Hello and welcome to the second part of The Jutsu of Love. If you did read my first story The Jutsu of Love then you know I like changing the facts and adding a few OCs just to make things more interesting. So be prepared for some surprises and yes there will be drama as well. I hope you'll like this story as much as you did the last.

Okay, on with the show!

Missing Naruto

Hinata reached over and shut off the alarm. It was five am. She lay in bed a few more moments hugging the stuffed fox Naruto had won for her. "Good morning Naruto, I love you." She squeezed the fox once more then set it aside and got out of their bed. The fox was really adorable and she felt closer to Naruto when she held the stuffed animal but it was a poor substitute for Naruto's warmth and his strong arms. Hinata missed her fiancée.

Padding over to the stove, Hinata cut it on to heat the water in the tea pot then went to the bathroom to shower. She turned on the water to let it warm up then undressed. In moments she was enjoying a hot shower. A pang went through her as she wondered if Naruto would be having a hot shower wherever he was. I know you're strong and can take care of yourself but I still worry about you Naruto. She pushed her worries to the back of her mind and finished showering.

A towel around her breasts, Hinata brushed her teeth then smoothed her body with cream to prevent dry skin. Skin now protected from the winter wind, she dried and brushed out her hair. It had grown longer and she debated cutting it or at least trimming it. It hung almost to her waist now. "I'll wait for you Naruto. Maybe you'll like it long." She smiled at herself then left the bathroom to get dressed.

Being alone like this was new. Even when she spent a lot of time by herself back at the estate, there was always someone around. At odd times, she would find herself talking to herself out loud. It embarrassed her at first but she'd gotten used to it, that and being without her man.

Over her underwear, Hinata put on a warm lavender shirt, long black pants and ankle high boots. She left off the coat until it was time to leave and went to make her breakfast. In silence she ate and drank her tea all the while looking at a picture of her and Naruto kissing while rolling about the skating rink. Seeing it was getting close to six, Hinata finished eating, made the bed and donned her gray and lavender coat. "Bye baby." She waved at the stuffed fox then hurried to go meet her team. Be safe Naruto wherever you are.

The village had changed with the seasons as it was supposed to. Right after Naruto left, they'd been hit with a cold snap. Anything left green had died instantly. It was like Konoha and the Land of Fire knew he was gone and this was its protest. For weeks they'd shivered during the day and huddled under the covers at night. There had been rain storms with strong winds. The wind had been so bad at times that many roofs had been torn off and several businesses had been ruined. One weekend there had even been a couple feet of snow and it had been way too early for snow. That first month of Naruto's absence had been miserable and it was remarked upon by many even those who still hated him.

Now things were back to normal or how a winter in the village should be. There was still some bad weather but mostly they had a mild winter season. Konoha had resigned itself to not having Naruto as had she but it had taken her that same cold, nasty month to do so.

Hinata had surprised herself. Except for watching him leave, she hadn't shed a single tear. Naruto hadn't left her for good; he hadn't necessarily wanted to leave at all. Naruto left because he believed he had to. This training was for her and his parents and his brothers and sister – for all of Konoha.

But just because she didn't cry didn't mean she didn't miss him with every breath she took. Hinata missed the little things like holding his hand or his hand on the small of her back when they were standing close to each other. She missed him calling her sweetheart and his beautiful blue eyes looking at her with love. Sometimes it hurt to miss him so much but she didn't let her it hold her back and she certainly never let herself cry. Hinata swore to stay strong and she would keep her word, that was their nindo after all.

Her breath was visible on the cold air as she hurried down the street. There were a few others up and about this time of morning and she smiled or nodded to them. Perfect strangers had sent her sympathetic looks right after Naruto left and her friends had been no exception. Hinata grinned as she remembered that first week. They had hovered around her worried that she would fall apart and miss Naruto so terribly that she wouldn't even be able to function. Before he left, Hinata had worried about that too.

That moment when he'd told her no and pushed her away Hinata thought her heart would break but then as she watched him disappear, his body naked to her eyes, she glanced at his face. For a moment she'd hated herself – disgusted by her weakness. Naruto's face was tortured. She would be at home surrounded with family and friends while he was going off with only Jiraiya for company. All that he'd gained in the last months had to be put aside and forgotten. Naruto would miss all the good and the bad that happened in their lives and while they would write to each other, it wasn't the same as him being there to sharing each moment with them.

Hinata had watched him go and made a silent promise to him and herself. She would train like never before and come up with a true jutsu of her own, maybe more than one. She would spend time with everyone who loved him so that when he returned she could share every laugh, smile and tear with him. And she would be happy. Hinata knew Naruto would suffer if he learned that she had fallen into a depression because he wasn't there so she did not cry, not another tear.

That same day when she'd sparred with her father, Hinata knew she'd surprised him. It had lasted for two hours. She believed her father had planned to wear her down and maybe give her a reason to drop into an exhausted heap and forget the pain of being alone. Instead she challenged him to beat her and using her feelings of loss to push herself, the fight ended in a draw.

