Extra Info: Please note that the different times for each event does not mean they all occurred on the same day.

DPJ – Democratic Party of Japan

LDP – Liberal Democratic Party of Japan

Extra points to whoever figures out why the chapter was given this title *lol*


Chapter 25:



The waves are gathered
On the shore of Sumi Bay,
And in the gathered night,
When in dreams I go to you,
I hide from people's eyes.

-Fujiwara no Toshiyuki


Sugadaira Kogen Inn

Kyoto, Japan



Another slow night.




Matsuyama Hidachi yawned and polished a wooden table with its countless sake and beer-stained marks forever embedded within, knowing damn well that no amount of cleaning products would get rid of them. However, deliberating over cleaning products was the least of his concerns. Business was hardly picking up these days and money was getting extremely tight. Though he had taken over the inn from his father almost thirty-years ago, Hidachi wondered when he’d finally be forced to shut the doors to an establishment that had been a staple in this community for over sixty-years. He would hate to see this place go, for so many memories of his childhood and all the different people he had come to know over the years were engrained in his soul. His wife had nagged from the beginning; claiming that it was best he just sell it to the highest bidder, get the money and retire somewhere in Okinawa. Why go through all the hassle of trying to survive day to day when there were serious buyers willing to chip in the cash to help him?


Pfft. Help me? Like she’d understand anything, he thought ruefully as he spat on the rag and continued polishing with a little more vehemence. She doesn’t understand what it means to be the owner of a business.


And besides, Hell would freeze over before he handed over his family’s pride and joy to those Bakufu bastards.


The Syndicate had sent their dogs to ‘threaten’ him over ownership of the inn several times already, which was not unexpected considering they just about owned every other damn business in this neighborhood. Hidachi could still remember the first meeting he had with the yakuza representatives (after all Ikegami Ryoichi could not be bothered to make the journey himself), where they had offered him quite a large sum of money to relinquish all rights to the inn.


Hidachi wouldn’t lie and say the thought hadn’t crossed his mind to simply take the cash and run. After all, he had a wife and three growing children to feed. However, seeing his father and grandfather’s face - those tough, gritty men who had stood in the face of adversity and kept this inn going strong – fill his mind had squashed his pitiful thought quickly. How could he shame the Matsuyama family name? How could he walk away from something that had been built from the ground up with sweat, tears, and so much love? How could he sell his soul to the devil and look his children in the eye afterwards? How could he call himself a man?


No. Hidachi was too proud to bow down to the likes of Ikegami and his cronies. He would keep on working until they dragged his dead body out of here. Hmph. If nothing else, it would show his sellout neighbors that he was not a quitter like them.


“G’night, Matsuyama-san!” came the hail from the regular, who waved as he stepped out of the door, and into another chilly night.


Hidachi stopped long enough to reciprocate the gesture, forcing a warm smile on his face though he felt anything but happy at the moment. He lowered his hand and mentally counted that there were about six more customers left. A few faces he was familiar with, the others looked like tourists. He glanced towards the bar, where his eldest son (now a senior in high school) was helping tonight. Yoshistune was a good kid; a son any father would be proud to have. Hidachi would really love to leave this business in his care someday; to look his son in the eye and say:


“My boy…you’ve earned this. Keep the Matsuyama name going strong and make your ancestors proud.”


With an inner sigh, he allowed his gaze to drift toward the kitchen where he could see the shadow of his wife bustling about as she cleaned and prepared for another closing day. Sure she nagged him to death most of the time, but there was no doubt that she still loved and cared for him in her own way. His two youngest children – the twin girls who were just in middle school – were giggling and sweeping the back of the restaurant, and watching their interaction brought a small smile to his face.


Yes, in the grand scheme of things, he was a very lucky man. Maybe now they might be struggling, but someday…someday he was definitely going to –




“Huh?” He looked up sharply at the jarring sound of glass shattering. His first assumption was that his wife or daughters had broken something, but it took him a second later to realize that the shattered glass was actually the front window of his inn. Someone had thrown something into the store and that something was currently rolling along the ground and straight toward him.


What the hell is…?!


It would be his last coherent thought as the sudden thunderous explosion rocked the entire building off its very foundation, sending Matsuyama Hidachi’s pride and joy into a billowing cloud of fire and smoke.


Later, eye witnesses would claim that they saw a black van stop by, where a man in a billowing black cloak had leapt out and yelled the words ‘IN THE NAME OF AKATSUKI!’ before throwing the damning bomb into the building.


All agreed it was a shame such a thing had to happen to such a wonderful family (and business), but little would they know that the nightmare was only just beginning.




The Youth Complex

Nagano, Japan



“…reporting live from the compound of The Youth Complex, where an explosion went off about an hour ago. So far we have a tally of about ten dead and fifty young people injured, and as you can see the paramedics and police are doing their best to get everyone out to safety. No one is quite sure of who is responsible for this, or why they are doing this, but some witnesses are saying that they saw several mysterious figures in black who claim that they are doing this in the name of the vigilante group “Akatsuki.” You also remember that this same terrorist group is the one responsible for the destruction of parts of Byaku-Shinkyou early this year, and as it stands, there is a warrant out for anyone with more information about this terrorist organization and its members…”




Kitano Street

Kobe, Japan



Amidst the flashing lights of the horses, police cars and ambulances, a growing throng of people hovered behind the yellow tape just before the bullet-ridden house; many of them (the females mostly) sobbing within handkerchiefs or openly, while the men looked on with shocked or slack-jawed expressions. It was hard to believe that just half an hour earlier; this once lovely home had belonged to a prominent member of the government. Neighbors and passersby would testify that they had heard a van screeching into the quiet community and then the deafening and frightening sounds of machine gun fire. There must have been at least ten shooters or really high-powered weapons used because the destruction was nothing short of catastrophic. The family, who had been having dinner at the time, was all gunned down at the unexpected ambush. Not even a servant was spared as the murderers made sure every single individual in the compound was eliminated.


At only forty-five, he had been a rising star of the parliament, but there was no doubt he had made many enemies, for he was one of the few politicians willing to speak out against the Syndicate and other such illegal activities in the country. Many whispered amongst themselves that it was only a matter of time before the yakuza made their move. However, no one had expected to see that a so-called vigilante group would be responsible for such brutal killings; for they had been brazen enough to spray paint their name on the walls as loud and as boldly as they could:








Shibuya Station

Tokyo, Japan



He walked briskly through the throng of people, hardly missing a step as he covered his head and face with the hoodie of his jacket. Burying his hands into the pockets, he jogged down the steps and toward the underground section of the still bustling station despite its somewhat late hour.


On the platforms, white collar workers stood in a semi-comatose state after the strains of the day. Like manufactured zombies, in their black suits or white shirts, they yawned, stared blankly ahead or were buried nose-deep in the newspapers. Teenage girls, some still in their school uniforms, giggled and engaged in meaningless conversation, while the older women looked on with envy and thoughts of waiting husbands and families at home who expected dinner.


He stopped beside a business man in glasses, who was reading a late edition newspaper, and winced inwardly at the headline that blared at him:



Vigilante Group – Akatsuki – believed to be responsible.


In a much smaller header there was:




Having read enough, he blended in with the crowd as the loud churning grind and whine of an approaching train filled the underground cavern. There was a sudden surge of humanity towards the edge of the platform, and he knew this was his opportunity to slip through the blink-and-you-just-might-miss-it door behind one of the moving escalators.


He failed to notice his silent pursuers.


The door led one through an extremely narrow passageway where steel pipes and electrical wiring formed shields around him. The light in here was pitiful as only a few naked light bulbs illuminated the way. He hated having to touch the wall, where  years of dust, dirt, and slime (no thanks to water leaking from somewhere) were likely to leave un-washable streaks on your skin. Still, it was deafening to hear the trains from  here as the very ground seemed to rattle and shake as you walked. You could barely hear yourself think.


Still, every sense in him heightened as he heard a sound behind him. His fingers gripped the gun within his pocket, while spinning around at the same time with his heart in his throat. He was not a big fan of the weapon, and would rather have dealt with hand-to-hand combat, but if he was indeed followed, this was the fastest way to take care of his pursuer in such an enclosed space. However, all he could see where flickering shadows. The door he had come in from looked a million miles away, and with the rattling of the walls, the bulbs seemed to sway causing a dangerous play of light and shadows that made it extremely difficult to see if there was someone behind him, or just the steel pipes creating the illusion.


