Title: The Devil's Fruit

Rating: PG

Type: Series, slightly AU

Warnings: Some violence, MASSIVE SPOILERS for the Naruto manga up to chap. 197.  The timeline picks up a little bit after where the manga left off (which is why it's classified as AU).

Disclaimer: Naruto and its characters are not mine.  This story and its plot is.

Uzumaki Naruto was terrified.

The thing that had stepped out of that coffin bore no resemblance to the Sasuke he knew.  Sure it was the same body wearing the same clothes as Sasuke had, and the face bore the same features—Naruto recognized those familiar features, even through the obscene black markings that swarmed Sasuke's face—but the eyes were completely different.  Blood red and full of hate, they were the eyes of a much older man.  They were Itachi's eyes.

"Sasuke," he finally managed to breathe. 

The thing that was once Sasuke glared at him from its blood-red eyes.  Naruto felt his knees turn to jelly as he breathed in the miasma of chakra and killing intent that gusted off of Sasuke.  "Go back, Naruto."

With that, Sasuke turned his back to Naruto and started to walk away.  They were close to the border now.  A ten minute walk would take Sasuke beyond Konoha's jurisdiction and to Orochimaru's side.  Swallowing his fear, Naruto yelled at the other boy.  "I promised Sakura-chan that I'd bring you back."

Sasuke halted and turned, looking at Naruto out of the corner of his eyes.  His lips curved into a smile.  "Now why would you do something like that, Naruto?"

"Because I'm bringing you back to Sakura-chan, no matter what!"  Naruto clenched his hands into fists as Sasuke turned around fully to face him.  "I'll never take back my words, Sasuke.  That's my ninja way!"

Sasuke laughed at him.  It was genuine laughter, the kind that made Sasuke throw his head back and bellow out his mirth in guffaws that echoed through the forest and frightened the birds from their nests.  When he was finished, Sasuke had tears in his eyes from laughing so hard.  "Oh, is that so, Naruto?  You'll take me back to Sakura-chan?  Now tell me Naruto: just how do you propose to do that?"

Even through the stupid panic of fear, Naruto felt anger rising in him, spreading through his body like boiling water in his veins.  How dare Sasuke laugh at him like that, even after all that he'd already done.  Hadn't he improved?  Hadn't he given his all and gained recognition from everyone?  Why was it that Sasuke alone refused to see how much he had improved?  Why was it that he was still a failure in Sasuke's eyes?  He hated people like that, who closed their eyes to other people and saw only their own reflection in everything that went on.  People like that—people like Sasuke—trampled all over other people's feelings without even a second thought.  People like that were everywhere.

"I'll bring you back to Sakura-chan, no matter what.  No matter what I have to do, I won't turn back."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes and Naruto could see the purple chakra that surrounded him intensify and darken in color.  Killing intent washed over him, prickling the hairs on the back of his neck and making goosebumps break out across his skin.  Sasuke smiled at him, the same infuriating smile that made Naruto feel like he didn't have a right to exist.  "You're getting a little ahead of yourself this time, Naruto.  Just because you beat Neiji and Gaara, it doesn't mean you're my equal.  Especially now.  I don't want to waste my time killing you, but you're getting to be a nuisance.  If you don't turn back, you won't live long enough to regret it."

Naruto gritted his teeth and clapped his hands together to do a hand seal.  "We'll see about that, Sasuke."

"It's your funeral.  Luckily for you, I've got a coffin right here for you," Sasuke said with a smirk.  His eyes lowered to Naruto's hands.  "Kage Bunshin again?  You'll get killed if you don't stop being so predictable."

"It can't be helped," Naruto said, his fingers moving into the familiar seals.  "Unlike you, I can't deny who I am."

"KAGE BUSHIN!"

Naruto gasped as the shadow clones appeared at his side.  Just now, his voice was not the only one in the forest.  He looked up to see Sasuke smiling at him, his hands clasped together in a seal identical to Naruto's.  Behind Sasuke, two dozen shadow clones were gathered, each with the same smirk on its face.

"You didn't think it'd be that easy, did you?"  Sasuke asked.  "My Sharingan is not for nothing, you know."

"Shut up!" Naruto shouted.  "Don't get so smug.  It's not over yet!"

But Naruto was shaken inside, even through his brave words.  As the shadow clones attacked each other, he was even more dismayed to see that his shadow clones were no match for Sasuke's.  The marks on Sasuke's face were giving him more power than Naruto had initially thought.  From his experience with the other four sound nin, he also knew that it weakened the user significantly.  That made sense, of course.  For a person to be generating so much chakra like Sasuke was meant that they were losing all that chakra and that pretty soon, they'd be too drained to continue.  So that meant…

"You seem about ready to give up," Sasuke said smugly.  "Unfortunately, I don't have time to stay and play with you.  I have business to attend to.  From now on, I hope we'll never meet again, Naruto."

"Running away?"

The smile disappeared from Sasuke's face.  "What?"

