Disclaimers: Refer to the first page.
A/N: I'm so sorry for the late update. My computer crashed and I had just gotten it reformatted yesterday. Been in a gloom so couldn't even find the mood to rewrite this chapter. Luckily it's not damaged. By the way, a lot of you voted for Shin, which I'm very happy with, cause it means you love my OC. (Smiles widely) To know how this story ends though, you will have to read till the end. Before I forget, your vote is only for survey, so please don't expect the pairing to end the way you want, ok? On with the story...
The hue of sunset shed an orangey tinge over the plane. Dusk had been compared to sadness for centuries due to the melancholy atmosphere it produced. It was the time many living creatures returned to their nests after a trying day of survival, including humans. However, looking at the vigorous villagers that dotted the surface of Earth, it was hard to imagine that they were anything but busy.
Flocks of black birds flew over the area either looking for food or returning to their shelters. The sounds they made were swallowed by the wind, long lost before reaching the ground.
Far up the mountain, where carved the faces of all the Hokage of Konoha, two figures stood facing each other in silence, neither noticed when the gentle wind caressed their selves, their hair dancing to the tune of the breeze and their clothes waltzing along.
Emperor stared into the pair of Sharingan eyes, unsure of what his next course of action should be. He had to resort to chanting in his head that he was not Uzumaki Naruto but Emperor. He knew he should just ignore the unwanted presence and walked away, which was what he had been about to do before he saw him, but he couldn't force his legs to move. They refused to follow the orders from his chaotic mind, having a will of their own to simply remain rooted to the spot.
In the space of the time his inner struggles occurred, the Uchiha survivor had walked over and was already standing just a couple of inches next to him. Emperor forced himself to give a curt nod and walked away. Just as when his leg finally successfully fought against the force of gravity, the future Hokage's voice stopped him in his track.
"It's so deceptively peaceful from up here."
Retracting, Emperor turned around to look at the scenery before them. "There is no peace where lives are." It was said with a calm tone, showing his conviction in his own words.
Silence settled between them. Only the howls of the wind could be heard. It stretched for a full minute before broken.
"I had thought of many different scenarios of us meeting again."
"But none consists of you as the guard of another village."
"Welcome back." Sasuke turned sideway to stare at the still figure beside him, a ghost of a smirk on his mouth. "Dobe," he added.
It was a whisper. A very soft whisper that was immediately carried away by the wind. But not before reaching Emperor's sensitive ears.
Emperor stirred at the familiar nickname. He decided to ignore it and focused on the rest of the sentence. "Back?" Emperor's eyes met the Sharingan with one of his eyebrow lifted. "Here?"
Even though there was no expression on the guard of Kagekagure's face nor was there anything to indicate his feelings on the sentence Sasuke uttered, somehow, Sasuke still managed to catch the unvoiced sarcasm. The smirk faded from his face. He turned away from the emotionless visage. He knew with all of his essence that the man beside him was the same Dobe that had stupidly tried to stop him 13 years ago. He might look completely different and his personalities seemed to be poles apart from olden days, but he just knew that he was Naruto, his Dobe. He would recognize him no matter how much he changed. Yet….. "I have not given up on my revenge."
There was no reply.
"But I have learned my lesson."
Sasuke did not give up. "Revenge is still important to me. Someday, I will kill him." His fists tightened at his own vow.
Still more silence.
Sasuke looked straight into the blue eyes that whispered of so much suffering. "But not at the expense of my own future." He turned away from the alien face back to the scenery stretched below.
"I had never believed you were dead," Sasuke whispered suddenly. "I know we will meet somewhere someday."
Emperor stared, not an ounce of emotion on his face or in his eyes.
"I knew I would be able to recognize you no matter how much you would have changed." Sasuke's eyes meet the pair of cold blue straight on. "I lo…."
"I'm not Uzumaki Naruto," Emperor cut him off quickly. This time, it was him that looked away. "From the report I received, he was dead thirteen years ago." He needed to leave! Now! The first step was the hardest but he made it. Two steps….three….four…. After the tenth, he stopped. Even without turning back to take a look, he knew that the main survivor of the Uchiha clan would have his back to him, looking at the village below them. "Forget the dead," he threw the advice at the other man, never once looking back.
The softening sounds of footsteps walking away reached his ears. When he felt the presence gone, he closed his eyes.
It was Naruto. Of this, he was sure. Yet….
A weary sigh escaped. His eyes opened. "I need to get back."
A short distance from the edge of the mountain, a large boulder stood firmly, hiding the man behind it.
A pair of hands was fisted so tightly the nails had sunk into the palms. A few drops of blood dripped onto the ground.
A thin trail of blood trickled down the corner of the man's mouth; it was from the cut made by his own teeth.
Shin's body was shaking as if in cold. However the faint killing aura stated otherwise. He was so focused on the sight before him to notice his condition.
Shin felt a warm hand landing on his shoulder. He knew who it was. Immediately, he relaxed his muscles. The mad swirling of the comas in his eyes stopped before disappearing. He turned around, dislodging the hand. "You gave me a scare, Itsuki," he said with a teasing tone.
