Chapter 36:

Tales of the City

In the summer night
The evening still seems present,
But the dawn is here.
To what region of the clouds
Has the wandering moon come home?

-Kiyohara no Fukayabu




She would make the perfect wife; if you were into the meek, perpetually flushed, soft-spoken, and well-endowed (in the bosom area) type that is.


Her name is Hyūga Hinata and though Itachi has claimed she’s actually quite the fighter and reliable as a spy, I’m yet to be convinced. This girl - who couldn’t seem to string two complete sentences together without stuttering - didn’t particularly strike me as ‘reliable’. However, I could see where her assets would come in handy as a distraction. It would be difficult for anyone to take her seriously and grossly underestimating her abilities could be beneficial in the long run.


She had straight hair - as black as coal - that fell to the small of her back, the heavy bosom (as I’ve already mentioned) that she didn’t seem eager to hide beneath the tight cashmere sweater, and a slender waist leading to hips that the old ways would have considered desirable for childbearing. Her legs were enclosed in a pair of black sweatpants while a pair of white socks hid dainty feet I noticed when we arrived yesterday. Despite all this, it turns out the most startling features are her eyes. They are extremely pale and under the right light almost give the illusion of being pupil-less (if that makes any sense). There is an odd sensation one feels when looking into them – at least for the brief moments she would allow me to stare into them long enough. It was as if she could read you like a book and know all your secrets without uttering a word.


My curiosity led me to ask Itachi about it, and I wasn’t all too surprised at the answer. Apparently, like the Uchiha clan, the Hyūga seemed to have a history of being able to ‘see’ beyond the surface or the superficial. Although their ‘gifts’ were not as strong as our clan’s, they had been a formidable force in the old days. Unfortunately, it seemed like over time such abilities have been diluted to the point that it’s hardly used if at all. A pity really.


“Here you go, Sasuke-sama,” she whispered as she shuffled toward me with the tray laden with green tea and some rice cakes; a mid-afternoon snack specifically prepared for me. I fully expected her to spill the contents, but she did manage not to trip over her own feet and proved herself to be quite the capable hostess. I can only guess that is why she visits my brother and Shisui often. They would need a ‘maid’ to keep things in order around here.


I forced myself to sit up from the pillows, accepting her offering with a light nod of acknowledgement. She remained kneeling beside me as I took a sip of the tea and a bite of the rice cake.


(hmm...this is actually...)


“Excellent,” I praised before I could control myself. Hated to admit that they tasted even better than the ones Haku used to make. All the same, the rise of color to her features and the tremulous smile following my remark was enough to have me squirming with discomfort. She bowed and seemed to squeak out a breathless “thank you” before rising unsteadily to her feet.


“ there any...anything else you’d like me to get for you, Sasuke-sama?”


I shook my head and focused my attention on the book I had been reading. “I’m fine. Thank you again.”


“O...Okay...I’ll return in the evening to prepare dinner for all of you,” she continued in a voice that seemed to disappear with every word she uttered. My periphery vision caught her reaching for her jacket. “I ha...have to dash off to work now. Good...goodbye.”


As she let herself out of the apartment with another bow and smile, I was finally left alone to gather my thoughts. “Work” – by the way - meant her new job as a waitress at an exclusive restaurant not too far from Nagatachō in Chiyoda where the DIET was located. The restaurant was a hub nub for important legislators and government officials (some military included), and it was there that a rumor of an alliance between Orochimaru and General Hanzou was beginning to swirl. Hanzou, who had apparently been one of the military personnel working in the shadows with Shimura Danzo, had now defected to join forces with Orochimaru; something I’m sure Danzo must be furious about if the rumors were indeed true. It wasn’t certain that Orochimaru had actually been to the restaurant, but there was no denying the damning photographs of Kimimaro engaged in intense discussions with two figures I recognized as former visitors to Byaku-Shinkyou. This meeting had taken place last week, so it was clear that Orochimaru was already on the move.


(how much longer must I wait, nii-san?)


Itachi and Shisui had long gone (with Kisame as well), though I had insisted I follow them. However, they were resolute that I remain in the apartment in case of any news regarding the girls and Haku’s arrival. Since they ought to be coming in later this evening, my ‘job’ was to man the phones in the event of an emergency. I couldn’t think of anything going wrong as my trip with Kisame had been relatively pain-free all things considered. It was embarrassing to admit that I had fallen asleep for the better part of the journey; probably the ‘excitement’ of the past few days finally catching up to me. All the same, once we arrived at the port, it was another hour of waiting in the bowels of the fishing boat, while Kisame scouted the area to see if the ‘coast was clear’. By that, I mean any officer(s) who was willing to turn a blind eye to our arrival.


When it was finally time to leave, words could not describe the almost surreal experience of seeing and stepping foot on Japanese soil again. The reality hit – not with hearing the familiar language and faces – but seeing the all too recognizable parade of uniforms I had once worn proudly. Except for one little...






The mon had changed.


No longer did the kamishimos have the familiar Uchiha crest on its chest and back. Instead, a stomach-churning motif of a snake wrapped around a sword within a circle, now signified what the watchdogs had become under Orochimaru’s complete control. With the final link to the Uchiha clan (me) finally ‘dead’, what other reason did the sick bastard have to continue our legacy? How I would have loved to rip those revolting crests right out of their uniforms and shred them to pieces. This was the final straw in his humiliation and destruction of what my brother and I had held so dear, and yet I knew in my current position, I was powerless to do anything.


(a damn shame indeed)


Cold, distant eyes danced over me as I lowered my head dutifully and acted like the imbecile I was supposed to be; and though I could not place any of the officers in my memory’s database, it was still jarring to be regarded as nothing more than a mere cockroach with their arctic glances. Had I really once been this indifferent and haughty to others? Good grief. No wonder everyone –




...hated my guts in the beginning.  


Kisame hailed an inconspicuous taxi, which seemed to drive us around the damn city for seemingly hours. I now realize it was to throw off whoever might have been tailing us, and when both driver (who was ‘one of us’) and Kisame were satisfied, we ended up in a nondescript apartment building tucked between so many other similar ones, it was difficult to tell one from the other. A perfect hideout if you were the supposed leader of a bunch of rebellious troublemakers.


There had been no tearful reunion of brothers as one might have predicted. I was still suffering the effects of a long trip, dealing with Kisame’s smug know-it-all one-sided conversation during the taxi ride, and was just about cranky and ready to snap at anyone stupid enough to push the wrong button. Bless Itachi for noticing for he made the quick introductions to the others in the room at the time; namely Hinata, someone called Sasori and of course Shisui (more of a re-introduction), before showing me to my bedroom.  


