Hola! I am back! Be afraid, be very afraid! AHAHAHAHAHA :cough, hack, choke, die: Yeah... Welcome back, to those of you who have encountered my insanity before. And, welcome, to those of you who have not :evil grin:
Anywho, new story up, but gotta set some things straight.

First, I do not even pretend I know any Japanese. Therefore, if suffixes are used wrong, I am incredibly sorry. Since this is supposed to be set a few years after chapter 304, I had to keep it in its Japanese form. So, there's Japanese words and suffixes, but excuse me if I butcher them all :sweatdrop: Also, bear in mind I have set this after 304, so anything that happens after that is all null and void, including--well, everything. You can have fun making up the in-between of chapter 304 and my fic :grins:

Second, after careful consideration, I have decided that: No pairings.
There are many reasons for this decision, the two most important ones being as follows:

1) No matter how good a fic is, some people (myself included, and a few of my friends) just can't sit through it if they don't like the pairing. It happens to me a lot when I read Gundam Wing fics because the only people I can ever see Duo and Heero with are Duo and Heero. So, I've decided that instead of turning this into a SasuNaru, or a NaruHina, or an anything, I will just leave it alone and have no pairings. (Except some one-sided Oro, cause we all know this happens.)

2) In the anime/manga, there are hints, I will admit to this, but there's also a lot of triangles and squiggly lines that go all over the place so that you're never really sure what exactly will happen, nor do you necessarily know what you WANT to happen (My example: Shikamaru and Ino, or Shikamaru and Temari. I have still not decided, and it drives me insane).

So, with that in mind, I apologize for those of you looking for hot, steamy yaoi, het, or even just plain making out on the people's parts. It might happen between random characters I make up, but chances are, not likely. I'm very sorry if this is unsatisfactory.

Disclaimer: As you all know, I do not own anyone from Naruto, not evenKiba. But that will change before the end of this fic, rest assured! Kiba will be mine!

To Hear Your Voice Again.

"There is no index of character so sure as the voice." - Benjamin Disraeli

Prologue: Bad Feeling.

Tsunade stared out the window of Hokage tower, both hands behind her back. The sun was setting, so her appointment should be arriving any minute now.

Truth be told, she didn't want him to arrive. She had a bad feeling about this mission, especially since the two of them had been requested. It wasn't unusual for him to be called out on missions, nor was it unusual for people to request the two of them together. It was just this one mission she felt uncomfortable with.

A sound behind her alerted her to the appearance of her appointment and, sighing, she spun around to face him. He was bent on one knee, his right hand clenched above his heart, his left fist against the ground and his head bowed. She stared at the silver-haired man before her, wearing his ANBU mask, and sighed, sitting in her chair.

"Here's your mission." She held out a scroll as he rose, taking it from her hands. "The two of you were requested."

"Not surprising." the baritone male replied, opening the scroll and scanning it.

Tsunade couldn't help but stare at him worriedly. She had an incredibly bad feeling about this mission. She didn't want this man to leave her office, because he would go collect the other one, and they would leave.

Sensing her gaze, the man looked up. "Hokage-sama?"

"Be careful, Kakashi." she said to him. "I-I have a bad feeling about this mission."

"Bad feeling?"

"Just watch him, all right? Make sure—you both come back safe."

"We've been on countless missions together, Hokage-sama. There is no need to worry. We shall both be fine." He bowed to her before performing a seal and disappearing in a cloud of smoke.

Tsunade stood and turned back to her window, looking out at what she'd been staring at before. On the head of the Fourth Hokage sat a solitary figure, staring down at the village. Seconds later, another form joined him and the two of them disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Tsunade turned and clutched her chest, frowning. She just couldn't shake the feeling that something was about to go horribly wrong.

"Sakura-san." Haruno Sakura spun around.

"Hi Lee." The pink-haired woman smiled at her friend. "What brings you here?"

"Sakura-san, Ino has informed me that you haven't returned home for the last week. Not since Naruto-kun and Kakashi-san have left." Sakura's smile fell off her face. It had been fake, anyway, so it hadn't been hard to make it fade. "Naruto-kun will be fine. You must return home. Rest."

