Chapter 11:



I have always known 
That at last I would 
Take this road, but yesterday 
I did not know that it would be today.





Gnawing nervously on her fingernails, she dared to steal a peek through the blinds of the window; watching as Lord Orochimaru and his company were finally ushered into the waiting car bound for the train station. She kept telling herself that she had done the right thing; that she had only tried to keep Sasuke-sama out of trouble from the wiles of that slut. It had absolutely nothing to do with jealousy or the realization that Sasuke-sama had chosen that lying whore instead of her. Hadn’t she done all she could to get his attention? Hadn’t she given him the signals that she was ready and willing to be the one to keep his bed warm at night? And yet he had decided to go with the ‘supposed’ timid, new-girl-on-the-block. It was enough to get her furious all over again.


She should have put two and two together the moment Ino had walked into the inn, two weeks ago, seeking a position. Of course then, Kaname hadn’t known her real name was Ino, neither had she known that the black wig only hid the thick blond hair beneath. She had taken ‘Haruko’ under her wings, always ready and willing to teach the younger girl all she knew. She had imparted her wisdom about dealing with different kind of guests; warning her against the advances of rich, greedy men who only wanted to use her body. As a servant, she had to keep her distance yet show humility as necessary. They might not be geishas, but they were to carry themselves like one. ‘Haruko’ had been such an eager student, Kaname hadn’t thought twice about any ulterior motives. Her soft-spoken voice and her inability to look into anyone’s eyes for longer than a few seconds, had revealed a girl who was naïve and easy bait for anyone willing to take advantage. ‘Haruko’ had revealed that she had no parents or siblings, and Kaname had even considered ‘adopting’ the younger girl as a sister.


It was the betrayal that hurt the most.


That all this time she had pretended to be naïve and shy, ‘Haruko’ had been busy wooing the handsome, brave, and very eligible bachelor, Sasuke-sama, behind her back. It wasn’t as if ‘Haruko’ didn’t know that Kaname had her eyes set on the young man. In fact, she had confided her secret desires to become Uchiha Kaname as long as she played her cards right. So if she was older than Sasuke-sama by two years? That didn’t matter in this day and age. That bitch must have laughed in secret all that time.


I shouldn’t have sent her to Sasuke-sama, she thought bitterly. I should have gone myself. Maybe things would have been different.


Indeed it might have, who knows? It was all because the men had returned quite late from their outing, and Kaname was too tired to get off her futon. In her laziness, she had shaken ‘Haruko’ awake to take over. She was sure nothing would happen as Sasuke-sama had barely given ‘Haruko’ a glance all this time, and there was no doubt he’d probably kick her out and want to do things on his own as usual.


She had gone back to sleep…but only for a short while. She couldn’t tell you what made her wake up at that ungodly hour, but she had lifted her weary lashes with a sense that something wasn’t quite right. For starters, ‘Haruko’s’ futon was empty. Kaname was sure she had sent the girl to welcome Sasuke-sama quite some time ago, and a quick glance at the table clock in their small room confirmed her doubts.


Where in the world was she? Lost again?


‘Haruko’ had the annoying tendency to wander off for several hours at a time, always returning with a sheepish expression and saying ‘I got lost’. Kaname would be exasperated at those times, but otherwise, she always forgave ‘Haruko’ for her innocence. Besides, it was hard to stay upset with the quiet girl. Tonight, however, there was just no excuse.


Grumbling beneath her breath, Kaname got off her futon, shuffled into her slippers and went in search of her elusive companion. She checked the bathroom, but it was empty. The kitchen yielded nothing either. The compound was relatively large, and as she walked across the courtyard – and past the area where Sasuke-sama’s private quarters were – she just happened to glance towards the shoji screen doors…and would have probably looked away, if it wasn’t for the ‘odd’ shadows being created by the occupant(s) inside. She froze in her tracks; unsure of what she was actually seeing. Had Sasuke-sama returned with a woman? That was definitely unlike him considering all the signals he had given since he arrived. He didn’t seem like the sort of person who would dare to bring a random woman to his bedroom, and besides Sasuke-sama was too classy to deal with a cheap whore from the street.




She found herself tiptoeing closer to the screen door; making sure she was not heard or noticed by anyone. Keeping to the shadows, she just about became invisible to anyone who might have walked past, but that was the least of her worries now. As she knelt beside the door and slid it open – just a little – she was able to get a good look (well as good as it could possibly be with only one eye) at what was taking place. What she saw nearly made her scream in shock, dismay, and downright fury! For starters, who was the blond woman clearly kneeling between Sasuke-sama’s spread thighs and…and…and…


Urgh. Just thinking about it made her cover her mouth and turn away for a second, but it didn’t help. The sounds that were emanating from the room; his low moans of pleasure (and how delicious did he look with his eyes closed and his head thrown back; revealing that strong neck attached to that torso she would have loved to worship) and the sucking sounds from the slut, made her bite her lower lip hard. She had no idea who this woman was, and she might have slid the door shut to tiptoe away again, when the blonde finally lifted her head a little and the glow from the lantern hit her very familiar features.


…Haruko?! HARUKO?! But…but…how?! Why…?! How is she…?! Wait a minute…she’s…blonde?!


Feeling herself becoming numb with disbelief and shock, Kaname strained to look around the room and finally noticed the black mound (which at first looked like a large rat), but was actually the wig ‘Haruko’ must have been wearing all this time. Slowly, she slid the door shut, but was unable to move from her spot; trying hard to digest what was transpiring.


She lied. She lied. She lied. She’s a liar. A liar. A liar. A liar. A big, fat, good-for-nothing liar! She must have known that Sasuke-sama was coming and had already planned ahead to work here just to get her filthy paws on him.


The seeds of jealousy now taking root, Kaname bit hard on her fingernails unaware of the tiny droplets of blood forming as her teeth continued to burrow themselves into her flesh. Vaguely she listened to their consummation; her eyes, head and entire being burning with the intensity of her anger. She had to do something to teach the little bitch a lesson, but what? Reveal to Lord Orochimaru that the girl was a liar? It wouldn’t be the first time some girl had lied to get an opportunity to work in such a lofty position, so that wasn’t good enough. She had do something else; something that would tarnish Haruko’s reputation beyond repair. She would make Sasuke-sama loathe her. Make him never want to see her face ever again.


