ezyl: (hokaru)
m nemonica ([personal profile] ezyl) wrote in [community profile] narutobang_fic2010-09-03 06:29 am

day five. "Clash of the Snowflakes"

Title: Clash of the Snowflakes
Pairing(s): n/a
Rating: R
Warnings: language
Summary: Sai adopts a severed head, Naruto gets a crappy birthday present and Yamato thinks a boring C-class mission will fix everything. A filler episode in five parts with blood, bromance and an improbable number of Uchihas.
Notes: 16,350 words


In the warm darkness he spent most of his time gasping for air he knew he wouldn’t find. He’d learnt to ignore this constant pain some three months ago, but he still felt it, sharp and incessant, in the body that used to be his.

Something was beating in time with what used to be his heart. What was that? It sounded like… lapping water. He dragged himself along, somehow, swallowing water, biting at the strange random objects that cut his lips and cheeks. It was blood he was tasting.

And… it hurt. Not breathing, his head pounding, his sinuses clogged and painful, the wounds in his body, and he screamed noiselessly.

If only, he thought, if only something would eat him, and all of his suffering would end. There was another tug and something tore into his flesh. He gasped, feeling something slimy sneaking down his throat. What filled his mouth now was mud, not water. There was no way it was going to end like this.

No way.

Above him, something stirred. Jashin-sama, he thought. Was Jashin-sama coming for him? Come to give him a peaceful…



“Whoa…. ” said a voice, “What a weird fish.”


“You motherfucking guuu---mmphhhhh!” Hidan found a rag shoved down his throat. Faaaaah, he thought. Six billion people in the world, and the one to pick him up was this creepy pale fucker. Jaashhiiin-sama, he whined inwardly. Why did you do this to meeee? The freak came over to him again.

“I guess you must be an oracle,” he said. “My name is Sai.” Hidan glared back at him. He was unable to look away or struggle so he settled with that. Somewhere in the forest, his hands twitched with eagerness. Oh god if only Kakuzu… But he couldn’t think about that. His best friend… tears came to his eyes. He blinked furiously. Hidan was damned if he was going to cry in front of his enemy.

Sai smiled at his new toy with heartfelt delight, turning the head in his hands.

“You… you can tell fortunes right?” If the damn gag hadn’t been in place, Hidan would have bitten Sai’s fingers clean off.

“You see,” Sai continued, “I read in a book that in ancient times, the heads of animals would bring people back from the dead.” Hidan just blinked. “Or something like that.”

That damned kid was still smiling that eerie fake smile. It made Hidan feel sick. His head was throbbing already. He attempted to mumble something about breakfast… Not like he could swallow really, but it would be nice to have food. He tried very hard to be still to show Sai that he could be a good boy.

Sai patted Hidan on the head as though he was a large cat. “I wonder… do the gods need food?” ‘The god’ had a burst of joy.

Some twenty minutes later Hidan found himself being spoon fed something warm and delicious. It was leaking onto the table but it tasted good and it’s not like he gave a fuck anyway. He glanced at the weird pale kid. The kid was quite obviously enjoying whatever topic of conversation he’d started up with this new guy with fucking creepy-ass eyes.

“Sai-kun, don’t you feel that you should… I don’t know… report this to the Hokage?”

“But Yamato-Taichou, they’d probably dissect him, and then we’d never find out.”

Yamato sighed, running his hands through his hair. “S-sai-kun, that’s not--” but he was cut off by a sudden scream.

“UUUUWAAAAAAAAAAAAHH!” Hidan cursed his immobility. “What,” the voice gasped, “is that?” Hinata, who had been feeding him, held Hidan up so he could see the newcomer. It was this weird, pink-haired girl, and he was disappointed. With that set of lungs, he’d expected at least a C-cup.

The girl pointed an accusing finger at him. “Is that some kind of joke?”

Sai flashed a dazzlingly fake smile. “Ehh? Sakura, that’s something I wanted to tell you about. Did you find out if we could use the cemetery?” Sakura just blinked, trying and failing to keep her composure.

“U-um… well, no. The thing is that most shinobi never get a chance to be buried.”

Sai’s smile wavered a bit. ‘’Well I guess there’s always the haunted house.” Hidan saw Yamato’s eyes narrow in annoyance and he wondered if the captain was having doubts about the boy’s sanity.

It seemed as though Sai had recently taken an interest in ghost stories. At first, everyone thought it was a good thing that the kid had a hobby. ‘Oh, it’s just a harmless phase, just a sign that Sai’s finally turning into a human being with feelings and interests,’ they said. That is, until he discovered a certain book just nestled in the darkest, least used part of the Konoha library. The book was decades old, its leather cover blank. On the inside page was written The Secrets of Life and Death with a scrawled signature underneath that looked uncannily like a snake.

Nobody had ever seen that book before. It had appeared out of nowhere, and when Sai naively went to check it out, it hadn’t registered in the computer files. Sai took it home anyway.

Nobody in Team Kakashi was exactly pleased by Sai’s new hobby; they were all too aware who the author of the book was likely to be. But Kakashi let it slide and Yamato followed suit, and no amount of scathing remarks from Naruto and Sakura could dissuade Sai from flipping through the pages during off hours, thrilled to unlock the dark secrets held within their faded ink.

And now it had come to this. Hidan, hotheaded though he was, had picked up on what was going on. This thing was all about him. Lost in these thoughts, he never saw Sakura approaching…

“Whh-what the----Hey!!” Sakura scooped him up glared at him. Bitch.

“You,” she said, “Are leaking.” Hidan blanched. What the hell was she talking about? And then he realized. He had gotten used to having an esophagus and look where it had gotten him. A gooey mess dripped from his neck down to the floor. Ewwwwww…. He thought. That was inconvenient.

Sakura pulled out a handkerchief and quickly tied it around Hidan’s neck. It looked for all the world like a diaper and Hidan couldn’t refrain from making a sound of disgust.

“Hah! You better be grossed out. This is what happens to greedy people,” said Sakura. Hidan made a sullen face but said nothing; hell, he was glad that Kakuzu couldn’t see him now.

Sai sat on a nearby tree stump, watching them all with an expression of nameless joy. On his face though it was strange and awkward, and soon everyone was staring at him like he was some kind of crazed mad scientist.

“This,” he said slowly, “is going to be so much fun.”


A sliver of moon peeked out from behind the clouds, but otherwise the land was absolutely hidden in darkness. Shadows roamed the fields and forests, sneaking past the normally attentive shinobi guards. A thick fog blanketed the village and the surrounding area, which had all the guards on edge. Fog was unusual at this time of the year, but not unheard of. Every able man stood alert, wondering if the mist was merely a reflection of the hot weather or a cover for a group of Mist assassins.

Across the continent near one of those small Fire country villages no one’s ever even heard about, a lone ninja waited under the cover of a cluster of fir trees, surveying the scene with an eye accustomed to the feel of the land. The hood that covered his head was plain, black as the surrounding shadows save for the serpent’s eyes embroidered on either side.

Tonight was his night. He would show those pathetic mortals that he, Yakushi Kabuto, could indeed surpass the man hailed the world over as the third of the legendary Sannin. He had planned this day for months. Today, or rather, tonight, he would bring his plan to fruition. Each day of suffering, of having to reaffirm his own identity by struggling against the parasite he’d willingly taken into his body, all of that pain would now help him achieve greatness.

Kabuto breathed in the night air, savoring the scent of moisture and vegetation. Konoha had never been his home; he’d been taken there as a spy, knowing all that time that he lived in the land of his parents' murderers. And yet, he had a certain fondness for the place that even Orochimaru’s presence had failed to erase. The trees, the plants, the animals… all reminders that once, he too could have had a home here. That was why he had now decided to claim Konoha for his own.

It was a matter of killing two birds with one stone, really. Not only would he show his power to a certain someone, he would also draw the lifeblood of the village away, lifeblood that came in the form of a jinchuuriki. They would be certain to send their precious hero to defend them against Kabuto’s plan.

He chuckled as he pushed up his glasses for the umpteenth time. “Now,” he whispered. “Rise.”

His hands formed seals instinctively, a kata perfected over the years by his beloved master. He barely registered the seals as he made them. Horse. Tiger. Monkey. Their names didn’t matter. What was important, he thought to himself, was to synchronize his real chakra with that of the parasite within him.

He felt it stir.

The ground trembled and parted, unearthing coffins. One by one, they opened, each containing a figure, bundled in black and bound by chains that unraveled and fell to their feet.

The darkness hid the faces of the undead as the stepped forth from what should have been their final resting places. A fine mist rose from the earth as it swallowed the remains of his summoning.

“My minions,” Kabuto whispered. “Join me in my quest.” He surveyed his creations, noting the seals adorning each of their foreheads. He himself had placed those seals upon the unlucky few whose lives had been sacrifices so that he could gain more power. From the mist, each being stood apart, and Kabuto acknowledged each by name.


Each corpse looked at him with dull eyes, dumbly waiting for his orders. Their bodies were strangely stiff, and as he motioned for them to follow him they dragged their feet as though, at heart, they had no wish to go with Kabuto. In the distance, a crow screeched and there was a thud not far from the group. The medic nin shuddered, feeling somehow that he was making a mistake, but he wasn’t quite sure what it was.

The crow’s scream still hung in the air and the leader paused, taking the time to gather his strength. He began to walk.

Then suddenly, the area was deserted, and the only thing that showed any sign of disturbance were the rocks upon which Kabuto had been standing.


It was the last day of October. Naruto had just had his birthday and was all excited because Sai had mentioned before that it was today he would get his birthday present. Hidan hoped to Jashin that he wasn’t involved in any way but perhaps, considering his sins, that was asking for too much.

Sai had taken to carrying Hidan around everywhere like some kind of pet. At first, Hidan had objected strongly to this turn of events, biting everyone who tried to pick him up. Sakura had wanted to throw him back in the lake but Sai discretely pulled a muzzle from his pack and then Hidan had decided that being a pet wasn’t so bad after all.

