Chapter 16:

Beyond the Walls


The mists rise over 
The still pools at Asuka. 
Memory does not 
Pass away so easily.





The flickering flame of the oil lamp illuminated yet created dark shadows around me as I continued my descent into the bowels of the earth. The uneven, winding staircase carved from seemingly unyielding rocks, whispered to me like the walls I caressed with every step I took. Though cold and dank in here, it was still a familiar sight and one that was welcoming and pleasing to the senses. It was one place Orochimaru would never discover, for it lay beneath my private onsen via a discreet route not obvious to the naked eye.  To anyone looking, it would seem like nothing more than just the usual cave walls common around Byaku-Shinkyou. However, a diligent and careful rearranging of several ‘loose’ rocks would slowly reveal the underground lair where all of my clan’s secrets and history resided.


I could still remember the day Father had shown my brother and me the ‘key’, how wide-eyed and slack-jawed I had been as we seemed to walk deeper and deeper underground until I was sure we were going to get lost. I will never forget how in awe I had been as he finally led us into a room - about the size of the dining hall - with walls etched with writings, markings, and drawings of the Uchiha clan’s history: its achievements, triumphs and failures. At the end of the room stood a long stone slab in the shape of an altar for some kind of pagan sacrifice (though it wasn’t for that purpose). I would later learn that this room had been used for important/secret meetings. On the wall above the altar was our clan’s painted symbol now slightly faded and cracked with time. On either side hung large gunbai (war fans) made of wood and attached with heavy-looking chains. On it sat the largest and oldest scroll I had ever seen, and with the oil lamp flickering ever so slightly as Father leaned over it to begin reading, he reminded us of how great our family was and how we were to continue the legacy of the Uchiha long after he was gone.


With his small hunting knife, he pricked our fingers and made us write our names in blood; a ritual that made my heart swell with pride for though I was so young, I knew it was a meaningful rite of passage. I didn’t fully understand it, but my brother must have because he had looked as grave as father through it all. However, as the years passed, I came to appreciate just what it had signified, for every name on that scroll had belonged to a high-ranking male member of the clan. Itachi and I had simply continued an unbroken tradition.


Even more surprises awaited us as father – again – tapped several stones in the walls with his fingers, which in turn, created another secret chamber where even more treasures awaited. It wasn’t so much that it was actual money or jewelry or trivial things like that, but more ancient scrolls, books, and manuscripts that contained vital information regarding my family. Even Itachi, who never looked awed about anything (at least most of the time) couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping at the seemingly thousands upon thousands of reading material to go through. It was stupendous to say the least. As a child, I had no idea what they contained, neither was I really that interested, but I knew Itachi was and on days he’d go ‘missing’ for hours on end, I figured he must have spent those moments buried nose-deep within these scrolls; studying as long as he could.


After the massacre, I forgot about the underground lair as shock and grief had become second nature, and I was simply under Orochimaru’s direct ‘care’. It wasn’t until I was twelve - when I was finally allowed to return to my family’s quarters to reside – did all the memories come flooding back. I had even come this close to telling Orochimaru about the secret hideaway (so eager I was back then to please him), but until this day, I could not tell you what made me change my mind. Maybe it was because I wanted it to remain the closest remainder of my family, and I did not want their memories tainted or tarnished with anyone else discovering it. Hence, on days or nights when I wasn’t on duty and didn’t have much to do, I’d sneak into the hidden chambers to read and to absorb as much as I could. Down here, I felt safe and comforted by the spirits of my ancestors. Down here, I felt I was no longer alone and that every word I read was simply whispered reassurances from those who wanted me to never forget them for as long as I lived.


However, there was something a little strange about my journey today. I could not place a finger on it, but as I stopped to listen, I was sure I could hear screaming voices though they seemed disembodied and distant. I shook my head and continued walking; telling myself I was only imagining things. It was impossible to hear anything from the outside within these walls. It was literally sound proof and nothing could penetrate –




I cried out in surprise and stepped out of the way; painfully slamming into the uneven wall behind me and almost scraping the skin off my back with the force of the collision. What in the world was that? It felt as if a dark and heavy shadow had just dashed past me and wound itself up the steps without looking back. I tried to move, to take another step forward, but I was frozen in place. Fear? I didn’t think so. It was as if my feet were suddenly one with the stones and it was impossible to lift them. I strained and struggled to free myself; aware that something oily and hot was beginning to permeate my senses. I was about ten steps closer to the underground hall - close enough to find my sanctuary - when the sounds shot through my panicking mind. It was not only the screams now (and those were getting louder), but it was the undeniable stench of...well...




...something burning. It was the sound of papers crackling as the flames must have found their way into the hidden library to consume everything with indiscriminate greed. My panic and desperation grew tenfold. I had to stop the damn flames from destroying everything! I had to get my legs moving!


Goddamnit! Why don’t you fucking move?!


I glared down at my feet as if wanting to berate them for not cooperating, when I all but screamed in horror at the realization that I no longer had any legs! was my right leg that was missing. In its place was nothing but than a bloody stump; a stump that was now jettisoning blood so thick and dark, it was beginning to flood the steps leading down to the lair. I was going to drown in my own blood. Either that or these damn flames were going to kill me.


I tried to scream for help, but I knew it was going to be next to impossible for anyone to hear me. My voice was trapped within my throat though I knew I was shouting. The fiery flames were drawing closer; attracted to my blood and gobbling it up with eager licks and ferocity. Thick smoke, as dark as night, rolled in ominous clouds toward me. Choking, stifling, suffocating, I could no longer breathe. The very act of sucking in air was torture in itself. I was still unable to move, and I knew without a doubt that I was running out of time. I was going to die here; buried several feet beneath the earth with no one knowing where I was. I was going to be all alone; as I had always been from the I had always known...


(you are never alone, Sasuke-sama)




(my dear Sasuke-sama)


Is that you, Ino?


