Naruto Fan Fiction!
"A Song for Them"
A/N: Finally, we made it. the end of the Chūnin exams are here.
DISCLAIMER: I own nothing. Nope.
WARNING! RATED M! Warnings for graphic depictions of Violence and Gore and imagery some might find to be disturbing!
Chapter Fifty-Seven: "circum venire II"
"The longer you live, the more you will realize that the only things that truly exist in this reality are merely pain, suffering, and futility." -Uchiha Madara
I pressed myself against the tree, breath coming up short. I could feel a strain in my limbs, hands shaking from exertion. A cut stung my shoulder. If I had been a second slower it could've cost me my arm. Or my life.
From around the corner I could sense Gaara thrashing through the forest as he searched for me, tearing through tree trunks as if they were nothing but weeds. Half of his body had shifted, and the sand took on an inhuman shape. He was starting to look like an actual monster.
"COME OUT FROM WHERE YOU'RE HIDING AND FACE ME!" He roared, voice deeper and strained. He sounded nearly feral. "What happened to your intent! Aren't you here to kill me?! Well?! Show yourself, Uchiha Sasuke!"
As if taunting me would draw me out so easily.
I needed a plan of attack. I've already used the Chidori once and only had one more before I hit my limit. Meanwhile this guy has only gotten faster. Stronger too. I managed to break through the sand barrier, but that only seemed to piss him off. I have to be careful, otherwise I risk running out of chak—
"You know what it's like, don't you? The pain of isolation?" I stopped, ears prickling. "You know it is the greatest pain in this world… you have the same eyes as me, Uchiha Sasuke. Eyes that crave strength, spilling over with hatred and the intent to kill. Come at me! Test the purpose of your existence!"
My blood had gone cold. Visions of that night beginning to flash before my eyes, the smell of smoke and ash and blood filling my senses. My eyes began to burn in my skull. I gripped the tree to ground myself, to not get lost in the memories. I breathed deeply to reign in my erratic heartbeat.
Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!
I shut my eyes, but the red glow of his Sharingan was burned into my mind. Not for the first time I could feel the blood of Mom and Dad's bodies sticking to my hands even though I knew it wasn't. The taste of vomit sitting in the back of my throat even though I cleared it. The sight of the Red Moon in the sky as it illuminated the slaughter of every member of our clan, every man, woman and child. Even the ones younger than me. Over and over and over—
I hissed a breath through my teeth, digging my nails into my palms to ground myself. More than anything, I wanted to kill Itachi for what he did. To do that I needed to gain more power. No matter the methods, or the cost.
Even if I had to sacrifice my own life—my soul. I had to get stronger somehow.
Itachi couldn't be allowed to destroy anymore lives, and every day I struggle in my weakness is another chance he gets to kill another family. To put someone else through the same suffering he put me though. He is an evil of this world that cannot be allowed to exist. As the last of his blood, I knew what my purpose was…
I inhaled deeply, letting out a slow breath. Heart calm, steady.
I am his executioner.
When I opened my eyes again, Gaara was there. My heart stopped in my chest, I did even sense him—A wild grin disfigured the side of his face.
"Those are the eyes."
My chakra flared on instinct and I forced it through my feet, leaping up just as he swiped forward. Snapping the tree I was against in half. I kicked against the debris and propelled myself away, surprised when he didn't immediately pursue.
He swung his arms out, frenzied suddenly. "COME! SHOW ME YOUR HATRED! LET'S FIND OUT WHO IS WORTHY OF EXISTING!"
I performed the handsigns and sucked in a breath, chakra turning to lightning at my fingertips. The scream of electricity filled my ears and my vision sighted on him. The Sharingan caught the twitch in the muscles of his leg, a breath escaping him, before he launched into the air. My body knew what to do on instinct.
Running forward with my arm locked in front of me, my Sharingan continued to calculate his movements; to catch any last minute feints. My eyes inform my body how to move before I get hit.
I didn't even register the clash until I was on the other side, and Gaara's laughter was ringing out in the air.
"I finally get it! I understand why I'm enjoying myself so much," I turned, looking over my shoulder as my muscles shook from exertion. I deactivated my Sharingan to conserve chakra. "HAHAHA! If I can kill the one that can wound me, and rob him of all that he is then I'll feel even more alive than ever!"
So that didn't take him down? Damn it. That was my second shot. He had to be feeling some sort of exhaustion by now, right?
"Hahaha—More!" he howled. "Give me more!"
The sand on his body morphed, growing larger. It split—A tail? Really? He's got a tail now? I didn't have time to process it before he was rearing back on the branch, shouting. I reactivated my Sharingan just in time to read his movements and throw myself into the air.
He got even faster.
Debris from the branch he tore through pelted me, causing me to grit my jaw in pain as I tried to keep my eyes on his movements. I secured my footing on the underside of a tree, watching as he began to wind up again using his sand limbs.
I barely had time to react even when I could predict his path. Seriously, without the Sharingan I would've been dead already.
He launched into the air with another roar and my hands flew into seals, fire licked my throat and a fireball engulfed him. I saw the sand come up to shield him. Damn it. Fire didn't work, so Chidori really was my only option. I tried to dodge but he was going to reach me first. I raised my arms to block his attack as a giant claw flew towards me, bracing myself for pain.
Instead of being hit, something unexpected happened.
"DYNAMIC—" I looked up at the shout—a blur of green, an orange sandal slammed against his face, cracking it. Sending the Sand nin crashing through multiple trees. "ENTRY!"
Rock Lee landed on a branch below me, then he looked up and flashed a grin. I had the sudden sense I was reliving a memory.
"You again." I sighed, lowering my block and dismounting to land beside him. My body ached as I did, muscles strained. I didn't allow myself to show it though. I glanced towards the wreckage of trees.
Lee kicked him pretty far, but I had a sinking feeling it would give only seconds to breathe before he was back and even more pissed. Had to come up with a plan to put him down, and soon.
"Excuse me for cutting into your battle, Sasuke-kun, but it looked as if you were in need of some assistance."
I grimaced instead of answering him, rubbing my left arm. "What are you even doing here? Why aren't you at the arena with the others."
"Oh! It was due to Sora-san's diligent tracking! We followed you soon after the fighting broke out. Sora-san was worried that you would find yourself with an overwhelming opponent." The trees began to break, debris being thrown into the air as he moved. He was already on his way back. Lee frowned. "It appears she was right to be concerned…"
So that idiot was somewhere around here too, huh? Figures she'd try to get as close to the place she was most likely to get killed.
Gaara leapt up into the trees with a feral roar, spit sliding down his jaw and both eyes had turned black and yellow. Half of his face, the half with a foot imprinted on it, was a sandy shell that was repaired in front of my eyes. Armor?
I activated my Sharingan and got another look at him. There had been a layer of thick chakra over his skin that I had dismissed earlier, but maybe there was something deeper to how his sand shielded him.