It really wasn’t all that miserable, now that he thought of it. The creepy-eyed guy actually had decent conversations with him, and would occasionally offer him a glass of sake. That was cool. And there was that pale-eyed chick who freaked out whenever that Naruto kid was around; he wasn’t completely sure but, it seemed she thought he was some kind of cat… convenient and inconvenient in itself. Lots of petting could not make up for that monstrous thing called cat food. Between the two of them, Hidan was actually starting to get a bit of his old lust for life back again. He was gonna have a good time, or as good of a time as a head could have. So he thought.

Around midnight, Hidan found himself staring at the inside of a backpack. Someone had put a strip of duck tape across his mouth and was violently jolting the bag up and down. It took a while for Hidan to realize that the person holding the bag was running.

Sai gazed wonderingly into the sky, his heart pounding. There was something about tonight that made him certain his plan would succeed. It was perfect. The moon was just a fragment of light highlighting the multitude of clouds. The night was still and an eerie fog hung over Konoha; perhaps a gang of rogue mist nin’s were manufacturing the mist to take advantage of the village in its weakened state. But to Sai, though his professional instincts told him that this was a potentially dangerous situation, it looked beautiful. It was cold. It was damp. But he felt alive in a way that he had never felt before. Soon, he thought, they too would feel alive. Sai realized that, though it had been in his head, he’d just made his first joke and he laughed in the soundless way that shinobi are trained to express their pleasure, when they express it at all.

The house stood at the very edge of the village, the oldest part. The walls were a dingy off-white, and the windows had been boarded up. It was said that at the beginning of the village, the First Hokage had made his residence there. It was also said that his spirit still haunted the building, though no one ever gave a reason for the Hokage’s predilection to remain in the living world. This dilapidated old building was to be the setting for his experiment. Everything was waiting, everything was in place. Sai was so excited that he was actually skipping. Today, his fr… Dare he use that word? Yes, his friends would see how amazing, how clever he was. They would think he was cool. Something about that word made his heart pound. Cool. It had to be against the rules of the shinobi code of conduct. There was no way that having such a strong feeling was appropriate for a ninja.

The smile on his face was, for once, genuine. Sai ran up the steps, but quietly, entering as carefully as he would the house of an enemy. The boards posed no obstacle, neither to him nor to his comrades it seemed, because there they were gathered around in a circle and looking as gloomy as the house they were in.

“Oh, hello there,” he whispered. Four stony faces stared back at him. Sai realized that this reaction was to be expected. He had talked of nothing else for weeks and he’d even forced the others to learn the kata along with him. He was a little comforted however, especially when he saw that both Yamato and (amazingly) Kakashi were there and on time.

“Oiiiii,” Naruto whined. “How is this supposed to be my birthday present?”

“This better be good,” Sakura hissed, arms folded in disapproval.

Kakashi and Yamato merely stood in silence. Actually, the silence was actually caused more by each other than Sai’s crazy ideas. It seemed Yamato had actually gone through the trouble of dragging his sempai here and on time. It was something to consider. Maybe Yamato actually was looking out for Sai.

Friends. Sai rolled the word through his thoughts, suddenly feeling warm all over for no reason that he could discern.

“So,” he said. “Let’s get started.”

He began walking down the steps that led to the basement, and the others followed. They gasped when they saw how Sai had changed it to suit his purposes.

An elaborate seal had been traced on the ground. Red lines of text swirled around each other in strange designs, finishing in spirals on the walls. Tags marked the north and south, east and west, while candles lit up the intermediate directions. The smell of incense hung heavy in the air.

Sai carefully stepped over the writing and sat in the middle. It was a long moment before he finally unzipped the bag and lay Hidan there. The head screamed unpleasantly for a bit before Sai stuffed a rag in his mouth.

“Well, friends!” Sai beamed, turning and flashing a brilliant smile at the room’s other occupants. He started pointing them each towards one of the tags; they had no choice but to obey.

While the others took their positions, Sai pulled a kunai from his belt and pierced his thumb with it. He knelt down and gingerly removed the rag from Hidan’s mouth, saying, “You aren’t going scream are you? Or it’s back in the lake for you.”

Hidan would have liked to say that the lake would be way fucking better than this but Sai merely pushed his bleeding thumb into the his mouth, withdrew it quickly and stuffed the rag back in. He paused for a moment, then, for good measure, removed a seal from his backpack and placed it on the ex-Akatsuki’s forehead.

Other than Hidan’s muffled screams of indignation, there was silence in the basement. Everyone was staring at Sai open-mouthed.

But Sai was completely absorbed in his task. He brought his hands together in a tiger seal and positioned himself in the middle of the circle.

“Now,” he said. “This man’s ability helps me to form a bond of chakra between us, while the seal on his forehead will nullify his attack.” Sai used his ‘trustworthy’ smile. “That’s how the book said it would work, at least.”

Silence. It seemed Hidan had given up yelling in lieu of attempting to bite his own tongue off. Sai looked down at him for a bit, waiting to see if the jutsu was all set up. It was. Relieved, Sai began to explain what on earth he had brought them down here for.

“First, the seal on the ground will extend my bond with the severed head to all of you, allowing us to pool our chakra reserves. Between us, we have all the elements covered…Sakura for the earth, Naruto with wind, Yamato-Taichou covering water, and Kakashi-sensei, lightning.” Here he closed his eyes and began gathering chakra to his feet.

“If this works, we may be able to resurrect the fragments of a soul for a few minutes.” He paused for dramatic effect. “The seal here will allow the soul to take shape. Normally, one would have a body ready to be taken over by the resurrected spirit, but the mix of our chakra should be enough to bring it into this plane with some degree of clarity.”

He waited for this information to sink in. Finally, Naruto took the opportunity to raise his hand.

“Excuse me? What the hell did you just say?” The others weren’t speaking, more from dumbfounded shock than confusion.

“Um… wait a minute, Sai,” said Kakashi. “Are you trying to say that you’re going to bring someone back from the dead?” By this point, all Sai could do was nod. The seal would take an enormous amount of concentration to become active.

“Just wait a fucking second!” said Naruto, turning from person to person in an attempt to wring out an answer that made sense to him. “Who the hell are you going to bring back?”

“The Forth Hokage, of course.” Sai smiled, though he thought that should have been obvious. “He was someone important to you. You whispered his name in your sleep for a week after the village was attacked.”

Yamato had to hold Naruto to keep him from tearing Sai into itty bitty pieces. “YOU FUCKING BASTARD! HOW THE HELL DO YOU KNOW THAT?”

“Umm… ” Yamato said, looking rather ashamed. “Did I mention that ANBU likes to keep constant surveillance on our jinchuuriki?”

There was an embarrassed silence in which Naruto stared at his captain and everyone else stared at Naruto.

“Ooooooooooookay,” said Naruto in a way that suggested he was completely freaked out. “Will be talking to Baa-chan about that.”

“Yeah, well, don’t say I told you anything.”

Naruto took the opportunity to glance nervously at Sai. “And… I guess you’re planning to bring your brother back too?” Sai, nodded and smiled.

Everyone noticed that Sai was sweating, and that the swirls of letters touching his feet were beginning to glow. “Umm…” And that his voice was beginning to sound strained. “This is my own modification of Orochimaru’s idea so, let’s hope it works. Everyone, use the seals I taught you.” He snuck a peek at them through half-closed eyes.

There was a moment when Sai thought that no one would listen to him and he’d have to call the whole thing off. Then, suddenly he noticed that Yamato, though reluctantly, was starting his kata.

“This…” Kakashi mumbled, “Is such a bad idea that it makes my head ache.” He was the last to start and the last to finish; the seal had already begun to glow red, blue, yellow and green at Sai’s Yamato’s, Sakura’s and Naruto’s feet. He added his own white chakra to the mix and there was a rumble in the distance. The five looked at each other in confusion.

“T-that wasn’t us was it?” Sakura asked. Sai shook his head. The seal continued to gain in brightness until the room was brilliantly lit, colors dancing along the walls, merging and melding into different shades.

They held their positions for what seemed like forever, the seal at their feet pulsing and twisting. The shapes on the ground began to warp, swirling around until they formed what looked like a gigantic mouth.

The ritual required that everyone’s eyes be closed in order to maintain the maximum amount of concentration. The room grew hot. Chakra stirred the air violently. Hidan stared at the colors and was stunned to see a large rift forming around him. It looked rather like a tear in fabric. In the hole, he could just make out a dark barren field with leafless trees. Dark shadows appeared out of nowhere and faded just as quickly as they materialized.

One figure stayed solid for a time. It seemed to see him. Hidan could do nothing but stare as the shadow came closer and closer. It could almost touch him.

Suddenly, everyone felt a huge rush of energy.

“Wh-whoa, what the fuuu-” Hidan screamed, and then, everything stopped. When everyone opened their eyes, everything was just as it was before. It was just a basement, covered in swirls of paint, empty except for a few spider webs and five people. Even the candles had blown out.

“What the hell, Sai!” Naruto and Sakura screamed in unison.

“How was that supposed to be a present?” Naruto moaned. “I’m all tired and I feel like someone just hit me with a frying pan.”

Sai had no answer; he just stood there, looking around the room as though he expected to see something. He looked rather broken.

“Well,” said Kakashi after a time when it was evident nothing had come from the experiment. “I’m leaving.” And he promptly disappeared in a flutter of leaves.

“Me too,” huffed Sakura, already walking up the stairs.

“Yeah, uh…me three,” said Naruto. He was right behind her and he refused to allow her to get the last word. And then there were only two (and one eighth?) left in the basement of the old house.

Sai looked around the room, still hoping that somehow it had worked. After looking in every corner of the room, checking and rechecking the tags and the seal, he finally sat down on the ground and put his head in his hands. Yamato waited a bit, knowing that the humiliation would take some time before it became bearable.

“There, there, Sai,” Yamato said, finally deciding that enough was enough, and patting the boy on the shoulder. “I’m sure it was for the best.”

He was the only one who’d know what Sai had planned. He’d been sure that the book was a fake, and that this whole thing would prove to be a joke. For a moment though, he’d been worried. It had looked frighteningly like a real ritual. Besides, it would have been a sin for Sai to have brought back his dead brother. The dead were meant to stay dead. He guided Sai out, holding the boy’s shoulder firmly.

