We don't own 'Naruto', unfortunately. We just like to write about our favourite characters.

Smile, You Empty Soul

The sun rose inexorably in the east as it always did each morning, its rays slanting through the blinds left open last night and settling annoyingly on the blond teen's face, its heat and light coaxing him awake. Naruto Uzumaki rose up from his pillow and slowly rubbed his eyes, gazed apathetically around his dingy room and just laid his head back down on the pillow, sighing deeply. This is how most of his mornings had gone for the last few weeks; a whole lot of nothing wrapped up in 'I don't care'. After a few more minutes of just lying about, Naruto finally slid out of the bed, grumping as his feet hit the rough wooden floor. The impulse to just get back into bed tugged at him, but the blond kept himself going as he walked to the window of his truly crappy apartment. The 'Hero of the Hidden Leaf Village' let his elbows rest on the window sill as he crouched down to the floor, the warm sunlight pouring over him as he ratcheted up the useless blind and laid his head over his foreams…no matter what they called him, the 18 year old certainly didn't feel like a hero.

The war was over. After all the killing, after all the tears, it was over. For all of the early risers that bustled by below his window, and all of those going about their business in the village streets beyond, it was over for them… but for Naruto it felt like it would never, ever end.

Looking out the window he could see the village that had been destroyed by Pein was almost whole again. A miracle of rebuilding that had left many structures up but in rough shape, needing those final touches, just at his own apartment did. Floors sanded, trim put in… he wasn't the only one living in an incomplete home. Sighing at the thought, Naruto got up from where he'd been crouched and walked over to the end of his bed to sit down. He looked at his bare feet for a few minutes, considering the splinter in the big toe of his right foot, before his eyes were drawn over to his night stand. There sat the only photograph he owned… a picture of Team 7…back when they were all young, and stupidly naïve. Lying back on his bed, he picked it up and brought it over so he could look at it.

Naruto drew his hand over the picture, caressing the pad of his thumb slowly over Sasuke. He'd failed. He hadn't been able to save him. Feeling the tears building up in his eyes, the blond rolled over to curl himself on his bed, dragging his pillow down to bury his face in it, and he started to cry.

He'd failed Sasuke because he'd had to kill Sasuke.

Sasuke had come to the battlefield and fought alongside Madara and Tobi. Sasuke had become the Enemy and Naruto had had to step up and protect his village. Did that certain knowledge make it feel any better? Maybe he was just too stupid to understand… he did it for all the right reasons and yet he felt that he was wrong. Was it because Sasuke was the one who'd pushed him to become stronger? Was it because Sasuke was his first, best, friend…or was it because Sasuke was one of only two people he had ever fallen in love with?

Stupid questions for a stupid teenager…

To Hell with this! Tossing that damned photo aside, Naruto rolled to the side of his bed and got up to walk over to his small dresser. The apartment wasn't nice enough, or big enough, for a closet, so he'd had to make do with whatever furniture he could beg, borrow, or scrounge. Opening some of the drawers, he picked out a black long-sleeved T-shirt with orange shorts-after all he wasn't going to the training grounds today. Yamato-taicho had told him - rather ordered him - to take a break from training, so why should he put on his usual Shinobi gear? Heading into the bathroom, clothes in hand, he turned on the water and stepped under its warmth, letting the shower head shoot that water down his back.

"Naruto, a word." Yamato had called from the hill he was sitting on, overseeing their training exercises. As he'd walked up that hill, he'd looked at the man that had beckoned him over. He respected him for his leadership abilities and his knowledge but he would never see him as his sensei. Yamato was their captain and their leader, and he was a teammate, but to Naruto he would never be a teacher.

"What's up?" Naruto had said, his fake, happy smile firmly in place.

Those dark eyes had looked at him, and Naruto had seen how Yamato was considering his words before speaking them aloud. "Are you feeling okay, Naruto?" He'd finally asked, seemingly settling on something easier. Naruto had looked down on the ground, taking his own time to consider before looking back at him.

"Yeah, I'm fine…" He'd grinned. "Can I get back to training now?"

Yamato had stood up and closed those few feet between them, putting his hand on Naruto's shoulder as if he needed to do this to make him listen. "No…you're not. You've been off your game, Naruto. I've been watching you and Sai fight, and you're consistently making some very simple mistakes. Mistakes that could get your or your teammates killed."

Blue eyes had stared at that hand on his shoulder before speaking, uncomfortable under the other man's touch. "I guess I'm just tired, Yamato-taicho." Shrugging his shoulders, it seemed an acceptable excuse, and he'd offered him another deceptive grin.

But, by the way Yamato had kept his eyes focused on him; Naruto knew that the man wasn't buying it. A short exasperated sigh had escaped his captain then, and he'd stiffened as he heard what the man had to say next.

"Why don't you take a week or two off and rest up, okay?"

Naruto died a little inside…apparently he couldn't even stay focused enough to train. The daily distraction of training was one of the few things that lifted him out of the shadows he'd fallen into ever since the end of the war. What was he going to do without the rush of the spar, and the exhaustion that put him under at the end of the day? In spite of all of the things he'd wanted to say, all that he could come up with was: "Whatever you say…"

Turning, Naruto began to walk away, down the hill and back towards his dingy little apartment, his eyes glued firmly to the grass moving beneath the steady tread of his feet. He barely heard Yamato shout after him, offering him a suggestion as if he understood some of what was going on in Naruto's head. "Who knows, Naruto..." He'd shouted after him. "Maybe Kakashi could use some help with his work. He's never been the type to take to all of the paperwork that comes with being the the Hokage!"

And so here he was, exiled to his stupid apartment, dwelling on all of the things that he missed about his life now, alone with his mind and his memories and this feeble shower. Pulling himself out of his thoughts, Naruto tilted his face up into the lukewarm spray. He missed Kakashi as his team's leader, missed the constant, reassuring presence of the man, but Kakashi had become Hokage after Tsunade's death at the hands of Madara. And, as much as he didn't like to think about it, it was more than just missing being around him though. Letting the water run off of his still body, he thought of the masked man and how he'd slowly discovered he had feelings for him, too. Just like Sasuke. Now Naruto knew that he would never be with Kakashi, for the man was just like the scarecrow he was named for—solitary and alone- he just didn't let people get close to him, and he didn't share his secrets.

Naruto let out a heavy sigh, slumping against the cool tile of the shower. Now the other man he'd loved was dead and he would be alone forever. His strength went out of him, and he just folded down to the floor of the shower. Failure at love, failure at keeping his word. He hadn't just failed Sasuke; he'd failed Sakura as well, for he hadn't brought the Uchiha back for her.

The laugh that escaped him then was too bitter to be borne, for he'd been willing to give up the one he'd secretly loved for her, to give Sasuke over to Sakura if that would lead to happiness for the both of them, but now… now he never could. Naruto had told her how sorry he was so many times already, and although she had told him he did the right thing, he just couldn't feel that way… He didn't feel like any kind of a damned hero.

