summary: hey young blood, doesn't it feel like our time is running out?
notes: uhhh I'm so sorry this took so long. I have no excuses, but here is a freaking WHOPPER of a chapter. I hope it makes the wait somewhat worth it? Writer's block is a bitch, but as promised, I always come back.

16. i've been waitin' my whole life in the crossfire

This is the story of a boy and a dream.

Life is hard for the boy. He sees many challenges throughout his life and suffers through pain and isolation. He loses a lot of people.

The boy is special, but no one knows how until he's older. But you can see it in his smile, in the sparkle of his eyes, and in the kindness of his voice. He is a happy child, with days filled with sunshine and playtime.

Until it isn't.

The boy watches the people in his life dwindle away. The boy watches his parents die. The boy watches his grandpa die. The boy is moved from house to house, from caretaker to caretaker. He watches as the world slowly changes around him, becomes colder and darker and crueler.

The boy is no longer a boy.

So it turns out getting stabbed hurts. A lot.

Especially in the middle of the thigh, where all of Hinata's muscles are, and every time she tenses the pain shoots through her body down to every hair on her head. The worst part, she thinks, is that the bastard just leaves the knife there, tip buried in the wood of the chair. It effectively pins her, so that at every twitch or jump she blade saw further and further into the muscle tissue. She can hear the blood slowly dripping onto the floor from the chair beneath her, and what was once a beautiful lavender gown is now stained a deep blood red.

She grits her teeth and resists the urge to scream every time they make her flinch. The pain is overwhelming, a cold sweat breaking out over her entire body and sending shivers through her bones. She can feel the perspiration build up and drip down the dip in her spine. Hinata doesn't know how long she's been here. The blood has long crusted on the wound, pulling uncomfortably at her skin. She's been hungry for a long time, though she supposes she should be grateful they practically drown her with a cup of water every now and then.

Sometimes she has to sit through Deidara's ramblings, asking her question after question. Sometimes it's quiet, just Itachi staring her down unblinkingly and she has to pretend as though she can't feel his gaze searing through her.

She can't even tell if it's been hours or days. The windows are covered, so she can't see the sun. She wants to guess it's been about a day and a half, just based on how many times she's had to pee, but that doesn't mean much either.

"I'm surprised they let you live after you found out," Deidara says, circling around her. "That's usually an offense punishable by death."

He's been talking for forever now, she's sure. Her head is starting to spin, and she's not sure if it's from blood loss or hunger. Her cheeks sting red from the force of him slapping her across the face over and over again. Each one pulls at her still open wound, knife slicing the skin over and over again every time she so much as tenses. It stings, and she grits her teeth, but she refuses to whimper.

"I've been trying to tell you, they don't know about me," she glares, resisting the urge to jump at the sound of shattering glass echoing through the room. "Nobody is coming for me."

"They will. We'll wait as long as it takes. Until then, we get to have some fun together."

She keeps her mouth closed.

He hits her. She's expecting it, of course, but she doesn't expect the sharp pain that blossoms over her face, ears ringing. She tastes blood, and can feel warmth drip into her lap, seeping through the thin layer of satin.

"Aw, how sad. You did have such a pretty face."

Oh. He broke her nose.

Deidara has a heart for torture. His apathetic, false sympathy is filled with just enough venom to sting. Her arms are covered in bruises in the shape of his fingernails, purpling half-moons that speckle down her pale skin like leopard spots. He particularly enjoys teasing her with a knife, drawing back up and down her skin just enough for blood to well up underneath the blade.

When he really wants to see her suffer, he'll point a gun at her. Shoot it at the wall next to her head just to watch her jerk, to hear her cry in pain as she jostles the wound in her thighs, tears more of herself open on the blade. His laugh is grating and high-pitched, sending a stinging ache through her head.

She's so exhausted, but she can't give up.

He'll come for her.

She's sure of it.

The boy learns how to draw.

The boy draws wonderful things. He draws flowers and animals and portraits, and everyone looks at it and is filled with a little more of that light, too.

