Chapter 43

Arise from the Shadows and Ashes


Though a swift stream is
Divided by a boulder
In its headlong flow,
Though divided, on it rushes,
And at last unites again.

-          Emperor Sutoku




Yoyogi, Shibuya

Tokyo Prefecture


Yakuza basics 101 – never stay in one place for too long especially if you’re a ‘ronin’ like me. In other words, have as many bases as possible to throw off potential spies, and since Shika’s announcement about Danzo now aware of who I was, we had no other option but to move to this nondescript apartment building smack-dab in the southern part of Shibuya. I wasn’t under any pretense that I wouldn’t be discovered eventually, but I hoped it would at least buy me a little more time to set some kind of plan together before an encounter with my next nemesis.


We arrived in the wee hours of the morning, and even though every fiber of my being begged for repose, it was impossible to keep my eyes closed for more than five minutes. The rhythmic soothing sounds of the cooling system did not help, and every steady tick tock tick tock of the clock on the wall was like a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. I kept seeing Ikegami’s face as I shot him; replaying every minute spent in his presence as if analyzing a documentary of my life in real time. A part of me almost didn’t believe I had actually taken the life of the most wanted and dangerous man in the country, and at times I could feel a bubble of hysteria threatening to rise to the surface as I imagined the headlines that would make the papers once his death was announced.



[The world thanks Uzumaki Naruto for his service! Citizens demand that he become

the new Emperor of Japan!]


Yeah, right.


Roku and Mittsu had left with a few others to ‘clean-up’ as best they could, leaving Shichi and Itsutsu for bodyguard duties. The rule was to leave a symbolic sign of Ikegami’s actual death at the site, but I would have the honors of presenting the body (his head) to his loyalists when the time came. It was going to be the final proof of the Bakufu’s demise, and who better to break the news to his blind followers but the murderer himself.


In the meantime -


(he’s looking for you – he knows who you are now – and he’s looking for you)


I raised my arm and studied the faint scar on my forearm where he had carved his mark of my allegiance to him. I was going to have to face him, and unlike Ikegami who wasn’t afraid to deal with me head on, Danzo was more than likely to use a trick or two to lure me out to the open before taking me out quickly. I had never seen him operate a weapon of any kind since our introduction, which led me to believe that he was more than content to let others do all his dirty work.


How the hell do you deal with a man like that?


(tick tock tick tock tick tock)


“Fuck this,” I finally whispered in resignation. What was the point of forcing it?


I swung my legs off the bed and reached for my sweatpants to slip into. Without bothering to wear a tee-shirt (I was still hot despite the cool apartment), I padded barefoot into the Spartan living room where Shikamaru was sprawled on the couch with mouth slightly open in deep sleep. The temptation to stick something in there – yes, childish I know – overwhelmed me, but I resisted the urge and made my way into the small room that served as a ‘communications center’ with a soft click of the door behind me for some privacy. It was not much of a ‘center’ since it had only a low desk and a telephone with lines that were not easy to trace. I sat on the floor and crossed my legs, but only to hold my suddenly aching head between my trembling hands. I counted inwardly to ten to stop the sudden attack of the shakes (funny how those seem to come when you least expect), and when I was sure I wasn’t going to pass out anytime soon, I grit my teeth and picked up the telephone’s receiver with more force than necessary.


Time’s a-wasting, Naruto.


I dialed the familiar number and almost as if he had been waiting for my call, he replied at the first ring.


“If you’re calling me at this hour, I’m assuming you were successful,” came the calm matter-of-fact statement that brought a reluctant smile to my face and made what I had done seem even more than justified.


“Heh…” was all I could manage, though I couldn’t stop the slight puff of my chest in satisfaction. I’m sure he must have had his doubts that I could do it.


He exhaled a breath of air, and I could hear the smile in his voice now. “And how do you feel, Mr. Avenger?”


How do I feel? I looked up at the bland white ceiling and pouted. “I’m not sure yet,” I eventually replied carefully. “I’ve still got one more person to deal with and when that’s over…I’ll let you know.”


“Hmm.” He paused and then returned, his tone now a bit more grave. “Danzo is not an easy one to deal with. He might not come at you physically, but he is more than likely to try to weaken you psychologically. How do you plan to go about it?”


“He’s already searching for me,” I responded with an absent-minded caress of the band-aid Shika had applied to my wound. “But I think I’ll make things easier for the both of us and call him up for a rendezvous.”


“Be careful,” Jiraiya warned again and there was something so…paternal about those two words that brought a lump to my throat. I knew I had my doubts about him sometimes; wondering if he was simply using me just to regain his position on top of the yakuza world, but Shika’s reminder that I was the one who had dragged Jiraiya out of retirement in the first place, and that I had chosen him to take over when all of this was over, made my initial feelings of resentment and distrust seem ridiculous. So far, he’s proven to be a precious confidant and pillar of strength at times when I felt I couldn’t go on. Listening to some of his banter and fun conversation on darker days had helped to make the difficulty of my situation more bearable. He reminded me of my humanity and that was something I clung onto like a drowning man to driftwood in a turbulent storm. I needed that stability and between he and Shikamaru…I felt I could still be ‘normal’ enough to fit in with the rest of society.


“…news from up North…”


I forced my thoughts back to the present. “What was that?”


“I said there’s been some news from Gaara regarding the daimyōs and their decisions to assist with the fight up North.”


I perked up with excitement at this nugget of information; my heart now a thudding drumbeat within my chest. “Are you saying…?”


(They did it! I don’t fucking believe it! Sasuke…you finally did it! Yes!)


“Don’t get too happy, you little rascal,” Jiraiya said with a  laugh. “Gaara said that they did agree to send in reinforcements, so if Orochimaru’s planning some kind of war, he’s going to have his hands full. However, I’ve still to hear anything from Itachi or Shisui, but if I do receive a wire, I’ll relate to you immediately. I’m sure you’re more than anxious to know if they were successful.”


I bit my lower lip and nodded with an inner sigh. So much for bringing my hopes up.


“Sure…you do that,” I muttered and tried to stifle an unexpected yawn, though a part of me knew that I would have gladly killed anyone to even hear one little piece of news about Sasuke. Yes, yes, call me an inconsiderate lovesick moron, but I honestly couldn’t give two shits about the war itself, all I cared about was if Sasuke had gotten to confront Orochimaru and taken him out. What if that creepy psycho had done something awful to him? I couldn’t and didn’t want to think of all the disgusting plans he might have for Sasuke (or even Haku since I knew that kid was going to be stuck by his side like glue). God! It was enough to make my stomach turn with revulsion.


