Chapter 41

A Price for Devotion


If remembering me

Will for him in future years

Be too difficult,

It would be well this very day

That I should end my life.

-       Gido Sanshi no Haha



Hokkaido Prefecture


Always graceful in flight, Jūgo watched its arrival and slowly raised an outstretched finger to allow the tiny sparrow to descend upon it. As it ‘spoke’, his heart fell although a part of him was aware that this new development shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Hadn’t their mission from the start been a risky one? Wasn’t everyday a lesson in patience and fear; knowing that any false move could be the difference between success or a death execution? Hadn’t his decision to become intimate with a childhood friend been doomed from the moment their first kiss was shared? He knew Itachi hadn’t required him to go this far, but how could he resist? How could he make anyone (read as Kiba and Suigetsu) understand just how much he loved Kimimaro despite his oh-so-many flaws? How could he show them the memories of his childhood; of the young man who had laughed and smiled so effortlessly at every little thing Jūgo shared with him?


So what if the man today was a stranger to that emotion? So what if he had been the second-in-command to a villain so despicable even mentioning his name made Jūgo shiver in disgust? So what if the one he loved had such blind devotion to said villain and was too stubborn to want to see reason? Jūgo believed in that one thing called ‘hope’ and perhaps redemption. It might be a naïve trait to have considering the business he was in, but there had to be a little bit of good in everyone (although he was beginning to have doubts about Orochimaru’s ‘goodness’). It was why he held on to that thinning thread when it came to Kimimaro. He would continue to hold on for as long as it took, and even if it meant having to die…


/ “Do you fear death?”/

/ “No. If you are the one responsible for it...then I will not fear death.” /

/ “You are so naïve.” /

/ “I don’t care -” /

/ “I could kill you if I wanted to -” /

/ “Then I’ll die for you, my love.” /


(he sighed miserably at the memory of that conversation)


…he wouldn’t want it to end in any other way.


However as he was about to offer the sparrow a tiny crumb on the tip of his finger, a sudden BOOM! – so loud and thunderous that it literally shook the very ground he stood on – had the bird quivering in fright and taking off into the darkening skies.


Jūgo – on autopilot – placed a hand upon his katana in readiness, but was knocked to the snow-covered ground as the explosion went off again even louder and closer than before.


Shit! Are we under attack?!


A third explosion went off and there was no mistaking it now. The explosions were coming from within the grounds, and with the added cacophony of screaming prisoners and officers yelling at each other to take their positions, Jūgo had an inkling of who might be responsible for this.


“Don’t they learn?” he hissed beneath his breath as he staggered to his feet and began to make his way toward the main grounds. If it turned out that Suigetsu was responsible, Jūgo had a good mind to personally pummel the foolish silver-haired man to a pulp. Itachi-san had given specific instructions not to –


“Where are you going?” came the sudden cry as a hand fell upon his shoulder from behind.


Now wired up with adrenaline, Jūgo spun around to strike to find it was the very man of his thoughts panting breathlessly behind him. Suigetsu looked…




“What the hell are you doing?!” Jūgo roared as a stampede of frightened prisoners began to head their way. No easy task as many slipped and fell into the layer of snow accumulated throughout the day. It must have been at least three inches deep, and considering many were not exactly dressed adequately for the weather, they slid and got trampled on easily.


“Don’t look at me!” Suigetsu replied with his hands thrown up in the air. He grinned; a grotesque sight to match the blood stains on his pale features and uniform. He began to laugh almost maniacally. “This time around, you can’t blame me for this. I think our boys out there are close by – either that or someone in here has the same idea as us. Come on! Let’s go find Kiba!”


Not waiting to see if Jūgo followed him or not, Suigetsu led the way toward the administrative offices, while Jūgo did his best to keep up. It was difficult as some prisoners – too panic stricken and terrified – clung desperately to his uniform screaming “Help us! We don’t want to die! Get us out of here!” Jūgo was torn; between wanting to help the innocent (well all things considered they were ‘innocent’ in this situation) prisoners and needing to see where and what the hell Suigetsu was up, he tried his best to usher them in the direction of the gates. And perhaps he would have succeeded if the sudden bloodcurdling screams somewhere ahead didn’t send chills down his spine.


What the hell is going on…?


“Get back to your goddamn houses!” came the yells from irate officers – loyalists to Orochimaru no doubt – who were trying to do the exact opposite of Jūgo’s intentions. A series of gunshots soon rang out and more screams of terror ricocheted in the air including the anguished cry of someone going “I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot! Oh God! Help me!” Jūgo watched in horror as an officer practically stomped upon the dying man with a boot-clad foot until he screamed no more. The dead prisoner was then unceremoniously kicked to the side as yet more gunshots filled the air.


This is…this is madness! Jūgo thought frantically, as he took in the stomach-churning sight of pinkish-red snow all around him. This is absolute carnage! Itachi-sama…what the hell do we do now?


He grit his teeth as he watched another officer tug a prisoner’s yukata, but instead of simply pushing him back toward the residential area, he was repeatedly stabbed in his abdomen with a katana. Jūgo could feel the gradual well of anger within the pit of his stomach. He had vowed to not do anything rash until the cue was given, but this was too much. Even he had his limits and this time…this time that son-of-a-bitch and his cronies were not going to be forgiven.


“Get away from them!” he bellowed and swung with all his might. The officer would have just enough time to look up with bemusement on his features before his head went soaring into the night sky. Jūgo whipped out his pistol to take out another officer who had just begun beating a prisoner with a heavy bokken, all the while being careful not to eliminate any prisoner by accident. In fact, the more Jūgo looked, the more he realized that some more officers were going down and it had nothing to do with him. Some prisoners – who were no longer going to take the abuse anymore – had begun to turn the tables and were in full fight mode; ready and willing to take down anyone wearing the damned Watchdog uniform.


