Chapter 08:




Out of the darkness

On a dark path,

I now set out.

Shine on me,

Moon of the mountain edge.

- Izumi Shikibu





I was wrong.


Not only was Orochimaru not getting dressed; his demeanor reeked of anything but the trivial joviality I was used to. As I knelt before the low desk, he barely acknowledged my arrival; only sparing me a quick icy glare before turning his attention to the documents he was reading and signing. His personal officers (Kimimaro included) hovered around; waiting patiently as he snapped out instructions or gave orders for one thing or another to be carried out.


As he continued to ignore me, I did my best to keep my features expressionless – choosing instead to focus on the lucky charm, still within my obi, and Asuma’s cryptic words. I was yet to decipher what else the inscription could mean, and I made a mental note to speak to him tonight to find out exactly what he was trying to tell me. I sighed and made the little mistake of closing my eyes to collect myself; only to lift my lashes quickly as a now familiar pair of icy blue eyes had me giving a reluctant shudder of awareness.


Why did I have to think of him again? Considering I had done a good job getting rid of that pesky sinner from my thoughts while teaching at the dojo after our unfortunate meeting.


I realized it was, technically, the first time I had ever heard him speak, and if it wasn’t for the murderous intent that had oozed off him, his voice could almost be considered…pleasant and friendly. It would fit the persona I had noticed during the bus ride to Byaku-Shinkyou; the warm gaze he had given me a few times as if…as if…


As if what exactly?


Attraction…he must have been attracted to you, came a tiny voice within me. The expression he had during the ride was clearly that of a man liking what he saw and wanting to get to know the other person better. Remember the shy smiles he’d give when you looked his way? Or how he’d pretend as if he was doing something else when he was clearly staring at you?


Which meant my first assumption was correct then. Uzumaki Naruto was clearly one of them. Forget the fact that he allegedly killed his girlfriend’s murderer. He could be someone that didn’t mind what sex was in his bed.


I resisted the urge to vomit; gritting my teeth and swallowing down what I had felt rising to my throat. Still, a part of me argued that It couldn’t be ‘attraction’…especially considering how quickly Naruto’s demeanor had changed when I met him in ‘The Pit’ later that night. Gone was the warm and perverted look, and in its place, the venomous danger that had sent a thrill of familiar sadistic delight within me. It had been the look of a man desperate, angry, yet unable to do a damn thing about it.


Today, it was a little different.


The anger was still there, no doubt about it, but its intensity was nearly scorching. If looks could kill, I might have been dead within seconds.


Can you blame him? Mr. Tiny Voice continued relentlessly. You know exactly why he feels that way, don’t you?


/…he’s been spending that month recovering. Do you have any idea what they did to him down there? /


I captured my lower lip between my teeth and lowered my lashes. I had no idea. How would I know? I had only been to the East Block a handful of times over the years, and my last visitation had been almost a year ago to inspect the facilities with Orochimaru. I realized I had watched the proceedings – the whipping of a man so full of sin, he was literally nothing more than a black mass in my eyes – dispassionately. I had no feeling one way or another for the sinner, and since then never really bothered to see any of them as being…well…human. It was the same way I felt when it came to the final ritual of Gudan. After the first two times of my role as executioner - in which I felt sick to my stomach at what I was doing - you eventually learn to block out the humanity in the sinners and see them for what they were; nothing more than evils of society that had to be expelled for their souls to somehow find their way to heaven.


I was doing them a big favor by making their passage to the next life a quick and easy one. I should have been commended for my efforts, and I think I was – at least Orochimaru approved. I do recall Asuma hardly speaking to me for a week after the festivities were over, but I had only assumed it was because he was too busy with paperwork and his duties. Looking back now, I guess it was just his way of saying he disapproved of my decision to become an active participant in the festival of cleansing.


He just doesn’t understand…


To top it all off, come summer of next year…I was already signed up to be the one to execute the blue-eyed sinner. There was no going back on my decision now, neither did I want to. Yes…I would be doing him a favor (and me too, now that I think about it). With him out of the picture, perhaps I could return back to the old me; the one who did not dream of the sinners, the one who did not care for their bruises and wounds, the one who did not have to worry about whether or not they wanted to see me dead. I knew almost all the sinners hated my guts, so why would one scarred murderer make any difference to me?


A welcome sense of relief washed over me as I came to my justified conclusion. I lifted my lashes, and felt I could breathe again. My duties as an officer and elite watchdog came first. Everything else was second or unimportant.  


As it turned out, Orochimaru made me kneel for almost thirty minutes – obviously punishment for ‘wasting his time’. I think I had managed not to show my irritation at this cheap tactic, and as soon as the last officer left the room, he finally acknowledged my existence.


“We will be heading to Kyoto first thing in the morning,” he announced, while shuffling the sheaf of papers before him. I think I noticed a letterhead with the words ~Ministry of Defense~ on it, but I could be mistaken. What business could he possibly have with the Ministry of Defense for crying out loud?


“So make plans to have your official duties assigned to someone else,” he continued while neatly arranging the papers in a folder, “We should be there for about a week…or less if I can manage it,” he added with a mumble.


Wait…what does he mean by ‘we’?


“We?” I asked aloud in bemusement. “Am I accompanying you on this journey?”


He gave me a look of exasperation. “I realize it’s probably been a long day for you, Sasuke, but try to keep up with me, okay?” He snapped his fingers as if talking to an imbecile, and it was all I could do not to hit something in annoyance. “Did I not just say you had to re-organize your duties? Assign them to someone trustworthy and get ready. Our ride leaves here first thing in the morning. Oh, and pack some suits or western clothes. We will be in the city after all, and I doubt your kimonos will be fitting.”


Thanks, I thought sarcastically, but bit the inside of my cheek hard to prevent that word from slipping out. “Will I need my uniform?” I asked instead.


“No,” Orochimaru replied with a brief shake of his head. He unrolled a scroll, and I watched as he read through it quickly; his lips thinning with what I recognized as impatience or simmering irritation at something. I wasn’t sure of what was going on, but there was a frantic ambience in the air. Orochimaru looked…uncomfortable and that discomfort was translating into his behavior right now.