I swear as soon as this thing is over, I’m taking the first train up there to -


“Get some sleep and call me first thing in the morning,” Jiraiya’s orders interrupted my line of thought. “There’s something I need to speak to you abou-”




Huh? What the…?


“Hello? Hello?!” I pressed the re-dial button repeatedly, but was met with an eerie silence that was unnerving. There wasn’t even a dial tone and assuming I might have unplugged the phone by mistake, I checked quickly.


(still plugged in)




I knew it then – a little too late – but then again, I should have been more aware of my surroundings.




I would have just enough time to replace the phone’s receiver, when the door was kicked open violently (damn thing nearly fell off its hinges) and I came face-to-face with a device that promptly sent nearly 150,000 volts of electricity right through my body.


Holy shit! That hurts!


Someone (me probably) gave an unearthly howl of agony, as my body collapsed to the floor and every nerve ending in my body screamed for some sort of coherence. It would have been enough to take me away, but apparently my attacker(s) weren’t satisfied because another shocking dose was delivered; only this time, I was blissfully unaware of its effects as my mind simply couldn’t take it anymore. Darkness beckoned, where the last thing I remember was hoping and praying that Shikamaru was still alive somewhere.





Naruto? Naruto? Can you hear me?

Hmm? Yeah…I can…

I thought you were asleep. I wasn’t sure.

I was…you woke me up.

Sorry…are you all right?

Yeah…no…I’m not sure…I feel funny.

What’s wrong?

You can see for yourself, can’t you?

No…not really. It’s dark in here.

Ouch. Don’t touch me like that, Sasuke. It hurts.


I’m aching all over…

Your face feels wet…smells…bloody…

Shit. I guess that explains it.

Can you move?

…no…seems like I’m stuck…

(sigh) I don’t like this.

I don’t like it either, but you’ve gotta help me get out of here.

I can’t…

Why not?

I can’t reach you.

Funny har har. You just touched me a second ago.

I know…but it’s…strange…I want to help you. I really do.

Then do it! Goddamn it. I-can’t-fucking-move…!

Don’t struggle like that. You’re only going to make it worse.

(breathe) (breathe) (breathe) What’s happening…where am I?

I’m not sure either.

I can’t see anything. I can’t…

You’re just going to have to hang on, Naruto. Promise me that.

I’ll try, but I want to see you. It feels like it’s been years since I saw you.

I know. If you make it out of this, you know I’ll be waiting.

Where…where are you going? Your voice sounds like it’s getting faint…

I have to leave now. I’ve got a lot of things to do over here.

Don’t leave me, Sasuke (breathe) please…I can’t do this alone.

You’ve been doing fine so far. Just hang on a little longer and it will be all over…

Don’t go! Please! I need you!







“ARGH!” The scream was torn from my throat as my lashes – heavy as they felt – flew open at the sensation of being splashed with a bucket of icicles. It was nothing but water, but compared to how beat up  and feverish my body was, they might have as well poured alcohol right into every wound inflicted so far.




With my head lowered, drenched and shivering up a storm, my first blurred view was of my maroon-colored sweatpants…which was actually originally gray. It didn’t take a scientist to know that the new shade was courtesy of all the blood pummeled out of me so far. I was still barefoot, and could wiggle my toes, but that was about it. Both feet were bound at the ankles with what felt like heavy chains akin to the kind you’d find within the dungeons at Byaku-Shinkyou. The same went for my wrists, which I tried to move, but my shoulders wailed in protest. They were shackled behind me on the chair I was sitting on – which felt more like concrete than an actual chair, but whatever.


My head was throbbing badly, and I wondered how many blows had been delivered to it so far.


(can’t remember a thing…)


Maybe I blacked out (which would explain my weird ‘dream’ featuring you-know-who).


/I’m always with you…/


Heh. Touching sentimentality, Sasuke, but damn I really do wish you were here to get me out of this mess.


My entire face felt like it was ten times its size. My eyes swollen, my nose felt like it had shifted its position, my lips were split, my mouth filled with imaginary but painful cotton balls, and my ears ringing with an incessant bell sound that wouldn’t stop. Breathing was a little difficult as each time I tried to inhale, it felt as if my ribs and lungs were likely to quit in resignation at being made to work harder than necessary. I won’t even bother trying to describe the fire churning within my torso. I feared I was bleeding internally, but what did I know? Just as long as I didn’t start peeing blood from now on, I guess I could be fine.


(ah fuck…I hope they are done with this…not sure I can take anymore)


“I must commend you,” came the quiet but strong voice that could only belong to one person. “You’ve lasted much longer than the others. Your tolerance for pain is admirable.”


My immediate and alarmed thought was that Shika had been put through the same thing and hadn’t survived. With an effort, I lifted my head and forced my eyes to open as wide as they could. I wanted to see the fucker’s face and burn it into memory if this was going to be the last time I was allowed to do so.


I had no idea where we were, but Shimura Danzo seemed comfortable in a chair several feet away from me. Dressed in his usual full traditional garb – complete with his damned walking cane - he almost looked regal in our dismal surroundings. His eye patch today was brown leather, which almost matched the brace used to support his bum right arm.


“Jiraiya must have taught you well,” came the commentary that sent an unwilling jolt down my spine. How long and how much had this bastard known? Perhaps he had known right from the beginning and was simply buying time…playing around with me…toying with me until this moment when he could exact his vengeance. I would laugh at the irony of it all if the very act didn’t promise some more unwanted aches and pains.


But first things first.


“Where…is…Shikamaru?” I rasped; each word escaping my lips a lesson in tolerance and self-control. “What did you do to him?”


Danzo’s good eye flickered with what looked like amusement. “Ah Nara. He put up a good fight, but…”


My heart froze and he must have noticed because a cold smirk came to his features. “Worried about him, are you? How touching. However, I can assure you he’s fine…barely. I was going to bring his lady friend as well…to make things a little more interesting…but what’s the point? You’re the main dish, Uzumaki Naruto. Everyone else connected or related to you and your little plot are simply fodder that will be eliminated when the time comes.”


“If you’ve killed him…” I growled.


Danzo held up a hand to silence me and seemed to nod toward someone behind me. “Please show our dear friend here that I am a man of my word.”


