A/N: Just a little idea that sprang forth. Took about two hours. Enjoy
Passing On The Flames
Blood dripped onto the barren ground. Someone in the distance was yelling his name but Naruto couldn't hear. He'd begun to black out with pain but he clung onto consciousness through sheer willpower, the grip on the black rod in his hand intensifying as the pain pitched.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck fucking fuck….
He looked down at the black rod sinking steadily deeper into his stomach, literally into his belly button. His stomach churned and the bile rushed up his throat but he swallowed it with a shudder as scarlet liquid dribbled over his bottom lip.
The voice behind was coming in clearer, more distinct and high-pitched. "Naruto! Naruto—no, I—I—"
Despite the agony flaying his brain alive, Naruto faced the cloaked Akatsuki leader with a smile of blood. "G-got ya," he rasped.
Pein regarded the dying jinchuuriki with passionless eyes. What he had done was utterly foolish, diving in front of the Hyuuga like that, sacrificing himself for that worthless little waste of talent. "No, Naruto, it is I who have you. Once you've died then the Nine-Tails will be mine."
Naruto opened his mouth to speak but a sudden rush of vomit proceeded him, splattering to the ground in tune to the horrified screams behind him. He didn't think Hinata capable of making such a dreadful noise….
When his stomach was quite empty, Naruto reached out and took hold of the hand Pein was using to shove the black rod into him. "N-not likely," he gagged, beginning to lose feeling in his legs. "We're going together, Pein."
Ino approached the outer edge of the wide crater that held in its center Pein, Naruto and Hinata. She supported Shikamaru who didn't want his broken ankle to keep him from witnessing this. "What did he just say?" she questioned shrilly, turning from the shadow-nin back to Naruto. "What's the Nine-Tails got to do with this? What's Naruto talking about?"
Shikamaru narrowed his eyes. "So that's it...damn it, Naruto, quit being so troublesome!"
"Why? What's he doing? Tell me!"
"Nevermind that, get us down there!"
Sakura stood on the edge as well, horrified by what was she seeing, by all the blood pouring from her annoying blonde. One moment, Naruto had been stuck to the ground, but then the next, he'd shoved Hinata out of the way and...and—
Without a second thought, she leapt into the crater, beginning to run towards them when there was a mass movement and hundreds more ninja were moving as well, all of them dashing towards the center.
Tsunade looked up, surrounded by her protective circle of jonin as she continued to push healing chakra through her slugs slithering throughout what remained of her decimated village. Something...was off, something was terribly off. Automatically, as if being pulled by an unknown force, she turned her heads towards where a huge explosion had gone off only minutes before. It was there...she could feel it…
"Naruto…." The name fell from her lips in a hushed whisper and tears began to gather in the corner of her eyes. "Y-you fool…not y-you too…."
On her side, Hinata stared up at Naruto, unable to believe what had just happened. Why? Why was he always like that? Always saving people? This wasn't how it was supposed to be!
The Nine-Tailed Fox stared down at its container through the thick iron bars that had long denied it access to the outside world. The look in its eyes was one of severe rage mixed with a lucid understanding. "Why...are you doing this, Kit?"
Standing on the other side, Naruto looked up from the water around his ankles. The sewers here were always so cold, life-threateningly cold even, but as death crept closer and closer, he was glad to experience warmth within these dreary tunnels. "Because it has to be done," was the simple reply. "You can do it, right? What I'm thinking?"
The legendary fox thrashed one of its mile-long tails with indignation. "Can I do it? You insult me. The proper question is 'will I do it'? I don't take to dying."
Naruto walked up to the cage, leaning against it as he reached a hand inside, his fingers gently strumming the fox's bright orange fur. He smiled up when the fox looked away. "Please…? I don't know how much longer I can hang on—you know they'd just catch you anyway, right? Better to go this way than suffer the dreadful humiliation of being caught, eh?" he wagered with a slight chuckle, playing on the fox's pride.
The fox huffed, refusing to vocally state his agreement. Ever since discovering that he held within him a creature born of darkness and hatred, the fox had expected Naruto to shy away from him, despise him as those woebegone villagers did and never once utter a kind word while he lay here in this dark chamber. Imagine his surprise when Naruto one day showed up claiming he wanted to know more about his, ah...cellmate, as it were. Wary at first, the fox retaliated with anger hoping to drive the boy away but was once again perplexed when the blonde kept showing up day after day, widening the chasm between them. Naruto could do nothing to his corroded mindscape but figured visiting daily and talking was better then sitting here all alone.
