Chapter 8: The Battle For Wave Begins
The next morning, Shen was up early as usual doing his morning exercises. Naruto and Mimi were still on guard detail with Tsunami and her home while Kakashi's team was to guard Tazuna at the bridge that day. Team Anko was to assist where needed and prepare for the upcoming conflict with Zabuza.
As Shen prepared to move through some katas, he felt a familiar presence approaching. Being a practitioner of GekiJyu Lion-ken, Shen's senses were honed much like a lion's, keeping an eye out for prey and challengers. The presence he felt approaching certainly felt like the latter with the dark thoughts towards him present in it. Sighing, Shen prepared for yet another confrontation, "Shouldn't you be guarding Tazuna, Uchiha?"
Ignoring the quip, Sasuke demanded, "How are you so strong?"
'Blunt as always and caring only about strength,' Shen signed internally. Still, the question brought up a memory as to which Shen recalled being one of the lessons from his teacher that he took to heart since meeting the man.
Jan had handed Mimi, Naruto and Shen a stick each. It was his turn to teach them all, but instead of the SCRTC building where the others took their lessons, Jan took them all to one of the forested areas he liked to hang out at and talk to the animals. "Break the stick," he instructed.
"Why?" Shen asked, not seeing the point.
"Break the stick," Jan repeated. The three GekiJyuKen trainees did as instructed. The sticks broke in half easily.
"Now, you see how weak a single stick is?" Jan questioned. He then handed a bundle of sticks to each of them. "Now, try to break them." Naruto tried but couldn't. Mimi tried to break her bundle but it was hard and she could barely bend them. Even Shen had trouble, only bending them slightly.
"You see how the sticks are stronger together?" Jan pointed out. "That's what teamwork is all about. You all work together to cover each other's weaknesses."
"I'm strong because I have my team's support and my sensei's guidance," answered Shen simply, still not turning to face his interrogator.
"Relying on others makes you weak," Sasuke argued. "You can only rely on yourself."
"Something your clan believes in?" Shen responded, finally turning to glance at Sasuke. "I know you want power to avenge them, but who exactly told you to do that? Never asking for help, always doing it on your own, where did you pick that up? I imagine the Uchiha Clan understood teamwork, being one of the founding clans of Konoha."
"None of your business!"
Shen raised an eyebrow at Sasuke's retort. It was by far the most passionate he had heard the Uchiha speak about anything. It made Shen think that perhaps the one who helped instill Sasuke's current philosophy was either a mentor who had since passed on or possibly even the man who killed his clan. The latter didn't seem all that likely but given the rage in Sasuke's eyes it may in fact be true.
"Was it the one who killed off your entire clan?" Shen concluded. Sasuke froze, giving Shen all the confirmation he needed before he continued, "Strange, isn't it? He left you alive. Why is that? Why is it that he left you alive out of all of the people which made up your clan and why did he tell you to gain strength on your own? Doesn't it seem odd to you? Why are you even listening to his words after what he did? Are you that naïve?"
The words hit Sasuke like an explosive tag as the implications hit him. Why did he listen to Itachi's parting words on the night his clan was slaughtered? Part of him argued that he needed to get strong as quickly as possible and he didn't have time to do it gradually while itachi was out there no doubt growing more powerful. Besides, Itachi did it on his own and look how powerful he had become in only a few years!
But Itachi was a genius among the Uchiha clan. Everyone talked about his prowess as a ninja and praised his accomplishments, even becoming ANBU in his teens! Itachi got strong on his own because he only needed minimal teaching.
Shaking his head, Sasuke gave a dark 'hn' before heading off to meet with Kakashi and Sakura. He couldn't doubt himself now. He was naturally talented as a ninja just like Itachi was! If the weaklings needed to band together to become strong then that was fine for them. Sasuke already passed that level and didn't need a team when he could rely on himself.
"If you continue on this path, you become their reflection," Shen advised, loud enough for Sasuke to hear.
Sasuke suddenly stiffened and sharply turned his head to glare at Shen. The fury in his eyes at the sheer thought of suggesting Sasuke would become like his family's killer was very clear to Shen's eyes. It was obvious that Sasuke wasn't as over the traumatic event nor as emotionally stable as the civilians of Konoha liked to believe about their golden boy. To Shen, it was what he thought looking at a member of the RinJyuKen Akugata before Rio's reformation.
"I am nothing like him!" Sasuke shouted at Shen.
Shen cocked an eyebrow. "Like who? Your clan's killer?" He concluded, "You must've known him quite well then. It must've been someone you trusted who you never expected. Must've really broken your heart."
Sasuke began gritting his teeth, his fingers beginning to clench as Shen poked more and more at the single most terrible moment of his life. His eyes narrowed to slits as he looked ready to attack Shen for his words.
Both Shen and Sasuke turned to see Kakashi watching the pair. His arms were crossed and his usual lazy demeanor was gone. This wasn't Kakashi the teacher at this point, but Kakashi the Jounin who was gazing at them both. "Sasuke, we're heading out. Go meet up with Sakura and Tazuna."
