-+.:In Leaps and Bounds:.+-

A/N- Sorry I haven't gotten back to some of your reviews in time! If I missed anyone, please feel free to email me and trash talk me until I give you your response. :-p Also, I'm getting a lot less feedback than before. If you don't like something, please let me know so I can fix it! Congradulate me: I just spent $60 on Pocky.

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When I ran I didn't feel like a runaway,
When I escaped I didn't feel like I got away.
There's more to living than only surviving,
Maybe I'm not there…
But I'm still trying.
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-Chapter Four-

He was unstable, wavering between collapsing and changing. Maybe, maybe if he just lay down now, if only for a second, that awful clawing in his belly would just go the hell away.

That's what he always used to convince himself of in the past, before the pain became unbearable.

"Dammit, Kyuubi, stop!" A mental barrier slammed down on the demon, dimming the intense presense and entrapping the beast for only a spare few seconds more.

"You stop. You stop fighting Kit, and everything will be easier," the voice inside him soothed, though it was far from convincing. The ground beneath his feet seemed to move on its own accord, a dim and unnoticed blur in the scenerey rapidly fading in his vision.

They had played this dangerous game many times before. But never, never had they played it in such a condition. Never when he was on the verge of giving in.

"I promise it won't hurt if you do, Kit. It won't hurt. It won't hurt. Just let me have some fun."

"You lie," Naruto accused, panting in his effort to run and communicate at the same time. The demon laughed, claws digging anxious foot-deep holes in the cage as his massive body shook with mirth. Maybe this was a waste of time, a fight that in the end he had to lose. Maybe the outcome was already decided, and Neji had always been right all along.
But maybe he could still keep fighting.
"It will hurt. You- I won't ever let you touch them!"

The demon grinned, offering no support or chakra to the failing boy who stumbled, fell, then was right back up, running again from something as insubstantial as his past.

"Only for a little bit, boy. Only for a little bit. We can be so powerful together. What are these people to you, compared to the power we can have?"

"They're…my friends."


"I will get what I want, you brat, if I have to take it by force."

Naruto paled as the corner of the sealing tag within him began smoking, and the demon started laughing.


It was painfully simple to follow the trail of blood and prints the blonde had left on the ground, though it was by no means an easy path to follow. It seemed to zig zag from left to right, seemingly through the bushes and over large rocks, until Sasuke couldn't figure out just what the hell Naruto was doing. The reduced state of physical ability his friend had been left in had stripped the boy of his most essential senses.

He was running only on instinct, Sasuke realized.

"Naruto, where the hell are you?" he muttered under his breath, knowing that anything louder would be completely pointless. His friend would never openly reveal himself.

The blood on the ground was growing thicker- or was the sky turning darker?- and the teen sped up, memories forcefully surging to the surface of his mind of times long past.

Times he wanted to forget.

Of a time when he had felt the wind blowing through his hair this exact same way, leaping deftly from limb to limb, and then running flat out on the hard ground, arms out behind him, searching for the runaway nin.

Of a time when the guilt was heavy in his heart; when it was weighed down by worry and fear, and a single thought running through his head. Faster.

It was of a time when Sakura had joined him, tears steaming from her eyes as she told him that Naruto- that a body they thought was Naruto- had just been found, and could he please come back to the village to help identify it?

No, he wasn't going to lose that stupid dobe this time. Not again.

Although the thoughts were less than reassuring, he felt his pace quicken all the more. He would find Naruto, if only because he hadn't the last time.

The trail of blood had stopped at a nearby stream, the type of water source the Mist village was populated with to the point of irrational abundance, and Sasuke growled in irritation. He could no longer pick up the scent that had become his second guide.

"Naruto," he growled, and almost fell in the stream in shock when an answering growl resounded from a nearby bush.

Pushing the leaves aside, too curious even to curse the thorns digging painfully into his palm, Sasuke stared.

Naruto was lying in the mud, curled around his knees, eyes half open and exposing a magnificent purple hue, the scars on his face expanding, then contracting, expanding, and contracting. Golden spikes lay spread over the damp earth, leaves and mud clots entangled in the fine strands.

"Naruto," he whispered, suddenly frightened for his friend. This- this was out of his control. What was happening to the boy? He had always known Naruto was special, was harboring hidden powers... that much had been clear when they fought at the Valley of the End, but that had been something he thought Naruto could control.