"I know." Sakura insisted with a sigh, turning to look at the gates of Konoha. "I know he'll be fine. I just—I can't lose him like I lost Sasuke. He's become—too important." She turned and offered Rock Lee another smile. "He's like an annoying little brother, you know? I can't help but miss him. And worry about him." She clenched her fists, staring at the ground.

Lee let out a sigh and put his hand on her shoulder, understanding how Sakura was feeling. Uzumaki Naruto, Hatake Kakashi and Haruno Sakura were the closest team in all of Konoha. She was always like this when the other two were away. She worried, and she hated being apart from Naruto.

The two of them had become better friends than anyone had ever imagined they could. They shared an incredibly strong bond. They both knew they were all the other had. After Sasuke had left them, they'd had no choice but to depend on each other. Sakura would never admit it, but the three years Naruto had been gone had been the hardest years of her life. She'd felt as if two of her teammates had abandoned her, even though she knew Naruto had done no such thing.

When he'd returned, they'd bonded and become like brother and sister. Sakura spent most of her nights at Naruto's when she was upset. They wouldn't talk; he would just hold her. Hug her. Tell her someone still loved her, even if it wasn't the kind of love she wanted.

Naruto had grown out of his childish crush long ago, and had focused on being a good ninja. Before, if anyone ever asked Naruto why he wanted to be great, the answer was simple: "I'm going to be the Hokage someday!"

Now, the answer was different.

"I have to be strong. I'm the only one who can save Sasuke. I made a promise—to Sakura-chan. I promised I would bring Sasuke home."

Before anyone knew it, the rookie nine weren't rookies anymore, and the twelve year olds who'd fumbled and screwed up all the time had become seventeen year olds with high-ranking positions. Naruto had the highest, having entered the ANBU. Sakura was next, being just below Shizune and Tsunade in medical. They weren't kids anymore.

"Sakura-san." She turned to look at Lee. "Please, go home tonight."

"I will, Lee." She smiled. "I will, I promise. I just—want to wait a little while longer."

Sakura turned back to the gates in time to see something rushing towards her. She frowned as she realized it was a dog. Lee walked towards the gates, and Sakura followed him, the two watching the dog approach.


"Pakkun!" Sakura sprinted through the gates, rushing towards the dog. If Pakkun had been sent, this was bad. "What is it? What happened?.!"

"It was an ambush. Kakashi and Naruto are injured—badly injured."

Sakura's heart stopped beating.

"Sakura-san, you follow Pakkun and help them. I shall get the Hokage and wake Kiba so we can follow the scent." Lee rushed away as Sakura found the will to move, following the dog hurriedly through the trees.

"How far are they?" Sakura asked urgently.

"About two miles out. Kakashi managed to get this far before he collapsed from exhaustion. He was able to summon me and send me to fetch whoever could come." Pakkun looked at Sakura sadly. "It looked bad, Sakura."

"Show me." she said simply, trying to remain calm.

They jumped through a last set of trees and Sakura saw them. Kakashi was still conscious, breathing hard and clutching Naruto tightly to his chest. Neither wore their ANBU masks anymore.

"Kakashi-sensei!" Sakura landed a little ways away and rushed to them.

"Sakura! Naruto, he..." The older man trailed off, breathing hard. He had a deep wound running across his chest from right shoulder to left hip. Blood caked his silver hair and one of his arms had a bone sticking out through the skin.

Sakura bent down beside him but he slapped her hands away. "No! Naruto!"

The girl turned to her other teammate and her eyes widened. He had been clutched against Kakashi's chest, so at first, she'd missed his injuries. He'd only appeared to have a few small wounds on his back, but now that she saw his front, she began to hyperventilate, everything she'd learned medically being thrown out the window.

"Oh my God! Naruto!" She pulled him away from Kakashi and laid the blond on his back, tears stinging her eyes. "Oh God! Oh my God! Naruto, stay with me!"

Forcing herself to calm down, she forced chakra into her hands and brought them to his neck where a huge wound had exposed his entire throat, almost all the way to the bone.