When the conversation started, Kaname had to literally force herself out of the depths of her darkened stupor of hate, to grasp the gist of what they were saying. She found it odd that Sasuke-sama kept calling her ‘Enoh’, but Kaname could only assume that the slut was lying to him again about her real name. Hell, was ‘Haruko’ even her real name? She was finding it damn hard to believe anything coming out of that girl’s mouth now. However, her night of many surprises wasn’t over yet. Just when it seemed like Enoh/Haruko was getting ready to leave (and Kaname was already trying to find a way to escape without being seen), the conversation took a turn for the worst…or better depending on how you looked at things.


You couldn’t have given her better fodder if you tried. Like a Cheshire cat getting its first taste of milk, Kaname grinned in pleasure and realized that the gods had finally favored her cause. She knew it was going to be a stretch, but she was sure she could pull it off. All she had to do was write a note as ‘Enoh/Haruko’ and show it to Sasuke-sama when he awakened. There was no way he’d want to see Enoh/Haruko after that.


She snickered to herself and tiptoed away from the door; nearly skipped down the patio and ran across the courtyard…only to find herself slamming hard into something tall, warm, and strong as she made the turn towards her quarters.


“Steady there,” came the low deep voice, which had her looking up with mild panic. It was Kimimaro-sama, and right behind him was Lord Orochimaru himself. Her eyes widened and on autopilot, she fell to her knees before the couple; wondering why the hell they were up and about at this hour.


“My apologies, my Lords,” she stuttered. “I did not see you…”


“Hardly surprising considering you seemed to be in quite a hurry.” It was Lord Orochimaru’s accusing tone that had the chill of fear creeping down her spine. He had never addressed her directly before; preferring to use Kimimaro as his mouthpiece, and even now his tone held disdain which made her feel cheap and unimportant.


“What were you doing in the guests’ private quarters?” came the cold question that had her biting her lower lip in worry. What could she say? That she was spying on Sasuke-sama? There was no doubt she’d be in serious trouble if she said that aloud, so thinking quickly…


“It is the woman I work with, my Lords,” she blurted; barely lifting her gaze off their sandaled feet. “I woke up and saw that her futon was empty, and in my worry, I went to search for her only to discover she was with Sasuke-sama. I…I think…I think she might be a spy.”


Since she wasn’t looking up, she failed to see the effect her words had on the men, especially the older one. Orochimaru’s lips tightened as he glanced toward Sasuke’s area; his eyes flashing with an emotion that was a cross between fury and faint amusement.


“A spy, hmm?” he rasped softly. “And what makes you say that?”


“I…I…overheard her saying that she plans to meet Sasuke-sama tomorrow at the Saiho-ji temple…something about being in some organization and something about a charm…I did not really catch all of it, my Lords, but I think Sasuke-sama’s in trouble, and I wanted to warn you be…before it was too late.”


With her heart pounding hard within her chest, Kaname held her breath and waited for their verdict; wondering if they’d believe her story. For a long minute, neither man said anything, and feeling that she was being scrutinized, she continued quickly.


“Also she claimed to be called Haruko when her real name might be Ino. She’s always wearing a wig! Her real hair is blonde, not black. I knew something was wrong when she suddenly showed up out of the blue about two weeks ago saying she wanted to work here, and -”


“That will be enough,” Kimimaro ordered with a quick glance at Orochimaru, who was still glaring coldly at Sasuke’s quarters. “You may leave now. Your loyalty will be greatly rewarded.”


“Than…thank you, my Lords.”


She staggered to her feet; her knees still shaking as she backed away from the men now making their way towards Sasuke-sama’s room. What would happen now? Would they accost the slut and try to get her to confess? Would they call her back to confront Haruko/Ino? If so, would she be ready to deal with whatever accusations are hurled at her? Not waiting to find out, she spun on her heels and all but ran back to her side of the compound.


Sleep was impossible for the rest of the night (well…wee hours of the morning). She remained burrowed beneath her blanket; eyes wide and body tense as she watched the door in case Haruko…


Ino, damnit! Her name is Ino!


…would come walking through it with eyes filled with hurt and guilt. Either way, Kaname felt she was ready. She told herself she would be in control if Ino showed up with that kind of attitude. It was her fault for giving herself up to Sasuke-sama like a cheap slut. He deserved so much better.


However, by the crack of dawn and as the first rays of sunlight filtered through the windows…there was still no sign of Ino. Her futon still lay as in its tousled state; her personal items still in their places. There was something rather haunting about them now, and Kaname had the sinking feeling that she might never see the blonde again. All the same, she had to be sure that Sasuke-sama had no more contact with her ever again. With fingers that trembled, she penned the note; hoping it sounded as sinister as she made it seem. She had never seen Ino’s handwriting before, but she doubted Sasuke-sama would care since he had probably not seen it either. All that was left was presenting it to him with her made up story.


The day went as slow as molasses. Everything made her jump ten feet in apprehension. She steered clear from the living quarters of Lord Orochimaru and Sasuke-sama; keeping herself busy doing odd jobs around the compound while watching the clock with growing anxiety. By six in the evening, she was officially a nervous wreck, and walking back to their sleeping quarters did not help either.


Ino’s things were gone.


Not a single thing left. It was as if she hadn’t even existed in the first place.


Oh God…What have I done? Kaname’s mind screamed, though she took a deep breath and kept her wits about her; telling herself that Ino was probably fired and nothing else. It was the story she’d tell Sasuke-sama later, although his reaction was not what she had really expected. Whatever transpired last night between them, it was clear that she was a little too late. Ino had managed to ensnare Sasuke-sama within her sleazy clutches. All men were pawns.


Pity your precious Ino is no longer coming back, she had thought bitterly. Wherever she is, I hope she burns in hell.


With a heavy sigh, she closed the blinds and crept back beneath the blanket; idly wondering why Lord Orochimaru preferred to travel at night or in the wee hours of the morning. Maybe it was because of his pale skin. No wonder he always wore long sleeves and kept indoors most of the time. Still, she was disappointed that her plans with Sasuke-sama had not gone well. Not only had he not even bothered to thank her for her services, but his handsome face had been filled with an undecipherable expression she had struggled to make sense of. Hurt? Anger? Confusion? Sadness? She couldn’t tell, but at this moment, she didn’t care. She would probably never see him again, which was a damn pity.


He really would have made the perfect husband…





…later that night, while in the throes of dreamless sleep, Ishikawa Kaname would barely feel the katana’s fine blade slicing neatly through her neck. One thing she could at least be grateful for…it had been a quick and painless death.




Orochimaru and Kimimaro:


Kimimaro listened intently and with a light grunt, hung up the phone before turning back to face his companion.


