When the Dead Decide to Dance
Dance with the Devil
As we dance with the devil tonight
Don't you dare look at him in the eye
As we dance with the devil tonight
. : .
"You're not lost are you?" she asked the handsome man, doubting her sanity in asking him of all people such a question.
It was raining all around them, but being out in the misty forest they were both spared the brute of the storm thanks to the thick branches. It wasn't even raining all that hard, so they had no reason to be worried. At least she didn't; Sakura was still deciding if she should let the man in front of her live or leave him to the elements to dispose of. It was a tempting offer to say the least, considering just who exactly he was.
The earth underfoot was wet, smelling thickly of grasses and mint—an herb that thrived in this type of whether. If she had been anyone else, she might have been cold, but the black, long-sleeve shirt and leggings of the same color was enough to keep her comfortable. Good thing ninja gear had so many practical uses. A trail of nicely planted footprints led up to where Sakura stood, but when she looked there was no such trail for the other person.
"Can you speak?"
Her only reply was a heavy breathing and the sound of raindrops splattering in the mud.
That didn't bewilder her at all. She didn't think he would say anything to her even if he could, since he looked to be the personification of death warmed over. He was one of Pein's bodies after all. The Ningendō, is she remembered correctly: the Human path. When it came to Pein, the villain that led the latest and greatest large scale invasion against Leaf to date, nothing he did should come as a surprise or shock to anyone who knew his name. That sort of monster was on a whole other level—one she knew nothing about. He claimed to be a god, and for all she knew and had seen of his awesome power, he very well could have been.
She had been there the day he dragged hell up from the beneath the earth and into her village. She had been there when Orochimaru had attacked her village as well, but there was something greater from the Ame nin. His power was untamable and completely raw. It frightened her much more than the sinister evil of even Orochimaru.
A part of the attack flashed through her mind and she failed to repress a shiver that shot down all through her body. There she was, standing on ground that wasn't ground anymore, but more of a part of the falling sky while monsters of twisted and demented stature ravaged human beings. Was this what hell was like?
"Do you know where you are?" she asked him.
Still nothing from the injured being. His lips were chapped and breaking up. He probably hadn't said anything to anyone in a long while.
She tossed a wet twig in his direction and it hit his limp foot. There was no reaction, not even from his eyes to suggest he was aware of the action. That wasn't like a ninja at all. Ninjas knew and saw everything—no matter how small and insignificant.
Deciding it was worth the risk, she set her basket of healing herbs down and reached for a knife. She twirled it once, getting the feel of it in case she needed to use it. Whether it could do anything against him was yet to be seen, but she would sure as hell put up a good fight if he tried anything with her.
Softly, slowly, stealthily, like a good shinobi should, she crept towards him till she was close enough to reach out and touch his face. The hideously cold metal that had pierced him all over was gone, leaving raw and bleeding flesh behind. She reached out and probed it with her chakra, keeping her hand from actually making direct contact with his skin. He stiffened, but didn't do anything more than that. He was too weak to move much, she deduced.
She pocketed the knife in an easy to reach place and grabbed the man by the arms and pulled him forward. She bent him over to inspect him—never minding that she might be making him less than comfortable with her brutal probing. He could rot in hell for all she cared. He deserved it for what he did to her friends, her village, and what was left of her life.
His hair, once a fiery orange, now had receded to its original color; a light gray-blue. His eyes, weak and weary as they were, still gleamed a healthy green showing his determination to survive. If anything, she begrudgingly admired that in him. It was just pathetic when someone gave up and didn't fight for what was left of their life, even if it was someone like him who had done so much evil to her and her kind—
She took another look at his eyes and found that, yes, in fact his eyes were a lovely shade of green and lacked all the rings she knew he was supposed to have. And even the color was off. His eyes were supposed to be gray, devoid of all color, not so full of brightness like this. Before she could deduce much more, long lashes slid down and his lids were closed, blocking off her sight of his newly transformed orbs.
She ran her hands over his body, not quite touching, but probing with the glow of her chakra. From what she could make of him in his sitting position, he was tall and slender, suffering only minor injury on top of exhaustion, and he was built for speed and stealth. He wasn't as bulky as she expected him to be; true, he had a nice physique, but it more so resembled a cat's than a cage fighter's. That was interesting to know for later matters.
The rest of the body piercings had been shed as well, and by the looks of it they had been out no more than a day, three tops if he came from somewhere with better weather. His shoes were caked with mud and dead leaves, the same kind that were abundant in the misty woods up in the mountains. She checked further and found some grains of sand, maybe a few rocks, but there was nothing else to work with within the grooves. They looked just like hers.
"Where the hell did you come from?" she tried again. "And what happened to you?"
He remained unspeaking and she doubted he even heard her.
There was blood, both old and new, trickling out of minor cuts all over his body and bruises peppered his pale skin, now almost translucent enough to show up the veins underneath. He would most likely die if she left him to himself. It was late in the year and soon the dusk would make way for night, bring with her the cold and chill. And if Mother Earth wasn't enough, the animals who stalked these lands would make quick work of his carcass. Wolves were howling on and off all last night over something close by. They were pretty far from the nearest village, her house being purposely removed from most society. There wouldn't be anyone else coming up to save him.
