Taisetsuna : Precious

A Naruto Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

 

Chapter 7

 

            Sakura held Lee’s hand as another spasm racked his lean frame. Though his teeth clenched, he didn’t cry out, but she knew the pain he felt as he underwent his physical therapy was nearly unbearable. Not for the first time, she remembered holding another boy’s hand as he fought waves of pain from another affliction.

            ‘Sasuke-kun is all right now,’ Sakura reminded herself, ‘and one day, Lee-san will be, too.’

            It had been six years since their first Chuunin exam. She would never forget the day in the Forest of Death when Orochimaru gave Sasuke the curse seal that nearly killed him. Not until a few years ago, when Orochimaru had been killed in a long and arduous battle, had the boy been freed from the curse. When it disappeared, they were sure Orochimaru was gone for good.

 

.x.

            But there was still something troubling Sasuke. He trained every day. Sometimes he trained until he could hardly move and when doubt and frustration brewed in his heart and he didn’t come to the training grounds there was always a loud knock on the door.

            “Oi! Sasuke!” her shrill shout pierced the wood. “You’re late!”

            He rolled his eyes and opened the door. “All right, all right,” he muttered as the 16 year old girl let herself in. “I’m coming, I’m coming.” ‘The father is always late and the daughter is always early,’ he thought and sighed.

            Hikari dumped her bag on the floor and marched into the kitchen. “What happened to all that food we got?” she asked as she went through the cupboards.

            “I ate it.”

            Not missing a beat she added, “then we’ll go shopping tomorrow before we go out.”

            “Yeah, yeah,” he replied, knowing better than to argue with her. She wasn’t one to change her mind. For the last few years he had learned that much. Hikari wasn’t anything like her identical sisters. He looked out the window at the grey sky and wondered if it would rain.

 

.x.       

            “Looks like rain.” Oururi sighed as she packed her bag. “What a way to start a mission,” she grumbled. Her husband bit his tongue as he thought about her advanced bloodline and thanked the gods again that his children had not inherited it.

            “You’ll be back next Tuesday?” he asked, swirling his cereal around in a half-empty bowl.

            “Yup.” She put her Neko mask in the bag and zipped it up. She smiled at his slightly pouting face. ‘You still look like a teenager sometimes, Kakashi,’ she mused.  “We’ll go have dinner at Ichiraku when I get back, right?”

            “Ok.” Kakashi put the spoon down. “Ne, Oururi?”

            She opened the door. “Mm?”

            “Um… Never mind. It can wait till you get back.”

            She blinked a few times and made a face. “You sure?”        

            “Yeah, yeah. Go. Good luck,” he said with a distant smile.

            “See you next week,” she called and let the door close behind her.

            He sat there for a minute, the cereal getting too soggy to eat. His appetite was gone anyhow. One of his daughters floated into the room dressed in all black and wearing dark eye-makeup.

            “Did your mom say good-bye?” he asked, worried.

            “Yeah,” she muttered and went about getting herself some breakfast. She sat down across from him and noticed the single blue eye was fixed on her. “What?”

            “Yami,” he began. “Would you like to go on a mission with your dad?”

 

.x.

            “AN A-RANK MISSION?!” Naruto shouted and bounced up and down more like a small child than an 18 year old Chuunin Ninja. “That’s great!”

            Godaime looked over the top of her reading glasses and sighed. “Lunatic,” she whispered. “You will be teamed with Inuzuka Kiba, Hatake Yume and Yamanaka Ino. Report to the briefing room for more information.” Tsunade handed him a scroll.

            “Arigatou, Baa-chan!” Naruto called over his shoulder and sprinted out of the room.

            “I should give him a few D-ranks when he gets back,” she snarled, but snorted and smiled softly at his enthusiasm. “If only everyone was so ready and willing…”

            The Jounin walking into the room nearly collided with the blond and made a face. “Sheesh, slow down you lunatic,” he drawled.

            Tsunade laughed at the exasperated expression on Shikamaru’s face.

            He raised a brow. “Eh?”

 

.x.

            “Eh?!!” Yami forgot she was eating breakfast and dropped her spoon. “An A-rank mission to the Hidden Sand?”

            “Aa,” Kakashi nodded and cleared the dishes. “It’s not really that dangerous, per se. We’ll have passports to work there.” Yami continued to blink at her father, waiting for the rest of the story.  “A long time ago, I saw a series of Jutsu performed. I am now the only living person who knows how to perform them.”

            “Can’t a Sand-nin learn how to do the Jutsu?”

            “Probably, but I can’t guarantee they would live.”

            “Tousan,” she whispered in shock. “Then why are you risking so much?”

            “I’ve never turned down a mission; I don’t see why I should start now. And I believe in the cause. I will be saving not only one man’s life, but the lives of countless people who could lose their lives to him,” he said flatly with his back to her. “Ever heard of Sabakuno Gaara?”   

