Heart of Darkness

Chapter 17:

Cold Reality

"And Anko will teach you how to use it."

Anko quirked an eyebrow, unamused. "What?"

Sasuke mirrored her reaction and added, "What is she doing here, anyway?"

Orochimaru's eyes gleamed. "Anko is the same as you Sasuke," the Sannin said. He walked over to his female subordinate. Sasuke narrowed his eyes as Orochimaru casually pulled down her blouse with his mouth, revealing the newly minted Hell Seal. She flinched at his touch. Bending down closer to the tattoo, his tongue slipped out slyly and flicked the surface of her skin.

Instantly, her body went frozen, and the Hell Seal stretched out across her skin in the form of small, star-like diamonds which glowed. Anko remained still. She still didn't move, she didn't resist. Orochimaru rose his eyes and looked at her. Anko stared right at him with were cold eyes filled with darkness.

Orochimaru stared into those eyes of death with a black smile. "Beautiful," he whispered.

Anko never looked away once.

Sasuke shifted uneasily. 'Is Orochimaru insane? It feels like she's about to tear his heart out at any moment...' More unnerving was that Sasuke didn't doubt for a moment that she could. His body was shaking. Anko's enormous surge of chakra threatened to overwhelm his own spirit. 'How can she be this strong...? We're both from Konoha and yet the differences between our levels are this...god damn it!' Sasuke swore.

"Anko-chan is the oldest carrier of the Cursed Seal. She can teach you things about the Heaven Seal that I suspect not even I know. Isn't that right, Anko-chan?"

Anko looked at Orochimaru blankly before crossing her arms and gazing away.

"But she's been in Konoha this whole time," Sasuke argued indifferently. "How could she possibly know that much with all the restrictions?"

Orochimaru cast a quick smirk at Anko before facing Sasuke. "There are many ways around them. Eventually you would no doubt have learned of them on your own. Though...we don't have time for that now do we Sasuke-kun?"

Sasuke eyes became cold. "No, I don't," he said.

Orochimaru nodded knowingly. "Then let's not waste our time any further." He suddenly elongated his neck and bit into Sasuke's neck viciously.

"Ow!" Sasuke shouted and pushed the Sannin away. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Orochimaru grinned. "Your seals have been lifted. I have now freed both you and Anko-chan. Let us begin the first step in your training. Follow me."

"To where?" Sasuke asked cautiously.

"Your test."

Anko closed her eyes. Only one thought went through her mind. 'I will kill you Orochimaru. I promise.' She thought this only once. It was all she needed.


She ran.


She ran faster.


Until she found himself deep in his chest with her arms wrapped around his waist. Naruto felt his chest dampen.

"I...I missed you so much..." Sakura cried into his chest. "I thought you were dead!"

The two stood there in the middle of the arena, silent, with only muffled cries to fill the air. Sakura, arms wrapped around Naruto's waist, her face buried in his chest, and Naruto, frozen with a cold, unreadable gaze...they remained this way for a long time before any other words were spoken.

Not a soul dare interrupt them.

Sakura finally released Naruto and held him at arms length, facing him eye to eye. "I'm glad you're alive Naruto. It makes me happy."

Naruto's expression remained fixed, empty, but troubled underneath. His brows furrowed. 'What...what am I supposed to say? Thanks...?'

Her smile became distant and her eyes lowered. "Naruto, you hate me don't you?"

The words surprised Naruto. "Wh-What?"

"You hate Konoha don't you? Why else would you make us suffer with a make-believe death? If you've been alive all these years..."

Naruto flinched and looked away. "That's right. I hated all of you."

"I...I thought about this for a long time after...after your passing. How all of us treated you...Sasuke and I were your closest friends and yet we..."

The cold, honest truth of Sakura's admission stirred something in Naruto. "That's right...I don't need you to tell me how shitty I had it, Sakura-san," Naruto replied in a cold tone.

"Naruto, I-"

"If you're here to say your sorry, then fine, I forgive you. I said I used to hate all of you, but that's in the past now. Now I'm here and your there so it's better off just pretending I'm dead anyways." His words were quick and harsh, the meaning behind them apathetic.

Sakura took a step back, tears rolling down her cheeks. "Naruto, you're cruel..."

Naruto looked away from her, uneasy. "Yeah, I am. It's better this way..."

"That's bullshit," intruded a third person. "How is it better?"