Not good, Jūgo thought quickly as he began to shrug out of the tell-tale kataginu. He would be just in time as a prisoner was rushing madly toward him; blood-streaked and with pure hate in his eyes. Jūgo barely raised his arm to block the incoming blow, and using the handle of his katana, he struck the prisoner’s ribs, while screaming into the flushed features, “I’m on your side! I’m on your goddamn side!”


But he might have been talking to a brick wall for all the impact this made. The prisoner was too far gone in his need for revenge that he came for Jūgo again, even more ferociously than before. He probably would have succeeded in doing some damage, if the sudden appearance of the tip of a katana through his open mouth didn’t have Jūgo doing a double-take in shock. A light grunt proceeded this as the katana was swiftly withdrawn and the dead prisoner slumped to the ground.


“Let’s go!” Kiba commanded, while tugging on Jūgo’s hand to pull him to his feet. “Suigetsu’s making his way to Orochimaru’s quarters. The bastard wants to take him out himself!”


“He’s going to die!” Jūgo yelled back as he and Kiba ducked and weaved past the chaos. “Is he crazy?”


“Don’t ask!” Kiba replied, though from the strained expression on his visage, it was clear that the thought had crossed his mind as well. He swung his katana at an officer who was about to stop them, while Jūgo took out another with a well-aimed shot at his forehead.


“Who started the explosions?” Jūgo asked.


“I have no clue,” Kiba replied. “We think it’s probably some prisoners, but we can’t be sure. Whatever it is…we’ve got to finish this tonight! GET DOWN!”


He shoved Jūgo into a hedge as the bullets rained all around them. Shit! He had forgotten about the stationed snipers on the rooftops especially when one got closer to Orochimaru’s domain. Just how the hell had Suigetsu managed to get past them? If he had that is. Kiba winced as the shooting continued, this time there were dying screams as some (foolish) prisoners had tried to make their way toward this side of the grounds as well.


“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” he hissed. This was not looking good at all.


Jūgo motioned for him to be silent as he fell onto his stomach and began to slither along the snow-covered ground as quietly as he could. For a big guy, Kiba had to give it to him. Jūgo had been one of the best during stealth exercises at training after all. He followed as quietly as he could, keeping to the shadows as the snipers focused on the newcomers. Or would have if a bullet didn’t nearly take off his left ear. Kiba winced and kept still, feeling the warmth of his blood pooling into his ear and down his cheek from the painful graze by the deadly weapon.


“You okay?” Jūgo whispered harshly.


“Yea…yeah,” Kiba replied with a weak smile. “Keep going. I’m still here.”


Jūgo nodded and continued his slow crawl; his heart jackhammering within his chest as every move was like a beacon to the sharp-eyed men on the roof who could see everything. At least if he and Kiba continued to stay close to the shadows, they would be fine. There was only a few feet left to the safety of one of the doors leading into the main temple.




“Not so fast, officer,” came the low drawl as a boot-clad foot stepped and crushed his fingers without preamble. Jūgo sucked in his breath as white hot pain flared through him. He looked up with an effort to see the smug features of one of Orochimaru’s cronies – Sakon. And from the low cry behind him, Ukon – his twin – had gotten the best of Kiba.


“Two more fish to add to the catch,” Ukon crooned in delight as he dragged a nearly comatose Kiba to his feet. Jūgo would have just enough time to notice that Kiba had been knocked out with a blow to his temple, when he felt another flash of brilliant pain at the back of his head before he was enclosed in complete and welcome darkness.






At the faint but unmistakable sound of the first explosion, our horses neighed and fretted in protest, forcing Haku and I to come to a reluctant stop. In tense silence, we watched the gradual rise of billowing gray clouds while struggling to control the excited beast beneath me.


(what the hell is going on?)




Haku’s voice quivered slightly, though his expression was concentrated on the scenario before us. We were not too far from Byaku-Shinkyou as the familiar stretch of road leading to the famed gates yawned before us as if in cold invitation.


(welcome back, Sasuke-sama. Won’t you come right in to see what disaster awaits?)


I tightened my grip on the reins, frowning as a gamut of confused and worrisome thoughts raced through my mind. Were we too late? Had Orochimaru’s madness gotten to the point of him deciding to destroy the entire place as the ultimate revenge? If that was the case…




“Let’s move, Haku,” I commanded through clenched teeth.


With a swift kick on my horse’s sides, we galloped toward the jaws of Death, or if I was lucky – the arms of Redemption. I wondered if the others following behind had heard the explosions as well and were quickening their pace, for goodness knew I would definitely need more than Haku for backup if things had escalated this quickly. I couldn’t imagine just what was happening within my grounds, but the sounds of yet another explosion did not help my cause at all.


Stop destroying my home, you bastard! I screamed within as the towering gates began to loom in our sights.  


I withdrew my katana; throwing quick glances at the guard towers stationed at either end of the walls surrounding the compound. Usually there were at least three guards in each – snipers to be more exact – to make sure people like Haku and I didn’t come barging in to cause trouble. However, it seemed like our dear guards had their hands full as I noticed their attention was not trained in our direction, but in the opposite. They seemed to be shooting at people within the grounds, and from the terrified screams and cries now drifting toward Haku and I, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that those fuckers were mass-murdering panicked prisoners wishing to escape.




“I got it, Sasuke-sama!” he yelled back as he promptly leapt into action, knowing damn well that his pinpoint accuracy with the throwing knives was never more needed at this point. From the corner of my eye, I watched him jump off his horse and throw at the same time. Two knives reached their targets on the left tower, while the third was still too busy re-loading his rifle. He would not have enough time to process just why his companions were no longer helping him as the third knife lodged itself on his upper arm, forcing him to drop his weapon with an agonized cry of pain.


I leapt off my horse, making sure I grabbed what I needed before slapping its rear in an indication that it was no longer needed. Haku was already making his way toward the right tower when the first whizz of bullets flew by me to lodge themselves in the snow. I cursed and looked up to notice that the right tower guards – at least one of them – had noticed Haku and I and was now probably bound to alert the guards at the front gate. However, just as he was about to raise the radio to his lips to give the signal, Haku’s throwing knife knocked the equipment out of his grip. Another was soon buried within the guard’s forehead, giving me enough time to make my way toward the heaving gates.