Sasuke frowned, but quickly regained his cool demeanor and obeyed. Glaring one last time at Shen, he headed out to meet up with his pink-haired fangirl and the bridge builder.
"You know, for someone who wants to get this mission accomplished, you're provoking Sasuke an awful lot," Kakashi commented, glancing at Shen.
"Maybe, but for my peace of mind I'll do it," Shen shrugged. Seeing Kakashi not moving and his visible eye still stern, he elaborated. "When I heard what happened to Uchiha's family and seeing how he interacts with everyone, I was a little concerned about if he's really as stable and ready for life as all of the civilians and his fangirls seem to think he is."
"And this was just a test to see if he was or not?" asked Kakashi. He understood the sentiment. One didn't get through with witnessing the slaughter of their clan and the subsequent mental torture of the ultimate Genjutsu unscathed. He himself observed Sasuke for many hours before being sure that the boy was ready for active duty, as did many of his instructors. Of course, with the civilians raising the boy on a golden pedestal because of his clan's name and members of the council all but demanding he be made a ninja for reasons from 'destiny', 'reputations' and for his Sharingan it may not have been as thorough as psychologists such as Inoichi Yamanaka would have liked. Incidentally, it was one of the reasons why he didn't encourage his daughter to go after Sasuke like so many other council members with daughters did.
"Did he pass?" asked Kakashi, but suspected the answer.
"Failing miserably actually," Shen sighed. "When training in my Lion-Ken, I also studied on how to identify the threat level of an opponent in their actions, words, and gestures. It tends to let me know how much an opponent is willing to let loose on me and with how much force. Sometimes I also manage to learn things which make them tick if I'm around them long enough. In short I can be called an expert at reading a person's body language. Body language never lies as far as I know."
"A useful skill," Kakashi nodded. "I suppose you learned something about Sasuke then?"
"Well, this is only guesswork so I may be wrong but…," Shen sighed. "Uchiha is trying to blot out the world in his quest to avenge his clan. He's ignoring just about everyone and everything else save for how they can help him do that. The way his temper seems ready to snap at the mention of the incident makes me think he's full of anger and probably hasn't dealt with the loss just yet, instead drowning himself in his personal revenge quest. I've seen people like that and if this keeps up, he'll probably become desperate to do anything it takes to find the one responsible."
Kakashi sighed. A dead ringer for his observations, save for the detail that Shen may not have noticed, having met Sasuke just prior to the Genin exams; Sasuke absolutely hated being upstaged or proven inferior to anyone. His pride as an Uchiha and his own ego weren't able to take it. He'd already trained himself into a frenzy back in Konoha after his initial defeats to Shen and now he found the boy almost leaping at the chance to go train some more that morning despite having to go watch over Tazuna at the bridge. Kakashi knew from experience that having that much of an ego tended to end up destroying your world when it was suddenly broken by something.
"You seem oddly insightful on this subject despite being twelve," Kakashi noted.
"Well, I may have turned out the same way if the one who took my parents away hadn't been destroyed the same day," Shen sighed, remembering the dark day. "As it is, I got adopted and got help dealing with the issue. I may get upset when the ones responsible come up, but I can still keep my head. And besides, I've seen what happens to people who become desperate for power, desperate to get away from weakness, willing to do anything it takes so they won't lose to anyone."
"You do?" asked Kakashi.
"Remind me to tell you about a fellow named Rio after you're done at the bridge," Shen answered. "For now, we need to be ready for just about anything. I've learnt that no matter how prepared you are life will always throw you curveballs." Shen put on his knuckle dusters and pounded his fists together to emphasize. "Out of curiosity, can I ask who it was that massacred the entire Uchiha clan?"
"That's…classified information," said Kakashi. Well, it really wasn't. All one had to do was ask anyone in Konoha since everyone knew. However, Kakashi didn't believe that it was his place to talk about Itachi Uchiha behind Sasuke's back for no reason.
"I see," nodded Shen. Well, he had enough clues from observing Sasuke for now. At any time he could slip up and blurt out a name then Shen would be able to piece the puzzle together. He knew it had to be someone Sasuke knew, someone he trusted and who was close to him.
Kakashi gave Shen a look and said, "I don't know much about you, save for what Anko told me. So, you have all been trained to fight monsters?"
"Now that's classified," Shen remarked, smiling slightly.
"Fair enough," Kakashi smiled, his eye indicating a smile. "Well, I'd better be off then before Sakura annoys Tazuna to death with her constant demand for dates from Sasuke. See you this evening." With a wave, Kakashi was off to meet up with his team.
"See you later," Shen nodded, watching Kakashi go.
"Shen-sama!" Shen blinked and was about to turn before he got one of Mimi's patented glomps in the back. Raising an eyebrow, he looked over his shoulder to see Mimi beaming at him. "I saw you being broody again! You looked like you needed a hug!"
Shen rolled his eyes at his love interest's face of innocence. While Mimi was usually optimistic and giddy about a lot of things, she didn't usually go into her 'innocent little girl' mode unless she was trying to cheer someone up. Apparently she did more than see his conversation with Kakashi, she must have heard it too.
