Anguish in Reunion

Madara's cold glare cast itself upon the various coffins riddled throughout the cavern. Kabuto had certainly been a busy person as of late - and he was beginning to question whether or not this many ressurected shinobi would pose a threat to his plan. Searching the cluster of corpses and boxes, he began to scan around cautiously for the vile snake, having been called for a 'very important' reason. Whatever it was, Kabuto had proven useful - if not suspicious - thus far, and the mysterious Uchiha was eager to find out what the man considered important.

A figure moved in the darkness before him, and the masked man narrowed his eyes. "There you are." he said non-chalantly. "We're prepared to march any moment now, what with your little discovery about that wood style user...for this to be important, it must mean you're done collecting bones and blood?"

Kabuto turned to Madara, his snake-like features visible even in the barely lit cavern through his hood. His eyes flickered with delight as he lowered his hands to his side, raising them slowly as he spoke. "Yes. That...AND more, I might add."

The lids of the coffins began to slide off in unison, and various shinobi - porcelain and cracked in appearance - began to emerge slowly from their holds. Gesturing to a collective of familiar faces, Kabuto said "First up...the former members of Akatsuki."

He pointed at a group of six behind Madara, who turned to see. "Next, the former Jinchuriki." The group beside them had emerged just then, and Kabuto let loose a low cackle. "The previous Kages..."

Madara turned back to Kabuto, his glare ceasing to lighten up. This jutsu was useful, yes, but with each new corpse he saw, he became more and more wary of the former lackey's motives. "And finally..." He gestured to the entire room, the faces of various risen nin turning to the two of them. "A group of skilled ninja, who were all once famous in their own right."

Madara folded his arms, and spoke gravely. "Such a formidable jutsu - but make no mistake, if you turn on me, I will not hesitate to end you instantaneously."

Kabuto's eyes widened, and a long, snake-like tongue ran over his lips, as if preparing to savor a bite of flesh. "Oh? Still have our doubts, do we? I would never dream of turning on the great Madara..."

Madara scoffed. "Despite the success of gaining the Wood Element user, you still did not achieve what I asked you to do - thus, you have still not completed your 'rite of trust'."

Kabuto shrugged, and drew a heavy sigh. "Guess I have no choice then. I was saving this for a surprise but..." As he quickly began to form a hand seal, Madara took a step back, reaching for the fan upon his back. Another coffin began to rise from the ground, apparently not surprising the dark man at all.

"You already proved to me you have leverage with 'that' body, snake." The Rinnegan in his left eye narrowed. "What sort of surprise is it if I already know what you plan to do?"

Kabuto made a fanning motion at the Uchiha. "Now now, no one said I was planning on pulling that card again. You need to learn not to jump to conclusions so quickly - here, let me show you."

Snapping his fingers, the coffin flew open, and Madara's expression - that which could be seen in his eyes anyway - became visibly less tense. "...why should I care about this person being in your collection?"

Kabuto's smirk grew impossibly larger as he spoke his next words. "Because...this person is going to capture the Nine-tailed Jinchuriki for us." He walked up to the coffin, and patted the head of the one inside.

"Isn't that little heiress?"

The battlefield had quaked with the clashing of shinobi since early that morn, the crashing waves upon the shores being quieter than the chatter of birds by comparison. Naruto was back on the field at last, renewed from his training under his new mentor, Killer Bee. Having gone to aid separate battlezones, the blond shinobi tightened his headband, and began to look over the land in search of those who needed his help, without the aid of his new teacher.

There were few struggles remaining, but for those that went on, he could hear them for miles. Explosions shook the ground beneath him, and the clanking of steel against steel rang in his ears. The sights of the corpses that littered the ground reminded him of the last time he had bore witness to devastation on this level - when Pain had attacked his home not even a month ago. Defeating the de-facto leader of Akatsuki, while his greatest triumph so far, was also the source of his greatest anguish - something happened that day, which he didn't like to remember.

He shook his head, trying to get a grip on his thoughts. "This is no time to get all depressed." he said, smacking his cheeks. "Yosh! Alright, to...wherever the heck I'm needed."