I say ‘heaving’ because it literally looked that way. The prisoners trying to escape were doing their best to push it open from within, while the overwhelmed guards outside could do nothing but try to hold them back as best they could. The funny thing is that the gates are usually barricaded with the strongest of steel and thick wooden panels, which on any given day would have been impossible for any man to push. However, the architects had never considered the weight of more than a hundred (or more) men all pushing at the same time, and I could only watch in mild fascination as the strain of all that force began to slowly make an impact.


“Sasuke-sama?” Haku panted beside me as he ran back to my side to watch what was taking place. “What do we…?”


I silenced him with a raised hand and marched toward the four guards screaming at the irate crowd within to “stay back or they’ll be shot!” I recognized them; two soldiers I had trained while the other two were new faces I had never seen before. Either way, there was an element of terror and confusion on their flushed faces, and when one of them finally turned around to notice me, the expression slowly became one of astonishment and dare I say…relief?


“Sas…Sasuke-sama?” he asked in a hushed whisper that was barely audible amongst the cacophony. “Is that really you, Sasuke-sama?!”


His question finally had the other three turning around in bemusement, and just like the first guard, their jaws dropped in disbelief. To my embarrassment, one of the men I had trained immediately burst into tears and made an attempt to run into my arms, but I pushed him back and shook my head.


“Control yourself, Fuu-san,” I ordered firmly. “This is not the time or place for sentimental reunions.” At my chiding, he nodded fervently and struggled to gather himself. The new guards weren’t too taken by my presence as they took threatening steps before me, but Haku positioned himself in front of me and I didn’t need to see his expression as the guards seemed to shrink back a little.


“What’s going on in there?” I asked as the gates strained even more and the voices grew louder and more shrill. I could now hear the sounds of more gunshots and more screams. I hated to see what the view was going to be like when the gates were finally opened.


“We have no idea, Sasuke-sama,” Fuu replied with panic in his tone. “We were just at our stations as normal and then all of a sudden…BOOM! An explosion inside! We tried to radio in for confirmation on whether it had something to do with a broken pipe or gas leak or something, but no one could tell us exactly what happened. And then…!”


“…we heard all the pandemonium inside,” the older one – Tsubasa – chimed in with his story. “We’ve been trying to hold them back now, but it’s no use. They might knock the gates down soon if we don’t do something, Sasuke-sama.”


“LET US OUT! LET US OUT! LET US OUT!” the chants and cries continued incessantly, and the four guards looked back and then to me, now clearly afraid and relying on me to save their hides. I closed my eyes for a second, my grip tightening on the katana as if hoping to draw strength from it. I tried to even my breathing, to steady the steady thud thud thud of my heartbeat as I pictured someone who – under any other circumstance – I would have welcomed as my companion in this battle.


(if you were here, Naruto…what would you do?)




(you know exactly what you ought to do, Sasuke. Now stop fucking around and get this damn show on the road)


Ah, how I’ve missed hearing that voice even if I’m sure it’s just my subconscious conjuring up Naruto’s response as if he were actually here.


I lifted my lashes and took a deep breath, before looking at each guard in the eye to ask succinctly.


“Where do your loyalties lie?”


I would have laughed at the sudden jaw drops this elicited, but I was in no mood for that particular reaction. I frowned as they seemed indecisive and I asked again; louder this time.


“Where do your loyalties lie?”


Fuu was the first to break rank as he stepped forward and replied firmly. “With you, Sasuke-sama!” He ignored the looks thrown at him from the newer officers as Tsubasa joined him with a simple nod. “It’s always been with you, Sasuke-sama. We were just too cowardly to join the others who escaped, but we’re not making that mistake this time.”


“You traitors!” one of the new guards cried out and dashed toward Fuu, but Tsubasa was quicker as he whipped out his pistol to send a bullet right between the officer’s eyes. He trained the gun on the other as if hoping to take him out as well, but this one was already whimpering and surrendering.


“Right. I’m glad to see we’re all in accord,” I said with a firm nod. “Now listen to me. I want you to activate the gates -”


“It’s going to be mayhem,” Fuu began in protest, but I shook my head and placed a hand of reassurance on his shoulder.


“Trust me…let them go. What’s the use of keeping them within at this point? Whatever is going on in there, I need a clear path to get inside, and that’s not going to be possible with so many prisoners blocking my way, is it?”


Tsubasa nodded in understanding and motioned for Fuu and the other guard to help him.


“Take off your jackets,” I called out as they dashed toward the machinery where several levers had to be pushed and pulled. “You know the prisoners will head straight for you if they see you still in uniform.”


They didn’t need to be told that twice. They couldn’t shrug out of the heavy jackets fast enough, and burying them within the snow, they clumped back to the equipment; clouds of smoke billowing from their mouths as the chill of the night air began to set into their bones. Haku and I stepped away from the direct path of the road and hid behind the low wall adjacent to the much higher one. We watched as Tsubasa gave the order and the familiar grinding and groaning sound of those massive gates – as ancient as Time itself – began to swing open ever so slowly.


In much more peaceful times, the ‘ceremony’ of such a thing would have given one a grand view of the temple within heralded by a garden and lawns capable of taking your breath away. However, on this cold, bitter and death-stained night, instead of seeing green lawns and a kaleidoscope of colors, we were greeted with the ghastly sight of piles of dead bodies amidst the lucky survivors already dashing out through the little space created by the still opening gates.


Haku’s low cry of anguish was muffled as he slapped a hand over his mouth, while I could only stare in numbed shock at the carnage before me. Perhaps the old me would not have felt an ounce of pity for the men now turning blue from the cold, neither would he have thought much of how dark red the snow had become around said men, but not today and perhaps never again. The new me was appalled and sickened to his stomach, and more than dimly aware that in some strange way, he was partly responsible for all of this. If only he had seen Orochimaru’s madness before it got out of hand, if only he had been strong enough to stop the man in his tracks while he still had a chance, none of this would have happened.


