Original Publish Date: 30th-November-2017
A/N: To everyone who sent me messages of support and understanding at my situation: you are the best people I know. Thank you for your kindness. This one is dedicated to all of you.
Chapter 29 – Home is a Fire
Plates they will shift
Houses will shake
Fences will drift
We will awake
Only to find
Nothing's the same
Nothing's the same
- Home is a Fire, Death Cab for Cutie
2 Weeks in the Future, Konoha: 4465617468
Rhythmic, wet slapping sounds permeated the air.
"Ohhh…" a loud moan rang out.
The slapping sounds continued unabated.
Anko's eyes were fixed unblinkingly on me as the slapping sounds became louder.
The wet slapping sounds became faster and louder…
…but not as loud as my voice.
"It's… been… so… long…"
The moans were lewder each time they came out of my mouth.
"Faster… Faster…" I breathed out.
The obscene sounds were by now audible to the entire street.
"I… missed… this…"
A particularly loud 'splat' rang out, and my face was drenched in warm fragrant liquid, but I continued at the same pace, uncaring of the looks I was attracting.
"I… need… more…"
Mothers dragged their children away from the vulgar spectacle, shooting disgusted looks as they did so.
"Keep going… keep going…"
Genma looked as if his eyes were about to bug out of his head.
"This… is… better… than… I… dreamed…"
Ayame's blush could have boiled the entire pot of ramen, but I didn't care as she passed me my next fix.
"This… is… the… best… thing… ever!"
Teuchi didn't particularly look encouraged at my compliment; in fact, he looked like he was seriously reconsidering his life choices as he continued to cook up my personal ambrosia.
"I'll… never… go… away… again…"
Anko rolled her eyes.
Once the throes of my ramengasm had finished curling my toes, I leaned back against the counter with a self-satisfied sigh. No mother had ever caressed her unborn child as lovingly as I nuzzled the ramen-bump in my stomach.
"Was it good for you, too?" Anko asked sarcastically.
I ignored the heathen, enjoying the warmth in my belly and the glaze in my eyes. Thirty-Seven bowls. One better than Chōji and I had ever managed in our contests. Take that!
This was paradise.
I was vaguely aware of Genma waving his hand over my face in the same way the ground is aware of insects crawling on its surface. "I think he's actually high," Genma said with a note of disbelief in his voice.
I didn't care what was being said. I was floating in the clouds.
I was home.
Anko snorted. "Fuck that, I don't think he's even realized that I'm naked under my trench-coat."
Happy, floaty clouds, singing birds, shining sun, warm ramen aftertaste…
Genma gave Anko an appraising look and received a predatory smile in response. Ayame shot Anko a dirty look, but she was summarily ignored. I was superficially aware of this, but I was in la-la-land, and enjoying it. They exchanged some more talk, but I tuned them out. It was a gorgeous day, Konoha was as peaceful as ever, Ichiraku's was as awesome as ever…
"Nanashi! Oi!" Genma snapped his fingers in front of my face, and I blinked a few times as I came out of my pleasant haze.
"Whaaat?" I drew the word out childishly, not pleased at having my happy-time interrupted.
Genma put out both his hands, palms up. "Which would you rather have? A full serving of ramen, or a naked Anko?" He made both hands perform a see-saw motion; clearly what they had been discussing while I was in my happy place.
"Hmm…" Good question. But one with an easy answer. "Put your hands together."
Genma blinked, then shot a betrayed look at both his hands, for a moment seriously appearing to consider cutting them off. I grinned lazily, and went back to enjoying my day, having exacted my revenge.
"Welcome to heaven on earth- Whaaat!?" Naruto's voice rang out as he spied the bowls stacked up next to me. "How many bowls did you eat!?"
Team 7 plus Zabuza and Haku had made their report to the Hokage while I had idled away my lunch hour scarring whoever happened to be walking by. They must have finished with the report, and Naruto had clearly brought them here to convert them to the path of the pure and the righteous.
I grinned at the squirt. "Thirty-seven," I bragged.
Naruto gaped at me. "B-but I've only ever managed to eat twenty-five at one go!"
I casually looked at my fingernails and buffed them on my Jōnin flak jacket. Naruto twitched, and a fire lit in his eyes. "Teuchi jii-chan! Line 'em up! I'm going to beat nii-chan's record!"
Teuchi looked blankly at Naruto, took off his apron and woodenly walked away from the stand.
"Huh?" Naruto asked, understandably confused.
"Ehehehe… he's just tired after making so many bowls for your nii-chan…" Ayame covered for her father's poor stomach.
"Oh…could you could you help me beat nii-chan's record then?" Naruto tried his practiced puppy-dog-eyes technique, and Anko shot him a discreet thumbs-up at a perfect application. I rolled my eyes; it figures that she would have taught him how to do that.
The unsuspecting Ayame was taken aback, and she immediately started stammering, "I-I don't think I can make that many alone, es-especially if some of your friends want to eat too…"
"Aww…" Naruto looked dejected, but he smiled at her almost immediately. "It's ok! I'll beat nii-chan's record some other time!"
"You can try," I said as dubiously as I could, and internally grinned as Naruto's eyes regained the 'challenge accepted' look.
"Oi! Munchkin! You're being rude! You haven't introduced your teammates or your friends!" Anko called.
"Right! Sorry! Everyone, this is Scary Snake Lady, Genma-san and Ayame-nee-chan! Ayame nee-chan and her dad make the best ramen in the whole world! Genma-san saved me from the Soba Noodle Guild together with nii-chan once. Scary Snake Lady keeps trying to kill me and calls it training." Genma shot me a questioning look when Naruto mentioned the Soba Noodle Guild, but I made a just-go-with-it motion. "This is Kakashi-sensei, he keeps reading perverted novels and is always late. That's Sasuke, he's very broody and talks in grunts. This is Sakura-chan, she's the smartest person in Konoha! No-brows there is Momochi Zabuza, he pretends to be a big bad demon but he's really a big softie inside. And this is Haku, who taught me the meaning of being truly strong and is one of the most awesome people I know! And everyone already knows nii-chan- I mean, Kamikaze-sama!"
The reactions to Naruto's introductions were varied yet similar. Sasuke and Zabuza both glared at Naruto, Sakura and Haku blushed at Naruto's praise, and Kakashi barely lifted his eyes from his book. (Also… KAMIKAZE!)
"Aren't you an A-rank missing-nin?" Genma asked faux-casually, but none of the experienced ninja missed the steel underlying his question.
Zabuza thumbed the new Kiri hitai-ate that I had handed him (along with his orders from Mei) on the bridge, but he was beaten to the punch. "Keep up, needle-prick. He already told the guards at the gate that he was reinstated." Anko replied with a roll of her eyes. Genma made an apologetic gesture and received a shrug from Zabuza. (Genma might not have paid attention, but gossip spread in a ninja village faster than at a housewives' convention.)
"So why are you in Konoha?"
Genma raised his eyebrows again, and Zabuza rolled his eyes. It was true that someone called 'Demon of the Hidden Mist' wasn't exactly known for his diplomatic skills, but this was what Mei had to work with right now.
"How'd you end up meeting this lot?" Anko asked Naruto as she gestured towards the former Kiri-missing-nin.
"Oh, we met them on our A-rank mission," Naruto said casually, but the massive grin on his face betrayed the excitement he was still feeling since the Hokage had re-branded their mission classification. (They were still getting C-ranked pay because they had failed to check-in and report the updated parameters, but on paper it would show up as an A-rank completed mission.)
Both Anko's and Genma's eyebrows lifted at that. "How did you get an A-ranked mission as Genin?" Genma asked.
Naruto immediately launched into an abbreviated tale of their journey to Wave, and ended with, "-so we saved the country, I got No-Brows to admit he cares about Haku, nii-chan saved Haku 'cause he's awesome, and we completed an A-rank mission!"
"Munchkin, that was really fucking inspiring!" Anko grabbed Naruto in a hug and squashed his head in her sizeable bust. Naruto let out a 'gack' and pretended to try and escape; but nobody failed to notice that he didn't try very hard. "Look at you, already saving countries and changing enemies' hearts. Before we know it, you'll be wearing the Hat and declaring a National Ramen Day!"
Grinning, she finally let a sputtering Naruto go, who mock-glared at her with a bright red face. Then she sashayed over to Naruto's teammates and proceeded to look them up and down. "So, this is your team, hmm? One is a girly girl, and don't even get me started on the pink-haired one." Naruto tried, and failed, to keep his snickers in at the insult to Sasuke; who didn't know how to react. But that had nothing on what Anko said next to him. "So, you lost to the other pretty boy and munchkin had to pick up your slack?"
