Andrew J. Talon
Disclaimer: This is a non-profit fan-based work of fiction. Naruto is the property of Masaki Kishimoto, Viz, and Shonen Jump. Please support the official release.
Author's Note: I don't care if it's not canon. Written with help from the always awesome SageofToads or EroSennin.
The Earth had rocked, again and again as the two combatants clashed. Each with an even more awesome jutsu, a new plan, a new stratagem either thrown together out of desperation or planned for and brought to bare. The valley they were fighting in had seen many battles, many struggles between former friends and comrades but in the midst of this fight it seemed as though Hell and Heaven themselves had been torn open and their energies were clashing and colliding.
One wielded lightening and flame, the other wind and light. One wore the form of the tengu, his red eyes burning out a pitiless gaze. The other was a kitsune, blue eyes bright with a light of redemption.
War went on around them, the hurricane of historical forces and personal ambitions but here in the center it was the worse. It was a nightmare, it was a dream...
In a single stroke, it was over, and the tempestuous center of the storm of war became it's calm eye.
Naruto panted, clutching his wrist as the energies of the Rasengan died away, leaving him with a scorched palm. He paid the pain no mind, nor the blood that covered him. His vision was locked onto the pale figure lying at the feet of the destroyed statues, a sharp jagged stone piercing through his stomach. Naruto gulped, and staggered over quickly. He kneeled down and wrapped his arms around his combatant, holding him tightly as Sasuke struggled.
"It's okay... It's okay, I've got you... You're done. It's over... We don't... You don't have to fight anymore..."
Sasuke hissed. Naruto shook his head.
"Just stop, stop... Help will be coming..." He managed to make a Shadow Clone, and with a quick mental instruction it ran off. Naruto turned back to Sasuke with a smile.
"It's okay... You're going to be fine, and then... Then we can go home."
Sasuke's lips moved, releasing a haggard wheeze. He locked his black eyes upon Naruto's, and bared his teeth. He made the sound again, and it took Naruto a moment to realize it was a laugh.
"Home? Tch...home, I haven't had a home in so many years..." Sasuke said softly.
"You had one, always willing to take you back in. You can have it again, I promise," Naruto said quickly. He was always speaking quickly now, always begging and shouting and pushing...
Sasuke snorted, struggling to breath. It was a creaky, unpleasant sound and it made Naruto's smile falter.
"A home is more than... More than just a building or a town, Naruto," he bit out, as though chewing through the air to make words. "A home is a place where you are welcomed, where there will be people there for you, and you can be there for them..."
"Yeah, that's home-!"
"Do you really think I can go back to that place?" Sasuke wheezed. He was becoming cold, so very cold in Naruto's arms.
"No Naruto, that's your home...N-Not..." He coughed up blood. "Not mine."
"Don't say that! Stop talking!" Naruto felt the urge to shake Sasuke, to try and get some sense into his head. He should have done this more often before, back then... "Goddamnit Sasuke...! What the hell does all the effort I put into finding you, fighting you, getting strong enough, good enough to beat you without killing you mean, huh? Nothing?" He took deep breaths, feeling angry tears coming to his eyes.
"We're... We're the strongest now. Everything's over, we don't have to do this anymore! Doesn't that mean anythingto you?"
"What... So I can go back... And spend the rest of my life... With you?" Sasuke laughed again, more blood running out from between his gasps. "No... No... I refuse."
"Don't say that... You had to have picked up a healing jutsu or something, use it, come on Sasuke. Just do it! What would all of it meant if you just... Just die?"
Sasuke's eyes thinned. "Let it mean that...Let it mean that you lost."
"No... C'mon Sasuke.. I can have Sakura here soon, SAKURA! SAKURA, DAMNIT!" Naruto bellowed across the battlefield. "HINATA! INO! SOMEBODY!"
"Let it mean that..." Sasuke's voice got quieter and quieter. "For all of your talk and promises..." He looked away from Naruto and to the now cloudless sky.
"... you couldn't win here."
"Heal yourself... C'mon, just a little chakra! Sasuke! Damnit, come on!" Naruto tried injecting chakra into Sasuke's stomach, but his system rejected it. "Come on, COME ON!"
Just one little word, and yet it seemed to convey so much. Relief, sadness, anger... Naruto didn't know where to begin. He couldn't seem to start as the world grew darker around Sasuke's pale form.
"I... I'm going home..." Sasuke whispered.
