A/N: I implore of you:think.
Beta-read by Nadramon.
They started when he was fifteen and finally back from his two-and-a-half year training session with Jiraiya. Insistent they were and mysterious as well. Each time he would pick up the phone and ask who it was he never received an answer.
Phone calls from, seemingly, nobody.
And unfortunately for Naruto caller I.D. was not available yet. There was no way to see who it was. He was always puzzled by this mysterious phone caller who seemed to have nothing better to do than to call him once a month or so. There was no set day that the caller would call but Naruto knew that it was always once a month.
He could no longer remember when he began to grow sick and tired of the calls. But even so, the stupid repetitiveness of picking up the phone only to receive silence on the other end became as normal as eating at Ichiraku's everyday. It was just another thing that Naruto had to get used to. With the inconvenience of not owning a phone with caller I.D. and not knowing specifically who was calling, he couldn't afford to just let the phone ring.
A few times he had tried to call the phone company to trace the call but after several times of trying even they couldn't find out who the caller was. The location was untraceable. It never unnerved Naruto that he had a potential stalker. Perhaps he was just too preoccupied with his own life to do so.
Riiing. Riiing. Riiing.
"Augh! I'm going to be late! Who in their mind will be…" Naruto didn't finish his sentence as he hopped towards the phone with a piece of toast hanging out his mouth. He yanked on his jacket and picked up the phone after dropping the corner-soggy toast into his free hand. "Hello?"
"Hello? Okay, this isn't a good time to be messing with me. I'm going to be late for something," he didn't even know why he was explaining his situation to some weird 'nonexistent' person on the other line but felt compelled to do so anyways, "so I'm going to hang up on you. Not like you say anything anyways…" he muttered at the end.
"Alright, bye," he said, shoving half the toast into his mouth and running out the door. Hopefully Kakashi, Sai, and Sakura wouldn't mind. Maybe they would understand his early morning caller?
"Naruto, you'd better hurry up. We're going to be leaving soon and…" Sakura trailed off, pressing her hands together. All of her necessities for the mission were already packed and ready to go.
"I know, I know…" Naruto mumbled, running around his small apartment to look for something under his bed mattress… refrigerator… on top of the refrigerator… cabinets…
Finally, Sakura got fed up with what he was doing. "Naruto, what are you looking for?" she asked exasperatedly. She didn't want the others to wait for them. "If you keep looking—"
Riiing. Riiing. Riiing.
"I'll get it!" he closed the drawers and ran over to the phone, passing by Sakura who was still standing there with half her sentence said. "Hello?"
Sakura's eyebrows furrowed slightly as she waited for Naruto to finish his phone conversation. He didn't say anything for a few seconds.
"Hello?" he repeated. "Look, this isn't a good time again… Gosh darn it…" he lowered the phone a bit and looked at Sakura. She glanced back at him with impatient eyes. "I'm going to hang up again… Bye."
The girl watched as Naruto pressed the "Off" button on the phone and placed it back down on the holder.
"Whatever, I can't find it. Let's just go," Naruto said distractedly. He looked at his disheveled apartment one last time before hefting his backpack on.
"Okay," Sakura replied, already walking out the door.
The blond bit his lower lip momentarily as he stood by the doorway. He hoped to catch that small glint of glass and frame. Maybe… Maybe…
"I'm coming!" he called back, closing the door with a soft 'click.'
The object he was looking for, a picture frame and a picture, Team Seven's picture, was hidden by one of his shirts. It was on his bed, where he had left it that morning. The four occupants of the half-hidden frame looked blankly at the ceiling.
Gentle rain pattered onto the rooftop of the seemingly deserted apartment. Naruto had still not returned from his mission nearly a month ago. Rainwater trickled down the cold, dark panes of glass in steady intervals. Thunder rumbled ominously outside. Flashes of lightening jumping from cloud to cloud illuminated the sky.
The doorknob rattled. The sound of a key being pushed in. Turned. Opened.
Dust was attacked by waterdrops dripping off of Naruto's wet clothing. He didn't bother to turn on any lights as he walked numbly towards the middle of his living room. A trail of muddy footprints, courtesy of his still-not removed shoes, led from the open door to the wooden floor. A pool of water began to form around him as he stood there, motionless.
