Flip, Flop and Fly
Disclaimer: I own nothing but the obvious, the rest belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.
Author's Note: Sorry it took me so long. The only thing I can say is that RL took over in the form of a puppy?
Correct version up as soon as I find a beta-reader.
"I hadn't meant to get into this family shtick when you kidnapped me – and let's not even try denying it, Fugaku, you kidnapped me – but here I am, and I'm involved. So just shut up and listen to what I have to say for once, alright? A few moments of your time and then I'll be gone, alright? Nod if you agree. Good boy."
Itachi tightened the last of the bandages on the ridiculous shinobi uniform that he was forced to wear. He checked the hip-pouch and checked the three storage scrolls in his vest. The thigh-pouch was properly full as well. He sat down and pulled on the blue sandals, stomping his feet a few times to make sure that they were properly on. There would be no time to stop and fix things while on the road. He was already late because of Fugaku; he couldn't afford useless stops along the road.
Leaving the house Itachi didn't look back. He walked through the Uchiha Compound as if there was nothing wrong, and he pretended not to notice the looks he got. Some of them were friendly; a few wishing him luck on this new mission. Some were a bit confused and frowning, and several were even approving. But behind those looks, behind all that, there were a few looks, hidden looks that were anything but friendly.
He had known that there were people who didn't appreciate him being here, but these were even beyond that. These were the looks of people who truly hated that he was there and who wanted him gone.
Stepping over the threshold and leaving the Uchiha Compound, Itachi sighed and rubbed his neck.
He really hated village politics and politics in general. So bloody annoying.
"I saw it when I first came here, the deplorable way you treat your wife and your own flesh and blood. Oh no, not me. But Sasuke. Your youngest son. You prefer a distant cousin to your own son, and – shut it and listen! – and it's destroying Sasuke piece by piece. I'm not saying that you should neglect Shisui or anything, treat him like your son as much as you want! It's a good deed! But don't forget that you have another child that needs a father."
He did take a really quick detour on his way to the Western Gates, and dropped by the hospital.
It was the same nurse as a day ago that greeted him at the station, and she was smiling at him. "Uchiha-san! Are you here to visit your brother? I'm afraid that he's in therapy again, but they should be done really soon if you want to wait for a bit."
"Ah, no, not this time around. I don't have the time. I just wondered if you could do a tiny little favour for me?" Itachi smiled at the nurse.
"Anything!" she looked up at him through her eyelashes.
Itachi gave her a brief smile. "I asked yesterday about getting in contact with Yamanaka Inoichi. I am off on a mission and I'm not certain how long it'll take, so hold off on that contacting-business for me?"
She nodded eagerly. "Of course. I already let him know that you were looking for him yesterday after you left, but I'll forwards your message that you're off on a mission. If he doesn't already know, that is. Yamanaka-san knows everything that's going on around here, it's almost scary. Just yesterday he knew that my second cousin went and had a date with one of the desk-working chuunin and that they enjoyed entrecote and vegetables at that fancy new restaurant that I've always wanted to visit. Have you been there?"
"I'm afraid not." Itachi's smile went a bit wooden. "Thank you for your help, but I've got to leave right now. Thank you for your help."
"No trouble! Be careful out there!" she waved as he left.
Out in the village again Itachi took to the rooftops and shuddered. He was being hit on by a civilian nurse at least seven years older than him, while his little brother was in the hospital and hurt mentally and physically. There was something wrong with that and not just because he was the unwilling recipient of the attention. It gave him the shivers. Apparently living-slash-working with shinobi or amongst shinobi or in a world where shinobi with all their powers existed, actually went and affected the civilian population as well.
He would have to remember that for the future.
"I'm not saying this out of a desire to take over the Uchiha Clan in the future. Don't look at me like that, it's true. The entire Clan could drop dead right now and I wouldn't care much about it apart from finding out if Mikoto and Sasuke were still alive – a-ah, bad Fugaku, bad! Remember, Uchiha going kablooey soon! – Shisui can have the entire Clan and all the stupidity that comes with it, apart from a certain couple of members I wouldn't want to touch this family with a ten-foot pole."
