The pitter-patter of rain drops hitting the leaves and mud all around him was almost overwhelming. The only thing louder was the rapid drumming of his heart, pulsing in every vein and muscle in his body. He knew he was hurt, and he knew for damn sure that he was tired. But none of that was going to stop him. He was so close he could almost see the bastard's figure, shrouded in falling rain and the darkness that came from such a severe storm. He couldn't see very far ahead, maybe fifty yards at best. And yet he knew that he was close, he could feel it in his aching bones. Just a single thought; a single word resounding in his skull and pushing his bleeding body forward.
Even though it was a simple scouting mission with the hopes of finding the raven, Naruto hadn't been planning on seeing him so suddenly, if at all. He wasn't foolish enough to get his hopes up too high for every recon mission, but it was there nonetheless. Still, they'd only been outside of the village for, what, ten hours? If he was so hell-bent on not coming back to the village, what the hell was he doing so close? Risking being seen and chased after or even captured?
It had only been a damn recon mission! Thieves had taken up a small portion of wooded land and were badgering travelers and ninjas alike. Team Kakashi was only supposed to see if they were any kind of threat or not, and maybe convince them to move on. Not to mention that any time outside of the village gave Naruto the chance to ask around and look for Sasuke. But the thieves had been more than just that; they'd been rogue ninjas disguised as simple greedy civilians. By the time they'd reached their little camp, it was already too late. Sakura had been the first to notice the complete lack of chakra. Even elderly civilians had chakra, just not a lot of it. But these men had no traces at all.
Before she could even verbalized her findings, Sai and Kakashi had already noticed it as well. Naruto had been too busy returning the thieve's dark glares to notice. It should have been so obvious to them all, and yet they walked right into it; such an obvious trap. In no time flat they were surrounded and trying to defend one attack after the other. Up to a hundred fighters in less than two seconds, and even with all of their skill they took a damn good beating. They all took out a good chunk of the enemy, but they were still heavily out-numbered and out-maneuvered. Kakashi's only option was to tell them to split up. And when it rained, it fucking poured. Literally. A storm had been on the horizon for two days now, and it chose right then to release all its frustration on them.
Naruto had gotten through at least twenty more enemies before he realized their weapons were all poisoned. He could feel his body going numb, and his movements were becoming sluggish. Out of nowhere some bastard jumped out and swung at his head. Naruto dodged, but with his reactions delayed his arm ended up taking the brunt of the attack. Another swing hit his left leg and Naruto finally killed the guy with a shadow clone and a kunai to the throat. With a second to breath, Naruto tried to use Kyuubi's chakra to dissolve the poison. It worked to a certain extent. His body could move just fine now, but his mind was still foggy. He only had pure instinct and muscle memory to guide him back to one of his team members.
Using his Sage chakra to search the wooded area for his teammates, Naruto found them all with small clusters of enemies, as well as a chakra he hadn't expected. Sasuke's chakra definitely stood out, flickering without preamble back at the thieve's camp. What the hell was he doing there? And why the hell was in smack-dab in the middle of the lion's den? Could he not feel all the chakra from Naruto and his team fighting?
If Naruto's mind had been a little more functional, he might have gone to help his team before running after the Uchiha. Or maybe not. He wasn't too sure anymore. He knew that since these thieves could cloak their chakra, Sasuke could be there alone or fighting fifty of these assholes and Naruto wouldn't know the wiser. He would have to see for himself how many were there. Unfortunately these guys could mask their chakra while using it, so Naruto could only feel elemental techniques going at it all over the place and not the fighters themselves. He hadn't released his Sage chakra yet, trying to keep an eye on his team's fights.
So with his feet beginning to drag in mud and water soaking into his vision, mixed in with all of his injuries and the poison left in his body, Naruto was most definitely not in the best conditions to be fighting.
But still… Despite the bastard coming out of nowhere and putting himself in more danger than he was probably aware of, and despite his teammates being in similar situations, Naruto's mind refused to process anything other than that one name. Because of his Sage chakra, Naruto knew Sasuke was only a few yards in front of him, and Naruto didn't think his heart could beat any faster than it was at that moment. Sasuke was literally the only thing keeping him on his feet at this point.
Running through what felt like a sheet of water into the thieves' camp sight, Naruto zoned in on the silhouette closest to him. Even with everything wrong with him at that moment, he knew without a doubt it was Sasuke. Just that cocky stance alone gave the asshole away, and Naruto had never been happier to see it.
"Sasuke." Naruto felt like he'd whispered the words down a tunnel, he was so out of sync with his body. Apparently he must have said it loud enough though, because the Uchiha turned his head slightly to the side. It was the best he could do in his situation, considering he was currently standing between a blonde idiot and large cluster of idiots. Naruto turned his eyes to the thieves, and they all seemed to be waiting for something. Poised and ready to attack, but not moving an inch.
"Get out of here, moron." Sasuke's deep baritone nearly knocked Naruto over. It wasn't the first time he'd heard the Uchiha since they'd turned nineteen, but the smooth and sophisticated voice always left Naruto feeling… something. Right about now it was mostly relief, mixed with a couple other things.
"They're after you." Any retort that Naruto had been trying -and failing- to process was abruptly cut off. Naruto had enough sense to realize that when Sasuke said 'you', he was referring to Naruto as a jinchuuriki, and not just another person. Naruto felt the fox demon rumbling in anger inside of his mind, and his eyes shot back to the current enemy. They still hadn't moved. What the hell were they waiting for?
Without his Sage chakra feeling out the area, Naruto never would have felt the small presence behind them. The grass and shrubbery were being pushed away so quickly they hardly made a noise, and with the storm as a cover no one would see the massive attack coming. Naruto didn't understand how such a powerful force could be completely cloaked of any chakra. And why hadn't the other guys moved if they knew it was coming?
