Honokuni Monogatari - “Fire Country Stories”

Uchinaru - “On The Inside”

A Naruto Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

 

Chapter Four

 

            “Kaka’i-sensei!” she called. Her eyes averted from the mess in front of her for only a moment. It was long enough. Kabuto lifted his head and Orochimaru’s strange snake-like eyes peered out from within. He lunged at Sakura. She put her hands up to block him. His neck and teeth grew long and honed in on her neck. The word ‘osoi’ passed through Sakura’s mind and she closed her eyes. ‘Too slow…’

            To her amazement, a half of a second later, she was unharmed and a large puff of smoke was clearing in front of her. Orochi-Kabuto’s teeth were sunk deep into the flesh of a shinobi’s arm—a shinobi with his back to her wearing the green flack jacket and hitai-ate of Konoha. The Kagebunshin grinned and popped out of existence. His true self, standing just behind Orochimaru, quickly laced one arm around his neck and cracked it into a 90-degree angle with the other. Orochimaru sunk to the floor.

            “I don’t believe it,” Sakura whispered. “Naruto, to the rescue!” A wide grin began to spread across her face, but stopped as Sasuke started to scream.

            “It’s the curse seal.” Naruto kept one eye on Orochimaru’s body and nodded towards Sasuke. “You take care of him. I’ll get Kakashi!”

            She nodded and hovered over her former teammate. “I don’t know what I can do!” she fussed and watched as he convulsed. She freed the pressure points to ease his suffering. It was hard to pull his hand away from his neck, but she was able to observe as the tomoe-coma mark smoked and hissed as if it were burning. She imagined that it felt much as it looked. After a few moments, the smoke cleared, the mark was gone and Sasuke was unconscious.

            “Is he gonna be ok?” Naruto asked, helping Kakashi to walk.

            She checked Sasuke’s pulse. “Mm, I think so. Let me look at Kakashi.”

            Naruto eased his sensei to the ground and kept watch as Sakura’s healer’s hands illuminated the dark hallway. He nudged Orochimaru’s body with his foot. “Sakura, don’t look over here for a bit.” Naruto drew a sword from a sheath on his back and decapitated the corpse. “No way I’m lettin’ this snake hurt anyone ever again,” he muttered and bagged the head. “I guess Kabuto wanted out, ne?”

            “It seems that way,” Sakura said, not turning her eyes from her task. “He sent me a note to get us here. If he hadn’t beat me unconscious recently, I’d almost feel sorry for him.”

            Naruto looked from the unconscious Sasuke to the bedraggled Kakashi to the slightly bruised but otherwise in-charge Sakura and scratched his head. “Say, Sakura? What are you and Kakashi doing out on my mission?”

            She laughed a little uneasily. “Well, it wasn’t really our mission... Wait, your mission?! What the hell?! Why didn’t Tsunade-sama just tell me that!?” she fumed.

            “Uh, Sakura-chan? You can stop now,” Kakashi blinked up at her, watching the torrent of chakra race into him.

            “Oh! Hehehehe. I guess Sasuke-kun really juiced me up!”

            “I can’t wait to hear the whole story,” Naruto said as he stuffed the bagged head into a pack on his back. “But we better get going before we run into more Sound nin.”

            “More?” Kakashi asked, standing up and dusting himself off. “We didn’t see any at all. It was a piece of cake getting in here.”

            Naruto sighed. “Aw man, I must have been fighting all of them!”

            “Quit complaining,” Sakura groaned and put her hands on her hips. “You did half the work, we did half the work!”

            “Sounds fair to me,” Kakashi added. “Shall we?”

.x.

            Dawn was just breaking as they emerged from the compound. The giant slug happily carrying her precious cargo and the three Konoha ninja ready to take on whatever would get in their way. They didn’t expect to see so many people, at least, not just standing there, waiting for them.

            Sakura scanned the crowd. “No one’s attacking,” she whispered, more to validate what she was seeing than to state the obvious. Ninja young and grown, of various nationalities, many sporting the symbols of their former villages struck through with a gouge; even those with Otogakure musical notes on their hitai-ate, stood and watched as the heroes made their way out.

