It took Sasuke a while to get over the initial shock, and even longer for his heart rate to finally return to normal. They were still in the Hokage's office, staring. Tsunade was staring at Sasuke, carefully reading his reaction. Sasuke was staring wide-eyed at Naruto, trying to make sense of the situation and think of what to say. The shock had made his mind go completely blank. Naruto was staring at Sasuke, also gauging his reaction, trying to read his emotions through his eyes. And Sai, who was never that great with hidden emotions anyway, was just staring at Naruto. Obviously.
After a few more minutes of intense staring, Tsunade broke the silence. "Naruto-chan and Sai, I would like to inform you that Sasuke will be joining you on your mission to Suna. For two weeks, you will be acting as a three-man (or woman) squad. The council thinks this will be the best way to gauge Sasuke's abilities and see how well he works as a team."
Sai's jaw dropped. 'Whhat?! Sasuke's coming with us? Coming with ME and NARU? No way!!!' he thought in dismay. Suddenly determined not to show how upset he was, Sai quickly closed his mouth.
Sasuke, eyes still glued to Naruto, smirked. Looks like it'd be just him and her for two weeks. Oh, and that Sai guy. Which reminded him....Sasuke looked at the Godaime. "Do I really need two babysitters? It'd be fine with just Naruto and I."
Sai was fuming now. This guy wanted alone time with Naruto, that was it. 'Sasuke likes Naruto doesn't he? She must be the only reason he came back. I'll make him wish he never came back at all!'
Naruto really didn't display too much emotion, but it looked like she sort of…smiled?! 'I guess the old teme's back.'
Tsunade glared at Sasuke. "I have assigned all three of you, and that is final. You will NOT argue with my decision. The three of you are to depart in one hour."
[59 minutes later]
Naruto and Sai were standing near Konoha's gates, waiting for Sasuke. Sai was still pissed about having to share his 'Naruto time,' and Naruto was still deep in thought. Luckily, Sasuke's arrival snapped her out of it.
"It's about time you're here, Sasuke-teme," she said, not betraying too much emotion.
"Hn," was all he said, for lack of a better word. Inside , however, he was pleased to hear her use his old nickname. He knew that Naruto understood his grunts completely, and was glad because it almost seemed like a little inside joke. He felt like he had a point against that Sai guy now. Sasuke walked up and stood next to her.
"I'm here now. Let's go." He said this and slightly brushed her arm with his own. Naruto didn't seem to mind the contact.
Sai just glared at him. Then, they left for Suna without another word.
They had been traveling for hours without stopping. The group was about halfway to Suna now, as they had made excellent timing. Three elite jounin- level shinobi is most likely what did the trick. However, it was getting dark, and so they decided to make camp.
Half an hour later, Naruto, Sai, and Sasuke were sitting around a small fire, and two tents had been set up near them. They ate in silence, until Sasuke (surprisingly) spoke up.
"Naru-chan, I wanted to talk to you." He tested out the familiar suffix, hoping that she didn't have a negative reaction
Naruto looked up. There was some sort of emotion in her eyes, but then she blinked and it was gone. "Well, this seems to be as good of a place as any," she said, unsure of what was to come.
Sasuke's eyes flicked to Sai. "Alone," he hissed.
"Whatever you want to say to me can be said in front of Sai-kun, as far as I'm concerned," was what the stubborn kunoichi replied. Sai's mood brightened considerably. Sasuke's darkened.
Sasuke was now getting annoyed. "Look, Naru-chan, the whole reason I came to Konoha was to talk to you, as you know, since you were the one who caught me in the forest!"
Sai looked at Naruto with interest. To Sasuke's dismay, Naruto did not show any sign of moving, nor did Sai. "Come on dobe," Sasuke said, using Naruto's old nickname as he grabbed her arm and dragged her to her feet. Their eyes met, black meeting blue. Night meeting day.