If it was odd that I was hearing her voice, now of all times, I could not explain it to you, but I did sense her presence behind me all the same. I could feel that long blond hair envelop me in a comforting shroud with warmth that had nothing to do with the dangerous ones below. Her slender arms wrapped around my shoulders and tried to tug me up into safety.


(come with me, Sasuke-sama)


But I still could not move. She was not strong enough to help me out of the darkness.


(please come with me)


I tried. I really tried, but each time I felt I was making some kind of progress; my lower body would not cooperate.


(come with me!)


And now her voice was changing...morphing into a combination of voices that reminded me of Haku, Asuma, that annoying blue-eyed sinner, hell I was sure I even heard Kimimaro in there...and then back to hers again.


(you must come with me!)


I...can’t...! I’m trying...goddamnit!




That voice!


I gasped in disbelief; my eyes widening in shock as it seemed to pierce right through my soul. Deep, commanding, authoritative -


Fa...father...? wasn’t him. Close, but not quite. Could it possibly be -?


(Come with me!)


The force with which I was yanked away from the fires below was enough to dislocate my shoulders, and yet I couldn’t really feel a thing. It was a sense of weightlessness...of floating or being suspended in air for several minutes before I hit something solid again. I was being moved away from the scene quickly, and yet I wanted to tell this person...the voice...that I was leaving something precious behind. The fire was going to destroy everything...our family’s clan...the history...everything was going to be turned to ashes. We couldn’t just run away. We had to rescue and protect them! It was all I had left!


No...please let me go back...I have to get back there...please...let me go...I have to get back!


I struggled and fought against the hands (or things) that would not release me, and perhaps I would have succeeded, if not for the sudden sensation of being pricked with something cold and sharp that quickly sent me into a stupor of blissful emptiness... emptiness where nothing simply mattered anymore.







Kojima was waiting for me.


Not a surprise all things considered, since I figured if Hell was my final destination, I would meet the bastard there anyway. Pity no one had told me that Hell would look eerily like his sky-rise apartment complete with its wicked state-of-the-art entertainment center that was blasting some rock music by an artist I could not decipher. I thought it ironic that our meeting place this time would be the final scene of our unfortunate reunion.


And another thing...why the hell was he naked?


(he was naked that night too...remember?)




All the same, I looked down at myself quickly in case I was in the same state and was glad to see that I was in the same outfit I had worn on that fateful night. As for Kojima, he was sprawled on the white leather couch, a bottle of whiskey in his left hand while his right fiddled with a remote control that apparently controlled the volume of the speakers. A lit cigarette dangled from the corner of his lips, which would curl up every now and then to reveal his gold tooth as he cursed when the device would not cooperate. I was again reminded of how strong this guy was with the way his muscles bulged and strained with every movement. There was not a spare ounce of flesh on him, and did I mention how intimidating (yet cool) those damn tattoos of his were? Save for his dick (he was sporting a boner by the way) and his face, he was a walking work of art (no pun intended).


“Don’t just stand there, Fox Boy,” he drawled without looking at me. He was still battling with the remote control. “Have a seat.”


I shrugged and began to mention that I’d rather stand, but some unseen force had my knees weakening; sending me flopping into the opposite couch where I was given a good view of the lines of cocaine sitting innocuously on the low coffee table. I felt my mouth run dry; wondering if God (or the Devil) was going to reenact that horrific scene all over again. Sakura would come running out of the bedroom...giggling...laughing...flushed with excitement...naked...


No! No! No! I don’t want to think about that!


“What are you mumbling to yourself for?” Kojima asked. He had risen to his feet to stalk toward the entertainment center. With an angry kick at a speaker, the equipment whined, sparked a little and then fizzled out with a hiss. So much for state-of-the-art.


“Piece of junk,” Kojima spat with disgust. “Gotta buy a new one tomorrow.”


What the hell was he talking about? Didn’t he realize he was already dead? Unless Hell had stores...


I winced as he stooped to his haunches to unplug the wires; giving me more of a view of his taut ass that I would rather not see. With a shake of my head, I struggled back to my feet and paced to the glass sliding doors which led out to the balcony. It gave one a great view of the city skyline, though there was something quite odd about it tonight. Oh the familiar lights from the buildings were still visible, but there seemed to be a fireball (at least it looked that way) in the distance; a fireball that was becoming bigger and spreading faster by the second.




“What are you doing here by the way?” came the genuinely bemused question. “Thought I had seen the last of your ugly mug.”


I snorted. “Trust me; I don’t want to be here either.”


The fireball sent fiery orange and red sparks into the heavens, and I was sure I could hear some screams from somewhere. I guessed the damn thing was killing people down there. Where were the firefighters when you needed them? I couldn’t hear those sirens going off.


“Then why are you here?”


I jumped as his hand fell upon my shoulder. I hadn’t even heard him move closer to me, and the stench of his cigarette had me coughing (which was painful to do by the way) and blinking away the tears that sprang to my eyes. I tried to get away, however, he wouldn’t release me, for his grip became a little tighter and his eyes were alight with that look of mischief I was all too familiar with.


“I don’t know,” I replied honestly; faintly aware that his goddamn erection was rubbing against me as he moved closer still. “I was in some shitty dome match and somehow ended up here. I’m guessing this is Hell if I have to be stuck with a jerk like you.”


He pretended to be hurt. “This the way you speak to your big brother?”


“Fuck you,” I snarled and shrugged off his hand. How dare he consider himself my brother after the stunt he pulled? “And go put on some goddamn pants. I don’t need to see that thing pointing at me for fuck’s sake.”


He grinned and looked down at what was offending me. With a chuckle, he wrapped his fingers around the hard flesh and dared to shake it a little as if getting out the final drops after peeing. “My dick bothers you that much? What’s the matter, Fox Boy? Worried you might want to start playing for the other team? I heard being stuck in an all-male establishment for such a long time can begin to warp your sexual preferences.”


I shuddered at the implication. “Sorry to burst your bubble, but I still like chicks, all right?”


“Yeah...pity.” He smirked and reached out to cup my chin before I could move away. “I wouldn’t have minded swinging the other way with you, you know. Ichimura was right. Your skin is pretty damn soft for a guy. Hah! You know how many times I had to tell that fucker to keep his hands off you?”


