Author's Note: It's been way too long since I last updated. Work has been very bust these last couple of months, but things should cool off significantly heading into the Summer. That should hopefully at least get updates back to normal. I won't sleep soundly at night until I've finished this fic.

Thank you to everyone reading and reviewing every chapter. It keeps me motivated even when I don't have a lot of free time.

Review and enjoy.


Chapter 55: Fate is Fickle

Hidan was as still as a statue within the visibly impenetrable mist with his guard up to defend his neck. Their game of cat and mouse continued, and he appeared far worse for wear than when it started. His usually slicked-back hair was disheveled with strands of his bangs hanging messily in front of his eyes. His once pristine cloak was sliced and tattered from the midsection up, which aligned with the cuts and gashes that peppered his upper torso and face.

Suigetsu not only failed to decapitate him, but Hidan had somehow managed to avoid any critical damage from the silent killing assault. It took a while for Hidan to accept it, but he was at an immense disadvantage in the current landscape. His saving grace?

He did not have the need to breathe and therefore was able to remain completely silent.

If Hidan couldn't see, then that was also the case for his foe. All he needed to do was remain still, and not make any sound, then his opponent would be unable to pinpoint his location. However, this would leave them at a stalemate. With Kakuzu and Kisame also engaged in battle not too far from here, it was in his best interests to end this as quickly as possible and join the fray elsewhere.

Hidan slowly and meticulously bent down. Inch by inch, every muscle twitch was measured and deliberate, to minimize his presence. He gently wrapped his fingers around a small rock at his feet, picked it up, and had to resist the urge to sigh in relief when it didn't scrape against the ground.

With a flick of the wrist, he tossed the rock into the air about ten meters away. A tenth of a second before it landed, he quickly drew his spear like a javelin and launched it in the same direction. The sound as it swiftly cut through the heavy mist could easily be mistaken for a light breeze.

'Tap.'

'Splash!'

'Got his ass,' Hidan smirked and closed his eyes. It was his turn. 'Alright, stay calm. If he can do it, you sure as hell can! Focus… Focus… Focus!'

'Drip… Drip… Drip…"

'There!' Guided by his senses, Hidan threw his scythe out and guided it with the attached cable. The sound of metal rubbing against his skin almost assuredly revealed his position, but it didn't matter as long as he was faster than his opponent.

The cable suddenly stopped feeding. Hidan gave it the slightest of tugs and was delighted to feel resistance. 'Hook, line, and sinker,' He thought and used his weapon to lead him to his opponent. The mist started to thin out, which revealed a silhouette just ahead. Hidan tackled Suigetsu, pinned him to the ground, and wrapped his hand tightly around his throat.

Suigetsu's eyes were wide with fear. The spear from earlier had pierced through his right thigh and the three-pronged scythe was lodged deep in his gut. However, just like before, water leaked from the wounds instead of blood. Just enough to give his position away when it dripped on the ground.

"Ya got desperate, didn't ya?" Hidan laughed and tightened the grip around Suigetu's throat. "To fall for such a simple trick– I bet you're running low on chakra. Haha!"

Suigetsu used one hand to try and fight off Hidan's death grip as the other flailed around wildly to try and find the handle of his blade on the ground.

Hidan kicked the weapon away and redoubled his efforts. He squeezed with every ounce of strength he could muster.

"G-Go…G–"

"What was that?" Hidan basked in the feeling of watching life leave his opponent's eyes. Suigetu's face swelled up red as panic filled his eyes. "I didn't quite catch it… are you begging for your life? Please tell me that you're begging for your life."

"G…Go…Gotcha!"

"What the–!" Before Hidan could blink, Suigetsu's entire body liquidated and latched onto him. "Agh, get the hell off of me!" Any attempts to claw at his watery foe merely slipped through his fingers.

"Not a chance! You're not going anywhere!"

"What's the plan here, idiot?" Hidan spat some water out as he spoke. Suigetu's liquid form had now completely engulfed him. Only his mouth was uncovered, and that would not be for long. "I don't need to breathe. Is this really how you want to waste the last of your chakra?!"

"Who's the idiot here, exactly?" Suigetsu had positioned himself so his head, while still liquefied, was in the small of Hidan's back. The most difficult spot for him to be reached. "When did I ever say I wanted to suffocate you?!"

'W-What?' Hidan thought frantically as the only thing that could escape his lips now were air bubbles.

The sound of scraping metal from behind made his blood run cold. He turned his head around just in time to see a cold flash of steel.

'H-How?!'