            “Just keep moving,” Kakashi advised. They got about 200 yards from the entrance when someone finally in front of them.

            The nin was about 20, had short, spiky brown hair and a scar on his chin. His brows were—like so many others in the crowd—knitted in worry. He put his hand to his neck and rubbed it. “Is he dead?” he asked. The three exchanged glances. Naruto nodded. Like a flock of birds put on alert and calling out the same message, the crowd exploded with cheers.

 

.x.

 

            When they arrived in Konoha, the sun was setting. Sakura was bone-tired, but every time she looked to her left and saw Sasuke lying on the slug she had summoned, her pulse raced and invigorated her. They discretely took him to the hospital where he was admitted and put under the tightest security. Sakura forced Kakashi to get checked out as well and she and Naruto preceded him to the Hokage’s offices. First, Naruto, who had actually been assigned to the mission, gave his report. Then Sakura was shown in.

.x.

            Shizune was so preoccupied with methodically rubbing her hands together that she didn’t notice him standing next to her until he called her name through the dart-like toothpick he chewed incessantly.

            She stared up at him from her seat on the bench outside of Tsunade’s office. “Oh, Genma!”

            Genma eased himself down beside her and put his arms along the back of the bench. “Long time no see.”

            “Mm.” She nodded and went back to rubbing her hands. He blinked at her.

            “So, Genma,” he said loudly. “How ya been? How was your mission? Seen any good movies lately?” He rolled his head to the side and stared at her.

Alarmed, she looked up and saw the smirk on his face. “I’m sorry...” Shizune leaned over and put her head on his shoulder. “How was your mission? Getting on all right without me?”

            “You know me, I get by. But your replacement doesn’t keep me nearly as warm at night as you…” He laughed as her elbow jabbed into his ribs. “Miss you,” he whispered and gave her shoulder a squeeze.

            “You’re sweet,” she whispered back and relaxed.

            “So what’s going on that’s got you so nerved up?”

            She smiled. Despite being a cheeky joker, Genma always seemed to know how she really felt. “I wish I could tell you.”

            “Classified, ne?”

            “And patient-related.”

            “Ah.”

            “Suffice to say that Tsunade-sama and I decided on an unconventional treatment method over traditional psychotherapy for this particular patient. We opted to let a certain situation which presented itself to do the job. Our hope was that the patient would find this situation to be a catalyst for treatment, perhaps even cure for her condition.”

            Genma raised a brow. Most of what she said was lost on him. “You don’t say?” Shizune hit his chest with the back of her hand but didn’t get up. “She in there now, your patient?”

            She nodded. “Now I’m just waiting for the prognosis. I feel like I’m going to be ill.”

            Genma got up. “Well, don’t get sick on me!”

            Shizune swatted at him crossly. “Go on then!”

            “Got to,” he answered, ignoring her venom. “Got another mission.”

            She pouted. “Busy, huh?”

            “Eh,” he said with a shrug and a wink. “Being busy keeps my mind off missing you.” He waited for her shoulders to relax before bending to give her a kiss.

            A passing shinobi wretched. “Ugh, get a room!”

“Shut up, Aoba!” Shizune stuck her tongue out at him. Genma ignored him. His gaze was fixed on the woman in front of him. She looked back, saw the love in his eyes and melted. “You’re sweet,” she said with a smile.

“Come on, loverboy. We’re gonna be late.”

            “Yeah, yeah,” Genma answered and saluted to his girl before following his teammate down the hall and out of sight.

.x.

            Only two days before Sakura had sat in the same chair in front of Tsunade’s desk and wept like a child. Now, although she was a bit wilted from the exertion, she sat up in her seat and confidently gave her report. She didn’t question why Tsunade had allowed her to set out for Otogakure. She didn’t wonder why her testimony was being accepted as if she too had been given orders to capture Uchiha Sasuke. She told her leader everything, including experiences inside the world of Mangekyou.

