Chapter Three: Prisoners and Nomads
"Smile, Hinata." her mother commanded. "It wouldn't kill you to smile once in a while."
"Raise your arms higher, do not ever hesitate in your strike, never falter." Neji commanded, as Hanabi pounded her ferocious little palms into the base of the training poll. The young girl did as her older cousin commanded, her blows stronger and more accurate with his guidance.
Hinata sat on the shaded patio, beside her mother and aunt, sharing their traditional jasmine tea. The young woman sighed tiredly, finding herself rather bored. How she missed her training sessions with Neji, that were now reserved only for Hanabi. Her dreams to be a shinobi forever dashed.
"Your father has invited Obito-sama and his guests for dinner tonight, Hinata." her mother informed her. "You will have to help me prepare a menu and proper table settings."
"Of course, mother." Hinata replied softly, remembering the golden-haired boy with the beautiful smile. She felt her cheeks flush lightly, and was quick to take a sip of her tea.
"How do you think the Uchiha will manage to keep that wild beast contained?" her aunt asked her mother, sipping her tea. "The last incident killed several people in some remote farming district, or so I heard. Perhaps it's true that the seal is slowly receding... I fear what this could mean for the village."
"Obito-sama is working with Kakashi-san and Yamato-san to strengthen the seal." her mother replied. "The boy is this village's responsibility, it was wrong to send him into exile with hardly any protection... it is not his fault for any of the accident, he deserves our help."
Hinata listned to her mother's words and believed in them more than anything she ever heard before. She could not imagine having a biju sealed beneath her own flesh, to find destruction and death in one's wake, with no memory of anything that had happened.
The poor boy.
"The people of this village will not take this arrangement well, we'll surely see great resistance... and I can't blame them. What happens when the fox is unleashed and terrorizing your children?" her aunt asked.
"We must trust in Madara-sama and Obito-sama to protect us." her mother replied. "We don't have much of a choice do we?"
"Perhaps not." her aunt replied. "However, never trust the Uchiha, my dear sister-in-law, their arrogance could very well be the end of us all."
"Why do we have to leave again?" the child asked, holding back angry tears as Kakashi loaded him into a wagon.
"It's not safe here for you anymore." his sensei and guardian replied. "You'll like where we're going next, it's by the sea."
"I liked it here." he complained. "Rin just finished painting Katsu's room, and there was a boy next door around my age."
"I'm sorry, Naruto." Kakashi told him. "We can't stay here."
"Is it because of the fire that destroyed those houses?"
Kakashi nodded slowly in reply. "Yes."
"You look so handsome all dressed up!" Rin smiled as Naruto entered the second floor parlor. The pregnant woman herself was wearing a pale violet gown, trying to tame Katsu's wild, sliver locks, while the young boy pouted in miserable submission.
"Thanks." the blonde replied, looking himself over in the large looking glass. It was just a simple kimono of black and white, but it was one of the nicest things he had ever worn. "Though, I don't see why we have to get so dressed up for dinner."
"The Hyuga's are a wealthy and rather prestigious clan." Kakashi told him, entering the room donning an almost identical kimono to Naruto's. "One doesn't enter their home unless one is dressed in their finest."
"Peacocks, huh?" Naruto asked with a smirk.
"Be respectful, Naruto." Rin told him. "It was kind of them to invite us."
"Even if it was to show their loyalties to Madara-sama after he made such a controversial decision to let us return here." Kakashi added, smiling ruefully beneath his mask.
"Kakashi." Rin sighed with a shake of the head.
"Well, I'm sure the food will be good, anyway." Kakashi teased, kissing his wife atop her head to pacify her annoyance with him.
Naruto grinned. "It's better than the torch and pitchforks, I have to say."
"What's that look for?" Kakashi asked his wife, upon entering their room. Rin sat on the edge of their bed, sucking her bottom lip in deep contemplation and perhaps a little concern.
"I have to tell you something." she whispered quietly.
Kakashi closed the door to their chambers that separated them from Naruto and Katsu. "What is it?"
She placed a hand on the place beside her, silently asking him to sit. Apprehensive, Kakashi obliged her request, keeping his charcoal eyes fixed on her. "Is everything alright?"
"I-I'm pregnant." she whispered quietly, blurting it out before she could change her mind.
The silver-haired ninja was stunned silent. He had feared something was wrong with Naruto or Katsu, or that they had been discovered again.
"What?" he asked her, blinking a few times in surprise.
"I know." she whispered. "I know that we already have so much to take care of... that it's difficult enough to uproot Naruto and Katsu at any sign of danger, I know a baby is the last thing that we are prepared for right now, but..."
"Rin." Kakashi whispered.
"I'm certain, I wouldn't have told you if I wasn't, and perhaps if we head North again..."
