I'm waiting for tomorrow's chapter...

Anyway. I am attempting to master what we now call "The Kishimoto". Or, one of the "Kishimoto Techniques".

No, it's not plot-no-jutsu or talk-no-jutsu...you're close though.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, because I still don't know what the heck Kakuzu's even doing in this story. Oh Kakuzu.

Now I just want to know what he looks like as a younger man...lol. Hidan would so laugh at that.

Note: Did I troll you? Half of you?

Note 2: To both members of the site and guest anons: I LOVE YOU ALL AND YOUR REVIEWS! Seriously, your reviews make my day!

NOTE 3: MARIKO has an ASK PAGE on deviantART. Her link will be posted on my profile page.

Note 4: An anon asked me when they would have sex (in BHGE). . . that made my day. Anon, I love you.

Note 5: To the other guest who reviews many many times... You are wonderful, please keep reading! Tell me how I'm doing...

(what is a plot).

(no really, what is a plot).


Chapter 13: Home


.x.X.x.


My tears are your tears.


.x.X.x.


It wasn't even a second. He scooped up her body and thrust his black, iron hand through her ribcage for her heart. The amount of blood that splurged from the wound was unbelievable, disgusting, riveting yet repulsive. The organ pumped feebly; she was there, dimly, so dimly.

Mariko willed it to rewind. For the heart to beat a little harder, settle itself back inside the ribcage. For the bones and skin to knit together obediently, and for the blood to clean itself up and pull away at low tide. Then her eyes would flutter open and she would gracefully sweep her sapphire hair behind her ears, as if nothing had happened.

"What the—"

A man with a wild mane of black hair swept downwards with his war fan. The body was dropped, the flesh thudding to the ground with a disgusting squelch. It beat, ever so faintly.

The war fan cracked across the man's face with the force of twenty elephants, sending him flying into the earth.

And then Tobirama was on him, screaming murder, driving his blade through one of the masked creatures. The mask opened its mouth, a gaping maw with a bundle of raw chakra ready to be released. It shot point blank, engulfing the white-haired Senju in a ground-shaking explosion of lightning energy. There was a crackle, a spark, and a splutter. Tobirama's faithful blade pierced fully through the heart, forcing it to a standstill.

Madara's Katon repelled the second mask's advances, and he, too, crushed another heart.

Mariko did not process anything. She vaguely heard the sounds of battle going on around her, but her were shut. She had a pair of cold, cold arms wrapped around her, shaking ever so slightly. When she did risk a glance, eyelids fluttering, she saw the glow of green warming her face.

But it was a speck of green, far, far away.

A lightning bug, flashing on and off, flickering softly.

It blinked at her, silently.


.x.X.x.


"I'm hardly surprised," she said. "You've always been a crybaby."

"I have not."

"Admit it, Katsurou. You were worried."

"I was not."

"I'm your sister. You can tell me anything."


.x.X.x.


A heartbeat.

Another.


.x.X.x.


"With Itama's corpse, there was so much blood that I felt sick."


.x.X.x.


A flash of red — Mito — distinctly blurred the green lightning bug's iridescent glow. The ephemeral flash of hope and the sound of a heartbeat wrenched at Mariko. She was not sure what part of her body was being pulled, but it was along the lines of a dropping sensation. She wanted to drop and never get up, to lie beside the blue-haired woman and watch the pools and pools of crimson stain her fingers. She almost wanted to push the cold arms away from her body; they were uncomfortable.

But he was shaking, so she gently touched his face and was silent.

Fingers quivering, he picked up his bow and pulled an arrow from his quiver.


.x.X.x.


"There's a thin line between reality and your dreams. I think that the two are actually connected at all times; you just need to know how to live both at once."

"Sumiko, that's obviously impossible."

"You never know. Kyo thought about it, and Mari seems to live both at once all the time."

"Kyo over-thinks things, and Mariko just appears to be daydreaming when she's not."

"Who knows?"


.x.X.x.