Hands wrapped about his abdomen, torn and unhealed skin pushing out an unnerving amount of blood, and the tips of fangs protruding from a slightly parted mouth, Naruto looked anything but in control.


"Get away!" Red lines moved like living entities in the teen's eyes, swimming in the changing purple hues. "Dammit Sas'ke, go 'way."

Before I loose control…

"I'm not leaving, Naruto," he said quietly, trying to be there for his friend like Naruto had been there for him. Trying to be there for the boy, like he had never been before. "Tell me what the hell's happening to you."


"Nothing, dammit, go!"

He was twisting on the ground, writhing in pain as he clutched desperately at his belly, fingers raking the swirling black seal that was somehow expelling blood, though there were no visible wounds around it.

"Naruto…" Sasuke reached forward, and for a second, his fingers brushed over skin too hot to be human.

An animalistic snarl was his only warning before an arm shot forward, ripping a long gash across the limb he had just pulled back.

"Shit, Naruto!" Sasuke yelled, trying to stem the flow of blood from his forearm "What the fuck was that for?"

The blonde's tongue flicked out, tasting the blood flecked across his lips from Sasuke's flowing wound, eyes wide and wild as he tried to restrain himself, but all the while sampling the liquid like some exotic drink.

His breath was uncontrollable, ragged and unpredictable, leaking from his lips at its own leisure.

It tastes sooooo good.

Was that his thought, or the demon's? They were all mixing together…

"The body…"

More… More blood. Between his teeth, down his throat…


Yes, Sasuke's blood. Sweet blood. Tainted blood.

"What, Naruto? What body?" His vision was slightly hazy with blood loss- how deep had Naruto's nails cut him? He'd put the brat back in his place when they got out of this mess- but it seemed so…unimportant right now. "What body?" he demanded again.

He wanted to shake the rasping boy, dig the answers from him, but wasn't sure if it was safe to get closer. Naruto was unstable, bouncing from rage to pain to whatever other available emotion offered itself first.

"Please, S…ke. Y'av ta kill't righ now," he slurred drunkenly.

The body? Kill the body? Who's body?

"Your body?"

A slight nod was his only answer.

"Dun let it escape, Sas'ke…"

"The demon, right, Naruto? You have a demon, don't you?" Another nod, and a slight wince for the trouble it took him. "You have to tell me, Naruto, what do I do?"


"I won't kill y- it!"

"Now!" That voice. So desperate, so pained… was this the feeling of a demon trapped inside a body, fighting to get loose?

A shock of blue erupted within the purple of the boy's eyes, the flaming red strands recoiling. They seemed to form together, like a bead of red water sliding into a puddle, getting stronger, and stronger and finally-

It burst.

He screamed.

Sasuke had never heard such an eerie sound before. The closest memory he ever had to that- it wasn't even a voice- was the day when, as a child, he had accidentally broken the legs of a deer in a practice trap he had set up. The poor beast had screamed, and screamed, and he had screamed, because he was a child, and there was no one there to stop the horrible noise from haunting him the rest of his life.

He had hit it. Hit the deer on the head once, then twice, then over and over with the thick branch nearby until the creature had stopped its sickening racket and died.

But this sound was different.

The wail emitting from his closest friend's throat was too human, but then, anything but.

It had the force of pained memories, the physical torture the enflamed seal was inflicting upon him, but also the note of a futile struggle.

It was a fight Sasuke knew all too well.

He was fighting to stay in control, to be independent of the thing controlling him, to be conscious enough to spare those around him from the monster within him. Hadn't Orochimaru taught him that much?

And then a thought. A simple, pathetic thought.

"Naruto," he whispered urgently to the twisting boy, "do you trust me?"

For a moment, he thought the boy couldn't hear him. But then, a small crack of eye peered up at him, the crimson in it nearly consuming the violet, and the boy nodded.

"With my life," he whispered, or, maybe not. He couldn't tell left from right in the state he was in, and really, he couldn't care less.

Blood. He needed blood.

Hesitantly, Sasuke reached forward, hands resting over a frail tanned neck, and almost instantaneously, hands were crushing around his own wrists, inhumanly long nails biting into his skin.

