AN: It is unfortunate that in the time it took me to start writing this chapter and the time it took me to finish, I've forgotten parts of what I intended to happen. Hopefully I'm as good of a bullshitter as Kakashi. Full AN at bottom; enjoy.
Warnings: OOCness, I fear.
Disclaimer: I disclaim.
Child of the Earth
Chapter 8: Ghosts and Secrets
It was perhaps a strange, but pleasant turn of events that led to them all sitting around a table eating with the people of the village. Despite her previous concerns, Sakura discovered that Kakashi was actually a great negotiator.
Sasuke thought he was just a great bullshitter, but whatever. It got the job done.
Naruto was too happy with the large plate of food in front of him to really care just how they got to where they were. And somehow the food on Kakashi's plate was slowly disappearing, but… he'd not once reached up to remove his mask. A mystery for the ages, truly.
"Ah, so the hauntings began about two weeks ago?"
The village chief nodded, swallowing his food down before trying to speak. "Yes. They normally stay towards the outskirts of the village—near the forest. And anyone who's gone into the forest to investigate hasn't returned."
"And how many people are we talking about?"
"Well, yes. Clearly the spirits are evil and something foul has happened to poor Don."
"So we don't wish to risk the lives of any more of our people. And thus we hired you!"
Sakura and Sasuke exchanged looks. Both seemed to think these people were just a tad paranoid. And cowardly. And stupid. Well, OK, so only Sasuke thought the 'stupid' part.
Naruto was still happily devouring food and apparently hadn't heard a word of the conversation.
Kakashi rubbed his chin in thought. "So what's in this forest just beyond the village?"
"Ghosts! Haven't you been listening?"
Once dinner was finished and Team 7 had been shown where they would be staying, they quietly dismissed themselves to go over some plans on exorcising the ghosts, as stated by Kakashi. Once alone, he turned to his students. "Well, what do you kids think?"
"I think they're idiots," Sasuke supplied helpfully, depositing his backpack down on the floor.
Sakura hesitated to disagree with Sasuke. "Well… I do think they're being a bit… paranoid. Do you really think there are spirits here, Kakashi-sensei? And if so, how can we get rid of them?"
"Hmm. Maybe. What do you think, Naruto?"
Sakura frowned. Naruto hadn't been listening at all; too busy trying to fill his stomach to pay attention to anything around him. He wasn't going to be able to contribute to the conversation. She expected at best for him to just agree with what had already been said. Sasuke smirked, waiting for the blond to find himself put on spot.
Naruto frowned. "I think they're not telling us everything. Who sends just one person out to investigate something suspicious?"
Sakura's brows rose. So he had been listening. But still, "Perhaps it was bad judgment?"
Sasuke shook his head, "No, I think I know what he's getting at. You've got a small village of superstitious people and then ghosts start appearing. If you're going to check it out, you're going to send a group of people. No one's going to want to go alone in the first place. Plus, I think it's all a joke."
Sakura frowned. "You really think these people would be making this up?"
"No, Sakura," Sasuke looked over at her. "I think someone else is pulling a joke on this village."
Kakashi smiled behind his mask. "That's quite a theory there, Sasuke. But I think it will become much clearer what's up when we check everything out."
"Are we doing that tonight? The sun's almost completely set."
"Not tonight, Sakura. We'll investigate the forest tomorrow. Tonight, we'll scout out the village and see if we can see any of these ghosts. Also see if you can find some information about the forest. The chief didn't seem to be such a reliable source of information."
"It was probably all that sake he'd had," Naruto mumbled.
"But he didn't have that much during dinner," Sakura recalled, thinking back. One or two cups weren't enough to get drunk off of...
"Oh, he's had much more than that," the blond replied, looking over at her. "He reeked of alcohol well before dinner was served. He's probably not been sober all day."
Ah, yes. Naruto's excellent sense of smell. Sakura didn't doubt it was true if Naruto could smell it, and when she glanced to Kakashi, he nodded. "I could smell it as well, though I hoped the alcohol might have made him more loose-tongued rather than slow. Oh well. Gather up your things, kids. Time to go scouting!"