“Fuck this,” he whispered breathlessly; trying hard to steady his thudding heartbeat. Swallowing, he spun on his heels and began to walk a little faster, but it was tricky this time for the ceiling was considerably lower and it forced him to crouch a little.


Faster...must get there faster...


He could definitely hear something behind him now, but he knew turning around was not going to be an option. If whoever was following him wanted him dead, he would have been killed by now. No, he was going to wait until he made the fork and then pump the son-of-a-bitch full of lead.


He realized he was panting and sweat was beginning to pour down his neck and back. He had to switch his gun from his left hand to the right, wiping the damp palm against his slacks as he ducked yet again and finally –


(thank God!)


...came to the turn that would lead him to the hideout. The large circular opening beckoned like a beacon and by this time, the ceiling was higher again and he could walk without having to crouch. Of course, it was a little tricky and first timers always got thrown off at the sudden drop.  However, he was used to it, and taking a deep breath, he dashed towards the opening and leapt down almost three feet into ankle-deep water with a loud splash.


Now one could say they were truly in the depths of Tokyo for this was just one of the many entrances into a labyrinth of unused tunnels miles beneath the surface. With its ceiling nearly twenty feet high and sturdy stone walls as old as time, it really was an architectural masterpiece, but there was really no time to stand around admiring the place. Besides, he had explored it so many times already, he could walk through parts of it blindfolded. Hardly waiting to catch his breath, he dashed toward one of the smaller pipes and crawled into it to hide, hardly caring about being soaked to the skin of dealing with some sewage that drifted past him. He clutched the gun tightly in his palms;  sucking in lungful of much-needed air while stealing panicked glances toward the larger pipe he had jumped out of.


As he suspected, he was being followed by two rather big guys (how the fuck had they hidden in that narrow passage in the first place?) in black suits and guns withdrawn. Even from his vantage point, he could see that they were yakuza, and he bit his lower lip as he cocked his weapon and waited for an opportunity.


“Fuck,” one of them cursed. Incredible how loud their voices carried in here. “Where’d go?”


“Guess we gotta jump down to find out.”


“Can’t mess up my suit, man. This shit cost me my whole paycheck -”

“Fuck your paycheck!” the bigger of them growled impatiently. He was already preparing to jump; the two morons failing to notice there was a steel rung ladder against the wall. “You heard the boss. Find their motherfucking hideout and take out whoever is there. The more we stand here talking, the further the bastard’s getting. We should -”


“Shsssssh!” the smaller one hissed. “Listen...I hear something...”


The three held their breath and sure enough, coming from their right was the sound of laughter and talking from at least two...no three people.


“Bingo...” the smaller said with a grin. “They’re coming this way...”


Fire a warning shot, the hidden man thought frantically. He recognized the voices approaching, and prayed to goodness that they weren’t that close enough. With every once of concentration in his being, he took a deep breath and expelled it gently between pursed lips...held up the gun...closed an eye and pointed its target at the bigger of the two.


Easy...easy now...


And just as the big man began to take a step forward, the deafening sound of the gunshot had every party freezing in their tracks...before the loud howl of pain from the bigger man filled the silence accompanied by the almost dramatic sight of him falling out of the pipe and into the water below. He was still howling in pain and clutching his right ear where bright red blood poured out like a faulty faucet. His companion bellowed his name and attempted to dive for him, but another gunshot was fired and this time it caught him in the upper thigh, which sent him tumbling into the waters as well.


The unseen voices had now made the turn, and just as he had suspected, there were three of his comrades, each of them with either a gun or katana in hand; ready to attack the intruders.


“The fuck...?” one of them began as he walked closer to the two moaning men, when the hidden man bellowed out in warning.


“Be careful! I think they are probably yakuza!”


“Lee?” came the incredulous query from the only female in the group; though with the way she was dressed in a silk black mandarin jacket and pants, it was hard to tell. “Is that you?”


“Hey...Tenten,” the man greeted with a sheepish smile, as he crawled out of the pipe and waded toward his waiting and bemused friends. The one who had walked closer to the downed assassins, eyed the soaking wet black-haired young man and snorted.


“Good thing you shot them or else -”


“Look out, Neji!” Tenten yelled as the bigger man had tried to rise to his feet to pull the trigger. However, she needn’t have bothered because Neji – with almost graceful movement – swung his katana in a lightening quick arch that sent both gun and the man’s right hand flying off into the air before both splashed into the water.


His face was an almost comical look of shock before it drained of color as he fell back to the ground in a dead faint. His companion, who had tried to do the same, could only blubber in surrender as the girl towered over him as she slowly licked the steel blade of her throwing knife.


“Welcome to your worst nightmare,” she said with a smirk and forming a fist, drove it right into his face to shatter bone and cartilage. He collapsed like a stone and was mercifully out before the pain could set in.


“Still as vicious as ever,” Neji praised as he put away his sword and turned to their other silent companion. “Let’s take them to the hideout, Shino.”


“Roger.” The tall man, in the dark glasses, reached for the now one-handed yakuza and began to drag him toward the area they had just come from.


Neji eyed his other comrade. “Lee...are you hurt anywhere?”


“No...” Lee eyed himself. Besides soaking wet and smelling like shit, he was still breathing normally. “I’m all right. I’ll help with this one.” He reached out to assist in dragging the smaller of the two.


“What should we do next? What if they’re others waiting?” Tenten asked as she led the way while glancing toward their unofficial leader. With his height, extremely good looks, impressive fighting skills,  and an intellect that could rival any genius, Neji Hyūga had always been their leader anyway...at least for their branch in this section of the city. Itachi might not have said it out loud during their meetings, but it was clear that Neji was the one who made sure orders were executed according to the headquarters’ directions. He was, no doubt, treated with respect by so many others in the organization.


“Contact Itachi and Shisui-san immediately,” Neji replied with a grim expression on his visage. “They are beginning to seep into our territories rapidly, and if anyone else shows his face here, we take ‘em out.”


“There’s a traitor out there,” Shino muttered beneath his breath. “Wonder who it is.”


“Who they are,” Neji deduced solemnly. “People are weak now and are willing to do anything to survive, and it doesn’t help that we have copycats going out there and committing these terrible acts under our names. Let’s just try to keep our ears and eyes open. All right?”


And in unison, the young people gave a solemn “right” in response; each more than aware of how dangerous their situation had eventually become.








Wet End Bar

Shinjuku, Japan



Drinks flowed. Babes glowed. The music was loud and all was right with the world.


Shinpachi took another long toke from the rolled up weed; high as a fucking kite and king of the motherfucking planet. He had managed to snag a coveted V.I.P. booth tonight, where he was surrounded by the most beautiful babes his money could buy. He squeezed the voluptuous breast pressed against his side, laughing aloud as the girl gave a pitiful moan and leaned even more into him. The other chick on his right, he smacked her ass as hard as he could, cackling again when she gave a lustful moan and kissed his scarred cheek.


“You’re so mean, Shinpachi-san,” she whined playfully.


“Bad as I wanna be, babe!” he roared back and proceeded to worry her neck with sloppy, wet kisses while attacking her breasts by tugging down the spaghetti strap of her dress and kneading them as hard as he could.


He was in heaven, and God knows he was going to enjoy himself for as long as he fucking cou –


“Having fun, Shinpachi?” came the low question; so low that despite the cacophony in the packed nightclub, Shinpachi could still hear every damn word. For a second, he told himself he was only imagining that voice, but when something hard pressed against his temple and the undeniable click of the weapon’s hammer filled his ear, he felt his balls shrivel up in fear. The high was wearing off as quickly as it had come.


The stupid whores suddenly screaming like banshees only made the situation more real to him. He swallowed and finally turned his head a little to see for himself if his worst nightmare had come to life, and sure enough…here he was standing in the flesh.


Kisame Hoshigaki – the baddest motherfucker this side of Japan if not Asia. Many believed he had once been a member of the Syndicate, but who could really know of his back story? He was as mysterious as he was dangerous, and most were wise not to mess with him on any given day.


“…Ki…Kisame-san…” Shinpachi croaked though lips that felt swollen and yet parched. Trust his ill-luck to be caught tonight; his last night of partying before splitting town.


The big man, in a well-tailored suit, with pale skin and shark-like teeth grinned in response. This motion made the fish scale-like scars on his cheeks to give him a more ferocious appearance.


“Long time no see, you traitor,” he rasped in a voice that could almost be considered (deceptively) friendly if it wasn’t for the expression on his face.

