11 – Scarlet


If his world was a perpetual shade of soft lilac, tonight – at this very moment; when he saw ‘himself’ deliver the deadly strike to his student – it shattered into a turbulent flare of scarlet.


He couldn’t hear his wail of denial; the pain of having a sword pierced through his torso pale in comparison to the sight of the bloody crater which had once been the boy’s back.




A pool of blood was beginning to form around Sasuke’s head, where its hard impact with the pavement had been nothing short of grimace-inducing.


(why does this always happen?)


His fingers wrapped around the steel blade.


(always…it’s always the same)


He squeezed his eyes shut, and with every shuddered grunt, tugged at the weapon buried within him; the flesh of his palms sliced neatly with every tightening grip. He would not look at the thing before him; this thing that dared to make a mockery of the young man he had once admired and loved despite his better judgment.


(have I failed you yet again, Itachi? What good am I when I couldn’t even protect the one thing you entrusted to me?)


Regret, mingled with a blinding rage, began to swirl within the pit of his stomach. He parted his lips to give a primal howl of fury, hardly giving the thing before him a chance to react before delivering a chakra-fused punch into its face. His lips curled in disgust at the sensation, for instead of the usual crunch of human bones and flesh, the now familiar doughy-substance these shape shifters were made of, nearly wound itself around his wrist at the same time. Still, his punch was enough to have the body spinning through the air and slamming hard against a wall.


(just when I think I’m doing the right thing…it always blows up in my face)


He yanked the sword out of him and flung it aside; opening his eyes just as a blaze of fire erupted from the lips of the Itachi clone. He barely dodged the attack and retaliated with a barrage of chakra balls – his rasengan – as Jiraiya had called it all those years ago when he first learned the technique. The collision of such strong opposing energy forces nearly shattered the barrier Mei had set up. Not that it was holding up anyway. Since she was knocked out, it was likely the barrier would cave in at any moment. Still, he was glad to see that his rasengan had done some damage for ‘Itachi’ was now a wriggling mass of dough, which appeared to want to reform back into its humanoid shape.


Would have been a great time to cast some strong spell, Naruto thought feverishly as he eyed the situation; wishing he had paid more attention to those particular lessons back then. If he could at least do something…something to keep the Itachi clone at bay while he dealt with –




His world exploded in pain as he was slammed against the wall, or would have if he didn’t brace himself quickly. He spun around, avoiding having his face caved in as his doppelganger delivered yet another blow, only this time its fist found the wall and created a crater deep enough to form troubling cracks along it.


How weird to fight against oneself, Naruto mused with some irony as he stared at his twin with a cynical smile. But then again, haven’t I been doing that all these years? I just get to finally do it physically instead of mentally.


He roared and dove for the shapeshifter, channeling all his anger and frustration into the head butt delivered to its torso. Such a move had the thing surprised but just long enough for it to right itself and attack again.


“You have grown weak,” it taunted as Naruto dodged its roundhouse kick. “You used to be one of the most feared spirit warriors, but look at you now, Uzumaki Naruto. You have allowed yourself yet again to become too attached to humans. Is that why you are holding back? You do not want to hurt the boy even though it’s clear he’s dead?”


“Shut the fuck up,” Naruto growled just as he felt Kurama stir within him.


“Why continue to protect someone from a clan that’s brought you nothing but pain over the years, Uzumaki Naruto?”


“Shut up!”


“You’ve only been used by the Uchiha. You are nothing but a tool to them. From the moment you were born,” it scorned and revealed fang-like teeth. “Yet you keep running back as if they are bound to deliver you from your personal Hell.”




“Don’t talk like you know anything about me!”


He bit his thumb quickly and swiped a bloody trail across the marked tattoo slowly becoming visible on his abdomen. The doppelganger noticed the move and hissed in retaliation; hands coming together to form a seal that created two more clones of itself.


“You piss me off, you know that?” Naruto sneered as Kurama’s chakra began to mingle with his. “Keep using your damn cheap tricks, you disgusting tub of lard!”


He began to form the darker and much ‘heavier’ ball of chakra in his palm; something the doppelgangers obviously couldn’t do for they were still stuck with formations of the basic kind; though with the three of them combined, the damage was still likely to be critical. Unfortunately, the trouble with forming Kurama’s brand of rasengan was that it took just a little bit longer to get to its full potential, and Naruto’s goal was to take them all out in one hit. There was simply no time to fuck around with these things. Mei and Chōjūrō were going to be fine, since they were Immortals, but Sasuke…


(I have to hurry!)


Why bother? came the smaller voice within. You saw the damage inflicted on him. There’s no way he could survive that. You, of all people, should know how destructive your rasengan is. You can see the kid’s bones for God’s sake!


(shut up! Shut up! Shut…!)


