Chapter 06:



Out in the marsh reeds

A bird cries out in sorrow

As though it had recalled

Something better forgotten

-       Ki no Tsurayuki


Drip. Drip. Creeeak. Drip. Drip. Creeeak. Drip…


What day was it?


Drip. Drip. Creeak. Drip. Drip. Creeak. Drip…


What hour was it?


Drip. Drip. Creeak. Drip. Drip. Creeak. Drip…


I wandered in the darkness; stumbling and limping my way toward something I could not see. My journey seemed endless; never knowing what awaited me with every step I took. Sometimes I welcomed the darkness and the silence that would cloak me like a shield; protective, cocoon-like. It was my only refuge from a reality that I did not want to return to.


Drip. Drip. Creeak. Drip. Drip. Creeak. Drip…


In this darkness, I could almost feel human again. I could remember the happier moments in my life; like…like…like the many precious hours and minutes I spent with my dearest Sakura.


Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.


Every now and then I would smile – within this darkness – as memories of our time together drifted in and out like slides from a projector onto a movie screen. Ah, there’s the slide showing when we went to the park and shared a vanilla and chocolate ice cream cone. There she was looking adorable in her pink parka and black jeans; trying to look coy as she kissed away the dollop of ice cream she had left on my nose. There we are holding hands, swinging them like children while walking down the street, sometimes window shopping when I didn’t have enough money to squander on her. She would always tell me that she didn’t mind me not spending a dime on her; that just having me as her boyfriend was more than enough.


Drip. Drip. Creeeak. Drip. Drip. Jerk! Creeeeak.


Sakura, sweet Sakura. How I miss you every single day. If I could turn back the hands of time, I would. I would do everything I could to bring you back…


Back where? Came the low, mocking voice that suddenly shattered my illusions of bliss. It was my Reality coming back with a vengeance, and how I wished it would not return.


Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.


But return I must – as cruel as it was - and as finally forced my lashes open, the world swam before me proceeded by an intense wave of vertigo. I shut them quickly again; counted inwardly to ten before lifting them again…a lot more slowly this time.


I was floating.


No…not really, but my feet definitely seemed far away; from not just my body, but from the ground itself. The dripping sound that had infiltrated my thoughts all this time was finally visible to my dulled senses.




My blood to be exact; dripping from my legs (back? Feet? Who the fuck knows?) onto the ground with every gentle sway of my body. A small puddle was already beginning to form, and I wondered how long it would take before I was completely drained. Aaah, that’s right. Now I know why I’m in this position. I was hanging from some device attached to the roof of the cave, which would explain why I could barely feel my damn arms anymore.


It was all coming back to me like a spool of thread unraveling ever so quickly. I was woken up at an ungodly hour in my regular cell, blindfolded and dragged by those fucking guards to God knows where. Felt my yukata ripped from my body until I was completely naked, had my wrists suddenly bound with thick ropes that dug into my flesh causing them to chaff almost immediately; listened to the creaking sound of some device being cranked as I was slowly being raised off the ground with my arms stretched above my head. I must have dislocated something with how long that asshole kept cranking that thing until one of the other guards told him to “stop. I was high enough.”


I won’t lie. It hurt like hell, but I had vowed not to cry out in pain for anything; that I wouldn’t give these fuckers the satisfaction of knowing their methods of ‘purification’ was nothing more than some shitty excuse for torture.




That was all they kept muttering beneath their breaths…when the flogging began at least.


Gudan. Gudan. Gudan. Gudan.


With each crack of the whip, which I was sure had metal tips or something like it; they would chant the word in monotonous unison. I had no idea how many of them were in the room – three, five, ten? Either way, they seemed to take turns whaling on me, and I guess they were getting pissed off that I wouldn’t scream out or react much because their strokes became a little more aggressive.


I must have probably passed out at some point, since the body can only take so much before the mind decides to shut down to prevent itself from going insane. Pity they wouldn’t let me enjoy my moment of bliss in the darkness, as someone threw a bucket of ice cold water on me to toss me back to reality.


It was such a jolt to my system that I forgot exactly where I was – at first – and jerked so hard on my ropes that I felt another bone in my shoulders moving out of place. Fuck! I gasped and panted in an effort to catch my breath, only for the blindfold to finally be removed so I could get to see their ugly faces.


I was not disappointed.


“Don’t go dying yet,” the guard had said with a leery grin and a lick of his thick lips. He was one of the fattest slobs I had ever seen, and considering I was sort of towering over him from my position, he was still huge enough for his face to be close to my groin area. Unlike the other guards, in their white togas and turbans, this one was dressed in a skirt made out of brown leather; stained with dark splotches I’d later come to realize as years of dried blood - and goodness knew what else - that had accumulated on it. His bare torso revealed male breasts pierced with heavy gold rings. His stomach was in folds which fell over the top of the skirt and as he moved, they jiggled like dough, which was pretty damn disgusting to watch. His bald head shone beneath the dull glow of the lanterns, and his skin – which looked bronzed – appeared to have been oiled as well. There were numerous tattoos all over his body with designs I could not recognize. However, there was one particular design that stood out from the rest. It looked like a particularly neat circle of yin and yang symbols, right above his left breast. I would later learn that this was no ordinary tattoo.


“Sinners like you don’t deserve such a quick death,” he continued as he jiggled away to the corner of his chamber of death.


Fuck you too, asshole.


