Chapter 12:



As I view the moon,
Many things come into my mind,
And my thoughts are sad;
Yet it's not for me alone,
That the autumn time has come.

-       Oe no Chisato





Morning was heralded with a blinding headache and a sour taste in my mouth; the unfortunate aftermath of my decision to indulge in alcohol for the first time in my life out of self-pity. Big mistake. I doubted I was going to be hitting the bottle anytime soon after this and it made me wonder how anyone could relish in the taste of something that potent and survive to see the next day. Alcohol truly was the bane of -


Shit. This was no time to lie and ruminate on the evils of sake. I needed to relieve myself…badly.


Forcing my lashes open (they felt as if someone had placed lead weights on them), I threw off the blanket that covered me and staggered to my feet; my knees jelly-like and hardly able to support me. Asuma must have made the makeshift futon for me to sleep in, since I was still in the living room area, but with the heavy silence in the apartment, I had a feeling I was alone.


Good. The last thing I needed to see was his face this morning. I was sure he would probably laugh and call me ‘weak’ for not being able to hold my liquor. The sadistic bastard.


With a loud groan, I stumbled into the bathroom…fumbled clumsily with my kimono… (almost stumbled to the floor), but finally managed to lower my damn underwear to get the job done. For the record, it must have been the longest time I’ve spent standing up and letting go of such bodily fluids. I would be impressed at this feat, if I wasn’t still feeling slightly disoriented and out of sorts.


With my bladder finally emptied (and thankful it had stopped or I was sure I would drain every single liquid in my body, risking dehydration), I shuffled to the sink to wash my hands and mouth. A quick glance at the small mirror before me, earned a grimace as I finally took note of my reflection. To be perfectly blunt, I looked like hell. I had always frowned upon the few drunks I had arrested in the past, but look at me now...wouldn’t they be the ones mocking my appearance? My eyes were slightly bloodshot and faint dark rings encircled them like angry smears. There were shameful dry streaks of what must have been tears etched on my cheeks. I scrubbed at them angrily, recalling – with some effort – the surreal conversation I had with Asuma last night.


To wipe out my clan…


Some things were slowly falling into place, and yet Asuma’s story had only left me longing for more. Why were we such a threat? What harm could we possibly do while we were so outnumbered by our ‘enemies’? Who was the leader behind this Akatsuki, and why were they so eager to assist me in restoring Byaku-Shinkyou back to its glory days? How could they be trusted if they couldn’t tell me their objective from the beginning? I mean what stopped this ‘leader’ from trying to take over when Orochimaru was eventually thrown out of power?


If that day ever comes.


I snorted in derision. If it was that easy to eliminate him, I’m sure that would have been done by now. I need not remind you of how improbable that task is, for the man has been able to avoid attempts made on his life before…and quite easily too. Perhaps this Akatsuki have tried in the past and failed. Perhaps like me, they were simply biding their time and building up their ‘army’ to start another uprising. I gave an involuntary shudder at the possibility.


Either way, I had a lot to think about now…if my brain would cooperate with me. I still felt as if my head was stuffed with cotton balls, and I had to sit for almost ten minutes before I felt I could walk without falling flat on my face. I did finally notice the note Asuma had hastily scribbled before leaving. He had stuck it on the fridge, with a magnet in the shape of very voluptuous breasts (typical), perhaps assuming I’d want something to eat. He was right. I was starving, but his damn fridge hardly had anything edible in it (a loaf of bread that was a week past its expiration date, five bottles of beer, a large bottle of water, and two eggs in a cardboard crate of twelve). Shutting the fridge with a muttered curse, I blinked hard to make out the words he had written:


Gone to town to find out about ‘her’.

Help yourself to breakfast.

Talk to you later.


Her? Ah, I had almost forgotten about that; though with his ominous words last night, any hope for Ino still being alive was diminishing with every passing second. I squeezed my eyes shut and crushed the note within a palm; perhaps hoping my whispered prayer for some good news would come true. Still it only brought to light the other situations that made this whole thing seem like something out of a really bad movie.


Bugged. All this time, my privacy was being invaded by him listening in to my conversations. How the hell am I supposed to act as if nothing’s wrong when I’m going to keep wondering if everything I’m doing is being observed or listened to?


With a frustrated punch of the wall, I forced myself to calm down before leaving the apartment. Unfortunately, it was no use. Every step toward my private quarters became more depressing. All I could think about was Orochimaru’s presence even if he wasn’t there physically. How the fuck was I supposed to function now? I would have to do a thorough sweep of my home…from top to bottom (with Haku’s help probably), just to make sure there was nothing anywhere. It would take time, but I was determined to get rid of them; no matter how long it took. Of course if he realized I had taken away all his tracking devices, he might begin to get suspicious and then try some other sneaky tactic to spy on me.


All the same, I was getting too ahead of myself. I needed to clear my head a little more – to try to think up some way to move on from here on out. I needed some peace and quiet in a sanctuary where all troubled thoughts could be appeased. Hence my decision to head toward the temple. I would share my fears and concerns with the priests…


(is that a wise idea? They are Orochimaru’s cronies as well, remember? What stops them from telling him all your secrets? You might want to shut your mouth if you know what’s good for you.)


…right. Talking to the priests was definitely out of the question. So what could I do next -?


“Ow! Fuck! The bastard hit me! Get him!”


What the hell…?


No one was supposed to be in the dojo at this hour. With everyone preparing for the shogatsu festivities tonight and tomorrow, the dojo was usually empty. However, the loud commotion in there had me gritting my teeth at the mindless acts of possibly some officers deciding to play around this early in the day. I was already in a sour mood, with zero to no tolerance for anyone’s bullshit, and as I climbed the steps – mentally preparing my speech for them – what reality presented almost had me doing a double take.


In fact, I think it’s safe to say my brain found it rather hard to compute what it was seeing.


Uzu…Uzumaki Naruto?


I squeezed my eyes shut for a second; resisted the urge to rub it just to be doubly sure the alcohol wasn’t responsible for this insane hallucination, but opening them again…he was still there, now being pinned to the floor by the irate officers. It looked like they were just about to hit him into submission, when a quick glance around the dojo had me putting two and two together.


The sinner had dared to come into this sacred place to practice. Incredible. You really had to reluctantly admire his guts despite the consequences that awaited him. Lucky for him (and me), I was going to have to remind him of his place around here. If he was a wielder of the sword, then it would be a good test of my skills in preparation for Gudan. It’s been a while since I’ve gone all out on someone who wasn’t just a sparring partner.


