"The Seventh Level"
By Nes Mikel
I herby acknowledge that the work of fiction presented here is written for the sake of my own personal amusement and entertainment purposes alone. I hereby also acknowledge that this story is a crossover between Miyabe Miyuki's "Level Seven" and Kishimoto Masashi's "Naruto", and thus, I acknowledge that the original story concept and ideas, while heavily altered for the sake of the crossover, are copyright Level Seven, Miyabe Miyuki and Shinchousha Publishing, while the characters are copyright Naruto, Kishimoto Masashi, Weekly Shounen Jump and any others I may have forgot.
Note that although this story is a crossover, it is not necessary to have knowledge of Miyabe Miyuki's "Level Seven". This story is designed in a way that's readable as a stand-alone story.
Although I have tried to make most characters in this story in-character, some will, naturally, be slightly out-of-character.
With that said, enjoy.
"The Seventh Level"
"What repeats, is an illusion."
- Robert J. Hall, "Trinity Five"
- Day One: Part I -
He was constantly drifting in and out of the depths of sleep, and like a kaleidoscope, his dream was changing constantly too.
And at the deepest depths of his sleep, he felt his entire consciousness present in the dream. It felt as if he were staring at the dream from a distance, like a person of the third-party stealing glimpses of someone else's dream. Yet, somehow, he was dimly aware that this dream was a part of him, and this out-of-body experience he was feeling was simply just a part of it too.
In the dream, he was treated of an overhead view of a child and a man, the two of them holding hands. Although he was a mere observer in this dream, he too could feel the salty sea winds brushing past his body without form. He glanced to his left and confirmed the view. The dream was taking place on a beach, on the shores of a vast, blue sea, stretching out and beyond the horizon.
"So this is the ocean?"
The child speaks to the older man, and the man acknowledges the child's question with a nod. The hand holding the child's hand was large, and he detected a faint scent of summer grass. A sense of comfort washed over him. He knew this man.
"Yes, this is what they call the ocean." The man answers. "The Pacific Ocean."
"It's a little scary."
Some more words follow the child's reply, but he cannot grasp most of them, as if some parts of the sentence were deliberately missing. He stretches out and tries to grasp hold, but like bubbles they disappear. He only barley manages to pick up some fragments of the child's words, like how the child asks why the ocean is so still, why it's so dark, and if those scary monsters that live in the ocean the TV's say are actually real.
Clearness comes back for a moment and he hears the older man's answer. He is laughing. "No, of course not. Don't believe everything they say on TV…"
The images snaps back and dims, and the queasy feeling returns and he is again treated with mere fragments of the conversation. This time he picks up the child's pout, the whining, the child's reply saying: "Of course I know not to trust everything they say on the TV, father…"
Yes, that's how he knew of this man. That child was he, and the man next to that child was his father. He was dreaming of his…
The dream shifts again, and then disappears. The chaos of consciousness dimly returns, only to return right back into the darkness of sleep. A moment passes in this heavy emptiness, and he drifts back into another location in his mind as if he's right beneath the waves of shallow sleep. Such shallow sleep; it felt like a thin veil resting on his face.
The view comes into sudden focus, and he is again treated an overhead third-person view of the scene. Many parts of the dream are filled with a blank darkness that told him that there were holes in his dream, memories that eluded him. All he sees is a man, and this time he is aware from the start that this man is he, and he is standing in front of a door. It is a heavy door, wooden, a large knob, and grasping it he feels the coolness of metal, even when he was not he in this dream. The knob twists and turns, the lock unlocked, and the door opens.
He hears a giggle, then, "They sure will be surprised."
Drastically, the point of view shifts so the person twisting the knob is he, and for the first time he becomes aware that there is a person right next to him. However, he cannot see the person's face, for the dream suddenly pauses and pauses. Like a broken cassette recorder, the dream simply plays and then stops, plays and stops. The only thing remaining in his dream were voices and sounds.
"Shhh, quiet…" That was he, he knew. "Don't try to make a sound."
"Do you think they'll be angry?"
"Maybe. But it doesn't matter. After all, today is…"
Darkness meets light. He becomes aware that his dream is coming to a close.
"Today is Christmas Eve."