Sasuke twitched, and Naruto objected, "Hey! That's not what hap- wait, you know Haku is a boy!?"
"Of course." Then Anko blinked, and a slow smile started to spread across her face. "Aww… does someone have a little crush? Bi-curious at your age? You naughty, naughty boy," Anko wagged a finger at Naruto, who started sputtering again. "Does your little girlfriend know she has competition from a member of the opposite sex? Then again, maybe she might be into the whole ménage-a-trois thing. Quiet ones like her are usually the kinkiest." She took a salacious glance at Haku from top to bottom, who too had turned bright red at Anko's insinuation. "Good taste though munchkin, I approve," Anko finished with a cheeky thumbs-up. Naruto was furiously moving his mouth and arms, but was unable to articulate his mortified objections.
Then Anko turned to an extremely embarrassed-looking Sakura (who was shooting admiringly scandalized looks at Anko's attire), stepped into her personal space and started to run her fingers through the Genin's long pink hair, "So soft…" She then leaned down and took a long sniff, "so pretty…" Sakura, who had been turning steadily pinker, exploded into a blush that rivaled Hinata's when Anko leaned in and said huskily, "Do you taste as delicious as you smell?"
"W-what?" Sakura stammered, a mixture of embarrassed and aroused at Anko's close attentions.
"Where should I cut you?"
Sakura blinked. "What?" she repeated, this time confused.
Anko took out a kunai and licked along its length. "Where should I cut you, so I can taste if your blood tastes as delicious as your smell?"
Now the appropriate mixture of embarrassed, aroused, and terrified, Sakura took a quick step back. Anko let her go with her patented creepy smile and a loud cackle. Zabuza and Genma were the only ones who were amused at Anko's antics, while Kakashi and I shared an exasperated glance.
Once Anko was done (mentally) scarring the teenagers, she turned to me. "Oi, nameless wonder! I got two words for you." She started popping open the buttons on her trench-coat, right in front of the Log and everybody. By the second 'pop', it was clearly obvious that she was bare-naked underneath. "Your…" 'Pop' went the third button, revealing more of her sizeable cleavage. 'Pop' went the fourth button, and you could barely begin to make out the sides of her areolae. Just as the fifth button, located just below her waist and right in front of her crotch, was about to be popped open, she said, "…place."
Anko vanished in a Shunshin.
She somehow managed to leave the trench-coat behind.
All of us stared as the coat crumpled to the ground.
Then everyone's eyes turned to me.
And then I vanished in a Shunshin of my own, but not before I picked up Anko's coat. No way was I going to be accused of being ungentlemanly.
"Umm… Naruto?" A blushing Sakura asked, once Nanashi had vanished to follow Anko.
"Y-yeah?" Naruto stuttered out. Neither of the blushing teens quite managed to look the other in the eye.
"I'm… I'm sorry I didn't believe you about… that woman."
"It's fine 'ttebayo." Both sneaked a glance at Sasuke, who looked shell-shocked; while Haku was still blushing up a storm.
"Finally, a Konoha kunoichi who has her head screwed on straight!" Everyone still present shot a disbelieving look at Zabuza, including Kakashi who looked up from Icha Icha to do so. "What?" Zabuza asked.
I really should have been surprised when I saw my door wide open; but Anko wasn't a slouch when it came to the Sealing Arts, obviously due to Orochimaru's influence. (Somehow Naruto had never figured out that she was more capable than Kurenai, and she wasn't about to enlighten the squirt.)
I stopped at the door and took a deep breath. Because despite my rather eager exit back at Ichiraku's, I wasn't eager for this confrontation. At all.
But it had to be done.
Gathering my meager courage, I walked in. I placed her coat over the back of my couch and went to the bedroom, where a nude Anko was standing facing the door.
"Don't," she said before I could utter a word. I blinked in surprise. "Don't say whatever it is you're going to say to me. Not for another half an hour at least. Not until we're done."
I felt my shoulders slump. She already knew.
Her own face fell at my expression, as I wordlessly confirmed her suspicions. But she remained resolute.
I was taken aback by the raw desperation in her voice; and even that had nothing on the intensity in her eyes.
I closed my own eyes and let my head hang a little. Swallowing, I reopened them, looking at the way Anko's clenched fists were almost-unnoticeably trembling, the way the moisture in her eyes was glistening…and I found myself unable to deny her.
Not my finest moment.
(I know, I'm weak.)
I leaned forward and put my hand on her cheek, and she was the one who closed her eyes this time, as she reached up with her own hand and nuzzled mine. Then she reached out with her other hand and tugged down my face mask.
Our kiss tasted of tears.
Our lovemaking spoke the volumes neither of us had ever found the courage to say to the other.
From me it was frantic, desperate and needy: I had wanted so badly to let Anko be the one to take my loneliness away. Why had she never let me in?
From her it was soulful, intimate; but not once did she look in my eyes. She still didn't have the strength to allow me to be the one she could lean on, even though she wanted nothing more.
And when we were done, when we were tangled up in my sheets and in each other, Anko did something she had never let herself do before at my place.
She dozed off.
Whenever she had slept after our lovemaking, it had been at her place. Sleeping at her place had only happened twice, not counting the infamous incident when she had punched me and dragged me back to her lair; coincidentally she was drunk both times. Maybe she didn't like the intimacy involved in waking up in the morning. Or maybe it was too much, too soon. Or maybe she still saw the mysterious ghost she did in my place. Or maybe she just had commitment issues.
Whatever it was, it was in the past. This was goodbye, however painful it was.
Besides, I had other problems.
Someone else had figured out my secret.
The Evening after the Events on the Bridge, Tazuna's Home, Wave Country: 4465617468
Everyone was sitting awkwardly around the table. This was mostly due to Zabuza's presence; after all, when the man had woken up this morning his dearest wish was to kill Tazuna; and yet, here he was as the man's dinner guest that same evening.
I broke the ice. "So, little brother, how do you like your team so far?"
"They're awesome!" Naruto immediately declared. "Sakura-chan is brilliant, and Sasuke's a really good fighter! Did I tell you Sasuke and I made a super fireball with our Katon and Fūton? That was amazing!" Naruto grinned at Sasuke, who returned the gesture with a smirk; and I was left feeling irrationally jealous of all things. My Sasuke had never- I cut off that thought before it could take root.
"Nearly burned down the fo-" Sakura started to mutter, but she was interrupted loudly by Naruto.
"SO YEAH, my team is awesome… ehehehe…" Naruto's body language was screaming 'guilty' as he rubbed the back of his head. I looked at the rest of Team 7, but nobody elaborated. I shrugged. It probably wasn't important.
"And what about your sensei?" I asked once it became clear that my ice-breaker wasn't sufficient.
"Hmm…" Naruto folded his hands and got a thoughtful expression; and my lips involuntarily started twitching. Call it prankster's instinct, but I just knew that Naruto was about to say something embarrassing about Kakashi.
"He calls me cute and shoved his fingers up my butt."
I stared incredulously, first at Naruto and then at Kakashi. Keeping a straight face in that situation was the one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but I somehow managed.
"Naruto!" Sakura pointed a trembling finger at the squirt, but her mouth remained open for a long moment. "Che," she scoffed and looked away once she realized that both the statements were true.
"That's true!?" The exclamation came from Tsunami, of all people.
A moment later, it became clear why. Sakura nodded as she gave Naruto the gimlet eye; and Tsunami immediately yanked Inari out of the seat next to Kakashi. The 8-year old immediately started protesting as his mother started herding him towards his room, and her mutters were amusingly audible, "…can't believe I thought he was handsome…"
I so badly wanted to snicker, but that would ruin the chance to get in any smartass comments. I opened my mouth and let it do its thing. "I knew you liked perverted stuff, like reading those novels, but this is taking it too far, surely?" I finished with a tutting noise.
Kakashi turned slowly to me. He had been unnervingly and unceasingly staring at me since the bridge, but I got a different sense of foreboding as his lone eye trailed over me, before coming to rest on the chakrams attached my back. He then locked his visible eye with mine, and I had to suppress a shudder. He was going to get me back for that comment, and would likely use my chakrams somehow.
But on the other hand, the ice was well and truly broken. Tazuna took a swing of his bottle and said, "I've been meaning to ask, do all strong ninjas wear masks on their faces?"
I looked around, and indeed, Kakashi, Zabuza and I were all wearing face masks.