Immediately, Shinpachi began blubbering. “I...I didn’t do anything, Kisame-san! I swear to God! I didn’t do anything!”


The grin didn’t diminish, though the dark eyes narrowed in disgust and restrained fury. “Oh? Sold us out to the Syndicate, didn’t you? You worthless piece of shit.”


“I didn’t -!”


“How much did they pay you this time?”


Shinpachi sniveled and shook his head; his limp blond hair flying into eyes that were filling with tears. “I swear to God, they were going to kill my family if I didn’t tell them! I had to tell them, Kisame-san! I had to -”


“Go straight to hell.”


The silencer lessened the impact of the gunshot to Shinpachi’s temple, but it wasn’t enough to stop the silly girls from screaming even louder than before until Kisame shut them up efficiently. A damn pity though. They were kinda cute.


“Hey!” It was one of the security people; some fresh-faced asshole trying to act tough. He reached out to touch Kisame’s arm from behind. “What do you think you’reURGH!”


Poor guy didn’t know what hit him as Kisame’s elbow jerked out to connect solidly with the man’s nose and mouth. He crumbled to the floor, sending the mostly stoned clubbers scrambling and screaming for the exits as they began to finally realize what was going on.


Shit. Kisame groaned inwardly as more of the security began to run toward him with their weapons withdrawn. Hadn’t Itachi and Shisui warned him about this?


/Don’t make too much of a scene, you trigger-happy-bastard. Get rid of him and get out of there as quickly as you can. Got it?/


Ah well.  Forgive me, Shisui.


It’s been a while since he had any action, and it wouldn’t hurt to take out a few more people before making his escape.


“Come at me, you fuckers,” he sneered and cracked his knuckles before kissing the tip of his gun as if in salute. “Let’s say we get this party really started.”




Port of Senshu

Osaka Prefecture



Jesus fucking Christ, but it was too fucking cold.


He blew on his hands and rubbed them together, wishing he had taken Sasori-san’s advice and worn gloves. However, he knew the art of wiring explosives was not something to be taken lightly. It took a great amount of skill and his genius intellect to know exactly where to place each bomb to make the most impact. It wasn’t as simple as tossing a bomb into buildings – like those fake Akatsuki terrorists had been doing. If you were doing to destroy something, at least destroy it in style. In fact, it was safe to say that no one appreciated his art; not even Itachi or Shisui-san, despite how good a job he had done during the Byaku-Shinkyou raid.


And they sent me here too, he grumbled as he darted amongst the shadows created by the large cargo ships. Someday, I’ll make them see just how invaluable I really am.


He stopped and held his breath as he heard incoming footsteps and voices. He pressed himself tighter against the large crates; a hand absently reaching for the small throwing knife attached to his waist. His job wasn’t to kill anyone, though if necessity called for it, he would have no other choice but to defend himself. However, it wouldn’t do to be discovered either.


His instructions had been concise and absolute. Rig three specific ships that would be arriving tonight from Taiwan, each containing illegal goods (mostly weapons) for the Bakufu Syndicate. In other words, the port was currently swarming with yakuza, port officials, crew, and the watchdogs they had paid off. He would have less than thirty minutes to get all three ships rigged with his specially made high-powered explosives before the trucks arrived to begin carting off the goods. He took pride in his creations, and there was no doubt that the countless hours spent in the ‘studio’ slaving over just the right chemical compositions would pay off tonight. He was going to make sure of it.


The footsteps and voices finally trailed away, and immediately he slipped out of his hiding place and dashed across the lot to hide again behind another large pile of crates. He realized he was beginning to sweat, and he hated knowing that. His art required keeping a level head about him. This was no time to panic or doubt the plan would work.


Carefully, he slung the backpack off his shoulders and dug into it quickly to find the materials he needed. He could see the second ship from his vantage point – The Ana Maria


Stupid name for a ship, he thought with a sneer. A quick mental calculation told him he had about a hundred yards to his target, and taking a deep breath, he blended into the shadows and dashed toward the vessel. He was just about to make the turn, and would have run smack dab into a line of incoming crew members, when he was unceremoniously yanked back into the darkness by an unseen hand.


He spun around with his heart in his throat and anger coursing through his veins; ready to dish out a blow at least to whoever had stopped him. However, all fight eased out of his body as he noticed the cool and almost distant brown eyes staring back at him.


“You really are an idiot, aren’t you, Deidara?” came the low whisper. “Be more aware of your surroundings, for crying out loud.”


“Took you long enough, Sasori-san,” Deidara hissed back with a scowl and his cheeks flaming with embarrassment at almost blowing his cover. “Where the fuck were you?”


“Taking care of my side of things,” Sasori replied with a nod toward something before Deidara. “How much time left?”


Deidara glanced at his watch. “Twenty. Cover me, and I should be able to get the last one done. Got it?”


Sasori gave a curt nod, and just as quickly as he appeared, seemed to leap out of sight. It never ceased to amaze Deidara how fast the shorter guy was. Even if said shorter guy was technically his senpai in the organization; that baby face of his would have fooled anyone. Deidara had learned the hard way not to mock the red-haired man about his height or possible fighting skills. He had ended up in hospital for about two days after their fight. Sheesh.


Half-an-hour later, their shadowed figures watched the port – which now looked like a miniature city – far below them. The trucks were beginning to pull in and the air was filled with the mingled sounds of machinery churning, instructions being yelled and the clang clang clang of ships being towed in and docked. All in all, it just another night at one of the busiest industrial ports in the city.


“Beautiful night, isn’t it?” Sasori mused quietly as he watched the lights of the city twinkle across the still waters of the sea.


“A very beautiful night indeed,” Deidara agreed with a smile, while counting beneath his breath and finishing with a breathy, “Boom.”




Even he couldn’t deny that this was his most spectacular piece of art created yet, and he just couldn’t wait to hear the verdict from the two men he admired most in the world.




Tokyo Metropolitan Matsuzawa Hospital

Tokyo, Japan




Shimura Danzo clutched the newspaper so tightly between his hands, it threatened to be ripped in half at any second. The words on the page seemed to mock him:



Over 10million¥ worth of illegal cargo destroyed in bombing.


He wasn’t so much concerned about the lives lost, but at the idea that somehow, someone would connect the dots and trace the brains behind the whole operation to him. The past few days had been nothing short of a nightmare, and having to watch the news and see his frantic second-in-command try his best to answer the pestering press about plans to arrest the ‘terrorists’ was beginning to take a toll on him. He had assumed being in the hospital would have provided some sort of respite from the chaos, but no such luck. Some of the damn media had the gall to show up at the hospital, demanding a statement from Danzo about the seemingly random attacks. The people needed his reassurance and leadership, and as the acting Commissioner of Police, it was his duty to do so.


As if on cue, his right shoulder and upper arm began to burn beneath the thick wad of bandages wrapped around it. He winced and clamped a trembling hand against it, gritting his teeth and wishing the damn nurse would show up to give him his painkillers or at least a large shot of morphine. Beads of sweat broke out on his brow as the memory of the bullet piercing through his skin and ripping through muscles and bone to embed itself within his body, filled his mouth with bitterness. Knowing who was responsible for his now useless arm made it even worse. To think that the first son of that bastard, Fugaku, would still be alive...it was just too bitterly ironic. So far, none of his special team within the watchdogs, had been able to find the elusive bastard despite weeks of scouring the country since the incident at Gudan.


Speaking of which, he had not heard much from Orochimaru besides his few public appearances on T.V. and the ‘funeral’ held for Uchiha Sasuke. Danzo had snorted in derision, wondering why anyone in their right mind would buy the notion of Uchiha Sasuke being dead. This was no doubt another one of Orochimaru’s ploys, and it would all tie into the fact that despite his messages to the pale-skinned fool, he had received nothing in return. The same went for Ryoichi Ikegami, now that he thought about it. He had barely heard from the kumichō of the Syndicate in a while now, and he was sure that this news about the explosion would have had the worthless fool crying at his bedside and seeking guidance.


Something isn’t right...


A timid knock at the door had him straightening up and trying to look as composed as possible. He barked out a curt “Enter”, and the nurse he had been seeking entered with a shy bow and matching smile. He did not reciprocate the gesture, simply scowling at the pretty brunette with rather pale eyes and quite a well-endowed bosom. He strained his memory banks, but he was sure she had never been in his room before. Being in such a high position (and with quite a few enemies), he had taken up an entire private wing in the building, where it was heavily protected by no less than five bodyguards for each shift. No one walked into this section of the building without being put through a strict background check.


