Part IV. The Waves Arisen in the Eye of the Storm
Leaf and Cloud had jointly occupied Mist village in Naruto’s absence, and were presently in negotiations for a favorable settlement with Stone country. Sound was not expected to secure any new territory in the deal, but there would probably be a few token concessions regarding trade agreements to compensate for their losses. Naruto supposed that none of it would really matter, for long.
Envoys had been sent from Sound to catalog and make copies of the contents of foreign libraries, their costs covered by the treasury, and a large contingent of shadow clones had begun training in private, specifically toward the goal of earth elemental manipulation. He had enough chakra now to reduce the time it should take by orders of magnitude.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t working.
He wasn’t sure why, exactly, but it hadn’t taken long to realize that all his clones were making literally zero measurable progress on any new elements, and despite all his attempts to experiment with unusual approaches, and the massed efforts of thousands of clones, the problem still persisted after weeks. He’d read every book that existed on elemental training but so little was generally known about these things that he couldn’t really be surprised when none of it helped. He guessed that there was probably just some hard limit involved—something that couldn’t be worked around with shadow clones, like maybe he had to have spent some minimum length of time burning chakra before a second element could ever be reached, or he had to shape a certain quantity of it, and when he split into the clones he was only getting a tiny fraction of that value, so that each hour’s training with one of a thousand bodies only gave one one-thousandth of the necessary progress or something.
It seemed that even with practically unlimited chakra he would still be stuck with just a single element for a while. That meant no earth clones, even after the unexpected success of the water clone technique, and the obvious utility of his shadow clones. It would have been fair to say he was feeling a little impatient to try it out.
With his three months almost over Naruto left a clone stationed at the entrance of Sound, invisible, waiting to welcome Sasuke or Hinata in once he saw them with his byakugan.
On the morning of the specified date he spotted Sasuke making his way along the road. His clone shimmered into view and leapt down from the tree.
“Hey! Welcome back!” he said. “Where’s Jiraiya?”
Sasuke nodded his head in greeting. “Left me with the toads as soon as we got there,” he said. “It’s fine though. They trained me better than he would have. Did you hit a growth spurt?”
“Oh, no, this is just my sage mode,” Naruto said. “I don’t know what animal I’m supposed to look like but I grow a bit taller when I do it.”
“You’re in it now?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I actually can’t turn it off without a huge inconvenience, so I guess I’m just in it forever, from now on.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Sasuke said. “Do you have a little slug hiding in your pants? Or whatever?”
“Do I—what? …No?”
Sasuke cupped his hands around a small mottled-brown toad in his pouch and showed it off to Naruto. “I’ve gotta wear this guy on my head if I want to walk around in sage mode,” Sasuke said. “How do you do it without an animal?”
“Oh—wow, is that how Jiraiya and Orochimaru did it? I just have a trick with my clones. You got the sage mode too, then, from the toads?”
“Yeah. You wanna see it?”
“Let’s spar a bit, then,” Sasuke said. “I’ll show you some of the new shit I can do. It’s pretty good.”
“Alright,” Naruto said, following him out toward a clearing in the forest. “I should warn you, though; my new stuff’s pretty good too. Lots of chakra.”
“Nothing new, then?” Sasuke smirked. “Check this shit out.”
He put the toad gently down on his head. It gripped his hair with its little toad fingers and started channeling nature chakra into Sasuke.
Abruptly, a pair of white bones emerged from Sasuke’s mouth, like teeth, curling out in front of his face.
“You have tusks?”
Sasuke flicked one with a finger.
“How did you get tusks?”
“Elephants never forget,” Sasuke said.
“Wow, that’s so much better than my stupid thing,” Naruto said. “You’re lucky your nose didn’t grow really long and floppy, though, if you’re an elephant.”
“I’d still do it,” Sasuke said. “I’d wear a bright green jumpsuit if I had to, for all this. Partnering up with you was a pretty good deal.”
Naruto summoned a few clones to spar with. The forest was full of his copies already, but there was no reason to pull them off duty.
“You ready?” Sasuke asked
Naruto nodded. It would be hard for him to be caught unaware with so many byakugan around. He could even assign clones to sleep for him, now, en masse.
Sasuke hopped from foot to foot, warming up.
“Alright, here I come.”
