This is a semi-AU story, meaning certain events in the manga will occur differently, or not at all. Who knows, you may like my version better. XD
Will of Fire
Chapter One: Don't Fear the Reaper
I'm going to die here.
The thought passed through her mind with far less fear than it should have. She should have been terrified. How could she be destined to end here, with so much she still wanted to do, so much of her life unlived? She hadn't even made jounin yet. But in the wake of such realization, fear was not the emotion that consumed her.
Haruno Sakura was furious.
The fact that she was about to be killed within the walls of her own beloved village by shinobi who wore the same Hidden Leaf insignia sparked within her an explosive torrent of white-hot rage.
She drove her fist into the sternum of her nearest attacker, collapsing his chest cavity and crushing his heart. As he fell, eight more masked nins closed in around her. There had been twelve, nearly an entire platoon. Perhaps it should have been flattering that she was considered such a threat. It wasn't.
A wave of senbon cascaded toward her from the left. Sakura leapt upward only to have a second wave come from a different direction. Knowing how deadly even a flick of her finger could be, they were trying to take her out from afar. In close combat she was indisputably lethal, but at a distance she was just another chuunin with slightly above average reflexes and no long-range jutsu. She pivoted in midair and pushed off against a tree, somersaulting once and flying straight down at one of her masked opponents. She crashed into him with the chakra-boosted force of a boulder and they fell together. He was dead when they hit the ground. Panting with adrenaline and the beginnings of fatigue, Sakura rolled to her feet and backed up against a tree.
The cold autumn moon bleached all color from the nocturnal landscape, reduced everything to stark abstractions of black and white. It was foolish to look away from her enemy, but for a second her eyes were involuntarily pulled to the still figure crumpled at the base of an ancient pine. She stared at the long pale hair splayed across the dirt and fallen leaves, at the even paler skin stained with dark wetness. Sakura couldn't see her face. She didn't want to see her face. If she couldn't see then she didn't have to believe her eyes.
Ino had been the one to warn her. Her father had run home to alert his family, and Ino then ran to Sakura, broke through her bedroom window, shoved her into her clothes and dragged her outside only moments before Root agents broke down her front door. They fought together while trying to escape. Fight and run. Fight and run. There was fighting everywhere; fires and wreckage and bodies on every street. Konoha was a half-destroyed war zone; what had been rebuilt after the Akatsuki attack only a month ago was in ruins again from a civil battle. They made it all the way to the wooded training grounds before they were surrounded. By then Sakura was bleeding badly from a gash on her arm, unsure how or when it happened. She didn't see how Ino went down.
Ino had tried to save her, had separated from her own family to help her best friend get away. Now Ino was slowly bleeding out onto the cold, damp earth, and Sakura couldn't help her.
There was only one other time in her life when Sakura had truly fought to kill: against Sasori of the Red Sand. At that time she hadn't been alone; she'd fought alongside a seasoned war veteran, and without that help she wouldn't have lasted long. She hadn't been ready for a life or death battle then. But now Sakura found it easier than she'd thought to unleash her full strength upon her enemies, to not pull her punches. To not show mercy. There was no hesitation, because if she did they were going to kill her.
They were going to kill her anyway. She escaped murder in her sleep only to be murdered out here in the middle of nowhere, her lifeblood saturating the cold, uncaring earth. Just like Ino.
"Traitors!" Her voice rang like metal, unfamiliar to her own ears. "How could you do this!"
There was only silence. Words and emotion were wasted on the Root agents. They were nothing but drones, trained to be mindless weapons that followed the orders of only one man.
Sakura knew she was trapped. She couldn't run anymore, and she couldn't overcome them all. She didn't know where her teammates were, where her master was, or how any of this was happening. No one knew where she was, and no help would be coming.
Right now she was sure of only one thing. If she was going to die, she was going to take as many of these treacherous bastards with her as she could.
Sakura gripped a kunai in each hand and, flooding chakra through her limbs, met her next attacker head on.
Hinata woke with a start. Someone had just walked across the pebbled garden right outside her window. When she was four, enemy nins had infiltrated the Hyuuga compound in the dead of night to kill her, the clan heiress. She'd been terrified, and the assassins' revealed faces when they were caught had given her nightmares for weeks. Ever since then she was the lightest sleeper in the world.
