Warning: even if this fic is mostly centered on the investigation led by the heroes, it also mentions yaoi (male x male relationship), including a few mature scenes. Don't like, don't read.
If you choose to read it anyway, fine by me, I won't stop you. However, if you do, then for crying out loud, don't start flaming around because the yaoi romance or lemon parts piss you off! Not only have you been warned right from the beginning but you also have the possibility to just ignore these parts and go straight to the next ones, I won't mind.
Disclaimer: characters from Naruto and all other references belong to their respective creators.
Author's notes can be found at the bottom.
A lone man walked along the cliffs bordering the southeastern part of Astoria Lake, his amethyst eyes admiring the heavenly scenery. While summer had begun quite late this year, it had apparently decided to make up for it by lasting longer than usual. Indeed, despite being the beginning of October, the sun shone fierily in a clear cerulean sky, its warming light reflecting on the calm waters of the lake and illuminating the surrounding landscape to emphasize its striking natural beauty.
Even after more than century of life in this region, the panorama never failed to appease the man's ever-so-short temper. One would think after such a long life, he wouldn't be so loud-mouthed anymore, that he'd learn to control himself. But Hidan was one of those things that never change.
No, scratch that. He had changed. Drastically.
Not physically of course, as he had stopped aging on the day he was turned into an immortal. Plus his unique condition had also improved his natural recovering abilities, allowing severed limbs to reattach themselves if stitched together long enough while scars slowly disappeared leaving behind nothing but clean smooth skin. As a result, he still looked nearly the same as he did back in the Akatsuki, even after so much time.
It was his behavior that would surprise those who once knew him. He had worked a lot on his hot-headed temper and had successfully acquired a minimum of self-control, even though saying it had been a hard and long struggle would be quite the euphemism. He now acted less like an ass, swore less and actually tried to think things through before acting. Well, at least he did most of the time. One didn't have to try hard in order to piss him off and quickly bring his old self back.
Yet, those changes didn't come out of the blue. They were merely consequences of a severe trauma that had literally destroyed what once ruled every aspect of his life.
Hidan no longer believed in Jashin.
Giving up on that religious FANATISM, its gory slaughters and senseless human sacrifices had been the one true revolution in his life. Though he had been at a loss for some time, his new life had left him with no regret. As crazy as it could seem, he had even realized he was thankful to the kid who had once defeated him. While he couldn't remember his name, his face was forever carved in his memory. He owed him his salvation and his new outlook on life.
Don't misunderstand him; it had been a terrible experience, and that was just another euphemism. Most people would hate the mere idea of their lifeless body being dismembered and secretly buried in the middle of nowhere. They don't even realize how lucky they'd be. At least they'd be dead; they wouldn't have to actually live through it!
In the beginning, he had failed to notice the precarious situation he was in. He had no reason to be scared as it was obvious the all-mighty Jashin-sama would not let one of his most devoted zealot rot in this shithole and let the damn blasphemer walk away with it.
So, he'd simply kept mentally swearing and cursing the fuckin' heathen, imagining all possible ways to torture him and make him pay for his sacrilege. Days had passed; then weeks, months, even years… and still no sign of Jashin-sama. And while he had no way to know how much time he was spending down there, reality was slowly catching up on him, becoming more and more oppressive.
There was physical pain of course. Even blown to several pieces, he could feel the crushing weight of rocks pressing on every single part of his body. While boulders attacked him from the outside, hunger and thirst quickly came along, killing him on the inside. Whatever priest had once told him that even in his immortal state he could still die from starvation had sadly been dead wrong…
Nature itself was also quite a bitch from time to time. He might not have been able to see it but he could still feel it. Rain would infiltrate the soil, turning the earth into squishy mud, leaving his wet and dirty; sun would heat it dry, creating dust that just loved to enter his nostrils; snow would cool it down, surrounding him with a freezing cold, making him shiver and clatter his teeth non-stop for Jashin-sama knew how long… He even had to make it through three earthquakes!
However, what really got to him was the atmosphere. Back when he was roaming on the surface, he used to curse all that bothered him, meaning everything except holy Jashin-sama. He'd never thought he'd come to miss any of these, but this unique situation had proven him wrong. He missed the sun that kept shining far too brightly in his albino eyes. He missed the noisy birds that kept waking him up during his naps. He missed Kakuzu and all those Akatsuki idiots, no matter how stupid and annoying they were.
