05 – Obsidian
It’s a quiet night – at least as quiet as it can be in their suburbia haven.
The barrier his father set up doesn’t distract from the incandescent moon; for it’s so large it could take up the entire sky. If he squints hard enough, he’s sure he can see men walking across the lunar landscape, and he wonders if someday he’ll be able to be a part of history. For now, he is content to remain on earth – the subtle sounds of city life filtering through in the form of distant fire or police sirens, restless honking horns, the wayward barking dog, or the occasional brittle racket of kids playing with firecrackers for devious entertainment.
There is a sudden low helpless sound of discomfort, and he looks down quickly; features softening as he admires his precious burden. He wraps the blanket a little more snugly around the warm, squirming form and cradles it closer to his body. He watches as the cherubic features frown for a moment before relaxing into its state of repose again. Clenched fists ease as well, and when he reaches out to touch them tenderly, his heart trembles as the impossibly tiny fingers capture and hold his in a grip that would have made their father proud.
“You’re going to be so strong when you grow up,” he whispers as he swings his legs back and forth slowly. “I can already tell.”
He worries his lower lip in an effort to remember one of his mother’s lullabies, but he is soon distracted by a barely audible sound on his left, and his gentle smile widens in recognition.
“Why are you hiding?” he asks quietly; his gaze now trained on the clump of bushes lining the wooden fence.
There is no response, and he is not surprised. He chuckles and adjusts himself to get more comfortable. Perhaps he should have brought a pillow out here as well. Sitting on the hard wood floor of the verandah was not exactly fun after a while. He’ll probably be sporting a bruise on his ass in the morning.
“You can come see him,” he continues in that same calm voice; as if hoping not to chase away his unseen visitor. “He won’t bite. I promise.”
There is a rustle amongst the leaves, before a dark shadow leaps into the air and perches on the fence before (yet further away) him. Its silhouette appears intimidating (almost frightening) for one cannot tell if the wild-looking hair and low guttural sounds it emits are human or not. However, when the cloud slips past the moon, the transformation is almost magical.
It is anything but a ‘monster’, and one can almost regard him as an attractive young man in his late teens or early twenties. His blond hair stands on end in spikes; perhaps in an attempt to keep up with the hair fads of the day. Brilliant blue eyes seem to shimmer with distrust, yet curiosity as they appraise the duo on the porch in contemplative silence. He is dressed in black from head-to-toe, as if wary of revealing any inch of skin to others. He rocks back on his heels; giving the illusion of nearly falling over, but he still manages to maintain his balance. It’s graceful - the way he moves sometimes - although he is never aware of it.
The boy smiles and the thing on the wall ‘tchs’ with irritation at the sight.
“Come see him,” he invites again.
“Don’t wanna,” the blond huffs and looks away for a moment, before grumbling beneath his breath. “What is it anyway?”
The boy chuckles and holds it up a little higher as if in offering. “It’s a boy, and his name is Sasuke. He was born a few months ago.”
“You missed all the excitement.” He appears to pout. “You’ve been away for so long -”
“I was on a mission, remember? Besides…” He reaches out to press a hand against seemingly nothing, but there is a visible vibration and low electrical hiss as if he’s been shocked. He sucks in a breath and eyes the razor thin cuts and droplets of blood on his hand (which is already healing anyway). “Hn. Looks like your father’s been working overtime trying to keep us out. Who knew there were barriers designed to keep out Immortals?”
The boy sighs and lowers his gaze. “It’s not like that -”
“Where is that hard ass anyway?” He interrupts as he peers into the darkened traditional home; an elegant tribute to a Japan long gone and quite a contrast to the modernized buildings surrounding them. Trust the Uchihas to do things their own way.
“He went out with mother. Tonight is their anniversary.”
The blond raises his hand in a mock toast and bows his head. “Well send them my utmost regards. Can’t believe they’ll leave you here all by yourself though with that thing -”
“He’s my brother -”
“You’re not even old enough to be taking care of it -”
“I’m doing just fine,” he huffs and puffs out his chest proudly. “I gave him a bath and fed him, and now he’s asleep. I had no help.”
“It’s nothing to brag about.”
The boy chuckles and smiles warmly. “But you did the same when I was a baby.”
“My mother used to say there was always this strange creature watching over me whenever I went to sleep. It was you, wasn’t it?”
He is glad for the brief clouding of the moon to hide his embarrassment, but he masks it quickly with a scowl as he rises to his feet. The fence is hardly wide enough for anyone to stand on and yet this man teeters delicately on it; like a ballet dancer about to perform his most intricate routine yet.
“Don’t be mistaken, Itachi,” he announces flatly; his long trench coat flapping gently in the breeze. “I didn’t do anything for your sake. You’re not that special.”
It’s a cruel thing to say, but the boy takes it in stride; the same knowing smile on his visage. “I know, but I’m glad you’re always here anyway…even if you pretend like you don’t care.”
The blond sputters and turns red. “I told you…!”
“Huh? Wai…wait a minute! Don’t throw him into the air like that, goddamnit!”