"Try and dodge me this time, asshole!"

The Executioner's blade cut through the water and severed Hidan's head from his neck with almost no resistance.

"A clone?!" Hidan's severed head said as it tumbled helplessly through the air. "Ya gotta be fuckin' kidding me…"

The dull thud Hidan's head made when it smacked against the ground was cathartic. Suigetsu pulled himself off the now limp corpse and re-solidified his body. Even with knowledge of what his opponent's abilities were, that fight took him to the brink. If Hidan was the weakest in the organization, he shuddered to think what the others were capable of. Would the rest of his team be okay in their respective fights? He was surprised at how much he actually cared… Naruto was somehow to blame for this.

Exhaustion began to settle into his bones and he staggered forward a few steps in a weak attempt to fight against the relentlessness of gravity. His Water Clone dispelled, and the subsequent clatter of his blade against the ground startled him slightly.

'I… still need to go and help Sasuke…' Right before he passed out, Suigetsu could have sworn that severed head was yelling obscenities at him.

'Thud.'


"Here they come!" Kakashi warned his student.

The Water, Fire, and Lightning creatures had managed to surround them. With open mouths, they readied their elemental attacks.

"This is bad, Sensei," Sakura said with urgency as she began to weave signs. "I think it's time I–"

"No, Sakura! Not yet," Kakashi put his hand up in front of her. "Let me handle this." He then brought his hands up to create the favorite sign of one of his other beloved students.

"Shadow Clone Jutsu!"

Two additional Kakashi's poofed to life– the three of them then quickly positioned themselves in front of each of the masks.

"Water Style: Water Wall!"

"Earth Style: Mud Wall!"

"Wind Style: Pressure Damage!"

Fire slammed into water, water crashed into earth, and wind collided with lightning. Kakashi and his clones expertly used the theory of elemental advantages to their benefit in retaliation to the Akatsuki onslaught.

Sakura watched in awe as Kakashi's Wind Jutsu effortlessly sliced through and utterly overwhelmed the lightning attack. The razor-sharp gusts shredded the monster and its mask to pieces before it could evade. Its defiant roar was cut deafeningly short.

Three hearts remained… two masks, and Kakuzu.

"Lightning Jutsu are no longer a threat, Sakura."

"Right," Sakura quickly weaved through signs "Earth Style: Rock Armor!" Chunks of the ground beneath her feet broke away and latched onto her body to create an elemental suit of armor. Other than just enough exposure for her eyes and ears to function properly, she was covered head to toe in the best defensive Jutsu in her arsenal.

Kakuzu suddenly appeared between them, but Sakura had anticipated his movements. She threw a devastating right hook that narrowly missed the man's head. Instinct compelled him to try to intercept the attack, but his previous encounter with her strength reminded him how foolish such a thought was. He leaned back just enough to slip it and countered with a stabbing thrust enhanced by his Earth Spear Jutsu just as she lost her balance.

"Die!" Kakuzu roared with his blackened hand aimed straight at the wide-eyed girl's head.

Kakashi had just enough time to kick Kakuzu's elbow and throw the attack off course.

"Gah!" He spun wildly with little to no control over his body.

Sakura caught his flailing arm under hers and pinned it to her body. Kakuzu couldn't see, but she had a wide smile underneath her armor.

"Damn Brat!" Kakuzu's head darkened.

Sakura's eyes widened– before she could even react, his hardened skull bashed into her face. The armor did little in the form of resistance and shattered immediately. "Agh!" Despite a bloodied face, a broken nose, and possibly a concussion, she refused to let go of his arm as he tried to wrench it free.

"H-How?!" Kakuzu sputtered. The girl shouldn't even be conscious!

With their master in danger, the Water and Fire masks rushed to his aid, but Kakashi was closer.

"Hold him still, Sakura!" Kakashi would not let this chance slip by. "Lightning Blade!"

Kakuzu kicked off the ground and flipped over the top of the kunoichi– who still somehow managed to hold onto her grip for dear life. Kakashi stopped just inches away from Sakura's heart. He'd have to go through his own student to have any hope of hitting his mark.

Kakashi rolled out of the way of a volley of fire blasts. He pivoted and aimed his lightning-charged arm at the fire mask. "Lightning Hound!" His lightning manifested into a beast that launched itself at great speeds.

A volley of water and fire bullets destroyed it nearly as fast as it appeared. "Tch, these things are a real pain!" Kakashi whipped out a kunai and prepared for their assault.