            Yami remembered Gaara. She saw him once when she was younger and had seen him at the Chuunin exams. He nearly lost control that day before the fighting broke out. Yami had wanted to chase after Sasuke and Gaara with the others, but she and mother and sisters had their hands full fighting Sound-nin in the stands. That was six years ago. Curiosity burned her brain.

            “I’ll go with you,” she said very seriously.

 

.x.

A week later Yume whined as she burned her tongue on her instant ramen. Ever how much Naruto had begged her to have dinner with him, she insisted on going home. They had spent a lot of time together in the last week after their A-rank mission. It wasn’t very difficult; infiltrating a yakuza house on the government dime to recover some blackmail materials. The gangsters were heavily armed, but not very skilled. They hadn’t had to kill a single one of them.

            To Yume’s astonishment, Naruto had asked to walk her home. When she admitted her family wasn’t around she came up with the courage to ask to see him again. Both of them spent a long while blushing before Naruto finally agreed. She had seen him every day for training, eating, talking; they even went to a movie. Yume practically lost track of time.

            Tonight she decided to stay home. The other day they had run into Hinata and Kiba. Yume wasn’t as oblivious as Naruto and knew that there was something between the strange white-eyed girl and the future Hokage. The awkwardness of the situation left Yume ill at ease, so she decided to lay low for a day or so. Besides, her family could be home any minute, she hoped.

            Oururi had left on an Anbu mission on Tuesday. Kakashi and Yami left for the Hidden Sand on Wednesday and Hikari had left in a hurry just the day before on a mission of her own. Tuesday came back around again and darkness crept into the apartment. Yume watched the steam roll off of the brown noodles and lost her appetite. Just as she was about to run out to see if she could catch up with Naruto, the lights flicked on.

            “Tadaima,” Oururi sighed and dumped her bag down in the entryway.

            “Kaasan!” Yume cried in greeting.

            The woman blinked at her. “Yume? Are you the only one home?” The girl nodded. “Aw, Sweetheart, I’m sorry.”

            “It’s ok. Everyone’s on a mission except me.”

            “Everyone?”

            Yume nodded again. “Tousan and Yami went on one right after you left and Hikari left yesterday.”

            “Saa,” Oururi sat down at the table and frowned at the instant ramen. “Seems like we’re hardly ever together anymore, doesn’t it?”

            Yume averted her eyes and sat down to her now cold ramen.

            “Come on. We’re going out!” Oururi chimed.

            “Really?!”

            “Mmhm, just you an me, Kiddo. Where you wanna go? Ichiraku?”

            Yume shook her head. If Naruto heard that she ditched him to go out with her mom to his favorite noodle stand he’d pout and carry on so... “Not there.”

            Oururi raised a brow. “Oh? Well how bout Taishou?”

            “The yakitori place, really?”

            “Mm!”

 

.x.

            “Mm,” Godaime screwed her mouth up into a worried pout. Jiraiya had noticed that lately the woman’s youthful appearance was getting more and more mature. He wondered if the workload was too much for her. Either way, he was sticking around; not just to keep an eye on Naruto, but also to help Tsunade-hime in any way he could.

            “Bad news?” he asked, tapping his pipe into the ashtray Shizune had demanded he use.

            “Mm,” she hummed again. “News about the Akatsuki is never good.”

            He drew a long breath. A few years ago it seemed as if they’d never see the end of Orochimaru’s terror, but they did. With several members already executed, he had no doubts that Konoha would triumph over this evil as well, but it seemed like a long time coming.

            “Two weeks ago a shinobi was found unconscious and on the brink of death. Before he died, the only information he muttered was ‘sono me’ over and over again.”

            “Such eyes?’” Jiraiya repeated. “You think he’s in the area?”

            “Judging by the autopsy report, I’d have to say yes.” Tsunade folded her hands in her lap and sighed. “Gai and Anko have been assigned to a reconnaissance team to learn more.”

            “Such advanced Jounin. You expect them to run into trouble?”

            “I’m just covering all my bases, Jiraiya.” He snorted a slight laugh. “And just what is so funny about that?”

            “Nothin’, just you,” he said as he leaned forward, searching his pockets for more tobacco. “You’ve really grown up, Ohime-sama.”

            “Che,” she scoffed. “I never wanted to, you know. But these things happen.”

            They both looked over at the large picture window to the east. Scaffolding laced the cliff-side as workers chipped away at the fifth face to adorn the monument.

            “Pretty soon you won’t have to worry about it. You’ll be immortal.”

            The pout deepened.

 

.x.

