Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

I wrote a total of twelve different scenes where Kakashi enters the story. Each several pages long... there was a scene with a bar, one with Gai himself, one where he sees Sasuke first, one where he runs into Syne's husband, I mean the things I tried! Yeesh... I just wasn't... I didn't like them. Rewrote them all... then trashed them all. So I really hope you like how I did it. Please tell me what you think. (And hopefully you won't kill me.)

Chapter 17: Kakashi Finally Returns!

Part 2: My team… my kids

Syne gently led the ten year old through the door of her apartment. Hands were soft as she removed his clothes. It was all very comforting despite how scared he was. Her eyes were cold brown orbs that looked at him like an animal would their prey, but her touch was anything but vicious. He distantly remembered the Hokage giving him a stuffed frog before embracing him in a hug, but the memory was fuzzy and brief. The constant skin contact of Syne was soothing. It was a sensation he'd never felt before.

Two humans simply interacting.

He'd craved it for so long. Other children high fived each other and sat so close at the lunch table that they ended up leaning against one another when talking. Children grabbed each other's hands to lead them places or squeezed a shoulder for reassurance. At the orphanage children would crawl into each other's beds and talk animatedly under the covers for hours simply enjoying each other's company or on winter nights for warmth. They helped each other swim or tagged each other in games. He wanted someone to play with him, sit with him, help him. He wanted to know what it felt like to interact.

He often saw adults lifting their children into the air before hugging them. The jealousy inside him towards the others was like a seething monster clawing under his skin to be free. Hands were intertwined as children were guided home. Sleeping toddlers were held securely against warm, tall bodies that simply walked right by him. He wasn't their child and he would never be anyone's child. He would never feel that kind of warmth. He didn't exist to them. He was nothing to them.

Syne leaned forward, taking him by surprise, crashing messily against his lips. She noticed though. She knew he existed and looked forward to seeing him. It was uncomfortable, what she was doing, yet the skin contact made him lean forward as well. It was so soft and warm and reassuring all at the same time.

She shoved him hard into the bed causing him to yelp. He tried to get up a bit as panic rose only for her to push down harder and cut his air off with her lips. Something wet and warm like touched his teeth and he squirmed realizing it was a tongue. He tried to move out from under her, to say he didn't like that, but she gripped his hair and yanked him back into place. Tears came to his eyes at the harshness and pain. He didn't like it anymore.

After a while it was finally over and Naruto Uzumaki lay quietly against Syne's body with her arms wrapped tightly around his small frame. The woman's face snuggled against the back of his neck in her sleep causing him to smile a little even while tears fell silently down his cheeks.

He closed his eyes, imagining that the woman above him was his mother, and that he'd only just then crawled into her bed after a nightmare. If he just pretended that the other stuff didn't happen… Naruto hesitantly reached out and brought the sleeping woman's arm against his chest. Her warmth surrounded him and for the few moments before he fell asleep he was happy.

He was stable again.

Sakura let out a shuddering breath as her rumbled clothes shifted with her as she moved her knees to her chest. She was outside the room that Naruto lay awake in. Iruka's soft voice drifted from inside telling the boy, and in consequence her, stories about his childhood. She'd peeked in twice by now and both times saw a barely conscious Naruto paying rapt attention to Iruka as the man held his hand and talked. It was so private that Sakura would not dare enter.

Every once and a while she would hear a hitch in her old academy teacher's voice before it would steady out. She felt like an intruder in this whole thing, yet to leave would feel even worse, like a betrayal. Midnight had long since passed and both Tsunade and Shinzune had retired to bed in utter exhaustion. The younger of the two giving her a disapproving glance before leaving.

Despite what many said about Tsunade's first apprentice Sakura always found Shizune to be cold when she talked to her. It was obvious from the start that the woman didn't like her for some reason. At no other time than today had it been more obvious though. When Shizune and Tsunade had come to help Naruto the Hokage had given her a sad, understanding nod toward her sobbing frame before entering. Shizune had glared at her.