“It’s been done,” he announced quietly.


“Good,” Orochimaru replied absently as he turned to another page of the book he was reading. He was now clad in a golden silk caftan; his raven hair undone to fall around his face and shoulders. He barely flinched as Kimimaro slid back into the bed beside him, neither did he pay much attention as he felt the strong but warm arms wrap themselves around his waist. God help him, but Kimimaro could be incredibly clingy when he chose to be. It was a trait he had at first thought endearing, but now…


“…did we really have to kill her?” came the sudden low question that had him stiffening. Not this again.


“I’ve already explained myself to you,” Orochimaru growled softly. The train gave a little jolt and nearly had him hitting his head against the headboard. Shit. He really hated traveling. “That woman knew too much.”


“And Ino…”


“If she’s not dead by now, she’s a stronger woman than I give her credit for. She’s still not confessed to working for Danzo, has she?”


Kimimaro shook his head. “The interrogators say she has revealed nothing. Whatever organization she works for…they must have trained her very well.”


Orochimaru snorted. “Danzo thinks he’s got the upper hand, but he doesn’t realize I am one step ahead of him. Sending his spy to woo Sasuke, huh? The conniving little toad.”


Kimimaro bit his lower lip as he watched the cold expression on his lover’s visage. A sadistic thrill went down his spine; knowing whenever his master was in this mood, their lovemaking tended to be a journey through the most intense pleasure yet pain. All the same, he knew he was walking a thin line when it came to his master’s desires. Though he had learned over the years that Orochimaru’s sadistic nature involved teasing him with other lovers, Kimimaro bore it as best he could. His pain ran even deeper whenever he watched his master’s interaction with Sasuke. He had told himself over the years that Sasuke was merely a means to an end to Orochimaru’s grand schemes, but as the boy grew older and became more of a man, Kimimaro was sure that his master had feelings that now went beyond the superficial. He would even consider it ‘love’, although such a word seemed odd to be associated with a man who rarely used it. Orochimaru was yet to say those three words to him in all their years of being together, but Kimimaro didn’t mind. He would say it enough for both of them, for as long as he could until he was eventually discarded.


Fighting down the bout of self-loathing that came with this thought, he moaned and writhed suggestively against the slender yet sinewy length of his master’s body; wishing he could rip off the cloth to savor that pale, cold flesh only he was capable of warming.


“Japan needs strong leaders,” Orochimaru began lecturing (as usual). He could literally smell the need for sex oozing off Kimimaro, and who was he to decline such tempting invitation? Tossing the book to the side, he reached out to cup Kimimaro’s chin tightly; his long fingernails digging into the younger man’s flesh. “Do you know why we are in such a deep depression, my dear? It’s because this great nation is weak because of pathetic leaders like Shimura Danzo. He thinks that just because Fugaku found favor with him, he can control me and the rest of his cohorts? He’s sadly mistaken.”


Kimimaro’s low groan of pain was lost as Orochimaru sealed his lips in a kiss that was nothing short of bruising. However, in this very moment, he was not seeing the white-haired man at all, but the dark-haired heir who had given him a thrill the other night. Finally touching Sasuke for the first time had set a fire deep within him that he wanted to explore all over again. It was an intoxicating rush he had not felt in a long time, and goodness knew he needed to taste that frigid bastard until he was drunk on his essence.


However, learning of that traitor’s audacity in claiming Sasuke’s treasured virginity; something he had waited all these years to have the pleasure of taking eventually, had triggered a hate so deep within him, the question of pardoning the girl’s life had been out of the question. Not only would she be dealt with for her lies, but if she ended up losing her life, it was no big loss. Sasuke belonged to him and no other, and in due time…


“Aaah…Orochimaru-sama…oh God…I’m…I’m coming…!”


He stared dispassionately at the heaving man beneath him; watching with bored fascination as his penis continued to drill into the plaint hole he had used and abused all these years. He imagined Sasuke in this position; something that was considerably easier to do now after seeing the younger man’s face flushed with desire. In due time, he would discard Kimimaro. He might be an indispensable fighter, but when it came to his duties in the bedroom, Orochimaru knew it was time for a change. He would take an intense pleasure breaking that uptight little brat into tiny pieces. He would prove that being with a strong, virile man was ten…no…a million times better than being pleasured by some weak female.


How dare she!


It was with that fury that he brutally took Kimimaro to his orgasm; finishing with a hard bite on the white-haired man’s shoulder where the blood that flowed was swallowed with relish.


In due time, Sasuke. In due time.


For making Uchiha Sasuke his complete and loyal slave, was only the first step in taking hold of a nation and a power he so desperately needed.






“Welcome back, Sasuke-sama!”


“You don’t have to sound so happy to see me,” came the low grumble as Sasuke walked up the steps and onto the patio, where his ever faithful manservant knelt waiting with a  smile on his features. He hated to admit that a part of him felt good at the warm welcome; considering how morose he had felt throughout the train ride.


Every waking hour had been spent mulling over the supposed note from Ino and trying to decipher what it could mean. He really did not understand why she’d go through all the trouble of ‘comforting’ him all under the guise of wanting to kill him at the same time. It just didn’t make any sense. He had detected no evil around her; not that his eyes were in any way, shape, or form ready to look that deep into her heart. Her emotions had seemed genuine, and he realized that if indeed she had planned to kill him, and everything that had transpired that night had been nothing more than a joke…


(it hurt)


…how could he ever trust anyone that intimately again? It was definitely punishment from the gods for his transgressions. That he would willingly fall into the lust of the flesh at a whim…this was what he deserved. Hadn’t he been warned by the Great  Priests? Hadn’t the Great Book outlined the possibility of this happening?


“Is my bath ready?” he asked wearily, while shrugging out of his clothes. He couldn’t wait to get back to wearing his comfortable kimonos and uniforms. Just three days of trying to look ‘western’ and he was this close to going nuts.


As he flung his clothes this way and that, Haku darted around picking them up. “Yes, my Lord,” he replied as he reached for the belt…and then jeans…and then socks. As he moved, he couldn’t help watching and noticing something a little different about his mater’s body language. It wasn’t so much that he sounded distracted, but there was something in his behavior…no…his walk perhaps…an extra hint of swagger that hadn’t been there before. Haku wondered if seeing the ‘outside world’ had created this slight change. Whatever it was though, he only hoped that Sasuke-sama had enjoyed himself. Goodness knew he had definitely had some fun during his days off. He smiled softly to himself as he recalled the conversations had with his somewhat new friend, Uzumaki Naruto. He knew he had gone out of line speaking about his master like that – especially to a sinner set for Gudan, but there was just something about the blond young man with the scarred face and breathtaking blue eyes, which made him want to talk and talk and talk and never stop. Given the right situation or circumstances (as in, if they weren’t in such different stages of their lives), Haku was sure they would have been the best of friends. He really did like Uzumaki Naruto even though he had such a rude/dirty mouth that needed to be washed out with soap.


