Hey. Long time no write.

I know I say this practically every chapter, but sorry for the wait. This chapter was especially needlessly delayed, because it is the last chapter, and I was torn how to end it. So summer slid past and I dove into Kingdom Hearts fandom and cosplaying and friends, and then schoolwork hit and I realized with the continual prodding of reviews that I still hadn't done anything to wrap the fanfic up. Like I said from the beginning, this story was not discontinued—it's my pride and joy in fanfiction, and as such I was worried I'd end it horribly and ruin it.

Sasuke yells a lot in this chapter. 'sweatdrop'

Anyway, I hope this meets your satisfaction, at least slightly. I can't tell you enough how wonderful all you reviewers are, and I appreciate the occasional pokes and scolding for not updating. Thank you for sticking with and continuing to read my fic!

Chapter Fifteen: Freedom

Everything was happening in a blur. Naruto was fighting with Itachi. I couldn't see if Itachi had tried to use his Mangekyou, but if he had it didn't seem to be working. The fight seemed completely physical, and either it was well matched or Itachi was testing the extent of Naruto's power like Kabuto had done to me. I didn't know what to do and felt completely helpless as I watched them exchange blows.

"Itachi! Naruto!" I yelled out, to no avail.

The chakra around Naruto was getting brighter and more intense, more tails gradually springing forth behind him. Shit…if the Kyuubi fully took over, there was nothing me or my brother could do. As strong as Itachi was, I doubted he could match the raw power of the demon fox that we were only experiencing a miniscule fraction of.

Itachi managed to knock Naruto back, sending the fox child skidding across the ground, leaving steaming trenches under his feet and claws. Naruto's eyes were blazing at an intensity I had never experienced before, and the feeling of chakra around us was smothering. Six tails swayed around in mesmerizing patterns as Naruto licked his bloodied lips with his tongue. Itachi's face was dead serious, and he hunkered down into a ready position. He knew he was dealing with something more than just a blonde peer of mine.

I couldn't stay on the sidelines. How could either of them expect me to sit and watch this all unfold in front of me, helpless to take action? I didn't know who I wanted to win. They were both so important to me.

My brother, though outwardly an ass, cared about me. His words about protecting the sharingan and wanting an avenger, they all may have held truth, but in the end I knew he had spared me because of something more. I was his little brother, and as much as he denied it, he couldn't let me go.

Naruto, the dobe, was always there, looking out for me. He treated me like a person. To him I was not just some prodigy, or some tragic figure that needed to be dealt with carefully. I was a rival, and he was mine. In the same way Itachi pushed me to better myself, Naruto strove to do the same. All our fights and disagreements made us stronger. Naruto was genuine. If there was one person in the village who I was positive treated me just the way he felt, it was him. No beating around the bush, no openly trying to please me. Naruto said what he meant, and stuck to his word through thick and thin. He was the one who accomplished the most when given the least. All this time I had been jealous of him, but would never openly admit it.

Naruto and Itachi sized each other up. My eyes widened with dread as I saw more and more of Naruto slip away as the Kyuubi gradually took over.

"Naruto!" I called out, trying to divert his attention away from Itachi. Just leave him alone. Leave my foolish brother alone.

He ignored me and crouched down, ready to spring while my brother tensed for the coming attack.


Still nothing as the muscles flexed and rippled in the blonde's body.

"NARUTO!!!" I screamed, racing forward and he leapt up and darted towards my brother. I skidded in front of him, blocking his path. "YOU DOBE, STOP IT!" I yelled to any fragment of Naruto that I prayed was left.

The blonde grabbed me by the shoulders, and a searing burning pain swept through me as I was momentarily overrun by chakra. I looked up into the blazing eyes, and was relieved to see that they were blue. He didn't let go as he glared at me, his grip painful.

"He's not worth it. He's not worth anything," Naruto said, his face still in a snarl.

"He's worth everything," I said evenly back.

Naruto stared at me, in disbelief, as if trying to figure me out. The red chakra tails had slowly receeded. I was surprised they had gone away as fast as they had arisen, but I suppose Naruto was stronger that I ever would take him for.

Our moment was interrupted by me getting pulled back. Itachi sprung forward and grabbed Naruto, taking off with him.