Just like at the South Gate, the West Gate was guarded and there were two chuunin sitting to the side, noting down who came and who left. There was a long line this time around with a caravan leaving, and Itachi barely kept himself from sighing (again) as he stepped into the line at the very back. This entire thing of leaving quickly wasn't really working out for him.
Blowing his bangs out of his eyes he looked up and raised and made a game out of spotting shinobi coming and leaving. Two jounin came, three jounin left, and he swore that there had been several streaks and blurs that couldn't be anything but ANBU. That meant that there had to be another registration desk up there as well, and that either it was used for emergencies or that only jounin and ANBU were allowed to use it because of the nature of their missions. Or it could be both of those.
"Name and ID number?"
Itachi blinked and looked down when the chuunin on guard spoke up – apparently he had been thinking for a lot longer than he had expected or the caravan had finished sooner than he had assumed. "Uchiha Itachi. 012110. Off to Chisanamachi."
"Right. Registered. Next!"
"Ta." Itachi muttered.
He stepped to the side right outside the village gates to keep out of the traffic going in and out, and pulled out a map of the Land of Fire. Chisanamachi was off to the north-west from his position, and he noted the landmarks and villages on the map that he would have to pass. If he pushed it a bit and kept above chuunin travel speed, then he could be there in about three days, two-and-a-half days if really pushed it without exhausting himself.
Putting the map away Itachi ran across the open landscape right outside the gates and jumped up into the first tree that he reached.
Shinobi needed to get themselves private jets like the FBI had. It would be far quicker to get where he needed to go.
Then again, with the work that the Uchiha Police Force pointedly weren't doing any evidence would be long gone and witnesses would have had time to forget or fabricate new memories in their subconscious.
"And stupidity is all that it is. Family pride is nice and well, but it won't feed you or clothe you or save you if something happens. As it is the Uchiha Clan is well on its way to alienate all of Konoha and most of the shinobi world beyond. What happens if you are cast out? What happens if you are hunted down? What happens if Mikoto freezes to death because the elders didn't want to get rid of some stupid pride and humble themselves? What happens if Sasuke is killed while out on a mission – as could have easily happened just recently – and not because of some 'glorious' mission or assassination from enemy ninja for his Sharingan, but because some Uchiha sometime in the past insulted a farmer in a random village and now that farmer has come for revenge?"
Running through the nights and taking as few breaks as he could get away with, Itachi managed to reach Chisanamachi in the middle of the night right after the third day. It hadn't rained this time around, the journey had been long enough without rain making it worse. The air was getting colder day by day. Not by much, but enough to be noticeable. Autumn was coming and he was getting further north than he had ever been before. He had been forced to pull out his cloak and a pair of gloves – granted, shinobi, fingerless battle gloves with a metal plate on the back, but anything helped – on by the time he reached the village.
Standing on a branch in a tree and overlooking the small settlement, Itachi blew on his cold fingers. He was tired, cold and hungry, and right now he couldn't even bother with wondering about what he was getting himself into with this Maito Gai character. The lights from houses, rice paddies all around the village in neat rows, a few streetlamps at important intersections. One big house that was the inn and an even bigger one set a bit apart from the rest showed where the mayor or chief or whatever the politically correct denominator was, lived.
"Well then, let's get to it." He muttered and made ready to jump off and towards the village.
A bell suddenly tolled out into the silence, sending up a flock of birds from the trees around him and nearly sending Itachi to the ground as he jumped and for a heart-stopping minute lost control over his chakra. Looking to his left Itachi narrowed his eyes. In the darkness he thought that he could barely see a church spire over the tall trees.
He cocked his head and frowned.
What the hell was a church, one of the most recognisable religious icons that he knew about, doing in a world that was to all intents and purposes closed completely off from the world Itachi had grown up in?
"Shush up. You know that all I'm saying is true. That's currently the path that you're on, that the Uchiha Clan is on, Fugaku."
