Title: Secondhand Faith

Chapter Title: Supernova

Author: Lell

Current Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Spoilers…pretty much up until the current chapters. While considered an AU, many things in the timeline remain the same. So, read at your own risk (though that warning applies to most of my work…) Tayuya's mouth and all subsequent obscenities and breaches of political correctness attributed to her.

Summary: They got Sasuke back (yay), Itachi died at his hands (more yay) and Konoha emerged triumphant after having been to hell and back in a handbasket (innumerable amounts of yay.) But sometimes peacetime is just as harrowing as war when old enemies and not so old friends convene at this year's Chuunin exams. (AU futurefic starring the Sand Sibs, various Otonin and the Konoha ensemble. All at once. Fear.)

oOo

Even though his heart and mind were shrilling in disbelief, Kiba only paused for a precious few seconds, then his body sprang into action. Around him, his peers were doing the same, and nobody could fault Gaara's reaction time.

Only moments after the explosion, the entire world went black.

Kiba counted his heartbeats – one, two, three…

Then there was light again – pale, eerie witchlights that flickered into existence. He recognised that particular jutsu and looked to his right. Ino gave him a wan smile back before she closed her eyes in concentration – he'd seen her use the technique before on night missions, but never on the scale necessary to light an entire arena.

One, incidentally, with no entrances or exits since Gaara had sealed up the open roof with sand.

That at least meant that the Kazekage was alive.

Please let Naruto be okay.

Please let Naruto be okay.

please let her be okay.

Already, shinobi were leaping down into the arena. Chouji, Sai and Tenten streaked in opposite directions, each to help calm the seething, screaming masses of civilians in the stands. Neji and Ino also disappeared, presumably to find their genin teams. He felt Shikamaru move up beside him and suddenly remembered that Temari would also have been in the Kages' box. The knowledge just gave him someone else to worry about.

"Ready?" he asked tightly. Shikamaru just nodded and then they were both leaping towards the Kages' box.

Sand and smoke filled Kiba's lungs and eyes, the strong smell irritating his sensitive nose. He coughed, but forged onwards, diving to the heart of the chaos. Something brushed past him and he grabbed at it instinctively, only to yelp in pain when the contact spread painful, painful chakra over his skin. Only one person's energy felt like that…

"Naruto," Kiba croaked, relief flooding his system. "You're alright."

The words sputtered and died when he saw the expression on his Hokage's face. Naruto's normally genial features were set in hard, angry lines and the effect was enough to make even Kiba take a step back.

Naruto looked murderous.

"Where are they?" He didn't even sound like Naruto, not with a voice as flat as that. Kiba looked back towards Shikamaru for guidance, but his friend looked unusually intent as his gaze flickered this way and that.

Then the tension suddenly went out of his body. "Temari."

Indeed, there was the Kage's sister, a scrape along her cheek, but alive nonetheless. "Shikamaru." They were, Kiba thought as he watched them, the oddest couple. They didn't even touch, barely looked at each other, but the sense of relief was still there.

"Where. Are. They."

Temari's pale brows slid together instantly. "The entire Oto party is being restrained in their box. Gaara had three squads on it immediately."

"He's okay then?" Kiba asked.

"Gaara's fine." Her jaw clenched. "Kankurou isn't. The silly idiot got in between me and the blast."

"Sakura will see to him." Naruto still looked murderous. "Sasuke's hurt, but the Lord of Fire Country is dead. And the daughter of the Raikage has lost a leg." His quiet rage turned hot suddenly. "She was six."

"Shit," Kiba breathed, with feeling. His gut felt as if he'd swallowed a kilo of ice and disbelief raged with horror for pride of place in his head.

Tayuya had done this. And he didn't need to think too hard about her motives for doing so. No one did. But there was still something off about it, something not quite right…something that didn't add up.

"Temari-san." One of the Sand chuunin flickered into position beside the blonde woman. "We have a situation."

"We're not in one already?" she asked tartly, but gestured at him to continue. The shinobi glanced nervously at Naruto, whose pulsating chakra had the air of a demon to it. "Eyes on me." He snapped back to attention at that, more intimidated by a blonde woman than a man with a monster sealed inside of him. "Report."

"Ah…" Maybe it was the growl from Naruto. Maybe it was the narrowing of Temari's pale green eyes. Maybe it was the weight of Kiba's own (desperate, frantic, accusing) probing gaze. Either way, the unfortunate Chuunin swallowed and continued. "It's Tayuya-san."

Wincing was a bad idea – it earned him a dangerous, too-feral-for-comfort look from Naruto – but Kiba couldn't help it. He didn't want to hear this, didn't want to hear about the state of her remains, of how the bomb she had made of her very body had caused so much destruction and, dammit, he had trusted a terrorist and he still couldn't quite believe that-.

