This story has some of Masashi Kishimoto's characters from Naruto in a universe of my own devising. I do not own Naruto. I do not make any money from these writings.
Warning: This story features male/male relationships. If you are uncomfortable reading about gay male relationships do not read this story.
I would like to thank all readers who have left a review or sent an email. They are very much appreciated. Particular thanks to xxShadowheartxx, Mosho, kaname-luvr, melissen, WTFflyingmonkeys123, I Am The Pumpkin King, Fate Survivor, Kylecxx, LadySaturnGirl, Coco and TanuKyle who have reviewed Iteration.
It is wonderful to hear from readers - it encourages me to keep writing this fic.
Apologies if the characters have grown differently in their new environment.
Many thanks to 'Small Fox' for beta-ing. For this story he had also been my muse, helping me develop many of the ideas and plot developments.
Chapter 4 of Tales in Tarrasade 4 – Pas de trois is set after chapter 43 and before this chapter.
Chapter forty-four: Mourning
Iruka moved soundlessly across the shared area of the crew room and into the kitchen. It was the tail end of station night; there would be another forty minutes before Moegi and Kamatari arrived and began breakfast.
He had done this every day for the last three divs; since that terrible day when Ranmaru had been killed. Everyone knew he would be there for anyone who needed to talk or wanted company. Sometimes it was someone who had suffered a sleepless night. Other times it was someone preparing for yet another difficult day.
He placed the kettle on the stove and prepared a tray for tea. As always, he included two cups.
Often it was Inari. Konohamaru had fallen apart and Inari had put his own life on hold to care for him. He had told Tayuya that their burgeoning relationship would have to be put aside. Three divs on Konohamaru showed no hint of recovery; grief had deepened into depression. Inari often despaired.
Tayuya never came to the kitchen before station's dawn; Iruka had asked her to assist him running the household to keep a closer eye on her. Not once had he heard her complain but, as one div lengthened to two and then three, Iruka could tell that she had begun to doubt that Inari loved her and felt guilty that she could be so selfish.
The situation threatened to destroy the friendship that the three of them had built and shared.
Sometimes Naruto would be waiting in the kitchen. Even though they had planned for such an eventuality, telling the children had been hard. Naruto thought that Haru, Hoshi and Hikaru understood that dead meant gone forever but that the kits and Ryuu struggled with the concept. Yuki had been and still was horribly distressed; he had been deeply fond of the little empath. He clung to Naruto and was prone to fits of crying and even uncharacteristic temper tantrums when separated from him. Iruka understood; if Ranmaru could vanish from his life so could his To-chan.
Occasionally it was Terai, who still felt responsible for taking his eyes off Ranmaru on that fateful day. Hamaki, Terai and Fu had abased themselves before Sasuke, putting their lives in his hands. Sasuke had given them back without hesitation, insisting that suicide-assassins were the most difficult of threats to counter and that none of them had even thought of Ranmaru as a target. Even so the trio of fighters remained utterly subdued. What should have been a time for joy for them, watching their daughter develop and grow, had been tarnished.
Today, to Iruka's surprise, it was Haku.
Of all the crew, Haku had reacted in the most unexpected way to Ranmaru's murder. He had placed Mai in stasis. He had cleared the nurseries in the household and on the Oak, disposing of everything other than the chest Sasuke had given them and its contents; that he had put into storage.
Iruka understood his decision to delay Mai's birth but not his other behaviour. He wondered if Haku felt responsible because Ranmaru had been shopping for Mai.
Iruka poured two cups of tea.
"Konohamaru," Haku stated.
"Konohamaru," Iruka acknowledged; he had not known if it would be about Konohamaru or Mai.
"I have tried," Haku continued. "Biwako-san has tried. Sasuke-sama has tried. Konohamaru refuses to listen to anyone other than Inari."
Iruka shook his head. "He only listens to Inari when Inari says something he wants to hear."
"Konohamaru must be forced to see C-san," Haku insisted. "If necessary, Sasuke-sama must order him and Naruto-san must carry him there."
It sounded extreme but Iruka found himself agreeing; Konohamaru had slid into depression despite all their support and kindness.
"Then, when he is a little more stable, Sasuke-sama must send Inari on a mission," Haku added. "With Tayuya."
