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Chap 31: Together we stand, divided we fall

Sakura never regretted a day more than she did today, having yielded to the naughty request of her lover. Her face was now flushed red, mortified with embarrassment as none other than Sasuke Uchiha pulled what could hardly be called her underwear from under the sofa. She regretted giving into Naruto's fantasy so much and for wearing the black thong from 'Sexy & Dreams'. It was true that her fiancé particularly liked certain pieces from Ino's kinky bag and he never skimped on showing her how much effect those special things had on him. But whatever the reward, she should have refused. In fact, she should have burned the whole bag of wicked lingerie.

Sasuke's dark brows arched in curiosity, observing the small piece of fabric. It was indeed difficult with the lack of material to classify the object or to discern its purpose. How could a hardened shinobi like Sasuke, with a monk's style of life, imagine that some strings and a ridiculous triangle could be called underwear? She prayed for him to be clueless enough in the matters of women's intimate apparel to not recognize the thing he had found. Maybe, with some hope, he would consider it as a new form of slingshot?

Unfortunately, between walking in on Naruto and her with his unexpected early return, finding the two suspiciously sweating and flustered and sitting on the opposite couches with Naruto hiding his erection under a pillow, and the thing, the man had enough observational skills to guess that the couple's disheveled appearance was related to the object in his hand.

The onyx irises darted toward her and her smile froze under his scrutiny, which only made her more suspect. A bead of sweat slowly dripped down her temple. She didn't know how Sasuke managed to keep his face perfectly blank as he identified the intimate apparel as hers. But the dark haired ninja didn't flinch, nor did he express any emotion as he set the erotic garment on the small lounge table.

For a second Sasuke said nothing, just looking at them, his arms crossed over his chest like a parent ready to scold his kids. Naruto tried to feign complete innocence, his smile firmly plastered with insolent confidence. It seemed that recovering his memories of his early age pranks had made him able to deny all accusations directed toward him with the ease of an elite politician caught red handed. For her part, Sakura mentally cursed her fiancé for throwing her underwear out of reach in his enthusiasm.

The last Uchiha pinched the bridge of his nose, loudly sighing with exasperation. He had tolerated many things while living with Naruto. First, he sacrificed his peace as the blond had been babbling or fighting with him from morning to night as he moved in. Then, he had stomached the constant visits of half of Konoha coming to their house, and Sakura's constant presence. But now… Now was the worst. He had just come back from his mission two days ago and already the situation was this aggravating.

"Listen, Naruto! I didn't complain when you fucked your girlfriend like an animal half the night against the wall connected to my room, forgetting that the soundproof jutsu doesn't prevent the banging on the wall from reverberating. At least you did it in your room." Naruto slightly shrunk from Sasuke's statement while the dark haired man rubbed his forehead in annoyance. "But let's be clear once and for all. For the respect and the good of each of us, no sex should be allowed in the common area! I don't want to walk in on you doing your thing and have the kitchen, the table or any other place spoiled by your naked butt! Understood?"

At the mention of the 'kitchen', Naruto couldn't stop his gaze from flickering in that direction, clearly remembering how he had bent his fiancée over the kitchen counter while she was trying to prepare breakfast the day before Sasuke's return. The mishap didn't take long, but was enough to be noticed by the sharp-eyed Uchiha. Sasuke frowned at the implication, his glare boring holes into his best friend.

"Go and clean the place from floor to ceiling!" Sasuke ordered to the culpable blond. "You're really a pair of lewd monkeys." He grumbled irritably, walking away so he wouldn't find out more about their sexual performances.

As Sasuke went upstairs, Sakura quickly put on her missing underwear, the blush on her face not receding a bit. She didn't want her rapport with her teammate to suffer more because of her relationship with Naruto.

"Is it okay with you if I let you do the clean up?" She asked her fiancé.

"You can leave it to me, Sakura-chan."

Gathering her courage, the pinkette went to knock at her teammate's door. The male voice invited her to enter and two onyx eyes fixed on her impassively as she stepped in his room.

"Something the matter?" Sasuke asked without preamble.

"Haha – No, it's nothing really important…" Sakura hesitantly said, tucking a loose curl behind her ear. It had always been difficult to hold a normal conversation with Sasuke, and after the exchange in the lounge it seemed even more difficult.

Seeing her searching for words, Sasuke decided to help her finish the conversation as fast as possible to begin his peaceful reading time. "What are you here for?"

"I was…" She looked to the side, avoiding his steady gaze. She didn't know how to deal with it. She was so used to his indifference that she couldn't feel comfortable while receiving his attention. "I mean – I may be wrong, but I was wondering if it bothers you that Naruto and I are together?"

Sasuke didn't say a thing. He kept looking at her with the same expressionless face. It was so hard to read, so hard to understand him. She shifted her weight to her other leg, feeling out of place next to him once again. A word, a glance, any sign would have made the situation so much easier. She admitted that she had liked him as a kid for his mature and cool attitude and for his ability to keep a perfect poker face in all circumstances. But now, he was down right difficult to deal with.

"It would be great if things could be like they were before…" She tried.

"They can't." Sasuke stated point blank, not aggressive or emotional, his eyes returning to his book.

"But…"

He stopped her, raising his hand to signal her he wasn't finished talking. "You're a couple and you don't have to worry about me. Just leave me alone, I know how to take care of myself."

"I just wanted to say that even though Naruto and I are engaged that doesn't mean you're not our friend anymore."

