Chapter 15: Waking Up
This is the way that we love
Like it's forever
- Happy Ending by Mika
I woke up to a sunny day with a cool breeze that caressed the curtains as it passed before lazily circling the room only to move on again. I woke up to the sounds of the village people laughing and gossiping as they ate breakfast. I woke up to the mouth watering smell of ramen and freshly made dango as it wafted through the open window.
I woke up in tears because I woke up.
"Nara-san, please tell your team to come to execution bay number four at ten o clock," I ordered the slouched shinobi in front of me, rustling through important papers in an attempt to look busy as I did so.
"Ahh…excuse me, Hokage-sama, is it really necessary we all go? Sakura-san and Naruto are quite emotional and it would be troublesome if we had to deal with them." Shikamaru asked and I shot him a piercing glare.
I set my papers down with a bang and he blinked at the sudden noise. I told him angrily, "I know my student well and she most definitely would not have an emotional breakdown at an execution. Do not underestimate her or Naruto or else you will not be in a team with them again."
Leaning back in my chair, I swung my feet up onto the wooden desk. I finished, "All of your team members are to see this mission through to the end. You are dismissed."
Shikamaru disappeared with a lazy spiralling cloud of smoke that drifted up listlessly to the ceiling. I picked up my sake saucer and downed it in one go, savouring the liquid velvet as it slid down my throat and washed my troubles away.
"If you truly believe that, then you are the ideal Kage for a place like Konoha."
The porcelain sake saucer shattered in my hand and the shards cut into my palm. My wounds began to sting.
I wasn't sure if it was only because of the alcohol.
"Where the hell is Haruko-san? We were meant to meet up twenty minutes ago!" Tsumon was steadily growing frustrated.
I was the only quiet, reflective one in the room for once. It was my first time to participate an execution but Genma and Tsumon (being experienced ninja) had seen them countless times. I supposed that as a ninja, since you were surrounded by so much death, when you saw a dead person you no longer held the same level of respect or disgust for the corpse.
"Well, for once Mr. Punctual's late," Genma commented before breaking into a wide yawn.
Pale faced, I looked up at him for a moment and then glanced downwards awkwardly. I was dimly aware of how tightly I was clenching my hands but it didn't dawn on me that I should have perhaps tried to calm down. Anxiety began to swamp me and I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath in. I didn't think I was being too obvious about being extremely nervous but then again, I never was too good at hiding my emotions. When Genma put a hand on my shoulder, I shot up and almost broke his wrist in two.
"Hey, Naruto-chan, it's okay to be scared. Executions aren't exactly a walk in a park," He murmured to me in an undertone, careful not to let Tsumon hear him. Tsumon had a bit of an anger management problem and was an insensitive bastard so Tsumon would have held no pity for me.
"…how do you do it? How can somebody kill somebody defenceless in cold blood?" I asked Genma in disbelief.
Genma answered, "There are some people who can and some people who can't. It's something you're born with, I guess."
"So you were born with it?" I pressed him and Genma smiled slightly and shrugged.
"I guess so; else I wouldn't have done as many executions as I have. If it makes you feel any better, close your eyes when it happens. Then you won't see him go down," He advised me.
"Oh, finally! There you are!" Tsumon stood up as the door opened to reveal a tired looking Haruko-san.
"You look like shit man," Genma said bluntly, eyeing him with dark brown, sympathetic eyes.
Haruko-san pulled on his ANBU mask and jerked his head towards the doorway. The rest of us followed suit and instantly, there was no more conversation. It was all business now and we had a job to do.
Maybe if I told myself that enough, I would actually begin to believe it.
"Sakura-san, Tsunade-sama wants us to go and finish the mission," Shikamaru informed me from where he had made himself at home on my ratty sofa.
I was making myself watery coffee and for a moment, my movements faltered. I accidentally spilled the instant coffee powder all over the counter top and began to clean it up. If Shikamaru noticed, he said nothing.
"When is the execution?" I asked him as coldly as I could. I wanted to try and convince at least one person that Itachi's death wouldn't affect me, though after the breakdown with Naruto outside Konoha that was a failing hope.
