Naruto is running.
His vision is blurred and he can feel the walls shaking around him, a resolve shattering rumble, rumble, and his heart pumps in time with his frantic breathing. Everything is falling apart around him and he might not get there fast enough, he might not save Minato and he's scared and he promised that he would never leave him behind.
A sound, like that of a heart breaking, of anguish itself, of a monster's final descent rings throughout the sewers and reverberates off the walls until it rings in his ears, a tortured, mangled howl. He runs faster, faster and the tears are running hot and fast down his face as his breaths come in short gasps.
Where's the door? He can't find it, he can't find Minato and everything's falling apart. There's not enough time, he's going to die and he can't – he won't – leave Minato behind but-
"Minato!"he screams, turning corners again and again only to come face to face with the same tunnel, the same darkness.
He falls to the floor as another quake, more dramatic and dangerous than the last time shakes the walls of the sewer and bricks fall from the walls. They splatter into the water and spray water everywhere mockingly, but Naruto can't bring himself to his feet. It's over, he thinks, it's over and he hasn't found Minato yet.
- that's my ninja way he proclaimed with a bold grin and they had laughed as if he had been making a joke when he had been absolutely serious-
He pulls himself to his feet and runs again. He turns another corner and sees a door- Minato's door.
His hand instantly grabs at the brass doorknob and he turns it. It doesn't open. It must be a mistake, he tells himself, and he tries again and again, but it stays locked. He bangs on the door, screaming his dad's name as the seal continues breaking.
"Dad! Dad, open the door!" he screams, trying to force the door open.
"I won in the end after all, Minato. You couldn't save your son!" The Kyuubi is laughing, screaming and howling.
"This is his choice," another voice, strong like thunder and as warm as the sun.
There's only one person with that voice.
Naruto runs again. He runs the way he came and doesn't even realize that everything is falling, fading into nothing behind him without a single sound, a silent death.
"This is his love."
He's crying again like he did when he was seven and they all screamed at him demondemondemon. Only this time it's different, he's not crying in pain at the loneliness or because he can't find acceptance. He's crying because Minato understands.
He bursts into the Kyuubi's cell. All the paper seals are falling off, twenty by twenty, and litter the flooded floor beneath Naruto's feet. There's a pair of angry red eyes that only can see one person, and that one person is who Naruto needs.
"Dad," he sobs in relief, "Dad-"
And he runs, a sprint that seems to take forever even though he's running faster than he's ever run before. The man turns towards him, his white cloak swirling around him as his eyes echo blue oceans, blue skies and he spreads his arms wide.
This is family and he finally has it, this is family-
He sees a light and nothingness swallows him whole.
She lies the moment she sees the tattered red jacket and blue, blue necklace in the frog's hands. It's always been easier that way and there's a need for her to be strong now, Hokages aren't and never will be weepy eyed women. Gamakichi looks up at her expectantly, waiting for a breakdown or a question as to why he's holding these things. It doesn't come and she sits there, waiting seemingly patiently when she's really bursting with emotions underneath.
Gamakichi takes a deep breath in and he begins to talk, "Jiraiya and Naruto died ten minutes ago."
It's hard for her to keep a straight face and she focuses on a wall behind him. She can feel the scream forcing its way up the back of her throat but she fights it down and simply nods.
The frog's face contorts in what could have been pain, could have been anger. This woman didn't even care what had happened to the men who loved her?
"Please leave now," Tsunade tells him and he doesn't notice her brown eyes are empty and dull.
Gamakichi nearly argues with her. Jiraiya deserved better than you, he wants to shout, Jiraiya should never have died for you-
Instead he merely hands her Jiraiya's final letter. She takes it with a strained look on her face, as if it physically hurts her to touch something that belongs to him. Gamakichi leaves the jacket and the necklace on her table and leaves silently.
Her fingers tremble as she rips open the letter, her eyes beginning to blur with hot, hot tears. The letter opens with a sickening tear and there's a quiet clink of metal on wood as something falls on the table, something she's nearly afraid to look at.
It's a ring.
She stares at it for a long time, as if she can't fully comprehend the situation. A ring? There's a note inside the envelope.
It'll always be yours, even if you don't want it.
She slips the ring onto her finger and holds it close to her, closing her eyes. What could have been a man with hair of clouds who asked if he could see her true face and she had said yes what could have been a man with hair of clouds who had asked if she would marry him and she had said yes-
This is what almost was, this is a consequence-
Tsunade is a good liar.
She just never knows when to lie.
Rain pours in a relentless shower, drenching a roseate woman.
No one will ever be able to tell where the rain ends and the tears begin on her wet face. Sai has already tried to make her leave the memorial stone but that had ended with screams and fighting and more tears. She stands in the rain, simply staring at the names.
These are her boys. These are her boys that are no longer here anymore, that always ran ahead and left her behind. She had spent an entire lifetime catching up but they had gone to a place she couldn't follow, unless it meant losing her own life.
She's malnourished and scarily similar to a skeleton, her green eyes gaunt and empty. She looks as though a strong wind will simply pick her up and sweep her away to the other side of the world, but it scares her friends that she stopped caring. She doesn't know how to mourn properly or how to move on, but then again, who does?
