Chapter 44

A New Dawn


For your precious sake,
Once my eager life itself
Was not dear to me.
But now it is my heart's desire
It may long, long years endure.

-       Fujiwara no Yoshitaka



Hokkaido Prefecture

Two months earlier:




He is far from perfect; even he would tell you that if queried. There are days when he wishes he had a manual specifically catered for ‘older brothers’, but Life had deemed it fit not to produce such essential literature so far. Life had determined that he’d have to learn that role the hard way, and though it had seemed easy during those early years of innocence, Life had been cruel to him for fourteen long years afterwards. During that time, he played the role of pseudo-big brother to so many others never knowing the fate of the one closest to his heart. It was a role he would loathe to admit he had performed as if walking through a room drenched in darkness. On the outside, he was ‘perfect’ to admirers. On the inside, however, Life’s cruelty continued to take its emotional and mental toll. Only Shisui would ever really know how truly miserable he had been and it was a secret he vowed to carry with him to his grave; should that time come any time soon.


Fortunately, Life (and Fate) had finally decided to give him a break. Ah, yes. They had considered his years of mourning and misery enough penance to finally reunite long lost brothers. It could have been a reunion worthy of fairytales and fantasy novels, but Life (and Fate) – like vengeful lovers not content to simply watch the fruits of their revenge – had none too soon thrust this ‘war’ upon them.


(how unfair)


It was yet another obstacle that could prove to be the final blow struck to a life lived on a wire, where every trembling step he took could be the difference between survival and the afterlife. Sending Sasuke to Byaku-Shinkyou alone was a decision that had kept him up that night; despite his brotherly pep-talk. Every fiber of his being had sent warning signals; screaming that Orochimaru (and his army) would not be so kind and welcoming to Sasuke as he might have tried to reassure them. However, he knew he really had no say in the matter. Sasuke had lived with that man for so long, surely his judgment of Orochimaru’s character would be much better than his?


(trust him…trust that everything will be just fine)


And yet mere hours after watching his brother and his trusted manservant disappear down the snowcapped trail, he had grit his teeth and made the decision to follow Neji and the others. He would gladly suffer Sasuke’s wrath when the time came, but he knew – without a doubt – that he could never live with himself if he simply chose to ‘wait’ it out despite the many others that needed him at the base.


“I’ll stay,” were Shisui’s words of encouragement as he noticed the determined yet torn expression on his partner’s visage. “Go to him. We…I’ll be here when you return.”


(thank you, my beloved)


With that final blessing, he led the young men – who didn’t seem too shocked to see him make an appearance – down toward his childhood home for a final confrontation that he hoped would at least give him the opportunity to set things right. Unlike the past, he was no longer that frightened ten-year-old unsure of himself. He would go head-first into battle if need be and protect the last remaining link to a family unfairly taken away from them. Sasuke, at least, deserved that much.


However, with his mind so full of potential plans for attack and what could lie ahead, nothing could prepare him – and the others – for what reality presented. From the deafening explosions to black mushrooms of smoke billowing into the night sky, they could only watch in horror as the large gates leading into the grounds seemed to become the entrance to Hades itself. Bodies tumbled out as if desperate to escape the madness within, and while a lucky few were able to make their escape into the snow-coated landscape, others weren’t so lucky. The thick metallic stench of blood and burning flesh filled his nostrils as gunshots rang out to join the cacophony of tortured screams and cries for help. Between rebelling prisoners and loyalist officers to Orochimaru, it was incredibly difficult to make out who was on whose side, but with sharp instructions to his young team to stay on guard, Itachi led them into mayhem with a prayer on his lips.


(Sasuke…please be all right…please…)


“Sasori!” he yelled out as he swung at an incoming officer with his katana. “Set off the warning flair! We need more back up NOW!”


Sasori nodded curtly and dashed off; his lithe frame almost blending in with the chaos and garnering no extra attention from the fighting taking place. Besides, if anyone dared attack, his super-quick reflexes (only rivaled by Haku he had come to discover) could take them out with prepared poison-tipped needles.


“Lee, Neji and Tenten, you remember the directions on the map leading to Orochimaru’s quarters?”


“Yes!” Tenten replied as she sliced off the arm of a prisoner who had lunged for her. “What are you orders, Itachi-sama?”


“Head over there now,” Itachi commanded. “Shino, Deidara and I will try to hold them back as much as we can and we’ll join you in a bit. Also look for Kiba and the others!”


“Roger!” Lee saluted as he and his companions vaulted over piling dead bodies to dash in the direction assigned to them.


“Deidara! Shino!”


“Yes, sir!” The two men replied, already more than aware of what they had to do. They were vastly outnumbered, but it appeared as if the crowd was beginning to thin…at least those seeking to escape. Now the trio found themselves dealing with Orochimaru loyalists not ready to give up their positions just yet. Behind them the fires raged on; the thick smell of smoke and gasoline polluting the air and making it a little difficult to breathe.


Itachi shrugged off the now bloodied robe he had been wearing to brace himself for the fight ahead. He could vaguely recognize the face of the leader of the band of loyalists, but besides that, the others were new to him. These were all men from different walks of life, who had come here with one goal in mind; to protect and serve…allegedly.


(now it’s more like to purify the earth from sinners, eh?)


Itachi smirked coldly and lifted his katana as the officers began to dash forward to attack.


(I’ll see you all in Hell)




It would take him nearly half-an-hour to finally make it toward the much quieter section of the grounds – Orochimaru’s quarters to be exact – but by this time, the earlier snow flurries had now become a steady sheet of snow that was beginning to make visibility poor. Sasori, Deidara and Shino – along with rebel officers led by someone named Fuu – were finishing up the last of the loyalists. Several had given up and volunteered to be captured, but Itachi knew that this was only the tip of the iceberg. Who knew what else was happening deeper within the grounds?


(all the dead bodies to clear away…goddamnit! What a mess!)


However, his top priority was finding out if Sasuke was all right…


(still alive)


…but his running/stumbling steps slowed when he noticed the small group huddled at the bottom of the steps. He felt his adrenaline – which was already shot sky high from the fights – nearly send his heart erupting from his chest as he imagined Sasuke being among the dead bodies. Noticing Tenten’s familiar hairstyle, he quickened his steps again until he came to a stop before her.


(Oh my…God)


“Haku!” he cried out as his frantic gaze settled on the person cradled within her arms. He stooped to his haunches to eye the extremely pale features; his fear growing tenfold as he noticed how dark and drenched –


(the blood loss!)


…the lower half of Haku’s body was.


“He’s still breathing, but barely,” Tenten was saying as Itachi reached out to caress the face tenderly; a hard lump forming in his throat. How on earth would Sasuke deal with this? Losing Haku was going to be akin to losing a younger brother at this stage in his life.


“Kimimaro stabbed his lower back,” Tenten explained. “This officer saw everything.”