"Rin." he took her hand into his own. "Calm down, it's alright."
She lifted her amber eyes to him as they began to fill with tears. "Kakashi, what are we going to do?"
"We're going to be alright."
Her life had been a series of inns, villages, hostels, camps, weathered clothing, light meals, and long journeys. Since she had stepped out of the village with Kakashi seventeen years ago, she had never stopped running. Yesterday, she had slept in a tent in the middle of the forest with sticks and leaves in her hair. Now she sat at a noble's table, eating the finest cusines within the Land of Fire, wearing fine lilac-colored silk.
"How is the fish for you?" Umeko, who was sitting beside her, asked in a hushed whisper. "Hopefully not too rich for your little one."
"It's perfect." Rin replied with a cheerful grin. "The Hyuga's must have a wonderful cook."
Umeko smiled in reply. "The Hyuga's have a wonderful everything... I do hope you and your husband are enjoying your stay here."
"Oh, yes." Rin replied. "It's good to be home again."
The healer then glanced at Naruto, who kept his oceanic gaze fixated on his plate, trying not to make eye contact with anyone at the table. He'd put on his fake smile when he heard about their invitation to dinner at the Hyugas, but she knew he was still troubled from his last accident, and wasn't quite ready to be around too many people... also, the boy could read people, he knew that the people present were afraid of him.
Katus and Aiko were on seated beside him. The lively little Aiko was trying to ask Katsu all sorts of questions, but her son was too embarrassed to reply to a single one. He instead just shrugged, nodded or shook his head.
Rin let her eyes wander to Lord and Lady Hyuga, the stoic couple who sat at the head of the table, their glassy white eyes watching her and her family in silent speculation. Their two daughters sat beside each other, the younger one's full attention on a rice ball, and the older one however... her eyes were on Naruto. Rin tilted her head a little, the look on the young Hyuga girl's face was not one of fear or contempt, but silent wonderment.
If only Naruto would look up, Rin couldn't help but think, he would see that not everyone was afraid of him.
The next few times he got himself injured, it was assuredly no consequence that he sought out her station. The first time she already had a patient with her and he had to settle with the station adjacent to her own where a dark-haired middle-aged woman treated him. He proved to be an poor patient not listening to a thing his healer requested of him, and instead staring over at the young woman... this Sakura... who was working on extracting poison from a police officer's wound. Her green eyes were concentrating fiercely, and he found he could not look away.
The second time he paid a visit to the healing house, her station was empty and he was quick to claim it before either of his ANBU partners could get any ideas. He wondered if she remembered him at all as she looked up from where she had been writing down a formula. The way her sea-bright eyes lit up briefly, and the way she gave him the faintest of smiles, told him he may have not been as irrelevant as he had assumed.
Again, she didn't say much, and neither did he, as her jade-colored chakra engulfed her hand and she used her healing abilities to close the gash on his bicep. When the wound was small enough, she then applied a healing salve that smelled like honey, before wrapping linen bandages around his arm. Sasuke honestly didn't know what he was doing. He didn't quite understand his thoughts or actions... he just knew he liked being near this girl.
"There." she whispered when she finished, pulling her petite hands away from his arm. "It will take a day or two to heal fully, you'll want to leave the bandages on until then."
He nodded in reply. "Thank you."
From the way she blinked in surprise, it seemed she wasn't used to receiving much gratitude for her rather significant services.
"...It's my job." she told him simply, before turning to cleanse her station for the next patient.
"Evening, Sasuke." Neji greeted, approaching the designated guard who was assigned to shadow the kyuubi vessel.
"Hyuga." the Uchiha replied indifferently, keeping his eyes focused on his charge as well as all the doors and windows from his perch on the high rise of Hyuuga mansion.
"Seems you've got babysitting duty tonight, it must be truly an honor for a ANBU agent of such a high rank to spend the evening observing a dinner party." Neji went on.
Sasuke shrugged. "I take the potential task of maintaining a nine-tailed demon rather seriously."
"Oh, and here I thought the Uchiha Clan had the situation under control." Neji replied sarcastically, crossing his arms.
"Due keep in mind that I am not Madara, Neji." Sasuke replied with a roll of his eyes. "I did not give consent to let the jinchuriki back into the village."
"What do you think he has to gain from it?" Neji asked, turning his attention to the blonde teen below, who barely dared to lift his head at the table. "Bringing him here, I mean. Madara never does anything without a motive... he never showed care or interest before, why now has he allowed him to return."
"Why should I care?" Sasuke asked him, uncaring.
"Because, it could mean the destruction of Konoha!" Neji replied giving Sasuke a hard glare. "Or don't you care about that because of whatever issue you're still haboring against your brother."
Sasuke gritted his teeth, but did not detour his gaze from his task. "Careful."