Itsuki's eyes narrowed with worries. He stared at the ever-present smile on Shin's face. His eyes landed upon the thin trail of blood at the corner of the silver-haired man.
"Aa…This?" Shin wiped off the blood. "Just a shallow wound."
At the action, Itsuki saw the condition Shin's hands were in. He let out an audible sigh. "Drop the act." He started healing the wounds, never looking straight at his patient.
Uneasy silence cocooned the two as the healing process begun. As the last of the wounds closed, leaving behind no trace of it, Itsuki took a step back, putting a more comfortable distance between them. He knew that Shin would only truly take off his thick layers of masks in the presence of Emperor. Even that was very rare as well.
At that moment, the future Hokage of Konoha came into their lines of vision. Both Shin and Itsuki stared at him; Shin with a smile and Itsuki a nod.
It was clear when Sasuke noticed them. His step hesitated a millisecond. His body stiffened a little. His eyes narrowed slightly. He recovered fast though. Ignoring the two foreigners, he walked away with his head held high, his steps sure – as arrogant as ever.
However, inside of him was another story. He could not believe that he did not notice the two men. Had he been so preoccupied? Had his skills deteriorated so much from all the meetings he was forced to attend and the paperwork he had to do? Or were the two men above his level? Neither possibilities sat well with him. "I need to train," he muttered under his breath. His strides became determined.
As the back of the Uchiha disappeared from their views, Itsuki continued staring at the empty space. "I saw him following Emperor."
Shin leaned casually against the surface of the boulder.
"I saw you as well." Itsuki turned his attention back to his companion.
Shin's smile widened. He could hear the unspoken accusation. "But you still chose to tag along."
"I was worried." Itsuki sighed heavily. "I still am," he added softly, almost to himself.
Silence followed the admission.
"Do you think he knows?"
Shin did not need to ask who 'he' was or what this 'he' knew. He raised his right eyebrow slightly, as if asking, 'Do you even need to ask?'
"I wonder why he allowed us to continue spying on him."
"Saa…" Shin raised his smiling face to look at the tiny black dots flying up high in the sky; his smile indicated a plot running through his head.
Itsuki gave Shin a look that warned of danger. "Don't, Shin. We should not interfere. Emperor will make his own decision."
Shin maintained the scary smile for a few seconds before it visibly turned sad. "I won't interfere." Even as much as I want to.
Itsuki stared at the smiling face before him. After so many years, he still did not understand Shin. A sigh escaped his lips. "We have better head back."
Together, both men strolled leisurely down the mountain, through the market, back to the Hyuuga estate.
When they were some distance away from the prying eyes of the villagers, Itsuki suddenly stopped Shin in a deserted clearing.
Shin's smile never dropped. He stared questioningly at the other man.
"Do you love him?"
If Shin was shocked by the sudden question, he did not show it. "Saa…..Do you?"
Itsuki stiffened. Did he? He stared into the eyes of the devil before him as if searching for something. In the end, he averted his gaze.
"He is the reason I lived and still continue living. I…love him…." Itsuki looked away from the sharp eyes of his companion. "….like family…" he ended the sentence faintly. Turning abruptly away from Shin, he said in a strained voice, "I'll go first." With that, he picked up his pace, leaving Shin behind. The heat of his stare burned his back but he dared not look back.
When the Hyuuga mansion came into vision, he slowed down. A smile here, a smile there, finally, he was in the room assigned to him. As soon as the door closed behind him, all pretence of politeness disappeared. He dropped onto the soft bed and flung his right arm over his forehead, covering his eyes from view.
A drop of shiny tear escaped, trailing down, disappearing into his hair and onto the bed, making a darker path on the cover.
"………….." His lips moved but no sound was produced. It was a sentence from the deepest part of his heart. It never reached the owner's ears, lost before voiced.
Silence. It echoed through the whole island. It rang in everyone's ears. It was deafening. Even Mother Nature seemed to hold her breath, waiting.
With the hundreds of people gathered in the centre of the on-going constructions, it was a miracle that they could be so silent.
Confusion was thick in the air surrounding these people. Something had happened and none of them knew how to react.
Emperor stood on the make-shift stage, looking out at the crowd before him calmly. After what he had just announced, he should feel like a lamb waiting for execution. Instead, he felt nothing but calmness. In fact, there was not even an ounce of anxiety in him. Was it because he was confident? Or was it because he already knew the outcome? It was neither. The reason was simple; he could not bring himself to care. He had an ambition and he was going to succeed……….no matter the price.
A glance around would reveal the state the new town was in; it was in the middle of construction. On this very island he had founded. It had been a year since he had taken over this village. It was a very long one year but they had come far. In this one year time, Kagegakure had become a liveable place for them. Soon it would be more than just liveable.