"Well, I know that Zabuza wears one 'cause his face is ugly enough to frighten children," I said nonchalantly. Zabuza glowered at me, and all the kids, including Haku, laughed or smiled. With a theatrical sigh I continued, "I have the opposite problem, I'm afraid. If I don't wear one I get mobbed by women wanting to bear my children."
Zabuza rolled his eyes overtly, Kakashi discreetly. Tazuna glanced at me uncertainly. I added, "And Kakashi there wears one so that people don't see his tongue hanging out when he's reading his… literature."
The kids snickered again, and the silence after that was much more relaxed.
And the Naruto broke the silence.
"Sorry! I meant, Kamikaze-sama!"
"Yes?" (Back at the bridge, I had opened my Bingo Book – issued by Kiri – pointed out the entry for my own page, and then refused to talk to anyone who didn't call me Kamikaze. Incidentally, I had also managed to get the makers of the Bingo Book to give the moniker 'The Bodacious Badass' to Mei. She would be so pissed when she found out.)
"Are you stronger than Kakashi-sensei?"
I locked eyes with my old sensei and tilted my head thoughtfully. "Hmm… well, we fought two years ago, and I won that spar. I think I've grown stronger since then."
Naruto turned to Kakashi, who took his unnerving gaze off me and shrugged at his student. Naruto's eyes bugged out and he turned to me with even more hero-worship in his eyes. "Whoa! You're so cool!"
I grinned at the squirt. Having a younger brother who hero worshipped you was gloriously addictive.
"Can I see your weapons again!? They're so amazing!"
My smile widened as I splayed my hand out and applied a small amount of shaped chakra, and one of my chakrams disappeared from my back and appeared suspended in the air above my palm as if by magic.
"Whoa!" Naruto reverently took the chakram from me and started fawning over it. "What are they called?"
"Their names are-"
"Aren't you going to ask him if he's stronger than me?" Zabuza cut in.
"Pssh. Kakashi-sensei beat you. If nii-chan can beat Kakashi-sensei, then he can easily beat you," Naruto said dismissively, not even looking in the direction of the Demon of the Hidden Mist as he dissed the latter's reputation. I grinned at the squirt; his devotion to me made me feel heady. Even though he was technically me, it was nice having someone wholeheartedly on my side.
Poor Zabuza, on the other hand, had been feeling awkward the entire time he had been recuperating in Tazuna's home. Mostly it was because everyone except Kakashi and Naruto (and I) were treating him with hostility and suspicion. Sure, he had tried his hardest to kill Tazuna, but that was in the past as far as Zabuza was concerned. Unfortunately, the rest of the household, including Sasuke and Sakura, didn't agree; mostly because they hadn't seen Zabuza's true feelings come to the surface when he thought Haku was dead.
Haku, on the other hand, was easily welcomed; his easygoing demeanor and pleasant personality meshing well with the rest of the household. That, and the fact that he could not bring himself to kill Sasuke even when he should have. As a result, Zabuza found himself ostracized and felt very out of place; consequently, he tried to interject himself into every conversation to overcome the awkwardness. (Needless to say, his attempts made things worse.)
"Where did you get them?" Naruto asked me, still gazing at my awesome weapon with respect.
"I cannot divulge the details of any S-rank missions I may or may not have been on," I said in a sing-song voice; as I had been doing multiple times since yesterday.
Sakura twitched. "We already know you came from Kiri, we heard you loudly say it to Zabuza yesterday on the bridge when you gave him his mission scroll from the Mizukage."
"I cannot divulge the details of any S-rank missions I may or may not have been on," I sang again.
"Whoa, you got them in Kiri!? That's so awesome! What are they called!?" Naruto asked again, once again gazing at me with wide-eyed adoration.
"This one is called Shinpū, and the other one is called-"
"Wait, you got them in Kiri?" Zabuza interrupted again. "I didn't know we had something like this in our armory. I've seen a few chakrams there before, but nothing like this."
"Weeeeell…they weren't precisely lying around in Kiri. I forged them there." (I could answer Zabuza about some of my mission parameters. Technically. I shamelessly abused this fact to indirectly tell Team 7 as much of my mission to Kiri as I could.)
Zabuza's eyes widened comically. He turned to Naruto and held out a trembling hand (Haku had only managed to get one of Zabuza's arms partly fixed after Kakashi had severed their tendons). Sensing the seriousness of the moment, Naruto immediately handed the chakram over. Zabuza placed it on the table, ran his hand over it, knocked on it, held it close to his eye, and funnily enough even bit into it.
And then he turned to me with his jaw literally hanging open.
I sat back with a smug smile.
"How could… Why would… What did you do!?"
"You'll have to be more specific, Momochi-san," I murmured demurely.
"What did you do to get a bloody Daimyō's ransom as a reward!?"
"That chakram is worth a Daimyō's ransom?" Sasuke interjected disbelievingly.
Unlike when rest of Team 7 asked me about my mission to Kiri, I stayed silent. I was disappointed when the fucker didn't stay dead on the bridge, even having known that Haku lacked the intent to kill Sasuke.
"Let me put it this way," Zabuza picked up the thread of the conversation seamlessly; nobody noticed that I was avoiding the dark-haired prick. "Less than half of my total bounty is- my former bounty," he corrected himself, "was for my corpse. The majority was for the return of Kubikiribōchō. And this," he held up Shinpū, "is easily as good as my blade, if not better." He turned to me and asked me again, "What the blazes did you do to get this from them!?"
"Kept the rebellion supplied with food and medicine, helped them hide and infiltrate places that would have been impossible to get into without my skills; and when the time came, summoned backup from Konoha and ensured that the Yondaime Mizukage's tyrannical reign came to an end."
More than one jaw had dropped open at the summation of the results of two years of hard work, but I wasn't done. "I also tore away the mists from Kirigakure when we finally reached there with the Godaime Mizukage."
This time, even Kakashi's jaw distended his mask.
"Kakashi-sensei? What does that mean?" Sakura asked, not having understood the reference, since she had never been to Kiri.
Kakashi turned to her. "That's like someone tearing away all the forests around Konoha."
More wordless adulation. I was getting sick of it… no. I wasn't. That's a bald-faced lie.
"I didn't get a moniker like 'Kamikaze' by collecting bottle-caps, you know." I wagged my eyebrows.
"WHOA! These chakrams helped you tear the mists away from the Village Hidden in the Mists!? They must be really awesome!"
I grinned at my biggest fan; he was about to become even more enamored with me in a few seconds.
"Kiddo, I tore away the mists before I got the chakrams. I only finished forging these a few days ago. I haven't even played with them all that much."
And just as predicted, Naruto's eyes shone with even more stardust. (No, it's not narcissism. It was just like having Konohamaru on steroids as a fan.)
"Wait, you forged them!? You're somehow a master blacksmith too, in addition to being Super-Ninja?" Zabuza asked sarcastically.
"Well, no, I'm not a master blacksmith; but I was told what to do by one. I basically just fed my chakra to the metal during the forging and followed instructions for about four weeks nonstop. I barely got done with these a few days ago."
"And who gave you those instructions?"
"Some guy named Tenrai."
"Some gu-" Zabuza cut himself off and buried his face in his not-fully-working hand, incomprehensibly moaning as he did so.
"Huh? Ne, No-Brows, is this Tenrai guy famous?"
Zabuza groaned again. "What do they teach in that village of yours!?" His voice was muffled by his hands. He took a few deep breaths and tried to bring himself under control. "Iketana Tenrai-"
"Oh yeah! The shop where the forge was located was called Iketana!" I said brightly.
Zabuza glared at me for my interruption, and started speaking slowly to emphasize his seriousness. "Iketana Tenrai is a living legend. He's the single biggest reason that Mizu no Kuni is known as one of the continent's best weapon crafters. He's who master blacksmiths want to be when they grow up. I know of samurai's from Tetsu no Kuni (Iron Country) who would kill to spend an hour working with the man. And you just spent weeks learning from him!?"
Huh. I hadn't actually known Tenrai was that famous; I was mostly just winding Zabuza up. But this made sense. His shop was extremely well-kept, and despite the numerous forges in the back, he was the only one who worked there; or the only one I saw working there at any rate. That implied a level of autonomy that wasn't granted to just anyone, especially in a village like Kiri.
"Yup! I think he liked me! It was probably the whole Kamikaze thing."
Zabuza growled at me and stood up, his chair almost falling over due to his outrage. He started to stalk off, but I just had to get in one last barb. "But wait! I haven't told you about how the Godaime declared that I would always find a sanctuary in Kiri in front of the entire village and my Konoha colleagues!"