At that order, thick fingers sought the roots of my hair and tugged my head upwards – almost snapping my neck in the process. I sucked in my grimace of pain and focused my gaze on the slowly grinding steel doors being opened behind Danzo. It was now clear we were in what must have been an abandoned meat factory, because the steel hooks that were usually used to hang the carcasses of dead animals now held the bloodied bodies of my dearest friend, and to my dismay the two swordsmen who were supposed to be guarding us on that night. How Danzo’s henchmen had managed to take them out without their knowledge was amazing, but then again…had I really expected anything less from a man like him?


(we should have been better prepared)


“Shika…” I moaned in misery; deeply wishing he had listened to my advice and backed off with Temari while he still had the chance. If he ended up dying because of me,  there was no doubt this would forever burn in my conscience until my last breath.


I watched in horror as another of Danzo’s minions walked up to Shika and prodded his ribs with what looked like a black bokken, but at the howl of pain that escaped my friend’s lips and the subsequent jerking motions his body made, it was clear that he was being electrocuted.


“Sto…Stop it!” I pleaded in a voice that felt raw and strained. “You’ve done enough!”


Danzo smiled and held up a hand again. The minion took note and stopped his torture, but hovered around in case he was needed. My hair was finally released, and I lowered my head with relief yet aware of that simmering layer of anger beginning to form within the pit of my stomach.


(control yourself, Naruto. Remember what Jiraiya taught you. Control. Yourself.)


“It’s not likely he’ll survive the night,” Danzo mused. “That of course would depend on you -”


“How long have we been here?” I interrupted curtly.


“You don’t remember?” Danzo asked with a  raised brow. “Kaito must have struck you a little too hard if you’re already suffering from short-term memory loss. It’s been nearly twenty-four hours since you were captured, Naruto, and like I mentioned earlier, your stubbornness has been impressive. No matter how many times you were beaten or threatened, you would not say anything. You only wanted to see me, so…” He spread out his left arm as if inviting a hug. “Here I am at your request. I’m sure you have many questions for me, so I’ll try my best to respond to them before I extinguish the flickering flame that is your life.”


A flickering flame, huh?


“And what a life you’ve led,” the man continued thoughtfully. “To think that you would rise from the ashes – literally – of Byaku-Shinkyou to become a man so powerful in the underworld in such a short period of time. It’s like a fairytale…except yours will not have a happy ending as you might have factored into your plans of domination I’m sure.” He paused and studied me for a long minute. “Perhaps I should have taken you more seriously from the moment Orochimaru made known who you really were. It seemed improbable that you would ever get to know the real story about your parents, but as fate would have it - and with the damned Uchiha brothers of all people -you learned the truth. Ah Fate. What cruel hands she deals with.”


“You…Ikegami…and Orochimaru…” I began slowly with a smile, albeit painful, coming to my lips. “You three thought you could get away with it, didn’t you? You set your goals so high, you forgot those you left behind…those who could return to trample all over those delusions of grandeur. Heh…ever heard of that word ‘karma’?”


“Yes, but I do not believe in such fanciful tales of yore,” came the conceited response. “It is nothing more than a situation of bad coincidences that could and should be avoided with proper means. In this case, our mistake was assuming that you and Kushina had been killed in the assassination attempt. I must give your mother more credit than she deserved. She must have crawled out of that house determined to make sure you survived.”


The simmering anger was threatening to boil. However, I kept my expression neutral and simply watched him.


“Perhaps I have not explained myself to you well enough, Uzumaki Naruto…or rather I would have assumed that by now, you’d have known a little bit about my personality. I am not as fickle as Ikegami, whose only need for power was driven by greed. I am also not as maniacal as Orochimaru, whose quest for power came at the expense of his desire for dubious scientific knowledge and developing ocular powers akin to a cursed clan. Please do not compare his madness or Ikegami’s weakness to my inherent desires.”


“…to make Japan strong, right?” I sneered. “Wasn’t that what you told me once? Some jargon about returning back to Isolationist ideals?”


He gave a wry grin and dared to look pleased. “So you do remember that conversation we had. I’m glad.” With that, he lifted his hand to carefully remove the eye-patch. I wasn’t sure of what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t the strange red markings in the pupil. I would later (much later) come to learn that those weren’t ordinary markings, but actually something Sasuke’s ancestors had once possessed; the ability for their pupils to take on different shapes to define certain stages of their mental/ocular developments (or something like that). He had gotten his eye engraved with the symbol to impress Uchiha Madara back then. Needless to say, the Uchiha patriarch had not been swayed by Danzo’s obvious suck-up methods. You would think the guy would have changed the design to something else, but I guess he was too proud to want to do so. To my disgust, Danzo tapped the eye with a fingernail before reaching in to pluck it out. Besides the little dribble of clear fluid that rolled down his cheek, I was now staring into a black void where his eye should have been.


“A little memento from the Great War,” he explained as he whipped out a pristine white handkerchief to wipe the eye slowly. “I was shot with an arrow right through it, but as luck would have it…it didn’t pierce its way to the brain. Guess who was a part of the surgical team to rescue me back then? Yes, Orochimaru. He would have been a fine doctor if he didn’t have other such…bizarre interests.”


He blew on the eye when finished wiping and lowered his head to pop it back in place. I watched as it rolled within the socket for a second before settling in. Thankfully, he replaced the patch and returned back to studying me with his good eye.


“I lost an eye for this nation in a war that could have been avoided only if we had more competent leaders,” he eventually began lecturing. “On my hospital bed, I made the decision that once I returned to civilian life, I was going to do all I could to get to the top by any means necessary. It didn’t really matter to me how I got there as long as I did as I’m sure you understand, Naruto. However, unlike my co-conspirators – as you so subtly did not state – I was determined to do things in a way that would come across as legitimate and acceptable to the Japanese people and that was where you dear father came in.”


He sighed and rubbed his scarred chin – another remnant from the war, I’m sure – though I didn’t want to know the story of how he got that one.


“Do not get me wrong, Naruto,” he mused quietly. “Your father was a brave man…a wonderful man of character, and I was impressed with him. So impressed I even recommended him to become the next first lieutenant when Ikegami’s father was looking for a replacement.”


Liar! You goddamn fucking liar, my mind screamed.


“Ikegami, on the other hand, had other plans…but I’m sure you must have heard this story before. You do not need me to go over it all over again.” He gave a long-suffering sigh. “Bottom line, your father’s decision to no longer work for me ruined everything. I could not understand why he would want to leave something so lucrative and expose all we had worked so hard for.” His eye flashed with the memory of my father’s betrayal, and I watched his left hand form a fist on the armrest.


