Chapter 35: Different Perspectives 2


"Exactly which one are you?" Kabuto asked.

Sasuke turned, catching Kabuto in a Sharingan genjutsu, showing him Orochimaru's transference ritual. Showing him Orochimaru's defeat.

"I have absorbed him completely," said Sasuke, the normally stoic Uchiha displaying a rare moment of genuine satisfaction.

This was bad.

Kabuto didn't dare move. Even the slightest hint of aggression would mean certain death. But Sasuke simply turned away, proceeding down the hall and making his way out of the base.

What now?

With Orochimaru dead, Kabuto was–

A swirl of icy air swept through the hall.


Kabuto turned slowly, coming to face the unusually beautiful and feminine young man. When Haku had first arrived in Hidden Sound, Kabuto was certain that he wouldn't last long. The soft-hearted ones rarely did. Personally, he'd had higher hopes for Karin, who had quickly adapted to life here. But although it took some time, Haku had grown to become just as cold and cruel as Kimimaro. And even more lethal.

Haku clasped his hands and bowed deeply.

"I wished to express my appreciation for you, Kabuto-san," he said, rising from his bow and giving Kabuto a small smile. It was a lifeless, empty thing. "Because of you, I was able to surpass my limits and become a proper tool able to fulfill Sasuke-sama's will."

"Of course," said Kabuto, keeping his tone neutral. Haku was a strange one even by Hidden Sound standards. As far as Kabuto could tell, Haku held no desire beyond obeying Sasuke's orders. So, if he was here, then… "What use does Sasuke-kun have for me?"

Haku's placid smile remained frozen in place like an angelic mask.

"You are irrelevant to Sasuke-sama's ambitions," he said. "That is why he has given me permission to repay you for all that you've done."


Kabuto fell into a taijutsu stance, bringing chakra to his hands and forming a twin set of chakra scalpels. He was at a disadvantage in close-quarters combat, but he had little choice. The confined space would limit Haku's speed and maneuverability, but–

Kabuto cried out in pain.

The chakra scalpels flickered and vanished as the blood vessels in his hands burst, ice forming in his veins as his hands froze solid in seconds. When had he–?

The icy breeze.

Haku was able to infuse his chakra into microscopic ice crystals. They were small enough to be carried on the wind and could painlessly piece any exposed flesh on a victim, giving Haku the ability to crystalize the water in their blood.

Kabuto stumbled back, bringing up his healing chakra to mitigate the damage as the ice slowly began to spread. But it could not be contained. Even as he cut off circulation to his lower arms, spots of crystallization began appearing on his neck and calves.

"You were always so fascinated by my jutsu," said Haku. "Please enjoy this first hand experience. I've kept the progress slow so that you can fully appreciate the extent of my feelings. After all, it was you who proposed this jutsu in the first place."

Kabuto attempted to flee, numbing his pain receptors. If he could increase the distance beyond Haku's effective range, then he might be able to repair the damage. Kabuto performed a body-flicker–

Only for his frozen leg to shatter, breaking off at the knee.

"It was you who gave me all of those prisoners to 'interrogate'," said Haku, approaching Kabuto with deliberate measured steps.

Kabuto raised his frozen hands in a last ditch effort to defend himself, but his shoulders locked into place as the ice spread down his torso, deftly avoiding anything vital, prolonging his life for a few extra moments of agony.

Haku reached down to touch Kabuto's face gently.

"And it was you who prevented me from rescuing Kiyo-sama on the bridge," he whispered as ice spread from his fingertips, freezing Kabuto's eyes. The last thing he saw before the world became a blur of white was Haku's cold, empty smile. "So please accept my deep and heartfelt gift."

As the frozen crystals clawed past Kabuto's eyes and into his brain, he realized belatedly that Haku's smile wasn't empty at all.

It was filled with ice.


"Pein…please," said Konan, her quiet desperation nearly lost in the cheerful pitter-patter of rain across the water.

Madara, Itachi, Kisame, and Kiyo-chan were gone, vanished into Madara's Kamui dimension, leaving Pein and Konan alone in the rain.