The boy realizes that he really is special. He can fill the world with light, even if it's only a tiny bit at a time, he can look past the dark, stormy clouds that fill his home and see the brightness hiding underneath. He can pull it out from its roots and plant beautiful trees that guard them from the darkness.

There is something that happens before Naruto is about to get bad news. Call it a gut feeling, call it an instinct, but there are noticeable signs. There is a moment where it feels as if a blanket of pure, horrific silence falls around him, ears ringing maddeningly. There is a feeling as if the world has come to a standstill. It is as if everything in the universe tells him that something isn't right and he has to take those few seconds before he realizes to prepare himself for what it is.

He has plenty of practice. It's not like this is anything new for him.

So when he notices that the world is suddenly all too quiet, that everything around him has softened into a quiet buzz, his heart drops into his stomach. He knows that he only has a handful of things left to lose now.

He wonders which one it is this time.

It is out of instinct that he begins to pack up his gear. He tries to keep his mind focused on the task at hand, methodically dismantling his rifle. But it is so familiar to him he could do it in his sleep, and his mind mulls through every possible scenario that could be happening.

He wonders who got hurt on a mission. Sasuke? Sakura? They've have to be dead, or close to dead for this kind of an omen, and he knows they wouldn't let themselves get killed just yet. Did Tsunade's liver finally give out after all the hundreds of bottles of sake it's soaked up? Was he about to have to choose a new fucking successor for her?

There is no good option. He wishes he could rate them on "the least awful" to "the most awful" but when it comes down to it, they all fucking suck. They all mean time away from home, not with Hinata. They all mean being more and more terrified that something's going to happen to her.

But she's safe at home now, with her friends and her paintings and that's okay. He can deal with that for now, and whatever comes, they'll handle it. Just like they have before.

He's thankful for that. That even with the danger, even with the weeks where he's completely MIA, where all they want is to be curled up in bed together, she still loves him. She still wants him — even with all this chaos, all the uncertainty, all the compromises she has to make, she still wants this.

He wants her more than anything.

He wants the fairy tale ending with her. He wants a house and a big fancy wedding and the three kids and to grow old together. He wants lazy mornings spent cuddling for far too long in bed. He wants to work beside her, watch her spend hours painting and illustrating, wants to put her designs on other people's bodies.

He'll do whatever it take to get that future with her.

He doesn't care how long it takes, how much of himself he'll lose in the process. He will fight his whole life to have that with Hinata, if he has to. Even though he wanted out before, even though he knew this was never the life for him, she's the reason to try at all.

He lives for her soft smile that hits him like bathing in moonlight, and the way her eyes soften so gently, almost sparkling as she says, "I love you, Naruto." He lives for the way she looks wrapped up in ecstasy, and the way she looks during sleepy morning glances. He lives for the way she can talk for ages about the things she loves, and the way that she'll listen to him as he does, too.

She's the best thing that ever happened to him.

Shikamaru rolls up in one of their Ops vehicles, and Naruto doesn't question it as he tosses his bag in the back and hops in the front seat. The heater blast warm air at his cheeks, tinted pink from the chill, and he is grateful for the opportunity to warm his numbed fingers up between the slats in the vents.

"What happened?" he asks, knowingly.

He comes across nonchalant, expecting, but his heart hammers in his chest, anxiety curling deep in his gut. Despite being bundled up in layers to protect himself from the cold, a sweat runs down his back and he is barely repressing the urge to shiver. He wrings his hands anxiously in the breath it takes for Shikamaru to reply.

"Your girl's been taken hostage. By Akatsuki."

There is a painful silence, one that Shikamaru knows all too well. One that they all know too well. It is the sound of Naruto's heart breaking, of all the chemicals in his body rushing in before the implications really hit his brain. It is the sound of terror, and it is louder than any decibels could ever reach.

He remember when his parents died.

He was eight. He watched it happen right in front of him, watched them wrestle his father to the ground and shoot him. His father, who was the strongest of the strong, his hero, his shining bright joy full of love and light, staring at him with dead, open eyes. He had felt his mother's tears as she held him for a long time after the gunshots stopped, tucking him into their hidden "safe spot" under the closet and going out. He remembers the way their bodies intertwined, soaked in blood, laying on their living room floor.

