Disclaimer: Naruto is owned by Masashi Kishimoto. He fights Sasuke for him and wins. That's how cool he is :D
Prologue: The meaning of a human sacrifice
Gaara had only lived 17 years, but he knew that this sandstorm was unlike any other that his village had seen before. The tower that had faithfully housed Suna's Kazekages for many decades was now creaking ominously at its mercy. Below it, the tents that served as a temporary base for the joint shinobi army were being held down by anything and everything that was heavy and could be spared.
The young Kazekage stood at the window, his eyes on the mass of angry, dark clouds that brewed beyond the dunes and mixed furiously with the golden sand. When red lightning flashed through the sky and the Akatsuki's emblem became a reality in his sights, he turned away and faced back into his office. His teal eyes seemed to glow in the darkness. The electricity to the tower had long since been lost and the room was now shrouded and still. Staring blandly at it, he felt many things from his past.
Pride for his position. Nostalgia for his father that had held it before him. Failure for the rubble that it would be by dawn.
His hand instantly flew up and sand stirred from the gourd by his side when the door flew open. There was no more safety, even in the heart of his beloved village. Right now, there was no safe haven in the world. Even when Kakashi's silver hair preceded himself and then Tsunade and the large bulk of the Raikage into the room, Gaara did not allow his hand to falter. The other two Kages lowered themselves regally without invitation into the cushioned seats surrounding the low table in the centre of his office while Kakashi stood off to the side, near the door. Standing guard.
"You've grown more cautious this past month," the copy ninja stated. The sand did not abate. The side of Kakashi's face that Gaara could see was the side completely covered with a worn out mask and he pondered why Kakashi did not have his Sharingan activated. Circumstances were certainly dire enough for that precaution.
"It tires me out," Kakashi offered in reply to his stare. Gaara lowered his head in an unseen nod, accepting the reason. He could remember the blood that flowed from another sharingan he'd seen, not too long ago.
A tinkering clank sounded when an item suddenly hit the table. His eyes scanned across the three pronged kunai that the Raikage, A, had thrown down, and then to the lock of shimmery white hair tied with a red string which Tsunade placed down significantly more gently in front of her. A's eyes narrowed and he waved one hand gruffly at the items, his other arm thrown over the back of the chair that he was sitting in.
"We are waiting, General."
Gaara's hand, which had dropped at seeing the totems, was lifted again, this time with his palm facing upwards. Sand swirled and coalesced from nothingness until an eye had formed upon it, promulgating his impossible to replicate signature.
"I would sooner die than allow an enemy into this room," he said placidly. The sand disintegrated away and lifting his gourd, he walked around his table to join his allies.
"That," the Raikage said with a scoff as Gaara sat down across from him, "is not much of a guarantee these days." He and Tsunade leant over to reclaim the items and like a testament, the wailing wind outside sounded loudly and the entire structure screamed and swayed with the creaking of wood.
"I apologise for the loss of your brother," Gaara said simply. His voice was neutral but the words were sincere.
The Raikage turned his head slightly and Tsunade, reclined with one leg folded over the other, tensed and prepared to intervene if needed. There was a coldness that had festered in the Raikage's slitted eyes. Fury. Grief. The accusatory note was obvious and all of it made him more dangerous and less predictable. The large man growled, the sound grating like falling boulders within the room.
"I should not have allowed the Kyuubi to convince me. I should have killed him before it came to this."
Kakashi and Gaara reacted subtly to this procclamation, but Tsunade who would not allow such an obvious slight. Deep tiredness lined her forceful eyes but like all of them, she had long since fallen into an unceasing pattern of attack and defend. No fatigue would hold her down.
"Naruto," she said with firmness, "is just as grief-stricken as you are. He would have willingly given up his own life to save your brother's if their circumstances had been reversed."
"And so he should have!" the Raikage lashed back. "Foolish child, to believe that he and Bee could take down an entire army! And what a fool I am for believing it!"
He shook his head in regret and the seat backing beneath his arm cracked under pressure. Kakashi shifted slightly from the door, wary of the small distance between his leader and the grieving Raikage. A had not shed a single tear since Bee's capture and death but grief took many forms. The man's chest was presently heaving with quick breaths, visibly showing the effort that it took to calm himself.
"This war," he muttered. "It has blindsided me. I can no longer think rationally." He glared accusingly at the other two Kages, as though the sentimental, irrational ways of their villages had tainted his own. Gaara observed that he was looking for a fight, anything to vent out what he was feeling.
