Chapter 6: The Last of the Cetra
"Hey, Denzel?" Naruto called, walking through a back alley of Konoha. He had split from Yuffie and Marlene to cover more ground, but had yet to find a trace of the boy. "Denzel, stop playing around!"
"He's not here, Little Cousin," a soft, melodious voice spoke from a corner of the alleyway.
"Who's there?" Naruto asked, looking up to see a girl in a red denim jacket with long, auburn hair braided with a large, pink bow leaning against the corner of the alley. "Who are you?"
"Don't mind me, Naruto; I'm just a friend," The girl's joyful voice spoke again, but not looking his way.
"You know who I am?" Naruto blinked, knowing he should be taking a defensive stance but feeling nothing but warmth and safety from this strange woman.
"I know all about you; I know more about you than you know yourself," she said, leaning her head back against the wall, looking upward. "That's why I've come to you, Naruto. I have a favor to ask."
"I guess I can try…" Naruto scratched the back of his head.
"That's all I ask for, you silly kitsune," the girl giggled before growing somber. "I need you to try to save Cloud for me."
"Save Cloud?" Naruto parroted in confusion.
"He's being such a silly, silly man, you see? He's hurting, and his pride keeps him from seeking help," the girl explained. "He refuses to let go of the past, and because of that, his chance to truly live is passing him by. Despite everything that's happened to you… all the times you've had your heart broken… you have never lost the will to fight, the will to live... the will to love. Help him, Naruto. You're the only one who can."
"I don't get it…" Naruto narrowed his eyes in thought.
"You will," she giggled, "You're never alone, Naruto. I'm watching over you. And I always will," she said , walking around the corner with a wave goodbye.
"Hey, wait!" Naruto ran around the corner to try to catch her, but found no one anywhere around. "Freaky…"
"AH!" Sasuke gasped as his back hit the ground.
"Stay down, child, unless you do not want to see manhood," Sephiroth said emotionlessly as he stalked toward the gasping Sasuke.
"I have to kill you…" Sasuke growled as he pushed himself to his hands and knees.
"Then you will fail," Sephiroth said as he roughly punted Sasuke in the lower jaw, sending him flying backwards.
"You are one or more of three things, child," Sephiroth stated, sending a blade beam that exploded in the dazed Uchiha orphan's chest, sending him flying through a tree. "Heroic, foolish, or blindly obedient.
"I do not need the Masamune to fight a mere baby," Sephiroth mused out loud before he sheathed his blade.
"Then bring it…" Sasuke spit out some blood before taking a fighting stance.
Sephiroth stood still as Sasuke ran towards the silver-haired devil, dully dodging every attack. "Are you finished?" Sephiroth asked with a bored tone.
"Yeah, I'm finished…" Sasuke smirked, leaping away and preparing his Lightning Blade attack. "I'm finished playing with you!" He shouted as he ran toward the stationary swordsman. "CHIDORI!"
Sasuke never saw the swordsman move, nor did he see the incredibly long katana cut through the chakra energy, into his hand, cutting through the bone and muscle of his hand, arm, and shoulder and passing out of his body through the back of his shoulder. Sasuke's cries of pain could be heard for miles.
"A ninja never shows weakness, Sasuke," a voice spoke from behind Sephiroth. The Silver Haired Demon glanced over his shoulder to see Orochimaru approaching. "Sephiroth… we meet at last." Orochimaru smiled as he applauded the swordsman. "Sasuke, remove yourself from his blade."
Sasuke yelped as Sephiroth jerked the blade back out of his body and turned to face the Sound Leader. "Hojo truly created a work of art with you." Orochimaru smiled at Sephiroth's puzzled expression. "Yes, I know about you. After all, I ordered your creation."
"You're a…" Sephiroth narrowed his eyes.
"I was born a Cetra, but no, I am not one of Them. I am beyond the Ancients!" Orochimaru growled. "But I need you to complete my evolution. These human bodies no longer will sustain my life, so a genius idea formed using the scientific minds of the west and medical jutsus of the east: the combination of my impregnating Hojo's woman with the Demon's cells was used to create the perfect body for me to finally truly take immortality." The Ninja grinned, his serpent-like tongue flicking. "Now then, son, Daddy wants his powerful, new body."
