Title: Ragtag Heroes Are Never Fallen

Chapter 11: Whisper

Soon after Sasuke had run out of the house, Naruto had gotten out of bed and decided that it was time that he stopped mooching off Iruka for now. He grabbed his stuff, what little of it he had brought with him, and walked slowly down the stairs, alert for anyone stopping him. He had tried to sleep, but the boy's face – Sasuke's face made him think differently and he couldn't sleep. He had tossed and turned for what felt like hours before giving up.

He heard murmured voices from downstairs. When he picked up his name and Sasuke's in the sentences being said, he quickly masked his chakra and crept down the steps, trying to hear what was being said better.

"You don't actually believe that Sasuke would - ?" Iruka was demanding an answer out of his visitor.

"Actually," came the cool, soft voice of Kakashi. "I believe that's a very good chance of what he's done. After all… if what I believe is true about him and Naruto…"

"Shut up, I refuse to believe that to be true!"

"Why not, Iruka?"

"Because! It just wouldn't make any sense!"

"Explain it to me how it wouldn't!"

"They couldn't – you know them… they wouldn't!"

"Yet I have witnesses that said they did!"

Naruto was thoroughly confused. He knew that Kakashi was getting angered, as was Iruka. But he still didn't know why. It had to do with him and Sasuke – but what had to do with him and Sasuke?

The two shinobi in the kitchen had stopped speaking. Figuring that there was nothing else for him to hear, Naruto quietly crept out of the house and walked down the block. He wasn't entirely sure where he was headed, but he liked being outside once again. It made everything seem livelier than it was. It had been days, maybe even weeks since he last came outside and actually looked at his surroundings.

He crept through the park, pretending (as he had many times when he was a child) that he was the ruler of this land of forests, benches, bushes and swingsets. He tromped happily through the deepest part of the woods – the part that led through the outskirts of the city. He loved this part this best. This was Uzumaki Naruto's kingdom – his magical place to go to when everything else had fallen apart.

He sat there for a while, looking above him, leaning against a tree. Normally, he would train here or something else of that fact, but today he just felt like sitting there. Sitting there and doing nothing, except taking in the sounds and smells of the woods around him.

He could hear the twittering of the birds, could feel the light breeze play across him, and could smell the earthy greenness that comes from being in a place like this.

Oh, how he loved it here.

He closed his eyes, a light smile on his face as he sat there. He was confident that no one could find him here. He was hopeful that no one would ever find this place, save for him. It was his secret place. It was his happy land. Not even his apartment could beat the security and sanctity that he felt when he was here.

Suddenly, the normal quiet that all forested areas normally has, was broken by the running footsteps of someone.

Naruto snapped his eyes opened. He was no longer in the forest for some reason. His back was leaning, instead of against a tree, a large reddish rock. He looked around him. Where was this place? There was nothing around him; no cities, no plants. The land he was in was a large reddish barren wasteland.

"Help!" someone yelled. "Help!"

Confused, Naruto looked around for the person, whomever it was, in order to help them.

His nose picked up something, a strange scent attacking his nostrils. Not wanting to inch closer to this scent, he made his way in the opposite direction. It wasn't long before he stumbled upon a large white fox. The fox had deep golden eyes and long white canines. It came up to about Naruto's height, which scared him.

Yet somehow he knew that the fox wouldn't hurt him. He didn't know how he knew, but he knew – as he stared into those large golden orbs.

Who are you? He heard in his head. Naruto somehow knew that it was the voice of the fox in front of him.

"Uzumaki Naruto," he replied.

Why are you here?

"I'm not entirely sure myself. I just woke up and was here. Do you know how I can go home?"

Wake up again.

Naruto looked at her confused for a moment before he felt himself drifting in a pool of water, like swimming to the top. He didn't have to hold his breath, as the water was somehow breathable. He didn't even think about it as he made his way to the surface.

The blonde snapped his eyes open. He was in the forest clearing. Shaking his head, he tried to figure out what happened. He looked up at the sky. It was nightfall.

"I must have fallen asleep," he muttered to himself. He stood, stretching out the kinks in his muscles before something made him look up.

There stood Kyuunan's brother. He vaguely remembered the man from when they had met last time. Of course, Naruto hadn't been the dominant spirit last time – but that didn't matter. He stared into the fiery red eyes of the other.

Kyuushin smirked. "Well, it seems the brat is the one I'll be speaking to this time," he murmured softly to himself.

Within a second, Kyuushin was right in front of Naruto.

"Tell me, boy, where Uchiha Sasuke is," Kyuushin growled.

Naruto's brow furrowed slightly. He narrowed his blazing blue eyes. "What the hell do you want Sasuke for?"

