Fish Bird

By The Eternity Dragon

Disclaimer: Unfortunately I do not own Naruto or any of its character, this story is an entirely non-profit work by me, but I guess I just enjoy writing what I would do with the characters if I was in charge. (Thank goodness I'm not X3)

Chapter one

Out of the thicket and into the woods

//Note: the title and theme is based on a Greek children's fairy tale about a turtle dove and a carp that fall in love. Due to the circumstances of their relationship the two have to deal with the insurmountable problem of how they are going to be together. Sappy? Yes (I can't help myself), but I thought it was cute when I read it. It inspired me to write this.//

// Also when you see this, it's some bodies inner thought process, usually Naruto's…although not now because it's mine… actually just instructions but you know what I mean…sorry I'll let you read now//

There are little rivulets of blood streaming down his body, and every time his feet strike the ground a jarring pain snaps up his spine ringing in his head. Sasuke Uchiha is moving himself forwards by sheer force of will power, his heart pumping explosively against his chest as he sucks in dry cold air. The blood is beginning to clot against his ivory skin, staining a brown sticky mess across his arms and down into a bloody pulp down about his toes.

It's rendering most of his limbs heavier then usual, like walking with two logs of ice that melt and slip under foot, burning the bare soil in a meandering trail of guilt.

This really isn't good.

Part of him suspects he's being followed, looking over his shoulder, eyes impenetrable inky black, or…or…but that's ridiculous…unless Itachi thought that he couldn't…wasn't able to do it. Was that it? Sasuke laughs, but whether in defeat or in defiance even he doesn't know. The sound catches in his throat and he coughs up a sticky black substance that trickles like coagulated treacle across his tongue.

Shit its working fast.

Numbly he moves his hands to his face; part of him doesn't want to believe it's possible, that it is true, but even as he forms the signs with his numb fingers, pale and pallid in the light like torn ivory, the usual thrub of energy doesn't spool.

Something in his wrist glints coldly up, as he tries again, and again…and again.

Nothing happens.

Slumping to the ground, boldly aware that he's bleeding everywhere, there's a disgustingly strong taste of copper in his mouth, he tries to ignore it but he thinks he just might be sick. His stomach wretches as he holds down the bile in his throat.

For a moment he considers giving up, closing his eyes and calling hell's dark angels to drag back down into the smouldering sulphur pits, but a face flashes before him.

A touch, and a smell, a memory brushed up from long…long ago, loud noises and garish orange flickers, and hair guttering vividly gold haunts him, close enough to touch…… and despite everything he smiles. Tiny, faint, almost non-existent, and his heart beats, lub-dub in his chest, valves opening and closing with monotonous rhythm that quickens very slightly.

But it's something at least, a little more then nothing at all.

His mind presses him further, damn pride, it got him this far didn't it? It's not about to let you lie down now. If he's going to die, he's going to die fighting…and not before him.

He presses one wrist to his mouth, licking away the blood and spitting out the congealed dried clod onto the grass somewhere beside him, teeth clamping down hard on that small oval sphere jutting out of his skin. The thing that stinks of metal, and acid and a little ammonia, it makes his skull ring like a bell and his eyes water the second his canines come into contact.

Then comes the pain, white hot and blinding, so hot, so sudden that for a moment he passes out. Blistering bubbles exploding inside his ears and across his tongue, tapping on his teeth.

He wakes up only to cough again, and more of the thick treacle travels up his throat and he chokes on it, lungs wracking as his stomach heaves aggressively from his abdomen and he falls onto his elbows, eyes streaming thick clear water.

"This won't…" he thinks, as he wretches, "get the better of me…I won't…I have to… I have to tell him…"

Sasuke makes an effort to get up, but the black things glint again as he tries to summon chakra to his feet, it slices through his brain wielding pain like a scythe that shatters bone into dust.

Dimly, he's very aware of how cold he is, and how his breath is crystallising on the cold night air, and somehow he's on his back, staring up into a dark canopy over his head. He doesn't know how far he's got to go, but he's under the vague inclination he can't go any further, not like this.

Never like this.

He arches a little from the hips, tilts his head back and closes his eyes, creamy smooth expanse of the neck exposed in the dim light, as his mouth forms words almost silent, over and over again, a mantra prayed into earless dark.