            “Thank you, Sakura. You are dismissed,” Tsunade said finally. Her voice sounded weary. Sakura then realized that although she had brought her teammate home safe and sound, Naruto had brought Tsunade’s teammate’s head home in a bag. She let out a slow breath. Sasuke was still a traitor to the leaf. Just because she had brought him home, didn’t mean everything was going to be alright. But at least they had succeeded.

            “Hokage-sama,” she said, stood and clenched her fists. “Please do not let my feelings impair your judgment when you deal with him.”

            Tsunade got up, approached Sakura and stared her down with her coldest poker-face. The Hokage nodded once and walked out of the office.

            Outside the door, Shizune waited for her, wringing her hands in worry. “You’re about to have a lot more free time, Shizune,” Tsunade said quietly as she passed by. “Sakura won’t be needing your psychiatric services anymore.”

            “Hai!” Shizune piped in relief and ducked into the office.

 

            “Tsunade Obaachan?” a familiar voice sounded from behind. Godaime stopped and Naruto came around to face her. “I wanna know, are you going to sentence him to death?” he asked quietly.

            “I will do what is in Konoha’s best interest,” she answered dryly.

            He hung his head. “I know that, but… I just… I want to see him one last time if that’s the case.” His eyes were dry, but she knew his heart was breaking.

            ‘He’s grown so much in the last few years,’ she thought. She put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Of course.”

            Naruto nodded in thanks and let her continue down the hall.

 

            Tsunade had barely rounded the bend, about to go down the stairs to the holding facility when she detected his presence. Her shoulders slumped. “Alright, what do you have to say?”

            “I’m sorry,” Kakashi whispered, stepping out of the shadows.

            “What for?”

            “If I had been a better sensei…”

            “Would you can it?” she moaned. “Sandaime was Orochimaru’s sensei. Do you think it was his fault that creep turned out the way he did?”

            Kakashi looked away. “I can’t help but feel that way. I really think there was something I could have done.”

            “His path was his choice. He chose revenge over loyalty to the Leaf. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pass judgment on him.” Kakashi looked back into her deep, brown eyes and saw that he wasn’t the only one torn up over this decision. Without further interruption, Tsunade made her way downstairs.

.x.

            Homura and Koharu were waiting for her at a huge door covered with seals. Together, they released the jutsu keeping the room secure and entered. Under a spotlight in the center of the room, bound in a similar fashion to a chair (in a fairly comfortable position for a prisoner) was Uchiha Sasuke. His eyes were glued to the floor and his face showed no emotion.

            The older woman, Koharu stepped forward. “Uchiha Sasuke, you stand accused of high treason against Konoha. In accordance with its laws, you do not have the right to a trial. The judgment against you will be decided by the Hokage and the members of the Council.”

            Homura coughed before he picked up where Koharu left off. “You have forsaken the Leaf and sided with a known enemy village. However, you do not stand accused of any specific crimes against Konoha. You are also the last of an important shinobi family and carry a valuable bloodline which Konoha would like to maintain.” His voice dropped down. “We are prepared to offer you a deal.”

            Tsunade then stepped forward. “We have a mission for you. Should you succeed, the charge against you will be dropped and you will be allowed to return to full active duty as a Konoha Shinobi. Until the completion of this mission, you will have only the rights of a visitor from a suspect nation and will be under constant surveillance.” She put her hands on her hips. “I’m willing to bet that if it weren’t for your whacked-out sense of vengeance… er… if such a tragedy had not befallen you, you wouldn’t have betrayed the Leaf. Will you accept this mission? Your only other choice is to face judgment.”

            He looked up, his coal-black eyes held not a glimmer of remorse. “And the penalty is death?” he asked quietly.

            “It is.”

            “I can’t die yet.”

            “Then you accept the terms of the deal?” Homura asked. Sasuke nodded and was instantly released from his bonds.

 

.x.

