Chapter 33:

Beneath the Veil


If I see that bridge
That is spanned by flights of magpies
Across the arc of heaven
Made white with a deep-laid frost,
Then the night is almost past.

-Otomo no Yakamochi




After an extremely successful raid/bust - where Asuma’s squad had seized several thousand kilos of illegal contraband – mostly cocaine, heroin, and unprocessed opium – I was subjected to his drivel about the effects of drugs on the human mind and body. I was half-listening, considering I was left with the task of completing the mountain of paperwork, while he lounged lazily on the veranda smoking. He seemed intent on telling me about all the drugs he had experimented with as a younger man for some inane reason.


“...and then there was opium,” he reminisced with a reflective smile as rings of smoke escaped into the air before his face. “You do know opium, don’t you?”


“Mmmmhmm...” I mumbled absently while stamping another signed decree. Of course I knew what opium was. Orochimaru smoked the damn thing sometimes and the stench often reminded me of the incense that was burned in the temples...the sickening kind.


“, when you hit that thing, it’s like whoomp! Immediate heaviness – like someone just slammed into you, but in a good way. Then just like that...bliss.” He gave a sigh as if lovesick. “It’s amazing how light you you’re floating on air, you can’t feel your can’t even see them.” He laughed softly. “Everything feels a-okay, you feel like you could do any fucking thing, you’re the only bright light amongst shadows and damn if everything doesn’t seem to sparkle at the same time. Pretty fucking weird experience all around. Pity that doesn’t last for too long though...”


Pity indeed.


Still, if Asuma were here, I’d probably tell him that I was just about experiencing the same effects he had so aptly described back then. Stealing a surreptitious glance, every now and then, at the silent blond beside me, I tried to tell my thudding heart that I should only take his words at the playground at face value. I told myself that I shouldn’t expect too much even if it had seemed like he was willing to give us another chance. I had no idea what ‘us’ really entailed, if Naruto simply just wanted the physical aspect of it to continue, or if he was willing


(what exactly?)


I furrowed my brows in thought. Was I naïve enough to believe that anything more could come from our relationship? What exactly was I looking for? Someone that I could spend the rest of my life with? A companion I could come home to after a long day, talk to or listen to, and share my bed at night? Weren’t those roles reserved for the opposite sex; a role that my mother had performed so lovingly and dutifully for my father? Was I looking for someone to play the role of ‘mother’ in my life? If that was the case, then Naruto was definitely out of the question. Just the very mental picture of him waiting at home for me - looking docile or meek - was too much to deal with.


“What’s so funny?” he asked when my light chuckle broke free.


I shook my head and gave a light shrug. “Nothing. Just...”


I glanced at him again; as tall as me, shoulders that now looked stronger and leaner thanks to his training, a face that has been battered and bruised and still managed to look so fascinating, those lips that had tasted sweet and salty, to eyes that were filled with bemusement and slight amusement at the same time. We were not holding hands – we would reserve that mushy sentiment for the females – but we were walking close enough that we would bump into each other every now and then, and as my arm brushed his again...I couldn’t help the small smile that came to my lips.


“Nothing at all,” I repeated quietly. I just hoped he wouldn’t be able to read my thoughts as it would be rather embarrassing to reveal my real line of thinking.


It did make me wonder, again, about why we did have the ability to see into each other’s minds. We had not really experienced that since Gudan, and yet tonight...for some inexplicable reason, it had returned. Why? Were we only able to experience this ‘telepathy’ when we really wanted to? Did we have to concentrate extra hard (though I don’t recall doing any such thing in the first place), or did it just come whenever it felt like it?


Why waste my time bothering about it? If it happens, then it happens. There are just some things that defy logic, and this is one of them.


I took a deep breath. “And what are you thinking about? You’ve been pretty quiet. Changing your mind already?”


“Changing my mind about what?” he asked with a raised brow, and I was grateful that darkness had finally fallen so he couldn’t see how flushed my features had become.


“What you said at the swings,” I mumbled and kicked myself inwardly for even talking about it. Let sleeping dogs lie, right? Maybe I should have just kept my big mouth shut before giving him reasons to doubt his decision to –


“Why would I change my mind?” came the barely audible reply that had me looking at him. His body language clearly spoke of his embarrassment as well, and there was something rather...endearing about how he seemed to hunch within himself; hands sinking deeper into his pockets, his feet kicking and shuffling at the ground, while his gaze seemed trained on nothing in particular. I felt that now familiar hard twist within my chest; that emotion that let me know that at least for tonight, I would have him to myself again. Even if it was for ten minutes before Haku returned, it would be more than enough to tell him just how much I –


“Yikes...rain drops?”


I looked up and felt the first few plops of wetness upon my forehead and cheeks. The winds had picked up a little, and though the rest of the day had been relatively sunny, this was quite unexpected. The weather in Buk-gu was so damn unpredictable.


“Let’s hurry before it gets heavier,” I said as I began to walk faster. We were almost home anyway. “Might just end up being a drizzle.”


“Yeah,” Naruto agreed as he matched my strides. “Let’s hope Haku makes it before it does get bad. Don’t think he took an umbrella with him.”


Unfortunately, I was wrong. The ‘drizzle’ – with another sudden gust of wind – immediately became a downpour; as if the heavens were not even going to bother with the step-by-step process before punishing mere mortals with its tears of fury. I could finally see our apartment building – thank God – and though I was about to suggest that we take shelter beneath the awning of a nearby shop, I figured we could make it if we ran really fast. We were already drenched, so why would an extra five minutes kill us?


“Wait!” Naruto suddenly yelled out, forcing me to come to a stop.


“What now?!” I shouted, having to turn to notice he wasn’t running after me. However, he had this rather odd smile on his face that made me frown in confusion. What the fuck was so funny? “What are you doing? Let’s go already! We’re getting soaked!”


He jogged up to me and with that smile still on his face, the sneaky bastard reached out to grab fistfuls of my jacket.


“Naruto...!” I cried out, only for whatever else I would have said to be lost within the not unpleasant pressure of his lips against mine.


Fuck yes!


I didn’t allow myself to question why he was doing this and simply gave in with as much interest; my tongue seeking his hungrily and devouring when offered willingly. I literally felt as if we were molding our bodies to one another, unmindful of any curious looks coming our way (who would be bothered to want to stop in the middle of the pouring rain to watch us anyway?), or the fact that the rain kept beating mercilessly on our flesh. I reached up to cup his cheeks roughly, forcing him to release the grip on my shirt though his hands did find their way down to my sides and then...


(how embarrassing!)


...sink themselves into the back pockets of my pants to pull me even tighter still against him. If the rain hadn’t made it obvious that we were both terribly aroused by all of this, the additional friction caused by the bulges in our nether regions nearly had my knees trembling in anticipation. I wanted him bad. I wanted to taste every inch of this man until I had him screaming my name. I wanted to dare myself to even go as far as taking him within my mouth, to experience what Haku must have and to prove that I too could bring him to the realms of orgasmic bliss with just my lips and tongue. God, how I longed for the challenge.


“Nar...Naruto,” I panted breathlessly as I finally pulled away, but just so far, to get some much-needed air. My head was spinning. I was feverish, all but burning up with desire, and as I met those heated blue eyes that said so much, I knew we had to leave now.


“Let’s go,” he whispered thickly with a sensual lick of his lips that had me aching terribly. I simply nodded and (mushy sentiment be damned), tugged his hand and began to lead him back to the building.  