“Not big on furnishings are you?” I teased wearily as I crashed onto the narrow bed and eyed the Spartan décor with a raised brow. In a corner was a desk and chair of worn wood, on which sat a cheap-looking lamp that emitted a sickly yellow halo. There was a closet just big enough to house a few items of clothing or luggage and a door leading to what I assumed was a bathroom. Plain white-washed walls, no paintings to adorn them or flowers to liven things up… if Haku were here, he’d have a minor heart attack.


Itachi chuckled. “It’s not meant to be a permanent residence. If we have to move quickly, I’d rather not deal with a lot of junk. Still comfortable, no?” He walked toward the windows to fling open the thick gray curtains revealing a rather breathtaking view of the Tokyo skyline at night. One could make out the familiar tower – with its iridescent lights – glowing in the distance amongst the millions of other twinkling symbols of modernization. Postcard perfect and a reminder that I was definitely now miles away from Buk-gu.


“Try to get some rest,” he was instructing, though he didn’t look any better himself. There were lines of fatigue etched within his features, and the dark ensemble (sweater and matching black pants) highlighted how pale he really was. “We have a full plate tomorrow and lots to catch up on.”


“What’s happening tomorrow?” I asked as I sat up on my elbows; my heartbeat quickening in excitement at the prospect of finally having my chance to begin my revenge on that son-of-a-bitch.


“Meetings,” came the cryptic reply. “Nothing you should worry about for now. I don’t want you out and about so quickly.”


“But -!”


“We need you here to monitor the phones in case any news comes in about Haku and the girls. I am sending Sasori and Deidara to pick them up from the port, and then they’ll head straight to a friend of mine who owns a clinic around Shinjuku. Haku’s not yet a hundred percent after all.”


I scowled and threw my arms up in frustration. “I didn’t come all the way here just to begin babysitting and waiting around doing nothing! I want tommmphff!”


The sudden hug took my breath away, and it wasn’t just that he had sat down so quickly beside me or tugged me to his chest at the same time either. I could feel my body burn with embarrassment at the intimate gesture, and worse – a damn stupid lump forming hard in my throat as I realized –


(I’ve missed you, nii-san. I’ve missed you more than I care to admit)


...just how good it felt to be held like this again.


“I know you are impatient,” came the low words within my hair. “And believe me when I say everything we’ve been doing has been to get you ready to begin, Sasuke. So me enough to know I have only your best interests at heart. Your time will come, little brother. That I promise you.”


The hard kiss placed on my head would have had me bursting into childish tears, but I fought against them with a bite of my lower lip, not daring to look at him as he finally released me. I could sense him smiling, which irritated me a little because he probably knew I was trying not to let go of the waterworks anyway.


“Ah before I forget,” he continued with a hint of amusement in his tone. “Seems like Naruto’s safe and sound in Kyoto with Jiraiya. They arrived with no incidents.”


I tried. I really did try not to let the news affect me as much, but damn if my heart (and body) didn’t have other plans to humiliate me. Not only did my pulse quicken at this announcement, I just had to look up with what I was sure was uncontrollable happiness as a wave of relief – so strong- nearly left me weak kneed. However, Itachi’s knowing smile dampened my enthusiasm a little, but it was too late to mask it now. He knew.


“’s good,” I finally managed to mumble with as much nonchalance as I could muster. Pity his chuckle only had my cheeks flaming hotter still. God, I hate older brothers!


“I take it my little advice finally came in handy, didn’t it?” he asked, which earned him a shrug as I flopped back to the bed and turned my back to him. I made of show of yawning as if suddenly weary of the whole affair.


“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lied.


“Fair enough,” came the reply, which was a little surprising as I was sure he was going to be insistent on discussing my relationship. I listened to him rise to his feet, unaware of just how taut my entire being was for some reason. “I’ll see to you being able to communicate with him every once in a while, though it has to be very far and in between, after all...we don’t want them knowing you two are in cohorts, all right?”


Ouch. How could I have forgotten about that? A part of me had been hopeful that I’d be able to speak to Naruto in some form or fashion, but Itachi’s reminder of how tricky that might be was yet another reminder of how far apart we had become. It was just the first...or second or third night and yet I could feel the gulf widening with every breath I took.


(what are you doing now, Naruto? How is Jiraiya treating you? Is he taking the place of your father already? Do you even still think of me or are you already so warped up in your search for vengeance that I have become nothing more than a misty memory?)


“Stupid,” I whispered and forced my eyes closed to try to get some sleep. What was the point of agonizing over someone who was many miles away? My focus ought to be on Haku, Temari and Karin’s safety, and the least I could do was obey Itachi’s instructions and monitor their return for now.


The next morning, over a hasty breakfast, (and at my incessant query) I was finally given a briefing of what had been happening so far. It was how I learned of Hinata’s role and how much progress had been made with Akatsuki’s attempts at wooing more legislators to their side and against Danzo’s influence.


“Our propaganda seems to be working,” Shisui admitted. “Danzo’s been laying low, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been pulling the strings in some shape or form. However, with Hanzou                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      showing his face now and being more active, we’ve got our hands full dealing with Orochimaru’s latest move.”


“Hanzou is the acting Chief of Staff,” Itachi explained. “In other words, he’s the one who gives military advice to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense, both of whom are still in Danzo’s pockets as we speak. With such power on Orochimaru’s side now...we might be looking at an all out...”


“...war?” I finished in a voice that sounded devoid of emotion.


The older men didn’t respond immediately, but they didn’t need to. Their silence spoke volumes. An all out war with a man like Orochimaru, who had the entire police force and now possibly the military on his could we compete? What army could we possibly come up with to combat such an impenetrable defense?


“Fuck,” I breathed and stabbed the grilled fish with my chopsticks.


“What’s so funny about all this,” Shisui mused. “Is while Orochimaru’s plotting to take over the fucking world, Danzo’s got his own agenda to overtake Orochimaru…and we’re stuck in the middle.”


“Not if Naruto and Jiraiya keep to their end of the bargain,” Itachi replied with a bitter chuckle. “Saves us the trouble of having to combat two forces at the same time. He did say to give Naruto at least a month before they begin to make their move.” He looked at me then. “Should give us enough time to catch you up to speed and introduce you to our little ‘team’ if you wish to call it that.”


“Also work on your training,” Shisui interjected with a smirk. “Heard you’re a bit soft now.”


I opened my mouth to tell him just how ‘soft’ I had become (probably emphasizing that by stabbing his hand with my chopstick), but he was already rising to his feet with a curt nod in Itachi’s direction. “Let’s jet,” came the curt command which had my brother tossing a brief look of silent apology in my direction.


