Sometimes it is the noblest of acts that lead to the greatest tragedies. And in Konoha none are more noble than those who call themselves Uzumaki Naruto's family.
Chapter Six: The Best of Intentions
As she stared almost blankly forward it occurred to her that despite her great reluctance, she was going to do it. She knew without a doubt that she was actually going to go through with it.
It scared her for a moment, to know that she was capable of something so abhorrent. Something that could very well earn her the resentment of the entire village and the outright hatred of a precious few.
And why the hell shouldn't it? She already hated herself, and all she had done was come to a conclusion. She had volunteered for this role in the first place.
A single tear dropped from her cheek to the smooth surface beneath her face. A tiny scene of desperation played out before her; trapped within the small glass globe upon her desk. Miniature figures of the people she cared so deeply for scurried about, tending to the injured and preparing for a battle they knew somewhere that they could never win.
But they were Konohagakure's Shinobi. They carried the Will of Fire within them. They would bury their pain time and time again to save what they loved; starting with him.
An impossible feat, Tsunade knew.
A particular figure drew her attention once more; unmoving and unimaginable.
He was dead. That loud mouthed, lecherous, cocky-for-no-damned-good-reason oaf was dead, and she didn't know how she was going to live in a world that no longer had Jiraiya to pollute it. She had never before considered the possibility that she loved that man. He had annoyed her most of the time. But she understood now that love had many forms; and theirs had been the love of two friends who had brought each other joy through torment.
Another tear fell to the crystal, obscuring her view as a tiny Sakura splinted and equally small Hinata's shattered arm.
And Naruto... her protÃ©gÃ© and friend was a hostage in his own body. She couldn't imagine that Naruto would have sat idly by as his body assaulted his wife so viciously if he could have done something to stop it.
Which meant that Naruto was almost certainly lost to them.
Yet it seemed that only she was willing to acknowledge this. And so it would be up to her.
"Ts-Tsunade?" Shizune's small voice broke into Gondaime's private world of thought and the fifth hokage used the cue to push herself to her feet, the Kusanagi clutched tightly within bloodless fingers. From the other side of the desk Tenten tried to deny the situation; tried to stop the hokage from doing what the sniper knew she was about to do. Words and bold hands were enough to make Tsunade pause; but only pause.
"Should I wait, then?" The blonde woman asked gently. There was no reason to lend a harsh tone to words that would already cut the young woman to the quick. "Should I wait for him to kill your husband? Your cousin and her son? For him to bring destruction and death down on his home? Because he will. He's already proven that, Tenten."
"But Sasuke..." the younger woman was grasping at straws, "Sasuke fought off Orochimaru; just a little but he fought. Naruto is much stronger now than Sasuke was then, and this person doesn't have Orochimaru's experience with Fushi Tensei. I know Naruto can win back control!"
"Naruto was always so lucky to have friends like you," Gondaime could only offer a weak smile and a gentle touch as she left the room.
"You can't do this!" Tenten shrieked from the office as Shizune and Tsunade departed for their grim mission. "You can't just give up on him! He'd never give up on you! He'd never give up on any of us!"
Guilt stung Tsunade's soul but she didn't stop walking.
She was going to do this for Naruto. She was going to do this because she knew that if this person inside of Naruto accomplished his goal everything the young hokage loved would crumble into ruin. The surviving members of his team would be used like tools for the Akatsuki. The village would burn undoubtedly, having been a constant source of Akatsuki's resistance. Everything that Naruto and his family had spilled blood and tears for throughout their lives would perish.
And Tsunade knew the blonde man well enough to know he'd rather die before letting that happen.
Sakura watched as Hinata handed her precious Tadashi to the silver haired jounin seated on the forest floor. The boy had dropped off easily with a little help from Hinata, who knew how to send little flows of chakra into her son in just the right way to lull him to sleep. Sleep, she had decided, would be the kindest thing she could do for the child at the moment. Kakashi held the boy close, keeping his right hand free to hover near the bulging pack beside him.
