Chapter 10:


[Japanese Lullaby by Eugene Field]


Sleep, little pigeon, and fold your wings,—

Little blue pigeon with velvet eyes;

Sleep to the singing of mother-bird swinging—

Swinging the nest where her little one lies.


Her voice was a soothing sound; like gentle rain on a pleasant summer night. My head lay on her lap, my lashes growing heavier with weariness as the scents, sights, and sounds of late July assailed my young senses. The sensation of her hands caressing my hair, and every now and then her fingers reaching out to trace the outline of my forehead and cheeks, made me feel good...loved. I snuggled even closer to her warmth; inhaling those inherent emotions only mothers seem able to ooze from their very pores.


Away out yonder I see a star,—

Silvery star with a tinkling song;

To the soft dew falling I hear it calling—

Calling and tinkling the night along.


We were the only ones at home, which was fine with me. Sure I had pouted and complained when Father wanted to take Itachi again for training at the dojo, but he had only smiled and pet my head saying, “When you’re a little bigger, Sasuke. Don’t worry. Your time will come.” When? I had wanted to ask, but Itachi had whispered into my ear that he’d bring me a surprise if I behaved myself, and knowing how Itachi’s ‘surprises’ were always the coolest, that did the trick effectively.


In through the window a moonbeam comes,—

Little gold moonbeam with misty wings;

All silently creeping, it asks, "Is he sleeping—

Sleeping and dreaming while mother sings?"


Being with Mother meant, for the most part, watching her do the household chores. She allowed me to help with the laundry, and together we hung up kimonos, yukatas, and bed sheets on wooden clotheslines in the backyard. The dull flapping sound of the clothes dancing with the afternoon’s breeze was an odd but not unpleasant musical accompaniment to Mother’s voice. In the distance we could hear the neighbors calling to each other in cheerful greeting, while the delicious smells of grilled or smoked fish, sweet potatoes, or barbequing pork filled the air. In a few minutes, Mother would probably want to start getting dinner ready for Father and Itachi...with the hopes that they did come home on time. There were some nights when Father would work extra long hours at the office, causing Mother to sit all alone in the living room waiting patiently for his return. In those moments, when I would peek in to see her like that, I always thought she looked so sad; a sight that almost always broke my heart. I never wanted to see my Mother unhappy.




“When I get bigger, I’ll always come home on time for dinner. I promise I’ll never be late.”


She stopped humming for a heartbeat, and when she spoke again, I could hear the smile in her voice.


“And I’ll always be here waiting for you, my brave little warrior.”


I blushed as she leaned closer to place her warm lips against my forehead. I would have wiped it off if Itachi was around (because it was always embarrassing and he would sometimes tease me about it), but when we were alone like this, I didn’t mind her affectionate gestures. However, as I adjusted my body to get more comfortable, the sound of the sheets flapping in the wind seemed to quicken as an angry gust of wind suddenly swooped in from nowhere. I shivered at the chill that accompanied this unexpected change in weather; an anomaly for this time of the day (or year for that matter).


’Kaasan?” I whimpered; looking into the heavens that were now filled with darkening gray clouds. “Looks like it’s going to rain.”


But my mother was not paying much attention to me. She kept singing as if unaware of the ominous change in the air.


Up from the sea there floats the sob

Of the waves that are breaking upon the shore,

As though they were groaning in anguish, and moaning—

Bemoaning the ship that shall come no more.


’Kaasan?!” I called out a little louder. I could hear it. I could hear them. The pounding, thunderous sounds of hooves from seemingly a thousand horses. I could hear the screams of death, and I knew what was coming; knew what was inevitable. All the same, I had to warn her; had to tell her to get away from the patio. We had to get!




But sleep, little pigeon, and fold your wings,—

Little blue pigeon with mournful eyes;

Am I not singing?—see, I am swinging—

Swinging the nest where my darling lies.


“We have to go inside now!” I screamed, but I could not hear my voice. Mother was still smiling to herself; oblivious to anything and everything. I tried to pull away; to drag her to her feet, but her grip had now tightened around my neck, holding me prisoner. Could she not see? Could she not understand that she was going to die? Did she not want me to rescue her? Why wouldn’t she let me go?!


’Kaaaasaaaan!” I bellowed as the deafening neigh of a horse as black as night and as large as a house, with a rider I could not recognize in matching dark robes, leapt over the fence with the longest and sharpest katana I had ever seen being unsheathed.


“Do not be afraid, my little brave warrior,” my mother was saying with that same warm smile on her features. “I will always be here with you….waiting…”


My scream of horror was drowned in the cacophony of chaos as I watched my mother beheaded for the second time. The smile still remained on her beautiful face, though her head seemed to twist endlessly in the air until it was caught by her long hair by the unknown black rider. He dangled my mother’s head before me as if seeking my approval, and in a swift move, he/it tossed the head into a bulging bag attached to his horse. I was sure I could make out my father and Itachi’s head in there as well; a sight that sent me completely numb with terror.


I couldn’t even open my mouth to make a sound anymore.


“It’s your turn, Uchiha Sasuke,” the black rider spoke in a voice that seemed to boom from all corners of the earth. The katana gleamed beneath the skies in silver and blood, and as I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the deadly strike to take me away…



But sleep, little pigeon, and fold your wings,—

Little blue pigeon with mournful eyes;


I lifted my lashes with a breathless gasp.


Am I not singing?—see, I am swinging—

Swinging the nest where my darling lies.


I was confused.


Am I still dreaming? Why am I still hearing that song? …Kaa…Kaasan? Is that you?


And yet there was something quite different about this dream. I was no longer a child for one thing, and I was definitely not in Byaku-Shinkyou either. There was a scent in the air that was a far cry from warm dinners and late summer evenings. For although this smell was not of my mother’s, I could still sense the familiar warmth that only a woman could provide. Orientation of my surroundings did not take long as my companion moved gently, causing her long blonde hair to fall across my shoulders and torso.




