Written after Ch. 631 was released, so it was canon compliant... till the new chapter went up.
Naruto knew what he had to do the minute his father showed up on the battlefield.
After all, he had promised himself that he wouldn't let anymore of his friends die. Not in this battle. Not if he could help it. And there they were, he and his father. The one man who could seal the nine-tails, and the one man who could hold it.
What was one more tail anyway?
"Am I late?" Minato asked, all cocky lines and smirks like usual. Naruto had to hand it to the man – back from the dead and just as sure of himself.
"Not at all, Dad," he grinned back. "Right on time."
It was just a matter of time, he knew. He had known since Neji had jumped in front of that spike for Hinata, for him. He wasn't going to be Hokage. The Hokage never lets someone precious to him die. He's strong enough to save them. It was only a matter of time until Sasuke showed up. Naruto had felt his chakra before even his father's. That familiar feel of cold-hot lightning, the way it chattered incessantly in the corner of Naruto's mind.
His betrayer. His enemy. His friend.
His rival. He'd know it anywhere.
And somewhere in the back of his mind, he had known that Sasuke had come back for more than some rescue mission. He wasn't going to offer Naruto a hand up from the ground, where Sakura was pressing against his shoulders and her soothing green chakra flowing into him like the warm water of the creek where he had first met Jiraiya. He had come to challenge the blonde, like always. To take the last thing Naruto had, the last thing he was fighting for for himself, the last thing he thought he really deserved, and show that he could fight for it too.
For the first time, Naruto was sure he could win. He wasn't sure he wanted to.
Minato turned and looked at him, and Naruto gave him a crooked, foxish smile. They didn't need any words to understand each other. Naruto's eyes said it all.
I'm ready to die. But not until after I do this.
Minato had looked at the pretty face framed by pink hair behind him, the brilliant emerald eyes that narrowed in his direction. "Is that your girlfriend?" Are you sure, son?
Naruto couldn't help but be surprised at that. He had only ever heard that his love for her was hopeless – yet his father had taken one look at her and assumed. He almost changed his mind right then, clinging to the sliver of hope, to one of the few deep emotions that had never wavered; but ended with just a smile and laugh. "Hell yeah!" If I don't die, he promised himself, I'll see to it. Sakura's angry punch was only reassuring of the fact that she would never love him – and he would never live.
His father had a bemused look when he shook his head at him, but Naruto didn't care. There was love in those eerie black eyes.
The seal was set up before Naruto could hardly blink, and Sasuke's presence drew closer. Without looking, Naruto knew when he and the other Hokages arrived, and their voices only confirmed his suspicion.
"Allies?" Sakura asked him quietly.
"They're not under Edo Tensei's control," Naruto affirmed. He eyed the group standing with Orochimaru dubiously, and added, "Keep an eye on them anyway." His father and the other three Hokages drew into four points with a cry of Gate of the Great God! Sasuke brushed off his old friends with his usual nonchalant arrogance and shocked them all, stating with utter surety, "I will be Hokage." Naruto couldn't care less, watching his friend turn up his aristocratic nose at the group – it simply proved he was right, and Sasuke really hadn't changed at all.
"I'm going to be Hokage," he said calmly, standing up next to his old friend.
Sasuke turned and looked at him. His black eyes pierced into Naruto's bright blue, and his expression twisted in Naruto's gut. Pleased, hopeful, confused… lonely… Naruto gave him a wry smile. Sasuke knew Naruto hadn't meant it, and he didn't understand.
But Sasuke always understood.
"Come on, Sasuke," Naruto said. "Let's do this." He looked over his shoulder at the medic. "It's your turn to rest up, Sakura. Stay here."
He turned back to the raven-haired Uchiha, whose unnaturally pale face was drawn in a frown. Naruto cocked one eyebrow slightly, daring him to understand what that sentence had meant. That he would never risk his comrades' lives again. That being Hokage was no longer his primary goal.
Sasuke thought for a second, but nodded. He understood all too well.
They jumped up to the level of the beast, Naruto watching Madara out of the corner of his eye and measuring how much time he had. He had half-anticipated the rush of air when Sakura joined them, and tried not to sigh, putting up a token resistance to the girl he knew would be nowhere else if she wanted to be.