Zabuza, who had (foolishly) come to a halt when I started speaking, groaned, turned to the wall and banged his head a few times before stalking off in a huff. I snickered, and waved to Haku as he left to follow his master.
"Was that true? Did the Mizukage really offer you sanctuary?" Kakashi asked me disbelievingly.
I nodded seriously. "Yeah. I was as surprised as anyone when the offer was made."
"Are you going to move to Kiri then?" Naruto asked quietly, fearfully; his eyes hidden behind his hair.
I grinned at my little brother and ruffled his hair. "And leave you to Anko's tender mercies in Konoha? Not likely." The beaming grin that Naruto shot me was full of relief. I leaned forward conspiratorially, "Besides, their ramen isn't half as good as Ichiraku's."
Naruto nodded sagely, as if this was an undisputable fact. Sakura rolled her eyes.
He yawned, and that was the signal for the rest of the Genin to begin yawning. "All right, we've had an eventful day. Let's get some rest; we still have to guard Tazuna-san tomorrow while he finishes his bridge," Kakashi said, and only Naruto made some token protests.
"Kid, a quick word." Naruto turned to me in the process of getting up from his chair, and I didn't wait for the rest of the squad to go. "I noticed Inari calling you nii-chan, but you pretty much ignored him all day after I showed up. You can't do that to someone who sees you as an elder brother. Would you like it if I ignored you just because someone else I know shows up?"
Naruto's brows furrowed, and I noticed Sasuke eavesdropping on the conversation by moving slowly. I frowned internally, but didn't say anything. I was hardly sharing S-rank secrets after all. Even Sakura gave me a surprised look, and a quick smile as she walked past. I mentally shrugged; even at that age, who knew what women were thinking?
"I wasn't ignoring him… but… I didn't speak to him much either… You're right, I'll apologize to him…"
"No need!" I said with a smile. "All you need to do is hang out with him tomorrow, and everything will be fine. Now go to bed, you're about to fall asleep on your feet."
He gave me a quick hug goodnight, and once Tazuna had left, I was left alone in the kitchen.
I waited for a few minutes, then I went outside the house and sat down with my feet dangling from the wooden walkway above the ocean. I stared across the water to the moon and waited for my visitors.
Who would come first?
A soft noise came from next to me an indeterminate amount of time later, and I turned slightly to see Zabuza, a fresh pair of bandages wrapped around his upper arms.
I turned back to the moon.
"It's one of the most beautifully desolate places I've ever seen," I began quietly. "The countryside is gorgeous, still pristine. But the villages are…" I trailed off, unable to find a word to describe the horrors I had witnessed. "I can't tell you the number of times I walked into a village to find a corpse hanging from the entrance or in the town center, its entrails dangling to the ground. And that was just the punishment for the civilians who were merely suspected of colluding with the Resistance. As for the shinobi who were caught?"
I shuddered. I had seen some pretty fucked up shit in my life, but the brutality of the Kiri loyalists showed me I still had a few lessons to learn.
"So, you can imagine the life that most of these people lived. Oppressed, scared, almost frozen by the fear of doing their jobs because one of the loyalists might decide that they were a traitor… most of them were far too frightened to collude with us. Thankfully, though, enough helped.
"But this was only most of the villages. Some of them… some of them believed in Yagura's purge."
I was aware of Haku hiding behind the window in his room and Kakashi on the roof, both eavesdropping. But since Zabuza didn't care, I let them.
"Mei burned those villages to the ground herself."
I looked away, unable to see the haunted look in Zabuza's eyes, and told him about the wasteland that his country had become.
Two Days Later, Tazuna's Home, Wave Country: 4465617468
Kakashi had instituted a policy of leaving one of his Genin behind to guard Tazuna's family while he himself went with the other two to guard Tazuna during construction. It may not have been necessary anymore, but Team 7 had been hired to do a job, and professionalism dictated that they stick to mission parameters. While guarding the family was a step above and beyond the technical wording of the mission request, the leader of Team 7 didn't take any chances. Sasuke was given the first shift at home, to help him recover from the near-death state that Haku had put him in. Coincidentally, I decided to visit the bridge that day. Sakura was given the second day, and today was Naruto's turn.
Of course, this meant that Inari was also at home today. The boy had taken to following Naruto around like a shadow, and was aping everything from his mannerisms to his speech patterns. I had even heard him asking Tsunami if he could dye his hair blond when she put him to bed the previous night.
We had whiled away the day, and I had played with the boys for a while and helped Tsunami make lunch, which earned me a pretty smile.
It was early in the evening, around the time that Tazuna usually returned with Team 7. Zabuza and Haku were upstairs, while the rest of us were in the living room waiting for their return.
And right now, both the boys were whispering conspiratorially, sneaking glances at me and giggling occasionally. I rolled my eyes internally. This was bound to happen at some point. They were going to try and prank me somehow. It wouldn't end well for them.
A few more whispers and nudges later, both Naruto and Inari made their way to me, grinning mischievously as they did so. "Niiii~chan", Naruto sang, and I ignored him.
"Ooo~niiiii~chan," Inari mimicked Naruto, both clearly disrespecting the fact that my title was officially Kamikaze.
I ignored them both. Unfortunately, they had found a way to make me react.
"Smells-like-a-fish-niiii~chan", they both sang, and I twitched.
"Why does your hair smell like a fish nii-chan?" Naruto asked.
"It doesn't smell very nice dattebayo," Inari added, deliberately adding on Naruto's verbal tic.
My eye was twitching by now. I wanted to put them in their place, but acknowledging them when they weren't calling me Kamikaze would set a bad precedent.
"Did your hair die?" Naruto asked, and I twitched again as I squashed the urge to tell him that all hair was technically dead cells.
"I think it's really dead, that's why it smells so bad," Inari added, and tried to poke my hair.
"That's it!" I yelled as I pulled the band holding my ponytail off. My hair immediately came alive as it waved threateningly around my head.
Both boys took a hurried step back, but Naruto resolutely came back forward. "You still haven't told me why you smell like a fish 'ttebayo!"
"I've told you thrice already! It helps me maintain my hair and helps in the conduction of chakra through it!"
"Yeah, but you haven't told me why you don't use another oil!? One that doesn't make you smell like a fish!"
"You know what? That's it! Now face the wrath of the Divine God of the Wind."
My hair immediately moved to attack my bratty little brother; who immediately started screaming.
Inari stood frozen for a second as he saw the elder brother he had always wanted in trouble, then he screamed and ran at me with his tiny fists clenched. "AAAAAHHH!"
A second later, Inari was trapped by my hair and started screaming as well.
It took only seconds for Zabuza to appear, one hand threateningly on Kubikiribōchō which was attached to his back. He snorted when he saw what was going on and let his hand drop; just as well, because he had been forbidden to lift the massive blade by Haku during his convalescence.
Tsunami closely followed Zabuza, a frying pan clutched in her hand and a fearfully determined expression on her face; one which slowly melted into a soft smile as she saw the scene in front of her.
"Well? What blasphemy were you saying about my hair!?" I called loudly, so that I could be heard above the screams of laughter coming from the two boys I was mercilessly tickling with my hair.
"Ahahaha- I'm hahah sorry- ahahahaha!"
"What were you saying about my hair?" I repeated, grinning as I stood with folded arms while my hair held the boys' arms wide and tickled them underneath.
"You-your hair is awesome-hehe" Naruto gasped out.
"We-we're so-haha-sorry-haha- Kamikaze-sahahaha!" Inari gasped out.
"That's what I thought," I said with a note of satisfaction as I let the boys go. They immediately clamped their arms to their sides and glared at me. My grin widened as I leaned forward, and my hair ruffled its counterparts on the two boys' heads, transferring some of the oil (and smell) as it did so.
Then I leaned forward and theatrically sniffed the top of their heads. "Aww! You're using the same hair oil as I do! Copying your cool older nii-chan? You two are so cute I could put you in my pocket!"
Naruto scowled at me, then turned around and crossed his arms as he sat down on the ground in a huff. A moment later, Inari did the same thing out of solidarity.
Tsunami was openly grinning, her eyes twinkling prettily as she did so. "Are you pouting, Naruto-chan, Inari?"
Naruto twitched, while Zabuza and I snickered.
Of course, that was the moment when the rest of Team 7 plus Tazuna returned. "Is Naruto throwing a tantrum again?" Sakura asked in a long-suffering voice.
Naruto twitched again as Zabuza and I snickered again, and even Tsunami's shoulders shook as she tried to restrain her laughter.
"What did the idiot do now?" Sasuke asked with a sigh.
