Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto and Shonen Jump magazine.
Prologue : An all too familiar scene
The setting sun hovered over the mountain ridges to the west, the afternoon heat already dissipating along with it. He had been walking for what felt like hours and the long path leading to his destination just didn't seem to end. His breathing had become laborous and his muscles burned with exhaustion, but he couldn't stop now, no, he wouldn't stop, he still had a promise to fullfill afterall, and Uzumaki Naruto never backed out on a promise.
Naruto thought that he could almost make out the village just ahead, it was hard to tell with his hair in the way, when had he lost his hitaiate? He couldn't remember, it was becoming harder to focus. He used what little strength he had to hoist the figure on his back for more support and continued to make his way.
"You should've just left me to die." said the figure on Naruto's back. There was no malice or contempt in the words, only regret.
"And miss out on all the praise and glory for finally bringing Uchiha Sasuke back to the village? Not a chance. They'll probably make me Hokage for this." Naruto smirked jokingly, well tried to at least, even his face hurt at this point.
"They won't accept me back, not now, not after everything I've done." Sasuke said in a somber tone.
Because of Sasuke's hatred for Itachi, he drove his obsession for revenge down one dark path after another until he was past the point of no return. Even after Sasuke found out the truth behind Itachi's actions, he still couldn't stop himself redirecting that anger back at Konoha.
"Don't underestimate the people of Konoha, they can surprise you sometimes." Naruto said confidently. If the village was finally able to accept the container of the nine tailed demon fox, it wouldn't be long for them to be able to forgive Sasuke, thats how Naruto felt at least.
"You should be the last person to forgive me, yet here you are trying to comfort me."
Truth be told, Naruto really didn't blame Sasuke at all, rather he understood him in an odd way. "I asked myself once, if things had gone differently would I have done the same as you. We could have easily been in each others shoes." After his fight with Pein, Naruto somehow was able to understand Sasuke's pain a little.
"Hn, I don't get you dobe..."
Naruto felt Sasuke go unconscious. He must have lost too much blood, I have to get him to Ba-chan fast. Naruto focused the last of his chakara to his feet and dashed for Konoha. He just hoped that there would be someone at the gates, he didn't know if he could make it any farther than that.
Hatake Kakashi turned another page of the book he was reading, Icha Icha Paradise, the popular adult novel written by the famous sage Jiraiya. Although it seemed like he was casually leaning against the wall with his face buried in the book oblivious to the world, he was actually watching one of his former students pace back and forth just outside of the main gates, only stopping to look down the path for a few moments before going back to the frantic pacing again.
Kakashi closed the book and stowed it away for later. "Sakura, its been three days since everyone else came back, waiting here everyday won't make him return any sooner." He was concerned for the pink haired girl.
Just over a week ago, Naruto and a team of some of Konoha's best set off to confront Uchiha Madara as well as Uchiha Sasuke to finally end the war, only to have the team return three days ago without Naruto. The short version that the Jonin got of Shikamaru's report was that Naruto confronted Sasuke while the rest of the team took on Madara and Zetsu, the last two remaining members of Akatsuki. After a short while Madara left the battle and by the time the team defeated zetsu and made it to where Naruto and Sasuke was, they arrived only to see Madara perform some kind of space time jutsu and the three of them disappeared. They searched for them for two days before finally returning to Konoha three days ago.
"If it was me out there missing, Naruto would never have stopped looking for me, not even if it took him the rest of his life." The pink haired girl looked to be almost on the verge of tears. "I should have been there Kakashi sensei! I should have been by Naruto's side!"
The silver haired jonin watched as the girl fought hard to hold back her tears only to fail. "You can't blame yourself for not being there Sakura, your skills were needed at the hospital." Sakura was wiping at her tears with the backs of her hands. "If you had gone with him, it might have turned out with the both of you missing." Kakashi winced at his poor choice of words, that had not come out the way he intended at all.
Sakura started to full out cry as he walked over and gently hugged her to comfort her. "There is so much that I want to say to Naruto and now i might not have the chance to tell him" she regretted as she cried into Kakashi's shoulder.
"I don't believe it." Kakashi said in amazment.
Sakura looked up at her former sensei and sniffed with a puzzled expression, only to follow his gaze down the road at a figure running towards them while carrying someone on their back.
"NARUTO!" Sakura yelled out in a tone that somehow sounded relieved and worried at the same time. Both Sakura and Kakashi ran towards Naruto hastily.
Meeting halfway, Naruto fell to his knees exhausted, not getting one more step closer. Kakashi couldn't believe the condition he saw Naruto in, it was a surprise that the boy was even able to stay conscious, and Sasuke didn't seem to be any better.