The pieces fell together too slowly for Naruto's liking. This had never been a large group of thieves, it had only been a select few ninja who specialized in hiding their chakra. Even their attacks wouldn't be noticed until it was too late. All these enemies in front of them were fake, nothing but a ploy to keep them both in place.
And Sasuke was right in the middle of the attack. The stupid bastard just had to come try and save the day, and he was going to get himself killed for it. Naruto's heart must have stopped for a full second, then restarted in overdrive. With speed he shouldn't have had in his condition, Naruto threw all his weight and strength into a harsh shove, directed at the Uchiha. He could hardly keep his eyes open without them getting drowned in water and his footing was horrid, but he reached the bastard with enough time to shove him a good fifteen feet back. Hopefully it would be enough to keep him from getting hit. Besides, hadn't he said they were after him?
All sound disappeared, and even the rain seemed to slow down as Naruto watched the Uchiha. He hadn't expected an attack from Naruto and had slid another few feet in the mud. His head shot back around to make eye contact the with Naruto, and the blonde saw his blood red eyes widen. Too late, Naruto mentally smirked. He was seeing that tunnel vision thing, and his muscles were relaxing whether he wanted them to or not. And in that last second, everything seemed to speed back up. Naruto saw Sasuke's angry face, and then it all went black.
The last thing Naruto registered was his name being screamed.
When he woke up, he realized that he was in a bed.
Damnit, he thought, they brought me back. He mentally assessed each part of his body to see what was injured. Once he got to his right arm, he couldn't hold back the wince of pain. He tried remembering how he'd gotten injured in the first place. His eyes and his arm were killing him, and somehow he'd been brought back to Konoha.
His onyx eyes shot open, and despite the intense burn that came with it he refused to close them again. He remembered Naruto. He remembered hearing about a group of rogues trying to continue the Akatsuki legacy. He remembered going to investigate it himself, only to find they'd already pulled Naruto into a trap. He'd been confused as hell when he noticed they didn't have any chakra, but unfortunately he'd put the pieces together too late. Naruto had figured it out before him for once, and it ended up costing him his…
Where was Naruto?
Giving a cursory glance around his room, he noticed that aside from the hospital bed and sink, the room looked more like a prison cell than an actual hospital room. He wouldn't doubt it for a second, though, seeing as how he'd been rogue for quite some time now. There was no window to the outside so he had no clue what time it was, and by the looks of that door he wasn't leaving anytime soon. Taking a deep breath he sat up slowly and carefully, not wanting to jar his injured arm too much. Now that he was sitting up he could see more of the damage.
Or so he thought. Someone had already come in and bandaged him up. Just thinking about activating his Sharingan made his eyes burn, so he resolved to let himself heal a little more before he tried anything. He gave himself a once over and saw that he was no longer soaked in mud, sweat and rain. His clothes were clean and there was no trace of dirt on him. He didn't know how he felt about that. That meant someone had touched him while he was asleep.
But where was Naruto?
Standing up completely proved to be a bad idea as a massive wave of vertigo struck. Still, he refused to sit back down and instead made his way over to the only other object in the room; a long mirror that stretched from one corner of the room to the next. It was opposite of his bed and the sink, so it reflected the entire room. He didn't have to be a genius to know it was a one-way mirror. Someone was watching him. So Instead of getting comfortable or resting and getting his strength back, he stood in the middle of the room and glared harshly at the mirror. Hopefully he could intimidate whoever was on the other side enough that they showed themselves.
But where the hell was Naruto?
Five minutes after staring at nothing but his own eyes, a movement behind the thick door to his left got his attention. Once the massive structure was pushed open enough to let someone in, Sasuke could hear several sets of footsteps entering the room—cautiously, he noted with a small bit of humor. They were wise to still treat him like a threat.
His body remained still, but he turned his glare completely to his 'guests', the first of which was the current Hokage. Her heels clicked irritably against the stone floors and grated on what little nerves he had left.
"Stop glaring at me, you little punk. You're lucky you're even alive to do it." Her tone was bitter and held every bit of malice, but this meant nothing to Sasuke. She was the least of his concerns at the moment. Behind her he saw Sakura, Shikamaru, and two masked ANBU members. The fact that Naruto wasn't one of the first ones to see him was unsettling. He was dying to know what had happened to the boy, but he held his tongue. He knew that if he asked, no one would tell him anything.
Sakura was glaring daggers at him, and Shikamaru was just standing there, taking in everything and probably planning how to make him crack already.
"What were you doing there, Sasuke?" It was odd hearing Sakura say his name so calmly, when all he'd ever used to hear was that sickly sweet honorific. What used to be batting eyelashes and slightly puckered lips was now a sea-green glare and an angry frown. Sasuke had to admit he preferred the glare.
Whether he was holding his tongue because he didn't deem them worthy of a response or because he was slightly embarrassed by the truth, he really couldn't say. Still, he assumed they'd expected silence from the beginning.
"I'm giving you one chance to answer me truthfully, Uchiha," The way she spat his family name made him turn towards her completely, not afraid to face her injured. "Were you behind that little band of thieves?"
Some of his shock must have shown in his face, because a lot of their hostility seemed to vanish. He figured it wouldn't hurt to give them the answer they already knew, but wanted to hear anyway.
"No." That one word sent Sakura's hands flying through her hair and her eyes closed in frustration.
"Then what the hell happened out there?" Tsunade's strong voice echoed in the tiny, stone room. There was anger mixed with confusion, worry, and no small amount of stress. Sasuke closed his eyes in an attempt to block out the memories.
