Chapter 16: Roofs and clocks.
Tsunade had decided to have her roof re-shingled more than a few months ago. She'd never gotten around to it. Living in a town of ninja, and having an office that was high up and thus on the receiving end of the worst of the bad winter weather, her little room tended to take a bit of a beating. It wasn't really the draught that slipped in and out that bothered her too much; she could take a bit of chilly air (she was Hokage, for goodness' sake!). It was the dripping water that she couldn't handle (that, and the mindless ticking of a clock on her mantlepiece. It only caused her to remember how much she had to do and how little time she had to do it in).
It distracted her. It dropped, on average, she believed, about once every eight or nine seconds. Shizune had placed a bucket underneath the tiny hole in the roof to catch the rogue water, but it echoed further and whenever the beautiful Hokage tried to get down to some work...it reminded her of sake.
With the dripping and the shingles and the worry and the weather, Tsunade needed a drink.
Ed didn't really know what was going on. Admittedly, that was probably his own fault. Instead of listening to the battle plan, he'd been thinking of the beautiful Sakura, and now that things were falling about his ears, he couldn't really think of the best option to take.
He was faced with a very problematic situation, that he was sure of, even if he didn't really understand it. With a flash of blue light he drew a gleaming metal pole from the cold, solid ground, swinging it furiously at one of the underlings who had attacked him from the left. The cave they had infiltrated, it seemed, had nobody of high importance in it from Akatsuki. They were far too easy to take down. There was no challenge for him as he slid the pole through opponent after opponent. However...
He had seen Naruto hurtle up the ugly monument in the back centre of the cave out of the corner of his eye. Before that, he had seen Kakashi slip lifelessly from the neat little tunnel he himself had carefully constructed and land heavily on the floor, followed quickly by the girl from the apple stand in the Yomi marketplace. He'd seen her remove the sword. He'd seen Kakashi's blood, red even in the dead light of the cave, slap onto the floor as her slim hands jolted the blade through the air, cleaning it so it wouldn't rust. He hadn't seen, but could imagine the horror on Naruto's face.
But Edward had seen him bolt up the statue, and, not knowing really what was happening, had simply decided to keep fighting and try and work his way over to the injured Kakashi. He could take out the girl, he decided; the backstabber wouldn't be too much of an issue for him. And then the eyes of the statue had beamed – beamed a blinding purple light, one which he associated with dark times and darker memories. His body had forgotten how to move at the sight of those blinding beams of dark light, ploughing through the ashen backdrop and resounding off the walls, flooding the room in a throbbing indigo hue. His golden eyes, usually bright and intelligent, squinted in confusion and fear.
Then the wail came; one that crept through his body and jolted him back to life. It was piercing, sharp as a blade, and Ed's mind was filled with images he did not understand, of creeping vines and hissing, deep, deep purple smokes. His gaze, heavy with fear, fell upon the woman they had trusted, and the smokes in his mind were proved a reality. They swarmed her. Her face was hidden. The wail was coming from her. Naruto now stood on the ground, watching her, mouth agape in horror. Edward couldn't tear his eyes from the hissing, pulsating violet abomination before him.
Somehow, he managed to avoid being stabbed in any vital spots as an underling with a sharp kunai took advantage of Ed's terror-stricken pause. That snapped him out of it. He was back. He had a job to do. Their leader was down. He had to help him.
"So what do I do?" he thought a little blankly as he stopped a foot-soldier in his tracks by forcing some temporary compost vines to shoot up from the ground and wrap around his feet. "Naruto is still standing there shocked...Kakashi could be dead for all I know...I have no idea where the rest of Team Seven are...We need to evacuate."
Still finding himself trembling from the fear and suddenness and shock of it all, Ed let the adrenaline run through him and he made a break towards Kakashi and Naruto. He kept his eyes trained on his targets, slashing with kunai left and right as subordinates tried to get in his way. His long blond hair, tied back in a neat braid, flew behind him as he raced toward the other blond in the room, not really sure what he was going to do when he got there but confident he could figure something out.
"Why, Kei?" Naruto demanded, finally feeling as though his mouth were capable of forming whole words again. For moments he had stood in shock, feet glued to the ground, knees trembling as the woman before him smouldered and changed. Like stalks stretching toward the light her once pretty locks of hair had spiralled towards the ground, misting over with the eerie vines of smoke that surrounded her body. She had always been fairly pale, but her face grew whiter and bloodless, dark eyes standing out painfully and causing her to look hollow, like a skull. Her lips lost their outline and were almost as blank as her skin. Naruto couldn't see her body. It was enveloped within the smoke that hummed about her.
A distinct lack of an answer shook the rage within Naruto and he growled, clenching his fists, unable to remove the sickeningly still shadow of his teacher from the corners of his eyes. He knew he should move to help him, run to his aid, administer what little treatment he could fumble about with, but he couldn't tear himself from this moment, from this instant, where the creature he was sure they had all feared glowered before him, expressionless, and said not a word. He needed answers. He needed an explanation.
He needed help.
"Kei! Answer me!" he yelled, his fists balled so tightly that his palms felt as though they would crack under the pressure of his sharp nails (he needed to keep himself in check – sharp nails were a sign of that fox bastard, and he really didn't need that guy taking over right now. A clear head was vital). "What's going on?"
Those black eyes watched him. Naruto realised with a jolt that the whites of the eyes were filling an inky black with every second. Her gaze did not falter for a moment. She watched him without a trace of fear upon her porcelain face.