Chapter One: How Things Have Become.

One Year Later.

Something hit Inuzuka Kiba in the back of the head and he spun around, annoyed. "Ow! Dammit, Naruto, I told you I don't know!"

The ANBU captain cocked a disbelieving eyebrow, crossing his arms. Kiba winced. He knew that stance. He was going to speak, or the other man was going to make him. Sighing, he shook his head.

"Fine! He went to Sand, okay! Sand!" He threw his arms in the air in exasperation.

A year ago, the dog-boy wouldn't have bothered giving in to the blond's annoying tactics at finding out information. Of course, back then, he hadn't been an ANBU captain. And he hadn't had his condition.

Naruto snapped his fingers at Kiba, catching the other man's attention. Shaking his head, Kiba sighed, and continued, "I should've known that wouldn't be enough. Dammit, Naruto, you're going to get me fired." The brunette rubbed the back of his head before looking around to ensure Umino Iruka wasn't anywhere nearby. He then leaned forward, the blond doing the same. "He was given a mission to go see Gaara about a request for assistance in finding Sound's stronghold. I think Tsunade wants to send in a team to get Sasuke before the end of the year. The three-year mark is coming up again, and I don't think we'll be as lucky as last time. This time, nothing will go wrong, and he'll transfer to Sasuke's body."

"Inuzuka!" Both men jumped and turned to look at the door, where Iruka stood with his arms crossed. "You're not giving out mission details again, are you?"

"Of course not!" Kiba exclaimed, waving his hands wildly. "I was just discussing the weather! The weather!"

"Don't lie, you're bad at it." Iruka sighed, shaking his head. "Naruto, when Kakashi doesn't tell you where he's going, it's because he isn't allowed to." Naruto began to respond when Iruka stopped him. "Don't give me excuses, you know the rules. And Inuzuka, if you don't stop telling this guy mission details, I'll take you out of this office. Mission assignments are not to be disclosed to anyone other than their recipients, is that understood?"

"Yes, Iruka-sensei." Kiba grumbled. "I can understand Naruto's annoyance, though. He's friendlier with Gaara, why wasn't he sent?"

"Because he is needed here." Iruka insisted, walking further into the room and placing a hand on Naruto's shoulder. "It's not a dangerous mission. He'll be back soon."

Naruto merely nodded before smiling brightly at the two of them and exiting the room with a wave. The other two waved back and he closed the door.

Once he'd left, Iruka turned to Kiba, scowling. "You know very well not to disclose information, Kiba."

"I know, but how can I resist when he looks at me like that?.!" Kiba motioned the door the blond had just walked out of with both hands. "It's the eyes. The eyes!"

"Don't fall for his puppy eyes!" Iruka insisted as he grabbed a pile of mission reports and straightened them before putting them in a folder. He looked at Kiba as he tucked the folder under his arm and frowned as he noticed the other man staring down at the table before him, a sad look on his face.

"I miss how he used to be." Kiba whispered. "When he smiles—it never reaches his eyes. He's never happy, not really."

Iruka sighed, sitting down in the chair across from Kiba, placing the folder down on the table.

"We all miss him, Kiba. Too many horrible things have happened in the last few years. You can't blame him for having changed. Especially after—"

"I'm going to go for my break." Kiba stood up, turning and walking out of the room. Iruka sighed, staring down at the folder in front of him.

"You're not the only one who runs away when I bring that up." Iruka whispered to Kiba, even though he knew the other man had left the room. "Kakashi-sensei doesn't like to hear about it, either. He still feels it's his fault."

Hatake Kakashi stood before the Kazekage, the red-haired man staring out the window. He hadn't said a word since Kakashi had spoken about the Hokage's request. Kakashi suspected it was because Gaara had wanted Naruto to be the one to deliver the message. Naruto had been on a mission, and this was of utmost importance to Tsunade. It wasn't Kakashi's fault.

"Find Sound." Sabaku no Gaara finally said, turning to look at Kakashi with piercing green eyes. "To rescue Sasuke?"