It took a long time, almost a year of smiles and laughter, for the fox to open up and begin revealing more about himself, yet it came with the added benefits of better chakra control and mastery over a wide arrange of jutsu. As thanks for his friendship—a concept that was once foreign and hostile—the fox began tutoring his jailer, helping him where others didn't, where others wouldn't.
"Fine," the fox conceded with a rumbling sigh that shook the smiling Naruto to his core, but then a hesitant glint settled into the demon's eye. "What will happen afterwards, Kit? Where...will we go?"
Naruto continued to smile as he shrugged. "Honestly, I have no idea, I've never died before. I don't know where we'll wind up, but I know this," and Naruto lifted a fist to his friend, "we'll be together, you mangy fox."
The nine-tails took that term of endearment and lifted a paw that was five times the size of Naruto, extending a nail softly towards his raised fist. "Then let us go."
Outside in the real world, all the ninja running towards the center were slowed when an otherworldly chakra exploded into the air with the roar of a storm—several weaker ninja were blown off their feet from the fierce gale as a shroud of scarlet chakra exploded from Naruto's stomach. A new chasm of agony burst open within Naruto's mind but he grit his teeth to a bleeding point and focused, pushing as hard as he could.
For the first time since it's creation, emotion flashed over Pein's face: abstract fear, one that propelled him to try and pull his hand back but Naruto had it in a death grip, his nails having transformed into claws that pierced his flesh holding him securely in place. "What're you doing?" he struggled lifting his other hand. "Let me go!"
His aimed a strike at Naruto's head but a pair of arms extended from behind wrapping the Deva Pein in a fierce hold. Naruto was confused until he saw Shikamaru's head poke up on the side, his face laced with sweat. "Why are you always so damn troublesome?" he yelled, grinning through his pain.
His words were muffled to Naruto's dying ears but he caught the gist and coughed a laugh.
"You imprudent rats!" Pein roared, struggling to break free but the Nara clasped his hands and held tight. "Release me!"
"Oh, you'll b-be released soon," Naruto said.
"DO IT!" Shikamaru shouted.
Naruto grunted, mentally thanking the fox for all it had done for him, for all the help it had provided. Tears sprung to his eyes when the nine-tailed demon nodded before its pretense faded, this time forever as the fox's chakra formed a tangible spearhead that aimed itself for Pein's chest.
"This...is goodbye," Naruto whispered, and his hold over the Deva Pein slackened. "It's been fun, tho'…." His eyes found Shikamaru's and he forced himself to smile. "The flames wit' you guys now…'kay?"
The Deva Pein howled out, at first in fury, then in anguish when its chest was punctured, spewing what smelled of rancid blood like a fountain. Sensing what was about to happen, Shikamaru relinquished his hold and dove as best he could, watching in awe as the chakra entered the Pein's body causing it to convulse and twitch; little cracks broke out all over its skin through which a bright light began to shine through.
"Shit!" Ignoring his pounding ankle, Shikamaru stood and made a running dash at the wavering Naruto and Hinata, who had just climbed to her feet. Like a lion he leapt at them, knocking them both down as the Pein exploded in a fiery ball of hissing flames and metal fragments.
When the dust cleared, Shikamaru sat back on his knees, coughing as he began searching for Naruto. He found the blonde on his side a few feet away and crawled over to him. "Naruto...Naruto, you idiot, j-just what in the hell…." He flipped the blonde and after just one look felt the world melt away, felt his heart cease to beat. He didn't realize that Hinata was by his side until her hands had joined his, desperately shaking the blonde who lay there with his eyes closed peacefully, his mouth jerked up in a smile.
Someone was crying—no, people were crying and Shikamaru looked up to see them surrounded by a large crowd of ninja and civilians alike, all of them trying to get a glance at the ninja that had saved them all. He saw the shocked faces of Kiba and Shino, the teary-streaked faces of Sakura and Ino, the aghast looks of Tsunade and Shizune as they came to the forefront, and the utter confusion of Neji and his cell when they broke through the crowd, back from their journey.
It took the Nara a second to realize that he was crying as well, shedding tears he didn't know existed within for the blonde.
"Naruto!" Kiba yelled, dropping to his knees beside him. "Naruto, dude, wake up! The hell're you...what—" He gave Naruto a slight tap on the cheek, hoping to stir him but Naruto's head only shifted slightly.
Some, like Sakura, were just figuring out what had occurred and turned away, their sobs piercing the air.