He noticed her badge read the name “Asako Mina”, and just as he was about to pester her with questions about her credentials, there was another knock on the door. This time, the visitor was none other than his private secretary, Torune. He bowed to both the nurse and his boss before pulling up a chair and placing some documents within the outstretched hand.


“The funeral for Councilman Kansei’s and his family will be held this Saturday. Do you plan to attend, Danzo-dono?”


Danzo grunted. “Of course. It would only show the people that the so-called feud between us is nothing more than a fabrication by the media. My presence there should shut them up sufficiently.”


He had an idea of who was responsible for the death of the brash, young opportunistic politician, and it angered Danzo that he was so bold as to assassinate him in such a volatile climate. Hiding it under the name of ‘Akatsuki’ was just too convenient, wasn’t it?


“So I assume you’ll be released on Friday?” Torune queried.


“I will be out of here by then,” Danzo hissed. He had been stuck in this damn  place for too long. The sooner he got out of here the better. He had to be in charge again; for it seemed as if the world was going askew without his leadership.


First thing I’ll do is pay my little friend Ryoichi a visit. He seems to have forgotten who got him into that position in the first place.


“Councilman Onoki is getting bolder,” Torune stated quietly. “He is already gathering several other members of the DPJ to oust you from your position as commissioner.”


“That old washed up has-been,” Danzo growled beneath his breath. This wasn’t the first time he had opponents wanting him out of power. All he had to do was buy out a few of the opposing party members and his job was secure. Onoki could only rant and rave like the mad man he was. Danzo all but tore the envelope open and read through the documents quickly. “What about Councilman Mu? He is still on my side, isn’t he?”


“Yes...for now. His constituents might be voting him out of office soon, and he requests a meeting with you...” Torune’s voice trailed off.


“Yes,” Danzo muttered. “More money obviously.” He raised a brow when he noticed his secretary looking restless. “Well? What else? Spit it out already.”


Torune took a deep breath. “I cannot confirm this, sir, but I believe that Ikegami-dono might be behind some of the random bombings and attacks taking place across the country.”


Danzo lowered the documents to pin the other man with an intense stare. “What are you talking about?”


“The word is that Orochimaru-sama might be in cohorts with Ikegami-dono behind your back, sir. He – and I mean Orochimaru-sama – might also be funding Councilman Onoki’s attempts to get you out of office. With these attacks, all in the guise of it being Akatsuki’s doing, they plan to expose your incompetence and get the public’s opinion to sway in the favor of electing Noda-san as your replacement.”


Danzo, who had been digging his fingernails into his palm as he heard this, and hardly aware of the drops of blood forming from the pressure and pain he was inflicting on himself, realized now just how much he had been taken for a ride after all this time. He should have known Orochimaru would throw him under the bus and want to take everything for himself. What made it even worse was that the fool – Ryoichi Ikegami – had betrayed him. To think that he had assisted in getting rid of his once biggest threat – Minato Namikaze – only to be treated like this in the end.


Ah, but two…no three could play that game. Oh yes, they could, and what better way to pay back Ikegami, but bringing back Minato’s ghost to finish up a job that should have begun years ago.


You have both grossly underestimated me.


“Torune,” he began coldly.


“Yes, Danzo-dono?”


“Listen, and listen carefully. I am only going to repeat this once. There is someone I need you to find at all costs…”


And as he began to give his secretary specific instructions, both men were completely oblivious to their listening party; the sweet, innocent nurse who never let a word slip past her attention under the perfect guise of performing her  healing duties.





Undisclosed location,

Tokyo, Japan



As soon as Kisame entered the room, the arrow caught the sleeve of his jacket and pinned him tightly against the wall. He cursed and tried to yank it out, but the second one lodged itself in a dangerously sensitive area between his legs almost forcing him to let go of his bladder at the painful vision of his penis being pierced with the damn thing.


“You bastard,” he growled at the figure in the shadows before it revealed itself while lowering the bow.


“I warned you not to get into any trouble,” Shisui drawled with a cold smirk. Dressed in a black sweater and matching pants, he gave the impression of being relaxed; though one could tell he was barely restraining himself. “You never learn, do you, Kisame?”


The bigger man smirked in return. “I do your dirty work and this is the thanks I get?” He spat. “Next time, you and pretty boy do it.”


“Oh? Then who’s going to get this?”


An envelope was flung his way and Kisame caught it deftly; the smirk becoming a grin as he realized what was in it. “Where’s Itachi?” he asked as he finally dislodged himself from the wall and straddled a wooden chair to count his pay.


“Talking to the Hyūga kid,” Shisui replied as he went to pick up his precious arrows, only to frown in displeasure as he realized Kisame had managed to snap them. Damn that asshole and his strength.


“Oh yeah?” Kisame raised a brow. “Those kids in trouble now?”


Before Shisui could answer, Itachi strode into the living room with a pensive expression on his visage. He was dressed in similar fashion to Shisui, only he had a black trench coat as well; a sign he was probably just arriving from somewhere himself. He nodded at Kisame in greeting, but had his eyes only for Shisui and they spoke volumes.


“It’s worse than we thought,” Itachi began as he paced to the landscape windows to peer down into the Tokyo skyline at night. They noticed his hands were clenched into tight fists, and both Kisame and Shisui exchanged a glance of mute understanding at their companion’s aggravation.


The past few weeks had been nothing short of a nightmare for all of them as the attacks were becoming more rampant by the day. What was worse was that the ones responsible kept using the name ‘Akatsuki’ hence ruining and tarnishing their reputation. The public wanted their heads, the watchdogs were in hot pursuit, and of course, the Syndicate probably had their henchmen hunting them down as well. Many members had fled for their safety; denouncing their involvement with the group, or worse selling them out to whomever was willing to pay for information. The worst loss suffered so far, was the unfortunate bombing at the Youth Complex, where some of their members had been participating in a positive event for the community. Of course, no one had known they were actually members of Akatsuki, but the traitor(s) must have said they’d show up there anyway.


Only Shisui would know just how hurt and devastated Itachi had been at the news. From the moment they had stepped foot on that boat, which was to take them back to Japan, they had literally been bombarded with one bad news after the other. Though both men had planned to call the ‘fugitives’ back in Buk-gu upon their arrival, there was hardly any time to do so. With so many deaths and traitors running around, Itachi and Shisui knew they had some cleaning up to do and fast.


It was the reason why their retaliation had been swift. With Kisame’s ability to sniff out the turncoats, it was only a matter of time before they were delivered the justice they deserved. Destroying those ships was just the tip of the iceberg in their payback to those greedy bastards in power. Slowly, but surely, they were going to wipe the slate clean and restore order where it was desperately needed.


Their next stop – the DIET.


“They still have the yakuza as prisoners,” Itachi added after he recounted the story Neji had told him. “And they wanted to know what to do with them.”


“What else is there to do with them? Interrogate the bastards and if they don’t talk,” Kisame made a slicing motion across his neck.


Shisui smirked and shrugged. “As good as that sounds, I think we should move them out of that base. If those two told any others about where they were heading, you can be sure they’ll be swarming all over the tunnels looking for the hideout.”


Itachi nodded and was just about to head back to the den to place the call when a knock on the door had them turning toward it in unison.


“Expecting anyone?” Kisame asked as he rose to his feet. Itachi glanced at his watch and gave a small smile.


“Our little angel has arrived.”


“Ooooh…nice,” Kisame sneered and peered through the peep hole. It was a female all right, and one he knew. Damn. And here he thought it was a hooker. But then again…had these two guys ever ordered any whores for a good time? He had never seen them partying before…


Shaking himself from his distracting thoughts, he asked the password/code to get in, and at the satisfactory answer, he unlocked the door and bowed in greeting.

“Welcome to the lair, Hinata-hime. You are looking as ravishing as ever.”


Hinata Hyūga blushed prettily and hid a giggle behind a hand as she walked past him. She gave a dainty courtesy before Shisui and Itachi as they too smiled at her in greeting. After taking off her shoes, she peeled off her jacket to reveal that she was still in her nurse’s uniform, which Kisame shamelessly ogled. What a body!


“Any luck today?” Shisui asked, while Itachi offered her something to drink as she settled onto a sofa. It was a Spartan ‘apartment’, if you could call it that, but still comfortable enough, and she always liked coming here…at least whenever they were in town.


“More than enough,” she replied in a voice that was a gentle as she appeared. It was hard for anyone to believe that she could be a member of such a group of fighters, but she had her strengths and it mostly came in healing and ciphering – though she could hold her own in a fight if it ever came to that. She accepted the cup of tea and took a grateful sip.