Sephiroth growled as he drew his sword to strike down Orochimaru, but his eyes widened as the blade stopped less then an eighth of an inch from Orochimaru's scalp. "Ah, Hojo placed the safety program as he was told; I had thought he'd have left that out as revenge."
Orochimaru smiled at Sephiroth's trembling blade. "How does it feel, Jenova? How does it feel to have the shoe on the other foot? You slaughtered the Ancients as if they couldn't touch you. Now, how does it feel to be unable to protect yourself?" Orochimaru asked, forcing his knee into Sephiroth's stomach.
Sephiroth doubled over and gasped for breath, only to grunt as Orochimaru lifted his jaw with a high kick. "Crawl on your hands and knees, Jenova; beg for forgiveness of the destruction of the Cetra. Then, aid me in the destruction of mankind. And the world will be renewed in my image."
Sephiroth pulled himself to his feet an wiped a spot of blood from his lip. "I will see you dead…"
"That didn't seem very threatening," Orochimaru cocked an eyebrow. "I've heard that too many times to be frightened. Go ahead and run and play, Jenova; I would rather make it a sport anyway."
Orochimaru looked away as the silver haired warrior disappeared into the forest.
"Are you capable of traveling, Sasuke?" Orochimaru glanced to the wounded Uchiha kneeling in a puddle of his own blood.
"I… I think so…" Sasuke wheezed.
"Then come along, we return to the Sound," Orochimaru turned his back and took to the trees.
"With Sephiroth back, we need to set up much better defenses here," Rufus explained as he sat at the large table in Tsunade's meeting room. "This land is the land of milk and honey where Mako is concerned. I suggest you let Shin-Ra come in and construct some of our new environmentally safe reactors."
"Environmentally safe?" Barrett snorted with a few colorful comments.
"They're not actually powered by processing the Mako and Materia," Rufus explained, "It's actually powered by the radiation that comes from it."
Barrett narrowed his eyes. "If you don't believe me, ask Dr. Highwind." Rufus said, and everyone turned to the gobstruck Cid.
"Don't look at me; I build airships, not reactors…" Cid said as he slowly turned to the redhead seated next to him, who was whistling and looking at the pictures on the walls. "Shera?"
"Would you rather the past repeat itself?" Shera said pointedly. "Someone had to come up with a safe way for us and the Lifestream to co-exist. If we didn't, they'd go back to mass Materia production within a few years."
"You still could have said something," Cid bit down on his cigar.
"And listen to you whine and bitch?" She said, reaching over and pulling the cigar from his mouth, only to take a drag on it herself. "I'd rather not. But yes, all tests show that this is not only safe for the Lifestream but also better for the environment, and Bugenhagen agrees with me."
"I still don't like that; it'd give Rufus and Shin-Ra way too much control," Barrett growled.
"Not the case," Rufus said with raised hands. "I've already made my selection on the two who will be in charge of the Shin-Ra personnel here if the Council and Hokage agree to allow us to construct them a Mako Reactor here."
"And who will the jackasses be?" Barrett snorted, glancing to Cloud beside him.
"See for yourself," Rufus said, holding up a mirror.
Cloud and Barrett looked at each other before glancing back at Rufus and pointing at themselves. "Us?"
"No one I know cares more about doing the right thing with this than you two," Rufus conceded. "So if the Hokage agrees, I'd like you two to head up command."
"Exactly what would we use this reactor for?" Tsunade spoke up, lacing her fingers together before her.
"More advanced technology, defense, and security," Rufus stated, "and I'll even give you all instructions on infusing Mako into ninja, like our own SOLDIER program."
"I'd like more detailed information on this," Tsunade stated coolly, "Then I'll make my decision on if I should take this to the village council."
"Perfectly understandable, m'lady," Rufus bowed slightly.
Tsunade nodded and was about to make a further comment when the door opened. "Tenten, did you find Lee?" Gai asked as he and Tseng noticed the girl standing in the doorway.
