Hello, I'm back!! Sorry for the long hiatus, apparently I underestimated the amount of work I had to accomplish during honours year!!! It was absolutely horrifying sprained my wrists writing papers for a straight month, I think I'm scarred for life or at least until I go to work, then maybe I'll go back to studying again. I really have to thank you guys for your great enthusiasm for the fic and hence I will try my best to not let this fic die till I finish. (actually I have no idea how long this fic might take :( ! oops )

I would like to thank these wonderful people who had reviewed in the last chapter: RoguefanAM, InuyashaHoujo, Em-chan 01, HisNameIsMyNM2, DarkRavie, takuya, DarkMiko13, shadowhawk00, Hikory, hiya couldn't find a name, Kingofrogues, milo the ninja, planet na martian, iloveme5895, inu fan 69, Devil-Speaker, JadeAnime, sabbychan, ravemastaj, Mikra, fOX IN THE ROUGH, lorena, Generally Maz, Tohruismyoneechan, Itachi'sEBILcuppycake and shadowphoenix143.

Disclaimer and A/N: I don't own Naruto and gang.

I must admit this is chap looks a little pointless, I apologize. Its like a little fluffy ramble before the mission starts and things get quite intense, so I'm trying to get the fluff out of my system to clear the way for the more serious stuff I guess. I hid the mission on purpose, really don't wanna give anything away, afterall this whole fic is so cliché I bet you guys can tell where this is all heading :P! But just in case you love this fic enough to want me to continue it, just leave me a review or two to say continue. Thank you for being patient with me so far and MERRY CHRISTMAS to ALL!!


Chapter 20

The Godaime flipped two rather ominous looking folders onto the table and with a quick flick of the wrist sent them hurtling towards her two subordinates. Sasuke caught his elegantly with a slight movement of his wrist and Naruto caught it tragically between his forehead and his teeth.

"These are your mission specs, commit them to memory, they contain all the important dates, locations and requirements you need for this mission. You have one hour to prepare for departure and since you two are my finest ANBU team, I expect nothing but the best work from you guys. Hence I give you at least a week or two tops to complete this mission, no side trips and no extra expenses and that includes ramen, Naruto!"

Sasuke scanned through the entire folder with his Sharingan and in record time dropped the folder back onto the table whilst Naruto continued to pour over the details in the front page, obviously having a lot of trouble deciphering the first part of the mission. 'That dobe,' Sasuke smirked.

"Remember the mission objective this time is to retrieve information and not an assassination so please show some restraint in the manner you deal with the target or at least until after you retrieve the intended information." Sasuke nodded whilst Naruto was squinting at the text in front of him. Tsunade swiveled her chair around to stare out at the window. "That is all! Oh and one other thing….

The folder will self-destruct in 10 seconds from the moment it's opened…"

"WHAT!!!"

"KABOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!"

"I'll get you yet, Tsunade no ba ba!!!"


The night grew colder and it took all of Naruto's will power not to drop his head into his lap and doze off during his shift, but a slight rustle at his side gave him all the encouragement he needed as he gently reached over and brushed a few stray strands of dark hair off his partner's face. Camped out in the middle of the wilderness en route to their mission destination was not something uncommon for both of them as they had spent countless nights just like these with separate teams, but strangely the places always seemed more familiar and comfortable when they were together.

Naruto continued to play with the soft locks of darkest night as he lost himself in his own memories of their odd relationship. He didn't quite know what to call Sasuke anymore; they were friends, rivals, maybe siblings, maybe family, he didn't quite know anymore. He moved his fingers to softly graze across the Uchiha's soft cheek reveling in the gentleness of the touch and the sensation beneath his fingertips. He remembered the day of their reunion, the harshness of the cold, wet ground and the bitterness of the wretched wind and rain lashing against his skin as he watched the broken and beaten Sasuke seated under a tree with his eyes turned upward to the bleeding heavens waiting, waiting for a time to die.

The person in question shifted underneath his fingers as his dark haired companion started to stir from his slumber. Dark bleary eyes slowly opened and took in the situation around them and all through his awakening, all Naruto could do was watch just like then. "Naruto?" he croaked out. "What are you doing?"

"Remembering…"

"Hnn…" (Don't hurt yourself thinking.)

