Nobody heard him, the dead man
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
He had cut it dangerously close. Two years and eight months wasn't enough time for him to learn everything that Orochimaru had been willing to teach him, but Sasuke knew if he had waited any longer to leave, the security would have been almost impossible to break through, even for him.
I learned enough, he told himself, he's no more use to me. I can get even stronger somewhere else.
Except it wasn't enough, and he knew it--sometimes he thought that, for fighting Itachi, nothing he learned would ever be enough--but he'd gained all the power he could while still being him.
Sasuke was more focused on getting away from the Hidden Sound village than he was on going anywhere. He didn't notice he was in the forest surrounding Konoha until he was only a few dozen meters from the walls.
When he did notice, his first instinct was to stop right there, turn, and head to the Wind country, or the Water country, or any other country so long as he was out of Fire and it wasn't the place he'd come from.
The stupidest mistake, he decided later, was that he had rested on a branch to debate where he should go, instead of just moving and deciding based on the direction he wound up in. But he'd been running for a long time, and he hadn't eaten since a perfunctory breakfast that morning, and he didn't sense any other chakra or people around him, and he was camouflaging his own chakra, and he was tired. It had been perfectly reasonable to just stop for a minute.
So maybe the stupidest mistake wasn't that he had rested, but that he had rested for more than a minute. More than several minutes. More than long enough for Naruto to find him.
He hadn't sensed any people near him, let alone Naruto's distinctive chakra; so when he heard the quiet, almost disbelieving "Sasuke?" at his back, he reflexively jumped out of the tree to improve his position before he even realized who spoke.
Naruto followed him, but Sasuke managed to turn around before he hit the ground.
He expected a fight--over the last two years and eight months, almost all his training had been fighting with almost his life on the line--but Naruto just stood there and stared.
The shadows from the trees concealed them both, so he could only see a few basic changes. Naruto had grown taller, like he had. Sasuke couldn't see his features.
When the seconds dragged on with only the leaves rustling and Naruto staring at him with an expression Sasuke couldn't see because of the shadows, he had to resist the urge to fold his arms and glare.
". . . We were coming to get you, you know," Naruto finally said.
"I didn't want to be 'got'," Sasuke replied.
He could see Naruto bristle, and expected the blond to yell something along the lines of him being a stupid idiot, waited for the chance to use his distraction to get away--but then another second passed, and Naruto just sighed.
"Did you decide to come back, then?"
Sasuke didn't answer, and this time Naruto did mutter "Idiot."
The other boy's face had dipped towards the ground, just slightly, when he said that; and Sasuke tensed.
Naruto noticed. "Hey!" he snapped. "Stop fucking running away! Where's it getting you, huh?"
"Shut up, dumbass," Sasuke replied. "It shouldn't matter to you anymore."
Naruto's hands clenched into fists at that, and he stormed forward; but he stopped when he was still within the shadows of the trees. "Idiot, idiot, you fucking idiot! Do you think we just stopped caring about--did you think we didn't have--dammit, Sasuke, why'd you come back if you weren't coming back!"
"I was just going by," Sasuke said, realizing how absurd the words sounded even as he spoke them. "I didn't come back."
Naruto glared at him, he glared back, and the leaves rustled. Sasuke noticed without understanding that Naruto took a step to the side when the wind blew hard enough to move the branches overhead.
"The whole damn Sound village is probably after you," Naruto finally said, and his voice had quieted down again. Sasuke realized that even when Naruto had been yelling at him, he hadn't been near as loud as he remembered.
No shit, he thought to himself. "Probably."
Naruto was still half-hidden underneath the shadows, and Sasuke had a sudden, abrupt suspicion that this was an illusion he'd been caught in, and if he didn't run now then in another minute Kabuto and probably Orochimaru himself were going to have caught him; and then he would never get the chance to kill Itachi with his own hands and his own mind.
"Are you gonna sleep in the trees?" Naruto demanded before Sasuke's hand could go for his shurikans. "Jerk, are you just gonna let them catch you because you're afraid to come home?"
"I'm not going to sleep in the trees, dumbass." Naruto had a point. "And I'm not afraid to go 'home'. I don't want to. They're different things."
"You total. . . ." Naruto seemed to have satisfactorily decided that after three years Sasuke was still an idiot, so he didn't bother to finish. "You're going to have to rest." But he couldn't resist another dig. "And it might as well be here--we want you back for good reasons."
Sasuke made an annoyed noise, which Naruto ignored. The blond scratched the back of his head. "You should . . . you better at least sleep at my--no, the anbu would see you. . . . Shit. Maybe Saku--no, that. . . ."
Sasuke frowned and interrupted Naruto's rambling. "Why would the anbu catch me coming back to your apartment? Did you start vandalizing stuff again?"
He'd expected the other boy to sneer or yell or something, but instead Naruto went very, very still.
The situation was getting more surreal; if this was an illusion, it was a bad one. Sasuke slipped out two shurikan and held them between his knuckles, the weight giving him a fraction of comfort.
But he kept standing there, watching Naruto shift back and forth on his feet and listening to the leaves. The forest had never sounded so loud before--Sasuke wondered how long it had been since he was really surrounded by trees for extended periods of time.
