Edited: 14/04/2011

StarsOfYaoi: hello, Naruto fandom! I am SOY! :) I used to have another account, but things happened and thus I created a new one. I hope you will stick with me enough to read my fics!

Note: I am a firm believer in ICism and grammar. If you think I fail in one or both, feel free to drop me a comment, telling me how to improve too. NO bashing.

This takes place after Sasuke runs off to Orochimaru. Since I started writing this fic in 2006, when the truth of the Itachi's actions hadn't been revealed yet, the motivations behind exterminating the Uchiha are kind of different from the now canon.

I hope you enjoy! :)

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Rating: M

Warnings: yaoi, boy x boy relationship, angsty, torture, and such. Mental as well. Flames will be used to warm up food.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. Masashi Kishimoto does.

"Talking"

'Thinking'

Flashbacks, memories, dreams–

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Winter Release

Chapter 01: Reality Strikes

Silence.

There was a thick silence, and Naruto liked it.

Maybe it was because of the snow, white and fluffy, that was falling from the grey, clouded sky, almost softening and soothing all the noise, or maybe it was because at this hour of the night, no one was around, but Naruto felt finally able to relax.

His blue eyes flickered above the houses of Konohagakure, taking in how beautiful the village looked from above the Hokage Mountain, on top of the Fourth's head.

It was his favourite place where to sit, because from that spot he could see the entire village at his feet in all its splendour.

He admired the sight, uncaring for the cold and blind to everything but the beauty of his village; white covered the rooftops and the streets, the trees and the mountains around him, and it covered even the faces carved in the stone he was sitting on, making them almost unrecognizable.

He loved it.

Shifting the scarf around his neck, shivering because of the cold washing through him (he had known for a long time that as vessel of a Fire demon he would be affected by the cold more than any normal person), Naruto rubbed his palms together to warm his hands up a bit, eyes still fixed on that breathtaking sight below him.

In moments like these, he could understand why people like Sandaime and Yondaime had given up their life to protect this village.

Feeling his stomach twist painfully, he was then reminded that no one had allowed him to leave his bed, and he slowly made his way down the mountain, returning to the hospital with slow and soft steps, soothed by the snow giving in under his weight.

Almost two months had passed ever since he'd returned from the 'let's rescue Sasuke–teme' mission, which had been a sheer fiasco, having four of the five involved coming back almost dead, with no Sasuke.

Although Shikamaru blamed it all on himself, bravely accepting the entire fault for the unsuccessful mission, no one really held him responsible; Naruto himself knew it was not his fault, and he'd supported his friend as much as he could, especially after making sure the remaining three were also fine.

Someone had blamed him, though.

Sakura.

The pink haired kunoichi did not take well the fact that Sasuke wasn't brought back when Naruto had returned. She hadn't spared a glance to the other four that were barely alive, but when she had realised that Naruto had broken his promise, she had blamed it all on him.

Her voice still echoed in his mind, taunting him and accusing him –after that, she had never tried to speak with him, and even now, two months later, she still couldn't look at him in the eye.

Naruto knew that he shouldn't feel this bad –he could understand her anger and her disappointment, of course, but it still hurt to remember her words.

"You couldn't take him back even when you promised, Naruto! I trusted you, and you couldn't even take Sasuke–kun back! How could you, Naruto? What kind of a ninja are you, if you can't even keep your promise!"

It had felt like his heart had been crushed under steely claws, and he shook his head to chase those thoughts away; this wasn't the time to brood in misery. He couldn't even tell Sakura that Sasuke had tried to kill him because that would break the perfect image of the Uchiha she had… and although Naruto still cared for her deeply, his heart didn't warm up anymore when she was close to him.

Maybe it was her careless words spoken out of rage and pain, but… the feelings he had for her were gone. If anything, he thought of her as a friend…

She had been his friend, but after not speaking with her for months, he wasn't sure of that anymore either.

The only thing that comforted him at the moment was that the Ero–Sennin had promised he would train him. The moment his injuries were completely healed, they would leave Konoha; he would train, he would become strong enough to take Sasuke back where he belonged… to Konoha.

Maybe Naruto didn't have the respect he sought, but Sasuke, no matter what he did or what he would maybe do in the future, was still cared for by Konoha; he was the last Uchiha, the survivor. Worshipped for his name only…

The village still admired him.