He giggled behind his hand as he remembered a particularly dirty joke Naruto had told him earlier in the day. He was so lost in his memory of their conversation, he failed to notice the puzzled look his master was giving him. As Sasuke tied the small towel around his waist – after his quick bath – and headed towards the onsen, he tapped Haku’s head lightly as he walked past.


“What’s so funny? You look like you’re a good mood.”


Haku, who had been kneeling at the entrance to the onsen, looked up with a start; his visage turning a bright crimson as he was given a good view of his master’s very toned derriere when the towel was removed. Lowering his gaze, he cleared his throat and lied about his true thoughts.


“I was just excited about the New Year festivities taking place on Saturday. Just seems like yesterday we were celebrating the last one, doesn’t it, Sasuke-sama?”


Sasuke gave a non-committal grunt and sunk blissfully into the waters, his eyes closing with relief as all his non-physical aches and weariness from the journey seemed to melt away. He covered his eyes with the small washcloth and tried to ignore the fact that in less than three weeks – thanks to that bastard and Danzo – the much darker yet spiritual rites of Gudan would begin. He wondered how Haku would react if he told him the news now. He knew Haku wasn’t really a big fan of the event anyway.


“…if the Enka dancers will come?” Haku was muttering to himself. He seemed to have forgotten he was talking to his master. “Last year, they were so entertaining, and I told Naruto-kun all about it, but he said he had seen even better dancers when he was in Osaka. It’s a pity he won’t be able to wat…”


Sasuke, who had been dozing off to be honest (since Haku’s solo chit chats could run on for quite a while), sat up with a jolt at one particular section of Haku’s soliloquy. He removed the washcloth from his eyes and gawked at his clueless manservant. Had he been hearing things or had Haku actually mentioned…Uzumaki Naruto? And not just that, but actually calling him Naruto-kun? As if they were… friends?!




“Hmm…I mean, yes, my Lord?”


“…what did you do while I was away?”


Haku could feel the rush of blood creeping up his neck, and he stubbornly kept his gaze lowered to the stone floor.


“Haku…” Sasuke cajoled with a hard edge in his voice. “Where did you go while I was away?”


“Just to the dining hall, my Lord…and…and around the grounds…” he finished weakly. Oh God. What had he said? He had been so lost in his excitement about the festivities, and having to watch all the sinners help set up the decorations, he hadn’t really been paying much attention to half of what he was saying! Had he said something to upset Sasuke-sama? If so…what?


“The dining hall…”


“Yes, My Lord…”


“And the grounds…”


“…yes…my Lord.”


Sasuke took a deep breath and tried again. “Did you see anyone interesting while walking around the grounds and dining hall, Haku?” He wondered why his heart was beginning to beat a little faster, or why he felt his hands forming tight fists beneath the water. If it turned out that Haku had been interacting with that sinner…


“I met lots of interesting people…”


“Do not play games with me!” he snapped impatiently. “Did you or did you not meet the sinner, Uzumaki Naruto?”


Haku seemed to wilt and he bowed even lower. He did not understand why Sasuke-sama suddenly sounded upset. It was almost the same way Naruto-kun had reacted at the mention of his master. It was clear that both men simply did not like each other, and confessing now that he had spoken to the blond would only make things worse.


“I will accept any punishment, my Lord,” he said instead; his forehead now touching the cool stones. “Forgive me for my actions, Sasuke-sama, but I was only trying to be…to be friendly…”


“To a sinner? A murderer? Do you have any idea what you have done?!”


“I’m sorry, my Lord.”


Sasuke gritted his teeth. “I hope to goodness you’ve at least purified yourself from spending so much time with them. Perhaps it’s best you just stay with them, since  you seem to enjoy being around them so much.”


Haku looked up with a stricken expression. “My Lord, I will never do it again. I promise you.”


Sasuke snorted and closed his eyes again; not really sure why a part of him was actually enjoying torturing Haku this way. Was he really upset that Haku had dared to engage in conversation with the sinner? Or was a part of him actually…envious? that Uzumaki Naruto could talk to Haku without a hint of anger.


Hmph. Envy.


He snorted in derision. What nonsense. Why did he care if that scarred bastard chose to speak to his manservant? Except…


“What did he say to you?” he blurted out before he could stop himself from asking. He told himself he didn’t give a damn whatever that blond fool had to say, and yet curiosity egged him on like an incessant fly buzzing within his mind.


“What did…?” Haku looked bemused.


“The sinner, Uzumaki Naruto,” Sasuke stated calmly. He covered his eyes with the washcloth again and pretended not to be interested. “Surely he must have said something of importance to you.”


“Oh…well…” Haku paused for a moment, but then figured why not. After all…his master had asked. “Well, he said that he was not going to kiss your ass, no matter what you do to him…or something like that. Oh…and that you were a hypocritical dick.”


The effect was immediate. You couldn’t have gob smacked the stunned young man any harder even if you tried. Sasuke could feel the heat rise from the tips of his toes to the strands of his hair, and if it were possible for the water to start bubbling around him with the intense heat he felt, it would have taken place easily.


The washcloth was off his eyes, which now seemed to blaze a dark shade of red (at least to Haku it looked that way), but damn…his master did look pissed enough to kill something. Maybe he shouldn’t have added the ‘hypocritical dick’ part.


“He said that, did he?” came the deceptively calm question.


I’m in trouble…with both men, Haku thought miserably. He lowered his gaze again and nodded. “Yes…my Lord.”


“I see.” It took another minute for Sasuke to realize his fists were still tightly clenched, and he forced himself to relax them. In fact, he had to take another long minute to calm down; realizing he had been this close to storming out of here and writing out an order to cancel Uzumaki Naruto’s ‘freedom’. The gall of that fool! He knew it was a mistake releasing him! Come to think of it -



“My Lord?”


“Fetch me Officer Sarutobi, will you? I need to see him in my private office immediately.”


Haku stiffened in concern. He lifted his gaze slowly; aware that his master was now in ‘that mood’ again. “Sasuke-sama?” he called out quietly.