"I asked you if you were running away," Naruto said quietly.  "You are, aren't you?  You cowardly bastard.  You can't stand it that someone else is improving and getting recognized.  You can't stand it that the spotlight isn't on you anymore.  Poor little Uchiha survivor, poor little prodigy—a damn drama queen is what you are!"

"Shut up!  You don't understand anything!  You're just a lucky idiot, wandering around saying those outrageous things because fate's never dealt you an unlucky hand before.  I can't be like you.  I have a mission in life."

Naruto rushed at Sasuke, punching and kicking.  Sasuke dodged all of his attacks easily, reading Naruto's intent with his eyes with the bored competence of a scholar reading a book.  He finally returned Naruto's attacks with a well-placed punch to the chest that sent Naruto flying backwards into a tree.

"Until I can kill that man, I cannot be like the rest of you.  I cannot rest," Sasuke said, dusting his hands off.  "Even if I must take the devil's fruit, that is the path that I will take."

Naruto clawed at the tree behind him, using it to pull himself to his feet.  He felt a strange pressure when he inhaled, and the hot coppery sting of blood was tickling the back of his throat.  Sasuke had focused chakra into that last punch, he was sure.  Normal taijutsu didn't cause that much damage unless you were Lee.  It gave him a bit of satisfaction to know that Sasuke had been forced to use chakra; it meant that time was running out and he was getting closer to wearing Sasuke down.  All he had to do was stick with it.

"Will you just shut up for once?"  Naruto muttered.  "You're not special!  Every one of us has a mission in life.  Every one of us has felt loss and pain.  But we're all struggling to survive and get where we need to be on our own.  We're all trying our best to realize our dreams in our own way.  So a cowardly bastard like you, who runs away crying because he's too weak to believe in himself, should shut up and stop making excuses!  You, who once went to the academy with us, ate lunch in the same room and listened to the same lecture as us, went on missions and risked your life with us, and went through the Chuunin exam and shared the same dreams as us—your excuses are an insult to us!" 

He smelt it then, the scent of ozone.  From a distance that seemed very far away, the sound of birds chirping came to him.  And then the sound became a deafening roar, and Naruto saw that it was not a flock of birds flying his way, but Sasuke.  Sasuke, who held a ball of white, crackling chakra in his hands.  Chidori.

"I don't have time for you anymore," Sasuke said quietly.  "This time, it's really the end.  I hope you enjoyed your last words."

For some reason, the threat was not as terrifying as it should have been.  It was not as scary as seeing Sasuke stepping out of that coffin for the first time, and wondering if he was truly the same Sasuke.  Naruto already knew this was the same Sasuke he knew, even if hate had temporarily blinded him.  And he knew that the only way to settle their differences, and the only chance he had of bringing Sasuke back to Sakura-chan, was in this fight.

He gathered chakra in his hand and for once in his life, concentrating on it was surprisingly easy.  It almost came to him naturally.  The fear of death did not disturb him; he was only afraid of failure.  Afraid that he would let down Sakura-chan and the four other members of his squad.  They had risked their lives—and god, perhaps they had lost their lives—on this mission; his only answer to their efforts lay in this one last moment.  He had to make sure it was a good answer.

They came towards each other and collided like stars on wayward paths.  For an instance the light and the pain was all-consuming and time itself seem to have frozen forever, leaving only imprints of memories flashing through their brains.  Then the impact of the explosion came and Naruto felt a sudden, sharp pressure on his body, followed by the sensation of something snapping.

Blood flooded his mouth, but he barely had strength to turn his head to the side and let it trickle from his slack lips. 

When his vision cleared, he saw that he was once again lying beside a tree.  The ground in front of him was a smoking crater, surrounded by the still-burning and charred remains of great pines.  Sasuke laid on the other side of the crater, his body slumped over and unmoving.  Chidori and Rasegan had apparently cancelled each other out and the impact had sent the two of them flying backwards, repelled by the burst of energy that resulted.

"Sasuke," he called weakly.  "Are you still alive?  We need to get out of here before we burn to death."

Even as he said it, he wondered if he even had enough energy to get up and drag himself out of the burning forest.  From the other side of the crater, Sasuke asked him, "How?"

"How what?"

"How do you keep doing it?"

Naruto tried to sit up, but apparently his ribs had other plans.  He wondered how many of them were broken.  "I made a promise to Sakura-chan, remember?  I don't break promises."

The black marks had disappeared from Sasuke's face.  He was probably dead tired from using that much chakra and then getting so badly injured.  Naruto was glad.  He did not think he had the strength left to crawl over and break Sasuke's legs, which was what he would do if it meant the only way to keep Sasuke from running away.

"Hey, Naruto.  Make me a promise," Sasuke said softly.

"What?"

"Promise me one day, I'll reach my goal."

Naruto laughed, even though it hurt him.  "Yeah, sure.  We'll all get there together."