Iruka's soft voice had stopped. Sakura gingerly stood and peered into the room. The man was fast asleep with his head on the bed, still holding Naruto's hand, as the boy stared up at the ceiling. Guruko was curled up on a chair beside the door with his eyes closed, but Sakura didn't know if he was asleep or not. She hesitated before entering the room. At the sound of footsteps Naruto tiredly turned toward her.

His eyes widened in surprise. He opened his mouth to speak, but only a raspy cough came out. His right hand, the one not held by Iruka's, immediately went to his throat.

"Naruto." Sakura's voice trembled.

She pulled a chair to the side of the bed and sat down. She knew she looked like a hot mess. Her hair was ruffled and her eyes red from sobbing. She probably needed a shower too, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to care.

"Sa…ura." Naruto's voice rasped. "Wha… are you… doing.. huff… here?" His voice was so tired and the question so honest.

There was no anger in it, just confusion, and it filled her with so much hurt.

Did he honestly think…? Yes. He did.

She could see it in his eyes. He didn't understand why she was there.

Tears leaked out as she leaned forward and cupped his face. Her lips quivered as she tried to speak, opening her mouth, but nothing came out. She tried again.

"I… I'm your… friend silly." Her voice was quiet, as if she feared being too loud would break what was left of her teammate.

Naruto stared at her for a long moment, eyes hallow and dark, before shaking his head in the negative. Sakura choked, clasping Naruto's hand in her's in an attempt to will his belief in their friendship into his body through hers. He still stared blankly in incomprehension. His eyes still questioned her presence.

"I'm your friend." Sakura said louder, trying to will confidence into her words. "I'm your teammate. Remember everything we've done together? You, me, Sasuke and Kakashi sensei… The four of us on so many missions. It was rough sometimes, and there's no way you could call it easy, but when you get down to it… it was fun. We became friends. Your… you've become one of my best friends. You and Ino and… Sasuke."

Naruto just shook his head again. Dull blue eyes met with brilliant green for a long moment before they moved up to stare at the ceiling, the faintest hint of a smile on cracked lips.

"Friends… cough… they like each… other. You've… never liked… cough… me. We are teammates… but not… friends." Naruto struggled to say.

Sakura grabbed the breathing mask and slipped it over his face, hovering over him as he breathed in deep, even breaths. She pressed her lips together in denial and shook her head again.

"It's not true. I may not like you in a romantic way, but you are my friend." Sakura insisted as Naruto stared up at her indifferently.

She wanted to sob, but knew she'd done enough of that.

She needed Naruto to know she meant it.

She needed him to know she cared.

"You…" Naruto's hoarse voice reached her through the mask. Sakura looked from the limp hand in hers. "truly… care a lot… about Sasuke huh?" Naruto chuckled, but it turned into a deep cough. When he looked into her eyes she saw understanding and hurt.

"What does Sasuke have to do with being my friend?" Sakura asked in confusion.

"You know… cough… I always wanted to be friends with you… Sakura. But you…" Naruto took off the mask so that he could be heard better. His breathing become shallower. "…never gave me so much… as a second glance though… I was always… the teammate that you… admitted existed when I… annoyed you… too much…" Naruto hacked harshly into his pillow, his entire frame seizing up, but when Sakura moved to put the mask back on he shook his head. "…or when I was useful. Maybe if… Sasuke hadn't been on our team… we could have been friends but… I don't regret it… being on a team… with both of you, you and Sasuke… but you've always been… chasing after him; wanting to know him, wanting to spend time with him, wanting him… to acknowledge you as someone important… to him."

"That's not true." Sakura told him, but she knew it was.

She remembered the words she said to Sasuke the day they became a team. They rang clear through her skull, mocking her with her own voice.

"If he had his way I'd never find love or happiness. He ruins everything! He enjoys tormenting me. Naruto doesn't understand me at all. I can't stand to have him anywhere near me."

"It's okay…" Naruto wheezed out. "I under… stand. Just… you and Sasuke… take care… of each other."

"Don't talk like that. Don't say such things. You're gonna be fine. Lady Tsunade will fix this." Sakura begged. "And then we… you and me can become friends, not just teammates okay? We can talk and eat lunch together and… and… please don't die."