My smile became fixed, but thankfully Zabuza picked up the slack before my lack of amusement with the to-be-traitorous Uchiha became clear. "The little blond puppy tried to push the big dog about his hair, but got smacked on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for his trouble."
Tsunami giggled at the description, and my grin widened as my hair formed a hand and waved to Team 7. Sakura started to wave back automatically before she gaped at my extra appendage. I grinned cheekily at her and sat down on the couch, spreading my arms on the backrest and looking at the backs of Naruto and Inari. Poor Naruto was almost vibrating with his need to explode in outrage over the fact that everyone was making fun of him, but that would ruin his pouting (in his mind, it was brooding.)
And then I thought of just the thing to mess with him further. The fact that it had originally been meant as a gift to the squirt was just the icing on the cake.
I pulled out a sealing scroll and unrolled it, making as much noise as I could. "Oh my, what's this?" I asked theatrically, as with a loud 'poof', a Very Special Item appeared.
Naruto's ear twitched in tune with the 'poof'.
"Why, this looks like a valuable gift!" I continued in a loud voice, and then I knocked on the plastic cup once, twice, thrice; and each time Naruto's ear twitched in tandem with my knock. The little I could see of his face showed that the pout was gone, replaced by a wide-eyed expression.
"It looks like something very delicious!" I continued, and then I shook the plastic cup. Once.
Naruto's ear twitched for the last time as he turned back while he yelled out, "That's Water Country's Special Limited Edition Super Shrimp Cup Ramen!"
It was, indeed, Water Country's Special Limited Edition Super Shrimp Cup Ramen.
Sakura twitched. "He didn't even turn around before he yelled that out," she muttered disbelievingly.
I grinned at the squirt, whose previous ire with me had disappeared into the air like the steam rising from a boiled cup of ramen. "I'll gift this to you-" Naruto disappeared, almost in a yellow flash of his own, in his haste to grab the cup from my hand, "-on one condition."
Naruto paused, his fingers a scant inch away from the Limited-Edition cup ramen. "What!? What!? I forgive you! I'm sorry for teasing you about your hair! I'll call you Kamikaze-sama forever! I'll even wear your stupid stinky fish hair oil! What do I have to do!? Please tell me dattebayo!" Naruto spoke frantically, as if the cup would disappear if he as much as blinked.
"You have to design a sealing scroll to carry it in."
Naruto's hand snapped back as if he had been scalded. He stared up at me with wide eyes, and I stared back expressionlessly.
"Isn't he good at Sealing? I've heard him say so a few times." Tazuna asked quietly, aware of the sudden tension in the room.
Sakura replied equally quietly, "Yes, but designing sealing scrolls is a Chūnin level skill. We've only been Genin for a few months. Naruto knows the theory, but he hasn't done something like this before."
"Then why does he look so worried? If he makes a mistake, it just won't work, right?"
Sakura shot Tazuna a serious look. "If he makes a mistake, the worst thing that could happen is that the cup could disappear into the sealing scroll… and never come back out."
I kept looking at him unblinkingly. This was a serious test of his skills, one that I had been meaning to administer ever since I came back from Kiri. This was as good a time as any.
Naruto finally nodded fearfully, accepting the challenge. He moved to the low table, took out his sealing supplies and precisely placed his brush, ink and scroll as he did so. He poignantly placed the Special Edition Cup Ramen cup right in front of himself, just above the scroll, so that he could keep his eyes on the prize.
"I don't get it," Tazuna continued in a murmur. "How could it just disappear into the scroll and never come out? Where does it go?"
Kakashi was the one who responded this time. "The scroll is not actually where the cup is placed. The seal on the scroll represents a link to a pocket dimension where the scroll is placed. If the seal is incorrectly drawn, or is damaged in any way, the link to the actual dimension is lost, and the cup will remain confined to that dimension."
"But isn't there a way to repair the seal? Or draw a new seal to the same dimension?"
"Tazuna-san, you've seen how all of us carry sealing scrolls with us, yes? Why does my scroll not summon items from Naruto's scroll?" After giving him a moment to reflect, Kakashi continued, "It's because all scrolls are linked to a different dimension. I could sit next to Naruto and draw the exact same seal at the same time, and yet they would both link to a separate pocket dimension. The location of the dimension is determined by a variety of factors during the scroll's creation: the size of the seal, the location where the seal is drawn, the position of the earth during the moment of the seal's creation; everything plays a part. As for repairing a damaged seal?" Kakashi shook his head. "It's so mind-bogglingly difficult it's considered impossible, for all practical purposes."
Naruto had turned nearly white at Kakashi's words. He shot me a terrified look, but I looked back with the same unblinking gaze. (Yeah, I could repair a damaged seal, but I wasn't going to give the kid that sort of safety net. Terumī Hayato had cured me of that quirk.)
Shakily, Naruto folded his hands into the ram seal and began to meditate. Slowly he began to relax and sink into the trance that I had taught him to achieve. Once he achieved the necessary clarity of mind, he opened his eyes and began to draw.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed everyone's attention focused on Naruto; even Haku had slipped into the room at some point. For many of them, this was the first time they were seeing this side of the usually hyperactive blond, and I could see them re-evaluating their opinions of him.
For the next few minutes, the silence was tense. I kept an eye on the seal, but I looked unblinkingly at the squirt the entire time. I knew he was aware of it, but he kept his attention on the seal with a focus I was proud of. Each of his strokes melted into the next one, and he didn't falter once.
Finally, Naruto was done. He took a last look from top to bottom, but he didn't find anything amiss.
And then he looked up at me and immediately broke into a sweat.
I still looked at him with the same expression.
He opened his mouth… then closed it. He wanted to ask me if his seal would work, but he knew I wasn't going to answer.
He shot a pleading look towards Sakura, who immediately came to his side and carefully examined the seal from top to bottom. Finally, she turned to him and nodded, not wanting to break the tense silence, and quietly moved back.
Naruto gulped, then slowly placed the cup in the middle of the seal. Everyone leaned forward expectantly, and I had to stop myself from doing the same. The tension rose as Naruto once more folded his fingers into the ram position. Then he pushed his chakra into the seal.
The cup disappeared.
There was a collective intake of breath, and Naruto looked like he was about to cry.
After a long moment, he pushed his chakra into the seal again.
The cup re-appeared.
Naruto looked gob smacked.
Inari let out a cheer, "You did it, Naruto-nii-chan! You're the best!"
And that broke the spell. Everyone congratulated Naruto in turns, who looked more relieved than happy.
Once everyone else was done, I got up from the couch I had been seated on and walked to him. He looked up from Inari's fawning with wide eyes. I put my hand on his head and said, "Well done, kiddo. I'm proud of you."
The smile he gave me lit up the room.
I grinned back at him, but I had to deliver some criticism as well. I took my hand off his head and said, "It's not perfect, it will only work about 70 odd times before it's integrity fails, but I'll teach you how to improve it later. All right?"
"Ossu!" Naruto shot me a salute, still smiling that megawatt smile, and I smiled back.
"By the way, Tazuna-san," I said as I turned to the bridge builder, "The worst-case scenario is that Naruto could have torn a hole in between dimensions, causing a space-time rift that would cause the universe to fold in on itself and create a singularity that destroys not only the Elemental Nations, but the entire planet. It wouldn't even take much more ink than Naruto used in the storage seal."
I started moving towards the kitchen, ignoring the terrified glances being thrown my way. "Shall we get started on dinner, Tsunami-san?"
Two Hours Later, Tazuna's Home, Wave Country: 4465617468
Naruto was sitting at the low table in the living room, practicing the Fūinjutsu tricks I had shown him to improve his sealing scrolls after dinner. I had told him we could wait until we reached back to Konoha, but he had insisted on learning them now. So, I was lounging on the couch while the squirt was diligently working at the low table.
It had been half an hour since everyone else had retired, and I was about to tell him to go to bed when he spoke. "Nii-chan?"
I was about to ignore him for not calling me by my rightfully earned moniker, when I was struck by his tone. He sounded vulnerable, scared; and a quick glance showed me that his brush was tightly clenched between his fingers.
Softly, I replied, "Yes, little brother?"
I couldn't see his face, but his voice sounded thick when he finally whispered, "Did you… did you know?"
I felt my face soften. Leaving him alone to face one of the most traumatic moments of his young life was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to take. "About your… furry passenger? Yeah, I knew."
A tear fell to the parchment he had been writing on. "Do you hate me?" His throat closed by the end of the short sentence.
I kept my tone deliberately light as I said, "What do you think, little brother?"
