"What are you doing?"
"I'm walking," a smooth male voice said, annoyance creeping into his tone.
There was a pause. "To Konoha," he said, rolling his eyes upwards to try and see the large orange frog sitting on his head.
"Konoha? Why are you going back there? I thought you—"
"Why do you keep showing up, Gamakichi?" the man interrupted. "I haven't summoned you." He felt the frog's front flippers on his forehead as he shifted, so as to place his orange face upside down in his eyesight.
"I like the company," Gamakichi said flatly.
The man snorted. He would hardly consider himself good company. He knew that the frog really popped up randomly because he thought he could use the company. Gamakichi was still in his eyesight, looking at him, and the man used his forefinger to gently push him back onto his head, a silent invitation to stay.
Neither frog nor man said anything for the larger portion of the day, mainly because the man had begun to run, leaping from tree to tree, and the frog had to concentrate his energy to hold onto his head. The man's hair was completely covered by a ninja forehead protector, which had been turned into a bandana, and without hair for traction it was harder to hang on.
The sun was dipping behind the horizon as he pulled to a sudden stop. Gamakichi would have flown from his head if he had been a normal frog. From his spot in a tree near the edge of the forest he could see the gates of Konoha, tall and proud—and closed.
With a sigh he leapt from the tree. Bright blue eyes looked upwards, trying to see the frog on his head. The orange amphibian got the hint.
"Call me if you need me, kid," the frog said, disappearing with a puff of smoke.
He snorted at the word kid, thinking the frog should have stopped using it five years ago when he reached the age of twenty, then, with a shake of his head he moved towards the gate.
The two guards stationed at the gate straightened as the stranger approached. They had never seen him before, and although he looked normal enough, in times such as these, with missing-nin becoming more and more common, they had to be careful. There was nothing distinguishing about him. He wore deep navy blue pants, a shuriken holster on his right thigh. His shirt was the same color as his pants and was short sleeved, revealing lightly muscled shoulders. His arms were wrapped from his biceps to the knuckles on his fingers. The bottom of his face was covered with a dark mask, very much like a jounin they knew, but, unlike him, this man's hair was completely covered by a his hitai-ate, which, they realized with surprise, carried the symbol of the leaf.
"Can we help you?" one of the guards, a chuunin, asked.
"I need to see the Hokage," the stranger stated, a deep voice coming from under his mask.
Both guards were transfixed by his eyes, a shade of blue neither had ever seen. He raised an eyebrow at their staring. With a cough, the chuunin that had spoken first pulled his attention away from his eyes.
"Is she expecting you?" he asked.
"I doubt it," he answered.
"I'm sorry but—"
The chuunin hesitated. There was urgency in the man's voice that made him believe him.
"We'll have an Anbu escort you," the chuunin finally said, nodding at his comrade, who disappeared in a puff of smoke. "We can't take any chances these days."
The stranger nodded. "I understand."
As a chuunin approached him after appearing in a puff of smoke he looked up, not that the lower ninja could tell since he had his mask on.
"Sir," the chuunin said with a bow. "There is a stranger at the gate wishing to speak with the Hokage."
The Anbu captain didn't respond directly and the chuunin began to fidget, wondering if he had even heard him.
Finally, he spoke. "Did he say why?"
"No, sir, but he claims it's important. We thought it would be best to have an Anbu escort him through the village."
There was another pause before the captain spoke again, a twinge of annoyance in his voice. "We cannot allow every man claiming he needs to speak to the Hokage into the tower. If it were important she would be expecting him, and she has mentioned nothing of it. Go back to your post and tell him no."
This time it was the chuunin's turn to pause. "Yes, sir," he finally said before disappearing.
The chuunin these days weren't the brightest batch to ever grace Konoha, Sasuke thought, before continuing his rounds.
When the chuunin returned the sun had fully set and the first stars of the night had begun to twinkle.
"I'm sorry, but the Anbu captain has refused to let you see the Hokage."
The stranger heaved a loud sigh. "This is what I get for trying to do this the nice way instead of just sneaking in," he muttered.
Both the chuunin tensed at his words.
"Okay then," the stranger said. "Thanks for your help."
The chuunins' eyes widened as the stranger crouched low and leapt high above them before disappearing over the gate.
