AN: I am so, SO sorry for the delay. I had a huge block on this fic.

This chapter is hugely unedited. I haven't touched this fic in so long that writing this chapter was very difficult for me, especially considering it was an action-heavy scene. So any editing, any plot-fixing, any spelling errors, that's all going to have to be fixed later on. My priority right now is finishing this fic, not ensuring every detail makes sense. I promise I will go over any plot-inconsistencies later on, especially as I'm still in the process of going back and editing older chapters to fit with the Boruto canon, and as soon as my beta comes back from vacation in two weeks we'll try to get on that. But for now, just…enjoy the fact that I managed an update, and please don't hound me about it for at least a few weeks?

"That's a…that's…what the hell is that?!" Sakura hears Sarada demand, but doesn't dare look away to find out what's going on.

The ground in front of her is a veritable minefield of black wires and cables, poised to attack her and Sasuke the minute her attention wavers; beside her, Sasuke is panting, trying to recover himself from his near strangulation.

"I always thought it was a form of the Byakugan," she thinks she hears Mitsuki mumble – it's hard to make out, as his pitch is rather low. "Except…it's not like any one that I've ever seen."

Byakugan…that would make sense, Sasuke thinks as he warily eyes the live wires in front of him. Especially if Hinata is his mother. But if that's the case, why hasn't he used it until now?

"I have no idea what it is," Boruto admits, answering Sasuke's unspoken question. "It just sort of…happens sometimes."

"And neither of you ever figured you should say anything?!" Sarada demands, sounding exasperated.

"There was never really an opportunity before now!"

"You are such an idiot!"

"You're all idiots!" Sasuke snarls – or tries to, his voice is still recovering. "Whatever it is, use it to figure out a way to get in here!"

His demand is punctuated by another cable launching itself at him and Sakura, forcing them to jump back another few paces.

"Yeah, if this guy's going to keep coming back from the dead, we're not going to last very long," Naruto adds.

You could always release me, the fox within him points out. This irritating thing would be an easy meal at my full power. Awful hard to reanimate with all your vital organs strewn across the floor.

A feeling bloody, ravenous hunger leeches into him from within and Naruto entertains the idea for a full second.

Then he shakes his head.

"Even if I let you and you deal with him, there's still that Uchiha nutjob," he murmurs under his breath, pitching his voice so that no on else in the cavern can hear. "If she doesn't know you're here, she can't get to you. And I'm not the type of person to sacrifice anyone – even people I don't like – just to win a fight."

There's a silence in his head that feels almost stunned, but Naruto doesn't get a chance to examine it further as Jikken, whose throat is now back to its previous condition, suddenly flits to his feet.

"Did I not tell you?" he sneers, wild-eyed and with his teeth bared in a mad grin. "Who else but a goddess could battle against Death and so often turn it back?"

"You waste time, Jikken," Teisoko rasps. "Dispose of the brat already."

"With pleasure."

He dives forward, reaching for Naruto's throat, but Naruto ducks down, tumbling beneath his legs, whirling around to throw a kunai at him. Jikken bats it away, but as he does that, Naruto lunges with an upper cut, trying to break his nose and drive the bone into his brain. Jikken dodges him with ease, maneuvering him to the ground and bringing his elbow downward in what for anyone not possessed by an ancient chakra beast would likely crush a few of his vertebrae.

As it is, Naruto simply tumbles to one side, rolling to his feet and panting as he once more faces his opponent.

I assume you have some kind of plan, the fox drawls.

"I'm thinking!" Naruto snaps, calling up another wave of shadow clones. It's a strategy that's getting old and predictable, but if he doesn't keep Jikken occupied, the man is going to go after the rest of Naruto's team. At least focussed on him, he's giving them another chance.

Sort of.

"They can't keep dodging her like that," Boruto says ruefully, glancing from Naruto's altercation with Jikken, to Sasuke and Sakura. They are still trying to get closer to Teisōko only to jump back when encountering more underground cables. "Especially if they're spending as much time trying to avoid her Sharingan as they are dodging those cables."