            Kakashi’s displeasure was visible even through his facemask, but Yami wasn’t paying attention. It was 120 in the shade and they had only just spied minarets in the distance. The girl plodded methodically through the sand as one who had been born and raised in it. The cotton robes didn’t seem to have any adverse affect on her, whereas Kakashi thought he was going to pass out. He new better than to cast the garments aside, but how anyone could cover their entire body in this much fabric day in and day out in this weather was totally beyond his comprehension.

            “Ne, Yami. Your dad needs to rest again. Sorry.”

            Surprised, she stopped and handed him the canteen. “Sorry, Tousan. I keep forgetting.”

            “It’s ok. You’re excited.” His eye curved as he smiled. “I’m glad.”

            She smiled shyly.

            ‘Damn,’ he thought, looking at how well she handled the climate. ‘Her make-up’s not even messed.’

            Yami stared at the shivering image of the Hidden Sand on the horizon and felt her heart flutter. “I am so excited,” she whispered. ‘I’m going home.’

 

.x.

            “This is better than home, ne Yume-chan?” Oururi remarked as she watched her second oldest daughter wolf down another negimaki skewer. She crunched on the scallion and talked with her mouth full as she tried to explain that she liked her mother’s cooking just fine.

            Oururi’s eyebrow twitched. “I mean that there’s people here.”

            “Oh, yeah!” Another plate of chicken meatballs arrived. “Oishii!” Yume squealed. Her mother glared at her. “I mean… It’s pretty good… hehehe…”

            “Ah! Oururi!” a voice from behind called. “Long time no see!”

            “Ikura!” she turned and called to the teacher. A woman with long, black hair at his side looked very confused.

            “I RU KA,” she said very plainly and quietly.

            “Hahaha, it’s ok Yugao-chan. It’s a bit of a joke.” He made quick introductions. “Hatake Oururi, this is Uzuki Yugao.”

            The two women locked eyes and the light of recognition danced across their features so quickly that no one noticed. “Glad to meet ya, Yugao. You guys just coming in?”

            “On the way out I’m afraid,” Iruka admitted sadly. “We should all do dinner sometime, together!”

            Oururi scoffed. “If I could get all of us together at once it’d be a miracle.”

            “Busy, huh?”

            She nodded, but kept her comments to herself.

            “Well, catch you later. Say ‘hi’ to Kakashi for me,” Iruka said and smiled.

            “Sure.”

            Yugao nodded to Oururi who nodded back. When they were gone Yume mumbled between mouthfuls, “That lady’s Anbu, isn’t she?”

            Oururi grinned, impressed with her daughter’s perception skills. “Yup.”

 

.x.

            The Sharingan turned on and 18 year old Uchiha Sasuke stared into the moonlit clearing. Two figures were resting in the shadows. The larger to the left kept watch while the other dozed lightly. So far, he was certain he went undetected. Just as he was about to make his move, the big guy stirred. Sasuke tried to keep his breath even, but his heart raced in his chest. If he lost the element of surprise now, he’d die.

            “Sounds like a mouse,” the big guy hissed.

            “Best exterminate it, Kisame,” Itachi mumbled.

            Sasuke crouched, ready to strike. To his astonishment Kisame bolted away to the north. Sounds of a struggle could be heard from the trees followed by a man’s scream. Itachi clicked his tongue and walked towards the disturbance. Sasuke followed at a safe distance.

            In a stand of ginko trees, Kisame lay dead. His chakra-sucking sword still gripped in one of his severed arms. His attacker panted and clutched a sword of her own in one hand and her shoulder with the other as blood oozed from several lacerations. Itachi caught her off guard and widened his eyes. She fell to her knees as she succumbed to the Tsukiyomi Sharingan then slumped to the ground.

            ‘Hikari!!!’ Sasuke’s brain screamed.

            He leapt out of his hiding place and caught Itachi off guard. He threw several kunai at his elder brother, which he dodged easily. The younger appeared in his blind spot and slashed at him with a short sword. To both of their amazement, the blade hit flesh. Itachi spun and grasped Sasuke’s arm, but he was hundreds of times stronger than when last they met. He broke free of his grip and stared fearlessly into his eyes.

            “So,” Itatchi purred. “You’ve blossomed at last, Sasuke.”

            He couldn’t help but grin. The Mangekyou Sharingan protected him from his brother’s genjutsu. “Blossomed,” he repeated in disgust. “Why, Itatchi?” he asked, his grip tightening on the hilt of the sword. “Why have you honed me as the weapon of your destruction?”

            “I’m amazed,” Itatchi breathed. “Don’t you understand? Certainly now that you’ve broken the last barrier, you must…”

            “Understand what?!” Sasuke barked. Soft whimpering made him intensely aware of the fact that Hikari was suffering horrific nightmares and bleeding just a few feet away.