Just as the masked creature reached them, he released an immediate shot that splintered the clay face apart into thousands of fragments. The arrow landed, and its tip of a marbled color, hints of delicately shining green among its hues. It was an emerald arrowhead, imbued with chakra.

A fourth creature threw itself at them, and Tobirama cut it off with so much brute strength that he sent it crashing through four buildings. He paid no heed to the fleeing civilians, only took his sword and viciously sliced through the heart-creature. There was a high-pitched whining, and the animal — slick black threads and all — deflated to a crumpled heap on the ground.

Mariko's eyes clouded over; she was once again sharply aware of Katsurou's uncontrollable shaking.

And then: "My tears are your tears, so you can tell me anything. And I'll tell you one thing — I'll always be here for you. Remember that when you're in Konoha, okay?"


.x.X.x.


"This proper princess stuff is absolute junk. Keep your chin up and pretend you didn't just spill green tea all over yourself, and you'll be fine."

"Sumiko, that had no logic whatsoever."

"Who cares? It works, doesn't it?"

"No, not really."

"Oh but it does, Mariko."


.x.X.x.


She broke away from his shivering form, a pitiful husk of a man who had watched his sister fall before his eyes.

He thought she was dead.


.x.X.x.


Follow the path, encrusted with jewels,

A horseshoe of impossible light;

your sight is your creation.


.x.X.x.


Sumiko hated that poem.


.x.X.x.


"I spy, with my tiny eye, a bird!"

"There is no bird."

"C'mon, Katsurou, have some imagination!"


.x.X.x.


My sight is my creation, and if I see her alive then she is alive.

Or maybe that's the definition of genjutsu.


.x.X.x.


"Now listen up, my dear little sister. Rub your eyes a few times and make sure you're not dreaming."


.x.X.x.


The man went for her again, just to get her heart. But a long, winding seal had been drawn in on Sumiko's skin, and Mito had diligently wiped up the blood with the hem of her skirt, the outer layer soaked through. The seal deflected the man with the iron fists and the flying threads for exactly three seconds.

Three seconds was all Hashirama needed to finish. He was not the God of Shinobi for nothing.

When the one-layered seal was broken, he turned around with an unforeseen viciousness that even the Uchiha would cringe at. The sheer amount of chakra he emitted simply blew back the shinobi. What was his name again? Kakuzu.

A mop of black hair was revealed, olive skin and a bizarrely scarred mouth created a face under the fallen mask. Hashirama gripped the man's throat so hard that barely a gurgle reached their ears. The battle ensued, violent and clashing, until the man was on the ground and Hashirama pressed a foot to his chest.

"Do I kill you, or not?"

"Go ahead."

"Explain it all."

"And why should I?"

Hashirama grew a wooden spear from his palm, and pressed it to the man's throat. The man simply laughed, a low, grating noise.

"I'm not afraid. Kill me."

And then two others stepped up beside the long-haired Senju: an icy younger brother and a man with eyes that could literally burn holes.

He spoke.


.x.X.x.


It's dim. The stars are out, but the light is not much. However, it's just enough to see by.


.x.X.x.


Mito brushed the blue hair back from the woman's face. Hashirama had done it quickly, and he was more exhausted than he looked, but she was reassured with Tobirama and Madara at his side. The Uchiha was sensible when he needed to be, and the sense of danger had sent him flying to the Hokage Tower in what almost seemed like an alarmed state, had he given away any facial expression other than the usual.

There were scars all across the ribcage, and skin was white and tender. The ribs were knitted together weakly, for what he could have done in three seconds. Blood was restored with the help of Akimichi blood loss pills, enhanced with Senju medicines, but it did not help bring her to consciousness. All wounds were closed, and the gaping hole of her chest was filled in, heart delicately refitted. Her throat bore a terrible red gash, and a slightly uneven bump was the evidence of a reconnected trachea and esophagus.

She breathed.


.x.X.x.


The Emerald Eagle swooped down and carried the child to safety.

"Is she alive?" asked the young prince.

What do you see?

"She's dead."

No. Watch more carefully.

"She's…"


.x.X.x.


