Chapter 18: The Murderer's Guide to Fear
I could not see, but I knew exactly what was around me. The memories had been burned into my sharingan the last time I had come to this place. A sewer covered in a deceptively shallow layer of water. I could hear the faint sound of droplets striking its surface, sending small ripples across it.
And beyond that, there was chakra, restrained but still immense despite that.
In that chakra, I felt hatred, born of the purest rage, directed by a single purpose, and seasoned with brutal, naked violence.
"Kyuubi," I said, and the figure did not so much shift as it did coil, drawing back into itself, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.
So this time it is you who comes, Uchiha. I felt it push itself up to stand on all fours. Why are you here?
"For your chakra," I responded icily. "Naruto will need help to win this battle."
You are correct in that much, at least. It seems the loss of your sight has made you more… perceptive. It let out a deep sound, half growl, half chuckle. But if Naruto needs my power, all he need do is come here and ask for it. Your interference is unneeded.
I snorted, but said nothing.
It smiled, and my mind supplied the image of deadly, gleaming teeth. Ah, I see. You intend to take it for yourself, not for Naruto. A sudden furious snarl. Foolish, arrogant little human. Do you think I will give you anything? You, who bears that chakra more ominous than my own, that chakra which is so like Madara's?
"I expect you to give me nothing." I replied, and raised my one arm, reaching out with my senses, probing the seal, searching for something I knew to be there. "The Mangekyo Sharingan possesses the power to control the bijuu. I will take what I need."
You intend to subdue me? In your current state? It laughed uproariously. And from where shall you obtain the strength to perform such a feat? From those burnt-out eyes? From that broken wreck of a body? It quieted, and I could feel the smile on its face vanish as it realized. No, that is not it, is it?
Nothing. There were no weaknesses. Nothing other than pure brute force could weaken it sufficiently to let chakra through. And that was something I lacked right now.
Ah yes, I see. It is that powerful Yin chakra of yours which gives you such confidence. That chakra which allows you to keep broken things like your body working as if they are undamaged. The smile on its face returned, and I felt its amused contempt. A power which truly suits one such as you, Uchiha Sasuke.
And I realized what I needed to do. If there was no way to directly take the Kyuubi's chakra out…
Something that was half-sneer, half-smirk spread across my face.
"Enough talk," I declared in a voice as cold as a glacier. "In the end, you bijuu are all the same, mindless beasts, lacking in both sentience and purpose. And so…" I reached out with a pulse of chakra, crushed the beast's will beneath my own. "You require a guideto show you the proper path, just like any other animal." I stepped forward and the water rippled beneath my feet, sending waves to softly strike walls of meters around.
"The tailed beasts," I continued as I advanced, "are nothing but slaves. Slaves to the power of those descended from the Sage of the Six Paths!"
I kept moving forward until I was right in front of the bars of the beast's cage. So close that I could feel its power, too potent to be completely constrained even by the Fourth Hokage's seal, permeating the air around it, sinking into my skin.
"And so, Kyuubi," I said, raising my single hand up and clenching it into a fist. "I command, and you will obey!"
I stepped through the bars of the cage, and the torrent of chakra struck me like a tsunami. I felt it, moving through me according to my own will, seeping through my wounds, flowing in my blood, my chakra. A torrent of energy, greater even than what had been at my disposal when Indra had given me his chakra, power equal to what I had sensed within the Gedo Mazo.
Power that was mine to use as I needed.
Yes, with this, I can-!
My control shattered. The beast smashed the chains I had placed to constrain its will with nothing more than a contemptuous flicker of thought, and its chakra, still pulsing within my veins, suddenly flared with the heat of a thousand suns.
No, I realized, I had not lost control. I'd never had control in the first place. The beast had laid a trap, and in my desperation, my overconfidence, my own stupidity, I had fallen straight into its jaws.
Did you think yourself to be Madara's equal? Did you truly believe you could control me in that pitiful state?! The Kyuubi roared furiously. I felt a long coil of crimson chakra wrap around my body and lift me up to the creature's eye level. More of its corrosive power rushed into me and I screamed in agony as I felt my insides burn like dry wood, my mind splintering like a shard of thin glass.
I had been a child idly yanking on a leash, thinking I had held dominion over the beast attached to it, until its patience was exhausted. And now I could only be dragged along. I was unable to convert this powerful, corrosive chakra into a form I could use, for the mastery Indra's power provided was only over the 'form' that power took, not it's nature, its 'life'.