Naruto took his hand out of Sakura's and slowly moved the mask back over his mouth. She could tell he was fading from consciousness. His eyelids were closing and the heart monitor was slowing down.

"Please don't die. Promise me you won't die." Sakura pleaded with him.

But he was already asleep.

Shibi had dismissed himself hours ago. Kakashi pushed himself to the limit.. Flipping over tree branches and skidding down mountain cliffs using chakra in order to get to Konoha's gates faster. How could something like this happen? Long term illnesses don't develop overnight and he certainly didn't notice anything on their missions or during training.

Giant boulder. Step. Step. Leap.

Kakashi tried to think back on every mission he'd had with the boy. Images of the boy sparring with Sasuke, arguing with Sakura about Sasuke, abnormally long hours of sleep (possibly?) but he would skip sleeping some nights all together so it made sense, them in the hotel, Naruto trying to get his book from him so that he would listen to what the genin had to say, Naruto exasperated with him for being late. Hundreds of images yet nothing that he could think of that would suggest…

Deep drop. Twist. Feet against rock wall.

Nothing to suggest he'd been sick! If you can't find something try looking at it a different way. What did he know about Naruto? The boy craved attention more than anything else. He preferred to sleep during the day than at night. Naruto talked loudly whenever he spoke. He was clumsy…


Kakashi, Sasuke and Sakura turned at the sound and as one gave a sigh of exasperation. Naruto had managed to trip on a stone in the road… for the third time that morning. The blonde was rubbing his face where he'd hit the ground and glaring at it as if it had personally decided it wanted to hurt him.

"Dobe… we don't want you to suffer even MORE brain damage so watch where you're going." Sasuke told the boy irritably.

"You need to be more careful! Ninja are supposed to be observant and agile so at least pretend you have one of those skills." Sakura scolded.

Kakashi said nothing. While unnecessarily harsh his two students did have a point. Being a clumsy ninja was asking to die an early death. His eyes watched Naruto as he slowly pushed himself up from the ground. He slowly dusted himself off before looking up at them.

"Ah… Sakura-chaaaan I was being careful! It's not my fault the road has so many stupid rocks!" Naruto pouted.

And they continued on their way. Two hours later another thump sounded. Sigh.

A precarious bridge. Note: get builders out in section B54 for repair work.


Kakashi rushed into the living room of the client's house they were supposed to be cleaning to find Naruto on his knees in the middle of four broken plates and cardboard box several feet away. His hands were shaking badly.

"Sorry! I'm sorry I didn't mean too. The plates were on top of the box, but I didn't see them when I pulled the box down. Jeez that scared the crap out of me." He said shakily, gesturing to his shaking hands.

"It's okay Naruto, but the money is coming out of your paycheck and I want you to explain what happened to our client. Try to be more careful." Kakashi told.

He left the room. His student wasn't a child, he could handle picking up broken plates by himself.

He was in a forest now. Tree base. Trunk. Branches.

Kakashi had them practicing a chakra control exercise. Lifting a kunai above your palm with chakra. It was meant to exude a great deal of chakra at a time through one's hands thus increasing the amount they'd be able to put into higher level jutsu's. Sakura wouldn't see results for a long time and the exercise was slightly pointless for Naruto. For Naruto this exercise was more about learning the control necessary to NOT blow the kunai up in the air like he'd been doing for the past ten minutes.

Honestly he'd been trying to tell Naruto how to do it correctly, but the kid just wasn't comprehending his explanations. Naruto simply didn't learn the way he taught. It was frustrating because he knew that Naruto could get this, he simply wasn't getting it the way Kakashi was teaching it.

The boy had learned Kage bunshin from a scroll so he'd tried giving Naruto scrolls, but that didn't work. The boy learned Sasuke's lions barrage from seeing it ONCE, but showing Naruto once didn't work. The boy learned stealth by hiding from ninja, but simply throwing blunted weapons at him in training didn't improve his agility at all. He didn't understand Naruto's learning style at all.

