A/N: Hi! I've wrote fanfiction on a couple of accounts before, and I had some fans and stuff but I figured it's probably best to start afresh. This is going to be a pretty long story, and I think the first couple of chapters are going up today and tomorrow. It won't be miserable forever- promise!

Inspired by the song "The Last Leaf Falls" by Lucas King. He's an obscure piano composer on youtube, give him a listen!

Disclaimer: Well, yeah, I don't own Naruto or any of its characters. The plot, scenery... yeah, no.


The room was white. It was clean and new, relatively freshly built by a gasping Yamato. The chair he was sat on was a light turquoise, and he could not see the cushions on the doctor's chair for his white coat. He held a white clipboard, adorned with white paper clipped beneath a shimmering clip of metal. The tiles above his head were white, the walls painted the same; the desk was made of wood, the legs a lighter shade than the rest. The shelves bulged with paper, envelopes, folders- the desk was littered with them, in an haphazard yet organised manner.

The stern-looking lips were saying something, the man's features curled in a gentle look. A man he would have thought as sharp as his jaw, yet he had a kind look in his knotted eyebrows, a gentle curl to his lips. The doctor had brown hair.

"...Naruto-"

Ah, that was right. Everyone was on first-name basis with him now. That happens when you revive half the village with words alone. Everyone was friends with him now. They'd all recognised him, thrown up the 'gallant hero' in the air as a bright celebration. Recognition, kindness. Even this man, a man he had not spoken to nor seen prior to today, was on a first-name basis with the living legend himself, Uzumaki Naruto. Within the chest of every person in the village bloomed a flower of respect and admiration for him.

It irked him in a way he never thought it would; it made him itch at his own skin when they touched him with a familiarity he'd not seen in a stranger before. Smiles, waves, positive gossip, all directed at or about Naruto. Though he'd sought it with an unnatural vigour, now... now-

"I'm sorry." The voice of the kindly doctor cut through his thoughts. "Naruto, sir, do you understand what I've-"

"Aa." Naruto stared blankly past the man. The paint on the wall wasn't as consistent as it should've been, there; the vertical pattern of the wood was showing through. "I understand." He shot the man a bright, empty smile. For a short moment, all he saw in the man's eyes was a deep, profound pity. It made Naruto feel nauseous.

"Thanks, uh..."

"Nara," the doctor said. "Nara Daisuke."

Naruto recognised the surname, but nothing more. He nodded in gratitude. "Thanks, Daisuke-san. I'll be here the Thursday after next, so... 'til then." He was unsure what exactly he could possibly be thanking this man for.

The shinobi made for the door, eager to get out of that stifling environment, when a gentle voice stopped him.

"Naruto... listen. I have a feeling that... the predicted 2 years may reduce. There is the slim chance that it will go altogether, however..." ...I don't think that's the case, Naruto heard. He knew those were the words the civilian doctor did not want to say. I don't think that's the case. I think you're going to die. I don't think you'll become Hokage. I don't think you'll bring Sasuke home I don't think I don't think I don't think-

"That's fine." Naruto's voice had a clear bite that echoed throughout the room. He slammed the door, walking through a quiet reception. The receptionist stared. Naruto's fists clenched, feeling her shallow curiosity glaring through him.

Naruto walked. It was getting late, the sky a darker hue and the streets lit by the beautiful lanterns hung outside of the shops. It was a reddish yellow tinge that didn't quite meet to make a vibrant orange; the lights of closing shop doorways spilled onto the cobbles. The blond looked at the cobbles and the cobbles only. He dared not look up to meet the gazes of passers-by. He wasn't sure why. The only thing he could hear was the quiet, acute noise of his footsteps- an orderly sound, a rhythmic sound. A predictable sound.

Turning the corner at the outskirts of the village, he continued down a darkened alleyway. The stench of alcohol and urine became stronger the further he walked. He could hear laughing, the shrill giggles of intoxicated women as they poured out of bars with lecherous men gaping at their scantily clad figures. The clanking of glasses as they were knocked together, cleaned, filled with ice and stacked. Even this early in the evening, the bars were full. Naruto doubted he'd get much attention here.