"Naruto…I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

There's a slight film of dirt covering Naruto Uzamaki's skin as he licks his dried lips and brushes strands of hair sunlight bright out of wide inquisitive eyes.

He's sitting high up in the crook of a huge branch running parallel to the ground, blood rushing hard and fast in his ears as he peers down behind a curtain of leaves.

// It's been an hour and still nothing… I wonder…no… not again. They wouldn't do it again. //

He's looking for signs of movement, the sudden movement of a bush or even the crumbling slide of a dirt clod. Not that he knows for sure there will be movement, but he's pretty sure he there would be. Most likely the type of enemy that's invisible, the sort that lurks in the shadows and then springs as silent and deadly as a panther, claws of steel raking into flesh drawing rivers of blood.

He shifts a little uncomfortably on the branch, he could sit here for hours more if he really had to, and that's if he really had to though, although he thinks he'd rather take the danger over watching grass grow, but that's just his opinion.

As it is his minds beginning to wander off the mission, simple as it is and completed…just keep a look out, maybe we're being followed?

// Maybe, maybe not… Is it wrong that I want us to be in danger just for sheer amusements sake//

Sitting idly by and watching the world go by is not how he likes to live his life…or at least how he's tried to live his life. All nineteen years of it, it's not a particularly long stretch of time he knows and he'd prefer it if the numbers continued to increase. But hey, at least he's reached double digits.

He feels his age sometimes (rarely even he admits), although Sakura frequently tells him he should act it more often (but kids have so much more fun then adults do!), he looks it to an extent. But not very many things have changed.

His hair is certainly as untameable as it has ever been, growing upwards sideways and then as if in delightful consideration down, although it's longer now framing his face, a sort of choppy cut that falls into his eyes, which are still the same cornflower blue that they've always been. He blows away an irritating strand now; the muscles of his jaw seem to ache from the inactivity, there's an itch starting on the tip of his toe…

"Oh god please don't, please don't…!!" he mutters barely audible, Kakashi-sensei would laugh if he could see him now. He'd never quite been able to see how you where supposed to get around this particular problem, Kakashi had always told him if worst comes to worst he would volunteer to cut the damned thing off.

Naruto thinks this is a little extreme, Kakashi asks him what's better, being disembowelled by a group of hungry cannibals or loosing your toe?

Naruto asks why cannibals but Kakashi won't ever answer; does Kakashi have a thing for cannibals? Maybe they're in that book he's always reading.

He sits for another half an hour in silent agony, willing his toe to stop itching, for it to just go away. But no such luck, in fact it spreads, moving stealthily across his entire foot. His foot obviously does not understand the importance of not moving. But he doesn't think a mental lecture on cannibals would do it any good…although if someone started nibbling on his foot now at least it might resolve the itching problem.

Naruto sneaks a furtive glance about him, he's quite hidden and can't see any sign of movement in the area, cussing quietly to himself he leans towards his foot, unaware of the fact the whole of his lower body is asleep, then he wobbles, slips, yells something unrepeatable and falls head first to the floor with all the grace that he had when he was twelve.

By the time he has finished blinking all of the tears from his eyes a shadow falls across his face and he looks up through the blur of pain his nose is creating to see Shikamaru and Kiba looking down on him, a slightly rueful expression on Kiba's face as he appears to be handing something over to Shikamaru.

"Couldn't you have stayed up there a little bit longer?" he asks hauling Naruto somewhat abruptly to his feet, "Ten more minutes and I would have won the bet!"

A bet? He'd been stuck up in that tree all that time for absolutely no reason at all?

"Hey!" he shouted, outraged, nose stinging like the plague, "What happened to all that duck and cover shit you guys where going on about before? You know the mission and oh god they're after us!"

"Well," Shikamaru began somewhat slowly, hands in his pockets looking quite as lazy and unconcerned as he always did, "it was a false alarm. We completed the mission early, we aren't expected back for another day, and I was tired."

"So all this time you've been sleeping?" Naruto asked somewhat incredulously, he didn't know why he was knocked for six, really he didn't, it's just they always got him every time.

They didn't have to answer, Kiba was grinning quite fiercely like he always did looking like a wolf as he did so, and Shikamaru had that faint detached smile, as if they where seeing the end of a particularly good practical joke performed on a younger brother.