"…she's alive, Temari-san."

The words hit him like a punch to the gut and it seemed as if, for a moment, his loyalties were painfully skewed. Because he shouldn't have been happy that a terrorist was alive. Because it shouldn't have sent a tremor of relief through him to hear that she had survived her attack upon the dignitaries. Because he shouldn't have immediately looked towards Naruto in alarm as to what his friend was going to go in the face of such a revelation.

He was right to guess that Naruto was not going to respond positively – dubious as his correctness was in all other things, he was on the money with that one. Since he'd turned his head fast enough, he saw the exact moment when Naruto was given someone tangible and alive to blame, when grief and frustration turned into the rage of a man who could call upon the powers of a demon. He felt his friend's chakra levels skyrocket and, before he'd even thought about it, his hands were tangled in the folds of Naruto's robes.

Distantly, he heard Shikamaru exclaim in surprise and Akamaru growl – presumably in response to someone reacting to his sudden move in a hostile fashion – but all he could see was the way in which Naruto's blue eyes were turning red. "She didn't do it, Naruto." The words fell out of his mouth before he could think and, really, he knew he couldn't justify it. For a moment, all of the anger in those crimson eyes was aimed directly at him and the pressure was unimaginable, but Kiba was sure. He couldn't put into words why – that she wouldn't have done it like this, that there'd have been a challenge and not an assassination, that she wouldn't have slept with him only to do this – but he'd always been someone who'd trusted his gut reaction.

But so was Naruto. And, clearly, his friend's gut was crying out for the blood of the woman he'd just seen attack the foundations of peace. Kiba winced when Naruto's chakra lashed at him, but stubbornly held his ground. "It looks bad. I get that." Oh how he got that. Things were all going to hell, but Kiba refused to let go of Naruto's sleeve as he stared desperately into what he hoped were the eyes of his friend, not of his Hokage. "Please, Naruto, you've just got to trust me on this one." It was a longshot, a huge thing to ask because it required Naruto to act on nothing but secondhand faith.

Kiba just hoped that it was enough.

(It wasn't.)

oOo

"Get your hands off—it wasn't fucking me! How many times do I need to say that?" There were too many of them. Far too many in too small a space. Nobody was even bothering right now with fancy binding jutsu or invisible restraints, just the heavy press of too many bodies bearing her to the ground. She caught a glimpse of Kaede's terrified face, of Dai being forcibly held back by a grim-faced Jiroubou whose own eyes burned with horror and anger, and then her hair blocked out the entirety of her vision as her forehead was slammed into the ground. She felt the skin over her skull split with the force of it all and new shades of red dripped viscously into her furious eyes. Her blood was the same colour as her hair, as that of the gruesomely perfect parody of herself she had seen explode above the dignitaries' box. In truth, it was more the flagrant use of her body and face and all that she represented that was filling her with rage, not the surging wave of Suna shinobi that had flooded into Oto's reserved box mere heartbeats afterwards. Not that she was happy about the barely-restrained killing intent that muddied the air and turned it as heavy as spoiled honey, but – and it galled her, how it galled her, to not fight back – she couldn't respond with her own vicious internal fire. Even she knew that, after what she'd just seen, she couldn't fight back.

…she was going to kill them. Not the 'them' that held her down as they finally wrapped her up in layer upon layer of chakra-binding ink, but the 'them' that had brought the past rushing forwards into the present. It had left a sour taste in her mouth to share space with all these enemies of old, but they had been getting somewhere. Oto had been getting somewhere, finally, after far too long spent being the scapegoat of all the world.

Everyone had always assumed that, if anyone in Oto was going to trample their fragile, spun-sugar chances for an alliance, it would be foul-mouthed, hot-tempered Tayuya. And they had been right, yet oh so horribly wrong all at the same time. Tayuya's face had betrayed them, her form had set their hopes on fire, but not the woman herself, not the one currently buried beneath the bodies of those who thought her a terrorist.

Really, if this was what it was going to have come to, she'd have rather done the deed herself than suffer for someone else's decision to be a zealot whilst wearing her face.

She cursed hotly when someone – many someones, in fact – leant too hard on her still healing ribs. Her shoulder was a burning brand of a white-hot pain thanks to the unnatural angle into which it was being forced. This was not gentle, perfunctory restraint, simply for show – it was a vice-like pressure that stank of hatred and anger, something she lacked the sheer physical strength or up close taijutsu skills to remove herself from. Her chakra was dampened, sealed into a single speck of brightness within her breast. Without that and without the flute she saw turning in an angry shinobi's unmusical hands, she was little more than a normal woman, held down by the strength of a man.

