Her body stung, as if she had bathed in lemon juice after being pricked by a million white-hot needles. But she could see the orange of the slowly setting sun in the sky above her, she could feel the cold slab of stone beneath her. Hinata was back in reality. The nightmare was over.
Where am I? Hinata stuttered slightly over the words. She didnt want to move too much for fear of increasing the sting along her skin. She closed her eyes, and then opened them again for fear of falling back into that
dream. No, it could not have been a dream. Dreams fade eventually, right? This was vivid. Disturbingly vivid. She could recall every detail, every feeling with exactness. Dreams at least dull as you wake up.
She took a modicum of comfort that she knew it wasnt real. It couldnt have been. It had definitely felt like it, while it was happening, but she hadnt really killed her friends, right?
The uncertainty she felt startled her. I know I didnt transcend time or space to get to all of them. It WAS NOT REAL. This was logical thinking. Hinata prayed it still applied.
She breathed deeply and tried to clear her head. She began listing the things she did know about what was going on: She was awake, it was early evening, she was lying on a cold, flat stone slab, her hoodie, armor, and wire mesh were gone, the wind was cold against--
Hinata squeaked slightly, her face a burning red as she pulled her arms up to her chest to cover herself.
where?! She thought, her mind rushing from shock and embarrassment that she couldnt even think complete sentences.
I looked away as much as I could.
Hinata sat up and looked around nervously. Naruto? she called out, almost too frantically.He did not respond at once.
Im here, Hinata.
She turned to her left to see Naruto leaning against a tree, his eyes glued to his feet, his expression serious. His orange ski jacket lay on the ground at his feet, and his black tee shirt was slashed across the front. Hinatas eyes fell on his right arm, gazing in confusion at the bloodied bandage wrapped around it.
I didnt have a choice, Naruto said loudly, to her or to himself, Hinata could only guess. I had to do something. So I did. He turned his eyes up to hers as he finished his sentence. For a split second, their eyes locked, until they both realized that Hinata wasnt wearing any kind of shirt, and looked away in a hurry. Naruto glued his eyes to his feet again, pinking slightly, while Hinata turned her back to him, squeezing her eyes shut as she knelt on the rock. Both were silent for a moment.
Why? Hinata mumbled weakly. What is going on? Naruto?
Hinata gained enough control on herself to activate the Byakugan, and watched as Naruto, his eyes constantly on the ground, slowly knelt, and bowed deeply before her.
He struggled with the words for a few moments. His fragmented stops and starts were punctuated with low curses, until finally he spoke.
Im sorry, he said, gritting his teeth. I
am so sorry.
Hinata was silent.
There was no other choice. I couldnt let you die because of
because of THIS.
Slowly, Naruto raised his head just enough for him to pull his shirt up a few inches. Hinata blushed harder as he revealed himself, until an inky black seal interrupted his abs, spiraling around his belly button, scribbled curse lines forming a spiked circle around it.
Hinata slowly looked down at her own chest. The first thing she noticed was the scar. How could she NOT notice it? It was huge, an X-shaped monstrosity, its focal point right above her heart. The slightly puffed up scar tissue extended up to her left shoulder and just beneath her right collarbone, and down to either side of her waist. One of the legs of her scar broke off from the main, and tore through her belly button. But that wasnt the worst of it.
Where the scars crossed and formed an X, she found a thin, dotted line that spiraled outwards and around her heart. It was surrounded by spiky curse seal lines.
What is this? The thought screamed through her mind. Hinata was terrified. Shed just lived through murdering her friends, only to awaken bare-chested in front of none other than Naruto. What was going on?
Its a curse seal, Naruto said, pulling his shirt down and bowing his head to the ground again. I
Ive been working on that one for a while, to be ready if I had to
use it on myself someday.
Hinata brushed a fingertip along the black seal on her chest. A warm growl shuddered through her body. Why?! What would you need to seal?!
You know the answer to that, something hissed inside her. Both she and Naruto visibly cringed. Naruto paused, and took a deep breath.