And yet, it was strange – as I watched him accept my challenge; strange that a part of me was actually thrilled at the prospect of fighting him one-on-one. There is no doubt a certain rush of adrenaline comes over you when in combat. Everything seems heightened and clearer; your senses alert (a little dulled today though) and every nerve ending in your body is wired taut with preparedness to fight. Your heart races, quickens, beats just a little faster and harder even before it begins. Your flesh breaks out in tingling goose bumps and that urge to hit…to cause pain to another deliberately fills you with a charge unlike any other. Hell, now that I’ve had my first consummation with a woman, I could almost compare it to the moment when I felt my orga –


Just what the hell was I thinking about at a time like this?!


Cursing beneath my breath, I forced myself to concentrate and to take a really good look at my opponent. Compared to the last time I saw him, the sinner looked much healthier; close to how he was when I first saw him in the bus. Most of the bruises I had noticed last time were gone, and he didn’t seem to be limping either. What was wrong with this picture? No…what was wrong with him? I just could not understand it. This was a man supposed to be broken in spirit. Most sinners set for the final rite of purification were usually resigned to their fates; mindless zombies who went about day to day simply counting down to their final breaths.


Not this one.


Not this one who had dared to come to this side of the grounds where he was not allowed (and goodness knows that excuse of ‘being lost’ wouldn’t wash this time around). Not this one who had dared to walk into a place where great warriors had battled over the years and had even gone as far as picking up a weapon to practice as if he belonged. Not this one who dared to look at me with those eyes that blazed with a feverish passion that was likely to scorch one’s soul. It led me to finally ask the question; to ask why he seemed intent on living when there was absolutely no hope left for him.


Why do you exist?


His answer was not what I had expected; neither was his next move which almost had me stumbling to the floor; an embarrassing situation before my subordinates who were watching us with acute interest. To humiliate me before them was unacceptable, and yet one had to admire his ability to move that fast to take me completely off guard. I would have to be careful with this one.


“Come on then,” he taunted with a sneer.


Ignore him. Concentrate. Center yourself, Uchiha Sasuke. He’s fast, so you must strike where he least expects…


As I fell into my stance – shifting my legs as far apart as they could go considering I was still in a kimono and not my usual hakama pants for training, while balancing my weight on my slightly bent right knee and holding out my shinai – I was stumped (and honestly confused) to see him…well…not in a stance. He was simply standing with the shinai above his shoulder like a common thug in a street fight. He was so open I could have hit him anywhere without much resistance. What the hell was wrong with him?


“What the hell are you doing?” I grated impatiently. “Fall into your stance.”


Is he mocking me? Is he suggesting he can defeat me with no respect for the tradi –


“I don’t know what stance you’re talking about,” he replied with a smirk and a thumbing of his nose in obvious derision. “I call this the Uzumaki Naruto stance, so deal with it.”


The…the what?! That’s it. This sinner had insulted me for the last time!


I moved; feinting that I was going to hit him straight on as I raised my shinai, only to twist a little to strike at his right ribs with enough force to send him staggering backwards in surprise. His low cry of pain was music to my ears, but I was not done giving him an introductory lesson. He tried to protect himself by holding out the shinai – which did succeed as my next attack was blocked, but only for an instant. I crouched a little and pushed off his weapon; seeking his left side, but was blindsided with his almost graceful dodge to the right. I hissed in a breath as he yelled and swung – his intention to hit my shoulder, but I was fast enough to prevent it from happening as I thrust out my weapon to block the attack. (Un)Fortunately for him, the tip of my shinai ended up grazing his left temple; leaving an ugly red welt behind.


However, did that stop the bastard? No way. He swung again and though I raised my shinai to block the wild attack (this was clearly a sign this man had no idea about kenjutsu); I was shocked to find myself pushed back with the force of his blow. My feet slipped a little and I would have fallen to the floor if not for my quick reflexes kicking in to hold me steady. We were literally in a stalemate now as we strained toward each other with our shinai; wondering who would give in first. All things considered this was the first time I was this close to him; so close that I could feel his warm breath against my face; could see the whites of his teeth as he snarled and pushed at me. His features were flushed with exertion and sweat; a sign that he was not exactly in the best physical shape despite his slender build. Another thing I couldn’t help noticing was that his scars looked more prominent when he was angry; as if they had a life of their own and etching deeper into his flesh. However, all this paled in comparison to his most compelling feature. His eyes. Those startling blue orbs were the most telling of all, and in them, I could see everything


Anger. Frustration. Pain. Helplessness. Resignation.


“Why don’t you give up?” I growled beneath my breath; ignoring the cheers from the officers who wanted me to finish him. “You have no hope left, Sinner. So bow your head in defeat, and I will spare you the agony of finishing the rest of your days back in the dungeon.”


Perhaps I naively expected him to be grateful for my suggestion; that he would consider me merciful and drop his weapon, but instead of fulfilling my foolish ideas, he curled his lips into what could be considered a mocking smile and growled right back.


“Fuck. You.”


And though he didn’t say this out loud, I could literally hear him add, “Didn’t I say I wasn’t going to kiss your ass?” A reminder of what Haku had revealed about his true thoughts when it came to me. I burned with embarrassment at being dismissed so easily.


“So be it, Sinner -”


“It’s Uzumaki Naruto, asshole,” he corrected me angrily. “At least get it right!”


“Like hell I’ll call you by that name!” Goddamn it! He was really pushing me to my goddamn limit, and all I could think about was causing him so much pain, I simply couldn’t think straight. This bastard was driving me insane!


With all my strength, I finally pushed him off and swung as hard as I could towards the left side of his head; something to take him out completely. I failed to notice the newcomers to the dojo, and perhaps I would have really finished him off there and then when something…no an arm rather…seemed to appear from nowhere to intercept my blow.


I winced as the shinai shattered into pieces against the muscled arm, and turning quickly to see who the person was, I was stunned to see it was Asuma; smiling but grimacing at the same time as he brushed away some of the splinters from his uniform. Naruto – who had fallen to the floor – seemed just as surprised to see the bigger man in the dojo. Neither of us had heard him come in.


“I thought this was supposed to be a friendly spar,” Asuma said with a wink in my direction. “Looked like you were about to kill him, Sasuke.”


“I was,” I answered bluntly. “Spares me the extra work of doing it on the day of Gudan.”




“And what would be the fun in that?” came the familiar low drawl of amusement that had all of us turning toward the main doorway to the dojo. As if my morning couldn’t be any more full of surprises. It was Orochimaru and his shadow – Kimimaro – making their way to the middle of the dojo. I could only assume he was doing one of his rare morning strolls around the grounds to see the progress of the festival preparations, otherwise, I really couldn’t understand why he was here in the first place.