"Tsk! Are you stupid? Did you come here just to tell me that?" Sasuke glared at her. "I know we're family. As long as you respect the common rules of this house, there is no problem. So now leave!"

A small smile graced the pinkette's face as she turned around to leave. In some way, she was relieved that Sasuke implied that she was part of his family, too, and she didn't need to push the conversation further.

"Oh, and Sakura…" She stopped, hearing her name. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that he was back at his reading, but the corner of his mouth lifted in jibe. "Tch, now I understand how you seduced him… but don't leave your stuff lying around. "

It was official: she wanted to dig a hole the size of an abyss to hide her mortification.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

Naruto sat cross legged in the quietness of the training ground four. Today's training was for him to connect with the nine tailed beast. Sakura had discussed the topic with him shortly after the rogue ninja ambush, asking many questions about what he remembered and what he knew of the Kyuubi. His answers had been simple: the monster had been the cause behind his bullying as a kid and was living within him. In short, Naruto knew absolutely nothing about the beast and hadn't met him since accidentally ending up in front of the demon's jail after recovering his first memories.

That was why the blond was now trying to consciously go into the unconscious part of his mental realm. He breathed in and out calmly and concentrated, letting himself dive further into the depths of his mind. He tried to search around to access his inner world. But there was no real procedure or manual on how to meet with a legendary demon sealed within oneself. In the darkness of his mental plane he wandered, circled around, looked up and looked down. He scratched his head and just tightly closed his eyes wishing to go in front of the jail.

Being the master of his own mind, when he opened his eyes again he found himself facing the colossal, red jail bars. It was as simple as that. So simple that he had never thought to do it before to meet with the giant fox again. The mythical animal was there at the back of his cell, cuddled in on himself. His gigantic head was resting on his paws, listlessly. The red eyes opened briefly to glance in the direction of his visitor and closed again, back to his nap, uninterested.

It wasn't the warmest welcome possible, but Naruto couldn't really blame the fox after their last encounter. The jinchuuriki walked closer with no apprehension, deciding to correct all his wrong doings from his previous behavior. A tall, pointy ear twitched at hearing the approaching footsteps, but Naruto didn't flinch. He had no reason to be afraid even if the beast was freaking huge. The Kyuubi was supposedly his friend, as Sakura had told him. She had called him Kurama and told him that the fox had saved his life on numerous occasions.

The slight 'ploc' of water in the background was the only sound that disturbed the general silence of the vast cave. Naruto glanced around, realizing the loneliness of being confined in such a place. The atmosphere was damp and cold, and the light quasi absent. It was certainly not the most comfortable and pleasant place to live. Passing the massive open door of the cell, the blond wondered why the fox didn't try to escape. Why did he stay when there was visibly nothing to hold him there?

Stopping a couple of feet away, the jinchuuriki extended his hand and stroked the fluffy fur of the beast's neck. In response, one enormous red eye opened, lazily gauging the small human's action. Naruto smiled affectionately, patting the fur, not drawing back, and the giant fox decided to move. The colossal figure straightened up into a sitting position, making the human look ridiculously small in comparison. His gigantic head tilted to the side and then lowered, his muzzle nearly touching the belly of the blond man. His massive jaw was intimidating just by the size of his fangs, but Naruto didn't budge.

"Hi!" Naruto tentatively saluted his supposed friend with a short wave of the hand.

The legendary demon returned his greeting with a strong puff of air from his nostrils, sending Naruto flying a few meters away. The body bounced a couple of times on the flat surface of the water before stopping with his head down and his butt up. It was not a friendly greeting, but the blond wasn't one to give up on the first try. He stood, rolling his shoulders in large circles to be sure that all his bones were in the right place. His blue gaze turned intense as he cracked his neck on each side in a facsimile of a warm up for a fight.

"Is this how you receive me when I come to visit you, Kurama?" The blond shouted.

The name managed to draw the mythical demon's attention, and his long ears shifted to full alert. His big red eyes squinted, carefully watching his former friend. Naruto was holding himself up with the same assurance he used to have.

"You remember me, kit?" The grave toned voice resounded in the cave, distrustful. The connection between them wasn't restored, Kurama could tell by the lack of information coming from the exterior of his cell.

"Not really…" Naruto admitted, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment.

Warily the beast eyed him. "What do you want from me?"

"Hehe, you see, Sakura-chan told me we used to work together…"

"Go away." The fox demanded, aloof. He had no reason to share his power.

"Hey! No way! I came here to see you and you shut me off so easily! Aren't we friends?" Naruto angrily yelled.

The beast stared at the man defiantly standing in front of him. Naruto was Naruto. The boy had some incredible guts to face a demon without balking.

'You want my power without knowing the depth of my hatred. You fool! I will show you that you're not ready for it.'

Kurama released an absurd amount of raw power, the surge of energy so intense that the air around them began to vibrate. Naruto's body knew how to handle the demonic chakra and instinctively adapted to it, but his mind didn't have the same stability as his previous self. The enormous flow of hatred rushed through him and began to poison his being. It devoured the blond, running from his limbs to his torso. The wicked chakra crawled up Naruto's neck, encasing the back of his head until it nearly submerged him.

The beast contemplated, impassive, as Naruto disappeared, unable to control such a heavy charge. The blond didn't know yet of his struggles, of his fights, of his accomplishments and of all the people behind him who had helped him carry this inconceivable burden. Naruto wasn't ready. No matter how much his appearance was the same. No matter if the man had the same cocky demeanour. It wasn't what made Naruto strong.