Eighteen years ago, Konoha was attacked by
The Ninetailed Demon Fox.
Kyuubi, Hinata whispered. The warm growl resonated through them both again.
couldnt kill the Kyuubi. Instead, Naruto stopped, and gulped, He sealed it in me. A little baby newborn me.
Suddenly it all made sense. The way he was ostracized for no reason. The way adults had treated him while he was a kid. The secrecy that surrounded his power. There was a demon locked away inside him.
Hinata said nothing. Naruto continued.
something happened. I dont understand anything right now but
Kyuubi is inside of you too.
How very bluntly he put it. The deep laugh that filled her mind only served to reiterate the truth as she felt something tighten around her heart. No
Somehow, while we were training, or you were helping me with my ANBU blade, some of
some of my chakra pushed its way inside you and
Hinata was silent for a long time. Finally she spoke, blushing in rage and embarrassment as tears began to roll down her face and onto her chest. Her voice was dangerously soft.
And you sealed it inside me? She knew the answer, but it was all too much. Possessed? Her?
More silence from Naruto. More bad news, she thought.
Not exactly, he said through clenched teeth, bowing even farther. Jiraiya and I created it as
a backup, in case the permanent seal broke somehow. Its
he fumbled for words. Your seal is just a patch
his voice trailed off.
What happens when it breaks?
Naruto bowed even lower.
Ill have to relive everything again and youll have to seal it again, she answered herself. The tears streamed freely down her face, and she sniffed slightly. Or else Ill die.
Hinata, I swear I will find a way to--
Stop! She screamed. I cant do this! I cant be possessed! I cant
go through that nightmare again! Im too weak for that!
Naruto stared at her as she sobbed and tried very hard not to stare at the ANBU tattoo on the small of her back. A flood of emotions began to wash over him. They crept up the large scar on his right arm, where Hinatas Kyuubi had slashed him as he sealed it back inside her. They were Hinatas emotions, and she was not happy. Rage, sadness, weakness, panic, all of them began to leak into his own mind. He forced them all away and did the only thing he could do: wait for her.
Hinata almost forgot where she was, and who she was with, the shock completely clouding her mind as an echo of an echo of a laugh stirred within her. Its
Its not fair!
Narutos voice was sullen, much softer than before. Hinata stopped crying enough to notice that he had stopped bowing, and was looking at the forest floor.
Yes, I know. It isnt fair.
Hinata stopped and felt like an idiot.
Get a hold of yourself, Hinata, her old, confident voice said. You dont think he knows that? Hes dealt with this his entire life.
She was right, but it didnt help her at all. What would she tell her father? How would she deal with another voice in her brain all the time? How could she possibly control the rage of a demon forever?
The tears of self-pity were replaced by the tears of fear, which are much quieter.
What are we going to do? she whispered.
Naruto looked up at her and said nothing. Hug me, dammit! she screamed in her head. Some form of comfort, thats all I ask! Naruto twitched, and, unsure, slowly rose to his feet.
Hinata dropped the Byakugan as she felt his arms timidly wrap around her shoulders, and pull her naked back to his chest. She felt him lean down, and rest his cheek against her head as he looked away. Nervous, unsure feelings flooded into Hinata, seeming to dance into her consciousness from the long scar over her heart. They were overpowered by her shy embarrassment and her surprise that he, Naruto, was hugging her.
She blushed like no tomorrow.
I swear to you, he whispered in a trying-to-be-comforting voice, I will find a way to rid you of this. I dont know how or why this happened, but I DO know that this is my burden and my burden ONLY.
The embrace was awkward, as if both Naruto and Hinata were magnets with identical poles being pushed together while trying to push away from each other. They just didnt quite fit together. That, and Naruto had no idea what he was doing. His way of comforting people had always been vengeance. But how could he avenge Hinata when the one who had brought this on her was himself?
