Unknown to all but a few, however, that apprentice now lay inside it's confines for the first time in four years, walking the long abandoned corridoors with an expression of pure blankness on his bruised and swollen face. His deep dark eyes were lidded and expressionless, shifting in and out of focus as he limped slowly through the house that had once been his home, but now stood unused and decaying after years of neglect. It felt as though Sasuke had fallen into one of his own frequent nightmares, each turn of the corridoor making his insides writhe with a fresh and painful memory that he had long ago learned to block out, to push ruthlessly to the back of his mind and pretend that it never existed. Now, however, the Uchiha couldn't even turn his head without remembering something new, and no matter how hard he tried to block out those emotions, each new room forced them back in his face so strongly that he barely felt capable of breathing.
Sasuke's glazed eyes passed over a grimy window as dusty afternoon sunlight struggled through it onto his face, and his expression changed briefly into a grim smile as he spotted a flash of white flitting between the trees outside. He had woken up with an aching jaw, completely alone and splayed on a dusty, moth eaten bed; But he'd since noticed several ANBU masks staring out at him from the undergrowth around the house. It didn't take a genius to work out that he was being watched. Tsunade was making sure he wasn't about to leave the village. It was ironic really, thought Sasuke, since that's exactly what he most wanted to do right now. Leave, and pretend he'd never seen Naruto, or this house, or Konoha. After all, there was nothing to stay here for. His one hope had been Naruto, and even that hope had been crushed the moment Kiba had swaggered up to Ichikura's and laid a hand on his hip. Sasuke slid his fingertips down the dirty window subconsciously, releasing streaks of dusty sunlight into the dim hallway as he thought deeply. He didn't want to have to face the blond again. Not now that things had changed so much.
After everything Uchiha Sasuke had been through to get back to the blond, to stand face to face with him and force himself to speak the truth for once, now all he could think about was getting away again. Maybe... (and a cold shiver ran down the raven's back as he thought it), maybe it wasn't too late to go back...
Sasuke couldn't remember the last time he'd panicked. It had been years maybe since he'd let himself feel enough to do so; Nonetheless the next thing the raven-haired Ninja knew, he was emptying drawers onto the floor and stuffing things feverishly into a dustladen backpack that had once belonged to a young Sasuke. The long silent house was suddenly filled with violent crashes as the fevered Uchiha - eyes wide in panic - moved from room to room, ransacking his own house for something, anything he could use to get out. Sasuke had always been proud, confident of his abilities, but even in such blind panic, he knew it would take more than sheer desperation not to end up dead at the hands of ANBU. He gritted his teeth and ground them furiously has he tried to breathe, not to feel his heart thundering in his ears as he hurtled recklessly back down the corridor, backpack clasped in sweating hands; Heading for the one room that he had avoided subconsciously for nine years.
The dust was thicker here, the room untouched since the last inhabitant had used it for the very last time, but Sasuke was blind to the strewn books and clothes and Kunais that gave it all an uncomfortably lived-in feeling. He didn't come in here for sightseeing, he was looking for something, and his wide eyes scanned the debris vacantly, looking for the solitary glint of steel that would help him get the hell out of here, and away to where he could forget again; Pretend not to feel...
The door creaked on its hinges behind him.
Sasuke's reactions were faster than anybody could give him credit for, considering the circumstances. In the final milisecond he found what he was looking for and swooped around, Itachi's old katana held dangerously at the intruder's neck.
"...Doing a little spring cleaning, Sasuke?"
Naruto's voice trembled audibly as he stared at the wild-eyed Uchiha. He couldn't help taking a nervous step back. Sasuke looked insane, white as a sheet, sweating and shaking as he held the sharp Katana at arms length. Strangely, Naruto couldn't help realising how much taller Sasuke had gotten, and then chided his stupid brain for thinking of things like that in such a serious situation.
Sasuke remained frozen, staring at Naruto blankly as he felt his hand quiver on the handle of the blade. His insides felt no more steady than his hand, as though a swarm of snakes were writhing and squirming inside his stomach. His breathing was fast and shallow as he watched the blond's surprised expression, and finally something clicked back into place inside the Uchiha's head. He blinked weakly as if he was waking up from a sleep and shook his head, a deep-set frown forming on his clammy face.