"Naruto, fight it," he breathed, the tang of dried spittle in his mouth making him slightly nauseous. The hands relaxed slightly, the bulge of muscle across the blonde's arms the only evidence of the struggle taking place between demon and human. Sasuke applied as much pressure to his friend's neck as he dared, slowly cutting off the air supply to the brain.

The boy fought it.

Not the boy. Not Naruto. The fox. The fox was fighting.

Sasuke straddled the writhing figure, holding the bucking body with his legs as his fingers squeezed the sweat soaked neck.

Just a little while longer. With no air, the body could not possibly sustain either figure as a host. The best he could do was hope that Naruto would be the first to gain control when the body did wake.

A slight infusion of deep blue chakra built around his hands, carefully molding them to his changing friend's neck, and building a delicate shield about his arms and hands. No matter what happened to his body, he would not let go until the boy was unconscious.

He just hoped his plan would work.

And suddenly, the body stopped fighting. Finally slack and motionless under his weight, Sasuke breifly wondered if he were too heavy- if he was possibly crushing the teen beneath him.

"Sasuke-kun," the body under him purred, and he was met with crimson eyes, devoid of the innocent blue or the flickering purple. Shit! Had Naruto lost the fight so easily? He had thought at least a little longer… "Sasuke-kun, please let me go…"

With the fox's amazing healing abilities in its full powers, it could take twice as long before the body wore out without oxygen…

Sasuke pressed down harder.

He wasn't going to stop until Naruto was safe.

"I won't let you take him over!" he gasped, sweat pouring from his face as he struggled to see past the haze building behind his eyes. Maybe he should have wrapped the wound sooner…

"Oh?" The fox, it looked so like Naruto… he was choking Naruto… "But Sasuke-ku-"

"Don't Call Me That!"

"But you let Naruto say it like that…" the beast pouted, and Sasuke found it slightly unnerving. A small smile twisted at the smirking lips. "Would you let me if I looked a little more like him?"

You… you already look like him.

Slowly, then faster and faster, the prominent fox marks receded, nails and canines shortening, scar marks thinning, leaving nothing save a pair of deep red eyes with black slits.

"How about now, Sasuke-kun? Do I look like him now?"


"You just shut the fuck up and die already, bastard."

"If I die, he dies." The fox was getting annoyed, his grip on consciousness slowly fading as the body began to fail. Of course he wasn't going to kill him. Just knock him out and hope that Naruto would be smart enough to wake up first. The teen atop him pressed slightly harder, the air now almost completely cutting off, but still the demon spoke.

And then, it all fell apart.

"Sasuke-kun, if you let me go, I might talk the brat into maybe doing… this-­" Two tanned hands shot up the raven haired teen's shirt, cold fingers exploring the untouched skin beneath.

Sasuke gasped, nearly relinquishing his hold on the body's neck, reminded only by the barrier of chakra he had molded around his hands that such moves were unacceptable. After all, it didn't matter what happened to his body, so long as the damned creature just fell unconscious already.

"Or maybe," the smooth voice below him whispered, chakra infused with the words to make them stronger and audible, "Maybe you'd rather him do this…"

The hands slipped lower.

"Dammit, stop!"

Two eyes blinked, and the hands paused. "Why, Sasuke-kun?" That voice, it was Naruto's voice. Maybe this really was Naruto. Maybe it wouldn't be so wrong if he just-

"No! You- No! You don't…don't go there…dammit," he gasped.

But they did.

He hissed- the fingers were cold from the night in Mist country- but then maybe… maybe it was because that feeling…

Lower… and lower…

"N…no, don't…"

And then-

"N-Naru… Ah…Naruto..."

The demon smirked. Even if it was losing, it had won.

"So, you do see something in the brat. See? I told you. Let me go, Sasuke-kun, and I'll show you what else I-"

"NO!" He was red, from humiliation, from stress, from… a feeling he couldn't name.

It was nothing more than a physical reaction. He wanted to fuck girls, dammit. He wasn't some fag. Not for his best friend. Not for Naruto.

"Oh, that's a pity." Kyuubi pouted slightly, lower lip jutting out pathetically. "Kit's putting up quite the scene back there. I really thought he liked you too."

Sasuke paled. Naruto… could see? He was…aware of what was going on? What would he-

"He's disgusted by you, Sasuke-kun. Look at you, all hot and bothered for his body…" the hips below him bucked and wriggled, grinding the two lower bodies together, and Sasuke gasped at the contact. "So disgusting…"

"You- you BASTARD!"

