TH: Okay, starting note for 'Shades'! Woo! IMPORTANT. 'Shades' is a sequel. This means that if you have not read 'Perchance to Dream' and 'Ravel, Unravel' you might be confused. Some of you might still be confused, so I urge you to read between the lines to some level. I will also have recap-thingees at the beginning of future chapters, which might clear up any questions you all have about why things are the way they are in this world.
Also, Shades is very different from its two predecessors. Why? Well because, first of all, it's from a completely different point of view. PtD and RU were both more or less following Itachi. Shades follows Sakura. Why the change? Because the plot for Shades follows Team Seven more than it does Itachi. And also because Itachi is really kind of difficult to write. ^_^;;
Shades has a different tone from PtD and RU, too. I tried to make it faster paced, and with more humor. Because I like the idea of sarcastic, bantering Team Seven.
I do use some Japanese terms, but I try to keep it to a minimum. Generally, if it sounds stupid translated to English, I leave it in Japanese. So mostly the names of jutsu and other ninja things are in Japanese. Some definitions will be given, if it's a word I'm not sure people will know, at the end of chapters.
Updates are going to be erratic. There may be long waits. Please be patient; I know how annoying it can be and I'll do my best.
Sorry for the long author's note. I think I've covered everything I wanted to... Individual questions may be addressed via review and PM. See any spelling or grammatical errors, point 'em out! Please read and review!
Disclaimer: TaikoHawk doesn't hold rights to Naruto, Naruto:Shippuden, or any of the characters therein. Now she's just screwing with them.
Chapter One— Haunting
She was crouched by a tree, her back pressed against the trunk, arms propped on her knees, hands dangling in front of her. Her face—covered by a cloth mask from nose to chin—was slightly tilted up and she seemed to be gazing dreamily at the forest canopy above her.
She was dressed as a ninja, with dark clothes and armor, and weapon- and scroll-pouches hanging at her waist. Her dark leather fighter's gloves looked well-worn, and there was a sense about her of contained power. She crouched there absolutely motionless, almost as if she didn't even need to breathe, or blink.
There was a hitai-ate tied about her head, but there was no symbol etched upon its surface to denote which Hidden Village she hailed from. Instead, the smooth, polished metal bore only a deep horizontal line—a scratch, as one made by a sharp-edged weapon like a kunai. The universal mark of a nukenin.
A blank hitai-ate with only the nukenin mark. It was a sight that had only begun appearing in the last couple of years; stories— rumors, really— were just starting to circulate about the dangerous, secretive group of ninja who wore those hitai-ate.
They called themselves Genshi. 'Apparitions.'
The girl— young woman—unfolded fluidly, in a flash of movement too fast to follow with an untrained eye. As she rose from her crouch, she pivoted on one foot, and drew a ninjato from its sheath across her back. The pivot took her around the tree so that she was suddenly standing beside it. Perfectly positioned to intercept the foreign shinobi who was barreling toward her, filled with killing intent.
:More Hunters,: she thought with a sigh. They just wouldn't learn, would they? :Curiosity killed the cat, I suppose.:
It had been five years since they had situated themselves in the forest, though the place had had its horrible reputation for decades before that. People went into the forest, villagers said, and never came out again. But if there had ever been anything in Chi no Mori—the Forest of Blood—that had earned it its name and its rumors, that something had been long gone when Genshi established their base. Still, civilians kept their distance. The only ones to venture into the trees were either too foolhardy to be cautious or were Hunter-nin making sure their quarry wasn't within. And when these disappeared, nobody thought it odd, because it was, after all, Chi no Mori, and disappearances were to be expected of the cursed wood. They never suspected that the disappearances might be caused by something other than their legend. And Genshi preferred it that way.
The shinobi skidded to a halt in front of her, his companions dropping down to stand at his flanks. All four of them drew weapons and stood ready, eyeing the dark-clad girl who had halted them.