Only one of his three students looked at all enthused about this as Naruto clambered about to get ready. Sakura and Sasuke were much more reserved in their movements, although it wasn't like they were struggling to contain their excitement. And once they were all ready and standing before him like the good little genins they were, Kakashi snapped his book shut to look down at him. "Tonight we'll check out the village then do a quick sweep of the border. We won't venture into the woods until tomorrow while it's daylight. Any questions?"
"What do we do if we actually see any of these alleged… ghosts?" Sasuke inquired, sounding quite skeptical of the entire ordeal.
"Ah! A good question, Sasuke. I would recommend testing to make sure it's a ghost."
"How would we do that?" Sakura wondered if there was some special jutsu to use.
Kakashi stared at them. "You know… throw something at it, see if it's solid. That kind of thing."
'So much for that special jutsu.' Sakura sighed and moved past her instructor. "Let's just get this over with."
Kakashi called after her, "That's the spirit, Sakura! Show your teammates how seriously you take your job!"
One of these days, she was going to punch him. And it was going to hurt.
Naruto slinked along the village buildings, looking for anything out of the ordinary. The dim lighting from the lanterns was good for casting creepy shadows, and once he'd been mistaken for a ghost himself (and subsequently had a flower pot thrown at him), but so far nothing out of the ordinary had been spotted. In his line of sight was Sakura, who wasn't as much slinking as she was just wandering around. Come to think of it… why was he slinking anyway? Could you even sneak up on ghosts?
He turned a corner to see Sasuke atop a roof, looking around.
And he had no idea where Kakashi was. Sniffing the air, he found it hard to locate the jounin's scent. Frustrated, he tried harder and just as he'd located that faint trail that was indeed his instructor—he heard Sakura's voice.
His head jerked up and he took off in the direction of his teammate's voice, leaping over a pile of firewood and ducking under some hanging ropes. Rounding a building, he came upon her about the same time as Sasuke did, who'd reached her by roof-hopping. She stood at the edge of the village, pointing out towards the woods. Naruto noted that fog seemed to have rolled in at some point, hovering above the ground a few feet and making it very hard to see.
However, he trotted up beside her and looked out to where she seemed to be staring, he saw them. Four figures seemed to be moving awkwardly towards the outskirts of the village. Their features weren't very defined, but they looked fairly solid.
"Don't really look like ghosts to me," Sasuke muttered.
"But… what are they then?"
Sasuke shrugged. Taking Kakashi's advice (for once), he looked around, spotted a decent-sized rock and picked it up. Testing its weight in his hand, he smirked, took aim, and pitched it at the closest figure. The rock was dead on target; however, it sailed right through the being's head. In response, the figure seemed to lose form and melt down into the mist, and quite possibly, the ground.
"What the hell?" Sasuke muttered. "Is it really a ghost?"
"Ghosts don't melt," Sakura hissed. "It has to be a jutsu!"
Naruto was crouched low to the ground, sniffing out for a scent of some sort. Sasuke watched him before reaching over and smacking the blond in the back of the head. "You're not going to be able to smell them, idiot."
Naruto grimaced, rubbing the back of his head, "Didn't hurt to try…"
"Ah! I see you found the ghosts!"
That voice was much too cheerful and Sasuke swore their sensei had no sense about him at all. Turning, he saw the jounin walk up to them, a slouch in his posture and the ever-present orange book in his hand. "Looks like we've got ourselves some mist bunshin."
"What? Mist bunshin?" Sakura echoed. "How many types of bunshin are there?"
"Lots. I heard someone in Kumogakure recently created a cheese bunshin. But that's not important right now."
Sasuke made a face. Who in their right mind would make a cheese clone? However, Kakashi's next words snapped him to attention. "Usually, mist clones are a technique used by the hidden rain ninja, but I really don't think we're dealing with hidden rain ninja."
"What do you think we're dealing with, then?" Sakura inquired, shifting as the creepy figures approached the outskirts of the village.
Kakashi didn't answer, instead walking out past the boundaries that defined the village and right up to the three clones that seemed to hover before him in the mist. Pushing his hand into one, he watched it disperse, and did the same for the remaining two. Humming in thought for a moment, he nodded, then turned around and walked back to his students. "I believe we should call it a night. We can inspect the forest come daylight."
