Chapter 15:

Gudan (II)

It is by its breath
That autumn's leaves of trees and grass
Are wasted and driven.
So they call this mountain wind
The wild one, the destroyer.

-       Fun'ya no Yasuhide





Itachi remained silent to the muttered word of disgust from his companion. His expression gave nothing away; though his feelings did mirror the expressed sentiment. This was indeed insanity at its highest level. Revulsion at Hidan’s merciless killings were enough to curdle one’s blood, and yet listening to the frenzied yells from the spectators (although there were those who had turned away from the brutal sight or left the arena completely) made his heart heavy with the fickle nature of men. So easily swayed and intoxicated with the notion of being witnesses to such hideous acts, they were willing to give up what little humanity they had left.


Still he had watched intently at the events as they unfurled; unaware that a small part of him had been rooting for the blond young man Asuma had mentioned as being Uzumaki Naruto. Throughout the bloodbath, Naruto had managed to keep his wits about him (for the most part), and though Itachi couldn’t detect this for certain, he was sure Naruto had not set about inflicting deadly wounds on those he did end up battling. If it wasn’t for Hidan’s ‘thoroughness’, Itachi was sure most, if not all, of the prisoners would have been left limping or barely hanging on.


Was Asuma right after all? Would this wild child be merciful enough not to take his brother’s life if given the opportunity? So what if his sword skills were not exactly the best despite whatever Asuma must have taught him? Itachi could still see a lot of potential. There was no doubt that with more training, Naruto could be one of the better sword fighters around. There was a natural fluidity (mostly offset by some clumsy moments) in the blond’s movements that was to be envied.


However, thoughts of Naruto would have to take a backseat as a slight commotion on his left had him glancing in that direction. A group of officers had just arrived to the stadium and for the first time in weeks (months? Years?), Itachi felt his heart stir with a gamut of emotions he could not describe.




It was his little brother and yet not his little brother. It was difficult to explain how this contradiction fit into his thought processes; for though he had relied mostly on Asuma’s descriptions and a few photographs, actually seeing the once barely-higher-than-my-knee boy he had left all those years ago; now older, taller, and hardly as ‘cute’ as he had once been – was almost a shock to the senses. Time and his experiences, under Orochimaru’s care, had definitely taken their toll.


The Sasuke he had known always smiled in his presence; those dark eyes aglow with curiosity and a happiness that was sometimes contagious. He knew Sasuke had worshipped him unequivocally while they were boys; had known that Sasuke would always try to emulate him in all he did, and goodness knows Itachi had done his best to be the best ‘big brother’ he could possibly be. Sure there had been moments when he had thought Sasuke annoying and bothersome, especially when he’d throw temper tantrums and want things to go his way, but those were now simply memories that remained near and dear to his heart. He had (still) loved Sasuke unconditionally and would have done anything to keep that smile and innocence ingrained within him forever.


If only…


If only what? What could he do now to make up for all those years lost? Would their plan today be to the benefit of everyone? What if things went wrong? Would it all be for naught? He had no delusions that a reunion was going to be anything but ‘happy’, and Itachi was still on the fence about actually making his presence known when the time came. And yet looking at that face; seeing those dark eyes that were now inscrutable, the down turn of those lips that seemed as if the very act of smiling was going to be next to impossible, Itachi knew there was no way he could ‘escape’ this time around. He owed his brother an explanation…many explanations in fact. It was the least he could do to atone for whatever sins he had committed.





The noise was at fever pitch now. Every attention attuned to the fight as it was now only Hidan and Naruto left within the caged dome. With an effort, Itachi tore his gaze from his brother to focus on the V.I.P section again. The warm feelings he had allowed to seep into his heart just moments earlier, evaporated just as quickly as they had appeared. His lips thinned with disgust as he watched Orochimaru and Danzo all but leaning over the balcony with acute interest. The lecherous grin of intent on the pale-skinned man’s face made his stomach churn, and the hidden weapon within his robes suddenly seemed to weigh a ton as he made mental calculations of how many people were packed within the reserved section.


Too many…too many damn guards. This is going to be tricky.


Orochimaru and Danzo weren’t fools. He’d give them that much. Those old geezers would know that they were the targets of enemies at all times, so extra precautions would have to be taken. All the same, this was no time to focus too much on that. Itachi knew they had to get things moving now.


“Shisui,” he finally called out quietly without looking away from those he despised.




“Give the signal.”


Shisui gave a curt nod, and placing a two fingers within his mouth, he gave a barely audible whistle and made a motion with his fingers. Those in the crowd – strategically placed – ‘heard’ and saw the signal and began to make their move as discreetly as possible. It was easy to slip in and out of the stadium now without rousing suspicion, for even the guards and officers on duty were engrossed with the battle. They really couldn’t be bothered with those who chose to leave due to the gruesome nature of the festivities.


In a way, it was almost too easy, and both men knew that sometimes it was the ‘easiest’ plans that always ended up being the most complicated.


Perhaps he need not have worried about his comrades being caught for the frenzy reached deafening heights as Hidan’s head was severed in the most unconventional way. Even Shisui, who was rather had to impress, gave a low whistle of appreciation at the psychopath’s quick and unexpected end. There were hardly any feelings of loss or regret for they too had heard of Hidan’s escapades in the outside world. It was bad enough that the rumors had begun about him being a part of their organization; something that had Itachi shuddering at the notion. The last thing he needed was to be associated with a crazy bastard like Hidan, so it was with great relief that his capture was well publicized and now this befitting death. Served the asshole right.


Though neither man visibly applauded Naruto’s valiant effort, they did have small smiles on their faces and felt a twinge of regret that his victory was only going to be short-lived. It was clear Orochimaru still had that one trick up his sleeve, and it was almost painful to watch Naruto’s wail of despair and unbridled anger at being duped with a false sense of security.


“Bastard,” Shisui growled beneath his breath. He glared coldly toward the V.I.P section. “I’ll take great pleasure in watching him die.”