He remembers when Jiraiya died.

It was Tsunade who told him. She reeked of all kinds of alcohol, the stuff practically seeping out of her pores. She sat in the same chair his dad used to sit in, snuffed out cigarettes idly drifting smoke up. He remembers fighting with her that night, their yelling echoing throughout the halls of the entire base. He remembers that he went back to his apartment and cried in between the arms of his two best friends.

He remembers when they told him Sasuke went to Orochimaru's side. It was stupid, now, looking back at it. Something stupid that happened as kids, when they were both being angsty and reckless. He had gone on a rampage, taking so many missions it wasn't healthy. He remembers the crash he had a week later, holed up in his room with a migraine and suffering from severe dehydration and malnutrition. He cried and threw things and probably broke something. Several things.

That was almost ten years ago. It's been a while. A lot of things have happened, since then.

For the first time in a long time, Naruto cries.

He dreams of filling the world with light.

The boy sees the reality of the world, with all it's dark, jagged edges, but his smile never leaves. Wherever the boy goes, he brings with him a sense of brightness that illuminates everyone around him.

The people around him notice this too. They notice that no matter how filled with darkness they are, whenever they are around him, their hearts feel a little lighter. Their skies are a little brighter when he comes around.

They love this about him.

Hinata thinks about painting.

She thinks about focusing on each individual stroke, how sometimes if she looks hard enough, she can see the indent from each fiber of hair in the paint. She thinks about all the ways she loves to blend colors together, how it feels to get the colors just right.

The paint on the walls that surround her are sad and abysmal looking. Mummified drippings sit high on the walls where they will never move from whoever painted the ashen taupe on years ago. Dust sits and collects in the corners, little cobwebs accumulating in the nooks where the walls meet the ceiling. In other places, the paint is peeling, revealing a startlingly pale blue underneath. Baby blue, almost.

It reminds her of the blue she used to color the highlights in Naruto's eyes, in the endless of portraits of him she painted. The paintings she sold. To Orochimaru. To his enemies. To the people who kidnapped her.

This is all her fault. She's so stupid.

Did she really think she could make it as an artist? Did she really think she could help him with anything?

She's put herself in danger, and put him in danger over all this. Over what—some selfish desire to have him all to herself? To keep him closer to her side?

What a fucking idiot.

She wonders what information they got from her paintings. She wonders what secrets they unearth based on her innocent fascination with everything about him. She wonders how much she has ruined his life, how much she has complicated it, and if he will ever been able to dig himself out of this hole. Did she stick him even deeper in it?

If she does get out of this alive, what will happen to her?

She could be torn from Naruto forever. He could leave her, tell her what an idiot she is for keeping all this from him and never want to see her. She could...ugh, go home? Work at the dojo and forget about art for the rest of her life? Become the perfect fucking doll her father always wanted?

Please. She'd rather die right here.

Which wouldn't be a horrible option, she'd admit, given the alternative. She'd prefer not to die in some abandoned shack of undetermined nature and location, but she'd take it over dying a slow and painful life under her father's thumb.

She wonders what Hanabi's doing. Is she at the dojo? Is she out with friends? She wonders if their father lets her have friends, even, after the disaster that was Hinata's entire adolescence. She wonders if he changed at all, after her. If he treats Hanabi differently, if he learned anything from that horrific night.

She hopes Hanabi knows how much she wants to see her. To hold her and give her all of the maternal affirmations she has been so deprived of.

In this moment, she can almost feel her mother's arms wrap around her like they used to when she was a child.

But some people don't.

"Why would you change things?" they ask him. "Stop chasing the clouds away. We like our clouds."

They want to stop him. They want to keep their clouds. They say the sun hurts their eyes, that it's easier this way. They can live with just the clouds.

"What about the people who like the sun?" the boy asks.

But they don't care.

"I told you this was going to happen."

There are few things that Naruto hates more than "I told you so"s, especially when they're told to him by Tsunade. But in this moment, he would take a thousand of these as long as it means he can get Hinata back safely. His head lays in his hands as Shikamaru works on figuring out how to track her down, fingers typing rapidly at a keyboard.