Sai angrily stood up and pushed in between the two. "Sasuke! Don't touch Naru-chan!" he said fiercely. He would not let this bastard come between him and his love. That was for sure.
Sasuke growled at him in return. "I'll do whatever I want , creepy little kid. Now leave us alone." He sent Sai the famous Uchiha glare.
Thoroughly pissed now, Sai shook his head. He decided to take it a step further. He put an arm around Naruto's shoulders, trying to pass it off as a gesture of comfort. He also moved them a couple steps back from the angry Uchiha. Naruto relaxed into it, and Sai looked extremely satisfied with himself. This only made Sasuke angrier. "Naru!" he hissed.
She looked up, eyes brimming with emotion. He could see sadness, betrayal, hope, and even anger in the depths of her blue oceans. Sasuke felt horrible when he saw tears forming in her eyes. Seeing their eyes connect, Sai took it upon himself to step in. Again. Still between them, he wrapped Naruto in a hug that held a slightly possessive edge to it. Sasuke gritted his teeth. Naruto was getting slightly uncomfortable now, and was confused by Sai's actions. She broke the embrace and looked at Sasuke, before saying, "All right teme. Let's go."
And much to Sai's annoyance, Naruto and Sasuke walked off into the forest with each other. Alone. His hands balled into fists. Sasuke was not going to steal his girl. Sasuke looked back to smirk at Sai, before brushing against Naruto's arm again.
Once they were a good distance into the forest, some of Naruto's tears spilled over. "Sasuke, why did you leave? Why did you leave and not come back until now?" she asked as the salty liquid ran down her face.
The sight of her crying nearly broke his heart. "Look, Naru, I…I needed to get stronger. I needed to learn everything I could from Orochimaru, and I was determined to get power from him. But, whether you think so or not, I'm not evil. I killed Orochimaru after I had learned everything I could from him to make the world safer. To protect you. After I killed Itachi-onii-san, I realized that my life suddenly seemed so…dull." Sasuke now found himself struggling for words. Naruto looked shocked at his words. She had not heard him say this much in a very long time.
"I realized that I felt like I was missing something, someone. Naru-chan, I was missing you." Naruto's eyes widened, and she gasped.
"Y-you wanted m-me?" she sputtered. 'No one has ever said that to me before.'
"Naru-chan, I know this may be hard to believe, but I loved you from the very beginning. It was only after you stopped coming after me that I realized what I was missing. It was you, Naruto. You're very presence, that air of happiness you always carry around with you, I missed that. I felt horrible about what I'd said and knew that the only way I'd be able to talk to you would be if I returned to Konoha, which I did. Naruto, I did this for you."
Naruto was shaking. She didn't know what to think. Her blue eyes were swimming with liquid and her cheeks were stained with tears. He…cared about her? Sasuke cared about her? She couldn't believe it. "Sasuke, you did all of this for me? You came back for me?" Her voice came out in a whisper.
The Sharingan wielder nodded. For once in his life, he seemed truly and genuinely sincere. (Well this is different than you expected, isn't it =] )
"S-Sasuke, I'm going to need some time to think this over. But, for now, although I'm not sure what I think about everything you've said, I think I'm ready to start to try to forgive you. You have caused me pain in the past, but only you can heal those wounds."
Sasuke smiled. He really smiled. Not smirked, smiled. He looked like an angel. "Naru…." he said, and stepped toward her. Naruto's breath caught in her throat. Sasuke then wrapped his arms around her. Naruto's eyes widened. Sasuke was…hugging her? It was a long embrace. Sasuke smiled into her hair. "Naru-chan," Sasuke said again, "I'm so sorry. For everything." Naruto sobbed into his chest.
"Sasuke...-kun, I've missed you too," she said. Then, she pulled back and looked into his dark eyes. "It's nice to have my teme back." (Yes, that's right- 'her' teme. He wasn't teme to anyone else, was he?)