She looked at the clock on her nightstand and frowned; the blue numbers glowed 1:47am. The noise continued all around her as she lay there, bleary-eyed and annoyed. Hushed, urgent voices and hurried footsteps, some close by in the house, some further away across the grounds. It wasn't normal for the compound to be awake and moving in the middle of the night. Something was wrong.
Irritation turning to worry, Hinata rolled out of bed, pulled on her clothes and grabbed her kunai pouch, and padded out of her room. The long hallway was dark and empty, but there was faint light coming from the main areas of the house. She began to move toward the voices and illumination when the sound of a sliding door behind her made her whirl around in surprise. Her younger sister Hanabi emerged warily from her room, much the same as Hinata had.
Hinata relaxed a little. The sisters looked at one another, saw in their matching opal eyes that neither knew what was going on, and didn't speak. They walked silently together down the hall and came to the foyer, where the main doors stood wide open and at least two dozen Hyuugas clustered together at the base of the porch steps. The light emanated from a portable lantern held by one of the branch house servants. They saw their father in the center of the throng, surrounded by several of the clan elders. Neji stood beside him as always, looking displeased, as always. The branch house members stood just outside the lantern's ring of illumination, nervous and murmuring to each other. They clearly had no idea either, unlike the elders and several main house members who looked around with a smug, conspiratorial tension.
Something wasn't right. The air around them felt off, and Hinata's instincts were warning her of something she couldn't place. She felt as if she were in danger, surrounded by her own family, in the middle of Konoha. Most of her clansmen looked as though they felt the same. Some had their Byakugan activated. The elders were the only ones not alarmed, and that alone made her nervous.
"Everyone return to your homes," Hyuuga Hiashi, the clan leader, was dictating. "There is nothing to be concerned about."
Hinata was too nervous to talk to her father in front of so many people, but thirteen year-old Hanabi strode purposely forward and down the steps, waist-length hair swishing behind her as she forced the crowd to make way. "Father, what's going on?" she demanded, entitled in a way Hinata never dared to be.
"Everything is fine, Hanabi. Go back to bed." He turned back to his anxious clansmen. He never looked at Hinata, who had followed cautiously behind.
There was a distant rumble, a flash in the sky, and a tremor beneath their feet. Suddenly everyone had their bloodline limit active and was looking toward the village in shock.
"Was that an explosion?"
"They're fighting over there! Konoha is under attack!"
"Who's attacking us? I don't see any enemies…"
"Wait…ANBU? The main forces are fighting ANBU!"
"What the hell is happening!? Hiashi-sama, what's going on?"
"Remain calm," Hiashi ordered loudly, raising his hand in a way that was more commanding than placating. "The Hyuuga clan is in no danger. Everyone will return to their homes as instructed."
"But they need our help!" one of the branch kin shouted.
"If you do not comply," said one of the elders, "there will be severe consequences." He looked directly at the man who had spoken.
A hush fell over the gathered Hyuugas. The thrall curse upon the branch house was a threat that hadn't been enforced in over a decade. To hear it mentioned so casually was appalling. Outrageous or not, it was a threat that was taken seriously. The crowd began to disperse slowly, starting with the branch members, some of them casting baleful glares at their leader before turning away.
"Father." Hinata implored, stepping forward now that there weren't so many judging eyes on her. The clan leader ignored her. "Father, please tell us what's happening," she said again, louder.
With an expression of profound indifference, Hiashi finally looked at his eldest. "It will be over soon. Go back to your room."
"What will be over soon?" Her heart began to race.
"What do you mean 'go back to your room'!?" Hanabi exclaimed. She gestured toward the heart of the village where the sky glowed a dull, ominous orange. "Konoha is under attack! We have to help!"
"You will not!"
Hanabi's eyes widened; their father never raised his voice to her. His words were equally unbelievable.
He continued more calmly, "The Hyuuga are not to interfere."
Hinata stared at her cold-faced father and felt her stomach bottom out. What have you done? She looked around helplessly, saw other clansmen in the shadows doing the same, peering from their doorways toward the growing sounds of battle just outside their compound with mixed expressions of fear, confusion, and impotent anger. Her eyes finally settled on her cousin. Neji glanced at her, met her gaze for only a moment, then looked down and away. His jaw clenched. He didn't like what was happening, but he was going along. He always did.