"You're right," Sarada says, and hurries as close to the barrier as she can, angling her face away from Teisōko. "Sakura! Sasuke! Stay focussed on the wires – I'll tell you where you need to go!"

Her eyes burn with her own Sharingan, sharpening her gaze.

"Easy for you to say, you're not the one stuck in here," Sasuke mutters, but when he chances a glance at Sakura, he sees a resolute expression on her face. They meet each other's gaze for a fraction of a second, and nod at one another – they'll hold out as long as possible.

"Alright – left!" Sarada orders as another barrage of crackling wires head for her parents. "Down – left again!" In a low, urgent voice, she hisses at her teammates, "Find a way to break the barrier." Louder again, "Watch your feet!"

"That's only going to help for so long – can you see anything helpful with your eye?" Mitsuki asks of Boruto.

"It's not exactly something I can perform on demand…"

"It activated on our unwanted guests," Mitsuki suggests. "Pass-Fail is, after all, your preferred method of learning."

"Have I mentioned how much I hate you?"

"Sasuke! Watch your back!"

He spins in midair, and lands in a crouch beside Sakura.

"We have to get farther away," she tells him as they stagger away from the ever-reaching cables. "Those wires aren't organic – she's not creating them herself, which means they're only a danger at close range. She is stuck to a wall, after all."

"If we go far enough back we'll end up in Jikken's attack range," Sasuke counters. "Fighting a battle on two fronts is stupid."

"Only if you do it alone," she counters. "And he's occupied with Naruto. We can take a few seconds to come up with a long-range solution."

Sasuke looks like he wants to argue, but seems to change his mind. "Fine. But stay sharp."

Luckily, or unluckily, Jikken's focus is entirely on Naruto.

"Damn it!" Naruto snarls as he is flipped painfully onto the ground, the back of his skull cracking against hard rock. He feels like his spine has been dislocated in a few places.

So did that blow to your head knock anything loose, or do you just want to keep getting beaten up? Naruto's snide demonic passenger asks.

"You're enjoying this way too much," Naruto retorts, staggering to his feet. "What happened to helping?"

You keep stopping me. All because you're afraid of what your friends will think. Though, that will be moot in a few minutes, as they'll be dead…

Naruto clenches his teeth, eyes flitting towards Sakura and Sasuke.

Teisōko nearly manages to snake a live wire around Sakura's arm as they retreat, but following a shouted warning from Sarada, Sasuke grabs it just in time, channelling a barrier of electricity into his palm and using that to shove it away. Teisōko hisses in displeasure and renews her onslaught, the near-sentient cables driving the two of them farther and farther away. Her efforts nearly bring them into the direct path of Naruto's fight with Jikken.

"How is she controlling all of this?" Sakura cries as she skids to one side and Sasuke dives to the other. He barely manages to roll to his feet in time to avoid another grasping cable.

"The wires are connected to her – the whole place is connected to her," he wheezes as they are forced to dodge again.

"But how is that possible? Have you ever heard of a Sharingan controlling people like puppets?" In an effort to keep them safe, Sakura puts her back against Sasuke's, trying to be ready if the crazed man decides to choose a different target.

"If the genjutsu is strong enough, it's possible – but that's not what this is, or I'd be able to tell."

Beyond the barrier, Mitsuki wonders, "What if she is like the CPU of a computer?"

"The what?" Boruto echoes.

"The brain," Sarada answers quickly, eyes still rivetted on keeping her parents out of harms way.

"Maybe it's a combination of chakra and whatever technological enhancements she's got attached to her.

"Oh, man, what I wouldn't give for Denki to be here right now…"

"Well, he's not – all we have right now is you and whatever that eye of yours can do," Mitsuki reminds him, somehow maddeningly calm in the midst of this latest crisis. "Use it to find the sigils connecting Jikken to Teisōko."