He kicked off with a trajectory low to the ground, minimizing travel time and keeping his feet near the ground for course correction. Two of Naruto’s clones burst before they could scatter, and Sasuke managed to catch a third on their way out.
The remaining clones summoned a dozen new copies each and moved to encircle Sasuke. He was moving with a kind of controlled precision Naruto hadn’t seen from him before—Sasuke had long had access to the raw acceleration, through Orochimaru’s seal, but now he’d learned how to use it. Even Kakashi hadn’t been quite this fast.
“Hey, what’s that thing you’re doing?” Naruto asked. “You keep bursting my clones without landing hits on them.”
Sasuke didn’t pause as he replied. “It’s called Frog Kata. Learned it from the toads.”
Naruto scratched his head. “…Uhh, so why don’t they call it Toad Kata, then?”
“Jiraiya named it,” Sasuke replied. “He said this tested better with the female demographic.”
Naruto could see Sasuke’s attacks glancing by their targets, seeming to miss but bursting his clones regardless. The strikes were only weak, but that was likely a conscious choice—he was only using what power was necessary, knowing that the clones couldn’t take much of a hit. His lightning-infused skin made him hard to hit directly.
Naruto could last as long as he wanted, so he felt no particular hurry to fight back. He enjoyed watching Sasuke exercise his new powers, and it was probably pretty convenient for Sasuke to have someone he could unleash himself against without fearing he might accidentally cause a real injury. The clones put up only a little resistance, raising occasional shields up for Sasuke to break through with his chidori.
“Are you going easy on me?” Sasuke said, laughing. “Where’s the big clone ambush from behind?”
“Hey, it’s an endurance battle!” Naruto replied. “I just have to wait until I win.”
Naruto felt one of his clones in the forest burst unexpectedly, some miles away from where they were sparring.
“Whoa! How did you hit that one?”
Sasuke faced the body that had spoken. “Which one?”
“The clone like… three miles that way,” he said, pointing.
“I didn’t,” he replied.
“Oh,” Naruto said. “Must’ve bitten my tongue by accident. Or a bug got me.”
“Last time you said that we were under attack.”
“Yeah, but I know what I’m doing now,” Naruto said, “and my byakugan range overlaps, so—oh, damn it… Yeah, another one just popped… I think we’re under attack.”
“Who is it?” Sasuke asked, coming to a halt. “Should we head back to Sound?”
“I… don’t know…?” Naruto said. “I don’t see anything, but still…”
He filled the forest with even more clones, searching left and right with overlapping byakugan, trying to see past the thousands of irrelevant beetles and grubs to notice something that shouldn’t have been there, but it was his clones in the clearing with Sasuke that noticed it first.
A howling in the distance, like a wild cry for joy coming from a black speck, right up above them in the sky.
The speck differentiated itself into two dark spots as it came closer, and the sound became clearer.
A cloaked figure smashed into the earth, kicking up a shower of dust and dirt as the ground compressed beneath him. A second figure followed a moment later, with a gentler landing. They wore black cloaks, with red clouds.
The first one, a blue-skinned ninja with beady eyes pointed an enormous sword wrapped in bandages at him. He grinned, showing rows of pointed teeth.
“Uuuuuzumaki Naruto! Let’s fight!”
The ninja charged toward him, clearing a swath through his foremost shadow clones. The others, looking past him, saw Sasuke staring at the blue ninja’s companion—they saw the resemblance in his face, the red and black in his eyes. The same face he had seen on Kabuto’s cards, months ago.
“Run!” Naruto shouted. “I’m safe, you’re not, get to—”
Sasuke shook his head. “No.”
“What? Don’t be stupid!” Naruto said. “He’s got a friend, he’s ambushed us—even if you want to fight this is a terrible—”
“I’m ready,” Sasuke said, as Itachi gazed impassively at the two of them. “Kill the blue one if you want, but don’t interfere.”
“What do you mean don’t interfere?” Naruto exclaimed. “You want me to just let you get yourself killed?”
“If I die, I’ll die, but I’m doing this.” Sasuke said. “I don’t want him to be distracted watching out for you while we fight. Promise me you won’t interfere.”
“What do you care if he’s distracted!”