The officer in question was Tsubasa, who had trailed after Haku and Sasuke on their quest to find Orochimaru. He nodded as he met Itachi’s querying gaze; trying not to look too in awe at finally seeing the ‘missing’ Uchiha brother and remorse for not being able to do more.


“They were in a fight,” Tsubasa began. “Sasuke-sama defeated Ukon.” He pointed to a body on the right that was already half-buried in the snow. “And Haku-sama defeated Sakon.” He pointed to another body further away. “However, it was Kimimaro-sama who shot them and then went for Haku-san. He gave Sasuke-sama permission to fight Orochimaru with no interruptions.” This time he pointed behind him and into what looked like a dark corridor that was barely lit. “Haku and Kimimaro-sama got into a fight themselves, but it seemed more like a discussion they had. I –“


His words faltered as they heard shuffling noises coming from said dark corridor. On instinct, they all stiffened in awareness; Tenten cradling Haku protectively against her body while reaching for one of her wakizashi. Fuu stood protectively in front of Itachi as he rose slowly to his feet with katana at the ready for an ambush. The seconds seemed to tick on forever, and just when Itachi felt he’d go mad with anticipation, their ‘attackers’ turned out to be –


“God help me,” he breathed as his heart twisted with pain and yet relief at the sight of the three men he had sent into the lion’s den all those months ago. To see their bloodied and beaten bodies barely able to hang on (for Kiba and Suigetsu were doing their best to hold up a Jūgo that couldn’t even move on his own) – and Tenten’s low cry of alarm was more than enough – Itachi lunged just in time to catch the falling trio.


“Ita…Itachi-sama?” Kiba croaked; his visible eye welling with emotion at the sight of the man they had suffered through all this for. “We…Jūgo -”


“Don’t say anything,” Itachi ordered kindly, while squeezing Kiba’s shoulder gently. “I’m proud of you…all of you…” This time he directed his gaze to Suigetsu, who had slumped to the ground in exhaustion.


“Wan…wanted to ki…kick his ass…” Suigetsu panted with a wry smile that looked more like a grimace on his battered features. “You…your brother,” he explained with a glance at Itachi. “He…he…rescued us…the bas…bastard…but…you better go in there…that Orochimaru guy’s…nuts.”


Itachi nodded in understanding. “The priority is to get you all better. Tenten and this officer here will get you to safety -”




Jūgo’s barely audible words had everyone glancing at him in surprise. His eyes weren’t open, and they couldn’t even if they wanted to. Whoever tortured them had seemed to inflict the most damage on the big guy. His once open and kindly features were no longer recognizable; even that familiar shock of orange hair now looked like a grotesque congealed maroon mixture. A trembling hand was raised as high as it could go – which wasn’t that much – but Itachi knelt beside him and clutched the hand tightly to his chest anyway.


“Hang in there, Jūgo,” he whispered firmly. “Sasori and the others will be here to take care of your wounds until we can get you to the hospi -”


“No…” came the harsh but urgent word as Jūgo shook his head slowly. “Can’t…don’t bother -”


“What are you talking about?” Suigetsu snapped as he tried to sit up. His tone was angry and yet it trembled as he realized what the big guy was planning on doing. “You’re not quitting on us now. You’ll get better -”


Jūgo’s lips curved into a tiny smile as a tear escaped the corner of his eye. “Thank…you…Suigetsu -”


“What are you thanking me for, you big…urgh! Fuck this!” His breath caught and he forced himself to stand up and stagger away before collapsing onto the snow with a growl of frustration. “Goddamnit!”


“Kiba…” Jūgo continued; his voice fainter still, and Kiba – who had turned away initially, finally forced himself to look at the kindest yet bravest man he had ever met. It was Jūgo who had taken most of the punishment. Jūgo who had gone out of his way to try to fight Orochimaru head on until Kimimaro had stepped in. Jūgo who had smiled at his friends and tried to reassure them that everything was going to be just fine; that they would survive and get out of this place no matter what. It was Jūgo who had allowed Kimimaro to take out his frustrations on him and Kiba could have sworn that the white-haired man had been crying with every blow, lash or strike inflicted upon the bigger man. It was finally Kiba who had to beg that they stop or Jūgo really would have died there and then.


“…take care…of…Aka…Akamaru…” Jūgo whispered as the hand within Itachi’s grasp began to grow weak. “You…thank you…Itachi…sama…”


Itachi gritted his teeth; not trusting himself to speak. He could still remember the day he had posed the question to the group of young men in that stuffy underground meeting room and how Jūgo had been the first to raise his hand to offer himself –


(a sacrifice)


This was so unfair!


Jūgo’s breath shuddered as he struggled to speak. He must have sensed the internal conflict Itachi was going through, for he managed one weak squeeze of the older man's hand as if to reassure him. “Don’t be…sad…Itachi-sama,” he rasped. “…I…pro…promised…Kim…Kimimaro…waiting…for…me…he…is…waiting…thank you…for letting me see him…one last time…thank you…”


And with that lone tear trailing down his cheek - and what looked like the semblance of a peaceful smile on his visage – the ‘gentle giant’ Jūgo took his last breath; leaving behind a group of people whose lives he had touched in some way. The sudden low hoot would have them all looking up to notice Jūgo’s graceful snow owl circle around them for a moment – perhaps paying its final respects to one of the rare humans who could understand their language -  before becoming one with the snow as it eventually flew into the heavens never to be seen again.


Itachi leaned closer to place a gentle kiss on Jūgo’s forehead, squeezed the large but capable hand one last time before positioning both upon the broad chest.


(farewell…and may you finally find your happiness with him in the afterlife. Goodness knows you deserve it)


He rose to his feet and looked toward the dark corridor for a long minute before barking out curtly,




“Ye…yes,” came the sobbed reply.


“Dry your eyes,” Itachi said without looking at her. “We have a lot of work to do. When Sasori arrives -”


“I’m here,” came the quiet words, which elicited a few gasps of surprise as no one had even heard the red-haired man arrive. How long he had been here watching the proceedings was anyone’s guess. No wonder his recon skills were second to none.


“Good,” Itachi said with a small smile. “See to it that their wounds are treated, especially Haku’s. I’ll return shortly to get an update on what’s happening around the grounds.”


And hardly waiting for anyone to respond to his decision, he dashed toward the darkness; the weight of Jūgo’s death and the fear of what was to become of his brother now a terrible burden upon his shoulders.




Present Day:


He looked up as a shadow fell over him, but only to find his lips captured in a brief but hard kiss that brought a reluctant but weary smile to his face.


“Still working?” Shisui asked as he pulled away to eye the paperwork spread across the low desk in Itachi’s ‘office’. The term was used loosely as it was still undergoing construction (as most of the grounds were actually) and Itachi had needed a place to get some work done, so this unfinished room would have to do for now.


