Disclaimer – I don't own Naruto or any of its characters nor am I making any money off these writings.

Warnings – Not too many in this part, boys loving other boys in the romantic sense of the word, bad language…I think that's about it.

Beta'd – Unfortunately this is not beta'd, all the mistakes are strictly my own and I hope that you can overlook them.

This story is all for SHADOWPHOENIX143, Happy Birthday, Dearest, Sweetest one!!!

Growth.

Part 1.

"Please, please Sasuke don't do this."

Sasuke didn't say anything but kept emptying the closet and drawers, packing his stuff into a big suitcase.

"I don't understand…I thought we were good Sasuke. I thought we were in love…I love you." Naruto's voice was worn and hoarse from shouting, talking and now finally pleading.

Pale hands stopped and hovered in the air for a second, before moving again and placing the shirt they were holding in the suitcase.

"Hn, you knew this was nothing serious."

Nothing serious? You have to be kidding me. Sasuke we've been together for four years and living together for two…how can that not be serious?" Naruto felt as if he was living his worth nightmare, it was so unreal; his Sasuke couldn't really be leaving. "I thought everything was great between us and now I come home to you packing, I don't understand Sasuke."

Sasuke sighed and stepped away from his packing for a moment. "Look Naruto, don't you ever want something more?"

"More?" Naruto sounded confused.

"Yes more." Sasuke dragged a hand through his hair in frustration. "We're just out of college, we spent our entire lives in this fucking town…there has to be more out there."

"Of course I want to see the world, we were going to travel it together remember. I just need to help dad out for a while at the bakery, he's still not well after the accident but when he is we could go anywhere you want." Naruto looked at Sasuke imploringly.

"You don't get it do you?" Sasuke sounded tired and worn. "I want something more than you Naruto. You're a nice small town boy and that's all you'll ever be, you lack ambition and drive and I want more than that."

"I…I…" Naruto's mouth opened and closed but he couldn't get any words out, fuck he couldn't even breathe. It felt like his insides had been ripped right out of his body. He'd never even have guessed that Sasuke felt that way…he thought they were happy.

In a daze Naruto watched Sasuke finish packing then the dark haired male went over to him and stroked his fingertips over Naruto's cheek. Naruto wanted to grab those fingers and break them off but he still couldn't move, couldn't speak, and couldn't breathe.

"See you around Naruto." Sasuke said in a gentle tone as he grabbed his suitcase and walked out of the apartment and Naruto's life, shutting the door behind him with a soft click.

'The bastard didn't even have the decency to slam the door.' Naruto thought as his world shattered into a million tiny pieces around him.

oo—oo—oo

Naruto woke with a start tangled in his sweaty sheets. Why had he dreamt about that asshole all of a sudden? It had been seven years since Sasuke walked out, why would he think of him now? That bastard had done enough damage to him without Naruto having to dream about him too.

For a long time after Sasuke had left Naruto had been walking around like a zombie, it wasn't just that Sasuke had up and left but also what he had said…that Naruto wasn't good enough, exciting enough or ambitious enough to keep the Uchiha interested. Naruto had started to doubt himself, was he really that boring just because he was happy and content with staying in the town that had raised him?

After wallowing in self pity for months, Sakura was the one who had finally beaten some sense into him. Telling him that the Naruto she knew had never lived his life after what anyone else had thought of him so why should he start now? She was right of course, annoying as it was she almost always was.

So Naruto had picked his life back together, put Sasuke out of his mind, or at least at the back of it and moved forward. Fuck Sasuke if he couldn't see that Naruto was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Naruto glanced at the watch on his bedside table and groaned when he saw that it was close to five am. No use in getting back to sleep when the alarm would go off within minutes. He tossed the covers off of him and moved to the bathroom for a hot shower, hoping to rinse the last remains of the dream out of his system with the scolding hot water.

Naruto looked at the watch again as he dried himself off and got dressed and he cursed under his breath, he needed to get a move on. Minato's leg had never healed completely after his skiing accident so Naruto still worked at the bakery with his father. They took turns baking and minding the shop, it might not have been what Naruto had dreamt of doing when he was a boy but Naruto loved it. It was something real, he got an outlet for his creative side and he got to interact with people all day, something that highly appealed to his sociable side.

