LOYALTY CHAPTER 29: ACT 4
Tenzo had no memory of his parents.
He had a picture of them, provided by the orphanage, but no matter how often he looked at it there was no familiar connection. He couldn't remember the last time he'd pulled the small frame out of his closet. All he had was a slight sense of gratitude toward the man and woman; a vague "thank you for having me, sorry about the war death" sort of feeling.
Therefore, it was more than a little awkward to listen to Yamanaka Ino sob as she clutched at her father. Inoichi bore it with a wry smile, an apologetic what can you do? look in his eye, and didn't stop her.
No matter how much Tenzo wished that he would.
"Yamanaka-san, If I could have a moment..."
That woman, Haruno Mebuki, glared at him. She wasn't as overt as the girl, but Tenzo didn't miss the way her hand fiercely clutched Inoichi's from the other side of the bed. "He's only just woke. Can't it wait?" she 'asked'. Really, Tenzo had no idea how to deal with her.
Inoichi turned as much as his daughter would let him. "Ah, I'm fine. I should have been up hours ago, truth be told. I was only just sleeping a bit."
"I didn't know a coma counted as light sleep," Mebuki shot back. Inoichi gave her a soft look and gripped her hand, which seemed to mollify the woman somewhat. She looked down at the bed, tense.
"Maybe some tea would do us all some good?" He suggested. "I'm parched and I haven't seen Ino drink anything since I've been up. Could you get us some, Haruno-san? From the little shop on the corner?"
Mebuki sniffed. "I know a polite dismissal when I hear one," she said, though she got to her feet anyway. She plucked her purse off the coat rack by the door, but paused before she was out. "Thirty minutes. When I get back, I'm going to talk to the doctor about how much rest you're getting."
When the door finally shut behind her, the blond girl let out a sigh that came out more like a hiss and she clutched Inoichi tighter. "She thinks she can just order you around like she's already replaced Mama! I can't stand it!"
"Now, now. She's only doing what she thinks is best for me. And no one can replace your mother. You know that, Ino."
Finally, he looked Tenzo's way. "My apologies, Tenzo. I know you have questions."
Tenzo let out a sigh of his own. "Several. First among them is if your daughter managed to discover what Haruno Sakura's kekkei genkai is."
Inoichi's face drew up in mild anger - another thing Tenzo didn't really understand about that strange bond between parent and child.
Did Kakashi-taichou begin to think like this as well? He wondered. He had almost told his old captain about this plan, that day at the training ground, but he'd held back. Something about the man's attitude that day had set off a warning bell that he'd have reacted the same way Inoichi had upon the change of Haruno Sakura's residence being ordered.
The girl, at least, had jumped at the chance. Just like her academy psychological profile had suggested she would. Female adolescence, jealously, pride, resentment, buried feelings shoved to the side - all it had needed was an outlet.
The village needs you to spy on Haruno Sakura.
Ino pulled back from her father and stared resolutely at the hospital bed. "I only had a day with her," she said.
"So that's a 'no'?"
"It's an 'I tried my best'!" Ino snapped. "My dad is more important than Sakura of all people!"
Tenzo rolled his eyes. "And I'm to understand that you pushed her away as well. You were told at the police station today that you needed to be her friend."
"Kakashi-sensei told me to be her friend, not you," Ino interjected, looking up at Tenzo with a thin smirk. "And you didn't say anything about my mission in front of him, so that makes me think he didn't approve of it. So get off my back about it."
"At least tell me you didn't ruin your entire relationship."
Ino, smiling to herself in a self-satisfied way, leaned back in her chair. "Of course not. My dad taught me better than that," she said proudly, not noticing or not caring about the tight look Inoichi sent her. "I told her that I'd seen you before. Talking to my dad."
Tenzo almost chuckled at the way Inoichi gaped at his daughter. "Audacious. You mean to play the 'confidant game' with her. It is a good strategy, but I warn you now that Haruno Sakura is cagey. You will be walking a thin line."
"And if you feel like you object to it at any time, I will support you," Inoichi forcefully interjected after he'd recovered. "I won't make you do this, Ino. We could overturn this mission with a clan head vote."
A good son he might not be, but Tenzo knew more at that moment about Yamanaka Ino than her father did. She smiled and promised him that she would, but even Tenzo could see that there was no way she was going to take him up on it. That kernel of hard determination was there, buried deep inside the girl already.
Tenzo shook his head at youth. "Enough about that, then. Inoichi, I know you've already given your statement to my superiors, but I need to know if you feel your attack is in any way connected to Orochimaru. I have my own investigation to head up."
"Orochimaru? No. I saw no signs of that. The ninja that infiltrated Investigations and Interrogation was a small two-man team. Both were male and they wore no identifying clothes or badge. It was professional."
"And Orochimaru's forces are anything but professional. Otogakure isn't even a proper village yet. It will need another two generations before it can approach that kind of internal cohesion without hiring missing-nin mercenaries," Tenzo explained. "Which he could have done here."
