Bonded

Prologue

When our story begins, the Uchiha clan has almost been entirely wiped out by order of the elders of Konoha. Uchiha Itachi fought against the attackers, defending his mother and younger brother, Sasuke. When it became clear that these three were the only remaining Uchiha and defeating Itachi was impossible, the elders struck a deal with him: go undercover as a spy in the criminal organization called Akatsuki and his mother and brother would be spared. He agreed. Itachi left on the night of the massacre, but not before taking his distraught little brother aside and extracting a promise from him.

Meanwhile, Uzumaki Kushina, who had survived the Kyuubi attack on the village seven years previously, was raising her son, Naruto, alone. Being widowed had a profound effect on the once fun-loving kunoichi. She became obsessed with protecting her son, now the host for the Nine-Tailed demon fox. She knew her son would eventually become a target, just as she knew the fox had been set on the village deliberately.

Naruto grew up in awe of his legendary father. He was determined to become Hokage and surpass him. Although aware that people acted strangely around him, he never paid it much mind; His mom's fierce love soothed the hurt their behavior caused and no one ever dared say anything untoward to his face lest it get back to her. Still, kids his age seemed to prefer playing amongst themselves rather than with him. He was lonely. To cover this up, he was often loud and played pranks on people. His mother did her best to mitigate this behavior in him.

Sasuke, on the other hand, was completely withdrawn. His mother was an angry and bitter woman who did nothing but criticize him. He could barely remember what she was like before the massacre. He remembered the night vividly, though. Sasuke missed his brother hideously and constantly reminded himself of his promise to him. He had no friends. Kids looked at him and whispered about the slaughter. He pushed himself to be the best, but it was never enough in his mind. He was extremely lonely.

Once Sasuke and Naruto graduated from the academy, they'd become friends. Over time, they became more that. They became brothers, inseparable. Their lives had been such that it seemed they were destined for each other, so completely did they fit together. There was no one they trusted more than each other. Most of their time was spent in each other's company.

This story begins shortly after Team 7's return from rescuing Gaara from Akatsuki.



Chapter 1

Naruto paced up and down the small bridge impatiently. He better not be late, he groused. He had to admit, though, that if Sasuke was late he, Naruto, would still be waiting. These training sessions of theirs were too fun and productive to pass up.

Bored, Naruto gave up pacing and sat on the ledge of the bridge. His reflection in the small pond gazed back at him contentedly. Has it really only been three years they've been friends? It seemed longer than that to him. Naruto thought back over the years.

***

Having just found out who his team mates were Naruto waited, along with the rest of Team 7, for whoever their Jounin teacher would be. The dude was seriously late. He suddenly had a bright idea.

"What are you doing," Sakura asked in alarm. "Stop that!"

"Serves him right for being late," Naruto retorted.

"A Jounin's not going to fall for that," Sasuke spoke up. "We should make clones of ourselves and jump him when he walks in, instead."

Naruto paused in the act of arranging the blackboard eraser in the door to look over at Sasuke. He didn't really know the kid except as someone who all the girls were crazy about, including his Sakura-chan. Despite that, Sasuke was a somewhat withdrawn kid, kind of on the quiet side. Naruto would never have guessed that he had any fun in him. And such a great idea to boot! He grinned at the black-haired boy.

"Yeah…yeah, that's a way better plan!"

Sasuke seemed pleased. "But you're the only one who can do Kage Bunshin. I'll just use my regular Bunshin as a distraction."

"Yosh!"

***

Naruto chuckled at the memory of Kakashi-sensei's face when he'd walked in the door. They'd sure gotten him!

***

Kakashi-sensei had them sitting in front of him some time later. "So tell me about yourselves. Your dreams, likes, dislikes, etc."

Naruto went first. "My name's Uzumaki Naruto! I love ramen. My mom makes the best. My dream is to become Hokage and surpass my dad, the Fourth!"