Naruto's gaze faltered, before taking a deep, uneasy breath and looking around on the floor. His stomach seemed to shrink inside him as he saw the scattered things lying twisted or broken among the dust. He never remembered seeing the Uchiha's house inside before, but he knew that the mess was definitely a new addition. For a start, he'd been standing on the doorstep when the crashing and shattering had begun. Naruto looked back up at the point of the katana in front of him, his face sliding from fear, to pity, to anger all in a fraction of a second. For once he was sure he understood what Sasuke had been in the middle of doing.
"Leave." The Uchiha croaked dryly, his voice barely even recognisable as his own as it echoed in his head. He turned his back on Naruto and sheathed the Katana, trying to regain some sort of control of his emotions. Yes, it was a shock to be here, to face all the things he'd put behind him, but if possible, to Sasuke it was even more of a shock to realise that he had enough emotion left in him to panic. A tug of bitterness pulled at him through the confusion. Hadn't he trained himself to forget these stupid feelings while he'd been away?
"Why? It looks like you're planning on doing enough leaving for the both of us."
There was a silence as Sasuke paused in what he was doing; Hesitated. Then the Uchiha simply bent down and picked up the rucksack that lay at his feet, slinging it over one shoulder and tying the Katana to his waistband. Naruto's heart jolted at the ignorance this bastard was capable of, but that was nowhere near enough for Naruto to give up. He'd given up on Sasuke once, and he wouldn't do it again. Eyes narrowing into fierce slits, the blond slid slowly into a fighting stance. Sasuke turned slowly back towards the door, blank eyes levelled on the angry Uzumaki that stood between him and freedom. His eyes travelled over Naruto's face for a moment and then he frowned. He couldn't let Naruto get in the way this time.
"I said get out."
"I'm not letting you leave."
Sasuke's tired eyes glittered at the blond's stubbornness. Damn Naruto for always complicating everything! He placed a still shaking hand on the hilt of the katana threateningly; something Naruto didn't fail to notice, but even though his heart thudded harder in his ears and his breathing hitched, he didn't budge an inch.
"...If you don't get out of my way-"
"You think I waited four years just to stand by and watch you walk away again?" He growled furiously into the dusty air, cutting Sasuke off mid-threat. He lowered himself into even more of a fighting stance. "I'm stronger now! I trained harder than ever when you left, and I looked for you." Naruto's tone changed suddenly on the last few syllables, and he felt heat rising to his cheeks as he realised his voice had cracked and become almost affectionate. Sasuke frowned harder than ever, trying to keep his emotions at bay as Naruto screwed his face up for a second. "And... if you think I wont break every bone in your body to stop you leaving, then iYou're/i the idiot, not me!"
Sasuke's jaw clamped, and not at the insult either. He stared at Naruto blankly, bloodshot eyes taking in all the aspects to this new, grown-up Naruto that stood before him, no doubt as serious about his words as he seemed. Sasuke felt the pack of snakes in his stomach spring back into life, and he snorted shakily to cover it, though yet again for some inexplicable reason, he felt his hand let go of the katana without thinking about it. Sasuke winced and turned to the window, a bitter look on his face at the thought that yet again, Naruto had beaten him back without even landing a blow. More than anything, Sasuke wanted revenge, but coming in a close second was Naruto, and the moron had a power over him that even four years of systematically shutting down his emotions could barely touch. He sighed and frowned out the window, no longer interested in fighting.
Uchiha Sasuke was stuck in Konoha, and he'd known it deep down, all along. It had made him panic, and If it weren't for Naruto's sudden appearance, Sasuke would probably be dead, running from the house by now, and Sasuke couldn't afford to die. Not yet. He took a calming breath, composing himself once more. He wasn't going to let himself fall apart anymore when there was still work to do.
Naruto was confused, disturbed more than anything by what he'd seen of Sasuke's behaviour so far, but he took care not to show it.