All the same, I was pretty damn tired, in agony, and felt incredibly dizzy. I lowered my head and tried to control my breathing; to see how much longer I could sustain my threshold for torture.


“Remember not to harm him too much,” I overheard one of the guards muttering to the fat one. “He is for Gudan, so he must be preserved as much as possible.”


I raised my head a little to see what was going on. The fat slob didn’t look too happy at not having to punish me as much as he’d like, but he only nodded in understanding before turning back to glare at me. I guess I must have smiled or something, because it pretty much pissed him off enough for him to suddenly back hand me across the face – so hard I thought my head was going to fall off.


Fuck! That hurt like a bitch!


My whole face felt like it had been put through the grinder, and I was sure it was going to be swollen soon. I could already feel one or two teeth loosening in their sockets, and my mouth was already filling with blood. I spat it out, but it was filled quickly again. I tried to swallow some down, but it still managed to dribble down my chin and onto my chest.


“We’ll see how long you can keep that smug look on your face, sinner,” the fat slob growled before spitting at my face. His saliva made contact with an area above my right eye, which I had to close quickly before that damn thing (which was like phlegm) would enter it and probably blind me.


“I will take my time with you. You can be assured of that.”


Great. I had made a new pal in this dump. Whoo hoo.


However, all that happened several hours (days?) ago, and now…now…now what? No one had come in since then, and my arms were beginning to throb again with a numbing ache that was seeping into my bones. I wondered if the longer I remained in this position, the more my limbs would stretch until both arms would be completely ripped off. It wasn’t impossible. I had watched several movies where those kinds of things happened to –


Dude, you are in a cave about to be tortured to fucking death and all you can think about is some stupid movie you watched?!


I sighed and wished I could shut my mind up. I sometimes tended to drift to other topics when trying to get away from a rather painful situation, and this certainly called for a topic of light-heartedness and…just anything to get my mind off this. However, and as you can imagine, it wasn’t exactly easy thinking of fun things when you generally felt like shit. I groaned and twisted my body gently, so I could rest my feverish face against an arm…


Creeeak. Creeak. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip…


I hated the sound of that. My back and buttocks must be a sight to see, I was sure. I was guessing it was a whole lot more than welts on the skin now. Why else would I be bleeding like this? The other guard had said for the fat one not to over do it, which would mean that they at least still wanted me alive for the damn Gudan thing. I really still had no idea what they meant, though I got the impression that it would involve the final ‘rite of purification’.


Death by hanging? Burned at the stake? Beheaded?


Whatever it was, I hoped to goodness it would be done quickly. I wasn’t sure I could handle any more prolonged –


There was a sudden loud creak of a door behind me, and immediately I felt the chill seep into me as the smell of the fat one assailed my senses. I mean, he literally smelled like blood and grease, and with the way he was whistling beneath his breath; something told me I was in for a world of agony in today’s session. I stiffened and held my breath; my hands forming tight fists as my buttocks automatically clenched in readiness for the now familiar sensation of the leather whip. I could feel the beads of sweat breaking out on my brow as the bastard kept whistling to himself and tinkering with his ‘tools of the trade’ behind me. I think that made it even worse; not knowing what he was going to do next. The only view in front of me was the jagged surface of the cave and the lanterns stuck to it. Everything else was behind me…everything and anything else that could kill me. The psychological mind fuck was slowly driving me nuts.


“Goood morning, Sinner,” the fat slob greeted cheerfully as he jiggled his way around me with a hard slap on my ass. I hissed in a sharp breath at the subsequent burning sensation; wondering if my wounds were still that raw or if…


“A little salve for your wounds,” he explained; holding up a palm filled with what looked like salt.


Of course. His wicked grin should have been warning enough.


I sucked in a harsh breath as he rubbed the ‘salve’ on my shoulders, back and buttocks; squeezing my eyes shut as the pain forced me to curl my toes and clench my fists even tighter. I bit hard on my lower lip enough to draw blood, but swore I would not cry out in distress.


“Still not caving in, eh?” He had the gall to look a little disappointed when I lifted my lashes to appraise him. “You sure are a stubborn one. Let’s see how well you do with this then…”




I jerked so hard on the rope that it nearly gave way. It felt as if he was pouring liquid fire on me, and I could barely breathe when he was done. I sucked in several gasps of air; eyes widened as they focused on the ground in what could be a combination of shock and suppressed suffering.


This bastard was going to kill me. I just knew it. Gudan be damned.


“Impressive indeed,” he praised as he came to a stop before me again. He licked his lips and looked at me with an expression that took a moment to decipher. “Such a beautiful body…save for those things on your face that could only be the mark of the devil.”


Huh? What the fuck is he blabbing about?


“I would happily skin it off for you, but Sasuke-sama would not be pleased.”


That name! That goddamn name! Sa…su…ke…sama. That…!


My body gave an involuntary jolt in reaction as that face, I had once considered beautiful, came back to haunt me. It immediately brought back the memories of that so-called ‘inspection’ where that jerk had gone about dishing out ‘Gudan’ sentences like he was desperate to meet some quota or he wouldn’t get an extra raise in his paycheck. He hadn’t even listened to that other man read out my sentence before he was calling out ‘Gudan’ for me like I really deserved it. Okay, so yes, I killed a man, but Jesus! Didn’t self-defense account for anything?! And the way he had spoken to me like I was some cockroach he wanted to stomp on. Grrrrr! I swear if I see him again, he had better pray he’s not all alone because I’ll rip his fucking guts out and hang them up to dry…


“Oooh? What’s this?” Fat Slob jeered as he tipped my chin with the handle of his whip. I could see it wasn’t the one with the steel tips today. Thank God. “You look positively furious. Hardly the expression I wanted to see. Still, you refuse to be broken, eh, Sinner? Well, I’ll change that.”