“Up!” he bellowed and charged at the trio; the blind rage, that murky shade of scarlet making it all so dangerous to think properly. He watched as the three disintegrated into nothing more than tiny molecules of that damned white substance, and would have congratulated himself on finally eliminating the enemy, when he heard the mocking snigger and surge of energy forming behind him.


What the…?!


“I wouldn’t move an inch if I were you,” came the husky taunt. “I might not be able to produce the enormous amount of chakra with that monster inside of you, but I’m still likely to take you out withrurghagarhg!”


Whatever else he might have said was reduced to nothing more than gurgling gibberish that made no sense. Naruto, whose entire being had tensed at the surprise attack (for the shapeshifter had hidden its true body and had used the three clones as distraction) turned around slowly to notice the blazing bluish tip of a chakra-induced sword pierced right through its chest. There was no blood, but the strike was enough to have ‘Naruto’s’ features slowly morph into the thick white doughy substance, which slowly pooled to the ground around the surprise attacker’s feet.


(I don’t…I don’t believe it…!)


Said attacker was barely standing on his feet (or holding onto his sword for that matter), and he was breathing so heavily, he could hardly get a word out. A quick glance behind him showed that the boy had crawled/dragged himself across the street just to get here while they were in the thick of battle. Thick trails of blood coated a visage that was as white as a sheet. His clothing- at least the top half- had been burnt off due to the effect of the rasengan, and his back – though still a sickening sight of singed flesh, muscle, nerves and bone – appeared to be slowly weaving its way back to some semblance of normalcy. However, it appeared as if the boy wasn’t even aware of the stunning metamorphosis taking place. Neither did he appear to be sentient of just where he was. His instincts had simply forced his body to move.


“Sas…Sasuke,” Naruto croaked in disbelief; his voice a tremulous whisper from a throat that seemed too tight for anything else to get through. “You…how…?”


Unfocused dark eyes seemed to light up a little at the sound of his name. His lips tried to form some words, but he eventually gave up the fight to continue. The sword clattered to the ground from boneless fingers, and trembling legs had him lurching forward and into the strong arms of the man who had unknowingly given him a new kind of life.


You saved me again, Naruto thought wildly as he cradled the immobile and clammy body against his as if hoping to give it the warmth it so desperately needed. Why? And how the hell are you able to…?


“Look out!” came the loud cry above them.


Instinctively, he shielded Sasuke’s body from whatever was coming; looking up with widened eyes as Sakura delivered the mother of all punches to what appeared to be yet another doppelganger of him. Just how many of these things were there?!


The Itachi clone was now somewhat revived and staggering toward him; a rather disturbing sight of half-humanoid/half-white substance. However, before it could take another step, something dark sliced it in half; causing it to disintegrate into molecular particles.


Sai landed beside them; paintbrush in hand. Quick motions in the air created a wave of black flames akin to Sasuke’s Amaterasu, and they destroyed whatever little spores the thing had left behind. Once he was sure that was taken care of, he began to strengthen the weakened barrier.


“Shikamaru and his team are on their way,” he explained quickly. “At least as soon as they finish dealing with the shapeshifters that attacked them en route.”


Sakura, who was busy doing her best to burn off the rest of the white mass with a surge of chakra from her palms, nodded in agreement. “We got wind of the trouble at S.W.A.T and came here as fast as we could. These things have the ability to continue morphing if their substance isn’t completely destroyed. They leave spores that can regenerate endlessly.”


When she was sure she had everything under control, she fell to her knees beside them; her sharp gaze taking in the bloody duo with concern. Naruto looked worse for wear, but she had no doubt he’d recover from his wounds eventually. However, it was Sasuke who had her gasping in dismay; her eyes welling with tears at the terrible blood loss and gaping wound.


“Oh my God,” she whispered and looked up to meet the steady blue eyes. “What happened? I mean…we need to get him back to S.W.A.T. right away! Tsunade-sama might be able to help him. I could try, but I doubt my skills are as advanced as hers. She’ll know what to do. I can teleport us all there -”


“Don’t worry about me,” Naruto interrupted quietly, as he lowered his gaze to the still figure in his arms; unaware of the tenderness in his eyes. “Do what you have to do, Sakura.”


“What about you?” she cried out as her new precious cargo was laid across her lap. “You need to get fixed up too-”


“There’s something I have to do first,” he said as he rose unsteadily to his feet. “I’ll come back to headquarters. Don’t worry. I’m not running away again.”


She bit her lower lip and looked like she was going to argue, but she must have noticed the unspoken request in his eyes, for she simply nodded and vanished from sight without another word.


Once sure she was gone, he gave up the pretense and fell to the ground in exhaustion. It felt like every part of him was going to split open, but he was at least proud he hadn’t completely given in to Kurama this time. He closed his eyes just as he felt the shadow fall over him.