The blond opened the door, not a single man turning to see who had come in. Everyone was engrossed in one another, a potential partner, or themselves. There was more than one free chair at the bar. Naruto walked slowly, shuffling himself quietly onto the barstool. The bartender looked kind enough, a rugged gentleness as he asked in a stereotypically rough voice what he wanted.

"Sake," Naruto said. "Any will do. Make it a double shot, please."

The man did not question his request. Naruto imagined he'd gotten stranger ones. He could imagine that being a bartender would bring about the more peculiar stories, and probably confessions too. Any man might make a confession of their unfaithfulness if they were drunk enough.

As soon as the man placed the shot down, Naruto downed it. That was what he needed, definitely what he needed. The smell - the taste! - was so incredibly bitter and strong, pure fire rolling down his throat and into his gut. He couldn't remember when he'd ate; Naruto imagined this would hit him hard. The harder the better, Naruto reasoned, and ordered another double-shot. This disappeared down his throat just as fast. He ordered another and did the same.

The world was beginning to sway, his balance completely off - oh God, I think it's hit me - and Naruto slumped forward, holding his head as he tried to think coherently. He looked up at the bartender to order another, but the man shook his head, coughing. "I can't serve any more to you. You're in a right state, son."

Naruto sighed heavily, his cheeks flush with alcohol as he gazed up at the assortment of liquor displayed above him. So many colours, he thought dazedly. Like the sky. In the morning, it's pink, in the day it's blue, at sunset it's a whole rainbow, then orange, then nearly black... the sky is the most colourful of things.

I wish Ero-sennin was here.

The bartender leaned one elbow on the bar, leaving the fist below his jaw. He looked Naruto in the eyes, a flicker of concern in his own. "Are you alright, Naruto? You're the legend of the village son, but you ain't lookin' so great. I'll speak not of your worries. It's certainly better than drinking like you're doin' now." What do you really care? Naruto thought bitterly.

"Just got shome bad newsh, ish all."

"Ah, we all get some occasionally," the bartender said, cleaning a glass absent mindedly. "I'm sure it'll all be fine."

No, it won't. It will never be okay. How can things ever be okay? "I... don't think sho," Naruto said, spinning a small sake shot cup with his finger. He had a bad feeling his speech was becoming as unclear as his eyesight, and he stood up only to stumble, grasping for the side of the bar.

"You alright getting home, son?"

Stop treating me special, goddammit.

"Yeah."

Don't fucking look at me like that.

Naruto stumbled out of the bar, his vision not exactly blurred more than his eyes unwilling to focus- his mind unwilling to think properly, to see. He stumbled, his hands groping for a handhold only to find the unsteady balance of a bin. The blond pulled himself up, glassy-eyed with the unfocused gaze of a drunk. He walked, slowly but surely down the alleyway, hopefully the way he'd come, and the sound of people faded. The streets were largely empty; hours had passed since he'd came. How long had he sat there, staring and daydreaming?

He looked up, and the sky was startlingly dark, and the stars startlingly bright. They were the sharp subtle mothbites in the black cloak of a God. A God that was not there, a God that could not be there. Not for Naruto.

Naruto found himself walking, walking along that path beside the pier, and he stopped. The water was still; there was little wind, and the boy stumbled down the steep side of the path as he tried to reach the pier. He almost fell, twisting his ankle with his clumsy attempt at getting down the path.

He walked and found himself standing on the pier. The planks had little distance between them, but the feeling that nagged at Naruto was that if he was not careful, he would fall between these planks, thin and pathetic and drowning in the stagnant, envelopingly dark waters below. The shinobi grabbed what was left of his conscious, rational thought and sat, slowly and carefully shuffling himself to the edge of the pier. He swung his legs over the edge. Once upon a time, Sasuke had sat in this very spot, a younger self skipping rocks over the water as Naruto gazed on from afar, feeling as though there was someone who shared his feelings of futility.

Now, Naruto's legs had grown so long that his shoes grazed the surface of the water. It was dark now, but the time was indiscernible. The tip of his foot disrupted everything, but Naruto could still see the astonishingly beautiful reflection of the cloudless night sky. It was complete darkness, yet the wondrous stars dazzled him, their tiny pinpricks of light bundling together to create a fantastic sky full of swirling patterns of astronomical immensity. Looking at it, Naruto could not help but feel very small.

