Chapter three.
Ghost

A/N. Again; edited version of chapter three. This whole story has headed in a direction I had never intended for, it started as a random idea (actually no, just a one shot) and developed into something more and so I want this to be perfect! Thanks for putting up with me guys and please continue to review and enjoy!
- Chantelle

"If I smile and don't believe;
soon I know I'll wake from this dream.
Don't try to fix me, I'm not broken.
Hello, I'm the lie living for you so you can hide.

- Hello

xXx

There was a vase of flowers, chocolates and a card sitting on his small dining table when Naruto returned home from the hospital. The card read;

"Naruto,
We're glad to have you home safe, we were all worried sick.
Team seven."

The hand writing was delicate and neat; leading him to believe it was Sakura who had set it all up.

He smiled fondly and placed it down again. Personally he would have preferred baking over flowers but he wasn't going to complain or be ungrateful.
He made a mental note to thank his team later when they grouped together to discuss their next mission.

At this point Naruto was not often held in hospital for long and when he was released he was mostly given missions soon was the fastest healing ninja in the village.

He still wondered why he couldn't move on from Sasuke just as quickly.

Every part of him was still angry, still hurt and he just for once wished he was dead inside.

Kakashi had often claimed his passion was a double edged sword; while his determination and love for his friends was a good thing, the anger and sorrow he felt for Sasuke that was slowly eating away at him was just as strong as any happiness he'd ever felt.

He made his way to his kitchen cupboard and pulled out some cup ramen. His stomach had been growling all morning and the hospital food just wasn't the same.

"I've missed you ramen!"
"I've missed you too Naruto."

Naruto let out an undignified squeal and dropped the cup. He turned around when he heard laughing.

"Sakura! What the heck!"

He shot her a dark glare and she stuck out her tongue as a playful response.

"The great Uzumaki Naruto, scared of a talking cup of ramen? Who would've thought?"

Naruto lightened up and grinned, picking the cup back up he turned on the jug.

"Want some tea?"

Sakura nodded and gave a polite smile.

"I should be the one making tea for you; shouldn't you be taking it easy? I know you heal fast but it'd appease me to know you weren't jumping back into things straight away."
"Sakura, it's just a cup of tea, I've barely walked in the door and you're already lecturing me."

She gave a small chuckle.

"You're right, sorry."
"Thank you Sakura, for the flowers and stuff."

"It was from all of us. Sai was actually the one who suggested it."

'Sai.'

He hadn't seen Sai since their mission. He thought Sai was just too indifferent to come see him. Sai had promised to visit him but he never showed up. He wanted to talk to him. He made a mental note to go have a look for him once Sakura went home.

"When does Sasuke get let out."

Sakura let out an audible gasp. She'd actually come to speak to him about it, she just didn't know how to bring it up. She hadn't been expecting him to ask so openly.

"Well, it's up to the council to decide his fate at this point. Kakashi sensei believes he'll get a lighter sentence, now that he's finally agreed to return."
"Even after he killed Danzo?"

Sakura nodded and looked at her feet. In reality she was merely being hopeful. They took into account his compliance as well as his friendship with Naruto, and Naruto's sheer desperation for him to return to them but she knew Sasuke's crimes were unforgivable.

"Don't tell me that after all he's put this village through, he can apologize and everything just goes back to normal? After all the pain he caused usSakura, do you forgive him too?"
"Naruto…"

She didn't know how to respond. Of course she did. She did because the Naruto she had grown to love would have forgiven him too.

The Naruto she knew would have given his life to save Sasuke, but now... Maybe it was because he was being looked at for the position of Hokage that he was acting like this.

She closed her eyes and tried to imagine a time where Naruto would have given everything he had to influence them into letting Sasuke return.

"Sakura, how could you? He tried to kill you. He tried to kill all of us!"

She felt her eyes tear up and when she opened them she wasn't looking at Naruto anymore, just a shell of his former-self. He looked tired, angry and spiteful.

