Disclaimer: Naruto is the creation of Masashi Kishimoto. BLEACH is the creation of Tite Kubo. Naruto and BLEACH are the property of said creators, their publishers, and their distributors. No infringement is intended. This is a work of fanfiction and no profit is being made.
Author's Note: See Profile for Author's Note, Commentary, and response to reviews…
"ABC" - Spoken
ABC - Thought
"ABC" –Biju/Hollow Spoken
ABC – Biju/Hollow Thought
&&&& - Scene Change
Warrior's Heart, Lover's Soul
Chapter One: Perfect
In a perfect world there'd be no pain…
A scream sounds, an attack wavers, and a body falls.
And, in the moment of distraction that follows, the man with the pinwheel eyes strikes; turning the tide against his opponent in a most brutal yet efficient manner.
In a perfect world there'd be no sorrow…
Endless pain... Pooling blood... Flowing tears…
Two pairs of eyes meet, they hold within them feelings of regret, sorrow, and, most of all, love. Their stare never wavers as they're completely lost in each other, completely forgetting the presence of the two responsible for leaving them in such a sorry state. At least that's until the cerulean pair widen, showing increasing degrees of panic, as their lavender counterparts waver before closing for what maybe their last time.
In a perfect world there'd be no hate…
One body… Two beings… One goal…
Never had they seen the other in such a state. One eerily calm the other shockingly enraged. Their gazes lock expressing their shared feelings and with a nod of the head their shared existence changes forever.
In a perfect world there'd be no fear…
But, sadly, this isn't a perfect world… and for the members of Team Seven, Eight, and, the recently formed, Hebi that was made all the more clear by the maliciously foul charka that has just washed over the countryside.
Every man, woman, and child… every beast, bug, and fowl… every entity for miles froze under its intensity. And, as suddenly as it came it was gone and in its place panic spread once more.
First, that giant explosion appeared in the distance looking like it could swallow the world whole. Only to be followed by that ominous chakra shortly after. Now, the fear of whatever could possibly release such an oppressive feeling was maddening. Yet, within this madness several individuals were able to keep their cool, no matter how slightly that may have been. One of these individuals is named Hatake Kakashi and in place of fear, only one thought filled his mind as he stopped heading for the location of the explosion and looked towards the horizon.
In a perfect world, one would always be accepted…
A smirk graces their lips as they glance at the sorry state they're both in. Their eyes shifting from similar shades of crimson to their natural colors of black and blue, as they share a short laugh while basking in the glow of what they've accomplished that day. But, it would not last long as the price of their victory made its self known; the high, cruel price that it is.
In a perfect world, one would always be loved…
"Hey there, Hime…"
At the sound of his voice, her gaze instantly locks with his and in their meeting nothing need be said as the joy, relief, and love they feel at that moment can be found within their eyes.
A bright smile fills his face as he gently kisses her on the forehead. Pulling away his smile fades, becoming serious, as he glances off into space for a moment before smiling sadly, stating, "There isn't much time, but we have a plan…"
In a perfect world, one would always "end" alongside the one they love…
But, sadly, this isn't a perfect world… but, sometimes, if only for a moment it appears that way. And, for Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Hinata, they wouldn't have it any other way.
"Hey…. Kakashi-sensei… You're late…"
"Naruto… I-I'm sorry…"
The sight that greeted Kakashi as he arrived at the source of the all-too familiar chakra was something that would haunt him to the day he dies.
Blood… Gore… Death… these are things a ninja expects to see upon the field of battle, yet if sane wishes they didn't. Such, is the case for Kakashi as his mismatched eyes scan the scene before him.
Trees tore asunder, flame-scorched earth, a mutilated corpse, and the broken, beaten bodies of his comrades littering the crater-strewn countryside is what greeted Kakashi and it sickened him to his very core.
Lying in a crater to his left is what's left of Hoshigaki Kisame, once known as an S-Class Criminal, the Scourge of the Mist, and an Akatsuki member. Now, he's been reduced to nothing more than a bloody clump of flesh.
Kakashi looks to Naruto, who shrugs his shoulders before laughing.
"Bastard, got off easy… hurting my Hime like that, ain't that right, Hinata-chan…?"
"Y-You got him… real good, Naruto-kun…" states Hinata, laying her head against his shoulder as she wraps his arm around her even tighter.