And of course they’d forgotten completely about Hidan. He sat there for what seemed like forever and finally decided to try and get a little sleep, knowing that Sai probably wouldn’t notice his absence until morning. He closed his eyes, but something kept bothering him.

“Get the fuck away,” he muttered, forgetting that he was still gagged so that it came out sounding more like “Fweaoh muh fouuuuk mmw-meeeh.”

The thing brushed against his eyelids again. Though he only half conscious, he could just see a white outline against the darkness.

“Go to sleep Hidan,” the figure whispered, and he obeyed instantaneously.


Sai had been even quieter since his failed resurrection ritual. He’d taken to long walks and though his precision in battle never diminished, it seemed that Sai had lost much of his former zeal in fulfilling missions. Naruto of course, didn’t notice. Sakura and Kakashi noticed but said nothing. Tenzou tried not to say anything but he couldn’t help himself.

“Sai-kun, you don’t really have to be so upset. You did your best and it didn’t work out. There’s no point in brooding about it.”

To this and similar comments Sai usually responded with a “But I’m perfectly fine, Yamato-Taichou,” and a brilliant but fake smile.

Tenzou was flabbergasted.

As captain, (or whatever the hell he was since Kakashi had left the hospital) it was his duty to see that the members of his team got along. But there was nothing to suggest that he could do anything to change the situation. He guessed that it was just one of those things that changes a person’s life and makes them become a more responsible, mature person.

He really, really, hated those kinds of events.

Things like that could ruin the potential of a shinobi. He’d seen it many times among his own men when he had been in ANBU. (Well, technically he was on loan from ANBU and therefore still officially in it but everyone knew that basically he’d left.) Men who’d been in the prime of their careers suddenly became cowards after their first humiliation, their creativity and initiative gone for good. He prayed that it hadn’t happened to Sai.

It was curious though. He wondered why Sai should be so bothered by it. You’d have thought that Sai, a shinobi well-versed in the basics of creating a jutsu, would have noticed all of the weaknesses of a technique. Sai would never have attempted such a ritual without being absolutely certain that it would work. He must have, Tenzou reasoned, been so excited that he missed some element that would have shown that the jutsu would fail.

When in a musing kind of mood, Tenzou liked to walk around. Not that he was all that unprofessional but on these kinds of occasions, he’d usually become oblivious to the world. He bumped into a sweet little old lady on her way to the marketplace, a teacher on her way to school, and a tiny little girl in pigtails who promptly socked him in the stomach.

“OOOOFFFF” he gasped. From his position on the ground, he noticed that the little girl had blond hair, lipstick, painted nails and a coat with the kanji for gamble on the back.

He stared.

“H---- huuuuuuh,” Tenzou attempted to say something but the little girl cut him off.

“Oiiii, Yamato. I didn’t assign you to Team Kakashi so you could just fuck around.” Tsunade grabbed Tenzou by the collar of his shirt and pulled him up to her level. “So you got something to say to me, or what?” she asked.

Tenzou finally found his tongue again, “S-Sai-kun has been a little out of sorts lately and… I know it isn’t advisable, but perhaps you could send him on a mission where he could prove himself?” Tenzou had decided that this would be an effective cure for his subordinate.

Tsunade’s amber eyes widened. “Sai? He’s the only one on your team I thought I didn’t have to worry about.” Oh, that was bit of a blow to his pride. “He’s the only one with a perfect mission record. No fails, no incompletes.” And another. “Are you sure that it isn’t you asking for a mission?” Three strikes. Tenzou felt a little like he’d been run over by a steam roller, and she hadn’t really started hitting him yet.

“No. It’s for Sai-kun,” he said. He suddenly noticed that his ribs were aching. Tsunade nodded and dropped him to the floor.

“All right, you’ll get your mission. I have just the thing for you five.” She snorted. “Five to a team. How ridiculous. The elders have been bitching about you guys for a while.” She winked at him. “How ‘bout a nice little easy mission…something about ghost sightings. You up for it?”

Tenzou nodded weakly. The pain was starting to become intense.

“Ah, and maybe you should go get those ribs looked at. They’re broken.”

Tenzou murmured his thanks.

Tsunade paused for a second, and then glanced back at him coyly. “By the way… if you see a tall, ugly shinobi with a scar over his left eyebrow… well, you didn’t see me, yeah?”

As he watched the little girl walk away, he thought to himself that there was a reason that Konoha’s emergency funds had just suddenly “disappeared.”


It was nine in the morning when Sakura knocked on her teammate and closest friend's window, but it was almost nine thirty-five by the time they were scaling back down the side of his apartment block on their way to the Hokage's office.

"Honestly, Naruto, how long do you have to spend in the bathroom? You obviously weren't doing your hair."

The man in question scrubbed a hand through a mess of blonde bed hair and scowled. "Well, if you came at a reasonable time I would've been out quicker."

"It's already past nine-thirty, you lazy sod. Even Tsunade was at her desk by ten to."

"Oh yeah?" Naruto chuckled, face turning into a leer. "Was she actually doing anything or just choking asprin for her hangover?"

"She was..." Sakura trailed off momentarily, looking slightly flustered. "Tsunade-sama is under a lot of pressure!"

"Yeah yeah, I bet. Heh, that old hag never changes."

Ten minutes later (but still twenty-minutes late) Naruto and Sakura walked into an usually full Hokage's office. Even Kakashi was standing in the corner looking bored.

"Tsunade-sama! I'm so sorry we're late Naruto wouldn't get out of bed then spent forever in the bathroom --"

"I was brushing my teeth. Seriously, what is your problem!"

"You, of course,” Sakura growled, before her voice jumped an octave. “Tsunade-sama, really, I tried to get here on time but you know how he is..."

"Quiet." Tsunade was sitting at her desk, back to her usual self with one hand on her forehead and the other clutching a glass of water. "You're all here now, let's just get this over with."

Naruto strolled up to her desk, and planted both hands down on the edge. "So, Baaaa-chan,” he said, rolling out the A. “...What's up?"

"A mission," Tsunade replied flatly.


"Don't sound so surprised...stupid brat." She sighed, deeply. "C-rank investigative mission to the Snowflake village, it's down near the border with Sand."

"What a dumb name for a village."

"Naruto, shut up."

Tsunade continued without batting an eyelid. "The mayor and several villagers have reported...ghost sightings. And they have asked us to go take a look for them."

"Ghosts?" Sai grimaced. "How odd."

Naruto crossed his arms, looking thoughtful. "So are they real ghosts, or like...not real ones?"

"That's what you're going there to find out." Tsunade sighed again, looking weary. "All of you, go get your things together. I'll leave the departure time to you, Kakashi, but if you leave before it hits noon you'll be there by nightfall."

"Understood." Kakashi turned to the rest of his team. "You heard her. Pack your bags, we leave at eleven sharp."


At one minute to eleven one Uzumaki Naruto stood in front of the Hokage tower, squinting in the glare of the sun with one hand shielding his eyes and the other one his hip. Various shinobi a bunch of civilians passed him by. Some looked rather afraid of him; some passed him by entirely, while a few flashed him the nervous smiles that one gives a celebrity. No one, however, came to ask him what he was doing striking such a daring pose.

He badly wanted to be asked.

He had a whole philosophy behind him.

If someone asked you a question like that, you could rant on about battling injustice, and everyone would oooh and aaah at you for being so brave and daring. When you said that kind of stuff without being asked everyone thought you were just annoying and preachy. But if they asked you first, then you could really let loose.

Thing was, someone did have to ask you for it to work.


Naruto had almost decided to “accidentally” stick his foot out in front of someone to get a response, when he was roughly shoved from behind.

“The fuck are you doing standing around here, Naruto?” Sakura asked. He was about to reply when Kakashi cut him off.

“Naruto, I know you mean to be all cool and whatnot, but we do actually have a mission to get to.”

He walked past Naruto, his pace deliberately slow. Naruto paused for a second, his head throbbing. Sakura brushed past him, giving him a look of contempt. Sai patted his shoulder in a reassuring way, as he had read he was supposed to do, and walked past him, followed by Yamato.

‘Ugh….’ he thought, what was everybody’s problem?

Reluctantly, he followed on behind.


It was late afternoon by the time they arrived at the site of their mission, a clear sky and dry ground had left the journey dull and uneventful. No one had been in the mood to talk, so Naruto had trailed along as their rear guard for the first time in what felt like years. It probably had been years, when he started to think about it.

Sooner than he realized, they were standing in the middle of town square. Naruto looked up and down the road they were standing on, trying to get his bearings. There was a gate at one end to mark the edge of town, but they needn't have bothered building it. They were so far south there was nothing around the town but dirt and a few clumps of grass. You could pretty much work out work out where the town was by looking for something more than two inches high.

He kicked idly at a stray branch that had made its way onto the road. "So…where to first?"

The rest of the group had turned to Kakashi, waiting for his direction.

"Hmm..." The man in question had his arms folded and was surveying the town with his eyes. "The Mayor's office should be around here somewhere..."

Mayor. Yeah, whatever. Naruto couldn't for the life of him see why a few farmers and some cows needed someone to tell them how to do...whatever farmers did all day.

Kakashi had started to move off to the South, so he must have worked out where they were supposed to be going. They others were already behind him, so Naruto skipped a few paces to catch up and pushed past Sai to get to the front. Then squinted.

"...What?" Staring only got Kakashi's attention when he was in a bad mood.

Fingers laced together behind his head, Naruto narrowed his eyes even further. "I don't see any ghosts."

Sakura sighed loudly from behind him. "Honestly...they only come out at night. Did you even read the mission briefing?"

"How am I supposed to read something like that?" Scowling, Naruto continued. "Pfft, if they actually used normal words instead of all those fancy ones. It's like trying to read a freaking code."

"They're normal words, you'd know that if you actually picked up a book once in a while. Or God forbid, a dictionary."

Out of nowhere, Sai was at his elbow. "Guildelines stipulate the official vocabulary for use in mission documents. If you'd like, Naruto, I have it at home."