His eyes were blank, staring at the floor as if it didn't exist at all.
They had failed. The mission to bring him back that he was so eager to get to only a few weeks ago ended in failure. All his things were still thrown in the way they were last month when he was searching for the photo, a good-luck charm.
Now he thought mindlessly if that was the reason they could not bring him back.
"I'll never go back," he had said.
And they had failed. There was no choice but to leave.
The dark clouds lit up again, filling the room with temporary light.
Riiing. Riiing. Riiing.
He snapped out of his reverie and walked zombie-like to the phone. He picked it up from its holder and pressed the "Answer" button.
He didn't say anything.
Neither did the other person.
A few minutes passed like this, Naruto just standing there with the phone pressed against his ear listening intently for any sign of life on the other side. None was heard as the thunder periodically interrupted his eavesdropping.
"You're listening, aren't you?" he asked abruptly.
As expected, he did not get a reply.
"Then you won't mind listening to me talk?"
He realized how foolish it was to ask such a question. It was the other person who had called anyways. Of course they had no choice but to listen.
"Do I know you though? Do you know me? Is this some sort of prank call that you must make every month? Did you promise someone to call me every month?" the questions came. "You do know that sometimes promises, willingly or unwillingly, are broken, don't you?"
A draft blew through the open door. He shivered from his wet clothing.
"I broke a promise today…" Naruto rasped on, still not quite sure if it was safe to be telling all this to someone whom he didn't even know or even heard from before, "I couldn't bring him back like I promised her. She said we'd bring him back. But he won't come back. We've tried so hard. We were so close. But…"
Naruto closed his eyes tiredly, sighing into the phone. Outside, the thunderstorm was becoming spent, the rain becoming less and less vicious, the winds not so very strong now.
"We'll miss him. I suppose I've been chasing a false dream anyways… But I wonder if it's time to move on? Could I move on? We'll miss him so much. I'll miss him so much…" now it felt awkward to be talking to 'nobody.' He wanted to stop now. Talking like this had made him snap out of his daze. His shock of failing.
"I don't want to give up…"
That's not my way of being a ninja… he thought to himself silently.
"But…" the blond clenched the phone harder, making the plastic crack threateningly. He stopped in the middle of his sentence and started a new one. "Thanks for listening, whoever you are."
The thunderstorm passed. The skies were beginning to clear up.
And with that, he pressed the "End" button.
Loud music throbbed in the small apartment, making the walls vibrate and windows shake. Peals of laughter went throughout the place and the noise of food being chewed was added to the din. The low murmur of half-said conversations, the giggles of half-true gossip, the laughter of half-awake people.
It was late.
But it didn't matter. It was Naruto's birthday. No one cared. It was a party for him.
Outside, Konoha was celebrating as well. For other reasons they celebrated, but celebrated still. They paid no heed. This year they would celebrate with Naruto, not the villagers.
The birthday blond trotted over to his small kitchen to rummage for some more soda. Everyone was particularly thirsty for refreshments today and he was quickly running out. The loud music was somewhat nulled by the walls of the kitchen. He opened the fridge and stuck his head in.
He didn't notice theRiing. Riiing. Riiing. of his telephone.
But Kiba did.
"Naruto!" he called out over the music.
"What is it?" he called from the fridge.
"Okay!" he fished out another bottle of soda and walked out of the kitchen. Carefully placing the soda onto a nearby table and quickly turning down the music, he yelled out for everyone to quiet down and plucked the phone off the holder.
He looked around the room. Everyone he knew on a close basis was here. There was no way that the mysterious caller could be one of them. The music was still too loud even though there was no voice coming from the other line.
Naruto scurried out of his apartment and stood out in the hallway outside. The music was drastically subdued to a low pounding.
"Hello? Do you know me? You can't possibly just…" he trailed off. Could it really be just a random call that landed right on his birthday? "Geez, I wish you would just say something."
He let out a frustrated sigh and tugged at his hair in impatience. He glared at the phone before pressing the "End" button without warning the other person. The sudden burst of impatience was not uncommon for him.