He severed the chakra flow to his hands, pulled back an arm, and hit the sneering face before him as hard as he could.

Bones cracked and blood flowed, but the demon- and Naruto- were unconscious. Locked in their own semi-surreal realm.

For now.

…and he was disgusted too. With himself. For not only wanting to hurt the fox for his games, but to hurt Naruto for his rejection.

…For hitting the friend he had sworn never to hurt because he, Sasuke Uchiha, had just defiled the most important bond he had ever made.

There was no way Naruto would ever come close to him again, because it just wasn't something Naruto could ever understand. To him, physical attraction meant deep emotions… maybe because the two had come hand in hand with his crush on Sakura. Maybe because Naruto was just to ignorant to see or believe it any other way.

It didn't matter. Regardless of what had happened, Naruto now was his first priority. Seal the demon in for good, stabilize the host, and then…and then work out how to talk to the boy again.


Sasuke wondered how this scene could be so familiar, and yet, feel so wrong. The weight of the unconscious boy in his arms or on his back was something he was becoming accustomed to; something that always seemed to mark some significant occasion. (Try not to remember just all those occassions Naruto needed to be carried back home)

Because his Uchiha pride would not permit, he had rarely known the feeling of being carried by another, (He wouldn't remember those days when Itachi had brought him home when he had overexerted himself…and how good it felt to be protected by another…) though Naruto had no such setbacks.

He remembered those times he had helped his friend walk home, staggering slightly under the pressure of the body leaning against his… long after the sun had fallen and the moon was nothing more than a dark outline in the sky.

He remembered the weight on his back as he had carried the bleeding boy home; his first entrance into the village for the first time since he had escaped to join Orochimaru.

And he remembered holding the still-bleeding corpse in his arms, cursing and screaming as they tore it away from him because he would not- could not- let go.

But never had he felt so foul carrying the blonde.

Even knowing the boy was out for the count, that he wouldn't wake up any time that day, the lingering thought, the what if possibility of it happening…

What if he did? What if he woke up, accusing and confronting the black haired teen? What if he asked if there were honest feelings involved?

…And what if he couldn't say no?

Of course he would say no, and he would do it with a calm face and no regrets, because really, there was nothing between them but a friendship more valuable than life.

There had never been anything more than a physical reaction. Body on body- a contact that he had never before experienced in such a way.

But Naruto wouldn't know that. From any point of view- hell, even from his own- the odds seemed against him for making a reasonable claim. A reasoning that there really were no feelings in the whole complicated makeup of it all. Just physical reaction. That's all it ever was. Just physical reaction.

Honestly, he was satisfied that his first of the more intimate moves had been shared with his friend. He and Naruto had shared everything together, and it was something that no girl or lover would come between. Luckily, even the blonde could perceive that kind of bond, and it was something that went unspoken between the two, growing stronger as they grew older.

Sasuke nearly fell over when the body on his back coughed, and a sharp, "Naruto?" caused the blonde to shift, but there was no answer.

He walked on, alert now to any sudden moves, but only managed a few more paces before the form shook with another bout of hacking. Small specks of liquid hit his face with every wheeze, and, grinding his teeth and pulling the boy's legs tighter around his midsection for stability, Sasuke began sprinting back to the medic's hut.

She had medicine. She would know what to do.

It was getting worse. He was wondering between strides and leaps if Naruto was even breathing with all the noise he was making, but only a little ways further, he could see the smoke rising from the hut's chimney.

…And just about everything else connected.

He stopped, already a good field distance between him and the medic's house, now slowly burning to the ground.

The screaming of animals still trapped in the barn beside the torched hut slowly died down, but the screams of people in the village would not cease.

The Village Hidden in the Mist was burning.


Sasuke spun about at the voice, twitching slightly as a kunai flew past his cheek. A thin ine of blood trickled from the cut, and he turned his sharp eyes to meet those of his attacker. He did not have time for this.

"Identify yourself!"

Sasuke moved the load off his back and into his arms, cradling the head of bright yellow hair to his chest, concealing the teen's face from the nin standing before him just as well as he could. If anything at all, Naruto would appreciate that.

Naruto, that boy was always in the way, always a burden no matter where they were, even when he was out for the count.

