Disclaimer: Naruto isn’t mine and I don’t make any profit off it.
Quick A/N: So, I wrote chapter one and part of chapter two in one go and it wasn't until I was editing that I realized that I was confused about an event. The attack on the Allied Shinobi Forces Headquarters, when *spoilerspoilerspoilerinoandshikasparentsdiespoilerspoilerspoiler* In my mind, HQ was in Konoha. Under that assumption, I thought that its destruction lead to a massive, blown up Konoha. It did not, but let's pretend it did so I don't hafta redo some plot points.
Uchiha Sasuke drove his last nail into the beam that would soon hold the roof over his head… at least when his head was in the living room of his new house. He felt nothing as he worked. This house would serve as the new Uchiha headquarters and he thought that hammering it together himself might make him feel something, but in truth, the new Uchiha headquarters was wherever he was, be it house, cave, or tree.
Despite that, he’d chosen the location of his home carefully; not so far into town as to be surrounded on all sides, but not as removed from the village as the old compound. No matter who came into power, they wouldn't be able to forget that he was there, watching for corruption.
On the street, a pair of newly promoted chuunin, no older than fourteen, corralled nine or ten academy kids toward the new training ground. Only a month ago they were still in three-man teams under the care of a jounin, not even above getting scolded by civilians if they got too rowdy. Now they were helping to shape the next generation of ninja.
There was a lot to keep an eye on.
"Teme! Are you done yet?"
Declining to turn his head toward the blonde-haired figure he knew was standing in the open gap where his front door would be, he answered, "Does it look like it?"
"It looks done-er than mine. I'm still living in one of the tree houses that Yamato-sensei summoned."
Yesterday, Naruto had dragged him over to see the cramped, circular wooden room carved out of the trunk of a massive tree. There were similar apartments above and below his. With no small excitement, Naruto explained how Rock Lee lived in the hollow above his and Sakura was only two trees away.
"You should request a hollow, too! It's like camping,” Naruto explained, waving at his pack and sleeping bag on the rough floor, “But for a long time and with everyone you've ever known!"
It was a combination of that, and the emergency barracks he had been sleeping in along with twenty other people, that made him decide to begin rebuilding immediately.
Sasuke jumped down and Naruto strode over, hopping over piles of Konoha red pine wood and sliding around on brackets and loose support studs. Having nothing else to do without first going to the supply shelter, Sasuke stood and waited for him to state his business.
"Come out tonight. A restaurant reopened and I'm taking Sakura-chan and Sai and maybe Kakashi-sensei and Yamato-sensei and Iruka-sensei. And Shikamaru and Chouji live close to it, so they might be there. And"
Sasuke waited for the blonde to stop talking long enough to take a breath. When he did, he replied, "Why would I want to do that?"
Naruto grinned, "You said you wanted to be involved in everything happening in the village-"
"Then don't you think it might be a good idea to remind everyone how close you are to the future Hokage? You know, for like, political reasons?"
Naruto had a point and he knew it.
"If I’m around too much you might not be able to keep the title of “future Hokage”."
Naruto snorted and swaggered back toward the entrance, knowing he had made his point.
"Just remember to wash up. Maybe hit the clothes bank. There's plenty of underwear still!" Naruto shouted from the door.
Sasuke scooped up a handful of brackets and slung them at him, but Naruto had broken into a run after the underwear comment and was halfway down the street. Not that he would get much farther if Sasuke wanted to chase him- Naruto couldn't walk more than a few yards before he was accosted by old ladies or kids or fatherly looking men that wanted to pat him on the back- but there’d be too many witnesses to continue the assault.
**** **** ****
Sasuke walked into the restaurant and almost turned around and walked right back out as Naruto's shout of glee erupted across the room.
He had watched friends die, watch the village that he had wanted to preside over get destroyed, and had fought Sasuke in earnest, putting his life at risk. Was nothing traumatic enough to put a damper on Naruto’s enthusiasm?
Trying to unclench his jaw, Sasuke turned toward the direction of the shout.
