He stopped in the middle of the town square and dumped his backpack at his feet.
The old gnarled tree was still tall and twisty, perfect for climbing. There were no children on it, swinging like little monkeys, despite how sunny and warm it was. No mothers chatting underneath as they kept an eye on their offspring.
He wasn't exactly surprised. He had crossed the whole town to get there, after all, not that it was a big town at all. The whole town, the whole country.
The tree looked lonely.
He leaned his back against the rough trunk. Slid down. The big root was still a perfect seat.
When the panic had died down and his college had grown quiet, he hadn't cared. (he had cared, because he knew what that quiet meant, but he wasn't going to stop and be quiet like they were. Like the tomb. He just wasn't.)
When he had crossed the capital, with its crashed cars and looted buildings and bodies everywhere, he hadn't cared. He'd found a boy about his size and taken his clothes, because his own clothes were disgusting with all the blood he'd thrown up when he was still sick, and that boy had preferred to shoot himself and somehow his brain matter had mostly gone on the wall instead of the shirt. (he'd left the guy his math notes, to make up for the fact he had never lent them while he was alive, even though he knew how meaningless it was.)
He'd taken a car, despite not having his license yet; driving wasn't difficult. The car was noisy. After that he'd walked. The woods and fields weren't noisy at all, but if he could hear nothing but the wind and some animal calls, that was fine; what else should he have heard out there?
But now he was home and it was still quiet (like the tomb), and.
He couldn't (make sure) go home just yet.
(he had no gun to kill himself with.)
He watched a bird land on the ground and poke around for food. He wondered whether it was disgruntled by the lack of fresh bread crumbs, how long it was going to come back and check, just in case.
He'd have tried to catch it for food - after a whole two weeks of practice he was getting good at it - but it was kind of useless, wasn't it. When he went home he would break. He hadn't yet - he'd had hope. Stupid, denial-filled hope.
Might as well skip the bargaining stage. Go straight to the end of this game. Useless to kill the bird when he was about to kill himself. Because at college they all thought he was cool with being a loner but he'd always had his family.
He was wasting time. Dithering. What for? He got up, not bothering to get his pack.
"Aw, what the hell did you jump like that for? Fucker flew off!"
At the first word - the first sound - human voice - he twisted around.
Wasn't his family, he already knew. Wasn't.
Kind of was, though.
"- hey, wait a minute. You're not a hobo."
"Fuck you," he rasped out, on automatic.
The blond guy with the five-days-beard burst out laughing. "Oh, shit, I'm so tempted to let you, you have no idea. Sasuke? That really you?"
He blinked. Things were starting to look weirdly wavy. "I guess." Sasuke. Yeah. That was him. He rubbed a hand over his face. His own chin was starting to get prickly as well. "Naruto? Uzumaki Naruto?"
"The one and only. Hee. I can't believe you're here, you asshole. Hell, I can't believe I'm actually happy to see you!"
He looked halfway between put-upon and grinning. Weird expression. Weird guy, with his unmarried, too-young mom, they'd never fit in and...
... he wasn't family, but...
"I thought you went to college all the way across the continent!"
"Not quite that far," Sasuke replied, words slipping out without thought. He stood there, watching as the blond moved to him, slow at first, almost cautious, and then faster. One step closer and another step and another step, and Sasuke couldn't move.
Naruto threw his arms around him and yanked him into his chest and hugged hard, so hard Sasuke's breath all wheezed out.
He fisted his hands in the back of Naruto's shirt, and told himself it was just so he'd stop his fingers from shaking. He must have been hungry, that was all. Yeah. Hungry. Tired. That was all.
That was all.
His mouth found Naruto's and it tasted like salt. Parted his lips and sucked in his tongue and didn't even care if Naruto had been joking when he said he was tempted. He must have left finger-shaped bruises on Naruto's back by now.
