Summary: The formation of Team Baki in Sunagakure.
Disclaimer: The Naruto characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto. This story was written for personal enjoyment.
Buy the Man a Drink
The dry winds of Suna shape its landscape; their constant presence assures new sand dunes are created and on rare occasions, hidden treasures are exposed. But one must take care not to be buried in the shifting sands carried by these dry winds.
Sunagakure Hospital: The Assignment
At twenty-five Mitsuki no Baki was a seasoned veteran who had suffered many injuries, but the last mission had marked him for life. The jonin stared at his image in the mirror by his hospital bed to inspect the damage the acid had wrought.
He would have to compensate for his blind left eye now that there was nothing functional left in the socket. His hand traced the tattoo on his right cheek that honored him as a wielder of the Wind Sword. Its mate on his left cheek had been hollowed into the skin with several grotesque scars radiating from it. He looked like a monster.
"The Crystal Caves have a treacherous reputation for good reason, I see. You're lucky the cave demon only left you disfigured and not dead," observed the Kazekage as he suddenly appeared behind the jonin.
"Yes, Lord Kazekage," replied Baki as he turned to face him. The Kazekage had yet to don his formal robes, so the jonin understood this visit required discretion.
"You'll need to drape that side of your face; it's hideous. You'll scare the servants at the Tower and I have enough trouble finding help." The Kazekage shook his head at the inconvenience of it all.
"Yes, my lord, I see the wisdom in hiding my face, but," began Baki in confusion, "I'm quartered in the barracks; we have no servants."
"Your effects have been moved to the fifth floor of my tower. Tomorrow morning you'll begin your new duties as sensei to Gaara, Kankuro, and Temari. It will require your complete dedication, of course, so you might as well live with them. You'll have your evenings free to pursue the company of adults. I'm not so cold-hearted as to imprison you with them."
The Kazekage extended a scroll that provided the basic information on his offspring. He knew that the jonin could always appeal to the Council to change the assignment. Baki was a Marshal and a valuable operative in the field. Offering him residence in the Kazekage's Tower was merely part of the incentive. It would be luxurious compared to the barracks.
Baki kept his surprise in check and silently studied the information on the scroll:
Temari Female age 10 Talent: wind Weapon: fan
Kankuro Male age 9 Talent: chakra strings Weapon: puppets
Gaara Male age 7 Talent: killing Weapon: sand Ultimate weapon: Shukaku
"My lord, the wind is my strength, but my understanding of chakra strings and sand shifting is better than my ability to manipulate them."
"Good, I find too many of our jonin only appreciate results rather than understand the underlying principles. We need more men like you in Suna. In fact, this scroll contains my recommendation to give you the open seat on the Advisory Council."
Baki felt his heart race at the prospect, but remained uncertain that such a coveted appointment was worth the dubious honor of playing Sensei to the Sand Siblings. "I don't know if I have a talent for teaching. Perhaps someone else--"
"I've tried one of our best scholars. It's a good thing the man didn't have much longer left to live. I then tried one of our strongest jonin, but really, he couldn't be too strong if a seven-year old could best him." The Kazekage shook his head in disgust.
"I suppose not, my lord," said Baki.
"What I need is a man of many talents, someone who can improvise. Your cunning allowed you to survive a cave demon. I'm confident you can survive Gaara," assured the Kazekage with a grim smile. He noted the frown on his subordinate's face and asked, "You have other reservations?"
"I'm not good with children, my lord," admitted Baki. He seemed to hesitate before he admitted, "I make them--cry."
"These three do not cry," admonished the Kazekage. "They are not children, merely ninja who need intensive preparation. They are tools to be shaped to serve the village and I have chosen you to see to it."
The Kazekage walked in a slow circle around the man as he spoke. He stopped in front of the jonin and made one last announcement. "You stay alive on this assignment and I'll let you have the girl when she comes of age. It's clear that no woman would marry you now. Isn't that the ultimate goal of the Mitsuki line?"
Baki felt the sting of his words, but he couldn't refute this assessment. Indeed, his grandfather was anxious for Baki to marry and start a family, but Hiroko had not come to see him since they first unwrapped the bandages. Her absence had sent him a clear message, but he was uncomfortable that the Kazekage would offer his own daughter as a bribe for his service.
"I wouldn't presume to bind a girl's future to mine, my lord, especially as her teacher."
"Don't be a fool; it's best to train a woman at a young age to be what you want. Karura was my student before she was my wife," stated the Kazekage bluntly. "I shaped her for a purpose; she was completely mine."
"Forgive me, my lord, but I cannot think of a ten year old girl as a future wife."
"Little girls grow up, Baki, and I expect this arrangement will give you incentive to make sure Temari remains untouched until I'm ready to be a grandfather." The Kazekage murmured quietly, "A pure vessel might make a difference next time."