"Uchiha Sasuke," the boy answered coldly, recognizing the figures before him as chuunin from his village. "And if you don't stand down right fucking now and give me the location of the nearest medic nin, I'll move you myself." He raised a hand around the body in his arms, not at all bluffing, and began forming hand seals with his fingers.

One of the chuunin hastely pointed downhill. "Uh, there…"

And he was off again, running towards the bobbing head of pink that could only be Sakura.


The bodies, they were everywhere.

Sakura had ordered them separated; the mortally wounded from the sever cases, and then those with less significant damage. If they weren't dying, they were helping divide the Mist nin from Leaf, piling the enemy fighters in an indecent pile to be burned, however they came, dead or alive.

Clumps of mud and sand rose crude and outlandishly from the ground, but it was okay, Sakura knew. The sand, the sand nin, were the reason they weren't all dead, though the kunoichi had to wonder if they had really made it on time.

The three sand siblings stood off to the side, seeming not at all aware that they had won this fight, though neither pleased with the aftereffects of the battle. Gaara's emotionless eyes traveled among the ranks of the living, scanning face after face, eyes only flicking to the dead occasionally. Sakura wondered who he was looking for.

She found herself uneasy, wondering where her friends were at that moment, and, were they alright? The rookie nine, she had seen them all, and aside from a couple unpleasant wounds she had readily tended, it seemed like they were all still together.

But she hadn't seen Sasuke. She had seen his fire elements during the fight, lighting the sky a brilliant orange red, but when she finally lurched over the hill, there was nothing. No sign of the boy except scorched land and an armored figure she quickly identified. Ripped to pieces and shredded down to the bone…just like… like… (don'tthinkthatname…) She had become nauseous looking at the bloody spectacle before her. Had Sasuke finally lost his humanity?

A hand touched her shoulder, and she jumped, spinning around on the balls of her feet, and then jumped in shock again when she realized who it was standing silently behind her.

"Oh, uh, hi, Gaara…" she stammered uncomfortably. She had never really held a decent conversation with the man in all the years they had known each other and her friends had partnered up with him for drinks. Even then, she could not find anything suitable to say to the sand siblings… especially not Gaara. And it seemed, as things would have it, that he didn't have much to say to her by way of conversation either.

"Look," he said, pointing quietly to the crest of the hill where a figure was attracting quite the attention, barreling down it as though it were winning a marathon.

Sakura had no trouble identifying him.

"Sasuke!" She waved him down, though she already knew he had already begun running towards her, even before she was aware of him. "Sasuke, over here!"

It wasn't hard to recognize the body in his arms either. She frowned slightly as she waited for the two to catch up to her, taking a small step towards them and squinting her eyes at her friend's arms.

"…And Mister… ANBU?"

Her hand dropped limp to her side as the two joined her, out of breath and sweating through the thick padding of clothing.

"Sakura." Sasuke's voice was low, and the emotion in it seemed more than she had ever felt from the boy in a lifetime. His breath was ragged from the run, and the sweet scent of sweat mixed with the tang of blood already in the air. "Sakura, I need you to help him."

She was unnerved by the desperation in his voice, and more than a little ill at ease when she took into consideration just who he was talking about. Hadn't this been the figure he had, only a few hours ago, sworn to kill?

"Sure, Sasuke. Sure I can help him. I'll do my best, okay?" She smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring gesture.

The boy nodded, not letting go of the body which was still rocking in time to the coughs as he knelt on the ground, trying to hold the shaking shoulders still.

"Just as I thought."

Arms crossed over his chest, calm and toneless voice quiet but audible, Gaara blinked once down at the twitching figure, and then evenly met stare-for-stare with Sasuke. Sakura looked between the two, trying to understand the silent conversation between both jounin, who seemed to be reading the other's mind without difficulty.

Finally, Gaara nodded at the black haired teen and walked away, giving them their space.

"Sasuke…? What was that all…?"

"Later, Sakura."

And she also nodded, concentrating now on her patient.

Sasuke had thankfully pulled together what he could of the torn mask Naruto had once worn to cover his most defining features, tying the extra material in a makeshift knot behind the teen's head. Small holes and slashes disturbed the black fabric, but to Sasuke, the face beneath would have been unrecognizable.

Over the vibrant yellow hair now stained red with blood, he had placed the only extra hitai-ate he possessed in a fashion similar to the teen's original style. The one that only he had ever been allowed to touch in all these four years.

