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From The Shadows

Chapter Text

 

  

"This place, huh? I should've figured," Naruto called from his place upon the crown of Hashirama's stone statued head. "Doesn't it bring back memories, Sasuke?" From across the waterfall, standing on top of Madara's stone statue stood Sasuke. For a brief moment Sasuke's normal, cold, distant facade broke and a flash of pain engulfed his entire being, his face stiffening before he returning to his blank expression. "Long ago, we fought here." Naruto stated, a small, sad smile breaking his features as he remembered their battle from their childhood, how his weakness had let Sasuke leave.

But not again. Never again. Naruto's training, his whole life's purpose had been driven by wanting to catch up to Sasuke, if Naruto failed now, he wouldn't ever know how to live with the guilt that he allowed Sasuke to live such a solitary, depressing life. Besides, Naruto thought to himself, he wants to start a revolution by killing the five Kage and reforming the Shinobi world, I have to protect Granny Tsunade and everyone else from him, even if it is Sasuke

"And just like before, you're going to lose." said Sasuke evenly, making Naruto feeling slightly put off by the intensity that had slowly crept into his face, his eyes burning into the depths of Naruto's soul. How could he look so intense while still talking so calmly? Some parts of Sasuke were still a mystery to Naruto, like how he could control his every emotion from bubbling to the surface, or how he was so undeniably beautiful it was almost inhuman. Naruto's smile was wiped from his face, an intensity burned in his gut and his face hardened into one of focus.

"You won't be hitting me with that same punch as last time. I'm not about to let you get away with whatever you want." Naruto ducked his head and pressed his brows together, staring right back into those beautiful mismatched eyes and farther, right into Sasuke's soul. "I won't let you become the Hokage, either! You don't understand what it means to be Hokage."

"I told you, that to me, being Hokage means revolution. It's totally different from what you think." said Sasuke.

Naruto tucked his chin, tilting his head forward, "Let me tell you something Itachi said - it's not the one who becomes Hokage who gets acknowledged by all. But it's the one acknowledged by all who becomes Hokage."

Sasuke's hands balled into fists at his side, his face contorting from calm intensity to overwhelming anger, and perhaps, jealousy?

"I learned not from Itachi's words, but from the way he lived his life." Sasuke spat, his inner conflict eroding until his calm mask once again claimed his being. "You and I came up with different answers. Let me clarify this before we battle - I'll teach you exactly what being Hokage means to me."

Naruto's face broke out into one of confusion at the sudden outburst and the rapid change in emotion. Sasuke is serious, he realized, he's really truly serious about creating a new world. Shock overtook his system momentarily and Naruto cursed that fate would have him choose between saving the entirety of the Shinobi world he knew, or saving the one he wanted to save the most. He watched Sasuke's face carefully, knowing how he never let his emotions become transparent, and how the slightest shift is how you can truly tell what he's feeling.  Naruto was nowhere as good at controlling his emotions, and he knew that. Naruto was an open book that anyone could read, however he, himself was the only person that could ever truly read what Sasuke felt. Naruto remembered a time from the past when he and his friends had tried to rescue Sasuke when he had first left the Hidden Leaf Village. 

"Naruto..." Naruto turned to face Neji, "Sometimes your eyes are better than mine."

Neji turned and started walking past Naruto into the thick brush and trees as he continued, "Sasuke is in the darkness right now..."

Naruto snapped back to reality, staring at Neji's back upon the head of the statue, surrounded by the crashing water of the waterfall and Neji's form blocking Sasuke's from view. Neji's corporeal form shifted and his head turned to look at Naruto, "Go. You're the only one who can save him." His body started emanating a soft glow before shimmering and becoming translucent as he drifted away in the wind, once again leaving Naruto facing Sasuke, alone.

Naruto closed his eyes, remembering the sacrifice Neji had made to maintain the peace in the Shinobi world, the sacrifice of so many that had died in the onslaught of the Great War. How can Sasuke throw away their sacrifice just so he can create a world that would better suit him and his ridiculous idea of peace. Sasuke's own brother Itachi had given Naruto the task of dealing with Sasuke, as Itachi felt his own sacrifices in life did not motivate Sasuke to be a better person, but only fuelled his rage and hatred for the world which destroyed his older brother. Naruto remembered his Master, Jiraiya, and how he had given Naruto the task of finding true peace for the Shinobi world, where everyone can love and understand each other, and also the sacrifices Jiraiya made to bestow this task to Naruto. He thought of the pain Nagato had suffered from the backlash of human greed, and how he passed this knowledge down to Naruto. He thought about Obito, how he had died protecting himself and Kakashi in order to right the wrongs he had made, and to let Naruto continue creating a better world for all people. His thoughts drifted to Sasuke. Sasuke. The one he had always been jealous of, the one he had always aspired to be like, the one who believed there was no hope or love left in the world. The one he wanted to save more than anyone. 

"Yeah," Naruto answered to the open air, opening his eyes, blue eyes piercing into mismatched ones as he realized what needed to be done, "I know."

 

 


 

  

Sasuke bounced happily on Itachi's back, his arms wrapped around his neck as his brother carried him on his way to the Ninja Academy.

"Sasuke, please don't bounce, I might lose my grip." said Itachi, hefting Sasuke up a little higher on his back and readjusting his hold under his knees. A small smile wormed its way onto Itachi's face as he turned his head slightly to look back at Sasuke. 

"Sorry big brother, I'm just excited! I need to train hard so I can use my shuriken jutsu just like you can Itachi," a pink blush dusted his round cheeks and Sasuke rested his chin on Itachi's shoulder, watching Itachi turn his face back on the road in front of them. "I want to be just like you when I get older."

Itachi shifted his gaze back on Sasuke momentarily before returning his eyes to the bustling Konoha streets in front of them. 

"I'm sure you will become far greater than even me when you get older Sasuke," Itachi said lovingly, the crooks of his elbows holding Sasuke's legs slightly tighter and a smile rested gently on his face.

"Huh? But no one is better than you 'Tachi," Sasuke moved his hands to Itachi's shoulders and sat up, leaning forward so he could look his brother more in the eye, an innocent look of confusion plastered on his rounded face.

Itachi laughed quietly before he said, "maybe then you can work towards it, I do need someone to look after me in my old age you know," his eyes crinkled at the edges, "and it doesn't help my weary back with you bouncing around back there."