"What?" Naruto said. Temari now stood beside them, arms crossed, with an unpleasant frown.

Kankuro glared from his hidden spot below. 'What are you doing Temari!? Why are you revealing yourself!?'

Temari cast Naruto an icy gaze. "How is it better if she pretends your dead?"

"So the ninja killing her won't be me."

A violent crack echoed throughout the stadium. Temari cradled her hand, red and numb from hitting Naruto chiseled cheek with a vicious intensity.

Stunned, Naruto stared at Temari with eyes wide.

Kankuro's mouth was agape as even he had heard the enormous sound of the slap from underground. 'Holy shit 'Sis,' he thought in awe. 'You're...fearless. This guy...he's stronger than Gaara. I know you feel it too. And yet, even knowing that, you still...'

Sakura looked Temari in amazing, albeit with slight confusion. "Temari-san...?"

"That was a lie, Naruto," Temari stated.

Naruto didn't speak for a moment. Gradually, he spoke in a low tone, "...Maybe."

Temari's eyes finally softened. "Gaara is a part of Akatsuki," she said, looking at both Sakura and Naruto. "Akatsuki is an enemy of everyone. I accept this. Gaara and I are...enemies," she stated with a truthful sadness. "But Gaara's my brother before anything else. I'm happier knowing he's alive and my enemy than dead."

Temari didn't say anymore, letting her words sink into Naruto. She turned around, calling out, "Kankuro, get up here. We're going scouting in case any of Sakura's friends show up."

Kankuro exploded out of the ground with a twitch in his eye. "Geez, just give me away why don't you 'Sis."

"Shut up."

As Temari passed the Akatsuki, he murmured, "Thanks."

Naruto didn't take his eyes away from Sakura, neither did Temari look back but still...she couldn't help smiling a bit.

Kankuro watched his sibling out of the corner of his eyes. 'You're getting too involved 'Sis...' the puppet master thought angrily.

Temari's adamant interjections into Naruto's affairs didn't surprise Kankuro. 'Temari...he reminds you of Gaara doesn't he?' Kankuro thought. 'You want to protect him, teach him right from wrong. But Naruto's not you're little brother...'

Once the siblings left, Sakura and Naruto stood in solitude as the only people in the center ring. An awkward silence.

Naruto stepped forward, slowly, and took a hold of Sakura's wrists in a gentle motion. Sakura looked up at him questioningly. Without word, he began binding her wrists together with rope.

"What are you..."

"We're enemies. I'm a part of Akatsuki now. That doesn't change," he said softly.

Sakura offered no reprieve and gazed away from him. 'We're enemies. That doesn't change.' she echoed to herself sadly.

"Sakura...maybe it doesn't mean as much," Naruto began slowly, "but I'm gad you're well too."

...because I knew that while I dove into the darkness, the light will still be there.

...That was enough for me, knowing that.

'...Even if I'll never be able to reach it from where I'm at,' he finished.

'Damn, why is everything so crazy?' Shikamaru thought. As the most experienced chuunin in Konoha leapt from rooftop to rooftop towards the arena, he glanced over his shoulder at his rag-tag following, eying them with beady, exasperated eyes. 'Troublesome.'

Hinata, and Kiba (with Akamaru) all followed behind closely. He didn't understand why they were with him. Both were tired and injured from the jounin exam and yet insisted on coming along. They said they needed to talk to the Hokage as soon as possible and Shikamaru was their only way of getting in contact. Not many knew of the Hokage's current whereabouts for security reasons.

'But, like I said, why don't they just tell me what they need to tell the Hokage?' Shikamaru argued in thought.

"Eh? You can't tell me?" Shikamaru quirked his brow up in query. "Why not?"

"We just can't," Kiba replied forcefully, Hinata standing behind. "Look, we might tell you eventually but I...I don't want to regret anything else happening because of me. I need to think about this."

'Must be something serious for Kiba to talk like this. This isn't like him...Guess I don't have choice. He won't listen to me anyways,' Shikamaru thought. With a shake of his head, he said, "Alright, alright. I'll take you to the Hokage."

'So bothersome...' Shikamaru sighed.

In the midst of Sakura's confrontation, Naruto realized his summon had deserted him. He knew the fox had to be close by because he felt his chakra.

"Ichibi? Ichibi!" Naruto yelled at the empty stadium.

"Please come out Ichibi!" Sakura called out, appearing genuinely worried.