The hitai-ate that had become a symbol- a promise- between the two boys.

Sakura noticed it too, the instant the man's head lolled to the side, and the bright metal plate caught the glare of a nearby fire.

She shook slightly under the even gaze Sasuke leveled at her.

A single flake of black ash floated serenely down from the sky, turned over onto itself as the wind guided it softly down, and it landed gently on the long slash running through the middle of the plate.

It was her turn to hurt and scream. "Dammit, Sasuke, how could you? That was… it was Naruto's!" And now it was bloodied, defiled. Ruined. The last thing they had to remind them of their friend.

For some reason, with everything that had happened in the last couple of hours, from the fighting to the healing to the stress and the strain, Sakura was at her last nerve.

But there were memories in that forhead protector she was not willing to let go of. Memories of their oboxious blonde friend who had returned to the village without Sasuke all those years before, half dead, and clinging to the band like a lifeline long after he had been drugged to sleep.

There were memories of that same boy, smiling triumphantly by Sasuke's side some years later, waving his arm through the air as the light refracted off the very band wrapped about his wrist- his and Sasuke's silent agreement that he should keep it, because memories were always more precious to Naruto than anyone else.
(Because Sasuke aways seemed to see the blood of Naruto's he had shed on it, even though they had washed the cloth together.)

She had thought that the name would upset Sasuke… that he'd growl and clench his fists like those times before when she had, only accidentally, let his friend's name slip in front of him.

But now, today, it was different.

"It was necessary, Sakura." Was his only explanation. And even though she understood, she couldn't understand… it was… it had been Naruto's. Why would Sasuke give something this precious, the one thing he had shared with his young rival in their childhood, just to cover the face of some other man?

She couldn't understand him anymore.

Naruto coughed again, but even as the fit died, his thin back arched off the ground, blood leaking from the corners from his mouth as he began shaking, his muscles seizing up.

"Sakura, now!"

She looked from her long time friend to the boy moaning in the dirt, head and shoulders lying flat against Sasuke's knees.

She and him- they'd have to have a long talk after this was done.

Maybe even all three of them could get things settled once and for all.

Sakura placed her hands over Naruto's chest, and then, as an afterthought, drew her finger down his torso, evenly splitting through the jounin outfit with a thin blade of blue chakra. Replacing her hands, she closed her eyes, and concentrated.

Sasuke watched her face intently, forcing his muscles to relax every few seconds before they immediately clenched up again. He frowned when the girl before him twitched, biting her lower lip until it bled, and then began shaking. He wondered idly if she was also going through the symptoms Naruto was still displaying, but then, she opened her eyes…

…and screamed.

Heads shot to the side to watch as the medic nin threw herself bodily away from her choking patient, a finely painted nail still pointing at the convulsing body.

"That…that thing…" Sakura was gasping for breath, tears filling her eyes and leaking from the corners as her nails bit into the palms of her hands. "What that fuck is that thing?" she screamed.

Sasuke sighed. He knew what she had seen in Naruto's body as she had tried to fix it. He remembered his own reaction years ago at the Valley of the End; the day he had first seen the Nine Tailed Demon Fox.

"I'm taking him to the Hokage then-"


"Sakura, get a hold of yourself," he snapped, tugging his arm from her death grip, and repositioning the boy in his arms once again.

"It's…he's a…" she lowered her voice and eyes until her face was completely hidden in shadow and no one but Sasuke could hear her. "He's a…monster."

"Can't you just…fuck, I don't know, work around it?" he asked ignorantly, fuming at her reaction and for even suggesting that Naruto was anything other than human.

She was shaking her head vigorously, tears still unconsciously flowing. "No, no Sasuke! It was… pulling at me… some weird red chakra…and…" She moaned, settling her head in her arms as she curled into herself, inching away from the body she had been trying to restore. "There were…memories…"

Sasuke eyed her, pulling the body closer into himself as if to protect it from the nameless fear that Sakura was displaying.

"What kind of memories?"

The girl shook her head again, wiping the fluids from her nose and eyes with the back of her hand, and then drying her hand on her clothing. "Really, really horrible ones. Blood and bodies… Even a memory I could just feel hurt him more than anything. Sasuke, what could frighten something as horrible as that?" She pointed at Naruto again, but didn't wait for an answer. "And, somehow, some of it was so familiar. I've seen some of those places before…" she looked at him for help, any comfort he might be able to offer her.