"I'm not reading any stupid codebook, they should just write it like normal stuff."

"Settle down you three." Yamato's voice was stern, but carried a hint of annoyance. "I'll remind you that you're professional shinobi employed on a mission."

"Yeah, yeah."

The other two were silent, but Sai's face was all screwed up like he had something shoved up his ass. He got always got all weird when someone questioned his professionalism.

Kakashi had turned towards a row of weather worn buildings along the side of the street and was making a beeline for the door… Sort of. The guy was actually walking pretty slowly, being Kakashi. Unless someone's life was in danger he moved like a frog who'd been sitting in the shade too long, all lazy and stiff-limbed.

He was rapping on the door now, which seemed like a weird thing to do at a public building. There was a big star painted on the side and something about villages or some shit scrawled on a big sign above the door. The whole place looked like it was about to fall over, actually. Naruto gave the door frame a few taps as he walked through, but nothing happened so he figured they'd be right for the next half hour at least.

There was a huge fat guy down the other end of the room.

"Oh, you're here!"

He quickly stood up from behind a wooden desk and waddled out to towards them.

"They said you'd be here around noon -- oh, and right on time! Welcome, welcome." He quickly grabbed Kakashi's hand and shook it up and down, then moved onto Yamato. "I'm so glad you could come so soon, it's been days now and everyone's..."

Naruto tuned out because suddenly the guy had both his sweaty hands around one of his, and it was kind of gross. After about a million years he let go and grabbed Sai, who...hahahaha, looked about as grossed out as he had been.

He was still babbling on about whatever as he lead them all to a table at the side of the room, where there was a tall guy with a frayed checkered shirt leaning up against it. He nodded in greeting as the...Mayor guy ushered them all into chairs then sat down at the head of a table.

"I know you all must be hungry, so I had my wife go whip us up some lunch. NANCY! The ninjas are here!"

They were sitting and being serious now so Naruto figured he should probably pay attention. That, and lunch was coming. You always had to get in quick if you wanted anything good and he had four highly trained shinobi and a fat guy to compete with.

A door opened, then somewhere towards the back of the room and a woman stepped out. She was pretty, and was carrying a tray full of tea cups and saucers. She moved over to the table and started setting them out, eyes crinkling around the sides in a smile as Naruto thanked her for his. Rolls and roast chicken sliced into pieces followed the tea, and for once there was more than enough to go around.

He was munching on the last of a chicken wing when the mayor's face grew serious, sipping on a cup of freshly poured tea. Nancy was circling the table refilling the cups one by one, but quickly sat down with a sad look on her face.

"I think it's about time we got down to business," said the mayor. "It is, after all, on a very serious matter that we've called you here."

"Mmmmmmm?" Naruto tried to show his interest around a mouth full of chicken wing.

"Well, you see..." the mayor began, "there's been certain...appearances, at night, lately." He had the attention of the whole table now.

"What kind of appearances?" Fingers laced together, Kakashi was leaning forward on his elbows.

The major chuckled nervously. "Well...it's going to sound a little silly, actually."

"Go on."

"...Our town is haunted."

"...I see."

"It started when Mrs Miller went out one night...she was just checking she'd locked up properly when this man in black came up to her and started making some awful noises. She was scared out of her wits, the poor thing, and she tried talking to it but it never answered or anything...just kept walking towards her making these noises and..." He trailed off.

"And what happened then?"

"Well, she did what anyone would in that situation...she ran home fast as she could and locked all her doors. Hasn't locked the front door for years, she hasn't, except that night."

Sakura sighed loudly, face sympathetic. "Oh, the poor thing."

The mayor returned her look. "Got quite a scare, she did. Was white faced and all for days."

"How often have these appearances being occurring?"

"Probably...about..." the mayor paused for a moment, considering. "Probably about once or twice a week, for the last month or so. We would have called you all in quicker if we'd have been a bit more organized, but you know how it goes -- it's hard to believe unless you see it for yourself."

"And did you?"

"Did I what?"

Kakashi's expression didn't change, despite being asked to repeat himself. "Have you seen them yourself?"

"Oh, oh. Yes. Just about a week ago I was coming back late from the office --"

"Pub," his wife corrected.

"Alright Dear, from the pub," he added, looking slightly flustered. "I was coming back late and all of a sudden I was face to face with this stranger all clothed in black. And I knew it must've been one of them."

"Do you remember anything else about him?"

"Hmm...had long black hair, I think. It was hard to tell though, it was pretty dark."

"I see." Kakashi looked down at the table, probably thinking about some important stuff. The whole story sounded pretty crazy to Naruto but Nancy was looking at her husband with the saddest eyes he'd ever seen and suddenly he couldn't take it anymore.

He stood up. "We'll find those zombies."


The team settled down having decided to sleep instead of sneaking around the first night. They had been awake all day, so of course it made sense for them to sleep all night. So Kakashi thought and Naruto agreed with him.

His kohai of course had some words to say, pointing out that if they slept all night, then they’d still be awake all next day so they’d be in exactly the same condition whether or not they decided to sleep tonight. Besides, the intruders hadn’t appeared this week yet, so the probability of their coming tonight was high.

Kakashi had already considered all of this, but he still opted for sleeping. The village would wake them up in case if trouble and he was an old man. He needed his rest.

Having made up his mind, Kakashi ignored his long-suffering underclassman and snuggled under the surprisingly comfortable blankets provided by the mayor. He felt a stab of annoyance when Naruto curled up next to him, but he wasn’t conscious for all that long anyway.

Sleep was good.

Dreams however, were another story.

“Sensei!! Kakashi’s been a douchebag again!” Obito called loudly.

“I am not!” Kakashi called back. “You’re just being unprofessional.” Kakashi scowled as Obito put his hands on his hips and laughed and laughed except it wasn’t laughing, it was crying, and it wasn’t Obito, it was Rin as she pulled Obito’s bloody eye from its socket…

Kakashi awoke suddenly. Someone was screaming loudly and his nostrils were filled with the scent of blood and burning flesh. He leapt to his feet. Naruto groaned and turned over, trying to find Kakashi’s warmth again.

“Mmmm, what is it??” he mumbled. His teacher stood completely still.

“Can’t you hear it?” Kakashi whispered.

Sakura came running into the room.

“Kakashi-sensei!!” she called, but he had already shot past her.

Outside, to Kakashi’s surprise, it was completely quiet, save for the crackling of the flames. There wasn’t much evidence of a fight. It seemed the villagers had scattered, along with their mayor. The few buildings that he could see were burning, but no one was bothering to put out the flames. He walked along the dirt road, noting the occasional body and otherwise checking for signs of life. There was no urgency in him; whoever it had been had already escaped. What troubled him was that it had all happened so quickly. He winced. This… had been his fault in a way, but he couldn’t think about that now. He heard Sakura’s foot steps behind him and he said, without looking at her, “Go tend to those people.”

As far as he could see, this hadn’t been an attack. It was more like… a childish prank. The property damage was minimal, the casualties were few. The only thing professional about it was the speed with which it had been executed. He sat down on his heels and pondered. How strange, how strange, he thought. A band of thieves would loot, a bunch of hooligans wouldn’t move so quickly?

“It’s the curse, it’s the curse!” an elderly woman wailed. She stood on the doorstep of one of the less-ruined houses, her long black shawl trailing to the ground. She looked like something from the Pre-War Era, her traditional clothes tattered and torn. Around her neck she wore a pendant with the shape of a crescent on it.

By straining his peripheral vision, he could just see her without turning his head.

“A curse, Ma’am?” Kakashi said cheerfully, “And what curse might that be?”

The old woman made her way over to him with difficulty. Up close, he could see that she was much older than he had expected. The lines of her face ran deep, but the skin was stretched tight over her face, like a mummy and her eyes shone with a fire he’d never seen in a woman her age.

She’s insane, he thought to himself.

The old woman threw her head back and cackled. She actually cackled. It gave Kakashi goosebumps.

“The world has been falling into a state of chaos” she rasped. “Over hundreds of years, this continent has lived by intrigue and bloodshed. Brother against brother, clan against clan, carving out their kingdoms of blood and tears. In this era of so-called peace, the villages maintain their hold on each other through means of a stalemate, though any shift in power will ruin their ‘alliance’. The time is right for a new beginning, and the Lord Our God, Jashin will bring it about!!!!”

“UWAAAHHH, Obaa-san! There you are!!” A young woman shuffled up to the old woman and began leading her away. “Ahh you see, she’s very… er… strange once in a while. It’s ok Obaa-san, we’ll take you home now.” Before she left, she gave the village a last, longing look.”Hey, um… Mr. Shinobi, do you think… you’ll be able to catch those people?”

Kakashi gave her a reassuring look.”Of course.” She gave him a faint smile, then started walking back to her dilapidated house, gently leading the old woman by the arm.

Kakashi stayed there for some twenty minutes, shifting through burnt timber for some sign of ‘those people,’ whoever they were. The old woman words he ignored for the moment, though something was familiar about them.




Something in his brain clicked. Something…tugging at his memory, buried somewhere under all the mission reports and intelligence briefings that cluttered up his mind. What the hell was that? Maybe… maybe… the head would know something about it?

The head…

Even in his mind it sounded ridiculous. Some sacrificial religious cult? Why would they attack this random little village with no resources and no visibility? And yet, he’d never known a religious cult to act with any degree of sense. Shinobi didn’t take much stock in religion, it was true, he might have some bias… Alright. He had a lead.

He felt Tenzou standing behind him. “Hey, Tenzo,” he said, “Did Sai bring that, um… head along?”


Along the edge of the village, a strong river flowed. It supplied all of the water of the region and eventually drained into the ocean.

Strangely, no one was ever seen using it. There were no fish, no birds, no vegetation near it. Some hinted that it had some kind of restorative powers, but nobody flocked to it. It was deserted.

The mist the enveloped the area was omnipresent, almost impenetrable. Had the irrigation systems not been built post-war, no one would have dared approach to siphon off the water into the neighboring fields.