In the past, when they were younger, Sasuke would have quickly taken Naruto up on the challenge, but this morning the blond had looked on someone different, and right now, too. Sasuke had left Konoha grim, twisted, but still full of life, of determination. The one Naruto saw before him seemed to have withered slightly. He was certainly thinner, paler. The clothes he wore were a little too big for him, though Naruto got the impression that they had been made to fit him perfectly, once upon a time. For the first time since Sasuke had come back, the blond turned his thoughts to just what Sasuke had experienced since he'd left that day, but what it was, Naruto could hardly even begin to imagine.
Sasuke let out a slow breath, something that Naruto knew too well was through tiredness. The raven was exhausted, way too tired to put up even half a good fight, and something in his body language told him that the Uchiha didn't even have the strength to run, even if he'd wanted to.
"...You should be in bed." Naruto muttered more calmly.
"I don't need nursing like a baby." Came the snappy reply. Naruto nearly smiled - even after all this time, that bastard could be so stubborn.
"Well, at least that proves there's a part of you still left in there." He said, trying to ease the atmosphere. To his surprise, Sasuke's lip even twitched a little. Naruto's presence was oddly soothing to the Uchiha. It made him feel more like himself than he had in years.
"Hn, You're still a dobe." He mumbled, lips still formed in a vague, tired smile. "You haven't changed at all."
"...I've gotten lonelier."
Naruto bit his lip as the words slipped out, realising what he'd said only after he'd said it, but it was too late to stop himself. He blinked and frowned as his vision suddenly blurred, eyes stinging as he dug his hands into his pockets. Dammit! Why did he have to start crying now? He watched as Sasuke's face faded into a frown again, and suddenly Naruto felt as though he was about to burst. All those years of searching, all these months that he'd lost hope, and now here Sasuke was, standing here almost as though nothing had happened! He clenched his fists again, but one look at the deep bruising on the Uchiha's face made him think twice about pummelling him. Instead, everything that Naruto had been keeping inside finally exploded.
"Dammit, bastard, you were the only real friend I had! You're the closest thing to... to family that I've ever known. Didn't you even think about what would happen to me when you left? Didn't you even wonder?!" Naruto gasped desperately. Sasuke forced himself not to wince.
"The only thing I thought about for four years was finding you, making you come back! And the whole time you were off playing with that snake-bastard, probably laughing about it. I tried so hard to convince Tsunade to let me go and rescue you! I promised Sakura, but for all I knew Orochimaru was already... already..."
Sasuke had given up trying to talk back. Instead he just stayed silent and looked over his shoulder, calmly watching Naruto's face as the blond got more and more worked up, though inwardly hating every second of it. Sasuke blinked in surprise: It might just have been him, but he could have sworn Naruto had tears in his eyes.
"What you did to me - us was unforgivable, you selfish, miserable..."
Naruto finally bit his lip again, calming himself down. Now wasn't the time to dig into Sasuke: that would be when he was fully healed, and Naruto could hospitalise him all over again.
Still, the outburst caused one effect that Naruto hadn't planned on: Sasuke turned, dropping the rucksack back to the floor as he stared quizzically at Naruto, dark eyes boring into the blond just as they had across Tsunade's office not 6 hours before.
"...Why did you even care?" To Naruto's surprise, there was a tone of astonishment underneath Sasuke's cold, even words. The Uzumaki felt his ears begin to grow hot in embarrassment but he forced himself to look back at Sasuke and gritted his teeth determinedly as he spoke.
"Because I care about you, you bastard." He growled, eyes narrowed at the Uchiha's face. Suddenly the blond realised that a tear had sneaked out and was trickling down his cheek as he spoke. His eyes widened in shock, and the blond cursed under his breath as he turned and ran from the room. He'd screwed up his courage to come and see Sasuke, but it still wasn't enough, he still wasn't ready. Soon he was out the front door, leaving the Uchiha compound in that all too familiar silence.
Sasuke's expression remained unreadable as he listened to Naruto's footsteps echo away into nothing, but inside the raven's heart was doing strange spazms. It was too much to hope that Naruto felt the way Sasuke did after all this time, but something in Naruto's face made it seem as though he meant more than he said he meant.