Itachi dropped the quill and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hands. It was almost two in the morning and Byaku-Shinkyou at this hour was both at its most peaceful and yet haunting. Perhaps haunting would be a better word considering the events that had taken place since that night.


“It never seems to end,” he finally muttered as he lowered his hands to study them as if seeing them for the first time. He looked up to notice his partner watching him thoughtfully from his position by the doorway. Shisui – dressed in a yukata – looked considerably less tense than he had been in the past few months. It was as if the ‘conquering’ of Orochimaru had finally given him cause to see the world as a whole lot more than a battlefield. He was throwing himself into the restoration of Byaku-Shinkyou with everything he had, and while Itachi was forced to become the public face of the ‘new and improved’ Uchiha clan to the rest of the world, he and Sasuke had been content to remain in the background.


Speaking of which…


“Did you see him today?” Shisui asked quietly.


Itachi shook his head with a wry smile. “He’s so busy going through Orochimaru’s underground den …I’m a little worried.”


“You think he’ll become influenced by what he sees there?”


Itachi bit his lower lip in thought. How could he explain to Shisui just what he had witnessed that night when he finally arrived in Orochimaru’s private quarters? After the initial shock of seeing Orochimaru’s head sitting upon the gaudy golden ‘throne’ and the body swimming in a pool of its own blood, his panicked gaze had drifted over Lee and Neji – hardly hearing whatever they were saying – as fear seemed to claw at his heart with ravenous greed. He finally noticed Sasuke seeming to haunch within himself in a corner of the room; a sound – a cross between laughter, sobbing and moaning – escaping his lips.


“I wouldn’t go to close to him,” Neji seemed to be saying as Itachi began walking toward his brother. “He nearly took our heads off -”


He simply held a hand up to silence Neji’s concerns, more than aware of Sasuke’s current state of mind. He wouldn’t pretend to know exactly what his brother was thinking, but the moment he dared to reach out to touch Sasuke’s head gently, Itachi nearly got a taste of what Neji was talking about.


Itachi barely saw him move and yet if he had remained standing there, the blade would have slashed right through his neck. However, his quick reflexes had him weaving away yet reaching out to grasp Sasuke’s wrist tightly. Sasuke snarled; dark eyes wide, unseeing and filled with an expression that could only be considered as pure insanity.


“Itachi-sama!” Lee cried out; ready to defend his mentor, but Itachi bellowed back as he sensed the other men coming closer.


“Leave us!”


“But Itachi-sama...!”


“Go NOW,” he ordered firmly. “The others need you. I’ll be fine. Don’t wor…shit!” For as he was saying this, he had to dodge the kick that was aimed at his torso. He cursed and countered with a hard blow to Sasuke’s side, wincing at the grunt this elicited from a man who was obviously still in pain from whatever fights he had engaged in. However, it was more than enough for Itachi, for when Sasuke tried to lunge for him again, he twisted the wrist he had been gripping; forcing the katana to drop to the floor with a loud clatter. 


Once he was sure Lee and Neji had left the room, Itachi increased the pressure on Sasuke’s wrist; intensely watching those dark eyes to see if anything was getting through.


(come back to me, Sasuke)


The younger brother lunged again, this time using his free hand to try to deliver a blow, but Itachi was too quick. He weaved away, lashing out at the offending arm with a swiftly delivered kick that had Sasuke groaning in pain before sinking to his knees in a sudden show of resignation. He lowered his head before shaking it slowly back and forth as if trying to get rid of something.


“…Sasuke?” Itachi called out softly. “Can you hear me?”


There was no answer for a long minute, and just when Itachi was about to contemplate slapping some sense into him again, Sasuke finally lifted his head to reveal an expression that sent a sharp pang of an emotion so strong; Itachi was sure there had to be something beyond the mere ‘love’ one ought to have for another. He had never seen his brother look so frightened and vulnerable, and at the barely audible –




…that was whispered, Itachi fell to his knees to engulf Sasuke in a hug that muffled the harsh sobs that now seemed wrenched from Sasuke’s throat. These were the real tears he had stored up for so long, and Itachi was more than willing to let them fall.


“It’s all over,” he whispered into the thick dark hair as he too felt the first trickle of tears burn his eyes. After fourteen long and trying years…


“It’s finally over, Sasuke.”




At least that part of things were, for there was so much more to deal with when they finally came back to the ‘real world’ (so to speak).


The reinforcements had finally arrived, and along with the anti-Orochimaru watchdogs, they had set about going deeper into the grounds to rescue trapped prisoners, capture Orochimaru loyalists and most importantly put out the fires. By morning (and with some help from the overnight snowfall), most of the fires had been extinguished, but the damage was quite extensive. Ninety-percent of the officers’ mess was destroyed – for the fire had started there – and it had spread to most of the residential/prisoners’ quarters. This forced Itachi (as per Sasuke’s suggestion) to make the unfortunate decision of sending those prisoners who had either been too sick or terrified to escape, to take up residence within the caves making up the West Block.


As for the East Block – the torture section – that had been ravaged by rebellious prisoners. The carnage and destruction in there was worrisome for there was now the likelihood that the escaped felons were now out and about on the streets. None of the officers in charge of E-Block had survived the massacre and most of the paperwork in Officer Fudo’s office was nothing now nothing more than ashes. Speaking of Fudo, he and a few other officers had been dragged down to the chamber where Naruto (and so many others) had been tortured and were delivered some of the worst treatment possible. As for the Torture Master himself…let’s just say Naruto might have patted the prisoners on the back for a job well done. The fat bastard definitely wouldn’t be missed.


Next was the painful and arduous task of finding and piling all the dead bodies. The final count when all had been gathered? A hundred and sixty-five prisoners and forty officers dead; either murdered or victims of the fire.


To make matters worse, the events that had taken place were slowly being leaked to the press. With the announcement of the death of Orochimaru finally making its way to the Tarumae mountains - where the battle was still taking place between his army and Akatsuki – and the presence of the troops the three remaining daimyos had sent as reinforcement, they finally raised the white flag in surrender; sparing more unnecessary lives lost. With the press now salivating at the chance for some kind of news about the ‘mystery’ Uchiha brothers returning from the dead, Itachi, Shisui and Sasuke had done the best they could to make Byaku-Shinkyou as presentable as possible. A challenge to say the least.


Most of the villagers straggled in to help with the cleanup, focusing on washing away blood stains, clearing debris and of course burying the bodies in a make-shift graveyard amongst the mountains. Sasuke gave the order to barricade Orochimaru’s quarters; preventing anyone from going there until he made up his mind on what to do with it. And as for Orochimaru’s body? Surprisingly, Sasuke had requested it be cremated and his ashes sent to the mountains at Usu. There was no pomp and circumstance surrounding this event, and it seemed almost pitiful that a man so full of delusion and grandeur would end up as nothing more than ashes in a simple clay jar.


