The final installment of "A Promise to Keep". Battles are waged. Strengths are tested. And sometimes victory comes in the most unexpected forms. (LeexSakura)(NarutoxHinata)(NejixTenten)
Chapter Seven: His Savior
He was going to make it.
Itachi was behind him; an even match for speed now that the traitor possessed the power of the nekomata. But he wasn't worried. He didn't care if Itachi caught up with him. He wanted the bastard to reach him. Just not yet. First they had to be away; away from the others and from Konoha.
He was aware that they were following him: Kakashi's group. The kyubi's senses could smell their sweat and pheromones, could hear the thundering of their heartbeats. He cursed to himself. He had to move faster. They couldn't be involved in this. He had to be away from them all. If the seal were to fall with them so close... Bare feet met pavement and legs that had not known use for so long pushed forward unaffected. There would be time enough to be tired later.
The kyubi rumbled within him, impatient.
You'll get your blood, he had every intention on seeing to that, not much longer...
The blonde man slipped into the forest, the Sharingan making it easy to speed through the trees at a nearly suicidal pace. He could smell Itachi behind him - the smell of man and demon. He could hear the thin trill of the Kusanagi as its bare blade cut through the air. Further they darted, into the forest and away from the sleeping village.
Not much longer...
They were getting away! Kisame was pursuing the two demons, but for the moment Sakura wasn't concerned with him. She had to be there for Naruto!
She was running at a speed she hadn't known since before her legs had been so badly damaged. Her skin tightened over muscles that flexed and strained, pulling at the old scars. The pale white blur of a hospital gown far ahead disappeared into the black depths of the trees. Sakura ignored the pain in her calves and pushed herself harder.
Can't lose him, can't lose him, can't -
But wasn't he already lost?
No! He'd never have given up on her. She refused to give up on him.
She had made a promise to them and she be damned if she'd let him down, too!
It hadn't taken them long to give chase. Chouji's condition was stable enough, Tsunade had seen to that, and the man had practically begged them to leave him behind. Everyone was going to be needed for the fight, he had told them, and he would be fine in a little while.
There was a scuffling ahead. Lee had caught up with Kisame. It wasn't hard; he hadn't been wearing his weights. A groaning cry and the blade arm spun, slashing at the jounin. He dodged, leapt and was behind the invader before the man knew where Lee had gone. The sword screamed through the night air again, but Lee was no longer standing in its path.
"Watch the goddamned blade!" Neji shouted and jerked his head to the side, the Samehada's wake billowing his hair. Speed. They needed speed to get this one. They had to be fast enough to dodge that sword and still land the blows. Lee should stay. And Neji. Kisame was pretty messed up already, thanks to Chouji, but he still had plenty of fight left in him.
"Don't stop!" The Hyuga man ordered the others, his Juken already battering the hands wrapped around the sword hilt. "Go after him!"
A flash of colors and the rush of air on either side, his teammates sped passed, into the woods; not stopping, not even slowing. In a second all were in the woods but two, who entered this fight without hesitation; Jiraiya and Iruka.
"You'll need help!" Naruto's first sensei spun, a raised kunai deflecting the blow that had been aimed at him. Jiraiya broke in and brought a leg down upon the sword arm, staving off the next attack.
Neji didn't argue; he just kept striking out.
Kisame brought the sword up again, and Neji flipped backward, avoiding the razor edge. Grey lips parted and spewed water into the air. The liquid moved as though sentient, swirling before them, preparing for a jutsu. Neji remembered this; remembered what this guy was capable of. Hand seals flew and he readied the Hakke Rokujuyon Sho. Iruka pounced, aiming high; Jiraiya aimed low from the other side. Lee's arm hooked above, bare fists battering against the sword hand. Kisame grunted.
"In the words of my most fearless friend," Lee bared his teeth, fingers flexing in preparation, "'bring it'."
Kusanagi's blade swung for his face, a taloned hand for his stomach. Naruto's legs pushed back and danced out of both strikes, the man within paying little attention when the tree beside them creaked and groaned and fell.