"I hate you." Naruto projected fiercely locking his jaw stubbornly, he had leaves in his hair and his clothes stank of wood bark thanks to them, he would have stalked off if his leg hadn't been hurting so bloody much.

"No you don't," Kiba assured, wrenching him up by the elbow as he tried to turn away, only succeeding in wobbling a very short distance before he staggered, "it was revenge Naruto. You heard of that? For tattling to Lee about what happened last month."

Naruto snorted, "But it was your idea you son of a bitch, I took all that crap when you high tailed it out of there."

"It's wasn't my idea, it was yours."

"I was drunk Kiba, don't ever listen to me when I'm drunk. Besides, you dared me to."

"Well I was drunk too, and it was damned funny you little fox!"

"Why, what happened?" Shikamaru cautiously interjected, and then thinking about it breathlessly added: "If-it-has-anything-to-do-with-getting-Lee-naked-in-the-middle-of-the-side-walk-and-singing-the-Kohona-national-anthem-backwards-please-spare-me." Lee naked was not something he wanted to even contemplate…ever.

Naruto and Kiba both blinked at him simultaneously, "We should do that one day…" one mutters to the other and they both nod.

Shikamaru clears his throat.

"Well," Kiba explained in undertones, "he went hulk on us."

"He went what?"

"Hulk Maru. He really did, he's not lying! I thought he was going to kill….well me at any rate. We were only trying to shave off his eyebrows, you'd think we'd insulted his family and set fire to his house and underwear the way he was carrying on."

"When Lee gets drunk he sort of gets out of it, you know?" Kiba adds knowledgably "Well basically we got halfway there and he sort of came to and realised exactly what the hell we where doing to him."

"It wasn't pretty." Naruto agreed nodding his head over Kiba's shoulder.

"Neither was your face after he got through with you."

"Excuse me for not high tailing it out of there the second things got slightly dangerous."

"Slightly? Did he knock the remainders of your brain out too then? I wasn't the one splayed out cold on the floor with a foot mark on my face, was I? No, do you know why? It's called animal instincts my friend."

"He was wearing clothes when you did this right?" Shikamaru asked, his fore finger and thumb pressed against either side of the bridge of his nose.

"Erh, yes…why?"

"Good…because I wouldn't want to contemplate the idea of a drunk Lee without clothes…OR without eyebrows."

Naruto giggled, "Imagine Lee without clothes and eyebrows."

They all blanched.

"I feel sick!" Kiba told them, his eyes somewhat poppy, "I think I need to sit down."

Shikamaru let out a small burst of laughter and shook his head deciding to change the subject.

"I bet Sakura was pleased to find her boyfriend had toe imprints across his forehead."

Inwardly Naruto grimaced, he had hoped they could have steered clear away from the topic of Sakura for the entirety of the mission, apparently not.

// The nosy busybodies that they are, of course they can't//

His stomach clenched uncomfortably in his gut as if it where trying to wriggle out of his throat.

"Actually they where across my chin," he said with an easy smile, "and no, she wasn't very pleased at all really, quite the opposite."

"Yeah, well, women they don't really understand the principles of a good prank now do they?" Kiba pointed out placidly, watching sceptically as Naruto did a spectacular balancing act on one leg as he eased off his supporting arm, arms flapping wildly. He looked like he was having some sort of epileptic fit.

Both he and Shikamaru watched with a detached sort of interest as he fell again to the floor.

"But that's why she's going out with you right? So she can get a little less poker straight."

Naruto, whose head band had slipped down across his eyes, said with a hint of irritation stabbing through his chest, "Are you suggesting Sakura has a stick shoved up her arse?"

There was a pause, and then "Are you?" but this time the question was thrown at him by Shikamaru to both he and Kiba's surprise.

//What did you say!?//

"No," he admitted with something resembling a grimace, "but I think it's part of the reason why I like her. But I mean it's nothing compared to Sa-… I mean compared to some other people.

Opposites attract you know and all that stuff."

Although in truth he didn't really think it, he had done at one point…but that had been before he had met him and well…anything else in comparison just seemed to falter at the memory, touch, sound and smell.

There's really no replacing the gaping wound left by the remnants of an obsessive love now is there?

