Disclaimer: See the first chapter.

AN: Bet you thought this was dead. But yeah, I reiterate. RL is a bitch. (And the manga has completely screwed my plot for this, but hey. What the heck. It's an AU for a reason.)

It's me! It's me the fauna's fleeing. Nothing'll keep still.
My adrenalin moves Nature now and not God's heavenly will.
Lean closer as the darkness grows. My vision's fogged by breath
Clouding up the window as life's clouded up by death.

The Death of the PWD Man
Tony Harrison


The Dark

The valley had stretched on for what seemed like forever, but they had finally reached its end. In front of them a sheer wall of black granite stretched up to the sky, almost blocking out the sun. At their feet, though, the earth had fallen away leaving a gaping black hole that made Sakura think of a giant mouth waiting to swallow them up forever. A thin waterfall plummeted into it from the top of the cliff, roaring its way down and soaking them with a fine spray of rainbow mist. It was beautiful. She hadn't realised, before this mission, that Wind Country could be so lovely. Oh, she'd hated the trek through the desert but the oasis and the sunsets and this…

She glanced sideways at Temari and saw the other kunoichi was smiling. Her chin was lifted and her lips were curled with pride, and Sakura realised that Temari was proud of this: the hidden spots of beauty that her country concealed in its endless sands.

"It's a dead end," Naruto said. Sakura sighed inwardly. Naruto was sweet, but he definitely had no appreciation for natural beauty. It was either that or he was too exhausted by the difficult journey and the tension that hung over them to care.

"We go down there," Hidan said.

They all stared at him incredulously. He looked back at them, a pale eyebrow raised and a wicked smirk on his lips. Sakura resisted the urge to hit him.

"Enmu was a hidden village," he said, and she could practically feel the sarcasm in his voice oozing over her skin. "You didn't seriously think all it would take was a fucking stroll, did you? Fucking hell…" He trailed off and looked back down at the abyss.

It seemed to stare back at him.

"Troublesome," Shikamaru muttered. "If this is some kind of joke –"

He didn't get to finish. Hidan looked back at him with such an expression of rage on his face that Sakura flinched back, stumbling into Naruto. His hands came up to grip her upper arms and they were warm and calloused and gentle.

"Shut the fuck up," Hidan said.

"That's enough," Temari said. "Let's take a break for a bit." She looked around at them all, daring them to argue. Not for the first time, Sakura saw Hidan's expression soften as he looked at her. Something inside of her stung with jealousy and she tore her gaze away.

Temari continued, looking up at Hidan as she did. "Maybe you could explain the next part of the route a bit. Just to ease peoples' paranoia." She shot a glare towards Shikamaru at that, and he glared right back at her. But he dropped to the ground and pulled his pack of cigarettes and his out of his jounin vest.

He lit up and Sakura sighed, mentally running through the list of diseases he could get from it. Asthma, emphysema, cancer of the lung, the throat and the mouth, bronchitis, pneumonia… She saw Temari wrinkle her nose.

"You okay Sakura-chan?" Naruto was still holding her arms, she realised, and his breath was hot against her ear.

"Fine," she said. She stepped away from him and lowered herself to the valley floor. He sat down next to her and grinned. It was forced; too wide and with scrunched-up eyes and for a split second, she hated him for it.

"The river eroded a series of tunnels under the ground. The best – the safest – way to get into Enmu is through them."

Temari rested her chin on her palm and watched Hidan closely as he explained his route. It did make sense, in a way. The place where Enmu had been was now uncomfortably ensconced within the boundaries of Earth Country, and even though there had been no threat to them from Iwa-nin so far, she didn't want their group to be noticed. Neither, apparently, did Hidan. And it was for good reason: the relations between Iwa, Suna and Konoha were a crate of worms that she didn't want to have to open.

She may have ended up stuck doing a lot of diplomatic visits to other nations on Gaara's behalf in recent years, but she had nowhere near enough talent to stop them from being ruthlessly assassinated for illegally crossing Earth's borders.

"You haven't been here in years by your own admission," Shikamaru argued. "What if you've forgotten the way and we're stuck down there forever." Temari shuddered. She saw Sakura and Naruto do the same.

"I remember it," Hidan said, and there was that tone in his voice again that meant that they were getting close to a topic that he didn't want to talk about. Whatever had happened there, Temari realised, had screwed him up a lot and she was beginning to suspect that seeing his father turn into the Shukaku wasn't the only thing that was bothering him about his imminent return.

"And besides, the only other path I know of comes from the other side of the border," he continued. "So if you want to head in the direction of Iwa for a few weeks with a fucking Yellow Flash lookalike in the group so that I can find that one…sure. Why the hell not. After all, I'm not going to be dead at the fucking end of it."

Shikamaru fell silent.

"You know a road from Iwa?" Sakura asked quietly. "Why?"

"I was born there," Hidan replied.

Temari blinked in surprise. She'd known that he hadn't originally come from Enmu despite the hitai-ate but she hadn't given a thought about where he could have originated from. He seemed so old at times – he was – that she'd grown used to thinking that he had just been around forever. Even though she knew that he'd had a father, she hadn't thought of him having an origin or a family. She bit her lip.

"Do you have family?" she asked.

"None alive," he replied.

She thought of her brothers dying, remembered the pain she'd felt when she realised that Gaara was dead and the joy at his resurrection. Hidan was smiling at her. It was crooked and strangely warm with something she couldn't place.

"How long will it take?" Shikamaru asked, interrupting the moment – making her look away with a blush staining her cheeks; making her feel like an academy student with a crush on the class genius – with a bitter-sounding drawl.

"Two days."

Shikamaru sighed and stood. He hauled himself to his feet as though it took a lot of effort, and stretched his arms above his head. "Let's go then," he said. "I don't think I can take much more of this."

She used her chakra to stick her feet to the slippery stone wall of the hole and walk as carefully down into the earth as she could. It was cold and wet and impossibly dark and all she could hear was the roaring of the waterfall as it plummeted down. She could feel the walls of it closing in on her and the moist air caught in her lungs.

In front of her, she could see what little light there was glinting off the three blades of Hidan's scythe and his pale, pale hair. Looking at him like this reminded her of an old ink drawing of a ghost she'd seen in her father's library when she'd been little.

They were all trusting him in this, she realised. They were trusting him to guide them on the say-so of Uchiha Itachi. None of it made any sense, but – Temari realised – regardless of the illogic, she trusted him anyway.

She just hoped she was right.