He let her go as she calmed down, and awkwardly stepped away. Hinata shivered slightly, her eyes fixed on the stone beneath her. Naruto draped his orange jacket over her shoulders and stepped back. She snuggled into it slightly, and then zipped it up, fluffing her hair out behind her when she was done. She turned around to face him, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.
Whats this going to be like? she finally asked. The blush was still there, but she was no longer panicked and suddenly strong.
Naruto smiled a little inside. Shes strong, he thought. Or at least very brave.
Hard. Naruto replied. Hinata nodded. That seemed like the right answer. There was another awkward pause as they looked into each others serious eyes.
So how many of them did you kill? Naruto asked.
Hinata had not wanted to recall that
nightmare realm inside her head, but knew it was the only way.
Kiba, Shino, Akamaru, Sakura, Neji, my father, Hanabi
Hanabi, my little sister.
You have a little sister?
Naruto stared, and tried to remember. Hinata laughed. It felt good to laugh, even if it was as weak and timid as this one. The laughter died faster than she would have liked.
You will relive those again, Naruto said. Sometimes the terrors come almost every night.
Hinata wanted it to be a sick joke, but she knew it was true.
One thing I know, Naruto said bitterly, is that Kyuubi likes to kill. Hell help you fantasize about killing
just about everyone. You see, because Ive killed Orochimaru, Ive killed Itachi, Ive killed the bad guys before. And Ive also killed Sakura. Ive killed Kakashi. Ive killed the Third AND the Fourth, Ive killed Kiba. Ive killed Shikamaru, Ive killed
Ive killed Sasuke. Ive killed a lot of innocent people. Sometimes almost every night for years on end.
Hinata, Kyuubi is not kind. But hes not invincible either. Just dont let his rage control you. He looked away.
bad things happen when you let the rage take you.
But Kyuubi is also the neverending well of red chakra inside you
Yeah. Pause. He can be controlled, or at least
harnessed? Is that the right word? Anyway, if we die, Kyuubi inside us dies. And Kyuubi does not want that. He wants to rip free of his prison and rampage through the world again. He wants to kill and kill and kill instead of fantasizing about with us. Instead of tempting us, trying to make us vulnerable. Hinata felt the truth of the words. There was a stirring within her that seemed to mutter, yeah, damn you, you fleshy prison.
Hinata wanted to start crying again, but held her ground against the red flood of anger that seemed ready to boil over at a moments notice. How
can I control a demon, Naruto?
Naruto looked down and tried to think. I
Im not sure how to explain it. It just kinda happened over time, as I trained with the ero-sennin and
just kinda lived with it. He smiled an embarrassed smile. Im really sorry, Ill try to teach you. But, I mean, you know me, I cant even learn stuff to save my lif--
No. Dont say stupid things. Yes, I do know you. And I know that you can learn anything because you set your mind to something and never let it go until you have it. So now, youll have to step up, her voice wavered. Her newfound courage left her as she realized how emotional she was feeling, and how out-of-control her chakra was. Step up and
Naruto stared for a moment, and smiled. Thank you, youre right, Hinata. Ill teach you.
It was a promise. Hinata still didnt feel much better, but sounding slightly angry was infinitely better than breaking down crying or locking up blushing. Probably.
She looked back down at his jacket zipped up around her, and patted it lightly. This
This is yours. Lemme give it back.
Oh, yeah, er, your clothes are behind the rock slab, Naruto said, blushing and looking away. He just remembered that there was absolutely nothing between Hinata and his jacket. She grabbed her stuff and blushed back, quietly asking, Could you turn around?
Of course! Sure! Naruto said a little too loudly, and spun on his heels. His eyes were drawn to amazing amount of sunset there was left in the sky. Hinata turned her back to him as well, and unzipped the jacket. Naruto heard it fall to the ground behind him and looked at the amazing qualities of the dirt at his feet.
