Sasuke's Completely Unnecessary Christmas Carol

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. Or A Christmas Carol for that matter.

Note: So this has been done before. A lot. Probably because it's so much fun. And Sasuke is the Naruto character it's mostly done with because he is, without a doubt, the person most in need of an intervention since, well...awhile. What makes this different than the others? ...Sasuke doesn't decide that upon returning from becoming a missing-nin and/or stops acting like being safely pardoned is the worst thing that could possibly happen to him he needs to jump Sakura. Immediately. :p Though from those stories I really did get the impression Sasuke seemed to view his failure to do so as on par with betraying everyone and trying to kill Naruto, which I thought was kind of strange given everything else he had to atone for. I mean, it's perfectly fine for Sakura to still be single and to still like him, but agreeing to date him the minute he comes back from close association with people out to destroy Konoha and nearly killing the guy she sent out to try and bring Sasuke back? A little self-respect would be nice. At least wait until it's clear that he actually plans on staying.

It wasn't that Uchiha Sasuke hated Christmas, exactly. It was just that the holiday – like so many other things in his life – had quickly lost any importance or meaning it might once have held for him in the devastating wake of Massacre.

Still, while he cared not a whit about Christmas, he hadn't become so oblivious to everything but his overpowering need for revenge that he didn't realize that, for most people, it was kind of a big deal. Everyone always obsessed and tried to make things perfect and above all spent the time with the friends and family he had been sorely lacking these last nine years.

Why was it, then, that Haruno Sakura, Uzumaki Naruto, his replacement, and that ANBU guy were insisting on bothering him on Christmas Eve? Did they honestly have nothing better to do?

"Come on, Sasuke," Naruto pleaded. "You got your revenge. Madara's dead, Danzo's dead, the Sandaime's dead, Kakashi 'persuaded' the Council to step down so they have no power anymore. Why won't you come home?"

Sasuke ignored the question. Konoha hadn't been home to him since it had ordered his family's destruction and no matter what might have happened the last time he and Naruto had fought, he still held the citizens of Konoha partially responsible and didn't care enough about the people he'd left behind to put up with their ill-gotten peace.

"Sasuke, the Raikage was good enough to let you off the hook for trying to kidnap his brother since he escaped and is alright, but we can't keep you out of the Bingo Book forever!" Sakura told him. "Come back home! We miss you."

If it weren't for the fact that he had proven perfectly capable of obsessing after five years to the point of fleeing the Village – which might not have been one of his brighter moves as he still wasn't convinced Orochimaru was completely gone after he had revived during his fight with Itachi – he would probably have said something about how pathetic it was that they couldn't just give it up already. They might have actually been less irritating when Danzo was in charge and Shikamaru had talked them into trying to kill him. Since Naruto hadn't been on board with that plan, it stood no chance of working. With Naruto, he still didn't think it would, but it would have at least been a genuine threat.

"Perhaps he's afraid that if he comes back he'll have to face the fact that he's run out of people to seek vengeance on," his replacement suggested.

Right. Like Sasuke needed revenge to go on. If that were the case, he would have moved against the newly rebuilt Konoha by now. Naruto would never let him get away with that, but Naruto wasn't always in the village. Bored by now of the thoroughly predictable attempts to convince him to return with them, Sasuke turned to go. Sakura and the others couldn't stop him, of course, but Naruto could. As he always did, however, he let Sasuke go. If the fight Madara had forced between them had shown him anything, it was that Naruto was just as good as he was. He didn't like it, but it was somewhat comforting to be vindicated on his choice of rival years ago when he was the resident genius and Naruto the dead last who couldn't even graduate without divine intervention. Naruto, perhaps, could have forced Sasuke to come back because even if Sasuke was the victor of their fight, there were three other perfectly capable shinobi on hand to subdue the battle-weary Uchiha afterwards. Despite his obsession with doing just that before Madara's defeat, though, Naruto never did. He said he didn't want to force him and would just hold on until Sasuke came home voluntarily.

Like that would ever happen.

- -

Sasuke was well aware that his situation was somewhat unique. Most people who had left their village after nearly killing a fellow shinobi, joining another village, and joining a group whose goals included the destruction of his birth village would get them placed in the Bingo Book, at the very least.

When Kakashi had become Hokage the very first thing he did after somehow managing to talk the hotheaded Raikage down was taking Sasuke out of it. Since Madara's death, Sasuke hadn't really had any plans or – as his replacement had noted – people who had personally wronged him that he needed to seek vengeance on. Konoha as a whole had, but that was indirect and he could very well decide to do that later. Still, since he wasn't doing anything to actively hurt Konoha or its relationship with the other villages, Konoha had elected to 'give him some space.'

Sasuke had no plans to return, but then, he really had no plans at all so he supposed anything was possible. Not as likely as him deciding to see if he could round up his old team and take down Konoha, but it a possibility all the same.

As Sasuke approached the village he had been staying in for the last two days, he put a henge on himself and returned to his room, where he promptly resumed his usual form. Since Naruto and Sakura had found him, he had really best leave come morning. He walked over the armchair in the corner of the room and sunk into it wearily. He'd only intended to close his eyes for a moment, but all too soon he was fast asleep.

Sasuke woke up with a poke to his forehead. He opened his eyes and saw his brother standing right in front of him. Apparently he wasn't quite as awake as he thought, then. Still, what exactly did one to say to a dream version of the brother he had hated for half his life and killed before promptly finding out it was all just one big misunderstanding and Danzo and his stooges were to blame?

Sasuke finally settled on, "You're dead."

Itachi's lip twitched. "Duly noted, Sasuke."

"I miss you," Sasuke confessed.

"I know."