Sakura ground her teeth in frustration. Kakuzu and her were now back to back; her arms painfully stretched over and behind her. She had no choice but to release her hold, but Kakuzu was ready for that. He lowered down into a crouched position and aimed a kick at her sternum. Sakura blocked it with a cross guard and slid back on her heels from the impact.

"You're a tough brat, but you're out of your depth here," Kakuzu warned in a low tone. "The Copy Ninja won't be enough to save you. One false step… a single hesitation, and your life ends today."

Sakura didn't say a word in response; her stern and unwavering emerald eyes conveyed plenty. The arm around her hands crumbled away and she immediately ran through a quick series of hand signs.

Kakuzu readied himself for anything; he was confident nothing in the girl's long-range arsenal could pose any real danger to him.

"Earth Style: Buck Shot!" The armor that went from Sakura's right forearm down to her elbow detached and shattered into large jagged chunks. Sakura swiped out her arm and momentum carried the projectiles toward her targets at high speeds.

That's when realization set in for Kakuzu. This attack was not meant for him. "No!"

Kakashi had just dodged another coordinated attack and was already running through hand signs of his own. "Earth Style: Mud Wall!"

The rock pellets pelted Kakashi's defenses with relentless force, though it appeared the structure would just barely hold.

The Masks responded similarly with Jutsu of their own. The intense flames of the Searing Migraine were just potent enough to stop the buckshot in its tracks. The Water Mask, however, had the misfortune of an elemental disadvantage. Its water put up little fight against the onslaught of the superior element and it was easily overwhelmed.

Kakuzu watched as another of his hearts was helplessly ripped to shreds by the Leaf Ninja. His fists balled so tight that his hands started to shake. Their intel was incomplete; the enemy was more skilled across the board than they anticipated. The Zombie Combo teamed up with the Monster of the Hidden Mist should have won this battle easily.

"Enough of this!" Kakuzu disappeared from sight.

Sakura's eyes went wide. "Kakashi-Sensei! He's coming toward you!"

"Behind you, Sakura." She turned in time to see Kakashi pull himself out of the ground. "I was worried he might attack you after that, and I was hoping to surprise him from underground. Seems as though it didn't go to plan."

"S-Sensei, look." She pointed off in the direction he knew the Fire Mask to be.

"What the–"

"Not just two, but now three of my hearts gone. You know, I planned to add your hearts to my collection," Kakuzu's voice was eerily calm. His last remaining mask had merged back into his body, but that wasn't what had shocked Kakashi and Sakura to their core. The threads within his body exploded out of his mouth and limbs to form a giant octopus-like form around him. "However, I've changed my mind. I can always find new hearts… you two will die right here and now."

"S-Sensei," Sakura wasn't a sensor, and yet even she could feel the massive amounts of chakra radiating off Kakuzu's new form. "What do we do now?" She turned and immediately noticed the new pattern in his left eye.

Kakashi breathed in deeply, then exhaled. "There's only one thing I can do, but it's a massive risk."

"You're going to do 'that' Jutsu?" Sakura sounded unsure. "You know what that does to you. If you were to miss–"

"Yeah, I know," Kakashi agreed. "I just won't miss, then." He finished with a sincere eye smile. He was well aware that if this fight raged on much longer he'd be out of chakra anyway; the amount he's already used has been considerable.

'BOOM!'

The earth quaked and shuddered under them– so much so that Sakura needed to push chakra through the soles of her feet to keep her tethered to the ground.

The air went dry and Kakashi could feel all of the hair on his body stand on end. Something smelled… burnt? 'Is Kakuzu doing this?!' His confusion and worry only amplified when he saw the look on the Akatsuki's face… he appeared just as concerned as they were.

"Kakashi-Sensei, w-what's happening?!"

"I'm… not sure, but the water dome from before is gone," Kakashi wasn't entirely certain, but the shockwave felt like it came from the direction he knew Sasuke and Kisame were battling, and the absence of Kisame's jutsu only strengthened his theory. He turned his attention back to Kakuzu. "Is this the doing of one of your partners? What just happened over there?"

"Neither Kisame nor Hidan should be capable of such things," Kakuzu responded slowly, his head turned in the same direction Kakashi felt the impact come from. "I sense something wicked in the air… what is going on?"

Silence fell over the trio.

Sakura shivered in discomfort. The wicked sensing something they believed to be wicked was not something she wanted to hear. Whatever it was, there was certainly a chill in the air.

Now all three of them were staring off in the direction of the disturbance.

That's when they saw it. A mountainous creature appeared out of what looked like thin air.