The blond trotted back into the apartment. Someone had turned up the music again.
No one asked who called him so he just rejoined the party, his mood suddenly dampened by the mystery caller.
It never struck Naruto to just tell someone about his monthly phone calls. He never thought of it. The phone calls were annoying but whoever was calling him hadn't hurt him yet. Or at least, if they did, he was unconscious of it. He just let it happen.
A raspy cough tore at the throat of a certain blond as well as the germy air of the apartment. It was unusual for him to get sick, seeing that Kyuubi was there to heal him but here he was, lying in bed with a fever. He knew that it would go away by the afternoon but for now he just had to suffer with it.
He knew the reason for being sick, really. He had been over-training again. Though he knew it wasn't his fault, Naruto couldn't help but to feel guilty for not being able to bring Sasuke back. How many days could he go without thinking about his ex-friend? Each time he saw Sakura he remembered him, their broken promise.
We'll bring him back together!
Sure. Sure, broken promise all the same.
She never held it against him. She knew that it wasn't his fault either.
But he still thought it was. Training was the only way he could forget about it, if only for a few moments.
Yet for now, he was not thinking of his lost friend or the pink-haired girl whom he had inevitably disappointed and let down, but he was thinking about how terrible he felt. Surely he would be better soon…
In and out of consciousness and dream he went until he was completely delirious and a bit confused. The room was too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry all at the same time. And that incessant ringing. Oh, that terrible, shrieking ringing.
It wasn't until a few moments later that Naruto realized it was his telephone that was ringing. He had left it by his bedside table in case someone called. He didn't want to die trying to get out of bed and into the living room for it.
Weakly, he reached for the phone, pressed the "Answer" button, and pressed it to his ear.
He coughed. "Hello?"
Familiar silence accompanied by light crackling of static on the other side greeted him.
He sighed. He wasn't in the mood to be dealing with a silent caller… But then again in this state of confusion even Naruto didn't know what he was thinking.
"Do you just have the worst sense of timing or are you just a sadistic bastard who enjoys calling me at the worst time frames ever?" the blond asked irritably before hacking his lungs out onto the phone again. He'll have to disinfect it later.
He rolled onto his back and kept his hand limply next to his ear in order to keep the phone there. The blond didn't know if he had even fallen asleep a few times as he waited fruitlessly for the other's answer. His sense of time was severely skewed.
"So," he rasped out in his phlegm-choked voice, "what do you call me for anyways?"
His train of thought was abruptly leapt off its original tracks to another topic. No clear thought un-muddled by fever and coughs came to mind.
"I miss him."
If the other line had any signs of knowing what Naruto just blurted out, there was no way of finding out.
"She misses him too. I was right. We all miss him. Some of us blame him for many things because we are angry. Some of us cry and weep over him because we are sad," he rambled on feeling the invisible weight of nothingness lift off his chest as he spoke. "Some of us curse him because we love him. Some of us bless him because we hate him."
Finally the room had reached a more comfortable level of temperature and humidity. Was it his talking that was making everything better? Naruto couldn't figure it out. But, he decided, if talking to nobody made him feel better, why not?
"I want him to be back so that I won't feel so guilty all the time. Maybe his half-smirk would make the world spin right again… Maybe his dark glares… would make the sun properly warm again… Maybe his 'Hn's would make… her happy… again…" he pulled up the covers to cover up to his nose. His voice came out slightly muffled but he didn't care, "Maybe… he's just like a drug that all of us needs… but never admit to…"
He wanted to say the name now. Perhaps saying that bitterly sweet name would cure him of his fever. Or it could just be Kyuubi finally doing his work. As long as he felt better Naruto didn't care. His fever would retreat slowly. But what time was it now? How long had he been talking to nobody?
Unconsciously, he pressed the phone even closer to his ear as he said it. "Sasuke…"
And again he wasn't aware if he had fallen asleep again or was still awake but either way, he was suddenly snapped out of his reverie when his front door opened and he heard a familiar voice call out to him.
He opened his eyes. "Sakura-chan…" he breathed into the phone, sat up, and pressed the "End" button.
He was well again.