He took a step back, and hardly giving me time to collect myself, swung as hard as he could so that the whip found its target across my chest and right ribs. I gasped and jerked in response; but stubbornly bit my lip and refused to cry out.


“Renounce your heathen ways, Sinner!”


Another lash; this time around my shoulders and upper back.


“Those scars on your face tell of your birth from the devil! You spawn of evil! Your blackened soul will be purified!”


Another lash – same location. Fuck! My toes curled, and I hung my head in an effort to focus on something else. Anything else…anyone else…Saku




Yes. Him. The asshole that sentenced me to this fate. I would train all my hate into that smug face.




I would think of ways to exact my revenge; to make him suffer…to make ALL of them suffer for what they were doing to me.




He was probably enjoying himself in his cozy little mansion; not having a care for us ‘sinners’.




Probably licking his chops and tallying in the number of people he has sentenced today. Probably glad he’s about to get some kind of promotion or something.






I could feel myself blacking out again, but at the same time, I could feel something else rising within me. Something thick, heavy, and suffocating in its intensity. If ‘hate’ could be a mass -a physical thing to behold - then that was it. It was this ‘hate’ that made the lashes become numb. It was this ‘hate’ that had me feeling an odd sense of calm. I realized then that I wanted to survive after all; that if there was some way I could manage to escape Gudan, I would return in some form or fashion to kill each and everyone one of these fuckers slowly…and with pleasure.


This isn’t like you, Naruto, a tiny voice whispered. This isn’t like you at all…what’s happening to you?


Fat Slob had stopped with the flogging and was now standing before me; panting and out of breath. He looked perturbed and even more pissed off. I wasn’t cooperating with him, was I? This wasn’t the way the script was supposed to go.


“You heathen,” he hissed beneath his breath.


I felt my lips parting before I could control them as well as the grin forming on my face. “Fuck…you…too…” I panted, and collecting as much blood and saliva as I could muster in my mouth, I hurled it – with sick delight – in his direction. I watched with amusement as my spit hit the target – squarely on his right eye. I gotta confess, it was disgusting to see, but felt too damn good not to enjoy my moment of mini-victory.


Needless to say, Fat Slob did not really enjoy the same sentiment. He seemed rooted to the spot for a long minute, as if unsure of just what had happened. I watched the saliva run down his eye and down to his cheek, before he lifted a finger to wipe it away…examine it as if seeing an oddity…and then…




Sticking it within his mouth to lick it off. In fact, he licked off the entire thing, and though his features were red-faced with fury, his smile spoke otherwise.


I was a dead man.


“They said I couldn’t ruin your body too much, but they didn’t say I couldn’t break you in other ways.”


What now?


“Do your worst,” I dared him all the same, while bracing myself for him either breaking my legs or finishing off my arms or…whatever else.


I watched him walk away – all folds of fat and flesh; listened to him rummaging for something in the background, while muttering (probably curses) beneath his breath. I closed my eyes and hoped that whatever it was, I could bear it. I still had many things to do…such as burning this fucking place to the ground and then killing that Sasuke and everyone connected to him, but until then…I had to live…I had to survive…I had to…




Who screamed? Me? Is that my voice? Do I really sound that afraid and in pain? And yet as that bastard’s laughter intermingled with my sudden bellow of fury and disbelief, it was only to mask what was currently happening to me.


Of all the worst things he could do…he had to…he had to…




Breathe, Naruto. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.


The pain was excruciating, and I literally felt as if I was being ripped in half. I had no idea what he was sticking up my anus, but whatever it was…no human should have to suffer through something like that.


“I knew this would get you singing to the heavens,” the slob breathed with a noisy lick of his lips.


Make it stop. Please make it stop, my mind screamed in desperation. I am a sinner! I am a sinner, goddamnit! Please…make it stoooop!


I was this close to actually begging him out loud, when his next words and actions had me frozen with terror.


“This is only the beginning, my dear Sinner,” came the whispered words as the sensation of those sweaty, large palms, caressing my ass cheeks before moving to my balls to squeeze them none-too-gently, had me shuddering in revulsion. “By the time I’m through with you, you’ll wish you’d never been born.”


And with one final twist and shove, of whatever instrument he was using, deep within me, my body eventually gave up the fight to remain in the present.


I sank and welcomed the sudden darkness that washed over me; in which I desperately sought to find the last strands of my sanity.








It is but a natural occurrence for we all must go through that process eventually.


However, the Great Book states that death is not the end of life, but merely the end of the body we inhibit in life. The spirit remains to seek out a need for attachment to a new body and new life. Where this spirit will be reborn is as a result of their past life and the accumulation of positive and negative action, including the resultant Karma due to one’s past actions.


With such haunting words, I had to wonder if I would even return in the next life. Did I even want to return in a next life?


With an inner sigh, I reached for the small bucket of holy water and dipped the scoop into it. With a muttered prayer beneath my breath, I washed the graves of my family in a ritual so familiar now, I almost did it without thinking.


Mother…Father…Brother…have my actions made my spirit so unworthy to be returned to the next life to be with you again?