"Yeah… all for you, always for you…" Naruto replies, burying his nose in Hinata's hair, causing her to let loose a free yet tense laugh.
Kakashi watches the young duo interact and can't help but feel that he's missing something. They're sitting under what's left of a tree, partly hidden by the shade offered by its remaining branches. Naruto sits with his back against the trunk with Hinata sitting between his legs snuggled into his chest.
Kakashi scans the area once more noticing that something's off, missing, his eyes widening as he realizes exactly what, more like whom, that is.
"Itachi… Yamoto… What happened to…?"
Naruto and Hinata glance around the clearing then at each other before looking back to Kakashi, shrugging their shoulders, replying, "Hmm… You say something, Kakashi-sensei…?"
Their answer has the desired effect with Kakashi nearly falling over as their laughter fills the almost barren clearing that was once a path passing through a lush forest.
"We're kidding, Kakashi-sensei… Yamoto should be lying around here somewhere…"
"I got him."
The trio turns to see Sai arrive with Yamoto thrown over his shoulder. Moments later, the clearing is suddenly full of activity as the remaining members of Team Seven and Eight arrive.
"Damn… What happened here?"
"Sorry, about that… I got a little carried away."
At the sound of his voice, the new arrivals turn to where Naruto and Hinata sit. Their eyes widen, not only from the shock of the intimate position they're in but from the sight of their condition.
"Oh God… Naruto… Hinata…"
Sakura starts rushing towards them but is stopped by Kakashi. She looks at him with confused eyes but he simply shakes his head, saying, "Check on, Yamoto."
"There's nothing you can do… now, see to Yamoto."
Sakura looks from Kakashi to Naruto and Hinata before nodding her head in agreement, despite how much it hurts her to do so. Everyone remains frozen in place until Kiba notices where Sakura is heading.
"Hey, why aren't you…"
He's silenced by Shino placing a hand on his shoulder. Their eyes meet, Shino saying, "Don't…"
Kiba growls in frustration but, like Sakura before him, he nods in understanding. He turns his back to his friends as Akamaru, sensing his partner's distress, licks his hand.
"I'm all right… it's them you should be worried about."
Sai, having put Yamoto down for Sakura to examine, kneels before Naruto and Hinata. Looking them over, he nods his head, smiling, he states, "I see you held your own, Dick-less… you too, Sunshine"
Everyone in the clearing freezes as they look to the smiling young man with stares of disbelief. The silence that had descended upon the clearing is shattered as Naruto and Hinata start laughing, loudly.
"You bet your ass I did, Ink-blot! As, for being dick-less… well, I bet Hinata-chan would beg to differ. Ain't that right, Hime…?"
Feeling all eyes on her, Hinata surprises them all by smiling brightly before stating, "I-If Naruto-kun's d-dick-less than that's one big kunai poking my behind."
Hinata turns to Naruto who blushes, as he rubs the back of his head laughing. Noticing the shocked looks on everyone present, he leans forward and whispers into her ear, "God, I love it when my Hime's bold…"
Leaning back, Hinata delivers the final blow to everyone's fragile nerves by kissing Naruto on the lips, before whispering in reply, "I know… only for you, always for you…"
The sound of a body hitting the ground breaks everyone out of their stupor, as they look to find Kiba's passed out. Again, laughter fills the air as Naruto, Hinata, Sai, and, shockingly, Shino laugh at their fallen comrade. They're soon joined by Sakura and Kakashi as they overcome their initial shock as realization hits them. But, the jovial atmosphere is shattered as Kakashi tries to regain control of the situation.
"All right, well, um… Congratulations, Naruto and Hinata… but, let's refocus. Naruto, Itachi… He was here, right…? So, what happened to him?"
All eyes are on Naruto as his entire demeanor changes. Sighing, he lays his head upon Hinata's shoulder before beginning to explain.
"Well, about that… You'd better wake him. Since, it'd be better to ask the Teme…"
"Ask me what, Dobe…"
Everyone, looking up, falls into defensive stances as their eyes fall upon the visage of Uchiha Sasuke. Sitting up in the tree, Naruto and Hinata are sitting under; Sasuke looks down upon his former comrades and smirks at the look of utter befuddlement upon his former sensei's face.
Was he there the entire time, I didn't even sense him…
The air is obviously tense as Team Seven gaze upon their former member; for Kakashi, a failed student, for Sakura, a childhood crush and teammate, and for Naruto, a comrade, a rival, a brother. Yet, the mood is shattered as laughter erupts from a familiar source.
