew stronger and the faint stench of something burning far away.
Sasuke learned many techniques. He learned the simple things, like the most efficient ways to kill with a chokuto or his own hands, or how long it takes for someone to die when buried alive. He learned how the subtlest shift in the voice could inspire fear, while a certain casual arch of the back inspired something else (though once he figured out that one he made sure to avoid it).
As a child, Sasuke had tried so hard to breed apathy, to forget the fires that his clan had been renowned for, and rarely succeeded. Now, when he watched a failed experiment die at the end of his blade for no reason other than being weak, some of that fire flickered and died. When he slaughtered enemy-nin because Orochimaru wanted to see what he could do, another piece broke off and iced over. When the sennin’s forbidden jutsu summoned the bodies of his father and his mother and they died a second time, Sasuke went to sleep that night wondering why his chest felt numb.
(you mean nothing to me naruto)
Night had already fallen by the time Shino’s insects returned. The stoic brunette crouched low, fingers held spread by his ear as he listened. Shikamaru waited patiently for him to finish and observed Naruto from the corner of his eyes. The blonde was tense, skin unusually pale against the orange-and-black of his clothes, and the characteristic nonchalance in his expression was replaced with stony intensity.
The shadow-user could not blame him. Nearly three years of single-mindedly pushing for one goal that now, in the middle of a harsh winter, was just out of his reach; Shikamaru wondered if the Uchiha would be flattered, or just laugh in Naruto’s face. Given his notorious instability, both seemed equally likely.
Not being much of an example of passionate action himself, Shikamaru had long mused on the seemingly impossible level that drove both Naruto and Sasuke, which should have burned itself out long ago. But in Naruto, at least, it had only grown stronger over the solitary stretch of time, and was now edged with a desperation he did not think the blonde chuunin was even aware of.
Personally, Shikamaru had never particularly liked or disliked the Uchiha, so long as the other shinobi had kept his mouth shut and not caused headache-inducing trouble. He was here only because the mission was, quite frankly, less likely to succeed without his help, and he had not had any other pressing responsibilities to deal with at the time. (And not being in the habit of lying to himself, he could admit that a small part of him did not want to see what would become of Naruto if Sasuke were killed; he did not want to see that vibrancy reduced to the coldness so common to older, jaded, broken shinobi.)
“Well?” Kiba demanded when Shino looked up, even more impatient than Naruto. His old teammate gave him a flat look behind dark glasses before turning to Shikamaru.
“It seems that the Sound Village is already burning.”
Naruto grabbed the front of Shino’s vest and pulled him forward so they were nose-to-nose. Too-sharp fingernails were slowly cutting through the green threads as he growled, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“The Sound Village is on fire,” he said again calmly, and suddenly Shikamaru understood why the faintly acrid scent of ash had tainted the air. The other chuunin opened their mouths to demand a better explanation, confused and bewildered, but Naruto was already moving.
“Naruto, stop!” Shikamaru barked, but the blonde had already disappeared beyond the edge of the forest. He cursed and began following, yelling orders as the others leapt forward.
“Neji, Kiba, in front, keep Naruto in your sights! Hinata, Sakura, Shino, watch our backs! Lee, Tenten, if we catch up to Naruto—“ Unlikely, given the sheer speed of a determined jinchuriki, “—make sure he doesn’t do anything troublesome.”
Nothing in the meal had tasted strange, but Sasuke’s vision spun a little and the Sharingan made it worse. He was not stupid and knew that Kabuto, or Orochimaru, had slipped something to him (and it could not have been anyone else, because to cross Orochimaru’s pets was to invite death).
By the time he made it to his quarters, he was leaning against the wall and breathing heavily. The edges of his vision were white, like static, and his limbs were so heavy that he stumbled in the way he used to as a very young child still learning how his body moved.
Perhaps it was a new form of training. He would not have been surprised if it were, though he certainly would have something to say about it.
The world spun around him and suddenly he was waking up in his Spartan quarters, confused on how he had gotten there when he knew that he was still in the hallway. Then he realized there was another person with him, in his personal space, and it was Orochimaru, it was Orochimaru that was in his personal space (too close) and leaning over him (too close too close no stop it). His mouth opened and Sasuke wanted to snarl, curse, demand to know why the fuck the world was spinning and why the snake-sennin was too close—but the words shriveled behind his lips like butterflies in a sudden frost.
Hands that were too white with fingers that were too long wrapped around his wrists, held them down (how was he supposed to make seals like this) and a tongue that was too long slid like a serpent over his chest. Orochimaru’s mouth was moving but Sasuke could not hear, it sounded like Saaaaaassssuke, like the syllables were thick molasses and could not move very easily. His clothes were parting, they were not there, and his limbs were useless and seal-less and helpless.
Sasuke wanted to cry.
Orochimaru was very careful, because bruises would be irritating and scars would be unwanted, he was very careful and somehow that was worse than if there had been blood and screams and oh god nii-san why. The sennin’s hands were cool and dry like a snake’s scales and Sasuke’s bared skin was chilled. His nii-san had raped his heart and mind and Orochimaru was taking his body, Sasuke had nothing of his own, nothing of his own to keep and there was nothing left inside because he had become just like his brother.
Sasuke felt so cold that he burned.
Sprinting through the trees made Naruto’s reddened eyes stream from the deep winter chill. It grew worse when he broke the border proper between Konoha and Sound and snow crunched beneath his feet, and with Kyuubi so near the surface of his seal his nose was seared with smoke. But he did not feel any of it, every aspect of his being focused on finding Sasuke, nor did he know what he would do when he finally did.