And despite every fiber of his being telling him to flee from this scene, instincts (those damn instincts that will be the death of him!) has him leaping down from his perch to dive toward the floating bundle of human flesh. He barely makes it, but gives a sigh of relief as the baby is drawn (reluctantly) closer to his chest; arms tightening protectively around the warm form. Shockingly, the thing hardly makes a sound except to scrunch up its chubby features before settling back into sleep. Its tiny fingers claw the air slowly as if searching for something, and he is unaware that he offers himself by extending a lean digit toward it. The grip is strong, and he feels something warm form in the pit of his stomach; pride perhaps? He’s not sure. But whatever it is…
“Damn it, you reckless bastard,” he growls and looks up to glare at the smiling boy before him. “What if I hadn’t caught it?”
“You would,” comes the sincere statement that causes that weird fluttering thing in his stomach again. There is an expression on the kid’s face that’s almost…well adult; a wisdom that should not be etched within the features of a mere six-year old.
“I knew you would,” he continues quietly yet firmly. “You’ll never let anything happen to him, would you?”
“Now listen here -”
“I trust you, Naruto,” the boy says as he walks closer and wraps his arms tightly around the man’s waist as if afraid to let go. His voice now muffled against his midriff. “I trust you so much…so please…”
(take care of him for me)
His lashes lifted lazily to stare at the heavens; his perch on the rooftop of the old train station a nice place of solitude while he waited for his team to arrive.
(damn…why did I have to remember that tonight?)
Just like back then, the moon was exceptionally large and luminous; almost swallowing up the entire sky with its presence. The greedy thing.
(what happened after that?)
He turned on his side and closed his eyes again. Didn’t he remain with the brat until his parents came home? And when they did, it was to engage in an angry staring match with Uchiha Fugaku (who had looked resplendent in his tuxedo by the way), while the lovely Mikoto (who he might have had a crush on at some time) tried to diffuse the growing tension between the men. Naruto could still remember how beautiful she had looked in her silver evening gown; the jewels – which must have cost a small fortune – glowing against porcelain skin. She had tried to make Fugaku see reason; convincing him that Naruto had stayed to protect the children and meant them no harm. Even Itachi had piped in for backup, but had that swayed the stubborn ol’ coot? Nope. He wanted nothing to do with tainted Immortals in his precious home and Naruto ought to kindly leave before he was forced to do something rash.
And why not? After all, wasn’t it a well-known fact that the Uchihas had the ability to really kill all Immortals?
It was probably one of the biggest reasons they were completely wiped out in the end, Naruto thought ruefully. They really were too dangerous a clan.
In fact, it should have all ended with the fire, but then –
He lifted his lashes at the impromptu interruption; hand reaching into his pocket to whip out the cell phone.
Sakura? What could she want? They were already running late as it was.
“Hello…” he began only to hear the undeniable scream of pain from a girl who rarely displayed her emotions in that way.
“Sakura!” he cried out as he jumped to his feet; his body already thrumming with the stirrings of adrenaline as his hand clenched into a tight fist. There was the scream again and then an immediate worrisome silence before the annoying sound of the dial tone filtered into his ear. He cursed and would have leapt into the air, if he didn’t suddenly find himself being slammed back so hard he actually crashed through the roof of the station and landed painfully to earth, on his back, amidst falling debris.
(what the fuck?!)
Billowing clouds of dust from the destruction blinded him and he coughed as he staggered to his feet. He could sense the other presence in the building with him, but his visibility was shot. He braced himself for another possible attack; closing his eyes and allowing his other senses to take control.
The surge of chakra had him sliding across the floor and colliding into the set of benches, which promptly split apart with contact. Naruto groaned as he felt the undeniable crack of several ribs. The pain was excruciating. He tried to shuffle through his mental database of previous enemies he had fought with, and it wasn’t until he tried to lift an arm, did the full effect of the attacks finally sink in.
Shit. Shit. Shit. Not him!
He could feel it now; the familiar sensation of draining chakra as each pathway in his arm went numb. He wouldn’t be able to conjure up his normal chakra thanks to this, and if he planned on using hand-to-hand combat, it was going to be next to impossible. Fortunately, the dust was beginning to clear, and standing within a protective force field was the man responsible for his current plight.
“You…asshole,” Naruto gasped as he struggled to rise to his feet. Shit. The pale-eyed freak even got his legs already. They literally felt like a mass of jelly.
“Nice to see you again, Uzumaki Naruto,” Neji greeted with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
“What…do…?” Damn! Even talking seemed to be sapping away his energy. He glared angrily at the long-haired man dressed in familiar white robes that always angered Naruto for some reason. Maybe it was because it gave one the illusion of being pristine and innocent when their godforsaken clan was anything but. If he had no real affection for the Uchiha clan, then the Hyūga herd would be even lower on the totem pole.
“Why…?” he tried again as he held onto the back of a twisted bench to steady himself. “…are…you…doing…this?”