“Hinata will keep you company for most of the day,” he said. “If you need anything, just let her know and she’ll be glad to assist.”


That was almost five hours ago, and now with Hinata gone, I was allowed to explore my new abode with no interruptions. Like my bedroom, the rest of the apartment was no different. There were the necessary furnishings: a mix of western and traditional with the presence of a dining table next to the kitchen, a leather sofa, and a low coffee table with the large pillows I had been sitting on. Instead of tatami mats, the floor was of polished wood with a rug thrown here and there. A small television sat on a cabinet that only had a few magazines for décor. Considering my brother was an avid reader, I found this strange. However, my doubts were appeased when I opened one of the doors, in the short but narrow corridor, to reveal a ‘den’ of sorts. Compared to the almost antiseptic feel of the other rooms, this place was cluttered with ‘stuff’. It was a small and windowless room with two desks facing each other; one with two black telephones connected to what seemed like a radio (and a reminder of the same set up back at Jae Weong’s communication room). The other table was laden with folders/dossiers of just about every damn government official or yakuza in the country. I couldn’t believe just how much information Itachi and Shisui had collected on each individual. They really had been doing their homework. On the wall, a notice board took up one side of the room, were photographs, maps, markings, pins to highlight important locations and scribbled notes dazzled one’s eye at first glance. The other side of the room contained several cabinets with even more dossiers within and a floor-to-ceiling shelf stocked with enough reading material to keep one occupied for weeks. Cardboard boxes were stacked haphazardly in a corner; some empty, others with documents I didn’t have the time to sift through at the moment.


(phew. This could take a while)


“Might as well get started,” I muttered to myself as I sat behind the desk with most of the dossiers on our ‘enemies’ and plucking the most current (which was on General Hanzou) from the top of the pile, I settled in for a crash course on just what I was going to be up against.





Somewhere in the Nishitama District, Tokyo

Four Months Later


Jūgo rubbed his hands together and blew into them, desperately trying to keep warm despite the jacket and wool scarf he had wrapped around his neck. It might be the month of August and yet it was terribly cold this time of the night. He couldn’t understand it. It didn’t help that he had to wait out here while Kimimaro was engaged in a never-ending meeting with some councilmen (and yakuza, Jūgo was sure) within the compound behind him.


Perching on a stone marker to keep watch, he idly shook his head at the driver of their rented Sedan who mutely offered him a cigarette. The driver shrugged and stretched before sauntering over to his fellow comrades – other drivers of the five parked matching Sedans in the vicinity – to engage in conversation. In addition to those men, there were also silent bodyguards like Jūgo, some of who were content to remain the shadows; unseen but ready to spring into action should the situation call for it.


Jūgo glanced toward the high gates of the councilman’s home and pursed his lips in thought. This was a rarity in itself; for Kimimaro to insist that he follow him on this particular trip. Usually Kimimaro traveled with either Sakon or Ukon (or both), but for some reason Orochimaru-sama’s second-in-command had picked him as a travel companion this time around. These trips back and forth were now more frequent especially after the unsuccessful fire started by Suigetsu several months ago.


Jūgo groaned at the memory of the catastrophe that had been and the subsequent backlash they had received from Itachi-sama for the brash idea. There was a reason the blueprints had been given to them to study. Specific areas of Byaku-Shinkyou were to be targeted, but that stupid hothead had grossly underestimated how fast the fire would spread and even worse, how prepared the officers and prisoners were ready to combat such an incident happening again. Almost as soon as it began, the alarms went off, sending loyalists into action. By the time everything was under control again, just a section of the officers’ mess and a part of the administrative building had suffered the brunt of the flames.


To say Suigetsu had not been pleased would have been the understatement of the century. Despite Kiba trying to explain that there was nothing they could have done anyway, Suigetsu seemed determined to put the blame on both he and Jūgo for not being as pro-active as he was. He argued that Itachi-sama would have approved of what he had done, but his bubble was burst rather quickly when they received the scathing coded message from their leader about how irresponsible his actions had been. Not only was Suigetsu risking the lives of more innocent prisoners as well as risking the possibility of being caught as the culprits, there was the likelihood of completely destroying a residence that the Uchiha brothers did plan to return to when this was all over and done with. With strict instructions not to do anything else unless commanded to, Suigetsu was left grumbling with his tail between his legs, though he took out his frustrations by doing his best to make the lives of junior officers a living hell in anyway he could manage it.


Either way, the time was drawing near. Jūgo could feel it. It was the reason why Orochimaru and Kimimaro-sama were more urgent in their dealings with these high-ranking officials. It was why there had been secret drills carried out in the mountains back in the North, and Jūgo had been alarmed to hear Kimimaro reveal that they had at least (meaning there could very well be more) a thousand officers ready to deal with any incoming attacks. There was simply no way anyone could just wander into Byaku-Shinkyou to take out Orochimaru-sama. If push came to shove, then Jūgo knew Itachi-sama would really have no choice but to rely on him, Kiba and yes, even Suigetsu, to get the job done since they were already on the inside.


Even that’s going to be difficult, Jūgo thought with light frown. Lately it seemed like Orochimaru-sama had been in hiding, no one knowing where he was or what he was up to. Kimimaro was the more visible leader in recent weeks, and even though Jūgo had done his best to get the older man to give him answers, Kimimaro remained elusive and abstract with his responses.


So lost was he in his thoughts that the sudden loud BANG! and subsequent cries of surprise had him looking up with confusion. It took him a second later to realize that the noise was the report of a semi-automatic going off…and still going off as a white van zoomed right past still firing at anything in sight. Jūgo cursed beneath his breath and dove to take cover behind a clump of bushes, hands reaching for his pistol – though he would have preferred to fight with his katana – still this was no time to be choosy about the weapon of choice. Chaos reigned as bodyguards and the drivers did their best to combat their attackers, and Jūgo could only watch in horror as several bodies were peppered with bullets, engaging in the wild dance of death before collapsing to the ground in pools of their own blood.


He tried to steady himself and to aim at the van (there seemed to be another one making the turn and approaching rapidly), but found himself wondering if these were members of Akatsuki. What good would it to do for him to shoot a member of his own organization? And yet he knew that if he didn’t fire back (or at least pretend to), he might risk being considered a traitor by those he was currently allied with.


“Fuck!” He ducked as the bullet whizzed right by his head. Lodging itself into the fence behind him to send flakes of wood into the air and almost blinding him in the process, Jūgo scrambled around the corner; his aim to get into the house and possibly rescue Kimimaro before it was invaded. From the look of things, the security within the compound were now aware of what was happening outside as more of them began to stream out to give support. Jūgo took the opportunity to slip inside, his breathing harsh within his ears as he sought out his boss. Unfortunately -


“No one is allowed to cross,” came the curt command from a burly man almost seven feet tall, who stepped out of nowhere to block Jūgo’s path.