Tired of feeling this self-pity. Tired of being alone and in pain, he conjured images behind his closed eyes of pale skin and caressing hands, giving neither name nor face to the lover that touched him. Something…anything was better than this. Sighing, he reached down between his thighs and began to slowly stroke himself, huddled into a little ball beneath the cooling water. It was only a few minutes later that he came, the muted cry of his peak lost in the sound of the shower, grimly unsurprised that he'd come so fast for he never had been known for being patient had he? Now that it was over he held his hand out under the spray and watched as the remnants of that small pleasure was washed away down the drain, his disconnected blue eyes watching it disappear.

Shaking off his hand, Naruto stood and turned off the water, his breath catching in his throat as he was almost instantly overwhelmed by that same pain again. He laughed at himself then, drying the water from his body and putting on the new set of clothing. He'd been foolish to think that playing with himself was just going to make everything better. Nothing made anything better anymore, and that was the one constant he'd seemed to be able to count on since the end of the war.

Walking out of the bathroom Naruto was over taken by the bright hope of an idea. Maybe he should travel like the Pervy Sage did? He could find a new life somewhere else. Run away and make everything better by leaving all of this pain behind. Others may consider him to be a hero, but deep down inside Naruto knew he was a failure, for he hadn't been able to save even one dear friend. No one else could possibly understand what he was going through, the loss and the pain, and no one ever would. He was as alone in this as he had been as a child.

Even Kurama as closely as they'd bonded, couldn't begin to understand how Naruto stood to be condemned to a life of loneliness without love in his life.

All right then. He felt like he had a plan for the first time in weeks. A plan that would lift him out of the depths he was falling to. Naruto knew how to do for this for he'd heard Jiraiya talk about the process often enough as they'd travelled together, and without a second thought he set out, leaving his apartment behind. Walking out the door, he didn't even bother locking it after him-after all who was going to steal from his crappy place? He took to the rooftops then, to make his way to the new Hokage tower, for he needed the new Hokage's permission and the right paperwork to leave Konoha and be able to enter the other villages.

KNKNKN

There was a grim lightness to his footsteps as he treads over the roofs and towards the Hokage Tower. The ways were quiet up here, just the occasional Shinobi travelling the same way he was, and a civilian workman or two, finishing up some eaves. The ones that saw him, called out to him, greeting him as if he were an old friend or a best buddy, and Naruto grunted a response to them…wondering where they'd been when he'd been friendless and alone as a child. Everyone wanted to talk to the hero and be seen with the hero, and none of them really knew who he was.

Fed up with the attention, however little it was, Naruto detoured, taking a longer route around the busier rooftops. He dropped down into an alleyway a little later and casually strolled out with his hands pushed down in the pockets of his orange cargo shorts, not looking around, hoping that no one was looking around at him.

"Hey, Naruto." Cringing, the blond recognized a familiar voice, and turned to nod a 'hello' at Shikamaru and Temari. A sour feeling of jealousy filled him at the sight of them. They'd gotten together after the war, a flirtation that had sprouted between them when Shikamaru had been part of the team chasing after Sasuke extending right through to now, where Naruto could see the glint of an engagement ring on Temari's hand.

"Hey, hi." He answered feebly, brushing a hand back through his hair and plastering his best grin on his face. "How've you been?"

Shika had lost his father in the war, brought down in the same fight that had taken Ino's dad. The blond knew that the other teen had been busy trying to help his mother cope, and trying to learn how to be the same valued advisor to the Hokage that Shikaku Nara had been. There was no doubting the brilliance of the pony-tailed Jounin, though, and so Naruto kept his fake smile firmly in place, lest he give anything away.

"Good." Temari replied for the both of them, her eyes narrowing on the too-smiley blond standing in front of her. "Gaara sends his regards. He wanted to know why you haven't been sending him any letters."

"Ah…" Scratching at the back of his neck, Naruto searched for an answer that made some kind of sense, scuffing one foot into the dirt of the unpaved street. "I've, uh, been busy. With training and what-not, you know?"

"Yeah, sure." Shikamaru said, his dark eyes also examining his friend, his hand curled tighter around that of his fiancée as he realized he didn't like what he was seeing. It was true that Naruto hadn't been the same since the end of the war. Hadn't been the same since he'd had to kill the Uchiha…but somehow he'd expected him to rebound from that loss the same way he'd rebounded from every other one he'd ever suffered. He'd expected to see that same effervescent and seemingly effortless recovery that his friend had made every other time.

"Look…" Naruto's voice interrupted the dark-haired Jounin's musing, so he focused back on him again, catching the resentment that flickered in those blue eyes before it was swiftly hidden behind an easy grin. "I need to get going. I was going to see Kak…um, the Hokage before I ran into you and I don't want to be late or something."

Naruto was such a terrible liar. Shikamaru thought, resolving to have his own chat about this with their new Hokage. It was a good thing that he'd never to be trained for any kind of infiltration or assassination work, he never would have been suitable for it. But, as much as he wanted to delay the blond and to dig deeper into the false front he was putting on, he could see that Naruto was antsy to go, so he resolved to deal with this as soon as he could.

So he said: "Sure, see ya." And watched the other teen go on his way, noticing how the blond dodged into the shadows of the buildings to make himself less visible, and the frown that had started on Shikamaru's face began to deepen.

"There's something terrible eating at him." Temari murmured, looking after Naruto just the way he was doing.

"Yeah." Shikamaru replied softly. "It's like he's lost something."

KNKNKN

He made it all the way to the wide boulevard in front of the Tower before he ran into another of his friends, perhaps the one friend that he was the most awkward around now, now that he understood just what she'd always felt for him.

"Hi, Hinata." Naruto felt a bit shy at seeing the silvery-eyed girl, a roiling feeling in the pit of his stomach making him shift uneasily as he remembered all of the things he'd discovered about the blushing Hyuuga heiress during the war. She'd loved him. Loved him for a long time before he'd really even looked at her. Before she'd blurted out how she felt about him when he was at the mercy of Pein when Konoha had been destroyed. Naruto knew how stupid he was that he'd never seen it before, but it was like his brain had been all stopped up by his awakening feelings for Sasuke and then later for Kakashi.

Naruto called a swift halt to those thoughts. Stopping himself before he could recall coming back to Konoha to the absence of his sensei's chakra and the certain knowledge the man had died without Naruto there to try and save him. Even now, the memory of that time – and of Tsunade's confirming silence that Kakashi had, indeed, been in the village - was like a hammer blow to his gut, despite the fact that he knew that the silver-haired man was clearly very much alive.

It was just a memory that still haunted him, and he had to pull himself back to the present just to hear the question the young woman was asking him.

