So this is, in all probability, the only fic I will ever post for Naruto. Don't get me wrong, I loved the damn thing until about two years ago, where I felt it took a turn for the mediocre and just stopped being interesting and the characterization sucks now and it's predictable and what the fuck, Sasuke's suddenly evil and Sakura's a whiny useless fangirl again? Whaaaaaat?

That said, have any of you ever had that story that sits in your chest and claws at you until you get it out? 'Cause that was this fic, for me. I wrote it over a period of two days and it just would not shut up. Oh well. XD.

Anyway, since I know a large portion of this fandom kind of hates Sasuke, this fic is Sasuke-centric, so Sasuke-haters run now! I still don't know why I decided to write about this kid, because I only loved him for the first half of Part II in the manga- in Part I, I saw him as a stuck-up prick with no soul, and then for some reason Kishimoto made him bat-shit insane and evil all of a sudden (and it was sudden- like, two-chapters kind of sudden)-but this was what came out, so... yeah. This Sasuke is what I saw Sasuke as up until the Five Kage Summit- he knows what he has to do and he's going to do it, no matter what, but he still has that old pain in him, that sense of moral code that made him fight but not kill and a whole bunch of philosophical things that I loved that I'm really not going to go into here.

Thanks to Thunderhowl, who put up with me and beta'd this fic. You're a doll, sweetheart. ;)

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. At this point, I don't even want to, er hur hur. Here that, Kishi-chan? YOU CAN HAVE IT.

The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish'd Sabbath,
On the pavement here, and there beyond it is looking,
Down a new-made double grave.

Lo, the moon ascending,
Up from the east the silvery round moon,
Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon,
Immense and silent moon.

I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key'd bugles,
All the channels of the city streets they're flooding,
As with voices and with tears.

There are a thousand steps between Orochimaru's—Kabuto's—body and Naruto's.

This is how you take them.

One deep, heaving breath gets you started, and that first breath is also the first leap that carries you thirty feet away from Orochimaru's dead body and Itachi's (twice) dead body and Chiyo's dead body.

You leave your chokuto buried in Kabuto's throat and half your shuriken buried in Itachi's and most of your anger beside Chiyo's.

You don't need those things any more.

Two long wounds glistening on your skin—one along your ribs and one bitten deep into your shoulder, the blood slick and warm—and you leap again, another step closer.

Three hawks fly above you, guide your feet, cry to you in their soft voices. They're much better summoning animals than snakes, but it is too late to become the hawk sannin. There isn't anymore time. You jump again.

Four Impurely Resurrected bodies block your path. They are asleep again, their master dead.

Five shouts, somewhere to your left—the rescue party is still fighting, still struggling to find Naruto. They don't know he's dead. You do, because with these eyes (not even yours—these are Itachi's, and though your Sharingan burns the same the world has changed) you can't miss it.

It is like the sun gone out of the world, bright shinning light smothered, winked out.

Six points on the bloody stars in your eyes, six spinning vicious wheels bringing the world into inescapable stark horrible bloody focus.

Seven dead Konoha ninja, about a mile from Orochimaru's body. You recognize them—Hyuuga Neji, Umino Iruka, Kankuro of the Sand, the child Konohamaru, Nara Shikamaru, Genma the chuunin exam proctor—because your eyes will not let you forget.

Eight slaughtered Cloud ninja, one for each of Killer Bee's tails. You hear he fought ferociously. Something bitter stirs in your chest, because this is what ferocity got him, this is what all his strength and power got him, in the end.

Nine chakras pulsing hot in the sky, nine freed-trapped Bijuu reaching for the moon. Madara's screaming his laughter, dark bloody violence surging around him, darker than night itself, a black hole that you can't help but seebecause of your goddamn eyes.

Ten minutes, maybe, until the justu is complete and it's over. You have to hurry—you run faster, faster.

Fifteen branches snapping under the force of your feet—you're all-out sprinting. You should be close.