Oh it was time to wake the beast; Naruto steeled himself before gently opening the door to Toshi's room. The boy was a whirlwind of energy from the time he opened his eyes in the morning until he closed them at night.

He could see the wild mop of shiny black hair resting on the pillow and a sharp pang of hurt stabbed at his heart. Toshi was such a perfect blend of his parents with his vivid green eyes, black hair and shining personality and it was still so hard to believe that Lee and Sakura were gone. Naruto had accepted the role of Godfather with pride and joy, never believing that one icy road could take Sakura and Lee away from him and leave him a parent. Toshi was four and had been with Naruto over three of those years. Toshi was his son. He would do his best to tell Toshi all about his real parents and the love that they had had for him as the boy grew up. He would try to keep Lee and Sakura's memory alive but Toshi was his now and he would never give him up.

Naruto stepped closer to the bundle in bed and leaned down to breathe in the boy's sweet scent. Toshi boy was loud, wild, mischievous and the light of Naruto's life.

"Morning Bug, it's time to get up." Naruto said softly and tickled that sleep-warm tummy.

Toshi's only reply was to grunt and turn over to bury his face into the pillow.

"Oh no you don't Bug, no sleeping in, it's time for small boys to get up now." Naruto tickled more, his heart warming as the boy giggled and squirmed.

"No daddy no mo' tickling…pleeease. I'm gonna pee." Toshi laughed, his hair standing at all ends and his face bright red from both laughter and sleep.

"We'll we can't have the Bug peeing in bed now can we?" Naruto pulled the cover of off Toshi and lifted the boy out of the bed so that he could run to the bathroom. Toshi's bare feet slapped against the wooden floor as he ran.

Naruto went into the kitchen to get breakfast ready, oatmeal was easy and quick to make and thankfully Toshi loved it, especially with applesauce.

"Okay monster, come and get it." Naruto yelled as he buttered his toast with a nervous glance at the clock on the wall, it didn't matter how early he rose in the morning, somehow he always managed to run out of time anyway.

Toshi came running into the kitchen face wet and only wearing Sponge Bob briefs. "I washed daddy, I washed myself." The boy preened with pride at his accomplishment.

"Yay, that's great!" Naruto leaned down and high-fived his son. "So how much water is on the floor now?" He raised a golden eyebrow at Toshi's sheepish grin.

"Not too much daddy." He said with a shrug and set his sights on the oatmeal. "Will I be with you and Gampa today?" Toshi said between slurps.

"No, not today Bug, today you'll be going to daycare." Naruto ruffled Toshi's damp black locks. He saw that Toshi was about to protest…loudly so he hurriedly continued. "I heard a rumor that Kiba will bring the puppies today and that you guys will get to hold and pet them."

As predicted that cut off the tantrum and Toshi's eyes grew wide with excitement. "Really?" He practically bounced in place. "When can we leave?"

"Soon, you need to eat up first and then we need to get you dressed. I don't think the puppies will be impressed by a naked bug." Naruto left Toshi at the kitchen table to go clean up the bathroom and pick out some clothes for his hyper-active son to wear.

The morning continued as usual in the Uzumaki residence after that, routines being followed along with battles of life and death when it came time to brush the knots out of Toshi's hair.

Naruto was sweaty and exhausted by the time he had loaded Toshi in to the car and they were on their way to Hinata's daycare center. He turned his head and looked at Toshi who was humming happily while playing with an action figure from his favorite cartoon show. Naruto wouldn't trade any of it for the world.

He dropped Toshi off without drama, the promise of puppies triumphed anything, and continued to work. Naruto knew Minato would already be there, heating the ovens and making batters and dough. In his head he was already going over what kind of bread he would be baking today and how much of it would be needed. The constancy and rituals of his day were comforting and it pushed the thoughts of Sasuke back into the deepest corner of his mind where they belonged, that part of his life was over and had been for a long time.

Naruto turned on the radio and sang along loudly and falsely, it was going to be a good day.

oo—oo—oo

Sasuke stepped off the plane and the first thing that hit him was the cold that seemed to seep right into him through the skin and chill his bones. He had forgotten how dreary Konoha was late winter/early spring. He pulled his thin jacket tighter around his body and hoisted his bag higher on his shoulder.