"Have a nice nap, Teme… Hey, when'd you change…? Anyway, nice look… really screams brooding avenger."
"See… that's what I said, but you had to go hitting me."
Everyone looks to see a young man wearing the same cloak as Sasuke entering the clearing. He's carrying a large zanbato against his shoulder that's instantly recognized by the members of Team Seven, but before they can comment on it another voice is heard, this one female.
"Yeah, well, that's what you get, Suigetsu… insulting Sasuke-kun like that."
"Oh, it's Sasuke-kun, is it… and since when are you two so close… huh, Karin?"
The young woman in question, a redhead with equally red eyes wearing glasses and the same cloak as the other two, blushing, stutters while trying to find a cover for her slip of the tongue. But, she doesn't get a chance as Naruto yet again makes his presence known.
"Hey, Kakashi-sensei… Catch!"
Kakashi without looking catches what Naruto threw at him, dropping it upon noticing what it is. Shock is the only word that can describe the look upon his face as he looks down upon the severed arm lying at his feet. He looks to Naruto, his eyes asking, maybe even begging, for confirmation of what he believes that arm to represent.
"Like I told Sasuke, it's time for him to focus on the second part of his dream… cause part one is officially complete."
Naruto's laughter follows and is all that's heard within the clearing as everyone is too stunned by what they've heard to react. But, those who know the blonde well hear something different in his laughter, something manic.
Hinata reaches up, running a hand along the side of his face, quieting him instantly. Naruto sighs contently as she traces the whisker-like marks on his cheek. Mouthing, I'm okay, Naruto looks away from Hinata to face the last Uchiha.
Those two simple words cause Sasuke to look from his brother's served arm, lying at Kakashi's feet, to the eyes of his one-time rival. What lies within those blue orbs nearly causes the last Uchiha to gasp. He leaps down from where he sits landing next to the blond and his girl. He sighs, thinking of that look.
The look of one who is truly tired, someone who faces a great unknown, both fearing and welcoming it, it's the look Uchiha Itachi wore in his final moments.
"What are you apologizing for…?"
"It was your vengeance to be dealt… I-I had no right interfering…"
"Yeah… thanks for the thought… at least, it ended at our hands, right…?"
Grinning, Naruto replies, "Of course… Like you could have done it without me…?"
Sasuke replies with a grunt causing Naruto and Hinata to laugh. Despite how seemingly relaxed the trio seems with each other, everyone else remains silent as the tension amongst them only seems to build with each passing moment. At least, that's until Kiba makes his rejoining of the conscious known by stating the obvious.
"Um, sorry to interrupt, but aren't we supposed to be capturing his emo-ass?"
That statement would serve to all but shatter the mounting tension as he's nearly knocked back into unconscious, by two blows to the head, while hearing dual shouts of "Sasuke isn't emo!"
It's following this that a third stranger makes his presence known, as he admonishes one of Kiba's attackers for her actions.
"Control of one's emotions is a virtue… attacking a member of an enemy party when we have a tentative peace in place… not so much."
"Shut up, Jugo… this coming from the part-time lunatic… and I'm not the only one who hit him. Pinky, here, did too."
"Hey, who the hell are you calling Pinky, Red?"
"That'd be you… So, what's it to you?"
"Listen here, you…?"
Staring each other down, the two girls are just about to forget all their training and let things degrade into a simple cat-fight when a muffled voice catches their and everyone else's attention. They turn to see Naruto speaking softly to Hinata, so softly that they can just barely hear what's being said.
"It's all right… I'm here and I'll be joining you soon… so, don't be afraid…"
"I'm not… I-I just wish…"
"Me too… remember, stay close I'll be right behind you."
"I will… I-I know she's telling the truth… right, Naruto-kun…"
"I hope so, Hime… cause I'd be lost without you."
"God, I love you, so much."
"I know, and I love you too, Hinata… always."
Leaning down, he captures her lips with his own for what would be the last time. Pulling away, he looks into her beautiful eyes overflowing with love and watches as they slowly dull, signifying that the young life of the future Uzumaki Hinata has come to an end.
Kissing her forehead, Naruto gently closes her eyes, whispering, "I'll see you soon, Hime."