He hears a scream. The sound of light footsteps, then a dull sound that sounded like someone had fallen down onto the floor, finally ending with another scream. The scream sound is seemingly endless, until the voice shakes and cackles until the voice slowly dies and is stuck at the terrified person's throat. Then finally there is a sound, like something falling, and then…
He wakes up.
The first thing he realizes is his head was resting on top of a pillow.
He is lying sideways on his left, and he was staring into a blank, white wall. His arms lay limp at his side, his knees were bent slightly, and while a blanket covered the majority of his body, his shoulders were exposed. Slowly, from his left ear squished against the pillow, he becomes aware of a sound, the steady, rhythmic beating of his heart…
Badump, badump, badump.
He feels cold.
He tries closing his eyes, and he immediately regrets it when a sharp pain resonates from his forehead, eventually traveling all the way to the back of his head as if they've been eviscerated. He then feels the lingering after-effects of the dream, like a retreating tide, and the images for a brief becomes clear, but again it fades away. He is now only aware of the fact that he had dreamed that dream, but for what purpose, the clues were now forever lost to him.
Thankfully, the pain in his head goes away shortly after, and he blinks a few times to ease out the trickles before fully opening his eyes. He sees the white wall again, and he discovers soon that the whiteness stretches even to the ceiling. Pure white, not even a spot of dirt. He narrows his eyes, and he realizes that the surfaces of the walls and ceilings were not smooth, instead looked slightly rough. It's as if…
As if… as if what?
His head sinks back into the pillow, and he thinks. Exactly what did he think their texture looked like? Forfeiting his arm from the warm comfort of the blanket, he stretches and touches the wall with his bare hand and tries to feel it texture. It feels… smooth, but not quite, there was this… what was it? This was getting stupid. Why couldn't he remember? And why did it feel like remembering the name of this texture was so important?
As if what? Why couldn't he remember?
Like an invisible door opening, like an invisible someone whispering to him the answers the word comes to his mind. That was it. Jeans. The wall felt like rough cloth, and if the walls were like this then most likely the ceiling was too.
He breathes out a sigh of relief, thereby releasing the nervousness he wasn't aware he had within him. To think he has to remember what the name of the texture of the wall was every time he had to wake up, this was going to be a hassle. He pushes the blanket away from his body, and as he did so he finally comes to realize that he was sleeping on top of a bed, and at the same time he discovers something that effectively frozen him on the spot.
Someone else had been sleeping next to him all along.
Because he pushed the blanket away from him she too had the blanket pushed away from her, leaving the upper half of her body exposed. The only thing left that covered her skin was a clean but thin white shirt and white pajama pants. It was eerily similar to the clothing he himself wore. Yes, it was a she. She had long hair, her body frail looking, and her back… it looks so small…
He almost jumps back in surprise when he hears her mumble, but calms down when she still showed no sign of waking up. Her eyes remained closed, and her hands were unconsciously searching for the blanket that was no longer on top of her. Hastily, he grabs the rim of the blanket and pulls it over her shoulder. She then stops stirring, and with a satisfied look on her face, she sinks back into her own pillow so much that she was now hidden from plain sight.
Until he hears her steady sounds of her calm breathing to assure himself that she wasn't going to wake up anytime soon, he had not dared moved a muscle. Unconsciously, he somehow knew that there was going to trouble if she woke up. At least, until he could properly assess the situation he was in…
Who is she? He wonders. He couldn't even remember her name.
Or better yet, what happened?
It was probably because of something that happened last night, he told himself. Most likely, nine out of ten, he had slept with her last night. That had to be it. And it wasn't just simple 'sleeping together', but that kind of 'sleeping together'. As if he would spend a night alone with a girl playing cards on top of the bed until both of them fell asleep…
His thought process immediately grinds to a halt.
What the hell did he mean by playing cards?
This time, however, he thankfully didn't have to think about it for very long. The images came to his mind almost immediately. Colorful cards of black and red, the shuffling movements, the games of Bridge, Poker, Blackjack. Then there was Freecell and Solitaire… that reminds, he hasn't played cards in a while.
Calm down. I'm just a little confused, that's all. Must be because I slept in too much.
He brings his hand to the front of his mouth so he could smell the scent of his breath, as he was sure he would be able smell alcohol. He probably went out drinking with a couple of his friends, became drunk, met a girl at some bar, got friendly with her, one things leads after another, and then… that's probably it. He probably didn't even ask what her name was. That would explain why he couldn't remember the girl's name. He breathes out, and breathes out again. He couldn't smell alcohol at all. Only the faintest smell of medicine.