“This is important to me,” Sasuke said. “It has to be real. If you care about me at all, Naruto… make the promise.”
“Shit,” Naruto said, watching the blue ninja race off in pursuit of the greater mass of his clones.
It was a terrible choice—but how could he justify keeping Sasuke from the one thing he’d been chasing his whole life? Even if the timing was atrocious, he might really never get another chance at it. Not if Naruto had to fight him off just to survive.
“Alright, I promise,” Naruto said. “But you have to promise not to die, okay? I mean it.”
Sasuke’s eyes gleamed with an easy confidence. “Yeah, alright,” he said. “I promise. But give us some room, okay? No clones for a few miles.”
He might not have been able to call himself a good teammate for leaving, but he definitely couldn’t have kept calling himself Sasuke’s partner if he stayed.
Naruto’s clones raced toward the nearby lake. Apart from drawing one of the enemies away from Sasuke—his highest priority—Naruto would have the advantage there of the water, making his elemental techniques all the quicker and cheaper to employ.
As far as he could tell, he was still fairly safe, personally. Not even Uchiha Itachi could stop him from just bursting every clone in the vicinity, but doing that would mean abandoning Sasuke to die.
Then again, they had been aware of his clones and his byakugan when they’d attacked; they must have thrown some long range projectile with the sharingan from far overhead to have burst his clones and avoid early detection—he couldn’t take the two of them lightly.
He tried to stay as far ahead of the blue Akatsuki ninja as possible, but he was fast; he tore through the trees and through Naruto’s clones alike, swinging his huge bandage-wrapped sword. He was physically enormous, too, as tall as any ninja he’d ever seen. It felt like he was being chased by some kind of wild monster. And it was laughing. Naruto threw clones into his path to slow him down, but he made no effort even to dodge them, swinging his sword happily through each one, cackling like a madman.
It took Naruto far too long to understand why. Every time a clone broke on his sword the bandages shivered a little, progressively loosening as dark barbs grew and forced themselves through the gaps, straining at their bindings. The wriggling blade seemed to grow only more excited with every technique that came at it, seeking out his whirlpool drills almost as if it was feeding on them.
The last of the bandages tore open, exposing a great mouth at the tip of the thing. It scarcely qualified as a sword anymore—it was a bulging, spiny worm, being swung around by the tail.
“I’ve never seen it so excited!” the Akatsuki ninja shouted. “You must be a real feast!”
If that thing really was growing stronger by consuming chakra then he could be the worst possible kind of enemy for Naruto to face. He wished he could have just vanished and started the fight over again, but Sasuke would be even less likely to survive if he had to fend off two of them at once.
Naruto burst through the trees and ran out onto the surface of the water, discharging chakra from his feet to keep himself from sinking. The Akatsuki kept up his pursuit, erupting into laughter again.
“Oh! And you’ve lured me to a lake! I’m in love!”
Naruto didn’t like the sound of that at all.
He was hesitant to go on the offensive against a ninja that seemed not only to be unharmed but was potentially growing stronger with every attack, but at this point, if he just stopped resisting and the Akatsuki got bored, he wasn’t sure whether he could actually stop him if he simply chose to go after Sasuke instead. He ripped through clones like they weren’t even there.
The sword-beast in the Akatsuki’s hand writhed in excitement—it seemed to be compressing itself—no, it was wriggling up into the flesh of the Akatsuki ninja’s arm. Spines began to sprout from his pallid skin, his neck thickening and his mouth growing wide. There was a kind of webbing between his fingers now, as he formed a hand-seal, and a torrent of water gushed from his throat, washing over his transformation.
The lake bulged upward, rising beneath his feet to envelope dozens of clones beneath its surface. They could see with their byakugan the shape he took—this monstrous ninja who had somehow fused with his monster-sword, swimming freely now inside the giant dome of water he’d created, as some kind of humanoid shark.
Drawing water from the lake the sphere continued to expand as Naruto’s clones were destroyed, reaching titanic proportions and sucking the lakebed dry to support its shape.
Gills, fins, tail—the Akatsuki raged through the water he’d encapsulated, tearing through clone after clone as the bodies duplicated themselves, fruitlessly trying to swim out to the surface.