“We have decided not to wait,” Neji explained patiently; his palms already outstretched to channel more of his deadly technique into them. “Our elders are impatient, and though it would have been prudent to wait until his powers are fully developed, they’ve deemed it fit to take him now before he becomes too strong. My job is to keep you occupied while Hinata-sama and her subordinates subdue him, and if my calculations are correct…it should be over soon.” He gave a small pitying smile. “Don’t worry. I do not plan to kill you. It’s just going to be a bother if we have to keep dealing with your immense chakra flow. We…”
The words died on his lips as he felt it; the low rumbling that seemed to echo the effects of an earthquake beneath his feet. And as he looked down in surprise, tiny flecks of concrete were beginning to rise in direct defiance to gravity. He cursed and looked up; just in time to see his worst fears confirmed. Hadn’t he known something like this would happen if he didn’t act quickly? And though he had trained even harder since his last defeat at the hands of this man, the data on Uzumaki Naruto could simply be labeled ‘LIMITLESS’.
It was impossible for a being like him to exist; the very idea of what he represented was profane to the honorable roles of the spirit warriors.
Naruto should never have been allowed to live. Everyone knew that and yet -
“You monster,” he growled and braced himself for the final blow. He’d have to get Naruto while he was still ‘charging’ up, for the thing before him now; who seemed to be cloaked in a chakra as red as blood, was enough to send a sliver of fear racing down his spine. He would buy the time Hinata-sama needed even if it meant ending his life.
They had to succeed this mission. Failure was not an option!
And with a roar of frustration and anger, Neji dashed toward the wall of fiery energy and just in time to meet with a pair of crimson eyes that now looked anything but human.
The one named Uzumaki Naruto was no longer here.
“Please don’t scream too loudly, Uchiha Sasuke. I only wish to set you free.”
She moved faster than he’d have the time to react, and yet – by some miracle he wasn’t even going to try deciphering – he was able to dodge quickly and avoid the inevitable collision course with those terrifying things being emitted from her hands.
She would end up smashing her fists into the wall; creating mini-craters likely to send the building toppling to the ground soon. He had only a moment to wonder why his neighbors weren’t running out to see what the commotion was about, but he could sense that a barrier had been erected to protect the humans from this battle.
(hers or Sai’s?)
And speaking of Sai…just where the fuck were he and Sakura? Could it be that this strange pale-eyed girl had taken care of them?
She whirled around; her waist-length black hair flowing like a shield to match the one formed by her chakra. She dashed for him again, and this time he leapt backwards; aware he was going toward the apartment he had thought left behind for good. He noticed the bizarre map of bulging veins around her eyes; giving her a frightful intense expression. She did not smile, though her lower lip was caught between her teeth in concentration. Two more times she tried to attack; sending shockwaves of her chakra in his direction, and each time he managed to dodge them (just barely).
(is she missing on purpose?)
He could see the beads of sweat forming on her flesh, and her breath was becoming ragged with exhaustion. Sasuke figured if they kept this up, she’d run out of stamina first, and was just about to unsheathe his sword to try penetrating her weakening chakra shield, when he felt his knees trembling hard beneath him.
(what…? What’s going on?!)
It was a numbing sensation in various parts of his body especially his legs and arms. He tried to conjure up chakra to his hands, but had to bite his lower lip hard to control the pin pricks of white hot pain to shoot through his body.
“It’s…no…use,” she said breathlessly; no smile of victory on her visage. “I’ve blocked most of your chakra pathways, and you’ll be unable to use your lightning technique.”
So she wasn’t missing on purpose then, Sasuke thought wildly as she lifted her hand again to concentrate a huge flow of chakra to it. Christ! What now?!
“Please forgive me,” she was saying as she took a step closer. “But I’m going to direct this to your heart. It will not kill you, but your heart rate will be considerably slower. We need you alive after all.”
“Where?” he called out; his mind spinning with ways to stall in case the other two had gone away to get something and were missing all the fun. “Where’s Sakura and Sai?”
She stopped and shrugged lightly. “My subordinates might have taken care of them by now. Did you really think we would not come up with a plan to take you away? In fact, I do believe that my cousin is fighting with Uzumaki Naruto at this very moment.”
Sasuke’s eyes widened at this nugget of information; his heart slamming hard within his chest.
Even Naruto? But…he’s strong, isn’t he? He won’t allow himself to be taken easily, would he?
“My cousin is a seasoned spirit warrior,” the girl was saying as she walked closer still. “He has been in battle with Naruto before, and knows ways to defeat him. So please, let’s not make this any more difficult. Why don’t you come withURGH!”
The black flames sprang up on the sleeves of her robes, causing her chakra-laced hand to lower in a frantic attempt to put them out.
Sasuke’s eyes burned with a pain that made the girl’s attacks seem like child’s play. He had to slap a hand over his right eye -which was taking most of the strain - but it wasn’t enough to stop the familiar sensation of the warm, red liquid to pool and soon flow down his cheek.
Damn it hurt!
