Extending the Boundaries
Um... Long time no see? Sorry about the atrociously long delay in between chapters. I didn't forget about you, really. At the end of March, I was transfered all the way across the country... so between the move itself and the associated mountain of work waiting for me when I got here... well, I haven't had much of a chance to write much until just recently. Things will probably be slow for at least the next 2-3 months until things are settled in a little better. But, I shouldn't be gone for as long as I was this last time. The good news is, that once I had time, I completely revamped my outline for the rest of the story, and I'm pretty excited about it, so I'll probably be writing more often during my "free time". Anyway, thanks for the reviews on the last chapter, and I hope you enjoy this one!
As an apology, please accept a picture of our favorite Hatake brothers... I'm not much of an artist, but you can find a link in my profile if you're interested.
Chapter 7 – Teachers and Students
It took a day and a half to get back to the village at the pace Lee set. Harry very carefully didn't comment on the slower than usual pacing, not wanting his student to feel like he had to push himself too much when he was still recovering.
Harry couldn't quite get the memory of Lee, soaked with blood and half dead, out of his mind. At the time, he'd been sure that the boy was going to die, he still found it hard to believe that the Genin was well and whole, suffering no ill side effects from his near-death experience.
Harry checked them in at the front gate and walked Lee inside, the boy looking longingly in the direction of his home. The Jounin frowned, grabbing the boy's shoulder.
"We have to stop by the hospital first," he reminded Lee, "They're going to need to take a look at you. Make sure that the techniques the wizards used are healing you well enough."
Lee looked up at him innocently, "You, too, sensei?"
Harry cringed. There was no way he was signing himself in to the hospital, mortally poisoned or no. Besides, he was fine now, so there was no reason for him to go. Lee's injuries had been serious compared to his, and the physical aspect of his healing was an important one.
"Let's focus on you, first, Lee-kun," he said smoothly, steering the boy towards the center of town.
They'd barely made it past the first block when they were accosted by a familiar voice.
Feeling relieved, Harry turned in the direction of the voice, and his chest lightened when he saw his friend jogging towards them, looking none-the-worse for the wear. The older man waved and caught up to him, expression serious.
"Harii, the Hokage wants to see us immediately," Tenzou stated.
Harry hesitated, glancing at Lee. He frowned, "I was just taking Lee to the hospital to get him checked out." He looked at Tenzou uncertainly and added, "The Chuunin at the gate didn't say anything about it…"
Lee, watching the two, stepped forward, frowning severely. "I can do it myself, sensei," he stated boldly, "If Hokage-sama has summoned you, you should go immediately."
Harry hesitated a moment longer, looking down at the boy, then smiled slightly. "Alright, Lee. You go on without me, I'll check in on you when I'm done with the Hokage."
"Yosh!" The boy took off in the direction of the hospital and Tenzou snagged Harry's arm.
With a quick hand seal, the two shinobi disappeared in a swirl of dust and leaves.
Harry was tense until the small reception chamber off the Hokage's office materialized around them. Without even pausing to knock on the door, Tenzou snagged his arm, pulling him into the office.
"We didn't tell the guards," Tenzou stated grimly.
"Thank you for bringing him, Tenzou." The Hokage was seated behind his desk, his hands folded on top of the surface and a heavy weariness in his shoulder and his eyes, and Harry's questions died on his lips.
The old man's eyes bore into Harry's, and Harry was reminded of the power this particular person held at his command. Far more than he did, or even his brother. The Hokage was on another level, and had the respect of every ninja in the village.
"Hokage-sama," he murmured, bowing in the man's direction.
"You said something to Tenzou," the Sandaime said without preamble, "When he met you during the retrieval mission."
Harry could only vaguely recall the events of that meeting. He'd been feverish and exhausted, and the memories were blurry and disoriented. But he was pretty sure he knew what the old man was talking about.
"The caves were abandoned when we got to them," Tenzou added grimly, "There wasn't any trace of the old occupants."