"Team 7," he muttered, looking at the massive creature Obito had created. He tried not to sound as resigned as he felt. "Reunited once more, and better than ever." Together at the end.
"I don't know what's wrong with you, Dobe," Sasuke said without looking at Naruto. "But you better not be thinking what I think you are." He drew his katana.
"What are you rambling about, Sasuke?" Sakura spit, cracking her knuckles dangerously. "You don't know him. You don't know any of us." Almost too softly for Naruto or Sasuke to hear, she added, "Not anymore."
Naruto nearly laughed at the irony, but he knew it would have belied his acceptance of the end. "Is it sealed, Dad?" he called. His strong voice carried unwaveringly over the battlefield.
"You bet, son," Minato answered, his voice only slightly strained from the effort of keeping up the wall. The ten-tails threw itself against the barrier again, and the chakra seal rippled dangerously. "Are you ready?"
"Whenever you are."
At his father's nod, Naruto ran to Minato's side, ignoring the stares of the army, his team, the Third.
"Naruto?" Sarutobi called. His outheld arms shook with strain. "Only four are required for this seal. Get back. We can handle this if anything goes wrong. You're valuable – but we can't die again!"
Minato grinned, and Naruto just gave the old man his signature thumbs up. "Exactly, old man!"
Shikamaru was the first one to put it together, just as could have been expected. His jagged scream of "Naruto!" echoed up to their ears, just as Sasuke came rushing forwards. His hand gripped Naruto's shoulder with such strength the jinchuuriki felt his collarbone crack, and he whirled the blonde around.
"I told you you had better not be thinking that," he growled. Though his face was as straight as ever, his voice held a gruff passion Naruto hadn't heard before.
"I thought you wanted me dead," Naruto asked, his voice never wavering. "Odds are you'll get your wish."
Sasuke's expression faltered. "Not… not like this…"
Naruto's mouth twitched. "If anything goes wrong, I'm trusting you. And you better make Itachi proud; he told me to take care of you." Spinning, he nodded swiftly, and felt his father's hand ram into his chest. He heard the echoing screams of the First and Second as Minato dropped his corner of the seal, the wall crashing down. He smelled rotting flesh and burning hair and could only think that if Death had a scent, this would be it. He tasted blood.
His vision never went totally black. Through the darkness he saw the Shinigami hold his father in his arms again, and tried to cough out a 'thank you', but his mouth wouldn't form the words. It didn't matter, he knew. Minato didn't have to hear the words. He saw Sakura rush to his side and try to heal him, saw Sasuke bat her hands away. He saw the First whirl on Madara with a cry of rage, and the Second at his side with a dark snarl. The Third joined the army on the battlefield, yelling out orders, saw Orochimaru watch him from the distance and suspiciously disappear. He felt something hot slipping down his cheeks.
"My eyes," he muttered by way of question. "They're on fire."
"You're…" Sasuke's stuttered whisper bordered on awe. "You're him?"
Sakura whispered something, but Naruto couldn't make it out through the sob. He turned his head, thought he saw Kakashi's masked face, but then, Kakashi was battling Obito. He couldn't be here.
"If Kakashi lives," Naruto coughed out, "tell him team seven was together."
"You can, Dobe." Sasuke's voice came from right next to Naruto's ear. "Here. You're standing up now."
Naruto laughed wryly as Sasuke wound an arm around his waist and helped him up against Sakura's protests. "Hey, I'm alive. I guess this makes me pretty cool, huh?" His words coughed out blood.
"Don't kid yourself, dumbass."
"Sasuke. Can you activate Susanoo?"
Naruto felt Sasuke stiffen next to him. "You know abou-"
"It's called reading, Sasuke," Sakura growled, her voice suddenly coming from Naruto's other side. Her hand gripped his shoulder with a comforting weight, and he could hear her heart pounding faster than it should have been. Her voice was low, hiding emotions he couldn't identify. "You should try it sometime."