"What on earth is that thing?" Kakashi's heart dropped into his gut when his brain started to relay what his eyes were seeing. "No, it can't be…"


'So much water,' Sasuke thought. Once the ferocious waves from the Jutsu passed, he quickly regained his bearings. His eyes did not spot Kisame from an initial pass, though he knew that would not last. 'I'm somewhat close to the edge of this massive thing and at an extreme disadvantage in the current terrain. No doubt I'll eventually run out of oxygen… should I swim up and walk on the top or try and make it to the edge? Where the hell is he, anyway?!'

Sasuke's eyes widened; if it weren't for his Sharingan he wouldn't have noticed the slight movement. He spun around to see the edge of the bubble dome moving away from him at startling speeds. Sasuke didn't think– he just started swimming in pursuit of perhaps his best way to escape. With impaired maneuverability due to an injured wing, his efforts appeared futile. It simply wasn't enough. No matter how fast he swam, the distance between him and freedom only grew larger.

'What's going on– is this thing still expanding?!' Sasuke looked left, right, up, then down as he continued his chase. 'Wait–! That's not it, it's moving around me! I'm… being drawn toward the center, but why?'

That's when he realized his error. Sasuke turned to see a hideous creature approaching at great speeds. Its appearance was that of a humanoid shark monster, but what his Sharingan revealed told a different story. It had two distinct chakra signatures mashed together into one entity. Kisame and Samehada were now fused together, and he did not have much time to prepare for it.

Sasuke's only defense against Samehada's abilities was his katana, so he drew it and swam upward at top speed. Kisame followed. The distance between them would be closed in seconds.

"You're mine, kid!" Kisame sounded feral. His new abilities granted him the capacity to communicate underwater, which he loved to use to intimidate his opponents.

'Amaterasu!' The water turned red from blood, and Sasuke's left eye went bloodshot from the strain.

Kisame's eyes widened and he darted to his left and watched carefully as the black flames of Amaterasu torpedoed past him. Sasuke's eyebrow rose.

"I'll admit, you having Amaterasu took me by surprise," Kisame smiled wickedly, which was made even more terrifying in his new form. "You are his brother, after all."

'He dodged it,' Sasuke ignored the burn from Mangekyo use and focused on his opponent. The black flames were meant to give him just a couple more seconds to formulate a plan. 'Is Samehada not able to absorb Amaterasu? Whatever it is, he's keeping his distance now.' He looked past Kisame, then quickly refocused.

Sasuke suddenly continued his ascent to the surface, followed quickly by Kisame.

'Amaterasu!'

Kisame changed the arc of his pursuit to avoid the black flames but did not stop like last time. He circled around his prey like a cyclone as he followed him upward. His speed advantage would more than make up for the added travel distance.

Sasuke continued to volley the eternal flames… and Kisame outsped every attempt he made. This being his first time using the Mangekyo in actual combat, the stamina drain was more than anticipated. He could push past the unimaginable pain and blurry vision, but his chakra reserves were a different issue. It wasn't something you could just grit your teeth and overcome, and he'd need to preserve some of his strength if this battle dragged on.

Kisame had finally closed the distance and was seconds away from attacking. Sasuke activated the seals on his wrist to summon smoke bombs. He set them off and visibility quickly dropped to zero.

Kisame smirked and dove unperturbed into the murky waters. Even he couldn't see a thing, but that mattered little. His fusion with Samehada granted him the ability to sense chakra in the water through the skin. In short, this form gave him the status of the apex predator in the water, and Sasuke Uchiha sat at the bottom of the food chain. He lunged at where he knew Sasuke to be… only to be met expectantly by that pesky katana.

"Ack–!" Kisame lurched forward as the point of the blade pierced through his chest. With ground teeth, he pushed through and drove the blade deeper into his body until he was close enough to Sasuke to latch on to him. "You may have anticipated my moves but it's over now, kid. All I need to do is hold onto you like this and drain all of your chakra."

His experience with captured prey is that they would almost always flail around in a violent and futile attempt to escape his clutches; they never succeeded. The moment they realized their demise was imminent was euphoric for him. Their fear, dread, and hopelessness gave him a purpose in a sense. The thrill of the hunt and its inevitable completion was indescribable.

And yet, Sasuke hadn't moved a muscle. Kisame merely pulled him closer and tightened his grasp. He was definitely absorbing the boy's chakra, so it was only a matter of time before this fight was over.

The haze from the smoke bombs dispersed enough for him to see just as 'Sasuke' started to melt away. His opponent had managed to give him the slip.

