Title: Velvet Kisses
Summary: In his quest for vengeance, Sasuke captures the one person he knows his enemy will never ignore. Problem is…he can't seem to ignore her either.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto and any of its characters. Any aspects that may seem familiar in this story are purely coincidental.
Theme: Alternate Universe
Warning(s): Has the possibility to escalate to mature themes or innuendos. Be prepared. Oh, and probably Suigetsu's potty mouth, too.
Comments: I'm so late! Late, late! More than a week late for this! I'm so sorry! The universe conspired against me! T^T But anyway, here's my SSM submission, YAY! I wasn't supposed to post this yet because I wanted to get it done first, but because this fic, no matter how hard I tried to compress it, would just not let itself be shortened cutecrazyice convinced me to divide it into three parts with different prompts, so here it is. xD I hope you like it! I haven't written in a long time so I'm a bit rusty. :D
Special thanks to seynee and cutecrazyice for beta-ing this for me and going crazy over this with me! I would've gone loco had I done this thing alone! You guys are just awesome!
Gigantic flames roared up to the heavens in proud pillars of intense heat, illuminating the night in a psychedelic blaze of blinding yellow, searing orange and blistering red. Acerbic smoke, thick and heavy, filtered through the summer breeze like a bitter cloak of suffocating clouds, even as an inferno of fiery tongues licked at every tapestry, at every battlement, every stake, every flesh, in a greedy burning frenzy. Piercing screams of utter terror and stifled breaths of choked horror rent the air in a disturbing dirge that accompanied the triumphant grunts and battle cries of the unwelcome raiders.
Chaos was the wielder of the wasteland.
The invaders, the Vikings, had come in so fast, so unexpectedly, that they had reduced everything to ruins in mere minutes of their arrival. Their attack had been fierce and merciless, their force so undisputed that even the sentries were easily overpowered. Now the entire village was in flames, turned into a blazing furnace that made a mockery of the fires and brimstones that awaited them in depths of hell.
Sakura trembled at the thought, her terror mounting with every step she took. She had never seen a more devastating sight, never witnessed such utter destruction. Was this what her peaceful village had been reduced to, a battlefield? Was this what war was like?
Was this how it was going to end for her?
"This way, milady!" Matsuri called in a breathless voice laced with urgent panic, frantically tugging at her arm and leading the way through the fiery maze.
Choking down a sob, Sakura hurried along behind the younger maid, her heart heavy with fear as she stumbled across the cobbled courtyard and into the bedlam that raged further into the village. Her eyes stung from the ashes that drifted amongst the wreckage, drifting around the smoke-cloaked air like flimsy dark curtains of grey, her breaths coming in short pants as her lungs yearned for the fresh air she most sought; the blood pounding in her ears sounding like the drumming of a death march.
Her death march.
No! Get a grip, Sakura! She mentally chastised, trying in vain to clear the fog of panic that clouded her normally clear head. You've survived this long; be damned before they manage to bring you down now.
Damned, indeed. For years now, she had relied on no one but herself, on nothing but her sense of survival. She wasn't about to let a stinking Viking raid from bringing her down. But…but being determined didn't change the fact that she was…scared.
And she was scared.
She was sacred of losing the one thing she had in life, which was life itself. And the knowledge that it might be extinguished in the flames that roared like a hungry monster bent on searing everything in sight into nothingness…then all she had lived for would have been all for naught. Her life would have been for nothing. All her struggles, her efforts…
Stop it! She thought, furiously shaking her head in both an effort to dash away her futile thoughts and to clear away the smoke and ash that hurt her eyes, tears blurring her vision, though whether it was from her current baking environs or from the frustration of being in such a deadly predicament, she didn't know. All she knew was that if she wanted to live, she had to get out here. She had to follow Matsuri and escape—
Matsuri stumbled to a violent halt, a curdling scream falling from her pale lips, causing Sakura to crash gracelessly into her.
"Ma—" she started, but a more masculine roar tore through the crackling air, followed by a swift flash of metallic silver, stilled the words of concern in her throat. Sakura looked up, her blood freezing in her veins and her eyes going wide as saucers.