Madara reached out and grabbed Tobirama's arm, stopping the blade from falling.

"Don't touch me, Uchiha," hissed the white-haired Senju, jerking angrily away from the red-eyed man. Madara gave Tobirama a look that was part contempt and part doubt, knowing full well that if he let go, the blade would be immediately driven through Kakuzu's last heart.

"It's okay, Madara," interjected Hashirama. "He's fine."

Tobirama threw his brother an accusing glare before stepping back and regarding Kakuzu with disgust. He took a breath, because he knew that his temper was flaring, and it would do him no good to irrationally slice the man to pieces. A glance over his shoulder sent him into a slight panic; Mariko was not with her brother. Katsurou remained on his knees, face expressionless, staring into the ground with a cold disconnection that sent a shiver up Tobirama's spine. The Second Prince of Hurricane was not with them, currently, but somewhere else. His eyes were empty.

"I'll handle this," Hashirama said, taking his foot off Kakuzu's chest and leaning down to stare the man in the eye. "Tobirama, take care of everyone else. Madara, stay here for a moment."

"Don't order me around," the Uchiha simply retorted testily, though his reply lacked any sort of fire behind the words. He stood by his Senju counterpart, silently regarding the man on the ground.

Tobirama watched the two of them; he was not included, obviously. A bit angrily, he turned on his heel and stomped over to Katsurou, who miserably studied Tobirama's shoes with mild interest.

"Stand up."

"She's dead," he said, pathetically.

"Stand up," Tobirama barked, grabbing Katsurou by the collar and wrenching the blue-haired man to his feet. "Stand up and open your eyes, you idiot."

"Let go of me." Katsurou brushed Tobirama off of him and stumbled away.

"Then be useful and do something," Tobirama hissed under his breath.

Katsurou merely threw a defeated glance over to where Mariko had run off to; to a still body laying beside Mito, cold and lifeless.

Tobirama folded his arms.

"I told you to open your damn eyes," he said slowly, cornering the taller man. "And look again."

Katsurou did, but he saw nothing. He saw Mariko hold the corpse's hand, rocking back and forth gently, until she stopped and went deadly silent. She went still, so still that Katsurou believed time had frozen right then and there.

A gust of warm air blew past his ear, and he heard the faint rustle of feathers.

An eagle's feather drifted down to the earth.


.x.X.x.


Dear Momma,

I think that the Emerald Eagle was not a spirit, but the prince himself, and that we are all his descendants. The Wolf was just his inner darkness.


.x.X.x.


She ran as fast as she could, through the pouring rain and the thundering skies. The gravel path was slippery and stones skidded out from beneath her feet. The panicked mare beside her pulled at the lead rope with a frantic whinny, hooves kicking out as they made a final dash to the barn. About ten yards from the stable doors, lightning crashed dangerously close, and the mare reared back on her hind legs.

The girl was thrown to her knees, rolling down the path, and the horse pounded away, into the now-open barn doors.

A figure wearing an oversized raincoat dashed outside and picked up the girl, thin but strong arms wrapping around the princess firmly.

"You stupid," muttered the older girl dragging her sister into the barn, "don't go running in the rain. Baka."

Once inside, Sumiko dried off the shivering girl with a few towels, draping a horse blanket over her sister's shoulders. They were both sopping wet and cold, huddling in the midst of several warm, hay-munching horses, trying to rub heat back into their hands.

"You stupid," repeated Sumiko, "stirrup-head, what were you doing out there?!"

"Maia didn't come in from the paddocks," Mariko replied miserably. "I was trying to bring her back in."

"She would have been smart enough to find her way to the lean-tos, or any other kind of shelter," sighed Sumiko. She took her little sister's arms and pulled her closer, fiercely rubbing the cold, clammy palms. "What if I hadn't been there, and you fell and hurt yourself?"

"I didn't."

Sumiko rolled her eyes. She knew full well that Mariko was fourteen and could take good care of herself, but she worried anyway. Ever since their mother passed away, she'd taken on a maternal role and was constantly caring for everyone, even her older siblings.