Surprise flitted across Sasuke's face. He was really happy now. 'Naruto...called me 'kun? And did she just call me her teme? She thinks of me as hers? =]' And then their eyes met again and they were lost in old memories, the days when a happy Team Seven still existed.
Sai was currently watching everything from his hiding spot in a tree. His lips were pressed into a thin line. Sasuke was hugging Naruto. He watched how Naruto, in her weakened state, didn't resist, and actually leaned into his chest. What should he do? What could he do? Suddenly unsure of himself, Sai fled soundlessly back to their temporary camp once they broke the embrace.
Sasuke just stared into Naruto's eyes, took her hand, and led her back to the campsite. As they passed a certain tree, Sasuke's sharp eyes drifted to the spot where Sai had concealed himself moments ago. The ghost of a satisfied grin formed on his face.
The rest of their travels to Suna went by fairly smoothly. They had encountered an overly cocky bandit who thought he could take Naruto on one-on-one, but she had laughed in his face. Before he could even blink, the blonde appeared next to the bandit and hit (or should I say 'bitch-slapped') him in the face, which sent him flying into a rock. He didn't get up from the crumbling boulder. Naruto grinned. Sai and Sasuke sweat-dropped.
'That was…impressive,' Sasuke had thought.
'Wow, Naruto, you are even faster than I remembered,' thought Sai. He returned her grin.
However, something kept bothering Sai. Ever since Sasuke and Naruto had returned to the camp last night, something seemed different between them. Sasuke would occasionally put an arm over her shoulder or walk closely to her, and it didn't seem to bother her at all. But, it really bothered Sai. He watched this with an expressionless face. 'Should Naruto really be getting that comfortable with the Uchiha?'
Naruto liked Sasuke's little gestures of friendship. Or, at least that's what she thought they were. She acted like this with all of her male friends, so it didn't bother her in the least. Naruto was just blissfully happy to have all of Team Seven back together.
Sasuke was extremely satisfied with his progress with Naruto. She didn't seem to mind it whenever he touched her, and he liked that. He noticed how Sai got uncomfortable whenever he had his arm around her shoulder, or brushed the hair from her face. He smirked inwardly at that.
They were almost to Suna now, and the team was taking a quick break. Naruto and Sai were leaning against one boulder, and Sasuke was leaning against another. They were already in the desert, and it was getting how. All three of them were drinking what was left of the water they had brought. Sai finally decided to speak.
"Naru-chan," he said. Naruto looked up. Sasuke was sitting a little ways away from them and couldn't hear what they were saying.
"Look, Naru-chan. I really don't think that you should…be so… close to that Uchiha," Sai muttered, struggling for the right words.
"What? Why?" Naruto asked, slightly taken aback.
"It's just that most of the female population of Konoha is in love with him and you could get hurt if he was your friend. Not to mention his history with Orochimaru. Who knows what that man has done to him? Face it, Naruto, Sasuke is dangerous. You'll only get hurt if you're around him."
Naruto's eyes widened a little as she absorbed what Sai had said. He was right, and she knew that. 'Sai's a good friend, he's just trying to help. I don't want to stay away from Sasuke though. I like being around him, it reminds me of days when I was just a carefree genin.' She cast a sidelong glance as Sasuke.
"You're right Sai-kun. But, he's my friend now, and I don't know what I'm going to do. I guess I'll just be extra careful." Sai's words didn't have quite the impacted that he wanted, but he was glad that he'd said something. 'Naru, soon you'll realize that I'm the one you were meant to be with.'
Meanwhile, Sasuke was discreetly watching the two. He hated how Sai was always so close to dug his hands into the sand in annoyance. 'She's mine.'
Suna could now be seen in the distance. The sun was beating down on the leaf-nins hard, and although they were almost at their destination, each of them was very tired. Much to his pleasure, Sai noticed Naruto hadn't said a word to Sasuke since they had spoken. Much to his displeasure, Sasuke noticed the same thing. 'What did he say to her?'
