Title: Dreaming of Sunshine

Summary: Life as a ninja. It starts with confusion and terror and doesn't get any better from there. OC Self-insert.

Author's note: So, as an aside… does anyone else think that Kabuto poisoned Kimimaro? Just something about his smug, smirky air during those episodes made it seem like he was gloating. Granted, there's no particular reason that it would benefit him to take Kimimaro out of the picture, but Kabuto is hard to understand.

Anemos - Shikako at this stage is only capable of the general illusionary clone, which in my head canon at least, requires immediate direction and isn't capable of doing much, anyway. So leaving a clone wouldn't have been helpful. Kidomaru's summon was the giant spider that they fought, which he used to distract Kiba before grabbing the barrel. He couldn't actually summon the barrel, sorry if it seemed that way.

Nemesis Jedi - yes, Kiba's attack should have been seen again. It was awesome. Although, I'm not sure I remember him ever having another fight scene so…

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Chapter 61

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Hold your head up high - for there is no greater love

Think of the faces of the people you defend

And promise me, they will never see the tears within our eyes

Although we are men, with mortal sins, angels never cry ~ Winterbourne; Cruxshadows.

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I grabbed Sasuke's barrel, hefting it awkwardly in my arms and turning to run, even as I doubted that I would get away. They were already so close.

But standing our ground wasn't any better of an option. Not with Kiba out of chakra, and myself close behind. Defeating Kidomaru hadn't left us in a very good situation for having to fight again.

I hadn't even made it to the tree line when something heavy landed atop the barrel, forcing it to the ground and barely missing my exposed toes. I froze.

For a split second, everything was still.

I stared into green, green eyes, narrowed with the faintest hint of interest; could feel warm air puffing on my face as we breathed; could smell blood and disinfectant, the sharp, impersonal tang of a hospital; could feel his chakra, hard and dense, yet strangely stripped bare, like bones exposed to the elements.

Then I dove to the side, ducking and rolling as his hand whistled sharply through the place where my head had been, and time resumed.

Kimimaro.

Kimimaro. Last of the Kaguya Clan. Wielder of the Shikotsumyaku - the Dead Bone Pulse Bloodline limit - that let him manipulate his own skeleton. Who was capable of fighting Gaara and Lee to a standstill.

We are in trouble.

"Who the hell are you?" Kiba barked, struggling to his feet.

Kimimaro ignored him, eyes flickering over the clearing until they landed on Kidomaru. "How pathetic," he observed, voice detached and almost clinical. "To have died without completing his duty."

"No compassion for the death of a comrade?" I asked, cynically. I needed to stall, bargaining on the hope that the others would finish with their opponents soon. There were three other teams, if even one of them had finished fighting and was in any condition to continue then they'd come after us.

His eyes came back to me, and there was something in them that was heavy and intense. "His only worth was that which he could give to Orochimaru-sama. To have failed in that purpose erases any value he may have had."

He really, truly meant it, I realised, with the absolute certainty of conviction that you would use to say 'the grass is green' or 'the sky is blue'. This thing is so. It wasn't fervour, he wasn't even trying to convince me… it just was.

Typical of Orochimaru, to have claimed their absolute loyalty for himself and left them nothing for each other. It was also worrisome. If all their 'worth' was tied up in completing the mission… if failure was worse than death…

Well, I already knew he wasn't going to give up or back down.

"That must be lonely," I remarked, instead of questioning whether it was worth it. I was trying to stall, not antagonise him.

Something flickered across his face, too fast to understand.

"It is irrelevant," he said. "The only thing that matters now is for me to return Orochimaru-sama's favoured vessel to him."

"Like we're just going to let you do that," Kiba scoffed, voice low and almost growling.

The look Kimimaro gave him, slow and disinterested, was the epitome of 'and just what do you think you could do to stop me?'

The answer was somewhere along the lines of 'not a lot'. Heck, even if we'd been at full strength - which we most definitely were not - the odds would have been against us.

"This is the body that Orochimaru-sama desires as his vessel. I will bring it to him. That is my purpose," he explained.

"This body, the vessel," Kiba spat. "You talk like he isn't even a person. Sasuke is our comrade, and I won't let you take him."