Sarutobi crossed his arms and frowned at the young, white-haired shinobi. "You said the snake was acting as a guard—how could you be certain?"
Harry shifted uncomfortably. "Snakes… Where most people hear nothing but hissing, I can understand their meaning, Sandaime-sama," he murmured self-consciously, "The snake… called us intruders. It said it was reporting back to its master."
He sounded crazy, Harry thought. Animals did not talk. Even summoned creatures were usually only understandable to the masters they had signed a contract with. It was only the ancient ones that could speak plainly. Once, Harry had thought it was magic, but even wizards didn't talk to animals, and he was much less certain than he'd been as a child.
If anything, the Sandaime looked even grimmer.
Harry hesitated. "Sandaime-sama…" he started at length, "Tenzou said the caves were empty…" He looked across at his friend, "What about Minichi?"
"… He was found, but he doesn't remember much that happened there," the old shinobi said tiredly. "He is in the hospital now." The man sighed, "It seems as though it was Orochimaru, after all, if what you say is true."
Harry didn't respond. Of course what he said was true—the Hokage knew he wasn't lying. But it wasn't a matter of truth or lies so much as acceptance. Thinking of Lee, half-dead in the woods, Harry imagined he could understand, a little, why it was so difficult for the Sandaime to accept what his student had become.
"… If it was Orochimaru… the shinobi that attacked us must have been working for him," Harry said, "They were easily B-ranked."
"My student is still very much alive," the Sandaime agreed grimly, "He is either recruiting them, or training his own. He may become a threat to us in the future; we will have to be careful."
Glancing up at the two shinobi, he waved his hand in a dismissing gesture. "You may go," he said, "Harii, I want a full report from you in the morning."
"Yes, Hokage-sama," Harry agreed, for once not flinching at the mention of so much paperwork. This was something important, after all. He would have to try to remember as much as he could.
The two shinobi saluted and backed out of the Hokage's office.
They walked down to the village streets in an awkward silence, and stood at the foot of the tower.
Harry sighed, raking a hand back through his hair. "I have to check on Lee," he muttered. "I want to stop in to see Minichi, too." He found it hard to believe that the other shinobi was still alive, but he couldn't shake the unease he felt about it.
Tenzou nodded with understanding. "I'll see you around."
Harry waved goodbye, echoing the sentiment vaguely, and headed through the streets, losing himself in the familiar sights and smells of Konoha. It felt like he'd been gone a long time.
Upon arriving at the hospital, the first thing Harry did was check up on his student. Lee was still with a medic, and the young Jounin slipped silently into the room, leaning against the wall next to the door as he watched the woman poke and prod at the fresh skin growing over old wounds.
Despite not announcing his presence, the medic turned towards him when she'd finished her examination. "Hatake-san, this healing is amazing," she said without even a pause, "The patches are as good as new, and it's healthier than the flesh around it. Who performed the medical jutsu on him?"
Harry hadn't expected to be acknowledged, let alone questioned. "A friend of mine," he supplied awkwardly.
"Someone in the village?" the medic pressed in confusion, "If someone has this kind of talent, they should be working here!"
"No," Harry said quickly, "They don't live here. It's—ah—someone from my old village."
The woman stared at him blankly for several long seconds. Harry had lived in Konoha for most of his life—for long enough that most people had forgotten that he hadn't been born there. Especially coupled with the fact that he was part of one of Konoha's oldest families.
"I see," she said at last, appearing only somewhat convinced, "Would it be possible to convince them to come here? To show us some of their techniques?"
"No," Harry said quickly again. This time he didn't bother offering an explanation. He looked past the medic to his student, "Well, it sounds like you're going to live, Lee-kun."
The boy grinned back at him, sliding off the examination table. "After this, sensei, I will train harder than ever!" He promised, "I am going to become as strong as you, and I will not let you down again."