"Listen to yourself! After telling everyone you'll never give up and you'll bring him home you're the only one rejecting him! You lied Naruto; the only one I can't forgive now is you!"

And with that she stormed off, slamming the front door behind her. Growling, Naruto stormed off to his room and collapsed onto his bed.

He couldn't understand how she could side with Sasuke so easily; Sasuke was cold, selfish and cruel. Surely she could see that.

Every fibre of his body screamed that it was all a lie so he could infiltrate the village and destroy it from in the inside out. Now that he was so close to finally leading the village he had to protect it at all costs.

He couldn't take the risk of trusting Sasuke, and he prayed the Leaf village council would see through any possible deception.

'Sasuke, as long as I'm here to protect this village I will not let you become a threat to it. No matter the bond we once shared.'

xXx

"Mitokado-sama, Utatane-sama, I do believe Naruto has genuine concerns about Sasuke resuming his status in the village. I also believe he is misguided by his love for the people of the village.
While his intentions are respectable, shutting out his feelings he is doing just as much harm to the village as he would by letting them control his decisions.
If Sasuke is genuine about returning to the village then I believe he would be a great asset to us all, he can help restore its former glory as well as set an example of peace for neighbouring countries and villages.
Not only that but he is now the sole remaining Uchiha, the restoration of his clan is something that could benefit us largely."

"Personal feelings can be difficult. I have the upmost veneration for his dedication to this village and ensuring its safety.
Kakashi, as his mentor you must be proud to have such a student under your wing. Right now, he needs your guidance more than ever. With Jiraiya-sama gone you are the role model he looks up to.
He is being given the opportunity to govern the village, perhaps the pressure is weighing down so heavily on him that he's forgotten his ideals and his friends."

Kakashi sighed and turned his view to the village. The council had called him to discuss the situation with Sasuke and Naruto and whether or not to involve Naruto in the final decision.

In the beginning Kakashi believed the outcome would be very biased, with the council deeming Sasuke as a threat and Naruto having poor judgment due to his age and with the restrictions they'd attempted to place on Naruto in the past. H

e never believed they'd consider Naruto for such a powerful position, or be in favour of letting Sasuke return.

Perhaps after all these years they'd grown softer.

"Homura-Sama, what is your take on the situation?"

The elder male sighed.

"It's all quite troublesome. We have no way of proving the Uchiha boy's intentions are pure. I suggest we keep him under close observation.
Naruto as well.
When we take into consideration the protection Sasuke can offer the village it would seem foolish to reject his request for forgiveness.

We can't afford to cut him loose without execution either, he could turn against the village again and if anything were to happen to him he may still have allies, enemies of the village, who will retaliate.

Kakashi, you were once close to the boy, I believe you are the only one who can decide whether or not he's genuine about returning. I have confidence your decision will not be based on either hard feelings or your bond as his former mentor."

In all his years Kakashi had never seen the council so troubled by a decision. Were they counting on his compassion to decide the fate of the youngest Uchiha?

They themselves were never very compassionate and after the trouble the slaughtering of the Uchiha clan had caused, he believed they were starting to question their judgments.

"Mitokado-sama, Utatane-sama. I'll speak to him by the end of the day and bring back my conclusion."

And with a brief nod he was gone.

xXx

Naruto didn't move from his bed until a timid knock snapped him out of his sulking a little while later. He slowly rose to his feet and answered the door.

"Hinata, what are you doing here?"

A small flicker of excitement raced in his chest. He nervously rubbed the back of his head and gave a sheepish smile.

"Naruto-Kun. I wish to speak to you."

His mood changed significantly when he realized her tone was serious. She sounded stern and angry at him.

"Come in."

And with that he gestured her through the door and motioned for her to sit.

"Would you like a drink or something?"

She shook her head.

"Naruto, I want you to forgive Sasuke-kun."

Her curt bluntness threw him off and he furrowed his brows darkly.