I watched – as if in slow motion – as a prisoner who had just managed to escape and was about to give a strangled cry of victory, immediately slump to earth with a gurgled cry as a bullet passed through his heart. Several others were limping; glazed expressions of delirious joy on their features as they tried to soak in the realization that they were free. And perhaps they would have joined the fate of their fellow dead prisoners if Haku didn’t galvanize into action to throw his knives at the officers responsible for still shooting down prisoners from within the grounds.


It was my cue to stop musing about what is and what shouldn’t be as I rose to my feet and dashed toward my version of Hell. Fuu and Tsubasa were quick to join, and from the expression on their faces, I knew it was going to be of no use to try to talk them out of it. If they were determined to fight with me to the death, then so be it.


“Goddamnit,” Tsubasa grumbled as we had to maneuver our way past the pileup. “What madness is this?!”


I was quick to notice that it wasn’t just prisoners among the dead, but several officers too (not including the ones Haku took out).


More prisoners were dashing toward the gates – like school children finally being released for the summer holidays. In their tow were more officers, many of them swinging away freely, chopping off limbs or shooting randomly with the hope of adding to their body count. I tried to blend in with the chaos, while targeting the officers responsible and inflicting just as much pain as they had caused to others.


I must admit that it felt good to use my katana again, and though I had feared I’d be a little rusty after months of being laid off, there was a dull thrill at the sight of the sharp blade piercing through flesh and neatly slicing away at a head or arm or leg.


No one would recognize me for I had the hood of my cloak over my head again (and the flurries were getting a little heavier now by the way, so visibility was bound to be shot quite soon) and as I made my way further into the grounds, I could feel the hairs at the back of my neck prickling with awareness.


(he’s watching me)


“Urgh.” I ducked as several bullets whizzed by, rolling along the icy ground before finding solace behind the walls of the dojo I had taught so many students over the years. It pained me to see the bullet holes on the sacred building, but this was no time to mull over architectural destruction.


(he’s watching me)


My goal was to get to Orochimaru’s quarters as soon as possible, though I would have been a fool not to notice the growing queasiness in the pit of my stomach. The stench of smoke, gas and hot oil filled the air as I drew closer, and if my theory was correct, the explosions had probably taken place around the residential quarters for the officers. I had to wonder if a prisoner was responsible for this or if some rebel officers had decided to take matters into their own hands. At this point, I was beginning to doubt Orochimaru’s involvement with the attack. Though it might have seemed plausible – at the start – that he’d want to destroy Byaku-Shinkyou, just stepping into his ‘territory’ was a reminder of just how much he loved this place in his own sick way.


(but then again, hadn’t I been naïve enough to believe he had nothing to do with the death of my parents all those years ago? I really can’t give him the benefit of the doubt)


It was less chaotic here and I could see why. Among the dead bodies I passed, most of them had been taken out by bullets – an indication that Orochimaru’s snipers were on high alert. Fuu and Tsubasa had offered to watch my back, but I must have lost them in another skirmish with some guards and prisoners. I had almost forgotten Haku was with me, until his hand fell upon my shoulder to stop me in mid-stride. I turned to him with a raised brow. Like me, his head was partially covered with the hood of his cloak, but there was no mistaking the strained expression on his pale features.


“What’s the matter?” I asked in a low whisper.


“Look…up there…”


I did.


With their figures making stark dark silhouettes against the night sky, several resourceful prisoners were silently making their way along the rooftops where the snipers were stationed. I watched in horrified fascination as a prisoner jumped onto the back of a sniper, and with the quick motion of his hand, it was clear he slit the throat of the officer. All around the quadrangle, the surprise ambushes were taking place. I wasn’t sure of the ratio of prisoners to officers now, but with the way things were going, I had a feeling that there would be no more uniformed guards left. I was loathe to see if the hardcore men in the East Block had been released. If that was the case, there was really going to be no hope for anyone foolish enough to still be wearing a uniform.


“Come on, Haku,” I whispered as I led the way across the courtyard and toward an area I never thought I’d get to see again in my life.


Nothing much had changed, and as I passed familiar gilded statues and pillars, that queasiness within me threatened to spill out of my mouth. There was an eerie ‘quiet’ here compared to the madness just beyond the threshold, and as Haku and I jogged the stone steps leading to Orochimaru’s den, it came as no surprise to see the two men waiting for us at the very top.


Of course. Had we expected an easy passage?


“Well, well, well, it’s not every day we get to see a ghost, do we, Sakon-chan?” Ukon drawled as he tapped his leg with his katana. He grinned; a malicious sight made worse with the annoying turquoise lipstick he and his brother insisted on wearing.   


“Ghosts are rare indeed, Ukon-chan,” Sakon replied with a matching grin. It was hard to tell them apart, but having grown up with these two bastards, one way of knowing who the older was (Ukon) was the tone of his voice, which was much deeper – also he tended to part his gray hair to the left. Either way, I despised them both and there was simply no love lost between us.


I took a threatening step forward, but Haku – ever predictable – took his position before me with that familiar cold stare on his visage. Like me, he had never been a fan of the twins for they had gone out of their way to tease and humiliate him while under Orochimaru’s servitude. I couldn’t be sure, but I had no doubt those bastards might have had their sexual perverseness displayed before Haku quite a few times. Whatever the case, someone was going to get hurt tonight, and I had no intention of it being me or my dear companion.


“You’ve grown taller, Haku-chan,” Sakon crooned in delight with a slow lick of his lips. “You’re even more beautiful than I remember. It’s going to be a shame having to carve up that pretty face of yours.”


“But what about Sasuke-chan?” Ukon mused with a mock pout. “Look at him. He looks even more delicious than I recall. Leaner…stronger…mmm…finger-licking goooood.”