The blond leaned back, gazing at the sky. It was so dark, so horrendously dark, and yet so undeniably blue. The black blue sky did nothing to ease the pain in his chest. Naruto did not want to die, not in the slightest. Nothing could ever ease or heal the horrendous pain that was throbbing, pulsing inside his chest. His dreams were gone, his aspirations, interests, everything about Naruto would soon be dead. It was little comfort that people would speak of him afterwards. He had no interest in being a legend. How would he fulfil Jiraiya's request, Nagato's request?

Sasuke, what would you do?

It was a pointless question, and Naruto laughed at himself, his clear laughter tinkling out on the open lake. He laughed, his laughter becoming yet more hysterical as he did so. Laughing, laughing, laughing, because Sasuke's answer would be no more helpful than his own. Sasuke wouldn't speak to him unless it was life or death, because the ebony-haired teenager harboured such a substantial hatred for Naruto that he wanted nothing more than to run him through with his chokuto. So why, why was Naruto asking him for help, like his pointless question would reach past nations anyway?

His laughter became choked by sobs, unwanted tears that poured out against his will. Fuck, fuck, fuck, Naruto chuckled to himself. Oh God, I'm dying.

I'm dying, Sasuke.


The crackling of fire was the only discernible noise.

Suigetsu shivered, glugging some water from a water bottle as he sorted through his belongings at the campside. He took out some cream, applying it to a large scab on his arm. He stared at Sasuke. He's especially quiet tonight. But not just Sasuke quiet, more like... a thoughtful quiet?

Suigetsu wiped the remaining antiseptic cream on his pants, shooting Sasuke a glance. He was deep in thought; Juugo and Karin were sleeping, but he'd not been able to sleep and it was probably the same for Sasuke. He's probably just brooding over the Hachibi's escape. He doesn't lose often... if at all.

He looked up. The sky was bright with starlight, the middle of the woods having no light pollution at all. Each star glistened and Suigetsu never failed to be impressed by how many there were; on a cloudless night like this, it was even easier to appreciate the simple beauty. He looked at Sasuke. For a moment, he could have sworn Sasuke's gaze was turned to the sky as well.

"Na, Sasuke."

He gave no inkling that he'd heard.

"Why did you abandon Konoha in the first place?"

Suigetsu felt he'd hit a nerve, because there was a subtle change in Sasuke's gaze, in his posture. Maybe he'd hit on his thoughts right then. It wasn't like
Suigetsu could read what the change meant, but any change in emotion was something out of the ordinary for Sasuke.

"For power."

"Yeah, yeah, I got that, but..." Suigetsu paused, taking a moment to make sure he phrased his words right. Being at the end of Sasuke's sword was never all too fun. "I mean, didn't you have... I dunno, a team? A sensei? Since you had previous training to be a ninja and all..."

Sasuke did not respond, but Suigetsu felt his sharp, unyielding gaze boring through him. He bit back the urge to tell him to calm down. It'll probably get me killed... I shouldn't have asked.

"Yeah, sorry, I shouldn'ta-"

"I did."

That was the most information Suigetsu thought he'd ever get from Sasuke regarding his previous life. Of course, Suigetsu was aware of Sasuke's defection from Konoha to Oto, to Orochimaru more specifically- he was aware Sasuke had exceptional skill, a single Uchiha remaining after the massacre perpetrated by his brother. Sasuke had sought revenge, until... Itachi had been innocent after all. But Suigetsu knew there must have been friends, been a team or... some sort of bond tying him back to Konoha. Either way, it hadn't held him back. He'd severed that bond, and now he was here.

Yet, Suigetsu couldn't help but ask.

"I'm guessing you just cut all ties with them, then."

Suigetsu had, after all, heard about that incident in one of Orochimaru's hideouts, where supposedly Sasuke had been confronted by old bonds from Konoha. Sasuke had been quick to anger, apparently - something he had not seen from him since he had battled with Itachi - until Orochimaru had resolved the situation by taking Sasuke and escaping with him.