Kakashi looked back up from his book to see that Naruto was gone. When the sound of puking reached his ears Kakashi body flickered and reappeared above Naruto. The boy's hand was outstretched, using the tree as support, as he vomited across the ground.

"Naruto, what's wrong?" Kakashi asked, stoic as ever, but inwardly concerned.

Naruto spit out the remainder of his lunch before giving Kakashi a sheepish smile.

"I kinda… sorta… rammed the ring side of the kunai into my stomach while practicing. Heheheh." Naruto explained while rubbing his stomach.

Kakashi sighed before shaking his head and looking skyward.

'If I wasn't already grey haired you'd certainly have set a record kid.'

Duck. Leap. Land.

When Kakashi arrived at the bridge it was to find, to his vast amusement, Sakura atop the rail trying to engage an irritated Sasuke in conversation while he stared down at the river below and a fast asleep Naruto with chin to his chest and his back to the pole. It was to be expected on a Monday. Naruto did God knew what on the weekend's and always slept while waiting for the lazy Jounin to arrive.

The rest of the week Naruto would be wide awake, but Mondays were, as the boy put it, "Death warmed up just for me."

Always the optimist of the group, team 7 was caught off guard by the solemn phrase one early Monday morning when they'd first become a team. So caught off guard were they that Sakura cracked up laughing, Sasuke nearly tripped and Kakashi stopped walking to stare at the miserable blonde. Needless to say they never once questioned why Naruto immediately fell asleep every Monday, they just went with it, everyone deserved at least some time to be in a dark mood after all.

Kakashi stopped on a tree branch with wide eyes staring in shock. It wasn't possible… One moment after another came to mind of Naruto's clumsiness, but they were all distorted now… or undistorted? Kakashi leaped forward again. His mind jumbled with memories and the letter replaying over and over again in his head.

Holy shit… so many moments. So many times. Which meant for every moment he managed to see something there was more that he'd hadn't been privy to. Wind whipped by him blowing the cold winter with it. December was turning out to be brutal this year. Kakashi hoped that the weather would be the coldest thing he'd experience the nearby future.

It was the morning of the third day and Naruto was finally sitting up. Konohamaru crawled closer to his big brother figure so that he was practically on his lap. Moegi sat on his other side while Udon sat at the end of the bed. For a moment they could almost pretend they weren't sitting in a medical room and that at any moment Naruto would get up and join them outside in the sun.

"So she was in Konoha when Iwa attacked the Land of Eddies?" Konohamaru demanded.

Naruto smiled tiredly at him. His voice was still very weak, but he was no longer pausing to catch his breath and he didn't need the mask. He was recovering from the first attack even while his body was still dying on him.

"Yes. My mom came here under a treaty created by the first Hokage and the Uzumaki clan. During the third Great war the Uzumaki clan used barrier jutsu's in an attempt to stop invaders from using the Land of Eddies as an entry way into the fire nation." Naruto's voice said softly.

Iruka had gone home to get a change of clothes, but both Sakura and Guruko sat quietly in the chairs surrounding the bed. Guruko was silent because he knew Naruto enjoyed talking to the children and had been promising them that he would tell them about his mother for a while now.

Sakura was simply too stunned to say anything. She'd been on a team with him for a full year, but hadn't asked about his past nor his home life.

"So, so the Uzumaki clan protected us?" Konohamaru asked in excitement.

"For a while at least. They're barriers held up against the enemy for months, but eventually the earth jutsu's penetrated them and broke it. The Uzumaki clan and other Eddies clans fought for eight straight months before they were beaten. The spiral symbol on the backs of all Konoha jackets represents the thanks for my clans sacrifices." Naruto told them.

"So there aren't any more Uzumaki's around?" Moegi asked sadly. Konohamaru and Udon too looked unhappy about the news. "You don't have any family at all." The little girl pressed.

"No. What was left of the Uzumaki clan was spread to the winds as Refugees. That's why people call anyone who goes by the name Uzumaki a Gaijin Refugee; outsider from a war torn country." Naruto explained softly.