Sleep, little pigeon, and fold your wings,—

Little blue pigeon with velvet eyes;

Sleep to the singing of mother-bird swinging—

Swinging the nest where her little one lies.


She was the one singing softly and caressing my head as my mother had done all those years ago. Though I would have appreciated the sentiment of trying to get me to sleep (or maybe I did fall asleep after ‘The Act’), listening to those lyrics now only sent unpleasant shivers down my spine. I never wanted to hear them again.


“Stop,” I commanded though my voice sounded hoarse and drugged.


“My Lord?” came the bemused reply. Mercifully, her fingers had also stopped fiddling with the strands of my hair.


“That song,” I explained quietly. Her soft yet firm breasts pressed tenderly against my back, and it was only a reminder of how I had dared to feel them…of how she had actually encouraged me to suckle on those pert nipples like a babe deprived of food. I felt my cheeks become warm at how wanton I had behaved.




“Do you not like it?” came the question that jarred me from my thoughts.


“Like what?”


“The song, my Lord. You said…”


“Never sing it in my presence again,” I stated. I could feel her confused look trained on me, but she dutifully agreed with my decision without question.


“As you wish, Sasuke-sama.”


There was a long, awkward, and somewhat uncomfortable pause in which I mused over what had transpired moments earlier? Moments? I glanced at the clock and winced inwardly. It was almost four in the morning. Enoh had been with me for the past hour; an hour in which new discoveries had left me feeling satiated yet strangely unsatisfied. Why?


‘The Act’ had, at first, been mostly her doing all the work as I simply lay back and observed her attempts to pleasure me. It was Haku’s massage all over again; only this time, Enoh’s lips and tongue had introduced me to a sensation that was more potent than whatever my manservant could conjure up. I admit it was embarrassing having to watch her suck on my penis with more enthusiasm than should be necessary (and there had been a moment when I was sure she was going to actually bite it off). However, my fears aside, the final result was all that mattered. I don’t think I have ever come so hard in my life, and it was all I could not to scream out at the surge of adrenaline and heat that had my toes curling in downright ecstasy. She had swallowed every drop of it; another surprising moment that made me wonder if it was really that good to taste. She appeared to enjoy it, so I did not bother asking.


She also seemed to realize it was my first time with anyone, and did not laugh or mock my feeble attempts to reciprocate her actions. Enoh was a good and patient teacher, and her encouragement came with every breathless gasp and sigh she gave as I did my best to match her skills. I came to realize that the female body was much more sensitive than I could have possibly imagined. Just the gentle pinch of a nipple or blowing softly on her belly button was enough to get her excited, and when she led my fingers to the warm, moist heat between her legs, it was all I could do to keep her pinned to the futon. I could write an entire essay on my first exploration of the female vagina, but I’ll spare you the details.


With the intricacies of foreplay mastered, it was finally time for consummation, and I could honestly say I had never been more intimidated and unsure of what to do with myself at the time. Again, Enoh was more than glad to show me the way, and though I hated to admit that I had once or twice tried to imagine what the process of intercourse would feel like; actually experiencing the real thing would be downright impossible to describe in mere words. To be crude, it felt like sinking your penis into warm dough…only the dough was capable of tightening around your organ and squeezing it at different and unexpected intervals, hence creating a sensation so intense, you felt as if you were going to pass out with pleasure.


I could only assume she had her orgasm before mine; for her hips had bucked hard, and I could feel her literally drench my swollen (and hard) organ with her body fluids. She bit hard into the pillow to stop herself from crying out loud; which was a good thing because I had no intention of trying to explain to anyone why I was sleeping with the servant. All the same, her release triggered mine, and again, it is hard to put into words how it felt at the time. Let’s just say it was the same thing I experienced after Haku’s massage…twice over.


Needless to say, after such an eventful day and all the stored up emotions having been released with the grand finale of ‘The Act’, I must have passed out in her arms in exhaustion. And now, wide awake and dealing with the after effects (a combination of being groggy and woozy), I wanted her gone as far away from me as possible. I felt sullied and tainted, and though it would have been foolish for me to run out at this hour to find the nearest temple for ablutions, I would have to make do with an early shower and bath and –


“Is my Lord disappointed?” came the quiet question which had me finally turning my head a little to give her my full attention.


She was now sitting up with the top sheet held protectively against her chest. Her gaze was downcast; her hair a tumbled blonde mess around her face and shoulders. Her skin was now a flushed hue of pink with some areas a much darker red thanks to my passionate embraces at times. As she captured her lower lip between her teeth, I realized that was one part of her body I had not touched yet. Though they were inviting, kissing her would make the situation even more…awkward, and besides, I did not want to give her the impression that I planned to take this relationship any further. In my naïve world, the act of kissing a person on the lips meant that you intended to continue (or begin) an intimate relationship. I had only seen my father do that to my mother once – when they thought Itachi and I had gone to bed – hence I believed it was an act between people who loved each other deeply. I appreciated Enoh, and that was about it.


“…my Lord?” she prodded gently.


“No…” I replied carefully; trying not to hurt her feelings. I wanted to blurt out that it was a very good learning experience, but I had the idea that it was not exactly the sort of thing a woman would want to hear after giving herself up like this. “Uum…thank you…?”


She looked at me with an expression I couldn’t quite decipher. Amusement? Anger? Pity? Had I said the wrong thing? Thanking her for her…companionship…was that such a bad thing?


“You were…eh…helpful,” I added; feeling more foolish and yet frustrated by the second. What did she want from me?


She finally broke into a small smile before leaning close to place a kiss on my forehead.  It was all I could do not to wipe it off on reflex. How dare she…?!


“You really can be quite cute when you’re embarrassed, Sasuke-sama.”


Cu…cute?! What the hell does she mean by…?!