I’d heard enough. I swept past Haku with my katana drawn; my goal for Ukon who was still grinning at me. He swung so fast (I had forgotten how dangerous the asshole could be), but I was quick to leap out of the way; just enough to spin around with my blade; hoping it would make contact. It did, but barely. Ukon’s speed was enough to rival Kimimaro’s as he dodged and only suffered a loud and long rip of his uniform. He dashed for me and would have made contact, if I didn’t slide out of the way (guess the ice that had formed on the ground made it a little easier for me to do this) and raise my sword at the same time. I swung and this time, Ukon’s light grunt of pain was followed by me kicking at his shin to send him staggering against a pillar. On my right, I could hear Haku and Sakon going at it though a part of me was worried that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the older man. Haku had never been that good with the katana let alone a pistol, and if Sakon had either weapon on him –


“DIE!” Ukon roared as he dove for me again, this time with two swords in either hand. His crazed features were blocked by his hair as I rolled away from the weapons that lodged dangerously close to where my head had been. Unfortunately, the sneaky bastard was still able to inflict some damage as I felt the blinding pain shoot up my arm.  He had cut through my cloak and created a gash on my upper left arm; not enough to have me completely disabled thank goodness.


“Orochimaru-sama’s been waiting for you,” Ukon sneered as he licked away my blood from the tip of his sword. “He’s been waiting a loooong time. He knew you were coming. Just as he knew all of this was going to happen. He’s got a surprise for you too. Oh yes. A wonderful surprise. Three little traitors sent by your brother and his pathetic organization.” He laughed then as I felt my blood run cold. So Orochimaru had known about Jūgo, Kiba, and Suigetsu’s role all this time. He had gone along with the ruse as if unaware when he must have known all along. All of a sudden I felt incredibly sad for Itachi and his best-laid plans; that Orochimaru had always been one step ahead even ‘til now.


“It’s pointless,” Ukon was saying as he walked toward me. “Everything is pointless. You’re not going to be able to defeat him, Sasuke-chan. You’ve always been weak in the presence of Orochimaru-sama, so why should this be any different?”


For a moment – oh yes, - a brief moment, I felt a block of fear wedge itself in my heart. The doubts and all the missed opportunities over the years came flooding back as Ukon’s taunts did their best to seep into my subconscious. My knees trembled and the humiliation of knowing that his words were right…that I was indeed a weakling and that all of this was of no use…threatened to have me cowering in defeat.


(that’s right…he’s right…they’re all right. That’s why I was never able to finish the job all those years. Because deep down inside, I’m not as strong as I think I am. I can’t do this…what the hell was I thinking about all this…)


“Stand up, Sasuke!”




I blinked hard and stared in disbelief at the man before me. It couldn’t be possible. I knew it wasn’t possible, but I’ll be damned if in that very moment Naruto wasn’t standing before me in that cursed drab yukata he had worn while incarcerated. If I reached out, I could touch him…hold onto him…tell and convince myself that he was here with me. However, the expression on his face gave me no opportunity to test my fantasies. His features were thunderous; a look of disgust and anger clearly aimed at what I was becoming.


“Don’t just sit there feeling sorry for yourself,” this hallucination said with a clench of his fist. “For fuck’s sake, get up and grow a pair! You keep talking about your proud Uchiha clan and history and how strong you all were, but then you never put up! You’ve used that excuse for far too long and it’s not gonna cut it this time!”


(my excuses…)


“For the past year, you’ve worked hard to get to this point and now you’re gonna let this jackass talk you out of it? What was all that pain and anguish for, eh? Just so you can run away with your tail between your legs? GET THE FUCK UP AND FIGHT!”


(no more excuses…)


“You’re damn right! Now go! Time’s a-wasting, Sasuke.”


I studied that face as if deprived and when it finally broke into that oh-so-familiar smile that seemed to radiate effortless warmth, the immediate surge of adrenaline to course through my body had me springing to my feet and just in the nick of time for Ukon had plunged his sword in my direction again. Without thinking, without wanting to question my motives or decisions, I finally let myself go. With a precision that would have had Asuma applauding with pride, I deflected the incoming blow with a raised foot and swung at his midriff with both hands clenched tightly around my sword.


I must have put all my strength into that particular strike because the sudden gush of hot blood to splatter my face and body nearly blinded me from seeing that I had almost hacked the other man in half. His comical expression of surprise at this brazen attack was completely wiped out as the sudden loud sound of a gunshot nearly had me going deaf. A perfect round hole had formed on Ukon’s forehead and as I withdrew my sword, he slumped to the ground like a log. There was a second shot, and this time it was directed at my left side, where I spun around quickly to notice that it was now Sakon doing his own imitation of a fallen tree. Standing beside him with a stricken expression on his visage was my blood-streaked companion. However, the look wasn’t directed at the dead man, but rather on the person now stepping out of the shadows and into our presence.


Fuck. Not him. Not now.


“Welcome back, Haku,” came the quiet greeting as Kimimaro gave a wan smile at the boy literally quivering before him. It felt strange to have to see the older man look so…’neat’ in his white uniform while we looked as if we had been drenched in blood shower. Besides, my left arm was beginning to throb and I was sure it would eventually go numb with the cold weather seeping into the wound. I just hoped it would hold up for the potential fight with Orochimaru.


Kimimaro gave me a cursory glance – as if not really interested in noticing my existence.


“He’s waiting for you, and I have no doubt you’ll know where to find him,” he finally said with a light shrug. “I will not get in your way, Sasuke. Besides…”


He turned back to Haku, that small inscrutable smile still on his visage. “Haku and I have a lot of catching up to do.”


I looked at my trusted servant and friend with concern, but Haku must have had an inner pep talk with himself because he seemed to straighten up with a puff of his chest. If he was going to die, then he was going to do it with everything he’s got.


“Don’t worry about me, Sasuke-sama,” he said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I’ll be joining you shortly. I made a promise to protect you until my life was taken, and I don’t intend to break that promise now.”


My heart clenched tightly at his words, but all I could give was a light nod of understanding. He had his battles to face and I had mine. I would have to trust that he could hold his own against Kimimaro and make it back to me in one piece.


