I juggled my bags around to peer at the table with apples for sale.
"How much for these?"
"$5 for 10."
I scrunched up my nose; I had really had to tighten my belt this month. Work was hard to come by in the village of the cloud, especially for a wanted shinobi like myself. Often the jobs that came my way were dodgy, and I was paid half the rate I would charge if I was still working for Konoha.
After the Itachi incident…well, I could never set foot in that place again.
I shook my head at the woman and kept walking; I could go without apples this month. I wandered further down the high street, it was market day today and the place was teaming with locals and tourists alike. It was nice when it was this busy, I could go about my business un-noticed.
I walked past a guy selling mirrors and stopped to check out my appearance. Today I was wearing the marvellously cheap ensemble of a slightly too big white t shirt cut that stopped at the waist and a home-made sarong made from a huge piece of red material. Of course that meant that I was showing a lot of leg, but it helped me get about 10% off my purchases, so it wasn't exactly a bad thing. Plus it allowed for easy access to my kunai knives. I had several gold bracelets around my wrist and one around my ankle – heirlooms from my deceased parents. My dark brown hair was in dire need of a cut, and it lay in waves down my back. My eyes were grey, green on a good day.
But I wasn't having one of those.
The shopkeeper shooed me away, seeing that I wasn't going to buy anything. I rolled my eyes at him, muttering "yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm going…"
There wasn't much left to do but go home now that I was out of money – home being a cheap box of an apartment that you couldn't swing a cat in. But as I said, it was cheap, the landlord was fair, and it was in a decent area, unlikely to be searched by Konoha black ops. I moved every few months just to be on the safe side – I had been doing this for the last four years.
It was a beautiful day; the sun was streaming in between the buildings and trees – a rarity for a place named for its usually cloudy weather. A warm breeze blew past my face, yet for some reason I felt chilled. The hair on the back on my neck prickled dangerously, and the feeling of being watched was overwhelming. Could I just be over reacting? There were thousands of people here today; it was somewhat likely that someone would be checking me out. The damsel in distress with too much shopping and a low hanging handbag – the perfect target for a pickpocket.
Not that that would be difficult to deal with, I was a Jounin after all. It was stupid to try and shrug the feeling – what was it that he had always told me?
My old friends voice floated back to me.
"Chance favours the prepared mind"
I pretended to be considering a stall selling beetroot while trying to pinpoint the area of chakras of the person watching me. There were too many people around, and too much noise and distraction to be absolutely sure, but there was someone near by who I could sense was strong. Or was it two people? My concentration was broken when the stall owner yelled "Hey lady, you gonna buy something or what?"
I scowled at him and started to move away. I needed to get rid of my bags and arm myself before I got a shuriken in the back.
I hurried further into the crowd, and could sense that I was being followed. I was about to make a run for it, to prepare myself and then attack, when I got the shock of my life.
"Maia! Hey Mai! Is that you?"
"It's not her, idiot. Let's go."
I spun around; dropping my bags to the ground and throwing a kunai in the direction of the voice. I hadn't gone by my birth name for years; the only people who knew it were from…
Maito Gai and Sarutobi Asuma were standing mere meters away staring at me; Asuma having caught my knife.
Shit. They sent these two to take care of me?
Gai opened his mouth, but I was gone before he could get anything out. I sprinted down the rest of high street, biting my thumb and reaching for another knife with a seal wrapped around it. I scrawled down the transportation spell my foster father had taught me, before throwing it with all my might into the distance.
I could here the Jounin shouting at me, and closing in fast. I started making hand signs, and just as I felt someone's fingertips close on my shoulder – I vanished.
I was suddenly 50 meters further than I had been, and barely had enough time to register that I was going to run into a stall before ducking and skidding beneath it. I pushed myself off the dirty ground and ran into the nearby forest.
Why did I opt not to wear shoes today of all days. I jumped over a low hanging branch. Bloody typical that I should be attacked on the one day I try and relax.
I dodge between the close set trees. It would be impossible to use the transportation jutsu here; I'd only run into one of these trees and knock myself out.
A great look for a 'great' Jounin.
There was a sudden burst of sunlight as I broke into a clearing. I ran into the middle, turned to face my pursuers and waited.
I wasn't there for long. A matter of seconds in fact. Gai was the first to show, sprinting with a manically happy expression on his face. I guess he was really, really excited about killing me. He'd make a nice profit, no doubt about that.
"I'll ask that you kill me here, rather than drag me back to the village for execution. I don't particularly enjoy being the centre of attention. You try anything else and I'll kill you both, or at least, I'll die trying."