Sasuke was so tired, his eyes felt filled with gravel and the bags under his eyes had bags of their own. He was tired inside too, he was tired of the pain, horror and plain stupidity of man that he had witnessed and documented these past seven years.

He had been so foolish when he left, naïve and burning with self righteousness. So completely unaware of how the world really worked. It had been a harsh and brutal awakening for him but he still longed to see more, to distance himself from all that he had been and where he came from. He succeeded, with every snap of the shutter on his camera and every country he visited he changed, grew better more accomplished…and lost one more piece of himself.

Lately nothing mattered, the praise and prizes were nothing. Sasuke felt empty, hollow and disillusioned.

About a week ago he had woken up in the middle of the night in some dingy hotel room in Chile, the sound of people digging for lost family and food still sharp in his ears. There he was among people who had lost everything and he felt so helpless. He stood among them and took their picture, documenting their suffering but what good did it do? He couldn't help them in any way.

As he sat there in the narrow, hard bed with his chin resting on his knees he realized that all he craved and all he wanted was the thing he had left behind.

Sasuke didn't regret leaving, he had to, he would have suffocated and shriveled up if he didn't. He did regret how he left though, he was cruel and selfish.

Sasuke wanted to go home, he needed to. And more than anything he wanted to see Naruto again, make things right if he could. He was realistic enough to know that he couldn't just walk back into Naruto's life and expect the other to welcome him with open arms. Sasuke only knew the boy that Naruto had been when they were together, bright, warm, optimistic and more often than not annoying as hell. He didn't know anything about Naruto the man. Sasuke just hoped that the other was still shining, still brilliant and warm; he couldn't picture Naruto any other way.

So after finishing his assignment Sasuke took his camera and his meager bag of possessions and began his travel homewards. It wasn't just about Naruto though he was a big part of it. His family was in Konoha and Sasuke had barely spoken to them while he was away, heck he had a three year old niece that he'd never even seen if you didn't count the fuzzy pictures Itachi had sent him over the phone.

It was time to go home, the place that had seemed like a prison to him when he left now was the only place he wanted to return to, where he wanted to stay. It had taken a long time but Sasuke believed that he had finally grown up.

He'd forgotten about the fucking cold though, Sasuke watched in annoyance as his breath puffed out in front of him in clouds of smoke. The sight made him want to gag, it was March for fucks sake, it was supposed to be spring.

Sasuke dug through his jean pocket to fish out his pack of cigarettes, if smoke was going to come out of his mouth and nose it might as well be the addictive tobacco kind. He was just about to light up when a woman frowned at him and pointed to the no smoking signs that were plastered all over the place. Sasuke sighed and resisted the urge to flip the woman the bird. He stuffed his pack back into his pocket and started to walk towards the car rental office.

The lady behind the counter gave him a once over and could barely contain her sneer. Sasuke gave a mental chuckle, he was well aware that he didn't look his best. His clothes were worn and wrinkled after days of constant travelling, he was unshaved and his hair had grown quite long, he hadn't felt the need to cut it for some time now.

"Can I help you sir?" The brunette behind the counter asked in a tone that implied that she really didn't want to help him at all.

"Yes I would like to rent a car, nothing too flashy, just something to get me around." He replied smoothly as unimpressed with her as she was with him. He had met thousands of people just like her in the world and he had stopped being offended years ago.

"Certainly sir, I'll just need your driver's license and credit card then." She said in the same tone and tapped her pale pink, manicured nails against the counter in a rapid tattoo.

Sasuke took the cards out of his wallet and slid them over to her without a word, he just wanted this over with so that he could drive to a hotel, take a shower and get some sleep before he took the bull by the horns and went to see his family. His mother would freak out, he already knew that and he knew he couldn't deal with that until he had had some rest.

Suddenly there was a strangled sound coming from the car lady, her eyes were about three times their previous size and she looked like she was about to have some kind of seizure. Sasuke became vaguely alarmed that he would have to call 911.

"M-mr. Uchiha." She stuttered. "W-we have some very nice cars in right now or I could arrange a driver for you if that would be more to your liking." The disgusted tone had vanished, replaced by a sugary sweet one.