"I want to meet with Itachi sometime in the future," Neji told him. "Is it out of the question for you to relay a message to him from me, without any of your other clansmen knowing?"
"Hn." Sasuke replied with another shrug. "As long as it's written down."
"Is it too much to ask why you are not speaking to him?" the Hyuga questioned. "It must be rather difficult with him being your ANBU Captain."
"That reason is between my brother and I." Sasuke replied. "It's no one else's concern."
Another ANBU agent appeared before them, this one with the mask of a rabbit, signaling the end of Sasuke's watch. Neji passed a sealed scroll to the Uchiha before he left.
"For Itachi's eyes alone." he reminded him.
Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Like I want to get caught keeping correspondence between you two... by the way, I'd keep an eye on that cousin of yours, the older girl."
"Hinata?" Neji's eyes narrowed. "Why?"
"She hasn't taken her eyes off the jinchuriki the whole night." Sasuke told him carelessly, before fazing out.
"Why me?" Obito asked. "Of all your many children and relatives, why choose me?"
"Because, I've been observing you a long time, Uchiha Obito." Madara told him, sitting upon his iron throne. "No one will ever suspect you."
"You'll have to excuse me." Obito spoke as one of his attendants whispered in his ear. He was still out of breath from a fable that Kakashi was telling of the old days. "I am afraid I'm needed."
"Can't it wait until after dinner?" Umeko asked him quietly.
"I'm afraid not, koishii." Obito told her patting her hand. "I'll see you back at home."
He turned to his hosts and thanked them for the meal, bid goodnight to his daughter and the Hatake family, before making his leave. With every step away from his family and old comrades, the entire persona of Uchiha Obito melted into something else entirely. His chakra energy darkened as his face turned into an irritated scowl. The cheerful, friendly, approachable Obito was all but gone.
It wasn't long before he was before the towering mansion of Uchiha Madara.
He found his immortal and all powerful master standing in the extravengant library looking out the window over Konohagakure, the kingdom he had claimed for his own.
"This couldn't have waited until morning, Madara-sama?" Obito asked him.
"We've had too many setbacks this year to afford any wasted time, Obito" Madara told him with a careless shrug. "How are you managing with your old rival and old flame with their little family settling into your home?"
"I'm not a child anymore." Obito spoke lowly. "I have a family of my own, I love my wife and daughter."
"Assuredly." Madara replied. "Though, that doesn't stop you from looking like a forlorn puppy whenever that Nahara girl sends you a smile."
Obito clenched his fist. "I thought that we couldn't afford to waste anytime."
Madara grinned in amusement, before turning back to look out the large window. "Of course, my apprentice, I'm not getting anywhere with this spy. I think they need a little visit from someone of your expertise."
Obito sighed heavily. "Very well."
Knowing his way better than anyone in Madara's mansion, he was soon before the interrogation chambers, where two sentinals were on guard. Opening the door he was faced with the captured Senju spy hanging from the wall, bruised and broken nearly beyond repair.
"Good evening." Obito spoke, activating his sharingan, before closing the door behind him. "They tell me you're called Ten-Ten."
The sensible part of him told him that that healing session should be the end of his interactions with the young healer. Nothing could come of it, of course. Healers were servants to his clan, servants to Lord Madara... it was not permitted for them to speak or engage in anything with Uchiha outside of their duties. Besides, everything between them was baseless, he had come to the healing house because he was injured, and she had healed him.
It was simple as that.
Yet, there he was, glancing into the sick bay, looking around for her like a fool, while waiting for the medic from his squad to aqcuire a few forms to fill out for Itachi. It was slow in the sick bay that, only a few patients at random stations... but he did manage to spot her, it looked like she was cleaning up to leave.
Sasuke tensed when he noticed a tall, broad shouldered medic with silver hair and round rimmed glasses approach her languidly. Apparently, he was not the only one drawn to the green-eyed healer.
"Good afternoon, Sakura-chan." the medic said, stopping just behind her.
Sakura tensed and turned to look over her shoulder to acknowledge the older and taller young man, she frowned immediately before turning back to her tasks. "Kabuto-san... I'm just finishing up here."
"Ah, I see that." he replied with a less than innocent smirk, taking another step closer to her. "I just wanted to congratulate you on that brain surgery, yesterday."
The girl shook her head. "It was nothing."
"More than nothing, even the matron here was impressed. You're a truly gifted young woman." the medic then placed a hand against her desk, pressing his broad chest into her back as he leaned into her ear. "Perhaps you could show me a few pointers."
Sasuke felt his hands clench into fists at the sight before him, he was surprised that her lingering peers were not paying any mind to this harassment, what-so-ever.