“But I came with Kimimaro-sama -”


“I don’t care if you came with the fucking Prime Minister,” the man grated and shoved Jūgo aside impatiently. “No one’s getting past here unless I say so.”


“It’s okay,” came the quiet but firm voice that sounded like a blessing to Jūgo. Kimimaro was walking out of the home and down the path, and though his features were pensive, he did his best not to give away his agitation at the chaos occurring outside the gates. “He is with me.”


The burly guard looked put off at this. “You should not be outside, Kimimaro-dono,” he grunted. “The boss said to make sure you are all hidden within -”


Kimimaro motioned for him to hold his peace before flashing a brief smile at his concerned friend. “I have back up plans to escape in a situation like this,” he whispered once out of earshot of the guard. “Around the back is another car that should take us back to our hotel.” He stopped talking long enough to examine the bigger man. “You weren’t hurt, were you?”


“No…I don’t think so,” Jūgo replied with a weak smile. He blushed at the sensation of Kimimaro’s hand upon his cheek; the gentle caress that spoke of more intimate liaisons between them in the past. It was something he’d rather not share with Suigetsu or Kiba, but he had a feeling they already had an idea about this side of their relationship anyway.


As he walked after Kimimaro, he wondered – and not for the first time – if there really was a way to ‘save’ his friend. In those private moments, when naked bodies languished in a sea of heady satiation, when breaths struggled to recover from their exertions in lovemaking, when Jūgo was content to hold Kimimaro close to him in an embrace as they watched the stars…in those moments, Jūgo could forget that he was with a person who worked directly for the enemy. In those moments, they were simply long lost childhood friends who could share the most intimate of secrets without fear of retribution. He had almost broken character a few times to spill his concerns and fears to Kimimaro, to make him understand that he didn’t have to keep working for Orochimaru-sama. And yet, Jūgo knew – deep down inside – that whatever he might say would fall on deaf ears. If there was one major fault with Kimimaro, it was his stubbornness and loyalty to a fault. He would die for Orochimaru if need be; no matter how terrible his master’s madness had become or what diabolical doctrines he continued to instill within his false kingdom.


“Sometimes…” Kimimaro began enigmatically as they slipped into the waiting Sedan, which immediately sped away into the night. “The necessary has to be done…”


“The necessary?” Jūgo asked with a raised brow.


He received a small smile that didn’t quite reach Kimimaro’s eyes, and as the world suddenly seemed to tremble on its axis, Jūgo would turn around just in time to see the billowing mushroom cloud of fire and smoke erupt from the very home they had left barely minutes earlier.


“Wha…what did you do?” came the breathless gasp as Jūgo felt his heart slam hard within his chest in fear and dismay. “What in God’s name did you do?”


“What needed to be done,” came the cryptic reply. “What absolutely needed to be done.”






In glum silence, we watched the news on the television where the Prime Minister was currently addressing the nation regarding the stunning events that took place overnight.


“...our hearts are heavy today at the unfounded loss of six of our most hard-working, dedicated and loyal servants of the Japanese people. In an unforeseen and cowardly attack, these men were taken away from us before their time at a meeting place. We have cause to believe it is nothing more than a domestic terrorist attack, and you can be sure that my cabinet will devote every waking minute to finding those responsible for this and bringing them to justice. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those we have lost. May their efforts not go to waste as we continue to fight for Japan’s freedom...”




What the Prime Minister (and I’m guessing the media that’s been paid off to keep it under wraps) has failed to mention is that the meeting did not just involve the ‘hard-working members of the government’, but the seedy underbelly of the Japanese mafia as well. If the Prime Minister chose to really disclose more information about what was really going on, he’d confess to the real reasons behind why such an ambush had occurred in the first place. These were men who were really in cohorts with Shimura Danzo masquerading under the ruse of being concerned about the state of affairs in the nation. How Kimimaro had gained access into the proceedings was still a mystery, but from what Jūgo was able to disclose in his coded message, Orochimaru had set things up in this way. Kimimaro would worm his way into the fold (hence his frequent visits to the city in the past few months) where Orochimaru’s minions would then appear as the ‘surprise attacks’ to destroy the proceedings the only way he knew how. To think that he had planned this far ahead; also managing to take out a good chunk of his was almost frightening.


What this meant was that Orochimaru would begin to privately fund up-and-coming councilmen to replace those he eliminated thereby strengthening his hold on the DIET and its policies. He was becoming stronger and stronger while we...we...


(need to build up our army)


What army? I wanted to sneer out loud in derision.


I tore my gaze away from the television to eye my companions in the underground Akatsuki hideout; a place disclosed to me several weeks ago.  Most of the occupants I had already been introduced to, and though I can’t say everyone warmed up to me at first sight, it was still interesting to see the caliber of members Itachi had managed to gather so far. Some of them were no older than myself; all young men and women with a strong and passionate desire to restore their country back to what it was.


For starters, it was surprising to find that Hinata had a relative in Hyūga Neji; a man who exhibited the same pale eyes and jet black hair, but that was where the similarities ended. Where Hinata was shy and prone to keeping to herself, Neji had the qualities of a natural leader and I could almost picture him being a part of the a high-ranking capacity (perhaps the leader of a squad or two). He didn’t smile much and tended to be blunt with his observations. It was established from the moment we were introduced that we were not going to be the best of friends anytime soon, but at least we were going to have to work together to achieve our common goal.


The young man sitting next to him went by the name of Rock Lee. Gregarious and out-going, he was quite a contrast to Neji and yet those two seemed to be the best of friends. I had to admit that watching the way he acted reminded me of Naruto’s enthusiasm and fervor at times; emotions I would rather not have to deal with as anything likely to remind me of the blond created bouts of disconcerting loneliness. Itachi had tried to contact Naruto on my behalf, but for some reason, it was difficult to locate them.


“Probably training,” Itachi had deduced cryptically when prodded. “Jiraiya did mention something about making sure Naruto was completely ready for what was ahead.”