"It's not funny Itachi! I was being serious," Sasuke slumped back down into his brothers hold, crossing his own arms and puffing out his cheeks in annoyance.

The small smile widened slightly as Itachi spoke, "as was I brother."

They walked the rest off the way in silence, then Itachi lowered Sasuke to the ground and said their farewells before Itachi went into the academy and Sasuke to his regular training grounds above the Hokage Rock in the forest. Most kids his age didn't do training yet, but Sasuke wanted to catch up to his brother which meant he needed to train hard.

Sasuke trekked along the winding path that hung off the face of the cliff of the Hokage Rock. His pushed his hands in his pant pockets and continually kicked a stone with his toe up the path. As he made it to the top of the cliff, his legs began taking him in the direction of his usual training area, when out of the corner of his eye, he spotted movement. Sasuke paused mid-step and his head spun quickly towards the disturbance. Out on the head of one of the Hokage monuments, lay a small boy on his back staring at the clouds. The boy's arm was outstretched as if reaching for something, before dropping it to the ground and letting out a long sigh. A mop of messy blond hair sprawled out across the ground. Sasuke watched from a distance, intrigued by how someone who looked about his age had time to just lay around and relax. Personally Sasuke thought it seemed like a waste of time. Yet he couldn't stop himself from watching the boy who lay watching the clouds. Sasuke had never had any friends, nor the desire to have any friends since he had Itachi. But now, he was drawn to this boy with his blond hair and carelessness that it made Sasuke want to go and talk with him... But... how does he do that?

Shaking his head to himself, Sasuke turned and continued to walk into the forest, he needed to train and boys watching clouds were not going to help him do that. He made it to his small clearing in the trees where there were targets set up on the surrounding trees and rocks. He pulled out a shuriken into each hand from his pockets, and focusing on channeling his chakra into the shuriken, he threw them both at the tree directly in front of him. With a bunk sound the shuriken were embedded in the wooden target, one dead centre and the other just barely wedged in at the edge of the target. Sasuke stood up and puffed out his cheeks. Becoming as good as Itachi was going to take a lot of practice.

It was mid afternoon by the time Sasuke stopped his training so he could go see Itachi as he finished school. Itachi was very close to graduating the academy, and from what he had been told, Sasuke realized Itachi was very special to become a genin at such a young age. He began his walk back down the cliffside, vaguely noticing the blond boy had left his place from before, and made his way down into the buzzing town of Konoha. He was walking through the endless throng of people, civilians and shinobi alike, and heard a crashing sound and a deep voice yelling something incoherent from down the street. The street parted slightly with people moving to allow someone or something to pass through, when suddenly a familiar bounce of messy blond hair pelted past Sasuke and ran full tilt in the direction Sasuke had just come from.

"What a weird kid." Sasuke said absentmindedly to himself and his eyes trailed the running boy as he ran further down the street.

From behind him, Sasuke could hear people muttering to each other while all eyes glanced at where the blond had just ran away to.

"Oh... It's that boy."

"You mean the boy that-"

"Shhh, you know we're not allowed to talk about that."

"You know I heard a rumour that he's the reason Lord Fourth was killed."

"Well rumours are rumours, but I wouldn't put it past that little demon. He is a bad omen to us all."

Sasuke sighed to himself, turned around, and followed the blond. This boy interested him. Why would people call him a demon if all he does is lay around watching the clouds? Then again, maybe people thought of him as lazy for doing so and was bad at being a ninja. Yeah. That makes more sense.

Sasuke followed the parting in the wave of people until he caught sight of the blond, and broke out into a run from his usual leisurely walking pace. The boy had slowed down to a walk with his head lowered and rubbing his eyes with the back of his arm, Sasuke realized he might be crying and slowed down as well, trailing him from behind. The boy made his way up to the top of Hokage Rock, where Sasuke suspected he would settle for another cloud watching session, but instead headed into the forest. Sasuke paused for a moment before cresting the cliffside path and stealthily followed the blond into the forest. He hid behind trees and bushes as he watched the boy jump over rocks and up onto tree branches only to hang upside down by his feet. The boy picked up a few stones and ran through the forest, throwing them at trees and rocks and at a few targets people had set up throughout. Was this training? This seemed more like playing than training. Sasuke briefly wondered what his parents would think if he ran around wildly like this boy. He squatted down behind a bush as the blond jumped up to a low hanging tree branch hanging on with his hands before pulling himself up on top and breathing heavily. Sasuke felt slightly impressed that he could do that when his legs and arms seemed completely devoid of muscle. He must be very nimble. Just then the boy's foot slipped off the tree branch and he plummeted to the ground, landing on his chest and knocking the breath out of himself. I guess I spoke too soon, Sasuke thought to himself with a smirk. The boy opened his eyes, and then opened wider as his gaze rested on something in front of him. Sasuke shifted slightly to peek around the bush to see what it was. Mushrooms. The blond opened his mouth wide, giggling excitedly as he pranced around the forest collecting as many mushrooms as he could carry. Why was he getting so excited about mushrooms? Didn't he know it was almost dinner time?

He watched as the blond fashioned a barely functioning fishing rod with a stick and some string and a hook and plopped himself down beside a creek nearby, throwing the fishing line into the water and propping the rod up between a few rocks. Then he placed his arms behind his head and lay back on the ground. Sasuke was unsure of how long he hid there watching this strange boy, he was even unsure as to why he did it in the first place. Especially since this boy was everything he was not. This boy was wild and free and Sasuke couldn't help but wonder if he could be like that too. Just as Sasuke was about to reveal himself from his hiding spot behind a bush, the fishing rod jerked out from the rocks and fell into the creek. The boy jumped to his feet and made an awful high pitched screeching sound and dove into the water after his rod that was being carried downstream. Sasuke vaguely felt his mouth fall open. Shocked, he started to make his way to the blond's aid, when the boy stood up, dripping wet, a huge grin on his face as he held up the fish latched to the end of the fishing line. Sasuke quietly retreated to his place behind the bush again.