"Remember, Fushi Tensei seems to be similar to the Mangekyo Sharingan, in that it appears to rely on eye contact in order to be effective." Shikamaru continued his explanation as he and Neji finished distributing the remaining weapons and explosives among the group. They had decided to leave the majority of the throwing weapons with Kakashi, so that the Copy-nin would not be completely defenseless. It was a desperate move, leaving the broken man and the boy alone.
Then again, all that they had left were desperate moves.
"As long as we don't look any of them in the eyes we should be fine." He finished.
"Any of them?" Sakura grimaced, "do you think that the others will be with him?"
"I wouldn't doubt it."
"Lee is out of the fight," Hinata said softly from her place beside Tadashi, and was clearly avoiding making eye contact with Sakura. "I ran up against him and severed the tendons behind his ankles. He'll need surgery before he'll even be able to walk again." The moan that Sakura failed to swallow was obvious, yet that was all the voice the cherry blossom gave to the news, and no resentment was directed at Hinata.
"Chouji is down as well," Neji added. "I blocked most of his chakra points and possibly broke his arm. It will take him days to recover once he wakes up. And even if he tries to fight, without these-" the Hyuuga man pulled a familiar container with three differently colored pills from his pouch - "his greatest advantage is lost to him."
"That leaves Ino and Naruto, in addition to whoever else they could have out there." Shikamaru said thoughtfully. "Better odds than we had before, but it will still be hard."
"Two that we know of on four." Neji deliberated. "One of theirs a kage level shinobi; one of ours injured and one more clearly exhausted." He added and glared pointedly at the medic-nin. "I still do not believe you should be coming, Sakura. You're in no condition to fight."
"Don't you tell me not to go, Neji." Sakura growled. "I made Naruto a promise when we were kids and I won't break it now that he needs us the most."
"Do we need to watch you, or can you take care of yourself when things heat up?" Shikamaru asked. There was no accusation in his voice; no hint of anything other than an honest question that expected an honest answer.
"I've still got a few tricks up my sleeve. Don't worry about me."
"Alright then," he tossed the woman her pack, ignoring Neji's disapproval, "let's move."
Rokudaime's silence was beginning to irritate him - irritate and, in all honesty, trouble him.
The obnoxious man had never once kept quiet in all of their past encounters, and he had lost count of how many times he and Naruto had come face-to-face in battle. He found it impossible to believe that now, of all times, the hokage would choose discretion as his first course of action.
Akatsuki's leader paused in his pursuit of the Lady Uzumaki and her son, and turned his awareness inward once more.
He hadn't bothered to inspect his surroundings the last time he had retreated to the strange place that was Naruto's mind. The situation had been time-critical, with a deadly kunoichi breathing down his neck, and he in his single-mindedness had looked only for the monstrous cage doors that proclaimed the Kyuubi's prison.
Had Naruto been present then? Because now, as he peered about at the stark walls, conduit riddled ceilings and puddle floors, the invading man noticed the absence of this body's original owner.
"Demon," he bit into the dimly lit corridor and waited for those two glowing eyes to open in response, "where is your previous master?"
"Little fool," a voice as unnerving and hostile as anything he had ever heard reverberated from the walls of the corridor, "never in my eternal existence have I had a master, and never in the future will I have one, you can be certain of that."
The man rephrased. "The human you've been serving for more than twenty years; where is he now?"
"I have never served a human." Kyuubi spat out the verb with such distaste the man before him knew he would get nothing from the beast if this kept up.
"Then what would you call it?" He was becoming equally angered. He had no time for these word games.
"An exchange," the demon growled, "my strength for the blood of others. My speed for their screams. My power for their deaths at my claws."
"And where is the one you made these exchanges with?" Man-sized teeth gleamed once more; now in a malicious smile.
"You wish an exchange as well it seems: murder for your answer."