Unfortunately, all of this seemed to pale in comparison when they finally discovered Orochimaru’s underground lairs; rooms he had carved within the caves to harbor his special labs and libraries. From Sasuke’s expression, it was clear he had no idea such places existed and as the brothers (and Shisui) explored for endless hours, they were given an insight into just how tormented and demented Orochimaru had become especially in the latter years. Sasuke had revealed the serum Orochimaru had used on his eyes and the men had discovered seemingly hundreds of jars with the clear fluid stored within makeshift shelves.


“At least  he left us with a gift,” Shisui had deduced wryly. “We can thank him for that.”


However, that was as far as their gratitude went, for other jars and clear display cases contained items that made them nauseous and sick to their stomach. Ranging from eyeballs to unborn fetuses floating in formaldehyde, Orochimaru had spared no expense to see that his research went beyond normal standard practices. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they also discovered the room where he performed his blood transfusions. Looking like something out of a horror-sci-fi themed movie; the claustrophobic space was riddled with so many tubes, IV lines, machines to monitor one’s heart rate, and breathing apparatuses – all connected to large containers still filled with fresh blood. Knowing that countless members of their clan had been his guinea pigs (the sick bastard even  had a freezer storage unit for bodies for crying out loud!) had sent Shisui smashing the equipment with a rage that did not take either brother by surprise.


They would eventually take the bottles of serum above ground, with the hope that more of the Uchiha who had remained hidden in the shadows, would finally come forward to receive the medication. Thankfully, the clinic within the grounds had been spared from most of the fire and Kabuto - who had survived the riot only because he had been in Tokyo during that time – had the unenviable task of learning how to administer the drug as well as taking care of the many victims still suffering from the effects of that night. To say he was flabbergasted at what had taken place, would be an understatement. He had considered quitting - for his loyalties still lay with his mentor, Orochimaru - however, Sasuke’s none-too-subtle-threat of killing him if he dared leave, had sent the bespectacled man back to his role as reluctant caregiver. Goodness knew he might not have kept his promise, but with Karin and Hinata volunteering to be his assistants, Kabuto knew he had to be on his best behavior before the watchful eyes of the astute females.


With their excellent medical skills, Kiba and Suigetsu were back to a semblance of their former selves, though Kiba had requested he take some time off to go back to home. Suigetsu, who had no one waiting for him outside the walls of Byaku-Shinkyou, made the decision to remain within the grounds and to assist with the reconstruction. If he was still hell bent on fighting Sasuke to make up for his brother’s demise, he gave no inclination of it – at least for now. The same went for the other members of Akatsuki, who all offered to remain within or around town to help as much as they could. And though Itachi had insisted that they were no longer bound to remain within the group and were free to go their separate ways now that the war was over, no one would hear of it. Itachi had led them through the darkest points of their lives and now they would be there for him whether he liked it or not.


Such loyalty was enough to make anyone emotional, and Itachi – though keeping a straight face throughout the meeting – finally cracked the façade in the quiet of his room later that night. Sometimes he felt he didn’t deserve such ‘hero’ worship, but he considered himself lucky to have met such a great group of young men and women he could rely on.


With all of this going on, Itachi had to pinch himself to realize just how fast time seemed to go by. It was almost two months since their arrival  here; and though he couldn’t say it felt like ‘home’ completely – for he was more than aware of Orochimaru’s presence in most places – he felt he could get used to it eventually…




Their childhood home – which was Sasuke’s residence all these years – had been spared for the fires. Itachi had wandered around the familiar, yet unfamiliar rooms in quiet contemplation as memories came flooding back with every gentle caress of a shoji screen door or a piece of furniture. His bedroom (as well as his parents’) was still the way it had been when he ‘left’ all those years ago. Sasuke had confessed he hadn’t been able to go into those rooms since the ambush, neither would he allow anyone to do any sort of housekeeping. And so they had remained; ghostly reminders filled with layers of dust and the yellowed smell of frozen time.


(how much pain  you must have lived with, Sasuke. I couldn’t even begin to imagine…)


“He’ll be fine,” Shisui’s words came drifting into his thoughts, forcing Itachi to pay attention to his partner, who allowed a warm smile to come to his visage. “You forget he’s no longer that baby kid brother you used to dream about. He’s what…? Twenty? He’s practically ready to get married and start his own family.”


Itachi chuckled weakly. “That’s going to be a bit of a problem, isn’t it? With he and I not particularly interested in women…at least he isn’t at this time…I have a sinking feeling we might be the last line of defense for this branch of the Uchiha family tree.”


Shisui smirked. “Ever heard of surrogate mothers, my dear? All you need do is find a woman willing to carry your…our seed for a few months and viola. You’ve got an offspring to expand the family tree for a few more generations.”


“A woman, huh?” Itachi raised a brow with a teasing smile. “You know ever since that interview I gave to the media, I’ve gotten quite a few candidates knocking at my…argh!”


He couldn’t help laughing as Shisui tackled him to the floor –


(damn his lover’s speed)


…only to be silenced as those warm and tender lips claimed his again in a kiss that left him breathless and aching for more. He sighed and wrapped his arms around Shisui’s neck, mounds of paperwork forgotten as he stared into dark eyes that burned for him and only him. It was wonderful to have someone he could share his innermost thoughts, fears and dreams with. However, he couldn’t help feeling a slight pang of guilt at being able to enjoy this moment while Sasuke…




…appeared to be too burdened with his new responsibilities and no time to really think about the one he most wanted to be with. If Itachi could fly down to Tokyo, this very minute, to bring Naruto back to Byaku-Shinkyou, he’d have gladly done so. However, Jiraiya’s words of ‘allowing Naruto to fully heal and deal with some unfinished affairs’ had forced Itachi to back away from that plan.


(and knowing Sasuke…no matter how long it takes, he’ll wait)


“I love you,” Itachi finally whispered as their foreheads met and their breaths mingled to become one. “You know that, don’t you?”


“Prove it to me then,” Shisui invited huskily as his lips began to trail down Itachi’s arched neck while a hand slid beneath the yukata to caress the trembling flesh beneath. “Prove it to me now until our dying breath, my love.”


Until our dying breath, Itachi thought with an ache in his heart as he closed his eyes and gave himself up to inevitable exquisite pleasure. Ah, Shisui…my beloved…I’m yours…always…









Twice now he had come face-to-face with Death. Twice he had found himself standing at its doorstep, staring into the darkness that was likely to consume him, and twice now a hand had reached into that darkness to yank him back into the light.


There were days he still wondered if he deserved it; if Life was somehow trying to tell him something.


(it is not yet your time…endure…just a little bit longer)


He sighed and wrapped the cloak a little tighter around his body; his steps slow and steady within the inch of snow that had fallen the night before. It was only mid-October and Mother Nature had deemed it fit to send Winter’s Wrath upon them earlier than it normally would. Still, as he approached the crest of the mountain, he was again reminded of why he would forever love this place despite the pain and heartache it brought him.


