Summary: A moment's hesitation makes all the difference, and in just a split-second, our world could be shattered. In a twist of fate, Naruto takes the hit Sasuke was supposed to bear, and Haku and Sasuke find themselves racing against the clock to save Naruto before its too late…AU
Disclaimer: Some lines in this chapter are taken directly from the manga, while others are more or less paraphrased, so… any lines/plot that you recognize obviously belong to Kishimoto Masashi.
Chapter 1: Hesitation
Naruto was one of a kind; if there were anything in the world that was completely certain, it was that one little fact. Sasuke was certain that no other ninja in the world would have made an entrance like Naruto made an entrance, especially when one knew they were dealing with very, very dangerous opponents; no other ninja was nearly as loud, stupid, ostentatious, and utterly as unpredictable as Naruto… Or at least Sasuke hoped that that was the case; after all, one Naruto in the world was more then enough. But despite his rather…flamboyant, and rather idiotic choice of entrances into battle, Sasuke was grateful to have Naruto there; even though he would never admit it out loud, the idiot did get lucky every so often, and came up with clever plans… and no one could ever possibly say he wasn't dedicated and determined. With Naruto aiding Sakura, Sasuke felt he could fight Haku at ease without having to worry about the bridge builder. Sakura, while book smart, didn't have the hardened heart and instincts of a ninja, so he hadn't exactly felt completely comfortable leaving her in charge of protecting Tazuna, even with Kakashi nearby, but Naruto… he felt he could trust Tazuna with Naruto. With that thought, Sasuke turned to face his opponent once more, who's reflection stood stagnant and staring back at him from the cage of mirrors around him. Knowing Tazuna would be safe took a bit of weight off his shoulders, and now at long last, he'd be able to focus solely on fighting now that he knew that their "misson objective" was safe…
"Hey! I'm here Sasuke!"
Sasuke turned around with a start at the sound of a familiar voice, and mentally took back every compliment he had given to Naruto moments before.
"What are you doing here idiot?!" He demanded harshly, not quite believing he had actually used the words "clever" and "Naruto" in the same sentence only moments before.
"I'm here to save you of course!" Naruto responded joyfully, giving Sasuke an arrogant smile.
Sasuke wanted to bang his head against the wall. "Of all the stupid things in the world!" he wanted to scream, but pride prevented him from getting flustered.
Sasuke glared at Naruto. "You Moron… you should've attacked the mirrors from the outside instead of sneaking in here to "save me"! We could have had the advantage, and attacked him from both sides!"
Naruto blinked, and then—upon realizing his fault—laughed sheepishly. "Err…Oops?"
The Uchiha nearly growled, and had a strong desire to bang Naruto's head against a wall. "Whatever Moron; but now that you're here, we might as well make the best of it…" The two shared a look and nodded at each other before springing into action.
"If possible, I don't want to have to kill you." The statement was stated so honest, and yet in such a blasé manner that it took a few moments for it to register to Sasuke.
"What?" Naruto asked dumbly, pausing for a moment, and dropping his guard like for an instant, leaving a perfect opening… and opening the enemy did not take at the moment.
"I do not want to have to kill you." The boy shinobi told them again, his mask hiding his face that might have revealed the emotions he was feeling, "And nor do I want you to have to kill me." Naruto just continued to stare, as if confused. "But if you will fight me here, and raise a blade against me, I will become a shinobi, a ninja. And with your power, and with mine, we will do battle here on this bridge… we will battle for our dreams here."
"Our dreams?" Naruto asked, an odd sort of look in his eyes that made Sasuke sigh; Naruto didn't have the heart of a ninja yet truly, but at least he was better then Sakura, and understood what needed to be done, and did it.
"I will fight for my dreams, as you will fight for yours." Hakus told them simply, "Please; don't hate me. It is my dream to protect, and serve that person that is precious to me, and for that dream, I will kill if I must."
"A… precious person?" Naruto echoed quietly, looking away. Sasuke wondered if Naruto was going to go overly sentimental on him, but quickly shooed away this worry; even if Haku's words had struck a chord in Naruto, Naruto wouldn't let it effect the fight… and moments later, this sentiment was echoed on Naruto's face as the boy gave Sasuke a confident grin as if to say "We're not going to lose to this guy; we're going to win no matter what."
