CHAPTER1: Let's Play A Game this is a Naruto Fanfic, and I borrow a few characters from the anime. So far, I don't have any OCs, but there might be the need for some later. Maybe not. I'm almost done editing these first chapters. Hope you review!

... it may look like it near the end, but this is NOT a 'Naruto-leaves-for-x-number-years-and-comes-back-changed' fic!!!


The sky was endless. It stretched up over his head, past the horizon and spread its blue body over the entire sky, seemingly to no end. The sky was blue, and wide, and huge, and the sky was beautiful. The jade-eyed boy looked up at this wonder, this endless blue, this abyss of beauty and endlessness, and was silent with wonder and amazement. He had seen this before during the day. He had watched it shift, slowly catching fire and screaming, burning, falling through thousands of shades of red until all that was left was a veil of ashes, black like the soot and dirt in the earth and dark as his eyes. He had watched the moon gleam through the seas of black at night, and he had seen the blue wash over the sky like crashing waves on a blackened beach in the morn, and he wondered at them. He wondered at the deep blue of the sky, the brilliant, innocent thing that seemed to stretch endlessly over his head, that seemed to go on and on and on forever without end. The sky was blue, and endless.

For a moment longer he stared, and then a voice broke the moment in two, one side a pensive calm and the other the trinkling of glass and reality.


He turned around, glaring with all the frustration he could muster, and tried to keep himself under control as the man walked up to him, looking down at him as if he were superior. "I called you several times. Why didn't you answer?" Gaara looked back up at the sky. It was so blue ... it was like the sea, stretching further than he could reach. He realized that the man expected an answer. The jade-eyed boy turned to the man and crossed his arms.

"I didn't want to." The man twitched.

"Look, boy, kage's son or not, you're to answer to me from today on--I'm your instructor, you will address me as Baki-sensei."

Gaara snorted and turned away. "Whatever. What do you want?"

The man trembled at the lack of respect from the younger boy but could do nothing as sand in Gaara's gourd started swirling audibly. "I-I'm to inform you that we're leaving on an official trip to Konoha. It's to see the Hokage. You're to come and not cause trouble. Understood?" Gaara snorted. "Hn. Call me when you're ready." He turned around and stalked off, Baki cursing under his breath.


Gaara sat on the edges of town. He looked out onto the desert before him and suddenly the sand blocked his view. The red-haired shinobi sighed and let the sand double in layers around him, the audible smacking of weapons in sand echoing in the cocoon that surrounded him. When the assault stopped, Gaara felt the sand seep away and reform, catching the assassin in its clutches and squeezing. There was a strangled cry from the other side of the wall and then it rained red.

"Oh my God--" There was a resounding slap as a girl smacked a boy carrying a large bundle of bandages.

"Sssh! He might hear you, Kankuro no baka!" The boy growled and rubbed his head.

"What the frick can he do, Tenmari-baba? He's six years old!" Gaara cocked his head to the side.

"Hello," he said softly. Tenmari and Kankuro whipped around and looked at Gaara, who was staring at them quietly as the bloody sand sept back into the gourd resting at his waist. The sand seemed to pause, surrounding Gaara's hand for a moment, and then disappeared back into the gourd. Gaara put the cork back in its place and looked up at his siblings. They never answered him. He turned away.

"Where's Baki?" There was a swirl of sand and said man was present. "All right, Tenmari, Kankuro, Gaara, we're going." They walked to the gates, a tense silence settling, and then screwing itself on as they shot off into the vast sands before them.

Before long, Baki noticed that Gaara was gone. He had them stop and he looked around. "Well? What happened?" Kankuro grumbled as Tenmari looked at the ground and Baki made a face. "Bah. Probably fell behind. We'll have to wait for him now." Kankuro mumbled to himself as he stared at the ground, "... probably waitin' ... end'n the desert 'lready ..." Baki looked at him sharply. "What's that? Kankuro, speak up and repeat yourself!" The bustling boy jumped and did as he was told out of instinct at the harsh voice.

"I said, 'He's probably waiting for us at the end of the desert,' Sir! That's all!"

Baki frowned. "But how?" Tenmari slugged her brother and resumed jumping over the dunes with Baki. "He's been trying out a new technique that he learned--somethin' 'bout the sand and just lettin' IT take him where he wants'ta go." Baki grimaced. "That demon ... shouldn't know ..."