"There is nothing to be done," said Pein, his monotone belying nothing of his true feelings, unlike his chakra which roiled in anger and grief. "This was always our destined path. The path to true Peace."

Konan took a hesitant step forward, toward the stone still slick with the mingled blood of their small companion and their former mentor. The rain was already washing it away, staining the water pink and diluting the blood sacrifice throughout the vast lake until no evidence remained that it had been offered at all.

Konan knelt to scoop up the ribbon-bound angel and held it in both hands.

"No matter what choice he makes, my ribbon is precious to me," she'd said. "I want to keep it for as long as I live."

"She has accepted her fate," said Pein, his tone just a little bit softer. "And so must we. Or everything that we have sacrificed will have been for nothing."

Konan's fingers traced the well-worn ribbon. It was layered with chakra imbued from years of love and use. But the lingering chakra would not last forever. Soon it would fade and the last traces of her would be gone forever.

"Kiyo-chan, all of our friends, and…Yahiko," said Konan. "What is the point of creating a peaceful world if the ones we care for never live to see it?"

Pein was silent.

"You wanted to save her too," said Konan. "That was why you trained her, wasn't it? So that she might become strong enough to escape?"

"Of course I wanted to save her," said Pein. "If there was a path that would allow her to survive and for the world to find peace, I would take it without hesitation. But to act against Madara directly would mean risking everything. I am the only one strong enough to bring peace to this world. I am the only one with the will to bring us to the bright future we've always dreamed of. I am the only one…" He trailed off. "I cannot sacrifice the entire world simply because I came to care for one doomed child."

"You are god," said Konan. "But she is an angel of god."

Pein sighed. It was a heavy sound.

"We cannot save someone who will not save herself," said Pein.

It was true and they both knew it. If Kiyo-chan had chosen to escape back to Konoha, Konan was certain that Pein would not have followed her. He wouldn't attack her village. Konan doubted that he would even kill her friend, the Kyuubi jinchuuriki. But Kiyo-chan hadn't escaped. She'd stayed for reasons that Konan couldn't understand. And so she'd gone to meet her death.

Konan brought the angel to her chest, holding it close.

"We…I cannot give up now," Pein continued. "Not when I am so close."

"And what about Jiraiya-sensei?" Konan asked.

She knew that he stood in the way of true Peace, but still, it made her heart glad that her former teacher was still alive out there somewhere. His life was Kiyo-chan's final gift to them. She'd never once stood against them for her own sake, but she'd also never hesitated to help another person in need.

Perhaps that was their mistake. If they had simply told Kiyo-chan that her escape would save her village and protect her friend, then perhaps that would have been enough for Kiyo-chan to stand against her elder brother. But they hadn't. The risk of Madara discovering the truth and turning against them was too great. So they'd tried to manipulate and trick her into doing what they wanted. And that was what led them to where they stood now.

"I will finish what I began with him," said Pein.

"She begged us to stop," said Konan. "She only asked us to speak to him and to listen. He was our sensei. There is a chance that he might understand."

"He will not listen," Pein sighed. "Those who preach compassion and understanding are always the first to fall. And I cannot fall. I will continue on the path to peace even if I must go alone."

The unspoken question hung between them.

Konan held no delusions about their situation. About Madara.

"I am still an angel of god," she said, opening the front of her Akatsuki cloak and placing the paper angel safely into an inside pocket.

"I will bring Peace," said Pein softly, almost as if he was trying to reassure himself as well as her. "Then there will be no more sacrifices."

Konan did not respond, instead tilting her head back so that the rain trailed down her face like the tears she could no longer shed.


"Damnit, why aren't we allowed to go after Sasuke, un?" Deidara asked.

He and Sasori were high above the forest, riding on one of Deidara's clay birds as they sped towards their next target.

"Orders from Leader-sama," said Sasori, answering as if Deidara hadn't been in the meeting too. Bastard.

"Hn, it's because of Uchiha-chan, isn't it?" Deidara guessed. "She's gone now. I didn't even get a chance to play with her. Her brother never appreciated my art. Giving her a taste would've shown him, un."