That did it for the hot-headed Naruto. His teacher lay dying at his side. His mission objective had flown into the chilly wind some time back. The rest of his team were missing. The woman they had trusted had turned on them. And he was getting no answers.
He sprang forward, teeth grit together and fangs sparkling in the dusty light of the room. For a moment, all he could see bled into one sickly purple light that turned his stomach and caused the anger within him to rise. Fist at the ready, he swung his arm before him in a hefty punch, aiming for the woman he believed had pulled the entire mission down around them like a landslide.
A frantic hand grabbed his own and destroyed the momentum of his punch. Naruto felt himself pulled to the side forcefully, and as the dripping violet dripped away from his eyes he realised that Ed was pulling him away quickly, features set in some sort of feral snarl. Naruto stumbled and objected.
"Oi! Ed! What are you doing?"
Edward didn't remove his stare from the woman smoking a few metres away from them.
"There's no time to fight that thing. We have to get Kakashi out of here."
Naruto glanced back at his teacher. Blood pooled underneath him and shimmered in the light emanating from Kei's body, almost looking as though it were rippling and moving. His body was still, and the one eye Naruto was used to seeing open was tightly closed. He did not move.
Finding his footing, Naruto nodded, his heart thudding angrily in his chest. He hated moments like this. The fox was begging him to fight that woman, to lay his sharpened, clawed fists upon her and beat her for what she had done to his teacher and friend. However, Edward, and the sensible part of himself, told him they should escape, regroup. Heal. Rest. The plan had gone wrong to such a degree that it could no longer be salvaged. Their only option was to escape.
Or Kakashi was going to die.
Her face was still emotionless. The hideous cackling and wailing that had cracked through the heavy underground air moments before was replaced by a terrible silence as she watched them, eyes black and empty. Naruto shivered, the rage within him quelling. She was an awful thing to look at. What had happened to Kei? What on earth was going on?
"Wait for her to come to us," whispered Ed, eyes flashing. Naruto had always wondered at Edward's eyes. They spoke more clearly than his lips did. He obviously had some sort of a plan.
Naruto felt it was the polite thing to do to try and help out.
"Kei..." he said, suddenly relaxing his pose, spreading his hands out at his sides. "What happened to you? You were pretty damned hot before all the shrieking and zombie-style-make-up! Forget to look in the mirror today?"
Edward resisted the urge to roll his eyes, but let Naruto continue. If they could just get that thing to move another metre or so away from Kakashi-Sensei...
"Or is it Izanami now? Is that your name?"
Something lit in the black eyes. Her gaze seemed more focussed. She watched Naruto as a hawk watches a mouse.
Naruto grinned boldly, his own eyes suddenly fiery and bursting with mischief.
"Kakashi-Sensei looks better than you, and he's out cold with a sword through his gut! What were you thinking? I mean, I'm not sure when the 'vamped-out-hooker' look really came back in, but seriously..." he watched her face, watched the smoke hissing more vehemently about her misty form, watched the black eyes glimmer and narrow, and pressed on, "...No wonder your husband ran away from you!"
Naruto mentally thanked himself for all the times he had taunted teachers, friends, and enemies throughout his ninja life. He had actually perfected the art of pissing off his opponent.
Kei (or Izanami, or whatever it was) opened her mouth. It hung at an incorrect angle. The jaw looked broken, or too loose. Before Naruto could retch at the sight, another shriek flew out of it, loud enough for him to cover his ears and wince. The scream smacked into him as a frightening breeze, blowing his rough blond fringe into his face and causing his winter cloak to billow behind him. Through the pitching, shattering scream, he heard the sound of well placed footsteps as the woman leaped towards him, and he saw her mouth widen even more, saw something glittering inside. Those eyes...those eyes were pure black.
Beside him, Edward slammed into action, thrusting his outspread hands into the ground beneath them as soon as their attacker was away from Kakashi. Before Naruto really knew what was happening, before he could figure out what was in that thing's mouth, he was thrust upward on a fast-moving column of earth, feeling the air rushing around his ears. He looked up. The ceiling was approaching fast. Thinking quickly (and wondering what the hell Edward was thinking, shooting them up towards a ceiling without an opening) he reached for a kunai, swiftly wrapped an explosive tag about its handle, and hurled it upward.
Nearby, on a similar column, Edward growled down at Naruto. "One explosion isn't enough! I need to do it!"
The kunai wrenched into the rocky ceiling and the tag exploded in a fiery mass of sound and dust. Moments later Edward's column reached the ceiling, and he thrust his glowing blue hands upwards. They crackled, and Naruto was reminded of Sasuke's Chidori. He glanced down from his column, and saw the unconscious Kakashi being raised carefully by another column, shaped like a chiselled grey hand, and below that, the terrible black eyes of whatever Kei had become watching them, vicious intent written across her features. From up here Naruto could see her body above all the smoke she was blanketed in. It was naked. It was rotten.
Naruto turned his head back to the panting Edward, whose hair ruffled about his face as he concentrated, his crackling hands still raised and glowing. It was too dark for Naruto to really see what was going on, but he could see the sweat dripping heavily from Ed's features.
"Anything I can do to help?" Naruto ventured, attempting to be helpful. Ed shook his head, golden eyes glowing.
"Just go grab Kakashi and make sure he doesn't get hit."
"Hit?" Naruto queried the word as he leaped over to the stone hand that Kakashi lay in. As he landed, his throat seemed to tighten, his gaze traversing the still form of his teacher. He could see the wound inflicted by Kei's blade (which, now he thought about it, he hadn't seen for a while...perhaps that was what he saw in her mouth) and it seeped globules of blood tears. Naruto knew he had to keep it together. Just for now. Just till Kakashi was safe.
