All Good Things
If it weren't for the metal beams reflecting the sun's blinding light, Naruto was positive he wouldn't have recognized the glass structure in the distance. It blended in to the flat plains of a less industrial area, mirroring the gentle roll of gold and yellow wheat grass, hiding any hint of aircraft behind huge pin-point banners that stretched the sky. Naruto squinted his eyes as the hovercraft Itachi had provided drifted under an overpass, crouching down in his seat as the familiar nausea of motion sickness bit at his stomach.
"We're almost there," Gaara murmured from beside him, and the comment was meant more as a statement than for comfort. The redhead was staring placidly out of a tinted Plexiglas window, his elbow balanced on the base rim, his palm supporting the curved arc of his chin. His forefinger played with the swell of his bottom lip, rolling over it in boredom, and Naruto let out a deep breath before turning his attention to the airport ahead.
It was less than ten minutes away.
It was hard for him to imagine that he would soon be inside of that building, and after that on some future rendition of an airplane flying to God knows where. His nerves were beginning to tingle and his stomach was beginning to crawl, making the uncomfortable flight of the astro-vehicle worse. He rubbed a hand tentatively over his stomach and tilted his head back against the seat, letting his mind wander.
It had been a while since he had really thought about it, or recognized how much his life had changed in such a short period of time. It hurt him a little to remember the past, because that life seemed all too much like a fading vision in his mind. He couldn't quite remember how green the grassy knolls of CU had been, or what sound the wind made as it whistled through the needle-point pines of mountain towns. He could vaguely recall the way the sun blinded him as it reflected from glossy hedges of snow, and a part of him wished he could name the perfect colors the sunset made as the sun disappeared behind the purple glow of the rocky horizon.
When he and Neji had traveled back, he hadn't really even thought about any of the instances running through his head. He had been so set on discovering the truth that he had forgotten to remember and admire everything what he had left behind. And now, as he sat in the backseat of a rather bumpy aerial drive, an unfamiliar pang of homesickness enveloped him.
Just what had he left behind?
As he thought about it, letting the gentle lull of the vehicles rumble beneath him, he wasn't even sure himself. Every important person or thought sent him straight to the moment he was in now; straight into the future. It was as if the past were only a placeholder for a momentous life set aside for him, one that he was lucky enough to find on his own, despite the trials he had faced. Despite the conflict he was facing now.
Naruto peeked open an eye and examined Kankuro at the driver's seat wheel, pushing and prodding at levers Naruto hadn't the slightest knowledge about. He could feel Gaara's slow and rhythmic breathing beside him, and outside of the window, though it made him feel queasy to look, smaller factory buildings rushed by below like smudges of charcoal on gray canvas. He let his head drift to the side and he balanced it on the window, closing his eyes once again to keep the sick feeling at bay.
In all actuality, Naruto had never been on an airplane before.
It was a random thought, he realized, but one that was slightly ironic inside of his mind. In all of the houses he had lived at least one person was deathly afraid of flying, and so every trip he had ever taken had been by car. He remembered that, strangely enough. Sitting in the back seat, hot sun burning him through denim shorts and short puffs of air conditioning teasing him from the front of the car. But that had been when he was younger. When he got into high school, his life had changed.
Even though he had always had a family, per-say, Naruto had always been alone. In high school, that sense of solitude had just become more literal as he moved out of his foster parents' home, got a part time job, and tried to make sense of life. He had met Sakura and Kiba that year in a science class, and they had become an inseparable trio, like siblings that had come together after years of absence. He had clung to them, the only two stables in his life, and as time progressed, thought of them as the family he had always wanted.
But now, things had changed.
Sakura was no longer someone Naruto could trust or go to for help. She was no longer someone he wanted to have a life with. Instead she was just a shell of what he had remembered about her, a once bubbly personality turned icy and rigid at the prompt of money and opportunity.
And Kiba—Naruto wasn't sure where to place him.
He had believed for so long that Kiba had been as guilty as Sakura, so much that his own feelings towards him were a mixture of relief and numbness. The people he trusted—the people he truly cared about were all here. In the future. In an indescribable place that towered around him, filling him with questions and driving him to danger, all for the sake of one thesis.
And one person.
The vehicle lurched upward and Naruto's eyes shot open, following the ascent with squinted eyes. It gravitated towards a tunnel and zipped inside, shadowing the inside of the car in blackness. There was a smooth hum of air against Naruto's window and it made his head hurt, his ears plugging as the vehicle shot upward at a fast speed. He held his breath and closed his eyes, trying to distract himself from the fact they were almost there.
He cared about Sasuke, more than he wanted to admit. But he had already admitted it to himself and as liberating as it felt, it drove a new nervous sensation into his gut. He wanted to be helpful to Sasuke. He probably even wanted to be more. Loving someone was a huge step in itself, but like one of his foster parents had once told him, love was rarely enough. People naturally wanted to be physical, wanted to be dominating, even wanted to be everything. And Naruto knew, before everything else he felt, that he wasn't ready for that.
He was still lost in this new world of bright lights and metal buildings, searching for a purpose. A purpose that wouldn't endanger anyone at least, and one that made him feel comfortable. One that didn't make others have to constantly risk their lives for him.
Naruto opened his eyes again, finding Kankuro's terse gaze in the rearview mirror. His eyes were more serious than usual, and as the car burst back out into daylight Naruto squinted and narrowed his eyes.
"When we get into the airport, stick with Gaara. I don't want any funny business."
Naruto nodded before turning his gaze away, feeling sardonic in his mind. Even if he had the sudden urge to run away, where did they think he would go? Spotting him wouldn't be difficult, to say the least. He let out a sigh as the vehicle slowed, pulling forward into an empty space on a valet riser. It was a moment before he realized they had reached their destination, his only clue the short taps from Gaara motioning him out of the door.
"Your side," Gaara said smoothly, and shoved him forward. Naruto glared momentarily before unlocking the side panel and sliding out, standing firmly on a metal gate.