Going after Itachi directly was pointless considering the difference in their strength, a fact that Deidara was loath to admit even to himself. But Itachi obviously wanted the girl alive for something, and if that was the case, Deidara would have liked to use her when demonstrating the potency of his art. It would have been easy, too. Healers weren't known for their battle prowess, and she likely felt safe while in the Akatsuki base. Sure, Itachi and Pein might be irritated at her death, but it wasn't like Kakuzu hadn't murdered half a dozen previous partners already. They'd get over it, and then Itachi would have to admit Deidara's superiority.

He'd almost had his chance, too. After getting both of his arms ripped off during the capture of the One Tail's vessel, Deidara had been looking forward to meeting the little healer. But by the time he'd returned to Ame for treatment, she'd been 'unavailable', whatever that meant. Kakuzu had been recalled instead, stitching together Deidara's arms and adding some questionable human flesh to replace one of his missing elbows.

"That's why you never had the chance," said Sasori. "It's your own fault. I was looking forward to meeting her too. I heard she uses a shamisen to heal. There is something of 'art' in that."

Deidara scoffed.

"Art?" he said, wrinkling his nose. "Art isn't strumming on the strings of an instrument. Art is an EXPLOSION!"

There was a beat of silence.

"Bastard, art is eternal," said Sasori, rehashing the same old argument they always had. Deidara respected Sasori, but on this point, he would not concede. Though the knowledge that Uchiha-chan played an instrument did make Deidara curious about her own thoughts on art. Music was, by definition, almost as ephemeral as an explosion. Perhaps she might have been the one to break their stalemate on the nature of art.

Well, it was too late anyway. She was already gone, taken by Itachi. Her opinions, whatever they might have been, didn't matter now, if they ever did.

"Anyway, if we can't go after Sasuke, there's still the Konoha ninjas," said Deidara thoughtfully, flexing his mended arms. "I still owe them for our last fight."

"Don't get overconfident," said Sasori, nodding toward the small lake where Zetsu had indicated that the Konoha ninjas were waiting. "That's the spot."

Deidara grinned.

"Let's show these uncultured brats the true meaning of art, un."


"Cut the crap!" Naruto snarled, clenching his fists as Kyuubi's chakra began bleeding into his own. "Kiyo-chan would never help people like you!"

The blond Akatsuki member smirked from his vantage point high above the clearing. Naruto wanted to rush at him and wipe that stupid grin right off of his smug little face, but their last encounter was still a vivid scar across his memory. He'd chased after the man to retrieve Gaara's body, and though he'd succeeded, it was only with the help of Kakashi-sensei.

If he tried to rush the other man, it wouldn't end well for him.

Some distance away, Yamato, Sai, Sakura, and Team 8 were dealing with the weird puppet guy, the same one who had murdered granny Chiyo. Behind Naruto, Kakashi stood analyzing the situation. Privately, Naruto was glad that it was just him and Kakashi against the weird, blond 'artist'. Tsunade-Baa-chan had assigned Yamato, Sai, and Sakura to help him after his failed mission to rescue Gaara. Naruto had objected. Loudly. He didn't need replacements for his team, not when he was so close to getting them back.

But Baa-chan hadn't been interested in his arguments. According to her, if he wanted to get his team back, he needed allies. And so Naruto had reluctantly joined them. Sakura was okay, he guessed. She was Baa-chan's student and she'd even been nice to him a few times at the Academy. But she wasn't Kiyo-chan. Then there was Sai, who was an even bigger bastard than Sasuke. And Yamato…well, he was just weird. And creepy.

Naruto would just be glad when the real Team 7 was back together again. But right now, there was someone standing in his way…

"Believe what you want, but she's been one of ours since she came to the Akatsuki," Deidara taunted.

"You bastard!" Naruto snarled, but he couldn't refute the man's claim.

No one had known what to think when the pervy sage had appeared in Konoha's hospital half-dead and missing an arm. His explanation on waking up had only confused Naruto further. Kiyo-chan was wearing an Akatsuki cloak? She'd begged Pein to spare the pervy sage? She'd used the Hiraishin to help him escape?

