Title: "Before the Dawn"

Author: Shaitanah

Rating: PG, probably

Summary: "I have an ambition, too: to find a certain man and to bring him home." [Naruto-centric; hints of SasuNaru and some NaruSaku tension Please R&R!

Disclaimer: belongs to Kishimoto Masashi and whoever else that is not me…

A/N: Takes place around chapter 311. I'm still not quite pleased with this story. It's been pretty manipulative of me. ;)


Walking away I see the pain

You put me through.

Lost in your game to change the same,

Forever gone, forever you.

Evanescence. 'Forever Gone, Forever You'

A great Hokage never breaks his promises. Once the promise is made, it becomes an iron-clad treaty with your conscience. I'd promised Sakura-chan. I couldn't let her down. I had once, and I had promised myself that it'd never happen again.

And I ran. I caught the fastest wind, and rode it, and I let my senses deliver me to him, and when he saw me not a muscle stirred in his impassive face. He was neither happy nor irritated. And I should say I was relieved to hear his expressionless voice greet me like years ago, "Hey, moron."

My lips curved into a smile in spite of me.

"Still haven't dropped it? You're stubborn as hell, Naruto!"

Once again I was twelve, doing my best to surpass him, and the Fourth, and myself – training, fighting, chasing my dream. He had always looked at me with mingled exasperation and condescension.

If I had to fight him, I would. If I had to break his limbs and smash his face and – for hell's sake! – pull out his hair, I would!

The fight didn't go exactly as I planned. Okay, I didn't plan anything but I hoped it would be less lengthy and exhausting. He'd become stronger, I'd become stronger, and through the fierce howling of the wind I could hear the sinister voice in my head: "You need my power… come and take it… embrace it!"

I would not give in! Like hell I needed that power! The Fourth had buried it within me, but it was not mine to use. But the Fox was tearing through me, spreading the heat of its immense chakra through the air, colliding with Sasuke's Chidori shield…

I must have passed out. I came to my senses on the thrashed ground; chips of rock smeared with bloody mud were scattered around me. It was hard to breathe. I tried to sit up. Sharp pain pierced my ribs. Probably a few broken bones… I waited for them to heal a bit and looked around for Sasuke.

And damn, he lay unconscious a few paces away, a nasty wound in his head bleeding profusely. Did I do that?

'At least now you can drag him home by force,' the Nine-Tails commented, and a gruff, barking sound followed abruptly: the Monster-Fox was laughing.

My head spinning, I reached out to Sasuke. His eyelids fluttered. Something was wrong. Both of our healing powers should be a lot better than that.

I collapsed. Blood splattered down my chin. I crawled towards Sasuke, calling out his name, and everything went dark.

And darkness was spinning, too.

Distant buzzing.

Was it my mind? Or was I no more?

Where was I? It took me a while to recognize the stuffy room and the monotonous sound of dripping water. I was standing knee-deep in it, shivering and panting. A giant eye peered at me through the bars.

"I am not going to unlock you," I spat vigorously. "We've been through this a thousand times!"

"How touching. I take it you guys chat often then."

I spun around and faced Sasuke who was standing so close to me I could feel his breath on my skin. My jumpsuit was torn, a holey t-shirt was showing.

"How are you here?" I breathed, astounded.

Sasuke's eyes bled from black to vermillion. "Why do you look so surprised? This wouldn't be the first time."

He lifted his hand and wrapped his fingers around Granny Tsunade's necklace glimmering softly over my chest. I held my breath. He was just too close. Transfixed, I watched him scrutinize the necklace with vague curiosity, and then he looked up all of a sudden. His eyes wandered into mine. The red swallowed the blue; I dived headfirst into that intoxicating whirlpool…

Sa – su – ke…

He grasped my shoulders and whispered in my ear:

"So much for the next Hokage. You will die here, in the prison of your own mind."

I always felt cold here, but right now it was incredibly hot. The big red eye was watching me attentively as my body burnt with desire to be pressed against his… I was losing myself. Losing to him.

Sasuke nearly pushed me against the bars.

"No!" I cried out. The bars were shaking. "Stop it!" I begged. "You did it once. Stop it, please! It's getting out! I can't hold it."

Sasuke looked at the beast over my shoulder. The Fox was raging, drunk on the approaching freedom. The Sharingan flared, and I looked away, squeezing my eyes shut. Illogical. He shouldn't have been able to control this place. It was mine to command. Yet this metaphysical prison was eating up the last of my strength.

"Naruto," Sasuke called softly. "It has retreated."

I looked around and saw nothing. The Kyuubi was probably skulking cowardly in the darkness of its cell.

"How do you do it?" I asked. "It said once that your chakra was more sinister than its own. What did it mean?"