"Poor Father." Hinata chuckled. Lord Hiashi had been focusing a lot more on his own training lately in order to keep up with all three of his children. He was even learning the new moves she'd come up with and that filled her with pride. Hanabi was already quite proficient at it too though neither was as good as she was at it. Hinata beamed with satisfaction and it showed in her face as people passed her in the street.

Hinata couldn't wait for Naruto to see how strong she'd become and not only in her ninja skills but socially. The shy girl she'd been was now only a memory. Not that she'd purposely tried to lose that persona but that everyone else had rid her of it. Because she was Naruto's other half, everyone gravitated to her when they needed his brand of humor or just needed to touch base with him. Hinata found she could joke like him sometimes and her smile became his of a twin of his. Now she understood why he liked to joke around so much. It felt really good to be the center of attention when everyone was happy and laughing with you.

The academy came into view and Hinata saw her teammates had already gathered. They would get in two hours of training before they started work at the school. She tried not to laugh at the thought of them sweeping floors and cleaning bathrooms but often did, when they weren't looking of course. Because of their punishments, she'd had time to develop her new skills almost to perfection.

"Hey Dad!" She was closer to him than ever, each being there for the other when they missed Naruto too much. Hinata waved to Iruka as he showed up early to go over his lesson plans for the day. "You guys ready?" She laughed with delight as Akamaru woofed at her then jumped up to lick her face.

The Fifth Hokage, Lady Tsunade sighed. It had been three months since Naruto had left the village and if she hadn't made a commitment to be the leader of the Hidden Leaf, she would either be with her son or out gambling to fill her lonely moments. She stamped another paper the sound echoing from her desk through the floor and making those underneath her office jump.

"I've been cheated." Stamp. "Iruka's gotten to watch him grow." Stamp. "Jiraiya's had time alone with him before too." Stamp. "His friends have known him most of his life." Stamp. "Teuchi got his first smile." Stamp. "He's mine now – when will I get some time with him!" STAMP. The building shook.

"Shizune!" Tsunade threw the stamp at the door and Shizune caught it before it could smack her in the head. Tonton trotted in with the Jonin and Tsunade managed a smile for her pet. "I'm taking Tonton out for a walk." When Shizune opened her mouth, Tsunade yanked out her tongue and threw it out the window or at least that what her look said she would do if Shizune tried to stop her. "I only want the most important paperwork on my desk when I come back. If I have to do it – make it something important. I'll be back when I get back." Tsunade wrapped a scarf around her neck and put on her long Hokage cloak and with Tonton at her heels, left the office.

"Yes ma'am." Shizune sighed going to the desk. She looked out at the weak winter sun. "You're late Naruto. Send Talon on with your next letter." It had been two weeks since Talon had returned to Naruto which wasn't a great deal of time but anything over a week and Lady Tsunade became anxious and took it out on anyone near her. Which normally means me! Shizune dropped down into a vacant chair.

Tsunade breathed deep of the frigid air. As always she wondered where Naruto was and if he was better off or worse wherever he was when it came to the weather. He wrote but often he didn't know where they were or didn't think it important enough to mention where. She'd expected lots pictures from him but barring that first month – he quit sending them saying he had too much to do than pose for pictures. Of course she written back threatening both of them if they didn't take pictures but what could she do when they weren't there for her to hit?

At first she headed for the academy intending on talking to Iruka but that would mean taking him from his students and that wasn't fair to the kids. Tsunade thought of going to see Lord Hyuga but knew that he spent the mornings training when his children were busy with their teams, school and work. It made her smile to think of him doing all he could to keep up with Neji, Hinata and Hanabi. Anyway that was out. In the end she went there, his apartment – no their apartment.

The minute she opened the door, a rush of love came over her for Naruto. Closing the door behind them, Tsunade smelled Hinata's scent and saw her small additions to the apartment. There were curtains instead of shades at the windows and the girl's clothes hung next to his in the small closet. There were flowers on the kitchen table. On the bed were a pure white quilt and lots of plush purple pillows with a stuffed fox sitting in the middle of them watching her curiously. "Hey Naruto." Her lips quirked.

Tsunade sat at the table and just soaked in the atmosphere of her son. "I probably shouldn't be here without asking. It's not just his apartment anymore is it Tonton? But Hinata's such a sweetheart I don't think she'll mind. At least I have her. Hinata is already like my daughter." A tear formed in her eye. "I think I've spent more time with her than the son I adopted." It was unreasonable how much she missed him.

Tonton whined rubbed against Tsunade's leg. "I'm pitiful, I know but I can't help it. I miss my son." She sighed and wiped away the stray tear. Tsunade sat for over an hour holding one of his shirts because it smelled of him. Finally she rose, hugged the stuffed fox and left the apartment. "I need a drink." Tsunade sighed then set off a brisk pace for one of her favorite drinking holes. The paperwork could wait another hour or so.