Another crack of red streaked through the sky and the room flashed briefly red.
Tsunade must have noticed it too because she informed the Raikage primly, "This is not the time for argument," blind to the gritting of his teeth and clenching of his fists. Her medical upbringing meant that she drew out patient's problems with an outspokenness that others would not dare to voice, regardless of the anger or instability that she was faced with. "If we cannot think rationally for our people, then this war is lost.".
"There are far too many lives already lost," Gaara said, and in his mind he saw the large dune on the opposite side of the village. It was now covered with small, wooden crosses for each of the dead. There had been barely anymore space left on it when he last visited and very soon, crosses would start lining the streets.
The Raikage straightened immediately and Gaara knew what was coming. A's reasoning was famously one-tracked.
"Then we must end this war soon. You know my proposal...as the Hokage stated, we must think rationally for our people," A said. He eyed Tsunade hardly, utilising her own words against her. "None of us can let our emotions for a single person blindside what is best for everyone else."
"That proposal is only a temporary solution," Gaara intervened instantly, but A would not allow himself to be dismissed again.
"Kill the Kyuubi and Madara's plan dies with it!" he snarled. "He cannot revive the Juubi without it." The three pronged kunai was suddenly released from his grip and was on the table again, this time with its tip sunk firmly into the splintered wood. A's hand lowered slowly from the sharp angle that he had made to deliver it.
"You all must know the owner of this kunai, the fourth Hokage." A's voice was both disdainful and begrudging but he eyed the weapon with the faintest admiration nonetheless. "He was the only man to ever humble me and for that I must respect him. If he, a man that all the villages admire, could sacrifice his own family for the greater good, then why must we do otherwise?"
"I said it before," Gaara repeated, "that solution will not last."
"You insolent –"
"I agree with Gaara," Tsunade interrupted.
"Of course," the other sneered as he rounded on her instead, "Naruto Uzumaki is precious to you and so it seems that any sacrifice other than him would be fine." She bristled and half rose from her seat.
"If you are implying that Bee's sacrifice means nothing –"
Tsunade and A had both already moved before Kakashi's warning shout had reached their ears. When the bursts of chakra cleared, A was perched on the table next to the window and Tsunade had vaulted herself over her chair to a spot next to Kakashi. The sand that Gaara had intended to use to restrain them from reaching blows floated innocently to the ground and onto their now empty seats.
"Have respect, boy."
Tsunade's glare showed that this time she was siding with the other Kage.
"I will do whatever I need to get my point across," Gaara said bluntly in response.
"I do not like your cheek," A announced. His words were puncuated by a loud bang as he leapt from the table onto the tiles. Gaara was unperturbed as the man stalked angrily forwards and towered over his still seated form.
"And I dislike the stubbornness of a generation that has destroyed itself," he said hollowly back.
The two glared at each other from a close range, locked in a silent cold war until Tsunade intercepted between them.
"If only our army could see us now," she said bitterly. "They are dying fighting our enemies while we dance on their graves by fighting amongst ourselves. None of us are here to lose this war. Every suggestion will be considered for how it will help us win."
A huffed disbelievingly.
"Then why is my proposal ignored? I am angry at Uzumaki, I will concede that, but my decision has nothing to do with petty revenge. If you have a better idea, then spit it out or hold your tongue!"
"The Kyuubi would be reborn in the future," Gaara retaliated. "When it no longer has a vessel and roams free, can you guarantee that we would find it before Madara?" He lifted his chin. "And even then, what if we do find it before him? We would only be able to lock it into another vessel with even less control than Naruto has."
"We cannot win this war as things are, Kazekage."
"We will try," Tsunade snapped. Naruto had influenced her more than she knew and A stared at her for a short moment before looking away, a grim smirk on his lips as he faced the approaching darkness outside the window.
"Madara's army show no signs of ending, while our dead pile up day after day," he uttered bluntly. "Who knows how long this war can continue for but sooner or later, there will be no more to die. I haven't only been directing things from my base. I've been to the battleground, too. I've seen how few men we have compared to the enemy and most likely we will be wiped out before the week is over." He turned back to Tsunade, who now watched him silently. "You are Hokage, Tsunade. Think about the oath that you took when you became it."
