No More Dead Heroes
Chapter 18: Wretched

Times have changed and loyalties are shifting faster than the eye can follow.Its bad and it only gets worse when Orochimaru's army makes its debut. You can't know who to trust, because you don't know who anyone is anymore. (dark, shonen-ai)

Ignorance and understanding
We're the first ones to jump in line
Out of step for what we believe in
But who's left? To start the pleading
How far will we take this
It's not hard to see through the sickness
So tell me what would you say
I'd say it's up to me

It had been two days since Takumi's accident, and he had been improving rapidly, thanks in part to the good physical condition the young Genin was in, but more so to the work Hinata had done on his leg, which meant they didn't have to worry about the blood refusing to clot, or clotting too easily. It also meant that he could walk almost normally for long periods of time, whereas if his body had been left to its own devices, he would have been unable to move for several days and would have needed severe physical therapy before he could resume missions, seeing how the wood had gone almost all the way through his leg.

Still, Hinata kept a close eye on him, making sure he didn't tire too much or get dirt in the wound. Kin wasn't really much help there, she seemed oblivious to the fact that her teammate was injured and insisted on teasing him endlessly, and occasionally started casual spars that the shorter boy wasn't really up to. Hinata always stopped them before things got too out of hand, having had infinite amounts of practice breaking up fights from working with Kiba for so long. Of course, more often than not she had ended up having to break up make out sessions instead.

Of course, she wouldn't ever have to do that again if the village got what it wanted. Hinata shook her head to clear it of such depressing thoughts. They only had five more bridges to destroy, she should be excited, happy even. She snorted lightly; it wasn't like she had a reason to look forward to returning to Konoha, all her friends were either out on missions or too busy going certifiably insane to keep her company. And she would have to tell Tsunade that she had let another Genin get injured, which really wasn't going to make her day much brighter in the slightest.

It would have been nice to have lasted more than just a week and a half before the Godaime realized what a mistake it had been to give her this much responsibility. Though, Hinata had to wonder what she had been thinking in the first place, considering she had been the only one to return from the initial training session with a Genin down already. And it was asking too much for her just to trust the Hokage's judgment when she had seen first hand how hard this was for the woman. Hinata sighed softly, turning her head slightly as she did so, keeping Takumi and Kin in her line of sight easily without having to resort to using her Byakugan.

Both of her Genins were walking along quietly; and some what listlessly if she cared to look that far into it. Watching them for a while longer, but still not turning a blind eye to her surrounds, Hinata supposed she could only be thankful that Kin seemed to have finally run out of energy. Of course, that was only if she didn't take into account that they were wandering closer than ever to the enemy, having crossed over into enemy territory just the night before. And now she had two worn out and sore Genins that would be even less able than usual to fight back. Really, that was just asking for trouble.

"Ow! Damnit Kin, stop it would you!" Takumi snarled. Hinata spun in place, having never heard such a tone from the polite young shinobi. Kin looked just as a taken back as her Chuunin-sensei, too shocked to be indignant. Takumi himself was hobbling over to the nearest tree as they stared, muttering angrily under his breath.

"Hinata-sensei, I swear I didn't do anything! Well, I mean, I tripped over a root and bumped into him, but I barely touched him and I didn't do it on purpose or anything!" Kin said hysterically, apparently unaware that she was practically incoherent. She was looking from Takumi to Hinata and back again so quickly that Hinata was afraid she might get whiplash. "Is his leg getting worse again? Does he have a fever? Is he hallucinating?" Kin demanded of Hinata, finally resting her eyes on the Hyuuga long enough for them to focus.

