Warnings: Angst, violence (not too graphic), language, OC
Spoilers: Everything up to Chapter 205 and Episode 71 (as of this posting)
Author’s Notes: I have taken the liberty of ‘borrowing’ Kimimaru for this chapter. His character is quite easy to toy around with and so for this story he is already ‘dead’. For those who are going ‘Huh? Who’s Kimi-whatchamacallit?’, he’s just the latest bishonen that Kishimoto san has been kind enough to dish out to the growing fangirl audience.
Thanks so much to everyone that has left me a review/encouragment/comment/crtique. /hugs/ I appreciate each and every single one! Enjoy! ^_^
His hollow footsteps echoed within the darkened hallway. He had no real idea of where he was or going to, but his feet seemed to recognize each path as if already familiar with it. It was pitch black. The kind of black that made you see…white. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again as if hoping that somehow the black would vanish. But to his dismay and chagrin, it remained as silent and as void as before. It was almost depressing.
Little did he question the dull sense of pleasure he got from walking within a darkness that his being seemed familiar with. Once upon a time, he had lived in such a place. Of course, he would know it only too well.
All too suddenly, a door appeared before him. A door so high that it’s top could not be seen from his vantage point. A door with a prominent Juin Jutsu upon it in dull gold that seemed to glow in the black. Again, a feeling of déjà vu so strong sent him falling to his knees as he slapped a hand against his neck.
The pain. Sweet Kami, the pain!
He could feel his body flare up in agony as he fell to the cold, hard ground. Hot fire seemed to coil within the pit of his stomach and towards his heart. It would burn and destroy him inside. He wasn’t sure of how it would happen, but he couldn’t allow it to get to him. He wouldn’t! Fingers clawed desperately at the three mark seal that was beginning to spread across his neck and towards his face.
No! No more of this! Please no more!
Warm blood seeped down his trembling fingers as he continued to writhe at the torture being inflicted upon him. He was practically ripping his skin apart and even without looking up, he could already tell that someone was now watching him.
“Give me the bracelet, Sasuke-kun.”
Low, guttural, dripping with saccharine sweetness with an underlying hint of evil. That voice was undeniable and the teen had sworn he had gotten rid of it long ago. He tried to scramble away from the voice, but it seemed to boom and loom over him. The former sennin was everywhere. In his mind, in his heart, in his very being. Orochimaru was sucking the life out of him again and he could barely breathe.
Let me go! He begged in a soundless scream. Let me…go!
He screamed soundlessly again, dark eyes widened with a terror that seemed to consume his entire visage. The damned piece of jewelry could be felt burning a hole in his pocket and for one wild instant the thought of throwing it at the other shinobi became overwhelming.
“Just bring it out and give it to me, Sasuke. My sweet…”
He could hear Orochimaru hiss in annoyance. A snake’s tongue flickered through the door and made a mad and almost desperate lunge towards the cowering teen. Sasuke squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the inevitable, but strong hands clamped hard upon his shoulders to pull him up and away from danger. He was still in the black, but it wasn’t as ominous now. In fact, he welcomed it with a faint sense of excitement, anticipation and relief. Someone – someone he knew quite well - had rescued him from the snake’s pit. And as he turned around to smile warmly at his rescuer, the name he would have called out, died on his lips as sharp but deadly pale green eyes met his.
“You…!” Dark eyes grew wide in confusion as the face came closer to his. He raised a hand to fend off his new attacker…
And then there was nothing.
Naruto sat upright with a jerk, frantic blue eyes darting about in slight panic as he tried to still his rapid beating heart. He wiped a trembling hand across his forehead, wincing, as it felt wet and feverish against his palm. He couldn’t be falling sick now, could he? He had felt fine this afternoon. But at the back of his mind, he knew that it had little or nothing to do with having a fever. He had just experienced the weirdest dream and even trying to explain it to himself was going to be virtually impossible.
Had he just dreamt he was…Sasuke?!