"You're not fighting, little brother," Itachi's voice was feral, a low purr behind the tone, "I thought you came to kill me." A rumbled growl vibrated from Naruto's throat.
"Shut up and fight."
The grip shifted on the blade in Itachi's hand. "Oh, I intend to, believe me!"
Fanged jaws opened and a ball of roiling fire spewed forth. The Rasengan met the attack, flames splashed over the nearby tree trunks, setting the area around them on fire.
The burning aura surrounding Naruto's frame intensified. "Get out of here!" And the nekomata realized those red eyes were not focused on him.
Itachi felt it then, and watched curiously as a figure flew overhead, twisting and contorting to face him as she moved. Another figure moved in mirror image to the first.
"Odama Rasengan!" Hinata's cry pierced the night and a ball of swirling energy exploded from four palms. Hinata hurtled back, the clone dissipated, her feet planted soundly upon the trunk of a tree and she pushed off again, beginning another assault. The Kusanagi spun before him, deflecting the attack, Itachi's smile spreading like an oil slick across his face.
"Hello little girl." He said softly and lunged, the blade hissing through the air. Hinata faltered and twisted in mid-air, breaking her momentum. Her lover's form broke in before her; a glowing wall of heat and force. His Sharingan swirled and he bared long white fangs, hands ready to slash out, tensing for the blow to come.
Shuriken clanged against an impervious blade, but they had been enough to upset Itachi's balance. Tenten's feet tore through the earth as she skidded under his arm, another jerk of her wrist and more projectiles launched from her fingers. Itachi corrected, bringing the blade down to deflect the attack.
Red eyes spun and bore into white. "Give it to me." Hinata shook her head, not understanding. Naruto's voice had never been so cold to her before. She could see Shikamaru in the background, dodging the gleaming blade. Ino's blow missed; Itachi was just too fast for them.
"Why are you doing this?" She whispered to the red eyes before her. Naruto's head jerked. A cry of pain and blood stained the blade in the nekomata's grip; Shikamaru's shoulder and chest were left torn and bleeding. Tenten dropped beside the man, her arms pressing into the wound as she desperately tried to slow the bleeding. Kakashi leapt in to give the two some cover.
"Sakura! Ino!" Tenten screamed for one of the medics. Sakura responded first.
A snarl from fanged jaws: "Now!" The blonde man took a step towards the Hyuga, claws extended, and Hinata was forced to lash out, palms striking out in her family's most trusted attack, yet missed each time. Naruto's body dodged each blow, not returning or even blocking. Ino screamed out Hinata's name from somewhere beyond the blonde's back.
Not touching me, she thought, her Byakugan watching the aura and his limbs closely, Not touching me!
'Give it to me.' His eyes roved over her as they moved, watching everything she did.
He doesn't want to... She understood and stepped into him, increasing the speed of her movements, never assuming she'd actually land a single hit. She altered between each variation, never repeating the same move twice.
"There," she whispered, finishing her attack with a final missed blow to his chest, "that's all of it. Now go." Naruto's body whirled and he turned the Juken on Itachi, clawed fingers deflecting the Kusanagi as others made contact with his foe. I was right! His movements blurred beyond sight and the blonde's body moved with a skill that spoke of years of training, though it had only taken seconds.
Kakashi was there, attacking Itachi from behind, watching Naruto's movements and duplicating them on their adversary. The pair moved in perfect sync and Sakura found herself marveling at the speed the Copy-nin could achieve when he was driven to it. He was actually keeping up with the demons! And though it was clear Itachi's Sharingan was giving him the ability to dodge the attacks, it was also clear that the odds were stacked against the nekomata. He was only one and they were two, all with Sharingans and moving faster and faster with every strike. Sooner or later the two jounin wouldn't miss anymore.
"I told you to get out!" The blonde roared in a kyubi-blended voice. Kakashi ignored the teen and kept at Itachi. Two palms struck out, two legs pushed back to dodge. Perfect synchronization.
"Fuck you, Uchiha." Ino hissed in Kakashi's stead, and slid in between the shinobi, a leg finding its target and collided with Itachi's back.
