A/N: Before anyone goes getting their panties in a twist in thinking that I'm ignoring other works, let me just say that I began this ages ago. I initially wanted to wait until it was complete before I posted all of it, but the artist has agreed to let me post what I have now. I have a few chapters done, and the others will follow soon, since work ends next , as one reader told me, I should be allowed to write what I'm inspired to write, since I do follow through and don't leave fics hanging. I may take awhile, but I do finish what I start.

About this fic: Naruto has a past. So does Sasuke. Not sure if I'll go into detail about either. As usual with my giftfics, this is a departure from anything I've written so far. I enjoy writing it, enjoy exploring, and hope it doesn't come off as a snooze. This is for the absolutely amazing artist takemeawaytothemoon, who did jaw-dropping art for Grease Monkey, and What Lies Between.

Warning: Age difference in this fic. No pedophilia, but if you can't handle it, then don't read. You've been warned.

Beta: none.

Be My Hero

1. The Meeting

Fire Country was a prosperous land on good terms with her neighbors. Those neighbors that Fire Country did not enjoy good relations with in the strictest sense were at least sufficiently intimidated by the large nation so as not to pose a threat. At the heart of Fire Country lay its capital, Konoha.

Konoha, like other capitals of neighboring lands, enjoyed limited technological weapons in deference to the strength of their military. The military force was divided into ranks. From the lowest rank, Genin, to the highest rank, Jounin, there were few additional levels. There was ANBU, which ran Special Ops And Assassinations. The very highest rank, that of Kage, was an elected position occupied by the city's current ruler. Such a position was not easy to attain. Even more rare was the title of Sannin. Rarer still, was the rank of Sage. Of the Sannin, there were three. There had been only two masters of the Sage Arts in recent memory. And being that one of the Sages had also been one of the three Sannin, and was now deceased, there really was only one master of the Sage Arts left. This person's identity was not public knowledge.

Konoha enjoyed a thriving society. It was modern in some ways, primitive in others, but thriving. It was a pretty place. It had its urban areas, like any city, that seemed to pulse with their own pace of life. There were suburbs. There was a municipal district, where the tall building housing the Hokage offices was located. Here, too, were ANBU headquarters and the series of buildings belonging to the council.

Rural areas for farming were generally outside the city walls, but there was a large man-made lake high up on the small mountain bearing the Hokage monument. Woods surrounded this lake on two sides. The mountain itself took up a third side. The final side boasted a clearing that ended in a narrow dirt road. This road took a circuitous route that wound around the mountain, and down into the city proper. In the clearing, however, near the edge of the lake, sat a one-story house.

The house was a bungalow maintained in tight perfection. It had a rustic quality due to its being made entirely of redwood. The doors, door frames, windows, and floors were made of oak. There was a deep front porch that wasn't much wider than the front door. Beveled glass panels lay to either side of that solid door. A white walkway of precisely cut stones meandered from the oak steps leading to the front door, and through the beds of flowers. There were Japanese wood poppies, wild egret orchids, Himalayan blue poppies, maiden lilies, as well as Hall crab apple trees and Japanese magnolia trees. Round the back of the house wrapped a wide veranda, also deep, that overlooked the lake. Seeing as the house was a mere few dozen feet from the water's edge, there was a dock that stretched about thirty feet into the water itself. A small rowboat was tied to the far end of this dock.

The occupant of this solitary and fastidiously maintained property, was himself a solitary individual, and fastidious about his solitude. Currently, he was slamming his refrigerator door closed with enough force to rock the appliance where it stood. He bit out the word "Fuck" through clenched teeth, snatched his car keys off their hook, and left his house. Upon switching on the ignition to his somewhat dated Windracer(1), he found his gas tank empty. The warning light was on. Another expletive followed the one he'd muttered in the kitchen. Hands gripping his steering wheel tightly, he navigated himself out of his clearing, and onto the dirt road. He proceeded to make his way into town.

Keeping his house in mint condition was easy. Keeping the same house stocked with food wasn't. It meant leaving his comfortable little world of seclusion. Going down into the city. Where there were people. Outside of two people, he did not associate with anyone if he could help it. As a result, things like food shopping were put off until the last minute, especially since he usually had someone do it for him.

The last master of the Sage Arts, as this man surely was, did not turn on his radio. He didn't like music. Sunset was two hours away. The closer he got to town, the harder he gripped his wheel.

