Disclaimer: As always, I own none of what exists in the Naruto or FullMetal Alchemist worlds. I only semi-own the girls brought in (and totally own the general plot). The girls are loosely based, and by now "loosely" is definitely the key word, on friends of mine, though considering how much they have changed over the course of the story, they are hardly who they are now.

Author's Note: Hello everyone. Sorry I've been away for so long. A lot has happened in the past several months, including a rather significant change in my life: I got married. My now-husband is absolutely wonderful. We met in college through a couple mutual friends and now I couldn't be happier. Needless to say, though, things have been incredibly busy with the final wedding preparations, moving into his apartment, trying to get all the name change stuff done, and oh, thank you notes. Thank you notes are the bane of my existence. Shortly after the wedding, my husband helped me build a proper PC (I've been suffering with laptops for far too long), so there was a lot of setup and adjustment with that, too, before I could get back to writing and drawing and whatnot fun stuff again. Thesis is in full swing too, so I appreciate the patience. I've had this chapter mostly done for a while, but didn't have the chance to make all the finishing touches. Thank you to everyone who may be still reading! I really don't want to ever abandon this - want to see it through to the end. It just might take some time. Anyway, enough blathering from me. Enjoy!

Chapter 5: Cabin Fever

A fire needs a space to burn

A breath to build a glow

I've heard it said a thousand times

But now I know

-o-o-o-

I dream . . .

I'm on the ground before Deidara's clay bird touches down. The shinobi gathered outside the make-shift base scurry out of my way as I sweep inside. Deidara calls out somewhere behind me, but I ignore him, my focus on finding the bastard that killed Sam. The base is carved into the side of a hill, sloping down and then spreading out in a series of artificial tunnels and chambers, probably made using some sort of doton jutsu. Following the pull of the ring on my pinky finger, I soon find where the rest of the Akatsuki and leader of the Iwa forces have gathered.

Madara turns to me as I enter and spreads his hands in greeting. "Ah, Yaiba. Welcome back."

I ignore him, my feet taking me straight to my quarry. "You." I seize the lapel of a surprised Hidan and shove him up against the smooth stone wall. "We had a deal. They weren't to be touched!"

There are small rocks scattered about the surface of my flat, stone island. They're just tiny bits of rubble, really, broken from something larger. Aren't all stones like that? I start to skip them across the shallow ocean of blood, with minimal success. I was never really good at skipping stones. I manage to make one bounce twice, so that's an achievement, I guess.

It doesn't take long for me to run out of ammunition.

Hidan's surprise turns to slight amusement. "My, my, my. The kitten's got a temper. I like a girl that bites back."

I snarl and withdraw my right hand, lightning blade forming around my fingers. Before I can plunge it into his skull, however, Kakuzu's tendrils wrap around my wrists and yank me off of him. He throws me back into Kisame's arms, which wrap around me in a vice-like hold, pinning my arms to my side.

"Calm down, shrimp."

"I will not. He killed her! Let me go, Kisame! I don't care if he's immortal. I'll kill him!"

Kakuzu steps in front of me, green-on-red eyes narrow. "If that were true, I would let you try, but you are misinformed, so back down before you have to be put down."

I've figured out how to make strange little lightning fireworks. I shape a little ball of lightning chakra in one hand and then throw it up into the air. Depending on the strength, level, and density of the lightning, the fireworks go higher, explode bigger, and skitter out farther across the black sky. It's a challenge to see how many different shapes and colors I can make – how high they can go.

I still haven't found a ceiling.

I blink at him. "What?"

"You heard me. When she got involved in the fight, we withdrew, as ordered. We did not harm her."

I stare him down for a moment, but there is nothing but hard truth in his eyes. For all his cruelty, Kakuzu is a just and honest man, in his own strange way. The fight leaves my body. My shoulders slump slightly. "Oh. I see." I frown. "You can let me go now, Kisame." When he releases me, I straighten my vest. "So, if not you, then who killed her?"