(stay safe, my friend. I beg of you)


With that quick prayer, I spun on my heels and dashed into the warm confines of Orochimaru’s lair, knowing now that all my doubts and fears would have been set aside for the meantime.


(this is it)


There was simply no turning back now.







He watched Sasuke get engulfed by the darkness, and he swallowed tightly; telling himself that there was nothing to fear. If there was one thing about his master, it was Sasuke’s uncanny ability to think logically during a fight and that had been displayed already with his defeat of Ukon – at least before Kimimaro showed up to finish the deal.


Speaking of which, he forced himself to look back to the man still watching him in pensive silence, and as his fingers tightened around the handle of the poisoned jutte hidden within his cloak, Haku prayed he had enough to outlast this fight and beyond (just in case Sasuke-sama needed any help).


All I have to do is whip it out and throw it, he thought as he took a wary step back. Just…throw it and hope it doesn’t miss.


‘Hope’ being the key word here for if his fight with Sakon had been any indication, Haku knew he was likely to escape by a hair. His body ached and throbbed from all the blows the twin had inflicted on him despite his attempts to dodge the incoming attacks. Sure some of the knives he had thrown had found several targets, but Sakon had seemed to bounce back – as if the poison had no effect on him whatsoever. Only now, as he lay dead in the snow, did Haku begin to notice the parts of his body being eaten away by the acidic venom.


He took another tentative step back, wondering why Kimimaro was making no overt move yet. It was disconcerting and Haku could feel his features flush as he wondered if his once loving mentor was simply mocking him. He knew it wasn’t wise to let anger take its course in such a fight, but damn it! A part of him still wanted to be acknowledged and respected by the older man; to show that he had done a little bit of growing up after all this time apart.


It was with that desperate thought that he lunged for Kimimaro, and in hindsight he probably should have known better.


The blinding pain would come first before Haku found himself crashing into a wall before slumping to the ground. His abdomen felt like it was on fire, and he struggled to breathe while attempting to get back to his feet unsteadily. He could hear Kimimaro’s heavy but sure footsteps approaching and panic, like a douse of ice, washed over him.


If I don’t move…if I can’t get myself to move…


He spun and flung two knives in Kimimaro’s direction, grimacing as the older man dodged them with almost feline grace. To Haku’s dismay, Kimimaro seemed to vanish for a brief moment – only to suddenly appear right behind the younger man with a strong arm wrapped around his neck to hold him prisoner.


(oh no!)


Haku gasped as the pressure increased; his circulation being cut off as his lungs burned for the need for air. His vision swam and he struggled fruitlessly to be released from the death grip, but Kimimaro wasn’t letting up.


“It will go much easier if you stopped trying to fight,” came the husky words breathed into his ear. “You have no idea how much it hurts me to have to do this, Haku.”


He felt something cold, hard and quite sharp pierce though his lower back, and considering he was not completely at a 100% healed from the injuries caused by Sai, Haku was powerless to stop the final buckling of his knees as his body sagged in defeat. At least the pressure around his neck was loosening and he could finally grab in some precious air. Unfortunately, he could feel the warmth of his blood beginning to pool around his waist and he wondered just how deep the knife had gone into him…or worse if Kimimaro had used his own poisoned jutte on him.


“I am dying,” Kimimaro suddenly confessed in a voice that sounded strained, but which still managed to send a jolt of shock through Haku’s body. “Do you know that, my dear one?”


Kimimaro was still not releasing him. He had withdrawn the knife – thankfully - and Haku could vaguely hear it clatter to the ground. He winced as the older man’s arm wrapped around his waist from behind; the other still wrapped loosely around Haku’s neck. Anyone looking one would assume they were in an intimate embrace…except for the darkening pool forming beneath Haku’s feet.


“I have a rare disease,” Kimimaro continued as if it were perfectly natural to be having this kind of conversation. “And though it’s been dormant since my childhood, the symptoms have gotten worse over the past few years…well this last year especially.”


Haku could sense the bitter smile on the older man’s face as Kimimaro buried his lips against his hair. There was a tender kiss placed and despite it all, Haku felt his eyes burning with unshed tears. He captured his lower lip between his teeth to control himself.


“I guess you realize how bad it is when you begin to cough up blood or find it in your urine. Orochimaru must have known, why else would he continue to give me concoction after concoction to drink…with no success? I’d like to believe he was trying his best to cure me, but at the same time, I knew I was simply being observed. Perhaps he wanted to know just how long I’d hold out before completely giving in to Death’s Call.”


His voice thickened and he hugged Haku to him a little tighter.


“Happy memories are few and far between and for the past few months, I’ve done my best to latch on to them. You are a part of those happier times, Haku. Knowing I had found someone to care for, someone who could look up to me as a big brother…aaaah…how happy it made me.”


The tears broke free and rolled down Haku’s cheeks silently.


“I would have done anything and everything for you,” Kimimaro whispered. “But I became a coward in the end; unable to protect you when you needed me the most. And for that, I apologize…though my words may seem meaningless now. Watching you with Sasuke was hurtful, but I could see how much of a difference you were making in his life and vice versa. The smiles that had stopped when Orochimaru took you away from me were back again. I saw what you could have become if I had been strong enough to fight for you, and I resigned myself to knowing that you’d eventually find happiness even if it wasn’t in my company.”


The snow flurries that had stopped for a while began again in earnest as if to embellish Kimimaro’s tale. In the distance, they could still hear the chaos taking place around the grounds as if Hell had been unleashed but kept away by an invisible barrier.


“I thought I would never get to see you again, Haku…and I was sure it was only God’s way of punishing me for my many sins, but he deemed it fit to send someone from the past to give me another inkling of what true happiness could be.”


This time Kimimaro’s voice hitched and Haku was sure the older man was sobbing. This was compounded with the gentle squeeze around his waist, though it only did more to remind Haku of the pain in his lower back.


“God sent that beautiful soul back to me and through him gave me so many chances to make the right decision and each time…each time, I refused. Each time, I was too weak and afraid to take that final step…to seek the freedom I could have deserved. He knew…Orochimaru knew and laughed at me…and now, he’s made me do something I can never forgive myself for. What other reason do I have to live for now?”