He dragged up the last, straggling remains of his chakra and crouched down, teeth and nails lengthening. "Beast Mimicry; Four Legs Jutsu!"

My shadow, which had been pooling innocuously on the ground, and sneaking up the sides of the barrel, lashed out, trying to cover the distance to Kimimaro. I gritted my teeth at the sudden strain, aware of how low my own chakra was falling.

Kimimaro moved, swift, agile and effortless. One foot caught the edge of the barrel as he leapt, pressing back and down, ripping it from my shadowy grip and forcing the whole thing into the air. He landed, gracefully, on the grass, one hand grabbing Kiba's outstretched arm as he lunged, sliding around the attack like water around a stone and pulling Kiba off balance and open. My eyes caught the barest glimpse of something sharp and white in the end of his long sleeve before Kimimaro buried a bone dagger in his gut.

Then he turned, finishing his rotation, and caught Sasuke's barrel as it started to descend, tucking it under one arm.

All of it in a second, maybe less.

"Kiba!" I shouted, eyes wide as he collapsed onto the ground, on hand tight around his abdomen. Akamaru howled.

I wanted to check on him. Depending on where he got hit, how deep and how hard… that was all the difference between a minor wound and a fatal blow.

Except Kimimaro had Sasuke.

Who do you chose?

If Kimimaro was fast enough to get here, fast enough to do that… if he got away with Sasuke we'd never catch him. If he got away, it'd all be for nothing.

Sorry, Kiba, I thought apologetically.

Given Kimimaro's show of prowess at close combat fighting, the tactical thing would have been to withdraw and keep to mid or long range combat and hope to find a weakness there. Mid range combat was the speciality of the Shadow Possession jutsu, after all. The trouble with that, though, was that my chakra was running too low to hold someone in Possession for very long - if I could catch him - and if Kidomaru could break my hold with it, then there was no doubt that Kimimaro could do the same.

Given the flat ground, lack of shadows and lack of cover… the numerous directions which Kimimaro could take to leave… our objectives… He could evade any traps I tried to set ahead of him. I doubted I had the energy for a pursuit either, if he managed to slip past me. I had to actually be able to engage, delay or stop him.

Focus, I thought. Focus. There is a way to do this. There is always a way.

It was just that, right now, when I was low on chakra with my team mate injured, with no indication when or if there was ever going to be backup, that seemed like a meaningless platitude.

I felt very small and alone.

"Trash like you cannot hope to stand in the way of Orochimaru-sama's desires," Kimimaro said blandly.

"I really don't care what Orochimaru desires," I said. "Sasuke is my friend, and Orochimaru wants to destroy him in a very fundamental way. So I can't let that happen."

Saying it… putting it in to words like that… made it real. Made it true. I couldn't let that happen. Not because it would bring about a bad future, or because it would strengthen Orochimaru or weaken Konoha, not because of any ideal of 'the mission' or 'comrades', but because it was Sasuke. He was my friend, my team mate and we'd spent the past few months living, working, trusting together.

I couldn't.

It didn't magically give me the solution to defeat him, but it gave me resolve.

I sprung forward, without tensing to telegraph my moves, curving low towards the side that held the barrel where he'd have less sight and mobility. There was only a slim possibility that he wasn't expecting it, because it was such an obvious attack path.

He leapt over my sweeping leg kick, coming down as I spun upwards, leading with a back fist that he caught easily with a forearm block. My arm juddered against his, and I knew in a contest of strength that I would lose. There was no give to him, not at all.

That was alright. I didn't need to make it a contest of strength.

I twisted my arm around, palm coming to lay flat on his forearm, fingers curling into the curve of the muscle there.

"Touch Blast," I breathed. I had to set it properly; I'd only get one shot at this.

His chakra system nearly disrupted the seal even as I was setting it, but I forced it down, overriding it with gritted teeth. His eyes widened, just slightly, and I felt his chakra spike even as I felt the flesh beneath my hands ripple. I tried to pull back the second the seal was set, but I was too slow to get completely clear. Bones burst from his arm, curving slightly upwards towards his hand. The first went straight through my palm, grating along my metacarpals and puncturing the protective plate sewn on to the back of my gloves. The second dug into the soft flesh of my underarm, and I felt the wet slide of blood start immediately.