Emperor looked straight at the villagers. "As I announced before, I used to be Uzumaki Naruto, the jinchuuriki of the nine-tailed fox demon, Kyuubi. Although it's no longer inside of me, it's still very much tied to my close, and thus, to me." He made a thorough sweep of all the people gathered. None of them looked away. "I'm telling you this not because I hope for your understanding nor am I asking for your forgiveness for a non-existing wrong-doing. I stand here today, entrusting you with my secret. I'm asking you whether you can continue to trust me to lead you to a better future."
Still nothing. Not a verbal answer. Nor a look of disgust. Only uneasiness showed in their stances.
"No matter what, I'll follow you to the end of the world," finally someone spoke up. It was Takumi. He stood bravely out of the crowd and knelt down in a submissive stance.
Seeing a young child being so assertive in his decision, the others followed suit. Soon, one by one, the crowd knelt down. Before long, not a single person remained standing except for Emperor. Even Shin and Itsuki had knelt down.
It was a historical moment that would be remembered for many decades to come. It should be one to be celebrated. There should be shouts of joy. Yet all that happened was a nod from Emperor, the centre of all attention.
"Why did you choose to tell them? You could have kept everything silent. No one would find out."
Emperor turned at the voice. In the dimly-lit room, he could not make out the other's expression but he knew he would be smiling. "I have seen what secrets could do. A secret had a way of coming out when you least expect it. I do not plan to build a village just to have it ruined."
Emperor stared horrified at the scene before him. In the months he had travelled with Itsuki, he had seen many horrors, but this was the first time he saw a mother killing her own son.
In front of him was a woman who used to be so gentle, warm and loving, not only to her husband and son, but also them, guests she had invited to stay with her family out of the kindness of her heart.
However, that woman seemed to have disappeared into thin air, leaving behind a shell of whom she used to be. Her head lifted woodenly. Her hollow eyes stared at them unseeingly. "I loved him so much. Why? Why did he turn out to be the murderer of my parents? I gave myself to him. I bore him a son. I hate myself."
The sentences were said so calmly. Emperor was rooted to the spot.
"I killed them. The both of them. One was my husband but also my worst enemy. I had sworn upon my parents' graves that I will avenge them should I ever find out who killed them and avenge them I did."
Emperor forced the question through the stone that seemed to have lodged itself firmly in his throat. "What about Kisuke? He's your son, an innocent baby."
"His blood flowed in his veins. I was only trying to wash it away." A crazy smile had attached itself onto the face of the once beautiful woman.
Emperor said nothing. He stared at the blood of both the man and the baby, their bodies bathed in the crimson liquid. He directed at his stare back at the ugly demon in front of him whose hands and body was soaked by the evidence of her sins.
Tears streamed down the woman's face. Sanity returned and with it, unparalleled agony. "What have I done? Kisuke…." She stared frozen at the corpse that used to be her vibrant baby son. Mechanically, she reached for the knife still stuck in the small body and pulled it out.
Emperor only watched as the pitiful woman finally committed her last act of sin on Earth. He watched as she drew her last breath. He did not know how much time had passed but he never moved from his position until…..
A gasp rang loudly behind Emperor. He turned around slowly to find Itsuki's face filled with horror. He gave no explanation, only one sentence.
"Secrets have the worst way of coming out when you least expected them."
It was only a couple of days later that they found out the whole story from the villagers.
Five years ago, the village suffered greatly from a terrible plague. It attacked the old and weak, giving them an agonizingly slow kiss of death. Many died. There was nothing any of the healers in the village could do.
At that time, more than half of the population were away from the village. Akiko was one of them. She left behind her wizened parents in the village. Her husband, who was still recovering from a fierce fever, promised to look after them.
It was not long after the plague stroke that her parents contracted the disease. From that day onwards, there was no peace in the small hut. It was always filled with their moans of pains, mingling with those of the other victims in the village.
Finally, Akiko's weak mother could not stand it anymore and begged her son-in-law to release her from this torture. Days after days she begged, joined in by the pleas of her equally suffering husband.
Benjiro did not have the heart to watch them suffer for a longer period of time because he knew their ends were near. None of the others had survived, so how could they when they were already so old and weak in the first place. In the end, he granted them their wish.
Their bodies were burned with the rest. Months later, the village was finally free from the evil but the effects remained. None of them could forget what they had resorted to in the end; it seemed Benjiro wasn't the only one to commit merciful killing.
By the time Akiko and the rest of the villagers came back, they were told of the plague but not the whole story. It would have been the end of the issue if not for a few that could not live with their guilt. They committed suicide after spilling the secret of the horrors they had done.
In such a small place, words got around. It wasn't long before Akiko heard about it. However, she had never suspected her own husband and Benjiro kept it a secret for all these years. Just when he thought everything would be fine, it came back to hound him.
It was a mystery how Akiko found out and it would probably always remain one.
Till today, he couldn't help but think of the possible endings if Benjiro had just confessed.
To be continued...
A/N: Can you please review and tell me what you think of this chapter? Some of you commented that you do not have enough background on how Sasuke had changed to vote. So, after this chapter, what do you think?