"Naruto, how are you today?" Heat pinked over Hinata's cheekbones as she greeted the man she'd once had a crush on. Though she knew now that Naruto had no interest in her…and no interest in women in general…she still felt that same light fluttering in her heart to be this close to him again. Behind her, she heard her Hyuuga guardsman back off, giving the two of them some space to speak privately, and she smiled her gratitude at him for his sensitivity.

"I'm doing okay, Hinata." Naruto responded, doing the dark-haired young woman the honor of speaking honestly to her. "It's…been really hard, but…" There was a light touch on his chest, and he blinked tired blue eyes at the silvery ones looking up at him, the encouraging smile on the girl's lips meant only for him.

"You're going to be fine, Naruto." She breathed, patting the muscles under his black, long-sleeved tee reassuringly, letting her friend see the absolute confidence in her eyes. "I know you will be."

Hinata had always paid attention to Naruto. She'd always found time to find out what he was doing, and wonder how he was feeling. She'd seen how hard it had been for him after the war, and had regretted that all of the time she'd spent learning to be a proper heiress for her Clan had taken her away from him when she felt that he needed her the most. Now that she could see him face-to-face, she could truly see the toll it had taken on that dear young man she'd loved so much, and she dared to reach up and cup his cheek consolingly.

"You're going to be all right, Naruto." She said softly, stroking those distinctive scars gently. "I believe in you."

Something in Naruto froze at those words, and it was all he could do to not be overwhelmed by the loneliness inside of him once more. Maybe if he'd been different…if the people he'd liked had been different…then he would have fallen in love with Hinata, too. And he'd be the one she'd be marrying, instead of a distant cousin that her father had picked out for her.

He was tempted to just spill all of that to her, confide in her as he once had when he'd told her the truth about his sexuality that night on a bloody battlefield back during the war. They'd been consoling each other after the senseless death of Neji, and it had seemed to be a mercy to Naruto to let Hinata know that she had to let go of her dreams. Now it was her that was granting him a mercy, and the too-familiar prick of tears at the corners of his eyes made that bright, defensive, smile of his appear once more.

"Heh, Hinata!" He crowed, screwing his eyes shut to hold his tears back. "Of course I am!" Naruto stepped back from her touch, knowing too well that those gleaming eyes could see right through him even without her Byakugan being activated. He began to edge towards the open gates of the Hokage compound, now suddenly wanting to get away from her and her gentle and uncanny way of getting him to feel things.

"So, listen…I have to go…" He was on the verge of babbling, and he knew it, but Naruto kept inching sideways as he grinned so hard he felt his cheeks beginning to ache. "I'll see you around, okay?"

It was completely cowardly, but he took off to the front doors of the Tower and didn't look back, only heaving out a sigh of relief when they shut behind them, and formed a barrier between him and Hinata. Out of sight, out of mind. He reminded himself. When he was gone, she'd forget all about him and go on with her life, just like everyone else.

KNKNKN

The unobtrusive sidle of his former student into his office did not go unnoticed by the current Hokage. But Kakashi barely paused in what he was looking at as he took in the quiet way Naruto placed himself in an out-of-the-way corner and tried to hide there, drawing as little attention to himself as possible. There was something so terribly wrong at seeing the ebullient younger man tucked away by himself and not trumpeting his arrival that Kakashi's gut clenched in on itself, and the worries he had about Naruto seemed to multiply themselves exponentially the more he kept a surreptitious eye on him.

He'd been keeping that eye on his former student ever since he'd found Naruto on the battlefield holding Sasuke's dead body, tears pouring down his face, and his mouth open in a terrible, silent scream. Kakashi had followed him everywhere after that or had assigned others to do it, worried about his mental state, worried that he might do something that would make Kakashi scream silently as well.

Part of the reason he found himself at this desk right now was to protect the tender heart of the young blond he was now watching, and he barely looked up as his assistant's assistant took the last of the paperwork off of his desk. "Thanks, Iruka." He murmured, his grey eye glued to the back of the pony-tailed former teacher as he stopped to talk to Naruto.

Where was the happy smile that he always had when he saw the man? Kakashi wondered, turning slightly in his uncomfortable chair so he could focus more sharply on the interaction between the two men. What happened to the those bright blue eyes that used to light up like the summer sky when he was with the people that he cared about the most? Loss, dark and empty yawned inside of his gut, and he closed his eye briefly until he heard Iruka leave the room completely, drawing the door quietly shut behind him, only then did he reopen it and look at that scarred face.

"Naruto." Speaking quietly, he beckoned the younger man forward at the same time as he gave his ANBU guards the hand signal that would make them leave him in peace. There was no way he was sharing this conversation with anyone, and after he was sure they left, he activated the seals that would ensure their total privacy.

Standing in front of Kakashi's desk, Naruto felt the certainty that had brought him all the way from his apartment dwindle down to nothing, and so he stared at a dip in the floorboards at his feet as he felt his sensei's gaze upon him. For a long moment the silence between them stretched out, and Naruto scuffed his foot just a bit there, exploring that dip with the toe of his sandal, before he reached down into himself and found the remnants of the courage that he'd once been so confident of and tugged it back up over him. "I want to leave the village."

There, he'd said it.

"I want to go and travel like the Pervy Sage did. See the land. Now that the war is over I don't have to hide. And I don't have to worry about people trying to kill me."

There were a hundred things that Kakashi could say to refute those words. A thousand reasons why Naruto wouldn't be safe out there on his own as long as there were people who would want to exploit him for the demon that resided inside of him. He knew that the teen was strong. So strong, so powerful that his own status as Hokage was really only as a placeholder for this blond standing so forlornly in front on him, but the true problem was that Naruto couldn't see that for himself. This journey he wanted to go on was really about the teen trying to hide from the things that had happened during the war. The things that he'd done with his own two hands.

Holding back the distressed sigh that wanted to escape him, Kakashi pushed back his chair. Standing, he worked some of the kinks out of his back, before going around the desk to talk to his former student. He perched on the edge of his desk, watching those blue eyes travel up the length of his legs as he stretched them out in front of him and felt a little frisson of heat sparkle in his nerves. This was something else he'd seen in Naruto's eyes…even before the war. That careful gaze, the startled flicker as blue eyes darted away.

The hunger…

An answering hunger, one that he'd been reining in for over two years rose in Kakashi, and he shifted a bit as he beat it down, trying to control it when he could feel the warning in his heart that if he didn't act fast, he might lose Naruto altogether. All of the excuses he'd ever given himself crowded into his head then as he looked at the teen shuffling so nervously in front of him, and he shoved them all aside because now there was nothing more important than reaching out to this one, special person and making him understand.

"All right." One stride covered the distance between him and that compact form, and he reached to take a calloused hand into his own and tug Naruto towards him.