Not to be deterred by his attitude, I pestered on. “What about Haku? Can I bring him with me?”


“Must you have a babysitter with you at all times?” came the sneer that sent a flood of color to my cheeks. Point taken, asshole.


“Do you mind me asking what we’ll be doing in Kyoto ?”


“Sightseeing,” came the immediate answer that had me raising a brow in disbelief. Orochimaru spared me another glance; only the corner of his lips was quirked up as if trying to smile but couldn’t quite manage the action. “We were invited by Councilman Shimura Danzo. You remember him, don’t you?”


I nodded. Who could forget him? Though his visits were far and in between these days, I did remember him visiting my father on a few occasions.


“He insisted you come see the sights and sounds of Kyoto ,” Orochimaru continued with a roll of his eyes. “But I need you for something else; to be a witness to a meeting of fools who control the government.”




The older man gave a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes; those were cold and filled with some other unreadable expression. “You get to see first hand, the greed and evils of our society, Sasuke. You will see why what we do here is necessary. If I could inflict the rite of Gudan on all our government officials, I would. Sinners…every last one of them.”


It took me a second to realize the sudden dark drops, dripping onto the scroll, were actually his blood. He was digging his long fingernails. so hard into his palm, he was unaware of the pain he was inflicting on himself. His pale visage had become a hard, ugly mask that sent a shudder of revulsion (and perhaps a tiny sliver of fear) down my spine. This was a side of Orochimaru that was intimidating and frightening; the side of him that could crush those who opposed him without a second thought. It was this side of him that had stymied my plans to overthrow him over the years; the realization that even a slip of any plan I could conjure up, was the difference between life and death.


I did not want to die in vain.


Coward. You are nothing but a coward. I bet if it was Uzumaki Naruto, he would have jumped up right now and stabbed Orochimaru with no questions asked. If it was -


Stop it! I hissed at the tiny voice that seemed to be growing louder and louder within me. Of all the names it had to throw at me, it had to be that damn murderer!


“What is the matter with you?” came the sudden question that had me looking up with mild alarm. Had he noticed my inner turmoil? Or was he able to read my intentions so blatantly these days? However, he only looked impatient; a silk handkerchief now cleaning up the mess he had created.


“I need…” I licked my lips and tried again as my voice had come out sounding raw and hoarse. “I need to start packing my things,” I finished quietly. “Is there anything else you needed me for?”


Orochimaru raised a brow as if not believing my excuse for a second. All the same, he shrugged and waved me away with his non-bloodied hand. “You may leave. Fetch me Kimimaro once you are outside, will you?”


Nodding and giving a bow of farewell, I fled his presence before he could change his mind and want to query me a little more about my demeanor.


I walked blindly to my private quarters; hardly acknowledging any greetings from either officers or sinners as I passed them. My head was in a tizzy; and I needed my sanctuary to get away from it all. It had been a while since I had packed for a week-long stay at any place besides Byaku-Shinkyou. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I stayed anywhere longer than two days outside of these walls.


“Are you okay, Sasuke-sama?” came the quiet but concerned question that jarred me from my thoughts.


Haku was in his usual ‘welcome home’ position – kneeling on the patio – as I walked up the small flight of steps leading into my bedroom.


“I’m fine,” I muttered as I walked past him, kicked off my slippers and padded around the room in my socks with growing anxiety. I didn’t even know where to begin with the packing. And western clothes? I don’t think I’ve worn those since I was a child. I was more comfortable in traditional Japanese wear, and the idea of stomping around in a stuffy suit or a pair of jeans, did not sit too well with me.


“I’ll get you some tea,” Haku suggested when he realized I was close to having a mini nervous breakdown, but I stopped him with a firm hand on his wrist.


“I am traveling to Kyoto tomorrow with Orochimaru,” I explained. “I need to pack some things…organize my affairs…urgh! I wish he had told me this earlier in the week! I would have had more time to get myself together.”


“It’s okay, Sasuke-sama,” Haku encouraged with a smile. “I’ll assist with the packing if you’d like. I’m usually good at that.”


“I have to go with western clothes,” I groaned; releasing him and flopping onto my back on the floor. “I don’t even know where the hell those are.” I honestly didn’t. I think Asuma bought me a suit last year, but I doubted it still fit. I had grown a few inches since then.


Haku tried to stifle his giggle. Someone was clearly enjoying my distress. He slid open the door to my wardrobe, and we both looked at what was available in dismay. Kimonos, hakamas, yukatas, and of course my uniforms. The closest thing to western wear was a really old white tee shirt I rarely wore.


“Ah…this then,” Haku cried out in delight as he finally noticed the protective clear wrap around an item of clothing that was hidden deep into the closet. He whipped it out and looked hopeful. It was indeed the black suit Asuma purchased for me last year.


“I’m not sure that will fit,” I mumbled as I rose to my feet to accept the garment.


“You should still give it a try. I’d love to see the way you look in western clothing, Sasuke-sama.”


I felt my cheeks burn with color at the earnest expression on his face, and I tried to scowl as if displeased with his attitude. What was the big deal about wearing a stupid suit anyway? Yet as I shooed him out of my room and began to undress, I did have to admit it was a little exciting to be ‘different’ once in a while.


One leg after the other, I slipped into the trousers and yanked it up to my waist – with a little hop. As I expected, it was a little high (I could see my ankles) but everything else seemed okay. The white silk shirt was a little snug around the chest – a sign that I had added a little more muscle weight in the past year, but I was still able to button and tuck it into the trousers with no problem. The jacket was the same…a little snug around the shoulders and upper arms, but manageable. While adjusting the cuffs, the ever impatient Haku slid open the door gently and poked his head in …with his eyes closed.


“Can I see you now, Sasuke-sama?”


I rolled my eyes and shrugged. “Fine. You can come in.”


His gasp had me rubbing my hand down the suit in worry. Did I really look that ridiculous in this outfit? However, looking at him again, I was rewarded with a look that could only be described as idolatry worship. It made me extremely uncomfortable, and I wanted him to look away.