"I know," he says. "I know."

There's a pause, and he hears the shuffling of clothes and a hand lay fondly on his back.

Despite everything he has suffered with Tsunade, despite all their fighting, there is still a part of her that is maternal with him. She kicks his ass because she knows he can take it, she knows he needs it, but she knows when to back off. She knows that kicking him when he's already down won't do any good.

"We're gonna get her back, kid," she says, and that's the most comforting thing she's probably ever said to him.

He has to believe her when she says that.

"So with the information we got from Hinata's roommate, her last known location is one of Orochimaru's documented safe houses," Shikamaru says, dropping a pin on the physical map splayed on the wall in front of him. "These are the known Akatsuki activity areas."

The map is tattered and frayed, pinholes from previous meetings speckling the coarse paper and old pen marks. Various colors of markers, highlighters and pens mark various territories, patrol rotation paths inscribed so deeply in it they probably run into the wall behind it.

"Wait," Naruto says, pulling out his phone. "She called me right before she texted Kiba. She might still have it on her."

"Is her phone dead?" Sakura asks. "Even if they killed it, it can still transmit her last tower ping, and that might help us at least narrow down the area."

It's with baited breath that he waits for the line to ring as Hinata's name floats across the screen.. It keeps ringing, tone after tone until it goes to voicemail, but it allows Naruto's heart to pound with the smallest bit of hope swelling within him

"Her phone's on, track it," he commands, pulling up a chair behind Shikamaru.

Whatever Shikamaru does is really like they do in the movies. He moves so fast that Naruto can't track him, typing in codes and cycling through windows faster than his eyes can even comprehend what's on the screen. But eventually he pulls up a map, a red little dot blinking smack dab in the center of one of their already suspected Akatsuki territories.

They know where she is.

They can rescue her.

"She still has the thing on her," Shikamaru notes, almost confused. "How did she hide a phone this long?"

"That's my fucking girl," Naruto says, heart thudding in his chest. He can't help himself as he pulls Sasuke in for a hug, the both of them practically crushing one another bones, and he almost wants to jump up and down. "That's my fucking girl!"

Gearing up runs swiftly after that. With everyone set for the infiltration team already rounded up and geared to go, they set off after a quick strategy session and a final weapons check.

Naruto wishes they had more to go on. It's good to get another confirmation of Itachi and Kisame's activities, but they don't exactly know if they'd still be there or if they were just part of the pick-up. They don't know who else could be here, or what their defenses are like.

And the probability that they're walking into a trap is about 125% right now.

But it's Hinata's life on the line, and he would gladly give his to keep hers alive. No matter what.

The boy keeps doing it anyway.

He brings light to the world with his smile and his art. People love his art so much, they ask him to put it on their bodies forever. They bring this light around with them wherever they go, chasing away the darkness.

The people celebrate. They thank the boy for bringing the light with him, for sharing his art with the world. They thank the boy for his kind eyes and his unprejudiced smiles.

Everyone rejoices in the light.

It had been storming outside, that night.

She remembers that they had been watching the rain fall in heavy sheets outside. It was thundering loud enough to vibrate through the old wooden flooring, lightning strikes providing flashes of illumination to the pond outside. The power was out, and they had candles placed around the house to get around, the fireplace lit up and crackling in front of them.

"Father," she says. "I think I'd like to go to school for my art."

He doesn't say anything, at first, but the tension has now become palpable. She can feel the change in the air, friction charged just like the lightning outside. Then he sighs, and all the muscles in her body tense.


"But Father—"

"Hinata," he barks. "I will not entertain this foolishness from you. You know better."

For a moment, she lets herself sink into the silence, the bubbling rage beneath her ribs tightening into a pinpoint that burns so deeply beneath her chest, she cannot breathe. Then it all bursts through her like a tidal wave, electrifying every nerve and bone in her body.

"Maybe I don't, Father," she shouts suddenly, and she sees Hanabi staring at her with wide, terrified eyes. "Maybe you're right, maybe I don't know better, but you don't know best."