Stuck in that earthen hell, silence and darkness were his only companions, at least until the hallucinations began…
The shadow-nin's face had suddenly appeared in the darkness, looking down at him with those loathing eyes and smug smirk. He could hear the bastard laughing at him, mocking his worthless life and insulting his beliefs. Ghosts of every single victim of his murderous instinct and sacrificial fanaticism floated around him, their sinister screams instilling sheer terror in his mind. Closing his eyes was useless; they were always here, tormenting him.
His already fucked-up psyche had slowly drifted towards utter insanity. That entire burden was too much to bear, even for him. The pain, the hunger, the thirst, the mud, the dust, the cold, the darkness, the ghosts, the voices… He was all alone to face such an inhuman ordeal. Jashin-sama wasn't coming to save him. Even death was no way out as the Grim Reaper could no longer claim his soul. He was forever doomed to endure this living hell…
Eventually, his last bit of sanity had snapped.
He had screamed…
How long his emotional trauma had lasted, he never found out. His terrified shrieks had echoed in his tiny hole until unconsciousness overtook him. When he had woken up, there were no hallucinations to welcome him, only silence and darkness again. What sanity he once had was back with an unexpected companion.
His once unshakable faith had been shattered, the jashinist teachings now seeming completely wrong. The supposedly all-mighty god who cared about his follower had never helped him. 'He' for whom he had sacrificed so many; 'He' who demanded the hunt of every heathen in the world; 'He' who had ruled over his life for so long...
There was no 'He'. Jashin-sama was nothing but a myth.
Stuck in his natural prison, he had then tried something new: doing some actual thinking. Time and time again, he had looked back on the past, analyzing his life under this new light. As he did, he had found himself ashamed and regretful, feelings he used to despise in others. For all it was worth, this dismembered body buried in the middle of nowhere for ages had slowly turned into a new person.
In the end, the shadow-nin had somehow been true to his words: he had successfully killed an immortal.
He had long resigned himself to his underground fate when he had suddenly felt someone grab his right hand then drop it on some grassy ground. As minutes passed, he had felt his right leg, left foot and part of his torso being dug out in the same way. Finally, after a shovel accidently hitting the top of his skull, the discovery of his head had been accompanied by several yells of joy from his saviors.
His eyes had slowly readjusted themselves to light and let him discover that his long abandoned hope was really happening. Four people were digging a huge hole in a lush forest, looking for the still missing parts of his body in the middle of the night. Their faces were hidden, all of them being clad in black hooded cloaks looking a lot like the travelling equipment of hidden villages.
Within an hour, all parts of his body had been laying next to him. Even his scythe had been discovered, dirty but surprisingly well preserved. However, instead of the introduction he expected, the team had drugged him with sleeping gas before tossing him in a bag.
He had woken up with a terrible headache, lying on a hard wooden table, in a decrepit-looking building. To his surprise, his body had been stitched together and he could now move as he wished. One of his rescuers was standing beside him and he had immediately called his companions, all of them still wearing their cloaks. He had then listened to their explanations on what had transpired since his defeat, devouring his first meal in a long time as they did.
His underground imprisonment had lasted for approximately five centuries. After his defeat, the Akatsuki had kept going after the tailed beasts but had eventually been stopped by an alliance of hidden villages. As a result, friendship between the major nations had improved, announcing an era of peace. Alas, it had taken merely a few decades for tensions to slowly rise and lead to new hostilities.
About 250 years ago, a great conflict had exploded between the five main nations and villages, smaller countries being forced to choose their side. War was still going on 150 years later when normal people had started protesting against the influence of ninja academies, considered by many to be responsible of everything. Popular opposition had grown and led to riots until the Kages were forced to resign in favor of normal citizens controlling the hidden villages in order to avoid additional senseless bloodbaths.
Since then, ninjutsu had been more and more perceived as nothing but a dangerous source of conflict, which had led to severe restrictions, then prohibition. The remaining nins were either forced to hide their powers or to fight for survival against ninja hunters and regular armies. Though far weaker, those had an impressive numerical advantage and had developed ruthless but efficient strategies. Many would die for each fallen nin but death didn't scare them, not after so many years of war and suffering.