The polished grave stones seemed to have an ethereal glow around them beneath the cold sunlight. It was one of those days when the heavens couldn’t quite make up its mind whether it wanted to rain  or break into sunshine; a typical November morning here in the mountains. From this vantage point, one could see Byaku-Shinkyou several miles below. With its high fence enclosing the extensive grounds, it looked distant…closed off from the rest of the world; totally isolated from anything and anyone it seemed. You could see the town and farmlands just across the river – which wasn’t that far of a walk once you left Byaku. And though modern roads marred the landscape, it still retained its raw, natural beauty which had been untouched for centuries.


Orochimaru had given me the option of having my parents buried somewhere in Byaku-Shinkyou, however,  I declined the offer. I really had no idea why, considering I was too young to really make any real decisions, but for some reason, I felt their souls would never be at rest if they were buried in the same place their lives had been taken. I wanted them to find their peace in the next life, and it was eventually the suggestion of one of the remaining older members of my clan, to have their stones placed in this picturesque setting. It was fitting after all. They could continue to watch over us from here…


But do they like what they see, Sasuke? Do they like what Byaku-Shinkyou has become over the years? Do they like what you have become over the years?


I did what I had to do, I argued fiercely within myself. I am only doing what I have to do, Father. But don’t worry…one day I will take back what rightfully belongs to the Uchiha. I swear on your gravestones.


With a final bow to them and to the silent priest who watched over the graves from his hamlet not far from here, I finally began to make my way down the narrow, winding path to a waiting Haku. For inexplicable reasons, he had insisted on following me today for my patrol, and though it wasn’t really necessary for him to do so, I hadn’t been in the mood to argue with him to remain behind.


Besides, he’s been looking pretty somber in the past two days or so…and I was more than aware I was the cause of it.




“How long do you plan on moping around me?” I asked as I walked past him, and he immediately followed like a shadow.


His sullen silence was more than enough of an answer.


“Do you expect me to apologize?” I queried with a glance over my shoulder. His gaze was trained to the ground, and it looked like he was close to crying. Just what I didn’t need.


“How was I supposed to know he was going to die?” I snapped irritably. Walking down a hill could be pretty damn treacherous, and I nearly lost my footing. Guess I should have worn boots instead of my slippers and socks. Damn it all to hell and back. This was not helping my temper in the slightest. I should probably send him back to the compound, if he was going to be such a goddamn baby about this.


“Death is inevitable,” I lectured with a scowl on my face. Who was I trying to convince? Him or myself? “He was insubordinate and deserved his punishment. You were witness to his behavior.”


Still nothing.


I growled beneath my breath and decided it wasn’t worth it. Haku could be a downright petulant child when it came to some things. However, I was still perturbed by the whole thing. Receiving the news about Momichi Zabuza’s death had actually…shocked me. It was an emotion I hadn’t expected, considering deaths were not uncommon around Byaku-Shinkyou. Still, it was jarring to think of the healthy, young man who had just about cursed me out in my office, barely a week ago, no longer in existence.


As soon as I get back, those torturers are going to have to answer to me. Goddamnit! They really should take things easy!


I stole a glance at Haku, wondering if telling him that would help to ease his troubles. He must have really cared for that bastard, and I hated the fact that I was feeling a little sorry for him.


“Listen…Haku…” I began, when suddenly –


He moved.


At first, I assumed he was about to attack me, and my hand automatically went to my katana to counter his actions, when I heard the undeniable chink of something wheezing past me before it lodged itself into the bark of the tree behind us. A quick glance showed it was a three-pronged dagger, and it was clear that Haku had deflected it with one of the throwing knives he kept hidden within his kimono. His body was as tense as a bowstring while he shielded me; those dark eyes no longer looking miserable, but alert and watchful. He seemed to be looking at something on his right, and before I could give an order, he whipped out two smaller knives, from within his robes, to throw them with pinpoint accuracy towards the cluster of bushes in that direction.


The low grunt of pain we heard was more than enough to tell us we had caught the attacker. Haku dashed quickly to see who it was, though he was still careful enough to hold onto another knife in case of another ambush.


I would have gone after him if I hadn’t noticed that the three-pronged dagger had something wrapped around it. It took a while to dislodge the damn thing from the tree, but I finally managed to yank it out with a loud grunt of impatience. The craftsmanship of the dagger was excellent, but clearly not made in these parts. It looked like a Chinese blade and as I unwrapped the paper rolled around its handle, my theory was confirmed at the insignia engraved around it.


A foreigner?


“Who is it?” I asked Haku as I walked closer to where he was now on his haunches beside the prone body of a figure I did not recognize.


Haku withdrew his knives – which had been lodged in the man’s chest and throat – before peeling off the dead man’s face mask. He shook his head slowly in bemusement.


“I’ve never seen him before, my Lord, but he does look…”


“Chinese,” I muttered beneath my breath and unrolled the piece of paper to read its contents.




“Beware the enemies that lurk in the dark,” I translated quietly; feeling something cold and slimy crawl beneath my skin as my heart beat quickened with what I hoped was not fear.


Haku made a sudden movement, and assuming we were about to be attacked again –


(Good grief! I was so damn tense!)


…I realized he was only rising to his feet; though there was an expression of concern and still that guarded alertness on his visage.


“May I suggest we go back home, my Lord?” Haku suggested quietly. “We can do the patrol another day.”


“I think not,” I replied with a firm shake of my head, while slipping both dagger and note within my kamishimo. I was not about to let a couple of common thugs rearrange my plans for the day. Hiding within Byaku-Shinkyou would only make them bolder. I had to show that I was not afraid of whatever plans they had in store for me.