We have time, I thought quickly; not wanting to release this haze of lust enveloping me like a cloud. Half an hour at least until Haku returns. We have –


I blushed as I felt the sudden squeeze of his fingers around mine, but I didn’t want to look at him because I was sure if I did, we’d probably never make it to the building. I’d drag him into an alley nearby and –


“Hey...isn’t that Jae Weong?”


Goddamn it! What does that old coot want with us now?


Sure enough, it was the building’s landlord at the gate with an umbrella and a somewhat pensive expression on his visage. He waved at us and with a muttered curse beneath my breath – somehow knowing that whatever Naruto and I had planned mere minutes earlier was going to have to wait for a while – I waved back warily.


“I looking for you two,” Jae began as we approached. He held the umbrella over our heads – which was pretty pointless – and ushered us into the lobby. “Your brother called here twice already. He want to speak to you.”


At that, Naruto and I exchanged a look; knowing damn well that for Itachi to call so incessantly must mean there was something up.


“Did he say why he was calling?” I asked as we followed Jae Weong into the underground ‘communications’ room.


“He not tell me,” Jae Weong admitted. “But he say he will call back in about...” He eyed the clock on the wall. “Ten more minutes. So you stay here.”


Like he needed to tell us that. Naruto and I pulled up two of the wooden chairs to the table and prepared ourselves for the wait, while Jae Weong muttered something about leaking roofs and excused himself. In the silence, broken only by the faint sound of thunder outside, and the drip drip drip of water from our soaked clothes and shoes, we stared at the phone as if waiting for Armageddon.


“What do you think he’s calling us for?” Naruto finally asked as he took off his face cap and shook it out before giving a sneeze. The cold was obviously beginning to settle in; our feverish high from the kiss in the rain, now waning with the harsh reality around us.


“I can only imagine he’s gotten some new information,” I replied quietly. I took off my face cap as well and closed my eyes. All of a sudden, I felt a sense of trepidation. It was queasiness in my stomach that made me want to vomit. The sudden sound of the door opening had us sitting up and looking toward it quickly, but it was only Shikamaru who gave us a nod of acknowledgement.


“Hey, Shika!” Naruto greeted jovially. “’Sup?”


“Jae Weong told me you two were back,” he said as he too pulled up a chair and eyed our wet appearance. “I won’t even bother asking where you guys spent most of the day -”


The shrill ring of the phone interrupted his words, but had me all but diving for the device.


“Itachi?” I called out, panicking slightly when I heard nothing else at the other end of the line until I remembered I had to punch in a few keys (code) before connecting the lines. Damn it!


“Itachi?” I tried again after finally getting it right.


“Sasuke? Are you alone?” He sounded faint, as if calling from some place high.


“I’m with Naruto and Shikamaru,” I replied. I put him on speaker so everyone else could hear him. “Where are you? And what’s going on?”


“Hello Naruto...Shikamaru,” he greeted first; waiting until he heard their responses before continuing. “I’m on a train heading back to Tokyo. I was just in Hokkaido for a meeting with a few people you might find interesting when you return. Do you recall the conversation we had the other day about a possible plant in Buk-gu?”


“Yes...” A few people I might find interesting? What is he talking abou-?


“Well, seems like our theories were right,” Itachi stated; his voice becoming a little clearer. “Jūgo has been keeping me updated and with his last coded message, it appears that Kimimaro was the one responsible for sending the member of the secret police down there.”


The three of us looked at each other, Naruto and I more so, and that feeling of trepidation grew tenfold. I glanced at the clock. Haku had promised to be back within the hour. It was only five minutes past said hour and though I figured he’d head straight upstairs when he arrived, there was still that nagging feeling that –


“...revealed that it was someone by the name of Shin. Does that name ring a bell?” Itachi asked.


“Shin...yes,” I replied warily. “He was in training to become a watchdog a few years back, but was ‘chosen’ by Orochimaru to become a member of his super elite. He was just there one day and the next...gone.”


“Figures,” Itachi mumbled. “Do you remember what he looks like?”


I sighed heavily, and with unspoken approval from my companions, I began to tell Itachi about Sai and his relationship with Haku. By the time I was done, the deafening silence at the other end was enough to tell me that things were about to change drastically.


“Where is Haku now?” Itachi eventually asked.


“He hasn’t returned,” Naruto replied. “Or at least we don’t know if he has -”


“I’ll go check quickly,” Shikamaru offered as he rose to his feet and left the room before either of us could stop him. Every second he was away was like a death knell in my heart. I could feel my palms getting sweaty, and I tried to steady my be calm...


“He’s going to be fine,” came the sudden low whisper that had me looking up at the man across me. Naruto – though clear he was concerned as well – had a small smile of reassurance on his features. “You said he was one of the strongest fighters you’ve met, right? Besides, I doubt he’ll get himself in trouble. He’s already probably upstairs waiting for you -”


“No dice,” came the firm words from Shikamaru as he walked back in. “Jae Weong’s been monitoring the doorway and no sign of Haku yet. I did tell him to make sure he tells Haku we’re in here when he returns.”


“Maybe it’s the rain,” Naruto – ever the optimist - said. “He’s probably sitting it out and waiting until it’s over before coming back. Let’s give him one more hour before going out to look for him.”


“And where the fuck would we even begin looking?” I snapped with an irritation that stemmed not from anger at him, but at myself for even sending Haku out to this damned ‘date’ in the first place. If anything happened to him, it would no doubt be my fault. I had sent him on this ‘mission’, and his loyalty to me would end up causing his death. Goddamn it!


“Like Naruto said,” Itachi was saying. “Let’s give him another hour before writing him off, Sasuke. I know you’re worried...we all are, but Haku has proven to be able to take care of himself. So have a little faith in him, eh? In the interim, I will speak to Jiraiya as soon as I’m done with you. You should all begin to make preparations for leaving. If Shin or Sai or whatever the hell he is, has been on this mission for a while, you can be sure he’s been sending information back to Orochimaru all this time. It’s likely there might be others with him. We cannot take any chances. Jae Weong, and hopefully Jiraiya, will help facilitate your departure.”


“How soon are we looking at here?” Shikamaru asked. “Temari and I had planned our wedding for Wednesday. I don’t mind canceling it. I just want to tell her exactly when we have to leave that’s all.”


There was a long pause at the other end of the line before Itachi returned. “I’m really sorry this had to happen now, Shikamaru. I realize how long you and Temari must have waited for this moment and -”


“Hey, no sweat,” Shikamaru replied with a small smile, though I could tell he was disappointed. “Life isn’t always prone to give you what you want, and you have to make do with what you’ve got, eh? If Temari and I could wait for two years, what’s another two?”


“Look, let’s just wait to hear what Haku says when he returns, right?” Naruto said with a shrug. “I mean...let’s look at this here. If Sai’s been around for such a long time, how come he’s not made any move to take any of us out yet? What if he really does like Haku and doesn’t want to get us in trouble? The guy isn’t exactly making any attempt to hide who he really is...well besides us figuring he’s actually a spy. So before we go running away, let’s wait to hear Haku’s final report.”