Iruka went to the roof on his lunch break. It was silly for it was too chilly to be outside. He knew this yet here he was. Of course he was looking for Talon but depending on how far Naruto and Jiraiya had traveled, it could take a week or more for Talon to reach them. Also in general, Talon rarely came to him or Tsunade. The hawk had been trained by Kakashi and Takeshi and usually returned to one of them, mostly to Takeshi since the hawk sought out the phoenix's chakra. He assumed that since they were both birds, that Talon preferred the phoenix to anyone else besides Naruto.

He smiled thinking of those last weeks with his son. Talon had rarely strayed from Naruto's shoulder and Naruto was an indulgent father. He stroked Talon constantly, fed him treats and even hunted with the hawk sometimes. Naruto even talked to him and included the hawk in conversations asking the bird what he thought. It was so cute. Iruka wondered why he'd never thought to get Naruto a pet before. Unlike most pets, hawks could take care of themselves so whenever Naruto was on a mission, Talon could fend for himself. Still he and Tsunade were able to see the type of parent he would be when their son was with Talon.

The sushi he'd brought for lunch was quickly eaten and of course he wondered what Naruto was eating. Iruka missed him but worried about him more than anything. There was so much that could go wrong. Naruto could fail to control the fox's chakra and hurt either himself or someone else or God forbid, he could be attacked yet again. Still he had it better than Tsunade; she worried and missed him terribly. He'd already decided to have a talk with Naruto when he got home. Mother and son needed more time together. He'd work it out somehow with Hinata and Shizune for the two of them to have some real time together and it would benefit Naruto in the long run. He would learn what it takes to be a good leader from her as well as enhance the mother/child relationship.

"What are you doing today son? Don't overdo it and be sure to go to bed early and get some rest. That last letter, your hand writing was kinda shaky. Train hard but take care of yourself too." Iruka told the cloudless empty sky. "I love you boy." Sighing he turned and headed back to his class, lunch was over.

Teuchi wiped the counter and looked out at all the people walking by. Business was slow today. He got to Naruto's favorite seat and wondered how the boy was doing. It had surprised him when he too had gotten a letter. It had been short, just a hi, how're you doing really and telling him how much he missed Ichiraku ramen. He hadn't minded, was in fact pleased that Naruto had reached out to him. When Naruto had revealed his attempted suicide, Teuchi had died a little inside. It was then that he realized how much he thought of Naruto as family. That sad baby who broke his heart then healed it with his huge happy laugh. "You train hard and come on home Naruto. I'll fill you up until you can't move!" He said as he looked up at the mountains into which Naruto had disappeared.

Ayame heard her father and went to his side. She kissed his cheek. "He will and you may not want to make that promise." She grinned. "Naruto can eat up to twenty bowls you know!" The two shared a laugh then looked up.

"Aww, that's nothing! I can eat twice as much!" Choji bragged as the flaps parted and he followed by Shikamaru, Sakura and Lee entered. "How about a large bowl of pork ramen to start?" His smile greeted father and daughter.

"Coming right up! What about the rest of you?" Teuchi got to work making the noodles and Ayame gave them tea then helped her father prepare the food.

"So how are things? You all have changed so much in three months." The proprietor said looking over the teenagers. They no longer looked like little kids but young adults – taller, stronger and more mature.

Choji's hair was growing out and he'd started wearing a red outfit with gray body armor. Shikamaru now wore the more traditional Chunin uniform. Lee of course was still in green spandex but had added the Chunin vest to his wardrobe. Sakura wore dark leggings, in difference to the cold and a white, wrap-around skirt with long slits on the sides and her red top also with added sleeves beneath a red cloak. They were much more than they used to be.

"Okay. We're on lunch from the academy. Just another three months of this then we're back on regular duty…and Naruto will be home." Sakura looked down into the bowl picturing Naruto's smiling face.

"Yes! I will be anxious to spar with Naruto to see how much he's learned!" Lee said one fist in the air. "It will be a GREAT BATTLE!" Lee laughed in delight, he couldn't wait.

"Yeah, I'm sure Naruto will be excited too." Shikamaru said sarcastically making the others laugh. Oblivious Lee said of course Naruto would love to fight him.

"Yeah it will be good to get back to regular training and missions. Classed bore me as much as they ever did." Shikamaru said in the pause of laughter. "And Naruto wasn't around to keep things interesting this time."

Sakura smiled fondly. "That he did but Shikamaru, you were supposed to be grading papers and cleaning – not attending classes!"

"It wasn't like I was trying to go to classes but the grading didn't take long and I didn't want to interrupt the sensei so I sat there listening and fell asleep!" He said in defense not noticing their wide-eyed stares.

"Whatever!" Sakura sighed and finished her ramen. "I can't wait to see him though. Naruto's grown so much and being gone doing more training, will probably change him some more. He just might leave me behind." Sakura said her head down. She gave Lee a soft smile when he patted her back.

"Not Naruto. He may get stronger but he doesn't leave his friends behind. I do worry about him though." Shikamaru said quietly his mind speeding through many scenarios good and bad.

"He told you not to. You're going become an old man worrying all the time!" Choji said coming up from his fourth bowl. "I'm pretty sure Temari won't like it if you turn into an old man!" He laughed then coughed when Shikamaru thumped him on the back.