“Asuma told us to expect this, didn’t he?” Itachi replied quietly; though his gaze was now focused on the arrival of his brother to the dome. His stomach muscles clenched tight with anxiety; realizing how Orochimaru had set this up perfectly. Naruto was now going to be too furious to even contemplate the notion of forgiveness, for his only thoughts would be of freedom and of eliminating any obstacle in his path to achieving that.


Unfortunately, this ‘obstacle’ was turning out to be none other than his brother; the one person Itachi had vowed to protect for as long as he lived. So how the hell was he supposed to do that now with this scenario?


“I’m sure Sasuke will prevail,” Shisui muttered as if noticing his companion’s worries. “Didn’t you brag about him being the best sword fighter this side of the country? Besides…”


He paused and looked up – as if toward the heavens – he sniffed once…twice…and allowed another smile to come to his features. “…looks like they’ve already started the party without us.”


Itachi sniffed the air as well and then glanced at his watch. Perfect timing. He opened his mouth to say something else, but was immediately distracted by the uproar of approval from the crowd. It forced his attention back to the events happening within the dome; realizing with a growing sense of foreboding that if things did not go as planned, he could very well be watching his brother’s inevitable dance with Death itself.






This is madness.


Try as hard as I could to detach myself from the massacre I had witnessed, it was inhumanly impossible to turn away from it as well. Like watching a train wreck of catastrophic proportions, seeing Hidan ‘at work’ had been enough to have me swallowing my repulsion and gritting my teeth. You might assume I should be used to this, since I have been a willing participant of such things in the past. However, Gudan had never been this…raw and tainted.


Gudan had really been treated as a spiritual event, where sinners were simply marched up to the center of the arena, made to kneel before the large pit, prayed for and then sacrificed as cleanly as possible. We did not go about painting our faces with their blood and showcasing the severed heads like war trophies, and depending on the number of sinners due for Gudan, this was usually a quick and stress-free event. Everyone went home subdued or murmuring in thought.


So much for that now.


I have never seen the crowd so worked up before; never seen them so eager to see more senseless bloodshed in the hands of the psychopath. This mass union of blood lust was mind-numbing, and a quick glance at Orochimaru proved just how much he and his cronies were enjoying and feeding off the frenzy. It was like a drug for him, I’m sure. I had never seen his features so flushed with near orgasmic bliss; neither had I seen him so taken by the sight of...who? Hidan or Naruto? If it was Hidan, I could understand his reason for being so excited. Hidan would have been the perfect henchman ... if he wasn’t so damned insane. In fact, hadn’t he claimed that he believed in what Orochimaru did? They would have made a perfect team...a probability that did cross my mind as sinner after sinner was being slaughtered until there was only one left.


Uzumaki Naruto.


Unaware of how tight my fists were clenched as I watched the blue-eyed sinner fight, it would take me a while longer to realize I was that tense during the melee. Naruto’s fighting skills hadn’t really improved much, or rather; I did notice he was much quicker on his feet than before. He had been able to dodge the wild attacks that came at him, and though he did cause some damage, I was quick to note that he had hit no real vital points in his victims. Hell, if it wasn’t for Hidan lopping off heads like they were going out of style, I was sure Naruto had no intention of killing his opponents. Just what had he intended to do if Hidan hadn’t beheaded them? Was Naruto really that naïve enough to believe Orochimaru would let him walk out freely without finishing the job? Either the blond was a complete fool or he really did...


(he has a good heart...don’t forget)


I snorted in derision. Let’s see just how far that good heart of yours gets you, Uzumaki Naruto. Sometimes you have to be cruel to gain what you want.


So why? Why did I not feel at ease as I watched him being beat up by that hedonistic sinner? Why was I not jumping in glee or smiling in victory as I assumed Hidan would finish him with a clean beheading? Why was my stomach in knots as I watched him go down in defeat; as I felt the willpower to fight seem to seep away from his aura? Where was that bravado that had dared me while I visited him in prison? Where was the determined man I had seen in the dojo? The one who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind no matter the consequences. Where was the man who...?


/“I vow to keep my promise to Naruto-kun! No matter what happens...I promise...I will take care of you until my dying breath!”/


It was as if I had been goosed as I recalled Haku’s impassioned and tearful words to me when I left this morning. I felt a chill run down my spine and yet a strange warmth fill my heart all at once. I did not understand what his words had meant at the time; or rather I had not allowed myself to fully comprehend them. However, it seemed to me that despite it all...that despite all the pain and suffering Uzumaki Naruto had gone through, he must have actually told Haku to look after care for me. Why? Did he feel I needed to be babied or protected? Or did he really genuinely care for my welfare?




No one could be that forgiving, so I assumed it was him being patronizing as usual and Haku probably reading it the wrong way. In fact, I was now sure that Naruto must have said it in jest; that the blond must have uttered the words in a sarcastic tone and Haku had believed him to be sincere. I felt a flicker of something, I refused to acknowledge as disappointment, within me and would have turned away from the fight to prepare for my inevitable opponent...when our eyes suddenly met and the world stood still.


I couldn’t explain it to you any properly even if I tried, but I could honestly say that for those few miniscule moments, it really did feel and seem like we were the only two humans left in a void of emptiness. I could no longer hear the frenzied crowd. I could no longer smell the pungent stench of hot blood, human entrails, sweat and tears. In this void, there was no sound but the beating of our hearts; mine – slow and steady, his – rapid and slightly irregular.


Where the fuck were we? What was the meaning of this? What did he want from me? Why was he staring at me with such intensity? Was he waiting for me to say to him? Did he want some form of encouragement? Something to get him motivated? Did he really believe I’d be willing to say something...anything to give him the strength he needed?




He was mine.


Mine to kill. Mine to destroy. Mine to eliminate as had been destined from the moment we met. I held Uzumaki Naruto’s fate in the palm of my hand, and we both knew it. How could I possibly allow that heathen to steal my inherent wish and desire? How could I allow Hidan to defeat him when we were yet to conclude the fight we began in the dojo? Naruto would have to find some strength from somewhere, get his butt off the ground, and finish what he had started. There was really no excuse for him to lose this way. None.