I could feel my stomach getting colder by the second realizing how all those extra looks I had received from Ichimura, as nothing more than him being a big creepy asshole, was actually something else. I swear if I saw him again...oh wait...I won’t get that chance anymore, will I? Goddamn it. Why the fuck did I have to die in that shitty place anyway?


“Funny,” I hissed beneath my breath once he released me and his dick to wander towards the bottle of whiskey he had left on the coffee table. “I always thought you were the chick magnet. Who knew you liked the boys too?”


Kojima snickered and blew out a cloud of smoke. “Nothing wrong with experimenting every once in a while, Fox Boy. Live a little is what I say. Besides...”


He crushed out the cigarette and grinned at me. “You think I don’t know you have the hots for that ‘chick’ with the black hair and eyes? The one you met on the bus?”


I am not sure of what expression I gave, but his loud burst of laughter had me turning several shades of red and I was literally burning actually. I glanced out the window again as a loud FWOOM filled my ears. The fireball was now about five miles away and it was now so huge, it seemed like it was just about engulfing the entire city, and yet Kojima didn’t look or sound panicked.


“...have to get out of here...” I muttered, ignoring Kojima’s teasing about my ‘mistake’. I didn’t have to indulge him with stories of how I had come to realize Sasuke was not a girl, and that I had come to terms with that blunder.


“...might turn out to be better than that pink-haired skank you were dating -”


I reached out to punch him – purely on reflex – but ended up howling with agony as he caught my wrist and twisted my arm behind me in a swift move. The pain was excruciating, and I was now literally sweating buckets. I fell to my knees and heard myself screaming for mercy, begging him to release me or my goddamn arm would fall off. However, being the sadist I knew, it did not surprise me to find him laughing at my anguish.


“Scream,” he whispered thickly into my ear before giving it a lick that had me shivering in response. “Keep on screaming, Naruto, because nobody can hear you here. Nobody is coming to rescue you. This is Hell, and we are both going to burn together...for all fucking eternity.” no...please...noooo!


My eyes widened in horror as the fireball was now mere feet outside his window. The screams were much louder now, and as I shut my eyes and waited for the explosion to send us to the deepest abyss in this ungodly place, I heard something (someone) calling my name and shaking the damn shoulder that was already hurting like a bitch.











“All right already,” I groaned and shoved (or at least tried to) the hand away from me. “Stop screaming so loud for fuck’s sake.”


God, my voice sounded like I was speaking with a thousand cotton balls stuck in my mouth and my throat felt as dry as the desert. Scratchy too. I needed something to wet it...and fast.


“...ater,” I croaked and then tried again. “Water...please.”




I recognized that voice. Who wouldn’t after being cooped up in that place with Kojima for company? Never thought I’d say this, but hearing Haku’s eager and breathless voice was like heaven. I missed the guy and would have hugged him if I could get my ass moving.


“Here you go,” he said a few minutes later which forced my lashes open; though the left side of my face felt like it was ten sizes too big. “Can you sit up?”


I nodded, only to grimace as I struggled to move my body into said position. My initial thought was that I was back in that godforsaken closet I called a ‘bedroom’ or worse back in the dungeons, but as I shifted and realized that the soft things beneath me were actually sheets and what had fallen off my chest was actually a decent blanket, my blurred vision cleared to give me a better view of exactly where I was.


Definitely not in a dungeon....and what was that familiar yet salty smell? And why was the place moving like so...


“Whoa...” I muttered as the ground literally seemed to shift on its axis. My initial thought was that it was an earthquake (those happen now and again), but the ground seemed to right itself and it was now back to its soothing lull that reminded me of the few times I had taken trips on fishing boats...


It’s okay, Naruto-kun,” Haku was saying with a small smile on his face. Though it wasn’t that bright in this small, stuffy room (I could only spot the oil lamp hanging from the rafters), it wasn’t hard to see the lines of strain on the guy’s face. He looked like he was dead tired and there were streaks of tears still etched on his cheeks to match the reddened eyes. Had he been crying for me?


(or maybe it’s for his master. I’ll bet Sasuke didn’t make it after all)


I felt my stomach sink at the thought and my heart give a strange little twist that almost hurt. If that was the case, it was too bad I didn’t join him because I was part of the reason for it anyway. I guess I must have stabbed the guy a little too hard and the blood loss coupled with the fire and smoke was too damn much to ask for him to survive.


“Drink up, Naruto-kun,” he urged as he raised the plastic cup to my lips. I couldn’t look him in the eye anymore because I was sure that behind that smile he was blaming me for everything. Should I apologize? Tell him that I had no choice but to strike? It wasn’t as if I had wanted Sasuke dead (though a small part of me still believed he deserved it). I had only planned to hurt him, but who knew that psycho Snake Dude would add the fire thing to the mix? And besides...where the heck were we?


Ah, bliss. The rush of the cold water down my parched throat felt like the elixir of life or something even sweeter. I was so thirsty, I gulped it all in a rush and gave a very loud belch when finished; something that made the guy chuckle weakly before pulling away to place the cup on a small wooden table on its last legs.


“Do you feel better now?” he asked.


I nodded and wiped my lips with the back of my right hand; my left was in agony. I couldn’t even lift it if I tried and I didn’t bother to. In fact, a part of me wanted it to remain this way. It was Sasuke’s memento to me; a parting gift if you will. Since he was dead, my bum left arm and shoulder would be penance until my dying day.


“I’m...sorry...” I muttered as I lowered my head in shame and repentance.


“Sorry?” Haku sounded bemused. “Sorry for what?”


I scratched the bridge of my nose and wondered how to phrase this. “Uuum...your master...what happened to him...”


Haku was shaking his head before I could even get done; the same small smile on his face. “You don’t have to apologize, Naruto-kun. You had no choice.”


He was taking this pretty well, wasn’t he? “’re not mad at me know...” Aiding in his death, my mind screamed.