Tenmari and Kankuro looked at each other and then decided that it was just grown-up talk. All grown-up talk was confusing. They contented themselves with keeping their sensei's pace as they made their way through the vast desert.

They found Gaara sitting at the edge of the sand where the trees began. He was staring at the sky again. Tenmari and Kankuro slowed down long before they could get in range of startling the seemingly-harmless six-year old, but weren't about to take chances. Baki felt them tremble and decided to assert his authority over the boy to show who was in charge. He walked up to the boy and stood in front of him, blocking out his view. Gaara blinked and then narrowed. Baki felt himself shudder inside but had to steel his muscles as Gaara's gaze became a glare. He went to open his mouth when the sand around them--not just the sand from the gourd--but the entire desert began to rumble, shifting as if in annoyance. Baki coughed and chanced an order--he had to; his authority over the three children was at stake, and he barked down at the red head. "Gaara! We need to get moving! Konoha is still a day's journey in the forest and we need to complete this mission quickly. I will not have you wasting my time while we have an important mission to finish! You will not sit here like a fool and waste time sitting here like a fool. We will to start mo--"

Sand slammed into his chest, rushing him against the nearest tree and filling his mouth and causing the man to block his eyes with panicking hands, a shrill scream snapping Gaara to his senses. Tenmari put her hand over her mouth as Gaara felt his control snap and he looked at the girl who trembled in her steps. Kankuro backed up.

"Oh sh-it, oh sheee-it--" Gaara looked at them for another moment, then turned to Baki and shot him a look. "Don't say that again." He walked forwards, giving his sister a rare tender glance, and Tenmari jogged after him, Kankuro in the rear, still wary of his younger brother. Baki took a few minutes to recover from the shock and pain and then got up to follow the group of children wandering into the forest.


First, there was nothing. Then, there was Ichiraku, the ramen stand, and from there, all life flowed. At least, that was how a certain blonde shinobi from Konoha viewed it.

"Yay, yay, it's Mon-day!! Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, but Monday's the best, cauz' ramen's half-off!!!" There was a laugh as the blonde plopped down on the seat at the renowned ramen stand, jumping up and down as the owner came over and looked him in the eye, his own sparkling with amusement.

"Hey, Naruto! What'll it be today--miso? chicken? spicy?" Naruto jumped up and down, waving a 500 ¥ piece in his hand. "All three! All three! All three for Konoha's number one ninja!!!"

The man gave a hoot and put the orders on. "You ain't a ninja yet, kid," he barked, his voice deep and gay as he tipped his hat, "just keep dreamin'!"

Naruto jumped up and down. "Just you wait, Jun-kun! I'll definitely become hokage get ramen every day, and I'll show ya!!!" Jun laughed as the first bowl finished cooking. He slid it over to his number one customer and grinned. "Well, you keep dreamin', kid! I doubt you'll become hokage, but you can go ahead and start that second goal right now! Eat up!" Naruto grinned as Jun passed him a complementary fountain drink and he popped it open, the carbon reaction causing bubbles to rise to the top of the can and coating Naruto's face with a beard of purple fizz. Jun took a look at Naruto's face and choked in laughter, doubling over as Naruto grinned at the kindly older man through the mess of purple bubbles. It was too hilarious and Jun laughed until Naruto finished all three bowls of ramen. The boy could really tuck it away, and he slammed the 500 ¥ on the table, rushing out of the shop.

Gaara watched the boy with bright blue eyes. Naruto blinked and spotted someone behind a corner. Gaara watched him go rushing towards a girl with pink hair and her friend with blonde hair. There was a high-pitched squeal and sequence of slaps and numerous cries, a jumbled mix of mock and actual pain that startled Gaara. Then there was silence, and the boy, still smiling but looking less bright than before, wandered back the way he'd come and stumbled off towards an undetermined destination. Gaara shrugged off the curious feelings that watching the boy his age made him feel as Baki walked up behind him.

"Let's go," he grunted and Gaara grudgingly nodded, allowing the older man to lead him and his elder siblings towards the tallest building.

They reached the building and a older teenager stopped them, an ANBU mask over half his head, a lazy eye looking down at all three with nonchalance. "Halt," he said in a monotone, "You cannot pass further without identification and verification. Please state your name and your business with the honorable Hokage-sama." Baki grunted the information the silver-haired teenager wanted and he nodded, opening the doors. Baki led the three children behind him and then was stopped again outside the hokage's office. The lazy teenager pointed at the three behind Baki. "Can't go in," he said, yawning behind his dark navy face mask, "they'll have to wait with someone. Oi, Gai!"