"I never said anything about an execution, Sakura-san. How did you gather that?" Shikamaru's tone grew gradually more and more suspicious.
Shit. I shrugged and began to pour hot water into my cup, thinking fast. "Well, I just presumed that since we brought him back to Konoha, we would have to witness his execution. We've handed in the mission reports and we have our pay, so to really finish off the mission we would have to see him dea- be executed."
"Well, you're right. The execution is at ten o clock and Tsunade-sama wants us all to be there. Troublesome woman…" He complained, breaking out into a yawn as he finished.
I sat down beside him on the sofa and stared into the surface of the murky brown liquid wordlessly. A long silence fell between us and the sofa squeaked slightly as Shikamaru sat up beside me. He leaned forwards on his knees and clasped his hands together, as if in thought.
He suggested almost reluctantly, "You know, you don't have to go. I could lie to Tsunade-sama and say that I couldn't find you or something equally as troublesome."
His words didn't register until a few moments later and I straightened up, brushing the ragged hair out of my eyes with a hand. I smiled at him with tired eyes and shook my head, feeling utterly artificial. "Its fine, I'll go."
We all stood around the door to Itachi's holding cell awkwardly. Well, I thought it was pretty awkward anyways. Genma looked as though he hadn't a care in the world and Tsumon looked impatient if anything. An unspoken question hung suspended in the air like a dust particle, 'Who's going to get Itachi?'
Haruko-san answered the question by sharply jabbing at his own chest. The keys grated in the lock of the metal door and it swung open reluctantly, dragging across the floor with a tortured screech. He took a step inside and left the door open a fraction. When he came back out ten minutes later, he was pulling a blindfolded and gagged Itachi out of the room.
Itachi was struggling against his bonds like a desperate man.
It was as if he had only just realized what the execution meant for him. He was yelling furiously (screaming even) into the dark cloth shoved into his mouth and Haruko-san could barely restrain him.
He writhed like a madman and Haruko-san looked up at us, his cold eyes flashing an order for us to get the convict under control. Tsumon and I immediately rushed to his side, pinning the Uchiha to the floor. I bit down ferociously on the inside of my cheek behind my mask.
I was trying to block out the sounds of his screaming.
"Hurry the fuck up!" I was barely aware I was shouting at Genma now. My cerulean eyes clenched shut in an attempt to forget what I was doing - to forget whom I was dooming.
Genma pulled the senbon from the corner of his mouth and brought out a vial from within his thigh pouch. The emerald liquid inside glinted malevolently in the artificial lighting and he stabbed the senbon into the glass container. Itachi was still shouting, a muffled no, no, NO-
And then silence.
Genma pulled the needle out of Itachi only to discard it shortly afterwards. I thought I would be grateful when Itachi's screams were gone, but the accusing silence that followed was a thousand times worse.
You should have killed him when you had the chance.
The thought echoed throughout the chambers of my mind, reverberating off of walls and sneaking into corners; leaving no place for me to hide away from it. I stood up sharply, moving away from the unmade bed I had previously been lying on to head downstairs towards the kitchen.
I snatched an apple from a bowl and bit into it angrily, imagining it was someone else. I closed my mismatched eyes and tried to block out the voices, tried to shut them away. When I opened them again, I was standing face to face with the ghost of my frowning father.
Why did you leave the job to somebody else? Why did you not avenge me? He demanded, his cold eyes filled with hatred and disgust. I lashed out at him, only to have my hand slice through nothing and ran out of the room into the narrow hallway.
All of my relatives stood there. They stood in a line, glaring at me with the same crimson Sharingan eyes- Uchiha eyes. Eyes filled with hatred, regret, disgust, disappointment but all seemed to ask the same question.
Why Sasuke, why?
I stumbled up the regal staircase, clinging onto the dusty railing. Their voices carried up to the second floor and I instinctively rushed for the bathroom, locking the door behind me. Maybe the nightmares wouldn't follow me, maybe the regret wouldn't swamp me now I was hidden behind a locked door. I gripped the sides of the porcelain sink, as if looking for inspiration in its white depths.
They're not here, I told myself. You're just imagining things.