"What?!" Kisame's eyes widened drastically. "This is–!"

That wasn't all.

"Tsssssssss…" Dozens of lit paper bombs that were attached to Sasuke's shedded skin were now floating in the water.

'BOOM!'

Sasuke pulled himself up out of the water on top of the dome but stayed down on one knee. His lungs screamed for oxygen and they were quickly accommodated. Curse Mark Second State, multiple uses of Amaterasu and Chidori, and even the Orochimaru-Style Substitution Jutsu… each technique took a massive toll on his body and stamina, and his limit was right around the corner. His entire body ached, burned, and felt heavy as lead. It was necessary, though; his opponent was powerful and put him at a topographical disadvantage almost immediately. It took everything he had just to get away from it.

And there was still more to come.

The influence and chakra of Orochimaru through the spot on his neck weighed heavily on him. It wasn't entirely clear to him what would happen if he continued to rely on the dark chakra, but the general consensus from his team was that it probably would not be ideal. It would be foolish to underestimate the Snake Sannin even after his death, so he was inclined to agree with them. His Curse Mark slowly receded until he was back in base form. He switched off his Sharingan in a further attempt to preserve his strength.

"Looks like the water-proof paper bombs Naruto made were useful, after all. That idiot and his Fuinjutsu were finally good for something." Sasuke managed to get out between gulps of air. "I should have a little more time to set up my next move."

Sasuke reached into his robe and pulled out a food pill. He rolled it in between his index finger and thumb, then popped it in his mouth. As he chewed it, he looked up at the sky. It was a clear and sunny day. "I need to finish this before the aftereffects of the pill kick in."

Kisame's broken and tattered body slowly sunk to the bottom of the water prison. Even with the added durability from his fusion with Samehada, the paper bombs had dealt massive damage. They packed more of a punch than the Shinobi standard explosive tags, and in such high quantities at point-blank range… that could have been very bad for him under different circumstances. Thankfully, the chakra he'd stolen during the fight was already at work mending and treating his injuries.

"Unbelievable," Kisame's eyes were wide open and fixated on Sasuke at the top of the dome. His jagged teeth ground together in frustration. "First the Nine-Tails brat, and now this kid? I've clearly underestimated both of them. Sasori, then Orochimaru, even Itachi– all defeated at their hands… a dangerous pair, indeed. If I don't kill him right here and now there's no telling how much trouble he could cause for us down the line if he regroups with the Jinchuriki."

His wounds were almost fully healed and Sasuke still hadn't moved.

"He's not trying to finish the job… What is he planning now?"

It was at that moment Kisame noticed Samehada's chakra start to get agitated. It seemed very upset about something, which was quite uncommon for the blade.

"Hm? What is it, Samehada?" Kisame's eyes widened. He'd been so singularly focused on Sasuke that his senses of their surroundings were dulled. It seemed impossible, but several identical chakra signatures were in the water surrounding him. His eyes darted around to find the source, and that is when it dawned on him.

Sasuke's aggressive use of the Mangekyo Sharingan had surprised him, but with little time to think he discarded his confusion in the heat of the moment. The intent behind Sasuke's actions was clear to him now.

"He wasn't aiming for me," Kisame could feel the temperature of the water rapidly start to rise. The Amaterasu that he avoided stuck around at the edges of the Water Prison and was beginning to boil away his Jutsu. "His real goal was to set up those flames!"

The prison moved with Kisame, which meant he always remained in the center. That's what made his technique so dangerous and difficult to escape, but his opponent had used that very strength against him. The black flames clung to the water and traveled with it as he moved; this meant it was impossible to swim in the opposite direction until the flames fell out; they would remain just as they were. Even if he were to no longer make himself the center of the technique, the time it would take for him to travel completely around the dome to absorb all of the flames would allow Sasuke to escape.

He'd be slowly boiled alive in the meantime, and that's only if Samehada could stomach all of the black flames. Samehada absolutely loathed any time it had to absorb regular Fire Style Jutsu and could have outright refused to go near Amaterasu… that was a chance he did not want to take.

"Hah… hah… hah," Sasuke lowered his fingers from his mouth, bowed his head away, and heaved from exhaustion. As he leaned forward with his hands on bent knees, Sasuke took a deep breath to compose himself. One shot was all that was left in the tank, it was all or nothing.

"Let's finish this," Sasuke blinked and in a split second his eyes were closed, and the water beneath his feet disappeared. His stomach dropped as he went into freefall. "Wha–?"