While the other officers bowed in respect, I couldn’t get myself to do it, and the stupid blond sinner hadn’t even made any attempt to do the same. He was still sitting on the floor with a raised brow at the newcomers as if unable to believe he could warrant such an important visit. I was about to open my mouth to order him to bow, but found the words stuck somewhere in my throat as Orochimaru trained his gaze on Naruto with an intensity that made me uneasy. It was an expression I had seen so many times now in the past. Orochimaru had found something ‘new’ he liked or approved of. I gritted my teeth in simmering irritation.


“And who is this?” he finally asked with a slow lick of his lips. “I don’t believe I’ve seen you around here before.”


“His name is Uzumaki Naruto, my Lord,” Asuma replied after a pregnant minute of silence where no one seemed ready to give an answer. “He’s a sinner set for Gudan.”


“Oh?” Orochimaru’s brows shot up in surprise, and I was sure he was going to explode in anger at the audacity of Naruto’s actions, but instead…he only threw back his head and laughed out loud in pure amusement. “Well, well, this is the first time I’ve heard or seen a sinner like you dare to walk into the dojo…or not be within the bowels of the earth in readiness for your final rite of purification. You may rise to your feet, Uzumaki Naruto.”


Might be my imagination, but I was sure Naruto had visibly shivered as Orochimaru reached out to touch his hair just as he was standing up. He was still clutching his shinai, and a part of me wondered (perhaps hoped) that the sinner would swing hard at the man still examining him thoughtfully.


“Where are you from?” Orochimaru queried.


“The South,” came the cryptic answer. Did he have no intention of telling Orochimaru exactly where he came from?


“The South…obviously,” Orochimaru mused. “And why are you here?”


“Here?” Naruto asked with a  raised brow. “Do you mean here in the dojo or here in this dump overall?”


Oh my God! I was aghast at his behavior, but Asuma seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. He smiled as he crossed his arms across his chest and watched the interaction between the other two men. Kimimaro had an expression I was sure I had on my face as well. No one…at least no sinner had ever spoken to Orochimaru with such flippancy. It was as if Naruto simply had no fear, and why this infuriated me, I had no idea.


“This dump?” Orochimaru smirked. “You consider Byaku-Shinkyou a dump?”


Naruto shrugged and then turned his head a little to glare at me. “Not exactly a five-star hotel, is it? Besides, I don’t really appreciate being attacked by your people when I was doing nothing wrong.”


“You were obviously brought here for a reason, Uzumaki Naruto, and for that reason you were deemed fit for the blessed rite of Gudan. You should consider yourself lucky.”


Naruto gave him an ‘are-you-shitting-me?’ look that would have had me laughing, but I was still in my state of dull shock and disbelief to react.


“And you, Sasuke,” came the sudden reprimand that had me looking up in surprise. Orochimaru was shaking his head and ‘tsking’ as if admonishing a child. “I thought you had more restraint than that. To think you’d be so quick to pick a fight with a sinner in such a manner. Quite unbecoming of a first captain, don’t you think?”


I felt my entire being flush with heat at the humiliating dress-down I was receiving in front of the other officers, but more importantly before this…this…this sinner who did not deserve to take another fucking breath. I clenched my hands into tight fists by my side and refused to say anything lest I explode with all the accusations I wanted to hurl at him. I couldn’t even look into his face, and the headache I had once thought gone was returning with a vengeance.


“Whatever the case may be, we will stop all matters here for today and try to enjoy the last day of the year, hmm? Besides, my dear fiery Uzumaki Naruto, there’ll be plenty of time for you to show us your fighting skills. I so look forward to watching you in battle.”


He reached out to caress the blond’s cheek…or would have if Naruto didn’t suddenly reach out to slap it away, while taking a step back with a look of panic in his eyes.


“Sor…sorry,” Naruto sputtered as he must have noticed the dark expression that flittered across Orochimaru’s countenance. “I just don’t like people touching me…like that.”


“I see,” was the clipped reply as Orochimaru formed a fist with the hand he had once extended in a gesture of ‘acceptance’. I almost expected him to hit Naruto with it, but he only spun on his heels; the long black robe he was wearing, sweeping the floor with every step he took. He came to a stop before the podium – seemed to think something over – before turning around to face us again.


“I might as well impart this to you, Uzumaki Naruto, since I assume that it was Sasuke who forgot to send you to your real place of incarceration.” His tongue snaked out again; his eyes now aglow with dark amusement. “Your day of judgment is fast approaching as the date has been moved to within the next three weeks. So…enjoy your time on this physical earth as much as you can, my dear, for a better and more rewarding life awaits you after your final purification! I have a feeling I’ll take great pleasure in watching the events unfold.”


And with a  grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes, he left the dojo – with Kimimaro in tow - in a state of deafening silence broken only by the sound of a shinai clattering loudly to the floor. It was Naruto, who was no doubt in shock at the news. I’m sure he hadn’t expected to hear that his life would be over so soon, and though I felt I ought to gloat with victory at his pale visage and widened blue eyes, a small part of me felt…


Pity? Sorry for him?


How stupid.


He deserves it, I told myself vehemently. It was his reward for doing something so foolish in the first place.


(as in seeking revenge for the woman he loved? Think about it, Sasuke. Aren’t you planning on doing the same thing? If Ino’s dead…aren’t you going to want to teach the killer(s) a lesson? Or will you simply shrug and brush it aside? What’s so different about his life and yours? What’s so..?)




Asuma’s voice broke through my muddled thoughts, and I looked up to meet his unreadable visage. “The officers want to know what you plan to do with him.”


Him being Naruto now slumped to his knees; the stunned expression still on his features. I had the feeling Naruto was mentally no longer in the room with us and though every fiber of my being screamed for him to be sent back to the dungeons, I knew Asuma would take issue with that and besides…


(he’s suffered enough for one day)


“…back to his quarters,” I finally replied with a light shrug. “We are finished here.”


“All right, Blondie! Up on your feet! Let’s go!” one of the officers growled as they both all but dragged an unresisting Naruto up and out of the dojo. A part of me hoped he would look back and possibly sneer or growl at me, but I got nothing. Orochimaru had managed to do something I had been unable to accomplish with only a few words. It made me resent the bastard even more.


“Hangover cured now?” Asuma asked dryly as he bent to pick up the shinai Naruto had dropped. “Just had to pick a fight first thing in the morning, didn’t you?”


“He started it,” I grumbled childishly while stooping to my haunches to pick up the broken pieces of my shinai. I could easily leave it for the sinners to clean up, but Asuma and I needed to talk anyway. “How long were you here?”


“Long enough to see you almost do something you might have regretted. Never seen you get so hot under the collar over someone like that before.”


“His very presence infuriates me.”




Why? Why?! There were so many damn reasons where could I possibly begin?! “It just does,” I muttered angrily. I needed to change the subject. “Him aside…any news about…you know?”