"I can try, but it's not completely reliable…"

"Then how did you see those in our attackers?" Mitsuki asks, nudging the closest curse-marked corpse with her toe.

"I just…saw them. There were different places on their bodies that had more chakra gathered than in others.

"Did you see if they were connected to her?"


"Was the chakra just gathered in one place, on its own – or was it leading somewhere else?"

"Yeah, there were these really thin strings, kind of like wire."

"Can you see them now?"

"No, they disappeared as soon as I hit those spots with my kunai."

"It's as I thought," Mitsuki says, grim. "She doesn't personally have the ability to control her servants with chakra, but whatever experiments were done on her – whether willing or not – they've enhanced her. I imagine all of those cables and wire that are connected to her do more than simply prolong her life."

"Maybe if we sever those," Sarada catches on, still listening to her teammates as she watches over her parents continued attempts to dodge the ancient Uchiha's attacks.

" – we can remove her influence over not just him but anyone she might be connected to," Mitsuki concludes.

"Easier said than done," Boruto points out, "especially with Jikken back in play."

The aforementioned enemy feints left just then, kicking Naruto away with vicious brutality and then flinging a handful of shuriken at Sakura and Sasuke.

Sakura cries out in panic, but reflexively begins batting them away as they fly past; one nicks her cheek, and another slices her leg.

Sasuke curses and demands, "Sakura?"

"I'm fine!" she squeaks, at the same time that Naruto recovers himself and jumps Jikken from behind, grabbing him around his throat and trying to throttle him. "You?"

"The cables don't reach this far," he confirms.

"I meant the shuriken…"

"What shuriken?!"

Naruto goes flying over Jikken's shoulder, disappearing in a puff of smoke – of course it's a clone – and the pale man once again reaches for Sakura. Sensing her tense behind him, Sasuke orders, "Switch!" and maneuvers himself to take her place, meeting Jikken's incoming attack with a quick blast of flame.

"Hey, watch it!" the real Naruto complains, side-stepping the flame before headbutting Jikken in the spine.

"You watch it! You're not paying attention!" Sasuke snaps.

Naruto growls at him, but returns his focus to his own fight.

He's right. You haven't even noticed yet, the fox says.

"Noticed what?"

Jikken is still as slow as he was before. He hasn't teleported once.

"That means –" Naruto says, realising that his demonic passenger is right and shouts out loud, " – he's still grounded!"

He has to duck when Jikken takes advantage of his distraction to aim a chop to his throat.

Good job, the fox growls, yell whenever you figure out something about your opponent. How the hell were you allowed to become a shinobi?

"He's right!" he hears Boruto crow. "But hey, I thought the old bag's weird eye powers were supposed to make the things it's connected to good as new?"

"Yes… resetting him should have brought him back to perfect condition," Mitsuki muses. "Except it only brought him back to a certain condition. I put that seal on him about fifteen – maybe twenty – minutes before the younger Naruto killed him."

Naruto balks at the phrasing. "He only died for like a minute, so it doesn't count!"

"Perhaps there's a time limit on her abilities," Mitsuki continues.

"So what you're saying is we've got to bloody him up enough so that if she brings him back, he won't be a threat," Naruto realises, sacrificing a clone in order to jump over him and shove his elbow down hard on Jikken's shoulder.

"Or in such a way that she can't bring him back in any lethal capacity," Mitsuki agrees.

"I've got not idea what you just said, so I'm going to keep hitting him, okay?"

"And I'll try to find out where his sigil is," Boruto says, narrowing his eyes and concentrating.

"See if you can see anything similar on Teisōko first," Sarada orders. "If my parents can get close enough to damage some of them, then it might stop Jikken too."

"Once I find it for my dad," Boruto replies. "Your parents are going to have to dodge a little longer."

"Unless we drop dead from exhaustion beforehand," Sakura complains.