"Someone else to die? Fine." he growled, but he didn't launch again. He remained seated, scrutinizing us. So he wasn't all mindless beast under there, huh? "Let's see how you can entertain me…"
"Be careful," I mutter, "That sand is acting like a shield, and it responds on its own separate from him. He also has some sort of armor covering his skin."
"I see, thank you Sasuke-kun. I wonder if that armor will interfere with these, then?" Lee pulled something out of the front of his jumpsuit, a handful of papers with ink scrawled on them. "Sora-san said these will render an opponent unconscious after placing it on their head. I believe she gave these to me with the intention of using them on," his gaze flickered uneasily over the slobbering half-beast. "…Gaara-san."
I took a tag from him, I narrowed my eyes and my Sharingan spun. I confirmed that the handwriting, the chakra signature laced in the ink. Instant knockout, huh? That would be helpful considering I didn't have many options at this point.
"His strength and speed is just as monstrous as he looks, and he seems to just be getting stronger." I say. "Taijutsu is nearly ineffective at this point. I've only been able to wound him using ninjutsu."
"Ineffective, you say? How?"
"The sand covers his body takes all the hits for him, it's like a shell now." I glanced at him. "Unless you think you can attack faster than that sand can move?"
Rather than answer, Lee bent over and pulled his leg warmers down, revealing a set of… weights? He's been wearing weights under that the entire time?
Gaara took that moment and charged. I shouted at Lee to warn him to move and dodge to the left. I looked back to see who he followed and saw Lee holding out his weights, facing Gaara head on.
I shouted, "What are you doing?! Move!"
Lee stood still, took a breath, and released the weights. The second they touched the ground, a cloud of dust erupted into the air and created a smokescreen. Gaara had stopped short, and there was a moment where my mind slowed to process what I'd seen, and in those few seconds I realized that before the dust cloud… Lee had disappeared.
I steadied myself against the tree. What the hell.
"Leaf hurricane!" His voice came from above.
It was so fast I couldn't even track it with my Sharingan. I saw him only for a brief moment before he was attacking from another side, catching Gaara defenseless. Again and again, he continued to move at unbelievable speeds.
In between the moments he was visible, I could see what had happened. Somehow there was a surge of chakra flowing through Lee's body now, like he had unlocked it from some inner well somehow.
Had Lee been holding back all this power since the beginning?
Suddenly, I felt all the aches in my muscles at once. Even after a month of non-stop training, even after thinking I had reached the same level… this shows just how far I was from even competing. I clenched my fist.
There was still such a gap between us, I wonder if I could close it.
I thought the battle was finished, then Lee was hit. Blocking it with his arms, but it was a solid hit. My Sharingan spun, readjusting, he shouldn't have gotten hit just then. He was moving too fast to have been — Lee was slowing down. The chakra fueling him was beginning to fade and now he was quickly losing the advantage he held.
He wasn't dodging attacks at this point, just blocking them. His movements were sluggish. Was this a drawback from that sudden burst of power? If this kept up, he wasn't going to last.
I reached into my bag, pulling a spool of wire and the rest of my explosive tags, tying them off. My eyes were beginning to burn from overuse but I pushed through it to keep track of Gaara's movements. Timing it against their movements, I forced my legs to move and wrapped cord around the trees. Kunai wrapped with small scale explosive tags, I launched two towards Gaara's back and his tail caught them.
A fucking tail. This is insane.
The tags exploded, contained by the sand. No damage, but Gaara turned his gaze to me. I tightened the wire around my fists as he slammed Lee against a tree, pinning him against it with a glob of sand.
"A mistake, Uchiha Sasuke." A hideous grin stretched his face, "Should've ran away and saved yourself when you had the chance."
I scoffed, "I'm not going anywhere."
He came at me fast and I pulled the wire. The net closed in around his body, straining around the trees surrounding us. I levered him into the air, suspended. He struggled violently, but it only served to send the wire cutting into the sand deeper. Now I just needed to tie it off and I can use the tag to—
The wires snapped.
The seconds slowed in my mind and I went through my options. Gaara had caught himself and was already on his way again.
My Taijutsu is useless. Katon jutsu didn't work. My chakra is running too low. I've already used two Chidori and I'm at my limit. Even if I could, what would it accomplish? It would only slow him down for a moment. Not unless I hit something vital enough to take him down in one shot.
"As it is now, you only have enough chakra to emit two chidori per day." Kakashi explained, praising me for being able to do just that much. It still grated on me. Two strikes wasn't much when up against a supposed living legend like one of the Sannin.
"What would happen if I try to put out more than two?"
"The third one won't start, and listen up! Not only will the jutsu fail to take form but you'll also drain your chakra to nothing. Sasuke, if you're not careful, you might die."
"DIE UCHIHA SASUKE!"
What options do I even have? Die if I do, die if I don't.
At least that makes things easier.
Aim for a vital spot, then. They were... Liver, lungs, spine, carotid vein, brain, kidney, heart. Any of those would work. I felt the flare of chakra burst out from my fingertips, sending currents of vibration through my hand and along my arm. The wound on my palm bubbled and seared closed as electricity coated my hand. My Sharingan ached in my skull as it tracked his movements, predicting his path and trajectory.
I jumped to intercept him, aiming for his heart.
While I was in the air, my vision flickered black and there was a shock of pain that caused my muscles to seize. Then, it was as if a hole opened up in my stomach and sucked away all my strength and left only pain.
My body gave out on me.
I heard as the jutsu shorted out and faded, dying. I cursed and tried to move, to dodge the attack that was still headed for me, but my body didn't respond. There was only a seizing pain that shot through my bones. My limbs turned to dead weight. Ears ringing, skull throbbing.
I was falling through the air.
My vision was blacking in and out.
So, this was the true extent of my abilities.
I would die here, my own body betraying me, and Itachi would live the rest of his days without being punished for his crimes.
I lost all sensation.
I felt nothing anymore.
Maybe, I will finally be able to rest…
…Sorry, you guys.
"The Third Gate of Life! Open!"
The first thing I realized was that my face was pressed against the side of a tree. I opened my eyes. Lights blinded me. The second thing I realized was that someone had saved me. I struggled to focus my vision.
"The Fourth Gate, the Gate of Pain: Open!"
I was still alive, and Lee was standing over me. His chakra had turned into a suffocating pressure, something even more intense than Gaara's. There was an even further level of power that he could reach? But that meant—
"I WILL STOP YOU HERE! FIFTH GATE OF CLOSING: OPEN."
His body is going to tear itself apart.
I was paralyzed by pain, unable to do anything but watch as Lee began to fight again. He pushed Gaara's attack back, overwhelming him with speed and power that I couldn't hope to track without my Sharingan. I tried to move. I tried to lift even my arm but I could not control anything, barely able to keep the darkness from entering my field of vision.