Sasuke turned and saw the chuunin from earlier running towards him and rolled his eyes. He did enjoy the freedom his Anbu mask gave him.
"Uchiha-san, the man at the gate is in the village!"
"What?" Sasuke asked, his voice low.
"We informed him he could not enter and he leapt over the gate!"
Sasuke didn't wait for further elaboration; he quickly ran through the tower calling his Anbu to action and placing the building on full alert. After sending two Anbu to guard the Hokage, he made his way to the roof, watching his Anbu spread throughout the city, searching for the intruder. He didn't see anyone suspicious. "Sharingan," he said, a quick seal going along with the word. If he hadn't been wearing his mask anyone could have seen his normally deep gray eyes had turned blood red, three black dots around his pupils.
There, Sasuke thought, watching a navy blue blur dash along the rooftops, heading towards the tower. He was fast, and Sasuke knew his Anbu would not be able to spot him, not without the help of the Sharingan. He began running towards the blur, leaping from roof to roof to intercept him.
Sasuke made it into his path, effectively blocking the man from continuing any further. The man stopped running, his momentum carried him and he slid along the cement roof in a crouch until he gained traction and stopped.
The stranger stood, folding his arms across his chest. The Anbu in front of him was completely covered in a black robe. His hood was up and the robe billowed around him as the wind picked up. He almost laughed at the Anbu's mask, which was in the shape of a fox, small wooden ears sticking up.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you it's rude to stand in front of someone who's running?" the man asked.
Sasuke frowned, not that the intruder could see. There was a tone in his voice; he sounded almost—amused.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you that it's rude to enter someplace you haven't been invited?"
He couldn't see the intruder's mouth, but the way his eyes crinkled Sasuke thought he must have been grinning. He sucked in a breath when he caught sight of his eyes. A brilliant azure blue blinked at him; it was a shade he hadn't seen in years. Suddenly Sasuke hated this man. Only one person was allowed to have those color eyes and he was going to kill this man so he wouldn't have to look at them.
"As much as I'd love to play," the man said. "I must be off."
Sasuke tensed, dropping into a fighting stance as the man ran towards him. He wasn't prepared to see him leap over him, to the next roof, and continue running.
"Son of a—" Sasuke said, twisting around and rushing after him.
The man had made it into the tower before Sasuke caught up with him. How could he be so fast? Sasuke dove, catching the man around the waist. They fell forward, but the man was able to twist away from him and roll to his feet.
Sasuke twisted in midair to land steadily.
"You're quick," the intruder said, sounding impressed. "But I really don't have time for this." He dropped into a fighting stance. "Let's get this over with."
Those blue eyes were taunting him and rage Sasuke hadn't felt since Itachi was alive boiled within him.
Sasuke flew towards him, fist raised in a punch. The man dodged, aiming a high kick at his chest that Sasuke blocked. Fists and legs flew at one another, but the two men were almost equally matched. What the man lacked in the Sharingan he made up for with speed, and Sasuke found he couldn't lay a hit on him anymore than the other could on him. They leapt apart, breathing heavily.
"What do you want with the Hokage?" Sasuke asked, watching him carefully.
"She wouldn't tell you anything."
The blue eyes rolled. "Not information from her. For her."
Sasuke frowned behind his mask, dropping his guard slightly. "For her?"
"Yes. Next time you should ask before trying to beat the shit out of me, teme."
All reason left him at that. "No one can call me that," he growled in a dangerously low voice.
The blue eyes widened as the Anbu suddenly began focusing his chakra to his left hand, so much that it began to glow blue and sounded as if birds had entered the hallway and started chirping.
His last coherent thought as the chakra-laden fist slammed him through the wall was, "Sasuke."
The Hokage and the two Anbu guarding her looked up in total surprise when a body crashed through the wall of her office. He slid along the floor, coming to a stop in front of her desk and out of her sight. Tsunade looked at the large hole in her wall to see her Anbu captain stride through, the remains of chakra still on his fist. All of those in the office were thankful he had his mask on, for the rage they could feel radiating from him made none of them eager to see the look on his face.
Tsunade cleared her throat. "Is this the intruder?" she asked, unable to think of anything else to say.
The Anbu captain nodded, but he suddenly tensed when the body in front of her desk, who should by all rights be unconscious for a few weeks, if not dead, began to move. The four people in the room watched in amazement as the navy blue clad man stood shakily.