/Beware the enemies that lurk in the dark/


Just what the fuck did that mean anyway? I knew we weren’t exactly liked by everyone, and I would have been a fool to assume that I did not have my enemies out there because of my line of work. It was also not the first time I had to deal with random attacks. During patrols of the town in the past, I’ve had one or two unruly idiots who had a thing against the watchdogs and had tried to stab or shoot me, so this was nothing new.


“But my Lord…”




“Yes, Sasuke-sama?”


“Go back to the compound if you’re so concerned about me…”


“No, my Lord,” came the immediate and almost vehement response. “I will stay with you.”


I stopped walking and looked over my shoulder and at him carefully. “Are you sure? I do not need you complaining and whining about every little thing. I’ve had such attacks happen before, so it’s no real surprise.”


He looked unsure about my explanation, but nodded softly anyway. I had a feeling he wanted to tell me something else, but wasn’t quite sure of how to say it. Probably to try to convince me to go back to home. However, he said nothing else and simply continued to walk behind me seemingly lost in his thoughts. Either way, the atmosphere had changed drastically. Instead of feeling relatively relaxed as we made our way across the bridge and towards the town, the tension was still there. Everyone and everything now seemed more sinister, and I had to be more on guard than ever before.


Usually a trip to Kanei was a time for me to reacquaint myself with civilization again. Though most of the townsfolk rarely spoke to me, except to greet or bow in acknowledgement, it was still good to see ‘others’ besides the usual faces in Byaku. It was one of the many things I missed about my home of old. Now, thanks to Orochimaru’s rules, getting to hear the sound of children’s laughter or experience the comforting presence of a woman was no longer feasible. Though I was never really an outgoing child, my brother more than made up for my ‘quietness’. We’d walk through the hamlet on some evenings, stopping by neighbors’ homes to wish them well or engage in conversation. I would remember evenings sitting on the doorsteps of some uncle or auntie’s house (not really related per se but we called everyone uncle or auntie), munching on hot roasted potatoes and drinking sweet cider, or running home after classes at Old Man Kamakura’s while waving at familiar faces of families I recognized. The end of the day meant resting my head on my mother’s lap as we sat on the patio of our home, where she’d stroke my hair gently and hum some song beneath her breath, while father and my brother would probably be on their way to the administrative offices to go over some final paperwork. 


These days, I realized I only tortured myself whenever I’d linger in front of a market stall; pretending to want to purchase something, though I really was observing my surroundings with a deep-seeded hunger for a past I could never reclaim. The sight of a mother admonishing her children or hanging up the laundry or even doing something as simple as dozing off beneath the sun, would evoke those memories I tried to suppress often. Perhaps a part of me would have loved to have any of these families look at me in the same way they used to in the past, but unfortunately, things had changed; the times had changed. Finding a genuine kind gaze was a rarity as only respect (sometimes grudging) and fear had replaced them.


It was not surprising that Kanei had a very low crime rate if any, after all most of its inhabitants were mostly purified sinners who had spent quite some time in Byaku-Shinkyou and wouldn’t be foolish enough to do anything else to get them back in there. The lone police station was almost always empty – it’s holding cells that is – and as I made my way into the cool confines of the building, it was all I could do not to roll my eyes as the chit-chatting officers on duty, rose to attention immediately they noticed me walk in. One of them had gotten up so fast, he tipped his chair over and the other almost choked on the food he had been munching on.


“Good afternoon, sir!” they greeted in unison.


“At ease,” I ordered curtly, which was about as effective as asking them to start singing. They had at least stopped saluting, but were still standing as stiff as ramrods. Knowing it was pointless to repeat myself, I moved on.


“Is Captain Kurobachi around?”


“Yes, sir! He is in his office, sir!”


“Someone called?” came the sudden bellow that was followed by the towering figure of the very man I was looking for. Kurobachi was a monster of a man. He was easily over six feet tall, and had the frame of a body-builder. His no-nonsense attitude had been infamous while within the walls of Byaku-Shinkyou, which was no real surprise considering he was the mentor to several officers including the deceased Momichi Zabuza. My feelings towards Kurobachi were mixed to say the least. I respected his skills as an officer and fighter, but otherwise…


“Ah, the young master is here to see me,” he thundered in that voice of his that didn’t seem to have a reduced volume level. “I am not in trouble, am I?”


His guffaw was accompanied by uneasy smiles from his subordinates and an irritated frown from me. I was not in the mood for his antics. I had to get to the bottom of this mysterious note and my attacker.


“There is a dead man lying within the bushes of Genbu Hill. Thirty-eight N. Thirty E.”


Well that stopped him laughing at least. I watched his expression quickly change to a frown of concentration. Good. I now had his attention.


“He tried to kill me,” I continued. “Have your men dispose of his body quickly. In the meantime, I will need to speak to you privately.”


Kurobachi grunted with a curt nod toward the other two officers. “Zaku. Kin, get going and take two others with you. I want increased security around the perimeter.”


“Yes, sir!”


We watch them scurry out in haste; and I had the feeling they were glad to be doing something of importance again. Things had been slow around here lately.


“Come on in,” Kurobachi invited; having to stoop a little, so he wouldn’t hit his head on the alcove leading into his office. Motioning for Haku to wait outside for me, I walked past the captain and waited for him to shut the door behind us before settling into the chair across his desk. The room wasn’t all that big, and his bulk only seemed to shrink it further. His light grunt, as he settled into the brown leather chair, was quickly followed with his muscular arms hitting the top of the document-cluttered desk. He leaned forward with acute interest.