"Get out of here, moron." He kept his voice as cold as possible to get his point across. "They're after you." Despite his warning, the idiot hadn't left yet. But Sasuke couldn't be bothered with that right now, he was trying to focus on the men in front of him. They practically hadn't moved at all in nearly a minute, and Sasuke knew they were up to something. So focused on his enemies Sasuke didn't even register Naruto's presence coming closer until he'd been pushed away and into the mud.
He turned back to face the blonde idiot and give him a piece of his mind, but then he saw it. That massive white ball of energy with no traces of chakra hurtling towards them both; or rather, where he used to be. Naruto had pushed him out of the line of fire. He'd sensed it before Sasuke had. Sasuke locked eyes with the blonde just before his blue eyes rolled to the back of his head and he passed out. Naruto was falling, and that attack was coming right at him, and he wasn't going to get out of the way. The only thing Sasuke could think to do was yell.
Sasuke opened his eyes again and looked to the Hokage. She had bags under her eyes and her hands were fisted and shaking. She looked tired and old. Sakura didn't look much better, with her ruffled hair and still dirtied clothes. She must not have had the chance to even change since they'd come back.
"Where is he?" Sasuke didn't bother to specify who. They all knew there was only one person Sasuke would ask about. He'd been trying to hold his questions back, but the more time went on and the more he saw, the less he was able to resist. Surprisingly, it was Shikamaru who stepped forward and locked eyes with the raven. He stood there silently, sizing up the rogue ninja before finally speaking.
"What would you do if we told you he was dead, Sasuke?" Although a certain part of Sasuke had been expecting something like that, the results were still like a punch to the gut. His breath left him all at once, and that damn wave of vertigo came back; his mind running much too fast and way too slow. He was silent for almost a minute.
"Then I would tell you… he died bringing me back." Sasuke didn't understand the words coming out of his own mouth. These couldn't possibly be his own thoughts. He seemed to be on auto-pilot, and these ridiculous thoughts were spewing out like word vomit.
"I'd heard about that group trying to finish the Bijuu off. I came to check it out for myself and he was already there. They cloaked their chakra. I couldn't sense the attack until it was too late. By then he'd already pushed me over and he…" His throat stuck. A throbbing in his chest made him wince. "He pushed me away and then all I saw was white. I don't know what it was or what it did. But the explosion pushed me away further and knocked me out. That's all I know."
What the hell was he doing? Explaining himself to the Leaf village? He didn't give one care about anyone in this village.
They'd probably brought him back just to execute him. Let him live long enough to know that he'd finally, unintentionally, killed his best friend, then dispose of his worthless carcass. Right about now that's all he felt like. Damn that blonde idiot for always making him feel. He turned his gaze from Shikamaru back to the mirror and his reflection. He hadn't noticed that he'd slumped his shoulders so much. Like the weight of Naruto's death was resting on them, and any moment now it would crush him completely.
Death would be a welcoming comfort for him now.
A sudden painful pulse in his right arm made him visibly wince, and Sakura carefully approached him with her hand glowing. He stepped away from her and moved to the far side of the room, leaning on the sink.
"Don't you dare heal me. Just kill me and let it be done." Sasuke grabbed his arm with his left hand and massaged the most painful spot. This proved to be a bad choice because the second pressure was added, the pain increased and sent him kneeling on the floor. Sakura ran over to him anyway and rested her hands above his wrapped arm, helping to relieve the pain almost immediately. Before he could push her away she spoke.
"He's not dead, Sasuke." Sasuke's whole body tensed. What the hell kind of game were they playing? "But he's barely alive. Whatever hit him… it was like a purifying energy. That's why you couldn't sense it. It both hurt him and purified him at the same time."
Sasuke finally looked the girl in the eyes, not understanding. Being so close he could now see the tear stains on her cheeks and her blood-shot eyes. Her lips trembled as she relayed what information she knew.
"The Kyuubi is gone, Sasuke." His eyes couldn't help but widen. Gone? "We don't know if it purified him, or absorbed the demonic chakra, or if it just killed the fox for that matter. All we know is Naruto hasn't woken up yet, and he's weak. He-" She stopped herself there and shook her head of her thoughts, focusing on taking the pain away from his wound.
"Whatever hit Naruto hit you too." Tsunade spoke from her spot across the room. "The village elders and the council are at each other's throats trying to figure out what to do with you. So far we've heard nothing."
Sasuke sat silently and took it all in. The people who had condemned his brother to a life of misery were going to decide his fate as well. The irony was just too much. He'd killed Orochimaru, his own brother, Kabuto and several other Akatsuki members. He'd helped Naruto destroy Madara. Perhaps they'd take those situations into consideration before they gutted him publicly. Whatever they decided though, he wanted to see Naruto one last time. Dead or not. He just had this pulsing urge to see the blonde one last time.
But he wouldn't hold his breath.
He didn't have anything to judge time with, but going off of his internal clock alone, Sasuke assumed it had been about four days since he'd woken up in this room. He'd spent most of his time sleeping and meditating and thinking. Lots of thinking, and more often than not it revolved around Naruto.
But how could it not? He was here because of Naruto. He was alive because of Naruto. He was a lot of things because of Naruto. The only times he'd been allowed out of the room was twice a day to use the bathroom. Four ninjas would put him in restraints and guide him through the halls to a separate room with a shower and toilet. After an hour or so, they'd take him back and he'd be left alone. He'd been theorizing how well he could drown himself in the little sink he had when he finally got another visit from the Hokage, this time she seemed rushed.
"Move it, Uchiha." Sasuke simply raised a brow at her and she placed her hands on her wide hips. "He's finally awake."