With a flick, Kurama stopped the flow and the blond fell to his knees. "Come back when you are ready to face me." The legendary demon told him, coiling himself to resume his nap. 'I knew you weren't ready for it. How can you be when you can't control your own hatred? I felt your turmoil and your anger for the Uchiha the other day. I felt it as your emotions instinctively pulled on my chakra. You can't face me as long as doubt and hurt can make you waver.'

Naruto panted, catching his breath. His blue gaze watched the massive animal sleeping indolently, completely uninterested in him. The beast could have killed him without effort. So much power. It would have been as easy as breaking a straw. The blond observed the calm breathing of the fox, the slow rise and fall of his form. So much hatred. Naruto smiled affectionately. The demon could have killed him but he didn't. Sakura was right, Kurama was his friend.

Naruto walked to the giant fox and friendlily patted his fur one last time. "I will come back, Kurama. I will come back and take care of all this hatred of yours." Naruto declared before vanishing.

The infamous tailed beast snickered. 'Same old, same old! I'll be waiting for you, Kit.'

Naruto opened his eyes to be back on training ground four. Sasuke was on guard, facing him with his sharingan activated, and Sakura was at his side, her glowing hand ready to intervene. The blond blinked at their cautious attitude.

"What's wrong guys?" Naruto asked.

"We thought you would be transforming. Sasuke was ready to take control of Kurama if you hadn't managed to subdue it, and I was afraid you would be damaged by his chakra." Sakura explained. "So I guess you managed to connect if you're back to yourself without a hitch."

"Hahaha," Naruto laughed, a little embarrassed. "In fact, I didn't connect and Kurama shut me out. He just showed me that I needed to be stronger to face him, but he didn't try to harm me. But next time! Next time for sure, I will do it!" He affirmed with certainty.

"We should call it a day for today's training. There is no point in insisting." Sakura proposed and the group left for Ichiraku Ramen for a well deserved lunch.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The streets of the village were bustling with animation. Like usual, merchants and customers were happily chatting, mothers and their children were strolling around the various stands, and passerby were loitering and enjoying the pleasant weather. Naruto randomly looked around, searching for the disturbing feeling creeping on his skin. There was nothing defined, just a vague sense of déjà-vu. He couldn't identify what, but he didn't like it. He stayed on his guard; there was something noxious in the air today, even with the general joyful atmosphere of the marketplace.

Two kids ran past, visibly panicked. They jostled the people in their way and one of them bumped into Sasuke. It could have been a trivial occurrence, but the Uchiha found that the boy's face was familiar. The kid was about to continue his mad dash but Sasuke's firm hand grabbed his collar.

"Run!" The boy ordered to the little girl who had stopped to wait for her brother.

The boy turned around to pull on his shirt to free himself and the sharingan user was able to get a better view of the kid's face. It was indeed the boy from the fort whom he had encountered in a previous village. It was them, the boy and his sister. They were cleaner and apparently more fed than the last time he saw them, but he was sure that they were the same kids. They were dressed in the standard clothes of Konoha's orphanage, proof that the small message he gave them had allowed them to be accepted in the institution. He wondered what they were fleeing from.

The girl saw Naruto and rushed toward him, latching her small arms around his leg. "Help us, Mister! Help us! The ghost came for us!" She cried.

Naruto didn't understand anything of the situation, but Sasuke immediately caught on. "Where's your friend?" The dark haired shinobi demanded.

"The ghost possessed him… Let me go! We have to run away. He'll come after us too!" The boy yelled, pulling on his shirt harder.

The last Uchiha activated his sharingan to look into the boy's memories and finally found the clue he had missed that linked the fort, the kids, and the strange phenomenon he had witnessed in the destroyed villages.

He saw the third kid fall to his knees on the ground, a mark on his neck appearing in angry red as if the skin had been burnt with a heated iron. It formed a sort of seal, made out of foreign letters and forming a circle with a complex geometrical figure at the center. In front, hidden in the shadow of a wall, stood a person of short stature, probably another kid. He wasn't a brat from the orphanage as his clothes looked like tattered rags. He certainly wasn't from the village as all the children were at least basically taken care of. The vision ended with their friend turning around with his orbs completely black, like the other kid he had met in the destroyed village. Sasuke hadn't been able to see the last boy's face, but there was something malevolent about him.

"Where did you meet the ghost?" Sasuke urgently asked.

"Near the old wall behind the big water tank."

The sharingan user released the boy and addressed his teammates. "I'm going to check on the situation there."

Jumping at full speed, Sasuke was surprised to see Naruto following him with Sakura at his heels.

"Stay out of it, Usuratonkashi!"

"You can't go there alone!" Naruto asserted.

"Sakura, tell him!" Sasuke ordered.

"I'll go with him! Find Kakashi and inform him about the fort's potential threat to the village!" Sakura suggested to her boyfriend.

Naruto frowned at being left out. "I'm part of this team, 'ttebayo!" He made his infamous hand sign and his clone dashed in the direction of the Hokage tower. "He goes and I stay!"

Naruto was a lost case in terms of tenacity. If he didn't decide it himself, it was impossible to make him change his mind.

