Hanekaeri [the Rebound] by Aoi Kami Sarah

            Since she's not been named in the manga, nor has she been given a name in the fanbooks, I'm going to call the Nameless Anbu Chick who first appears in chapter 137 of book 16 of the manga Kuatsu Junko. "Kuatsu" is sort of like ninja first aid. This story is about Hayate… but mostly about "Junko". - aks

~ PREFACE ~

            He wasn't the best shinobi in the village. He was, by all accounts, average: a Chuunin but never a captain, versed in several jutsu but nothing exotic or forbidden. He had no advanced bloodline or special powers. His clan was neither noteworthy nor prolific but he was one of the kindest people Junko had ever met.

            His warm smile and affection towards his students attested to the goodness of his soul. Sometimes, he reminded Junko a great deal of Gekkou Hayate.

            She had known Hayate's sweet smile, his caring ways. She never thought anyone could fill the void he left when he died…

            …Until she met Umino Iruka.

~ BEGIN ~

            It was still a few days until the third Chuunin exam. The lounge was a buzz with rumors and bets as to who would prevail. Most of the talk was light and friendly. They were trying not to dwell on the heavy atmosphere surrounding the tests. All Jounin and Anbu had been on high alert since Hokage-sama informed them of S-Class criminal Orochimaru's presence in Konoha. Though most of them could not understand why they weren't told to find and eliminate him they were loyal to their Hokage and waited for his orders.

            The call to a meeting was not uttered but visually communicated. Heads looked up, conversations stopped. Junko stifled a giggle at a companion's joke and nodded. They were to see Hokage-sama immediately.

            Anbu and Jounin and even a few Chuunin selected to be on the task force met in the leader's chambers. The only sound the rustling of canvas or the idle scuffing of a sandal. Hokage entered and cleared his throat.

            "If we were on high alert before, that status has been elevated. It seems someone got to close to something we are not to know. We have lost one of our nin."

            Hands clenched, teeth gritted. Someone used Orochimaru's name as curse. Junko scanned the room for her lover. There were so many nin crammed into the tight space, she couldn't pick him out.

            "No knowledge was gained, unfortunately," Sandaime continued, "but we must not let this intimidate us. Every one of you is to never be alone from now on. You will travel in groups of two or more. The rest of the emergency plan already in place remains the same. You are dismissed.

            "Kuatsu Junko, please remain…" he added. She froze in place. People moved around her. Their voices returned, but she could no longer hear them. She stared at her leader and read his kind eyes.

            "It's Hayate, isn't it?" she asked.

            "Yes. I'm sorry, Junko." Sandaime nodded, but didn't take his eyes off of her. How many times had he been the bearer of such news? He could no longer keep count. 'It will never end,' he thought. 'Such eyes like hers, I will never stop seeing them so long as men like Orochimaru exist.'

            Finding her voice again she asked, "Was it quick?" The tears brimmed over, but her words were clear. "Did he suffer?"

            "I don't believe he could have," Sandaime answered, careful to avoid describing the grisly wound that ran from his shoulder to his pelvis. "His murderer has not been found."

            "This is war, right, Hokage-sama?" Junko looked to the floor. "He wasn't murdered. He was killed in the line of duty."

            "Yes." Sandaime watched her as she walked to the door. "He will be honored as one of this gakure's heros."

            "That's good. He'd like that." The door closed behind her and she ran down the hall, her footsteps' echo like a heartbeat inside a metal cage.



more to come...

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