Naruto decided upon getting into the base that he should stick with Hinata. Her Byakugan would be invaluable in helping search the place, especially with how dark it was in there. Naruto was able to see, but only just. He and Hinata peeled off to the left upon entering, and Naruto only allowed himself a second of thought to notice that Sakura and Yamato had gone the other way.
Naruto and Hinata had been running for a few moments before Naruto spoke up. "See anything?" he asked her. Hinata's active Byakugan gave her a slightly creepy look, and Naruto wondered briefly if she was checking him out again. He kicked himself mentally for thinking that, but after the previous event, he couldn't help wondering.
Hinata took a breath before responding. She wasn't checking Naruto out with her Byakugan or anything, she honestly wasn't! She was, however, very aware of Naruto's presence and proximity. "I see three chakra signatures," she said after a moment. "If we keep going down this hall, we'll encounter them shortly."
Naruto considered this. "I wonder who it is," he said after a moment, keeping pace with Hinata.
Hinata gave a small smile. "Sai isn't there," she said simply. That was all the answer Naruto needed. The two of them put on an extra burst of speed.
Within a minute, the two shinobi burst out of a doorway and into a large round room. Sure enough, halfway across the room, they saw Sasuke, Orochimaru, and Kabuto. The three were just...standing there.
Sasuke looked over at the two who had just burst into the room. Orochimaru and Kabuto couldn't even be bothered to acknowledge them. "Well, well, if it isn't Naruto," Sasuke said with a snarl. Then he noticed the girl beside his old...one-time...former...Sasuke couldn't come up with a term to describe exactly what Naruto was to him. "And who is this?"
Hinata gave a small smile. "Why would you care?" she asked. "You never noticed me before, so why would you give a damn who I am now?"
Sasuke blinked. It was not lost on him that this girl, whoever the hell she was, had made it very clear that she didn't give even the slightest bit of a damn what Sasuke thought of her and was not even slightly bothered by him not knowing her. She was simply stating a fact. She had also evaded his question quite skillfully. He smiled. Unlike all the girls he did know, this one might actually be worth his time. "I see," he said. "It seems maybe you aren't aware of who I am..."
Hinata cut him off. "I know exactly who you are, Sasuke," she said back with a glare. "It's just that you're no one special to me." She was wearing a smile and said this last part in a tone that were both dripping with such sarcastic sweetness that anyone who knew her would have sworn she hated Sasuke. In truth, she didn't hate him, she just didn't care about him at all one way or the other.
Naruto shivered slightly at the tone of Hinata's voice and the slightly creepy smile on her face. "I'm sure glad she never looks at me like that," he thought. He made up his mind then and there to never prompt such a response from Hinata.
Sasuke, meanwhile, was taken aback at this girl's reaction to him. He had never been the subject of such a look. He felt the full brunt of Hinata's ire. It...excited him, in some way. "You're different from the others," he said with a small smile. "You're focused on being a shinobi and gaining power, like me. You're actually worth acknowledging. Who are you?"
Of all the reactions Hinata had expected, that had never crossed her mind. After taking a moment to regain her composure, she said, "As I said before, you never cared before, so why would you now?" Sasuke couldn't figure out what she was talking about; he was fairly certain he had never met this girl before. Hinata continued, "And incidentally, no, Sasuke, I am not like you. I never sought power. I only sought acknowledgment from the one I admire. You have nothing to offer me, Sasuke."
Sasuke considered this. "You could join me," he said after a moment. "You could be at the right hand of the man who will reestablish the Uchiha clan."
Hinata actually snorted at this. "Really?" she said. "You're going to do the old 'join me, be a villain' thing? You really are an idiot, aren't you?"
Sasuke was truly taken aback by this. He had thought that anyone in their right mind would jump at the chance to be by his side. And here was someone not just rejecting him, but she was in fact calling him an idiot! "Well," he said after regaining his faculties, "if you aren't at my side, you're against me."
Naruto spoke up at this. "Sasuke! It's not that simple and you know it! You need to stop this nonsense and come back to the village!"
Sasuke laughed. "Naruto, shut up. I will not come back to that village. That place never did me any good."
Hinata snarled. "You know, Sasuke, Naruto and Sakura both came to the ends of the earth to find you, and all you have to say is that they wasted their time?"
Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Yes, they did, as a matter of fact. That said, if you want to join me, girl, you're welcome to do so."
Hinata snorted again. "After what you've said, I have no interest in joining you, you fool. And if you're going to be this cruel to those who consider you a friend and comrade, I would rather cut you down myself than see you left free to hurt the people I care about!"
Sasuke didn't respond verbally to this. Instead, he drew his sword and rushed at Naruto. Naruto dodged the sword swipe Sasuke led with by bending over backward. At the same time, he blocked the low kick Sasuke tried for with one arm.
Sasuke turned to the girl and said, "I'll kill him if you don't do something about it. He's no comrade of mine."
Hinata snarled. She had come along with this mission in the hopes of rescuing Sasuke, but now she saw just what a lost cause he was. There was no way to save him when he was so thoroughly steeped in darkness, apparently by his own choice.
Meanwhile, Sakura and Yamato had been running more or less at random when they suddenly heard voices not far from them. Following the sound, they came into the room just in time to see Sasuke attack Naruto. They were too far away to do anything when Hinata moved. Sakura stood stock-still, her back ram-rod straight, and stared as she saw Hinata move almost faster than the eye could track.
The next thing anyone knew, Hinata was standing in front of Sasuke, her fingers pressed against his neck. It took Sasuke's brain a moment to process what had happened. Then, he coughed, blood spurting from his mouth, and fell in a heap. He was dead before he hit the ground.
Sakura gasped when she saw Sasuke drop like a rock. She ran to Sasuke and grabbed him, hoping she could heal whatever had been done to him. She cast a diagnostic jutsu and frantically ran her hands over his body. She quickly discovered Sasuke was truly stone-cold dead. Turning to Hinata, she cried, "What have you done?!"
Naruto was also looking at Hinata with a look of shock. "Why did you do that, Hinata?" he asked. He was also shocked and hurt, but he knew something had happened in those last seconds, and he felt sure he had missed something.
Hinata took a breath. "What have I done? I chose Naruto's life over Sasuke's," she said to Sakura. Turning her attention to Naruto, she explained, "He said he would kill you if I didn't stop him."
From behind them, Orochimaru let out a scream. Everyone jumped slightly; they had all forgotten he was even there. "How dare you!" he yelled. "I will have my revenge on you for this!" That said, he simply sank into the ground. Kabuto followed his master's example. They both knew this was neither the time nor the place to have this fight.
Turning to Yamato and Sakura, Naruto asked, "Did you find Sai?"
Yamato shook his head. "He's far enough away that I can no longer sense the seed in him. And the mission is a failure now, anyway. I guess all we can do now is take Sasuke's body home and hope we've seen the last of Sai."
Sakura was barely holding back tears. "I can't believe you killed him," she said to Hinata. "We were here to bring him back, not kill him. WHY!? Why would you do this?!"
Hinata sighed. "I didn't want to kill him, Sakura," she said. "But it came down to a choice, in my mind, of letting him live to hurt and possibly kill you and Naruto or to do something about it. I couldn't let him do that, so I acted. I ended the threat. I'm sorry I couldn't spare you this pain, Sakura. You too, Naruto. But I couldn't allow such a threat to my comrades or home to continue to exist."
Yamato spoke up then. "We'll deal with this later. Come on, we're still deep in enemy territory. Let's get out of here," he said. He was surprised no one else had attacked them, and the eerie silence was making him a bit nervous. Not that he would ever admit that to any of the shinobi with him, of course.
It was night, and the ragtag team had made camp. Naruto was keeping watch while the others slept. Hinata couldn't sleep, though. She had seen the look of utter betrayal on Naruto's face after what she had done. Getting up from her bedroll, she carefully made her way out of the tent she shared with Sakura, making sure not to wake her pink-haired friend.
Naruto was sitting on a nearby rise. He took a deep breath when he realized he wasn't alone. Hinata came up and sat beside him. "Naruto..." she said, her voice full of worry.
Naruto turned and looked at her. "Hinata...you killed him. We were sent to bring him back to the village, and you cut him down without a second thought," he said. His voice was full of barely-concealed pain.
Hinata sighed. "Yes, I did," she said. "It's like I said before, he threatened you. I had to choose between your life and his. I chose."
Naruto let that sink in. Someone had been given a choice between his life and Sasuke's, and they had chosen his. He had no idea what to feel about that. Even Sakura had made it very clear that if she had been in that situation, Naruto would likely be dead right now. And she was his teammate, for crying out loud!
