Naruto Uzumaki sighed as he read the report lying atop his desk and ran his hands through mussed blond hair. It was times like this when he truly hated his duty to the village. Three top ranking shinobi under his leadership had already lost their lives in multiple attempts to complete the task he assigned to them. Any other time, he would have tossed aside the mission and been done with it. No amount of money from a client was worth the loss of so many lives—particularly those of skilled jounins.

However, this was not a normal mission commissioned by a client. It was a mission to protect the village. As such, it could not be ignored.

The mission itself was simple really. It was a basic retrieval mission involving the procurement of a scroll from a secure locale. Even the location was known, so little tracking was necessary. The scroll contained vital village secrets and needed to be retrieved at any cost, even if that cost was high.

At this point, there was only one person capable of completing the mission. And the cost of sending that man was too high for him to bear without an ache forming heavily in his chest. But bear it he must, even if he was to one day read the report of his death. It was his duty to protect the village and use every resource at his disposal to do so.

Setting aside the report, he stood with a heavy sigh, shoving his hands into the dark green material of his pants and walking with almost dread from the office. There were ANBU following him at a distance, undetectable except by the most skillful of shinobi. He ignored them as he had done for the past twenty odd years and continued on his way down the dusty streets.

Villagers stopped every so often to bow in respect. It was something that always felt strange to him considering his past. His way was unblocked as he moved at a slow pace, almost unintentionally attempting to postpone the request he was about to make. Each step seemed to bring him all the more closer to the source of the dread bubbling in his stomach.

All too soon, the shinobi academy loomed in his sight. There were several parents waiting outside for their children to be released and it brought back memories of the days when he walked the halls...or more appropriately, raced down the halls in fear of being caught and punished by his much loved and very harried teacher, Iruka Umino. Those memories brought a smile to his face even in the cloud of pain.

Naruto smiled at the memories and nodded to a few parents as he made his way through the doors. Very little had changed since his days at the academy. The halls still smelled thickly of the ozone scent that came with jutsus and scuffed floor had seen better days. He made a mental note to allot some funds to have the school renovated.

He shook his head wryly and focused on the task at hand. Anything else could wait.

Stopping at a classroom, he saw the room mostly emptied of students. A few young girls delayed their leave and flirted with their teacher in that innocent way of children not yet at puberty. The man on the receiving end of their adoration maintained a blank face and accepted their papers before urging them to leave. If he hadn't been able to read that face so easily, he might have missed the slight ticking in one cheek to signal annoyance. That bastard's expressions, even the neutral ones, were like a book to him.

It was then that their eyes met and the man stiffened visibly. Naruto was hard pressed to look away from him. Sasuke Uchiha was just as handsome as he recalled with his searing dark eyes and short spiky hair. His father was likely rolling over in his grave at his son resigning from ANBU to take a teaching position at the academy.

Naruto inclined his head in Sasuke's direction before turning his attention to the three girls staring at him in awe. "If you would excuse us, ladies, I have some things to speak about with your teacher."

The girls blushed and tittered as they left the classroom. Naruto chuckled and turned his full attention to Sasuke who was in the process of cleaning the blackboard. There were few men who dared turn their back to him and Sasuke Uchiha was one of those men. He almost laughed at the snub, but chose instead to settle at one of the tables and await the completion of the task.

While Sasuke stalled, he was allowed the chance to observe him. Uchihas always tended to be a bit short in stature, but that did not make them lacking in the least. They were compactly built, made for speed and agility. It made them particularly deadly as assassins. Sasuke was considered a prodigy amongst them. There were few who could match his natural skill and none who could surpass it now that Itachi Uchiha was dead.

Even dressed in the basic shinobi uniform, he seemed almost elegant in his movements. His hands were slender and tapered, and he had no doubt they remained covered in calluses from years of kunai use. Years of inactivity had not dimmed his skills for even if he kept his distance from his friend, he still maintained information on him. Sasuke Uchiha trained every day with the same regime as if he were a member of ANBU. There was little doubt that his skills remained in peak condition.

"Girls are cute at that age," he said, finally breaking the silence.

Sasuke's hand clenched on the eraser before he lowered it and turned to face him. His face revealed nothing, but in his eyes there was a flicker of something unidentifiable. "What can I do for you, Hokage-sama?"

The way he said Hokage nearly had Naruto keeling over in laughter. Sasuke was the only person who could make Naruto's title sound like a curse word. God, he'd missed having the bastard around. How in the world that bastard was able to teach kids and not kill any of them was a mystery...then again, he still couldn't figure out how Iruka had survived all these years without killing at least a few of his students.