It was an awkward situation for him. He'd been told where the battle site was, but now that the battle was drawing to a close here, he didn't know where to go. Seeing a large clearing in a canyon of rocks, he noticed Shikamaru, commanding a line of troops who were evacuating injured from the area. "YO! Shikamaru!"

The Nara turned to Naruto as soon as he'd begun to sprint, the gap between him and his good friend quickly closed. "Naruto - when did you get here?" He frowned and folded his arms. "Wait, better yet, WHY are you here? You're supposed to be -"

Naruto shook his head. "Don't even tell me I have to stay out of this. You know it won't work on me. People are dying for -me- out here, and that just doesn't sit well with me. I want to help, so just shut up about where I should be, and tell me where I need to go."

The shirker sighed heavily, and looked back into the canyon passage, from which a wall of dust had been protruding from. "We backed some of the enemies into the canyon here, and things look under control for the most part, but we have to evacuate it now. The whole side is starting to collapse from Gaara's fight - if you want to help, start by helping people get out of their with their lives. And Naruto." He looked grimly at the boy, his serious expression not having shifted an inch from when it began. "Don't do anything reckless this time."

Naruto gave Shikamaru a thumbs up. "Got ya, Shikamaru. I'll try - then again, you know me." Without another word, he sprinted into the thick of the dust, fading from Shikamaru's sights in seconds.

"Stubborn kid...Then again, he would have gone if I had told him not to."

Kabuto snickered hissingly, looking over his go board with delight. Licking his lips, he eyed one particular piece positioned near the canyon which he had sent the revived Kages. "So...Naruto-kun appeared right where I wanted him to. This is all going perfectly, it almost makes me ashamed of myself not to have added a few more precautions. Then again..."

Picking up a new piece, he placed it directly underneath the one he'd been eyeing. "...irony is such a delicious thing. Naruto-kun, I hope you enjoy your last fight - it will be the most heartwrenching performance of your life, I assure you."

Turning towards a tree nearby, he flashed a fanged smirk. "So you decided to withdraw from the frontlines early, just to watch?"

Emerging from the shadows, Madara made his way over to the snake-like man, folding his arms as he towered over him. "Naruto is in our sights now. I've just come to see how your plan works out, that's all. Even I must admit went through a lot of trouble, finding -that- particular detail out about him."

Kabuto shrugged. "It wasn't as hard as some of the others, believe me. I had actually known about this one since the chuunin exams almost three and a half years ago."

Madara tilted his head slightly. "Oh?"

"Yes. To think, the one person in the whole village whose death was untimely enough to evade Nagato's merciful use of the Gedo: Rinne Tensei no Jutsu had such an emotionally tormenting link to the boy...heh, if I wasn't laughing inside right now, it might have just made me shed a tear thinking about it."

"Snake tears aren't worth running a charade about - get to the point." Madara kneeled down, staring Kabuto in the eye. "How are you so sure the boy will be so easy to manipulate emotionally like that?"

Kabuto licked his lips again. "Because...Naruto-kun is the type of boy who cares about everyone. Such a naive child is easy to predict, after all."

The canyon seemed almost vacant, most of the injured and those who were still fighting having long since moved out. He almost believed Shikamaru sent him in here to stay out of trouble for a short time, were it not for the fact that the sides of the canyon were in fact, crumbling. Drawing a heavy sigh, the boy threw his hands behind his head. "So much for joining the fray on a hot summer d-dammit!" He stomped his feet in anger. "Now Octopus guy has me stuck on rhyming too, 'tebayo!"

Turning back in the direction he came, the dust began to subside, and he realized just then that he wasn't alone. Drawing a kunai carefully from his pack, he narrowed his eyes and turned his head slowly. Whatever was nearby was hiding, waiting in ambush - not a sign of a friendly unit.

