It’s Just That Any One of Us Is Half Without Another One Is You – Chapter Fifteen

Naruto and his yearmates face Nagato, who seems unbeatable until Naruto negotiates again with the Nine-tails and releases part of his seal. Drama, Action, I-4

Naruto stared up at the man from Akatsuki, frozen even as Sasuke and Sakura flickered to stand in front of him and Hinata snapped her hands together at his side, Byakugan live again. The man had… really strange eyes. Purple, like Naruto had never seen before and ringed. Stop looking, he told himself, it has to be a bloodline talent, he might be able to do something to you, stop looking. But at the same time he didn’t want to take his eyes off that creepily intense stare for even a second.

“So you would be the Sacrifice of Konoha,” the man said, finally, and that shook Naruto out of his stillness.

“I’m not anyone’s sacrifice,” he scowled.

The man blinked slowly. “Of course you are. Sacrificed the day you were born, according to our members from Konoha."

“Fuck that,” Naruto said, blunt and rude. If this guy was trying to hypnotize him or something, it wasn’t working! “Somebody else made that choice, yeah, but the ones since then are my own!”

“Whatever peace you may have made with your beast does not change the actions of your village,” the man said in a weirdly classroom-lecture kind of tone. “They sacrificed a newborn to make a weapon of the land’s spirit and further sacrificed your life every day after that to their own fears. Is that not so?”

Sakura’s lip curled and she slid her hands into the first seal of her release. Lightning chakra was starting to gather around Sasuke’s fingers as he glared over them. Maeda-san had melted back around the corner of the building toward Jiraiya, mouth tight, eyes burning. Shadows were starting to rustle and flicker around the edges of the plaza as people fought through whatever the hell was out in the woods to reach him, and Hinata was whispering the tally of names beside him.

“Kiba and Shino. Baki of the Sand. Choujuurou and Suigetsu of the Mist. Shikamaru, Chouji, Ino and her team. Kitsuchi of the Rock and three of his people. Iruka-sensei…”

Naruto took a long breath and looked up at the Akatsuki guy with a grin. “No,” he told him. “You’re totally wrong.” He spread his arms out, as if to take in the whole island and all the ninja on it. “Yeah, it sucked for a while. But they got over it, and I got over it, and there are a lot of important people to me in the village, now. And, um.” He let his arms drop, face getting a little hot as he glanced around at the growing rustles and emerging shinobi. “I guess I’m kind of important to them, too. So it’s good.”

Iruka-san landed off to his side, face grimmer than Naruto had ever seen it, glare fixed on the Akatsuki guy. Naruto could hear Kiba’s growl at his back. Ino glanced at him and rolled her eyes but she was smiling. Chouji nodded without looking away from their opponent, one hand resting on Shikamaru’s shoulder. Sasuke and Sakura edged a little tighter in front of him, and Naruto sure wouldn’t have wanted to be the target of the looks they were giving their enemy. The fox sniffed in the back of his mind, and Naruto thought Nine-tails was amused, probably by how warm and fluffy the whole thing made him feel, Akatsuki or no Akatsuki. He flushed deeper and stuck out his tongue at the fox, in his head, and got only a brush of a laugh in return. The fox seemed strangely mellow considering who they were facing, and he reminded himself to ask why when they had time.

The man sighed. “And in your comfort you become the willing tool of your village and its wars. I suppose that’s only to be expected.” Those strange eyes fixed on Naruto again. “Perhaps, then, it will comfort you that your last sacrifice will serve to bring peace to your village.”

“What do you mean?” Sakura snapped.

The man might have shrugged under his robe, careless of the cordon of shinobi surrounding them and him. “Once the nine tailed beasts are gathered into a single container, and its power is demonstrated to every village, there will be no more wars.”

Silence slammed down over the plaza. Every face Naruto could see was horrified, and the fox’s sudden growl was resonating down his spine to set his tails lashing.

“Nagato,” Jiraiya rasped from behind Naruto, “that won’t be a real peace.”

Naruto whipped a look over his shoulder to see Jiraiya coming slowly around the corner of the broken building, leaning heavily on Kakashi-sensei’s shoulder.

“It will be the most real peace there is,” the man—Nagato?—returned coolly. “An unbreakable one.”