"I bet Sakura will be able to heal him..." he comforted himself. Another glance down at the cave floor widened his eyes. The woman with the black eyes was climbing up the side of Kakashi's pillar. Deep purple hair clung to her face like poison ivy. Naruto's sharp eyes could see her nails digging into the stone that he sat on. Her mouth was still wide open, and he could see the tip of the sword glimmering within it.
He took out a kunai quickly, not sure what to be ready for. Turning back to Edward, his questions were answered.
Ed had transformed the entire ceiling into an array of shimmering blades; short, long, curved, straight, sword, knife. Eyes wide, Naruto glanced at the younger boy, who was panting heavily but still held his hands outstretched in control of the incredible assortment of weapons. Cracks of bright light slipped in from the snowy ground above what was the ceiling. Naruto could see the grey sky outside. They were almost out.
Ed flung his hands downwards, and the weapons followed suit, hurtling from where they hovered, locked in place, down towards the bottom of the cave. Quickly Naruto readied his kunai, prepared to knock any stray blades out of the way of Kakashi, but there was no need. They flew south at an incredible speed with marvellous aim, glinting mercilessly and piercing the underlings viciously, pinning them to the blood-soaked earth. Before Naruto could take in any more of the terrible but triumphant sight, the pillar beneath him shifted again, and he was thrust upwards into the sparkling white light of the snow. The cold air hit him quickly, and he reached for Kakashi instinctively, making sure he was all right. Ed's pillar burst into the daylight moments after, and he leaped off it swiftly, blond hair sleek and shiny in the brightness. Naruto followed suit, gently picking up Kakashi and jumping feet first into the chilly, thick snow atop the mountain. He was about to put Kakashi down to examine him properly when he heard Ed's voice, cracking and sounding exhausted.
"Hold on, Naruto. We're not safe."
Alerted and alarmed, Naruto left Kakashi's side for a moment, and ran to the enormous hole in the ground that Edward had created in exchanging the materials of the ceiling in the cave for an array of deadly weapons.
It was still climbing the pillars. Its mouth was still hanging open, still screaming. Its eyes were still that hollow black which, to Naruto, stank of death and disease.
"I don't think so, you scary-looking bitch," he heard Ed mutter to himself. The blue light flared again as Ed dropped to his knees, hands hitting the snow, and seconds later the pillars that they had risen up on were spread across the opening like cement on a brick wall. The new roof blocked the screaming woman's exit. She couldn't reach them here.
"That won't last long," said Ed, still down on all fours, glancing towards the astounded Naruto. "I don't have enough chakra left to make it gel for more than a shaky ten minutes. She'll be out soon."
The colour was fast returning to Naruto's cheeks in the bitter air outside. Despite the strong sun up here, the sky was greying and the glare from the snow was no more than a headache. With adrenaline still hurtling through his veins, Naruto offered a shaking hand to Ed to help him up.
"That was amazing, Ed," he said with no hint of envy or bitterness, "I honestly don't know if I could have gotten us out of there in one piece without you."
Ed grinned, his face still weary. "No sweat, Naruto. But we've gotta move. She'll be back soon."
He took Naruto's outstretched hand, attempting to ignore the exhaustion coursing through his body. Such a large transformation required a huge amount of chakra, and Ed had been melting the snow for the group as they trekked up the mountain earlier. He was almost out.
He stumbled to his feet and Naruto didn't fail to notice how much Ed leaned on his hand. The snow beneath him seemed to slip, and Ed found himself back on his knees, breathing more heavily than he would have liked to be, with Naruto beside him.
"Ed!" he cried, blue eyes brimming with worry, "How much chakra did you use? Are you okay?"
Ed nodded, wiping at his eyes with his trembling fingers. "I'll be all right in a minute. You need to take Kakashi and go. We don't have TIME for this!"
Naruto scowled. "I'm not leaving you here, and you know it."
"I need to stay here to keep this thing sealed," he panted, long fringes of hair falling into his face. "If I go, she'll be out and on our track more quickly. If I stay, I can hold it and give you and Kakashi a decent chance of escape."
"Are you crazy?" Naruto yelled, shaking the weary boy before him. "If I leave you here, you will almost certainly die! That thing, thatmonster, whatever it is, will come back out and tear you apart! I don't care what you say – it is never all right to leave a man behind!"
"My, my, Naruto..."
The voice was chilling and it dug into Naruto's memories with long, shifting claws. He swallowed, his breath still and thick in his throat. He could see that Ed hadn't the energy to look up at the voice; not that it mattered. They both knew who it was.
His head was weighty as he turned it toward the sound which he already knew but needed to know. His hands felt cold and dead, even with Ed still clinging to one of them. His hair was how he remembered it; dark and long and cold, like a rope to make a noose out of.
"You haven't changed a bit, have you?"
The question was pointless. The entrance was terrifying.
Orochimaru had snaked his way up the mountain.
I don't really have a plan.
And it hits me like this disgustingly confusing and yet plainly simple and easy thought. I'm just charging, blindly, slips of purple haze blinding by me left and right, sawn through with my sword as though they are nothing at all. I suppose they aren't really anything. At least, the way they reform under my blade and swipe at me with those brittle cold nails is enough proof that they can't be 'real', not in that sense. If they were real they could be killed. They would bleed when the silver hit the skin.