Get the fuck up, you worthless sinner, and finish what you started!


I know he couldn’t hear me, for I was sure I had said this in my head and yet he... smiled. He actually smiled as if he had indeed heard every damn word!


How eloquent, you piece of shit.


And now I was hearing voices in my head...his...again. I shook my head rapidly as if to rid myself of this odd and bewildering situation... and just like that, we were back to reality; a reality that was even more insane than before. Naruto was back on his feet, and as I watched him fight this time around; with more determination and vigor than he had shown moments earlier, I wondered if it really had anything to do with...well...whatever the hell had just transpired in ‘the void’. I did not believe in telepathy, and always considered psychics or those who claimed to be ‘seers’ as quacks and weirdos. So where did this place me? Was I beginning to lose my mind? I have been having trouble sleeping lately, so maybe it had something to do with -


“Whoo...there he goes,” came the commentary beside me that was quickly followed by a deafening roar of approval from the crowd.


Hidan was officially dead. Good riddance to bad rubbish.


It was my time now.


Our time.


I spun on my heels to follow the officers, no longer needing to see the rest of the fight or what was to happen next. Though with the speakers and Orochimaru’s voice booming everywhere, it wasn’t hard to know that the news of Naruto’s ‘freedom’ being on hold for one more fight was not taken very well by said Naruto.


I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.


Still, it was just the right trigger to get the blond sinner all riled up, and the closer I approached the caged dome, the more I realized just how well Orochimaru had set this up. With Naruto now so furious about the situation, he would have no other choice but to go all out with me to gain his release. I took a second to glare coldly towards the V.I.P section; meeting Orochimaru’s amused dark gaze before he tipped his cup, of whatever the hell he was drinking, in my direction as if giving a toast. I briefly contemplated throwing my sword in his direction and seeing how far it would go or if it would make a direct hit with his chest (or head), but I knew it was next to impossible in this situation, and besides...


(too late)


The grinding sound of the cage being locked behind me was the signal that any thought or plan of getting out of this situation prematurely was going to be next to impossible. Not that I had any plan of escaping in the first place. I had a job to do, and I was determined to do it as well as I could. I would have to clear my mind of all extraneous thoughts including any and all conversations I’ve had with the man...


(no...not a not see him as human)


...this sinner before me. I would ignore the fact that in the few conversations we have had so far, he has been able to insult, ridicule, embarrass (he thought I was female for crying out loud!), and have me thinking of matters I would have rather not dealt with. His ability to rattle me easily was something I’d have to take into consideration. I was determined not to let him get to me. No matter what happened.


“Sorry,” he began as if we were simply chatting. “I couldn’t clean up a little better for you. Just been put through a useless fight and had to take out a few people...if you know what I mean.”


The bitter smile on his lips made his appearance more animalistic, and with the brief flash of his teeth...primal. From head to toe, he was covered with spatters of dirt and blood and there was no way to distinguish which belonged to him or to the victims. If he was in pain, he gave no sign of it, though I was sure he was aching in several places thanks to Hidan’s punishing blows earlier. He was also weary, that much I could tell with his breathing and slight unsteadiness in his stance. It almost didn’t seem fair that I would have this much of an advantage over him. All I had to do was strike and this fight would be over before it even began. The least I could do was put on good performance for Orochimaru and Danzo; to show those bastards that for underestimating me, I was going to prove just what I was capable of.


Pity you have to be my scapegoat, Naruto, I thought with a smile that had him raising a brow in wariness. But here I come!


I crouched a little and thrust the sword at an angle; the aim to take him by surprise from below and perhaps deliver a crushing blow to his thigh at least. However, and much to my surprise, my sword was quickly blocked as he shifted to his left (nearly slipping a little, thanks to the wet ground) and struck back hard enough to send me back a few steps.


What the hell? Where is this strength coming from?


I stepped back again and fell into a stance, noticing he was doing the same thing. However, unlike before when he had been careless at the dojo, there was now simply no opening at all. I had no idea where he learned to protect himself like this, but watching him now; his eyes dark and intent as he held out his sword before him, I realized I was dealing with someone different. This was not the same Naruto I had fought at the dojo. This Naruto – though mentally and emotionally spent (or wired) – was not going to make things easy for me.


Fair enough. I wouldn’t go easy on him either.


We sized up each other; ignoring the impatient yells and screams from the crowd as they sought for us to go all out at once. And just when I felt it was safe to make the first move again, Naruto beat me to the punch with a sudden thrust that was barely blocked as I stepped to my right and held out the sword to prevent it from finding a home in my ribs. I pushed back with a grunt and planting my right foot firmly on the ground I swung back with the handle of the sword to finally make contact with his torso. He gasped in pain and leapt out of the way, only to return - just like a fucking boomerang - to swing at me again.


This time I watched in mild disbelief as tufts of my hair –closest to my forehead – fell to the ground like weightless feathers.


The hell?! I couldn’t believe it. This guy had been this close!


“Better watch it,” he taunted breathlessly. “Next time, I have no intention of missing.”


Feeling a gamut of emotions - ranging from embarrassment to fury – overwhelm me, I struck again nearly connecting with this right foot; though – as before – he was quick to leap out of the way, but...


(not fast enough)


...I lifted the sword just as quickly; hardly giving him time to settle down before nearly taking off his left ear. Lucky for him, it seemed I had only managed to graze his temple, but it was enough to have him howling with pain and staggering away with a hand to the wound. I watched dispassionately as his blood flowed between his fingers and down his arm.  


Heh. If looks could kill, I would probably be dead by now.


Not that I gave a shit.