From his vantage point, Byaku-Shinkyou looked splendid beneath the cold mid-morning sun. Though parts of it were still in shambles and signs of re-building were taking place, nothing could take away the majestic setting and the breathlessness one experienced when taking in the overall geography. Haku made a mental note to request that his body – when his time eventually came – be placed somewhere here, so he could always look out to this scene in the afterlife.


For now though, he had to pay his respects to the one who had almost sent him there in the first place.


He withdrew the small bouquet of flowers from within his robe as he approached the two unmarked graves in which Kimimaro and Jūgo had been buried side-by-side. Haku – and with some effort – stooped to his haunches to place the flowers on the gravestones, before rising to his feet with a wince of pain as he lower back protested the movement.


(you were lucky, the doctor had said, whoever stabbed you avoided hitting the vital nerves in your spine or you would have ended up being paralyzed from the waist down)


He shuddered and embraced himself tightly.


(why let me live, Kimimaro-sama? When you had the opportunity to finish me off there and then?)


How many sleepless nights had he replayed that moment – when the blade pierced through his flesh – over and over again within his troubled mind? How many times could he hear the anguish in those whispered words of final atonement, and how many times had Haku wondered if he could have done so much more to rescue Kimimaro from his inevitable Fate. In hindsight, what could he have possibly done? And would Kimimaro have listened anyway?


He would later come to learn that the one named Jūgo had tried to be the reasonable voice in Kimimaro’s tumultuous existence; that Jūgo had risked his life daring to challenge his childhood friend to turn away from Orochimaru’s chokehold over him, and what had he received for all his valiant efforts? Nothing but an unmarked grave and the naive hope that at least both tortured men were finally together in Heaven (or Hell). It was Suigetsu who had gone out of his way to request that Jūgo be buried next to Kimimaro while Haku had pleaded with Sasuke to let Kimimaro’s few remains be buried instead of discarded like trash. And though his (ex)master had not attended the small funeral held for both men, Itachi’s presence more than made up for it even if he really hadn’t been there to pay respects to Kimimaro per se.


(one chapter closed…)


With his legs beginning to get tired (just one of the after effects of the stabbing), he sat upon a boulder beneath a stark tree whose limbs bowed with the weight of snow accumulated upon it – to catch his breath. He closed his eyes and tried to piece together the events of the last two months as best he could.


He had woken up in a hospital in Sapporo, where a very relieved Sasuke had been keeping watch over him during the two days he was passed out. He would later be regaled of Sasuke’s success in defeating Orochimaru, though he was yet to bring up that topic with his (ex) master in the few discussions they had had so far. Besides, Sasuke was so busy these days, Haku was lucky if he even got a chance to see his (ex)master for more than an hour at a time. He hated to admit that a part of him still felt guilty at not being ‘there’ for Sasuke during his confrontation with Orochimaru, for that promise he had made to never leave his master’s side, no matter what – tore at him. So yes, Sasuke had tried to reassure him that there was nothing he could have done anyway, but Haku had still felt useless and disappointed. Those feelings were made even worse with his current situation. He knew he was now no longer as quick as he used to be, and goodness knew how long it would take until his wounds were finally healed. Sasuke didn’t complain when Haku set about doing little errands for him here and there, but at the same time, he was more than aware that Sasuke was capable of handling so many more things on his own without his help.


(what good am I to him now? What happens to me from now on? Where do I go from here?)


How he wished Naruto-kun would return and perhaps help to ease the tension building between them. He had heard of Naruto’s success in taking down Ikegami and Danzo (indirectly); news that did more to excite him at the prospect of seeing the vivacious blond again. It had been a long (almost) seven months since he last saw Naruto, and visions of how their reunion would be –


(if it ever happened)


…had consumed some of his thoughts. What would Naruto look like now? Would his encounter with the yakuza have changed him? Would he become more cynical with his outlook on life? Or had he managed to retain that humanity that had endeared Haku to him in the first place? As for his ‘other’ feelings for Naruto…well…




…Haku wasn’t quite sure anymore. He knew he did care for the blond and like Sasuke, would do anything requested of him, so what did it all mean? Was he finally ready to let go of Naruto emotionally? Was that part of him now ready to admit that he could and would never be the one for Naruto; that the dark-haired man who seemed more content to bury himself with work these days – was the one truly meant for him?


(if that’s the case…)


“So this is where  you’ve been hiding. Should have guessed,” came the softly-spoken words, which had Haku sitting up with a gasp of surprise. He kicked himself inwardly at his absentmindedness; knowing that the old him would have been more alert at the presence of someone else in the vicinity. However, seeing the familiar face approach eased the hard thumping within his chest, and he broke into a shy smile of welcome.


“Sasori-sama. What are you doing here?”


Sasori, who was dressed in a similar dark robe, reached into it to withdraw the small vial hidden within. “You missed taking your meds this morning,” he chided gently. “I came in to check up on you, and you were gone…bottle untouched.” He frowned, though his eyes were still filled with a warmth that sent a flush of color to Haku’s cheeks. “Don’t make me force feed it to you.”


“Sorry,” Haku muttered and accepted the bitter-tasting liquid. He swallowed with a grimace, only to sigh in gratitude as something much sweeter (water actually) was immediately placed against his lips. He drank like a man deprived; his blush darkening as he caught the intense gaze trained on him by the older man. [Which was hard to believe in itself as Sasori looked as if he was barely older than Haku]


“Than…thank you,” he gasped when he was almost through finishing the contents of the flask. “I needed that.”


Sasori gave a non-committal grunt and tucked away both objects before turning to face the graves Haku had paid homage to earlier. Neither man said anything for a long time, but that was okay. Haku was used to Sasori’s silences by this time. From the moment Sasori had decided to take charge of his training, Haku had come to learn of the older man’s nuances and quirks. Sasori was not much of a talker, but when he did speak, he always had something of importance to say. He seemed to enjoy art – something he had in common with Deidara as both men would sometimes get into heated arguments over whose artistic merit was better – and had tried to get Haku to appreciate the craft. On one occasion, he had taken Haku to an art exhibit – something Haku hadn’t been able to tell Sasuke at the time for fear it might be taken the wrong way. He wouldn’t call it a date, as Sasori hadn’t made any attempts to become intimate, but Haku had learned more about Sasori’s life and how he had ended up joining Akatsuki. [His parents had been murdered by Orochimaru’s minions because of Sasori’s father’s position in the military at the time]


For his part, Haku had been more reserved; the memories of Sai’s betrayal still fresh in his mind as he resisted the urge to be as forthcoming as he could have been. He had worried that his evasiveness would upset Sasori, but if anything, the older man seemed more content to attend to him rather than pester for personal information that was none of his business.


