Honokuni Monogatari - “Fire Country Stories”

Uchinaru - “On The Inside”

A Naruto Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

 

Chapter Three

 

            Sakura was about three miles from the Fire Country border when she noticed she was being tailed. A simple trap scheme she set up as she went should have sufficed to alert her, but this tail had gotten through almost all of the traps. Concerned, she stopped, leapt up into the canopy and waited for her opponent.

            The tiny dog halted just below the tree in which she was well hidden, pointed his nose skyward and barked a few times.

            “Looks like I set off one of your notification traps, eh?” he said and waited for his master to catch up.

            “Fucking lousy mutt,” Sakura cursed and dropped down in front of him.

            “Oh, Sakura-chan. Such a mouth you’ve developed in your old age,” Pakkun growled. Sakura surprised him yet again by kicking him into a distant tree. She wasn’t surprised when dog became log.

            “Kakashi!” she shouted. “Go home, Old Man.”

            “Sakura,” Kakashi addressed her as he melted out of the shadows. “As much as you might think you can, you can’t do this alone.”

            “No one asked for your opinion,” she snarled as she took a kunai out of her pouch and readied to fight him.

            “You will not do this alone,” he repeated angrily, but calmly. “I’m coming with you.”

            Sakura relaxed a little and laughed darkly at the Jounin. “Whatever. Just don’t get in my way.” She leapt up into the trees and headed for the Sound Country.

            Pakkun shook his head. “My, my. You’re right, Kakashi. Kurou-Sakura is really scary.”

            Kakashi ignored him and sprinted off after his former student. Pakkun shrugged and vanished in a puff of smoke.

.x.

            In the depths of the Otogakure compound a set of footsteps echoed down a long dark hallway. Behind one of the many doors, a figure sat on his knees, silhouetted by candles. He had his hands folded in his lap and his eyes closed.

            “Is it time,” he asked as his meditation was disrupted.

            “Nearly. There’s been a slight change in plans,”

            This roused the praying man. He turned his head slightly. “What is it, Kabuto? Orochimaru get cold feet?”

            “No, no. There will just be a short delay. Please be patient a little longer, Sasuke-kun,” Kabuto replied with a closed-eye smile.

.x.

            “Sakura, wait,” Kakashi whispered. Outside, the compound was silent. He looked around warily.

            Sakura stared at the main gate and shrugged. “I’m going in.”

            “Don’t you think it’s odd that we haven’t faced opposition?”

            “Odd-schmod. I’m going in,” she repeated.

            “Ok, we should…”

            “I don’t care what you do,” she barked. “I’ll find Sasuke.” In a flash she was gone, darting into the gaping blackness of the front entrance.

            “…split up…?” Kakashi finished. “Teenagers,” he huffed and disappeared.

 

            Sakura flew down the hall, searching for opponents and growing more and more anxious at finding none. She stopped and unfurled a scroll she had hidden inside her dress. With a drop of blood for ink, she wrote ‘Uchiha Sasuke’ with her finger on the seemingly blank paper. It glowed slightly and a series of seals and characters spun out of the ink, off the paper and down the hall. She chased after the glow from the head of the line. The trail faded slowly behind her, leaving no trace. At the end of the hall the spectral ink flew up onto a door and spelled the characters for ‘here’ before the jutsu dispelled. Sakura smirked and approached the door.

.x.

            Kakashi was sure that even in full stealth, he was bound to run into some interference, but as it was outside, the halls were quiet and empty. Suddenly, the din of footsteps raced towards him. He pressed into a doorway and prepared himself.

            “Quickly!” a Sound-nin shouted to his comrades. “The outer guard has been obliterated!” Five nin made a quick turn left just before Kakashi’s hiding place and ran away.

            ‘It can’t be Sakura…’ he thought. ‘We’re both inside. Someone else is attacking?’ he wondered.

            “Kabuto!!!” a harsh voice wailed from just a few doors down. “Make haste if you value your life!”

            “Orochimaru…” Kakashi gulped.

            “Yes, he’s two doors down to the left,” a voice answered. “Relax, he can’t move just yet as he’s preparing for the change.” Its owner stepped out of the shadows.

            “Kabuto!” Kakashi raised his hitai-ate, ready for a fight, but once again, it didn’t come.

            “I see your Sakura-chan got my note,” he said. The sheen on his glasses from the dim light of the torch-lined hall obscured his eyes, but his face was dark and serious.

            “Your note?” Kakashi furrowed his brow.

            “Aa. I highly doubt Konoha would have sent anyone after someone as despicable as myself. For precious Uchiha Sasuke, however…”

            Kakashi held up his hand. “Wait, you want to be rescued?”

            “We don’t have time for this. If you want to save Sasuke-kun, we’ve got to intercept Orochimaru now while he’s vulnerable!” Kabuto turned and started down the hall.

            Kakashi stood where he was. “How do I know this isn’t a set up?”

            Kabuto looked over his shoulder, his eye just visible. “You must trust me.”

            “I can’t. You hurt Sakura. Who says you won’t hurt me?”

