Price

An old legend of Sunakagure has to do with the puppeteers. Most do, in one way, or another- after all, we were here since the very beginning. But this legend is one of the few that we share outside our theatre.

They say that if you think of him, when the moon is full, he'll find you. He'll hear the whisper of your wish on the wind and if you look for him he will come, and he'll give you what you desire...for a price.

Chikamatsu Monzeimon, the first of us, never does anything for free.

This is a legend of Sunakagure.

oOo

"They say you can grant wishes."

The man leaned back against the sandstone wall, lowing his long pipe from his lips. "It's true." He conceded. "You're the first to approach me in a very long time."

The boy looking at him glanced away. "It took me a while to find you. No one wanted to talk about it."

"There are many things in the desert that few speak of." The man said, standing up. "I happen to be one of them. So, a customer. What is it that you wish?"

The boy looked at him. He seemed more of a miniature adult than a child, in his small black hakama and geta. There was a banked fire in his emerald green eyes and a stubborn set to his chin. Given time, he would grow up handsome, the kind of man one would kill for. But now he was what he was- a child, making a choice.

"Nothing in this world is free." The boy might have been quoting something for all his seriousness. "Everything has a price to be paid."

The man blinked down at the boy as he perched once more on the wide sandstone battlement, his elaborate red and yellow kimono hardly making a rustle. He blew a cloud of smoke at the child.

"You're smarter than most who seek me." He said, a tiny smile playing at his painted lips. "Alright, then. A wish for equal payment. Blood for blood returned, that is the way of this world."

The boy looked past the man, out over his home of conical houses and windy streets, where most- if not all- were in before dark and many walked in fear. It had taken all his nerve to come out tonight.

"I don't want to lose him." The boy said softly. "And I am. I..I will, I know it, and I'm not- I'm not big enough yet, not strong enough. There's nothing I can do but wish."

The man rose an elegant brow, slanted ruby-red eyes blinking in surprise.

"You..." he said softly. "You are much more than you seem, little one."

The man took another drag on the pipe.

"It won't be easy." He warned. "You'll fear him. Possibly hate him. You'll see his face and wish that he would simply disappear. You will live in perpetual terror, perhaps for most of your life. Are you sure this is what you want?"

The boy looked at him with a face carved from stone, and the man could almost see where someday painted lines would go; long strokes of purple and white, covering up this emotionless expression, giving those who saw him something to believe in.

"I fear him already." The boy said. "What else have I got to lose?"

"It would take a long time. Wishes like that aren't granted in an instant."

"I know that."

The man quirked a smile. "Yes. Yes, I believe you do." He stood up, carefully placing his pipe on the battlement. He glanced behind him at the glittering lights below. "So many hurting people. I wonder if your wish will equal out their sorrows?"

The boy looked at him. "What do you want?" he asked. "For a price?"

The man glanced down at one long-fingered hand, then at the boy. "I suppose, in light of everything that comes.."

He knelt, brushing a hand against the boy's cheek; he didn't flinch as one long finger traced the left side of his face.

"Your eye. Your left one should do fine." He said softly.

The boy smiled; not a relieved smile, but a satisfied one. "What, this old thing?" he said, placing two fingers over his left eye socket. "You can take it. I don't need it. Chiyo baasama says Puppeteers see better in the dark, anyway."

"Are you sure?" the man asked, though he'd never asked before.

Without a word, the boy dug his fingers into his socket. In the moonlight, the red streaming from his face looked like wet paint, or a river of black ink. He didn't make a sound, not a cry of pain or doubt/ The man held out his hand, and the boy placed the wet eyeball into it.

The man rubbed a thumb across the boy's face and caught him as he collapsed.

He would awake the next morning with an eye that could not see, though it looked perfectly healthy; and he would learn to hone his senses on his left side, where his younger brother often stood. He would learn patience, and stealth, and silence; and they would call him "The Bloody Puppeteer", and compare him to a scorpion.

No one would know that his left eye was blind until many years later, when a pink haired medic from the Land of Fire shined a light into a pupil that did not change. She would say nothing.

oOo

"Oi, Kankuro!"

The tall puppeteer turned around, blinking against the bright noonday sun. "What is it, Ja?" he asked, left eye slipping closed in a halfway wink. Naruto pointed at him. "THAT! What is UP with that?"

"With what?"

"The BLINKING!" Naruto said, wheeling his arms around like a pinwheel in a hurricane, stirring up the sand around them. "It's always only your left eye and you're always smirking and it's CREEPY!"

Kankuro blinked, then smirked. "I'm a puppeteer, ja. I'm supposed to be creepy, and stop doing that or you'll start a dust devil and the LAST thing I need is you choking to death on sand before I get you to Gaara."

"Doesn't it screw up your depth perception or something?"

"No."

"Gah! Fine, be all secretive then!"

Sabaku-no-Kankuro stuck out his tongue at the Rokudaime Hokage, who blew a raspberry right back. They grinned at one another and Naruto punched the air. "Alright, dattebayo! Let's go see Gaara!"

"Yes." Kankuro said with a small smile, "lets."

oOo

This is a legend of Sunakagure.

For a price, your wish will be granted. It might take a long time, almost a decade. The catalyst might not be anything like you expected- it might, for example, be loud and brash and dressed in orange. You might live your life in perpetual fear, but hope?

Hope is as powerful as any wish. And sometimes wishes are worth their prices.

A/N: Yes, I've been reading too much XXXholic. But I couldn't help it. Kankuro's habit of always closing his left eye was an interesting quirk that I wanted to work with, and Chikamatsu Monzeimon isn't talked about nearly enough for my tastes. It helps that Kankuro seems to WANT his brother back- and I wondered just how far he would go to make that happen. Well, you know the drill- hit the button and tell me if you liked it. If you didn't you can tell me that too, but don't be a jerk, I know too many of those in real life. And if it wasn't actually the left eye, then pretend it is (I remember it being the left eye, and it helps that I'm a lefty, and so I'm a tiny bit biased.)