“He defied me at every turn, Naruto. He refused my pleas and offers of fortune. I was going to make him more powerful than he could possibly imagine -!”


“You had my father whipped for defying you with his last mission to kill Uchiha Fugaku,” I reminded him in a voice that was devoid of any emotion. “And when he fell in love with my mother, you knew then that you had to eliminate him, but something has always bugged me about that. Why were you so determined to take her out as well? She should have been no threat to you either way, right?”


He said nothing for a while until his shoulders began to shake gently as if he was about to have a seizure. It wasn’t until the first rumble of his weird laughter began did I realize he wasn’t about to go into convulsions. He shook his head lightly and then managed to compose himself.


“So I see Jiraiya or even the Uchiha brats didn’t tell you everything about your dear mother.” He rose to his feet with the aid of his cane and began to pace slowly before me. “Have you ever truly wondered about those scars on your cheeks, my dear boy?”


I frowned. “What’s that got to do with anything? I saw the picture of my mother…she didn’t have them.”


“Yes, yes, of course she didn’t, which makes you a rare breed indeed.” He came to a stop before me; now much closer, so close I could have reached out to yank on his robe if my arms were released. He lifted the cane to tip my chin  upwards, forcing me to look into that weathered face.


“Au contraire to all the stories you might have heard, it wasn’t your father who was a descendent of the famous Senju line. It was your dear mother, Uzumaki Kushina.”




“She is a direct descendant of the Uzumaki clan – who were an offshoot from a distinct group of the Senju known for having whiskers like that of a fox or wolf on their faces.” He proceeded to trace the outline of each of them with a fingernail, that I would have gladly bitten off if I wasn’t too busy trying to process this new bit of information.


(if he’s telling me the truth that is)


Ookami no Mibu, Kitsune no Mibu,” he drawled. “The feared men – and women -  believed to be born from the loins of the Kyubi no Kitsune itself. They were the real reasons the Senju were feared for many believed they possessed spiritual powers capable of destroying entire nations. Ridiculous, isn’t it? It was also believed that every once in a generation, one such warrior with the markings of the kyubi would be born, and though in the latter years that folklore became nothing more than stories senile grandparents would regale their children…who knew we’d be lucky to witness your birth in this lifetime. Kushina really was a special one indeed. So why? You might ask, was she never of interest to the Bakufu or Mibu or any of the Syndicates if they knew her story? Why that’s simple…she was kept in the dark about her past as well. Her parents would never dare reveal who she really was for fear she’d be on their target list, so she was left to grow up as a ‘normal’ child, who had the misfortune of stealing away the man I wanted the most.”


He stopped caressing my cheeks but only to deliver the mother of all slaps that knocked the wind out of my sails. My already throbbing face felt like it was on fire, and I watched dispassionately as droplets of my blood splattered on his robes. It didn’t seem to bother him though, because he cupped my chin and squeezed so hard that tears sprang to my eyes.


“And now,” he snarled; his breath hot and quickened against my feverish flesh. “From the grave she sends you to finish off what I started, but no…no…no. I will prove to them that I am not one to be messed with; in this life or the afterlife!”


He released me, but only to slap me again…and again…and again until I guess his arm got tired. By this time, my mouth was already filled with so much blood, all I could do was watch it dribble down my chest and torso to soak my already stained pants.


“And that…” Danzo panted as I heard him wipe his hands on his handkerchief. “Is just the beginning of the fun. I will take pleasure torturing you slowly, Uzumaki Naruto, before setting about recovering all that you’ve stolen…yes, stolen from Ikegami and myself. His death…and kudos to you on achieving that by the way…will only make things easier for me. I plan to parade you as a scum of society…perhaps take a few pictures of you in this state to reveal to Japan just what I have to deal with to get things cleaned up in this country. Then, I will take credit for the elimination of Ikegami – naturally. Everyone knows about my crusade against them over the years, so this fits perfectly into my plans. I must thank you again for doing the brunt of the work. Now…if  you’ll all excuse me, I have some important phone calls to make.”


“Waste…of…time…” I panted before raising my head to give him a smile that I was sure looked gruesome with the state of my face. All the same, he stopped and turned around to glare at me.


“It’s over for you,” I whispered, still smiling even though I prayed that all I was about to say was actually happening or bound to happen. “There is no place for you to return to when you get out there. The world you’ve always known and believed in no longer exists. Ikegami is dead. The Mibu will take control of the Bakufu or are about to make it known even as we speak. I now own over half of the country, and nothing you say or do can change that at this point; not even if you kill me.” I sneered and spat out a wad of blood. “As for those damned Uchiha brothers…well, let’s just say their revenge is going to be ten times sweeter. Orochimaru will die and Byaku-Shinkyou will return to its rightful owner. Your supposed chokehold on the military will no longer exist and once Gaara wins his seat on the council…you can kiss off any chance of you even being considered as a worthy member of this nation goodbye.”


“So do us all a favor, Shimura Danzo, and go crawl into a dark space to do the honorable thing. If I don’t kill you myself, my people will continue to hunt you down for the rest of  your miserable life. You’ll have nowhere to go…nowhere to run. You’ll become an outcast in a country you felt you could control. No one will give a shit about you, do  you understand?” And to make sure I drilled it into his thick skull, I repeated my words slowly and concisely.


“You. Are. No. Longer. Needed.”


There was a deafening silence at the end of my speech, only interrupted by the sound of his heavy breathing as if struggling to control himself from whacking me to death with his walking cane.


“Kaito!” he finally snapped thunderously.




“Keep yourself busy while I’m gone, but just enough for me to return to finish off the deed myself. Understood?”


“Yes, sir!”


I heard the eager crack of knuckles and mentally prepared myself for what was to come. Oddly enough, I felt somewhat at peace with this, because the last thing I’d see would be Danzo’s furious countenance as he stormed away. I had given him plenty to think about. It was only left to see what my (short) future held for me.


If I survived that is…





…so where am I now?


I lifted my lashes slowly; the sensation of something soft and comfortable on my naked skin making me writhe in pleasure. There was something quite familiar about this setting, but I knew it couldn’t be real because the last thing I remember was being tied up in a chair in some abandoned factory about to get the beating of my life –


“Finally awake?” came the quiet voice that had me turning my head quickly to notice my companion. Talk about one’s heart leaping into one’s throat and unstoppable tears springing to the eyes. My breath  hitched and for a moment, words formed but nothing could escape my parted lips.