"Come on." Kakashi said brusquely, his heart beating a little fearfully in his chest in case this didn't work. "There's something I really want to show you." And he pulled the teen towards the window, not surprised when heels were dug in as Naruto balked at his abrupt manner.

"Hey!" The word blew out of Naruto at the feel of his sensei's hand on his, small tremors of excitement shivering almost immediately under his skin that his hand was being held by that pale one. From the long digits and that slim hand concealed in a fingerless glove, his gaze travelled up that black-clad arm to come to a stuttering halt as he ran into an intense grey eye looking deeply into his own. There was so much in that eye, so much that he couldn't interpret that his stomach clenched fiercely and Naruto flushed, his cheeks heating as they just stood there and looked at each other, their hands still joined together. "W-where are we going?"

"Somewhere I should have taken you a long time ago, Naruto." Kakashi replied, gently beginning to draw the younger man along. "There's something I want to share with you that you deserve to know. You've earned the right to it." They were at the window, looking out over the village, but neither of the men were paying any attention to the view…they were, instead, locked onto each other's eyes. "Will you come with me?"

A nod, hesitant but there, and a slight softening in those blue eyes that Kakashi took to heart as they both slid out the window, the Copy-Nin rediscovering old days and old ways as he took his companion and slipped the attention of his ANBU guards completely. This was something he needed to do on his own, without prying masked faces around. This was something he'd only ever share with this one man following alongside of him, gentle curiosity in those summer sky eyes.

KNKNKN

Naruto travelled on the roofs alongside Kakashi, looking at the street that was passing by far below him. Both of his hands were in his pockets, for he'd been released as soon as they'd made it to the roof of a different building, but Kakashi had stayed close. Even now the black-clad man stalked beside him, the touch of another colour, the white hokage cloak billowing out behind him. It both elated and disturbed Naruto how their arms brushed together as they walked, uneasy with the other man's seemingly easy acceptance of this casual contact.

He was still taken aback by the fact that the white-haired man had even touched him. Kakashi had never been a person who liked to be touched, or who volunteered to touch others, and the most contact Naruto had ever had with him had been during training sessions. But, it was easy to admit to himself that he liked how Kakashi had felt when their hands were twined together. The man's fingers were long and strong, and animated…they seemed to be more expressive as they clung to him softly than that single grey eye ever had.

Leaping the empty space between two buildings, he and Kakashi in perfect unison, the familiar façade of a business down below caught his attention, and a tiny beat of warmth came into his heart as he saw one of his favourite stores. Yamanaka's Flower Shop passed by beneath him…Ino's family's flower store. Naruto gave a small smile of fond acknowledgement.

Ino's family store had been one of the first places to let him buy something from them when he was a kid, and though he didn't know if it was because the family knew his father, or if they had felt bad for him, Naruto was thankful for that early kindness. Now one of the things he loved most was plants; growing them, and caring for them, seeing them bloom under his hands. It was another of his loves that had left him since the war, for his dingy little apartment still didn't have a single spot of green in it.

Out of the corner of his eye, the blazing white of a single potted rose in the front window caught his attention, and something in the delicacy and presence of that flower stilled his steps. He turned to stare at it, vaguely aware that Kakashi had also stopped and had come to stand beside him. Naruto didn't know why it had stolen his eye, but it seemed different from any other he'd ever seen, and in that moment, as the sun washed the street below him with its bright midday light, the blooms seemed to glow at him, holding him entranced.

It was beautiful. It was…

Engrossed, Naruto was still looking at the beautiful plant when the warmth of Kakashi's hand landed on his shoulder. Long, strong fingers squeezed gently, and blue eyes were torn from the window beneath to gaze up almost unseeingly at the taller man just behind him.

"Let's keep going, ne, Naruto?" That gentle tenor stroked at his ears coaxingly, beckoning him to listen. The sunlight that was setting the other man's silver hair ablaze focused his eyes as he stared up at Kakashi, and Naruto felt his mind coming back to him from wherever it had gone. Once again he was struck by the fact that his sensei had touched him voluntarily. Had not only laid his hand upon him, but had done it with evident affection. Disbelief and a giddiness that threatened to cajole an unwanted laugh from him warred within him for a moment, and it was all Naruto could do to find enough presence of mind to nod silently at the man and follow him as he moved off.

Lost in that daze of conflicting emotions, Naruto didn't realize where his Rokudaime had taken him until it was right in front of his face, but the familiar green vista of Training Field 3 and the kunai-shaped sculpture were there before him, making his blue eyes go very wide. This place always gave him a weird feeling. The loss he knew that everyone felt when they stood here combined with the too-long list of names he knew he would find if he really dedicated himself to looking.

Why on earth would Kakashi bring him here? Didn't he realize that loss was all he was feeling these days?

Naruto didn't really know what to think as he stood awkwardly before that stone, resentment beginning to fill him. How could that stone hold as many secrets as the man who was standing next to him? It was just a bunch of names on a rock…wasn't it?

Tilting his head up, he turned and looked Kakashi in the eye, sharing his frown with the silver-haired man. "I don't understand…you said you were going to take me somewhere you should have taken me a long time ago, but we've both been here before." That first day…the very first day of Team 7…they'd come here.

Kakashi smiled gently, his eye curving up as he took a moment before speaking. "You're right, Naruto. We've both been here before, too many times, but there's more to this trip than just looking at a stone."

Naruto turned and looked back at the blue stone, his eyes finally tracing all of the rows of Kanji scored upon it, thinking about the other man's words. All the names of the people who had died for this village and had never been recovered were on its sides, and, as he scanned the great knife-shaped stone, he soon came across the names of the ones who had fallen in the war that was just won. What more was there than just this terrible sense of loss? Like that stone had suddenly transported itself right into his stomach?

A momentary frown touched Kakashi's lips under his mask, and he stepped closer to the younger, reaching out with both of his hands to take Naruto's right arm into his grasp. Tugging slightly, but firmly, he forced the teen to move and face him as he stared down into those listless blue eyes, his own grey eye demanding attention. Kakashi rubbed Naruto's hand reassuringly with the fingers of one hand as his other hand slid up under the teen's arm, ghosting over the warm skin he could feel beneath the fabric. His fingertips circled there, seeking, and when he found what he was dreading to find, he had to close his eye against the swell of emotion that rose inside of him.

"Naruto." He whispered.

A shiver of unanticipated warmth had gone through Naruto at the way Kakashi was touching him. The blond loved that the other man was touching him again, the sensations spreading through him to be this close to this one man was a feeling of safety… a certain knowledge that nothing was going to hurt him while he was right here. But the distress he could hear in that soft tenor pulled his thoughts back from that place and he froze as he wondered just why his former sensei had made that unaccustomed sound.