Naruto was turned around in his booth, waving him over. Sakura was peeking around him, looking sheepish, but pleased. When he approached, he saw she was seated next to a pale boy with dark hair who, after a half seconds glance, he already disliked.
It wasn't the first time he'd seen Sakura since the battle, but it was the first time she hadn't been working or ordering someone around. There was always some pretext to keep up the appearance of civility between them. But in a purely social situation, he wasn’t sure what to expect from her.
It was annoying to have to think so much.
He walked over and slid in the booth beside Naruto. As he felt himself sink into the seat, he realized how close he was to Sakura and the boy. Was it just an extra small booth or had it just been too long since he’d eaten at a table facing another person?
The restaurant was crowded and filling up by the minute. The walls were paneled with two different colors of polished wood which he could now admire after working on his own home. The waitresses were cheery civilians and, like many people, still seemed to be on a post war high. When one arrived at their table, he noticed her double take, first at Naruto, then at him, before settling down to take his drink order.
About five minutes into the experience, Sasuke was beginning to question the whole concept of eating with other people. He had done that sort of thing before he left the village, but it was hard to remember himself back then. In the present, he couldn't imagine why anyone would want to sit across from another person and watch them eat for fun.
Naruto threw an arm over his shoulder and he tensed away from it, but Naruto clung on, seemingly oblivious to his discomfort, "I made a bet with Sakura-chan that you’d show, you know! She owes me ramen as soon as Ichiraku opens up now."
"Hn," seemed like an adequate reply.
Sakura smiled and he thought there was something a little fake about it. Whatever. It’s not like he didn’t feel awkward too.
"This is Sai,” Naruto said, his voice still incredibly loud and far too close to his ear, “I think you've seen him on the battlefield, but I don't know if you ever met him for real."
Sai blinked at him with the same smile he’d been wearing since Sasuke had walked in the restaurant. He had a vague memory of staring down at him at some point, but nothing else.
"It seems likely that you and I will get along since we appear to share many of the same categorical personality traits," Sai said, and oddly enough, he sensed Naruto and Sakura tense up.
Sai’s smile was starting to grate of his nerves. Sasuke had to fight the urge to frown when he asked, "What traits?"
"I'm not sure, but there must be several since most people of our mutual acquaintance have called me 'Replacement Sasuke.'"
Naruto and Sakura's smiles froze on their faces as Sasuke stared at the boy. Was he trying to start a fight with him? He tried to shrug Naruto’s arm off his shoulder, but it was locked into place around him.
"I always hoped that they were referring to physical appearances only. Otherwise, it's like they were calling me a trai-"
Sakura slapped one hand over Sai's mouth and threw another one around his waist, effectively pinning his arms against his body.
"Sai!" She tittered, "Maybe now is not the time to test those fancy new social skills out!"
Naruto coughed out a laugh, "Sorry, Sasuke. Sai's a little weird."
"He's just now learning to socialize. He was taken in by ROOT at a young age," Sakura explained quickly as she slowly loosened her hold around Sai's mouth and he began to speak again.
"But I've been reading and-"
"You are too literal to read books! Forget about the books!" Sakura shouted, her hand inching back toward his mouth.
At that moment the waitress came with drinks and Naruto reluctantly loosened his grasp on him, probably to keep from knocking the cups over if he struggled. As the waitress set down their drinks, Sasuke saw Sakura whisper something in Sai’s ear. The strange boy closed his eyes and nodded while his smile grew a tiny bit bigger.
It wasn't long before more of his academy class began to show up. People he hadn't seen since the preliminaries of the chuunin exam were suddenly all around him, joking and happily arguing with each other. Some of them just stopped by the table, smiling at Naruto and sort of grimacing at him before quickly looking in the other direction.
But the worst of them all was sitting across from him. With his fake smiles and awkward speech, Sasuke was more offended than he thought possible that this was his so-called replacement. Even worse was how Sakura and even Naruto coddled him. Yes, she punched him and put him in a head lock when he called her hag, but just as often she was patting his shoulder or hand, gently correcting him like a child.