Then Naruto stepped out of the shadows and into the faded light of the half moon.
Weird, was Sasuke's first thought, since the moon wasn't angled right to be throwing shadows over Naruto's cheeks like that.
Then he realized that those weren't shadows, and the hand holding the shurikans tightened and prepared to throw them, only this was wrong because he hadn't even felt Naruto's presence, let alone that chakra, the one that was bitter and felt like aluminum between his teeth and what the hell was going on!
Naruto watched Sasuke reflexively slip into a defensive position, and the corner of his mouth quirked in a sad smile. It wasn't enough for Sasuke to see his teeth, and it was still too dark to see the other boy's eyes or hands, but those scars. . . .
Naruto slipped his hands into his pockets, the complete lack of defense in his position a contrast to Sasuke's own tense one, and looked away fully this time.
"Tsunade said I probably relied on the fox demon's chakra too much. They didn't know this was going to happen, or. . . . Man, you shoulda heard her cuss out that pervert sennin!" Naruto briefly grinned and scratched the back of his head. "I didn't know some of those words!"
The hand fell back down and the smile disappeared, but Sasuke had seen the new sharpness in his incisors. "So I'm not allowed to use it in my jutsus anymore, and now I have to wear this stupid ward thing so that my chakra doesn't freak out all the villagers and stuff."
Sasuke realized that his hand had dropped at some point, and he slipped the shurikan back into their pouch.
Naruto looked up at the moon. When Sasuke didn't say anything, he burst out, "I'm still me. I'm not running around tearing buildings down or trying to eat people, but . . . most of them get nervous if they don't see an anbu around me."
". . . Why are you here?"
"I sensed you," Naruto replied simply. "I wasn't gonna let you just run off again. Jerk."
"Why are you still here?"
He got a glare for that, and then Naruto crouched down, looking away at the nearby tree trunks and absently stirring a few dead leaves.
"This is my home," he replied, quietly, violently. "I don't want to leave. Besides, how'm I supposed to be Hokage if I'm not here?"
If this was an illusion, it was completely wrong and completely right at the same time; and it had caught him. Sasuke snorted. "You're still going on about that?"
When Naruto glared up at him this time, there was something in the tilt of his head, in the way he was still crouching on the ground, in the marks on his face that had spread from single lines to several, that unsettled him. Sasuke could understand the villagers' fear.
"Do you still think you're more special than me, Sasuke?" Naruto asked in a low voice.
Sasuke stared down at him and took the challenge. "Yeah."
They only fought with fists and weapons, since Naruto had to be careful about not wasting all his chakra these days and Sasuke's fire jutsus would have been a bad idea in the middle of a forest. They had a silent agreement not to use chidori or rasengan.
Sasuke had already seen Naruto unconscious and half-dead from the chidori. It had shown up in his dreams sometimes, even. Once had been enough. He didn't want to see it again.
The fight eventually attracted the attention of the village shinobi.
When the forest began to swarm with anbu and a few jounin, Sasuke disappeared from view. Instead of leaving, though, he balanced on a branch several dozen meters away from where Naruto and Kakashi were talking--if that was the right term, since now Naruto was yelling vehemently--and lingered.
It was stupid; he knew that. Even if they didn't pick up on his presence, the blood could give him away.
Naruto's nails were sharper than they used to be, and when he'd flipped Sasuke over his back, they'd cut deep into his skin. The blood ran down in little trails along his arm, every once in a while dripping from his fingers.
"Sasuke!" Naruto bellowed, pulling away from the anbu around him and facing the direction the other teenager run in. "Get back here! I'M NOT DONE KICKING YOUR ASS!"
Idiot, Sasuke thought, watching Kakashi motion away the anbu behind Naruto's back.
Kakashi put a hand on Naruto's shoulder and said something. The blond had clenched his hands into fists, and he glared down at the ground. Sasuke couldn't see from so far away, but he could imagine the blond shaking with frustration.
Then Naruto jerked away, turned, and flew--not ran, it was too fast to be running, and Sasuke had doubts whether his feet actually touched the ground for more than .03 seconds per jump--back to Konoha, the anbu chasing after him a split-second later.
Kakashi remained once they were gone, staring into the forest in the direction that Naruto had been yelling.
Seeing the man stay there, obviously believing Naruto even if the anbu had thought he was making excuses, looking for him after three years, the thing inside him that he'd managed to keep together during all the time he'd been talking and fighting with Naruto broke. Sasuke turned and fled through the forest, in the opposite direction from the village, forgetting stealth in the need to just leave.
He felt Kakashi spot his presence and begin to chase after him, but he had a head start and he was faster. Not as fast as Naruto, Naruto who was losing whatever humanity he had the same way Sasuke had lost his, but he was still faster than Kakashi. Even when he couldn't sense the man's chakra at all, he kept moving.
Sasuke didn't stop running until his legs nearly collapsed underneath him. Where he was, what country he was in now, whether he had gotten farther from or accidentally closer to the Sound village, he didn't know. All he knew was that Konoha was far, far behind him.
It never felt like far enough.
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