He finally turned to me, and I smiled softly at him as I opened my arms. A moment later, he threw himself into my embrace, and started sobbing as quietly as he could. The intensity of the sobs caused him to shudder every few seconds, and he finally choked out, "D-don't tell Inari."
I smiled and hugged him tighter. He had taken my words about being a good elder brother to heart. "I promise."
One Hour Later, Tazuna's Home, Wave Country: 4465617468
Naruto had cried himself to sleep, and he was still curled into my side when the second person I had been anticipating showed up.
Looking sadly at Naruto, I whispered, "He walks differently now, like he carries a heavy burden."
It was something that had been nagging me since I first saw Naruto, and I had only made sense of it a few minutes ago.
"He's always carried that burden. He's just aware of it now," the reply came equally softly.
"He shouldn't have to. It's not fair." I ran my fingers through the boy's hair, showing all the pain that I hid from him on a daily basis.
"No, it's not."
I still hadn't looked at my visitor, but his next words changed that.
"But you already knew that… firsthand."
My stomach clenched instantly. Slowly, I looked up with a confused expression, hoping to throw off my questioner; but Kakashi's one-eyed gaze was unwavering.
"Your performance on the bridge was very inspiring. Very heroic. And very convenient." Kakashi's eye could have bored a hole in me with how sharp it was. "It was almost like you knew what was about to happen."
The feeling in my gut morphed to fear.
"My dogs told me something interesting," Kakashi murmured. His gaze slipped from me to look at the boy asleep in my lap, and then pointedly back at me.
The fear in my stomach turned to panic. My scent. My scent was the same as Naruto's! I had forgotten to use the special soap that Sarutobi had provided; it slightly changed my scent to throw off the Inuzuka clan members and dogs. I hadn't been in Konoha for two years, so I had stopped making use of it; but my mistake had resulted in the worst-case scenario.
Kakashi knew who I was.
Instantly I expanded out my senses, trying to determine if someone was eavesdropping. When I found everyone asleep, my panic didn't lessen; instead, I immediately threw up the Sight and Sound barriers.
"All information related to my identity is an S-ranked secret as decreed by the Sandaime Hokage." I realized I was breathing hard and fought to control myself, but it was far too late to do anything about Kakashi.
My one-eyed former sensei simply tilted his head, non-verbally saying, 'why do you think I waited to approach you till everyone else was asleep?'
My hand, the one that wasn't curled into Naruto's hair, clenched into a fist. I mulishly locked my jaw. It was bad enough that I had let my secret slip; confirming it was a thousand times worse.
Kakashi studied me for a long minute. "Where you came from… were things… bad?"
I chuckled humorlessly. "What do you think?"
"Is that why you can't look at Sasuke for longer than a second?"
Fuck. The man hadn't missed a single trick; or else I hadn't been nearly as discreet as I hoped.
I returned Kakashi's stare defiantly. "I'm only going to ask you this once. Do you really want to know, Kakashi-sensei?"
There was a long silence as we stared at each other.
Kakashi looked away first.
After another long silence he asked, "Can you… is there…"
I frowned. It wasn't like Kakashi to fumble with words. He shook his head as if to clear it, and asked, "Is there a way to replicate what you did? To go back?" Kakashi's voice cracked at the last word.
I startled myself as well as Kakashi by laughing. I laughed long and hard, and the hysteria was clearly audible in my mad laughter. "For the sake of your soul," I gasped out, "I hope not."
Naruto shifted underneath me, and I cut off my laughter abruptly. Thankfully though, he was still asleep.
I looked back at Kakashi, who was looking at me with pain in his eye. "Tell me what I should do," he whispered.
My own shoulders relaxed unconsciously. I sighed, "it wasn't really your fault. But… when the time comes, I'll tell you."
Kakashi slowly nodded.
One Week Later, Path to Konoha: 4465617468
Earlier in the day we had left Wave, and Naruto was still emotional after saying a teary goodbye to Inari. A disguised clone had popped and informed me Tazuna had decreed that the bridge was still going to be called the Great Naruto Bridge. I decided to leave it as a surprise for the squirt in the future.
"By the way, I've been meaning to ask," I said, drawing the attention of the group. We were walking at civilian pace since Zabuza wasn't fully healed, and since I had to escort him to Konoha I had to keep pace with him. Team 7 just tagged along with us, even though they could have gone back at full speed.
"While patrolling the woods near Tazuna's house, I found something strange. There was a clearing with burned trees that were bandaged, for some reason. Know anything about it?"
Naruto's expression immediately screamed 'guilty' while he looked side-to-side for a distraction; but I had no idea why he would bandage trees, for whatever reason.
Kakashi and Haku looked highly amused and Sasuke pursed his lips. Sakura rolled her eyes and took pity on Naruto as she provided the distraction was praying for. "Nanashi-san? I wanted to ask you about your hair technique- Nanashi-san?"
I had pointedly turned my head away from Sakura and started walking faster as soon as she didn't refer to me by my divine moniker.
Naruto sighed, both in relief that a distraction had been provided and in disappointment at his teammate. "Umm… Sakura-chan?"
Sakura was still blinking confusedly at my sudden snub, so Naruto repeated himself, "Sakura-chan?"
She turned to her blond teammate, who in-turn pointed at her feet. Sakura looked at her feet, gasped loudly and stopped walking.
Her gasp caused everyone to stop walking and stare at what had caught her attention. Or rather, the lack of what caught her attention.
Because Sakura's feet were 6 inches above the ground.
She gulped, lifted one foot and tentatively prodded the empty space. To her surprise, it seemed to be as solid the ground. She looked up at me with wide eyes, but I was still facing away from her.
She gulped audibly, and said with a faint tremble, "Kamikaze-sama?"
I immediately turned around and beamed at her. "Yes, Sakura-san?" If I hadn't spent the last few seconds mentally preparing myself not to call her '-chan', I would have slipped up.
For some reason, my smile seemed to unnerve her. "I…I wanted to ask…about your hair technique…" she trailed off uncertainly, and looked nervously at her feet as if they would suddenly fail her.
The smile slipped slowly off my face as I looked at her. I saw Kakashi's brow creasing slightly, and Zabuza looking interestedly at the topic of conversation. "You want me to teach you how to use your hair as a weapon?" Sakura nodded uncertainly, aware of the sudden shift in mood.
I tilted my head at her and said in a clipped tone, "Walk with me, Sakura-san."
She looked very apprehensive about doing so, as she slowly put one foot in front of the next. I scoffed loudly and jerked my head as I started walking, and Sakura scrambled after me. As soon as she caught up with me, she looked at her feet again, which were now touching solid ground.
I gave her a moment to freak out and said, "Since you're a new Genin, I assume Kakashi hasn't explained etiquette regarding the techniques of other ninjas?" Out of the corner of my eyes I saw Naruto and Sasuke prodding at the spot that Sakura had been standing on air, only to find nothing. I suppressed a grin.
She shook her head, still having that apprehensive look in her eyes as she looked at me. "In short, it's considered rude and a violation of privacy to do so- unless you offer something of equal or greater value in return."
She blinked in shock. "But that's- I mean… I'm sorry… if I offended you…"
I shook my head with a gentle smile, "It's all right, I knew you asked out of ignorance. Nobody expects Genin to know all the rules after all. It's something your sensei would have shared with you later in any case."
After a moment's thought, Sakura asked, "But isn't that harmful to the village? I mean, shouldn't we all share techniques to make our ninja stronger?"
I frowned slightly. How best should I explain this? An example referencing someone she knew, perhaps? "All right, so tell me this, would you go to your Academy friend, the Yamanaka Heiress, and ask her about how to perform her clan's technique?"
A thoughtful look came over Sakura's face. "No, because those are clan secret techniques… but aren't your techniques…" she trailed off as realization spread across her face.
I nodded. "Yes, just because my techniques aren't clan techniques, doesn't mean that I should just give them out willy-nilly. They are something that I've worked hard to create and master, and that dedication is not to be trivialized. Also, if everyone simply gave out their techniques, enemy spies would have a very easy time coming up with counters, and we would lose in case of a battle."
I paused here to let the information sink in. She was a smart girl, and it didn't take her long to assimilate it. Then her eyes suddenly widened, "Wait, Naruto has been teaching me Fūinjutsu!"
I nodded. "Yes, he has."
"But you were the one who taught him!"
I nodded again. "Yes, I did."
Sakura looked worried. "But… but that means I stole your technique!"
I shook my head with a smile. "No, you didn't. I taught Naruto, because he's my clan. Who he teaches it to is his business."