But if she was free, why hadn't she just…come home?

Shikamaru had proposed various theories from mind-control to seals, but nothing fit. If she was truly imprisoned, she wouldn't have been able to Hiraishin the pervy sage to safety, but if she was a willing member of the Akatsuki, she wouldn't have bothered to save him in the first place. So something else had to be keeping her there.

Naruto didn't want to think too hard on what those reasons might have been. Shikamaru's suggestions of mind-crippling torture or threats against her loved ones just made Naruto want to scream and rip something apart.

Worse, Sai had brought up the possibility of branding her as a missing ninja. If she really was an enemy of Konoha, she'd have to be treated as one, he'd reasoned. Naruto had grabbed Sai's shirt, but Kakashi had stepped in to stop him before he could do anything permanent.

Kakashi assured Naruto that Kiyo-chan wouldn't face judgment until they knew more about her situation, though even the possibility of her condemnation was enough to make Naruto's chakra burn with rage. Naruto hadn't wanted anything to do with Sai after that, but his last encounter with the artist duo had proven that he couldn't do this alone.

And that's where they were now.

Still tracking down the Akatsuki.

Still trying to find Kiyo-chan and that Itachi guy.

"Or at least she was a member of the Akatsuki," Deidara continued with a vicious grin. "But then she went and betrayed Leader-sama by helping one of you Konoha ninjas escape. For that, she was sentenced to death. Itachi took her away three nights ago. If she's not dead already, she will be soon."

Naruto's eyes widened. No. It couldn't be.

"You're lying!" he shouted.

Two shadow clones popped into existence, and Naruto began shaping his Rasenshuriken. It didn't matter that Baa-chan had warned him against using it. It didn't matter that using this technique would hurt him. It didn't matter because if Kiyo-chan was really dead, then–

"Naruto, calm down," said Kakashi, grabbing Naruto's wrist and startling him into releasing the half-formed technique.


"But Kakashi-sensei–!" Naruto protested. How could he possibly be calm at a time like this?

"If Kiyo is still alive, we'll need to get to her quickly," Kakashi continued, talking over him. "We can't afford to waste time on these two. We have to get to her location. And to do that…"

Naruto grit his teeth and turned back to the blond Akatsuki member.

"Yeah, I get it," he said, suppressing Kyuubi's chakra with a concentrated effort. He needed to make sure that Deidara didn't escape this time. He still had to pay for what he'd done to Gaara. "We have to deal with this guy first."

It didn't matter what this guy had to say anyway. Kiyo-chan was alive. She had to be. And when they found her, she'd be able to explain everything. Then with Kiyo-chan back, the bastard would return too. And then they'd all go home…together.

Everything would go back to the way it was before.

Naruto was sure of it.


"You know, it's strange to say this considering everything you've done," said Kisame, the barest trace of amusement in his tone. "But that look in your eyes…it's almost like you still care about her."

It was a strange thing to say, especially since Itachi was currently using chakra suppression chains to bind his unconscious little sister to an altar in the derelict temple where they now stood. She looked so tiny against the massive stone slab. Her ghostly pale skin and the dried blood from Pein's attack made her look like a sacrifice. A fitting image for the youngest Uchiha given the history of their family.

"I want to fight Sasuke one-on-one," said Itachi, ignoring Kisame's comment as he finished his work with the chains. They were currently some distance away from the old Uchiha hideout where Itachi planned to stage his final battle. "Do me a favor and keep everyone else out of it."

According to Tobi, Sasuke was traveling with two vassals of the Uchiha clan, an ice-wielder descended from the Yuki clan and an Uzumaki sensor. Tobi was off somewhere, having vanished shortly after dropping them off. Kisame doubted that they would make much of a difference in a fight, but it might be interesting if they decided to entertain him.

"Fair enough, but still…" said Kisame, his voice still light, still amused. "It's a little sad parting with you like this after all we've been through together."