So it was here that Kabuto chose to hide. The forest bordered on one side, the river on the other, and he was safe in the middle. He was supreme here. With the help of his subordinates, they had managed to erect a small house, well-built of course. Kabuto had experience with these kinds of things. It had one large room, a bedroom, and a fireplace. It was in the first room that he sat on the couch that he’d ordered from a catalogue under a false name.

His minions were gathered about him, kneeling at his feet, staring blankly at the ground and Kabuto allowed himself a hint of pride. He had gained control over the most skilled team of shinobi ever to live. And all because that foolish Sasuke had absorbed a part of his master. In his right arm, Orochimaru’s will still pulsed, strong and violent, disturbing the fine control he’d once had over his chakra. His medical skills had weakened because of the parasite, but Kabuto wouldn’t have parted with his master for the world. Besides, with his master, he’d get the world anyway. And Sasuke, that rat would soon be in his grasp. Hadn’t Tobi promised him that? No matter. If he didn’t get him as a reward, he would take Sasuke by force. And he could do it too.

He gazed in admiration at the strong, lithe warriors paying him respect. Death had not marred their features, nor had it weakened the awesome power they had wielded in life. With a beckon, he called the loveliest one to its feet.

Uchiha Itachi, his long hair mangled and unkempt but still recognizable. What a pity it was that Madara had taken those eyes for Sasuke. It would be a pity to take the eyes from one so capable of using them to their full potential. Without a bloodline limit, Kabuto could not use them. But it would have been amazing to have a second copy of the Mangekyo Sharingan eyes. So many secrets lay waiting in those eyes. It made Kabuto shudder to think of the possibilities.

“Itachi,” he said, beckoning him again, “Let me see you.” The true heir to the Uchiha bloodline approached, and when he lifted his head, his eyes blazed blood-red, the wheels of the Sharingan slowly spinning, the pupils dilated. It took Kabuto off guard. He flinched at the sight of the most feared bloodline limit in the whole of ninja history, but regained his composure. This man, feared as he was in life, was his servant now in death. He met the gaze full on.

It was interesting; Itachi seemed to resist moving. “Come here,” Kabuto said, injecting a bit more force into it. The zombie followed and soon they were mere inches away from each other.

Some part of Kabuto’s mind warned him to be cautious, not to get carried away by his own self-confidence. This part of his mind seemed to be speaking to him a lot lately. It bothered him. Sometimes, especially when he was physically weak, it became a voice, and occasionally sounded a lot like Orochimaru’s. But that was stupid. Kabuto had mastered the alien influence in his body. He was now worthy of that title which his master had claimed all of his life, that of Lord of Snakes. But still…. Still… There was something nagging at him.

Of course, up close the young Uchiha looked wonderfully alive, and for a second Kabuto thought that the boy might attack.

But he only stood there, motionless, waiting for an order, and Kabuto’s courage resumed its normal proportions once again. He reached out a hand, a steady hand, a surgeon’s soft, uncalloused hand, and touched Itachi’s face.

For a moment, all was as it should have been. His servant was docile beneath his fingers. But then he saw it.

The seal on Itachi’s forehead blazed and, looking into the Uchiha’s eyes, Kabuto saw how the tomoe whirled so quickly that you could not tell one from another. He withdrew his hand in shock just as Itachi pulled away.

He was speechless and could not move as he saw the man struggling against his bonds, occasional flashes of consciousness showing in his eyes.

But the spell was too strong and eventually the zombie resumed its normal glazed look and stood quite still.

A warm, echoing laugh filled the room. “So Itachi-kun still has that blazing fighting spirit they prize so much in Konoha. What is it they call that? Oh yes… The will of fire.” Madara laughed again, and stepped down from the windowsill where he’d been watching this affair. Of course, expenses had dictated that Kabuto would have windows, but no glass. “They’d be quite a handful for you if they ever got loose, hm?” Madara snickered again.

Kabuto gasped and panted, trying to get his heart rate back to normal. To think that one could resist such a spell… Itachi was a far greater opponent than he had originally suspected. At the last comment however, he shot a nasty look at the intruder. “You would have a tough time if Itachi came back and healthy too. You’d shit your pants, old man. You don’t even have the power to control him.” He glared. “I do.”

“Mmm, well, this little show of weakness changes things doesn’t it?” Madara smiled at this, or, well, on could assume he smiled by his change of tone. Kabuto hated that orange mask. He could never be sure that Madara wasn’t making faces at him.

“This changes nothing. I still hold enough power to wipe out the remaining members of Akatsuki and more besides. Even your little protégé Sasuke-kun wouldn’t be able to stand up against the cream of the Akatsuki. ” He smirked. “Everyone knows that Itachi let him win.”

Madara laughed. “It’s true. But he will grow powerful if he finds enough hate.”

Kabuto merely continued to smirk. “Enough hate to kill his brother again?”

“Of course.” There was a silence after this.

“Where is the little emo bitch then?”

“Ahh,” said Madara airily. “Around.”


Somewhere in the vicinity, but still in the forest, a hopelessly lost (and very angry) adolescent sneezed.

“Fucking Madara,” Sasuke growled, wiping his nose with the back of his hand “He said it was RIGHT HERE!”

A lone wolf howled in the distance.


Hidan found himself dragged from his comfortable backpack and hung upside down.

“aklu gfoiajfe dc WHAT THE FU---” he managed to scream before a rag was stuffed in his mouth. A funny-tasting rag.


“Hey!!! Who gave you permission to use my underwear!!?” Naruto fumed.

“Naruto,” said Yamato coolly, “In war, precious things are sacrificed for the common good.”

Hidan screamed his muffled disagreement.

“Now now,” said Kakashi cheerfully. “Hidan-kun, would you be so kind as to relate all information concerning one…Jashin?”

Hidan gave him a look that said, “If I ever get the opportunity I will bite your balls off.”

“Oh dear,” Kakashi said, feigning pity. “Whatever shall we do? We just happen to have all of these starving alley cats, and oops,” and here he poured the juice from a can of tuna on him, “We have nothing to feed them with.” On cue, some several dozen alley cats jumped into the room. Kakashi held Hidan high enough so that he was out of reach but he could just see those mouths opening and closing in anticipation. They pawed the air and stared at him with dull, blank yellow eyes, so completely inhuman and filled only with a deep and carnivorous hunger for flesh.

He’d always hated cats.

“Does Kitty want a bite?” Kakashi crooned, pulling Hidan in and out of reach of the sea of felines.

Hidan tried to be brave but he finally mumbled an apology and Kakashi shrewdly noted his change of expression. “Good, good,” he said, and sent Sakura and Naruto to rid the room of cats. Yamato gave the felines one long, cold stare and they fled the room instantly.

“What?” he said, when he noticed everyone looking at him. The others shook their head and began the interrogation.

Sai gingerly removed the gag. Hidan spat on the ground.

“You little fag!! Wash your fucking pants once in a while! Uurrrrrrrrrrrrgh I feel so sick,” he groaned.

“So” said Kakashi, his intonation polite. “Jashin?”

“Well FUCK YOU, YOU SADIST! I AIN’T TELLING YOU SHIT!” Kakashi continued to smile in what everyone could tell was a dangerous way until Hidan suddenly remembered just how many cats lived in this area.

“Fine fine,” he said. “Jashin-sama is the god of all gods, a thirsty god, one who hungers for blood upon his altar. He requires sacrifice from his followers, payment in the form of the strong, the sinful and the innocent.”

This took some processing on the part of the audience. “New line of questioning,” Kakashi said brightly. “What does Jashin have to do with this town, and especially,” and he really didn’t want to say this, “What does Jashin have to do with Akatsuki?”

“Fuck man, like I’d tell you about Akatsuki. Akatsuki had nothin’ to do with Jashin-sama, only…”


“Only there was this one fucker, I can’t remember his name. Was it Rabbit? Stoat? Mongoose?”

“You mean Weasel yeah? Itachi?”

“Yeaaaah! Itachi! He was always questionin’ me about him, like where he came from and why he wanted all this shit. He was always super curious about him. Like… I dunno. Like he knew something I didn’t.”

“Is there some kind of scripture? Devoted to Jashin.” Hidan blinked.

“Ohh Yeah! I’d forgot. There’s a bunch of scrolls in this one temple. It’s in the middle of fuckin’ nowhere so I never went but I was getting ready to go when Akatsuki picked me up. Come to think of it… I was almost at the border of the village when they found me and were all like ‘Hey man, wanna kill a lot of people and get away with it? ’ So of course I was like ‘Yeah! Sure man!’ Because I could always visit the temple later and shit. ”

“Do you remember the name of the village?”

“Oh of course” Hidan said, smirking. “I remember I thought the name was fucking hilarious, I mean, considering we’re in the land of Fire and all.”

“The name?”


There was a hush.

“Thank you Hidan-kun,” said Yamato. “You get a candy.”

“WHAT? WHAT THE HELL?” Hidan screamed, noticing that everyone was leaving except Sai and Yamato.”I give you all this important fucking information and all you give me is a candy? What the fuck is that?” But he took the candy anyway.

“Oii, pale freak,” Hidan said, mouth full of watermelon flavor. “You should probably change my diaper… oh.. um.. I mean rag, before you put me in that backpack again. Just for precaution. ”

Sai smiled and changed him… Yeah it was embarrassing but nothing beat the feel of a clean cloth around you when you needed it.


Of course, what day would be complete without Naruto complaining about something or other?

“Kakashi-senseeeeee… I don’t even know what we’re following.” Overhead, the ravens and crows called out to each other. In the pitch black of the night, they were invisible to everyone except Kakashi and, oddly enough, Sai.

“Oh… It seems they’re splitting up.” Sai felt it was a prudent time to mention this, though he had noticed for a while.

Kakashi raised his head.

“Ah, you’re right. Will we have to…?”

“… split up?” Sai finished for him.’’

Kakashi mused a bit. “Yeah, probably,”

There was a pause.

“Alright, so me, Yamato and Sakura will follow one group” He pointed at where the birds apparently were. ”And you and Naruto will follow another group.”

Both Yamato and Sakura looked as though they doubted Kakashi’s sanity.

“Umm…” Sakura whispered, “Is it really a good idea to leave those two alone?” There was a puff of smoke as a bunch of nin dogs appeared.