These things just won't bleed.
If I can just keep running...If I can just keep these feet of mine heading forward I can grab her, jump him, get out, get her up and out and away from his eyes. She hasn't once looked at me. I might be too late.
I can't...I can't...I CAN'T be too late. God, I swore...I swore I would protect her...
My Chiyo...please look at me. Please, show me you're still there, prove you haven't looked into his eyes and he hasn't tainted you...that bastard...if he's touched you
If he's touched you...
Look at me. Please. Damn these things won't bleed. Won't. Bleed. Damn it.
Eyes to the floor, still. Sakura's holding her own – fists of steel. She'll be fine. I don't need to worry about her any longer; she's stronger than me in terms of sheer strength. Shizune and that stupid pig...they're alright. Some pretty flashy moves.
Just look at me. You not looking at me hurts more than the wounds these things are digging into me. I'm bleeding too much. How the hell can something not real hurt so much? How can a fiction strike me as a truth? These things are dead; how can they be real if they're not alive?
I'm thinking too much. Concentrate, Sasuke! Move, Sasuke! Stick to the rules, Sasuke!
Shit. I'm letting you down.
Chiyo, I'm sorry. I'm sorry this is taking me so long. It's just...I'm bleeding...he's there...I can't dash blindly in...I can't...
No excuses. I'm sorry this is so slow. I'm sorry your salvation is on a timer.
I'm sorry that your only option is me. I was dumb.
Move feet jump left skid skid slip safe forward ignore him ignore sword cut
Wipe the blood out your eyes damnit boy
If he's touched you...I will
If he's touched you... Knock the claws
He knows too much... I won't let him
If he's touched you... I am an
Chiyo could hear footfalls again. It was a sound she was beginning to dislike more than she could rationalise. Some vague recollection within her scratched up some dull image of cream walls and a picture of a familiar smiling face, younger. She couldn't imagine why that memory frightened her so much.
The rocky, reddish floor before her seemed to be the best place to let her gaze hang. Her head swam. Arms raised back above her hurt. Fingers throbbed. She had no idea what had happened to her.
It was a long time, she remembered, since her hair had been this sweaty and matt. She hadn't lost all sight of herself. Easy to swallow and satisfy. She couldn't forget that part of her history, of her own.
For some reason, Chiyo knew that wasn't what she was, or did, or had, any longer. She was separate from that now. It was as though that part of her existence was torn away, thrown, discarded but not sorely missed. It was gone. She had been saved.
Why was her hair so matted?
Her saviour stood at her side, tall, in his winter cloak, eyes dark and more unfeeling than she recalled them being when they gazed at her. His hair had grown while she had slept. His face had tanned slightly, and looked more drawn, less silky than she was accustomed to. Still, he was beside her, gazing out at some menace trying to make his way over and attack her.
It was impossible to gaze at the red any longer. She had to watch where her saviour's bleak eyes watched. She had to see the intruder, the reason for her matted hair, the excuse for the scratches and struggles her body spoke to her of privately.
Chiyo looked up. Chiyo looked up and met the gaze of Sasuke.
He was a wonderful thing to watch. One moment he would slide so close to the rocky ground that she could imagine him as a snake, smooth and smart and deceitful and frightening. Then less than seconds later he would leap up, swinging his sword around deftly like some abstractly trained monkey, flying and spurring with the agility of a creature that would find its home in the air, completely comfortable without the floor beneath his feet. She didn't understand how he felt so safe flying like that, hair spilling like blood across eyes that lightened when they met her own, eyes that didn't care at the wounds pulling at flesh, eyes focussed and fluent and sunset scarlet.
Words struck her as she watched him dart toward her. The saviour at her side seemed to flinch as the other ebony wonder approached, slashed left and right with these huge purple things that she only just seemed to register.
What the hell...?
She couldn't bring herself to focus on them. All she could see was him, white and black and red and sleek, speeding toward her, spiralling and lunging and with something in his eyes that said more than she could imagine.
"You'll have the soft...you'll have...soft..."
She'd seen the sparkle in those eyes then, so alive, not the eyes of the man next to her. Where was she? How...how was she...?
Kicking and struggling against hands that moved and felt, with nails that glimmered and a face familiar but distant. Ebony, long hair, like a rat. Hot, sticky breath. Red eyes...red eyes glowed embers. Warm matted hair and thighs undulating in protest and unremitting, ugly joy. The most hideous betrayal. A body that tasted of mould and rot and a stinking intimacy. Smile. Smile of abuse. Smile of control. Smile of triumph.
Chiyo blinked, and fell out of the memory. She still wasn't sure what had happened, but she knew she was strung up here, by some sort of invisible cords around her wrists, with a man she hated breathing hard down her neck and the man she loved weaving in and out of the labyrinth of creatures in the depths of this hole. Pink hair flashed in the background. Sakura had come too. They'd come to save her. The light white material hanging loosely about her slim form felt cold and unnatural.
How had this happened?
The man beside her was no saviour. He was no saviour. The one darting toward her with a deep gash along the side of his face, crimson fresh flowing as he spun and dodged. He was getting closer, and fast.
His eyes lit up at her voice, and his face bled relief. She pulled at the chains (chakra, she assumed, now her senses seemed to be returning to her) about her wrists wildly, tearing and twisting her body desperately. The man beside her made no move to stop her. He stood still. The contrast between the brothers was terrifying. Itachi. So still. Did he have nothing to move for?
"Let me go you crazy bastard!"