Sasuke dropped back and ran in line with Sai. Their formation now had Naruto in the lead and the two dark-haired shinobi behind her. Sasuke glared at Sai, and Sai glared back. The raven slowed down, and Sai slowed down too, seeming to get the message. They were now a good distance behind Naruto, but still close enough to protect her if they were to encounter an enemy.
"What do you think you're doing you bastard," was Sasuke's polite (*cough cough*) way of starting the conversation.
"What do you mean?" Sai asked, his smile so fake that it made Sasuke want to slap it right off of his face.
"You know exactly what I mean. Stop trying to put false ideas in Naru's head. I came back for her. She means a lot to me. And, here you are, trying to pull her away."
Sai's smile evaporated. His face contorted into a heated glare, one that could rival the famous Uchiha glare(TM). "You don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, Sai, I do. I've known Naru-chan for much longer than you, so BACK OFF." Sasuke's reply was laced with venom.
Sai glared at him again. The phrase 'if looks could kill' ran through the Uchiha's head. "Don't try to twist her emotions with that corrupted mind of yours. Face it- Naru-chan is mine." And as if his own words comforted him, Sai smiled. It was a sick smile in Sasuke's mind. "Look, I know you think every single girl out there is falling for you, but it's not true. Naruto never saw you as anything more than a friend, if she even saw you as that. Naru-chan and I are so close that we're practically dating. We spend lots of time together, and I'm beginning to think that it's turning into something a little bit bigger than friendship."
Sasuke gritted his teeth at Sai's words. Unfortunately, Sasuke had no idea if he was just exagerrating the truth or not. This was definitely one of the downfalls of leaving Konoha. "Don't take advantage of her kind attitude. Don't read too much into what she says because she's just naturally a nice person. If you hurt her, I swear-"
Sasuke's words were cut off by Sai's almost sinister cackle. "Me? Hurt her?! Have you lost your mind, Uchiha? You were the one who left, you were the one who abandoned her for all those years! You were the one that punched a hole in her heart, figuratively speaking, and shoved a Chidori through her chest, literally speaking! I would never hurt Naruto Uzumaki. I love her."
Those words...they hurt. Sasuke felt them pierce his heart, as if he was being tormented in the Tsukuyomi by Itachi. Only this was worse because it was real. 'And...and the worst part is that it's true. I did do those things to her.' Sasuke almost shook with self-hatred. But then...no. He steeled himself against any negative emotion. 'I can not let this Sai guy get to me like this. I am the last loyal Uchiha (kind of) for God's sake, so I can, by birthright, annoy the hell out of people.'
Sasuke suddenly felt a red haze around his vision and was surprised to discover that he had unintentionally activated his Sharingan. His clan's bloodline must have been more connected with his emotions than he thought. Sasuke turned to face Sai, his eyes now blood red. With a glare that no one before him had ever managed to pull off, he hissed, with an almost bloodthirsty edge to his voice, "Stay. Away. From. Naru. She is mine," and then sped off towards Naruto. If anyone had been watching Sai, they would have been able to tell that he was visibly shaken, no matter how well he tried to hide it. The ink-haired shinobi looked up towards Sasuke and Naruto's gradually shrinking forms, and then started to gain speed. His hands clutched into fists. Horror, fear, and fury were visible in Sai's dark eyes for only a few moments before he closed them off to the outside world. When his eyes reopened, all that was visible was the reserved dullness of determination within their black depths.
An hour later, they were standing at the gates of Suna. The Hidden Sand Village was really quiet beautiful, even to an outsider. Light brown walls of sand formed a strong yet magestic shell around the city, like a mother fox curling her tail protectively around her kits. The bright sun shone brilliantly down on the walls, making the sand look like shimmering gold. The blonde jounin that stood facing the city smiled. Her two companions landed beside her. 'Well, it looks like we're finally here.'