"Why are you here?" Sasuke asked.

Itachi raised an eyebrow. "You believe that I am despite your previous assertion that I'm dead?"

Sasuke shrugged. "I believe that I'm dreaming, so why not?"

"You're not dreaming, little brother," Itachi told him gently.

"Then how do you explain the fact that you're here?" Sasuke challenged. "Because the only other explanation I can think of is 'I'm hallucinating' and I'd rather believe that I'm dreaming than crazy if it's all the same to you."

"You could always be caught in a genjutsu," Itachi pointed out.

Sasuke nodded. "Good point. Kai." Nothing happened. "A dream it is."

"You're awake, Sasuke," Itachi assured him, "but I suppose that for the time being it won't do any harm for you to believe otherwise. After all, if this is just your subconscious and your subconscious is getting so…proactive, perhaps you'll start listening to it."

"I don't know what you mean," Sasuke insisted.

Itachi sighed. "I had a feeling you would say that."

"Why are you here?" Sasuke said again.

"I want to save you," Itachi told him seriously.

Sasuke cocked his head, looking confused. "From what? You saved me that night already, you kept me safe from Danzo, Madara, and the elders all these years and they're all either dead or declawed anyway, and no one's really after me…or is someone hunting me?" That was very important information to know and Sasuke could reasonably see his ridiculously gifted brother returning from the afterlife to warn him about that.

"You aren't in any physical danger right now, no," Itachi admitted. "What I'm here to try and save is your soul."

Sasuke blinked in surprise. "My…soul? What kind of danger could that be in?"

"Quite a bit, as it happens," Itachi said. "You were doing very well at first. Then Orochimaru came around and you nearly killed your best friend for no other reason than he was trying to stop you from running off on your own with someone you knew to be evil. Even after that, you kept the evil acts to a minimum and didn't really kill anyone until me, which was partly because I went out of my way to use up so much energy and because of the tuberculosis anyway. After that, though…joining Akatsuki, attempting to destroy Kirabi, killing all those samurai, leaving your friends behind without caring if they lived or died…it's nothing you can't come back from, but if you continue along this path then you will cross that line and there will be no coming back."

"Cross what line?" Sasuke asked, confused. "What path? I don't have a path right now."

Itachi smiled sadly. "You do, you just can't see it yet."

A thought struck Sasuke then. "What about you? Despite your good intentions, you still killed everyone and were an active member of Akatsuki for eight years where I'm sure you got up to all kinds of...morally questionable things. What happened to you?"

"Sorry Sasuke, I can't talk about that," Itachi replied apologetically.

Sasuke sighed. "It figures. Why are you so worried about me, anyway?"

Itachi merely raised his eyebrows.

Sasuke impatiently shook his head, "No, I didn't mean that. You always worried about me, I know. What I mean is…how are you so sure that I'm going to end up dooming myself when I don't even know what I want right now?"

"If your reaction to finding out the truth about the Massacre is any indication, you let your need for vengeance override your common sense. And even before then, with Orochimaru…" Itachi trailed off.

Sasuke's eyes flashed. "I had just found out that the government had our entire clan killed and used you as a scapegoat!"

"I did kill them, Sasuke," Itachi felt compelled to remind him. "And it was my choice to go along with it. I could have just as easily sided with the clan and allowed the coup to happen."

"I don't care," Sasuke said stubbornly. "What did you honestly expect me to do with that kind of information?"

"Honestly…that," Itachi admitted. "Which is why I never wanted you to discover the truth."

"So you'd rather I spent the rest of my life hating you than hating the ones who really deserved it?" Sasuke demanded.

"If I hadn't, I wouldn't have worked so hard to become hatred incarnate in your eyes," Itachi answered.

"You should have told me the truth," Sasuke said bluntly.

"We'll have to agree to disagree on that," Itachi decided. "Now listen, my time grows short. I know you don't believe me about all of this so there will be three other spirits to help convince you."

"Or you could just tell me," Sasuke suggested. "I'd be more inclined to listen to you anyway."

Itachi merely shook his head. "I would if I could, Sasuke, but I can't. Expect the first when the bell tolls one. Expect the second when the bell tolls two. Expect the third when the bell tolls three."

Sasuke groaned. "This is going to take awhile, isn't it? I'm tired; can't they all come at once? Or at a more decent hour for that matter?"

Itachi shrugged. "Sorry Sasuke, that's just the way these things work. I have to go now, so goodbye Sasuke…and good luck."

"Itachi!" Sasuke cried, jumping to his feet, but his brother was already gone. He shook his head. "I must have been dreaming. Still, as strange as that was at least I managed to dream about Itachi without having to relive the massacre, too. God knows when the last time that happened was…"

- -

Sasuke jerked awake just as a bell – why was there a bell anyway? Did this village feel the need to announce what time it was every hour via bell? Why? – rang out once. One o'clock then.

"You know," Sasuke yawned. "I think I may actually be more tired than I was before. One hour of sleep is so not worth it."

"Tobi is really sorry about that Sasuke, but Tobi is sure that Sasuke will forgive him once he understands just how important this is," a cheerful voice informed him.

Sasuke risked a glance in the direction of the voice and winced. He rubbed his eyes but the image did not change. Standing on the other side of his room, in all his orange-masked glory, stood Madara, for some reason acting like his idiot avatar 'Tobi'. There was really only one way he could respond to something like that. "Oh God, why?"

"Sasuke?" Madara asked quizzically.

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "I know it's really you, Madara. You can stop acting like an idiot."

"Tobi could," Madara agreed, clearly having no intention of doing so.

"You're here to torture me, aren't you?" Sasuke asked rhetorically.