Twisting around, he poised to throw his kunai, a defensive glare in his eye - which instantly shattered from the moment their pools of blue caught the reflection of a familiar face. His hands trembled, his palms became sweaty, and he felt his blood screech to a halt as his heart skipped a beat. "N-no way. This...this is too cruel." A tear began to form at the base of his eye, and rolled down his cheek. " no, I've got to be having some kind of a nightmare here. They...can't have..."

Before him stood the very image of what a ghost was to the boy. Painful memories of his battle with Pain began to spiral out of control, and caused his body to become numb. His kunai fell from his weakly gripped hand, impaling the ground at his feet. "Naruto-kun..." said the same timid voice of Hinata Hyuga.

Naruto fell to his knees as the deceased Hyuga heiress came into full view, the effects of the Edo Tensei upon her body only adding to the horror. The cracked doll-like skin, the black sclera surrounding her lavender pupils, and the sad, regretful look upon her face. He had heard this technique was being used to bring back the dead, and he felt as though he was prepared for anything.

But not this.

Taking a stance, the girl spoke to Naruto, in a voice that made her sound as though she was fighting back tears. "I'm sorry, N-Naruto-kun...but have no choice. They sent capture you."

Madara's hand held his chin, as Kabuto began to explain the situation to him. "Your effect turned out to be potent after all. But how long till Naruto comes to his senses like all the others have so far?"

Kabuto moved the go pieces around casually. "By the time he does, it will be too late. underestimate the potential this one has. I wanted to test something out before I have her begin to fight serious, though."

"Quit wasting time..." Madara growled. "You've experimented enough and failed miserably so far. Need I remind you of your Hanzou puppet?"

Kabuto shook his head. "Patience. You seek, there is a seal I'd forgotten to apply to some of them on purpose - I had no need for it. But..." Forming a hand seal, he began to flare his chakra, eyeing the go board with malice. ", I see a potential use for it. Hinata-chan, let's tell Naruto-kun again how you feel about everything. Let him know the torment you went through for him, and allow him to feel your pain."

His chakra was beginning to warp already, having merely stood there for the first of Hinata's critical attacks upon his chakra system. Locked in battle with the girl whom he had failed to save, he remembered the agonizing news of her death. Between every juken he tried to dodge, he looked sadly into her eyes and asked himself why it had to happen...

It should have been a great day in his life. Returning to the village, everyone had welcomed him home as a hero - the boy who saved them from Pain. Something was amiss to him from the very beginning - neither Sakura or Hinata were present. It could only have meant one thing - that Sakura was still tending to Hinata's wounds.

He rushed that day to find her, only to arrive in time to see her pass from the world. Her injuries, while treatable at first, had begun to worsen beyond Sakura's control very quickly. He saw her covered in blood, and Sakura weeping over her, turning to Naruto and saying "I'm sorry."

"Hinata-chan!" Naruto called out to her, trying to grab her palm as she slammed it into his chest. He felt an agonizing pain wracking his shoulder suddenly, but ignored it, trying to speak to the girl whom he had failed. "Hinata-chan, please! I don't want to fight you!"

Inside of Hinata, her spirit began to cry for release, helpless to escape the prison that was her artificially reborn body. Her flurry of attacks were emotionless, yet deep inside, she was trying desperately to hold them back. She wanted Naruto to end her suffering, it was written in her eyes still - but Naruto would never be able to tell. She felt her spirit being buried beneath a growing darkness, fading further and further from control. Her will was no longer her own, and in place of the kind, shy soul that had been nearly present a moment before, her mind filled with doubts and anger that she had never noticed before.

Naruto, the boy she had always been inspired by...she was fighting against him, trying to bring him down. But why? What had he done, other than save her from a life of loneliness, and wandering without a hope for the future? What had he done, besides smile, and never let down his friends?

'He was always there for everyone else...' the new thoughts began. '...but he was almost never there for me, was he?'

The speed of her attacks increased to almost blurring speeds, and Naruto began to find it hard to keep up. Trying to place some distance between himself and the juken user, he cried out her name once more, begging her to stop her attack. "Hinata-chan, I won't fight you!"