“What is it?”


“…are you going to punish, Naruto-kun? I mean…it was my fault for goading him into saying that, so if anyone needs to be punished, it’s me. Please! I beg you!” He bowed his head down to the stone floor again. “Please have mercy on him. He’s already serving his punishment every day knowing his death is at hand, my Lord…”


Faster than he knows it, Sasuke thought coldly. He was already stepping out of the onsen and would have walked right over his kneeling servant, when he felt the warm hands clasp around an ankle.


What in the world…?!


“Release me this instant, Haku.”


“Please do not make the same mistake you did with Zabuza-san,” the younger man cried out with a harsh sob; a sound that seared through Sasuke’s heart at the memory of his error. “Punish me in his stead, Sasuke-sama. Please…”


With a heavy sigh, Sasuke finally replied wearily. “Can you at least release me and fetch Asuma? I will consider your request. Will that suffice?”


“…yes…” came the low, miserable response.


“Until then, you are to stay away from the dining hall and the sinners’ quarters, Haku,” Sasuke threw over his shoulder. “God knows what other tales you’ve been feeding them about me.”


Haku winced as he rose to his feet and made his ‘escape’ to find Officer Asuma. He figured it wouldn’t be a good thing to mention that he had indeed spewed a whole lot more than he should have. If Sasuke knew that Naruto-kun was aware of his nightmares and struggles…Haku was definitely sure he wouldn’t live to see another day.


By the time Asuma came sauntering into his private office, Sasuke  - now clad in a silk black kimono and sitting behind his low table with several scrolls opened before him – was still steaming about being called a hypocritical dick. And what was that about not kissing his ass? Although he did find himself get a little flustered at the mental picture that had conjured up for a brief second.


No…Uzumaki Naruto would not kiss his ass, but he would be licking Sasuke’s boots if by some miracle he ended up being the last one standing at Gudan. Somehow the knowledge that such a scenario was even possible sent a reluctant thrill down his spine. It would be a chance to prove not just his skills to Orochimaru, Danzo and the rest of their blood-thirsty politician friends, but to show Uzumaki Naruto, once and for all that his existence meant nothing more to him than that of a cockroach.


I’ll show you just how much of a dick I can be.


“Either you just sentenced someone else to Gudan, or you’re really happy to see me,” came the dry comment that had Sasuke looking up from the scroll he hadn’t really been focused on anyway. Asuma was dressed just like him; now out of his uniform but wearing extra layers of warm clothing beneath the dark blue yukata. He watched the big man sit across him and puff out a cloud of smoke from the pipe he had stuck in his mouth.


“Pipes now?” Sasuke asked wanly as he waved the smoke away from his face and coughed a little. The smell was sickly sweet.


“It’s the newest thing, my man.” Unrepentant, he blew another trail of smoke toward his companion, only to start, in slight alarm, as something was slammed hard on the table between them. On closer inspection, it was the charm he had given Sasuke just before his travels with Orochimaru, and from the stern expression on Sasuke’s face, Asuma knew this was no time to kid around.


“I take it you finally know what it’s all about,” he stated quietly.

“Not quite,” Sasuke replied. “I need to know -”


“Not here,” Asuma said with a light shake of his head. He reached for a piece of paper and withdrew a pen from within his robe.


Sasuke watched in bemusement as Asuma scribbled something before shoving it his way when done.


/Let’s talk at my place/ The note said. /I’ll leave first. Meet up with me in about half-an-hour after I’m gone./


Sasuke opened his mouth to ask ‘why?’ but must have seen something in Asuma’s dark eyes to simply give a nod of understanding. He could feel his heart rate quicken for a whole other reason now; temporarily forgetting about his earlier anger at being insulted as he thought about getting closer to the truth about Ino. In the meantime, they both decided to talk about other matters; namely the moving of Gudan to the last week of the upcoming month.


“No kidding,” Asuma replied wryly. “Shit…why?”


“Danzo and Orochimaru figured it was a way to convince the politicians that we take Gudan seriously,” Sasuke replied quietly; failing to mention Orochimaru’s trivial suggestion that it was just to test his fighting skills.


“A fight to the death, huh? That’s gonna be brutal.” Asuma sighed and shook his head. He glanced at the clock and then gave a curt nod. “All right, young master. Gotta get going. Got some paperwork to finish up.”


“All right. You have a good night,” Sasuke replied quietly as he too glanced at the clock. He nodded at the quick wink given to him by the older man before he excused himself. With the opening of the door, the chill set in; reminding Sasuke of how different the weather was here compared to Kyoto. Some of the snow had melted away with the warmer temperatures earlier in the day, but it was still cold enough to remind him of how lovely Byaku-Shinkyou looked in the throes of winter. God, he loved it up here in the North.


Though he did his best to pretend as if he wasn’t time conscious, Sasuke tried to finish up the pile of paperwork he had to complete. There was a new batch of prisoners coming in tomorrow night; the last they would be receiving before the end of the year. With this group, the total tally of sinners brought to Byaku-Shinkyou in the past year was almost five hundred; a new record. About a third of them got dealt with during the Gudan held in the summer, the other half was released due to their small crimes, while others (the intermediaries) would serve out their sentences while working on the grounds. A part of him still believed that it was a strain on their resources; having to take care of these sinners, as well as maintaining Orochimaru’s tendencies to keep building more and more facilities on the grounds. By the end of the next year, he was already planning to create a whole new ‘education center’ to broaden the minds of the many young men who wanted to become elite officers.




Forty-five minutes later he was finally finished with his tasks, and bundling himself as warmly as he could, he left his house in the cloak of winter’s pitch darkness. He covered his head with the hood of his jacket; not wanting to be pestered by any officer still up and about. He rarely came to this side of the compounds these days, considering they used to be homes to normal families when he was a child. The narrow streets had once been filled with men, women, and children going about their daily lives, but now…except for one or two officers sitting outside and engaged in quiet conversation; it had become a shadow of its former self. There was simply no ‘joy’ felt anywhere and it was depressing to tell the truth. All the same, he was incredibly tired and wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. However, he had to learn the truth from Asuma, and even if it meant staying up until the wee hours of the morning, then so be it.


It wasn’t hard to find Asuma’s home. He now occupied the top floor of what had once been a bakery shop. The first floor had been turned into living quarters for another officer who, luckily, was on assignment; sparing Sasuke the chore of forced conversation. With a single knock on the door, Sasuke ushered himself into the cozy yet Spartan apartment, where the older man was waiting in his living room with a large bottle of sake and two cups on the low table.