Sakura seemed to get tongue-tied in Sasuke's presence so Sasuke went next. "Hi, I'm Uchiha Sasuke. There's not much that I like, but there's a lot of stuff I don't like. My ambition is to be as great a ninja as my brother…and to fulfill a certain promise."

The next day, during the bell training, they'd almost failed. Had Naruto not remembered the day before, when Sasuke had suggested ganging up on Kakashi-sensei, they would have. Once Naruto suggested it to him, Sasuke had come up with a workable strategy. Sakura-chan was willing to do anything Sasuke said. In the end, they'd managed to get the bells. Barely. Afterwards…

~*~

Sasuke burst into his house, Naruto in tow. "Mom! Guess what…we passed! And it was all thanks to my new team mate here, Naruto! He's so cool!"

Sasuke's mother eyed Naruto with flat eyes as she dried her hands on a dishtowel. The fact that the Kyuubi kid was standing in her kitchen was distasteful, to say the least. He made her skin crawl. She didn't know how she felt about him being on the same team as her son. However. She took a long look at Sasuke's face. He was positively radiant. The sight brought the sting of tears to her eyes. She hadn't seen her son so happy since before that night…

She forced a smile. "Honey, that's great news! Why don't you invite Naruto to stay for dinner?"

"No, Mom, we can't. We're going to his house to give his mom the news then we're going out to celebrate."

"Oh? Where?"

"Dunno yet. By, Mom!"

***

Man, he and Sasuke had had a blast that night! They'd met up with Team 10 and ended up having barbecue. Sakura had been nowhere to be found. Afterwards, he and Sasuke had left the restaurant and wandered around the village. They talked and relived their best moves during the bell training. Close to midnight they found themselves on a grassy hill, nursing ice-creams and looking at the stars.

***

Thinking about what Sasuke had told his mom, Naruto had turned to him. "You know, it wasn't all thanks to me that we passed today. You came up with the plan."

"Yeah, but you were the one who suggested team work. That was key."

"Well, I was only remembering what you'd suggested the day before!"

"Which I only came up with from your original idea to begin with."

Naruto had been quiet, conceding at last. He would never, as long as he lived, forget the visceral impact Sasuke's declaration of him being cool had had on him. It was one thing to be acknowledged by Iruka-sensei. It was something else entirely to be acknowledged by a peer. And such a peer! Naruto had made envious note of Sasuke's combat skills during that day's training. He was one hell of a fighter. And yet he thought Naruto was cool. He looked at Sasuke methodically shredding his ice-cream paper and a small flame was born in his chest.

"Sasuke…do you think... I don't know…that maybe we could be more than team mates?"

Sasuke had been sitting there, acutely aware of Naruto's eyes on him. He'd decided in his own mind already that he wanted to be friends with Naruto, strange as the idea was to him. Could it be? "What do you mean," he asked nervously.

"Well, you know…like friends."

Relief and joy leapt in Sasuke, making him flinch from the unfamiliar emotions. "Oh. Well, sure. Yeah, that sounds good."

"Really?!" Naruto grinned.

Sasuke grinned back. "Really."

And so their bond had begun.

***

Naruto remembered that was literally the first time he'd ever seen Sasuke smile like that. During the course of their missions they'd gotten steadily closer, competing with friendly rivalry. The incident in the Wave Country had only served to strengthen their friendship. They'd fought side by side to defeat Haku. When Naruto thought Sasuke had died…no, best not to think about that.

Then there had been the Chuunin exam. They'd both failed, but before that…

***

"What do you mean you're going to train Sasuke and not me?!"

Kakashi sighed. "I've found a better teacher for you."

"Who, this pervert? Sensei, he's weaker than I am!"

Just then Naruto's mother, Uzumaki Kushina, rounded a hospital corridor looking for her son. Naruto ran up to her.

"Mom! Mom, did you hear? Kakashi-sensei won't train me for the final exam! Instead, he's going to train Sasuke and only Sasuke!"