Hinata, letting her shoulders relax only slightly, shrugged. "Calm down Kin, I'm sure it's just the pain making him irritable. Why don't you scout out ahead for about a five hundred yards while I try and make him more comfortable?" Kin nodded tensely, but looking relieved at having something to keep her occupied. "Byakugan!" Hinata whispered softly to herself, blinking a few times to override the sense of dizziness that came with 360 degree vision. She watched Kin go even as she kept an eye on Takumi resting against his tree; only when the girl was out of even her sight did she focus on the Genin in front of her. "So," she drawled, drawing her hands up to rest lightly on her hips, one just above her pouch. "I take it your master knows I'm aware of his plan then?"

With a half chuckle, half sigh, the body in front of her melted back to its original shape. Prepared as she had been, Hinata managed not to wince when her student disappeared only to be replaced by a smirking Sound-nin. "How'd you know? I'd figured I had the snot down pretty good, seeing as I got this far." Clenching her jaw too keep herself from yelling at the impersonator, or from panicking about the now unknown whereabouts of Katsuo Takumi, Hinata declined to answer. "And, Hyuuga, you do realize you just sent that charming Genin of yours off alone in a forest full of who knows what? I have to wonder what your Hokage was thinking when she made you a Chuunin-sensei."

"Kin can take care of herself." Hinata snapped, refusing to let the shinobi know that she had just realized that herself, and was kicking herself for it. Damnit, at this rate she was going to lose them too. What had Tsunade-sama been thinking? Of course, the Godaime hadn't suspected that there would be a reason for Orochimaru's minions to hunt down her, of all people. To be fair, she hadn't expected it either. Granted, she was a Hyuuga, and the former Leaf-nin would give anything to be able to study the power of the Byakugan, but for that, he would choose a more powerful victim.

Slowly, Hinata inched her right hand lower on her hip, moving it steadily towards her weapons pouch without attracting attention to herself, she hoped. "And you're right sensei, he knows. Oh of course he knows. How could he not with you getting an up close and personal look at them via him. But you didn't know that did you? All you knew was that one minute you were staring into the smoke of an explosion, and the next, you were hearing word for word, with illustrations I might add, exactly what he had planned for your family." He paused to consider her for a moment, failing to take in the hand that was working its way through the top flap of her pouch. "I'll be there y'know. I'll be there when he gives the order. We'll see everything, it should be glorious. There won't be much of the Hyuuga clan left when he's through with th-"

A kunai thudded into the tree an inch from his shoulder. Raising his eyebrows slightly, the Sound-nin turned his head downwards just far enough to measure the distance from the metal to his flesh. "Tsk tsk Hyuuga, those shaky hands of yours aren't helping either of us."

"Fuck you." Hinata muttered, reaching for another kunai in her pouch, gritting her teeth as the other shinobi stood up. She'd missed her chance to take him by surprise, she wouldn't get another. Palming a kunai identical to the one the Sound-nin had just pulled from the tree, she paused just a second so that her hands could stop shaking just enough for her not to miss again. She had forgotten, however, that even a second's hesitation was going to give her opponent the chance he needed to attack. Hinata dropped her kunai as she leapt wildly to avoid the other's well aimed throw. Swearing again under her breath, Hinata brought her hands together and started forming seals. She realized that she couldn't just kill him, as she would need his help, willing or not, to find Takumi. "Doton senbon no jutsu!"

The same razor sharp needles made of hardened earth streamed from her mouth, and, with careful aim, buried themselves at various non lethal, but extremely painful, points in the Sound-nin's body. By the time he had recovered from the shock of this, he didn't have a chance to fight back, as Hinata had moved in instantly and, reminiscent of Hyuuga Neji, blocked his chakra flow effortlessly, feeling no sympathy as the Sound-nin shuddered at her touch, instead having to curb the desire to scrub her hands raw to clean them of Sound filth. Stepping back to admire her work, Hinata glared at the enemy shinobi. "Where's Takumi?" She demanded of him, easily drawing a third kunai from her belt pouch as she spoke.