They don't do this. They don't talk back to Father, they don't question him once he has made a decree, and they certainly don't raise their voice at him.

"Excuse me?" His voice is dangerously low, with a gravelly timbre she has only heard in his voice a handful of times before. Her heart thuds painfully in her chest, hands shaking, but she refuses to back down. She has already cast the first stone, has already caused a ripple, and she will finish what she started.

"I don't want to run the dojo," she replies, fighting down the quiver in her voice. "I want to go to school. I want to paint. I want to live my own life, Father."

"You will do as I tell you. What you want doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does!"

The screaming match goes on for far longer than she ever intended, than she thought could ever happen. She has never heard him raise his voice like this—he's never needed to before. He's always had complete, unwavering obedience, whether it was from his daughters, his students or his peers.

Hinata can see the anger in him, seething, escaping from his body with every malicious lash of words like shadowy tendrils. They flicker in the firelight, sticking to every darkened corner. It's a side of him she's never seen before, but it seems it has been writhing beneath the surface all this time.

When he strikes her, it is without hesitation, without anything held back. This is how he has always struck her, how he has always sparred with her, but it is different tonight. There is anger behind his blows, where before there was only ever apathetic disapproval. His hits make her ache deep to the bone, legs shaky as she gets up over and over again.

She matches him, for a while. Their style is the same, a methodic progression of steps that is instilled deep with her, before they both begin to grow tired. They change it up, allowing themselves to catch one another off guard. Hanabi cries in the background, tear-stained cheeks red and rosy.

It's when he turns on his heel, twirling quickly on the wood floor beneath them to connect his heel into her stomach. She falls backwards, into their coffee table which splinters beneath the impact of her fall. She cries out, coughing as all of her breath leaves her lungs instantaneously. She feels the splinters dig into every part of her, her fingertips to the small of her back.

There is a moment of silence, where all they can hear is the sound of the rain outside and the rumblings of thunder.

"Get out," he whispers. "A disappointment like you is not fit to be my daughter."

Her father has told her disparaging things all her life, and she has grown to expect his chagrin. She braces herself for it every morning when she wakes up, and takes it all day like stinging lashes to the skin. She settles into bed every night, soothing her wounds and goes to sleep to take them again the next day.

But this night, something about it is different. Something about it strikes directly to her heart.

For the first time, tonight, tears well up in her eyes at his father's words.

"Please," she says. "I just want to—"

Hinata is broken out of her ruminations by the sounds of gunfire and shouting that echo loudly throughout the room. She can feel thundering footsteps reverberate through her tired bones, the gunfire achingly loud in contrast to the—days? hours? — of silence she's had.

"Shit," Deidara hisses. The panic in his eyes tells her all she needs to know, and she bites back a satisfied grin.

Naruto was here to save her.

But people still sit in the shadows, cursing the boy who brought the light to the world. They conjure up ways to bring the darkness back, they plot of how to get rid the boy so that he stops spreading light.

They plot to turn the boys light dark, too. They plot to take away everything that is dear to him. They plot to ruin his life so that he will stop making art. They plot to bring the darkness back again, forever.

They sit and cackle and decide to forever shroud the world in darkness.

Naruto specializes in stealth missions, assassinations and reconnaissance. Part of this is due to being a high-profile target within the organized crime notoriety, and part of this is due to his exceptional marksmanship. He excels in quiet takedowns, sneaky ambushes and playing the long game.

This mission is everything but, and it is exhilarating.

There's no point in trying to hide, these bastards know they're coming anyway. The moment something is amiss, their alarms will go off, so they decide fuck it, and go in with guns blazing.


They are armed to the teeth with close range weaponry, bulletproof armor and Naruto's entire body is buzzing with adrenaline. They didn't even bother with silencers, the sound of their gunfire blaring through the dilapidated shack. Body after body falls beneath him.

He feels alive in this moment. He has never had a reason to enjoy hurting others before—he fights to keep himself breathing, he fights to complete the mission, he fights because he has been told to.

In this minute he fights for himself, but mostly importantly, he fights for her. They decided to take her, to hurt her, to do God knows what to her, and she has done nothing to them. The moment they decided to hurt an innocent, who couldn't defend herself, it becomes personal.