Haku, who had closed his eyes, lifted his lashes slowly. Kimimaro – now wallowing in his self-pity – had slackened his grip and Haku knew this was the opportunity he was looking for. He had to be careful; to move in a way so as not to alert the older man to what he was doing. Trembling fingers sought for the pocket within the front of his hakama. They found the tip of the blade and he pricked his finger, but that was the least of his worries. After all Sasori-sama had made him drink an entire bottle of the antidote, so he was immune to the venom.


“I’m so sorry,” were the muffled words that kept being repeated over and over again like a mantra. “I’m so so sorry.”


Haku sniffled and felt his heart break all over again, but there was no doubt of what he had to do. He might eventually die from blood loss, but at least he would make sure Kimimaro-sama never had to suffer on this Earth any longer. It was the least he could do to repay the favor.


“I forgive you, Kimimaro-sama,” he finally whispered. “I forgive you…”


He buried the knife within the meaty portion of Kimimaro’s forearm and slashed through muscle and bone, and even before the knife was withdrawn, Haku could hear the dull hiss of eroding flesh.


With a sharp intake of breath, Kimimaro finally released his prisoner barely acknowledging Haku slumping to the ground at the sudden motion. He watched the spread of the poison within him; fascinated as his veins seemed to take on a shade of dark purple…the arteries beginning to swell…while the poison sped toward his already decaying heart. There was pain, but that was pale in comparison to the effect it was having within his chest. It was as if someone was scrubbing hard at the organ with the most abrasive of sandpapers; a discomfort so great it was impossible to put into words.


He began to cough…and cough…and cough…and though he was quick to slap a hand over his mouth, it wasn’t enough to control the spurt of blood to escape anyway. Thick and mixed with mucus, it ran down his fingers and hand like a grotesque paint job, and even at that…he still couldn’t stop coughing.


Haku couldn’t watch. He turned his gaze away and wept in silence, unable to hitch in his breath easily thanks to his lower back muscles protesting with every motion.


When Kimimaro finally fell to the ground, Haku flinched as if stung; afraid that Kimimaro would find some strength from somewhere to attack him again. He eventually dared to look, while desperately seeking for the jutte he had struck the older man with. However, it appeared that Kimimaro had no intention of moving for Sasori’s poison had just about eaten away the left side of the once perfect physique. Even his bones weren’t spared, and the sickening stench of burning flesh was nauseating enough to make Haku want to vomit.


And yet, despite knowing he had mere seconds to live, the one good eye - that once brilliant, beautiful sea-green eye – shimmered with unshed tears and a grateful smile within it.


Thank you, it seemed to say as it slowly began to erode away. Thank you, Haku.


(it’s all over…)


He raised his knees to his chest; ignoring the agony this inflicted on his weary and weakened body. He knew he could take his cloak and cover up the remains - what pitiful remains there were that is - of the man he once admired, but what was the point? It was almost fitting that the falling snow should be the final blanket over him; a reminder of his one good deed so many years ago.


We found each other in the snow, Kimimaro-sama, Haku thought with a wistful smile as his lashes grew heavier. It’s only right that we should end this way after all…


And as he finally caved in to his body’s need for ‘rest’, Haku wished with all his might that he could have at least kept the promise made to Sasuke-sama –


(and Naruto-kun)


…for as much as he would have loved to crawl on his hands and knees to help his master, he was simply too tired to fight anymore.


His battle was complete.






What struck me was how dimly lit familiar hallways now appeared to be. Many of the fancy oil lamps had been snuffed out, and the long shadows my running figure caused gave the heart-stopping illusions that I was being followed. However, besides my harsh breath and footsteps, I met no obstacles in the form of a Watchdog (hardly surprising considering the number of dead officers I kept passing on the way) or any possible traps set by Orochimaru to stall me.


(he’s waiting for you)


I could sense and feel his very presence looming like an unseen ghost as I made my way deeper into his sanctuary. My leg was beginning to bother me, reminding me of Itachi’s fear about the cold weather seeping into my bones and how it would affect my movement. I didn’t want to focus too much on limping or showing Orochimaru my weakness in that department, so I’d have to fake it as much as possible.


As I approached the large ornate doors leading to his reception room/office, I took a deep breath to compose myself. For an entire year, I had dreamed of this moment – no…not an entire year…for over fifteen-years I had waited for this opportunity, and though that tiny voice inside my head (and heart) screamed for me to back off and give up, just recalling the hallucination of Naruto yelling at me, brought a reluctant smirk on my lips as I finally pushed the doors open –


(what the…?!)


…and was heralded with a sight that would have made weaker men crumble.


At first I wasn’t sure of exactly what I was seeing, but as mind and sight eventually began to process the situation, I realized I was actually looking at three bodies hanging from the ceiling. Bodies which looked like hanging pieces of flesh (or maybe it was the ragged pieces of their clothing) for they had been thoroughly beaten and whipped to an inch of their life. You could hardly recognize the swollen and disfigured faces and the dull drip drip drip of their blood pooling at their feet -  literally flooding the wooden floor - made me step out of the way lest I slip and fall in it.


“Good God,” I breathed as I walked closer. “What the hell…?”


“He’s…here…at last,” came the low croak, which had me nearly jumping out of my skin. They were still alive! At least the one in the middle with hair that must have been silver though now streaked with so much dried blood, it looked like mud.


“Sas…Sasuke…Uchiha…eh?” this person continued as he swung gently back and forth. Their hands were bound above their heads, and I watched as this stubborn person tried to loosen the grip of the thick ropes, but to no avail. If anything, he seemed to be chafing more of his skin with every attempt to release himself.


“Who are you?” I asked warily. Goosebumps were breaking out on my skin. In fact, my skin felt like it was literally crawling and not so much at the three men before me, but at the realization that we were no longer alone. Orochimaru was here. I could literally smell him.