"That's why you said you're mom's a refugee?" Konohamaru asked. "But what about you?"

"I was born in Konoha and never got to see the Land of Eddies. This is my home." Naruto told him with a grin.

"So if the Uzumaki clan was a shinobi clan, does that mean they had a bloodline or animal contract?" Udon asked thoughtfully.

"They were seal masters who were capable of living for two hundred years." Naruto told them with a twinkle in his eye.

"Wow! No way! That's older than grandpa was." Konohamaru exclaimed.

"Way older." Naruto agreed. "But I bet the old man creaked and groaned better than any old Uzumaki ever could."

Konohamaru smirked and nodded his head in agreement. Naruto tried to sit up more, but pain wracked his body, bending forward and clutching his sides he let out a strangled gasp.

"Naruto nii!" Moegi shrieks.

Immediately Sakura and Guruko are up and beside the bed, but Naruto opened his eyes and shook his head weakly. Konohamaru was grasping the blonde's forearm tightly as if simply holding his older brother figure would stop the pain. Naruto swallowed dryly, attempting to smile through cracked lips.

"I'm okay." Naruto rasped.

Konohamaru tightened his grip.

Syne Fuji made sense. That part of the equation made sense to the copycat shinobi. Kakashi knew, as much as he didn't like to think about it, that his student was disliked and even hated by the majority of the village. The other percent simply didn't care either way. The tiny spectrum that did was newly formed and, for the most part, uninformed about the boy.

The idea that someone, a Jounin from the village, wanted to hurt Naruto was nothing knew. Unpleasant and maddening, but not unlikely or unexpected. None the less if he was within ten feet of the woman she would not be able to understand that she was dying by the time he got through with her.

He felt his left eye tingle in anticipation. Apparently Obito was all for this plan.

They would see it together.

Minato would be so proud.

He didn't think that would save him from his sensei's wrath when he finally saw him again though.

Sasuke Uchiha reveled in the repetitive motion of his stances; knee lowered, hand raised, foot exactly one foot and seven inches apart from the other. Move into the next stance; knee straightened, hand lowered and turned, foot brought in slowly and a small turn of the body in preparation for the block stance. Breathe in. Breathe out. Next stance. No thinking is required, simply muscle memory, everything else is nonexistent.

Sweat glistened on his brawl as the continuous workout caused his taxed body to overheat despite the cold that rustled his clothes.

Sasuke had been coming out here every single day since his talk with Tsunade. Far past midnight each night he snuck home for a shower and a few hours rest then left again. No Sakura to corner him, no girls to 'talk' to him on his way to the training field, none of the rookies to badger him… just him and nature. He'd run out of food earlier than any other day though and his stomach was begging him to have a nice warm meal instead of the nearby fruits.

Sighing in annoyance Sasuke began to head back to the village. It wasn't like he could avoid the world forever. Walking into town he took to the roofs to avoid the looks he was likely to get from his smell. Entering one of the finer apartment complexes in Konoha Sasuke ripped the note left on his door off before heading inside. Tossing it on the table without so much as a glance Sasuke walked into the shower. Whatever the Hokage or his teammates wanted could wait until he was decent enough for human company.

He heard the sounds of feet pattering outside the bathroom door and knew that Uhei had come back. The dog had taken to disappearing for several long days at a time the moment she was healed. The small dog in his pink haired teammates care had come up to him one day a few weeks after Kakashi left to inform him of where she disappeared. Apparently she wasn't very fond of him and preferred Pakkun and Sakura's company. Sasuke had gladly given his supplies to Sakura who'd simply taken it wearily after muttering under her breath about '…going to steal my shampoo too?" He neither wanted to know nor ever intended to ask her what that meant.

Getting out of the shower Sasuke found Uhei whining piteously up at him from the floor. She gently pulled on Sasuke's towel in the direction of the door. So Sakura wanted him? Was that it? Sasuke tugged the white cloth from the dog's mouth.

"Whatever it is she wants it can wait till I get dressed and have had food." Sasuke answered grumpily.

