Chapter 17

Entering- Field Trip!

'So boring…' Sasuke thought in his mind, repressing a yawn. Kakashi continued droning on about the current novel they were reading in that languid, lackadaisical tone – a lazy cadence that could put anyone to sleep.

He, of course, remained awake, occasionally jotting down notes to feign that he was actually paying attention.

His seating partner reacted otherwise. He glanced over to Kari to see her novel shielded her as she rested her head on her arm, deep in a dreamy slumber.

'She really is a moron, isn't she?'

He wondered how she could possibly maintain even an average mark if she persisted to sleep through every lesson. Of course, he never knew. Naruto acted similarly and nearly failed the last quarter. Shikamaru did the same and managed to get a perfect score. He didn't know her grades, but he was sure Hikari was not a female version of Shikamaru.

"And now, class, I have an announcement to make," Kakashi shouted in a booming voice. He plopped the book onto his desk with a loud thud, arousing two tired scholars from their naps. Naruto jumped up from his seat and yelped at the sudden din. Kari simply raised her silver head, tiredly rubbing her eyes and quietly complaining how she was having such a good dream. Shikamaru failed to stir in his sleep.

"It's nothing to get all excited over, but I was thinking since I know everyone is enjoying the book we are currently reading," he began, pointedly glancing at two of Sasuke's contemporaries with blonde and silver hair, "It would be nice to have a little field trip to see the area that inspired the setting of this novel."

Everyone gasped. Kari's steel-blue orbs widened. Everything fell into a startling hush.

"No way…" She murmured, her eyes sparkling.

A harmonic sound of cheers exploded in the classroom; all were clearly ecstatic over the very thought of it… except a dark-haired boy who truly cared less. His forced seating companion rocketed out from her seat and shot her arms up in the air. "Yes! Field trip! Field trip!"

'Does she know how to lower her voice?' Sasuke wondered, sneering at the jubilant female for nearly breaking his eardrums with her shouting. 'It's not even that big deal.'

"Kikuchi-san, please remain seated. Class is not over yet," the white-haired instructor ordered her sternly. With a bright grin still plastered on her face, Kari conceded and plopped herself back in her seat.

Naruto then exclaimed his query, "So where are we going, Kaka-sensei?"

The white-haired man turned his lazy, black iris towards the elated blonde, his electric blue orbs sparkling with anticipation.

His one visible eye curved into a cheerful arc, denoting a smile was spreading under his mask. He replied, "Our field trip this year will be in… Misawa!"

The class then burst into another round of exhilarated cheers, all now jumping up from their seats.

"I heard Misawa is simply pristine!" One classmate said joyously.

"It's simply glorious!" Another swooned. "I always heard this school had the best field trips ever!"

The impassive Uchiha simply rolled his eyes at the general enthusiasm… before noticing his one side was eerily silent.

'Is she just yelling so loudly that I lost all hearing in my one ear or what?' He wondered, using his peripheral vision to glance over to her.

Her overall complexion blanched; her usually rosy cheeks were drained of all color. Her hands gripped her novel tightly, trying to stop herself from shaking any more violently. Her gaze was almost blank, staring out into vacant space. All of her original euphoria seemed to evaporate into thin air.

'What the…?' Of all people, he expected Hikari to be the most euphoric, jumping up and down spastically at the very prospect of going anywhere. It was… abnormal – completely uncharacteristic of her to act so somberly. He didn't know why, but such a sight disturbed him.

Soon, Kari separated herself from the desk, walking with shaky steps towards her instructor. With her complexion so pale, he thought she was some phantasmal wraith.

Everyone seemed much too preoccupied by his or her mini celebration to notice Kari's haunted demeanor – all except Sasuke.

He strained his ears, trying to dismiss the annoying prattle of his contemporaries, trying to hear her soft voice.

"Kaka-sensei, is it mandatory for everyone to go?" Kari asked gently, almost a near whisper. "Can't I just… stay here or something?"

This caught the curious Uchiha's attention. Why would Kari want to stay? It was Misawa for god's sakes. Even the Uchiha genius heard the location was astounding – divine really. Any normal person would die to go there.

Kakashi firmly replied, "I'm sorry, but everyone must go. Even if I could leave you here, there's no one there to take care of you. Sai is coming as well. You'd probably die from starvation or neglect if I left you alone."