Itachi jumped through the trees until he reached the village border. Unlike Shirohanadani this village actually had a border; a feeble thing made out of tall wooden poles, and for a moment wondered if he should announce himself at the gates. But one quick look proved them to be firmly shut, and Itachi quickly clambered up to the top and down into the shadows on the other side.
Now what was he supposed to do? A stranger in a village of this size would be quickly noticed, a shinobi probably even more so considering how close to the border that he was. How was he to find Hyuuga Neji and his team?
He stood indecisive for a second or two before giving in with a sigh and bringing his hands together in the signs of the dog, the boar and the ram.
A moment later an indescribable, thoroughly normal civilian traveller stepped out onto the main street of the village, pulling a straw hat down over his head. He passed the houses and was hardly looked at by the rare villager still out and about, and he reached the village inn without further problems.
Now how to make contact with the genin team? How to find them?
"I'm not expecting you to jump up and declare your love for everyone and everything, or go out dressed in pink and start handing out cookies and cakes for the homeless. Heaven knows if that happened I would suspect you to be under a genjutsu. I expect you to think about it, to really examine your priorities. I heard you and Mikoto last night, and she's right. If you don't do something you will lose her and your family and a clan is not the same as a family. I'd like to think that you're smarter than that, that there is some hope left for you. Just think about it, alright?"
Entering the inn, Itachi didn't have to force himself much to act like a normal traveller. He looked around at the small inn. It was halfway empty as it was, and the entire mood was rather subdued. Everyone was hunched over their tables and there was no loud talking or, god forbid, laughter. Itachi wondered if something had happened, if there had been another murder, but he pushed the thought away and focused on the task of finding Neji's team. It could be difficult if they had decided to go incognito. They were professional ninja after all, they knew a lot more about hiding in plain sight than Itachi, and what with all those genjutsu and ninjutsu and whatnots, Itachi would probably have a hell of a time finding them.
Or they could simply be sitting off in a corner, in their regular ninja-adapted clothes and with their hitai-ate in full view, and about as subtle as a dinosaur in a china shop.
Because that was what they were currently doing.
Itachi stared. He couldn't help it.
Neji looked normal – although more glum than usual. Tenten looked awkward but used to it. Lee was subdued but there was a feeling of vibrating energy just waiting to be released, and his eyebrows seemed event thicker than before in the weak lighting of the inn. But that was normal. That was expected.
What wasn't expected was the big version of Lee sitting opposite him, green spandex suit, orange leg warmers, flak-jacket, bowl cut, and the biggest, most humongous eyebrows that Itachi had ever seen.
If Lee was a specimen of Eyebrowus Hugeicus, then their teacher Maito Gai was a specimen of Eyebrowus Megabigus.
Wow. Just wow. Itachi had no other words for the man.
And he hadn't even met him face to face yet.
Maito Gai was as crazy as his appearance. Loud in every sense of the word, he was talking about the 'power of youth' and 'youthful flames' and 'my youthful students'. Well, he was practically roaring it so that everyone could hear. Neji and Tenten were sitting low in their seats while Lee was practically sparkling as he hung on to every single word with an almost fanatical devotion. Maito Gai drew attention like no other, and if Itachi didn't know better he would have worried for the future of these genin and the mission and just about everything else, too, while he was at it.
But he did know better. Maito Gai was the first person to know who Itachi was despite the henge. The man had known it from the second Itachi had stepped through the door. Itachi had seen it.
And the way Maito Gai grabbed him and demanded that he sit down at their table and share a drink on this joyous occasion of his 'youthfully beautiful Tenten's' – cue a grimace and sigh from said girl – fourteenth birthday. It wasn't until they had retreated to their rooms and Itachi found his simple room invaded by three genin and their jounin sensei that Maito Gai's loud manner calmed and became more serious.
Itachi dropped his henge as well. He stared between Gai and Lee and shuddered. "I'm suddenly surrounded by Vulcans."
The genin shared confused looks, and even Gai looked like he had no idea what Itachi was talking about. "What?"