He shook his head again and if anything, his smile was a little wider. “We’re just glad that you both survived. Itachi-san was able to find you in time. Any minute longer and we might have lost you two.”


He looked like he was about to say something else; his smile wavering, but he shook his head a little and forced the smile on his face again. “We should be thankful. I am thankful.”


And before I could gather my confused thoughts about me, the guy was throwing his arms around my neck and hugging the beejeesus out of me, forgetting that I was still hurting all over. Still, I didn’t have the heart to push him off or chide him for not being considerate. I could hear him sniffling; a sign he was crying again and with an inward sigh, I hugged him back...well as much as I could without breaking anything else. I was bandaged up like a fucking mummy (my left side) and could only move that arm so much. All the same, something he had said had sent a flood of relief through me.


/ both survived. /


So the douche bag wasn’t dead after all. Thank God for small mercies.


“Where is he?” I finally asked when I was sure he was under control again.


“In another cabin...”


“Where are we though?” Haku pulled away and wiped his face with the sleeves of his kimono. Were those bloodstains? Or was it the trick of light and shadows?


“On a fishing boat,” he explained quietly. As if to illustrate this, he rose unsteadily to his feet and lifted a wooden latch connected to a window that he pushed open to let in the full experience of the open sea. For a second, my mind refused to register this anomaly; perhaps trying to tell me that I was supposed to be locked up in that godforsaken place and not in some fishing boat in the middle of the ocean. Just how the fuck did we end up here anyway?




“What are you doing?” he asked in panic as I pushed aside the blanket and tried to rise to my feet. I had to really see this for myself. I had to be sure this wasn’t just another cruel dream; that Kojima wouldn’t appear at the door to laugh in my face and tell me how fake this all was. If that was the case, I had a feeling I was going to kill myself.


“You’re not supposed to move, Naruto-kun,” Haku was pleading, but I wasn’t listening. I nearly fell on my ass as my knees gave way, and I had to hold on to the side of the walls (God, this place stinks of stale fish and wet wood) before staggering toward the door.


“Shisui-san said I shouldn’t let you get -”


“Who the hell is that?” I grumbled and shrugged him aside as he tried to block my way. “Listen, I just want to see outside, that’s all. I just want to make sure this isn’t all a dream, okay?”


“But...” he began, still looking uncertain, but with a heavy sigh, he finally relented and wrapped his arm around my waist and with measured steps, began to lead me outside as if dealing with something fragile. Not that I could blame him. I was a walking pile of hurt.


However, all that faded to oblivion as the first gust of fresh air and salty breeze nearly sent me to my knees with shock and a happiness words simply couldn’t describe. For almost six months – from my incarceration at the local police station to my days spent in Byaku-Shinkyou – I had been denied this...this majestic wonder of nature. Though it was pitch dark and the only source of illumination came from the glow of the boat’s lights, it did not deter my pleasure in the slightest. I was in euphoric bliss and the insane urge to burst into loud (hysterical) laughter was only superseded by the uncontrollable surge of stinging tears that filled my eyes. I clutched the gunwale of the boat and lowered my lashes; allowing the night breeze to soothe my aching flesh. I didn’t bother wiping away the tears because if this was a dream...I wanted to savor it for as long as I could. Hell, if I could lean down and scoop up some of the water to taste or even dive into it and swim forever, I didn’t mind in the slightest.


“Amazing, isn’t it, Naruto-kun?” came the soft question beside me. I had almost forgotten I had company. I nodded, not trusting myself to speak; besides, I didn’t want him to see me crying and if he asked, I’d just lie and say it was the sprays from the ocean causing it.


“I’ve never seen the sea before,” Haku confessed as he rested his forearms on the wooden gunwale. “I was almost too shocked to believe it existed when I saw it yesterday night.”


“Yesterday night?” I blinked in confusion. “Just how long was I out?”


“Hmmm...this is the second night. We’ve been at sea since then.”




Haku nodded. “Me, You, Sasuke-sama, Shikamaru-san -”


“Shika’s here too?” I whooped in excitement. “Holy shit! Where is he?!”


I turned around; scrubbing my face with the sleeves of the clean black yukata I was wearing, to scour the deck. It was also an opportunity to take a really good look at the vessel. It wasn’t that large, but it was still a commercial fishing boat all the same; one that must have spent quite a few years in action. You could see the wear and tear in some places; old but still as sturdy as ever. I could hear some voices from the starboard side, and began to head in that direction. All I could think about was seeing my friend’s face and letting him know just how wonderful it felt to be away from that hell hole. In fact, I couldn’t wait to see Asuma-san as well. We could finally share another drink together with no fear of being accosted by pesky guards or hard-headed officers.


“...don’t think it’s a good idea,” Haku was saying just as I made the turn and noticed the lonesome figure of my friend. He was sitting at the stern; feet dangling over the edge of the boat and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He looked...spaced out or lost in really deep thought and hadn’t even bothered to turn around to acknowledge me – though I was yet to call out to him.


Well I was just about to anyway, when Haku squeezed my good arm gently. “I wouldn’t bother him right now, Naruto-kun,” he said quietly with a slow shake of his head.


I wanted to protest, to tell him that he should butt out of my business, but there was something in Haku’s eyes that lodged the words in my throat. His eyes were shimmering with tears again, and this time I felt my heart rate quicken with anxiety and a realization that something was terribly wrong.


“What...what happened, Haku?” I asked softly. “Is it something to do we ended up here? Where is Asuma-san?”


I had asked the question that was almost painful to get past my lips because somehow I knew what the answer would be even before the blunt answer came from someone I’d never seen before.


“Sarutobi gave up his life for your freedom, Uzumaki Naruto.”


We both spun around at the sound of the sonorous voice. The speaker was wearing dark robes, his black hair short and somewhat spiky (though not as severe as mine). There was something about his features that reminded me of Sasuke; maybe it was his eyes which were just as pitch black as the first captain’s. His features could be considered kind...maybe if he smiled, but he wasn’t, so it gave him a somewhat severe look as if perpetually upset with the world. Either way, the vibes I was getting from him was mixed. He wasn’t the kind of guy you wanted to mess with, but he was non-threatening as well.