"You always passed me by...You wanted to be with those who were already in the sun." Her words continued to go unwillingly, as if instigated by an outside force. "You never sought the company of those who were hurting - you would only try to fix their pain, then move on before you were done. You always made it so easy for thought anyone could do it easily too, and never looked back to see if I had fallen along my way."

What was she thinking? Naruto was in no way like that! Something was falling over her, a spell she couldn't resist. Why was her mind blackening the once pure thoughts of the boy she had spent her life chasing? Why couldn't she control herself?

Naruto leaped up the cliffside, unable to stay within range of her attacks any longer. "No! You have it all wrong!" Tears continued to run down his cheeks as he fearfully scaled the cliffside, Hinata's uncontrolled body in pursuit of the boy. "If I had known...Maybe things would have been different!"

"Selfish!" she cried, her palm slamming into the rocky wall, cracking it with great force. "You never knew how I felt, because you were selfishly chasing Sakura-chan! You only had eyes for a girl who used to scorn you, and hate you. She used to belittle you in front of everyone! She never cared for you being the person you were!"

None of this was true! None of it was what she really thought! Why couldn't she stop this? Inside her soul, she felt cramped - as if caged in, tightly. She saw what went on, she was aware of the horrible things being thought of and said, yet she was powerless to control any of it - even her own mouth.

Naruto perched atop the cliff side, looking down sadly at the Hyuga girl. "I...I know, but...I'm sorry, I never meant to ignore your feelings. I never meant to make you hurt like that. were always an amazing person to me, and I took you for granted!"

"You're too late, Naruto-kun!" Violently, she leapt into the air, crashing down at the spot where Naruto was standing. He didn't move - the powerful palm strike had knocked him to the ground, sprawling him several yards back. The boy began to cough up blood, struggling to stand up. "You're just too late..." Just as Naruto had been crying this whole time, so too were Hinata's tears of regret joining his in battle. A fight that neither had ever thought would come - a fight to the finish, that no one wanted to be a part of. "I'm already dead."

'Naruto-kun...' Her soul was little more than a faded glimmer now, her consciousness fading into the darkness, devoured by its corrupting will. ' me. I can' it alone this time.'

The moment he was back on his feet, Hinata was on the assault again, violently striking for his head. Already, her attacks upon the unwilling boy had sealed a fifth of his tanketsu - only four fifths were needed to knock him unconscious, fewer if her attacks had continued to be so successful. He wasn't blocking anymore, he wasn't dodging. Her body acted upon this as a weakness, and with heartless guidance, began to assault him while he was down. He was locked in a battle he couldn't fight, and even if he could, it was impossible for him now.

Laying on the ground, puddling his own tears and blood, Hinata stood over him - her dark figure gleaming in front of what little sunlight escaped the sea of clouds above. Reaching down, the undead girl pulled him to his feet, holding him carefully as her free hand reeled back. "Hinata-chan...that day, when you told me how you really felt about me, when you saved my life...that moment made me so happy, but it left so fast." He gulped, preparing himself for another brutal strike - this time to his shoulder. He felt as if he deserved all this. "When Pain took you away...I was so angry. For the first time in my life, someone loved me - genuine love, something I never thought I would get back from anyone." As blood began to seep from his mouth, he tried to smile. "I must be the stupidest jerk in the world."

'Stop!' Hinata cried out from deep within. 'Whoever is doing this, please! Stop hurting Naruto-kun!'. She wished for an end to it all - to the torment wrecking havoc and poisoning her soul. She felt feelings she had never dared as they crept into her like a disease, and realized her hell was far from over.

"You said you were happy...that you could give your life to save mine." he said weakly, as the strikes from her juken began to make his whole body numb. "I'm sorry I couldn' you back then, Hinata-chan. It...was the worst news of my life. I searched my own feelings, trying to sort out why I felt worse and worse." He began to choke up as he spoke. "It must have been so hard, you know? Keeping your feelings buried for so long, and not having anyone to help you dig them up. I know you were happy to die for me, but I'm sure you wanted to live. You wanted to have a chance."