"Is he alright?" Tsunade asked with concern, noting the kunoichi's stiff jaw and puffy eyes.
Tenten gave a glare to Gai and Tseng before taking a step toward Tsunade at the head of the table. She lifted her jaw and stood before Tsunade with a slightly trembling lip. She held out her hand and let a headband drop to the table.
"What? What's this?" Tsunade blinked in confusion as she glanced from the headband to the ninja.
"That's Lee's headband," Tenten said with a vague tremble to her voice. She then reached up and untied her own. "And here's mine."
"What is the meaning of this?" Gai asked, standing to his feet.
"Lee is in bad shape; physically, he's fine, but psychologically, he's taken too much… we've done too much…" Tenten lowered her gaze as she placed her headband on top of Lee's. "He's in no shape to be a ninja. He doesn't even want to anymore… and neither of us want to have any association with… certain ninjas."
Gai walked around the table and reached for the girl, but he gasped when a hand came from nowhere to grip his wrist. "Touch her with any part of your deceiving body, and I will break you," Lee growled, grabbing Gai's attention.
"Lee…" Gai's eyes widened, seeing Lee's now clean shaven head, cut down to his skin, with a few cut places, even his eyebrows as clean-shaven as his head.
"Lee, it's ok," Tenten said, draping an arm around the broken ninja's shoulders, "It's ok…" She breathed, leaning into him to whisper something. Lee visibly relaxed and let Tenten lead him away from their former sensei.
"We're not becoming Missing-Nin," Tenten explained, still holding Lee protectively. "We're not leaving. We just can't work with Gai-sen-… Gai any longer." She glanced to her friend. "He'll be staying at my place for a while."
"I can understand," Tsunade nodded, touching the headbands. "Lee's had a hard few months. Take good care of him. And should you want these back, I'll have them ready for you." She smiled softly to the pair. "Is there anything else I can do?"
"Yes ma'am," Lee whispered glaring at Tseng and Gai. "Give us their heads on a pike."
"As much as I'd like to right now, you know I can't…" Tsunade said with a glare of her own to the two brothers.
Tsunade watched the two former Genin leave the room before turning back to the group. "Tseng, I have no authority over you, so I can't say anything to you," Tsunade then turned to Gai, "But you… my office, first thing in the morning." She turned to the rest of the group. "I apologize for the interruption, but I feel it's time we adjourn this meeting. Meet back here same time tomorrow?"
Everyone nodded and made their way from the office. "I'm headed to Tifa's to tell her what went down; you coming?" Barrett asked as Cloud mounted his bike.
"You can handle it," Cloud said indifferently as he kick-started the bike.
"Ya know, Spiky, since we've been here, you've been at her place as high as I can count on my remaining fingers, and have fingers left over," Barrett stated planting his fist on his hip. "Ya got a strange way of treatin' ya lady."
"Tifa's not my Lady," Cloud responded with a snort.
"Keep saying that kid," Barrett shook his head as Cloud drove off. "And sooner or later it's gonna bite you in the ass."
"Denzel?" Tifa called out as she walked the streets. "Maybe Naruto will find him," she said as she squeezed Marlene's hand as she trailed along beside her, worriedly looking around for her missing friend.
"Uh-huh…" she said, biting her lower lip looking down an alley.
"We're supposed to meet him and Yuffie here, so let's go in and have a seat. Ramen on me?" She smiled at the little girl.
"Rather have it in a bowl, Tifa…" Marlene said shyly.
"This seat taken?" Tifa asked as she sat down next to a dark-haired ninja in a green suit and vest.
He just shrugged and she nodded with a smile. "Up you go, princess," Tifa said as she helped the young girl onto the stool before sitting between Marlene and the ninja. "You're Gai, aren't you? Tsunade-sensei mentioned you." Tifa said before glancing up at Ayame. "One Atomic Special, and a child's bowl for the munchkin here."
"Atomic Special?" Gai and Ayame blinked in surprise.