Naruto did not know what the others (the rest of the Rescue Five) thought about the Uchiha teen after their failed mission, but he was sure that the village would be glad to have him back, even if Sasuke was a missing–nin now.

After all, he was still the last of the Uchiha. They would probably forgive everything in order to have him back… after all, nobody knew what had caused him to leave nor what he had done in order to leave.

Only three people knew why Sasuke had left, these three being Jiraiya, Tsunade and Naruto himself –Tsunade had decided to explain it to him when he was still in bed recovering, so that Naruto would understand what was going through his teammate's mind.

Naruto felt responsible, because he had allowed his best friend to run away in order to get the power he desired… the power to kill his brother.

In a way, if Sasuke had succeeded in killing him, then he wouldn't have needed to defect for Orochimaru; he would have perhaps returned to the village with the Mangekyou Sharingan and train it in there. Besides, no one would have really missed Naruto, except maybe Iruka–sensei and Tsunade… but Naruto was not one to linger in self–pity, and he had no intentions to die either –he wanted to reach his goals in life, and he would not renounce to them simply to give his friend a weapon.

That fuelled his anger, too –Sasuke had no rights to drag Naruto down with him at all.

Feeling a trickle of wet snow seep through his clothes –he had stopped in the middle of the street while thinking about Sasuke– Naruto finally snapped out from his musings and forcibly shook his head.

He was still alive and had no intention of giving his life for Sasuke… but even then, his dream of becoming Hokage felt now even more unreachable.

"Naruto?"

His head snapped to the right, and he was quite surprised to see Neji, Shikamaru, Chouji, Lee, Hinata, Shino and Kiba standing there, looking at him, covered up with coats and scarves to fight off the cold and the snow; they were staring at him with equal surprise –well, by what he could see that wasn't covered by their clothing.

"G… guys? What are you doing here at this time?" for a moment, Naruto forgot he was supposed to smile and act boisterously and simply stared at them, drained out of energy.

He really didn't even feel like smiling.

All the teens were aware of the strange mood lingering on the blond, and didn't know what to say, feeling uneasy at the sight of him acting so calm and out of character; this Naruto, the Naruto that came back from the rescue mission, was different. Something had changed, and they did not like it –they wanted to do something against this change.

If Naruto was suffering, they wanted to relieve that pressure. They were his friends.

"We were coming to see you! The moment we noticed it was snowing, I thought we could get together and have some fun… some of us were quite sick of being stuck into a hospital!" Kiba replied with a smirk, but he somehow looked incomplete without Akamaru on his head, as the dog was still recovering.

Naruto blinked.

They were coming to see him?

Shikamaru stuffed his hands in his pockets, "how troublesome, we just wanted to stick together, that's all," he shrugged, looking away.

Hinata blushed and smiled shyly at the blond teen, fidgeting and tapping her fingers together and stepping towards him. "Ah… er, Naruto–kun, if you want… to just come with us… that would be… great!" her smile grew a bit.

Naruto blinked once more, feeling the weight that had been till then on his chest lift all of sudden, replaced by a deep warmth spreading through his body. True, they were his friends… "Oh, of course! Let's have a snowball fight!"

"Yes! Your flame of youth still burns strong–" Lee exclaimed, before Neji and Kiba hastily covered his mouth to make him shut up.

"Hush, Lee!" Neji hissed, frowning. "We don't want anyone to realise we're here –more so since some of us should still be in their hospital rooms!"

"How troublesome," Shikamaru muttered, though his tone was laced with amusement.

But all of them turned and moved to a larger space, preparing themselves for the play.

Shino simply followed, and Chouji resumed eating his potatoes.

…–…–…–…

Tsunade was deeply asleep, her head resting on the desk, when a shadowed figure appeared inside the office, making only a soft sound to alert the Hokage of his presence.

Her eyes snapped open when she felt the chakra signature flare up, ready to fight, but then she recognized it and relaxed lightly, looking at him with confusion.

"What are you doing here, Usagi?" she asked the masked ANBU, the one with the mask of a rabbit.

The figure bowed slightly to her, before stepping forwards.

"Intruders have been spotted around Konoha, Hokage–sama," he replied, his voice deep and lined with worry. "Two of them. They don't seem like they want to attack, but when questioned they refused to speak and walked away".