There was a time of blue eyes and jet black hair, of red chakra and curse seals, of leaves and musical notes. It wasn't all good but it wasn't all bad either, and she wants to go back to that, to them. There's only one way to return though and she knows this already. She makes her decision and her hands tighten around the hilt of a black kunai that seems to grin at her as she lifts it up high.
The blade plunges into her skin like rainwater.
The voice is so heartbreakingly familiar that it makes her eyes well up with tears. She's finally caught up to her boys.
"S-Sasuke," she gasps, meeting his black eyes.
His impassive alabaster face remains unchanged, he doesn't offer warm embraces or even a smile. His stance is tense, his fists are balled and he is so very angry. They stand in a training ground, their training ground, except it feels different and exactly the same at the same time. Clouds cover the sun and it's raining here too, drowning the already dead grass when she could have sworn it was green a few minutes ago.
"Sasuke, where's Naruto?" she demands, her voice trembling.
He remains silent and refuses to tell her anything. He looks ready to hit her.
She tries again, "Sasuke-"
"You should be nicer to her, Sasuke. She did come all the way here and I know you've missed her too," a voice like fluid water rings out throughout the training ground, slightly distorted by the rain.
A man in white that she's only seen in textbooks walks towards them at an unhurried pace, emanating a quiet peace. At first, she mistakes him for Naruto and nearly runs towards him, but then she takes a second look and notices the deeper blue eyes and the sharper features. He doesn't have his whiskers either, whiskers that she would run her thumbs over when her Naruto was fast asleep at night.
"Hello, Sakura. Naruto's told me all about you," he said, smiling at her.
"Naruto? Is he here?" she asks quickly.
The Fourth Hokage nods and says, "He is."
"But…why are you here? And where are we?" she questions and he smiles again. She knows he must have been a teacher, he has the smile, the patience and even though she never saw him in action she knows he was the best Hokage.
"I'm Naruto's father," he tells her, chuckling at her stunned expression, "This is Naruto's place in between heaven and hell. It's based on all of his favourite places, the places he's been most happy in. He hasn't decided to move on to heaven yet."
"She shouldn't be here. She's not meant to be dead," Sasuke argues with the Fourth Hokage.
Minato points out, "She's the only one who can help Naruto."
"Is there something wrong with Naruto?" she asks, growing anxious.
Sasuke looks at her for a long time before turning away. He's wearing the Uchiha emblazoned shirt of his childhood, she realizes, and beside him the Fourth Hokage offers her a small apologetic smile.
He tells her, "You need to go see him. He's at the memorial stone."
The trees are thick and there are so many more of them than she remembers as she runs through the forest leading to the memorial stone. Naruto, she thinks, I'm going to see Naruto soon and she wants to cry and laugh at the same time. Her heart is pounding in her chest, a frenzied thud thud, thud thud and her shoes slap against the muddy ground in time to her heartbeat.
The forest gives way to a small clearing and she can hear the distinctive sounds of metal on stone. She runs faster, faster and stops when she sees the back of a blond working at the memorial stone.
"Naruto?" she asks in a whisper, nearly afraid of the answer.
She receives no answer and the sounds of metal on stone continue. The blond is carving something into the stone and she lifts her leaden feet, putting them one in front of the other as though she's forgotten how to walk. She can see his whole ear now, the spiky fringe of blonde, the whiskers on his cheek-
And she sees his eyes.
Even if he stood in a crowd of two hundred blue eyed, blond haired men, she could tell who he was in a heartbeat. His eyes are a vibrant blue, crackling with energy and compassion, flecked with darker shades of subdued sapphire and they've always been so expressive.
But this is not Naruto as she remembers. This is a boy-child, this is Naruto as a twelve year old. His grip on the kunai is sloppy and his hands are bleeding profusely.
"What are you doing?" she asks him in a whisper that carries around the entire area.
The rain pelts down against both of them, soaking her to the bone. The boy Naruto continues carving something into the memorial stone and doesn't answer her at all. She looks at the memorial stone and a chill runs down her spine as she reads the names on it.
He's written her name into the stone at least one hundred times already and he's still going, his eyes haunted. Seeing him carve her name into the stone makes her feel as though she'll never be happy again and she has to stop him. She grabs his hands so that he can't write anymore and he struggles and struggles and struggles-
"Naruto, no," she tells him, "Naruto, don't, don't-"
"Let me go! Let me go! I'm not finished yet, I can't finish, I need to keep going, let me go!" he shouts at her, his eyes wild.
"Naruto, I'm right here, you can stop writing," she pleads with him and the rain cuts into her like daggers of ice.
"I can't! I can't stop, I can't ever stop because it's for her, I can't I can't I can't-"
"Stop it Naruto, please-"
"I killed her!" he screams.
She releases him in shock.
He begins to tremble, the whites of his eyes tinted pink with his tears. He shudders and shakes and begins to gasp, his hands bleeding and he begins to wipe at his eyes. The water that streams down his face is pink and he turns back to the memorial stone, carving the name into the tablet. His hands are streaming red, red blood and seep into the grooves of her name, filling them and overflowing over the sides of the memorial stone.