"Chidori? Overkill for calling you a bastard, don't you think?"
Sasuke was extremely grateful for his mask, which hid the fact that he was gaping openmouthed at the man who didn't seem to have a mark on him. He was so confused the fact that the man knew the name of his jutsu went completely unnoticed. He recovered himself.
"Shall I try it again?" Sasuke growled, chakra gathering again.
The man turned from him. "Tsunade-baba," he said quietly to the gaping woman behind her desk. "I need to speak with you."
She stiffened at the name, and then quickly stood. "Uchiha, that's enough!"
The chakra immediately dissipated.
"Hokage-sama?" Sasuke asked, confused.
"The two of you, leave me," she said to the other Anbu. "Sasuke, find Jiraiya."
The three Anbu obviously didn't understand, but they did as they were told.
"What are you doing back, brat?" she asked when the Anbu were gone. Her voice was rough, but it was covering for some emotions the man couldn't decipher.
He played along. "Don't growl at me like it's my fault," he said, crossing his arms. "I wasn't planning on coming back."
"Tsunade, what's going on?" A gruff voice asked. Naruto looked over to the hole in the wall, watching as a tall sturdy man with long white hair steeped through. He had red lines running down his cheeks, looking like red tear streaks.
"Hey, Ero sennin," the man said with a wave.
Jiraiya stopped mid-walk and looked confusedly between the masked man and Tsunade. The twisted expression on her face was enough to tell him that nickname was not just a coincidence. "What are you doing here?" he whispered, resisting the urge to go hug the man. It seemed that Tsunade was doing the same.
"What a welcome," the blue-eyed man muttered.
Sasuke came in from behind Jiraiya, moving over to the corner of the office and standing there quietly. Naruto couldn't see his face, but he could tell by the other man's posture that he was brooding. He smiled slightly under his mask.
"Some things have been going on, I thought they should be brought to your attention."
"We're aware of the sudden amount of missing nins from all of the hidden villages. That's why you had such trouble getting to me," Tsunade said.
"Does the fact that I did get to you tell you anything about your security?" Naruto said cheekily. Sasuke straightened and was about to lunge at him when Tsunade held up a hand. Naruto continued. "Anyway, I'd have been severely concerned if you weren't aware of the situation. The question is, do you know where the missing nins are?"
No one spoke.
"Akatsuki was disbanded after the death of Itachi and the apprehension of five of the S-class nins," Sasuke said. As a key player in the entire affair he had witnessed the end of Akatsuki.
"I know," Naruto said, pulling something from one of the pouches around his waist. It was a forehead protector. He tossed it onto Tsunade's desk and she picked it up to examine it.
"I was attacked the other day by a shinobi wearing this. He's one of Konoha's recent missing nins."
Tsunade handed the hitai-ate to Jiraiya, a grim expression on her face. Sasuke could see the long horizontal scratch through the leaf symbol.
"Why did he attack you?" Jiraiya asked.
"Actually there were about four of them. They approached me first. They're recruiting, that's why there's the sudden excess of missing nins. When I refused, they attacked."
"You didn't…want to—" Tsunade seemed to stumble over her words.
"Of course not!" he said loudly. "Just because the fox is evil doesn't mean I am! It hasn't taken me over, Tsunade-baba!"
Sasuke stilled. In a flash he had pulled off his Anbu mask and had the other man pinned up against the wall by his neck. Reaching up he pulled down the other man's mask. His blue eyes had widened, but he didn't struggle, mainly because he could barely breathe. Sasuke inhaled sharply when he saw the whisker marks he hadn't seen for ten years. "You," he hissed, hand tightening as red eyes bore into blue. "Are supposed to be dead." He was so close Naruto could feel his breath on his face, which served to remind him about his own lack of air.
"He will be if you don't let him breathe, Sasuke," Jiraiya said.
Realizing how tight his grip had become Sasuke quickly released him. Naruto coughed, glaring at him and rubbing his neck.
"So," Jiraiya said after Naruto regained his breath. "Akatsuki sought you out again?"
"They did before, no reason to assume they wouldn't this time around."
"How did they know you're alive?" Tsunade asked.