Turning his head away from her slightly, the shinobi stuck his nose in the air and chose not to comment. Hinata growled softly, baring white teeth as she channeled Kiba next. "Answer me." She said harshly, really getting impatient as the seconds ticked on. Any moment now Kin would return, adding an uncertain element to this fight, one that Hinata really couldn't handle right now. "Just make this easier on both of us and answer, or I start slicing off fingers." Hinata threatened as the Sound-nin remained silent, refusing to lower himself by making eye contact with the kunoichi. Which, Hinata mused, really didn't make much sense considering she had just rendered him absolutely useless for the next few hours, until his chakra circulatory system was up and running again.

Stepping forward, kunai poised to draw blood, Hinata felt a glimmer of satisfaction as the shinobi's Adam's apple bobbed as he gulped nervously. "Even if you find him, there's no guarantee he's still alive." The Sound-nin said finally, apparently valuing his extremities over silence at this point.

"Then it doesn't matter if you tell me, does it?" Hinata growled, swallowing the fear that it was already too late, and that her naivety had killed another. God, what had Tsunade been thinking when she had made her a Chuunin-sensei, it was absolute madness to think that the disgrace of the Hyuuga clan could keep a couple of preteens alive during a day at the beach, let alone an important mission such as the one she had just managed to bungle up royally, and undoubtedly beyond repair.

The Sound-nin smirked. "Foolish, foolish Hyuuga. If I were to tell you, one way or another, I would end up dead. It is in my better interest for this mission to succeed, because not even death would protect me from Orochimaru-sama's wrath now. But you'll learn that for yourself soon enough, just like your fellow shinobi are as we speak." Hinata blinked, the hand with the kunai retreating slightly as she thought, playing the ninja's words through her head again, waiting for her mind to grab onto what about that sentence had made her do a double-take. It hitting her, she looked up rapidly, her mouth hanging slack in horrified shock.

"You don't mean-"

A chuckle was her only answer, and then the Sound-nin disappeared in a cloud of smoke, taking advantage of the half-inch leeway Hinata had granted him between his throat and the razor sharp blade of her kunai.

As Kin rounded the bend in the road at a jog, as yet unnoticed by Hinata, the Chuunin-sensei screamed in anger, and hurled her kunai into the tree in front of her, thinking no one was near enough to see her outburst over her once again failed attempt at the Hyuuga arts. Kin paused in mid-step just to see Hinata disappear from right before her eyes with a few recklessly formed seals. Blinking once, twice, Kin couldn't believe what she had just seen. What she didn't know though, was that Hinata didn't have the leisure of taking the time to rescue Takumi from the Sound-nins, or of dragging two inexperienced Genins behind her all the way to Konoha. She had a message for Tsunade, and it needed to be delivered now.

Even if that meant deserting two children in the middle of enemy territory.

The Hyuuga had always been exceptional at making difficult decisions.

This can't last forever
Time won't make things better
I feel so alone
Can't help myself
And no one knows
If this is worthless
Tell me so

It is Genma who opens the door to the Godaime Hokage's office, having knocked and received Tsunade's command to enter. He does so slowly, as though he is afraid to see what is on the other side, or perhaps more because he is afraid for Tsunade to see this horrible mutation of Team 7. Behind him, his companions are arrayed, decked out in everything from the horrifying crimson and maroon of fresh and dried blood respectively to the tarnished silver of the Anbu katanas to the brilliant blond of the Yondaime's hair. As the great wooden doors creaked slowly inwards at Genma's touch, he becomes aware that he is holding his breath, honestly terrified of facing Tsunade. Strengthening his resolve with one quick deep breath, he shoves the doors away from him to reveal Tsunade, and Inuzuka Kiba, waiting for them.

"Welcome back Team Seven, Anko." The Godaime says, not missing a beat as her eyes moved from Genma, to Shizune, to Anko, to the Anbu, to Kakashi, and finally, to the Yondaime. "I see you have… replaced… a team member."