“Want to tell me what all this is about?”


I reached into my kamishimo to pull out the dagger and note which I tossed onto the desk between us. He raised a brow, eyed me for a long minute, before reaching out to examine the items. He read the note beneath his breath and shook his head slowly.


“Chinese mafia, maybe?”

“Possibly,” I replied carefully. “I just didn’t think they’d dare to make their way up here.”




“Do you think the Bakufu have anything to do with it?”


“Wouldn’t surprise me. Those bastards have their hands on everything.” He paused and then glanced at me warily. “Why you though? Gotten your hands mixed up with them?”


“Don’t be ridiculous,” I all but snapped. “What in the world would I want to get mixed up with the Chinese mafia for?”


“Did you arrest anyone recently…?”


I shook my head. “No…at least not me. Perhaps another watchdog group did. All the same.” I stabbed the note with a finger. “This is a warning to me, and I want you to do something about it.”


Kurobachi leaned back in his chair and tapped the dagger against the desk; brows furrowed in thought. “I’ll have a patrol out to see if we’ve received any influx of newcomers into the town lately. My guess is they’ll probably be in the RLD; those mafia guys like to hang out there a lot.”


“Whatever you do, make sure its discreet,” I insisted firmly. “The last thing we want is to have them swarming around here and causing trouble.”


“You betcha.”


I rose to my feet in readiness to leave, when something else occurred to me. “One more thing…”


“What’s that?”


“When and if you get anything, direct the information straight to me.”

“Huh?” He raised a brow in bemusement. “Don’t we usually…”


“Not this time,” I stated curtly; feeling my head and heart begin to thud with the enormity of what I was ordering him to do. Usually all such important information was sent directly to Orochimaru’s office, but this time around, I wanted to be the one in charge. I felt that this was my ‘problem’ and I was going to deal with it in my own way. “Haku will be the intermediary. Deliver all messages or phone calls to him. Is that clear?”




“I’m dead serious, Kurobachi. This is a situation that must not be disclosed to anyone but you and me.”


He raised his arms as if surrendering. “Whatever you say, young master. Oh…before I forget. Sarutobi called in earlier and was asking about you.”


Asuma? What the hell did he want?


“I told him you hadn’t arrived yet.” Kurobachi pointed to the black phone on his desk. “Might wanna call to him to find out what’s up.” He rose to his feet and gave a curt bow. “I’ll leave you alone. Gotta go get my men organized for some arrests tonight.”


I waited until he was out of the room before dialing the number to Asuma’s office. Though it was close to lunch time, I sincerely hoped he was still around and –


“Sarutobi here,” came the familiar gruff voice. He sounded busy.


“Asuma? It’s Sasuke.”


“Ah, the son-of-a-bitch I’ve been looking for all this time. Goddamn it.”


“And a good afternoon to you too.”


He snorted and expelled a breath of exasperation. “I have an order from you here, young man.”


An order? What…ooh. That order.


“Yes? So?” I picked up the note Kurobachi had left behind and tucked it back into my uniform. I noticed he had taken the dagger with him.


“It hasn’t got your goddamn signature on it!” Asuma all but roared at me. “You know how irritating these officers can be about protocol, and how much shit they’ll give me if I tell them that you actually authorized his release but without your signature, they do not consider it official and…”


I swear Asuma must have been one hell of a nagging wife in his previous life. I waited until he was done with his tirade; though my attention was trained on the numerous photographs on the shelves and walls. Kurobachi was definitely a popular guy. I sneered at the picture of he shaking Orochimaru’s hand while receiving his promotion to Captain.


“If you’re finished,” I finally spoke when he stopped long enough to catch his breath. “You can transfer me to Officer Touya. I will speak to him about your precious document.”


He growled. “You are lucky I’m not near you, or I’d put you over my knee and -”


“Know your place, Asuma.”


“Fuck you too, Captain. Hold on and don’t hang up!”


I tried to hide my smile at the insult, but to be honest (I sank into Kurobachi’s chair), talking to Asuma was a reminder of my impulsive decision to release a few of the sinners. One of whom would be that blue-eyed heathen called Uzumaki Naruto.


And I still remember his damn name.


I rubbed my forehead wearily. I usually tried not to keep the names of sinners imprinted in my memory (though there were quite a few of them not easily forgotten). All the same, I was thankful that my dreams had resorted back to being empty journeys through nothingness; though I must confess that hearing about Zabuza’s death had resulted in a particularly worrisome nightmare. I think he had tried to chew me to death with those teeth of his -


“Officer Touya here,” came the sudden breathless voice at the other end of the line. I jerked myself out of my thoughts and focused long enough on giving him instructions about making sure my orders were carried out. In my rush, I had forgotten to sign the release decree, but basically it was to let him know that Asuma had the authority to see to the sinners’ ‘freedom’ effective immediately.


“Happy now?” I asked when Asuma was back on the line.


“Ecstatic,” he replied with as much sarcasm as he could muster into the word. I contemplated telling him about my harrowing experience earlier, but figured it could wait for another day.  


Kurobachi stuck in his head with a single knock at the door. He held up a bento with a raised brow; a silent invitation for lunch with him. I was ready to shake my head in refusal; insisting I would eat back in Byaku-Shinkyou, but my stomach apparently had other plans. The sudden growl had my cheeks flaring with color, and Kurobachi’s grin wasn’t helping either. I think this town has made him too soft. The Kurobachi of old would have never bothered (or dared) do something like this.