However, before I could speak out my indignation at her insinuation that I was ‘cute’, she was already getting off the futon to seek her clothes. It gave me another opportunity to admire her slender yet strong build; her every movement beginning to stir my nether regions with that sinful desire I struggled to control. On closer inspection, I noticed my seed still trickling down (or stuck to) her thighs, and it immediately hit me that in the heat of the moment, I had forgotten to protect myself! How could I have been so stupid? What if she was the kind of woman who slept around with every man she felt sorry for? Did that mean I would soon contract some kind of venereal disease? Or worse…would she get pregnant with my child? I did not know what precautions such women took to protect themselves, and my problem now lay in framing a question about her sleeping habits without sounding like a complete asshole. I found myself opening and shutting my mouth for a few seconds while she slipped into her kimono, tied her sash, and began to brush out her hair with her fingers before getting it into a ponytail.


I cleared my throat and forced myself to speak. “Uum…Enoh…”


“Where did you get that?” came the sudden question that had me blinking in confusion. She was looking at my evening suit, which I had flung onto the chair earlier in the evening. Where did I get the suit from? What kind of a question was..?


However, it turned out it wasn’t the suit that had caught her eye, but what she was now reaching out to pluck from it. It was the lucky charm Asuma had given me. I had tucked it within my jacket before leaving.


“A friend gave it to me,” I replied warily. She was staring at it with an expression that was borderline amazement and yet fascination.


“Who is this friend?” she asked, which caused me to raise a brow at her audacity. Had she forgotten her place? She might have shared an intimate night with me, but it gave her no right to ask me questions as if I owed her any answer. I was just about to tell her to leave, when she reached into her kimono (I’m guessing there’s a hidden pocket within it) to pull out an exact replica of the charm.


“See?” she said with a smile; her pale blue eyes shining with fervor. “It’s the same thing.”


“Probably generic,” I muttered; now knowing Asuma must have bought it at some souvenir store. It somehow cheapened the gift for me now. I had really bought into it being unique and special.


“Not generic at all,” Enoh was saying. She was back on the futon; leaning closer to me in earnest. “This is a special charm given to members of an organization. The inscription at the back…did you not see it?”


An inscription.


May this protect you from all harm…


/“Oh…and I wouldn’t dismiss that lucky charm thing so quickly. Might want to give it a proper looksee when you’ve got the time.”/


I all but snatched the charm from Enoh and peered hard at the words carved at the back of the ornament. However, I could see nothing different from…


“Here,” she explained, now leaning so close, I could feel her warm breath against the back of my hand. She pushed aside my thumb and pointed to the even tinier kanji etched within the charm. It was written in such a way that it seemed to blend with the back of the cat’s leg. It would have been hard for anyone else to see it anyway.


“Day…break…,” I read slowly. “Daybreak…? What the fuck does that mean?”


Enoh’s smile widened. “The Kanji reads as ‘daybreak’, but we are known as Akatsuki. Whoever gave you the charm is probably a member of our group.”


I looked up at her; the wig…the stronger voice…it was all an act after all. I knew it. Somehow this confirmation only did more to remind me of what had transpired at the dinner party yesterday night, and my paranoid thoughts of not being able to trust anyone seeped into my consciousness again.


“Who are you?” I asked coldly. “What are you? And what has Asuma got to do with all this?”


“Asuma?” She looked genuinely confused. “I must not have met him yet. I only just joined recently. However, if you want to know the truth…I will be glad to show you, Sasuke-sama.”




“Tom…today is supposed to be my day for grocery shopping,” she explained. “You must find a way to leave the house alone and meet me at Saiho-ji. It’s one of the most famous temples in Kyoto. I’m sure you’ll want to visit it.”


“What time are we to meet?”


“Hmm…two o’clock seems fine. It will be quite busy then, and we should be able to talk without arousing suspicion. Meet me at the moss gardens situated in the eastern temple grounds. I will be waiting on the bridge by the Golden Pond.”


I wanted to ask so many more questions, but she was gasping in panic as the clock hit the five o’clock mark.


“Oh my,” she fretted while adjusting her wig. “I must leave you now, Sasuke-sama. I do not want Kaname to awaken and discover me no longer in bed.”




“I will see you later in the day,” she cut in quickly, and this time, as she leaned close to me again, I braced myself for another kiss on the forehead, but was instead rewarded with the sensation of her soft lips against mine. Her audacity really was astonishing.


“Thank you for choosing me as your first, Sasuke-sama,” she finally whispered with a smile so warm and friendly; my heart stirred with an emotion that threatened to get me emotional. It had been so long since anyone had looked at me in such a way, and I wanted to latch on to it for as long as I could.


“Get some rest,” she advised as she rose to her feet and made her way to the door. “Oh, and by the way, it’s not ‘Enoh’, it’s ‘Ino’,” she corrected with a giggle, and with a polite bow, she slid open the shoji screen doors and let herself out with barely a sound.


“Ino,” I recited with a shake of my head. Wasn’t much of a difference in phonetics, but it did not matter to me now. As I lay back on the futon with my hands beneath my head, all I could think about was this new imparted information and what awaited me at the temple later on today. It was going to be tricky trying to convince Orochimaru to allow me to go sight-seeing on my own, but after what he did to me last night, he dared not refuse anything I requested.




Who were they and what did they want with me? Why was Asuma a member? And why hadn’t he told me about it after all this time? So many damn questions, so little time. Yet as my lashes grew heavier and I snuggled beneath the blanket to try to get some sleep, little would I know that the lingering musky scent of the first woman I ever ‘loved’ would be the only thing left for me to remember her by.


It would be the last time I ever saw Ino alive.







Haku was at it again.


