No More Ninja
A Naruto one-shot by Andrew Joshua Talin
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, nor am I writing this for profit.
Author's Note: Just a random idea for a change in the Naruto world, post-Nagato's death.
Normally I'd put something like this in Ramen Doodles but I decided to just post it as its own story.
"There is one… Last thing I can do…" Nagato spoke softly. "I ... will believe in you ... Naruto Uzumaki ... But this… This I can do…"
Chakra coalesced around the dying Pein, energy whipping about. Naruto could feel demonic chakra alongside Pein's own dwindling but still potent energy, and the paper refuge around them began to rattle and shake.
"Nagato… What are-?" Konan asked, but a shuddering breath from Nagato silenced her.
"I am stopping… As much as I can…"
"What are you doing?" Naruto asked.
"I am restroing… The lives lost… And I am hoping that this… Will prevent more…" He looked up at Naruto, and closed his eyes. From his body, a massive shockwave flew out, blasting both Konan and Naruto back and scattering the paper house to the winds. Overheard, the shockwave sent them flying up, high over the ground and scattering in all directions.
Naruto frowned. Something immediately changed. Nagato's breathing slowed, and Konan moved to his side.
"Dying like trash... never ending hatred... pain that never heals... that is war... Naruto... this... is what you must face... The book... and you... It's like... someone... set this all up... Or... maybe... this... is... the hand of the real god... My role is over now... Naruto... you... can really-"
Nagato's face fell, long hair obscuring his face. Naruto stared grimly, as life left the body of the wielder of the Rinnegan, the man called Pein.
Konan was silent, and Naruto turned to leave her to her grief.
Across the Elemental Countries, jutsus failed. Ninjas fell from their hiding places and their henges poofed into nothing. Samurai chakra weapons died. And everywhere in the Hidden Villages, chakra could not be summoned by most of the ninja there.
Those whose powers remained… Looked upon their hands with new purpose, and new ambition.
And in a cave in the wilderness of the Land of Fire, a black haired man threw off his orange mask, and screamed in impotent rage.
Naruto saw Hinata in the hospital after the Event. It was on the outskirts of Konoha and had been spared the majority of the damage from Nagato's attack. Sakura had been among the only medic ninja spared the event, but even her powers had been muted. All the same, she was running herself ragged, healing anyone she could, never taking a break unless forced.
She'd rebuffed his efforts to make her stop, to the point she'd threatened to destroy any remaining ramen in the village. That she'd made that kind of threat showed just how tired she was, and he and Shikamaru had subdued her. She'd gotten some rest before getting right back to work, only Naruto had asked Kiba to keep an eye on her.
He couldn't himself right now.
Her door was partially opened, and he looked inside. Alongside her was Neji, keeping up his faithful vigil. He walked in slowly, and looked over at Neji.
"How is she?" Naruto asked. Neji closed his pale eyes.
"She'll live..." He said quietly. "But..."
"What?" Naruto asked?
"Hn..." Hinata stirred, her eyes fluttering open. Naruto blinked, and smiled.
"N-Naruto-kun?" She asked. He smiled.
"Yeah... How are you feeling?"
"... I'm fine," she said softly. She frowned. "Something... Something is different though..."
"Um... Yeah," Naruto said. "Pein did something, and lots of ninja lost their powers... And..." He trailed off and stared.
"Naruto-kun?" She looked over at Neji. "Neji-nii-san?"
Neji silently held up a mirror, as though anticipating Hinata's request. Hinata took it, and blinked. She stared into unfamiliar eyes, a soft violet with black pupils.
"But... I... I don't understand," she said. She looked up at Naruto. "Pein... How could he do this?"
"I don't know," Naruto said. "But trust me Hinata-chan, I'm going to find out, and fix it." He smiled warmly at her, and she blushed. "You can count on me!"
"But... Have you also lost your powers?" She asked. Naruto nodded, and then shrugged.
"Eh... Yeah, for the most part... But doesn't mean I'm going to stop being a ninja," he replied with a grin. "I just wanted to check on you. Get well soon, I'll visit you later okay?"
Hinata nodded, and Naruto left. Hinata looked over at Neji, blinking her eyes.
"Neji-nii-san... How many...?"
"So far...?" Neji sighed. "I'm the only Hyuuga who retains the Byakugan."
