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 placed his hands on Anko's shoulders. She flinched at his touch. Slowly, he pulled down her blouse to reveal the Hell Seal on the nape of her neck. 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, glowing. 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 and black eyes, filled with darkness...they were Death.

Orochimaru cupped her chin, and 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 and begin your training. Follow me."

"To where?" Sasuke asked cautiously.

"Your first 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.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIII

"Naruto."

She ran.

"Naruto!"

She ran faster.

"NARUTO!"

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 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 am I supposed to say, thanks?'

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

'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. "And? I don't need you to tell me how shitty I had it, Sakura-san," Naruto replied sarcastically in a cold tone. 'Unless you want me to kill you right here, don't bring up bad memories Sakura,' he told her in his thoughts.

"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. How is it better?"

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

Kankuro glared at the earth above. '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, "...That was a lie."

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. You're gonna end up getting attached this guy, I know it,' the puppetmaster 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 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. 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 your alive 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.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIII

'Damn, I'm behind,' Shikamaru cursed mentally. 'Tsunade told me she sent Sakura ahead already...I hope she didn't find anything.' As the highest ranking chuunin in Konoha leapt from rooftop to rooftop towards the arena, he glanced over his shoulder at his rag-tag following, eyeing them with beady, exasperated eyes. 'Troublesome.'

Neji, Hinata, and Kiba (with Akamaru) all followed behind closely. Neji he could understand, he was his backup, but Hinata and Kiba? 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, eventually."

'Somehow,' Shikamaru thought dryly. 'Not even I know where she is right now...but I have a clue.' The intelligent ninja narrowed his eyes in thought. 'Probably has something to do with those chakra spikes I felt earlier...Hope the Godaime knows that it's probably a trap.'

IIIIIIIIIIIIIII

In the midst of Sakura's confrontation, Naruto realized his summon had deserted him. He knew the fox had to be close by because their contract didn't allow him to exist in the human world without his sphere of influence.

"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 them.'

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.

'I TOLD YOU OF THIS NARUTO.'

'Of what? Ichibi?'

'YOU DON'T HAVE TIME TO BE PLAYING AROUND WITH THE BOY. YOU NEED TO MASTER MY BROTHER SHICHIBI SOON, BEFORE THE WARS BEGIN.'

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

'THERE IS ANOTHER WAY. YOU MUST GET HIM TO RESPECT YOUR STRENGTH.'

'That won't--'

'SHICHIBI WILL GIVE IN WITH TIME .'

'It's too risky, Kyuubi!' Naruto retorted immediately, annoyed. 'Besides, I can't control him if I do it that way.' Naruto cast his mind's eye toward the demon. 'That's what you want, isn't it? I'm not stupid anymore you know. I'll go at my own pace. I'll get strong enough to control Shichibi, Hachibi, and eventually you Kyuubi.'

'HAHAHAHA...' The Kyuubi laughter roared and shook the grounds of his mind.

Naruto clutched his head forehead, feeling a headache coming. 'Shut up you annoying fox... what's so funny?'

'YOU HUMANS. IN TRUTH, IT IS PITIFUL.'

'What are you babbling about, Fox?'

'NARUTO, YOUR STRENGTH WILL NEVER REACH ME.'

'It will eventually!' Naruto retorted quickly.

Kyuubi laughed arrogantly once more. 'YOU CANNOT COMPREHEND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OUR LEVELS.'

For a moment, Naruto felt a tinge fear and despair. Fear of the omnipotent demon that slept inside him and despair of the fact that he couldn't do a single thing about it.

That moment was short lived.

'Whatever. Cocky asshole...we'll see about that,' the young Akatsuki muttered to himself. 'Eventually...'

IIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Orochimaru continued to lead Sasuke to the arena with Anko following at the rear.

Sasuke glanced behind him at the jounin who's Hell Seal still stretched across her skin. A few hours ago, she was just another Konoha jounin. Beneath him. Now she's his 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.

More importantly, Sasuke thought, 'It doesn't look like she's straining at all...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 five 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 curiousity. "How can you use the Cursed Seal? Especially with the Godaime's limiters..."

Anko thought for a moment, "With force."

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

She shrugged. "Maybe for you."

"What?" Sasuke said dangerously.

Catching his tone, Anko looked at Sasuke with a cold stare. 'This brat has no idea how good he has it...to have the best of both worlds...' she thought coldly. Anko grinned. "In other words, you can't use 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. "Try me."

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. "I will--AHH!" He fell to floor without warning and writhed in pain as the Heaven Seal began to take over his body. "Wh-Why can't I..."

"Because I've lived with this for longer than you. That's all. Sasuke, let me to you one thing: you don't know anything. And if you want to learn anything from me, you better understand that."

'Damn it...damn it...' Sasuke cursed to himself.

'This is reality. Deal with it,' Anko thought to him. 'Though I know what he's going through...' Abruptly, she whipped around, feeling the eyes of another.

'Excellent Anko, excellent,' the Sannin 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 control 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.'

IIIIIIIIIIIIIII

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 special dagger."

Sakura winced and was quiet once more. After a moment, she asked, "Um, do you...want to hear about Sasuke?"

The clouds were misty.

Sakura shuffled uncomfortably. 'All I ever used to do was talk about Sasuke.'

"How did Sasuke react to my death?"

Surprised at first, 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 doesn't 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."

"What?"

S-Sasuke...h-help...
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.

Betrayal.

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.

I tried to stop him.

"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?"

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


Shichibi - Seven Tails

Hachibi - Eight Tails

(in the context of Naruto's statement, he is referring to the younger brothers of Kyuubi the demon fox, 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.