She screamed. Blistered skin beneath her boot stung in response to the burn. "Goddammit, don't touch him! This one burns you, too!"
Naruto's growl turned into a scream and the man within the blonde's body plunged in, one arm spinning over Itachi's, pushing the sword tip into the ground, unaffected by the nekomata's aura. Kakashi's imitation forced Itachi's left arm down as well, though he cried out from the burn he suffered - Ino's warning coming too late for him. Naruto's skull drove into Itachi's, as fire launched from the Akatsuki's lips.
The kyubi howled and recoiled, the burns on his face rapidly beginning to heal.
"A lovely trick, that rapid healing." Itachi commented. "I'd love to see you do it again." The fanged mouth opened once more.
Samehada struck the ground between the demons, its blade sinking deep into the soft earth. Tenten braced and turned, ready to launch herself into a pinwheel at Kisame.
But the shark man wasn't there. It was Lee and Neji, and the latter was grinning wickedly, wiping the blood from the gash on his jaw.
"Your friend won't be able to join you, traitor," he hissed, "ever."
"Neji!" Tenten's face lit up, one worry now firmly behind her. Lee stole a look at Sakura and found relief in her eyes as well.
The purr in Itachi's throat became a guttural roar and he charged at the newcomers. Lee's feet spread and his signature stance was adopted once more.
Tsunade dropped from a tree, wrenching the Samehada from the ground and wracking it against Itachi's back. The sword hissed through the yellow aura and connected, bright red spattering and sizzling against the blade.
Itachi howled and spun, driving the Kusanagi into the hokage's chest in a move that was so fast the sword disappeared into nothing more than a blur.
"Gondaime!" Naruto's voice joined with Sakura's and they watched as the fifth hokage slumped to the ground into a pool of her own blood. Ino moved without thought, jerking the blonde woman onto her back, shaking hands already glowing blue.
Naruto's hand's grip was on the fallen blade instantly, the man screaming in wrath and pushing the shark-skinned creation at his aggressor. Kusanagi checked and sliced though the sword like it was made of paper.
"Kisame..." The two-tailed demon hissed. His point was made. The kyubi snarled and dropped the remains of the Samehada. Who needed a blade when blood was so much sweeter on the fingers? The beast's bloodlust was infectious and the man within found himself yearning for the feel of hot blood on his skin.
Yet he held the beast in check.
"The difference between us," that strange rumbling voice gritted out, "is that you'll kill to avenge a comrade. I'll kill to protect them."
"Really? Prove it. Do it now!" The nekomata challenged and leapt for the nearest shinobi; Kakashi. A scream of agony-
-and Itachi's left arm was wrenched from his body, clawed fingers slicing through the appendage at the shoulder, severing limb from body.
"Don't you ever touch my sensei." The blonde man growled. Itachi leapt back, his laden hand pressed over the hole in his shoulder, blood oosing over his fingers. The dark man shuddered.
"Such sentiment for a Uchiha," Itachi growled, "it doesn't become you, Sasuke." Naruto's face contorted.
"Goddamit! I-am-not-Sasuke!" He screamed and lunged once more for the traitor.
Kakashi's heart stopped in his chest.
Naruto? He dared to hope once more.
He was not alone. "Oh Kami!" Hinata cried out through spread fingers. "Oh, Kami! Naruto, you're alive?!"
He couldn't stop himself. Her voice - they had thought he was dead? Before he realized what he was doing Naruto turned and looked, eyes still swirling with the Mangekyo Sharingan, yet so much gentler.
Kusanagi pushed through his chest and twisted roughly. Red eyes widened and Naruto doubled over, gurgling on his own blood, and slowly slipped from the blade.
Hinata screamed - did someone else scream with her? - and leapt into action, passing her lover by. Lee was moving in, screaming out as he opened the first gate of his Hachimon. Hinata's arms cast out beside her as she rushed in; Neji was aware of what was about to happen.
"Get him out of there!" He bolted around their foe and gripped Naruto by his shoulders, howling as the red energy surrounding his friend burned his flesh. Lee halted his attack, his teammate's actions made no sense. But Naruto would definitely die if they left him there, Neji knew. The Hyuga man jerked his shoulders and heaved the blonde man away, Naruto's body sliding to a halt against the severed tree trunk.