"No, Tobi is here to help Itachi save you; the torturing is just an added bonus," Madara explained.

"...But you HATE me," Sasuke pointed out.

"Tobi does," Madara acknowledged.

"So why are you even bothering?" Sasuke just didn't understand.

Madara shrugged. "Tobi was bored."

Sasuke groaned. "Of course you were. So how are you going to try and 'save' me?" he demanded. "Annoy me to the point I realize that my 'friends' back in Konoha aren't so bad after all? Annoy me to the point that I become so desperate to make you go away that I agree to go back to Konoha? Annoy me to the point that-"

"Tobi does not actually think that he is so annoying that that is the only thing you could possibly think he could do," Madara announced. "But Tobi will concede you've always had a rather small annoyance tolerance."

"So what do you plan on doing?" Sasuke asked cautiously.

"Tobi is going to take Sasuke on a trip down memory lane!" Madara announced brightly.

"I'd really rather not…" Sasuke said.

"Ask Tobi is he cares," Madara shot back.

"You're just still mad about the whole you getting your ass handed to you by Naruto while I watched thing, aren't you?" Sasuke asked.

"Me?" Madara asked innocently, temporarily breaking character. "Hold a grudge? Surely you jest."

Sasuke sighed. "Whatever. Can we just get this over with?"

"Certainly," Madara said agreeably. "Just grab onto Tobi's arm and we can be off."

Sasuke hesitated. "Do I have to?"

"Yes," Madara said firmly. He reached out and grabbed Sasuke's wrist. "But if you don't want to, Tobi can always grab you." With that, he moved towards the window.

"Look, I get that you're dead, but I'm not so a fall out of a third-story room is going to hurt, at the very least," Sasuke pointed out.

"Tobi can fly!" Madara declared proudly.

"…Come again?" Sasuke asked.

"Tobi thinks it's very sad that young people these days never listen," Madara said, shaking his head ruefully. "Tobi can fly."

"People can't fly," Sasuke said, looking slightly panicked as Madara continued to drag him to the window.

"Don't be so closed-minded," Madara chided, breaking character again. It was probably easier to stay in character when the person you were talking to didn't know who you really were and so it actually mattered. "I am the great Madara Tobi Uchiha; I can do anything!"

"Except beat a seventeen-year-old kid who still can't make a buushin," Sasuke muttered. "Is Tobi really your middle name?"

"Does it matter?" Madara countered, finally managing to pull Sasuke through the window.

Sasuke clenched his eyes tightly shut and vowed that when he hit the ground and became a ghost he would get ghost vengeance on the bastard who'd killed him. After a moment, he realized that even though he was moving, he didn't appear to be hitting anything so he tentatively opened his eyes. He wasn't falling after all. "You can fly," Sasuke whispered, stunned.

"Tobi did say that," Madara pointed out, sounding annoyed. "Twice."

Sasuke nodded. "Yeah, but you're also a pathological liar so forgive me for not taking you at your word."

"The things Tobi does for you…" Madara trailed off, shaking his head.

After a few minutes of seemingly aimless flying, Sasuke felt the need to ask, "…Do you even know where we're going?"

"Of course Tobi does," Madara snapped.

"Doesn't seem like it," Sasuke remarked.

"How would you know? Do you even know where we're headed?" Madara demanded.

"Well, no," Sasuke admitted. "But I would if you told me."

"Tobi doesn't need to tell you; we're here," Madara announced letting go of Sasuke and letting him fall crashing to the ground.

"Thanks for that," Sasuke said sarcastically.

"Your lack of faith disturbed Tobi," Madara sniffed.

"Where are we?" Sasuke asked, looking around. He froze. "This is…Konoha? Damn it! I didn't want to come back here! Now they'll never let me leave…"

"Don't worry; we're in the past so they can't see us," Madara assured him.

Sasuke blinked. "In the past? What do you-" He broke off as a much younger version of him ran by. "Oh. Should we follow him?"

"Tobi thinks that might be a good idea," Madara agreed and the two set off after the child. "Of course, Tobi would also just as soon kill the child, but the past is sadly immutable."

Sasuke shivered. "Thank God for that." He paused. "And I officially can't believe I just said that."

"Nii-san!" little Sasuke chirped as he reached his brother and hugged his leg.

"Hey Sasuke," Itachi smiled down at him before picking him up."Are you excited?"

Little Sasuke nodded enthusiastically. "It's Christmas! That's the best time of year!"

"And why is that?" Itachi asked.

"Because we get to have presents!" Sasuke cheered. "I love presents."

"I've noticed," Itachi sounded amused. "Well, are you ready to head home?"

Little Sasuke made a face. "Mommy always makes me go to bed early on Christmas Eve…"

"Well, the sooner you go to sleep the sooner you'll wake up and it will be Christmas," Itachi pointed out.

"But it's hard to sleep because I get so excited!" Sasuke told him.

"Just do your best," Itachi advised and, still carrying Sasuke, he began the walk home.

As Madara and Sasuke followed them, Sasuke frowned. "Why Christmas Eve? Is it because today's Christmas Eve? Is there going to be some kind of theme here?"

Madara shrugged. "Tobi supposes so. People tend to come together on Christmas and so you will have some of your best and worst memories then."

"I could live without seeing those," Sasuke told him.

"Tobi still doesn't care," Madara replied.

"I didn't really think you would, I just felt it was worth mentioning," Sasuke said.

Meanwhile, his past self and his not-dead brother had arrived back at the Uchiha Compound.

"Merry Christmas Eve, Mommy!" little Sasuke exclaimed, wriggling out of Itachi's arms.

Mikoto smiled and ruffled the little boy's hair. "Merry Christmas Eve to you, too."