Releasing a staggered sob, Naruto struggles to keep his emotions in check as he tightens his embrace on her. Managing to calm himself, he calls for Shino and Sai to help him with her body. They gently pull her away from him, only to struggle to keep from dropping her at the sight that greets them. The entire front of Naruto's person is drenched in blood as is the ground he sits upon.
"It's not my blood."
The meaning of Naruto's sorrow-filled statement is gathered at the horrifying sight that is Hinata's back – or what's left of it. From just below her neck to right above her rear, all her skin and a large amount of flesh is simply gone.
"Samehada… I-I healed what I could… using the fox's chakra… it had stopped the bleeding and re-grew some of the flesh but only enough for me to stabilize her…"
Surprising everyone present, as Naruto speaks; Sasuke removes his cloak and lays it out so that they may rest Hinata upon it. Naruto looks up at him with grateful eyes, to which Sasuke simply nods his head before leaning against the tree Naruto's sitting under.
"Speaking of Samehada… what happened to it?"
Naruto looks to the one called Suigetsu and after a moment begins laughing at the white haired youth.
"What's so funny, Jinchuriki?"
His question is met with silence from everyone else present, except Naruto who only proceeds to laugh even harder. His response, or lack thereof, only serves to infuriate the young Hebi member.
"Dammit, I'm talking to you… Who the hell do…?"
His question is never finished as quicker than anybody can follow Naruto appears before Suigetsu. Grabbing him by the head, his hand covering his prey's mouth, Naruto effortlessly lifts him off the ground.
"Shhh… Now, you want to know who the hell I am… Well, I am Uzumaki Naruto, once Jinchuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune and now holder of your fate… Tell me, Graverobber, do you wish to live…?"
It's at that moment that everyone makes a harrowing discovery, noticing that Naruto is holding Suigetsu up with his left hand because he no longer has a right one.
Seeing their shocked expressions, Naruto laughs, saying, "He took my arm, so I took his."
Everyone instantly knows who he's referring to, as some glance to the severed limb laying several feet away still wearing the Akatsuki ring. Their attention is instantly captured as Naruto, suddenly, begins to release an ungodly amount of chakra as right before their eyes, in seconds, he enters his three-tailed state.
"Well, I'm waiting… what's your answer?"
Suigetsu's answer is a muffled cry, as the charka surrounding Naruto begins to slightly burn him, as Naruto appears to be entering his four-tailed state.
My God… is he actually controlling the transformation…?
Sakura and Sai calmly approach Naruto as they remember all to well what happened the last time he went four-tail.
"Naruto-kun… are you all right?"
Turning to face Sakura, she finds herself staring at the enlarged, feral features of the three-tailed state as he appears to be on the verge of going four-tailed. Surprisingly, she receives a cheerful answer as a gruff, guttural, growl-like voice responds, "Of course, Sakura-chan, everything's fine… I'm just putting this bastard in his place."
"Oh… okay, just asking."
Turning back to his prey, Naruto asks, smiling, "Now, where was I… Oh, right, so how about it? Do you wish to live or do you want to join Kisame as a stain on the countryside?"
Everyone watches the transformation continue and to their shock they come to find nine tails wagging behind Naruto as it comes to an end. Yet, unlike the last time he went past three tails, Naruto remains in control, seemingly unharmed by the foul chakra, and completely humanoid in appearance.
The Chakra shell encasing him has become a dark blackish-red but remains see-through. The only part of him that resembles his previous transformation into his four-tailed state is his left hand and the shell's right arm which are oily-black and claw-like.
"Naruto-kun, I believe he's sorry… so, please, release him. I believe your chakra's poisonous in this state, correct?"
Naruto looks to Sai, clearly surprised by his interference. He smiles playfully at his friend and asks, "Why do you care… do you know this bastard?"
Sai looks to Suigetsu, his expression giving nothing away, before replying, "Perhaps, in another life…"
Naruto laughs darkly before bringing Suigetsu to eye-level, stating, "Well, I guess, I'll take the fear in your eyes to mean you want to live…"
Naruto glances at Sai than Suigetsu before smirking, stating, "But, I don't really give a damn…"
Naruto lifts Suigetsu in the air as his nine tails stop wagging before lining themselves up with the Hebi member, they become thin and blade like, preparing to impale the struggling Mist nin. Suddenly, the other two Hebi members jump into action but as suddenly as their attack begins it comes to a sudden halt as they find themselves grabbed by Naruto's tails.