She blinked as Naruto beamed behind her at being called my clan. "Oh." She turned to look at Naruto, who smiled sheepishly at her. Both he and Sasuke were walking close enough to hear our conversation; and Haku was a step behind them. I hadn't bothered to lower my voice, because Naruto needed to hear it too. And there was no way to exclude the Uchiha fuck without being obvious about it, so I didn't bother.
Sakura turned back to me. "So, does that mean that I owe Naruto for teaching me?"
I smiled again. "What do you think?"
She thought about it for a moment, then nodded.
My smile widened, "Then you owe him. You can pay him back however you like. But, I should tell you, there is an exception to the rule. Your Genin squad will always know more about your techniques than anyone else. No matter how many teachers you have, your team will always know more about you and your techniques than anyone else, because they will have helped you create and master them. You will help them with theirs, and they will help you with yours; it's the basis of teamwork, something that Konoha actively encourages. It's never going to be black and white with your own team, so take that into account."
Sakura nodded slowly, Naruto enthusiastically; even Sasuke had a thoughtful look on his face.
Finally, Sakura bowed to me. "Thank you for the lesson, Nana- err, Kamikaze-sama. I'm sorry I don't have anything to offer you in return for your technique."
I wagged my finger at her. "Not so fast. Sure, you don't have anything now, but you might in the future. Naruto tells me you're quite clever."
"She's a genius!" Naruto immediately piped up, causing Sakura to go pink in the face.
I smiled at the byplay. "Then I will bet on your genius. I will teach you my technique, in exchange for a future favor. But be warned," I dropped my voice and the smile from my face, becoming serious for a moment, "what I am about to teach you is a B-ranked technique. Therefore, the favor I will extract will be with interest, and I will ask you for that favor. Think carefully before accepting."
Her eyes went into that analytical mode that I used to know so well. But even as she weighed up the consequences, she looked uncertain. She looked to Naruto, who was frowning at me, and to Sasuke, who was blank faced. Then she turned to her teacher, "Kakashi-sensei, what should I do?"
Her teacher took his eye out of his ever-present Icha-Icha. "What Na-*sigh*- Kamikaze-dono explained is quite accurate. Even I, as your Jōnin-sensei, won't teach you every single one of my techniques. I will help you get started and give you the right foundation, but ultimately your techniques will be your own creations. As for Kamikaze-dono's offer…" Kakashi trailed off as he rubbed his face through the mask. "Think about it this way, we just left a country that couldn't afford to hire us. When we get back, Hokage-sama will almost certainly send a delegation, and Wave will pay more money than the cost of a B-rank mission over a longer period. On the other hand, Wave is free and will soon be prosperous, so they will happily pay the extra money."
Sakura nodded slowly as she matched the analogy to her own situation, "So accepting a lower cost in the short term can be beneficial…"
"Not always." Kakashi was frowning now, "Consider what could have happened if Naruto and Sasuke hadn't rescued me after Zabuza had trapped me. He would have killed me, then you three, and sooner or later Hokage-sama would have sent a team to find out what happened. Once he found out that the client lied, he would either have had Tazuna-san assassinated, or taken reparations in the amount of damages caused; most likely in the form of the bridge. So, you should always consider the consequences both ways before making such a decision."
Sakura considered this thoughtfully.
"Also," Kakashi continued after a few seconds, "you should have noticed that Kamikaze-dono did not mention the nature of the favor you will owe him. Theoretically he could ask you to betray Konoha, or even ask you for sexual favors in return."
Sakura's neck snapped to me. I frowned at Kakashi, but he was right. "Always look underneath the underneath, Sakura-san. But let me put your mind at ease. Unlike what the perverted Jōnin with a history of molesting pre-teens thinks, the favor I ask of you will not involve betraying Konoha, cause any direct harm to you or anyone from Konoha, will not include sexual favors, and will be in your power to give; that means I will not ask you to install me as the Hokage, for example."
"Oh." Sakura still looked torn, and looked between me and Kakashi. "Umm… could you teach me the technique instead, Kakashi-sensei?"
Kakashi tilted his head. "While I theoretically understand how the technique works, it will take me between three and six months to reverse-engineer; and it will then me that long again to teach you how to use it. And I suspect I won't be able to teach you how to use it to its full potential."
Sakura deflated and Kakashi shrugged, his book having disappeared somewhere during his lecture. "There is no right or wrong answer here. It's a matter of choice and consequence. On one hand, you get a B-rank defensive technique that will surprise anyone who gets close enough to try and use your hair against you; and make no mistake, it will be a valuable addition to your arsenal. On the other hand, you would offer a vaguely worded favor which, despite its restrictions, can be cashed in for many possibly nefarious actions. Unfortunately, being a ninja means that you will be faced with many such choices during your career, as you saw in Wave. You simply make your choice and live with the consequences."
Sakura looked close to panicking, so Kakashi added, "Given that Kamikaze-dono is a loyal Konoha shinobi, you may at least assume that the offer is made in good faith."
I added placatingly, "There's no rush, Sakura-san. I will most likely be in the village for the foreseeable future, so you can think it through and tell me your decision anytime."
The pink-haired girl almost slumped in relief. "I'll do that. Thank you for the offer and the lesson, Kamikaze-sama."
I smiled at her. "Anytime."
"Ne, No Brows, why are you walking all sulky?"
Tact, thy name is Uzumaki Naruto.
Zabuza was, indeed, walking with his jaw clenched shut and a stony expression.
Kakashi asked gently, "I'm guessing that Kiri didn't have such a benevolent means of exchanging techniques?"
The weight of the world was packed into that one word.
Mood successfully darkened, we walked back to Konoha in silence.
Back with Nanashi and Anko, Nanashi's Apartment, Konoha: 4465617468
Anko had woken up a few minutes ago, but still lay on her side facing away from me. We both looked out the window at the village below us, just like the heads of the four Hokage on the mountain above.
"Can I take her?"
I had to fight back a grin. Of course, the first thing Anko would want to know was if she could beat Mei into the ground.
"She's the Mizukage."
I saw the side of Anko's face twitch for a second. I considered telling her that I even could barely take on Mei without using Hiraishin and/or Rasengan variants, but 'Mizukage' explained matters perfectly clearly.
"So you and her are…?" Anko trailed off, unsure how to ask the question.
I frowned. Mei and I hadn't exactly spoken of any future plans. "I don't know," was my response.
After another long, awkward pause, I finally asked the question I had been dancing around for years.
"Why didn't you…" I trailed off, not knowing how to continue my query. Why didn't you let me in? Why didn't you let me care for you?
Why didn't you let me love you?
It was Anko's turn to whisper, "I don't know."
We both surreptitiously wiped our tears as the silence said all that we wanted to say to each other.
Finally, Anko got off the bed, stretched, and came around to my side. "If you're still unsure about where you stand, we can always continue our arrangement."
She kissed me sweetly, softly, and left.
I buried my face in my hands. What a mess. And the day wasn't yet over.
I still had to debrief the Hokage.
Streets of Konoha: Mitarashi Anko
Anko walked home with her hair still down.
With her trench coat buttoned all the way up and her hair out of its trademark 'do, almost nobody recognized her. She walked right past a pair of Chūnin with whom she had run a mission with just last week.
''Continue our arrangement?' The fuck were you thinking!? Of course, since you were too chickenshit for a real relationship, arrangement is the right word for it.'
She didn't let her inner consternation show on her face.
''I don't know!?' Of course I bloody know! It's 'cause I don't have any fucking balls!'
She passed Gekkō Hayate, who did a double take as he recognized her. She smiled blandly at him and kept walking.
''She's the Mizukage.' Of course she's the fucking Mizukage. He'd obviously go for the one chick I can't sneak out and kill during a conveniently close-by mission.
Normally, Anko would have got a kick out of the fact that she was walking around Konoha naked underneath her trench coat. But today it didn't even register.
'Huh. The Mizukage is a woman? Guess Kiri must be doing something right.'
Such was Anko's state that she walked right past her favourite dango shop without even seeing it.
'Of course, the bitch laid hands on what's mine, which makes her a dead woman.'
'Ignoring the fact that I pretty much drove him into her arms.'
Anko barely resisted the urge to facepalm.
'You know what? No. We'll do self-pity later. Right now, we're doing 'Stupid things I said during my breakup talk'. So let's do the next one.'
Anko walked for a few more seconds.
'That's… it? That was my breakup!? Three fucking sentences!?'
Anko automatically climbed the steps of her apartment building, barely cognizant of where she was.
'I'm really a pathetic coward, aren't I. I didn't even fight for him. I don't deserve him.'
It was only when she had locked her door that emotion finally twisted her face and she began to cry.