“How naïve can you possibly be?” I asked with my irritation growing by the second. “He’s already been sending information to Orochimaru and Kimimaro all this time. The reason why he’s so hung up on Haku is for purely selfish reasons. Guys like Sai have a one-track mind and are purely committed to finishing their assigned missions, no matter how long it takes. It’s only a matter of time before he snaps, and when he does, do you think he’ll be ‘nice’ enough to spare any of us? Like Itachi said, he might not be working alone! Sitting here and giving him the benefit of the doubt is not helping anyone especially Haku!”


“Don’t yell at us,” Naruto snapped back just as angrily. “We’re all just as worried as you are, all right? Just calm the fuck down and wait for him to show up with more information we could use! Besides, my theory still stands, if there are others working with him, how come we aren’t dead or haven’t been ambushed yet?!”


“Naruto’s got a point, Sasuke,” Shikamaru replied quietly as Naruto and I continued to glare at each other. “All we can do now is wait. Haku’s the key to all of this for now.”


I cursed beneath my breath and turned away from those seemingly accusing blue eyes.


You sent him out there, they seemed to say, and though I knew I was only imagining it and I was overplaying the guilt-trip card, I still couldn’t help it.


“...else does this Jūgo person know?” Naruto was asking. “And how come he’s so close to that guy anyway? I thought he was Orochimaru’s like...second in command or something?”


“They were apparently childhood friends,” Itachi explained. “And Jūgo does have the ability to stoke one’s inner kindness when he sets his mind to it. Let’s just say he and Kimimaro have been doing a lot of catching up and in the throes of passion...we sometimes let slip information we’d rather not.”


I felt my cheeks burn at the insinuation, daring to steal a glance at Naruto, who was busy biting on a fingernail and not really as aware of what Itachi’s words meant.


In the throes of passion...argh! This was not the time to be thinking of that!


I looked at the clock again. Twenty minutes past. Still no Haku.


“ Kiba, Orochimaru’s been working hard on more additions to the underground labyrinths.” I forced myself back to the conversation; my brows raising at this new information. “Kiba says they’ve almost completed the renovation of the arena as well as some of the houses that got burned during our attack.” Itachi sighed heavily. I could almost picture him running his fingers through his hair in frustration. “He’s also not definite, but he believes Orochimaru’s been hiring a whole lot more officers for his special army. There’s been a lot of ‘disappearances’ of some officers lately. Kiba feels he might be chosen next. Suigetsu’s already been picked, which is why I haven’t heard from him in a while. God knows where they’ve taken him and the others to.”


“And you don’t believe he’ll betray us?” Shikamaru asked warily.


“Suigetsu might be a head case, but he’s loyal. I wouldn’t worry too much about him spilling anything about us to Orochimaru.”


“What about our other problem?” Naruto asked in a tone that gave nothing away of what he was really thinking. I watched him carefully all the same.


“If you mean Danzo, then he has been smart enough to lay low recently. He’s trying to disassociate himself from the recent attacks and it’s getting Ikegami restless. Danzo’s beginning to put together a campaign aiming for the public’s sympathy while trying to get re-elected into the DIET. However, we’re making things a little difficult for him. Several of our members have become aides to councilmen working hard to prevent Danzo from getting the votes he needs to even be considered for re-election. I already told you about Councilman Onoki’s role in all of this. He’s spearheading the anti-Danzo sentiment and so seems to be working.”


“But...?” Shikamaru prodded.


“But Danzo has the money and some loyalists within the ranks; most of who are senior members of the parliament. Hell, I’m sure he even has the prime minister in his pocket, because the bastard is sure as hell not playing ball with those who want Danzo out. Our next plan of action is to -”




The sudden fizzling sound akin to static, but not quite, was a loud jolt to us. The silence that proceeded it was more alarming.


“Wha...what...?” I tapped the telephone foolishly as if that would help make it work again. “What the hell happened?! Itachi?!”


“Disconnected probably,” Shikamaru reasoned with a heavy sigh. “Guess we’ll just have to wait...for either Itachi to call back or Haku to show up, whichever comes first.”


I opened my mouth to refute his thinking, but the loud scrape of the chair across the floor signaled Naruto rising to his feet. “I’m going to wait with Jae Weong,” he announced with a firm nod as if unwilling to engage in an argument with his decision. “Let me know when Itachi calls back.”


He left before I could stop him, not that he would have listened to me anyway if I tried to make him stay. All the same, I was torn because I felt I ought to be the one waiting at the door, but at the same time, I didn’t want to miss my brother should he return with more important information. I slumped back on my chair and pinched the bridge of my nose as my head began to throb with a headache. With so many different thoughts and possible scenarios going on in my head, it was all I could do not to scream in frustration.


Where are you, Haku?  I prayed inwardly with every ominous ticking of the clock. Just where the hell are you?








Looking back, Haku would marvel at how everything seemed to go downhill so damn quickly.


For most of the day, being with Sai had been a surprising pleasure. There were times he had to remind himself that he had a job to do for Sai had the knack of pouring on the charm effortlessly, which in turn caused Haku to be distracted more often than he’d like. In addition, he had made no overt moves (like the surprise kiss), and the closest he had come to being that intimate was holding onto Haku’s hand as they went through the museum.


Conversation had been light for the most part, Haku choosing to downplay his curiosity until the time was right. He knew he couldn’t just blurt out the obvious like “who are you really and who do you work for?”  Hence he stuck to revealing more of himself in little bits and pieces while studying Sai’s body language at the same time.


Too good, Haku had thought when during a break for a quick snack at the arcade, Haku had mentioned that it was the first time ever he had been to such a place. “Where I grew up, there was no time for me to play such things. I had to train a lot in a dojo. Every now and then, they’d pair us up with someone else, and I sometimes got to spar with Shin-chan.”

“The one you said looks like me?” Sai had replied with a smile that gave nothing away besides genuine curiosity and interest.


“That’s right.”


“Was he strong?”


Haku nodded emphatically. “Oh yes! Shin was second only to of the other boys in the dojo that he was often paired up with. You should have seen them both spar. You’d think they wanted to kill each other!”


It was the wistful smile that came to Sai’s face that told Haku everything, but ever the professional, it was wiped away quickly and that familiar expression of blatant interest filled his visage again. It was at this time that Haku excused himself to “use the restroom”, making sure he actually went into it (in case Sai was following him), waited for about five minutes before slipping out with a group of three loud-mouthed teens and finding the pay phone tucked in a darkened corner and away from prying eyes. Getting Karin was no surprise since she had promised she’d be stuck by the device all day waiting to hear from him. Knowing his time was limited, or Sai was bound to come looking for him, he quickly told Karin he would be home within the hour and she should relay the message to both Sasuke-sama and Naruto-kun. Satisfied that she was not going to forget, he hung up and made his way back to the main game room.


“I thought you had gotten lost,” Sai said with a smile. “I was just about to come looking for you.”


“It’s crazy back there,” Haku replied with a mock pout. “Pushing and shoving and everyone wanting to get in at the same time. Such animals.”


Sai chuckled. “I hear you. Hey, you done with this place? How about we go watch a movie? There’s this great one about robots from Outer Space. Sounds good, doesn’t it?”


Haku made a show of looking at the large colorful clock that hung against a neon-lit wall. “Sorry, but I don’t think I can make it today.” He looked regretful. “Why don’t we do it next weekend? The movie will still be there, won’t it?”


Sai mock groaned and held a hand to his chest. “Aww. I really wanted to see it with you today.”


Haku giggled and nudged him playfully. “Next Saturday, I promise.”




“Scout’s honor as they say,” Haku replied with a salute.