Naruto saw from the outside that the entire structure was moving more quickly than he himself could run; it was anchored to the shark in the center, and he swam with a speed that outpaced a ninja on land—the entire globe of water was the weapon, he was fighting the water itself—a literal sea-monster that could entrap clones in its liquid mass just as easily as the beast at its core ripped apart whatever was caught.
Naruto had never before really doubted that he could win an endurance battle, but several of his clones had already been killed halfway through trying to calculate how long he could maintain this kind of absurd chakra expenditure. He had 6500 mc/sec coming out of his chakra manufactory, but just supplying enough bait to keep the shark from eliminating him and then moving onto Sasuke was burning mc at a rate that would have exhausted most ninja within seconds.
Hundreds of clones burst into existence to scatter in all directions as flocks of bodies were torn through in an instant, barely a few escaping out the other side to either be re-enveloped when the shark turned back, or to flee into the trees, where they could observe with growing panic. He’d never imagined such a pace of destruction could be maintained by anyone—never thought that there could be any other ninja who could push him like this.
He could feel his injuries beginning to take their toll; he’d brought up a thousand more clones in the desert of Sand country just to dilute the damage a little further, and a good number of his clones were able to bite their own tongues underwater before they were eaten, but the pain was accumulating, and he felt himself being very quickly worn down.
He wished he’d made more water clones for the factory when he’d had the chance—but even if he condensed himself now back into a single body with enough root-level regeneration to create water clones with a net positive regen, they wouldn’t be full and ready to overflow for days, and until then he’d have even less strength available to fight with.
The shark seemed to be slowly growing stronger with each clone it consumed—the watery globe expanding as it annihilated every one that failed to escape.
This was the kind of strength wielded by the most powerful ninja of the world. This was the kind of enemy he would have to face if he wanted to follow in the footsteps of the First Hokage.
He had to attack. He had to defeat the beast; to kill the shark in its own environment, if necessary. This was his test, and if he failed it Sasuke would die.
His barrier technique was useless; the shark had broken through more than one with ease. Physical strikes were too slow underwater, and the raging wave technique barely nudged him—it wasn’t even a distraction underwater, and the whirlpool couldn’t even be aimed into him properly with the extra resistance slowing every movement.
The shark danced out of the way and broke through even his best coordinated attacks, piercing any lattice of clones that thought to surround him. Needing to breathe underwater meant having to burst within a minute or so even if a clone had managed temporarily to survive, while the shark prioritized other areas more dense with bodies first.
Only one technique appeared to have any chance of constraining him. His scattered clones got the message and gradually began to accrete on the exterior of the dome; a layer of bodies standing on the surface of the water even as it moved, mc burning by the thousand every second just to get into position. The shark couldn’t grab at them, at least, as long as they had enough chakra to keep themselves from falling into his pool.
They formed the seals in sync; first Ram, then Tiger; then the rest was all manual control. That was what made the technique so difficult to learn, but he had trained hard in the forest, and the feel of it was familiar to him now.
Syrup streamed from each of his clones, extending into the water and gradually converting all it touched to a haze of thick, sticky sap.
The shark charged toward them, but as his dome moved so did the syrup at its surface. The steadily expanding fields mingled between his clones, forming a syrupy wall that grew inward from all sides, darkening the water as it diffused the light of the sun.
With his byakugan, he saw the shark hesitate. It formed its webbed fingers into seals and then shook the beast back out of his arm, returning to his human form. He formed another seal, trying to dispel his water technique entirely, but Naruto’s dense syrup had already confined the water within its membrane; even without the shark’s control it held its shape, being transformed, completely.
He tried to make more of the water. It surged from his mouth, but he was in a race against Naruto’s entire factory, and his efforts made no visible difference against the incoming wave.
The Akatsuki transformed again, taking the beast back within his arm as the syrup enveloped him in the center, regaining the use of the gills that had kept him safe in the water, but even the shark couldn’t breathe in the viscous sap.
He thrashed, charging toward the edge of the now-stationary globe that had him trapped at its core, but there were clones packed densely on its entire surface, now, and they grew the syrup around him faster than the shark could force his way through it, their own expenditures lessened by the easy availability of the lake’s water.
The shark did not transform again, or move to offer any sign of surrender.
He clung fast to life, writhing with his last energies as he was starved of air. Thrashing as he slowly drowned.