Nineteen minutes since Naruto's death—the word burns in your chest and you think that, if you had a heart, it would be breaking and you don't know why—and the world screams around you.

Twenty-seven Chidori senbon fly from your hands and bury themselves in white-plant flesh. A dozen Zetsus fall like snow.

Thirty-four kunai buried point first in the ground. Another Konoha ninja—TenTen—is dead, her weapons are scattered around her.

You run even faster, wonder exactly why you decided to turn against Madara, to face this instead of live in numb black for the rest of your life.

(Forty-five bloody children laid neat in rows, their faces small and still and sad. A gift, Madara said to you. A show of our power. And just think, Sasuke-kun, soon there will be more. The heart you didn't know you had broke then, just a bit, and you remembered him and you needed him and fuck fuck fuck you need him now.)

Fifty-nine Zetsu-bodies, white charred flesh and broken limbs. The rescue party had been here.

Sixty-three leaves fall behind you, ripped from the trees by your speed. Madara shrieks in triumph, and you remember

(Eighty-eight dead Uchiha, their blood a stinking pool underneath you. Oh you need them, a family. Oh oh oh how you need them.

But bonds make you weak, whispers a child. To love is to hurt.

This is worse, you say to it. This is so much worse.)

and your run faster, faster.

Ninety craters in the earth, marks of a powerful jutsu. The leftover chakra tastes like metal in your mouth.

One hundred and eight members of the rescue party, fighting for their lives, for Naruto's, as the moon goes black above them. You know most of them, and in your chest ashes stir. Hatake Kakashi of the Sharingan and Sai of ROOT, Yamanaka Ino, Hyuuga Hinata, Gaara the Kazekage, Lady Tsunade the sannin of slugs.

And Haruno Sakura, who fights with fists full of chakra and fire in her green eyes and with one hundred and sixty-seven tears streaming down her face. She knows she's too late. She always was the sensible one.

You ache.

Two hundred and nine heartbeats a minute, your most-definitely not dead heart kicking against your ribs, too fast, too fast.

Soon, you tell it. Soon.

Three hundred and forty-six ninja dead in this war—too many, too many.

Five hundred long bloody years lining your bones. You feel old (you've been old, for so so long) and you move like an old man.

Too slow, too slow.

You need to hurry.

Six hundred and ninety-one thoughts swirling in your head, reasons why you left them, left Konoha, left Orochimaru, left Madara. They all sing pain and fear and hate and love and bonds and you can't sort through them, because soon it won't matter.

Eight hundred and thirty-two dead ninja Impurely Resurrected by Orochimaru. Now that he's dead they fall like leaves, toppling and tumbling like dominoes and it's one great collapsing chain

(of hate, says Naruto in your cursed memory. Endless, endless.)

You're closer, now, too close, too close, the cave is looming, electrified with the remnants of the Kyuubi's chakra, bright-white like the sun.

The cave is blown apart, the ceiling gone, the walls half-collapsed.

Nine hundred and forty-seven symbols carved into what remains, written in the language of ninjutsu, cut deep and black into the earth. The mirrors in your eyes know what they say—bind, seal, remove—over and over again.

Nine hundred and ninety-seven steps, memory like fallen leaves swirling in your head (and heart, but you don't have one so this ache you feel isn't real) and you see him, shriveled and sad and too still, too still. You falter, shake, harsh metal in your mouth.

This wasn't supposed to happen.

One thousand steps from Orochimaru's body you fall to your knees beside Naruto's and one thousand screaming birds fill the cavern, one thousand threads of lightning playing white-black over the still face.

Your mouth tastes like ash.

This wasn't supposed to happen.

Naruto—a thousand memories ache and burn, start to finish, then to now, happiness and hate and sorrow and rage and love crying out, out.

I will bring you back! Naruto had screamed, again and again, one thousand times when you stopped listening after the first.

(That's a lie—you've heard every single fucking word but your heart was too hard and too gone to hear him.)