The group that had dug him out was part of Yamigakure, the last group of ninja openly resisting. However, their number was slowly decreasing with each attack and their destruction seemed only to be a matter of time. Some of them had desperately placed their hope in the legend of the Akatsuki's immortal member. Infiltrating Konoha to investigate what remained of the Nara archives had been very risky but had allowed them to discover his approximate burial location.
They were now expecting him to become their ultimate weapon. As long as his secret remained safe, their enemies wouldn't stand a chance. A genius shadow-nin had barely defeated him after careful preparation; ignorant regular fighters would be no match for him and his scythe. With him, not only would they be saved, with time they could also reclaim their rightful place.
Five days later, after numerous meals and exercises, the albino had finally recovered enough strength to travel at decent speed. Thus they had left in direction of Yamigakure, a week away for their current hideout. The first day had gone on without incident as the five cloaked figures silently rushed through primitive mountain tracks and old deserted merchant roads before entering a vast forest. At night, they had set camp in a small cave after carefully camouflaging the entrance. Few people ever ventured so deep in these woods but better be safe than sorry.
Hidan was far gone when the rest of them had woken up the next day…
Running away wasn't something he usually did but that was a really fucked up situation. He had been extremely grateful for his freedom and helping his saviors survive hadn't seemed so bad at first. Problem was, these nutcases didn't want survival; they wanted power. The old Hidan would have been thrilled at the prospect of so many deaths and sacrifice. Not the new one. He hadn't turned his back on Jashin only to end up slaughtering thousands of regular people.
Slipping away at night had been the only way to prevent this madness without having to face his traveling companions. They'd never have allowed him to leave without a fight, not after all they had gone through to find and restore him, and killing them wasn't exactly a great way to thank them. Being actually grateful and sparing someone's life was new to him but somehow, it had felt like the right thing to do.
Yamigakure had fallen four months later. Whether his rescuer died fighting or lived hiding in a secluded place, he never knew.
With no goal in his life and no one to turn to, Hidan had embarked on a journey around the world. He didn't care so much about what he'd find or see, he just didn't have anything better to do. Frequently, after long periods of exploration, he'd settle down for several years, alternating between big cities and remote villages.
His struggle with money had often reminded him of his old partner Kakuzu. At first, escorting merchants and working as a bounty hunter had made easy money. Over time though, he had also learned new jobs and skills, whether for personal or financial use. When history became an active interest of humanity, he had made quite a profit of the ruins he discovered and the relics he brought back.
For approximately three millennia, he had wandered around the world, observing from afar how humanity changed. Ninjas and their arts had disappeared, slowly becoming no more than exciting stories for kids. Wars hadn't stopped though; they had simply been replaced by regular bloody conflicts with a hundred times more victims than before… Two unknown lands had been discovered across the ocean. People's behavior changed as technology improved more and more. New countries were born on the ashes of those that disappeared. Same thing happened with religions. Considering how 'stable' religions often led to so-called 'Holy Wars', Hidan was actually glad that crazy Jashinism was no more…
About 120 years ago, as the world was changing drastically and his life as an explorer was becoming less and less possible, Hidan had started looking for a place where to settle down permanently. When the owners of the 'Alba Madonna' had died with no heir, he had immediately acquired it. It was a three centuries old estate, renowned all across the country for its luxurious white truffles which fetched a really high price. So long as he could maintain this fame, he wouldn't have to worry about money.
Being located on a small headland on the southeastern edge of Astoria Lake, not far to the south of the tiny fishing village Mintos, away from overcrowded cities, people wouldn't bother him much. None would care so much as to wonder why the successive family members looked so much alike or why there was never any wife to be seen…
At first, he'd have to hire skilled workers but it would only be a matter of time until he could manage everything by himself. Once he'd have the proper knowledge and experience, hiring would become useless. Shadow clones would do the job just as well, for free and with no questions asked. No one would notice who's working, safely hidden behind tall hedges. He wouldn't even have to work himself if he didn't want to; the clones would simply do all the work.
With time, this could become the perfect resting place for him.
That was more than a century ago and he still lived here.
Despite its expansion, Mintos still gave off the same relaxing feeling. The once tiny village had turned into an internationally famous country town, mostly thanks to the success of its campus. The small college on the border of town had over the last twenty years been developed into one of the most respected university in the whole world and students from every nation came to attend it. Part of its reputation was due to the various partnerships with all kinds of companies and the low tuition feeswhich made it affordable to even the most modest social classes.