The dog growled low in her throat at him.

Sasuke sighed. This is why her preferred cats.

There was one memory above all else that was causing Kakashi the most grief. He hadn't even thought… That was no excuse though. He should have. He wasn't superhuman though, things happened. Naruto obviously didn't want anyone knowing he was sick, but he was a jounin, some genin should not have been able to deceive him. On the other hand Naruto is the only child to have ever escaped Anbu when they pursued him. It had been so obvious though…

Dear kami. He was trying to justify not noticing his student was severely sick around him and he didn't notice for over a year. Kakashi swallowed hard. He had to own up to this. He couldn't avoid what he had done. No, he hadn't done anything, and that was the point.

Kakashi wasn't sure if he was more ashamed of the fact that he paid 'that' little attention to his smallest student or if he was ashamed of how little patients he had when it came to dealing with them.

Minato had always scolded him about how impatient he was to get things done or to move on to the next thing. It seemed all these years he still was like that. That's why Sasuke was such a great student, because Kakashi didn't have to be patient with him. Sasuke simply got it the first time around and kept on going.

Minato would have been able to have patients. He showed unbelievable patients with all of them. He never raised his voice like Kakashi did on occasion. He never favored one student over the other. He never taught one without teaching the others. He never pushed his students onto other teachers. He found a way, even if it was severely difficult, to spend equal time with each of this students.

What would his sensei say to him if he knew? The memory came back again.

"Kaka sensei." Naruto called.

Kakashi felt a headache coming on. He almost always got headaches when he talked to Naruto. He scolded himself for thinking like that. Naruto was his student. Even if Naruto annoyed him a little he still cared about him and you don't treat people you care about like that.

"Kaka sensei!" Naruto's unpleasant voice called again.

Kakashi cringed.

"Yes Naruto?" Kakashi asked as patiently as he could.

"Is it okay if I ask you about something?" Naruto asked.

"Well your already asking me something so, yes, go ahead." Kakashi drawled.

'No, nicer, be nicer.' Kakashi scolded himself.

Naruto didn't seem to have paid any attention to his tone though.

"I've got this neighbor that's really ill. She's always getting sick, vomiting all the time, and the acid really hurts her throat. It sounds like it's more gratey as time goes on. Do you know how to stop it? Or make it better?" Naruto asked.

"Why doesn't your neighbor go to the hospital then if she's so sick?" Kakashi asked in a bored tone.

"It's… an illness that can't be cured. She's been sick for a long time." Naruto said quietly.

"Look Naruto… I'm not a medic. If your neighbor has a problem with her throat then she should ask the trained hospital staff to tell her how to fix he throat." Kakashi told him. Kakashi knew that Naruto would come up with anything to talk to someone, but this was really ridiculous. Sasuke and Sakura were coming towards them, but Naruto didn't seem to notice.

"Alright but… She was telling me something this one time about how others react to her. Her voice really annoys her friends a lot… what if the medical staff can't help? How would she fix it or change it?" Naruto asked.

"Don't' you think you should be worrying about your own voice first Dobe? It's not exactly pleasant is it?" Sasuke said, smirking at Naruto when he turned around with his lips curled in anger.

"What was that Teme?" Naruto snarled.

"Oh boy… listen." Kakashi muttered.

"I said your tone deaf… your voice is like glass being grinded together." Sasuke mocked.

Naruto snarled and lunged at the taller boy, but before they could come to blows Kakashi body flickered between them.

"I think that's enough! We're done for the day. Meet back here again tomorrow at eight o clock sharp!" Kakashi told his team.

Sasuke 'hn'd his agreement before leaving with Sakura trailing behind the boy. Naruto turned to him.

"Kaka sensei?"

"What is it Naruto?" Kakashi tried really hard not to let his annoyance show through, but he failed spectacularly.

"Never mind."

Naruto had outright told him he was sick all the time. Naruto had been asking him for help in an indirect way and Kakashi had essentially told him to shut up. Look underneath the underneath. If it hadn't been obvious before Sasuke opened up his mouth it should most definitely been after.