“To celebrate your initiation into the Big Boys Club,” he said with a  playful wink. “I saw Kimimaro on the way here and he told me the good news. Heh, I knew there was something a little different about you. Congratulations!”


Sasuke, who had been in the process of taking off his shoes and the scarf wrapped around his neck, felt his cheeks burning with heat; and it wasn’t from the electric heater in Asuma’s room either.


“Shut up,” he mumbled beneath his breath. “Can’t believe that bastard would go announcing it to everyone.” Wasn’t anything sacred anymore?


“Hey, at least saves me the trouble of having to find you a good girlfriend. I was beginning to worry there that you might be…you know…” He titled his head in a motion that Sasuke understood full well.


“I am not like that,” he replied tightly, though that sudden image of a certain blond (definitely not female) bowing at his feet; had him feeling a little hot under the collar. What the hell was wrong with him? Was he turning into that damn pervert with such sadistic thoughts? At least he could be grateful Kimimaro had not revealed the other shameful event that had transpired during the trip.


“Anyway…” He sat across from Asuma and shook his head at the alcoholic beverage handed to him. He didn’t drink, remember? “First, why aren’t we talking in my house?”


“Bugged,” came the simple answer as Asuma helped himself to a full cup. He downed it in one gulp and let out a belch of satisfaction before meeting the bemused dark eyes before him. “Yep. You heard me. We think Orochimaru’s been listening in to most of your conversation all this time, or he might be planning to.”


Sasuke clutched fistfuls of his kimono; his gaze hard and wide as he tried to let this new information sink in. It would make sense then…of why he would sometimes meet Orochimaru and the older man would already know exactly what was taking place before he opened his mouth. How…how stupid had he been all this time? It was also what Danzo must have suspected, hence the quick search at the dinner party. How long and how many times had he been bugged without his knowledge?!


“No need to get too upset,” Asuma reassured him with a small smile. “At least you haven’t really done anything to warrant his suspicions so far.”


“…he could have bugged my room in Kyoto,” Sasuke said through lips that felt frozen. “He must have probably heard everything Ino said and..and…”


“I’m guessing this Ino is the girl you slept with?” At Sasuke’s brief nod, Asuma grunted lightly. “Hmm. Think he would go that far on such short notice though?”


“He bugged my freakin’ evening suit! The one Kimimaro bought for me, so both of them are on it!” Sasuke snarled. He pounded a fist of frustration on the mat. “All this time...I don’t fucking believe it.”


“It sucks, I know, but for now…just keep acting as if you don’t know anything about it. I’ll do a check on Ino to see where she is. Although if you’re right and Orochimaru does know about her involvement with Akatsuki…” He bit his lip and lowered his gaze; his expression telling Sasuke all he needed to know about the possibilities of the girl surviving whatever was in store for her.


He groaned and covered his face; unable to accept just how fast everything seemed to be going downhill. Why did his life have to be such a complicated mess?


“Who…what is Akatsuki?” he finally asked hoarsely. “What do they want with me? Why didn’t you tell me you were a part of them? What’s the big secret?”


“I’m sorry, Sasuke, but it was something I hadn’t really planned on revealing until the time was right. Perhaps it’s best that you meet with someone who can tell you more about it than I can,” Asuma said softly. “I can set up a meeting for the two of you because I’m sure you’ll have lots of questions that I can’t answer.”


When Sasuke said nothing; though he still had the haunted expression on his visage; Asuma cleared his throat and began speaking quietly.


“Akatsuki is an underground organization with only one goal in mind…to help restore moral order and return Byaku-Shinkyou to what it once was. You could call them vigilantes; young men and women who are determined to stop the evils of those who wish to destroy the country.”


Sasuke looked up sharply; his gaze narrowing with wariness and caution. “What the hell are you talking about?”


Asuma sighed and took a long drag from his pipe before speaking again. “After the uprising, as you already know, many of the Uchiha clan were eliminated or banished from Byaku-Shinkyou. Those able-bodied men who were not captured and forced to become officers for Orochimaru, dispersed all over the country and remained hidden in the shadows for fear of persecution. What you didn’t know is that whoever was in charge of the uprising was still going after any member of the clan willing to put up a fight. In other words, the goal was and is to completely wipe away your clan from the history books, Sasuke.”




“That’s…that’s impossible,” he blurted out before he could control himself; though an inexplicable chill was setting within his bones. “I’m still here, aren’t I? There are at least fifteen of us left here…”


“Yeah, but for how long?” Asuma interrupted dryly. He was adjusting his pipe and adding some more tobacco into it. “I don’t really know what Orochimaru’s motives are when it comes to you, but I get the feeling that when he no longer needs you…you’ll be next. Hate to be blunt, but that’s the honest truth.”


Sasuke was already shaking his head; not wanting to believe what he was hearing. It couldn’t be true. This…all this didn’t make any sense!


“So…so who was responsible for the uprising?” he asked in a thick whisper, but even as he asked, he felt he already knew the answer.


“Some folks say it’s Shimura Danzo…others believe it was Orochimaru,” Asuma replied with a shrug; though his watchful gaze was pinned on the pale young man before him. Sasuke looked like he was about to pass out. “Again, we do not know for sure, but…that’s the rumor floating around. Orochimaru, Danzo, and your father were all in the same team, you could say…and I don’t know all the particulars, but we believe there was a power struggle of sorts…”


“You’re trying to tell me,” came the low growl that interrupted his words. “You’re trying to tell me that Orochimaru orchestrated the death of my family just so he could -”


“Don’t take my word for it. This is purely me speculating at this point. As I said, I think it’s best you speak to someone who knows more about this…and trust me,” he added quickly as he watched the younger man’s eyes darken into a shade that was almost blood red. Damn. Now he had seen the next level of Sasuke’s anger, and it was not all that pretty.


“Now, before you go do something stupid,” Asuma continued as he leaned forward in earnest. “You’ve got to pretend as if nothing is wrong, do you understand me? You’ve never liked Orochimaru from the beginning, right? At least something about him started to turn you off over the years, right?”


“Yes…his perverseness,” Sasuke grated out coldly. “His penchant for not telling me anything. That son-of-a -”


“I know you’re pissed, and trust me, those in Akatsuki are pissed for you, but we’ve got your back, Sasuke and we’ve been doing our best to protect you as best we can. As far as we know, Danzo wants you dead. He sees you as a threat should you one day decide to take over this place, and since he’s got control of the Bakufu Syndicate or rather, they have him in his pocket, who the fuck knows, bottom line, if they get a chance, they’ll take you out one way or another. Oddly enough, Orochimaru’s been the one protecting you all this time by keeping you here. It’s pretty damn complicated.”


