I swore to bring him back. I will bring him back. I've gotten stronger, I've...done unspeakable things, both to myself and my enemies, to get this power. I won't give it up, not ever, no I want it, I need it, its mine, mine mine mine, I need it, I need this power to bring Sasuke back.
I need it.
Which is why I-
She bolted through the streets, a pink blur of motion, having just heard the news, an elated expression on her face, her now long pink hair streaming out behind her as she dodged around pedestrians and cart vendors, shouting apologies over her shoulder to them as she ran. 'Naruto's back! I can't believe it! It's already been three years, and its been too quiet with him gone...
A small smile lit her face as she was looking forward to finding him and seeing how much he had changed over the years. She had really missed him, and that was an undeniable fact. After all who could NOT miss all the antics and stunts he was so very well known for? 'I wonder...
She remembered how quiet the village had been with him gone, and looked forward to seeing him liven things up a bit upon his return. Moments later, after running as fast as she could, Sakura finally arrived at the village gates. And laid eyes on him for the first time in three years. There he was, standing atop the roof of them, gazing out over the village, a small smile on his face as the wind tussled his blond hair. "Ah, good to be home again."
His usual outfit, that hideous jumpsuit, had been radically altered, entirely replaced by a black, sleeveless shihakusho, and there, strapped to his back were a set of three scrolls. His head band could be seen around his right arm, as opposed to his forehead.
Steadying herself, Sakura drew in a deep breath, and called up to him, happy to see him as she waved up to him, raising a hand in greeting, the elated expression on her face again. "Naruto-kun! Down here!" Blinking, he glanced down, a small frown etching his face. She had just used 'kun'. She had NEVER used 'kun' before.
She nodded up, at him and took a startled step back as she saw him gather himself for a jump.
"Hey, wait a second! Let me get out of the way first!"
Too late, he now sprang down, landing right in front of her with a soft whoosh, where she had been seconds before. Rising to his feet in one smooth motion, now a good heads length taller than she was, she took in his appearance. Blond hair, longer, rougher looking, resembling that of his father. And she felt no anger, despite the fact that he could have landed on her.
In fact, the Haruno gasped as she watched him rise to his feet, for he was now several inches taller than she. Sakura found herself at a loss for words, and berated herself mentally for this. 'Stupid! Say something! It's just Naruto! We've been teammates for like, EVER! So why is my heart beating so fast...
But she still found herself unable to speak, absolutely speechless. Naruto smiled down at her and leaned forward, placing a hand on top of her pink hair, his sapphire blue eyes crinkling in a smile, chuckling at the brief blush that lit her cheeks. "Yo." She could tell from the tone of his voice that he was happy to see her after such a long time, and he seemed to be heaps more confident, if he was actually daring to get this close to her. "Been awhile, hasn't it, Sakura."
'Trying to act cool, huh?'
She frowned at his comment, and perhaps out of instinct, or maybe bad habit, swung at him. Moments later, she found herself, her arms, pinned from behind, though he hadn't moved an inch. A shadow clone, she realized, as Naruto gave her a small, disaproving frown.
"Nice try." He replied suddenly, coldly, eyes narrowing to dangerous slits. "But I've learned a trick or two."
Sakura blushed, suddenly realizing how close his face was to hers. VEEEERY close, his nose brushing against hers, and he somehow missed her emerald orbs flickering down to his lips. Or DID he?
'Does he even know what he's doing? He's so close... I could just...He could just...
It would seem that these past three years had somewhat dampened her 'love' for Sasuke...
But at that moment, Naruto removed his hand from her head, and she let out a small sigh of relief/disappointment. His frown softened as he gave her a quick once over, drawing another fierce blush again. She had certainly grown up, and was ANYTHING but little now."So how have you been Sakura-chan? I like the new look. Did anything interesting happen while I was gone?"
Beside the fact that you got so handsome?
Blushing, she shook her head and remembered to mention that everyone had become Chunin while he was away, and Gaara was now the head of his village. "All the genin, myself included, are all Chunin, and Neji's a Jonin now." His face fell. Realizing this, and desperate to save face, she added: Cool huh? I guess you have some catching up to do."
'In more ways than one.'
Naruto sighed now, his shoulders slumping sightly. There was something, something in his eyes just then, but whatever emotion it was, it was quickly blotted out by his cheerful grin. "Damn, now I gotta catch up!"
She raised an eyebrow at this new Naruto. "Just like that? You make it sound so easy." He shook his head, a wry grin on his face, as if he held a great secret. "Nope. You'll see what I meant once the Chunin exams come around again!"
She let out a mock sigh at this. "That's not fair." 'He's completely different from before. He actually looks kinda... handsome... Now she gave him a quick once over and he smiled when he caught her doing so, his voice laced with amusement, as he pretended to flex, showing off his tan muscular arms, his jacket tied about his waist, as he was wearing a black muscle shirt instead, due to the heat. "Sakura-chan, are you checking me out?"