Sasuke shoved his hands deep into his pockets, hunched his shoulders, and walked a little faster. He passed a store window and casually glanced aside at it, looking at what it reflected of the pedestrians on the sidewalk.

There were five of them now instead of three. Fuck.

Facing front again, Sasuke scanned his surroundings. There were more stores up ahead, and a gas station to his right. There was only one guy at the gas pumps. He was leaning against his navy blue Windracer in a bored way, waiting for his tank to fill. He had a ball cap jammed low on his hair and his head was lowered, apparently staring at his crossed ankles. There was no one in the convenience store the gas station boasted except for the guy working the register. As for the stores Sasuke was currently passing, there were only a few women in them, he saw. Some with little kids. He decided to take his chances with the gas station.

Having made the decision, he jogged across the street. He had to dodge oncoming cars, but he passed the gas pumps with their lone patron and entered the convenience store. He could hear his pursuers right behind him. A car horn honked, probably because one of the boys following him had neglected to look where he was going.

Inside the store. He went directly to the clerk. "I need to use your phone."

The young man behind the counter looked pleasant enough. "Sure." He reached downward, perhaps beneath the counter, and came up with an ancient rotary deal. It was even beige, the way phones back in prehistoric times used to be. The clerk set it in front of Sasuke's staring face with a smile.

As Sasuke grabbed the receiver, the five boys who'd been chasing him entered the store. They made an effort to behave casually, but their smiles were a bit too eager. Too wide. Their eyes zeroed in on Sasuke. Sasuke slowly took his hand off the phone as four of the boys took up positions in his vicinity. The fifth boy looked pointedly at the clerk, who said in a tone of forced calm, "I don't want any trouble." The fifth boy grinned in approval of the clerk's meek attitude, and turned to lock the door.

At that moment, the guy who'd been at the pumps appeared on the other side of the door. His hand splayed against the glass and shoved the door open, clearly uncaring of the fact that there was someone immediately on the other side that door. In fact, the fifth boy went sprawling backward from the force the door was pushed open with. The man did nothing more than step over the boy's legs. He didn't look down at him, not even when the boy shouted, "Hey, you fuck!" The man seemed not to notice the other occupants in the store either. He bent, took one of the beat up shopping baskets that sat in a small stack by the door, and turned to walk down the second of the store's two aisles. He stopped when he came to a section of the shelves devoted to instant ramen.

Sasuke was intrigued. It was hard to see the man's face, what with the ball cap pulled so low, but he guessed the guy had to be in his late thirties, early forties. He'd never seen such towering angst in someone that age. He scanned the strands of blond hair peeking out the back of the cap, the faded brown leather jacket, and the old jeans that clung to solid thighs, taking in details from force of habit. The guy was tall.

The boys and clerk watched in mild shock as the man filled the basket with ramen, went to the counter, dumped the packages on it, and went back for more. He made several trips, filling the basket and emptying it until that section of the shelves was completely bare. Instead of going to the counter to pay, the man looked up at the boys at last.

The eyes were a flat, emotionless shade of blue. Sasuke saw that the man was not, in fact, looking at them. He was looking at the wall of freezers behind them. Sasuke glanced back at the freezers and saw they contained the standard rows of beverages. He turned his head again in time to see the man walking toward them. He had a forceful, 'move or be mowed down' way of walking.

Sasuke moved aside, but the boy next to him was too busy staring. He was right in front of the freezer the man apparently wanted; the man reached around the boy, grabbed the freezer door's handle, and wrenched it open.

The boy was knocked sideways by this action. He crashed into the chips rack, which in turn fell onto the magazine stand and knocked that over. The magazines slid across the floor. The boy, stepping on one while trying to regain his balance, slipped and ended up on his ass atop several bags of chips, which popped open. The clerk muttered something about his merchandise.

Did the guy not see people? Sasuke wondered. He saw no reaction from the man to the boy's squawk of indignation. None of the other boys dared speak in their friend's defense. Sasuke felt a smile tug at the corner of his lips, now truly captivated.

The guy grabbed each and every flavor of Barbican the freezer had to offer. Sasuke counted four trips back and forth to the counter. Only when the counter was overflowing with noodles and bottles did the man reach into his back pocket for his wallet. He counted out bills. Konoha's money had the images of past and present Hokages on them. Sasuke saw Senju Hashirama's image on one of the bills, and the rest were equally faded and soft with age. Whatever this guy did for a living, he did not come into contact with any of the crisp newer bills printed with the Fifth Hokage's pretty face. The standard leaf emblem was slightly different on the money too, he noticed. More stylized. The guy set several bills on the counter, then proceeded to wait while the clerk bagged everything. He did not fidget while he waited.