"Shugohakke Rokujuyon Sho!" And Hinata's arms were moving, her body bending and twisting gracefully, white arcs of chakra following her hands as she moved against Itachi. He jumped back, moving and blocking constantly but she followed and adapted, the white light growing and spreading as she increased the flow of her chakra into the attack. He struck out with the Kusanagi and she dipped low, avoiding the blade as easily as though a genin were wielding it. His blood loss was her gain; he was slowing down, getting weaker; she was strong and determined. And it was clear that where Naruto could regenerate with the kyubi's help Itachi had no such advantage from the nekomata. Blood dribbled down from his shoulder, his lips were turning white. Hinata spun and arced around him, her arms nothing more than white trails of motion in the moonlight; never allowing that yellow energy or the blade to touch her.
It was beautiful and terrifying all at once, to watch the Hyuga woman dance with death so expertly.
"You're going to die, Itachi!" Ino cried almost hysterically, relief and revulsion washing over her as she watched Hinata move with a strength and speed she would have never thought the demure woman capable of. "Hyuga Hinata is going to fucking kill you!"
Kami, she's right, Kakashi was in awe of the black haired beauty who struck at the demon again and again with her chakra, avoiding the burns that the yellow energy could lay upon her. Kakashi had been of the belief that the kyubi would bring about the death of this terror- that it would take a demon to slay a demon. But while Naruto and his captive may have played a large part of his demise-
-a howl of agony and Itachi's right arm fell to the ground with a sickening flop; Hinata's chakra blades severed it with ease. The yellow glow around him flickered and ebbed, that strange red ring no longer feeding him the power he had wielded so easily. Hinata did not pause, did not slow, did not back down. Itachi leapt back and she followed, her combination jutsu throwing arcs of light in every direction.
Her face was placid, Sakura noticed; clear of emotion, empty of everything but the task before her, though the Byakugan did grant her appearance a certain ferocity.
Another dip of her torso, another arc of her arm -
"It was never supposed to be you," he hissed, "it was supposed to be /him/!" She spun, her jutsu following her movements, obeying her will.
"You don't get to make that choice," she replied.
And Itachi's head rolled to the ground.
Silence. Or near to it, at least.
Shikamaru's labored breathing had calmed, Sakura's healing jutsu was finally taking hold. Ino still struggled with Tsunade; the woman had lost a lot of blood. But at least she was holding on. Gurgled breaths were clear again and the hole in her chest was closing well.
Hinata hadn't moved. Not so much as a finger. She had stood there for what seemed an eternity, staring down at the body at her feet. No one knew what to do. Kakashi knew they should be taking the injured in to the hospital. He knew they should be going to see what had happened to Iruka and Jiraiya; that they should go and collect Chouji, but he couldn't bring himself to move.
It had happened so quickly. Nothing felt real anymore.
The Hyuga woman finally bent and pulled the ring from Itachi's finger, twirling the accessory in her fingers absently. Neji sighed and stepped forward, burned hands retrieving the unstoppable sword that had been kicked away. Both items would have to be placed in protective custody, as well as the ring in his pocket; Kisame's ring.
A groan from behind.
Naruto was pushing himself up to his feet, a hand rubbing his chest; the kyubi's power had taken care of him as it always had. He stood and ran a hand over the back of his head; a familiar gesture; an unmistakably 'Naruto' gesture.
That was all it took. Hinata's china mask composure crumbled and she sobbed, rushing to him, throwing her arms around his chest, her fists pounding weakly against his back. She was trying to be angry with him; trying to be furious that he had made her worry. But that particular emotion would not come to the surface. All she could feel was relief.
It was over. He was safe.
"You're still there! You're still there!" Hinata repeated the mantra and re-repeated it.
"Yeah," he said hoarsely, "yeah, I'm still here. Hinata, I'm so-" A pale hand pressed to his lips. She didn't want to hear an apology. She just wanted her Naruto back. His red eyes closed and he sighed into her palm, his voice sounding closer to the one his fiancÃ©e knew so well.