She knew what they saw. A young—by her short and slender stature—girl, standing easily with a ninjato held loosely in one fist, dressed in a manner reminiscent of ANBU, though with no cultural cues to pinpoint which Village. She let her eyes drag over them in the beat of silence that followed her abrupt appearance. Then she said, pitching her voice a touch lower than normal (she couldn't do anything about looking young, but she didn't need to sound young as well): "You have trespassed into Chi no Mori. For your foolishness, you will die."
This elicited an immediate response, of the type she'd expected. The lead Hunter-nin (from Kumogakure, she noted from the style of their masks) snarled wordlessly, and lunged. He was good, she had to give him that. But she had the advantage, for three reasons. Reason number one was that she knew the forest better than they did. It was easy enough to elude he and his comrades' attacks by dodging through the trees and brush, using carefully timed and applied genjutsu and kawarimi no jutsu to attempt to disorient them.
:Reasons numbers two and three,: she thought with a small measure of annoyance, :are late.:
She wasn't quite good enough to take on four trained Hunter-nins by herself, which was why the border guards for Chi no Mori ran in 3-cell teams. Her Teammates were going to catch hell when they finally showed… Ah. At last.
She skipped back away from the Hunter-nin she'd been crossing blades with as the enemy kunoichi's limbs suddenly dropped limply to her sides. A quick scan proved that the other three Hunters were in similar states of dull-eyed stupor. She flicked her ninjato and sheathed it, glancing up into the trees at her left.
"You're late, Sasuke-kun."
"Hn," her Teammate dropped beside her. He was dressed similarly to her, but instead of a mask that covered him nose-to-chin, he had an oval, perfectly smooth, white porcelain mask that covered his whole face. The Genshi slash was etched into the forehead, the only mark on the mask. It was also impossible to see his eyes, even through the narrow eyeholes, which was why he wore it. "Apparently it wasn't too much of a problem for you. You're unharmed."
"And that's an excuse for you to turn into another Kakashi-sensei?"
She could tell he was giving her a flat look even through the mask. She returned her own, innocently wide-eyed. "What? You have been training with him a lot lately; maybe it's catching."
"Hey! Are there any bad-guys left for me?" the boisterous shout interrupted whatever come-back Sasuke might have given. He glared at its origin.
"Sakura and I were just about to clean things up. Get down here, or you'll miss your part, idiot."
"Ugh, do you have to use such a weird euphemism?" Sakura complained. "Calling it 'cleaning things up' is so… twisted."
Naruto laughed, jumping down to join them. The four Hunter-nins still swayed under Sasuke's genjutsu, oblivious. "Yeah, bastard. You gotta admit, things usually aren't 'clean' after we're done with them."
"More like bloody," Sakura muttered. "Tsunade-shishou still doesn't believe how many uniforms we went through last year."
"We're doing our job," Sasuke rejoined, unfazed. Sakura rolled her eyes.
"Right. Well, I'm just saying we could do it with a little less gore."
"Perhaps you shouldn't put your fist through their chests?" Sasuke suggested dryly.
"Haha. Maybe you could just use Chidori to electrocute them to death," Sakura said.
"Chidori takes too much chakra. It is more efficient for us share the task," Sasuke said, but his Teammates were already preparing themselves to take out their targets. The argument was an old one, and none of them really expected or wanted things to change. The argument was more or less obsolete, in any case, as they had all advanced their skills and become adept at killing quickly and cleanly (relatively). They continued to argue simply because they liked to bicker, though Sasuke would never own up to it.
The dark-haired Genshi took a kunai out, and eliminated his target with a swift stab to the back of the neck, severing the spinal cord. The Kumo shinobi died instantly, without pain. Sasuke looked to his Teammates, who had each dispatched their own Hunter-nins with similar moves. As one, they looked to the fourth, final (living) Hunter-nin.
"Should we bring him to Tsunade-shishou for interrogation?" wondered Sakura aloud. Naruto shrugged.
"Eh. Why not?" he said. Sakura turned her gaze to her other Teammate. Sasuke didn't respond, or look at her, but he stared intently at the last remaining Kumo-nin and Sakura knew he was deepening the genjutsu on the Hunter. It would make it easier to transport him.
"Alright. I'll send a message to the other patrols and to Tsunade-shishou, telling them we're leaving our post momentarily," Sakura said, and her hands flew into a series of seals.