Harry shook his head in exasperation. It was impossible to talk the boy out of it, and he wasn't even going to try—it would be good motivation. "I'm sure you will, Lee. Just take it easy tonight. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Hatake-san," the medic started again, and Harry sighed, listening to her persuasive arguments as they filed out of the examination room and he parted ways with Lee, looking for Minichi.
After ditching the somewhat put-out medic, Harry was directed to a small room on the second floor, buried back in the southeast corner of the hospital. He paused before the closed door, frowning, the unease that had been relieved when he learned his old teammate was able to take visitors, slowly grew inside of him again. Taking a deep breath, the teen knocked.
There was no answer, and Harry knocked again, a little more firmly. He frowned as he was met by silence again.
Harry glanced down the hallway—a young medic scrambled from a room further down the hall with an armful of books. He hesitated a moment longer before quietly calling out, "Minichi?"
There was still no response, and Harry could only see a sliver of an empty bed, the sheets askew. Cautiously, he pushed the door further open.
The teen felt a wave of relief when he saw the other shinobi. Minichi stood on the other side of the room, staring out the window with his back to the door. He was dressed simply in black pants and a tight, black top, long spikes falling down over his shoulder blades. He didn't appear severely injured, although Harry could see angry, red needle marks at the base of his neck, and white bandages dangled loosely in the Uchiha's left hand.
Harry shifted awkwardly and was about to call out again when the older teen spoke.
"Who is it?" Minichi asked quietly, without turning around.
Harry glanced around the room, half-expecting to find someone else, because the soft voice was so unlike the bold and commanding teammate he had known. He swallowed uneasily before answering. "It's Hatake Harry."
"You were part of the team they sent after me," Minichi said.
Harry nodded, even though the Uchiha still had his back to him. He supposed Tenzou must have told him earlier.
"When they told me… well… I was afraid they hadn't made it in time," Harry said awkwardly, "I'm glad I was wrong."
Minichi didn't respond, but he shifted at the window, his empty hand on the sill, and he turned slowly. Harry's eyes widened, and the unease he had been feeling doubled or tripled, transforming into a ball of nausea in his gut. He swallowed hard several times, but couldn't think of anything to say.
"I appreciate it," Minichi said quietly, "Because you found us so quickly, they weren't able to get my eyes to work for them."
Harry had seen some horrible things in his life. He'd been there to witness the aftermath of rape, he'd seem families murdered and villages destroyed, people missing limbs or split open to spill their insides. He had seen his own village very nearly destroyed by the fearsome Nine-Tailed Fox, and watched monsters consume members of his own family.
Despite all of that, he was horrified as he stared into his old teammate's scarred and empty eye sockets. There was something particularly terrible about the gaping wounds on the otherwise untouched face, turned towards him in a cruel parody of normality.
There was nothing Harry could say. He couldn't imagine how anyone could be so cruel as to literally carve the eyes out of a living human being. It was sickening.
Without a word, Harry turned swiftly and left hastily. His breath was harsh and gasping and his body was trembling. His face was pale, his green eyes bright and unseeing as he made his way out of the hospital and through the village.
He hardly recalled his run through the village, and before he knew it he was at the training grounds where he and Tenzou sparred regularly. Without missing a beat, Harry threw himself into an attack against the nearest target, imagining it was Orochimaru and completely destroying it.
Unfortunately, the real Orochimaru could not be killed so easily.
The darkness felt heavy around him, and his head was aching. He swallowed uneasily, and tasted blood on his lips—he could feel it running down his face.
Hesitantly, he reached up, touching the sticky substance first on his chin, then his cheeks, and finally following it up to his eyes, where all he could feel were empty holes of gore. Horror struck cold through him, and he stared around him anxiously, helplessly trying to see.
A laugh sounded behind him, and Harry spun. Of course, he couldn't see anything, but the volume of the laugh increased, this time off to his left. He spun again, but the laugh was echoing from somewhere else.
He spun around again, but a dizzying sensation of movement passed over him.