Kakuzu looks past me to the doorway, where a female voice is coming into range. "—that orange chick, hurling fire everywhere like that. She looked like some kind of demon. What's Konoha dabbling in, eh? A jinchuuriki isn't enough? They have to go summoning fire demons, too?"

I start to count how many steps it takes to walk the edge of the stone circle, but lose count somewhere around fifty. It's not a good measurement anyway. I'm sure I didn't take equal steps every time. Maybe I should start over.

I turn toward the voice. The woman entering has long, wavy, dark pink hair and is dressed like a lewd mix between a kunoichi and a hooker. She's talking to a man in a hooded, dark green cloak, but he doesn't matter. From her words, the only person I care about right now is this woman.

"You're lucky I took her down before she roasted you alive, Saito."

At that, Kisame curses and shifts, but I'm no longer at his side to grab and hold back again. My spark-covered hand grasps her throat and the momentum of my lunge carries her to the ground. Behind me, I register shouting and the draw of weapons, but I only have eyes for the woman beneath me. She's an Iwa-nin, so she probably didn't know about the deal, but I don't care. Sam is dead, and this bitch is going to pay for killing her.

"What the hell?" She grits her teeth and hisses in effort, but her body doesn't move. "What's your problem?"

My kunai imbeds itself in a bit of metal jutting up nearby. The sparks from the lingering lightning fire-work – or would it be a lightning-work? – glint off the hilt for a moment and then are gone. I hum slightly and toss up another lightning-work. As it flares, I flex my right hand. This time, I can feel the slide of energy out of my palm, and there is another kunai in my grasp. In the scattering light, I find another target and hurl it. It thunks rather nicely.

In the gloom left behind by the lightning-work, I consider carving faces or something into the bits of rubble around my platform. They can be targets. Target practice is fun, right?

I lean over her so our faces are inches apart. "That little fire demon was my little fire demon. Her name was Sam, and she was very precious to me. There's a price for that. Since you just admitted to killing her, I'm going to take that price – that pound of flesh – from you. How does that sound, hm?"

"She attacked us," Saito says. "Those two retreated, so she attacked us. We were only defending ourselves."

"Two S-ranked nuke-nin retreated from her, and you decided to engage? I knew Iwa-nin were thick as rocks, but are you that stupid?"

The woman's eyes narrow. "I should kill you for that."

I sneer. "Right. Too bad you can't move, or I'd be trembling in my boots. The body runs on electrical impulses sent from the brain to the muscles, you see." My hand tightens around her neck. "I'm interrupting those impulses, but luckily for you, I'm letting through the pain signals, so you can feel this." I draw a kunai with my free hand and drive it into her shoulder.

The kunoichi hisses in pain. "You're crazy!"

"No. I'm angry. Big difference." I twist the knife, feeling it scrape against bone. She screams.

Animal crackers in my soup. Monkeys and rabbits loop the loop.

The blade in my hand scrapes into stone. I could use charka to sharpen it – make it cut like butter – but that would be too fast. There is no need to save time. I have all the time in the world to draw my targets. Though should I go faster? It would reduce the time I have to stand in this blood.

Or should I stand on the blood? Water walking should work just as well on an ocean of blood, right? Oops. Too late, I guess.

"Yaiba, enough." I glance back at the still-masked Madara. "We don't have time for this. Konoha may retaliate at any moment."

I press my lips together. "I suppose you're right." I release my hold on her throat, and she sucks in a deep breath. Before she can take a second, I drive a lightning-coated fist into her face.

"Mi!" Saito jolts forward, but Samehada falls between us, putting a halt to his movement. The tension in the room is palpable as I slowly withdraw my hand from what's left of the woman's – Mi's head.

The old Iwa-nin standing against the far wall – the leader of their forces – clears his throat. "Well, then. Saito, you're dismissed."

"But sir—!"

"Dismissed, Saito. The matter is finished. Go make sure our forces are ready for another assault."

Saito grudgingly bows and hurries from the room, brushing past a shocked Deidara. The old man coughs slightly. "Well, then. Is there anything else?"

Madara hums in thought. "No. That is all."