Ah so that was it…Sasuke had forgotten where he was. He was in Konoha where the Uchiha's ruled, funny that had slipped his mind. Where he had been the last couple of years his name had meant nothing at all, here though it was the symbol of money, power and wealth…it would take some time to get used to that again.

"It's fine," He said in a bit of a sharper tone than he had intended. "I just need something that will take me where I want to go and I need it now."

"Of course Mr. Uchiha, sir." Her cheeks pinked in embarrassment and her fingers clicked on the computer keys as if they were on fire.

In record time Sasuke had his car and was speeding down the road from the airport and towards central Konoha. Konoha wasn't the largest city so it wouldn't take him long to reach the city core and find a hotel to check into.

Some things had changed, a few buildings was gone, replaced with new higher ones but most of Konoha looked the same, smelt the same and felt the same. Sasuke thought it was weird that he actually found that comforting.

He stopped the car in front of Central Leaf hotel and raised an eyebrow when he saw the tall man leaning against a slick, shiny black car just to the side of him. How the hell did Itachi even know he was back home, let alone that he would show up at this hotel? His brother was seriously freaky when it came to gather information and keep track of the people that he deemed worthy.

Sasuke got out of the car with a raised eyebrow; he knew it would be useless to ask Itachi how he knew how to come here and wait for him, the man was as tightlipped about his secrets as they came. Itachi wouldn't answer so asking was pointless.

"So you're back little brother, it took you a few more hours than I had anticipated." Itachi straightened up and brushed an invisible speck of lint off of his Armani clad shoulder.

"Hn." Sasuke's other eyebrow went up too, his only outward sign of surprise.

"Come now, it's time to go home. Mother is waiting with brunch and Father is eager to see you too. And you haven't met my wife, Amaya is lovely and I'm sure you'll get along." Itachi steered him towards the black Porsche with a hand at the small of his back. "I'll get Kisame to take back the car and bring your bag later, just come along now."

Sasuke sighed and glanced longingly at the hotel where he had a shower and bed waiting but he knew the futility of arguing with Itachi when he was in this mood so he waved good bye to sleep and walked over to sit down in his brothers car, rubbing a little extra against the butter soft, cream colored leather seats, hoping he would get them dirty.

Itachi just looked at him with an amused expression and revved of the parking lot towards the manor.

Sasuke closed his eyes and leaned back against the headrest. "Will I get to see my niece too?" He asked softly as he fought not to fall asleep.

"No not now, she's at daycare but you can come with me to pick her up later. Michiko would love to see her uncle come get her, I'm sure of it." Itachi's eyes softened and his voice grew warm as he spoke of his little girl, it was fascinating to see.

"Hn, we'll see." Sasuke still held out hope that he'd get some sleep, and though he wanted to meet his niece a daycare filled with screaming and sniffling children didn't exactly sound appealing.

The soft hum of the engine was like a lullaby and Sasuke soon dozed off, only to have his brain filled with images of torn down buildings and a tiny little arm lying crushed under a ton of rubble, still holding on tightly to a worn teddy-bear. His eyes flew open and he sat up straight in the car seat. Fuck it all to hell! Why did he have to continue to have these dreams? Sasuke looked outside and saw that they were just about to turn into the driveway of the manor and he quickly ran his fingers through his tangled hair. It was time to put on his game face and leave the dreams behind. And maybe he would go with Itachi to pick up Michiko later, maybe seeing live, happy and laughing children would erase the pictures of the ones that were stuck in his head. At least he could hope that they would.

Sasuke plastered on a smile when he saw the heavy doors of the main house swing open and Mikoto run outside to greet him, it was time to be the prodigal son.

oo—oo—oo

Naruto blew some golden strands out of his face as he continued to pound the dough into submission. The day had gone by fast and it was almost time to close up. He could hear Minato talking and laughing with a customer out in the shop. Naruto was making sticky buns, he knew that they were Kiba's absolute favorites and he wanted to thank his friend for bringing the puppies to his wife's daycare center. Naruto knew that Toshi would be over the moon after today and he wanted to show that he was grateful.