Hanabi would not. She glared at their father for a moment, then spun on her heel and went toward the gates. Her father's men caught her in seconds. Surprised and outraged, she forgot to struggle in the first moment, and they had her. Worried for her sister, Hinata took a single step forward, and then they were on her too. They were marched back to their father's side, Hanabi struggling loudly, Hinata too astonished to resist. Was this really happening?
Hiashi glared at his daughters, for once looking upon them with equal disapproval, and angrily ordered them to sit down and keep quiet. Their detainers practically shoved them down on the porch steps.
"Why won't you let us go?" Hanabi demanded.
"The clan has an agreement with the Hokage," he said firmly. "We will not interfere, and in return, we will remain unaffected by the changes taking place tonight."
"What are you talking about!?"
Hinata looked up at her father with horrified comprehension. "The Hokage…."
He answered them both with the same reply. "At this moment, the Leaf is being purged of the weakness which has poisoned it for so many years. Shimura Danzou will remain Hokage."
Hanabi gasped. There was no breath in Hinata's lungs to do the same. "Tsunade-sama…?" she choked out.
"Dead." His pale eyes were hard and cold as marble.
Konoha was under attack from the inside. An overthrow. The Hokage had been assassinated. And the Hyuuga clan was involved in it all.
Bewildered and afraid, Hinata and Hanabi stared at each other mutely, sitting side by side on the steps of their father's mansion. Neji would not look at them. They hadn't been close in many years—Hyuuga Hiashi blatantly favored his youngest daughter, considering the timid Hinata such a disappointment that he had all but disowned her. Though it was just as obvious that Hiashi favored Neji over both of them. Hanabi was almost never allowed to play with her older sister as a young girl, and they hardly saw each other or spent time in the same room. They hadn't spoken in months. Not even tonight.
None of that seemed to matter now. They were the only ones on each other's side, the only ones with a sense of honor. Under the forbidding eyes of their father's guards, they clasped hands, holding on so tightly their fingers turned white.
The Rasengan sent his assailant crashing through the wall of the nearest building, bringing the burning roof down on top of him and raining a shower of sparks and embers down over Naruto's head. He hated destroying some poor civilian's property, but there was little choice. Naruto barely had time to blink before another attacker came from behind. Make that three more.
His clone took care of one, while he drove a kunai into another. He whirled to confront the last, but found him dead on the ground, his neck strangled and snapped by Sai's ink-snakes. His teammate dropped from the roof across the street, where two more bodies lay, and came to his side. Their eyes met grimly.
Sai's former Root squadron leader had appeared in his loft apartment twenty minutes ago to inform him that Operation Six was in effect. The name was meaningless, intentionally inconspicuous, but for as long as he could remember Sai had known what was expected of him as a member of Root when that time came. He also knew that his captain only appeared to be alone, and if he showed what he was really thinking he would never make it out of his room. So he impassively acknowledged the order, dressed in his ANBU uniform, and went out into the silent, sleeping streets which would soon be filled with the chaos of insurgency. Once he was sure he wasn't being followed, he headed straight for Naruto's apartment.
Danzou had wasted no time targeting his biggest threats; Naruto was already under attack. They fought together and overcame the assailants without much difficulty, but both knew the assassins they just eliminated were only the first wave.
"We can't stay here," Sai said.
Naruto nodded. "Let's go."
They made it three blocks before they were attacked again, but the small group of three Root agents had stumbled upon them by chance and were unprepared. They were easily dispatched, and then Naruto and Sai were running again.
Sai soon realized where they were heading, though he should have known already. He reluctantly stopped, and when his teammate stopped as well he said, "Naruto…if they came for you, then Tsunade is most likely already dead."
The expression on Naruto's face was dreadful, a mixture of rage and grief and denial all at once. Without a word he turned and ran again. He wouldn't believe it until he saw with his own eyes.