The boy made a fire up high on a hill overlooking Konoha, and began cooking his freshly caught fish. The sun was starting to set and Sasuke knew Itachi and his parents were probably worried about his whereabouts and that he should have headed home long ago. But what about this blond boy he had been watching. Did he have parents who were worried for him? Sasuke felt sad at the thought that maybe this boy didn't have a family, that sure would explain why he seemed so unperturbed with staying out so late in the evening by himself. Sasuke heard rustling coming from the woods to his left, and a small, elderly figure approached the boy from the trees. Sasuke would have felt a little afraid for the boy, if he had not noticed the elderly man was actually Lord Third Hokage. He breathed a small sigh of relief. The Third Hokage walked up to the blond and sniffed at some of the fish he had cooking, the blond immediately reeled back, shocked.

"Wh-who are you?" the boy asked. How could this boy not know who the Third Hokage was?! Sasuke frowned. What a strange kid.

"Just an old man passing through." Lord Third answered with a smile.

Sasuke shifted slightly, wanting to get a better view, when he lost his balance and placed a hand on a stick that snapped. He looked up to the campfire mortified that the boy may have caught him spying, but he seemed more interested in the old man standing in front of him. The Third Hokage, however, turned his head so he was directly staring at Sasuke, eyes focused before an understanding flitted across his face and he grinned with his eyes before turning back to the boy by the fire. 

Sasuke heard a growl from the boy's stomach, and both Lord Third and the boy began laughing. Sasuke couldn't help but smile as well. 

"Here, gramps, eat this." the boy said to Lord Third, holding up one of his cooked fish.

"Oh, thank you. Oh, this looks so good." Lord Third praised the boy, in which the boy's eyes seemed to light up and he grinned happily at the old man.

"Well, I caught it. So, of course it's gonna taste good!" the blond stated.

"Is that so?" Lord Third smiled.

Sasuke realized that now, he too was feeling hungry and needed to head home. He was aware he was going to get in trouble for staying out so late, and felt extremely guilty that his tardiness was a result of watching a boy run around for hours. He just didn't want to see the disappointment lining his father's face, and the worry in his mother's and Itachi's faces. He frowned, standing up and stuffing his hands in his pockets and turned to head back home. The boy's laugh rang out in the evening air and Sasuke stopped, smiled, and continued on his way.

When Sasuke made it back to the Uchiha district and walked the familiar path to his house he was dreading having to face his father. He opened his home's front door and called, "I'm home."

His mother appeared from around the corner of the entryway and immediately wrapped Sasuke up in her arms, dropping to her knees.

"Oh my boy, my baby boy. Where have you been we've been so worried about you!" She pulled back from her embrace to look Sasuke in the eye, her face contorted with a very un-Uchiha like display of emotions bubbling to the surface. Sasuke turned away with a small blush forming on his cheeks as the guilt truly began to set in.

"I'm sorry Mother, I was training and I lost track of time. I won't do it again." Sasuke bowed his head in shame and leaned forward into his mother again.

"Oh Sasuke, I was just worried you had been hurt! Itachi went out looking for you a while ago but he hadn't returned yet, I thought something might have happened to you." She pressed a kiss to his forehead and leaned back, holding the sides of his face. "You must be hungry, but first you need a bath, you are absolutely filthy Sasuke."

Sasuke smiled up at his mother who stood and left to run a bath. Sasuke stared at his hands with fascination. He had always been a clean person, mostly imprinted by his family's high class customs, but he hadn't even noticed how he had become covered with dirt and mud from his day of following that boy through the forest.

"Mother's right Sasuke, you're filthy. It must have been from wandering in the woods all day today, huh?" Sasuke could almost hear Itachi say in the back of his mind. Geez, Sasuke would never hear the end of it if Itachi had found out what he had really been doing the whole day.

"Sasuke? Are you alright? I know your hands are dirty but staring won't make the dirt go away." Suddenly Itachi moved from the door frame to walk around and squat in front of Sasuke. Itachi. As in the real Itachi. Not the Itachi Sasuke had only thought was in his head. Sasuke's face turned bright red and looked up into his brother's face, mortified.

Itachi smirked softly and reaching out two fingers, poked Sasuke in the forehead.

"Please don't tell mother and father." whimpered Sasuke, his lower lip starting to quiver slightly. His small dirty hand reached up to rub at the spot Itachi poked leaving a streak of brown smeared across his face.

Itachi's mouth shifted from a smirk to a frown and stared deeply into Sasuke's midnight black eyes.

"Of course Sasuke. Thats what big brothers are for." He said genuinely. "But may I ask why you followed Naruto Uzumaki around all day. I wanted to cut in and take you home, but you seemed so invested I had to find out what made that boy so special." Itachi's mouth formed into a small, inviting smile but Sasuke could tell from the look in his brother's eyes that Itachi wanted to know more than he let on.

Sasuke's eyes went large and his small mouth opened slightly. "Naruto Umaki. What a strange name for a strange boy." 

As if in a trance Sasuke walked around his brother and headed to take his bath, eyes never blinking, face remaining devoid of emotion.

Itachi frowned, although thoroughly amused with how his younger brother could sometimes be the most brilliant child prodigy the world had ever seen yet still not understand so much about the world around him. Itachi was right to believe Sasuke would surely surpass him one day, and he believed it would be the drive he gained from this other child, Naruto, that would lead him to great things. Or it could just be a hunch. Itachi was beginning to get a headache.

 

 


 

 

"This place, huh? I should've figured," Sasuke could hear Naruto call over the gusts of wind billowing and the roar of the waterfall from their high perches on top of the great stone statues in the Final Valley. "Doesn't it bring back memories Sasuke?"

Sasuke felt as if he had been stabbed by a knife. A searingly cold knife driven straight into his heart. This boy who caused him so much pain, this boy who reminded him of all the good and peace in the world, this boy who had branded himself into Sasuke's heart and soul. Sasuke was being forced by fate to kill him. Memories of their first time fighting in the Final Valley flitted through his mind, he never wanted to remember that day, let alone relive it. Yet it was the only way to end all the suffering Sasuke had endured.

"Long ago, we fought here." Naruto said quieter, a smile dancing on his lips that sent another blistering cold knife to join the first in his heart. Why was he doing this, there must be another way. Sasuke began panicking slightly, being careful to not let it show on his face. He needed to say something, needed to do something or this boy standing in front of him was going to ensnare him and drive him into madness.