“I take it you approve?” I asked gruffly as I tugged down the sleeve of the jacket…something to keep my hands busy.


“Oh…yes…” came the slightly breathless response. “You really should wear these more oft -”


“Knock, knock?” came the loud sing-song voice that could only belong to one person; a person I really did not want to see. “Are you decent, Sasuke-chan?”


I growled beneath my breath, and would have hurried off to change back to my uniform, but Kimimaro was already making his way into my room with a low whistle at the sight of me.


“My, my, my. Don’t we look dashing this evening? What’s the occasion?”


“Sasuke-sama is traveling with Lord Orochimaru tomorrow,” Haku the Parrot quipped before I could stop him. He really was getting lax (or I was the one being more lenient because of …well…that thing with Zabuza) these days. “He has no other western clothes though.”


“Lucky for you, that’s why I’m here,” Kimimaro said with a chuckle. “I had to remind Lord Orochimaru that you might have nothing to travel with, and I doubt sitting on a train for a whole day in that suit is going to be conducive, so…” He held out a small black carryall. “I am lending you a few of my old clothes. They should fit with no problems.”


I stared at the bag; wondering if I ought to accept his offer. Knowing Kimimaro, his offer of goodwill wouldn’t come without a price. I wonder if it meant having to do something menial for him in the future.


“Thank…you…” I finally grated out as I accepted the bag.


“Don’t have to sound like you’re getting your teeth pulled,” the older man said with a smirk. “Go on…try some of them and let’s see.”


“I am not hosting a damn fashion show for you two,” I argued, but Kimimaro was ignoring me and making himself comfortable beside Haku. I watched him smile warmly at the younger man before reaching out to pet his head…like my father used to do when I was little. It was only brief, but the sudden recollection of such a tender moment had me turning away to wrest the zipper open with more force than necessary.


What was the point of bringing up the past? I only had my future to look forward to, and in this case, a future where I was about to exposed to the real world; where darkness and evils beckoned and a million sinners’ cries went unheeded.




I hated to admit that Kimimaro was a life-saver, but he really was. Thanks to his thoughtfulness, I was snug and warm in a pair of his jeans, a black turtleneck sweater and matching black wool coat; accessorized with my pair of boots (very important when patrolling the town during the winter months).


We left Byaku-Shinkyou at about five in the (very nippy) morning, and it had taken me an extra half an hour of dealing with Haku’s moping about me not taking him for the trip. I explained a thousand times over that it was Orochimaru’s decision, and short of him throwing a tantrum, he finally settled for nodding and accepting the situation. He did wish me a good trip and made me promise that I’d be extremely careful in whatever I was doing. I had thought this request odd, but did not bring it up and only put it to Haku’s caring and worry-wart nature. All the same, I had taken Asuma’s charm with me, and had it tucked within the inner pocket of the coat.


With only Kimimaro as Orochimaru’s companion – someone had to keep his bed warm at night, I guess – the three of us were driven out of the compound by one of his private coupes and to the train station. They were apparently expecting us, because we were ushered straight to the first class carriage (about three cabins in all); which Orochimaru had rented out exclusively for himself. For a man planning to spend only a week (or less), watching the long line of expensive designer luggage being wheeled into the carriage was embarrassing to say the least. Compared to my pitiful carryall and backpack, it felt like I was nothing more than a servant to his highness – the King of Perversion.


I was glad when the train finally left the station and he left me alone in my section of the cabin. Still it wasn’t hard to overhear the hushed and muted whispers between he and Kimimaro in the next cabin. As I struggled to read my passages from the Great Book, all I could hear were breathless giggles…soft moans…a groan or two…silence…and then the wet sounds of something…before the steady, low rhythmic creaking sound that had me slamming my book shut and stomping toward the furthest end of the cabin in disgust and frustration.


I mean, we were barely half-an-hour into the fucking trip! Couldn’t they give it a rest for that long?


I curled up against the window and tried to force myself to continue reading, but I realized it was going to be pointless. I couldn’t concentrate, and I realized now…as I glanced around me and at the other empty seats …how alone I was. I was by myself, traveling to a city I had never been and unsure of what I was to see and experience. Though I had taken the bus rides to pick up sinners in the past, at least they were others around me and it wasn’t so damn depressing. I wished Haku was with me; at least he could talk off my ear while I read or kept me company with just his presence. Hell, even Asuma – who hadn’t seen me off, much to my disappointment – would have been a welcome companion.


And since when did you care about having a companion?


I snorted at my inner voice and closed my eyes; my head resting against the cool window pane as the landscape raced by. I tried to recall the last train ride I had taken. I must have been five years old at the time…traveling to Osaka to visit relatives with Mother and Itachi…and…




I was back in that stuffy, cramped bus from Toshu-gu. I sat up with a jerk and blinked rapidly; wondering if I would return back to the posh, empty first class cabin on the train. But no…I was still on the bus…and though I was surrounded by sinners, neither of them made a sound. They sat like mannequins in their drab gray yukatas; features expressionless as they stared before them blindly. It was as if the world had been eradicated of its color, and I was all alone within a sea of motionless humanity. A sudden, intense feeling of claustrophobia had me wanting to scream in panic. I wanted to get off this bus; to go back to my refuge in Byaku-Shinkyou, where I could find myself again. Breathing heavily, I tried to get off my seat, when I saw it…no…him…before me…at least the back of his head.


The golden locks stood out in sharp contrast to the gray, and for some inexplicable reason, I felt something melt away within my chest; a sensation of weightlessness; of having some kind of burden dropped at an alarming rate. I parted my lips to call out his name, and I was sure I was calling out his name, but…I could not hear my voice, and I knew he couldn’t hear me either because the bus came to a quick stop and he was the only one getting off his seat.


Don’t leave me here, I found myself begging feverishly. Don’t you dare leave me here! Look at me! Please look at me!


I was completely and utterly ignored.


Without looking back, he stepped off with a wave of his hand over his head in farewell, and as I pressed my face against the grimy glass to see his destination, I could see nothing but a cloud of absolute darkness approaching him. It was the kind of black where not even a pinpoint of light could prick through, and as I watched him vanish slowly before my eyes; I felt the burning sting of tears forming.