Tsunade frowned, biting her lip in confusion.

Two visitors this late, and they even refused to speak when interrogated… who were they? Did they mean harm to the village? If so, why hadn't they attacked the ANBU as soon as they were cornered?

She stood up. "Can you describe me their appearance?"

The Usagi masked ANBU nodded, "although I couldn't see their faces, one of them is tall and has something strapped on his back that looks like a giant wrapped sword, and the other is a little shorter. Both kept their faces hidden".

Nothing in the description caught Tsunade's attention, so she was ready to dismiss the situation until the two were sighted again, reserving her judgment for later, but what the ANBU said next caused her to freeze.

"… and they were both wearing the same cloak, black with red clouds on it".

Tsunade's eyes widened as she turned around to glare at the ANBU, "go to Jiraiya and tell him to go to the hospital, and then go call Kakashi and Gai".

The ANBU could only nod in confusion before disappearing, and Tsunade bit her lip worriedly. Jiraiya had said… Jiraiya had said that Akatsuki would not come for Naruto for at least a few years, so why were they here now?

'Naruto, please, be safe,' she prayed as she performed some hand seals, disappearing from the room and heading to the front gates.

…–…–…–…

Naruto chuckled as he hit Kiba with a snowball right on his face, receiving a few curses as he ducked and started running away, chased by the angered Inuzuka teen all around the place.

It had been a long time since the last time he had been allowed to relax like that, playing around with his friends –especially with his friends.

It felt… nice.

He was so deep into his thoughts that he didn't feel the chakra signature approaching, and when a figure appeared right in front of him him he couldn't stop and the two collided. The impact sent Naruto on the snow, whilst the other figure stepped back in order not to fall down as well.

The blond teen lifted his head up, wondering what he had collided against, and met with a black and white uniform; the person standing there was an ANBU, wearing a rabbit mask. The man looked imposing and Naruto shifted away from him almost unconsciously, standing up and brushing the snow away from his clothes.

Scratching the back of his head, his friends forgotten, Naruto smiled sheepishly.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bump against you," he laughed, embarrassed.

The masked ANBU stared down at the Kyuubi vessel and even if his face was hidden from sight, his eyes were narrowed in disgust and rage. Hatred flashed on his features at the sight of the 'demon child', and his aura darkened enough that even Naruto noticed it.

The other teens stopped playing and turned around, seeing Naruto standing before an ANBU member; something was wrong, but none of them could understand what, nor why the Usagi was emanating such a dark aura.

The ANBU was old enough to have been present at the fight between the Yondaime and Kyuubi, and had been skilled enough to come back alive, but that battle had been carved into his mind forever, because that dreaded day he had lost his best friend and lover to the kitsune.

And now, he had to see that demon –who had not been killed but instead sealed into a newborn baby– stand in front of him. The very demon that killed his dear Karia, that caused so many causalities to the village, that killed the Yondaime himself.

He saw the demon every day walking around the village, smiling as if nothing was wrong, but the ANBU didn't have any doubt –soon he would show his real face and attack again. It was all an act to convince people to stop being suspicious of him.

Why had the Hokage been so adamant in protecting that demon? And even afterwards, the new Hokage was on his side, too. Didn't they realise what kind of illusion they were under? Keeping him in the village was like allowing him free reign on their lives…

He was nothing but a demon, a monster!

The ANBU had known better, though –he had kept himself away from the demon for the last thirteen years, waiting in the shadows unable to even set his eyes on him for fear of going against the Hokage's orders… but now the filthy demon had dared touching him, all the while looking up at him and saying he was sorry

Well, it was enough for his rationality to disappear completely.

He didn't care if the Sandaime had ordered the village and the shinobi not to speak of the demon in front of the newest generations; he didn't care if there were kids who did not know of the secret just a few feet away from him.

He simply wanted the demon to pay, to die.

"How can you even think about touching me, you filthy monster?" he hissed, the hatred and the disgust in his voice making Naruto flinch.

Blue eyes widened in panic as he realised that the man he had bumped onto was one of the many who still hated him; the happiness he'd felt until seconds before was gone, and silence fell around them. This time, though, the silence was uncomfortable and tense, and he was painfully aware of the shocked stares his friends behind him were giving the man.

They were all stunned to hear a collected ANBU speak this way to their friend, and they couldn't understand why he reacted like that only because Naruto bumped against him.