"And just like before, you're going to lose." Sasuke said evenly as to make sure the words didn't just tumble out of him like vomit. He looked at Naruto with an intensity he had only ever felt around him. Why didn't he understand, Sasuke couldn't live the way Naruto wanted him to live. He couldn't go through loss and betrayal and heart break anymore or the shadow of a person he had become would be gone forever. Naruto was the only light in Sasuke's life, and to preserve that light, he needed Naruto to die before any more confusing and heart wrenching emotions could make this any worse for the both of them. Naruto was the sliver of humanity Sasuke still had within him, and him being alive was causing Sasuke far more pain than he had ever endured in his life. And with that Naruto's smile had left his face and hardened in concentration. Sasuke felt a pang of guilt, worry, sadness that this beautiful, perfect boy in front of him was going to die.

 "You won't be hitting me with that same punch as last time. I'm not about to let you get away with whatever you want." Naruto's face seemed to darken, "I won't let you become the Hokage, either! You don't understand what it means to be Hokage."

"I told you, that to me, being Hokage means revolution. It's totally different from what you think." explained Sasuke. That's right. That's what Sasuke needed to focus on. Helping the future by eradicating the things that caused him so much pain. He was helping the future of the shinobi world by taking all the pain and suffering and hatred upon himself, so no one would have to experience the things he or his brother were forced to endure. In a world where shinobi are used as military force, death and suffering are inevitable. There is no way to obtain true peace in a world like this one, where war and death is a way of life. There is no answer to make war and death any easier on anyone. The only way to stop it from happening is to reform the system in which shinobi live.

Naruto tucked his chin, tilting his head forward, "Let me tell you something Itachi said - it's not the one who becomes Hokage who gets acknowledged by all. But it's the one acknowledged by all who becomes Hokage."

A third icy cold dagger pierced Sasuke's heart and he began to feel the years of anger, hurt, hatred, revenge that boiled up inside of him. Naruto was playing dirty. He knew Itachi was one of Sasuke's weak points, but using what Itachi said to defile Sasuke's beliefs was more than he could handle. Couldn't Naruto see Sasuke was hurting too? There was no other way, this was the only way to end everyone's pain simultaneously.

"I learned not from Itachi's words, but from the way he lived his life." Sasuke spat, feeling the tension and hatred this world had caused Itachi show through to the surface. He immediately realized he was letting his emotions run wild and let his face fall back into the cold one he used to distance himself from people. "You and I came up with different answers. Let me clarify this before we battle - I'll teach you exactly what being Hokage means to me."

Like a sheet of ice being dropped, Sasuke felt his heart break into a million uneven, jagged, cold pieces. Naruto. Naruto. Oh how he wished this world were not so cruel. There in front of him stood the most beautiful being Sasuke had ever seen, an angel sent from somewhere holy, the person he was being forced to destroy for the greater good of the world. Life was so unfair. How was he supposed to save the world from this hell they live in when his mind was on that boy's face every moment of the day. His last shred of humanity and emotion came in the form of Naruto's face. Naruto's cheeks. Naruto's hair. Naruto's eyes

Humanity was unacceptable for the hatred he was going to make himself endure. He wouldn't be able to take on the world's hatred if Naruto were there to watch him do it. Naruto was Sasuke's everything. Which is exactly why Naruto would have to die. Sasuke remembered the day he first met Naruto, how he came to befriend him, and how he came to love him. And how that love is tearing him in two.

"Yeah," Naruto answered to the open air, opening his eyes, blue eyes piercing into mismatched ones, "I know."

 

 


 

  

Sasuke's feet dipped into the chilly lake water waking him from his trance as he stared across the lake from his spot on the edge of the dock. It was late afternoon, Itachi would be finishing at the academy soon. For the past few days, Sasuke hadn't felt motivated to train. His brain refused to think of anything but that boy - that... Naruto... kid and how his life compared to Sasuke's. Does he have a family to go home to? Why do people hate him? Does he have any friends? Can Sasuke be his friend?

He kicked some water up with his toe, sending a small arc to lift then crash back onto the surface causing ripples to form that travelled all across the lake. That boy, Naruto, made him confused. Sasuke generally tried to avoid people, not because he didn't understand them, mostly a slight trauma from his mother parading him around Konoha. Sasuke had been praised for being cute and had his cheeks pinched so many times that people, specifically old women, were not something he actively sought attention from. But something about Naruto made Sasuke want to get his attention, in whatever form that may be. Sasuke had only ever been given attention from his mother and Itachi and before that had always been enough. Maybe he just needed to make a friend, kids his age made friends all the time didn't they? But what do you do with a friend? How do you make a friend? Does Naruto already have enough friends - can you even have enough friends?

Nothing was making sense to Sasuke. Before this he always had a clear, conscious mind. He was going to become a shinobi equal to his big brother and protect the ones he cared about. Sasuke looked over the edge of the dock at his reflection rippling in the water. Maybe he should ask Itachi what this feeling is he's feeling. Itachi  is the smartest person Sasuke has ever known. He smiled to himself and reached down to touch the reflection of his face on the water, wishing he was graced with looking more like Itachi. He heard the scuffle of footsteps behind him from the path on top of the berm that slithered its way throughout Konoha, and turned his head slightly to glare at who had broken his train of thought.

Blond. And blue. And... brown? Brown. Brown from dirt. Geez did that kid ever bathe?

Sasuke watched as Naruto had stopped walking to peer down at Sasuke sitting by the lake. Naruto's hands were fisted in his vest pockets, a curious look on his face as he watched Sasuke watching him. Sasuke wondered if he should say something, that's how he would become friends with him right? Then, Naruto frowned dramatically, scrunched his eyebrows together, and turned his head away with his chin pointed into the air. Sasuke scowled. What's with that kid, anyways, he thought. Sasuke turned back to face the lake with a sudden distaste in his mouth. He heard the crunch of gravel as he assumed Naruto had begun to continue his walk along the path. When the crunching sound was finally out of earshot, Sasuke leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He studied his reflection again, his face now twisted into a scowl. Lifting his foot he kicked the water smashing his reflection into thousands of little ripples, then stood, hands in his pant pockets, and headed for home.

When he arrived at home Itachi was putting on his sandals to leave the house. 

"Big brother, where are you going," Sasuke asked, his eyes gazing innocent and wide into his brother's own.

"I have to go out, I'll be back soon Sasuke," Itachi said as he finished putting his sandals on and turned to face him, elbows resting on his knees.