"NO!" I yelled, tearing after them.

Itachi hurt me once by taking away something I loved; he wasn't going to do it again. I caught up to him in a clearing. Naruto was limp in his arms and Itachi dropped him roughly to the ground.

"I'm not going to lose you to that fox," I snarled, grabbing Itachi's wrist.

His hand flung back and backhanded me across the face, making me stumble backwards from the force. I glared upwards at him while he ignored me. Itachi pulled out a device, securing it to Naruto's chest.

"Itachi! NO!" I screamed, trying to get him away from the blonde still, with no success. My mind was torn. I should try to kill Itachi, do something to stop him, because once the spirit of the fox took over my brother, he'd be as good as dead anyway. I couldn't bring myself to do it, even as Itachi continued to ignore me, leaving himself open for attack. Was he doing it on purpose to see what I would do?

I growled and rammed Itachi with all the force I could muster. He grabbed me last minute, flipping me over his body. I lay there, winded on the ground, as Itachi continued to do something with the thing on Naruto's chest.

"Nii-san no baka," I muttered, glaring up at Itachi while my body recovered from the force of the blow. "What do you expect to gain from this? Losing yourself to the fox. Power is nothing without control, and you're giving up the control. You might as well have handed yourself over to Orochimaru as a puppet in the first place."

"Foolish Sasuke, that was your path," Itachi said without emotion. He didn't stop his task.

"Are you even listening to me Itachi!? Are you deaf? You certainly are blind to the risk you're running!" I finally managed to roll up into a crouching position, planning to attack Itachi again.

"Save your strength," Itachi said coldly, not bothering to look up at me.

"How can I sit here and watch you do this? He was all I had left when you took away everything. I wont let you take him away too just because you're jealous."

"Jealous? You assume I can feel those base emotions that you are in turmoil with," Itachi said.

"Stop acting, it's not working." I snarled, once again leaping to attack him. This time I dodged his arm and moved my fist to plant into his stomach. Itachi had to turn his attention away in order to block me. I wasn't concerned with my little accomplishment, but my mind was more plagued with worry about Naruto, who had gone deathly pale as the device began to glow.

"You're going to destroy yourself and everyone!" I yelled, not letting up on my attack. Itachi blocked each of my blows, but didn't seem to be attempting any of his own.

"You need to grow up, Sasuke," he said emotionlessly.

"And you need to open your eyes!" I yelled, bringing my fist back. To my surprise, it connected with his face.

Itachi's head remained turn to the side, a smirk cast upon his features. He let out a soft chuckle, much to my surprise. Slowly he turned his head to look at me.

"I'm glad I spared you."

I glared at him, still panting and riled from my anger.

"You make a pathetic avenger Sasuke, but you're at least entertaining," Itachi smirked.

"Cut the crap Itachi!" I snarled, rushing to Naruto.

Itachi stopped me with his arms. "Don't interfere. He's not finished yet."

I struggled against his hold. "You bastard! You jerk! You heartless monster!" I clawed in Itachi's grip as I watched the red glowing become alarmingly intense. All the colour seemed to be drained from Naruto's skin, scaring me. Naruto. I couldn't lose Naruto.

Itachi watched calmly, ignoring my outcries. After a few moments he flung me aside and walked to the unconscious blonde. He grabbed the device and wrenched it from Naruto's chest. There was a blinding flash of red light that forced me to shield my eyes.


My world went black.

I woke up to the smell of burning and opened my eyes. There was a thick veil of grey smoke all around me. I scrambled to my feet, coughing.

"Itachi! Naruto!" I called out, panicked. I could barely see as I fumbled around. Even with my sharingan it was hard maneuver.

I saw a dark form on the ground and rushed over, fear clutching my chest painfully. Naruto lay there, dark bags under his eyes.

"Naruto," I said with a hoarse voice. I blamed the thick dust all around us for the stinging in my eyes and soreness of my throat. "Naruto!" I shook the dobe. "Wake up. Shit Naruto, wake up this isn't funny! WAKE UP!!!!" Hot tears began to run down my cheeks. No….I didn't want to lose him….it was like losing family again. Naruto was just as much, if not more of a brother than Itachi was. He cared for me. The whole reason he was here was for me. "You dobe, you led yourself to your own doom for a worthless cause like me. WAKE UP DAMN YOU!!!!!!"