There's a low keening sound mingling with the cries of a thousand birds, and it takes you a moment to realize that it's you.

Your heart is breaking.

This wasn't supposed to happen.

(I'm going to be the Hokage!

No he's not, not now, because he's fucking dead.)

The three hawks you brought with you shriek, sensing, perhaps, this gaping hole in your chest, and they fly in circles, keening, keening. They, unlike the snakes, stay with you.

As a thousand thoughts tear through your heart your hands start to move, chakra floods your veins, Chiyo the Sand Elder's voice rings in your head. There's only one thing to do.

Nine hundred and forty-seven carved symbols crumble, blow away.

Eight hundred and thirty-two dead Resurrected ninja weep as they die for the final time.

Six hundred and ninety-one rips open in the earth, torn apart by the force of your chakra, cracking, cracking.

Five hundred years peeling from your flesh, falling to the ground around you, melting, melting. This is true power, is screaming in your blood and pouring through your chakra pathways, lighting you up like a candle. You are younger than you've ever been, ageless, and the air is black-white with lightning.

Four hundred and twenty seconds until Madara swallows the moon. You need to work faster, faster. Chakra howls in your ears and the hawks shriek, keening, keening.

Three hundred and eighty-four bits of broken earth thrown wild into the air, blown back by the chakra flooding your body, flowing through you, too much, too much.

Two hundred and six bones on fire, melting inside your skin, hot hot hot with the lightning that thrills through them. You grit your burning teeth against this pain and push on.

One hundred and eight ninja stopping in their fights, turning to stare at you, finally seeing Naruto and he's dead and you, with all your power crackling. Your eyes see their faces and remember.

Hatake Kakashi (he deserves the Sharingan, you think, more than any Uchiha ever did) and Sai of ROOT, Yamanaka Ino, Hyuuga Hinata, Gaara the Kazekage, Tsunade. Other chuunin and jounin of various villages, ashen-faced, smeared with the grime and gore of battle.

And Haruno Sakura, whose chakra-laden fists are stars to your eyes. Her pink hair looks red and she's bone-white, bleeding from a cut to her shoulder. There's some part of you that remembers what protectiveness feels like, looking at her bloody and tired with war.

She's still crying. You can't hear her, over the roar and cry of your own chakra, but you can read her lips.

Sasuke-kun, she says. Thank you. (You'd forgotten that she was there, with Chiyo. She knows this jutsu.) It almost hurts that she doesn't say don't, please stay, but you understand. That was one bridge you burned well, and it's too late to repair it now.

The countdown speeds up, you don't have time

(Eighty-eight Uchiha, their eyes Sharingan red and blank with death. They stare at you and reach helplessly. Come, they say, come.

Soon, you whisper, soon.)

Sixty-three fallen leaves in the forest, spinning forlorn in the wind of that vicious chakra.

Thirty-one hand seals in this jutsu, forbidden for a reason. Ram, tiger, horse, ram, hawk. More chakra than you thought you had spills out of you and your tongue feels metallic, coated in blood.

Out, you think, and then in. Out of you, into the husk underneath your fingers. Out, in, just like breathing.

Twenty-three minutes since Naruto's death. Twenty-three minutes that shouldn't have happened. There's a deep ache inside you now, a splitting, throbbing pain. More blood flows, from your nose, your ears—you're pushing it. You wonder if this is like opening the Celestial Gates. Once you go so far, you can't turn back.

That line is about to be crossed, you can feel it.

Fifteen bones in your left hand shatter, taxed already by three Chidori. The strain is too much for them, but you're so far gone that even the sting of snapping bone doesn't register. The only thing that hurts is the chakra, pounding, roaring, melting.

The ground snaps open with a crack, rock shattering, birds screaming. Heat, life, throbs in your blood. Soon, soon.

Twelve Rookie ninja of Konoha reduced to half their number. They could have been the greatest and most of you recognizes that it's your fault. If you had stayed with them, this whole situation might be different.

