Title: A Squid Boat
Genres: Friendship, Drama, Romance
Summary: In a fit of frustration and loneliness, Naruto runs away, and subsequently meets someone he wasn't supposed to for a long while... ItaNaruSasu
Sakura Haruno was not without a heart.
Though she often claimed to, the pinkette didn't actively hate Naruto—couldn't, really, because for all the time that she had known him, he had honestly been very sweet to her. And though she didn't always practice what she preached, Sakura did indeed believe in fairness... so when Sasuke had said what he'd said and when Kakashi as usual said nothing and she herself had seen the glistening tears welling up in Naruto's eyes, she got angry.
"You made him cry." she says quietly, seething under a girlish and delicate head of bubblegum pink.
Sasuke looks at her (as he always does) like an insect to be crushed under his foot.
He scoffs, then turns away, muttering something about how Naruto never cried.
'But, that's not true.' she wants to say, but doesn't. 'I just saw him!'
"Sasuke-kun." she presses.
Now she is the one left feeling as if she wants to cry. It is a combination of both her cheery blond teammate's absence, and the effect of being so stubbornly ignored by someone whom she honestly treasured...
Sakura wonders if this is how Naruto feels all the time.
A pang of guilt stabs through her heart.
"Sasuke-kun," she says again, almost pleadingly. "You have to say sorry."
"Why don't you shut up?" he responds coldly. "I don't know what the hell I should be sorry for. Not my fault if the dobe decides to run away for no good reason."
"Now kids," Kakashi drawls. "Settle down now. We need to find Naruto and finish this mission. We're off-schedule enough as it is."
The kunoichi notes that her mentor does not back her up, nor reprimand Sasuke for his callous behavior.
'Why,' she thinks frustratedly. 'Does he always have to be so damn neutral?'
Couldn't he yell, just this once?
Couldn't he put them in their place, just this once?
Sakura had a lingering suspicion that if Kakashi were ever to become a father; he'd be the type to let his child cry itself out instead of going over to comfort the young infant himself...
Now that she thought about it, didn't he do the same thing to her and her teammates all the time? Never really scolding them, never really yelling at them... he always just let them bicker things out amongst themselves until they all gave up out of either pure exasperation or incurable resentment towards one another. Before, she would have thought herself lucky to have landed such a laid-back sensei, but now...
She wasn't too sure.
This grunt work was just too much. Too many missions and meaningless tasks: like finding that damn daimyo's wife's cat for the hundredth time that week. They didn't train enough, they didn't work on teamwork enough—or team morale... heck, Naruto was their team morale. And if she, a mere lowly genin, could see it, then why couldn't the jounin?
She hadn't realized it until now, but if Kakashi didn't do something soon, then their team would rapidly start to splinter. Whether it be in the training field, or in battle...
'...or on a D-ranked mission.'
Something was bound to fail and spiral into disaster.
(She had a bad feeling that something already had)
"Can't we go a bit faster?" asks Sakura, despite panting already as they jump from tree to tree.
Kakashi doesn't even spare her a single glance, nose still buried within his precious Icha Icha Paradise.
"Are you sure you want to do that?" he asks in return. "Can you honestly catch up if we do?"
Sakura would like to think that he is showing some concern for her physical well-being. But the passive way in which he responds to her just makes her feel as if he is bored with the question; the situation in general.
'Sasuke was right.' she thinks. 'Naruto never cries. And that's why this is so serious...we have to go faster!'
"Yes!" she says determinedly.
Sasuke, right next to her, takes the affirmative and pushes roughly straight ahead: fine, stray bits of dry leaves and tree bark hitting her face as he leaves her behind. Kakashi matches his pace. Sakura herself struggles to keep up, as predicted.
"Are you worried about him?" asks Kakashi, a hint of amusement tinting the edge of his voice.
She envies the way that he can read and travel at the same time.
"Of course!" she exclaims, a light, rosy color appearing on the apples of her cheeks in righteous irritation. "Aren't you?"
"I'm leading the chase, aren't I?"
He had deflected the question. Sakura feels her faith in him drop even further.