“You weren’t followed, were you?” Kisame asked warily.


“I don’t think so,” she replied with a shake of her head. “But anyway, I finally got a chance to hear quite a lot. The other days, he was either asleep or not in a very talkative mood, but tonight…he sang like a canary.”


She reached for her handbag and dug into it for a minute before finding what she was looking for. It was a small cassette tape, which she handed over to Itachi with a shy smile. “I’m sure you’ll find it interesting. I most certainly did.”


“Great job, “Asako”,” Shisui teased, which in turn earned another bashful smile from the young woman, at the mention of her fake name. Itachi, who had left to find a recorder, returned with the device and slipped the tape in. For the next thirty minutes or so, they listened to Danzo and Torne’s voices fill the silence, neither person in the room even daring to breathe (it seemed) as they absorbed what was planned.


“Well, I’ll be fucked,” Shisui murmured once the tape ended and it began to rewind itself. He looked at Itachi and wasn’t surprised to find his partner’s face was as dark as his thoughts probably were. “This is getting pretty messed up.”


“No doubt about it. Both men do not trust each other and it looks like it might end up being an all out war between them.”


“Which is more than fine with me, if they decide to take each other out,” Shisui muttered beneath his breath. Except he did remember that both Naruto and Sasuke had wanted to deal with those two on their own.


“Who is this Uzumaki Naruto?” Hinata asked innocently. That was the only bit of the conversation she could not really grasp as Danzo had seemed adamant to find this person for some reason.


Itachi and Shisui shared a glance, and at a barely perceptible shrug from Shisui, Itachi replied quietly. “He’s a friend of ours…a young man of about your age whose father would have been the leader of the Syndicate if it wasn’t for Danzo and Ikegami. And now…Danzo wants Naruto to help him. Does the guy really believe that Naruto wouldn’t know he was responsible for Minato’s death?”


“But then again, what stops Danzo from not feeding Naruto some bullshit story about he being the innocent party in all of that fiasco and making it seem like Ikegami was the one responsible from the beginning.”


“Naruto isn’t that gullible, is he?” Hinata asked with a bemused frown. “If he knows the truth about his father and the people behind it, I don’t see how or why he would want to help Danzo.”


“Or why wouldn’t he?” Kisame said with a slow smile that didn’t exactly make him look any handsomer. “If I were Naruto, I’d say ‘yes’ to whatever the hell Danzo has to say and take the guy out when he’s not looking. Kill two motherfucking birds with one stone.”


“Danzo’s not that stupid either,” Itachi mused. “The guy is a master manipulator as the tape reveals.”


“So the question is…do we allow Danzo to find Naruto and risk exposing Sasuke’s whereabouts?” Shisui asked with an intense look at his partner. “We can’t just do that, Itachi.”




“How about…telling Naruto about it?” Hinata offered tentatively. “I mean…call him and let him know what’s going on and let him decide what he wants to do.”


“The woman’s got a point,” Kisame drawled. “Let Naruto decide, eh? After all, this is his battle when you really look at it.”


Itachi pursed his lips tightly and taking a deep breath seemed to come to a conclusion. Besides, it was a long overdue phone call and he had been dying to know just how well they were doing; not only health-wise, but relationship-wise.


“Fair enough,” he finally said aloud. “We’ll ask him. Hinata, I need you to contact your cousin and tell him I’ll be sending a few others to help in taking out the prisoners. We’re also going to have to abandon that base for now. Continue to keep your eyes and ears open at the hospital…well at least until Danzo leaves the place. Kisame…”


The big guy waved a hand for he already knew what was going to be asked of him. “Not to worry. I’m gonna be at the port to see her off tomorrow, and pay a visit to a few other buddies of mine that just don’t know how to shut up.”


“Don’t forget the package,” Itachi pointed toward a large box where they had packed a few extra homebred items the crew in Korea might appreciate.


“Roger that.”


After goodnights had been said, and Kisame offered to escort Hinata home, the two men were left with  hearts heavy with the burden they were forced to bear. For even as they sat and drew up plans, they were more than aware of the many lives they held in their hands, and how much they owed to those who had already lost theirs.





Hokkaido Prefecture



In the grand courtyard, beneath a cold sun and nippy winter breeze, fifty young men stood in five rows of ten, dressed splendidly in brand new uniforms signifying their ‘graduation’ of sorts. It had been a long year of intensive training and examinations, and now it was finally time to spend the next six or so months on the final leg of their journey to becoming elite watchdogs.


There was no need to tell these fresh faces that the kissing-up to their superiors was to begin today, and as they went through the rituals of marching and displaying their skills, they were more than aware of the silent scrutiny from those in much higher positions. It wasn’t everyday that Lord Orochimaru himself came out to watch a new class being inducted, but today, he sat on his ‘throne’ with an expression that was a little difficult to decipher. One couldn’t tell if he was impressed with what he was watching or simply bored at the yearly routine. After all, by the end of the training on the grounds, more than half of these wannabes would quit with their tails between their legs.


For three young men in particular, the journey to this stage of their lives was no easy decision to make. When their leader had asked who was willing to volunteer the next year or two of their lives to becoming members of the watchdogs, no one had raised their hand to accept the challenge. Sure it was tempting, and the idea of dressing up in that cool outfit and being able to prance around with a feeling of importance was appetizing, but this was the very group they were supposed to be rebelling against!


“We need spies within the grounds,” was the basic reason given for this radical decision, and after gnawing on his lower lip (and fingers) in thought, Suigetsu Hōzuki had stood up. What the hell, he had reasoned with a grin. He might as well be productive for the next few months and go through the stupid rigmarole of becoming an officer. And he was always up for a challenge anyway, though he failed to confess that the real reason behind his decision to sign up was at the opportunity to finally wield a sword legally. He had assumed he’d be the only one going, but to his surprise, the big guy (who was usually quiet 99.9% of the time during meetings but could turn into a homicidal maniac during missions) had stood up as well. Jūgo was his name, and he had admitted that he had a close relationship to one of the superior officers there, though they hadn’t seen each other in years. The third person to sign up had been even more of a surprise, for he usually didn’t like to work with others (read as Suigetsu) unless absolutely necessary. Kiba Inuzuka had proven himself to be a loyal fighter, but his real skills came in reconnaissance and spying.


And so with the three-man team assembled, Itachi had given his instructions, which they were to follow to a T. For starters, the three men were dispersed from their Tokyo headquarters; each to move to a new town and register as strangers, so there would be no way of knowing all three were in cohorts. The goal was to work and study as hard as possible, so all three could get into the same graduating class.


Goal accomplished.


And now – almost one year later - as they stood before their new leader/boss, Suigetsu couldn’t help stealing quick glances at his ‘comrades’ he hadn’t seen in a while. Kiba stood at the furthest line from him, and Jūgo was at the back, mostly due to his height, but Suigetsu had to resist grinning all the same. Wouldn’t the gang at the base be shocked to see them wearing the uniform of the watchdogs? It was almost a blasphemy and yet sweet revenge in a way.


Destroy from the inside out.


Heh. It was going to be too much fun. However, his only regret was never getting to see the famous ex-first captain, Uchiha Sasuke, in the flesh. Goodness knew he had a lot to say to that pompous prick, even if he was the younger brother to his beloved leader.





Kimimaro, for his part, had thought he was seeing things when he read through the list of new officers. The name Jūgo wasn’t exactly unusual, but it was seeing the blank space next to it, that made him wonder if it could possibly be the same kid he had grown up with back in his hometown. Only one person he knew would never write his family’s last name on any document just because he had been an orphan.


No…it couldn’t be possible, could it?


And yet as they had marched into the courtyard earlier, Kimimaro had almost lost his balance as he gawked at the orange-haired man, who had only gotten bigger, (which was an understatement) since the last time he saw him. How old had they been at the time? Twelve? Thirteen? Whatever the case, Jūgo had been his best and closest friend while growing up, and to see him here now - all these years later - had filled the officer’s heart with a happiness he had not felt in an eternity.


He did his best to keep his expression as blank and neutral as possible, not even daring to give a smile as he stood before Jūgo to inspect him. He was more than aware of Orochimaru’s hawk-eye attention given at this time, for this was almost always the moment when his master chose the fairest of the new recruits to become his ‘personal guards’ (bed warmers). Kimimaro knew Jūgo wouldn’t make the cut; not because he wasn’t handsome, but due to his towering height and somewhat slow disposition when not angered. He always gave the illusion of not being all that smart, but Kimimaro knew otherwise; for memories of the countless hours spent in the forest, where Jūgo seemed to know the name of every bird, animal, and plant, had impressed him greatly. In fact, those precious quiet moments with Jūgo were some of the best memories of his childhood.