Kankuro handed the ring of keys to a nearby tenant, and in the meantime, Naruto stared up in awe at the massive building before him. The hazy sun played tricks on the glass overlay of the outer walls, sending dark shadows over the boarding docks below. The valet service was slow and calm, and a huge pair of double doors opened automatically as people drifted forward through them. Naruto felt a hand grip his wrist and it startled him, and he turned to glance at Gaara.
"Come on," Was all that was said before he was pulled forward into the building. He didn't have the energy to shake his hand free, even though he was getting irritated at being pulled around. Instead he found himself examining the airport, taking it in like a child in a candy store.
It was gigantic. The domes he remembered seeing from miles away towered above him and he nearly tripped onto an escalator as he stared upwards with wide eyes. He, Gaara, and Kankuro were on the third level of the building, nearly four or five from the top. There were elevators and escalators around every corner, and the sweet smell of breads and the rich aroma of fine restaurant cooking invaded his nose. He felt his stomach growl beneath him and he stumbled closer to Gaara as the escalator ride came to an end.
As Naruto glanced down to the landings below two fingers snapped in front of his face, making him turn evenly to Kankuro. He looked irritated, and he was frowning.
"Focus, Uzumaki," he said quickly, and he turned to face Gaara as the trio sifted to a more unpopulated side of a flight deck.
"I'm going to go check in with Itachi. Board when they open the gate; I'll meet you there."
Kankuro handed a couple pamphlets to Gaara who took them dutifully, releasing Naruto's wrist in order to put them into a satchel at his side. Naruto raised an eyebrow.
"Isn't there a security check?" He glanced around, not quite certain if they were in the outer portion of the airport or the inner more secure area. When he turned back to meet the gazes of the other two men, he noticed that Kankuro looked confused.
"Security for what?" He shook his head almost immediately after commenting, waving his hands passively. "I don't have time for this," he said and he turned to Gaara.
"Don't let him get into any trouble."
Gaara grunted in response and Kankuro disappeared down a sidelong hallway where a tiny photorealistic picture of a telephone blinked on a neon sign. From beside him, Gaara spoke tonelessly.
"You can look around, if you want."
Naruto peered over to him, raising an eyebrow. Gaara stood perfectly still, his arms hanging loosely from leather jacket pockets, and his expression void of anything resembling thoughtfulness.
"I'm not sure Kankuro would like that very much," Naruto said quickly, pocketing his own hands. He took in a deep breath, wondering when he was going to be able to eat next. In his pocket he felt the tattered edges of paper, and remembered that he had shoved the theory supply list somewhat hastily in there.
"Neither of us like to abide by rules," Gaara shrugged, and he turned around, wandering towards a bridge-like overpass that spanned over the center of the airport's interior. Naruto drifted forward to follow, nervous to be left alone.
When he caught up with him the redhead had paused, and turned backwards slowly to take Naruto in.
"You're strange," he said softly, and Naruto scrunched his nose in confusion.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he said defensively, and he leaned forward against the rail to view the floors beneath them. People bustled about from shop to shop, and Naruto caught sight of a small bread shop with donuts and pastries in the window.
"Anyone else would have run away. I'm beginning to think you like Itachi."
Naruto turned backwards quickly, his eyes narrowing faintly.
"Of course I don't like him. It's not as though I have a choice in this situation, though." Naruto always wondered why Gaara spoke so freely with him. He was a cold and collected person, but he hardly seemed dedicated to the obligations at hand. The redhead remained quiet, however, and Naruto leaned forward further over the railing, excited to find more eateries.
"You're going to fall," Gaara said, and Naruto felt the height suddenly, and whipped himself back.
"You know, you don't seem to like Itachi much either." Naruto glared. He spun on his toes, leaning back against the railing and pulling his arms across his chest in a defensive manner. Gaara stared vacantly at him for a long moment before he shrugged and cocked his head to the side.
Naruto frowned and glanced to where the other man was looking, not expecting it to be a restaurant. A moment passed where Naruto felt irritated that Gaara hadn't answered his comment to the fullest, but he let it slide. Out of all of the Sabaku siblings he could see himself being more on level with Gaara, even though he knew that was an idiotic thing to think.
"Let's eat," Gaara said suddenly, and he drifted forward, as if expecting Naruto to follow. The blond did, out of fear of being left alone. The walkways were becoming more crowded as departure gates began to fill, and as usual, Naruto was receiving curious looks from passerbys. He jogged up behind Gaara and let out a low groan.
"While food sounds wonderful, I have no cash."
Gaara peeked back at him as he drifted to an automated order board, reaching his hand into the satchel at his side.
"You're Itachi's now. It's his expense."
Somehow, Naruto didn't like the sound of that. Gaara pushed a few coins into a slot next to a stir-fry—looking dish, and Naruto crept forward to examine the chart. Itachi's or not, his stomach was demanding food. He found a picture that looked like ramen and pointed up to it, watching as Gaara sifted through the change in his hand to enter the correct amount. The redhead followed his maneuvers by pressing a button labeled 'end', and a receipt ejected from the bottom.
"Follow me." Gaara turned to enter the small restaurant, motioning Naruto to follow closely behind him. There weren't many people inside but it was dark, the only lights neon red bulbs that flickered occasionally through long panels on the narrow ceiling. Naruto watched as Gaara gave his receipt to an attendant at the counter and slid into a seat at a long bar-table next to it.
Naruto followed in suit, pulling himself onto the stool with an unusual confidence. He had grown so used to not knowing how to act that is was becoming normal for him to just learn from others. Within moments a waiter exited with their food, setting the steaming mixtures before them.
Naruto pulled a fork out from a folded napkin in front of him and poked at the soupy bowl of noodles, turning idly to Gaara.
"Do they have chopsticks here?" It felt a little awkward to eat something so strongly Asian with a western utensil. Gaara paused from taking a bite of rice to give him a confused look.