So I wasn't drunk. What else could I have possibly d–
Another wave of pain hits him, this time mostly concentrated inside his head. It only lasted but for an instant, but it was enough for his face to twist into an expression of immense pain, so much so that he had to clutch his forehead with both of his hands lest he faint. When it passes, he removes his hands and tries moving his head again. The pain is no more. He moves his chin up and down to make sure. No change.
Along with the feeling of relief, it occurs to him that spending the rest of this already confusing day sitting on the edge of this bed was probably not a good idea. He probably should get up and at least wash his face.
He had been sitting on top of rather wide bed. A double bed, he realizes, the words coming into his mind more smoothly now, with round, black poles in the four corners. Shifting his center of gravity so he would be able to stand up from the bed, a creaking sound echoes and he immediately stops moving. Worried that he might've woken her he steals a glance behind him, but he find that she didn't even stir a muscle. The head remains hidden inside the mess of blankets and pillows.
When he finally stands, he notices that the bed he'd been sitting on wasn't comfortable at all. A little curious he glances down the bed and finds that the bed was on… on what? Those round things, they were called… wheels. That's right. The bed was on wheels. The wheels were there for easy movement, and wheel locks when one wanted the bed to remain in place. A handy bed, really useful when one wanted to vacuum underneath…
Weird… why are these images popping into my head?
The bed was located in the middle of the room with the head of the bed right against the wall. He had been lying on the left side of the bed while on the right there lay the sleeping form of a girl who had no name. White walls, white ceilings. The floor was wooden, but it was clear that it had garnish, as it was nowhere near it's natural color. What kind of garnish was it…? What kind of…?
He quelled the thought in his mind an instead focused his attention to his immediate surroundings. In front of him there was a door, but was a door made out of glass. It wasn't clear glass, however, and was more opaque, as he could not see the view beyond the door with clarity. It wasn't certainly the door that led outside however, as he could see faint traces of more rooms beyond the door. He thinks he's seen those kinds of door before. Yes, they're like the glass doors some restaurants entrances have…
A scene immediately flashes in the back of his mind, fragments of images coming one right after another structuring itself together – an image of a big table hitting a glass door very similar to this one, the glass shattering into pieces…
"…this glass isn't very strong is it…?"
He shakes his head to clear the image. However, he couldn't shake that flash of memory out of his mind, and he finds himself unable to look away from the glass door in front of him.
When he is finally able tear his eyes away from the door, he notices that there is a window to his right. A small window, located about halfway up the wall and about a quarter distance away from the ceiling, tall enough to rest one's elbows on it when open and large enough to pass a small child through without the child having to crouch down. Located right in front of the window was a small circular side table, and on top of the table there is a small vase.
Correction. There was a small vase. Now, the vase had fallen onto the floor and shattered into two larges pieces as well as a countless number of smaller ones flashing light. The reason why those smaller pieces were flashing soon became clear enough when he realized that water had been spilled along with it. And the window too, was open, admitting sunlight into the room, the water glimmering as it reflected its light. Along with the vase and water, there were flowers too scattered across the total. One, two… five of them, total. Red flowers. He didn't know of their names.
This must've been the reason why I woke up. He concluded. I woke up from the sound of this crashing onto the floor.
But why did it fall down? Walking slowly, he approaches the window, the pajamas he wore – they were called pajamas, right? – making a small swishing noise as the rigid cloth rubbed against each other. They must've been new, or been sent to the dry cleaners just recently.
Careful not to step on the vase fragments, bare feet and all, he reaches the window. A small breeze then passes by, swaying the window's curtains in a wide arc. It is then when he realizes that the window had been opened. Armed with this new knowledge, it was easy to draw conclusions. It must've been the curtains that knocked the vase down as it swayed from the wind. Grabbing the curtain's edge, he pulls it to the side.
He is momentarily blinded by the brightness of sunlight. Narrowing his eyes and shielding the light with his left hand, he lets them adjust and notices that the window had been opened by about ten centimeters or so. Ten centimeters. Those words came easily too. Ten of ten centimeters equaled a meter. A thousand meters, a kilometer. He knew this. Good, things were starting to come back to him now. He guessed it would only be a matter of time before he comes to his full senses.