The Hokage tower was as old as Konoha itself, built by the first Hokage when the village was founded nearly a hundred years ago. An impressive four stories and bright red, it was a symbol of Konoha's strength and stability. Now it was a half-collapsed, smoking ruin. And it was deserted; no Root agents could be seen in the vicinity, which meant only one thing. There was nothing left here.
"I can't feel her," Naruto rasped, using his Sage attunement to sense for any signs of life. There was nothing. "Baa-chan…."
Sai gazed sadly at his friend. He'd made his choice months ago and turned away from the shadowy ANBU subdivision that had raised him to be an emotionless soldier, choosing friendship over unquestioning duty. He had no idea what would happen tonight, and he was doing everything he could to protect what had come to matter to him and fight against the traitors. Still, he felt ashamed for ever having been a part of Root.
Trembling with suppressed emotion, tears burning his eyes, Naruto finally forced himself to turn away from the wreckage. The Kyuubi raged inside him, inciting him, encouraging his bloodlust. The Sage chakra slipped from his control as the demon fox grew stronger. His eyes bled from yellow to a hateful orange. "Where would Danzou be?" he growled.
Reluctantly Sai answered, "With the tower like this, probably at ANBU HQ. But—"
Sai took off after him, but with the nine-tail's chakra gaining strength it was difficult to keep up. "Naruto, wait! He'll be too well protected! You'll never get to him right now!"
"I don't care!" Naruto shouted without slowing or looking back. "I'll kill him for this even if it kills me too!"
He vaulted clear over the roof of the next building in one leap. Sai made it in three, and that was pushing himself. "Think, Naruto! If Tsunade is dead and you die too, where does that leave the rest of us?"
As if all energy had suddenly drained out of him, Naruto slowed to a stop and turned around. They were on a residential street, one of the few that were still dark and quiet. If there were any people inside the buildings they were afraid to come out. Arms limp at his sides, he looked around helplessly.
"What am I supposed to do?" he said, lost and stricken. If he couldn't fight Danzou, what else was there? How could he protect Konoha if he couldn't make the one responsible for this devastation pay?
Sai walked up to him. "We need you to live," he said, "and to lead us." He grasped his friend's shoulder. "Listen; it's getting quieter. The battle is ending. A lot of people have died, and a lot more have probably surrendered. But some will have gotten out. You need to get out too while you still have a chance."
"What? I'm not running away!"
"You can think of it as running, or you can think of it as surviving against hopeless odds to return and fight another day. The people who escape are going to need someone to lead them," Sai said pointedly.
Naruto thought about that for a moment, and realized Sai was right. There was more to leadership than defending people from harm. He knew that. The thought of stepping into such heavy responsibility when he wasn't fully prepared was terrifying, but he had never backed down from a challenge. He thrived on them. He latched on to the new purpose with renewed fervor. "We need to find them and gather them together. We can regroup and form a resistance!"
Sai nodded. "Let's find Sakura and anyone else we can and get out of here."
Naruto gave Sai a strange look. "When the hell did you get all wise?"
He smiled faintly. "I read a lot."
They moved quickly and quietly through the streets, always vigilant for any sign of Root or a skirmish. The streets had gone ominously quiet and the only sounds of battle now came from the very center of the village. There were bodies nearly everywhere they looked, Root and regular troops alike. All Konoha shinobi. The Root division was vastly outnumbered, but they'd had the element of surprise. No one would expect an attack by one of their own. In the first minutes of the takeover they would have been able to walk right up to a fellow nin and simply kill them where they stood.
Naruto felt sickened. It was all he could do to keep the Kyuubi under control.
They had only gone a few blocks before they encountered more people, but this time it wasn't an attack. Two chuunin they didn't know were helping each other limp across the street to the provisional shelter of a store awning. They stopped and tensed for a fight, but when they recognized who approached they sagged with visible relief.
"Naruto!" the one doing most of the supporting called. His comrade was injured, and it seemed to take all of his focus just to stay conscious and walk.
They met up under the awning. "Are you guys all right?" Naruto asked them.
"More or less. We were on guard duty in the central tower when one of the ANBU came in and attacked us! He stabbed Shunsuke. We managed to take him down, but just barely because he was, you know, ANBU." He looked around in disbelief. "We thought he'd gone crazy or something, but when we came out to make a report we saw people fighting ANBU all over the place! What the hell is going on?"