Sasuke puffed out his cheeks and crossed his arms in frustration. Itachi smiled and tilted his head, beckoning him forward with a wave of his hand. With this, Sasuke blushed and tucked his chin in, all feelings of annoyance gone as he ran to his brother. Itachi extended two fingers and poked him on his forehead stopping Sasuke dead in his tracks and recoiling slightly as he rubbed at the spot on his face.

"Itachi! What was that for," Sasuke whined as he kept a small hand pressed against his forehead.

"Sorry Sasuke, next time," and he stood with grace Sasuke could only dream of achieving as he placed a hand on Sasuke's head before moving around him and out the door.

Annoyed, but now feeling slightly better since his experience at the lake, Sasuke sighed and removed his shoes. Sasuke went to the kitchen and sat down at their table as his mother walked in.

"Oh Sasuke, I didn't realize you were home," His mother was absolutely beaming, a white smile stretching from ear to ear as she entered the room and began preparations for dinner. She lifted a folded apron from the cabinet and proceeded to put it on, "have you spoken to Itachi?"

"He left when I got home, does he not want to be around me mother?" Sasuke asked innocently with his head bowed and hands clasped on his lap.

His mother turned to face him, "now why would you ever think that. Itachi loves you Sasuke," she turned back to the counter and continued chopping her momentarily forgotten vegetables, "and you should be very proud of your big brother, today he graduated from the academy."

A pink blush dusted his round cheeks as his mood shifted instantly and he stood with a grin plastered on his face, "thats amazing! Itachi must be the youngest person to every graduate the academy. He's amazing isn't he mother?" Sasuke ran towards her and gripped onto her apron and skirts, his hands only making it to her waist.

"Yes, yes, Sasuke, Itachi is a very good student and quick learner, but if you don't stop bouncing around I won't be able to prepare dinner," his mother stated while finishing off one vegetable and moving onto the next. Sasuke's smile vanished. "And if I can't make dinner, then you won't become big and strong just like Itachi."

His grin returned and he felt excitement brewing in his belly, quickly he dropped the apron and began running to the front door.

"Sasuke? Where are you going?" His mother called from the kitchen. Sasuke was sitting in the entryway, fiddling with his stubborn sandals when his mother walked into the front hall and leaned against the wall slightly. A smile pulled at her lips as she watched her son pull on his shoes and grab his bag full of shuriken and turn towards the door.

"I'm going training!" Sasuke said as he pulled the door open and started to step through the frame.

"Alright be back before dark, and have fun playing," she said.

Sasuke stopped in his tracks and turned to face his mother, "it's not playing, its training," and he dashed out the door.

Honestly, these boys... Mikoto thought to herself. If it wasn't the way of shinobi to be reckless and dangerous, she would never have allowed her young child to run freely and unsupervised. That's what I get for marrying an Uchiha, she pondered briefly before returning to the kitchen.

Sasuke ran to his usual training spot in the woods and pulled out his shuriken. Holding one in each hand he focused his chakra into the shuriken and threw them at the target directly in front of him hanging from a tree trunk. Dunk! One had hit the target and fallen out, landing on the ground beneath, and the other embedded itself in the tree directly below the target. Sasuke frowned and pulled out two more shuriken focusing on controlling the chakra after he released them to direct them to his target. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath in, appreciating the stillness of the forest around him, he opened his eyes preparing to-

"Whoaaa! That's super cool you must be a ninja, huh?" A voice called out from the trees adjacent to him, a very loud, very obnoxious voice. The moment was ruined, the stillness in the forest surely gone from the sweep of feet moving through grass, and the giggle sounding from the boy next to him.

Sasuke stiffened and stood, turning to Naruto. He stood with his hands behind his head and a friendly grin spreading across his face as he watched Sasuke curiously. Sasuke felt a slight blush cover his cheeks as he crossed his arms and faced Naruto completely.

"Yeah I'm a ninja. And my big brother just graduated from the academy today, he's going to be the greatest ninja of them all." Sasuke felt a smile creep onto his face and closed his eyes, nodding with approval as Naruto gasped and praised him.

"Hey! Do you think you could teach me? Like how to become a ninja?" Naruto bounced on his toes and his hands balled into fists at his sides and he took another step closer to Sasuke.

"Maybe, but right now I'm training so you'll just have to watch. It's pretty dangerous and you'd just get hurt if you tried now." Sasuke watched as Naruto nodded and sat down on the ground and watched him, his body positively shaking with excitement from head to toe. Sasuke was impressed the blond actually sat down, he seemed like the type that always needed to be moving. He decided shaking with excitement still counted as moving, and faced his body back to the tree.

Sasuke focused his gaze on the target in front of him again and began channeling his chakra into the shuriken, willing himself to hit the target this time so Nar-

"Hey I forgot to ask you want your name is! I'm Naruto Uzumaki and I'm going to be the Hokage someday." Sasuke stood and looked at Naruto with wide eyes. He had always thought Itachi was destined to be Hokage someday, did Naruto want to take that from him?

"The Hokage? But you aren't even a ninja." Sasuke stated.

Naruto frowned, pushing his bottom lip up high and curving his mouth dramatically, nostrils flaring, "well not yet, but I will become a ninja and I will become Hokage someday, believe it."

Sasuke sighed.

"I'm Sasuke Uchiha." He said before turning his attention back to the target in front of him. He hadn't even been able to hit the target yet because of Naruto blabbering and ruining his focus.

"Sasuke."

"What." Sasuke deadpanned, glancing back to Naruto.

Naruto's face turned a soft shade of pink and he reeled back slightly at Sasuke's response, not realizing he had said that out loud, "Oh nothing, nothing," he said sheepishly turning his face slightly away from Sasuke's.

Sasuke had only noticed now the mark of three thin scars marring either side of Naruto's face, and the brilliant electric blue of his eyes. Sasuke didn't think he had ever seen anyone with eyes like that before. Absentmindedly, he dropped his shuriken and moved forward, falling to his knees in front of Naruto and holding out a hand to touch the scars on one cheek.

"Wh-What are you doing?" Naruto asked, his eyes darting back and forth between Sasuke's hand and his face and leaning slightly away from the approaching touch.

Sasuke stopped and allowed his hand to fall short and rest on the ground, "What are these," he asked pointing to the scars on Naruto's face.

"Oh... Oh these? I don't really know I've always had them, I guess." Naruto smiled shyly and looked down at the ground.