"...how 'bout you, Sasuke?"
He was playing with them as if they were pets.
Sakura closes her eyes and continues to follow Kakashi anyway, hoping that they all found Naruto again soon... so she that wouldn't have to think about these type of things any longer.
"...how 'bout you, Sasuke?"
What kind of question was that? How the hell was he supposed to feel? He felt nothing. And why should he have felt anything other than that...?
The dobe was just being stupid, as usual, and now they were going out of their way to retrieve him again. Simple as that. It was annoying and unnecessary and Sasuke honestly thought that Naruto knew exactly how much trouble he was being...
Then again, didn't he always?
The little idiot just loved pulling pranks. Getting into trouble, getting people to recognize him by screaming: 'I'M HERE! AND I'M HERE TO MESS UP ALL YOUR SHIT, AND RUIN YOUR DAY!' because contrary to what Kakashi had said earlier, Naruto was the one leading the chase. Naruto was the one leaving them dangling after him as he ran off to who-knows-where...
Naruto was the one steadily leaving him behind.
Sakura had whispered to him recently that Naruto had emitted some sort of strange, terrifying energy before bursting Haku out of his ice prison and nearly beating him to death—the only reason that he hadn't, really, was because Haku had chosen to use his last vestiges of strength and desperation to escape his grasp, and go defend his master. Naruto had been robbed of his first kill simply because of a mere fluke of luck on Haku's part.
Kakashi also had informed them all recently, in a cheery and sort of jilting way, that the citizens they had saved had decided to name the bridge they were building The Great Naruto Bridge.
Naruto had a couple new things to brag about now, and Sasuke had nothing.
After the mission at Wave, things between him and Naruto had somehow gotten a bit more strained. Maybe the other two people in his team (Kakashi, Sakura...) didn't really notice, but he and the blonde boy definitely felt it.
Sasuke didn't hate him though—oh, no. Far from it. Maybe he resented him just a little, envied the way that he so easily stretched his lips into more than a smirk (an all-out smile: sunny as day and blinding as the sun itself) and made friends and made the impossible possible, but...
That was beside the point.
What he really felt was fear at the fact that he had put himself out on a limb and almost died protecting the dobe—and for what?
Sasuke didn't need friendship.
Because friendship...was not enough to kill that man.
He knew that. So once they got back, he closed off his heart; then made his best efforts to catch Naruto's honest attempts at conversation and hurl them straight back like spears.
Sometimes that hurt him too, though. Seeing that brief, injured look on Naruto's face before it warped quickly into that of anger made him feel absolutely deplorable more often than not. But it was necessary.
'I risked my life...even though I should have protected it.'
That was the issue.
And what if it happened again?
When he met his parents in heaven once more...what would he say to them?
''I'm sorry I failed you, mother, father. But I had to save my friend. I had to save that stupid dobe.'
'And what of us?' he could imagine them respond sorrowfully. His mother would caress his face gently as she had in life, her eyes regretful. His father would stand off to the side, close to his mother, and glance at him as if he were the biggest disappointment in the world.
(Next to that man, of course, who had stolen even that honor when he had stolen both of their lives)
'You couldn't save us, so the least you could have done was avenge our memory. It's not enough to remember...'
It hurt so much to remember.
"...Sasuke?" Kakashi asks, again. "Now, don't you feel worried for your teammate at all?"
The younger Uchiha resists the urge to tell him to shut up and stop teasing him. Despite his constant irritation at the perverted jounin's antics, however, Sasuke still held a grudging respect for the gray-haired shinobi. Kakashi was still their sensei. He could still help him reach his goal. And after seeing the power of Kakashi's lone sharingan...he had hope that the man could help him strengthen his own newly-acquired ones.
"No." he says bluntly. "We'll find him soon."
"We better!" Sakura pipes up, trying hard not to sound out-of-breath. "But he ran...pretty far."
"Not to worry." says Kakashi. "His chakra trail..."
Suddenly the jounin stops, then drops abruptly down from his current tree branch into a clearing in the forest.
His students drop in after him.