"Is Father home?" Itachi asked.

Mikoto nodded. "Yes, he's just finishing up dinner. Now, you both get to open one present tonight and then it's straight to bed with you, young man."

Sasuke made a face. "Told you," he muttered.

"At least you get a present first," Itachi pointed out.

Sasuke's face lit up. "Present!" he cried, running into the house.

"Slow down, Sasuke," Mikoto entreated as she followed him in.

Itachi shut the door on that particular Christmas.

"Tobi feels nauseous," Madara announced. "That would have been better with some blood, or at the very least an explosion. Deidara-senpai would have known what to do!"

Sasuke stared at him incredulously. "You have severe issues."

"And that surprises you?" Madara asked skeptically.

Sasuke shook his head. "Oh, no. I've always known that anyone who willingly wears orange has severe issues, but I just thought I'd point out the obvious."

"Well if you're done, Tobi will take you to the next memory," Madara announced, holding out his arm again.

Reluctantly, Sasuke took the proffered arm and they were off.

Soon they landed back in Konoha but this time they appeared to be at the cemetery. Sasuke was nearly positive he knew why.

Sure enough, Sasuke could just make out a little figure huddled next to a pair of graves and decided he may as well get closer.

"M-mom, D-dad, this is the f-first Christmas since you…you d-died and I still don't understand. Why? Why would Nii-no, why would Itachi do t-this? I thought he l-loved us! Why?" little Sasuke demanded, his voice shaking.

"Wow. Tobi thinks that's kind of pathetic," Madara put in helpfully.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "I was eight, alone, and traumatized! Give me a break!"

"Well, sure," Madara agreed readily enough. "But if you'll watch," he waved his arms and little Sasuke started to grow, "that's what you did for the next four years, as well."

"Is there a point to this?" Sasuke bit out.

"It's not Tobi's job to tell you everything," Madara complained. "Figure it out yourself. But look! Now you're twelve! Maybe now you'll actually do something!"

Little Sasuke was still by his parents' graves but this time, instead of staying there all night, he sighed softly, brushed the snow off of his clothes, and got up. Sasuke and Madara followed silently as he made his way to Ichiraku Ramen Bar, of all places.

"Oh great, Sasuke's here!" Naruto said, sounding thrilled to see him for once. "Does this mean I can order now?"

Kakashi sighed. "Yes, Naruto, this means you can order now."

"Yay! Since Sasuke's late that means he's paying so…I'll have one of everything and two of the pork," Naruto announced.

"Like hell I'm paying," both Sasuke's said at the same time.

Madara cocked his head. "Tobi wonders if you realize that you're not actually here?"

Sasuke reddened slightly. "Of course! It's just a habit."

"A strange habit to be sure since you left Konoha five years ago," Madara pointed out.

"You can sit by me, Sasuke-kun!" Sakura told him, patting the stool beside her invitingly.

"Hn." Little Sasuke did take the seat, but only because that was the only one open near his team. "What did you want to meet us here for?" he asked Kakashi.

"The holidays are a time for family," Kakashi said jovially. "And so who better to spend them with than your team?"

"How about our actual families?" Sakura asked. There was an awkward silence as the girl realized that of the four she was the only one who actually had a family. "Oh, I, uh-"

"Can I have two bowls of beef ramen?" Kakashi ordered loudly.

"Oh, and I'll have a bowl of vegetable," Sakura said, shooting her teacher a grateful look.

"What do you want, Sasuke-kun?" Sakura asked him.

"Nothing," Sasuke replied.

"He'll have two bowls of chicken," Kakashi overruled him.

"Hey…I just realized something!" Naruto gasped.

"What?" Sakura asked.

"Sasuke…was later than Kakashi!" Naruto declared.

There was a moment of stunned silence as they realized that he was right.

"Ha! Not so perfect now, are you, Sasuke?" Naruto smirked.

"Naruto!" Sakura said, whacking the blond boy on the head. "Don't say that about Sasuke!"

"Ow, you hit really hard Sakura-chan…" Naruto whined, rubbing his head and wincing.

Without a word, Sasuke abruptly turned and strolled out of the restaurant.

"You don't want to see how this plays out?" Madara asked.

"Do you?" Sasuke retorted.

"Well, no," Madara admitted. "But this isn't Tobi's past, this is yours."

"Exactly," Sasuke agreed. "So I know how this plays out. I don't need to see it."

"You miss them," Madara accused.

"Do not, I just have no need to see that," Sasuke denied. "Did you have any other years to show me or can I go back now?"

"Well, next year you were with Ero-Hebi -" Madara began.

"Back it is," Sasuke interrupted.

Madara shrugged. "Tobi didn't really want to see Ero-Hebi again anyway. He was kind of creepy."

"So…you can take me back, then?" Sasuke asked hopefully.

Madara gave a long-suffering sigh. "Tobi supposes. Although if you would just learn how to fly, I wouldn't have to."

"Tell you what," Sasuke said, "I'll get right to work on that the minute I stop being haunted."

- -

Sasuke's eyes flew open. "Was that a dream?" he wondered aloud. He shivered and looked around for the source of the sudden cold. His window was open, which it most certainly hadn't been when he'd gone to sleep. "Figures he couldn't even be bothered to shut the window…"

Shaking his head in annoyance, Sasuke got out of bed and went to go check the clock. It was five minutes until the second spirit – or third, depending on how you looked at it – was due to arrive. Since even if he did manage to fall asleep in five minutes that would be even more pointless and exhausting than sleeping for merely an hour, he grabbed one of those tourist guides hotels often helpfully left out and settled into the armchair to wait.