Sasuke leaned back, black hair sliding off his face as he gazed up at the sky. His expression was hard to interpret, though Suigetsu guessed that he was reminiscing. He couldn't help but note how peculiar an occasion this must be for Sasuke to openly think about his past.

"I had no choice." Sasuke's voice was cold, though Suigetsu had not expected that response- it was as though he'd once appreciated his old team... or sensei. Whoever. "He was just an idiot anyway."

Suigetsu hadn't expected such an oddly affectionate name to be used when thinking about his ties back to Konoha. He tried to imagine a younger Sasuke, spending time with people of his own volition, but found that his imagination was not extensive enough.

"I will destroy Konoha," Sasuke said. "and with it, I will destroy him."

He couldn't find the words in him to respond to such a cold, concrete statement, but could not help but think that if only Madara hadn't told him the truth of his brother's past, Sasuke might have decided to return to his homeland.

It was a shame, Suigetsu decided, as the heat of the campfire distorted the night sky.


The morning came like no other, Naruto waking up in his house after stumbling back the night before. His ankle still hurt, and now his head did. After making a couple of pathetic groans, he rolled out of bed, crawling through the clothes he'd discarded onto his floor to reach the bathroom.

It was white.

The hangover hit him abruptly and he vomited violently into the toilet, the odour strong in his nose. It made his headache yet worse, as he coughed up the last strands of bile. He hadn't eaten, after all.

Oh God. Oh...

Knock. Knock."Naruto?"

Ah, that was Sakura. He stood up, flushing the toilet, before pouring some mouthwash into the lid and rinsing his mouth of the acidic stench it surely had. It wouldn't do to have her worrying... nagging him all day about the dangers of heavy drinking. She'd understand if he told her why... but he couldn't. Not now.

"Naruto, I know you're in there!" More incessant pounding on the door.

"Aa, just a second, Sakura-chan." His voice came out as a disused croak, and he coughed, hitting his chest with his fist to get rid of the miserable tone. He realised he only had a pair of pyjama pants on, but did not dwell on it. She, uh... should be fine with it?

He walked out into the hall and opened the door to meet with a displeased Sakura.

"Naruto! Put a top on or something!"

The blond laughed, a brash smile on his face as he rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, I only really just woke up, and it was hot, so..."

Sakura's features turned gentler as her eyes seemed to analyse him briefly. "Naruto, are you feeling alright? You look bad." Thanks.

Naruto laughed, the same, false laugh that came with all things he'd lied about in his childhood. Really, it sounded the same as his real one anyway. "I'm okay, Sakura-chan! Just a bit..."

Her features turned stern, aquamarine eyes contorting in mild annoyance. "A hangover, isn't it? I can smell the alcohol on you, Naruto."

Naruto's face fell into a guilty expression before he'd had the mind to change it. Sakura shook her head, her pink hair softly chafing the side of her face.

"Come on, Naruto. Well, we have a mission-"

"Eh!?"

"-for tomorrow," Sakura finished. "It's probably something like collecting supplies from neighbouring towns, but still. You can't afford to be sick for it, so stay out of the bars tonight, at least." She turned her nose up, clearly unhappy with his behaviour. Like a mother would be. The concern still felt unfamiliar after all these years.

Naruto laughed gratefully. "Aa. I promise, Sakura-chan! I just... had a bad day yesterday."

She nodded, in an understanding that Naruto would never have been able to muster himself. "Whatever you say, Naruto," she said, eyes gazing elsewhere.

They turned to meet his gaze quickly, however, and she crossed her arms and leaned on one leg. "Well, go get ready. We have to go for a mission debriefing in an hour or so, and it never hurts to be early."

"Ah! Uh, okay. Come sit down a sec, I'll only be a minute."

She nodded, smiling, walking in and going into the living room like it was her own home. The rosette settled down on his couch, putting her feet on his coffee table. She gazed outside, gazing through the blinds at the strangers walking past. She looked around the house. It was not lavish by any standards, though it was better than the apartment Naruto'd had before. Being a hero, she supposed, had it's benefits.

Naruto poked his head through the space between the door and the wall. "You don't mind if I get a quick shower, do you? I'll only be like 10 minutes, but I guess I really do smell of sake."

"It's fine. We're early anyway."