His laughter was cut short by the sudden presence of a killing intent so intense it made his blood run cold.  He knew it wasn't coming from Sasuke.  Also, it was so familiar.  He had felt it somewhere before, this malice.

"I'd hate to interrupt such a touching moment," said the dry, rasping voice.  "But Sasuke-kun and I have unfinished business."

Orochimaru stepped out from the trees and approached them, stopping just at the edge of the crater.  He eyed the two of them with amused interest.  "Well, well, looks like I missed a great battle."

"What do you want here?  Get away from Sasuke!"  Naruto cried, struggling to get up.  He scrambled to his knees, but the pain was too dizzying for him to stand.  "You pasty-faced, snake bastard!"

Orochimaru walked over to Sasuke's prone body and plucked him off the ground like a bag of flour.  "I have what I want.  I'll be going now."

"Wait!"  Somehow through the pain, he balanced himself well enough to stand on his own two feet.  He swallowed the blood that rose to his throat.  "You're not taking Sasuke anywhere."

Orochimaru's yellow snake eyes narrowed at him.  His mouth split into a wicked smile.  "The Kyubi boy.  I knew I should have killed you while I had the chance.  You've gotten in the way so many times now.  I guess it's better late than never.  Sasuke-kun, you'll have to wait while I finish up some business."

Orochimaru dropped Sasuke to the ground and took a kunai from his belt.  "How many of these do you think you can dodge, boy?"

Without waiting for an answer, Orochimaru flung the kunai at Naruto.  He tried to dodge it, but it was too quick for him to see, and while the kunai missed his throat and major arteries, it sliced a deep wound into the side of his neck.  Warm blood trickled down his neck and onto his chest, staining his shirt a deep red.  The effort of dodging made him sway, his eyes blurring everything into doubles.

"Lucky, lucky," Orochimaru said with a throaty chuckle.  "Let's see how long until your luck runs out."

"Stop!"  Sasuke clamped a hand on Orochimaru's ankle.  "Stop.  Don't bother with him.  I'll go with you.  Don't hurt him; he's not worth it."

Orochimaru smiled fondly at Sasuke.  "Sasuke-kun, you'll most certainly go with me.  Whether he's worth it or not, you have yet to fully realize.  And as for stopping…there's no chance of that."

Sasuke grabbed his own kunai from his belt.  Before he had a chance to do anything with it, Orochimaru's foot was pinning his wrist to the ground.  Orochimaru ground his foot onto Sasuke's wrist until he heard the bones crack.  "I was afraid this would happen.  The Kyubi boy has influenced you beyond my repair.  Well, it's my own fault for not killing him while I had the chance.  Now I'll have to kill both of you."

Sasuke smirked through his pain.  "You can't kill me.  You need me."

Orochimaru knelt down so that his face was level with Sasuke.  He smiled sweetly, "Wrong, Sasuke-kun.  I just need your body.  Boys like you are so easy to manipulate.  You're so lost in your own pain and self-pity that you can't see anything else.  I came to Konoha looking for a body to replace this decrepit one of mine.  You, with your advanced bloodline, will serve me well."

"What are you..?"  Sasuke asked, his eyes wide with rage and incomprehension.

"The secret to my immortality.  I will take that body of yours, and discard of the you inside it.  I can put it to better use than you can anyway.  In fact, I'll be doing you a favor, Sasuke-kun, because I plan to use that body and those eyes of yours to kill your brother, Itachi."

"Kill Itachi…" Sasuke whispered breathlessly.  "You…you can't!  That's mine.  That's my right!"

"A right is earned, Sasuke-kun, and you have earned yourself nothing.  Now be quiet while I finish up business.  You'll get your own punishment later, for making me damage my new body."

Orochimaru pulled out five more kunais and with a flick of his wrist, aimed them all at Naruto.  The first struck him in the thigh; the second just below the rib cage; the third struck him in the fleshy area above his collarbone; the fourth hit him right above the navel; and the fifth went through his ribcage, right over his heart.  Blue eyes wide, Naruto slowly looked down at his bleeding wounds.  For once in his life, he had no words left.  He crumpled to the ground and did not move.

"Naruto," Sasuke whispered softly, almost as an incantation.  He kept expecting the boy to stand back up and grin that stupid grin again.  Or maybe the body will disappear in a cloud of smoke.  Yes, that's right, it was Kage Bushin all along!  They'd all been tricked!  Sasuke waited and Naruto remained silent and still.  This time, as if trying to wake the boy, Sasuke screamed his name louder: "Naruto!"

But only the forest echoed it back to him, and Naruto stayed silent.

TBC

Author's Notes: As I've mentioned above, the AU classification on this fic is there because this fic takes place after the manga's storyline, so by default it's AU since events in this fic will surely clash with the manga storyline once the next issues come out.  Other than that, everything in the Naruto universe is still the same.

And I do realize this first chapter was testosterone-pumped and everything, but I was trying to stay as true to the mood of Naruto as I could.  Subsequent chapters will have time for character introspection, development, relationship, etc etc.