But still, where was this place? Was it perhaps the sleeping girl's room? It seemed the most logical of explanations, but for a girl's room, it looked quite bland.
He pulls open the window and sticks his head through the opening. From the moment he stepped down from his bed he had this feeling that this room was located somewhere high above the ground, and when he stuck his head through the window he confirmed his suspicions. He sees a scene condensed, nothing but a stack of roofs piled on top of another. Periodically the endless patterns of roof break apart in favor of apartment buildings, skyscrapers, and the occasional tall chimneys. To his far right he could see an open courtyard and a square building. A school.
He feels heat on his skin, and looks up. Not a cloud in the sky. It must be quite hot outside. Of course it was. After all, today was… today was…
What day was it today?
He couldn't remember.
For the first time, panic begins to set in his mind.
You've got to be kidding me. I can't even remember today's date. What the hell's wrong with me?
A calendar. He thinks. Wonder if I can find a calendar.
Turning around so he could begin his quest, he then notices a cool breeze coming somewhere down below. He crouches, and for the first time he sees the air-conditioning system embedded in the opposite wall of the bed, close to the floor. Above that air-conditioner there is another window, this one not open but still having the same curtains.
He shivers. The room was cold.
He approaches the air-conditioner and waves a passing hand in front of the exhaust. Cool air brushes past his fingertips. It was cold, almost downright freezing. Opening the operator panel of the air-conditioner he pushes a button and switches the system off, and standing straight he then open the window above. Might as well let some fresh air in.
Opening the curtains and letting the shower of light trickle past him, he discovers the view out of this window wasn't all that different from the other one. Making sure he had a firm grasp on the window's rim, he leans forward a bit and looks down. He sees that this building too was white in color. Covered in tiles, it looked brand new. It didn't even look like it had been rained on. On the ground floor he sees a two-lane road, with a brown van parked in the side. He sees a few futon mattress hung right out of the windows one floor beneath. Probably was just washed, his nose picked up a faint fragrance of soap.
His gaze shifts and eventually drifts back into the room. Opposite of the bed is a small closet, also built into the wall. Next to the other window he sees a TV, this one on top of another small side table, albeit this one had wheels on the bottom very much like the bed he had been sleeping in.
He moves away from the window, and careful not to step on the vase fragments he heads towards the door. He steals a quick glance behind. The girl was still sleeping. Opening the door, he finds himself inside room that served as both dining room and kitchen. In front of him was the kitchen and stove, and to the left there was a metal door that most likely served as the entrance to this apartment. Inside the room there was also a small, round table, again white in color. Two chairs. Dish rack. Cupboards. Refrigerator. Microwave. Pots and pans.
He again wonders whose apartment this is. He is fairly certain that this wasn't his apartment, however, as he doesn't even remember living here. Everything, from this kitchen to the bedroom, from the girl to the small towel hanging from the edge of the sink, he cannot recall ever seeing them. He must've spent the night over at someone else's place, someone who he never even knew.
So why couldn't he remember even that? Just what exactly is going on?
Clearing his throat, he tries calling out. "Hello?" He asks, feeling stupid already. "Is anyone there?"
It made sense, of course. After all, he had, apparently, spent a night with a girl in a bed. Who else could possibly be here? Her father? He chuckled at the thought.
He notices the edges of a newspaper peeking out from under the door. He pulls it out and spreads it wide open, letting the junk mail fall down onto the floor. Asahi Times, Sunday, August 12th, 2006.
He relaxes for the moment. Of course, he tells himself, what am I thinking? It's the middle of August. And if newspapers were delivered to this room then that meant that someone was indeed living here, right? He thinks for a moment, and decides to open the door. Might as well look at the signs in front of the door. The door was locked. Figures. Twisting the lock open, he unlocks the door and opens it slightly. Slowly, he thrusts his head out from the opening and takes a quick look around. The plate for the room's door number was located to his right. Room 706. So he was on the seventh floor. Underneath the number was a name. It read "Hatake Kakashi". He withdrew his neck, closed the door, and locked it again.
Hatake Kakashi, huh… do I know a Hatake Kakashi?
And he realizes. Not only did he not know of a person named Hatake Kakashi, he couldn't remember anyone else's name, period.