"Kumo-nin, huh?" Tsunade said. "You killed three of them? I hope you disposed of the bodies properly."
"Of course," Sasuke said. His mask was pushed up on his head to reveal his face. "No one will find remains."
"Good," Tsunade leaned back in her seat and interlaced her fingers in front of her chin. "The fourth one will have to wait for his interrogation; your brother and Kakashi are still out on their mission."
"Well, we stuck him in one of the cells on third level. Gai-sensei, Lee, and Tenten are on guard duty," Naruto said, sounding heartily bored of the conversation. "So is that it, Baa-chan?"
"Naruto…" Sakura growled, fists clenching at her sides. "How about a little more respect?"
"Eh, eh, sorry Sakura-chan!" he immediately cowered, hands rising, placating. Sasuke's eyes closed momentarily, as if he were refusing to believe the two ninja beside him were actually his Teammates.
"Actually," Tsunade said, treating the scene in front of her as if it were commonplace… which it was, "There is something else, brat."
Naruto's head whipped toward her, and Sakura paused in her menacing. The blond practically bounced in place. "What? Really? What is it?"
"Since the perimeter guards are about to change shifts and you three will be off-duty, I'd like you to go to the eastern town… Sapporayama… and get more medical supplies. Sakura should know what we need."
"Alright!" crowed Naruto. It was rare that they were allowed to venture out of the Chi no Mori, except while on missions, and the opportunity was a coveted privilege. Naruto grinned at his Teammates, tucking his hands behind his head, eyes crinkling shut with the size of the expression on his face. "Awesome! Let's go, guys!"
"Hold it, Naruto," Sakura said. Her eyes were on Tsunade. "We need some Schedule II drugs. Which doctor should I henge as?"
In order to acquire some of the more regulated medications they used, Genshi had established a couple covers as doctors from nearby towns. Whenever they needed to get some of the drugs, the team going on a supply run would have one person henge as a doctor. They cycled them so that suspicions weren't raised. Fortunately, there were a couple towns around Chi no Mori and they could also cycle which towns they get their supplies from. Since the towns didn't really ever think to check to make sure 'Dr. Ashida' (or whomever) actually was from the village on the other side of the forest, Genshi hadn't been found out yet.
"Yes… We haven't used the Yurobi Yasuko persona for a while. I think it's about time for her to make an appearance," Tsunade said. She rummaged around in a nearby pile of scrolls, extracted one, and tossed it to Sakura. She caught it, scanned it briefly to refresh her memory of the cover, and returned it to Tsunade.
"Alright, then, get out of here," Tsunade said, waving them off. Naruto whooped, and shot out of the office, presumably to change out of his Genshi uniform and into civilian clothes. Sasuke and Sakura followed at a more sedate pace.
The Genshi hideout was, in fact, a labyrinth of underground tunnels under the Chi no Mori. The entrances were hidden, as were any possible signs of the hideout's presence. Genshi didn't really have to patrol the borders of the forest that strictly, since it was very unlikely that anyone who managed to enter the forest would also manage to find the hideout. But it was better safe than sorry, and it let them train above ground sometimes without the worry of being discovered accidentally.
The labyrinthine tunnels of the base contained everything they needed, from bathrooms complete with running water to kitchens to dojo to personal sleeping quarters. It was large enough that everyone had their own room, though those rooms held only a bed and a desk and not much else. Not that anyone complained. They were all lucky to be alive, after what happened five years ago. No one found the lack of space in their personal quarters very distressing. Besides, there were several large, open spaces for public use in the base. It wasn't like they were caged in when not on missions or patrol.
Sakura went to her room and changed into some civilian clothes, and then stood before the mirror hung on her wall, marshaled her thoughts, formed a couple handseals, and performed a henge. Her hair shortened and darkened to a rich brown, her eyes went grey, and her body plumped out a little around the waist. Sakura turned from side to side, clinically inspecting the henge in the mirror from all angles.