What other things had happened that he'd overlooked?

A set of chuunin were staring at him from across the street as he waited for the old woman to finish wrapping the meat he'd bought. As discreetly as he could Sasuke glanced at them from the corner of his eyes. He wasn't imagining it. They were whispering to each other.

"Here you go young man." The old woman's voice called.

Sasuke turned and thanked her before slipping it under his arm with the bag of vegetables he'd bought earlier. Moving further down the market place to pick up rice Sasuke scanned the crowd carefully. No one else was behaving oddly. Maybe he'd just happened to pass them by as he was talking about the finalist from the chuunin exam or about the rookie twelve in general. People, civilians and ninja alike, had come to hold a degree of respects for the young genin after their involvement in the defense against the invasion. Sasuke shrugged it off.

Sasuke became weary though when the man selling him rice looked at him strangely. Shoulders tense and mind alert he slipped a kunai from his hustler into the bags he was carrying for easier access.

Fingers touched his shouldered. Sasuke spun, withdrawing a kunai, and disabling the arm.

"Ow, ow, ow, ow, owwwww." A girl's voice whined loudly.

Sasuke stared, startled at the blonde girl before him, then released her. Ino stumbled forward rubbing her shoulder to ease the ache before bending down to pick up the duffle bag he forced her to drop. Sasuke got there first. She blushed as he handed it to her. That was about as good of an apology as the girl was going to get. Even Naruto knew better than to touch him when he was tense like that.

"Sasuke-kun, Sakura's been looking for you, and the Hokage as well." Ino explained.

"Why?" Sasuke questioned.

Ino swung the bag over her shoulder and fidgeted with the strap. She was avoiding looking at him.

"Why Ino?" Sasuke demanded.

She looked at him fearfully before quickly glancing away again.

"Naruto… he's… I don't think I'm really the right person to tell you." Ino mumbled out.

Sasuke froze. Naruto? Was he hurt? Did he leave the village? Was he dead? How could that happen… they'd only talked a little over a week ago. It couldn't be. An image of Naruto's beaten and angry form on his knees in the dirt came to mind. The fight was the last time he'd seen him. They'd screamed at each other, well he screamed at Naruto first, and they'd fought.

Sasuke moved closer to Ino and gripped the girl by her forearm.

"What happened to Naruto?" Sasuke asked.

"I don't think… I really think Sakura should be the one to tell you. I'm taking her fresh clothes right now." Ino said, gesturing to the bag.

"You've already told me that something happened to Naruto. You can't simply drop it. Now tell me." Sasuke snapped angrily.

Ino flinched. Her pale blue eyes still avoiding his tense brown.

"Something happened, no one will tell me what, but they called my Dad in. Naruto's really sick and apparently it was caused by someone that's being interrogated." Ino told him quietly.

"Where's Naruto now?" Sasuke asked.

"I'm going there now. Just… just follow me."

Ino began to walk to their destination, but at the heated glare Sasuke shot her she moved to the roof and picked up her pace. Sasuke's food lay abandoned on the floor of the market place.

Had Sakura or Sasuke noticed? Clearly not. Sakura was the least observant person he'd ever met. Unless something was thrown into her face she didn't pay attention to it. Kakashi sighed. That had been a problem he'd faced when teaching her how to dispel genjutsu… you had to notice you were in one in order to get out of it. He'd hoped that she would have applied the skill outside of the area of genjutsu, but he'd been proven time and again that it went over her head. He'd already resigned himself to pointing out how she could be more open minded in the battlefield and general life uses.

Sasuke was a very observant person… when it came to noticing things concerning himself. He'd noticed that the boy seemed to be trying to avoid taking or thinking about other people's opinions and thoughts. Why? He had no idea. He could pretend otherwise, but really he honestly didn't know the logic the boy was using to justify such actions. Perhaps it had something to do with his lack of respect towards others or his attitude. Maybe he thought that if he allowed others to know that he noticed them it would be admitting he was equal to them? Eh… it made his head hurt.