I was helpless to save myself when the tree under me was broken apart by their fight. The tree was falling. I was falling. I was going to be crushed. I— why am I always so helpless. Why can't I—
Lee was here again. Grabbing me, moving me, saving me. He set me safely against a tree. Saving me again. He stopped fighting Gaara and I wanted to scream. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. Never turn your back on an enemy. No, now the both of us were going to—
Gaara was behind him this time.
"Stop—" The sand covered his legs, an arm. Lee wasn't fast enough this time. Too slow. "Getting in my way."
The sand turned red.
His legs, his arms—
There was a loud ringing in my skull. I didn't feel my body as I pushed myself up— falling down, failing. I just keep failing.
Lee's body went limp in Gaara's grip, his chakra died out, his eyes closed and he didn't open them again.
I dragged my arm to push myself up. I had to help him. I had to save him.
The sand closed around his head. Stop it, no.
Please stop it. Please, no. Not again.
A wall of smoke erupted off to the side, followed by a rush of dozens of bodies dogpiling on top of Gaara. A mountain of orange. I thought I was hallucinating as Naruto screamed, but then Sora was there. She brought up a barrier next to Lee, cutting off the arm of sand and freeing him safely inside.
Shikamaru was grabbing my arm, picking up my weight and pulling me over his shoulder as Chōji in his cannonball form bulldozed through the wall of clones and sent Gaara into the ground, spinning and grinding, sending sand flying in all directions. When he shrunk and leapt away, Gaara was laying in the middle of a crater.
They actually came.
"Is… Is he still alive?"
There were six of them now.
A group of clones sat in the trees over my head. The fat one and the shadow-user were hiding with Uchiha Sasuke, standing over his weakened body with a mutt. And the other ones…
"Naruto! Cover Sora and help move Lee!"
That girl was here. The one from before. She was holding the Taijutsu-user as she shielded him.
I don't understand.
Why did they keep coming? Why won't they scream and run away! And they keep trying to… protect each other. Even Kankūro, he—Why don't they understand it's pointless to protect others.
They are so weak and stupid.
I don't understand.
"…you only need to fight for yourself and love yourself."
"AH! HE'S STILL ALIVE 'TTEBAYO!"
Mother, please… help me kill them all.
This wasn't going according to any plan.
The sunlight outside the barrier was blocked out, leaving me in a darkness lit only by the dim lights of my Fūinjutsu formula. Sand covered us at all sides, surrounded, engulfed. Swallowed whole. All of it. Gaara was trying to crush the walls of the barrier to kill us. Specifically me or Lee, I didn't know.
That thing I mentioned before? With the 'not being able to handle attacks from all sides' thing? That was what was happening right now. Within minutes I wouldn't be able to keep feeding it chakra and he was going to break through and finish what he started with Lee—
Oh god, Lee.
He was laying behind me, unconscious. Broken and bloody. Arms and legs in broken little bits that I couldn't put back together. Worse than he should have been. Should have not been this bad. Would have been better if I hadn't existed.
I breathed slowly to try and not panic. I had to maintain a constant, calm flow of chakra to keep the barrier up. My body was trembling. Waves of pain rolled through my body, currents of hot lightning that wanted to fry the blood in my veins.
The seal was weakening.
I'd used up too much chakra today. If I pushed it much more, then I was going to break the seal and activate the curse mark. I could feel it, burning and fizzing at the edges.
I had to do something. Something, something, anything—
My body froze, paralyzed. My heart pounded in my chest, fear snaked up my spine. What? What? My hands began signing on their own, and then I felt it. The pull, the chakra strung onto mine that came from outside—Shikamaru! Oh thank god—I had no idea his jutsu could reach me like this. But, I am covered in shadows at the moment, aren't I?
'Status?' he asked, using my hands. The paralysis weakened, allowing me to sign back. That crafty bastard.
'Green down. Both alive. Chakra almost empty.'
I thought for a moment, about what immediately needed to happen. The barrier was going to come down any minute now. There was no way to secure the walls with anymore chakra. Gaara needed to be distracted so he wouldn't immediately kill Lee and I— whatever Naruto and Choūji were doing wasn't enough from the outside to give any reprieve. So…
The barrier needed to come down.
A plan was forming in my mind, priorities setting. Needed to get Lee to safety. Needed an opening to distract Gaara, then save Lee. I couldn't use too much chakra, so I had to bank on a distraction tactic I had planned for someone else.
I signed back to Shika, 'Need opening. Get sand off. Come search leaves.'
'Roger' he signed, and I could sense a tinge of frustration that came from him. He didn't like the vagueness of my requests but neither of us had time for an explanation at the moment.
This Idea Of Yours Is Peak Stupidity she whispered to me, I'm Surprised That You Still Had New Heights Yet To Reach
I grimaced. She wasn't entirely wrong, but at the same time she could honestly shove it. It's not like this plan was new - technically I was borrowing parts of it from something else - so I'll just treat this like a test run.
The jutsu released and I moved towards Lee, gently lifting his undamaged shoulder to move him. I gasped when his hand gripped my forearm suddenly. A broken hand on my arm. In a panic I checked his face, but his eyes were glassy, unconscious.
"Sora… san." he whispered. Guilt bubbled up in my throat but I swallowed it down to focus on protecting him as well as I could now. I couldn't let myself get distracted by pointless regrets now. I can kick myself about my naïveté once everyone was safe and made it out of this alive.
I covered Lee's hand with mine.
Lee… I am so sorry. But I will make sure you make it out of this to get better one day, and I will do everything in my ability to make sure of that.
Damn it! Why are we hiding back here behind a tree when Sora-chan is in trouble! My clones can't even put a scratch on him and he already hit Choūji pretty bad when we tried to push him off the barrier the first time.
He looked like a total monster now. Both his arms and his face were sandy and there was something about his eyes… they almost looked — Gah! No! I can't be thinking about that right now! Sora-chan was in danger! We needed to focus on getting Sora-chan and Bushy Brows and then getting the hell out of here.
There was just no way we could beat him. Even Sasuke couldn't win against him, and with what he already did to Bushy Brows—
I was scared, okay?
I was scared he was going to kill one of my friends.
"Damn woman." Shikamaru muttered, I looked over at him. He rubbed his head and started going through his pockets.
I leaned over next to him, "Hey, does Sora-chan have a plan?"
He grimaced, "Maybe. We don't have long though and need to make a big enough distraction to pull Gaara off her. Show me what you've all got for tools."
Pakkun raised a paw, "All I can offer is my supple paws—"
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Shikamaru grouched, fishing out some ninja wire.
Choūji held his hurt arm next to his chest and started pulling out some shuriken and set them on the tree branch. I pat my pockets, wondering what I had that could help. I just had some tags, some shuriken and kunai. What did I have that could seriously help out…
"Oh!" I jumped up, "Wait, I can summon the Boss and he can help us out!"