Turning his attention fully to Hinata, Naruto said, "Why would you choose me? Sasuke is...was the last Uchiha, he was the prodigy, the rookie of the year. I'm just...me."
Hinata smiled slightly. "Yes, Naruto, I know. You're you. That's exactly why I chose you over him." Naruto looked at her, confused. Hinata gave a small laugh, then explained, "I told Sasuke I wanted the acknowledgment of the one I admire." Naruto nodded; he remembered her saying that. "That one is you, Naruto."
Naruto let that sink in, then said, "But...why? Why would my acknowledgment mean so much to you, Hinata?"
"You inspired me, Naruto. You saved me so many times from making the wrong turn. Your smile has always been my own personal sun. I saw how you kept trying no matter what, and it helped me keep trying, too." Hinata smiled. "In short, Naruto, the reason your acknowledgment means so much to me is because I love you." That said, Hinata jumped to her feet and ran back to her tent.
Naruto was in shock. "She...loves me?!" he thought to himself. It didn't make sense. No one loved him. But then he thought about everything that had happened since he encountered Hinata before this mission. It all started to fall into place. She loved him. With that, everything she had done this entire time made perfect sense. Naruto settled into a slightly more comfortable position. He had about an hour left of his watch, and he had a lot to think about now.
Hinata had no way to know it, but when she left the tent earlier, Sakura had actually been awake. After Hinata left, Sakura crawled out of the tent as well. She watched as Hinata made her way to Naruto. She knew Hinata was going to talk to him, try to get him through this somehow. She figured Naruto would eventually forgive Hinata. But could she do the same?
Once she was sure Hinata wasn't coming back immediately, Sakura crawled out of the tent and began to wander around the area aimlessly. She had a lot of thinking to do.
Sakura had loved Sasuke with every fiber of her being, and she had stood by helplessly and watched as Hinata cut him down. The Hyuga hadn't even shown the slightest remorse in doing so. Sakura couldn't figure it out. Sasuke was Hinata's comrade too, wasn't he? Sakura believed Sasuke was still a comrade, no matter what he had done.
Sakura had, of course, heard what Sasuke had done to Naruto at the Valley of the End. She didn't really believe it, though. There was no way Sasuke would have actually killed Naruto. No matter how upset the Uchiha was, he cared about Naruto. Sakura was sure he wouldn't have killed Naruto. They were best friends, after all.
She knew Sasuke had wanted power, and she was still mad at him for leaving the village for Orochimaru of all people in his desperate struggle to attain it, but she still didn't believe that Sasuke would actually kill a comrade. It just didn't make sense. She had heard what Sasuke told Hinata. Still, she just...couldn't bring herself to think so badly of Sasuke. Deep in her heart of hearts, Sakura admitted to herself that she was still, to this very day, madly in love with Sasuke. She still loved him with every fiber of her being, regardless of what he had done.
"I couldn't very well call it true love if I didn't, now could I?" Sakura asked herself. She smiled slightly, but it was a sad smile. Her love, her one and only, Sasuke...he was dead now. She had to accept that, as impossible as that was to do. He was dead, and there was nothing Sakura could do about it.
Then a new thought occurred to her. "This must be how Sasuke felt all those years," she thought. "His whole family was dead, and there wasn't a single thing he could do about it. This...despair. It must have ate at his soul." Then she remembered how Sasuke had introduced himself all those years ago. How he had said he was an avenger, how he would avenge his clan and destroy the one who killed them, his own brother. As she thought of all this, Sakura realized something else. "Actually...there is something I can do. I can avenge him!"
Sakura looked around. She had wandered a fair distance from camp by now. She was standing on the edge of a cliff. Her last thought made her realize in some part of herself that she was standing on a...very different precipice as well. Was she ready to make the plunge? Would she be able to do it and...remain herself? Or would she lose herself to the hatred that had consumed Sasuke?
Then a new thought occurred to Sakura. "Sasuke is dead. Who cares what becomes of me?" she thought to herself. With that thought in mind, Sakura plunged over the edge.
A/N: Dun dun dun! Man, it's been a while since I left you guys with a cliffhanger like that, hasn't it? I hope you guys enjoyed this one and come back next time to see where Sakura ends up.