Shaking my head to get rid of the troubling thoughts, I darted my gaze to the tomboyish female beside Lee. She went by the name of Tenten, and from the few training sessions I’ve had with her, watching her dexterity with her arsenal of weapons, was quite impressive. I had thought no one could throw a knife faster than Haku, but I was proven wrong. Tenten had such an unbelievable quick wrist action almost giving the illusion she was hardly moving though you were likely to find three or four knives buried within your flesh before you realized it. What was even more surprising, and dare I say refreshing, was that she didn’t seem too enamored by my presence. If you haven’t been keeping track, you might have noticed that most of the females in my life so far have the tendency to blush excessively, throw themselves at me, or consider me as some sort of a creature to be revered from afar. To Tenten, I could be just another furnishing in the room for all the attention she paid me. She seemed far too intent to woo Neji’s affections in her own way.


Leaning against the wall, with arms crossed before him, was the one called Aburame Shino. Prone to wearing dark glasses and hoodies most of the time, he spoke only when absolutely necessary which was hardly at all. He seemed content to follow orders or chip in when needed, but there was no denying his fighting ability. I was impressed with his katana skills; a weapon he seemed to prefer rather than the pistol. I also learned he was quite good at reconnaissance, which would no doubt come in handy eventually.


Next to Tenten was the long-haired blond who has been staring at me for most of the time we’ve been here. In fact, from the moment we were introduced, the annoying loudmouth (who went by the name of Deidara) seemed intent to let me know that he was quite a fighter. During sparring sessions, he would insist on taking me on, and though he’s yet to really be a challenge, I do have to give him kudos for his ability to think quick on his feet. Besides, he was more skilled in rigging up explosives or detonating them; pistols or katanas were too cumbersome for him (or in his words: “cramped his style”).


Next to him sat the quiet red-head Sasori, who I have now come to realize is actually older than me despite his height and baby-ish features. Smart as a whip, I could see how his intellect has been useful to my brother’s organization over the years. His skill lay in stealth mostly (he made for an excellent spy) and long-range combat. He too, I could see as a possible member of the watchdogs, and I briefly entertained the idea of bringing that to the table when this fight was over and done with.


Next to him was Karin, who flashed a small smile at me when she noticed I was looking at her. Propped between Sasori and Kisame, she appeared a little different than how she had come across while at Buk-gu. More studious and serious since their arrival, there was now an all-business aura around her I could appreciate. Perhaps being back on Japanese soil had made her realize just how serious this whole affair was. Although I could be imagining things, but I get the feeling that she hasn’t exactly been warm toward Hinata for some reason. Speaking of looked like Hinata had taken a liking to my loyal friend, for both of them were propped together at my feet with eyes still glued to the television screen.


Haku had returned with a slight limp, a bag full of medication, strict instructions to get as much rest as possible, but still excited (almost ridiculously so) when we were finally reunited. I was glad to hear that the trip had gone with no problems, although they had been held up at the port in Buk-gu for over an hour due to some miscommunication between Jae Weong and an official he had thought he paid off. Temari would stay just long enough with us at Itachi’s apartment before leaving for her ‘job’ within the DIET and renting an apartment close by. I was hoping she’d be able to contact Shikamaru and from there get word on Naruto’s progress, but so far, even she has been unable to achieve any promising information.


“I don’t know about you all,” Kisame finally drawled as the press conference dissolved into a series of tacky commercials and the T.V. eventually turned off. “But I think it’s time we get started Itachi.” He looked pointedly at my brother, who sat at the head of the table with his chin resting on tented fingers in deep thought. Everyone, actually, now seemed to be watching him...waiting for his decision on what we ought to do next.


“We can only deal with the propaganda side of things for so long,” the big man continued as his canines flashed in the faint gloom with homicidal intent. “How many more folks does he have to murder before we take him out?”


(good point)


Itachi lowered his lashes, saying nothing to this, and just when I thought I was going to go mad with frustration and impatience, he finally lifted them but only to meet my gaze which he held steady.


“I did promise we were getting things prepared for you, didn’t I, Sasuke?”


“...what?” I blinked in confusion as he broke into a small smile.


“Let them in Shisui,” came the quiet command that had me sitting up a little straighter.


As ordered, Shisui rose to his feet to make his way to a door I hadn’t even noticed (you have to understand that this room isn’t exactly the most well-lit). He opened it, seemed to speak to someone behind it before opening it wider. The first person to step out had me gasping in shock for it seemed like I was being thrust back into time, experiencing a surreal scene from a dream or nightmare...or both. I couldn’t fucking believe it!


“...what in the world...?” came the weak stutter from me as I rose to my feet unsteadily.


One after the other they marched out...officers that had once been under my command within the walls of Byaku-Shinkyou. Men I had spent so many hours, days and years training and molding into perfect ‘soldiers’. Men I had even gone on missions and patrols with. Men I thought mocked me behind my back and only obeyed because of my ranking and what I meant to Orochimaru. Hell even that dumb but efficient Captain Kurobachi was here! Was it stupid to feel a hard lump in my throat as each of them fell to their knees in the utmost sign of respect accompanied by a sincere greeting of “Welcome back, Sasuke-sama”. The first squad – MY First Squad - considered the strongest and most respected in all of elite force...more than half of them  had defected to be with us.


“During the ambush,” Itachi explained at my unspoken question. “Most of them left as well...escaped more like. They went into hiding and it’s taken a lot of convincing to get them to join us again.”


“There are more of us,” Officer Touya replied with a nod of agreement to what Itachi had confirmed. “Scattered across the country, and we are ready to go into battle with you, Sasuke-sama. When we heard you weren’t dead after all...” He stopped as his voice thickened, and it was embarrassing to notice that some of them were actually crying silently. “We were so relieved,” Touya finally continued when he gathered himself. “We want to restore Byaku-Shinkyou to what it once was, Sasuke-sama. So simply give us the order and we’ll carry it out. Please...let us fight by your side again with you as our Captain.”


(all of you...thank you...from the bottom of my heart...I thank you)


I caught Haku’s eyes, which were – no surprise – shimmering with unshed tears. I had to look away quickly for fear he’d notice just how much this meant to me as well, and taking a deep breath I gave a curt nod to Itachi in understanding.


“All right,” I finally said out loud. “What’s the plan for now?”


“The plan is to begin moving up North in groups or sections,” Shisui began as he unfurled a rolled up map which had been propped against the wall. He spread it out on the table – everyone else moving aside to make room for it – and began to point out specific locations which were already highlighted.


“We have a base about twenty miles from Byaku-Shinkyou,” he continued. “However, our reconnaissance has revealed that Orochimaru has several officers stationed at the border. We can easily take them out if it comes to a skirmish that’s no problem. All the same, there are at least a hundred men currently at the base setting things up for our arrival. We’ve been lucky to encounter no adversity so far. Weapons are being imported from Russia and North Korea – all smuggled on ships that pose as cargo for oil. We begin sending in officers from Sapporo since they are the closest. Once they’re close to the base, the next batch of officers will begin the journey from Sendai -”


“How are they getting there?” I interrupted with a raised brow.