Your hubris is your undoing, boy! It continued, and I felt scabs spreading across my skin, my body being torn open as more and more of that evil, poisonous energy rushed in. I am a prisoner, but never again shall I be a slave! I will destroy you here, along with those accursed eyes of yours, and in doing so, I shall drive Naruto back into the depths of despair, until he has none left to turn to but me!
Desperation, the desperation of a cornered bird with its wings clipped, impotent and worthless. I redoubled my struggles against the Kyuubi's power, but what use was there in redoubling nothing? I couldn't even slow the spread of its corrosive chakra, and because of me, now Naruto too-
"Like hell-!" A voice called from behind me, and suddenly, an immense bladed shuriken smashed into the Kyuubi's gut, rapidly expanding into an explosion of wind chakra that sent the beast flying away. It hit the water a hundred meters away, but didn't stop, skipping across the surface like a well-thrown stone for another fifty before it managed to regain its grip on the surface. The coil of chakra the beast had used to bind me vanished and I felt a hand on my shoulder. All at once, the poisonous energy I had absorbed from the Kyuubi rushed out of me in a torrent. I gasped, a drowning man given a breath of air. "-Is that happening!"
Another hand wrapped around my stomach and I was hauled over the speaker's shoulder. He spun and dashed straight for the bars of the Kyuubi's cage.
But before we could even make it halfway there, the fluid beneath our feet shifted, and a massive wall of amorphous, blood-like liquid shot up between us and the exit, forming a wall we couldn't hope to leap over.
NARUTO! The beast roared, and Naruto whirled to face it again, letting go of my feet to form a seal. Thousands of clones appeared in puffs of smoke, coming together to form hundreds of rasengan. You will not escape me this time! Both you and that Uchiha are mine!
And a tsunami of crimson chakra surged at us from where it was standing. The clones leapt forward, the orbs of rotating chakra in their hands spinning faster and faster as they were infused with that strange energy Naruto had used.
"Senpou: Rasen Chou Tarengan!"
There was a sound like a thousand thunderclaps sounding one after another. Two hundred clones were instantly destroyed by the sheer force of the Kyuubi's attack, another three hundred following a bare instant later. The wave of chakra barely slowed down. The other five hundred shot forward, each like a barrage of kunai, smashing into the wave, each one dispelling almost as soon as they touched it.
In a tenth of a second, there were only three left. An immense amount of chakra burned to buy us mere fractions of a moment.
It was enough.
Two of the clones vanished in puffs of smoke, and the last sprung forward, holding another one of those whirling bladed orbs of wind chakra, this one twice as large as the last.
"Fuuton: Oodama Rasenshuriken!"
He flung it like a giant shuriken. It sped straight at the wave of the Kyuubi's chakra, so fast that I doubted I would have been able to follow it even if I had been able to see it.
It tore into the center of the wave, rapidly swelling, consuming the poisonous energy that tried to devour it.
Then it exploded. The middle half of the wave of crimson chakra was blown away, and the sides collapsed back down into the water. Naruto let out a gasp, and I felt his own chakra… revert, the last of the strange energy he had melded with it evaporating.
Then I felt it and my eyes widened. "Look ou-!"
A tendril of crimson chakra burst from beneath his feet, slamming into his throat and carrying him high into the air. Another split off from it and lifted me off his shoulder to hover an inch or two to his left.
The Kyuubi advanced.
Everything within this cage is me, it declared with a hint of vicious satisfaction. Everything, from this body you see before you to the water beneath your feet to the very air you now breathe. All of it is permeated with my chakra, my power.
It stopped, snout hovering an inch before us. I felt its hot breath wash over my skin, soaking into my body through my injuries.
You lost the moment you stepped past those bars, Naruto.
And thousands of coils of power assaulted Naruto's body, flowing in through his mouth, his eyes, his ears. A cloak of chakra manifested around him, and I sensed his skin begin melting, like acid was being dripped on it. The myriad tiny wounds appearing on his flesh started to close immediately as the same chakra that corroded his body began healing the damage it caused, only for them to widen further the next time.
The chakra cloak coalesced into a familiar form, that of a fox, and a single tail of crimson energy appeared behind him. Two more rapidly sprouted out, and Naruto let out a choked half-scream as the power not only began directly attacking his wounds, but burrowing inside of him, eating away at his body through its mere presence.
