Title: Across The Hallowed Ground (1/7)
Characters: Shisui, Itachi, and others.
Summary: In the wake of an attack on the Academy, an order was issued for all the students to evacuate to the countryside. One group never made it to their destination.
Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi.
A/N: Um, so this kind of feels like me shooting myself in the face. I should probably wrap up my other WIPs before barreling into a new one, but this story is pretty simple, and I have most of the plot planned out. Read it and tell me if I should continue?
Across The Hallowed Ground
Part I: Apart
It was negative one hundred bazillion degrees up there on top of the hill, and the crunch of frozen, iron-hard earth beneath the soles of his feet was starting to feel like child abuse. Shisui turned the blade of his hoe over to attack another square of soil—chop-chop-chop, one, two, three—before digging it snug into the ground. Every gust of wind felt like an open wound on his damp face, raising dry-grass noises in the distance.
He propped himself against the hoe's handle, looked down into the valley. Below him, the ground appeared as an empty rice bowl. The steps leading up to the temple looked like a long white spine, ramrod, cutting into the brownish wood. Shisui squinted at it, hoping to see people coming up, and was disappointed for approximately the twentieth time that morning.
"Why aren't they here yet?" he muttered to himself, dabbing sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. "What the heck could be taking so long?"
"Talking to yourself now? Did you catch a head cold or something?"
He turned, and saw Inuzuka Hana picking her way across the field toward him, Saburo bouncing along at her heels. The annoying little mutt immediately dug his paws into one of the fresh-chopped rows, and began attempting to build some kind of tunnel in the dirt.
"Can you tell him to stop that?" Shisui said. "He's undoing five hours' worth of hard work."
"Glad to see you've made so much progress," Hana said tartly, but signaled for her nin-dog to sit anyway. "Lunch is ready, by the way. You should go clean up if you want any of the good stuff."
"Oh yeah? What're we having?"
"Soybean rice and bran cakes."
"Again?" He couldn't help groaning to himself. "At this rate, we're gonna forget what real food tastes like. Why'd they have to send us all the way out in the middle of nowhere anyway?"
"What were they supposed to do after Kumo's raid?" Hana said. "It's really lucky that none of the students were killed." Inexplicably, she dipped her head, and began to toy with one of her long bangs, a smile tugging at her lips. "You were pretty brave back there."
Shisui rolled his eyes. "Yeah, figuring out how the vent system worked took real guts. Wouldn't even have needed to if everyone hadn't been stupid and got all freaked out about it."
"I didn't freak out," Hana lied. "Anyway, it was pretty scary, what happened to Saitou-sensei. I don't know why you didn't freak out, to be honest."
Loath as he was to admit it, she had a point. Decapitation as a concept was outlandish and even kind of funny when you read about it in fairytales and comic books, none of which even approached the grisliness of witnessing the real thing in action. No matter how many times Shisui closed his eyes and tried to shake the image out of his head, it always came back, a stubborn burn on the back of his eyelids.
"Well, we all got out okay, so you can stop blubbering now," he mumbled. "I still can't believe they made us evacuate. Like we're babies, or civilians." The word 'civilians' felt like an evil curse coming out of his mouth. "We're supposed to be shinobi-in-training, and they've got us out here plowing fields."
"It's for the war effort. There's food shortage on the front."
"Fighting is for the war effort. Plowing is for cattle. What useful skills are we supposed to be learning here? Dig these fields well, young warriors! A perfect crop of turnips is the key to the great ninja arts!"
"You better hope we get a good crop, unless you want to eat soybean rice forever," Hana said darkly. "You guys are so slow the war will probably end before you even get to sow the fields."
Shisui scowled, and kicked a dirt clod at her. "So why aren't you out here busting your butt, anyway?" he said. "You're stronger than anyone else here, freak girl."
Hana glared at him, and stuck her nose in the air. "You'd better clean up and get to the mess hall before all the bran cakes are gone, 'cause I'm not saving you any," she said loftily. "Come along, Saburo." The pup yelped, and trotted back to the temple behind his mistress. Not cute. Not cute at all.
They got an hour of free time after lunch, which Shisui usually used to coerce his classmates into a sparring session or practicing with kunai. For the most part, he'd been successful, but today the collective class had been afflicted with an airborne laziness virus or something, because he found himself alone on the training ground, all the other cretins having scuttled off for a nap or a game of BEING A SLOTHFUL SLACKER WHO SLACKS.
"They are so obviously going to fail the grad exam," Shisui announced with great justice, nailing another flawless kunai into a tree trunk. He aimed a few (deadly) spin kicks at a battered punching pole, and then decided to take a break. He'd go to the gate. Who knew when some refugee party might spontaneously decide to show up and need welcoming?