Without warning, Kisame's Jutsu collapsed, and all of the water started to plummet back to earth. He could see an unfused Kisame wielding Samehada patiently waiting for him at the bottom. Panic rose up his spine for a brief moment, but his will quickly squashed it. Sasuke wrapped his fingers tightly around his katana and unsheathed it.

'So that's how he decided to deal with the Amaterasu,' Sasuke closed his eyes, then opened them to once again reveal his three-tomoe Sharingan. 'I thought I'd have more time. Oh well.'

Immeasurable amounts of water crashed down and completely swallowed the landscape. Kisame rode the waves it generated high into the air, then used it as a platform to kick off toward his opponent with his massive blade swung in a wide arc.

Sasuke was ready and knew better this time to not get in a sword fight with him. Instead, at the last second, he switched to a reverse grip on his katana and threw it overhand like a spear.

With the use of Sharingan, Sasuke's precision was impeccable.

Kisame winced when the sword pierced through his forearm and completely severed his flexor digitorum profundius and flexor pollicis longus from the bone. With the muscles that controlled wrist flexion and grip force production now useless, Kisame could no longer physically hold his blade and was forced to release it.

The look of fury on Kisame's face made Sasuke instinctively raise his guard. He was at an obvious strength disadvantage, which was made worse due to his depleted stamina.

"Argh!" Kisame's punch with his good arm broke through the block and landed clean on the teen's cheek. "Take that!"

"Guh!" A mixture of spit and blood flew out of Sasuke's mouth as the force from the blow sent him spiraling back down to the ground. Thankfully, the water managed to break his fall. He sank lower and lower into the depths without the strength to swim back up. 'I have almost no chakra left… do I need to resort to the Curse Mark again?'

Kisame landed shortly after and pressed his palm against the water's surface. "Where did Samehada land? I can't sense it… is its chakra too low for me to pick up a signature? Dammit!" He spat in frustration. "I have no other choice."

The water that remained from his Jutsu began to evaporate at a rapid rate. He needed to find his blade, and he wasn't too keen on the idea of blindly searching for it.

Seconds later the last remnants of water disappeared to reveal Sasuke motionless on his back. Much to Kisame's frustration, his blade was nowhere to be seen.

"Oh well, Samehada is probably around her somewhere. I'll find it eventually… I don't need it to kill you, anyway." Kisame started to walk slowly toward his prey. With a grunt of pain, he yanked out the katana still embedded in his arm and dragged it menacingly behind him. "Your weapon will do just fine."

'Drip'

Kisame paused and looked up at the sky.

"Hm? Rain?"

What appeared to be dark storm clouds had rolled in rather quickly and settled just over where they were.

"Itachi… are you truly weeping? For trash like him?" Kisame said in an almost mocking tone. "It seems only fitting that I'm the one to do this, my good friend. For the sake of the Akatsuki, the boy is too dangerous to be kept alive."

"Ack!" Sasuke coughed up the water that had been swimming around in his lungs and opened his eyes. Fear quickly filled them when he saw Kisame walking toward him with his blade in hand. As if the grim reaper were knocking on his door, Sasuke felt an unprecedented adrenaline rush.

"Good, I'm glad you're awake," Kisame taunted viciously. "I like to see the terror in my prey's eyes before I end things.

'No… I'm not gonna die,' Sasuke rolled over onto his stomach and tried to crawl away. His fingernails splintered as they dug into the earth, but that didn't deter him from dragging his near-lifeless body with all the strength he could muster. 'I can't die! Not until I become Hokage and…' His eyes fixated on a puddle a few meters away.

"It's over, kid," Kisame walked beside the boy and lifted the katana above his head. "Your story ends here!"

Sasuke flipped back onto his back, his Sharingan once again activated. Kisame was too quick, however, and managed to look away just before he could be caught in Genjutsu. Sasuke gathered up most of his remaining strength to plant his arms and push off the ground into an upward kick that caught Kisame clean under the chin. The force of the blow wasn't enough to lift the heavy swordsman off the ground, but it still managed to stagger the brute.

"Now! Do it now!" Sasuke scrambled to his feet and stumbled away as Suigetsu rose from the nearby puddle and pounced onto Kisame.

"What?! Suigetsu?!" Kisame tried to slash at him, but Suigetsu grabbed his wrist and tackled him to the ground. "Where are Hidan and Kakuzu? There is no way that you could have–"

"Not sure about that Kakuzu guy, but I took care of the immortal douche," Suigetsu's laugh covered up just how much he was struggling to keep his senior swordsman down. Kisame had monster strength, to begin with, and it didn't help that his previous fight had completely drained him to the point where he barely managed to make it in time to save his friend. If they were going to get out of here alive, he had to trust that Sasuke had a plan.