Sasuke was silent for a long moment, but finally let out a breath that sounded, to Naruto's sensitive ears, almost like a chuckle. "Yeah, I can call it. But why? You took care of the ten-tails, and Kakashi-" Sasuke stopped so abruptly Naruto wished he could open his eyes and see for himself. "Our only real enemy left is Madara, and Hashirama and Tobirama have… personal reasons for taking care of him. What is there left to do?"
"I have a hunch about what Madara's planning to do." Naruto breathed in through his nose once, forcing his pounding heart back under control. "I'll be ready to move in ten seconds." He rolled his head, neck popping. "How does my face look?" he asked with a smirk.
"Like hell," Sakura huffed.
Naruto grinned crookedly. "Sweet." He breathed in deeply again and set his jaw. "Sasuke, as soon as I'm set, get behind Madara with Susanoo. Sakura? We may need a lot of medical help, should anything go wrong."
"Three seconds left," she agreed.
"Right. Be careful." One more breath. "You two… go."
Sakura bit down on her thumb, wiping the blood on the ground in a seal they all knew and pulsing chakra into it, just as Sasuke let go of Naruto's waist and disappeared from his side as blue fire snapped to life around him. Naruto let one foot slip back, and opened his bleeding eyes.
The world spun around him for a moment, but he brought it back into focus, blinking quickly. "Woah." He could see in startling clarity, even beyond what the Toad's Sage mode offered. He could see the bead of sweat on Gai's face as he lay on the eight-tails, the bug crawling along Shino's neck, the way Kakashi's ankle shook almost unnoticeably-
"Kakashi?" Naruto caught him just before the man hit the ground, and laid him on the bloody grime of the battlefield as gently as he could. The man's eyes fluttered in exhaustion, blood leaking from the sides.
"Shit, Naruto," the older man breathed. "You look even worse than me."
"What happened? Where's Obito?" Naruto looked over Kakashias he spoke, noting the stab wounds that littered his lithe frame. He swallowed despite himself. "Forget that, it doesn't matter. Look, you have to hang on. You know who's here? Sasuke. He's working with us. He wants to be Hokage, Kaka-sensei, can you believe that?"
Kakashi coughed once, and smiled wryly, eyes clouded with pain. "Wanna take off the mask?" he asked, his tone wry. "Now's your chance."
"Did you hear what I said?" Naruto growled, his face close to his teacher's. "Sasuke's back!"
"Who the hell cares, Naruto?" Kakashi sighed. His brow scrunched and a hiss escaped his teeth as blood squirted from a hole near his lungs. He relaxed after a moment, panting hard, but made an effort to look the blonde in the eye. "You were always the better one. I just wish-" He gasped- "I could have seen that earlier."
"Damnit old man," Naruto growled. "Don't you dare."
"Better go take care of Madara, kiddo," Kakashi said, and his fakely cheerful voice was as good as ever. "Good luck! And congrats on the eyes." Painfully, he winked.
Naruto stared at him for a long second, unwilling to leave. "Those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash," he whispered. "I shouldn't leave you."
"Don't flatter me," Kakashi muttered. "I was never your comrade. And those who are need you more right now."
Naruto opened his mouth to protest and felt something cold touch his cheek. He turned his head to see one of Sakura's helpers.
"Go on," the slug said. "I'll take care of this."
Reluctantly, Naruto nodded and stood. "You better be here when I get back, jiji," he said, his voice filled with a sad threat. He turned on his heel, cloak billowing. If I get back.
With a bitter glare at the world at large, he took in the battle before him.
Tobirama and Hashirama flanked Madara, Sasuke and his Susanoo at his back as Naruto had asked. To the side, the Joint Army stood in a point formation, the Third at the front with Sakura at his side. Madara was grinning maniacally, his hands spinning through seals so fast Naruto couldn't discern them- His new eyes honed in on them, and suddenly, Naruto could see the man's every move. Without thinking, he jumped up to his level, arms spread out to stop the First and Second, and stood in the path of his jutsu.
The Uchiha stopped, his chakra fizzling out as he stared. Naruto grinned cockily. "Not what you were expecting?"
