So. Late update, I know. Sorry for how long this took to come out but I think you're going to really like it. Hopefully you're still interested in this story, and if you are don't forget to leave a review letting me know what you think.
One more mission, she promised. Just one final mission, self assigned and secret, even to her old headmaster and boss. He had reluctantly let her retire, and yet was surprised when he heard she was going on a mission by her own accord.
I'll always be by your side.
He tugged harder at the two girls in his arms, as if afraid that they would simply vanish before his very eyes. The younger of the two sisters just stood shock still, unable to fully process what she had just learned while the older let her tears flow in a desperate sob as she held onto her older brother, continuously crying out, "Why? WHY?"
He said nothing, just holding her tighter and letting the tears soak his cloak. It was after a long period of time the youngest of the group finally looked up, those silver eyes making him want to grieve all over again. Her tiny mouth opened, shivering in fright and hurt, like she was trying to stop the question from coming out.
"Mom… she's not… coming back?" As soon as she said it, the floodgates opened and she began wailing even louder than her sister, grabbing onto him like her only lifeline.
No answer was given, Ruby's grief was enough of a response for them all to instinctively know the reality of this cruel world. Maybe she thought that if she never opened her mouth, their illusion would last a little longer. Maybe that was why she waited so long to open her ask, and even when she did it was with great struggle.
He could feel their anguish, and knew that despite their age it was no less than anyone else's. Taiyang came in a few minutes later, giving him an empty look of thanks. He gathered the two girls up and walked out with them, where the rest of the adults were waiting.
Itachi was gone the moment the door closed behind the three, sprinting across the landscape and not even allowing his mind to catch up to his actions.
He passed by the place where he and his… sisters used to play, where he had killed a group of beowolves in order to protect them. He continued past that, and stopped at a non-descript part of the forest, its only descriptive factor being a small pool of water which one might be able to see their reflection in.
Finally still, his mind was able to process the fact that the last time he was here was a little over 3 years ago. Back when he was foolish enough to believe that fate had finally given him a break.
Well even he had his doubts, doubts which slowly eroded over the course of years of affection and kinship. Years of adults who cared for his well being and siblings which he could spoil, years of actual family. Years isolated on an island miles away from the closest large city, years closed off from any real danger. Not that he needed the protection. No, it wasn't him in the end that suffered the price for letting his guard down.
He kneeled down in front of the pond, and noticed the crimson tears dripping down his cheeks. The mangekyo sharingan stared back at him cruelly, as if reminding him of his fate.
That realization brought everything back, and for a moment Itachi thought he saw his older self in the reflection. The hazy eyes which had been nearly blind pierced him sharper than any blade. How could he forget?
He was an Uchiha, a shinobi. He could never live a normal life, much less be considered civilian by any standards. He had mistakenly thought this world was peaceful, free of the pain and suffering he experienced in his previous world. He had wishfully thought this and was blindsided by reality. He had no one to blame but himself.
The time for mourning came as it always did, but this time he was unprepared for how badly it truly hurt. He couldn't let himself feel this pain ever again, not in this world, and not in any other. He was a shinobi, and it was time he accepted it, embraced that very fact. Even if it meant shouldering all the hate and pain in the world, as long as the innocent were safe, his mission would be complete. A simple guard and escort detail, until the end of his time.
That's all it was. That's all it ever would be.
When Gaara awoke to the sounds of screams and panic, for a moment he assumed he was back fighting in the war. Immediately, he extended his senses and realized he wasn't alone in the room. Then, everything came rushing back as he remembered everything that had happened so far.
"Dew!" He rushed off the couch and shook the young girl awake. It seemed that she was a heavy sleeper, or perhaps just extremely tired from the last day's events. Either way, it didn't matter. All that mattered was getting out of the confined space and into the open.
"Wha-?" She groggily awoke and rubbed her eye sleepily, looking at him in confusion.
"No time, we need to go!" He didn't know what was happening, but her safety was first priority.
She stiffened as she too seemed to grasp a hold of the situation. She quickly looked out the window and saw the flames, the stampeding people, all the chaos. And in the middle of it all, tearing through everything in their sight, grimm. Dozens of the dark creatures, of all types and size, indiscriminately attacking civilians and the few hunters who were failing to hold them back.