"N-Naruto-kun..." Her next strike, poised at his heart, stopped right before him. Trembling, she began to speak, her genuine self in control, if for not much more than a moment. "It's true...Even though I was happy to finally be able to save your life after you had saved mine..." She looked up at him, frowning. "...I still wanted to be with you. I wanted to live, but I fought against myself. Without you, Naruto-kun...What would I have done?"

She felt it - her spirit, now wading through the darkness that buried it, was fighting to find the light. To wrest control of herself - to save Naruto. She wouldn't be the tool of his demise. She refused. She had paid the ultimate sacrifice to save him before - it wasn't going to be in vain.

"Seems your grip over her is slipping." Madara mocked Kabuto.

"Tck. It's getting a bit sloppy because I decided to test just how well I can control a person's innermost thoughts with the technique. Don't worry, I've got the situation under contr-"

"Cease this fooling around already." the Uchiha snapped. "You already have Naruto half-beaten, and you're just now starting to lose control of her?"

"Relax." Kabuto scoffed, forming another hand seal. "I'll start using the aspects of the technique I know for certain work. Perhaps in letting too much of her personality through, she started to break the technique. However...we're fortunate there's still something inside preventing her from passing and breaking the technique." He smiled sinisterly. "It's almost as though she wanted to return. Poor thing..."

Hinata dropped Naruto suddenly, holding her head in anguish. "Nrg...AAAAAAAAH!" Screaming in anguish, Naruto looked up at her in horror at what was happening. She was in so much pain, it hurt him to see this. "N-Naruto-kun! I can't...I can barely see anymore! End me - don't let me hurt you anymore!"

Naruto shook his head. "Hinata-chan, no! Fight it! Fight Kabuto's control! He can't make you do anything you don't want to - you're a stronger person than he is, or ever was! You're...the strongest person I know!"

Those words rang in Hinata's mind as she began to fall back into the shadows of her soul. 'Strongest...person...he knows? Me? Didn't...I once tell him the same thing?'

Her thrashing ceased, and she stood deadly still, her face towards the sky. Slowly, she turned to Naruto, and he bit his lip. "Hinata-chan, no..."

Her eyes had become nearly pure black, the byakugan fading into a tinge of grey. He could tell, even from the look on her face, that she was no in control of herself. The vile stance she took emanated a sinister, cold chakra that the boy had never imagined someone as pure as her would come to hold. He tried to get to his feet, but his body had become nearly immobile from the heartless blows of the juken till now, as though the weight of her feelings had begun to cling to his very arms and legs. He had failed her once - was this to be his retribution?

Hinata's body suddenly vanished with a flicker - her speed, it was almost too fast for Naruto to track. The binds her own reluctance had over herself were gone, there was no mistaking it. Turning around, Naruto's eyes widened, as her palm extended to strike him from behind, a veil of chakra surrounding her hand in the form of a lion. This technique...the same she had used to try and save him from Pain was now going to end him.

It pained him - he couldn't bear to fight back anymore. He was sick of this fighting already, but now, it tore him up inside. But her tears, still pouring down her expressionless face...they cried for release. She didn't want to fight any more than he did, yet she was powerless to stop it.

She didn't want to fight any more than he did.

She didn't want to fight.

She didn't want...

The Juho Soshiken technique smashed into his back, and he felt an incredible pressure build up from inside his center. His chakra was useless, but he still stood on his feet. Reaching weakly for Hinata's arm, he coughed heavily - her second strike sending another surge through his body. Grasping tight to the sleeve of her jacket, he pulled her into an embrace - gently wrapping his arms around her. "Hinata-chan...I know you're in there."

They stood silent and still, Naruto's hug seeming to have quelled her. She began to raise her arms slowly, and gently started to wrap them around Naruto as well. However, as his eyes opened, a ring of orange below them and a sideways slit in place of his pupil, he knew what it was truly for. "I have to free you from this, Hinata-chan." Breaking away from her, a burst of Sage chakra re-activating his tanketsu, he narrowly avoided his consciousness from being wiped away by a deceptive attack from her. Hinata was truly not in control anymore - the Hinata he knew was truly gone.