There was a poof of smoke as another boy in his late teens appeared, looking at the first boy with a thick, raised eyebrow. "Yes, Kakashi-kun? How may I assist you?" Kakashi shrugged.

"Go get Iruka and tell him I gotta quick job for him. And let the kid alone--he doesn't like you." Gai flushed and struck a pose.

"Aaah! My rival, this is another clever ploy to turn Iruka to your own uses! But I shall not fall victim to it again! By my eternal love, I swear, I will defeat you!" He posed again and was gone. Kakashi put a hand to his head before turning back to Baki.

"Sorry about him." Baki nodded. "You can come with me--Iruka will take care of these brats." Tenmari glowered. "We're not brats!" she shouted as Kakashi opened the doors, letting Baki pass by him as he gave her half a lazy look before shrugging and shutting the doors behind him. Gaara and Kankuro turned away from the door and looked at Tenmari, who they unanimously appointed leader for obvious reasons: one, Tenmari was a girl, and girls usually had a good sense of direction and could therefore get them out of the strange building, and two, there was a good chance that she would find ways to make them regret electing to do otherwise. Tenmari looked around and pointed the way they'd come. "Let's go this way first." They turned away from the double doors as a door on the side opened. Kankuro and Tenmari stopped, looking up at the older boy with surprise.

"Hey, who're you?"

The boy smiled brightly. "I'm Umino Iruka. Wanna come and play with me?" Tenmari's eyes lit up and Kankuro nodded, Gaara following the two curiously.

They were led into a room with targets, a few bowls of fruit, and magazines and a few other people; a girl with purple hair and white eyes, a boy with black eyes and a scowl, and one that Gaara recognized. It was that boy--the one that he'd seen earlier. Tenmari settled right in with the white-eyed girl, chatting away as if someone had pressed the 'on' button on her mouth, and Kankuro sat in the corner playing with his marionettes. The boy with a scowl was looking at Gaara and then crossed his arms and huffed, muttering to himself. Something about an older brother, glitter, and death.

Naruto was looking at Iruka as the older gennin sighed and wandered off, calling someone's name as he left. The blonde crossed his arms and frowned. "I didn't do nuthin' wrong," he muttered to himself, "I was just havin' fun ..."

"What?" Naruto jumped as he noticed the red-haired boy next to him for the first time. "Wha ... I--who are you? Why don't you have eyebrows?"

Gaara cocked his head. "Why do you have eyebrows?" Naruto thought about it and couldn't find an answer. "Huh. That's a weird question." He screwed up his face and the answer evaded his six-year-old brain, and he looked at Gaara seriously. "Well? Why do I have eyebrows?"

Gaara couldn't find an answer. Had it been anyone else, Gaara might have considered the question an insult and the sand might have squished them, but this boy didn't seem to notice the ominous presence of swirling sand. Gaara wondered silently how long it would last when he heard a voice.

"Uh, hello, I asked your name? You ok?"

Gaara blinked. "Sure."

Naruto waited, and Gaara looked at him blankly. Naruto asked him again. "What's ... your ... n-a-m-e," he asked slowly so that Gaara would understand. Gaara looked at him and blinked. "Gaara."

Naruto laughed. Gaara made a face. "What's funny?" Naruto's laughter turned to giggles and he snickered. "You're weird--you got makeup on your eyes!"

Gaara blinked in confusion, touching his eyes curiously. "I do?"

Naruto laughed a little more and poked the dark circles around his eyes. "It looks real pretty," he said, smiling brightly. Gaara thought about it. "Ok." He studied Naruto's face for a moment as Naruto sat back, looking around and sticking his tongue out at the black-haired boy who wore a scowl, receiving a glare in return.

"Your whiskers."

Naruto turned to face Gaara, his tongue half-out his mouth. "Meh? Mhut?" Gaara pointed to the six whisker marks on his face, tracing them with his fingers. "They're ... pretty, too." Naruto made a face.

"No one else thinks so." Gaara looked up. "Why not?" Naruto drew his knees up to his chest, bright blue eyes looking at the floor.

"Just 'cauz. Iruka-nii-chan tol' me it was cauz' a somethin' I ain't supposed to talk about, so I don' know. They just don' like'em." Gaara put his hand on Naruto's cheek, making sure that they were stationary, and then poked at them.