:Good enough,: she allowed, though there were no flaws to the illusion. The tingle of chakra that marked her appearance as a henge was even minimized, so it could pass a casual inspection by another ninja. Hopefully, they wouldn't run into any enemy ninja in the town, but they took all possible precautions. If they did encounter some shinobi and the enemy realized they were disguised, the three Genshi would just have to rely on their problem-solving capabilities to get themselves out of trouble.
Sakura flicked her hair over her shoulder, grabbed a traveling pack, and went to the Genshi's treasury. She signed out some money to pay for the medical supplies Tsunade wanted her to get, and then made for the southeastern exit of the base, where she knew Sasuke and Naruto would be waiting.
She lifted a hand as she approached, identifying her Teammates even under their henge with the ease of long-practice and familiarity. Naruto waved excitedly, and Sasuke dipped his chin. Both looked studiously unremarkable, their features bland and guaranteed not to stick in anyone's memory for longer than a couple minutes. Sakura smiled at them, hiking up her pack a little on her back. She joined them as Sasuke turned to the entrance guard, a Chuunin-level shinobi called Kotetsu. He was one of the many Genshi who'd been in the group from the start, an old Konoha-nin.
"Team Seven, on a re-supply mission to Sapporayama," Sasuke told the older shinobi. Kotetsu cast a sharp eye over the three of them, and, apparently finding everything in order, inked their departure into the logbook sitting on the desk in front of him.
"Very well, Team Seven, you're cleared. Try to bring back some sake, eh?" he said, grinning. It was a common joke among the entrance guards, whose jobs were— more often than not— numbingly boring. Sakura returned the Chuunin's grin.
"We always bring back sake, Kotetsu-san. It's just that Tsunade-shishou always gets to it first," she said. Kotetsu chuckled, and waved them out.
As usual, the supply-run was uneventful. They went in, got what they needed without any hassle, and got out. Easy. But…
"I can't believe you, Naruto," huffed Sakura, as they headed back to the base, using chakra to propel themselves (plus an extra couple dozen pounds of supplies each) along at high speed. "That money is not yours to do with what you will! It's the group's! It's supposed to be used for what the group needs, not for ramen!"
"Aw c'mon, Sakura-chan!" whined Naruto, rubbing his head where his pink-haired Teammate had whacked him. "I forgot my wallet, and how often do I get to get fresh, real ramen? Never! I needed it, and there was money leftover from my supplies… I'll pay it back, I swear! I have the money in my room, I just didn't bring it on this trip…"
"I should tell Tsunade-shishou," Sakura said darkly, and Naruto paled. Sasuke kept silent, but looked vaguely amused.
"Oh gods, no Sakura-chan! Please!"
"I should," she reiterated, and then sighed. "But I won't. It would suck for Team Seven to be inactive because one of its members is stuck in traction."
Naruto let out a sigh of utter relief and then sulked: "That's so mean, Sakura-chan, threatening me like that."
"You deserved it, idiot," Sasuke informed the blond dryly. Naruto tossed him an affronted look.
"No fair teaming up on me," he said.
"Hn," Sasuke said.
Sakura rolled her eyes. Yep. Just another typical Team Seven trip into town. Complete with Naruto acting more foolish than his training should have allowed. The boy was the student of Sharingan Kakashi, AKA the Copy Ninja, AKA the son of the White Fang and apprentice of Jiraiya the Toad Sage, one of the Three Legendary Sannin. One would have expected him to act a little more in accordance with…
:Actually,: Sakura thought, recalling some of the less savory habits of the two older men, :Maybe it's better Naruto doesn't act more like them…:
Her lips quirked slightly, and she kicked off strongly from the next tree-limb she landed on. Over her shoulder, she shot back at her Teammates: "Race you guys back!"
Naruto's answering grin was infectious, and he exclaimed: "You're on! And no cheating!"
The last bit was directed toward Sasuke, whose Sharingan would allow him to move faster through the trees than his comrades, were it activated. Sasuke 'tsk'ed in annoyance.
"How is using my skills cheating, exactly?" he asked, keeping up with Naruto's increased speed easily. He, Naruto, and Sakura were neck-and-neck.
