Naruto lay encased in rubble, chest slow to rise, breathing tight as the burnt skin across his body twinged and pulled. He wondered, idly, if this was it. Lying in a smoking hole, his clothes in tatters and his vision barely latching onto his friend's faces as they stood around the ragged crater Sora had made.
Could he be saved? Was he too far gone, had that damned chakra taken another of Naruto's friends? One. Two. Three tails. Three magnificent, horrific tails loomed above him. They threatened everything in their promise of destruction and pain. They would wash away years of captivity in blood and despair if left unchecked. His friends would pay, suffer, die at the hands of something Sora couldn't fathom to control.
Naruto growled and gnashed his teeth, splitting his lip and bleeding freely as he pushed against the rocks that he held him. His hands, bloody and raw, clawed fiercely at the debris around him. His friends needed him.
He could feel her worried eyes on his back. Her fear shot through his body, and he could almost see her eyes flash as his tail fell upon her, an echo of a scream on her lips. He blinked harshly against the thought, and it was replaced with Sora's tail, fueled by years of loneliness and rage, striking down the one he loved above all else.
No. He wouldn't let it come to pass. He would burn and die before that demon's chakra touched her again. Because, on his knees before a mirror chakra of his own worst fears... he thought he just might. If he could save his friends, his village, her... wouldn't it all be worth it? What was his life in exchange for theirs?
One step. Two. Don't wobble, don't fall. One. Step.
The demon burned brightly before him, and his own stirred in response; demanding freedom to destroy and annihilate. But believe it, Naruto Uzumaki would not bend his knee again. No strength was greater than that of his friends support, surrounding him, and his own ninja way. He would prevail. He had to. To be Hokage was his future. His destiny. He could not stop today, not here, and that meant that no matter what... one. more. step.
Black eyes, formed in the darkest pits of hell, regarded him. What was this creature before them? Why did it feel so familiar, yet so alien? It shuffled and moved as though something more was driving it. Something... repugnant. The demon made to swipe, but the creature raised his hand, and a brilliant ball of light exploded between them.
As the stars left their eyes, Naruto's friends surveyed the scene before them. Naruto, arms wrapped around this lost boy. Their friend who had been turned into a weapon to hurt and destroy them. The infamous red cloak sizzled across both boy's skin. Burning. Peeling. Ripping away at their humanity.
And yet still, Naruto's arms stayed tight. His head close to Sora's, reminding him of who he was, and lending him what little strength he had left.
The sound of masters battling furiously in the background faded, and all became still. Moments stretched into eternity, and slowly, both boys fell to their knees, spent.
Three tails faded to two, to one, to a raw and blistered back that trembled against his friend... his brother. Sora breathed on his own for the first time since his betrayer had struck him in the stomach. Naruto, arms still locked around him, offered a small, pained smile.
"You did it, Sora."
The boy, confused and in near agony from a battle he had no memory of, lost his fight to stay conscious, and fell to a quiet oblivion. Naruto felt him slump, and situated him as best he could for Sakura to heal, as she rapidly approached the pair now that the battle was finished.
She skidded to the ground before them, and Naruto met those teary, pained eyes with his own weary ones, and once again tried to pull a smile. He could only imagine it wasn't much comfort, his lips beyond cracked and bloody, but it was all he had to offer at the moment. He hoped she would forgive him for all the blood that was soaking into her clothes. Perhaps she'd make him wash them as punishment. He supposed that was fitting.
Hot on Sakura's heels, their friends gathered around them. Choji, gently lifted Sora from his arms and placed him on the ground next to Ino, who raised her hands and infused Sora's burnt body with as much chakra as she could. They all heard Yamato's order to stay together and focus on healing, as he headed off to back up Asuma-sensei. Shikamaru ordered Lee, Kiba and Akamaru into a protective formation, and they stood diligently over their fallen friends as the girls put their chakras to work.
Like a whisper on the wind, "Oh Naruto, why is it always you?"
It fell from Sakura's lips like a lance, but her hands were gentle as she reached for him. Green shined brilliantly between them as she called her chakra to the surface. He watched them in a dazed sort of fascination. Her hands were a mystery to him. So gentle, but yet if she wished she could, and had, put him through a wall for being pushy with her. He wondered if maybe they were all like that... a mix of healing and destruction that was in a constant, never-ending battle.
"He's gonna be okay." Ino's voice shook from a mixture of exhaustion and fear, but relief was mixed throughout. Choji offered her some chips from his own stash, which she took with a small sigh. This day had totally sucked.
Sakura's hands trembled as they passed over Naruto's scorched skin. He winced and tried not to scream as his burns eased slowly. He focused on Sakura, her soft pink hair, unkept and dirty (not that he would ever point that out-he liked living) from battle but somehow still so beautiful. The way she mumbled underneath her breath as she worked; colorful obscenties and potential punishments for a certain dummy she knew. Some things would never change, he guessed.
As the feeling returned to him, in a burst of bravery (lunacy?) his hand reached out slowly, gently curling against her arm. He could almost feel the worry and stress she must have been under, watching Sora's demon throw him around like a ragdoll. He pressed his fingers into her skin, imploring her to feel him against her. Alive. Injured, but still with her.
She dropped her hands, and as the green faded between them he felt her hand reach up to cover his, squeezing almost painfully.
"I wish I could do more." She looked away, wishing again she held the power to bring him back when he lost control. Do something. Anything that meant it wouldn't always be Naruto that ended up broken and bruised. He was more than a jinchuriki to her. He was... brash and somewhat preverted, cha, but he was also solemn eyes and promises that never wavered or broke. He had become her constant and someone she could always depend on. He was...
His other hand found her cheek (all in--believe it), turning her back towards him. His lips, still red but whole, formed the softest smile.
She met his eyes, glittering jade to a calming blue, and his smile, impossibly, grew brighter. As if just looking at her was enough for him and all he ever wanted.
"You are enough." His words whispered a promise only he could make. She softened, listening to her friends speaking quietly in the background, keeping each other safe as the family they had grown to be. And she thought, maybe, just maybe, it might be time to let go of the past that held to her so tightly, and focus on the ones who stood beside her today. Her friends, her family, her... Naruto. A smile blossomed across her lips as the words settled inside her heart.
The rest that followed, they would all face together. As it should be.