(not real…not…real…)


“Sasu…Sasuke,” I eventually managed to croak out as if testing the weight of his name on my tongue.


“You’ve been asleep for a long time, Naruto,” he murmured with a small smile; his fingers reaching out to trace the outlines of my whiskers tenderly.


Desperate, I grabbed and held them tightly against my cheek, closing my eyes and hoping this was reality. That God had somehow delivered me from that factory, sent me back here just so I could be with him one last time. I knew it was improbable, but I could smell him…smell us from the heady musk we had created together during our throes of passion. I wanted to lick his sweat-dampened flesh, to even bite into it to make sure he was actually with me. When I lifted my lashes again, he was still there (though with a slightly bemused expression on his visage) as the early morning sun’s rays – drifting from the curtains - bathed him in an ethereal glow.


“Is everything all right?” he asked warily.


“Now that you’re here,” I replied, feeling my cheeks burn as I watched his turn rosy at my corny statement. He rolled his eyes and tried to withdraw, but I wouldn’t have it.


“Don’t…” I implored thickly. “Don’t leave me again.”


“Where else would I go?” he replied with slight exasperation as if admonishing me for being so silly. He squirmed a little beneath me, but only to get more comfortable before wrapping his arms around my waist to hold me prisoner.


(something…still isn’t right…)


“Funny…” I began carefully.


“Hmm? What’s funny?” he asked with a tender kiss placed in the hollow of my neck. He writhed delightfully against me again and there was no mistaking the obvious nudge of his erection against my torso. Sorry to sound so crude, but God help me. I wanted to fuck him so bad, it hurt. However, I had to make sure of something first.


“It’s funny that I’m here with you again.”


“Again?” He shook his head and captured my lower lip between his teeth gently. He released it and gave me that look that was a cross between wanting to kick my ass or hug me to death. “You’ve always been here, Naruto. We haven’t left this room since we arrived. No one ever gets to leave this place, remember?”


I felt my insides crawling with fear. “Wha…what do you mean?”


“I mean…” He smiled then, but instead of perfect white teeth, I was horrified to find that his mouth was beginning to fill with what looked like a million roaches or bugs of some sort squirming within it. “We’ve been here, Naruto. We’ve been waiting for you.”


His face changed; those dark locks becoming shocking pink…the black eyes becoming a familiar pale sea-green that stared at me accusingly.


“…don’t you remember, Naruto?” This version of Sakura asked. “Don’t you remember? I said I would always wait for you.”


“No…no…no…” I moaned in dismay. This couldn’t be happening!


The face changed again and this time it was Kojima complete with his gold tooth and tattoos. I wanted to scream, but he held me a vice grip and snarled into my face. “Remember everything, Fox Boy. Remember everything! You must!”


“LEAVE ME ALONE! ALL OF YOU!!” I wailed with despair.


(not Sasuke too…please God…he can’t be dead too!)


And with all the strength I could muster in my body, I jerked away from him…from them





…and landed painfully on cold, hard concrete.




I must have jerked in my chair so hard that I fell over. All the same, my agonies paled in comparison to the sudden deafening sound of a gunshot…screams…yells…and then another gunshot…more yells and screams…until I was sure I was in the middle of  an unexpected gunfight.


(What the hell’s going on?!)


Panicked at the thought of a stray bullet getting to me, I desperately tried to release my bonds, but short of breaking my bones, there was just no way I was getting out of these damn chains.


(please don’t shoot me, please don’t shoot…son-of-a-bitch!)


Flakes of concrete nearly made me blind as several bullets ricocheted a few inches from my face. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the inevitable, already bracing for the impact of a stray bullet finding its way into my already damaged body. However, just as suddenly as it begun, the shoot-out ended with the pungent smell of gun smoke, the metallic hot stench of blood and some scrambling feet approaching my position.


(is…is it over…?)


“Did we get everyone?” came the loud command from a familiar voice, which had me doing a double take in disbelief.


Impossible! Ka…Kakashi? But…how…?!


“Naruto?” His voice was closer now and he knelt beside me. All I could see was the fine cloth of his pants, until –with a light grunt – he pushed my chair upside to peer into my face with concern. “Are you all right? Did you get hit…?” He paused at the question. “With a bullet I mean.”


I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak, but that was enough for him. With a nod, he stood up and with help of someone else I did not recognize, but who was apparently on our side, they began to loosen up the shackles quickly.


“Sorry we were late,” Kakashi was saying. “Roku told us the news that you were captured, but there were so many guards stationed here, he had to call for back up.”


“I thought you were in Kyoto,” I finally squeaked out as I rubbed my wrists slowly (man, they looked raw from chaffing against the chains) to get some circulation back into them.


Kakashi shook his head, “Jiraiya-sama sent me down here in case you needed help with Ikegami. I would have returned, but he was concerned when he said a phone call he had with you suddenly got disconnected.”


“Ah…I see.”


“Can you stand on your own?” he asked as he tried to help me to my feet, but having been tied down for so long and with all the pummeling I’ve taken so far, I could barely do so. Realizing this, the man who I had once considered an asshole, did the unthinkable. He hoisted me onto his back as if I was a child and ordered for me to hang on as he marched right through the carnage and into the mercifully cool evening. I could barely see at this point, but as I lay my aching head upon his strong back, I fought the urge to burst into childish tears of relief and gratitude.


(I am still alive)


Just barely…but I was still here, and that was all that mattered. Or not.


“Shika…” I began, and when Kakashi didn’t respond, I asked louder. “Where is Shikamaru? Shichi? Itsutsu?”


He paused and I felt my heart sink into my stomach.


(Please tell me he made it. Please tell me he made it. Please, dear God! Let something go right just once!)


“Shichi’s wounds were too severe,” Kakashi finally replied quietly. “He was already dead by the time we arrived.”


Damn! And he was such a great guy too.


“Shikamaru and Itsutsu were barely hanging on, but they’ve been taken to a hospital…which is where you’ll be going to as well.”


“No…”I began in protest, though my heart was relieved to know that at least two of them would be taken care of. I had to get to Danzo before he carried out his shitty plans, but Kakashi would have none of it. He silenced me with a cold glare as he helped me settle into the back seat of the van.