The faucet shrieked in indignation as I turned it. I cupped my hands beneath it to catch the icy water in my hands, splashing it over my face in a vain attempt to calm myself down. I looked up and into the mirror above the sink.
A pair of blood red Mangekyou eyes stared back. You are the same as me now, little brother. You have betrayed the family-
The mirror shattered with a sickening crunch.
I ignored the blood running down my hand, ignored the shards imbedded deep into my knuckles. The remains of the mirror were scattered around me on the floor like all the unfulfilled promises of the Uchiha clan (all the could-have-beens or should-have-beens) and they shouted at me, screamed to be justified.
Itachi had started struggling again and finally Haruko-san had given Genma the order to block off all of Itachi's movement. We now had to resort to piggybacking Itachi and rotating him every now and then. I wished that Haruko-san had given the order for Genma to silence him as well. His screams sounded like a soul shattering and I wasn't sure whose soul was shattering anymore, his or mine. As Itachi's screams escalated in pitch and loudness, Genma finally had enough and stabbed his needle into a point below Itachi's neck that would temporarily render his vocal chords useless.
I half expected Haruko-san to be angry that Genma had acted without first asking but he said nothing. I supposed that we were all relieved that he was no longer screaming.
Tsumon stopped and his eyes flashed towards me, insinuating that I should take Itachi now. It took a while but I managed to awkwardly get Itachi onto my back. His arms flopped uselessly over my shoulders and his breathing was ragged in my ear, his only audible protest.
I kept my voice low so that the others wouldn't hear me, "Hey, Itachi, don't hold this against me or anything right? I'm just doing my job."
Itachi's breath caught in his throat for a moment.
"Sakura-chan really loves you, you know that? She'd probably kill me if she knew I was telling you this but since you're going to die, you need at least one person to love you. She's going to be at the execution," I continued quietly.
"I don't know if you're anything like Kisame but…I guess it took me a long time to realize that you Akatsuki are actually human. A cloak with clouds and a slashed headband doesn't make you any less a person. I don't know why you killed your clan or why you left Sasuke alive but I'm thanking you for what you've done for Sakura. Before you came along, she was so quiet and so broken…" I trailed off, not really knowing what to say next.
A hand touched my shoulder and I looked up, seeing Haruko-san in front of me. A building behind him loomed towards us, hostile black tinted windows glared at us where we stood and an unwelcoming door stood aloof. Haruko-san motioned for me to give Itachi to him and I did so reluctantly. We approached the door and Tsumon opened it for Haruko-san. The moment I took a step inside, an unsettling knowledge settled over me.
This was the place where we were to kill the second last Uchiha.
"Where's everyone else?" Kakashi asked me in an undertone. The waiting room was deathly silent, as it was the first time for most of us here to witness an execution.
I told him, "Naruto's a part of the ANBU squad in charge of the execution so he'll come when Itachi does."
This seemed to shock the Kyuubi's ex sensei because he didn't say anything for the next few moments. When he finally spoke, his voice betrayed no emotion, "I didn't think Naruto would be a part of an execution squad. His sense of justice would clash awfully with that."
"Tsunade-sama told him that if he was to become Hokage, then he had to participate in at least one execution. It's a load of bullshit if you ask me," I lit up a fag and sighed, watching the smoke spiral lazily towards the ceiling.
Kakashi then questioned, "Do you know where Sakura and Sasuke are?"
I shrugged and lied effortlessly, "I couldn't find Sakura this morning so I couldn't tell her to come for the execution. Sasuke knows so he'll probably be here soon."
Just as I said that, Sasuke slipped into the room silently. Kakashi's single eye seemed to penetrate into my mind as he tried to decipher what was hidden there. I raised a quizzical eyebrow at him, removing my fag from my mouth with two practiced fingers. Kakashi said nothing but someone else spoke for him.
"The ANBU squad is now here with the criminal. The Uchiha will be executed shortly; everyone please follow me to execution bay number 4…" A kunoichi informed us and one by one, we trickled out of the room reluctantly to follow her.
Glancing around the gradually emptying room, I realized Sakura still hadn't come. I sighed and dropped my fag onto the floor, grinding it into the linoleum with the heel of my shoe.
