In the morning, Jiraiya was the first one there. "How is he?"
"Still alive, if that's what you mean." Tsunade was sitting on the bed with Naruto, her back to the door.
"Was it a rough night?" Jiraiya walked over and stood behind Tsunade.
"He had several spasms. I wanted to help him, but I didn't. I let him go through that pain without doing anything. I thought maybe Sakura was prolonging the inevitable. There was one spasm were he stopped breathing and his chakra was gone. I thought it was over, but he started breathing on his own and his chakra slowly came back. It seems that Sakura hasn't made any difference, although I won't tell her that." Tsunade had been holding Naruto's hand, she let go, stood up and faced Jiraiya. She was covered with blood. "Yes, its been a rough night. Stay with him while I go and clean up." Tsunade left without even looking at Jiraiya.
Jiraiya watched her leave and then looked fondly at Naruto. "I guess we all failed you. I'm sorry. None of what happened to the village all those years ago was your fault, but everyone treated you like it was. Maybe if we…" I guess its to late for what if's. Jiraiya stood over Naruto, full of regret for all of the things he would never get to tell or show him. "Your parents would have been proud." The thought of Naruto's parents made him feel even worse. "I guess you're going to meet them soon." Please forgive us. Jiraiya waited in silence for Tsunade to return.
Several hours later everyone had re-gathered in Naruto's hospital room. Sakura, Iruka, Kaien and Shizune were bedside. Kakashi, Jiraiya, Guy, Kurenai and Tsunade were off to the side, while everyone else stood by the foot of the bed. This included: Neji, TenTen, Lee, Shino, Kiba, Akamaru, Hinata, Ino and Choji.
Sakura stood by Naruto and looked at him, Come on Naruto, you better wake up from this! I'm not giving up yet. You never give up, that's one thing I learned from you. You will prove them all wrong, I know it! But Sakura was more tying to convince herself than anything else. She could tell from the look on everyone's face, they had prepared for the worst. You'll show them wrong, I know it. I know it!
I can't stand the thought of waiting around for him to die. Kiba thought as he looked around the room. But I can't stand the thought of not being here. He could tell from the look on everyone's face that they felt the same.
Skikamaru was the last to enter, but he went over to Tsunade instead of joining everyone else. She turned to look at him. "Skikamaru, I thought I told you that you needed to take care of the representatives of the Sand."
"Yeah, well about that…" He leaned in to talk quietly to Tsunade.
Tsunade's eyes widened with surprise, "Very well," was all she said. Skikamaru nodded and left.
"I wonder what that was about?" Ino asked Choji. He just shrugged.
A moment later Skikamaru returned, with three other people.
One figure moved ahead, "What has happened?"
Sakura looked up in surprise, "Gaara!" Gaara was the Kazekage, the head of the Sand village. Kages rarely leave their villages. With him were Kankuro and Temari. "Your all here?"
"Do you think we would let the Kazekage travel alone." Temari said, she looked from Sakura to Naruto to Gaara, "Gaara?"
Gaara came closer, Iruka moved so that he could get closer. "Please, what has happened?"
He's changed so much, Sakura thought. He used to be so full of anger and hate. All it took was one encounter with Naruto for Gaara to change. Why couldn't Sasuke…
"I'm sorry Gaara…I mean Kazekage."
"Gaara is fine. What happened to him?"
Sakura inwardly smiled. What a difference Naruto makes with people. She took a deep breath and told Gaara everything.
"That sounds like him," Gaara said when Sakura had finished. He leaned in and placed a hand on Naruto. Gaara closed his eyes and concentrated. You could see the chakra building between his hand and Naruto.
Sakura looked at him worriedly. Is he trying to do the same thing Elder Chiyo did when she brought Gaara back to life. Naruto would never want that! She started to reach for him but stopped when she realized Gaara had opened his eyes.
"When I was lost. I could hear Naruto's voice calling to me. I thought if I could get my voice to reach him…" Gaara stopped and look at Naruto, "I guess I still have a long way to go before I can catch up to him."
Sakura smiled, "He would be happy that you are here. Although, I think he would want to catch up to you." Gaara looked up at her. Sakura looked surprised. Did he just smile?
"I came hoping to see Naruto again. I was going to ask for his help. It seems as though he could always be there for everyone. It's just a shame that when he needs help, its beyond our reach." Gaara removed his hand, then straightened.
Kankuro and Temari had been standing behind Gaara. They respected Naruto for his ability to change people. They had seen it first hand with Gaara and then elder Chiyo.