"... I see," Hinata said. She reached out and squeezed her cousin's hand, recognizing his conflict over this. He took it gratefully.
"... You didn't speak to him about..." He trailed off at her soft smile.
"No... He has too much on his mind right now," Hinata said quietly. "But maybe... Maybe afterwards... Then we can talk." She looked into the mirror and her smile grew.
Yes, maybe she was depowered... Maybe she had no Byakugan anymore. But Naruto was still Naruto, with or without his jutsu. And he was still fighting on, just as she knew he would. She could do no less.
Besides... Now she was normal. Now she had no responsibilities to the clan. Now... There were no more barriers.
She felt free...
She saw Neji's look, and felt guilty about her selfish joy. He nodded slowly.
"It's all right," Neji said. He shook his head. "It's... Ironic. I would have done anything to be the only Byakugan user, years ago, but now? Now..."
Hinata nodded, and squeezed his hand again. He returned the gesture, and the two of them looked out at the sunlit windows, each seeing a different world than before.
Sasuke had the edge, as he had before. His taijutsu was more polished, his agility and reaction times still higher. The fight was more even than it had been before, as Naruto wasn't the same half-trained deadlast he used to be, but Sasuke still held the upper hand.
Naruto slammed into a tree trunk, but managed to push past the pain to cartwheel out of the way of Sasuke's next blow.
"I thought the little tricks weren't your style, Naruto," Sasuke said mockingly. "You were all about brute force and pathetic little tricks. What have you got now?"
He rushed Naruto, launching a kick that hit Naruto in the chest. The blonde reeled, and Sasuke moved in for a punch to Naruto's stomach, which Naruto took with a wheeze. Naruto, however, rallied by grabbing Sasuke's shoulders, and yanking him forward.
"EERK!" Sasuke squeaked, as he stared in pain and disbelief at the knee rammed into his crotch. He looked up to see Naruto's fox grin.
"What are you doing?" He managed to wheeze out. Naruto dropped his knee and replaced it with a foot to Sasuke's groin, shoving him back.
"Fighting dirty," Naruto said.
"You... You... son of a..." Sasuke wheezed, clutching his junk in agony. Naruto jumped up and slammed down on his hands, hard. "AAAUUUGHHH!"
"Sucks huh?" Naruto said. He hopped off Sasuke, took a step back, and resumed his fighting position. "Ready when you are."
"You... I'm going... To kill you..." Sasuke hissed, awkwardly getting to his feet. He gritted his teeth, ignoring his pain as best he could. Naruto then made a handseal.
"What good will that-?"
KABOOM! Sasuke felt a blast of intense pressure erupt from his back, sending him slamming into the soil. His back felt like it was on fire.
"If you're interested in hearing about it... I'll tell you when you regain consciousness," Naruto said, before he produced-of all things-a baseball bat. Which he used on Sasuke's head.
Neji had taken to meditating in a private spot in the forest. For as long as he could remember it had been a lonely place, that felt cold, angry and alone even in the full sunlight.
Now, it was merely a place of quiet reflection, a means of closing out the world and leaving him a place to be at peace. He had a lot to think about.
And thinking about it would be a lot easier if Sasuke Uchiha wasn't throwing a tantrum nearby. Neji looked up and saw the traitor turned prisoner stalking through the woods, ineffectually beating at the trees as he passed. He soon emerged in the clearing Neji had taken as his sanctuary. The two Rookies of the Year locked eyes. Sasuke's were black and filled with rage, while Neji's were pale and placid. The former was breathing heavily, exhausted. More than likely, he'd come from another bout with Naruto. The prisoner fought Naruto every day since his capture, as though trying to reclaim his superiority, assuage his destroyed ego.
And every time, Naruto had defeated his former friend. As a matter of fact, if Neji's reckoning was correct, Naruto was beating Sasuke faster and faster. Clearly the source of Sasuke's rage.
"Are you done?" Neji asked calmly. Sasuke glared.
"Why are you here?" Sasuke snarled.
"I am meditating," Neji said. "There is much to think on."
Sasuke snorted. "Would have thought you'd be off lording it over the rest of your clan. You're the only one left, aren't you?"
Neji took the verbal blows without so much as a twitch.
"Yes. Like you used to be, I am now the sole bearer of my ability."