"Reasons that you should stay out of."

"What do you mean! He's my friend, I'm not going to let you take him!"

Kyuushin laughed. It was a cold, hollow sound that made Naruto shiver. "Do you think you'll be a match for me?" he sneered, teeth bared.

Naruto backed up a step, tripping over his feet and falling to the ground. He kept on backing up, Kyuushin stepping closer every time. "You will tell me where Uchiha Sasuke is, or I will have to kill you." The demon extracted his claws, which were obviously sharp.

Naruto gulped, fumbling for a kunai – but feeling none. He looked down. Shit, he cursed. He had left his holster at Iruka's house. He cursed at himself several more times before looking defiantly up at Kyuushin.

"You wouldn't kill your own brother, would you?" Naruto asked. He knew about the relationship between Kyuunan and Kyuushin.

"I disowned that rat, he's no longer my family," Kyuushin sneered, grabbing Naruto's shoulder harshly with his claws. "Now where is the Uchiha?"

Naruto shook his head violently.

Kit, let me come out, Kyuunan was begging him in the back of his mind.

You'd get hurt, Naruto sent back. I don't like people getting hurt.

Idiot! I'll get hurt anyway.

I don't care… I just… I want to protect people…

Last time you did this, you died, you idiot.

Well, you wouldn't last much better, would you?

To this, Kyuunan had no reply. It was true, Kyuunan was not a fighter. Because the voice in his head had quieted, Naruto could now turn (reluctantly) back to the matter at hand.

Kyuushin sneered at the boy, grabbing Naruto's neck and slamming him against the tree, holding him there. "So, will you tell me where Sasuke is, or will I have to make you tell me?" he threatened.

Naruto looked at him, blue eyes clear and a small smile on his face. "You'll never learn where Sasuke is from me," he whispered, feeling the air slowly leave him and become harder to breathe in.

"I could kill you, brat," the demon snarled.

"So do it… do whatever you want – but you won't learn where Uchiha Sasuke is from me!" Naruto snarled.

"Why do you want to protect that Uchiha brat so much?" Kyuushin asked, eyes boring into Naruto's. "After what I heard from you – how you died for the brat and how you've changed because of it. Such cruel words, don't you think, Naruto?"

Naruto looked away; he didn't want to deal with this person – this demon. He didn't want the past to be brought up. But he knew that he had to protect the Uchiha at all costs.

"Tell me why, brat," the demon ordered.

Naruto felt lightheaded. "Because…" he began, choking slightly. "Because… Sasuke is the most important person to me." A small, peaceful smile alighted his face.

He didn't remember anything after that, except for Kyuushin's fist coming towards his face. Dimly, as the blackness set in, he thought he could hear someone calling his name.

Sasuke, after leaving Iruka's house, wandered the city. He had an air about him that made not even the people who knew him want to bother him. He felt strange – happy and sad at the same time, numb yet sensitive. It was strange to figure out how he was feeling. All he knew was that these emotions – these demons that he had held back for so many years were eating away at his soul right now. He just wanted to let them free, but he feared what would happen if he did.

He found himself in the park. He didn't know where he was going, but he just kept walking. His thoughts were keeping a steady stream of hell in his mind. The tormenting thoughts made his chest feel like it was about to explode, and his mind wasn't dealing with the thoughts too well either. He made his way away from where he knew that a lot of people congregated. He didn't want to have to deal with other humans right now. He didn't want to have to deal with anyone.

He just wanted to know what the hell he was feeling. However, he didn't know – so he just kept walking.

He kept moving away from the populated parts of the village to the deserted forests. They weren't always deserted, but they were dangerous. At least, that was what all of the villagers told their children. They had made up gruesome horror tales about the beautiful forest that surrounded the Leaf, in order to show their kids that if they went into the forest, they might not return.

He didn't understand why people lied to each other like that. Sure, Sasuke lied to himself a lot, but… he wasn't lying about trivial things like the greenery. He lied about the secrets that he possessed within his heart. Suddenly, he heard a voice. He couldn't place it, but it was familiar.

"Well, it seems that the brat is the one I'll be speaking to this time," the voice said. Sasuke snapped himself out of his thoughts, wondering where the voice was coming from and why it was so damn familiar.

"Tell me, boy, where Uchiha Sasuke is."

When the Uchiha heard this, he hid in the foliage surrounding the clearing where he distinctly saw Naruto and a tall man with reddish locks. Yet something seemed off about this man. He didn't seem to be completely human – his beauty too much for mortal means. He didn't understand why the man was familiar, though, as Sasuke would surely have remembered someone so beautiful.