Sakura, obviously unnerved, set her jaw before turning herself around quickly, putting distance between herself and the much taller man. "I'm afraid I'm not much of a teacher."
Kabuto grinned mischievously before placing another hand against the table, trapping the healer against the desk almost flush against her. "Then perhaps I could teach you a thing or two."
The disgust and brief panic that flashed over the girl's face made Sasuke pull out his kunai. He didn't care what the consequences were if her were to attack this medic, he would not watch anymore of this trans-fold.
"No, thank you." Sakura replied steadily, despite the tremor in her hands as she reached for her satchel, pushing past one of Kanuto's arms that ensnared her. "If you'll excuse me, I need to be going."
For a moment, it seemed Kabuto was going to let her go, before he snatched her upper arm, stopping her in her tracks. "Now, now, Sakura-chan, I wouldn't be so quick to turn down my offer. With my father as administrator to all the healing houses, I think you'd find me a rather amiable ally."
The girl pulled out of his grasp without hesitation. "Thank you, but I have no need of allies, I can take of myself." With that, she turned and made her leave with quickness in her step. "Good afternoon, Kabuto-san."
Sasuke let out a breath of relief, returning his kunai to his pouch. However, the silver-haired medic's angry sneer, directed toward the girl's retreating back, did not go unnoticed by him.
"Well, it's been a while, hasn't it, Sasuke-kun?" Kabuto greeted as if they were the best of friends. "I was just leaving from a meeting with your brother."
Without a word, and his eyes flashing red, Sasuke hurled a fist straight into the jaw of the medic, making him stumble back into the wall of the hallway. "I'd advice you not to ever cross my path again, Kabuto." he hissed lowly, straightening to stand at his whole height, before making his way toward his brother's office.
Kabuto let out a dark chuckle as he moved to sit up, wiping the blood pooling out of his lip. "Why so angry with me, Sasuke-kun?" he asked menacingly. "Are we still hung up over pretty, little Sakura-chan?"
Sasuke paused in his step.
"Still don't know what's become of her, huh?" Kabuto went on, chuckling again. "Poor thing, it's been what six months? She was probably done away with, or sent to be some noble's little pleasure slave..."
In an instant, Kabuto was elevated from the ground by his collar before being roughly shoved against the wall. The silver-haired young man only barked out another strained laugh. "Or perhaps she just couldn't put up with your poor attitude any longer and decided to run away."
Sasuke's vision was as red as his eyes, he was more than willing to kill the disgusting man, he wouldn't have the slightest bit of qualms with it... though he knew he couldn't... it would bring Madara's wrath upon his family. "I'm warning you now, Kabuto, if I find out that you had anything to do with what happened to her, I won't hesitate to end your pathetic existence."
He released him, before he could change his mind, and Kabuto chuckled as he doubled over, gasping for air. "Of course, Sasuke-kun... Goodness, I must have hit quite close to the mark."
Sasuke glared darkly, it took everything in him to not run the goading medic through with his katana.
Kabuto only smiled cheerfully as he straightened and made his way down the halls of the barracks. "All the best to your parents."
Once the door closed behind Kabuto, Sasuke let a low snarl before turning down the hall, his rage still burning within him like a wild fire. Violently, he slammed open the door to his brother's office and pulled out the scroll Neji had given him.
"You tell me what you know!" Sasuke demanded. "You fucking tell me what happened to her or I'll bring this Hyuga correspondence, addressed to you, straight to Madara, I swear I will."
Itachi looked at him calmly, before setting down the mission reports he had been reading over. "You need to calm down."
"Don't tell me to fucking calm down." Sasuke warned dangerously. "I'm done with you keeping everything from me, tell me what happened to her... Even if what you have to say is what I'm the most afraid of, I need to know! I can't live like this anymore! I can't spend another day not knowing! Just fucking tell me what you know!"
Itachi gave his younger brother a sympathetic look. "I truly don't know what's become of her, Sasuke... all I know is that she was taken before Obito-sama the night before she disappeared."
Sasuke stared, his wide eyes shaking with rage, but also fear. "She... do you really think they..."
"I don't know." Itachi replied. "But, after how long it has been, Sasuke... I would accept the truth, that no matter what has become of her... that you're never going to see her again."
He watched the defeat fall upon his younger brother's disbelieving face, watched as he let himself come to terms with the horrible probablity. However, in the next moment, Sasuke's jaw clenched determinedly. "Well, you helped ensure that, if that's the case, didn't you?"
Itachi said nothing, still unapologetic about his actions he took to keep his brother in the village weeks prior, still willing to take his brother's hate.
Sasuke tossed the scroll unto his brother's desk careless. "Keep me out of your treasonous affairs, I have no choice but to follow your orders, but if I have to play messenger boy for you again, you'll be sorry."
Nope, Sakura's not the Senju spy!