A/N: I apologize for the comparably shorter chapter, but I wanted to reassure those of you still following that I haven't abandoned the story and/or died. Unfortunately, my first year of grad school has been ridiculously busy. Hopefully, I'll get to finish up the last handful of chapters over the summer. Hope you enjoy!
Chapter 23:With Friends Like These
Upon hearing Sasuke's declaration, Higurashi rolled his eyes. "Oh brother. We're having another pity party already? Sorry, I left all my angst-ridden music and cheap booze back at the hotel."
"I am not—"
"Stuff it, Sasuke. You are and you know it." After a thoughtful pause, Higurashi added, "It's not all that bad, y'know."
Sasuke stared at him. Not that bad?
Not that bad?
"You... you—" Sasuke stuttered, momentarily at a loss for words, before hissing, "You killed me."
"Whaaaat? Did not!"
"You took away my life!"
"Oh please," Higurashi interrupted with a sigh. "What, you're sore that little Sasuke-chan probably got himself killed in your world before you got the chance to do it for yourself? What a tragedy! Now I really feel bad."
Sasuke gaped at him for what felt like the hundredth time. Sasuke couldn't believe he had the audacity to—God, he was just so... just so—
"...fucking annoying. Even more annoying than—I didn't think it was even possible—"
Higurashi's laughter cut him off. "Like they say, life's just full of surprises. And anyway," He continued before Sasuke could respond, "Why would you wanna go back to your world? That place sucks. Plus, Itachi's here. I thought you'd be happy about that." After some contemplation, he added, "Is it because Danzo's still alive?"
"Hm," Higurashi gave him an odd look. After a few seconds, he slammed his hand down onto the table."Okay, let's go kill him."
Sasuke gave him a wide-eyed stare. "I—What? Wh—" How was he even supposed to respond to that?
"No, really. Let's do it," Higurashi said, pushing his empty ramen bowl away from him as he rose from his seat. "Nobody likes Danzo, anyway. He's kind of a dick."
Sasuke opened his mouth to respond, and then stopped himself. Higurashi had a point.
"It'd be over in seconds. We could just pop in and out… no one would even have to know," Higurashi continued. "Or if you want, I could always zap him somewhere else… I bet Orochimaru and Gamabunta could use a friend right about now," Higurashi chuckled. "And then there you go, problem solved!"
"I—no. Problem not solved," Sasuke crossed his arms. "It's not just because of Danzo." It was a whole lot more than just Danzo… "It's not Danzo," Sasuke repeated, almost more to himself than Higurashi. "It's Konoha."
"Ah," Higurashi nodded slowly. "So you don't want to live in Konoha. Okay, I get it."
Higurashi was quiet for several minutes. He appeared to be deep in thought, eyes glazed as he surveyed the area; suddenly, he broke out into a grin and snapped his fingers. "What about this place?"
Sasuke blinked up at him. "What?"
"You don't like Konoha and you can't go back to your own time—so just live here. Hell, I live here half of the time—but don't worry, I won't bother you much!"
"You're—" Sasuke wanted to say crazy, but at this point it was starting to sound redundant, even to him, "I can't just... Where would I live—what would I even do—"
"Well, you'd do whatever you want to!" Higurashi's grin widened. "So basically what you always do, except here instead of Konoha."
"I don't even know where the hell we are!"
"And as for where you'd live…"
Sasuke let out a muffled groan—it was nice to know that older Naruto also had selective hearing. At least some things were consistent.
"There," Higurashi said, pointing out past the marketplace, towards what appeared to be a residential area. "There's some real nice houses down there. Just pick out your favorite and I'll take care of it!"
Suspicious, Sasuke let his eyes follow the direction Higurashi was pointing. It looked like an ordinary neighborhood, similar to the housing areas back in Konoha. "My favorite?" He repeated back, tone skeptical.
Something was a little off. "Right... I'm sure any one of the owners will just go and let you buy their property out of the blue, just because you asked."
Higurashi frowned, confusion evident on his features. "Buy?"
"Yes, buy. How else would you plan on getting a damned house?" Sasuke glared. "And don't just tell me you were going to zap them away, because that's... ridiculous..." Higurashi's grin turned sheepish, and as Sasuke spoke those last words, he felt his voice weaken and a growing sense of horror wash over him.
"Like I said, I'll take care of it," Higurashi repeated, dismissing Sasuke's words with a brief wave of his hand. Sasuke remained silent, and after a moment Higurashi gave him a curious look. "Is something wrong?"