"You're the only one here with a Bloodline," Sakura said. "And we're not testing how good your Bloodline is, we're testing who has the most endurance and speed."
"Hn," Sasuke responded. Which meant that he acknowledged the point, but still thought it ridiculous. And to prove his point, he pulled ahead of his two Teammates with seemingly no exertion at all. Naruto and Sakura gave similar grimaces of aggravation, and pushed themselves faster. Still, Sasuke beat them back to the Genshi's base. He landed by the entrance lightly, and his two Teammates landed beside him a second later. He turned to them and said, as if no time had elapsed since they'd last spoken: "I wouldn't really consider it cheating. More like merely speeding up your inevitable defeat."
"Jerk," Sakura said, breathing deeply to slow her heart back to normal. But she smiled as she said it. Naruto growled wordlessly, and took a swipe at Sasuke, who dodged with the ease of long practice. They were all panting slightly, having really pushed themselves in the good-natured race.
"Well," Sakura said after a pause; she hooked a thumb under the strap of the heavily-loaded pack on her back. "We should get this stuff logged and unloaded."
"Right," Sasuke agreed. They approached the base's entrance, gave the appropriate handseals, and walked in. Kotetsu was still at the desk; he looked up as they dispelled their henge and walked up to him.
"Irohanihoheto," he said.
"Toka nakute shisu," Sasuke gave the appropriate countersign, and Kotetsu smiled slightly.
"Welcome back, Team Seven. All done shopping?"
"Yep," replied Naruto, grinning. The Chuunin gateguard inked their return in the log swiftly, his handwriting neat for all his speed. He looked up, his usual spark of good-humor bright in his eye.
"So, bring me back any sake like I asked?"
"Yep, but you'll have to ask Tsunade-shishou to share," returned Sakura. Kotetsu grimaced at the thought of trying cajole the blonde Sannin to share her precious booze.
"Ah… I'll pass, thanks."
Sakura laughingly led Sasuke and Naruto away, leaving the Chuunin behind at his post. They carried the bags of supplies to the storerooms and got the materials logged into the manifest. Grinning and arguing playfully (or in Sasuke's case, smirking and chipping in occasional snarky comments), they meandered down the corridor toward the treasury. They'd turn in the remaining money left from the trip and then retire to one of the lounge rooms, most likely to get dragged into another poker game with some of the other Genshi.
Since Sasuke was walking in front of Naruto and Sakura, they noticed immediately when he stopped dead in his tracks.
"Sasuke? What…?" Sakura said as she craned her head around to look at her Teammate's face. The Uchiha's brow was slightly furrowed, his eyes staring down the corridor. Sakura and Naruto followed his line of sight. "Oh. Your brother's back."
And indeed, Itachi was striding down the hall toward them, Kakashi in step next to him. They were still in their uniforms (though their porcelain full-masks were pulled up to reveal their faces), and considering where this corridor led, they were on their way to see Tsunade for a debriefing. They both looked intense, their strides firm. That wasn't much of a change for Itachi, but for Kakashi, who always seemed to slouch around…
"Something's up," Sakura whispered. Sasuke grunted in agreement.
"Sasuke, your brother's sleeve…" Naruto murmured. Their eyes went to Itachi's arms, and widened in shock. The older Uchiha's right sleeve was crusted with dried blood, and charred. Through the jagged rend that gaped near the elbow, they could see flashes of white bandage. It wasn't uncommon for Genshi to come back with wounds, sometimes small, sometimes severe, but… This was the Uchiha Prodigy. The man who, back in Konoha, had made ANBU at eleven. He didn't get injured easily. And now that their attention was sharpened on the two elites coming down the hall, they could see the dirt and blood on the pair's uniforms, and Kakashi's drawn face.
Sakura, with her trained med-nin eye, noted quietly: "Kakashi-sensei is almost to the point of collapse. He must have been forced to use his Sharingan."
They fell silent as Kakashi and Itachi got closer. As they passed, Sasuke greeted: "Nii-san. Kakashi-sensei."
Itachi's dark eyes went to his younger brother and he nodded his head minutely. Kakashi flicked his fingers in a half-salute at his old students, but other than that, neither responded to the murmured greetings from Team Seven. Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto turned to watch the two older shinobi disappear down the hall.