"What?" Sakura exclaims. Beads of sweat roll down her forehead as she trembles and looks as if she is about to faint.
"Naruto's gone." Kakashi says, stunned. He leans down and traces his gloved fingers over a flattened patch of green grass. "His chakra trail just...disappeared."
Sasuke feels his heart stop.
It never occurred to him that Naruto's backside that day might've been the last he'd ever see of him.
"Where are we going?" asks Naruto.
"To a traveler's town not too far from here." Itachi replies.
Naruto shifts his weight (because somewhere along the way, they had switched from holding hands to him being carried on the older boy's back) and rests his chin along the crook of Itachi's neck. His legs jostle a bit from over the Uchiha's firm grip as he continues to chatter.
"Because, you want to get away from your team for a bit, don't you?"
"Yeah. But not for long. It isn't too far, is it?"
There is some worry laced within his words.
Itachi chooses his own words carefully.
"Of course not. We should arrive soon. With you on my back; we will arrive even sooner."
"I can carry myself." Naruto says sullenly. "You didn't have to..."
"No, but your chakra trail will be covered by my jutsu so long as you are physically close to me."
"Holding hands isn't enough?"
Naruto is silent for a bit, then bursts into laughter. Itachi raises an elegant eyebrow.
"What's so funny?" he asks.
The jinchuuriki wipes a tear from his eyes and stretches his neck out a few more centimeters, to meet Itachi's casual side-gaze.
"That would've been funny, huh? Seeing two ninjas holding hands as they ran? Man, people would've thought we were totally gay!"
"Are you gay, Itachi-san?"
"Are you sure?"
"...why do you ask, Naruto-kun?"
"Because! You look like Sasuke!"
If possible, Itachi's eyebrow moves even higher.
"You look like Sasuke and Sasuke-teme looks like a girl." Naruto babbles. "I think that's why so many girls like him, actually, 'cos I read somewhere once that people are attracted to people like them." Here his voice lowered. "But...you know...I've never actually seen that teme spare any girl a second glance, not even once. So I think he's gay."
"So if you are a feminine-looking male, you are homosexual." Itachi muses, vaguely entertained by Naruto's nonsensical logic. "Do you think my little brother is pretty then, Naruto-kun?"
Naruto's voice goes up a couple octaves.
"Do you think I'm pretty, since I supposedly look like him, Naruto-kun?"
The blonde boy sputters, turning red.
Satisfied, Itachi turns his attention once again to the path ahead. The trees are getting sparse now, and steadily, more light is pouring in from the end.
They emerge from the forest a few minutes later, then begin on a dirt trail that leads over the horizon.
By the time they reach the small inn that Itachi and his partner had been staying at, the sky had turned dark completely.
Itachi had deposited Naruto on the ground before stepping foot into town, then sealed up his uniform Akatsuki cloak in a scroll for good measure before they walked into Shukuba. Naruto, never having been outside of Konohagakure before (aside from his stay in the Land of Waves...whose economy had been less-than-stellar at the time) seemed dazzled by the many different sights and sounds. Unlike the surroundings of his home village, Shukuba was essentially a pleasure town catering to the needs of tourists. Pretty women and pretty lights littered the streets as they made their way to the inn, and Naruto could not help but stare.
"Whoaa! This place is so cool! Look over there, Itachi-san! I think they're selling goldfish!"
"Don't you want a goldfish?"
"I sure want a goldfish!"
The blonde boy digs through his pockets enthusiastically: one eye closed and a bright pink tongue stuck out in concentration. His search comes up empty-handed.
"...hey hey, Itachi-san! Do you have an extra 100 yen?"
"Awww, c'mon! Don't be like that!" he whines.
"The fish will die in a few day's time anyway." Itachi replies. "It is a waste of money."
"Not if I take good care of it." Naruto sulks.
"No." he says again.
Minutes later, Itachi Uchiha will wonder why he gave in as he gazes as at a jubilant Naruto: bouncing up and down with his poor new goldfish swimming frantically in circles inside it's plastic baggie.
A/N: Again, please review! ^^