 

            Sakura worked hard at the hospital. After work every once in a while she would wind her way into the old section of Konoha where the great houses were more like their own villages. At first she’d just stand in front of Sasuke’s house. The Uchiha banners, tattered and faded flapped solemnly in the breeze. As far as she knew, for whatever reason, he hadn’t moved out. There was however, never a light on.

            One day during lunch she braved a knock on the door. When she didn’t get an answer, she addressed the house.

            “Sasuke? It’s Sakura. Just seeing if you wanted… anything.” There was no answer.

.x.

            Rather than being discouraged, Sakura became determined. Now she came every day.

            “Sasuke, you should see what a beautiful day it is!”

            “Sasuke, I made some mochi, if you want some I’ll leave it right here.”

            “Sasuke, I’m going to an onsen with Ino-chan and some of the others, would you like to come?”

.x.

            Fall turned into winter and one day Sakura brought a fresh, still steaming-hot desert with her. “Sasuke? I’m going to leave this for you…” By chance, she tried the door. It was open. “Hello?” she called. Her voice echoed in the empty halls. Although the house seemed devoid of furniture and life, it was warm. She turned the corner and found the kitchen. “I’m going to leave this here. Enjoy it!” she chimed, held her breath and listened. “Ja ne!”

            When the door clicked shut footsteps plodded slowly down the stairs. Sasuke leaned in the doorway to the kitchen. An apple pie sat in the middle of the table. He scoffed and went back upstairs.

            The next day, Sakura tried the door again and finding it open, she let herself in. “Sasuke?” she asked and entered the kitchen. Her heart did somersaults to see that a small piece of pie was missing. She looked around and took in the clues to his lifestyle. The kitchen was clean, but dust and cobwebs here and there indicated its disuse. She crept toward the refrigerator and took a peek inside. The lack of actual food was far worse than she had expected. Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Duck sauce, a takeout container and baking soda so old the design on the box was no longer being printed. “Sasuke?” she asked tentatively. “I’m going to go grocery shopping for you, ok?” She stopped at the bottom of the stairs, but once again, heard nothing in reply.

            As promised, Sakura returned the following day with a bag of food to add to Sasuke’s condiment collection. “If there’s anything else you need…” she piped on her way out.

            “Stop.”

            Sakura spun and stared, the wide smile on her face fell instantly at the sight of him. He was barefoot, his eyes were half-lidded. He was thin and disheveled.

            “Sasuke!”

            “Please stop,” he said, his eyes not meeting hers. “Don’t come here anymore.” He started back up the stairs.

            Her chest burned, her brain whirred. “All right,” she agreed quietly. “But I’ll always be here for you if you need me. Don’t ever forget that.” She turned and left.

 

            Halfway up the stairs Sasuke slumped against the wall and sat in a heap for nearly a half an hour before he realized she wasn’t coming back. Any minute he expected her to rush back in and scream at him, tears pouring down her cheeks. But it didn’t happen.

            “You’ve grown…” he muttered. “Why haven’t I?”

.x.

            “You saw Sasuke?” Naruto asked between bites of ramen.

            Sakura nodded. “Yesterday. He told me to go away. I expected as much, but it still hurt,” she said and pushed half a hard-boiled egg around her bowl.

            “Well I’m amazed you saw him at all! He’s been on missions like constantly and he usually only comes out at night.”

            Sakura straightened up. The image in her head went from scary-Sasuke to sleepy-Sasuke. “Oh man, I probably woke him up!” She laughed a little to herself and brightened. “Naruto, how do you know so much about Sasuke?”

            He hunkered down over his ramen and avoided her eyes. “I certainly had nothing to do with getting him a position on Anbu if that’s what you’re getting at,” he said slyly. “I assume that he only comes out at night ‘cause he doesn’t want to be seen by anybody.”

            “Yeah, stupid me,” she groaned.

            “Hey,” Naruto said with a smile. “We’ve both tried to help him. He’s got to know that. That’s all we can do ‘till he comes around.”

            “Do you think he ever will, Naruto?”

            “So long as we never give up on him.” Naruto slurped up the last noodle. “One day, yes. I believe he will.

 


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