He was running again, faster than he had ever run in his entire life. That light at the end of the tunnel pulled him stronger with each passing moment. Naruto knew they were there in that light. He knew he would find them there. He did not know how he knew, nor did it matter. All he knew was that he had to get there. And that meant he had to run faster, and then faster still. So he did. He ignored the acidic burn in his legs as he pushed them. It was a distraction he could not afford. No, he had to get there. He had to find them. He had to run.
He had to find them there.
And so he was running towards that light. It burnt his eyes, but he did not stop or slow. He charged through the swirling dust that remained from the blast, causing wisps of it to curl up in the bright sunlight. He could see Sai there, standing at the center of what had apparently been a decent chunk of the facility. It was impossible to tell what sort of place the room was used for now.
Naruto realized that Sai was staring up at something. But his feet were moving faster than his brain. They carried him into the center of the room. He came to a skidding halt right before hitting Sai. Naruto hadn't even enough time to say a single thing before a voice from the past spoke to him.
"Naruto." it said, soft and trailing. He turned, then, to see what it was that his new teammate had been staring at, but part of him already knew. After all, he knew that voice. He would remember it anywhere.
Naruto did not notice as Hinata came rushing in behind him, nor her saying his name as she did. He did not notice as she turned to look at what he and Sai were staring at, nor did he notice her shock when she saw them. He noticed none of this because he was focused on them instead.
He was taller, now; the first thing that came to his mind. The hair and the face, they were the same in so many ways and yet different as well. It was an older face, harsher too. There was only the barest hints of emotion in his eyes, a subtle sense of subdued disapproval. Naruto had seen that expression many times before. One of Sasuke's hands rested on the hilt of a sword that was tucked into his rope belt. He wore a loose white robe, along with a set of deep navy pants and undershirt. He wore armored boots and gauntlets to match the light plating on other sections of his outfit. But what surprised Naruto the most was a certain Konoha hitae-ite with a scratch carved through the middle that hung from Sasuke's neck.
But Sasuke hadn't said anything at all. No, it had been Her.
Sakura was taller too; and beautiful. He'd always thought she had been beautiful, and time hadn't changed that at all. Her hair was long, hanging down past her waist. She wore the same soft cherry red he remembered, but the color was the only remnant of that old outfit. She wore a sort of high-collared sleeveless coat or blouse now, with white fur around the collar and a sash around her waist that reminded Naruto uncomfortably of the one worn by Orochimaru's right hand man. It flowed down into a knee-length side-slit skirt, with a white miniskirt under that. But what stood out from her outfit the most was what she lacked; she had no hitae-ite or marker of any sort.
While Sasuke's expression spoke of almost disinterest, Sakura's was not so reserved. Naruto recognized that expression, because he'd seen it many times and made it himself as well; it was an expression of pain. A deep wound that neither technique nor medicine could heal; a wound to the heart, and the pain of the soul.
"Sasuke. Sakura" Naruto said softly, slowly mulling over each syllable. He had been about to say something more when the other voice from his past interrupted him. The voice of the man he considered a brother.
"You shouldn't have come, Naruto." Sasuke said with a tone of finality and conviction. It was said with such a degree of authority that, for the briefest of moments, Naruto believed it too. But that thought was replaced with a storm of other emotions. The Konoha shinobi couldn't even begin to scratch the surface of what he was feeling. He looked down for the briefest of moments, overwhelmed.
It was Hinata's voice that brought him back. She said his name again, and this time it registered somewhere in his mind. His eyes snapped open and turned back up to look a his old teammates, budding tears forming as he did. Sasuke had seemed momentarily amused by this, as though he saw something far more than had been displayed.
"Why, then?" he asked. His fists began to clench, but his voice never managed to escape it's weak and low tremble.
"Why did you leave me alive, then? You knew I'd come."
Sasuke said nothing for a long moment. His expression was unchanging, even when he finally spoke. It was not the answer Naruto expected in the least.
"Because she asked me to." he said. Naruto's face twisted into an unknown emotion, as if his mind was unable to choose between sorrow and rage. Was that it? She had asked Sasuke not to kill him? What he hell did that mean?
Hinata's byakugan activated on a reflex, but even with it she was only able to catch the tail end of Sasuke's sudden movement. It was fast. Faster than she'd ever seen before. Faster than she thought was possible. Neither Neji-niisan, or Kurenai-sensei, or even her father. He seemed to almost disappear, and then was suddenly standing right next to Naruto, right next to him in fact, with one hand still resting on the hilt of his sword. She took a step back in reflexive shock before scolding herself. Sasuke spoke before she could say a word.
"Your dream of becoming hokage. I let you keep that, didn't I? That is still your dream, isn't it?" Sasuke said, tone of subtle humor seeping through the words. What caught Naruto was that it was not a mocking tone. Sasuke was not disbelieving, even if he was laughing in his own way. He simply stood in place, barely inches apart from Sasuke, eyes fixed forward.
"Shouldn't you be training, than, instead of chasing us?"
"How can someone be hokage if they can't save their own friends?" he said, face now holding an alien blankness. It was not normal for a face as emotive as his to be so blank and that did not escape the notice of both Hinata and Sakura. Finally, Naruto looked up at Sakura, locking his eyes with hers.