She wanted to say something conversational, like, this is a pretty gnarly scar, eh? or Uzumaki for spirals and stuff, eh? or So, erm, what did you think? but they all felt like stupid things to say. So she pulled on her wire mesh undergarment, tied on her armor, and slipped her hoodie on, foofing her hair out again. She imagined a shoujo manga background of bubbles behind her as her hair fell gently against her back, and laughed a little inside.
You can turn around now, Naruto, she said, tugging nervously at the bottom of the sweatshirt. Where are the others?
About half a mile from here, he said as he picked up and pulled on his jacket. He sniffed slightly as he zipped it up. Mmmm, he thought, my clothes smell like girl.
Guess we should head back, Hinata said. Naruto nodded. They looked at each other and looked away, then looked back slowly. It was still awkward, and Hinata didnt know how to make it go away.
Hinata, Naruto started, I
I think, she interrupted, I mean, the way I see it
Everyone has their demons and their secrets, Naruto. Everyone has to face themselves. Were both our good and our bad sides. She looked down. And now, you kinda have to share your demons and secrets with
She paused, and Naruto felt something icy begin to crawl up his scar. It was her secret, he could feel it, something she focused intensely on but still kept hidden. It almost reached his mind, but retreated and vanished out the tips of his fingers. It was probably for the best anyway.
She turned away. Naruto, I
I will tell you my secrets. I promise. Just
not now. She locked eyes with him over her shoulder, her lavender-white eyes earnestly boring into his blues. He looked confused, curious. Okay?
Naruto nodded. Lets get back. They soundlessly walked through the forest, Naruto leading the way.
What the hell happened?! Kiba screamed as they emerged from the trees. The team was leaning against some trees. There was no fire. There were no tents. They could not afford to rest too much. Whats going on?!
Shinos glare echoed the sentiment without a sound. Sakura was the only one who looked furious enough to tear down a tree and still remained silent.
The guy took Shino down, you followed. Sakura, Hinata and I fought him until Sakura went down too. Hinata held him off while I pulled you guys out of there, Naruto answered with rehearsed ease.
Then what?! Kiba yelled. Akamaru barked in agreement. Whered you two go?!
Naruto hadnt thought that far in advance. We, well, we led him away. Once I dropped you all off, I went back and we fought him off through the woods. We were tending our wou--
Sakura smashed a hole in the tree behind her. Everyone fell deathly silent. She slowly walked up to Naruto as the tree fell behind her.
What did you do to her? She asked quietly.
Sakura, Naruto said dangerously.
Im not an idiot, Naruto. I know what I saw.
No! I saw it!
Shes like you! Shes got a d-
She stopped. The back of Narutos fist was a hairs breadth away from her face. The force of the swing ruffled her pink hair slightly.
You promised, he whispered angrily. Not here, not now, not ever. You promised.
Is something wrong with Hinata? Shino stepped forward impassively.
Shes fine, Naruto said, staring Sakura down.
Im fine, Hinata echoed. It sounded like it might be true. Maybe. She hoped they bought it.
Naruto, Shino began, adjusting his glasses and his scowl, if something happened, I need to be aware of it for the missio--
Im FINE, Hinata said a bit louder. Whats the plan, fearless leader? Shino turned the eyeless glare on her, but said nothing. Whatever it was that they had been talking about was over, and everyone knew it.
We need to get going, he finally said. Same formation, everyone alert, and well reach the safehouse by dawn. No objections? Let move. He was obviously angry. But they needed to get going.
Sakura gave Hinata an uncertain look, like she didnt know whether to be afraid, cautious, or concerned. They held a brief stare before jumping up into the trees in a flurry of leaves.
Hinatas mind was racing at full speed. She needed to know what was going on. There was a twang of anger that bolted through the scar all along her torso. If she could reach out
Her scar grew icy cold, and slowly felt its way into the consciousness of Narutos scar. A memory appeared in her head from Narutos point of view.
What did you do to her? Kiba whispered angrily as they got into formation.
I did what had to be done.
Youre scent is all over her, and hers all over you. I told you, didnt I? This was NOT what I had in mind.