Harry struggled to keep his feet, and was suddenly aware of a chorus of voices all around him. He recognized it as Latin, only because of a few of the words sounded similar to the spells he had learned. He was unable to pick out any distinct voices; it was like a continuous rumble of the same person, multiplied all around him.
He spun around again, fingers searching for weapons that weren't there—again, he was overcome with a feeling of motion.
When he came to a stop, everything was quiet again. Harry reached tentatively up towards his eyes, only to jerk back when he felt the raw insides of the sockets.
"And now, Harry Potter, you will die."
Harry tensed, but the attack seemed to come from nowhere, and a searing pain opened his chest, bursting into him.
The teen woke with a gasp.
It took a moment for his surroundings to sink in, and he fell back on his bed with a sigh of relief, because he could see again and the nightmare was over. He turned his head, searching for the clock and bit back a groan when he saw he'd barely been asleep for two hours.
With resignation, he rolled out of bed and headed out to the only place he could think of going.
Harry wasn't surprised when the window opened for him, and he slipped inside under the light of the moon. The small hospital room was even darker inside than it was outside, and he stood uncomfortably near the window, trying to avoid Minichi's face, although his eyes were currently covered with bandages.
"… I'm sorry about running out on you before," he muttered self-consciously.
The Uchiha shrugged, "I'm sure it's surprising to see."
Harry managed to keep himself from telling the older man just how terrible it was. Instead, he took a deep breath, and forced himself to look up, searching the other Jounin's face.
"Are you okay?" He asked, even though he knew there was no way someone could be okay in his situation.
Minichi might have been staring back at him, the way he used to, when Harry said something he thought was completely stupid—a slight frown on his lips and a wrinkle on his forehead. But the dark eyes were glaringly absent.
At length, the man turned away, and Harry felt relieved. "I've been trying not to think about it," he admitted dryly.
Harry nodded—realized Minichi wouldn't be able to see it—and offered a quiet, "If there's anything I can do…"
Minichi shrugged, "The Uchiha will take care of me. Itachi's already been by to talk about it. Some of the younger girls will look after me when I go back home."
Harry cringed at the self-loathing tone he heard in the other teen's voice. How could anyone who was so strong let themselves be taken care of like an invalid for the rest of their days? But what other options did a man who was unable to see have?
Harry blinked. "It's not the end of your life, you know," he said abruptly.
Minichi's head turned towards him automatically, a frown pulling at his lips and his eyebrows so low they were almost covered by the bandages. "Idiot. I can't be a shinobi anymore—I can't even take care of myself without being able to see! I might as well be dead, for all good I can do for the village."
"You opened the window for me, even though you couldn't see me coming," Harry pointed out.
Minichi snorted, "Great, I can become the Hokage's personal window-opener."
"I'm saying even though you can't see, your other senses are still as good as ever," Harry snapped back before he could stop himself.
Minichi flinched back and Harry stared, surprised with himself.
He scowled and continued more evenly, "You're not helpless, Minichi. You're a Jounin, and even if you can't fight on the same level that you used to, you don't have to be an invalid if you don't want to. I don't really know what you could do now, but you'll never know, either, if you don't try."
"Still," Harry concluded, "If you need anything, just ask. Even if it's a sparring partner—I'll try not to go easy on you."
Minichi didn't say anything, but out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw him nod and turn back to his bed.
"I'll visit you again," Harry promised, before slipping back out the window the way he'd come.
It felt weird, going to meet up with Lee for training as though nothing had ever happened. As though they both hadn't nearly died and Minichi's eyes hadn't been dug out of their sockets, and Orochimaru wasn't most likely still out there, plotting to get his hands on the secrets of the Sharingan.
Harry refused to treat it as normal. Up until now, he'd been teaching magic in much the same way he had been taught, starting him on simple charms and spells and only gradually raising the bar. But Shinobi life was fast-paced, and what Lee really needed to know was how to fight. Many of the spells he'd taught the boy could be used offensively or defensively, with a certain amount of cleverness and imagination, but there were spells and curses specifically designed for such things.