She almost wished she'd taken Jiroubou up on those offers to hone her hand-to-hand combat skills what seemed like a lifetime ago now…

And what hurt her pride the most was that she could have fought them earlier, could have resisted the seals their hissing, sand-worn chants had placed on her body and mind, but they'd already seen 'her' launch an attack on some of the most valuable people in the land. They were merely restraining her now, but if she fought back, they'd kill her for sure.

Tayuya's blood was salty where it ran into her mouth and settled on her tongue and oh how she hated the part of her that had become a politician.

"Stop."

Her head was still ringing with the force of the contact it had made with the hard, hard ground, so it was with a dizzy, inappropriate sort of humour that Tayuya wondered when Kidoumaru had started sounding like a real leader. The authority in his voice could rival Jiroubou for weight and—"Aah!" She hated screaming, but they'd surprised it out of her with a pressure that had suddenly become too great for her mortal body to bear. Her shoulder made a ghastly cracking sound as it was forced out of its socket and Tayuya – restrained and probably concussed – didn't have much choice about the sound that ripped itself out of her throat.

That was about when the pressure above her suddenly lessened.

Panting in a mixture of relief and scythe-edged pain, Tayuya had to blink away both the grey edges and blood obscuring her vision. Her arms were still pinioned behind her (the dislocated one as worthless as a hunk of long dead meat) but her neck was now free to move and she turned her head to see where all of that merciless weight had gone. A Suna jounin – no, she was mistaken, two - were pinned to the wall by a glutinous, faintly glowing mass and that meant only one thing. Another turn of her head made the world lurch sickeningly, but – nausea or not – Tayuya forced herself to focus on where Kidoumaru stood, all dark and thunderous, and, really, she didn't think she'd ever seen him look so angry before. He was so fucking amiable all of the god damned time that she forgot how dangerous his hands and heart and supernova bright chakra could be. He looked at them, all arrogance and commanding presence, and there was a calm defiance in those dark eyes of his. "What is this all about?"

Even lying down, she felt the crowd of Suna nin bristle. Their outrage was palpable in the way that it sparked like a flare of magma. She nearly passed out when that anger translated a vicious twist of her already injured arm. "What the—she tried to assassinate the Kazekage!" one of them snapped from somewhere behind her left ear.

Kidoumaru's expression didn't change. "I can assure you, she did not."

The most vocal of her captors tensed with rage. "You damn soundies. You can't deny this one." Tayuya actually opened her mouth at that one, pissed off beyond all belief at the insinuation that they'd ever tried to shed responsibility for anything, but the look on Kidoumaru's face stilled even her poisonous tongue. Besides, the Suna nin was already barrelling onwards. "We saw her. We all saw her."

Tayuya recognised a shift in Kidoumaru's expression as a sign of him trying to be as infuriating as possible. She knew from painful, aggravating experience that he was extremely good at it. "Are you sure that you saw what you saw?"

Normally, she was all for winding Suna nin up, but it was less satisfying when she was at the bottom of the pile, subject to every single ounce of pain her captors saw fit to make her experience. She winced when spite and disquiet and the entire host of emotions subordinates who had seen an attack on their commander were subject to made them hold her harder than was necessary, her lips twisting in dark, bitter irony. 'I hope you know what you're doing, spider-bastard,' she thought grimly as she glared at him from beneath the unwelcome press of bodies. She was staring at him, wondering just where the hell he was going with this, but he wasn't looking at her and it took her a heartbeat to work out why.

'…shit.'

Konoha had a demon for a Kage. That much was common knowledge among all shinobi. But there was a difference between knowing that Uzumaki Naruto housed a demon and feeling it. Once, she'd thought that Orochimaru-sama's chakra was the heaviest burden anyone could bear, forcing a person to their knees and bowing theirs heads in owed supplication, but even her former master's power seemed like a shadow, a ghost, a will-o-the-wisp in comparison to the way in which the blonde Hokage blazed. He was a sun – an angry, ferocious, burning-hot sun whose power licked at them with summer's heat and lashed at them with hellfire in the same breath and it felt like the very air in her lungs was turned to ash as he flickered into place behind Kidoumaru. The Suna bitch was there and the shadow guy and the Hokage's pink girl and many, many more, but he was all she could manage to concentrate on. Her eyes only briefly rested on a familiar (at least after last night) form and the pale shape of his absurdly large dog beside him for a second before they slid back towards the Hokage.

Even if she'd done the deed of which she'd been accused, Tayuya wouldn't have had space inside of her for guilt when she was too busy trying to remember how to breathe in the face of the Uzumaki Naruto's burning fury.