"Bastard…" he chided gently. "I was remembering the time I found you under that tree. Your eyes looked so dead, it looked as if you weren't there anymore."

"Hnn…" (When did I …?)

"What you don't remember anything?"

"I don't remember much that day." Sasuke paused for a bit, staring into the campfire slowly trying to recall the events that transpired that afternoon. It was an afternoon, right? Then why did he remember feeling so utterly cold? 'I remember that Itachi passed away. I couldn't even finish what I spent my lifetime trying to accomplish…' he thought to himself. "I killed him…"

Naruto nodded for Sasuke to continue as he lifted Sasuke's head onto his lap in one giant heave. Sasuke struggled for a bit and hit Naruto square in the jaw for that unwanted gesture.

"What!?" Naruto squawked indignantly. "That's what Iruka-sensei always does when I tell him stories of my day!!"

"Dobe! Stop flattening my hair!!"

"I'm stroking your hair in a nice soothing fashion, bastard!! Be grateful that the great Uzumaki Naruto is letting you use his lap!!"

"Pfft……."

"Ooh…..that's a new Sasuke expression!! I must record that for further investigation!"

"Hnn…"

"Aww…come one continue with the story I wanna know more!"

"Hnn…" (there is nothing much to know…)

"I'm sure there is!!"

Sasuke sighed in resignation; he knew he won't get much sleep tonight anyway. "He died. I lived. End of story."

Naruto apparently was not too satisfied by the abrupt story and pounced upon the prone figure on his lap, ruffling up Sasuke's hair. "That's not a story!!! That's a report and a very lousy one at that!! Where is the drama, the juicy details, the action sequence!!!"

"Fine!" Sasuke hissed trying to remove Naruto's person from his hair. "You tell the story…"

"Okay! Hmmm….I know!" Naruto perked up and thumped his fist into his open hand.

"Once upon a time, there was a dashing, strong, and drop-dead gorgeous shinobi who was going to be Hokage; and this dashing, strong, and drop-dead gorgeous shinobi had an annoying, ugly, pasty-faced rival whom he had always competed against when they were younger. They fought a lot, and argued a lot and the dashing, strong, and drop-dead gorgeous shinobi always thought that his rival was a pain in the ass, smart aleck who wasn't all that…hmmph" Naruto nodded his head violently in emphasis of the point, Sasuke merely rolled his eyes at the absolute childishness.

"But they went on missions together, and the annoying, ugly, pasty-faced rival saved the dashing, strong, and drop-dead gorgeous shinobi sometimes …But but but ….the dashing, strong, and drop-dead gorgeous shinobi saved that pasty-faced bastard's ass more times!! And soon the dashing, strong, and drop-dead gorgeous shinobi started believing that the pasty-faced bastard wasn't so bad after all. …" Naruto's voice seemed to drop a little more at the end of the story, startling Sasuke enough to look up at his partner's face.

"Then when the dashing, strong, and drop-dead gorgeous shinobi thought they were becoming best friends,…the pasty faced ass hole ran off to find more power. It was then the dashing and strong shinobi realized that maybe he was deluded in believing that his feelings of friendship were returned and he vowed never to let anyone get so close to him again…" Sasuke heard a slight hitch in Naruto's voice as his face grew more somber, his brilliant blue eyes were hidden beneath shaggy fringe.

"And he set out to fulfill a promise to his friend and to himself that he will bring that pasty faced bastard back even if he had to break every single bone in that asshole's body and drag him home. So he fought and he trained hard till his knuckles bled, till he body was pushed to the limit of his existence, when he thought he was going to die he'd remember that he hadn't brought that bastard back yet and he'd get up, again and again."

Sasuke watched in rapt fascination as Naruto clenched his fist and nearly winced at the force he was pressing his nails into the palm of his hand. Sasuke placed a hand on Naruto's shoulder and whispered,

"Your feelings of friendship were not unrequited."

And with that both grew quiet in the night, finding comfort in the knowledge that they were not so alone in the world as they had first believed; and even if this fact might change in the near future, at least for the moment the illusion remain. Until tomorrow, until the next time they face an enemy, until the time one will have to watch the other broken and bleeding on the mission grounds; they'll hang on to this little memory… until then.


End of Chapter.