He was proud of the big man for coming this far, and goodness knew he couldn’t wait to catch up with his long lost friend. Besides, it would more than make up for the void left behind after Haku’s defection. It still angered him (a little) that his thoughts would sometimes drift to the young man with the cheerful smile and seemingly innocent disposition. Perhaps taking in Haku had been his way of compensating for his decision to leave Jūgo behind and to find a better life for himself with Orochimaru, but Haku’s betrayal had hurt him more than he would care to admit. He found himself wondering if Haku was all right wherever he was. If nothing else, his one last wish was to see the boy again, to remind him of who had cared for him in his darkest days, before slitting his throat.


“You seem keen on the big one,” Orochimaru drawled as Kimimaro walked up the steps to stand beside him. “Someone you know?”


“He looks familiar, but no,” Kimimaro lied easily while pretending to read through the scroll. He could still feel Orochimaru’s gaze on him, but after being with the man for so long, Kimimaro had learned how to mask his real emotions effectively.


“No one here looks promising,” Orochimaru finally complained with a dramatic sigh. The officers were now being made to parade around the courtyard again; a final march before they would be delegated to their new quarters. “However, I need to build up my army as quickly as possible.” He closed his eyes and seemed to reflect on something. “There is a war coming on.”


“A war, my Lord?” Kimimaro asked in bemusement.


A cold smirk came to the pale lips before he lifted his lashes slowly. “Yes, indeed. Can you not smell it in the air? Japan is swelling with anger and rage, and one day it will self-destruct in the most spectacular way possible. An explosion of epic proportions you could say.”


Kimimaro said nothing, though his gaze drifted towards the sturdy, towering mountains that always watched over them like silent judges. He felt something flare through him; an emotion he was not too familiar with. Was that fear? Or just a case of not knowing what awaited them beyond the gates and walls that were supposed to ‘protect’ them? He lowered his gaze to the new recruits, and this time felt a jolt as those familiar brown eyes met his and held steady for a long moment. During the inspection, Jūgo had acted as if he did not know him, and Kimimaro did have to admit it hurt a little (perhaps Jūgo had forgotten about him). However, seeing those lips quirk into a barely noticeable smile filled his heart with that warmth again that brought a flush to his cheeks.


So he did remember after all!


His moment of happiness, however, was shattered as an officer walked up to them with a delivery; the familiar white scroll that, no doubt, contained information from the outside. Kimimaro stiffened as Orochimaru unrolled it quickly. The news was probably not exactly good for Orochimaru’s brows had formed a scowl and his features were darkening by the second.


“Kimimaro,” he barked coldly.


He straightened up immediately; aware that the time for reminiscing would have to be put by the way side. “Yes, my Lord.”


“Shimura Danzo seems to take me for a fool.”


“My Lord?” came the bemused query.


“Set up a meeting with the following members of the LDP. I plan to host a feast for them this weekend. See to it that they have no other option but to attend, and while you’re at it, find me a capable officer who will be making a little excursion for me.”




Orochimaru raised a brow as if dealing with a child. “Yes, my dear dolt of an assistant. Find me a capable officer that can make a long distance trip. I think we just might have our first lead of where our precious renegade crew now resides.” He rose from his chair, causing every officer in the courtyard to salute in respect at his departure. However, he stopped long enough to tap Kimimaro’s shoulder with the scroll. “Ah, and before I forget, send the new recruit with the silver hair to my quarters. He will do for tonight.”


“Yes, my Lord.”


With Orochimaru’s departure, it was left to him to congratulate the new recruits, wish them the best of luck, and have them dismissed. And though he carried out these functions automatically, his head and heart now throbbed with the revelation he had just heard.


There was a lead; a possible lead, and there was only one person he could think of willing to make such a trip on such short notice. Said officer hadn’t been to Byaku-Shinkyou in a few years, but a phone call ought to do the trick.


Soon he would have Haku within his grasp again, and this time, Kaguya Kimimaro was determined not to make the same mistake twice.





Sasuke was not in the best of moods.


In fact, it was safe to say his tolerance to deal with anyone’s bullshit - especially Jae Weong, who seemed to have a problem understanding the enormity of the situation – was at an all time low. After Shikamaru’s announcement, he had left the room (forgetting his crutch until Haku had run out to hand it to him), nearly pounded the elevator buttons until they broke, cursed the elevator for being so damn slow, and when he eventually got to the lobby downstairs, Jae Weong was nowhere to be found. Haku, who had followed, had gone around to search for the elusive landlord, but besides the old lady sleeping in the hallway, and the two children playing with a soccer ball outside amidst roaming chickens, there was still no sign of the older man.


Shikamaru, Karin, and Naruto showed up minutes later – just in time too or Sasuke might have begun yelling out for Jae. Without saying a word, Shikamaru led them through the cramped office, past a door they hadn’t really noticed before, and into a much darker (but wider) room that was filled with even more junk.


“This is where I take my calls,” he said as he led them past shelves filled with files, cardboard boxes and handy tools/equipment. There was a thick layer of dust in some places, creating a smell that was a mingle of wet stone and aged paper. A lone grimy window let in little light and was barely open to get in some fresh air. Haku and Karin had to swipe away cobwebs as they walked, but they eventually made out the two small tables and four wooden chairs that surrounded it. Sitting upon the tables were actually three telephones connected to a dizzying mishmash of wires they had to be careful not to trip over. There were also several notepads (some of which were filled with meaningless scribbles) and an old soup can containing writing materials to be used. On a shelf adjacent to the tables, sat a small television also coated with dust. However, it was the radio beside it that was quite impressive. It wasn’t just any ordinary radio, but it was the kind that was used in the past, where you had to wear a set of headphones and turn dials to listen to messages being sent from distant places. It didn’t look as dusty; an obvious sign that it was probably still being used to this day. Was that how Jae Weong kept in touch with his brother overseas?


“Do you know the number to where your girlfriend is?” Sasuke queried impatiently as he eyed Shikamaru and a phone simultaneously.


Shikamaru shook his head. “It’s an undisclosed location with a line that’s not traceable. She can only call me and not vice versa.”


“Fuck,” Sasuke muttered while running his hands through his hair and sending it into even more of a frazzled mess than it already was. He noticed Naruto was already settling into a chair and dragging a phone toward him – what he had planned to do in the first place, but somehow seeing the blond taking the initiative was making him even more pissed off.


“What do you think you’re doing?”


Naruto held up a piece of paper, while cradling the phone between his shoulder and neck. He began to dial the numbers written on it. “We want to get information, right? Jae’s gone…so we are basically on our own for now.”


“Yes, but who are you calling?” came the barely-snapped question.


Naruto ignored him and looked to Karin and Shikamaru. “This line is safe, yeah?”


“So far,” Shikamaru agreed. “But I’m with Sasuke in this one. Who are you calling? We can’t just go about calling anyone we like -”

“It’s an old friend of my father’s,” Naruto replied with a small smile. “He should be able to hel -”


“Hey! What you all doing in here?” came the sudden bellow that had Karin nearly giving a squeal of surprise and the males, spinning around at the intrusion. It was Jae, and he looked a little frazzled himself, though it seemed he was either just stepping out of the shower or soaked with sweat. He hastily tucked in his shirt into his pants and shuffled toward them with a raised brow. “Ah, this will teach me to lock the door before leaving…”


“We want information,” Sasuke clipped tightly. “We just heard word that an Akatsuki base was bombed and I want to know if my brother is all right.”


“He fine, he fine,” Jae replied with a wave of his hand in dismissal. “In fact, I just got off phone with him at my place.” He gave a smile at the visible sigh of relief that seemed to go through everyone…except for Sasuke who was still as tense as a bowstring. “You not believe me?”


“Can I speak to him?”


“Yes. I went upstairs to see you all and to tell you that he will call you in about thirty minutes.” Jae shook his head; looking aghast. “Imagine my surprise when I go up there and no one is there. I nearly shit my pants as you say.”


Naruto chuckled and dropped the receiver. “Sorry, man. We were all just so worried. Shika’s girlfriend made it seem like all hell had broken loose back home.”