From the corner of his eye Gaara saw Tsunade stiffen and in his own mind, the words that he had sworn the day he became Kazekage ran like a broken recording, together with the faces of his cheering people as they watched him take his place. Kakashi tensed at the door, whether because of Tsunade or A, he wasn't sure. In that moment, both Kakashi and Gaara felt fear for Naruto's life.
"We need time," A continued. He could feel a change in the wind and see it in their eyes. "Time that only the Kyuubi's death can give us. We can withdraw and recuperate, and prepare for the next war. But if we keep continuing as things are then we will be defeated. When Naruto is captured and the Kyuubi is extracted, there will be no second chance."
He watched the battle rage in Tsunade's expression. He had told the truth when he said petty revenge over Bee's death was the last thing on his own mind. This plan, one that required a true human sacrifice, had been carefully considered by him from every angle. Even his own brother had been considered before his untimely death. He knew that he had posed an extremely valid point. If the war continued any longer then they would lose and all would be lost anyway. With the completion of Madara's plan, the world's fate would be set in stone. But if they gave up a single life and waited then perhaps, they could win the war in the future. His next words were gentle and the effect on the other three in the room was obvious.
"I have known Naruto Uzumaki for a lesser time than you. But even I can see that these lives being given up for him are destroying him slowly. He cannot win this war for us and he cannot stay protected for much longer."
"But it isn't over. We can still fight," Tsunade said. "Even now, Shikaku is working on a new strategy. If we hold out then there is always the chance –"
"But if it comes to it?" A interrupted. "If Shikaku Nara does not find a solution? What then? How long will you have us wait?"
Tsunade's mouth closed and the movement of her jaw showed that she was gritting her teeth viciously.
"Do not prolong this, Tsunade-hime. We need your answer now. Your peopleneed your answer now."
"Tsunade-sama," Kakashi murmured.
The blonde haired woman glared up at the Raikage, ignoring Kakashi. The room held its breath, silent but for the wailing wind.
Then she jerked her head to the side, revoking her vote. That one action said everything. Her hands clenched and teeth grinded together even as she tried to think of another way. A's proposal was the most feasible and easy way out, that was undeniable. But no matter what, she refused to be the one to stamp the seal on the cooling wax. Her forfeit was all that A needed and he now faced only Gaara.
He rotated where he stood and stared down the youngest of them. The one who had been burdened with changing the direction of his own generation. Gaara stared emotionlessly back at him for what seemed like minutes. The tower creaked constantly, reminding him that time was slipping away, that this structure would be gone by tomorrow.
But if they remained, they could rebuild it once more.
His heart clenched painfully, so palpable that his left hand reached up to cover it as his mouth opened. He was the General. He was expected to make the orders and have the filthy deeds that followed become attached to his name, whether that name be cursed or praised in the years to come. He didn't know which of those two his order would bring. He only knew that for this betrayal, he could never see Naruto Uzumaki eye to eye again.
"Kakashi," he called. The edges of A's lips twisted up very slightly in satisfaction. The silver haired man turned from the doorway and looked at him with one dull eye. The Raikage had forsaken the necessity to convince the copy-ninja.
"Send the order to the platoons. Naruto must not fall into Madara's hands, alive."
Kakashi was still for a second, in which no one else knew what he might do next. Somewhere beneath the resignation, Gaara and Tsunade fantasised that he would refuse and that they would be able to give Naruto more time, even if it was only a few more hours. But then Kakashi was gone, with only a few leaves left to swirl onto the sprinkles of sand.
They knew that he would do it. Kakashi's will had begun to crack, with a single fissure that had started with the death of his own teammates and would end with the destruction of Team 7.
Because of that, they knew that the message would be sent.
After Shikaku expressed his desire to work more closely with the separate platoons, he and his men had been moved to a large, white tent, nestled protectively by the smaller surrounding tents. Because of his importance in coordinating the army's movements, he was given the utmost protection.
To protect against the identity-shifting Zetsu's, his base was guarded by a dozen soldiers that rotated shifts only amongst themselves and who always stayed within or just outside the tent. Anyone who approached without first subjecting themselves to a scan was to be killed immediately. All his food and water was tested with jutsu for poison before consumption, and Shikaku knew that his men would have willingly tested it themselves if the need ever came. On top of this, all of his commands were to be communicated through scrolls or by his own summon, a great stag with speed like flight.