I swung again, now seeking to finish this with a cut to his arm. However, I was definitely not expecting what happened next. There are strict rules against using hand-to-hand combat in kenjustu, but I should have known that when it came to Uzumaki Naruto, all rules were thrown out the window. In a maneuver that no instructor would ever teach his student, the bastard had lifted an elbow to strike me hard on my jaw; so hard my mouth was immediately filled with blood and I just about felt all my teeth shift within their sockets. The next blow – this time a hard kick to my stomach - had me falling to the ground and the sword nearly slipping from my grasp.


Fucking hell! The pain was agonizing!


It has been a while since I’ve been in such a situation, and I can honestly tell you my body was screaming in protest at being ‘maltreated’ in such a manner. I likened it to probably being hit with a car moving at over 60 miles per hour, but what did I know? Even a spar with Kimimaro hadn’t been this brutal. I spat out a wad of blood and was just fast enough to hold out my sword to block another incoming attack from Naruto.


Rules be damned, huh? Fine! If that’s the way he wanted to do it.


I struck out with my foot; nearly missed kicking him in his private area (which would have been perfect), but ended up making direct contact with his already aching torso. His low cry of pain as he slammed hard against the cage was music to my ears. Rising to my feet quickly, I clutched my sword tightly within my sweat-slicked grip and dashed toward him to finish this off. The longer I stayed here; getting filthier and bloodier with each blow, the more I realized that I might be losing my edge.


Naruto’s fighting skills had definitely improved and I had no idea how or why that was the case. He was able to detect my attacks even before I did them, and could block and dodge easily. It was frustrating; not just because of that, but because he wasn’t doing it in the ‘normal’ way. I simply got the feeling he was going with instinct for the most part, and though he was clearly exhausted, he would not give me the opening I needed to finish him off.


“Tir...tired yet?” he panted as we pushed each other off and stepped away to catch our breaths. “Tho...thought you could take me out easily, didn’t you?”


“You look dead on your feet,” I panted back angrily, and he honestly did. His blond hair was no longer as shaggy as it used to be, thanks to the sweat that now made it limp and plastered to his bloodied forehead and cheeks. I had ripped several places in his yukata exposing more of his flesh to my gaze where some ugly bruises were already forming from where he had been struck or stabbed. How he could still stand was beyond my comprehension. It felt like he had an endless reserve of energy stored up within that lithe frame. It infuriated me. He was supposed to be down and out by now.




“Oh yeah? Well you look like shit too, Mister,” came the sneer followed by him spitting as if in disgust. I knew I probably looked a sight. The bastard had managed to cut me in a few places as well. The sleeves of my kamishimo were barely hanging on, and my hair lay damp upon my head and face. I don’t think I’ve sweat this much in a while – well perhaps after practice at the dojo – and I hated to admit that a part of me felt...well...excited about this.


Fucking exhilarated.


This rush...this adrenaline...this surge of energy that came with being in a real fight; in knowing that your life was on the line and that any blow to come next could be the last. I craved more of this. I wanted to continue this spine-tingling experience; to feel every nerve ending in my body on edge; ready to spring to life with this sinner as my opponent There was something equally sadistic and troubling about my desire to watch him bleed; to know that my sword had been stained with the thick, rich, fluid that I longed to lick off slowly before him. I cringed at this sinful and wicked thought and shook my head rapidly in disbelief.


I really had spent too much time with Orochimaru.


I watched his feet carefully; saw him move...prepared to block, but as before, he took me by surprise again. This time, he finally made contact with my flesh; a thrust to my left forearm that left a somewhat deep gash behind while he spun around fluidly. My world exploded in pain and the sword did nearly slip to the ground, but I wasn’t ready to give up just like that. I leapt back to gather myself. I was the better swordsman in this situation. I could not forget years of training and teachings just to fall into this man’s trap of fighting unconventionally.


I closed my eyes and took a deep breath; wanting to block out the thunderous noises and to concentrate. I couldn’t see him...but I could sense him approach, and I did have to give him credit for not running up to me like a mad man, but I knew it would do him no good either. With a quick flick and twist of my wrist, I  raised my sword above my head in a circular motion – waited for a heartbeat before swinging it parallel to my body. I felt the clean cut made even before the blade found its destination, and Naruto’s subsequent cry of agony brought a cruel smile to my face.


I lifted my lashes to see what damage had been done, and was slightly taken aback that he had somehow managed to prevent it from going as deep as it should have. The wound was nothing more than a gash to his left shoulder, and though the blood poured freely (and he looked slightly ashen now), there was no denying I had triggered something within him. His eyes seemed to flash with a darkness I had never seen before, and as I took a step back to brace myself for his attack, I felt...rather than saw the loose rock slip beneath my feet.




I really did try to steady myself; did my utmost best to hold my ground, but I was tired as well. I was also losing a lot of blood thanks to Naruto’s lucky strike, and in my desperate attempt to hang on to my dignity (by not falling flat on my face), I was instead greeted with a painful, jarring, and mind-numbing round house kick to my already aching jaw. This sent me sprawling across the cold, wet ground for several feet until I came to a back-breaking stop against the steel cage.


I was sure I lost consciousness for a second, but I did somehow manage to shake my head slowly to get some kind of orientation to my surroundings, only to sense a shadow fall over me.


Shit! Shit! My sword...I have to get my! I don’t have it!


It had fallen from my grasp earlier, and not only that, it was staring right at me; for Naruto now had the sacred weapon within his grasp as he towered and straddled over me with pure murderous intent in his eyes.


It’s all over...


Something hard seemed to sink within the pit of my stomach, my mouth felt dry, and I dully realized that this was what it must feel to be at the brink of death. I gritted my teeth (as agonizing as that task was) and tried to sit up, but Naruto would have none of it.


He stamped a foot hard on my right wrist to keep me prisoner, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, watching the blade of Riku-sama’s sword suddenly plunged deep into my right upper thigh had me howling louder than I ever had in my life. God!


“How does that feel?” came the cold question as I bit my lip and struggled against the unwelcome sting of tears that filled my eyes. I hissed in my breath and fought a groan as he twisted the sword a little harder into me until I was sure he had pierced right through the bone. I was never going to walk again. Probably. If I got out of this alive, I was no doubt going to be limping for the rest of my life. This son-of-a-bitch...