Only this morning, he had his hair in some funny style that involved his long black hair framing each side of his face in a ponytail, and the rest of it, tied in a bun covered with some protective head piece I had never seen before. He had forgone the girlish kimono today at least (thank God), and was clad in a black long-sleeved turtleneck beneath a short but warm-looking navy blue yukata with a thick brown sash. His hakama pants were a matching black; long enough to almost cover the heeled slippers and thick white socks he wore on his feet. He looked a little more manly today; emphasis on the ‘little’.


What was even more embarrassing was that he made a straight beeline for me instead of stopping to flirt with the other prisoners as he usually did. Oh sure he greeted them and spent a few seconds chit-chatting, but with the way he kept craning his neck around in search for someone or something, the realization that he had been looking for me, made it worse.


“Good morning, Naruto-kun,” he greeted with a bright smile; a stark contrast to the bitter gray morning, where we were -  you guessed it – shoveling another two inches of snow that had fallen overnight. I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes, but cheesy as it seems to say it, Haku’s smile made you feel…well…warm inside.


Was that a good thing?


Someone had the gall to whistle, and I could feel the rush of blood creeping up my neck as Haku giggled behind his hand and proceeded to watch me shovel with more force than necessary. I didn’t have Chouji to protect me today because he was sick with the flu. So any attempt to pretend as if Haku didn’t exist was not happening.


“How are you doing this morning, Naruto-kun? It’s so cold today, isn’t it?”


No kidding, Captain Obvious, I wanted to snap, but I shoved down this dark side of me and forced myself to respond as cheerfully as I could. “Wanna help me shovel?”


I had only asked in jest; not really expecting him to agree, but boy, was I shocked when his eyes widened and he then cocked his head to the side as if in thought. “Well…I don’t mind, but they won’t let me.” He pouted and nodded toward the guards who were watching us with expressions of confusion and annoyance. I bet they wanted to break up our little meeting, but didn’t have the balls to interfere. Man, being Sasuke’s manservant really did have its perks.


“Bummer,” I agreed with a dramatic sigh. “It really is fun to shovel this snow for hours on end.”




I glanced at him; wondering if his breathless response was him mocking me, but he really did look innocent and earnest. I could tell him that shoveling snow would make him super strong or give him super powers, and he would eat it up just like that. He was turning out to be like one of those kids I used to tease and prank often while growing up on the streets. Was he really that gullible or just pulling my legs?


“I like snow,” Haku volunteered as he stooped to his haunches beside me. I was careful not to shovel his foot on accident. He was that close. “Sometimes…” He folded his arms on his raised knees and rested his chin against them. “When I was growing up…sometimes I’d have to sleep in the snow because I had no place to live.”




I glanced at him again, but he wasn’t looking at me. His brown eyes were distant and filled with a loneliness and sadness I could recognize. It was an expression that must have been etched on my face so many days and nights during my childhood; of wondering if you would ever live to see the next day, of not being appreciated and loved by anyone. I felt my heart stir so hard at the memories, that I had to turn away and bite my lower lip to control myself from reaching out to hug him.


“Sometimes the snow would protect me,” he continued; now extending a palm to the heavens as a few snow flurries began to descend. “It would hide me from those people who tried to hurt me. When it snowed extra hard, they would never see me.”


“Yeah…” I grunted as I tossed another shovelful of snow to the side. “Funny…”


“Hmm? What’s funny?”


“I thought you were born and raised here,” I said with a light shrug. He was already shaking his head before I was finished.


“Nope.” He sighed and returned to folding his arms on his knees. “I was born in a small village several miles from here. It was Kimimaro-sama who brought me here. He saved my life when I thought I was going to die.”




He raised a brow. “You do not know him? He is the man who is always beside Orochimaru-sama. The one with the white-haired and dot on his forehead.”


Ah…that guy. I had only seen him once, and that was on the night of the initial purification rites. In fact, now that I thought about it, it’s the only time I’ve seen the snake-like dude as well. He didn’t get out often, did he? Considering he was the supposed ‘boss’ and all.


“What about you?” came the question that had me blinking in confusion.


“What about me, what?”


“Where did you come from?”


Everywhere and nowhere, I wanted to reply, and that would have been the God honest truth. I belonged nowhere. I was a walking nomad, and even if I was to be released today (by some miracle), I had no idea where I’d go. Probably back down South and as far away from the Bakufu as possible. I sighed and rubbed my forehead wearily.


“I come from…” I began to speak, but was rudely interrupted as the first trickle of officers began to approach the dining hall. Haku and I knew our chit-chat time was over. He rose to his feet quickly, and I noticed his body language changed as well. It was as if he had shielded himself in a block of ice – no pun intended – but I realized it was a tactic he had to adopt whenever in the presence of the high-ranking officials. After all, the very notion of speaking to an unpurified sinner like me could probably get him in trouble.


With a hurried whisper of ‘I’ll see you later’, he joined the throng of the black-clad watchdogs and blended in effortlessly. Call me a sentimental old goat, but watching him leave did hurt…a little. It felt like he was abandoning me, and considering I had thought his company annoying just moments earlier, I berated myself for being so indecisive. Did I want him to hang around me or not?


I decided ‘not’ after I was teased mercilessly by the other guys about having a ‘new boyfriend’ the rest of the morning. Hell, even the lovesick bastard from the other day had sulked and said he would challenge me to some shitty duel over his precious Haku-chan. I did tell him he was welcome to marry the guy, but lovesick dude wouldn’t hear of it. He was so old-fashioned, he really did plan to challenge me to a fight.


Heh. Whatever floats his boat.


By lunch time, I was too tired to even eat one of my rare days of special meals; a steaming hot bowl of shrimp tempura udon. I swirled the noodles within the soup, around and around absently with my chopsticks and wondered if I could at least sleep for five minutes before having to begin the dishwashing for lunch. I was back in my storage room hiding place, but too weary to even climb up the ladder to the roof. I settled for slumping onto an upturned crate, and was just about to shove some noodles into my mouth when the door creaked open and Shikamaru’s silhouette flooded my sanctuary.


“May we join you?”