I made him get off the bus. It’s all my fault…all my fault…all my fault…all my…


“…suke? Sasuke?!”


I gasped and sat up; eyes widened as I looked into the face of a bemused Kimimaro. He had been shaking my shoulder, and now dressed in a black smoking jacket…and not much else, his flushed visage was another sign of what must have transpired in the private cabin with his master.


I shuddered and shrank away from his touch.


“Are you okay?” he asked. “Looks like you were having a nightmare.”


He motioned toward his eyes and wiped it away. I was confused at what he was doing, before the first taste of salt on my lips told me that I was the one who had to do the wiping.


Crying? Me, crying? What the fuck was wrong with me?! I could honestly say it has been years since I shed a tear for anything. This really was embarrassing and so unlike me. Angry at myself for showing such weakness, I wiped my face with the sleeves of my sweater; before glaring at him and daring him to even mention this to his lover. He must have realized what I was saying with my expression, because he only shrugged and gave a weak smile.


“Hungry?” he asked in an effort to change the subject. “The stewardesses dropped off brunch, but you were sleeping.”


I watched him wheel the trolley toward me, and though – on any other day – I would have ignored his offer, I felt too drained to resist or put up my guard. I ate with him in silence (I could have been eating sand for all the taste on my tongue) while listening to him ramble about the last time he went to Kyoto and how much I’d enjoy the place. Unfortunately, all I could see and think about was my dream (nightmare) and how real it had felt.


It was clear as to what the dream was implying, and it only brought to light the many other lives I had condemned over the years. I was torn; literally felt like I was being ripped in half. I did not understand why his sin should be the moral compass to leave me in such disarray. He had murdered someone for crying out loud. He did deserve what was coming to him, and yet a small part was slowly realizing what I was loathe to admit.


I wanted to see that warm smile again. I wanted to see those blue eyes not trained on me with hatred, but with that friendly light, which had irritated me (at the time) with how…nice it felt.


However, I knew I was asking for the impossible. We both knew such a thing was never going to happen, so what was the point dwelling on it? He hated me, and I felt the same for him. And that was all there was to that.


Orochimaru later joined us; looking refreshed and invigorated from his ‘escapades’ and sleep. I pretended to be reading as he and Kimimaro discussed some things out of earshot. I knew they wouldn’t appreciate me eavesdropping; though I was more than curious to know more about this trip besides having to see the sinners of government at work. I slept a few more times, but luckily did not have any troubling dreams. Sometime in the evening, the scenery had changed to reveal a landscape that was familiar and yet not familiar. I could make out towering palaces reminiscent of the Heian to Meiji era nestled amongst the hills and surrounded by lakes (either man made or natural). Despite the hints of the old country, modernization had taken its toll on the city as well; for there were many skyscrapers, lit streets and neon signs we bypassed. Considering I had lived a relatively sheltered life for almost fourteen years, and the only excuses I had for traveling was simply to go to bus stations to pick up sinners - being a part of the city life was a little overwhelming.


Our journey came to an end around two in the morning, where a black Mercedes Benz (the latest model) with a uniformed chauffeur and a bespectacled man in a business suit was expecting us at the station. Orochimaru’s luggage would arrive in a separate van, and as we made ourselves comfortable in the backseat (luckily I was spared the agony of sitting right next to Orochimaru), the bespectacled man introduced himself as Torune – Councilman Danzo’s private secretary.


“The councilman is honored you accepted his invitation, Lord Orochimaru,” Torune was saying. He was in the front seat and had to turn his head a little to address us. “He insists that you spend the time enjoying your stay in this fine city before the meeting tomorrow night.”


Orochimaru gave a non-committal grunt, and a quick glance at him revealed his gaze was trained out the window; his features expressionless. It was as if he didn’t really give a damn whatever Torune had to say. Kimimaro – who was dressed in a casual suit as well – also had the same stone-faced expression. My apprehension was growing. If Orochimaru hated coming here so much…why make the trip in the first place?


“And here we are,” Torune said as we pulled up to an elegant traditional townhouse. Despite it being smack dab in the middle of the city, it had been constructed in such a way to give the illusion of actually being in the countryside.


“Everything has been arranged as you requested,” Torune continued with a polite bow as Orochimaru strutted past him without a second glance. The poor guy seemed to hold his breath as Orochimaru inspected every single thing with his critical eye, and I had to say that the rooms were spotless and as exquisite as a man befitting his status. There were only four servants – two male and two female (shocking I know), but the female attendants were for my benefit apparently, and they were quite eager to show me my living quarters.


“We hope everything is to Sasuke-sama’s liking,” the older of the two said as she bowed her head to the tatami mat.


I couldn’t complain. The room was done in muted browns and creams with the familiar natural materials that made up the rooms in Byaku-Shinkyou. A futon had already been set for me with what looked like the softest white cotton sheets ever. Two sturdy Japanese lanterns illuminated the room, and there was a low-writing desk with chairs in a corner; right next to the alcove where two decorative samurai swords sat silently. There was a screen door leading to the private baths, and I was already dreaming of soaking in the tub when this was all over. I felt filthy.


“Would Sasuke-sama like some assistance in getting ready for bed?”

“We can help run your bath and wash your back if you want.”




I spun around – so lost in my examination of the room that I had completely forgotten the women were still here. They were still on their knees; dressed in light kimonos that accentuated their curves with every movement. They couldn’t have been any older than twenty, and it was embarrassing to have them looking as if they wanted to eat me alive. I shuddered and shook my head in polite refusal.


“I can take care of myself. Thank you.”


The older one tried to mask her disappointment. “If Sasuke-sama ever needs us for anything, just press the little button at the side of the wall there, and we’ll be at your beck and call.”


Thanking her again, I waited until they had bowed themselves out before I could breathe freely. Please do not assume that I am completely averse to women. I do not hate them or dislike them, but it’s been so long since I’ve actually sat or been in a room with any of them for longer than ten minutes, it makes me anxious and uncomfortable. Women could be intimidating and overpowering with their very presence. Perhaps that was why Orochimaru didn’t want them around.