Oh, no. No!
They've been caught.
When the flames had settled and everything in sight had been reduced to gray ashes that floated across an even grayer dawn, the captives of war were rounded up and filed into a dejected circle of hopelessness and misery. A silence so profound clung to them, the rough grunts and sharp clinks of clanking weapons owned by their oppressors the only sounds to be heard that dreary, tragic day; the restricting chains that hung from their wrists, the testimony of their stolen freedom.
Sakura bit her lip. No…
She bit down harder, blood finally leaking through the flimsy flesh.
No! They can't! She wouldn't let them.
"M-milady?" a small, hesitant voice suddenly strained, the tiny squeak a loud chord against the devastated silence.
Snapping out of her dejected daze, Sakura blinked, confused for a brief second, before she felt the gentle tugging of little hands at the folds of her flayed skirts. Befuddled, she looked down and saw a child of no more than eight or nine standing before her, covered wholly in soot, her hair a tangled mess, her clothes singed at the ends, and her thin wrists bound in thick, unforgiving ropes.
Sakra's heart went out to her. But the grimy look the child sported was not what riveted her attention—she herself probably didn't look any better. No, it was the look of open fear the little wren wore on her expressive face.
An open fear of tomorrow's gnawing uncertainty.
"Yes, little one?" Sakura smiled down at her, one she hoped was gentle and open.
"M-my name is Hibari," she answered quietly, meekly, her dark uncertain eyes shone with a need of an assurance she longed to receive from those she deemed knew best. "M-milady, a-are we going to be all right?"
"I…" Sakura started before trailing off. I…
I don't know. She thought despairingly as she gazed into the kid's hopeful face, suddenly finding it hard to swallow the curiously heavy lump that appeared in her throat, the urge to let loose a hefty sob strong. I don't know.
Were they? Were they going to be all right? She had heard stories of bloodthirsty Vikings before and of what sorts of evil they did, of what they did to their prisoners, their captives. Captives who were either killed, used or sold. And, frankly, none of those available options seemed an "all right" situation.
Were they going to be all right despite those options?
She didn't know.
She didn't know but—
"Yes," she finally answered instead, bending down to lay a comforting hand on the frail lass's shoulder. "Yes, we are."
—somehow they were going to be. They were going to be all right. She didn't know how, she didn't know, perhaps, when, but someway, somehow, they were going to be all right.
She'd find a way.
She'd find a way to be safe, to get her freedom back, hers and this child's, and probably those that might be willing to have it returned to them too. She'd make sure of it. Even if she had to cut her own arms and legs off to do it, to gain it, she would.
She'd worked far too hard to attain the freedom she enjoyed now, striven too far to own a life that she could really live in, to give up now. It just wasn't in her.
If she could find a way to release herself from her oppressive, money-grabbing cousin's greedy clutches, she could definitely find a way to outwit some knuckle-brained Vikings.
Almost unconsciously, the girl shifted closer, a minuscule movement, comforted by the warmth and gentleness the lady of their village provided. "I'm scared, milady," she whispered shakily.
"I know…I am, too." Sakura admitted with a small sheepish smile of assurance.
"You are?" Hibari's dark eyes widened in awed surprise at the revelation. "But—but you're a lady, a barn of Eir, aren't you? You can make miracles happen!"
"Well, I—" Wait, what? "A barn of Eir?" Sakura's brows furrowed in confusion. A child of Eir? Her? What? "Where on earth did you hear such a thing?"
Because "such a thing" was just absurd. No, not even just that—it was impossible!
Why the very idea of it…
"From the skalds of the village, milady" the little one grinned, her small visage glowing beneath all the grime. "They said you will bring with you the grace of the gods. You will, won't you?"
…was the stuff made out of fairytales.
Oh, dear Lord. She mentally shook her head in disbelief. The village skalds.
Storytellers, the lot of them. No doubt the kid must have had her confused with some of their concocted stories. And while she supposed she couldn't put it past those troubadours to exaggerate her peculiar origins—it was their job after all, considering her esteemed position of in the village—but really—a child of Eir the goddess? Bringing forth the grace of the gods?