“Huh?” We? Who the hell was he bringing in…?


“Hello, Naruto-kun!”


Of course. Who else?


“Found him loitering around the grounds looking for you,” Shikamaru explained as if comparing Haku to a lost puppy of some sort, which wouldn’t be too far from the truth. The guy looked absolutely giddy to be in such a dump for reasons beyond me.


As usual, neither waited for me to give them the ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to disturb my solitude, as they began to drag empty crates toward me. They also had their lunches with them. Shikamaru I was used to, but Haku was surprising considering he must have had some explaining to do about leaving the dining room with his food.


“I usually do that anyway,” Haku said; making me wonder if I had asked my question aloud in the first place. “Sometimes I just go to the dining room to pick up my food and Sasuke-sama’s food and take it back to his place.”


“He doesn’t eat with them?” I asked with a raised brow. Like I gave a shit whether Mr. High and Mighty ate with them or not, and yet I still wanted to know the answer.


Haku was shaking his head. “Not all the time…well, it’s been a while actually. He doesn’t like eating with the officers…”


I snorted. Typical. “Thinks he’s too good for them, I’ll bet,” I mumbled and shoved some more noodles in my mouth.


“…because they don’t like him being with them,” he finished quietly, and dare I say…sadly.


There was an awkward pause, in which Shikamaru and I exchanged looks of bewilderment at this revelation before he shrugged and continued eating.


“Well…you can’t really blame them,” I began carefully; trying to frame my words in such a way that it wouldn’t sound…insensitive. “I mean…he is their boss and I guess they…uh…respect him…or whatever.”


Haku opened his mouth to say something, but seemed to decide against it. He simply shook his head and began to pick at his noodles. For some reason, I suddenly felt like apologizing to him. Seeing him look despondent got me down a little, and I found myself wanting to make him smile again.


“Hey,” I said with a perkiness I didn’t quite feel inside. “What’s with all the decorations I’ve seen some of the prisoners putting up around the grounds? I know it’s not for Christmas, since that’s past already.”


This did the trick as Haku looked up with an enthusiastic nod. “It’s for the New Year festivities. It’s the only time the gates are opened to the general public, and they get to visit the temple, pay their respects and sinners can see their loved ones. It’s always a fun day. Isn’t it, Shikamaru-kun?”


“It is,” Shikamaru agreed with a small smile thrown Haku’s way. “The one time of the year this place doesn’t look like zombie-land…well until Gudan comes around…”


The last bit was an afterthought, but as soon as he said it, it was enough to bring down the mood again. I could sense him about to apologize, but I interrupted with a wave of my hand. I didn’t want to hear it. I knew I was going to die, so being skittish around the topic was only going to do more to aggravate me.


“You know what?” I asked with the chopsticks stuck in the corner of my mouth. “I keep hearing about this damn Gudan thing, and I really don’t know what happens in it besides me getting whacked somehow. So what’s it like?”


It was now Haku and Shikamaru’s turn to exchange bewildered looks, as if unable to believe I really wanted to know more about this damned festival of death. Neither seemed willing to talk first, but eventually, Shikamaru cleared his throat and figured he might as well tell it.


“It happens once a year,” he said quietly. “And it’s a pretty big deal.”


“The whole town and important guests are invited,” Haku chirped in; perhaps forgetting he had designated the storytelling to Shikamaru in the first place.


“What he said,” Shikamaru continued with a nod. “There’s a place about two miles past the East Block, where the outdoor auditorium is. You’ve seen those movies where gladiators come out to fight in front of the people, right? That’s what it looks like pretty much.”


I nodded in understanding; though I could feel a certain chill come over me. As they spoke and described the sights and sounds of Gudan, the bravado I had felt earlier was beginning to dissipate faster than I had anticipated. I didn’t want to hear anymore, but I had requested this, so I had to suffer through it all. They actually had performers entertain the crowd first, and then all the prisoners were marched out where they were mocked and ridiculed by the crowd for their sins before Lord Orochimaru would pray for their souls and lead them all into a chant where they recanted their sins and prayed for forgiveness to the gods. With that over, it was then time for the final rite; the elimination of your physical body from this earth the only way they knew how.


“…like a deep hole in the middle where…you know…you’re beheaded,” Shikamaru finished softly.


“Last year it was Hibachi-sama who got to do the honors,” Haku mused. “This year, I think Sasuke-sama’s going to be doing it again.”


Oh God. You have got to be fucking kidding me. Not only does he sentence me to death, he gets to have the pleasure of chopping my neck off. Great. Fucking fantastic. I’ll bet he’s already sharpening his katana, or axe, or whatever the fuck they used, right about now.


“I’m sorry,” Haku whimpered as I groaned and covered my face with my hands. My appetite was completely gone. In fact, I was sure I was never going to be able to eat for the rest of my life.


“Maybe we shouldn’t have said anything.”


“It’s okay,” I replied with a weak smile and wink. “I asked for it, didn’t I?”


“But…” Haku began slowly. He paused and couldn’t continue.


“But what?” I encouraged.


“…I do not sense that you are a bad person,” he finally finished softly. “I mean…I’m sure you did something bad to be sent here, but you are…different. Perhaps that is what Sasuke-sama saw in you.”


“Oh yeah?” I sneered. “Fat load that’s doing for me, isn’t it? If he senses I’m such a good person, why doesn’t he give me my walking papers?” I shook my head and leaned against the piled boxes of canned fruit. “The fact is, he just doesn’t give a shit. He’s the kind of person that enjoys torturing others and doesn’t give a damn about their feelings.”


The more I spoke about him, the more agitated I became. His smug visage was firmly planted in my head now, and I wanted nothing more than to -


“But that’s not really how he is,” came the words that snapped me from my inner rampage. I blinked and stared at the bemused-looking boy before me.