Genma and Shizune gape at her, unable to believe this response from their usually hot headed leader. Not only had she calmly registered the absence of Naruto, but she hadn't even seen fit to comment on the, rather startling in Genma's opinion, considering he had only been dead for nearly seventeen years, presence of the Yondaime, her predecessor. Unable to respond to this, Genma resorts instead to walking into the large room, the other shinobi filing in behind him. Kiba stares blankly as drops of blood turn into streaks on the wooden floors as no one can bring themselves to care enough to avoid it.

Tsunade merely steeples her fingers, watching them with expressionless eyes, a sharp contrast to the last time any of them had seen her. Wisely, no one asks what has brought this change about, they have been living in this chaotic world long enough to know that nothing is so unstable as a human.

There is a moment of silence which Kiba uses to take in the sight before him. He knows that this team, the only all Jounin team Konoha has left, is Naruto's team. He also knows that the only blond in the company is not Naruto, and that the only reason for a shinobi not to accompany his team for a mission report is death. But Kiba is accustom to death now, and doesn't even need a moment to compose himself before he moves on to consider the next member of Team Seven.

Hatake Kakashi is not the same as he remembers the older man, but at least he recognizes him, if only barely. He also recognizes that the eye covered in bloody bandages is a special one, or, Kiba considers, was a special one. He is holding a sword casually in one hand as though it was made to be carried just so, a sword that Kiba easily identifies as exactly the same as the one every single Anbu in the room has slung over one shoulder. Kiba's mind passes easily over the bloodstains soaking both the sword and the hand holding it, as would most shinobi of his generation, save a lucky few. He barely spares a glance at Shizune and Anko, or the Anbu accompanying them, but turns back to Tsunade, and addresses her as though they are the only ones in the room.

"Well?" He demands, and Tsunade isn't sure how to respond. She knows that if she says yes, she has lost another one. She also knows that it is getting really hard for her to care anymore. She, like any other medic worth their salt, had learned to distance herself from her patients, to allow for a more objective assessment and treatment of their wounds. It is a lesson she had forgotten until recently, but now that she remembers, it is unlikely she will ever let go. Last time it only took two precious people to bring her tumbling down, she doesn't want –can't let– that to happen now, not with a war to fight.

So Tsunade does nothing but nod, and consider promoting the young Chuunin. After all, Konoha is running short on Jounins, and there is no reason for the Inuzuka not to be advanced through the ranks, he's more stable than most of her other Jounins anyway.

Kiba, though he hadn't particularly been expecting the Godaime to give in, responds as though it had been the only possible answer. He bows, and walks out of her office without pausing even to acknowledge the presence of the other shinobi, not noticing that he has just brought himself once step closer to being gone. And Tsunade doesn't bother to watch him go, instead she scratches a note to herself to speak to the board about his promotion down on a pad of paper that rests conveniently in front of her, and marvels at how much setting an execution date could change a person's outlook on the world.

As he watches Kiba leave, Genma has to wonder what the young shinobi had been requesting of Tsunade, and silently hopes to everything he can think of that he wasn't begging for a mission. He turns his head just far enough that he can clearly see Kakashi, the only one of the company that doesn't look concerned about this sudden change in Tsunade. Genma remembers all too clearly the time when Kakashi had spent every waking moment he had in Konoha scouting for missions to take. Unfortunately, it had never taken very long at all for one to his liking to come along. And by liking, Genma meant that it had been long enough to get him out of the village for at least a day, and difficult enough that it couldn't have been assigned to just any old shinobi, though nothing had ever been difficult for, first, the genius son of Konoha's White Fang, and following his disgrace and subsequent suicide, the genius student of Konoha's Yellow Flash. At least not until he became human again. Then he had had to deal with the guilt. And perhaps that had been more difficult than he had let anyone know.