"I shall speak with Sasuke," Iruka assured him. "Today," he included when he saw the expression on Haku's face. He refilled Haku's tea cup and then his own. He would try. "What about Mai?" he asked.
Haku sipped his tea. Iruka wondered if he would reply.
"I have spoken with Kiba," he said finally.
Iruka wondered if this was part of Haku's answer or a new conversation.
"I asked him what he would do when the children were older," Haku continued. "He replied that he would grow older and then die."
Iruka flinched. It was a very Kiba answer. Other than eating, sleeping and fucking, his world was the children.
"He also said that he knew that the children would grow away from him and that he was ready for it," Haku told him. "I then asked him if he would like to help raise other children, like Mai and the little girl Hamaki, Terai and Fu are parenting."
Iruka waited. At least Haku had said Mai's name.
"He was pleased. We talked about a nursery for care during the day next to the playroom. He talked about the more complex facility that Biwako is recommending for the children and that he and Naruto are discussing. We discussed building in a new space and keeping the current playroom."
Haku took a deep breath.
"Kisame has agreed to use Kotohime's technique," Haku told him. "We are conceiving a boy. Once Hamaki, Terai and Fu's little girl is within two divs of decanting, in two divs' time, I shall bring Mai out of stasis. It will be good for her to have a playmate and a little brother. Perhaps Naruto and Sasuke will decide to have more children using Kotohime's technique. Perhaps Rin and Dan will move forward with their plans for a boy and a girl."
Iruka thought he understood. Mai would no longer be a little princess alone in her blue and yellow palace; it was probably for the best.
"You and Kakashi are sure..." Haku began.
"Quite sure," Iruka insisted.
"...because I can imagine Kakashi's and Kisame's sons growing up together," Haku finished.
Iruka's thoughts skidded to a halt. Suddenly it was no longer about a small baby who needed feeding and changing. It was about a boy who looked like Kakashi.
"Death makes people want to breed," Haku observed.
Iruka thrust the errant thought aside. "Konohamaru," he stated. "I shall speak with Sasuke and Naruto today."
"Good," Haku confirmed.
Konohamaru did not want to wake. He clung to sleep, hoping to delay the onset of the enveloping, thick, heavy greyness.
"You have to get up, Kono-chan," Inari insisted. "Get up and take a shower."
He had gone through a phase of arguing with Inari but that was before the greyness. Now, provided the instructions were simple, he just obeyed.
The greyness was better than the pain.
He showered and dressed. That used up his capacity. He sat on a chair and watched Inari's mouth move. Finally Inari gave up and combed the tangles from his hair.
Silent tears ran down Konohamaru's cheeks.
A tray arrived. He managed a few mouthfuls of toast and two cups of tea; otherwise Inari would get Rin.
Then Naruto was there. His brightness hurt.
Inari had gone. Konohamaru had not noticed him leave.
Naruto gave instructions. When Konohamaru failed to comply, Naruto did it for him. Konohamaru was dressed in a jacket and a pair of low boots. When Naruto moved to clean his teeth for him Konohamaru discovered a limit he did not know he had and did it himself.
Konohamaru was going to Sasuke's office. If he did not walk Naruto would carry him. Again, he found himself complying because there was no doubt in his mind that Naruto would carry through the threat.
The display frame was set to a landscape; Konohamaru recognised the image as one that was displayed in his grandfather's receiving room. Sasuke had arranged the comfortable chairs so that he and Konohamaru were knee-to-knee opposite each other and Naruto was at Konohamaru's side.
"I understand," Sasuke said.
Konohamaru froze. Of course Sasuke understood. He had lost everyone in his life as suddenly and as brutally as Konohamaru had lost Ranmaru.
"Let me help you, Kono-kun," Sasuke said softly.
Konohamaru looked into those dark, deep, knowing eyes.
"It never goes away," Sasuke told him. "It is there but in the distance. If you forgot, it would be wrong. Slowly, for me far too slowly, you begin to be able to think about the joyful times without..." Sasuke bit his bottom lip. "...without being overcome by the grief."
Fourteen standards had passed and Sasuke still struggled to speak of it. In a strange way it helped.
"Let me take some of the decisions for you, like a brother should," Sasuke suggested.