The pain was a thundering roar of terror and adrenaline. My arm burnt hot, hot, hot, making the rest of me feel cold and dark.

Then he ripped his arm away.

I shrieked.

His foot hammered into my ribs, a solid blow that was thankfully lacking in spikes, sending me tumbling backwards across the grass. I rolled with the movement, knowing I had to get away, had to get distance.

Then the seal went up.

The explosion kicked up a lot of smoke and dust, but I didn't dare take my eyes off the spot where Kimimaro was. I felt another chakra signature brush my senses, clear and bright like glass or crystal - a Hyuuga? God, I hoped Neji had finished with his fight - but I couldn't spare the attention to track it. I needed everything, right here, right now.

The dust settled, and I despaired.

Kimimaro glanced down at his arm with detachment, flexing his hand, looking at the bone plating over his forearm where skin should have been, slick with blood, and at the dish shaped growth out of his upper arm that had caught and redirected most of the explosions effects. His shirt had been shredded, and there were burns littered across his chest and legs, but he barely appeared to notice them.

How vexing.

"This bone is as hard as tempered steel," he said. "And I can form and reform it at will. Your attacks are quite useless."

I'd set the seal on him. No way to evade it, or escape the effects, and it had still barely damaged him. Even if - and that was a big if - I managed to get him again, what good would it do?

I struggled onto my knees, hand clamped on top of my bleeding wrist, aware that it shouldn't have taken so much effort to get upright.

Blood loss? I hoped not. If it was hitting me so fast, then he had definitely sliced something important. I swallowed a sharp bite of fear at the thought. Could just be chakra exhaustion. Pain. Concussion. You've been thrown around a lot.

Not that it would matter if I didn't do something now. No point worrying about what my injuries would do if I didn't survive the fight.

"Akamaru," a hoarse voice ordered. "Tunnelling Fang!"

I whipped my head around to see Kiba, half propped up and grimacing with pain. Akamaru was growing, bigger and redder, the same way he had during the preliminaries after eating a soldier pill.

I felt a surge of hope as he snarled and leapt forward, spinning into the attack and charging at Kimimaro.

Who slapped him out of the air.

My breath froze in my lungs and that surge of hope died, like a fluttering candle in the wind.

Akamaru tumbled across the ground, regaining his feet and snarling angrily. He darted forwards, low and agile, teeth bared.

I couldn't make a hand seal, but that didn't mean I couldn't do anything. I focused chakra into my shadow, forehead crinkling with the extra effort that it took, and sent it forward. Maybe if he was distracted I could catch him…

It stretched, and stretched…

Then slowly, agonisingly, no matter how much I tried to force it forward, it returned to me.

Out of chakra.

Out. Of. Chakra.

"You are… annoyingly persistent," Kimimaro said, knocking Akamaru back again. He held up his ruined hand, fingers splayed wide. "Five-Finger Drilling Bullets."

The small bones from the tips of his fingers - phalanges, a distant part of my mind noted - shot out, rotating like drills. Although they were small, I had no doubt that they could do a whole lot of damage, given they way that a stationary attack had ripped up my arm.

I dropped to the ground, awkwardly trying to roll even as I realised that the others wouldn't be able to.

But they never hit. Someone leapt, full speed, from the trees and dropped down into the grass, striking the bones out of the air with lightning fast Gentle Fist.

The chakra that I had noticed before but not really registered.

We have backup!

"I won't let you hurt my friends," a quiet voice said, sounding surprisingly firm.

"Hinata?" Kiba choked out. "What are you doing here?"

I stalled, torn between relief and horror. Hinata?

She didn't glance at him, though with a Hyuuga that was redundant. I didn't doubt she had her Byakugan active. She was standing tall and straight, arms held out ready in a classic Jyuuken pose, chin high and eyes blazing.

"When I heard that your mission had gone badly," Hinata said softly. "I knew I had to come."

"You're going to get hurt!" Kiba objected, sounding anguished. "Hinata..."

She only lifted her head higher, and for a second she looked almost regal. "I, too, want to protect those people that are precious to me. My friends and comrades… I can't just stand back and watch!"