“Disguised as new recruits, tourists or hell just plain blue workers looking for a job up North,” Itachi replied with a light shrug. “We do not plan to draw attention to ourselves by wearing uniforms and marching in there with weapons from the get-go. All of that will be provided when they arrive at the base. When we have all assembled, Kiba or Suigetsu will be the one to give us an update on the situation within the grounds. We have to be sure Orochimaru is actually still in Byaku-Shinkyou. So far he’s been elusive, so no one knows if he’s actually there at all.”


“Or worse buried within the many hidden underground tunnels he’s built for himself,” I grumbled, while rubbing a hand across my forehead in mild irritation. “It’s almost as if the blueprint we did is now useless.”


“Not quite,” Itachi replied with a smile. “All the officers and Akatsuki members will study them thoroughly so they know exactly where to target once we get there. Kiba, Suigetsu and Jūgo will have to be our guides when it comes to the unknown areas, but Sasuke...”



“You should know more about that place that those three. Besides...Orochimaru’s your main goal, isn’t he?”


“Naturally,” I replied coldly. “It’s understood that he’ll be left to me once we get there. Now...” I cracked my knuckles and leaned closer to the map with brows furrowed. There was so much more I needed to know and the sooner it was explained to me, the better.


“Tell me again just how we plan to...”




The meeting was finally adjourned in the wee hours of the morning, and even though we were back in the apartment Sleep was an elusive creature. Every fiber of my being seemed wired and taut with the tension and strain of knowing that in a few weeks I’d be on my way back ‘home’; only this time home would be a battleground. A small part of me felt like screaming that I wasn’t ready yet, that I didn’t know what kind of a monster awaited me back there, and yet when I recalled the horrific stories Kurobachi had recounted after the made my resolve even stronger to destroy everything Orochimaru stood for.


“It was awful, Sasuke-sama,” Kurobachi had revealed quietly as we stood beneath the awning of the café above ground while the other members of the group slinked away into the night as silent as shadows. With his shoulders slumped and his expression one of despondency, it was hard to believe this huge man had once been considered “the terror” thanks to his strict methods of teaching while in Byaku-Shinkyou. I wouldn’t even have minded hearing his brand of crude humor, something he and Asuma had in common and could torture me with when I didn’t care to listen. Unfortunately, that Kurobachi was gone. In its place was a man who had seen enough horrors to last him a lifetime.


“The way he went about rounding up innocent families,” Kurobachi was saying. “Even when we tried to explain that they weren’t all members of the Uchiha clan, he wouldn’t listen. You should have seen his eyes that day, Sasuke-sama...empty...hateful...cold. I have never felt as terrified as I did that day, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I knew there and then that I had to get out of there or I was going to be next. He had them all executed in front of the townspeople...mothers, fathers...children...babies for God’s sake! Beheaded and bodies burned like they were worthless. If you walk into town it’s all there like a macabre reminder of his power...hundreds and hundreds of wooden stakes in the ground with the heads of everyone he’s killed; some still decaying...others now nothing more than skulls.”


His harsh sob was alarming, and never having comforted a grown man before, I didn’t know what the hell to do. I could only form tight fists and force myself to squash down the well of hate that rose like bile to my throat.


“It’s okay, Kurobachi-san,” I finally said tightly. “We’ll bring justice to those innocent lives taken. You’ll see.” I reached out to squeeze his shoulder in reassurance, and the look of pure gratitude he gave almost made my stomach sink with the weight of the burden I was now about to bear. “Wipe your tears and return to your officers,” I commanded firmly. “Let them not see you like this.”


He nodded and wiped his cheeks with the sleeves of his shirt, took a deep breath and composed himself as best he could. “Thank you, Sasuke-sama...although I must say...”




He smiled then; that familiar shit-eating grin I could have done without. “You have changed from the last time I saw you.”


I could feel my cheeks flushing in embarrassment, never more glad for the dark shadows around us or I would have had some explaining to do.


“Is it a new woman in your life?” he asked with a wag of his brows. “One of those beautiful belles I noticed in the room earlier, eh?”


“You should head back,” I replied curtly, not wanting to divulge my personal affairs with him. Next thing I know it will spread like wild fire around the other officers. “We have a long day of training tomorrow.”


He looked like he was about to protest, but seemed to think better of it. He settled for a polite bow before joining up with the group of men who had been waiting for him at the corner of the street. Making sure they were out of sight, I slipped the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and met up with Haku – who was dressed in similar fashion – waiting for me as well. His limp was no longer as pronounced for the stubborn bastard had been intent on strengthening himself with vigorous therapeutic exercises and training even though he had been told not to over exert himself too much. Still, it did feel good to have him around again, and as we made our way back to the apartment complex, we both agreed that it still felt strange having to walk around like criminals in our own country. Just the sight of a watchdog, wearing that damning new crest, had us lowering our heads and trying to blend into the shadows.


(talk about unnecessary stresses)


With a heavy sigh, realizing that courting sleep was no longer feasible, I slid out of bed (making sure I didn’t trip over Haku who had shunned the idea of sleeping in another apartment and was content to sleep on a futon in my room) and headed to the kitchen to get something to drink. However, my feet froze in mid-stride, when in the hallway, as familiar voices drifted to me from the living room area; voices I recognized as belonging to Itachi and Shisui. Making sure I wasn’t heard, I held my breath and tiptoed closer still, having to crane my neck a little to see what they were up to. I swear if they were in the middle of an embarrassing make-out session, I was going to have to disrupt them, but luckily the scene seemed innocent enough.


They were on the sofa, Shisui sitting with my brother sprawled across its length with his head resting upon the older man’s lap.  The only source of illumination came from the full moon outside the opened windows, bathing them in an almost ethereal glow that brought a lump of sadness to my throat. Why? For in that moment, I had actually pictured Naruto and I in such a position...that it just didn’t fair we were miles apart when we could be like this, sharing our deepest thoughts and desires in soft fingers running through his hair like Shisui’s was doing with my brother...seeing the tenderness within those features that could look so cold and distant during the daytime and now filled with so much love for my brother when alone together.


(I miss him...goddamnit)


I would have slinked back to my room to wallow in my misery when the next words out of Shisui’s lips had my stomach dropping in disbelief.


“...should tell him, don’t you think?”


“Not yet,” came the low mumble from Itachi. “If he knows now it’s all he’s going to be concerned about. I need him focused on what we’re about to do.”


Shisui seemed to nod in understanding and after a minute of silence, he continued softly. “Surprised that Danzo took him in so quickly.”