Konohamaru did not want to agree. Sasuke would make him do things he could not bear to even consider. But he had asked as his foster brother rather than as Uchiha-sama. That meant a great deal to Konohamaru.
He managed the smallest of nods.
Shikamaru had spent two divs finding all he could about their unidentified enemy. He had been hindered slightly when the data crystal array in the household in Tarrasade went awry but he put it into storage for future study, transferred the array from the Oak and replaced that one with a back-up. It had made keeping proper back-ups since he was five worthwhile.
During the last div he had moved from research to thinking, although he still had queries running and Tennyo One, Two and Three tracking down leads.
Kakashi had asked for an update. It would be a challenge. Shikamaru was using parts of his mind that were almost impossible to explain to anyone, even Klenn.
He hoped he had something to which Sasuke, Kakashi and Neji could relate.
"I colour-coded it," he explained, displaying the three-dimensional network.
"Like the search pattern when we were pursuing Kabuto," Sasuke suggested.
Shikamaru managed to avoid explaining how different they were. "A little," he agreed. "Green are facts," he announced and cleared all the other colours.
There was one small cluster; the unidentified enemy had planted Ranmaru in Uchiha. Ranmaru had a net in his head. The enemy had certain capacities based on those facts.
"That's it?" Sasuke declared in horror.
"After that we have to start making assumptions," Shikamaru explained. "Which is the next step but we have to accept that they are assumptions. They could be incorrect. The first assumption is that the enemy killed Ranmaru."
Many yellow dots appeared.
"That is an assumption?" Neji asked.
"Of course," Shikamaru answered. "It could be a second enemy wishing to unnerve us." He wondered if he should point out that Ranmaru's assassination did not make sense. He would wait.
"The second assumption is that Gaara's abduction was also related," he said and orange dots were added. "And the third, the least certain, is that there is a link between Orochimaru and the unidentified enemy." Many more dots appeared, this time blue. "There is support for this assumption in what Kotohime has told us."
"That's a bit better," Sasuke observed, relaxing a little.
"We are certain that Kotohime is what she seems?" Kakashi asked. "We are using this information and there is the technique for giving hybrids purebred children. A technique that Haku and Kisame have decided to use."
Sasuke had not known that.
"I am certain she is not lying to us and Rin is sure the technique is sound," Neji insisted.
"It checks out," Shikamaru agreed.
Sasuke took a deep breath. "Thank you, Kakashi-sensei, for raising the possibility. However, we must be who we are. Never trusting anyone may turn us into an organisation that would treat a child the way they treated Ranmaru." He turned back to Shikamaru, "Shika-san?"
"I have added the information I have found through my research," Shikamaru said and many more dots appeared; only a very few of them were green.
"Any conclusions?" Sasuke asked.
Shikamaru considered. "No," he decided.
Sasuke sighed. "Any observations then? Or deductions? Or leads? Or even hunches?"
"Three," Shikamaru conceded. "One. We examined the remains of the assassins after they blew themselves up. Each one had a net in his brain like the one in Ranmaru's head. This, the way Gaara was interrogated and Orochimaru's resurrection may mean they have technology that we do not understand.
"Two. Kabuto has a miniature Mulligan drive. It is possible they do also. Klenn is researching that aspect for me.
"Three. I do not understand why they killed Ranmaru so quickly. I would have thought they would have attempted to keep him alive for interrogation. If that was impossible in Tarrasade, why didn't they wait until a better opportunity presented itself? I even checked they hadn't swapped in a clone but it was definitely his body; even the stomach contents were exactly correct."
Shikamaru sighed. "Maybe all my assumptions are invalid and there is more than one group involved," he suggested.
"Second guessing yourself will not help," Kakashi insisted. "What does that lateral thinking brain of yours suggest?"
Shikamaru did not know if voicing some of his thoughts was a good idea or not.
"Please, Shika-san," Sasuke asked.
"They are in the Fringe, probably Far Fringe. I think they, possibly a single leader, has been building a powerbase for at least a decade, possibly two. He has excellent intelligence gathering and analysis. He has a plan to extend his influence. Then Uchiha explodes across known space in an unprecedented way. We threaten that plan."