If that was the guy they were comparing him to, he would need to show them immediately that he was nothing like that smiling freak. He didn't need any coddling. And he wasn't socially awkward either. Just because he chose not to speak didn't mean he couldn't.
However, as much as he wanted to prove himself, there didn't seem to be any opportunity. Everyone jumped around from one frivolous topic to another, seemingly without end. And all they wanted to talk about was the past, which he had vowed to put behind him… not that he shared any memories with anyone besides Naruto and Sakura anyway.
But even if he’d wanted to, Naruto was reminiscing with the equally loud dog owner, Kiba, and Sakura was laughing about something with Ino, who ignored him completely, not even saying hello. Though Sakura did still shoot him a few sheepish smiles as Naruto's conversations grew louder and longer. More and more people began to crowd around the table until their waitress finally decided it would just be easier to add another table, and then another.
The first hour was tolerable. The second was beginning to wear him down, despite the break that came with the arrival of the food. But when the food was gone and everyone looked like they were settling it for a nice long sit? Kakashi was still rumored to make an appearance and he was sure that his arrival would make an opening for him to leave, but it seemed his former sensei still had amazingly bad timing and Sasuke was going to have to figure his own way out.
To his right, a girl he barely recognized with her hair up in buns was laughing again. He stared at her until she noticed and looked back at him.
She leaned back a bit when she met his eyes, "…What's up, Sasuke-kun? Do you have to go to the bathroom?"
He wasn't going to tell a pathetic lie, but he also wasn't ready to give up his resolve to be less socially awkward than Sai and just fight his way out of the booth.
He'd settle for a slightly less pathetic lie.
"I was planning to go to the supply shelter before it closed."
To his relief, no one commented on the time, pointing out that it would definitely be closed by now. Naruto just whined a bit as the girl, another boy, and Aburame Shino (whose name he distinctly remembered for some reason) moved to accommodate him.
He nodded at Sakura and Naruto's goodbyes and turned his back on the stilted farewells from everyone else.
He walked to his half-finished home more confused than he had been in a long time. There was more than one reason he had wanted to wait for Kakashi tonight.
Though he was loathe to admit it, he remembered every word of Kakashi's warning from before he left. And even though he had disregarded his advice, he had a feeling that Kakashi might be sympathetic to his current state of mind and wouldn't be bad to have around as a social buffer.
It was just like the annoying copy ninja to back off when he actually wanted help.
Not that he wanted to admit to that kind of weakness anyway. But if he was going to have a say-so in the village, he needed to convince people to not revile him, which meant he was going to have to learn to deal with people again. He didn't have to be Naruto (if that was the case, he would have given up already and attempted another hostile take-over), he just had to be less... himself.
It was mostly people his age who hated him anyway. While the older ninja were able to give him some credit for helping in the final battle and were generally more sympathetic, he realized the ninja from his own class only remembered his betrayal. He suspected that Naruto was the primary cause of this, since he had been preoccupied with chasing him down ever since he left and Naruto’s way of the ninja meant shouting his goals at the top of his lungs as often as he could to anyone who would listen.
The street was quiet when Sasuke arrived back at the looming, two story skeleton of his home. Summer was beginning to fade and darkness was falling faster every day. Streets that would have been crowded this time of year were unlit and empty. He stared into the black maw of his unfinished house. Thanks to Naruto, and maybe the whole of his old team, he had some options. He could begin a normal life if he worked at it, practiced like it was any other skill. But could he return to being a childhood rival? Somebody’s crush? A patriotic citizen? He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to be any of those things, but what else was there? An entire world of options open to him, but he still felt as empty as the street he was standing on.
—- —- —- —-
A/n: I'm going to rotate my chappas between the trio, so the next one shall be Sakura! Also (writing this a few days after I’ve written chapter 1 and 2) I finished the manga! It was almost there when I was writing this! Woo! However, I assumed *spoilerspoiler*sasukeandnarutowouldworkthingsout*spoilerspoiler* That being said, my story is obviously not going to follow the ending perfectly.