"I don't know what a chopstick is," he said flatly, and he ate his rice peaceably.
Naruto let out a sigh and spun the noodles around his fork like you would spaghetti, rambling on.
"A chopstick is like a little stick, well, you use two—they were used in the eastern parts of the world to eat with…" he let his voice fade down as he realized Gaara nodding faintly from the side, though not giving him any sign that he was interested at all in what he was saying. "Oh, nevermind."
Naruto and Gaara finished their meals in silence, except for the bustling waiter who asked them occasionally if they wanted anything else or if they needed more water to drink. Gaara would always shoo him off with a menial glare, one Naruto couldn't help but compare to Sasuke's. The raven had a way of stopping people mid-sentence, or even mid-thought with just one furtive glance.
"You're thinking about him."
Naruto jerked his head to the side, surprised by Gaara's sudden outburst. It took him a moment to understand what he meant. He looked forward, pushing his bowl closer to the waiter's side of the counter.
"I wonder what he's doing," Naruto answered suddenly, and he thrummed his fingers on the metal tinted counter-top. Gaara snorted.
"You already know the answer to that question."
Naruto stopped the movement in his fingers and cocked his head to the side, sighing in irritation at the redhead.
"Alright, fine. I meant more like, I wonder if he is okay. You all said something about a prison break and it's had me thinking."
Gaara took a belabored sip of water before setting the glass cup down, letting it sound as it met the counter. He leaned forward and rested his head on the ball of his palm.
"Mm. He seems to be very resourceful, having allies like Kakashi and Yamato."
Naruto drank a little of his own water and looked thoughtful, if only for a minute.
"So they were in jail?" Naruto felt a rush of relief. All along he had believed that Sasuke had been incarcerated, but learning that he was still free and mobile sat happier in Naruto's stomach.
"Why haven't you run yet," Gaara asked suddenly, and Naruto glanced over to him. He narrowed his eyes.
"It's like I told you, I don't have a choice." Did Gaara want him to run? He didn't know, but the question was beginning to weight on him. "Why do you care?"
This time Gaara tuned his head, his eyes glowing soft under the maroon lighting.
"The last time we met, you fought hard to go back to him. This time…"
Naruto rolled his eyes and leaned forward. "Not that I really owe you any sort of explanation, but things are more complicated than that."
Gaara continued to look at him before speaking softly, "I don't think so. The world is full of wants. You don't want this, so why do you feel obligated to go through with it?"
Naruto blinked and knelt closer to Gaara, examining him. He felt the urge to laugh, although his situation seemed too serious for comic relief, "Um, is this my assassin babysitter talking? You sound like you want me to try something,"
He drank some cool water and glanced at Gaara again, the same confused expression playing across his features. Gaara looked amused and a smile tugged at the corner of his lip.
"You're the only person I've ever met who hasn't been afraid of me," Gaara stated.
"I never said I wasn't," Naruto retorted, and added, "But who wants to admit something like that when it's obvious? I'm assuming you've killed a lot of people. I'm just another mark on the list."
"I wouldn't kill you," Gaara said stiffly. "I like you."
Naruto would have flushed if it weren't for the nature of Gaara's comment. It held no pretense of love or affection, just a simply acknowledgement. For reasons unknown to Naruto, Gaara saw him as an equal, and even though his mind registered that fact immediately, Naruto felt a little bizarre.
"If you didn't have a gun, I might want to be your friend, too," he agreed. There was a long moment of silence before Gaara spoke again.
"Is Sasuke your friend?"
It sounded incredibly peculiar, but Naruto nodded anyway, "Yeah. Yeah, he is."
The waiter came to pour them more water and smiled at them, his eyes lingering a little longer on Naruto than he would have preferred. Gaara didn't seem to notice, or if he did, he didn't seem to care. A few more people had entered the small shop and the high pitched sound of laughter broke the stagnant silence of the room.
"The flight is to Middle America," Gaara said, and Naruto let out a deep breath.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"The train is FastTrac. It's economy, so it's not too fast," Gaara continued, and even as Naruto watched him with wide eyes, the redhead didn't turn his attention away from the wall of glasses parallel to them, on the other side of the counter.
"If you left now, I wouldn't chase you."
Naruto stared for a minute, his heart hammering in his chest. He didn't understand. There was no reason why Gaara would just let him go—it didn't make any sense.
"I'm not interested in your games," Naruto said shortly, and he took a long gulp of water in hopes to calm the impatient rhythm of his heart. He had gotten nervous and excited all at once.
"No games." Gaara seemed to assure, and when he met Naruto's unbelieving glare, he continued, "You were right earlier, about me not liking Itachi."
Naruto paused for a minute and felt heat rise to his face. "What?"
Gaara didn't answer, but Naruto's head was swarming so much that he wasn't listening for a reply. He could leave. He could leave. Where would he go? What would happen to everyone else? To Jiraiya… to Kiba?
"I can't just leave," he said sullenly, and he felt his head bog down in thought. The rush of excitement he had felt only a moment ago faded into what felt like an obligation, and Gaara stood up in preparation to leave.
Naruto was surprised by his sudden movement and jumped up to follow, even more agitated when Gaara walked quickly out of the restaurant and towards a hallway that seemed to lead towards public restrooms. Naruto grabbed the back of his sleeve and tugged it, angrier than he wanted himself to be.
"I gave you a choice," Gaara said, and he stopped so suddenly that Naruto almost ran into him. When he turned, Naruto frowned up at him.
"And now you're angry with me?"
"What you want is up to you."
Gaara walked further down the hallways and Naruto watched as he disappeared into the men's restroom door. He stood bewildered, his hand outstretched as if to follow someone, and tucked it into his pocket.
Gaara had his own agenda for Itachi's mission. That was obvious. But at what cost to him? Gaara would let him escape—would turn a blind eye, if only Naruto knew what he wanted. He had never seen this coming, he was completely shocked. But if he chose to leave… if he chose to run away, right now, he could find Sasuke.