When his summon, Sika, returned suddenly through the split in the tent, Shikaku looked up from the map that he had been poring over. Once covered with almost identical numbers of red and black pins, it was now predominately black. Sika stepped towards him, unobstructed by any of Shikaku's deputies. A man would always recognise his own summons.
Sika 's voice was like leaves rustling, deep and reverberating breathily. "The Raikage's proposal has been accepted by the other Kages."
Shikaku lowered his head. "So it has come to this at last," he muttered. He knew that it was a last resort. In essence, they would still be losing the war and be subjected to Madara's whims. After all, the man was insanely powerful, Jinchuuriki or none. However, as long as Kyuubi was not on Madara's side, then it was not an indestructible army.
His three deputies began murmuring among themselves. None of them were from Konoha and it was evident that they couldn't understand why they'd waited for so long before making the decision. Shikaku tapped his finger on the table once and they instantly stopped and approached him, waiting for orders.
"Send the message out to all the platoons," he commanded. They nodded.
"Understood." One of them hesitated.
"Sir, Naruto Uzumaki is present at most of the battlefields with his shadow clones. What if he finds out?"
"He will not do anything," Shikaku replied.
With that assurance they were gone and Shikaku was left alone with Sika.
Letting out a heavy breath, he strode over to the other table in the room, this one covered with scrolls of forbidden jutsu which all five villages had compiled in an effort to create a useful strategy. He shoved some of the now useless scrolls off the chair next to it and sank down into it, his hand coming up to rub tiredly at his forehead. "Sika. I have never felt this tired in my life."
He heard Sika's hooves clop slowly over to him.
"You need rest, Shikaku."
He saw the hooves enter his line of vision, mere feet away from him.
The hairs on his neck bristled suddenly and his eyes snapped open. His brilliant mind, already racing through every single scenario that might occur next, had already selected the most likely one.
"Sika." He despaired as he looked up slowly from behind his lowering fingers. Mere centimetres away from him in the once beautiful, large brown eyes of his summon, black tomoes spun in a grave of red. "When did you…?"
With that final command which the master of the enemies had implanted in his summon's mind, Shikaku was no more.
Konoha's shinobi were spread evenly between the different battlefields. It was they that first approached Naruto, and told him to run.
Flee from the war, away from Madara, away from certain death.
The news of Shikamaru's father's death had hit the genius with a lethal dosage of reality. Shikamaru felt that he must uphold the last command his father had given and so two battles were now fought within him. He pleaded with Naruto behind a line of soldiers as they waited in the darkness for a potential ambush.
"I don't want to kill you," Shikamaru said, and he didn't. "Hide, Naruto. Don't let anyone find you. Hide for however long you can. Forever, even."
The clone that Shikamaru was talking to shook his head and smiled sadly at him. "It won't come to that, Shikamaru," the blonde said gently. "I would never let myself be captured."
His voice wasn't filled with onoxiously blind and stubborn determination. The death of the Hachibi had done a good lesson of knocking that from the last remaining Jinchuuriki. Instead, it seemed resigned. It was just as convincing as Naruto's enthusiastic, confident voice but in a completely different way. It was as though Naruto had already formulated a plan which had nothing to do with what everyone else was doing around him and which he would execute himself, whether they liked it or not.
Shikamaru still feared. He had never known what it was like to lose everything close to him and to be left with nothing. He had gotten his first taste of it mere hours ago when one of his father's guards had arrived, pale and shell shocked. It was like a terrible, cold vice across his entire body. It froze his mind and movements, rendered him with a despair that clawed and scratched until he was now left begging for it to end.
Begging for Naruto to end it all.
Naruto's eyes were blue at the moment and not the brilliant red that they had been for the majority of the battle. Shikamaru felt much more guilty when he shoved the kunai into the clone's chest. This was his friend, not the prize in a madman's war.
"Run," he whispered to him, and Naruto disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Memories were coming to him in waves, accompanied by pangs of betrayal as each clone was destroyed, one after the other. The last sight of almost every clone were the guilty eyes of people he knew and had fought beside. Naruto clutched his chest and his eyes stared blankly at the view of the untouched forest in front of him. There was nowhere left for him in the world.
When a vision of teary emerald eyes and matted pink hair filled his mind between all of the other memories, Naruto knew that it was so. It was time, and Sakura's choked words floated like a mantra as he stood up on the tree limb that he had settled upon to gather up sage chakra.
I love you, Naruto. We all love you so much.