"Sasu..." Sakura started with a worried expression before getting interrupted by Naruto.
"There is no time to explain Sakura-chan. You have to get him to the hospital immediately, Kakashi sensei and I will go and get ba-chan and we'll meet you there." Naruto didn't give Sakura anytime to react or respond as he gently passed Sasuke off to the girl.
Sakura gave Naruto a hesitant look as she took Sasuke on her back. "You have to hurry!" Naruto commanded.
Sakura nodded in aknowledgement before bounding off towards the hospital.
Kakashi watched the scene play out with curiosity, why had Naruto given Sasuke to Sakura instead of to him?
"Kashashi sensei..." Naruto said weakily, he was still looking in the direction that the other two members of the former team seven had gone. "Get Ba-chan to Sasuke, he's injured pretty badly and he may be just hanging on by a thread..."
The blonde swayed foward as he fainted but Kakashi gently supported him before he could hit the ground. He let out an understanding sigh. "Always looking out for others before yourself. You're not any better off you know." Kakashi commented to himself.
Naruto had made sure that Sasuke would be first to get treatment as well as not letting Sakura see himself faint.
The silver haired jonin shifted Naruto onto his back and performed a series of hand seals. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" In a puff of smoke, Pakkun instantly appeared before the summoner. "Inform the Hokage that she is needed at the hospital immediately." he instructed.
Pakkun gave Naruto an expressionless glance before nodding. "Understood." With that the ninja dog dashed off towards the Hokage's office.
Kakashi disappeared with the blonde in a whirl of leaves not a moment after.
An all too familiar scene laid before him as he slowly opened his eyes. He could never get use to the dreary sewer like setting that represented the passage way to the Kyubi's chamber. As if routine, he got up and made his way down one passage, not that he knew where he was going. There was no direction here, or a sense of time, only a sense of emptiness.
After what seemed like an eternity and an instant at the same time, he arrived at the large open chamber with the massive barred cell where his prisoner resided. Something was different this time though, he couldn't feel the dense presence of the demon fox that he usually got. Somehow in this dream state, his mouth felt dry.
Naruto licked his lips and made his way closer, half expecting the fox to spring forth from the cell and devour him, but nothing happened. That is when he noticed a smudge where the seal had been and charred remains on the floor, the cell was empty.
Abrubtly, Naruto woke up once more in another all too familiar scene, a hospital room.
"You had us worried. Hokage-sama said that you have never been unconscious for so long before."
He felt weak, it was an effort just to look towards the voice that was speaking to him. Why is Ino here?
"I bet you're thirsty as hell." she giggled. Ino set down the book she was reading and walked over from the chair she was sitting in to the night stand next to his bed and poored water into a glass from a pitcher there. "All of us took turns watching over you. You're lucky that you woke up on my turn." she stated as she braced his head and held the glass to his mouth. "I mean who else out of us would be so gentle with you." she smiled sweetly at him.
Naruto hesitantly drank the much needed liquid while curiously eyeing the girl. He was very confused. For as long as he has known the platinum blonde kunoichi, she had never been so kind to him before. Genjutsu? A pretty bad one if it was.
Ino gently laid his head back and set the glass down as she continued with her one way conversation. "Chouji snuck in some snacks for you, says that you would definately be hungry once you woke up." she said as she gestured to the assorted snacks on the stand.
Naruto had yet to say a word to her, only just stared and listened. Why was she just talking on her own? Almost as if she was avoiding something.
"Shikamaru says you're a terrible shogi opponent while unconscious by the way." she joked. "Oh and Hinata's been here almost every single day you sly devil" she winked knowingly.
"Sakura-chan..." he said hoarsly, interrupting her.
Was that remorse he saw in her face? It was gone before he could tell.
"Sakura, she's..." Ino started hesitantly.
The door to his room opened and Tsunade stormed in with an irritated frown, although one look at Naruto, the frown was replaced by a relieved smile and then the same remorseful expression that he thought he had seen in Ino, but it too was gone and replaced quickly.
"Ino will you give me a moment with naruto please?" It came out more like an order than a request.
"Of coarse Hokage-sama." Ino bowed. "Its almost time for me to get back to the shop any way. I'll see you around Naruto." She glanced back at Naruto once more with a sympathetic smile on her way out before closing the door and exiting.
Tsunade walked over and embraced Naruto in a loving hug. "Im relieved you are awake Naruto. I was getting worried you wouldn't wake up at all."
She sat down next to him on the bed and continued with a tired tone. "I'm not gonna beat around the bush, not with you." she said sympathetically.
"I have some bad news and some worse news..."
To be continued...