"Never mind." He dropped down on one of the sitting-pillows on the floor and waved a hand. "Pull up a pillow and deposit your posterior on it. Let's get this party started."
"Party?" Tenten blinked.
"That's a hip and cool idea, Itachi-san! No one would know exactly why we are meeting if we pretend to have a party!" Lee grinned and struck a pose.
"We're ninja. It's obvious." Neji grumbled.
Gai put a hand on Lee's shoulder. "Your flames of youth are burning bright, Lee, but this time Neji's right."
Itachi sighed. "Never mind. Just an expression. Just tell me what you've found out so far and why there's a convent here in the middle of a land that's cut off from the Outside world?"
Gai took the pillow directly opposite Itachi, his face strangely serious. "My youthful student has told me all he knows about your ways of doing things so we have tried to follow your way of investigating. Tenten?"
"Right!" Tenten quickly pulled out a small notepad from her hip-pouch and opened it. "I wrote everything down in a summary since Neji said that you need as many details as possible. Um, here, let's see. There have been five attacks and five dead-"
"Wait, what? Five dead? The reports said that it was four dead and one alive." Itachi frowned.
"They were wrong." Maito Gai replied. "At the time that the report was made the last victim was still alive, but we found out that they died off their wounds a day or two later. That was two days ago."
"This isn't a cold case?"
"No, the latest victim spent the last month in a coma." Tenten checked the notepad again. "She was attacked almost four weeks ago and the villagers did what they could, but she was in a vegetative state since then and the family finally decided to let her go. They say that they asked a passing Konoha ninja to bring this case to Konoha and come back with help, a mere C-rank as far as the village could muster when it came to money so it wasn't very high on anyone's list unfortunately."
Itachi frowned and pressed his lips together. Why hadn't the Hokage told him this already? The man hadn't even given him the mission scroll like last time. Sure, Itachi couldn't read it, but it was the principle of the thing. Was this something that the stupid Uchiha and the stupid Village Council and the stupid politics had caused or ordered? Seriously?! He was going to have a serious talk with everyone in Konoha if this idiocy was going to continue. And the village chief because who the hell trusted a random passing ninja with this sort of information?!
"What are you thinking, Itachi-san?" Lee was staring at him. "Did you figure it out already?"
"No. I'm just contemplating stupidity and just how infective it is." He sighed and shook his head. "Alright. A live case. Tell me all you've found out about the victims."
This time it was Neji who spoke up, but he didn't pull out a notepad like Tenten had. Instead he focused fully on Itachi. "We haven't managed to talk to the family of the first two victims, but we know their names at least. The very first victim was Yokoyama Hanako. She was sixty. Then comes Yoshioka Haruki, fifty-eight. Yasui Hisako at sixty-two and Yasutake Hitomi at fifty-five. The last victim, the one who died, was Yamaguchi Hiroko. She was fifty-nine."
"Apart from the similarity of their names, they were all beaten and stabbed to death." Rock Lee added.
"Where?" Itachi looked at him.
The green-clad teen blinked. "Where what?"
"Where were they stabbed?"
Maito Gai was grim as he replied. "They were dragged into the bedroom and stabbed with a kitchen knife that the victims themselves owned. They were stabbed in the face, in the chest and in their genitals. Thirty times each, all centred around the lower half of their bodies."
Tenten and Lee looked both grim and a bit queasy at those news. Neji was grimmer, his lips pressed together so firmly that they nearly disappeared completely. He was obviously thinking back to the corpses of the dead children, to his first case with Itachi when Team Seven had gone M.I.A.
Itachi simply raised an eyebrow. "That is telling. Did the medical examiner do a rape-kit on them? Any post mortem examinations?"
Gai shook his head. "Negative to both. This is a small village, their only doctor is also their village leader and, quite frankly, he is barely above being a simple herbalist. I don't think that he would ever know how to perform a post mortem. And, well, then there's the church."
"Yes, I noticed that. It's odd finding something like that in the middle of the countryside."
"It's a religion from the Outside," Gai looked at his three genin, this speech was for them. "Their religion is complex but mostly peaceful. Here at the church the devoted female practitioners live and work by strict rules. They are like mikos, so let the Fires of Youth burn brightly but be respectful!"