He knew exactly where Madara was and he could sense the chakra of 7 other powerful beings surrounding him as the Uchiha made his way quickly to the forefront of the joint shinobi army. Killer Bee's chakra flared out to him, calling him, reminding him of his failure. He tensed the muscles in his legs and with strength that shattered the tree beneath him, ran from the clearing and in their direction. He slowed his pace slightly when he realised that he was using up too much chakra maintaining his speed. He would need as much chakra as he could spare and so he allowed himself to slow down, using only his physical strength to take him onwards.
He chanced a split moments visit into his mind to check on the reserve of Kyuubi's chakra that remained. The glowing ball above the gates had diminished to a fraction of its original size but it remained a searingly bright white. Minimal but enough.
"Fool!" the fox hissed from behind. The darkness of his mind slowly receded to show the weakened, snarling creature, shackled and chained. Strings of saliva flew from its jaws as it goaded him. "I know what you plan! You have underestimated Madara's power!"
In vengeance, Naruto flicked his wrist and sent another gate crashing down upon the Kyuubi's neck, sending the fox growling and writhing involuntarily to the ground. Foam and curses flew from its snapping jaws as it scrabbled futilely to reach its foolish vessel, standing but mere metres away from it.
"And you underestimate me," Naruto said impassively to it, "yet you never learn either." His mindscape began to fade. "Maybe next time, Kyuubi."
It took half an hour of travel for him to come within sights of Madara. The chakra sensors of the joint shinobi army must have noticed their rapid approach towards each other and as a result, many shinobi were now gathered there. Thousands of them, all covered with the wounds and grime of war, were visibly shuddering in the grip of snowy gales. Rugged mountains surrounded the flat plain that they occupied and Naruto pinpointed them at somewhere near the border of the Land of the Samurai, a country which was locked in an eternal winter. He stopped short of the army and landed on the ground behind them so that a great sheet of shinobi created a field between himself and his rapidly approaching foe.
Collateral damage was undesirable and Naruto sought out the commanders of the platoons, intending to make them divert their men. Kitsuchi, Mifune and Darui were rapidly weaving their way through the sea of shinobi towards him but before they could reach him, Gaara and Kakashi had already appeared.
Naruto noticed that neither of them seemed to want to look him in the eye. Their gazes were instead locked somewhere between his shoulder and chin. He tugged a smile onto his half-frozen face.
Gaara finally met his gaze and Naruto couldn't help it. He was betrayed by these men. His smile slowly slid from his face and all that was left for the other two to see was a hard resolution in his cobalt eyes.
"You've heard," Gaara stated.
Naruto nodded and Kakashi just looked grieved. Naruto wondered what would be left of the man after this was all over. Kakashi's morals had changed several times throughout his life, the most significant time being when Obito had convinced him to never to abandon his comrades, no matter the command.
Those who don't obey orders are trash, but those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash.
Naruto completely agreed. He had no intention of abandoning any of these people but they didn't have to know that.
"You need time," Naruto said, echoing the Raikage's words in the tower. Kakashi and Gaara visibly flinched at the usage of 'you' rather than 'we'. "I can give you that time. Keep everyone else away."
"What do you plan to do?" Sand had begun to swirl around Gaara's feet and from the open gourd on his back.
"Can you trust me?"
The sand told Naruto that no, they couldn't. The two stared at him. Could they trust him to what? To keep the Kyuubi safe from Madara? To win this war? To protect everyone?
"Do you trust me?" he repeated. He was smiling again, but it was a sad one that suggested he didn't really expect to hear an answer he wanted.
The other commanders were within hearing distance of anything they said now.
"Trust me one more time," Naruto whispered and he disappeared, the snow caressing the air where he had stood.
Panicked, the commanders instantly cast their gazes everywhere to look for the orange clad blonde. Something of a small blizzard was starting up and Gaara took to the sky on his sand for a better view, scanning the masses of people and the surrounding landscape. What he finally saw in the distant forest managed to freeze his blood more than the frigid air ever could.
Naruto looked left to right, from the man that he had once met as Utakata to Killer Bee, still and silent like he had refused to be in life. Madara stood centre of them and was swathed in a different mask and set of robes to what Naruto had seen in their last encounter. The man approached him, stepping smoothly like a spectre, one that desired nothing more than to turn him into something less than human like itself and the beings beside it. The roar of the army sounded behind them and Naruto estimated that they would reach them within 5 minutes, tops.