Blushing, she decided to change the subject, she smiled and answered with a question of her own, her tone deliberately unsure, as she dug her right heel into the ground. "Naruto, do I look any different to you? More...grown-up?"
Insinctively, she controlled her blush as she said it, making her face turn a pale pink as Naruto gave his response, his voice warm. "Nah, don't worry about it. You haven't changed a bit, have you?" Immediately the warmth faded, replaced by irritation.
She gave him a bright smile, despite the fire in her stomach. "Yeah- Then his ears pricked and he grabbed her arm, spinning her towards him as one very excited Konahamaru landed where she had been standing mere moments before.
The exuberated genin grinned as he saw Naruto, practically bursting with joy. "Boss! You're back!" Then his gaze fell on Sakura, who was held tightly in Naruto's arms, her head resting on his chest, his heartbeat sounding in her left ear. His grinned as his tone became that of someone who thinks that they know whats going on, when in reality they have no clue whatsoever. "And you landed a girlfriend already?!" He flashed his pearly whites in a wide grin and closed his eyes, giving him a thumbs up as he did so. "NICE! That's just like you boss! You're always getting all the girls! I wish I could do that!"
Sakura turned beetred at this, and Naruto gave a sigh smiling as he did so. He gently released Sakura, missing the sad sigh from her, as he turned to face his young friend. "Konahamaru, Sakura-chan and I are just friends, nothing more." He turned to Sakura, a knowing smile on his face, and she saw that this time he seemed truly happy for her. "Besides, Sakura-chan said she loves Sasuke. Right Sakura-chan?"
The poor Haruno was taken a back by this, both in a good and bad way. Part of her was glad that he had taken her words to heart, and another was sorry that he had seemingly given up on her, just like Lee had so many years ago after Tenten told him that she loved him. 'He's giving up on me? I actually feel sad about that... I almost don't WANT him to give up on me...
Making a serious note to tell him otherwise later, she watched as Konohamaru showed off Naruto's original technique, the Sexy Jutsu. As soon as he turned into the smoke covered woman, Jiraiya immediately got a huge nosebleed, and Sakura's jaw dropped at the jutsu, a tick mark appearing on her forehead. 'Why you little pervert! You are SO dead!' She cracked her knuckles mencacingly, ready to beat the stupid genin into a pulp.
Naruto however had a different reaction, one that startled the anger out of her. He sighed and shook his head, a bemused smile on his face as he did so. "Hey, I'm to old to be doing such childish things. And you should know better Konohamaru." Konohamaru's jaw dropped, and he released the jutsu at that, the smoke fading to reveal the dumbstruck genin. "SAY WHAT?!" Sakura smiled at this new display of maturity, and nodded.
"He's right. Such perverted acts disgrace women. You should be ashamed of yourself." The genin hung his head, but Naruto placed a hand on his shoulder, and grinned as he handed the boy a scroll, his tone serious. "Here, try learning this jutstu. It's an A-rank jutsu known as the Rasengan, left by the foruth Hokage. It took him years to master this, while I mastered it in just a week. Think you can do better than that?"
Sensing a challenge, the new genin jabbed his finger at the Chunin, tone defiant as he flared his nostrils. "Oh yeah?! I'll have it down pat in three days just you wait and see!" But then a sheepish expression formed on his face, as he scratched the back of his head, realizing that he needed instructions on how to 'master' it. "Uh, how do I do it again boss?"
Jiraiya arched an eyebrow at explained the three steps and so on, to the sheepish Genin, who took all of it down on a note book that he had pulled out of nowhere.
'Wow kid. You really have grown up.' He then saw Sakura fidgeting out of the corner of his eye, stealing glances at her blond teammate, then looking away before he could notice. The sannin grinned as his apprentice bid her farewell and began to take off to find the rest of his old friends. Turning away from her, and drawing a sad look from the Haruno. 'And it looks like you've becoming quite the ladies man. I guess you have me to thank for that...
But before he could take more than one step, Sakura grabbed his wrist. Pausing, he turned to face her when she spoke, before he could, now with a stammer much like Hinata's. "Na-Naruto-kun, I'll...I'll go with you! I haven't seen any of them in a while either, and with the two of us, I'm sure we could find them easily!" Naruto blinked at this, as she reluctantly, VERY reluctantly released her grip on his wrist.
"Well, alright then."
Sakura breathed out a sigh of relief at this, willing herself to follow after him. She had just given him a bold faced lie, but she needed an excuse to spend more time with him, to see if he really WAS more mature. She just wanted...to be near him for a little while longer...
Jiriaya snorted as they took off.