…You've got to be shitting me.
His feet frozen on the spot, he clutches his head with both of his hands and shakes it a little. He hit on it a few times. He even tried tugging his hair.
Nothing. There was only emptiness. Blank. A vacuum of darkness.
The still-remaining rational part of his mind tells him not to panic. First things first, his own name, he at least had to know what his name was, right? There's no way he would…
It couldn't be.
He couldn't remember. Not even his own. Not even a fragment.
Thoughts of real panic began to set in his mind now. His knees shook, and his back felt like they've been turned to into jelly. Feeling faint, he had to support himself up using the edges of the table lest his fall down into the ground.
A mirror. He thinks. Where's a mirror? I have to see my face.
It didn't take him long to find the door that led to the bathroom, it was located right next to the fridge. In a fit of panic he at first slammed face-first into the door, but after he gathered some calm into him he fiddled with the doorknob and pulled it open and allowed himself inside. The bathroom was clean, a faint scent of medicine drifting through the small room. Beginning with the opaque glass door in the front, the bathroom had several towels hanging by the towel rack to the left, and to the right, toilet and a small sink. Above that sink… a mirror.
The mirror reflected back the upper half of his body. He was a young man, not quite an adult yet. His smooth, black hair looked as if it had gone through a tornado, and his equally black eyes betrayed him fatigue. He raises his hand and combs his hand through his hair, and the young man in the mirror mirrors his actions. It was conclusive. That young man was he.
Then, he sees something inside the mirror. He only sees it for a brief moment, but he is sure that he sees something underneath the long sleeves of his pajama top. He only noticed it because the sleeves pulled back slightly when he raised his arm. He pulls his sleeve back even more.
7TH LEVEL M-107-C
The numbers and letters were written horizontally on his arm, just beneath his left wrist. He tries touching them, then rubbing them, even pinching them. Nothing. The numbers and letters do not disappear, nor do they even fade away in the slightest. It was as if they were embedded on his skin.
He lowers his arms and stares at his reflection again. What he sees is a young man at a loss for words, just standing there with no traces of memory of who he is or what he was. If it weren't for the blood-chilling scream he was sure he would've stayed there forever.
The scream came from the kitchen. He turns around, and through the open doorway, he sees her. She had finally woken up.
At that moment, the two of them were like mirrors themselves. They stood there with the same clothes, same positions, even the same expressions. She stood there with her mouth wide open, still clad in her pajama clothes, and stood on the wooden floors bare-footed, just like he.
He's the first one that decides to speak. "Good morning."
She still doesn't move. She simply stands there with an empty expression on her face. Her long, straight black hair does not sway, and her eyes, its color almost a pale white, tells him that she's just as confused as he is.
He tries again. Maybe a little humor will work. "Although, I guess it's not really good morning since it's more like noon right now…"
Still nothing. He tries some more. "Look… I'm, uh… sorry? I think I'm a little confused right now. Did I stay the night here? This is your place, right?"
For a moment, he wonders if she doesn't speak his language. He is proven wrong relatively quickly, however, when she shows movement and she finally opens her mouth to speak.
"…I… I was dreaming." She says. The voice was quiet, barely above a whisper. "Then I woke up, and, and then… you were here."
Slowly, her hands travel up to her cheeks, and she clenches her fists. Her line of sight drifts away, avoiding eye contact. She blinks a few times. She looks like she's trying to remember something. When their eyes meet again, it is clear that confusion is rampart within her mind.
"…W-who are you?" Then, "What are you doing here?"
Again, he is at a loss for words. They weren't the kind of questions he was expecting. Wasn't he supposed to be the one asking those questions? Forcing himself to be calm again, he gives her his answer.
"Even I'm not sure why I'm here. What about you? Isn't this your room?"
Her clenched fists still by her cheeks, she slowly shakes her head horizontally.
This couldn't be happening. She wasn't supposed to give him answers, not give him more questions. He still had no idea who he was, and this girl here was making things even more complicated. Fear clenching his heart, he had to use courage this time in order to speak.
This time she shakes her head vertically.
"…I don't think I've ever been here. But… I-I don't know. It's probably not my room, but… I don't know. Because… because I…"
"You don't remember?"