"Oh that lovely Sand girl!" Ayame grinned coming to stand before him. "She's been here several times to see you hasn't she?" Her stance was mischievous.

"NO! She came on business – not to see me!" Shikamaru turned red.

"You should go visit and see her home. You may be living there one day!" Ayame shook her finger at him grinning and winking at everybody else as they laughed.

"Weren't we talking about Naruto?" The genius tried to change the subject.

"Oh I can't wait to tell Naruto! He'll be excited to know you and Temari have hooked up." Sakura teased.

"They have? When? Shikamaru – you beast! It's always the quiet ones you know?" Lee said and they all but Shikamaru fell over laughing.

Kakashi was up in the mountains. His team wouldn't be free until later so he was out mountain climbing. He'd already done two hours with his left arm and was working on his second hour with his right. A hard wind blew chilling his already cold fingers and Kakashi hugged the rock trying not to get blown away which just would have meant starting over again.

Sasuke and Takeshi were training like demons were after them and he had to laugh. Technically the phoenix wasn't a demon and Sasuke had his own personal demons chasing him but it was funny when he thought about it. Sasuke had gone back to brooding again without Naruto around. It seemed he took his big brother duties very seriously and without Naruto around to brother, the dark-eyed teen thought too much about his dark past.

Of course it wasn't just Sasuke and Takeshi doing more training. Kakashi had already known that he needed to train himself harder as well, not only to be a better ninja but to stay ahead of his Chunin! Finally he pulled himself up to the summit. The high altitude made him take several deep breaths creating warm fog on the cold wind. In the distance he could see the huge walls surrounding his home. Despite the cold, there were many people milling about and living their lives. Most of the time he thought little of other people, not overly interested in them or their lives. It was a fault of his he knew but lately he'd begun watching people and looking for something, someone like Naruto.

Naruto had always been an original character but his absence really drove that fact home. No one's smile quite matched his though Hinata's came in a close second lately. Kakashi even missed it when Naruto got quiet and introspective. That happened quite often too. Kakashi blamed it on the suicide attempt. Naruto still had joy within him but at times that old pain would resurface. He should know because it happened to him when he remembered all the friends he'd lost. Like Obito.

At odd times of the day he'd look up expecting to see Naruto scowling at him for being late or laughing ready to share a joke with him. That kid had come to mean a lot to him. Loud, annoying, stubborn, quick to anger, running into danger without thinking of the consequences – he looked so much like his former sensei but there was little else to compare them. Of course that soon changed even more so over the last year. Loyal to a fault, will defend the weak to the death, will fight for what's right and protect those that are important to him, that's the Naruto he'd come to know and see as someone able to follow in his father's footsteps.

Kakashi stretched his arms over his head working out the kinks as he debated the toughest route back down the mountain. He would run it at top speed and work some more on his stamina and endurance. Kakashi jumped.

Uzumaki Naruto. Your father was one of the finest men I ever knew. He wasn't a hard man but you could always tell when he meant business and although your smile is much larger than his, when he was happy you could always feel his joy. I'm so sorry you never got to know him. I think you would have brought him the biggest smiles ever. I wonder how much quicker you would have moved up through the ninja ranks if your father had been around to teach you and give you the love you always deserved.

He skidded on some loose rocks and lifted his arms to maintain his balance. After a few moments of trying to stay up right, Kakashi was off and running again. He jumped a boulder and never lost a step.

I'm worried. What will you say and do when you're told? I knew you were there but I was too busy. I was busy with the Anbu and trying to be the best. You were there and hurting and I let you. Yes I had missions but I could have asked to be on the detail that watched over you! Aww, dammit Naruto! Even when I got you as a Genin I didn't do as much for you as I could have. I thought, I thought I could have better success with Sasuke but that just hurt you and caused an almost irreparable wedge between you boys.

Kakashi made a point of going down through Fox/Phoenix Pass. It was what the ninjas had come to call it – the site where Naruto and Takeshi had fought. Of course there was a lot of open space since all the debris had been removed and the new tress had yet to even think of breaking through the hard, cold ground. He slowed and it was if he could still hear those long ago sonic booms and the feel the awesome power those two could produce.

It all sounds like crap to me too Naruto but I hope you'll believe me and forgive me. If you can forgive my ambition and my abandonment of you then maybe Minato-sensei will forgive me as well. Sometimes when I look up at his face, all I can see is disappointment. Come home and smile for me, laugh for me even if for a little while Naruto. I miss you my hyperactive, knucklehead ninja.

Kakashi made it to the river and ran across it on swift feet. As he approached the village, he could feel the Fourth's eyes watching his every move.

Kiba's last class finally let out. The embarrassment had long since faded after that first month. He smiled as he walked down the hall going to pick up his supplies so that he could wash the windows. Being back at the academy wasn't as bad as he thought it would be. Of course having Takeshi there had helped a lot but truthfully and he'd only admitted this to Akamaru, he was learning stuff he'd missed the first time around. All those times he and Naruto and Shikamaru and Choji had cut class was stuff they'd missed. Now there were things he had a better understanding of than before because he was actually in class to learn them.