But even then, what would it really mean? Naruto wasn't stupid. The government was looking for him. Sasuke was probably in trouble for hiding him, and for whatever had happened involving the prison. Even if he found Sasuke, it wasn't as though anything could ever return to the way it was. The freedom he had experienced, the activities he had done… they were all a thing of the past.
After all, he was no longer invisible. He had caused more trouble than he was worth. If there was a way to set things right, he would do it—simply because too many people had constantly sacrificed themselves for him, and the thesis he had created. But now, he could only see in black and white, and as he weighed his options, he only had one question for Gaara. One answer would make up his mind; would tell him what to do.
The redhead approached him steadily, his gaze still lingering and irate. Naruto let out a deep breath.
"So tell me, Gaara. Do your siblings feel the same way about Itachi?"
"Sasuke, I've got to tell you something."
The car had been speeding for quite some time, so long that Sasuke was surprised they hadn't been pulled over. Despite the fact the car they had managed to steal was a law enforcement vehicle, the police still had rules and regulations. Flying above traffic without lights flashing and sirens blaring had to be breaking at least one of them, but Sasuke didn't care. At this point in time it was point a to point b, and if it took some leniency from the federal bureau he wasn't about to throw a fit.
"What is that, Kakashi?" He couldn't imagine what Kakashi would have to say, and he kept his eyes glued to the International clearance that was only a few miles away. He hoped the tolls would let them pass simply because they had the state logo on their side, firmly planted on each door. He wasn't as calm as usual, and his fingers fiddled with a spare scrap of paper at his side.
"I think I know where Itachi will take Uzumaki," he said, and Sasuke quickly glanced to him, surprised to see a police laptop display in his hands. He had hacked into what seemed like the internet, thumbing through pages that looked like flight schedules.
"Sasuke, I never told you this, but it may be important for you to know, now that Itachi has apparently resurfaced."
The raven scooted up in his seat, pulling himself to view over Kakashi's shoulder.
"And what is that?" he asked, and his voice was deceptively even.
"Itachi is most likely not working for himself. When he left, he had to join an organization… one that you may have heard of. One that is masterful at hiding people who are wanted in multiple countries."
Sasuke narrowed his eyes and glanced up from the computer screen to Kakashi's face in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
Kakashi glanced back to view him. "I'm talking about the Akatsuki. I thought Itachi would be smart enough to just use their talents to hide himself… but the longer I think about this entire situation, the more I feel like there is more to it than a simple thesis."
Sasuke frowned. "And you expect me to know them, why?"
Kakashi rolled his visible eye and turned his attention back to the computer, typing away a storm of codes.
"You were so much nicer when you were an impressionable little kid," he pouted, but before Sasuke could comment, he kept speaking.
"If he is involved with them and I am right, we've got more to worry about than I originally thought. They'll be taking him to Old Central America, the drug-lord capital of the entire world."
Sasuke's eyes widened and he ripped Kakashi's shoulder. "What are you talking about?"
"People there are the only ones naive and desperate enough to protect such an extremist group… it's known, to people like Yamato and I at least, that Middle America is no place for any vacation."
"It's not even someplace we talk about in our free time. The Akatsuki is well known, Uchiha, and if they want Naruto… it can't be for anything good," Yamato added.
Sasuke shook his head. "Since when does anyone in this place want him for something good?" his voice was strangely distant.
"You do, it seems," Sai answered idly from beside him. He had almost forgotten that Sai was there, as quiet as he was. Still, his comment had caught Sasuke off guard.
Had he been that easy to read? It's not as though it bothered him, but Naruto needed someone to trust. The world was against him at the moment, and the only people he could trust were in hiding themselves. It made him angry, and it made him wonder why Yamato couldn't go any faster.
"Got it," Kakashi murmured, and Yamato peeked over from the driver's seat. Sai even leaned forward, competing with Sasuke to glance down at the file Kakashi had opened.
"Flight A735, transporter… Three seats reserved, all private in a first class lounge."
Sasuke felt his heart rush as he began to feel his adrenaline pulsing. He was reading over the page and his eyes continued getting stuck on one important bit of writing.
"It says the flight leaves in 15 minutes." He double and triple checked the glowing digital watch on the dashboard and peered out of the front windshield, not yet seeing the airport in the distance.
"We're cutting it close," Sai said from beside him, before settling back into his seat. He looked bored, and it irritated Sasuke. He was beginning to panic, feeling the weight of Naruto's future on his shoulders. If they didn't make it in time…
"Yamato, we have to be faster." Kakashi rarely sounded urgent about anything and so when he spoke so insistently, Sasuke could only let himself fall back into his seat, his hands hanging limp on his thighs. "I don't know what this is all about," Kakashi stated, "But we can't let that flight leave."
There was a moment of silence before Sai spoke, "If Akatsuki gets him, we'll just have to strategize on how to get him back."
Sasuke glanced over to the other boy in morbid curiosity, surprised to hear something seemingly eloquent leave his lips. Sai looked distracted and bored though, as he gazed out of the window, and after catching Sasuke's gaze, smirked.
"Hm. You're not the only one who wants something good out of him."
Sasuke clenched his fist and narrowed his eyes. "Don't say meaningless things," he said, and after a moment of Sai ignoring him, he spun back into his seat. His anxiety had been turned to anger for a good few minutes, and after a moment of thinking, he wasn't sure if that had been intentional on Sai's part.
Intentional or not, Sasuke fumed. If he made to with Naruto—no, when he made it to Naruto, he was the only one who was going to get something good from him.
He watched the clock. Ten minutes left. He could see the airport.
Getting caught was as easy as Neji expected, but trying to convince the officers of the southern precinct that he was an officer himself provided him much more of a dilemma that he had imagined. As one brute man gripped his arms from behind, he let out a sigh, stepped backward and flipped the man flat on his back.
He dusted his hands off methodically and put a hand on his hip, looking irritated.