Jae shrugged and motioned for them to sit while dragging an extra chair for Haku, who was perfectly fine with standing beside his master.


“You just wait…call will come. Phone number 2.” He pointed to the black one in the middle (it was the only black one as the others were beige). “As soon as it ring…” He nodded to Shikamaru to finish the rest.


“As soon as it rings, you hear nothing at first,” Shikamaru explained. “You have to press seven and the star key, say the following code.” He reach for a pen and piece of paper, scribbled out what it was and passed it around. “And then it connects you through. Got it?”


They nodded in unison and settled back to play the waiting game…which was agonizing in itself. Jae had luckily, turned on the television, but had to fidget with the antenna because the pictures weren’t exactly clear. He was wise enough to keep the volume at its lowest, so it wouldn’t interrupt the conversation. Not that it was worth the trouble as the television only seemed to have stations that focused on either kid programs or silly game shows. The one serious program turned out to be a documentary about a newly-built hospital in the downtown area.




Sasuke kept his gaze firmly on the phone as if hoping it would perhaps ring with the just the power of his eyes or something ridiculous like that. He ignored Karin’s gentle squeeze of his shoulder; resisting the urge to shrug it off in annoyance at how patronizing she was being. A part of him felt he wasn’t really being fair, since she was only trying to comfort him, but in his current mindset, he just couldn’t relax until he heard Itachi and heard the truth directly from him. He knew he shouldn’t have bought Shikamaru’s story, and yet the initial shock that had coursed through him at the notion of losing his brother (all over again!) had galvanized him action. There had simply been no time to think, and as ludicrous as it might have been, Sasuke was sure he would have probably found a way to get onto the next boat going to Japan. All he had heard in his head was a painful drumming sound that made his eyes sting and tear up a little. He knew he wasn’t about to burst into tears, but it was a blinding headache all the same.


Words could not describe the rush of relief that went through him at Jae’s reassurance that Itachi was still alive and well. His knees had nearly buckled, but thankful for the crutch to keep him steady, he had saved himself the embarrassment of showing his weakness. But still, he wasn’t going to be satisfied until he was sure Itachi was truly all right. Until then –


What are they doing?


He managed to finally tear his gaze away from the phone to notice Haku had left his position behind him to crouch beside Naruto’s chair. They were both looking at something Haku was holding cupped within his palms and as they leaned closer to each other to examine it, Sasuke felt something hard settle within the pit of his stomach as Naruto’s words came back to haunt him.


/You’re attracted to him? /

/Well…if he was a girl…/

/So if he was a girl, you’d be with him? /

/No doubt. I like the guy. /


He captured his lower lip between his teeth as they chuckled/giggled over whatever it was they were looking at, while absently rubbing his stomach to ease the knot forming there. He didn’t care. Of course he didn’t care. Naruto was too stupid to realize just how mixed up he was when it came to his relationships with other people (male or female), and it wasn’t up to him to make that decision for the blond. Let him sweat it out himself until he figures out what he really wants.




“Haku,” he called out in what he hoped wasn’t too snappish or irritated a tone. They really didn’t have to be that close to each other, did they?


“Yes, Sasuke-sama?” Haku looked up with that same innocuous smile on his face. “Did you need something?”


Yes, to stop breathing down his fucking neck.


Sasuke – now aware that Naruto was watching him as well – ignored him as best he could and nodded toward his crutch. “Could you help me place this against the wall there?”


“I could have done that for you,” Karin chimed in.


“It’s okay, I can do it,” Haku replied immediately as he rose to his feet (for the last thing he needed was for Karin to begin doing everything for his master), but not before motioning for Naruto to hold out his hands so he could place the ‘thing’ in there. Sasuke caught the flutter of wings and realized that Haku had somehow caught either a moth or butterfly in this underground bunker of sorts. It was now under the blond’s protection apparently, and said blond now had a knowing smirk on his lips that caused Sasuke’s cheeks to flame in awareness.


Like hell, I’ll let you hog him to yourself, Sasuke thought in frustrated anger, but that dissipated quickly as the sudden harsh ring of the phone nearly sent them all jumping in surprise.


“Holy shit, that’s loud,” Naruto breathed while Sasuke reached out to pick up the receiver. He followed Shikamaru’s instructions with his heart racing at a mile a minute, and just when he thought he would never hear the other voice…




Sasuke really did have to hold back his emotions this time by biting down even harder on his lip and gripping the receiver until his knuckles turned white. Never had that voice sounded so good and welcoming to him at this time.


“Use the speaker, so we can all hear him,” Naruto suggested, and before Sasuke could even agree to it, the blond had pressed the appropriate button to hail out in greeting.


“Itachi! How are you?!”


Sasuke glared in annoyance at Naruto’s antics, but when everyone else began to pester his brother with questions, and Itachi could only chuckle weakly at the other end while begging them to give him some time to breathe, he lowered the receiver back into its place and tried to relax.


“I’m really glad to hear you are all doing well,” Itachi said with a smile in his voice. “It’s so good to hear your voices again.”


“Us too,” Karin admitted. “How is everything? We heard the news from Temari about a bombing? What’s going on?”


“Shisui and I are fine, but…Temari is right. It’s not really a base of ours, but rather…” He began to recount the incidents taking place in different parts of the country, and just how volatile things were becoming. The five of them listened with pensive expressions; Karin worrying her lip, Haku with hands clasped before him and his eyes filling with unshed tears, Shikamaru with his head lowered though his hands were forming tight fists on his lap, Naruto with his chin resting on the table with an unreadable expression in his eyes, and Sasuke with a frown and a tight clenching of his jaw.


Japan was a powder keg just waiting to explode.


“I need not tell you that for your best interest, you have to remain there and begin training, because you might be coming home sooner than you think,” Itachi stated. “Naruto…are you still there?”


“Yeah, I am…”


“You especially,” Itachi said gravely. “I hate to have to put you on the spot with this, but we felt it was best you make the decision on what you want to do when it comes to Danzo. I spoke to Dr. Woo and he says your shoulder is just about healed. You just have to work on strengthening your muscles again…well your entire body…and if you say yes, I’ll make plans to send you back to Japan where you can meet up with Danzo. It’s all up to you how you want to go about this.”


Naruto lowered his lashes. His heart was a jackhammer within his chest. His palms were sweaty, and his tongue felt like a heavy lump within his mouth. Danzo was on a personal hunt for him now. Danzo wanted him to be the one to take out Ikegami if possible, and what better way to get closer to the kumichō of the Syndicate than accepting the offer. It would be so easy to say “yes” and get it over and done with, but he needed more time to think…and to call Jiraiya for advice. As well as…


He lifted his lashes, and this time, met the dark inscrutable ones across him. Sasuke wasn’t exactly giving him any visible signals, but Naruto felt he ought to speak to this guy about things first for some inexplicable reason.


It would mean leaving him…all of them…and setting out on my own…


“If you’re worried about being alone in this,”’ Itachi said to break through his thoughts. “You do not have to worry. I have a group of fine young men and women like yourself willing to help you in whatever capacity. We might be hated by the masses, but we still have those who believe in the cause and will fight until justice prevails. They will be your allies.”


Naruto expelled a soft whoosh of air from pursed lips.


“Gimme a couple of days to think it over,” he finally said aloud. An audible soft sob had him looking up to notice that Haku had actually been crying silently. Naruto felt something warm surge within his heart at the idea that someone actually gave a shit about whether he left or not, and resisted the urge to burst out the waterworks as well. He sat up and took a deep breath, while smiling warmly at Haku. “Yeah…just give me about a week to come up with my final decision, is that okay?”


“That’s fine with me,” Itachi agreed. “This is not a decision you have to rush into after all. How are the blueprints coming along?”


“Great!” Karin replied with much enthusiasm. “They are really fantastic, Itachi. You really ought to see them. Speaking of which, when will you be coming back for a visit?”


“When it’s safe, and I put that word in quotations, enough to come over,” Itachi confessed. “There are still a lot of loose ends we have to finish up here, but until then, I want you all to find the time to relax and enjoy yourselves for a while. You should be able to leave the apartment now and go for a little sightseeing every now and then, eh?”


There was a collective murmur of agreement or discord – one couldn’t tell – but Itachi insisted. “I hate to be pessimistic, but you should really enjoy your freedom now while you have it. Get healthy, see the sights and sounds, and return with a sound heart and mind. You cannot enter battle with any other mentality. Does that make sense?”


“Yes, sensei! We plan to party like it’s the end of the world!” Naruto cried with a mock wave of his hands as if in a classroom. This earned chuckles from everyone and a reluctant smile from Sasuke.