Laughing, Naruto retracts the tails bringing them before him. Looking them over, he smirks, asking, "Whatever should I do with you three…?"
His remaining tails begin to line themselves up again, but before Naruto can go any further, Sasuke clears his throat from where he remains leaning against the tree Naruto and Hinata was sitting under.
Naruto shrugs his shoulders, laughing, replying, "Yeah, you're right… I'm wasting precious time."
Naruto then gently places Jugo and Karin back down before flaring his charka causing everyone present to struggle to keep from passing out, but Suigetsu isn't as lucky. Naruto throws his unconscious husk at his teammates' feet. Landing hard, it's instantly noticed that he's missing something as the large zanbato that once belonged to Momochi Zabuza rests in the grip of one of Naruto's tails.
"Teme, keep your toys in check or I may accidentally break them."
Turning around to face his teammates, Naruto smiles, which is more threatening then comforting in his current state. They're amazed as he exits his tailed state before taking a seat with the large sword in hand under another tree; Naruto proceeds to seal it within a scroll before chucking it to Sai.
"I'd like for the Kubikiri Houcho to be returned to where it belongs, but I have a feeling the thief would simply take it again. So… if or when you think he's worthy, return it to him… If not, give it to Senpai as I think she'd be a better successor anyway… better yet forget that first part and give it to Tenten-chan with my thanks for her help. Tell her I'm sorry I won't get to finish trying to survive her training."
Sai nods, smiling before replying, "Don't worry, I'll handle it."
Naruto smiles before exhaling deeply, he turns to Sasuke who's moved to leaning against the same tree as him again. He looks him over before nodding his head.
"Well, I guess it's obvious what happened here but to set the record straight… We were searching for Mr. Last Uchiha here when we were approached by Kabuto."
Reaching into the tattered remains of his jacket, Naruto pulls out a black notebook and throws it to Kakashi.
"Kabuto left that. He says it's all of Orochimaru's data on the Akatsuki. He said it was a token of thanks… that I inspired him or something. Yamoto was there, of course, so he'll fill you in on the details. Anyway, after we failed to capture him, we were attacked by Itachi and Kisame."
Naruto pauses, as he glances at Hinata's body, before shaking his head.
"Itachi hit Yamoto with Tsukuyomi, right off the bat, and Kisame took out the pooch. Leaving me and Hinata to face them alone. I took Itachi, Hinata… I nearly had the bastard with my Futon: Rasenshuriken (Wind Release: Spiraling Shuriken) but…"
Kakashi steps forward kneeling before his student. Placing a comforting hand upon his shoulder, he asks him to take his time and clearly explain what happened. Naruto nods his head, taking a claming breath, he continues.
"Hinata took on Kisame and she was holding her own as the stupid fool was underestimating her. He was pressuring her into something of a corner when she sprang it on him… the bastard didn't know what hit him."
"What did she hit him with, Naruto-kun?"
Naruto smiles brightly, the pride that they see in his eyes is heartwarming, as he looks upon her with unending love.
"Shugohakke Rokujuyon Sho (Protection of the Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms)… he never knew what hit him. She must have sealed just about every tenketsu in his body, destroying a large amount as well… And, it was the momentary distraction I needed to set Itachi up for my move but…"
Naruto and Sasuke's eyes met and Naruto shakes his head.
"I took what I learned from my fight with that Kakuzu guy and lured him into a false sense of security. Then Hinata hit Kisame with everything she had, momentarily distracting Itachi, which gave me just enough time to overwhelm him, if only for a moment, but just as I was about to land it… I heard..."
Naruto pauses leaving everyone hanging, causing Kiba to ask, "Heard what?"
"Her scream… Kisame's like me in that he has way too much chakra to seal fully. He blew open his tenketsu and… Anyway, the next thing I knew Itachi's lobbed my arm off with a sword like the one's the ANBU carry and I'm down on the ground across from my Hime, who's trying with everything she has to not scream or pass out from the pain. Then time seemed to slow and before I knew it I was outside the fox's cage."
Naruto starts to laugh before becoming sullen in demeanor. Everyone remains still while hanging on his every word. He looks at Kakashi and smirks.
"You know it's funny, we, me and Kyuubi, have never gotten along in our few encounters but at that moment we were of one mind and body. Two goals drove us on: One was to survive, the other, the main one, to maim, to kill, to destroy… The fox gave me free reign of its chakra and we went forward as one, our shared goal was simple - the complete and utter destruction of the ones who harmed our… I mean, my mate… I mean, Hinata… Sorry, things are a bit jumbled in here at the moment."