Sasuke is his designated Beta for this mission, covering his back and communicating with the rest of the team. They pop open one of the many internal doors and scan the room. There is no one in this room, but plenty of supplies. Stacked boxes of ammunitions, a few guns here and there.

But what really grabs his attention is large canvases laid against the walls, exactly like how Hinata's are throughout her apartment. In fact, these are Hinata's, he realizes quickly. He can recognize her paint strokes, the way she blends her color, and her signature that always sits in the lower righthand corner.

And they're all of him.

They're portraits, mostly, of his face, his body. There are pictures of his tattoos, studies, of his muscles and scars and freckles. It almost disgusts him to see the way the canvasses have been poorly mistreated, dust and grime building up, visible fingerprints on the canvas from where they moved it and dropped it in this room. It is insulting to see something that Hinata took such painstaking care and passion in reduced to...this.

He doesn't know what this is or what it all means, but he has time for that later.

For now, he has a mission to complete.

But there was something they didn't count on.

Deidara growls as commotion echoes throughout the hallways. He flips open his knife and for a moment panic runs through her, her pounding heart dropping deep into her gut, but he simply turns to look at her, brandishing the knife as though it is a threat.

He quickly jerks the hunting knife that's embedded in her thigh out, pressing a sweaty hand to her mouth to muffle her scream. She can almost feel the blood rushing through, and she realizes with a startling lack of shock that it is true what they say about leaving a weapon in a wound will staunch the bleeding. He tears off a piece of her dress, though dirty, and wraps it around the wound.

"If you try anything, you're in trouble, y'hear me?"

Hinata nods, and she's sure she looks like she means it. Her hair is a mess, dress ripped and still wearing heels. She's dirty, covered in blood and bruises and dirt, makeup probably still tear-stained down her face. Her wounded leg shakes and shivers from pain, blood already blossoming through the layers of makeshift bandage. She looks like the perfect damsel, eyes wide as he roughly cuts up the rope tying her to the metal frame of the chair.

Too bad for him, she isn't.

I can't believe I'm doing this.

She can feel every nerve in her body vibrating with anticipation as he strides closer to her. She waits for him to cut her out of the second one, adrenaline thrumming noisily through her veins. Just as he flips the knife back closed, she kicks her heel out to knock it out of his hands. In the next instant, she delivers a kick as hard as she can to the side of his knee, and momentarily cheers in victory as he lets out an angry cry and topples to the ground in surprise.

She's standing now, though her hands are still tied behind her back. Her legs and muscles weak and in searing pain, particularly where her wound has crusted over, she finds the strength to clumsily bend down and back up over her hands. Okay, she has her hands at least, even if they're tied, she won't be struggling with equilibrium.

"You stupid bitch," Deidara spits, hurdling towards her.

There is one thing that Hinata will take as an upper hand, and that is that Deidara is clearly not a fighter. He has down enough basic form of a basic brawler style, enough to win over a real damsel, but they — whoever they is, anyway — were clearly not expecting her to be able to hold her own in a fight. He's got muscle, but he doesn't know how to use it, and he especially doesn't know what to do with a woman who is used to using that as an advantage.

She slips out of his grip over and over, the lanky man practically stumbling over his own limbs trying to pin her down. She moves full of confidence and grace, easily dodging and weaving through his swings despite feeling shaky on her feet.

She misses a step in her backwards stumbling, falling to the floor and he takes the opportunity immediately to dive on top of her, hands wrapped around her neck. The same dainty hands, which she had once thought of for how good they would be for sculpting, are laced around her neck, thumbs pressing painfully into her trachea. She chokes on the sensation, scrabbling to push him off.

But he's strong. Stronger than her in this sense, using the force of gravity to really lean in. She can feel her heart thudding in her he can feel her heart thudding in her chest, making the sensation of breathlessness happen even faster. Her vision begins to blacken at the edges, the image of Deidara's bright eyes full of rage burning itself into her mind.

She reaches behind her looking for something, anything—

And stabs him in the eye.