"What boss—" Shikamaru tried to say something but I bit my thumb and did the handsigns, focusing a bunch of chakra and—poof!
The smoke cleared, but instead of the big boss frog it was a—?! "W-What the hell? What is this puny frog?!"
The little red bastard scowled at me, "Huaaa? Who're you callin' puny, shrimp?!"
"Ugh! You know, I'm really startin' to hate you frogs, yanno!?"
"Hey! Don't disrespect amphibians, ya brat!"
Shikamaru slapped his hand against his face, "Idiots."
"Here, I have these." We all looked back at Sasuke. I was surprised he could speak. He was looking pretty bad though. He was leaned up against the tree, a shaky arm holding out his pouch while the other clutched his side. "There's wire and some explosive tags left over."
Shikamaru took it and looked through it, I looked back at Sora-chan's barrier. Sand kept hitting it over and over and that bad feeling in my gut got worse.
"What's this?" Shikamaru pulled out a tag, holding it up.
"It's one of Sora-chan's big storage seals." I answered. Then I frowned, that writing was different from the normal ones. "But it's…"
Sasuke spoke up, "It's got water in it. You aim it and it shoots a torrent of water in front. She called it a waterfall seal or something stupid."
Shikamaru made a face, "What—No, I'm not even going to ask why. Her weird ideas are gonna come in handy this time. Naruto, do you have any high-charge tags on you?"
"Yeah! Right here, Sora-chan's special red-ink ones!"
"I thought you were banned from having those?" Sasuke muttered.
"Shuddup," I told him. Like now was the time to be mentioning that, damn bastard.
"Hey, focus! I'm explaining the plan now." Shikamaru handed me a kunai, a bunch of the explosive tags wrapped around the handle. "Stick this in Gaara somewhere vulnerable. Under his arms, in his neck, back of the knees. Just make sure it's not obvious. I'll try to restrain him with my shadows, but I'll be honest, I don't think you'll have more than a couple seconds."
"Don't worry about Gaara, I can handle him myself 'ttebayo! Just get Sora-chan safe, okay? She already wasn't looking too good when we got here." I told him.
Shikamaru stared at me, "You sure?"
I held the kunai tight in my hands, nodding. "Yeah, I got this."
The sooner everyone was away from Gaara, the sooner everyone was safe. If anyone had to get hurt, it was better it was me. I could handle it.
He nodded, "Alright then. Choūji, after Gaara's off the barrier and it's down, we're gonna go get Lee and Sora, Naruto you come back for Sasuke and we all get the hell outta here and back home. Everyone got that?"
"What… about me?" Sasuke pushed himself up to stand, but he was pale and sweating. He really looked ready to pass out at any second. "I'm not gonna just sit around and be dead weight."
"Are you an idiot, ya bastard!? You can't even stand up right!" I snapped.
Shikamaru pinched his nose, "You're staying here, I can't believe I have to say this—"
"Sasuke-san, you really need to conserve your energy." Choūji was the nicest and set his good hand on Sasuke's shoulder.
"Shikamaru-kun's come up with a good plan," Pakkun added, "And we still need to retreat after it's pulled off. That'll be easier done if you don't have to be carried back."
Sasuke scowled but he didn't argue. Good.
"So are we all clear?" Shikamaru asked. We each gave our agreements, even Sasuke gave a quiet nod of agreement. "Let's move."
I placed the kunai between my teeth and crossed my hands, summoning up a handful of clones. We all jumped up, drawing Gaara's attention. Distraction, gotta be a big distraction to be able to help Sora-chan.
Gaara bared his teeth. "You're still here? I thought you all had run off like rats."
"Hah, you wish! We'd never leave a friend behind, now get ready! Here we come!" I shouted, and we launched at him. "Ladies and Assholes, we now proudly bring you a most secret and special technique! The Uzumaki Naruto Shadow Clone Body Slam!"
Three clones went in front of me, blocking his hand. Another grabbed the collar of my jacket—"Now!" "Roger!"—I was thrown up and over, out of his reach. I met his yellow eyes as he looked up at me, he snarled as he finally stopped blasting sand at the barrier and lifted the other hand to get me. Another clone, I jumped off its shoulders and jumped over Gaara, making another clone to jump off of so I could strike him. He couldn't stop me this time. I had him!
"Take this!" I swung the kunai, "Kakashi-sensei's specialty! Konoha's most sacred technique: One-Thousand Years of Pain!"
I stuck it right up his ass, vulnerable just like Shikamaru wanted! That's how you—SMACK!—I was sent flying, my ears ringing from the hit, I barely managed to tuck my body into a ball before the tags went off.
I closed my eyes to protect them but I felt the heat of the explosion on my skin, and the aftershock of the tag sent me going even farther. I braced myself for a hard landing. And—my back hit something, and someone grunted behind me. I looked over my shoulder and grinned.
I rolled my neck. Damn, my face hurts. "Ya just can't let anyone else have the spotlight, huh bastard?"
"Shut up," he groaned. "I can still crack your skull myself, loser."
Sand exploded into the air, and Gaara was yelling again. This time he seemed to be in some real pain. I squinted my eyes and I could see his tail was drooping, falling off in clumps. At the same time, a blast of water slammed into his face, throwing him against a tree.
I pumped my fist, "Nice one!"
The sand was gone so the barrier could finally come down and— Big brows? I blinked, and narrowed my eyes in case I wasn't seeing straight. Lee jumped out instead. But, where was Sora-chan?
Sasuke leaned on my shoulder to look, "Is that Lee?"
He jumped across to look down at Gaara from a tree. From the grounds it didn't look like he was moving anymore. Lee turned and whistled back to where Shikamaru was, giving him a thumbs up.
"What's Big Brows think he's doin'?! Wasn't he hurt earlier?"
"That's impossible. He shouldn't be able to even stand." Sasuke muttered. I looked back and he scowled as he used his Sharingans. His eyes widened. "That's—that's not Lee."
"Whaddya mean?!" I yelled. "Who else would it—"
She turned to us and waved, signing. 'Let's go home'
A huge fist of sand shot up.
She jumped at the last second, but the tree she was on busted apart. Gaara was up again and swinging like crazy. I was already running to try and help, summoning my clones. He was cornering her when we all jumped at Gaara at once. I wasn't gonna let him hurt her—!
He shot out a blast of air, sending me flying back with all the clones. I slammed against a tree and hit my head; everything got dizzy. I tried to stand back up— I fell and landed working on another tree. My arm really hurt. My head was throbbing and it made it hard to think through the ringing. I spit. Bleh, could taste blood in my mouth.
"Sora!" That was Sasuke's voice, he sounded so far away… wait, I had to get back to the fight, didn't I? I had to help Sora-chan, she was in trouble!