Asuma sighed heavily and put the shinai back in place before walking back to stoop beside me. Even before opening his mouth, I knew what the answer would be, and yet I didn’t want to accept the inevitable.


“It’s not looking too good,” he said quietly. “They don’t know where they’ve taken her to, and it might be a few days before they can track down her whereabouts. They have promised to keep me posted, and when I hear any news I’ll let you know.”


Damn it. Playing the waiting game was going to be torture.


“When can I meet this leader?” I asked impatiently. “I need to see him as soon as possible, Asuma.”


“Patience, young master,” Asuma replied with a small smile. “Your best chance to meet with him will be during Gudan. Orochimaru will be too busy with his invited guests to take much notice of what happens after the festivities. Until then…do your best not to get in trouble. Got it?”


I opened my mouth to protest, but Asuma was already shaking his head and nodding towards a few more officers walking into the dojo. Our conversation, for now, was officially over. Besides, I needed to get away from here. I still felt like shit, and having these men wonder why I was dressed rather casually, instead of being in my uniform, was something I did not want to deal with.


The journey back to my private quarters was an uninterrupted one, and I was even more relieved that I did not have Haku’s many questions to deal with. During this time of the year, he was usually around the grounds assisting with the set up of the decorations for the New Year celebrations, which was fine with me. Being alone gave me the chance to think again and to finally cleanse myself from being in contact with that sinner…


/It’s Uzumaki Naruto, asshole! At least get it right!/


“You heathen,” I hissed angrily as that voice resonated loudly in my head. As if I’d ever get a chance to call you by that name…ever. Maybe just as I’m about to execute you... if it comes to that. Maybe then, I’ll give you the pleasure of calling out your full name before sending you to the next life.


I sunk a little lower in the bathtub and tried to think of anything else but that fool. I wondered what the turn out would be for the festivities tomorrow. Last year, we had a good sized crowd, and though I would have rather spent my time reading, Orochimaru had insisted I mingle with the townsfolk and show that we were benevolent and caring (or whatever shit he had spewed about public relations). Still, this year, I planned to -


/Fuck. You./


Damn it!


I closed my eyes, placed the washcloth over them, and tried to relax. Now literally willing myself to not filter that annoying voice into my mind again. I would think of my plans for the New Year ahead. It was already going to start off rather grueling, and I would have to practice twice as hard in the dojo in readiness for Gu -


/To make your life a living hell./


Leave me the fuck alone!


I blushed hard as I realized I had actually shouted that aloud. In my haste, the washcloth had slid off my face to fall into the soapy waters, and in the process of searching for it, I found myself burning up for a whole other reason now.


I was horrifyingly, uncontrollably, shamefully aroused.




Perhaps it was still because of the rush of the fight; for it wasn’t uncommon for me to get an erection after a particularly good work out, but I had never really thought much of it in…well…in a sexual light. Was it because of my encounter with Ino (and Orochimaru)? Was I now more aware of how easy and sensitive I was to my body’s every reaction to an intense emotion? What was wrong with me? Had they both weakened me to the point of wanting some form of release; no matter how I set about achieving it? Did I now really crave another human’s touch to send me to the heights of pleasure? I could almost hear Orochimaru’s voice taunting and mocking me; could almost see him gloating in victory at my current descent into indecency.


It’s okay to give in, my dear. It’s okay to reveal this side of you every once in a while…


I squeezed my eyes shut and clamped my thighs together; forcing myself to conjure up the most grotesque images possible. I did not want to think of being touched by anyone; not by Haku, not by Ino, definitely not by Orochimaru and not by…


/Come on then…/


No…definitely not him.




No! Goddamn it! I bit my lower lip hard enough to draw blood as my treacherous mind continued to tease me mercilessly with that taunting voice. Though reality begged to remind me that he had said that phrase in a way to make me angry…at this very moment…in this steamy bathroom…and as my fingers slowly found their way to an organ that was all but throbbing hard with anticipation…the sinner’s voice seemed to change.




“Fuck…” I gasped as I tugged gently and burned in shame. “Please…don’t…make me do this…” I pleaded breathlessly to no one in particular.


And yet as the vivid memory of his warm breath against my face; of those lips parting to reveal teeth that a sick and twisted part of me longed to have buried within my flesh, and of those piercing blue eyes blazing with an emotion other than anger, I groaned in misery and obscured my feverish face against my raised arm balanced on the edge of the tub.


This was too…too damn cruel.


“Oh God…”


My toes curled with delight as I felt the pressure mounting…faster…harder…and in the process, cursed my wild imagination taking flight because I was no longer alone in the tub. I could almost feel his arms around me, his naked chest against my back, his own hard organ nudging my buttocks, but best of all, I could feel his fingers taking over mine, wrapping themselves around my swollen penis and perhaps his voice…taunting…teasing…smoky hot within my ear saying…


“Let me help you, Sasuke. You’re too damn weak to finish it on your own.”


Fuck yes!


I gave a choked sob with a release so intense, the world seemed to black out for a second. My entire body thrummed with an energy I had never experienced before, not even with Ino. I trembled in the aftermath of my satiation; willing my pounding heart to slow down. I was panting as if I had just run a goddamn marathon, and as I forced my lashes open slowly (hadn’t even realized my eyes had been closed all this time), I struggled to get my breathing back to normal and to understand just what had transpired.


What is happening to me?


I masturbated – not a shocking event in itself – but it was the realization that I had done it with…with…with a…a…male in mind that made it all the more disturbing. What made it even worse was that it had to be to the very male who had the ability to make me do irrational things; a fucking sinner who was turning out to be the bane of my existence.


Not good. Not good at all.


“Damn you,” I whispered harshly as I lifted my knees and buried my face against them in deep set humiliation. I hated what I was becoming. I hated myself for giving in and especially loathed the knowledge that I had enjoyed every single minute of it.  “Damn you to hell and back.”


And so it was that I prayed and actually thanked Orochimaru for shifting Gudan to an earlier date; for every second knowing Uzumaki Naruto existed, only made my life a little more unbearable.


Maybe with his death, I could finally find some peace within this tumultuous heart of mine.






We watched the fireworks blaze through the night sky; knowing we had the best view in the house. We were lying on the hood of her brand new car; a gift given to her by Daddy Dearest as a birthday present. Her parents were pretty loaded, so it wasn’t exactly unusual to receive something this extravagant especially since their only child had reached the ripe old age of seventeen. So for the past few weeks, she had given me permission to drive around with it as much as I’d like, and tonight, we had decided to drive up to the hills to watch the fireworks display instead of being stuck within the claustrophobic crowds in the city.