"Please, Kakashi. I'll be fine by myself. I can handle it if I really put my mind to it," she implored almost… desperately?

"We'll speak more of this once everyone's out of here, Kari. Either way, you will go. That much is certain."

Kari nodded her head, forlornly shuffling her feet back to her designated desk. She dropped her head into her hands, her breathing irregular.

'Why did Kari look so worn? What was so bad about Misawa?'

She lifted her eyes from her hands, gazing intently at the desk. Her eyes were glassy, glistening iridescently as liquids pooled into her eyes.

'…What's wrong with Kari?'

Just before Sasuke built up the courage (and swallowed his pride) to interrogate his seating partner, the grating blare of the bell sounded. Bodies rushed out from the classroom, dragging the Uchiha along with them. He allowed the crowd to drag him along, his gaze intent on the girl with teary steel-blue eyes.

/=x=\\

"I still don't understand why it has to be mandated!" Kari cried in the empty classroom as she stood defiantly before her uncle. "It's not even that great. I mean, most of the kids would probably be getting drunk or frying their skins off in those lobster baths they call hot springs."

Kakashi calmly rebutted, "May I remind you that those 'lobster baths' were your absolute favorite thing about Misawa."

Her body visibly tensed for one moment and dropped her gaze. That simple reminder stung her, striking right to her heart. She muttered quietly, "And I still do adore them… I'm just not ready to go back, at least not yet…"

The white-haired male crossed his arms over his chest and chided her,"You said you weren't even ready to go back to school because of the incident and look where you are? If I don't give you a nudge towards the right direction, how else could you be ready?"

"Well mandating it for school is surely not the way to do it!" Kari sniffled, dropping her gaze to conceal her rushing tears.

"Aw, Hi-chan… It's all for the best. You know that," he comforted softly, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I just want you to move on. It's been a long time."

She unconsciously winced, as if his words and the memories were physically painful. It stabbed into her soul like a dull knife – slow and excruciating.

With a sharp inhalation of air, Kari quickly wiped her eyes and deliberated calmly, "Fine. I'll go only because it mandatory. I just won't like it one bit."

Her guardian simply nodded his head. "Listen, I really am sorry, but it's for your own good. You know that, right?" Kari absently nodded her head, her gaze fixated on the floor. "Well, you better go to class. I don't want you to be even later than you probably are now."

With a curt bob of her silver head, Kari quickly stormed out of the room, reveling in the sanctity of the empty hallways. Her breath was uneven. Small whimpers rushed from her throat. Her vision slowly grew bleary with tears.

This was all too much for Kari to process. Her mind was in a near tizzy with the influx of memories – all much too agonizing for her to think about.

Her whole body quivered as she shuffled her feet to her next class.

'Calm down, Kari… You can't cry here at school of all places,' she told herself, wiping away rebellious drops of tears. 'I promised I wouldn't cry anymore. It's not like it could bring any of them back…'

A low gasp erupted from her throat, causing her body to quake with more ferocity. Beneath her, her knees wobbled and threatened to buckle and collapse. Kari stood next to her classroom door for a few moments, her hands grasping her arms tightly. She bit down on her bottom lip, preventing another cry from escaping her lips.

'Calm down, Hikari. Pull yourself together…'

After controlling her breathing to a more tolerable level and her overall disposition, she drew in another calming breath before opening the door and stepping inside.

/=x=\\

Unfortunately, Sasuke was unable to gather enough strength to get Kari to answer him and discover what her problem was. His curiosity was unquenchable.

That curiosity proved to be unbearably irritating. He tried pacifying his inquisitive spirit by concentrating on simple tasks like schoolwork and his studies. No matter how much he pored over the textbooks, tuning out incessant chatter that prattled around him, his eyes eventually roved towards Kari.

'So annoying,' he mused bitterly as he stood at the lunchroom's doorway, invisible behind the protective cover of a tall green plant, studying the Kikuchi.

No matter how hard Kari wanted to hide it, there was something bothering her. She was almost a shadow of her former self, the person that annoyed him to no end. Her eyes were a dull gray, slightly riddled with red veins. All smiles and laughter she shared with her small circle of friends… were fake.

'Damn it… Curse that Kikuchi.' He inwardly scowled, cursing his inquisitive nature and Kari for deciding now to shut her loud trap.

