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Kirigakure Saizou never expected to become friends with Sarutobi Sasuke. He hated Koga ninjas with a passion, and this one was especially annoying like no other. Ever since Isanami had collided into him and forced him to accompany her to Sanada's territory to complete her special mission, he had found himself in the company of the ninja more often. Their first exchange had not been friendly to start, with Sasuke preventing Saizou from entering Ueda Castle and the two fighting instantly (of course, Isanami had intervened to prevent any actual bloodshed).
Now, months later, after they had slain the enemies that had attempted to murder Isanami, the priestess herself was finding it difficult to have an excuse to stay with Saizou and therefore decided to finally be on her way to the Hijako Shrine. Her help was much needed there instead of in Ueda.
Saizou could not say he wasn't sad. He knew he would miss the bubbly yet stubborn girl more than anything. Isanami had been the one to incite his spirit into actually pouring his heart and soul into something- which was protecting her. Of course, she happened to get on his nerves more than often enough, being so increasingly clingy and annoying that he wanted to snap her in two. It didn't help that she spent time with Sasuke and they plotted against him occasionally, playing tricks and setting up traps to aggravate him.
So, on that sunny peaceful morning, while Saizou was practicing with his double blades, the message that arrived to him from a brawny owl, calling for a truce, was immensely startling.
A truce from Sasuke, of all people.
" 'Meet me at the battlefield of Ueda'," Saizou finished slowly, unable to comprehend those words. It was probably a trap, he reasoned, sheathing his blades into its hoisters. Whatever it was, he would be ready for it.
It was really old man Yukimura's fault that Saizou had ended up having every scouting mission with Sasuke. The bastard had seen how the two never got along and declared that being in each other's company would erase the negativity. In reality, it only increased the hatred. As Sasuke had simply put it, "I can't work with those damn Iga ninjas."
"Same goes to you, damn Koga," Saizou muttered as he sprinted through the forest to where Sasuke was.
The ninja had no idea why he even submitted to obeying Lord Yukimura. For most of his entire life before meeting the Sanada, Saizou lived like a rogue, coming and going and just making enough to survive. But then there was something different about the man, something that made Saizou smile and feel like helping out, doing something. Strange. He wasn't sure, but maybe Yukimura was a lord he could follow someday…
The sarcastic tone interrupted his thoughts. Saizou glanced up and glared at the impassive face of Sarutobi Sasuke, who was hanging upside down on a tree. Today, he was wearing his usual green attire, complete with his Sanada-emblem hat, which never seemed to fall when he stood upside down.
"You can be so fucking aggravating sometimes, Sarutobi," Saizou said loudly. "Why did you call me here?" And don't give me that 'truce' crap.
Sasuke leapt from his spot on the tree, landing in front of Saizou smoothly. His condescending honey-golden eyes narrowed. "A truce," he replied, annoying the Iga youth.
"I believe I have acted childishly these last few months. What with protecting my lord and Isanami, it gives me no more time to quarrel with you, Saizou."
How could a person say his name so annoyingly…?
"Lord Yukimura has been saying that I should not let myself slack," Sasuke continued. "And I don't intend to. Anymore, that is. So I call for a truce. We both know we can't stand one another, but we should be able to attempt to tolerate the other…" A look of confusion crossed Sasuke's face as he stared straight into Saizou's eyes. "But why is it that I hate you so much?" The young man mused innocently.
Saizou's vein popped. "Like I know, bastard! Why do I have such an intense passion to chop your body into pieces and feed it to your damn owl?!"
They both exchanged glares.
This is why I can't stand you, Sarutobi… You get under my skin like no other. You and your idiotic dedication and irritating comments-
"How about this then, Saizou?"
Slowly, Sasuke pulled his leaf-edged weapons from behind his back, grinning dangerously. And then the youth was smiling too, drawing his katanas from his side, and springing his legs ready for an attack.
"Let us have one final fight," Sasuke said quietly. "Before the truce."