"Where?" he demanded, eyes slanting suspiciously. "where do you remember?"

She shook the tears form her eyes, staring dumbfounded at her old teammate.

"There were just a couple places around Konoha…I don't know, Sasuke! It was all dark! What do you think we should-"

"There were other places, you said. What else do you remember?"

Sakura was silent for a moment, staring confusedly back at her friend. What was his problem? Shouldn't they be doing something about that thing in Mister ANBU's body?

…But… this was Sasuke that was asking these questions, and, even now, she would have a hard time not telling him everything she knew. It was so rare to talk to the moody boy these days. And, even so, he might know something about that thing…might be asking these questions because they were the answer to getting rid of it. Yes, that was it. He was going to help get rid of it. She straightened.

"A book… Kakashi Sensei gave me a text book when we were kids 'cause I wanted… wanted to study Konoha's history a little… and…"


"And… I saw a picture…it was called the… "Valley of the End"…I think, but… it wasn't really a valley. It was…" She pondered for a second, trying to recall the place the man's memory provided, but also trying block out the spectacular show of lights that flashed before her eyes accompanying the scene. Blue and white lights… a bubble of chakra flashing over-

"It was a waterfall, I think. Or a river. And there were two statues…Sasuke, are you okay?"

He was trembling slightly, his normally pale features one shade lighter as his fingers dug painfully into Naruto's arm unconsciously.

How much had Sakura seen of their fight, all those years ago? They had never told anyone about it… And…

Was this the memory that still haunted the blonde teen? That still brought him pain and fear every time he thought about it? Maybe…maybe Sasuke hadn't been as forgiven by the boy as he had originally thought… as Naruto had kept assuring him he was…

"I'm taking him to the Hokage," he said stiffly. "Thanks, Sakura."

"Sasuke, we need you here. Can't we just please…" her eyes flickered slightly towards the pile of the Mist's bodies, waiting to be set aflame, and Sasuke, disgusted, understood clearly the words she would not speak.

Lets burn him, please. No one will ever have to know.

He turned around, walking brusquely towards a more open section of ground. People moved out of his way as he glared them aside, Sakura tagging a safe distance behind.

"Sasuke, he's not fit enough to travel anyway," Sakura pleaded in a last attempt to keep the boy safe at her side. "The village is over three days away from here, and that's going at the amazing pace most of us can't keep up with. Just let him go, Sasuke. It'll do more damage to his body if it's jarred around like that. He needs an adrenergic-blocking drug which I don't have."

Sasuke kept walking. He wasn't going to- wasn't even able to- dignify that with a response. Sakura- she just wouldn't understand. Maybe even if she knew it was Naruto he was carrying in his arms. Naruto, who was dying even as he bit his thumb and twisted his fingers in a jutsu he seldom used.

"Summoning Jutsu!"

There was a loud popping noise, accompanied by the summoning's poof of smoke, and those still on the field looked on in awe. As the smoke cleared, murmurs broke through the groups; frowns of disapproval crossing slightly fearful faces.

Sasuke glared at the staring nin as if daring them to challenge his choice of a summoning, all the while slinging his friend gently over the serpent's smoothly scaled back.

A long narrow head twisted about, and the raven haired teen looked into the slitted eye of the giant snake, which hissed, its long forked tongue tasting the air about the young shinobi.

"The traitor…" it hissed in what might have been amusement, and the observers took a few steps back, staring in awe. "The little traitor… asking for my help?"

The power around the Uchiha seemed to swell tenfold, and the serpent seemed to smile.

"Alright," it whispered, wrapping a rough tongue around the boy's midsection and hoisting him up alongside Naruto. "But I expect a little more respect from you in the future, boy. No more emergency calls until I get something in return."

There was a short grunt of response from the teen, and they were off, sliding through the forest at a speed impossible on foot.

They would get Naruto home, no matter what. There had been too many deaths that day, and Naruto was not going to be apart of that list.

- - - - - - - - - -

Alright! So was it? Please review, I get so desperately -HUNGRY- for reviews. I need them like cocaine.

-Drug a hungry authoress, feed her a review!-
...Ich möchte die Hund essen! (Und darf ich bitte zur die Toilette gehen?) biiiiitttttteeeee?! .o