For what it’s worth, I ended up sleeping like a baby. I had fully expected to have a restless night, but I must have been more exhausted than I thought. After a quick bath and my early morning prayers, one of the girls – the younger one – served me breakfast. Without her older companion, I was able to examine her mannerisms a little more carefully. She seemed more deliberate with her actions; slower as she would move the tray – as if hoping the items wouldn’t spill – or the way she’d pour out the tea (her hands would tremble a little). I could be wrong, but I had an inkling she was new to this stewardess business. Could it be that she was one of those girls who had to sell their bodies for money to pay off some debt?


However, it was when she turned toward the window, and the first filter of sunlight drifted through the wooden slats, did I finally notice it. It was something that had eluded me last night since she had kept her gaze down for most of the time.


Her eyes. They were…blue!


A rarity like the sinner back in Byaku-Shinkyou and yet here was another one before me with the very same eye color. Which could only mean …?


“Take it off,” I commanded quietly.


Her eyes widened in shock, and I kicked myself inwardly for how my order had sounded. The girl must have assumed I wanted to do something to her body…the furthest thing from my mind this early in the morning. I shook my head and clarified by nodding towards her head.


“That rug on your head,” I stated plainly. “Take it off and show me what’s beneath.”


She still looked panicked and distressed, but with hands that were literally shaking now and her gaze lowered to the tatami mat, she did as she was told. The black wig came off effortlessly to reveal the tightly bunched thick blond hair beneath. She bit her lower lip; clutching the wig tightly on her lap as she continued to stare at the floor. I could see the tears welling in her eyes; a sign she was struggling to hold back whatever shame I had caused her.


“You can put it back on,” I said with what I hoped was a non-threatening voice. “I just wanted to clarify my suspicions that’s all.”


This time, when she did look up, I could have sworn there was something else besides panic in those eyes. It was a dark expression that disappeared as quickly as it appeared. All the same, she put the wig back on and seemed to breathe a little easier.


“You are not who you claim to be, are you?” I prodded; now reluctantly intrigued by whatever back story she had. Was she a runaway? Was she someone in trouble with the law? Did she know who we were and that’s why she had to hide her identity?


She stubbornly remained mute and continued to study the mats. I sighed and did my best to control my temper. “Well? Are you going to tell me your real name or not?”




I strained to hear her whispered words, wishing she’d speak up for goodness sakes.


“E…noh…” she finally got out, just as the screen door opened to reveal her older companion. The new presence broke the spell, and ‘Enoh’ or whatever she called herself, was back to playing second fiddle as she allowed the other woman to take over the reigns.


By mid-morning, I found myself in a car heading toward the over-commercialized Christmas shopping district with Kimimaro for company. According to his orders, Orochimaru expected me to be dressed impeccably for the dinner meeting tonight with the councilman, hence I needed to be outfitted in a good evening suit. By the time we had visited about five different stores, I had a feeling the white-haired man had missed his calling. He was the consummate fashionista; able to point out what worked and didn’t work with my hair or my eyes or my build, and it was one parading of outfits after another until I was ready to rip my hair out (and never listen to another Jingle Bell being sung for as long as I live). Not that he gave a shit about my distress.


A typical Kimimaro assessment at a store.


“Try the black shirt.”

Five minutes later. “No. Too blah. How about this one?”

Five minutes later. “Too…meh. It doesn’t bring out your eyes. Try this one.”


He literally drove the salespeople nuts, and all the while sitting comfortably in his chair, legs crossed, sipping from a flute of champagne, while waving his hands up and down and sideways as he pointed out what outfits he wanted me dressed in and what he didn’t want to see me in. I guess Orochimaru must have given him an unlimited amount of cash to squander.


“I thought we were only going to buy one suit,” I finally grumbled as we left our sixth designer store with five large shopping bags to add to the ten or more already loaded in the rented Benz.


“You can never have enough clothes, Sasuke my dear,” came the flippant comment that pretty much summed up the rest of my day.


It was during lunch, at some fancy restaurant, that he nearly had a fit of epic proportions. “I almost forgot,” he gasped, while staring at me…well my head to be more specific. “You have got to get a haircut.”


I blinked and eyed the long bangs on either side of my face. What was wrong with my hair? I would have asked that aloud, but Kimimaro was already rambling on about what kind of hairstyle I could get that would fit my features. I hated to point out to him that his ponytails and zigzag parting weren’t exactly fashion-forward, but I knew he wouldn’t pay any attention to me. However, my shame came full circle when two flamboyant men walked past our table, only for one of them to stop and smile at us with an expression that I was all too familiar with.


“You two make a delicious couple,” he breathed with a giggle. “I am sooooo jealous.”


His partner apologized for the comment, though both still stole hungry glances of us as they left the restaurant.


I wanted to die.


Kimimaro, on the other hand, burst into loud laughter that even my glare couldn’t control. “Well, how about it, Sasuke?” he drawled lazily with a playful wink. “Don’t you think we’d make a delicious couple? I could teach you a few things here and …urk!”


I had tossed a grape in his direction; more at his forehead, but somehow it landed into his mouth and the poor guy was now gasping for breath. It took one of the maitre’d’s available to perform the Heimlich maneuver, which sent the grape flying across the room and into someone’s soup. Well, that caused another mini-disaster.


Bottom line, the haircut idea was discarded.


“You almost killed me!” he bitched on the drive back to our rented home. “I can’t believe you’d do that after all I’ve done for you today.”


“I said I was sorry,” I replied for the one-millionth time. “I didn’t think it would enter your mouth. I was aiming for your enormous forehead.”


“Haha. Funny,” he grumbled, and proceeded to stomp to he and Orochimaru’s wing of the house, leaving me to deal with all the bags of clothes (half of which I was sure I would never wear in this lifetime). Luckily ‘Enoh’ showed up to assist me, but I was too exhausted from the day to be bothered dealing with her quiet and secretive nature. I let her do whatever the hell she wanted before passing out on my futon in weariness. Fortunately, I did manage to get at least an hour of sleep before a loud knocking on my door signaled that our dinner date with the councilman was to begin.