But he couldn’t stop now. All he could think about was Sai and Sakura being in harm’s way, and worst of all, having to deal with her cousin who might be doing a number on his sensei. And while she began to pull off the top layer of the robe, lest the flames get to her flesh, Sasuke saw the opening he was looking for. His chakra wasn’t yet at full blast, and his legs still felt like jelly, and though it was against his nature to do this; he prayed to God for forgiveness and realized that the situation called for it anyway.
“I’m sorry for what I’m about to do too. Nothing personal,” he said as he formed a fist and swiftly drove it into her torso, sending her flying backwards with a breathless cry, before tumbling down the steps to form a boneless heap at the corner. She didn’t move, and Sasuke hoped to goodness he hadn’t killed her. The punch wasn’t even chakra-laced!
Gotta get out of here, he thought quickly. He wiped his cheek, grimacing at the streaks of blood it left on his hand and shirt as he wiped it off. He reached for his dropped backpack and carryall bag, made sure his sword was still attached to his hip, and limped as fast as he could down the steps; past the still comatose body and toward the main compound.
“Sakura! Sai!” he began calling out, only to find himself nearly getting impaled by a dagger that lodged itself into the wall behind him. It was a close shave, but it had done some damage because his right cheek soon felt warm and wet with the cut left by the weapon.
“I see she failed,” came the voice belonging to a tomboyish woman dressed in a traditional blue Chinese cheongsam outfit. She was twirling another of the daggers with a finger; a smug expression on her visage. She spat out in disgust. “So much for being the next head of the Hyūga clan. She can’t even deal with a weakling like you.”
Whether it was the comment about being a weakling or just simply being tired of having folks consider him as nothing more than a ‘thing’ to be captured, Sasuke was finally at his breaking point. Fear was no longer a factor in this situation, and he’d be damned if he’d stand around and let anyone else insult him.
He scowled and unsheathed his sword to hold it before him like a shield; aware that this was only going to be a bluff because his chakra still wasn’t functioning as it should be.
“Where is Sakura and Sai?” he asked coldly.
“Where else?” came the amused reply, though her eyes seemed to glint with a deviousness that was not lost on the boy. She licked the blade of her dagger slowly and shivered in anticipation. “They did not put up too much of a fight. It was actually quite easy to take her dow-”
Whatever else she might have said was interrupted as the sudden loud explosion made the very ground they were standing on tremble and quake. Sasuke leapt aside just in time as a crack suddenly appeared to snake its way all the way to the girl, who would just have enough time to look down in surprise before she was sent flying into the side of the building with a bone crushing uppercut to her jaw. From the debris underground, a very filthy but incredibly furious Haruno Sakura appeared; her clenched fist still charged up (and probably throbbing) with chakra.
“That bitch,” she panted breathlessly. “I’m going to kill her!”
Sasuke wanted to call out to her to stop since the other girl wasn’t particularly moving, but someone or rather something beat him to the punch. He gawked in disbelief as a black painted (yes, painted) tiger appeared from nowhere to pace before Sakura. It looked as if an artist’s (and a darn fine one at that) creation had leapt off the pages and come to life, and apparently Sakura must be used to this because she only sighed out a name with a roll of her eyes before reaching out to ‘destroy’ the creature with a wave of chakra.
Sai landed between them, paint brush still in hand as he took in the situation. Like Sakura, he too looked dishelved and slightly out-of-sorts; a stark contrast to a man who usually looked impeccably neat. There was no doubt their opponents had been quite strong.
“Are you okay, Sasuke?” he asked breathlessly; finally causing Sakura to realize that the boy was here as well. She gasped in relief and flung her arms around his neck in relief.
“Thank God, you’re all right!”
“Ouch, ouch, ouch,” Sasuke winced, though embarrassed to be receiving such blatant display of affection. “Easy. My body’s still trying to recover from what that woman did to me.”
Sakura stepped back with widened eyes filled with concern. “Did she use it on you? Her Gentle Fists technique?”
“Is that what they call it?” Sasuke asked with a raised brow. “Whatever it was, I can’t seem to conjure up my chakra as much.”
“It blocks your chakra pathways and targets vital organs to shut them down basically,” Sakura was explaining as she took in the bloodstains on his clothing. “Where else were you injured…oh…did you burn her?” she asked with a gasp.
“No,” Sasuke replied quickly. “I was going to though, but she took off her robe and I…eh…punched her in the stomach. I didn’t mean to!” he added as if they were already admonishing him for hitting a woman. “She could have killed me.”
“You did what you had to do,” Sakura said with a small smile. “Now hold up your hand and…urgh.”
“You’re in no condition to heal him now,” Sai said gently; though there was a pensive expression on his visage. “Your fight with Tenten was rather intense.”
“I’m guessing the girl she just knocked out is Tenten?” Sasuke asked.
Sai nodded. “You could consider her a hired gun; willing to work for anyone ready to offer her enough money to keep her happy. She’s not exactly your perfect spirit warrior.”
“And you? Who did you fight with? You didn’t exactly leave unscathed either.”