“So stubborn,” Sai muttered as he stooped to his haunches. “Why not go with them?”


Naruto remained silent. He debated on whether or not to tell Sai about Sasuke’s healing ability, but figured it best not to say anything now. He could not be a hundred percent sure, but he felt he might have had something to do with it. After all, if Madara could use him as a human (blood) fountain to replenish himself after every battle, what were the odds that his blood still flowed through the Uchiha clan since then?


(But if that’s the case, why couldn’t it cure Itachi’s illness? Or Fugaku’s wounds? Or any other Uchiha I’ve come across over the years?)


Could it skip generations then? Naruto doubted it. Sasuke was no more special than any other member of his clan, so how the hell had he gotten a hold of his –


“Aaaah damn it,” came the loud but sluggish complaint from across them. Naruto lifted his lashes wearily to notice Mei sitting up slowly to examine the disaster that had once been her shop. She didn’t seem to mind that her dress was ripped in several places, allowing the men a good view of the swell of her full breasts. Chōjūrō was rousing up as well, though he looked like he could use some of Sakura’s healing skills as soon as possible. The poor kid appeared half-dead.


“I’ve contacted the Cleaners,” Sai was saying as Mei finally noticed the duo. “They should be here shortly.”


Mei grimaced but thanked him for his consideration before focusing on the prone blond. “It’s good to see you back again, Naruto. The real you that is.”


He managed to crack a blood-stained smile and a playful wink, while croaking out a, “You know I couldn’t resist stopping by to say hello, Mei-chan. I’ve missed you so much.”


She rolled her eyes and staggered to her feet to help Chōjūrō first.


“Oh shut up, you troublemaker,” she teased with a heavy sigh. “I might not have much of a home now, but I can patch you up a little. Bring him in, Sai.”





When he lifted his lashes, it was to find himself in heaven – no make that the soft mounds of Mei’s bosom on which his head was cradled for some reason. He glanced up to see that she was fast asleep; her features relaxing into that of a woman who couldn’t be any older than twenty, though Naruto was sure she was just as old as Tsunade.


She really was a beauty and he felt himself reluctantly stir at the idea of being so close to her (again). Unfortunately, she wasn’t in anything revealing this time around. She was covered in a pink sweatshirt and jeans that emphasized the strength in her slender thighs. They were on a couch in her private living room – her home beneath the façade of her shop. It had survived the damage from the shapeshifters, and looking around the colorful and eccentric-accessorized space, Naruto was reminded of the first time he was lucky enough to be invited here.


How naïve and hopeful I was then, he mused with a soft chuckle. For all the stories he had heard about Terumī Mei and her promiscuity, he had assumed she would pounce on him the moment he walked into her lair. Instead, he had been stunned at her wisdom and love for reading; her extensive bookshelf housing works from classic literature to scrolls and texts on the sciences.


Mei the Nerd, he had privately nicknamed her, as he tried to extricate himself carefully from her clasped hands upon his chest.


He was clean and now clad in a t-shirt and a pair of black shorts. He lifted the shirt to eye the wound he had received, wincing at the ugly puckered purple bruise left behind. Hopefully, it would clear up by tomorrow.


He rose to his feet, but froze at the murmured drawl from the ‘sleeping’ woman’s lips. “Where are you going now?”


“Toilet,” he lied quickly.


She nodded slowly and tucked herself in a fetal position to get more comfortable. “See Sai,” she muttered. “He has some news for you from headquarters.”


At that information, his heart jackhammered within his chest with an emotion he hated himself for feeling.




He’s fine, he told himself as he forced his feet to move toward her bathroom. He was healing, wasn’t he? So he’s fine. It’s just good news or why would Mei be sleeping as if she didn’t care?


And yet, even as he let go of the contents of his bladder, his mind (and heart) churned with that dark, swirling sensation of helplessness. Of knowing that nothing he could do now would change the outcome. It was the way he had felt while he watched Itachi dying; of how he foolishly (desperately!) even offered himself as a source of healing. Though it had been years – well, since Madara – he had even considered allowing anyone to taste his blood, he would have gladly given up several pints to keep Itachi breathing.


(and now…?)


He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the cold wall, as the vision of the Itachi, was slowly replaced by the visage of the younger sibling who was trying so hard to carve his own path in life.


Memories of their time at Mount Myōboku sped through his mind and not for the first time either. While on his ‘hiatus’ from the kid, every conversation (or argument) he had with Sasuke left him feeling more miserable and aware than ever before. He knew he had promised himself not to get too involved; that he would simply let Kakashi ‘raise’ Sasuke while he continued to watch from afar. That despite his decision anyway, he could never tell Sasuke he had been there on those lonely nights when he had cried himself to sleep, or that he sometimes escorted him to school without making his presence known, or that he had fought and killed some yōkai on his behalf without his knowledge. That he had practically watched Sasuke grow up from that chubby, wailing (obnoxious) infant to the stubborn warrior he had become today.