I heard, rather than felt, Naruto's teeth gnash together. "Don't… think it'll be… that easy… you damn fox!"
The Kyuubi chakra seemed to suddenly lessen as Naruto used his own chakra to forcibly suppress it. The third tail flickered and grew translucent, slowly beginning to shrink, the wounds on Naruto's skin beginning to close over as it did.
I see. Your strength of will, at least, is no lie. But that strength stems from a desire external to you. One to protect. Its hot breath washed over us, and a tendril of chakra reached out, grasping Naruto's head, and forcing it to turn.
To look at me.
And so, I will make you understand. You cannot protect anything, Naruto. You have belonged to me from the very beginning, from the moment of your conception when my chakra seeped into your mother's womb as she slept. That day on the bridge when you first drew on my power, when you failed to stop your friend from leaving his village, when you lost yourself to rage when facing Orochimaru, when you gave in to despair when facing Pain, all was simply you falling further under my power, closer to your inevitable fate.
It opened its jaws and something that was half-laughter, half-growl came out.
Now, watch your friend be consumed, and once again give up on everything.
The Kyuubi's chakra crashed into me once again, this time a hundred, a thousand times more potent than before. I had no strength left to raise defenses against its invasion, no power to resist. It washed into my veins, beginning to destroy me from the inside out. I couldn't even scream anymore, I couldn't even speak.
I had failed, and because of that, everything would be lost. I…
"Why don't you give up…" Naruto snarled, and despite the bonds holding him, he reached out and grasped my hand. The poison eating away at my insides washed away, into him. "On making us give up!"
The flickering third tail flared and rapidly regained definition. I could feel the skin of my wrist, on the palm of his hand, burn away like dry paper. A fourth sprouted out behind him a second later.
"I… won't… give in!"
You can still keep your mind with four tails of my chakra flowing through you? I heard a hint of grudging respect in that growl, buried even though it was. But it is of no matter.
The pain was unimaginable. Every moment, I felt like all of my blood was being torn out of my veins and then poured back in.
But it was nothing compared to what Naruto was probably experiencing now. I had to help, no matter what it cost me, no matter what happened.
I tried to struggle against my bonds, but I had already pushed my body far past where it had any right to go. I couldn't even move.
I tried to mold the last of my chakra, but the torrent of energy still flowing through my body and out through Naruto's hand washed away my meager efforts.
I tried to probe around the chamber with my senses, desperately searching for something, some weakness, anything, but even that was futile. Everything beyond three feet from me was completely dark.
Bony protrusions appeared on Naruto's body as the fifth, sixth and seventh tails formed. He wasn't screaming anymore, but roaring like a beast, a sound of pure agony.
But even then, his hand grasped mine strongly. Despite everything, he still was himself.
Your will is impressive, Naruto, to be able to resist my influence despite having seven tails of my chakra flowing through you. But...
It raised its claw, and one last tendril of chakra shot out, attaching itself directly to Naruto's chest, to his heart.
This is the end.
A massive pulse of red chakra through that last line, and an eighth and ninth tail appeared.
Naruto released my hand, his body beginning to expand as muscle wove itself over bones, and skin began forming over muscles. His mind was almost broken, just a single tenuous thread holding it together. Just one more push from the beast and he would-
The Kyuubi raised its claw to Naruto's forehead, and growled.
It is my victory, Naruto.
"No it is not, Kurama."
A massive wave of pressure slammed down on the entire chamber. The Kyuubi was crushed down into the water, half of its bulk disappearing under the surface. I fell like a rock, striking and sinking beneath the surface before floating back up a few seconds later. Naruto landed next to me, and the chakra the Kyuubi had poured into him compressed until he was merely human-sized once again, swirling and pulsing furiously as if it were struggling with unseen chains that now bound it. It rippled, its form twisting and swirling, and for a second something in it, it's very nature shifted, coalescing around Naruto's skin like a flickering, burning cloak of light.
Then it vanished like a candle being extinguished, and the Kyuubi jerked.
That-! It bared its man-sized teeth. No! I will not submit to you!
"I am sorry, but I cannot allow you to take Naruto." The voice was… serene, gentle but commanding, tinged with the faintest hint of regret. Yet another wave of irresistible force smashed down on the beast and it began sinking further and further down."I will be purifying the chakra you forced upon him. It will be necessary if he is to survive."