"Don't flatter yourself. I'm just curious, brat," he said, letting his hands fall as he looked over his changed appearance. Apparently satisfied, he straightened. "Now get out of the way and let the big boys finish their fight."
"You know who's behind you?" Naruto asked, his tone bemused.
"What are you playing, Uzumaki?" the First muttered. "This isn't your battle."
"Should I?" Madara answered, not bothering to look over his shoulder.
"He's an Uchiha. That mean anything to you?"
"That's not going to stop him, kid," the Second growled in annoyance. "Honestly, I thought you had some brains-"
"He's the last Uchiha, actually," Naruto corrected, as if he hadn't heard Tobirama.
Madara tilted his head, eyes flashing, as both Hokages shot Naruto confused looks. "You give me a lot of questions, I'll give you that," the Uchiha finally allowed. He tilted his chin up, arms crossed in front of his chest. "Last?"
"Yes, the last," Sasuke spat in answer. Susanoo flickered as his anger grew and Madara turned slightly to look at him. "Your precious clan is dead. All because of your wish to break away from the Senju. You destroyed your own family with your poisonous words." He sank into a lower stance, scowling fiercely. "You have caused nothing but suffering in this world."
"He did it in the name of peace, at first," Naruto said. "And I know peace remains your goal, Madara," Naruto said softly. The man turned back to look at him, and the blonde spread his arms wide once more and smiled. "That's all I want too. But your plan is not the way to achieve it."
Madara's red eyes narrowed dangerously. "You think you know more than me, little boy? What do you know of pain? What do you know of suffering? You know nothing," he scoffed."You're just like Obito when he first came to me… so childish. So naïve."
"The irony," Naruto chuckled. "To think a mere mortal would find it his place to tell me that." All four men stiffened automatically, and the already quiet soldiers below fell silent. His voice was lower, echoing and resonating with an ancient power.
"Uzumaki…?" the First ventured.
"You think you know more agony than all the tailed beasts put together, or a god himself? You think you know a better way to unite the world in peace than one who did it single-handedly?" Naruto let out a bitter laugh. "You're the naïve one, Uchiha Madara." Naruto grinned as the moon shone behind him. "Do you not know who I am?"
Madara stared at him in silence, gaze wary. Naruto stared back for a long moment, breaking his gaze at last to nod at Sasuke.
"Give up, Madara," the other boy, stepping forward and pressing his katana against the elder's spine. Susanoo's flames licked the edge of Madara's hair. "You know you don't belong in this world."
Madara laughed coldly. "You think you scare me? You are half the Uchiha my brother was, and I never lost to him."
"But I'm not alone," Sasuke said.
"Your time here is up, Madara," Tobirama stated coldly, one hand outstretched and the other against his chest in a one-handed seal.
"Madara… friend…." Hashirama opened his mouth to say more, and finally just rubbed his face wearily with one hand and offered the man a wan smile. "I've given you so many second chances," he sighed. "And now just isn't the time." He leaned back with a small smile. "So let's both go together, eh? Maybe we can find some peace in the next life."
Madara looked between them, one eyebrow cocked incredulously. "You are all missing one thing," he declared, his voice as firm and arrogant as ever.
"Do enlighten us," Sasuke hissed.
"All I have to do-" His eyes pierced into Naruto's unwaveringly – "is kill this boy, and my plan is mere seconds from fruition."
"Your plan is no longer possible!" Naruto argued, before any of the other three could speak. "You are too weak to execute it. The ten-tails is only partial as it is, and you would have no control over it even if you did manage to kill me and rip it from my body. Obito is dead!" Suddenly, a cough racked Naruto's small frame, and blood splattered the sleeve he pressed to his lips. Silence reigned for several long seconds until the Uzumaki lifted his eyes to Madara's again, which focused on the red specks and widened with revelation. "You have no one on your side to seal it into," he whispered. "How exactly will you carry it out?"
"If you die," Madara replied, and he was pressed against Naruto's side, his sword run through his heart, his lips against his ear, "the beast is released, and it kills all of your companions. And when everyone is dead… then the world will know peace."
"I thought you said Obito was childish," Naruto coughed out. "And here you are. Just like him."