A low moan from the sleeping bag a few feet away had him turning sharply towards it. Sasuke didn’t seem to be having a peaceful night himself and the blond shinobi could feel something acidic rise to his throat as an image flashed through his mind. The three-mark seal. Sasuke had begun to have the seal that they had once thought completely gone. Somehow, in some way, the cursed seal had returned.
How…how do I know that?! It was just a dream! His mind screamed.
He raised his knees and buried his aching head within his palms, closing his eyes and moaning as if in pain while struggling to make sense of what was going on.
It was just a dream, he began to chant to himself. I just…just…
Walked into another person’s sub-conscious?! How freakishly weird is that, Naruto? His mind taunted mercilessly.
He moaned again, trying hard to ignore that voice that always seemed to mock him. Yes, it was ridiculous really. There was no logical explanation for why he should find himself wandering around in someone else’s dream. It was all just a figment of his overburdened mind…not that he knew just what could have it so preoccupied.
Shouldn’t you be looking for something right now, Naruto? It teased again.
What…what am I looking for?
The bracelet, dummy.
“Ah!” He slapped a hand over his mouth and glanced around the sleeping camp, hoping that no one had woken up at his small cry. Sakura looked peaceful in her sleeping bag as did the Miura group in their tent. Naruto figured that Kakashi sensei was still on watch, for he could not make out the tall man anywhere. But this was no time to worry about the nosey teacher. He had to find his bracelet as quickly as possible.
He slid out of his bag silently. And on his hands and knees, he began to crawl towards the other shinobi’s backpack. It lay at an awkward angle beside Sasuke’s feet (or at least where his feet were supposed to be) and Naruto guessed he would have to be extremely careful so as not to rouse his sleeping companion. He stole a quick glance at the sweaty and flushed face of the genius chuunin and again, Naruto could feel that overwhelming sense of déjà vu wash over him.
What if he really had been in Sasuke’s mind? Did that mean that Sasuke was now in Naruto’s mind?
He pursed his lips and screwed up his eyes in thought. It would definitely be a bizarre position to be in. His mind was his own and he was awake and it didn’t feel as if anyone was roaming in his head right now. Surely, if Sasuke was in his dream, then he was bound to feel something, right?
“Right.” He shook his head lightly and began to reach for the black bag. Every now and then, he would steal a quick look at Sasuke’s face to see if he had woken up yet. A light sheen of sweat broke out on the blond’s brow as he furrowed them in concentration.
“Yes!” he whispered in triumph as his fingers caught a hold of a strap, only to find himself sucking in a harsh breath of shock and fear as Sasuke sat up abruptly with his kunai in hand ready to stick it in Naruto’s throat. One false move and Naruto was sure his life would have ended tonight. Funny thing though…Sasuke’s eyes were still closed.
Gah, he’s even ready for a fight in the middle of his sleep. What kind of a guy is he?
Neither said a word for at least a minute or two, but a soft sigh from Sasuke and a mumbled ‘It’s just you’, had the blond giving out his own sigh of relief, while watching the genius fall back to his bag to sleep again.
Not wasting another minute, Naruto’s fingers, albeit shaky, began to undo the snaps as quickly as he could. Seeking desperately, he felt around the extra pieces of clothing, deliberating keeping his eyes away from looking directly into the bag. He would use his fingers to find the jewelry. Anything to spare him the agony of knowing just what Sasuke kept in his bag. The very idea that he was doing something this…intimate…was enough to get his cheeks flushing with heat and embarrassment.
But those feelings were quickly replaced with growing apprehension as the elusive bracelet was not found. Short of throwing the shinobi’s items to the ground in frustration, Naruto knew without a doubt that it was not in Sasuke’s bag.
What if the dark-haired chuunin hadn’t even brought it at all?!
He cursed beneath his breath and sat back on his haunches, now eyeing the immobile body beneath the sleeping bag. He knew where his thoughts were beginning to lead him to and shaking his head rapidly, he turned away to crawl back to his bag. There was no way in hell he was going to search Sasuke’s body for it. Just the idea of touching the other boy again was enough to send his body throbbing with an ache that he was still yet to fully understand. And with a low groan, Naruto knew he would have to swallow his pride and ask Sasuke personally in the morning.
