Chapter One: The Oath
"Naruto…I beg of you, please bring him…please bring back Sasuke-kun!"
These words still rang in Naruto's ears as he awoke from his dream, sweat running down his face. Pressing his fingers into his eyes in a hope to rub away the image of Sakura's crying face. Of all the things he had done for Sakura, the one thing she asked him to do, he failed at. The nightmare frequented his mind often and he wasn't sleeping well, he hadn't been for years now. Staring at the wall images and sounds flashed through Naruto's memory
"The only thing that could stop Saske-kun is you, Naruto…only you."
"I'll definitely bring Sasuke back, this is the promise of a lifetime!"
Those were the words they exchanged as Naruto and his four other companions left to retrieve Sakura's beloved Sasuke. All of them lost something important today but Naruto lost far more. Not only did he lose Sasuke, his best friend, he also lost his ability to look Sakura in the eye without being wracked with guilt. For five years Naruto lived in agony, never giving up the quest to bring Sasuke back and ending Sakura's pain, a pain he knew now more than ever.
Naruto groaned, he had a boring C Rank mission today in the Valley Country, probably just pushing a bunch of rocks around, nothing but annoying and time consuming. Dragging himself to his kitchen, Naruto pulled the box of cereal from the shelf and milk from the fridge, throwing himself into the kitchen chair. Staring at the empty seat across from him, Naruto contemplated why getting up in the morning was so difficult. Geeze, Old Lady Tsunade must be trying to bore me to death with these low level missions. Milk splashed into the bowl, the bran flakes soaking it up and floating leisurely in the bowl. Ah the life of a bran flake, to leisurely float around in the milk and do nothing your entire life. Sounded horribly boring to the fox boy, but it did remind him of his friend Shikamaru. I should go see him after my mission today! The prospect of seeing his old friend lifted Naruto's spirits as he deposited the empty bowl into the sink for later washing. Pulling on his clothes and grabbing his keys, Naruto dashed out of front door, nearly forgetting to lock it on way out.
Hardly paying attention as usual, Naruto ran straight into someone, sending them both flying to the ground. When the dust cleared the air, Naruto was looking down at Hinata, now blushing deep red. "Um, Naruto-kun, could you please get off? I can't breathe"
Naruto leapt off instantly, brushing himself off and holding out a hand to help Hinata to her feet. She took his hand and he lifted her back to her feet "Sorry about that Hinata" he laughed nervously scratching the back of his head. "I didn't even see you there, guess I need to pay more attention to where I'm going huh?"
Hinata smiled "You're fine the way you are Naruto." Hinata had matured mentally and physically. and was no longer the tiny, stuttering girl she once was. She now spoke and walked with more confidence and had greatly improved in the battlefield thanks to help from her teachers and peers, especially Neji who had since become much kinder over the years. "You know…Naruto…I was wondering if you wanted to go to dinner sometime…with me..if you like"
Naruto blinked, Is she asking me out? I dunno…I still have a duty to Sakura to find Sasuke, I don't have time for personal stuff Naruto scratched the side of his head, "Hmmm I dunno Hinata, I don't think I can, sorry. I have a mission meeting now though so I'll talk to you later ok?" he smiled waving as he ran towards the Hokage's office.
Hinata smiled weakly and looked down as Naruto sped off, I understand Naruto-kun, Sakura is still very important to you, and I'm sure you'd rather be by her side than anything else in this world. Hinata had been very affectionate towards Naruto since childhood. Naruto was always full of fiery confidence that made Hinata feel like she could do anything, a trait she lacked naturally. Back then, Hinata was so shy around him that she hardly ever spoke. Since then her own confidence had grown greatly, though I took a lot of willpower to work up the courage to ask Naruto to dinner. She was sad about his answer, but it wasn't entirely unexpected.
"Oye, Hinata!" yelled a voice from down the street
"Oh Hello Kiba!" she laughed running towards him.
Meanwhile Naruto crashed into Tsunade's window tumbling onto the floor. Tsunade's eye twitched "Naruto, use the door! How many times do I have to tell you?!" she screamed.
"Baka.." grumbled Sakura from the other side of the room.
Completely ignoring Tsunade, Naruto jumped to his feet, "Good morning Sakura-chan! How are you? Did you sleep well last night?"
Truth be told Sakura didn't sleep well last night, she never did anymore. No matter how many blankets she piled on, she still shivered through the night. Nonetheless she ignored Naruto's comment and turned to Tsunade, "So what are the details on the mission?"
Tsunade straightened her hair before crossing her hands in front of her "You are to go to Country of the Valley and assist in the excavation of some large precious stones."
Naruto rolled his eyes, Sometimes I hate being right…
"You leave immediately, Naruto, keep yourself under control, I'm still sorting out the mess you made last week in the Country of the Wave involving that wagon of fish." Tsunase warned, narrowing her eyes.
Rubbing his head Naruto explained "But the poor little cats were hungry and I.."
"I'll make sure he behaves himself," Said Sakura, cutting him off and rolling her eyes. She grabbed Naruto by the wrist, dragging him out the door.
The two made their way to Valley Country, being attacked once as usual by common bandits hoping to make a quick yen off of an unsuspecting traveler. The thieves were obviously quickly dispatched and Sakura and Naruto completed their boring trip. Naruto probably would have been more energetic but mind was occupied with worries of finishing Sakura's birthday present in time.