"It's terrible to loose someone with his ability." Temari said.
Kankuro nodded, "He always went after everything with all he had. It was as if everything was personal."
"Don't give up on him yet!" Sakura said. "You know how stubborn he can be. He still wants to become Hokage. He's never gone back on his word and he's not going to start now."
Kankuro and Temari looked at the determination on Sakura's face. They both just nodded to her.
Gaara nodded and turned to go. Sakura called out to him. "Gaara wait. Please stay. I know Naruto would want you to."
"Yes, Kazekage. To Naruto, friends were his family. And I know he counted you as one of his friends." Tsunade added.
Gaara paused. Temari stepped forward, "What would you like to do?"
"As long as we are not a hindrance, we shall stay." Everyone nodded and smiled.
Well, it looks like the village of the Leaf and the Sand will be allies for a long time, Tsunade thought. She smiled to herself. At that moment Naruto moaned. Here we go. She prepared herself for the long day ahead.
By afternoon everyone was exhausted. Naruto had several spasms that had stopped his breathing and his charka flow. The first time it happened Sakura started to heal him, but Tsunade stopped her. It was a rough moment for everyone, but Naruto came back on his own. Now after the fourth time this happened everyone was getting worn out.
By evening everyone was at their breaking point. Tsunade had started sending people home, "Listen, this has been a rough day for everyone. Go home, get cleaned up and get some rest. Tomorrow I want everyone in here in shifts. As much as we may want to be here, the village still needs to function." There were no protests. They had all spent the day watching Naruto in extreme pain. Iruka, Sakura, Kaien, Shizune and Tsunade were covered in blood.
He's going to bleed to death if this keeps up, Sakura thought as she tried to stop the bleeding after the last spasm.
The room slowly cleared out. When it was down to the senior shinobi, Kaien and Sakura, Tsunade made an announcement. "I want all of you to meet back here in one hour. Shizune, you go clean up first, I'll stay with Naruto." She turned to Kurenai, "We are going to need your special genjutsu to see what is going on."
"He's stronger than you give him credit for." Everyone turned to look at Kaien. "I still say he will fight back from this."
"Kaien…" Tsunade said gently."
"No! I believe…"
Sakura stopped listening. As much as she wanted to believe that Naruto could fight back, she could tell he was getting weaker. Naruto, I…I can't keep believing. I want to. I want to believe that you will come back from this more than anything, but…
"Kaien! Enough!" This snapped Sakura out of her thoughts. "In one hour we will find out what is happening. Now out of courtesy, I've let you be here. However, if you keep up this attitude, I will bar you from being in here."
Kaien looked angry, but he quieted.
Sakura didn't want to leave, but she knew Tsunade wouldn't give her a choice. Reluctantly she released Naruto's hand and started walking out.
"Sakura," Tsunade called to her. "If you want to stay home, it's ok."
Sakura shook her head, "Thank you lady Hokage, but Naruto and I have been together for a long time. I want to know what is happening with him. I want to know what I…" She stopped and became very quiet. She put her head down.
"Sakura this isn't your fault." Tsunade knew about the promise Naruto made to her. "He would have gone after Sasuke anyway."
Sakura nodded, "I still want to be here."
"Of course," Tsunade responded.
Sakura left and Kaien followed her, "Miss?"
"You can call me Sakura."
"I heard you address that Gaara fellow as Kazekage. Is that right? Isn't he a bit young for that?"
Sakura smiled, "Yes. He is Gaara of the Sand and the Hidden Sand Village's Kazekage. He was inspired by Naruto's own desire to be Hokage."
"The Leaf and the Sand have been enemies for a very long time. I find it hard to believe that one boy made a difference."
Sakura stopped, turned to look Kaien right in his eyes. Her friendly tone was gone. She was exhausted and angry, if Kaien said one wrong word, she would hit him. Old man or not. "That's because you don't know anything about Naruto. I've seen him reach many people. People who had given up on hope, people who couldn't trust anymore, people who felt betrayed by everything. Then they meet Naruto. His own determination and kindness broke through all of that. I can't count the number of people I've seen Naruto turn around." Sakura's voice and temper were rising.
Kaien just starred at her, he looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I had no idea that he had such an influence over people."
With the sincere look on Kaien's face, Sakura couldn't stay angry with him. Her tone softened. "You should talk to Gaara about it."
Kaien shook his head, "I think I've done enough damage. I really believed that he would be the one to handle that jutsu."