Before she could freeze in panic, Gaara took her by the hand, a still strange sensation to her, and led her out the room. They ran through the corridor and neared the end of it by the exit when a beowulf knocked the door down in front of them.
Dew screamed in shock even as Gaara pushed her behind him for safety and lept into action. His speed wasn't what he expected, and he almost paid the price for it when the grimm swung at him and nearly knocked his head clean off. Dew's screams grew louder for fear, and Gaara grit his teeth as he buried his fist into the grimm's throat, forcing it back.
Gaara weighed his options and swallowed his pride, using the spare moments of time in which the grimm stumbled to grab Dew and run out behind it. Once outside and in his own environment, Gaara was finally able to take a deep breath and gather his chakra in the form of sand.
The beowulf came crashing in behind them not a moment later, and leapt out at Gaara, claws bared. Dew didn't even have time to cry out in shock before sand enveloped the grimm and crushed it, not leaving a single trace behind.
Dew Gayl stared at what had just happened before her eyes and took a step back in awe. She looked at the boy who had wielded such power and found a conflicted look in his eyes. She wanted to tell him that she wasn't scared. She wished she could express that she would only ever remember this as him saving her, but the words wouldn't come out.
He refused to look into her eyes for the first time since she had met him, and she found that she hated the feeling. Before she could say anything, more grimm appeared suddenly seemingly out of nowhere, completely surrounding them.
Gaara raised his fist and sand gathered around her feet. It became solid and began to replace the ground under her, making her fall back and yelp in surprise as it slowly rose into the air.
Gaara turned and finally looked at her, but it was unlike the other times. Gone was the warm, kind gaze which lit her heart and soul up. It was now replaced with a cold, deadly look which sent chills down her spine.
"Don't fall off," His voice was still calm despite his expression, "You're my first priority now, so don't do anything stupid and think about yourself first."
If it weren't for the situation, she would've been happy — and a little embarrassed — to hear those words. But right now all she could think about currently was how they were going to get out of this alive. How strong was he? They were similar ages, he might even be younger, and yet he wanted to take on the grimm all by himself?
But she knew deep down inside that she could do nothing currently, that she was powerless to help and that any action she took would only serve to hold him back. It was a horrible thought, and she wished that it were somehow different, but they would have to get out alive first and for that to be possible she would have to keep safe so he could fight to the best of his ability.
She watched in reverence as he carved a way with his sand through the village square, starting with the smaller beasts until eventually the larger grimm came over to inevitably meet the same fate. It was a mass burial, only this time for the grimm.
But as time went on, more and more grimm seemed to arrive with no end in sight. A constant flood of grimm which had already wiped out the rest of the town's defences and were now focused on the sole remaining threat. And although this meant Gaara could finally fight to his fullest with no bystanders to worry about, there was a limit to what he could do as he was.
Gaara's first sign of weakness was when the third Ursa was able to get back up after getting crushed by his sand. Then the deathstalker whose armor was able to withstand the pressure of burial after burial before it finally cracked. The King Taijitu which was nearly able to pierce his ultimate defence, barely stopped by a layer of chakra more thin than skin.
There were a plethora of things which could have been blamed for his current state, his young and untrained body were holding him back, and his chakra reserves were pitiful in comparison to how they'd been as a teenager. Ultimately, Gaara would reflect on what had caused such a loss and admit it as hubris. Not only that, but his sense of duty to protect the village and its fleeing inhabitants.
Maybe it's because Vacuo and Suna had so many similarities, and that Kazekage mentality carried over. Maybe it was because he was shown so freely the hospitality and autonomy which he had craved all his life. But the biggest reason he stood and kept fighting even after there was no longer any chakra remaining in his system was because the girl he was protecting. The innocent life of a child who he had mistaken for a lookalike of his sister when he first saw her, yet now recognized as a completely different individual.
But she represented so much more than just another orphan on the streets, or someone who reminded him of his once family. She was also his first friend in this world, someone who relied on him and had, in such a short time span, connected him to this world. Made it more real.