Kakashi gave a sigh as he pushed up the sleeve to Naruto's black shirt and turned his arm around. There were the scars he'd been expecting to see. The jagged scars that went from the wrist all the way up nearly to the blond's shoulder, long silvery marks wrapping over that tender tanned skin. Kakashi glanced up and watched as the younger man bowed his head, hiding those blue eyes he so longed to see and another sigh came from him. In his mind the memory of that terrible day rose up streaked in blood and pain, an image accompanied by a heart-breaking scream that he'd never forget. The ruined body of his traitorous student, held like a broken doll by the one person Kakashi cherished above all others. The way Naruto had looked, the savage pain in his eyes and the devastation on his distraught face. At the boy's side, a nearly useless limb propped under that dark head, as the blood from a deflected Raikiri strike pattered down on the already stained ground from Naruto's ravaged arm.

"How can you ever feel better when you've kept such a terrible memento?" Kakashi murmured, his heart clenching hard in his chest as his palm smoothed over the corded ridges. "You deserve better than this."

Naruto shuddered, anger and upset wiping away the feelings safety he'd just been cocooned in - angry not only at himself and Kakashi, but at everything. He was just so tired of feeling this way! Tears welled in his eyes as he pulled his arm away from Kakashi . "No one knows what I'm going through! No one understands what its like to be me!" Yanking his sleeve back down to cover those betraying scars, he used it to dash his tears away. "Everybody just sees the hero, but that's not me! I couldn't keep my word, and I had to kill him! "I had to kill him!" He knew that he was screaming at the other man, but he couldn't stop, and all of that pain and anguish and loss and regret just poured out of him as his knees gave away and he went down onto the ground at Kakashi's feet, his back bowed with the agony of it all.

"No one here knows what that's like." Naruto whispered, watching his tears drip down off his nose and hit the dirt through his wet, bleary eyes. "I don't want to stay here anymore, Kakashi. I want to leave here and get away from it all." Through the pain that coiled inside of him, he felt some sense of relief, and he realized that it kinda felt better to let it all out, but the very idea that he could feel better about something like this was making Naruto sob just that much harder. And, he was so lost in his own misery that he didn't realize Kakashi had even gotten down on his knees to join him until a warm, gentle hand was placed over one of his own again.

"Naruto." Kakashi said softly, fighting the urge to take that quivering chin in his hand and raise those blue eyes up to look at him. "Naruto… I know you're hurt, and upset - and I am more sorry than you'll ever know that you had to do that - but running away isn't going to fix anything and, keeping this kind of wound as a memento is only going to seal all of the pain up inside of you." He fought the sigh that wanted to slide from his lips and did give in then, placing the tips of his fingers under that chin and tipping it up. The teary blue eyes, like a rainy blue sky, looked so miserably into his own that he had to swallow hard to avoid tears himself, and Kakashi cursed inwardly for not being able to have this private time alone with Naruto before now.

He'd never wanted this damned job. Had never wanted to be Hokage, and all of that time spent learning the ropes and signing that infernal paperwork had taken him away from the one person he'd always swore to stay by the side of. From the time the teen had come back from training with Jiraiya, Kakashi had vowed his aid to him, and politics – politics and the necessities of Konoha - had taken him away from the teen just when Naruto had needed him the most.

"How would you even know." Naruto said, a bitterness and suspicion in his tone speaking of his disbelief. If this man thought he could trick him into staying, then he'd never trust him again.

Shaking his head sadly, Kakashi stood, drawing the younger man up with him, that quelling hand on Naruto's chin so he could keep on looking him in the eyes. "My father killed himself, Naruto, when the village that had always hailed him a hero trampled him into the dirt as a failure and a fool. He did what he thought was the right thing to do, and was excoriated for it like he'd spat upon this stone beside us. And, when he couldn't take it any longer, he took his own life and left me to find him."

There was no sadness in Kakashi's tone…not for himself or for his father. That memory of being dead during the invasion of the Peins and of meeting his father had resolved almost all of those feelings for him, but he was waiting to see how his former student would react to his words.

"The White Fang…" Naruto murmured, remembering how Granny Chiyo of the Sand had reacted when she'd first seen his sensei.

"Yes." Kakashi answered, his hand falling from the blond's chin to rest comfortingly on Naruto's shoulder. "The White Fang. Sakumo Hatake. After that failed mission he knew the scorn of a village he'd always loved, and knew no other way to escape it than through death. And I…I hid my pain behind a mask, using it to cover a face that looked too much like my father's own."

Naruto felt like a bit of a dumbass. He felt stupid and sick that he'd never bothered to find out anymore about Kakashi than what was there before his face. He had never known anything about this man…no one really did other than a few people like Gai-sensei…but they wouldn't talk about him. And, here, all this time he'd told himself he was in love with Kakashi and he really didn't know that much about him. Gazing up at the man, he thought he understood what he was telling him…that Kakashi had nurtured his pain and his solitude behind his mask in exactly the same way that Naruto was doing with his unhealed scars.

But…what did that mean when the silver-haired man was still wearing that mask…when even the enormous representation of him on the Hokage Monument wore that same concealing mask? A question danced on his lips, and his blue eyes were puzzled as he looked up into that single grey eye, and the words he was about to shape into a query were stopped by a long, pale, calloused fingertip that was laid over his lips.

"Now…" Kakashi responded to that unasked question, reaching up with his other hand to curl his fingers in the edge of his mask. "I'd like to think that I can choose the special people I reveal my face to." He said softly. "Including you."

Naruto was sure that his heart was going to stop as that mask was pulled down, and for the first time he got to see the face of the man he'd had such a longtime crush on. All of the expectations he'd had, both as a boy, and as a man, came flooding through him as the long scar through that legendary left eye was revealed, and the tip of a long, straight nose came into view.

Huh…He thought, his eyebrows rising in amazement. That's never been broken. And then Naruto could have smacked himself, for all of the things that he'd once imagined like fish lips and buck teeth, and the most beautiful man he'd ever seen, turned out not to be true. "Um…" His voice was surprisingly hoarse as he took a long, careful look at Kakashi's exposed face. "You're kind of handsome, I guess."

A groan of dismay at his inarticulate idiocy escaped him then, and he heard the silver-haired man let loose a peal of delighted laughter, and the embarrassment Naruto was about to feel was wiped away as Kakashi swept him up into a huge hug.

"Maa, that was the best reaction I've ever gotten, Naruto!" Kakashi cried out, tears actually coming from both of his eyes for the unique beauty of that comment. "The best ever!"

The faint feeling that swept over Naruto right then made his head swim, and he had to fight the urge to just wrap his arms around that elegantly muscled form and never let go. This new and demonstrative Kakashi was seducing him utterly. Beckoning him to come back from that lonely place he'd thought he'd live in for the rest of his life and, for one gloriously sweet moment Naruto thought that he could do that…he could let go and stay here with this man and be…happy again.