"Honestly. Who is in charge here?"
Rock Lee was spouting some threats that involved his bird and a martial arts showdown which Neji patiently ignored, and when a tall man stepped into the small interrogation room, Neji frowned.
"Hm. I suppose you'll do," he mumbled quietly, and the man glared.
"I don't think you're in a position to be choosey about anything, Hyuuga."
Neji strut forward away from the entourage of cops that had led them into the official building, and took a seat in one of the free chairs.
"Since I don't have time for witty banters, I'm going to cut to the point."
This seemed to catch the lead officer by surprise and he sat down on the edge of the metal table, examining Neji for a moment before shooing the other officers away. There was an assortment of grunts and groans before the large interrogation room was left with only three people, one of which still ranting about the awful treatment.
"Lee," Neji said calmly, "Please be quiet."
The thin bowl-haired boy seemed to acknowledge him as he sifted forward and planted himself beside Neji, quiet as a mouse. The officer waved a passive hand.
"Alright, I'll bite. Though I can't promise you that any of your words will change my thoughts."
"You mean your preconceived notions," Neji bit out, but he quickly continued.
"I don't care about the issues between Danzo and Morino. They mean nothing to me, despite the fact I am an officer under Morino. This situation is very tricky, however, and I wish to request a meeting with both of them."
There was a moment of silence before the man burst out laughing, running a hand through his thick black hair.
"Why should I feel obligated to give you that?"
Neji stared up at him, his eyes earnest and serious. "A man doesn't work his entire life to join the police force and then, one day, sporadically become wanted. Don't be a fool. Call Morino and stop trying to play hero."
The man frowned, the comic expression on his face cut short by Neji's blunt statement. They stared at each other for a moment, and the officer turned to the outside door which was still open.
"Get Morino on the line. Tell him it's important."
From beside Neji Rock Lee smirked and Jeffrey, who had still managed to survive the commotion, hooted.
"This better be good," the officer said, and Neji nodded.
It was too late.
Sasuke could feel it.
The words repeated themselves over and over in his ears, but still, the clock wouldn't slow. Minutes had turned into seconds, and seconds into moments…
"Sasuke, go," Kakashi said from beside him, though he didn't need to be told. He jumped out of the vehicle and skillfully dodged a valet guard at he entered the building, peeling through a thick crowd of afternoon arrivals. He weaved between them in order to catch the electronic flight status board hanging from the ceiling, his heart falling to his stomach when flight A735 blinked red.
He cursed, though it was inaudible.
He was too late.
Naruto couldn't tear his eyes away from the window, a thousand thoughts running through his mind. All of them circled and chewed at his conscience, all leading to one final question…
Did I make the right choice?
It was louder now, as more people sounded from around him, making him breathe deeply to remain calm. Of course he had.
After all, he had decided to stay.
He watched as what would have been his flight drifted high into the pale grey sky, shadowed by clouds and blocked by other incoming aircraft. He wondered lightly how Gaara explained the situation to Kankuro, and hoped that it hadn't caused the other man much trouble. After all, when he had asked Gaara about his siblings…
"So tell me, Gaara. Do your siblings feel the same way about Itachi?"
Gaara had smiled, an expression Naruto had never seen so genuinely, and one he had never intended to see.
"Mm. You're friends won't get as far as Middle America." He seemed to promise.
Naruto wondered if Kankuro was the only one not aware of the uprising against the elder Uchiha, but it was too late for that. As long as Kiba and Jiraiya would be safe, his decision was made.
Naruto turned away from the bay window, his eyes widening as he took in the now crowded airport. He was in the baggage claim area and wasn't quite sure how he had ended up there, and on a heavier note, he had no idea how to escape such a huge building unnoticed.
He stepped forward, making sure to avoid any wandering eyes of officers that had gathered for security, and weaved his way towards a less populated area near the escalators. He attempted to read the overhead signs to determine which escalator to take, but his eyes narrowed in confusion. They were written in a newer form of English, one that probably made sense to everyone but him.
"What on earth is a Static Lounge?" He mumbled to himself, and he thought it sounded like a restaurant. He frowned and turned his head sideways, debating on whether to try another set of escalators at the other side of the baggage landing.
He paced forward, keeping his head low, and a small group of children fumbled behind him, tipping him forward. He reached forward to brace himself, inwardly cursing as he fell against someone, hitting his head hard against their back.
"I'm so sor—"
Naruto glanced up, wincing as he rubbed his head. He blinked a few times, narrowed his eyes, and gaped.
The figure glared down at him, a brief hint of surprise vanishing quickly into a cold stare. Naruto took in the familiar features—the smooth dark hair that framed a porcelain face, dark eyes that seemed to glisten with intellect and experience. His outfit was wrinkled and creased, a sight Naruto had to examine for a moment, but by the agitated expression on the figure's face, Naruto knew it was him. He didn't know how, and he didn't know why, but Sasuke had somehow managed to make it to the airport.
"I can't believe you're here! Oh my God, and I was just trying to figure out where to go," Naruto glanced around, taking a sigh of relief. The weight on his shoulders seemed to lift and he let out a chuckle, running a hand through his hair.
"I can't believe I ran into you—of all people. How did you get here? I feel like it's been forever," he said, and Naruto's face fell when Sasuke bit his lip, let out a deep and frustrated sigh, spun around and stalked away. Naruto shook his head, looking around, wondering what he was doing.
"Sasuke…?" He jogged after him, surprised that his pace was so fast. A part of him was even hurt. Wasn't Sasuke glad to see him?
He rounded the corner to another hallway leading to public restrooms and was taken by surprise when Sasuke grabbed his collar and pushed him back against the wall, frowning.
"I… I thought you—"
Naruto raised an eyebrow and frowned, pulling his hand to rub the back of his head.
"Ouch," he said noncommittally, and glanced up into Sasuke's eyes, wondering what he was talking about. "You thought what?"