Sasuke only continued to gaze up at him in silence. His voice, his messy blonde hair, his bright blue eyes—his build, his tan, the whiskers on his cheeks—he was just so Naruto.
But he wasn't Naruto.
He wasn't Naruto at all.
"You're getting dramatic again, Sasuke. Of course I'm Naruto. I might be a bit older, sure, but I haven't forgotten my name yet."
"No," Sasuke almost whispered, shaking his head in disbelief. "You're not. You're nothing like Naruto."
When Higurashi didn't respond, Sasuke spoke up. "The Naruto I know isn't this selfish. He's—he's so not selfish that he makes the most stupid, idiotic, downright moronic decisions. He's optimistic to the point of delusion and so damned forgiving that it almost makes me sick, and he would never—he'd never do half of the things you've done. Not ever," Sasuke shook his head one last time before locking eyes with Higurashi. "You... you can't just fuck up people's lives just because you feel like it, just because it amuses you—" He stopped and took a moment to collect his thoughts before continuing, "I can't believe you'd even...You can't just get rid of people who are in the way just because it's convenient."
"Why not?" Higurashi said. "You do it."
Immediately, Sasuke opened his mouth to deny this—because it obviously wasn't true—but no words would come out.
"Besides, they exist in billions of other parallel universes, so who cares about this one?" Higurashi pointed out. "They all look the same after awhile."
Sasuke felt a shiver run down his spine, followed shortly the familiar sensation of goosebumps washing over his body.
Who was this person standing in front of him, wearing Naruto's skin?
"You're looking a little green, Sasuke. You okay?"
Was this his fault? Had he turned Naruto into this?
"Is this about the whole 'zapping people' thing?"
Had he created Higurashi? Was he the real culprit—the real person responsible for creating this timewarp—this hell?
"Geez. It was just a little joke..."
Sasuke felt the change the moment it hit.
It was like a match flickering on in the dark—somewhat tentative, barely there, and yet compared to the darkness, it seemed brighter than any light he'd ever seen. That light was a goal—a reason for being, and Sasuke found himself clinging to it with wild abandon, because even that small spark was enough to give him some sense of purpose. Because without that purpose—without some sort of a goal, without something to drive him, Sasuke didn't know who he was.
Sasuke didn't know what the future held; that much he could admit. He didn't know what was going to happen, or even what he wanted, but in that brief moment, he found something tangible to grab onto.
"I won't let him turn into you."
"Eh?" Higurashi tilted his head in curiosity.
"I'm not going to let Naruto turn into you," Sasuke repeated slowly. "I'm not going to sit by and let you continue this fucked up cycle. It ends here, with me."
"I thought you wanted to go back to your time," Higurashi pointed out. When Sasuke only glared coldly at him in response, Higurashi rolled his eyes before sitting down and slumping back dramatically onto his chair. "You want to kill Itachi, you want to avenge Itachi—you hate Konoha, you want to fix Konoha—you want to die, you don't want to die; you want to go back, you don't want to go back—Honestly, make up your mind already. You're drivin' me crazy all over again!"
Sasuke's eye twitched—but just barely. He wasn't sure exactly what Higurashi was referring to, but at this point, he honestly didn't care. His interest in Higurashi was gone, having diminished entirely with his newfound objective: to prevent him from ever being created. Or at the very least, prevent him from being created again.
There was nothing more to say.
Higurashi stared him down for a while longer, half thoughtful and half amused. Finally, his lips curve into a knowing smile. "Ah, now that's the look I remember. The infamous Uchiha Stonewalling Technique—I get it, you're done talking."
As expected, Sasuke continued to look back at him blankly, and Higurashi gave a light chuckle at the lack of reaction. "Well, I guess it's about time for us to head back anyway. No use in sittin' around here eyeballing each other, yeah?" Glancing furtively over his shoulder, Higurashi leaned towards Sasuke and whispered, "Plus, people might start thinkin' that we're, you know, eyeballing each other."
Sasuke's blank facade momentarily broke as he gave Higurashi a disgusted look, but before he could open his mouth to reply, Higurashi had zapped them away—right into the middle of the Hokage's office, where a very startled Hiruzen was interrupted mid-conversation with an equally startled Itachi.
"Whoops!" Sasuke heard Higurashi laugh.
Itachi and Hiruzen just stood there, the latter shocked but recovering, and the former with an expression so blank that Sasuke knew it was fake.
"I didn't realize you'd have company," Higurashi said lightly. "Want us to come back later?"
Oh God, no.
"Itachi," Sasuke cut in, scrambling away from Higurashi. He looked up at his brother with wide, saucer-shaped eyes.