Something was troubling Hikari… and whether Sasuke was willing to admit or not, he was dying to discover why.

/=x=\\

Days passed and finally the day had arrived: the trip to Misawa.

Kari nearly dreaded it, mentally counting down the days as if it marked her demise.

'Okay, Kari… it's just one week there. It won't kill you. You can do this,' she told herself, inhaling a copious amount of oxygen before pushing it right out.

With two bags in tow – one hung on her shoulder while the other she dragged behind – she ambled her way towards her friends.

"Hey, guys!" Kari said cheerfully, trying to extricate some cheerful energy in her dismayed body. "Are you guys ready for the trip?"

"Oh yeah! We totally are…" Sakura's joyful interjection died at her lips. Her emerald eyes widened along with Hinata and Ino's orbs. Even Naruto, who came over to greet them, was rendered speechless.

With her smile becoming weaker, nervous under their gaping eyes, she inquired, "Um, is everything alright, guys? Is something on my face?"

No response. A small breath of air brushed her long, gray tendrils.

"Uh… guys? You're all kind of scaring me here."

"Kikuchi Hikari, what do you think you're wearing?" Ino spat out, her bright blue orbs horrorstruck.

Surprised by the remark, Kari swiftly surveyed her attire. With a relieved exhale of air to see her blue sweatpants and white t-shirt were unblemished, she simply replied, "Well since I heard it's going to be a long ride, I decided to dress comfortably."

"I can understand comfort, but you're nearly drowning! Those are the baggiest clothes I've ever seen!" Ino cried, tentatively touching the fabric as if it was tainted with the plague.

"Do you usually dress like that?" Sakura asked, trying to ease her shock away from her countenance.

"Well… I guess. I always preferred anything with pants over that skirt atrocity we must wear at school."

"But I think I have to agree with Ino," Hinata mumbled under her breath. "Those seem a little… big on you."

"Of course they are! Anyone with eyes can see that!" The blonde shouted. "She's so thin, and she decides to pile these loose-fitting pieces of clothing. It's sacrilegious I say! Pure and unacceptable blasphemy!"

"But I guess it's refreshing to see another girl that chooses to refrain from wearing skirts! It's a good change," Naruto beamed, comforting the disgruntled female.

"Do you have a problem with girls wearing skirts?" ominously growled a pink-haired girl and a blonde, both sporting said garments.

"No! Of course not! It just makes Kari seem a little more original. That's all!" he swiftly clarified. His words sadly did not save him from a dual punch to the face.

"JERK!" The two girls yelled, angry nerves pulsating from the pallid temples. Poor Naruto mumbled his apologies, rubbing his reddened cheeks with his hands.

"Anyway, back to your problem, Kari," Ino said, wiping her hands from the deed. Kari merely raised a skeptic brow, finding her current situation rather problem free. Ino added, "You are walking fashion emergency! You better not tell me you have similar articles of clothing in your suitcase."

"What if I do? I can dress any way I want to," the silver female retorted defiantly, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Oh, I refuse to let that happen! When I can, I'm going to find you better clothes in my suitcase impromptu of this fashion blunder!"

"Oh no! By what you're wearing now, I already have a good idea what your wardrobe consists of. If it's not pants, I refuse to wear it!"

With a scheming smile on her face, Ino simply said, "We shall see, Kikuchi Hikari. We shall see."

Kari swallowed a large lump that blossomed in her throat, holding her bags close against her body, fearing that all pieces of clothing would be replaced with the very article she despised.

"Well, we should get inside the bus!" Naruto announced, already running towards his bus. "See you guys there!"

After a quick exchange of goodbyes, the small cluster separated. Ino, Sakura, and Hinata rushed towards a different bus while Kari ambled right behind them, her movements slow and deliberate.

'I don't really have a choice about going to that place, but I can take my time walking to the bus. No problem with that.'

"Ah! Lookie here!" A voice exclaimed, raising her gaze from the smooth concrete upwards. "I always knew you were a boy!"

"Sai, shut up!" Kari cried, hitting Sai right in his arm. "Just because I'm wearing this, doesn't mean I'm a boy."