The slithering wires can't reach them, but Teisōko is using her ability to open time-windows again. On the one hand, they aren't easily sustained – a few seconds at most before closing – but they appear out of nowhere and with no warning. It's only because of Sasuke's reflexes that they haven't fallen in yet.

It seems like forever before –

"Aim for his left eye!" Boruto tells him, his right eye gleaming brightly. "There's a major concentration of chakra there."

That can be arranged, the fox growls and Naruto can feel the demon grinning at the prospect of more violence.

"What the hell is it with bad guys and eyes?" Naruto grumbles.

"Uncle Kakashi!" Sarada suddenly cries.

Sasuke jerks his head to the side and sees that while he and Sakura are out of range, Teisōko has apparently found a new target: their unconscious teacher. Making a snap judgement, he puts on a burst of speed, just managing to reach Kakashi in time to yank him out of danger.

"Now would be a great time for you to wake up," Sasuke mutters, ensuring the man is still breathing and as safe as he can possibly be from the combination of time portals and grasping cables.

She's got a limited range for the cables, but how do the time portals work?

Outside of the cave they were opening up all over, at random intervals and with varying sizes. Almost like afterthoughts – but it seems to take her more concentration to open on purpose – and in places that she intends it to happen.

She probably has to control those, because if she doesn't, she'll get sucked in too. She only started using them when we got too close – so she probably won't use them again unless we get closer. Sakura was right, we just have to keep out of range of her and –

As she skirts Teisōko's attack range, another window opens up and Sakura dodges to one side – only to step wrong and haver her ankle twist. She staggers, just managing to keep herself upright, but before she can stop herself, she reflexively looks up.

All she can see is the blood red colour and her limbs begin to clench. Teisōko's pupils widen, three points bleeding outside the rim and spinning in a deadly circle.

"Sakura!" Sasuke snaps in warning, but it's as if his voice is coming from far away.

In the last second before her brain can be ensnared in the woman's genjutsu, she feels bone-deep pain in her thigh. It's enough to make her jolt, bringing enough of her resolve back to move – she barely notices the shuriken now jammed into her leg – because at that moment, the space she just occupied suddenly explodes.

The ripple sends her tumbling to the ground, ears ringing and head aching, as if she's just experienced a flash-bomb.

"Wh-what was that?" she murmurs, dizzy.

"It's her Mangekyō Sharingan," Sasuke says through gritted teeth, appearing beside her and dragging her to her feet. They skirt towards the chakra wall, within the narrow range between where Teisoko can reach them and where Naruto's altercation with Jikken is still going strong. "Somehow, she can make things explode."

"Maybe it's a version of Amaterasu?" Sarada posits from outside. "My father can make black flames with his – and they don't ever stop burning until he wants them to."

"No, this is different," Sasuke says, not dwelling on how useful that ability would be right now. "This wasn't remotely related to Katon or any fire jutsu I've ever seen. It's a Sharingan ability."

"Maybe she's not just able to slow down and freeze time," Sakura suggests. "Maybe she can speed it up as well. In theory, if you move molecules fast enough, they blow up."

"Which means getting closer to her just went from challenging to fucking impossible," Sasuke concludes.

There is a crackle of sound, and the air around Sasuke seems to boil, getting hotter far faster than air should be able to heat.

Before she is even aware of it, Sakura is moving, tackling Sasuke to the ground, at the exact instant that a percussive blast shatters the air. A searing arc of pain spreads across her entire right side, and she screams, losing her balance as the two of them skid and roll across the floor.

"Sakura!" Naruto yells, earning a bloody slash across his back for his trouble.

"Keep your eyes on your own opponent, you idiot!" Boruto snaps, voice shaking.

Where they landed, Sakura stares up at Sasuke, who has rolled himself on top of her; his attention is fixed on what feels like a bloody chasm in her shoulder.

"What the hell did you do?" he shouts at her, eyes snapping to her with something like horror.