When he heard the bell chime two o'clock, Sasuke looked up expectantly, but there was no one there. He frowned, puzzled, but decided that he could wait a few more minutes before declaring his first two encounters with the supernatural to be but a dream and returned his attention to the rather obvious ploy to try and make him spend his time and money in this inconsequential little town.

Sasuke's head shot up at the sound of something hitting the floor and saw a boy a few years younger than him lying face down on the ground. "Are…you okay?" he asked uncertainly.

The boy jumped to his feet. He had spiky black hair a few shades lighter than Sasuke's, orange-tinted goggles over his forehead protector, some sort of covering over his ears, familiar black eyes, and an orange-and-blue outfit. "Yeah," the boy assured him, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "I just tripped through the window."

"You tripped through the window," Sasuke repeated, hardly believing it. He considered asking how, exactly, one managed to make it to the window of a third-story window without apparent difficulty only to trip through the still-open window, but decided against it. He had a feeling it just wouldn't be worth it. A quick glance at the clock showed him it was now fifteen minutes past when he had been told this spirit would be here. "You're not very punctual, are you?"

"Hey!" the boy objected. "It's not my fault! There was a ghost cat stuck in a tree and he just looked so sad that I had to help him out! And then right after that a ghost rat came out of nowhere and they got into a fight and I was concerned so I just couldn't leave!"

Sasuke raised a skeptical eyebrow. "What were you worried about? That they would somehow manage to kill each other?"

The boy looked flustered but didn't reply.

"You look like an Uchiha," Sasuke declared. "Are you?"

The boy considered the question. "Technically, no."

"Technically? How can you be 'technically' not an Uchiha? You either are one or you aren't one," Sasuke informed him.

"I could have been adopted, or disowned, or married into the family," the boy pointed out.

Sasuke snorted. "Disowned, I could see. Uchiha never adopted outside the family and very rarely did they marry outside of it. Besides, you can't have married into the family; you look like you're twelve."

"Thirteen!" the boy corrected indignantly. "And I'm a lot older than you! I died two years before you were even born!"

"I don't care," Sasuke said bluntly. He was finding it a bit hard to believe that this boy could be an Uchiha, personally, as he reminded him far too much of Naruto. Not to mention the lack of punctuality and clear klutziness were hardly befitting of an Uchiha - even a dead one. "Explain why you couldn't just give me a yes or no answer and try not to get distracted by any hypothetical situations."

The boy shrugged. "I used to be an Uchiha but now I'm dead. My name's Obito."

"Are all of the spirits I'm going to encounter going to be various family members?" Sasuke asked.

"Well, if I'm the third of four and the other two were also related to you, then it certainly looks that way," Obito agreed.

"Why couldn't they have sent family members I actually like? Or even know?" Sasuke demanded. "I mean, it was nice seeing Itachi, but Madara? And now whoever you are?"

"I don't know what to tell you, kid. And it's not like I have no connection to you! I was on Kakashi's genin team," Obito informed him. "Well…I was a genin and he was a chuunin and then two years after I made chuunin he made jounin and then I died, but you know what I mean."

"I still don't actually know you thus cannot possibly appreciate seeing a dead relative," Sasuke pointed out.

"Hey, you should be glad there was a relative clause as I heard Orochimaru really wanted the chance to see you again," Obito countered. "And let me tell you, if he planned on being even a fraction of as creepy as he is in death, then you should count yourself lucky that he's not going to get that chance."

Sasuke nodded. "He probably isn't too happy with me right now, all things considering. But since we do have less time due to your little cat problem, we should probably get started. Madara already felt the need to mock several of my past Christmas' so if you're here to take me back to any more than I'm telling you now that I am not interested."

"Oh no, I'm here to show you what your friends are doing on Christmas," Obito assured him.

"They're not my friends," Sasuke insisted. "And I don't care what they're doing."

"And yet you somehow know exactly who I'm talking about," Obito noted. "Besides, I care. Minato-sensei and Rin may also be dead, but I want to see what Kakashi's getting up to as Hokage."

"You could just go on without me," Sasuke suggested hopefully.

Obito grinned and grabbed his arm. "Sorry, kid, doesn't work that way. Hang on."

"Do I have a choice?" Sasuke murmured as he whisked away.

The pair landed rather unceremoniously in the snow right outside the Hokage tower.

"None whatsoever," Obito answered belatedly.

"You know," Sasuke said, spitting out a mouthful of snow, "at least when Madara dropped me he did it on purpose."

"Leave me alone! I'm still getting the hang of this whole 'flying' thing!" Obito defended.

"You've been dead longer than I've been alive!" Sasuke reminded him.

"And I have had better things to do than obsessively practice!" Obito shot back.

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Why are we here?"

Before Obito could reply, that question was answered by the arrival of Naruto, Sakura, his replacement, and that guy with the extended forehead protector whose name he still didn't know.

"We're supposed to follow them?" Sasuke asked, just to make sure.

"We are indeed supposed to follow them," Obito confirmed.

Making sure to look appropriately reluctant, Sasuke obediently trailed after his former team and the two usurpers.

Kakashi didn't look up from what he was writing when the four entered the room. "Do you think a spinoff of Ichi Ichi Paradise about the clear sexual tension between Kano and Seiichi would sell?"

"Aren't you supposed to be doing paperwork, Hokage-sama?" the adult of the group asked.

Kakashi waved him off. "It's Christmas, Tenzo; I'll do it later."

Obito nearly fell over. "You have no idea just how jarring it is to witness him being a pervert."

"So he didn't use to be like that?" Sasuke asked, mildly curios.