“Hospital first. Danzo will be taken care of, don’t you worry. He knows you are no longer alone and he was foolish to do something like this in the first place. He’s got nowhere to run or hide any longer.” He then gave me a rare smile. “You’ve done most of the hard work, Naruto. Now sit back and let us complete what you’ve started. All right?”


I bit my already broken lower lip and tried to give one last fruitless protest, but something in his eyes had me swallowing that damn hard lump in my throat and finally nodding in weary resignation. He was right. For over six months, I had worked non-stop on my revenge. There was really nothing more I could do now but wait for all I had spilled to Danzo to finally come to fruition.


(please let justice be served)


As I closed my eyes and prepared to fall into dreamless sleep, I could almost believe that the sudden surge of warmth to flow through me were the approving hugs of my father and mother for a job well done. For years, their restless souls and untold stories had festered within this human vessel they left behind, and though it had taken time, I was so glad that their once murky legacies would now be re-written on a fresh page for generations to come.




May you finally rest in peace.




A Month Later:


While I spent the next few weeks recuperating in an undisclosed hospital with a special ward for ‘people-like-me’ (read as a heavily-guarded area for my protection), the world – Japan in particular – continued to function as best it could.


Or at least it would have if it wasn’t for the sudden influx of scandalous news that began to leak out day after day after day.


[All of this would be regaled to me later, as during that time I was either comatose or pumped so full of painkillers, I could barely say my name]


First off was the announcement of Ikegami Ryoichi’s death, which shook the very foundations of the underworld as we knew it. Thanks to a thorough clean-up job by Roku and his fellow swordsmen, most of the general public assumed his death was courtesy of a simple feud between families. However, those powerful within the Syndicate families were aware of who was really responsible for it.


(the kage -  a new nickname apparently created since the incident as the rumor mills swirled with how I had killed him ‘in the shadows’ like ninjas of the past)


As expected, loyalists to Ikegami tried to revolt against the Mibu Syndicate who had stepped in to control their territories. There were riots and civil unrest over the course of two days, but with the Mibu gaining more members (mostly thanks to some Bakufu expiates), these loyalists were effectively silenced and order was eventually restored. Since I couldn’t be there to attend in person, it was up to Jiraiya to convene a meeting of the family heads, where he established the new Syndicate and restored its original name – Senju. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all roses and sunshine, for quite a few of the Mibu were reluctant to join forces. I assume they must have realized how lucrative and better it would be if they agreed to this union. Besides, they were wise enough to realize just how powerful the Senju had become and going up against them was going to be a moot decision.


As per our plans, our first order of business was exposing all the extremely illegal affairs Ikegami and Danzo had gotten their hands into while in power. Documents showcasing Danzo’s interests in sex trafficking, gun-dealings, drug trafficking, tax evasions, countless assassinations, and local terrorism – just to name a few - were released to the public with the help of Temari and Ōnoki’s grand-daughter – Kurotsuchi (who did come by to visit me at the hospital and dare I say looked quite pretty and feminine for once). There was a heated debate on the DIET floor led by the new young star, Gaara (who won his elections by a landslide), where it was determined that Danzo, as well as the Prime Minister, the current Minister of Defense, and a few other unsavory members of the government, would be taken to the Supreme Court on trial and possibly sent to jail for the rest of their miserable lives.


To make matters worse for our dear friend, Danzo, the nation finally got wind of the turmoil up North. This time Akatsuki was brought to the forefront as news conferences were held where the truth about Orochimaru and his connections to aforementioned unsavory government characters, were finally revealed. Orochimaru’s death was ruled as ‘accidental’ and part of the bloody riots that took place within the grounds of Byaku-Shinkyou. A disastrous affair all around as almost two hundred lives were lost in the senseless skirmish.


However, all of that was almost overshadowed by the stunning bombshell that the Uchiha brothers were still alive! Photographs (not current actually) of the handsome (and very eligible) young men were splashed all over the news, and many of the Uchiha who had remained in hiding over the  years began to crawl out of the shadows; eager to return back to their homestead to begin the rebuilding process.


And though the brothers never actually stood before the cameras for some contrived press conference, Itachi did manage to grant one non-televised interview to one of the most trusted media outlets in the country. He didn’t give much away except to say that “there was a lot of work to be done and we would really like our privacy at this time.” Sasuke could not be reached for any comment.




The government (Emperor actually) wanted to do some sort of public apology crap for all the trouble they had caused the Akatsuki for they were under the impression (all thanks to Danzo and Co.) that they were a terrorist organization. However, neither brother was interested in receiving any accolade and seemed more content to remain up North to set things right. The first order of business was to change that damned uniform of the watchdogs back to the Uchiha mon (the fan) instead of Orochimaru’s disgusting snake motif. Hell, I’m sure they would have so many renovations to do up there, it could take months (years!) before things went back completely to normal.


So where was Danzo in all of this you might ask?


Who knew?


The coward wasn’t at his home especially when the press had gathered around to pester him with questions. Members of the Syndicate and watchdogs had been ordered to be on the lookout for him, and after weeks of searching and questioning of some stubborn loyalists to his cause, Shimura was finally found in an underground hideout deep in the mountains of Sapporo.


Oddly enough, he had taken my advice to heart. It pleased me…and yet left me slightly unsatisfied. I wanted to be the one to kill him, but his pride had been so great, he decided to go out in his own way.

Not only had he committed the traditional act of seppuku – gotta give him props for sticking to his guns at least – he actually had the gall to leave behind a bloodied note with the words:




(and fuck you too, asshole)


We would later come to discover that he had burned/destroyed any and all documents in his possession that could connect him to Ikegami, Orochimaru or any other person he might have dealt with over the years. At least we were lucky those other two didn’t have the foresight to do the same thing before they died, which was how and why the public came to know of the real Shimura Danzo.


All’s well that ends well, right?


“Shika!” I greeted happily as the door to my hospital room opened to reveal one of the best-looking faces in the world. He managed to give me the middle finger in salutation before maneuvering the crutches, he was leaning on, into the room. Right behind him was his grinning bride-to-be, looking positively radiant even though her man was still stuck in a drab hospital gown and slippers.


“Temari, my love,” I crooned in delight and waggled my brows suggestively. “You look absolutely edible.”


She laughed as Shika rolled his eyes and attempted to hit me with a crutch. “Good to know you haven’t lost your sleazy sense of humor,” he retorted good-naturedly as Temari helped him into a chair beside me.