Before, he had simply gone through the motions and not thought about it too much, thinking that was the correct way to handle being dropped into foreign world. But now that he was presented with a living, breathing human with their own problems, it all suddenly made sense as to why he was here.
Her voice warned of a strike which would never land. The beowulf which had thought it had finally landed the killing blow looked at the air in front of it with surprise.
Dew also was shocked, as now the boy which had saved her life multiple times now was standing on the sand platform she was also currently on. She found herself staring at his back as he looked over the village with his arms crossed and instantly knew that what she was witnessing would forever be etched into her mind.
For now that he had something to protect, something to fight for… It was hardly a challenge any longer.
He raised his hand in front of him, and before her very eyes sand rose to cover the entirety of the town's boundaries. Then, his fist slammed shut. And all around her, grimm were buried under a landscape of sand. Just as the final grimm was put to rest, Gaara stumbled and collapsed onto his back, Dew barely catching his fall.
Almost immediately the sand began to recede into the desert, leaving not a trace of sand nor grimm. The platform they were on also slowly began to descend and left them in the town square. It was almost like nothing had happened, only there was no soul in sight other than them two.
And as Dew looked down at the unconscious boy's face, she couldn't help but be grateful to whatever force out there had allowed her to meet him. So then she swore, just as he had protected her, she would help him in some way. Now, and in the future, she would get stronger so that he would not be so alone. It was hardly a difficult choice.
"Excuse me… The Belladonna's have arrived for the funeral. Would you like to greet them?" The guard peeked his head into the room warily, knowing that the person inside had been here for longer than a week.
There was no response, so he tried again despite his better judgement, "Ghira wishes to pay his respects and would like to talk to you. If-"
"Leave. I don't want to talk to anyone right now." The voice was cold, and it seemed so impossible that it belonged to a child so young. The guard simply sighed and left, leaving Naruto alone in his room. The kid had always been a mystery, from that event years ago to his sudden outburst on the streets.
And now, he was laying on his bed, with his arm over his eyes to cover tears which had long since dried up. He felt so empty inside that even tears would no longer come out. Just a shell of a person, with nothing to live for. Nothing to smile or laugh about. He hated this feeling, but it just wouldn't go away.
He knew this wasn't what she would've wanted. She would've wanted him to be happy, to do something with his life. But how could he without her? It was impossible no matter what he did. His semblance let him at least he wasn't alone in his grief, the loss had affected the entirety of Menagerie negatively, that much was obvious. But being able to sense all the grief and sadness didn't help him recover in the slightest.
HIs semblance was and forever would be a double edged sword. She had told him as much. That his emotional highs and lows would be unmatched by any other, and how dangerous that could be.
For the past week, all he could feel was sorrow and dreariness which had a compounding effect on his own state. But there were also the few who held hostility, hostility towards him. He knew, of course, that Akela's condition had been worsened by his outburst when he was first found in the jungle. When she had been hurt by that grimm years ago, it had only worsened her condition.
He could feel the hatred of the village elders towards him, the only ones aware of the truth of what had happened both nights he became something worse than a monster.
And yet she always made sure to tell him that he was never at fault. She continued to serve as village chief despite the fact that she had been planning on handing down the position long ago. He knew he was the reason for this, that she wanted to use her position to protect him from the outside, and that would no longer be possible if she retired. And now after her death, her replacement had finally arrived.
That happy little family, with the girl he had met a long time ago when he was still unable to talk in the common language. He could feel them getting closer to the house. If they arrived, he would be forced to talk with them, to exchange grief like they were the same.
Despite them not having been here for years, not knowing her like he had. And now that man wished to take her place. He couldn't accept it, but he also knew he was powerless to stop it. But he refused to stay in this place any longer, not when his only reason for staying was no longer here. It was time for him to discover the rest of the world, and do what Akela would've wanted for him.
When the guard arrived at his room to inform him that the Belladonna's had arrived, he would be met with an empty bed and an open window. A few alarms were raised, but ultimately even fewer cared about his sudden disappearance. Of them all, the most disappointed was the little cat faunus who had wanted to meet the strange boy after so long.