Naruto shot her one of those brilliant smiles. "Thanks, Sakura-chan! Help yourself to food and stuff. I won't be long."

She waited until she heard the bathroom door shut, and then the sound of running water. Sakura walked out of the living room and into Naruto's bedroom.

As she pushed the door open, she was surprised at the cleanliness. Apart from the clothes he had presumably thrown to the side in a drunken stupor, the room was relatively spotless, either out of his change in habits or inability to have messed it up in the time he'd lived here. Sakura reminded herself that she hadn't come to snoop.

On his bedside table would normally reside the picture of their team. Sakura had mindlessly, stupidly hoped that it would be somehow salvaged even with the destruction of the village. That Naruto had went through the wreckage and found it. It was a foolish idea, a foolish want, and Sakura had known this but all the same hoped that it would be here. That she could see Sasuke on it again, could see Sasuke glaring angrily at Naruto in a rivalry that was now an instinct to kill.

Team 7. The three-man-cell. It made her heart ache to think of those whimsical, those pathetic attempts to make Sasuke stay. He'd thanked her, he'd thanked her for what? Being his teammate, for trying, for what? She didn't know, she still couldn't understand those words, and it angered her to an extent she hated to admit, it made her fists clench so hard her knuckles turned white.

She looked at Naruto's bedside table, and pulled out the drawer beneath the tabletop. In there lay one possession only: Sasuke's hitai-ate.

Shakily, she picked it up by the blue material, the metal glinting in the small beams of sunlight that peered through Naruto's curtains.

Sakura had no idea how Naruto had attained this hitai-ate, but could only assume that Sasuke had left it behind, with this mark- perhaps to tell Naruto without any words at all, that he did not plan on returning. That Konoha was no longer his home. Now, to Sasuke, it seemed as though it never had been.

Tears fell unwillingly from her eyes. They poured, dripping down onto the metal itself. She felt the scar through the metal with her finger, the metal that curled to the sides of the wound. It was as sharp as it had ever been. Sakura knew that he probably did not touch it often, in hopes that maybe Sasuke would wear it again.

The hope made her heart ache, made her head ache, for she knew not Sasuke's plans- but she knew killing Naruto was certainly one of them.

Sakura remembered with a heart-breaking clarity, how small they had been. They were short kids, Naruto and her still had chubby faces- even Sasuke's face had lengthened out over time. They were short, they were naive. They were children and nothing more, and yet she had pathetically confessed to Sasuke, begged him to take her somewhere with him, to take her on. Her words were, "everyday will be fun", and as she looked back, she felt like laughing. Sakura had not fully understood what Sasuke was trying to do, what Sasuke was leaving to do - fun and all of it's aspects had nothing to do with Sasuke's choice.

Sasuke was not leaving to have fun. Sasuke was leaving to kill his brother, and die in the process. To cleanse the "Uchiha".

Oh, how Sakura lamented about that boy. The kunoichi knew now that the Uchiha were far from innocent victims - they were at odds with the government, planning a coup d'etat. What did Sasuke think he was fighting for?

She clutched the hitai-ate close to her chest, the coldness of the metal making its way through the shirt and making the flesh above her heart feel cold and clammy. Sakura wished she'd understood Sasuke's thoughts. Even with all her textbook knowledge as a child, she had never been able to comprehend him. What boy would not tirelessly seek revenge for the death of his whole family? A pointless, menial death? Sakura was unsure of Itachi's role in it, but she was well aware that Itachi was indeed dead, by Sasuke's hands, no less.

It was a horrible feeling, to be helpless. Whereas Sasuke and Naruto strode ahead, their gazes captured by one another, their competitiveness and rivalry consuming them until the very end, Sakura felt as though she was drowning in the ocean they had rose above. Though she had promised to change that and become strong, Sakura had done nothing but watch their backs.

Tsunade had warned her that often a medic would have to stand back, healing others, unable to go to the front lines and defend those she loved. Though Sakura knew her work was of an irreplaceable quality and necessity, as she healed those dying she wanted nothing more than to save those she loved.
The feeling of helplessness, of love for those that were risking their lives for her, was one that consumed her like a flame licking at her insides. Thought it was her job, Sakura never resigned to the knowledge that she would spend forever watching the backs of those she adored.

