Inspired by the following quote:
"Is this life to grasp joy only to fear its escape? The price of happiness is the risk of losing it."
- Richard Paul Evans (The Christmas Box Collection)
Note: This is not yaoi XD
He leaned against the cherry blossom tree, arms crossed in front of his chest.
The forest was quiet and lonely, except for the occasional sound of small animals scampering among the fallen leaves and the short shrill cries of the birds. The sun's rays peeped through openings between the tree branches, spilling their light in streaks and forming rippled patterns on the ground.
Some of the rays caught in his golden hair and bounced off in all directions.
A slight breeze blew softly in his direction, stirring the silence in the forest and lifting the ends of his coat. His long red coat flapped in the breeze like a content flame.
The shinobi stood still, contemplating something, unaware of the ethereal beauty of nature that surrounded him.
A few meters away a pair of feet silently shuffled behind a large tree trunk.
Naruto lifted his gaze to the pink sakura blossoms. An inconspicuous grin spread over his face.
It had been almost an hour standing there alone, and this was the third instance he had sensed his presence during that time.
Perhaps it was time to let the intruder know.
Staring fixedly at the sakura blossoms, he began a casual conversation with no one in particular.
"Don't you think it's a useless attempt trying to hide yourself by falling to the ground so softly?"
The shadow behind the tree trunk tensed.
Naruto caught a falling sakura petal. "I mean, you guys are just too pink not to be noticed."
He closed his eyes, softly tracing the petal with his fingers.
"You remind me of someone I used to know. He ran away one day, eight years ago. I still remember it like it was yesterday, though. And Shikamaru came in and told me he was gone. I went crazy." He let out a small raspy laugh at the memory. "I mean, what kind of idiot goes away in the middle of the night and leaves his friends and everyone that cares for him? Yeah, I was real pissed. The guy just walked out on all of us, like we didn't matter. Like everything we said or did or went through just didn't matter at all. And then…" Here he paused, grasping the petal tightly in his fist.
"…And then I finally got to meet the idiot three years later, and he tried to kill me. Said he wanted to break the bond we had between us or something. Tch!" Naruto opened his eyes, bright blue sparkling in the sun beams.
Letting go of the sakura blossom he held, he watched as it slowly drifted away from him with the wind. He now directed his voice to the large tree behind which the intruder stood.
The man behind the tree tensed again.
"But you don't get it do you? You can't just leave. You can't just up and run away and think the other person would just forget you once you're gone. You can't just go around breaking bonds like that you know? You can't make me let go, even if you killed me."
Naruto paused. The air suddenly erupted in birdsong.
"And you can't let go either, can you… Sasuke?"
Naruto grinned. "Think you could mask your chakra and hide from me so easily? Oh come on, what did you think the Rokudaime hokage was, huh?"
Raven hair blew in the soft breeze. A smile spread across Sasuke's face, something that very rarely happened, if it happened at all. A warm, comfortable feeling slowly erupted from his heart, and spread through his entire body.
Still smiling, he raised his hand to his chest, wondering what this feeling was.
"So, what business brings you here again, huh Sasuke?"
"Oh so you finally missed me that much you couldn't help but want to see me again huh?" Naruto's face had broken into a wide grin by now.
Even if Sasuke couldn't see his face, he knew the grin was there: that ever so familiar grin.
"Oh come on! There's got to be a reason!"
The Uchiha chuckled inwardly at this statement. The hokage clearly sounded extremely disappointed.
Yet somehow, the fact that he was disappointed made him a little happy.
"Hey Sasuke! Aren't you going to come out and meet me? Or are you planning on just standing there and stalking me from a distance?"
The Uchiha grinned. "You haven't changed… Naruto."
Naruto felt his heart skip a beat at the sound of his name uttered by the other man. His grin grew even wider. "Yeah, except I'm hokage now."
Sasuke laughed. "Yeah, true."
"So, why'd you come back Sasuke? Felt like killing me again?"
"I… I don't know…" the Uchiha faltered, unsure how to carry the situation from there on. He had wanted to meet the Rokudaime hokage, but he wasn't exactly sure what to say, or ask. In fact the reason he came back was not to say anything, but to hear Naruto say it. He wanted to feel it once more.
"Eh? Since when did you not know anything?"
The two of them were still rooted to their original spots. Neither one had moved an inch.
Sasuke sighed. He might as well finish what he came here for.
"Well… well I came here to clarify something," he finally mumbled from behind the tree.
"Huh! Clarify what?"
"You know, it'd help a bunch if you told me what it was you needed clarifying about."
"It's not something I can just say, or ask, actually."
"Oh? So it's something you wanted to show me?"
"It's something I want you to show me."