"Well, since only you and Ero Sennin knew, and I don't believe you would have told anyone, my only guess would be that the man everyone believes killed me isn't quite as dead as we thought, and is correcting a few rumors."
"Orochimaru," Tsunade and Jiraiya said.
"The missing nin are on the move. They've been moving steadily through the Fire Country. If Orochimaru is leading them I have no doubt they are on their way here." He glanced at Sasuke who was glaring at the floor with clenched fists.
"Okay," Tsunade said a while later. "None of this is to be repeated. We do not need a panic on our hands. I will inform the jounin. Sasuke, put your Anbu on full alert."
Naruto pulled up his facemask and prepared to leave.
"Where are you going?" Tsunade asked.
"Wherever the wind may take me?" Naruto said.
"You can't leave Konoha," Tsunade told him.
"What?" Naruto said angrily. "I came back here to warn you, not to be taken prisoner."
"We're not taking you prisoner, Naruto, but if Orochimaru is coming to attack we could use your help. Also, you have to understand, if you leave and Akatsuki gets their hands on you—"
"Right," Naruto interrupted, his voice cold. "I forgot what a powerful weapon I am."
Sasuke noticed that despite his anger, the look in his eyes was—hurt?
"Where am I going to stay? A box on the street?"
Tsunade paused. She hadn't given much thought to that.
"You can stay with me," Sasuke spoke up, and everyone turned to him in surprise. All of them knew Sasuke was not the most social of people.
"Good," Tsunade said, settling the matter.
Naruto looked around the room, the beginnings of panic working in his chest. He didn't want to be here, he didn't want to stay. He knew they wouldn't let him leave easily. Sasuke and two sannin were formidable opponents and while he could probably outrun them, if they caught him he wouldn't be afforded the courtesy of staying with Sasuke. He'd be thrown into a cell for who knew how long.
With a defeated sigh he nodded. Perhaps he could slip away once he was at Sasuke's.
They hadn't spoken the entire walk to Sasuke's.
It was late at night and they ran into no one, something both men were thankful for. It was likely they wouldn't have been bothered, however, since Sasuke had managed to remain as unapproachable as ever, especially after becoming an Anbu. Only a few people still attempted to reach out to him, mainly Sakura, a few other shinobi's they had been genin with, and, of course, Kakashi.
Naruto looked around when they entered the gates of what he could only assume had been a lively community of Uchiha at one point. It was quiet and empty, and he felt sad, not only for the people who had once lived here, but also for the man walking beside him, who remained in this deserted little corner of Konoha alone.
Naruto followed Sasuke into his house, being led through the living room and into the kitchen that was next to it. The house had a sterile, unused feeling to it.
Naruto sat down at the kitchen table with a sigh, pulling his mask down.
Sasuke had put his Anbu mask on before they left the tower and now the fox face was turned towards Naruto.
"If you're going to stare at me at least have the courtesy to do it without the mask," Naruto said, not looking at the Anbu that stood across the room.
There was a pause and Sasuke pulled the wooden mask from his face, setting it on the counter he was leaning against. Naruto placed his elbows on the table, his head hung as he massaged the back of his neck. Sasuke said nothing.
"How long have you been an Anbu?" Naruto finally broke the silence.
"Where have you been?" Sasuke said roughly, surprising him.
Blue eyes looked up, narrowed in thought. Sasuke crossed his arms, showing his impatience, but said nothing.
"I've been around. Mostly in the fire country."
Sasuke glared at him. "Why didn't you come back? You let us believe you were dead."
Naruto didn't answer right away, a guarded expression on his face. "It was better that way," he said.
"What could possibly be important enough to let us think you were dead? Do you have any idea what people went through? Iruka, Sakura, Kakashi—" He stopped abruptly, but Naruto knew what the next word would have been. Me.
"It's a long story, Sasuke."
Black eyes flared in anger and Sasuke crossed the room in a flash, slamming his palms into the table in front of Naruto, who shrank back in surprise. "That's not a good enough answer, dobe," he hissed.
Naruto's eyes widened then narrowed angrily as Sasuke's tone and insult got the desired rise out of him. "Don't act like I owe you explanations, teme," he spat out. "You never thought twice about me back then, don't try to pretend we're friends now."