“Shisui-san...,” Haku began.


Ah...the famous Shisui that seems to be calling the shots around here, though his words about Asuma still had me frozen in disbelief. Just what did that mean exactly?


“I don’t get it,” I stuttered.


(oh you get it all right. You aren’t deaf. You clearly heard him say that Asuma ‘gave up his life’, which could only mean...)


“I don’t get it,” I said louder as if trying to shut down the voice of reason screaming within me. I hobbled up to Shisui and clutched handfuls of his robe to shake him a little as if he was the cause of my confusion. “What does that mean?!”


“Leave him alone, Naruto-kun,” Haku interjected, while trying to release my grip from the other man’s clothing. “It’s not his fault. Asuma-san made the decision himself.” He choked out a sob and covered his face with hands that trembled. It was clear he was not going to be able to tell me the story, so it was left to Shisui to spill the details of what took place.


“Perhaps if you released me,” Shisui stated mildly, with a quick glance at my hands. “I could tell you what happened.”


I stared him down for a minute; but I should have known this guy wouldn’t budge. He held my gaze steadily and I got that weird sensation that he was able to read into my soul (just like Sasuke), which bothered the heck out of me. With a grunt of reluctance and frustration, I released him and sank onto an upturned wooden crate.


“Well? Start talking,” I prodded impatiently. My head was beginning to pound with a headache that made my eyes blur. The joy of being free was no longer as sweet as it seemed and as Shisui began to speak, it slowly dawned on me that my whole life had literally been hanging on a thread...




Hope was a fickle word; tossed about like paper wishes on a windy day.


Itachi considered himself a realist, and knew that with every second spent in this man-made Hell searching for a body (or bodies) that might not even be recognizable when eventually discovered, could be a recipe for disaster. He could barely see now and his eyes, nose, and mouth suffered the effects of the thick smoke that was gradually making him light-headed.


And still he prayed as he never had before.


Now literally on his hands and knees, he allowed his hands to do the searching. With every desperate shuffle forward, he clung onto that fickle word – hope – and when he eventually encountered something hard and not rocky, his heart leapt with joyous relief. However, a tug revealed that it was only his companion – Asuma – waving the smoke away and nodding at him with a thumb pointed over his shoulder. “This way”, he said without speaking though his features looked pinched and grimy with soot and sweat. Obediently, Itachi followed; knowing how funny this would look on any other day as both men were now crawling blindly like babies.


However, Asuma came to a sudden stop, which almost had Itachi colliding into his derriere. Again, the bigger man motioned the air with his hand and pointed in front of him. “Found them!” his action screamed. Words could not describe the surge of relief and gratitude that filled Itachi at that moment. He scrambled closer to Asuma and felt around for a body. Hope filled him as he made out a leg...thigh...and without giving it a second thought, he slid his arms beneath the still warm body and staggered to his feet. The problem now came in finding their way back out, but there was a slight fizz sound and through the gloom, both men could make out the sparks of what looked like a cheap firecracker. They headed in that direction as quickly as their legs could take them...following the fizzling firecracker until light gusts of fresh(er) air began to fill their lungs and away from the crux of the fire.


“Hurry!” Shikamaru was ordering as he led them across the bridge. He was the one responsible for setting up the ‘light’ to show the men the way out. “I think I saw Orochimaru’s personal guards coming this way!”


Coughing (painfully), and with his vision nearly blinded, Itachi shook his head lightly before looking down at whom he had rescued. It was the blonde one; barely recognizable with the combination of blood and ash all over him. His wounds looked terrible and there was no doubt he would need medical attention and fast. However, it was a choked cry from Haku (who was running up to them with Shisui in tow) that had him looking towards Asuma. Naturally, he had rescued Sasuke and what Itachi saw of his little brother nearly made him cry out in shock as well. Sasuke – who was already pale to begin with – literally looked like a sheet though blood and soot had coated his skin to give it an even more worrisome pallor. Like Naruto, he bled from several places, his jaw was swollen, and his right leg was literally drenched with blood so dark, it looked black from here.


“He’s lost a lot of blood...both of them,” Shisui was stating firmly. He was slipping out of his outer robe to wrap it around Sasuke’s body. This galvanized Itachi into action as he lowered Naruto to the ground and began to remove his robe. However, Asuma was already taking charge. He motioned for Itachi to stop -


(don’t want anyone knowing who you are, do you?)


...and promptly wrapped Naruto’s body with the kamishimo he had been wearing.


“You need to send them out of here,” Asuma was saying. “Take them to a hospital or wherever and get them stitched up pronto!”


“We can’t risk sending them to a nearby hospital,” Itachi deduced with a thoughtful frown. “Orochimaru is likely to have his henchmen searching for We have no other choice but to take them along.”


“Do you have a medic on board?” Asuma asked with a nod of understanding.


“Two...and Shisui’s not bad himself,” Itachi added with a weak smile as they both rose to their feet; each carrying one of the young men in their arms.


“All right, let’s get moving. Haku! Shikamaru! You come too!”


With Asuma leading the way, they kept their heads low and tried to blend in as much as possible with the remaining spectators still desperate to escape. Haku and Shisui brought up the rear, still keeping guard in case any other officers tried to stop them. The last scuffle had ended rather quickly, with both men able to take out the ten officers with hardly a sweat. Haku – who would have rather not killed anyone – was in a state of mind where rational thinking or being benevolent was not in consideration. This was Sasuke-sama and Naruto-kun’s life on the line. Anyone who tried to prevent them from accomplishing their goal would not live to see another second. All the same, he had to admire the way Shisui-san had fought alongside him. Haku had always thought he was fast, but this mysterious dark-haired man was ten times faster. He had never seen anyone move so effortlessly or kill with such precision before. It was quite admirable. He slid a glance at the older man, but could read nothing from his expression. Perhaps if they got out of here safely, he could find the time to –




Asuma’s loud curse forced them to halt in their tracks; senses alert as they glanced around them with caution and wariness. With a quick and concerned glance at Asuma, Shikamaru grimaced as he noticed the cause of the man’s cry. A small throwing knife – similar to the one Haku used – was now lodged deep into Asuma’s left shoulder, but like the stubborn bastard he was, Asuma had not dropped Sasuke neither did it seem as if he had any plans to stop.