Folding his arms, he bowed his head in silence. "I have to save you...even if it means fighting you." Looking up at her, he wiped his tears away, and smashed his fists together, as if faking enthusiasm. "It's time to see your strength, Hinata-chan. Don't hold back against me, even a bit."

The cloudy skies began to thicken, thunder roaring in the distance. The two reluctant shinobi, torn by love and loss, never once took their eyes off one another - waiting to make the first move. Then, as a bolt of lightning split the heavens, Hinata and Naruto vanished with a flicker of their bodies, the clash of the juken against the might of Sage chakra bellowing throughout the area.

Atop the cliffs, they could only be seen for brief seconds at a time, appearing with every flash of lightning in a clash of tears and blood. Matched blow for blow, the cruel irony of this battle had been set aside - it was no longer a battle of love, but a battle for freedom. Hinata's soul, still fighting against the will Kabuto held over her body, could no longer see what damage she had wrought. She could not see the palm that struck below Naruto's heart, and caused him to reel back in pain. She didn't see the slash Naruto's own kunai had done, her blood spilling from a wound on her shoulder. She saw none of the heartache in his eyes, the regret he felt for being unable to save her that day.

She saw nothing. But she felt everything. Though her will had been locked away, she could feel him, hurting. She had wrested control over herself once, but she couldn't manage to again - Kabuto's technique was too powerful. If she hadn't intervened that day, Naruto would be gone - but was it worse than inevitably being the one to turn him over to the dark men that sought him?

A blur of fists and kunai ripped over the horizon, the tempo of the battle increasing. Their graceful blows and evasion, matched on par of speed and vision. She saw every movement he made, and he saw every movement she had as well - neither had left the gleam of each other's eyes.

As their fight continued on, Naruto felt the price of holding back against her. Though his Sage chakra was keeping his tanketsu opened, he was beginning to feel exhausted. Her speed, her agility...Hinata truly was an amazing shinobi. Even when not the force behind the gentle fists, he still felt the result her efforts had once brought her. She should have won against Pain - she was strong enough. His powers...they were just a terrible match for her taijutsu, and that costed her the very life she had carried to that moment.

"If only things were different..." Naruto said, breaking away from her, and forming a hand sign. Behind him, two clones appeared, and began to mold chakra into his extended hands. "Hinata-chan...maybe...we could have been together."

Hinata's chakra took a massive spike, her arms flaring up with a bright aura of blue. Lion-like heads began to form upon her fists, their gaze set upon the Sage before her.

"Maybe...if I had been able to protect you..."

"Juho Soshiken!"


A thundering wave of chakra flashed at the clashing point between Hinata and Naruto, their techniques evenly melding together. The spiral of the dual rasengans began to unravel around the twin heads of the lions, both of the techniques spiraling out of their users hands. As her palms were unveiled by chakra, Hinata felt Naruto's hands gently grab both of hers - and the flash of chakra subsided.

Holding her hands, his grip tightened, glaring at her emotionless face. "Hinata-chan! You're in there somewhere, you have to be! No one as amazing as you could be controlled by a coward like Kabuto!"

Her soul had been sealed away within her own body, and she was nothing more now than a tool to Kabuto. But even despite that, her face still resembled the same shy, wonderful girl whom he had come to like...even love. His heart was anchored by guilt, and it had killed him inside to fight her thus far, even if it meant freeing her.

She felt it, again. She was not in control, but she felt Naruto's pain never the less. 'Naruto-kun...' Trembling with regrets, she looked down at her translucent hands. She was already dead, so why should she even try?

Naruto...he was still fighting. He was still breathing, and walking, and living. She had given her life once to make sure he would live his life, maybe even to inspire others who were hurting and in need. The world needed him. The world needed Naruto.

Standing up, she looked into the void in which her soul had become prisoner to. Endless darkness around her, with no light to guide her. To wander into the depths of one's own soul without guidance would ensure she would be lost forever, but...