Naruto pushed him against the rough bark of the tree and gasped as he broke free, and for the first time in two weeks Sasuke could have screamed. Naruto was just staring at him in shock and if he started screaming he didn't think he'd ever stop. Don't leave me. (Don't leave me it's not fair stop bleeding stop breaking don't die on me )-
Mouth on his neck, unsure at first. Teeth. Half-assed, scruffy beard rubbing him red. Yes. Yes. He fell back on his ass on the root, pulled until Naruto straddled him, rocked.
Neither of them let go for at least a hour, perhaps even two.
"I'm wearing a dead classmate's stuff," Sasuke said, apropos of nothing.
"And we jizzed all over it," Naruto remarked with a snorting laugh. Sasuke didn't even feel like bothering to frown.
"Your face is gross."
Sighing, Sasuke opened his eyes to look at the darkening sky. "I need a bath."
"Yeah, I can tell."
Sasuke managed to unclench one of his hands, long enough to pinch his hip in punishment. Naruto yelped.
"Get off me. Can't feel my leg."
The moment was over. Grumbling, Naruto moved. He stood, dusted himself off, then with an awkward little twitch he held out his hand. Sasuke took it without a word, allowing himself to be pulled up. It was a little much to keep holding it afterward, though...
A couple hours ago he wouldn't have cared about what it looked like. A couple hours ago he hadn't minded that he'd gone two weeks without a bath either, or that he was starting to get hungry again.
A couple hours ago he was alone in a dead world.
He was still more alone than not. Just... not utterly so.
He took a few testing steps, his leg erupting into pins and needles. Naruto paced him.
"I'm not going to trip and break something on flat ground," he muttered. Naruto gave a shrug.
"You wanna go to my place? I have a full tub of water and I've only used it once. It's gotta be cold by now though."
Sasuke shrugged, leaning down to pick up his bag. Stared down at it.
He'd bought it with his mother, before he left. He remembered her suggesting a purple one, to tease him.
"I should go home."
For the first time in two weeks he didn't want to. None of that both-did-and-didn't-but-had-to. He just...
It bothered him to think of Naruto standing there, watching him break. He'd make that sorry, embarrassed, disgusted face people made when faced with deadbeat drunkards and crazies. Sasuke didn't like that. He didn't want to let himself break anymore.
But he had to go home, and...
"I buried them," Naruto said, awkward and quiet. "They're not - that is, I buried a lot of people. They're not just..."
Lying there and decomposing, his brain supplied.
"You'll go tomorrow, okay?"
Naruto's hands were in his pockets, shoulders hunched like he'd done something maybe a little wrong.
He was taller than the last time they'd seen each other - two years ago? Dead last Naruto. Stupid Naruto.
He'd buried Sasuke's parents.
Sasuke tried to say thank you, but it wouldn't come out. "You just want to get my pants off," he managed to say past the lump in his throat.
Naruto laughed a little, more out of sympathy than because his distraction had worked. "Yeah, I kinda do." He gave Sasuke's dirty shirt a tug, teasing in a subdued, oddly gentle way. "I'll dress you all in orange, it'll be awesome."
"Fuck you," Sasuke said, not even trying to make it sound like he meant it. His lips kept trying to quirk up even when he didn't want them to.
Naruto smiled at him. "I'm so tempted, you have no idea."
He draped an arm around Sasuke's shoulders and dragged him home.
(As for the sequel that will not be written: the next morning
they go to Sasuke's house and there's a message on the phone and it's Itachi,
who went looking for Sasuke so they might actually have missed each other le
gasp. It dates from ten days ago so he might have died since then, but they
still leave the village to look for him. Road trip FTW! Along the way they meet
crazies, highwaymen, people to rescue, people who start following them around,
a shit-ton of wildlife, and perhaps a few zombies.
I'm kidding about the zombies, but really not kidding about not writing it, please don't ask.)
"He might still be alive," Sasuke says, and, "I have to find him."
It's not open to discussion, his expression says. Not a choice Naruto can change. Not a choice Sasuke can change. He's going and that's it. No matter how long it takes. No matter if he can never come back home.
Naruto nods and replies, "Alright. Hey, let's take Keller's truck. I always wanted to drive that thing," and something in Sasuke unclenches that he wasn't even aware had been braced for impact.