"I don' see what's wrong with 'em," said Gaara bluntly, "I think they're pretty." Naruto looked up and smiled, a happy flush rushing across his face.

"Thanks, Gaara!" Gaara felt the smallest of smiles creep to his face.

He was about to ask if Naruto wanted to play when the door opened and Baki appeared, glaring around. "Tenmari! Kankuro! Gaara! We're done here." Behind him was a teenager with long, black hair and dark black eyes. He was about fifteen, and the boy with a scowl smiled brightly when he came in, though the older boy didn't even spare him a glance before his gaze landed on Gaara and Naruto.

"So those are the demons," he muttered as Baki walked past the threshold of the room and grabbed the lingering Kankuro and Tenmari by the arms, dragging them to their feet and pushing them toward the door. Gaara looked at Naruto and then at Baki.

"I wanna stay here."

Baki stopped and glowered at Gaara. "You will get out now, Gaara. That's an order." Gaara looked up at him, unintimidated, and Baki felt his resolve begin to crumble as Gaara's sand began to shift, sand swirling angrily inside the gourd. Tenmari and Kankuro took the opportunity to rush past the towering figure of Baki and hide back in the room, meeting Iruka as he came back through the door he left, looking around.

"Sir? Is there a problem?" Baki growled and turned to leave. "I'll be back in ten minutes," he barked, startling Iruka, "and you're coming with me. Your father will hear of this." Then he was gone.

The boy that had been behind him came in and looked at the younger boy with raven-black hair. They talked for a minute and the older boy snorted and walked over to Naruto and Gaara, the younger hesitating but following grudgingly in his wake. As he sat down, Gaara felt something prickle on his neck and he instinctively took a step towards Naruto. The blonde scooted further from the new boy and closer to Gaara, eyes narrowed in suspicious fear. The boy looked down at them for a minute and then spoke.

"Don't look so scared. My name's Uchiha Itachi. You don't have to be afraid of me."

The younger boy grinned. "Yeah, you do. Itachi-nii can beat you up in a second, idiot." Naruto flushed.

"I'm not an idiot, sour-puss!"

The other boy glared. "That's Uchiha Sasuke to you, dim-wit!"







At this point, both boys jumped at each other and Itachi caught their collars in a practiced move, rolling his eyes and stopping them from colliding. Gaara hid a smirk. Itachi looked at both six-year olds and frowned. "Calm down, Sasuke, Naruto-kun. Sasuke," he spoke harshly down to his younger brother, ignoring or not seeing him flinch, "I was talking to Naruto and ..." Itachi looked to the redhead with a slightly risen eyebrow, silently inquiring a name. Naruto made an 'ah' of comprehension and smirked. "His name's Gaara! He's with that girl and that other guy," he pointed at each, "and that loud guy that came in was their sensei."

Gaara nodded. "His name's Baki," he muttered.

Naruto grinned. "Guess you don't like 'im, do ya?" Gaara shook his head.

Itachi cleared his throat and the three boys fell silent. "I wanted to talk to you two." He looked up at Iruka, who had been watching suspiciously, and called out across the room to him, "I think I hear Gai coming--" Suddenly, the gennin was nowhere to be seen. Naruto giggled and Sasuke smirked. Itachi rolled his eyes.

"Well, Gaara, Naruto, would you be interested in playing a game with me?" Naruto nodded seriously. Not many people had willingly invited him to play before that weren't ridiculed by scolding parents, so he was willing to do anything if Itachi wanted to play. Gaara didn't know what Itachi meant by 'play,' and Sasuke listened to make sure that he knew what was going on. "I want to play with some new friends of mine, and they told me I could only play with them if I brought some friends along with me. I told them that I'd do it, but my two other friends had an, ah, accident." Naruto frowned and nodded--accidents always happened right when you didn't need them. "I was wondering if you would be interested in going in their place?"

Naruto grinned. "Of course! I can go, I can go, I really wanna go!" His smile was so bright that Itachi almost felt guilty. Almost. Gaara opened his mouth to reply when the door banged open. Baki was back, looking a little less sour. "Tenmari, Kankuro, we're going to get a room here. Gaara, come along." Gaara glared at him in annoyance.