"Have you surrendered?" the eldest Uchiha asked. He gestured tauntingly to Killer Bee. "It's about time that you joined the man you killed, don't you think?"
Naruto glared at him. His golden eyes slitted, framed by the spreading red of his sage mode.
"I'll make it up to him by destroying you."
Killer Bee's reanimated corpse crowed once in approval and Naruto widened the space between his feet, preparing to move.
I have enough chakra for two rasenshuriken.
He leapt towards the masked man.
He threw a single kunai at Madara which was dodged and instead flew straight over his right shoulder, embedding solidly into a tree trunk with a thunk. Naruto gritted his teeth when the reanimated corpses of the Jinchuuriki suddenly leapt towards him and Madara retreated behind him. He landed on a tree limb and growled lowly up at the falling forms. He had thought that Madara's pride would not allow him to let Kabuto's techniques fight his battles for him.
No matter. Killing Madara had been the best case scenario, but permanently getting rid of these cursed beings might be just as good. He pulled both of his hands up to his lips, crisscrossing them and letting his canines sink into the soft pad of his thumbs. He repeated the action with his forefingers, skilfully sidestepping any of the Jinchuuriki trying to land a blow on him. Looking down, he was satisfied to see the blood that flowed thickly down to his wrists. He only just managed to dodge one of Utakata's exploding bubbles when he looked up again from the split fraction of a second that he had allowed himself to examine his 'ink.'
"You," he muttered nostalgically when the air around him started literally blowing up, "you're just as annoying as the first time I met you." The other snorted in amusement and Naruto felt a rush of fondness before he quashed it underfoot.
The snow mixed with the explosions from the bubbles, and rising steam from what he suspected to be the chakra of a demon shroud was making it difficult to see. He forced Kyuubi's chakra to his eyes and analysed what was going on with clearer vision.
There was a giant two tailed cat at approximately 45 degrees, steadily powering up a ball of dense chakra. Utakata was making his way to some branches above him and Killer Bee had stopped with his swords drawn to Naruto's left. The other four Jinchuuriki were standing still at various degrees behind him, and Naruto gulped at the realisation that he was in the middle of them all.
Seven tailed beast bombs coming towards him was the last thing he wanted and he set to work on quickly reducing that number. He went for Utakata, who was the closest, first. With unbelievable speed resulting from a combination of his sage mode and Kyuubi's chakra, he was beneath the still moving body and his fingers were already darting a pattern of blood over the other's chest. Before they landed he had already pulled his forefinger and middle finger in a sign and muttered indistinguishable words under his breath, words that flowed naturally to him ever since his encounter with his mother. The bloody ink glowed and spread. Utakata gasped as it climbed to his neck and face and then Naruto began making his way to Killer Bee. Behind him, Utakata dropped the long fall to land sickeningly on the ground below, the bloody seal glowing once before turning black. He stayed motionless.
"Uncle Bee," Naruto murmured as they approached each other, "I'm sorry."
"I forgive you, Naruto," the other said jovially, even as his blades began swinging like a lethal machine. "Now seal me quickly."
"It would be easier if you stop waving those things around all the time," Naruto joked, but managed to find an opening within seconds. His left hand pressed against the others left shoulder as he leapt into a roll over the blades. It took a bit more chakra since he wasn't able to write a seal like before but when he removed his palm, red inked characters similar to those on Utakata had begun spiralling all around Killer Bee. A grin was on the dark skinned man's face before he collapsed like a stringless puppet.
"Goodbye, Uncle Bee."
Naruto bristled and turned awkwardly in the air to avoid the chakra bomb that the two tails finally released, letting out a deep sigh of relief when the black and blue mass went shooting into the sky and exploded above them. The reverberations were enough to make his eardrums beat painfully but he twisted around in the air, eyes searching through the smoke and snow for his next target.
Both of his seals had been completed in under a minute and a flare of ancient chakra was all the warning that he got before Madara's displeasure made itself known. Before he could land on solid ground, fingers erupted from nowhere and tightened viciously around his neck in his free fall. He choked under the grip and gasped for air when Madara's other hand sent a chakra enforced punch to his stomach. His eyes widened, momentarily flashing blue as his focus weakened, then his body was slammed against a tree, thoroughly rattling his skull. The faint red marks of his sage mode disappeared from around his eyes and blearily, he glared up at the masked man trapping him there, a trail of blood leaking from the edge of his lips.