The possible meaning of his words leaves everyone stumped, except Kakashi who seems to know exactly what Naruto's hinting at and he doesn't appear to like it one bit.
"Well, one thing led to another and Samehada was the first to fall. Oh, trust me, it was a stubborn bitch but I pumped it full of the fox's chakra and it was soon suffering a serve case of explosive indigestion. If anything remains of that damned sword, it should be around here somewhere. As, for Kisame… well, let's just say we've developed a taste for sushi."
Naruto, licking his lips, laughs darkly at the horrified expression on all their faces, but quiets down as he mellows out and lets out a resigned sigh.
"Seeing Kisame fall, Itachi tried to run like the coward he is or was but not before I took his arm. He was surprised to say the least that I stopped at just his arm. But, as I told him, he wasn't mine to kill… Sasuke arrived just in time to handle that, but I helped Itachi along with a Kyuubi-feed Rasenshuriken to the face. There was nothing left…"
Naruto and Sasuke share a moment before grinning at everyone's still shocked expressions. Naruto frowns before continuing, "We may have accomplished our main goal but, sadly, the second wasn't meant to be."
Noticing the sorrowful looks on the faces of those he's come to see as more than friends, but as family, Naruto smiles sadly.
"Come on, don't look at me like that… even if I hadn't lost an arm or my Hinata, my life would still be over. I simply drew upon too much of the fox's chakra; I mean those nine tails weren't for show… It's only because of the fox controlling the amount entering my system at the moment that you're not standing in a Biju-sized crater. Still, it's eating away at me even now as it flows threw my system. Whether it's a day, month, or year from now - I'm going to die… in a most painful way. So, it might as well be now, so I can be with my Hime."
Sakura finally snaps, throwing herself at Naruto, landing in his lap. Leaning into his chest, she embraces him in a sloppy hug before pulling back and staring into his eyes which are full of surprise.
"No, Naruto… No, there's got to be something we can… Tsunade-sama… maybe she can…"
Naruto silences Sakura with a caste kiss on the lips followed by another on the forehead. He pulls her into a hug whispering into her ear, "I've loved you for as long as I can remember. As time passed, I sometimes wondered what type of love was it. Then, one day, I realized it didn't matter… as long as I did. And, I'll continue to do so into the next life. Go; be with the teme, he needs someone to take care of him. I mean, look at the company he keeps…"
Sakura laughs, as she glances at the Hebi members, Suigetsu is still unconscious, Karin huffs at Naruto's statement, and Jugo shrugs his shoulders neither agreeing nor disagreeing.
"See… so please look after each other or who knows what trouble he'll get himself into."
"Thank you for caring, Sakura-chan, but…"
Sakura cuts him off, shaking her head emphatically, "I don't just care… I-I love…"
It's Naruto's turn to cut her short, pulling her against him once more, "I know… I mean, how could you not?"
Sakura laughs as she pulls back slightly, cupping his face with her hands, running her thumbs along his birthmarks as her eyes scan every inch of his face to memory. Smiling mischievously, she quickly dips in capturing Naruto's lips in a passionate kiss. Pulling back, she's proud to see a dazed expression on his face. Giggling, she kisses him on his bare forehead, his hitaite seemingly lost during the battle, before saying loud enough for all to hear, "I love you, Uzumaki Naruto."
They sit there staring into each other's eyes, Naruto at a loss as to what he should say or do at that moment. For so long, hearing this girl, no this woman, say those words were the be-all, end-all of his existence besides becoming Hokage and, now, that he's heard them, he can only sit there in awe of her and those words.
The impact they're having on him is only second to the first time Hinata said those same words to him. As, it was the first time anyone had said such a thing to him after he had all but given up on ever hearing such words.
They're broken out of it by a gentle hand being placed upon Sakura's shoulder. They look up to see Sasuke looking down at them with solemn eyes.
Sakura nods, accepting his hand so that he can help her to her feet. Standing before Sasuke, she gently runs a hand along the side of his face. Their eyes meet and she smiles, nodding at what she sees in his eyes, before pulling her hand away, stepping around him she walks away not looking back at either of her teammates.
"Well, I guess, we've prolonged things long enough… Hey, Sasuke, give me a hand. If I'm going out it'll be on my feet."