"What the hell?" said Naruto after a moment, giving voice to all their thoughts.
"Something's definitely up," Sakura said.
"Sakura." Sasuke didn't even have to say anything more than her name. She got it.
"Right," she said, and took off after Kakashi and Itachi. They'd made it into Tsunade's office before she caught up, so she nodded cordially to the shinobi guarding the door, knocked briskly and cracked open the door when she heard her shishou's 'enter!'
"Sakura?" Tsunade lifted an eyebrow. Sakura edged in, avoiding looking at Kakashi and Itachi, who stood formally in front of Tsunade's desk.
"I saw Kakashi-sensei and Uchiha-san coming in and noticed they're injured. Do you-?"
"Hm, that's enough," Tsunade interrupted with a small snort. "I'm fairly certain I can take care of their injuries. You're dismissed."
Sakura blinked at the curtness of her teacher's tone. "I…"
"Out!" Tsunade said firmly, pointing at the door. Sakura schooled her face and bowed. As she stepped out of the door, Tsunade shouted after her: "And don't even try to eavesdrop through the door!"
Sakura frowned as the door shut behind her and locked. Her shishou knew her too well. She could feel a curtain of chakra roll up the other side of the door, soundproofing the room. :Dammit! I guess she really doesn't want anyone overhearing whatever happened…:
Sakura scowled and went to find her Teammates.
"Shishou kicked me out practically before I said anything," she groused to Sasuke and Naruto as they sat in one of the smaller lounges. Sasuke opened his mouth, and Sakura added: "And she soundproofed the room so I couldn't listen through the door."
Sasuke's mouth closed, and his fingers drummed the table once. "It must be something big."
It was quite possible that Umino Iruka and the late Sandaime Hokage had made a horrible mistake in placing the three of them together on a Team, back when they'd first been made Genin. They were probably the worst troublemakers in the history of the Fire Country. All three were powerful, determined, and curious as a clan of ninja cats. They seemed dissatisfied with being kept in the dark about anything, and contrived to make every little bit of news that came to Genshi's leader their business. Half the time they succeeded, too.
…Or maybe Umino Iruka and the Sandaime Hokage had made Team Seven in a stroke of brilliance. For much the same reasons they annoyed Tsunade (and on occasion the rest of Genshi), they made excellent ninja.
"Maybe we could get Kakashi or your brother to tell us," suggested Naruto, who was sprawled on the floor. Sasuke bent a very disgusted look on the blond. "What?"
"You're either stupidly optimistic, or just stupid," the Uchiha told Naruto. "There's no way Nii-san will tell us classified information, and even if Kakashi could tell us without going against orders, he'd probably just withhold it to spite us."
"He does seem to enjoy taunting us like that," Sakura said thoughtfully. "No, there's no way either of them will tell us."
"Ugh! I HATE not knowing what's going on!" exclaimed Naruto, rolling onto his back and covering his face with an arm.
"Yeah, well…" Sakura grumbled. "There's not much we can do… I mean, I could ask shishou again. Maybe if she's drunk…"
Team Seven's heads all twitched toward the lounge's entrance in unison, as a breathless Genin skidded to a halt in the doorframe. He gasped: "Tsunade-sama's called an assembly in the large audience chamber! Everyone's to report there immediately!"
And then he dashed off, presumably to pass the message along.
Sasuke, Sakura, and Nartuo all looked at each other with raised eyebrows.
"Or maybe she'll call an assembly and tell everyone," Naruto said.
Genshi—spirit, apparition. Since Japanese do not denote plurals except in context, this can mean either one apparition or many.
Chi no Mori—the Forest of Blood.
irohanihoheto—first line of a famous poem (often called the 'Iroha') written during the Heian period. It contains every character of the Japanese syllabary exactly once (like how the sentence 'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog' contains every roman letter in the alphabet).
toka nakute shisu—the hidden sentence revealed when the last syllable in each line of the Iroha (in the original Man'yogana) are put together.
shishou—master/teacher. Respectful title apprentices may call their master.