"You never said anything about an exchange when you gave me your power earlier!" The man who was usually so composed was beginning to display his heated side - something he rarely did.
"There was no need for words. You sought my strengths to spill blood. That was all I required. But the telling of information is not as sweet as destruction. An active bargain must now be struck."
Red eyes slid closed and the hint of the terrible face behind the bars disappeared into the darkness. The invader swore quietly.
It appeared he would need to first locate the Uzumaki woman and her son after all.
His charge stirred in his arms and Kakashi caught his breath as a little elbow pushed at his ribs painfully. Hinata had expected Tadashi to remain asleep for at least a few hours. Either she had severely miscalculated or else Kakashi was losing his sense of time; the latter bothering him far more.
"Mommmmyyyy," Tadashi groaned, a sleepy little fist ground into a white eye.
"She went to go find your Dad," Kakashi said in a voice he hoped was soothing enough to keep the boy from crying. Though silence wouldn't matter if they were being hunted, broadcasting their exact location was still a bad idea. Plus his head still throbbed despite Sakura's best efforts, and a crying child would only aggravated it more. "Can you be very quiet with me until she returns?" Tadashi crushed his face against Kakashi's collarbone and nodded, while the Copy-nin grimaced at the flash of pain that crossed his chest. The boy squirmed slightly, but he kept his promise and spoke to his guardian in little whispers that would have sent the women into cooing fits under any other circumstance.
A lightning quick movement from the boy -/ he'll make one hell of a shinobi someday, / the jounin observed - and the blonde head swiveled to face the trees before them. Tadashi went perfectly still and Kakashi became uneasy. He was still too debilitated to use the Sharingan and that weakness agitated him. That an untrained toddler had obviously picked up on something when Kakashi couldn't...
"Tadashi?" He whispered, his hand edging over to the bag slowly. "What is it; do you hear something?"
"I see real good," an excited lisp answered in his previously promised whisper.
"See?" Kakashi responded just as softly; his fingers wrapped around a sharp edge within the pack while he peered into the growing darkness of the trees. "What do you see?" The boy began to shift excitedly in Kakashi's arms, bouncing the stuffed toy in his lap happily.
"She's coming." Tadashi turned his smiling face up to Kakashi and the Copy-nin nearly recoiled from shock.
Never had he known one so young, and Kakashi's thought died half-formed within his mind. The lines of the Byakugan criss-crossed their way over the toddler's face; round eyes piercing and intense in the same way his mother and Neji's eyes would become when they called upon their birthright. Kakashi could almost make out the pupils that otherwise remained hidden in those of the Hyuuga blood.
Barely over three years old and already able to access his kekkei genkai.
One HELL of a shinobi!
"Who, your mom or Sakura?" Kakashi asked, trying to remain focused. The little blonde shook his head and grunted out a muted 'nuh-uh', his smile still innocently plastered to round apple cheeks.
Kakashi knew that there was only one other 'she' who would be coming their way.
Her lungs burned and her legs cramped up miserably, and she knew if she didn't let up a little she'd be of no use once she got there. Sitting behind a desk for so long had robbed her of her edge.
But she/ had/ to do this! She had to make it in-
The familiar hiss of metal through air gave her only enough warning to spin her body out of the projectile's path and the kunai sliced at the skin on her arm like fire.
"Oh shit!" She swore in panic and flung herself behind the closest tree, her heart racing at how close she had come to getting herself impaled.
A heartbeat of silence.
"Tenten?" A male voice called out cautiously and for a moment she couldn't recognize the owner. "Tenten, is that you?"
"Kakashi?" No wonder the aim had been so damned good! Tenten stumbled from behind her hiding place and into the clearing, clutching her chest as she struggled for breath. Naruto's mentor sat on the ruined ground, Tadashi in one arm, the other hand brandishing a set of shuriken dangerously. The masked face bent low beside the boy's ear. Tenten's jaw hung slack, completely awestruck, when the boy squinted hard and the Byakugan marred his sweet face. With eyes that Tenten knew could see through her, the boy seemed to peer straight into her soul. It was too much for her to believe, yet there was no denying what she saw. Kakashi continued to whisper into the boy's ear, watching Tenten with one sharp eye, and after what seemed an eternity Naruto's son smiled and nodded.