Sasuke didn't think he should have gotten up as fast as he did. He didn't want to seem too eager or worried in front of the blonde woman, but he couldn't stop his body lately. It was really starting to piss him off. There were no ninja or ANBU escorts waiting for them outside the door. She must have flown straight down here herself to get him. If he was awake, why was she still so flustered?
The cell he'd been in was actually a lot closer to the tower than he'd first assumed, so once they got outside it was the first building he recognized. A lot of things had changed in the village since Pein's attack, the buildings being one of the more obvious ones. The sunlight stung at his eyes but he kept pace with the Hokage, just as eager as he was nervous to see the blonde boy again. From the sun's position in the sky Sasuke figured it was around eight or nine in the morning.
They arrived at the hospital in no time flat and Tsunade's quick steps led them to one of the upper-most floors. Sasuke disregarded the glowing sign reading 'ICU' above the large swinging doors they pushed through. They turned left and right down several halls before Sasuke finally caught sight of Sakura and Kakashi leaning against a wall. Kakashi had the pink haired girl in his arms as her shoulders shook violently. Sasuke's heart dropped. The closer they got, the more Sasuke could make out the girl's suppressed sobs. Kakashi finally noticed the other two occupants of the hall and glanced Sasuke over before turning to his Hokage.
The way the jounin shook his head had Sasuke ready to rip someone's head off. What the hell was going on? Before Sasuke could start opening doors and looking for the blonde one room at a time, Tsunade turned to him and leveled him with a look.
"Sasuke," She started with a wavering voice. "Naruto suffered some pretty serious injuries and only woke up early this morning. It's hard to understand but… he's not the same as he was a week ago. We'd hoped maybe seeing you might help him."
Sasuke had heard enough. He pushed past her and reached for the closest room handle. Despite his rush to reach the door and the person inside, he still hesitated for a second or two before pushing the door open slowly. The inside room was bright white and sterile smelling. The bed and sink looked the same as the ones in his cell, but there was no long room-length mirror or stone floors. There was a wide window letting in natural light, and a small little mirror sat above the sink. The floors were tiled and shiny, reflecting brightly in the already bright room. On the bed sat a blonde young man, attacked to an IV and staring out the window. From his neck down he was wrapped in bandages, and a large gauze wrap surrounded his wild tuft of blonde hair.
"Naruto," The name escaped his lips along with a sigh of relief he wasn't aware he'd been holding in. The blonde turned his head at the sound and connected eyes with Sasuke. They each held the other's gaze for quite a few seconds.
Something wasn't right.
Where was the cursing of his name? The cheeky grin at seeing Sasuke finally back in the village? Why weren't his eyes shining with… anything? There was no mischief, no happiness, no sadness. No recognition whatsoever.
"Hi there." Naruto smiled at him. It wasn't his wide, toothy grin that showed the dimples in his cheeks or made his eyes squint. It was a simple, polite, and calm reaction that looked serene, but completely out of place. Sasuke felt Tsunade's presence behind him, but he couldn't take his eyes away from the blonde boy even if he wanted to. Naruto was starting to look nervous. Probably because Sasuke hadn't said anything since he'd entered to the room, other than his name.
"Naruto, this is Sasuke Uchiha." Tsunade tried to stress the name as much as possible, hoping it would jar something in Naruto's memory. There was no such luck. The boy simply smiled warmly once again, closing his eyes slightly and holding out his bandaged hand.
"Hello, Sasuke. It's nice to meet you."
Sasuke wanted to scream. He wanted to cry out in frustration and punch the wall beside him. He wanted to lift Naruto out of his bed and shake him back to normal. He wanted to slap that damn hand away and call the boy an idiot, then storm out of the room and out of the village.
Yet he did none of these things. He simply watched the blonde boy give him a confused look and start to lower his hand. But before he could Sasuke reach out and took it into his own, not shaking it but simply holding it in his own grasp.
"It's nice to meet you too, Naruto." He didn't know how he'd found his voice, but it came out nonetheless and the blonde smiled a little brighter that time.
"We don't know if it was trauma to the brain from his head injury, or his body's way of coping with the sudden loss of Kyuubi. Either way, he has absolutely no memory of his past. No childhood, no friends, no missions, not even his name. Sakura was with him when he woke up. He asked her who she was and she ran out of the room. I've done everything in my power, but it looks like we'll just have to wait for Naruto's memories to come back."
Sakura, Kakashi, Sasuke, and Tsunade were standing in the hall outside Naruto's hospital room. Tsunade had pulled the raven away from the blonde's room with the excuse of needing to speak with him privately. The blonde had simply smiled and waved them off, telling them he hoped to see them again soon.
"How long?" Kakashi spoke up, and Sasuke was reminded that while some things had changed, some had stayed exactly the same. Kakashi's voice and actions were the same as they were when he was a kid. Tsunade sighed and ran her hands over her face.
"I have no idea. The mind is a very delicate thing; you can't force anything and there's really no telling when it will heal itself. He could remember tomorrow, or it could take six months. He might never remember." The last part was almost whispered. No one wanted to entertain the idea that their Naruto was never coming back.
"We can't push him into remembering too much," Tsunade continued. "Little hints here and there are okay, and taking him to places he might remember or talking about situations could help. If his memory comes back, it'll come when it's ready. The only thing we can do is try to help it along."
"You mean when it comes back."
They all turned to Sasuke who had his hands fisted at his sides. His face was blank, but they could all see the anger he was holding back.
"I mean what I said, Uchiha." Tsunade scoffed and turned to face him completely. "As much as I hate to admit it, you are the one person Naruto thought of the most. If anyone could trigger a memory it would be you. The only reason you're here right now," She lifted a manicured finger and pointed it at the blonde's closed door. "Is because I care about what happens to him. If seeing you brings him back, then I'll keep you here forever. You're still in very hot water, but whether I like it or not we need you. So until Naruto gets his memory back, the council has agreed to leave you under my supervision."