Naruto’s clones watched the life fade from his beady eyes, and dove down into the syrup with kunai between their teeth.
Together, they took the creature’s head.
Only then did Naruto rest, and only for a second, while the clones nearer to the body confirmed the death both of the ninja and the sword-beast still joined within him.
Then, he had to move again, to return to Sasuke, unsure what he would find or how close to approach. He carried the head of the shark, a thick wedge-shaped thing with no hair to grip. Even the teeth were too sharp to hold on to, but his fingers fit the gills.
Waves crashed toward the lake’s edge as the syrup turned back to water and the heavy dome fell in on itself, engulfing just a little more of the grass than it had before.
He found Sasuke straddling his brother’s still-living body, seemingly in no hurry to finish him off. Severed limbs were scattered across the clearing. Itachi lay on his back in a pool of blood, the stumps of his appendages half-cauterized.
Sasuke had kept his promise. If any of Itachi’s illusions had been involved, the byakugan would have seen through them.
With his sharingan Sasuke saw Naruto in the distance, and waved him over.
“Naruto, good timing,” he said as the shadow clone approached. “I want you to see this.”
Naruto felt like an intruder, now, in the middle of what looked like it would be the final conversation between the two brothers.
“Itachi, this is my training partner, Uzumaki Naruto,” he said. “You remember the Uzumaki clan, don’t you? They branched off the Senju a while back, but all the other Senju ‘cept Tsunade are dead, so I guess that means pretty soon he’ll be the very last one… Yeah, that’s right… The last of the Senju clan is here to watch you die… and I’m in his debt, too, so when I kill you, I’ll finally be able to pay him back. I’m going to break our most ancient law and give this Senju your beloved eyes.”
Naruto looked at him, hesitant. “Hey, Sasuke… is it safe to be sitting there?”
“Yeah, he wasn’t so tough,” Sasuke replied. “He’s been coughing blood all over the place for a while. Barely alive, right now… What’s the fish head for?”
“Oh, uh… the other guy, he turned into a shark,” Naruto said. “Crazy fight—these guys are at a really high level, it might be safer to just… well, you know.”
“I can get it over with, if you want,” Naruto said.
“No. I’ll be the one…” Sasuke said. “You know, I read in Sound’s intelligence records that the Uchiha clan were actually plotting a coup in Leaf, right before Itachi slaughtered them all.”
Naruto wasn’t aware of that—he hadn’t thought to treat outdated intelligence reports as valuable reading material, but in hindsight he really should have. He couldn’t really be surprised that the Uchiha had tried a thing like that, though—really; he should have been surprised it took that long for a clan with sole authority over all internal policing to try to grab power.
“For a while now I’ve wanted to ask him why he did it…” Sasuke said, “I thought—I thought maybe there was something else I was missing, you know? Something he’d been waiting years for a chance to explain. But you know what he said?”
“…What did he say?”
“Yeah. Honor. He said that he wanted to ‘protect the name of the Uchiha’,” Sasuke said, staring down at his brother. “And he said it like he really fucking believed it.”
He beat his fist on his brother’s chest to punctuate his words. “Like it was a good thing,” he said, “to hide the crimes of his kin. To kill Teyaki’s daughter. She was eight years old! How could she have even known what a coup was!”
There were tears in Sasuke’s eyes. Naruto put a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m going to kill him for that,” Sasuke said. “I’m going to kill you, Itachi, but if I’m going to take up the hereditary right of the Uchiha to play judge and executioner, this one last time, then I think it’s only appropriate that you hear your full sentence first, because I’m not just going to kill you… I’m going to undo everything you ever hoped to achieve. I’m going to be the last of the Uchiha—the last one ever, and I’m going to make sure that in all the histories that ever mention us, the reason they’ll say that the ancient and noble clan of Uchiha went extinct was that they were a pit of vipers—that they were cannibals, and we were so treacherous and self-destructive and poisonous that we betrayed the only people who ever put any trust in us. Our name—our honorable name, that you care so much about—it will be piss and mud. Forever.”
Sasuke pressed his fingers against his brother’s chest, channeling the lightning chakra of his chidori as he pushed his hand-slowly through the flesh, deep into Itachi’s beating heart.
The last signs of life faded as Itachi passed away.