Naruto was glaring at the man. "What do you want Sasuke for?" he snarled, eyes glaring at the man who was now right in front of him. He didn't move yet, not finding the strength to. Something had been draining him lately – an emotion that he didn't even want to name. So he conserved all the strength that he could expend.

"Reasons you should stay out of," was the stranger's barking reply.

"What do you mean?" Naruto snapped. "He's my friend! I won't let you take him!"

Sasuke felt a kind of warm, fuzzy feeling enter his chest when Naruto had said he was his friend, but the brunette could only wish that Naruto's feelings went farther than that. He knew that it probably wasn't so, but he could hope, couldn't he?

"Do you think you'll be a match for me?" the older of the two snarled. Sasuke's eyes narrowed. Of course Naruto wouldn't be a match for this man. Sasuke could tell that Naruto was in a weakened state.

After all, the boy had yet to regain his strength from when he had died. Sasuke had noticed that the last time the two of them fought. Sasuke kept his eyes on the duo, unable to tear himself away. He knew that if it came down to it, he wouldn't hesitate to help his friend, no matter what he would have to sacrifice in return. No way was Naruto going to die twice because of Sasuke! The boy couldn't handle it! He wouldn't allow it!

When Naruto took a step back from the stranger, he managed to get his foot caught on a root. He kept backing up as his adversary made his way towards him. Sasuke wanted to jump in there, grab Naruto and run for it, but something was holding him here – something was telling him to stay. He didn't know what it was, but he listened to it, surprisingly.

"You will tell me where Uchiha Sasuke is," the stranger was demanding of Naruto, "or I will have to kill you."

Not on my watch, Sasuke thought, though he felt frozen. He couldn't move, he could only watch as the events in front of him unfolded.

Naruto fumbled for a weapon, though his weapons pouch was not on his leg.

Heh, dobe, Sasuke thought, a wry smile on his face. He couldn't help it. Naruto was turning once again into the person he had known, even though it happened slowly. Not only did Sasuke see the anger that flashed in the boy's eyes, but Naruto had to be stupid enough to leave his weapons somewhere. Sasuke would have laughed if he did such a thing.

Suddenly realizing that there was really nothing he could do, Naruto tried to goad the stranger in the only way he could – with words. "You wouldn't kill your own brother, would you?" he asked.

Sasuke racked his brain. Naruto was an orphan, and he was a single child. Wait, Kyuunan had a brother, didn't he? So that made this person that fox demon… Kyuushin, Sasuke recalled his name to be.

Kyuushin merely smiled, a snake-like grin which spoke of malicious intent. "I disowned the rat, he's no longer my family." He extracted his claws, gripping Naruto's shoulder. Naruto barely winced at the effort to get him to confess as to Sasuke's whereabouts. Sasuke stared. He had to do something – he couldn't stand around and do nothing. No, he couldn't, but what could he do? Sasuke stepped carefully, but quickly, around the perimeter of the clearing, trying to figure out the best means of attacking.

By the time the Uchiha looked into the clearing again, Kyuushin had been beyond his limit. He had slammed Naruto against the tree, holding the boy so that his feet were dangling in the air. He had the blonde by the neck. Sasuke couldn't tear his eyes away from the sight. He had to strike soon, or else it would be too late for Naruto. And he didn't want to be too late for his friend.

"Why do you want to protect the Uchiha brat so much," Kyuushin was demanding to know, his red eyes narrowed. "After what I heard from you – how you died for the brat and how you've changed because of it. Such cruel words, don't you think, Naruto?"

Naruto didn't look at the demon. Instead he looked at the foliage, right where Sasuke was. He hid his surprise at seeing his teammate there. This was his chance for forgiveness – this was his chance to make up for what he had said. He couldn't look at the Uchiha while he said this, though. He didn't want to see the other's reaction.

"Tell me why, brat."

Sasuke listened, wanting to know the answer as well. He had to admit that he was curious. He loved the boy, but why was Naruto risking his life – for the second time, mind you – for Sasuke? The Uchiha didn't understand.

"Because," Naruto choked as Kyuushin pressed down on his throat a bit more. His body had probably begun to shut down by now, one limb after the other. "Because Sasuke is the most important person to me."

Sasuke felt his heart stop. He didn't know what was going to happen next, but Kyuushin had raised his fist and finally Sasuke found the capacity in his limbs in order to move. He shoved himself off his branch, screaming "Naruto!" Using the momentum he got from rebounding off another tree, the boy slammed Kyuushin to the side. Naruto's face was a little bruised and bloody, as the Uchiha had been unable to reach the two in time to stop any attacks. He lay the blonde down, knowing that if Naruto was hurt because he hadn't been fast enough he would be kicking himself for this for a long time.

He smiled when he saw that Naruto was okay, with the exception of being a little breathless but he wasn't dead and Sasuke didn't see any lasting injuries.