The group landed on the rooftop near the indicated area. The zone was still mostly in ruins, not yet rebuilt since the last war. It was a pretty secluded place were some kids used to make their hide-out and play. The vicinity was supposedly safe as guards where constantly patrolling on the new village walls. Sasuke looked around, his gaze intense in search of the two kids he had seen, while Naruto found himself unconsciously walking toward the source of the noxious atmosphere he had felt before.

Sakura caught him before Naruto entered an abandoned building. "We should stay together." She told her boyfriend, taking a hold of his hand.

Sasuke jumped up to the water tank for a better view of the area only to be attacked by one of the village's guard. It was one thing to fight against civilians driven mad by hallucinations; it was another to face a strong ninja from their own village. Sasuke dodged a water style jutsu, followed by a rain of shuriken. He was somewhat surprised by the sheer power of the attack. The man should have been nothing more than a Chuunin level, but the strength of his assault was one of Jounin or above. It was as if the hallucinations were unlocking power in the individual affected by it.

The man in front of the skilled Uchiha wasn't holding back in the least. The exchange was violent: kicks, punches, remarkable slashes of blades. Sasuke evaded the sharp edge, bending his body in an awkward angle. If not for his sharingan the fight would have turned for the worst for Sasuke more than once. The man was fast, incredibly so. Each of his jutsus were higher than whatever he could have expected from a simple guard. It was nearly a battle between Sannin level ninja.

'Orochimaru would have loved to experiment on such a phenomenon.'

From his fight with the ninja, Sasuke better understood how a whole civilisation had been destroyed by the talisman. The thing invoked in the fort had been able to completely annihilate village after village; turning people against their own kind, increasing their ability, rendering each individual a ruthless killing machine, unable to stop, unable to discern friend from foe. It was no surprise that it had been coveted. Something as dreadful as that, set free in an enemy territory, would assure a complete victory to anyone who could control it.

The Uchiha heir wasn't one to be cornered easily, but he still appreciated the intervention of his teammate when she immobilized the man through her freakishly efficient paralytic jutsu. The man fell to the ground, limp as a puppet without strings. The kunoichi kneeled at his side and passed her hands over the man's head, scanning his brain activity. Sasuke had just enough time to glance away for a second to search for the two kids when the other guards attacked by surprise.

The blonde's clones took them on, stopping their assault before they could reach Sasuke and Sakura. The men were completely immune to their punches, standing up after each hit as if they hadn't receive a blow at all. They were like zombies and kept coming endlessly. Naruto's clones were puffing out of life and the blond kept replacing them, trying to form a barrier around his teammates.

"Sakura-chan, can you put them to sleep too?" Naruto asked over his shoulder, not wanting to really harm people from his village by continuing to hit them.

"Give me a minute more… I might have an idea of what's going on in their brains." The pinkette told them, her attention still focused on the man she was currently studying. It was an opportunity she couldn't pass up. For all the information she had gathered from analyses on Naruto and Sai, she hadn't been able to conclude a physical model as many parameters were still left unknown. With this live case expressing the hallucination Sasuke talked about, she could maybe complete her research and find a way to stop it without the use of a rinnegan.

Time was the element they lacked the most; if the strange phenomenon spread to the rest of the village, it would become really problematic. Even with Sakura's ability to immobilize anyone, it would be impossible to treat a large group of people. They needed to act fast as more guards were coming after them.

Realizing that for now he didn't feel any symptoms related to the hallucinations, Sasuke deduced that the source wasn't close enough to affect them yet or hadn't unleashed its full potential. If it were the first case, it would be encouraging as it meant that the thing could only take over people in a limited perimeter. However, the number of assailants kept growing, making the fight more and more difficult. Sasuke wondered what was happening. In the previous village, the people were indiscriminately killing just for killing, whereas here they seemed to be attracted toward them. Was it possible that someone was controlling the people from a distance to keep them from finding the real mastermind?

The guards were continuously advancing. Naruto and Sasuke were battling hard to deflect their attacks and buy more time for the pink haired medic to do whatever she thought was important enough to not join them. It was their duty as a team to protect each other and have faith in what the other was doing. With his last set of memories, Naruto had recovered more of his ninja abilities making him a one man army with a full range of defensive jutsu and potential lethal attacks. His presence proved to be a serious advantage when fighting a large number of enemies. His clones were able to surround their targets and synchronize to stop their progress while the original put up a barrier around him and his girlfriend to keep her safe.

With all the disturbances they were creating, it wouldn't be long before reinforcements would join them. The rapid response in case of invasion was one of Konoha's best features in their defensive system. But in their actual case, it could easily become one of their worst traits. In this secluded area, the people affected were limited, but if more skilled shinobi joined it would become completely unmanageable. The phenomenon was able to transform a Chuunin into a near Sannin level. What would happen if an army of Jounin level ninja came in and turned into mindless killers? It would be the end of the village.

Assessing the state of his near brother, Sasuke decided to trust in Naruto's capacity to keep Sakura safe and bypassed the fray in search of the root of the problem. The escape hadn't been such an easy win. The last Uchiha swirled, defending himself with precise blocks. He thwarted the jutsus sent against him, dissolving a vicious water jutsu with his scorching hot black flame or disabling his adversary's jutsu with a strategic chidori. With his incredible talent, Sasuke shook off his pursuers to hunt for the source of the psychotic effect in the maze of ruins.