The old man doesn't look at me or my victim as he, too, exits at a brisk pace. I rise slowly and flick the blood and . . . other matter from my hand. I glance toward Hidan. "Sorry for the misunderstanding."

I curl up on the center of my circular platform, just so tired. It's strange, though. I'm not hungry. Not thirsty. Really, I'm not sleepy, just tired.

I don't know how much time has passed. There's no way to tell here in the darkness. I've gotten used to the hot, sticky stench of it, at least. It's still unpleasant, but not sickening. I haven't ventured off my platform since finding it, though. The thought of slogging through all that blood is, well, disagreeable to say the least.

I was tempted at one point to use that blood stuff as paint to decorate my circular haven, but that would taint the platform. I can't do that to my nice, clean platform. It's the only comfort I have here in the dark. Alone.

A splash draws me out of my cabin fever funk. I roll over and leap to my feet. Gluttony has swallowed someone else! I peer into the gloom in an attempt to locate this person, quivering slightly in excitement. I'm not alone anymore, and if this is Ed, we might be able to get out of here.

There is a click in the dark, and a small flame ignites, illuminating my new companion in Gluttony's stomach. My heart sinks. "Mustang."

Roy whirls in my direction, lifting the lighter and his free hand in preparation to snap. He stills at the sight of me. "You. What is this place?"

I sigh and spread my hands. "Welcome to Gluttony's stomach … the ultimate prison, so to speak." I rub my neck. "He's an attempt of Father's to create an artificial Gate. As you can see, it didn't actually work. Instead of taking you to Truth, it takes you here." I pause for a moment. "You know you're standing in blood, right?"

Roy looks down and lifts one foot. He scowls and sloshes to my platform. "Lovely. Is there some way out of here?"

"If there was, do you think I'd be here right now?"

His eyes narrow at me, and I sigh. "Alright, alright. There is one way out, but doing so would give Father something he wants and cost you something you need."

"What does that mean?" Roy's eyebrows furrow.

I turn and wander to the middle of the platform. "This is a false Gate, so to get out, we need to use the real one."

"Shit."

I snort. "That's an understatement. I was hoping you were Ed, since he's already paid his toll. You, however … do you even know how to open the Gate?"

"Of course I do." Roy moves to the edge of the platform to inspect a fragment of stone with intricate carvings on the surface. "Every alchemist worth his salt has at least briefly studied human transmutation – especially in the military, and even if we don't actually try it. Those that do rarely live to tell the tale."

"Hm."

He looks over at me. "What did you mean about Father?"

I flick a lightning-work into the sky. "He wants to force the real Gate open and devour Truth – or God as he says. To do that, he needs worthy sacrifices. In other words, he needs people that have seen the Gate."

"So if we escape here, I'll qualify."

I nod. "To be honest, you'll qualify anyway eventually. Father plans to target you and force you to see the Gate. You have a strong enough will to survive it. When that happens, you'll lose your sight."

"What?"

I rub my chin, ignoring his incredulous query. "On the other hand, Ed got Ling and Envy out of here and they didn't pay the toll … so if you draw it but I activate it, you might be fine. That is, if I even can activate it. I think Wrath did, so why not, right?"

"What are you even talking about?"

I shake my head. "Never mind. Don't worry about it. Bottom line is: I think we can get us out of here without you paying the toll."

Roy falls silent for a time, flicking the lighter open and closed. "Are you sure that's the only way out of here?"

"Positive."

"And it's worth the risk, if I do have to pay the toll?"

I frown at him. "You tell me. Do you want to rot away in here? How long can you go without food and water?"

"What have you been eating and drinking?" Roy looks to the bloody pool in disgust.

"I haven't."

He jolts and turns back to stare at me. "What? It's been three months!"

"Has it?" I rub my neck and shrug. "I couldn't tell. It has felt like a while … I just never got hungry." I frown. Come to think of it, I can't remember my stomach growling once while I've been in the Fullmetal Alchemist world. Did Truth do something to me?

"You really aren't human, are you."