That attention had been more obvious with his most recent injury. It was Sasori who had taken him to Sapporo and had been by his bedside before Sasuke arrived. It was Sasori who traveled back with him to Byaku-Shinkyou and who had gone out of his way to become his ‘nurse’ and ‘physical therapist’. It was almost embarrassing to have someone else wait hand and foot on him, but Haku had slowly come to appreciate the other man’s presence especially during those times when Sasuke didn’t need him for anything. The idea of returning to his quiet room and being all alone was shattered at the sight of the red-head reading or practicing some of his calligraphy. He wouldn’t leave until Haku was fast asleep, and he was first face seen when Haku awakened in the morning.


Even Deidara had begun to tease that Sasori had the ‘hots’ for Haku and just didn’t know how to say it. For his taunting, Sasori had delivered the mother of all punches to the blond’s face with a snarl to ‘shut his goddamn mouth’ before stomping off red-faced at the insinuation that he could be lovesick.


“I was thinking,” Sasori finally said aloud, even though he wasn’t looking at Haku as he spoke. Haku glanced at him with a raised brow; for he had noticed a slight tremble in the older man’s voice. Sasori cleared his throat and spoke again; this time in a much firmer tone. “I have been doing some thinking, Haku…and I think it’s best we leave this place for a while.”




Haku blinked in bemusement. “What do you mean, Sasori-sama?”


Sasori seemed to sigh, ran fingers through his hair before finally turning around. His expression gave nothing away, but there was something in those eyes that had the younger man’s heart skipping a beat.


“I know you have your loyalties to Sasuke, but…you need sometime away to completely heal from your injuries and…uh…”


Was it his imagination or were Sasori’s cheeks turning pink?


“…I think it’s best we go to a place where it’s peaceful and less chaotic… for you to get some proper rest that is.”


“But it’s peaceful here,” Haku explained with a wave of his hand toward the serene surroundings. “I love it here.”


“Up here it’s serene,” Sasori agreed with a nod, “but I’m not talking about living in the goddamn mountains, Haku. Down there…it’s still a mess, and I hate knowing you’ll be going about trying to please Sasuke who’s got his hands full at the moment and no time for  you.”


Haku winced, but knew – oh how he knew – how right Sasori was.


There was a heavy sigh and Sasori spoke again, this time in a much gentler tone. “I don’t mean to say that he doesn’t appreciate you being there for him, but the reality is…you cannot be his manservant forever, and I’m sure he’s probably told you that already. You’ve got to set off on your path, Haku. There’s so much more out there for you to explore and…I want to help you discover your potential…if you’ll let me.”


The last few words were almost lost in a mumble, but Haku had heard all the same. He wanted to deny Sasori’s reasoning; to argue that Sasuke did need him and would continue to need him for as long as he lived. However, a sad glance at Kimimaro’s grave was a painful reminder of where his thoughts were leading him. Perhaps Kimimaro had once felt the same way; that his life belonged with Orochimaru and nothing else out there would be good enough. Was he bound to become as ‘blind’ as Kimimaro if he chose to continue to latch on to Sasuke? Would it eventually become too little too late when he realized that he had missed his opportunity ‘out there’ simply because he chose to remain beside a man whose need for him was no longer precedent?


He closed his eyes and could almost – almost - hear a voice whisper softly into his ear -


(do not make the same mistakes I did)


He lifted his lashes to meet the deep-set brown ones still staring at him with an unspoken question (plea) within them.


Dare I take the plunge? If I say yes…


“Haku?” Sasori called out gently, and in a gesture he had never done in all their time together, he moved closer still until his warm hand cupped Haku’s cheek tenderly. “Will you come with me?”




“I know you’re afraid,” Sasori interrupted quietly as he pressed his lips against Haku’s forehead. “I know what it’s like to leave the comfort of one you are so familiar with and to dare go outside the box, but I promise to be here for you for as long as you need me. Will you let someone else…me…take care of you for once?” He pulled away a little to smile almost shyly at the younger man. “Consider me your servant if you want.”


Haku’s cheeks blossomed with a warmth that had his heart fluttering with hope (and still that fear of the unknown). His eyes burned with tears that finally broke free to roll down his cheeks, and as he buried his heated features against the chest of the older man, all he could think about was how he was going to break the news to Sasuke-sama.


(one chapter closed…and a new one has to begin)







Two hundred trained officers – not including the Orochimaru loyalists still held in captivity. If I include them, we will have a grand total of only two hundred and twenty-five officers; well short of the staggering number Orochimaru had kept during his reign. Of course there were several reasons for the shortage:


1.    Many had defected during the last Gudan and, of course, the most recent riot.

2.    Some had lost their lives in said riot.

3.    Some had decided to turn in their badges and weapons; spilling some shit about not being worthy enough to wear the Uchiha mon.


Luckily, Kurobachi – who had survived the battle at the mountains – had vowed to begin training some of the Akatsuki members who had fought with him up there. He had at least a hundred men to work with, and he promised to whip them into watchdog form in about a month.


(works for me…)


I assigned him to become Captain of the First Squad – my former position. That was the easy part. The problem now was finding even more qualified officers to be in charge of the new squads I had to form. I stared at the list of names before me until my vision blurred (this had nothing to do with any side effects from Orochimaru’s ‘magic’ serum which I hated to admit had really improved my vision considerably). Simply put, I was fucking tired. I had lost all sense of time as I’ve been stuck in my office trying to re-create some semblance of organization in a broken system. Itachi has been dealing with the financial side of things; for rebuilding and hosting a conference of all the watchdog commissioners from across the country – was not going to be a cheap undertaking. We had scoured through Orochimaru’s journals to discover where he might have hidden funds, but there was no secret room filled with crates of gold and fine jewelry or even money. The most we found was a big brown envelope delivered by the - now deceased - daimyō containing over a million yen.


“He must have a secret bank account or something,” Shisui had deduced with barely concealed frustration. “You can’t tell me that all these years, he wouldn’t have money stashed away somewhere. And what about your family’s inheritance? Your father’s Will? Have you guys tried finding where that is?”


Where indeed. I couldn’t remember Orochimaru ever disclosing that to me, and why would he? For all I knew, he might have burned the entire thing to the ground after discovering them.


“I’ll look up some of my father’s old friends,” Itachi decided. “I’m not sure if any of them are lawyers, but it should be easy to find one or two willing to help us.”


[Let it be known – for the record – that Orochimaru’s foreign accounts were eventually frozen since he was considered a criminal, hence our inability to access them. Of course this unfortunate revelation would come much later.]


With a heavy sigh, I tapped my pen on the journal, restlessly; my lips pursed in thought.


Hyūga Neji…he could make a fine captain.


Why? I believe I’ve already mentioned some of the qualities I noticed in him from the moment we met. In addition, he (and his sister) had chosen to remain in Byaku-Shinkyou to assist, and I had seen how competent he was in organizing the few prisoners left as well as delegating officers to watch over them in specified shifts. I didn’t know if Itachi had ordered him to do so, but it was a job that was greatly appreciated on my end. In fact, I had come to realize just how grateful I was for everyone’s input in making the transition – though difficult – as smoothly as possible. Trying to imagine myself being all alone and having to deal with all of this…


(no way in Hell)


…it was just too much to even contemplate.


