Acts of Courage
Warnings: Violence. Blood. Gory scenes. Murder scenes. Lemon scenes.
Disclaimer: Part of this story will have settings and events taken out from various anime like Get Backers and Jigoku Shoujo, but I do not own any of them, nor do I own Naruto or any characters in this story save for OC characters
Chapter Forty: Acts of Courage
The low chirpings of the crickets resounded in the silent night air, sounding louder than it actually is.
Namikaze Shiki sat on the tree bough within the woods that overlooked Leaf City, eyeing the small fires that could be seen in the once grand city. Ragnarok's predictions had come true as usual. Despite the fact that the ANBU has never been popular among the general populace, the moment that the ANBU collapsed, the people had started to panic.
Japan is now in chaos. It is only a matter of time before it will collapse completely.
They're running out of time.
There was the sound of someone clearing their throat just then, and Shiki looked downwards only to see Haku standing at the foot of the tree, frowning up at her. Shiki sighed before she placed both hands on the tree bough on either side of her, and leapt downwards. She landed lightly on her feet with a light thud.
"Just because your wounds have been mostly healed, doesn't mean that you get to go gallivanting around Japan!" Haku stated, annoyed, hands planted on her hips.
"I left a note, didn't I?" Shiki retorted back. "And I'm not some fragile thing that's about to break, thank you very much." She sounded annoyed. "I am entirely capable of taking care of myself."
Haku sighed before she glanced back over her shoulder – towards the direction of Leaf City, and she then turned back towards Shiki. "I got Sumaru to give me a ride here when he has to head back to Baled's Shinjuku base." She sighed. "The riots are getting worse. If this keeps up, it will only be a matter of time before this country falls."
Shiki sighed. "Yeah. I know. We don't have much time as well. Once Yugito and Neji gets back from the Nibi's shrine, we can commence with our next part of the plan."
Haku frowned. "How long do you think it will take Yugito to get back?" she asked.
Shiki shrugged. "I have no idea," she said. "The Nibi is the Goddess of the Dead for a reason. Her role is to watch over the dead and the souls of the departed. Hence, unlike the other gods, she never interferes in the affairs of the living." She glanced at Haku who looked worried. "Whether Yugito can receive her faith or not, and convince her to relinquish her hold on the Book of the Dead to her will entirely be up to fate."
"It's Yugito," said Haku, sounding as if she is trying to convince herself. "I'm sure that she has a way." Shiki nodded silently. Both girls were silent for several moments before Haku glanced at Shiki out of the corner of her eyes. "Shiki, tell me the truth." Shiki raised an eyebrow. "What are our chances? What are our chances of winning?"
Shiki was silent for a very long time, closing her eyes briefly.
Haku wasn't the only one who was worried. All of Ragnarok were. Even the ANBU, and Baled were too, along with the entire underworld. Things are worse than they'd imagined, and with the ANBU and High Council down, they now got more to worry about.
Like another civil war in the country for instance.
Mei Terumi and Mist were currently trying to get the country back under control, and so far, they were able to control the riots. But even that won't stay that way for long. And if another civil war were to break out at this moment, coupled with the current situation with the Demon God, then Japan isn't going to remain standing for very long.
"Honestly? I'm not very sure." Shiki turned towards Haku. "Even if Yugito can get the Book, and we can somehow figure out just what this 'devil's fruit' is, the opponent is still one of the gods of legend that had helped create this world. We're up against a god. Let's face it; our chances of winning are not good. But all of us knew this right from the start."
Haku said nothing. She knew that Shiki is right. They knew this, and knew what they're getting themselves into right from the very beginning. But…
"Aren't you worried?" Haku wanted to know. "Aren't you scared?"
Shiki's lips twitched as she looked straight into Haku's eyes with her own dark blue ones. "I…do not fear Death," she said simply. "Dying, in and of itself, does not frighten me. What I fear is losing sight of what I believe in."
Haku's eyes widened. Those were the exact same words that Ren had said to them on that night over two weeks ago when they have first met him.
"I'm sure that all of you respect and adore Shiki," said Ren. "It's the same for Blade. There's not a soul in Blade that doesn't revere her. I do not regret following her, or even getting to know her. If there's one thing that I've done right, it is to trust her. I'm sure that it's the same for the others as well. Dying, in and of itself, does not frighten me. What I fear is losing sight of what I believe in."