The others watched, dumbfounded. The aura was still around him, yet Hinata didn't recoil in pain.
It was just as the last time. She was impervious to that energy. And just as before they couldn't understand how or why this was so. But now there was someone with them who had the presence of mind to say something.
"What..." Tenten watched in awe as Naruto's arms wrapped around the crying woman, his face buried into her hair. The aura died back until nothing glowed around them but the moon and the dying embers of Itachi's fire. "How could she hold him like that? Why... why didn't it burn her, too?"
No one answered. No one tried. Naruto shook his head, thick blond locks falling around her sleek black ones. His shoulders started to shake and no one had to ask about that either.
"I think..." the low, muffled voice came from him at last, choked with emotion, "I think it's because... she's the other half of my soul."
He went back to that place. He didn't know why. It wasn't like he was there. Naruto knew that for a certainty.
Sasuke wasn't /anywhere/. Not anymore.
The graveyard was empty in the early morning light. Frost would be coming to their home soon, but for now dew covered the grasses and headstones, cooling the air around him. The prayer sticks stood just as they always had, that same hitai-ate was still on the marker's base. Tanned fingers reached down to touch the cold metal.
"You bastard," he whispered, though the epithet was spoke with affection and a sad smile on his lips.
The dark and somber teen had never been one for kind words or deeds, Naruto remembered; at least not where the blonde boy was concerned. And so the gesture had seemed so strange... so... painful.
He hadn't come to Naruto's body to take over; to use his friend's strength against Itachi.
A gift, he had said from within Naruto's mind, just before the final fight against his brother. That had been the reason.
The gift of the Mangekyo Sharingan.
He had known, tears welled in eyes the color of the spring sky, he knew all along how important he was to me. The Mangekyo Sharingan... One could only obtain it through killing their best friend, and only when the aggressor had the Sharingan. Sasuke had known what to do. He knew what it would take. It would take a forbidden jutsu, perfect timing and the strength to willingly fade into nothingness.
He also had known that he wanted Naruto to have a piece of him forever.
Naruto had to admit it, Sasuke had always been stronger than him - in all ways.
"I can't stay long." Naruto said at last to the carved stone. "I've got plans today. But I had to come and give you the news. They're going to add your name to the monument. It took a lot, but we made it happen. You're going to be remembered as a hero, Sasuke. Betcha never saw that one coming!" He tried to brandish that cocky grin, but it wouldn't come. The same idea repeated again and again in his thoughts.
"You could have lived, you know." His chin began to pucker. "You could have taken over. Four years ago I think you would have. Anything to stop your brother, right? But when you finally got the chance, you didn't. You just faded away. Sasuke... I..."
A tear dropped to the stone at his feet.
"I wish you hadn't gone." He admitted. "I wish you could have stayed. I know it seems wierd, but at least you were still there. The others don't get it. They try, but they don't. You never came back for them, you see?" His voice quavered. He was going to lose it. "They never thought of you as 'back'. Not even Ino, and she actually saw you for a few minutes. But as far as I'm concerned you were back, even if it was just in my head. You came back and now... now it's like... it's like I have to see you die all over again." His eyes squinted shut and he bowed his head.
"Goddammit, Sasuke, why did you always have to make everything so damned /hard/?"
Of course, there was no answer. And there never would be. Sasuke was gone from the world and from his mind. Only he and the kyubi remained; and Naruto's memories of the man who had been the closest thing he'd ever known to a brother.
"I've gotta go, okay?" He wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve, realizing too late that he shouldn't have done that. "I'll... I'll see you later, I guess." One last deep breath and Naruto turned and left.
With every step he felt just a little bit better. Sasuke would always be a part of him - the Sharingan in his eyes would see that he never forgot - but sometimes maybe it was best to put the past behind you.
He'd follow Sakura's example. He'd move on. That was all he could do. It was going to be hard, and he knew there would be times when he'd slip, but it was what he had to do. And he still had the others. They'd help.
Sasuke would have understood, Naruto knew.