"Inna minute," he said. Baki looked at the other two, trying to look stern and hide the fact that Gaara was getting the better of him. The grip of the sand was terrifying, and reminded him of what it truly meant to be a shinobi--your life was always up for grabs. "Tenmari, Kankuro, we have to go. Come on." They got up, Tenmari waving to Hinata and Kankuro wrapping his dolls carefully away before grumpily following his older sister and instructor out the door. Gaara waited for them to leave before turning to Itachi.

"What's play?"

Naruto's jaw dropped. Sasuke rose an eyebrow. Itachi frowned. "It ..."

Gaara blinked bordely at him. "Is it like training?" Itachi's eyes widened a sliver but he recovered so quickly that Gaara and the other two missed it. "... yes. It's like recreational training," he said slowly, and Gaara simply nodded, the two larger words Itachi used familiar to his six-year-old ears. "Ok. I'll play."

Sasuke frowned and looked up at his older brother. "Demo, Itachi-nii, why can't I play? You never play with me."

Itachi looked at Sasuke. "I'll play with you later. Stay with Naruto and Gaara, I'm going to see Hokage-'sama' one more time ..." He got up and left. As soon as Itachi was out of ear shot, Sasuke glared at Naruto and shoved him as hard as he could off the seat. Gaara's eyes widened and Naruto yelped as he hit the floor, rolling over and jumping up to point at Sasuke.

"Hey! That wasn't nice! I was sittin' there and you pushed me off!" Sasuke glared at him. "I hate you--you're weaker 'n me and Itachi-nii still plays with you instead of me!" Naruto glowered. "So what? I really wanna play with you, too, but you always frown an' bein' mean. I know you're nice, but you never wanna play when anyone else comes around. I can't tell if you really like playin' with me cauz whenever someone else shows up, you push me and ..." He rubbed his arm, anger fueling him. "... daikari!"

Sasuke's eyes flashed with some emotion that he had no name for at the age of six and instead of trying to accept and understand it, he blotted it out with anger and hate; the only things he knew besides the loneliness when his brother wasn't around. He glowered at the blonde and shouted back. "I hate you more a thousand times!"

"I hate you a million times!"

"I hate you a billion times!"

"I hate you a hundred times!"

"A hundred's lessen' a thousand, idiot!"





Naruto stopped, and Gaara's eyes widened at the crystal blue forming at the corner of Naruto's eyes.

"A-At least you g-got a brother!" He shouted, dashing away and out of the room.

Sasuke blinked and sat back down, looking at the floor. "... damn. I forgot again," he muttered to himself. Gaara looked at the open door, then at Sasuke, and then looked at the quiet little girl with white eyes. "Hey," he said, causing her to jump, "Tell those tall guys that we're leaving." Hinata blushed and nodded, mumbling to herself. Gaara shook his head and walked down the hall after Naruto.

Sasuke stared at the ground. Hinata blushed and looked up at him. "H-hey, I've seen you p-play with Naruto-kun before. W-why ... whydo you ha-hate him so much?"

Sasuke looked up at her, frowning. "I don't like him. He's weird and he's a baka-brain." Hinata cocked her head to the side. "Then why do you always play with him?" Sasuke didn't answer. Hinata continued, her stuttering momentarily leaving her as she stated simple facts. "You're always alone but then when you see Naruto-kun you go over to him and you play. You never talk, it's always just tag or sparing or hide and seek. You never fight. You always get along. I never seen him cry when you guys are like that."

Sasuke stared at her. "How-how do you know that?"

Hinata blushed and realized she'd been talking. She covered her mouth and Sasuke looked at the window. "Bah--you don't know the first thing about me. I never get along with that idiot."

Hinata looked up with an angry flush. "See? You're doin' it again! You're a great friend when you think no one's watchin', but the second anyone shows up, you gotta be mean and tough and real rude! It makes Naruto-kun real sad! I th-think that he r-really looks up t-to you." Sasuke blinked and actually turned to look at her.

"... Really? You think so?" Hinata blushed. "Aa--I-I-I, ano, well, I-I th-think h-he does!" She stuttered quickly, trying to look at her lap and not speak to fast or too slow and ended up spluttering the entire thing out in one short breath. Sasuke thought about it. "Huhn. I ... didn't think about that. Hm." He looked at the window.

'That's ... pretty cool. I never thought about it like that. Naruto looks up to me? That dobe? He thinks of me like I think of Itachi-nii?' He frowned. 'Then ... then he knows just how I feel.' His six-year-old mind pieced together something and it horrified him.