“All right...let’s get out of here. Suddenly this place seems too claustrophobic.” He said this with a blink-and-you-just-might-miss-it dark glance over his shoulder as if he had spotted something or someone. Haku turned to look, but saw nothing amiss. The place was still jam packed with sweaty, eager, and willing young people all too preoccupied with either themselves or their partners.


Still it was great to be outside again and to get some fresh air, though the undeniable smell of rain filled his lungs as he inhaled deeply. “Whoo. Never thought I’d ever say that the polluted air of the city feels much better than the stench in there. This is one of the reasons why I miss the mountains so much.”


“You grew up in the mountains?” Sai asked. There was that glance behind him again, though he was quick to turn his attention back to Haku with a smile that now seemed slightly strained.


“Yes,” Haku replied; keeping his voice light and indifferent. What had Sai on edge? It wasn’t so obvious, but Sai’s steps seemed a little quicker and there it was again, that look over his –


“Let’s go this way,” he suddenly said, reaching out for Haku’s hand to tug him a little harder than necessary toward the opposite side of the street.


“Why this way?” Haku asked warily, having to raise his voice a little as they weaved and bobbed between incoming traffic. “This isn’t the way we came, and besides, I have to get to the bus stop. I don’t want to miss the last bus heading to my area.”


“You won’t miss it,” Sai replied brusquely. “This is a short cut.”


“A short cut?” Haku looked incredulous. Sai was really now tugging him harder; nothing short of running at this point, and as he looked over his shoulder in bemusement, Haku couldn’t be sure, but there seemed to be two men walking in similar fashion after them. They didn’t look like the police, and if it wasn’t for their brisk walk, they could blend in with any other passerby...well except for the stern expressions on their faces.


Are we being followed? But...why?


Sai led him up the steps of a pedestrian bridge, hastily excused himself (with Haku doing the same) as they pushed and shoved their way through the throng of people taking their time to get to their destinations. On the bridge, one had a great view of the traffic whizzing by beneath them and Haku briefly entertained the idea of Sai doing something crazy like pushing him off. Fortunately, all the other boy did was to take them down the other side of the street...


(we are right back where we started)


...and into a narrow alley that looked and smelled like a sewer. Two female junkies barely looked up from their dazed stupor as they slouched on a building’s steps. In another corner, there was a homeless man fast asleep with his mouth open and drool accumulating on his chin. His hungry, skinny-looking dog could only give a tiny yip at the sight of the newcomers before settling back within its owners grimy arms. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they passed what looked like a couple in the throes of passion; if you could call the woman with runny makeup clinging to the wall and screaming out her pleasure as a business man (evident from the suit he was still wearing, though his pants were around his ankles) fucked her ruthlessly while calling her dirty names. Haku would only have a second to process the sight of such crude behavior before they burst out to a street he was not familiar with at all.


“There’s a bus stop just down the block,” Sai instructed. “You can’t miss the sign. Sorry I have to leave you so quickly, but...there’s something I have to take care of.”


“Uh -”


“I had a great time with you today, Haku,” Sai interrupted with a smile that could be considered really sincere, though there was an expression in those dark eyes Haku did not like. They seemed frantic, yet angry. “I will see you next weekend as promised, okay?”


Haku parted his lips to query him, to ask just what and who those men were, but all that could come out of his mouth were “Okay.”


“Goodnight,” Sai said just as the first few drops of rain began to fall. He began to walk away from Haku...backwards; that smile still on his visage. “And hurry up. You don’t want to get wet.”


“You too,” Haku replied with a wave. He spun on his heels to head in the direction Sai had told him to, the rain beginning to fall a little harder with every step he took. He looked over his shoulder, only to see that Sai was still there watching him. Biting his lower lip, after lifting his hand in another wave, he made the turn and saw the obvious sign of a bus where about three other people stood waiting for it to arrive.


/There’s something I have to take care of... /


What secrets are you hiding, Sai?


He was tempted, oh-so-very tempted to go back to see what was going to happen, but the bus was just arriving at the curb, and Haku had a feeling that he was still being watched. He stepped onto the vehicle, paid his fare with the token Sai had gotten for him earlier in the day, and settled into a seat right behind the bus driver. As the bus left the curb, Haku eyed the other occupants, many of whom were either half-asleep or struggling to get as dry as possible from the rain.


/There’s something I have to take care of... /


I have to know.


“” Haku cursed his inability to fully communicate with the natives. “I stop here,” he said in broken Hangul. “Stop. Here. Please.”


The driver looked bemused. They had hardly gone a block, and it was obvious from his look of irritation that Haku should have just walked instead of wasting his goddamn time in the first place. Blushing at the expression on his face, as well as the other glares from some of the passengers, Haku all but leapt out of the bus, nearly avoiding getting run over as the driver peeled away as quickly as he had stopped.


“Fuck you too,” Haku cursed beneath his breath. It was rare he said things like this, but with all that was swirling in his mind right now, proper decorum was the least of his worries. Besides, Naruto-kun would probably give him a hi-five for such language.


He jogged back the way he had come, hoping he wouldn’t miss his way since the rain was really coming down in torrents now. At the bus stop, he paused – perhaps assuming Sai would be here waiting for the next one – but there was no sight of him. Most of the street was clear of people as they were either waiting it out beneath shelter or lucky enough to have an umbrella handy. Haku lowered his head and walked briskly toward where he hoped the alley was. He would have missed it, if it wasn’t for the sudden loud and undeniable sound of a gun going off and the subsequent shrill scream of a female. It would have been hard for anyone else to recognize that as being a gunshot since thunder chose to rumble at the same time, but having grown up in an environment where the sound was almost a daily occurrence, Haku’s senses heightened in awareness.


He reached into his bag to withdraw the slender throwing knife he kept hidden within its flaps, pressing his body against the wall of the building as his heart beat drummed loudly within his ears.


The woman shrieked again, this time accompanied with unintelligible words that soundly oddly like “you killed him!” but Haku couldn’t be sure. She tried to scream again, but there was an unmistakable cracking sound; a sound that had Haku’s eyes widening in horror as he dashed out into the alley just in time to see the whore slumping bonelessly to the ground (her neck at a terrible twisted angle) with the whites of her eyes staring accusingly at Haku.


Why weren’t you here on time? they seemed to say. What took you so fucking long?!


Unfortunately that wasn’t the worst of it for beside her body was that of the business man as well as the two men Haku had noticed chasing them earlier. There was a gaping wound in the business man’s neck; his thick blood gushing out silently to blend with the rain that formed a bloody but flowing pool around him. The other two bodies didn’t look any better for just like the woman, it seemed like their necks and arms were broken. It wasn’t until he noticed the dark stump next to a pistol, did Haku feel the bile rising to his throat. In the gloom of the alley, it was difficult to make out at first, but with the flash of lightning, it became more evident. It was a hand that had been neatly sliced off, where its thick fingers seemed to claw at nothing. However, it was what was on one of the fingers that caught his attention. It was a ring Haku had seen once before on an officer’s hand back at Byaku-Shinkyou, and it was this ring that Sai leant down to remove. He held it between his thumb and forefinger for a second before tucking it away within his jacket.


“I was hoping you wouldn’t return,” he was saying; his voice low but still loud enough to carry to the frozen young man watching him. “I didn’t want you to see this, Haku.”