"Yes, Kazekage-sama."

"Why rescue someone who left of their own free will? It would merely be an inconvenience to save someone who does not deserve it, nor does he want it."

"If Orochimaru manages to succeed in transferring bodies, it puts everyone at risk. The Sharingan is a powerful weapon, and in the wrong hands, war will break out throughout the five countries. Do you not remember the chaos Orochimaru caused almost six years ago when he attacked Konoha during the Chuunin exam? He tricked Sand into believing it was the current Kazekage's wish." Gaara stared at Kakashi impassively.

"Saving Sasuke will not hinder Orochimaru's plans. He knows Sasuke will seek him out again, he will merely wait for the boy to return to him."

"This may be so, but if we detain him long enough, the transfer will not occur, and we will be able to buy ourselves another three years, just like last time."

"Why save this boy?" Gaara inquired. "Why not merely kill him? Was he not the one who tried to kill Naruto?"

"Yes." Kakashi replied evenly. "But he is important to our village."

"He is a missing nin." Gaara corrected. "He has been for the last five and a half years. If you have managed to survive this long without him, I am sure his loss will not cause you any inconvenience."

"This is the Hokage's wish." Kakashi stressed. "He will not be treated as a member of Konoha society, and he will not be allowed to leave the village for five years, but he is a valuable asset. He is an important person to our village. And to Naruto."

Kakashi knew that last bit was out of line, and he could get in trouble if Tsunade found out he'd pulled that card—but it was the truth. Everyone wanted Sasuke back, most especially Sakura and Naruto. If pulling the 'this is what Naruto wants' card was the only way for Gaara to agree to help, Kakashi would do it.

"I shall think about it." Gaara finally said. Kakashi suppressed a smirk.

"Thank you, Kazekage-sama." He bowed slightly and turned to leave. He reached the door and was just about to open it, when Gaara spoke again.

"How is Naruto?" Kakashi's hand froze over the knob and he couldn't help but clench his jaw.

"He's doing fine." Kakashi said, his back still to Gaara. "He's beginning to act more like he used to."

"Do not try to fool me with lies, Kakashi." Gaara narrowed his eyes angrily. "Do you think me stupid?"

Kakashi turned back to Gaara, shoving his hands in his pockets. "What do you want me to say? If you know nothing's changed, why ask?.!" He bit his tongue, forcing himself to calm down. He lowered his gaze to the floor. "When he smiles—his eyes always look sad. We all talk about how we miss the way he used to be. How we wish he would go back to that. I don't think anyone realizes that he's the person who wishes that the most."

They both stood in silence for a long while before Gaara turned his back on Kakashi, staring out the window.

"Will Naruto be sent on this retrieval?"

"Yes." Kakashi saw no point in keeping this from Gaara.

"Very well. I shall offer my aid, but only because I want someone more talented backing up Naruto." Kakashi clenched his fists, staring at the floor.

"You think I don't know it was my fault?" Kakashi asked angrily. "You think I'm not aware of the fact that the blow he was hit with was meant for me?"

"I never said you were not aware of it." Gaara turned to face Kakashi. "I am merely saying I will send ninja who do not allow themselves to be put in danger, causing others to come to their aid." He turned his back on Kakashi again. "That is all. Please inform the Hokage of my cooperation."

Kakashi teleported out without bothering to bow.

"Hey, I heard sensei is back." Kunitoki Hankousha told his two teammates as he hung upside down on a tree-branch.

"You're lying." Takakura Yurusu insisted as she twirled a kunai between her fingers. "He'd have come to see us by now. Make sure we're training."

"Maybe he's watching us." Yamauchi Nikkou insisted, looking around. "Testing us, you know?" He closed his eyes, putting his hands together, as if in prayer.

"Oh, not again." Hankousha sighed, rolling his eyes.

"Over there!" The redheaded boy threw a kunai in a random direction. All three heard it hit a tree. "Ah, clever. Clever. He moved." Nikkou pulled out another kunai and launched it across the clearing. "Right there!"

Naruto appeared in a cloud of smoke, catching the kunai between his fingers easily. Yurusu's jaw dropped. Hankousha fell out of the tree.