'I...I can't give up. Naruto-kun...he is still trying his best. And that means...' With a look of determination, her spirit began to sprint into the depths of the void. 'I must try my best, and not give up - no matter how grim things look. I must keep moving towards the light. I just know it's there.'

Naruto felt it, just by clashing with her jutsu. He felt she was still in there, fighting, not giving up. As her struggle began to die down, he knew at last the strength he always believed was there had finally overcome.

Kabuto began to swear beneath his breath. "The girl...her spirit overpowered the seal. She wrested control from me completely!" In a fit of rage, the snake-man swiped all of the pieces off the go board. "Impossible! After I weakened her soul and everything, somehow she still had the power to undo the Edo Tensei!"

Madara narrowed his eyes, and spoke mockingly to Kabuto once more. "It would seem you wasted all that time and effort on a long shot. You overestimate the control your jutsu has over its target. Already, it was proven that powerful emotions can make the technique fail, so why are you so surprised?"

Kabuto covered his face. "The data...the jutsu...Lord Orochimaru's research, there's just no way it could have failed like that." Looking at the empty game board, his slit eyes began to widen. "All of my Edo Tensei nin were immortal, ruthless, and powerful. How could a mere heiress of the Hyuga clan have the will to break the most powerful ninjutsu known to man?"

Madara scoffed. "Pathetic. To think an emotion as simple as love could do away with your technique. Still..." The mysterious man looked to the sky. "...that Naruto Uzumaki certainly is like Hashirama. He could be far more of a threat to us than I had thought."


She felt Naruto pull her embrace her once more, hands wrapped around her arms. His head rested on her shoulder, his tears pressed against her cheeks and mixing with her own. Clutching around her tightly, his body quivered, fighting back sobs. "Hinata-chan, I wish things were different for you and me. I can't change the past...but I can change the future."

Hinata's body became less tense, ceasing her controlled struggle. As her arms became limp, they began to slowly climb the orange jacket of the boy she loved, clinging to his back. Her eyes began to return slowly to normal, the tainted black in them fading away, a pure white in its place. She closed her eyes, and rested her chin upon his shoulder, a smile gracing her lips.

"I...know you can, Naruto-kun." she said, weeping over him. "I don't...blame you for anything. I gave my life of my own accord, and I have no regrets. You lived - that's all that matters to me."

"Hinata-chan. I promise you...Just keep watching me. I'll bring true peace to the world. Then, no one will have to make the sacrifice you did to protect someone they love." His eyes opened, the Sage chakra's effects vanishing from his eyes. Pulling away from her, he looked her in the eye, to see if she had truly returned to normal. Her eyes opened slowly, meeting with his - that familiar blush filling her face.

It would be in vain. He knew this would not change a thing, but...she deserved it, more than anyone else in the world. Leaning in, he pressed his lips to Hinata's, eyes closed once more. His feelings for her were mutual, in spite of the cursed circumstances that would forever keep them apart.

She closed her eyes, the cold, lifeless shell she had been bound to feeling warmth at last. The storm above them quelled, and the rays of the sun began to peek through, shining a lonely light upon their embrace. The tears finally began to cease, and she found herself smiling once more, breaking the kiss to lean again upon his shoulder. "When I return to the afterlife...Naruto-kun...I will continue to watch you. To cheer you on. To cry when you're sad, and to smile when you're happy. I will chase your dreams with you, and I will pray for your safety every day. Naruto-kun...I'm so happy I fell in love with you."

Her body became hollow - he could feel it. She would soon fade in his very arms. He held on tight, putting his forehead to hers, and whispering softly. "I've come to regret a lot these days...Above all else though, if I had just paid more attention to the people who needed me most, like you...I regret being so stupid. I should have noticed. Ever since we were kids, Hinata-chan, you've always liked me, haven't you?" Hinata nodded solemnly, cracks appearing upon her skin. "To think...back then, I used to cry about all the people who shunned me, and I thought no one gave a care in the world. You were one of the first...maybe even the first at all who cared. I can't live this down, but...I can do one thing for you. I will carry your nindo, and mine, and never let it go." Through the sadness, he found it almost impossible to do any smiling - yet he couldn't help but do so as he said this.