He lowers her arms and nods. Again. And again. And then suddenly she raises her arms again and hugs herself tightly around her small body and takes a small step backwards. Initially, he didn't understand the meaning of her actions, but when he saw her staring at him wearily he understood. She probably just realized that she wasn't wearing any underwear underneath her pajamas. He certainly wasn't.
"So you don't remember at all?" He asks again.
She answers his question with another question. "W-where is this place? Why… why am I here? Isn't this your room?"
"I don't know either. I think I lost my memory."
"…lost your memory…"
"Do you remember your name?"
She never answered. Her face turned pale instead.
"…Just as I feared." He sighs. "I don't remember my name, either."
He notices out of the corner of his eye that her pajama sleeves have been rolled back slightly. And when he thought he saw a thin line on her left wrist, he runs up to her. Surprised, she jumps back, hugging herself even more tightly.
"I'm sorry." He apologizes. "I didn't mean to startle you. But that… your arm?"
He points at her left wrist. "That. Take a look. Is anything there?"
She lets go of herself and cautiously stares at her wrist. Her eyes widen. "W-what is this…?"
He approaches her, more slowly this time, and takes a look at her wrist too.
7TH LEVEL F-108-B
He pulls back his own sleeve and shows her his own mysterious symbols. "See, I have it too."
Her eyes travel back and forth between the two mysterious lines of numbers and letters. He notices that she's starting to shake. "I-is this a tattoo?" She eventually asks. "Why do I have this on me?"
"…I don't know."
"Why?" Her voice was shaking too. He supposed that he should've been comforting her, but just exactly how was he supposed to do that when he himself was confused as she was?
Eventually, he asks her a question. "That word… 'tattoo'… did it come to you immediately?"
She flinches once at his voice before she turns to him again. "…Why?"
"When I woke up, I… there was this moment where I couldn't remember what things were called. It came to me eventually, and I'm fine now, but… was it like this for you too?"
"I don't know." She says. She clutches her forehead with both of her hands and shakes her head sideways vigorously. "I-I don't know anything. I don't remember anything. My head hurts. My head… it hurts, it really hurts!"
She is crying now. She sinks down to knees. "Did… did I go crazy? What… what happened to me? Why is this happening to me?"
He couldn't answer her questions. He had no memory too.
But he at least knew what feelings were. He approaches her slowly and crouches down in front of her, pulling her shoulder into his chest. At first, she turns rigid, but soon she softens and grabs hold of his body like her life depended on it. She cries, she cries, and she cries…
It was the least he could do. And the knowledge that he was powerless to do otherwise…
It hurt like hell.
She hears the doorbell ring twice.
Right on time.
"A visitor, Tsunade-sama?"
"I guess so." She sighs. She wasn't practically looking forward to meeting this visitor.
"Should I go get the door for you?"
"That's all right, Shizune. I'll go get it myself."
"If you would, then that'll be great."
"Understood. I'll be in the kitchen if you need me, Tsunade-sama."
Tsunade lazily lifts herself up from the living room chair and begins to head for the door. Opening it, she finds Mitarashi Anko standing in front of the door's entrance. Tapping her high heels loud on the pavement floor, clearly, Anko wasn't even bothering hiding her irritation.
"Do you make guests wait this long often?" Anko asks, her lips pulling into a deep sneer.
Tsunade did her best to ignore it. "Please, come in." She motions with her chin towards the slippers and retreats back into the house and towards the living room first. Anko closes the door behind her in a rather violent fashion and follows Tsunade back into her house. Once inside the widely spaced living room, Tsunade sits down on top of the sofa while Anko simply stands there with her back on the wall.
"So Sakura never came here?" The rude woman asks without prompt. "Not even once?"
"Anko-san, I wasn't lying when I talked to you over the phone. I haven't seen Sakura since we last parted. Why won't you sit down?"
Ever since Tsuande received the first phone call from Anko three days ago she must've been asked that question at least a dozen times. And even though Tsuande denies the accusation every time, this woman remained unconvinced. Even now, Anko was giving her a kind of look that said that she didn't trust her one bit.
Eventually, however, Anko decides to take her advice and sits down on the sofa opposite of her. Opening her handbag that sparkled with expensive-looking stones, Anko took out a silver cigarette case and matching silver lighter that looked equally expensive.
My mother… she likes to spend money like crazy ever since dad died. Tsunade remembered Sakura telling her in one of their private talks. So, she was right.