"What?!"
"Naruto, you... You're not the Naruto we know. You've changed."

He found himself speechless. Forgive Sasuke? What was wrong with everyone?

"Hinata, do you even understand what you're saying?"
"I do, Naruto-Kun. But do you? Do you understand what you'resaying? You can't turn your back on him, he's your friend and he needs you!"

Often Naruto found himself in awe of the confidence Hinata had found in herself of recent, but now he was angry and hurt at the sudden accusations the two girls had thrown at him.

"Hinata, I haven't changed, I've just grown up. I have a responsibility now, to this village. This village needs me, and they need me to make decisions based on protecting them, not my personal feelings.
Whatever the council decides, I will make sure he never brings harm to anyone from the Leaf again."

With that Hinata advanced toward him and in one swift moment her hand was across his cheek in a quick and painful motion.

"Naruto, you taught me a lot of things and giving up was not one of them, giving up on Sasuke-kun was never an option, now he's here asking for your forgiveness and you're turning away from him?
I didn't want to believe it when Sakura-san came to me in tears but now I'm seeing it for myself and I'm ashamed.
You should be ashamed too, you fought so hard to protect him and bring him home, you convinced us all to fight for him and now that was for nothing. If you… If you can't forgive him, I can't forgive you!

For once you're wrong Naruto! He's been stuck in this dark place for so long, all alone. Just like you were, he's all alone! And so… You can't abandon him, you just can't!"

It took Naruto some time to process her words and the sharp stinging on his cheek. He felt winded, like he'd been struck in the guts, and he had to take a moment to catch his breath.

"Hinata.."

She said nothing, but instead waited patiently for his response.

"I… Wish I could agree. You were the one who told me it's no longer about myself, and it's not. It's the council's decision and if they choose death, then so be it."

Naruto watched as her eyes began to water and watched as she turned on her heel and ran from his small apartment.

'I love you.'

She'd once told him. He truly with all his heart wished he loved her like that too. He truly wished he could have given her the answer she wanted to hear. He truly wished that Sasuke hadn't left in the first place.

Every single thing that happened, every word that was ever said, every fight he ever fought, it all seemed connected to Sasuke.
They were all consequences of his selfish actions and he truly wished he could keep blaming himself for everything, but he didn't. He blamed Sasuke.

It was always Sasuke.

He slowly followed her lead and left the apartment with no intention of chasing after her. Instead he dragged himself along with heavy footsteps and a heavy heart to find a solitary place to pine.

Kakashi watched from nearby, hidden, and after evaluating the situation he decided to let it pass for the time being. He would return to Naruto after speaking with Sasuke himself.
An exasperated sigh escaped his lips as he glanced once more at his stricken student before leaving for the hospital.

xXx

"I see you're well."

Sasuke was sitting in his bed eating his lunch. He looked dejected but otherwise in good health.

"Hn."
"You know Sasuke, it's in your best interest to have a positive conversation with me. Just this once. I've told you in the past to listen to me and you haven't, that's how you wound up in this mess."

The dark glare he shot Kakashi quickly faded when he realized just how right the older ninja was.

"I'm listening."

Kakashi leant casually against the wall and smiled.

"That's what I want to hear! Now, you know exactly what this is about, don't you? This is about your future. Whether it's here in the Leaf village. Or even at all."

He watched carefully for a flicker of emotion or a change in attitude, but he was pleasantly surprised to find Sasuke remained calm and simply nodded.

"And you were the messenger they sent?"

Kakashi paused before answering.

"It would have been Naruto, but he's in no state to discuss such complicated matters with you."

The mention of Naruto caught Sasuke off guard, and this time his eyes widened and his face dropped into an expression of melancholy.

"Does he understand the situation? Does he want me to stay?"

Kakashi sighed and a look of genuine pity swept across what few features were displayed.

"Even I can't comment on how he feels at this stage. This whole ordeal has thrown him off balance. To say the least. Are you aware that he is being looked at for Hokage?"