“Only until people start fighting for possession of the beasts!” Jiraiya paused for a moment to catch his breath. “And didn’t you once believe that people must understand pain before they will genuinely seek peace and value it? People have to find that for themselves!” Another pause to breathe, and Jiraiya finished, sadly, “You can’t just order peace and have it stick.”

Nagato nodded calmly. “Indeed. This is a world of suffering. Pain leads to hatred and revenge, which only gives more pain. This is the nature of life, of humans, and it can only be stopped by force.” He smiled, faint and unnerving. “I will show the people what true pain is, and they will be unable to turn it toward revenge. Because that pain will be inflicted by a god. This is the only thing that can break the cycle and lead people to transcend the nature of the world.”

This guy was starting to remind Naruto of Itachi, and the creepy way he kept saying obviously crazy things in a totally normal way. Maybe all of Akatsuki was crazy.

“Nagato,” Jiraiya whispered, brows drawn in tight and pained, “what happened to you?”

“When Yahiko was killed by treachery, my eyes were opened to the nature of life.” Nagato cocked his head. “You were the one who first told us to search for peace. My answer will bring peace. Do you have any other way that will?”

“I…” Jiraiya’s jaw clenched and Nagato nodded.

“Of course not. This is the only way.”

“No it’s not!” Naruto burst out indignantly. “Hey, hey, wait a minute! You mean you used to know the ero-sennin?” Naruto’s tails lashed again, furious with his growing understanding. “You killed him! How could you do that? How could you do this?” Jiraiya had taught both Naruto and Sasuke, for crying out loud, he was amazing and he’d never have taught anyone to think like this!

“I freed him,” Nagato said, like that made any kind of sense. “My last act of respect. Release from this world is the greatest mercy, and those who die to show their people pain will be the most blessed.”

“The hell you say!” Naruto was nearly sputtering, his training piping up to join in the general outrage. “You don’t just up and kill someone who can still live! That’s for—” he broke off abruptly and swallowed. “That’s for when the pain is too much,” he finished, husky. “You… what are you thinking?” Did this guy… did he honestly think the whole world was in that kind of pain? That the whole world needed a mercy killing? That was crazy, it wasn’t peace he was talking about here it was… was… something Naruto didn’t even have words for.

Nagato looked completely serene. “Ah. You do understand, then.”

Naruto shuddered, and backed up a step, eyes wide. “No.”

He heard Jiraiya draw in a slow breath, behind him, and when the old man spoke his voice rang over the plaza, rough but clear. “Shinobi of this mission. You will stop Nagato of Akatsuki by whatever means are necessary. For this mission and for our world.” Another breath. “Nagato holds the Rinnengan bloodline talent, and can summon animals and demons, consume chakra attacks, use gravity to attack and defend, and fight with individual strength beyond anything you’ve ever seen. Kitsuchi-san, Sakura, Shikamaru, Choujuurou-kun! Coordinate attacks!”

Naruto saw a flash of rage on Nagato’s face before he was leaping aside from Kitsuchi’s fist, now sheathed in rock. “Use the time,” Kitsuchi barked and struck again, only to be met hand to hand and blocked this time, without even a tremble of Nagato’s wiry arms. Sakura hissed.

“Only chakra attacks would be strong enough to get through, but that must give him what he needs to keep this strength up,” she muttered. “Damn it!”

Suigetsu had joined Kitsuchi, sharp teeth bared as he and the massive length of his sword whirled and struck, again and again.

“The Rinnengan takes a huge amount of chakra,” Jiraiya rasped, and Naruto looked back to see Kakashi-sensei lean him against the wall and prepare to join in himself. “If we can wear him out…”

Sakura’s eyes flicked around, tallying up their force and she bit her lip. “We don’t have enough people strong in taijutsu… can we afford to call in any more from the forest and protecting B-san?”

“Not really,” Kakashi-sensei supplied dryly. “B’s dealing with the other Akatsuki, and the island is crawling with small demons and giant animals.”

One of Ino’s intelligence team popped up beside them, saluting. “Shikamaru says to overload Nagato, and that he will hold him still for it.”