She found her voice, and yanked at the chains, hard. Wild. She wondered at her own eyes. What did they look like? Like his? Or his?
He moved. More quickly than she could see. He was there, and gone, and suddenly blade crashed upon blade as the brothers met. Chiyo pulled at the chains. She had to break free. Because Sasuke – her Sasuke – needed her help.
With a low growl Sasuke forced his scarlet gaze, spinning with three well-developed tomoe, to meet that of his brother, bright and fiery as his own. Dealing with such a thing always terrified him, though he hated coming to terms with that. Too much damage had been done in the past from simply catching Itachi's gaze. There was always that gut-wrenching fear that he would be spiralled back to that awful day, that awful moment. And the guilt would come back. The blood would come back. The powerlessness would come back. And he would eight years old again before he knew it, incapable of helping his Chiyo, and shivering and snivelling while everyone around him fell to the floor.
So he had trained. He had trained his eyes up to Itachi's level. Breaking poor Naruto's neck, as much as he hated to reflect upon that moment, had been a blessing in disguise. It had pushed him forward. The Sharingan was under his control, and he could confidently (at least, he hoped) meet his brother's dark, cold eyes and stare him right back. A good attack is a good defence. He didn't need to fear Itachi's Mangekyou any longer.
From nowhere Itachi had pulled out a blade, only small but thick and study, and he defended against Sasuke's katana skilfully, dodging his attacks with that same emotionless glaze across his pale skin that the younger brother remembered. Itachi had always looked like a puppet when he fought. His eyes weren't really alive.
Plus, on top of his brother, he had Chiyo to think about. Nothing would please Sasuke more than to simply destroy Itachi right now, in a bloody battle to the death. But that would jeopardise the life of the girl in the chains. Not to mention Sakura and Shizune, and that damnable pig. And Naruto. And Edward. And Kakashi.
Of course, the great purple creatures sprouting up around the room weren't to go unnoticed either. They didn't seem to want to attack Itachi, but they readily grabbed his ankles as they rose from the ground, or wrapped their long, smoking limbs about his form, tying him down, locking his own limbs in ways that would hurt when pressed upon. Sasuke found it distinctly unfair that whenever he tried to attack them, their bodies dissipated to the extent that his blade would only slice through the air, but when they attacked him, their blades or claws found their mark directly. A frustrating situation.
The best option, to him, and probably to the rest of them, was to escape. With their lives and their quarry intact.
"Quarry,"Sasuke scoffed to himself as he brought his sword down in the direction of Itachi's head. "I haven't even rescued her yet. She's not quarry. She's still our target."
His blade was brushed aside as though it weighed a feather. He growled a little louder and spun on his heel.
"So, little brother," Itachi's voice flatly spoke out, "They've finally got you on medication?"
Confused, Sasuke took another swipe at him, not for a second letting the pretty, desperate woman out of the corner of his vision. The hate rose within him.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"The rattling in your pocket," the older brother offered up, dodging the sharp end of Sasuke's sword. He stabbed out with his kunai and Sasuke barely avoided it. "I assume it's a pot of pills."
The confusion vanished as Sasuke remembered the tablets Tsunade had given him. To stop his emotions getting the better of him. To stop the wings breaking out and splitting his back open.
"It's not your business, brother," he spat vehemently, skilfully forming the familiar hand signs while cutting down towards Itachi. His sword glinted in the purple lights and hues surrounding them. "I wouldn't worry about my mind if I were you, Itachi. You've done enough damage already."
Chidori shimmered down the blade, blue sparks flying back into Sasuke's face. The blue light overwhelmed the violets around them in chromatic stun, and a grim half smile twisted across his lips.
"I wanted to see why she fascinated you so, little brother."
Sasuke's scarlet eyes widened as Itachi's voice rattled from behind his left ear. Blinking, he focussed on the tip of his sword. Mud dripped down about the blade.
"A substitution…wait a second…fascinated??"
He wasn't quite quick enough to avoid the attack and Itachi's kunai lodged itself just above his right shoulder blade. The pain was nothing to him. He swung himself away, snarling, and the tablets Tsunade had offered him flew out of his pocket, coming to a stop mere inches from the struggling Chiyo.
It wasn't really a question as it fell out of his mouth. It was a hard, fast statement, a demand, and Sasuke's gaze bore into Itachi's, furious, questioning. A horrible feeling crept over him, one he didn't understand but one he remembered. It was that feeling he got whenever Itachi gained an upper hand.
Itachi smiled. He looked a little ruffled – Sasuke was glad his attacks had at least caused him to sweat a little. The tail of his long hair snaked about his shoulder.
"I must admit, I was sloppy. Unfinished business. That sort of stuff."
Sasuke's eyes narrowed further. "I couldn't imagine you'd be happy leaving the job unfinished. You were always a perfectionist"
"Indeed," Itachi nodded towards Chiyo, the thin little dress about her rumpled and dirty with the marks of the ground. "She is quite…pleasant. Is she not?"
"If you've touched her…"
Sasuke's bloodied knuckles whitened as he grasped the hilt of his blade.
"Of course, she has that prestigious Uchiha blood flowing through her body," Itachi continued, not looking in the least perturbed by the glares Sasuke was throwing him. Sasuke was vaguely aware of Sakura throwing her fist through one of the purple creatures confidently.
"So it's no surprise to me that she's so attractive."
Sasuke had taken all he could stand. In a flash he was beside his brother again, sword flashing terribly and ignoring the purple thing weaving about his waist and trying to slow him down. Before Itachi could register the movement he found a sharp blade pressing into the pale white flesh of his neck, and his younger brother breathing hard into the back of his head.