"I never said I agreed to it," Saizou denied. "But I don't intend to hold back now, and you don't either, stupid Koga. I'm aching to spill your blood and make you moan in pain today."
At his last word, Saizou flashed forward, clashing blades with his equally enthusiastic opponent. Instantly, he tried his Blazing Dragon technique, though it was blocked off easily. Sasuke's tricky ninjutsu had the same effect on Saizou, who guarded and disabled the attacks with identical ease.
The young Iga realized with mild shock how evenly matched they were. Most of their blows were alternatively traded, none of their special skills could penetrate one another's rapid counterattacks and vice versa.
For some reason, that caused a strange, annoyed stir in Saizou's chest. After so much training day and night, how could he still not be able to completely dominate his enemy? I refuse to let you beat me, Sarutobi!… An odd thrill filled him as he increased his force, causing Sasuke to dodge and block with more intensity. Then Saizou saw it- a small opening on the ninja's left, and lunged forward with a mad fury, intent only on driving his weapon through his rival's skin…
Blood spurted into the air, followed by a gasp from Sasuke.
The ninja collapsed to his knees, gripping the wide, gaping wound in pain. Saizou was smiling at his victory… until he saw Sasuke's face twisted in extreme agony and all the blood pooling around the youth.
He had gone too far…
"…Sasuke?" Saizou said fearfully, bending down to touch his opponent's arm. There was no movement as Sasuke closed his eyes, his hand becoming startlingly whiter by the second. Saizou found himself descending to the ninja's eye level, and instinctively removing a piece of cloth from his shirt and gently pushing Sasuke's hand out of the way to bandage the wound. While he did this, the thoughts that registered in his mind were stumbling over each other.
Thought 1: He had finally defeated Sasuke.
Thought 2: But he had taken it too far.
Thought 3: Sasuke was severely injured.
Thought 4: Sasuke could die.
And then it hit him like a stone dropping on his head from the sky. What would Saizou do if Sasuke did actually die? He found himself instantly discarding the notion. Sasuke was Sasuke. He couldn't die… But then Saizou stared down at the pale youth who he was supporting up at the moment, and realized that if his opponent, rival, and enemy did pass away… he would be extremely, shockingly sad.
No more annoying Koga ninja with the arrogant attitude. No more arguing on special missions sent by Yukimura. No more fighting the one person who could evenly match him. No more…
"… Sai… zou…"
The whisper was followed by Sasuke's typical "you're-an-idiot" stare. But nothing else could have make Saizou as overwhelmingly happy and relieved as that one look of disgust.
"You're okay, then?" He asked stupidly.
"… You're… a… fucking… idiot…!"
Sasuke's roar was met when a smack on the forehead from Saizou.
"Don't call me an idiot when your life is in my hands." Saizou glanced at the crimson liquid covering both of them and decided quickly that the fun and games was over. He needed to get Sasuke back to Ueda Castle ASAP. "Stay still," the youth commanded as he noticed the Koga ninja made to get up. "Or it'll open the wound more."
Their eyes met swiftly, one pair of golden irises dull and the brown ones determined. "Please," Saizou continued as he lifted Sasuke up so the youth's arm was across his shoulder to lean on, and grabbed the ninja's weapons. "Don't struggle. Don't move too much. Don't argue with me, for once. Or you'll die." He almost added on impulse, "And I wouldn't want you to die," but bit back the comment at once, embarrassed at having thought of it.
Sasuke stared at him in a haze of pain and surprise. Then a rare and sudden smile lifted his exhausted, pale face. A curt nod. Then his head flopped to his chest, relenting to a sleep-faint.
Almost as though the ninja's faint was cue, the sun descended below the horizon, the day becoming dark with night. The predators from the shadows sprang forward, embracing their power at this time of day, the sounds of crickets and insects echoing around the area. Saizou knew he should hurry back before it became too dark to see or Sasuke bled to death, but he was too stunned to do anything but stare at that very moment.