"No... Don't do this to me, Sasuke..." Now Naruto was shaking him, desperately trying to pull back what his fingers just couldn't get a grip around. "Remember the Bridge? Remember-Remember Gaara? Remember Snow Country? Please... Don't...!"
"Those... Those are all just memories now," Sasuke hissed. With what seemed to be the last of his strength, he grinned viciously with his eyes locked straight onto the sky above. "Go home... With them..."
He stopped breathing. Naruto's own breathing became loud and deep, as tears poured down his cheeks. He bowed his head and rocked the corpse, eyes tightly shut.
"No... No... NO! Damnit you fucking bastard... You bastard... Bastard...!"
The world came small and cold and wet. The hand that rested on his shoulder could have been anyone's, though by it's size and the fact it was bare, it was Hinata's. His other hand lifted up, grabbing onto hers and pinning it to his shoulder as it shook from his tears. Soon she knelt next to him, her other arm wrapping around his waist as she rested her head against his.
She didn't say a word. For that, Naruto felt he could love her.
If he ever stopped feeling like this.
Sometime later, a silent Naruto stood in front of a crudely built funeral pyre. Hinata stood at his side. Not a word had been exchanged between the two while they built it as the sky had cleared, becoming blue. The sun shone from behind the mountains in the west as it sat, the first stars beginning to peek out of the darkness beyond the limits of it's light.
Naruto took a few slow, deep breaths, his eyes tightly shut. Calm began to fill him, just enough for him to focus.
At the sound of the voice, that calm shattered. Slowly, he turned his head. Sakura approached, looking as tired and dirty as he felt. He opened his mouth to speak as she stopped and took everything in.
"Sakura..." He tried, but no other words would come out. She stared for a long, long time, then slowly nodded. She took a few steps, just enough to look at Sasuke's face. Her gloved hand rose, as though guided by a will of it's own, and rested upon his cheek.
Naruto completely lost track of time. Everything seemed to be frozen around him, like the universe was holding it's breath. Hinata's warmth next to him was constant, unchanging, as was Sakura's position.
[i]Are we all dead? Is this what it's like to be dead?[i] He thought. Not as much ramen as I hoped for... Unless I went... I went to...
"Naruto," Sakura whispered, almost too quiet for him to hear. He straightened up a little.
"Yes?" He rasped.
Sakura pulled her hand away, and walked back next to the side Hinata wasn't on. She turned and stood, ramrod straight.
"Light it," she whispered, her green eyes shining. Naruto slowly nodded, and held up his hands.
Snake... Ram... Monkey... Boar... Horse...His fingers froze on Horse, just before the last handseal. Hinata's hand rested on his shoulder, and he looked over at her. She stared at him.
"Tiger," she mouthed. Naruto slowly nodded, and turned back. He formed the last seal, and felt his chakra, properly shaped, activate as he held his fingers to his lips.
"Katon: Gōkakyū no Jutsu,"he murmuered, as he unleashed a ball of fire into the funeral pyre. Not too powerful, but not too weak-Just right to consume the pyre, and keep burning until it was all gone. The smoke and flames rose into the growing night, and he heard sobbing. He looked to his left and saw Sakura standing on increasingly shaky legs.
She looked at him with wet eyes, and Naruto felt his heart breaking in anticipation of what she would say.
"... Th-Thank you."
Naruto started, and stared at her.
"...You tried...you tr-tried with all of your heart..." She got out through quiet sobs. She fell to her knees, and brought a hand to her face as she cried. Naruto fell to his in turn and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.
"You did more...more than I could've ever asked...thank you...thank you..."
Naruto didn't trust himself to talk. Hinata knelt next to him and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly. He closed his eyes and wrapped his other arm around Sakura, pulling her in to sob into his chest. Between these two women whom he cared the world for, he found his eyes opening again to watch the pyre.
They clawed their way higher into the night sky, as though seeking to escape the Earth's embrace. Yet for every bit of height gained... The flames could never reach the stars.
Naruto took a hand away from Sakura to wrap it around Hinata's waist. Sakura and Hinata both clung to him as he rose, helping him up as much as he helped them.
His blue eyes stared into the flames for several long moments, before he looked up at the stars twinkling overhead. He followed the path, turning his head to look over his shoulder just enough to see the old navigational path that every Konoha ninja knew by heart. The wind was blowing the smoke in that direction, and Naruto found in himself a small, sad smile.
All the sorrow, all the pain and rage and anger... It was still there, but through cracks in his emotions rose something he hadn't felt in a long time.
"... Let's go home," he said softly.
For Naruto. What it was, what it is, and what it could have been.