The bagging took awhile. Sasuke didn't move, for fear of reminding the boys of his presence, but now that the distraction of the man was drawing to a close, he gave a thought to getting out of there. He glanced out the shop door. Night had fallen.

The clerk finally handed over a dozen plastic shopping bags. The guy grabbed the handles of these all in one hand and turned for the door. The two boys standing in front of it hastily jumped out of the way just before the man yanked it open.

Sasuke moved to follow him out. The boys, reminded of his presence, dragged him back by his collar, and bustled him down to the end of the aisle. The fifth boy finally locked the door. He flipped the hanging sign from 'open' to 'closed'.

Having at last filled his tank and completed his grocery shopping, the wearer of the ball cap paused in the act of climbing into his truck. He hadn't gotten any change back, he realized. That was something he would have noticed right away if he hadn't been trying to get away from those staring boys. Slamming his truck door shut again, he went back to the store.

The 'closed' sign stared back at him. Hadn't this place just been open? The store hours were tacked to the inside of the glass: 7am-9pm, Mon thru Fri. Skipping the weekend hours, he glanced at his watch. Twenty to seven. Frowning, he peered inside. The clerk was still at the counter, and appeared to be staring toward something at the back of the store. The clerk seemed afraid.

He couldn't care less. He wanted his damn change. He lifted his fist and rapped smartly on the glass.

The boys had ripped the phone out of its jack, or the clerk might have called the authorities. As it was, the sudden loud thumping on the door startled him. He saw that it was that same customer from a few minutes ago.

"Tell him you're closed," one of the boys hissed. He had Sasuke on the floor, a forearm pressed to his throat to keep him silenced. "Make him leave."

The clerk did stammer out to the man that he was closed, but it did not have the desired effect. The sound of breaking glass was loud and threatening…much as the man himself was when he came barging through the shattered door. He went directly to the counter.

"I want my fucking change."

The clerk, now trembling and whimpering at being surrounded by violence on all sides, hastened to comply. The change in question was nervously tallied. It was handed over with a shaking hand and a whispered apology. The man snatched it, counted it, and shoved it down his back pocket. He turned to leave.

And saw Sasuke.

His assessment of the situation only took a few seconds. He counted six boys between the ages of fifteen and twenty. One boy, standing behind the other five, was sporting a bloody nose, a cut lip and a torn shirt. The other five boys had scratches and a few blooming bruises as well, though, so clearly the boy in the back (instantly pegged by the man as the victim) had been giving as good as he got. He walked out the door.

Sasuke risked a plea at that retreating back. "Help me."

The man flinched but kept right on going.

The kicks and punches were worse thanks to that near interference. Sasuke's bag was dragged off his back and thrown aside. He was beaten until he fell again. The boys crowded around him, kicking him viciously as he twisted and turned.

The clerk shifted uneasily on his feet. "Come on guys, leave him alone." He was ignored.

Sasuke felt lightheaded. There was no break between the blows, or a chance to catch his breath. Each kick hurt worse than the last. A few got him in the stomach, until he finally curled in on himself. He waited grimly for one of those kicks to land on his head and knock him out; he didn't dare fight back seriously.

When one of his attackers cried out, he didn't at first realize that he was being rescued. It wasn't until another boy yelped, and the kicks stopped altogether, that anything but how much he was hurting registered. Then there were curses from his attackers, a shout of 'Hey, that's my phone!' and Sasuke finally rolled to his back with a groan and saw what was going on.

He was in time to see one of the boys lifted high into the air by a fistful of his shirt and body slammed on his back on top of the low shelves that formed the aisle. He needed a moment to digest this sight, before the one doing the body slamming caught his attention.

It was the guy who'd just left.

The other boys rushed the guy, yelling, and Sasuke managed to scoot out of the way, as they were thrown one by one, literally thrown, the entire length of the store. They hit the back wall with sick thuds. Stuck on stupid, and apparently made of sterner stuff than they looked, they picked themselves up and went right back at the guy.

