Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Author's Notes: So this story has been sitting on my hard drive forever without an ending. Since it is Spring Break, and therefore time for spring cleaning, I have gone through and finally finished it!
It was nearing sun-down when the big black and orange truck sped up next to the 'Gate and stopped a few feet away in a loud screech of rubber trying to pull a couple hundred pounds to a complete stop.
That was the first weird things about the newcomers. Tires. Tires weren't used all that often nowadays that man had mastered air propulsion and helium tanks. In fact, most people that weren't over a hundred years old had even seen them. The second strange things about the newcomers were the newcomers themselves; a man and a woman, young, and moving with the deadly, precise grace of experienced killers. They both wore loud colors, pink and orange. Attention catching.
The last thing I wanted when I had a bunch of V's to take down.
But, despite the clothes, they both wore flexible steel headbands with the symbol for K.O.N.O.H.A. engraved in them, a swirl with a triangle attached at the bottom. That meant they were from the government, sent special and requested. They got paid for my hobby. I imagined the Colonel, smoking like a chimney while he kept his crosshairs locked on the old factory, had begged for them. The Konies were supposedly a special section of the military, but really they ran under their own command.
Shrugging, I turned back to stare at the big office building on the hill that the 'Gate ringed, the low burning flames interwoven into the metal an occasional distraction. 'Gates were useful things. They were just the basic interwoven metal links, but they were permanently on fire with a flame so hot it was blue. They were to discourage any V's from squeezing through. Most of the time, they were just a pain in the butt and a suicide tool. A lot of hunters had chosen to be burned alive instead of getting bitten. I had heard of one guy, named Kumo I think, that decided being Gated was the best option and then as soon as the flames set into his skin he changed his mind and started screaming for the guards to douse him. For whatever reason, they didn't, but the guy managed to survive by rolling around in the dirt and letting himself get bit. He killed all the guards after that, and since then policies about being Gated have changed.
In short, no one's supposed to do it.
The structure on the hill was really more dangerous than the Gate though. The big mounds of dirt dug into the rotted floor of the basement indicated there were twenty Newsies having a nice nap after their meal. I had found the mutilated bones of a couple of travelers on the way over. The blue van had been packed with what remained of seven teenagers, the vehicle destroyed and licked clean of blood. Definitely V work, and definitely the ones buried. I can't curse enough whoever made it impossible to kill the things underground during the day. It made my job harder than it needed to be. If worse came to worse I could call for-
My mouth twisted in displeasure at the interruption to my thoughts, but I turned and gave a curt nod to the two newcomers anyway. The pair's coloring was exotic, especially when compared to my uniform features, blond hair and blue eyes for the male, pink hair and green eyes for the female. Their tight blue jumpsuits and pearl armor showed the wear of many previous missions on them. The girls still had a few holes from where some of a V's blood must have hit her, corroding the fabric.
Exactly what I didn't need.
"So…" drawled the blond man, boot tap, tap, tapping away like the Energizer bunny. It spoke of nerves or excitement—both of which could get me killed. "What cha doin'?"
Energetic and an idiot to boot. Lovely.
"Meditating," I quipped, hoping he would get the hint and leave me alone. I always preferred quiet before these things. It helped me think once I was inside, and when facing V's I always wanted to keep a clear head. It gave me an edge. The V's couldn't think until they reached Ancient, and even then it was remote for most of them.
Except, of course, one.
"Never tried it," the man said flippantly. "But I've heard it's boring, so I'll save you from it! I'm Naruto," he stuck out a callused hand. I shook it with remorseful dignity. Naruto was better to give in to the first time. "My partner, Sakura," he added, jerking a thumb at the girl.
She nodded, smiling slightly, un-nameable emotion deep within her eyes. I did my best to ignore it, and nodded back.
"Sasuke," I offered shortly.
"What's the sitch?" Naruto asked, nodding to the creaky building. Years of heavy wind had given the whole building a permanently sideways tilt, a danger I would have to watch for.
"The colonel," I said, my tone making it clear what I thought of the man. I glanced back to see that he was still there, watching, the tanks lined up like five nice little ducks and his men checking over their guns one last time. The colonel didn't say or do much of anything, he just sat and smoked, gun to his shoulder, his close cropped hair and big muscles making the AK-47 look like a child's toy. "Says there are twenty Newsies and two Ancients," I reported. The newcomers shivered. Ancients were bad enough when there was just one of them. Two were worse than the black plague, and twice as deadly. "Newsies are buried in the basement, I saw a couple of their mounds when I checked it out this afternoon. One Ancient may have buried itself into a flower pot on the second floor. Didn't see the other, but when has that ever mattered?"
"Never," Naruto said, rolling his eyes. "Ancients are always such a pain in the butt."