Sasuke knew that Kakashi thought they couldn't do this; there were so many reasons why they shouldn't be able to after all. They were young, inexperienced, and had never killed, and truly, even Sasuke told himself that he had the strength to take a life, he wouldn't know for sure until that time came. He didn't know if he had that strength, and he didn't know if Naruto had that strength… but they were about to find out.
The sound of shattering glass filled the air again and again, followed by the 'whoosh' of flying needles and the thick 'plop' of blood wetly hitting the ground.
"We can't go on like this." Sasuke thought, even though his body was already preparing itself for another go, and even while his hands were poised, and ready to do the hand signs for his fire jutsu. He knew they couldn't continue the battle the way it was going, but they had to; they had to keep fighting, and they had to find a way around Hakur's bloodline jutus. And Sasuke was sure they were getting close to find the hole in Haku's defenses; he could feel it, and he was getting close to being able to follow Haku's movement...
"Again." Sasuke whispered, and with a nod, and a hand sigh, Naruto created his shadow clones, and attacked the mirrors once more. On cue, Haku fled the mirrors at top speed, and Sasuke, with his sharingan eyes trained on Haku, released his jutus and sent red flames spiraling towards the boy.
"I didn't get a direct hit!" Sasuke's mind hissed, "But it was closer this time… We're almost there!" again, Sasuke let out a growl of pain as Haku once again bombarded them with needles, bringing both boys to their knees.
"Again?" Naruto asked without hesitation, though his voice gave away his true fatigue. Sasuke turned to look at his teammate; if there was anything admirable about Naruto, it was the boy's will power and determination.
"Again." Sasuke agreed, readying himself to attack once more while Naruto attacked the mirrors with his clones again. But for some reason, the newest barrage of needles was harsher then before, and it was enough to bring Naruto to his knees again.
"Moron." Sasuke chided his teammate mentally; "Get up stupid so we can attack again!"
Just then, there was a whoosh of air; Haku was attacking again! Sasuke readied himself for defense, but then he saw it: Haku wasn't aiming for him! He was aiming for Naruto. Sasuke's blood ran cold, and his entire body seemed to stop for a complete second, and for a single moment, his brain froze. There weren't many options for protecting Naruto; in fact, there were only two choices really: take the hit for Naruto, or let Naruto take the hit himself. Those needles that Haku was about to throw weren't aimed to weaken, or hurt; they were meant to kill, and they would kill Naruto… but if he stepped in front of Naruto, and took the needles for him, it would be him who would be the dead one…
…He didn't want Naruto to die, but was he ready to give his life for another? For Naruto? Sasuke hesitated for only a moment before irrationally running for Naruto in hopes that his body would make a choice for him when he got there, but that moment of hesitation had made all the difference; it was too late. The needles had already hit their mark.
Naruto only flinched slightly as the needles hit him, but for some reason, the very sight was more horrifying then watching a man being tortured to death to Sasuke. Shakily, Sasuke pressed his fingers to Naruto's neck to check for a pulse… but there was nothing. No beat, no sound, no heart; dead. Sasuke felt his whole body begin to shake; Naruto? Dead?! No, it couldn't be…!
"…Why didn't you jump in front of him?" asked a shaky voice, "The only reason I went for him, was to lure you to take the hit."
Sasuke turned, and was surprised to find that the source of the voice was his opponent wearing the mask of the hunter nin… only, the boy no longer was wearing the mask, and had instead taken off the mask to reveal a kind, almost feminine face.
"W-what?" Sasuke asked, "Hey, you're that person from the forest!"
"He's a very noble person." Haku commented, leaning down to look at Naruto and ignoring Sasuke's comment, "And he has a very kind heart. I didn't want to kill him, I truly didn't… and if I could bring him back, I would; there aren't many ninja like him in the world. He's truly one of a kind."
"Yeah." Sasuke agreed shakily, looking down on Naruto, and not believing that Naruto could possibly be dead…And of course, Naruto, being Konoha's #1 unpredictable ninja, Naruto didn't disappoint.
Naruto's eyes suddenly flew open, and around his entire body, chakra began swirling in masses so large that they could be seen with the naked eye. Somewhere else on the bridge, Kakashi's eyes went wide. "That chakra…!"
But of course, Kakashi wasn't the only one to notice the sheer amount of chakra; in fact, some miles away, someone else felt the presence of a familiar, demon chakra, but for the moment, Sasuke didn't know about any of that, and it was therefore no concern to him. At the moment, his priority was dealing with a Naruto was acting very much out of character to him…
…And to think so much could all be a result of just one moment of hesitation…