            Kabuto sighed melodramatically. “Everyone’s got something, that until they face it or deal with it or learn to live with it, will hinder them from being strong. For me, it was my useless sentimentality. Becoming cold-blooded was for me, the key to becoming strong. I noticed your team’s particular hindrances during the Chuunin exam. Sakura fights an inner struggle based on her crushingly low self-esteem. In order to push her past that, I disguised myself as Sasuke and beat her up a bit, which caused her more forceful inner-self, the one she keeps hidden out of fear and self-loathing, to come to the forefront. Only this ‘Inner-Sakura’ would have come for Sasuke.”

            Kakashi balled his fists, but found that he couldn’t argue with him.

            “Sasuke-kun, on the other hand,” Kabuto added, petulantly pushing his glasses up his nose. “I’ve tried for three years to get him to face his problem, but with no success.”

            “And what would that be?” Kakashi asked, annoyed.

            “Utter loneliness,” Kabuto answered as he approached the door behind which Orochimaru waited. “He pushes everyone away thinking their affections will only drag him down. Until he opens up, even a little, he’s doomed to failure.”

.x.

            Sasuke let out a slow breath. “Is it time yet, Kabuto? Or are you going to piss me off again?”

            “Oh, it’s time all right…” Sakura purred. “Time for a little pay-back, Sasuke-kun!”

            Sasuke whipped around, startled by her voice and his face met her fist. He leapt back, held his nose in pain and stared at her as if her head were on fire. “Sakura?”

            “Surprised? Didn’t think I had the stones to come after you, didja?!”

            “What are you talking about?” he snarled, regaining his senses. Although she was acting strangely, he was sure it was really her. “I didn’t touch you. I haven’t seen you in three years, moron.”

            “Don’t play with me, Sasuke-kun. I don’t know why you felt it necessary to beat the living crap out of me, but I’m sorta glad you did! It got me here!” she laughed. “I got your note,” she added, took the ‘football’ out of her pocket and tossed it to him.

            Sasuke unfolded the note, read the translation scrawled on the bottom and frowned. “I didn’t write this.”

            A chill ran down Sakura’s spine. Everything about his body language told her he was telling the truth. ‘It’s a setup!’ she thought and narrowed her eyes. “Oh well, I’m here now, so you’re coming with me.”

            He crumpled the note and threw it over his shoulder. “It’s too late for that. Soon, Orochimaru will make me more powerful than any soft Konoha ninja.”

            Sakura balled her fists and charged him. He wasn’t sure what she was planning, but whatever it was, it was no match for his fully awakened Sharingan. She stopped just a few feet before him and dropped to her knees. A few choked cries escaped her lips, but she was unable to speak, let alone move.

            “Now,” he said, stepping forward. “Let’s see what’s inside…”

.x.

            Kakashi flew backwards and hit the wall, hard. This time, he didn’t have a chance to kawarimi himself with another object. The wind knocked out of him, he slid to the floor, stunned. What had looked like a cakewalk had turned into hell very quickly when both fair-haired men realized Orochimaru was far from helpless, even in his weakened state, when riding a gigantic summoned snake.

            “Kakashi!” Kabuto shouted. “Get up! Just a little while longer and he’ll run out of time!” The Jounin squeezed his eyes shut, trying to clear the stars. The giant snake coiled ever closer. Kabuto stepped defensively in front of Kakashi and formed chakra scalpels with his hands. “Damn it, I won’t give up now. I’ve come too far!” he cried and charged his master. Orochimaru started to shake as Kabuto drew closer, the stability of his current form slipping away. He clutched his chest, grimaced and dove down from the great snake’s head.

            “Damn you, Kabuto!” he shouted and pulled his sword, the Kusanagi no Tsurugi from his mouth. Before it could slice him in twain, Kabuto grasped the blade between his glowing hands. “How dare you betray me now?!” Orochimaru hissed.

            “After studying your last transition, I learned you were at your weakest just before you shed your skin. If I’m going to kill you, it’s now or never, Orochimaru!”

            To this, the irate snake laughed. “Indeed, Kabuto… It is now or never!” His tongue darted out at the medic nin. Kabuto’s eyes widened and his mind raced for a possible defense.

.x.

            In the negative-space world of Sasuke’s mind’s-eye, he stood with his arms folded and looked out over a desert of red sand; before him stood not one but two crucifixes. He raised a brow.

            “What the…?”

            The Sakura on the right hung her head and wept quietly. The one on the left thrashed, kicked, cursed and spit at him.

            “Why are there two of you?” he asked, perplexed. “I’ve used the Mangekyou Sharingan over 100 times but I’ve never seen anything like this…”

            “Let me go, you little shit!” the one on the Left screamed at him.

            The Right sobbed. “Mou… Just give up, it’s hopeless…”

            “Would you stop whining?!”

            “How can I?” Right cried. “Look what you got me into! Sasuke-kun didn’t even really want to be saved!”

            “Oh Please!!!” the Left screamed. “You wanted to save him, too! You love him as much as I do!”

            The Right gasped and stared at her counterpart. A slow smile spread across her tear-stained face. She nodded “With all my heart.”