Hadn’t he sworn that he would never ever let himself be swayed by such human emotions as love and devotion again?




I really am a lost cause, aren’t I?


He doubted he was ‘in love’ with the boy (that thought bothered him more than he cared to admit), but he did have a boatload of admiration for him. Besides, anyone who could punch him in the face while calling out his bullshit deserved an award. He almost chuckled at that particular memory, although recalling the tears in Sasuke’s eyes dampened his amusement.


(how many times have I made you cry? And how many more times will I do it again?)


He washed his hands and let himself out of the room; fear a tangible weight on his tongue now. He saw Sai sitting in Mei’s living room with Chōjūrō - who was fast asleep - and as their eyes met, Naruto knew without a doubt that his worst nightmare was slowly unraveling.


“She wanted to speak to you in person,” Sai said quietly as he held up his cell phone and connected to Sakura. “I think it’s best she tell you.”


He excused himself with an attempt at a smile, leaving Naruto to clutch the device with fingers that were slowly going numb.


It’s all right…it can’t be that bad…and if it is the case, why should I be too disappointed…


(a failure)


…it’s not as if he’s the first person who has died that you cared about. You should be used to this by now, Naruto. All you have to do is chuck him into the list of those-I-should-not-remember-any-longer. And besides, it’s best this way. He’s the last of his kind. That clan has brought nothing but trouble, and it’s only fitting that he would die in your presence.




Her voice was hoarse and raw from all the crying she must have probably done, and when he called out her name, he was surprised to find his voice was strong and steady; hardly betraying the throbbing ache filling his chest.


“Tsunade-sama…she wants to talk to you…”


Before he could respond, the phone switched hands and his boss’s firm (though weary) voice filled his ear.


“Are you still at Mei’s place, Naruto?”




“How are you holding up?”


“I’m talking to you, so that’s a good sign, isn’t it?”


She gave a low ‘tsk’ of disapproval at his sass, but seemed to realize what he must be going through for her voice was a little kinder. “I won’t mince words with you, but the prognosis is not looking good. I was able to find a small trace of your blood in his system, which would explain why he was able to heal a little, but it was just that…a trace, meaning it was hardly enough to finish the job.”


He closed his eyes; the sudden vision of Sasuke lying on a bed surrounded by tubes and wires connected to machines and pumps filling his mind. Maybe Tsunade was transmitting them to him on a psychic level while she spoke, but the sight of the boy – whose face was half-covered with a breathing mask - was more than disheartening.


(he looks so damn alone…)


His fingers dug into his palms, which weren’t even fully recovered yet, allowing his cuts to open again. He hardly felt the blood – this damned cursed blood of his – dripping onto his thigh.


“…doing all I can, but I cannot make any promises,” Tsunade was saying. She took a deep breath, before adding softly. “He is going to die, Naruto. There is no way around it. I’m…sorry.”


Of course you are, he thought bitterly. Aren’t we all?


“Promise me one thing,” Naruto found himself saying. The strength in his voice was gone. It was a chore to now let any word past lips that felt frozen. “Don’t…please don’t make him choose. Let him be at peace.”


“Naruto -”


“I know the temptation to want an Uchiha on your side is great, but trust me…I’d rather he die as his brother wanted than to join our world for eternity. We can’t do that to him.”


Tsunade said nothing for a long minute, before sighing in agreement. “As you wish. However, will you come to see him?”


“Why?” he asked with a sad smile. “What good does that do? But don’t worry, I’ll try to show up for the funeral, and no, I promise not to disappear for a long time again.”


This, of course, referring to his decision to mourn for Itachi for months on end without letting anyone at headquarters know his whereabouts.


Tsunade seemed satisfied with this. “I’ll put Sakura back on the phone, though the poor child has been sobbing her eyes out since she brought him here. Try to cheer her up, will you?”


But there was no cheering up Sakura, who cried despite Naruto’s attempts to get a word in. He finally settled for clutching the phone in his bleeding palms and closing his eyes as she sobbed out all the ‘fun’ things they had done while he was away.


(all the things I should have done if I hadn’t left. It’s all right, Sakura. I know you blame me just as well)


Regrets. Regrets. Regrets.


Damn if his life story shouldn’t have that one word stamped all over it. However, in a few days, this too would pass. They would mourn the young man’s passing, shed some more tears, and move on to the next story.


An era had finally come to its painful conclusion.




The bell tolls. It’s the end of another school day.