"All of us knew this in our hearts." Shiki pointed at Haku's chest where her heart is. "We just never said anything about it, as admitting it out loud is no easy task. ANBU. Roots. Oto. The Rebellion Group. The High Council. We've faced lots of enemies. Each one more powerful than the last. And we knew that a war like this is bound to come sooner or later. We just never said anything about it. Nin-user haters. Non nin-user haters. Our supporters. Baled. Mist. The remnants of the ANBU. The High Council loyalists. They've all been planning this war for a long time. We are just people living in the same country that had been continuously ravaged by battles and more bloodshed. All of us just fighting to survive just to see another day. So why does it always comes down to war?"
"I've never regretted my decision." Haku said quietly. "No matter how this turns out, I will never regret my actions, and neither will I regret meeting you. And no matter how it turns out, you will always be one of my best friends." She looked at Shiki. "And what are you going to do? About that ANBU captain?"
Shiki's face was expressionless. "When one loves another…it will also give birth to hatred," she said at last. "And I've said this before, didn't I?" She looked at Haku. "One shouldn't be so trusting of others. People always had a tendency to betray others. It is a never ending cycle."
"Is that your answer?" Haku asked quietly.
"I wonder." Shiki mused. "I had never regretted my actions, and the choices that I'd made in the past. I made each one, believing that I've done the best that I could. But sometimes, I wonder if things would have been different if only I'd chosen differently."
"That's not true!" Haku protested. "If Ragnarok had never existed, and we have never met you, life for the nin-users would still have been just as unbearable as they had been in the past, and maybe even more. You did what you had to do. No one blames you."
Shiki was silent for several moments. "…Did Ren tell you something?" she asked at last.
"No." Haku shook her head. "But we can guess to a certain extent just what had happened in the past, especially with how tight lipped you, Sumaru, Sai and even Ren have been regarding your past in Blade. The legendary street gang that not a single person in the world hadn't heard about."
Shiki was silent for a long time. "We have our ideals back then," she said at last. "Our dreams. Our pride. Our honour. We wanted a better future for the nin-users. We wanted a better future for our country – one that doesn't involve fighting and killing. One where everyone is equal. We fought for that. But in the end, we realised that just having ideals, and dreams, and honour, isn't enough. That our dreams aren't enough to get us by. That reality isn't as kind as it seems to be. We realised that. And one by one, we woke up to reality and…gave up." She looked at Haku. "We did all that we could. But in the end, even that isn't enough. Talking about dreams, honour and pride seems wonderful. But in the end, we couldn't even protect the children in our territory."
"Shiki…" Haku muttered, not knowing just what to say.
"Power can't protect, Haku." Shiki murmured, glancing at her hand. "It can only destroy. We might call it protect, but the more it tries to protect, the more it hurts others. That's what a nin-user is. We're just nothing more than weapons for war. We exist only for battle. In a way, I guess what all those people have said are true. We shouldn't exist. We only invite more conflict and bloodshed."
Shiki sighed. "Sorry. But can you leave? I want to be alone."
Uchiha Itachi was silent, staring at the cackling flames of the fire in front of him, wrapping his arms around his torso, his 'talk' with one Sabaku no Gaara not more than an hour ago still fresh in his mind.
"Just how much longer are you going to torture her?" Gaara asked with plain disgust, glaring at Itachi.
"No one has told you this to your face yet. And I know for one that Shiki has been going out of her way to avoid you as well. I can tell you this now: you're not the only one who cares for Shiki in the romance department." Gaara smirked at the look of panic that flashed past Itachi's face. "Neji is one such person. And I know that there is at least another that you probably aren't aware of. But even as obstinate that Neji is, even he knew that Shiki doesn't like him that way. Thus, he can only let go of her. That's what Neji told me two months ago." Gaara's lip curled. "When you love someone, it doesn't mean that you have to possess them." Itachi's eyes widened. "You still don't understand this. You don't understand what true love is. Sasame loves Neji enough to give up her life for him. Neji loves Shiki enough to let her go away from him. And he…"
Gaara closed his eyes briefly before opening them again. "He loves Shiki enough to spend eight years of his life chasing after a mere rumour just to help her in any way that he could. Sasame. Shiki. Neji. And that person. All four of them know what love is. They knew what sacrifice is. And they knew what true love is. Now my question to you now is: do you truly know what true love is? Or are you just deceiving yourself? Shiki rarely changes her mind once she had it made up. You can wait until the end of your life if you wish to. Shiki will never accept you back into her life again. In life, lots of things, you only get one chance. Just that one chance. And if you blow that chance, you'll never get it back again."