I choked back a sob as I looked down at the blonde. My tears splashed down on his face, tracing clean paths through the filmy soot that covered his face. My arms wrapped themselves around him as I buried my face in the crook of his neck. "Dobe…..you dobe…." I cried, clutching him to me tightly.

"Sasuke, your elbow's digging into my side."

My breath stopped short as I sat up rapidly.

Slivers of blue shone through Naruto's eyelids that were cracked open slightly.

"Naruto!" I exclaimed in surprise. He was alive. Naruto was alive. I held back the instinctive urge to punch him hard across the face for the worry he had caused me.

Naruto coughed, shifting a little. "What happened?" he asked, his voice dry and cracked.

"I…I don't know," I admitted, still at a loss for words. The relief that was washing over me suddenly was halted by a cold sense of dread washing over my skin. My brother. Where was my brother?

I stumbled up to my feet, looking around frantically. The dust had begun to settle, but Itachi was nowhere in sight.

"NII-SAN!" I screamed out. I had been doing a lot of yelling recently and my throat was raw.

Naruto winced and sat up, rubbing his chest, which was slightly scorched.

"Naruto, I have to find my brother. Don't you dare die!" I ordered.

"I'll do my best," Naruto said dryly, with a crooked smirk.

I nodded and then refocused my attention to finding Itachi. Had the Kyuubi taken over? If I found him, would he even exist besides as a shell for the demon?

I heard a sound and rushed towards it, my heart pounding painfully. I saw the form of my brother sitting up against a tree, which looked severely cracked from the impact. His eyes were shut. I skidded to my knees in front of him. "Nii-san….nii-san, look at me." I tapped the side of his face with my hand. The next moment I cried out in pain as his hand flung up and grabbed my wrist with bone-breaking tightness. Red eyes flashed open and I thought my chest would explode from nerves.

"My head hurts you fool, so stop touching it," came the snide voice of my brother.

"Itachi," I breathed, collapsing against him and holding onto him. It wasn't the Kyuubi staring out at me. Unbelievable amounts of relief flooded my senses. Itachi and Naruto were okay. Everyone was okay. That was all that mattered at the moment. I didn't care about being strong or weak. Importance was no longer linked with power. Importance was embodied into the two defining forces in my life.

Itachi shifted, trying to shrug me off. "Sasuke, I said to get off me."

I held him for a moment longer before complying and letting go of him. I looked at my brother with a smile on my face. He ignored me and instead examined the item in his hand. I recognized it as the device that he had attached to Naruto's chest. It was vibrating and kept flashing red, but at a steadily decreasing rate.

"What is that?" I asked.

"A vessel," Itachi replied, tensing and forcing himself to his feet, refusing any help.

"A vessel?" I asked in confusion. I looked at it and then back at Itachi. My eyes widened as realization of what he had done dawned on me. "You…you had intended to do this all along?"

Itachi ignored me and took a few test steps, holding onto the device tightly. "I'll need to find a place to dispose of this. It wont keep the demon out of the world forever, but it should restrain it long enough that it becomes some else's problem many hundreds of years from now. At that time, I don't really care what becomes of things."

"Wait. Wait a minute. So you were working against the Akatsuki the whole time?"

Itachi stared at me with his red eyes. "You are still quite slow and dense, Sasuke. How anyone could label you as a prodigy, I'll never understand."

I was going to retort, but all that came out was a small laugh.

"You truly don't know me Sasuke. I do things that benefit me. If it happens to be a convenience for someone else, that is merely a by-product." Itachi turned to walk away.

I grabbed his arm that wasn't holding the device to stop him for a moment.

"Nii-san………..thank you," I said with the utmost sincerity. As harsh and cold as Itachi was, and as much as he denied it, I had a feeling that what he had done had been in truth for me.

Itachi grunted and shrugged off my hand. "You could have killed me if you wanted to while I was weak," Itachi said, regarding me. "Doing so would grant you the Mangekyou."