"I have a mission for you, Sasuke," he said reluctantly. Playing with Sasuke would be a pointless exercise. Sasuke was not the sort to enjoy games when he was obviously annoyed—not that it was any different when he was in a good mood. It was sad, because he had rather enjoyed the days when he could tease his friend and former guard.

"I'm inactive," stated Sasuke, blandly.

"I'm reactivating you, effective immediately."

"I refuse." Sasuke turned to his desk and began to gather up the papers. Any other time, Naruto would have smiled at his reaction. He wished it was any other time.

"You don't have a choice. You're being temporarily reinstated into ANBU and assigned a mission. You're the only one capable of doing it and I expect you to complete it and return to the village in one piece. I've already lost three very skilled shinobi to this mission. It's not something I can simply drop in the unwinnable column."

"Why not?" asked Sasuke coldly. "Afraid of losing the money?"

"You know I'm not like that, so don't even pretend. I wouldn't have come to you if I had any choice." He closed his eyes against the emotionless tone in his most gifted shinobi. That tone was enough to tell him that Sasuke had not forgiven him for removing him from his detail. When the request had come several weeks later for Sasuke to take up a position at the academy, he had approved it against advice. Teachers were not active shinobi and were not sent on missions unless in dire times...and Sasuke made a lot of money for the village as an active shinobi.

But, he could not stand for Sasuke to remain at his side. He felt too strongly for him. He wanted to touch and kiss him. He wanted him in his bed—wanted, but could not have. It was why he sent him away in an attempt to banish the temptation. It hurt too much to want someone and not be able to have them. Sasuke would never see him like that. It was just the way of things and Naruto was just selfish enough to send him away for his own comfort.

Their parting had not gone well. He could still recall the expression of hurt in Sasuke's eyes before the carefully wrought mask was once more in place. He had turned without another word and left the building. A resignation from ANBU, pinned in Sasuke's neat script, was on his desk the next morning. He had not the heart to deny it. Only a few short weeks later, another request was for Sasuke to be removed from active duty completely and for him to take on a position at the academy.

"I'm sure there are other shinobi more skilled than I. Kakashi, perhaps?"

"Kakashi is a skilled tracker, but he isn't my best at infiltration. You are. Not to mention if things get hairy, I know you have the power to defend yourself."

Sasuke glanced to him from the edge of an eye. "Flattery does not work with me."

"Stop being an ass. It's not flattery if it's the truth. You don't have a choice in this. I can't discard this mission and I can't risk sending more shinobi, only to have them die. If you don't take this mission, I might have to do it myself." Naruto caught something in Sasuke's body language. It was a nearly unperceivable movement, and a lesser man would have likely missed it.

Sasuke's elegant fingers set aside the papers still cradled in his hands. There was a quiet stillness in the air. He dropped gracefully to one knee and lowered his head. "I can't allow you to take on a mission. It goes against my code as ANBU and as a shinobi of Leaf."

To say that he was shocked at Sasuke so easily giving in was an understatement. That bastard never gave in without a fight. Their entire relationship was one constant battle for control. "I thought you wanted nothing to do with ANBU?"

"Simply resigning on paper from ANBU does not mean anything except paperwork stored in the archive. Once you are in ANBU, you never leave." Sasuke lifted a hand to the wide collar of his shirt and pulled it down far enough to display the tattoo of Konoha's symbol on his arm. So many people had fought for his continued banishment and even his execution for the crimes he committed against the village, yet he proved himself a loyal shinobi and was accepted into the ANBU ranks.

Naruto cocked his head and wondered if being in ANBU still was Sasuke's only reason. There seemed more at play, but he could not say with complete certainty what it was. The deeper feelings of his friend were nearly impossible to read, even for him. Sasuke hid his emotions beneath layers. Deciphering one only revealed two more beneath it. The true Sasuke was hard to understand and his motives always seemed hidden beneath those layers—buried deep.

"Who knew you could be so submissive, Sasuke?" He couldn't resist sending that small jab at him. He wanted the Sasuke he loved to come forth.

Sasuke snorted and rolled his eyes, but remained silent. At least it was proof enough that Sasuke was still alive.

"See, you're even waiting for permission to talk. Classic submission."

Sasuke growled and stood up with a scowl. "Just give me the damn mission scroll, idiot. The sooner I get this over with, the sooner I can get back to my classes."