I wish I understood you, Sasuke. Her grip on the hitai-ate tightened. There are so many things I need to say to you, but...

"Sa... Sakura-chan? Are you alright?"

And there Naruto was, glistening with water, with only his pants on again. He was still dripping with water and yet when he wrapped his arms around Sakura, she did nothing, only letting the tears fall faster. She looked up at him, vision blurred and unclear, yet amidst all the refraction she saw his eyes, deep blue eyes filled with concern meeting her own.

"Do you," she said, catching her breath, "do you think Sasuke... really wants to kill us?" To kill you?

Naruto did not keep her gaze any longer, bringing her to his chest. She should have taken it as an action of comfort, but Sakura knew better; for Naruto to break that concentrated sharp gaze was a sign of uncertainty, something that rattled Sakura far more than it should have. For Naruto's resolve to be uncertain, she knew that Sasuke must indeed have a deep intent to kill Naruto, to kill her, to kill off Team 7 and its every remnant. The tears fell faster, and she let out a sob, a crack of her breath that sounded so shrill and desperate that she almost felt sorry for herself.

"Sakura-chan, I..." She looked up at him, but he was staring elsewhere, focused on an ethereal shadow of thought. Sakura did not want to hear the truth from Naruto's lips, though she doubted she would.

"Even if he does," he said, smiling at her- the words made her cringe, but he didn't react -"I'll break his legs and drag him home before he has the chance."

She smiled at him through the tears, the curve of her cheeks making the salty warm tears drip into her mouth. Though Sakura may have whined and moaned, she knew in all actuality that Naruto had it worse. What Sakura had not seen that day would have hurt the most, she was sure- and for Naruto to carry on searching for him, carry on adoring him like he did, Sakura was sure he had the strongest, most brilliant resolve there was.

So, she supposed, she couldn't help but smile, because Naruto was her friend, and Naruto was one of the most fantastic legends that had ever lived. Though brash and uneducated, his words of kindness and dedication tided over everyone he spoke to.

That was the day Sakura let go of Sasuke.


"Also, Naruto... I want to speak to you a moment."

Sakura didn't fail to hide her curiosity. Nothing could describe the relief she'd felt when Tsunade had awoken - every moment she saw her shishou drinking, avoiding paperwork or tapping her nails as per usual, she considered a moment she was blessed to have.

So, when Tsunade gave her an encouraging, kind and warm smile, Sakura felt her heart flutter with sheer happiness. Her shishou nodded at her, and Sakura understood immediately, leaving the room with the utmost trust in her teacher that if she were not permitted to hear it, it was entirely confidential.

She left without protest.

Naruto looked at the hokage. Her eyes were soft and quiet, and all of a sudden he knew that she knew. Her eyes welled up with tears as she stood up, leaning forward and encapsulating him in a hug. Her buxom chest crushed him, as did her crushingly strong arms. He felt tears on the side of his neck.

"Naruto..." she whispered, tears leaking. It was a rare occasion he saw Tsunade cry, and Naruto felt his own eyes welling up with tears.

"Obaa-chan," he began, tears leaking out of his eyes. "I don't... I don't..." I don't want to die, I don't want to die! There were so many things Naruto wanted to scream.

"I know," the Hokage sobbed, as she held his shoulders and brought her eyes level with his. "Gaki... I promise I will do everything in my power to help you." Her gaze was sharp and sure, despite the tears of anguish that leaked from them. "There is no one else I would rather pass this title onto..."

The words crushed him, harder and stronger than anything before. His dream was within arms reach, but he was standing in quick sand, an inevitable slow death that would fill all of his freedom with liquid grit.

"Obaa-chan..."

She gritted her teeth, squeezing her eyes shut. "I promise... I'll find a cure. Don't... don't worry."

Stop lying, Obaa-chan.

Naruto withdrew from the hug, looking at the woman in front of him. He saw her pulling her expression together, a desperate attempt to maintain composure. "Don't tell anyone."

Her eyes opened abruptly, her honey brown eyes filled with confusion. "Naruto... but what about your friends? Don't you want to give them the opportunity to... if you do-" Her voice cracked. "-if you do pass away?"