He did laugh a little thinking that maybe Naruto should retake a few classes too especially since he'd had the lowest grades out of all of them but then changed his mind. Naruto had been through enough. I understand so much more now than I ever did - school stuff and Naruto. Damn Naruto, you and Sasuke even my own teammates really had it rough and I was so clueless! Kiba jerkily grabbed the bucket and rags then paused when Akamaru whined. "Sorry boy, I'll tell you later okay. Don't want to interrupt the other classes." He spoke softly. Just because he was done for the day, didn't mean everyone else was. "Let's go."

They went up to the roof where Akamaru found a patch of sun and lay down for a nap while Kiba used the pulley system to lower the platform so that he could start cleaning the windows. As he worked his thoughts of his friends resurfaced.

Sasuke's loss was always evident since it was so public and being kids none us knew what to say to him so we left him alone. I knew about Hinata's situation but still didn't do much to help her through it. And Shino, he always seemed so arrogant and standoffish but I never even thought about him being so reserved because he was trying not to freak out the villagers and other shinobi. I never gave a thought about what he might feel like because people avoided him. Naruto. Naruto, I can't decide who had it worse, you or Sasuke. To have a family then lose it or to never have had one? Both of you went through hell. But I always grudgingly admired Sasuke and thought you were a joke.

Kiba was grateful the classroom he was outside of was empty. He saw his sorry reflection in the glass. It was said that kids could be the cruelest people on earth and Kiba knew it to be true for he had been one of them. Growing older and experiencing several dangerous missions had changed him. He saw the world as it was and not just his personal play ground anymore. That was something most of them had learned long before now.

"I'm going to be a better man. I won't cause unnecessary suffering anymore. I'll try to understand the people around me more. Hinata and Shino and especially you Naruto, you'll have the best of friends in me that I can be. Come back strong Naruto and let me show you the new me." The glass in front of him now showed two faces, his and a smiling Naruto.

Shino scratched Akamaru's ears. He heard Kiba's vow and was pleased. The guy had always been a decent ninja and had improved these last two years but at getting along with people, he'd definitely been lacking in that. Because of Kiba's vow they would improve in teamwork but now they could truly be friends.

He looked up at the sun and wondered about Naruto. Shino supposed they all did now that he wasn't around. It was funny how he became the center of their world in many ways when before they practically ignored his existence. To see the change in that boy to the man he was now it seemed miraculous but it was more normal than most people thought.

If Naruto had gotten more attention as a child, he would have progressed as the rest of them had and that's what eventually happened. Naruto received his attention late but still it was enough to push him forward. Unlike Kiba, he hadn't put Naruto down so much as avoid him mimicking the adults instead of trying to understand the outcast boy. It did bother him to realize that they could have been friends long ago had he known of Naruto's plight – the fox in him. They were so similar it was uncanny. Accepting Naruto after he'd found out had been easy. Maybe not as easy as Shikamaru, still it hadn't taken him long to see Naruto as he truly was, the Nine-Tailed Fox was just a part of him, nothing more nothing less.

Shino smiled widely to think that he now had friends outside of his family. People he could share his thoughts with and know they'd listen. He wanted to walk down Konoha's streets with Naruto and Kiba at his side and let all of the people of the Hidden Leaf know they were his friends. They'd shared so much over this year. There was a closeness to their group that had never existed before. Shino vowed to cherish them as he did his insects. If you cared for your friends then the feelings would be returned.

"How do you like that Naruto? It was you who taught us our greatest lesson. You suffered yet you endured and cared for us anyway, it's the least we can do to show you what you accomplished without even meaning to when you return home. I'll be watching for you my friend." The sun seemed to twinkle down at him. Shino patted Akamaru then went to edge of the roof. "Want some help?" He asked Kiba and the two smiled at each other.

Takeshi practiced with his sword. He slashed downwards, turned his body and brought the phoenix sword back up at angle. He was fighting an invisible enemy, his old teacher. Takeshi had learned the way of the sword well but had never been able to beat his master. He knew it was up to him to perfect his skills, to come up with a style all his own to one day surpass the man in his mind. But that wasn't the only reason he practiced so hard, Takeshi wanted to pass on his skills to his new brother Naruto.

It was a word only three people used - himself, Hinata and Naruto. He had no legal claim on Naruto unlike Iruka and Lady Tsunade. He didn't even have a past with him like Sakura and Sasuke. In fact many could say that the only connection he and Naruto had were the spirits within them. It was how it all started, Takeshi couldn't deny that. That was their foundation but he liked to think the relationship had grown into true brotherhood.

He thrust the sword into the cold ground and dropped to one knee. Two hours of sword practice completed. Sweat chilled his body and Takeshi reached for his cloak to cover himself. He rarely if ever got sick because of his lady but he still felt the winter wind.