His proficient eyesight allowed him to catch a glimpse of a furtive moving form. Unsheathing his katana, Sasuke ran forward with soundless footsteps to surprise his opponent. He was quick and agile, but as he turned the side of a shambled building, his whole body wobbled. His hand hastily took support from the wall as he tried to focus his vision. He knew it. He had already faced similar warning signs. Taking a deep breath, the sharingan user raised his gaze and saw the culprit behind his hallucinations. The boy was standing, unfazed, only fifty meters away. The face was expressionless and the eyes were deep black pits.

Sasuke knew the kid was merely a pawn, that the cause of the chaos was someone else. But it didn't change the fact that he was beyond salvable and must be eliminated before more people in Konoha got involved. He forced himself to stay sane and ignore the tormented vision invading his mind. He knew he couldn't let himself be swallowed by the delusion. Sasuke gathered his concentration in the increasing jumble of his thoughts and performed a jolt in time-space with his rinnegan to break out of the delirious effect.

As he came back to his senses, the boy had vanished and a dreadful feeling crept on his skin. Panicked, the last Uchiha ran towards his teammates only to see his ominous premonition unfold in front of his eyes. The boy was standing still behind the crowd flocking around his two teammates. Sasuke yelled at them to run away, but he just saw Sakura's green eyes open wide as she lifted her head from her task only to have her gut pierced by the hand of her own lover. Sasuke launched forward, his blade embedding into the small body. He cut it in two with ferocity. The corpse flopped on the ground in a soft thud at the same time that Naruto's kunai left his girlfriend's body. Everything came to a halt in an unexpected ceasefire.

The scream that followed couldn't be qualified as human.

His throat hurt under the sheer power of his scream. Naruto couldn't breathe anymore. His ears whistled with a deafening sound. Someone was screaming and it was only then that he realized it was him. Blood was forming a pool around the inanimate body of the love of his life. He had killed her himself. He couldn't figure out what had happened so suddenly. How or why. His body had just moved out of his control, forcing him to turn around and thrust a kunai in her belly before coming back to consciousness to see the stricken expression on her face as she fell. Pain. Pain worse than hell. Pain to the point of madness.

Everything happened so fast that Sasuke couldn't believe his own eyes. However, he was conscious that the battle wasn't finished yet. There was more. The Uchiha heir knew it. It was as if by taking down his puppet, the real mastermind would be forced to show up. It didn't fail. A discreet shadow emerged from a shattered building.

The form was partly hidden, but Sasuke had already spotted him. The face was emaciated, even bonier than the last time he saw it. The boy didn't look like he was alive, except for the fact that he was standing. He saw the boy open his mouth wide and the slashed body at his feet transformed into a pile of ashes in a second. It was as if anything alive in the corpse had been sucked in by the open mouth.

A shudder ran down his spine. What was that thing? It wasn't human even if he moved around in a human skin.

The kid's dark orbs seemed to notice him, but rapidly switched to the blonde's head behind him. Sasuke rushed towards his best friend; he understood that Naruto was his next victim. All of the kids from the fort had been marked as sacrifices and somehow, by being invaded by the strange matter, Naruto was connected to it too. The dark haired shinobi hoped to reach him in time to teleport them far enough from the threat. But it was too late. The blonde's face, still contorted in a grieving grimace, turned towards him as he approached. A rasengan was forming in his hand, ready for an attack, and Sasuke dodged it thanks to his sharingan.

"Pull yourself together, Naruto!" Sasuke harangued his best friend, hoping to be heard by his consciousness behind the mist of the hallucination. It didn't work as, for Naruto, it wasn't a simple hallucination. The invisible matter in his brain had completely overtaken his cognitive functions.

Sasuke was surrounded, the mob at his back was coming back with renewed rage and the blond in front of him was fighting with fierceness. At this rate, he was doomed. He knew he should escape while he still could as it would be clear suicide to fight Naruto with his strength enhanced by the phenomenon. But Sasuke couldn't bring himself to abandon his best friend. So he stayed, blocking blow after blow, kicking away the annoying guards who weren't making his task any easier. He knew he was the last rampart before the village was engulfed in the same killing madness.

'The thing is smart. It always stays hidden, moving around in a human skin and able to act from a distance. And Sakura said that for Naruto as well, the matter is like a parasite. But if I kill the monster's host, would Naruto be free from its hold?' Sasuke thought, trying to analyze the situation while dodging Naruto's deadly assault. Nothing was for certain, however, it was a chance that he was willing to take to save his best friend.

For the briefest second, Sasuke's gaze looked back to search for the position of his only real enemy, the boy. It was a fatal mistake when facing such a strong opponent like Naruto. His body toppled over under the sheer power the blond put into his attack. Sasuke was pinned to the ground, Naruto on top of him, blocking the blade of Naruto's kunai an inch away from his throat. The Uchiha winced, fighting to not get overpowered. In terms of brute force, the jinchuuriki was already a force to be reckoned with, but with the effect of the strange matter, it was simply ridiculously insane.

Sweat rolled down his forehead. His hand trembled, trying to resist with all his might. From the corner of his eyes, the sharingan user saw the guards preparing an attack. What irony! Getting himself killed by his soul-brother and the people he swore to protect. His eyes flickered, suddenly attracted by an incongruous sight. It was so absurd that he wondered if his brain wasn't playing some trick on him. But no, it was real.

"SHANAROO!"