Uzumaki Kushina was a force to be reckoned with when it came to her son. She was respected throughout the village for her prowess as a Kunoichi and the Fourth's widow. She was feared by everyone for her temper. This last never displayed itself more prominently than when she felt her beloved son to be getting mistreated. The villagers' prejudice against him had made her extremely sensitive to anyone denying him anything. Especially when he asked for so little.

When she spoke, he voice was quiet. It had a hint of Naruto's gravelly tone to it, making it low and husky. "What?"

Kakashi began sweating bullets as he tried to explain. "No, you see, I found someone eminently better suited to teach him, better than I am, in fact." He gestured towards Ebisu who had been standing to one side. Ebisu, for his part, wished the floor would open up and swallow him. Kushina-senpai's eyes were drills to his skull.

"Kakashi," she said. "I need to speak with to you. Alone. Come with me."

Naruto had watched from a distance as his mom spoke to Kakashi-sensei in urgent tones. He relaxed. His mom would make him see reason.

From the corner of his eye he saw Ebisu-sensei, that freak, breathe a sigh of relief at having escaped his mom's wrath. What a wuss!

At that point he noticed his mom heading back towards him, her face stern. Kakashi-sensei was leaning limply against a wall. He returned his gaze to his mom as she placed a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Naruto. Unfortunately, your sensei is right. Your basics are a mess and Ebisu-san here is superb at teaching those necessary skills."

"But Mom-"

"Don't worry, son. I was the same way at your age. I know you'll master Ebisu-san's training quickly. Won't you?" She pressed when he continued to scowl at his feet.

"Yes, Mom."

"That's my boy," she squeezed his shoulder encouragingly. Her face lost its frown and relaxed into a confident smile. "There's no one like my son for mastering things."

Naruto had felt his heart swell with love and pleasure. He lived for her approving nods and proud smiles. The day he'd brought Sasuke home to tell her he'd become a Genin, she'd smiled so broadly, hugged him so tightly, that he'd thought he'd die from the sheer volume of his love for her. Nothing made him happier than to honestly win her approval.

Later, when Ero-sennin had been forced to take over his training, he thought his mother would kill the old pervert for throwing him over that cliff. However, her pride at him accessing the Kyuubi's chakra at will was such that it mitigated her anger somewhat.

***

Naruto laughed hysterically, almost falling off the bridge at the memory of the rage his mom had flown into when he'd told her his good news. She'd gone right out and found Ero-sennin in a hot springs.

***

"Ninpo: Flaming Water Strike!"

The water Jiraiya had been soaking in began boiling uncontrollably. Howling, skin a bright red, Jiraiya leapt out of the water. His mom had performed three quick hand seals as Naruto watched in amazement, and impaled Jiraiya where he stood on a bar of water that shot out of her palm. Miraculously, the bar of water remained firm.

"How do you dare, you filthy perverted animal, to throw my son to his death? You know what he means to me! What he meant to Minato, your own pupil! How could you? Answer me, or you'll cook where you stand!"

By now his mom was in tears, breathing heavily. The bar of water began heating up, slowly becoming hotter and hotter, until Jiraiya wrenched himself away in self-defense. Naruto stared down at the smoking hole in his teacher's chest. What a jutsu! He was about to ask his mom about it when she suddenly collapsed. He'd barely managed to catch her.

"Mom!"

"I'm fine," she insisted. "Just tired. Come. Let's go home." She gave Jiraiya a last hateful look, before letting Naruto lead her away. Jiraiya watched her leave with unmistakable relief. Later, Naruto found out that Jiraiya considered his mom worse than Tsunade.

***

Naruto lay flat on his back, soberly remembering how awesome his mom had been. He missed her terribly. He remembered the day she died, roughly six months later. He had just made Chuunin the day before with Sasuke. He'd been out all night celebrating with him and hadn't gotten home until early the following morning. He had walked in the door-

***

-and immediately sensed a change in the normally welcoming environment of his home. Almost as if an intruder lurked, waiting to be found. "Mom?" he had called out softly.