In addition to looking banged up, the back of his jacket was ripped to reveal his pale skin beneath, and there was a bleeding cut right above his left eye. Sai gave a wan smile and wiped away at the wound absently.
“Yet another special hired gun that goes by the name of Rock Lee. Lucky for me he has no real supernatural gifts and I was able to escape just barely, but the point is that we were ambushed and unprepared. We have to be more diligent -”
“Naruto,” Sasuke said quickly as he suddenly recalled what the woman had said earlier. “She said that her cousin was dealing with Naruto right now. Where is he? We’ve got to help him especially if the cousin is as strong as she says he is.”
Sai and Sakura exchanged a quick look and nod.
“We should start heading toward the -”
They all screamed in surprise as a sudden gust of green wind swept in to tear them apart. Sasuke could barely hold onto his sword, and squinting through the gust that seemed to be picking up even more speed, he managed to see the tall lean figure responsible for the mini whirlwind.
“When you set out to kill someone, Sai-san, you must complete the job,” this person with the bowl haircut was saying in a tone as if he were simply talking to friends over a beer and not about to engage in another fight. “I will not leave here until my mission is complete, and if it means killing you, then I will do so.”
He stopped long enough to eye Sasuke from beneath the thickest pair of dark eyebrows he had ever seen.
“Uchiha Sasuke, eh? Capturing you will definitely make my reward greater. Now just hang…on? Huh? What the…?”
He tried to take a step forward, but was suddenly unable to do so. It appeared as if something was holding onto him, and for a second Sasuke wondered if Sai had drawn something with his magic brush to keep him prisoner. However, Sai was just as stumped as he was, and on closer inspection – and as Rock Lee continued to struggle – they noticed the elongated shadows created by the moon, which seemed to stretch all the way to the silhouette of a man on his knees and a slender woman standing behind him with her arms outstretched to form an O with her fingers. The third was a rather huge man, who was cracking his knuckles and looking quite pleased with himself, and Sasuke couldn’t be sure, but it appeared as if he was actually expanding right before his eyes.
“What are you three still doing here?” the man with the ponytail was saying; though his concentration was still trained on their frustrated captive. “We’ll take care of these guys. You should go look for Naruto ASAP. If you haven’t sensed it by now, you really are an incompetent bunch.”
Sakura might have said something to combat the insult when Sai gave a low sound of disbelief. He was looking at his palm, which now seemed to be glowing a dull shade of red before the faint black markings of the number two shimmered and appeared.
“What does that mean?” Sasuke asked, but perhaps he needn’t have, for the fear and concern etched on Sai and Sakura’s faces made his blood run cold.
“It’s Naruto, isn’t it?” he asked in a small voice. It was becoming a little difficult to breathe for some reason. His head throbbed and he couldn’t be sure, but he literally felt a deafening roar of anguish slice right through him.
(he’s in pain)
“No time,” Sakura barked and held on to Sasuke’s hand. “I’ll have to teleport us there.”
“Three of us at the same time?” Sai was already shaking his head. “It’s bad enough that you’re hurt, and taking us three will deplete you of chakra. I need your help when we get there, remember?”
“It’s a risk I have to take,” she hissed beneath her breath. “I won’t die, Sai, and the more time we stand here arguing about it, the worse it becomes. Look!”
And sure enough, the markings on Sai’s hand shivered again and the number three was now struggling to appear.
“Fuck it,” Sai cursed and reached out for Sakura’s hand to clasp it tightly. “Let’s go.”
“We’ll leave them to you,” Sakura called out to Shikamaru’s team. “Thank you for your help.”
And not waiting for their response, she let out a huge burst of chakra to envelope them in a cocoon. Sasuke, who had sheathed his sword and had his luggage ready, felt the surge of energy overwhelm him. it was like being thrust head first down a waterslide at an amusement park; of feeling the rush and adrenaline coursing through you as you went faster and faster. The world spun around him in a dizzying 360 fashion, and just when he thought he would go cross-eyed or dizzy (or vomit), they landed feet first in the middle of absolute chaos.
Sakura gave a low cry of shock.
“Shit…” was the only whispered word to escape Sai’s lips as they all took in the destruction.
Had Naruto really done all this? How the hell was that possible? Just how powerful was this guy?
Sasuke dropped his bags and walked as if in a daze toward what was once the train station. The good thing was that this area was considered rural, and the train barely stopped at this particular location since it was abandoned over ten years ago. It was rather unfortunate considering how scenic its surroundings were. With a river flowing right along the railroad tracks, and towering lush mountains and forests forming a natural cocoon, it was the perfect postcard setting for the weary traveler.
Sadly, little of that remained for the once brick building, which had stood for almost fifty years, was now nothing more than a pile of unrecognizable rubble. Many of the trees surrounding it had been swept away as if by a tornado, and to make matters worse, there were the familiar orange and red flames gathering up steam as they licked their way through the trees hungrily.