"But you must admit, those are pretty baggy clothes. You could have fooled me," Sai teased. A pair of deep gray-blue orbs whirled in a perfect circle. "Anyway, will you be alright? Boys and girls are separated to two different buses. It wouldn't be very fun if the other students saw you leap out the window or perform some other, lunatic act of suicide."

"I won't die on the bus there, Sai! I'll be fine," she assured him. "I think the only ones that would be most dismayed by the arrangement is the fan girls. Oh my goodness! They must be bawling their poor eyes out to know they're away from chicken-butt head!"

Sai chuckled in response. "Well at least you still have some sense of humor, Hi-chan! See you there."

"Yep, see ya there, Sai."

The two soon separated, stepping inside the bus. Kari seated herself comfortably in the backseat by herself, resting her head against the cold glass window. Her whole demeanor was silent, her lips refusing to utter a single word. Most of the girls respected her privacy and left the nervous Kikuchi to sit in peace.

'Just one step at a time, Kari. There's no reason to lose it just driving up there,' she comforted herself as the bus lurched forward, speeding through the streets. 'I can totally make it through this at least.'

Her steel-blue orbs remained fixated out the window, watching the city scenery whirl into an autumn forest – feeling an influx of memories slowly travel towards the forefront of her mind…

/=x=\\

"Kari-chan, wake up. We're here," Sakura gently coaxed her, watching as pale lids lifted to reveal tired watery gray orbs.

Kari yawned, rubbing her eyes as she asked, "What do you mean by that, Sakura-chan? Where are we?"

"Ah, you can't be that forgetful, Kari," interjected a blonde Yamanaka. "Just look outside."

Still disoriented, Kari conceded and turned her tired eyes towards the freezing glass.

She immediately woke up and stared. Greeting her upon her arousal were trees, swaying with the slightest breeze, sprinkled with spots of scarlet, gold, and orange. She had suddenly been teleported to a simpler world, a world she never expected to see for a long time.

'No way… We're here already?' Kari grimaced, lifting her sleepy body from the leather upholstery and behind the decreasing queue.

She was the last to leave the bus, slowly stepping down to the cold, grassy soil. Ribbons of golden light filtered through the passing clouds, attempting to warm to cold earth.

Kari swallowed, gaping at her surroundings. 'Nothing has changed… Its even more beautiful then I remembered…'

Though deep in her heart, she would much rather be there during spring than autumn. Memories of cherry blossoms fluttered through her nostrils, filling her with its sweet, fresh scent.

She quickly shook her head, dispelling such bliss from her thoughts. Allowing such simple, lovely memories to flow through her mind always brought sharper memories – the very ones she suppressed to the very corners of her mind.

"Did you enjoy the ride here, Hi-chan?" Sai asked, suddenly appearing before her.

"I wouldn't know. I was asleep for most of it," she replied, exhaling a tired yawn. Suddenly her gaze became thoughtful, absorbing her surroundings with a wistful sigh.

Sai quietly noted, "It's been a rather long time since either of us has been here, hasn't it?"

Kari nodded her head, swallowing a large lump wedged in her throat. "Yeah, it has."

"Well, do you need help with your luggage? I can carry a bag for you if you'd like," Sai offered courteously.

"No thanks. You have enough bags to worry about…" Kari pointedly glanced behind the raven-haired artist, seeing lines of suitcases sitting idly behind him. Her silvery blue orbs reverted back to his dark orbs. "Seriously, Sai. What did you do? Bring your whole house with you?"

The dark-haired artist simply smiled and said, "Well you can never be too careful. I like to know that I'm always prepared."

"Of course…" Steel-blue orbs whirled in a perfect circle.

"Hey, we're going in to get our rooms." Both heads turned at the voice. Sasuke suddenly emerged out of thin air, standing before them with his customary scowl.

"Oh yes. Of course." Sai nodded his head. He grabbed his bags, hastily whispering in her ear, "You'll be fine, Hi-chan. No worries."

Kari nodded his head in thanks, watching as Sai's silhouette slowly disappeared in the sea of students and other bodies. 'No worries, Hikari… No worries…'

"Yo, Kikuchi, do you have issues?"

Kari nearly jumped at the sudden accusation, the very nature of the inquiry. Maybe she was more shocked by the person who asked her such a question.

She blinked once, staring at the sullen Uchiha with confused eyes. Remembering his question, she immediately went on the defensive. "What makes you think I have a problem, Uchiha?"