“FUCK!” I bellowed as he withdrew so suddenly, the world did lose focus and go dark for a minute. I forced my lashes open again, and watched in horrified fascination at the dark pool of blood beginning to form where he had stabbed me. I tried to sit up, but the glint of sunlight on the blade as it was raised again told me that Naruto had every damn intention of finishing this here and now.


I was going to die.


And perhaps I deserved it.


What had my life amounted to after all these years? What had I managed to achieve besides becoming nothing more than a puppet for Orochimaru? Who was I of use to anymore? No one. I had lost everything, so it was only fitting that my death would be in this steel cage for hasn’t that been my life all this time? Haven’t I been trapped in a cage of my own doing? I had truly believed I was doing the right thing; that believing in Orochimaru’s doctrines of purification and finding a better life on the other side was a goal we all hoped to attain someday. It was the only way I could live and come to terms with my decisions to be his henchman. And now...I was simply no longer needed.


I lowered my lashes and waited for the final strike; hoping he’d make it quick and as clean as possible.


Kaasan...’Tosan...’Niisan...I’m coming to join you soon.


I held my breath and waited...


...and waited...


...and waited...


...and waited some more...


What the hell was taking him so damn long?


I opened my eyes wearily and lifted my gaze with what seemed like a monumental effort. He was still standing there; sword poised right above my heart, ready to find its destination and yet...he was trembling like a fucking leaf.


What the hell was his problem? Couldn’t he even do something as simple as finishing me off?


“Well?” I rasped before feeling the uncontrollable rise of phlegm and blood in my throat. I couldn’t control the cough even if I tried and was angry to find myself covering my mouth with a hand that shook just as badly as his was.


“Do it,” I demanded impatiently. “Finish it, Uzumaki Naruto, and you can finally have your fucking freedom.”





I smiled bitterly at the frenzied lustful cries from the spectators. I’d bet Orochimaru was smiling as well, and I hated to admit that I had never felt more alone and miserable in my life. To feel so much hate and animosity towards you...was this what all those sinners had faced in the past? Talk about getting a taste of one’s medicine.


“You heard them,” I finally said aloud. “Go on...right here...” I made a motion across my neck. “Take it off like you’ve probably fantasized about a million times. Do it, or I swear if I get up from here, I’m not going to forgive you.”


“You...” He seemed to struggle with the words. The anger and hatred I had seen earlier were slowly being replaced with genuine bemusement and... was that pity? I would hate him even more if he was feeling sorry for me.


“You really want to die?” he queried as if unsure of himself.


“One of us has to,” I replied and swallowed down the rise of another cough. My lungs felt like they were on fire.


“I don’t get it...why? Why can’t you just admit defeat and then I go? Why do I have to take your life?”


“Why not?” I sneered. “I was the one who put you here, remember?”




“So this is your chance, Naruto.” I spat and watched my blood mingle with my saliva on the ground. How revolting. This whole place. This life...every fucking thing. “Kill me and be free.”


“Aren’t you even going to apologize?”


I raised a brow. “Apologize...for what?”


“For all the shitty things you did to everyone else here! It’s thanks to you and your goddamn self-righteousness that got us into this mess! You think you’re fucking better than anyone else, and even when you’re knocked off your pedestal, you still refuse to see the truth! The least you can fucking do is atone for your sins by saying you’re sorry!”


Was he crying? Or were my eyes playing tricks on me? What a pathetic situation all around. I shrugged a little.


“My apology will be my death. When I am finally gone from this world...everyone will be happy.” I smiled again; though it felt more like a grimace. “My only regret...”


I choked up, simply unable to continue.


Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!


The hitching of my breath was alarming; so was the realization that I was probably going to burst into tears of frustration and anger at how this was all ending. I had so many damn regrets. Not getting revenge for my family’s death, for Ino’s senseless death, not being able to restore my clan’s reputation and prestige, not having the time to tell Asuma how much I appreciated him being my only and true friend, not being able to tell Haku just how excellent he had been as my man servant, and how his loyalty had made life a little more bearable, but most biggest regret was not killing Orochimaru.


I had wasted so much time being a goddamn coward, and was all just yet another pipe dream that would never come true...



“Well, this is turning out to be a down right bore,” Orochimaru stated with a frown of impatience as he watched the proceedings. “What is the son of Minato Namikaze doing?”


“Will you stop calling him that?” Danzo growled with a loud rap of his walking stick on the ground.


Orochimaru had done his best to remind him of Minato at every opportunity he got, and Danzo realized that the more he watched his once prized assassin’s legacy in battle, the more intrigued he became. His ability to think quickly on his feet was something Danzo admired. Naruto was not exactly a prime swordsman, but what he lacked in skills, he made up with unconventional tactics that seemed to work to his benefit. So far, against the traditionalist like Sasuke – whose excellent skills had been on full display from the beginning – Naruto had proven to be an impenetrable wall of defense.


Admirable indeed. It was a shame Minato had not lived long enough to appreciate how well his son had turned out...


“A pity you didn’t want him when he was offered to you,” Orochimaru had drawled after Hidan’s defeat. “What a delicious specimen he is. I have no doubt he’ll make an excellent watchdog for me.”


“Do you really think he’d want to remain behind these walls for you?” Danzo had sneered.


“Oh, I have no doubt you’d go courting him for  your Syndicate once he’s released,” the pale man responded with a knowing smirk. “But I  have a feeling he’s not going to be that easy to catch. Sometimes with such difficult prey, you have to take it nice and slow.” He licked his lips in a manner that made Danzo’s skin crawl. “Uzumaki Naruto is a delicious treat to be savored at my own pace. However...”