Naruto was unaware of these happenings, although he had already predicted them. As he sat huddled up between a crate and the corner of a ship he had snuck onto, the only thing he could think of was how he was going to finally get rid of the emptiness in his heart.
And as his consciousness drifted away, a giant fox quietly watched.
Sasuke buried his nose deeper into the book, trying his best to drown out the shouts that echoed throughout the empty halls of the Schnee manor. Soundproofing had never been taken into account in the blueprints, nothing spoken within would likely ever leave anyways. Everything in the Schnee residence was contained, confined. He looked to his side where his adoptive sister was in a similar state of forced concentration. She would never admit it, but he could tell how distraught she was.
Sasuke sighed, and put his book down, "Maybe we should take a break."
Weiss looked at him in shock, "Sasuke, we should get our homework over with as soon as possible. You should know this."
"Don't lie to yourself Weiss, no one can study like this." Sasuke shook his head. Weiss seemed taken aback and glanced nervously back.
He noticed everything about her. The biting of her lip, the darting around of her eyes, and how defensively her hands were placed, closed off and hidden from view. It was clear that she agreed with him, but her innocent nature forbade her from accepting that their parents hated each other. She was still young and impressionable, and all the defensive mechanisms were still in place.
Perhaps later in life she would look back and realize just how messed up her family life truly was, but she just couldn't properly register it at the moment. He briefly wondered where his own sanity and defenses went, but he chalked it up to his life from before memory loss. He wasn't terribly torn up about having less than half his actual memories, for some reason he could tell he was better off without the knowledge. He'd deal with them when the time came. Right now, he had another problem to deal with.
"Come on, let's get some fresh air." He took her arm and pulled her up, ignoring the yelp of surprise. He rolled his eyes as she made weak attempts to make him stop from dragging her out of the room, but eventually stopped and just looked down in abjection. He led her through the halls of the manor, the voices fading into the background but still ever present.
They eventually reached the back of the manor and went through the door leading into the garden. It was as beautiful as always, and he made an effort to come here whenever he had the chance. The starry night sky added a special touch to the greenery and assortment of colors that simply wasn't possible without the effect of the shattered moon's silver light. The wind brushed through his white dress shirt and black pants, a product of being so high up in Atlas. As they stood there on the patio, he finally went to let go of Weiss' hand but was stopped by her tightening her grip.
"What-" He looked back in surprise but was cut off when he saw tears in her eyes.
He whispered out, "Weiss…?" Just as she released their hands.
She looked him in the eyes but quickly turned away and began wiping her tears away. She gave a weak laugh, sounding and looking more fragile than he had ever seen her.
"You must see me as useless, don't you? Weak, like father does."
"Where is this all coming from?" He had never seen her like this.
"Winter is at the top of her class, and you've already proved to father how capable you will be. What about me? How can I prove myself? There's nothing special or unique about me, even singing is something that father forced onto me. Nothing I can call my own. You're going to leave on a journey in a year or two while I'm stuck here, like a caged songbird. What do I do?"
Sasuke said nothing, and Weiss took that as confirmation for what she had just said, "See… even you think so."
"But-" Weiss protested.
"No, I don't agree with you at all. Since that moment years ago, when you told me what it meant to be a brother… to be selfish for others rather than yourself. That was special. Your skill as a hunter is already extraordinary for your age. And didn't I tell you, if Jacques wants you to do something, make it your own first. Then he'll never be able to hold it over your head because even he will know who the talent truly lies behind: you."
Weiss dropped her head, not knowing what to say in response. And so Sasuke continued, hoping that she was taking his words to heart.
"You helped me before, and now I'm helping you. Not for any reason other than you're my sister. This bond we have, while I don't know much about other siblings, I know that this is special and that I care about you, Weiss. I don't want to see you to keep hurting over this."
Sasuke let the silence permeate the mood after that, knowing anything he said after that would be wasted words. It took a long time for Weiss to respond, and when she did it wasn't how he expected. Her voice was quiet, even more so now than before, barely above a whisper as she spoke with her head still staring down at her feet.
"Do you… are you really going to leave?"