“And I’m glad you’re awake at least,” she said as she leaned in to place a gentle kiss on my forehead. “Every time we try to visit, they keep telling us that you’re asleep or not coherent enough.”


“Bah.” I pounded the bed with a fist and eyed my surroundings with distaste. I was sick of being cooped up in this stark room, though someone had been nice enough to fill it with flowers (I would later learn they had come from a gamut of different people I least expected – families I had actually helped from the clutches of the Bakufu if you can believe that. It brought tears to my eyes when I thought about it).


“Your face looks less like road-kill,” Shika observed and I stuck out my tongue at him.


“Look who’s talking. I couldn’t tell the difference between your face and a punching bag.”

“Fuck off!”


We teased each other for a bit, comparing ‘war wounds’ and realizing (to my dismay) that Shika was going to be released tomorrow, while I was still going to be kept for a few more tests. I had suffered quite a few broken ribs, while my left cheek and jaw had to undergo surgical repair. However, the doctors seemed surprised I hadn’t received more extensive damage to my head considering all the blows and hits I must have received from Danzo’s henchmen. I joked that my head was made of steel, but I was still worried all the same. Every now and then I had bouts of amnesia, and though I was reassured that it was commonplace after such trauma, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that someday -some horrible, terrible day - I’d wake up not knowing who I was, where I was or who my friends were.


(or forgetting all about him…)


That would be the worst of it all I think, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I had sat up one night actually scribbling his name over and over and over again in a small notebook as if hoping to ingrain it within my brain. I kept the notebook under my pillow, and made the decision to make sure I wrote something about him at least once or twice a day. Still, it paled in comparison to the low coil of excitement building within me at the thought of speaking to him again with no fear of being followed or listened in to or being spied upon. I knew he wasn’t going to come down here just yet, so I was more than content with a simple telephone call.




I was sure he, Haku, and Itachi must have heard about what happened by now, but I hadn’t even received a note or flowers from them. Okay, fine. I might excuse their behavior since today is the first time in weeks I’m fully alert, so maybe a message came in and one of the nurses failed to deliver it to me. That would explain the ‘silence’ so far.


While Temari began to peel some oranges for us, Shika fiddled with the remote control of the television until he came the News Channel. In silence, we watched as Gaara  (who had apparently come to visit me at the hospital, but I was too conked out at the time to realize it) charmed the pants off the interviewer in his direct and yet quiet manner of speaking. He was discussing plans regarding the legalization of the yakuza and was in talks with the head of the newly formed Senju Syndicate to make sure that all of Ikegami’s past transgressions were wiped away as much as possible.


“But don’t you think that’s nearly impossible?” the interviewer – a stunning brunette with legs any hot-blooded male would love to have wrapped around his waist – asked in her Americanized accent. “The yakuza’s tradition over centuries involves the illegal side of affairs…so how do you hope to curb all that in such a short period of time?”


“I am not naïve to believe that the yakuza – as a whole – will suddenly become saints overnight,” Gaara replied carefully. “There are still those within the families who insist on remaining with old school principles, and that is understandable. However, one must remember how the yakuza began in the first place. These were men who protected the Japanese people, who fought for their freedoms and sought for justice in a troubled era. Unfortunately, when peace came during the Tokugawa era, these men were no longer needed and were somewhat ‘discarded’ by society. Most of them became ronin and chose a life of crime and mayhem. Of course there are many yakuza who would deny that and claim that still maintain the original intent of their ancestors and that is what we hope to bring back to the establishment. The yakuza can be a benefit to Japanese society, and it mustn’t all be about violence and illegal activities. If the strongest and biggest family of them all – the Senju – can lead the way with this effort, I have no doubt that there will be fewer crimes committed or reported in the news.”


“I swear that guy can sell a gun to a baby and convince the kid it’s actually candy,” I muttered in awe with a slight shake of my head.


“He’s a good one,” Shika agreed. “Where have you been hiding your brother all this time, sweetheart?”


Temari flushed at the compliment, though she looked at the screen with warmth in her eyes. “He was always the serious one in the family. Never made a lot of friends and was content to remain locked in his room studying from dusk ‘til dawn. He was determined to change this country in his own way, and so far he’s doing a great job, don’t you think?”


“Indeed he is,” came the booming voice that had the three of us starting in surprise.




My heart slammed in my chest at the sight of the big man, and damn if tears didn’t want to spring to my eyes, because I was sure I was never going to see that face ever again.


“Now where’s my hug?” he teased as he stepped a bit further into the room with arms outstretched. “Or are you too big now to give this old man some kind of love, eh?”


I blushed to the roots of my hair and muttered something about perverted old men before I was promptly engulfed in an embrace that finally broke the little stony reserve I had left. I sobbed silently against his robes; hungrily inhaling that unique scent that was pure Jiraiya and clutching onto him as if afraid he’ll vanish from sight in an instant.


“There, there now,” he whispered thickly into my hair as he caressed it gently. “Let it all out, Naruto. You deserve this one good cry, son. You deserve it.”


I couldn’t list all the reasons I was bawling like a baby for, but just know that he was right in saying I needed to do that. With each hitched sob and breath taken, it felt like a little more weight (I hadn’t even been aware I was lumbering around with all this time) began to lift off my shoulders. By the time I was through, I was emotionally drained. All cried out as they say and ready to move on. I wiped my face and nose against his clothes, which promptly earned a whine of protest at my snot now decorating his precious garment.


“Hey Kakashi,” I greeted with a shy wave as I finally noticed the silent man who must have come in with Jiraiya earlier. He simply nodded and remained in his corner of the room like a sentry.


“Do you need us to leave?” Shika asked hesitantly. “We understand if you need to -”


“Actually, you can stay,” Jiraiya insisted as he got off the bed he had been perched on during my cry fest to pull an extra chair closer to the other side of me. “I’m sure he’d want to you stay anyway. This is the first time we finally get to talk to you and there’s a lot to cover.”


I nodded and braced myself for what was to come, and this was where I learned about everything I mentioned above earlier (with Temari chiming in as well every now and then). By the time they were through, the nurse had come in twice to chase them off, and the third time she wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. I needed the rest anyway because my headaches were returning and Jiraiya promised to return tomorrow with some very important visitors. He hoped the nurses would make me look a little more presentable and at least get me to wear proper clothing instead of these pitiful hospital gowns.