“Gotta go,” I grumbled to Asuma. “I’m going to get lunch.”


“Buying something from Ichiraku again?”


“No…Kurobachi’s planning to poison me with his food.”


Asuma burst into hearty laughter, and I managed a weak smile before hanging up the device and motioning for the older man to enter. As he happily opened the large black-lacquered box with its array of several rice, fish, and meat delicacies (he was happy to brag that his wife of two years had made this for him), I swallowed the thick lump that came to my throat at the sudden rush of pain-filled memories.


I had narrowly escaped death today, and yet the simple act of having lunch with someone was exposing a side of me I did not want to reveal.




Sometimes…it really was the little things that made all the difference.






With Asuma’s instructions burning a hole into his brain, as well as the scroll tucked within his kimono, Shikamaru followed the guards towards the East Block with a dull feeling of trepidation and uncertainty.


He knew what was required of him, and yet he had to keep wondering why he was even agreeing to this in the first place.


It was no surprise that he had been given the task of releasing Naruto. Most of the officers trusted him, and many had even tried to talk him into becoming a watchdog someday– a concept that made him shudder with revulsion at the very idea of working in such a place. No way in fucking hell. You couldn’t pay him enough to remain here once his time was up. He still had his plans to marry his woman and to live a quiet and uncomplicated life somewhere far away from this cesspool of hypocrisy.


And this cesspool couldn’t be more emphasized than what he was walking into.


From the outside, you were only greeted with a small townhouse – in which the officers or guards on duties resided – and you could never believe that behind it was the underground route to a section of Byaku-Shinkyou that never made the news or papers.


Sighing inwardly, he braced himself for the familiar stench of ‘The EB’ – as many of the sinners called it – to assail his senses. He gave wan smiles through the process of identifying himself and suffering through the heavy gates and locks being undone before they were ushered into the cold cravens.


Shikamaru was more than aware that he was extremely lucky not to have made it to this place. He could still remember his day for inspection, and standing in that intimidating compound as Lord Sasuke went down the row of sinners dishing out his judgment. When the first captain – who was no older than he was – had stood before him, Shikamaru had felt something he still wasn’t sure he could describe in words to this day. It wasn’t fear per se, but something else…like a reluctant jolt of awe at the determination and intensity within those dark eyes.


He had heard the sinners (and even some guards) tell a thousand stories about the young captain, over the years, but Shikamaru did not put too much stock in most of them. He wouldn’t say he liked the guy, because anyone who could be that ruthless and cold-hearted, did not deserve his respect to be honest. Still, he had to admire a guy who could turn out to be this way considering his family history. He doubted the original owners of this place had planned to turn their police headquarters into a miniature version of hell. In fact, Shikamaru doubted the concept of Gudan had even been in their vocabulary, which could only mean that Lord Orochimaru had instilled the ridiculous rites of purification as his means to brainwash everyone.


Go figure.


The guards made him stop on the first level; which was a good thing because his stomach was already beginning to churn with disgust as the dull metallic smell of blood – from the levels below – filled his nostrils. It was all he could do not to cover his nose, and it amazed him how the guards and officers could walk, talk, and laugh as if there was nothing amiss. Why should it? They were probably used to this dump.


Officer Fudo – a small man with beady black eyes – was walking up the stone steps which led to the lower levels; with a scowl on his features. At the sight of Shikamaru waiting, he gave a grunt of acknowledgement and stretched out a hand. Guessing he must have been expecting this already, Shikamaru withdrew the scroll to place it within the waiting palm.


Fudo – hardly skipping a beat – unrolled the scroll; scanned through it quickly, rolled it back up, slipped it into his kamishimo, before barking out an order.


“Take him to Cell K103!”


Jesus! For a small guy, he did have a booming voice. Guess it was useful when working in this place.


Shikamaru thanked him – and got nothing but another grunt in return before the older man was already on his way to the next victim. Biting his lower lip, he shuffled after the two guards as they made their way down the haunting corridor. Unlike the other dungeons, in the West Block, these seemed more like catacombs…freakin’ tombs to house the dead…which wasn’t too far from the truth considering most of the poor bastards in here were sentenced for death anyway. Moans of agonies came from within some of them, while others remained dark and silent which was the worst as Shikamaru could feel the weight of their hateful gazes trained on him.


Hate…everywhere…death…everywhere…you can feel it…eating at you…sucking the life out of you…


He shivered as they made another turn (it was so damn easy to get lost in this place without guidance), and just when he thought their journey would never end, the guards finally came to a stop before one such catacomb that was no different from the rest. All the same, it was damn hard to see anyone inside, and they had to hold up the lanterns to illuminate a sight that had the normally poker-faced young man to gasp in dismay.


Naruto…holy hell…what did they do to you?


The blond was naked; save for the tiny piece of cloth that barely covered his groin area. His once smooth, pale skin was covered with streaks of blood and angry welts; the kind where just looking at them alone could tell you how painful the whipping must have been. There was a tin pan with an untouched rice ball still sitting on it along with a small tin cup of water. The drip, drip sound seemed to be coming from a leak from the roof of the cave, but Shikamaru was aware that all of that was a distraction to the man he had come to see.