Sasuke stood still and thought about the situation he was in. Naruto didn't know any of them anymore, and they were hoping Sasuke could make him remember. If he said no, they'd probably kill him or throw his ass in that cell for the rest of his miserable life. But did he really want to say no? If he thought about it, this was almost like a second chance. Another chance to do the things he should've done before. He would admit that over the years, his thirst for revenge had subsided. After killing his brother and Madara both, he'd felt… lost. He knew he could never return to Konoha on his own, they'd kill him in a heartbeat.
Or so he'd thought. He'd simply assumed that once he'd left the village, he could never have that calm, collected, domestic life again. He'd forever be on the run, on edge and fighting for his life for the rest of his life. Naruto's chasing him had seemed no more than a dream, a little wish that he and the blonde both shared. Naruto had simply wanted his friend back, and Sasuke just wanted to go home. But Sasuke had assumed it was never possible and that he'd already been too lost in the darkness to be saved.
"That idiot brought me back to this village," Sasuke started, not bothering to look at anyone. He knew he had their attention. "I guess I'll just have to bring him back, too."
He didn't wait around for a response. Instead he pushed his way past the Hokage and went through the door to Naruto's room, closing it softly behind him. His focus was now solely on the blonde boy sitting in bed before him. Naruto turned to see his guest, and smiled excitedly at the raven.
"Sasuke, you came back so quickly. I figured you might be gone for the day." Naruto motioned for the Uchiha to sit in the only chair in the room, next to his bed. Sasuke hesitated for only a second before he sat down and stared at the blonde.
"I told her I'd prefer to stay with you for a while." Naruto tilted his head to the side, confusion plastered across his face.
"Won't you get bored? It's just me in here, and I can't remember anything so I won't provide much to the conversation." The blonde chuckled and scratched at his hand, wincing slightly. Sasuke didn't even know the idiot could talk that politely, it was… strange.
"So they told you about losing your memory?" Sasuke was trying to keep the subject off of himself and more on the blonde.
Naruto nodded and started to fiddle with the sheets. "I don't remember anything other than waking up in this room. That pretty nurse was in here and checking on me." Sasuke almost winced. It must have been hard on the girl to be nothing but a 'nurse' to her best friend. "She was talking really fast and hugging me and it made my head hurt really bad, so I tried to ask her what her name was. I think I made her really upset." Naruto turned his wide blue eyes to Sasuke. He couldn't look away. "Is she a friend of mine?"
With that question, Sasuke began to tell Naruto everything he wanted to know. He figured as long as the blonde was asking the questions, he could answer truthfully. He didn't want to start telling stories in case it pushed his memories, but most of the blonde's questions were basic and straightforward. The more Naruto talked, the more Sasuke thought that this was how Naruto would have been, had the Kyuubi not been sealed inside of him. He was much calmer, not as loud, and more polite. He was subtle with his hand gestures, and when he smiled he didn't show any teeth.
Sasuke liked him and hated him at the same time. This Naruto was much less work and a lot easier to understand.
But it still wasn't Naruto. Whoever this was, it wasn't the Naruto he'd grown up with. It wasn't the Naruto he'd fought with, or almost killed. He wasn't the Naruto that had chased after him for so long, hoping to bring him back, and it definitely wasn't the Naruto that he'd gradually started to miss over the years.
The Naruto he knew was in there, though. And he would bring him back.
Although he'd lost the Kyuubi, Naruto's ability to heal incredibly fast was still with him. As such, it only took him a week and a half to heal most of his injuries. And during that time Sasuke could count on one hand how many times he left Naruto's side. Because of the blonde's numerous injuries, he did little more than sleep most of the day. When he had the energy to talk, Sasuke would be right there ready to answer any questions he had. Naruto had seemed upset that he'd grown up with no parents or siblings, but he seemed to shake it off rather quickly. He mostly asked about his friends, in hopes that if they saw him again he wouldn't upset them too much by not recognizing them. Kakashi and Sakura visited often, but being in the ICU meant the visiting hours were limited. The only reason Sasuke didn't have to leave was because he had direct orders from the Hokage herself to 'keep his ass right there'.
"Were you and I very close?" Naruto had asked innocently one day, fiddling with the bandages on his arm and locking his bright blue eyes with Sasuke's dark ones. It took the raven a few moments to think about his answer.
"You really cared about me. And you were my best friend." The second sentence had come out of his mouth before he'd had time to stop it. He watched the blonde take the information in, feeling surprisingly nervous about his reaction. After a few seconds, the blonde smiled and chuckled a little.
"Yeah." There was a soft, kind glimmer in his eyes that seemed to read Sasuke like a book. For a second Sasuke was reminded of the old Naruto, but as soon as it was there it was gone. After that day Naruto never asked about Sasuke's and his friendship. Sasuke was just fine with that.
All Naruto seemed to want to do was jump out of his room window at times. He would look out the glass, whether it was day or night, and just stare. Sasuke had wanted to know what was going through his mind at those moments, but he figured it was this Naruto's way of thinking.
The old Naruto never really thought about much, and if he did he spoke what he was thinking. Loudly. This Naruto was reserved and serene to watch. He was meticulous, calculating, and almost graceful. After sitting alone with Naruto for nearly two weeks, he saw how badly the boy wanted to go outside. Despite their differences, Naruto had always been a nature lover, and being cooped up was never something he'd looked forward to.