Understatement of the century, but I had to agree. My lips pulled up into a half smirk before I remembered no one should ever see me smile. I frowned instead.
"Five minutes until the 'Gate opens," Sakura interrupted, her voice surprisingly hard. "Do you have everything?"
Naruto shrugged, and I almost did to before I caught myself, pulling away slightly. They weren't my team, I didn't do teams, and I shouldn't treat them like it.
Before I could slink away a reasonable distance, Sakura turned to me and raised an eyebrow. "Do you have everything, Sasuke?"
I almost reprimanded her for addressing me so casually, but let it slide. I had only given them my first name anyway. I nodded, I always had all my weapons with me, and she turned away.
Naruto was not so quiet, nor so organized.
"Let's see," he said brightly, touching pockets and other weapons strapped to him. "I've got two stakes, an extra stake, one silver whistle, the back-up silver whistle, an electrum blade, a Burner," I felt a spark of jealousy worm up in me. I couldn't get a Burner unless I stole one, and I had almost landed in prison the last time I had done that. "And four spark… ler… oh. Heh, heh. Oops."
"What have you forgotten?" I asked, the words rolling off my tongue before I could click my teeth together to stop them. Neither of them reacted as if my question was out of the ordinary. I took a step back. There was something familiar about these people. Easy. Natural. Like I had known them all my life, and right after a nice little hunt we would go out for a drink and talk about school days.
Ridiculous notions, I was sure. Ones that could give me trouble later on. The last thing I needed was distraction. I had gotten a tip That Thing would be nesting here, and if I could catch it…
"My Sparklers," Naruto groaned. "I think they're in the truck."
Sparklers pretty much equal mucho importance. They set off a light so bright they can cook a V's brain in its head.
"Go and get 'em," Sakura ordered, slapping his head lightly. He whined, and set off in a loping stride, boots thumping on the ground.
"Time! Gate opening!" The Colonel ordered suddenly, stepping up beside me. He smiled, slapping my shoulder. "Two minutes until sundown! Good luck!"
His breath stank of cigarette smoke, and I turned away in disgust.
"No!" Naruto squawked, changing direction and running back to our tiny party. "Wait for me!"
Sakura waited, I didn't.
As soon as the gate had opened far enough not to cook me, I was through and jogging up the hill, jumping potholes and watching for hidden traps. There was a little bit left of a road to follow, really just a few pieces of tarmac free of tree trunks. The trees had all been cut down and dragged off earlier today, and the stumps bore a twisted resemblance to some of the smaller V's I had faced, scattered all around the hill. They watched me as I went.
The building blotted out the smeared pink and orange sky, and soon the only light was the faint glow of the Gate half-a-mile behind. I turned on my flashlight. It blinded V's for a moment, and attracted them to me- exactly what I wanted to happen.
The rusty chain on the door lay in a crumpled heap from where I had snapped it to slip in earlier today. The V's had come in through a broken window at the back, the jagged edges of the glass were still stained with their blood.
I had decided it wasn't the most sanitary way in.
I smiled when I heard the shuffling from the other side of the door, and shifted my weight down and back for a kick. Sakura and Naruto caught up just as I let my leg loose and the door crumbled into gray splinters.
Let it never be said V's waste time, or aren't wickedly fast.
Two of the Newsies had already tunneled themselves out of their temporary sites, their gray, unisex, hairless bodies matted with filth and crusted with dried blood. The drained corpses I had found last night told me very little of that blood was theirs. It was hard to believe these things had ever been human.
They came at me with a shriek, their claws out, and I could feel a familiar heat burn behind my eyes as I moved.
Down and away from the fingernails, electrum blade snaking into the second V's side, twist, withdraw, roll to the side to avoid the blood and the next swipe. Up, step to the side, and my blade sliced through the V's head. It exploded like a ripe watermelon, dark green blood spraying out.
I was already moving again. Down the hallway, to the stairs, and I could hear the thumps of the other Newsies up and moving.
I smiled, armed two Sparklers, and threw them down the stairs. Clunk, clunk, clunk went the little metal spheres down the wooden steps, the landing, more stairs, and finally into the basement. Even turned away and with my eyes shut the world lit up like noon day, and V's screamed. V's screams sound like nails on a chalkboard, but I like to think of it as music.
I blinked the spots out of my eyes and ran past Naruto and Sakura, to the stairs that led up, higher, and the heat built in my eyes. I turned off my flashlight. I could see fine, and I wouldn't need it anymore. Besides, I might like to attract Newsies, but Ancients are a different story.
In some part of my mind that was still paying attention to things other than Come and get me Ancients, 'cause I'm coming to get you, I noticed Sakura stayed behind to take care of any surviving Newsies and Naruto was pounding up the steps behind me, cursing.