Reaching into the satchel at his hip, he extracted a scroll and passed it to Sasuke. There was a twinge in his stomach when their fingers brushed. It was a brief touch, one that had passed between them hundreds of times, and with the touch, a longing for more ate away at him. The feeling of that slight touch was nearly enough to cause his eyes to flutter closed. His voice deepened slightly as he spoke. "Leave at dawn."

He had to get away from Sasuke before he broke the personal rule he'd created when he realized what he was beginning to feel. With a curt nod, he turned on his heels and walked toward the door, only pausing for a moment without looking back. It was hard enough to know that he could be sending someone he cared deeply for to his death. It felt like betrayal.


He heard the faint rustling of clothing as the other shifted. "What is it?"

"Come back alive."

He did not wait for Sasuke's response. The pain, longing, and lust writhed around in his soul. He would not look back and he knew that there would be no sleeping for him until Sasuke returned successfully.


It had been nearly a week since Sasuke had departed the village. There would be no reason to worry yet. Sasuke was methodical in his missions. He would not act until the conditions were perfect for his success, even if that meant waiting days while scouting out the area. He was far too paranoid, as any shinobi worth his salt should be, to take recon at face value.

But, that knowledge did not make the waiting any easier for Naruto. It was times like this when he hated being chained to the village. He should be at Sasuke's side.

Waiting was the worst. He had not slept more than an hour or two each night. It was just enough for his body to function without allowing him the restful peace of sleep. As a shinobi, he had learned long ago to go for weeks or even months on little to no sleep. It made him irritable and short-tempered, but he could still function with all his faculties. But, if this lasted much longer, Sakura was likely to pound him into the floor with that ungodly strength of hers.

He was in the process of weeding through the files of the new graduates from the academy when a shadow blocked the window beside his desk. That someone was allowed to even get that close assured him that the visitor was known by his hidden guards.

Naruto glanced up sharply as the hooded figure slipped slowly into the room. A cloak hid him from view, but there was a definite stiffness in his movements as a gloved hand slipped into a hidden pouch and removed a bound scroll before placing it on the desk.

A dark red stain covered the outer casing and he knew immediately the identity of the mystery man. "Sasuke?"

The hooded figure shuddered and the hood was pushed back to reveal a haggard and pale face. "Mission successful."

No sooner had the words left his lips, Sasuke swayed on his feet before collapsing in a heap before the desk. Naruto was on his feet in an instant, yelling out for some assistance. The door to his office was burst open just as he pushed aside the dark cloak to reveal Sasuke's body, garbed in his gray ANBU armor with a dark red stain spreading across his side.


"Get Sakura in here, now." Naruto ripped off the armor breastplate and pressed his hand to where a deep wound continuously seeped blood. How Sasuke had kept going with such a wound amazed him.

There was a flurry of movement in the room before he was tugged away reluctantly from the far too still form and a medic taking his place at Sasuke's side. An unbidden and completely irrational impulse to stab the person who was now crouched beside Sasuke rushed through him. He barely registered that it was Sakura. She was the best in the village and if anyone could save him, it was her.

"He's not breathing," she shouted and Naruto's heart stopped.

Panic nearly set in when she immediately began CPR. Another medic immediately joined her moments later and using a chakra blade, sliced open Sasuke's chest and inserted his hand while Sakura continued to breathe for him. They only stopped long enough for the limp body to be transferred to a stretcher and moved toward the waiting hospital.

He glanced to the scroll that so many had given their lives to retrieve. It was soaked in Sasuke's blood, as was the floor before his desk.

It was pure instinct for him to move and he ignored the ANBU standing silently in the room as he moved to follow the retreating forms of the medics and the stretcher they pushed. The shadow of guilt nearly overwhelmed him as he mentally prayed that Sasuke would survive. He wondered if he would even be able to live without knowing Sasuke was out there, even if he was not by his side.

The race toward the hospital was a blur and even being the Hokage, he was denied access as the medics struggled to save Sasuke's life. Sitting in the hospital, surrounded by ANBU, he stared at his hands. The blood was dried and beginning to flake away. He refused to wash it away.

Sasuke's blood. He might as well have plunged the weapon into Sasuke's chest himself...all for the village. He had made the ultimate offering for Konoha.

Anguish tore into him and he buried his face in his hands. He had done this to Sasuke. He had willingly sacrificed someone precious to him for the sake of the village. He laughed bitterly. A sacrifice had to be precious, because otherwise, it would not really be a sacrifice. He wondered what his father would think of him for willingly doing this.