Shizune came into the room with two cups of hot green tea on her tray. Putting the cup of drinks on the glass table between Anko and Tsunade as well as placing an ashtray in front of Anko, she bowed once before she excused herself from the room. Tsunade considered for a moment to ask Shizune to stay in the room with her, but eventually decided against it. There really was no need. She'll take this woman on alone.
Seeing as how Anko was smoking and didn't look the type to start a conversation, Tsunade began. "We've talked a lot over the phone, but I believe we haven't been properly introduced. My name is Tsuande, and I-"
"I know who you are." Anko snapped. "Sakura's told me a lot about you. Besides, that's not the reason why I'm here. What I want to know is where she's at."
"She hasn't tried to contact you since she last left your house?"
She snorted. "If she did, I wouldn't be here asking these questions, now would I?"
There's really no use in getting angry with mother. If you do, then you won't find the time to talk about anything else.
Remembering Sakura's words from one of their talks, Tsunade was trying her best not to look angry in front of Anko, and, not surprisingly, keeping her anger in check in front of this woman was difficult. She could only imagine just how tough it was for Sakura to deal with it everyday.
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"I told you already. Three days ago, on Thursday, on the night of the 9th." She takes the cigarette out of her mouth and grinds the stub in the ashtray. She reaches for another smoke and lights it with her lighter again. "Your point, Tsunade-san?"
"Has something like this happened before? I mean, Sakura leaving the house for an extended period of time?"
"No. Even when she's at a sleepover at a friend's house she always came home the next morning."
Tsunade remembers Sakura telling her that the reason for her frequent sleepovers was to 'let off some steam'.
If I don't, then I swear I'd snap one of those days.
Tsunade was beginning to understand why.
"Did she leave any note?"
"Did she take anything with her? Perhaps a large suitcase, maybe even a backpack?"
"I don't know! Look, I didn't see her leave the house, okay?" Anko says, gritting her teeth, avoiding eye contact with her. "Even when we're together in the house she hardly ever speaks to me. The only time I can ever tell that she's in the house is when she comes out of the room to eat dinner. If she decides to leave the house anytime after that, then I wouldn't know."
Tsunade looked at her wearily. No matter how she looked at it, Tsunade felt as if Anko were making excuses, saying that it wasn't her fault that Sakura went missing. "So you're saying that she's been missing before the 9th?"
"The last time she came downstairs to eat dinner was on the 8th. After that… maybe it was around 11? I went up to her room to tell her to go take a bath. I open the door and she's not there."
Anko went on to say that such things were everyday occurrences, so she at first wasn't practically worried and believed that Sakura would come home the next day. However, when Sakura never showed up for dinner on the 9th, Anko phoned Tsunade. When Tsunade picked up the phone Anko had already sounded like a woman scorned. "Get me Sakura NOW!"
"So that means she's been missing for four days…?"
"Have you already tried asking other people? Like, her friends from school-"
"She has no friends from school. She hardly goes to school nowadays anyway."
"What about boyfriends?"
"Pfft, probably a bunch of delinquents. I wouldn't know."
"Do you have any idea where else she might've gone off to?"
Now Tsunade was getting worried. Although she and Sakura had met face to face only once, she was much more beautiful than she first expected. If her mother had no idea where she was, then…
"…Anko-san, have you tried contacting the police?"
Anko stared back at her with hard eyes. "Why would I contact the police?"
"She's been missing for four days, right? I was wondering if you've asked the police to help locate her…"
"Why would I need to ask the police for help? What if I contact the police and she comes back home with no incident? I don't want to embarrass myself. She'll come home, I know she will."
For a moment, Tsunade was at a loss for words. This woman… she wasn't worried over her daughter's safety. Instead, she was frustrated, in knowing that Sakura was out there, somewhere, living her own life without her knowing about it. Anko could tolerate Sakura leaving the house for one night, but now that she's been gone for four days, Anko was not only upset, but was angry as well.
This woman was possessive, Tsunade concluded. This woman couldn't stand the thought of Sakura having someone who she can share heartfelt talks with She downright hated it. So that was the reason why Anko came straight to her, because she was the obvious target of this woman's twisted anger. Sighing once, Tsunade then asks her a question. "Pardon me for asking, Anko-san, but what made you think that Sakura was at my place?"