The Will of Fire…

She was shining with it. The utter, burning determination to never give up. The heat that forged the steel of our backbone, the light that blazed from our eyes. It was the motivation that drove you that extra mile, extra ten miles, hundred miles when it mattered. When everything was on the line, your family behind you, an army in front of you and you just planted your feet and refused to move-

That was the Will of Fire.

We talked about it like it was spiritual, like it was religious, like it was something magical and special - that was probably why it got discounted so much by the other nations - but it wasn't, not really.

Well. We believed in it. That was important, in its own way.

In the simplest of terms… it was a chakra focusing technique.

Chakra is a mix of physical and mental energies. Therefore, something that focuses mental energy, that hones every ounce of will power, every thought, every whisper of an idea, on that one. single. target…

The result is like a wildfire where once burned a candle.

It's the reason that Naruto becomes so strong when the situation is dire. He refuses to give up and his scattered attention span comes together and obliterates everything in its path.

And it looked like Hinata had found it too.

Kimimaro sighed, just softly, and put down the barrel. "To think I would have to use this," he said, holding his hand over his exposed shoulder. The skin split apart, and the bone protruded higher and higher until he could grasp it. "The Dance of the Camellia…"

He pulled, the bone sliding free of his flesh. The end was sharpened to an ominous point. Then he moved, dashing across the space between them to slash and stab, hand blurring with the speed.

And Hinata blocked it. Her face was set in concentration, but she blocked it, hands flashing out unerringly. They traded blows back and forth, bone sword to the blue flash of chakra billowing from her hands.

Hinata… I thought wonderingly. But it would only take one mistake, and she wouldn't be able to keep this up forever. Already she was cutting it close, avoiding one swipe with an almost painful looking twist and not being quite fast enough to dodge the follow up that scored a painful looking stripe across her arm.

Help. I need to help her.

I pressed my bleeding arm against my stomach, trying to keep the pressure on it and free up my other hand at the same time. Even if I couldn't fight, I could still help. I wasn't just going to sit by and do nothing. I pulled my kunai pouch off, settling it in front of me and opening the top. My eyes immediately zeroed in on an item I didn't use much, but were helpful enough that I still kept a few.

Smoke bombs.

With her Byakugan on, they wouldn't inhibit Hinata at all, but they might give her a bit of an edge. I only had two, and they were short lasting, especially when there was wind but …

Better than nothing, I thought, pitching one forward as Hinata deflected, dodged and twisted around another barrage of attacks. The thick dark smoke billowed and obscured them from view.

"Eight Trigrams; Thirty Two Palms." Hinata's voice carried a surety that would have surprised a lot of people. I could feel Kimimaro's chakra moving, likely trying to escape the smoke and regain sight.

I readied the second smoke bomb, but before I could throw it a second one went off. I glanced over at Kiba and met his eyes for a brief second. He was pale and grimacing, but his aim had been good.

I managed to throw my last smoke bomb and a few explosive tags around the edges before Kimimaro decided to change tactics. He leapt clear of the smoke, gaining his distance and splayed his hands again.

"Ten-Finger Drilling Bullets!"

Hinata's chakra was - either by coincidence or design - between him and Kiba. But I was on my own.

Shit, I thought numbly.

Then a strong arm wrapped around my waist and hauled me out of the way. I couldn't stop the startled, and a little pained, squeak that escaped my mouth, but as the bullets impacted the ground and kicked up dust I was too relieved to have been pulled out of the way.

I glanced up at the familiar, green suited form of my rescuer. "Lee. That was excellent timing." I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed him, had he been moving fast, or had I just not been paying attention?

He beamed, dropping me reasonably gently onto the ground beside Kiba, before unloading the passenger slung over his other shoulder. Bound and unconscious, it was Tayuya.

I very carefully didn't ask where Shikamaru and Chouji were.

"Do not worry! I shall assist Hinata in dealing with this threat and then we shall return to Konoha with Sasuke. That is a promise!" He beamed again and gave me a thumbs up, before dashing off.

I glanced at Tayuya again, checking her bindings and making sure she wouldn't be able to get up and fight. That would be the last thing we needed. Then, keeping half my attention on the fight, I struggled a roll of bandages out of my jacket and started binding my arm. It was clotting and scabbing, which was a good sign, but still bleeding, which wasn't.