Naruto flushed wondering whether or not his thoughts had surfaced in his face, stumbling over the words somewhat as he said "It's in there knee high isn't it?", and as if to distract himself, pulled his head band and emblem back over his forehead once more.

But neither Kiba or Shikamaru seemed to notice this and inwardly he blew a great sigh of relief, but saw then they were exchanging coveted looks.

"So," Kiba asked once again helping Naruto up as he tried to shake the kinks and creases of pain from his leg, " seeing as your in there up to your knees. Your girlfriend she's still you know your girlfriend?"

"Oh my god," Shikamaru said, shaking his head in stunned disbelief, his thin mouth in his angular face pulling a line of complete exasperation, "could you be anymore obvious if you tried? Why don't you get a banner and a sign saying 'Reveal all personal secrets, and Naruto have you popped the question yet?' You said you'd be subtle about it!"

"Well next time you ask, mister, and I'll stand there making sarcastic comments, okay? Besides, I know you, you'd make it too subtle and then he'd never pick it up."

Naruto watched them bicker, or at least Kiba 'try' to, but it was as about as productive as trying to establish an interesting conversation with a brick wall, Shikamaru wasn't giving an inch and was ignoring all of his attempts, rolling his eyes and looking straight up at the forest canopy.

Maybe they'd forget the question if they continued like this.

// Good idea to perhaps get away//

He began to slowly edge away, this was really one subject he absolutely didn't want to engage on.

He made it to the line of trees before Kiba jumped him from behind in a suffocating headlock and dragged him backwards by his ears.

"Don't think we forgot about you, not for an instant buddy, besides you can't leave me with him for the rest of the way back, I'd kill myself for something better to do."

Shikamaru had obviously decided the remark was below his dignity to answer because he only looked expectantly at Naruto, as did Kiba, looking somewhat like a puppy, ears pricked and excited.

//Go on then! Tell me, tell me, tell me! Oh go on please!!//

//Why not?//

"Did I ask her?" Naruto repeated, slowly, he stuck his hands behind his head, and turned forwards, and looked down at the forest trail they where following, pine needles that lay scattered like green fingernails. He examined the patterns they made in the dirt with his eyes.

His mind travels back seconds, minutes, hours, to a few days ago, a night when warm drizzle had been spattering on the white windowsill of Sakura's apartment. It had been an oddly peaceful evening, no long drawn out conversation which picked at one of Naruto's faults, which had been assured that had many. Instead it had been a scene lulled with wine and a moonlit dinner. Oddly romantic for Naruto, oddly thoughtful, but she hadn't thought about it for long enough. Not nearly long enough.

"You didn't ask her did you." Shikamaru says as perceptive as ever, suddenly breaking the silence that had drifted in between them. It's an uneasy hollow sound that emanates after that, and it spirals horribly until Naruto turns about again, that same easy characteristic expression he always wears when he doesn't want to face up to something.

"Nope." No preamble straight in.

He'd expected them to both shrug their shoulders, or at least stand more awkwardly for another thirty or twenty seconds but instead they both look at him with unguarded disappointment and even a little frustration.

"What do you mean 'nope'?" Kiba asks before Shikamaru can elbow him in the ribs again, "You wouldn't stop talking about it last week, we thought-" he looked pointedly at Shikamaru here who raises both his eyebrows as if to say 'whose we?', and then continued, "hell everyone thought that you would have popped it to her. Hell especially with that mission she's gone on, she's gonna be away for..what…four months?"

"Six actually." Naruto told them flatly, he didn't know why the words echoed in his head so loudly, or didn't stir up as much pain as he had thought they would. In fact the horrifying truth of the matter was that they didn't stir up any pain. Spirals of nothing rose and fell through him as he thought about six months without Sakura.

Six whole months, that was twenty four weeks, one hundred and sixty eight days, four thousand and thirty two hours and two million forty one thousand nine hundred and twenty minutes. Why wasn't the prospect of that chilling him right down to the bone and leaving him in a place where the sky was grey and the sun no longer knew how to rise.

The idea of waking up, day after day alone in his bed should be echoing in coils that clung mistily, like a dark fog about his soul. He'd be alone again, as alone as he hadn't been in years, before he had met the others. He hated it, more then anything else in the world…if you had to be alone, surely wasn't death better?