Itachi tightened his arms around his torso. 'What does he means by that?' he thought. 'Who is this person that Gaara speaks of? Shiki, why won't you forgive me?'
Shiki followed the movements of the few fireflies that are left with her eyes, murmuring the lines of a fairly well known song among the underworld under her breath.
"Total Slaughter. Total Slaughter. I won't leave a single man alive. La de da de dai. Genocide. La de da de duh. An ocean of blood. Let's begin the killing time."
A flock of birds took flight from the trees just as the song ended, and Shiki glanced up, only to see a very solemn Uchiha Sasuke approaching her from within the trees. She smiled a small thin smile at him.
"What an ironic song, isn't it?" she stated more than questioned. She then studied Sasuke silently before she sighed. "I seem to be quite popular tonight. What is it?"
Sasuke didn't say anything for several moments as he leaned with his back against the trunk of the tree opposite Shiki, following the movements of the few fireflies that are left with his eyes. Summer is nearly over, and Fall is nearly upon them. The Final Battle is nearly upon them. They only have time until before the first flakes of snow falls upon the earth.
"I…heard something." Sasuke admitted at last.
He met Shiki's eyes with some hesitation. Rarely is there anyone who has the courage to look straight into Shiki's eyes without fear. Her eyes have that strange power to make you feel like you're being X-rayed, and that she can see your every thought, every feeling. Sasuke only knew of a few members of Ragnarok who could do that.
Sasuke was silent again before he spoke. "They said that you're leaving my brother." Shiki said nothing. "It's not true, is it?" The Uchiha pressed Shiki for answers. "Tell me that it isn't!"
Shiki was silent for several moments before she covered her eyes with one hand. "Where did you hear that?" she questioned.
"I was taking a walk last night." Sasuke shrugged. "I couldn't sleep." He looked away. "Old dreams from the past." He admitted. "I came across my brother and Kisame-san talking in the Forbidden Forest near the base camp."
Sasuke was surprised when he saw an angry looking Kisame stomping after an equally angry looking Itachi who was taking particularly long strides in order to put as much distance between himself and his best friend. But as Kisame is at least two heads taller than Itachi, and thus, had longer legs, this doesn't really help much.
"What do you mean by that? Explain yourself!" Kisame demanded, grabbing Itachi by the wrist.
"Exactly what I mean, Kisame!" Itachi snapped, jerking Kisame's hold off.
"And how can you know that for sure?" Kisame demanded.
"Are you an idiot?" Itachi frowned. "She refuses to see me, talk to me, and even look at me!" His nostrils nearly flared, and Sasuke suddenly had a feeling that he knew who this 'she' that his brother and his best friend were both talking about. "Her friends can't even stand to be in the same vicinity as me, and more than one of them had threatened me on more than one occasion to kill me if I should so much as get within fifty meters of her! What part of 'she's breaking up with me' don't you understand?"
Sasuke looked at Shiki. "When I heard that, I knew that I have to talk to you," he said hesitantly. "I had to know if it's true. Are you really leaving my brother?" He searched Shiki's face desperately, searching for answers.
Shiki didn't say anything for several moments. Finally, she looked at him, and spoke. "…Sasuke, you're the only one among the ANBUs that me and my friends are on even remotely friendly grounds with. And that is only because you hadn't given us a reason to hate you yet. But this—"
"Shiki! Please! I need to know." Sasuke cut in. "Is this true? Are you really leaving my brother?"
Shiki didn't say anything for several moments, looking skywards before turning back towards Sasuke. "…Yes. It is true."
Shiki was silent for several moments before she sighed, running her fingers through her hair. "I don't know," she admitted. "I just…" She trailed off.
"I'm tired." Shiki admitted at last, and Sasuke was surprised. "I knew your brother for years, even before he had joined the ANBU. At that time, we were just mere acquaintances then." Sasuke nodded slowly. "And then, by some strange twist of fate, we ended up running into each other more times than I could count, and we slowly became friends. But even I could see. Itachi… Your brother is getting shackled by the ideals of the ANBU, and is slowly losing his path, and losing sight of what he had believed in. And when he found out about me and Ragnarok, his composure became cracked, and slowly, he started to lose the light." She breathed out with a loud sigh. "Then… Kisame contacted me. He told me that Itachi attacked your commander because Black Ops nearly wiped out Baled's Lake Ogura base."