A few marks caught her eye.

"Mariko…" Sumiko caught her younger sister's hand despite the Second Princess's attempts to jerk away hastily. But the older blunette had a firm grip on Mariko's wrist, and rolled up the wet sleeve to find a wrist marred with thin, fresh scars.

"Let go," insisted Mariko, trying to pull away.

"Mariko," said Sumiko seriously, ignoring her little sister's pleas. "You haven't been trying to cut yourself again, have you?"

The younger girl managed to break away from Sumiko, standing and stalking down to the end of the barn aisle. "No," she said, almost too quietly to hear. But, in truth, she was.


It had only been experimental. She hadn't meant to actually cut herself. Instead, Mariko, standing at midnight in the one of the luxurious bathrooms — but not her own — took out a razor, presumably one of Katsurou's packs, and pressed it to her skin. Nothing happened. She stared at her forearm; pale, porcelain, like an untouched doll. Everything about her was like a doll, with crisp lines and a childish face. She had long lashes and rosy lips, a complexion so pale that she looked sickly. She was gaunt and bony, thin as a baby deer with knobby elbows and knees that protruded awkwardly.

She pulled her hand away, and was surprised to see that the razor caught her skin and dragged slightly.

A sliver of blood crawled down her arm — it was not a large cut, merely like an oversized paper cut that somehow slid transversely across her wrist. Mariko watched the blood, intrigued by its thin, crimson path. It contrasted so much from her pale skin and her blue hair that she couldn't help but watch the cut bleed out and then dry.

Then, in horror, she threw away the disposable blade and washed her hands, cleaning the wound and padding back to bed.


"Mariko, no," whispered Sumiko, following her younger sister. She wrapped her arms firmly around the girl, rocking back and forth slowly. "Don't do that, don't be like me."

Surprised, Mariko turned around.

"Like you?"

"You can talk to me whenever you like," Sumiko promised. She took Mariko by the shoulders. "Okay?"

"What do you mean, like you?" insisted Mariko, ignoring Sumiko's words.

Sumiko shook her head.


Mariko had a terrible wrenching in her gut, and it was half panic and half misery. Curled up on her vast mattress, she covered herself with the duvet and tucked herself among the sea of pillows that adorned her bed.

She'd dreamed of her mother again, but the dream had morphed her mother into a corpse — rotting flesh with maggots crawling all over, disgustingly slow. And then, after that, a flashback of the day before: Sumiko getting yelled at, leading to Mariko being yelled at, and then all she remembered was running to her room, slamming her door, and here she was.

A cold tear slipped unbidden down her cheek, and she wiped it away emotionlessly. Crawling from the warm cove of her blankets, Mariko padded to the master bath — the one by Katsurou's room — and pulled out the blade. She stared at it for quite some time.

It wasn't like anyone would know; after all, Katsurou didn't live here anymore, Sumiko was leaving soon, and Ryouichi was a ghost who robotically dragged himself to the office every day, only to disappear in the office every night. In the morning, he would appear from the office, and then soon after, he would return into what looked like a living hell.

A little slice of red, like strawberries, shining on her thin arm.

A row of little slices, uneven, short, long, thin — never deep — until she had a neat little ladder of ten.

She washed her hands, just like before, and threw out the razor. She pulled her sleeve over her arm and went to bed.


Sumiko, though wet and sopping and still shivering like there was a woodpecker rattling her insides, tossed a boot off to the side and rolled up a pant leg. Just above her knee, like a neat little tic-tac-toe pattern, crisscrosses of old scars up her leg, some pale and some dark. There was one long slice up her knee; that one was falling at the waterfall, she claimed.

"Sumi, you…?" Mariko touched her sister's knee, as if she had never seen Sumiko oin her life.

"This was right after Mom died," explained the older girl. She had, in fact, either continued to wear longer skirts and pants, or had simply thrown on some slapdash concealing cream that worked just as effectively on her leg as it did on her face. "I couldn't really talk to anyone."

"Not even Ryo?"