“Oh, I am soooo grateful for that,” came the sarcastic response. “Just what am I? Some fucking ping pong ball to be bounced around by anyone for their own use?!”


“Shssh! Keep your voice down. I realize it’s not exactly the thing you want to hear, but you damn Uchiha folks were quite the powerhouse back in the day. Between them and the Senju…makes me wonder who the real monsters were,” he added beneath his breath. However, with a smile, he held up a cup filled with sake and gave a knowing wink. “Ready for this now? Looks like you need it.”


Fuck it, were the two words that resonated loudly in the frazzled young man’s mind as he accepted the small cup and downed the sake in without taking a breath. Any other day, he might have gone into a mini rant on why he couldn’t drink, but in his current state…rules be damned. He finished with his throat burning, his eyes stinging, and his temper a little less flammable.


“They both want me dead,” he finally said quietly as depression seemed to set in like a heavy hand descending on his shoulder. “That’s why they changed the way Gudan was to be performed. They figured the last sinner standing was going to be the most difficult and toughest fighter and there was no way I could survive the battle.” He felt the bubble of hysteria slowly rising to the surface, and when it did break through, Asuma could only watch sadly as the loud bitter laughter was mixed with tears that had nothing to do with the alcohol.


Poor kid. That son-of-a-bitch really has warped and fucked you over, hasn’t he? And what could I do? Simply cower in the shadows and do my best to keep that human side of you still intact. Did I do a good job? Huh, Itachi? Did I fail in the last task you gave to me?


“Heh, at least if I die,” Sasuke’s drawled words cut into his thought when he finally sobered down and reached for another cup of sake. “I bequeath this fucking place to you. Cheers, Asuma! Rule Byaku-Shinkyou with a gentle fist or…whatever…”


“Thanks,” Asuma replied wryly, but he found himself talking to thin air, for the young man – who clearly could not hold his liquor – had promptly slumped to the floor in a dead faint, though the tears still continued to fall ever so silently until the bigger man reached out to wipe them away gently.


“Hang in there, kid,” he whispered softly. “I know it’s painful, but your time will come. We promise you that.”






Tomorrow was New Year’s Eve. The beginning of the end, in his humble opinion. The New Year was only going to usher in the final days, weeks and months until his death; and though he would have wished to complete everything on his bucket list (in which his goal of finishing at least twenty bowls of Ichiraku’s famous yakisoba in one sitting was at #2), he figured he might as well do the best he can under his new and difficult circumstances.


Thankfully, no snow had fallen overnight, so there was nothing to be shoveled this morning. Even better, it was finally a day off for him…well only because some new sinners had been ‘hired’, so Naruto’s hours were reduced a little to accommodate the newcomers. He didn’t mind at all, except he discovered he really had nothing to do besides sitting in either his storage room and watching the folks at the laundry do their job or remaining cooped up in his ‘closet’ reading some of the ‘literature’ Shikamaru managed to smuggle in. Such fantastic readings usually included fascinating write-ups on the Hottest Girl of the Month, or Wannabe Idols who – in his opinion – could very well be AV candidates.


He wasn’t complaining. Besides, it was the most action he was ever going to get in this dump, and considering that many of the other guys were more than excited for the festival, Naruto felt even more depressed at what it signified. They would finally get some ‘alone time’ with their girlfriends or wives; something even Shikamaru had all but drooled over as he anticipated his girl coming. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there were even one or two townhouses set aside just for that; though the sleazy officers would make a quick buck by charging the desperate sinners some money for at least an hour of use.


Take for instance, one of the sinners who simply went by the name of Kurama. Kurama would brag – to anyone that cared to listen – that he had managed to pay up for at least three hours of alone time with his TWO girlfriends; though neither girl would know the other was there. He had been a player through and through on the ‘outside’, and the irony of his so-called purification hadn’t seemed to cure him of this particular disease.


Finally having enough of listening to the men brag about their future conquests and what they planned to do to their women, Naruto managed to slip out undetected in an effort to get some fresh air…and to think clearly.


The grounds were literally bustling with activity, as everyone seemed to be doing something in readiness for the festival. Though he had covered his head with the thin scarf (to hide himself as best he could), no one really stopped him or had the time to anyway. That being the case, he was able to walk past the invisible line between the sinners’ quarters and the main grounds with no fear of being stopped or harassed.




He whistled beneath his breath as he took in the numerous and beautiful kadomatsu – three bamboo branches each representing heaven, humanity, and earth and wrapped within a straw mat and rope – that lined several entrances. As he came to a stop before a particularly impressive one – this had been adorned with tall blue and green flowers – Naruto swallowed the hard lump that came to his throat as memories of previous New Years he had celebrated came rushing back.


Since he had no family growing up, he had always missed out on the other fun parts of the holiday, like receiving postcards or getting money in fancy envelopes. He at least did receive a beautiful handmade charm from Sakura while they dated. All the same, he had done his best to enjoy the holiday as best he could. He never missed watching Kohaku Uta Gassen on T.V. for instance, and he would always make sure he purchased the best mochi money could buy.


…not next year…


He sighed and kicked absently at a stone; watching it roll around until it fell into a gutter. He kicked another and continued to play his one-sided football, until he almost hit the carved stone statue of some god he could not recognize. He steadied himself against the ancient object and realized that he had somehow ended up in the dojo area…again.


However, unlike last time when the place had been filled with officers (or kids) practicing, the intimidating building stood empty and silent; as if waiting for something…or someone.


Come…come to me…come within…come…Uzumaki Naruto…


He blinked hard; realizing he was only imagining that an empty building could be speaking to him. It was ridiculous, but all the same, he found himself climbing up the stone steps; his heart beating hard, loud and fast within his chest as he licked his dry lips. He shouldn’t be here. He wasn’t supposed to be here. Unpurified sinners were banned from entering such sacred places. Hell, he had even been told he would not have the opportunity to partake in the New Year festivities.


Banned. Banned. Banned.


Everywhere he went. He simply was not needed.