And besides, right now there was somewhere he had to be.
It was too much.
Sakura beamed, really and truly beamed. She had never liked her jounin uniform, but today she wore it proudly. For him. This was a very important day and she was going to show just how thrilled she was; even if it meant she had to put that hideous vest on.
They were all dressed in their uniforms, though Chouji's was still hanging loosely and Shikamaru could not yet zip his vest all the way up. Team Naruto; the remains of The Rookie Nine.
His family. None of them would have missed this for anything.
He stood before Tsunade with his back to the assembly, that white robe making him look incredibly broad in the shoulders, his long, shaggy blonde hair completely at odds with the formal garment. He had to bow down a little for her; Tsunade was still having trouble moving her arms without pulling at her chest wound. Though you can't tell it when you look at her. Gondaime's smile was almost as big as Sakura's. Almost.
She had always thought the hokage's hat was a bit silly looking, but seeing it there, atop her best friend's head, Sakura just couldn't picture anything looking more right. Fingers tangled into hers and she glanced to her right. Lee was peering at her from the corner of his eye, smiling. She squeezed his fingers in return. He understood her.
"He did it," Kakashi said from Sakura's left, "after a lifetime of spouting off that same stupid declarative every single day; Naruto finally went and did just what he said he'd do." Together, with Iruka and Jiraiya, the three men who had helped shape Naruto into the man that stood before them couldn't help but feel pride.
A twelve year old boy with goggles on his forehead; 'Iruka-sensei, I'm starved! Let's go get some ramen!'
That stubborn genin who hadn't shut up once; 'Hey! Ero-sennin! What are you gonna do about my training?'
That amazing kid who had helped his sensei take back his life; 'From now on I'm gonna follow the Way of Naruto!'
"So this is what it's like to be a proud father, huh?" Iruka's voice was so soft he almost wondered if he had thought the statement.
"Yeah," Kakashi's answer proved he had spoken after all, "yeah, I think it is." Jiraiya said nothing, but smiled.
It was finally happening. Years of dreams and vows and blood and tears had finally granted him his wish. Hinata watched as Naruto's coronation was completed, her eyes shining. That man, that magnificent man loved her. He loved her! And since that night three weeks ago not a day had gone by that he hadn't told her so; hadn't thanked her for saving him.
His savior, he called her. She couldn't bring herself to believe that. After all, he had saved her first. That day in the hospital, the first time he had kissed her, he had saved her that day.
She had just returned the favor.
She didn't know it yet, but he planned on marrying her tonight. If she had known she'd probably be a tearful mess right now. His Hinata... he couldn't imagine loving anyone else.
Tsunade's speech was over and Naruto turned to face his charges, his village. His Konoha. The sixth hokage's gaze found his soon-to-be-bride; bright blue eyes sparkling in the autumn sunlight.
And, acting as though nothing in the world had changed, Rokudaime - her beloved Naruto - let loose that silly grin she so adored.
She couldn't help herself.
Hinata laughed out loud.
So that's it. No more chapters. No more sequels. I'm putting this one to bed. It kind of makes me sad to finish my first story, but I know it'll have to be done eventually and this seems (to me) to be the perfect way to end it.
Man! I worked my butt off on that action sequence! Freaking LONG! 'Sairin: Kata Tsubasa no Tenshi' - FF7 Advent Children's Version of 'One-Winged Angel' - once again came through for me! [You ever wanna write an action sequence? I advise putting on some music that seriously gets your blood pumping first!] But I'm tired now. Actually, physically tired. But in a good way; in a really satisfied way. I hope you guys liked reading this story as much as I liked writing it. (And I LOVED writing it, let me tell you!)
So... review please! I need to know how my action sequences come off, as I currently have plans to write another action fic. Did you guys like it? Did it get boring after a while? Should it be longer/shorter? I'd like to hear what all of you are thinking. I want to suck in my readers and create a story that people can't help but become addicted to. :) And for that I need feedback.
Anyway, feel free to contact me directly with any requests/ ideas/ complaints, whatever. I love taking on new challenges and I love hearing from my readers.