'That's fine,' Shen thought to himself with a small grin, patting Mimi's hands. This would just be another reminder of what Shen strived to be strong for, what he strived to protect and keep, a reminder that he wasn't alone no matter how grim things looked. He had lost his family once and he would not lose another family again. "Where's Naruto?"
"Oh, he's pretty beat. He did train very late last night," Mimi told him.
"And how's Jin?" asked Shen.
"He's doing pretty well. Those herbs we got are working like magic!"
Towards the bridge, Sasuke was broodier than usual with a scowl so dark it could cause rain to come down on them. Shen had pushed his buttons, something not many could do. Shen had pretty much discovered a few things about Sasuke.
Shen, to Sasuke, was one big mystery. They were both a lot alike. They had lost their families at a young age and both strived to become strong, although it was for different reasons, which was another mystery to the last Uchiha. However, it was different for Sasuke because his clan's murderer had been his own brother. Shen was able to discover, through his reaction, that it'd been someone close to Sasuke but had not learnt that it was his brother. Sasuke just continued to chide himself for letting out a detail like that. Itachi was his business, no one else's!
Sakura was in deep thought, though. Mimi and Shen's words still rang through her mind. Truthfully, Shen and Sasuke could've passed for twins but they were very different despite having experienced the death of their families. Shen, while he seemed cold to most, was warm and caring to his comrades. Her fangirl side just claimed that was how she was sure Sasuke would be once he finally opened up to someone (her) and let them in. However, Shen and Mimi's words kept coming back to her. Did Sasuke really not care about starting a relationship, even if he said he wanted to rebuild his clan and had so many willing offers?
Thinking about Shen's words about Sasuke only made her start thinking of his words concerning her own abilities, which were more or less nonexistent. Sasuke had his clan's jutsus and Naruto and his comrades had their own techniques. Kiba, Shino, and Hinata had their own styles as well. Sakura, who was from a civilian family, only had what the academy had taught her and nothing more. What was more distressing, she hadn't really tried all that hard to make herself the best kunoichi she could be, deciding rather to focus on her looks and book smarts which she was sure would catch Sasuke's attention much like Ino did with her own looks and family jutsus. Obviously it didn't work since they were both very much single and Sasuke didn't bat an eye at either of them beyond telling them how annoying they were.
A thick mist started to roll in. Kakashi's good eye narrowed. The approaching fog had chakra laced into it. There were very, very slight amounts of it and it was almost unnoticeable. If it weren't for the experience he gained being part of the ANBU and recently coming up against someone capable of using mist in such a way, even he might have missed it. Still, he didn't want to alert the user that he was aware of them just yet, so he'd play dumb. When the battle began though, all bets were off.
"Guard Tazuna!" Kakashi barked. He knew the mist was Zabuza's cover and from in it Zabuza could strike from anywhere and at anytime. Sakura took out a kunai as did Sasuke, the latter's eyes narrowed as he tried to pinpoint the threat.
Meanwhile, near Tazuna's place, Gato had sent a gang of his men to send a message and make an example out of Inari and his mother. He'd done so with Inari's stepfather but clearly the message wasn't getting through to Tazuna if he was going to hire ninja from outside to mess with his business. This way, he was sure to break the old man's spirit and prevent any further rebellion. Even the idea of rebellion would be erased from the minds of the villagers.
However, these men would not even reach Tazuna's place. They were going to be dealing with more than just ninjas.
When leaves floated down around the mercenaries, they didn't think much of it. That was until the leaves suddenly exploded into smoke and transformed into orange-clad blondes that attacked them furiously. Those who didn't get knocked out by the blonde were incapacitated by an invisible force which caused them to feel like their bodies had gained several hundred pounds in an instant, forcing them to their knees due to gravity.
The clones then dispersed, leaving behind leaves as Mimi reappeared. Naruto, who'd been up on the tree, jumped down next to Mimi.
"Looks like these guys were trying to get to Tazuna through his family," said Naruto as he nudged one of them with his foot.
"It's a good thing Anko-sensei sent us to scout around the place," said Mimi.
"True, and it was thanks to me alerting you they were coming close," said Bae who'd buzzed over to land on Mimi's shoulder.
"Yeah, thanks Bae-chan."
Anko and Shen showed up and looked at the men Naruto and Mimi knocked out. Their Jonin instructor whistled, impressed while Shen looked impassive but with a small smile nonetheless.
"Great job, you two," she complimented. She really had to hand it to their trainers.
"So, what now, Anko-sensei?" asked Mimi.
"Well, what do you guys wanna do?" Anko asked.
"To save Wave!" declared Naruto.
"To free everyone from Gato's clutches!" added Shen.
Mimi finished up, "And make everyone smile again!"
"OK, so let's go!" Anko ordered before dashing off to the bridge. Kurenai and her team could handle things from here.
KAMEN RIDER CHROME: Looks like we're finally heading towards some action here! Let's see what happens next!