"Well, I assumed it was obvious. This is you I'm talking about here." Kari merely responded with an angry scowl. "Come on, Kikuchi. Spill already. What issues are you having now?"

Kari remained firm in her refusal and huffed, "Even if I did have a problem, which I assure you I don't, it would be none of your freakin' business!" She suddenly found her attention attracted to the floor as she added quietly, "Besides, there are just something things that are supposed to be left in the dark…"

Everything at the moment remained pristinely silent. She then turned her head, examining Sasuke's face for his reaction. She wasn't really expecting much. Sasuke's expression was unreadable as always, void of any, if not all, emotion.

"Hn." Before Kari knew it, Sasuke suddenly took her luggage captive, rolling it alongside his own. "I never heard anything more ironic."

She ignored such a statement and demanded, "Hey! Where are you doing with my stuff? You can't just take it!" She tried lunging forward, but Sasuke already predicted her moves. He evaded her attempt with ease, making her fall right on her face. "Uchiha, I'm not kidding! Don't you know…"

"Kikuchi, don't you know that your own name means light?"

She was suddenly was suddenly speechless. All she could do was stare at his eyes, his cold and penetrating gaze. With another grunt, Sasuke turned his head and continued walking forward into the inn.

Kari shook her head and jumped back to her feet. "Hey, you! I'm not done with you, teme! Come back here!"

She then ran after him without any regard for her surroundings, carelessly pushing through roves of students to reach the Uchiha.

"Give me back my…!" Suddenly, her pace slowed once she reached inside. She casted a cursory glace around her surroundings. She recognized the interior almost immediately.

'Come on! We're staying in this inn of all places? I'm going to kill Kakashi when I find him!' Suddenly, a cold wave of remembrance chilled every inch of her body. She stood frozen in her place. 'And if we're in this inn, it's still likely that he could still be…!' She yelped at the thought and scrambled into the crowd of people, her senses on high alert.

She kept her fingers crossed. Perhaps the inn had new management. Yes, perhaps someone else took over the place, and the that person left!

'Or better! Maybe he died!' she thought hopefully, nearly resorting to hiding on her knees. '…Nah. I'm not that lucky.'

"Now if the first group follows me, I'll be showing you all where your rooms are," a voice spoke up, quite very unfamiliar… female even.

Kari shot to her feet and felt her heart surge with joy. She rushed forward to the front of the crowd to see that a young, female worker guiding the boys to their rooms. Her body immediately relaxed, almost laughing at herself. What was the matter with her? There was no need for her to be so nervous and anxious! There was no need to worry…

'And yet… why do I still feel like something is off?'

"And my sempai here will guide the other group to their rooms. Right, sempai? Sempai?" The young employee turned her head to the side, regarding her mysterious senpai in curiosity.

Kari foolishly turned her head as well. Her body suddenly tensed, her steel-blue orbs locking onto a familiar pair of blue. She could barely breathe. That blonde hair, those eyes… It couldn't be! She wasn't that unlucky!

The young man merely stared at her, his expression dumbfounded. "K… Kari? Kikuchi Hikari, is that really you?"

'Crap.' Without a single word or thought, Kari quickly dashed back into the crowd and ran. 'Gotta get away! Gotta get away!'

She wasn't fast enough. Before she knew it, a pair of arms captured her, pulling her into a warm, uncomfortable surface.

"Oh, Hi-chan! It's been forever! I've missed you so much!" the young man cried, holding her in a tight, affectionate embrace. "Welcome back to Misawa!"

"Gah, baka, let me go! You're too close to me!" she scowled, struggling to free herself from his grip with no avail.

"K…Kari-chan?" Kari stopped flailing and looked, seeing her friends stare at her current disposition with confused eyes. Even Sasuke stared her.

She simply mentally cursed, fighting the rising heat of embarrassment coloring her cheeks. '…yep. This field trip was a very bad idea…'


EDITED A/N Notes: My apologies to everyone, but after careful consideration I am putting this story on hiatus. Perhaps one day I shall pick this story back up. It still has a special place in my heart. But due to the things that happen in real life and my own fickle interests, I am holding this story off.

Thanks to those who support this story. All your support and reviews mean so much to me.

Thanks for the read!