Chapter 33 – Trapped in the Amber of the Moment
Tsunade looked around the cramped confines of the emergency medical arena, took stock of her current situation, and once again cursed Kami for her rotten luck. It was one thing to lose at the craps table or the slot machine, it was quite another to fail at life. At this particular moment in time she was supposed to be packed up and on the move again, traveling the world with Rin in tow. They should have been navigating their way across the continent, seeing new things, helping new people, and having new adventures they could use to block out the memories of her old and painful ones. Because as it was now, even her most treasured memories from the days of her youth were now tainted with the pain of what had come later.
Memories of her beautifully smiling baby-faced little brother that had once been joyful and evoked feelings of pride and an unrealistic hope for the future were now soul crushingly heartbreaking; infected with the poison of his pointless death there was absolutely no reason to drag them out. Once perfect memories of time spent with her fiancé Dan, back when they spoke often of their future children's names', the design of the house they would live in, and even the name for the dog they would have together had now grown painful and bittersweet from a long life lived without him in it. Even the happiest memories of her ninja career had managed to become corrupted. It was next to impossible to think of the satisfaction and elation she had felt upon earning her right to the title of Sannin without also feeling the sorrowful melancholy of Orochimaru's betrayal creeping in. This was why she was supposed to be well on her way out of Konoha and far out into the wide outdoors; not packed into the escape tunnels like a sardine in a can. It was also the reason she spent as little time as possible within the walls of Konoha.
Here in her very beloved (though she'd never admit it) home town, the heart of all her past memories; it was next to impossible to keep her gloominess in check. The fact that she was stuck down in the tunnels instead of out fighting the Kyubi was definitely not helping the cause. She had been convinced by Shizune that she should stay until after her protégé's jonin exam next month and told by her Hokage that her skills would be invaluable in helping to defeat the demon fox, a comment which basically meant if she didn't voluntarily stay and offer her support it would become an order; one he would have been embarrassed to give and which she would have felt shame in needing to receive it. So she had stayed, and here she was. Unfortunately once she had convinced herself that kicking some ass could be fun, and though she hadn't punched down a mountain in quite a while she still really loved to do so, the council decided she would best serve her village by staying hidden in the tunnels, out of harm's way, and fixing up the injured. Back deep behind the battle lines she would patch up the battered shinobi who were actually participating in this battle, get them back in fighting shape, and return them to the field. She also served a second function as babysitter to some of their more colorful guests; it didn't hurt to have one of their strongest ninja as a deterrent to any unsavory conduct and even those who didn't know her personally knew the reputation of the Slug Queen and remembered to be on their best behavior.
With all of Konoha's other heavyweights out battling with the nine-tails, Tsunade was their trump card if anything should go wrong in the city walls or if any of their visitors tried to pull off anything untoward. While it was her opinion that they all looked pretty harmless, sometimes it could be difficult to say for certain and it was best to err on the side of caution. As such, Konoha's greatest medic and highly skilled interrogator had decided to examine and interview their guests during lulls between patients. She told her assistant it was to better serve and protect the citizens of Konoha, but it had the added benefit of entertaining her slightly, and more importantly it would keep her mind off what had happened to her family the last time she had found herself in this cave system.
She had begun her questioning with Baki, the sand ninja who she determined to be at least a jonin and probably even ANBU level in strength based on the well developed chakra coils she found during her scan. As far as she could tell through the monitoring of his body temperature and speed of his heartbeat throughout his interrogation, he had answered honestly about fleeing Sand to protect the children in his care. Apparently they had needed protecting from a maniacal father and due to a promise he made their departing mother on her death bed, he'd had no choice but to flee the city, and she believed his desire to seek asylum with the Leaf was genuine. Though most asylum seeking ninja chose to become civilians rather than fight their former allies, Baki had gone so far as to suggest, in an unassuming yet exceedingly hopeful tone, that he would swear his allegiance to the Fire daimyo if it meant he could someday be a ninja again.