"Tenten!" He giggled and held his arms out to her. That was apparently enough for Kakashi, because he replaced the weapons in the bag beside him and released the child.
"If I didn't know you better," he murmured with a dark look from his single eye, "I would drag you to Gondaime and have you punished for endangering yourself and your child like this. Tell me, what happened?"
"Tsunade saw everything in Sandaime's globe," she reported dutifully, crouching so that Tadashi could greet her in his typical little-boy hug. "She's taken up her role as damage control."
"She's what?" Kakashi must not know about this part, she realized. Tenten glanced down at the boy around her neck, trying to choose her words carefully.
"She has the Kusanagi," she finally replied, "and she's going to use it. She's going to use it on him." Her last sentence was spoken slowly and clearly so that Kakashi would pick up on her meaning.
"I see. How committed is she?" He didn't know if it was panic, adrenaline or fury with the fifth hokage, but Kakashi found the energy to push himself away from the tree and onto his knees. Tenten seemed oblivious to the magnitude of such a movement.
"Committed enough that I had to come and warn you all." She said seriously. Kakashi arched his brow, understanding her meaning fully. "Now I ask you this question, Kakashi," her eyes bore into his intently, "which hokage needs the team's help?"
He opened his eyes to the forest before him once more. He had desired the power of the demon within this body, yet he had never considered that the Kyuubi would have a choice in lending him that awesome power. He would have to be diplomatic with the thing - an idea he detested. Would it have to come to this each and every time he required the Kyuubi's chakra? How had a boy with so little patience and even less manners been able to coerce the beast's aid time and time again? He gnashed his teeth, aware that even though Naruto was currently inactive he was still proving to be a source of aggravation for the Akatsuki's leader.
The man's senses panged in warning and Naruto's abductor forgot his resentment towards the beast he had so coveted earlier and the man he had conquered.
His wait had been blessedly short lived, it would appear. The Kyuubi's required exchange was closer at hand than he had originally planned.
They were coming;
His blood price.
They were close now, and silence was now vitally important. If Naruto's body was using the Kyuubi's senses he would hear even the faintest of whispers or footfalls with ease. The team moved carefully, monitoring everything down to the volume of their breath until they were close enough to ensure that he could not escape.
Hinata glanced at Neji suddenly, her face clearly communicating, though Sakura could not make out what she was saying. Neji seemed to understand though. At his nod Hinata managed a small smile of what seemed to be relief. Neji signaled to those who did not descend from the Hyuuga Clan with two fingers to his eyes and then pointing forward that their target was just ahead. Sakura wished she knew what it was that suddenly bolstered her friends' spirits; at the moment she could seriously use the added confidence.
Though fat raindrops fell sporadically and the winds still rushed through the trees, the storm's full power was taking a painfully long time to reach them, even for the fire nation. Yet now no one considered the foul weather that hung like a promise in the skies above. All that mattered was the orange figure that was coming into view through the shadows; totally still against the moving branches and leaves around him.
"You've come back?" Whiskered cheeks plumped in a wicked smile before they had fully moved upon him. "I have to thank you. You saved me a great deal of trouble hunting you down. Yet I notice that you did not bring the boy. How disappointing."
The team fanned out as they drew closer, a tactic that would force Naruto's captor to choose his targets one at a time, they hoped.
"Where is my husband?" Hinata demanded. "I know that he is still in there somewhere. What have you done with him?"
"Wishful thinking Lady Uzumaki," her beloved's voice replied, "Rokudaime has been gone for some time now. I'm sorry. Did you wish to say goodbye first?"