In a couple of years they might even take a puppy from Kiba's kennel. When Toshi was a bit older and could share the responsibility of caring for a live being more. Right now Naruto just didn't have time to care for a puppy too, being a single father was hard work and there never seemed to be enough hours of the day.

His hands worked of their own accord leaving Naruto plenty of time to think about other things. He needed to figure out what kind of cake he would bake for Ino and Shino's baby-shower…he still couldn't believe those two had hooked up, they were so vastly different from one and other but they had been together for almost two years now and they seemed to be truly in love. Naruto was happy for them and hoped that it would last, especially now that they were having a baby.

The clock chimed four and Naruto cursed softly under his breath, he needed to get a move on since it was almost time to pick Toshi up. He worked quickly with the buns, placed them in the oven and watched the time anxiously. While they were baking he cleaned up the kitchen and made sure everything was in order and easy to find for tomorrow morning.

"Dad, I'm about to head out so can you lock up the shop?" He called out into the store.

Minato came limping into to kitchen, his cane clicking softly against the floor. The skiing accident had crushed his pelvic bone in a way so that it never haled right. He was still an imposing man though, tall and blond and he never let his limp slow him down much. Minato lived life to the fullest.

"Sure son, get going." Minato made shooing movements with his hands. "Will you bring the shrimp tomorrow?"

"Uh huh, I had planned on it if it's okay." Naruto nodded and took off his apron and hung it on its hook by the back door. "Tonight's anime night and Bug always is a bit tired and cranky the morning after that, I figured I could bring him here, he could take a nap in the office if he gets tired."

"You know I love having my grandson around, in my book you could bring him every day." Minato said with a grin.

Naruto shuddered at that thought. He loved Toshi more than everything but being together every second of every day would drive both of them absolutely crazy. "Yeah….no. That won't happen." He said with a grimace.

He fished his buns out of the oven and placed them on a plate. "See you tomorrow dad, don't stay too late."

Minato nodded good bye and walked back into the store where Kakashi and Iruka was waiting, tonight was poker night and Minato was feeling lucky.

oo—oo—oo

Sasuke blinked as he got out of the car, Itachi had changed the Porsche for some big SUV that Sasuke didn't know the brand of. The daycare center didn't look like a daycare center, it looked like a home. A small two storey house with green shutters and a large wraparound porch. The garden was huge and filled with toys, climbing trees and sandboxes.

"This daycare center is new." He said to Itachi. "I don't even remember this house being here before."

Itachi nodded and started to walk up the path to the little house. Hinata Inuzuka opened it about two years ago, we were lucky she had a spot for Michiko. Everyone wants Hinata to tend their children."

"Hinata married the mutt?" Sasuke looked shocked but quickly swallowed it down. "Ah well, there's a taste for everyone I suppose."

"Daddy!" The door slammed open and a tiny little girl came rushing down the steps to throw herself in Itachi's arms.

"Michibee." Itachi knelt to catch the girl flinging herself at him and twirled her around so that her dark brown curls went flying all over her face.

The girl petted Itachi's hair and cheek with very, very sticky fingers while she giggled and leaned forward to kiss her daddy. Sasuke was amazed to see that not a glare or even a twitch of discomfort crossed Itachi's face; instead he laughed and kissed his daughter back with a loud smacking noise, his face open and loving in a way that Sasuke had never seen before.

"How's your day been Michibee?" He asked and searched his coat pocket for some wet napkins that he always seemed to be armed with these days.

"It was great daddy, first there were puppies and I got to hold them and kiss them and snuggle them and then we painted the puppies…on paper not on the puppies, oh and after that Kiba shared his sticky butt with us, it was very tasty daddy. Can we have sticky butt at home?" All this came out in a whoosh of air as Michiko continued to pet the long dark strands of Itachi's hair, making if clump together in a sticky mess.

"Kiba's butt?" Sasuke asked, eyebrow raised and hoping to God that he had heard wrong. The imagery alone was enough to scar a person for life.

"Who are you?" Suddenly Sasuke was scrutinized by wide brown eyes as Michiko looked over Itachi's shoulder, giving Sasuke the beginning of an Uchiha glare. "You look like a bum, why are you with my daddy? He's mine!"