"You were never like me!" Sasuke seethed. "Nothing at all!"
"Were. But now I am. I have a responsibility to my clan now, that I must oblige," Neji said quietly.
"And what responsibility would that be?" Sasuke scoffed.
"I must take my place as its head," Neji said.
"Of a dead clan," Sasuke said.
"Just like you," Neji said quietly. Sasuke closed his eyes, clenching and unclenching his fists. Neji spoke again.
"Sasuke... At what point did you ever consider the future of your clan beyond yourself?"
Silence filled the clearing. Sasuke's face was stony, but Neji received answer enough.
"Then perhaps you're right. Maybe I was never like you."
Sasuke turned and stormed off, anger in his every footstep. Neji watched him go, before he felt someone sit on his rock next to him.
"You were never like him," Tenten said quietly, after a while. Neji nodded.
"I know... Now," he said, giving her not quite a smile, but it was a warm look she'd learned to recognize. She smiled at him, and looked away at the trees.
"Having him around is dangerous," Tenten said after a while.
"He's no better than the rest of us," Neji said. Tenten snorted.
"He's a traitor. No matter his power, or lack thereof... I don't like having him around," she said.
Neji shook his head. "All he has left is anger. Naruto's going to break through to him."
"You believe that?" Tenten asked.
"Is there any reason to doubt in him?" Neji asked.
Tenten chuckled. "I suppose not..." She looked away at the trees again. "Iruka-sensei's being promoted... The Academy needs new teachers." She looked at him. "I'm going to take the job."
"Are you sure?" Neji asked. Tenten smiled and shrugged.
"I'm the best weapons user in Konoha," she said. "Somebody has to whip everyone into shape, right?" She looked away again. "Besides... I need to stay somewhere. My house is gone."
Neji thought about it for a moment, before speaking.
"There is... An alternative."
"Oh?" Tenten asked, looking at him. Neji nodded.
"What?" Tenten asked. Neji took a deep breath, feeling suddenly nervous but trying not to show it.
"You could marry me and help me rebuild the Hyuuga clan," he said, a bit too quickly for his liking but at least he didn't blush. Tenten stared for a few moments, before smiling and leaning her head against his.
"Oh? And is that all you'd marry me for?" She asked teasingly.
"No, of course not," Neji replied, slowly wrapping his arm around her waist. He was surprised at how natural it felt, and pleased she returned the favor.
"Yes... But if we do, well... The job at the academy will pretty much have to be permanent," Tenten sighed.
"Why?" Neji asked.
"Well, I can't very well have ten kids and still go on missions, can I?" Tenten asked, a mischievous look in her eyes. Neji blushed bright red.
"T-Ten?" He sputtered.
"Well, you do have to rebuild the Hyuuga clan, right?" Tenten asked with a grin, pressing her face close to his. Neji found his fingers tapping against whatever surface they could find, very much like how his cousin did.
"Ah, I mean, that is-"
"At a minimum, to rebuild the clan," Tenten said, pressing herself against him. "Unless you'd like more...?"
"T-T-Ten is fine!" Neji squeaked. Tenten hummed and looked away.
"Well, if you can't handle ten, I would be willing to have fewer children-"
"Ten is fine! Honest! Really!" Neji insisted. Tenten turned her face back to his and beamed, before hugging him tightly.
"I knew you'd see it my way... Husband~," Tenten whispered in his ear. Neji hugged her back after a short pause.
"Ah... W-We should... Prepare the wedding then," Neji said. Tenten huffed.
"Neji, first rule of getting married? The women handle everything. You'll just get in the way, and I want this to start off on the right foot. So, you stay out of the preparations."
Tenten gave him a look, and Neji quickly backtracked.
Tenten beamed and kissed him on the lips. "Mmm... Fast learner," she said with a grin.
"Genius," Neji mumbled.
"Definitely," Tenten said, nuzzling Neji affectionately.
Another day, another match. Sasuke was relentless, he didn't give up. Every sparring match, every training session he was determined to prove that he was superior, even without his Sharingan. And every time, Sasuke got his ass handed to him.
Hinata waited patiently nearby, medical supplies at the ready. Naruto finished Sasuke off with a body slam facilitated with some "toad fu", and he slowly got up, breathing hard.