How many months had finally passed? To greet this young man, not boy, young man of eighteen? How many calls, silent phone calls, have rung to bother, simply bother, this young man of eighteen? Of longer blond hair and of bright, happy eyes once more?
He was finally well again.
No longer guilty but still nostalgic at times. He had finally moved on.
As stubborn as he was at first, he finally moved on.
So had everyone else.
For how long can you dwell on something, mope and groan, complain and weep, spat and prod, one thing over and over again before you leave it alone? They left it alone.
It carried a small dark feeling though, this abandonment of guilt. It brought new guilt. Did it mean that they no longer cared for his ex-friend? Did his existence no longer matter? Was it sinful to forget about him and selfishly care more about his own life, own things? Naruto didn't know. But this new guilt was smaller than his first guilt.
He sat on his couch, twiddling his thumb. His hair was as neat as he could make it and his clothing was set in a good, presentable way. That wide grin which carried throughout his childhood and adolescent and now early adulthood was on his face. He looked so happy.
He was waiting.
Every few seconds he would glance at his door, glance at the bouquet of flowers next to him, and glance at the door again. Nervous he was, but a happy nervous.
The phone rang.
Riiing. Riiing. Riiing.
He hopped up a tad bit too quickly and lunged for it.
"Hello?" he asked breathlessly, hoping that his date was not going to stand him up or something.
His expression fell a bit when he received no answer. Calmly now, he walked back to his bed and plopped down. He ran a hand through his soft hair, rubbing his scalp a bit. A long puff of air escaped his slightly chapped lips. Then he brightened. He wasn't able to tell his 'nobody friend' about the good news the last few times they had called.
"Guess what?" he told nobody. It had always felt as if he could trust this person on the other line. Regardless that there was never any answer, regardless that they could probably not be listening anyways. "She's accepted my offer, finally! We're going out on our first date tonight. First real date anyways…"
Once again, he glanced at the door. His previous happiness was bubbling out again. There was no way to contain it. "Have you any idea how long I've chased after her? Five years! Five years!" he exclaimed. "But she's finally accepting me…" he grinned to nobody.
There was a knock on the door followed by a, "Naruto?" from a sweet, tender voice.
"Oh," he said in a more subdued voice. "She's here. Bye."
He pressed the "Off" button and picked up the bouquet of flowers.
Eventually the apartment was much too small for him. He moved to a larger place since he could now afford it, being Jounin and all. Most of Rookie Nine were all Jounins except for Shikamaru, who had been moved up to ANBU already. Team Gai had also been promoted to ANBU.
How the years had passed.
And yet, everything and nothing changed.
Naruto was still loud and obnoxious, loving and lovable, adorable and handsome, clumsy and graceful. Still Naruto. With Sakura now.
But even moving did not allow him to escape the phone calls he had been receiving ever since he was fifteen. Somehow, the mysterious caller had gotten a hold of his new phone number and the calls had been, as usual, made once a month. He didn't really mind.
After so long of receiving them, they were just incorporated into his everyday, or rather every month, life.
Sakura didn't move in with Naruto, seeing that they were not married or anything yet but she was frequently over at the new two-story house. Her parents didn't mind. He didn't mind. She didn't mind. Nobody minded.
It was just another date again that they were getting ready for. Sakura was sitting in the living room readying herself tediously. Naruto always picked the last moment to change but managed to make it in time every time simply because Sakura was so painfully careful with her makeup. And though he never admitted to it, her half hour of preening didn't make much of a difference on her pretty face.
All that concealer, and blush, and eye shadow, and lip gloss… Well, she still looked pretty, but he never was able to notice too much difference. But what was he to say? If he didn't let her put on makeup she would complain that she wasn't ready to go.
He hopped around his room with one sock on as he looked for a good shirt to put on. It wasn't like they were going anywhere fancy tonight. Just a small fair to play at since they hadn't had time off in a long while.
While he precariously hopped across his room, the phone rang.
Riiing. Riiing. Riiing.
There was still time. He picked it up.
"Hello?" almost immediately he knew it was nobody. So he didn't wait to see if he would get no response. "Bad timing again. I'm leaving with her for a date," he said as he yanked on his other sock.
