Sasuke's cloak fluttered in the wind, the leaves growing restless around them. The clearing had seemed so still before Naruto came.
But the wind always seemed to pick up around the blonde. He vaguely wondered if Naruto did it on purpose.
"He's been cleared."
Sasuke felt something settle in his chest.
His brother's name had been cleared.
Naruto's eyes scanned him—at one point in his life, he might not have thought him capable of such a serious gaze. Sasuke knew better, now.
"Anyone we had enough proof to involve them with—that night," Naruto grimaced, and Sasuke knew he had stopped himself from saying 'the massacre'.
Sasuke didn't care; he could say it for what it was.
"Or with keeping your clan imprisoned," he continued, "if we had the proof, they were convicted—alive or not. It all kind of…came out."
He paused, staring into space for a moment.
"But anyways," Naruto shook his head, "that's not the only reason I'm here."
"I'm not coming back."
Naruto's eyes—already dull—dampened. He appreciated—really—Naruto's efforts to reform Konoha, to allow his family justice and to clear Sasuke's name. But Konoha was still—it would always be—
"It's your decision," Naruto said softly.
Sasuke eyed him. Surely the blonde wasn't just going to leave it at that.
There it was.
"—for the record, you wouldn't recognize it if you did."
Sasuke gave him a doubtful look—which Naruto met head on with a small smile.
"We're rebuilding," he continued, "and part of that—a big part of Konoha—is the Uchiha Compound."
Sasuke started. He hadn't—of course he hadn't—forgotten his family home, but it…hadn't been in the forefront of his mind for many years now. He wondered how much had been torn down.
"That's also why I'm here. We haven't touched it yet," Naruto said, as if reading his mind, "I kinda hoped…"
Naruto eyed him. Sasuke looked away. He knew what the blonde wanted—he wanted Sasuke there—to get his opinion, or to take charge, or just to get him back to the village again, but—
"I just wanted to know what we should do," his voice was quiet.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean—there are," he ran a hand through his hair—he always looked younger when he did that, "so many buildings. I don't know if we should restore them as much as we can—or if it would be disrespectful to restore them—I have to do it right, you know—and then, I wanted to—"
Naruto let out a harsh breath.
"I wanted to make—like—a monument, at least, but I don't know," he glanced away from Sasuke, "Sakura-chan said a statue—but I don't know what—or who—it would be—and then I was thinking it should have everyone's names but it's so fucking hard to find a list of everyone—and where do I cut it off? And do I—"
He stopped, biting his lip.
"I—just—wanted your opinion. On all of this stuff."
He glanced at Sasuke, and then shrugged, looking away.
"You can write," Sasuke offered after a moment.
Naruto barked out a laugh. It didn't sound happy.
"Yeah. Yeah—I," Naruto cleared his throat, "sure. I'll do that. What's one more delay, right?"
Sasuke didn't reply.
Naruto spared him one last glance, before nodding, his eyes suspiciously bright. Sasuke turned away from them.
"Yeah," Naruto's voice was quiet, and he heard the footsteps that signaled the blonde turning away, "take care of yourself."
And then he was gone—and Sasuke stood still, just as every time Naruto left, with a hollow feeling echoing in his chest.
He growled, crushing another paper in his fist and pulling out a blank page. The letters from Naruto had been relentless, long, and full of questions, concerns, problems—
Sasuke frowned, scanning over the page again. The stupid idiot should have included some photos or something—he had no idea what he was talking about—
And herein lied the problem with this plan.
Sasuke did not want to go back to Konoha. He did not.
He cared about his former home.
He had been thinking about it—almost constantly, since Naruto had left, and the barrage of letters certainly hadn't helped.
Naruto had—miraculously—championed the effort to allow Sasuke the same leniency as the Sannins had once had. He could come and go from Konoha as he pleased, be away for as long as he liked, and complete as many or as little missions as he desired—all while remaining a ninja of the village, if only in title. In spite of everything they had put together to deliver to the council, he still had no idea how the blonde had managed it.
So—in theory—he could visit the village. He could.