"Tsunade-sama, please tell me truthfully. Do you think there is even the slightest chance I'll be allowed to be a shinobi again someday?" he'd asked her sorrowfully. "I don't know how to be anything else."
Touched by his forlorn expression her heart had broken for him, "I don't see why not. Stranger things have certainly happened, and we haven't been at war with Wind in quite a long time."
Seeing his face light up from the small words of encouragement pleased her and she smiled kindly at him as he continued speaking.
"I hate to ask anything more, Konoha has already far exceeded any of my expectations. But I wanted to express my gratitude; everyone here has treated me with respect and shown me more hospitality and courtesy than I could have ever hoped to receive in a foreign hidden village. I know for certain that no such liberties would have been given to a Leaf ninja captured by the Sand, especially one captured in the land of Wind. My hope is that one day I will be able to repay this kindness by putting my services toward the protection of your village."
Tsunade smiled at the young man again, it did her heart good to hear such kind words spoken about her home. Feeling generous, she decided to provide him with some guidance.
"Baki, I'm going to give you some advice, because despite my disinterest in almost everything and everyone, I like you. You seem like a nice kid. So when you get your asylum hearing and you go before the council to plead your case, make sure you don't lie at all; not even a little white one. Konoha is home to the greatest mind raping clan across the globe, and make no mistake, they will find out your lie, punish you accordingly, in a way that I promise you, you will not enjoy, and you will forever be branded untrustworthy in Konoha. Which means it's for life, got it?"
"Hai, Tsunade-sama, no lies will pass these lips," Baki had answered. The Sannin patted him on the back and moved on to her next biggest concern; the nearly comatose patient with the silver ringed eyes. When he'd first been brought in she'd thought the boy's eyes to be black, but now that he'd been healed slightly and cleaned up a bit, it was evident that they had in actuality been clotted with blood from all the damage Orochimaru had inflicted on his eyes during his "research," and their natural hue had been masked. She had never seen eyes such as his, she had of course heard the stories about them (you would be hard pressed to find anyone who grew up in a ninja village who hadn't) but they were believed to be myths, and she had never really thought twice about them. However since this so-called legend was now staring her in the face with an awful sneer she supposed it was time to stop referring to him as just a fairy-tale.
Upon waking up the boy had taken one look at their forehead protectors, scowled menacingly, and begun asking for Jiraiya as he flitted in and out of consciousness. How he knew her toad summoning teammate she had no idea. The bastard hadn't mentioned knowing the boy at all when dropping him off unceremoniously in the infirmary prior to heading out to help battle the demon, but not before smirking and winking at his pissed off teammate. Mr. Silver Eyes had refused to talk, which made her decision to keep him heavily sedated until Jiraiya's return all the less difficult. Rumors of the rinnegan's power had her slightly nervous to leave him awake, and his somewhat hostile demeanor had not done him any favors. She handed off his chart to one of the chunin medics on duty with instructions to have him tranquilized immediately.
Moving on to her next patients she found the two boys, Shin and Sai, that Shiranui Genma's squad had brought in. They were playing in the corner with the young girl Maito Gai had introduced as Tsuchi Kin. It was clear from her behavior over the past few days that the girl obviously been traumatized by the ordeals she had faced. She was skittish around all adults but even more so around men, with the exception of Gai, who she continually requested to see. Surprisingly enough she seemed to be doing better while in the company of the younger boys, who had taken a liking to her and volunteered to look after her. Five year old Shin was beaming wildly as he promised to protect her with his life, while two year old Sai clapped his approval. All three children had actually been citizens of Fire country and after speaking with them for a bit she determined them to be no threat to security and left them to their own devices, secure in the fact that one day they would make fine ninja, no more screwed up than any of the others.
The other rescue from Orochimaru's lair was still too badly injured to wake up. Under Shizune's guidance, chunin level Yamanaka's had been working with him in his sleep to restore some sanity to his shattered mind. It was hoped that when his body was actually physically able to wake up, his mind would be able to handle it. From what the Yamanaka's had gathered so far, it appeared the boy's name was Tenzou and he'd been kept awake with amphetamine's while the other children around him were mutilated, mutated on their own, and all eventually died from Orochimaru's experiments. He was the lone survivor of the Snake sannin's research into recreating her grandfather's DNA and jutsu in another shinobi; a fact that sickened her to no end. Once the demon fox was taken care of, Tsunade was going to make it her personal mission to destroy that monster.