The Uchiha turned back to Kyuushin. The demon was getting to his feet, blood-red eyes narrowed.

"So you finally appear, boy," the demon sneered.

"What do you want from me?" Sasuke demanded to know. He wanted to know who the hell was after him.

"An acquaintance – one that this town will be introduced to again soon, asked me to give you a message, Sasuke-kun," Kyuushin told him, not moving to attack. "This is the message: 'Never tarry, for life shall stop, and a soul will suffice. Look across a mirror, under the wheel, to find the crystal you seek. There's a mountain in a stream, on a tablet of clouds to lay a sacrifice. Journey to the ends of sand, flip the dragon's head, and your quest you'll complete.' Yes, that was what I was told to tell you."

Sasuke stared at the fox king, wondering what the hell he meant by the words he had said. Kyuushin reached into his tunic and extracted a scroll. "It's written there, but I thought it would sound more dramatic if I said it aloud," he confessed as a wisp of flame began to circle his form. All of a sudden, the flame became a bonfire and the bonfire went out, leaving nothing burned and nothing there. Not even the grass was charred, and Kyuushin was nowhere to be seen.

Sasuke turned back to Naruto, staring at the boy. He wondered how he was going to continue now. He waited for a few moments, when the boy began to stir again. In his fist, he tightened his hand around the scroll unconsciously.

"Sasuke?" Naruto murmured softly, eyes opened. He sat up wearily, a hand on his head. He didn't forget anything, so he wasn't in danger of a concussion.

Sasuke closed his eyes, standing up once he saw that Naruto was okay. He turned his back, speaking to the boy, but not bearing to face him.



"I'm going to be leaving the village soon…"

Naruto was confused. Why would Sasuke need to leave the village? After all – they had only just become genin; there was so much to learn. Did Sasuke mean to go all by himself? That was mean! Naruto didn't want to see Sasuke go, so he would go with him – that was the only thing that made sense to the boy. If Sasuke was going to leave, then Naruto would follow. It didn't matter to where he went. It just mattered that he got there in the end.

"Wait," Naruto told Sasuke. He stumbled to his feet, hugging Sasuke loosely from behind, resting his forehead on the boy's back. "Wait," he repeated in a softer tone.

Sasuke sighed. Naruto heard the sound as he closed his eyes.

"How long do you want me to wait, Naruto?" Sasuke asked, wondering what the boy meant. "Do you have something else to say?"

"Several things, actually, Sasuke," Naruto told him. "Wait until you're stronger, 'til we're stronger to leave the village. Please. I… I want to go with you."

Sasuke closed his eyes, feeling the wind caress his face. Did Naruto even know what he was saying?

He looked up at the sky, in which the first stars were beginning to appear.

Twenty-seven, he counted in his mind, for a promise to be by my side.

"Two years, just two years… its not that long, Sasuke," Naruto told the boy. "We're too young right now, but two years – and let's do whatever you need to do outside of the village, please?"

Sasuke sighed again, wondering if he should comply by the other boy's wish. He wanted to… and in the end, he nodded.

The two genin began to walk back towards the city. Both were able to walk, despite Naruto's beating, bestowed on him by Kyuushin, and Sasuke's prior paralysis. They walked side-by-side.

"Two years, eh?" Naruto asked, wrapping his arm around Sasuke's. Sasuke blushed at the close contact but quickly shook off the feeling.

"I don't know how you talked me into waiting that long," Sasuke grumbled.

"It must be because you know I'd kick your ass if you ever tried to leave without me!" Naruto countered with a grin.

Sasuke smirked at his companion good-naturedly. "Tch, like you could, dobe," Sasuke retorted.

Naruto narrowed his eyes, before opening them completely again with a laugh. Sasuke just shook his head, hiding a small smile behind the façade of being annoyed at his friend.

The two walked off under the stars which twinkled from the heavens. They walked back towards the village that they would use to their advantage, becoming as strong as they could, before fulfilling their promise.

In two years, they knew, the real adventure would begin.

Kyuubi-kun's Korner!

Yo, everyone! Hi, its Kyuu-kun here. I decided to do something that I've never done before. I've decided to end one fanfic and make another as the sequel to the first. This fanfic – the start of the journey that I just thought up earlier today is hereby completed. I'm sorry if people were expecting more. Look out for my new piece of work, which should be out soon – though I'm not entirely sure when. I hope you people liked this chapter, although I know that it was a bit rushed. Well… what can I say… absolutely nothing, actually, in my own defense. Isn't that pathetic? Oh well, we've established many thousands of times that Kyuu-kun is a moronic fool and an idiot on top of that! ((insert me sticking out my tongue here))