He stood and held up his hands to quiet the crowd and to get the fighters’ attention. Orochimaru had felt a well of disappointment at Sasuke’s rookie mistake. Though he had found himself rooting for his once treasured prize at some points during the battle, his lust for Naruto had taken precedence and his impatience knew no bounds. Sasuke had to be eliminated once and for all so he could begin his wooing of the blond sinner, and seemed like the son of Minato had the inability to conclude a battle effectively...well besides what happened to Hidan.


“You are keeping us waiting, Uzumaki Naruto,” he announced with a flourish. His sentiment was echoed with loud boos from the crowd. They too wanted to see it end dramatically. “You must eliminate your opponent for your freedom, remember?”


Naruto, who by this time had turned away from Sasuke to focus on the speaking leader, raised the sword and shook his head in confusion. “Why?! He’s already down and out! I’ve won the fucking fight! So set me free goddamn it!”




“SHUT UP YOU ASSHOLES!” Naruto roared back. For a second, some members in the crowd were taken aback at his insult, but they returned with even louder boos to combat his scowl of fury.


Orochimaru smirked. “So you do not wish to kill Sasuke then?”


“There’s no fucking point!”


“Then perhaps I should make things a little more interesting,” came the cryptic comment that had even Sasuke lifting his lashes to try to make sense of what the man was trying to say.


“Set up the flames!” came the unexpected order that had even the audience murmuring in confusion.


Several guards marched forward with lit torches in their hands, and everyone watched in horrified fascination as the oily moat – which surrounded the cage – was suddenly engulfed in flames, hence creating a ring of fire around the steel dome. Naruto blanched in disbelief. It was all making sense now. They really had no plans to let him go in the first place. This had all been....been...!


“YOU’VE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME!” He roared as he shook the cage only to hiss as the flames just about licked at his fingers and he had to withdraw. The damn things were getting higher and higher!


“Until one of  you dies, the flames will continue to burn,” Orochimaru declared. “So it’s your choice, Uzumaki Naruto. Kill him and live, or be merciful and you can both go to hell hand in hand. I’d say you have about ten minutes to come to a decision before the smoke fills your lungs. Such a terrible way to terrible...”


He pretended to sniffle as if in pain; though his eyes were as dry as they had ever been and filled with glee. He listened absently to the crows of delight from some of the guests behind him, but did meet Danzo’s cool gaze and shrugged as if saying “what else did you expect?”


“Now...son of Senju,” he muttered as he watched the flames lick at the cage as if hungry to engulf the young men within. “Let’s see if you finally give in to your ancestor’s ability to survive the harshest of challenges.”


Unfortunately, he would only have a moment to savor this thought when a sudden piercing scream from behind, caused him to turn away from the dome in surprise. It was the fat, ugly wife of the Minister of Finance; now slumped in her chair with a bullet wound to the head and her brain matter splattered against the exquisite kimono won by her attendant. There was a heartbeat of stunned silence before the gruesome sight galvanized the guests into action as they began shrieking and trying to escape in terror and panic. There was another grunt of pain; this time an elegant arrow finding its way right into the wrinkled forehead of the Minister of Finance himself before he sagged lifelessly onto his wife’s body.


What in the world...?

There was another loud grunt of agony; this time coming from none other than Danzo himself! Orochimaru watched in dull fascination as the older man was sent to the floor; a dark and rapidly spreading stain forming on his right shoulder where the bullet had lodged itself deeply. Danzo looked stricken; his features paling as he briefly contemplated the notion of dying in this hell hole right next to the man he loathed with a passion.


“Get down, Orochimaru-sama!” came the sudden cry as Kimimaro dove in front of him to intercept yet another arrow that had been coming his way. His quick reflex was able to catch the deadly weapon in his left hand; eyes narrowing as he took in the make and style of it. With its poisoned tip, slender bamboo shaft and feathered tip (clearly that of an eagle), there was no mistaking the archer behind it. It had been many years since he had seen the man, and even more incredible that he was actually still alive. Lord Orochimaru was no doubt going to be interested in hearing about this.


“Get him out of here,” he ordered to his subordinates. “Make sure he’s not seen by anyone. I’ll remain here and keep an eye out.”


Danzo’s bodyguards (Torune and Fū)  - who were still berating themselves for not being quick enough to protect their boss - did their best to lead the bleeding man away to safety. However, Fū pointed towards the stands to the left where he was able to detect the person responsible for the least he assumed he was able to detect someone for all hell had officially broken loose in the stadium. It was full fledged pandemonium as the spectators were hurrying and scurrying in an effort to escape from something. The act of selfishness was in full effect for no one seemed concerned about any one else’s safety. They trampled over each other, pushed and shoved and wailed for the heavens to forgive them their sins.


“What the hell is going on?!” Orochimaru bellowed as he allowed himself to be taken into the building by Sakon and Ukon via an underground route that only a few (excluding Sasuke) knew about. He hated feeling defenseless especially when attacked without warning. For a man who always relished being in control of any given situation, this was a moment where every fiber of his being thrummed with fury and frustration. By God, when all this was over, he was never going to forgive the bastards responsible for this.


“There’s a  huge fire on the grounds, Orochimaru-sama,” Sakon explained as the elevator doors closed behind them. “We don’t know where or how it started, but several guards and officers were found dead around the grounds and most of the sinners quarters are engulfed in flames. It’s spreading fast, my Lord, and heading towards the northern section of the stadium. Most of the officers are already working hard to put them out and...”


Orochimaru tuned him out as his mind whirled with conflicting thoughts. A fire...dead guards and officers...of course. Whoever planned this had taken into consideration that during Gudan, Byaku-Shinkyou was at half (if not less) its strength when it came to security. If their aim had been to assassinate him and destroy this place...well, they had at least succeeded halfway. He could afford to lose a few buildings; nothing that couldn’t be replaced over time. All the same, this...this...ambush was completely unacceptable!


The fucking cowards!


“Scour every nook and cranny of this damn place and find the ones responsible for this,” he barked as the doors finally opened and he strode angrily toward his private surveillance room. “I want just one of them. Just one of the perpetrators is more than enough for me, do I make myself clear?”


“Yes, my Lord!”