Sasuke leaned back on his brother’s body, turning his head up to the sky.
He closed his eyes. “…you know, Naruto…” he said, “all that stuff you were talking about…”
“That shit about wanting to change things…” he said. “It’s not stupid. This whole fucking world, it’s sick… It’s disgusting. I hate it…”
Naruto said nothing.
“I don’t know what you want to do,” Sasuke said, “or, if it’s even possible, or what, but I wouldn’t mind helping you to do it now, if you want… I’ve got nothing better to do, anymore.”
“Oh—uh, okay,” Naruto said. “I mean, we can talk about it later, if you want. Are you okay, though?”
Sasuke sniffed, smiling. “Yeah,” he said. “Just killed my brother. And now he’s dead. It’s good…”
A tear slipped down his cheek.
Naruto saw a different shape to the sharingan in his eyes. A six-pointed star.
“Hey, uh, your eye…”
“Shit…” Sasuke said. “It happened, didn’t it… I fucking knew it would fucking happen… Fucking… shit.”
He wiped his eyes and stood up off of Itachi’s body.
“What’s the matter?” Naruto asked. “It’s the upgraded sharingan, isn’t it? Isn’t it better than the old one?”
“The mangekyou sharingan only comes when you kill someone you love,” he said. “I was always scared I’d get it from killing him. I didn’t want it react like I still loved him. I hated him.”
“Hey, man, don’t worry what some eyeball thinks. It might not even really operate that way, you know? Like maybe it’s just reacting to your happy memories or whatever. Who knows how this stuff actually works,” he said. “Just think of it as a free upgrade.”
He sniffed. “The sharingan is never free… Well, I guess it will be for you. I meant what I said about you having his eyes. I don’t need them, and it’s only fair after you convinced the old man to take me to the toads.”
Naruto smiled. “I told you we’d make a good team. But, shouldn’t you take your brothers eyes for yourself? For that third special sharingan upgrade? That’s why he wanted yours in the first place, right?”
“Oh yeah,” Sasuke said, “I’m still not thinking straight. So many fucking emotions, today. I’ll take his ones then, and you can have my pair, I guess.”
He cut the eyeballs free from his brother’s head with a small blade of chakra.
“I practiced a bit of Kabuto’s medical stuff while I was gone, too,” he said. “I can probably do the operation myself if Hinata’s still not back.”
“I think you might have to, actually,” Naruto said. “Kabuto left Sound on an errand a few days ago and he should have been back by now. I’m starting to think he betrayed us. He was due to meet someone from Akatsuki a while back, remember? I was away from the village at the time, too, so it’s possible he was the one who told them how to find us. Maybe they assumed I’d only be coming back today too, or something.”
“Well, we shouldn’t let these get stale,” Sasuke said. “Here goes, I guess.”
Naruto flinched, watching Sasuke dig his own eyes out.
“Hold these for a second,” he said, handing him the two bloody eyeballs.
Naruto took them, looking on in apprehension as Sasuke implanted his brother’s eyes in the empty sockets, and healed the muscle and tissue into place.
He blinked, looking around. “Alright. Did it change at all?”
“Uh, yeah. There’s a little more blackness in it.”
“Guess it worked,” Sasuke said. “Kinda surprising, actually. But I guess I won’t have to go blind now. You can give the extra one to Hinata, if you want, or just keep it until your one goes bad. Shit—maybe I should have tried putting one of mine into Itachi while he was still alive, just to see if the eyes would keep their upgrade once I took them back out.”
After running through a quick check to make sure that everything would be okay, Naruto dispelled all of his shadow clones spaced out across the continent. He’d need to be able to suffer some physical “harm” without bursting to have an eyeball removed and replaced. The water clones in his chakra factory could operate safely without supervision, and he could almost instantly repopulate himself and flee with all the extra chakra coming in, but he preferred to keep a shadow clone with them, just in case.
He lay down on his back to steady himself for Sasuke to perform the transplant. He wouldn’t have the benefit of anesthetic, this time, but he would have felt embarrassed to complain after what Sasuke had just done.
Naruto felt the new eye healing into place, and then saw Sasuke’s head jerk back.
“What?” Naruto asked. “Oh wait, did this one turn into the third sharingan, too?”