"Yes, Gai-sensei!" Lee practically sparkled in a muted fashion. Itachi wasn't certain how that was possible, but Lee managed it.
It had to be some sort of genjutsu.
Pushing such things away Itachi focused back on the case. "Right. First things first, then. Tomorrow we'll have to visit the head of the village and announce ourselves. Then I want a look at the latest victim and finally a look at the crime-scene at her house."
"That last one might be impossible." Neji said.
Itachi blinked. "Why?"
"Yamaguchi Hiroko lived with her son and his family. They were gone the day of the attack, there was a gathering at the church – apparently there is one every week – and came home to find it trashed and Yamaguchi Hiroko dead. That was a month ago. They have continued living in the house and probably washed everything away or painted over it."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Itachi groaned and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He took a few moments of silent cursing to himself about people who really needed proper procedure shoved down their throats before he could finally calm down enough to act like a relatively normal human being again. "Right. Okay. We can work with this. I would still like to see the house and walk through it if the family will allow, and talk to the family too, of course. After that we'll have to do some serious digging about the previous four victims. I don't suppose that you have computer registers of any kind? No? Well, that doesn't surprise me either. Everything will have to be done old-school, and not just old-school, we're talking about ancient old-school here. So old that we could be back in the Stone Age. Have I told you people recently just how frustrated this makes me?"
The three genin and Gai simply stared at him in silence.
Itachi raised his eyebrows, gesturing with his hands and waiting for a reply.
They simply blinked and stared some more.
Itachi slumped. "Never mind."
The bell tolled.
He jerked awake and for a second couldn't remember where he was or why the bells were tolling, something just didn't compute in his mind about it. But then the memories from last night trickled in and he remembered the church and the case and Team Gai off in another room just down the hallway.
The bell kept on tolling.
Yawning and stretching, Itachi soon rolled out of his futon and got dressed before folding and pushing the futon to the side. He rolled his shoulders and grabbed for the flak-vest and one of the storage scrolls in one of the pockets. He had packed a toiletry bag this time around and there was a toilet just down the corridor with his name on it – figuratively speaking considering that same toilet was shared between everyone who took a room at this inn.
The bell wasn't stopping.
He frowned and stopped by the sliding screen that covered the window. It was easy to open and Itachi frowned as he looked at the church tower over the roofs of the houses and the treetops. That… didn't sound like a normal call for prayer.
Thumping out in the corridor made him turn and a second later Tenten slid open the door to her room. Unlike last night this time she hadn't even stopped to remove her sandals inside the house. "Itachi-san!"
"What happened?" Itachi dropped the bag of toiletries and headed towards her.
"There's been another murder! The mikos- the nuns found her this morning when gathering for their early prayer!" Tenten jogged next to him downstairs and to the large entrance and the shelf of shoes. Itachi grabbed the sandals that stood in the cubby with his room number just underneath it, and sat down to pull them on.
"The nuns found her?" he said as he worked.
"Yes. She was one of theirs. It's their leader, uhm, their mother superior I think Gai-sensei said?" Tenten started running the second his shoes were on, and Itachi had to use chakra to catch up with her. "Gai-sensei, Lee and Neji are there right now. As is the village leader."
They jumped up onto the roofs of houses and over the heads of the village folk that were starting to peek out of windows and come out into the streets. They vaulted over the wooden fence and onto the closest branches of the trees. Tenten took the lead and Itachi followed her as best he could. The distance was short and soon the small church came into view, a small cloister to the right and walled gardens and orchards, and a graveyard surrounding everything.
"What's the name of the mother superior?" Itachi asked as they jumped from the trees and raced across the open ground to the church. Lee was standing at the entrance, painfully easy to spot in his bright green suit and orange legwarmers.
"Sister Mary Clarence."
Itachi stumbled over a rock and nearly face-planted. "Wait, what?!"
There, done. Please tell me what you think!
To pff: to each their own. I really would like to know why you think that though.
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