They both bowed and slipped out quietly; leaving behind the rigid figure of a man who could only watch while his false kingdom slipped away in black and white chaos upon miniature television screens. It would take him nearly a half-hour to finally function properly, and when he did, it was with a leveled head and cool detachment.


His enemies had grossly underestimated him, and they would pay dearly for their sins.






Can’t breathe. Can’t...fucking...breathe...


It wasn’t so much the flames that were bothersome, but the cloud of dark smoke that was now filling our prison rapidly. My eyes were watering like hell, and I could barely suck in a gulp of air without wanting to vomit. Visibility was shot, and I had to stretch out my hands like a kid playing hide and seek in a darkened room to find my way around. Or rather...


“Goddamnit! Watch where you’re going!” he hacked/coughed in annoyance.


“Sorry!” I hacked back because I had nearly tripped over Sasuke...and I’m guessing from his holler, it was on the leg I had stabbed too. Ouch.


Still it was a good thing because I had finally found him. I crouched and ran my hand across the ground...his boot-clad feet (probably filling up with blood now)...up his leg...


“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” he growled.


“Trying to help you, you ungrateful asshole,” I hissed back.


Hell, talking wasn’t such a good idea either. Every second spent opening my mouth, meant inhaling more of this godforsaken smoke. That Snake Dude was right. The more time we spent in here, the worse off we were. All I had to do was kill the son-of-a-bitch and this would be over, right? Except I didn’t have any needles left. Someone must have packed it up when they were moving out the bodies, and though a part of me didn’t want to be that merciful, it would have been the perfect opportunity to use the damn things.


(Could have killed him earlier though, right?)


I sighed. Yes. I definitely did have him at my mercy...hell, I still do. God knows I might have actually done the deed, because I was so fucking pissed off with the whole thing and was ready to at least stab his heart...until I heard that damn voice.




It was as if a fog was immediately lifted when I heard my name, and I had looked up to see the poor guy crying his eyes out and just about falling to his knees begging me not to do it. Even Shika had a hard time controlling him, and I would have been embarrassed at his antics, but the crowd was in too much of a frenzy to take note of one lonesome guy’s plea for forgiveness. Everyone else wanted Sasuke dead. Everyone but the one guy who was so damn loyal, it was sickening.


I swear if we both got of this place alive, I’d make sure Sasuke thanked Haku profusely for saving his life. That or Haku could get a goddamn raise in his pay check...if he even got paid that is.


Cough. Cough. Cough.


“Jesus,” I gasped at how deep and dry Sasuke’s cough sounded. The guy was practically about to hack out a lung. “We’ve got to get out of here.”


“” Sasuke managed to rasp. I couldn’t make out his face anymore. The smoke was just that thick. “”


Ah fuck! That’s right. We are trapped in this hell hole and no one seems to be willing to assist us. Shit!!


I struggled to my feet; nearly stumbled back to the ground and tried to touch the cage. No good. It was hot, and screaming wasn’t going to help either. I sank back to the ground beside my nemesis and thought it fucking ironic that I’d end up dying with this guy by my side. Damn.


Would have been nice to at least say a final goodbye to Asuma, Shikamaru and even Haku...Chouji even...and old man chef. I would kill (hah! Get it? Kill!) to get a drink of ice cold water...or maybe have just one last taste of chef’s special curry udon with shrimps and floating noodles in -




“What?” My head was beginning to feel woozy with smoke inhalation, fatigue, and hunger...and thirst.




I strained my ears through the roar of the flames assuming Sasuke was mentioning the cries from the audience to finish this battle once and for all. However, there was something quite different about the screams this time around. Something...panicky about it. What the fuck was happening out there?


“Some...something...something’s wro...wrong...” Sasuke tried to say but ended up coughing badly again. The guy could barely speak, and I swear I really had no plans to do this, but I figured...what the hell? This was going to be our last few minutes together on earth, so I might as well try to bury the hatchet and be kind to the bastard. He didn’t deserve it, but if Haku could still find the good in him, maybe I could try to find a little as well.


I ripped out the rest of the sleeve of my yukata (which hurt like a bitch because my entire left side was going numb too with pain and stiffening as well) and blindly sought for his face. I nearly poked his eye out with a finger, which resulted in me being insulted – albeit weakly – but I managed to finally wrap the cloth around his nose and mouth so he could at least breathe a little easier if nothing else. I bet his leg was all stiff now; happens when you get stabbed and I had gone pretty damn deep with that heavy-ass sword. If he didn’t die from the smoke...then the blood loss would do it.


“Sorry,” I muttered thickly; as I tore off the other sleeve and wrapped my nose and mouth as well in pitiful protection. I didn’t expect him to say anything, and I assumed he had passed out anyway, which was good because I didn’t want to hear him talk back to me and besides, this was going to be my last confession on earth.


“I really don’t like killing people,” I wheezed and lowered my head to control my breathing. Everything was beginning to feel...loose. Know what I mean? Like you were on a high, the kind of high you get after smoking a little something (thanks to Kojima for that experience that I was never going through again). I closed my eyes and imagined me drifting through a dark tunnel...seeking that light that would take me to heaven.


Hmm...did murderers go to heaven?


“And I’m sure deep probably don’t like sending people to Gudan or chopping their heads off.”


I was talking. Wait...was I actually still talking? For one thing, it didn’t really sound like my voice, and I believed I really was having an out of body experience, because I sounded so fucking far away.


Yeah...I was probably already dead and my spirit was now doing the talking. Wow. Who knew dying was this easy and somewhat painless? It almost felt...good and peaceful.


“Haku really likes you, you know...and I don’t really understand why, but I guess it’s because I haven’t seen that side of you he sees. Never will I guess. At least not in this lifetime. Anyway...sorry about your shitty life...with losing your family and all. I didn’t have such a great life at least knew your parents. I didn’t really know my dad and my mom...well she died before I could really understand what the fuck was going on. Lived my whole life drifting from one place to another...looking for someone who would give a shit about me...and just when I thought it would never happen...she walked into my life. Haruno Sakura.” My lips trembled with a smile. “She had the most beautiful green eyes and the softest pink hair you’d ever see. She was...she was...”