            “The Sharingan. The toll it takes on the mind…”

            Sasuke took a deep breath. “So that’s it. You lost your sanity to the Sharingan, didn’t you, Ani-ue?” The whorls of his iris spun as he prepared to attack. “Then let me fulfill my purpose and put you out of your misery!”

            They clashed and Itatchi cut Sasuke across the chest, just as Sasuke had done to him earlier. “You’re still too weak,” Itatchi baited him. “You’re thinking about that girl over there. You’ll never be able to get past your emotions.”

            “Wrong!” Sasuke shouted and flipped over his brother’s head. When he came down he planted the sword between his shoulder blades. “My strength comes from the desire to protect others.” He pulled the sword from the wound and Itatchi crashed to his knees. “A strength you were never capable of,” Sasuke hissed, grabbed Itatchi by the hair and smacked the blade into his neck.

 

.x.

            Two countries and a time zone away Kakashi and Yami arrived at their destination. The late Kazekage’s house was impressive in its size, but dark and quiet. They were let in by a servant and asked to wait in the lobby. Soon, a woman emerged and greeted them.

            “Thank you so much for coming!” Temari called down from the top of a set of curving stairs. She was dressed casually in robes of light cotton. “But I have to tell you,” she lowered her voice as she approached them, “he hasn’t quite agreed with us yet.”

            “I see,” Kakashi furrowed his brows and sighed inwardly. ‘Fantastic,’ he thought. ‘This trek was all for nothing?’ “This is my daughter, Yami. Yami this is Sabakuno Temari.”

            Yami bowed, a bit impressed at the woman’s stature. She carried herself just as one who would one day be Kazekage should.

            “Now that you’re here, I hope that he will come around.” Temari’s eyes glistened slightly. “I want to save my brother, Hatake-san. Please help us.” She bowed respectfully.

            “I’ll do my best.” Kakashi rolled his eye up towards the landing and bowed his head slightly. Leaning against the archway to the upper floor at the top of the stairs was Sabakuno Gaara. His ghastly, pale skin seemed to glow in the light of the oil-lamp chandelier. He gazed down on the strangers with his sunken, black-rimmed eyes. Yami bowed slowly and her head filled with memories…

 

.x.X.[Flashback].x.X.

            The playground was always full of kids chasing each other around or playing ball. She loved going there with her sisters when their mother was out on a mission. Most of the time, other children didn’t like to play with them because they were strange. The girls could communicate without speaking by using hand gestures and subtle glances, something that most adult shinobi had a hard time doing and it alienated them from the other children.

            One day they were playing ‘Kage’: a game they designed in which they would sort of hide-and-seek. All three would hide, and if one spotted another they’d should ‘kage!’ and force that girl to freeze in place while the other was rounded up. Yami had just been caught and was waiting for Hikari to find Yume. This usually took a while so she gave up her statue-like pose and sat down with a thud on the dusty ground.

            “Mou, hurry up!” the five-year-old girl wailed.

            “You’re a shadow! Shadow’s don’t talk!” Hikari shouted in reply from the distance.

            “Whatever!” Yami folded her arms and sulked. Bored and aggravated with her older (by three minutes) sister, she looked around for something to do. Her eyes met a set of sharp, pale blue ones staring at her from a swing-set not too far away. Yami got up, dusted herself off and trotted over to the boy. “Hi,” she greeted him. “Wanna play?”

            “W… with me?” he asked, his face screwed up into a look of pure puzzlement.

            She nodded. “I’m bored. My name’s Yami. What’s yours?”

            “Gaara,” he answered softly.

            “What do you have on your head?” she asked and pointed at his scar with the utter tactlessness of childhood.

            “…”

            “I dunno Kanji so good yet,” Yami admitted and took the swing next to him. She pumped the air with her feet and was soon swinging almost perpendicular to the bar.

            “It’s ‘ai’” he replied quietly and kicked at the ground.

            “That’s a nice word,” she said and smiled. He smiled back very, very slightly and started to swing as well. Yami turned her head as she heard her name being called. “I’m over here!” she shouted back and continued to chat with her new friend.

            “Yami!” Oururi’s tone of voice held that timber of alarm that made Yami’s blood run cold for a second as if she’d done something wrong.

            She stared at her mother as she swung back and forth. “What?”

            “Come here now.”

            “But Kaa~san…”

            “Now, Yami. We’re going home.” The woman’s eyes flicked back and forth from Gaara to her daughter. Yume and Hikari hid behind her, already aware of the danger. Gaara’s swing slowed and his face bowed into the large neck of his shirt.

            Yami pouted and jumped off the swing. “Sorry. Mom says we gotta go.” She waved as Oururi ushered her away. The boy didn’t wave back.

 

.x.X.[End Flashback].x.X.

            The boy was now an 18 year old man. She realized with some disappointment that no glimmer of recognition passed across his face.

 


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