(kill him kiss him make him suffer the way we have)
Naruto had made a promise to Sakura but he also made a promise to Sasuke. It was one he had never spoken aloud but was understood by the both of them, the way that only two people with nothing in the world but the cold and each other could understand. Then Sasuke broke that promise when he looked at Naruto with the blood-light of the Sharingan and the screeching of a thousand birds in his hand. Kyuubi was a fire-demon but sometimes Naruto only remembered the rain in the Valley of the End.
The chakra signatures of the other shinobi trailed him, but he paid them no mind, being mindless in his own pursuit as the smell of flames grew stronger.
(i need you here you bastard)
(When a metal reaches absolute zero, it becomes possible to conduct electricity without losing energy to heat.)
Reality had unattached itself from his mind until he was no longer sure how fast, or slow, time was passing, peeling away like old wallpaper. Perhaps it had stopped and this hell went on forever, this hell of furious screams and blood that arced through the air. Something inside of him had snapped and now he would raze everything to the ground in a glorious excess of violence and hatred—but although blood spattered his weapons and flames licked his flesh, it was like watching through a rain-chilled window. Unattached, disinterested, entirely removed from his person.
Sasuke was so cold that the Hidden Village of Sound burned. Suddenly it was so simple to summon the flames and the lightning that danced around his sword and roared like dragons.
The fires his clan was renowned for blazed (there was so much blood), and it was almost like being home again (he never did manage to get the blood out of the floorboards). He did not smile (just like his brother).
The Hidden Village of Sound glowed against the night sky like an ember. Intelligence had reported that the majority of the Village had been underground, but the few buildings above were hissing and spitting like serpents as they crumbled in on themselves, fires roaring as they leapt for the ice-ringed moon. The air was heavy with smoke that clogged the Leaf ninjas’ noses and made their eyes run with tears.
When he could feel the hair-curling heat blowing against his face, Naruto stopped, only dimly aware that the other chuunin did as well.
“Naruto—“ Shikamaru was saying, and it was a struggle to listen when oh god sasuke where are you was screaming in his mind.
“We need to find Sasuke,” Naruto snapped, but Sakura’s powerful hand gripped his arm.
“Naruto,” she said softly, hardly audible over the shattering of timber—and screams, there were people screaming, whose voices drifted with the smoke and ash, “Shino…he says this is Sasuke’s fault.”
“Which you would’ve known if you’d stopped to listen before haring off like that,” Tenten muttered irritably. Around them, the snow was melting to muddy slush with the sharp cracks of breaking ice. His brow furrowing, Naruto forced the panic away and focused his mind the way he was trained to, finally realizing that the flames were far too hot and persistent to be natural.
It’s chakra. Gokakyu no jutsu?
The ground beneath their feet trembled; smoke began billowing from previously hidden entrances. It was difficult to see anything with the ash and the stark flames against deep, furiously-shifting shadow; he started seeing shapes moving erratically, and it took him a moment to realize that they were people. These were people, and they were burning, screaming until their throats melted or until the pain became too much and they died where they stood. All of the people wore the distinct white yukata and purple ropes, which burst into flame more quickly than their organic parts.
Chakra levels rose to crackling intensity as shinobi desperately fought back, casting water jutsu and air jutsu and any other jutsu they could think of—in the back of Naruto’s mind, Kyuubi roared at the taste of power and destruction—but the flames were unending, immortal.
Then, suddenly, the fires crawled backwards…the orange-yellow-white light was sliding away from the buildings, away from the bodies like a tape being rewound, and the heat was sucked from the air like a vacuum.
The resulting silence was empty and exhausted, painted in monochromatic snow and stillness.
Sometimes Sasuke wondered what things would have been like. If. If that night had never happened. But it did happen—Nii-san broke him and made him forget what it felt like not to have the gaping ugly hole in his chest that made him cruel to Sakura and crueler to Naruto. Because Sasuke had been a little boy when he came home to find everything soaked in blood, and now he was a traumatized little boy that knew how to kill without thought.
Nii-san owned his heart and Orochimaru owned his body and Sasuke was left with nothing. Now Sasuke had slaughtered a village he had been faking loyalty to, and it was a story that sounded too fucking familiar. Touch something too cold and it will burn.
The fires of his clan were gone, had burnt themselves out, and Sasuke stood in the center of a decimated village. Nothing moved except the quiet shifting of former structures and people, the forms reduced to lace-like ash, delicate threads of darkness against the paleness of partially melted snow. The little boy that had been screaming in his head, never touching the porcelain mask of his expression as he massacred other shinobi, was finally silenced, swallowed by the hole in his chest where his ribs should have been. A winter wind blew and it curled through his body, drifted between living-pink bone and echoed dimly in hollow limbs.
Sasuke’s feet moved without his thinking, carrying him silently past all the destruction that looked like it was made of spun black gossamer and red glass on a white sugar landscape. The tip of his chokuto was lowered towards the ground as he walked, numb, its hilt wrapped by frozen fingers, and he did not turn his eyes away.
Sasuke had not cried since that night, and so he did not understand the relief tears were said to bring. He understood catharsis at the point of a weapon or the end of a fist, and now he could not summon the remorse or panic he supposed he should be feeling with the knowledge that he had just annihilated a Village. Sound was very small, especially in regards to Konoha, but it had been composed of missing-nin and lost souls that were too broken to die so easily.
Then. Then he sensed it, just outside the former Hidden Village—a chakra-heat that slithered along his skin and belonged to one of the two people that ruled his life. There were others, too, but they were irrelevant; the chakra was coming closer, quickly, as though the owner were running as fast as his legs could carry him.
Sasuke’s lips moved and murmured, “Naruto,” and it was not until he felt the demon-tainted chakra nearly fall over him, with messy yellow hair and sky-blue eyes, that he finally allowed himself to surrender to the cold darkness.
(it’s cold in here naruto)