Kisame could feel Suigetu's strength fading fast. The boy was tenacious, that was true, but that was not enough to beat him. "You have time to back away now, Suigetsu. My target is Sasuke, not you!"

"Piss off, idiot!" Suigetsu spat. "Like I would ever do that!"

"Itachi, and now Mangetsu? Seems I'm going to butcher the little brothers of two of my comrades today… I'm sure that's almost as good as the real thing!"

"Sasuke, I can't hold him down much longer! Whatever it is, do it now!"

"Rumble!"

"Crack!"

"Boom!"

Kisame's eyes widened. Lightning bolts illuminated the sky, and the sounds of thunder roared from the clouds above. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sasuke atop a nearby boulder. In his hand was what appeared to be another Chidori.

No, this was different.

"It took some time to set up, but it's finally ready. Come!" The confidence in Sasuke's voice returned. He put his lightning-charged hand up. Out of the clouds emerged pure electrical energy transformed in the shape of a dragon. It was on a larger scale than any lightning technique Kisame had ever seen. "This is Kirin; I used my chakra as a conduit to call it from the heavens and guide it to my target."

'H-He set this up? But when?!' He thought. For the first time today, Kisame looked genuinely afraid. That's when the realization struck him. 'After the paper bombs, when he was on top of my dome… did he shoot fire up into the atmosphere to create storm clouds?!'

"It's over." Sasuke's hand twitched.

"You wouldn't dare! Not with Suigetsu here with me!" Kisame bellowed. "Don't be a fool!"

"Suigetsu!" Sasuke shouted. He waved his hand up, and the lightning dragon disappeared back up into the clouds.

On command, Suigetsu liquified his body. "Do it!"

"What?! No!" Kisame fought to get away, but couldn't separate himself from the Jutsu in time.

"Begone, with the roar of the thunder…" Sasuke dropped his hand, and the dragon once again emerged.

A blinding flash illuminated everything.

"BOOM!"


One with nature– that was how Pa explained the concept of Sage Mode to him. It becomes an extension of oneself, and vice versa. To fully utilize the vast potential of Sage Jutsu, the user must become nature itself. The air, dirt, sky, trees, animals… humans– all of it is connected in some beautiful way most simply could not understand. It was convenient that he was in the perfect place to explore such things; Mount Myoboku was so full of life and, unsurprisingly, felt supercharged with Nature Energy.

Naruto took a deep breath. Sat on top of a large stone in the middle of the forest, his goal was to further his understanding of the vague wisdoms Fukasaku had imparted to him. His past training sessions with Jiraiya had prepared him for this moment. This was not something that he could be taught by someone else; no, he needed to see to this on his own. Self-sufficiency was one of his best qualities, and he would need every bit of it for this.

'The grass… I can feel the wind brushing through each individual blade.' Naruto focused even harder. 'The ground and the tree roots that burrowed into it, the birds that soared in the sky, even the ants that marched on the ground… all of this is maintained and sustained by the cycle of life through each and every phase. It really is all connected– I knew that on some level, but I could never feel it,' He frowned. 'I think I understand, but how is this supposed to help me with my training?'

'It is far more important than you know,' Came a strange and unfamiliar voice.

Naruto remained seated with his eyes closed. He was not infusing Nature Energy at the moment, but he could tell that no one had approached him in physical space. Jiraiya and Fukasaku were busy with other things back home. His eyebrows furrowed upon the clarification that he was indeed alone. Had that voice really come from inside his own head?

'Who's there?' He thought cautiously. No response. 'Is that you, Yami? I haven't heard from you in a while, so if this is your idea of a joke it's not funny.'

'To be aware of my presence– this is… quite unexpected.'

Naruto opened his eyes and resisted the urge to roll them. No longer in his meditation spot, he found himself in the same blank white ethereal space where he first came into contact with Hikari, and then later Yami.

"I knew it was you, Yami! Don't ya see I'm busy doing something? Show yourself, coward!" Before he could continue his verbal tirade, a silhouette formed in the space in front of him. He shot to his feet as a result. "You're not Yami…" He said slowly.

The outline was definitely that of a man-made clear by the masculine voice that accompanied it. However, that was the only aspect of it Naruto could distinguish. It was far too blurry and warped to make anything else out.

"How are you here, and what do you want from me?" Naruto finally asked. Was he going insane? There was no chance normal people had this many conversations inside their own minds.