“Sasuke-sama,” Haku continued quietly but firmly as if hoping to instill this new concept into my head. “Sasuke-sama is only doing his duty and he has to be firm and cold to those sinners who deserve it.”


“You’re only saying that because you work with the guy…or wait…” I smirked. “Maybe because you keep his bed warm at night, eh?”


His gasp of shock accompanied by Shikamaru’s hissed ‘Naruto!’ had me wincing inwardly. I could tell I had really hurt the other boy’s feelings, and I hated myself for being such an asshole to him especially since he’s gone out of his way to be nice to me. He didn’t have to come all the way here to eat with me, when he could be in his nice house where it was warm and comfortable.


“Sasuke-sama is not like that,” came the cold words as Haku seemed to straighten up; an indignant expression on his visage. In this moment, I could see where strong, deadly fighter persona he could become, and a shiver of awe slid down my spine. “You do not understand him, so you can only sit there and judge him without knowing the truth.”


“He judges others,” I argued softly. “Don’t you think it’s a little hypocritical of him as well?”


“That’s because he has to do that to survive!” came the sudden bellow that had both me and Shikamaru nearly falling off our crates.




Haku was now on his feet; hands balled into trembling fists at his sides. His large brown eyes were filled with tears of frustration and anger, and again, that overwhelming feeling of wanting to apologize came over me.


“You don’t understand,” Haku whispered. He angrily wiped away his tears with the sleeve of his shirt. “Sasuke-sama has to be this way or…or…he will no longer be needed.”


…what the fuck was he talking about?


“To get back Byaku-Shinkyou, Sasuke-sama has to be this way, but he is not a bad person. He really isn’t though he does things he assumes are right. Even he does not realize how much pain he’s in. You have no idea how hard it is to listen to him cry in his sleep at night, or for him to wake up from nightmares he can never express to anyone. He goes about day to day with one goal in mind, and that is to one day reclaim a land and clan that is rightfully his! So do not sit there and belittle one of the bravest, strongest, and kindest men I have ever met!”


“Haku…” Shikamaru began, but Haku wasn’t hearing any of it. He picked up his bowl and chopsticks and spun on his heels to leave, but not before stopping at the door to look back at us. The hard light of anger had gone to be replaced with a sadness that tore my heart in two.


“I am sorry you are in so much pain as well, Naruto-kun,” he said quietly. “But I truly believe that if you really opened your heart and listened…you’d see just how alike you two are. Perhaps that is why I was really drawn to you in the first place. In a way…you remind me of Sasuke-sama…but…” He sighed heavily, before finishing weakly. “I can only hope that someday you forgive him. The burden he bears…it is just too much for one man to carry.”


Hardly giving us a chance to put in a rebuttal, with a polite bow, he finally left Shikamaru and me in dumbfounded silence. Neither of us said anything for a long time, and it wasn’t until I heard the flick of his lighter and the subsequent stench of his cigarette did I finally look up to meet his gaze. As usual, I couldn’t really tell what he was thinking; though I had to wonder if he was just as confused as I felt inside.


“Happy now?” came the drawled question as he exhaled some smoke and flicked aside some ash to the ground. “You not only managed to insult the guy, you pretty much made him not want to see your ugly mug ever again.”


I opened my mouth to give a wise-assed comeback, but figured it wasn’t worth it. Shikamaru was right. I had done something stupid, but still…


“He’s got a point you know,” Shikamaru continued in that same lazy voice. He was staring at the slats on the ceiling; his features pensive. “About Sasuke.”




“I don’t know the whole story but…I do remember reading up someplace that Byaku-Shinkyou belonged to the Uchiha clan. His father used to be commissioner of police or something.”


What’s it to me? I wanted to ask, but I kept silent; a part of me somewhat eager to know more about this bastard that everyone else seemed to think was some saint behind the devilish persona he presented. I didn’t get it.


“Then there was some kind of uprising…no one is sure of who started it or why for that matter, but anyway…his dad…mom…brother…” He made a slicing motion across his neck, causing me to give a reluctant shudder. “All of them killed in front of him, I heard. If that don’t give you the trauma of a lifetime, I don’t know what does.”


I bit my lower lip; my gaze focused on the dusty floor. It was almost the same with Sakura. Having to watch the one you love being killed in front of you was simply…indescribable. And yet the guy had to watch his entire family be butchered in front of him when he was probably a kid. I hadn’t known my father, and my mother had passed away before I was old enough to really comprehend the concept of death, so how could I really relate? I wasn’t there when the old man who raised me…well dumped me with his sister…had passed away, and Kojima really didn’t count as family. I could only compare the pain and suffering to losing Sakura, but even at that…


Blood is thicker…


“Is that what qualifies him to be such a dick?” I muttered; not wanting this side of me to pity him. Besides, I’m sure he didn’t need anyone’s pity.


“Is that what qualifies you to be such a dick as well?” Shikamaru flung back at me with a wry smile. “You weren’t this annoying…well maybe you were, but you weren’t this cynical were you? The circumstances have warped your thinking and made you this stubborn, hasn’t it? Put yourself in his shoes, you jerk. You grow up in this kind of environment…” He waved his hand about. “…even I would have killed myself a long time ago. I wouldn’t stand it.”


“Look,” He leaned forward and crushed out his cigarette on the ground. “I’m not trying to get you to feel sorry for him. The guy has done some dick-headed things before, but…to be honest, besides his job, he barely hangs around the grounds much or bothers anyone.” Shikamaru shrugs. “Never seen him hang around with anyone his age, or even crack a smile that wasn’t as cold as fucking ice. Your pains are physical, but like Haku said…his must go way deeper than mere whips and unwanted violations. In time your wounds will heal…not all of them if you know what I mean…but what’s he got to heal his?”


“What’s he waiting for?” I suddenly blurted out in frustrated anger. I really did not like the way their words were getting to me. Why were they both trying to make him the victim when I was the one going to die in the long…short run?! “If he’s so intent on reclaiming his fucking clan or whatever, what’s he waiting for?! He’s practically living next to the guy running the show, he can just take a knife and stab him while he sleeps, can’t he?!”