“Well we’ll keep in touch through my dogs…” Kakashi said. “It shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”

“We’ll totally find the temple before you ‘tteba!” Everyone groaned in unison.

“Yeah, yeah, just leave.” And, just like that, they left.

The remaining shinobi methodically plodded on, trying to ignore the increasing feeling of dread that they were experiencing.

Actually, without Naruto’s loud voice punctuating the dreariness, the forest was kind of spooky. Noises they hadn’t noticed before, screeches and cries, the rustling of the trees, now seemed magnified, unnaturally loud and echoing. Beneath their feet, the leaves crackled unmercifully, though one would think that ninja would be able to avoid making such an unnecessary sound. Above their heads, the crows cawed and cackled, and all around them were loud obnoxious animal sounds.

Uuuurghhh, Sakura thought, her mind in a state of misery. Her head was throbbing, her feet were aching and in the pit of her stomach was a growing feeling of apprehension. It really was very odd that the ravens should fly slow enough for them to be followed. It was odd that Kakashi should think that the temple had anything to do with the ghosts, or zombies, or whatever they were. It was odd that they shouldn’t have seen them in person. What the hell was going on?

Suddenly the merest sliver of moon peeked through the clouds.

She was so caught up in her musings that she ran straight into her captain.

“Wahhh Taichou I’m so--’ she paused.


There must have been thousands of them, perched on trees, on rocks and all along the stairs leading to the temple.

Both Kakashi and Yamato stood absolutely still. At first, Sakura couldn’t understand why they would be so scared of a flock of birds and then she saw. Amidst the birds, with hair and clothes just as black as their feathers, stood Uchiha Itachi, his eyes blazing red, a knife in hand.

She couldn’t breathe.

There was no way they could take him on. And wasn’t he dead? Sakura panicked for a bit in her head and then, another figure stepped out from the shadows. And another figure.

Interestingly… they looked quite like Sasori and Deidara.

Ohhhh fuuuuuuu----


One Uchiha Sasuke stood overlooking the forest from a nearby cliff. He’d finally managed to leave that stupid forest. Only he was still lost. That wasn’t too much of a problem. He thought. The sky was still pitch black and, what the fuck? Was that fog?

Yep, sure enough, there was an eerie wall of mist was rising from the river that wound around the mountain and through the forest like an enormous white snake. And that was wrong. Because mist, like the drops that form on the side of your glass on a hot day, or the steam that escapes from a kettle, is a product of condensation that occurs when air is cooled enough to allow water vapor to form drops. Fog usually forms in the morning when warm, moisture-laden air flows over the still-cool land. So fog at night was fricken’ weird to say the least.

Yes, and Sasuke’s thoughts often took a scientific turn when he wasn’t busy hating everybody.

Was the fog… glowing?

It was. Definitely out of the ordinary.

He put on hand on his hip. Madara had said something about how the new headquarters was in a temple…something like that. He sighed. Dammit, why the hell did he have to have such insane relatives?

Sasuke braced himself for a moment, and then leapt like a panther out into the night. He never got tired of that feeling. Hawk, bird, Uchiha’s sacred symbol of fire and flight always held some kind of deeper meaning for him. The darkness was beautiful, and the wind soared past him. His cape fluttered behind him like a gigantic pair of wings, and for one glorious moment, he thought that he might actually take flight and soar into the sky. That is, until he hit a large fir.

“OowowwowwooowwOUCH!” That frickin’ hurt! He yelped as branch after branch smacked him on his way down. Finally he regained his balance and managed to hold onto one of them.

He sighed again when his feet finally touched the ground. Sasuke glanced around and found that he once again had absolutely no idea where he was. Overhead, in the night, he heard the sound of ravens.


At night?

He felt compelled to follow them. Luckily, he was enough of a ninja to be able to leap from tree to tree and so keep up with the birds. They seemed to know where they were going, and that was comforting. Also, crows reminded him of… well, he couldn’t think about that now, could he? Especially considering that he was going to meet with his brother’s greatest enemy, the man that brought ruin upon the Uchiha clan.

Best not to think about it.

There was a strange intelligence to the birds, as if they seemed to understand Sasuke’s feelings. Occasionally, they would alight on nearby trees and seemed to wait for him.

Again, best not to think about it.

If it was a trap, then he’d find the trapper and force him to be a guide. And if not, huh… he wasn’t sure where the birds would lead him. It was ok though. It shouldn’t be too bad.

Sasuke soon found himself on the banks of the fog-enshrouded river. God dammit. Those birds had been leading him on. There was nothing here except mist and water, not even plants or grass. He stood there glaring at the river and cursing the birds. That is, until he saw the light. A small flickering flame penetrated the mist and the darkness.

‘Oh?’ thought Sasuke. That was promising. There was a splooshing, slurred sound far to his right. On the bank of the river was a person wearing a black, hooded cloak, an oar in one hand and a rope in the other. It beckoned to him, for all the world like the lord of the dead come to ferry him across the river Styx.

It really didn’t seem like a good idea to accept such an invitation, but Sasuke was in no mood to sit around in the fog lost as he was. On the other end of the rope was a small but serviceable wooden boat. He got in.

Sasuke was pleased when the boat landed safely on the other edge of the bank. He’d sat there, paranoid, the whole of the ride. He quickly jumped out of the boat, and began to hurry off in the direction of the light, but he stopped. The person was still behind him, following at an annoyingly slow pace. Ah, forget that loser, he thought.

The light, it seemed, came from a house. Of course, he dashed right up to that and opened the door without knocking.

In the corner, by the fire, was a person with short white hair, bundled up in a huge mess of blankets.

Sasuke’s whole body grew rigid when he heard the man’s unmistakable voice.

“And how are we doing, Sasuke-kun?”


“Ok Hidan-kun, you can come out of the bag now,” Sai said cheerfully, and Hidan was once again allowed a fresh breath of air.

“You’re a little fucker,” he said, “But you aren’t all that bad of an owner.” This was as close to giving compliments as Hidan ever got, but Sai understood that. Naruto, of course, did not.

“You’re a little fucker!” he said, poking Hidan’s nose. “After all we’ve done for you.” Hidan was furious.

“What the hell do you mean? All you’ve ever done for me is act like an annoying brat.” God he hoped that was grammatically correct, not like the little blonde bitch would be smart enough to notice.

“Now, now fellows,” Sai said. Obviously something he’d read. “We can all act like civilized human beings, can’t we?”

Naruto and Hidan glared at each other for a moment then subsided into silence. A lone wolf called in the distance.

“Oi,” said Naruto after a while, “this place is kinda freaky isn’t it?” Sai nodded. The ravens were calling overhead.

“Mmmm, so we might as well follow them.” Sai began walking, Hidan slung across his back like a baby.

Naruto reluctantly followed. “Can you really see those crows Sai?” he said. “Cuz I can’t see a damned thing. The moon isn’t even out.”

Actually, now that he thought about it, walking around a pitch-black forest in the middle of the night was not the most intelligent thing he had ever done. His skin prickled; it was suddenly very, very cold. Naruto wished that standard ninja equipment came with actual shoes instead of sandals. It was starting to get uncomfortable.

“Sai?” He said again. “Are you sure that you can see those cr--”

“Quiet!” Sai hissed. The pale boy stood perfectly still, his body tensed in preparation for an attack.

“Huh?” Naruto glanced around. He couldn’t see anything suspicious. Well, he couldn’t see anything period, but that was hardly the point. “Um… is something wrong?”

Sai turned quickly to tell him to shut the hell up, but froze again, his face contorted in horror.

“What?” said Naruto. ”Is there something on my face… Is there something…” and here came realization. “Is there something… behind me?” He was turning around all the while and as he spoke the last few words, he found himself face to face with what had to be a zombie. Its long black hair trailed to the ground; its cloak hid its face completely but a pair of bright green eyes glowed out at him.

Naruto froze of course.

Spellbound, the two ninja watched as the creature stretched out one heavily scarred hand. It briefly touched Naruto’s face, and then the two leapt into action.

Sai pulled out his scroll and ink with a flourish; Naruto snatched a few shuriken from his satchel; and the tall mysterious figure just stood there.

“Who the hell are you?” Naruto shouted. Sai had already begun sketching a few lions with which he would make his attack, but he paused briefly when he heard Naruto’s voice.

There was no reply.

Without further ado, Sai unleashed his hoard of painted demons upon the attacker just as Naruto threw his shuriken. Their attacks proved pointless however as a huge wall of darkness streamed out from beneath the cloak and blocked them.

However, one of the lions managed to get close enough to brush against the monster, and the thing turned quickly to defend itself, knocking back its hood in its fury.

They stared.


There was nothing quite like the first few seconds of genjustu. It was like falling, helplessly into an abyss from which you knew you could never escape. Sakura remembered learning the way chakra moved in frantic, jagged patterns when genjustu disrupted its flow, but, until now, she’d never been on the receiving end of it.

It was terrifying. Unnaturally colors streaked across her vision, and she suddenly felt so nauseated that she could barely stand.

From the looks of things, Kakashi and Yamato weren’t doing any better. It took all of two seconds for the pain to become unbearable. She dropped to the ground, arms wrapped around herself. Sakura tried in vain to lift herself up, because she knew that her teammates would need all the help they could get. But it was just so hard to fight the feelings of pain and helplessness surging through her.

She wanted to die.

Though half-closed eyes, she could just see Yamato forming seals in a vain attempt to trap Itachi in a swirl of wood and branches, but Itachi just passed through everything like he was really a ghost. Kakashi had the Sharingan out, but she could see from his stance that he had already given up in his heart. He’d fought (they’d fought) Itachi once before, and even that had turned out to be just a clever clone. Her heart sank. There was no hope. They could never beat Itachi. Even if they could have, Sasori and Deidara would have just finished them off. The two Akatsuki just stood in the shadows, watching the battle with no expression, no animation, no understanding. Were they really… ghosts?

And then, it seemed like someone was standing over her.