"What do you think, Sakura? Can someone like that really be hokage?" he asked, causing her to flinch. The response was quick, but not from her. The slow grind of steel echoed through the ruins.
"Well, in that case." Sasuke said with a bit more bite, "Perhaps I should put your out of your misery, than."
"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura shouted, just as the blade nearly left its scabbard. Sasuke's eyes flicked back for just a moment. And then Sasuke was gone, back to standing next to the long-haired kunochi he'd stolen away from Konoha when he left. She said something, almost too low for him to hear, but his brain pieced it together easy enough; she had told him thank you. Naruto felt some anger begin to bubble to the surface, feral thoughts trying to claw their way to the surface. Hinata placed a hand on his shoulder, and a wave of soothing seemed to fly through him. No, he wouldn't let that take over again.
"I'm sorry." he heard from Sakura, causing his face to harden for a moment. She was sorry?
So was he.
Three years before...
Everything. Absolutely, and without a single exception, everything.
Naruto groaned as he clawed his way back into consciousness, an action that might have been, in retrospect, an extremely poor idea. Pain shot through his entire body, radiating out from the hole in his chest, largest of his wounds. It sent lines of pain throughout his body, hot and molten. Although the worst of it was lancing down the arm nearest to the wound and into his gut there was pain through his entire body, but it was pain of another sort. Whereas the chest wound and the lines that traced from it were more like searing burns, the pain that worked its way in between this was that of steady throbbing, lower intensity but more constant. It was surprising he could recognize the differences at all, and given that he had it was little surprise that Naruto's other cognitive functions were hardly better off.
For the life of him, he couldn't think of where he was; his vision was blurry and indistinct. He did not see his bandaged form, nor the lines connected to his body. He did not see the peculiar seal that was inked above the worst of his wounds, smaller lines of seals trailing off from it; medical fuuinjutsu. He did not see the IV tubes linked into his body, nor the various tracking monitors that beeped softly, yet showed that the young boy was hardly out of the woods yet. And, most of all, he did not see the young, pale-eyed girl who had spent the last few hours simply sitting, watching, crying, and waiting; the medical staff hadn't seen a need to remove her, given their pressed nature. They hadn't the heart, either.
Naruto's mind raced as he attempted to remember why there was so much pain, but the answers consistently eluded him. He remembered pain; not like the searing or throbbing pains he felt in his body, but a different sort of pain, one of the heart. But where his body had been treated and bandaged to the best of the Konoha medical center's ability, this pain was deeper, and there wasn't a single treatment that the doctors and medical-nin could supply to sooth it.
The chase was what came to his mind next. Yet another sort of burning pain. His legs had been burning from the pursuit of something very important to the young genin. Naruto was not alone in this, he knew. There were others with him, pushing just as hard; four others, in fact. Then three of them, and then two; the group had grown smaller and smaller, until there was just Naruto. He remembered pushing on, chasing something. No, not something, but someone. Wait, no, that wasn't right either; it was someones. Two someones, people close and precious to him.
Who were they? Pain shot through his head, adding yet another sort to his symphony of agony. Perhaps a bit too melodramatic, but arguably accurate; each of the pains had their own melody and rhythm. They drowned out his thoughts, attempting to pull him back into the black void of unconsciousness. The pain would fade slightly as he drifted back, and he was contented to let it take him. Was being the operative word; a single name appeared in his mind, causing his eye shoot back open, alarms blaring as he began to attempt to sit up and move.
"Sas- Sasuke!" Naruto stumbled out, managing to get about half a foot or so off his bed until the pain truly registered again, causing him to arch his back as he spasmed. He collapsed back onto his hospital bed and into a heap. His breathing was coming in ragged gasps, and crimson spots were beginning to show on his white linens; clearly he'd moved far too suddenly and quickly, reopening some of his wounds in the process. Pain was spiking through him again, worse than before. Why was it so hard to breathe? He couldn't breathe, he couldn't think.
"N-Naruto-kun!" a soft voice said, drawing his attentions. Haze still covered his visions, making the figure fuzzy an indistinct; a girl, he could tell, bathed in a halo of white. It was beautiful he thought for a moment, distracted from the searing pains in his body for the briefest of moments. Her eyes shimmered, and he realized that she was crying for him. That seemed wrong, somehow; this angelic figure was crying. He didn't mean to make her cry.
"D-Don't worry." He muttered between gasps, struggling over the words, "Not gonna d-die just yet, angel. So don't w-"
He was unable to finish the sentence as the pain finally overwhelmed him, dragging him back into unconsciousness as figures rushed into his room. Hinata was pushed out of the way. She watched with tears streaming down her face as the boy whose smile saved her was dying.
I rewrote this chapter as a start to rewrite the first half of Part 1, mostly. I was never pleased with the early chapters, feeling that they did not meet the standards I'd wanted. Some were short, others tended to be a bit silly, and all in all I just felt it was necessary to rewrite them and bring them up to grade. I actually cut a scene from the prologue, and it will be in the rewrite of Chapter 1.
As a result of the, there are some minor changes. Until it's all completed, there may be some minor inconsistencies with the early chapters, but nothing major, I hope.