Summary: Sasuke returns to Konoha after confronting Naruto in the Valley of the End. But all is not well. A small change, and the aftermath.

Author's Note and spoiler warning: What if Naruto had a slightly less emotional reaction in the moments before Sasuke tried to kill him at the Valley of the End? This is an exploration of how events may have unfolded if Naruto's emotional state had affected his use of Kyuubi's power at the end of chapter 227 (episode 131). The story proper takes off around chapter 4. Please enjoy and I look forward to your comments!


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Chapter 1

Something Gained, Something Lost

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The waterfall continued to roar as it always has between the austere sentinels who watched over the land of Fire with their unblinking stone eyes. But for Naruto, the Valley of the End grew silent save for the crackling chakra behind his head. He was hardly aware of the arm rammed through his right lung.

"Hn." Sasuke smirked with amusement. "You were able to make me miss your heart by a little." He willed his mouth to contort into a wider, more sadistic grin. "But it doesn't matter, you're going to die anyway."

Naruto's senses started to fade, his entire body throbbing in a dull ache after the initial blinding pain of the Chidori. Naruto choked out blood and stained Sasuke's arm guards.

"Sssaass…"

His head swam and he was desperately trying to stay focused, to stay conscious. He still had so many questions, But more importantly, he still had a mission to finish, a promise to keep.

"Ss…Sasuke…"

Uchiha Sasuke couldn't keep the corners of his lips up. Somewhere hidden from himself his resolve wavered as he watched his friend struggle for breath, his name on his lips.

"I don't understand…why you…" Naruto rasped and clutched Sasuke's arm for support. He painstakingly lifted his eyes to meet the other's. "But I don't regret it…coming after you."

Sasuke's eyes widened. In the calm, his power-high was slowly draining and in its place the gravity of the situation was slowly sinking in:

Naruto knew he was dying.

Naruto was dying.

"You know, Sasuke…you're strong."

Sasuke trembled imperceptibly.

"There…others are strong…" Though the words were slow to form, the blond's voice had an edge of urgency. "Granny and that pervy sage could beat him." One fought for breath, the other held his. "We'll go back. He'll train you. Jiraiya will train you."

Naruto's breath hitched. He squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth. Sasuke could feel Naruto's nails clawing into his arm.

"Just…don't go to Orochimaru. You…you have a dream to fulfill…" Naruto felt like he was underwater. He was slipping out of consciousness, but fought it with an iron will. He had one more thing he had to say:

"Don't you die, Sasuke."

Sasuke's dark eyes went wide at the eerily familiar words and instinctively jerked his hand out of Naruto before he could place the memory. Anything to put distance between him and the boy. Naruto fell into an orange heap onto the surface of the water…

And sank.

Naruto sank into the murky blue, not conscious enough to struggle for breath. Water filled the cavities of his body, trails of crimson danced upward. His soul tugged and pulled from his battered body, asking to be released. And deep inside his body, Kyuubi pounded against the gates.

SHIT!

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Circlets gently rippled beneath Sasuke's feet. He stood, frozen, long after he watched Naruto's limp body swallowed by the dark depths of the water. A small bubble broke the calm surface with finality. Suddenly, the ripples at his feet grew violent and Sasuke found himself on his knees, his hand pressed over his eyes. He squeezed them tight and a tear ran down his cheek.

It burned.

Sasuke open his eyes wide and trembled, shocked by his own reaction. He painfully swallowed down a lump that rose threateningly in his throat and willed his ragged breath to stabilize. Breathe in. Breathe out. In. Out.

The surface of the water was already bubbling and glowing red before he noticed. Sasuke flung himself back and fell into a fighting stance, Sharingan activated.

A hand broke the surface. Another. Blond hair. Naruto hung to the water's surface by his elbows, struggling to pull the rest of himself up. Sasuke sensed a strange chakra linger around Naruto's body for a moment before it vanished. He stared in disbelief.

Naruto grunted, pulling his foot up to the surface with a splash. The noise jerked Sasuke back to reality and unstuck his tongue. "You're…you're not dead."

Naruto glared at him. "Yeah, sorry to disappoint." He felt completely worn and irritable and missed the hint of relief in Sasuke's voice. Sasuke continued to stare when something caught Naruto's attention.

"Sasuke, your eyes…" Naruto started, his tetchiness momentarily forgotten. Sasuke broke his gaze and turned around, quickly wiping at his eyes with his arm.

"It's nothing" Sasuke deadpanned, "leave it."

"Fine, whatever, bastard."

They stood for a moment in silence, Naruto squinting his eyes critically at Sasuke's back trying to decide if the Uchiha had given up the fight.

"Hey, Sasuke."

It was Sasuke's turn to watch Naruto's back and he eyed the large, singed tear below the shoulder of the gaudy orange jacket.

"Let's go home."

Sasuke hesitated, the words weighing heavily in his chest, but eventually stepped up beside Naruto.

"Yeah, okay."

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Chapter 2: Stirrings. Naruto's blue eyes met Gaara's green ones, but neither said a word.