As I was just about to begin assigning officers to Neji’s capable hands (and I briefly contemplated that Kiba character as a possible candidate), a light cough had me looking up with a light frown at the interruption. My immediate and conditioned reaction was to insult Asuma for bothering me, but just as quickly as that thought had come; it vanished with a dull pang of sadness. That’s right. Asuma was no longer here. I would never get to see that smiling (or frowning) goateed face ever again. All the same, I relaxed as I saw who it was and even managed a weary smile.




“Hey, yourself,” Itachi greeted with a two fingered salute and a quirk of his lips. “Want to take a walk with me?”


I glanced at the clock on the wall and raised a brow. “It’s almost three in the morning. Itachi.”


“All the more reason why we ought to take this walk. I’ve got something very interesting to show you.”


Oh God. Please don’t let it be yet another discovered hidden laboratory filled with dead children or filleted carcasses. I don’t think I can deal with anymore of that shit right now.


It had taken me weeks to finally stop having nightmares of our earlier discoveries – especially that disgusting blood transfusion room - and yet, I found myself rising to my feet, grabbing my cloak and trudging beside my brother. We walked in companionable silence, and I realized with a dull pang that this was the first time I had seen…well spent some ‘quality’ time with him all week. With both of us saddled with so much work, our conversations and meetings tended to be brief and courteous.


Our ‘walk’ led us across the courtyard and into my private onsen, and I couldn’t help the small smile that came to my lips  as I watched my brother perform a task I had done several times over the years. He still knew which ‘loose’ stones to rearrange, and as the almost noiseless underground lair began to be revealed, we exchanged knowing smirks before descending into the waiting gloom below. We each grabbed an oil lamp – don’t ask me how the flame never seemed to burn out because I knew for a fact I never refilled them – and made our way past the altar and toward the secret chamber where its natural-made ‘shelves’ were filled with scrolls and books I had never gotten around to finishing.


Assuming Itachi was going to show me something to read, I was surprised to notice him stooping to his haunches before one of the ‘shelves’ but only to loosen a few more stones on the dirt floor.


What the hell is he…?


“I’m sure it used to be here,” he was muttering, and with one final light grunt, I watched in silent awe as one of the shelves began to grind its way slowly to the right; revealing yet another hidden chamber I did not even know existed. I don’t believe father ever showed this to me, so how…when?


“It was a surprise to me too,” Itachi admitted as if I had spoken my question out loud. We stepped into the much smaller chamber with its musty and even danker smell. “Father didn’t know I was following him on that day when he opened this particular section. I believe he and Shisui’s father came here together for something.”


He placed his lamp on the floor and began to unravel some of the large scrolls stored rather haphazardly. “Maybe if we searched here, we can find something,” he was saying as I mimicked his actions. “Dad couldn’t have left us dirt poor for crying out loud.”


“Why don’t we just use some of the money you earned while you were in the triad?” I finally blurted out a thought that had crossed my mind while ruminating our dismal financial situation. “You were rich enough back then, weren’t you?”


Itachi huffed and yanked down another scroll. “I doubt we’ll want to get involved with those people right about now. We’re trying to rebuild Byaku-Shinkyou into something positive, yes? What’s the point of getting the mafia involved?”


Because I’m crazy about someone who is now the leader of the goddamn Japanese mafia for one thing, my mind screamed as my gaze skimmed the fading words on a scroll. 


(how ironic, eh?)


I would laugh at the situation, but hadn’t I known from the beginning of just how different our paths were? I was on the side of ‘good’ and Naruto would be on the side of ‘evil’ – at least to those who were already prejudiced to the role of the yakuza in society. Despite his good intentions of reforming the whole system, the stigma was still going to be there whether he liked it or not. He couldn’t turn them all into saints overnight, and I couldn’t and wouldn’t turn a blind eye to anyone deciding to break the law in the name of his organization. My job was to keep the peace, and if Naruto’s ‘men’ stumbled and went astray, I would not hesitate to bring them to justice…the right kind this time.


“A yen for your thoughts?” Itachi’s voice teased as I glared at him and rolled my eyes. He chuckled and my cheeks burned. “You’re so easy to read sometimes, my dearest little brother. At least when it comes to him.”


“I’m not going to discuss Naruto with you, dearest older brother,” I sneered as I reached for another scroll, only to curse softly as several of them fell and unraveled around my feet. I sighed and stooped to begin picking them up, when I noticed a set of what appeared to be photo albums stacked in the lower section of the shelf.


Albums? When was the last time I saw such things?


I pulled them out, blew out the layer of dust accumulated and opened it (with its fine leather and gold bound cover) to see the familiar slanting text of my father’s handwriting.


うちはイタチ (Uchiha Itachi)




“What’s that?” My brother asked as I turned to the first page to see the heartwarming photograph of my (very pregnant) mother standing before what appeared to be hospital. Ah, how young, beautiful (and so very happy) she looked. The next showed her standing beside my father – a father who was smiling…smiling! – a rare sight indeed and one that brought a sharp pang to my chest. I hardly noticed Itachi now by my side as I turned over the page to view more pictures. It was as if I was watching a film of my brother’s birth. From mother’s admission into the hospital, to the touching moment when he was finally cradled within her arms. Subsequent photographs showed Itachi’s growth over the years; baby pictures in some really dorky costumes only a mother could think of, Itachi’s first steps, his first tooth, him wailing like a banshee, learning to swim, going to school…


“Wow…who knew Mom and Dad were so gung-ho over you?” I teased though I was more than aware of the tightness forming in my chest. There were three more albums devoted to Itachi, and when I finally came to mine…


(only one)


…I was trembling so much I could barely get myself to open the first page.


Itachi didn’t seem to mind, for he took the album from me gently and did the honors. I bit my lower lip as I saw my name in father’s familiar scribble.


うちはサスケ (Uchiha Sasuke)


“July 23, 19xx,” Itachi read softly. And just like his album, there was my mother looking just as beautiful before the very same hospital where her first son had been born. My father was beside her, smiling as he had, but this time cradling a five-year-old Itachi within his arms.


“Mom was so happy when she realized she was pregnant with you. They had been trying so hard but failed a few times, and just when Mom thought she would give up…you finally came along,” Itachi said  quietly as he turned over another page to show the various images of pre-birth to the one of Mom holding me in her arms and father placing a kiss on my forehead. My eyes burned and I looked away with dismay and shame.


All this time I had thought my father had been distant and unloving (for the most part) fueled more by Orochimaru’s stories of how Dad had preferred to work rather than spend time with me. And just like that, all of those lies were now being squashed with photographic evidence revealing just how involved my father had been in my formative years.