My shoulder really hurt, but I jumped up back to my feet and ran back over to where I heard Sasuke and I—my eyes widened, and I felt like my stomach hit the ground. Gaara had Sora-chan pinned to a tree, her henge of Lee was gone and his giant hand wrapped around made her look like she was a toy.
My breath came up short, like I couldn't fill my lungs. My hands were shaking. I remembered what happened in the forest, how scared I was. I was scared again. I was scared of her closing her eyes and not waking back up again.
I hadn't told Sora-chan that I had been scared after we'd been attacked by that snake guy. I didn't tell her I was afraid she wasn't gonna wake up again. I was the Hero, and heroes don't get scared, right?
But I'm so, so scared of her dying.
I stood across from Gaara and my shoulder had stopped hurting. I felt something hot spread from my gut and fill me, I could breathe again. I couldn't stop thinking of anything but Sora-chan's face when she was facing that snake, how scared she must've been.
I won't let that happen again.
"If you hurt her I'll kill you."
He looked at me and laughed, he—his hand squeezed so hard the tree began to crack. Sora-chan's mouth opened, she was in pain—
"Well? I thought you said you were going to kill me."
My vision was fading fast. Too unfocused, too much blood lost.
I have to stay standing.
I pushed myself up with one arm, clinging to the wall for stability. My other wrist was locked stiff, the only reason I was still able to hold onto my sword. I couldn't even feel the rest of my arm. He tore apart multiple tendons with that jutsu of his.
I can't fall here.
Yakushi was looking out at the arena. Completely disregarding me as a threat anymore. He muttered something to himself but I couldn't hear it. Blood pounding too loud in my ears. I pressed my shoulder to the wall and touched my ribs. Several lacerations. I can't mold my chakra to knit the flesh, I can't focus enough. Could barely manage a breath.
"It seems my stay is up," he said suddenly. He turned around to face me, his back against the light. His hands began to glow with chakra again. "I must be going now, but thank you for the spar, Uzuki-san. It was truly a pleasure."
I was going to miss dinner with Hayate.
My pulse pounded in my ears but it was overtaken by a ringing and I couldn't remain up, sliding to the ground. Yakushi reached out towards me and suddenly, his arm fell to the ground, leaving behind a crimson arc of blood.
My eyes couldn't keep up with the next movements, too fast and my vision was failing me, but one thing was clear; Yakushi was being driven back. I wanted to feel relief but I could only feel a slow numbness growing from my fingers along my skin.
The arm lied still on the ground in front of me, slowly pooling in its own blood. There were shouts that forced me to look up - when had my eyes fallen? - and it was— it was—Hayate.
There was blood painting his face. His hand trembled as it touched my cheek, a touch so soft I couldn't feel it. They felt warm, which was funny. His hands were always so clammy instead. My eyes traveled over his shoulder, searching for threats - for Yakushi - because we were not safe. Not yet. There was still a war going on and still threats… and I… I had to…
"He's gone," Hayate answered, voice hoarse. His hands were so warm, so nice. "He fled, and so did most of the invaders left standing. Soon the medics will arrive and you'll be okay too, okay? Yūgao, hey— Yūgao!"
I don't know where he came from.
We were supposed to be in a secure area. The jōnin told us we could operate the triage center here and they would secure the perimeter, so why—One second I had been administering first-aid to a chūnin that had multiple lacerations across his chest, then there had been two explosions of some sort coming from the arena, and then… then…
A man was standing over me now.
His figure seemed to blot out all the light. Long black hair and dirty red armor. Pale, cracked skin. It was as if he wasn't human but an old, broken doll. But his eyes were the most frightening thing about him… his sclera were black with a spinning wheel in the center, glowing red against the shadows of his sharp face.
I couldn't move.
Why couldn't I move.
"A child in the middle of a war zone," he sighed, voice deep and filled with disappointment. His eyes seem to stare beyond me, and through the man bleeding under my hands. "So many years of fighting, so many sacrifices—and for what? To repeat the same cycle of death and destruction generations later… how shameful."
The wheels spun slowly as they returned to me. To my chakra laden hands, specifically. My chakra was still repairing the most life-threatening wound of the chūnin, only a couple seconds more and then the rest could be treated with hasty gauze and antibacterial spray.
Or, I would have.
His arms were crossed over his chest plate and he tilted his head as he began to examine me, long dark hair a curtain moving to steal away even more sunlight.
His presence was unlike anything I'd ever felt before. I remained rooted in place, knees against the floor, grounded by an unspeakable instinct that was warning me of terrible danger. A sickening chill in my spine that caused my hands to tremble.
This man was Death.
"Medical ninjutsu?" he hummed. "A tedious labor requiring a decisive hand, yet your palms are bare of callus and scar. Is this a product of Konoha's education? Or has medical theory simply advanced to the point even a weak girl is capable of performing such?"
My mind spared a thought for why he was speaking so strangely, a vague sense of indignation prickled along my skin, but a blur to the side stole my breath away as Ino jumped up to stab the man in the neck.
She had broken into a sprint before I realized and she was in the air, kunai in hand, ready to strike down into his back—and before she could attack, he turned and grabbed her out of the air like it was nothing. My heart seized in my chest as she was dangled in the air, my body making an instinctive jerk to stand up. Yet my legs still wouldn't move.
The man held her by her ponytail, suspended and looking unperturbed by the attack. Her kunai clattered to the ground and her fingers crossed over each other in a sign—wait, that was her clan technique. Was she going to try to swap with him?! But she's too close! He's not restrained! It was too dangerous—
It was too late.
Her body sagged like a limp doll in his grasp, blue eyes falling shut. Did… did it fail? Or did her jutsu work? I looked up at the Man's face, his irises faded into a dull white. And for a moment I thought Ino's plan had succeeded.
Then the red wheel spun again.
"Ino—" my voice was silenced by a sigh from the man.
"Well, I can rule out Konoha's higher education, it seems. Only fools would attack an opponent so recklessly." he lifted his arm, raising her face in front of his. "Perhaps your gamble would have worked on a lesser man. But, the fates were not on your side this day, little Yamanaka."
No, not Ino.
In a flash I saw her dead body in my mind, her head twisted the wrong way and her mouth open. Dead. No, not Ino.
I reached forward and grabbed the discarded kunai, standing on numb legs. Red eyes flickered to me and I didn't need to look to know my hands were trembling. I swallowed, shuffling my feet out into a stance.
He narrowed his eyes. "Are you going to make an attempt as well, little girl? Hmph. I suppose there will be presumptuous women in every era."
Have I lost my mind?
"Sakura-san!" someone yelled.
Behind the man was a boy in a coat, eyes hidden beneath round glasses. Wait, I knew him. But why— a black mass of noise and wings suddenly flew from his outstretched hands. He shouted.