"Haa... Haa... I think... Haa... That's enough," Naruto said.
Sasuke would have responded if he hadn't been knocked unconscious. Hinata came up, kneeling down next to Sasuke and examining him. She shook her head and began to bandage him up.
"Anything really bad?" Naruto asked.
"Nothing that wouldn't heal if he just took a break," Hinata sighed. "He has a pretty high healing r-rate, but it's not as good as yours..." She finished her work, and scooted back. Naruto pulled Sasuke up and threw him over one shoulder. The two turned and headed out of the wooded training area, taking to the backstreets of Konoha to avoid being seen. Hinata couldn't help her smile.
"What?" Naruto asked. Hinata shook her head.
"Just... You still care about how he looks... Even now," she said. Naruto shrugged and grunted.
"Eh... No need to humiliate him any more than he already has been," Naruto surmised.
"All he had was his power... And now it's gone..."
"All he thought he had was his power," Naruto said with a smile. "He has us."
"But... Will he see it?" Hinata asked softly. Naruto frowned, and nodded.
"He will... It'll just take time..." Naruto looked at Hinata. "Need to get back at him... Not..."
Hinata nodded. She understood. She grasped his hand tightly, and he grasped hers back in turn.
Sasuke slowly regained consciousness and realized, much to his humiliation, he was back on Naruto's shoulder. Defeated. Beaten. Lost.
No... No, he had to continue. He had to win. He couldn't give up!
But, fighting in this way... It wasn't winning. It wasn't going to get him revenge.
Really? Revenge? You're in this state, constantly being defeated by Naruto, powerless, and revenge is what you're thinking of? A small voice in the back of Sasuke's mind asked. It had gone almost completely silent when he'd been training under Orochimaru, but now, in the wake of his Sealing, it began to be heard again.
I have nothing else...
Naruto hasn't killed you... He's kept you from being executed, the voice said.
He's a fool.
He cares about you. So does Sakura. And Hinata. Even Kakashi and Iruka care, the voice persisted. Jugo and Karin are also concerned.
Tools. Hindrances. Obstacles. Nothing more.
You didn't think like that once...
I was wrong. I still have vengeance... I still have anger...
Which is all you will ever have, the voice countered. Is that what you really want?
Sasuke closed his eyes and thought. The voice continued, doubt continuing to grow inside him.
... Hinata... Why does she care? She never knew me, Sasuke began to think.
Maybe because that's how she is? Compassionate? Like mother was? The voice pressed. Sasuke's eyes went to her, talking and laughing with Naruto quietly.
Naruto won't stop this... He won't stop getting in the way... Not unless I get it through his thick skull I want him dead, Sasuke thought. His gaze was fixated on Hinata. Not unless he stops trying to "save" me... Unless...
No, the voice said. That won't help. That won't do anything.
Except let me beat him, Sasuke thought. Make him stop this...
You wanted to be a better ninja than him, remember? A better warrior? The voice pointed out. That's not what a warrior does...
No... But it is what a ninja would do... Anything he has to...
"Seest thou yon dreary plain, forlorn and wild,
The seat of desolation, void of light,
Save what the glimmering of these livid flames
Casts pale and dreadful? Thither let us tend
From off the tossing of these fiery waves;
There rest, if any rest can harbour there;
And, re-assembling our afflicted powers,
Consult how we may henceforth most offend
Our enemy, our own loss how repair,
How overcome this dire calamity,
What reinforcement we may gain from hope,
If not, what resolution from despair."
~Paradise Lost, Book I, Lines 180-191
Hinata was doing training in the Hyuuga compound courtyard, practicing the defensive aspects of the Gentle Fist. Bobbing and weaving gracefully between practice dummies, even without her Byakugan, habit and training let her navigate the course. Her footwork had not been changed with the Sealing, and every movement seemed to evoke the image of a graceful bird in Sasuke's mind.
"Haa! Haa! Haa!"
Crouching on the wall in the heat of the summer sun, Sasuke felt the heat more acutely in the form of rage. She'd shown him compassion... Just like Naruto. Forgiveness. Sincerity...
She continued her training session, unmindful of his presence. She'd taken to going without that coat as of late... An improvement, he had to admit, over the shapeless form she'd been before in her jacket. Naruto certainly seemed to enjoy it, in his not so subtle sneaked looks.