"What's your name?"
"Listen Raki," Naruto said, "Root has initiated an overthrow."
Naruto stared at him. It hadn't occurred to him before that most people had never heard of Root. Even standard ANBU operated almost entirely in concealment, and Root was an ultra-classified sector of that black-ops division. It was the secret hidden behind the mystery. He only knew about it himself because he was close to the Hokage and Sai had come from there.
"No time to explain now, but Konoha has fallen into the hands of traitors."
Raki paled, his eyes going wide. "What about the Hokage?"
Naruto's jaw clenched tightly and he stared down the street, unable to answer. His silence told the two bewildered chuunin everything.
"Gods…is this really happening?" Raki murmured.
"We need to get out of here," Sai reminded everyone. There were sounds of combat on the street up ahead.
"Somewhere safe where we can regroup and make a plan," Naruto said, taking charge again. He nodded in the direction of the noise. "Someone over there might need our help. Let's go."
The two injured chuunin struggled to keep up, but they did, because they had to. The group rounded the corner just in time to see three Root agents in the middle of the street, struggling against invisible foes. They fell to the ground and didn't move again. Something moved in the shadows near the wall of a building, but as they got a little closer they realized it was the shadows themselves that moved.
"Shikamaru…?" Naruto called cautiously.
It was Shikamaru, he saw a moment later, leaning tiredly against the wall in an alcove of a shop entrance. The shadow master stared at him blankly for a moment, as if he didn't recognize him. He blinked, and finally said, "I was sure they would've killed you."
"They tried." He looked around warily. "They're still trying. We need to keep moving."
Shikamaru nodded slowly, but didn't move. "Chouji's…" His eyes lost focus again. "And I can't find Ino…."
His face was ashen, streaked with grime and tear tracks. He was in shock. Naruto gripped his shoulder tightly. "I'm sorry. We'll find Ino, but we need to hurry." He was suddenly gripped with fear for his own missing teammate.
"Where's Sakura?" Shikamaru asked belatedly, as if reading his mind. "Chouji said…" he choked a little on his best friend's name. "He said Ino went to find her."
"Then they're probably together. Come on."
Before they made it to the end of the street they were set upon by a full squadron. Their ragtag group was injured and low on chakra, but Naruto's clones turned the odds back in their favor. The fight was brief but fierce; Sai took a long kunai slash to his flank, and one Root managed to shoot a flare into the sky before falling, lighting the sky overhead as bright as day and revealing their position to every enemy in the village.
Naruto cursed. In a few moments they would be overrun.
The impending peril seemed to suddenly snap Shikamaru back to himself. "We can't waste any more time. They're going to have every way out of the village closed off in minutes."
"We have to find Sakura! I'm not leaving without her!" Naruto stilled himself and tried to reach out with his Sage ability to find her. It failed when Shikamaru grabbed him roughly.
"Don't you have to stand still to do that? We can't hang around here or we're dead! And you have to stay alive, Naruto, we need to get you out now!"
Naruto jerked away. "How can you tell me to abandon my teammate!? Don't you want to find Ino?"
Shikamaru just stared at him, and Naruto immediately regretted his words. Shikamaru was experiencing the same turmoil, worse because he'd already lost one teammate tonight. He didn't want to leave either. Nobody wanted to face the dilemma they now faced: flee from their own village or be killed. Nobody wanted to leave anyone behind. But Naruto realized the truth: he couldn't stay in one place long enough to locate Sakura with Sage mode, and searching the entire village for her when a small army was trying to kill him was even more impossible. He would never find her. She was smart and powerful; she would get out. She may even have escaped already.
He hated it, hated himself for doing it, but he had no choice. Would she think he abandoned her? She had to know better, even if they weren't on great terms at the moment and the last time they saw each other was…uncomfortable. It didn't matter. He would find her again.
Grim and rueful, he forced himself to nod. "Let's go."
They only made it around the corner before they were attacked by the Root closest when the flare went off. It was a dozen against five; their chances weren't good in the shape they were in. Only Naruto, with his massive reserves of chakra and unnatural stamina, was still at full capacity. They formed a tight cluster with their backs to each other and prepared to fight for their lives.