Finally, having saved the best for last, she moved onto her last three (and not to mention her most favorite) wards. Out of the three she most adored little Temari, the tiny little girl was loaded with enough piss and vinegar to give the Sannin herself a run for her money. From the moment she'd heard Tsunade was a kunoichi she hadn't stopped telling her about how one day she was going to be a fabulous shinobi herself. Tsunade had no doubt in her mind that she would be, she was even secretly hoping it would be for the Leaf village where she would thrive, Sand was well known as a terrible place to be a kunoichi. She got the little spitfire to sit still long enough to get some blood, test her chakra coils and run a basic scan. The development of her chakra pathways was coming along nicely, a fact that thrilled Temari; she was perfectly healthy and fit to start pre-school when things got back to normal.
As a last minute thought Tsunade decided to test Baki's story against that of Temari's, the little girl wouldn't lie because she had as yet found no reason to.
"Temari-chan," she asked. "Why did you leave your village?"
"Because that big stupid man was going to take me and Konky away from Baki-san."
"Oh?" Tsunade replied. "Why was he going to take you away?"
"Because he's a big stinky head, and he was mad that Baki yelled at him when he punched me across the room. It didn't hurt me though, you know. I'm going to be a ninja and punches don't hurt ninjas," Temari answered with big eyes. Tsunade could tell the girl was lying about the punch not hurting, she'd just wanted her idol to believe she would make a good ninja; regardless, the little girl's story backed up Baki's tale and Tsunade felt satisfied.
Kankuro was a bit more trouble. The boy was extremely shy while at the same time being quite squirmy and very clingy. No matter where she put him he wound u p with his arms and legs wrapped tightly around her and his face buried in her chest to hide from everyone; he was a great avoider of eye contact. She had dislodged him several times to no avail; the boy was a leech. After an exorbitantly long time had been spent trying to run a chakra scan on him Tsunade requested her nurse get Baki for assistance with the child. As she began peeling the boy from her body one more time she hear a loud, "Kankuro NO!" from the doorway, and the boy instantly released her.
Looking up Tsunade was about to scold the ninja for scaring the little guy when she noticed the rascal was sitting there grinning from ear to ear; obviously quite proud of himself.
"I'm so sorry, Tsunade-sama," Baki stammered. "I had no idea he would behave so badly."
Tsunade looked and felt confused, "Well he's not really bad, just a little shy is all. He likes to hide so he doesn't have to see anyone. Isn't that right, Kankuro?"
Baki began to answer, "He's not shy at all miss, it's just that he –"
But the ninja was cut off by Kankuro himself.
"Boobies!" he shouted as he once again hugged the well endowed medic. Tsunade's face flushed red as she pushed the boy away and called for a male medic to do the scan. He too turned out quite fine and Tsunade moved on to her final guest.
The red headed baby boy was currently being cuddled and rocked to sleep by one of the nurses. Since arriving, the boy had become a favorite of the staff and he had reveled in all the attention he was getting. Latching on to anyone who picked him up and gurgling happily from their arms; he was practically impossible not to fall in love with. After bringing him in, Ebisu was down visiting him every chance he could, having become enchanted with the brightly colored baby on their trip into town. As for Gaara himself he loved everyone, and everyone loved him right back; how could they not? Since his arrival he hadn't cried even once, he just smiled and giggled at everyone around him, he was just a delightful little baby.
Tsunade took the infant from the wet nurse currently cooing and ahhing over him and brought him into the examining room to place him on the table. She took his temperature and then placed her hand on his chubby little belly to begin her scan. Her light green healing chakra funneled down her arm and reached out for the baby when suddenly an angry dark blue chakra snaked up at her sending her flying across the room and the baby began kicking, screaming, and crying for the first time since his arrival.