"You realize it has seven different types of fire sauce, ten types of peppers, and seventeen spices on top of the regular ingredients?" Ayame asked in concern.
"You bet ya," Tifa said before winking at Gai, "I like it hot."
Ayame nodded and scribbled down the order before turning and going to work. "Impressive," Gai said before going back to his sulking.
"Tsunade said you were a bundle of energy," Tifa asked studying the Ninja. "What's wrong, battery running out?"
"Weren't you at the meeting?" Gai asked still staring at the table.
"I had to slide out early; one of my kids is missing and Marlene called to let me know," Tifa explained before glancing with concern. "What happened?"
"Have you found your child?" Gai asked.
"Not yet, Yuffie's looking, and so is her nephew, a Genin here, Naruto." Tifa explained, "We're supposed to meet here and go from there."
"I see, with Naruto looking, you have little to worry about," Gai said with a fond smile. "The Power of Youth runs strong in him."
"He is a little firecracker," Tifa chuckled, "Just like his aunt. With that kind of spirit, he'll make a great fighter for you guys." She then grew somber, "So, what apparently kicked you in the ass in the meeting?"
"Naruto already is one of our greatest defenders, even at his young age… but… as for what happened…" Gai sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "A stupid decision of my own came back to strike me in my very heart of hearts…"
"Can't be that bad…" Tifa smiled and reached over to place her hand over his.
"I fear it's a bit of a long story…" Gai sighed.
"We've gotta wait here for the others anyway," Tifa shrugged.
Gai told the story from the beginning and when he was finished he let his chin drop to his chest. "I was what Sakura often calls Naruto… a big Baka."
"Well, yeah, you were a stupid idiot," Tifa agreed, but squeezed his hand. "But you're not perfect. You made a mistake; now, you gotta move on past it."
"How can I do that? Lee hates me now… Tenten feels about the same…" Gai sniffled a little.
"Yeah, they do right now, but if your bond is as strong as I've heard it described from Tsunade-sama," Tifa noted, reaching out to lift his chin with her fingers and make him look at her. "It can be salvaged. I won't sugar coat it; it may not be what it was before. It might not be close, but it can be saved.
"You just have to be patient with him. If you try to rush in and apologize now, all he'll be hearing is you're sorry for being caught. Let him heal; from the sound of it, he's in good hands with this Tenten," Tifa nodded, running her hands down his jaw and neck to squeeze his shoulder. "It's hard, but you'll all be ok if you use your head."
"You're a very wise woman, Tifa," Gai said with a thankful smile.
"Meh, I've had to deal with guys with emotional issues since I was twenty," She smiled before turning back to the bar as Ayame returned with a tray of their food.
Gai smiled and noticed Marlene struggling with her chopsticks. "Not used to eating with sticks, my dear?" Gai asked standing up and moving around to her.
"No, I like spoons and forks better…" She said bashfully.
"Let me show you how to do this, then," Gai smiled as he placed his arms around the girl from behind, holding her small hands in his own. "You hold the chopsticks like this…" he said, and Tifa smiled, watching the man teach the girl like she'd always wanted.
"You're great with kids," Tifa commented once Gai had Marlene eating on her own.
"I've always loved children," Gai said, returning to his seat. "If it was not for the shape of the Ninja States, I would push for them not to allow the children to become active Genin till much later in life. The loss of childhood innocence disturbs me to no end…"
He then noticed she hadn't eaten yet. "Second thoughts on the spice? Lee is the only one I know who can survive such a bowl. And the Atomic Special slows even him."
Tifa smirked before reaching for the ground pepper and began adding to the spice. "I told you before," She said, discarding her chopsticks and lifting the bowl. Gai and Ayame gaped as Tifa turned up the bowl and chugged the ramen down. "Mmmm, ah! I like it hot." She purred, wiping her lips with the back of her hand.
"Kami-sama…" Gai breathed, staring as she fingered out a few remaining drops of soup and noodles.
"That's good stuff," Tifa smiled at Ayame, "I'll definitely be coming back."
A moment later, Ron Simmons stepped around the corner and stared pointedly at the scene. "DAMN!" He shouted before continuing on his way.