He'd crept silently through the house, passing like a shadow through hazy beams of sunlight swirling with dust motes. Aside from the mysterious lurking menace, his home felt abandoned, devoid of the strong, comforting presence of his mother. Maybe she's gone out, he'd thought. But then what's this chill I feel?

He almost didn't see her when he entered her room. She was a non-descript shape under her thin blanket. She turned her head slowly to regard him as he approached her bed. It was then that he knew who the intruder was. It was Death. He hurried the last few feet to her side with an anguished cry. "Mom!"

"Shhh, sweetheart. I've been waiting for this moment for thirteen years. I only held on this long to make sure you'd be able to take care of yourself, to see you make Chuunin."

"Mom," he had sobbed. "Mom, please." He couldn't take it. He couldn't lose her. If she died, he'd die, too. "Let me take you to the hospital, Old Lady Tsunade can do-"

"No. I've been sick a long time, Naruto. Now listen to me."

He was silent, tears falling noiselessly, his heart and soul shattering.

He listened as she told him how proud she was of him. She told him he was goodness, that he was strong and compassionate. These words were like a mountain added to his grief, and he hung his head with the weight of it.

Kushina caressed her son's warm cheek, brought his chin up so she could look into those blue eyes she loved so well. "You are truly the best person I know. There is no friend as loyal, no ninja as courageous and confident, no shinobi as hard-working and determined." For an insane moment Naruto thought that his mother must not have met Lee. Then he shoved the thought away violently as she continued. "You will truly surpass your father one day, Naruto. You never fail. You will become Hokage. And your dad and I will be watching." She smiled serenely, then, the image of her beloved son's face the last thing she saw.

~*~

At the funeral, Kakashi-sensei had explained how his mom had sustained such severe injuries the day of the Kyuubi attack that she'd never fully recovered. She'd only been able to raise Naruto by taking heavy doses of medication daily.

He'd remained at his mother's grave long after everyone else had gone. He'd stayed while the skies had opened up and echoed his grief. He stayed until he felt a strong hand enter his. No words were necessary. Sasuke stayed with him by her grave throughout the endless night, through his storm of crying and raging at fate. And finally, in the dawn hours, with Sasuke steadfastly by his side, he felt the vise gripping his heart ease open a little. "Don't leave me," he'd said.

"Never," Sasuke replied solemnly.

"If you leave me I'll find you and bring you back. Even if you're dead."

"I'll never leave you."

Naruto at last felt the yawning abyss in his soul shrinking and fell asleep by his mother's grave, his head on Sasuke's shoulder.



Naruto stood up. Those memories still had the power to hurt. And the thought of Sasuke still had the power to heal. As if conjured by this latest observation, Sasuke appeared at the end of the bridge, carrying some take-out bags.

"Brought you some ramen" he said in his quiet voice. "Figured you'd want to eat before we started." He looked closer at Naruto's face. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Just thinking about mom. What kind did you bring?"

"Miso pork. Do you eat any other kind?"

"Sasuke, I love you."

"Yeah, yeah." Sasuke smirked, rolling his eyes.

"You're the best friend in the whole world."

"I know."

"I'd be lost without you."

"I know. Hurry up and eat. I want to get started, already."

They spent a few companionable minutes slurping ramen. When they were done, they walked to a nearby field. Sasuke faced Naruto. "What do you think would happen," he asked, "if we combined my Chidori with your Rasengan?"

"Well, Kakashi-sensei said he was unable to do that."

"Yeah, but he's one person. I know for a fact I'm stronger than he is. So are you."

"What, so you think we could make a new jutsu?"

"Worth a shot, right? We're never going to keep my promise to my brother if we don't push ourselves."

"Dude, you're right. Not to mention Akatsuki being after me. Can lightning and wind chakra even be combined? I thought they couldn't be."

"Well, we'll be finding out for sure."

Naruto shuddered. "Just thinking about it hurts. I bet it'll be worse than coming up with Rasenshuriken."

"No pain, no gain. You ready?" Sasuke performed the necessary hand seals and formed Chidori. Naruto and a clone made Rasengan.

"Let's do this," Naruto yelled.