Sakura’s eyes lit, and she looked at Kakashi-sensei. “If we pour in more chakra than he can take, and he can’t do anything with it… It’s like my seal! He’ll have to use his own chakra to convert and manage it, and if he can’t use the influx right away to attack, we might burn him out!”

“It’s our best chance,” Kakashi-sensei agreed and slapped the messenger on the shoulder. “Get to the other two teams and tell them to prepare a chakra assault on Nagato as soon as he’s nailed down. But keep one person back in each group, to attack after.” As the man flickered off, Kakashi lifted his forehead protector, both eyes fixed on Nagato as his fingers drifted over the scrolls in his vest.

“I can see his rate of chakra consumption,” Hinata reported, her eyes fixed on their opponent also. “I think I can tell you when he overloads.”

“That will help,” Sakura murmured, flexing her hands. “Say it loud, when he does, so those of us who have to close for this can hear you.”

Hinata nodded sharp and sure, and Naruto set his feet, feeling for his own chakra reserves. He wasn’t exactly recovered yet, and this really would hurt, but he could definitely get in at least one Rasenshuriken.

Sasuke was watching Shikamaru sliding through the rubble, angling to connect his shadow, both of them poised and taut.

Nagato finally threw Suigetsu away with an upraised hand, and the line of his sword cast a black bar of shadow on the ground, and for one moment it bridged between Shikamaru and Nagato. Lightning sprang up in Sasuke’s hand.

“Now!” Chouji bellowed. “Fall back!”

Kitsuchi sprang away and Nagato, after one frozen moment, looked down and smiled. Slowly, slowly, he started to pull his feet free of Shikamaru’s shadow. Sasuke threw a flight of Chidori Senbon at Nagato, who only laughed. The needles struck and sank into him without a trace.

“Chakra increasing,” Hinata reported tightly.

As if Sasuke’s attack had been an agreed-on signal, chakra attacks struck from all sides. Choujuurou’s sword blazed as he swung a huge hammer shape down. The knives of the Lightning Dragon sank into Nagato’s chest and legs, and Sasuke sent lightning raging down the wires. Sakura flickered forward faster than thought and slapped her hands against Nagato’s back, pouring unformed chakra through her seal and into him. Fire, Water, Earth, Ice, forms Naruto had never seen struck from every side. Naruto whipped his tails forward to shape Wind into a throwing knife that felt like it was cutting him from the inside as he dragged the chakra up, and hurled it with a yell.

Shikamaru’s shoulders were heaving with every breath, and he was curled down almost to his knees and elbows, but his hands were locked in the seal of his technique and his eyes were blazing over bared teeth.

“Still going. Still going,” Hinata called out, almost chanting as the storm of chakra whirled around Nagato, sucked into him. “Elasticity declining! Threshold! Threshold approaching!” Her eyes widened, and she suddenly screamed, “Scatter!

Everyone sprang back and and hit the ground, and Naruto spun toward Jiraiya only to feel his knees start to buckle. He only had time to pull in a desperate breath of protest before someone caught him around the middle and he was back against the wall next to Jiraiya with Hinata, Kakashi, Sasuke, and Sakura. And… there was another wall on the other side. He puzzled over that for a dizzy moment before he was set down and realized that Kitsuchi had carried him back and was sheltering them.

An explosion rolled over and above them and silence followed it.

Kitsuchi-san and Kakashi-sensei exchanged a frown, and Kitsuchi lowered the stone wall with a gesture.

Nagato stood in the middle of a plaza scoured and cracked, swaying a little on his feet and smoking. He wasn’t smiling any longer, but his eyes were as fixed and crazed as ever. Shikamaru was sprawled in Chouji’s grasp, where it looked like he’d been thrown, unconscious. Chouji looked up as they emerged and nodded once. Naruto relaxed things he hadn’t known were tense. Shikamaru was okay; good. Slowly, the other shinobi of the mission stood up from cover, on their own or over the shoulder of a comrade.

“Do you think you still have the strength to face me after that?” Nagato snarled. “Ha. And for what? Your mission? Your villages? Those who are important to you?” He drew himself up, and something Naruto couldn’t name shifted around him. “None of you have known enough pain to understand!”

“His body,” Hinata said sharply, “his muscles and bones! They’re… sheathed in his chakra!”