Naruto's grin faded. He looked back up at the sakura blossoms. "That's the first time you've ever asked me something like that."
The Uchiha remained silent. He felt a shadow pass over them. That's when he knew Naruto had stopped smiling.
Sometimes Naruto was so raw with his emotions that they directly affected the environment around him. When he was happy, he was genuinely, purely, utterly happy. The sun seemed to shine brighter and colors seemed to grow more vivid when he smiled. His blue eyes sparkled like a child's. Likewise, the sky would seem to weep when he was sad.
Sasuke knew this, and for years he felt as though the cloud cover would never lift.
But recently, the sun had been shining through more often, getting brighter and warmer by the day.
It was then that an uneasy feeling crept up inside him. He wondered if Naruto had finally forgotten him and moved on. He wondered if time had broken their bonds.
That was when he had decided to search out Naruto. One look at him, one word may be, when they came face-to-face, would be enough to let him know if that was true; he would know for sure if those bonds had been truly severed.
"It's not like I've never tried to show you anything before. It's just that you never noticed any of it, right, Sasuke?"
Naruto's voice had changed its tone. It sounded restrained. Pained, almost. Was it bitterness? Sorrow? Accusation?
Sasuke lowered his eyes.
"So what do you want me to tell you, huh Sasuke? That it's been a long few years since the village was destroyed? That it really sucked to know you helped destroy it along with Akatsuki? That was really fucked up you know. I never thought you'd go and do something like that."
Sasuke clenched his teeth. He repulsed at the memory. He had been used again, a mere pawn in somebody else's dreams. And for that he had sacrificed his one last chance to return to his village and redeem himself. Once he had realized the magnitude of his stupidity, it was already too late. There was no undoing the damage he had already brought upon those who loved him.
"Or did you want me to tell you that Ichiraku Ramen Bar has now upgraded their shop to a totally super restaurant since the old one was blown up? Or that Shikamaru's finally considering trying out for Jounin? Neji's Anbu now. And Sai's fit in perfectly well with the rest. You remember Sai, don't you? He was your replacement to Team Seven once you left."
Of course he remembered. Sasuke felt a pang of jealousy rip through him at the mere mention of his name.
"He's finally begun to understand emotions. And his art gets better and better now that he can consciously add feeling to it. And he's got the hang of nicknames too."
"Kiba and Shino are getting along just a little bit better now. Ino's improving in her medical skills. Sakura's doing a great job teaching her. Lee is… well, just Lee. Choji hasn't really changed much at all. He's just really excited about the new ramen restaurant. Ah! Ahah, yeah and…" Naruto scratched his head and blushed a little. "Eh um, I kind of found out Hinata likes me and all that, and it's been awkward talking to her ever since heh."
Sasuke smiled. "What about you, Naruto?"
"How have you been?"
"Funny you finally decided to ask that, after so long."
Sasuke was used to Naruto's obvious sarcasm, but it had never bothered him this much before. Back then he was able to push any emotion that dared to expose itself, so it was easy ignoring the world's number one knuckle headed most unpredictable ninja. However, today was different. Today he was talking to the rokudaime hokage, and he just couldn't ignore him.
Naruto crossed his arms again and continued: "Other than coping with Ero-sennin and Kakashi sensei's deaths, I think I've been doing pretty well. I mean hey, I'm finally hokage and all that."
The Uchiha travelled back in his mind to the day Team 7 formally introduced themselves to their sensei, the late Hatake Kakashi. Naruto had stated his dream extremely loud, and high pitched. 'My dream is to become hokage!' Sasuke smiled at the memory.
"Yeah. So you've finally fulfilled your dream?"
"Well, not really. I can't exactly say that. Although becoming hokage was part of it, there was just always something missing, you know."
"Yeah, Sasuke. You know what I mean, right?"
"I do?" The Uchiha seemed surprised. Yet there was a slight sense of hope hanging in his voice. He knew. He thought he knew. But he wanted to hear it from Naruto.
"I hope you do." Naruto let his hands fall. "How could you not?"
Sasuke lowered his eyes in silence. Memories flooded back to him.
"Sasuke. Why don't you come out of there?"
A momentary silence ensued. The forest itself seemed to stop all its activity and stand still, as if anticipating something momentous.
"You're really proud."
There was a pause. And then: "… hnn."
"Is that why you came back?"
"Perhaps." He stepped out from the shadow of the tree slowly, and cautiously walked a few paces toward the hokage.
The two men locked gazes, both faces expressionless, save for the slight indication of curiosity and hope, mostly suppressed.
One could almost hear their hearts beating like distant drums in the eerie silence of the forest.