Then I gave what assistance I could to Kiba. Underneath his jacket he's been wearing a protective chest plate, which had minimised some of the damage but not all. The dagger hadn't been removed, and I didn't touch it because it was probably helping stop the bleeding by blocking the wound. I just pressed bandages and cloth around it and tried to press it down.

"Ah, jeeze, that hurts," Kiba groaned.

"Sorry." I grimaced and tried for a scolding tone, "but you're supposed to keep the blood on the inside."

He snorted. "Looks like you failed that class too."

"Remedial lessons for the both of us," I agreed. "Think Iruka-sensei would notice if we popped back into his class?" Given how much trouble Iruka-sensei had had getting Kiba to show up to class when he was meant to, we'd probably give him a heart attack.

Kiba huffed, then groaned again. "Don't make me laugh."

"Sorry," I murmured again, eyes drifting over to the fight. Neither of them were injured, not like we were, and yet…

They still didn't seem to be gaining any headway.

"Think they can…?" Kiba half asked.

I bit my lip, eyes dropping down to Tayuya's form. What could I say? No, I don't think so. Maybe they can buy us time for… for what, exactly? Where were Shikamaru and Chouji? Where were Naruto and Neji? Had Tsunade sent Lee and Hinata instead of the Sand Siblings? How had they even been there? Would she send anyone else?

We'd had a big team. Maybe she wouldn't.

"Yeah," Kiba said when I didn't answer. "He hasn't even used his seal."

Lee and Hinata were fighting well together. It was clear that Lee had experience fighting beside a Jyuuken user, and Hinata was well trained in looking out for her team mates. But that didn't change the fact that he was supposed to be in hospital and was recovering from a career ending injury.

"Protection of the Eight Trigrams; Sixty Four Palms," Hinata incanted, moving her hand in a sweeping arc through the air. A ribbon of pale blue chakra trailed from her hand, and she moved faster and faster, weaving a net like dome around herself. Kimimaro's attack hit it, the bones not just being repelled but appearing to get shredded by it.

"Huh," I managed.

"I have never seen that before," Kiba replied in response to my unasked question.

It was … impressive. An ultimate defence like the Kaiten that didn't require being able to expel chakra from every tenketsu, nor being able to control it after. Just your hands, and flexibility.

On the other side of the fight, behind them, I noticed that Sasuke's barrel had started giving off dark chakra, almost like it was smoking.

My eyes narrowed.

"Your style is too direct, too obvious," Kimimaro lectured, throwing Lee back as his initiating kick to the Primary Lotus was blocked by bones extending out of his ribcage. "It leaves… too… many… openings!" He punctuated each word with a strike, leaving Lee dazed and bloody. "And you," he turned to Hinata, dancing around her lashing hand so smoothly it looked effortless. Chakra expelled harmlessly into the air, punctuating the fight with booms and flashes. "Too defensive. Too hesitant. Every opening you refuse to take is a mistake. Are you so afraid of being hurt that you will not attack?"

"I'm not afraid," Hinata said quietly, lifting her hands back into an attacking position.

There was a flicker of chakra - red as fire, red as anger - but despite the fact that it made my heart skip a beat, it also made me grin with relief. "You tell him, Hinata," Naruto said, landing in a crouch that was a little too stooped to be completely human. Red chakra was burning around him, not yet forming a tail or cloak, but enough to be visible. If you looked closely, the lines on his face were deep marks, and his teeth and nails more like fangs and claws.

"Another one?" Kimimaro asked, his blank mask of disdain creasing with irritation for a second. "There sure is a lot of trash around here."

"The only trash here is you!" Naruto retorted, the edge of a snarl in his voice. "Shadow Clone Jutsu!"

"Multiplying zero still makes zero," Kimimaro said, glancing at the horde of clones.

"We're taking Sasuke back," Naruto growled, the statement coming from more than one throat.

"Do try," Kimimaro said.

Two of the Naruto's darted forward, coming at Kimimaro with a pincer attack. A few more echoed them, waiting for an opening caused by the first. The rest paired off and began forming Rasengan between them.