He had not realized how painful it would be. As he sat there, he was reminded of all the people he had lost over the years. The agony of those days during the war still haunted his dreams from time to time. Now, he was reliving the pain in a way that was different, and yet it was the same. None he had lost in the past could compare to the threat of losing Sasuke.

If he died, Naruto was unsure if he could live with the guilt of it. It was one thing to send a shinobi into battle, even knowing death would come for them. It was a completely different thing to send someone precious to almost certain death.

He continued to sit with his face cradled in his palms with the doors to the waiting room burst open and Kakashi strode in, followed quickly by Iruka. Iruka was the only person who knew how he felt about Sasuke. He had tried time and again to get him to confess and end the distance between them. Now, he wished he had followed his former teacher's advice.

"I heard Sasuke was brought in. How is he?"

Naruto looked weakly at his former senseis. "His heart stopped. I don't...they won't tell me anything."

Iruka was immediately at his side. "You need to calm down, Naruto. Take a few deep breaths. Sasuke is strong. He'll pull through this."

Iruka's words were a comfort, but they did little to ease the agonizing pain inside him. He was losing Sasuke in the only way he would be unable to bear. In that moment, he would have done anything to save him, even given up his own life.

"I accept the blame for this," he whispered. "It's my fault if he dies."

"Naruto," snapped Kakashi, finally choosing to speak. "You are the Hokage. It is your job to defend this village, and that means making difficult decisions, even if it means sending those you care about to certain death. That is what it means to be a kage."

The words rang true. He knew that one day he might be forced to make a decision such as this when he took the office. Still, he had hoped it would not be at the cost of the life of the one man he loved above all others.

"It was for the sake of the village...but I think the cost may have been more than I was willing to pay," he whispered. Suddenly, he felt so unbelievably tired.

Iruka placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's know, to show you care for Sasuke. You both deserve some happiness. You should tell him when he's better."

"If he ever gets better," mumbled Naruto, earning him a slap to the back of the head.

"Don't say that. Where is the Naruto I knew with the unstoppable determination and hope? You changed the face of the shinobi world with it. Don't let it disappear now."

Naruto chuckled dryly and nodded his head. If only they knew how hard it was for him to even sit there without completely breaking down, let alone muster hopeful determination. Sasuke's heart had stopped. He had died, even if they bring him back, he had still died. That alone left a gaping wound on his chest that would not heal any time soon.

He opened his mouth to reply when Sakura walked from the treatment room. She glanced at the people in the room while wiping her hands on the material of her trousers. "He's stable, for now. He crashed twice, but we were able to bring him back. I don't know how he's still alive. It looks like he cauterized the wound in his side to stop the bleeding, but it opened up again at some point. His blood volume was critically low. We gave him several pints of blood and have repaired the damage as best we could. It's in his hands now. All we can do is wait and see."

Naruto nearly crashed to the ground in relief. If not for Iruka beside him, he might have done just that. "Can I see him?"

Sakura sent Naruto an understanding look. "He's in pretty rough shape. We've got him in ICU, but you can go see him for a few minutes. He's sedated, so he won't know you're there."

He nodded in understanding. "I promise I won't stay long. I just need to see that he's alive."

As he walked into the unit with Sakura, he could not stop the pounding in his chest. Upon seeing Sasuke, he nearly passed out that instant in both horror and relief. Sasuke's skin was so pale against the white linens, it appeared almost translucent. The veins in his neck and face were visible and the shadows beneath his eyes looked twice as dark. He had never seen him so weak and his knees nearly gave out beneath him.

Sakura moved past Naruto and went about checking Sasuke's vitals. Her actions were professional, but it wasn't hard to see her worry. The three of them had known each other since they were children. They had been through so much together, good and bad. His heart ached painfully as he approached the side of the bed and took a limp hand in his.

"I'm so sorry, Sasuke. I swear that I'll never do this to you again. It wasn't fair."

Sakura stopped what she was doing and stared at him. "Don't make that promise."


She took a deep breath and put aside the clipboard. "Don't make a promise you can't keep. Both Sasuke and I are Konoha shinobi. We know what that means. It means we're willing to die for the village, and for you. Don't promise something that could cause the village harm. It is our privilege to serve our home."

He stared at her for several long moments. She had really grown up from that spoiled and selfish girl into a confident woman. If his heart had not already belonged to Sasuke, he might have fallen for her right then. "Thank you, Sakura."

"Don't mention it." She gave him a pat on the arm. "Just stay for a few minutes. We'll watch him close until he's better."