"Brother." Not having grown up with siblings, it was strange to think of having one now. Not only that but a teenager, someone younger and more powerful. Takeshi smiled at that. Naruto did indeed have more power, he had the most power out of all the Bijuu. Of course he still didn't have full control of that power. "My little brother. Family." It was a concept he hadn't thought much about since his grandparents' deaths. Phoenix was his family now. She was mother and best friend, the one who cared most for him. Her feelings were never hidden from him, he could feel her love as he felt the wind against his skin.

There had been women who'd captured his attention in the past and he'd dated some but none meant to him what the phoenix did. But now, a pair of blue eyes and a wild laugh had come to rest in his heart along with phoenix's song. Naruto was a complicated guy but when it came down to the people he liked and cared for, his feelings were simple.

Takeshi got up and sheathed his sword. Automatically his eyes scanned the sky for Talon. "Yeah I know but I can't help but look for him." Phoenix had just told him that she would feel Talon long before Takeshi saw him. "It will be four months in a week. I imagine him working twice as hard as all the rest of us even though we're training from before dawn till after the sun sets. Naruto makes me feel as if I'm standing still even though I know I've come a long way. Those lessons I learned long ago from my father's friend stayed with me. In many ways, I'm the baby brother and he's the elder!" Takeshi laughed. "He's even about to be married!" He was going home for lunch. There was a thought to go by Ichiraku's but Takeshi decided to go some other time.

Konoha was a great village. He could see why Naruto chose to stay despite his past. None of the villagers knew about the phoenix but he assumed all of the ninja knew. Some days it was hard simply walking through the village and listening to the tripe falling from the lips of the ignorant. Takeshi found himself wanting to lash out and slice their tongues from their mouths. Naruto was not a demon. Any fool could see that! Once phoenix had nearly busted his ear drums when he'd grabbed one really foul-mouthed man and nearly tore his arm out its socket. Then there were the ninja. He got the impression that many used to think the same as the villagers but there was a change happening.

They were wary of his power of course but where there may have been fear before, now there was curiosity. It was weird coming in so late in Naruto's life and learning how people felt about him. He knew his brother trusted the ninja of this village to keep his home safe but except for a chosen few, Naruto believed most of them wouldn't lift a finger to keep him safe and yet he stayed. "Ah Naruto, I can't blame you for your doubts but it isn't as bad as you think. They ask me about you. Yeah sometimes it seems like an interrogation but at the same time they ask questions about your strength and loyalty, I watch them look up at Hokage Mountain. It's like your image has already been carved there and their questions then seem hopeful." His own golden eyes looked up at the four faces. Once the warm weather returned, work on carving the Fifth Hokage's face would begin.

Takeshi went up the stairs to his apartment. He paused by Naruto's door and laid a hand on it. The urge to knock and have Naruto open the door smiling at him was overwhelming. "Man, I'm like a love sick boyfriend." He laughed at himself. Takeshi went to his own place. "Or I'm a guy who just misses his family. Things were much simpler when it was just you and me my lady. No, of course I wouldn't change a thing. This will just take some getting used to. Besides, if I'm feeling this lost with Naruto gone, I can't imagine what his parents, Hinata and Sasuke are going through." Takeshi washed up and began to fix himself lunch.

"Sasuke. We get along alright but he's kinda closed himself off from us, well except for Hinata. She won't let him get away with it." As he sat down to eat, he glanced at one of the many pictures that adorned his walls. The group of them were on the basketball court. It was another of their too-wild-games-to-be-called. For each of them, there was a Naruto guarding them. The girls watched from the sidelines while Iruka, Kakashi and Lady Tsunade laughingly tried to referee. "It's not as much fun without you Naruto. Its home but we're missing the one who makes it worthwhile. See you in two months little brother." Takeshi stared at the picture a moment longer – a Naruto for each of them.

The sun was setting and ending the day early. They hadn't had a mission in over two weeks. His life was early morning training, work at the academy then more training. Sometimes they all got together for lunch or Hinata had him over for dinner. Occasionally Iruka-sensei would invite him over and a few times he'd been invited to spend some time with Lady Tsunade. Those moments were bittersweet. They missed their son and they could see he missed Naruto too. The attention was great but at the same time, Sasuke wondered how Naruto would feel if he knew that in a small way, he was taking Naruto's place.

In the short letters they exchanged, Sasuke never told him about those times with his parents. They didn't say much at all really just enough to let the other know they were thinking of each other. Of course the longest scrolls were for Hinata then his parents. Sasuke usually got one and Sakura and Takeshi. The other Chunins would sometimes get a group letter then assorted notes for Kakashi, Teuchi, Ayame even Ibiki and Genma.

Sasuke entered his apartment but didn't turn on any lights. The curtains were still open but the light they let in was dim and though he could still see out, soon all he would be able to see was his reflection. He looked around remembering Naruto here in his home. He'd said it was big and it was. Sasuke had been given this place soon…after. It was a lot of space for one person. It was more of a place for a couple like Naruto and Hinata than a lonely boy with no family.

He sank down onto the couch and let his head fall onto the back of it. Naruto slept here that one time. It should have freaked me out to have Naruto here but except for a quick twinge, it was all too natural for my best friend sleep here. Best friend – brother. Itachi. Dammit! No sooner than he leaves than you come back to me! Sasuke got up quickly and turned on the lights. Itachi's Mangekyo Sharingan eyes disappeared. Those damn eyes had been haunting him ever since Naruto had left.