It is before Tsunade has time to speak that Kakashi makes his move. Silently, as though he is already a ghost and they have missed their chance to save him, the former Anbu approaches the Hokage's desk without hesitation or acknowledgement of the fact that he is advancing on the most powerful of the Kages, and the one with the most influence, despite her slipping grasp on reason. "Hokage-sama," he says, but despite the sama he has attached to the kunoichi's title, not an ounce of respect, or any other inflection, is to be found in his voice. "I would like to request two things of you." Genma expects to see Tsunade flinch at the flatness of Kakashi's words, forgetting for the moment that he is, –they are– just this close to losing her as well. The Godaime does nothing more than incline her head a fraction of an inch, granting permission for the Jounin to continue. Genma very nearly covers his ears, fairly sure he does not want to hear what it is Kakashi is about to request –demand– of Tsunade. "Firstly, I request immediate transfer back into the Anbu. I believe you are aware that it is a position I am well suited to." Especially now, thinks Genma, and can't quite believe that Kakashi can speak so… elegantly. Every thing in him is screaming that this is so not Kakashi, screaming for someone else to notice and just make the Jounin stop, although he realizes somewhere that he has never known Kakashi, because Kakashi has been playing at being Obito for so many years. But no one does, and Kakashi continues, unaware of Genma's distress just feet away. "Secondly, I request permission to return to Uchiha's camp and retrieve the Sharingan." Something in the way Kakashi words this so ambiguously makes Genma feel that if he cannot recover his own eye, he will not shy away from tearing one right out of Sasuke's head. He wants to speak up against this, and nearly does, but apparently Kakashi is not quite finished yet. "Furthermore, Hokage-sama, I request the use of your predecessor in my mission." It is now the Genma realizes if he doesn't say something, and quickly, Kakashi is gone. So he steps forward, and offers up the only thing he has left.

"Hokage-sama!" In an uncharacteristic display of emotion, he draws Tsunade's attention away from Kakashi. "I would also like to request transfer to the Anbu, and permission to aid Hatake-san on his mission!" He hears Shizune's strangled protest, and feels Anko's stare on the back of his head, but this is his choice, and he has made it. He knows he is capable enough to be an Anbu, and knows he is brave (or is it pigheaded?) enough to follow Kakashi right into the clutches of Orochimaru's favorite without any further hesitation. He doesn't seem to recognize that he has just taken a step towards becoming Kakashi.

Tsunade doesn't appear at all startled by Kakashi's or Genma's requests, and doesn't waste time answering them. "I will notify the Anbu commander of your transfers and the mission coordinators of your unavailability." Her sharp eyes turn to the Yondaime, considering him silently. "And you, I suppose, would request re-instatement as a Jounin of Konoha? Or would you too like to be an Anbu?" These words have just enough bite in them for the former Yondaime to rise to the challenge they represent, despite the fact he still has no memory of his former life. Kakashi will take care of that soon enough, Genma figures, and hopes that the Yondaime will recover soon enough that he won't try to hand them over to Sasuke, and thus, Orochimaru.

"Anbu." Genma isn't surprised by this answer, the Yondaime had been fascinated by the Anbu on their return trip, obviously he had heard stories of the elite shinobi from Orochimaru or a puppet of his. And it isn't as though he is lacking the ability to serve as one of Konoha's finest, much the opposite, but Genma has to wonder if there is some ulterior motive inside the head of this perversion of the Yondaime Konoha had known and loved.

Tsunade nods, clearly having expected this response from her predecessor. She doesn't know, however, that he is a servant of Orochimaru, that he has lost all memory of Konoha and his service to her. She must know, Genma thinks, that it was Orochimaru that had brought him back to life; he remembers the mockery the Sannin had made of the Shodaime and Nidaime in his fight with the Sandaime and knows that, somehow, Orochimaru has taken the next step and that, somewhere, other powerful instruments are being made, and he recognizes that these tools have purpose as spreaders of emotional discord aside from their exceptional power that was all too precious to stay dead and buried. He wonders if it is wrong to hope that Hayate and his Crescent Moon Dance is one of them.