A building was uprooted with part of the asphalt still attached at the bottom and flew with a monstrous force as if it were nothing more than a paper airplane, wiping out the whole group of guards standing ready to launch their jutsu in one go. The earth trembled at the impact and the next thing Sasuke saw, Sakura was jumping on Naruto's back, her legs firmly latched around her boyfriend's mid-section and her glowing green hands on his head.

"I got you!" The pinkette shouted with smugness, releasing her hold. She had finally managed to extract the matter in her boyfriend's brain as it congregated to control his host.

The blonde's body fell, inanimate, on Sasuke. The sharingan user looked up at her, catching his breath after the intense fight. She dusted her hands in self-satisfaction, a conceited smile stretched her lips. Her face was still covered with the strange tattoo of her one thousand healing techniques and the only trace of her previous wound was the gaping hole in her red top. Her green gaze lowered toward her unreadable teammate and she pouted at the lack of expression on his face.

"Mou! Sasuke! You could at least praise me! I just saved you and Naruto in one fell swoop!" Sakura said, hand on her hips.

"Hn. Do you want a pat on the head?" Sasuke sarcastically retorted, standing up and carrying the unconscious blond with him.

She frowned, unsatisfied with his answer, but she didn't let herself be affected by his usual grumpy replies. "Well, I should get to work on those guys if we want to have some peace." She pointed to the men coming out of the rubble of the building. The pinkette jumped at lightning speed to the recovering guards and immobilized them one by one with her paralytic jutsu.

Sasuke briefly glanced at Naruto and sat his best friend against a wall support. "Do you feel dizzy or is your vision distorted?" He asked her, debating with himself if it were safe to leave Naruto alone in case Sakura was affected by the phenomenon herself.

"Don't worry Sasuke! I modified my brain's wavelength with a medical jutsu to counter the hallucination effects." Sakura informed him.

A small smile drew the corner of the Uchiha heir's mouth up. Sakura was full of resourcefulness and his brother was in good hands with her. He could go hunt his real prey without bothering to look back.

"I leave Naruto to you!"

She waved at him dismissively without sparing him a glance as she was busy finishing the last men, and Sasuke jumped on the water tank to get a better view of the area.

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First he heard the small dripping of water. Ploc… Ploc… Ploc…

Where exactly was he?

Naruto felt nauseous, his head all jumbled, his thoughts in chaos. He knew he was lying flat on his back. At least he knew that.

Ploc

His brain felt mushy. Why was it so difficult to think straight?

Ploc…Ploc…

The dripping water would drive anyone crazy! He had to do something about this leak, he thought. Making some effort, he tried to stir, but it seemed so difficult to control his body.

Something poked his side. He wasn't alone.

Naruto stopped moving and even breathing. What if it were an enemy? Would he be able to fight in his state? How the hell did he end up unconscious in the first place?

"Kit! Don't play dead… I know that you're alive." A low toned voice resounded in something empty like a cave.

'Wait! I know this voice… Kurama ! It was Kurama's voice!'

The blonde man forced an eye open to confirm his assumption. The fox demon was sitting by his side, his head tilted to look down on the small human.

"Hey Kurama!" Naruto greeted, straining to lift himself in a sitting position. He felt like shit, as if his body weren't really his. He cracked his neck from side to side and rubbed his forehead, trying to remember what happened. But he was too confused. Events were muddled together as if they had passed in a roller coaster. "What I am doing here?" He asked his long time friend.

The beast shrugged. "I was going to ask you the same question. You just popped up here. But I guess you managed to unlock something in your empty head. The connection seems to be back..."

"What are you talking about? What connection? Hey! And my head isn't empty!" Naruto defended himself with pride. Then it dawned on the jinchuuriki and he understood, remembering: the fort, the black miasma, the amnesia, the mess-up and everything else. It was clear now. He looked around the cell. Some more light was coming from the boundless ceiling. That was why he had found the place so dark the last time he had come here. The connection between them had been severed at that time.

The blonde tested his fingers and toes, flexed his arms above his head. His sensations were coming back to him. Naruto stood to face the giant fox. He was still unsteady but it was progressing well. His blue gaze looked at his friend, a smile on his face and his hands on his hips.

"I don't know what happened, but I think I'm back to being myself!" The blond optimistically announced. "Let's go kick some ass! I have to settle the score with that thing!" He extended his hand toward his friend for a fist bump.

The giant fox chuckled, returning the gesture. At the contact, Kurama was sure of it. His friend was back.

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Returning to consciousness, Naruto blinked at the brightness of daylight. He looked at himself, propped against a wall, and then at his surroundings. This was when he saw her. Sakura. His Sakura. She was kneeling in the middle of a destroyed building, fumbling through rubble to look for something.

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto chanted, leaping to her and encasing her in a bone crushing hug. He was so happy to see her safe and sound. Maybe his vision of him killing her had just been a delusion.

Her boyfriend covered her cheek in kisses as an over-excited puppy reuniting with his master, and she pushed his head away to continue with her task. "Not now Naruto! I'm busy!"

The blond pouted at being rejected, but he accepted as she really did seem busy pulling someone out of the debris. He looked at her as she performed something with her healing hands on the man's head, and then he noticed the hole in her top at the place where he had stabbed her. So it wasn't a figment of my imagination.

"Sakura-chan," He called her and she glanced in his direction. "I'm so happy that you're alive."

She smirked proudly. "As if you could kill me so easily, Baka Naruto!" She said amused, and then pointed to her diamond on her forehead. "You're not the only one with super regenerative abilities!"