I raised kunai in both hands to show that I was serious, and Gai stopped in his tracks. Asuma walked up more casually behind him, studying me closely.
"Well, well Mai, long time no see."
I glared at him, trying to prepare for whatever surprise attack he was preparing.
"Yup, you were what, 14 when you left? You've grown up well" Both men grinned at me like idiots. I glared at each of them. If they were trying to get behind my guard they were doing a pretty shoddy job of it.
I twirled one of the kunai in my fingers, sizing each of them up, considering whether I'd have to tap into my strongest jutsu to bring them both down. It'd be a shame; we had been friends a long time ago.
"Enough talking. Can we just get this over with?"
At almost the same time their expressions changed to that of surprise. Gai hesitantly stepped forward.
"Get on with what exactly?"
I rolled my eyes impatiently.
"The killing? The 'we must take down this villain in the pursuit of justice for our slain Uchiha brothers'?"
They continued to look dumbfounded. What was wrong with these guys?
"Hello, accomplice to a mass murderer? Run out of town by ANBU?" I tapped myself on the head with the end of a knife, to try and make it as clear as possible what I was trying to tell them.
They looked at each other, Gai scratching his head and muttering something to Asuma, who just shrugged and lit another cigarette.
"Well…then…I'll just be going then…" I took a hesitant step to the side, and when they didn't attack me, I took another. They watched me with amusement.
"For god's sake, what the hell is with you guys?" I dropped my hands to my sides, completely exasperated.
Asuma, took a deep breathe, before walking right up to me.
"Maia, we all thought you were dead."
It was like being kicked in the gut. How could they think that?
"Right. Ok. And why would I be dead?"
Asuma looked back to Gai, appealing for help, but saw that he had found a puddle and had started winking and smiling into it.
Asuma sighed, and rubbed he forehead, before making Gai stand next to him to try and explain.
"Well, Itachi snatched you away right after the massacre didn't he? He attacked several ANBU agents on the way, and it didn't seem as though you were overjoyed to be dragged away like that. We thought it was a kidnapping, you two used to be a thing, right? So we figured that you must have witnessed the murders, and he was taking you away to get rid of a witness. We searched for months, but found no trace of you. Itachi has since joined up with the Akasuki, and there was no mention of you, so we prepared for the worst…"
"But now you're alive!" Gai cut in, giving me the thumbs up.
"Well done me. So, no one has been hunting me all this time? Jesus, I have been running for the last 4 years convinced that black ops were coming after me, and all this time I was just playing hide and seek with myself."
Well not totally by myself, I had managed to piss off a number of ninja in the villages I hid in, plus there were the enemy nations that would love to get their hands on my jutsu. But Konoha only sent retrieval squads, not extermination.
I didn't know how to feel about this. Did that mean I could go home then? Did I even want to, after what they did to Itachi? Gai interrupted my thoughts.
"Can you imagine how the people are going to react when we bring her home? God, after all this time, she's been alive!"
I chewed my cheek; undoubtedly I'd be chased out with pitchforks and torches.
"I don't think that many people will be over the moon about it. I know how it looked to the public when I disappeared."
Asuma thought for a moment, before nodding in agreement.
"Being found at the execution site moments after the massacre, then being taken by Itachi…I see what you mean. But if the Hokage got a message out to the public immediately, surely they would cooperate."
Not bloody likely.
"Asuma, ANBU attacked me on sight. They would have killed me, but instead Itachi grabbed me. Sorry, but I'm not sticking my neck out for the sake of a few hurt feelings."
I started to back away.
"How do you think Kakashi is going to react?"
I stopped, my stomach twisting into a knot. Kakashi. How would he react? Angrily? I had been gone for a long time, and he was my oldest friend. I should have given him some sort of sign that I was OK.
Bloody Asuma, he knew he'd hit a nerve with that one. If I went back, I'd have a lot of explaining to do. I covered my eyes with a hand while I thought. I wonder what he looks like now. Rather, I wonder if the two square inches visible of his face had changed. Was he still even wearing that stupid mask?
He'd be…26. Jeez, old.
I sighed – I knew I'd regret this, but to be home…would that be such a terrible thing? I'd be employed for a start.
"Meet me in 10minutes outside the southern exit of the village. I just have some stuff I need to pack."
Gai threw his fists in the air, and Asuma smiled at me. Gai's face suddenly took up my vision as he wrapped me in a bone crushing bear hug.
"Be quick Maia! Let not time waste the beauty of youth! We will run the entire way! Through rain and snow! We will return!"
He wandered back to the puddle and continued babbling. I snuck a sidelong look at Asuma.
"I'm not running in the snow."
He laughed and patted my shoulder.
"We'll work something out."