He looked up with a rueful smile, turning around completely to reveal the weapon he had used to commit his crime. It was a sword, just about as long as a wakizashi, but with the markings of an ancient jutte. It didn’t look as if he had any plans to tuck it away anytime soon.


“Who are they?” Haku asked, surprised to find his voice was even and flat, absolutely devoid of emotion despite the thudding of his heart that almost betrayed how he really felt. He could hear Sasuke-sama’s warnings not to get into a fight and to escape if he had the chance, but how could he after witnessing such mindless killings? What had the business man and the whore done to deserve their deaths?


“Who do you think they are?” Sai asked with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “You saw the ring I took off his finger. You should be aware of their status.”




“Not just any watchdog,” Sai agreed with a light shrug. “But those in my unit; a special elite force chosen by Lord Orochimaru himself. What I have done is inexcusable, but I can always come up with a story for my discretions. What I cannot stand is having people tailing me when I was specifically told I would be working on this mission alone.” He kicked at the dead body of one of his cohorts angrily. “Kimimaro-sama obviously does not trust me.”


Haku’s jaws worked and he took a step back; fingers tightening around the handle of the knife. “How long? How long have you been here? How much do you know?”


Sai studied Haku for a long minute before shrugging again. “I guess I can tell you since I have no intention of letting you leave here alive...well alive enough to return to your band of misfits. I arrived about a month ago, long enough to study and observe your routines until I can rattle them off with my eyes closed. It’s amazing how weak you’ve all become especially you and Sasuke. Anyone could have eliminated you easily. I was especially disappointed in you, Haku. Listening to you whine and moan about being in love with someone...urgh. Whatever happened to the warrior I knew?”


“Whatever happened to the Shin I knew?” Haku retorted coldly. “At least he had a heart.”


“Shin no longer exists,” Sai replied flatly. “In his place is a fighter who believes in justice as Orochimaru-sama has decreed. This world will be purified from sinners like Uzumaki Naruto and Nara Shikamaru. As for you, your betrayal to Orochimaru-sama will not go unpunished.” He raised the jutte to his lips and licked its blade slowly, teeth flashing into a grin that revealed an inner madness Haku had never seen before. He took another step backward.


“After all he did for you,” Sai began as he stepped over the bodies to move closer. “You turn your back to him.”


“You have been blinded by doctrines that preach lies,” Haku replied carefully. “For years we’ve been fed stories by Orochimaru-sama about what true justice is, but we were fooled, Shin.”


“I am not Shin!” Sai roared. “Do not call me by that tainted name! You have no idea how much it sickens me!”


Haku barely saw it, but the pain was nothing short of blinding. It wasn’t the jutte that had been thrown, but a much smaller knife – almost akin to the one he was holding – which had ripped right through his sweatshirt, struck the skin beneath before burying itself into the wall behind him. Haku sucked in his breath and resisted the urge to hold his now bleeding side. He could feel the warmth of his blood pooling into the top of his pants, and just as Sai seemed to throw another at him, he twisted out of the way, spun to grab the embedded knife behind him before throwing both in Sai’s direction.


Damn it! Missed!


Sai had leapt out of the way with such effortless grace, Haku found himself envious, but for only a second because Sai was back again like a goddamn hurricane. This time he swung the jutte and almost took out a chunk of Haku’s left cheek, if Haku hadn’t ducked in time to deliver a blow to Sai’s torso with as much strength as he could muster. Sai grunted in surprise at the attack, but was still alert enough to sink the weapon into Haku’s upper arm, or would have if Haku hadn’t moved. It only managed to rip out a large piece of the sweat shirt, which Haku ripped out completely and flung it in Sai’s face to blindside him for a moment. He dove for the knives he had thrown earlier and rolled away from the weapon that was struck right into the ground where his face had been seconds before. With Sai this close, he whipped out his left arm and plunged the jutte into Sai’s upper right arm.


There was no cry of pain from the other man, but Haku wasn’t waiting to hear that. He staggered to his feet, almost losing his footing as he stumbled over the body of the businessman. It was enough for Sai to lunge for him again, this time delivering a jaw breaking blow to Haku’s face.


“I promised to cause you pain before delivering you to Kimimaro-sama,” he panted with a grin. “And I will do so with so much pleasure. You willARGH!”


Haku’s fingers had raked across his right cheek so deeply, his fingernails came away with thick globs of blood from the damage he had done. Sai flailed backwards with his hands over his face, but only to find himself slamming hard into the wall across the alley with the hard kick delivered to his chest.


“Cause me pain?” Haku bellowed as he stomped up to the other man trying to stagger to his feet. “I’ve been in pain all my life, you bastard, and just when I thought there was a little hope for prove me wrong.”


Sai tried to rise to his feet, but he was knocked down as Haku struck out again; this time the kick connecting with Sai’s left temple. The pain on his abdomen was beginning to get worse and Haku knew he was losing more blood than he would care to admit. Still, there were questions that needed answering and as he bent to his haunches and reached out to grab a fistful of Sai’s shirt; he slapped Sai hard enough to force him back to consciousness.


“How much did you tell Kimimaro-sama?” he asked. “How much does he know?!”


Sai seemed to chuckle as his head lolled about. His vision seemed glazed and with another hard slap from Haku, it appeared to clear a little. He lifted his gaze to meet the cold brown ones before him.


“Now...that’s more like it,” Sai said with a light smirk. Thanks to Haku’s rather hard slaps, a dribble of blood escaped the corner of his mouth, though quickly washed away with the rain still pelting around them. “That’s the Haku I once knew.”


“Answer my fucking question! How much does he know?!”


Sai smirked and rolled his eyes. He barely cried out as Haku delivered a blow to his face, only grunting as if someone had simply sat on him. Haku was getting angrier by the second. Getting Sai to talk was going to be next to impossible at this rate. He had heard rumors about the elite officers being trained to tolerate pain especially when tortured. They would never reveal their secrets no matter what you did to them.


He prepared to drive his fist into that bloody, smirking visage, when his world suddenly exploded in bright pain. Sai had driven a smaller jutte into the same area he had inflicted his first wound. Haku’s arm dropped as he looked down in horror at the weapon sticking out of his abdomen. His first wild thought was that this was poetic justice for just as he had struck Kimimaro in the same area back at the arena, Sai was only repaying the favor. ironic. I could almost laugh.


He fell back to the ground with a sickening thud; his vision wavering as he struggled to control his breathing. He had no idea how deep the weapon was, but pulling it out was going to be hurt like hell. A sudden burning sensation in his throat forced him to cough and release the blood that had flowed up at the same time. The coppery taste had him licking his lips and sucking in a harsh breath.


God help him, but everything was so damn fuzzy...


“How much does he know?” came the words that seemed to drift in and out of his consciousness. Sai was leaning over him now; his dark hair flat upon his head and that pale visage looking a little paler.


You don’t look so good, Shin-chan. What the hell happened to us...?


“Not much,” Sai admitted. He seemed to be wheezing a little, as if trying to catch his breath as well. “I wanted to see how far I could take this mission, get to play around with you a little, before revealing everything. I guess he got tired of waiting and sent those two fools to check up on me. So, you could say that they do know you’re here in Buk-gu, and if those two don’t report back on time...there’s going to be plenty more of them coming after you and your little pathetic group.” to...warn...everyone..., Haku thought frantically, but he couldn’t move. His body felt so damn heavy and useless.