All those hurts and pains and the feelings of weakness had come back to him. That and the need to get revenge. Sasuke went to take a hot shower. There images flashed inside his mind. Itachi staring at him, his face blank face and Naruto smiling and laughing at him. Itachi with blood on his hands and those eyes of his stalking him. Naruto's eyes bugged out and yelling at the top of his voice telling him he was going to knock him into the next country. So very different were his brothers. One wouldn't or couldn't show emotion and the other always showing and abundance of emotion. There was no doubt which one he wanted to share his life with. Naruto could make him forget all his troubles and show him how to have fun. Also being Naruto's big brother made him responsible for him. It was his job to keep his younger brother safe – safe from his older brother.

Sasuke closed his eyes and let the water pour down over him. The irony was too much. Killing Itachi would satisfy his need to avenge the death of his entire clan but it would also protect Naruto from whatever scheme his brother and the Akatsuki had planned. Two brothers, one by blood and one by choice. Both were necessary for his happiness. One had to die and the other had to live for him to have any kind of normal life. "What if…what if we were never shinobi? If our family had just been that, a regular family. Would you have turned on your blood Itachi? Would you have spent time with me because you wanted to? Would you have had a freaking heart inside your body?" He yelled and punched the wall.

Sasuke took a shuddering breath and turned off the water. He got out and hastily dried off his body. He put on a pair of loose pants and wandered into the kitchen. Mechanically he fixed a light supper of fish, vegetables and rice. Unable to stand the silence and the imaginary eyes of Itachi, Sasuke turned on the TV to some mindless sitcom. Of course the laugh track brought to mind his missing blond brother. It was nothing like Naruto's inhibited laughter but it eased the ache in his chest.

"Two more months." Sasuke stabbed a pepper then put it in his mouth. Hinata and Takeshi entered his thoughts. He hadn't been so self-involved that he wasn't aware that they were all in the same boat. Hinata had been surprisingly strong offering her love and support to Iruka and Lady Tsunade, easily stepping in for Naruto. She'd also kept her promise to Naruto by helping him and Takeshi to get along. She would spar with the two of them and make them hurt if they didn't take it seriously.

Sasuke laughed remembering when Neji had paralyzed Naruto that one time. Well, little Hinata didn't settle for just numbing their muscles but shocking the shit out of them! He grinned. She's really changed. I've never been so close to a girl before and I never would have thought the first girl I would like to spend time with would have been the ultra-shy Hinata! I could probably fall for her. Sasuke stopped fork in the air. It was true, he was attracted to Hinata! His hand slowly dropped to the table and he looked at a picture of the three of them.

Naruto was behind and just to the side of Hinata talking and smiling. Hinata was turned into him trying to cover his mouth while he stood on Hinata's other side, one hand on her shoulder the other smacking the back of Naruto's head. He stared at the woman Hinata had become and definitely liked what he saw. Wide lavender eyes, long silky hair and a beautiful smile. "I could, I fall for my brother's girl but I could never make her smile like that." Sasuke said wistfully. Hinata's wide beautiful smile could never be his and rightly so. He chuckled and shook his head. When he finally decided he liked a woman, she was already taken plus the fact Hinata had never been one of his fans! "You picked the right guy Hinata. You and Naruto were meant for each other. I've never seen anything so right." Sasuke stared at the picture as he finished his dinner.

Later with just his bedside lamp on, Sasuke pulled out a photo album. He'd salvaged it from his old home long ago. There weren't many pictures of a happy family but there were at least pictures. Pictures of his father and uncles on the Konoha police force. Several pictures of Itachi for each of his accomplishments which were many. Some of his mother and father before he and Itachi but fewer after Itachi were born. More of him and his mother after he was first born but those slacked off and there weren't half as many of him as there had been of Itachi growing up. Smiles were definitely lacking after Itachi's acceptance into the Anbu.

Sasuke closed the album with finality. It was depressing. He'd wanted something special of him and his family. He wanted to know, no he needed to believe there had once been happiness there but he just couldn't seem to find it. Again his eyes found a picture of him and Naruto. "It was annoying but now I see why." Sasuke meant Iruka-sensei and his camera. As much as looking at the old pictures bothered him, he at least had them but Naruto didn't have any of himself growing up. In comparison to his own pictures, Sasuke much preferred these new ones.

"I smile. I want to smile because I'm happy. He and his new family and our friends give me reason to smile." Sasuke spoke to the quiet apartment. He folded his arms behind his back and noticed just how many pictures he had of everyone. Most of them had Naruto in the pictures but every one of their friends were there too. He couldn't remember putting them up. Whenever Iruka or Lady Tsunade were passing out copies, Sasuke knew he took one but just when had he taken the time to buy frames and hang them all? He blinked in surprise as he realized that one whole wall was almost covered with pictures. "Hinata? Did you…do this?" He queered.

