“Sooner or later you’re going to have to talk to me, and you know it.”
Sasuke ignored the voice, his attention completely focused on his foe and the progress he was making towards Sound. It was a Sand shinobi this time, a skilled one at that, and Sasuke would have been more worried about them hearing the voice of the annoyance that followed him around, if he hadn’t know from previous experience it was impossible for them to.
It was times like this Sasuke felt really jealous of the rest of the people, the normal people. Those who weren’t followed around by a figment of their imagination or the ghost of failures past.
Days like this, Sasuke didn't know which option was the least worrisome.
“I think he’s a better shinobi than you, what do you say? He moves like he knows what he’s doing, do you think he’ll be strong? You think he’ll defeat you? I'm sure I would have been stronger than you, if I hadn't...”
Sasuke didn’t say anything, tuning him out and moving forward on silent feet, the voice of his companion drowned by the roaring of his own pulse. It was the moment to attack; if he didn’t, the Sand shinobi would undoubtedly reach the perimeter of Sound’s camp and stumble upon the people there. Sasuke didn’t care much about his companions, never had except for the one who he was unable to leave behind, and had been toying with the idea of deflecting from Sound as he had done from Konoha.
Orochimaru was becoming quite bothersome, and Sasuke was unable to feel even the slightest bit of loyalty toward him and his cause.
The only one he felt anything for would follow him wherever he went next, whether they wanted or not.
“What if he kills you, Sasuke? Do you think you’ll become like me, a ghost? Or maybe it will free us both, finally ridding yourself of my unwanted company.”
“He’s not strong enough to kill me,” Sasuke snapped finally, unable to keep his mouth shut anymore, alerting the Sand shinobi of his presence. “And I never said anything about getting rid of you.”
He didn’t get to say anything else after that, engaged in battle with the Sand shinobi, Naruto’s triumphant laugh echoing in his ears.
They should have never come here; they are too young, too inexperienced, too weak.
It was supposed to be just a C level mission, nothing more than a simple escort, and now they are in the middle of a war, untrained children fighting for their lives and barely keeping up with the enemy.
They should have never come here, Naruto thinks seeing his sensei being almost overwhelmed by his enemy, Sasuke bleeding on the ground, but here they are, and Naruto is going to make sure they get back home.
If it is the last thing he does, he’s going to make sure.
“I think he likes the sound of his own voice.”
Naruto was perched on the chair’s arm, an incongruous childish figure in a room full of killers, his orange jumpsuit and yellow hair a beacon of coulour amidst camouflage uniforms. He hadn’t changed at all in the years since his death, stuck forever in a body too small to contain all the energy that had coursed through it, the constant movement and stream of words a testament of all that energy that had nowhere to go now.
Sasuke wondered what would have become of Naruto had he survived that first mission. Or at least he did on the days he believed Naruto had existed somewhere other than his head. There was no proof of his existence, after all, no shared memory with other classmates that could convince Sasuke that he wasn’t crazy, even when he could still remember the raspy quality of his voice uttering his last words and how warm and sticky his blood had been on Sasuke’s hands.
And his smile, that was what Sasuke remembered the most, that blinding smile of happiness at the moment of his own death, that exhaled ‘I won’ that fell from his lips right before he closed his eyes.
“Also, has Orochimaru got uglier since the last mission?” Sasuke snapped out of his thoughts, trying to focus back into the plans for the invasion that were being detailed for his benefit. He really didn’t care. “I think he has.”
Sasuke had to agree, he also believed Orochimaru had become uglier, weirder. And a lot more boring. He wasn’t going to say anything, not only because he wasn’t going to give Naruto the satisfaction of acknowledging him in public, having the people in Sound avoid him like the plague because talking to imaginary friends was not normal even by the standards.
Shinobi were used to ghosts, though nobody expected them to be literal ones.
In this, as in many other things, Sasuke was an exception.
Naruto didn't expect to come back to Konoha after the mission, and in a way he hasn't.
He moves around like the ghost he is, unseen and unheard, and it is not so different from the life he had before, where people willfully ignored him with only one notable exception. Iruka-sensei can't see him anymore, and it was the only person who looked at the sorry group who returned from Wave as if he expected to see someone else, as if there was some anomaly there he couldn't put his finger to.
Naruto knows now that he can't remember, has seen the confusion on his face as Sasuke asked about him. He doesn't know why his existence has been erased from everyone's memories but Sasuke's, wonders if Sasuke would have also forgotten about him has he not been holding Naruto as he died, had Naruto not held on to a connection with Sasuke instead of moving on. He thinks it might have something to do with the fox inside him and what he learned… but he doesn't care.
No one else can see him, except for this one person Naruto has become the most important person in the world, and that is enough.
It is more than what he had before.
"I've been thinking…"
"That's dangerous, you were never very good at it, even when you were alive," Sasuke said, a smile tugging at his lips in spite of himself. He was in a good mood, maybe because he had finally made a decision.
Sound was no different from Konoha, and now he knew he was as unable to care about their fate as he had been unable to care about Konoha's before deflecting. He had learned something important, though, and if he wasn't mistaken, it was what Naruto had been thinking about.
"Ha, ha, very funny," Naruto pouted, and Sasuke finally allowed himself a small smirk.
"I am hilarious."
"I've been thinking," Naruto continued, glaring daggers at Sasuke, "that maybe you could try that resurrection technique Kabuto was explaining before…"
"And inflict you on the rest of the world? On all those poor unsuspecting people?" But he was already making plans in his head on how to steal the appropriate scroll, and trying to remember where they had buried Naruto's body. It wasn't going to be easy, but it was doable, and it would finally solve the question about Naruto's real existence. "I am not that cruel."
"Sasuuuuuke," Naruto whined, and Sasuke's smirk widened.
He stood up and began packing his meagre possessions. It had been three years since he deflected from Konoha, and he still had nothing more than what he could carry with him. That was telling enough, even if he hadn't considered it before.
He wondered what Naruto would be like he if was really alive, if he was allowed to grow up and interact with the rest of the world, if he could try to achieve that old dream of becoming Hokage that had died with him. Sasuke wondered whether he figured in those plans, if it was even possible, and really, it was the first time Sasuke had felt anything except boredom and annoyance in the last years since he left his village.
"You're packing, does that mean we're going somewhere? Are we going to try? Where are we going? Come on, Sasuke, tell me!"
Sasuke ignored Naruto's voice and headed out, thinking about the most effective way of getting the scroll and already mapping in his head the way to Wave country.
He didn't bother to check if Naruto was following him.
He always was.