Sasuke looked at him, slowly taking in the image. He was taller now, and his hair was longer, just like the Fourth's. His eyes were as blue as he could remember them: as blue as the ocean, and as blue as a cloudless sky. The long red hokage coat flapped in the wind. He looked confident now, more confident than he had ever seen.
Sasuke watched Naruto as he stood there amongst the falling sakura blossoms, his eyes fixed on Sasuke. His presence seemed to command Nature and everything else that was around him.
Naruto was more a man than he could ever be, Sasuke knew.
At that moment, his heart once again erupted in unfamiliar warmth. As confused as he was about what he was feeling, he couldn't resist a smile.
What was this, this feeling?
As if expecting an answer, he walked up a little closer to Naruto. Naruto stood and waited, watching.
Was that a smile? Was Naruto smiling?
Sasuke kept walking, slowly and cautiously treading on fallen sakura blossoms, as if he didn't want anybody else to know he was here; as if this were a moment that would quickly fade into nothingness if he made any noise. The warmth was spreading like wild fire throughout his body.
Never before had he walked up to Naruto. It had always been the other way round. Naruto was the one who was always following him, trying to keep up with him. And he did come close to catching up with him, once or twice, back then.
But today, everything felt different. Sasuke felt Naruto deserved at least that respect.
"How about you, Sasuke?"
The Uchiha looked at the other, confused.
"Where will you go next?"
Sasuke averted his eyes. He couldn't look Naruto in the face. He had been hurt, lied to, and used, over and over again. He had blindly killed the person who cared the most about him, and followed another as his pawn. In doing so, he had thrown away his closest friend, his home, his family, and everything that ever meant anything to him. All he could ever do was run. Run away from the hurt, the deceit, the pain. Running was all he knew. It was what his brother had told him to do that fateful night, more than eight years ago. And that was what he was still doing, still a child, afraid to face reality. Afraid of everything, and everyone. Unsure. Afraid of himself.
Today he was just living for the sake of living. Lost, confused, and lonely. What kept him going on, he didn't know.
"I know why."
Sasuke looked up at Naruto, slightly taken by surprise at his voice in the midst of his thoughts.
"Why…?" The hokage had asked it as if he understood what was going on in his mind, as if he saw right through his thoughts.
But then again, Naruto was the one who had always understood him. So it was probably no real surprise.
"Why you couldn't love again. Or believe." Naruto smiled. "It's because you couldn't trust, right?"
Sasuke remained motionless, his face devoid of any emotion. Sad black eyes stared back at Naruto.
"If you get close to someone, you have to take the risk of losing them someday. But that's not a new concept, everybody knows that. They'd be fools if they didn't realize it." The hokage walked towards him, stopping just about a foot in front of him, and placed his hand on his shoulder. He gave it a tight squeeze. "However, you'd be a bigger fool if you ran away from it you know."
A spark lit up in the Uchiha's eyes. The steady shower of rain in his pupils seemed to slow down and clear almost immediately. The clarification had set in.
"You can trust me, Sasuke."
The corners of the Uchiha's mouth curved slightly, but not too slightly to go unnoticed by Naruto.
"So… does that mean you're still gonna run away again?"
Sasuke looked him in the eye for the first time in so many years, and slowly shook his head. "No… Naruto." He hugged him, awkwardly. "Thank you."
Shocked at this gesture, Naruto stood motionless.
What was this? Was this the real Sasuke? Had he finally returned?
Naruto returned the hug.
This was the moment Sasuke had been waiting for. The moment of forgiveness. Hope. A reason to stay alive.
He knew he'd never be able to return to Konoha after everything he had done, but knowing that Naruto hadn't given up on him was enough.
He had found his answer.
He even understood what the unfamiliar warmth he felt moments ago was.
"I… I just wanted to say… I'm really proud of you."
"WHAT?!" Naruto promptly broke off the embrace and looked straight into Sasuke's eyes.
"Say that again?"
"What? I'm really proud of you?"
"Yes!" His blue eyes stung, and before he knew it they were gushing streams of tears down his cheeks.
The hokage smiled.
"Sasuke. That's… that's the best thing I've ever heard from you! I… for as long as I could remember, I've always wanted you to acknowledge me. And this… this… I never ever thought the day'd come when I'd be able to hear it from you, Sasuke. It… it means a lot! Thank you! Thank you so much Sasuke!"
"Could you… you know, say it again for me, Sasuke?"
The raven haired shinobi laughed.
Naruto looked up, a mock expression of disappointment on his face.
"Hey! You know, that's no way to talk to the hokage!"
The two men burst out laughing.
They stood there until the sun dipped behind the mountains, reliving old memories, and making new ones. Trust and acknowlegement had added new meaning and depth to their friendship.
But to each, the fear of one day losing his best friend still lingered.