"I…" Naruto gasped when he felt strong fingers curl around his neck.

"W–what are you doing? Let him go! What did he do to you?" Kiba and Lee stepped forwards, snapping out of their shock enough to try and rescue their friend.

The ANBU's attitude was distressing.

"What… what did he do to me?" the ANBU turned his covered face towards them, his grip on Naruto's neck tightening as the blond fought to free himself from him.

Naruto had hard time breathing, and tried to nail the hands holding his neck, without avail. "Gah…" he groaned out, desperately wriggling around, but the grip was too strong –the ANBU was choking him…

"He killed my lover, he killed so many people of this village! How could Sandaime protect him? How could he allow such a disgusting, shameful monster to live right in the same village he tried to destroy?"

"Let… let Naruto–kun go!" Hinata cried, worry and astonishment curling in her stomach.

Naruto–kun?

The man's grip around Naruto's neck loosened and the blond fell on the snow–covered ground again, coughing hard and panting, his hands coming to rest protectively on his neck as he breathed, air filling his lungs again.

'Such an endearing suffix, directed at this filthy being! He fooled all our children, he fooled the Sandaime and even the Godaime! He must be dealt with! To get the world rid of his presence once for all!'

"You know nothing of this monster!" the ANBU's voice was chilling cold as he turned to the teens, that now had advanced towards Naruto and the man to protect their friend from the insane jounin. "He fooled you all, made you think he was harmless! But he's a monster!"

"Watch what you are saying," Neji stated calmly. "Naruto is our friend, and by no means is he a demon, nor a monster, and he surely did not kill anyone".

Naruto stood up again, panting, but feeling panic slowly creep up his chest as the man laughed out hard and roughly.

"He killed so many people and yet, he fooled you into befriending him… but I can see beneath that surface, I can see he's waiting to strike and kill again and again, because his lust for blood will not be satisfied!"

Naruto looked back and forth from his friends to the man, stepping forwards, deciding he should just try to distract the ANBU so he would not say anything he shouldn't, "look, I am sorry, I really didn't mean to bump…"

"Sorry! A demon can't be sorry! You killed my lover, it was you! How can you think any of us will be able to forgive you for destroying the village?" the man glared again at Naruto, the mask hiding his hatred-filled eyes and his grimace. "You deserve death! The Uchiha heir deserved to be still here, whilst you deserve to die!"

Naruto could feel the others gasp in shock behind him, but he couldn't turn to look at them. The man's words had rattled him deeply.

"It wasn't me, I didn't kill anyone," he mumbled to the man. "Please, believe me, I didn't–"

A strong punch on the jaw silenced him and sent him flying away; Naruto could feel a bruise forming and he heard one of his friends approach with a gasp, but the ANBU was quicker, positioning himself between his friends and him.

Standing up slowly, ears buzzing, Naruto grimaced and cracked his jaw, feeling the pain subside quickly as he gritted his teeth.

"Don't you see? He can heal himself so fast, he isn't human!" the man stated, pointing at Naruto's face. The blond teen grimaced, feeling the jaw snap back to its place. "For how much you could stab him, he will still heal! He must be killed! And you, kids, you don't even know who he is, and the pain and the grief he caused thirteen years ago!"

"But he wasn't even born thirteen years ago!" Kiba glared, now completely sure the man had lost it. "You are insane!"

The man laughed again, but this time the laugh was creepy and sent shudders down all the teens' backs.

"Oh, insane?" in a flash he grabbed Naruto again, forcing him on the floor by twisting his arm behind his back, causing him to cry at the sharp pain that ran through him.

"Naruto!" the teens cried out.

"Naruto–kun!" Hinata gasped out, pale.

"Look here! Look how insane I am, look at the truth!" the man grabbed Naruto's coat and forced it open, and then he lifted his shirt, revealing his belly.

Without waiting a second more, he pressed his hand on Naruto's belly and sent a chakra wave to it.

Under the shocked stares of the other teens, something started appearing on Naruto's belly, a delicate spiral that sneaked through his lower abdomen in a circular motion, surrounded by kanji and symbols.

Neji and Hinata gasped, having recognized the pattern as a strong binding seal.

"What… what's that?" Kiba growled, suddenly unsure.