"Do you think we'll find anything in the daylight? If they're mimicking ghosts, then all the activity would be at night, right?" Sakura frowned.
"They want people out of this forest for some reason, and these villagers are much too scared to go even in the daylight, especially now that one of their own has turned up missing. I believe we will still find answers when we search tomorrow. Now, let's go back. I don't think we'll see anymore 'ghosts' tonight."
With that, he turned his students around and nudged them back towards the village.
"Ne, Zabuza-san. Why did you still send out the mist clones if you knew they'd see through it?"
Leaning against a tall tree, the man in question stared at the village in the far distance as the mist slowly dwindled away. "I want them to find us."
"Ah! I see. Zabuza-san seeks a challenge, yes?"
"Something like that. Let's go, Haku."
Naruto had disappeared when they'd gotten back to their room and still had not returned once Sakura was finished cleaning up for the night. Blinking, as she stepped out into the room where Kakashi was reading and Sasuke was sorting through his things, she looked around. "Where did Naruto go?"
Kakashi waved his hand in a manner that suggested he probably knew but couldn't be bothered to answer, while Sasuke shrugged. "Don't know. Maybe he wanted to sleep in a tree?"
Sakura looked a little disturbed at this thought, despite the fact they had found him in trees before. Sighing, the girl put away her things before walking to the door. "Well, I'm going to go find him."
And she wasn't surprised when neither of the other two in the room seemed to care.
Naruto had discovered the roof of the building they were staying in was actually quite comfortable. At least, to him. He sat Indian style, hands resting on his ankles and his geta removed, balanced on the peak of the sloped tiles. He always would be one to discard his shoes if he could get away with it.
The air was warm and humid, but pleasant. The strong scent of water filled his nostrils, and he wondered if there was a river or lake nearby. Of course, there would need to be some source of water for this village to survive off of, but he hadn't seen anything when they arrived. Perhaps in the woods or beyond? He would have to check tomorrow if he had time.
But for now…
'Can we work on chakra control sometime soon?'
Tch. Eager brat, aren't you?
'Hey! It was a deal, remember?'
A pathetic one. Your company leaves much to be desired.
'And your chakra got me in trouble last time. So we're even.'
The blond frowned when he heard a deep rumble deep within him, which he assumed was the fox laughing.
You've got some guts, kid, trying to make a deal with me. Or maybe you're an idiot. One day, it's going to backfire on you. And I'll be laughing.
Naruto smiled weakly, looking up at the stars. "What makes you think I'll let that happen?"
Another rumble. Big words for a brat like you.
The blond's brow furrowed, "Do you have to be--" "Naruto?"
He stopped, and it was then he realized he had, at some point, switched from speaking in his mind to speaking aloud. Blinking, he glanced over to see Sakura pulling herself up onto the roof. He hoped she hadn't heard much. "Ah…" He trailed off for a moment, before greeting her awkwardly, "…Hi."
With a soft 'hup' the girl pulled herself up beside Naruto and looked around. "Who were you talking to?"
He could feel the fox's presence drift back into the recesses of his subconscious, lingering momentarily before disappearing all together. He could've sworn he heard another deep rumble. He was only glad Sakura could not hear it as well.
"I uh… was talking to…" He stumbled for words, trying to find an excuse that would fit, that didn't sound too outrageous, that she would believe, anything that wasn't the truth. Unfortunate though it was Naruto just wasn't adept at telling lies. Ducking his head, he stared at his feet. "…S'a secret."
"A secret?" Sakura echoed, lips pulling into a slight frown. She looked around, but saw nothing that would indicate someone had been there a moment ago. "It's not something you can tell me?"
The blond shook his head, still staring at his feet. She might react badly. He didn't want to think of her as judgmental or shallow, but the fear was there. He wanted to fit in, and this would work against him if he told.
"So you're a mental case with multiple personalities and that's the reason you were sent away from the village until now." The voice that spoke was most certainly not Sakura and Naruto jerked his head up and around to see Sasuke standing behind him, a dark brow arched dubiously.
Dumbfounded, Naruto could only respond with a bemused, "What?"
