Title: Hiding Behind Masks

Summary: By chance two ex-teammates meet on neutral ground. What happens when the person you thought you knew turns out to be completely different?

Warnings: I am considering this an AU. Some parts are canon. Manga spoilers abound. And although I write some of Sasuke and Naruto in character, they will definitely have their moments of OOC-ness. Also in this fic Naruto and Sasuke are both 16.

Disclaimer: I'm sure you can tell that I don't own Naruto because if I did I wouldn't be indulging myself here.


Hiding Behind Masks

Prologue - Goodbye



"Do you know why you have been summoned here?"

A tall young man stood before the man and woman who were considered the elders. Behind him sat the rest of the council. He recognized most of the men and women as the parents of his friends. His spiky blond head raised and blue eyes flashed, but he didn't speak a word. The male elder continued.

"Uzumaki Naruto, you have been a risk to Konoha long enough. This council has agreed to revoke your ninja status. You are to be banished. You will relinquish your hitai-ite and you will have 3 hours to leave Konoha."

The man gasped and turned wide stricken eyes to the blonde hazel eyed woman behind him, ready to open the loud mouth he was famed for to argue. But he was stopped by a forlorn shake of her head and the lone tear he saw slowly trickle down her face.

"Uzumaki, your hitai-ite."

He turned back to the smug looking man with a glare, but instead of retorting, with slightly shaking hands he untied the worn headband that symbolized his ninja status - given to him by his father figure - and tossed it onto the floor of the council room with a clatter. Afterward, he turned and left the room, not waiting for a dismissal, disappearing in a swirl of leaves as soon as he was in the hallway. The blonde Hokage's hands balled into fists at her sides as she glared at the village elders, who she knew were the most instrumental in her favorite gaki's departure. She then turned her angry glare at one particular council member who was the most vocal about having Naruto banished. He looked back at her with a slight smirk before turning and leaving, the other 2 following. She held in her anger, walking out in as dignified a manner as she could muster, and went back to her office. Three of the council members that were still in the room looked to each other. Finally, one lazy looking one sighed before standing. "Troublesome..."

As soon as the door to the Hokage's office had closed, a yell and a loud crack of the sound of wood splitting in two was heard throughout the building, along with numerous other crashes.

Meanwhile in an apartment in the slums of Konoha, a blond young man leaned against the wall and slowly slid to the floor, tears pooled in his eyes and he pulled at his hair in anguish as the councilman's words continued to echo through his head. He no longer had a home. His goals and dreams had been shattered.

Where would he go?

What would he do?


Two hours later, the same young man was finishing his packing when he heard a knock. He opened the door to find a semi-drunk Tsunade. "Naruto..."

He put on a smile and pulled her inside. She leaned against the wall and sighed.

"I'm so sorry. I fought so hard for you. I tried everything I could..."

"Don't worry Baa-chan. I know you did what you could." He couldn't hide the sorrow in his voice, even as he tried to comfort her.

"The Third...the Fourth...neither of them wanted this. I hate what this village has become. I have half a mind to leave with you." Her hands clenched into fists.

He took her fists into his hands. "You know you can't. The village needs you here baa-chan."

"Brat, how can you still... How can you not hate this place after everything they've done to you?"

Naruto shrugged. "This is, well was, my home. I love Konoha. Even though so many here hate me, my precious people are here too." With a sigh, he raked a hand through his unruly locks. "Well, I guess you should take this back. It should go to someone worthy of being Hokage," he said as he began to pull the prized necklace over his head.

"No." she grabbed his hand before he could take it off. "You keep it. I will never put it on anyone else."

The stone dropped back to his chest bouncing lightly before settling. Both looked at the stone silently. Finally, Naruto sighed once more and bent down to pick up his backpack. "I guess I should get going eh?" He pulled out a couple of envelopes. "Please pass these on. I know I should say goodbye personally but...." He gave her a shrug and a pathetic version of a smile.

Tsunade looked into his dull blue eyes, knowing what he would say, and reached her hand out to take the envelopes. "I will."

"Also," he looked into her eyes with a bit of his usual spark of determination, "tell everyone the truth...about everything."

Her eyes widened. "Are you sure brat?"

He nodded and took one last look around what had been his apartment - for better or worse - for so long. Suddenly, he felt arms around him and his head was buried in a chest. His arms waved around as he gasped for air.

"Baa-chan...can't...breathe..."

"Shut up brat. Deal with it." A few more seconds of strangulation went by before she finally let go. "You better send me updates brat. Don't make me have to send people after you."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I will. I'll send Gamakichi when I can."

She handed him a scroll. "Take this with you. This will allow you into any village without altercation."

"Thanks Baa-chan. I guess I better go then." He gave her one last huge grin. Not wanting to prolong the moment, and definitely not wanting her to see him cry, he jumped out from the balcony speeding toward the village entrance and off into an uncertain new life.

--

Edited 2/13/2009