Naruto – looking skinnier than the last time - sat with a knee raised to his chest, while his other leg was still outstretched. His arms were wrapped around the raised knee, but it was his face…his expression…that sent a sliver of fear racing down Shikamaru’s spine.


Gone was the happy (well relatively happy) go-lucky guy he had met almost two weeks ago. In its place was a beast. The blond hair looked shaggy and wild around his face; almost giving one the impression of a lion’s mane. Perhaps it was the scars on his cheeks that made the comparison more applicable...and those eyes…those eyes that had once been the brightest of blues and filled with curiosity, now looked…reddened and filled with an emotion that was a combination of emptiness and yes…hate.


Pure, unadulterated hate. Loathing. Disdain. Simmering fury.


Shikamaru shuddered as Asuma’s words came back to haunt him.


That’s right. He’s a descendent of the Senju; one of the most feared clans of all time. Diluted or not, this guy…the way he looks like right now…he could rip my fucking head off and not feel a bit of remorse.


Shikamaru nearly jumped out of his skin at the sudden clanging sound of the steel locks to the dungeon being opened, and he was unaware of holding his breath as the second guard held out his bokken…just in case. Shikamaru was also quick to notice that the guards had special whips with steel tips attached to their togas. If Naruto was to do anything stupid…


“Stand back,” one of the guards said firmly. “He’s likely to cause trouble.”


“It’s all right,” Shikamaru said quietly as he tried to get between the guards. He could feel his heart in his throat, but he knew he had to do this. “I’ll get him out myself.”


The guards looked at each other and then shrugged as if saying “your funeral” before stepping aside and letting Shikamaru further into the cell.


“Naruto?” he called out gently, and for his efforts, was rewarded with a downtown of the blond’s lips before they peeled back to reveal an ugly sneer.


“You’re being released, Naruto,” Shikamaru continued. “I’ve come to take you out of here.”


Shikamaru couldn’t be sure, but he felt he saw something ‘human’ flicker within those blue eyes for a heartbeat before they were replaced with that empty expression again.


“Will you come with me, Naruto?”


Shikamaru took another step closer; feeling his heart stir when Naruto appeared to want to shrink back into the shadows.


“It’s okay,” Shikamaru was saying softly as if hoping to appease a child. “It’s going to be ok…urgh!”


When asked to describe it later, he would compare it to being hit with a sack of bricks from out of nowhere. The wind was literally knocked out of his sails, and as he felt himself thrown to the ground and his windpipe suddenly blocked by hands that felt as strong as steel, Shikamaru struggled to come to terms that he might either die in the next few seconds, or have to think really fast to save his life.


What a fast, motherfucker, and he looked so damn innocent too!


He could barely hear the guards shouting and ordering Naruto to get off him, and even as they began to hit him with their whips and bokken, Naruto would not let go. There was an animalistic, primal glow in those eyes…in his snarl as he bared his teeth as if eager to bite…in his general temperament. His body was probably so used to the punishment that none of the blows from the guards meant a thing to him. His focus was on Shikamaru, and that focus and intent was to simply kill – to inflict the same kind of torture he had gone through on someone else.


I understand, Naruto, Shikamaru spoke with his eyes, which were getting blurry as the world began to shiver. I understand your pain. I do.


He felt something hot and wet descend on his forehead and cheeks, and assuming the ceiling was leaking again, it took him a second longer to realize that the drops of liquid were actually…






Tears of frustrated fury  that had filled the blond’s eyes and were cascading down his cheeks and into his mouth silently though he never cried out with pain at the blows he was still receiving. The grip around Shikamaru’s neck was slowly weakening, and those blue eyes now seemed a little more human and filled with remorse and shock at what he was doing.


“You heathen! Release him!” one of the guard bellowed angrily and with a particularly vicious blow to Naruto’s ribs, it was the final straw to send the blond collapsing into unconsciousness on Shikamaru’s prone form.


“Good God,” one of the guards panted. “What is he made of? Iron?”


You fuckers, Shikamaru thought with irritation, though his eyes, throat and lungs felt like they were on fire. He kept trying to cough, but even that act was too painful to achieve. He watched them drag Naruto’s comatose body aside as he struggled to get to his feet; reaching out to hold the side of the cave to catch his breath.


“Son-of-a-bitch,” another of the guard was growling with a hard kick to Naruto’s side. “You almost broke my fucking arm! I could fucking ki -”


He stopped at the firm hand gripping his wrist, for he had been ready to hit Naruto again with his bokken. The guard was ready to open his mouth to protest, but he saw the flicker of anger in Shikamaru’s eyes and knew it wasn’t going to be a good idea.


“Don’t touch him again…either of you,” Shikamaru rasped painfully. He released the guard’s wrist with a final hard squeeze – hoping he had broken a bone or two – before stooping to his haunches beside Naruto.


I’m sorry, he thought sadly as he took in the striped shoulder, back and buttocks of the blond. I’m so fucking sorry, man. No one deserves this shit. No one.


With a light grunt, he began to heave Naruto’s body over his shoulder; much to the guards’ surprise as they had assumed they’d be the ones doing it. Once Shikamaru had the other boy safely in a fireman’s lift, he began to walk out of the cave slowly, ignoring the guards who made way for him without saying another word.


He had no idea what being a bodyguard entailed or what Asuma really wanted him to do, all Shikamaru knew was that he was somehow now responsible for this kid…literally his new burden. For now, he would simply watch and protect Naruto as best he could…for as long as he could…until the time came for his final purification rite on this earth.




Chapter 7

Naruto Home










































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