Out here, beneath the blanket of the stars – we felt like we were the only two people in the world. Out here, we were free from the shackles of society; free from the watchful eyes of her parents (who didn’t exactly approve of me being a boyfriend since I wasn’t exactly from an established family) and free from Kojima and his crony, who seemed to keep insisting she was not good for me.


Like they were the ones to give me advice about love and relationships.


I cradled her to me; my lips finding her forehead to place a tender kiss on it as she snuggled even closer with a sigh of content. It was a rather chilly night, but I could not feel a thing besides her warmth, her love, and the fact that she smelled so sweet and wonderful. Fact is, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend the New Year. I really had to be the luckiest guy in the world.


“I love you,” I whispered shyly into the thick pink locks.


She giggled and kissed the hollow of my neck tenderly. “And I love you too, Naruto.”


Another wave of fireworks lit up the sky, and after a few minutes of companionable silence, she asked softly. “What are your plans for the year? You know I’m going to start college this summer, and I won’t be around here as much.”


“I’ll come with you,” I immediately replied; having already made up my mind to do so when she told me she might be accepted into Tokyo University. “We can rent an apartment and live there together.” I reached out to clasp her hand; our fingers entwining and holding on tight as I stared into those breathtaking sea-green eyes. “Just you and me,” I whispered softly.


“I like that,” she replied sweetly. “Just you…and me…always?”




“So does that mean you plan on marrying me?” she teased and giggled again, but stopped when she realized I wasn’t laughing with her. Even in the dull glow of the shadows, I could see her cheeks turning a bright red. “You’re not serious, Naruto…”


“I am,” I said firmly. “I’ll save up enough money and buy you the best engagement ring ever, Sakura. One day…I’ll propose to you and make you my bride.”


For a long time, she said nothing, but if the tears welling up in her eyes were any indication, it was a sign that she did not disapprove of my idea. “You…you idiot,” she sobbed, wrapping her arms tightly around my neck to whisper thickly against my lips. “Why do you make me fall in love with you every single day?”


“Is that a ‘yes’?” I asked with a smile.


“I don’t know yet,” she replied, “but for now…let’s just enjoy this moment together, okay? Happy New Year, baby.”


“Happy New Year, Sakura…”


We missed the next rounds of fireworks as we allowed our lips and hands to do the rest of the talking…




…and tonight, two miserable years later, the loud sounds of fire crackers and fireworks only filtered through my window and into my enclosed prison like melancholy sounds of doom. I could vaguely hear the sounds of cheering and laughter from the folks watching, and it was only a reminder that I was probably the only person still stuck within the building while everyone else was outside enjoying the celebrations.


Lucky them.


What was the point anyway? I thought bitterly. I was now officially forbidden to even leave the sinners’ quarters as all the guards and officers were on high alert to keep me within this section of the grounds. I raised my knees to my chest and buried my face within them, wishing I could block away the sounds of false gaiety of the fools who didn’t seem to realize they were still stuck in ‘prison’ anyway. After tonight, then what? Wouldn’t the morning welcome them back to being stuck in their filthy uniforms, having to slave around the grounds for little to no pay or being treated like nothing more than tools to be used? What was there to be happy about? There was simply no more joy to be had or experienced.


Three weeks.


In three weeks, it would be all over.


I smiled bitterly to myself. What was a man on death row to do for the next three weeks? Spend each minute counting down the minutes until his head was chopped off? It had been a cruel thing to contend with; knowing that your time had been cut short due to a ‘change-in-schedule.’ Apparently, this year there was no plan to make the annual rite a summer thing, and it only made me wonder if the gods were really out for me. I really couldn’t understand why there had to be an exception to the rules this time around.


With a groan, I flopped onto my back; only to fight back a wince as my aching ribs protested. Damn. It was all thanks to that asshole hitting me in a spot I thought I was already recovering from. Absently, I caressed the bruise that had formed there overnight and allowed my thoughts to drift to the fight – if you could call it that – with Mr. High and Mighty.


The guy was no joke…at least when it came to fighting, that’s for sure.


In the few minutes we had spent on the dojo, I think I got a first-hand look at why he was probably the first captain (well besides him being the heir or owner or whatever of this place). The way he moved across the floor…it almost seemed like the guy was floating at some point. He was just that fluid and light on his feet. Let’s not talk of the way he waved that shinai around like it was weightless. He made it seem as if he was only holding a little stick, and yet each swing and strike of the damn thing had hurt big time. Even when we had gotten into the stalemate (a lucky position for me because I could barely hold him back), it would have been easy for him to attack me any way he wanted.


Funny thing was…it was the first time I had ever gotten that close to him; so damn close I had seen that his eyes weren’t all totally black as I had first assumed. Though bloodshot – maybe he didn’t sleep well the night before (good! I hope he had plenty of fucking nightmares) – there were flecks of dark brown or maybe maroon within them. His lashes were long too; almost effeminate and that skin…it looked like he hadn’t had a scratch on it since he was born. It was too …smooth, and again, reminded me of fragile porcelain; like the kinds Sakura’s mother had in her expensive collection. An irrational, gut reaction had been to reach out to caress the skin; to see if it was fucking real, but that thought was quickly wiped away from the next words that had slipped out of his lips.


He had literally asked me to beg him; to kiss his ass basically. Like hell. I mean, you really had to admire the guy’s delusions.


I guess I really did piss him off with my response because I was sure he was going to kill me if that big dude hadn’t shown up to block the next attack. Damn…I keep forgetting his name. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the circus came into town led by Snake Dude. It was the first time I had gotten to see the head honcho up close and personal, and I’ve gotta say that I’ve never felt so…weird around someone like that before. Just from the way he walked and talked made my skin crawl with disgust…as if there were literally snakes crawling all over my body. I wanted to stay as far away from the guy as possible, but it was as if he had this hypnotic thing over you. You just couldn’t look away. It was a major miracle I could even talk back to him or slap his hand away when he tried to touch me. Something told me I could have been taken out with just a look from him at that moment, but he managed to do even worse by telling me about the new date with my death.


Well fuck him…and Mr. High and Mighty too.


It wasn’t until I was washing the dishes the next day, did something Snake Dude said finally sink into my troubled thoughts.


/ Besides, my dear fiery Uzumaki Naruto, there’ll be plenty of time for you to show us your fighting skills. I so look forward to watching you in battle./




What exactly had he meant by that? I thought Gudan was all about saying some shitty prayers and then waiting for my head to be lopped off by Mr. Wonderful? What was all this about some battle and getting to show fighting skills? Was there something Haku and Shikamaru had forgotten to tell me with their story about the ritual?