"S-saved your l-life," she stammers, her body trembling from the pain. For some reason, it's important that he knows that, but she doesn't know why. She's pretty sure shock is going to set in soon. Unlike Sasuke and Naruto, Sakura isn't used to just shrugging off major wounds. And, also unlike her teammate or her future self, she doesn't possess any healing abilities.

"That was foolish," Mitsuki murmurs, sounding worried for the first time. Sarada's reaction is less composed.

"Stay aware from my parents, you pyscho bitch!" she yells, punching hard at the ground and sending a tunnel of broken earth barrelling toward Teisoko's barrier. As with Mitsuki's kunai earlier, it stops before it hits the barrier, but Sarada doesn't let up.

"Katon!" she snarls, forming hand signs. "Gōkakyū no Jutsu!"

She tries to bend the flame away from her father and uncle, sending it in the direction of Teisoko's face. It doesn't have any physical effect, but something like annoyance flashes across Teisōko features.

A moment later a time window opens up inches away from Sakura's face, and she is forced to jump back.

"Is that all you got?" she shouts, throwing a kunai threw the window to close it, and there's something to be said for angry, insane villains, because it definitely shifts their priorities.

Teisoko makes a dismissive noise, and as if to prove her how little Sarada's outburst bothers her, begins to open up more of the time windows beyond the barrier. Once again, Sasuke is forced to obscure himself and the injured Sakura with flames and abscond to relative safety.

"We're useless out here," Sarada says in angry frustration.

Besides her, Boruto growls and presses his palm to his eye, muttering to himself. "…why…won't it…work?!"

It means nothing to Sarada, but Mitsuki's eyes widen in something like understanding.

"We must distract her."

"What the hell do you think I've been trying to do?!" Sarada snaps.

"More effectively than this," he says. "Boruto needs more time."

"Time for what?"

"You'll see," he says, in that maddeningly unhelpful and knowing voice that almost always precedes something inexplicable happening. But he's already approaching the barrier as close to the ancient Uchiha as possible.

"My lady Teisoko," he addresses

"We're fighting for our lives and you're being polite?!" Naruto hisses from where he and Kurama continue to play tag-team with the clone.

"You seek to entrap my parent, yes?" Mitsuku goes on. "But you've used up all my blood. And my teammate destroyed the other seals, and ruined your portal. Now all you have on your hands is a massive paradox and no method of reaching Orochimaru."

This earns a hiss of irritation from Teisōko's.

"It's a shame I'm on this side of the barrier and you guys aren't," the pale boy goes on innocently.

Both her eyes are drawn to him now, mutilated features twisted into a snarl of calculation and dislike.

Meanwhile, Sasuke is quietly panicking, pressing his hands desperately against Sakura's bleeding wound, all the while glancing around for help – or to see if Teisōko is gearing up for another attack. Mitsuki's talking appears to be keeping her attention from them for the time being, and Naruto remains occupied with Jikken.

There's no one to help him.

The world seems to narrow, sense disappearing around him until the only sound he can make out is the desperate churn of his thoughts.

"Never again…"

With no healers in sight, there's no way to stop the blood and neither he nor Sakura have supplies left. He has to save her, but he has to stop Teisōko, but he has to help Naruto and there is no right choice here!

"I've already lost everything once before."

His shoulder begins to burn, the mark threatening to break through, but he knows if he allows it, he won't be able to help Sakura or Naruto. He'll go straight for the ancient Uchiha, which is the logical thing to do, and the only thing that can stop all of this. And yet –

"I don't want to watch those precious to me die before my eyes again."

None of that will mean anything if Sakura is dead at the end of it.

"Do you trust me?" he asks Sakura.

She stares up at him, eyes blurred with pained tears, and without hesitations says, "Of course."

Something in his heart stutters at the absolute certainty there, and the weight of that one word feels far older and stronger and much more terrifying than it should.

"Don't move," he tells her. "No matter what, because this is going to hurt."

Sakura's face fills with worry, but she nods resolutely.