Sasuke felt the first wave of nausea to hit him at the sight; the unwanted memories of the fire he barely survived as a child coming back with a vengeance. He struggled to breathe (the air was incredibly smoky anyway), and had to look away for a moment to compose himself. He barely noticed that Sai and Sakura were now on their knees (though Sakura looked extremely exhausted). Sai was right after all. Whatever they planned to do, it didn’t look as if she had the strength to pull it off.
What can I do? Sasuke thought frantically. Never had he felt more useless as he watched them begin to draw weird symbols and shapes on the ground with sticks or stones. Sai produced a scroll from the bag he had draped around his shoulder and unrolled it with a flourish. In slight awe, Sasuke watched as he began to write a series of characters, which looked like kanji, but made no sense to the teen either. He and Sakura finished up the preparations just in time too, for the most terrifying sound soon reached them and nearly sent them back on their heels.
They looked up with widened eyes, and for the first time in his life, Uchiha Sasuke felt a cold dread unlike any other ever experienced.
That’s…that can’t be him…
And yet the thing crouched on all fours; the thing with the sharpened fangs, the thing with the whiskers that were now much bushier and etched deeper into his flesh, the thing with eyes that looked blood-red and foxlike, the thing with long claws that scratched the ground as if eager to pounce, the thing with blood-red chakra that bubbled and sizzled with an intensity and heat that literally peeled the skin off what was once a human – this thing with three chakra ‘tails’ which seemed to be growing longer by the minute – this thing was supposed to be…
(Naruto…just what the hell are you?)
There was the roar again; a parting and snapping of jaws to reveal canines that could rip through flesh if given the chance. It was a sound that dripped with bloodlust, and yet Sasuke could feel it; the smaller and more intense wail of anguish almost buried beneath. The real Naruto was still in there somewhere, and it was up to Sai and Sakura to bring him back to his senses or else…
(he will die…he is dying…this thing…whatever it is…it’s probably killing him every time he transforms)
The circle they had drawn was beginning to glow; the scribbled kanji racing off the scroll and toward the center of the symbols as if being called by an invisible force. Sai held up his hands to perform a series of seals…or at least he would have, if Naruto didn’t suddenly leap into the air with a speed that made him appear as nothing more than a blur.
“The barrier!” Sai screamed to Sakura, who was trying her darnest best to put it up, but she couldn’t. The more she tried, the weaker she became; her frustration evident with the angry tears flowing down her cheeks.
“I can’t! I can’t do it…!”
“I’ll take over,” came the sudden voice as a newcomer arrived to land beside her.
“Kakashi?!” she gasped in surprise, but the man only gave her a small smile of acknowledgement before focusing his attention on the beast before them.
“Sasuke,” he commanded as he promptly set up a much stronger barrier around Naruto. “Take care of Sakura, all right?”
“Ye…yes…” came the stuttered reply as he moved toward the girl and knelt beside her. She clung to him gratefully though her weary blood-shot eyes were trained on the two men doing their best to suppress the now infuriated beast.
“It hurts,” she finally whispered through her tears. “It hurts to see him like this.”
Sasuke knew what she meant, and he felt his heart stir with an emotion he would have found impossible to describe.
“He tries so hard to control it, but when he gets too emotionally charged up…it just leaks out,” she continued brokenly. “And the more it happens, the more it shortens his immortal life.” She slapped her hands over her face and sobbed into them. “He’s in so much pain. I can’t bear it.”
I can’t bear it either, Sasuke thought as he rose slowly to his feet.
He really had no idea what to do, or what he was planning to do, but his feet seemed to have another agenda of their own. He was unaware of the death grip he had on the hilt of his sheathed sword, but with each deafening roar of rage from the creature, it appeared as if the barrier Kakashi had put up would be ineffective.
“He’s getting stronger,” Sai gritted through clenched teeth. “Damn it, Yamato-sensei! Why did you have to give up your life and leave me with this burden?!”
“This isn’t the time to complain,” Kakashi snapped impatiently. “Keep it up! You’re almost there!”
But they weren’t almost there, for the beast arched in a way that wasn’t humanly possible; so much so, Sasuke could feel his own back ache at how distorted Naruto’s body appeared. The tails were becoming even longer and thicker with chakra and there was definitely no mistaking the appearance of a fourth one. The barrier was barely holding up now, and it was only a matter of time before the creature broke through it.
“The more tails it has, the stronger it becomes,” Sasuke whispered to himself; dark eyes unaware of the sudden red glow within them as he approached as beckoned by that tiny voice within.
“Where are you going?” Kakashi bellowed. “Get back here, Sasuke!”
But he wasn’t listening. All he could see was the creature straining against the barrier and the crackling sound it made each time it penetrated through it just a little more. The surge of energy was now so strong, Sasuke could feel the fine hairs on his skin stand at attention. The heat…dear gods, the heat was unbearable and yet he couldn’t look away. Beads of sweat began to break out on his flesh, and in less than a minute, he could feel his back and armpits become damp with pespiration.
“Sasuke!” Sakura was screaming behind him; her voice faint and insignificant. “Don’t do it!”
Don’t do what? Don’t help him? Can’t you all see it? Sasuke wondered in disbelief. Can’t you hear him crying out for help? Can’t you all feel it? If I don’t do something…!