I felt like throwing up.


“Ita…Itachi-sama…” the biggest of the three spoke through lips that were twice its size. He had taken the worst of the beatings and it was a damn miracle he was even still alive. You could hardly see his eyes – they were swollen shut – and when he spoke, his voice came as a low rasp; completely painful to listen to. I wanted him to shut up and save his energy, but at the mention of my brother’s name, I realized who these three were.


Suigetsu, Kiba, and Jūgo. The three men sent in to infiltrate Orochimaru’s new army. The three men Ukon had bragged about capturing earlier. These men had sacrificed a lot to be here, and now they were about to pay the ultimate price. It was clear that Orochimaru had not killed them completely because the sick bastard wanted me to see this. He was already beginning his fight, but on the psychological plane apparently. Perhaps he assumed that seeing these men would weaken my resolve –


(not anymore, you son-of-a-bitch)


“Don’t move,” I commanded as I held out my katana. “I’ll try to get this cut as quickly as possible.”


“Do…don’t…it’s…trap…” came the breathless but late warning from the third because I was already hacking away at the ropes with one swing. As he fell to the floor with a painful thump, a sudden ‘rain’ of sharpened kunai descended from the ceiling. The man I cut down would have just enough time to roll to the side, though one of the weapons lodged itself into his arm. As for me, I suffered a few grazes especially on my cheeks and torso, but otherwise was fine.


“As soon as I cut you two,” I commanded to the others. “You do like your friend and roll out of the way, got it?”


I didn’t wait for their answers as I swung again. The biggest guy couldn’t move fast enough unfortunately and got two kunai buried within him – though I was glad to see that they hadn’t hit any vital points. Still, if he didn’t get any medical attention soon, there was no hope for him. He was practically the walking dead.


In the burst of my adrenaline rush – between rescuing and dodging more raining weapons – it took me another extra moment to realize two had pierced through my upper arm (the same one Ukon had wounded earlier) and my left thigh. I pulled both weapons out and flung them away, grateful they weren’t deep enough to create any problems.


“Get out of here!” I yelled to the battered trio. “And get him a damn doctor or somebody to take care of him!”


I doubted they’d be able to find any sort of help in the chaos outside, but it was damn better than hanging around here. Not waiting to see their expressions, I dashed into Orochimaru’s office proper, now furious at how cheap his tactics were. To think he’d use such basic tricks and traps was beneath my level, and he knew just how much it would irritate me.


“Where are you?!” I roared as I threw open the doors and was met with that damned eerie silence. His office still looked as impeccable as ever, the only tell-tale sign of anyone having been in there was the presence of a still burning ornate pipe I was all too familiar with.


“Stop hiding and show your face, you coward,” I growled.


I froze as my periphery vision caught a movement, and I spun on my heels to face it. However, I was confronted with only the billowing silk curtains from the gentle gust of the winter breeze outside. By this time, I was aware of how much my heart was beginning to pound; so loud it was a near deafening sound within my ears and head. My palms were getting slick with sweat despite the death grip they had around the handle of my katana. I had long taken off my cloak on the way here, so I was able to move much better without the restrictive clothing, but I was still sweating like a stuck pig.


Beads of sweat dripped from my hair and threatened to enter my eyes, and just as I shook my head a little to get rid of them, I saw the shadowed movement again.


(slithering…like a fucking snake!)


I spun around again, but there was nothing there.




He was doing this on purpose!


“Stop being such a scaredy-cat,” I taunted coldly, as my lips curled in a sneer. “Come out and face me like a man, Orochimaru.”


“A man he says,” came the breathless response that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. “And what a gorgeous man he has become indeed.”


I shuddered at the sickening compliment and braced myself for another surprise attack. His low chuckle seemed to echo within my pounding head until I was sure it threatened to consume me. The urge to drop my katana and cover my ears was overwhelming, and I had to literally close my eyes, take a deep breath and try to compose my –


“Still so beautiful and ever so quick to anger, my dearest one.”




I couldn’t help the scream of shock yet terror that coursed through me as he had whispered those words into my ear coupled with the abrasive wetness of that damned tongue licking my skin. I stumbled backwards in my haste and bumped into the low coffee table, my heart a jackhammer within my chest as my eyes – probably as wide as saucers – took in the sight of my nightmares.


(What…what the hell is this?!)


God help me, but I had no idea who this creature was before me.


Orochimaru had always been lanky and slender in build, but the person before me was nothing more than skin and bones draped in a black velvet robe that looked way heavier than his combined body weight. His flesh was thin and alabaster, so thin you could see the greenish hue of his veins throbbing with life. His face was the worst of all; with those eyes so sunken in, it felt like you were looking at a talking skull. His lips were parted in what I assumed was supposed to be a smile, but it came across as something ghastly and disdainful. They peeled back to reveal sharper canines, and there was no mistaking that despite his starved appearance, the intelligence in those eyes were still as strong as ever.


“Welcome home, Sasuke,” he greeted me with outstretched arms that seemed to elongate before my suddenly blurring vision.


(what the…what’s happening…!)


“I have waited for this reunion for so very long.”


(what’s happening to my eyes…?!)


“Now come a little closer, my love…”


(I can’t…I can’t see…!)


I fell to my knees; the katana slipping from boneless fingers as I raised my hands to my face. My eyes felt like there were on fire and the conditioned response to this was to naturally seek the medication Orochimaru specifically prepared for me.


(no more…you are no longer under his influence when it comes to that, remember?)


However, I did not understand why this was happening now. Hadn’t Shisui and my brother assured me that this would never occur again, so why…?




It was a guttural sound of agony that sent chills down my spine. Who was that? Was that really my voice? Was I the one screaming as if I was being murdered? But God…oh God…the pain…it was too much to bear. I couldn’t take it anymore! I wanted to gorge my eyes out because…because…!


“You belong to me, Sasuke,” came the husky croon of Death that slowly seeped into my subconscious. “You’ve always and will always belong to me.”


Welcome home…




Chapter 42

Naruto Home











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