He jumped off the wall and landed nearby her, just as she finished her latest round of movements. She looked over at him, surprise in her eyes.
"Ah? Oh... Hello Sasuke-san," she greeted him politely. Sasuke grunted in reply. She blinked her eyes, eyes he focused on. Black pupils stared at him in irises of soft violent. Normal. Ordinary.
Like yours, a treacherous voice in the back of his mind said.
"Is there something you need? Can... Can I help you?" She asked. She turned to a small table, on which was perched a jug of water and a few cups. She took one poured some water, and offered it to him. He didn't react, and after a few seconds, she took a drink.
"I'm trying to figure this... You out," he said.
"Mm?" She looked at him, holding the cup of water just under her breasts. "What are you trying to figure out?"
"By your clan's standards, all of you except for Neji are blind," he said bluntly. Hinata nodded back, a small, mysterious smile on her face.
"It doesn't bother you that for all intents and purposes, you're worthless?"
She was silent for a moment, looking thoughtful.
"It... It bothers me that many in my family feel that way..." Sasuke was silent. She continued. "And that others feel that way... About themselves." She took another drink of water, before meeting his eyes again. "Or us."
Sasuke sniffed petulantly. Hinata took another drink of water, and finished it, a few drops falling from the cup between her breasts. He tried not to notice.
"Worthless though... I... I don't think so," Hinata said quietly.
"I don't get how you can just walk this off so easily," Sasuke said flatly.
Hinata finished her water, and put the cup down. She turned back to him.
"Easily? Well... I wouldn't say that," Hinata said. Her eyes bored into his, almost challengingly. "But I... I refuse to give up."
Sasuke let out a growl, and looked away. He glanced at the weapons on the table: Knives, four of them. They were the replacements for kunai: bigger, better balanced with a focus on hand-to-hand combat. The signs of the age... They pissed him off too. They seemed to mock him, sitting there. Unbending steel.
"... Why do you not give up? If I am worthless without my Byakugan... Then what are you?" Hinata asked quietly. A stab of anger went through his heart, and he glared at her. He wanted to prove how pitiful she really was... He wanted to throw her to the ground, show her how weak she was...
Sasuke reached down and picked up two of the knives, looking them over. He tested their balance, and spun them between his fingers. Hinata watched in silence as he slowly looked up at her.
"Because this change...this disaster... It changes nothing."
"Nothing?" Hinata asked. She walked to the other side of the table, putting it between them. She reached down and took hold of two of the knives herself. She too tested their balance and examined them, before her eyes rose back to his. "I think it puts us all on the same level."
"I refuse to accept that," Sasuke said. "I'm not changed... None of you are."
"Is that why you keep trying to beat Naruto?" Hinata asked softly. The expression on her face, the tone of her voice-Neither of these things changed. Sasuke, however, felt anger explode inside him as though she'd outright insulted him.
Hinata watched his reaction, and in that same soft, controlled voice, continued to speak.
"Why are you here? To understand? To tear me down?" She cocked her head, and Sasuke felt as though she saw through him-Just for a moment. Just long enough. "...Or are you here because you can't beat Naruto?"
"Damn it..." He growled. Hinata moved, assuming a defensive position. Her eyes never left hers.
"If that's the case... Then... Go right ahead," she said. "But... I won't lose."
"Damnit it!" Sasuke kicked the table at her, forcing Hinata to step back rapidly. He vaulted over it and charged her, fury driving his knives to strike. She ducked down under his slashes, and rose again to bob and weave quickly around his followup attack. His motions were fast, powerful, but unfocused from his anger.
" Rrrr...!" He continued to lash at her angrily, the knives singing through the air. "We are not equal...!"
"Haa!" She ducked and slid underneath his slash, and sliced through his shirt, just barely grazing his side, "hn!"
Sasuke jumped away, staggered back, and then charged forward again.
Hinata continued her quick, agile defense. He got in a few slashes, light grazes, but nothing deep.
"Haa! Haa!" She then ducked under another attack, and took out his belt. His pants fell down, and he tripped, landing flat on his face. Hinata moved behind him, taking a few deep breaths as Sasuke laid there.
"Is this your idea of a joke?" He got out, words being choked by his rage. Hinata shook her head.