I shook my head as I looked at him. "You and I are different. I don't want the Mangekyou. It's not worth the price, and to me if I'm paying for more than I get then I'm not going to bother. I don't need the Mangekyou to be strong."

Itachi regarded me for a moment, and then his lips upturned into the first real smile I had ever seen him display in his life. It was small, but it was still there. "It seems as if you've finally grown up, brother."

"I'm your avenger. And as such I'll never forgive you for what you've done," I said, looking up at him. "But I'm not going to follow the path of murder and destruction you have taken. I'm carving my own path. We're the last two of our clan; it would be counterproductive of me to try to destroy part of that."

"And that's why you'll always be a fool, Sasuke," Itachi said, though there was no malice or teasing in his voice. He turned once again to leave. "I'm getting rid of this burden now. It's a pain to carry it around for much longer."

"I'll join up with you after," I promised.

"Hmph," Itachi grunted, not turning around. "You assume I want you around." He continued to walk away.

"I'll see you later, then," I said, happiness swelling inside of me. For the first time in my life, I finally seemed to be on my own path, and not something forged for me by someone else. That, I found, was the true power I had been seeking all these years. The power over myself, and my destiny. Nothing else could compare.

I turned to head back to where I left Naruto. The blonde was on his feet, and seemed to be spaced out, his shirt lifted as he looked down at his belly, which was bare from any markings of the seal. He looked up at me as I approached, tears overflowing in his eyes.

"You're free," I said simply, watching him. "We're both free."

Naruto let out a laugh and flung his arms around me. I stumbled back from the sudden contact and was about to resist, but instead found myself relaxing in his hold. Gradually, my arms wrapped around him. We stood there as the blonde cried into my shoulder.

"You're so pathetic, dobe," I said, with a small smile. My eyes watered slightly from emotion. I knew how much this meant for Naruto. His whole life he had been shunned and cursed for the demon inside his body by an ignorant town that couldn't see that he was a savior protecting them from the scourge of the fox.

"Heh," Naruto said, wiping his eyes with his fist as he pulled away. "Not as pathetic as you."

I smirked. "Now without that demon, I can beat you blindfolded with my limbs bound."

"You'd like to think you could," Naruto grinned at me. His face turned serious for a moment. "Sasuke….are you coming home?"

"I have no home," I stated bluntly.

Naruto's face fell, but he looked like he had been expecting that answer.

"I'll be fine dobe. I'm stronger than you after all," I said, giving him a light punch in the arm.

Naruto laughed. "Next time you see me, I'll be Hokage, and then you'll have to refer to me as dobe-sama," he said giving me a playful shove back.

I smiled, a little sad. I was sure I'd see Naruto again, but parting ways suddenly seemed painful. We'd never be apart though. Not really. As rivals, we would always be pushing each other to get better, even when not physically present. When I saw Naruto next, I wanted to remain more than a match for him. Training with Itachi, I was sure to reach that objective.

"Well, I'll see you around," Naruto said, stepping back. "I'll tell Sakura you send her a kiss." He made an exaggerated kissy face before laughing and springing away into the trees and I lunged at him. I grinned and watched as he disappeared in the direction of Konoha.

"That dobe…" I smiled to myself.

I turned on my heel and walked in the direction of the setting sun. Though the sun was setting on the horizon, it was finally rising in my life.

Brother, I've come a long way. I hope that through all this you can be proud of me, and I'll continue to work hard so I'll always stand out in your eyes. Through all the loss, anger, rage and hatred, I've learned to cope, finally opening up to the power I've found through friendship and love. Before I would've called them weak. I guess that just proves how much I've grown. True strength doesn't come with vengeance and mastering hatred. It's the ability to free myself from my past and forgive in order to move ahead on my own chosen path. Despite your actions that hurt me, you really were looking out for me, nii-san, in the strange, sadistic way you go about things. The Akatsuki are sure to realize what happened and come after you, but we'll be ready for them. The two of us together are unstoppable. I'll continue to improve and get stronger, and step out of your shadow into my own light.

I smiled and walked out into the gathering twilight.

- Fin -

Well, that's all folks! Thank you so much for your support and sticking with this fic! Itachi and Sasuke forever! (heh, with a little bit of SasuNaru on the side 'wink')