I hoped to meet up with Shika at lunch to bother him about it, but he was too busy helping with unloading of some supplies in the warehouse, and couldn’t make it on time. By the time I got back to my ‘closet’ later that night, I was so tired and completely forgot all about what I had planned to bother him with. I snuggled within my thin blanket and just about slipped into dreamless sleep…but only for what seemed to be a minute because the next thing I know, someone’s shaking my shoulder and whispering my name feverishly.


Oh fuck no! It can’t be five o’clock already! I just got into bed for God’s sake!


“Lemme alone,” I groaned and burrowed deeper beneath the blanket, but whoever this person was, wouldn’t quit.


“Wake up, Naruto,” came the much louder hiss and harder shove of my shoulder.


“I said, leave me the fuck alone,” I growled; sitting up and getting ready to punch someone’s lights out. I was momentarily blinded by the lantern, which was immediately lowered to reveal Shikamaru’s features in the gloom. What the fuck did he want?


“Come,” he ordered firmly. “Someone wants to talk to you.”


“Are you kidding me?” I muttered in disbelief. “I am fucking tired, man. I don’t -”


“Asuma needs to see you.”


Asuma? Who the hell is…?


Ah…Big Dude. But…why the hell does he want to see me? What did I do now? All the same, I found myself crawling out of my futon, shuffling clumsily into my slippers and tiptoeing after Shikamaru’s shadow as we did our best not to awaken the snoring men in the crowded room. For the next ten minutes, the man led me through narrow alleys that I didn’t know existed; effortlessly moving within shadows as if he belonged and  had fucking night vision or something.


He eventually came to a stop before a dejected-looking town house that was close to the outskirts of the sinners’ quarters and gave a brief, but sharp whistle. It was reciprocated almost immediately, and with a nod, Shikamaru darted across the empty street – with me hot on his tail – and darted into the building whose doors had opened almost as soon as we arrived. It was closed just as quietly behind us and we both turned to take note of our host. It was Big…I mean Asuma.


“Sorry to have to wake up you when you must be dead tired, Uzumaki Naruto,” he began with a friendly smile. “But I think you and I need to  have a little talk. Come. Let’s go downstairs where we won’t be disturbed.”




He lifted some tatami mats from the floor (may I just mention that this townhouse looks like no one’s lived in it for years. There are pieces of broken furniture, roaches, cobwebs and dust everywhere) to reveal a built in wooden trap door whose hinges cringed as he tugged hard on the rusty handle.


“After you, boys,” Asuma ordered.


Shikamaru went down the ladder first, turning and holding onto the lantern as he did so. I followed with my heart in my throat and my head thumping as loud as a drum. As my feet touched solid ground again, I watched as Shikamaru went about turning on lanterns as if he was already familiar with this place. In fact, there was nothing much under here besides a wide empty space with some empty wooden crates stacked in a corner, a long work desk with a few old tools, and plenty of dust and even more cobwebs around. There was no window, so the air in here was musty and thick with the stench of age, and as Asuma descended the ladder, while closing the trap door behind him, that overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia was beginning to kick in.


“Pardon the abysmal conditions,” the man was saying with a chuckle. “But it’s the best I could do under the circumstances.”


He dragged two crates toward the center of the room and motioned for me to sit on one of them…which I did gingerly. Shikamaru, who had been quiet all this time, got a crate for himself and I soon found myself almost sandwiched by the two men who seemed content to stare at me for a long uncomfortable minute as I squirmed in discomfort. I mean…what the fuck gives?


“It really is uncanny,” Asuma finally muttered with a light shake of his head. “I’ve only seen a few pictures, but the relationship is clearly there.”


“What relationship?” I asked in bemusement.


“The Senju,” Asuma explained as he dug into his robe to whip out a pipe. Was he really going to smoke in this room with no windows? I was going to suffocate in here! Oh…and what was that about Senju?


“What’s that?” I asked. “The Senju thing you were talking about.”


Shikamaru finally spoke as Asuma was too busy filling his pipe. “He believes you’re a descendent of one of the greatest crime syndicates Japan has ever known. The Senju. They were here before the Bakufu’s existence.”




So?! A part of me wanted to scream. They woke me up to tell me that I was the descendent of some Syndicate? Great. Were my ancestors going to rescue me from dying? If so, I would gladly join their fucking Syndicate if it still existed.


Asuma smirked. “That ‘ah’ pretty much says it all. You couldn’t give a fuck about your ancestors, and I cannot blame you. Believe me, Naruto, it is not the reason I awakened you at this ungodly hour.”


“Well that’s good. I was just about to curse you out and head on out of here for wasting my time.”


“Fair enough.” He lit up the pipe and watched the embers on his tobacco for a second. “I actually came to help you.” His lips quirked into a smile. “I think you just might be able to fight your way to your freedom.”


Okay, now that had my attention. I sat up with a start; eyes widening as my heart began to thud a little faster. He had better not be shitting me or toying with my emotions. What was he trying to say exactly?


“You heard what Lord Orochimaru said the other day at the dojo, right?” Asuma asked.


“Yeah, yeah, he said something about wanting to see me fight, but I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. Shika said Gudan was just prayers and head chopping. He never mentioned anything about fighting.”


“That’s because the rules have changed,” Asuma explained as he sucked in a lungful of nicotine. He expelled several clouds of smoke before continuing. “It seems that this time around, Lord Orochimaru intends for it to be a death match. All sinners destined for Gudan will be pitted against each other and the last person standing…goes free.”




I must have gawked in shock; because it definitely felt like my jaw had dropped to the ground at this stupendous announcement. Was he being fucking serious?! I’d have to kill people to get my freedom? What kind of a raw deal was that?!


“That’s…that’s bullshit,” I said out loud in a trembling whisper. “That’s fucking bullshit! I might as well have murderer stamped on my forehead even if I do get my fucking freedom! What’s the point?! You send people in  here for murders, and then you ask them to do the same thing just to be free? I thought this place was about cleansing folks of their sins?! Why make them commit the greatest of them all again?!”


“Ironic, no?” Asuma agreed serenely. He didn’t seem taken aback at my rant. If anything, those dark eyes seemed to flash with some emotion that could almost be defined as…admiration? Or maybe I was reading too much into it. He glanced at Shikamaru; his lips quirked into a smile. “You were right after all. I really thought he was going to be happy about the news. Seems he’s still got a sense of justice about him.”


Shikamaru gave a wry smile and looked at me seriously. “Whatever the case is, Naruto, you’ve got to remember that when this news gets out to the other sinners set for Gudan, they aren’t going to be as righteous as you are. They’ll want you dead as much as they’d want their freedom, so it’s best to be prepared.”


I snorted and folded my arms across my chest. “I’m not killing anyone, and that’s that.”


“Oh? So how do you plan to be the last one standing?” Asuma asked with amusement.