He should be chilled, desperate for her to come back. But it wasn't, it just wasn't. The more he tried to reason the more his mind told him that he'd been alone for a long long time. His soul had felt empty, he'd been incomplete like this for such a long time he didn't know what right felt like anymore.

Besides Sakura never slept over at his apartment anyway that was normal right?

She said it gave her a headache, that it looked as though a small band of monkeys had crept down the chimney and played 'toss the banana' in every single room.

Naruto thought she'd used the monkey analogy because he had bought a monkey head night cap the previous week and worn it to bed despite her protestations (his head got cold easily), although he'd certainly never played 'toss the banana'.

But he did love her, he had loved her ever since he had first met her, when he was twelve he'd been absolutely crazy about her. But she hadn't been crazy over him, quite the opposite in fact, she had thought him a nuisance, something obstructing her path to Sas-…

Well, let's just say he had been in the way.

It wasn't for lack of trying that he hadn't asked her, he'd gone to all the trouble of cooking that three course meal, learning how to cook something other then ramen was a huge achievement in itself. It had been a simple gesture of what he'd be willing to do, what he was willing to do for her. She was his Sakura, his partner, his…his companion. He'd gladly turn himself inside out for her if he had to without a second thought, because he loved her.

Because he loved her so much.

Didn't he?

He'd even brought a ring, from the money he'd gained working all those double shifts, extra odd jobs that brought him back at two o'clock in the morning, utterly spent with only enough energy to drag himself into bed without so much as a smile or recognition to the angry growling in his stomach as it begged for food.

And the ring wasn't even the one he had wanted, the one with the pink crystal in the shape of a cherry blossom had been sold by the time he had finally got to the jewellers on a rainy Saturday afternoon, drenched through to the skin and sneezing.

He'd had to make do with the strangely shaped red stone that shone bloody whenever it caught the light, set in plain gold. It had been the closest colour to pink that he had been able to find. On second glance when he had looked at it, he had thought the stone had been the exact same colour as…well as somebody's eyes had been once upon a time, before he had gone as if he had never existed. It had been like the ring was laughing at him, mocking him, all that deep crimson had made his fingers go slightly numb as he had traced the gold over and over again sitting on the end of his bed in the dark.

His mouth contacting in the words "Will you marry me? Will you marry me? Will you marry me? Will you marry me?" Until the image had blurred and he was not, as intended proposing to Sakura at all, but there where strong white limbs curled over his own, and the smell of burning flesh scarring straight into his nostrils and a cold hand dragging back through his hair and down his spine so he gasped. Breaking into a light film of sweat, avoiding to look at face, the face he knew it would be…and it wasn't Sakura's.

It had ruined it in the end, given him sleepless nights, in which he felt he had been unfaithful when he hadn't. They where just dreams after all, the subconscious playing tricks. But to have the same sexual fantasy over and over…and with him of all people…with him! The inner crevasses of his mind, the ones he kept shaded from reality and truth knew the whole secret, of how he begged and how he pleaded and how he groaned for more. As of late it had become more frequent…more…certainly more explicate.

Despite his own efforts to push it to the side, to concentrate on something that didn't threaten to destroy him, to put his own best wishes first it had destroyed those dreams

he had been building on.

As he had faced Sakura over a bottle of champagne with little bubbles of nervousness creeping up from his gut and throughout his body he had lost his nerve. She had looked so pretty, her silky hair tucked absently behind her ears as she hummed some tuneless song to herself, wearing that little dress that he liked so much.

// And I suddenly realised I wasn't even seeing her at all. //

He had lost his nerve, right then and there, opening his expressive mouth to say- anything, but his throat had swallowed up the words before they could breach. Instead, blushing slightly, he had made an excuse to get up from the table, walked (clumsily as he had tripped over a chair in his haste to get out) into the kitchen opened up the window out onto the warm rain and stuck the ring in it's little box outside in the wet soil of the plant pots outside.

Naruto had stood there for a moment before he slammed it shut again.

Maybe he was depressed? It's odd, when you're depressed; you usually get sad don't you? Not that he could have burst into song at any given second, but he didn't feel different either. The same old Naruto Uzumaki, the same prankster, the same guy, a little easier on the eyes then he had been when he was younger maybe, but some things change with age don't they?