Sasuke's eyes widened. So that's the reason behind his brother's defection back then.
"I got him out of the ANBU then. And then, from there, he started to regain his path, his light. And slowly, I realised something. Without even realising it, I'd become too dependent on him. He's…about the only thing that is keeping me sane. Maintaining and running a group like Ragnarok, especially with what we do, is no easy task. Killing someone isn't as easy as you think." Shiki looked at Sasuke. "Each time you kill someone, your soul pays the price. And then one day, when you had grown accustomed to the scent of blood, and when your hands were long covered with the blood of countless lives – your soul forever twisted by the deaths on your hands, when you can finally kill someone without showing or feeling any remorse… It is also the day when you lose every shred of your humanity and become a monster." She looked away. "That…is what I am." Sasuke tried to open his mouth to argue. "I'd long lost all feeling when it comes to taking a life. That's why I can kill your ANBU comrades so easily. How I can blow up the ANBU headquarters without any hesitation whatsoever. Why I can torture someone without even batting an eye. Itachi… Your brother helped keep me sane." Shiki admitted. "He helped me to feel human again. He helped me to keep my mind. And when I realised that I'd become too dependent on him, I then realised that he didn't need me anymore. He can now keep sight of his own path without my help."
"That's not true—" Sasuke tried to protest, but his protest sounded weak even to his ears.
"I looked at myself properly for the first time in eight years, and I realised…that I didn't like what I had become." Shiki admitted. Sasuke fell silent. This is actually the first time that he is actually hearing Shiki's real thoughts. From what he knew about this girl, he knew that she is a very private person. Not even Gaara and Haku knew much about her, and they're the closest to her. "I'm now no better than the evil that Blade and Ragnarok have hunted in the streets of Japan. It's probably true that I did what I had to do in order to keep my friends safe. At first, it is just to protect them, to keep them safe. Later, it is to protect the nin-users of the land. And who knows when it had even begun, but it soon became nothing more than a mere political battle with the ANBU, the High Council…and this country itself."
Shiki murmured, and Sasuke has no idea whether Shiki is still talking to him or just voicing her own thoughts out loud. "The ANBU and the High Council might be ruthless, it is true. But what I did… Is it seriously any better than what they'd done? I understood the human mind, and how psychology works. I am a master manipulator. I used that ability to my advantage. I manipulated their actions. I used my friends. Even Kankuro and Sasame… I could have saved them, but I didn't. Even my godfather… I might not have been the one to kill him, but his death is still on my hands. All these changes happened without me even realising it. And when I looked back, I then realised…that I'm no better than a monster. No better than the ANBU."
"That's not true—" Sasuke protested weakly.
"You know the truth." Shiki pointed at his heart. "Ask yourself. You do hate me for killing your teammate, don't you?" Sasuke looked ashamed. "I was angry at that time. You ANBU don't seem to care who you hurt as long as you can get us. You don't even seem to care that there are civilians in the TV station that you blew up back then."
"If you can feel angry at us for doing that, then you are not a monster." Sasuke chose his words carefully. "You're…the closest thing that I had to a best friend." Shiki looked surprised. "Shikamaru is a good friend, but our personalities just don't match. Even if things between you and my brother goes sour, and you would never get back together again, you'll always be one of my best friends, no matter what happens." Sasuke smirked.
Shiki was silent for a long time before she snickered. "Did anyone tell you that you're too trusting?" she enquired. She sighed. "You shouldn't get so close to a member of Ragnarok. We're poison." Sasuke smirked at her. Shiki sighed. "You remind me of Sara. A former Blade." She informed a surprised Sasuke. "She's a lot like you. Just as stubborn. Just as obstinate. And just as…optimistic." She struggled with her words. "She said something once to me, Riku and the others… 'Man was born free, and everywhere else, he is in chains. After all, living is not simply breathing, but actually doing. Man only believes what he wants to believe in the way he wants. Humans are selfish that way. Forgetting your own pain can only provide temporal relief, but it only leads to repetition. Because real life doesn't work this way. In real life, life is the law, death is to sleep. And to live…'"
"…is to change." Sara smiled, amused at the surprised faces surrounding her. "To lose whatever that has not been chosen is to gain something by loss. It is to choose something new. And life…is precisely the finite. I believe that wishes can come true. And miracles do happen. But you have to make it come true by yourself. We humans live by depending on others. Our lives are memories. We might die someday. But as long as someone don't forget us, we are still alive in a sense."