Harry mechanically unlocked the gate to their usual training area and settled back to wait for his student, mentally reviewing the day's curriculum. He looked up when he heard his student approaching, but his greeting died on his lips when the eleven-year-old stepped into view.
While the large eyebrows and round eyes assured him that it was his student, the boy had chopped off his braid and now his black hair stuck up haphazardly in all directions, only restrained from falling in his eyes by his hitai-ate. Even more bizarre, the green overalls were gone, and instead the boy was wearing dark blue slacks and a black mid-sleeved shirt. Most disturbing, he was wearing a tight, black mask over the lower portion of his face, covering his mouth and nose.
Harry blinked hard and rubbed his eyes, certain that he was dreaming, although this wasn't exactly in pace with his usual nightmares.
"Good morning, Harii-sensei," the boy greeted enthusiastically, smiling a smile that creased his eyes and wrinkled his mask, while his voice was a little distorted and muffled.
Harry struggled for a moment longer before managing to find his own voice, "Good morning… Lee-kun."
"Do you want me to start with warm-ups as usual, sensei?" The boy asked after a moment, when Harry didn't say anything more.
Harry nodded dumbly.
The boy smiled again and saluted. "Yosh! I will work hard, sensei!"
Harry could only stare after him as the boy ran off. He couldn't possibly have seen what he thought he had.
Harry's brother was a hard person to find when you wanted to find him, but when you didn't want him around he had the talent of being unavoidable. So Harry really shouldn't have been surprised when Kakashi was arguing with the Chuunin behind the mission deskwhen he and Lee reported to collect their mission.
The Chuunin broke off in the middle of a sentence—from what Harry caught, he was pretty sure it had to do with illegibly written reports and something about mud—and stared. Harry felt his cheeks flushing under his mask and hoped that it didn't show as Kakashi's head slowly turned towards them, dark eye sliding between Harry and Lee and then back again several times.
The man abruptly broke into laughter.
Harry, trying to hold onto his last remnants of pride, did his best to ignore it and act as though his brother didn't exist, stepping beside the man to address the staring Chuunin. "Do you have a mission for me?"
Lee, lingering a few steps behind his teacher, stared at the laughing man with a small, confused frown, mostly concealed by his mask.
The Chuunin, for his part, did manage to maintain a mostly professional air, passing over a mission scroll while almost managing to smother his own laughter.
Harry practically dragged Lee out the door again in his haste to leave.
Again, Harry shouldn't have been surprised when he found his brother on his couch, eating noodles out of a takeout box.
Harry shrugged off his vest and slumped beside him with resignation, grabbing the other box. At least he'd had the unusual courtesy to bring food rather than raid his fridge.
"So… how is Lee-kun's training going?" Kakashi asked casually after several moments of silence.
Harry shot him an annoyed look and pointedly ate another mouthful of noodles before answering. "Pretty good. I started him on the shielding charm today."
"Mm… You only learned that one a little while ago, didn't you?" His brother managed to hold onto his casually disinterested tone, although Harry was sure he could see the desire to pester him about Lee's outfit practically flowing from his pores.
"Hmm," Harry agreed with his mouth full of noodles. What Kakashi meant, he knew, is that it was among the spells he'd taught himself once he'd made the decision to start learning magic on his own again.
Finally, what he'd expected in the first place came.
"And he was dressed like you today because of that?" Kakashi asked. Despite his obviously best efforts at sounding innocently curious, Harry could hear his amusement.
The teen scowled as a flush rose to color his cheeks again, this time without the mask to hide it. "I don't know why he did that," he muttered with embarrassment, "He just showed up to training like that today! What was I supposed to do—tell him he can't wear what he wants? Make him go home and change?"
Kakashi laughed mercilessly.