"Haa... I'm not the one down on the ground, am I Sasuke-san?"
Well... If that was the way she was going to play it, then fine. He'd return the favor.
Sasuke rose, and discarded his pants with no regard for modesty. He charged Hinata, striking furiously in a whirlwind of blades. Hinata once more dodged quickly, her steps taking her in circles that Sasuke doggedly followed.
"Ah!" A chance strike, and one shoulder strap of Hinata's shirt dropped, revealing more skin. Hinata, eyes flying to her shoulder, gave Sasuke enough of an opening to take off her other strap. Her shirt fell apart, and she jumped back with one arm going across her breasts, the other held in a defensive position.
Sasuke actually smirked a little, simple petty pride and masculine superiority billowing up in his chest. He even indulged in a little jealousy-Naruto had lucked out. He'd gotten Hinata for nothing, just like everything else.
But he was seeing her like this. He was doing this and Naruto couldn't do a damn thing about it.
Petty... Weak... Pitiful, that voice in the back of his head reminded him. It's a weakness...
Hinata took a deep breath, before she brought her arm away from her chest. Her cheeks were flushed, but her eyes were narrowed as she resumed her defensive stance. Sasuke enjoyed the view, before he charged again.
Her balance was slightly thrown off by her loosened breasts, moving this way and that, but her speed and determination kept her going, dodging about Sasuke's wide, fast blows and getting a few more slashes of her own. Sasuke growled, and tried a new tactic.
Metal clashed against metal, and Sasuke slammed her arms together above her head and shoved her back against the compound wall. His knives acted like swords, hilts grinding against each other and providing him leverage for his trap.
"Oof!" Hinata cried. She gritted her teeth and struggled, even as Sasuke held her legs against the wall with his own. Her soft body was being crushed by his hard one, and the two stared intently into each other's eyes.
"Give up," he growled. Hinata stared at him for a few moments, cheeks bright red. Then, out of nowhere, she pressed her lips to his and kissed him.
"Mmph?" Sasuke's eyes widened. He'd been enjoying the contact, enjoying thoroughly dominating the girl... Where had this...?
She broke the kiss, panting heavily. He too was breathing hard, feeling warm all over. She'd tasted like cinnamon, she smelled so nice... She was Naruto's, it made it all the better. But...
"Why...?" He then felt cold steel against his throat. His eyes glanced up-One of her arms held up the two knives. The other had retrieved another weapon, somewhere else on her person. He looked back down, into those narrowed eyes. Eyes that, despite the difference in color, were filled with the same determination he so detested, so hated seeing in Naruto's.
"I told you... Before... Haa..." Hinata said softly. "I will not lose."
Sasuke, numbly, lowered his arms. He pulled away from Hinata, and turned his back to her. Doing so brought a blonde figure into his vision, and his eyes widened. Naruto stared back, frozen in the still air of the courtyard.
Triumph didn't fill Sasuke. No elation brought him up at seeing Naruto's disbelieving face. All that emerged was anger, digust, and other emotions digging into his heart like jagged ice picks. Not at Naruto, nor at Hinata. It all came crashing down on himself, and with a snarl he turned and climbed up the wall. Vaulting over the top, he landed and took off in a run, as fast as he could. He didn't care where he was going.
Just as long as the miasma of sickening rage, threatening to crush his chest, didn't catch up.
Sasuke returned to the place where his walk into darkness began. He stared at the spot where he found his parents bodies, and the stains they left. There was nothing physical left, it had been cleaned up long ago, but it didn't matter. They were burned into his memory, and not even the destruction of the entire house would erase it.
He closed his eyes in the darkness of the house, the only sound to be heard his quiet, desperate breathing.
"Is this a joke? Am I the one who's been made the fool?" Sasuke demanded of the silent house. "I gave up years...years of my life. I gave up everything! My village! My friends! The people dear to me! I GAVE IT ALL UP! I walked into HELL! I became everything you all could've wanted and MORE!"
Sasuke took deep, harsh breaths, sweat beading on his forehead. Every word seemed to take the same energy and endurance as running miles would, drawn from the very deepest part of himself. Beneath the coldness, beneath the madness, even beneath his anger a flood of feelings burst into the form of language.