Kakashi sensei? No… this person had… black hair? She couldn’t tell, she felt like any second, she’d pass out. She could see Kakashi and Yamato struggling in the distance. Itachi hadn’t moved an inch. The genjutsu he was using on them must be way stronger. It wasn’t Tsukiyomi for sure… She could see… through the person standing in front of her. Her vision was fading quickly into a whirling vortex of pain, but, she thought that the person looked down at her, and he was so familiar, so very familiar. His dark hair, his dark eyes… The symbol of the fan embroidered onto his transparent clothes… Could he be…

And darkness closed in.

The person stood over the girl for a bit more. This girl, in her last moments of consciousness, could see him. He must be getting stronger. A little more, just a little more. The others couldn’t see him yet.

He could see them all too clearly. Itachi stood there impassively, occasionally throwing a few well-placed shuriken at the two men. The genjustu might have driven them out of their minds had they been just a little weaker. The wood user could barely stand it seemed. He recalled seeing that boy once, just once. It was amazing how much he resembled the Shodaime. Exactly like him in everything, except strength of course. And Kakashi… how interesting. He’d always been a little unhappy that an outsider could have learned to use the Sharingan so well. One would have thought that some Uchiha would have earned the name “Copy-Cat” prior to this. They were an old clan.

Not that the Sharingan was doing him any good now. Of the four Sharingan users still alive, he was undoubtedly the weakest.

Itachi was still the best at everything it seemed. He’d missed the opportunity of speaking to him in that land of shadows and pain. Lucky him. He had a second chance it seemed.

He could feel his power growing as the moments ticked by. The two men were on the ground, utterly defeated, and Itachi hadn’t lifted up a hand once.

More seconds…

It seemed that the child was drawing a kunai from his pocket.

More seconds and then… he noticed.

The zombie looked up… its blank eyes finding a new enemy it seemed. It stopped for a moment, and then a spasm shook its body. The soul was once again fighting for consciousness. It was impossible; the fragments of Itachi’s mind gathered themselves together in one last show of strength. The violence of his resistance shook even Sasori and Deidara, who actually moved and turned to look at the creature that had caused such a disturbance. The genjustu on the two shinobi died completely so that they too could turn to look at their savior.


There, with a smile on his face, was Uchiha Fugaku, the last living clan lord.


A chill went through Sasuke’s body.

“Kabuto?” His voice came out as more of a whimper than he had intended. “I thought you were dead.” Actually, he’d assumed (hoped) that Orochimaru’s number one fan would have just offed himself. No such luck.

Kabuto laughed a pleasant laugh that in no way reminded him of Orochimaru.

“Oh Sasuke-kun, of course not. I too have a destiny.” Destiny was a word that Sasuke had been overusing recently. He sort of regretted it now.

The door clicked shut behind him and Sasuke jumped. Oh, it was only that creepy ferry guy. Alright then.

“Well then, I see you’ve met Nagato?” The ferry man lowered his hood and revealed a pale face, black hair, and dead eyes. He also looked kind of anorexic.

Sasuke inclined his head slightly in Nagato’s direction.

“Yesssss, you two both have extremely rare bloodlines. No need to talk to him by the way. He won’t respond.”

“…He’s dead, isn’t he?” Eyes narrowed and glowing red, Sasuke said this without looking back at Kabuto. “I recognize that seal.”

There was a silence. “Is Orochimaru…still around?” There was no fear in his voice, but having Orochimaru alive again would be…inconvenient.

“Ah, no… just me.”

Sasuke took a bit of time to process this. “This guy… he was in Akatsuki… Nagato… Madara mentioned that name to me once.” He still wasn’t looking at Kabuto.

“Oh yes, I forgot. You were in Akatsuki weren’t you?” Well, he technically still was, but Sasuke didn’t like to think of himself as a part of any organization. So he didn’t answer.

“So it was you who brought him back.”

Kabuto merely smiled, waiting for Sasuke to understand what it was that he had achieved.

“And you… control him?”

“Oh yes. He’s completely brainwashed.”


“Well I looped a thread of control around them and bound it with seals. A little like a string of Christmas lights. Then I completely overcame the one with the strongest chakra, bound the thread of control to him, and what do you know, the strong one’s chakra keeps all the others in line.”

“But if you lost control of the ‘strong one,’ then all the others would…” he trailed off, momentarily. “Wait, others? You brought others back too?” Sasuke’s voice wavered a bit.

“Of course,” said Kabuto. “I mean, why not have a group of amazing shinobi at your disposal?”

Sasuke was trembling with anger now. “Did you… Did you…?” He couldn’t bring himself to say it.

“Mmm Sasuke-kun, if you don’t speak up, then I can’t understand you.”

“Did you…. Did you bring…him…?” But he could already tell by Kabuto’s expression that yes, Itachi was indeed alive. Sasuke was so angry at the thought of his brother a slave, that for a moment, he forgot that there was no way he could go up against more than one of the Akatsuki at a time. A calculated risk was one thing, but that was just suicide.

“So,” he said carefully, “What are your plans?” Kabuto smirked.

“Oh I thought I’d go and capture your little jinchuuriki friend, maybe raze Konoha to the ground?” Kabuto smirked at his own joke, or maybe the miffed expression that crossed Sasuke’s face. “ I don’t know… maybe I’ll have a little fun with my shinobi slaves as I go…”

Sasuke was normally a person with a lot of self control, but that last line pushed him over the limit. He lunged at Kabuto, only to find himself thrown back by Nagato.

“What the-” he cried, but while he was gathering his strength, he noticed a change in Nagato. His eyes were less lifeless, his expression became one of pain, and he began to shudder. A quick glance at Kabuto’s face showed him that this behavior was not normal.

Suddenly, Nagato let out an unearthly scream.

“OTOU-SAN!!” He fell to the floor, clutching his face and rolling around. “OTOU-SAN, I’M SO SORRY! I HAD TO DO IT.” He continued screaming this for a bit, then, suddenly, the spasm passed, and he was once again on his feet, just as if nothing had happened.

Both Kabuto and Sasuke took a bit of time trying to understand the situation before resuming their fight.

Suddenly, Kabuto summoned his snakes and they wrapped themselves tightly around the Uchiha, until he felt like he was going to be strangled.

There was a scream in the distance.

“Ooh,” said Kabuto. “That must be those annoying Konoha losers you were so fond of.” Sasuke glared at him. “Seems their village sent them here to investigate some ghosts.” He laughed. “They weren’t far wrong, and that’s a fact. That might be the little jinchuuriki who liked to chase after you.” Sasuke would never admit it, but deep, deep, deep down inside, he still felt an inkling of remorse when he thought about his former teammates being maimed and killed. Another entry on the ever expanding list of things that irritated him.

He would have struggled against the snakes, but the trouble with having living ropes was that they kept changing their position whenever you moved so you never made any progress.

Kabuto gave Nagato a look of apprehension. The seal was still in place. Good.

“Nagato, go and fetch me the heads of those ninja. Only leave the blonde one alive. We’re going to need him.” His servant nodded, and for one moment, Sasuke met his eyes. They didn’t look all that dead anymore… but he said nothing and Nagato sprinted out into the night.


“KAKUZUUUUU!!!!” Hidan screamed in joy. His partner, his friend, standing before him, looking as amazing as he had the day before he died. Except… were his eyes that flat before?

“OIIII, Oiiiiiiiii, Kakuzu!” he screamed again. Amazing how he could do that without lungs. “It’s me, Hidan!” Kakuzu paid him no heed, and launched another attack, his hair twisting back and forth shooting through everything in reach.

Naruto and Sai barely dodged each attack, and it seemed that he was only missing through lack of practice. With each new attack, Kakuzu’s aim grew more and more perfect, and at one point, Sai just couldn’t move out of the way fast enough. The strands of hair pierced through the flesh and there was a sickening crack of bone. Sai winced in pain.

Naruto lashed out at Kakuzu, only to be caught in the stomach by a wave of hair. He managed to swerve out of the way before the attack penetrated the skin, but even so, he could feel how his internal organs had been bruised.

Dammit. Dammit! There was no time to go into sage mode. And the dogs had suddenly disappeared a good fifteen minutes ago. Sakura-chan and the others were probably in trouble.

“Rasen Shuriken!” He called out as he lunged, but the attack missed Kakuzu completely.

“KAKUZU!!” Hidan screamed, as the strands of hair rushed down to end everything.

But they didn’t.

A spasm shook the bounty hunter, and he grew pale. He began to tremble in earnest, the sweat forming on his skin. Naruto was taken aback, but he recovered enough to begin forming another rasen, when Hidan yelled at him to wait. Wait? Ah well, Naruto guessed it would be kinda cowardly to kill a man when he was down or something.

Kakuzu dropped to his knees and then he screamed, scaring the crap out of everyone. It was a sound that Hidan had never expected to hear. It made his ears ring.

“OTOU-SAN! OTOU-SAN, I’M SO SORRY. I HAD TO DO IT!!” The forest echoed with the voice for a minute or two and then Kakuzu collapsed on the ground.

Then, suddenly he lifted his head, and Hidan realized that he was absolutely back.

“Hidan?” he whispered hoarsely. His eyes rested first on the head, and then on the pale boy bleeding next to it. “You!” he said, remembering those Konoha losers that had defeated them. “And you!” he said, seeing Naruto. Kakuzu rose to avenge his own death, when Hidan begged him to reconsider.

“What? You can’t mean that, Hidan. These losers, they killed me!” Hidan made a small noise.

“Mmm but they had to do it… um… but you know… they kinda… took care of me…” Kakuzu’s eyes fell on Sai’s wound. This boy, he had the face of a true shinobi, uncaring, loyal, strong, like he had been. Fuuuuck though. He needed a couple new hearts. Well… any would do really. He didn’t need these particular ones. With one fluid motion, he picked up Hidan and walked off into the night.

Naruto and Sai looked at each other in disbelief. It wasn’t every day a world renowned terrorist did you a favor.

Sai was first to drop his gaze. “Ah, Naruto, I…” His throat was dry and his hands were clammy, it was almost like the words didn’t want to come out. He swallowed, and tried to choke out the rest. “I feel I must apologize. I was…an inconvenience.”