“Keep your goddamn voice down!” Shikamaru hissed. “Do you think what you’ve said hasn’t been tried before?”




“Asuma told me that there were a group of officers who tried to kill Lord Orochimaru…start some kind of mutiny against him. Guess what happened?”


I could figure out what must have happened, but Shikamaru told me anyway.


“They found their heads stuck on poles and placed in the middle of town for all to see. That is what happens when you stand against Lord Orochimaru. That’s what Haku was trying to tell you. Sasuke can’t just wake up one morning and decide to kill the guy. Orochimaru is one smart asshole and would have already thought ten steps ahead of Sasuke, and besides, there are many officers and guards here who are on his side. If Sasuke dared to do anything that brash, he wouldn’t make it out of here alive. It’s like he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do you get it now?”


I closed my eyes…took a deep breath…and tried to reorganize my thoughts. I got it. I more than got it, but still…what was I expected to do? What could I do in my situation? I was nothing more than a man on death row. I doubted I would get to see him again until Gudan, and even if I did end up seeing him by some ‘accident’…what the fuck was I going to say to him?


“Oh hey, no hard feelings, eh? I know you’re going through some shit and you had no choice but to sentence me to death just because you’re having a bad day, and it’s cool. Just you know…when you behead me or whatever, get it right the first time, okay? Multiple chops is just going to make a damn mess and it’s gonna hurt like a bitch too. So…”




I lifted my lashes as reality – in the form of the assistant head chef – came crashing through my wild thoughts. Fat chance of that conversation ever taking place between me and Mr. Life Sucks For Me Too. I sighed and rose to my feet; allowing Shikamaru to walk ahead of me. I was at least grateful he didn’t pester me for a definitive answer, because I still didn’t know what the hell any of them wanted me to do. Did they really assume that I could do anything to help him with his goal? It was just too ridiculous to comprehend.


I had no intention of becoming Uchiha Sasuke’s savior because he sure as hell wasn’t looking out for my ass. He would just have to figure out a way to fight his battles on his own. God knows I had too much on my plate to deal with right about now.






It was almost too easy.


Even before I had pep-talked myself into seeing Orochimaru’s face – in my quest to seek permission to go sightseeing - Kimimaro was meeting me half-way across the corridor with a smile on his visage.


“He’s even organized a personal driver to take you around the city,” the white-haired man had said. However, not wanting anyone to know my whereabouts, I declined the offer, choosing instead to use the buses or trains and to experience the city life without their help.


I was told I could take a bus about a block away from where we were staying, and the bus would take me to the train station. I was already used to being in a bus, but unlike the crowded, stuffy and unpleasant rides from police station to station, it was refreshing to be in a ‘normal’ bus with people who didn’t smell like they hadn’t taken a shower in weeks.


I didn’t know how to react to the appreciative glances that came my way, and settled for not giving them any encouragement one way or another. It wasn’t as if I stood out from any other male in the vicinity. I had chosen to wear a non-descript pair of black trousers and a dark blue sweater, and though I felt ridiculous wearing the sunglasses (it really wasn’t that sunny outside), it was to protect my still sensitive eyes. I suffered some teenage girls giggling behind their hands as I struggled to ask them the way to Saiho-ji temple. Girls were bemusing creatures. It seemed like saying a word to them got them flustered or babbling like idiots. By the time I could finally get proper directions from a security guard, I couldn’t believe I was more than eager to see Ino again. She seemed to be the most reasonable person on the planet.


Arriving at the famous temple was an experience like no other. Though it was not as big as the one in Byaku-Shinkyou, it was still impressive enough to have me awed at its majestic beauty. Surrounded by towering trees, it was hard to believe that this nook of heaven was close to a bustling city, and though there were other visitors/tourists, there was a quiet reverence about them as they walked or sat and paid homage in silence.


At the entrance there was a line of waiting patrons, and when it finally came to my turn, I bowed respectfully before stepping into the sacred grounds. There was a large temizu basin where about five of us (at a time) began the ritual of purification. You were to wash your left hand first, then your right, then your mouth with the ladle provided. I tried not to concentrate too  hard on what had transpired last night with Orochimaru and Ino, but settled on begging for forgiveness for allowing my sinful lustful desires to overwhelm me completely. I felt a little better as I approached the shrine, where I rung the bell, made a donation, clapped my hands twice and prayed as hard as I could for a fresh start.


I could see some other visitors tying their fortunes, but since I really had nothing to say per se, I settled for caressing the charm Asuma had given me. It was practically burning a hole in my pocket, and a quick glance at my watch showed that it was almost time for my rendezvous with Ino (I had arrived almost two hours too early). I decided to kill time by visiting each of the three tea houses (Shonan-tei, Shoan-do, and Tanhoku-tei) where beautiful and graceful geishas served me with the finest tea I had ever tasted. After quick stops at the study and the three-storied pagoda (I wished I had brought a camera with me), I headed toward the famous moss gardens where my breath was promptly taken away.


The pictures on the brochure did not do it any justice at all. In here, far from the polluted sounds of city life, I was transported back in time. There was no sound (despite two or three other humans around me) besides the tittering of the birds, the soft whispers of the tree leaves, and the soothing yet barely audible trickle of water cascading down ancient rocks and into the still pond. According to the brochure, the moss was supposedly made up of over 120 different varieties, and the temptation to touch it was too much to overcome. It felt like a carpet made of velvet; a sight and sensation that would be imprinted in my mind forever.


I noticed the bridge Ino had talked about, and made my way there with five minutes to spare. From this vantage point, I could make out the shape of the pond in its entirety. Like the brochure had said, it was indeed shaped like the Chinese character for ‘heart’, and the three small islands made for a picturesque scene.