"Where's your manors Michibee, we talked about this, behave." Itachi turned the girl around so that she was facing Sasuke. "This is your uncle Sasuke, I've told you about him."

Michiko looked puzzled for a moment before a wide grin split her face and she held out her arms to Sasuke so that he could hold her. Itachi handed her over to Sasuke who felt terrified, what were you supposed to do with an armful of wriggling little girl?

"So you're my uncle…then it's okay for you to be with daddy cause that means your mine too. Do you want to play with my dolls when we get home?" Sasuke found himself to be petted in much the same way Itachi had been but he didn't think he endured with the same grace his brother had.

A dark haired woman stepped out on the porch and Sasuke instantly recognized Hinata though her hair was longer and she had filled out more during the years he had been gone. She looked good and the insecurity that seemed to have always been around her when they were growing up wasn't there anymore.

"Hello Hinata," Itachi stepped up the steps to take Michiko's bag that Hinata held out. "Has she been good today?"

Hinata laughed a silvery little laugh and nodded. "A princess just like always."

"There was some talk about sharing Kiba's sticky butt…can you enlighten me as to what she meant?" Itachi said curiously.

Hinata grew bright red and she struggled not to burst out laughing like a loon. "Sticky buns…Kiba shared his sticky buns with the children." She still struggled not to laugh and imagined her husband's reaction when she told him that the Uchiha prince, the heir to the kingdom had asked about his sticky butt.

"Ah, makes more sense, thank you." Itachi said and inclined his head. "Well I'll see you tomorrow morning then Hinata, thank you for today."

Hinata nodded and waved and just about when they were about to walk back to the car they were interrupted by a high pitched shriek coming from inside.

A little dark haired boy shot out from the house like a rocked, bright red in the face and screaming at the top of his lungs. "WAAAAHHHH! Help me Hinata-sensei….Monster daddy is out to get me!" The boy screamed again, then giggled as he bounced around, hiding behind Hinata's flowery skirt.

Shuffling and growling was heard from inside and a man came out holding his arms in front of him all zombie like. "Arrrgghhhh where's that little Bug I saw? I need to munch him down." The words were hissed out as the man pretended not to see the giggling little boy hiding.

Sasuke tensed and his eyes were riveted to the blond. He would have recognized Naruto in a crowd of millions. The moron had grown taller and filled out in all the right places, his hair was as golden and as wild as it had always been and his eyes were just as blue. He was still shining and brilliant and he was everything that Sasuke wanted.

Sasuke's eyes darted from Naruto to the boy, Naruto was a father? Did that mean that he was married too? Had Sasuke already lost any chance at the man because he had been so foolish as to throw him away? He didn't see a ring on Naruto's finger and although that didn't mean much in this day and age it still gave him hope. Sasuke didn't want to break up a happy family but he would fight for Naruto…he was selfish that way. He knew it and couldn't care less.

For Sasuke it felt as if he watched in slow motion as Naruto finally 'captured' the little boy and held him upside down by the ankles, causing the boy to laugh madly. Vivid images from the past assaulted his brain and he wondered if Naruto's skin would still be as smooth as he remembered it to be or if time had changed that too.

He could tell the instant Naruto spotted him, at first his brow furrowed, and then his eyes became impossibly wide only to become blank. Like the surface of a lake, still pretty and sparkling but impossible to tell what went on beneath the surface.

Sasuke wanted to go over and wipe his thumbs over the dark shadows beneath Naruto's eyes, make them go away but he knew he didn't have the right to.

He handed Michiko back to Itachi and took one step forward towards Naruto, wanting to say hello, wanting just to talk to him.

Naruto panicked, Sasuke could tell. The blond hoisted the little boy up on his shoulder, said a hurried good bye to Hinata and practically ran to his car.

Sasuke watched the small, beaten up car as it sped down the street away from him. So that was how it was going to be huh? Well the chase was on, the moron could run but he couldn't hide. Not in a town his size. Sasuke ran his tongue over his teeth and considered his options. First sleep, he felt almost dead on his feet…then he would track his Naruto down and he would set things right. An Uchiha never gave up…Naruto was his redemption and Sasuke would fight for it with every breath he had.

The game was on…

TBC.

Thank you so much for reading…