Bloodied Sasuke lying in his arms, the dying light in those dark eyes as they stared up at him and the terrible, knowing smirk on those crimson-stained lips…

Wrestling himself out of Kakashi's arms, Naruto turned away, afraid to look at the man in case he might see everything that he'd ever wanted. "I'm sorry." He said shortly, staring at the ground to resist the temptation. "I'm sorry about your father, and what happened to him. And, I'm sorry that I said you were…kinda handsome." The man was really good looking - he really was - especially when he'd laughed and looked down at Naruto with such delighted affection in his eyes. Sighing, Naruto let his shoulders drop dejectedly, maybe he'd never be able to escape Sasuke's ghost. Maybe that macabre vision was going to follow him around for the rest of his life.

Sensing the withdrawal building in that compact form, Kakashi felt a waver of misgiving inside of him that he was failing. He was desperate to keep the younger man here in Konoha with him and explore the feelings that had been changing and evolving inside of him over the last two years. There was a certainty inside of him that Naruto had some of those feelings for him, too, and some of the evidence he'd been gathering had been making him more and more sure of that. He had to keep this beautiful, golden-haired man at his side, but he knew he had to help Naruto come to that decision without trickery of any kind.

"Naruto." Kakashi spoke softly, not demanding the younger man's attention, but begging for it. "After my father died I followed the rules perfectly. I took on the mask because I didn't want people to see my father, and I thought that if I hid behind it, I could only be me. It took one person to break down that façade. To draw me out of the rules and rigid behavior I was hiding behind, and he was the first true friend I ever had." A slight hitch in his breath gave away the emotions that this reminiscing was bringing up in him, and the bright sharp spike of pain that always accompanied those memories now.

"I know what you're going through right now, Naruto and, far beyond the story of my father, the true reason I brought you to this stone was to show you something." Kakashi walked closer to the stone, feeling those blue eyes following him, and he pointed to a spot on it, the very motion of his finger drawing the younger man closer.

Bending to look more closely, Naruto could see that Kanji had been removed from that spot, a gouge mark in the dark blue stone that had completely obliterated a name that looked like it had been there from the time of the Third Shinobi War. "Someone's name has been taken off of the stone." Naruto said, realizing what that meant. Sasuke's name would never appear here, and neither would Orochimaru's. They were both traitors to this village no matter what they might have meant to their teammates.

Kakashi nodded his acknowledgement. "The name that was removed was Obito Uchiha. It was Obito who broke down my wall and became my first friend. It's his eye that lies here." A finger touched the eyepatch that had replaced the slanted hitai-ate when he'd become Hokage. "I ordered his name removed from the monument right after I took office. He saved my life and I thought he had died for me. Naruto…I do know what you're going through right now."

In that moment Naruto understood why Kakashi had made him come to the Memorial Stone, for on the battlefield Naruto had seen what had become of Obito Uchiha. To the blond, he was Tobi, one of the terrible masterminds behind the deaths in the last war and a member of the Akatsuki, but Kakashi would always see him as Obito – as his best friend and fallen comrade. He could well imagine what it had felt like when the mask 'Tobi'd worn had broken and the man revealed beneath it was the same one Kakashi had mourned for so long. The same precious person he'd visited every morning at this very stone, and the one who'd given him his most powerful weapon.

It was history repeating itself.

Sensing that he had perhaps finally reached through to the heart of the blond standing beside him, Kakashi pressed forwards, just wanting to coax all that he could from Naruto to keep him from withdrawing from him again. He reached out tentatively and grasped a tanned hand, curling his fingers around it as he sought out those blue eyes. "Naruto, Obito did teach me something that I have always held on to. Something that changed my life and my attitude and made me into the Shinobi that I am today. Taking a deep breath, he slowly exhaled, breathing out that credo that Kakashi had made his own. "Those who break the rules are scum…"

A shiver went through Naruto at those words, the dear familiarity of them like a caress to his heart and he tipped up his head to look at Kakashi directly, a solemn smile on his lips as he finished the credo that had become so important to him as well. "…but those who abandon their friends are worse than scum."

Kakashi smiled at Naruto, bringing the hand he was holding up to cradle it against his heart. "Naruto…" He said softly, making sure that all of those tender and compassionate feeling he had for the blond were on display in his single uncovered eye. "I know you had even stronger feelings for Sasuke and I am sorry for what happened."

Naruto started, hearing Kakashi's words but not quite sure that the man had actually said them. Had he been that bad at concealing his feelings? Had the whole village known that he'd once loved Sasuke Uchiha? A blush rose up over his cheeks and threatened to consume him, heating his skin so much he thought he must be glowing like the sun. A quick, abashed, glance up at Kakashi though, put him at ease. The man was only looking at him with compassion and concern – there was none of the disgust or betrayal in that gaze that he'd been expecting.

Did Kakashi not mind that he'd loved the Uchiha?

The nervous, concealing grin that he'd been summoning to his defense disappeared without being born and Naruto let all of the emotions he'd ever hid within him out for the silver-haired man to see, sharing them with Kakashi because now he knew that he would be safe. Safe to set free and safe to expose and that this man looking at him with such tender consideration wouldn't run away from him. It unfettered a part of him that he'd been keeping wrapped up so tightly it felt as if he'd strangled it, and the pain that came from acknowledging that his love had been forever tainted by Sasuke's bitter betrayal welled up in his eyes.

"Come here." Breathing out those two words, Kakashi could only react instinctively to the distress of the one that he loved, gathering him into a warm and consoling hug that had him resting his cheek against warm, soft hair. "Naruto, it's okay. You can't deny the feelings that you had for him – even if he was a damned, self-centred fool."

When Kakashi thought of all the chances that...kid had been given to come home, he could only shake his head in angry regret. So much time and energy given over to pursue someone who'd never wanted to come back. It was small consolation to know that he, like so many others, had chased after the black-haired traitor for Naruto's sake, and not for Sasuke's. In the last two years, it hadn't been for Sasuke at all. "You were too good for him, Naruto. You're too good, and too bright for everyone, don't you understand?"

Taking a deep breath, Kakashi decided that it was now or never. He'd bared his face to this very important person, and it was time to expose the rest of him as well. Sliding his hands up to rest them on Naruto's shoulders, he looked deep into those blue eyes, opening himself to that cerulean gaze so that there wouldn't be any doubt as to his intentions. "Too good even for someone like me." He half-laughed, a sudden shyness at opening his heart calling an uncharacteristically nervous giggle out of him, and his fingers tightened on the teen's body as if he was afraid to let him go.

Naruto froze, tensing up under those comforting hands at the unexpected words. He'd been half-collapsed against Kakashi, torn between enjoying being held by the man and wondering why he had no energy to defend Sasuke like he'd always done. He'd been trying to understand just why that impulse had failed him when those hesitantly murmured words had penetrated his thoughts. "W-what…?" He stammered, staring up into that face that was so close to his own. Was he slow or something, because Kakashi certainly couldn't be saying what Naruto thought he was saying.