Sasuke adjusts his position, trapping her arms to her body with his thighs to prevent her from moving, and then shifts one side. Quickly, he makes the hand signs, adjusts the force of his chakra, reducing the area of its reach but willing the flames to be hotter, before expelling a small, controlled stream of fire.

The heat and flame spread themselves across the span of Sakura's wound, and she shrieks in pain – but miraculously, doesn't even try to flail.

"What the hell, Sasuke?!" Naruto, or one of his clones, yells.

"Shut up!" Sasuke snarls back as the fire dissipates and he examines his work. The round is rough and glistening with blisters, but the cauterization has stopped any exsanguination. "Did you want her to bleed out?!"

He whips his head back to Sakura.

"Are you okay?" he barks.

Sakura nods shakily. "Y-yes."

"She could have killed you!" Sasuke growls.

"She could have k-killed you," Sakura counters stubbornly.

"She could have killed you both!" Sarada howls at them. "Stop almost dying!"

"Jikken," Teisoko commands, her eyes snapping to one side. "Bring him to me."

A portal opens up several feet away from her. At the same time, another appears in the air above Boruto and Sarada.

Mitsuki smirks – apparently he meant for her to take that bait – and crouches, preparing to jump through first.

Only to have several of the black cables around Teisoko surge through the portal and lash out at the genin there, preventing them from getting to the edge of it.

"Was that actually what you were going for right then?" Boruto grunts.

"I admit, I may have miscalculated," Mitsuki responds.

Jikken laughs and takes a run at the portal, "I will get his blood for you, my goddess!"

"No you fucking won't!" Naruto yells, diving after him, a Rasengan forming in his hand. He shoves it into the back of the man with such force that it exits through the front of his body.

Jikken drops to the ground

"Yes!" Sarada cheers, while Teisoko bellows in frustration.

The hard-won portal snaps shut, taking her cables back into her time without her. Her eyes burn and Jikken's form begins to heal again.

"This is getting old really fast," Boruto complains.

"How is your other plan coming?" Mitsuki asks.

"It's not."

"If one of you doesn't explain your plan or do something soon…" Sarada trails off threateningly.

Within the bubble, Naruto jumps back a few feet until he is standing beside his teammates once more. "Are you guys alright? Sakura?"

"I'll be fine," she assures him.

"Go stay with Kakashi," Sasuke orders her.


"Sakura, you're wounded – "

"Who isn't right now?" she shoots back. "I don't want to be watching you and Naruto from behind again!"

"You're not," he tells her, impatient. "You're preserving your strength. If we can't take these guys down, you're our last hope."

"You mean, if you die trying to take her down," Sakura replies, eyes narrowing and mouth turning down mutinously.

Sasuke doesn't answer, instead turning to leave her behind.

Only to find himself suddenly yanked back, two fist clutching the front of his shirt, and furious green eyes glowering at him. All traces of earlier tears are gone, and what he sees now is utter rage, an emotion that has never been directed at him by her before.

The back of his neck feels very warm for some reason.

"That's it?!" she snaps. "You're just going to go off and die and leave me with all the responsibilities, aren't you?! Just like usual, you selfish jerk! Well, I can be selfish too! And I refuse to let you go before I do this – shannaro!"

And then her lips against his.

He doesn't even have time to register the punishing press of them before she pulls back, blushing and glaring and says, "I love you. So don't you dare die!"

When she releases him, Sasuke staggers a bit to the left, shock temporarily leaving him unbalanced.

Of everything to happen to him today…he still didn't expect that.

"Great timing, Mama," Sarada groans as Sakura hurries over to where Kakashi is.

"I now understand where you get your impulsive nature from," Mitsuki tells her.

"Did really she just…?" Naruto begins as Sasuke steps toward him.

"I'm not talking about it," Sasuke cuts him off, voice oddly tight.

"Okay then…"

They survey the twitching curse-marked man in the distance, his mistress radiating absolutely fury as she wills him back to life.