"Hokage-sama," Kidoumaru said, as urbanely as if they were sitting down for tea, "thank you for arriving so promptly."

"Get out of the way." The Uzumaki, on the other hand, sounded about as far from polite as it was possible to be, a realm he shared with Tayuya more than he did the person he was addressing.

There was nothing even close to resembling regret on Kidoumaru's face. "I'm afraid I can't do that."

She hadn't thought it possible, but all that chakra flared even higher and Tayuya found that she was shivering, feather-fine trembles that plagued her muscles despite her repeated orders to stop. The blonde wasn't messing around. "Move."

"If I move, you'll kill her." Kidoumaru took one step and then another. By then, he was fully facing the seething Hokage, his back to Tayuya as his body formed a barrier between her and Konoha's leader. It was a paltry wall, for it didn't do anything to lessen the pressure of Naruto's chakra, but Tayuya saw it for the symbol of defiance that it was. "And I can't let you kill an innocent person."

Bad choice of words there.

"Innocent? You've gotta be-."

"It wasn't her, Hokage-sama." How could he sound so fucking civilised when the world was balanced on a knife's edge? "And I can't go about proving that when I'm worried you're going to kill her the moment I let my guard down. She is restrained and not resisting – that means she isn't an immediate threat and you will not murder her before she's proven guilty."

There was a moment where Tayuya thought all of Kidoumaru's words were going to be discounted. Naruto came terribly close to attacking the six-armed man (she could see it in his eyes and smell it in the stifling air) and she was really rethinking this whole 'not fighting back' thing when the pink-haired chit laid a single hand on the Hokage's shoulder. It spoke of a ballsiness she hadn't expected the girl to have because Tayuya knew that she most definitely wouldn't have wanted to touch the guy, not when he was that angry. Pushing that tiny hand of hers through all of that molten chakra couldn't have been without a fair amount of pain, but it didn't show on the Haruno girl's solemn features as she squeezed her Hokage's shoulder. "It's Gaara's call, Naruto," she told him. Then, in a lower voice, one so soft that Tayuya wasn't even sure if she'd imagined it or not, "And you'll hate yourself tomorrow."

His anger did not disappear instantaneously. His power did not evaporate, nor did it diminish…but there was a distinct lessening of the unbearable pressure in the air and now it just hurt to breathe, rather than the act being impossible. With no regard for the etiquette demanded of his position, Naruto spat on the ground between himself and Kidoumaru, his eyes burning with barely restrained fury. "I want her contained."

Kidoumaru's back looked very sturdy from where she was lying. "She will be."

"The only reason she isn't dead now is because you say you can prove she ain't guilty," Naruto said in a dangerous tone. "If she is, she's dead."

"If she is," Kidoumaru echoed, "I will carry out the sentence myself."

It should have hurt to hear him say that, but it didn't. Because, weighed down as she was by all of the bloody Suna nin, Tayuya knew Kidoumaru was putting their chances for an alliance on the line to protect her. More than that, she knew that if she had been guilty and she had deliberately risked said chances, she wasn't worth protecting, not when they'd all fought so hard to help Suna rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes.

With that in mind, she couldn't quite find it in herself to hate him for the death sentence hanging over her head in that moment.

"Dai, put her under."

…now that she could hate him for. Her young student looked alarmed, but Jiroubou was already holding out his massive hands for the gloves that stopped the palms of his hands from putting everyone he accidentally touched to sleep. Tayuya knew all too well how fast her genin's curious talent worked and she thought about struggling, futile though it was. The indignity of being anaesthetised like a wild animal made her want to balk, made her want to fight up until her very last moment of consciousness…but then she met Kidoumaru's gaze. And it was stupid and foolish and altogether not like her, but the bastard had got her this far.

"…if you're going to kill me, at least wake me when you do it, you fucker," she growled as Dai's tentative, trembling hands touched the bare nape of her neck. If it came to that, she wanted him to have to look her in the eye as the life fled her body.

She thought she saw him nod before the darkness swallowed her whole.

oOo

Author's Comments:

…yeah, feel free to yell me. There are no excuses, save for the fact that life ate me up and spat me back out. Also, I hate rewriting things. I made some massive changes in my head as to where the story was going to go and…yeah, I hate rewriting things. So this just sat on my harddrive, becoming a bigger and bigger thing the longer I left it.

BUT THE POINT IS, HERE'S AN UPDATE. (Told you I'd never let it die.)

To anyone still reading this, thank you so much for being as patient as you've been. –bows-

In next week's episode…

'No happy endings. No one there to pick up the pieces and put them back together again.'