It must be his lucky day, because he'd barely cleared the pine grove when he heard them. Bright chattering, which meant kids. The air was a cold, October crisp even in the early afternoon, but Shisui could no longer feel it; he was nearly vibrating out of his skin with excitement. He broke into a brisk run, sandals scraping against the stone tiles, and arrived at the gate just as the party reached the top of the steps.
Immediately, his heart plummeted. The members of the group were Academy students alright, but one glance informed Shisui that they were all older than him. This wasn't the First Year class.
"Sensei!" Shisui shouted, spotting a man in a Chuunin jacket. "Can I ask you something?"
The man looked around in surprise. "What is it?"
"Are the First Year students with you guys by any chance?"
An odd look passed through the Chuunin's eyes. "No," he said. "I'm only escorting the Third Year class, I'm afraid."
Shisui frowned, and broke into a nervous babble, "It's just that I was told that their group was supposed to leave the day after us, and we've been here nearly a week now and they still haven't got here. Do you—do you think something might have happened?"
The man pointedly ignored Shisui's question. "Do you have friends in the First Year?"
"Yeah, one. He's my cousin actually. Do you know when they might get here?"
"Well," the man started, in a deliberately slow manner. "The First Year party was due to depart on the same day as us, but they're taking the mountain path. It's longer, but safer. My guess is they're going to arrive in a couple of days, so you just sit tight and wait for your cousin, okay?"
Shisui was quiet. "Okay," he replied, after a moment. The Chuunin nodded and gave him a clap to the shoulder, before filing past with his charges. Shisui stayed on the steps. He stared into the shadows of the pine forest, until his eyeballs threatened to freeze over and he heard the bell signaling that it was time to get back to work.
The wind got colder as the day waned. As the temple bells rang in the twilight, Shisui made his way down to the steps again. The sky above him looked like dry dirt, growing darker by the minute. A kami in every scrap of nature. He was doing exactly what the Chuunin had advised him to do, sitting and waiting, and it felt like total crap.
After about fifteen minutes, he heard someone come up behind him. Hana dropped herself on the step just above the one Shisui was sitting on. He noted that Saburo was not with her.
"So you gonna tell me what's gotten you all in a snit or what?" she asked.
Undeterred, she prodded him in the arm. "Come on. Who put fire ants in your morning miso, huh?"
"I'm worried about my cousin," he said distractedly, and almost bit his tongue. He could have kicked himself. Keep your mouth shut, moron. This was nobody's business, let alone some meddling girl.
Hana twirled the end of her ponytail thoughtfully. "The war might end soon."
"Miyuki-sensei. She was saying last night during reading lesson that Yondaime-sama is coming very close to signing a peace treaty with the other villages."
"A peace treaty? What'll that do?"
"I don't know. End the war, I guess." She smiled, and tugged on his sleeve. "I'm going to the nursery to visit my baby brother. Wanna come?"
"Why would I want to do that?"
"I thought you were worried about your cousin?"
"Obviously I didn't mean Sasuke."
"Oh," Hana said, chastised. "Right."
Mostly because he felt bad for snapping at her, Shisui said, "Fine, I'll come."
By the time they got there, however, he'd already begun to regret his decision. The nursery always smelled vaguely of powdered milk and soiled diapers, and Shisui had always been slightly creeped out by the sight of so many little cribs all in one room. Babies weren't his favorite things in the world anyway. Unless something could walk and talk and was normal-sized, Shisui didn't feel like he could trust in its human credentials.
Hana didn't seem to share his sentiments. She was leaning over the crib railings and making gross cooing noises at her brother, who proved exactly which clan he belonged to by raising up the kind of ruckus that wasn't meant for human ears. Shisui could sense all the caretakers glaring daggers in their general direction—Kiba was keeping the other babies awake, and inciting them to follow his bad, awful, no good example.
All except one, of course. Shisui walked over to a corner of the room, where Sasuke was sleeping the sleep of the deadest dead in his crib, one chubby fist stuffed halfway into his slobbery mouth. This kid could sleep through a massacre, Shisui thought, pulling a face. The day his class had left Konoha, Mikoto-sama had personally asked him to look after her son. It'd only occurred to him later that she might have meant the wrong son. Nothing could possibly happen to Sasuke here, in this temple up in the cold hills, far, far away from fires and sharp blades alike.