“The Asura path,” Jiraiya said, eyes dark. “His strongest hand to hand technique. At least we seem to have disrupted his control of the outwardly directed techniques, the summoning and gravitational ones. I hope.” He straightened and called out. “Reserve, attack!”

Kakashi’s scrolls snapped open and his pack of nin-dogs leaped to harry Nagato, to slow and distract him as Kakashi sprinted to drive a Chidori into his gut and sprang back. He was almost too late, and Nagato’s elbow strike caught his shoulder, throwing him nearly back to where Jiraiya stood.

As he was thrown back Ino’s team struck as one under her snapped orders, weaving a shifting circle of steel and elements around Nagato, dashing in again and again at any opening to slash with a knife or tear with an ink creature’s jaws or scorch with fire. Those attacks didn’t seem to penetrate very deeply, though, and Ino’s mouth was tight as she caught Kitsuchi-san’s eye. Her team made way for his rock punch, feinting a pincer from the sides to distract Nagato.

Naruto hoped when he saw Kitsuchi’s fist hit Nagato’s spine, even though it made him sick to his stomach to hope for an injury like that, like the one he’d just finished healing at such cost. But even though Nagato cried out and stumbled, he was still standing, still moving, and he took Chouji’s huge fist on his crossed arms and threw him back.

Choujuurou and Suigetsu struck together, catching Nagato in between the sweep of their monstrous swords, or they would have if he hadn’t dodged out from between them faster than Naruto’s eye could follow.

“He’s still too strong,” Kakashi-sensei murmured, kneeling beside Jiraiya, preparing for another try. “We can’t fit enough people in close enough to land a clean strike.”

That made sense, even to Naruto’s weary mind. Piling on wouldn’t do any good if no one had room to swing a fist and they didn’t have any one or even two people strong enough to match Nagato. Not even him, not right now. If B were here, maybe he could get the Eight-tails to do it, but…

Quiet fell inside Naruto. If the Eight-tails could do it, maybe the Nine-tails could.

“So,” the fox rumbled. “You have a favor to ask, hm?”

Naruto took a moment to realize that he was standing in front of the Nine-tails’ gate. He looked up at the huge red eyes glaring down at him and said, simply and quietly, “Yes.”

The fox sniffed. “And just how do you think that’s going to work?”

Naruto leaned against the wall with a tired splash of the cold water underfoot. “I don’t know. I’ve tried everything I can think of and none of it has worked.” He crossed his arms and bit his lip, trying to think. He was so tired. Finally he looked back up at the fox and asked hopefully, “I don’t suppose you’d tell me?”

“Hm.” The fox looked down his very long nose at him for a moment.

“I mean,” Naruto rambled on, “we have to stop him, right? We can’t let him take you. And we sure can’t let him kill the world!”

“Is that what he’s going to do?” the fox asked thoughtfully.

“He calls it peace.” Naruto snorted. “But then he turns around and talks about showing people more pain! And then about how the only escape is dying!” Naruto shook his head, slumping down against the wall. “He hurts. He wants to stop hurting. I’ve seen that so often, now. And sometimes, yeah, there’s too much damage and the right thing to do is let someone go fast. We’re taught how to do that. But this…!” He met the Nine-tails’ eyes, the steady burning of them. “It’s like what he really wants is to make the whole world hurt like he is. And part of him thinks that will make everyone stop doing bad things. But another part knows that will just make everyone want to die as much as he does. And then he can let them and that will be the right thing to do. But he only gets to it by doing everything wrong first!”

“Hmph. You have some wisdom after all, kit. I’d wondered.”

Naruto glowered; that sounded like an insult. “This is like… it’s like a normal thing that can be good has gotten totally out of control.” He hesitated, because that was like something else, too. “Tsunade-baachan… she’s never let me work on anyone with cancer. She said that the chakra I had from you might make it worse.” He glanced at the fox under his lashes. Did that mean using the Nine-tails’ power could make Nagato worse, too?

The fox reared up, snarling. “Well of course it would! That blond bastard sealed my yin chakra! With nothing but yang chakra to use, you can’t undo a cancer; you’d have to burn it out to the last speck or else you’d just have it back twice as fast.” Slowly, he settled back and added, “So you want to heal this cancer, do you?”