Now that was just pushing it.
They just couldn't stick to the usual poetic odes to unparallel beauty, could they? She thought with a gentle, faintly sardonic shake of her head. "But I'm not—"
"So this is to be that old maggot's lady, is it?" a loud, cocky voice rang out from the gloom, cutting off any attempts of denial Sakura might have had on the matter of her ancestry, the words dying an unspoken death on her tongue, followed by the jarring thump of oncoming footsteps.
Footsteps. Headed their way.
Sakura froze, her face drained of what little color it had left and her lips pressed into a thin white line.
Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God. This can't be happening, she thought despairingly, and, with a fortifying breath, she carefully straightened and turned to face them as they neared, afraid to make any sudden movements lest they accost her or other, lightly pushing the younger girl behind her as if to shield her from what was to come.
And came the Vikings, two of them, large, burly, mean-looking and dangerous, did, swaggering their way to her, their weapons gleaming devilishly in the early morning sun. And when finally they stopped a few meters from where she stood, the still devastated silence that had once enveloped the victims morphed into that of tense anticipation, a pregnant pause of dread.
Just then, a Viking, one with long bluish-white hair and eyes that were an odd shade of purple, grinned, a wide arrogant grin that revealed a set of sharp, pointy teeth. The little girl behind Sakura gasped and huddled further into her skirts in fear, but the older femme held her ground. She didn't know what they wanted, didn't know, honestly, what to do, but what she did know was that she was not to show any fear in front of them.
These people would thrive on it. They could probably smell it too.
"I must say, the worm's got taste," the same peculiarly colored man leered, leaning forward an inch or two to run his sharp gaze up and down her body in a lascivious fashion that made Sakura curl her hand into a fist to keep herself from lashing out. Fortunately, he leaned back a short while later before she could give in to the urge to blind him, and ended his uncouth perusal with a dismissive shrug, as if her person were mere livestock. "Hair's a bit strange though."
So said the man with the jagged teeth of a beast, Sakura silently mused, but wisely held her tongue. It would do no good to start becoming violent. It would only get her into further trouble, and Hibari could get hurt in the process.
"Don't be so rude, Suigetsu." The taller one behind the crass man—Suigetsu, she assumed—chastised lightly, before looking at her almost meekly, a small placating smile on his lips. "Please excuse him for his brashness, milady."
Sakura blinked. "Um," Did he just…bow?
She stared at him, this tall man, taller than any she had ever seen before, with hair and eyes the color akin to the bright flames that had consumed the entire town. He emanated an aura of steadiness. Of peace. Quite a novelty in itself, really. If anything, he looked the perfect part of intimidating Viking. What was unexpected was that he was apparently a perfectly polite intimidating Viking.
"You cannot be serious." The brazen other snorted rather insolently, and turned to his companion with a rude jerk of his thumb in her direction. "She's our prisoner. You can't excuse yourself to your prisoner."
"But she is a lady," was all the taller man said in answer, as if it was all there was to it.
The one called Suigetsu shook his head in amazed disbelief at his partner's simple logic. "Unbelievable," he muttered, before he heaved out a defeated sigh and said, "Yes, well, lady or not, she's to be taken to Lord Stick-up-his-ass, and we don't want him waiting long, considering the large stick up where the sun doesn't shine," he slid a sardonic look her way, his smirk satirical, before his rough hand latched itself onto her forearm and started pulling her along, "so get your ass in gear, lady."
"I—" Sakura stumbled forward, unprepared for the harsh tug she was put through, her tight chain chafing her wrists.
"Milady!" The young girl behind her gasped, thinking she was being hurt.
"I'm—I'm all right," she assured softly once she'd regained her footing, righting herself to send the girl a reassuring smile over her shoulder.
But the kid wasn't listening, or even looking at her, for that matter. Instead, the tyke took it upon herself to come to her rescue and, before any of them knew it, had launched her small form at the Suigetsu character, violently kicking at his booted shins and wildly shrieking for him to "let her ladyship go, you big bully".