Their ninja way. To never go back on their word. To never stop trying, no matter what.

Hinata began to pale in color, her body beginning to crumble in his arms. Giving a final smile to Naruto, she stroked her hand gently across his face. "Naruto-kun...thank you, for everything. I think...all I ever truly wanted..."

As the Edo Tensei gave way to failure, Hinata's body vanished with her final words. "...was to talk to last time."

Naruto fell to his knees, body quivering with sadness. Clutching himself, he tried to fight away his sorrow. This was the second time he had lost her, yet...he was both sad about it, and happy - happy that he could talk to her one last time as well.

Bruised and beaten, none of his injuries compared to the turmoil within his soul. " well, okay?" He whispered into the wind. He reached for the kunai near his feet - the one he had grazed Hinata's shoulder with, and frowned at the sight of her blood staining the steel. Balling his fist, he wiped it upon his knuckles - his hand covered in her blood. A look of determination in his eyes, he raised his fist to the horizon.

"I promise you...I will carry out our ninja way. I will bring peace, no matter the cost. Keep watching me, Hinata-chan...I'm doing this for both of us." His words echoed into the silent canyon, as if the earth itself was trying to carry his message. He would never forget Hinata's sacrifice, or the promise he made to her on this day, for as long as he lived.

Author's Notes:

Okay, first and foremost, allow me to explain what possessed me to write about such a depressing outcome. Well, on , someone gave me an interesting challenge. To write a genuine Naruto VS Hinata, and make it a true battle to the 'death', so to speak. No sparring or anything light - a real battle.

At first, I thought of a simple mind control scenario, or even a kyuubi berserking story. Then I thought to myself "I'm the goddamn GrandLordAtos, I can't be typical!"

And thus, the thought was born. What if Hinata's injury against Pain had been much worse? What if, after Nagato expended the revival of Konoha, her life faded shortly after? And then, what if Kabuto turned her into one of his pawns, and forced her to fight against the boy she loved?

Let me just say - writing this one shot was HARD. VERY hard. The issue was trying to balance the combat out with believable scenes, heart wrenching emotion, and symbolic metaphor for some of the more abstract things going on. Needless to say, I think I might have failed a bit. ^^; Especially with how much I had to jump around the difference scenes - advice on overcoming that would be most appreciated.

One thing that may have killed the mood a bit was the need to add Kabuto segments, to give the play by play details of the changes he was making to Hinata's soul during the course of the fight. It was horribly needed, yet at the same time, I figured there was something I could do better to make it both believable and give the proper information on what was going on with those scenes.

I can't say I'm 'proud' of this one yet. I have to mull it over, and really think if or not it was written to the best of my ability. However, I still feel a sense of pride in having written this. Not many NaruHinaists are into tragedy anymore - tragedy being one of my strong suits.

I did my very best to keep everything as in-character as possible, and I'm pleased with the results. Though part of me thinks the moment where Naruto was busting a rhyme might have be TOO in character... As to why no one intervened with their fight, I was considering several more characters being involved. Hell, even a different scene altogether for the fight, with the Sound Four building a barrier to keep people out, with Gaara making an appearance.

I wanted the action to be better descriptive, but action scenes have always been a weakness for me, despite my passion for them. Any advice on how to better write some of those scenes will be greatly appreciated.

I think, considering the challenge I had to work with, it wasn't a bad attempt. I might be getting a little hard on myself, but if anyone has any advice they'd like to offer, please don't hesitate.

Reviews will be used to make a halo for Hinata.

Edit: Just a shout out to the anonymous reviewer who corrected me on the tags - thank you for pointing that out for me, I'm still a little awkward about tags and all that. Next time though, I'd appreciate some feedback on the story, instead of a blunt correction in my choice of tags, as that's somewhat inconsequential compared to the feedback I really want.

Disclaimer: Naruto, Hinata, and all associated characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto, not me. If they did belong to me, I'd have no reason to write fanfiction, cuz I'd make my ideas cannon, savvy?