"It's easy to believe in him. Come on, let's get ourselves cleaned up."
Kaien nodded and they walked off together.
There was movement in the shadows.
An hour later Sakura, Kaien, Kakashi, Iruka, Jiraiya, Guy, Kurenai, Shizune, and Tsunade were back in the hospital room.
Tsunade turned to Kurenai, "Please use your genjutsu and let us know what is happening."
Kurenai nodded and stepped forward, placed a hand on Naruto and closed her eyes. It seemed like days before she opened her eyes. When she did, she quietly said, "You would have made a great Hokage."
"Kurenai, please tell us what you saw," Tsunade asked.
Kurenai nodded, turned to face everyone, and began:
"There was a large gate, Naruto had his back to it as if trying to keep it closed. I called out to him.
'Kurenai-sensei? What are you doing here?'
'Everyone is worried about you.' He gave me a big smile.
'So we're back at the village. That means Sasuke is here.'
'Naruto, why did you do this?'
'What do you mean?'
'That jutsu. The Self-Imprisonment jutsu. Why did you use it? Did you know what would happen to you?'
'I had been practicing with the innkeeper, oh wait, do you know about the innkeeper?'
I nodded, 'Yes, he came back to the village as well.'
'Well, he said that if I used it, I would pass out for a few days. He told me that only the most exceptional shinobi have ever used it. I thought that since I mastered the Rasengan, this would be easy.' He looked over his shoulder. 'I guess it was a little harder than I thought.'
'Who's there boy?' I knew that voice, Orochimaru! A snake slid across Naruto's middle, wound around his back, came across his throat and started chocking him.
"No! Stay back! He might try to transfer to you if you get too close.' The snake squeezed harder and Naruto went limp.
'I'm alright.' But the snaked stayed around him.
'You won't be for long boy!' I will find a way out of here!' A sword slashed through his leg. I started towards him again.
'No! Stay back! It's ok.'
'So how does Sasuke like being back in the village?'
'Why don't you release that jutsu and you can see for yourself.'
He shook his head. 'If I leave here, Orochimaru will get out. He may try to go after Sasuke again. I can't take that chance. Plus, he may try to do something to the village. I figure, I have one monster inside of me, what's another one.'
'Tell Sasuke that he's going to need to keep an eye on Sakura since I can't anymore.' A sword slashed his arm.
'But what about becoming Hokage?'
He smiled at me again, 'Well I think keeping Sasuke, Sakura, and the rest of the village safe comes first. If I keep Orochimaru here, he won't be able to hurt anyone else ever again.'
'That's what you think boy!' This time the sword went through his heart.
Again, I started toward him, but a red chakra enveloped him. His wounds healed and he straightened up. He looked over his shoulder, 'Thanks big guy.'
'Why do you keep saving him you damn fox! Once he dies we can escape!' Orochimaru screamed and I could tell that he and the Nine-tailed fox were battling. This seemed to put a lot of stress on Naruto.
'Naruto, I can't leave you like this.'
'It's ok, tell everyone I'm fine.'
'But you're not, we can help…'
'Kurenai-sensei listen, I've kept my promise to Sakura. I've brought a friend home. And, I'm keeping the village safe. What more could I ask for?'
Another snake coiled around him in the opposite direction. When it got to his neck, it bit
down. Naruto's eyes changed to gray ,snake like eyes.
'Come here Kurenai, I want to go home now.' It was Naruto's voice, but I knew it wasn't him. I could see him struggle to gain control of himself.
'It's time for you to go Kurenai-sensei. Tell everyone I'm fine and not to worry about me.'
I could feel him pushing me out. 'Naruto! Wait!' But he just smiled at me as he pushed me out and continued to get slashed and choked by Orochimaru."
Everyone was stunned. They couldn't believe what Naruto had been going through.
"Damn him. Doesn't he ever think about himself?" Tsunade said as she walked up to Naruto and gently started stroking his head. "Damn it!"
"If he's still that strong, can he still wake up?" Kaien quietly asked.
Tsunade shook her head, "It's the fox demon keeping him alive."
"What's that thing doing in him!?," Kaien asked indignantly.
"It's a long story," Tsunade replied.
Kaien huffed, "But it was Naruto's power that pushed Kurenai out."
Kurenai nodded, "I could feel that it was Naruto's chakra."
"Well, that maybe, but he is being tortured by Orochimaru. The fox demon maybe keeping Naruto's chakra going, but eventually his body is going to give out."
Everyone was silent.