The Village of Sound was restless. It was a restlessness that had come about from their crushing defeat in the hands of the Leaf and the lingering bitterness from the Sand’s betrayal. Their leader was or had basically been rendered useless after their humiliating loss and many of the villagers had come to realize that they were now being lead by a walking corpse.
No one had really seen Orochimaru in person in a long time. For almost five years, the elusive sennin had been a recluse in his palace - never wanting to see his people or acknowledge them. If any contact was to be made with him, they would have to go through the shifty-eyed Kabuto, a trusty assistant to the Snake Charmer, who never ceased to make them even more uneasy. It had begun as a rumor, but had quickly taken a life of its own as more and more people began to get a sense of the danger that lay ahead for them. Many had begun to realize that Orochimaru sought for bodies to use for his survival. The disappearances of young teenage boys had caused many to seek refuge in nearby villages, but unfortunately, once higher authorities got a wind of such treachery…only death awaited him or her.
But on this day, one person was willing to take the chance and he wasn’t going to give up so easily.
“You are crazy!” came the harsh whisper from the wide-eyed teen named Zaku. He watched in panic as his best friend continued to stuff as much personal items as he could into the small satchel. “You’ll get caught, Kikaida!”
“No, I won’t,” came the hurried response as sharp eyes glanced around the small room. He hoped he hadn’t left anything behind. “I planned it carefully this time…”
“Remember what happened the last time you did try to escape! They caught Kimima…”
A cold glare from the red-haired boy had Zaku shutting his mouth up quickly. He knew that Kikaida hated any conversation that concerned his older brother. The traitor had left their village years ago to seek power from Orochimaru and had ended up selling his soul to the very devil himself. Kikaida had sworn revenge, in the belief that Orochimaru had killed his brother, but after years of watching and learning, the awful truth had come crashing down like a ton of bricks. Kimimaru had only been used as a vessel for the cursed sennin. His brother had just been another chess piece in Orochimaru’s grand scheme. It had definitely been a bitter pill to swallow.
And through it all, he was yet to know how his brother really died.
He hoisted the bag across his shoulders and smiled wanly at the depressed looking teen beside him. “Don’t worry too much about me, Zaku,” he said softly as he leaned closer to place a soft kiss on his forehead. “I’ll be extremely careful.” And placing the tips of his fingers together, he transformed into one of the many Sound nin who were prone to guard the village at this time of the day.
“Maybe someday I’ll come back to get you out of here,” he murmured thickly as his fingertips caressed the smooth chin gently. “Someday…”
The sun was beginning to rise over the horizon. If he was to make his escape, he would have to do it now. And with a final wave at his desolate friend, he leapt out of the window and towards a freedom that he had always longed for.
By mid-morning, not only had Naruto not been able to say a word to Sasuke, he hadn’t even been able to catch the dark-haired boy’s gaze. It was no fault of his really, the Uchiha genius was the one who had gone out of his way not to meet Naruto’s eyes. No matter how much the blond shinobi tried, it seemed as if Sasuke was determined not to give in.
“We should be in the Sand by tomorrow morning,” Kakashi announced loudly as he turned to give a small and encouraging smile to the silent girl walking beside him. “Not bad for our trip, ne?”
“Not bad at all,” the elder agreed with a laugh that was followed by shy giggles from Daisuke and his bride. “You truly are as good as they say you are, Kakashi.”
The jounin had the grace to blush as he scratched the back of his head nervously. “Ah ha. You flatter me too much, Miura-sama.”
Naruto made a face at Kakashi’s act of ‘shyness’ before turning to glance at his scowling partner’s visage again. With a light huff, he whispered harshly at him. “Where is it, Sasuke?”
As if being awoken from a daydream, the genius chuunin turned hooded black depths upon the flushed blond beside him. They darkened a bit more as they clashed with bemused but defiant blue ones. A small smile curved his lips as his gaze fell to the parted moist ones of the blond before him. Everything seemed to fade away to nothing, leaving only he and Naruto in this special place he had created just for both of them. There would be no one to bother them ever again.