Sasuke straightened, and for a brief moment Naruto thought he looked hurt, but his general expression of indifference returned so quickly that Naruto had to assume he'd imagined it.
"So what really happened?" Sasuke asked, his voice calm once more. "Obviously Orochimaru didn't kill you."
"Sasuke," Naruto said softly, staring at his hands. "I don't want—I can't talk about this. I don't want to think, I don't want to remember. I did what I had to do. Please," he whispered. "Please just drop it."
Sasuke didn't bother to try and hide the surprise on his face; Naruto wasn't looking at him anyway. As much as Naruto's words made him even more curious than before, his tone and his broken voice stalled all questions Sasuke had. Naruto's personality seemed drained. He was quiet now, reflective. Nothing like the loud mouth dobe he'd known as a teenager.
Why had he changed?
He didn't press further, but turned, pulling some things out of his barely used cupboards.
Naruto didn't look up until a steaming bowl of ramen was placed in front of him. He stared up at Sasuke, confused. The other man sat down across from him, digging into his own bowl of ramen, not meeting Naruto's eyes. With a grin, Naruto picked up his chopsticks.
"Ano sa! Ano sa! What about Neji?"
Sasuke sighed in annoyance. As they ate, Naruto had begun to ask him about his old friends and Sasuke had been updating him for the last hour on the lives of Iruka, Kakashi, Sakura, Jiraiya, Tsunade, Shikamaru, Hinata, and Lee. Thinking of all the others Naruto could ask about made Sasuke mentally groan.
"Dobe, aren't you tired or something?" he asked, all the while inwardly pleased that he was acting more like the Naruto he knew.
"No," Naruto said flippantly. "I usually only sleep for three or four hours near dawn."
Sasuke furrowed his eyebrows.
Noting his confusion, Naruto explained. "Early morning, less likely to get attacked."
"Do you get attacked a lot?" Sasuke asked.
"Occasionally," he said. "More so since Akatsuki's revival. They come around once a week or so. I'm waiting for them to send someone stronger though, you would think they'd get that I'm not coming without being forced."
Sasuke frowned but made no comment.
"If you're tired, Sasuke, don't let me keep you up. I'll go train or something."
It was said extremely casually. Sasuke looked at him quickly.
"What?" Naruto asked.
"Going to try and sneak off?"
Blue eyes widened.
"Naruto, I can't let you leave. Tsunade ordered it."
"What does that old hag know?" Naruto asked angrily, standing from his seat.
"She doesn't want you caught by Akatsuki," Sasuke said, growing angry as well. "She wants to protect you, you ungrateful idiot."
"She wants to protect the village," Naruto snapped. "It's the fox she cares about, not Naruto. And she knows that it's better if I leave. Konoha is safer."
"What?" Sasuke asked said, not understanding what the other man meant.
"Nothing," Naruto said, turning. "I'm leaving. I didn't want to come back here and I sure as hell have no intention of staying." He stalked from the kitchen and towards the door. He stopped when Sasuke appeared in front of him, blocking his exit.
"Get out of my way, Sasuke," Naruto growled.
"I already told you, dobe, I can't let you leave."
"I won't ask you again."
Sasuke crossed his arms, unmoved. He was completely surprised when Naruto turned and sped towards the open window in his living room, leaping out.
"Dobe!" he yelled, following.
Naruto was fast, Sasuke knew, but Sasuke was by no means slow. With a quick seal his eyes were red and he could see Naruto, not far ahead, heading towards the forest that surrounded the training grounds. With a leap he was on the rooftops trailing the navy blue blur in front of him. They made it from the rooftops to trees and with a burst of speed Sasuke caught up to the other man, grabbing the back of his shirt and yanking him back onto the tree limb before he could continue.
With a surprised "Oof" Naruto landed next to Sasuke. They glared at one another until Sasuke finally said. "You've gotten fast."
"Cut the crap, Sasuke," Naruto said. "I want to get out of here before dawn."
"I guess we'd better get started then," Sasuke said, dropping into his fighting stance.
"I don't want to fight you," Naruto said.
"Afraid?" Sasuke asked, smirking.
"Not of you. For you."
"Confident aren't we?" Sasuke asked.
"Some things never change," Naruto said, blue eyes twinkling for a moment, the only part of Naruto's face Sasuke could see since the man had pulled him mask back up. He dropped into his own stance. "Okay, Anbu captain. Let's go."