"Not even Ryo." And then, Mariko knew, that Sumiko had been hiding something from them for years and years, and she would never tell them. Not even now. It was the look in her emerald green eyes, slightly dampened and a hue darker than the usual.

It was a moment where Mariko wished she had said something. The pregnant pause allowed a silent angel to pass, before Sumiko stood and rolled her jodhpurs back down. She took Mariko's hand and stared at it for a minute or so.

"I'm always here," Sumiko said. "Even if you don't want to talk, I'm still here."

"You're leaving in a month."

Sumiko put on a smile, and it was her striking, usual smile. She had the same eyes as Mariko and the same carefully dished nose, but she was nothing like a little girl's doll at all. Her arms were tanned and she was like a sun goddess, hair boldly swept back in a stylishly messy fashion, lips painted the boldest of reds and clashing scarves thrown on just to make a statement.

"Who put that idea in your head, stirrups? I'm always home," Sumiko said. "And even if it's cheesy, this" — she pointed to her heart — "will always be with you too."


It was nearly midnight, and an eerie silence dropped over her room. She realized that she was the last one left. Ryouichi, as Crown Prince, was chained to his throne on the island. If he had any marital status, it was currently engaged to the island of Hurricane. Katsurou had marched off years ago, finding his way into the heart of some warrior woman who happened to be the daimyo's rebellious daughter. Together, they traipsed across the core of the Frost Country like a mad duo of shinobi spouses, setting fire to bandits' caves and quelling the sources of discontent in the nation.

Sumiko fell through her picturesque princess story, falling into a fated love with a man who was practically the next Daimyo in disguise. And if the Hot Springs Country did not suffer from her presence, then they benefited. Mariko was sure that, ever since Sumiko's arrival four years ago, the Hot Springs enjoyed a pleasant boost in overall spice.

And then there was Mariko.

The silence was buzzing; it was not the kind of silence where the wind blows ever so gently as the nighttime crickets creak out a natural rhythm. It was a stagnant air, clogging her ears and suspending her in its frozen stupor. There was a slight bustle from the kitchens below, but she hardly heard them.

She swung out of bed.

A glance in Katsurou's old bathroom had her studying the razors she'd once used to cut herself with. Making a face, Mariko tossed them all in the garbage; no one needed them now.

She was Hurricane's tool — a fishing hook to be cast out to Konoha the very next day — but she was in no way unhappy, not at the current moment. She was afraid, unwilling, and apprehensive, but she was somewhat at peace with herself.

I don't want to go, she thought.

But I want to see the world.

There was that horrid monster mask Sumiko had sent, hanging on the barn door across from Katrina's stall. Katrina herself seemed to know that Mariko was leaving, and had insistently nuzzled for treats after their ride.

There was the pretty horseshoe, dazzling with its many crystals, hanging on Mariko's door. She returned to see it there, the same as always, sturdy and cold, as metal tended to be. A last minute through threw the horseshoe in one of her cases, along with Aunt Tari's book and an emerald necklace that she tucked amongst her clothes.

I'm always home,she thought.


.x.X.x.


Dear Momma,

It was unusually cold today…


.x.X.x.


It was warm. While a light snow descended upon the capital city, the blankets shielded her from the night's chill and enveloped her with warmth. The jewel-encrusted horseshoe reminded her that Ryouichi was probably up again, filing away at the stacks and stacks of paperwork that were redirected to the throne's heir. A seemingly endless line of work for a young man who carried the nation's weight on lanky, thin shoulders.

Mariko stared at the doorway. Her gaze strayed to a couple of her suitcases, filled to the brim with belongings. If there was something she wished she could bring, it was Katrina. Tomorrow, there would be time to say goodbye.

But not forever, she thought to herself. Just for now.


.x.X.x.


.x.X.x.

It's unusually cold. The wind is cool, almost comforting, but as soon as it encircles me entire body it is frigid and unwelcoming. I'm conscious of a hard, flat surface beneath me – I am not floating away any time soon. Perhaps it would be nice to drift into the air, light as the Eagle's feather. I wouldn't mind being charred by the sun, even if it meant being burnt for a moment. The burning sensation would free me of this cold, hard stone in my core. It pulsates faintly, but it is not a soft rhythm.