It was just that he was where he'd dreamt of being, and hearing the things he'd longed to hear, and all he could think was: How exactly did he mean that?

Fear that it might be as a friend and comrade filled him. And fear that it might be something more than that made his heart flutter like a trapped bird inside of his ribcage. Anxiously, Naruto stared up into that striking face and saw the same hope and fear, and another emotion that could be eagerness all looking back at him and he realized...

He realized that just maybe,

perhaps,

it could be that Kakashi felt the same way about him, too.

"Ohh…" The long, soft exhalation of that sigh was all he had time for before a thin-lipped, well-shaped mouth descended on his own. Long fingers carded through the hair on the nape of his neck as he was tugged closer and kissed as he had never been kissed before. Gently Kakashi teased his lips apart, and when a slick, heated tongue stroked across his own, Naruto gave free rein to the grateful moan that rose inside of him, opening eagerly for more of the taste of the man as liquid heat began to flow through all of the parts of his body.

When their lips parted, they both panted out their pleasure, and Naruto hummed softly, seeing just how dark and wanting that grey eye had become. No doubt then. None. Nope. Iie… Kakashi really did want him and desire him, and…"So, um, you like guys then, too, huh?" He asked hesitantly, capturing his lower lip with his teeth to worry at it.

"I like both sexes." Kakashi smiled down at him, a flash of even, white teeth a testimony to his skill as a Shinobi. "It never seemed right to me to limit my choices when you couldn't be sure just who you'd be stuck on a mission with." The wicked gleam in that grey eye made Naruto's stomach clench in a good way, and he blushed as he acknowledged that he knew exactly what the man was referring to. Naruto wasn't a virgin. He'd lost that to a comrade on a mission after the death of Sasuke when he'd thought he really didn't care anymore. Brisk, adrenaline-fuelled encounters like that were rife amidst Shinobi just off the battlefield, but none of them had ever filled him with the absolute heat and joy being kissed by someone that you loved made him experience. It was heaven. And it was just like being set on fire.

And it was all Kakashi. Naruto clung to him, wrapping his arms around a trim waist to hide his flushed face away from a too-knowing gaze, but the other man wouldn't allow him to do that, and the fingers in his hair tightened until he was forced to look up and meet that gaze once again.

"I seem to like you best of all, Naruto." The man purred, his voice like silk stroking over Naruto's skin, dipping down Kakashi kissed him again, and a wicked heat swelled through him that had other parts of his body swelling as well. "Are you, um, sure…" It was hard for the blond to breathe after a kiss like that, and his voice came out as a rather ungainly squeak.

~Of course he's sure.~ A voice that Naruto hadn't heard for months rumbled inside of him, surprising him and making him stiffen up in Kakashi's arms. The silver-haired man looked down at him curiously, until, with a slight nod he signaled his understanding, and Naruto turned his attention inwards to speak to the demon inside of him.

~Kurama – that you?~

~Of course it is, you idiot. You were expecting someone else?~

Naruto cringed, standing in his inner world for the first time in months. He and Kurama hadn't talked at all ever since he'd told the fox he couldn't heal the scars on his left arm. In all of that time he'd missed talking to the Kyuubi, missed being with him and sharing his chakra. ~I…I missed you, Kurama.~ Naruto murmured, watching with wondering eyes as one of those plushy tails wrapped itself around him and pulled him closer. ~I'm sorry.~

~I'm sorry, too, kid.~ Great crimson eyes blinked down at him, and he could see the warm affection in them as the demon looked at him. ~I didn't want to stay away from you so long but I couldn't stand to see you wasting away like that.~

The blond nodded, understanding now just why the fox had reacted that way. Friends did whatever they could to protect each other, and he knew now that he had more friends than just Sasuke, and more people that loved him than he'd ever dreamed of.

Kakashi…he had Kakashi.

~Does he?~ His whisper filled the warm silence between him and the curled form of the fox. ~Does Kakashi really love me, or is he just telling me that to get me to stay?~

It nibbled at him, eating away at the edges of the confidence that he had only just begun to reclaim, and Naruto found that he couldn't even look at the demon as he waited for him to speak. When the hot breath of the Kyuubi blew over him, he had to look up, and a warm, pointed muzzle rubbed gently over his face, filling him with all of the reassurance he'd been searching for.

~He's a good man, kid.~ The fox murmured. ~An honest man, and a private one…he'd never say anything to you that he didn't mean.~

Those words echoed the ones he'd been keeping close to his heart so completely that a huge grin lit up Naruto's face and he leaned into the soft fur to give his friend a hug. ~Thank you, Kurama.~

~Don't thank me, you little idiot…thank him! Get up there and make sure the man knows how you feel about him, and do the job right!~

The mental push was abrupt and hard, and Naruto staggered as his consciousness emerged back into the real world, a rush of input to all of his senses making his head whirl. Strong hands caught at him and drew him close, and for a moment he just melted there, Kurama's last words loud in his ears.

"Well, what did he have to say?" Kakashi's voice was softer, and he had to strain to hear him in the natural noisiness of the Training Field after the soft silence of his inner world. "Hmm…?" He had his face pressed to the soft black fabric of the man's shirt, and he was reveling in the reassurance he'd just been given and the strong arms wrapped around his shoulders. "What'd you say?" There was absolutely no reason to worry now - Kakashi loved him, and he loved Kakashi, and what more was there to know?

"Hey, you know what?" Naruto knew there was a goofy smile on his face as he looked up at his former sensei but he didn't really care. The man knew his goofy side, and his loud side, and every other side that he had to offer including the self-destructive one that he'd just helped him to reject, and he still loved him. Naruto firmly believed that – Kakashi really did love him – and the smile that dawned on his face coaxed an answering one from the silver-haired man that only reaffirmed what the blond already knew…that this man was the most beautiful man he had ever known.

"What should I know?" Kakashi asked gently, his heart rejoicing to see that sweet, goofy smile crease those scarred cheeks again. Warm and tender feelings filled him, erasing the fear he'd felt when Naruto's eyes had unfocused and he'd gone away from him. But, whatever Kurama had said to him had brought back the beautiful blond that he'd fallen in love with so long ago and he made a mental note to thank the fox profusely the next time he saw him. For now though, he was happy to just be able to slide his fingers into Naruto's thick, sunshine hair and stroke gently at his scalp, and know that he'd achieved what he'd so desperately started out to do today. "What do I need to know, Naruto?" Kakashi repeated, bending to place a kiss on that sweet mouth as he waited for the younger man to answer.

"That I think we should take this somewhere more private, Kakashi." His words were slow, and deliberately chosen, and Naruto let the sensual intent behind them trickle into his voice as his blue eyes filled with heat.