"Tifa-chan!" Naruto called out as he and Yuffie ran into the Ramen stand. "Gai-sensei?" he asked, noticing the Jonin staring at Tifa. "What'd we miss?"
"This woman… she is a goddess…" he said with a shake of the head.
"Well, duh, she's almost as hot and can almost kick as much ass as me; what did you expect?" Yuffie cocked an eyebrow before turning to Tifa and Marlene, "Any luck?"
"No…" Tifa said her eyes growing wide in worry. "I was praying you two would have found him…"
Yuffie shook her head sadly, and Naruto just scratched the back of his head. "Only thing I found was some weird flower girl in pink asking me to help Cloud with somethin'."
Tifa paled and her eyes widened. "What did she say exactly?" She said, standing up and rushing the young Genin, gripping his arms.
"I dunno, it didn't make much sense," Naruto shrugged, "She said I'd understand when the time comes."
"Aeris…" Tifa let go of Naruto, and ran her fingers through her hair.
"You know who she is?" Naruto asked, noticing Tifa and Yuffie's concerned glances.
"Aeris is… was a… good friend," Yuffie said sadly. "She died years ago… we all lost a part of ourselves with her, Cloud especially."
"She's dead… that… means…" Naruto gulped, "I don't wanna know what that means…" he shook his head rapidly.
"You don't have to be afraid of her," Yuffie laughed, ruffling her nephew's hair. "Just listen to what she told you; it obviously meant something big." Yuffie glanced up at Tifa. "So, where do we look next?"
"Have you searched the mountain side? Children have been known to play there often," Gai added, stepping up to stand at Tifa's side.
"You don't have to help," Tifa said, glancing to her new friend. "You have your own problems to be concerned about…EEK!" She gasped when Gai pulled her into a bone-crushing hug, trapping her arms at her side.
"NONSENSE!" Gai exclaimed, hugging Tifa and lifting her off the ground where her feet dangled as he held her tightly to his chest. "A CHILD IS IN DANGER! The Mighty Gai will assist you! It is the least I can do after you restored my faith in the POWER OF YOUTH!"
"Power of Youth? I like it," Yuffie nodded before pumping her fist in the air, "ALL CHALLENGERS WILL FALL TO THE POWER OF YOUTH!!!YELP!" She exclaimed before being pulled beside Tifa into his vice grip hug.
"INDEED, LITTLE SISTER!" Gai exclaimed before letting them go. He flashed them a smile that glistened in the sunlight. "Few agree with me; I am pleased to find other believers in the Power of Youth."
"No peck deal, big guy," Tifa said flushing slightly.
"Nice pecs at that, huh, Tifa?" Yuffie winked and nudged Tifa in the ribs, causing her to flush a little brighter.
"Huh? I don't get it…" Naruto blinked and cocked his head to the side.
"You will when you get older," Yuffie ruffled his hair again.
"DENZEL!!" Marlene cried out, grabbing everyone's attention. They all looked to see the little boy stumbling down the street, blood coming from his nose and mouth. Naruto was to him in less that a second and caught him as he stumbled, falling limp into the Genin's arms.
"Hey! Hey, kid, are you ok?" Naruto asked, turning him to cradle his upper body in his arms.
"Denzel, what happened?" Tifa asked as she, Yuffie, and Gai gathered close.
"Don't… remember… blurry…" He coughed, "tall… dark, haired man… looked like a snake… and… a boy… dark hair… weird eyes… hurt…"
"I'll get him to the hospital," Gai said, taking boy from the shocked Genin's arms before vanishing in a small gust of leaves.
"Do you know who did this?" Tifa questioned the wide-eyed teen.
"Orochimaru… and… and… Sasuke…" Naruto said, closing his fists tightly.
"Orochimaru and Sasuke, huh?" Tifa scowled, "If they weren't looking for a fight, they've got one now."
To Be Continued…
My apologizes for the long wait on this one, but I promise more on the way. Also, I apologize for the silly cameo I threw in. Twas somethin' I couldn't resist ^_^ Don't forget to leave some feedback!