"I'm still sorry to have hurt you." He confessed, chastely kissing her forehead, grateful to the diamond that had saved her life.

"It's okay… It wasn't you and I've made sure that this thing can't control you anymore." Sakura affirmed with a small blush at his tender attention.

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From his high perch, the sharingan user scanned the vicinity. He estimated that the demon's host had to be in a radius of two hundred meters to contaminate his victims in the first place. His eyes switched quickly from right to left, they caught onto the scrawny shape of the kid. He couldn't sense anything coming from him. There was no spark of life, no form of chakra whatsoever emitted from the body. From observing him more attentively, Sasuke was sure that the boy was, in fact, already dead and that his corpse was merely being used as a vessel.

He waited. Sasuke had known for a long time that a ninja had to wait until the time was right. It had been one of the first lessons his big brother taught him as a kid when they were training together. It was when the enemy drops his guard that a ninja had to strike, he remembered. Assessing the situation, the last Uchiha momentarily looked in the direction of his teammates. Naruto had awoken and Sakura was pulling the inanimate guards out of the wreckage. He sent a shuriken towards them with a message attached to it to keep them informed of his intentions and prepared himself to launch his surprise attack.

The sharingan user hopped on a lower rooftop, approaching his prey with extreme carefulness. He held his breath to not betray his position, walking on the wall with soundless footsteps. Sasuke wasn't far and from his target, he could discern every twitch of the boy to predict his next movement. He stopped, vigilant. He should have been undetectable but strangely, the boy turned his face towards him, the endless pool of his complete dark orbs fixing him straight to the soul. A shudder ran down the Uchiha's spine. It was as if the thing inhabiting the boy could see through him.

The boy opened his mouth wide, but no sound came out of it. Suddenly the whole atmosphere changed. It was like an invisible pollution. Sasuke flinched and he resettled his brain with another time-space jutsu to counter the effect. It was stronger than any other before and even with a clear mind it felt suffocating. Assuring his grip on his katana, Sasuke didn't hesitate. He had to destroy the source of the poisonous smog before it spread to the rest of the village. Without waiting any longer, he slashed the vessel in half.

Silence.

Deafening silence.

The corpse lay at his feet, the blood trickling in regular red drops from the gash. It was too calm. It had been too easy. The thing didn't try to avoid his blade or to fight him. Sasuke didn't like it and readied himself to face even the most unforeseen event. All his senses were alert, his mangekyo sharingan ready to unleash his Susano-o. His eyes searched for any sign of attack, pondering his possibilities. The thing was intelligent...and invisible. It could come from anywhere and possess anyone. How could he fight something that he couldn't see? The answer came in the form of his best friend. Naruto dove forward, tackling him to the ground with a "Watch out!" as his only explanation.

Pulling his face out of the dust, the Uchiha looked at the smiling face of the blond. "You can thank me later! I have something to settle with the ugly cloud looming over us!" Naruto stated.

Sasuke looked up, but couldn't see anything. He had to blindly trust Naruto and his ability to perceive the invisible matter. His best friend jumped to his feet and promptly switched to his nine tail beast mode. A smirk graced the Uchiha's features at seeing Naruto shine with the fox's chakra. They hadn't needed to talk for him to know that his near brother was fully back to himself. It showed in his demeanour and overly confident self. Following up, Sasuke stood too and activated his Susano-o to cover the giant fox.

"Let's do it together!" Sasuke affirmed, remembering the time in the forest and the fort where his blade had been able to cut through the matter.

Naruto was the arm and Sasuke the weapon. The blond swung Susano-o's sword and the cloud kept forming and dissolving at will to evade the strikes. The thing was wary of them, avoiding a direct tried to escape and the blond looked around, searching for something able to keep that stuff in place. He spotted his girlfriend watching from afar, ready to intervene if needed.

"Sakura-chan! Close the perimeter!" Naruto yelled at the top of his lungs to be heard by the pink-haired kunoichi, and then Sakura dashed around, reshaping the ground and lifting up high walls to block all escape.

It was captive, unable to move away or to possess another sacrifice to replenish its power. It needed a host to survive. It needed to absorb fear, despair, and pain in order to grow; it needed to suck the life out of those it infected. It looked at the pair attacking it, and at the third who had created the wall. The easiest way to take down its enemies was to separate them and make them hate each other. The cloud attempted to get away from the top of the wall to possess Sakura, but suddenly its particles crystallized, rooted in place like a statue. Not wanting to miss the opportunity, Naruto ripped the demon to pieces, cutting it through and through.

Then Kakashi flew over on a Sacred Beast bird drawn by Sai and extended the talisman above the left-over of the demon to seal it inside with an incantation.

"Kakashi-sensei! What are you doing here?" Naruto called, surprised to see his former teacher. He was sure that his clone had passed the message to evacuate the village.

"I'm the Hokage, my duty is to protect this village and I thought you might need this…" Kakashi casually said, showing them the talisman. For a while now he'd had a hunch on how to destroy the threat if they found it, although he wasn't sure. But it had been worth a try. "I made up a quick team to perform the sealing ceremony as it was explained between the old texts we gathered and the information found in Sasuke's reports." He pointed to a group of ninja on the top of the Hokage Mountain. "I couldn't intervene earlier as I couldn't see where the demon was. But thanks to the wall enclosing it, we were able to direct the effect of our crystals to immobilize it for the sealing." He winked to his blond pupil. "Destroying it was really a plus as it helped reduce its power."