I glance up at him then down again and sigh, kicking at the stone. "No. I guess not."

Roy lets out a sharp breath and drags a hand down his face. "Wonderful. So my choice is to risk possibly losing my sight and escape or starve to death down here in this pit."

"Yeah, pretty much."

After a moment of silence, Roy says, "Alright fine. Let's do this." He digs in his pocket for a piece of chalk and starts drawing out the transmutation circle.

I make sure to stay silent and out of his way so as not to break his concentration. Even without any conversation, it's comforting having someone else here. The soft tak and drag of his chalk seems to sooth my soul, and I find the tension in my back and shoulders slip away. Three months in darkness and solitude can take its toll, for certain. I'm afraid that I almost lost myself to it. I shudder.

"There. Done." Roy rises and brushes his hands off on his pants. He surveys his work and then looks to me. "What now?"

I motion to the edge of the circle. "Stand over there. I'll activate it."

"Do you know how? You didn't seem so certain before."

I move to the center of the circle even as he retreats to the edge. "It takes energy – life force – souls. I have a lot of that, though I call it chakra. It's a mixture of spiritual and physical energies. I'm fairly certain it will work."

"And if it doesn't?"

I shrug and then drop to one knee, placing my palms flat on the ground on either side of myself. "Well then you'll be welcome to try it yourself and pay whatever toll Truth wishes to take from you."

"Hm."

I grin briefly at him and then focus downward. After taking a moment to center myself, I close my eyes and stir up my chakra stores. My stomach tingles as lightning crackles around my hands. Please work. Please work! Behind me, Roy gasps as I shove the chakra downward and the chalk lines burst into light.

"Close your eyes and plug your ears! Don't take any knowledge and they won't take from you!" I have to shout over the snap of the lightning around us as electricity arcs between the lines. I can only hope that he heard me – and that the lightning isn't striking and killing him in this process.

The light grows and grows to become blinding. I squeeze my eyes back shut, but it still sears through my lids. There is a great crack of thunder, and then everything is still. The light remains, however, as well as a ringing in my ears. Once that ringing fades, I can hear Roy's rapid breathing somewhere behind me, and then a soft chuckle from somewhere in front.

I open my eyes to find myself nose-to-nose with Truth. I snatch my head back, rise, and scowl at It. "Was that necessary?"

Truth tilts It's head to one side. "Yes."

"Jerk."

It grins that wide, creepy, toothy grin. "I am you."

"No, you're not. You might take a shadow of my appearance, but you're not me." I still and then my scowl deepens when I notice that the girls are gone from behind It. "Where are they?"

"In safekeeping." Truth leans sideways to look past me to Roy and smirks. "I see we have a visitor."

I step sideways to block It's view. "He is not to be tolled."

Truth's expression becomes mildly amused as It shifts It's attention upwards back to me. "Oh? And that is your choice to make?"

"You did not make Edward, Ling, and Envy pay when they returned from the same place – not in the other timelines at least."

Truth leans back on It's hands. "They paid with souls from Envy's stone."

I scowl. "What harm can it do to send him on this once? You know what they plan to do to him. Will you make him pay twice for things that were not his doing?"

Truth lets out a dramatic sigh. "Very well. This once. I shall have the denizens send him on back to his world." It waves one hand, and the Gate creaks open behind me.

I turn to watch the hands draw an alarmed Roy into darkness. The Gate then slams shut, leaving me alone with Truth. "What about me? I'm not going back there?"

"No, you'll be moving on elsewhere." It taps It's chin. "And I believe I know where. I need you to understand a few things about your position, after all."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You'll see." Truth grins and motions with one hand. "I can't give you everything on a silver platter. Some things you must learn on your own. Keep an open mind. I have confidence that you'll understand."

Black hands encircle me, and I sigh. "Thanks. That makes me feel so much better."

Hidan grins. "You can have a misunderstanding with me any time, babe."

-o-o-o-

I thought I kept you save and sound

I thought I made you strong

But something made me realize

That I was wrong

-Linkin Park ("Until It's Gone")