Sasuke didn't. His genuine look of surprise gave him all the information he needed.
Maybe it was looking at his worn down face and only seeing the young boy he once knew, and maybe it was looking into his charcoal eyes and seeing pain and sorrow that made him realize he could never exact the death penalty on Sasuke.

'Can he really fool me that easily? I'll never see through his deception if he is lying... No, I'm not the fool. Mitokado, Utatane, you are the foolish ones for ever believing my relationship with Sasuke wouldn't get in the way of my decision.'

"I want to see him. I need… I need to speak to him before anything happens. In this world he's my closest friend. He's the only friend I have left. If I lose him, there's no point in living."

Kakashi didn't believe his anger at the statement needed to be justified.

"You should have thought about that, a very long time ago."

He waited for the Uchiha to speak again, but instead Sasuke simply hung his head in shame, not looking up even as Kakashi left.

xXx

Sometimes when things got too hard or too confusing Naruto would seek comfort in the faces of the past Hokages. He sat atop his father, the fourth, and looked down at the village. He remembered his promises about surpassing Minato and the promise he'd made to protect the village.

There was still one other thing he seemed to have forgotten over time, he also made a promise to bring back Sasuke. His comrade, his brother, his best friend.

No. Sasuke chose his path in the darkness, and as hard as it was for Naruto to accept, he'd also chosen a path, a path in the light.

"Sasuke, do you regret it now? How can I possibly trust you?"

He closed his eyes and blocked out the brilliant oranges and violets of the slowly setting sun. Tears had started to form and spill down his cheeks.

"Naruto."

A comforting hand touched his shoulder and he turned to face Kakashi.

"What do you want Sensei?"

Kakashi gave a small smile and Naruto quickly wiped away his tears with his shirt sleeve..

"Sakura told me what happened, I couldn't help but notice Hinata wasn't exactly happy with you when she left your apartment either, Naruto. Want to talk about it?"

Naruto didn't particularly.

"With the greatest respect Kakashi-Sensei, all I want is to be on my own."
"Well, you can claim that my sense of judgement has begun to falter but I can honestly say I disagree with you about Sasuke's intentions."

He made no attempts to leave; rather he sat beside his pupil and folded his arms stubbornly. Naruto mimicked his movements.

"Kakashi, you're wrong. He's just... He's a good liar."

The older male sighed.

"Naruto, you made a promise. You may not be able to trust him for a long time but please, consider what you're saying. Do you want him to be executed? After he saved your life?"

There's was a long pause before Kakashi spoke again.

"He's your comrade. I know what you're thinking, but if he proves to be a threat later you can kill him yourself. But for now, give him the chance to earn back your friendship."

'He was so desperate to cut the ties of our bonds so I let him. It can't be repaired.'

Is what Naruto wanted to say, instead he found himself saying;

"Fine. I don't forgive him, I don't trust him but I'll support whatever decision is made."

He didn't want to hate himself, and if he pushed for Sasuke to be executed he knew he would forgive his choice.
All the pain, all the suffering Sasuke had caused Naruto never left. It was always following him and he needed the chance to finally escape it.

"Do what's best for you Naruto. Even if it doesn't feel like something you should do, you need to think about how it'll affect you later in life."

He stood to leave but was stopped.

"Sensei, thank you."

The two exchanged candid smiles.

"Naruto, you've done the right thing. You're going to be a great Hokage, quite possibly one of the greatest."

And with that he was gone.

xXx

"So Kakashi, that's your decision? The Uchiha stays?"
"Yes. We'll monitor his movements and have him return to my squad so Naruto and I can keep a close eye on him. I'll have Sai keep an eye on him too, and he can report anything suspicious."

There was a brief pause before Homura finally nodded in approval.

"Alright then, the decision has been made. Thank you Kakashi. We'll speaking to you again soon within the next couple of weeks."
And with that it was final.
Sasuke Uchiha had finally returned to the Leaf village.

xXx