Naruto squinted his eyes at her, sweatdrop by his forehead. "Uh, I can look for himself myself, thanks."

"Oh," Sakura resigned, disappointment evident in her voice.

'In this situation why is she even...' the young Akatsuki sighed and shook his head to himself. 'Forget it Naruto, you'll never understand women.'

He returned his attention to the search and repeated the fox's name out loud. 'Where is that stupid fox? Probably hiding from me because he's embarrassed...I don't have time for this damn it.'

A dark and familiar voice boomed in his thoughts suddenly.


'Of what?'


'I'm not ready for Hachibi yet. He's too strong. He'll try to kill me,' Naruto reminded the nine-tailed fox.




'It's too risky, Kurama!' Naruto retorted immediately, annoyed. 'He goes berserk with your power!'


Naruto was silent for a moment. Summoning Kyuubi was a last resort because there was a drawback. Unlike the children, which he could unsummon easily, Kyuubi wouldn't go away if the tailed beast didn't want to. It had happened before, when he had summoned Kyuubi under dire circumstances.

"Kurama, STOP! What are you doing?!"

The tailed beast, a human torso in his mouth, turned to Naruto with blood dripping from his mouth. "ISN'T THIS WHAT YOU WANTED, BOY?"

"Y-Yeah, but...we've won already! You don't need to keep-"


The gigantic fox looked around for another victim, finding one crawling away from him on the floor. Kurama trotted towards his next prey slowly. The injured ninja saw the tailed beast coming and screamed, "No, don't! Please! I surrender!"

Kurama looked coldly at the ninja with his crimson red eyes and continued towards him.

"Please! I beg of you, great demon!"

Kurama halted at the name. "DEMON...THAT'S RIGHT. I AM A DEMON. AND MY POWER IS GREAT. YOU ARE NOTHING TO ME." He lunged at the ninja.

"ENOUGH, KURAMA!" Naruto came flying in and kicked the fox in the nose.

The towering beast reeling back and growled at Naruto. "STAY OUT OF THIS, BOY."

Naruto, though he was wounded and tired, stared at the tailed beast steadily. "No. Kurama...that's enough, isn't it?"

The words caused a pause in Kurama. He stared at his jinchuriki with indecipherable gaze.

"I know what you've been through, Kurama," Naruto continued. "This man...he wasn't the one who caused your suffering. You know that. Don't take it out on him."

Kyuubi bared his fangs at Naruto as he roared angrily, "YOU THINK I CARE? HUMANS ARE ALL THE SAME! THEY MUST ALL PAY THE PRICE!"

Naruto held out his hand to the side and the sphere of the rasengan began generating. "Don't make me do this..."

Something changed in Kurama's eyes. He didn't grin, as he usually did. He smiled. "NARUTO...YOU HAVE GROWN. YOU ARE WORTHY OF BEING MY JINCHURIKI...COME. LET US FIGHT."

The immense tailed beast and Naruto charged at one another.

Naruto shook his head. 'No...that's not necessary. I can handle it on my own.'


'I'm not. I won't.'

Kurama seemed to shake his head inside Naruto's head but said no more.

Orochimaru continued to lead Sasuke with Anko following at the rear. It was now apparent that they were heading towards the main stadium.

Sasuke glanced behind him at the jounin who's Hell Seal had now retreated back into her tattoo. A few hours ago, she was just another Konoha jounin. Beneath him. Now she's his impromptu teacher.

'What's her story anyways?' Sasuke thought. 'I didn't know how her that well before but I get the feeling that she's not going along with this willingly.'

Not that he cared though.

More importantly, Sasuke, recalling the immense chakra spike he had witnessed earlier, thought, 'I still can't believe this person was a jounin at Konoha. It's a joke. How could she live as ninja, holding back all those years, knowing that you can't use your most powerful weapon?

'It's...unbearable,' Sasuke thought darkly, memories of the past three years surfacing.

Anko caught Sasuke's gaze. "What? You got something to say?"

Sasuke didn't flinch away and took the opportunity to quench his curiosity. "Orochimaru said you were experienced with the Cursed Seal. How did you use it with the Godaime's limiters?"

"With force," Anko replied.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "Force? That's impossible..."

She shrugged. "Maybe for you."

"What?" Sasuke replied indignantly.

Catching his tone, Anko looked at Sasuke with a cold stare. 'This brat has no idea how good he has it...' she thought coldly. Anko grinned abruptly. "In other words, you couldn't use the Heaven Seal because you're too weak."