Sasuke leaned forward, removing his hand from Naruto's shirt and bracing himself against the wall on either side of him. Naruto felt Sasuke's forehead rest against his own, and to his confusion and surprise, Sasuke's eyes slid closed.
Naruto took a deep breath, finally understanding. He had seen Sasuke angry, he had seen him a little bit happy, and he had even seen him with a fraction of sadness. But this Sasuke—this was Sasuke worried.
Naruto tilted his chin forward so that their lips almost met, and spoke softly against them. "You're not imagining it," his lips ghosted across Sasuke's, "I'm right here in front of you."
Naruto imagined that he must have said something right, because Sasuke's lips surged forward and captured his own, pressing him more firmly against the wall behind him. The kiss went on for a few moments before Sasuke slowly pulled away, eyes opening to stare straight through Naruto.
"Do you know how much trouble you've put me through?" Sasuke demanded, although his voice still remained low. Naruto relaxed against the wall, smiling a little.
"A lot?" he ventured, and Sasuke didn't find it funny.
"That is the understatement of the century," Sasuke stated, and Naruto chuckled.
"The century, huh? I'm sure I could think of a few others…" His comment faded into silence as he caught Sasuke's half-lidded eyes, full of mixed emotions. Naruto tilted his head to the side and asked, "What is it?"
Sasuke was quiet for a moment and he pulled himself off of Naruto, crossing his arms over his chest. He was frowning, and looked too serious for Naruto to not be nervous.
"Naruto, we need to make a decision," he said, and from the sound of it, Naruto wasn't sure if he was going to like it. He pulled himself forward off the wall and put his thumbs through the loops of his jeans, letting them hang casually at his hips.
"What kind of decision?" he asked, although deep inside, he already knew.
"We need to decide whether or not we're going to—"
"We have to go back, Sasuke," Naruto said quickly. He felt as though he needed to say it—that if Sasuke gave him another option he would take it too easily. But he had already decided, hours before when he had been with Gaara, that he would do anything to set things right. And if he abandoned the people who depended on him…
"No, we don't," Sasuke said curtly. "I may be wanted, at the moment, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few people here who don't owe me any favors."
Naruto watched Sasuke rant, noting that the Uchiha business leader wouldn't make eye contact with him. Naruto let out a sigh and lowered his eyes, understanding.
Sasuke knew they had to go back. It was why he wouldn't face him. It was why his voice was low, and why his cheeks were higher than usual, trying to make up for the pride he felt he was losing.
"Sasuke," Naruto said, but the raven spoke over him.
"They're going to want to send you back. You know that, right?" His voice was cold, and Naruto nodded.
"And you're okay with that?" Sasuke almost demanded, but his voice was still soft. Naruto frowned and shook his head.
"Of course I'm not. But if we don't go back—"
"You're such a good person. After Sakura, I would have thought that you would have learned something…" Even though the comment was harsh, Naruto simply nodded.
"I learned that I have a kid. I mean, I've already forgiven you for not telling me."
Sasuke's eyes shot over to his and lowered somewhat, as if whatever comment he had intended on making was drowned in thought. After a minute, he spoke.
"Yeah. I knew from the first time I met you," he said softly, and Naruto knelt back against the wall, feeling slightly frustrated.
"It doesn't matter. The past is the past—really. I want to start over."
Sasuke raised an eyebrow and nodded, although Naruto could tell it was reluctantly. There was a scuffing commotion behind them and they both turned, surprised to see three officers.
"T-that's him. U-Uchiha—and the traveler!" one man spit out, and the other two lowered their hands to the belts at their waists.
Naruto almost chuckled as Sasuke turned to face him again, a look of defeat on his face.
"Well, at least we don't have to pay any cab fees," he said, and Sasuke leaned forward, cupping his chin.
"You talk too much," he stated, and kissed Naruto again, long and soft. It was as if they would never be this close again as Sasuke gripped his arm, and Naruto slowly closed his eyes and fell into the moment.
Still, the image of Sasuke's expression when he kissed him would never leave his mind.
"Hey, hey, hey—everyone, be quiet!" Morino stomped through the southern precinct, trying to hush the dull roar of rumors and conspiracy theories running rampant. Neji saw him approaching from inside the interrogation room, along with a collection of other people. As Morino entered and stepped to the side, three figures were escorted in, and Neji snorted.
"Well that didn't take long," he said, and Kakashi, Yamato and Sai all looked different levels of irate. They drifted into a few loose chairs alongside Neji and remained quiet, Morino yanking a cellular phone bug from his pocket and jamming it into his ear.
"Look, Johnson, I'm a little—you what?" Morino's face turned from beet red to ashen in seconds and he nodded, a movement that told Neji everything.
"They've got Sasuke and Naruto," he stated to the rest of the group, and Kakashi sighed. Yamato rolled his eyes and Sai smirked, an expression that irritated Neji.
Morino spoke a few more short sentences before he hung up, shoving the small bead back into his pocket. He glanced down at Neji, his whole being fuming.
"What the hell is going on?"
It wasn't a surprising question considering the last time he had seen his commander was right before running away with Sasuke. He didn't let the older man's intimidating behavior influence him though, he merely shrugged.
"To be completely honest, I have no idea." And it was honesty speaking, because he didn't have a clue as to where the police stood with any of the situation. Morino glared and placed thick hands on slender hips, breathing hard through his nose.
"Where is Uchiha Itachi?" he said, and Neji raised an eyebrow. From beside him, Kakashi spoke.
"I believe we're in no position to give you information without any deals."
Yamato nodded, closing his eyes and crossing his arms over his chest. Sai looked amused.
"Deals? You're both wanted by more states than I can count—and you," he glared at Sai, "I don't even know who you are. But if you're with the likes of them, you can't be anyone good, either."
Sai frowned, "That was a little uncalled for."
Neji waved his hands in the air to silence the miniature debate, "Look, I don't mean to sound disrespectful, but most of our questions will probably be answered when Naruto gets here."