"I see," said Baki as he considered the implications.
The Kazekage had sacrificed his wife to create the demon child, Gaara. Would the daughter suffer a similar fate? Baki could see how the Kazekage might be biding his time until his daughter was of age to be the next woman to spawn a demon. He wanted no part of it, but his intervention might save the village from another manifestation of Shukaku. In Suna, a married woman came under the protection of her husband, not her father, even if he was the Kazekage.
"Then I would prefer this--betrothal--remain between the two of us."
"Temari won't need to know until I give her the order to marry you," agreed the Kazekage. "Be at the Council chambers this afternoon. I'll introduce you as a candidate for the empty seat, but your induction is a mere formality. We'll also announce your new role as Sensei."
"I will be honored to present myself to the Council for their consideration," agreed Baki with a slight bow.
The Kazekage then presented two small objects to the jonin. "Here is the key to your new quarters and this seal gives you authority to obtain whatever you need for training. I will expect weekly reports on their progress after the Council meetings, but don't want to be bothered with details otherwise. Understood?"
"Yes, Lord Kazekage, I understand."
Once he was alone, Baki spent some time selecting the best way to hide his disfigured visage. By the time he presented himself to the Council, his scars were well hidden behind the drape of fabric. Everything went smoothly and when he was dismissed, he went to the lounge of the jonin barracks to review reports. That's where he ran into his colleagues and revealed the news.
"The Kazekage has designated me as Sensei for his brood. I'll even be living in the Tower." Baki kept his expression smooth as his colleagues paled around him. He wouldn't mention his seat on the Council yet.
The other jonin immediately expressed their sympathy at his new assignment.
"Ah man, you've got terrible luck." That was Akio who was quickly followed by Hayao who said, "Better you than me."
Even Yura piped in with, "Hey, can I have your katana collection when, well, you know..."
Baki merely took advantage of their dire predictions. "Fellas, if you think I'm a dead man walking, then at least turn this into a wake and buy me my drinks. It could be your last chance."
His friends obliged and they walked to a local bar, all grumbling about the fact that Baki always managed to get them to buy his drinks. The Wind Sword Master merely smirked at their observation. He'd use his new status on the Council as a future ticket for congratulatory drinks.
At the bar, the conversation turned to current women they were chasing and tactics for surviving their next mission. Baki didn't intend to get drunk, but his large size meant that he could imbibe several drinks before getting too inebriated. Luckily he was feeling very relaxed when Hiroko made her appearance.
"Excuse me," he murmured before walking away from the table to go to the bar. Hiroko conveniently had a seat empty on either side of her, but Baki chose to sit to her left so she would be unobscured from his vision. She was a tall woman, but he still towered over her.
"Baki, I see you've got a new look. You pull it off well."
"But not well enough to resume our--"
"I'm sorry, Baki, but your scars remind me too much of the burns on my father."
Leave it to Hiroko to get to the point. He knew she still had nightmare's about seeing her father's burned corpse. Baki sighed because that was not something he could change. "I understand, Hiroko, but it still doesn't take the sting out of being dumped."
"Then let me buy you a drink," said Hiroko. She called for two cups to be brought and poured sake for them.
"Be honest, Baki. We were together more out of practicality than passion. Even when we talked about marriage, it sounded more like a business arrangement. I might hurt your pride, but you can't say I've broken your heart."
"So it's back to just being friends?" The words carried more pain more than he had expected. His life had been on a path, now everything about his future was shifting.
"It's all I can offer you now and still be true to myself," admitted Hiroko with a sad smile. She turned to look at him as she explained. "One thing being with you has taught me is that I do want that passion, that love. I know you can make it hard for me to find someone else. All the men I'd be interested in know you, most of them fear you."
Baki thought of the irony of the situation. Here he was secretly betrothed to the Kazekage's daughter while Hiroko was worried about how he could sabotage her own chance for marriage. The bitter edge fell away from him.
"We've been friends longer than we've been lovers, Hiroko. It'll take time, but I can revert. Just don't expect me to help you find a date."
"Fair enough and I'll owe you a big favor." She picked up her drink and raised it in a toast. "If this lowly chunin can ever help Mitsuki no Baki, elite jonin, Wind Sword Master, and Marshal of the East, you can count on me."
Baki raised his cup in response. As he drank the sake, he felt that he was offering a toast to his old life. He felt as if he had been captured by an unfamiliar wind current. He just hoped it didn't signify a sandstorm.
Sunagakure: Time Zero
Baki walked up the stairs to the fifth level of the Kazekage's Tower. The circular floor held four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. A large common area in the center could be used as a lounge or training area as needed. It also had a small kitchen that held a table with a laundry tucked away in the corner.
