Disclaimer: Nothing is mine!
Notes: For sna, after a most enlightening conversation about Kakashi's true species. Massive thanks to hey-diddle-diddle for reading through for me and for encouraging the OroTreeMaru madness.
Any and all criticism or comments are appreciated! Thanks! xxx
Naruto dreamed of his team-mates every night.
It wasn't that he was overly lonely – he'd been a lone fox before he'd ever had his team – but being in the constant companionship of a certain Sannin didn't exactly curb his imaginative streak. Usually, in his dreams, Sakura was naked. And gloriously so – all shinobi toned lines and Godaime inspired curves. Sometimes she was joined by Hinata, too, or even Ino if Naruto had eaten something weird with his ramen.
He'd used to dream so innocently, too. There were pink haired damsels in distress and Hokage's robes flapping about as he swept Sakura up in a passionate peck on the cheek at most. But Naruto was Jiraiya-trained, these days. The foundations that Kakashi had laid were now ripe for building upon; and Naruto had seen a lot of ninja-y things that lie in wait outside of Konoha, during his time as Jiraiya's student. He'd lost a lot of the innocence he'd once possessed.
If he wasn't dreaming of winning the warmth of Sakura's potential bosom these days, he was usually dreaming of putting Sasuke's head through a large, thick, rock-fucking-solid cliff face or three.
These were different dreams entirely, but left Naruto shaking and sweating all the same. He didn't want to be filled with hatred, didn't want to want to hurt his friend; but each new rumour they found was another rumour leading to the fact that – just as Naruto was no better than Jiraiya – Sasuke was no better than Orochimaru.
Sometimes, Naruto dreamed of the past – of fighting Kiba and Akamaru, of the formidable force of Konoha's InoShikaCho formation. Sometimes he dreamed of Shino, but dream-Shino made no more sense than real-Shino did, and it still drove Naruto absolutely mental – but at least his subconscious was nice to him, because it never tormented him with the many memories that had led to losing Sasuke, to losing his team, and – let's face it – losing his best chance to prove himself.
Naruto didn't like anonymity, and the more he learned about Jiraiya the more he wondered how the Sannin could stand having so much power, and doing so little to show it of. He was a lot like Kakashi-sensei in that sense, but nothing like he seemed.
"For fuck's sake, Dead-Last," scoffed Sasuke from his bound position against the tree. "Can't you at least try to pretend to aim?"
"Hold still you bastard! I'm trying!" Naruto threw shuriken after shuriken after cherry bomb after kunai after senbon after dart, but nothing worked. For some inexplicable reason he just couldn't hit Sasuke, or – when he'd tried a change of tact – neither could he cut the ropes that bound him.
"Hn. Hold still!" Sasuke wriggled ineffectively as he mocked his blonde team-mate, hand-like wings straining teasingly against the bark. "He says it like I'm not bound to a tree!"
"Naruto!" Inner Sakura growled from beneath the tree, every now and then spoon feeding bits of cake to Sasuke, ever-so mindful of the odd little fangs. Naruto could tell it was Inner Sakura, because she still looked like the twelve year old girl that Sakura saw herself as. Furious eyes and too-large forehead and pink hair running down her back. Other Sakura sat beside her; all long legs and shinobi brilliance. The past and the future, in red-clad, pink-haired form. Between them was a picnic basket, littered now with weaponry from Naruto's atrocious aim. "Get better faster! You're wasting time!"
"I'm trying! I'm trying!" Naruto cried, shaking with the effort it took not to just tear in and break the coiling ropes apart. Naruto knew that wouldn't help. He knew it. There was nothing he could do while Sasuke was looking all stupid and drag-queen and pale against the tide of force they were wading through. "I can't cut it. I can't get through."
"It's because," Kakashi-sensei said, appearing suddenly atop the picnic basket, words lazy and muffled through the fabric of his mask. "You're being an idiot about it."
"YOU'RE LATE!" Kakashi visibly flinched as his eardrums were assaulted on both sides – teach him to bamph into existence between two of Sakura.
"Haaa, sorry. I was debating the existence of evil in all its forms." Kakashi grinned, leaning over to poke Sasuke in the leg, hissing a little as the curse seal burnt across the layers of his skin.
"And what did you discover?" Sasuke asked wryly, turning sardonic yellow eyes on his team-mates.
"That the key is in the dress sense. In my day, the Uchiha Clan had a little style! I mean, Itachi's walking around in a glorified potato sack and you're a drag artist! What does that tell you?" Kakashi crossed the clearing to where Naruto stared in baffled horror, handed him Sakura's butter knife as he took a bite out of a paper plate. "Quick, while he's distracted from my insult-no-jutsu!"
"Not everything's a jutsu, Sensei…"
"Quick!" Kakashi hissed, summoning Pakkun and sending him off to guard the twin Sakuras. "Beneath the Underneath!"
Naruto threw the butter knife towards the target, watched it slam into Sasuke's breastplate. He withered then, body hissing like a snake as he died, and Naruto found that he could move again, ignoring the rotting smell of what was left of Sasuke's body as he settled between his teacher and a Sakura.
They ate in silence, Sakura picking delicately at their food while Kakashi chewed on Pakkun's ear. Naruto observed them, watching as Sasuke's form slowly writhed it's way back into the boy they'd once known – the boy Naruto was certain was still there. Somewhere.
"I'm gonna get you back, you know?" Naruto said, not giving those dark eyes the chance to look away. "I promised I would. I have to."
Sasuke sighed, moving closer into their circle. Darting, like a skittish deer, between being theirs and being one of them. "It's not going to be easy, moron. We're not playing ninja here. It's more than that."
"Do you think you can get Sasuke-kun to come back, Naruto?" Sakura chorused. One wiser than the other, one more trusting.
"Shinobi that don't protect their comrades are worse than trash." Kakashi held their wrists – all of their wrists, somehow – and Naruto felt his teacher's skin like it connected them all. "I didn't teach you all to be trash, now, did I?"
Pakkun barked in affirmation, and that – of all the implausible things that had happened there so far – that was what told Naruto that it was a dream. As he faded from the training grounds he managed to catch Sasuke's eyes; and grinning, made another promise he probably couldn't keep.
He would get his team back.
For the first time in 28 months, 3 weeks and 5 days, Naruto woke up with tears on his pillow. He knew at once how much he learned, how much he'd grown. He knew how much he'd stayed the same. He crept out of his bed roll and spent fifteen minutes poking Jiraiya in the temple with a small stick, waiting for the moment the Old Man would stop pretending to be asleep and give in to his student's demands.
"What d'you want, you horrid little brat?" He squinted shrewd eyes towards the early morning sky. "It's far too early for you!"
"I want to go home, Jiraiya-sama." Naruto mumbled, using his sensei's true name for the first time since they'd met, probably. "It's time we got back to Konoha."
Jiraiya looked at him for a long moment, judging and curious. "Alright, brat."
The Sannin stood, quickly moving through their small camp, packing it away, making it as though they'd never been there. For all Naruto could tell, lost in his blur of then and now and one day, they might never have been. Naruto watched him, tense and brittle around the edges, fully expecting the Old Man to announce the next ridiculously obscure village on their travels. Tense, that is, until Jiraiya finally turned to the blonde boy with a bright grin. "We're going home."