Naruto opened his mouth and closed it again, eyes wide. “Oh. I, um. I guess I do, yeah.” He hadn’t quite put it together himself, but now that the fox had he thought it was true.

The fox rolled his eyes and tilted his ears back. “Idiot kit.”

Naruto shuffled on the water. “Well, he’s hurt! I mean, that’s obvious. We have to stop him, but…”

“But they made you into a healer.” The fox looked dubious, one ear tilted back. “Which is what caused you to very nearly kill yourself just now. Are you sure you’re so eager to do it again?”

“Why should it kill me?” Naruto asked cautiously. “I mean, it doesn’t kill B.”

The fox looked down at him for a long moment. “You have something that B doesn’t. You’ll need to give it up, for this to work.”

Naruto blinked a few times, trying to shake his brain into making sense of that, and finally resorted to a plaintive, “Huh?”

The fox looked pointedly at the gate. “And what do you see here?”

Naruto stared at the gate. The gate itself? Or…

The seal.

“I have to undo the seal?” he squeaked. “Wait, wait, but…!”

The fox made a deeply exasperated sound, reminding Naruto all over again of Sasuke, and snapped, “Not the whole thing, but this half!”

“Half?” Naruto frowned at the paper seal.

“You have two of those on you, idiot kit,” the fox growled. “The first you can’t undo without killing yourself, most likely, but this one you can. And must if you want me to emerge.” He glared off to the side with both ears laid back and his teeth a little bared. “That’s how it was made. So I couldn’t take you over when you were still a baby. Making the second layer internal instead of woven into the surface seal makes it possible to undo that one. It leaves the choice up to you. You’ve already changed it a little, but for me to manifest? You have to undo it.”

A whirl of thoughts spun through Naruto’s head, wondering if his father had hoped he and the fox would trust each other eventually, wondering if it was just a fluke, wondering again why this had been done to him as a baby instead of to someone who could volunteer. The one that made it to his mouth, though, was, “So… are you saying undoing the seal will kill me?”

“It’s a powerful seal." The fox still wasn’t looking at him. “And you won’t be able to use any of my strength to undo it. If, that is, you choose to do so.”

Slowly, it came to Naruto that the fox was pissed off. Really pissed off. Not in the howling-growling way he usually was, but quietly. Because of the seal. He couldn’t be angry that Naruto was thinking of breaking it, could he? Or maybe…

Maybe because it was Naruto’s choice.

Naruto looked down at the surface of the water he stood on, frowning. The fox, he slowly realized, hadn’t had any more choice about this than he had. Every second of resentment or anger he’d felt, the fox must have felt too. Worse, probably. And three times over, now.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said, softly. “I mean, not personally exactly, it’s not like I volunteered for this either, but…” He looked up, and the Nine-tails was finally looking back at him again through the bars. “I’m sorry this happened to you at all.” He came forward hesitantly and laid a hand against the gate. “I guess it was selfish of people, to lock you up just so you’ll be their weapon or threat or something. That’s wrong.”

The fox stared at him silently for several breaths before he lifted his head and shook it until his ears flapped. “It wasn’t without precedent, in a way,” he admitted. “Spirits have sometimes agreed to be embodied in humans, because even as it lends you our strength it lends us your thoughts and understanding. But that was an agreement between one human and one spirit.”

Naruto thought about that. “So… can we have one? Between us?”

“If you dare to release the seal,” the fox said, deep voice rumbling through the whole inner space, “then we will live together. As long as you live.”

That wasn’t exactly a yes or no, but Naruto was getting kind of used to that from the fox. Nine-tails didn’t say the important things right out; you had to think about it and probably guess a little.

And… trust.

Naruto took a deep breath. Hell, it had worked with Sasuke, hadn’t it? And he needed the fox. And the fox needed this, for things to be set right even a little. He still hesitated as he reached for the seal. It might kill him, the fox said. Which the fox might not mind, he’d be free after all. But Sakura and Sasuke… Iruka-san and Kakashi-sensei… his yearmates, Tsunade and Jiraiya, the village… Naruto bit his lip hard, wavering, trying to figure out what he should do, what he should risk, what was the right thing to do here and now. The fox watched silently.

It’s a choice that comes to very powerful healers in time of war, all too often.