“Keep going,” he grated when he noticed Shikamaru’s expression. “You think this little thing’s gonna stop me?”




“Get down!” Haku cried out as another throwing knife came hurtling towards them. This time, however, Haku was quick to knock it aside with his; sending the enemy’s weapon into the stands.


“I can’t believe you’d end up siding with them, Haku. You disappoint me,” came the familiar voice before them as the cloud of smoke cleared a little to reveal Kimimaro sauntering in their direction. He stopped and glared icily at the motley crew; his lips quirking into a bitter smile as he noticed the two newcomers.


“My guess was right after all,” he muttered. “Shisui of the Shadows as you are known. The best assassin since Minato Namikaze to work for the Bakufu Syndicate. Ironic, isn’t it?”


Shisui’s jaw and lips tightened, but he said nothing.


“And Itachi Uchiha...there were rumors you were still alive, but nothing concrete enough to verify that. Yet here you stand before me – a ghastly ghost of the past. Orochimaru-sama will be intrigued to hear abouturgh!”


He stared, almost comically, at the dark patch that was beginning to spread around his lower right torso. Jutting from the wound was a familiar throwing knife, which Kimimaro withdrew with a loud grunt to toss it to the ground with disgust. He lifted red-rimmed and furious dark eyes to the young man he had rescued all those years ago.


“Haku...” he began with a growl; ignoring the pained expression in the servant’s visage. It was clear that it had hurt Haku to do that, but Kimimaro did not care. He began to withdraw his pistol from its holster attached to the hip of his hakama. “How dare you...!”


“You talk too much, Kaguya,” Asuma growled, and with a lift of his leg, he kicked aside the weapon from the surprised man’s grip. “If you want to fight so much, you’ll have to deal with me first.”


“You traitor,” Kimimaro growled. “We should have killed you while we had the chance.”


“Heh, you wish.” Asuma smirked and turned to Shisui. “Here...take Sasuke and get the hell out of here....all of you. I’ll take care of this freak show myself.”


“Do you really think you can escape?” Kimimaro hissed as he watched the quick exchange. “I have guards stationed all around the stadium. You will not make it out of here alive. I guarantee that.”


“Guarantee this,” Asuma grunted as he pulled out the throwing knife now that he was free of carrying Sasuke’s almost lifeless body. It hurt like hell, but this was no time to dwell on that. He withdrew his katana and pointed it squarely at Kimimaro; lips quirking into a wry smile. “It’s about time I tested out my skills on you. It’s been a long time coming.”


“Asuma,” Shikamaru said quickly with a shake of his head. “We’ll stay and fight -”

“Go,” came the firm command from the older man. “All of you. The more time you waste here, the less likelihood of those two surviving. Get them the help they need. Got it? I can take care of myself.”


“We’ll wait for you at the designated location,” Itachi began as he began to back away. Though he would have liked to stay as well, Asuma was right. They really had no time to waste. Both Naruto and Sasuke looked even worse and every damn second counted.


“Give me one hour,” Asuma replied with a small smile. “If you don’t see me then -”


“We’ll be waiting for you,” Haku insisted firmly. “For as long as it takes.”


“Let’s go!” Shisui was yelling. He was already jogging towards the exit with his precious cargo for he had noticed the approaching officers and there was no way he could fight in this condition. Luckily, he spotted several of their comrades who were quick to dispose of the opposition as quickly as they appeared.


Both Itachi and Haku gave Asuma one last look before joining Shisui, but Shikamaru didn’t budge. He knew he wasn’t that much of a fighter and his knowledge of kenjutsu was just enough to get him out of a jam. He had no weapons right now either, so what could he really do but stay behind and help out –


“Go, Shikamaru,” Asuma said tightly. “You are no good to me here and besides...shit!”


He saw it before the younger man did and his quick reflexes kicked in to push Shikamaru to the ground as the bullet found its target within the same shoulder that had been struck with the throwing knife.


“Asuma!” Shikamaru cried out as he noticed the growing pool of blood that was now drenching the lower part of his yukata. “You...!”


“GET OUT OF HERE!” came the roar that pierced right through Shikamaru’s heart. It really hurt to be spoken to in such a manner, but he realized that he really was going to be a hindrance if he remained. Biting his lower lip hard, he scrambled to his feet and began to back away on legs that shook with every step.




“You really don’t know when to quit do you, sinner?” came the low question as the pistol was now trained again on Shikamaru to finish the job. Kimimaro cocked the hammer and it would have gone off, if the katana hadn’t appeared from nowhere to just about slice off his wrist.


“Your opponent is me,” Asuma panted as he staggered to his knee; both hands gripping the handle of his sword tightly. “Resorting to that cheap weapon. Why don’t we finish it like the battles of old...with our swords, hmm?”


Kimimaro smirked and lowered the gun. “As you wish. Run away, little scared sinner. Not that you’ll get very far anyway.”


Shikamaru ignored the insult as his gaze remained trained on his longtime friend and companion throughout his miserable stay in this place. He knew. Somehow he knew that he would never see Asuma again, and knowing that there was absolutely nothing he could do to prevent what would happen, made it even worse. He felt a rough tug on the scruff of his yukata from behind, and before he could turn around to figure out who it was (turned out to be another member of the organization), he was shepherded out of the stadium like a sack of potatoes.


Thank you...for everything...


The last image he would see of his friend and mentor was of him still on his knees while five soldiers marched up behind him with their rifles pointed at his back. For while Kimimaro pretended to want to engage in a sword fight with the officer, the firing squad was being set up at the same time.


How cheap and dirty...what an undignified way to die.