"I treat him the same way Itachi-nii treats me," he muttered softly, and Hinata looked up. "What was that?" Sasuke jumped up. "Nothing! I gotta go find that idiot real quick!" He stopped and turned to Hinata as he dashed out of the room. "Tell my brother where I went, ok?" Hinata nodded dumbly, and looked out the window.


There was an endless number of places he should have looked first. There were obvious hiding places that he should've seen. Being Gaara, he instead followed his gut as he pictured Naruto running along the sloppy prints in the sand. The sand ended and the forest began, and Gaara looked behind him. There was a bunch of sand, then the concrete path of the village, and then the figures of the village moving about. Shouldn't someone have at least seen him and gone after the blonde? When he disappeared, everything stopped and everyone went looking for him, but this was a different village. They might be different. He turned around and walked into the forest, eyes searching for any sign of the blonde.

He slowed down, not knowing why, and stopped. He felt something to his left, and looked in surprise at the little orange figure huddled there.


Said blonde looked up, tears streaming down his face and bright blue eyes shattered like glass over a murky emotional fish bowl. Gaara flinched at the boy as Naruto choked on a sob and rubbed furiously at his face. "G-Gaara! H-hey ... what're'you doin' h-here?"

Gaara forced himself to ask the blonde boy the question that had been plaguing him since he'd lost sight of Naruto outside the tall hokage's building. "Why did you run? Did he hurt you?" Naruto shook his head vigorously, tears shaking off of his face in the process. "N-no! I-it-'s nothin' you g-g-gotta wuh-wuh-worry b-b'out ..." He choked and shuddered, suppressing the wracking sobs that he had bottled up so well.

Gaara walked up to him and thought hard. What did one do when there was someone else in pain? He thought hard. Once, he'd seen Baki kick Kankuro for getting hurt, but Kankuro had only gotten mad at the man and ran away. No, that wasn't right. He racked his mind for instances that paralleled to this. He had seen Yakamaru give Tenmari a hug and kiss her head, and Tenmari had smiled a little more than before. Gaara nodded. That's what he should do.

He poked Naruto until the blonde looked up. "What?!" Naruto blinked tears away in surprise as a pair of arms came around his neck, clumsily but gently wrapping around him. Naruto stopped breathing and then cried against Gaara's dark blue shirt, shaking and sobbing and breathing hard all at once. Gaara was so overwhelmed by the display of emotion that he gripped tighter, and the sand in his gourd rustled in confusion. He waited a while and Naruto calmed down.

Gaara figured that this was the time to do something, and so he tried to remember what else Yakamaru had done. She'd given Tenmari a hug and a kiss, which was involved your lips on someone else. Gaara shrugged and put his lips on Naruto's head, and then pulled off of the other boy to see what would happen. Naruto looked at Gaara with bright, blue eyes.

Blue. A pair of abysses of absolute blue, of endless blue ...

Gaara didn't know what happened next. The sand was covering him, and since Naruto was in his arms, it was covering Naruto, too. But something weird was in the sand--it was red and dark and evil-looking. Naruto yelped in surprise and hugged Gaara, burying his head in Gaara's shoulder. Gaara looked over Naruto's back and his eyes widened to see the red sprouting from just above Naruto's seat, his lower back letting out tiny red streams that sept and mixed into the sand. Gaara shut his eyes and felt the sand tense and something let out blood--Gaara knew it from the familiar smell that tainted the air. Naruto twitched in Gaara's arms. He murmured something that Gaara didn't catch. When the sand and redness dropped back, there was a dead man on the ground. Gaara and Naruto made faces.

"Another assassin."

They stopped to look at each other. "He was after you?" they asked simultaneously.

Naruto put a hand up before Gaara could get another word out and he shut his eyes, crossing his arms. "Ok! Hold on a second! I wanna ask you somethin'!" Gaara agreed and waited, ignoring the smell of blood to his immediate left. "Why'd you say 'another'? This guy was after me." Gaara made a face. "Why would he try an' kill you?" Naruto hugged his stomach, gaze cast to the ground.

"If I tell you ... you're gonna run away."

Gaara snorted. "Can't be as bad as me--my 'father' put a demon in me. My sand keeps the assassins out, though." Naruto blinked and grinned.

"No way! Cool, me too!" Gaara looked up. "Huh? I thought there was just one ..."

Naruto giggled like a girl. "Right! That's what all growed-ups say."

Gaara nodded sagely. "I don't wanna grow up."