"...He never even knew his parents," Sasuke told his surroundings, quietly. "Or anyone that he could say loved him unconditionally..." Rage exploded into his voice again. "YET I'M THE ONE WHO'S WRONG!"
The wooden walls absorbed his yell, and echoed nothing of the harsh breathing that followed. Sasuke closed his eyes, head bowed.
"And now… I'm worthless." He sat down on the floor, and stared at the wall.
It could have been hours later, for all Sasuke knew, but the door opened behind him. He looked over his shoulder, and there stood the last person in the world he wanted to see. He had no grin, no expression on his face, but it was him.
"Get out of my house, Naruto."
Naruto was silent. He looked at Sasuke, and Sasuke turned away to glare his hate at the wall. In this way they stayed, the dead silence of the house all that could be heard.
"Unless you're going to say something, get out!" Sasuke snarled.
"... Hinata told me what happened," Naruto said quietly.
"That she beat me?" Sasuke snorted.
"... She told me, you beat yourself," Naruto replied. Sasuke was silent, so Naruto continued.
"No matter what you did... The moment you entered that courtyard, no matter what you did... You had already lost."
Naruto walked into the room, and sat down next to Sasuke. Both of them stared at the wall in silence for a time, before Sasuke snorted.
"Tch...I've lost since day one."
"... I thought the same thing a lot myself, sometimes… When I was by myself," Naruto said.
"No matter how strong I got, no matter what I said, or did, or... Anything, that maybe I couldn't win. Maybe I couldn't save my friend." He took a deep breath.
" ... Maybe my brother was gone, and I couldn't do anything."
"And then Pain ended it all. And now everything is fine," Sasuke spat bitterly. "Madara's gone. Pain's gone...Akatsuki are dead… And I'm here. Isn't that what you wanted?"
" ... You know what I think? And... Maybe I'm wrong. But this is what I think," Naruto replied after a moment of silence. "You were so wrapped up in revenge, in anger and rage, you couldn't stop. You didn't think you could. If you stopped... Nobody would welcome you back. You convinced yourself of this. That you had no place... No future but death."
Sasuke's head bowed, but Naruto kept going.
" You felt you had nothing left... Maybe even since the day your family was murdered. And so you went on, and on, and on, and this... This seemed to convince you that you were right. That there wasn't anything left." He looked at Sasuke. "And you're wrong."
" I don't want to be wrong, Naruto. I don't want to look back at everything and say 'That was a mistake,'" Sasuke whispered.
"Who does? But... It's the truth," Naruto said quietly.
"...I want to have nothing," Sasuke said in stubborn defiance. Naruto snorted.
"No, idiot. What you want is love. Friendship. Family."
Sasuke's gaze met the floor. Naruto shook his head.
"You just think you can't have it. You don't have it... And you're wrong about that too," Naruto said.
"I've lived up until this point trying to bring all of that to justice… And I only ended up killing the one person who still loved me and went out of his way to keep me alive…" Sasuke laughed bitterly.
"And would he want you to be like this? I know I don't," Naruto said.
"I don't deserve it," Sasuke said flatly. Naruto smiled a little.
"Maybe not... But that's not changing how we feel. The more you try to push us away, to cut us off... The more you just hurt yourself, Sasuke... And us."
"Then just let me die and move on!" Sasuke said.
"Can't. And won't," Naruto said, in a voice both kind but strong as steel. He stood up, his body outlined in shadow against the light projected by the open doorway. He turned to leave, but paused at the doorway. He looked back at Sasuke over his shoulder. "You can either accept that, Sasuke... You can either let it go... And come back... And be who you want to be, not what anyone else wants..." Naruto turned his eyes forward, seeing the warm, sunlit world beyond.
"... Or you can end it here."
Naruto walked out, leaving the door open behind him. Its light was cast across the room, defining the border of the shadows Sasuke sat in. The former avenger's eyes drifted over his shoulder, as he watched his rival walk gladly out into the day beyond.
Sasuke closed his eyes… And made his decision.
"To the subjected Plains; then disappeared.
They looking back, all th' Eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late Their happier seat,
Waved over by that flaming Brand, the Gate
With dreadful Faces thronged and firey Arms:
Some natural tears they draped, but wiped them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence Their guide:
They hand in hand with wadding steps and slow,
Through Eden took Their solitaire way..."
Paradise Lost, Book XII, Lines 640-649