“Danzo’s desperate and Jiraiya’s ploy worked out great.”


“Which was...?”


“To gain Naruto notoriety and draw Danzo to him. Naruto’s now quite the badass I hear.”


“No longer a pain in the ass?”


Itachi chuckled weakly. “The goal was to get Naruto well-known on the streets, starting up trouble and taking out a few of Ikegami’s men in the process. He was also to ally himself with the Mibu who are now working with Danzo, remember? Word gets around about Naruto’s antics and Danzo wants to meet the blond wonder for himself. Apparently Danzo was so impressed, he’s already beginning to assign tasks to him.”


“...who’s his first target?”


“Still working on it,” Itachi replied. “I’ll get Temari to give me an update tomorrow. She’s been able to speak to Shikamaru and they think it’s going to be Councilman Ishida.”


“Orochimaru’s ally?”




“Lucky us. Wonder when he’ll get around to taking out Onoki?”


“Let’s hope it never gets to that point,” Itachi whispered with a yawn. “Look...can we not talk about this anymore?” he adds with a pouty whine that’s unlike him. “I’m dead tired and want to go to bed.”


I watched as he raised an arm to wrap it around Shisui’s neck forcing the older man closer to waiting lips that sealed his in a languid kiss that all but spoke of their intentions from here on out. Having seen enough, I slipped back to my room quietly, my head and heart pounding with all I had seen and heard.


(Naruto...Naruto...Naruto...Itachi had news about him and wouldn’t tell me! Goddamn it!)


“Sas...Sasuke-sama?” came the low groggy mumble from Haku as I nearly stepped on him in my agitation and haste.


“Go back to sleep,” I whispered harshly and flopped onto my bed. My head was beginning to throb. I didn’t know whether to punch something or to scream or to storm back out there and call him out for lying to me about not hearing anything from the Jiraiya camp after all this time. How the hell could he do this to me?! To keep my mind focused on the task ahead? Yes, sure I can understand that I need to be focused, but for God’s sake! Would it have killed him to say that “Naruto was fine”? How much of a distraction could that have been? So yes, perhaps he doesn’t realize just how close Naruto and I have become and assumes that we’re still in the borderline ‘friends’ stage, but it still didn’t give him the fucking right to hold out on me!


My mood was no better in the morning, and it was unfortunate that he had to be the first face I saw as I stumbled my way into the kitchen to nourish myself before heading out for a quick jog.




“Good morning,” came the tentative greeting and smile. “Did you sleep...?”


He froze in mid-question as I glared at him and brushed past Haku – who was busy preparing breakfast and must have realized I was definitely not in the mood for whatever chirpy greeting he had in store for me. He turned back quickly to cooking and pretended as if I hadn’t entered the room at all.


I slumped into the chair across from my sibling, coldly staring at him as if hoping I could telepathically convey my disapproval of how he’s treated me so far. Haku must have finally gotten the message that this was a conversation between brothers because he quickly excused himself with the pretense of having some laundry to take care of.


“Okay...” Itachi sighed heavily and dropped his chopsticks. “What did I do now?”


“You know exactly what you did,” I hissed in irritation. How he could act like this was beyond me.


“I do?” He genuinely looked bemused and I have to admit that a small part of me wondered if last night had been a dream. Did he really think not telling me about Naruto was no big deal? I frowned and decided to test him out again.


“Never mind,” I grunted and tapped my fingertips on the table, and keeping my voice even I asked as nonchalantly as I could. “Have you still heard no word from Jiraiya?”


There was a flicker of something within his eyes that I would have missed if I hadn’t been studying him carefully.


(ah ha! Lie...lie now. I dare you to!)


“Actually...” He paused and took a deep breath. “Yes.”


My heart skipped a beat. I had really expected him to deny it, but this blunt honest answer had me stumped and slightly gasping for breath.


He gave a small smile and cupped his chin; his gaze not giving anything away as he continued quietly. “Danzo has recruited him already.”


(ba-dump ba-dump ba-dump ba-dump)



“It was much faster than anyone expected, but Jiraiya planned for Naruto to gain a reputation on the streets of Kyoto. Under Jiraiya’s orders, he was to begin eliminating members of the Bakufu Syndicate while allying himself with the Mibu Syndicate. As you already know, Danzo’s more than ready to work with the Mibu to take down Ikegami, hence when word of Naruto’s prowess reached him...he was naturally intrigued. Danzo was so impressed by what he saw...he’s already taken Naruto into his fold.”


(so you’ve finally done it, Naruto. You’ve finally taken the first step to your revenge. Should I be happy for you or worried that you are now about to enter a world where I can never reach you?)


“Danzo didn’t question anything about his past?” I asked when I felt I could speak without my voice giving away how shaken I felt inside.


“If he did, I don’t know. I’m only giving you the information Shikamaru related to Temari. So good, eh?”


I swallowed tightly and squeezed my eyes shut to gather myself for a second before opening them again to burst out in frustration and anger. “So why are you telling me this now?! Why did you keep this from me all this time if you knew about the situation?!”


“I only heard of it last week,” he confessed with an apologetic smile. “I didn’t think you’d want to concern yourself too much about Naruto especially when you’re up to your neck with training and -”


“Geez, nii-san,” I interrupted sarcastically. “I’ve only asked you about him every other goddamn day.”


“Yes...oddly enough, and I wonder why.”


“Wha...what?” Great. I just had to sound that breathless and ‘caught’, didn’t I? His small but knowing smile wasn’t helping much either.


“How do you really feel about Naruto now, Sasuke?” came the quiet but blunt question that just about took the wind out of my sails. I stumbled around for a decent rebuttal, to tell him to mind his own business, and yet the sudden image of he and Shisui looking so comfortable and happy in their own world last night, had me biting my lip in envy. I lowered my lashes and shrugged lightly.


“We...we are close,” I finally admitted through lips that felt heavy. My heart thudded loudly in my chest, so much so, I was sure he could hear it, or even worse actually ‘see’ just how close Naruto and I had become in that final night before his departure. But that was silly. I didn’t believe the Uchiha were given the gift of being able to see the past...probably the future.


“How close?”


“Close enough that it’s none of your damn business,” I clipped tightly. “At least you have Shisui with you, and what do I have?”


I hadn’t meant to say that. I really didn’t. It made me sound petty and jealous; small and childish in the face of an insurmountable and overwhelming wall of ‘aloneness’ I was not used to. It wasn’t the loneliness of not having a family, and that was something I had adjusted to over the years, but this was...different, and maybe Itachi was right after all. Perhaps it would have been best if I hadn’t overheard the conversation last night or asked about Naruto in the first place. It was clear he wasn’t too concerned about me or Itachi would have at least mentioned it. Or did Temari just forget?