As he was shoved through the crowd and toward the exit, Shikamaru was spared the sight of watching Asuma’s brutal end, but he knew that for as long as he lived, the deafening sounds of over twenty gunshots would never fade from his memory.


In the waiting van, where two of the medics were already working on Sasuke and Naruto to the best of their abilities, the rest of the occupants didn’t need Shikamaru to open his mouth to tell them what must have happened. His stricken expression was more than enough to convey the tale. And as Haku lowered his head and burst into silent tears, they realized they wouldn’t have to wait for an extra hour after all.


They would never have to wait for Asuma Sarutobi on this mortal earth.






It wasn’t true.


It couldn’t be true.


The story was a good one...a fantastic one if you believed in such action plots. That wasn’t the kind of thing that happened to people you people you really liked, right? That wasn’t the kind of thing that happened to a guy who looked like he could take all the bullets in the world, suck it in and spit them out before going ‘haha! I told you I was bulletproof, you fuckers! Take that!” That couldn’t have happened


...damn it!


I could feel the hot drops of my tears wetting my clenched hands, unaware I had been crying all this time. The worn and wet floorboards blurred before my vision; my heart hurting like hell at the notion that I had lost one of the few adult friends I had in my life. There had been no real reason for Asuma to want to hang out with me, and yet the guy had gone out of his way to make surviving in Byaku-Shinkyou a little more bearable. I would miss his crude jokes and boisterous laughter. I would miss the way he’d cuff me on the head when I began to complain about his lessons being too hard or boring. I’d miss the way he’d smoke his cigarette or pipe...the sweet smell of his tobacco while he guzzled down a bottle of beer or sake.


I couldn’t even begin to imagine what Shika must be going through. Asuma was like a fucking father or older brother to the guy. I know their relationship wasn’t like that, but you get the idea. They were that tight as buddies, and it was a friendship that I had envied a little. If Kojima hadn’t been such a fuck up, it was the kind of thing I would have wanted for both of us; to have someone I could talk to at all times, share my innermost secrets and fears without being ridiculed or mocked. I wanted a guy I could drink sake or beer with, shoot the breeze and teach me all sorts of shit that I didn’t know. Shikamaru had that with Asuma, and now, the one person he could rely on had been taken away from him in such a cruel way.


It hurt...a lot.


“Sasuke-sama will be crushed too,” Haku was whispering to himself. “Asuma-san was like a brother to him. If he hears about this...he’ll...he’ll...”


I sighed and wiped my face; suddenly feeling weary and resigned with all of this. We were ‘free’, but for how long and at what cost? This sucked big time.


“You must be famished,” Shisui said; probably mistaking my sigh for being hungry...although my stomach chose that moment to growl, which was both embarrassing and very inappropriate. Even if I did say I wasn’t hungry that would be a damn giveaway.


“Haku, prepare something for Naruto in the galley, will you?”


“I’m not really that hungry,” I began weakly, but Haku was already on his feet; probably needing something to do than sit around and mope. He was out of sight before I could stop him, leaving me alone with this man who was now leaning against the side of the boat with his arms crossed and that same intense gaze trained on me. What the fuck was he looking at?


“What?” I finally pouted irritably. “What do you want from me?”


Shisui shrugged and then gave a small smile. “Let’s just say looking at you is slightly unnerving.”


I raised a brow in confusion. “Huh?”


“Save for the scars on your face, you really do take after your father.”


I stiffened and sat up a little straighter. “ knew my father?” Why the hell was my heart beginning to pound so fast? It wasn’t as if I knew the guy – my dad that is – after all, he had passed away before I was even born. “How did you...?”




The sudden scream – slightly muffled but still a scream all the same – had us turning sharply toward a section of the starboard where a door was immediately opened and another weird guy just about ran out before slamming the door shut behind him.


“Jesus fucking Christ,” came the breathless gasp from him.


This dude was wearing the same dark robe Shisui adorned, but unlike Shisui, his black hair was much longer and in a ponytail. When he turned to us, there were deep lines etched on either side of his cheeks, but there was no mistaking those features that – again – reminded me of Sasuke. I think it was the eyes because they were pretty deep set and intense.


“Didn’t go so good, did it, Itachi?” Shisui asked with a smirk of amusement.


Itachi? Wait...wouldn’t he be...?


“He woke up – finally – took one look at me and screamed like he had just been stabbed all over again.”


Ouch. Way to liken his reaction to my actions in the dome.


“I think I sent him back into his coma,” Itachi muttered and rubbed his chin with a heavy sigh. He finally noticed my presence and gave a weak smile. “Good to see you awake, Naruto. How are you feeling?”


Did he want the abridged or unabridged version of just how I felt right now? I settled for giving a noncommittal shrug just as Haku appeared with what looked like a sandwich and a cup of water. Trailing behind him was yet another person I had never met before, but considering how long it had been since I had seen one of ‘these’ kinds of people up close and personal, my eyes must have bugged out of my skull as I gawked shamelessly in appreciation.


It was a woman. Praise the heavens! A full-fledged woman......................I hoped.


“You shouldn’t have gone in there like that, Itachi-san,” came the feminine voice that was stern with its chiding. Phew. Definitely a woman. No mistaking it. “You should have known it would be a shock to him.”


“I’m sorry, Karin,” Itachi apologized with a sheepish smile. “I was just so eager to see him and...well...”


“Wait until he’s a little more awake and oriented to his surroundings,” the woman said as she finally lowered the hood of her robe to reveal flaming red hair to accompany her bespectacled features. She was a severe way (if that makes any sense). Kinda like the librarian/teacher type who would ‘spank’ you if you misbehaved. She slid a glance in my direction and dismissed me just as quickly before making her way toward the room Itachi had just evacuated.   


“Here you go, Naruto-kun,” Haku invited as he placed the meal beside me on the crate. “Eat slow bites, so you don’t throw up.”


“Listen to the man,” Shisui said with a wry smile. “He knows what he’s talking abou -”




This time we all turned toward the same area that held Sasuke – apparently - and watched as Karin all but ran out with her hands over her head in protection. Something flew right after her and plopped into the sea with a splash.