How indeed? I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to think of some plan. Maybe lying low in the fray and waiting for everyone else to kill themselves before …


“Don’t think it’s going to be that easy, oh Son of Senju,” Asuma interrupted with a snicker. “I can read you like a book. You think you can just lie low and wait for everyone else to kill themselves and then you can sneak out and claim victory? Hah!” He guffawed at my embarrassment, and I tried to huff with indignation.


“Look, I can manage it,” I insisted with a firm nod. “There are ways to hurt people without actually killing them.”


“Fair enough,” Asuma agreed. “But after what I witnessed in the dojo the other day…you have a snowball’s chance in hell to inflict even as much as a scratch on even the weakest of fighters.”


Ouch. Had he just insulted my fighting skills?


“If I hadn’t stopped the fight, Sasuke might have finished you off quite easily.”


Hn. Whatever.


“…your stance is terrible. Your strikes are not strong enough. In fact, you can’t even hold a shinai properly. Have you never fought with the sword before?”


“I don’t exactly go about waving that thing anyhow I like,” I grumbled. “I told you, I don’t like fighting or killing people.”


“Which is exactly why you’re going to get a crash course in kenjutsu starting from tonight,” Asuma stated firmly leaving no room for argument.


I opened my mouth to protest; to tell them that I had no intention of sacrificing my precious sleep just to practice for some battle I had no intention of participating in, but neither man was listening to me. Asuma had risen to his feet only to stand on tiptoes for a minute as he searched for something in the slanting slats that made up the basement’s ceiling. He pulled down a shinai…and then another, while Shikamaru pushed aside the crates to make more room.


“Here you go,” Asuma declared as he tossed the wooden weapon to me; forcing me to rise to my feet and catch it lest it hit me or worse.


God. Not this again.


I sighed inwardly and reluctantly gripped the now familiar handle of the weapon within my palms.


“To pick up a sword is to give your life to it,” Asuma stated quietly, and for a second, I felt a jolt sear through me as memories of Kojima saying the same thing – only he used the gun as an analogy – flooded my mind. I looked up with my heart in my throat; fully expecting to see the tattooed older man before me, but it was only Asuma though he looked a little different now. He seemed to be standing a little taller; his presence even more imposing. The smile was gone from his face and with the way he was holding his shinai, it reminded me of the way Sasuke had held his before we fought.


“We might live in a day and age when walking around with a sword might be seen as a thing of the past, but we must remember that the men who once fought with them…fought for something bigger than themselves. We are as close to samurai as we’ll ever be, Uzumaki Naruto, so do not take this weapon lightly.”


I swallowed and gripped the shinai a little tighter. I could already feel the cold beads of sweat forming on my brow and upper lip, and I licked them away absently. I couldn’t show this guy that I was scared shitless inside.


“Prepare yourself, Uzumaki Naruto,” Asuma continued in that same solemn tone. “For the samurai way of losing is death. You must wield your sword with pride, do you understand?”


I didn’t, but I could only bite my lower lip and nod numbly.


“You saw the way Sasuke fought the other day, didn’t you? You saw how effortlessly he seemed to fight? Well, that didn’t come overnight. That comes from years of training from the day he could walk, Naruto. Five, six hours a day for most of his life, he spends honing his skills, and I’ve got only three weeks  - give or take – to get you to at least half of his skill level.” He seemed to smirk. “Even you don’t want him to keep looking down on you, do you?”


I gritted my teeth as that smug visage filled my consciousness again. Asuma was right. Even if I had no plans to kill anyone, there was that part of me that still wanted to show up Mr. High and Mighty; to show that the other day at the dojo had been a fluke and that the next time we met, I’d be more than ready for him. Still…


“Why?” I asked quietly. “Why would you do this for me? Why go through all this trouble for someone you don’t even know?”


The hard light that had once filled his eyes seemed to ease a little back into that warmth I had noticed earlier. “Because you have something within that’s bigger and brighter than the darkness that surrounds you, Naruto. Even when your lips and mind scream for death to take you, your heart still wants to survive…to live on despite the many odds against you. The flame might be nothing more than flickering embers now, but it’s still there; that passion and desire to win at all costs. That is why you have lived all these years. Hasn’t it?”


Damn. Why? Why the fuck did he have to be right?


My throat was tight and as he blurred before my eyes, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to let everyone know that I was now openly sobbing like a goddamn kid. It was the first time anyone had managed to ‘get’ me so easily; for some adult to show me any kind of affection and understanding in such a long time. All these years, I had struggled to be somebody, and Sakura’s acceptance of me was something I had latched on to with every fiber of my being. Hell, hadn’t I even fallen for the notion that Kojima might have been the older brother I always wanted? I wept for what I could have had and what I could be, and the two men in the room seemed to understand that I needed to let this all out. They made no attempt to comfort me, though Shikamaru turned away respectfully and Asuma seemed more concerned with his pipe.


When I felt I was more in control of my emotions, I wiped my face with the sleeves of my yukata and took a deep breath. The time for feeling sorry for myself was over. I had to buckle down and prepare for whatever lesson Asuma was to impart to me. I would be an excellent student and practice for as long and as hard as it took.


“Now you’ve got to consider the sword as an extension of your hand,” Asuma began once he noticed I was finally ready. He extended his hand to show me just what he meant. “Usually, most fighters tend to start off by pointing their blade at their opponent. Slash.” He waved his hand downward. “Stab.” He pointed a finger towards me. “Seems pretty easy with just the hand, eh? Now…imagine doing that with a katana in hand, where you have to wield all your power into it and unto the air.” He raised his powerful arms and slashed again; this time a little harder and fast enough to create a gust of air in the stuffy room.


Whoa. Damn impressive if you ask me.


He gave a small smile and held out the shinai. “For starters, your grip should be like so. Wrap your hand around from where your pinky is and apply no pressure on the thumb or index finger. Hold it gently, not as if you’re gripping it for dear life.”


I tried to copy what he was showing me and after a few tries – you’d think something as simple as holding a wooden shinai would be easy but it wasn’t – managed to get it right.


“Place your left hand to where the center of your body is and steer with your right hand…put the pressure in your abdomen…and then…”


I watched in awe as Asuma literally seemed to grow a foot taller before me. It felt as if he had sucked in the very air within the room and it was all concentrated in and around him. I couldn’t breathe, and when he slashed the air with his shinai, I almost found myself ducking in fear he’d strike me. He didn’t, but the effect was no different. It was the way Sasuke had come at me toward the end of the fight; the same dark aura of invincibility that enveloped him like a shield. Would I ever be able to have such an aura or presence with this wooden thing in my hand?


“So then,” Asuma announced with a flourish. “Let’s see you give a try.”


Oh shit.


