Title Meaning: 'Forever'

Disclaimer: 'Naruto' is the property of Kishimoto-san and will never belong to me. I possess no talents in manga-drawing and as such could never be an artist capable of producing such a masterpiece. However, I am certain that the plotline is original and subsequently have not plagiarised an idea from any other author on any fanfiction site publishing 'Naruto' stories. Any similarities are by mere coincidence. Also, any non-canon techniques will either belong to me or will be the creations of other authors on this site – I will not be using one without prior permission and will give credit where it is due.

Rated: T (for mentions of suicide, some bad language and quite frequent violence)

Parings: Sasu/Saku, Naru/Hina, platonic Naru/Saku, other minor pairings.

Spoilers: Up to Manga Chapter 309 (No equivalent anime episode as of yet); more spoilers to come in later chapters.

Setting: Canon Universe, with some divergence into an alternate reality – for example, during the chapter when Orochimaru prevented the battle between the late Team 7, he was… already occupied at the time. Not saying anything more.



"Inner Sakura/ Kyuubi"

Chapter 1: Apprentices of the Sannin – Battle of the 3!

A shout of fury rang out, followed by the clang of metal on metal, sword on kunai. Above the battling figures a flock of birds broke into panicked flight at the alien sounds, their wings straining as they tried to find someplace safer than their previous roost; moments later the tree they had been perched in succumbed to the forces of gravity and crashed to the ground with a loud groan, sending up a cloud of dust in its wake. The girl responsible for its destruction immediately spun round to relocate her target; she could only watch as her companion plunged into a frenzied taijutsu battle, since any attempt to intervene could end up with him being caught in the crossfire.

Haruno Sakura was forced to leap out of the way as a stray fireball scorched the grass where she had previously been stood, causing the young chuunin to lose concentration and subsequently miss a vital opening in her former team-mate's defence. Her brief mental lapse almost cost her as he charged towards her, but once again Naruto stopped the attack, harshly shoving the Uchiha survivor off balance. Eyes with the three swirling tomoe of a fully matured sharingan widened slightly in shock, having not anticipated such a response from the dobe, and he stumbled backwards a few steps, right into Sakura's range.

Not one to let an opportunity pass, Sakura punched him away, though he was able to correct his unexpected flight and land before crashing into another tree; and as he straightened up from his couching position both Konoha shinobi noticed the tattoo-like mark that had spread out from the curse seal on his neck. Sasuke smirked at them while Naruto growled in response; his eyes had become slitted though had not yet turned crimson, and the whisker-scars on his cheeks began to thicken slightly; the kunoichi shot her companion a worried glance, concerned whether he would loose control of himself and end up partially releasing the Kyuubi, though she had little need for concern. Naruto would never let her come to harm because of his actions again, even if he had to fight with the demon lord to do so.

As if by some unspoken agreement the three plunged back into battle.

Only a short distance away, someone sat by a riverbank, his legs crossed and his eyes closed in silent contemplation. He was quite alone, with no evidence of a travelling partner anywhere nearby, and the calluses on his hands were substantial evidence that he was more than used to hard work. In fact, only the absence of any traditional ninja marks suggested that he was not of any shinobi village, despite his unknown proximity to Otogakure; if one were to look closely at him, they would realise that although he seemed quite old he was only in his teens, though few made the mistake since he tended to avoid civilisation at all costs.

And his overall appearance reflected this: his dark hair was tangled and untamed, his clothes tattered and skin darkened from long exposure to the sun. Across one wrist curled a twisting scar that looked oddly like a leaf, if seen from the right angle – he'd survived that time, to his overwhelming despair. But now survival was his main priority, and in order to survive there were certain things he had learned to be wary of.

Explosions and the sounds of battle were just two of these. In a moment he had gathered his scant belongings, ignoring the remains of his campfire – it had long since burned out. Animals would no doubt remove any other traces of his presence, and he would be gone before anyone could attempt to pursue him. Strapping his ragged bag across his back he started to gather chakra for a Shunshin, though a scream from the direction of the battle shattered his concentration: a female voice that was filled with a mixture of pain and desperation, yelling a single word, "NARUTO!"

He stopped and turned in the direction of the fight. The name called up memories he had long attempted to bury, memories of a blond boy with a foxy smile, laughing at some prank or another; the voice too was familiar, one he associated with emerald eyes and the delicate perfume of sakura blossoms. He stood there for only a moment, torn by indecision- to continue to ignore his memories, or to assist those he once called friends; to remain alone and independent, or to return to a life dictated by others.

There was no real choice between the options available. Without so much as a backwards glance he vanished in a swirl of leaves.

Sakura stared in horror and mild revulsion as her eyes came to rest on the transformed boy in front of her. Scaly, wing-like appendages were spread from his back; Naruto's blood was smeared up his forearm, sparks of electricity still leaping from the tips of his fingers; instinctively she ripped the black gloves from her hands and dropped to her knees beside the blond jinchuuriki, green healing chakra surrounding her hands as she raced to heal the gaping wound in his side. With a glare directed at him as he attempted to rise he stopped trying to get up, allowing her to reach the wound. She half-noted the red chakra already flickering around the edge, knowing that Kyuubi was also healing him. A frown of concentration creased her brow as she focused on the worst of the wound, though she was prevented from completing the process as an arm slammed into her, causing a choked cough to escape her lips as dimly the sound of Naruto's angered roar reached her.