It was Chiyo-san’s voice that whispered through his memory, and Naruto’s eyes widened. He’d made that choice for Jiraiya, but that had been easy. That had been to save someone he loved. To make the same choice now, he would have to make it… because it was right. Because the duty and ethics his teacher had given him told him this was what he needed to do. “And they do,” he whispered, looking up into the Nine-tails’ eyes and all the rage and yearning locked behind them. “I have to heal you, too.”

The eternal burn of rage died in a moment of utterly blank shock, and the fox stared at him with, Naruto would swear, absolute disbelief. That made him smile. This was right. It felt right. This was what he should do.

No matter what happened.

He smiled up at the fox and reached up and tore the paper seal off the gates.

Light and sound exploded around him. All he could see was the paper, and it was clinging to the gate stubbornly. He gritted his teeth and pulled harder. Harder. His muscles felt like they might give way first, but he braced himself and pulled harder, growling. Come loose, damn it! he thought fiercely at the bit of paper. I don’t want you here, come loose!

One of the lines of inked characters started to unravel like thread.

Spurred on, Naruto pulled harder, jaw clenched, whole body screaming with the ache of the seal’s resistance. Line by line, bit by bit, it came part, and he kept pulling even as his vision went cloudy and red. The only thing left was his determination to do this thing, to Lift. This. Damn. Seal!

And it came away in his hand.

Naruto thought he was falling, but he couldn’t tell. Couldn’t see. Wasn’t sure he could breathe. Everything was red, and his ears were ringing.

No, wait. That was a howl.

Slowly vision crept back, but it was a strange kind of vision. He saw scenes, like pictures projected here and there around him. He saw the plaza from above. He saw Jiraiya slumped against the broken wall below, staring up at him. He saw Sasuke, eyes red with the Sharingan, and felt a sudden spike of wary annoyance.

Oh. It was the fox.

He was the fox. He remembered, distantly, that he’d intended that. Well good, then.

He saw Nagato and was aware of the Nine-tails pouncing. He didn’t exactly feel it, not like it was his body. But he knew it was happening.

This was really weird.

He also knew that huge, clawed feet were being set down with at least a little care not to step on the scattering shinobi, so that was okay. Actually, wait, maybe he did feel something. Several somethings that were… waving. Lashing.

He could feel the damn tails.

I told you to have a little respect, the fox growled, and at least that sounded like normal.

Well they feel weird, Naruto defended himself, and then winced. Now he could feel his body, at least his head. Or… maybe the spirit of his head. Whatever it was, it hurt.

Shut up and rest, kit, the fox told him, for once sounding something besides annoyed. Not much besides, but a little. There’s work to be done. My work.

There was a reason that should alarm him, Naruto thought, but he couldn’t remember what it was. Something about what the fox’s work was. His purpose. To… to cleanse rot, he’d said.

To destroy corruption.

Destroy… but that wasn’t…!

Naruto tried to sit up or stand up or something, tried to see and hear, tried to reach out and find the fox again in this strange, formless darkness around him. And what he saw was a ball of seething power blasting away from him, from them, and smashing into Nagato.

No!

He heard the fox sniff, disgusted. Yes, yes, I heard you the first time. You want to heal. You want to heal everything. Your perverted teacher, this Akatsuki cancer, me, who knows what all else. The knowledge of a shrug. You made a deal with me, when you released the seal, and I hold by my word. He’s still alive. Mostly. We’ll see what you make of him. The knowledge of a smile, full of huge teeth, still just a little malicious, and a moment of sight, of Iruka-san, pale and tense, looking up at him, mouth shaping Naruto’s name. Once you wake up.

The world turned inside out again, and Naruto’s senses rushed back, every one of them screaming with pain that clubbed him right back into darkness as he collapsed into Iruka-san’s arms.

A/N: I never thought much of Nagato’s six-corpse stable, and the emaciation that resulted struck me as just another way to bid for our sympathy with a mass murderer. I find it much more interesting to let Nagato use all his paths in his own body, and confront other combatants instead of dropping the chakra-Bomb on a village full of civilians—and then going back on it in the most contrived deus ex machina imaginable. I prefer to let him get his ass righteously kicked and his eyes thereby opened in proper shounen tradition.