"You were right?.! Sensei, you're losing your touch!" the raven girl called to Naruto. He smirked, flipping the kunai in his hand and throwing it back at Nikkou. It landed at the redhead's feet and he bent down to pick it up.

"You were watching us, right?" Hankousha asked as he stood, rubbing his head. "You saw him throwing them in random directions and intercepted one before it hit someone, right?"

Naruto smiled and nodded, ruffling the brunette's hair. Hankousha pulled away from him annoyed.

"Oh, thank God." Yurusu sighed, one hand on her chest. "For a minute there, I thought maybe Nikkou was actually good."

"Hey! I am good! I'm a Genin, aren't I?" Nikkou crossed his arms, miffed. Naruto just smiled.

His team reminded him a lot of Team Seven. Nikkou was like him, Yurusu was like Sakura, and Hankousha was like Sasuke—except not as impressive. No one could ever surpass Sasuke at that age. The only people who ever had were Kakashi and Itachi.

"Naruto-sensei?" The blond turned back to Yurusu as she frowned. "You're thinking of the bastard guy again, aren't you?" Naruto smiled, placing his hand on the raven's head and bending down in front of her. "You shouldn't think of him. He's a traitor." Naruto continued to smile. He removed his hand from her head and tapped her nose. Yurusu just shook her head, a smile teasing her lips.

"He's not as cool as you, anyway." Hankousha insisted, crossing his arms. "After all, you became an ANBU at the age of sixteen, and then you got us as your team last year. You must be the only eighteen year old in the entire history of Konoha with his own Genin team."

"And you teach us awesome stuff!" Nikkou added. Hankousha hit him across the back of the head. "Ow!" Yurusu did the same. "Ow! Ow! Stop it!"

"Moron. Now he's going to give us a training schedule!" Hankousha exclaimed annoyed.

They all looked at their sensei, and just as Hankousha said, he smiled at them as he held out three scrolls.

"Aw, man! I hate training." Nikkou whined as he took the scroll with his name. The other two grumbled as they did the same. Naruto then waved and began to walk away.

"Hey, where are you going?" Yurusu asked. "Are we training alone?"

Naruto merely nodded, not answering her first question. He'd gotten back an hour ago, and there was still someone he had to see.

Naruto walked through the streets, waving at a few people who called out greetings to him, until he reached the hospital. Walking through the front doors, he nodded to the nurses on duty and headed for the stairs. Reaching the third floor, he walked up to an open office door and leaned against the doorframe, smirking at the scene before him.

"Please!" Hibayashi Moegi demanded, her hands pressed together. "Please, Sakura!"

"Moegi, I can't teach you any of this stuff until you're a Chuunin."

"You were a Genin when you learned it all!" Moegi insisted, stomping her foot. "Why can't I become a Medic-nin, too?"

"I didn't say you couldn't, you just need to give it more time."

Naruto knocked lightly on the doorframe and both girls turned to the door, finally noticing he was there. He gave them a wave.

"Naruto-niisan!" Moegi launched herself at him, hugging him tightly around the middle. "How are you? Did you just get back from your mission?" He smiled down at the brunette and patted her head as he nodded. "You're not injured, are you?" She leaned back and poked him in the chest a few times. He merely smiled before catching her hands in his own and shaking his head. "Good. I'll go tell Konohamaru-chan you're back. Ja!" She waved at him and Sakura before running out of the office.

Sakura stood from her seat as Naruto closed the door, shoving his hands in his pockets and leaning back against the wall. Without a word, the pink-haired girl walked up to him and began to inspect him for injuries with her eyes, trying not to make it look like she was. Naruto caught her by the chin with two fingers and smiled.

"Don't tell me you're okay." She narrowed her eyes. "I'll kill you."

Naruto let out a small puff of air as a laugh, shaking his head. He held up his hands and began to sign to her.

'I have no injuries, Sakura-chan. I haven't gotten any for a whole year.'

Sakura knew this was true. The last injury Naruto had ever received was the one that had left him without a voice.