From downstairs, Sakura called to him.
"Naruto! Are you ready yet?"
He ran over to the door and wrenched it open, carefully keeping the phone a good distance away in order not to deafen them. "Yeah! Give me a second, babe!"
"You'd better hurry!"
He pressed the phone to his ear again. "Got to go, bye."
He ended the call and tossed it onto his mattress.
They had married. After three years of dating, they married. And now Sakura was pregnant.
The phone calls didn't stop coming and Naruto was still the one who usually picked up the phone. Perhaps it was just persistence on Naruto's part, or just stubbornness, but even after caller I.D. was available, they never did get a new phone with such a feature.
He had claimed that whoever would call them is someone that they would already know. Sakura reluctantly agreed to that, wondering about his stubbornness over a telephone. But she didn't ask him about his mysterious caller.
Naruto still didn't tell anyone about this mysterious caller even six years after he first received them but Sakura was no idiot. She knew that he was getting periodical phone calls from someone. From the way Naruto spoke into the phone, the other person never replied.
But she never asked about it. The things they talked about seemed harmless enough and Naruto was smart enough not to cheat on Sakura. Not after so many years of chasing after her and wooing her.
Maybe it was just a silent pact of privacy for both of them.
Now Sakura and Naruto were both sitting on the couch serenely. They were cuddling and stroking Sakura's swollen belly with utmost tenderness. Occasionally Naruto would press his lips against her hair and whisper sweet nothings to her and she would smile in that soft, motherly way.
They would have to go to see Tsunade this afternoon to check up on the baby. But for now, they still had time to spare.
Riiing. Riiing. Riiing.
The phone made them shake out of their moment of quiet.
"I'll get it," Naruto said softly and kissed his wife on the cheek. She nodded and shifted on the soft, plushy couch.
He leaned on the kitchen counter as he picked up the phone and answered. "Uzumaki residence," he said. The usual "Hello" was now replaced with something more formal.
Naruto sat down on a tall stool when he realized it was nobody. His eyes slid out of focus momentarily as he talked quietly, as if he was in a library. He suddenly felt like he didn't want Sakura to overhear his one-sided conversation.
"You know," he nearly whispered, "after six years of calling me, I'd wish you would just say something sometimes… Just once, maybe… Just to know your voice, maybe who you are. It gets a bit tiresome, don't you know?" A ridiculous thought flittered through his mind. "Don't you think it's unfair that you know almost everything in my life but I know nothing?"
He laughed to nobody.
"Well anyways… Remember what I told you the last few months? Well today we're checking to see what gender the baby is. Exciting for us, don't you think? If I knew you, I think I would invite you over for the baby shower, but I don't. So…" he trailed off and looked at his watch.
Time flew. It was almost time to go see Tsunade already.
He sat there silently for a bit, just waiting hopefully for a voice… Maybe this time…
The minutes ticked by. Sakura might have fallen asleep on the couch. She'd been quite tired for the past few weeks.
"Okay…" he said with a certain sense of finality, just as he always did when he ended his conversation with nobody. "I guess this is…"
Shock filled him. His eyes widened and his other hand gripped tightly onto the marble countertop.
Nobody said something.
But it wasn't what he had said that sent Naruto reeling on the edge of intense longing. It was the voice.
That voice. No number of years could make him forget that voice. Something suddenly surged inside of the blond, making his heart beat so much faster. His vision blurred and his head spun.
It was a forgotten emotion. What was it? Adoration? Longing?
He couldn't filter it out. Time raced by as if it was chased by the devil. Too little time…
He wanted to make the seconds stretch longer.
Nobody finally responded.
His throat went dry, so insanely, impossibly dry. He wanted to speak, to say something. But he couldn't.
And for the first time since he started to receive the calls, nobody hung up first.
The dial tone pierced through his skull, tearing at soft tissue and hard bone.
Tears welled up in his eyes.
He could speak now, but it was too late.
"Sasuke…" he rasped.
The cry echoed, waking Sakura. She was shocked to hear her husband's panicked voice, calling the same name over and over again. The house rang with his sobs and cries for Nobody.
The tears fell.
The phone broke.
Nobody was gone.