Okay…you can do this, Naruto…just…remember what he said.


I re-gripped the shinai as I had been told, held it to the center of my body, braced my legs apart while putting a little more weight on my slightly bent right knee…sucked in my abdomen and taking a deep breath…


“Ow,” I hissed as I swung and nearly took off my shoulder with the awkward motion. The shinai had felt heavy and clumsy with my strike; hardly as powerful and graceful as Asuma or Sasuke’s had been. My cheeks burned with humiliation; the brief but painful memory of being laughed at while trying to lift Officer Dosu’s sword coming back to haunt me with a vengeance. I really wasn’t meant for this weapon, was I?


“Not to worry,” Asuma said with a smile; though I could tell he was probably groaning inwardly at how much work he had to do with me. “We’ll go through it again. At least another hour and I’ll let you go for tonight, all right?”


“All right.”


“Don’t look so glum. We all started somewhere. Hell, even Shikamaru sucked big time before he got the hang of it.”


“Huh? He can fight with a sword too?” I blinked at my friend in disbelief earning an indifferent shrug from the other man.


“Yes, he does. He looks like a lazy bum, but he’s not exactly a slouch in the fighting department. On the days I’m out of town for assignment, he will take my place and be your sparring partner. Now.” He clapped his large hands and motioned for me to pick up my shinai again. “Let’s go through this from the beginning. Hold your grip…”


And that was how it began; my secret underground training with a man who I would come to consider an ally, friend, and confidant. For the next two weeks, when I wasn’t busy working myself to death in the kitchens, I would spend every waking moment – well as much as I could – training. I was immune to the whispers that had begun about Gudan being moved upward; blind to the fact that preparations were already beginning as workers went about setting up the arena of death. I ignored the pitying looks from other sinners as they realized my final hours were fast approaching; some even went out of their way to be extra nice to me; after all I didn’t have much longer to live, right? All the while I suffered the aches and pains that came from grueling practices, in silence, though I realized that they made me mentally and physically stronger with every passing day.


My hands became raw from the many hours spent wielding the shinai, and on some nights, they would literally bleed, but I continued to bear it as best I could. I only had to think of a certain black-haired man training for all his life, to give me even more motivation to endure the agony with no complaint. True to his word, Shikamaru turned out to be a great sparring partner and though he was not as strict as Asuma, he was still stern enough to keep me on my toes when I felt I couldn’t go on.


On my last night of practice – and at the time I had no idea it would be my last night with them – Asuma brought in a bottle of sake and the finest sushi he had purchased on his outing earlier in the day. As we drank and ate; telling each other funny (and dirty jokes), I swallowed the hard lump that had risen to my throat as I watched their faces beneath the glow of the lanterns.


I had only a week left with them, and come the day of Gudan – give or take – my life was literally going to be in my hands. I didn’t want their hard work to go to waste and I was determined now to give it my all. I was going to fight; not just for me, but for the good men who would still remain in this place whether I lived or died.


“Thank you,” I whispered thickly, which caused them to stop chattering long enough to look at me as if I was a creature from another planet. I forced myself to smile. “I just wanted to say that…for everything…you two…”


“Why are you talking as if you’ve already lost?” Asuma chided gruffly as he reached out to ruffle my hair. “Come on. We’ve still got a week to practice, and you’ve progressed so much in such a short period of time. You should be more confident.”




“You nothing,” Asuma huffed. “Drink up and then you and me are sparring. Shikamaru said you managed to knock him down yesterday. This, I’ve got to see.”


I smiled and blushed as Shikamaru bragged about my improved skills, but that dull sense of foreboding wouldn’t leave me. All the same, I was glad that Asuma got to see the difference his teaching had made. I did manage to bring him to his knees, and his mock bow of defeat was the only thing to leave me with a sense of accomplishment as we said our goodnights and parted ways. Like always, we slipped within shadows and crept down, now familiar, alleys in silence and as I watched Shikamaru’s back, a part of me (and not for the first time) wondered if we would have been the best of friends in the outside world. It really would have been cool to hang out with him for one day; to watch a baseball game, play at the arcade, or just chill out somewhere...being...regular guys.


“Goodnight,” Shikamaru whispered when we finally arrived at the townhouse and came to a stop. “I’ll see you tom…hey!”


I had wrapped my arms around him in a tight embrace; my eyes squeezed shut as I waited for that familiar repulsion of experiencing such close human contact with another male, to overwhelm me. However, I felt nothing and I knew why. Shikamaru had proven to be a friend; someone I could trust and confide in with no fear of being betrayed or hurt. Hell, you could even say I loved the guy.


“Naruto,” he said quietly, but I refused to release him until he finally wrapped his arms around me as tightly as I did him. For a long time we remained motionless in our embrace; simply letting our hearts and minds do all the talking.


Thank you, my friend. Thank you for not giving up on me.


“Win,” he finally hissed thickly into my ear. “You hear me. No matter what happens. You’ve got to win and get out of here. Promise me that.”


“I promise,” I croaked thickly; hardly pulling away as he did something I was sure he might probably regret in the morning. It was only a hard kiss on my left cheek before he pushed me away from him. He turned away before I could see the tears forming in his eyes, and with a final wave of farewell, he slipped into the shadows and to his side of the house.


I tiptoed into my closet and shut the door as soundlessly as I could; wincing as my sore body protested my decision to lie down. However, sleep wouldn’t come easy for me; though I knew I had to milk the precious two hours I had left until it was time to be called for kitchen duty. I forced myself to conjure up happier memories of my time with Sakura, but was alarmed to realize that...


I can’t see her!


...not so much that I couldn’t ‘see’ her, but that her features, which had always been vivid in my memory, now seemed fuzzy and out of focus. It was as if I was struggling to put together pieces of what she might have looked like, and I felt a blind panic overwhelm me. Was I losing my memory? Or was she slowly dissolving into my past as so many other things before? I would have loved to ruminate more on this new discovery, but was interrupted when the door to my closet was suddenly opened.


I spun around quickly in readiness to fight (or flight) – all sores forgotten - but was immediately gagged with a dirty cloth to shut off my scream of anger and fear. I had only time to see that there were four guards and a stern-looking officer overseeing the events before I was robbed of my sight with a dark cloth placed over my eyes. I was dragged rudely to my feet, my arms yanked painfully behind me and my wrists bound in what felt like ropes made with wires. I sucked in a harsh breath and struggled to compose myself (and breathe evenly).


“Uzumaki Naruto, the final week of your purifications has been so ordered by Lord Orochimaru,” came the sonorous voice of the officer as if reciting from a well-rehearsed script.


“Your Gudan begins today, Sinner, and any resistance will be futile.”




Chapter 13

Naruto Home






























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