Sasuke snorted. Another painfully familiar sound. He buried his face on my shoulder. I held my breath. After a few tantalizingly slow minutes I realized he was laughing.

"Isn't it funny, Naruto, that I can control your demon whereas you make mine even stronger? You make my desire for vengeance burn like hellfire. You're such a phenomenon… You're the only one except my brother who can make me feel real feelings. And both of you cause insatiable destructive hate."

I growled, and pushed at him, and shoved him into the bars, not giving a damn how the Fox would react. It was oddly quiet. I could feel its interest building, but it wasn't about to do anything provocative, so I held Sasuke in place and locked my forearm over his throat.

"Hate! You hate me!? Don't you fucking dare hate me, Sasuke, because you know what? That will not stop me!" I lost whatever composure I had left and was now screaming at him at the top of my lungs. "I don't fucking care how you feel! I'll save you!"

And once again he was laughing. I'd never heard him laugh. How come?

"It's not you I hate, Naruto. So selfish of you to take everything so personal."

I gaped at him. He told me point-blank I made him feel hatred, but it was not directed towards me. That was far too difficult for my understanding.

"I hate myself more and more when I love someone else a little bit," said Sasuke.

I didn't know what to think. It was so much in his character: to tell me I was his best friend and then try to kill me, to say he loved me and then admit it only made him brim with hatred.

I released him and pressed my forehead against his chest.

'The eyes of the beholder are blind,' the Fox smirked. 'He doesn't know how much he needs you.'

At that moment I couldn't care less whether Sasuke had heard it. He was inside my head, but I could also get into his.

I looked upon myself through his eyes. I saw myself the way he'd always seen me.

Loud. Noisy. Brainless.

Helpless. Lonely. Determined.

A big bowl of ramen. I was hungry and reached out for it, but it melted in my hand. A low rumbling in my stomach revealed my disappointment.

And then there was the day he came to school after his family died. I wanted to talk to him. I was excited. I thought I could tell him how I felt all this time. Being alone. Shunned by everybody. I could offer him my friendship.

I never knew my parents. There was a thing called social service. And then Iruka-sensei took care of me. He treated me to ramen and spent time with me outside of school pretty much like a father would. But nonetheless, I was alone. And I just thought that maybe… just maybe…

But he didn't talk to me. I lied to myself and pretended not to notice how much I wanted to be like him.

"Get out of my head!" Sasuke roared.

The truth was he had already seen me. Even with his eyes closed.

I opened my eyes and sat up, panting, sweat dripping down my forehead. The soft cotton of my PJ's stuck to my damp skin, my hair trickled down my temples like uneven streaks of yellow. I was home. In my bed. At my place.


"Sa… Sakura-chan?" I breathed out. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking at me somewhat nervously.

And suddenly reality came crushing down on me. It was a dream. The meeting, the battle, the conversation – just a product of my exhausted subconsciousness. It seemed only yesterday he was standing with his arm around my shoulder, threatening to kill me. And right now I was home in the Hidden Leaf Village.

"I… Kakashi-sensei told me to get you," Sakura-chan said, staring downward. "The door was unlocked and I… What were you think, you idiot? You never know who might just wander inside!"

I giggled. "Someone like you."

Sakura-chan pursed her lips fiercely. She walked out into the kitchen while I got dressed hastily, trying to ignore her grumpy comments: "Honestly, Naruto, do you ever clean up?"

Oh, come on, my place was not that messy! If you looked past the scrolls scattered all over the floor, and half-peeled fruit skin, items of my clothes hanging all over the furniture and two or three empty ramen cups, it was a pretty decent place. I was going to clean up anyway. Someday.

In the kitchen Sakura-chan was inspecting my fridge and judging by the look on her face she was far from pleased. And suddenly Shikamaru's notion of women being tiresome made sense as well as Ero-sennin's phrase: 'We got the second Tsunade coming.'

"You dreamt," said Sakura-chan. It was one of those awkward moments when I didn't know what to say to her. "It's okay. At least he talked to you. I was hardly there at all in his view."

It took me a moment to realize she meant Sasuke. I should have probably held her hand or something. Instead I looked away and said: "Heh."

"That was very much like Sasuke-kun," Sakura-chan smiled.

Hours later I stood before the deserted Uchiha Compound, staring at the cracked fans carved into the walls. Here's where it began.

'I have an ambition. And I won't let it pass as a dream.'

I bit my lip. What would you have done in my place, Sasuke?

'To revive my clan…'

Would you just leave me? Was it true that I had become your best friend? Did you ever have the same feelings for me that I had for you?

'…and to kill a certain man.'

I balled my hands into fists. I had an ambition to. And I wasn't about to let it pass as a dream.

To find a certain man. And to bring him home.

August 17, 2007