Naruto nodded in agreement. "Let's not do that," he said, frowning at the prospect, then smiling brightly, "you wanna play instead?" Gaara felt his lips tug upwards in a way they'd never gone before and nodded.

"Sure. Let's play."

The two boys walked off deeper into the forest.


(A/N: This is NOT a 'Naruto-leaves-for-x-number-years-and-comes-back-changed' fic!!! )

Morning broke over the Uchiha household. Itachi and Sasuke got up at nearly the same time, dressed and Itachi was forced to bring his brother to the market to shop for their mother. Sasuke took a detour while Itachi was busy with his weird friend from the water country, and ran to the small fountain he always found his friends at. There was a small group of people there, an older couple in their teens making out, and a really old man. He looked around, and didn't see him. There was the girl from yesterday, and he jogged over to her. She squealed as he addressed her. "Hey--"

"Eee! It's Sasuke-kun!" The girls giggled and Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Hey," he tried again, and this time the girl giggled and listened, "Have you seen Naruto?" The girl shrugged. "No. I bet he's off drawing all over the walls." The pink-haired girl nodded. "Yeah, he's always gettin' in trouble, but I think he's funny!" Her blonde friend looked at Sasuke. "But not as funny as Sasuke-kun!" The group of girls swooned and Sasuke walked away.

Before long, he found himself at Ichiraku and he slid into the ramen stand, listening for Naruto's usual breakfast-time clamor, but only the sound of boiling water and breaking chopsticks met his ears. The man behind the counter looked over at him and laughed. "You look like ya lost your mommy, kid. What can I do for you?" Sasuke looked up with a blank stare. "I'm looking for Naruto." Jun blinked and then smiled to himself. So Naruto had himself a friend his age. That was good.

He rubbed the back of his neck. "I dunno. I could ask you the same thing. He's usually my first customer every morning, but I haven't seen him. He seemed fine yesterday, but you might wanna check out his house. He has a habit of catching nasty flus at the most awkward times of the year. It's not even flu season for another month, but he came down with it just last week--poor little guy barely has an immune system, from what I can tell ..." He kept talking, his subject slowly slipping from Naruto to his own past, and he smiled to himself as Sasuke disappeared from the shop.

Sasuke approached Naruto's apartment cautiously. He knocked on the door and waited a minute. When there was no response, he called out the boy's name softly. "Naruto? You in there? It's almost 10:00--hello?" He pushed the door and to his surprise, it creaked open. Sliding his sandals off, he entered the house and looked around. The entire apartment was a mess knee-high from the doorway in, and Sasuke made a face. Jumping over a pile of socks and orange jumpsuits, he listened for any noise. The shower was off, and so was the faucet, and the toilet was quiet. There wasn't any heat in the house, so he wasn't cooking at home. With another quick glance, Sasuke decided that Naruto wasn't home at all. "That dobe must be out somewhere else. I guess he ate quick and then ran off without me." He tried to shrug it off, sliding his shoes back on as he locked the door to Naruto's apartment and walking off to the lake at the far end of the town. Naruto wasn't there, either. Frustrated and a little worried, Sasuke searched all the other places he knew of until he sat down on top of the academy building, and stared up at the faces carved into the mountain side.


Itachi found his brother staring at the hokage mountain. He was surprised to find his younger brother in such a pensive state, and snapped him out of it with a cough. Usually, it was Sasuke trying to get his elder brother's attention, but this time Itachi was trying to get his brother to go home. It had been three hours since they'd gotten to the market, and he had to get home in time to meet with Kakashi for practice. "Sasuke--"

"He's not here." Itachi blinked. "Who?"

Sasuke stared at the sky somewhat sadly. "Naruto. He's gone."


This is NOT a 'Naruto-leaves-for-x-number-years-and-comes-back-changed' fic!!!

Chapter 1: Let's Play a Game. Yay! This didn't take long. Well, to write. It was friggin' long to edit this.. I hope I can get the others out on time. I'll have to work really hard, almost as hard as Bakudon, who's also got a nice fic out right now. (A New Dawn) It's a Spider-Man thing. She's a Doc Ock thing goin' on right now ... just like I have a Naruto thing going on. : I'll try to stay on topic, though. I wanted to say that I'll try to update pre-edited chapters, I've revised this chapter at least twice so far. Hope you're having good luck in school. That's where I'm updating from.

Updating might be slow because

I DO NOT HAVE INTERNET AT HOME. sucks, right? oh well. please pity me and review.