Although the furnishings were old, this was true luxury compared to the barracks. This had been the first year that Gaara had lived with his siblings, but the Kazekage had decided shared quarters could facilitate building the team. Two sensei's had failed; Baki hoped that three would be the magic number.
The jonin met his new charges as they sat on cushions in the common area, all dressed in dark netted shirt and trousers. The table in front of them held a pitcher of water, a basket of fruit, and a shallow bowl with a miniature sand garden. The blonde-haired girl was artfully raking an intricate pattern in the sand. The brunette by her side grabbed two apples from the fruit basket, but the red-head sat perfectly still, although he glowered at his surroundings.
Gaara drew Baki's immediate attention with his cold expression while the other boy began absently juggling the apples in his hands. Kankuro threw Baki a suspicious glance, then ignored him. Temari, who was dressed like her brothers, rose boldly to her feet and although she was still a child, her eyes took his measure in a way reminiscent of the Kazekage.
"You're the new sensei?" asked Temari. Baki could swear he heard a dubious tone in her voice.
"So it would seem. I am Mitsuki no Baki."
"Why you?" asked the blonde as she cocked her head to one side.
"Maybe the Kazekage wants him dead, you know?" ventured Kankuro as he sent one of the apples on a forceful trajectory toward the jonin's head with a chakra string.
"The Kazekage thinks I can teach you," replied Baki as he generated chakra strings to capture the apple and its mate still in Kankuro's hand. He juggled them manually before sending them back to the boy where they bounced with a sharp rap on Kankuro's head before falling to his lap.
The jonin had barely finished releasing the fruit before he had to repel the strong gust of wind generated by a feminine wave of a fan. He countered it with his own forceful breeze and sent the girl tumbling over in a somersault.
Temari brought herself up to a crouch. She was clearly annoyed, but there was a tone of admiration in her voice as she finally noted the tattoos on his face. "You're a Wind Sword Master!"
"I've mastered wind, but I can use chakra strings and even," began the jonin as he shifted the sand in the bowl without a rake, "have some ability to manipulate sand."
Gaara finally spoke in a harsh voice, "There's nothing you can teach me about the sand."
The attack was sudden, but not unexpected even though Gaara was sitting in Baki's blind side. As the sand darted forth, the boy asked roughly, "Why should I let you make us a team?"
Baki ejected the water in the pitcher on the table into a fountain with a burst of his chakra. The dampened sand fell into a limp tentacle that still slithered toward him.
"You'll let me create this team because you like to kill." Baki looked directly at Gaara. "Your missions with your team will give you the opportunity to ease your blood lust without the village losing any more citizens."
Baki looked at each one in turn. "Any fool can kill; a ninja, in contrast, must be a useful tool for the village. The Kazekage has given me the job of honing you as tools. I don't intend to fail."
"You're not afraid that I'll kill you?" asked Gaara in his harsh voice.
"I'm not afraid of dying," replied Baki with a sardonic smile. "You know firsthand that there are worse things than death."
The sand began to swirl around Gaara menacingly, but Baki maintained his cold attitude.
Temari put her hand on her hips and said quite calmly, "Don't kill him yet, Gaara. Let's see what Sensei can teach us first."
Kankuro quirked an eyebrow and closed one eye as if considering before giving the slightest nod. Gaara said nothing, but the sand retreated fully into the gourd.
Team Baki was thus formed. It was the first time the three siblings had agreed on anything.
End Chapter 1
I added some minor edits to fill in details on Baki given information I created in the subsequent stories in this Wind series. For first time readers, Mitsuki means three months which is the closest to three moons. It will make sense later. I also gave him a title of Marshal since he carries so much authority. None of this is canon.
I am keeping the conversation 'Americanized' for the most part because that's how I hear the anime.
I've gotten intrigued by the Sand nins, especially Team Baki, so I'm playing with the characters. I'll try to not to stray too far from canon, but it's inevitable I'll make a few errors.
We don't know much about Baki, so I created a background for him to explain why he drapes his face and the significance of the markings on his face. Hiroko is not a canon character, nor were the other Sand nins I named except for Yura. He shows up in Shippuden.
The Kazekage is deliberately presented as a cold-hearted man. Whether his wife, Karura, was his student at one time was merely used to drive the plot. And don't get all squicky about Baki being 'betrothed' to Temari; it's a device to drive certain aspects of the story.
I've taken the liberty to create the quarters in the Kazekage's Tower and to make Temari a tomboy at first. Also at this initial meeting, Kankuro has yet to dress like a puppeteer. I hope I have kept them within the parameters of their characters, though.
Thus far I have 6 chapters. Thank you for taking the time to read. Reviews aren't necessary, but if there is something you like about the story, I do like knowing what works.