I couldn't tell which Naruto was the real one, and there were too many people moving about, orange and yellow and red and Hinata was sliding through the bodies to attack and retreat and Lee was on his feet again -

- and one of the clones, inches from being stabbed, instead of ducking and dodging, used an almost seamless Replacement Jutsu with one of the Rasengan holding clones -

- and Kimimaro twisted changing directions on a dime, letting it sail harmlessly over his shoulder -

- and in the instant the others tried to take advantage of his movement, spikes as long as spears shot out from his sides and he spun -

Hinata's hand flashed through the air, forming a protective cage of chakra around her, Lee threw himself backwards, evading the circle of death, and Naruto snarled, tumbling backwards with clones shredding where they stood.

"His taijutsu," Lee murmured. "There's not a single movement wasted…"

Kimimaro didn't pause, sliding so smoothly across the ground that it barely seemed like he was touching it, spike protruding from the palm of his hand and aimed directly for Naruto's heart -

"Summoning Jutsu: Gamatoutou!" Naruto howled, slamming his hands down on the ground.

The explosion of chakra smoke cleared to reveal a toad, as tall as a man, dressed in a samurai style cuirass and pauldrons, with two swords crossed defensively in front of it, Kimimaro's attack caught in block.

Gamatoutou's mouth opened and his tongue shot out lightning fast, trying to wrap around Kimimaro. The Sound ninja dodged backwards, slicing at the thick and slimy appendage. Naruto crouched atop the toads head, glowering downwards and bleeding red chakra into the air.

And then, with a final surge of black chakra, the coffin holding Sasuke fell apart.

The fighting paused, everyone turning to stare at Sasuke, standing with his head bowed amidst the wreckage of the barrel, his limbs trembling and shaking.

"Sasuke Uchiha," Kimimaro said. "Orochimaru-sama awaits you. Go; I will fight this trash."

Sasuke flexed his hands, then peered up through his bangs. "The thing is…" he said, voice a little raspy. "I never intended on going to Orochimaru."

Kimimaro's face cooled. "I see," he said. "My purpose becomes clear. If I cannot be the vessel he requires, then I must deliver you to him, regardless of your cooperation. My lord's magnificent dream must not be denied!"

His chakra surged, ink spreading out from the mark in the hollow of his collar bone, ascending straight into the second level, morphing his body into something demonic looking.

"Oh, shit," Kiba muttered, as Akamaru whimpered. "This is going to be bad."

"First; you," Kimimaro said, staring at Naruto. He reached up with one hand to the back of his neck and pulled, the bones of his spine sliding out. His other arm grew bones thick around it, forming a twisting cone, like a drill or a spear. "The Dance of the Clematis; Flower and Vine."

Naruto bared his teeth in a snarl, shifting his stance in preparation to attack -

- Kimimaro lashed out with the spine, the vertebra sliding against each other, sections between them stretching, and the motion resembled a whip more than a sword. It wrapped around Naruto, binding his arms to his side -

- he growled, red chakra surging higher -

- and Kimimaro pulled yanking him forwards, off of his toad, across the ground, and straight into the lance of his other arm.

"NARUTO!"

Our voices mingled in combined horror as we shouted, all drowned out by Naruto's scream of anguish, so full of pain it barely even sounded human any more.

No, no, no, I chanted in my mind. It's not- It can't - Naruto!

I was frozen. I couldn't move. I couldn't -

It couldn't-

Kimimaro flicked the whip away, unbinding Naruto and letting him slide backwards with a wet cough -

- Gamatoutou leapt forward, coming to a defence that was far too late -

- Hinata pushed off the ground, flying forward, eyes wide with horror -

- and Sasuke screamed, bursting forward, lightning crackling in his hand, ink bleeding across his skin and Sharingan eyes spinning so fast I couldn't even see the tomoe any longer -

- I was on my feet, helplessly straining for something to do, help someone, please -

- the Chidori impacted, flaring eye searingly bright -

- and Sasuke tumbled across the ground.

"You're strong," Kimimaro said. "Good. I would hate for Orochimaru-sama's next vessel to be weak."