Sasuke watched curiously, unsure of what to do or what to say. Is this how you make friends?

"Sasuke," Sasuke heard the familiar gentle sound of his brother's voice from behind him and he turned to see Itachi leap down from a tree branch and saunter up to the pair, "Mother asked me to find you for dinner, she says it won't stay hot forever." His face was blank and controlled, an almost eerie difference from the usual smile on his face whenever he was around Sasuke.

Sasuke stood and nodded, and turned to take hold of Itachi's outstretched hand.

Sasuke looked up at Itachi, who was holding his hand, and Itachi stared straight ahead, a cold mask on his face until he looked down at Sasuke, and the mask melted briefly as he asked, "do you want me to carry you home little brother?"

Behind them watching with wide, round, blue eyes, stood Naruto, forgotten. His gaze following the pair that became smaller and smaller as they moved out of sight.

"Bye... Sasuke."

 

 


 

 

Drip... Drip... Drip... Drip...

Naruto awoke. Am I dead? He thought to himself. He slowly opened his eyes gazing up into the night sky. A full bright moon shining down. Soft blue clouds lazily drifting across the sky. The warm night air. Naruto began to close his eyes once more.

Drip... Drip... Drip... Drip...

What?... What... What happened, where's... Sasuke, Naruto wondered, Sasuke. His mind began to go blank.

Drip... Drip... Drip... Drip...

Am I dead? Is Sasuke... dead? Naruto's heavy eyelids pried themselves open. A full moon. Soft blue clouds. Peace. Finally. Naruto vaguely wondered if he had seen that moon and clouds before. It seemed like a distant memory. Was he dreaming? Or was this the afterlife.

Drip... Drip... Drip... Drip...

No. What was that sound. It sounded like... water. But why would there be water if he were floating among the stars. A small feeling of panic spread through his gut, what happened. What happened! Naruto screamed at himself within his head. Can I move? I need to move. Naruto tried turning his head to the side, but his body wasn't responding. He tried to quell the panic building up inside him. Move, damn it! Move! Move! Move! Naruto squeezed his eyes shut and forced his head to fall to the side.

Drip... Drip... Drip... Drip...

His necked ached from what felt like whiplash and he realized, pain is okay, pain means I'm still alive. He reopened his eyes and felt the air leave him before he breathed in deeply and let out an audible sigh. Sasuke. Bloody and beaten, his raven hair glued with sweat and blood across his face, and the light rise and fall of his chest. Sasuke. Naruto needed to reach out and touch him, wipe his hair from his face and make sure he was alive for himself. Naruto tried to reach out but once again felt his body not respond. Instead a searing, never-ending pain coursed its way from his right shoulder all the way through his collarbone and neck, and down through his torso and legs. He felt like his body were on fire. Tears threatened to spill from his eyes and he squeezed them shut until the pain dulled and returned to a throbbing ache. He opened his eyes and let out a long breath, moving a few of Sasuke's hairs from his face with the gentle breeze he had create. Despite the circumstances, Naruto grinned to himself.

Drip... Drip... Drip... Drip...

He tried to make sense of his surroundings, and to remember what had happened. That's right, he thought, Sasuke and I fought. And... it seems like neither of us died from it. He heard the trickle of water somewhere behind him and could feel a hard, stoney surface below him, but other than that he had no indication of where he was. Did they completely destroy the Final Valley with their battle? He experimentally tried moving his fingers and toes which responded to his command now that he was awake and functioning. He peered down at his shoulder to look for a wound. The arm was completely gone. He rolled his eyes and closed them, and thumped the back of his head against the ground. No wonder it hurt when he had tried to touch Sasuke... Wait... Sasuke! Naruto opened his eyes slightly and glanced at Sasuke laying beside him, looking for any major injuries. His eyes trailed along his forehead where his dark hair was stuck and wet, to his eyebrows and eyes, one that was heavily swollen and bruising marring his normally perfect face. His gaze travelled down Sasuke's perfectly straight and delicate nose, and down to his pink lips that were slightly open and cut, the red of drying blood pooling at the corner of his mouth. A single, solitary drop of red ran from the corner of Sasuke's lips down to his jaw bone and curved under to his neck, where it sat tauntingly on the muscle, refusing to fall. That's when Naruto noticed Sasuke's left arm had been severed just as his own right arm had, and that it seemed to be bleeding heavier than Naruto's. Naruto glanced back up at his peaceful face, studying it, before turning back to look at the sky.

Drip... Drip... Drip... Drip...

They were going to die here. They had survived the battle but had both lost in the end. It seemed fitting however. Naruto couldn't think of a time in his life when he hadn't been thinking about Sasuke in one way or another. Naruto had aspired to be like Sasuke from the first time he met him all those years ago in the woods, when time was plentiful and they both were so innocent. Sasuke was Naruto's motivation to improve and get better, and eventually he became strong enough that he was able to help save the world. It was all thanks to Sasuke for teaching him there was more to life than just living day by day. If Sasuke were to die, Naruto wasn't sure how he would ever continue to improve, as a ninja and as a person. Despite all of Sasuke's flaws and bad decisions, he somehow brought out the best in Naruto, and Naruto was eternally grateful for that. Naruto turned once again to watch Sasuke sleep. This man who was so enveloped in hatred and pain and revenge, how was it that when he slept he looked so at peace and almost... beautiful. Naruto felt his mouth begin to go dry as he watched Sasuke's even, regular breathing and how his porcelain white skin glowed in the moonlight. So peaceful. So angelic. Then his breathing stuttered and Naruto saw one eye slowly open halfway, and Naruto tore his gaze away and returned to watching the clouds pass by.

Drip... Drip... Drip... Drip...

"You've finally come to, eh?" Naruto said quietly, a small smile resting on his lips as he studied the sky above him.

He could feel Sasuke shift quickly and try to move instinctually away before cringing from the pain from his shoulder undoubtedly and his breath hitched in his throat.

He knew Sasuke was watching him, he could feel his eyes watching him, just as he had watched Sasuke before.

"As you can see, if either of us moves too much, we'll bleed out and die." Sasuke just continued to stare at him for a moment before he spoke.

"Why would you go that far?" Sasuke's voice cracking slightly as he turned his head to look up at the clouds, "Why do all that, just to get in my way?"

