Of Team 7, and a world that's come full circle.
Wrote and slapped this up on my LJ on the spur of the moment, something like a month ago, but never got around to posting it anywhere else. Felt like something particularly dark, morbid, and disturbing, so consider yourself warned. :D Set sometime in the speculative future, no spoilers to speak of.
He's a protector, you see.
He's made promises and he has to keep them. So he protects. It's what he does. It's the only reason he's still breathing.
He's protecting-- he's protecting /Konoha/, its safety and security, he's protecting... dignity.
He's saving the last shred of self left to the gutted body lying there in a puddle of blood and severed intestines on the stone floor. The boy's most treasured possessions.
Orochimaru, as it turned out, had decided he had more use for the potent blood that flowed through the veins of the Uchiha clan than for one single vessel who would eventually age and die like the rest of them.
The screaming in the next room is probably either someone being stabbed to death, or Naruto getting angrier.
His hands aren't shaking.
No, they really aren't. He's gone someplace far past that throbbing desperate aching one, someplace cold and closed-off where he doesn't really feel much of anything. Sasuke's first eyeball is lying in a plastic bag next to his feet; his kunai is in the other eye socket carefully working the second glazed, death-dulled Sharingan loose, and he's trying not to look at the first sunken eyelid because he senses more with instinct than actual thought that it would be better to stay in this cold place for a while longer.
There's another scream from the other room, and his knee slips on a bit of blackened intestine. The floor is covered with them. He's covered with them, hands and arms and legs and a few scattered across his blood-soaked clothing. Some of it's his own, a bit belongs to Sound ninja, but it's mostly Sasuke's.
He'll have to burn the body before they can leave -- get rid of the evidence -- but the Uchiha were always so careful with their precious Sharingan. Never quite sure whether its secrets could be divined even from well-hidden ashes... This is not the first time Kakashi has plucked eyeballs from the head of a fellow Leaf-nin. And it's far from the first time he has watched it done.
The eyeball pops out a bit with a small wet noise and he works it the rest of the way out of the socket with his fingers, careful not to squeeze too hard. He cradles it gently as he snaps the bare remainders of the cords connecting it to the head and carefully tucks it away with its mate in the plastic bag. And with delicate fingers he pulls the lid down by its lashes over the gaping red hole.
For a moment, he just looks.
Almost without thinking about it he closes one eye, brings a red-stained, dripping hand up closer to his gaze... if he covers the line of view just so, it looks like there's only the one half of the face, one half of the mouth, the dark hair, one sunken eyesocket with blood smeared dead and drying around it...
At least there's no god... damned... smile.
Kakashi's Sharingan is aching, but he has yet to shed a single tear.
He thinks there's enough blood to make up for it.
Naruto doesn't really remember much of the day that Sasuke died. All he has is a not-particularly-coherent set of images -- the lair in Sound village, finding the body, Orochimaru laughing, sticking a Rasengan down his throat.
One of the things he remembers most clearly is seeing Kakashi walking up the front steps, expression glazed, looking like he'd just bathed in slaughterhouse runoff, and telling them he'd taken care of the details and they could go home.
Sasuke's funeral was about three days later. Naruto has no idea exactly what, if anything, was actually inside the tasteful black urn (picked out by Tsunade because no one close to the situation was in much condition to make such arrangements) and he isn't sure he actually wants to know.
Sakura started working with Tsunade full-time after that. When she's not in training or helping out at the hospital she's assisting with the Hokage's paperwork; Naruto will be surprised if she ever does a field mission again in her life. For his own part, he still wants to be Hokage someday -- he has a feeling Sasuke would be offended if he ever caught wind of Naruto giving up on his goal -- so someday he knows he's going to find himself on an adventure again, but for the last couple years he's been sticking close to home. He wants to try for Jounin pretty soon; hopefully he can pry some more hints or tricks or jutsus out of old Jiraiya.
He hasn't seen Kakashi in a while.
Sometimes he goes to visit, but he's always so depressed after he comes back. All the crazy people on the ward are scary and they make him feel guilty, for some reason he can't quite place. Kakashi himself isn't as bad as all that, but it's just... hard. To smile and laugh and be what his sensei deserves when some days he's not even completely sure the man recognizes him. Realizes he's there, that he's real, not a part of whatever's going on in Kakashi's head.
The doctors still say he might get better. And Naruto, he still hopes so, but he's starting to have his doubts.
That's part of why he has to get stronger, though. Kakashi did so much for him, for Team 7. He gave and gave and gave until it broke him, and now it's Naruto's turn to give back. To support him. To protect him. A Hokage protects his people, after all.
He's a protector.