            “Oi…” Sasuke tried to interrupt.

            Inner-Sakura smirked. She lowered her voice. “Alright then, truce?”

            “Truce!” Outer Sakura agreed.

            “Let’s get ‘im!”

            Their bodies began to glow and they disappeared. Sasuke had to shield his eyes. When the light faded, only one Sakura remained and to Sasuke’s surprise, they were back in the room.

            “How…? How did you break the Mangekyou!?”

            Sakura took a fighting stance. “I don’t know, but I’ve never felt more confident in my life. I will take you back to Konoha, Sasuke-kun.”

            “I doubt that,” he said with a grin. His curse seal spiraled out over his skin, just as she had seen it do three years ago, but it didn’t stop. His skin, eyes and hair changed color. A scar-like mark crossed his nose. His shirt ripped open as a set of monstrous bat-like clawed wings sprouted out of his back, nearly filling the room. The explosive wave of Sasuke’s chakra nearly knocked Sakura over.

            “Sasuke-kun…” Sakura whispered, covering her mouth in shock. “What have you become?” He rushed at her, his new form and Sharingan should have been stronger and faster than she was, but three years of training under Tsunade and her newfound confidence paid off. Sakura gripped the clawed hand that came at her neck and rolled with him. Her back hit the wall. Her feet pressed against his thighs as he pushed closer, pressing her into the wall.

            “Give up!” he shouted in an unholy voice.

            “You’ll have to kill me first, Sasuke-kun!” She called back. For a second, she thought she saw his strange eyes twist with something akin to emotion, but a moment later he lifted his free hand and formed a familiar chirping ball of chakra in it. Sakura saw her one and only chance. She let his arm go, and now freed, his hand gripped her neck. She formed three quick seals and slammed her palms into his chest. Before he could tell her it was useless, the jutsu started to work. “Transfer!” she shouted and the chidori he’d been forming fizzled out.

            Sasuke tried to wrestle free, but it was as if her hands were connected to his heart. She hooked her legs around his and held on tight as he thrashed. The curse seal retreated back into its tomoe mark and Sasuke went limp. He crunched to his knees and Sakura finally let him go.

            “What… what did you do to me?!” he gasped and lay on the ground holding his chest.

            “I sucked out almost all of your chakra,” she explained and popped her fingers into just about every debilitating pressure point she could think of on his body. Noticing just how much chakra was coursing through her body, she chuckled a little to herself and bit her thumb.

            ‘Great, what now?!’ Sasuke thought as he stared at her, unable to move. 

            “Kuchiyose no Jutsu!”

            A four-foot high, ten foot long pink slug with purple spots emerged from the puff of smoke generated by the Jutsu’s activation.

            “Hello!” a cheery voice emanated from the creature. “You must be Haruno Sakura-sama! Hajimemashite yoroshiku~!”

            “Yeah, nice to meet you too,” Sakura replied awkwardly. She had only been able to call smaller slugs before and although its size was appropriate, it still awed her. “Can you carry Sasuke-kun for me?”

            “Of course, Sakura-sama!”

            Sasuke watched, angered and horrified as the huge pink thing approached him. It rolled over, enveloped him and rolled back, safely cushioning him like a marshmallow on its back.

            ‘How!?’ Sasuke thought. ‘How did she get so strong!?’ His anger was palpable. Sakura wanted to enfold him in her arms, but she knew this was neither the time nor the place. As she readied to leave the room, something bothered her.

            “Sasuke-kun, if you didn’t give me the note, who did? Who would have known about the questions Kaka’i-sensei asked us?”

            He cursed and narrowed his eyes. “Kabuto…”

            “Hm.” She frowned, remembering how brutally she was attacked. “That explains why he didn’t use the Sharingan on me.” She poked her head out of the door, scouted down the hall and bid the slug to follow. Sasuke struggled, but she was confident he wasn’t going anywhere. A sound around the corner put Sakura on guard. She darted up to it and used a mirror to take a peek around. At first, she put up her guard, but it quickly fell when she saw his face. “Kabuto-san!” she cried and rounded the corner. He was staggering towards them, limping and sliding his shoulder along the wall. His glasses were gone and his face looked as if it had been put through a meat grinder. His eyes were fixed on the slug behind her.

            “Sasuke…” he hissed.

            Sasuke nudged his chin up so that he could see and stared back at him in disbelief. Blood dripped off of the wounded shinobi and echoed slightly as it splashed to the ground. “Something’s not right,” Sasuke muttered.

            Sakura felt it too and took a step back. “Where’s Kakashi, Kabuto?”

            “It’s too late,” Kabuto croaked and coughed up more blood.

            “I know it was you who wrote the note,” she said in a low growl. “Why did you do it? What was your motive?”

            Kabuto tilted his head back and laughed. Sasuke gasped. Further down the hallway, a figure fell out of a doorway and hit the ground.

            “Sakura! Run! That’s not Kabuto anymore, he’s Orochimaru!!!” Kakashi shouted with the last of his strength. His voice was unholy in its urgency and reverberation as it bounced down the hall.


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