Naruto laid quietly, letting Sasuke finish. It felt like he was trying to pry something out of Naruto. Something he wanted to hear.

"I gained the power to enter the darkness, and sever all bonds. And naturally, everyone's tried to cut their ties with me as well, at some point."

Naruto could feel his gaze become directed on Naruto's face once more, studying every aspect as though it were his lifeline, his connection to this world.

"But you... you've never attempted to cut me off." Sasuke's voice began to break again and dropped to almost a whisper, "Why do you keep involving yourself with me?"

Naruto closed his eyes and smiled to himself, "you already know, don't you? Now that your body can't move your mouth sure is moving a lot-"

"Just answer me!" Sasuke said louder, with more meaning, like his life was resting on Naruto's answer. Perhaps it was.

Naruto opened his eyes and lowered his head to look Sasuke in the face. Sasuke's eyes widened ever so slightly.

"Cause you're my friend." Said Naruto.

 

 


 

 

Sasuke's eyes stared intently into Naruto's. He found himself lost in those pools of blue, not wanting to look away. Despite the darkness of the night and the grim situation they were both faced with, Naruto's blue eyes shone brighter than ever, healing what was left of Sasuke's heart and soul.

He had failed.

"I've heard that before," Sasuke took a shallow breath before continuing, "but what exactly does it mean to you, anyway?"

Naruto closed his eyes with a smile and tilted his head towards the sky.

No... Look at me Naruto... Look me in the eye when you tell me...

He could barely feel his gaze tunnelling onto Naruto and the noises around him dimming, his heartbeat syncing to Naruto's and his own breath matching the blond's.

"You ask me to explain it, but I really can't put it into words." said Naruto, opening his eyes and searching the clouds above for the right answer.

Sasuke felt his heart sink slightly and shifted his eyes from Naruto's face to the ground. Then Naruto continued and Sasuke's eyes were on his once again.

"It's just that... when I see you take on stuff and get all messed up... It kinda... hurts me."

Ba-THUMP

"It hurts so much inside, that I can't just leave it alone, y'know?" Naruto laughed lightly to himself and his gaze met Sasuke's, "though right now, I'm in a lot of pain all over, and I can't do anything about it." He squirmed slightly and coughed up a little blood that spurted down the sides of his mouth.

Sasuke's eyes softened.

Ba-THUMP

There was so much he wanted to tell him. He knew the pain Naruto felt in his childhood from being alone and shunned by the whole village, with Naruto as a jinchuuriki, and Sasuke as the lone Uchiha survivor. He had watched Naruto intentionally do stupid things and get into trouble, most likely to get people's attention. In the beginning Sasuke had thought he was good for nothing, a strange boy who wanted to constantly goof around and had no goals in life. 

But the more I watched you being idiotic and getting scolded over and over... For some reason it started weighing on my mind. Sasuke thought to himself, I thought back then that your weakness was gradually rubbing off on me. Then every time I'd see you, I'd think about you more and more. 

Seeing Naruto as they were growing up made him think of his own family. Sasuke had felt relief, he still had someone to care for even after his clan was destroyed. But at the same time he considered his feelings for Naruto a weakness. He remembered the endless hours of training he had done as if to escape that weakness, in order to get revenge on his brother and to become stronger than him. But then joining Squad 7 made him want to care about people again, and he began to see a shadow of his family in it.

That's why every time I saw you suffering... I felt it... I felt pain, too.

Sasuke remembered the fear of not being able to protect his new family from the horrors of the world, and watching Naruto steadily grow stronger only added to his fear. The stronger Naruto became, the more enemies he would make, and the harder it would be for Sasuke to keep him alive. Sasuke had always been jealous of the strength Naruto had that he didn't. Just like the strength Itachi possessed. Sasuke closed his eyes.

"No matter how powerful you become, don't try to shoulder everything alone." Sasuke heard a voice say from behind him. He opened his eyes and turned around, watching Itachi talk to Naruto in a forest. Where was he? Hadn't he just been dying on a rock somewhere moments ago? Were these... Naruto's memories?

"You share your father's dream, don't you?" Itachi said, "then don't ever forget... becoming the Hokage doesn't mean people will acknowledge you. But when people acknowledge you, you can become the Hokage."

Sasuke walked forward to stand beside the flickering memory of Naruto, watching this memory of his brother with tears brimming his eyes. Itachi - why did you have to sacrifice yourself. Sasuke needed his brother to guide him, to tell him what the right thing was to do. He was confused, he didn't understand what was right or wrong anymore. Had he just tried to kill Naruto? Why? Why had that ever logically made sense to him. Sasuke stared deeply into Itachi's eyes sadly. What do I do brother...

"Never forget your friends." Itachi said.

Sasuke felt his heart drop. His... friends? Sasuke had always believed love was a weakness, something that makes death even more painful than it should be. That was why he tried to escape his love for Naruto, by leaving the Hidden Leaf Village and pursuing revenge so many years ago.

Suddenly the setting changed, and Sasuke watched as Naruto stood with all of the friends he had made throughout his life, every connection that had helped him be where he was today. The people who had died, those from other ninja villages, even enemies Naruto had faced in battle. Sasuke had never felt so alone. The memory changed again, this time with Sasuke standing beside Naruto, with Naruto's hand resting gently on his shoulder. 

Sasuke's mind went blank. Bu-but... why. Sasuke had done nothing to deserve Naruto's friendship.

He was a coward. A coward who ran away after realizing the full extent of his feelings for Naruto. He was... such a loser. Why would anyone want to be with Sasuke... He had tried to kill Naruto to escape the loneliness and pain his love brought him. That was not love. He was unworthy of Naruto's friendship. Sasuke gripped his head, hands mussing through his raven hair, his eyes wide and began breathing shallowly and quickly. 

No. What was happening. Sasuke had always told himself that the problems he was trying to solve were bigger than his or Naruto's lives. He was the one who protected from the shadows. So why was he suddenly doubting himself. Is he allowing himself to hold on to that small shred of humanity left in him, hold onto the love he has for Naruto. Does that make him weak? Hn. Perhaps it does...

Drip... Drip... Drip... Drip...

Sasuke's eyes opened back to the world around him, a full bright white moon hanging low in the sky. He glanced over at Naruto, who seemed to have passed out from the strain of sharing his memories.

How could I have been so stupid, Sasuke thought to himself, I love him. So why would I ever want to hurt him.