He grabs his bag and runs out of the classroom. The summer holidays are finally beginning. The air is sticky with heat and sweet with promises that await him later. He nearly leaps off the flight of steps; tiny feet weightless with joy as he spots the familiar figure of his older brother amongst the waiting line of parents. Once upon a time, he might have felt lonely at seeing Mothers and Fathers hugging their children, but it doesn’t bother him so much now. Itachi is all the mother and father he could possibly need, and as he bounds into the waiting arms and allows himself to be twirled around; their happy laughter mingles easily with the others.


“Ready for summer, Sasuke?”


“Yes, nii-san!” he cries in delight and wraps his tiny arms tightly around the strong neck. “Let’s have plenty of fun, okay?”


“That’s right, Sasuke,” Itachi whispers in his ear, though his voice seems to be changing somewhat – thicker, slower, as if drunk on something.


Nii…san?” he calls out tentatively; his voice small and fearful. Is it just him or are the clouds darkening as well? He could have sworn it was a bright summer day just a few minutes ago.


“We’re going to have plenty of fun, aren’t we?” Itachi queries drunkenly.


“You’re hugging me too tight, nii-san,” he whimpers as he feels those familiar strong arms wrap themselves even tighter around his waist. It’s becoming hard to breathe, and he realizes – with growing alarm – that the once black hair he had buried his face into, is now turning into something white and dough-like. It’s sucking his face in. In fact, it’s sucking his entire body into it, and when Itachi pulls away a little to smile at him; the grotesque mixture of white clay and the melting visage of his brother is enough to have him screaming in horror.




“Wake up, Sasuke.”


A hard shake on his shoulder had him lifting his lashes quickly. He blinked hard and tried to make sense of his surroundings.


“What kind of a dream were you having?” came the quiet question.


“I…” He gulped and tried to catch his breath; sitting up slowly as the thin blanket slid off his chest to pool around his waist. He ran a trembling hand down his sweat-slicked face and tried to even his breathing.


“I dreamt of something horrible,” he muttered as he finally looked up to meet the amused blue eyes, which looked violet tonight courtesy of the small campfire still flickering between them. He was back in Mount Myōboku after another hard day of training. He was safe here.




Sasuke nodded and raised his knees to his chest. He wrapped his arms around them tightly, as if hoping to draw some warmth from them.


(but then again…it really is cold despite the fire. I don’t remember the nights ever being this cold)


“A nightmare,” he muttered. “It was horrible.”


“Wouldn’t have anything to do with your dear brother, would it?”


He looked up sharply; wanting to scowl at the tone of amusement in that voice. It seemed as if Naruto was mocking him, and he wasn’t sure why.


“So what if it was about my brother?” he retorted defensively. “What about it?”


Naruto grinned with wicked intent. “You really are still stuck on your dead sibling, aren’t you? What is it? Do you have some kind of brother-complex? Or were you actually dreaming about me?”


Sasuke felt the color flood his cheeks and he scowled. “That is disgusting. I would never think of my brother in that light, and secondly, I was not dreaming about you.” Except he hated the way the last bit sounded; so breathless and probably a dead giveaway that there had, indeed, been some nights when the blond had infiltrated his very non-PG dreams.


“It’s all right to admit your feelings for me, Sasuke,” Naruto drawled and suddenly moved closer to lean over the stunned young man before him. “We are both adults here, aren’t we?”


(wha…what?! What the hell is going on?!)


“Come now,” Naruto crooned and licked his lips slowly; eyes darkening with an expression that sent a wave of heat so strong coursing through Sasuke’s body, he became light-headed. Naruto positively looked ready to devour him. “Entertain me, Uchiha Sasuke.”


“Wai…wait…this isn’t…sto…stop…please!”


But Naruto wasn’t listening, for his lips had found the sensitive region behind his right ear and neck, to latch onto it as if hoping to suck the very skin right off.


(oh God…!)


He slapped his trembling hands against the strong chest and tried to push him away, and yet nerve endings tingled with a pleasure and desire so potent, he was helpless to the breathless sigh and whimper to escape his lips. His groin throbbed, swelled and ached for the older man.


(but this isn’t like him…this isn’t the way Naruto would act)


“Sto…stop,” he panted and pushed even harder. “We shouldn’t…wha…what?! Aaaaah!”


His hands, which had hoped to meet solid flesh and muscle, now appeared to be sinking into Naruto’s body as if kneading soft clay. Sasuke tried to yank them out, but they were tugged in even more until he was up to his elbows.


“Let me go!” he screamed and screamed even louder when this ‘thing’ sank its teeth into his neck and tore out a chunk of his flesh. It pulled away with a delighted bloody grin and spat away his prize. Sasuke felt himself being drained of his life force as the thick warmth of his blood poured down his torso.




This thing was moving in again; fangs bared and ready to seemingly bite his very face off.


Please! Somebody! Help me! he begged to no one in particular. Desperate and panicked as he grew weaker.