Naruto said nothing. The young memory faded. Hinata needed more answers than that. She dug deeper, hoping Naruto didnt try the same thing. She was abusing her new bond with him, but she was terrified.
You deserve this, a voice said within her. You deserve to know. Everything.
I dont,she thought in reply, but thats not stopping me now.
All she could pull was some of the words Kiba whispered to Naruto just last night.
Take garble garble her. And then the bond retracted, and Hinata was left alone and not quite alone.
She uttered a small prayer to whatever deities were watching over her that the rest of this mission would go smoothly. She was almost certain it would not.
The Raikage sighed as he shuffled meaningless papers from one side of the desk to the other. The job was always the same, always BORING. It was the power of the title that made it all worth it, and the thrill of being the brand new Raikage in a land of changing leaders. The constant threat of assassination made it interesting too.
The window behind him exploded in a whirl of glass. The Raikage yawned and rolled over his desk milliconds before it was cut in half by the sizzle of electricity. His assailant paused for only a moment, his huge bulk silhouetted against the lightshining through the newly broken window behind his desk. His hands sparked and sent out tiny waves of thunder. His haori-robe fluttered slightly in the breeze.
The Raikage sighed again and adjusted his hat and mask. The fight began.
He spun easily on his heel as the assassin lashed out with his fists. He tapped his enemys elbow and muttered, broken, before ducking under the countering roundhouse kick. The Raikage tapped the back of his opponents knee with his foot, and mumbled, swept, tripped, and down.
The enemy bellowed in frustration as he brought a fist down into the floor, an attack the Raikage easily dodged. As he rolled towards his ruined desk, the chakra in the soles of his feet caught a kunai from the ground and held it below his foot. He spun and aimed a kick at the targets head.
Youve gone soft, Yasukana, The Raikage said with a smirk.
His kick hovered an inch from Yasukanas face and the kunai grazed lightly against his cheek, cutting him paper-cut deep.
Yasukana grinned like a madman as he stared at the Raikage, who kept his balance perfectly on one leg. The hat and face mask slowly split in two and fluttered to the floor. Yasukanas own kunai twirled around his finger.
Red, Sharingan eyes greeted Yasukanas wide-eyed stare.
I see you took a new body, Yasukana said with a manic grin, Orochimaru-chan.
Sasukes face split into an evil grin as his body lowered his leg. They stood face to face. Yasukana towered over him.
What can I do you for? Orochimaru asked as his face and features rose to the surface of the skin and replaced Sasukes.
You know I killed the last Raikage, Yasukana replied.
And I killed his successor. Raikages are assassinated all the time in this country, Orochimaru said, taking a seat on the window sill. But Hokages? Ive killed one of them. Thats a challenge.
Yasukana laughed, and picked up an overturned chair. He sat and said, Is that why a large Konoha ANBU squad is heading here? Or did you steal your new body from there as well?
Both, Orochimaru said nonchalantly. Heading here? Who?
A bug-user, a boy and his dog, a medical nin, and
Yasukana paused. Two demons.
What? Two? Orochimaru was suddenly surprised and interested.
Listen, Orochimaru-chan, I know demons. Ive got one. And two of them are coming here. That means this is where the food is at. One of them is a spiky-headed blonde brat. Likes orange.
Naruto-kun, Orochimaru thought, and nodded.
But the other one
She was feral, Orochimaru-chan. Uncontrolled. Like a beast unbound and half-formed.
Yasukana licked his lips and grinned insanely. Very.
Can you describe her?
Yasukana groaned. Cmon, Orochimaru-chan, you know how bad I am with names and faces. She didnt stand out physically.
How should I know? Yasukana paused. White eyes, I think, or very close to it. Creepy
he licked his lips again. but boy was she delicious.
Orochimaru smiled. It must be one of the Hyuuga girls.
And what does Yasukana-sama want for this information? he finally said. Keep in mind you broke my desk.