“Naahh,” said Naruto. “No problem, buddy.” He flashed a million dollar smile in Sai’s direction and suddenly all the pain in his leg melted away and was replaced with…other things.

They could still hear the two Akatsuki chattering in the distance when another person came running up to them. They waited in silence, hands silently unclipping their weapons pouches until the figure came full into view.

“…Nagato? I thought…” Naruto stopped, checking himself. He thought he’d killed Kakuzu pretty good too, but his fist had felt real enough when it was cracking up against the side of his face. Seriously, what was with today.

“Thank God you’re alright!” Nagato said breathlessly, and Naruto started to wonder if he was still ill. “I thought for sure that any Akatsuki who found you would just kill you anyway, controlled or not.”

“Well,” said Naruto, jabbing a finger pointedly at Sai’s leg. “It’s not like they didn’t try.”

Nagato bent down to examine the wound. “This isn’t something even a medic could heal quickly. Hold still,” he told Sai. He left the two Leaf shinobi sitting there for a few minutes while he went off to fetch something from the woods. He came back with some long, flat pieces of wood, and carefully bound them around Sai’s shin to brace it.

“Naruto, someone called Kabuto is waiting for me to come back with you. I think –“


“Oh, do you know him?”

Naruto scowled. “Of course I know him!”

“Then you’ll know the kind of danger we are all in. If my teammates come, then we have a chance to take him on. Or even just with one or two…we’re strong, you of all people would know that. It seems that Uchiha Itachi’s younger brother is also there, so we may have to deal with him as well.”
Naruto looked like he’d just had the wind knocked out of him. “Sa…Sasuke?”

“You know him too?”

“We know him,” said Sai, cutting in. Naruto had gone quiet, which meant he was either about to faint or explode. Even if Sai hadn’t been hitching a ride on his back he didn’t want either of those things to happen.

Nagato nodded. “I can sense Itachi’s chakra not far off. Let’s go.”


Everything hurt…

That was the only coherent thought in Kakashi’s mind. Beside him, Tenzou kept sinking in and out of consciousness. Good, because they were going to die and it was better not to know about it.

How could he have managed to fuck up so badly? he thought. Everyone was going to die. That was his fault for rushing off into the forest. Crows indeed. He still had no idea why he’d gotten that idea. It wasn’t logical. There was another rush of pain. His brain was melting.

That must have been why the man standing near them was see-through. Because, normally, things like that didn’t happen. Close up, he found that the man looked quite like Uchiha Fugaku, which was equally ridiculous. He himself had helped dispose of that man’s body. Funny, because he didn’t look all that dead.

He wasn’t making sense, even in his own head.

“Itachi,” the ghost whispered. “Don’t you remember me?”

There was a silence.

Suddenly in unison, all of the Akatsuki screamed.

This just made his head ache.

Fugaku’s foot was about two inches from Kakashi’s face. He reached out to touch the man who had saved them, when he vanished.

“WHAT THE FUCK?” It was a loud, oddly familiar voice coming from behind him. Slightly grating on the ears. “I thought I was supposed to be dead, un.”

…Oh. Of course.

From the corner of his eye, he could see Deidara and Sasori dusting dirt off their clothes, and from the looks of things regaining the personalities Kakashi was more familiar with.

“HEY!” Deidara sounded fairly pissed. “THAT’S THE FUCKER WHO TOOK OFF MY ARM!”

Kakashi winced.

A quiet voice also spoke up. “And that girl… she… killed me.”

Well, that settled it. They were all going to die.

From somewhere beyond his range of vision, a cold voice rang out. “Don’t touch them.”


“We have no reason to harm them. It would be more productive to conserver our energy. There are…” He paused. “…Bigger fish to fry, as it were.”

He was interrupted by a muffled shout and the sound of rustling branches, then suddenly Naruto was bounding into his field of vision yelling his head off about something or other. And following him was…Kakashi narrowed his eyes, trying to match the man in front of him up against a long list of descriptive profiles. …Pein?

“OI it’s that Jinchuuriki kid, un!”

“Nagato-kun, what are you doing here?”

Nagato’s eyes met Itachi’s. “I will lead you to Kabuto. Your little brother is there.” There was silence.

“Sasuke? Is he…injured?” It might have been the blood loss, but Kakashi could have sworn his voice hitched slightly at the end.

“He was fine when I left.” Nagato paused. “Bring you friends too. Kabuto will be pleased, I’m sure.”

“So Kabuto was controlling our minds, un?”

Sasori cuffed his (former?) partner on back of the head. “Of course he was, you fool.” He clicked his tongue, face growing serious. “I feel we should kill him, then go our separate ways.”

“Yeah, we’ll kill that son of a bitch, UN!” Kakashi got the feeling the man hadn’t realized the full extent of partner’s statement.

Suddenly, he felt himself being lifted off of the ground. Gently, gently, he drifted into unconsciousness.


Now that he thought about it, Sasuke could never really understand why he’d liked snakes. They weren’t slimy, but they were scaly, and cold, and pressing up against him in awkward places. He wondered vaguely if the ones wrapped around him were part Orochimaru or something.

Kabuto looked out of the window nervously. That was the third time in almost ten minutes, something was going on.

“It’s funny, you know.” Finding himself face to face with his captor, Sasuke schooled his expression. He let the statement hang in the air, he’d had a lot of practice playing mind games with Kabuto over the years and he wasn’t about to give in now. Anything to spite the other man was a bonus.

Kabuto’s smile tightened, but other than that his expression didn’t change. “The funny thing is, Sasuke-kun…that while you are the self-proclaimed avenger of the two of us, I will be the one to avenge Orochimaru-sama’s death.”

Sasuke didn’t reply. There was nothing to say, at this point.

“He should have listened to me. I told him you’d be planning something but he said it was of no consequence. He should have listened!” His voice had been steadily rising until he yelled the final word, slamming a fist against the window pain.

“He always liked me better.” Crude, but effective.

Kabuto spat on the ground then turned back to the window, still looking anxious though his face was contorted in anger. Maybe it had something to do with Nagato’s earlier scene. Or maybe the seals were breaking. That would be…interesting. No longer the center of attention, Sasuke let himself sink back into his thoughts. Itachi… would he forgive him? He was so confused. The hatred that seethed within him had really been born with Itachi’s death. Alive, how could he face him? Especially in his current state... Just the thought made him slightly nauseous.

There was a quiet knock at the door.

“Come in,” Kabuto said, hoping it was who he expected.

It wasn’t.

“Ooooh, I can see my little cousin isn’t having all that great of a time?”

“Madara!” Sasuke shouted. The masked man laughed.

“You haven’t lost any of your impudence, I see.” He glanced up at Kabuto. “And your minions?”

“They’re coming,” Kabuto said tersely. “I think I see them now.”

Indeed, there was a procession of lights glowing outside. Each of the four Akatsuki were carried a lantern and a body. Actually, Nagato carried two bodies, one on his back and one in his arms. They entered one by one, their heads down, their faces covered.

Kabuto blinked.

“Where is Kakuzu?” His tone was sharp, dangerous.

Nagato lifted his head. “Dead.”

Suddenly, both Madara and Kabuto looked down at Sasuke. He was trembling head to toe. The figure that held Naruto was standing still, but Sasuke didn’t need any clues to know who it was.

“Aniki,” he breathed.

The room was silent as the two brothers watched each other, and suddenly, the spell that held everyone was broken.


“Oh, not this again...”

Itachi threw off his hood as Naruto leapt down onto the floor with a flourish, releasing a volley of kunai towards Kabuto while simultaneously trying to waggle his eyebrows at Sasuke. Unable to make use of his hands, the latter mouthed back a few of his favorite four letter words, then frantically scanned the room to find where his brother had disappeared to. He finally spotted him, advancing slowly towards Madara down the other end of the room.

“Nice to see you again, Uncle,” Itachi whispered.

Slender fingers traced the edge of the mask they’d grown accustomed to. “It is indeed.”

And with that, the Akatsuki fell upon their masters…


Three ninja stood upon the edge of a cliff, companions thrown together by fate. Their hair was black, their souls had once been blacker, and their sufferings were one and the same.

Itachi, Sasuke and Nagato.

The corners of Itachi’s mouth twitched into a smile when Sasuke looked up at him sheepishly.

“Are you satisfied?” he asked.


Itachi chuckled. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’”

“Your younger brother is quite the talker,” Nagato said tonelessly. Then none of them said anything for a while.

“Will we go and… start our own clan, then?” He looked at the two brothers. “I’m not sure how it would work with three men, but I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

The night was still and cold, but a faint ray of dawn was peeking over the trees.

The world looked hopeful.


Naruto, to put it mildly, was a charismatic sort of kid. He related to a stunned Yamato, Kakashi and Sakura how he’d single handedly defeated the ghosts (which were actually bandits, and not Akatsuki members at all) after they’d been genjustu’ed out of their minds. His loud sweeping gestures and confident movements convinced the villagers that he indeed was their hero. Before their very eyes a large crowd of farmers formed, gathered Naruto onto their shoulders, and carried him off amid a shower of confetti and roast chicken.

Had it all been just a dream? Yet Tenzou remembered the shock in Itachi’s eyes when the majestic form of Uchiha Fugaku stepped out in front of them, how Kabuto himself had grown pale with fear as his creations turned upon him and tore him to pieces.

He remembered the man in the orange mask as his servants stood around him, how his one eye blazed red with the Sharingan, how Itachi had been unable to stand after seeing the face beneath the mask.

That… had it all been genjutsu? It seemed a bit farfetched. He couldn’t believe that all that he remembered had been an illusion..

Kakashi said nothing. Sakura had been unconscious. Unfortunately he couldn’t bring himself to ask anything of either of them.

Also… Hidan had mysteriously disappeared. When questioned about it, Sai merely said that he’d lost him.

It made Tenzou uncomfortable to think about it. Was he losing his touch? In the end, he decided to let bygones be bygones. Besides, neither Sai nor Naruto would do anything to put the village in danger.

Then again… they didn’t have quite the same attitude towards danger as other people. He sighed. Ah well.

Sai had gotten over ghosts at any rate.


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