After about five minutes of deliberation, I settled for the black double-breasted tuxedo, the black trousers with the silk stripe on the side, a white silk shirt, and a black bow tie. The gold cufflinks were an ‘extra’ gift from Kimimaro, and as I tied up my patent leather shoes and made sure my black cummerbund wasn’t going to fall off as I walked, I stepped back to examine the ‘finished product’ in the mirror. I looked like a completely different person, and I wasn’t sure I liked the change. Sighing softly, I reached for the white handkerchief, and folding it into fours like the salesperson had taught me, I tucked into the breast pocket and nodded in muted satisfaction.


The ‘new and improved’ Uchiha Sasuke was finally ready for his public debut.





From her hiding place behind the clump of bushes, vines, and trees within the large compound, she watched them step out of the main house, and toward the waiting vehicle. She clutched a branch tightly as the young master stepped into the glow from a street lamp; his handsome visage stoic yet strained as he followed Lord Orochimaru and Kimimaro. From the moment she had laid eyes on him, she agreed that the pictures did not do him justice at all. In person, Lord Sasuke was even more intoxicating, powerful, potent, and he didn’t even know it.


His voice made her heart skip a beat, and when he had ordered her to ‘take it off’, she had to admit that her initial thoughts had run amok at the possibilities of bedding him. She might have resisted…for the first five minutes before eventually giving in. It was just a damn pity Kaname-san always managed to poke her nose in when she was least expected. Last night all she had done was brag and yak about how the young master had stared at her the longest, and how he had clearly wanted to be with her, but he was just too shy to admit it.




She waited until the Benz was completely out of sight, before hiking up the skirt of her kimono and tiptoeing quickly across the compound toward the security station. She knew she had only a small window of time to get her task done or Kaname-san was bound to start asking questions. As she approached the small, one-room building, she gave a quick nod to the guard who only tipped his hat in acknowledgement before stepping aside as if excusing himself and not seeing her at all.


She shut the door behind her quietly and picked up the phone to dial the numbers she had memorized to heart. It was picked up almost as soon as she was done dialing.


“Any move?” came the sonorous voice at the other end.


“They’ve just left for the banquet,” she replied; the shy whisper used all day disappearing to reveal the strong, confident voice of a woman who knew exactly what she was doing. “Sasuke-sama was with them.”


“I see.” There was a pause of a heartbeat. “This means there’s a change in plans. The bastard is smarter than we give him credit for.”


“No go with the original?”


“We cannot risk hurting the young master. He is the key to all this, remember?”


“Yes, sir,” she replied humbly for the voice had risen sharply in disdain.


“Remember to keep your eyes open, Ino.”


“I understand.”


The click signaled the end of the conversation, and she hung up the device with an expel of breath. A quick motion outside the window had her looking up. It was the guard who was giving the sign that there was someone coming. Nodding in understanding, she slipped out of the building as quickly and quietly as she had gone in; only to blend into the shadows with barely a sound.


She had a role to play, and she would keep her end of the bargain until their best laid plans was finally rewarded with success.






“If you weren’t such a stuck up pain in the ass, I’d have a good mind of taking you back to my bedroom and having my way with you,” Orochimaru drawled as he just about raped me with those eyes of his. I tried to smile, but couldn’t quite manage it. I wasn’t sure if I ought to thank him for the roundabout compliment or not.


Though he had insisted it was going to be a black-tie event, Orochimaru danced to the beat of his own drum; hence he had chosen to wear a white silk embroidered mandarin jacket and matching pants. He had let his hair down tonight – literally. For that long flowing black mane seemed to glow a dark sheen of blue beneath the light as he moved. He looked even paler tonight, having applied even more of his makeup to hide the lines of age I’m sure. His golden staff/walking stick shaped like a serpent was also an accessory he banged on the floor as he walked. Kimimaro was dressed like me, only his tuxedo was white. The fact that his hair was in the same shade made him stand out like an angel (or ghost) in the sea of people we were now making our way towards.


When he had mentioned ‘dinner date’ with the council man, I had assumed we were going to his home for a private affair.


So much for that.


This ‘date’ was being held in one of the premier hotels in the city, and it was clear that the who’s who of Japanese politics and entertainment were in attendance tonight. Men dressed to the nines in their evening suits and women dazzling in ball gowns and jewelry that must have cost a fortune.


The thick stench of greed, envy, vanity, and pride made me want to vomit.


And why are my eyes beginning to water?


I winced at the flashbulbs from the cameras going off as we made our way into the lobby, and there was no doubt that the three of us were getting the most curious looks. No thanks to Orochimaru I’m sure.


However, it wasn’t until I passed a few people did I overhear their hushed and excited whispers:


“It’s him, isn’t it?”

“Looks so much like his father.”

“It’s the Uchiha boy.”

“Heard he was the lone survivor of the uprising.”

“The poor dear. I feel so sorry for him.”

“He’s the sole heir to the Uchiha fortune, I hear.”

“Amazing. He’s grown so much since we last saw him.”

“I wonder if he’s looking for a bride…”


Are you fucking kidding me?


“Now remember, Sasuke. I need your eyes tonight,” came the husky words breathed into my ear. “Keep a note of the names of the men who will be introduced to you and note the depths of their sins. I need to know those I can trust and those who are not worth my time. Can you do that for me?”


Of course. I knew I hadn’t been invited to Kyoto for just any ordinary ‘sightseeing’. What good was I for besides being his ‘spy’?


“Yes,” I replied quietly.


“Good boy. Ah…here he comes now,” Orochimaru muttered as I noticed the sea of people parting to make way for the stately man walking toward us slowly with the aid of a walking cane. Dressed in a generic black tuxedo, he had a black patch over his left eye, but from the hard lines on his face, it was clear he was a man who had seen hardships in his life and had conquered them all.


Shimura Danzo – acting head of the entire Police Force in the country. You could consider him the public face of the watchdogs, while Orochimaru worked in the shadows. It was a partnership  that seemed to fit them both.


