Thicker Than Blood

Chapter 1

The two four years old boys stood in the empty, silent training ground. Facing each other, they were staring at the other's face, as if trying to see through to their adversary's very soul.

One blond, with remarkable blue eyes and wearing threadbare, old clothes. The other, with black hair and dark, onyx eyes, wearing simple yet very fine quality clothes. Both steady gazes seemed to speak of wisdom beyond their years.

Eventually, the blond took a deep breath. "What's the name of the mask?" His serene tone of voice sounded odd and out of place in a voice so young.

"Tobi." The other answered, voice equally serious.

The blond blinked suddenly moist eyes and then launched himself at his friend.

"Sasuke." He breathed, squinting his eyes shut, hugging the boy as if he was the only thing grounding him to reality. Sasuke, not one to normally consent to such close physical contact, returned the hug just as desperately. He wasn't alone. Neither of them were, anymore.

"Naruto." Sasuke mumbled, blinking back tears. "We're back." His voice was so faint it was barely audible.

"Yeah." Naruto sniffled. "You have family again." He stated, wiping his nose on the sleeve of his worn shirt. "How're you holding up?" He slumped to the ground tiredly, effectively pulling Sasuke with him. Not that Sasuke complained. No, for once, he was eternally grateful for the close proximity to another human being.

"I'm fine." He grunted, tying not to flinch as Naruto levelled him with a knowing look that didn't belong anywhere near his young face. "How 'bout Kura-chan?"

"Asleep." Naruto answered absently, scanning their immediate area with an air of practiced ease. "He told me he'll be asleep for a few years, at least, so we're on our own."

"At least there's the two of us." Sasuke sighed. He couldn't deny that the news were disheartening, but they had known what might happen before they had ventured on this crazy mission.

They sat in silence for quite some time, just enjoying each other's company and the sound of the wind moving peacefully through the trees.

"We're four." Sasuke eventually found the need to point out.

Naruto grimaced. "I... noticed." And hadn't that been an unpleasant surprise?

"Why? I thought we'd be at least ten." Sasuke frowned, making him look reminiscent of his future self.

"Kura-chan said that we'd probably end up at that age." He grimaced again. "I guess it really wasn't as predictable as we had hoped."

"Hn." Sasuke grunted. "How're you holding up?" He glanced concernedly at his friend.

Naruto's eyes took on a haunted look that threatened to send Sasuke into a rage. "... I'll be fine." He spoke softly. "I have you this time."

Sasuke said nothing, but once more swore to himself never to abandon Naruto again. Let the old Snake come and try to lure him away this time! Sasuke couldn't quite suppress a shudder.

"What is it?" Naruto eyed him intently, instantly picking up on the slightly altered body language.

"Just thought of Snake face." Sasuke muttered.

Naruto's clear blue eyes momentarily darkened until they looked almost grey. "We'll tear him apart." It was a promise. Sasuke nodded, not feeling the need to say anything.

Naruto didn't know how long they sat like that, side by side, in the middle of their old training field. It could have been an hour or three, but it made little difference.

"Your family will miss you." Naruto eventually spoke up.

Sasuke snorted. "Let them worry. I don't care."

"What about Itachi?" Naruto asked. He knew it was a sensitive subject, but it had to be brought up sooner or later and he had never been one to beat around the bush.

Sasuke tensed. "... I want to save him."

"Of course." Naruto readily agreed with a nod. "Konoha's greatest hero." He whispered into the evening air.

"The brother of a ruthless murderer." Sasuke muttered darkly. Naruto could easily hear the agonizing pain, guilt and scorn behind those words.

"Not anymore." His voice was firm. "For all the world, you're nothing more than the Uchiha clan head's second son."

"No more 'the last Uchiha'." Sasuke breathed. "It feels nice." He admitted. "Not as heavy."

Naruto just nodded.

"What about you, Naruto?" Sasuke turned to gauge Naruto's reaction. "Where will you go tonight?"

"..." Naruto wasn't sure what to say. He could always go to the orphanage, but wasn't overly enthusiastic. If things stayed true to the original timeline, he'd get his own apartment in roughly a year.

"Come with me, then." Sasuke said, pushing himself to his feet, dusting off his dark shorts.

Naruto gave him a wide-eyed, disbelieving stare. "Are you insane?" He blurted out before he could stop himself.

"The topic has been up for debate." Sasuke offered a lopsided half-smirk.

"Well, your family won't allow it. I'm the Kyuubi no Youko, remember?" His voice was laced with bitterness.

Sasuke let out a small growl. "How dare these people-"

"Sasuke." Naruto cut him off before he could say something even more incriminating. Sasuke twitched, but made a visible effort to calm himself.

"They have no right." He stated instead of the string of obscenities he had planned, his tone clipped. "They are disregarding everything your father wanted, everything he wished for." He spat out. Naruto sighed heavily and stood up next to his friend.

"And there's not much we can do to change that, at the moment." He concluded tiredly, glancing down at his tiny body. "We're barely more than toddlers." He stated, clearly dismayed.

"We can always begin earlier this time around." Sasuke suggested slowly.

"What about Sakura?"

"...we'll find her later?"

Naruto gave it some serious thought. "I don't even know if I'll be allowed early admittance to the Academy." He muttered eventually.

"They have not yet changed the rules, if I remember correctly. And the Sandaime likes you." Sasuke's voice was only slightly strained as he spoke of the old man. He had to remind himself of the fact that it wasn't really he who had ordered the massacre of an entire clan; civilians, women and children included. The man he really wanted to kill was Danzou. Another impossible objective of theirs. At least at the moment.

"Jiji sees my father, and his guilt, when he looks at me." Naruto stared up at the quickly darkening sky.

"That's not true." Sasuke stared at him. "From what you've told me, he really cares about you." He would never have thought there would come a day when Sasuke comforted Naruto. But then again, he had never thought himself to be in the body of a four year old again, either. "As for me, I think my father will be thrilled to prove he has sired another genius." Sasuke continued with contempt. It had, ultimately, been his father's fault Itachi had been pushed into the life he'd had.

"Come, I'll walk you home." Naruto took hold of Sasuke's arm and began to lead him along towards Konoha proper, and eventually, the Uchiha district.

. o . O . o .