“Your brother’s turning into a fucking menace,” Shisui deduced dryly, though he still sounded amused.


“I’m just trying to help you!” Karin was screaming angrily. “You don’t have to take my fucking head off!”


“...tachi!” We could vaguely hear from inside. The voice came again; much louder, stronger, and definitely pissed off. “Where is he?!”


“You’re needed,” Shisui said with a chuckle as he shoved Itachi forward with a slap to his back. “Want back up in case of an emergency?”


Itachi gave a wan smile and seemed to take a deep breath. Goodness knows he was going to need it. I took a bite of the sandwich (nothing more than two slices of ham, lettuce and some sauce I could not recognize) and idly contemplated sneaking in to listen to their conversation. I was made to believe that Sasuke’s family had died, so if this guy here was actually his real brother...there was definitely going to be a lot of explaining to do. However, a motion on the other side had me turning in that direction. It was Shikamaru getting to his feet. The commotion was probably annoying him as he began to make his way to the port side.


I made my decision there and then. He needed me more than my listening in to the brothers patching things up. And so lifting my plate and cup, I signaled to the others that I’d be following the other party. I wanted to know more about my father from Shisui, but that would have to wait as well. Being there for a friend in need was definitely much more important than knowing about a father that was never there.






As a child, listening to kaiden tales being told by Old Man Kagami, in front of his convenience store, was always a great way to kill time. Several of the neighborhood’s children would sit on the raffia mats next to the entrance, where he’d regale us with stories of weird occurrences and creatures like the kappa to shirikodama, the umibōzu, and nure ogano. Our young imaginations would take flight, and goodness knows how many times I annoyed Itachi with my whines about definitely, definitely, definitely seeing a kappa in our garden pond, and could I please sleep with him that night because I was sure the kappa was going to attack me. I was an impressionable child, but I outgrew such flights of fancy quickly and realized they were all nothing more than entertaining stories conjured from the mind of a senile old man. So in addition to me not liking psychics and phony mind readers, I no longer felt intimidated at the concepts of ghosts or spiritual beings from the other world.


However, nothing....and I mean absolutely fucking nothing had prepared me to see one face-to-face.


At first I was sure I was still hallucinating, for I was just crawling out of the foggy clouds of my dreamless sleep, when that...that...face! suddenly blocked my field of vision. What was even worse was that the face had spoken to me...called out my name as if we were on familiar terms.


I have no idea where the scream came from, but it did anyway; wretched from the depths of me as if trying to come to terms with what my mind was desperately trying to make sense of.


It simply couldn’t be!


The last time I had seen that face, there was still some baby flesh ‘roundness’ on his features. He had only been ten years old when he was taken away from me, but I could never forget those tell-tale lines that stood out on his cheeks; those lines that made him brother. Now, the face was different; older yet still with those markings that would have distinguished him in a crowd. Those eyes that had always been filled with warmth now looked haunted and filled with a sorrow that could never be appeased, and though he had smiled a little, it looked strained and weary.


It simply...couldn’


The apparition disappeared before I could sit up to make sure it wasn’t all a figment of my imagination, and my frustration grew tenfold when I felt my body unable to move as fluidly as I would have liked. I looked at myself in disgust. I was lying on a narrow cot in what looked like a cabin. There was barely enough room for another desk or chair, but they had been squeezed in here somehow. There was a small window opened just little to let in some fresh air, and I could smell the tangy salt of ...the sea? How was that possible?


I shifted and felt the blanket, which had covered me, fall a little to reveal my bare but bandaged chest. My left forearm was also wrapped in the thick white cloth and I noticed a makeshift (and quite crude) IV line connected to a port near my wrist. However, it was my right upper thigh that was the worst of it all. It felt as stiff as a piece of wood, and looking at the amount of thick wrapping around it, it was no wonder getting up was going to be next to impossible.


Fuck this...


The sound of the door opening had me looking up sharply; my heart rate and pulse kicking up a notch as I anticipated his appearance again. However, I was greatly disappointed to see it was some female I had never seen before. She was smiling shyly at me -


(why? What the hell was so amusing?)


...and moving towards a small cabinet from which she removed several vials and more dressings. “Good to see you awake, Sasuke-sama,” she was chirping along. “I have brought some -”


“Where is he?” I growled; wincing as my throat burned with every word I uttered. My tongue felt heavy in my mouth and I needed something to quench my thirst, but that could wait.


“...this should help heal those wounds on your -”


Was she even listening to me?!


“” I spoke a little louder.


“Hmm?” She spun around with that same stupid smile on her face. “Do you want me to...eek!”


I slapped away the hand she had reached out to touch me with and glared coldly at her. “Where the fuck is Itachi?”




Maybe she’s senile, slow...or just incredibly dumb. Either way -


“You can’t get up, Sasuke-sama,” she cried out and tried to touch me again. This time, I reached for one of the vials in frustration and all but threw it in her direction.


“Don’t touch me!” I snarled.


“But...eeeek!” she shrieked, and thankfully this time got the message enough to run out of the room.


“Where is Itachi?!” I bellowed after her. Someone else must be out there, and if they heard me, they would definitely come running. “Where is he?!”


You must be a figment of my imagination. You cannot be alive. You cannot be here. You are dead. You’ve been dead for fourteen years. You, Father, and Mother were killed before me. You made me believe you were no longer a part of my life. For years, I prayed to your spirit, wondering why God didn’t take me away with you all. For years I had to live in that godforsaken place with that bastard, who in the end wanted me dead after all. He just prolonged the torture, that’s all. Instead of killing me instantly, he took his time to destroy me, and now what is left? What do I have left besides this cruel injection of you back into my life?




A shadow fell into the room and I looked up sharply, this time mentally bracing myself for what my mind was now finally coming to terms with.


“Sasuke...” dead dearest dead brother...


“...I think we need to talk.”


How can I ever forgive you?




Chapter 17

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