"What did you say?" Sasuke glared over his shoulder intensely but found she was no longer behind him. She was right next to him, in an instance.

"I said...You. Are. Too. Weak. If you want to test that theory..." Anko's eyes gleamed dangerously as she got right in his face.

Sasuke lost his footing suddenly and tripped off the branch. Tumbling in the air for a moment before gaining equilibrium, he managed to hit the ground with his feet.

"What's the matter Sasuke-kun?" Anko called out cheerfully.

Sasuke stared up at her smirking face with hatred boiling in his blood. "Don't test me..." he growled. The flames of his Heaven Seal began to spread throughout his body.

In response, Anko released her Hell Seal, the stars spreading across her skin. "Try me."

Sasuke felt her immense chakra and gritted his teeth. The difference in their power levels were clear. 'God damn it...' The Uchiha looked away angrily, his Cursed Seal receding back.

Anko grinned, seeing Sasuke back down. "Good. If you want to learn anything from me, you better understand that I'm your superior Sasuke-kun."

Sasuke said nothing, not meeting her eyes. 'Maybe in pure chakra levels...but chakra power isn't everything,' he thought.

She looked at the brooding boy and was reminded of herself. 'I know what he's going through...' Abruptly, she whipped around, feeling the eyes of another.

'She will be a good teacher for him. Excellent,' Orochimaru thought in glee. Anko's vicious glare at him only seemed to entice Orochimaru even more, causing him to laugh in response.

'How does he anger me so easily?' Anko's clenched fist shook, furious. 'I'm the most impatient jounin in Konoha...but for you, Orochimaru...I'll wait forever. I'll wait and I'll kill you.'

Naruto leaned against the wall, hands behind his head, and gazed into the clouds.

'Naruto never used to watch clouds before,' Sakura thought. Clearing her throat, she said, "How did Itachi fake your death?"

Naruto continued to watch the sky. "My throat was slit with a dagger coated in a special ointment," Naruto stated simply. The clouds were misty today.

Sakura winced and was quiet once more. After a moment, she asked, "Um, do you...do you want to hear about our old genin pack is doing?"

Naruto didn't respond at first. Then he asked, "How did Sasuke react to my death?"

Sakura shuffled uncomfortably. 'All I ever used to do was talk about Sasuke.' She answered carefully. "Depressed. Angry. He told me he cried himself to sleep the first couple nights."

'Hypocrite,' Naruto thought. "He tells you a lot does he?"

Sakura narrowed her eyes defensively. "Yes, he does."

"Did he tell you how I died?"

If you attack me I will kill this boy.

Naruto looked at Sasuke, hope in his eyes.

She hesitated. "He said Itachi-"

"He watched me."



Words could not reach the avenger.

The cold, sharp metal slid across Naruto's neck and a spray of blood gushed out.

The darkness slowly engulfed Naruto.

He looked at Sasuke with wide eyes.


Naruto turned away from the clouds and looked into Sakura's eyes. "Sasuke watched me die. And did nothing."

Sakura glared, angered by the accusation. "Sasuke tried to stop Itachi from killing you!"

"Or was he just trying to stop Itachi...period? I didn't ever enter into the picture for him," Naruto said calmly.

"That's not true!" she shouted passionately. "Sasuke was trying to stop his brother from killing you!"

"Is that what he said?" he asked.

"No but..." Sakura clutched the hem of her blouse fiercely, frustrated.

"Whatever," Naruto scoffed, breaking eye contact. "Just forget it."

But there was one thing she had to know. "...Do you hate Sasuke now?"

"Yeah. I do." There was no hesitation.

Hachibi - Eight Tails

(in the context of Naruto's statement, he is referring to the children of Kyuubi, not the jinchuuriki.)

A/N: Didn't expect this chapter to be this short but when I see a perfect ending to a chapter, I can't ignore it.

Like I said, things are getting serious. I'm getting a headache just thinking of the chaos I'm going to have to write in the near future...oh boy.

This chapter came out fast eh...I was gonna just keep in on my hard drive while I continued on 18, giving the illusion that it takes me longer to finish chapters than it actually does. But that's cruel considering how long I kept you waiting for the last chapter so here it is. Next one definitely won't come out as soon as this one did...but then again, who knows.

New A/N: Eight years later...oh the irony of that statement -_-