“Just…the two of us…” he whispered thickly as his hands reached up to…
“What the hell do you think you are doing?” Naruto cried out quickly as he slapped away Sasuke’s hand none too gently. For one wild moment, he had been sure that Sasuke was hypnotizing him or something. It was the same feeling he had back at the river and his rapid breathing wasn’t helping much as he knew just where his thoughts had begun to lead him.
He wanted Sasuke again and all to himself too.
Turning his heated face away, he began to walk a little faster, hoping that perhaps putting more of a distance between them would help to ease his confusion. He lifted his gaze and met the saddened ones of Sakura before him. An ache so strong shot down his spine and he lowered his lashes again in shame. If only he could turn back time and change things around… a little.
“Do you…do you hate me, Naruto?” came the soft whisper that had him doing a double take and his steps faltering in bemusement.
“You do, don’t you?” the chuunin continued in that familiar low timbre that had Naruto shivering in response. Damn his physical reaction to anything that concerned the other shinobi. It was as if his body had a mind of his own. And the raw pain he had sensed from the question had him feeling even more guilty for his actions towards Sasuke lately.
The group was a bit ahead of them now, but neither boy seemed to care much as their footsteps became slower. Sasuke still had his head lowered, his hands stuck deep into the pockets of his pants even as he continued to walk.
“If I tried to touch you again, would you let me, Naruto?”
The blond bit his lower lip in dismay. He knew the answer to that, but he didn’t want to give the other chuunin any sense of satisfaction. If Sasuke did touch him again, he would be powerless to resist, that much was certain. He groaned inwardly and rubbed a hand across his forehead. It would be better to make light of the otherwise tense situation. Thinking straight or coherently wasn’t exactly in the agenda at this time.
“Well…it depends on what kind of touch it is,” he teased lightly and then wished he hadn’t as Sasuke’s head shot up to pin him with those intense dark eyes again. “I mean…I mean…well…I don’t mind you touching me on a regular…I mean like normal…”
Just what was he trying to say?!
But to his immense relief, Sasuke gave a soft smile and a small nod of understanding. “I know what you mean, Naruto.” He reached into his pocket to pull out the small piece of jewelry that had caused him to feel so many conflicting emotions in the space of one day. “You were looking for this, right?”
The blond could only gape at the bracelet as if it were a snake. It shone brightly in the midmorning light and with hands that trembled slightly, he finally accepted it, noticing that it was still warm from Sasuke’s touch. Holding it to his chest, he tried to open up his mouth to say something…anything to ease the tension between them, but to his chagrin, Sasuke had already begun to walk a little bit faster so as to catch up to the others.
Why had the shinobi held onto it for so long? Why had he asked those strange questions about his feelings? Just what did Sasuke understand about anything right now?
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, only to open them up quickly as a low rustle of leaves behind him had him turning sharply. He narrowed his gaze in caution. There seemed to be no one behind him, but then again, appearances could be deceiving.
“Oi, Naruto! Hurry up!”
“Hai, Kakashi sensei!”
Maybe it’s just my imagination again, he thought with a shrug as he jogged up to catch his teammates. He tucked the bracelet into a pocket and promptly forgot about it. His mind was on other pressing matters that had little to do with a piece of jewelry. Once they got back to the Leaf, he was returning the troublesome thing to Ojou-san and that was it.
“Don’t let him get away!”
“Flank him, you idiots! Surround him!”
Several shuriken flew by. Yet another struck his forearm and it bled freely, but he was too far-gone to stop now. His carefully executed plan for escape had not gone so well after all. He had gotten as far as the main gates of the village when the firm voice of Hakuna, the head of the ANBU, had frozen him in his tracks.
“Trying to run away, Kikaida?”
He had spun around slowly, horror, dismay and disappointment on his features as he spotted Zaku standing amidst them with an apologetic smile on his face.
The traitor! Just like his brother, he had been sold out again.