My eyes went to Ino and I lurched forward. In one movement I cut the base of Ino's ponytail, freeing her from the man's grasp. Long blonde strands of hair brushed by my cheek, and for a moment I believed Ino would never forgive me for this.
I tackled her body as hundreds of insects buzzed by my ears. My momentum sent us a few feet behind him, I held Ino to my chest to protect her as we rolled away. My head hit the corner of a seat, but she was okay. She was safe. I had gotten her! We'd gotten away!
A hand entered my vision and I looked up into the face of my former classmate, Aburame Shino. Shakily, I took his hand and stood up. My forehead throbbed and something trickled down it, something warm and sticky. Blood.
I wiped the trailing blood away from my brow just as the cloud of insects suddenly burst into flames. Shino let out a horrified gasp beside me, and we both watched as the man emerged from the fire. Completely unscathed.
The man was grinning as he walked forward, his lips sliding crudely along the right side of his face as ashes flickered off his burnt skin. The smell of dust and blood filled my nose. His armor made a soft clank with each of his steps. Red eyes spinning as they danced over the three of us.
Shino stood protectively in front of Ino and I, but there was no way he'd be able to actually defend against an attack from this man.
This man was a monster.
"Heh, at least the newest era isn't filled with spineless drones like I had suspected… But yet, still so underwhelming."
I took a protective stance next to Shino, to protect Ino. Clutching the kunai in my hand all time seemed to stop. All the terror that had been strangling my chest had disappeared, leaving only a hollowness behind. My mind raced, and all of a sudden images of my life were passing before my eyes.
I saw my parents that showered me in affection and supported me. Ino when we were younger, when we were still friends. My Academy days with Sasuke-kun and every time our eyes would meet. All the nights spent pouring over textbooks and tests only to be rejected by some alcoholic jōnin. Meeting Nori-sensei and learning to become a medic. Of asking Sora-senpai to teach me. And then it stopped.
It was too short. There was still so much left to do! I haven't made up with Ino yet! And I haven't gotten to tell Sasuke-kun how I felt— I-I haven't finished Nori-sensei's lessons and I can't even remember the last time I told my parents that I loved them…
I didn't want to die yet.
My vision blurred with tears.
I want to keep living.
The man stopped in front of us.
He reached out a hand.
A blur of green appeared and then the man was sent flying into the wall. I blinked, stunned, as a Konoha Shinobi with a bowl-cut was standing in front of us now, leg upraised in a kick. Was this another monster?
"Terrorizing vulnerable youths is unbefitting the field of combat, even in moments of war, it is the most shameful behavior." he said.
The red-eyed man jumped down from the hole in the wall his body made like it was nothing, a hand brushing the dust and rubble off his shoulder. He wasn't even hurt by that? Really?
The man in green spoke calmly, leveling a hand out in an aggressive posture. "Perhaps you would prefer an opponent on a more equal footing, Shinobi-san."
"That wasn't too bad." Black hair swayed as he tilted his head, looking up with a raised brow. "For a whelp, that is. But you still have a long way to come before you are worthy to stand as an equal to me."
The man in green lifted his chin, but his eyes were lowered. "It is customary to give one's name before exchanging blows. I am known as Konoha's Beautiful Blue Beast! The noble gentleman, Maito Gai."
"Once upon a time it was a sign of great boldness or foolishness to announce one's name so brazenly to an enemy. I wonder which you are."
"I am the man that will put a stop to you before moving onto the next invader so that I will not lose my competition with my Eternal Rival. Now please, I do not have all day."
There was a dry chuckle. "You are a great fool, then. So be it. Perhaps you can give me some entertainment."
I held my breath as the air charged with energy, and I knew that we were going to be in the way. Liabilities. Gai-san would be at a disadvantage because of us. I looked around, at the filled seats with civilians and the too-wounded to move shinobi that filled the triage. If they fought here… a lot of people were going to die.
I exchanged a glance with Shino, and his face showed he was thinking the same thing I was. Then—A tree raised up out of the arena like an arm, and snatched up the red-eyed man and took him away. He laughed just as he disappeared beyond the arena walls.
Suddenly the threat was… gone? Just like that?
Everything was okay now?
Gai-san lifted a hand and scratched his head. He looked back at us, just as surprised.
My legs folded under me, the kunai falling from my trembling hands as a hiccuped sob left my throat. I couldn't stop myself anymore. It was like a dam was broken down and all the fear and panic I held in was flowing out. My chest heaved with sobs and it was getting harder and harder to breathe as I fully descended into a panic attack.
Then the man, Gai-san, he placed a hand on my head and smiled at me. His hand was heavy and warm. He began to guide my breathing, counting and helping me to calm down. My sobs turned to sniffles, but I could breathe again.
"You did very well protecting your comrades, young miss." he told me, patting my head gently. "But I am afraid that the danger is not passed yet. So please, for just a little longer, be strong. For yourself, and for your those whom are depending on you."
He disappeared as fast as he appeared, in a blur of green. When I didn't move, Shino kneeled beside me and held out a handkerchief.
"It's going to be okay, Sakura-san. Why? Because Gai-sensei and the others will not let us come to harm. So we must continue our duties as shinobi."
I looked at the handkerchief, and saw his hand was trembling too.
Shakily, I nodded my head and took the handkerchief from him, using it to wipe the snot, tears and sweat from my face. He helped me to stand and we moved Ino into an empty seat with the other unconscious civilians. I brushed the short blonde hair from her face and quietly prayed that she would be okay.
Then, with Shino helping me with basic first-aid, I went back to work.
I woke up to a ringing in my ears and muffled words I couldn't sort through. It was like pushing through the water to reach the surface; suffocating, desperate, sudden. I opened my eyes to the blinding afternoon sun. No trees to shade me, and that was so slow to register as Bad.
My vision focused in on the mug of a very concerned looking Pakkun, and it looked as if he let out a breath of relief. Couldn't hear. Ringing still too loud. I blinked my eyes slowly and worked my jaw, recalling what happened.
I think, that Gaara tried to kill me? Again. Yeah, suffocation, I'd blacked out this time. Breathing was rough now that I noticed it - oh, but that's a win. I was still breathing - and my ribs were definitely broken this time. Heh, this was not the encounter I was preparing to break some bones while henge'd in but I'd—
My body seized involuntarily. Under the suppressive force of Shukaku's angst I could very much feel and sense Fluffy. That's bad. Wait, how could I sense Kurama right now? What happened.
I tried to sit up, only for Chōji to place a gentle hand on my shoulder, restricting me. Oh he's fine, that's good. He frowned at me, "Hey, hey, you shouldn't move, okay? It's dangerous for you right now."
I barely heard what he said, because over his shoulder I could see the form of the fully unleashed Shukaku. Several times bigger than a building and at his mightiest. He was raging, swiping madly at something, and when his paw hit there was a flare of malignant chakra before sand blasted away. My stomach dropped.
