Chapter 1 - Leaving

"Oh yeah? Well if that's the case Naruto, shouldn't you be the one leaving?"

Sasuke's hands were balled into fists. He thought about beating his teammate — his almost former teammate — into the the deserted Konoha road just to make his point. He was leaving. He'd made his decision. There was nothing Naruto could do to stop him.

And spouting praise of Konoha was only infuriating him more. Because he knew Naruto was a hypocrite.

Sasuke tightened his fist again, muscles surging with a deep desire to knock him off his feet. It was the middle of the night after all, no one would hear him…. But instead, Sasuke reined in his anger and settled for circling the blond.

"How can you, of all people, try to talk me out of it? Look what they've done to you! Look how they've treated you!" Sasuke's voice rose dangerously as he paced. "How can you tell me to stay when this is the place where my family was slaughtered? And no one, not a single person, is out looking for the man responsible."

Sasuke glared at Naruto's rigid back. "I'll tell you why. They don't care. They only see me as something to hold on to. Tightly."

Naruto huffed out a breath and continued to stare straight ahead. He grit his teeth, holding in his next arsenal of persuasive reasons until Saskue was done. Then maybe he would listen calmly.

"And don't think I don't see it," the black-haired boy continued angrily. "When the council looks at me, the kages, even Danzo… It's written all over their faces. Disgust and fear and lust for power. It's all there."

Naruto still looked ahead, but when Saskue swung in front, he knew his words hit a nerve. Naruto knew exactly what he was talking about. There was doubt in his eyes, doubt about all the things he'd just said about Konoha. There was pain too. And Naruto was never good at hiding his pain. At least not to him.

Sasuke leaned in, his voice menacing. "You know what I mean, don't you? I know you do. You see it too. It's in their eyes."

Sasuke hovered inches from Naruto's face. Suddenly, as if to block it all out, Naruto crushed his eyes shut.

But Sasuke didn't move back. "It's the same for you," he whispered. "They locked a demon inside of you, and they hate you for it. Yet they want the power too."

Sasuke shook him hard by the shoulders. Startled, Naruto opened his eyes. But Sasuke didn't let go.

"I've seen the way they look at you. All of them. I hear what they say. You can't deny it. I know." He leveled a hard gaze at Naruto. "Because it's the same for me."

Naruto stared angrily back, meeting the unspoken challenge in Sasuke's eyes. At length, Sasuke let go and stepped back.

"They sure weren't thinking of you when they locked that thing inside you." The familiar carelessness had returned to his voice. "But I think what you do with it is your own choice. And I sure as hell won't let them use me for my sharingan while he walks free in the world."

Sasuke flicked a mean look at Naruto. Behind the solid black pupils the red sharingan flashed.

"And I won't let you stand in my way either." There was a dangerous edge to his voice.

Naruto frowned at the open threat. But it helped remind him of his purpose.

"I'm not standing in your way," he said fiercely. "I want to help you find Itachi. I just don't think you need to leave Konoha to do it. We're all working together, getting stronger. Just a little longer then we'll all help you go after him."

Sasuke snorted up at the stars.

"We'll do it together, because we're a team!" Naruto continued, palms open. "Me, you, Kakashi-sensei and Sakura-chan. Besides you couldn't just leave them, could you…."

"A babysitter and a dead weight? Please, Naruto, even you must—"

"No, I don't see!" Naruto snapped. "We're a team, we're in this together, and Kakashi knows what we need to do—"

"Yeah, I've figured that one out too," Sasuke said bitterly, cutting across Naruto. "Have you ever thought about it, the two of us, together, on his team? It's not a coincidence that two orphans were put together under the most powerful teacher in the village. It's because they know how powerful we're going to be. And they want to keep us contained."

Naruto shook his head furiously. But Sasuke continued, his voice picking up urgency. "The village, the leaders, Kakashi, Sakura, all of them are holding us back. Because…. Because…. Because they're afraid of us!"

Naruto looked stricken. He dropped his eyes to the ground and shifted uncomfortably. For Sasuke, there was a strange power in the thought that other's feared him. But for Naruto, it was shame. Only shame.

Sasuke seized upon on it.

"You know I'm right. Of course you would. You understand. Because you're just like me—"

Sasuke's eyes went wide.

"You're just like me," he repeated slowly. "You have nothing here. Nothing holding you, nothing to stay for…."

Naruto blinked, confused. A smile crept up Sasuke's face with the dawning of an idea…a fantastic idea….

"You should come with me," Sasuke whispered excitedly. "It would be great. We could still be teammates. We could get stronger together. Then there would be nothing to stop us!"

Sasuke grinned, and a bewildered Naruto couldn't help but smile back. Not only at Sasuke's uncharacteristic happiness, but at what it meant.

To be asked, to be recognized, Naruto couldn't take it lightly. For this one moment, the demon, the thing that had caused so much harm in his life, was the thing that bonded him to Sasuke.

The prospect was so alluring. What adventures they would have, what things they'd learn….

Images flashed through his mind like a slideshow: the two of them training, the two of them fighting, the two of them becoming the most powerful shinobi's the world had ever known. Then they'd return to Konoha. Return as heroes….

Sasuke watched his blond teammate. His thoughts were plain on his face. He was considering it...