Ice beats at my ribs, and it rips my lungs out even though I do not breathe.

The world is black and red and white all at once, little spirals of each filtering through what looks like sand. Sound comes through like trickles of water, here and there and not at all consistent. I wiggle my fingers, but find they are heavy as lead.

Someone takes my hand.

It is a soft, warm hand, soothing like sunlight on my face. It is a familiar hand, forever tender and meek, small and comforting. I'm not sure who it is, but I know that it is the hand of someone I know. I feel it.

Am I flying? I feel like floating away is just a matter of releasing myself from the earth, cutting away the belts and straps that keep me from lifting off. Suddenly, I almost resent the soft hand holding onto mine. I will the hand to let go so that I can drift away peacefully, leaving the cold, unrelenting heart of ice in the earth as I become free of all resistance.

But the glacier beats at my chest and burns my lungs, as if I have been running for the longest time without rest. My lungs are oddly disconnected, as if I breath through my skin and not through my nose. It is a detaching sensation, not quite pleasant but not uncomfortable, either. It makes floating away seem all the more simple; to let air sift through the pores of my skin and take me with the clouds.

Through my grainy filter of light, there is movement. The scrabble of noise is like the crunching of gravel underfoot, or the crinkle of crumpled papers. There is a rock beside me now, heavy and grating. But yet, this rock is familiar, as are the meek hands encompassing mine.

Do you hear me.

I cannot tell whether it is a question or just words filing through my ears in the structure of a question. Whatever the case, it is uncomfortable – the sound of a voice grounds me, but I want to fly more than anything else. The Eagle is waiting for me, and I'm sure of it.

I recall, vaguely, a handsome face. Ah, yes, I have a husband, don't I? He is brave and strong and quite witty, at that. He and I share a common love for…what was it again?

I cannot remember, and it saddens me. Perhaps, if I float away, I will remember. The air will lift me to a sky of knowledge, and I shall remember.

Do you hear me.

Again, the voice. I want him to go away.

Or is it a "her"? I don't know, they are just words.

The light shifts, as if my little filter of sand has been shifted and all the granules are falling apart to one side. The incoming glare of harsh red and white give way to a painful, sickly yellow. The remains of sand pockmark the image, making a grainy sort of cover.

The yellow falls to green, and it is such a wondrous, marvelous green that I cannot help but gasp inwardly. I see the my eyes in the mirror – as bright as emeralds with the soft hues of aqua and turquoise.

They're aren't my eyes.

No, we all have different eyes. My eldest brother – I cannot recall his face, only his eyes – has the eyes of the Eagle, glimmering and strong despite his thin, almost weak body. My second brother, his eyes are like the forest, bold and keen, like that of a hunter. His are the ones that fade to a deep, thoughtful gray-green, a marbled hue that is the Wolf. Mine are the slightly darker, somewhat like the ocean tinged with its natural greens. I've always liked the tiny specks of light in my eyes; I think they are like pearls.

My youngest sister has eyes of the deepest green. They are like the center of an emerald, hidden and reserved as is her personality. But when she smile, they light up like a light filtering through the gem, becoming the most beautiful, magnificent brilliance if only someone should realize it. She is the real hidden gem, to me.

I know you can hear me.

But I'm thinking of my sister's eyes, how she closes them off and turns herself into a dulled mossy-gray figure of little interest. She is beautiful, and she must know it. I know it.

And then I see her face, clearly. While I cannot recall the others' faces, I see hers as clearly as if she was standing before me.

But she is looking down on me, deep jade eyes shining with what look like tears. She is crying – but why? There is a hunter beside me, a tall, lean Wolf who looks far too weak and far too broken to be the Wolf of the stories. But yet, he is distinctly that, even though his broad shoulders are slumped over me in a moment of almost-defeat.

"What's wrong with you two?" I ask.