The sickening sweet tone of that question sparked something familiar in Sakura's mind. Kindness that masked a soul of pure malice. The way his voice rose almost cheerfully at certain points in his speech. She flexed her fingers beneath leather and armored gloves, preparing to use that crushing strength she possessed at any cost.
"I know you," she hissed. Shikamaru cocked an eyebrow at her, noting the certainty in Sakura's voice. "Where do I know you from?"
"Many places," the man replied, "many encounters. Most with Naruto by your side, but some without. Does it matter now? You may now call me Naruto if you'd like. I've never been one to become attached to a single name."
"Don't insult the sixth hokage by using his name," Neji gritted his teeth in fury, "I've learned enough about you to know that you will never be anything more than a thief; a coward who wears his form because the one you were born with would obviously never measure up." But Neji's insults did nothing except pull another malevolent grin from a face that had been born to smile whole-heartedly.
"Do you believe your words bother me in the least? I hold the cards now, Hyuuga. As long as I am in this body you'll never put your full effort into taking me down. In the end you are the cowards; afraid to do what is necessary to win the battle."
"And that is where you'd be wrong." The ring of steel followed that clear, feminine voice and Naruto's head jerked towards the sound behind him, careful to keep the others within his peripheral vision. A flash of light in the shadowed forest and Tsunade followed the blade into view. She had chosen her point of approach well; behind Naruto and low to the ground. Her timing was also impeccable; she had taken advantage of the initial distraction both parties caused one another. If there was one person who could slip passed the Sharingan unnoticed, it was Tsunade.
Oh shit. Shikamaru hadn't called for her, but he easily guessed how and why she was here. The 'how' undoubtedly still sat upon her desk, and the 'why' had been part of the plan all along. But seeing her here, now, with the sword in hand; some part of him never believed she would actually go through with it!
Instinct flicked his eyes over to Hinata's. This must be the message that had passed between the cousins; the presence of the fifth hokage. They had seen her; thought of her as a hidden advantage. Hinata's Byakugan was just as sharp in that moment as it must have been in the forest and as she met his gaze the relief in her features twisted into confusion.
"What..." it was nothing more than a breath, but more than enough. Sakura heard and then caught the stricken look on the Nara's face, yet just as it occurred to her that something was very wrong the newest arrival had sprung into action.
The Kusanagi's song screamed through the air, accompanied by the guttural cry of its wielder as blade and master moved in for the kill.
Hinata screamed an inarticulate denial and before anyone could react she was thrusting herself between the two hokages, white blades of chakra following her arms as they crossed before her chest.
A pointless defensive maneuver.
Time slowed and Neji saw everything with a crystal clarity that had nothing to do with the Byakugan.
Cinnamon eyes so filled with determination only a moment before now flooded with horror. Bare shoulders under a fall of blonde hair twisted away too late. Steel pierced chakra, then fabric, then flesh. One arm. Two. Shikamaru's feet propelled him forward; too late. Blood erupted from Hinata's chest. Too late Sakura screamed. Too late.
All too late.
Hinata's body slid down the length of the inclined sword, Tsunade's hands staining under the crimson flow. The Byakugan vanished from the porcelain face and pale lips parted.
"Don't..." she was gurgling more than speaking. It was a bad sign.
"Oh Kami!" Tsunade dared not pull the blade from the woman's chest. Experience told her to remove the weapon could do even more damage. "What were you thinking? Naruto's gone, Hinata! You have to know that!"
"He's in there... Gondaime..." and a weak smile that bespoke absolute faith crossed that pained face. "Don't kill him."
"You..." Neji couldn't stop himself; couldn't control his reaction. One shaking step forward, then another, and then he was cradling the dark haired woman's body in his arm. "Hinata... you..."
"I did, Neji," she answered without allowing him to finish. "For him... I would die."