There were photos of him carrying me at any opportunity he got, clapping his hands as I took my first steps, feeding me, changing my diapers, teaching me how to ride a tricycle and taking me to my first day of school.


They were wonderful memories; something I desperately needed to add to my once murky folders of my traumatic childhood. However, unlike Itachi’s three albums, mine came to an abrupt end – the last picture ever taken being a simple but powerful family portrait. There was the smiling innocent me sitting on Itachi’s lap, while flanked by our proud and beaming parents. Carefully, I peeled away the thin film protection and grabbed the photograph, which I tucked away in my cloak; almost daring Itachi to say something about what I had just done. But to my embarrassment, he did nothing but lean over to place a hard kiss on my forehead before sighing and eyeing the mess we had created.


“Reminiscing time is over,” he mused. “Let’s keep searching, eh?”


“…yeah,” I mumbled and turned away; the photograph seemingly burning a hole against my thudding heart.


I wish I could say we found some hidden treasure in that second chamber, but we left a few hours later, tired, hungry and cranky. I was too exhausted to even look at my piles of paperwork and flopped onto my futon, wishing that Haku was around to give me a massage.


(I miss having him around…)


Miss who exactly? Haku or Naruto?


Haku was still here and though he was still recovering, I did appreciate his attempts to keep me satisfied despite my urgings for him to get as much rest as possible. I hated to see him look so despondent whenever I sent him away, but at the same time, I hoped he realized I was trying to help/push him toward someone else who needed his attention. I wasn’t blind. I knew how much Sasori had devoted himself to taking care of Haku, and was tremendously grateful that he was proving to be a good companion. And hey, who knew if that relationship could blossom into something else? I wanted Haku to be happy and if it turned out to be Sasori…


(why worry about matchmaking other people when you’re still all alone?)


I groaned and buried my face in the pillow, hating the way that voice seemed to taunt me at every opportunity. It seemed to take pleasure in reminding me of how pathetic my situation was. It sucked to have to watch Itachi and Shisui share their intimate moments whenever they thought they were alone. During the day (and most nights) I could deal with the loneliness by immersing myself with my mounting responsibilities. However, there were times – like now – when the silence became too deafening; when my heartbeat seemed to be the only thunderous sound within my ears, and the ache – oh that ache – would rise to the surface as every ticking second was a painful reminder that he was not here.


There was no reason for me not to pick up a phone and speak to him since his success in defeating Ikegami and Danzo, but the stubborn side of me had balked at the idea. I was not going to be content with simply hearing his voice over some flimsy communication wire. I wanted to see him in person. Was that too much to ask? I wanted to touch him…to feel him…to smell him…to bury and fuse myself with him until we became one again. What good would his voice do to me over a telephone when I wanted it to breathe into my ear? I wanted to feel that warmth, that tingle to race down my spine, that toe-curling sensation of his tongue teasing me, those fine set of teeth nicking gently before biting into flesh to savor me as only he could.


(ah fuck…)


Some dreams had taken on quite graphic turns, and my humiliation at pleasuring myself in such pitiful fashion would later be replaced with anger and frustration at what the hell was taking him so long to see me. I tried to squash down the fear that he was changing his mind; that he had come to the conclusion that he no longer really needed me and had chosen to remain in the city and away from a place filled with not too many fond memories. Unfortunately, those fears would only last for a moment as the more carnal desires took precedence. Hadn’t he made a promise to me? Wasn’t it the honorable thing to fulfill that promise? So why, in God’s name, was it taking him so long to make up his damn mind?


(and when he does get here – after taking his sweet fucking time doing whatever it is those damn yakuza do – I’ll punch his lights out and make him suffer for a while. That inconsiderate son-of-a-bitch!)


My mood did not improve the next morning, and a few unfortunate officers had to deal with my short temper and clipped commands as I struggled to juggle the tasks of squad formations, rebuilding plans with architects and construction workers, and the annoying influx of phone calls from curious press still wanting to speak to either me or Itachi about goodness knows what.


By mid-morning, I was already nursing a headache and wanted nothing more than to sink into my onsen and forget the whole world existed. Sadly, I was still stuck behind my desk with plans to curse out (or kill) anyone who dared disturb me within the next thirty minutes. However, I should have known that such directives would fall on deaf ears when it came to a certain someone, and it didn’t take long for him to come running into my office; slightly out of breath.


“Sas…Sasuke-sama…?” he panted.


I waved a hand without looking up and sighed heavily. “Not now, Haku. Please. I’m really busy.”


“I know, but...” He sounded really excited for some reason. “Someone…he’s here…”


Great. Who was it now? Yet another ‘professional’ engineer hoping to discuss what the hell was to be done with that god-forsaken Gudan arena? I might just turn it into a baseball field –


“If it’s a construction worker,” I began absentmindedly, “Just tell him to wait or talk to Officer Kurobachi until I’m ready.”


“It’s not a construction worker!” Haku finally blurted out as if sick and tired of my attitude. “It’s Naruto-kun! He’s here! He’s really here!”


Sure you read it in books or see it in movies at how ‘shocked’ a person reacts to such mind-numbing news, and perhaps one would roll his or her eyes at how clichéd it all seems. But I swear to you, dear reader, that every damn emotion described in those books or seen in those movies applied to me in that very instant. Every angry and frustrated thought I had built up, suddenly seemed to crumble to nothing as my heart –


(this foolish heart of mine)


…literally leapt within my chest and began a staccato beat that was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I trembled, so much so the pen I had been holding like a vice, collapsed to the table and rolled to the floor from limp fingers. I couldn’t move and yet every part of me screamed to get the fuck out of the chair and to see for myself if Haku was telling the truth. Cue in the drying of the mouth and my suddenly parched tongue desperately licking lips that longed to be quenched by…by…


“It’s…are you sure?” someone (me apparently) asked in a voice that sounded anything but as chaotic as I felt inside. I had to pat myself on the back for sounding so collected though the very act of breathing normally was proving to be a little difficult.


Haku nodded and if the silent tears of joy rolling down his cheeks were any indication, I knew he couldn’t possibly be lying.


“Where…where is he…?” I asked as I finally rose unsteadily to my feet, but I needn’t have bothered for an answer as a familiar figure first placed his hand upon the shoulder of my beloved manservant – to squeeze gently - before finally revealing himself in all his magnificent glory.


(that…smile…oh God…he hasn’t changed one bit)


“Sorry I’m late,” came the warm greeting as my blue-eyed sinner grinned sheepishly. “I swear this place has changed so much since the last time, I couldn’t help looking around for a while…”


He stopped rambling long enough to notice something in my expression because the grin slowly disappeared only to be replaced with a light smirk and an undisputed glint of mischief within those eyes.


“Fine then, Sasuke. You hereby have the permission to kick my ass for as long and as much as you want.”




Chapter 45

Naruto Home


















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