“Welcome, welcome, welcome!” Danzo greeted as he held out his arms as if to give Orochimaru a hug. “We are humbled by your presence, Lord Orochimaru.”


Instead of a hug, they settled for firm handshakes as the cameras went off and the guests began to applaud. I watched Orochimaru switch into ‘people’ mode; which meant the anti-social psychopath had been tossed aside to reveal this smiling, oh-gosh-you personality which had them falling hard and fast into the web of lies he was spinning.


Almost immediately, I felt a burning sensation in my eyes; like suddenly being stabbed with needles continuously. The sensation got worse whenever I looked in the direction of Danzo and the important-looking men surrounding both he and Orochimaru. It wasn’t hard to see the reason why. I could see it all; the aura of blackness that cocooned each of them like a second skin; none more so than Shimura Danzo.


/ You get to see first hand, the greed and evils of our society, Sasuke. You will see why what we do here is necessary. If I could inflict the rite of Gudan on all our government officials, I would. Sinners…every last one of them. /


So Orochimaru hadn’t been lying. It was as if he had chosen to wear the white suit for a reason. It was to make those evil ones more evident against the unblemished color of his being. I wanted to gorge my eyes out; to rip them out of their sockets and to remain blind. I could barely breathe.


“Easy now, Sasuke,” Kimimaro whispered into my ear with a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “You’re beginning to look anxious. I know it’s overwhelming, but bear with it for a little while.”


Bear with it? Bear with it? I could hardly see!


“And this is Little Sasuke? Hardly little anymore, are you?” came the jovial cry from a portly man, whose jowls seemed to dance with every motion of his lips. “Don’t you remember me? I used to work with your father in the Ministry of Defense.”


Ministry of Defense…my father…those documents Orochimaru was reading…I don’t…understand…


“Of course he can’t remember such things,” another man said. This one was skinny but still as wrinkled and ancient. “I’ll bet he remembers me. Uncle Gozu. Your father and I were quite close back in our academy days. In fact, I remember the time when -”


“No, no, your father and I were in the same business together. You remember me surely, Sasuke-kun?”


They were all beginning to crowd me, and I wanted to escape…to get away from it all. I didn’t belong here. Who were this people? Why did they want me? What did they want with me? I wanted to get back to my safe haven; my cocoon – back to Byaku-Shinkyou, where I belonged. Modern society and its eccentricities frightened me, terrified me with its inherent evil and greed. These men did not care about anything but what they could benefit from their positions of power. I wanted…I needed…


…get out of here!


“Let the young man get some air,” came the voice of reason as Danzo broke through the throng of men to grasp my wrist protectively. “Here, have a drink, Sasuke. Looks like you need it.”


I accepted the flute of what I hoped was non-alcoholic beverage, but a sip told me otherwise. I had vowed to abhor alcohol after my month with the priests, and yet here I was breaking that promise. All the same, the rich smooth taste did ease my anxiety a little, and as I glanced over my shoulder, I could make out Kimimaro leaning against a wall with a hand in pocket and the other cradling a flute raised in a toast to me. Orochimaru was engaged in conversation with a group of men and women, but did find the time to glance my way; a dark and unreadable expression in his eyes before forcing himself back to the conversation at hand.


“Here we are,” Danzo was saying as he pushed open a set of doors leading out to the balcony. There was another couple out here, but they were not close enough to be a bother. Grateful for the fresh air, I squeezed my eyes shut for a second; allowed the wave of vertigo to stop making me feel nauseated, before lifting my lashes to look at the Kyoto skyline at night. Like a million colorful fireflies, one could almost consider it urban beauty.


At least my eyes had stopped burning, so that felt better.


“It is a beautiful city indeed,” Danzo was saying; reminding me that I was not alone. He tapped his walking stick on the ground and smiled at me.


“It’s been a while now, hasn’t it? When I last saw you, you were about this high.” He pointed toward his chest. I was now taller than him by about an inch. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to say anything, so I settled for a low ‘yeah’ in agreement and took another swig. Whatever was in this drink, I was really beginning to like it. I was beginning to feel pleasurably numb all over.


“It’s a pity you have to remain stuck behind the walls of Byaku-Shinkyou, when there’s a whole world out here just waiting to be explored.”


I shrugged and eyed the bubbles forming at the sides of the flute. “I like Byaku-Shinkyou.”


“As you well should, since it belongs to your family…your inheritance.”


There was something in his voice that made me look up, and again I was immediately assaulted by the evil around him. I decided to focus my attention on an area above his head instead of looking directly at his face. It felt like my eyes would begin bleeding soon if I kept this up.


“Would you mind if I did something, Sasuke?”




“It won’t be but a second of your time.”




A smile was thrown my way before he snapped his fingers and two men – from seemingly nowhere – appeared to begin patting me down. I would have protested the invasion of my personal space, but I was still a little buzzed and besides these men were damn quick with whatever they were doing. I watched in bemusement as one of them handed something to Danzo. Whatever it was, was so small I could barely see it, but it must have been enough for Danzo to give a grunt and nod as if it was to be expected. He squeezed his hand tightly and I think I heard the crush of something, but I must have been hearing things.


“Now I can speak to you freely,” he stated as the two men vanished as quickly as they appeared.


Stranger and stranger.


Danzo walked to the railings to look out to the city, and began to tap his walking stick on the ground in a rhythmic pattern. “As you well know, Sasuke, Byaku-Shinkyou has been run by Orochimaru since the unfortunate demise of your family. As you also know your father was the Commissioner General – a role which I unfortunately have today – in other words, he oversaw everything that involved law enforcement in this country. It’s a role that has always been under the name of the Uchiha, and it is my wish that someday you will take over the reigns when my time is up.”


What the hell is he talking about?


“Unfortunately, Orochimaru has deemed it fit to control the role of the watchdogs from Byaku-Shinkyou instead of the other way around.” At this point, Danzo had moved away from the railings and was now walking toward me; a fever in his eyes that I could not bear to look at. He was suffocating me. “Orochimaru assumes he can take control of the entire watchdogs and is not simply satisfied with being a ‘hidden’ figure. He wishes to take his insane doctrines to the extreme and we cannot allow that to happen.”