And now, he was about to die. He would have to find a safe spot to perform the ‘Feathery Sleep’ genjutsu. He was beginning to feel faint and his vision was growing blurry, but with determination, he found a relatively high tree branch to steady himself upon. He could sense the ANBU team fast approaching and knowing he would have little to no time to prepare himself, he squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated deeply.
The first ANBU noticed the sudden fall of feathers and tried to open up his mouth to warn the others, but they had begun to fall at an even faster rate causing his words to die in his throat as he collapsed to the ground in deep sleep. One after the other, they fell to the power of the spell, except for two people. Zaku and Hakuna had stayed back, both knowing that the desperate teen would have tried something like this.
“Wait,” Hakuna chided softly as he placed a hand on Zaku’s shoulder to stop the teen from dashing after their prisoner. “We’ll wait until he’s stopped somewhere. From the look of things, he wouldn’t have run very far.”
Zaku grit his teeth, biting back his comments with a respectful nod. Little did they know just how fast his former friend really was. Wounded or not, Kikaida was bound to reach the Sand by nightfall at least.
I am nothing but a coward. Too afraid to let him know what I feel and yet I dare to look him in the face to pretend as if I am still such a ‘tough guy’.
He kicked at a stone on the ground angrily. The bracelet was gone and in its wake, a hollow almost sullen mood had befallen him.
What kind of a dumb question was that? Why is it so important for me to know how he feels about me? It’s obvious that I’ve freaked him out in more ways than one. What’s the point of continuing this charade if it will only cause me to feel more empty inside?
I want the bracelet back…
In actuality, he was still trying to decipher what his dream had truly meant. Was it the power of the bracelet that had made him dream of Orochimaru and that…that…
…boy? It was clearly Naruto’s voice that had rescued him, but it had been Gaara who had pulled him out of danger. Just what did it all mean? He shook his head and focused his attention on the group before him. They had begun to sing a local song that was vaguely familiar although it really made no sense to him. Naruto was the loudest of them all. He knew each word and much to his surprise, the teen had quite a decent singing voice. Each sharp rise and fall of a note, resonated deep within Sasuke’s soul, causing a light flush of color to fill his cheeks. He imagined Naruto singing only for him and was embarrassed to find himself having to steady himself against a tree at the rather powerful and intimate thought.
“Come on Sasuke!” Naruto cried out in excitement as he placed an arm around the surprised teen’s shoulders. His earlier trepidation regarding touching the genius chuunin seemed to have vanished with the relatively good mood amongst them. “Sing with us!”
Sasuke could feel his cheeks heat up with color. “Ah…I don’t…”
A loud shriek from Sakura had everyone freezing in their tracks as they followed her wide-eyed gaze towards the clump of bushes on her left. All four ‘active’ male shinobi crouched in wariness, hands on kunai as they eyed their surroundings carefully.
Sasuke, rather unconsciously, had placed himself between Naruto and any possible sign of danger. His fingers tightened around the weapon as he held his breath in anticipation and growing excitement. It had been too long since he had felt the flow of another’s blood in his hands. He longed for battle again. But one thing was clear...
They were definitely being watched.
Kakashi frowned lightly and whispered softly to Sakura. “What did you see?”
The pink-haired girl took a deep breath and began to walk towards the area she had spotted the person falling into. It was the dark trail of blood that caught her eye first and putting two and two together quickly, she pushed through the leaves frantically. It was a human all right. A human with long red hair that covered his face from view. He was crouched against a tree, seeming to bleed from every part of his body.
He lifted his head slowly to pin dull dark eyes upon her. “Help…me…” he croaked out weakly as he tried to reach out for the apparition of pure beauty before him. “Please…”
But a sudden command of ‘Don’t touch him!’ had the entire group as well as the bleeding boy staring up in surprise and shock.
Gaara of the Sand stood upon a sturdy tree branch with arms crossed before his chest as pale green eyes continued to watch the proceedings with interest. Restlessness had kept him from remaining idle anymore. The itch that had begun somewhere deep inside his heart would need to be scratched and he had found the perfect people to help him do that.
It was his time now and he was never one to waste an opportunity.
“Welcome to the borders of the Sand,” he announced coolly. “I will be your escort from here on out.”