"Much as I hate to admit that I give a damn about what you think or do, Itachi," Sasuke hissed, pushing the blade in threateningly, "If you've hurt that woman; if you've laid one dirty damned finger on her…"
"You'll do what, little Sasuke?" Itachi's gaze strayed to the girl. "You'll kill me? I thought you were already going to do that. I have nothing to lose even if I have touched her. I die either way, according to your declarations. Make up your mind, little brother."
He lost focus for a moment, and Sasuke's blade lost all tension. He caught sight of Chiyo, her slender wrists straining against a force that his Sharingan eyes could pick up as red chakra. That bastard had her tied up. Who knew what he'd done to her?
He was facing his brother. Their eyes locked. And Sasuke found himself surrounded by that sinking feeling he dreaded so very much, that threw images of scarlet fathers and lifeless mothers and broken windows and salted frightened tears and fear that stilled and scared and stopped the heart and
It was over. His knees were weak. His breath came in ragged, torn gasps. His eyes burned. His head felt too heavy for his body. Sasuke fell to his knees heavily, shaking hands clutching at the ebony fabric of his brother's cloak. He felt as though the air had been pumped out of his lungs.
"Tell me…" he choked, turning his eyes towards Chiyo, bathed in the white thin fabric hanging about her slim form, arms raised, hair tumbling about her face like some dirty broken angel. He refused to take his eyes from her.
"Tell me you didn't."
Itachi watched his younger brother with blank eyes.
"Two creatures, both with the same cursed blood, the same deep, dirty secrets, Sasuke. How do you think it would have worked between the two of you?"
He shook his head. He was eight years old again.
"You don't understand…"
"I understand perfectly, little brother. The Uchiha clan is not meant to continue into future generations. I cannot allow you to create a new generation. I will not allow your happiness. Nor hers."
Sasuke could feel the broken silver tears burning his eyes. The red slipped away. His sword dropped to the ground. The images burned harder than the tears.
Kicking and struggling against hands that moved and felt, with nails that glimmered and a face familiar but distant. Ebony, long hair, like a rat. Hot, sticky breath. Red eyes...red eyes glowed embers. Warm matted hair and thighs undulating in protest and unremitting, ugly joy. The most hideous betrayal. A body that tasted of mould and rot and a stinking intimacy. Smile. Smile of abuse. Smile of control. Smile of triumph.
There is an old clock in the corner. He doesn't know why. It's a cave! Why a clock? The time reads eight – twenty – three.
He is sick. Again. Again. Again.
His shoulder throbbed violently, and his stomach turned. He barely stopped himself vomiting.
"Why a clock?"
He could hear Sakura calling him, her voice sweet and pleasant and reminding him of a place that sometimes he would kill to return to.
"Why a clock? WHY a clock?!?"
Sasuke smothered a sob with some difficulty. What he had just seen – a brand new worst nightmare. Nearby Chiyo continued to struggle against the chains.
"Why a clock? I need a pill. It's starting up. They're pushing. Why a clock? God, my Chiyo. My woman. He…he…I need a pill…"
Somehow he found his hand stretching out towards the small phial of tablets. Itachi watched him coldly. The pills were metres away. There was no chance.
"What are the pills for, Sasuke?" he asked quietly, seemingly ignoring the mauve glows streaming in and about them, seeming not at all bothered by his pink haired comrade and the medical ninja Shizune. They posed the great Itachi no threat.
"Who am I kidding? I don't even pose him a threat."
His throat felt like it was closing over.
"Was it for anger, little Sasuke?" came that cold, calm voice. "Was it to stop your mind spinning out of control, like it always used to? Was it to stop you running blindly into situations you can't handle?"
Sasuke shuddered. His back scorched. He wanted to get to his feet. He wanted to rip his dirty head off. He wanted…all he wanted was the little Chiyo, and her cute face, and her nice smelling hair, and that little freckle on her torso…
"Why a clock?"
His head throbbed.
"My Chiyo…what has she been through? What….
A frown crossed the older brother's face, and he stepped back, uncertain for once.
"I don't see why you care so much."
"This whole world is stone…God…you're so hard…
I know why a clock I know…
The air is choking me…and he is delighting in me and I despair left and right and God can't you make me not care??
I've had all I can take…
I'm declining the fall…
The colours are fading…"
"After all..." Itachi's voice. "She's only a whore."
The light is a trick.
Because our time is up.
He made our time be up."
Chiyo stopped struggling. Sakura, about to bring her fist to the ground and cause a quake, paused, trembling. Shizune, kunai interlaced between her slender fingers, turned at the sound. Even Itachi stepped away, face masked in almost fear. The purple things, the ones that Sakura's sharp mind told her were indeed Shikome, fizzed and burned in the air but ceased to battle as Sasuke's cry wracked the walls of the dark underground cave they were in. It took Sakura back, back to the Forest of Death, to too many years ago when Sasuke had clutched at her hand as Orochimaru bit deep into his neck and cursed him, to the stanching smell of foliage and dried up river beds and weary fear. She turned toward the sound, eyes wide and shimmering against the amethyst glow of the cave. The man she had loved (and probably still did, although that beat was fading further and further into a blaze of snarled blond and gold) was knelt on the stony ground, fingers grinding the reddish soil beneath them, face furied into that helpless grimace that she remembered well.