// Drift back into the present…//

"So you are…or you aren't going out?" Kiba asks tentatively, and he looks like he's chewing the inside of his cheek as he waits for the answer.

It's quite a bizarre sensation when you simultaneously want to thank somebody and knock their lights out at the same time.

Naruto tries hard to swallow down the latter half.

"She's still my girlfriend."



//That's not even a word Kiba.//

Naruto falls into single step beside Shikamaru, nobody says anything for a while, the light stipples and fades in different sections, ebbing as the flow of canopy thickens and dilates.

Kiba clears his throat, apparently signalling Shikamaru to say something here (something sensitive quick!), Shikamaru however doesn't respond to this, much to Naruto's relief, but he does give him a long look out of the corner of his angular eyes as if summing up Naruto in the way he walks.

Finally, he said, "I doubt she'd say no, she could do a lot worse."

And Naruto grins, and then laughs the frostiness in gut melting away like ice on a sun kissed window pane as Kiba says in undertones "Like bushy brows…I mean semi-bushy brows."

The wind sighs contentedly through the leaves, rustling dryly against each other as they whisper together unmentionable secrets.

They walk together comfortably after that, every now and again Naruto finds himself smiling for no reason at all, it's as if a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders, and he scuffs his shoes against the ground sending pebbles skittering across the path.

Kiba feels it first.

He halts suddenly; sticking out an arm to stop the advance, the glinting tips of canines raking over his bottom lip, dark brows framing his amber eyes, like two glowing coals.

"Blood." He say's hoarsely, turning his head slightly from left to right and then back again, "On the wind." He points one long fingered hand, slightly hooked like a claw, in an easterly direction that doesn't lie on the path ahead, leather jacket scuffing gently against his wrist as he circles his finger in a round about sort of way.

"Can you tell if it's just one person?" Shikamaru asks quickly, pulling something out of his back pocket, what looks like a small compass with a needle point, "Still alive or dead? And if so for how long?"

He makes a motion with his head for them to move back into the shade of the trees and off the path, Naruto is bouncing on the balls of his feet, his spine pressing against the knobbly skin of an old oak, fingers clenched, hot adrenaline zipping up and down his spine.

"One person," Kiba says, slowly, and his face contorts into a frown, and he shoots Shikamaru a dangerous look, "still alive I think but just."

"We're not really equipped to be dealing with casualties." Head tilted slightly as he tries to read Kiba's wide eyed alarmed expression, "Besides, there's always the likely chance of whatever got them could get us, and taking an invalid would seriously slow our progress down."

"But," Naruto interjected, looking with curiosity Kiba who seems to be trying to form some silent word on the tip of his tongue, "you just said we were a day earlier then expected. Besides where we are now, there aren't any nearby villages, not within walking distance anyway. They'll die if we just leave them here….Kiba, what on earth is wrong with your face?"

To Naruto it seemed that the appropriate line of bees in your bonnet was suddenly applicable to friend, or perhaps the more accurate description of a person looking like they had just swallowed a beehive.

"Erh?" Shikamaru said expansively, whilst the golden tousled haired youth peered over his shoulder.

"Do we go, or do we leave it?" Naruto pestered, looking with a sort of amused interest as Kiba seemed to be trying to swallow his tongue.

"He's going a funny shade of purple isn't he?"

Kiba choked at this, glared furiously at Naruto before turning to the only one in his opinion with any sense and said forcefully, "It's just got one of those bad feelings about it, you know?"

"Meaning your too chicken to go and check it out I suppose?" Naruto responded grinning, dodging as Kiba sent a fist towards his head, "Come on, not so tough are you? Ohhh careful Kiba-chan Lee might be out to get you!"

Shikamaru felt he really could have done without this, his two team mates dancing around him in a wild dance of tag, Kiba snarling something along the lines of "Say that to again you dumb fox!" and Naruto, blue eyes sparkling and laughing like they hadn't heard him do in weeks as he stuck out his tongue.

"Don't do that," Shikamaru told him sternly, sticking his hands behind both of their heads and bringing their foreheads together in a bone crunching smash ('Ouch! Maru, that frikkin' hurt!'), "what if you got stuck like that forever? Then we'd all have to look at it.