"That was the worst lie I've EVER heard. But it looks like he fell for it."
Then, with a perverted giggle, he turned in the opposite direction, to pay Tsunade a little visit...
(Leaf Village streets)
"So, you trained awhile, huh?" She asked, as they walked down the street. 'Stupid!' It was a terrible topic to start off on, and immediately she berated herself for it."Yeah." He replied quietly, matching her stride with relative ease. "Absolutely brutal."
"It must've been terrible." She added lamely. " All that hard work-
"Sakura." He stopped suddenly, forcing her to do the same.
"You and I, we're only friends, right?"
"O-Of course!" She sputtered defensively, so intent on defending herself, that she missed the hint of sadness lingering, shielding itself behind those matchless blue orbs. "Why would you ask that, Naruto?" But by then, it was far too late. "Good." He replied, an air of finality in his voice as he turned to go, pushing rudely past her. "Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'll be going now."
There was a distinctive rippling in the night, an almost indistinguishable hum as the air itself was torn open, revealing a dark abyss. The wormhole danced and sparked with un-suppressed energy yet somehow remained unnoticed by those lingering in the streets below.
From the tear, a single figure, clad in an all white hakama emerged. His skin was pale, pallid grey, as if he hadn't seen the light of day in a long, long time. He wore the cracked remains of a broken helmet over his messy black hair. Strapped to his waist was a slim katana, its pale green sheathe the only real source of color on this mysterious figure. Cold, slitted green eyes surveyed the village, before finally locking onto their target, the blond standing on the nearby rooftop, staring straight at him.
"Uzumaki Naruto." The man stared imposingly at the blond walking on the air towards him, his feet finding purchase on the clouds, as if there were some invisible platform beneath him to support his weight. "Aizen-sama is calling. Why have you not answered the summons?"
"I have my reasons," The jinchuuriki replied, but there was no mistaking the bite of his tone as he spoke the latter's name. "Ulquiorra."
"You still harbor hope for this decadent village don't you?" The man replied, and the blond stiffened, turning as he continued to speak. "You still cling to that futile hope that they will accept you for what you are, yet you know, don't you?" His perpetual frown seemed to deepen slightly, if that were possible. "They will never accept you for what you are, for what you have become."
Finishing his sentence, he pulled down the zipper of his collar, revealing a clean cut hole that went the entire way through , to just above his sternum. To Naruto, it was as if someone had taken a hole puncher to the skin, and gauged out the flesh.
"Hollow." He finished with that single word. "That, this is what we are."
"You're wrong." Naruto's scowl pulled up itself up into a thin, horizontal line, which now became a shadow of a smile. "I have friends. They accept me. They always have, and they always will, no matter what I may look like, or what I am."
"But for how long?" The pale specter countered, never raising his voice never changing his tone, not even blinking, but still the cold, cruel mockery remained. "What will happen when you tell them the truth, when you show them what you are?" When the jinchuuriki made no move to reply, Ulquiorra continued at his slow, steady pace. "You already know the answer. They will shun you, they will treat you like trash, scum, like the lowest dog-
"Enough." Naruto barked suddenly, his eyes becoming red slits, red chakra leaking from his shoulders and taking the shape of the demon cloak he was so infamously known for. "Surely you didn't come here to insult me, and if you did-
"I was sent here to escort you back to Las Noches." Ulquiorra interrupted. "Your time here is up."
"I don't care." The blond replied in a bitter tone, turning to go, to get away from this intricate plot in which he had become so inseperably ensnared. "I never joined Aizen. I never cared about your war. So you have no hold on me" Then the hand clamped down on his shoulder, arresting his movement, and slightly tearing the bandaged fabric that lay there.
Naruto's fierce glare did not affect him in the least, as the number ten was exposed.
"Perhaps you would care if I were to tell you that Konoha will be our battleground?" Ulquiorra was smooth in his counter, but now, there it was, just the faintest hint of a smirk pulling at his perpetual scowl. "You were given a rank, decima espada. You were given a place in Aizen-sama's army. Now it is time to fufill your promise."
"No." The blond grunted, swatting the vice like grip away. "This isn't my fight."
"Then you leave your village to die." Again he was beaten to the punch by this imposing figure, thos simple words cutting through the chains of reason and resentment. "Tell me, how will your friend return to his home, when it has been wiped off the face of the map?"
"..." He continued to walk away.
"This is your final warning, Uzumaki Naruto." Ulquiorra called to his back. "Join us now, willingly, or-
Naruto didn't hear the rest of his words, for he dissapeared with the swish of a body flicker.
This is why I can never love Sakura. This is why I can never get close to anyone, no matter how much I care for them. I'm in deep now, and I can't tell them no forever. Sooner or later, everyone will figure it out. I hope its later, because....
I am...dead. I...died.
Next time: Old sins.