Sasuke grimaced at that. Part of his and Jacques' plan was for him to travel and gain recognition preceding his entry to one of the huntsman academies. It was during this period that should he gain sufficient levels of honor and public approval, Jacques would make the move to legally name him the heir. The plan was flexible and had plenty of room to either succeed or fail. Honestly, explaining it to Weiss without her killing him was probably the hardest part. That had not been a fun discussion. But still…
"I have to. I already agreed to it after all, and it's the only way I can assure you and Winter's freedom."
"But you don't have to! I can- I can become heir like father always wanted me to, o-or Whitley can…" Weiss cringed at the last part, not even fully believing herself at that part.
Sasuke noticed, and laughed lightly, "Come on Weiss. I chose this path, and now it's time for me to pay the consequences. I couldn't do that to you. You have so much you can accomplish if you aren't chained down by the company."
Weiss shook her head angrily, "This is exactly what I mean, you have so much more potential than I do but you're going to be stuck running the stupid company instead! If you just let someone like me take care of it, and chase your own dreams instead, wouldn't that just be better? Someone worthless like me, compared to what you could accomplish? It's not an even close contest! Just think ab-"
Weiss stopped herself, noticing the look of pure anger on Sasuke's face. It would've scared her if she didn't know exactly why he was currently so angry.
"You… are NOT worthless. Stop comparing yourself to others, and especially don't place yourself below them, that's not how a Schnee is supposed to act. And this… sacrifice you're trying to make is the same exact thing you scolded me for in the first place last time we had this conversation. We can go on forever about who's right and who should carry that burden, but the reality is that it's my fault, and I should be the one to fix it. Whether it was right or not to try is a different question, one you've already shown me the answer to. But right now, that doesn't matter."
Sasuke sighed, "How many times am I going to have to say it? If I can't convince you to stop trying to change my mind, I'm not going to give you the chance to."
"So you're leaving me then." Weiss looked down in defeat.
"A Schnee doesn't compromise in their way. I am no different, and it's time I show the world that I am worthy of the name I carry. I will make you proud, Weiss."
Weiss shook her head, "Silly, I don't care about that. Just drop the act and promise me one thing."
Sasuke's expression softened, "Anything."
She looked up at him and smiled, "Just stay safe. And when it comes time to choose a huntsman academy, let me know which one."
"I promise. But you have to promise me something in return."
Weiss smirked in response, "Anything."
"Don't let father control you. Do what you want to do, and do it on your own terms. I know you've been training really hard and your singing has improved greatly. When you start having concerts and all of Atlas knows your name, save me some tickets, won't you?"
It finally proved too much and she barreled into him with a childish hug, "Of course, you're my brother after all. I'll reserve an entire section for you as long as you come."
He rubbed her back gently as he rested his head next to hers. "Thanks Weiss. For everything."
"You don't have to thank family, idiot."
Weiss knew she had something special with her adopted brother. She didn't know much about sibling relationships outside her own family, but she knew that this level of care was abnormal. She also knew that this side of her brother was something that very few would ever be privy to, and she felt special just for being able to see emotion in his face as he talked to her.
And so the paradigm shifted, and what was once common sense is no longer reliable or predictable. The eldest became disillusioned for a second time, and the youngest recognized his own weakness. The symbol of Yang grew distant and more chaotic while the symbol of Yin finally found closeness and order.
The four travelers had finally begun their journey.
And so the first arc concludes for Team IGNS. I know this took so long but just starting on Itachi's part took an entire month, and finishing it another few weeks. I don't know why, just that I had a really dry period.
There was so much that I had to decide on here since it'll hugely affect the rest of the story and what I can do with the plot. In my initial plans I originally had Gaara losing to the grimm and being forced to run away, but that felt too similar to the effect I wanted to have with Itachi so I scrapped it and went a different direction.
I hope you don't hate what I'm doing with Naruto here. I will say that he's not going to be this edgy character with no emotion like you might've seen in a lot of other stories. Sasuke is another one I'm trying to add more depth to, since I think a lot of people dislike his canon personality and for good reason. Hopefully happy!Sasuke is a breath of fresh air for most.
As always, thank you for reading and please let me know what you think in reviews