Feeling useless and glum, he made his way to the door, fully intending to abandon Hana to her bizarre girl-habits, and had barely taken a step into the hallway when he caught sight of a familiar face. It was the Chuunin instructor who had been herding the Third Year class earlier. He was talking to one of Shisui's own teachers; neither had noticed him. Shisui was just about to call out a greeting when something the Chuunin said stopped him cold.
"One of your kids asked me about the First Year class today."
Were they talking about him? Immediately, Shisui ducked back into the nursery, and plastered himself to the wall just inside the doorway to eavesdrop.
Presently, he heard Matsuo-sensei's deep voice. "Must have been Uchiha Shisui."
Okay, this was definitely about him.
"He's been asking about them nonstop since the day we got here," his teacher went on. "I think he has family in that class."
"Poor kid," the Chuunin said with a sigh. "I didn't know how to tell him, so I had to lie."
"Shisui, what are you doing?" Hana asked. Shisui snapped his head around and motioned for her to be quiet. Her dark eyes widened in realization, and she slid up behind him to listen.
"What do you mean?" Matsuo-sensei was saying.
"Don't tell any of the kids, okay? I don't want them to panic, especially if they have friends and siblings in the First Year. We ran into an ANBU squad on the way up here, and they told me that, well, you know the area outside Konoha that merges onto the mountain path? It's been taken over by retreating Kumo troops."
"So you're saying…"
"Yeah. The First Year party was probably caught behind enemy lines. Frankly, I doubt any of them even made it out."
"Oh my God."
"I know. And we thought the attack on the school was bad. I'm telling you, that peace treaty can't come soon enough…"
The voices tapered away as footsteps sounded in the hall, but Shisui was no longer listening.
"What do you want? Just leave me alone!"
Hana grabbed his arm. "I know what you're planning to do," she said, eyes narrowed. "You can't do it."
"Of course I can!"
"Don't try to tell me what to do," Shisui yelled, and then came to his senses enough to lower his voice. "What would you do if that was your brother out there? You gonna stand around and let people tell you not to go look for him?"
"Of course I wouldn't," Hana said hotly. "But I wouldn't do it alone either. I would ask the teachers or some other grown-ups to come with me."
"If anyone else cared enough to search for him, they'd be out there searching already. You heard that Chuunin. They think everyone in his group is dead."
Hana bit her bottom lip, draining it of blood. "And what if—what if they're right?"
Shisui gritted his teeth. "Shut up," he snarled, fists balling at his sides. "Shut the hell up."
This being Hana, the command had the exact opposite effect. "No, I won't," she yelled back, angry soprano rising with every word. "You're an idiot, Uchiha Shisui, thinking you can just go out there all alone, you're going to get yourself killed, and you don't even know, you don't even know what the heck you're doing or where you're going, and—"
She would have likely gone on shouting herself into a panic attack if Shisui hadn't slapped his hand over her mouth. He sincerely hoped he wouldn't get bitten and contract rabies or something for the trouble.
"He's not dead, okay?" He grabbed her hand and pulled her down the hallway. "Come with me."
The boys' dormitory was a large room in the back of the temple, right by the rear entrance. Since all the other students were either taking their baths or down in the mess hall at this time of day, it was completely empty. Shisui crawled into his bunk, and grabbed a square of goatskin from under his pillow. He shoved it under Hana's nose.
"You see this?"
"What is it?"
"It's a Living Seal. I have one, and he has one. You put a bit of your chakra in it, and then swap. If one of us dies, the ink on the other person's Seal fades away. Does that look faded to you?"
Hana stared at the complicated pictogram in awe. "I've never seen a seal like this before."
Of course she hadn't. Shisui remembered with perfect clarity that day in March, the late afternoon sunlight filtering through shoji doors, soft and golden with new spring. They hadn't set out to invent a new seal or anything, just messing around with ink and paper trying to replicate some of Yondaime's famous techniques. Scrolls of all manners spread out all around them like butterflies, paper wings covering every inch of tatami. Jutsu catalogues, history of seals, cryptology—even a geometry book that neither of them had been able to make head or tail of.
The Living Seal, like a lot of cool things in life, had been an accident, blood from an insignificant paper cut touching a random assortment of looping lines that bore equally little importance. Everything about it had been mundane and utterly normal, up to and including the part where they'd gotten in trouble for testing the Seal out on Mikoto's chickens—but memory had retroactive powers, smoothing delicate watercolors over a child's clumsy scribbling.
Itachi was withdrawn and sometimes infuriating and looked ridiculous in that golden light of late March with a stripe of Chinese ink smeared across his tiny nose, and like hell Shisui was going to lose that. Like hell he was going to just let it go.