"God no," Obito shook his head. "The Kakashi I remember was never late, never emoted if he could help it, put the mission above teamwork up until right before I died, was obsessed with what other people thought and being seen as the 'perfect' shinobi…"

Sasuke started. "The person you just described sounds like the Anti-Kakashi."

Obito laughed softly. "By your standards, I suppose he would be."

The returning ninja waited for him to say something else, but he seemed to be waiting for something.

Eventually, Sakura ventured, "If you include enough smut, I'm sure it will sell fine."

"Good advice," Kakashi said approvingly. "So. How did it go?"

"Sasuke still refused to come home," Naruto said quietly.

"And Naruto let him go," his replacement added. "Again."

"Sai!" Sakura hissed.

"You know, if he were willing to come back on his own, he probably would have done so by now," Kakashi pointed out. "He achieved what he set out to do and understands that he can come back. Why don't you ever try and make him anymore?"

Naruto looked distant. "I…could, I suppose. And I want to sometimes, believe me. Despite everything, I still see Sasuke as my best friend. I know that's probably kind of strange since he left five years ago and has tried to kill me on more than one occasion, but he is and I don't really see that changing. I might be able to bring his body back – alive even – but if I force him then he'll always resent that and he'll never really be back. Don't get me wrong; if you give me the order to make sure he's physically back here no matter what, I will, but I think that would just make it worse."

After a long moment, Kakashi spoke. "I think you're right, Naruto. Someday that might become necessary, but for now he's just a confused teenager wandering around trying to find direction. Since we want him back alive, forcing him back now would probably be a bad idea."

"I am not a confused teenager looking for direction!" Sasuke protested.

"Either way, it's nice of them to let you go off and do whatever you feel like," Obito replied. "I still can't believe Kakashi made Hokage…probably shouldn't be too surprised, though. He always was the elite type. That really used to annoy me, you know."

"This is a rather flagrant breach of protocol, sir," Tenzo reminded him.

Kakashi leaned back in his chair and his eyes crinkled like he was smiling, but with the mask on it was hard to tell for sure. "That, Tenzo, is the beauty about being Hokage: you get to set the protocol."

"Especially since Kakashi fired the Council," Naruto added.

"I still don't get how he did that," Sakura confessed. "I mean, I was apprenticed under the Godaime for years and trust me, if she could have fired Homura-san and Koharu-san, she would have. So how did you manage it?"

"There are some things you are really better off not knowing, Sakura," Kakashi replied.

"I guess," she replied, looking unconvinced.

"Now, if that's all, you can all go," Kakashi told them. "It's Christmas, go find other people of the opposite sex and let your hormones run wild! Or the same sex, really; I don't care as long as there are plenty of hormones involved!"

"You know, I think his perversions have only gotten worse since he decided to try his hand at writing," Naruto commented as he and Sakura made their way outside.

"I agree," Sakura said. "But hey, what can you do?"

"Nothing legal," Naruto replied. "Especially as he's the Hokage."

"Crudely phrased though it was, that's not exactly a bad idea," Sakura said delicately. "I mean, I'm planning on spending Christmas with Lee at my parent's house and I'm sure Hinata's interested in seeing you today, too."

"You can't really compare your relationship to your boyfriend to my friendship with Hinata," Naruto claimed.

"Oh please, Naruto, everyone knows you two are dating," Sakura said, rolling her eyes.

"We are not," Naruto said firmly.

"You guys have plans almost every day, train together at least once a week, go out to eat more often than you do with anyone else…for God's sake, Neji said you're spending Christmas with them!" Sakura said, sounding exasperated.

"Well, you're spending it with your boyfriend and they know I have no family. They're just being nice," Naruto insisted.

"Why are you being so difficult?" Sakura demanded. "You're dating in everything but name. The lack of kissing is really all that makes your relationship different from mine with Lee."

"You know why," Naruto said, kicking at the snow in front of him.

"I get that you feel obligated to bring Sasuke back, insist on honoring the promise you made to me five years ago that you would do just that, and don't feel you deserve to be Hokage or have a relationship if you can't save him but…no one's asking you to give up on him. Just live a little," Sakura urged. "It's been five years already and if you're waiting for him to take you up on your offer to come home, it will probably be a lot longer."

Naruto sighed. "I know, Sakura, I do and I want to but…I'm afraid that if I do do those things and do let myself get caught up in happiness that I'll forget and I don't want to do that. Sasuke deserves more than that."

Sakura leaned over and gave her friend a hug. "Oh Naruto…"

Sasuke decided that he'd seen quite enough of that and promptly turned and started strolling in the opposite direction.

"Hey, where are you going?" Obito demanded as he started hurrying after him. "Sakura was just telling Naruto that she missed you as well but wasn't punishing herself your defection and he shouldn't either!"

"I will not be guilt-tripped into coming back," Sasuke spat as he sped up.

"It's not a guilt-trip, they-" Obito began, then stopped suddenly. A slow smile spread across his lips.

"What?" Sasuke snapped.

"You feel guilty," Obito said triumphantly.

"I do not!"

"But you just said-" Obito started to say.

"The fact that I don't feel guilty is why they're little attempt to guilt-trip me won't work!" Sasuke cut him off.

"They're not trying to make you feel guilty, Sasuke, they don't even know that you're there," Obito pointed out tiredly.

"Well you're trying to guilt-trip me by showing me this, then," Sasuke rallied, crossing his arms in defiance.

Obito held up his hands placatingly. "Hey, I can't control what they say. If you feel guilty – or feel that you ought to – that's all on you."

"Whatever. Take me home," Sasuke ordered.

Obito looked suddenly sheepish. "I would, but…well…"

"But. What?" Sasuke asked dangerously.

"Since I was so late I ran out of time, so I've got to go," Obito told him apologetically.