"Get Baki in here now!" Tsunade shouted as she looked at the now sobbing baby. Things had changed rather suddenly, and Baki had some serious explaining to do.
Koharu's mission had goals of distraction, delay, and deterrent; a roll she was now well suited for. While old age had slowed her body and stolen her good looks, it hadn't yet made her mind feeble, not even a tiny bit. In fact, time had granted her remarkable acumen into the human psyche, and great experience in manipulation, not to mention a much higher degree of respect from Konoha's ninja, with a much sought after seat on the village council to boot. All were tools she intended to put to great use this night. Indeed, tonight she intended to use Minato's impeccable manners against him and accomplish what his wife could not. Konoha's fourth Hokage, the Yellow Flash, their Light in the darkness of war, would not be marching to his death on her watch. In fact if all went to as planned he wouldn't be a part of the battle until long after the demon had been taken care of.
Her first order of business was interception. Knowing Minato had gone to the Hokage's private library to fetch the supplies he needed for the task he meant to complete this evening (supplies she was well aware would not be there as a certain other Hokage had already taken them) Koharu rushed to conceal herself in the shadows of the tower to await his departure. Not more than five minutes after her arrival he came rushing out the main entrance; completely distracted by the fact that his very important and much needed supplies were nowhere to be found, he failed to notice as she sent her chakra racing through her legs and raced over to collide with him on the tower steps.
With Teruo's extreme inadequacy as a ninja resulting in the death of Tadeshi and his own suspension Makoto had been left bereft of a squadron and had to be reassigned. Her new partners were Haruno Arato, a pale haired jonin, Umino Kohaku and Umino Yuka; a sweet married couple with an adorable young son who just a few moments ago had been forcibly removed from the battlefield that he had just snuck on to. It was quite unusual to be working with a married pair of shinobi, and damn near impossible for both parents of a child to be assigned to the same squad, however due to the extreme shortage of high level shinobi still able to fight they didn't have the luxury of being able to adhere to the policies used to ensure the families were kept intact. Children in ninja villages were frequently left orphans at an early age; Konoha had seemingly bucked the trend by instituting some family friendly policies that had traded in orphans for an increased number of single parent households. Makoto said a silent prayer that all four of them would return home to their families and they leapt with cat like grace into the trees above. Ready for another round with the monster, they moved silently through the treetops in hopes of taking the beast by surprise.
The nine tails was currently 20 miles southwest of Konoha. Attack Squad 1, led by Makoto's husband had managed to drive the demon out of the small vacation city, Otafuku Gai. He, Akado Kuo, Hyuga Tokumo, and Aburame Muto had run on ahead when master Jiraiya had Hiashi had stopped to search Orochimaru's lair. Through a concentrated series of bombardments the squad had managed to attract the Kyubi's attention away from the blinking buzzing lights of the casino's. From there they had acted as bait and lured her out of the more populated areas and into a small valley that lay 50 miles outside the hotel town.
After Jiraiya and Hiashi had dropped off their discoveries they had raced back after their comrades, the Sannin took over as captain of Attack Squad 2, adding Hiashi to finish off the four man squad with Rock Haruko and Yamanaka Santa. The two attack squads had managed through a myriad of chakra saving maneuvers that consisted of quick guerilla type hits to the demon and a disappearance into the background while the alternate team took their turn to attack. It was a long and arduous process but the only thing that could work against such a powerful foe; any head on encounter would have ended in the destruction of both squads as well as their back-up chunin counterparts.
Now however, the beast was right where they wanted it. Their Hokage had instructed them to lead it into the valley and now it was the responsibility of Makoto and her squad to lead the defensive attack and keep the flame wielding monster there. As insurance, ANBU defensive squads lined the trees 10 miles smack in the middle between the valley and the town.
Armed with competent allies and the fierce determination of a mother lion protecting her cubs, Makoto's team was once again going to use a chakra net to ensnare the beast. She had fought against it, superstitious as she was, the Uchiha captain thought it was bad luck to use a technique that had gotten a teammate killed already, however the other three members of her squad had won out. In the end she'd been forced to admit it was the best idea to accomplish their goal without exhausting all of their resources before Minato had arrived. They only needed to keep it ensnared long enough for him to use his new technique and destroy the damn thing; a feat they all had complete faith he would accomplish.