Naruto nodded his thanks and settled down on a chair beside Sasuke's bed. He stroked his fingers along the blue veins in his friend's slender hands before looking at his sleeping face. Even near death, he was so absolutely beautiful. He had the face of a dark angel—beautiful and very deadly. To die by Sasuke's hand was his secret wish. Only Sasuke had the right to kill him...just as only he had the right to kill Sasuke. It was the way it had always been between them since the beginning.

His heart ached as he looked upon him. Every time he saw him, the feeling in his chest expanded. When had his happiness become linked with Sasuke's presence in his life? Had it always been there and he was just too afraid to latch onto it? If he had said something years ago, would Sasuke have even left? The questions left him without answers for there were no solid answers for them.

He leaned close to where Sasuke's head rested on the pillow. He brushed their lips together and shivered at the tingle spreading from the point of contact. "Sasuke," he whispered.

He thought he saw the dark fan of lashes flutter, but was unsure. Swallowing back the lump of longing in his chest, he brought Sasuke's limp hand to his lips. "I've missed you so much. I sent you away because I was afraid of what I was feeling and of losing you completely. I guess you're right about me. I am an idiot, yet I can't keep from wanting you. I've made you hate me because I was afraid and now I've caused you to be hurt because I put the village before you. I'm so sorry. If I ever get the chance to make it up to you, I will, even if it means never seeing you again. Just don't die on me."

With a final brushing kiss to Sasuke's knuckles, he lowered the hand carefully to the bed and walked out of the ICU. Iruka and Kakashi were still in the waiting room, speaking quietly to each other. He wondered if the two of them were more than friends. Neither ever said anything and he definitely was not one to talk about being with another man.

Same sex relationships were common amongst shinobi, more so with men than with women. Civilians didn't understand the strain shinobi life caused and could rarely come to terms with their spouse being gone for weeks or even years. Since there were more male shinobi than females, the spare males who were willing gravitated to each other. No one thought bad of them for choosing each other. Shinobi learned quickly to live each day as if it were their last.

He almost laughed at himself for having ignored that fundamental understanding most shinobi followed. Because he never took missions anymore did not mean he was no longer a shinobi. Sasuke deserved his best and he was determined to overcome all the things that held him back.


Naruto blinked and turned his attention to the two men. "What?"

"Are you alright? You looked like you were staring into space."

He attempted a grin and nodded. "I'm fine. I'm heading back to the office. I'll be back later to check on Sasuke. Sakura says he'll be fine, he just needs to rest."

Both men seemed to sigh in relief. "Thank goodness."

Naruto accepted a hug from Iruka before slowly making his way back to the tower where a particular blood-stained scroll awaited him.

Once inside his office, he stared at the scroll still sitting his desk. The red blood had oxidized to a dark brown. It almost disgusted him to touch it after knowing what it had cost to be brought to him. But, he was Hokage and it was his duty to see the contents of the scroll.

He carefully slid the scroll from its casing and spread it out across his desk. He frowned for a moment at the gibberish spread out on the paper. It took him several minutes to realize there were seals hidden in the nonsense. Only a skilled sealmaster would be able to read the seals and know what they hid. "I see."

He was careful as he placed his hands on the hidden seals and twisted them into revealing the content of the scroll. He had Jiraiya to thank for teaching him the intricacies of seals. Judging from the condition of the seals, they had not been broken or tampered with since the original author of the scroll had set them in place. It was a relief considering what was revealed to him. Each prominent shinobi family was listed in the scroll and the secrets of each as well. How one person had been able to compile such a collection of knowledge on each clan was shocking. If the seal had been broken, each of the clans that made up Konoha would have been exposed to all. As he read over the history of the Uchiha, he understood why the family had maintained their secrets. He carefully replaced the seals, even adding a few extra for additional security. This scroll that Sasuke had nearly died for would be forever locked away in the Hokage vault—hopefully forgotten amongst the hundreds of other scrolls stored there.

Sighing, he glanced out his window and toward the hospital where Sasuke remained. His heart and mind remained with his friend even if his body sat in the office of the Hokage. Whatever the coming days brought him; he would face it and hopefully in days to come, have Sasuke at his side once more.


Naruto stood outside the private hospital room that Sasuke had been moved to. He had avoided the hospital once he received word of Sasuke's awakening. The shame he felt at having sent the man he loved on such a mission ate away at him along with the agony of having sent him from his side out of selfishness ran deep within him. He had never been afraid of anything until now. Even facing down a super-powered Madara had not scared him as much as walking into that room.