"Why?" asked Sasuke. "Known space is huge and Uchiha has no interest in controlling it."
"He may not believe that," Shikamaru replied. He hesitated and then took one of the double sided spacer medallions out of his pocket and placed it on the table. "Also, there is this. A story can be powerful. It can persuade people that they have value. It can give hope. It can raise people's expectations and make them question their lot. It can make them far more difficult to control."
"You have been listening too much to Klennethon Darrent," Sasuke complained.
"This medallion was sent to me by Sakura-san," Shikamaru told him. "One of her colleagues bought it in sector eight of the Far Fringe." He produced three more. "Sector one, sector five, sector eleven," he listed, putting them on the table one by one. "By now stories based on what happened in the Warren will be spreading."
Sasuke scowled at him.
Shikamaru decided that was enough, at least for today. "I shall continue to collect evidence and integrate it," he promised.
"What about Kabuto?" Kakashi asked.
"Sakura-san's employer agreed that one of her colleagues would track him," Shikamaru answered, making sure he did not catch Sasuke's eye. "I also have hired some private detectives through one of my identities. It is better if it is not us following him. He and Orochimaru have gone to a planet called Lightning known for its hybrid engineering."
"How does this affect our plans?" Sasuke asked. "The school is out of the question. If you are correct about Gaara, anyone with links to Uchiha is a target." He frowned. "What about your parents, Shika-san?"
"Surrounded by multiple layers of security of which they are blissfully unaware," Shikamaru assured him.
"Good," Sasuke acknowledged. "Next question. Should we stay here or should we 'go nomad'? Shika-san?"
"Go nomad," Shikamaru answered without hesitation. "It makes us unpredictable. A mobile powerbase means we can continue to operate without sending crews too far from back-up."
"I agree," said Kakashi. "Three divs is long enough that it does not look as if we are running away. We gain nothing staying longer in Tarrasade."
Konohamaru had seen C-san every second day since he had agreed to allow Sasuke to help him. This was their tenth session.
C-san placed the tape on the low table between them.
Konohamaru did not have to ask what was on it although he was surprised to see it. If he had been thinking clearly he would have realised that Naruto would have made a copy.
He had fed the one Naruto had given him into a disposal unit.
C-san must think he had made progress. It was true that the greyness had receded and that daily tasks had become easier. Yesterday he had told Inari off for treating Tayuya so badly and Inari, instead of being upset, had smiled.
"There are options," C-san said. "You could just listen to the audio, or read a written transcript."
Konohamaru had no intention of interacting with what was on the tape in any way or at any level.
"He left this message for you to receive if he died," C-san reminded him. "He did not go to Naruto-san and ask for it back when the procedure to disable the killnet was successful. He could have but he did not." He paused and then said the words Konohamaru had dreaded. "You are going against his wishes, Konohamaru-san."
Konohamaru connected the tablet to the tape-player. He made sure his finger was over the control to turn it off before starting the tape.
Ranmaru was sitting on his bed in his room. He smiled.
"I love you, Kono-chan. You make me so happy. Even if it turns out it only lasts a short time it is worth it to me and I hope you think so too. I leave you a task. Make someone else as happy as you make me. You have as long as you need. Meanwhile, look after the others and let them look after you. Remember, I love you and I know you love me."
Then the screen went blank. Konohamaru had not expected it to be so short.
He should have trusted Ranmaru. He should have viewed the tape as soon as Naruto had given it to him. It had made him feel better, not worse as he had anticipated.
He copied the short holovid from the tape to the memory of his tablet. Then he put the tape in his lockbox.
The last person Kiba expected to turn up in the playroom was Konohamaru. He was thinner and looked taller than the last time he had been there. Kiba invited him to sit in the other rocking chair.
Once they finished exchanging pleasantries there was silence. Konohamaru watched the children. His eyes were very sad. Kiba wondered if it was good for him to be in a place that would remind him so much of Ranmaru.
Then Yuki walked over to Konohamaru. As always, he was clutching his doll. To Kiba's surprise, he abandoned the doll and climbed into Konohamaru's lap.
"I miss him lots," Yuki confided.
Konohamaru hugged the child close. He began to gently rock the chair. A few tears trickled down his cheeks. "I do too, Yuki-chan. I do too."