That day when Tsunade came to check on them both, he'd taken her outside and told her Naruto needed to get out. She'd argued and fought with him for nearly thirty minutes before Naruto himself opened his room door to see what all the fuss was about. He was standing just fine, and most of his bandages had been removed or shortened. Even the size of the gauze on his head wound was smaller, and Tsunade was loathed to admit she also saw the restlessness in the boy's eyes.
She sighed under her breath and Sasuke knew she'd caved. "Naruto, would you like to go back to your own house? You won't be alone, Sasuke is going to stay with you the entire time." She gave the raven a stern look from the side and continued. "Sakura and I will stop by frequently and I'll have guards posted around your house the whole time." Naruto smiled brighter than he had since he'd woken up, and laughed lightly.
"I should be fine on my own, you don't have to go to that much trouble for me." Sasuke and Tsunade both understood that the guards wouldn't be watching Naruto. "Sasuke and I should be able to handle it just fine."
Tsunade watched the blonde for a long moment. So much was the same, and so much was different. "Let me go finish a few things and I'll be back to take you to your home. In the meantime I want you to be taking it easy. Try to get some more rest before you go." She turned and made her way back down the hall, the clicking of her heels on the tiles fading.
Several hours later found Sasuke and Naruto walking down an empty street to Naruto's apartment. Sakura and Kakashi were a few steps ahead of them leading the way. Sasuke could sense all seven ANBU members watching them at that moment, and figured it was okay so long as they kept their distance. He wouldn't tolerate being walked around like a dog on an extra short leash.
The further they went, the more Naruto would lean on Sasuke to help keep him up and walking. He was feeling better but he wasn't anywhere near one hundred percent yet. The way Naruto clung to his right arm made Sasuke realize once again that this wasn't the Naruto he knew. His Naruto would never show how weak he was by leaning on someone else's shoulder, much less Sasuke's of all people. He would scoff and push forward no matter how many injuries he reopened, and if he fell he would refuse anyone's help, insisting that he could stand up on his own.
Yet Sasuke had to admit that the warm arm wrapped around his own and the heat emanating from the smaller body beside him was comforting in a way. He knew it wasn't his Naruto, but it was still Naruto.
It took them quite a while to tackle the stairs that led up to Naruto's apartment, but once they arrived Sasuke felt the sigh of relief that escaped Naruto's mouth. Even if he didn't remember it, Naruto was glad to be home where he could rest calmly. Sakura opened the door for them and they all entered, Kakashi closing the door behind them all. Sakura, knowing the blonde's apartment relatively well after so many years, reached over and flicked the overhead lights on. Although small and average looking in detail, Naruto's apartment was warm and welcoming.
The entire living room and kitchen were clean and Sasuke wondered if the idiot had kept it that way or if Tsunade had sent someone over to clean it before they arrived. The tiny kitchen was to the left of the entry hall, and to the right was the living area. Up ahead there were two doors, the one on the left wide open revealing Naruto's bed and dresser. The one to the right was closed, and Sasuke assumed it was the restroom. Naruto was putting more and more weight onto Sasuke's shoulder every minute, so Sasuke pushed past the pink haired girl and went straight to the bedroom to deposit the blonde on the bed.
Sakura followed the two boys with curious and worried green eyes. A warm hand on her shoulder made her look at her sensei and see the man's gaze locked on the two boys as well.
"Do you think he'll be okay? Alone with Sasuke, I mean." Sakura wanted to believe that Sasuke had put aside his selfishness for once and was trying to help the closest person he had. Seeing Sasuke talking to Naruto and explaining memories mad her heart ache for earlier years; back when she would fawn over the Uchiha and he and Naruto would fight over the tiniest things. Back when the worst thing that could happen was a D-ranked mission for helping old women or cleaning duty.
"I think Sasuke finally sees what he's been missing for so long." Kakashi's reply startled her out of her thoughts, even though she'd asked him a question in the first place. "He's had plenty of chances to leave; even the Hokage has made it obvious that he could simply run away again. But I think he's finally tired of running."
They watched as Sasuke helped left the blonde boy into his bed and covered him in the sheets. It might have looked cute had Sasuke not looked so guilty, and if Naruto was in better condition. They saw them carry on a conversation that didn't quite reach them, the Uchiha's eyes never leaving the blonde for a second. He moved to the far end of the bed, out of sight from where the stood in the hallway, and assumed his position as Naruto's personal body guard. Anything Naruto wanted, Sasuke would silently retrieve and hand to him without a word. It had been that way for nearly two weeks now, and Sakura was hoping something good would come from such a miserable situation.
Naruto watched as Sasuke slept. He was sitting on the end of his bed, back against the wall with arms and legs crossed. Naruto might have mistook his position for meditating, but something told him the Uchiha was hard asleep. It didn't surprise him, though. Since he'd first met the Uchiha a few weeks ago, he'd only caught him sleeping a handful of times. Naruto had been sleeping quite often himself, though. He figured the Uchiha caught most of his sleep when Naruto did, but Naruto usually fell asleep and woke back up to a conscious Uchiha.
He watched the boy's chest lift ever so slightly as he breathed. He couldn't explain the urge he had to just wrap the other in a hug and never let go. Sasuke had told him that they were close, but Naruto had to wonder exactly how close. He'd been visited by all of his friends, and not one of them invoked the same reactions that this boy did. It got so bad it made his heart hurt; a pulsing ache deep in his chest that would hit him like a wave and linger until Sasuke looked away from him.
Naruto wondered what happened between him and Sasuke that made him miss the boy so much when he was sitting right there. He would look into Naruto's eyes and he'd drown in pools of black, not able to look away to save his life. When Sasuke took his hand or helped carry him around, Naruto felt like a knot in his stomach was being pulled tightly.