(or she doesn’t know either...after all she’s getting her information from Shikamaru)


“I know it’s hard right now,” came the soft-spoken words as he reached out to clasp my hand gently. He squeezed it a little. “But just try to remember that he’s doing what needs to be done to get back to you...right? I’m sure in his own way and time he’ll contact you eventually. I’ve already given Temari our private phone number so...”


“ long must I wait?” I asked as my heart sunk. “We’ll be heading out soon and -”


“Be optimistic for once, eh?” He poked my forehead playfully, which earned him a pout as I rubbed the area that throbbed slightly. “If he loves you as much as you love him, he won’t give up on you that easily.”


I sputtered and tried to deny the whole “love” thing, but Itachi was already rising to his feet.


“Now eat up, my dear pessimistic little brother. We’ve got a full day ahead.”


And with an embarrassing kiss on the top of my head, I was left to wallow in the afterglow of being babied by an older brother who was still trying to make up for lost time. For goodness sake, I was no longer a fucking kid!


So why the hell couldn’t I stop blushing up a storm or smiling a little? Although that was soon wiped away as I finally noticed Haku had reappeared and was standing by the door to the kitchen with a pensive expression on his visage.


“What’s wrong?” I queried, although a part of me could probably already guess what the problem could be.


“I...I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” he gushed out quickly as if afraid his thoughts would ramble on without him. “But...but I couldn’t help overhearing what Itachi-sama said about Naruto-kun.”


Ah, of course.


(you’re still in love with him, aren’t you?)


“ heard what he said, didn’t you?” I asked with a wan smile. “Naruto’s doing quite well without us having to worry about him.”


Haku nodded slowly, though his gaze was still downcast. “Do you think he’s forgotten about us already?”


(no...he couldn’t have...he’s not allowed to...he swore he’d never forget)


“I don’t think so,” I replied aloud. “It’s not been that long since he left us, so how could he forget already? Look, why don’t we focus on the battle ahead and if we’re lucky to get done before Naruto’s finished with his...then we can search for him and help out if he needs us to.”


That seemed to perk him up considerably as he finally lifted his head with a tremulous smile on his features. “You really think so, Sasuke-sama? Can we really assist Naruto-kun if he wants us to?”


“I don’t see why not.” I shrugged as if it was no big deal. However, I could hear warning bells going off at the back of my head at what kind of a bogus promise I was making. There was no damn guarantee it was going to happen. For all I knew, neither of us would make it out of this battle alive. Who was I to give him such false hope?


“All right!” Haku seemed to pump himself up with a loud war cry and a loud clap of his hands. “I’ve got to work extra hard today during training then. Sasori-sama and Tenten-san are joining me for practice. Sasori-sama says he wants to be as good as we are.” He laughed at that as if unable to believe the older man would want to take lessons from him.




“Yes, Sasuke-sama?”


I studied him carefully. Ever since his return, we’ve haven’t exactly brought up the topic of his fiasco with Sai, and I have yet to really gauge how he feels about the whole incident. Watching his interaction with the other members of the organization has been great especially his unlikely (or maybe not) camaraderie with Sasori. Together, they looked way too young to be such seasoned warriors, and yet all you had to do was listen in to their conversations to realize they were wise beyond their years.


“Are are you doing?” I asked quietly.


He opened his mouth to give a generic answer, but seemed to realize exactly what I was asking for he lowered his head again and gave a barely audible sigh. “I still have nightmares once in a while,” he confessed. “And it’s sometimes hard to believe that whole thing happened, but...but I can’t dwell too much on that anymore. Sai isn’t the first person I’ve killed, and he won’t be the last.”


He punctuated that cold matter-of-fact statement with a final scoop of rice in the bowl before placing it before me.


“You know what I really think, Sasuke-sama?”




“I look at everyone in the group...see how well we all work together and I tell myself that I shouldn’t get too attached because someday...very soon, some of them, I might never see again.” He bit his lower lip, a thin film of tears hovering in the corners of his eyes. “With everyday we practice and go over routines and I watch you, Shisui-sama and Itachi-sama discuss battle plans, it hits me just how serious this really is. I thought what we had faced after Gudan was terrible, but I fear this might be worse than that. I almost don’t want to make any more friends  because saying goodbye hurts too much.”


He paused, seemed to shake himself a little as if suddenly aware of where he was, before wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. He bowed in apology and gave me a sheepish smile.


“I am sorry for speaking like this to you, Sasuke-sama. You would not approve of my moment of weakness and it is unlike a soldier to become this sentimental before a battle. You’ve told me that many times before.”


“But  unlike before, we are fighting for something even bigger than ourselves,” I said softly. “We’re no longer fighting for someone we do not care about, Haku. This time around, we are fighting for all those who have lost their lives for no damn good reason at all; the innocent families ripped from their roots, the lives destroyed in the hands of a maniacal bastard, and the restoration of a tradition that was meant to bring peace and stability to a country. This time, Haku, when we march back into Byaku-Shinkyou, it’s to take back what’s rightfully ours. We might not all make it out alive, but at least we know we went in there for a purpose and that we shed our blood for a worthy cause.”


I reached out to squeeze his hand gently.


“So what do you say? Let’s try to rewrite history, eh, Haku?”


He needn’t have said another word for the expression in his eyes; respect, love, admiration and determination were more than enough for me. He reversed our positions by now clutching my hand and raising it to his lips to give it a reverent kiss.


“I renew my vows to fight by your side, Sasuke-sama, and to obey Naruto-kun’s plea as well.”




“I keep thinking it was a dream,” he admitted shyly. “but I believe it was probably when Naruto-kun came to see me while I was at the clinic to say his goodbyes.”


And as he cradled my hand to his cheek and closed his eyes, his final message from Naruto – something I had secretly craved and longed to hear for so long – would finally cement that four-letter word I had tried to foolishly avoid and ignore.




In the subtle waves between objective reality and the subjective subconscious, Haku could feel the slight pressure of the warm forehead against his, and the soothing breath that bathed his clammy flesh while strong hands squeezed his gently.


“I’m selfish,” came the whispered words that were thick with unshed tears. “I know what I’m about to ask you is selfish as hell considering how you feel about me, but...please...please do me this one favor, Haku...I beg you. Take care of him for me, okay? I don’t...I don’t know if I’m going to make it out alive on my end, so please...even if I’m not there and never with him until your last breath. Let this be the final wish you ever carry out for me, my dear friend.”


(for both of you will always be in my heart for as long as I live...)



Chapter 37

Naruto Home








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