He could visit—briefly, give instructions, and leave as quickly as possible.
Naruto would, of course, be hopeful and excited, and stare at him with those eyes, but no amount of guilt would make Sasuke stay in the village that had betrayed him so badly. Even if it's what Itachi would have wanted. Even if it meant being away from Naruto…
Sasuke frowned, reading over the blonde's letter again.
It was messy and disjointed—but that was nothing new. Naruto's visits had been getting fewer—and with more time in between—ever since he had begun this quest for reform. And this last visit, Naruto had looked…even more fatigued than usual. Which was saying something.
Not that he was worried about the blonde. Naruto could take care of himself.
The ink smudged, there, in Naruto's letter again—well, it was less of a smudge and more blurred along the edges, as if the page had been somehow wet…by a single drop of water…in several, separate places…
Naruto could take care of himself.
It was stupid.
It might have been the dumbest thing he'd ever done—although, really, that list went on for quite some time—
Sasuke swallowed, looking up at the gates.
It was absolutely a terrible plan. He knew. No doubt that he would regret it—likely as soon as he walked through the entrance, but—
If Sasuke hadn't been so busy convincing himself he wasn't nervous, he might have appreciated the look on Naruto's face when he saw Sasuke a bit more. As it was, he just felt a bit…numb.
Naruto stopped—barely a foot in front of him—looking as if he was holding himself back from throwing himself at Sasuke.
He likely was.
"Well," Sasuke tilted his chin defiantly, "show me what I'm dealing with."
The resulting smile could have blinded him.
He was loath to admit it…and he would never say it out loud, but—
Naruto was right.
The village—well, he supposed it was only natural that it looked different after so much of it had been destroyed, but if Sasuke hadn't come here following his own footsteps, he might have thought he was in the wrong place.
Not to mention how different it felt to see the eyes of passersby slide right past him to stare—and smile—at Naruto.
Sasuke couldn't blame them. He tended to do the same.
"Okay," Naruto moved past the gates, "so there are some people here now. We still haven't started," he didn't sound happy about the fact, "because we're still evaluating—everything. Seeing what can be salvaged—and what's too old, you know."
"Hokage-sama!" A man Sasuke didn't recognize ran to Naruto, bowing low. Naruto smiled awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck.
"We've had to abandon efforts in the main house—another trap, you see—"
Naruto grimaced, eyeing Sasuke.
"Think you could take care of that?"
Sasuke snorted. Naruto knew very well that he could.
A hint of a grin graced Naruto's face before he turned back to the man in front of him.
"This is Sasuke—Uchiha, Sasuke," he said, pausing as the man jerked in surprise—and, more importantly, understanding, "everything he says goes. Even if it contradicts what I've said before. Understand?"
The man nodded—apparently too surprised to speak. Sasuke felt a bit surprised himself.
"Okay," Naruto breathed out, "spread the word, will you? We'll go look around."
"There are a lot of houses," Sasuke said, more to himself than anyone else. The compound seemed bigger than he remembered. If anything, it should have felt smaller, but…
"Yeah," Naruto agreed, "I'm not sure—well, it's really up to you, but—"
He paused, his tongue darting out against his lips.
"We could always use more spots of people to live—they could pay you rent if you didn't want to sell anything," he said, "but we could use a bigger school—or—Sakura-chan had this idea for—y'know—kids like us—"
Kids like them…?
"Ah, yeah," Naruto seemed distracted, "sorry—my clones just—"
Naruto paused, staring into space for a moment. Sasuke took it to mean one—or several—of his clones had just delivered their memories to him.
"How many clones do you have out right now?" He asked, scanning over the blonde.
"Oh, I dunno," Naruto moved forward, shaking himself a little, "maybe about a hundred?"
Sasuke raised his eyebrows.
"There's a lot to do, you know. They're not all in the village."
No wonder Naruto's letters were always so disjointed.
"Do you ever release them? All of them?"
"Eh," Naruto shrugged.
"That's healthy," Sasuke muttered.
Naruto gave a vague smile.
"You sound like Sakura-chan."