Was that why she chose this particular location? That wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. The ambience in here did give one the illusion that it was made for lovers. However, this was a place of sacred rites and holiness. I doubted anyone would have the intention of perfuming sexual or deviant arts in such a setting. Either way…


Where was she?


She didn’t seem like the kind of girl who would keep anyone waiting. I told myself that perhaps she was caught up with shopping and had forgotten about our meeting, so I decided to give her thirty more minutes.


2:45pm. Ino was still not here.


I could feel a dull sense of foreboding, but I squashed it aside and tried to keep myself upbeat and positive. She would show up. She couldn’t have gotten cold feet. I had so many questions to ask her, and this would or might be my only chance to know exactly what was going on with Orochimaru and Danzo. Whatever group she was a part of…they were not out for me…if so, she would have taken her opportunity to eliminate me in my moment of weakness. Besides, if Asuma was a part of them too…he had made no moves to kill me either.


3:30pm. Still no sign of her.


I had been pacing the bridge ever so often, ignoring the curious glances from other visitors who walked past as my agitation and worry grew. Where the hell could she be? I had no other means of contacting her except going back to the house and perhaps meeting her there. This would have been a complete waste of time. Why would she ask me to come here and then not show up?! Whatever admiration I had once had for her was fading fast. I was becoming irritated and hungry. I had deliberately skipped lunch just so I could perhaps ask her to join me for something to eat. It was the least I could have done.


By 4.42pm, I decided to leave. It wasn’t worth it anymore.


Feeling oddly dejected and cold (more thanks to the fast approaching evening), I made my way back to the house; stopping only to grab a quick bite at a roadside stall that sold some rather delicious dango. I have no idea why I still bought two extra, which I wrapped and placed within my jacket to give her later. I’m sure she would have a good explanation for missing our meeting. She might have been made to work extra long hours at the house…or maybe asked to go shopping somewhere else. One never knew with servants. I had to give her the benefit of the doubt.


“Did you have fun?” came the first question posed to me as I stepped into the compound and met Kimimaro sipping some tea (or maybe sake) on the patio. Orochimaru was not with him. Surprising.


“It was…all right,” I replied with a light shrug. I began to walk past him, but not before asking flippantly. “Where’s Orochimaru?”


“He’s been in meetings all day, but then again…you wouldn’t have noticed considering how much fun you had last night with your new girlfriend.”


I froze in mid stride; my heart skipping a beat before pounding hard and fast as he chuckled and took another sip of his drink. He…he knew?! How…!?


“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Sasuke,” the bastard continued with a playful wink. “Congratulations on finally losing your virginity.”


“Shu…shut up!” I hissed; though I felt I was going to go up in flames of embarrassment. “How did you…?!”


“Well, Lord Orochimaru and I were taking a night walk and overheard the moans and groans and -”


I slapped a hand over his mouth to silence him. I wanted to die of humiliation. “How dare you listen in to…!”


“Not all of it,” he stated as he pushed my hand away with a laugh. “Just enough to fuel our imaginations. Lord Orochimaru was so proud of you -”


“Shut the fuck up!”


His laughter followed me as I strode into my bedroom and nearly tore the shoji screen off its hinges as I slammed it shut behind me. My head was aching badly, and I wanted nothing more than to go back to my safe haven…back to Byaku-Shinkyou and as far away from all this. I groaned and flopped onto my back; wincing as the sticks of dango dug into my ribs. I had forgotten all about those –




I looked up with the hope that it would be Ino, but as the door slid open quietly, it was the other girl. Kaname or whatever her name was. She was on her knees with her head bowed.


“Would Sasuke-sama like a bath this evening?”


“Yes…but I would prefer Ino to assist me with it.”


Her head remained lowered, but I might have missed the tightening of her lips, or maybe it was just a trick of the light. “Sorry to have to say this, Sasuke-sama, but…Ino no longer works here.”


I raised a brow in confusion and disbelief. “What do you mean?”


She looked up then; her eyes filled with tears. “We discovered that she was out to kill you, Sasuke-sama. I found this hidden within her clothes and reported it to Lord Orochimaru, who fired her promptly.”


She held out a piece of paper, which I snatched from her quickly as I rose to my feet. The words blurred before my vision, and I had to take off the sunglasses to be sure I wasn’t seeing things.


Failed in attempt to kill Lord Sasuke last night.

Will try later today when we meet at Saiho-ji temple.

If unsuccessful, I will proceed to Plan B.


Plan B? Plan…B? I don’t understand this. She had given no indication that she planned to kill me last night, and besides, hadn’t she promised to tell me all about this organization that Asuma was a part of? Why would she go through all that trouble? Was she lying all that time as well?


“I can see that you are shocked, Sasuke-sama,” the girl was saying as she made an attempt to reach out to me. “Let me help you…”


“Don’t touch me,” I snarled and slapped her hand away, ignoring her wince and expression of pain. Something didn’t feel right, and this sniveling woman wasn’t helping matters. “Get out,” I commanded coldly. “And do not return until you are sent for. Is that clear?”


“Yes…yes, my Lord.”


She bowed politely and left as quietly as she had entered; leaving me cold and bereft.


With Ino gone, I would now never know the truth. I felt hurt and betrayed; dismayed that a moment of weakness had led me to give myself to a woman who was willing to carry out such a diabolical plan in the first place. And yet…


Some things are simply not adding up.


(Un)Fortunately, I would be spared the chore of seeking her and demanding answers, as one of the male servants soon arrived with the curt message from Orochimaru that our mini-vacation was now officially over. Lord Orochimaru was apparently done with whatever meetings and goals he had set out to accomplish, and I was to begin packing my things in preparation for the trip.


We would be leaving on the first train back to Byaku-Shinkyou in the morning, and though I hated to admit that I had been mildly homesick, I couldn’t wait to get back to my only sanctuary.



Chapter 11

Naruto Home




























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