Only what the great Raikage-sama is willing to give, Yasukana replied with a mock bow of respect. He knew how to play the power games. Most of the time his plays involved thunder and lightnings, and someone ended up in pieces and chakra-cannibalized.
A feast, perhaps?
Yasukana sighed his Hnnnn-jaaaaaah sigh, and said, I get the girl.
Fine. You get the girl.
And the boy?
Orochimaru licked his lips as the Sharingan form in his eyes.
They grinned evilly, as evil villains are wont to do.
Well then, lets go get them.
No. Orochimaru stood.
And why not?
They will come to us. Kabuto! Orochimaru barked. Kabuto appeared at his side, kneeling.
They will enter from the east after reaching their safe-house just outside the village, Orochimaru explained. Make sure you and our guest are there to greet them.
Kabuto nodded and stood, smirking at Yasukana behind his round glasses. Dont worry, he said, I can rip a heart out at fifty feet away.
Yasukana said nothing. His wide eyes stood transfixed on Kabutos glasses as he reached into his robe and pulled out the deck of cards. He drew the top card and held it up side by side to Kabuto.
Ive found you
There was a flurry of movement and electricity, and all were still. Sasuke stood between them, one arm clutching Kabuto, the other holding his swords edge against Yasukanas throat.
Yasukana began to protest.
No, Sasuke repeated. Draw again. Not him. I need him.
Yasukanas eyes flicked hungrily from Kabuto to the new Raikage to the new Raikages sword. Fine, Orochimaru-chan, he finally said dangerously. but know this: I dont work for you. He slowly raised the deck of information cards. And your card is in here somewhere.
He flipped backwards and landed lightly on the broken window sill. I will confront them alone, and save the boy for you, Orochimaru-sama. Then, he was gone.
The Sharingan faded from Sasukes eyes as he released his hold on Kabuto and said, send out the Four to shadow them, in case his phony loyalty falters.
There was an uncharacteristic hesitation in Kabutos affirmative reply. An awkward silence followed as Sasuke began gathering the pointless paperwork.
Youve been keeping me away from you, he said slowly. Ive been on constant missions for the last three years, ever since you took Sasuke-kuns body. Youve kept me as far away from you asyou possibly could.
Sasuke slowly turned and faced him. Are you
accusing me of something, Kabuto? he asked in a dangerous tone.
And you use that form an awful lot, Kabuto continued. Youve always preferred your own body to the forms of those youve taken.
Ah, but you know as well as I that Sasuke-kuns body was so beautifully powerful. He was different from the other boys.
Kabuto slowly drew a kunai. And you never gave Naruto-kun a second glance. What could you possibly want with him now?
Sasuke said nothing.
What did you do with him, Kabuto whispered, Sasuke-kun?
Sasuke grinned. The same thing he planned to do to me, only three seconds faster. Honestly, Kabuto, its about damn time. He ran a hand through his hair and took a step forward. Three years is a long time. Both Orochimaru-sama and I thought you would have figured it out by now.
Is very much alive within me. At least, his mind is. Hes very useful at times. Sasuke blinked forward and caught the arm that held Kabutos kunai. There was a sickening snap as he forced it into an arm bar, the tip of the blade inching slowly towards the soft spot at the base of Kabutos skull. For instance, I know everything Orochimaru-sama knew. He was quite keen on developing ways to control suboridinates.
He casually reached into his Raikage robes and produced a tag, which he slapped onto the back of Kabutos head. Another snap heralded the breaking of Kabutos shoulder, and forced the tip of the kunai through the paper and into his brain. There was a soft purple glow as Sasuke released his grip, and the kunai sucked itself the rest of the way into Kabutos skull. His eyes went from wide with pain, to blank with death, and settled for totally black.
Rise. Sasukes voice echoed through the lonely room.
Gather the four. And lay in wait for ANBU. Kabuto bowed and dashed away, his arm already beginning to heal. Sasuke was alone.
He smiled and went to the window to survey his Hidden Village of Cloud. All we need to do now, he said as he picked up and adjusted his Raikage hat, is wait.