Suigetsu, the harassed man cursed, trying in vain to dislodge the hysterical mite clinging to his legs. He didn't want to hurt the little bugger, sheesh.
"Juugo, get this urchin off me!" he yelled amid his wild struggle for freedom from the wild scamp.
But before his accomplice could answer his plea, Sakura pulled back from her captor, quickly breaking free of his hold for fear of the child getting trampled, and promptly fell to her knees beside her, putting her hands on the lass's frail shoulders and pulling her gently out of the stomping man's way.
"I'll be okay," she said soothingly, wiping away the tears that broke free from the kid's eyes.
"But…but they might hurt you," Hibari hiccupped as more tears fell.
"No, no, don't cry. I'm the barn of Eir, remember?"
The child sniffed wetly and nodded. "You can make miracles happen,"
"Yes," Sakura smiled, "yes, I can."
Enormous longboats, majestic and sinister, riddled the sparkling shores of Root like a forbidding army of fierce sea serpents, all gracefully poised above the seawaters to do battle at the slightest provocation to their fleet. They darkened the quaint seaside with their daunting presence, dominated the horizon with their number—an intimidating fact that sent chills down Sakura's spine.
This was war.
Oh, God, she thought with a shaky breath as she continued to follow the raiders through the sandy beach's path, her feet heavy and her heart pounding an alarming beat. Her mouth felt dry, her limbs heavy. She felt like she was walking to her own grave.
And, for reasons that were quite easy to believe, she might just very well be.
Each crash of the waves to the coast felt like a death toll, the rhythmic splashes the hymn that would accompany her to her ultimate demise, the ship they were escorting her to, her casket.
Casket. She paused at the thought, slowly, cautiously looking up at the longboat anchored closest to the port in morbid fascination.
The vessel was huge, delicately carved and quite intricately designed. The oars at its sides were long, sturdy and undoubtedly heavy. The polished surface gleamed in the early morning sun, a triumphant sheen that was hard to miss. And at its fore, a terrifying serpent sat, its head held high in glory and pride, its blood red eyes—glinting rubies—staring into the horizon with a vicious look of both triumph and fury.
It was a beauty to behold. A terrifying beauty.
She hesitated, gulped but a quick tug from one of two of her ushers had her scurrying to keep up.
She had heard of few Viking rituals. Of how when a warrior died a death of honor in the battlefield, bathed as he was in blood and Odin's blessing he was set adrift to sea in a small boat, his remains set ablaze in hungry flames so his spirit could rise up with the smoke to the heavens and into Nirvana, and she could admit that it was a fascinating belief, if a bit dark…poetic even.
But she was no Viking, and she didn't believe in Nirvana. She was also not going to be set aflame in a boat, either.
No, simply put, she wasn't going to die in a boat, period.
In all honesty, she didn't know why she was being so submissive of her capture, so compliant to do what the Vikings bid her like some meek mare to be lead around by the snout. She knew she should be kicking and screaming, clawing at the slightest chance of freedom she might be presented with. She should be cursing at her captors, struggling with all her might until there was no longer any fight left in her—not walking docilely behind them like any ignorant mare unwittingly walking to her slaughter.
She wanted to though, dear Lord, she wanted to. Every particle of her being was screaming at her to fight, to do what normal captives did and cry out for her release, be hysterical at the loss of her freedom, at the prospect of death, but…
But what would be the point?
She was outnumbered, overpowered and outmaneuvered. The Vikings were everywhere and she was but a woman. All she could do for the moment was lay low and wait.
I must bide my time.
Yes, that was the key.
He was close. His vengeance was nearly complete. His destiny almost fulfilled. Indeed, in a short matter of time, he would finally have his revenge. But despite the fact that he had come this far, after all he had worked for, after all he had achieved, the places he had conquered, the victories, the riches, the fame, the power—they strangely brought him no satisfaction at all.
Nor will they, he thought grimly. Not until Danzou's on his knees and begging.
Then, and only then will his victory be absolute.
Then, and only then will he be content.