Anko stays silent.
Perhaps, Tsunade decided, she should try approaching this differently. "You said that Sakura's told you a lot about me?" She asked.
"All the time." Anko spat out distastefully. "She even goes as far to say that 'Tsunade-sama' from Konoha Hospital understands her more than I do. Can you believe it? She trusts you more over me, her own mother!"
"So is that why you thought she was staying over at my place?" Tsunade sighs again. "Look, Anko-san, I don't have any idea where's she gone off to or what she's doing now. I really do suggest you contact the police, and-"
Anko cut her off. "But Sakura came over here once, right?"
"And she apparently trusts you more than she trusts me."
"Even so, Anko-san, we are still different people, unrelated by blood. Sakura had this… invisible wall, a domain. I was unable to step into that domain, or rather, she had her own domain that no one could possible infiltrate. Everyone has those kinds of domains, Anko-san. And I had no intention of crossing the line and try to intrude into it." Tsunade pushed her shoulder blades up and leaned slightly forward. "It's unkind."
"What are you trying to say, Tsunade-san?"
"What I'm trying to say is that you should try to make an effort to respect Sakura's privacy. She is a human being, one with her own mind and will."
"She's still incapable of making decisions. She's still a child."
"Even so." Tsunade said. "The most important thing one can do to improve relationships is to show some effort in understanding people. As long as you both can keep that in mind… Sakura is a smart child. I don't think you have anything to worry about."
"Even though she's been missing for three, four days? Hmph, I bet you only talk like that because Sakura isn't your child."
Tsunade did her best to not wince. "Anko-san, the fact remains that Sakura is missing, and from what you've told me so far she hasn't left the house for this long, right? She could be in trouble. You should go to the police and explain them the situation, Anko-san, and try asking around the others to see if they know of Sakura's whereabouts. It's better to embarrass yourself. It's far better than doing just nothing."
Truth be told, Tsunade was astonished to think that Anko hadn't even considered going to the police the moment it became clear that Sakura went missing. But the woman in front of her continued to wear an irritated and frustrated expression, just as if Tsunade had been speaking to her in a foreign language. She saw Anko's eyes flicker with anger for a small moment before she Anko opened her large purse and withdrew a small notebook. She threw it across the glass table and the notebook landed on Tsunade's lap. Tsunade picked it up.
"Sakura's diary." Anko confirmed.
Tsunade's brows furrowed. "How did you get this?"
"I was looking for some address book of sorts in her room to see if I could find any clues as to where's she's gone, and I found this."
It made sense. If Anko hadn't done such a thing, she couldn't have even phoned her up in the first place. But for the mother to take her daughter's diary out of her room without even asking…
"There's some stuff written in there I don't understand."
"So you actually read its contents?"
Tsunade noticed that the diary in her hands had a simple looking lock that would've normally prevented the curious from opening it. Keyword: had. That lock was clearly broken now.
"I opened it with a screwdriver." Anko explained. "Take a look. You have my permission. Heck, you might even find a clue to her whereabouts somewhere in there."
Tsunade hesitated. This woman's permission meant nothing. Reading the private diary entries of Sakura – it was like betraying Sakura's trust.
"Just read it already." Anko egged. "Hey, you're the one who said that it's better than doing just nothing."
Deciding that she will apologize to Sakura once they found her, Tsunade opened Sakura's diary. Flipping through several pages quickly, she quickly noticed that Sakura wasn't really using her diary for intended purposes, but rather something close to a memo book. The diary was designed in such a way that it was possible to write a day's entry per page, and most entries were filled with small scribbles like "Arcade, 8:15pm" or "Shopped for clothes", all of them short and simple entries. Flipping though to the near end, Tsunade found that the diary was filled all the way up to August 7th, and the rest were all blanks.
There were only a few lines written underneath the August 7th entry.
Tomorrow. The Seventh Level. Point of no return?
What… was this?
- Day One: Part I -
Thus, I give you, the product of a bored, tired, and wandering mind. Ahh, the suspense of it all, so confusing and I still have no idea what I'll do with this spur-of-the-moment fanfiction that at this point can go anywhere.
Not much to say other than to hope that you enjoyed it.
Oh yeah, and work sucks. Badly.
- Nes Mikel
Day One: Part I, Complete, January 13th, 2007