So Sasuke and Sakura didn't, or hadn't known anything. No, definitely not. They both may have a bit of a selfish problem going on, but they weren't heartless. Kakashi cringed at his own thoughts. So was he selfish or heartless?

Anko smirked at the wretched creature collapsed on the floor. She'd gotten part of the information out of her. It had taken him three long days of switching between her, Ibiki and Inoichi, but they'd ripped it from the bitch. She wrote down a report and summoned one of her personal snakes to take it to Tsunade.

Naruto had to give her something through an exchange. Their fingers had to touch and they both had to state a phrase together as the object left his hand and entered hers. The moment the release ritual finished the seal on Naruto's chest would come undone and release him from the death hold.

Anko's foot pushed up against the bloody woman's face. Syne had held onto the information concerning what he was supposed to give her like a starving person holds onto a scrap of bread. She also refused to give them the phrase that needed to be said.

Her foot still leaning against Syne's face Anko pulled out smelling salt from one of her coat pockets. Smiling the purple haired woman shoved it up the other female's nose. It took a moment, but the brunet stirred and when she did… Anko let out roarish laughter as a shriek left the tired, shaken woman before her. Struggling against her chains Syne thrashed around to get the thing out. When it finally came loose Anko allowed her to have a few moments of peace… Then took it away ruthlessly.

Snakes seeped from her sleeves to wrap around the barely conscious victim. Head tilting to one side as she began to fall unconscious Anko walked up and slapped her. The resounding echo filled the room and had its desired effect. Syne glared hatefully at her through swollen, black, and purple eyes.

"You'll… never…" Syne croaked. "Free him."

"The Yamanaka is about to take over my shift." Anko whispered playfully as she rubbed Syne's cheek. "But I think I'll stay. I want to hear those delicious fear filled screams that took so long to drag out of you."

Kakashi rushed through the gates of Konoha. The two guards didn't even try to stop him, apparently having been warned that Kakashi wouldn't be checking in with them. He headed straight for the Hokage tower. Tsunade would either be with Naruto or know where he was so that was his best bet of getting to Naruto the fastest. If he could just see the seal and how it worked he'd have a much better idea of how he could help. Gai's description of it… was less than stellar.

Kakashi gracefully dodged genin, chuunin, and jounin that were unlucky enough to be in his way. Breathing hard as he came to a stop in front of the wide, double doors of the Hokage's office he felt his heart being squeezed. His family had been threatened by an outsider and that wasn't acceptable. Kakashi stood straight and opened up the doors.

A sob was stifled as he walked in. Kakashi felt himself go numb as his eyes took in the image before him. Tears fell uncontrollably as Lady Tsunade covered her mouth to stifle the pain wracked breaths breaking free. Papers lay scattered around her and on the floor. Shizune held onto their pet pig in a grip that seemed suffocating as she stared at the ground blankly.

"No." Kakashi whispered brokenly.

Sasuke felt a sickening sensation with every level down they traveled.

"Chouji and Shikamaru don't know yet." Ino told him quietly. "They went to some town on the edge of the fire nation with Shikamaru's mother. They were going furniture shopping, of all things, and Mrs. Nara told them that she wasn't going to do it for them so they had to go along. It's Saturday though, and they said that no matter what they would be back by Saturday so they'll be here at any time."

Sasuke wasn't really paying attention though… he didn't care if they were here or not. He just wanted to know that Naruto was going to be okay. What if… what if their fight had somehow caused this? What if he'd hurt Naruto to the point that he couldn't defend himself against whoever made him sick? Ino kept talking.

"Kurenia's team won't be back until tomorrow. They've been on some long recon mission for a client that wanted them to spy on her husband. Neji's been down to visit though. I was really surprised by that. I didn't know they were close."

They finally came to a hall where the door at the end was left wide open. Sasuke sped up without so much as a glance towards Ino. Reaching the door he entered. The IV was unhooked. The air mask sat being unused on a bed that looked made. The chairs were empty.

Naruto wasn't inside. No one was.

A/N: Cough* Um… Hides. If you kill the author no more chapters will come out. It is a proven fact.