It was kind of funny.
For ninja, there were so many synonyms for the word kill; execute, terminate, destroy, vanquish. And there were so many for the word human; target, client, criminal, hell we even gave them numbers.
I watched the execution squad discuss something a few metres away from Itachi. None of them looked nervous, except for Naruto and I only knew that because I had been his teacher for so long. He always tried too hard to hide his negative emotions, which was what made them so obvious in the end. His hands were clenched so tightly that I could actually see a trickle of blood coming from them and his movements were mechanical and rigid.
The order they had been given was to terminate the criminal.
They could very well have been told to kill Uchiha Itachi but that was the biggest mistake a person in charge could make. The word kill, a word so simple and cruel, instantly conflicted with a person's sense of right and wrong so it was substituted with words like annihilate, to make it less humane. They didn't even give the criminal a name, because the moment you put a name to a person, it made them human. And that was the last thing any sane person would want to do.
Kill another human.
Naruto seemed to see through the illusion, as he always had done. His sense of justice was untainted, despite the many years of suffering and lack of proper parentage. He wouldn't last long in ANBU and I gave him a couple months more at most before he resigned. He was the only one who seemed to realize, 'I'm killing another human.'
It was the reasoning that ninja superiors tried to erase and the one thing that stood in Naruto's way to becoming Hokage.
How could he become Hokage if he couldn't send out thousands of ninja to die to protect his own country?
Itachi had been forced to his knees and his head was bowed low. A black blindfold around his eyes blocked his vision and his hands were bound behind his back, though from his complete lack of movement I realized they didn't really need the binds. A familiar masked man, Genma, walked towards him, followed by another dark haired man I couldn't identify. Naruto and their squad leader stood to the side, waiting for the execution to commence.
The squad leader read out a list of Itachi's crimes in a detached, cold voice. Massacre, treason, desertion, murder…
My mind began to wander slightly as the list grew and grew until the loud click of a door being closed drew the attention of every person in the room. Sakura silently walked towards me, her eyes downcast. She said nothing as she came in and the squad leader picked up where he left off, finishing the introductory speech. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye and tapped her on the wrist gently.
She nodded mechanically and kept her eyes downcast. I began to realize, maybe I was being selfish, maybe we were both being selfish for not wanting to witness another execution. Sakura was no longer the twelve year old genin whose heart had been broken too many times to count and I was no longer her sensei. I hadn't done anything to hide her from harsh reality when she was my student but even though I wanted to now, it was far too late. The black haired nin knelt down to help restrain Itachi in case he struggled and Genma pulled out a kunai from his pouch.
It was the only kunai Genma ever had on hand.
Don't look at Itachi. If you don't see him die, it won't have happened. Don't look up…
Kakashi's calloused hand squeezed mine and I looked at him, trying to block out the sight of a weak and bound Itachi in my peripheral vision. He told me quietly, "If he really means that much to you, you should at least watch him die."
I said nothing but Kakashi's words rang true in the hollows of my mind. They reverberated, growing louder with every repeat until every thought was fighting for dominance until everything contradicted and conflicted against each other.
Don't look up at Itachi. If you really love him, you'll watch him die. I'm scared. I don't want to see him dead. If you don't watch, do you mean to say Itachi means nothing to you? He was never meant to mean anything to me. We were never supposed to mean anything to each other. Are you just going to forget everything that happened between the two of you? It'll be for the best. You're being a coward. You're running away from everything again. I've been strong all these years; isn't it fair that I be allowed to be weak for once?
Is it fair to Itachi though?
Metal glinted and my eyes instantly snapped to Itachi. I felt my vision blur and burn as I looked upon him silently.
He looked so pathetic. He looked as though he had given up all dignity, as if his personality had trickled through a hole while our backs were turned. And it hurt. It hurt to see only a shell of what he had once been. His arrogance, his pride, had all drained out of him and there had been nothing to prevent it.