It's all my fault, he thought, a sour feeling tearing sharply into his guts. He should have tried harder to convince his friend to come along with his group. He should never have left him behind.
"He's not dead," Shisui said again, this time with enough vehemence to make Hana flinch. He jumped off the bunk and stalked out of the room, already thinking up preparations for his trip.
No, Itachi was not dead. He was, however, lost somewhere out there in the dark world, and it was Shisui's job to find him and bring him back. It had always been, and it would always be.
Shisui lay quietly in his bed, listening intently to the sound of light snoring rising and falling all around him. It was an hour after lights out, and most of his classmates, worn out from a day of hard labor, were already sound asleep. The teachers had also turned in for the night. It was time.
The hallway was dark and silent when he slid open the paper door carefully, the only sound that of the highland wind coming in from under doors and windows, howling distantly over the hills. The bathroom was right beside the sleeping quarters, and even if someone saw him going in, they wouldn't be immediately suspicious. Closing the door, Shisui hopped on top of the wooden tub, kicked out the window screen, and jumped outside into the brisk air.
Only about a week until the full moon, and the grounds were practically soaked in soft silver light. The bright, waxing moon hung heavy in the dome of the sky, wreathed in wisps of cloud that resembled the cotton candy sold at summer matsuri. Shisui circled quietly around to the front of the temple, and crawled under the walkway to retrieve the rucksack he had stashed there earlier in the evening.
All the necessary supplies had been easy enough to procure. There was his weapon pouch, of course, secured at his hip. Flashlight, map, compass, water canteen, camping blanket, grappling hook, and a length of rope—these he'd brought from Konoha and never bothered unpacking. The food had been the hardest to get, but by skipping his evening lesson Shisui had managed to sneak into one of the storerooms and pilfer a bunch of soldier pills and hard tacks. He'd grabbed some normal foodstuff too, sealing them inside two small summoning scrolls to keep.
Everything was going according to plan. At this rate, he'd be halfway to Konoha before they even realized he was gone.
Just as he was crossing the moonlit courtyard, a familiar voice called his name. "Shisui, wait!"
It just figured that not only did the members of the Inuzuka clan have the sharpest noses in the village, they had to be the nosiest too. Shisui swung around and hissed, "I swear, Inuzuka Hana, if you dare to tattle on me…"
"I'm not," Hana said, breathless. She was dressed in thin pajamas, her hair loosened from its usual ponytail, tumbling wildly around her shoulders. "I just wanted to give you this."
She handed him a small medical kit, which was incidentally the only thing Shisui had failed to get his hand on. He had no idea how Hana had figured out that he'd be needing one, but for once, he was grateful for those undoubtedly occult female senses that she evidently possessed.
"Thanks a lot," he said, and maybe-sorta grinned at her. It felt like the first time he'd smiled in days. "You're alright. I mean, for a girl."
"Here, take this too," Hana said, and pressed something small into his hand. It was a leather bracelet, ornamented only by what appeared to be two very large, very sharp, very white fangs. In the moonlight, they gleamed at him in a really freaky way.
He was decidedly less enthusiastic about this parting gift.
"Listen, Hana, I'm not really into jewelry…"
Hana gave him a look. "That's not just any ordinary bracelet. Those fangs came from Yama-inu, one of the legendary nin-dogs of our clan. They're supposed to bring you good luck. My mother gave this to me before I left the village so me and my brother would be protected by the kami."
Shisui blinked. "If it's so important, maybe you shouldn't give it to me."
"I'm not giving it to you," Hana said huffily. "I'm letting you borrow it. Just be sure to bring it back to me safe, okay?"
It was possible she might be trying to bid him well. Shisui felt oddly touched by the gesture, so he pocketed the apparently legendary bracelet, and said, "I'll try my best," feeling his ears growing slightly warm even in the chilly air.
Hana gave him a small nod. Without warning, she rose to the tips of her toes and planted a quick kiss on his left cheek.
"Uh," Shisui said, completely stunned. He was still trying to process what had just happened when Hana reared back and slapped him square across his right cheek.
"What is your problem?" he sputtered, rubbing his stinging skin. He hadn't been kidding about her freakish strength: when the occasion called for it, Hana could hit harder than a grown man.
Hana ignored him. "Bring back my bracelet," she said one last time, voice hushed and somewhat watery, before pivoting on her heels and running back toward the dormitory.
Shisui stared dumbfounded at her retreating figure for almost a full minute. Then he shouldered his heavy rucksack and started down the steps leading out of the temple complex, shaking his head as he went. He had known it all along. Girls—and Inuzuka girls especially—were insane. Stark, raving, rabidly insane.
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