"We will need a medic as well." Kakashi says suddenly, as though he has only just remembered this. "A skilled one. Sharingan implantation is a… difficult procedure." As Tsunade begins to speak, Kakashi interrupts her, knowing what she is about to say. "Not Haruno." And his voice his firm, leaving no doubt that if the pink haired kunoichi is forced upon him, he won't hesitate for a second to leave her lying unconscious in a bush somewhere just beyond the gates of Konoha, and kidnap a more suitable candidate instead.

With a sigh, Tsunade agrees, showing that she too knows that her insisting won't change anything. She may not have seen Kakashi as a child, but undoubtedly stories had reached her ears, as well as the whispers of the board, begging her to retire him before his mental condition deteriorated again. Genma wonders why she didn't listen, why she didn't see that Kakashi had never been stable, and that sooner or later, he was going to snap. "Not Shizune. There is a mission lined up for her already." Tsunade announces, musing out loud, and distracting Genma from his internal deliberations. "Ibu Ketshi is free, and well trained. He, obviously, has never performed such an operation as you have planned, but I understand he did re-attach a Chuunin's eye quite satisfactorily just last year." Kakashi merely nods, giving silent approval of Tsunade's choice, and the Godaime continues. "Report to Anbu headquarters immediately then, and you will be issued your equipment. Your mission will being at 0500 hours tomorrow morning, you will have thirty seconds to go through the village's gates, and Ibu will meet you at the Anbu gates at 0400 to… get acquainted."

Kakashi, Genma, and the Yondaime all bow, recognizing a dismissal when they see one. They will prepare tonight and then go their separate ways. The Yondaime undoubtedly straight to his assigned room, as he is still a foreigner in the town he once ruled, Katashi to the Anbu training yard, where he will stay, testing himself throughout the long hours of the night, testing to see if he still retains the skills Konoha once treasured, and whispered about in shadowy corners, until it is time to meet Ibu, and Genma to go and get good and drunk, preferably somewhere where he can make a fool of himself in front of a large crowd, if only so that someone remembers him when he is gone.

What have we done
We're in a war that can't be won
This can't be real
I don't know what to feel

Neji walks, silently, through a forest of pure leafy green, a forest that resembles Konoha's own, right down to the deep shadows that even shinobi are hesitant to venture too far into. Only the barest of sunlight can break through the canpoy of trees, growing ever taller and stronger, leaving the impression that only if white hot lava washed over them could they be swallowed whole. What little light there is seems to avoid him, and those drab grey clothes blend all too well, while those hated black gloves seem too dark for this setting, stark against the muted greens, their metal plates dull with no light to be reflected.

Neji walks, calmly, despite the most uncharacteristic and mindless rage he had been thrown into only three days prior.

He walks without a purpose, because his purpose is dead.

And in the calm of this forest, a calm that seems out of place, despite, or maybe because of, the stillness in the air, and almost reverent quiet, Neji has been walking for three days, without pause. He hasn't needed to stop and sleep because he hasn't really been awake. He couldn't say where he is walking to, or how long he intends to continue, even if he had someone to tell, but even the animals seem to be afraid to approach him.

Neji doesn't remember how he got here, or where he had been before. Or rather, he isn't aware that this wasn't what he has been doing, where he has been, ever since Orochimaru had seen it prudent to bring everything he'd worked so hard to build up crashing down. He has the impression of a fleeting reprise, of someone caring, holding out a hand to guide him, and of the burning, uncontrollable anger that had tossed it aside. He couldn't say when it had been, or even that he wishes he hadn't been so cavalier with it, but he knew it had been there, even if just for the briefest of moments. But this is how he has been ever since then, wholly unaware of the world around him, doing as he is commanded by Tsunade and her Konoha, moving from mission to mission with only blood to punctuate the end of one and the beginning of another, until that too begins to run together.