I don’t want this! Please get me out of here! Get me out of here!





“Death, as they say, is only a passing phase of one’s journey through this thing called Life.”


There was the faint strike of a match, a hissing flame, and soon the sweet smell of tobacco filtering into his dulled senses. The smoker inhaled greedily and let it out with a soft sigh of enjoyment.


“No one ever said it wouldn’t be a painful process getting through it.”


(that voice)


Sasuke lifted his lashes and was rewarded with pitch darkness. For a second, he wondered if this was yet another phase of his nightmares, but as he forced himself to think rationally, he realized he had experienced something like this before…


(Naruto’s death)


Except unlike Naruto who had felt like he was weighed down by a ton of bricks, Sasuke was able to move a little, but just enough to be able to turn his head left and right to see who owned the voice.


“Where…are you?” he asked hoarsely. Damn if his throat didn’t feel like it was on fire.


“In here with you,” the voice continued. “But you cannot see me because I am a part of your subconscious. We are in that realm between Life and Death; where your Willpower struggles to keep you alive while your earthly body demands to be released from its unbearable burden.”


“I know,” Sasuke replied softly. “I’ve experienced it before, Jiraiya-sama.”


There was a pregnant silence of surprise before the voice returned. “You have, have you? Dare I ask how?”


Sasuke shook his head slowly. “It doesn’t matter now, but I know what you’ve come for. You want to give me the opportunity to become Immortal, don’t you?”


Jiraiya paused again before replying carefully. “Perhaps.”


Sasuke’s brows met in consternation. “What do you mean?”


“We received a request from someone asking I not give you the choice. He feels it is best to let you die naturally instead of being forced to live for eternity regretting your decision.”


Sasuke knew – even before the other man was finished – just who was responsible for such a request. His first instinct was to be furious at Naruto’s suggestion, but then again –


“I can understand his reason for being so cautious,” Jiraiya continued quietly, and this time it was his voice that seemed full of doubt and regret. “When I gave him the choice, I knew he would accept without hesitation for his mind and thoughts were simply filled with the need for revenge. All I had to do was tap into that need and his response would be obvious.” There was a heavy sigh. “Years later, once those fires were finally quenched and I had done all I could for him, I realized there was nothing left. He realized there was nothing left, and  that he was cursed to spend the rest of his life simply…living. Often I wonder if I did a good thing allowing him to survive; that perhaps the world would have been a better place without Uzumaki Naruto’s legacy. Yet when I see him do good things, when I see the smiles he brings to faces – ever the reluctant hero – I tell myself I did what was best. His joy comes from protecting those that mean a lot to him, and despite his better judgment, it has somehow always come down to your clan.”


Sasuke digested this in silence for a part of him knew just why Naruto’s life was always going to be intertwined with that of the Uchiha.


“The fight,” he finally asked hoarsely. “The fight with Madara…what really happened?”


Jiraiya did not speak for a minute. “I wish I could tell you, Sasuke,” he finally replied softly. “I was not there, and I doubt there were any other witnesses at the time. By the time I arrived, it was to see Naruto – quite bloody and battered – sitting beside the prone and nearly unrecognizable body of Madara. He had gone into Kurama-mode at some point, and I believe that was what finally killed your ancestor, but do not take my word for it. Naruto has refused to reveal what happened then, or perhaps he simply doesn’t remember. Whenever he transforms, he is no longer himself and cannot recall events that take place during the fight.”


“Madara had the ability to kill him, didn’t he? He knew the seals to eliminate Immortals, didn’t he? Why do you think he never used it on Naruto?”


“I think you know as well as I do why he couldn’t get himself to finally do it,” came the quiet response. “Madara, for all his pomp and circumstance, and self-righteous bullheaded stubborn ways, always did retain a soft spot for Naruto. So who knows? Perhaps that one moment of hesitation during the fight was all it took for Kurama to finish the deal, and perhaps a subconscious part of Naruto feels guilty at that truth, which is why he feels the need to watch over your clan.


“Unfortunately, the irony of Madara wanting to keep Naruto for himself and denying the Senju the right to reclaim him, was almost laughable. Who was in the right, I ask you? Both clans wanted Naruto, but for the wrong reasons. On the surface, they simply needed him as a weapon; that was all Naruto was back then – a weapon manufactured from a dangerous yet magnificent clan. A clan blessed with longevity, whose blood could heal rapidly, and whose bodies could sustain such powerful spiritual creatures. Naruto was perfect in every way! The poor child.”