Sasuke felt his eyes begin to burn and his bottom lip quivered as he allowed the tears to fall and weakness to take hold of him.

I love him. I love him. I tried to hurt him.

The tears started to wash away the denial he had had for so long. He never thought it was his place to be happy, but in that moment, watching the colour drain from Naruto's face, Sasuke knew he had made a huge mistake. Perhaps doing things on his own wasn't the way to create a better world after all...

Sasuke let the tears stain his face. He brought his right arm across his body, flinching at the pain the coursed rapidly through his entire being, and gently, softly, with delicate control only an Uchiha could do, touched the back of his fingers against Naruto's scarred cheek.

"I see now, Naruto," Sasuke coarsely whispered, "show me the way."

 

 


 

 

Drip... Drip... Drip... Drip...

Naruto groaned softly and pinched his eyebrows together. His body felt like it was completely broken and even thinking about moving made him hurt. He opened his eyes halfway and parted his cracked lips. A soft pink and orange glow engulfed the sky above him. 

"Where are we." he whispered, his dry mouth and throat feeling grainy and unnatural as he spoke, "Don't tell me this is really heaven this time."

"Looks like we fell asleep and slept until morning." Sasuke said from beside him where he smiled and closed his eyes, "We've failed to die again."

Naruto turned his head to face him, mouth hanging slightly open. What. Was Sasuke making jokes now? Naruto tried to sit up to look him more directly in the face, the disbelief evident on his own, when his body ached like he had been stabbed from head to toe and he stopped struggling.

"Damn it! I still can't move!" Naruto said roughly, his eyes narrowing and watching Sasuke, "I was hoping to punch you hard and make you finally open your eyes!"

Then the most unexpected thing Naruto thought could happen, happened. Sasuke chuckled. Just lightly at first, before laughing loudly and freely with a smile on his face.

"Eh?" Naruto was beyond confused. Where did the cold, expressionless Sasuke go? Who was this man? "W-what is it?"

Sasuke looked at Naruto out of the corner of his eye and smiled, his midnight black eyes devoid of their usual coldness and instead full of light and life. 

"We're messed up like this and you still wanna fight?" Sasuke teased.

Was Sasuke underestimating him again? Even when they were dying here by each other's hands.

"Damn right! No matter how many times it takes-"

"I admit it." Sasuke cut him off.

He paused and Naruto watched him curiously, waiting.

"I've..." a wide smile crept onto his face his black eyes watching the drifting cloud above them, "lost."

Naruto's eyes went wide and he shifted himself up slightly to look down into Sasuke's face.

"You idiot!" Naruto yelled. Sasuke flinched back before tilting his head. "This fight isn't about winning or losing! It's about punching a sulking friend, to make him snap out of it! That's what it's about! The real match that I want, comes after that!"

Naruto watched Sasuke blink slowly.

"Hey, Naruto..." said Sasuke calmly.

"EH?"

"I just... acknowledged you."

Naruto's eyes widened as he waited for Sasuke to finish.

"If I die here, the long cycle of destiny the Sage of Six Paths mentioned will probably end as well. This is... kind of a revolution too." Sasuke closed his eyes, "You can release the Infinite Tsukuyomi after I'm dead, by transplanting my Rinnegan into Kakashi or someone else." Naruto felt himself tense and his eyes grew soft, "I'll put an end to myself."

"By dying? Don't think dying will settle this," Naruto spoke slowly watching Sasuke attentively, "if you're willing to die, then live and help me instead. What I want to do is to make all shinobi cooperate with each other. And that includes you."

Sasuke turned his head, a heavy sadness filling his deep black eyes.

"Just because you want that, doesn't mean others will agree to it."

"Damn it! If you keep whining and sulking, I'll slug you again!"

"Th-there's no guarantee I won't stand against you again-"

"Then I'll stop you again! Besides," Naruto narrowed his eyes, "I know you're not going to do that kinda thing anymore."

Sasuke stared at him for what felt like forever, before his smooth voice came out in a whisper, "how can you be so sure?"

"Don't make me repeat myself!" Naruto closed his eyes and faced towards the sky again. "Haven't you figured it out yet? Now that I think about it... you were always pretty stupid too..." he teased.

He opened one eye to watch Sasuke for a response, when he saw tears streaming down the raven's face and his eyes opened wide. Sasuke rolled his head so his face was obscured.

"Shut up... loser..." a smile evident in his voice. Naruto smiled, and laughed heartily.

 

 


 

 

It was late afternoon by the time Sakura and Kakashi found them. Kakashi inspected the damage from their battle while Sakura leapt to their aid and began healing their severed arms, stopping most of the heavy blood flow. The great lake that fed into a waterfall dividing the two giant stone statues had been reduced to craters and rubble. Two nearby mountains had been broken apart and the scattered remains decorated the landscape with boulders the size of trees. The lake had grown bigger due to the craters filling with water around the edges and the waterfall had become only a small trickle of water between the collapsed statues of Hashirama Senju and Madara Uchiha. There on the rubble of the statues lay Naruto and Sasuke, a thick line of dark crimson blood coming off of both of them that travelled off the rock and out of sight. Kakashi winced in pain from his injuries still not cared for from the Great War that only ended days before. He knew he was going to get scolded when he returned home. Kakashi sighed.

He watched as Naruto slowly got to his feet and staggered, only to be caught by Sasuke who also stumbled and fell back on the ground. Naruto laughed from above him and offered a hand down to help Sasuke up, who smiled and accepted it.  Kakashi could see that Sasuke was out of the darkness now, and it was because of Naruto. Sakura cried and wiped the tears from her eyes as she told them to sit down while she finished treating their injuries. Kakashi squatted up high on the cliff and watched his old Squad 7 with love and interest.

Kakashi knew Sasuke's true feelings for Naruto had never left him. Even through everything that had happened between them. He was briefly reminded of Obito dying in his arms only days before, knowing the pain of losing someone you care for, and knew the pain would have destroyed both Naruto and Sasuke if either had died. Even if Naruto's too dense to truly understand what his feelings really mean. Kakashi smiled to himself and watched on fondly.

Sasuke and Naruto stood and talked shortly before lining up beside each other and creating the hand sign for "rat", releasing the world from the Infinite Tsukuyomi and finally, finally bringing peace back to the shinobi world.