It was no baseless vow, Tsunade understood. Medic's experience told the woman that the Uzumaki woman was in grave danger. Hinata seemed to sense this also; seemed to know that there was no way she'd be walking out of this battle. With trembling fingers the wounded kunoichi wrapped her fingers around Tsunade's and pulled the blade from her chest. The hokage's throat clenched at the finality of such an action.
White eyes glazed over only a second later.
"/Hinata/..." A raindrop landed upon that still face.
No. Not a raindrop.
Neji's eyes stung horribly and another tear fell to Hinata's forehead.
And behind the Hyuuga's back Shikamaru watched as the sixth hokage looked on with eyes void of emotion, and void of the Sharingan.
This was unexpected, though in truth he should have considered this as a possibility. They were all loyal to Naruto; he knew that from the beginning. But sooner or later he should have guessed that one of them would see no other option than Naruto's death. He should have surmised that one of them would eventually make an actual attempt on his life, no matter how reluctantly. Experience should have told him that the fifth hokage would be the most sensible of them all. She'd proven before that she was capable to putting duty before her personal desires. Of course she would attempt to stop him, he realized too late.
But this particular part had been completely unexpected, and with good reason. He had never thought that any of them would actually sacrifice their own lives for his - even if he was Naruto. It would have made no sense to die for the person you battled against. Not when everyone who battled him was on the same team.
And yet he wasn't as troubled as he should have been. All of it was wiped away from his thoughts by one simple realization. Standing there, watching the life slip from Naruto's beloved wife, it occurred to him that there was not a stirring of reaction signaling the presence of Rokudaime. Not a hint of shock, of grief, of anger; nothing.
The absolute lack of any emotion linked to such a tragedy.
It was his. This power; this vessel; it was his and his alone.
Uzumaki Naruto was no more.
Excitement bubbled up within the conqueror at the revelation.
Concern for Deidara's whereabouts was permanently abandoned. The rest of the Akatsuki no longer mattered either.
He had Naruto's strength.
He had the Kyuubi.
He could do anything.
'You can keep the answer to your question, demon,' /he told the thing sealed within his new body, 'but if you ever want to taste blood again you'll give me your power now and any time I demand in the future.' /
The beast rumbled and snarled within yet the he ignored its resentment. This thing was his now; he had nothing to fear now that Naruto was gone. Smug satisfaction nearly radiated from him as that feeling began to seep into his veins once more. The demon had obeyed.
Power. Red hot power.
The Hyuuga man, kneeling with his back to him, his cousin in his embrace; all of it slowly began to turn crimson in his eyes.
Yes, this was how it should be.
He had fought and struggled and plotted in silence for years, all for this moment.
This was his right. His reward.
Something within his mind thundered and reverberated in a way that screamed of disaster. Panicked, he thrust his consciousness inward, ready to defend against whatever threat awaited.
Beneath conduit and concrete, those mighty cage doors were bowed outward, though the seal that held them shut seemed to be intact. It was a wonder the bars had held at all; not one had escaped being mangled from within, it seemed. Cautiously Akatsuki's leader stepped towards the doors, peering into the blackness, desperate to know if his prize was still held within. Caution told him to hang back a bit, yet dread pushed him closer until he could almost reach out before him and touch a piece of crooked steel.
And in that strange place that could not be considered reality, the conquering invader felt an all too real breath burning hot against his neck.
And an otherworldly voice rumbled sinisterly at his back.
I'm trying to get these out quicker, and the ideas are coming to me a bit easier now. It's just a little trying, finding time around my real life to sit and write my fictions. That, and my book has been invading my writing time more than usual. But I've been getting threats from my friends and family that if I don't update my book for them to proof-read they're going to strap me down in front of my computer. Guess my book is getting interesting, too. ;)
Soooo... who hates me? Come on, really. Anyone pissed off yet? Anyone ready to send me hate mail and tell me to quit f***g with our favorite ninjas? LOL! Keep reading. (Think about it this way: I like writing, so why would I permanently drive off my readers? So...)
Until the next chapter, kiddies!