He's being less annoying than usual… thought Sakura I know I'm going to regret this but…, "Hey Naruto, pay attention before you get us both killed!"
Naruto Snapped out of his trance, "Oh sorry Sakura-chan, we should be there soon huh?"
"I don't know, you're the one with the map why don't you look? Baka…" Sakura groaned. And just on cue, the two walked over the top of the last hill to look down on the Valley Country.
"See, I told you Sakura, we're here!" he beamed proudly
Sakura shook her head, "Heh, I guess you were right." Naruto smiled even more from Sakura's compliment and the two descended into the valley.
They soon arrived at the jobsite they were greeted by a large man with dark skin, "Hey, the name is Forte" Naruto and Sakura twitched looking up at the 8 foot giant.
Forte's entire body rippled with mucels as Naruto pointed shaking, "Uh, why do you need us to help with the lifting? Looks like you could handle it yourself."
Forte just laughed, "This job is even too big for just me, but I was told by your Hokage that you two were the best choice for this job. What we need to do is move some large rocks out of the way of a cavern we beelive to hold a large amount of precious gems."
"Can't you just use explosives to break the rock apart?" asked Sakura
"Nope, if we did that the broken pieces would fall into the river below, damming up the river and cause a lot more trouble for us and the wildlife." He explained, "Lets just go down to the site and get to work."
When they arrived, a large lifting system had been constructed over the edge of the valley and massive ropes leading down to a huge boulder wedged into the side of the valley. "Well this shouldn't be a problem" grinned Naruto cracking his knuckles "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" suddenly a small army of Narutos popped into existence, grabbing onto the pull rope. Sakura smirked, pulling on a pair of black gloves, grabbing the rope along with the Narutos as Forte stood back in amazement.
"You guys are pretty amazing!" He grinned, "All right guys lets give these Ninja a hand!" he called over his shoulder to the group of workers who were all equally impressed. Before the workers barely had anytime to grab onto the rope, Sakura and the Narutos had already started hoisting up the massive bolder out of the valley.
With one final heave the rock rolled out of the canyon and the workers cheered along with an exasperated Naruto and Sakura as Naruto's clones disappeared in a cloud of smoke. "Could you guys go down with a couple workers and check out the cave? See if we're lucky today?" Forte asked, Naruto and Sakura nodded. When they reached the entrance to the cave they all let out a gasp of amazement, the entire cave was littered with precious gems of many types. "This will finally bring wealth back to our nation!" explained the worker, calling for the others to come down and take a look around.
After countless thanks from Forte, the workers and the village Elders, Naruto and Sakura made their way back to Konoha. "Crap! I forgot something back in the cave, I'll be right back!" Naruto exclaimed, rushing back towards the worksite. Sakura groaned in anger, smashing a nearby boulder with her fist. Naruto of course hadn't forgotten anything and he was quite proud with his devious plan.
Climbing back down to the cave, he saw Forte holding a decent sized stone in his hand, examining it with a thick eyeglass. "What do you have there?" he asked.
"An Aquamarine, a beautiful stone isn't it? This would make a great necklace for someone." Forte explained
"Yea! It's kinda is the same color as Sakura's eyes"
"Yes it is, hey tell me, when is that girl's birthday?"
"Oh really? Well it just so happens that this stone is the birthstone for that month. I'll tell you what, how about you get this made into a necklace and give it to her for her birthday."
Yeah! I thought he'd never ask "Oh no, I couldn't accept that"
"No, no I insist, consider it an extra token of out appreciation, besides, it's not like we are lacking in quantity here" Forte laughed.
Jackpot! "Well if you insist, thank you very much!" bowed Naruto, taking the stone and stowing it in the inside pocket of his jacket. As he turned to leave he heard a voice call out,
"Forte, take a look at this red stone, it the same color as that scary guy we saw walking around last week!" called a worker from across the cave. Naruto instantly spun around grabbing Forte
"You saw a man with red eyes? Was he wearing an open white shirt and carrying a sword?" he urgently asked
"Er yea, how did you know? You looking for him?"
"Yes! Where did he go after you saw him?"
"Well he didn't speak to any of us, and he didn't look like he wanted to talk, but he went north after passing though the town. I remember those red eyes though, scared the hell out of me."
Naruto bowed, "Thank you for helping me out!" and he rushed out of the cave and back up to Sakura. This was one of the first real leads Naruto had found in a long time about Sasuke's whereabouts. Running up and looking her straight in the eye for the first time in years "SAKURA!! Forte just told me that they saw Sasuke here about a week ago moving north!" Sakura looked away, clutching her fist "Maybe if we head north we'll fi…"
"Naruto! Just Stop!" Sakura screamed at him, "Sasuke isn't coming back! He doesn't want to be near us anymore, why can't you just get over it?!!" Tears welled up in her eyes, Why can't I get over it either… I can't…"I can't keep doing this anymore…" She stuttered.
"Sakura I…" Naruto tried, but couldn't find the words. They both walked back to Konaha in silence, the stone in Naruto's breast pocket felt like a kunai in his heart and for the first time in a while, Naruto was unable to force a smile on his face for Sakura.