Sasuke frowned as Naruto's eyes unfocused again.
"Oh—um, anyway—this land is all—technically still yours, but," Naruto paused, "Konoha is—well, me, I am—giving you funding for the renovations, so you don't have to worry about that. As long as, eventually, the land will be somewhat public use. I got the council to be pretty lenient about it though."
"I can pay," Sasuke said. He wasn't sure what made him offer it—maybe it was the bags under Naruto's eyes, or the way he kept sighing—
Naruto stared at him for a moment, before he shook his head.
"I already raised the money before we started. Thanks, though."
He stretched up, barely catching himself on the rickety fence as he swayed too far to the side. Sasuke eyed the motion with a bit of alarm.
"Ah—ahh, crap, sorry," he seemed to shake himself, again—the idiot was acting as if he was on the verge of collapse, "I—um—do you want to stay here? I have to—"
"I'll stay here," Sasuke glanced over. There really was a lot of work to be done, and Sasuke…wanted to stay. For now, at least.
"I'll do this."
"Oh." Naruto didn't move.
"…I'll still be here tonight, Naruto," he offered, scowling.
Naruto's eyes lit up.
"I'll be here."
He turned away before Naruto could get him to say anything else embarrassing—like asking to join him for dinner. Why did he want to ask Naruto to join him for dinner?
It was strange.
He leaned against the doorway, watching his old home be measured, assessed, evaluated—
He thought this would hurt more. The memories seemed so…dim, now. So—far away.
Perhaps he just had more to replace them with.
"It really is you."
Sasuke turned to face her. Sakura looked—older. More serious. There were definitely a few wrinkles that were new to him.
"Sakura," he greeted.
"I never thought I'd see the day," she continued as if he hadn't heard him, "I'm surprised Naruto isn't glued to your side."
"He had to—"
"Leave, I know. He ran out of my soldier pills," she snorted, looking away, "he damn near lives on the things, now."
Sasuke said nothing, tucking that information away for future evaluation.
"Is he meeting you back here?"
Sasuke shrugged. He had thought Naruto would be back by now—
"I'm on my way to him now," Sakura said, "want to come with me? We'll stop by his apartment first."
Sakura eyed him with a smug, calm look, as if she knew he would say yes.
"Naruto still lives—"
"In his old apartment, yes," Sakura unlocked the door to the building, moving up the stairs.
Sasuke frowned. Did Konoha have so little money? He had always been under the impression that Hokage was a very…well-paying position—
"Well, I say 'lives here'," Sakura amended, moving up the stairs, "he doesn't. I don't actually know the last time he's been here."
She fiddled with the keys as they reached the door, finding the right one for the knob.
"He just stays in his office," she said, anticipating his question, "falls asleep on the floor, or at his desk, or wherever he ends up."
She swung the door open, holding it for Sasuke without looking at him.
The room looked…positively barren. As if no one had lived here—ever. Sasuke stared around the place.
"Wasn't there a—"
"Cabinet there?" Sakura smiled wanly, "mhm. A table, too. The last of it all went towards funding the new Uchiha Compound."
Sasuke felt something coil in his chest. Naruto…
He suddenly felt very angry.
"Why is he like this?"
Sakura laughed—a harsh, bitter sound.
"He was always like this," she opened another cabinet, glancing through it, "I guess you weren't really around for it."
She snorted, moving on to a different part of the kitchen.
"He was just like this—when we were chasing you. All day, every day—he'd pass out in the training grounds, wake up and do it all again. Whenever we weren't out looking for you, he was training for when we would be," she paused, "because fighting you—and chasing you—that was how he was going to bring you back."
The coil in Sasuke's chest tightened—as if it was a snake, wrapping around his heart—
"And then all of—this—came out," she gestured vaguely around herself, "and fighting you wasn't going to bring you back anymore."
She stood up straight, having apparently found what she was looking for. She laid out several things on the counter, weighing out some of what Sasuke assumed were the "pills" from a larger container.
"But reforming the village might."
Sakura walked over to him. Sasuke couldn't bring himself to reply.