Sasuke shakes his head as he pulls Naruto up. Putting Naruto's arm around his shoulders, they stand side by side smirking at each other.
"Like old times, huh, Teme."
"Yeah, me always bailing your ass out, Dobe."
Everyone present, whether they know the Duo's history or not, can't help but smile as the two rivals turned friends laugh together. Their laughter halts as Kakashi comes to stand before them. He looks upon his most surprising student with eyes full of pride. Smiling, that smile that only he can, he laughs saying, "I believe I know what you have in mind… And, I won't try to talk you out of it but…"
Kakashi pauses before shaking his head ruefully. He then surprises everyone present by pulling down his mask and smiling brightly.
"It has been an honor and a privilege to be your sensei, teammate, and friend. Konoha, no life, won't be the same without you."
"Thank you, Kakashi… Watch over them, all of them, please."
"I will, you have my word."
Kakashi steps back, replacing his mask, before standing next to Sakura. She looks him over before jabbing him in the ribs with her elbow, "Not bad… not bad at all."
Kakashi laughs, replying, "Sasuke's not the only one who's had to deal with a fangirl or two."
They share a quick laugh as they watch Kiba and Akamaru approach Naruto. Standing before him, Kiba smirks as he looks him over, laughing; he throws his arm around his shoulder pulling Naruto away from Sasuke who shakes his head as the Dog-boy's antics.
"It's been a blast, man. You've always been one to do it your own way. So, why should now be any different?"
"You're one to talk."
"True, true… Anyway, thanks… for making her happy. If anyone deserved to be, it was her."
"Yeah, well, thanks for being there when I couldn't. She loved you all, you know that right? You, Akamaru, Shino, and Kurenai were the family she always needed, always wanted. Thanks, for giving her that."
Kiba steps away from Naruto, his back to him, before turning around a cocky smile upon his face.
"It's been something else… knowing you, man. Take care of her on the other side."
Kiba extends his hand which Naruto gladly accepts, shaking it firmly.
"You know I will."
Nodding, Kiba turns away to find Shino standing next to him; Kiba pats his friend on the back before walking away.
The two stand before each other simply observing the other before Naruto laughs pulling Shino into an awkward hug.
"Same old, Shino… We want to thank you for keeping our secret. You were always there for her and later for me, too. You were there when we needed advice or someone to confide in. It may have been only a few months but you being there made all the difference in the world. Thanks for seeing us for who we really are."
"Your welcome, my friend, you will never be forgotten… neither of you."
"Thanks… Oh, and Shino… tell them our story. Tell anyone who wants to know - the real us."
"I will. Farewell… Naruto."
Shino smiles at Naruto's response before stepping aside to reveal Sai. He stands there emotionless as Naruto does the same until both crack-up laughing.
"It's been interesting, Ink-blot. Thanks for… I don't know… for being you, I guess."
"Likewise, thank you, for giving me a bond of my own. I will never forget you or our bond, Uzumaki Naruto."
Pulling him into a hug, Naruto whispers to Sai, "Watch over baachan for me. She's going to need someone to be there with me gone."
Sai nods his head stepping away. Naruto looks over everyone present, his gaze landing upon the members of Hebi. Smirking he walks over with the aid of Sasuke to stand before them.
"I don't know any of you, but if Sasuke picked you then you can't be all that bad. I want you to think about what's happened here today and decided if you still want to follow Sasuke as he's now heading for Konoha."
Looking to Suigetsu, Naruto struggles not to smirk at the unconscious fool whose been flung over Jugo's shoulder. Naruto's eyes flash red momentarily as he looks to Karin. He looks her over intently causing her to blush under his scrutiny. Smiling brightly, he extends his hand which she accepts hesitantly.
"Uzumaki Naruto, it's a pleasure."
"Karin, likewise, I guess."
Naruto smiles letting go of her hand before leaning into Sasuke, whispering loud enough for Karin to hear, "Nice, not bad at all… and here I was thinking you might be… you know. Now, don't mess it up and let this babe get away because you lack a personality."
Karin can't help but giggle as Sasuke actually, surprisingly, blushes. Naruto smiles, saying, "Take care of the teme for me. Something tells me you and Sakura-chan are gonna have your hands full."
Karin nods, despite herself, glancing at Sakura who smiles slightly. Naruto then looks to Jugo and frowns; he looks him over intently before sighing.