With a quick breath to gather his courage, he gave a curt knock and then stepped into the room. Sasuke looked up from the flavored gelatin he was poking at with a spoon. Surprise flickered across his face before it was masked. He sat aside his utensil and stared silently.

Naruto smile nervously. "Hey."

"Hello," responded Sasuke cautiously.

"I was worried about you."

Sasuke frowned and turned his gaze away. "I'm fine."

"The scroll...I wanted to tell you..."

"I don't need to know what was in it," interrupted Sasuke in a calm voice. "It was my duty to the village to bring it back, even at the cost of my life."

"I was wrong to force you. There were other options. I was impatient and you're the best." Naruto walked slowly into the room and settled in a chair beside the bed. "You were always there, ready to take on any mission I handed you without question. I'm ashamed to say that I grew dependent on you."

"Until you sent me away."

He could hear the bitter longing in Sasuke's voice and his heart resonated in response. "I sent you away because I was afraid."

Sasuke's head shot up and his eyes visibly widened. "Afraid...of me?"

"Of what I felt for you. I couldn't stop thinking about you and wanting you by my side. I was afraid of feeling that and of you rejecting me so I sent you away because I thought it would be easier for me. I'm sorry that I put you through that."

Sasuke's breath picked up and the pupils in his eyes dilated. "I..."

"I understand," whispered Naruto. "You don't have to reciprocate. I just wanted you to know so we could be friends again. I need to be friends with you. I feel like I'm missing a part of me when you're not there. It reminds me of before...when you were gone. I'd like for you to be by my side once more as one of my shadows."

"I can't." Sasuke stared intently at him. "I can't go back to the way it was before."

"I see." Disappointment worked through him and he fought back the agony that took root inside his heart. He was surprised at the steadiness of his voice despite the pain he felt. "Very well. You can go back to the academy and I promise that I will never ask you to do a mission like this again unless I have no choice."

A panicked look spread across Sasuke's face and his hand shot out to wrap around Naruto's wrist as he stood to leave. "Wait. You misunderstand me."

Naruto froze at the touch. Sasuke's hand was cool where it wrapped around his wrist. He stared where they were joined. There was a deep contrast in their skin tones and to him, it looked perfect and created an even deeper ache inside him.

"What I meant was that I don't want things to be like they were before." Sasuke met his gaze. "I call you an idiot, but I'm more of one than you. I fell in love with you, you idiot, and it hurt so bad when you sent me from your side. I could have been happy just being close to you. But, I can't go back to that."

It was amazing how quickly the agony in his chest transformed into joy. He stepped forward to quickly pull Sasuke into his arms. There was no preamble in his actions, only desperation to feel him.

Their lips met in a passionate kiss so to express everything each felt. He had imagined kissing Sasuke like this for so long and now that he was doing so, it was like heaven. His skin was cool, but the slight flicks of his tongue were warm and sent shivers down his spine. Damn, but Sasuke knew how to kiss. Not that he was surprised. Women had been throwing themselves at him since he hit puberty. It was only natural that he would have at least some experience in the field.

Naruto pulled back from the kiss and buried his face in Sasuke's neck while panting. He did not deserve to be this happy after allowing his selfishness to push Sasuke away. "I love you," he whispered against the soft skin and felt Sasuke shudder against him.

Sasuke's hands lifted and stroked at his hair. "When you told me that you might take this mission yourself, I could not allow that. I could not allow you to risk your life. I would die for you a thousand times over. All that I am belongs to you, not Konoha. If you asked to leave today, I wouldn't bat a lash. Itachi loved the village, but all I care about is you."

"Damn, Sasuke, I didn't know you were such a romantic."

Sasuke shoved him with a growl and glared. "Shut up."

Naruto laughed and threaded their fingers together. His heart felt so light it could fly. "I'm sorry for not seeing how you felt."

Sasuke smiled, a slight crooking of his lips, but a smile all the same. "You've always been a bit dense anyway."

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked in a teasing voice.

"Take it how you like it."

"You're such a bastard," growled Naruto playfully.

Sasuke sighed and rolled his eyes, but did not pull away when Naruto tugged him close once more. They remained like that until a nurse came to take away the lunch tray. It was the beginning for them. There was no longer fear or uncertainty between them. Their world had been altered and they were free of the shackles that bound them for so long.

"Does this mean you're going to be my guard again?" asked Naruto.

Sasuke smirked. "We'll see."

A whine escaped and he sent Sasuke a pitiful glare. "Sasuke..."

Sasuke's laughter could be heard through the door and the pink haired woman standing there smiled. They would be alright.