Thin black lines whipped out of the darkness and latched onto five of the Root agents. The masked men clutched at their necks and ribcages, emitting startled choking sounds and agonized groans as bones snapped and airways constricted. The cornered group wasted no time taking advantage of the opening and attacked the rest.
It was over more quickly and easily than they could have hoped for, and the reason for that revealed itself from the shadows: Nara Shikaku and Yamanaka Inoichi. The two jounin met up with them in the intersection.
"Shikamaru!" Shikaku exclaimed, grabbing hold of his son in a rough hug.
Shikamaru seemed to lose some of his composure upon uniting with his father. "Dad, Chouji is…"
Shikaku held him tighter. "I'm sorry, son. Chouza too…"
Inoichi was equally grief-stricken, and nearly overcome by worry. "Has anyone seen Ino? She's not answering my mental call…"
"We wanted to look for her and Sakura, but we can't even make it two blocks without being attacked," said Shikamaru.
Shikaku nodded. "They're closing off every way out of the village. You need to run before it's too late. We'll help you get out."
"We'll find Ino and Sakura and get them out too."
"What about you?"
Shikaku and Inoichi exchanged glances which were unreadable to everyone, but contained an entire conversation between lifelong friends. "Someone's gotta stay behind and raise hell under the new regime," Shikaku said. He smirked, but his eyes were hard and serious.
"Let's move," Naruto said curtly, glancing around for threats. They were lucky to have any reprieve. It wouldn't last long.
They ran full tilt toward the edge of the village, the two jounin leading their battered and exhausted juniors. The outer wall loomed up ahead, and to their amazement it was clear. It surely wouldn't stay that way, and they wasted no time hauling themselves up. The injured chuunin were the slowest, and went over first while the others stood guard. Sai went next and hit the ground hard, clutching his wounded side.
Shikamaru hesitated, looking to his father in barely concealed anguish. "Dad—"
Shikaku shook his head. "No time to argue, son. Your mom and I will be okay." He gripped him hard by the shoulder, his voice lowering with emotion. "You stay alive, understand? We'll see each other again. Now go!" He shoved him purposefully, forcing him over the wall.
Naruto gave the jounin a somber nod of thanks. "Good luck."
"I expect you to be Hokage someday," Shikaku returned.
A fierce grin spread across his face. "Count on it." He cast a long look out over Konoha, and nodded to himself in silent promise. Then he went over the wall.
Sakura stumbled, nearly falling to her knees. She was out of breath, out of chakra, and losing a lot of blood from the wound on her arm. She had only managed to take out two more and break the arm of another, and those had been lucky strikes. There was almost no chance of taking the remaining four.
They were strictly keeping away from her now, letting her exhaust herself like hunters bringing a beast to bay. How ruthless and cruel, to drag it out like this. But Sakura refused to be tortured to death. She would force them to end it, and hopefully kill most of them in the process.
With a final burst of strength she slammed her heel into the ground. The small quake that followed ruptured the earth beneath them, throwing her enemies off balance for a moment. Sakura seized the opening and rushed the nearest one, landing a solid kick to his torso. He flew backward through the air and smashed into a tree, cracking the trunk on impact and bringing a flurry of crisp, dead leaves cascading downward.
There was a sharp, prickling pain in her leg, and she looked down to find three needles protruding from her outer thigh. The senbon they had been throwing since the first attack had finally hit now that she was too slow to avoid them. Sakura stumbled again and fell, her head beginning to swim. In the back of her mind was the vague realization that she had just been poisoned, but she jerked the needles free, pushed herself to her feet by sheer force of will and feebly attempted to continue her assault. It was no use; her strength was gone.
Sakura sank to her hands and knees, and eventually collapsed entirely. Her breaths came ragged, her heart hammered in her ears. Maybe it was the numbing, disorienting effects of the poison, but she still wasn't afraid. She thought fleetingly of her teammates and hoped they had escaped.
The three remaining Root agents closed around their fallen target. Their white animal masks were the last thing Sakura saw before everything went black.
"That was unnecessarily difficult," a muted voice remarked.
"We had our orders," another replied, leaning down to hoist the kunoichi over his shoulder. "Danzou wants her alive."