Instinct kicked in as his outcry resounded. Sakura leaped forwards, heart racing, feet finding their way securely to his shivering form. Itachi seemed to only want watch, his cold eyes (as cold as she could recall she had ever seen them) staring in some sort of apprehension. He knew nothing of what was happening.
Sakura skidded to a halt beside Sasuke and knelt beside him, taking in the steadily growing red patches on both of his shoulder blades as well as the small wound inflicted by Itachi's kunai. What was happening?
She met Itachi's gaze fearlessly, her anger and passion driving her boldness.
"What have you done you psychopathic loser? More mind games, huh?"
She spat the words fierily, furiously, her slender arms wrapping about Sasuke like a mother protecting her child. She could see the agony on his face.
"Answer me! Itachi!"
His voice sounded gritty and came through clenched white teeth. She listened intently, her heart tearing.
"Can you get out of here without me?"
She nodded, her pink hair tatty and dirty. "Yes. Shizune and I are capable of taking care of ourselves. But Sasuke, what--"
"Pull the cave down. Open the ceiling."
She was dumbstruck for a second. What was he asking of her? How on earth did he plan to get out?
"Sakura, please…just…" His breath was gasping, and Sakura frowned. There was something going on here that she could not understand.
Sakura knew that, even if she hated him, she would always attempt to help him in any way that she could. It was worth the exhaustion, worth the grimy hair and lacklustre eyes, if she could gain his approval, if she could just see him smile.
"Whatever it takes..."
She smiled down at him. She remembered that vow in the bathroom. Her hair was grimy. Her eyes were tired. Her body ached.
"Sure, Sasuke. I'll trust you."
He couldn't look at her, and she longed to embrace him, even though he wasn't hers. He managed a small not, and she saw a smile grace the weakest corners of his lips.
She nodded and stood, her legs tired and stiff. Shaking fingers brushed strands of hair from her eyes, bright, even though they were weary. She glared straight into Itachi's face.
"Do you remember me, Itachi?"
His face, as usual, was non-responsive. He simply answered in that cold, emotionless manner.
"I remember your fists."
Sakura smirked. "Good. We're taking a little trip down memory lane."
And before Itachi could dodge it successfully Sakura's chakra-blown fist crashed down into the ground.
Chiyo watched with baited breath. The chains holding her arms above her head were causing her fingers to ache and wrists to numb. She was cold too. But more important than any of her bodily needs at that moment was her Sasuke, keeled over, hunched in suffering, his beautiful face scrunched up as blood blossomed onto his back. Little comfort was held in the fact that Sakura stood beside him – Chiyo wanted to comfort him, wanted to hold him and smile at him and remind him of the promises she had made him. She wanted to cradle him till the rain passed. If she could, she wanted to protect him from his brother.
Passion flared within her once again and she rattled the chains insistently.
Her voice was stronger than she remembered. The pills in the container beside her rattled suddenly as Sakura's fist met the ground. The soil seemed to tunnel toward the evil Uchiha in the room, caterpillaring and chasing him. He seemed unperturbed, but leaped out of the way of Sakura's tremendous attack calmly, landing in a safer spot a few metres away. The smoking creatures ebbing in the room were disturbed and screeched, their hollow lungs filling the quivering room. Rocks began to slip and fall from above. Some senbon flew towards Itachi and he barely dodged them, obviously slightly more rattled than he wanted to let on. Shizune instantly launched into a more violent attack, hurling shuriken at him as he moved to and fro to save his skin, and Sakura followed up with raising the ground wherever he landed. He scrambled out of the way and Chiyo took a savage sense of happiness in his disjointed movements. The ceiling caved further.
Suddenly the pressure about her wrists slacked and fell, and she glanced up, shocked. Sasuke stood above her, hair hanging into his face dejectedly, breathing heavily. She wasn't scared. He didn't frighten her.
"Sorry it's so late," he said, sweat glinting across the edges of his face, a slit wound on his cheek leaking southwards across the dirty, once ivory skin. "I'm sorry…about everything…"
She frowned. He had nothing to apologise for that she knew of. After a moment she smiled at him. "It's all right. Everything will be all right."
His eyes looked a little far away. They didn't have the stars in them that she was used to seeing. The colour was faded from them, and they were a dull grey. She didn't understand why he was in so much pain.
"Sasuke, what's wrong? Why--"
He clumsily swept her up into his arms, staggering a little under the increase in weight.
"I'm taking you home, Chiyo."
The far away look confused her.
"This world is stone."
"You're going to run, in this state?" she asked quietly, taking quiet comfort in the feel of his strong arms about her body. He took one quick look around at his team mates, at Sakura, chasing Itachi fervently, and Shizune backing her up with skilful assaults and well aimed weapons. The ceiling was creaking and the purple creatures recoiled as though afraid the falling rocks could damage them. Sasuke smiled.
"We're going to fly."
Chiyo paled, and the pieces fit together as loudly as the rocks tumbling to the ground. A cold light was starting to filter through the ceiling in a myriad of winter, in a thunderous chrome. The ridges on his back. The pills that had rolled out. The blood on her lover's back. The pain on his face.
"We're going to fly."
Before she could protest Sasuke had taken a running leap into the air, and there was a horrible tearing of fabric as two huge grey wings, shaped like clawed fingers, burst from his back and found flight upon the chilling morning air. They hurtled towards the crumbling ceiling alarmingly quickly, and Chiyo found herself looking downwards, down to the faces turned up at them, to Itachi's angry shock, to Sakura's surprise, to Shizune's panic. The stifling air of the cave whipped through the material of the thin dress clinging to her and she shivered. The rocks continued to fall all around them as Sakura's punches left cracks in the structure of the cave, cracks that crept and twined up the walls and into the roof. As Chiyo looked down she saw globules of scarlet blood falling from Sasuke's body down onto the floor below. She had no idea how badly injured his back was. From the grimace set across his features, hatching wings was no easy procedure.