“Y—yeah… It did, I think…” Sasuke replied. “Why would it… we’re not related or anything, are we?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Naruto said, “I was actually thinking about this the other day, though. I was going to ask you once you were back, actually; you said the only one to ever get this third-level thing working was Uchiha Madara, right? And that before just now it hadn’t worked when anyone else had tried it?”
“Was there any part in your clan records that said how Madara originally knew that it would only work with his brother’s eyes?”
“No, he was just desperate,” Sasuke said. “He needed a new pair of eyes because his were fading, and his brother was the only other person around with the mangekyou. He took them even though he thought that they would eventually go blind too… He was pure Uchiha, down to the bone.”
“Right—it’s just that, as an outsider, that sounded a little strange,” Naruto said. “Like, first the basic sharingan requires this intense emotional experience of fear to awaken it, right? And then the mangekyou sharingan requires an even more intense and specific emotional experience, when you have to kill somebody you care about, or something like that, but then the third one, this eternal mangekyou—it supposedly requires nothing more than a sibling with the mangekyou and a quick medical procedure? A procedure that should allow for two people to just politely exchange their eyes, at no real cost?”
“What, you don’t think that’s how it really works?” Sasuke asked.
“I don’t know—I just was thinking, like, wouldn’t it make more sense if the rule was actually more like ‘you have to take the eyes from someone who cared about you’, or something, and then maybe the activation is somehow related to those emotions of sacrifice or caring or whatever? Because that sounds a lot more like the other two levels, to me, and it would explain why the process just inexplicably failed for everyone after Madara, who thought it was based on kinship. Maybe the other Uchiha who tried to kill their siblings just weren’t the most widely-beloved sorts of people, you know?”
“Madara’s brother did love him…” Sasuke said. “But that would mean… what about Itachi?”
Sasuke looked at the body of his brother. Naruto hadn’t actually thought of that.
“Oh, well… uh…”
Sasuke crouched by his brother’s side, looking into his gaping eye sockets.
“Do you think—” his chin trembled as he spoke. “Do you think he—that he might’ve still loved me, somehow?”
“I, uh… I don’t—” Naruto stammered. “But—I mean—how could an eyeball know anything, anyway, right?”
“…I really—I really hate him…”
Sasuke collapsed to his knees, tears streaming from his blood-red eyes. “I just hate him so much…”
A couple of trustworthy Sound civilians were found to temporarily take Sasuke’s leftover mangekyou eye and Naruto’s last remaining original one in exchange for a small compensation from the treasury. Naruto wanted to try to keep track of his natural eyes even if there wasn’t much use for them; Medical ninjutsu couldn’t grow things like that back if he ever had to, and at the rate his team seemed to be swapping around eyeballs it didn’t seem impossible that he might regret losing them, at some point. Once Hinata arrived with Tsunade she would be able to take Sasuke’s leftover sharingan. It seemed that it did hold the upgraded form, even after being removed from Naruto’s head and replaced again—but it had to be kept fresh until then. There wouldn’t be a single normal eye left between the three of them.
The sharingan was amazing. He couldn’t yet make use of the special perception-distorting torture genjutsu that it enabled—the “Tsukiyomi” illusion technique—but Sasuke thought it would be a while before either of them could handle it. But still, even the use of the sharingan alone was remarkable; he could see everything, in any direction he looked, though the vision didn’t combine with the byakugan in any special way.
It was almost like he could think faster, just to take it all in. Not a bad edge to have in a thousand minds at once.
Naruto wasted no time in spreading himself out across the continent again, with clones that were free to move at their full speed, unbridled by limitations on chakra. He would definitely have to start expanding his chakra factory as soon as possible, though, in case he ever met another enemy like the shark ninja.
It was still only late morning when his clone scouts spotted Hinata on the road, making haste on her way back to Sound. There was a faint purple diamond on her head, like Tsunade’s, but she was alone, and clearly distressed.
She called out to the first clone that got close to her. “I didn’t know what to do—they’re gone!”
“What?” he replied. “Who’s gone? Tsunade?”
“Tsunade, and Shizune and Jiraiya too. He was with us, but they were all gone when I woke up—the note said they were going to go kill the head of Akatsuki!”
“Oh, uh…” he said, “is that—is that bad?”