"The Uzumaki clan's sealing techniques are indeed formidable."
Naruto froze when his eyes connected with Madara's sharingan. He had once thought Sasuke's sharingan to be an intricate and beautiful pattern. He could not say the same for this man.
"I don't think you've had the chance to experience the Uchiha clan's own forbidden jutsu," Madara breathed out lowly. "How rude of dear Sasuke. Perhaps I should enlighten you."
Glaring eyes, a hand through his chest, Gaara's body, his parents' deaths, Killer Bee between him and Madara, thousands of bodies, betrayal, betrayal...
Naruto threw his head back and screamed. His hands tightened around the wrist of the hand Madara gripped him with. Madara scoffed. "A clone, huh?"
Without looking, Madara lifted up his other hand and the Jutsu behind him was absorbed in an eerily familiar move. The clone in his hands was dispatched with a cracking sound from its neck.
Naruto gaped then winced when his clone dispersed, the temporary Tsukiyomi making him tremble slightly where he stood and grasp the tree tunk. "Tha— that's Nagato's technique!" he gasped out.
"They were all my techniques before they were his."
Naruto felt sweat run down his forehead. The true uselessness of this war was starting to sink upon him. As if he wasn't powerful enough before, Madara now had all of Nagato's abilities. Multiple kunai and ninjutsu attacks suddenly started flying through the air around them and he realised that the army was making good on the Kages' orders to not allow him to fall into Madara's hands. He bit down on his bottom lip as he realised what that meant. Surprisingly, he felt no anger. Only resignation and a faint melancholy for what he had to do. It was now or never. If he used anymore chakra on useless attacks then he would lose his chance.
"I don't know how forbidden your clan's techniques are," he said hollowly, bringing a hand up to his face. He pulled his forehead protector from his head, feeling only a small pang when he let it drop to the branch next to him. "But the Uzumaki clan has techniques that were so forbidden that a country was destroyed to hide their existence." With the blood still on his fingers, he drew a line of characters upon his own forehead before letting his bangs fall back into his eyes. Having used up all of Kyuubi's chakra reserves, his pupils reverted back to sapphire.
It was time.
Madara took an unsure step back, unknowing of what Naruto might possibly be planning but unwilling to call it a bluff. Naruto's hands came together in a blur of seals that Madara could follow but couldn't comprehend, foreign words dropping from his lips. He focused all of his chakra to his chest and the seal upon his stomach. Black spiralling characters began appearing on the ground around his feet and then spread from there to form a flowering bed of black lettering. The characters glowed, the snow beneath them melted and the heat that rose from them flowed upwards, making his cloak and hair billow.
Gaara watched from afar. The commanders had given the orders to start attacking both Naruto and Madara alike and his chest was constricting tightly. He frowned as he watched Naruto perform a jutsu completely unidentifiable to him. He could feel a large amount of chakra however, and he was sure that if he could see the patterns then the air around them would be brimming with it. Searching the army below, he sought out a Hyuuga and jumped down when he located Neji with his cousin.
"Gaara," Neji said and Hinata looked up, startled at the Kazekage's appeared in their midst, "what –"
"What is happening to Naruto's chakra?" Gaara asked. "Tell me what you can see."
There was a split moment of uncertain hesitation and then the two nodded, turning together to search out the area in the distance where Naruto was. Gaara regrettably watched the teary eyed Hyuuga heiress focus her Byakugan on Naruto. She gasped after a few seconds but it was Neji that spoke first.
"It is disappearing," he said in confusion. He looked at Gaara, who glimpsed the straining in his throat. "Chakra only disappears when someone dies. Could he be…?"
"I don't think it is a suicide," he denied, but swallowed thickly nonetheless. Perhaps it was some special jutsu. Yes. Let it be something that could finish this.
"I –it isn't exactly di—disappearing," Hinata said suddenly. Her eyes were still darting over Naruto's chakra system fearfully, trying to pick up on more detail. "It seems that it is be—being absorbed and turned into something else. Li- like a seal."
Neji breathed in sharply and Gaara followed his train of thought to reach the same conclusion.
"Naruto is sealing himself! He plans to stop the Kyuubi from being reborn!"
Hinata began shaking and Neji placed a hand upon her shoulder. "He- he always protects us," she whimpered, watching the chakra disappear at an alarming rate. "Even when everyone else thinks it's hopeless. But what about him?"