He stretched out his arm slowly.
(I’m not afraid)
And yet his heart was a pounding drum; racing as fast as his pulses.
(I’m not afraid)
He would likely get eaten by this thing. He wasn’t even aware he had walked right through the barrier, for nothing stood between them now.
(I’m not afraid)
It snarled and strained to get at him, perhaps aware of what this boy represented. And yet within the sound of fury and rage, there was that unmistakable voice – barely audible – yet filled with a desperate panic.
(do not come any closer!)
Sasuke took another step.
(I’m here, Naruto. I’m not afraid, so it’s okay)
He finally blinked hard and found himself standing ankle-deep in cold water; his surroundings definitely not on the outskirts of the city anymore. He was in an underground tunnel of some sort; the kind with steel beams and pipes that crisscrossed a ceiling so high it was impossible to know where it ended. A pungent sulfuric stench filled the air, and as he walked further into this lair (for there really was nothing else to call it), he was forced to make a right turn before coming to a complete stop.
(what is this…?)
Before him was a towering golden gate with a paper seal stuck upon it to keep it in place. He assumed it was to keep the gate closed for there were no chains or locks he could make out. However, it appeared that the seal was beginning to peel off a little, and whatever was behind the gates; snarling and grinning greedily in the darkness – was more than eager to be released.
“It is rare to have visitors,” came the low dark voice full of malice. Sasuke still couldn’t make out who or what was speaking, but as he clutched his sword a little tighter, he finally found his voice.
“Where is this place?”
“Take a wild guess, the last seed of the cursed clan, Uchiha Sasuke.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Does it matter? I have known your family for generations and generations. You are all the same; eyes that can be filled with such hate.”
“Where is he?” Sasuke interrupted curtly; not sure he wanted to hear anything about his family right now. “What have you done with him?”
“He is here…as he’s always been…cowering in fear…over there…”
Sasuke whirled around; hoping to see the Naruto he had come to know recently, but to his surprise…
…it was Naruto, but a Naruto that must have been only six or seven years old. The boy was dressed in a kimono that had seen better days; his small frame trembling violently as he crouched against the wall in the corner, refusing to show his face.
(is this a suppressed memory? Why in the form of a child?)
“Naruto,” Sasuke called out softly. He didn’t have a clue on how to comfort a terrified child, but he would have to conjure up the skills from someplace to try to get Naruto back to his original state. “Naruto, it’s me…Sasuke.”
But the boy would not turn around; his heartbreaking sobs getting louder by the minute. His small shoulders shook and Sasuke could vaguely hear him blubbering the words “I killed them. I killed all of them. I killed them. I killed all of them.”
Sasuke felt something hard and painful twist in his chest. The anguish in that voice was unbearable.
“Naruto…” he tried again as he took a step closer. “It’s okay. Really. I’m here now.”
“There’s no use getting to him in this state,” the dark voice continued in amusement. “You can try, but you’ll never get to him when he’s like this. It’s only a matter of time…”
Sasuke ignored the heat surging behind him; for it felt as if the shadowy thing behind the gate was beginning to trickle out its ominous chakra. Instead he knelt beside the boy and reached out to touch his shoulder gently.
“It’s all right, Naruto,” he began in a voice he was unaware of almost morphing into his brother’s. “Everything’s going to be all right. I’m here with you, so you don’t have to be afraid of him anymore. If he tries anything to hurt you, I’ll take him down. I promise.”
The dark thing made a ‘tch’ sound, and if anything the surge of dark chakra seemed to grow stronger. Sasuke could feel the water around his feet begin to bubble as if it were boiling, and to make matters worse, something inky black was beginning to pool around Naruto.
(blood? Is he bleeding? Is he dying?!)
“Hahaha!” the thing cackled in glee. “See? I told you it was impossible to -”
Sasuke whirled around then; his features contorted with a fury that made him look so much older than his sixteen years. He finally came face-to-face with the creature; a thing that was taking the form of a fox as tall as the gate (if not beyond). It’s orange and red fur (if you could call it that) bristled with a chakra that was powerful enough to knock one away with just a whiff, and yet Sasuke gritted his teeth and stood his ground.
“Those eyes of yours,” the creature growled. “How I hate them so. Your brother came in once before, but just barely -”
“You talk too much,” Sasuke sneered and reached out to clutch what felt like tufts of fur that scorched his skin, but he bore through the pain and channeling the chakra he was unaware he had stored within, he formed a fist and watched as the creature dissipated into thin air with nothing more than a shadow of a mocking laughter.
“You win for now, Uchiha Sasuke,” the voice drifted endlessly. “But it’s only a matter of time…remember that…”
‘Outside’, Kakashi, Sai, and Sakura could only watch in disbelief at what was taking place.