“…doesn’t he fund your office, Councilman?” I drawled with a small smirk. “You are talking big for someone who keeps crawling to him to help finance your re-election. Should you be saying such things about him behind his back?”


His lips tightened in distaste. “Orochimaru is full of greed and will stop at nothing until he is in total and complete control of everything. He will not hesitate to remove you from the picture, just as he planned and orchestrated that up -”


“Ah, so this is where you two ran off to,” came the familiar voice of Orochimaru as he all but burst through the doors and stepped out to the balcony with Kimimaro in tow…and a few other politicians hanging onto his coattails.


Orochimaru moved closer to me; a hand reaching out to caress my neck gently. Though he was smiling, I could see that his eyes spoke volumes. He was clearly not pleased about something.


“And what were you two talking about without us, eh?”


This brought some laughter from the vultures and I could feel his caress getting a little harder. He was just about squeezing my neck.


“The political climate, Orochimaru,” Danzo replied with a tight smile as well. I was beginning to think there was no love lost between these two, and what was that he was saying about Orochimaru orchestrating and planning an up…? Up what?


“The recent attacks on police stations around the country hasn’t escaped you, has it?” Danzo continued.


Recent attacks on police stations? Why hadn’t I heard of this before?


“Indeed,” Orochimaru stated loudly and for the benefit of his now rapt audience. “We have heard of these despicable acts, and you can be rest assured that the sinners who have committed such treason will have their sins purged the only way we know how.”


“How’s that?” a politician asked. “What can you do to stop these terrorists?”


Orochimaru smiled. “Why the spiritual ritual of Gudan. The cleansing of the corrupted spirit and soul from this earth where they will be taken to the heavens.”


“Didn’t I hear it was basically a beheading?” someone muttered, which caused a murmur of conversation among the crowd. Inside, I squirmed in discomfort.


“A beheading…yes…” Orochimaru agreed with an indulgent nod. “But we do not just chop off heads for fun. It is all done with prayers and the most ancient of purification rites observed.”


“I’ve been to one of those things,” a politician admitted. I couldn’t really see him from here, but it sounded like the fat man with the jowls. “They aren’t really exciting. I mean, we just see the sinners brought out and then you mutter your prayers and wham, they get killed off.”


“We demand they suffer a little more,” a woman cried out shrilly, and a chorus of ‘yes! yes! yes!” was taken up by the blood-thirsty crowd. My eyes began to burn again; forcing me to lower my gaze to the ground.


“With all the sinners being sent to Byaku-Shinkyou recently,” some other politician rambled. “Many of whom were connected to the loss of over a hundred brave and patriotic officers all over the country, I think it’s fair that we get to see them tortured for much longer than five minutes of prayer and then a beheading.”


“Hear! Hear!” they cried out.


“So what do you suggest?” Orochimaru asked; his voice filled with dark amusement. He directed this to Danzo who had been quiet all this time. “How else can we appease you, my lords and ladies?”


“Let them fight to the death,” Danzo stated firmly. Even I had to look up at this declaration. Just what the hell was he suggesting?


“I say that all the sinners to be beheaded on that day be put into a death match. Let it become a survival of the fittest with some rouse that whoever wins gets his freedom. Then…the winner of the death match gets to face your strongest fighter or officer. If he manages to beat …or kill…said officer in a battle…he deserves his freedom, don’t you all agree?”


The audience nodded here and there, many murmuring their agreements. I glanced at Orochimaru in disbelief. He couldn’t possibly go with this, would he? It was against the rite of Gudan. It was to be a ‘clean’ (albeit bloody) rite of passage. Agreeing to this death match was going too far.


“Orochimaru…” I began, but he squeezed my neck hard, and I could see in his eyes; a gleam of excitement that sent chills of concern and trepidation down my spine. He really was going through with this. He was really going to –


“I accept your offer,” he said aloud with a firm tap of his walking stick on the ground as if to silence them. “The sinners will fight to the death, and to sweeten the pot or make the stakes even higher, I know just who will be the final officer they’ll have to face.”


“Oh?” Danzo asked with a raised brow. “And who is this officer willing to offer himself for the cause?”


Fully expecting it to be Kimimaro – since he was stronger than me (and I didn’t mind him getting killed by an overzealous sinner) – I felt my stomach drop as I was suddenly pushed forward a little.


“Why the very heir of the Byaku-Shinkyou,” came the loud cackle of declaration that elicited stunned silence at first. “Whoever survives the death match will face Uchiha Sasuke as his final ticket to the afterlife or to freedom. It should be a thrilling match, shouldn’t it?”


There was another heartbeat of stupefied silence, before their cheers of agreement ricocheted like thunder. Unfortunately, it only felt like muted disembodied voices to me. I could only train my gaze to the ground; my hands forming tight fists, my stomach fluttering with mixed sensations of fever and ice as I realized just what Orochimaru had in store for me.


And Danzo too. Both of them…both of them…are…are…


“And to appease you even more,” my tormentor continued with a slap of my shoulders. “What say we move the date of the festivities to the third week of the new year, hmm? Perfect time to usher in blessings with multiple cleansings, wouldn’t you agree?”


Their blood-thirsty cheers made me want to vomit, but I could only hold it in and force myself to keep a neutral expression. Many of them promised to attend, with the hope that it would turn out to be a good show. I listened to Orochimaru shake hands and tell them all that they were welcome to Byaku-Shinkyou at anytime. In less than a few minutes, he had managed to turn my whole world upside down, and I was left trembling with the enormity of what changes had been made.


Of my life suddenly being at stake.


In four weeks, the final rite of passage would officially begin. In four weeks, I would get to watch men resort to being beasts as they struggled for survival, and in less than four weeks, I would have to test my worth to Orochimaru and Shimura Danzo; two men who seemed to want to see me humiliated and destroyed in front of thousands.


The lying, conniving bastards!


So be it, I thought angrily as I walked to the railings and glared at the twinkling skyline that now seemed to mock me. I will show you both what I’m made of. You can count on it.





Chapter 09

Naruto Home













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