"Hold on," he offered her, clutching her tightly as they hurtled upwards. His body seemed to wrap about her for a moment, and there was a tumultuous rocking and shuddering as Sasuke crashed the two of them through the thin layer of rock remaining of the ceiling. They erupted out into the snowy morning like a geezer in the poles, and their flight path seemed dangerously jeopardised by the impact of slamming through the rocks. They stumbled in the air, dipping hazardously and tumbling down for a few seconds before Sasuke gathered his strength and pushed them upwards again with a huge beat of the frightening grey wings. Chiyo wrapped her arms about his neck. The cold air bit at them, and she trembled, from the fear, the cold, and her worry for Sasuke. His face was set in terrible determination, but glazed, weary.
"Sasuke!" she shouted over the wind rushing past them. The sky was grey, spotted with cracks of bright sunlight that reflected on the icy snow beneath. If she watched their trail, she could see his blood spattering on the ground as they whirled along. "Stop! Rest! Let me treat your wounds!"
He shook his head faintly, and she could almost feel the effort he had to summon in order to reply to her.
"Not till…we're back…in Konoha…"
Her face creased with worry, and she attempted to quieten the beating of her heart. She hoped she wasn't too heavy for Sasuke to carry her. It was a long way to Konoha. She doubted he could make it, but eventually fatigue would cause him to stop. She didn't understand the haste. She didn't understand much about what was happening. All she knew was that the man she loved was badly hurt, bleeding so much that any second he could drop from the sky, but was determined to get them back to the place he had promised her was a safe house, a sanctuary. Konoha.
They were going home.
Tsunade growled. She hated paperwork, and the roof was leaking again. The dripping made her head spin. The text made her thirsty. In a way, she missed Shizune and her strict orders. She had no motivation to do her work if she didn't have that woman snapping at her heels.
She definitely needed a drink.
The beautiful Hokage stood and stumbled out from behind her intimidating oak desk, yawning and stretching her arms. The sentry at the door looked at her with surprise written upon his features.
"Lady Hokage, you're done with those papers already?"
Tsunade was about to come up with a decent excuse when a tremendous crash snapped her thoughts. Spinning back to her desk, she inhaled in shock when she saw it was broken right in half, split down the centre. Her face blanched when she saw the cause.
A frightened Chiyo Uchiha lay still, wrapped up solidly in the arms of ex-criminal Sasuke Uchiha. Her face was white and she was trembling, probably more from the cold, and her limp hair clung dejectedly to her slim face. Clouds hung heavy over Konoha and the rain laughed down at them. Her white dress (Tsunade had no idea where that thing had come from) had turned almost transparent in the heavy downpour. The Shinobi Uchiha lay still about her, gasping violently, blood matted across his back amongst the two huge wings that Tsunade remembered doing a beautiful job healing. He was paler than the girl, and trembled too, probably from blood loss more than from the cold. The rain flooded in from the hole in the roof. The little bucket set up by faithful Shizune had been knocked over and a little puddle of water collected at its rim. They had knocked the clock off its mantelpiece, too. The roof was destroyed.
As Tsunade watched, Sasuke attempted to raise himself by his forearms, his wings hanging lifelessly across his back and drooping onto the floor of her office. He didn't get far; the blood loss had taken too much of a toll. Chiyo watched him for a moment before wriggling out from his grasp, unintentionally displaying to the Hokage the bind marks across both of her wrists. She crawled to Sasuke's side as his arms collapsed and he hit the floor hard, eyes squinting together in exhaustion and wrapped herself about him, fingers running gently through his dirty hair and along his pallid face.
"I got her back, Tsunade," his voice cracked out, muffled and telling Tsunade instantly that he was on the verge of unconsciousness. "Mission completed…"
The sentry's face was a perfect picture of shock a Tsunade hurriedly made her way over to the two young Uchihas. She knelt and offered her green jacket to the soaking Chiyo, who took it and instantly threw it over Sasuke, her pretty face masked with worry and weariness, tears spilling over and out.
"Where is the rest of your team, Uchiha?" Tsunade barked, needing answers as to the whereabouts of her ninja despite understanding how tired the prodigy was. How far had he flown with those things? What on earth had they gone through?
"I'm not sure, you old bag," Sasuke replied, opening the one eye that she could see just a crack. "Tell you one thing though…"
Tsunade's heart raced. What news did he bring? Death? Poison? Kidnap? Torture? Where were her Shinobi?
A smile trickled up his pale lips.
"You're gonna need a new roof."
His eye closed. The rain thundered through the thatch. The storm roared on. The broken clock fell silent and ticked its last.
Sherby: At long last! This twenty-two page bugger is finished! I'm SORRY for the slowest update ever – I have SO much uni work on that it's unbelievable! So the next update may be slow, but I'll make it another big one if I can! Have pity on poor Sherby! It's HALF THREE IN THE MORNING!!!! And I have an essay in on Monday! (it's now Saturday morning). And it has to be good! ARGGGHH!!!
Hope you liked. Sorry about typing/spelling errors. I don't have a beta, AND I'm typing for the first time with false nails on :P hahaha!
Review me please my darlings!
God bless xxxxxxxxx