The next day, it all made sense on why Jiraiya was insistent that I look ‘presentable’. The nurses had complied and I was finally wearing some of my street clothes (just a buttoned-up white shirt and black pants), clean-shaven, hair washed and my breath smelling of mint instead of the usual nasty medicine they keep making me take.


“It couldn’t wait. They were determined to see you as soon as possible,” he explained as he began to usher in and introduce every head of the different families within the Senju who had come to pay their respects to me.


Holy…shit…you’ve got to be kidding me.


Men who looked as intimidating as Ikegami or as wizened as Ōnoki came trickling in one after the other; looking either humbled or contrite at the sight of me. Some presented gifts that Kakashi would set aside, before taking my hands in theirs to either squeeze gently or place a reverent kiss on my fingers. They all pledged their allegiance to the Senju though they were more than aware that I was not going to be the one actually running things. Still, with all my behind-the-scenes influence the past several months, Jiraiya had more than filled them in on just how important I was to this union happening, and they were all going to honor me as their honorary kumichō whether I liked it or not.


I lost count of how many houses I had been invited to or how many ceremonial sake dinners I was to partake of. However, Jiraiya saved my hide again by suggesting that one big ceremony take place as soon as I am healed enough to attend such public functions. Until then, they would leave me alone to recover to a hundred percent. Remembering my manners, I was sure to thank each of them for their kindness and vowed that I would do my best to see that peace and stability was restored (as much as possible) to the different territories, no matter their differences.


In all, the procession of oyabun took up a huge chunk of my day, and by the time Shikamaru and Temari came around to visit – or rather say goodbye – I was alone again, but exhausted. I didn’t even get a chance to open my presents as Kakashi and Jiraiya had whisked them away to be kept at ‘my house’ until I was ready to move in.


“Christ,” Shika mumbled in bewilderment. “I thought that parade would never end. You’d think the police would have a field day arresting some of these guys.”


I chuckled wearily and slumped back against my pillows.  “I guess I never really realized just how far-reaching my influence would be.”


“Says the man who went about trying to conquer all of Japan,” Shikamaru smirked and then shook his head lightly. There was an expression in his eyes I couldn’t quite decipher, but I would later come to see it as a sort of respect, love, and appreciation for me. “You did it though, Naruto. Can you believe it?”


I felt my cheeks flame and shook my head lightly. “I didn’t do much…or at least I wouldn’t have without you by my side. You know that.”


My voice thickened and the tears I thought I had all shed out threatened to come again. I took a deep breath and made myself focus.  “So…eh… you two are leaving for good now?”


“Yes,” he muttered, his voice as thick and rough as mine. He cleared his throat before continuing. “We need some much needed alone time as you can imagine, but…when we come back, it’s for a proper wedding where you’re definitely not going to bail out on being my best man, got it?”


I gave him a mock salute. “Aye aye, captain.”


He chuckled and swatted my arm playfully, and fell into a pensive silence that Temari took as a sign to leave us alone – though she gave me a warm  hug of farewell with a kiss on my lips.


(you’ve got yourself a really good woman there, Shika)


When we were finally by ourselves, Shika reached for my hand to clasp it tightly within his trembling ones. I hardly flinched as he raised them to his lips to repeat the gesture all those other men had done before him. Except that his had more meaning as the silent tears finally came – and for a man who rarely, if at all shed a tear for anything, this was monumental.


“Thank you,” he whispered with a sincerity that was torn from the depths of him. “Thank you for everything, Naruto. My story could have ended differently, but…I’m glad…so, so, so damn glad Asuma saw something in you and gave me a chance to see it too. You really are something special. Don’t you ever, ever lose it…whatever that ‘it’ is. Promise me.”




I nodded and covered his hand with my free one  before raising it to my cheek to hold it there for a moment.


“And thanks to both of you for believing in me from the beginning,” I said softly. “You were the first person to see me as human, remember?” I smiled at the memory of the first time we met, earning a tremulous smile from him as well.


“I honestly didn’t think too much of you,” he confessed. “I thought you were going to be a pain-in-the-ass, and I was right.”


I playfully tried to bite his fingers, but he withdrew and pet my leg gently instead. “So…what happens now?” he asked softly. “When you get out of here…?”


He raised a brow with a knowing look in his eyes that made my entire being burn with heat.


“Yeah,” I mumbled, as I lowered my gaze and tugged at a loose string on the bed sheet. “I’m going back up there.”


“Even though the memories -”


“It’s not going to be the same, Shika,” I stated softly. “We’re all starting anew. Orochimaru’s gone and I’m sure those guys have been working their asses off trying to clean up the mess he’s created. I want to go there and help -”


“Help? That’s all?” came the teasing comment that earned him a playful jab.


“Yeah? So?” I argued back in defiance even though I still couldn’t stop blushing. “You’re going away with your girl, so it’s only fair that I get to see…eh…my…well, him!”


Shikamaru snickered and silenced my sputtering with a firm kiss on my forehead. “I got it. I got it. Fair’s fair. I hope you two have a wonderful reunion. You’ve definitely earned it…just promise you don’t lock yourself away in a room for an entire week and forget about ‘helping’ to restore peace and order and all that crap.”


“Shu…shut the fuck up. We’re not…!”


“Send us pictures of wonderful Byaku-Shinkyou and its…snow. Brr.”


“So you’re never going back there?” I asked as he began to hobble his way toward the door. He stopped and took a deep breath before turning around with a small smile.


“Maybe we will…to pay our respects to Asuma’s grave, but that’s about it. I really have nothing else there to go back to, Naruto. Like you said…everything’s starting anew. I have to build my future with Temari, and you’ve got Sasuke to deal with. Now do us all a favor and get better, so you can get the hell out of this godforsaken hospital, all right?”


“Will do,” I replied with a fervent nod. “Don’t forget to call me every now and then. Use Jiraiya to get to me until I get a more permanent phone number or something, okay?”


“I will. Take care of yourself, my friend. It’s been a real pleasure getting to know you, Uzumaki Naruto.”


And with those quiet words, Nara Shikamaru walked away from my life…at least for now. I would miss him dearly; that much was certain, but I could take comfort in knowing that he was finally happy and with the woman he loved more than life itself.


(and as for you?)


I snuggled against my pillows and pulled the covers over my head as my words to Shikamaru came back to taunt me in flirtatious whispers within my weary mind.


I’m going back there… going back to where it all started…


Where I prayed that this time, Fate would be much kinder to us.




Chapter 44

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