It was starting to get a little old… and annoying.

"I'm… not entirely sure," They seemed just as confused as Naruto was. "This has never happened before. You are the first one to be aware of my existence."

"You say that, and yet I haven't a clue who or what you are," Naruto remained guarded. Of all the strange things that had taken place inside his head, this one freaked him out the most. "Explain yourself."

"Your fate…" The figure spoke slowly, almost as if they were confused, then paused for reasons Naruto could not even begin to understand. "It has changed…"

"My fate? What are you–?"

"No, that's not it… you have somehow changed your fate," The mysterious being clarified. "What it has been replaced with, I cannot say… However, something tells me that the burden you bear will only get worse."

Naruto frowned. "What exactly do you know about my fate?" Even though he was skeptical of the man's words, regardless of the truth, that was not something anyone wanted to hear.

"I know that fate can be a fickle mistress, Naruto Uzumaki. What is 'written in the stars' may not necessarily come to pass," The stranger chuckled mirthlessly. "Or, in a different sense, it may just come about in a different way. In your case, I suspect it is a bit of both."

"This intentional vagueness is starting to piss me off," Naruto said in frustration. "Why come here at all just to tell me what essentially amounts to nothing?"

"Forgive my arcane nature. In truth, I do not know why I have appeared before you and I do not wish to alter the course of time more than it already is," There was a tense pause. "However, I implore you to think carefully about the ripple effect your actions may have."

Naruto's frown deepened as he watched the silhouette start to fade away.

"Did you achieve your goals?" Naruto asked.

The voice paused as if taken aback by the question. "...No." He finally answered.

"Why would I take advice from someone who failed?" Naruto responded evenly. "Keep your suggestions to yourself next time… and get the hell out of my head."

"I… am sorry you feel that way. Perhaps we will meet again one day under different circumstances."

"Hopefully not."

The mysterious presence was gone. Naruto waited a moment to confirm it, then sighed in relief. Before he could internalize what he just experienced, he started to sense something else. It was very faint but also somewhat familiar, though he could not explain why.

He started to wander through the white haze towards it. He walked and walked, and walked some more. Naruto ventured deep into the recesses of his mind and with each step the sensation strengthened. Was this a good idea? Such a thought never occurred to him. It was a sort of gravitational pull– whatever this thing was, it was important and his subconscious mind knew that.

"Hm?" Naruto saw a faint orange glow just ahead and quickened his pace. Not being a talented sensory type he didn't notice until now that this was not a singular presence, but two. What was once an orange glow off in the distance was now revealed to be two clouds of something unidentifiable; one red, and the other yellow. They floated right next to one another in this vacant space away from everything else. Naruto stopped in front of what he could only assume were mental manifestations of some kind of energy; whether it was chakra or not, was unclear.

"They're so… warm," Naruto's voice was low, almost a whisper. He closed his eyes and pictured himself lying down in the grass basking in the warm glow of the sun. It was… oddly comforting. He opened his eyes and cautiously swiped his hand through the red cloud. A sudden tightness in his chest caused him to pull his hand back. His eyes burned; with blurry vision, he wiped at his eyes. They were wet.

Naruto was crying.

"Why do I suddenly feel sad?"

Perhaps he'd stay in this place a bit longer.


Author's Note: A lot of moving parts in this chapter. Kisame is a tough bastard, isn't he? Sasuke had to pull out all of the stops and even get some help just to try and put him away. Was Kirin enough, and what about Suigetsu?

At this point Naruto should host a party for all of the people residing inside his head. Who was that, and did he mean?

Thanks again for the continued support. As long as people are reading, I'll be writing.

Until next time with Chapter 56: "Master and Student!"


SAND - You called both Amaterasu and Kirin. Well done. And yes, Sasuke doesn't have enough experience with his MS to use it so early on in fights. Once he tested the waters, then it was time to pull out all the stops.

Lilthug - MS and CM is pretty cool I can't lie. It makes his move set a lot of fun to write as there are so many options.

CoconutGoSkrrt - Greatly appreciate your thoughts! I hope you continue to enjoy what is to come!

Bruh - No, that wasn't what that meant at all. Kiba wasn't mad Naruto doesn't reciprocate Hinata's feelings, he was mad that Naruto didn't bother to check up on her in the hospital. Kiba knowing how much Hinata cares for Naruto only amplified his anger.

Ky111 - Thanks as always and glad you enjoyed! Kisame against anyone is always interesting. I love his character and his move set is insane.