I saw him.
He was using a chakra cloak.
Flesh burning, melting, flaking off into dust. Chakra cloak. I could see it clear as day, a burning red streak of Anger and Pain as he attacked the fully formed Bijū like he stood a chance. And, oh… oh god, there were two tails now. The cloak was transforming and advancing.
No, no-no. This is so wrong. This is all wrong! Naruto can't handle Kurama's power right now. He needs to train; his body— the chakra is going to eat him from the inside out. He can't do this right now. His scream cracked the air, wild, cruel, angry. So much louder than Shukaku's screeches and wrapped in an inhuman tone that was so horrifyingly clear was Kurama's own voice.
I had to stop this.
I pushed myself to my feet—falling. I pressed my hands to the earth and balanced myself, standing in what I realized was a crater. I looked around, realizing the boys were with me. Pakkun, Chōji watched me warily and Shikamaru was by Lee's side, tending to his wounds as well as he could.
And Sasuke, he was watching in silence. Eyes wide and mouth parted, watching as Naruto single-handedly was scaling and fighting a monster.
Shukaku screamed, he said something but it was lost to the crashing of the trees as he trampled through the forest. Naruto had climbed his way onto Shukaku's back now and was streaking towards where Gaara was at the top.
Nononononono - I lurched forward, going to stop him - Shikamaru grabbed me, hand digging into my arm. "What do you think you're doing?! You can't get near that! Do you want to get killed?"
I wasn't the one about to be killed.
The earth shook as Shukaku spun around, fruitlessly trying to swat Naruto down. There was a cloud of dust, and Naruto disappeared into it. The next thing we heard was Shukaku shriek and then—then they both began to fall back to the earth. Gaara's body was limp while Naruto was still screaming with rage. I saw chakra lash out, reaching for Gaara still. He wasn't going to stop. He's gonna keep going even when the fight is over.
Naruto was going to kill him.
Naruto was going to kill Gaara.
As I sat, holding my hands together, praying the water dragons and the blasts of fireballs missed me harmlessly, I had to wonder: Did I do something particularly vile in a past life? I mean, just look at my luck. Surely no one else had to spend their Friday's caught in between the skirmishing of dead and gone Kage, right?
"This experiment has not flourished in the time since our departure, Hashirama." said an intimidating voice from above, standing atop some tree. Lord First was regenerating a nasty hole through his shoulder as that Uchiha sounded like he was going to start monologuing again.
I grimaced suddenly. Life really is stranger than fiction, isn't it? None of my antagonists are ever this chatty.
Sensei and Lord Second interrupted the monologue, pincering the late great Uchiha and I knew my opening was coming up soon. Orochi cut down another clone and cursed colorfully, finally getting frustrated by my tricks. Good. By the time his attention finally set on me, it was too late. I'd gathered up all the chakra I needed.
I felt as my body was filled with a steadiness I rarely found outside of my writing. The world around me came into crystal clarity, and I was suddenly in touch with the earth, the water, even the trees Lord First summoned. I let out a breath as I opened my eyes and found I could see every color on the spectrum of life.
Honestly I hated how it looked, but thankfully there weren't any pretty ladies around to see me at the moment.
Orochimaru's face bent in a sneer, "The power of the Toad Sage… So you're finally done playing around, Jiraiya?"
I smirked. "Oh no, I'm just finishing this up is all."
He didn't hesitate a moment before trying that thousand swords thing on me again. In response I whipped my hair around me in Needle Jizō, hardening it and felt only one sword attack me repeatedly. Heh so they were just clones. The next time it struck, I caught it with my reinforced hair and launched it at the wall of the arena. When it didn't come flying back, I was a bit proud of my earlier speculation on the chakra strings for movement. Meant it wouldn't come flying back.
I didn't get to resume my match with Orochi because King Enma interrupted, landing between us and launching himself at that damn Snake, freeing up my hands to deal with the real undead issues.
Lord First had just picked himself back up just as Sensei took a bad hit, his body dropped into the water. I felt a trail of panic rise up when he didn't resurface. But I couldn't waste this chance he gave me, he'd nag me about it forever if I did. Lord Second used a shear of water to take off a chunk of the Uchiha's torso, and with the addition of Lord First restraining him, I could finally get close.
The seals had already been applied to the backs of Lord First and Second, so there was only one left. I slammed a hand against the red armor of the Uchiha, and I felt the hot stare of the Sharingan on my skin as I pulsed chakra into the formulae. Their corpse bodies were dressed in cerulean writing and their ashen skin began to glow.
Before the seal took hold, Uchiha Madara grabbed ahold of my arm and said something vague and very worrying.
"Enjoy your little games, while you still can, children."
Then the seal activated and the Hokage, Madara Uchiha, and my right arm were gone.
To be honest, I expected to feel some kind of pain but I guess there was just too much adrenaline pumping through me to realize it at the moment. It was a freakishly detached moment as I lifted my now stub of an arm. Gone. From the elbow down.
My heartbeat felt oddly pronounced as the stump began to bleed, pulsing with every thrum of my heart. I yanked off my hitai-ate and tied it around the limb. Damn it all, I changed my mind. I really wish Tsunade was here now. I didn't have time to be grateful for the fact it was the arm I'd lost my fingers on, but I guess there was silver linings in everything. Or maybe that was just me going into shock. Hm, maybe it was that.
My instincts drove me to twist to the side as a wave of snakes were launched up at me. I turned a rueful smile down at Orochimaru. At his feet, King Enma was bound by snakes and bleeding from their fangs. Sensei hadn't come back up yet either. Now I was actually worried.
"Ever the fuckin' opportunist, eh?" I retorted.
Looking like he hadn't taken a scratch yet, Orochi spread his hands. "Unlike yourself, I always took our lessons and used them to their fullest."
"Are you still bragging about being the star student? Do you know how old you are now? Ya gotta have other things in life to be proud of, y'know?"
It was slight, but his brow ticked at being called old and I was never going to let this go now. I landed back on his level, and I could feel the timer ticking down on my Sage Transformation. I was never that good with it, and without Mom or Pop, I could only hold it for so long. I would need to end this in one move and then drag Sensei back to the world of the living.
He lifted an arm and another wave of damned snakes shot out at me, I breathed in, letting out fire to roast them. I could sense him as he came, dashing through the ashes of his attack to try and rip my throat out. I blocked his attack and focused my chakra into my finger tips, drawing it finely across my skin before I slammed my palm against his abdomen.
The formula spread and sunk into his skin, attaching itself to his central chakra system. He screamed bloody murder as he realized what was happening. But it was too late to cry now, his chakra was now blocked within my own personal, Senjutsu-infused version of the Five Elements Seal. I hope he likes trying to undo this little ditty.