Jiraiya sighed again. “He always knew – and even ‘til today – knows that his worth is simply that of being used by others. I did my best to convince him otherwise. Took him all around the world, exposed him to other cultures, tried to expand his mind beyond the walls of his self-imposed prison. I wanted to make him believe that he was so much more than Kurama, that he could fight on his own without relying on the beast within him, that he was more than just a weapon. I dare say it was finally your older brother who managed to poke through that shell of his and made him feel more ‘human’ than ever before. While the previous generations of your ancestors held Naruto at arm’s length and treated him as nothing more than a parasite, despite the number of times he saved them, Itachi dared to reach beyond the surface to find that still faint but beating human heart within.”


Sasuke closed his eyes and tried to ignore the ache in his chest.


Itachi. Itachi. Itachi.


It always came down to his older brother, didn’t it? Itachi was the one to change Naruto. Itachi was the one to fall in love with Naruto. Itachi was the one Naruto had really wanted in return, and with his death, Naruto had fallen back into old habits of not letting anyone in. All because of Itachi.


(damn it!)


For the first time in his life, Sasuke felt he could hate his brother for interfering with his life.


(how petty)


So why the fuck did his throat feel so constricted? Why couldn’t he breathe? Why did it hurt so much?


(because I was never given the chance to prove myself to him. I wanted…just a little bit to be able to imprint a part of myself in his heart too. No, let’s be honest here, Uchiha Sasuke. I want him to forget about my brother and to think of me alone. I don’t want to share him with anyone. Not ever. But now…now…)


“Goddamnit,” he whispered as his voice broke and his breath hitched. It was humiliating to cry over something so stupid, but he didn’t want it to end like this. He wanted to live. Perhaps once upon a time he had walked around like a zombie wishing a car would run him over, but no longer. He now had a reason to want to keep on breathing, and that reason was alive and well and in desperate need of him (no matter how much he tried to deny it).


“Your feelings for him are that strong,” Jiraiya stated; for there was no doubt in it. “It was why you were able to stand and defeat the enemy during  your last fight without hesitation. You were dying and yet all you could think about was helping him.”


Sasuke could not respond. What could he say anyway? Jiraiya was right.


“His blood,” the other man was saying. “Actually gave you the extra strength to move. You must have tasted some of it during the fight at some point. You were even able to heal a little, but not much.”


(tasted his blood? When…?)


The sudden image of Naruto appearing before him to accept the brunt of the fake Itachi’s attack, flashed through his mind. Hadn’t Naruto’s blood dripped on his face then? Hadn’t he had a little taste of it then? So that would explain it!


“Your body is still dying,” Jiraiya continued. “Just a drop was not enough to do the trick. This is your unfortunate reality, Uchiha Sasuke.”


Another image, this time of him – at least his physical body – lying on a hospital bed, where every part of him seemed connected to some kind of IV or electrical monitoring equipment. His hair looked so black against the paleness of his flesh and the white sheets, and he was only breathing thanks to the mask placed over his face. Sakura was by his side; her features weary and reddened with her sorrow. She wouldn’t even tear her gaze away from him when Tsunade, Shizune and two other nurses walked into the room to observe his fading vital signs.


“You have less than an hour in the earthly realm, Sasuke,” Jiraiya was saying. “I know we were asked not to pressure you into doing this, but this is your decision to make and not his. Just know that whichever choice you make, it is irreversible…”


“I’ve already made my choice,” came the quiet statement as Sasuke closed his eyes to clear out the vision of his dying self. “I made it in Mount Myōboku to the Great Toad Sage, and I already knew my Fate before today.”


“To be with him for all eternity? Even if he is against it?”


“I am my own person, Jiraiya-sama. I can make my own decisions, and this is what I choose.”


He could ‘hear’ the smile in the voice.


“Your mortal life will end today once that choice is made, my boy. You will eternally remain as a seventeen-year-old even if your mind and heart ages as the years go by. You will no longer see the world as others do, and you will be forced to watch those that you care about die. Is this a burden you are willing to accept?”




“Then so be it, Uchiha Sasuke.”


He stiffened as he felt a presence now over him. It was almost suffocating; as if being crushed by an unseen weight. There was a surge of heat to overwhelm him, before he felt the familiar sensation of a hand upon his chest…right above his heart.


“Now bear with this a little,” Jiraiya was saying. “It would have been much better if I was physically beside you, but since I am not, it is going to force me to use more chakra than I normally would. It is going to be extremely painful -”


“What…what are you going to do?” he whispered fearfully.


“Just a little seal to go into your heart,” came the quiet explanation as the pressure upon his chest increased. Sasuke could feel the scream bubbling within him as Jiraiya pressed harder. He could hear something cracking –


(bones…my sternum…crushing it…oh God…I can’t bear it!)


“Not everyone survives this process, for not everyone can become Immortal. Some even die all over again after a few days. You must be strong in spirit and mind to be able to deal with this. Now take a deep breath, my boy, and this will be all over…”


A hard push and the world went blinding white for the young man, whose lips parted in a howl of agony that was likely to shatter the heavens.






