Revised: April 2017.
A/N: Naruto and Sasuke are in their twenties. Friendship, no romance.
Tsunade hadn't felt his exhausted in a very, very long time.
Looking over at the crowd that had gathered in front of the Hokage Tower, she couldn't help but feel a deep sense of dread. As a former Hokage, she recognized most of the people who stood before her. At the very least, she recognized all of the gathered shinobi and it seemed as if everyone had put aside their usual business in order to attend this important meeting.
She scanned the faces in the crowd, looking for one in particular. She knew it was in vain. Still, there was a part of her that hoped this was just an extremely tasteless joke, that he would suddenly appear out of the crowd and reprimand everyone for failing his 'test'.
She couldn't find that face in the crowd, just as she hadn't found him in the past two weeks. After two weeks, after receiving more and more reports about what had most likely happened… she accepted she may be looking for a body instead of a living person.
If he was still alive, he would've found a way by now to return. He was Hokage, now. He'd fulfilled his dream, and Tsunade knew he would never, ever leave the people of Konohagakure to their fate. So, he was…
"People of Konohagakure no Sato," Tsunade began, suddenly realizing how quiet it was despite the large crowd that had gathered. Whatever noise she'd been hearing, had been in her own mind, her own disentangled and jumbled thoughts. It felt like she'd been standing in front of this crowd for half an eternity, but maybe it'd only been seconds.
"As of today, I will return to my previous position as Godaime Hokage."
Some murmurs arose from the crowd, but no one seemed surprised. Almost the entire shinobi force had spent the last two weeks searching for their Hokage. If he had been found, the news would've spread like a wildfire.
"Also, the Rokudaime Hokage, Uzumaki Naruto, is hereby officially declared dead."
She couldn't soften the words, no matter how hard she tried.
This time, more than a few murmurs arose from the crowd.
"Quiet, please," she said firmly. If anything, that quieted down a few of the voices, only because of Tsunade's unexpected mildness.
"I know we haven't found a body. We have learned… that there may not be a body."
Oh God, just saying those words hurt her. If the reports were true, Naruto's fate had been unbearably cruel. Her stomach knotted whenever she thought of it – but it also ignited a fire from within her, a burning and horrible feeling, a need to find who'd done this and destroy him.
"We cannot use our forces to search for something that may not exist. Naruto… the Rokudaime wouldn't want this village to crumble after his death. He fought for this village with his life numerous times, as have all of you. We must honour his memory by continuing to do so."
Her eyes travelled to the Hokage monument where the face of Naruto, who was like a little brother to her, remained. The stone made him look angry and more serious than he had ever been. She swallowed again as she looked at his face, hoping he could forgive her for what she was about to do.
"All I can tell you is that he was murdered by a former Leaf shinobi named Uchiha Sasuke," She felt vaguely satisfied to see the crowd harden after her words. "From today on, he is officially a S-rank missing-nin. We will not let him get away with this."
A blond-haired man groaned pitifully when he awoke to a world full of pain. His head was throbbing, his limbs were aching and he just felt miserable in general. Despite the pain, he managed to push himself up from his uncomfortable position on the floor. He looked around, and noticed he seemed to be in a dark cave. Despite his location, he wasn't cold. There was a smouldering fire not too far away from him.
Blearily, he looked back at the spot where he had been laying, and noticed someone had tried to soften the floor for him with some sort of white and red blanket.
Attempt to get up from his position and explore were not met by success. Only sitting up was taking a lot of his energy, and anytime he moved his entire body would protest. It didn't take too long before he decided to lay down again.
Questions were going through his mind, because he had no idea where he was, nor why he was here, who had made this bed for him and who was responsible for the fire. Had someone brought him here? It didn't take long for him to realize that, no matter how much he tried to force his brain, he just couldn't remember what he had been doing before this.
He could not even remember his own name.
As he tried to desperately remember something, anything, he never noticed he was no longer alone. It was only when the approaching stranger dropped something that the blond-haired man noticed his presence.
In the darkness of the cave, with only the small fire acting as a source of light, the man blended in nicely with his dark background. He was wearing a long black coat, had dark hair and dark eyes, too.
The blond-haired man was at a loss for words momentarily. He wanted to ask the man if he was responsible for bringing him her, if he could maybe tell him what had happened, if he knew his identity—but something grabbed his eye.
This dark-haired man… he was looking at him with fear.
The blond swore the other man stammered a little as he spoke that word—or was it a name? He stared at him with wide eyes, and his shoulders had undeniably tensed up, as had the rest of his body. For a few moments, the blond could only stare.
"You're awake," the other man said, breaking the silence that had come over them.
"I am. Did you bring me here?"
"I did," the man answered. His fear did not seem to lessen—and he just kept staring at the blond, almost without blinking.
"Staring is rude, you know. You could tell me why you brought me here."
"You were hurt, so I… brought you here. I knew it was safe here, for both of is, so this is where I took you. I had no choice."
"No choice? What happened?"
The dark-haired man frowned at his question. He still seemed uneasy and tense.
"Don't you remember?"
"No… I don't remember anything."
"What do you remember, Naruto?"
"My name is Naruto?"
The man just stared at him openly for a few moments.
"Is that a question?"
The dark-haired man suddenly turned away, and Naruto was not able to see his face from this angle. Naruto didn't know why the man was reacting like this.
"Do we know each other?"
Somehow that seemed to bring the man back to reality. For a moment Naruto thought he might get answers, but then the man suddenly turned and quickly walked off. It took a few seconds before Naruto understood that the man was just leaving there alone—and he was still not capable of standing and walking—while he could be going anywhere. And who knew, he might not ever come back.
"Oi!" He shouted at the man who had already disappeared from his eye's view. His voice echoed through the cave. "Get back here! I've got questions!"
He made an attempt to get up again, but he quickly fell back on his makeshift bed with a wince and pain shooting through his body. He rested his hand on his belly, and realized that there were bandages. Seeing as how much his body hurt, he did not mess with the bandages.
Naruto waited for over an hour for the dark-haired man to return. He wasn't actually sure if it had been that long. The only source of light in the cave was the slowly dying fire close to his makeshift bed. There was no indication of time anywhere, whatsoever.
It wasn't before too long that Naruto's unease grew. He knew nothing. He didn't know how he got there, he didn't know who that man was and he didn't know who he himself was. He was just laying in that dark cave, and he was aware that he was practically helpless at that point. His body protested against every move he made. Even if he were to make his way through the cave—crawling on all fours or something—then he had no clue how to exit the cave. He didn't know much deep he was in, he didn't know what way would get him back to the outside and what way would be a death trap waiting for him.
Even just laying there was taking a toll on his body and his mind, and it didn't take long for him to be swept up in a restless sleep.
Konohagakure no Sato – Village Hidden In The Leaves
Godaime – Fifth
Rokudaime – Sixth