"We need to switch off." He stows his usual competitive nature, trying to think analytically. "It's like I said before. I have to take Jikken. I'm faster than you and can keep up –"

"No –"

"Don't be stubborn about it. You've got a much better chance of surprising Teisōko than I do, especially with your shadow clones. She'll have more trouble tracking you than me."

Naruto clenches his fists.

"In case you're too thick to figure it out, I'm saying you're strong enough, alright?" Sasuke continues, sounding impatient. "Now let's do this."

"I can't," Naruto mutters quietly.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"I can't!" Naruto snaps, and then in a voice pitched only for Sasuke to hear, "She has an evolved Sharingan."

"So? Just avoid her gaze. It's not completely impossible."

"I can't take the chance –"

"Why the hell not?!"

"Because I've got the Nine-Tailed Fox in me!" Naruto hisses, eyes flitting nervously around in case someone else hears him. "And it told me it can be controlled by a Sharingan like that. And I really don't want to turn into an animal that rips apart all my friends, okay? I can't risk her gaining control of the demon."

Beside him, Sasuke goes suddenly and terribly quiet.

Damn it, Naruto thinks. Because he's held back from saying anything for so long, all because he's feared the reaction and now, at the worse opportunity, he's said it out loud.

You pathetic idiot, the fox growls at him.

"Well, say something," Naruto snaps, voice taut with anxiety. But Sasuke is silent, shoulders hunching forward, and his hair falling in a curtain over his eyes. "Sasuke?"

The other boy's shoulders begin to shake.

Don't tell me he's afraid – !

"Damn it, bastard! Say something!"

An unfamiliar, utterly startling sound fills the cavern. It starts low and quiet, before getting steadily louder.

Naruto's eyes widen, because the sound is familiar in a general sense, but not something he has ever witnessed before –

"Are you…are you fucking laughing right now?!"

And low and behold, Sasuke straightens up, his eyes glittering with mirth of all things.

"What's going on?" Boruto asks in the distance, sounding uneasy.

"Nothing good," Sarada replies quietly. "That's not what my dad sounds like when he laughs…this…is not a good sign…"

"Of course you are," Sasuke continues to snigger, in that utterly unsettling way of his. "Because why not?"

"Now is so not the time for you to discover a sense of humour, asshole! Or have a psychotic break, which is what this looks like…"

"Don't you get it?" Sasuke counters, still grinning maniacally. "The absolutely, unbelievable ridiculousness of today? The total and complete improbability, and in all that – what you just said makes the most sense out of all of it?"

Naruto blinks. "I don't follow…"

"Well, you wouldn't, would you?" Sasuke retorts, sounding triumphant. "Never mind, half-wit."

He turns once more to face Jikken's slowly recovering form. Beyond it, and the wall of chakra, he sees Sarada staring at him with wide eyes, and for the first time all day, the reality of who she is hits him.

Realisation and an odd sense of calm overtake his slightly hysterical mood, tempering even the stabbing prods from his curse mark.

Because he feels an utter certainty, a strange fulfilment that shouldn't make sense but does. In this moment, Sasuke – past and present – has achieved everything he has wanted. He has figured out why Naruto is so weird and keeps getting stronger so fast – it's not Sasuke's own personal failing, but a quirk of fate particular to the other boy.

Sasuke has confirmed that he is destined to get the revenge that he yearns for, and that he will restore his clan. His eyes shift to his future self, still frozen in chakra, and he smirks, because he it appears going to be fighting beside the idiot that has become his best friend twenty years from now.

And the girl that he is going to marry – the only person he has ever entertained a slight possibility of caring about – kissed him.

"If we lose this fight, nothing matters – but if we win, that's everything. So all I have to say to you, Naruto –" The sound of birds scream to the forefront, echoing within the chamber as he wills a chidori into his hand, " – is don't slow me down, loser."

And once again he takes a run at Jikken.

Naruto gapes at his back and then shouts gleefully, "You bastard! I'm going to kick your ass for that when we're done!"


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