Many had feared that Edenia, the recently constructed tourist complex on the northwestern side of Lake Astoria would only cause pollution and gather noisy troublemakers. In the end, everything had been planned to preserve the site and the inhabitants were forced to admit that neither the natural beauty nor the peaceful atmosphere had suffered from it.
As for Delnir, it remained so awfully tiny and quiet, one could wonder if there really was anyone still living there…
With the advent of high technologies, the Alba Madonna's fame had expanded worldwide, allowing prices to increase even more, definitely ensuring an impressive yearly income. The immortal had invested a lot of that money in the whole property over the last five years, especially for modernizing the equipment, restoring the mansion and building an annex.
Currently walking along the southern cliffs, admiring the lake and all its surroundings from afar, Hidan was truly glad to call it home.
The afternoon was coming to an end when he started heading back home. He'd spent the last few hours training in the woods located south of the lake. Even nowadays, he made sure to keep his fighting skills as sharp as back in the ninja era. Not only did he not want to give up on it, he also knew from experience how unpredictable future is and how much it paid to be prepared for anything.
As usual, he first made his way to the edge of the forest. He then followed the old track once used to travel between the Alba Madonna and Delnir, bordered by trees on one side and cliffs on the other. Ever since cars had become popular, very few people still used this path despite the gorgeous view you could get from there.
He was soon surprised to find a rather large group enjoying the beach just below his estate. Not that he minded their presence; they didn't bother him at all. It's just that most people usually assume it is part of his private property but they are just mistaken.
Seconds later, memory struck him. Two young guys had visited him the previous day, students from Mintos he had wagered, to ask if 'his beach' was open to the public as the lack of barrier suggested, then if he'd mind them coming here to party with their friends. He had no reason to refuse; such things happened less than once a year and rarely did much noise. Plus he'd be gone for most of the day anyway.
He hadn't expected them to be so numerous though, adding up to a total of twenty three. Fifteen boys and girls along with a dog were playing cheerfully in the water. Five more were relaxing on the beach, enjoying food and drinks while talking. Finally, two guys were fighting under the watchful eyes of the last two of them. Judging how calm the latter were, it had to be just a friendly spar, no matter how violent it seemed.
It wasn't long until the track got farther from the lake, heading straight for the student town. Hidan then went down a ramp cut into the cliff and leading down to the beach which he could follow all the way to his residence. Taking off his flip-flops as soon as his feet reached the warm sand, he kept walking, getting closer to the strangers as he did. He watched them from afar, feeling a mix of regrets, bitterness and melancholy as he thought back to his own tough childhood compared with what those carefree youngsters were living.
His attention was suddenly attracted by two blonde girls who were visibly trying to sneak up on the group of five, which was completely dumb and useless as they were right in front of them. Their intention became clear when they positioned themselves near someone currently busy taking a nap with a book set on the eyes. Grabbing the legs and arms at the same time, they carried their poor victim all the way to the lake and, ignoring all the protests, threats and insults thrown at them, dumped him into the water.
Despite how childish the prank was, Hidan couldn't hold back a smirk. However it immediately faded away, only to be replaced by utter stupefaction when the boy emerged.
It was him…
That face, forever haunting his memory. His hair, his eyebrows, his eyes, his nose, his mouth… everything was the same, even the earrings! This guy was the true copy of the shadow-nin.
Getting a hold of himself, he pricked up his ear as the boy railed against his friends.
"Fuck you, girls! Can't you just pick on someone else and leave me the hell alone?"
It was a voice he knew far too well. Even nowadays, it still echoed clearly in his head, uttering the last words prior to his burial.
"Just shut up and enjoy the warm water, Shikamaru!"
Something clicked in the albino's mind as a long-lost memory was suddenly returned to him. That name he had sought to remember so many times in vain.
And here's the background for this fic. Not much to say about it, the real story will begin with chapter 2.
For those who might be wondering, Hidan will of course be partly OoC since he no longer believes in Jashin but rest assured I won't turn him into a 'peace and love' hippy either.
The name of the fic is a reference to a great music from the even greater game 'Chrono Trigger'. The title for this chapter is a reference to a nice music from the game 'Breath of Fire IV'.
Thank you for reading, even more for reviewing. Don't hesitate to point any mistake, inconsistency or anything. Useful criticism is always welcome, especially for a beginner like me.