Morino glared at him and Neji shrugged again, "I'm right, aren't I?"
Morino bit his lip and rolled his eyes. He was silent for a minute and then he spoke.
"Danzo's on his way here. If things aren't under control, this precinct risks losing it's standing." His tone was methodical and serious, and Neji's eyes widened.
"Shutting down this half of the P.D. would be stupid," Neji commented.
"Well, Danzo is stupid," Yamato replied, and this caused heads to turn his way. Neji opened his mouth to tell Yamato just to be quiet, but Morino beat him to the chase.
"And how would you know Danzo?" Morino inquired, eyebrow raised.
Yamato laughed and shook his hand dismissively. "I'm with Kakashi. No deals, no words."
Morino frowned and a commotion sounded from the main hall, drawing all of their attention outwards. A group of officers had entered and before Neji saw any faces he knew who had arrived. A tall and wiry man with a disjointed face and beady eyes. He was glaring at Morino.
"Morino, a word."
A hush fell over the ward and the commander looked irritated before sifting out into the lobby. Kakashi frowned.
"I'm assuming that is Danzo?" he questioned, and to everyone's surprise, Sai answered.
Neji stood up and shook his head. "This whole situation is a mess. When Naruto and Sasuke get here—"
"What were you saying, Hyuuga?"
Neji turned to the side as a group of officers ushered said people in, both looking very displeased. The officers glanced to each other quickly before leaving the room, locking it behind them.
"Are you two alright?" Neji asked earnestly, mostly examining Naruto. They both looked fine, despite the fact everyone's nerves were beginning to show. He glanced down at the table beneath him and to the door as Morino slid it open.
"Neji, Uchiha, come with me," he said, and he frowned at the rest of them. "Try not to do anything stupid."
Naruto watched as Sasuke gave him an agitated glance, as if to say, so it begins.
Naruto smiled slightly and watched them disappear outside of the door, noticing how Morino didn't lock it.
From behind him, Yamato spoke.
"Long time no see, kiddo."
Naruto turned around and his eyes widened, surprised that he hadn't realized there were other people there. His nerves were beginning to make his hands cold, and he smiled charmingly.
"Hello, Yamato. Sai," he added, and he frowned. "Don't' tell me you were all—"
Sai nodded, smiling one of his extreme grins, one that made Naruto bite his lip.
"You really didn't have to," he said, and he glanced down to the floor. The man in between Yamato and Sai twisted outward to examine him, and looked skeptical.
"I still don't see why Sasuke is crazy about you," he stated, and Naruto glanced up to meet his one visible eye.
"It's nice to see you again, too," he said, and the grey-haired man snorted.
"You talk funny." He turned back in his chair, looking bored. Naruto lowered his eyes.
"You look funny," he retorted, and Yamato laughed.
"Oh, what a happy family you'll all make." He shook his head and Sai looked uninterested.
"Are you all going to go to prison?" Naruto asked lamely, wondering what exactly he could do to help. He wasn't sure what his words would mean, but he really wanted to speak to the commanders as soon as possible.
Yamato shrugged. "Probably. Although, I'm beginning to wonder why Morino didn't lock the door."
Kakashi seemed to smirk beneath his handkerchief. "You noticed that, too?"
Naruto glanced to the door, and back to the trio, "What are you talking about?"
"Morino wants us to escape so we'll give him information on Itachi later," Sai stated, and Naruto frowned.
Yamato stood up and dusted his hands off, grinning. "Don't worry about it. We'll stay until Danzo offers a deal. He will."
Naruto frowned and turned towards the door, surprised when it opened again, this time, Morino motioning to him. "I'm assuming you are Uzumaki?"
Naruto took in the tall and muscular man, feeling intimidated. He nodded, slowly, and Morino snorted.
Naruto turned back towards the other three and nodded to them, hoping it would somehow symbolize his thanks. Sai smiled lightly, and Yamato gave a thumbs up, something he was sure the older man had learned from travelers he had encountered in the past. Kakashi barely looked his way, but Naruto didn't mind.
He followed the commander out of the interrogation room and down a narrow hallway, wondering if they were going to meet up with Neji and Sasuke. The rooms were very quiet, however, and Naruto was beginning to feel nervous in the pit of his stomach. The commander wouldn't look at him and all Naruto could hear were boots against linoleum, and slowly, he started to understand.
He wasn't sure how he knew, or even why. It was like intuition, a thought running laps inside his head. Everything seemed to turn slow motion, from his arrival in the future all the way to Sasuke kissing him at the airport, and straight to his near-final words.
I want to start over.
Naruto felt his heart beat race only to slow, and the cold feeling in his hands begin to ebb away. He had known all along, somehow, that returning would have its consequences. The bitter part of himself complained, as it had hoped that he would have at least had more of a chance. Morino led him into a big room, and closed the door behind them.
"Have a seat," he said, and Naruto narrowed his eyes.
"You have no intention of letting me stay," he stated, and to his surprise, Morino looked astonished. Maybe few people could read him, Naruto didn't know. But separating him from first Neji and Sasuke had been perfectly played out, and now from the others had ensured that no one knew where he was in the complex.
Morino sat down behind a heavy metal table and glared at Naruto's seat, a place that Naruto refused to sit. He looked angry, but Naruto could tell that this decision had been a difficult one to reach.
"I don't think I need to tell you why," he said, and Naruto frowned.
"Because you're afraid of what my knowledge will bring."
Morino snorted and rolled his eyes. "I don't care about science. I care about law. Law and protecting people. I'm surprised that you're so blind to the danger you're causing Sasuke and his company."
Naruto stepped forward, balling his hand into a fist, "I came back because I wanted to fix it. I could have left—I could have gotten on a plane and just disappeared!"
Morino was quiet for a moment, and then he nodded, "You're right. But you didn't. You did the right thing and owned up to your responsibilities. I'm asking you to do the same thing now."