In the hospital room, the EKG machine suddenly gave a loud bleep and proceeded to lose its mind.


Sakura, who had been in a deep funk, snapped up at the sound; the chair she was sitting on tipping over as she rose to her feet with her heart in her throat.


The green lines on the screen, which had once been a steady straight line with an intermittent hump, showing some  heart activity, was now a beehive of skittering waves as if unable to keep up with just how hard the young man’s heart was beating.


Tsunade, who had left the room just a minute earlier, flew back in to watch the transformation with a slight shake of her head.


Damn Jiraiya and his impatience, but still…


(I guess he made his choice after all. Sorry, Naruto)


“Oh God…” came the low gasp as Sakura’s eyes welled with tears again; only this time, they were for a whole other reason.


The EKG monitor had finally calmed down to normal, just as long lashes opened slowly to reveal glazed dark eyes that blinked a few times. Spots of color were appearing on his flesh, which had earlier been clammy and gray in pre-death. He expelled a gust of breath, and the girl was quick to unhook the breathing apparatus to reveal his face completely. He turned his head a little to look into the tearful and smiling visage above him.


“Sa…Sakura?” came the hoarse greeting, which was rewarded with a wail of relief as she flung her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. IV lines (which toppled to the floor by the way) be damned.


Sasuke was back, and that was all that really mattered.






Several hours later, he was wolfing down his third plate of omurice, while washing it down with his fifth bottle of soda. He had never felt this hungry in his life…well previous life… before. But then again, food had never really tasted this…rich and delightful either.


Sakura and Sai watched on in amusement, and exchanged quick looks with each other before smiling in understanding. Though it had been ages since their transformations, they could relate to how Sasuke was feeling right now. There was the ravenous need to consume anything edible in sight, and that was only after having to get used to the new ‘color’ of the world they had once known. There was always that soft haze of purple (or lilac), though it didn’t interfere much with their daily activities.


However, Sasuke had told them something strange when he was prodded back at the S.W.A.T hospital.


“I don’t notice anything different,” he had confessed after several eye exams. “I thought my world was supposed to be a different shade or something?”


Tsunade and Jiraiya had been stumped at this, but eventually deduced that it was perhaps due to the unique eye qualities of the Uchiha clan. Since no one else in their history had chosen to become Immortal, Sasuke was really the first guinea pig ever.


“Then explain the Hyūga clan,” Sakura had queried. “You’d think their vision would be perfect too, but they see the same things we do.”


“The Uchiha have far more superior eye techniques than the Hyūga. Over the centuries, they have evolved and made their vision even more unique, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise,” Jiraiya had mused in response. “At least for now, he seems to be handling it well. Let’s just monitor him for any after effects, all right?”


So far, there had been no bad side-effects. Sasuke was adjusting just fine. His first stop? To satiate this hunger once and for all.


“I can’t wait to see Naruto’s face when he sees you,” Sakura gushed in excitement. “He’s going to flip…”


But Sasuke was shaking his head and holding up his hand as he downed the rest of his drink. When finished, he cleared his throat and couldn’t seem to meet Sakura’s eyes as he muttered a low “not yet.”


“Huh? Why not?”


“I’m not ready,” Sasuke replied, wondering why the sudden idea of seeing the older man now made him nervous as hell. He rubbed slightly sweaty palms down his thighs and took a deep breath. “Just…give me some time, okay?”


“Looks like you won’t need to worry about that,” Sai said cryptically, causing Sakura and Sasuke to look up in bemusement.


“What do you mean?” Sakura asked, but she needn’t have, for her gaze was already following Sai’s which was directed outside the window of the restaurant.


Just crossing the street, and heading right toward them, was the very man in question; looking rather dapper in a beige dress-shirt and black pants. However he wasn’t alone, for draped on his arm was none other than Mei; looking breathtaking in a simple print summer dress that exposed her legs and arms to anyone willing to view (and there were quite a few admiring views at that). They seemed to be laughing over something; or rather she laughed while Naruto gave a small smile. Either way it was enough to give anyone the impression that they were quite a dashing (loving) couple.


Something shattered, forcing Sakura to tear her (slightly envious) gaze away from the sight to what was the cause of it.


“Sas…Sasuke…are you all righ-?”


“I’m fine,” came the quiet words as he reached for a napkin to wipe the droplets of blood on his palms caused apparently from how hard he had been squeezing the empty bottle. He rose abruptly to his feet. “Would you excuse me for a moment? I have to use the restroom.”


He was off before they could stop him, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the collision to take place anyway. For just as the couple stepped into the dining area, Sasuke brushed right past them with a glare enough to freeze steam. The responding expressions were priceless; sufficient to make Sai wish he had a camera to capture the moment for posterity.


(an eternity for those two?)


This was going to be fun.




Chapter 12

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