Inoichi gave him a look. "Logically, yes. He could have. But the evidence is against it in this instance. If you want to chase circular logic then by all means."
Tenzo nodded. "In that case, I'll leave the lion's share to your daughter. Ino, get in contact with me as soon as you know something concrete."
The girl sniffed. "Of course," she assured.
On his way out of the hospital, Tenzo passed Haruno Mebuki. She completely ignored him, carrying only three takeout cups of tea with her as she headed back up to the hospital room.
Tenzo used the hospital's front door. People stopped and stared; most had probably never seen an ANBU before. He didn't like or dislike the attention, beyond the obvious fact it made his job harder. The Hokage's order that shinobi should be seen as much as their jobs allowed was simply another thing he had to work into his day.
Still, he didn't need eavesdroppers right now. He flickered up to a nearby safe house rooftop and tapped the side of his mask.
"There was no actionable information from my informant," he said, knowing that the microphone inside his mask would pick up his voice even against the wind.
A crackle, static, and then, "We weren't holding out hope. What do you want to do now?"
"We're going to go with Plan B," Tenzo said. "Put him in restraints and grab a few good people."
There wasn't any need for a confirmation. Plan B had always been on the table and all the people they needed were already on standby. Most of his team was probably already waiting on him; he'd been the holdout.
The meeting area would have been problematic in peaceful times. Now when he stepped down into the Academy courtyard there wasn't a fuss. There wasn't even a need to announce his presence to the Academy leadership, like courtesy usually demanded.
It was all locked up. The children had been given a vacation during the month of the Chunin Exam so they could observe the finals. Tenzo walked through the archway entrance, past the empty classrooms, and didn't so much as disturb a mote of dust.
Tenzo looked over his shoulder. A slender woman was leaning against the doorjam of a classroom he'd just passed. "Yugao. Is everything ready?"
She flicked her head. "In here."
Four other ANBU were in the classroom with Yugao, along with a robed figure bound by chakra-infused chains. The hairs on Tenzo's arms raised just being around him, but it was necessary now at this late hour.
The hood tilted in Tenzo's direction. "You're finally ready to listen to me?" he asked, smooth as silk despite his condition. "You could have saved us all some time. And some their lives."
"And you'll be quiet until I tell you we're ready," Yugao said, giving her ring finger a twist as she did so. The figure hunched in pain as the chains around him tightened. Satisfied, her masked face turned toward Tenzo. "You know what Hokage-sama said about using him. He's already been caught in a dozen lies."
"Well, it's time to catch him in a dozen plus one. Come on."
Tenzo led the way, prisoner in the middle shuffling along and Yugao behind him as his jailer. They walked deeper into the building, through storage areas, gymnasiums, and a myriad of hallways meant to confuse students and teach them the value of memory exercises.
Every hallway was polished and gleaming, even without students around to do the work. This part of the school was new construction. It had been an expanded classroom annex to house the alternate curriculums the Academy had been branching out into.
Classroom 3-A. Forty by thirty-five feet, with only two tiers of benches. The polish on the floorboards wasn't even properly scuffed yet.
Tenzo stepped into the center of the room and mentally counted eighteen feet straight down the middle. He walked it out, stepping over the desks to get there, until he was on the second level.
He tapped the wood with his foot and let out a sigh. "It should be here, right?"
"Right under your feet," the prisoner confirmed.
Tenzo clapped his hands together. "Mokuton. Great Wood Parting."
The floor groaned and splintered with a tremendous crack of motion as the floorboards unzipped themselves from their immaculate placement. The desks clattered to the sides as two great sheets of floorboards rose up on either side, creating a hole in the room they could drive a cart through.
"How far down?"
The prisoner's covered head titled, considering. "At least twenty feet, in one of those big metal toolboxes. And underneath the foundation. We didn't want her to be found."
Tenzo gestured to the hole and two of the ANBU began their jutsu. The sound of their dotons took the place of any conversation, not that anyone wanted to be chatty right now. They'd all been debriefed about what they could find here. What it would mean. What they would have to do.
So they waited. They didn't have to wait long.
The smell hit him before anything else. Dead human flesh had a unique, punishing smell that was altogether different than an animal. Tenzo never forgot it, but he also never got used to it. Each time it hit him so hard he almost gagged. With enough time, it would be so bad even the most hardened veteran would have trouble.
And a year was a long time.
One man was already down in the hole with the box. "Open it up," Tenzo ordered him, even though he wanted to just reject its existence and cover it back up.
It cracked open with a wet pop. The body was bent at a horrible angle to fit, but the splash of pink hair and red dress was enough - was everything.
"Hello, Sakura," Tenzo muttered. Then he too went down into the grave.
AN: And so begins the final act of Loyalty. It's been ten years now, since I started this story, and it will likely be completed this year. I would like to thank everyone for getting to this point with me, new and old readers alike. It's been a journey. Now I am going to pull together all the little plot threads and hooks I've sprinkled throughout the story into one final rope; I hope that you all stick with me until the end.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you all for reading. I will see you all again next time.