"The vibe we get from you is like what I got from Haku and that bone guy."
"You've meet Kimimaro?" Jugo asks, sounding surprised.
"Yeah, if that was the bone guy's name… Anyway, listen, don't follow in their footsteps and die for someone else's dream. Live for yourself; die for yourself… if that makes any sense. Please, take my advice, aid the teme, but don't live or die for his dream. Die, only for your precious people, for your dreams. Sorry, I'm rambling…"
"No, I understand. And, I will take your words under advisement."
"Good… I'll tell him you say hello."
Jugo nods, understanding who "him" is, as Naruto and Sasuke walk away. They come to a stop near the middle of the clearing, near the spot where they brought Itachi's life to an end.
Sasuke steps away from Naruto and walks several feet away before turning to face him. They stare each other down for several moments, before they both begin to laugh, but unlike every other time they've laughed together this time it's so free, so full of life.
Quieting down, Naruto looks into the eyes of his friend and smiles. He removes what's left of his jacket, tossing it aside; he nods his head as he exhales deeply.
"Well, I guess this is it. Remember, everything we discussed. I want you to promise me again… that you'll keep your word."
"I swear, on my honor, my name, and the blood about to be spilt, that I will fulfill our pact. Don't worry, Naruto, I will protect your precious people."
Naruto smiles at hearing him say his name, laughing, he replies, "A simple 'I promise' would've done.
Smiling, Sasuke shakes his head at Naruto's antics. Silence fills the clearing until it's disturbed by the sound of bird's chirping.
"Thank you, Sasuke. We'll see you around."
"I'll be waiting, my brother."
Naruto closes his eyes, a surprisingly content smile upon his lips, as Sasuke dashes forward at full speed towards his target. As the chirping sound draws near, Naruto lets his thoughts wander to three names.
Three individuals, who played an until now unknown role in deciding his life's course and who by leaning of their existence has altered the course of his afterlife – Urahara Kisuke, Namikaze Minato, and Shihouin Yoruichi.
"Naruto-kun… Come on, Naruto-kun, answer me."
Naruto opens his eyes to find himself looking up into an all-too familiar pair of pearly white eyes. His head lying in her lap, Naruto smiles brightly as he wipes her eyes free of the tears threatening to spill.
Hinata laughs as she leans down capturing his lips with hers. Their kiss is long and passionate as they pour every once of their love into it. Sitting up, she smiles down at the blissful look on his face. Running her figures along his whisker marks, she finally answers, "Always… you had me worried. You wouldn't wake up and…"
"Sorry, I worried you. But, we're here, together, and look…"
Naruto brings his right hand up; running it gently threw her hair. She nuzzles his hand, sighing contently, as he pulls her down into another kiss.
"We're whole again. I guess Lilith wasn't lying… Now, we move on to step two."
Hinata nods her head before lifting his off her lap, as she moves to lie next to him. Snuggling up to Naruto, her head laying upon his chest, she asks, "Can we wait a moment? I want to simply be here… with you."
Naruto smiles, pulling her close, replying, "Of course, but only for a moment we have to keep moving. In case those things she mentioned show up."
"All right… Naruto-kun…?"
"Hmm…?" asks Naruto, looking down at her.
"I love you."
Naruto smiles, as Hinata blushes brightly under his gaze. Looking to his right, he frowns momentarily as he watches his friends gather up his and Hinata's bodies, wrapped in Sasuke and Jugo's cloaks, before taking off in the direction of Konoha.
Sighing contently, he replies, "Me too, Hime… more then you'll ever know."
Leaping threw the trees at a brisk pace; the remaining members of Squads Seven, Eight, and Hebi are silent as the day's events weigh heavily upon them. The silence is shattered as Sasuke, carrying Naruto's body, moves to be next to Shino, who's carrying Hinata's.
"When did… When did they happen?"
Shino follows Sasuke's gaze to the bundle in his arms and nods his head.
"To be honest, Uchiha, I believe the only positive to come from you leaving to be what you saw in that clearing."
Shino's statement captures everyone's attention as they all want to hear the story he has to tell. Nodding in understanding, Sasuke replies, "Maybe you're right."
"Don't worry, Uchiha, there's no need for regret. Your brother is dead and they died protecting the people and ideals precious to them. To finish answering your question, it all began with an umbrella…"
To Be Continued…