My voice is like a croak, a grating against my ears. I can hardly hear myself because the ice pounding in my chest is so loud and painful. It is insistent, as if it wants to rip open my ribcage and let my heart burst out. My own voice is almost sour, my throat burning with a strange soreness. It is strange for one's chest to be ice cold while the throat is on fire. Each are so extreme that they feel the same pain.

And then it is raining, just a slight pattering. I hear the clouds wail, sad but yet relieved. The rain is a release, and I do not feel like the water weighs me down – a splash to the earth, and I am freed. The burning in my throat dims, and the heavy, arctic weight bearing down on my chest is slightly lessened. The stiff rock to my left melts into living, breathing human, and the hands holding mine with a firm, unwavering conviction give way to deep, emerald eyes.

I feel a single raindrop on my cheek.

.x.X.x.


.x.X.x.


Katsurou crouched next to Sumiko, not daring to touch his younger sister for fear of shattering her to pieces. Mariko, rubbed warmth into the cold, limp hand, jangling with the jewel bangles and bracelets that Sumiko had slipped on in the morning. The Second Prince slowly and hesitantly crawled over, a hand skimming the blue-haired woman's shoulder.

"Do you hear me?" he whispered hoarsely. When his voice did not come out clearly, only in tender cracks and bits, he repeated more insistently, "Do you hear me?" He mouthed her name – Sumiko – silently, hoping for an answer. A glance at Mariko, and he found his own watery eyes reflected in hers, silent tears falling unbidden down her cheek.

She stirred, if only just a flutter of her eyelids.

Mariko curled in close, clutching her sister's hand so hard she feared she might break it. For once, her small hands could hold something firmly rather than grasp weakly at a following link. She held onto Sumiko as if she was holding onto a drifting soul – and she truly was.

A fat tear plopped onto Sumiko's cheek, and again, the eyes under her closed lids stirred.

"I know you can hear me," insisted Katsurou, his voice soft like the wind through the grass.

Her lips opened, just a tiny breath, and she whispered — so quietly that it could have been the wind…

"What's wrong with you two?"


.x.X.x.


She nursed her twisted ankle with an apprehensive, regretful aftertaste in her mouth.

"You'll have to give up the role to your cousin, then," said the King, without much emotion.

There was a stiff silence, uncomfortable and thick. And then, she spoke:

"I will dance, even if this ankle breaks."


.x.X.x.


"Did you think…" came the voice, strained and painful, "…that I would leave you so easily? You stirrup-heads."

"Who's the stirrup-head," coughed Katsurou through childish tears, swiping at them. He was the same boy he had been years ago, swinging his legs on a too-high chair, boasting about his victories in archery competitions. "Don't do that."

There was a faint smile, and she realized she was tired. She still felt like a rock. A gigantic loaf of lead, somewhat puffy but hard and heavy. It was rather strange, to think that one could feel like a rock yet have the airiness of a roll of bread all at once. There was no pause to consider her stained dresses or half-dead condition.

The first thing she said upon sitting up — albeit in great discomfort and searing pain — was:

"Where is that bastard — let me give him a piece of my mind! You don't go around stealing women's hearts like that, dammit!"

Mariko was not sure if she wanted to laugh or cry or do both.

You came home.

I sure did, didn't I?


.x.X.x.


"And when this ankle breaks, I'll stand right back up and dance until I die. And when I die, I'll stand up again and walk on home. You will never stop me."

And he never did.

She fell countless times, but she never faltered.

Finally, somehow, she miraculously picked herself up and lived.


She's back, and sassier than ever!

Okay. So.

YES, Hashirama saves the day.

I don't really care why that's such a bad idea, Sumiko needed saving. Yes. Hashirama. God of Shinobi. He is in this story with a purpose!

No, but seriously. Sumiko will threaten Kakuzu's life forever and ever and ever...

Until he has bad dreams and Hidan has to ask him why the heck he's shivering in his sleep...

This is a story of miracles.

This was also ARC 2. I will now start ARC 3, aka the unplanned playing out of arcs that I had not expected, but am now writing.

Oh! And there's going to be a partner story.