I tuned him out.
The second floor came up fast, opening into a hallway, office doors lining it. Big glass windows let me see into a few of the dilapidated workplaces- chairs overturned, files scattered, a flower pot broken and spilling dirt on the floor, desks broken and sagging.
The surviving windows were what saved me. I saw the dark flicker clinging to the wall above the landing through them, a flash of red eyes.
I rolled onto the landing, and the heat in my eyes exploded.
With that explosion, the world stopped.
No, that really isn't the way to put it. It's just that here, like this, I can see anything and everything, process it a million times faster, and react. It's like the world has been dowsed in some kind of extra bright light that comes from every angle, letting me see every detail in sharp relief. I can see the chip of red nail polish beneath the Ancient's fingernail, the red, male ant with a slightly bent right antenna clinging to the wall, ten feet away. I can see myself, reflected in the glassy eyes of the monster, eyes swirling and hard as steel.
The Ancient came at me, shrieking, launching itself from the ceiling with its claws out and waiting for a piece of flesh to add to the collection stored beneath its filthy claws. I sidestepped, twisting, something cold touched my arm, and snapped my wrist out to collide with the ribs. One of the V's bones broke, and my hand dropped, throbbing. I was going to have a bruise tomorrow.
To my surprise, the Ancient didn't scream as the bone broke. It should have. Demented experiment or not, having a carbon laced bone broken and stabbed into a lung hurts.
"I've heard of you," it rasped, dancing back and bouncing on its long toes. V's feet are like hands, and the most dangerous thing a hunter can do is forget those claws are poisonous too and just as dexterous. It blinked at me, transparent eyelid flicking. It's side was rippling, the 'matter in its organs healing the rib. I hate scientists. Once this plague is over, I'm killing all of them. "You're the failure."
I bristled, the name getting under my skin. There was only one thing it could have heard that from.
"Where is he?"
"Maybe you don't think so good. He's not here no more. He left during sundown."
During sundown? I scoffed. "I don't believe you."
The thing shrugged. "Don't care. You do."
My knuckles turned white and yellow, squeezing around my sword hilt.
"Sasuke!" Naruto yelled, bounding into the hallway. "Hey, Sasuke! You think you could, I don't know, wait up?"
Naruto was all the distraction the thing needed to lunge for my throat, and it was just that miscalculation on its part that had me ramming my sword through its brains and twisting, until I was absolutely sure the only thing in there was mush.
Seething, I turned to glare at the blond idiot.
"I think that went well," Naruto said.
"What went well?" Sakura asked, banging up the stairs behind him.
"We totally kicked the Ancient's butt. In, like, five seconds."
Had it only been that long? I wondered, staring at the blood smeared on the wall. The Ancient must have been really new, to be so easy to kill. I hadn't even been hurt.
"Um, dude, you're bleeding. You know that, right?"
I blinked, my vision fuzzy and dim, like I had just gotten off a roller coaster. I didn't like roller coasters.
I told Naruto and Sakura this, and they seemed concerned.
The next thing I knew I was laying on the only intact desk and my arm was being squeezed into fiery oblivion. I screamed and thrashed, something heavy holding me down.
"Almost done, Sasuke! Hang in there! It's the poison from the scratch, I have to get it out," Sakura yelled, but I barely heard her. My arm was the only thing I could think of, the only thing that mattered in the whole world. The burning, squeezing, tight pain that had coiled into my upper arm was seething with hurt, and I thought I might have been crying.
For the record, that is quite impossible, as I do not cry over something as simple as pain.
"We're done!" Sakura assured me suddenly, pulling her hands back. "All better."
It didn't feel better. It felt like she was still squeezing the thing into something smaller than a pinhead.
"The morphine should kick in in a minute."
I'll need more, I almost told her. I'm not like you. But then the relief came, my arm settling into icy, numb bliss. I sighed, my muscles going from rigid to lax and languid. It was like water had been poured where all my muscles used to be. I laughed.
"Good stuff morphine. I like morphine. Do you like morphine? I think it's better than alcohol. It might even be better than sex. Who's to say? I just like morphine. Good stuff morphine."
Naruto and Sakura traded amused look and levered me off the desk, I laughed again. "Watch it! My legs have been replaced by noonles!"
Naruto laughed so hard, he almost fell over, and I laughed with him. The whole world was funny.
Sakura sighed. "Job. To. Do."
"All. Ready. Done," Naruto said, wiping a tear from his eye. "We got him didn't we?"
"Don't like Ancients," I muttered, head lolling.
"Yeah," Sakura said. "But what about, you know, the whole reason we had to go looking for him in the first place?"
"We'll deal with it tomorrow."
"Tomorrow!" I crowed happily. "Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow!"