You see, he'd accidentally glanced at Sasuke's slumbering face and found himself doing a double take. There was something so surreal and eternally flawless about the young man's passiveness, his gentle-looking orange hair falling a bit over his closed eyes. His mouth was slightly opened, breathing in and out with a ragged sound, but the worst thing about it was the new, strange emotion in Saizou's chest as he involuntarily focused his gaze on Sasuke lips. They were full and inviting, crept up in an adorable half-frown, inches apart from his own. A few millimeters closer and they would meet…
Sasuke suddenly convulsed, coughing blood right into Saizou's anticipating face… then settled back down again, a full smile now lighting his features.
The youth pulled back, grimacing and silently swiped away the spit and blood from his cheeks and eyes. He sprung onto a firm tree branch, gruffly carrying Sasuke with him. Saizou decided to ignore the bizarre stir in his heart a few seconds ago and continue his hatred for the Koga bastard.
Really, Sarutobi got under his skin like no other.
The room was stifling hot and suffocating. He wished someone would turn on a fan, or he might just explode right then and there. There was a grappling, burning pain on his left side, as though a knife had sliced through his entire body, through the flesh and into his organs. No, a katana.
A face flashed in his confused brain, one of unique naivety and stubborn attitude. Dark blue hair jutting everywhere from a brown-eyed, intense face, bordered with enormous compassion to destroy, or maybe beat him in a duel. Well, you got your wish, Kirigakure Saizou, Sasuke thought, betraying a hint of annoyance and bitterness at his loss.
It seemed as though the moment had passed by in a blur. One second he and Saizou were evenly dealing blows and attacks, then he was bent over in blazing agony, red liquid dripping everywhere, his vision flashing from black to white. Now, here he was, lying on a futon, staring up at the ceiling of Ueda Castle.
Outside the door of the room, Sasuke could hear the sounds of murmuring. He smiled wryly as he recognized the two voices- Isanami and Anastasia.
"-Ana! But I bet he's still asleep! We can't just barge in…" came Isanami's high voice.
Apparently the two were fighting over whether they should enter or not.
Ana argued back wisely, "He's had plenty of rest, it's been at least two days already!"
Startled, Sasuke jerked up to a sitting position. Instantly, he doubled over, flinching hard in seething pain. He glanced down at his naked upper body, which was covered with about a million bandages, yet he could still see a huge spot of blood seeping through the material. But only one thought registered in his mind. He had been knocked out for two days??! Two days?!
"LORD YUKIMURA!" Sasuke yelled, refusing to allow his wound to slow him down from his agile leap off the futon. He had not been by his lord's side for two whole days. Anything could have happened, all the unthinkable that his young mind could conjure up with.
"SEE?! He's awake!" Ana was exclaiming.
"Ana! Isanami…" Sasuke trailed off as he took one step, red spots filling his vision, and promptly collapsed onto the floor again, blood leaking onto the ground.
"AYAH!" Isanami cried out as she shoved the paper door open and stared down at the fallen ninja. "What happened??! Ana, is he…"
Anastasia peered from behind the girl, her blue eyes dancing in laughter. "Always one for action, isn't he?" she chortled, stepping forward and prodding Sasuke's body with a finger. "He couldn't have waited, huh?"
"Ana!" Isanami scolded. "This is serious! What do we do about him-"
"Give him my drug pills," Ana suggested, smiling. "Should knock him out for a couple of months so he won't overexert himself anymore. And his wound would probably be healed by then too. Of course once he wakes up, he'll murder us for denying him 'time with Lord Yukimura' and then he'll be off to Saizou's head for besting him in battle, resulting in the injury and less time with the lord!"
Her cheerful demeanor chilled Isanami.
Gently, the priestess lifted the Koga ninja's body so it faced upward instead of to the ground, letting his head rest on her lap. Her yellow eyes softened as she gazed down at his beautiful face. She didn't mind the blood spilling onto her rose-red Izumo dress, just the fact that Saizou had harmed Sasuke to the point where small movement, even talking, caused him to faint into unconsciousness. Isanami was surprised to find that being slightly angry at Saizou wouldn't make the gods strike her down from the heavens.