Struck to the very core of his body by the promise in those cerulean eyes, Kakashi shuddered, and gathered the beautiful man very tightly in his arms. "Oh…" He said. And then… "Ohh…" As the rest of his brain caught up with what his body was already aware of. And between one breath and the next, there was nothing left of them in that field of memories but a swirling pile of leaves.

KNKNKN

The afternoon sun slanted through shaded windows, cutting long stripes of dark and light onto a sparsely furnished space where only the piles of paperwork and the brightly coloured spines of the books on the shelves gave any identity to its inhabitant. Lazy dust motes floated in undisturbed air, doing a little magic act with every inch that they floated and every bar of light and shadow that they drifted through. The whirl of wind and leaves and presence that intruded into that space banished silence and stillness and ruffled the papers lying on every surface, but the two men who had so suddenly appeared in that quiet space were solely concerned with each other.

Naruto had no idea where he was, he was only immediately aware of Kakashi's body against his, the heat of arousal rising through him and, oddly, the dry tickle of leaves around his sandal-clad feet. But there was a bed…he knew there was a bed because he could feel it against the back of his calves as the silver-haired man bent over him, so he fell back onto it, dragging Kakashi with him and rejoicing at the feeling of that wonderful weight over him. "Where…?" He breathed, fastening his teeth into an unguarded neck, biting right through the fabric that made up the mask.

"Ho-ka…quart..sss…" Kakashi grunted, tugging at the clothing that was covering too much of Naruto's body, wanting nothing as much as he wanted to see more of that golden skin. He jammed his mouth over that too-hungry one, taking possession of it to prevent anymore of those stinging bites, nipping at soft, swollen lips, and drinking in the moans that got him. Twisting and arching, they were both all hands now, breaking apart only long enough to breathe, and he gave a triumphant groan as that black shirt was up and off, tousling Naruto's bright hair into the sexiest bedhead he'd ever seen. Damn. He had only a second to feast, his eye devouring that toned torso, peaked little nipples beckoning him on. "Are you…sure…?"

Naruto was sure that he heard cloth shred, and when the other man's white robe came apart in his hands he knew it had been his haste that had done it and he really didn't care, for he attacked Kakashi with renewed vigour, flashes of pale skin glimpses of the victory he was about to claim. "Shut up." He growled, rolling them both on the bed to pin that lean form beneath him. "Just shut up, and…" There was nothing else he could say so he claimed that sweet mouth again, just so he could get his fingers under that damned mask and rip it off.

Clothes flew, and the paperwork that had once been neat piles on the foot of the bed, organized with painstaking time and dedication, scattered into the room; scrolls rolling with flapping little tails, or stretching out in white lines over the floor. Papers scattered into the cross cut air; signed and unsigned, read and reading, circling like flocking birds before settling in haphazard piles on polished wooden planking. A pair of black pants settled over those, and a guttural curse rose above the rasp of two sets of lungs as the bed shuddered violently.

Time seemed to stand still after that, or passed far too quickly, for Kakashi who was arched under the heat of Naruto's body and the incredible pressure of that groin grinding far too intimately against his own. He planted one bare foot into his bed, reaching, keeping his eyes only on those ones of darkening blue as he stretched out, knowing precisely where to put his hand.

"Oh, fuck..here."

The little bottle of viscous oil slipped down over Kakashi's pale skin, rolling right into Naruto's hand and he glared at it for a moment, so lost in the pursuit of this one thing he wanted that he had to think to recognize what he was holding. "Kashi." He breathed the man's name and leaned over him, laving that scarred skin until he could fasten onto a nipple and the perfect body he was riding rose and fell like an ocean wave.

The snip of a lid and the sensuous slick of the oil over his hands made that ride so much easier and so much smoother that they both whined their need, the hunger between them becoming all-encompassing. Gold over silver, their limbs intertwining, shifting this way and that on the shuddering bed. Light over dark and pale skin over bronze; then it was Naruto's turn to be on his back, and he wrapped his legs over straining hips, encouraging his lover's intent.

Sweet pressure, filling and fulfilling, and the straining of two men lost in the love they were discovering in each other. Low moans and soft croons of joy as that peak swallowed them and melded them, and in that moment of culmination the whimpers of each others' names into the sudden, startling silence of the room was the only sound they needed to make as they collapsed into sated entanglement across that bedeviled bed.

And sleep. Sleep was the only siren song they would both give into beyond the irrepressible yearning for each other.

In the roseate near-dark of a long, golden twilight, Naruto awoke, sensations tingling over his limbs coaxing him from a sleep and a dream that had included dark and bloodied eyes. That distant image faded into to nothingness as his own eyes opened, and starlit blue gazed over the rough-strewn detritus of the room he was in.

Kakashi's room. Kakashi's bed.

It hadn't been the sensual ache of his body that had pulled him from that reconstructive sleep, but the tingling of the arm that he'd been lying on, curled on his side in shelter of his lover's warmth. Wriggling, sliding, he uncovered his arm and saw that while he'd slept Kurama had healed those scars he'd held onto for so long. The serpentine tracks of silver that had once been a symbol of his failure were gone, and there was nothing in Naruto that bemoaned their loss now…not anymore.

"Going somewhere?"

Kakashi's voice stroked over his ears, and the other Naruto, the one that hadn't found the heart of the silver-haired man behind him, would have never heard the worry in that silky soft tenor and it plucked at his heart to know that he could hear it now.

"No." He said softly, and his voice said: Never.

"Good." Kakashi sighed, his arm tightening around Naruto's waist and drawing him closer, snuggling him under the lee of his body, and wrapping himself all about golden limbs.

In his voice Naruto heard that unspoken word, and a smile that was real and true, and a simple welling of the love that was in his heart spread over his face.

Yes. He thought, as his eyes closed and he gave into sleep in his lover's arms. Yes…now I can give you forever.

Well that's the story guys. We hope you enjoyed it and had a great Easter. I think both my co-writer and I really enjoyed writing this story as a bit of a change from our other one.

The Memorial Stone is depicted in two different styles whether you are reading the manga or watching the anime, and the one we chose was the more imposing one you most often see in the anime. Somehow, it's just more…memorable.

Go check out KitElizaKing's story: "The Understanding of Belonging". She is a great co-writer and friend and her story is extremely good. Also check out authors like Cicatrix6 and her friend Electra Heartbreaker, and Barspoon. Also, if this is the first time reading some of the work KitElizaKing and I have written, please go check out our chapter story: "The White Rose". It is still being updated and the story, I feel, is really good. If you liked this I think you would love "The White Rose", and to all the fans of that story who are reading, this don't worry – we are still doing that story. It's just this plot came to me and I really wanted to do this one shot.

BTW anybody like the Easter egg I put in for all the 'White Rose' fans? Anyway, please review and tell us how we did. Thank you for reading !