The blond shinobi brought a hand to his forehead, sighing and looking out of the office window. He walked over to the window, looking outside onto a haphazard landscape of rebuilt houses and half-grown gardens. The wreckage at the sides was being taken apart and checked for belongings everyday. People were desperate. The whole village was.

Naruto would not hesitate to say that sometimes the village was hard to love.

Yet, his heart swelled every time he looked at all the friends he'd made, people once filled with hatred that smiled at him with a genuine kindness that he adored. Naruto did not consider it a talent, that these people who spoke with him became kind and genuine people. The blond saw in them what he could have been. What he refused to be, out of stubbornness.

He knew that it was easy to become that way.

Naruto often dreamt of a time, a universe maybe, where Naruto had fallen victim to hatred, and where Sasuke had not. Where Sasuke chased him with an unparalleled stubbornness, where Sasuke healed those around him with his undying kindness. It would be subdued and as stubborn as Sasuke himself. He would be Sasuke nonetheless... but forgiving and gentle, if childish. A time where Sasuke was not consumed by hatred.

Naruto knew it could have been.

So, he loved. He loved dearly those who dared not love him. Nagato was one. An evil maniac some labelled him as, but not Naruto. For behind the Six Pains lay a broken man desperately seeking peace in the only way he knew how.

Nagato, Konan, Neji, Gaara, Zabusa, Haku- the list went on. And yet, Naruto felt nothing aside from an emptiness, a cold emptiness, for the boy closest to him - the boy who should have felt the brunt of this "healing" thought process, left him, leaving only a few malicious words for the jinchuuriki to ponder over for years, years, years.

If Naruto let people know of his sickness, they'd opt to keep him in the village, preventing the Akatsuki from upping their search in knowledge that the boy would soon die. They'd try and cure him desperately, leaving him in a hospital room 24/7. Naruto decided that was unacceptable.

"You can't tell anyone," Naruto said. He turned to Tsunade, smiling. "If all goes well, you mightn't ever have to tell anyone."

Her eyes welled up with tears. "Naruto... take that goddamn necklace off." She lunged for his chest, unzipping his coat before he grabbed her hands with a firm grip.

The blond, brash shinobi stuck out his tongue at her, lightly pushing her hands away from him as he laughed. "Stop being an idiot! I've cheated death once. I'll do it again."

Though Tsunade desperately tried to smile at his silly, naive expression, she couldn't help but feel her stomach sinking lower and lower the more she looked at his smile.


Dear Ero-sennin,

Today, I found out that I'm dying.

There's a slim chance of a cure. Obaa-chan is, of course, the best in the world. If anyone else has had this illness... I probably have the best odds.

I don't want to tell anyone. Am I a coward? I'm not sure what it means. I don't want the time I have to be wasted on people feeling sorry for me.

The doctor- it was a civilian Nara guy. I didn't know they even had any civilians in that family -he said that my time will probably reduce. I only had 2 years anyway. 2 years, reducing. That's so little time anyway.

I don't know what to do. I have so many dreams.

How will I ever fulfil my promise to you, with less than 2 years on my hands?

I defeated Pain. It sounds so big, but I feel like it's so small now. I met Nagato and... he brought everyone back to life. He saved everyone. I'm getting told I'm a hero, but all I did was speak to him after defeating the Pains.

Thank you for your message. It was not wasted - it allowed everyone to figure out where the real Pain was.

I feel like a fake, when everyone treats me like I'm a hero. I would've died if you hadn't left that message. I would have failed, but Nagato dreamt of your ideals, too.

Your hopes for peace live on, Ero-sennin. It's a hard task... but I know that if you can hear me, wherever you are, I'll manage. Everyone says that I leave an impression on everyone I meet... I think that's you. Thanks to you, maybe there will come a day where we can all understand one another.

Thanks for everything, Ero-sennin. I will never, ever, forget you.

I'll make sure to do some peeping in your memory.

Naruto


AN: Thanks for reading! So much more to come. I can promise you this isn't just a story of misery... I'm planning for this to be an epic adventure. Also, this is a no-pairings story. I'm actually a SasuNaru fan, but this is a brotherly closeness only kind of story. It's going to be focal on those two... and... well, you'll see. Things are going to get interesting!