“Well, I’m glad to hear it,” Itachi stated. “Now, if you all don’t mind…I’d like to speak to my brother alone for a few minutes...”


“What?” Naruto teased. “Whatever you’ve got to tell him, you can tell us too.” He grinned at Sasuke, who lifted his middle finger in salute and mouthed the words ‘get out of here already!’ For that, he got a swipe at the back of his head when Naruto and the others began to leave the room. He spun around to protest, and got a childish raspberry blown his way before the door slammed to leave him in blissful peace and quiet.


“That bastard,” he muttered beneath his breath, though it was hard to stay pissed considering just how silly being blown a raspberry was in the first place. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen or done such a thing…maybe to Itachi when he was a child.


“Was that a raspberry?” Itachi asked with a chuckle.


“Yeah…guess who did it?”


He could literally hear Itachi grinning on the other end. “Well, at least I’m glad you two seem to be getting along.”








“You two are getting along, aren’t you?”


I have a hickey on my neck, and I’m somewhat jealous that he seems to like my servant more than me, but otherwise…


“We’re cordial,” he said aloud, though he was unaware of absently caressing his neck. “We’re almost done with the blueprints. Been working nonstop for the past three days, and I think I’m even beginning to dream of lines and blocks.” He sighed and closed his eyes. “To be honest…it’s like I don’t even know the place anymore, nii-san. You wouldn’t even recognize it anymore. Orochimaru has fucked things up so bad, it’s pathetic. Father would be rolling...if he isn’t already...in his grave.”


(and I stood by and let it all happen)


He spoke of all the changes in architecture, including the numerous additions Orochimaru had overseen since he came into power. He described as best he could the changes noted in Naruto and Shikamaru’s drawings, so much so that even as Itachi tried to sketch them out on his side, he couldn’t reconcile the Byaku-Shinkyou he had known as a child to what Sasuke was describing to him now.


“It’s going to be tricky getting in there without being noticed now,” Sasuke admitted.


“Not to worry much,” Itachi replied. “We have three new recruits just admitted into the place. Jūgo, Inuzuka Kiba, and Hōzuki Suigetsu.”


Hōzuki? Sasuke frowned. Why did that name sound familiar?


“Ah, that’s true, isn’t it?” Itachi said with a snap of his fingers. “His older brother…Suigetsu’s I mean…was arrested and sent to Byaku-Shinkyou a few years back, wasn’t he? Hōzuki Mangetsu was his name, I believe.”




Damn it.


“I don’t believe he made it out alive,” Itachi finished quietly, causing Sasuke to groan inwardly and close his eyes. Of course he hadn’t. The Hōzuki that was sentenced to Gudan had been responsible for several meaningless deaths across the country. At the time, the bloodthirsty bastard had deserved to go through the purification rites, and if this Suigetsu was anything like the elder…


“Suigetsu is harmless…for the most part,” Itachi reassured him quietly. “So yes, he probably will want to kick your ass if you ever meet, but other than that, he really hates Orochimaru and will do anything to help us bring him down. So if you ever do see each other, please allow him to vent a little until he’s satisfied, eh?”


“Thanks a lot, nii-san,” Sasuke replied as sarcastically as he could muster. “If I show up in a body bag, be prepared to take responsibility.”


After suffering through Itachi’s teasing, they chatted for a few more minutes about life in both places – that had nothing to do with deaths or destruction – until Itachi had to leave to attend to other matters.


“Remember to take care of yourself,” he advised again with worry in his tone. “Dr. Woo says the wound is healing nicely, so in a week or so, you should be able to begin more strenuous training, yes?”


“I hope so,” Sasuke agreed as he eyed his leg with an inner sigh. He pounded the thigh with a fist. The idea of being stuck here waiting for this to heal while Naruto leaves to begin his fight…






“You okay?”


“…yes…why do you ask?”


“You gave a pretty depressed-sounding sigh there.”


“I want to get better, that’s all,” he said, though he knew it was really more than that. If Naruto left then…then…


(I might never see him again)


And he hated the way his heart seemed to tighten at the very idea of that happening. Good grief, but this was worse than he imagined.


“Sasuke? Are you…?”


“I should go,” he croaked thickly and shook his head. “I’m sure you have a lot to do as well. Just…try to keep in touch more often, okay?”


“I will,” Itachi promised. “Goodbye dearest little brother. I shall miss you now and until we meet again.”


Sasuke had the grace to flush at the term of endearment and flowery sentimental farewell. “Shut up,” he murmured and hung up before he made a fool of himself.


However, he still couldn’t get himself to move, for his mind was a jumbled mass of conflicting thoughts that eventually had him lowering his head to the table, groaning in misery and closing his eyes. How he wished everything could go back to the way it used to be.


When something soft fluttered onto his finger, he lifted his lashes wearily to see it was the damn moth (thought it sort of looked like a monarch butterfly). Sasuke’s initial instinct was to flick it off, but as it continued to flap its wings gently – not even seeming to care that it was perched on a human – Sasuke sighed and studied it absently.


Moths or butterflies deserved to fly, didn’t they? They deserved their freedom, didn’t they? What would happen if he snapped those wings apart? Why it would cripple the insect, wouldn’t it? How many wings had he clipped away in his life so far? How many had been denied the right to freedom at his hands? Suigetsu Hōzuki would just have to join the extremely long queue of those who had a beef to grind with him especially with the person who was currently leading the damn queue.


“If you’re looking for him,” Sasuke whispered to the moth/butterfly (still couldn’t make up his damn mind about which it was). “He’s gone…and he’ll be gone soon…as it was meant to be anyway…”


When this whole thing was over, they would go their separate ways after all. Nothing lasts forever. Not even ‘cordial’ friendships.


He blew the moth/butterfly away gently, but to his chagrin, it returned to perch on his finger again. “Look, I can’t take care of you,” Sasuke said with a sigh of exasperation. “Go fly back to your nest or wherever the fuck you came from…”


He began to shake it off, when the door flew open as if the very hounds of hell had come seeking  a new target.


“You didn’t kill it, did you?!” were the first words out of the blond’s lips as he ran up to the table with widened eyes. “Haku’s been whining about me forgetting it…” He finally stopped talking as he noticed the insect on Sasuke’s finger. The panic on his visage eased into a smile that had Sasuke shaking his head in immediate denial.


“I wasn’t bringing it up to…”


“You’re so nice to take care of it for us, eh? Here…hand it over.”


“It won’t budge,” Sasuke muttered in embarrassment. “I keep trying to shake it off and it won’t leave me alone.”


Naruto stooped to his haunches until he was eye level with Sasuke’s hand. His only goal was to get the butterfly, and without really thinking much about it, he clasped Sasuke’s hand gently within his left and with his right, plucked off the insect with a tenderness that was surprising to the dark-haired man.


(don’t stare at his lips...do not stare at them and wish they were on your skin again. do not acknowledge the tingle creeping up your arm with the way he’s holding you, neither must you focus too much on how his hand feels...slightly hardened with all the work he’s been doing...yet somehow soft...and those eyes...if you look into them he will know...he will tell that all this time, you’ve just been...)


“There…” Naruto whispered as the butterfly settled upon the back of his hand. “See? I’m not such a meanie like the other guy.”


“Let…” Sasuke swallowed; turning crimson for he felt his hand tremble within Naruto’s. “You can release me now.”


“Huh?” Naruto looked up in bemusement, for a long second, hardly aware of exactly what Sasuke was complaining about now...except finding himself so damn close to him again...especially after that odd discussion about Haku and the sudden, burning, searing recollection of tasting...kissing...sucking...licking that slightly salty sweet skin and how those eyes were so dark and deep set and...


(you’re still holding his goddamn hand!)


“Ah…sor…sorry,” he stuttered; dropping the hand so fast, you’d assume it was on fire. With a slight shake of his head, he rose to his feet quickly and began to back away. “I’ll…eh…go give this back to Haku. See…see ya.”


He was out of the room before Sasuke could form another coherent response, but it was enough. For those few nearly heart-stopping minutes where his hand had been touched with a tenderness he had not felt in a while, and where he had just witnessed a softer side of Uzumaki Naruto - was more than enough for one day.


With a barely concealed groan of agony, he laid his aching head upon the desk, and squeezed his eyes shut in weary resignation.


What the hell do I do now, nii-san? Just what the hell am I supposed to do?




Chapter 26

Naruto Home






















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