"H-hello? Yes, there's a disturbance here in my store and-"

Sasuke turned his head to see the clerk cowering in a corner behind the counter, and hunched around a cell phone. He remembered someone saying something about a phone, and assumed it belonged to one of the boys. How the clerk had gotten it, Sasuke didn't know, but the reason the clerk had cut off mid-sentence was obvious. An ANBU agent stood in the ruined door frame.

Sasuke didn't know about the man, who even now had one of the boys by the throat, but he thought it could be said for everyone else in the trashed store, himself included, that cold fear skated down their spines.

ANBU. Publicly known to be assassins and interrogators. They were the highest form of military in any village. They were rarely seen, since domestic law was upheld by Chuunin and Jounin. They were known for stealth, strength, and the special skills attained at The Academy, an institution that trained prospective military applicants. And they were always masked. The only one to know their true identity was the Hokage.

That one was here now could not be due to the fact that the clerk had called the authorities. One never did know the business of ANBU, only that it invariably involved killing. Hence, everyone in the store became silent and still. The only sound was the boy the man had by the throat; he was making choked sounds as his face turned purple.

The ANBU agent stepped unhurriedly into the store. The mask was featureless save for a red vine-like pattern that snaked diagonally from under the left eye hole and on to the right corner of the mouth. Two red leaves were attached to the vine, one under the right eye hole, and one under the left. The agent was female, they saw. Glass crunched under her feet as she advanced into the store, and they could see that behind the mask sat a head of impossibly thick red hair, ruthlessly tamed into some kind of intricate braid that stopped at the small of her back. Thankfully, she had no weapon in her hands. That was small comfort, though; ANBU could kill with their bare hands.

Sasuke only remembered the man when the agent stopped in front of him. Either the guy had a brass pair or…yeah, Sasuke didn't know what was up with him, but the guy didn't back down when the ANBU agent walked right up to him, nor did he release the boy until the agent had told him to. Twice.

They all listened to the boy barking out breathless coughs and trying to suck air in through his bruised throat until the agent looked around and asked, "What's going on here?" Her voice was low, yet sharp. It put one in mind of a temper behind that coolly indifferent mask, a thought which heightened everyone's fear considerably.

Sasuke didn't know the boys, so he wasn't worried about ratting them out, but the clerk spoke up in a shrill voice before he himself could do so. He told how Sasuke had been followed into his store and attacked, and how the man had been trying to save him. The clerk actually lied and said the boys were responsible for all the damage, including the broken door, at which point one of the boys tried to protest. That blank white mask turned in his direction, and the boy became silent.

There had been a moment of surprise from the ANBU agent, displayed as a subtle twitch of her shoulders, when the clerk told of the man saving Sasuke. "Names," she said to the boys. There was no question of refusing. When they'd given them, she said to the clerk, "This incident will go on record. Their families will be notified and made to share the cost of the damages." The clerk bowed over and over, stammering his thanks. The agent turned toward the guy, but spoke to the boys. "Wait outside until I'm done here. You'll be escorted down to Headquarters shortly." The chastened boys trudged outside, wincing and holding various body parts.

If the guy was nervous with the ANBU agent staring at him, he didn't show it. He towered over her, hands down by his sides. Sasuke noticed that his cap had been knocked off. The blond hair looked like it hadn't seen a comb or a brush in God knew how long. He and the agent stared at each other for several moments.

Instead of asking his name, the agent only said, "Take that kid home. And I mean to his very door. I want you to personally hand him over to his family." Now the guy thought to protest, but he was overruled. "It's that, or I haul your ass in to the Hokage. She won't like what you've done here."

Sasuke stared. The Hokage? No one got called before the Hokage unless they were high-ranking military or dangerous criminals. Who was this guy? It sounded as if he and the ANBU agent knew each other, and as if the Hokage knew the man personally.

"I said what's your name, kid."

Sasuke jerked where he sat. The agent was standing over him with a hand out, apparently speaking to him. "Sasuke." He grabbed her forearm.

"Do you need to see a doctor?"

"No. I'm fine, just a few bumps and bruises." He was pulled to his feet with a great deal of strength. The agent allowed him to lean on her while he shakily retrieved his bag. When he straightened up, it was to find the guy gone. The clerk gave him a sympathetic smile as he passed him, and held out a free stick of gum. Sasuke took it.