She flew about ten metres or so, then landed in a heap at the foot of a towering tree, struggling to rise only to be pinned against the trunk by a grey hand, smeared with crimson. Naruto was charging again, a rasengan in his hand, but he was undoubtedly weakened by their previous skirmish with Orochimaru. Only a short distance away she could make out the shapes of Sai and Yamato, their temporary companions, as they battled with another Konoha traitor – Kabuto. The young medic-nin was under pressure but not, it seemed, at any disadvantage despite facing two ANBU rank ninja.

Sasuke turned his head towards the charging jinchuuriki, sharingan eyes whirling again, and suddenly Naruto found his body weakening as the spiralling tomoes cast a genjustu over him. Snarling savagely he attempted to break free and reach his friend but from the avenger's smirk Sakura knew the blond wouldn't be able to break free without drawing on Kyuubi's chakra.

He leant forwards, his lips almost brushing against her ear as he whispered, "You're still weak, Sakura-chan. Even the dobe's stronger than you." Naruto growled and attempted once again to break free; she struggled against the hand around her throat only to have the other drive into her abdomen, driving the air from her lungs in one harsh choke. Her vision swimming as she struggled to breath, she saw his face close to hers and his lips moving again. A frown; she couldn't understand what he was saying; then it became clearer: "…thought you were going to…'drag me back to Konoha'?" The hand tightened again and Naruto howled with rage, beginning at last to overthrow the genjutsu through sheer willpower; but it seemed the avenger wasn't yet going to stop torturing her with his words. "You're still annoying."

"And you're not the Sasuke-kun I used to know," she rasped, stubbornly refusing to react to his words the way he wanted, even though she could feel something moist smouldering in the corners of her eyes and a tight knot forming in her throat. His eyes narrowed, and with a snort of irritation he cast her aside. The strength behind the throw meant that Naruto was unable to intercept her. Time seemed to slow as she fell towards the ground, and she was certain she was going to die – he had thrown her towards a great yawning rift in the ground, an after-effect of her own attack. In a last burst of strength she sucked in breath and screamed out to her companion, her friend, her brother, her last link to the old Team 7.

A leaf floated past. Suddenly there were arms around her, and the ground was a long way below. Slowly Sakura opened her eyes and peered up at her saviour, a ragged young man whose onyx eyes were oddly unfocussed, black markings that she had no time to recognise retreating back to a curse seal mark on his neck. His attention flickered downwards, despite his eyes not moving at all, and, as if satisfied that she was in no immediate danger, set her down on the branch below him before turning attention to the Uchiha, who had also taken to the trees. Naruto leapt up and took an offensive position, uncertain whether this newcomer was friend or foe, or even a neutral passer-by who had intervened without understanding the situation. His eyes narrowed. Even if he created a horde of Kage Bunshin and went all out he wouldn't be able to defeat the two of them; even if both he and Sakura were fighting the chances were probably against.

"Who are you?" the stranger demanded. That caught the attention of both Konoha nin, and they shared a quick glance. Having been around each other for so long they were adept at reading their counterpart through their body language, Sakura more so than Naruto – both were agreeing that he was probably not a foe, if he didn't even know Sasuke.

"Uchiha Sasuke."

The stranger's face twisted into a scowl, his jaw clenched in surprise and anger. "That's impossible," he finally said, taking a step away from Sakura so as to prevent being obstructed by her, should the Uchiha decide to attack. There was a sudden flash of red in his eyes, and briefly the lone kunoichi caught a flash of sharingan eyes whirling furiously. "You're lying."

Sakura's breath caught in her throat, confusion weighing heavily on the front of her mind, and in uncertainty her gaze flitted over to Sasuke. There was no sign of a genjutsu, and those sharingan were genuine- yet only two Uchiha remained alive; how could there possibly be a third? Naruto met her eyes and she realised he was just as confused, if not more.

"You're lying," the stranger repeated, lowering his bag to the branch, obviously preparing for some kind of confrontation. "I'm Uchiha Sasuke!"

End Chapter 1

Next Chapter -

Naruto: "I am Sasuke! But which tells the truth?!"

Just a note that I will accept any types of reviews EXCEPT those that say something like 'update soon!' (I will only update in my own time, since I have an overload of coursework at the moment.) Flames are more than welcome – my mates and I ran out of matches for our bonfire last weekend and don't want a repeat! Amateur pyromaniacs need a good supply of fire. Constructive criticism is encouraged.

Also note that it is against my policy to leave a story unfinished. Even if I am gone for several months between updates I can assure you that the only way this will remain unfinished is if either the story or myself dies. How can a story die, you may ask? It's when a Mind Block enters its final, most deadly stage and mutates into an incurable disease, hated by writers and readers alike. It is the Mind Wipe. Fear it.