Wordlessly, Tsunade sat back on her haunches and gingerly moved Naruto's head to rest on her lap. As she let her fingers sift through his blonde hair, she looked up to Shikamaru. "What did he do?" she asked and Shikamaru was stunned at how strong she sounded despite the clear liquid running down her cheeks.
A ball of rubber had dropped into Shikamaru's throat when he opened his mouth and choked. Ino feel down beside him, burying her face in the crook of his neck. It took only a second until he felt her tears sliding over his collarbone and he found his voice. "He used the...the nine-tails chakra to disrupt that Pein's body, destroying it from the inside out." That much was obvious to the genius Nara, having read as much when he first saw Naruto purposefully get impaled. "That Pein was fake...and the real one should be dying in just a matter of minutes, maybe hours—either way he'll be dead before the sun falls." He reached over, careful not to jostle the kunoichi sobbing on him, and picked up a shattered piece of one of Deva Pein's rods. "The nine-tails chakra corrupted the chakra stream being fed to this, and I'm going to guess that it found it's way to the original body controlling the Deva's. That much corrosion...nobody would live…."
A sudden cry from Hinata made certain ninja jump as she threw herself over Naruto's body, gripping him by his tattered toad sage cloak, touching her head to his chest. "Come back!" she cried out, her voice strangled and cracked. There was no shred of the Hyuuga elegance within her yells, all that had been shed, forever forgotten. "You—Naruto, you weren't supposed to die! I was supposed to protect you, not the other way around! Why?" she shouted almost angrily. "Why are you always so...it wasn't supposed to b-be this way…."
Drained mentally and physically, the Hyugga heiress subsided into grief-driven mutterings. Jaw firm, Neji bent down to her, hugging her into him with a surprisingly soft touch.
"No way," Kiba burst out, unable to believe, unwilling. "He...He can't—it's Naruto! Naruto can't die! That…it doesn't make sense! He's fucking Naruto!" he repeated, growing angry. "Wake up, you bastard!" and he took hold of Naruto's arm, shaking it roughly. "Wake up and quit playing around! We still got pranks to pull on people! We gotta rebuild this village so—so come on! Get up! Please!"
When the blonde didn't stir, Kiba's bottom lip trembled and his face scrunched up with intense pain. He threw his head back and let loose a wounded howl that echoed far into the distance causing several animals to look up. Its shrill lament engulfed them all and for a moment, there was only the sound of tears as everyone mourned their fallen hero.
"He also said," began Shikamaru, steeling himself when a large amount of eyes fell upon him, "he...told me before it happened that...that the flame rests with us now."
His words brought a fortifying sense of reality to all who heard, and it was those words that caused even the emotionless ninja to began shedding tears, Neji included as water ran from his clear eyes. Shikamaru reached out a hand, forming a fist over Naruto's chest. "Thank you, Naruto…for saving us, for helping us, for everything."
Almost instantly, Kiba threw in his hand, biting back tears. Hinata followed, then Neji, then Tenten, Rock Lee, Shino—all ninja within range extended a fist over Naruto while those too far away threw their arms up, fists in the air. There came a slight shuffling in the crowds and a silver-haired jonin made his way up to Naruto's side, his right arm clearly broken though the pain of it was gone from him. With a slight sigh, he collapsed next to his student, pulling out his little orange book. The look of rage that overcame Tsunade's face would have stilled a rampaging dragon, yet before she could voice it Kakashi placed the orange book on the inside pocket of Naruto's toad sage cloak.
"Always the hero," he sighed again as water began leaking from his normal eye.
The field was gorgeous. Bright green, filled with flowers of all types, and stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions. The wind smelled sweet and Naruto turned into it, enjoying the way his hair was tossed about. He couldn't help but smile as he stared down at the miniature red fox sitting faithfully by his side.
"So here we are," he said with a melancholy tone. "I guess...we just keep walking, yeah? Until we arrive…."
The fox nodded, looking back. "You're leaving a lot of people behind, Kit….a lot of tears are being shed. I can feel their sadness, their grief."
"Then you're not feeling the right way," smiled Naruto, beginning to walk. "All I feel is their enforced resolve, their strength coming together as one. I feel...their hope. Now come on, we gotta go."
The fox began to follow when a drop of water hit him in the face. He glanced up at Naruto see the blonde rubbing under his nose. "Kit...are you crying?"
"Course not...I just got something in my eye. That's all."
Pushing the subject no further, the fox strode forward, following his first friend as they headed towards a destination unknown yet so warm.