The agent helped him outside. The boys avoided looking at him. Sasuke saw that he was being led to the blue Windracer, where the guy already sat with the engine running. It was both creepy and cool to be in such personal contact with an ANBU agent. He tried not to lean on her too much, or show just how much it hurt for her to have her arm around his back. He noted that even bent over as he was, the agent was shorter than him. She smelled like spearmint.

They made it to the idling truck. Sasuke waited as the agent pulled the door open for him, before helping him inside. The guy waited with stiff, silent impatience until he was finally in. Sasuke was mortified at his helplessness, and keenly aware of the imposition of his presence. The truck jerked out of the gas station almost before the agent had closed the passenger door. Sasuke held on to the door handle. His stomach was cramped with nerves at pissing the guy off by needing a ride home.

It galled him to have to speak to the kid. "Address."

The kid, to his credit, didn't stutter or in any way react other than to say, "Other side of town. Seventh Street, corner of Eighth. Near the ramen place."

The drive was made in silence. Blessed silence. He'd been sure the kid would bombard him with questions, as teens seemed wont to do, or maybe do the unthinkable and turn on the car radio. Instead, the kid just sat there, half leaning on the door, and staring at him. This had him on edge for the first twenty minutes, but as the silence stretched out, he gradually relaxed.

It helped that he couldn't see the kid's face. As the silence wore on, and he'd become more used to his presence in the truck, he'd snuck peeks through the periphery of his vision. Finally, at a red light, he'd turned his head and looked at the boy plainly.

The hair was very black. It fell in a shaggy fringe over the kid's brow so that half his face was obscured. No doubt, this was one of those punk styles kids today favored. The T-shirt was black, with white sleeves that were long enough to cover half of the kid's hands. There was chipped black polish on the nails. Black jeans and black boots, with the laces knotted hallway up the calves, completed the look. Taken as a whole, the man grimaced inwardly. Emo, he thought.

The light changed, and he turned back to the road.

Sasuke couldn't stop looking at him. He wasn't gorgeous or anything…pretty average-looking guy, actually. Blue eyes, moderately muscular build, large hands. No, what kept him staring openly was how obvious it was that the guy was angry at him. Most people at least tried to be polite. This guy just let it be known that he didn't relish the idea of driving him home. And yet, he'd seemed pissed from the moment Sasuke set eyes on him in the store. Maybe the guy just stayed angry? When he'd turned and looked at him with those blue eyes at the stoplight, Sasuke had stopped breathing a moment. He'd wondered if the guy would say something else in his gravelly voice (another interesting thing), but no. There had been the look, then a slight curling of his lip, as if in disgust. Sasuke had wondered if he smelled bad or something.

The truck jerked to a stop at his building, making the Barbican bottles clink together in the back seat. Sasuke had to move slowly, but he managed to sling his bag over one shoulder and get out of the truck on his own. The guy didn't offer to help, only got out on his side, and came around the truck to wait tensely five feet from where Sasuke stood.

Sasuke had to walk slowly, but he made his way into his building, and over to the flights of stairs. There were four flights to his floor. The thought of walking up them put sweat on his brow, but he'd be damned if he asked for help. He had to go up step by step, resting often. The man stayed three steps behind him.

By the time he got to his door, Sasuke's bag felt as if it weighed a ton, and his injured back was killing him. He fished his keys out of his pocket, but the man reached over his shoulder knocked hard on the door. He knocked again, louder. Then again.

"I have my keys," Sasuke said quietly. "My brother's probably sleeping. He works third shift over at-"

The door was pulled open on a bitten off curse.

A man slightly taller than the boy stood there, eyes scrunched against the light in the hall. He had one hand high up on the jamb, leaning on it as if he was still half asleep. His eyes skipped over Sasuke entirely to squint up at the tall man glaring down at him. "What," this man said.

The ball cap wearer tipped his head at Sasuke. "This your brother?"

The man in the doorway glanced at Sasuke, then seemed to become more awake. "Christ, what the fuck happened to you?"

Sasuke shouldered his way inside, pushing past the arm held up to stop him. "Nothing."

The man stared after Sasuke a moment as he disappeared farther into the apartment. Then he turned back to the silent guy in the hall, who was obviously still waiting for an answer. He wondered what the man would do if he said that Sasuke wasn't his brother. "Yes, he's my brother. Who are you? What happened to him?"

The ball cap wearer, who wasn't wearing the cap anymore, wordlessly turned and went down the flight of stairs.

(1) Windracer: an SUV similar to a Pathfinder, and manufactured by Suna.