Sasuke ripped Madara away from Naruto with a ragged scream as Tobirama and Hashirama both ran him through instantly, faces grim. The man disappeared in a flurry of ash as the Edo Tensei was released, and Sasuke looked between the two Hokages, expression unreadable. "You, and the Third. Go. You don't belong here either." Without waiting to see if they obeyed his order, he ran to Naruto's side, black eyes glued to the weapon stuck clean through him, breath coming hard.
"Don't even, Dobe," he warned, oddly echoing Naruto's earlier words.
Naruto just smiled at him and pulled the sword out of his chest as calmly as he could. "Don't worry, Sasuke," he said. "I can't die just yet."
Sasuke's pale lips turned up in a small smile, his face looking unused to the expression. "I knew it. You'll heal. You won't die. You're too good for that."
"I said not yet," Naruto breathed. He stuck two fingers into the hole in his chest, the blood coating his fingers and his jumpsuit, turning his cloak an eerie shade of red. He bent over and started sketching on the ground, his movements jerky and breath starting to shorten. Sakura was suddenly at his side, but he stepped away from her eager hands.
"I need this blood, Sakura," he teased. "You can't heal me right now." He dipped his finger in again and kept writing.
"What the hell are you planning, Naruto?" Sasuke growled. Susanoo dissipated, and he sheathed his sword, kneeling down to be at eye-level with the blonde. "Look at me." Naruto ignored him and kept working on his seal.
"Stop drawing!" Sakura yelled, hands on her hips. "Stop… stop being an idiot! I don't care what you're thinking!"
"Oh, come on guys." Naruto rolled his eyes at them, the light purple sad and resigned and still somewhat pleased. "You know I don't think or plan." He grinned crookedly. "Not really." With a flourish, he drew the last line.
"What is that seal? What are you-!"
"It's been fun," Naruto sighed, standing and stepping inside the intricate circle of blood. "But this is the only way the tailed-beasts won't kill you all as soon as this wound gets to me." He chuckled, the laugh spilling blood on his shirt. "Damn, these clothes are filthy. Wash 'em for me like a good girlfriend, eh Sakura?" He winked at the pinkette, whose expression was so horrified Naruto actually titled his head in concern. "What? No slap for calling you that?"
"Naruto." Sasuke's voice came out choked, and the Uzumaki turned to him, disbelieving at the emotion. "I can't believe you're doing this. You need to be Hokage."
"You two will have to battle that one out, I'm afraid," Naruto sighed teasingly. His expression grew serious, and he mumbled, "This is really for the best of everyone."
"What the fuck, Naruto!" Sasuke yelled, his expression torn between fury and anguish. "You can't just do this!"
Naruto reached up to rub cloudy purple eyes tiredly, beaming at them both through the filth on his tan face. "Bye guys. Tell everyone I'm sorry I couldn't protect them any other way."
"You're the goddamn Sage of Six Paths, Naruto!" Sakura screamed, tears streaming down her face. "Don't do this! You can make it!"
"You're the healer, Sakura." Naruto looked her in the eye, expression loving and tinged in regret. "Don't lie to me."
"Naruto…" Sasuke reached out as if to touch his arm, pulled his hand back, stared silently, swallowed hard. Nodded, and stepped back. He looked at away. His voice was quiet. "Thanks."
The blonde nodded back. "Take care of Konoha, you two. Be good. And… well, you know the rest."
He closed his eyes as he felt himself slipping away, so he didn't have to watch their reactions. He wished he didn't have to leave, really, but he had known he would since the Shinigami was pierced and his father revived. He wished he could have been strong enough to fight Madara, but he had known since he had stolen the ten-tails and the title of its Jinchuuriki from him that the odds weren't in his favor. He truly wished he could have been Hokage. But then, he had never really been cut out for the job. He was a jailer; it was all he had ever been. He had been born one, and he had died one. It wasn't his place to run away from who he was.
And besides, he was only a genin.
Only a genin, he thought, though he couldn't gather the energy to be bitter about it as his soul was drained away, feeling only peaceful emptiness. Would have been nice to die a hero.