No, no, this isn't Itachi, he's never looked so weak, he's never been so vulnerable, his pride would never let him be degraded like this, he's always been strong, he's always been invincible-
Genma pulled back Itachi's head and placed the kunai over his throat. My jade eyes began to well up with the tears that Itachi would never have shed even in the face of his own death. My hand clenched Kakashi's tightly, this couldn't be happening, this couldn't be happening-
I can't lose you, I can't, I can't, I can't because I-
Hands tightened around Itachi to keep him in place.
Genma's hand gripped his kunai handle.
Because I love you.
The kunai flashed.
I didn't want to hear the thump that followed because I knew that when it came, I would be hearing the sound of a dead body hitting the floor. I didn't want to see Genma's kunai silently retreat into the recesses of his pouch because that would mean that it was done, that it was over. I didn't want to watch the blood pool around a gaping open wound and onyx hair splayed limply about a blindfolded face because that would mean…it would mean…
I half expected Itachi to pick himself up and glare menacingly at us but when I saw his lifeblood trickle out slowly about his body, I knew that he wasn't going to. I was blinking rapidly and glanced up at the ceiling as if to find some long lost inspiration in its pale depths. A tense silence filled the room and it was only when a quiet, sickening squelch filled the air something seemed to snap in all of us.
Sasuke was the first one to leave the room. Then Ino and Hinata left, Shikamaru following closely behind the two of them. Tsumon and Genma dragged a lifeless corpse across the floor, not caring that the blood that wept from it stained a crimson path but Kakashi and Sakura remained where they were.
Kakashi looked as though he wanted to say something but didn't. He turned away from her and slipped like a shadow out of the room. I walked towards Sakura quietly but her eyes never left the trail of blood that led to the man she had once loved.
She was as still as a statue and had done nothing since Itachi died. She hadn't even shed a single tear. I pulled off my mask as I approached her and stood at her side silently, to be there for her when things finally sunk in.
"I love him, Naruto."
I don't know what happened, but suddenly I was the one crying. I cried because Sakura wasn't crying because I knew she was broken inside (broken again) and that knowledge made my heart break. Everything Itachi had helped to mend, he had only broken again. Sakura's heart had been ripped in two and I wasn't sure how much more she could take and I was so…so scared for her.
I waited for her to break out into tears but she turned around and headed towards the door without a word. She paused, not even looking back at me and murmured, "Let's go, Naruto."
I watched the pink haired medic nin leave the room silently. I had half expected her to burst into tears or try and prevent the execution from happening, but she hadn't. It was strange to see such maturity coming from the unreasonable kunoichi but it certainly wasn't unwelcome.
"You idiot, can't you see I'm crying for you?" The raw emotion in her voice was imprinted into the back of my mind and the feel of her warm tears had been burned into my fingertips. It left a strange and unpleasant taste in the back of my throat that surely would come to pass.
All of our ties had been cut with the blade of Genma's kunai and a high level genjutsu. Everything had now reverted to the way it had been and should have been before this mess, which meant that she and I were strangers and enemies again.
"Hey, Itachi-san, you have to hurry up and get out of there. Leader says that he's going to dispel the genjutsu on you in fifteen minutes," A small clay ladybird on my shoulder murmured into my ear.
I turned to leave the execution room briskly, my eyes gleaming through the eyeholes of a certain ANBU captain's mask.
Soo...that's it guys. Muahaha. I owned you. I PLAYED YOU THE FOOLS YOU- this is highly inappropriate and unprofessional so please forgive me for being an amateur.
I have a feeling this was a lot better than the original. I love this story but I guess it's finally time for me to move on (move on?!) but hey, I need to get this plotline out of my hair so I can start the sequel. If you guys are interested, the summary for Defining Duty is up and if you maybe haven't guessed it's the sequel. Everything confusing here will finally be explained in the next one but it might piss you guys off slightly.
Thank you for reading, your reviews have made me really happy. I don't think I'd be able to finish it without all of you helping me along and it always made me smile when I read one. I would like to thank the people who've been reading since the days of Never Ending Rainfall and thank you guys for all the respect and support you've given me. (this is getting really sappy. I'm stopping now.) Just in case you were curious...
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How much I love this story - More than the words, that's for sure.
Selandora (the sickeningly emotional undeniably sexy one you all must fear might just be in tears very soon.)