He didn't understand any of it, but he had come to realize Sasuke had been right. He had cared very deeply about Sasuke before he'd lost his memory. What he wondered now was, exactly how much?
When he and Sasuke had arrived at his house, Naruto had slept for quite a while. He'd felt bad for not thanking Sakura or Kakashi for taking him there, but he figured they'd assumed he'd be tired when he got home. After he woke up, he and Sasuke had gone from room to room looking at his belongings; trying to remember anything. He had begun to lose hope that he'd remember anything from being back home when he'd seen it. On his bedside table had been a small picture frame. Picking it up, he saw a younger version of himself, Sasuke and Sakura all posing with Kakashi towering above their heads. Unconsciously his fingers ran over Sasuke's face in the picture and words formed on his tongue.
"Team Seven." He looked at the picture for a moment longer before looking at Sasuke. The raven haired boy was staring intently at him.
"It just popped into my head," He felt the need to defend his outburst. "It sounds familiar, but I don't know what it means."
"It was us." Sasuke replied. He stepped forward and took the frame into his own hands. He looked hard at the image before putting it gently back on the bedside table. "We were the seventh group in our class to be assigned as genin. We were Team Seven." Naruto watched as Sasuke's long, pale fingers lingered on the frame a few seconds after he'd put it down.
From that moment on Naruto had been more intent on getting his memory back than ever before. Not because he missed his friends or because he knew he wasn't the same person.
He simply wanted to remember Sasuke.
After nearly three months of living with Naruto, Sasuke had come to the conclusion that Naruto may not have wanted his memories back. The blonde would be doing something mundane, like washing the dishes or walking down the hall or even talking to someone, when a memory would assault him. His eyes would get wide and he'd stop in his tracks, all motor functions seeming to shut down in order to handle the memories being brought back to the surface.
So far there had been very few pleasant ones. Most of his memories were of being injured, lonely, or fighting with someone. Sometimes it was all three. This timid and reserved Naruto didn't know how to handle all of these new, often times violent revelations of his past. Being a ninja required you get accustomed to seeing death and suffering, but Naruto didn't remember learning how to handle it all and therefore struggled with it. Sasuke would see him leave the room and enter the bathroom, locking the door and crying silently for hours. Now he understood why they had to bring his memories back, gently; if they forced all his memories back at once, it could leave permanent damage to his mind.
So when Naruto woke him up in the middle of the night, screaming violently and nearly clawing at his head in pain, Sasuke knew he'd received a particularly strong and dark memory. He'd flung himself over to the blonde and pulled him into a strong hold. He tried to cradle the boys head between head and shoulder, gripping the blonde's waist tightly and holding him as close to his own body as possible. Tears stained the front of his night shirt and muffled screams of pure agony ripped through the blonde's throat. Still Sasuke held him close and closed his own eyes tight.
"What did you see?"
It took Naruto a few minutes to calm down, and even then the tears didn't stop flowing. Sasuke felt like his heart was being wrenched in two; holding the blonde and seeing him go through so much pain and knowing there was nothing more he could do. Finally Naruto was able to form words in between his sobs and gasps.
"A demon." The words were mumbled into the fabric of Sasuke's night shirt, the tan fingers holding onto it for dear life tightening even more.
"I was all alone in some dark, dank place. It just stood there, laughing at me and saying horrible things." Sasuke assumed he was having early memories of Kyuubi; before the demon and Naruto had learned to co-exist. "I was terrified but I couldn't move. I felt like my brain was on fire."
Naruto pulled away just far enough to wipe the tears away from his face, trying not to make eye-contact with the Uchiha. "It was almost like a bad dream, but it felt just like a memory coming back…"
"It was real," Sasuke sighed when Naruto's vulnerable and scared blue eyes met his. They'd all tried to avoid the subject of Kyuubi, hoping that with the demon gone, Naruto might be able to live a life without the shadow of a demon lingering in the back of his mind. It seemed the Fox demon was too strong a presence to be so easily forgotten.
That night Sasuke told Naruto all about the demon he'd held inside for nineteen years. He explained how he'd come to be the vessel, and exactly why some of the villagers still didn't trust him even after all these years. Naruto could only understand some of what he said, but that was okay. Naruto cried for the version of himself he didn't remember and prayed that one day he might be able to go back to how he used to be.
And once Naruto fell asleep, still cradled in his arms, Sasuke prayed as well.
Naruto had been missing for nearly three hours, and Sasuke was practically livid. The one time the council called him in for a meeting, after months of being back in the village, Sasuke had left Naruto in the care of three ANBU members. After several grueling hours of being questioned and mentally probed, he leaves to go back to Naruto's apartment only to find him not there.
One of the ANBU had stayed there in case Naruto came back while the other two went looking for him. They figured he couldn't have gone far, he'd explained. They saw no reason to report it to the Hokage, they assumed they would find him no problem.
That was three hours ago, and even with the alarm raised, thanks to Sasuke, they still couldn't find him. Out of either pure luck or destiny, Sasuke had decided to go up onto the Hokage monument to see of he could spot the orange idiot from above. It turned out he didn't need to, the idiot was sitting on the top of Tsunade's carved head, looking down at the village with dark, glazed eyes and slumped shoulders. If not for the heavy tension Sasuke would have already smacked the blonde for running away and taken him back home.
He knew the blonde knew he was there, and yet he said nothing. This Naruto had never ignored him like that. Something was wrong. Slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, Sasuke sat beside the blonde and faced towards the village, keeping a thin amount of space between them.
"You ran away," Sasuke began, and he wasn't prepared for the blonde's response.
"So did you." His black bangs tickled his face as the wind blew around them. Up here it was a little stronger than down in the village, but neither boy seemed to mind. Sasuke tightened his grip on the rocks beneath them and kept his gaze locked on the village gates.