It was something she would do. He'd found her in his place sometimes. She'd cook for him or show up in the morning before he left the bathroom. One morning she'd gotten an eyeful. Sasuke blushed. He now looked out before leaving the bathroom in the morning and again he wondered how they'd gotten so comfortable with each other to do these things and as always the answer came back to Naruto.

"You have a demon within you. You endured your own personal hell but you're happy. Whether you just made up your mind to be that way or forced yourself, its true isn't Naruto? You accept the pain, you don't deny it but you don't let it be the only thing you feel. Because you can laugh and smile, Hinata can and…I can." And therefore, Hinata and I can be friends and Takeshi too.

Sasuke hadn't forgotten about the man. A few times he wished he could but that was just jealousy. It wasn't true; Naruto didn't prefer one of them over the other. Naruto shared himself with both of them, just in different ways. They shared having a whole other being within themselves, something he could never know about while he and Naruto shared growing up alone here in Konoha and a need to succeed. Rivals but friends. Naruto would be upset if he knew we weren't getting along all because I can't let go of the past.

He got out of bed for a glass of water. As he walked back to the bed, he looked at his pictures yet again. Just seeing that idiot's smile and his own lifted some of the fog that had come over him in Naruto's absence. "Two more months till you're back again. Okay Naruto, I'll hang out with Takeshi more and I'll try not to brood so much but you'd better get your ass back here on time! Iruka, Lady Tsunade, Hinata, hell even Kakashi all miss you! I miss you. I may do something really stupid and go after Itachi if you're not here to stop me." Sasuke clenched his glass as he stared at the two of them, Naruto on his shoulders as they played some crazy game. In his head he could hear Itachi's voice that the way to get stronger was to kill the one closest to him.

"NEVER!" Sasuke yelled. "And you won't kill him either you bastard!" The glass cracked and shattered into pieces. "I have a true brother now…and family. You will not destroy this one! I vow this on my life! Naruto's dreams will come true and maybe…maybe I will finally be able to have dreams of my own that don't include blood and death." Those last words whooshed out of him and Sasuke sighed.

Carefully he picked up all the glass and cleaned the floor. Finally he crawled back in bed to sleep. Tomorrow he would spend some time with Takeshi and Hinata, especially Hinata. Being with her was the best way to feel close to his absent brother. Then later he would talk to Kakashi and see about intensifying his training. Sasuke pulled the covers up over his head. He would go to one more place tomorrow – the abandoned Uchiha district. As the thought horrified him, he knew answers could be found there, at least he hoped so and if nothing else he could possibly put the past behind him forever.

He dropped into a dreamless sleep. Sasuke's mind thankfully gave him a break from all the 'what ifs' and mixed feelings of his brothers. In truth, it was because was because he believed in Naruto was relying on him to come home and stand by his side that Sasuke was able to rest.

As it turned out, Hinata would not get her spring wedding. By the time the sixth month of Naruto's training was over so was spring. Summer was starting slowly. The heat had not yet made an appearance so everything was still quite nice. The grass was green; all the trees had all their shiny leaves blowing in warm breezes. On the mountain, tiny shoots had begun to sprout reaching for the bright sun. Villagers and shinobi alike found many reasons to spend time outside and enjoy the great weather. Most of all there was a sense of anticipation in the air as a large group of people kept watching the skies for a hawk or the main road for a white-haired man and a blond-haired teen.

The new parents were on alert. A knock on a door, a footstep just out of sight had them looking up ready to smile but disappointment ruled. One female often started her day at the gate and she checked every evening before going home to an empty apartment loneliness and worry pulling on her heart. Two dark haired men took turns just outside the gates each night waiting. They waited and waited for a whole extra month. Seven months gone without Naruto and this last month with no word from him.

He was late. There wasn't a letter carried by his beloved Talon. The phoenix via Takeshi could not sense the hawk. Teen and hawk were nowhere near Konoha. Anticipation turned to dread and hopelessness. If they were in trouble, no one knew where they were to go help. The Hokage sent out teams to see if there had been trouble anywhere in the Land of Fire. Nothing. Every town and village was at peace, there was no trouble anywhere and no one had seen Lady Tsunade's adopted son.

Had Orochimaru and Kabuto gone after him yet again hoping to lure Sasuke to them or had the Akatsuki gotten a hold of Naruto and had in fact killed him? Was Naruto lost to them? Would the last memory they had of him be Naruto shrouded in fog and fading from their lives?

The beautiful weather could not be enjoyed. For many it may as well be the apocalypse for all the joy they received from one day to the next. They became hard. Smiles were few if any at all and preparations were being made. They would find Naruto or find the ones who kept him from returning to them. The Hidden Leaf Village was not a happy place to be anymore. If anything they were ready for a war. Leaf shinobi could not believe that one so full of light and life could have disappeared so completely and taken the village's future away. It was as if everything was forgotten, all the wrongs aimed at Naruto was over. He was one of them, a resident of the village and one of the shinobi corps. They wanted Naruto back or blood and would spill lots of that red substance to find that blond, blue-eyed kid who could make them laugh and hope.