"I still think this is a bad idea," Naruto muttered from somewhere behind him, his warrior's frame sitting hunched over one of the built-in rowing benches, his elbows resting on his knees and his head in his hands. "This is a very, very bad idea, Sasuke."
"Naruto," the Viking Lord said, his patience thinning.
"And while I know you're supposed to be some sort of genius strategist or something, I still think this is a very bad idea."
Sasuke sighed, an urge to rub his throbbing temples almost overpowering. When he had decided to take Naruto along for the raid, he hadn't taken into account how much of a headache his friend's bleeding heart personality was going to be.
He did not need any sermons on how he should be conducting his battles. And he certainly did not need it from Naruto, of all people. In truth, it was the very reason why he had left Kakashi to manage his isle in the first place. That old pervert was pain enough.
"I mean, what part of 'this is a very bad idea' do you not understand? Because it's as simple as it can get. It's a very bad idea—"
"Naruto," he snapped, his quiet voice edged with impatience as he turned to glanced over his shoulder at the warrior, a scowl darkening his brow. "Shut up."
Naruto bristled. "Shut up? Shut up? How can I just shut up when you, my best friend, are planning on using an innocent woman like a total bastard, you bastard!"
Glaring at him, Sasuke turned away from the sight of the rising sun burning the horizon and staining the sky gold to face the seated man, his annoyed scowl turning thunderous. "This is war, Naruto. We don't have time to think about what is right and what is wrong; we're here to win."
"Winning at the cost of innocent lives?" the other man murmured, looking up at him soberly.
"Innocent lives have already been lost." Sasuke stared at him through hooded eyes.
A long time ago.
At the sight of his friend's shuttered gaze, Naruto sighed, hung his head forward and ran a hand through his unruly hair, his eyes going downcast as memories of a time long past surged to the forefront of his mind. He knew what was running through Sasuke's head, knew what he was after, knew what he wanted most, knew what he needed but…
He didn't like it. "Bloodthirsty" Viking he may be, but that didn't mean he didn't have a code of honor to adhere to—and while he knew Sasuke had his own principles to keep to, knew he would never let it go so far, he just hoped the Viking lord knew what he was doing. He was playing with fire, making a blatant statement of challenge. But it wasn't his friend's life he was worried about. He knew Sasuke could hold his own in battle. In truth, the gods seemed to favor him so much that the man was almost indestructible.
No, what he worried most was what it would do to him when he did accomplish his goal.
You've chosen a dark and lonely path, Sasuke, Kakashi had said.
And a very destructive one too,Naruto added with another heavy sigh. Raising his head to look up at his companion, he forced a teasing grin to slap its way to his lips. "Well, bastard, you'd at least make sure you don't make her faint from fright, yeah? Odin knows how hideous you already are even without you baring your ragged fangs at innocent ladies."
Sasuke cut him a sardonic look, the single mocking eyebrow that rose in answer to the jibe already saying more than what could be voiced out loud.
Naruto rolled his eyes but grinned all the same. Arrogant bastard. "Not that you needed to be hideous to scare the shit out of any frail lady anyway. Woman's probably half way through hysteria by now."
But she wasn't.
She wasn't kicking or screaming or crying or in a frantic fit of "vapors"—whatever that was—or in any way half way through hysterical at all. No, she had ascended the gangplank and onto the deck with a look of such steely determination in her eyes that, had she not been wearing any at all, Naruto would have mistaken her for a valkyrie out to select the next warrior to enter the gates of Valhalla.
"Valkyrie," he found himself murmuring, finding it hard to take his eyes away from the tiny fey walking in procession towards them, flanked by two of Sasuke's Vikings, unaware of the man beside him tensing almost imperceptibly.
Valkyrie, huh? Sasuke thought as he watched the woman bravely cross the wooden planks to where he stood with narrowed eyes.
This was the woman he needed to get back at Danzou. The very woman that was going to be his old enemy's downfall.
Valkyrie. He allowed a small satisfied smirk to grace his lips. In a way, Naruto was right. Her presence will send a man to his grave. Only she wasn't going to lead him to Valhalla. No, she was going to send him the opposite way. To the world of ice and of the dead.
Straight into Helheim.