For a while it seemed as if Sasuke was simply towering over the crouched beast, with his arm outstretched as if to pet him, but when the fourth tail began to shrink slowly…and then the third…and soon the second…Sai had to look down at his palm to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating the entire thing. But sure enough, the markings on his palm were indeed reflecting the decrease in the beast’s strength. Whatever Sasuke was doing was working, and a small part of him hated to know that his trusted methods had failed while this relative newcomer had effectively achieved what he had trained so hard for.
“Now I see,” Kakashi was muttering to himself as he watched the fiery cloak of chakra around Naruto begin to disintegrate slowly. “So this was why Tsunade and Jiraiya wanted them to be together despite my doubts.”
(despite many others doubting as well)
Naruto’s original form had returned, but not without repercussions. His flesh was badly burned in several places, and he was barely able to remain in his crouched position as his body tottered to the side. Fortunately, someone was there to catch him before he could fall, and that someone was hardly able to stand himself. Sasuke’s knees had buckled and he slid to the ground; his arms still somehow cradling the smoldering body as if reluctant to part with something precious.
While Sai and Kakashi released the barrier, Sakura dashed toward them; her eyes wet with tears and a gratitude that could not be expressed into words. She knelt beside them and did a quick assessment before turning to the older men with a tremulous smile.
“They’re out cold,” she called out. “But they’re still alive!”
“Good,” Kakashi declared as he rose to his feet to look at the damage. He began performing a series of seals with his gaze trained on the river. “I’ll take care of the fire before the cleaners get here, though I doubt they’ll be able to do much before the humans take notice,” he said to Sai. “You find Neji’s body – if he’s still alive that is – and bring him. I’ll take him back to SWAT with me.”
And as he raised a column of water – which looked eerily like dragons in form – toward the forest fires Naruto had started, Kakashi stole another glance at the two men now being treated by Sakura. He shook his head lightly and couldn’t help the wry smile to come to his features.
(looks like your prediction has finally come true, Itachi)
He attends to his wounds; his teeth clamped tightly around the white gauze while pouring the contents of a stolen bottle of saline solution upon the ugly gash to his right arm. He’s lost a lot blood, but still manages to remain conscious enough to complete the task. He knows he’ll be a mess of bruises, aches and pains come morning, but he reminds himself that it’s a small price to pay for the eventual outcome. All the same, he dreads returning home in this state and meeting the worried dark eyes of his younger brother. He knows Sasuke will have a lot of questions, and the constant lying about being involved in a fight with some bullies will no longer fly if this keeps up.
He sighs and feels his heart ache.
(what can I do?)
“You barely survived this time,” comes the quiet voice from behind him.
He nods, but doesn’t look up. “I know, but I had to. You saw him. He would have gone crazy again.”
“It’s not your job to suppress him, Itachi. We have spirit warriors responsible for that. You’re mortal. Do not forget.”
Itachi grits his teeth and squeezes his eyes shut. “I know that. You don’t have to keep reminding me, Kakashi.”
“I understand your loyalty to Naruto, but he’s not worth you dying for his sake. He’s always been a problem child. I should know. I’ve lived with him far longer than you can imagine.”
The young man looks up with pained eyes. “He’s not,” he says a little louder. “You all treat him like he’s a monster, but he can’t help it. He didn’t wish to be born that way. I doubt anyone would.”
Kakashi raises a brow. “So what are you saying? Are you going to become Immortal to remain with him then? To keep running to his side whenever he loses control? Is that the kind of life you want for yourself?”
Itachi lowers his head and studies the gaping wound on his forearm. Naruto had done this to him…well not Naruto, but the thing inside of him. The Naruto he knows (and loves) would never hurt a hair on his head, How could he make them all see?
“We have the ability to suppress him,” he begins quietly. “It was something I read in the scrolls and history books. The Uchihas have always had the power to control the biju should it get out of control…but you already knew that, didn’t you?”
Kakashi shrugged. “Your clan has never been shy to make it known that they do not approve of Naruto. They’ve wanted to kill him for centuries, and the only reason he’s still alive is because of Jiraiya-sensei. Their disdain for all Immortals stems from him or rather what he represents, but you choose to be an exception to the rule. Your parents are gone, and in time you too will die and so will your brother. What then?”
Itachi gives a small smile. “My brother. He’s different. He’s not a coward like me.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve seen him jump ten feet high at the sound of a mouse, and besides, weren’t you the one who said you did not want him involved with us?”
Itachi chuckles and continues to work on his wound. “I can only protect him from the truth for so long. He’ll now eventually, and when he does he’s going to be even stronger than me. You’ll see, and you’ll come to need his strength in due time. I might not be around then, but I have no doubt Sasuke will do a much better job in keeping that cursed beast in check. I believe in him…and so should you.”
Always have to be right, don’t you, Itachi? Kakashi thought ruefully as he glanced at the two prone figures now lying side-by-side. He couldn’t be sure (or perhaps didn’t want to admit this), but there was a slight twinge in his chest at the sight, and he had to look away quickly.
“Looks like you’ve finally met your match, Naruto,” he whispered to the heavens.
For whether the obstinate blond liked it or not, Uchiha Sasuke was going to become an indispensable part of his life from now on.