Eleven gashes on your body now, the skin torn open by the force of all this power. Blood, slick and warm, oozes sluggishly, proof of life. You smile a bit, because blood was supposed to be thicker than water but here you are dying and this boy beneath your hands is not your blood but you love him more. You are pushing life into his body, not Itachi's, not Madara's.

(Ten more letters that will be added to the memorial stone in Konoha, though you don't know it. UCHIHA SASUKE, a name that will be as famous as the Rokudaime's.)

Nine eyes open on the cracked, ruined sealing statue, nine Bijuu freed, nine Jinchuuriki killed, nine chakras screaming at the sky, bubbling black around a madman.

Eight ninja dogs baying at Kakashi's heels. They, like your hawks, know what's going to happen and they're howling you out, and Kakashi's face (maskless, you see, and it's with a jolt of surprise-disappointment that you notice his lips are normal-sized) is understanding and calm.

He knows. He, you can tell, would do the same, because the ninja who does not care for his teammates is worse than trash.

Seven minutes, probably less, before it's too late. Faster, faster.

Six red star-points, fading, fading. Your eyes are going black even as the rest of you burns, all of your chakra humming and screaming and surging out as you force it in to the body under your hands.

Five words whispered by Chiyo the Sand Elder as you held your chokuto to her throat and promised her death if she'd tell you. Give him all of it, she whispered, as you neatly split her throat. Down to the last drop.

Four voices, whispering in your ears, under the howl of your black-white chakra.

Come on, says your father, his hand gently on your shoulder. All of it, son, you're doing well.

Just a little more, says your mother, brushing a kiss to your bloody, sweaty forehead.

Ototou, says Itachi, and his eyes are blind and kind and this is how he felt, this heaving thing in your chest, this is how he felt when he begged the elders for your life and went to kill his family. Sacrifice, he says, prodding your forehead affectionately. You can do it.

Thank you, says the fourth voice. Your chakra hurts, ripping out of you now, pumping, pumping. Blood drips from your lips, from your nose, your eyes, your ears and you can see it, your chakra, black-white like lightning, beautiful and ugly at the same time. Death screams and reaches for you.

No turning back, you think, this is it, and this is how Naruto felt, staring you down at the summit. Determination, hotter than your chakra, pulses. You reach deep into yourself—your soul, maybe, if you have one—rip out the last drop, all of it, all of it.

Three heartbeats, weak, struggling, in your chest, that treacherous, fragile thing stilling, too exhausted and broken to carry on.

Almost, you pray, and oh oh oh it's so hot, blistering, agony, flames bursting along every inch of your skin—!

Two hands, tanned and big and rough, grasp your curling, burning, broken ones, and the Yondaime Hokage lifts you up.

"Thank you," he breathes raggedly, and his blue eyes are wet with tears. "Thank you, thank you."

He holds you like a father holds a son and carries you up, lifting you away. Life falls from you easily, crumpling to the broken earth beside Naruto's body.

"I understand," you tell him thickly, because you're leaving your body behind and it goes still, that last bit of chakra glowing hot and white and thousand-sun bright.

A thousand screaming birds fall silent and the hawks keen with the dogs.

Haruno Sakura closes her eyes.

"I understand why you did what you did, back then."

The Yondaime smiles, warm and gentle. "You did beautifully, Sasuke," he says. "Rest now. I can carry you. We're not going too far."

You're so tired, your eyes are so heavy, and almost of their own accord they slide shut.

Namikaze Minato's arms are warm and the last thing you see before you fade away is

One deep, heaving breath, and Uzumaki Naruto, wreathed in the light of a thousand splendid suns, opens his eyes.

The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.
—Walt Whitman, Dirge for Two Veterans

So I'm a bit of a sap. Shoot me. Or stab me with a kunai, whichever you prefer.

Review! Less than three, because stupid FFN won't actually let me do a less than sign. :p