"I will kill you," Sasuke screamed. The transformation had taken hold, darkening his skin and blacking his eyes. There was a blue star spreading across the bridge of his nose and his lips were bruised dark purple. He looked furious. He hurled himself forward again, spitting a great tongue of fire ahead of him -

- Kimimaro wove and dodged -

- then there was a great, earth shaking roar, and red, redredred chakra blossomed, so thick it was tangible, was solid, was heavy like gravity -

- and Naruto stood up.

"You're really," he rasped. "Pissing me off!" His chakra folded in, wrapping around him like a shroud as he crouched on all fours, looking more feral than Kiba ever managed. It shaped around him, body first, then dragging out into a tail, then claws and ears…

I collapsed down to my knees, relief and terror warring within me. He's okay, he's okay, he'sokay…

"Took you long enough, dead last," Sasuke said unevenly.

"I was… just letting you have a turn," Naruto growled. "Because now, it's going to be over."

The two of them attacked together, almost seamlessly despite these new levels of power, as if they'd been doing it every day of their lives. And… it was working.

Kimimaro retreated, and retreated, and retreated.

"This is the last attack," he said, flipping away from them and crouching down. "Dance of the Seedling Fern!"

His chakra rippled, sinking into the ground, then spreading out.

My eyes widened. "Everyone move! Get off the ground!"

I spun, hauling Kiba to his feet despite his groan of pain. But he must have believed the urgency, because he clapped his hand around his stomach and moved. Behind us, Gamatoutou swept Lee and Hinata up into his hands and jumped, powerful toad legs sending him soaring high.

The ground surged, and we had the barest of warnings as it cracked open, leaping up as bone spikes started protruding outwards.

We're not going to make the trees, I realised. We were too far, hadn't - couldn't have- jumped hard enough. We were going to come down on the spikes and be shredded.

Earth Jutsu? I wondered frantically, trying to dredge up enough chakra to make us a safe landing point. But if I'd had chakra, I would have been fighting.

And then we landed on sand, hitting awkwardly and rolling.

Sand? I thought bemused, turning to look at the tree line.

"Everyone is making such dramatic entrances today," I said, dropping my head back down onto the sand.

A black suited form landed on the sand beside us. "These two don't look good, Gaara," Kankurou called out.

"You wish you looked as good as me," Kiba grumbled back. "You guys nearly missed the party, you know."

Two others drifted closer, hovering above the deadly spikes on clouds of sand. "I don't know, I'd say we showed up just in time," Temari said, fan held open and ready.

I turned back to the fight. Naruto was holding himself above the spikes, huge red claws and tail extending downwards and holding himself safely in the air. Sasuke was… Sasuke was flying. Huge, hand shaped wings extended from his back, beating slowly and letting him hover. It looked awkward though, and I wondered how much mobility he had.

Sand surged across the ground, filling the cracks between the spikes, homing in on Kimimaro -

- high in the sky, Sasuke created another Chidori and began to dive -

- Naruto reached out one giant red chakra claw and grabbed a spike, using it to slingshot himself forward across the ground, a Rasengan blooming in his hand -

- Kimimaro froze, trapped in the sand, extending the spikes around him to form a protective cage of bone -

- and Naruto and Sasuke punched right through it, from opposite directions, attacking with eerie synchronism and crushing Kimimaro between them. Chakra flared, bright and powerful, waves of backlash emanating away from the point of the conflict.

I blinked, white spots dancing painfully in front of my eyes from the sheer intensity of it.

"Fucking crazy," Kiba breathed.

I couldn't help but agree.

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On Kimimaro's power level - in canon, he defeated hundreds of Kyuubi enhanced shadow clones, and held off Gaara and Lee, tanking at least a sand coffin/burial and being buried however far underground. We know that he can fight all the other Sound Four at once, and that, given the Sasuke vs. Naruto fight, the Level 2 is equivalent to a one tailed state. Yeah, just think about it for a second. If he wasn't dying from a mysterious illness they'd all have been screwed.

I think Kimimaro was far more interested in allowing Sasuke to get to Sound than in actually fighting. That was his goal, and he knew he had limited time/strength, so as canon Sasuke was heading there himself, he merely drew out the pursuers as long as he could.

Blah, fight scene done.