The tears came suddenly and I made no effort to wipe them away. Besides, I was already dead and I guess spirits can cry because my chest was hurting so bad, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the carbon monoxide my corpse was still inhaling.


“I loved her so damn much,” I sobbed. “She was everything to me...the only person who made me feel like I was worth something. She never judged me or made me feel like I was any lesser than she was. She was always there for me...always smiling...and even on days she felt like shit, she’d always say I was the one who brought the sunshine to her. Me. A street rat with hardly enough money to buy her a decent birthday gift was capable of making her that happy. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with have her be the mother of my children...we’d...we’ happy...always...together...but...but...”


It was too much to bear. A hitched breath was my undoing as my lungs finally had enough and sent even my spirit evaporating with a whisper. I found that I had wanted to spill my guts to this let it all out even if I knew he probably hadn’t heard a damn thing.


Fuck it all...dying really sucks.


I barely felt my head thudding to the ground, but I could swear (‘til this day) that I had felt something squeeze my hand a little. Maybe it was Sakura’s spirit telling me it was going to be all right...or maybe God himself saying all would be well again or maybe...just maybe...






It just couldn’t be. I might as well wait for hell to freeze over, and considering I was already on a one-way ticket there...I would have an eternity to wonder what might have been if Sasuke and I had actually been buddies in our lifetimes.


Well, whatever. At least if I saw him in hell, I’ll be the first to kick his ass for dragging me there in the first place.


...the selfish little prick.





“Damn. Missed.”


Shisui lowered the bow as he watched his target(s) disappear quickly into the shadows. He tucked the weapon within his robes again, just in time to blend in with the rest of the crowd as he noticed Kimimaro et al now looking in his direction.


The stadium was in full chaos mode and he watched dispassionately as bodies were shoved and trampled over, all in their quest to find the nearest exits. There were a few (dead) bodies scattered around; the unfortunate ones who were too weak to overcome the massive exodus, and Shisui crossed himself and considered it divine punishment. It was part of the risk of their plan in starting the fires, and though Itachi had frowned upon it at first, Shisui had been quick to remind him of their mission. It was inevitable that some bodies would have to be scarified for the greater good after all.


Speaking of which...where the hell was Itachi? The last he has seen of his companion was his attempt to take out Orochimaru from his vantage point in the topmost seats, but that hadn’t turned out as planned either. Those damn guards were just too effective. They would have to go to Plan B -




He spun around at the sound of his name, noticing it was Asuma, with two other people he did not recognize, running toward him with panic etched on their faces.


“What’s the matter?”


“The dome!” the wait...the voice was a little too deep to be that of a girl. “Sasuke-sama and Naruto-kun are still in there!”


Oh shit.


“Where’s Itachi?!” he asked; having to yell as they began to dash towards the middle of the arena. It was virtually impossible to see the dome now for the flames had risen even higher still and it seemed to be shrouded in a sea of black smoke. How the fuck were they supposed to get in there?


“Here he is!” the girl/boy cried out as the man in question approached them, though having to shove his way through those running against him. He was tucking away his gun within his robes and had a look of concern etched on his features.


Shikamaru, who had darted a little further ahead to do some quick reconnaissance, returned with curt instructions. “The South bridge doesn’t look like it’s too badly affected. We can probably get into the dome from there. Asuma? You have the keys, right?”


The officer nodded and without saying another word, they dashed toward the South bridge...or would have if they suddenly weren’t blocked by about ten officers.


“Where do you think you’re going, Asuma-san?” Officer Touya barked. He had never really liked Sarutobi in the first place, and this was as good an opportunity to deal with the laid-back officer.


Asuma cursed beneath his breath. “Sasuke and the sinner are still in the dome,” he replied coldly. “We have to get them out of there.”


“Lord Orochimaru’s orders are absolute,” came the cold sneer. “You are not allowed to...urk!”


A hand had reached up to his neck, his eyes widening comically until everyone finally noticed the gush of blood now flowing from his fingers before he fell flat on his face like a log of wood. Sticking out from his jugular was a small throwing knife, and it didn’t take a scientist to figure who was responsible for it. Haku was still poised with about five more of the deadly weapon in his hands; his eyes narrowed as he watched each of the officers with deceptive calm.


“You will let us rescue Sasuke-sama,” he stated in a tone that left no room for argument. “Go, Asuma-san! Shikamaru-san! I’ll take care of them myself.”


“You bastard!” the second-in-command growled as he rushed toward Haku with his sword unsheathed. Unfortunately, he didn’t get very far for one of the figures in the dark robes had moved as fast as a flicker of a shadow; causing the officer to fall to the ground in a boneless heap. No one was sure of whether he had been struck with a weapon or simply punched, either way, Asuma, Shikamaru, and Itachi figured they would not be needed at this point as they headed toward and across the bridge. Those officers would be handled with Shisui and Haku in charge.


Crossing the moat felt like they were walking in a sea of fire...literally, and the problem came to a head as they approached the steel door. It was too damn hot to touch!


“Back away,” Itachi commanded firmly. He waited until Asuma and Shikamaru were behind him, withdrew his gun from within his robes, and with careful aim at the locks, shot about five rounds into them before they finally gave way. It took several hard kicks for the heavy door to final grind its way to the ground with a resounding crash.


Feeling his panic rising as a wall of thick smoke nearly sent them toppling into the fiery moat, Itachi blinked his stinging eyes rapidly, quickly covered his nose and mouth with the sleeve of his robe and struggled to find the boys in the gloom. He tried to open his mouth to call out to them, but with the deathly silence in here, he knew it was going to be next to impossible for them to hear him and vice versa.


Please be alive, he prayed feverishly as he began the desperate yet blind search. Both of you...please hang in there. I beg of!




Chapter 16

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