"No! Let me go!" Naruto started struggling, but was rewarded by another twist of his arm, and he flinched in pain, still exposed to the stares of his friends.

"I will tell you, kids, so you will know better than to befriend a monster," a smirk made its way on the man's face, and even if they couldn't see it under the Usagi mask, the tone of voice was clear enough to feel it.

"No! Please no!" Naruto begged, now panicking.

He was going to tell them, and they would reject him like the rest of the village! They would hate him! They would be disgusted by him like everyone else was!

The small bubble of happiness and reassurance he had built with them would…

The ANBU laughed again, amused, and let go of Naruto; the boy backed away from him, but with a soft gasp also kept himself away from his friends, eyes wide and filled with fear.

"This monster is the Nine Tailed Fox Demon, that was sealed inside him thirteen years ago by Yondaime Hokage!" the ANBU continued laughing, but his laugh was bitter and filled with hatred. "Sandaime passed a law to prevent us from telling you, because this way he could have a 'normal childhood' but he's not human! He deceived all of you and I can't stand it anymore!"

Naruto's heart stopped.

Everything seemed to move at a slow, languid pace, as if the world was suddenly far from him. he stood up again, eyes wide and unseeing, his heart racing so loudly in his ears that any other sound felt dulled out.

They knew.

Ocean blue eyes turned to look at his friends, who were staring back at him in shock, and the question in their eyes was clear –was the ANBU telling the truth?

He saw them staring and he couldn't stand it; he knew they would end up hating him, fearing him, or worst, pitying him.

He didn't want that, he didn't want them to hate him, they were his only friends! He lost Sasuke because he was not strong enough, he lost Sakura because he had broken a promise with her, and now he was losing them because of what was sealed inside of him.

He couldn't… couldn't…

So he did something he had never done before –he turned around and ran away.

He ran as far as he could, hot tears falling from his eyes, freezing on his cheeks because of the cold, melting with the snowflakes against his skin.

…–…–…–…

They knew. They knew. They knew.

The words were spinning around in his mind, confusing him, hurting him. Over and over again, every time sending twinges in his chest that grew more painful the more he thought about it.

They knew.

They knew.

'No… no… no!'

They shouldn't have found out in such a situation –he had never thought he would have to run from his friends for something that was out of his control.

He kept on running, he didn't know where to, but away from the village, away from the probably disgusted faces of his friends, away from the hatred.

He couldn't stand it.

The moment he had allowed himself to relax, even if only a bit, all his life had shattered.

He stumbled on the fresh snow, crying hard as he lifted himself up again, not caring if he was now cold and wet from the snow, not caring at all. He just wanted to run away.

How could he have been this blind to… everything? How?

He kept running, not aware he was leaving the confines of the village and had entered the forest, the shadows of the trees looming over him almost menacingly –but he still didn't care.

What he really feared was rejection, and he couldn't stand it. Not now.

Never.

That's when he bumped into something again.

He fell on the ground without a sound, feeling the snow seep into his clothes to freeze him, and wiped the tears away from his face, looking up to see what had hit him. As he did so, he realised that more snow was falling, and the temperature had dropped some more. He was cold.

Still, he felt colder inside at the moment.

With eyes stinging from the cold, Naruto looked up, feeling a strange sense of déjà vu as he did so… but with tears blurring his vision, he could not recognise the figure standing in front of him.

He wiped his cheeks again and stood up, thinking that maybe it was just a tree, but then he noticed something flapping in the cold wind, and frowned, finally drying the tears and wiping his eyes dry.

And then he did recognize him.

Crimson eyes, so red they looked like molten lava, similar to Sasuke's ones, but different all the same, colder and emotionless like Sasuke's eyes had never been. Black hair tied up in a small ponytail, with a weird hat covering up his head, a Konohagakure hitai–ate with a slash that went through the leaf symbol and a long, black cloak with a pattern of red clouds on it.

Fright slithered through Naruto and clawed at his chest as he stared up into the burning hells that were the man's crimson eyes; the very person he had thought he would not meet for the following three years was right in front of him, glaring down at him with emotionless eyes.

The one person that Sasuke wanted to kill so badly he had deserted his village after trying to murder his best friend.

Uchiha Itachi.

Akatsuki was here.

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StarsOfYaoi: so, this was the first chapter. Please drop me a review so I know if you've liked it! Thank you!