One Hour Later, Hokage's Office, Konoha: 4465617468
The first indication I had that something was wrong was when I clearly detected the presence of ANBU inside Sarutobi's office.
This was new. Sarutobi had always dismissed them whenever it was time for our evening meetings- whether it was a debrief or a casual chat.
The second indication was the stony expression on the face of the Sandaime Hokage.
I was immediately on my guard. What had Danzō told him?
"Hokage-sama," I greeted with a bow.
"So it's Hokage-sama now? Not 'old man'? Given how flagrantly you've been subverting your orders and leading me around by the nose, the least you can do is be disrespectful to my face."
I blinked. Okay, so this wasn't going to be a fun evening.
"I don't think-"
"No, that's very evident, going by your actions." I blinked again, it had been years since I had left myself open to that particular joke. But Sarutobi wasn't kidding around, as he continued in a gravelly voice, "In the two years that you were reporting to me from Mizu, why did you not once mention the fact that you were romantically pursuing the to-be-Godaime Mizukage?"
Even though I had been on my guard since I walked into his office, it was only just dawning on me that I was in serious trouble.
"I… it wasn't relevant?" I finished weakly.
Sarutobi's glare had me feeling like I was back in the Academy.
"You foolishly decide to initiate a relationship with the head of a foreign state, and you think this matter isn't relevant for your own head of state?"
I didn't answer, as dread churned in my stomach.
"There is only one reason why someone conceals a relationship of this sort with a foreign shinobi." Sarutobi leaned forward menacingly, his tiny grey pupils practically rumbling with the force of an incoming storm. "How long have you been planning on betraying Konoha?"
My incredulity only grew when I realized that the Hokage actually expected me to answer his ridiculous query.
"I have never betrayed Konoha. Never!" I finished with a special emphasis on the last word, hoping he understood my hidden meaning. I had never been a traitor to Konoha in either of my lifetimes, but here he was comparing me to that cunt Sasuke anyway.
"Then where have you been since your mission ended?"
"I was in Kiri, forging these," I brought the twin chakrams forward, holding them up for his examination. Sarutobi barely gave them a cursory glance before pinning me with his stormy gaze again.
"And after you forged them?"
"I went to Wave, as we discussed."
The Sandaime Hokage's voice was dangerously soft as he asked me, "And where were you before you went to Wave?"
I felt my face heating up, and I didn't answer.
Sarutobi looked far angrier than I had ever seen him. "Going missing after the conclusion of your mission is called treason."
I felt a cold ball of fear settle in my gut.
Sarutobi let the silence choke me with its weight as he glared at me unceasingly.
After a long, almost unbearable moment, he continued in that frighteningly soft tone. "What state secrets did you spill?"
"Nothing!" I stated emphatically.
Sarutobi surveyed me coldly; his posture gave nothing away. "Kiri kunoichi are unparalleled at getting their targets to give up information during pillow talk," he finished with a sneer. "Can you say with one hundred percent certainty that you never let anything slip?"
I clamped down on another instinctive denial and actually thought about it. Sarutobi was pissed, perhaps irrationally so; but he still had a point. "The only personal information I gave out about myself or Konoha was the fact that Naruto is my younger brother, and that he is our jinchūriki; something that's common knowledge for all citizens and therefore spies in our village. Other than that, she never asked me anything, and I never volunteered. It's not like that between us."
Sarutobi's expression twisted into something ugly. "'Not like that between us,'" he repeated mockingly. "My advisors will be very happy to hear that kind of talk, because they will think you have her wrapped around your finger. They will believe that this will result in you manipulating her to our benefit." He leaned forward menacingly. "But I know better. This relationship will only end in tragedy, both for yourself and for Konoha. Congratulations, Jōnin Nanashi. You have successfully completed your S-rank mission; and simultaneously given it the certainty of blowing up in our faces in the future."
'Well… at least I got a promotion?' I thought rather inappropriately. "Look, it was she who started pursuing me, all right? Stop implying that I'm some sort of… insatiable horndog."
Sarutobi's eyes narrowed even further. "How can it be that a man trained by Jiraiya can be so utterly naïve when it comes to seduction techniques?"
I stayed quiet.
Sarutobi stared at me with growing incredulity.
"You… aren't trained against seduction techniques?"
I scowled and crossed my arms. "There were better things to train for… and I was too young anyway," I muttered defensively.
Sarutobi let loose a quick humorless laugh. "And so I sent a defenseless babe out to the woods."
"Hey! I held my own against her! And then some!"
But the Hokage wasn't amused. "It is my own fault for assuming otherwise. A mistake I will not make again." Once again, he fixed that steely grey gaze on me. "You fool. She has twisted your perceptions, and you don't even realize it."
And despite everything, I leaned forward to listen.
"If she hasn't asked you anything directly, she is far more dangerous than I gave her credit for. A kunoichi is like a sweetly poisoned wine; you take one sip, then another, and by the time the pleasurable haze wears off, you're helpless to the pain. She has played the long game, the subtle game with you. Tell me, has she promised you anything directly? Told you that she will be yours forever, or any such nonsense worthy of Jiraiya's literature?"
I stayed silent.
Sarutobi's voice lowered, finally losing the hard edge it had possessed all evening. "Or has she merely implied her acceptance of you? Suggested her visions of a life with you without explicitly promising anything?"
At the implication that I was being taken for a ride, the heat rose once more in my face. I didn't need to say anything; Sarutobi could see the truth written on my face.
"You poor fool," he repeated softly.
I looked away. I knew for a fact that Mei's desire for me to stay was true, but… Sarutobi wasn't wrong. We were ninja. There would always be an element of underhanded machinations to Mei's dealings, romantic or otherwise. It simply came with the office.
Then the steel returned to the Sandaime Hokage's voice. "Even if her offer were genuine, did you really think you would be allowed to live happily ever after in Kiri? Especially with the war that's coming? A war you yourself warned me about?"
I closed my eyes, and wished that a hole would open in the floor and swallow me whole. Obviously, he would want me to stay until the war was over. He couldn't afford for an S-rank shinobi to switch allegiances during what was sure to be the biggest war of his lifetime.
"'Death is lighter than a feather, but duty is heavier than a mountain.'"
I physically started. It was exactly what I had been thinking the day before I left Mei.
"Do your duty, Konohagakure Jōnin Nanashi. Your duty is now what even my advisors would tell you to do. Stay close to the Godaime Mizukage, and manipulate her to the benefit of your village."
My shoulders slumped in resignation.
"But first… tell me her weaknesses."
And all I could think in that moment was… 'Why didn't he tell me this before I broke up with Anko?'
My voice was hoarse when I started speaking. "When fighting defensively or to subdue, she uses a kunai in each hand…"
Author's Notes: Super thanks to Glacious for the beta work! Check out his stuff, it's darkly brilliant, and gonna be on my favourites soon enough :)
Right! So things happened. And this story continues to surprise me. I had some vague notion of adding in a scene with Sarutobi, so I decided just to add it for the hell of it. And then THIS happened. Wow. I love the fact that the story has taken on a life of its own.
Some people said that the previous chapter started out slowly, but were happy by the time it ended. This Was Intentional. I wanted to get into the head of a burnt out veteran soldier with almost nothing to live for. That leads to a very tilted thought process, and it becomes evident by Kakashi's thoughts and actions. By then end, he's finally getting back to life, which is what resonates with most of you.
Ugh, I wanted to get this out on my birthday last month, and Halloween following that, but Real Life got in the way. No depression related shit, just normal everyday shit. But I'm back on my one large chapter a month schedule. Thanks again to everyone who sent me all those lovely messages of support. It gave me a nice warm feeling inside :)
Half of this chapter was written while listening to the classic hit song from the 90's - 'What Kind of Pokémon are you'. Still makes me wanna dance. Also: doing Ex Raids with other people is so much fun.
Also: one of my favourite stories disappeared! It was called 'Worthy of Magic', featuring a highly disturbed Harry Potter. Does anyone have a saved copy? I just want it for my personal collection, no redistribution or nefarious purposes. Please get in touch with me if you have it, I would greatly appreciate it.
And I completely forgot about the Chakram Name Poll! It's been live for a year! Shinpū is the name of the first! PM/Review the name of your chakram, and I will add it to the list! The one with the most votes will win a chapter dedication!
Speaking of chapter dedications, I've completely forgotten who I had promised to dedicate the last two chapters to. Please reach out to me whoever you are, and you will get them as I promised :)
As always, now that you've made your way to the bottom of this filled page, there's a blank spot underneath that could use some filling. So blather on below :)