And they would be parting. Kisame had long since learned to see beyond Itachi's illusions and not only those born of his genjutsu. Of course Kisame had noticed the gentle care Itachi always used with his little sister and the softness in his eyes when he looked at her. It was never anything significant, nothing that an untrained eye would see. But it was there nonetheless.

It had been there right from the start, from their encounter while trying to capture the Kyuubi's vessel. Itachi could have killed her then. He should have killed her then if he really was trying to traumatize Sasuke into gaining the Mangekyo Sharingan. But he hadn't. Instead he'd put her under a genjutsu and had carried her in his arms all the way back to Ame, scarcely parting from her for even a moment and constantly checking on her while she slept.

And the girl's actions in the Akatsuki base had also cemented the fact that Itachi's feelings were not one-sided. Right from the start, she'd been at ease around Itachi in a way that was blatantly impossible given their supposed history together. Kisame had been quite curious about the story behind that, but he hadn't pressed the issue. And he certainly hadn't brought his observations to the attention of anyone else in the organization. Whatever existed between the two Uchiha siblings was a secret, and to Kisame, secrets were meant to be kept.

But whatever secrets they held, one thing was clear: Itachi had no intention of letting his little sister die. And Kisame suspected that the same was true for Sasuke.

So Itachi intended to lose his battle.

And for people like them, a lost battle only ended in one way. Kisame was no stranger to the concept of comrades dying. He'd killed most of his allies at some point or another, never once hesitating in carrying out his orders. And yet, when Itachi stepped away from the sleeping girl and regarded her for a long moment, Kisame felt something akin to regret.

He'd joined the Akatsuki because he'd been lost while wandering through life, not truly understanding his own desires or purpose. He couldn't say that he'd found either in the organization, but with Itachi he did find something that almost felt like belonging. If Itachi had ever chosen to leave the Akatsuki, Kisame would have followed him without question. He certainly had little enough loyalty to Pein and no interest at all in some twisted ideal of 'Peace'.

Itachi departed, confident in Kisame's ability to fulfill his task. Kisame lingered for a moment longer before leaving the sleeping girl behind and heading off to intercept Itachi's younger brother.

With Itachi gone, would Kisame return to his wandering? The Akatsuki was slowly falling apart with the deaths of Hidan, Kakuzu, Sasori, Deidara, and soon Itachi. They'd lost members before, but never so many in such a short period of time.

Or perhaps he'd hang around for a little while longer. He had no siblings of his own, and it might be interesting to see if he could come to understand why these ones were worth dying for.


"You've grown stronger," said the mass of crows that was once Itachi. They scattered, and Itachi's voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. "She is in the central chamber. Make use of her life before you come find me. This is your last chance…"

Sasuke stiffened, his eyes immediately going to the far door that led deeper into the temple. He passed through the antechamber with deliberate, measured steps, keenly aware of his surroundings and the possibility of a trap.

But all attempts at caution vanished the moment he entered the central chamber and saw Kiyo-chan bound to an altar. He closed the distance between them in a moment, unsheathing his blade and slashing through the chains. They fell with a clatter, but Kiyo-chan remained unresponsive, her eyes closed and her chest rising and falling in the slow rhythm of a deep sleep.

Sasuke re-sheathed his blade and reached out to touch her face. It was just as Haku had said. She looked exactly the same. Well, mostly. Her skin was deathly pale. Sasuke wasn't sure what could have caused it, but he suspected that Itachi had kept her locked away in some dark, windowless cell for the past three years. That alone made his heart clench, but more worrying was the large quantity of dried blood soaked into her clothes and the obvious puncture wounds in the fabric which lined up to the stains.

What had Itachi done to her?

Sasuke examined her quickly, but there were no signs of injury. Obviously she'd healed herself, which would explain her apparent youth as well, as that was a side-effect of her constant healing. But if she'd had chakra to heal, why hadn't she escaped? Why hadn't she returned to him? If that was really her on the bridge to Wave, then she was clearly allowed to move around with some semblance of freedom.

So why?

It had to be because she couldn't.