They started quickly, flying at one another. Both were fast. Sasuke aimed a punch at Naruto's jaw and Naruto ducked, using his momentum to swing around, attempting to kick the Anbu's legs out from under him. Sasuke's sharingan allowed him to dodge and he leapt to another tree limb in surprise as Naruto had pulled out several shuriken and sent them into the spot he had been standing on.
Nothing would be accomplished fighting close range, Sasuke knew. They'd both continue blocking and dodging. Their fight earlier in the night had proved that.
"In that case," Sasuke muttered. His fingers flew into familiar seals. "Goukakyuu no jutsu!"
With a deep inhalation he sent a ball of flame at the other man and with wide eyes watched as Naruto didn't dodge. The fireball hit him full on and Sasuke watched anxiously as the smoke cleared, fearing he had hurt Naruto. He wanted to stop him, not kill him. He'd never expected Naruto not to dodge. As the smoke cleared, Naruto's figure became visible, still in his crouched position, head down and not looking at him. He stood, folding his arms over his chest. When Naruto met his gaze Sasuke almost gasped. The red eyes of the Kyuubi were staring at him, but as he watched they slowly receded to the brilliant blue Sasuke knew.
Naruto laughed. "Come on, Sasuke, is that all you've got?"
"Your eyes—" Sasuke said.
Naruto winked at him "Are we done yet? I'd like to get going."
"You're not leaving!" Sasuke yelled.
Naruto's eyes widened in surprise at the normally stoic boy's outburst.
"You can't do this. You can't come back after ten years of being dead and leave again."
"I won't let you leave again," Sasuke said. "When I left you came after me. I almost killed you, but for some reason, even when I was beyond hope, you believed in me. I've spent the past ten years knowing that your death was my fault, that my decisions killed you. Now you're alive and I refuse to let you disappear again."
Naruto looked away from him, and Sasuke couldn't tell if he'd gotten through to him or not. He nearly started in surprise when the blue eyes turned on him suddenly, glaring coldly.
"How selfish," he said. "I. Don't. Want. To. Be. Here. Why don't you understand that? I can't stay here. It's too dangerous. Besides, no one wants me here. I saw my funeral—I saw who went. More importantly, I saw who didn't. Three-quarters of the village, Sasuke. Three-quarters of the village celebrated my 'death.'" Even with the mask on Sasuke could see the sneer on his face. "In Konoha, I'm Kyuubi. I'm a monster. A weapon to be used until I'm deemed too dangerous and sent on my merry way." He had to get Sasuke to let him leave, and if this was the only way, then so be it. "I hate this village and everyone in it. Including you."
It was quiet for a long time before Sasuke finally spoke.
"So why did you come back to warn us? If you hate us so much, why not just leave us to our destruction?"
Naruto looked conflicted for a moment before settling on angry. He leapt at Sasuke and they resumed their dance of blocking and dodging.
"I don't know what you are to the village," Sasuke grunted as they fought. "But to me, you're Naruto. My loud, blonde, dobe."
If Naruto heard him, he didn't respond, continuing his assault. It was only when Sasuke saw tears in his blue eyes did he realize Naruto had indeed heard his words. The tears distracted him, and Naruto finally managed to land a powerful punch, sending the Anbu flying off the tree branch and slamming his head painfully hard into the trunk of the tree behind him, before falling heavily to the ground, unconscious.
Naruto stood on the limb in surprise. He wiped his eyes and jumped down from the tree, landing in a crouch next to Sasuke. His dark hair was splayed about the grass contrasting with his pale skin. His breathing was wheezy, it sounded like perhaps he'd broken a rib. Naruto stood, turning his back on Sasuke and preparing to leap off into the trees. By the time Sasuke woke he would have put enough distance between him and Konoha that he wouldn't be found.
A/N: I was hit with the Naruto plot bunny and it turned into the Naruto plot elephant. This is going to be another one of those long ones, I can tell already. There may be possible Sasuke/Naruto later on, who knows, the characters write themselves.
Disclaimer: If I owned Naruto, Kakashi would wear much less clothing and do things naughtier than read Icha Icha Paradise. Since he's usually fully covered up you can assume Naruto isn't mine.