"It's too late." Neji shook his head. "His chakra is almost gone."
Gaara felt his body slacken with that ultimatum. Around him, he could hear the rustling movements of eavesdroppers that were whispering, spreading what was happening to the rest of the army. There was a cry of shock from somewhere. From others he heard excited murmurs, thinking that everything would be over at last.
"We must retrieve him," Neji said when he saw the final flickers of Naruto's chakra become smothered. The blonde appeared to be slowly losing control of his body, which was growing slack and sinking inch by inch down towards the ground. His hands had already dropped from the previous position they had been holding in a complicated seal. Neji turned to Gaara, his lilac eyes narrowed fiercely. "I will not let Madara and Kabuto have his body to experiment with."
Gaara nodded grimly and he leapt away from them to pass that order to the other commanders. Beneath his numb shock he felt astonishment for the fact that even now, Naruto did everything that he could for those around him. The same people that had hated him as a child, berated him, and then ultimately betrayed him. He agonised over and desperately hoped that Naruto wouldn't be thinking along those lines right now. He quailed at the thought that Naruto believed he was giving up everything for people that had never cared, because that could not be further away from the truth.
And yet with some disgust at himself, he found that he was already calculating what these events would mean for the war.
Kyuubi would not die and so would not be reborn. They didn't know, however, if Madara would figure out Naruto's seal and extract the Kyuubi, given the chance. Gaara's eyes steeled over as his fellow commanders came into sight. It would be in their best interests to not give him that chance.
Naruto could see that Madara had figured out what was happening. He smirked, even as he felt his mind and bodily functions slowly shut down. Sinking to his knees with his arms hanging uselessly by his side, he allowed himself to memorise everything around him. He felt the thrum of Kakashi and Gaara's chakra most prominently and wondered whether he would see them again. Looking down, he was satisfied to find seals glowing from around his wrists and ankles and a more intricate one over his heart. He knew a similar pattern of characters would be around his neck and that his eyes would be glowing a brighter, unnatural blue. His breath came in light puffs. His smirk widened and he positively leered at the other man that trembled in fury across the clearing.
"Heh. My win, old man."
With that final goad, he closed his eyes. His body began to careen forwards, prepared to slip from the wide tree limb and fall to the ground below. At least he wouldn't feel it. His mind was hazily churning its last few thoughts as snowflakes burned his cheeks in his fall.
One last step. One last thing, before he could willingly let himself be locked away without a care. He frowned as he fell. At this rate, he would feel it when he hit the ground. Where the hell…?
I'm waiting, bastard.
His lips curved as a familiar, potent chakra reached out to his own, and then his fall was broken by a pair of arms. He could imagine the look of surprise on Madara, hell, the look of surprise on every single person in the world.
It was about time that they realised.
"You idiot," a baritone voice growled in his mind and he had the urge to lash out but acquiesced. He was tired. He'd fought a whole war already. Let the bastard do his part, the lazy ass.
"Sasuke," Madara said. His voice was surprised but he recollected himself quickly. His slitted eyes darted to the blonde that Sasuke was supporting in a half standing position with one arm around him. Naruto was leaning heavily on Sasuke's shoulder with closed eyes and his breathing barely there.
"Let's return to the base," Madara attempted, stepping foward cautiously. Sasuke's eyes, once his brother's, levelled a bemused sharingan upon the eldest Uchiha.
The undergrowth rustled with the movement of thousands around them. The joint shinobi army was closing in to retrieve Naruto and Sasuke smirked calmly. His right hand came up in a one handed seal. Madara lunged but with a wisp of hissing smoke, the two were gone.
Half a mile away, Gaara's grip on the edge of his platform of sand became crushing. He could not believe his eyes. Naruto had asked him to trust him and he had had difficulty doing so, even when it was the boy that had practically nurtured him into the man he was today. What he just saw went beyond that request completely. The utmost trust, the complete and utter mutual devotion between two people.
When the hell had the world missed that?
The army below was in disarray. Orders were flying from the commanders for them to retreat and Gaara could see Madara doing the same under the cover of his remaining Jinchuuriki. The animated corpses were sending beast bombs haphazardly into the chaotic masses. Quickly, he set up a large barrier of sand between the two sides. Before it was drowned in a sea of golden sand, his eyes glimpsed Naruto's Konoha forehead protector one more time.
Then it was gone and like Naruto Uzumaki, it would not be seen for many years to come.
End of Prologue.