"Naruto, you didn't kill me."
The rain pours torrentially and fills the silence. It sounds like heartbreak and casts a shimmering flicker on everything like an age old movie screen.
"I killed myself," she answers him, her voice breaking, "I killed myself so I could be with you."
And suddenly she is standing in a room.
The room is a pale yellow and never seems to end, she can't make out walls or ceilings or even the floor that she's standing on. It swirls around in her mind's eye and there's a man in front of her with his back towards her.
Naruto, Naruto, Naruto-
She cries and covers her mouth, trying to stifle her sobs. He watches her with a sad, sad smile and it's his whiskers, his hair, his eyes and he's her Naruto, he's the Naruto she remembers.
"I missed you," she gasps, "Naruto, I-"
He's warm and soft and cupping her face, stroking her hair. She places her hands over his, holding them in place as if he's going to let go and she'll never see him again. Her face is wet with tears and she can't control her breathing but Naruto is here, he's finally here.
"You have to go back," he whispers, his breath curling across her face like life.
"No…no, you don't understand, I came here for you. Naruto, I love you," her voice is desperate, she's trying to make him see.
He shakes his head and explains, "You're not meant to be here, it wasn't your time to die."
"It wasn't yours either!" she shouts at him, the tears pouring down her face. She rips away from his hold as if he's burned her and he watches her again with that same sad, sad smile.
"Sakura, I died so that you could live. I want you to live a long, happy life. Without me," he explains to her, his voice strained.
"I don't want to live without you. I can't," she sobs, shaking her head over and over again.
There's an inner struggle in his eyes and he can't take it anymore, he has to pull her into his arms. He holds her close, just like the last time, and she's trembling like a child in his arms, clinging to his black shirt. He nearly tells her to stay, nearly tells her to leave her life behind and it's so hard because he still loves her so much and always will.
"You need to live, Sakura," he tells her, "There are people who still need you."
She's still shaking her head and gasps, "I need you, I want to stay here-"
He forces her to meet his eyes, pressing his forehead against hers. He says to her, "If you die, you will rob Kakashi and Tsunade of their reasons to live. If you die now to be with me, it will be the same as me killing you and I could never never bear that."
Her loud sobs fill the air and her body convulses with every breath she takes. It hurts him to see her like this but he has to make her understand, has to make her see.
"You have to go back. There are people who love you and need you back in Konoha, and I want you to live for me."
A long silence falls. Every second is another stab of pain, another moment wasted.
"Will you…will you wait for me?" she asks him.
His eyes are burning hotly now and he answers, "I promise."
She can trust him, he never goes back on his ninja way. She takes a deep breath in and touches his face, traces his whiskers. She's trying to remember everything about him because she won't be seeing him again for a very long time and it'll be so so difficult.
Then she nods. Her voice comes in a rush, "Okay."
And then she's sobbing, sobbing with acceptance and he's crying too. It's going to be so hard, but he knows she'll make it through because she's strong, she's invincible, and he finally kisses her deeply. He kisses her with passion, with love and his hands are pulling her close. Their bodies fit like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and she runs her fingers through his hair, trying to make it last forever.
They break apart.
This is a promise, this is forever and this is-
He presses his lips to hers again in another kiss, soft and chaste. It tastes bittersweet, like regret and he fades away.
She wakes up in a white hospital room, the steady beep of a life support machine somewhere to her left. A whisper carries around the sterile room, that escalates to a reasonable speaking volume, that escalates to a shout, "She's awake!"
And suddenly there are so many people in her room, so many faces. Tsunade, Kakashi, Sai, Ino, Shikamaru, Kiba, Hinata, they're all there and she laughs as Ino hugs her suddenly through loud wailing and smiles at another surprising embrace from Sai. She feels happier than she has in a long, long time.
"You're not going to make me go back again, are you?"
"Haha, not this time. This is it."
"…I was so scared that…that you might have gotten tired of waiting and moved on-"
"I would never have done that. I made a promise to you."
"I missed you…I missed you so much."
"Aw no, if you keep this up I'm going to start crying- ahh, too late. No, don't you start crying too-"
"I'm just so happy that we're together again and I can't help it because I wanted to see you so much-"
"I love you. I love you so much that I would've waited forever if I had to."
"Let's go home, Naruto."
"Yeah. I think Sasuke-bastard's gotten pissed off waiting for us."
"We shouldn't keep him waiting."
"Hell yes, no more waiting. Come on, let's go there…together."
Thanks everyone for reading! This is the end. The very end. Yes, I did throw in the epliogue in the end because the story did not feel finished and Naruto deserves his happy ending. (naruto is too emotional. he's worse than me.)
I really just want to thank everyone for the support you've all given me. 100+ reviews! It's amazing, thanks so much everyone. It's been tough writing Everything and I'm glad you managed to put up with all the late updates, late review replies and the scrappy writing of a fourteen year old, haha. I nearly cracked halfway through and if it wasn't for you guys I probably would have.
Selandora (loves you guys very much and will give you this last sentence.)