Naruto was about to speak, but he was taken aback. He frowned and tilted his head to the side, "You're asking me?"
The commander tapped his fingers on the table and his expression calmed a bit.
"If you choose to leave, of your own free will, it will lessen the consequences for both Neji and Sasuke—and every other person that has helped you in hiding."
Naruto stepped back. "Why would I agree to that? And why should they be in any more trouble? None of us have done anything wrong," he huffed.
"Nothing wrong?" Morino chuckled but didn't make eye contact. He seemed to be examining the floor, picking it apart with his eyes. "As far as law is concerned, you've done everything wrong. You're information is linked to the Uchiha massacre, you've traveled with knowledge of our laws and restrictions, you've endangered a federal agent and civilians, and also damaged a scientific market that was very necessary for our society," Morino took a breath.
"Not to mention you've been in communication with two of the world's leading assassins—on friendly terms, and who even knows what you did with the Sabaku family. If you stay here, Sasuke's accreditation will be ruined. His company will fall, and all you'll have left is a guilty conscience. Not to mention, Itachi hasn't been caught. The more you're around Sasuke, the more likely he is to become a target."
Naruto opened his mouth to speak but closed it, unsure of how to argue. He frowned, and narrowed his eyes.
"Even if you send me back, Itachi still has ways of traveling. He'll find me, no matter where I am—that is, if he even still wants me."
Morino looked up to him and shook his head, smiling in a way that made Naruto angry.
"Of course he does," he said, and Naruto glared.
"What I think it bizarre is how you haven't asked me one single damn question. Tell me, Morino, did you know what was going on the entire time, or do you enjoy making presumptuous conclusions?"
"I'm not the one who knew."
Morino stood up from the table, his expression stern. He walked towards the back of the small room, opening a back door. He motioned Naruto through it, and Naruto looked at it skeptically before shaking his head. Morino rolled his eyes and Naruto slowly stepped forward, feeling his heart beat heavy in his chest. He walked through the door and entered what seemed to be an upper level storage room. In the middle sat the Gamabunta, and Naruto whipped around to him.
"How did you—"
"Please do what is right."
Naruto narrowed his eyes and a voice sounded from beside them.
"Yes. Staying here will only do damage to the people involved. If you leave, I can assure you that both courts will drop all charges."
Naruto turned to a tall and lean man, one that looked damaged with age and cruel by nature.
"I don't even know who you are," Naruto said, and he felt ganged up on.
"I'm someone with great influence," he said, and Naruto whirled his vision back to Morino, who looked somewhat ashamed. Is he being blackmailed?
Naruto shook his head. "I can't leave. I have a son."
The older man laughed and it sent chills up Naruto's spine. "He'll be well taken care of, I'm sure. Think about it Uzumaki. After your history, could you even be a parent?"
Naruto narrowed his eyes, "How did you—"
"You're arguments are all lost causes. I'm sorry for your lack of say, but this really is for the best."
A few officers came from the shadows to grip Naruto, but the blond shook them away. He narrowed his eyes and frowned.
"I can do it myself."
He didn't have a choice, and he didn't want to risk anyone doing it wrong. Danzo stepped forward and entered the machine with him, obviously to be the one to take it back to the future.
Naruto caught Morino's eyes before the hatch lowered, and spoke his piece.
"Someday, Morino. Someday this will come back to you. Someday you'd realize that this wasn't right at all."
The hatch closed and Naruto fiddled with the switched, his mind in a haze. It couldn't be happening. Everything was wrong. He didn't feel motion sickness and his head was spinning, tears squeezing themselves form his eyes. He wouldn't look at the man beside him, he wouldn't dare to show any type of defeat. He didn't want to think of what Sasuke would look like or what he would say when all was said and done, and he didn't want to admit that he felt like a fool for trusting his good nature yet again.
The machine arrived and Naruto stepped out, memorizing the features of the old man before the latch closed in front of him, leaving him standing in a mountainous fielded area somewhere in the western foothills of Colorado.
He was confused, and he was angry, and he dug his hands into his pockets, hoping for some sort of reminder that everything he had experienced wasn't a dream. Would he forget? Would they forget him?
His hands found something rigid, something crumpled and disjointed. He dug it out and stared down, a newfound surge of confidence overwhelming him.
Wait for me, Sasuke.
After all, his adventure was far from over.
So first off, I want to begin by saying that there is a sequel, in case any of you missed that, haha. A sequel that will be summarized at the end of this author's note, though not to incredibly great detail...'cause, well, by now you all should know about me and plots. :: laughs ::
I can't believe I got all of this out in less than a year. Really, it amazes me. Forty-four chapters, some 352 (and then some) pages, countless hours and amazing reviews. My mind has gone into a tizzy on multiple occasions trying to work out the timeline of events, as I'm sure all of yours have at some point, too. But look guys! We made it...all the way to the end...which isn't really the end...just the beginning of something even more spectacular and adventurous.
And dare I say...romantic...? Haha.
Thank you to all of my readers, reviewers or not, for being excited for Misery Business and helping to feed the beast that it was. I don't want to talk too much like this is the end of it, because really...the sequel is going to be killer. I already know. I mean, most of you are probably thinking, 'how could it end like this...??', right? But don't worry.
After all, Naruto's never really been one to go back on his word.
That being said, here is everything you need to know about the sequel. I hope you all decide to continue on with it and I can promise you that it won't be a disappointment.
Misery Loves Company
Summary: As Naruto struggles to discover his purpose, he ends up discovering himself. The road to vengeance is never pretty, but with a new intelligence and even greater allies, the future really, really never saw this coming.
Unfortunately, neither did Sasuke.
Full of action, love, adventure, intrigue...and, of course, SasuNaruSasu like never before.
Chapter One Release: February 1st
To be updated bi-weekly. (promise)
And last but not least, a huge thank you to Allys who has been the light of this story's life.
Thank you! I love you! You're all amazing! It's been fun! I hope you keep reading!