"How much do you remember?" He didn't feel like giving out excuses or apologizing for leaving. He simply wanted to understand how the blonde felt first. He'd take this one step at a time.
"I was looking through one of my drawers and I found this," Naruto held up his left hand which hadn't been visible from Sasuke's position, and held up an old Leaf village headband. The metal plate on the front had a gash through the middle, and the cloth looked old and faded.
"I saw you and me fighting, and then you turning into… something else." The blonde's grip on the headband was so strong it shook. "I heard you saying such cruel things, and then you hurt me." The blonde grabbed his chest with his other hand and a pained look overtook his features. Sasuke didn't know whether the boy was covering the wound he'd left in the blonde's chest or his heart.
They sat in silence for a long time after that. Sasuke wouldn't say he'd never meant to hurt the blonde, because back then he had meant to. But that didn't mean that he didn't regret his actions, either. His time back in the village had made him realize how much he'd missed and how lonely he'd been. Reaching over and pulling the blonde's head towards his, he rested his forehead against the blonde's and stared deep into his blue orbs. The same blue eyes he'd seen in his dreams and thoughts for so long now.
"I'm sorry I hurt you, Naruto." And he meant every word.
"I think I love you, Sasuke."
Sasuke almost dropped their plates. They'd just finished dinner and Naruto was at the sink, rinsing off most of their dirty dishes. Sasuke had been bringing back the last of them when Naruto had spoken. Sasuke wanted to think that the declaration was random, but he knew that they'd both been thinking the same thing for quite some time now. It had been nearly six months since the incident and most of Naruto's friends had given up hope that he would go back to normal. Even Sakura had suggested that maybe Naruto was better off this way, without the weight of his old memories holding him down.
Sasuke had almost slapped her. If Kakashi hadn't seen him coming, he would have done it too.
Naruto still had his back to him, hands no longer scrubbing at the soaked bowls and plates in the sink. The faucet was still running and gave them a gentle background noise. Sasuke put the last of the dishes back on the dining table and walked slowly over to the blonde. He stood behind the blonde for what felt like forever until he finally reached past him and turned the knob on the sink, stopping the flow of water and throwing them into complete silence. Even with the water off, Sasuke kept his arm stretched out and took one small step forward. There was practically no space left between them now, and Sasuke could feel the natural heat emanating from Naruto's back. The muscles in his stomach and arms were shaking with an emotion he wasn't familiar with, but still very much aware of.
"But I don't love you." Sasuke was firm and honest with his answer. Naruto finally turned and smiled warmly. Sasuke noticed almost bitterly that he didn't show his teeth or squint his eyes when he smiled up at him.
"You did love him, though. Right? The real Naruto?" The blonde asked it so innocently Sasuke wanted to laugh. Sasuke lifted both of his hands and ran them along the blonde's cheeks, holding the tan face still as he brought his face ever so close to his own. They were breathing the same air now, the intimacy of the moment making his heart throb.
"I still do."
Naruto made the first move, pushing forward on his toes just barely and closing the space between their lips. The kiss wasn't passionate or intense or even that long, but it meant a great deal to them both just the same. Just a few seconds after they touched lips they separated, looking into one another's eyes and trying to read the other's emotions. Sasuke ran his right hand through Naruto's blonde hair before slowly pulling away. It took him quite a lot of effort to pull away from the one person that he loved more than anyone else, but he reminded himself that this wasn't the same person. Before he could pull away completely, though, Naruto held his shoulder still with one hand and cradled his cheek with the other.
"I may not remember it, Sasuke, but I know he felt the same about you." That gentle smile was almost heartbreaking. "I feel it every time I look at you; every time I even think about you. Even with all of my memories gone, I would have loved you all over again." Naruto lowered his hands and let Sasuke leave.
Later that night, Sasuke snuck out for the first time since he'd come back to Konoha. He made his way to the closest training field and proceeded to unleash all of his pent up frustration and anger on anything and everything in his way. And once there was nothing but piles of dirt and rubble, he fell to his knees and cried. He let out all of his bottled up emotions from the last few years, and the ANBU guards in charge of watching him never told the Hokage.
It was early that morning when Sasuke returned to Naruto's apartment. The sun hadn't even hit the horizon yet, and the physical and emotional stress on his body made him feel numb. Entering the apartment silently, he hoped he could get some sleep before Naruto-
All thought process shut down when he saw the blonde passed out in the main hall, broken glass covering the floor next to him. Sasuke slid over to the boy on his knees, not caring if he got cut. He turned the blonde's body to face him and saw the trail of blood leaking from the blonde's nose. He lifted the boy into his arms and took him to his bed quickly, careful not to jostle the blonde too much. Once on the mattress Sasuke proceeded to shake his shoulders and slap his face gently, one hand reaching for a tissue and cleaning the blood from the blonde's face.
"Naruto, wake up. Naruto, Naruto? Come on, Idiot, don't do this to me. You know I don't know what to do. Wake up Naruto."
The more he asked, the harsher his slaps got. Finally when Sasuke was afraid he might have shaken the boy too hard and injured him further, Naruto's blue eyes popped open and sought him out.
"Sasuke," No other words were spoken; Sasuke didn't give him the chance. He engulfed the idiot in a bear hug and held him as close to his chest as possible.
"Don't do that shit to me, Naruto." Instead of the usual apology and gentle reciprocating hug he'd usually get from Naruto, the blonde boy smacked him upside the head and chuckled, "Bastard."
Sasuke had never pulled away that quickly. Once he could see the blonde's face, he let out a large breath at the bright, toothy grin the blonde rewarded him with.
"I love you too, asshole."