To twist the knife, I used Rasengan and slammed him into the floor. Because yes, I might be feeling a little spiteful.
I stumbled back from him, falling to my ass as the Senjutsu chakra dissipated. Orochi was unconscious on the ground and I only had a moment to appreciate the idea of him finally being captured before I had to roll myself into the water in search of Sensei.
When I climbed back atop the water's surface, an unresponsive Sarutobi-sensei under my good arm, Orochimaru was gone.
I had no strength left in my body. The transformation had taken the last of my chakra, and now I was defenseless. As I laid on the ground, unable to even move or use my sand, I realized… This was the extent of my existence. I am finally going to die, here, in some stupid forest so far away from the dunes.
Killed by someone like me.
I don't understand.
What did I do wrong, mother? Why was everything against me from the start, the world and everyone in it hating me? Why did I have to suffer this pain inside for so long?
Why couldn't I have just died with Yashamaru?
The demon with blonde hair roared as he found me, and I didn't feel fear as he came to kill me. I didn't feel anything but this old, familiar pain in my bones. I closed my eyes and waited for the pain to finally stop…
Mother, if I see you again, I wonder if you'll welcome me…?
A harsh wind stirred up suddenly, and there was someone with me now.
"Gaara! Are you alive?! Wake up!" I opened my eyes. The sunlight blinded me for a moment, but it was… Temari? She was standing between me and the blonde demon. She glanced down at me, a panic in her eyes that was familiar and yet at the same time, not. "Oh God, you're alive! Can you stand?"
Why was she here?
"Gaara! Answer me—can you stand or not!?"
She's never spoken to me like this before.
A look of anger came over her just as the demon boy attacked. She used her fan to try and block the blow but he was too strong. The fan tore and Temari screamed as bone and blood burst out from her arm, broken.
She swung her ruined fan with one arm, using her Wind style to try and blow him away. He flew a short way before landing on his hands and feet, three red tails swinging in the air behind him. He screamed at us with an inhuman roar, maddened, eyes steeped in a familiar pain.
I knew what that pain was.
Temari held her fan with her broken arm and tried to pull me up, her face was covered in sweat. "Get up, Gaara! You need to get out of here while you can; I'll hold him off for you."
I don't understand.
A white smoke surrounded us, and there was another hand on me, pulling my arm. Kankūro, now too? I thought I'd sent him away. Between them both, they picked me up and could carry me. I don't understand…
Why were they here?
The demon jumped through the smoke, Temari shoved us to the side at the last moment, saving Kankūro from having a hole torn through his chest like her fan. In tandem they jumped out of the smoke and away from the blonde demon. He was quick to find us again. He bared his fangs and ran towards us, Kankūro threw a smokeball aimed at him and he used a tail to hit it away.
Kankūro cursed, "Fuck—"
He slashed at us and we barely moved behind a tree, it was laid to ruins. I could feel my brother shaking as he held me. He was afraid of dying. Of course, they both were. They could get away if they just let me die.
"You two, just… let me die."
They both looked at me, surprised. Temari clenched her jaw and looked forward, "If we die, we'll die together."
Before the blonde demon could attack us again, something collided into his side. He rolled, and was pinned to the ground. There was someone on top of him, holding his arms down. The girl with the music. She was still alive.
I could smell her flesh burning.
"GET OFF ME! I HAVE TO KILL HIM!" The demon roared, struggling against her. She slammed his arms back down as she bled from her nose. Tears were falling down her face as her mouth repeated a word to him.
She must have been in a lot of pain.
The demonic chakra burnt her skin and caused her to bleed, tails thrashing out around them violently. But why? Why would she choose to suffer so much pain to stop him? Why doesn't she let him kill us? We were enemies, why was she protecting us.
I don't understand.
Kankūro muttered a thanks under his breath and signaled Temari to move, and we fled. Soon the trees were blurring together and the Leaf was far behind us. I looked at my brother and my sister as they carried my weight on their shoulders, and I felt something in my chest ease.
"I… I really don't understand anything."
It hurt. It burned. So much hurt—
"HE HURT YOU!" he roared, voice twisted and warped with anger and Kurama. Below me Naruto was seething, anger leaking from him like a burst pipe. Uncontrolled, uncontained, seeping into every part of our surroundings. He was drowning himself in it.
I'm so, so sorry Naruto.
My hands trembled as I tried to hold him down. His skin was peeling, on his face and on his arms. The bijū's chakra was too toxic. It burned to even be touching him but I couldn't just sit by and do nothing. I couldn't just watch as he killed someone that was just like him, that knew what it was like to be so alone.
I couldn't let Gaara die, never knowing love because of what I'd done.
Naruto, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.
I pulled out a tag and slapped it to his forehead, pulsing the chakra to activate the Siphoning seal - pulse of blue, a twist of ink, chakra absorbing - Naruto went limp on the ground. Kurama's chakra retreated into the seal, eaten up and stored away. Slowly, the chakra in my skin receded. The burning lingered on my skin but the heat had left, leaving only the after effects. The marks and ruddy skin that was cooked with infernal chakra. The cloak had fully dispersed and everything was okay.
I pressed my head against his, ignoring the stinging on my cheeks. It was okay. I was okay, we were okay. Everything was okay now.
I moved to sit beside him, at some point Sasuke joined us, but I was too burnt out. I couldn't even sense anything anymore. I could only be here, holding Naruto's hand and trying to stake awake through the pain everywhere.
He screamed my name when he woke up, nothing but panic and confusion. I pulled his hand and wrapped my arms around him into a hug. He was startled at first but then Naruto sagged into my hold, hands digging into my back as he held me. It was legitimately hard to breathe but any thought of asking him to let go was pushed away as my shoulder slowly grew damp with silent tears.
I held onto him just as tightly.
I'm so sorry. Please forgive me, I'm sorry…
It's okay. We were okay.
I don't know how long I'd held onto him like that, but I think I blacked out at some point because I had woken up in a makeshift triage center some hours later with bandaged ribs and Naruto taking up half my cot as he napped.
A slow breath escaped me.
The Invasion was finally over.
Chapter Fifty-Seven: "circum venire II"
A/N: well, we've finally reached it folks. this is the end of the arc, and the end of the chūnin exams. i'm still in shock, if i'm being honest. this has haunted me for literal years now, but now it's finally over and one of the biggest canon divergences has taken place. what comes next though?
Thanks to all of you that have stayed with me all these years and those that were crazy enough to join along the way. you guys have kept me going this entire time, and i hope that this final entry was everything you guys had hoped for. next time, we begin a brand new arc and see where things happen from here on.
"If you could give any character some advice, what would it be?"
Me, to Kakashi: Find Obito to bury him and give him peace.
Also me: *sips tea as Kakashi realizes Obito is alive and goes hunting for him*
Until next time, love. Stay safe.