And the more Sasuke thought about it, the more he was certain of it. He couldn't say why he wanted Naruto to come so badly, but he just did. Maybe he didn't realize how terrified he was of being alone until he thought of having a partner. And what better partner than Naruto. They were the same in so many ways.

"So will you do it? Will you come? There's nothing to keep you here either."

Naruto's smile fell. He shook his head slowly.

"But Sakura-chan…. We're Team 7. I couldn't— We couldn't just leave her behind…."

Sasuke smiled wider. He was sure of his choice now. The part of Naruto that worried over their teammate was the same part of Naruto that Sasuke knew he could always rely on. He was powerful and loyal. He was the perfect partner.

Whatever Naruto's doubts were, Sasuke knew he'd do anything to convince him to come. So he had to make Naruto feel better about leaving their team.

"She's not like us. She'll never know what it's like to have power. And to be hated for it." Naruto looked down, but Sasuke continued. "And she'll never be as strong as us. So having to look after her would only hold us back."

Naruto shoved his hands in his pockets. A deep frown revealed his inner conflict. Saskue knew he'd always had a soft spot for the girl. He had to think fast.

"Don't worry, she'll get put on a new team, and she'll be happy. They'll be more like her. And she'll do better. Grow faster. So really, it's good for her too."

But Naruto didn't look convinced.

"And you know she'd be in more danger by being with us. If she stays here, then she'll be safe." The corner of Sasuke's mouth hitched up in a sly smile. His eyes glittered. "Because after this, we'll be marked men. Who knows what we'll face. Who knows what ninjas we'll encounter. It will be amazing!"

Naruto couldn't help but laugh at the thought.

But he sobered and rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. After a few moments thinking, he slowly nodded his agreement about Sakura. "Yeah, I guess you're right." But he was clearly reluctant about it.

"She's not like you and me." Sasuke said seriously. "I have to avenge my clan. I have to defeat Itachi. If you come with me, I know I can do it. And… And you can grow stronger too. Then you'll be able to use the kyuubi's power however you want. No one else will ever control it."

Sasuke looked at Naruto with clear, earnest eyes. "And I'll be there to watch out for you," he said firmly. "I'll make sure no one ever hurts you again."

Naruto's chin crumpled. He was suddenly glad for the darkness. Somehow Sasuke had seen right through him. They were just the same. They had both been hurt. And deep down, underneath it all, they just never wanted to hurt again.

Yes. Of course he would go.

Naruto smiled. His eyes shined with unshed tears. "I came here to convince you…but you've convinced me," he said quietly.

Sasuke smiled back broadly. Naruto thought it was the happiest he'd ever seen Sasuke. And it was because of him. Them. They were partners, best friends, setting out on the adventure of a lifetime.

"So, are you coming?"

"Yeah," Naruto said resolutely. "Yeah I am!"

Sasuke laughed. "Come on!"

Both took off, racing toward the gate and their freedom. They never once looked back.


Sakura held her breath and listened hard. Head flopped back against the large tree, she closed her eyes. Silent tears slid down.

There were no more sounds of voices or the shuffle of feet.

They were gone.

She was alone.

She cupped her hand to her mouth, trying to hold in the pain, but a soft sob still escaped.

Guessing Sasuke was going to run, Sakura had come looking for him. But she never imagined this….

Apparently Naruto had the same idea. Sakura was nearly at the corner when she heard their voices. First Sasuke's, loud and angry, then Naruto's quieter, calmer one. She had even smiled at the irony that they'd flipped roles. So she leaned back to wait. She'd let Naruto say his piece, and if he couldn't convince Sasuke to stay, then she'd step out and give him her support.

Instead, she heard her name.

A dead weight.

She froze. Sasuke's true opinion was shattering. But Naruto….

Dependable, reliable, Naruto…. He'd stand up for them. He loved his team didn't he?

Didn't he?

She waited and listened, her heart banging against her chest like a caged bird.

But whatever Naruto felt was lost beneath Sasuke's bitter truths.

Whatever he felt for her and Kakashi, she was afraid it wouldn't be enough….

A dead weight. The thought cut her to the core.

Sakura didn't move. She didn't breathe. She leaned against the tree and listened. And when Sasuke told Naruto that he'd protect him, that they were the same, her first tears streaked down. Sasuke was offering the brotherhood that Naruto wanted so desperately.

So Sakura knew his answer even before he'd spoken. She knew Naruto was leaving. They were both leaving.

In the darkness, Sakura scrubbed a hand over her face and listened again, just to be absolutely certain... Nothing. The roads around her were quiet and empty.

Sakura slid to the base of the tree, bent up her shaky knees and sobbed into her hands.

They were gone. Her team was gone. They didn't want her.

She didn't know what to do. So she sat in the cold grass and cried.


Author's note: Another little story. Multi-chapter. AU-ish. NS. Yay! It will be a little different from A Voice in the Wind, in that it will be a more swiftly moving plot and a little lighter on the description. So, trying a different style for this one. But don't worry, there'll be some great scenes when the time is right! Some of the characters will be come off as OOC from time to time (Naruto more trusting of Sasuke; Sasuke more ready to help Naruto; and Sakura more distant as a result of their abandonment), but it will be within the context of the story. Anyway, hope you enjoy! Read and review!