"Sakura, stay with Naruto until I get back," Tsunade stated as she started walking out. What am I going to do? "When you leave, make sure you don't share any of this information with anyone. That goes for all of you."
Tsunade left and went back to her office, Shizune followed. Slowly, everyone filtered out. No one talked, lost in their own thoughts of Naruto and how things had ended up like this.
Kaien walked up to Naruto, leaned in and very quietly spoke, "I'm sorry kid. I only saw you as an Uzumaki, not as an individual. I hope someday you can forgive me." And then he left.
Now, Sakura was alone with Naruto. You moron! Why would you sacrifice yourself like this! You have so much more to offer! So much more to do! She just couldn't cry anymore. "My turn to say I'm sorry. I should have never had you make me that promise. We both should have realized that Sasuke made his own choice to leave. No one forced or tricked him. If I would have realized… oh, Naruto. There is so much I wish I would have done with you. So much I wanted to share, and now. And now, I've lost you." Sakura couldn't talk anymore. She sat by his bedside, looking out the window. For a moment, she thought she was a shadow move. She got up and looked closer, but nothing was there so she sat back down and waited.
Tsunade was in her office looking through various bottles and books.
Shizune was watching her. The ingredients and books shocked Shizune, "I hope your not looking for what I think you are!"
"What if I am?"
"Do you really think that is the answer."
"What should I do Shizune? Let Naruto get tortured until his body can't take any more. After putting the village first, do you think he deserves such a death?"
"But we have IV's to help replace what he's losing. We just need to give him time…"
"Time?! How much time Shizune? A week, a month, a year! All the while Orochimaru is..."
Shizune quieted and put her head down.
"Naruto is going to die. There is nothing that is going to stop that. The least we can do is let him die dignified.
Shizune wanted to protest, but she couldn't. She hung her head. Tsunade walked up to her. "I know, Naruto means a lot to me too." Shizune started crying. Tsunade wanted to cry, but as Hokage, she would not let herself. She went back to her searching.
A few hours later, Tsunade was back in Naruto's room. Sakura was half asleep in her chair. Tsunade went over to wake her up. "Sakura, it's time to go home."
Sakura opened her eyes, "Oh, lady Hokage!" She started to scramble to get up.
"It's ok Sakura. It's time for me to take over. Go home."
Sakura nodded, look over to Naruto and started to leave. Then she got a funny feeling that this was going to be the last time she would see Naruto. So she stopped, turned around, went over to him and kissed him on the top of his head, then left.
Tsunade stared after her and waited a few minuets before she moved. She went over to Naruto, but her resolve wavered. Am I really doing the right thing? As if in response to her thoughts, Naruto moaned in pain and then a spasm came. It was just a mild one, but it reminded Tsunade of why she was doing what she was.
She sat down on Naruto's bed. She lifted him up and cradled him in her arms. She pulled out a vile and held it for a few moments. She looked at Naruto's troubled face and made up her mind. She opened the vile and poured it down his throat. "You deserve the dignity of dying as a shinobi." His body started reacting to the poison she had given him. "There were so many things you never got to know. I wonder if things would have been different for you if I'd stayed around after you were born."
She started wondering who took care of him when he was a baby. Were they kind to him? Was he treated like a child or as a demon? "Naruto, have you ever had a lullaby sung to you? My mom had a great one that she sang to me and my brother. Let me see if I can get it right." She closed her eyes, found the melody in her memory and began singing and rocking.
Naruto's body stiffened, relaxed and stiffened again. Tsunade kept singing her lullaby and rocking. Finally Naruto's body relaxed deeply, she could feel the tension and the air go out of him. His arms had been stiff in front of him, but now they dropped to his side and off the bed.
Tsunade kept singing and rocking. Several minutes passed, this time Naruto did not start breathing again. Tsunade stopped singing, "Naruto?" But she could tell that it was over. Tsunade finally let all of her tears fall. She pulled Naruto closer to her and buried her face in him.
Tsunade stayed for a while longer. She laid Naruto back down. He actually looks peaceful now. I hope you can forgive me. I'm going to need to tell everyone about you. I'll be back in a couple of hours. Tsunade left the room and called two guards over to make sure that no one entered Naruto's room. Then she left to prepare herself for her announcement.
A lone figure moved in the shadows and then left the village. As this figure left, tears were shed, but the figure never looked back.
All was quiet in Naruto's room for awhile. However, Naruto's body began to glow and was enveloped with a blinding light. When the light dissipated, Naruto's body was gone.