“I have stock piles of information on every single one of you, and now that I’m done with this little charade, I guess my job is officially done. I’m going to send the files to Kimimaro-sama first thing in the morning and then take care of your little friends first while they sleep peacefully. It will be especially gratifying taking care of Sasuke.”


“,” Haku whispered.


“Thank you,” Sai replied as he reached out to caress Haku’s face in a motion that was nothing short of loving. Haku felt like biting it off, if he could only move his fucking head. “You really are beautiful, Yuki Haku. From the moment I met you, I thought we could be the best of friends, but I saw the light with Orochimaru-sama as my mentor, and I believed you’d remain loyal to him.”


To Haku’s horror, Sai’s lips descended to claim his in a kiss that made his stomach churn. He squeezed his eyes shut and with all the anger within him, made an attempt to bite him. Sai pulled away with a light chuckle.


“Knew you were going to try to do that,” he replied with a gentle slap on Haku’s cheek. “Now then...don’t go dying on me. I have to take care of those bodies and then I’ll be back for you.”


Haku, to his helpless anger and frustration, felt the tears coming to his eyes as he heard Sai rising to his feet. He pictured Sasuke-sama’s worried countenance, wishing now he had just taken the damn bus back to the apartment and spared himself the agony of defeat. He could hear Naruto-kun’s warning again, and wished oh-so-very much that the blond would suddenly appear to rescue him. He could picture Karin-chan’s tearful visage, and his heart broke a million times over because he would never get the chance to see her again.




What the...?!


The deafening sound of the gunshot had Haku’s eyes widening in fear and panic. He turned his head a little to see what was taking place, nearly gasping in disbelief at the sight before him.


The junkie!


Sai was on a knee; a hand against his stomach as he looked up at the attacker with venom in his eyes. He was trying to rise to his feet again to reach for the woman who didn’t really look like she knew what she was doing.


Un...believable...I don’t fucking believe it. Haku wanted to scream at her to run, but his throat felt thick with congealed blood. He could barely utter a whisper.


“ bit...bitch,” Sai wheezed as he took a step forward. “You’re next. I swear when I get to you...”




And amidst her wild shooting, while Sai’s body danced in rhythm to each bullet puncturing his flesh, the junkie kept screaming and crying at the same time as if unable to control the weapon in her hands. She didn’t stop until the dry clicks revealed she had emptied the chamber, and only then did her fingers finally slack off to drop the smoking gun to the ground. She fell to her knees and wailed to the heavens, visibly trembling and shivering until her stoned companion staggered up to provide comfort the best way she knew how.


Haku was in a daze of disbelief. The whore must have probably been a friend of theirs and though they had given the air of not being aware of their surroundings, they must have witnessed Sai’s murders all the same. Mercifully, at least one of them was aware enough to take action while they had been too preoccupied fighting.


My savior. I thank you from the bottom of my heart even though you probably don’t care about that.


Haku’s gaze drifted to the still body, which had only moments earlier felt warm and very much alive beneath his hands. The tears he had reserved for the possible loss of his family escaped his eyes slowly as he took in the insipid visage a few feet away. In death, Sai looked no older than a child; a child warped and forced to grow up in a world of darkness only Orochimaru-sama could conceive.


And yet despite Sai’s words, Haku knew there had to be a little good in him left. After all, he had ‘protected’ them all this time indirectly. By keeping the truth away from Kimimaro, he had allowed them to enjoy their ‘freedom’ for as long as they could though it had been for his selfish interests. He would like to believe that though Sai had been lying all this time with his supposed interest and attraction to Haku, those little moments when caught off guard (the joy of winning a game at the arcade, the awestruck expression on his visage while watching the show at the museum, the delight he received from tasting something sweet)...all of those showed signs of the Shin Sai had been so desperate to keep locked away within his heart.


I’m so sorry, Shin-chan. I really, really am...


Unfortunately, whatever else he might have thought about was woven in the sudden cobweb of darkness to overwhelm him.


When he came to, he had no idea where he was for a second until a chill went through his bones almost making his teeth chatter. Blinking slowly, he realized he was still in the alley, and luckily, the rain had finally become a light drizzle. His body felt numb, his mouth and jaw still aching from the blow he had received. With an effort, he turned to look around him, wondering if the junkies were still there. Fortunately not, though from the upturned pockets and emptied bags, it was clear they had been searching for money amongst the dead bodies.


Typical, Haku thought dryly. He almost wanted to laugh, but the effort was too much. All the same, he knew he couldn’t remain here a minute longer. Someone was bound to come walking past soon, will notice the bodies and then alert the police. He had to get out of here and warn the others...but first...


“Urgh,” he grunted as he tried to sit up. The jutte was still protruding from his abdomen, the dark stain around it a sign of how much blood he had lost so far.


All can do this...just one hard yank and it will be all over.


He wrapped his cold and numb fingers around the handle of the weapon, grit his teeth, squeezed his eyes shut and counting inwardly to ten, he took in a deep breath (even that was an effort in itself) and tugged as hard as he could. The pain had him collapsing back to the ground, and he had to bite his lower lip hard to control the scream that would have escaped him. Trembling fingers released the jutte to the ground in a clatter, and after several minutes of trying to even his breathing and waiting for the world to stop swimming, he tried to sit up again.


Ten minutes later, he had only managed to get onto his hands and knees, but it was enough for him to drag his bag, stuff its contents within and reach for Sai’s bag as well. The junkies had scattered his art book, pencils and sketches to the wind, but with diligent (and quite the slow process), Haku picked every single thing up including a wallet that had been ransacked. In addition was a set of keys which could be beneficial except he really had no idea where Sai lived if they were indeed keys to his apartment. He took the weapons as well and would have turned away when he remembered the ring.


He hated having to do this, but he had to remove all evidence of Sai’s association with them or Byaku-Shinkyou. The harder it was to find out about his death and identify his body, the better. It would buy them more time, he thought as he dug into Sai’s jacket to begin searching. Praying the junkies hadn’t taken it away, Haku finally felt the heavy piece of jewelry buried within an inner lining of the cloth. There were two of them, and Haku tucked those away in his bag.


“All right,” he panted as he looked around him in case he missed anything. “Got it all...I think.”


He managed to drape both bags around his shoulders, before staggering to his feet and clutching onto the wall for support. The top of his jeans was soaked through with not only the rain but his blood. He could literally feel some of it running down his legs and into his sneakers. He knew he would look a fright if he went out onto the street, but it was probably late in the evening now, and if he was lucky he wouldn’t catch the attention of any officers on patrol or inquisitive onlookers.


It took him a good twenty minutes to finally get to a street that would have taken him five minutes to reach an hour or so ago. He literally used the wall to walk, dragging himself or sagging against it when his legs trembled or his knees gave way. As predicted, there weren’t a lot of people on the roads at this hour, and when he got to the bus stop...


(probably missed the last bus anyway)


...he all but hugged the pole with the sign to catch his breath. He was rapidly losing his vision again and felt the strength draining from him.


I don’t know how much longer I can hang on...


“Oy...oy! Neo gwaen chanh ni?


Someone was in his face, someone looking at him with concern and pointing at the bloody footprints trailing after him.


Don’t shout so loud, he wanted to say to this person. I can’t understand what you’re saying anyway. I’m Japanese.  I no speakee Hangul.


This suddenly seemed ridiculously funny to him. He tried to laugh, but all that came out was a choked sob. He would pass out just as the sound of a car screeching to a halt beside the curb would coincide with strong arms capturing him before he hit the ground.