Well fuck them all, he thought bitterly as he stepped out of his slippers and allowed his feet to touch the cool wooden floors now shiny with wear and age of the many fighters who have graced it over the years. If you stared hard enough, you could even make out the darker spots as possibly blood stains from strenuous matches. The interior was damn impressive though it was really nothing more than a wide open space for fighting/training, a high ceiling with slats resembling those of the temple, and a podium with three low desks and pillows. The wooden walls were adorned with spiritual scrolls and photographs of old masters; reminding the fighters/officers of exactly where they were.


To be an elite be respected...looked upon with reverence...never to be.


He noticed a large stand in the furthest corner of the room where several wooden shinai were stored. He knew he was pushing his luck by daring to do what his mind and body screamed for him to attempt, but hey…it wouldn’t hurt to know what it felt like to swing that around, would it? He had never actually fought with a sword before except for his weak attempts at playing with Officer Dosu’s katana when he was still a kid. He rubbed his nose and blushed in embarrassment; though he darted a quick glance around to make sure no one was here to watch him make a fool out of himself.


“Just for a little bit,” he whispered to the empty room, and taking a deep breath, he chose a shinai that was actually not as heavy as he had assumed it would be. He tested its weight within his grip as he wrapped his hands around the handle…seemed like a good fit…and then…swung in a clumsy half-circle that nearly sent him tumbling to the floor.


“Fuck,” he breathed in surprise. “This isn’t as easy as it looks, is it?”


He tried again; trying to mimic the way he had seen some of his favorite action heroes fight with swords in the movies. Yet with each swing, he felt even more ridiculous. He didn’t know if it was the outfit he was wearing which hindered his movement, or that the shinai didn’t feel that…well…right in his hands…


That’s because you were meant for the gun, Naruto, Kojima’s voice seemed to whisper into his ear. Naruto shuddered and tried to block it out. These hands…were meant to ki -




Oh shit!


He spun around at the thunderous bellow from the officer; looking for all the world like a deer caught in headlights. He tried to run, but his feet remained frozen. His palms seemed glued to the handle of the shinai with his sweat, and he struggled to come up with some possible excuse that would fly with the irate man stomping toward him.


“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” the officer asked, and just as Naruto figured he could get away with hitting the guy with the weapon and bolting from the scene, another officer appeared to see what the commotion was about.


Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! This was so not what I had planned, Naruto wailed inside. So sorry, man, but I’ve gotta run!


He swung blindly; listening to the wail of disbelief and pain from the officer he had struck hard on the shoulder. He dropped the shinai in panic and would have run out safely, if he suddenly didn’t slip on the droplets of sweat (which had accumulated while ‘practicing’) to fall flat on his face with a painful thud.




“Got the bastard!” one of the officers cried as Naruto felt his arms tugged behind him before being bound by what he assumed to be rope of some sort. He struggled fruitlessly, but the two men (including the one he had struck) were pinning him down to the polished floor; where the eye-watering stench of wood polish and years of sweaty feet had him gritting his teeth. He braced himself for a blow or two, knowing he was probably going to be sent back to the dungeon for his stupid decision, when the low, deep voice had the three of them freezing immediately.


“What is going on here?”


The officers let up a little, but still didn’t release him, and Naruto felt as if his arms were going to be ripped off their sockets if they kept tugging them so hard. He did manage to crane his neck a little to see who the newcomer was, but he figured he should have known before the officers opened their mouth.


“Good morning, Sasuke-sama!” they greeted with salutes. “We found this sinner daring to practice within the sacred dojo.”


“Ouch!” Naruto complained when he was cuffed suddenly. “There was no need for -”


“Silence in the presence of the first captain!” came the sharp reprimand. “You will know your place -”


“Release him.”




Even the officers were just as stunned at this announcement. The one who was struck looked the most indignant. “My Lord, he…he attacked me! He cannot -!”


“I said release him, Officer Kenzo,” came the cold command laced with impatience. “I will not repeat myself.”


With great reluctance, the officers slackened their death grip and stepped away; allowing the blond young man to stagger to his feet, though he had to flex his arms a little to get the circulation back into them. As he did this, he stole a surreptitious glance at his ‘savior’, who seemed to be heading toward the storage bin filled with shinai.


What the hell is he doing?


With bemusement, he watched Sasuke - who looked like he had just had a pretty shitty morning already (didn’t he look like that all the time?) - select a shinai for himself before turning back to face Naruto.




Sasuke really did look like hell. There were dark circles around his eyes- as if he hadn’t slept very well last night – and the downturn of his lips signified a man who was not exactly making any attempt to become his buddy anytime soon.


Which was fine with Naruto anyway. Recalling how Sasuke had treated him had his hackles rising as well. So what if his entire family was murdered and he was nothing more than fodder for that snake dude? A dick was still a dick. Nothing could change that.


“Pick up your sword,” Sasuke commanded with a nod toward the shinai Naruto had dropped earlier.


Naruto raised a brow. “…why?”


“You want to fight, don’t you?” Sasuke sneered coldly. “So? Pick up your goddamn sword and show me why you dared to sully this sacred place with your sinful soul.”


Naruto gritted his teeth at the blatant insult. It must be a talent; the way this guy could open his mouth and spew the most condescending language in the history of mankind. Hell, even if Sasuke did say a simple ‘hello’, Naruto was sure it would sound as if Sasuke was greeting a pile of feces. He could hear the officers snickering behind him, and that only fueled his aggravation. With a low growl, he bent to pick up the weapon, when the sudden stomp of Sasuke’s foot on his hand had him fighting an inner wince of pain.


Not playing fair, are you, you piece of shit!


He looked up and into the blank dark eyes that scrutinized him with an intensity that he would have found creepy if it wasn’t for his furious state of mind. He had no idea what Sasuke was thinking, but he’d be damned before he’d let this bastard get to him like this.


“Why do you exist?” came the sudden low question that – for a brief second- threw Naruto off with its randomness.


Why do I exist? Why do I exist? I’ll tell you why I live each and every day, you stuck up prick!


“To make your life a living hell,” he growled and with a speed that Sasuke hadn’t seen coming, he simultaneously pushed off the captain’s foot (nearly sending him toppling to the floor) and picked up his shinai before rising unsteadily to his feet.


“Come on then,” he invited with a bravado he did not really feel inside. He didn’t know how to fight with a real sword – let alone this damn wooden replacement - but by God, he was going to do his best to wipe the smug look off that face.


However, as he watched Sasuke take a step back, close his eyes, take a deep breath, and then lift his lashes slowly before falling into a stance that just about made him look downright formidable…


…Naruto somehow knew he was in for a world of hurt.




Chapter 12

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