Shiki chuckled. "Something rather philosophical, coming from Sara," she said. "But what she's said is true in a way." She looked at Sasuke. "If you really treat me as a friend, then I'll just ask one thing, and one only." Sasuke nodded slowly. "After the battle, we might have to disappear. But I'll like to ask one request of you." Sasuke nodded. "No matter what, don't forget me."
Shiki waited as Sasuke's footsteps faded away before she turned around to face the darkness of the woods.
"Why don't you come out now? Slinking around isn't your style, Ren."
There was silence for several moments before Ren stepped out from the darkness, his beautiful azure blue eyes almost glowing in the night. "I hadn't heard you talk that much before," he commented. "In a chatty mood tonight?"
"I wonder." Shiki mused even as Ren leaned against the tree next to her. "It's either we ran out of words to say, or that the feeling has gone away." She murmured. "I don't want to leave behind any regrets. The Last Battle is coming up. It will come to an end in that battle."
"It is true; waiting is always the hardest time in one's life." Ren agreed. "But what hurts the most is when you yourself know that it'll never return. And sometimes, waiting can be a burden." He glanced at Shiki. "And if you're asking if this is really a burden to me, then I will honestly say yes." Shiki looked sad. "But…I wanted that burden, because the burden…" Shiki's eyes widened as Ren leaned over her, nearly barricading her in with his body. "…is a person whom I love…"
Shiki pushed against Ren's chest gently. "Stop this," she said, her voice trembling with emotion. "I know that you've heard what I told Sasuke." She met his eyes, and Ren nodded silently. "I met Itachi almost immediately after…that happened. He…reminded me so much of you. So much so that it almost feels like you're back all over again. And before I knew it…" She paused, taking in deep breaths before turning to meet Ren's eyes again. "…I don't know if I did ever love him, and if I am even capable of loving someone. I've done many things over the years, Ren. It has long numbed me to emotion. It isn't fair to you."
"I do not care." Ren insisted, combing a lock of her hair behind her ears, leaning in closer to her. Shiki could almost smell his warm breath upon her face. "I'll wait for you." Shiki was taken aback as Ren's strong arm wrapped around her lower back, and his lips rested next to her left ear. "I will say this to you as many times as I have to." He whispered into her ear. "I love you." Shiki's eyes widened. "I waited for you for eight years. I knew you for more than ten. Don't I know you well enough by now?" Ren released his hold on Shiki and stepped backwards. "I understand you even better than you know yourself. You don't like to kill. But you had to, because it is the only way to survive, and because it is a cruel world out there. You can be cruel. But you are also kind. Why else would you take in all the others back then when you could barely fend for yourself? And remember what you've said once, and what I've said?" Shiki's eyes widened. "I do not fear Death. What I fear is losing sight of what I believed in. I believe that your path is the right one, no matter what you have to do. True heroes don't exist. Not anymore. What does exist though…are people who take on the hatred of the world in order to make a difference." Ren's lips twitched. "And we call those people…antiheroes."
Ren leaned in close to Shiki once more. "Even if everyone hates you, I won't," he whispered. "I will always believe in you. I believed that your decision to disband Blade was the right one eight years ago when Ne came. And I still believed that it is the right one. No matter what you will decide in the future, I will always stand by you. I believe in you. That's why… Don't degrade yourself like that. You are no monster. You are human." He touched the area where Shiki's heart would have been gently. "You are Namikaze Shiki. Former leader of Blade. Captain of Ragnarok. And…the person whom I love. That's who you are. You are human. Never think that you are not." He whispered. "Even if the whole world turns against you, I won't abandon you." He stated. "I…will never betray you."
A/N: This is pretty much the calm before the storm, as things are about to get hectic for Shiki and her group soon enough. So things between her and Itachi are getting pretty rocky. What do you think will happen?
Anyway, regarding this blog of mine that I've mentioned awhile back where I had been hosting original stories, and even some fanfic stories for download, I'm shifting the blog to a domain site. I'll appreciate it if you can go and take a look and tell me what you think. The link is:
Anyway, I hope that you like this chapter, and please read and review!