Sasuke wasn't sure why or how, but something had prevented her escape. And judging by the paleness of her skin and the blood-soaked rags she wore, he thought he might have understood. Sasuke's jaw clenched. Threats, torture, and a terrifying, sunless prison. Only allowed brief moments of 'freedom' to do Itachi's bidding. He'd probably told her that he would target Sasuke if she escaped. So she'd stayed there, enduring whatever horrors Itachi inflicted on her and waiting for the day that Sasuke grew strong enough to save her.

All to protect him.

Sasuke hoped that she would forgive him for not finding her sooner.

He'd spent the past three years training every single day with the singular goal of rescuing her and killing that man. But that would be a cold comfort to someone who had waited day after day for a savior that never came.

"I'm here now," Sasuke whispered, brushing her fringe from her closed eyes and tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. Her ribbon was gone, he noticed. He considered waking her and offering her the ribbon he'd meant to give her all those years ago.

But he couldn't.

If she woke now, she'd surely Hiraishin the both of them back to Konoha, and he still had business to resolve with Itachi. Besides, she looked so peaceful as she slept. He hoped that she was dreaming sweet dreams of sunlight and home. He did not want her to wake to a world that still contained the man who had imprisoned and tortured her. No. When she woke, she would be free of him.


Sasuke hoped that that would be enough to earn her forgiveness for his failures as an older brother.

"I'll be back soon," he murmured, stepping away from his sleeping sister and returning through the entrance hall. She would be safe here.

When it was done, when it was over, he would return. He would take her somewhere safe. He would give her the ribbon, and nothing would ever take her away from him again.

But to do that, there was something else he had to do first:

Kill Itachi.


Everything was proceeding as well as expected.

Sasuke had grown so much in these past three years. He was easily on par with an average S-rank missing nin like Sasori or Deidara, which was about the limit of his potential without the Mangekyo Sharingan. However, despite his vast improvements he was still far below the level of power required to kill Itachi.

Perhaps things would have been different if Kiyo-chan had not healed him, but as it was, Itachi hunched over and gasped while clutching at one eye, feigning a level of weakness he did not feel. Even after allowing Sasuke a few hits that he could technically have avoided, and even after liberal use of his Mangekyo Sharingan for no real benefit, Itachi could still have won handily if he'd wanted to.

Of course he didn't want to. So now he had to drain away the last of his power and allow Sasuke to deal the finishing blow. Everything else was already in place.

He'd explained the nature of the Mangekyo Sharingan to Sasuke within Tsukuyomi and had relayed the information about Madara. He'd witnessed Sasuke's ultimate move and was suitably impressed by Kirin's power. He'd also removed Orochimaru from Sasuke's body with the Totsuka blade, finally freeing his younger brother from the snake forever. All that was left was to implant Amaterasu into Sasuke's eye, one final trap for Madara. He'd already ensured Kiyo-chan's safety, and with this final act, he would ensure Sasuke's safety as well.

"...Eyes…" Itachi muttered, shuffling forward after dispelling Susanoo and his Sharingan, giving the impression of waning strength.

Sasuke stumbled back, clearly out of chakra.

Itachi faltered, inviting Sasuke to attack.

Come, little brother. Even a simple kunai would do.

But instead of attacking directly, Sasuke reached for the small medical pouch at his side, one identical to Kiyo-chan's. He pulled out a small bottle. Soldier pills? Yes. Kiyo-chan had given Itachi plenty over the years. Of course she would have done the same for Sasuke. Itachi's lips curled into the barest of smiles. She had never once sought retribution for what he had done to her. It was only fitting that she should provide Sasuke the strength needed to kill him.

With this his atonement would be complete.

Sasuke bit down on the pill, and one final chidori burst to life within his palm. Chidori was a close-range attack, giving Itachi ample opportunity to grant Sasuke his final gift before death.

Itachi reached up shakily with one hand. The timing needed to be right.

Sasuke lunged forward with a scream, thrusting his arm out, aiming straight at Itachi's heart. But just as Itachi braced for the attack, Sasuke's forward momentum was abruptly halted, his attack never reaching its intended target.

Because it found another instead:

The tiny, tiny body of a little girl that had appeared between them.