"Well, it would make sense. Sakura hears you talking to someone, there's no one out here. You claim it's a secret and you grew up outside of the village and pretty damned sheltered to be as dumb as you are. My guess is multiple personalities or paranoid schizophrenia. And they thought you were better so they sent you back to Konoha, only you're not better."
It was by this point that Sakura's eyes were wide with shock and Naruto's mouth was hanging open. Neither could tell if he was being serious or joking.
And that was a scary thought.
After a moment of staring from both his teammates, Sasuke sighed and rolled his eyes. "I'm not serious, idiots. Geez. You act as if I'm not capable of making jokes."
Without even thinking, Sakura replied, "We didn't think you could." When she realized what she said, she slapped her hands over her mouth as a brilliant blush stained her cheeks. 'Smooth, Sakura. Real smooth,' She thought.
Sasuke gave her a look before plopping down on the roof before her and Naruto. "But seriously. I doubt any secret you have is too bad to tell. You're just being stupid, as usual."
By this point, Naruto was frowning, looking highly insulted. "Don't you ever have anything nice to say?"
Sasuke opened his mouth, paused for a moment to think, then smirked. "No, I don't."
Pouting, Naruto looked away. "Well, I'm not telling because you're a jerk." Standing up, he grabbed his shoes and began to walk to the edge of the roof.
"Wait, Naruto!" Sakura started, before rounding on Sasuke, "Great, just great. Now because you're so insensitive, he's going to go off and sulk for a while. Can't you be a little more considerate?"
"I'm still here, you know."
Sakura paused, looking over at Naruto, who gave her a dry look. She smiled sheepishly before turning to Sasuke. "Don't you want to know what he has to say?"
"Not really. It's probably something stupid anyway. Like he has an imaginary friend."
Naruto's brow twitched. "No, I don't."
"Then I was right about the multiple personalities?"
"No!" Naruto hissed out, now visibly irritated by Sasuke's antics. "It's serious!"
"Schizophrenia is serious," Sasuke quipped.
And that was the last straw. Visibly shaking with barely suppressed rage, the blond glared over at Sasuke, and the Uchiha felt rooted in spot when red eyes with cat-like slits were staring him down. Despite his earlier desires of not wanting to scare Sakura, or to have her judge him, he now wanted them both to know. To know it wasn't something to joke about. He wanted to put Sasuke in his place. He wanted to scare him. He wanted to be feared, he wanted to…
Show him you're better.
Show him you're stronger.
Naruto froze, eyes going wide as he blinked at his two teammates, who were staring right back at him. The red receded from his eyes and his thoughts cleared, and suddenly the most shameful expression spread across his features. The poor boy looked like he might cry.
Sakura watched him fall back down into a sitting position and scrambled over to him, pausing for a moment before pulling him into a hug. The blond let her, turning his face into her shirt. "M'sorry…"
Awkwardly, the girl petted his hair as she glanced over at Sasuke. "Don't apologize. We shouldn't have pressed you on it. You don't have to tell."
Sasuke looked back at her before glancing away. Sakura's gaze said it all. 'This is your fault.'
It seemed his attempt to get Naruto to spill his secrets had failed. But what had been up with his eyes…? And what he'd felt… bloodlust?
He glanced back at the boy who was now clinging to Sakura like a child would to his mother.
That couldn't have been right.
Down below inside the lodging, Kakashi turned a page in his book, glad he hadn't had to step in.
To Be Continued…
AN: I… have no idea what I just wrote. I do believe it's the most OOC chapter thus far in this story. I don't even LIKE it all that much but the story wrote itself and I have no idea what to write in its place, and I've forgotten some of my original ideas, so… here you go. I am so truly sorry.
And an apology is also in order for taking so long to update. So… sorry about that, too.
For those of you who want a sneak peak—I have posted a small snippet from a later chapter of CotE on a critique forum that I run. I will most likely not use it when I get to that chapter, but if you wish to read it, there will be a link in my profile.
For fanart-goers, I intend to soon post some sketches of my design for CotE Naruto. Check my profile periodically for a link. (:
And… I had more to say, but I forgot it. Oh well.
Thanks for the reviews. They're always welcome and appreciated, even if I can't reply to them all.