Sasuke couldn't believe it. "You don't have time to even take me home? It'll take you two minutes!"

"Two minutes I don't have," Obito replied.

"By the time we finish arguing about this two minutes will have passed!" Sasuke proclaimed.

Obito merely shrugged. "Sorry, rules are rules. But don't worry; the final spirit should be here soon." He hesitated. "Despite everything, you seem like an okay guy. I really hope you learn something from this…" With that, he faded away.

"Great," Sasuke muttered. "Stuck as a specter in Konoha, of all places. I just hope this next spirit is on ti-" He stopped as he sensed something behind him.

Quickly, he spun around to see a man about half a foot taller than him, clothed all in black with gloves on his hands and a hood pulled over his face.

"Are…can you see me?" Sasuke asked. It was a stupid question as he wouldn't get an answer unless the answer was 'yes' but he had to start things off somehow.

Sure enough the black-clad man nodded.

"Are you another Uchiha? Or rather, were you?" Sasuke pressed, not wanting to get into another argument about tenses like he had with Obito.

Another silent nod.

"I take it you're the taciturn type?" Sasuke ventured. Well, at least there was some solid evidence that this man - was it a man? - was related to him since he couldn't see what he looked like.

The spirit didn't even deign to answer as he held out a gloved hand. Feeling more trepidation than he'd felt with the other two spirits, Sasuke took it.

There was no flying through the air this time; one minute Sasuke was standing a little ways away from the Hokage tower and the next he was standing…in the exact same spot. He looked around, confused, and saw Naruto trudging along towards the Hokage Tower. He looked older. This spirit must be showing him the future then.

"Am I supposed to follow Naruto?" Sasuke questioned. The spirit made no reply, which Sasuke took to be a yes and hurried after the boy who swore he was still his best friend.

Even had Sasuke not been invisible and intangible, Naruto still probably wouldn't have noticed he was there, so intent he was at staring at the floor and making the trip to Kakashi's office take as long as possible. Sasuke eventually got tired of waiting for him to hurry up and brushed past him.

Kakashi was at his desk, but he was staring at the clock with no paperwork in sight. Sakura was also there, although Tenzo and his replacement weren't. On the one hand, their absence – especially that of his replacement – could only ever be a good thing, but both Sakura and Kakashi looked so tense that he was really starting to get a bad feeling about this. Was Naruto returning from yet another failed attempt to bring him 'home'? If so, why was everyone so solemn? He'd been turning down their pleas for him to return since before he had even left Konoha. Sure, they didn't like it, but they had to be used to it by now, especially as Sakura and Naruto appeared to be in their mid-twenties.

Finally, Naruto stepped into the Hokage's office, shutting the door quietly behind him. He wouldn't look at either of them.

Sakura opened her mouth then closed it again, unable to speak.

"What happened?" Kakashi asked, his voice a little strained.

Naruto closed his eyes. "Sakura-chan…I'm sorry."

Sakura gasped and covered her mouth with her hands in horror.

"It…had to be done," Kakashi said slowly. "Sasuke was a threat."

Sasuke started. What? What were they talking about? Earlier they were saying how they were just going to let him be – minus Naruto's occasional attempt to talk him into coming back to Konoha with him – and now suddenly he was a threat?

"I know," Naruto's voice was barely audible. "Believe me, I know. He…he was so unreasonable when I saw him. For awhile, after Madara died, I thought I could reach him. Or, failing that, he would realize that enough was enough already. But then…maybe we left him alone too long, I don't know."

"You can't blame yourself," Sakura said, her voice shaking heavily.

Naruto shook his head in denial of her words. "I should have done something. I swore I'd save him. 'The promise of a lifetime', I said. And now…he's dead. I killed him."

"He was coming after Konoha, Naruto," Kakashi said gently. "You saw what happened when Pein attacked and Sasuke was stronger than him. You couldn't stay in the village forever and he would have done a lot of damage before he was stopped. And unlike Pein, he didn't have the Rinnegan to fix things if he changed his mind later."

"I know," Naruto said again. "I just…I don't understand. Why wasn't it enough for him? He killed Itachi, he helped kill Madara, Danzo's long dead, the Sandaime's dead, even the Council who advocated the Massacre are finally dead. Why wasn't that enough? Why did he decide to try and take it out on Konoha?"

"I don't know," Kakashi answered.

"I asked him, you know," Naruto continued. "He wouldn't tell me. He just laughed. And when I killed him…he was still laughing. It's like he didn't care."

"Naruto…" Sakura moved forward as if she were in a trance, tears in her eyes. She raised her arms and Naruto braced himself for a hit. Instead, she pulled him into a hug. "He's gone."

"I know."

"I can't be here," Sasuke realized as he turned and fled the scene. The specter was waiting for him outside of the building. "That…no, that wasn't me. I know Naruto. That man…he was the same as the boy I knew. He never would have killed me if he had any other choice. What happened? I don't need to go after them; I got my revenge! Why would I…what the hell happened?"

The specter was silent.

"Answer me, damn it!" Sasuke shouted angrily. "She shouldn't be crying and he shouldn't look so dead inside! What the hell happened?"


"This isn't real!" Sasuke insisted, pounding on the specter's robes. "It can't be real! I wouldn't do that to them! Even when I left…I would never make him kill me. I wouldn't!"

The specter finally responded to Sasuke's assault. Not with words but by opening up his cloak and folding it around the struggling boy. Sasuke wrenched in its grasp, trying to free himself and eventually managed to pull the material off of his head.

He blinked and looked around. He was sitting on the floor of his hotel room wrapped in his quilt. The sun wasn't up yet.