The pressure continued to grind down on the beast, and I could feel its presence disappearing around me as it was pushed further and further under the water.
Damn you! We were not created to be your tools! We do not exist simply to give you power when you need it!
Do not spout your empty apologies, hypocrite! Do not try to justify your sins against us! Do not ask forgiveness, for you shall receive none!
Everything but its snout was now beneath the water.
I curse you! I curse you and your brother to die a thousand times at each other's hands! I curse you to never find peace no matter how many times you return!
The figure that had saved Naruto said nothing, simply watching as the beast finally disappeared.
CURSE YOU, ASURA!
I awakened, and was immediately awash in agony I couldn't even muster the strength to react to.
"Sasuke!" Naruto dove to my side. "Sasuke, are you alive? You-"
"You're… loud… loser…" I croaked.
Naruto clicked his tongue, not bothering to dignify the weak jab with a reply. "We have to get you out of here," he declared. "I-"
"Don't… bother," I said, knowing the truth already. The only thing that had been keeping me alive before was the last of Indra's chakra, chakra I had used the last of in my failed attempt to tame the Kyuubi. Now that it was gone… "I'm… already…"
"You can't know that!" Naruto cut me off, a tinge of desperation coloring his tone. "Not yet!"
I gave a wet chuckle that sent weak convulsions running up my spine. "It's… alright… Naruto. This wasn't… your… fault." The world was closing in on itself, black splotches appearing in my blurred vision. "Don't… blame… yourself for…"
"Why?" A half-choked sob, and I felt something warm and wet drip on my cheek. "You had just come back to us! You, me, Sakura-chan, Kakashi-sensei, we were all supposed to be together again, just like before! I was supposed to have saved you! Why-?!"
With a herculean effort, I raised my hand, clasping blindly, and touched something. I didn't know if it was jacket or skin it caught on; I had already lost all feeling from my fingertips.
"Don't… cry," I managed. "I… I chose this… to-" a pause as more blood flowed into my mouth from my throat. "To protect… what was precious… to me." I coughed, and felt a trickle of viscous liquid run down my cheek to stain the earth. "You still have… things to do… people who are… important to you. You can't…" give up. Not "now…" I tried to smile, but couldn't. "Naruto…" you need to "become… Hokage…" right?
Naruto was saying something, I could tell. I couldn't understand it. Not anymore.
I could feel the reverberations of the Gedo Mazo's footsteps. It spread through the earth and rattled already shattered bones.
I had always been scared.
Scared of friendship, scared of bonds, scared of the pain that losing those bonds would bring. I had lived a life ruled by that fear, always trying to be strong, always trying to display my strength to the world, but always knowing it had been just one more lie.
Because I had never been strong. Merely brittle, resolved to break before I would ever bend or compromise.
"If you wish to kill me then despise me, hate me, and live on in an unsightly way!"
So I had hated, knowing but never once acknowledging that what had birthed that hatred was simply more fear; fear that one day, my brother would return to Konoha to take everything from me once again. I had been ruled by Itachi's word for so long, ruled in a way that he had never wanted.
I had tried to shoulder everything on my own: to take all of the burdens of the world upon myself and selfishly push everyone else away, not caring how much it hurt them. I had blinded myself to the consequences of my own actions, lying to everyone, even myself, to justify them as necessary. As correct. As the only path open to me.
But now, as I lay broken on the ground, I realized that I wasn't scared. Not anymore.
Naruto… was strong. Not just in his skill as a shinobi, but in the strength of his heart. He didn't need me to protect him anymore. Perhaps he never had.
He would win, even if I weren't there, even if he was brought to the brink of despair once again, he would not cross it. Not while he still had things important to him.
My eyelids slid shut. I felt the difference instead of seeing it.
I was smothered in blackness, my senses having once again all left me. But this time I didn't struggle. My battle was over. There was nothing left to fight. No fear, no urgency. Just a gentle silence.
My breath stopped as my single remaining lung gave out at last.
Are you proud of who I've become?
Many thanks to Fancy Face, Ser Serendipity, AlmostElectric and hellequin for their help with this chapter. Just one more left to wrap up this arc.
But first for some Young Love.
Senpou: Rasen Chou Tarengan - Sage Art: Rasengan Super Barrage: Naruto creates thousands of clones, all of which form Rasengan and barrage the opponent.
Senpou: Oodama Rasenshuriken - Sage Art: Massive Rasenshuriken