It took several weeks for Harry to really get used to the fact that Lee was now dressed similarly to him, and for the awkward embarrassment he felt whenever they had to do things in the village—where people could actually see them together—to wear off. It was around three weeks before Kakashi stopped happening to run into them everywhere, only to burst out laughing.
Lee was progressing as well as Harry could have hoped, and had added several offensive curses to his arsenal. With Harry's encouragement, he was also using them more often when they sparred, and Harry had come a little too close to a cutting curse for comfort in their last session.
Harry could feel his student's nervous energy when they walked out of the Tower, their latest mission in hand. He couldn't really blame the kid—after what had happened on their last "C-Ranked" mission, they had gone back to D-Ranks for a while, and this was the first one they'd taken in the two months since their return.
He smiled, clapping the Genin on his shoulder. "Relax, Lee-kun," he said when the boy jumped at his touch, "This mission is completely different from last time."
Lee eyed him warily, his large, round eyes filled with doubt, "Yes, sensei…"
Rolling his eyes, Harry unrolled the scroll, and read out loud, "Hiromi Masashi-san of Juyounagai requests one team of shinobi to watch over his temple for one week while he's away." He frowned down at the Genin, "The only way this could be dangerous is if you die of boredom, Lee."
The boy's frown was still unhappy, but he nodded, "Yes, sensei…"
Harry sighed, rolling up the scroll and sliding it into a pocket, "And even if it is dangerous, you've gotten a lot stronger in the last two months, Lee-kun. Without going on more challenging missions, you'll grow stagnant and there will be no reason for you to continue to grow. One day, you'll need to be strong enough to fight for this village, and to protect your own team. You want that, don't you, Lee?"
Lee stared up at his teacher with hurt and astonishment, "Of course I do, Harii-sensei!"
Harry nodded, "Then go get your pack and meet me at the front gate in one hour. Juyounagai is only a few kilometers to the west, and we can pick up supplies in town when we need to, but we'll still be there for a while."
Lee nodded with a determined frown, "Yosh, sensei! I will not let you down this time!"
Harry watched him go, shaking his head. Maybe he'd waited too long for their next C-Rank, but he'd hoped the extra training would bolster his student's self-confidence. Apparently, it hadn't worked as well as he'd hoped, but after seeing what a real C-Ranked mission was like, hopefully the Genin would settle down a little.
Two and a half hours later, they had made it to the small village of Juyounagai. Despite its close proximity to the village, Harry had never been to it before. The village was nestled up to the foot of the cliffs—the very same cliffs that, a few dozen kilometers to the East, bore the faces of the Hokage.
The streets were nothing more than trails packed in the dirt. Homes were far between, attached to small fields and farms, and off of the main road small, quaint buildings with brightly tiled roofs served as shops and stores. The people seemed friendly enough, and while they stared, they also smiled when they met the eyes of the shinobi.
Harry stopped beside a street vendor selling dried foods, ranging from oats and breads to dried peppers and fruits.
"Lee-kun, pick out some provisions for the week," he ordered, before approaching the owner.
The man—a little shorter than Harry and sporting a ridiculously bushy black mustache—watched as the Genin hurried to obey, and turned a slow smile towards the Jounin.
"Shinobi-san," he greeted formally, "What can I do for you and your student?"
The smile, Harry noticed, wasn't one that reached his eyes, and it put him a little on edge. He forced a smile in reply, and pulled out some bills that would more than cover whatever Lee picked out. "We're simply stocking up for a mission. We'll be staying out at Hiromi-san's temple for the week—do you know the one?"
The man's smile strained a little. "Of course," he replied, "Masashi-san lives on the Eastern outskirts of the town. I don't think you'll have any trouble with his temple—no one from town ever bothers with it."
Harry nodded and thanked him before snagging Lee to head out again. After speaking with the shopkeeper, he'd noticed that most of the smiles being sent their way seemed a little off—fake and forced—and he didn't want to stick around town longer than they had to.