A quick check of the clock informed him that it was four o'clock. Even though he had barely slept at all, he wasn't tired or if he was, he didn't notice it. If he hurried and Naruto and Sakura had stopped for the night, he could conceivably make it back to Konoha shortly after they did.

The question was, did he want to? Before last night, he would have immediately answered that with a resounding 'no' and moved on, insistent that he didn't care. And he didn't, not about Konoha, at least. In all honesty, he had never cared much for the village of his birth. Before the Massacre he was but a child who defined Konoha vaguely as the place he lived. Afterwards, he was far too devoted to bringing Itachi down – as painful as that was to remember now that he knew the truth – to spare any devotion to the village. The people of Konoha were always too happy and shallow and would never leave him alone. The decision to leave with Orochimaru should have been easy, then, would have been if it hadn't been for the three people who had gotten under his skin.

Naruto. Sakura. Kakashi.

His best friend. The first girl who ever really saw him. His first mentor.

It was quite accidental, but perhaps not unexpected given that they were the first people he'd had to spend time with since his family had died.

He could destroy Konoha today and shake off any remorse easily enough, but watching his old team grieve him…he didn't want that to happen. He didn't want to believe that could happen, that Naruto could kill him, but it was a few years in the future and who knew what might happen? Certainly when he'd first graduated the Academy he never thought he'd find himself wandering alone after taking down his only living relative for the sake of his once-again beloved brother and turning his back on everything else.

That settled it. Konoha might not matter, but he had three people who did and as long as they were such a big part of Konoha, he really couldn't find it in himself to seriously wish for its destruction and didn't want to contemplate a world in which he could.

He was going back.

- -

Sasuke reached the Hokage Tower just as Naruto and Sakura were exiting it.

"Nothing legal," Naruto was saying. "Especially as he's the Hokage."

"Crudely phrased though it was, that's not exactly a bad idea," Sakura said delicately. "I mean, I'm planning on spending Christmas with Lee at my parent's house and I'm sure Hinata's interested in seeing you today, too."

"You can't really compare your relationship to your boyfriend to my friendship with Hinata," Naruto claimed.

"Oh please, Naruto, even I know you're dating," Sasuke scoffed.

Sakura froze.

"No one asked y-" Naruto snapped automatically. "Sasuke?"

"In the flesh," he confirmed.

"What are you doing here?" Sakura asked, stunned.

Sasuke crossed his arms. "What? You don't want me here? I rather got a different impression yesterday, but I can go if you wan-"'

"NO!" Sakura and Naruto interjected together.

"Are you back to stay?" Naruto asked, poking him in the arm to see if he was real.

"I'm considering it," Sasuke answered honestly.

"Why?" Naruto demanded.

"Why not?" Sasuke countered.

"You didn't seem very interested yesterday," Naruto pointed out.

Sasuke shrugged. "Well, that was yesterday."

"We should go tell Kakashi," Sakura realized. She grabbed Sasuke's hand and started to drag him up to the office.

"Sakura, I can walk, you know," Sasuke told her, attempting to yank himself free.

"I'm not taking any chances," she replied.

"Sakura?" Kakashi looked up when she stepped into his office again. "I thought I told you to go…Sasuke."

"Hello, Kakashi," Sasuke greeted quietly. He pointedly ignored Tenzo and his replacement.

"You're back," Kakashi said simply.

"People keep saying that," Sasuke noted.

"It's difficult to believe," Kakashi explained. "You said no just yesterday."

"And today I'm saying yes," Sasuke countered. "Assuming the offer's still good."

"Of course it is!" Naruto burst out. "After you helped take down Madara, there's no way we wouldn't let you come back."

"He's right," Kakashi agreed. "And it's only been a year. We'll make people understand."

"So what now?" Tenzo asked.

"We're going to need to pardon him, have him swear allegiance to Konoha, have ANBU watch him for awhile, fill out copious amounts of paperwork…" Kakashi trailed off. "But it's Christmas so we can worry about all of that tomorrow."

"I guess Naruto did manage to get through to him after all," his replacement marveled.

"Of course I did!" Naruto boated. "I'm amazing."

"Of course, this would be easier if we had a solid reason for him leaving besides 'seeking vengeance.' That might make people uncomfortable," Kakashi mused.

"I suggest we blame Orochimaru," Naruto said immediately.

Sakura rolled her eyes. "Oh, honestly, Naruto. You can't go around blaming all your problems on Orochimaru."

"I can try," Naruto said stubbornly.

"Although mentioning the curse seal and the fact it's gone now would definitely help Sasuke's case…" Kakashi decided. He started suddenly. "Crap, I can't stay here! I'll just end up accidentally doing work!" He jumped to his feet and jumped out the window.

"One of these days he'll realize that he has a door," Sakura said, shaking her head in exasperation. "Oh!"

"What?" Sasuke asked.

"I just realized…now you HAVE to admit you're dating Hinata, Naruto!" Sakura exclaimed. "Because whenever I asked before you said you couldn't because Sasuke was gone and now that he's back..."

Naruto sighed. "Fine...Hinata understands, but if you're that insistent on it I suppose I can make it official when I go over there today."

"It can be a Christmas present!" Sakura said cheerfully.

"What, him finally acknowledging their relationship?" Sasuke asked. Some present.

"They have been dating for a year now," Sakura pointed out. "Even if Naruto won't admit it and Hianta just smiles knowingly."

"In that case, she probably would appreciate it," Sasuke conceded.

"Hey, no teaming up on me! You guys suck!" Naruto complained. He paused. "But…for the record, Sasuke…I'm glad you're back."

Unbidden, a small smile made its way to Sasuke's face. "You know what? I think I am too."

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