He screams, hands immediately releasing her, stumbling back. His scream pierces her ears, and through her hazy consciousness and gasping breath. She coughs for a moment, waiting for the blood to rush back into her head as stars swim beneath her eyelids. The knife is still in her hand, and by now his scream has almost become muted beneath the sound of her heartbeat thudding in her ears.

She looks up at him, vision somewhat blurry still, as he cries out in pain and gropes at his eye socket. Blood coats his hands, his face, drips down his cheeks to pool at the floor.

There's moments in life that feel like she is watching a slow-motion scene in a movie, and this is one of them.

Hinata feels each individual nerve twitch as she grasps the knife tighter in her palm, and she moves without even being aware of what is really happening. But Deidara is trapped beneath her, yelling and cursing and scratching at her though she doesn't feel the pain. She doesn't feel anything, really.

She feels like she is having an out of body experience, as she brings the knife down into his chest again and again. She doesn't feel the bones crack under the impact of her blows, doesn't register the feeling of his flesh tearing beneath her motions. But she feels the warmth of his blood as it pools beneath her, soaks into her dress and splatters across her face.

Someone touches her shoulder, and she swings with the knife in her hands, still bound to one another, tears streaming hot down her cheeks. She looks up to see Naruto, face smudged with blood and who knows what else.

She must look terrifying. Her face is splattered with blood and gore, hands currently curled around a knife that was four inches deep in a man's chest.

Instantly, he drops to the floor on his knees before her, pulling apart the rope tying her wrists together with ease before wrapping his arms around her.

"Oh God, Hinata, I'm so sorry," he whispers, over and over again into her ear. He holds her impossibly tight, and she hugs him back with as much intensity as she can muster. Her bones are tired, her entire body aching.

She has been so strong, so desperate to remain unafraid even when facing down her mortality, when staring death directly in the face. She allowed herself to cry, knows that her makeup is smudged down her face in blatant tear stains. She refused to let any of them see her weakness, see her vulnerability — she refused to let any of them get the satisfaction of seeing her beg for her life.

But something about Naruto makes her finally break. The moment he touches her she can finally let go of the tears she's been holding back, and she begins to sob in his arms. They clutch at one another with all the strength they have, terrified and relieved all in one. The numbness of adrenaline finally begins to subside, the throbbing ache in her thigh growing more and more unbearable.

"Are you hurt?" he whispers, finally allowing himself a breath for something other than inhaling her scent. "Did he hurt you?"

"Just my leg," she says, wincing at the horror on his face as he pulls away to look at it. "Looks worse than it is, but I don't know if I can walk on it."

He looks at the wound on her leg, which must be seeping more blood by the look of it and the way her head feels when she looks up too fast. He cuts a narrow strip of her dress off to create a temporary tourniquet, then a larger strip to act as gauze and staunch the wound. As he does so, the dark strap against her thigh is revealed, phone case glinting in the fluorescents overhead.

He looks up at her and grins, giving her another desperate kiss. Their lips are chapped and cracked, and her face is smeared with grime and blood and who knows what else.

"That's my girl," he whispers, foreheads pressed together. "You're so fucking smart. That's how we found you."

She can't reply, tears closing up her throat so the words can't escape. But she looks into his eyes and that says it all.

Without another word, he lifts her up and carries her out of the room. She settles into his arms, staring behind him at Deidara's lifeless body as they turn the corner into the hallway. Even knowing his blood in on her hands, literally, she has never felt more safe.

The boy's life has forever been drowned in darkness.

There isn't a time in his life when the boy hasn't been faced with loss, with grief, with horror. He sees it every day, is always reminded of the shadows that his light makes. But despite all of this, he continues to be a shining beacon of hope.

"Why?" they ask when they cannot dim his light. "Why are you so happy, despite all of this?"

"Because the world is filled with darkness," the boy replies. "The world will always be filled with darkness. But darkness and light go hand in hand. We cannot have light without darkness, and we cannot have darkness without light."

"But if you take away all the people, there is no more light!" they protest. "We can have eternal darkness!"

"Even when I am gone," the boy replies, "the light will return."

One cannot exist without the other.