"So here's the plan okay, Naruto you want to go look? Alright then, well move towards it, but you can go on ahead approximately two hundred meters and scope it out. And I mean scope, when I say scope Naruto…not ice cream scoop moron so get that glazed look off your face…look at me when I tell you this. Concentrating? Okay, what did I ask you to do?"

Naruto blinked, focusing on the two dusky brown eyes before him, "Scope head, no dairy products included, don't do anything interesting and then come back."

"And if you see anyone else?"

"I should…"

"Not engage, and slip back as quickly as possible without being seen, got it?"

"Got it! Run like a dog with my tail between my legs, no offence Kiba."

And with that dry wind rustling through his hair and dancing across his skin as he jumped into the dry boughs of a leaning tree, melting into the shadows like a ghost.

Naruto moved through the clot of trees ahead, counting mentally how many meters he was moving and just how far he ought to go. Here and there he looked down to see the forest floor flowing beneath him like a thick green river. No sign of anything, no blood, no corpses, no signs of a battle. Nothing of interest at all….

Except Kiba's never been wrong about this sort of thing, so he ploughs on, due east.

After a while his skin starts to tingle and he slows down, blinking his cornflower blue eyes, he shakes his head as if to dislodge a fly from between his ears, he comes to a complete stop. Some cold trail of ice trickles down the extent of his spine, moving over the knobbles right down into his gut and pelvis, his muscles contract and suddenly he's on edge. Suddenly he knows someone….or something is here.

Silently he slips from the tree, hands touching the ground first, fingers splayed taught, inherently his body knows the sounds of the forest. It's innate knowledge, one that's not part of his memory but the Kyubbi's as strong and ancient as the mountains. A little to his left he realises how the ground has been slightly disturbed as if someone earlier dragged a foot through there, disrupting blades of grass as the went. Look how some of them are bent…and there…against the tree, see how the moss is flattened? Some one placed a hand there, a left one, look at the indent made by the thumb.

And there, to the right, the rocks have been disturbed, someone fell maybe? He edges closer, noticing how on the shiny cuticles of the leaves a dark cracked substance lingers, and he rubs it off with his finger and tastes it.


Some one was here within the last twenty four hours.

He follows the trail further, all the time aware of how silent the forest is, and how pressing the gloom is against his eyes.

And yet in the dim light he sees a pale figure, lying spread eagle beneath a huge old tree, massive curling roots sending up tendrils hither and thither. Even he can smell the blood stink now, it's so strong, and he wrinkles his nose and hides it behind his left wrist. Edging slowly, inch by inch towards it. Curiosity hungry and adamant inside him.

Then he stops, his arm falls away from his face, and he feels vaguely stiff, breathless and then dizzy, very dizzy, and then sick.

He knows that person…oh god he knows that person.

Slim figure, pale ivory skin, long legs, slender arms and long elegant hands, like a fallen swan, neck bent at an odd angle and eyes closed.

It's then when the world swims that Naruto wonders vaguely in the last resort of coherent thought, if Sasuke Uchiha is breathing.

Kiba gave Shikamaru a small side look and shuffled his feet, the other ignored him, until Kiba unable to keep his silence any longer said:

"You know what this is going to be right?"

"Troublesome? Of course it is, I got signed up with you two didn't I?"

Kiba looked thoroughly disappointed at the fact that Shikamaru had just denied him the pleasure of later pronouncing "I told you so."

A/N Some of the dialogue above was inspired by a very funny msn conversation I had whilst touching this up, and thank you to my beta/editor-sama for agreeing to edit this!

First time at writing a Naruto actual fiction (be gentle with me okay?), face palms I went all incoherent after seeing about 60 episodes on the same day and I nearly keeled over from all the Sasuke smut and angst…and oh…oh … oh!!!

Now if you have complaints about why I put the NaruxSaku relationship in here, let me assure you, I don't like that pairing either, in fact that's why I wrote it in. You'll just have to wait and see…also I'm sorry Lee fans, I do love Lee I really do, but…it's just so easy to take the piss out of him!

Reviews are food

I would love to get feed back on this, and general recommendations, bits you liked, bits you didn't etc…erh, and if you flame me, please be at least constructive about it!

Thank you for reading!