Epilogue

Almost two years later...

Ino squealed at seeing Sasuke feeding a bottle of milk to the child in his arms. It was a sight to behold as the Uchiha looked absolutely handsome with this fatherly and caring attitude.

The dark haired shinobi frowned at the unexpected, strident scream and hushed her with a "Shhhh" to avoid disturbing the ten month baby and having him return to his insufferable crying.

"What are you doing here with Shina?" The platinum blond asked, coming closer to the pair. She smiled and cooed at the blond child. The baby looked at her with his deep green eyes but didn't stop sucking on his bottle. He wriggled around, a smile stretching his lips as he held the teat between his pair of recently sprouted teeth.

"Don't bother him! He just calmed down! He hasn't stopped crying since Sakura's water broke." Sasuke sternly told her.

"Oh!? So that's why you're babysitting Shina as Sakura is gives birth."

"Don't make it sound as if I never take care of this child. He's more often with me than with his parents." Sasuke complained.

"It's because you're Uncle Sasuke! Hn, Shina? You like when Uncle Sasuke is taking care of you?" Ino playfully asked the child, waving her finger in front of his little nose.

Footsteps echoed down the corridor and the curious Ino lifted her gaze to see who was coming. She frowned at seeing her husband, his hands stuffed in his pockets and his natural bored expression on his face.

"If you came to attend the echo of your son, you're too late!" Ino chastised him, caressing her eight month belly.

The Hokage strategist sighed at his wife's accusing glare. He should have predicted that Ino would have heard about Sakura giving birth and come to wait at the labor room instead of going back home after her examination. Yeah, he missed the echography appointment, but did he really have a choice when someone had to take care of the Hokage office? Naruto had vanished as soon as he heard that his wife had been transported to the hospital, ditching all the Hokage duties to him.

"Yeah, my bad! Complain to your Hokage who works me to the bone!" Shikamaru replied to his lovely wife and then turned to the Uchiha, knowing that the guy must have been there all along as he tended to Naruto's son. "Is Sakura finished? I need our Hokage for a meeting."

"Can't you go in his stead? There seems to be a long way to go before the baby comes and Naruto has to be here with Sakura." Sasuke answered, indifferent to the political problem.

"Unfortunately, the meeting is scheduled with the Daimyo and the man won't accept anyone but the Hokage."

The Uchiha frowned, understanding that there was no other way around it. He looked down at Shinashiku and passed him into Ino's arms. "Hold him for me a minute – and don't make him cry!"

Sasuke marched into the labor room. As he opened the door, the screams from inside reached the corridor. Shikamaru hoped that Sakura wasn't breaking Naruto's hand. Last time the Hokage hadn't been able to sign his paperwork with his right hand for a full week after the birth of his first child.

"I hate you Naru – Aarrrggghh!" The pinkette screamed as another contraction wracked her womb.

"Breathe! Breathe! Sakura-chan!" Naruto encouraged his wife, wincing in pain as she squeezed his hand with demonic strength.

"What the hell are you doing here? Get out!" Tsunade ordered at spotting the Uchiha heir passing through the door.

Sasuke glared at the former Hokage but didn't budge. "Naruto, you're needed at the Hokage tower. Make a clone!"

"But! But my baby girl is about to arrive!" The seventh Hokage whined.

"I know, that's why. Make a clone. Trust me!" His best friend assured.

Naruto obeyed and Sasuke instantly grabbed the collar of the clone as soon as he puffed to life to drag him out of the room.

"Here's your Hokage for the Daimyo!" The Uchiha heir tossed the blond's clone towards the strategist. "We keep the real one. A copy wouldn't survive Sakura's strength."

The strategist glanced at the apologetic smile on the Hokage's clone, evaluating the risk of such a deception.

The sharingan user firmly crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Family first!" He declared with a tone which showed that it wasn't negotiable.

Shikamaru sighed. He would have to make the trick work. "See you tonight, Ino. Ah – and don't force yourself!" He said while gently caressing her belly. "It would be bad if you gave birth prematurely. I am really busy at the office."

Ino pouted at her husband as he left with the clone. She had wanted him to gush and fuss around her like she had seen Naruto do to Sakura. But no! Her husband had to be busy and pragmatic. Sure he was caring in his own way… however, was it really too much to ask for more exuberance about her pregnancy?

Sasuke walked back to retrieve Naruto's son from the pregnant blonde. The green eyed baby was patting one of Ino's generous boobs inside her neckline as he generally did with his mother.

"Shina." Sasuke called the ten month baby and the blond child waved his hands at seeing the familiar dark haired man.

"You can leave him with me." Ino offered.

"Shina prefers to be with me." Sasuke stated simply, the baby passing without reluctance into his arms. He looked down at his nephew cradled against him and the beginnings of a small smile grew at the corner of his mouth as the child giggled at him.

THE END

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THANK YOU TO ALL THOSE WHO HAVE SUPPORTED ME AND ENCOURAGED ME!

I would have certainly dropped this story without you. Thank you to have gave me the strength to write it to the end and share it with you. You don't know how precious you are to me.

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

I hope you have liked this last chapter and that you will tell me what you think of it.

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SPECIAL THANKS TO ALL MY BETA READERS WHO HELPED ME MAKE THIS STORY POSSIBLE

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GOOD BYE MY DEAR READERS