"What should I do with you? I can't help you because I hate you, but I can't kill you right here because I'm a medic and have taken an oath that I'll honor till I die. I can't even leave you because that would be just as bad as killing you, myself!" Frowning at his unmoving form she leaned in closer. "Do you even care what I do?"
"Of course you don't."
Only the rain all around them broke the sluggish silence. Not even his breath was loud enough to be heard over the pattering of raindrops on grass anymore. He was withering away more and more by the minute now. If she was going to do anything she would need to do it soon before he died right in front of her.
Sakura sighed deeply, brushing her bangs back and sweeping them over to the side, only to have them fall back into her line of vision. There was no metal band of loyalty to hold it back anymore and she was more conscious of that fact now more than ever before. Cursing her deeply rooted consciousness, she grabbed him and managed to shift his body onto her shoulder before standing up, a scowl ghosting behind her visible expression before she plunged into the dying rain and rising mist.
"I had better not regret this in the morning."
Somewhere out in the wilderness a wolf was howling all on its own, a lonesome figure ushering in the darkness.
"Damn it!" The whole room shook.
"How can he keep moving like this?" Naruto snarled, throwing a lamp across the room. The lighting fixture hit the opposing wall but fell unharmed to the floor, being made of a cheap and durable plastic. Neji watched wordlessly from the doorway, his expression unchanged.
"Naruto-san, please calm down." Lee came up behind his friend and placed a hand on Naruto's shoulder. "Getting upset will not help anyone, and it most certainly will not bring your friends back. You know I don't like this any more than you do, none of us do, but we need to deal."
Naruto fished his hands in his wild blond hair, grabbing a good chuck of it between his curling fingers with frustration. "It's just too damn frustrating. How much longer before you and Neji are Guy are gone, or what about Kiba and Tenten? What's to happen to them once Danzo catches sight of them? He's banishing people on false claims left and right. It's all screwed up and theres nothing I can do about it. I don't want to deal, I want to do something about it!"
"We know that, but Kakashi can take care of himself. He not the kind to keel over and die from something like this. We must be optimistic!" Lee rallied, even though he felt like he was one of the biggest targets during this reign of terror. "Neji and Kiba are key figures in their clans so Danzo can't touch them. And you're a hero for killing Pein, so everyone loves you! That is even better status than a high-ranked clan! All we must do is wait for our time, so cheer up!" Neji remained silent, appearing impassive as he watched the exchange between the two.
Naruto's shoulders slumped and he let the rest of his body fall into an awaiting chair, crushing old ramen cups and chopsticks. He looked tired and worn thin, and it wasn't surprising considering how much effort he had put into bringing his friends back as well as keeping the ones he had. Too many had been lost. All of it seemed like one big bad song that kept repeating in his head and just wouldn't go away. He felt like he was still waiting to wake up from it all and return to reality.
How could the way he was living now be true and right?
Just then Neji looked up and spoke, feeling as if he needed to contribute something. "Just like Yamato, Kakashi will most likely seek out Sakura, wherever she is and be safe there until they are granted pardon. Getting so worked up over something like this shows just how little you really trust your friends."
"Ah, yes, he is right Naruto-kun. You must have more faith in our friends! Sakura-san will surely rally this righteous cause till the day of judgment."
How long had it been since he had last seen his old teammate and drug-like obsession? Once Danzo came into power, she was one of the first to be banished after refusing to join his ranks, along with several other scientists and medics who had been close to Tsunade.
There had been some bogus charge about the group practicing forbidden spells and jutsu during their work. Something about reviving the dead, or something close to that. The memory was a hazy one and it didn't help that there was no official documentation of the event-it had all been a sort of under the cover of darkness event. In any other time or place these sort of acts from the government would not be tolerated, but there was no one with a high enough authority to oppose Danzo. The council had originally been established to keep the Hokage in check, but with this particular administration Danzo held the council in chains.
Sakura had been seventee when she was banished, and it had been three years since then. She was twenty and soon she would be twenty one if he remembered correctly, in a few months once dear old winter came and died to make way for spring. Once that happened she would have been gone four years from the village of Leaf. He hoped and prayed with all he had that one day soon she would be cleared of the false charges and welcomed back from her martyrdom.
'If she's still alive.'
Naruto felt his heart jump in his chest and almost whimpered at the thought. There was no way something would have ever happened to Sakura, it couldn't! Even if he hadn't heard a word from her since before she was exiled, that didn't mean she was extinguished! She was alive and well, waiting till her day when home would be open to her again. Of course she was waiting for that day. There wasn't anywhere else in the world she could be at home. Of course she would come back to Leaf, and to him...for sure!
"...Where do you think Kakashi went?" Naruto spoke up.
"Other than to find other exiled friends?" Neji asked.
"Yeah, where would he find them?"
Lee shared a look with Neji than shrugged. "I haven't a clue, Naruto-kun, but I am sure it is somewhere safe and far away from here where Danzo cannot find them."
"But where?" Naruto strained the last word. "Where are they?"