"Here," she passed him a bottle—the smaller container she had weighed out, and Naruto's keys, "you can bring them to him. I have to go back to the hospital anyways."
He took them, silently. She didn't seem to mind.
"Good seeing you, Sasuke," she gave him a soft smile. It looked sad—but it only lasted for a moment before she was gone.
But Sasuke didn't move—he stood still, listening to Sakura's words ring in the silence of Naruto's empty apartment.
Sasuke stifled the urge to kick down the door. He still felt—unnaturally angry. Perhaps he should have calmed down before he came here. Perhaps—
The door had opened. Sasuke felt his anger drain in the face of Naruto's wide, bright, exhausted eyes.
He held out the container—and the keys.
"Oh," Naruto had the grace to blush, "thanks—sorry—I was just finishing—although—I guess I can leave a clone—"
Sasuke stepped around him, looking around. There wasn't much to see—other than the mess Naruto had made of his desk.
"What—ah, crap," Naruto glanced at something before grimacing at Sasuke, biting into one of the solider pills, "I didn't realize what time it was. Do you want to—um—get food or something?"
Sasuke raised an eyebrow, eyeing the black mess in Naruto's hand.
"Oh," Naruto looked sheepish, "it's more for the—uh—energy. I can still eat other stuff, too."
"When was the last time you slept?"
Naruto laughed, diverting his eyes.
"…Sakura-chan's been talking, huh?"
"I'm busy, Sasuke," he smiled, shrugging, "I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this."
Sasuke scowled, moving around him to get a better look at the papers scattered across Naruto's desk. He couldn't imagine how the idiot even functioned with this thing in that state that it was.
Naruto moved closer to him, staying quiet. He picked up a page, wondering if the blonde would stop him. It was likely confidential, but Naruto didn't seem to mind.
Two lines in, he was immediately bored of the flowery legal jargon. Naruto—doing this every night…who would have thought?
He straightened, putting the page down. He did, however, want to see some of those transcripts—just to make sure Naruto had been thorough, mind you—
"I have some things I'd like to look at."
He didn't have to elaborate. From the way Naruto's eyes dimmed, he understood just fine.
"Yeah," his voice was quiet, "it's all back here."
Sasuke slid the scroll back, stifling a sigh.
He scowled, eyeing the next transcript. Reading this wasn't doing him any favours—all it had done was put him in a terrible mood.
Which, to be fair, tended to be his resting state, most days.
Not today, though.
He tilted his head, eyeing the back of Naruto's hunched over form. The blonde was surprisingly quiet and studious when he needed to be. Almost…shockingly quiet. Almost as if…
He stood, silently making his way around the desk.
Naruto had fallen asleep.
He eyed the blonde. So much had changed—and yet, standing here, watching a bit of drool leak out of Naruto's mouth, it felt like nothing had changed at all.
What an idiot.
Sakura jerked as the body was unceremoniously dropped in front of her.
"He won't wake up," Sasuke cut her off, scowling. His heart felt like it was going to burst out his chest—the blonde was alive, obviously, but—
"Yes, he'll be out for a day or two."
Sasuke felt a thrill of anger flash through his body. Yelling at Sakura would not help. Yelling at Sakura would not—
"His body's just tired," she continued, slowly—far too slowly, Sasuke was going to strangle the woman if she didn't—
"I told you, Sasuke," she ran two fingers along Naruto's neck, "he pretty much lives off the pills. They're not as—extreme as the original ones, but they are still powerful. They're not made to be lived on forever, and once your energy runs out…"
She gestured at Naruto's limp form.
"How often does he…do this?"
"Collapse?" She let out a breath, "once every few weeks or so. It depends on how little he's been sleeping. And eating, too—and how many clones he's using."
Sasuke felt his scowl deepening. What was Naruto doing? What did he—
"There's no point in taking him to the hospital," she straightened, brushing her hair out of her face, "he just needs to sleep it off. He could use someone to take care of him, though."
Sakura gave him a soft smile. He scowled at her.
Oh, he'd take care of Naruto, alright.