Ever since the day she had run into Saizou after escaping from the burning temple, he had given her hope and something to live for. She had felt obligated to him in an instant, believing that following him around would benefit the both of them. However, being called annoying at least four times a day was getting on her nerves, and she saw that time spent with Saizou was rarely fun or entertaining in any way. Weeks later, while sulking from Saizou's attitude, Isanami stumbled outside, where she found the usually pensive and dedicated Sarutobi Sasuke. When the ninjas had attacked her that one time and she had blanked out, Isanami could remember a moment when warm and gentle arms were wrapped around her. Protecting her. So safe and comforting.
Who would ever believe that the impassive, almost crazed Koga ninja Sasuke had such a manly and snug embrace?
Days after their first normal encounter, which resulted in random small talk (all of which Isanami enjoyed immensely), she had found herself looking for reasons to run into Sasuke again and again, sometimes even ignoring Saizou in the process. Most of the time however, her guilt would act up and she would attempt to make up for her ingratitude towards the young man by stalking him around and trying to be friendly to him (this resulted to more uncomfortable silence and tension between the two).
But in her heart, Isanami knew she felt love for only one person…
Blinking, the girl returned from her thoughts. Ana's hand waved in front of her.
"Y-yes?!" She blushed, not sure if her friend had heard the mutinous thoughts in her head or not.
"We should get going soon. We gotta pack, then train you a bit before… You leave for Hijako…"
Sobering instantly, Isanami replaced Sasuke's body back onto the drenched futon. Hijako. She was a highly powerful priestess, after all, blessed with gifts from the gods which was supposed to be put to good use… But Ueda was like a second home for the girl, and she felt a deep sadness and pain at the thought of never seeing it again. And, Isanami smiled weakly as she ran a hand over Sasuke's slumbering and pale face, I will miss you.
Ana's gentle touch was startling, causing tears to fall from her eyes. It shocked and maddened her. All the emotions Isanami had fastened tight within her heart was brimming on the edge of exposure. Damn it… I can't let Ana see me like this-
"It's okay." The older woman surprised her with a soft hug, smiling sideways at Isanami. "You don't have to be so brave anymore," she said in a quiet voice. "You don't have to hide your feelings anymore… Isanami, it is okay to love him, just don't lose yourself from attempting to keep it all bottled up inside. Let them go, express it freely. What is wrong with loving, anyways? Why are you so afraid to show it to the one you love?"
"I've known Sasuke for years," she continued. "And I can't blame you for it." A small grin. "His devotion is quite endearing, isn't it?"
Finally, Isanami gave in to a laugh. Her eyes grew gentle and serene. "He is much more than that, Ana," the young priestess murmured. "He is sweet and caring, someone who would protect me if needed… Sasuke… Someone…"
The door opened silently, interrupting the two as they whirled to face the intruder. Unno Rokurou, loyal guard of Yukimura, cast the two women an apologetic glance. "Excuse me," he said in his usually low tone. "But Lord Yukimura requires your assistance, Anastasia. He demands that this is urgent and even if you were half-dead, you still have approximately 1 second to report to him."
This prodded more laughter from Isanami and a wry grimace over Ana's face. "I'll be back," Ana assured Isanami, satisfied as the young girl returned her words with a nod. "That old geezer…" She muttered as she passed Rokurou and shoved her way grumpily out of the room.
And then there was silence. Rokurou suddenly felt awkward standing there, having heard the last few parts of the two's conversation and wondering if he should add, "If you like, I could tell Sasuke for you…" Which didn't seem quite appropriate since the ninja was already in the room at the moment, though knocked out. He forced a smile. "Er… well, I should be going-"
"Rokurou-kun." Isanami steadily rose to her feet, eyes determined. "I have some questions for you."