Neji looked up, frowning at the tone his friend was taking on. "Naruto, that is not something we should be discussing. You should trust Kakashi's judgment. Wherever he is, there must be a good chance he's near her." This was code for 'immediately drop this subject; spies will take it straight to Danzo.' Heaven knows it wouldn't be the first time.
Before anything more could be said there was a knock at the door. All three stiffened, not familiar with the chakra. Neji got up and tensed and Lee loosened up, ready to rip wild if need be. Seeing as how it was his house, Naruto got up and approached the door, hesitated, and then undid the lock. Waiting outside was a masked ANBU officer who had a nasty sort of feel swelling about him. There was a stink too, from blood and sweat many days old. It didn't take long to guess from the short sword and tattoo on his arm where he was from. ROOT.
He was one of Danzo's men.
"Yes?" Naruto asked.
Without a word a scroll was thrust forward. Naruto took it, opened it and scanned the contents before frowning. When he looked up the ANBU officer was still there, like an eerie statue in an old, abandoned house. "You have a mission from Danzo-sama. Please accept."
'I don't think I have a choice about this,' he thought to himself glancing back down at his scroll.
There was a seal at the end that he activated with a bit of his chakra and in a second, the scroll was no more than ash in his hands. Seeing that the contents of the mission would not be shared, the ANBU from ROOT bowed, turned and exited the apartment floor just like any other normal civilian would. This unnerved Naruto since he was used to watching them all poof up in a cloud. The ROOT member seemed to just as much be saying, "We have such control, we have no need for the skills of shinobi."
Not waiting to be told anything more, Naruto shut the door and turned back around to face his friends.
"When are you leaving?" Neji asked, once he returned.
"Tonight. I guess I won't be going with you guys for dinner tonight. I have to pack and be gone before the hour is up."
"When you get back I shall treat up to a delicious meal for sure," Lee said ever the optimist.
"Sure, thanks Lee."
There was something wrong in Naruto's voice and both men picked up on it right away. Lee and Neji shared a look. Something about Naruto's mission was putting him on edge and taking the bite out of his eyes. Even so, no one brought up the subject of the mission for the good of their friendship and quite frankly, their lives.
Somewhere out there, far far away, there is a grave.
There are one hundred and one different tombstones, some with holes opened in front of them, some with high mounds from freshly covered graves, and others with long-covered mounds.
A pair of ninja with short swords on their backs are digging the graves for two more dead. One of them pauses to look over his work and eyeball the size of the hole. He estimates that his work is deep enough for the person it will be holding.
A third ninja is examining the bodies on a bleached white sheet. There is blood on his fingers as he removes the one good eye he has been instructed to retrieve and place it in a small glass container, round in shape and not very long. He looks down at the unmoving body of the dead ninja and then down at his prize.
Finished with his work, the surgeon steeps away from the body and lets the other two wraps his long, thin frame in that same white clothe, never mind that there are blood splatters around the head and chest. The stain around his chest is from the wound dealt to his heart after a five-hour long battle that resulted in the deaths of the seven other hunters.
The dead man was one who would not go down without a fight, and for a while there it seemed like he would triumph, but the numbers won out in the end and he fell. He bled among the piles of mutilated and mangled bodies and would never serve another purpose but to add his number to a gruesome mass. He was no different than the one hundred and one others who had come before him.
Just like all the rest he fell.
"Do we say anything for him?"
"No, just finish the hole," the gruff older one answers.
Not one to talk back to his elders, the talented young lad does as he is told and stabs his shovel into the dirt, hauling load after load over the corpse until you can see no more white. He comrade joins in and soon there is a fresh mount in front of the newest tombstone. Neither uses any chakra to rush the work; the job they were doing was a solemn one.
The third, who had taken the eyeball, comes over to the tombstone and makes sure the inscription is correct before patting the head and walking away. His comrades are not at all close to him when they hear his words, but because of who they are, they hear it all the same.
"And so passes a legend."
A span of silence lasts less than a minute, but it seems like the whole world stops spinning for that short period of time, dragging it on forever. They may have been enemies, operating under different leaders and serving different, opposing ideals, but they were still shinobi at the end of the day, and as shinobi of honorable standing they knew when to be reverent.
The gruff one starts to walk away first, having the least amount of difficulty with the atmosphere.
Then the surgeon leaves, the detached eyeball safe in hand.
The youngest follows close behind. "I still think we should have said something."
"Control your emotions."
But the last to leave with the fourth member. He had not lifted a finger in either the fight or burial. He approached the grave, and stopped at the base of the raised mound. He reached up and pulled off the mask that covered his face and exposed himself to the dead for only a brief moment.
It was enough for him.
Closing his pitch colored eyes, the young ROOT member lifted his mask onto his face again and turned his back on the grave. He was thankful for the face covering, because he was sure his features were betraying something he knew he wasn't supposed to be feeling.
"Sai, quit lagging."
The grave grew quiet once more. The extra tombstone marked one hundred and two fallen.
Written by Vesper chan
Beta edited by StormDragon666
(AN: A big round of applause has to go to Storm for her amazing help in beta editing this for me. I am thrilled to be working with such a skilled author on this piece.)
Who do you think they buried at the end? You might just be wrong.