Darkness...welcome darkness...


It was okay this way after all. God knows he was so fucking tired of everything.







“Here. It’s the only thing good enough from the vending machine. I couldn’t understand what the other drinks were.”


I looked up with lashes that felt heavy. Naruto was standing over me with a can of black coffee, which I accepted with little to no intention of drinking it. Still I popped the lid open and took a gulp, grimacing at the bitter taste to coat my tongue. Fitting in the grand scheme of things. It should be bitter. Nothing ought to ever taste sweet on my lips again. Absolutely nothing at all. I gripped the can tightly with trembling fingers and stared blindly at the worn linoleum floor.


If only...if only...if only...


I felt Naruto sit beside me on the bench and stretch out his legs. There were still bloodstains on his pants and shirt like a child’s morbid paint job; blood from a young man we both loved in our own way. The realization that we had almost lost him, that if Jae Weong’s friend hadn’t made the decision to head down that street (on a whim as he said) Haku might be...might be...


“Fuck,” I whispered thickly as I threw my head back and covered my eyes with an arm.


I had been in too much shock at the sight of him at the time; too stunned to do much but follow Naruto’s instructions (amazing how in charge he had been at the time) as he carried Haku’s comatose body into the van while I placed the phone call to Dr. Woo. The good doctor hadn’t even questioned our decision to call him at such an ungodly hour, and had rushed down to meet us at his clinic with his wife (who was a nurse) in tow. Haku was immediately ushered in for outpatient surgery, which is where we still are over an hour later as they continue to work on him.


I swallowed the hard lump that came to my throat, ashamed as I felt something hot and wet trickle down my cheek despite my pathetic attempt to hide my misery. I tried to force myself to stop, but it seemed like the more I tried to do so, the faster they fell. I was never gladder that Karin and the others were in the main waiting room. If they saw me like this...


“It’s not your fault, Sasuke,” came the quiet words that had me capturing my lower lip between my teeth. A part of me wanted to yell at him to “shut up” that he could never understand how I felt, but I couldn’t trust myself to speak even if I wanted to. My throat was still too fucking tight and the stupid tears wouldn’t stop.


This was so unlike me.




He tried to reach for me, but I pushed him off roughly. Like a stubborn mule and not to be deterred he tried again, and this time my push was weak and ineffectual. When he finally managed to lower my arm from my eyes, much to my embarrassment, he leaned closer still to kiss their corners tenderly. I lowered my lashes and submitted to whatever the hell he wanted, too numb and emotionally spent to protest much. Silently, softly, gently, he kissed every drop away, not stopping until all that remained were pleasant tingles of the places his lips and tongue had caressed. I lifted my lashes to look at him, wondering what he was seeing in this moment; a weak, pathetic shadow of the bastard he had met all those months ago.


“I...” I sniffled and took a deep breath before speaking again; glad to find my voice was now a little firmer. “I don’t need your pity.”


“Who’s giving it to you?” he whispered with a small smile. I could see the dark circles beneath his eyes and it hit me that he too was suffering over this, although he had managed to be more in control of his emotions than I have. I cradled his neck and pulled him to me, but only to place a hard kiss upon his forehead...and then lips (like I could resist) before pushing his head gently against my chest so he could rest. He more than welcomed my gesture for his arm wrapped around my waist and he snuggled even closer to me with a soft sigh escaping his lips.


We remained in this position for goodness knows how long. My lashes were growing heavier, my head nodding every now and then as I struggled to stay awake and from the light snore below me as well as the gradual sag of his body, I knew Naruto was already dozing off.


What a day we’ve had...and what stories would Haku have to tell if he made it.


We had waited the extra hour for his return, and though Itachi had called back, it was only to apologize for the phone being cut off as the train had gone through a tunnel at the time. He promised he’d call first thing in the morning (and considering it was almost four right now he was bound to be calling us soon) to hear any news about Haku. Until then, we had the task of searching all over the fucking city for his whereabouts. We had no idea where to begin, but Jae Weong had called on his friend to assist. We had taken the van to retrace our steps starting from the arcade, which was the last place we had left them. We drove around for seemingly hours (at least it seemed that way to me) while Naruto and Cha Sueng stopped to ask people if they had noticed Haku or Sai around the area. With every passing minute with no sign or anyone knowing who we were talking about, I went through stages of anger, frustration, panic and ultimately fear.


Yes, fear.


For though I knew of Haku’s ability to take care of himself, we were hardly in a city or place where he could be comfortable fighting as freely as he could. I didn’t think he would have taken enough weapons with him, and if he listened to my advice, my hope was that he wouldn’t stick around to even get into a damn fight in the first place. Turns out he must have probably been taken by surprise or tried to escape and couldn’t.  


Death has always been a concept I had embraced since I was a child. It was inevitable and we all had to face it sooner or later. After watching my parents’ mindless executions, everything else seemed inconsequential and ritualistic to me. Those I executed had no back stories to me. I did not see them as humans. They were simply sinners that had to be purified. Why should I give a damn about my job to rid them of their burdens on this earth?


And yet tonight that staunch concept of Death I had always carried within me was questioned and shaken in a way I never expected. Tonight, I had almost lost someone who I cherished and had come to see as more than a servant. I found myself remembering the little things about Haku from the moment I became aware of him as an actual ‘human’. Seems harsh of me, but that was how I was after all. No one else was worth my time unless they were of beneficial importance to me, and yet for some reason, I had chosen him to remain by my side until my dying day. I would never forget the look on his face the moment I made my decision; the inexplicable joy and happiness he had tried so much to hide for fear Orochimaru would assume he was that eager to leave his side. How could I ever forget his child-like wonder at everything I taught him, how he seemed to hang onto my every word, how he rather die than see me suffer.


Tonight I hadn’t been there for him when he needed me the most, and I could never forgive myself if it turns out that he didn’t –


“Phew. All done here,” came the sound of a familiar voice that had even Naruto sitting up immediately, all thoughts of sleep erased.


We rose to our feet, my heart racing as I noticed the smile on Dr. Woo’s face. He was still dressed in his surgical scrubs and though he looked weary, there was a sense of satisfaction about him.


“That kid is one amazing human being,” Woo said with a nod toward the door he had just stepped out from. “All logical reasoning says he should have been out cold with how much blood he lost, but we were lucky to have just two extra bags of O left in our supplies to begin a transfusion. The surgery went well, and he should be right as rain in the morning. Well as right as he can be after all he’s been through.”


My knees trembled and if it wasn’t for Naruto suddenly reaching out to wrap an arm around my waist, I would have probably sagged to the floor in relief. I stupidly felt like bursting into tears again, but this time did a good job holding them at bay.


“...stay overnight and be monitored,” Dr. Woo was saying as he led the way through another set of doors which took us to a small room adjacent to his office. Since this wasn’t supposed to be a ‘hospital’, it was clear this space had been transformed into a patient room, where its lone occupant lay amidst sheets of white with tubes and IV lines seemingly poking out of every pore in his body.


Naruto and I walked closer to the bed to stare at the sleeping figure in silence. Besides the tubes and monitoring equipment, the bandages on his cheeks and how pale he looked, it was still our Haku – alive and breathing, but appearing even more child-like and innocent in repose. The fierce urge to protect him was nearly overwhelming, and as if in a daze, I reached out to caress his face. He didn’t stir, but then again, I wasn’t expecting him to.