He doesn't realize that he is playing out the life of another with every step he takes, and that the only end in sight will be a tragic one at the end of the day.

Its cold in his forest, but Neji doesn't notice aside from the occaisonal involentary shiver, and even if he doesn't realize it, he is lucky that the blood on his clothes is dry. Luckier still because who knows what kind of beasts the tantalizing scent of blood could have brought running, human and animal alike these days. Not that the Anbu, finally too overqualified to remain a Jounin, in more ways than one, couldn't handle most anything the world threw at him without batting an eye, not that he would even notice one more life being added to the list of what was already far too many for a child of his age.

But shinobi children were special, weren't they?

Well, the geniuses anyway, but that went without saying, because you didn't get yourself here, at this age, without being one.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Konoha had a rather lot of geniuses.

Neji knows that being a genius is what is going to get him killed. They all know this, somewhere deep within them, Naruto and Sasuke and Kakashi and Lee and Shino and Shikamaru and Genma and Tsunade. It's what already got Gaara killed. It's what is destroying them, slowly, without remorse, or thought for what this is doing to Konoha and Her allies. They know this, and they have accepted it. They accepted it because if they hadn't, if they had tried to fight it, they would already be dead. It has already destroyed so many of them.

Its getting darker in Neji's forest, as what little light there was fades with the rapidly setting sun. If he were to look, he would be able to see barely a foot in front of him. As it is, he doesn't need to look, and so he doesn't notice the day coming to a close. And so he walks on, not stumbling once, or pausing to check his direction.

He is the perfect soldier, able to walk for hours without rest, without pause, and to fight at less than a moment's notice.

He is -was?- Konoha's perfect soldier, and he'll walk until someone tells him to stop, because he no longer has a mind of his own.

It is now, now that he has reached this stage, that he will discover what horrors Orochimaru has in store for him, what horrors he will have to suffer before the end of this war, what horrors he will be forced to endure for the rest of his life, however long that may be. It is now that Konoha will learn just how valuable Hyuuga Neji is, because people, -no, Neji wasn't people, Neji was Neji, Neji was a genius, a class apart-, people fight so much harder when they have something to fight for. And now, as Neji stepped through a break in the dark shadows of the trees, into a small clearing that was lit by the few slivers of moonlight that broke through the overhanging boughs above, now Neji had everything to fight for, everything that had been missing from his life for the past six months.

All it took was just a moment for the light to return to his eyes, even in this remote corner of the world, hidden away even from the sun and moon, for awareness to overtake him, for exhaustion to catch up with him, for pain to make itself known, for heartache to fade, for the most overpowering relief to wash over him in endless, unrelenting waves.

Sabaku no Gaara, having joined the ranks of the precious, precious dead only months before, could have been mistaken for an angel in the silvery moonlight that illuminated him, if it weren't for the fact that not one of this generation was going to heaven.

So am I still waiting
For this world to stop hating
Can't find a good reason
Can't find hope to believe in…

a/n: ...Seriously, you so don't want to know. I am terribly sorry this took so long though... Hopefully the fact that it's long(?) will make up for that? grovels Please forgive me! I apologize to anyone who thought I had given up on this story! I haven't (and won't)! It just might take a while for chapters to be posted... Not half a year again though, I swear! ...Wow, that's so pathetic... Anyway, it's almost Christmas break... (my first exam is in, like, 12 hours...) so maybe another one during the break? Hopefully...

Oh, and to clear something up... the generation implied in the last sentece isn't necessarily those who participated in the Chuunin exam (Team Kakashi, Team Gai, Team Asuma, Team Kurenai, and the Sand siblings), it is more accurately interpreted to this group of people in this story, so, the aforementioned, in addition to Kakashi, Genma, the Yondaime, even poor Iruka.

...Sorry again! and thanks everyone for your reviews! (I don't have time to respond to each right now... my exam's in 3 hours... and I haven't finished writing my presentation... Baaaad!