Note: Sorry about the confusion regarding the original "Death's Claim" post (it was a draft from another story that was never deleted from FFnet's servers. That was an uploading error on my part). Thanks go to Metal Overload for revising this and clarifying some aspects of canon for me. Couldn't have made this fic sound as good without your help.

This brief one-shot is dark. You have been warned.

-x-

It was ironic, really.

Or maybe just coincidence.

After all, things hadn't been planned this way. She was the best of the Hajin-mon clan; she had been assigned the duty of tracking down the traitor. What was it that Genra-sama had said to her mere minutes before she left the village?

"There is no reason for her to return to the clan. Please dispose of the traitor."

Genra-sama had trusted her, appointed her as the best warrior in the entire Hajin-mon district to hunt down the runaway shinobi.

Yet...

She hadn't been able to do so. Supposedly she was the best Hajin-mon kunoichi. Supposedly she was better than the rest of her peers, at least in that particular branch. Supposedly she was meant to be Kasumi's equal.

Supposedly.

But she just hadn't been able to kill the girl yet. Kasumi was always just one step ahead of her – a little faster, a little stronger, a little more tactical. Even when it seemed like Ayane had finally succeeded, something would happen, whether it be an appropriately-timed back-flip, a shuriken miss by mere inches allowing for distraction, even the occasional plea from Kasumi herself to just end this, and the runaway shinobi would seize the slim opportunity and flee into the nearby trees.

"You can't keep running forever!" Ayane had shouted at her, mocking her. The words echoed through the branches at the sunlight began to fade, indicating another day was nearing its end. Another day with yet another failed attempt.

But Kasumi had been able to keep running so far, somehow evading everything that was thrown at her.

Until one day came, and Ayane had entered the clearing just in time to see Kasumi fall to the ground. For a second, she froze on a tree branch; her legs still tensed to spring herself towards the traitor.

Kasumi hadn't fallen directly to the ground; years of training had honed her skills so much that she instinctively caught herself to prevent a serious fall, but the damage had already been done.

A shuriken sticking out between her shoulder blades, blood dripping down her back.

Ayane leapt down from the tree, never taking her eyes off the silver glint of metal that had dealt the fatal blow to Kasumi.

Even at this distance, it was obvious how painful breathing had become for the older girl, her breath coming in hitched gasps, her body kneeling down in the dirt, her muscles starting to convulse.

Ayane took slow steps towards her and stopped when Kasumi slowly, painfully turned around to meet her gaze. Ayane opened her mouth to say something, but then her eyes were drawn back to the deadly object on her half-sister's back, and words failed her.

"Aya... ne..." Kasumi choked out, specks of blood coating her lips. "I can't..."

Still Ayane said nothing, but instead reached down and unsheathed her tanto, her face expressionless. The sound of metal being drawn filled the quiet clearing, and then the blade was placed against the shinobi's throat. Lingering.

"No escape for you," Ayane murmured, her grip tightening on the handle as she held the weapon to her opponent's throat. Her death was close, but if Ayane could just end it now... she might still get rewarded for finishing the death penalty... and Kasumi's blood would finally be on her hands...

Kasumi closed her eyes, her body swaying slightly. For a long, long moment, silence filled the atmosphere, and Ayane found her body immobilised again.

So close.

She could do it.

This was her opportunity.

This was her only chance.

Her fingers seemed frozen to the hilt and she was aware of her body shaking slightly. For god's sake, the traitor was dying anyway! It would be so much easier to pierce her throat with the blade and watch her blood soak into the ground.

How much easier would it be to just end it now.

Instead, Ayane found herself hesitating. Already knowing it was too late, already knowing the deed was already done, already knowing Kasumi was facing the death sentence in front of her very eyes.

It was useless.

For a moment, unquenchable rage filled her as she realized someone else had done the task for her. Someone else had beaten her to it, thrown the deadly weapon, and somehow managed to strike where it would be most fatal. Someone else had finished her job before she was done, before she wanted to be done.

It was too late.

Fuck, she had just been too damn late.

The one chance she had to prove she was worthy, the one thing Genra asked of her, the one opportunity to show she was better than Kasumi... and she had failed. Not deliberately, of course, but she was the one ninja they had entrusted to track down the traitor, to take the life-force of the one who had betrayed them all.

Her task had been finished for her, and all she could do was observe the death penalty in all its glorified irony. The penalty that should have been hers to execute. It just wasn't fucking fair, it wasn't right that someone else had managed to complete it first. She had wanted to be the one to spill Kasumi's blood and watch the life drain from her eyes, she had wanted to be the one to drive that weapon into the girl's back and watch her bleed to death.

But at least the traitor was going to die.

Ayane dropped the sword, barely hearing the dull thunk as it clattered against the dirt. Kasumi just knelt there, staring at her, blood running down her chin, her skin pale. Ayane slowly met her gaze, taking a deep breath to say something, anything, before Kasumi spoke. Her words sounded sluggish, almost raspy from the intense bleeding, but still, they were distinguishable enough.

"It ends here."

The purple-haired kunoichi simply gave her a curt nod of acknowledgement, and turned to get up. But Kasumi wasn't quite done yet.

"Ayane?"

Ayane did not face her, but her body stiffened as she waited.

"You... you won."

"Have I?"

-x-

Written: May 11th, 2008.

I've always wanted to see how Ayane would react if someone had beaten her to the task of executing Kasumi. Hence this fic.