“You don’t mind if I do the same, do you?” Naruto asked softly.


“Idiot,” I retorted with no venom as I met the cheeky smile on his visage. “Like you need my permission for something like that.”


He blew me a kiss, much to my embarrassment and Dr. Woo’s amusement, before leaning down to mimic my earlier actions. In addition, he squeezed Haku’s hand gently before releasing him.


“I’ll leave you boys alone with him,” Dr. Woo said with a nod. “I’ll go tell the others the good news, eh?”


“Thank you so much again for everything,” I said with the deepest of bows in respect, which Naruto reciprocated. “You have no idea how much this means to us.”


Woo seemed taken aback at our words, and actually blushed before he shook his head and waved a hand in dismissal. “What kind of a doctor would I be if I refused to save this young man’s life? Besides, I only did half the work, the rest was up to him and he seems to have a will to live. So all kudos to our brave warrior here. Now then...I’ll go tell the others and I’m sure they’ll want to stop by as well. Do you want anything to eat? My wife is about to warm up something in the break room. We can call it an early, early, early morning breakfast.”


“We’re fine,” I replied with a small smile. “Thank you for your offer.”


“Well, you know where to find me if you need me.” He left the room with a playful wink, allowing Naruto and I to turn our attention back to the sleeping figure on the bed.


“Guess this means we can’t leave just yet,” Naruto eventually said quietly as I pulled up a chair close to the bed. “Jiraiya’s gonna be here in the morning and with what Itachi said or must have told him, you know he’s gonna want us to leave ASAP.” He looked at me with concern. “Haku can’t leave the country in this state. He at least needs a day or more to recuperate.”


I nodded softly. “I know. We are damned if we stay any longer. I’m not sure what happened tonight, so for all we know, Sai might still be out there.”


“...but Haku had two bags with him, remember? Whose bag is it?”


I sat up at that, recalling that indeed Haku had another bag in addition to the one he usually went out with. “Where are they?” I asked quickly.


“I think Woo took them...” Naruto began as he looked around the room, only for him to give a small cry of victory as he noticed the bin in the corner where Haku’s personal belongings had been kept. Both were wet and still had blood stains on them, which we tried to wipe away with paper napkins and water from the small sink.


I had the ‘other’ bag and with a soft nod from Naruto, opened it to withdraw its contents. Sketch and art pads that were damp and close to disintegrating with just a touch, pencils, brushes and erasers, a set of keys, a wallet with no money but an ID that just about told us who the bag belonged to.


“Damn,” Naruto whispered as a possible story of what must have happened began to weave slowly in my mind. “Sai’s stuff.”


I stared at the pale face and felt the bubbling rage within the pit of my stomach. If it turns out that this son-of-a-bitch was the one responsible for putting Haku in this state, I vowed he wouldn’t live to take another breath when I found him. I tucked the wallet into my back pocket and would have turned away, when something else caught my attention. Almost hidden at the bottom of the bag were two heavy gold rings with familiar crests that had my blood chilling immediately. I had only seen this once and that was on Kimimaro. These were the rings given to members of Orochimaru’s elite forces, and since they looked quite big, it was clear these had not belonged to Sai. How had he gotten possession of them? Were there others after all? And if so, just how many more were out there looking for them? Watching and waiting for the opportunity to strike?


“Sasuke?” Naruto called out tentatively. “What’s wrong?”


I looked into the concerned blue eyes and opened my mouth to tell him the significance of my findings, but at that moment Karin and the others were making their way in; forcing me to hide the rings within the pocket of my shirt with a motion to Naruto that I would tell him everything later.




By five-thirty, most of us were fast asleep. Karin and Temari lay on the floor on sheets and pillows provided by Woo’s wife. Shikamaru was dozing off on a chair beside the window, while Naruto and I slipped out quietly to talk in the hallway.


“You sure you don’t want me to get you something decent to eat?” he asked as he stretched his arms above his head and shook himself to get rid of the cobwebs of sleep.


“I’ll be fine,” I replied. “I want to be around when he wakes up.”


“Yeah, it’s probably your face he’ll want to see first anyway,” Naruto teased.


“Uh huh, and immediately he’s done seeing my face, it will be “where’s Naruto-kun? I want to see Naruto-kun that I love.” Blech.” I pretended to throw up and he nudged me hard in the ribs for that, though he was blushing in embarrassment.


“Shut the fuck up and tell me already about those rings you hid in your pocket.”


I nodded and withdrew them, holding them up to the light so he could see the intricate design. “I have seen Kimimaro wearing this before and often wondered what it was all about. There’s an inscription inside, which you may not understand. It’s a code officers use to pass messages to one another and it pretty much translates to ‘justice of the highest order’. Those who wear these rings are members of the elite forces.”


“And Sai has two of them?”


“I don’t think they belong to him. Sai’s a pretty skinny guy, and he wouldn’t dare wear this in public. These look much wider and a little worn out.”


Naruto’s eyes narrowed in thought. “There are others then?”


“Probably,” I replied carefully. “Though the thing and why would Sai have their rings?”


“Guess we’ll never know until Haku wakes up.” He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair restlessly. “Damn it.” He paused and then snapped his fingers. “You know what? I’m gonna go back to the place we found him yesterday and try to retrace his steps. Maybe there’s bound to be a clue about what happened last night.”


“When are you going to do that? You have to wait for Itachi’s call and Jiraiya to arrive, right?”


“Wouldn’t take less than five minutes if Cha Seung is driving me there.”


I bit my lower lip.


“What?” he asked when he noticed my expression.


“I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I really would rather you just go straight back to the apartment, Naruto.” I tried not to sound too worried. “If there are others, it’s likely they’ll be at the scene as well to piece together what happened. They might even be on watch. careful, that’s all.”


He smiled softly and took a step closer to me. Resting his forehead against mine, he gave a slight nod of understanding.


“Fine,” he agreed quietly. “I’ll go straight home, and I’ll call you when I arrive so you won’t be such a goddamn worrywart.”


“Shut up,” I protested with a light punch to his chest. “You’d be saying the same thing if I was in your position.”


“Well it’s a good thing you aren’t because knowing you, you probably won’t obey me.”


“ really won’t go there, will you?”


“I won’t. I promise.” He kissed me hard and would have pulled away, but I refused to let him go so quickly. I tugged him back to me and seized his lips in a kiss that spoke of my concern, my doubts, my fears, and my deep-seeded longing for him. His moan or mine or both of ours mingled within the clash of our tongues and gentle scrap of teeth; the flavor of the coffee we had drank earlier potent as we deepened our new brand of communication.


“Come back to me,” I whispered thickly against his lips when we finally broke apart for air. “Do you hear me? Come back to me, Naruto, or I will never forgive you.”


I held his gaze prisoner, forcing him to understand just how serious I was. Somehow we both knew that my ‘warning’ wasn’t just about simply going back to the apartment and returning later. It meant so much more than that, and having to say goodbye all over again eventually, was going to be so much harder than I possibly imagined.


“I’ll come back, Sasuke,” Naruto whispered in a voice that sounded raw and torn from the depths of him. It almost seemed as if he was doing his best not to get emotional for some reason, and as I closed my eyes in weary satisfaction, I allowed his words to resonate within my heart long after he was gone.


“I promise I’ll return.”








Neo gwaen chanh ni? – Are you all right?




Chapter 34

Naruto Home























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