The lead defense squad members were all successfully positioned in the tree branches when Attack Squad 1 came fleeing past them through the valley on their way to the ambush location. Fugaku leapt backwards through the trees, his sharingan the only thing keeping him from missing footholds and plummeting to the ground, his great fireball technique blazing as it shot across the treetops and towards their target, the giant red fox. She roared loudly in anger as the fireball exploded into the right side of her face, knocking her slightly off kilter and angering her even further; the landscape shook with her rage. As she took a wild swing at Makoto's husband, Hyuga Tokumo hit the demon's left cheek with an Eight Trigrams Mountain Crusher strong enough to knock her back the other way and cause her to miss Fugaku completely. As Aburame Muto's kikaichu swarmed the beast and Akado Kuo's Chakura Kyuin technique both began siphoning its chakra from the shadows, Fugaku and Tokumo faded into the trees. The Kyubi shook her great head in disgust, drew her body up to her full height; tall and centered, she threw her gaping maw to the sky and bellowed her fury to the heavens.
Makoto noticed her beginning to suck in an unusually large amount of air and activated her sharingan. Positive black chakra, the devastating Purasu no Kuro, and negative white chakra, a calamitous amount of Mainasu no Shiro, were gathering together in an enormously disastrous magnitude and beginning to swirl together in a spherical shape. The center of the giant mass had begun compressing when she realized what it was she was looking at. Ino-Shika-Cho's fact finding squad had briefed them all on the tailed beast's ultimate attack, the Bijudomo, but until now she had never seen it use one. Deciding that she'd like to keep it that way she leapt into action; ordering the chakra net into place.
The net dropped, but it was a bit too late. The Bijudomo blasted from its' jaws and slammed into the now complete net. Makoto, Kuhako, Yuka, and Arata all stumbled to their knees at the force of the blow, yet somehow they had managed to keep a hold on their trap and it remained intact with a shrieking beast inside it. Had the net been composed of just three shinobi it would have shattered from the force of the explosion; the fourth teammate had provided enough chakra to hold it. How long they could manage to keep it that way as yet remained to be seen. The demon was clawing and snapping at the bonds that held it and all four of them had practically exhausted all of their chakra reserves consuming the discharge of the Bijudomo. Makoto prayed Minato would arrive in time.
Unfortunately before he could appear the nine tails released a sonic roar that ripped its way across the net and shredded it to pieces. The four defense squad members slumped to the ground from chakra exhaustion; containing the Bijudomo had been quite costly. Realizing the locations of her captors, the Bijou charged toward them. With Kuhako and Yuka between her and the fox Makoto realized they were about to be torn apart as Tadeshi had and she surged to her feet to try and protect them. She jumped forward only to feel herself be torn backwards in mid-air as Attack Squad 2's leader Jiraiya held her by the arms and pulled her close. Makoto's outraged scream of anguish tore across the field as she watched the demon gruesomely destroy two more of her teammates. She struggled to get loose of the Sannin's grip to no avail.
"You can't help them now," he barked at her. "All you'll do is join them if you keep that up in the state you're in. I'm sending you back to the village."
"No," she sobbed. "We need to hold it here. Hokage-sama is coming."
"Well you won't be here to see it," he told her calmly before everything turned black and the Uchiha succumbed to exhaustion.
Hiruzen raced across Konoha's rooftops toward the valley holding the Kyubi and tried hard not to get distracted and caught up in the beauty surrounding him. Twice he'd caught himself slowing to look at his village hidden in the Leaves as it basked in the glow of the moon. His people were dying, he couldn't afford to waste time, even if it was the last time he'd see his beautiful city. Holding back his tears, Konoha's third Hokage said goodbye to his beloved home for what would be the last time.
A/N: Sorry to take so long to update, please review and let me know what you think. Thank you!