That set Naruto off again, and he almost dropped me several times coming down the stairs. I think I finished my rendition of Annie, but luckily the whole thing was pretty fuzzy, and by the time we had reached the Gate I had gotten to the point that I was mumbling to myself instead of out loud.
"No one comes out until morning," the guard told us- a hardened man with a scar instead of an eye. "Just in case."
"We're allowed through, just ask the colonel."
"Sergeant! Open that gate! If you make me unglue my butt from this lawn chair I swear I will send you on permanent post to the rings of Hell!"
I think I made it to the truck, but everything got dark after that, and when I woke up again I was in a hotel room remembering how clean sheets feel. I could hear the pitter-patter of a shower and the low buzz of a TV. I groaned, announcing to the world that I was awake and Not in the Mood.
The bed bounced as Naruto jumped onto it next to me and grinned. "Good morning, Starshine. The Earth says, hello!"
I shoved him off the bed.
After the appropriate amount of cursing and threatening, Naruto laid himself down more gently and poked me in the shoulder. "How much do you remember?"
How much was I supposed to remember? "Just about everything. It got a little fuzzy in the truck but-"
"No," Naruto moaned, eyebrows snapping into lines. "I mean, how much do you remember about us?"
I stared at him blankly. "You're konnies and drive a truck?"
Naruto pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes and groaned. "Sakura! It didn't work!"
The shower shut off suddenly, and Sakura raced out in a towel and little else. It took me a moment to recover my faculties and get my thoughts past 'wet', 'pretty', 'towel', 'legs', and 'wow'.
"What do you mean it didn't work?" Sakura demanded, hands on her hips and towel slipping one gloriously painful centimeter lower.
Naruto gaped, his mouth working and his hand twitching. "Sa—sa—t—you—shower!"
"I think he means clothes," I said, finding the strength to avert my eyes slightly. There was a mirror behind her anyway.
"Oh," Sakura said sheepishly. "Oops. Be right back. Naruto, quiz him until I return."
Naruto tried, but mostly he just stuttered and stared off into space for long periods of time, drooling.
"Just take a minute," I said dryly. "Really, I have all day."
He blinked, and then smiled. "Okay then! Let's begin at the beginning. What's your name?"
"That is my whole name."
"Right. Who have you sworn vengeance upon?"
"My former brother, Uchiha Itachi."
"Which makes your full name…?"
I stared at him blankly. "Where are you going with this?"
Naruto sighed. "Okay, let me put it a different way and see if it rings a bell. My name is Uchiha Sasuke, you killed my family, prepare to die!"
"How did you escape from the nuthouse and why haven't they brought you back yet?"
"It's still not working!" Naruto yelled, flopping over.
"I'm hungry," I said, stomach thundering. "Bye."
"No wait!" Naruto yelled. I dodged his hand and leapt for the door. "Teme! Wait! Stop!"
"What'd you call me?" I asked, my head throbbing with secrets trying to get out. Something hovered just on the edge of my awareness. Knowledge, understanding, something…
"Teme," Naruto repeated slowly. "I called you teme. It means…"
"I know what it means," I said, surprised that I did remember. I looked around. "This is room 303, isn't it?"
Naruto nodded excitedly. "You remember?"
My head was a swirling storm of images and sounds. Standing wary and tight my first day at the K. O. N. O. H. A. Academy, meeting my team for the first time, the first kill, that stupid movie quote I had almost killed Naruto over, steaming bowls of ramen, standing awkward and confused in some Bath & Body store to shop for Sakura's birthday. So many sounds and smells and feelings they almost crushed my senses into a steaming mass of half-remembered squash.
I sat down.
"What happened?" I asked, voice hoarse. Naruto sat down beside me, and Sakura popped out to sit on my other side. She smelled like that vanilla wash we had gotten for her.
"There was a sighting," Sakura said. "Of Itachi."
"You went after him. …It didn't go well."
Bad enough I had wound up on an operating table with my head and insides flushed and sent stumbling back into the world without a life to remember.
"The Wipe was supposed to make you forget Itachi," Sakura said. "They voted on it while I was gone and by the time I got back they'd already started. They messed up."
"They erased all of me, instead of him." I shook my head, trying to shake all the fragmented pieces of my memories back into place. They had mind-wiped me?
"Exactly. You were turned loose and started hunting Itachi down again right away—because of course you remembered that—and we started hunting you."
I got up and paced, my head still reeling as I tried to forge memories into a cohesive whole. I knew Naruto and Sakura. I loved them. I hated Itachi. I hated the colonel that had been guarding the gate. He had once given me a bad grade on a test…
I sat down again. Away from them, on the opposite bed, and they swung around to face me.
"So I'm a liability," I said finally. "Why didn't they have you just shoot me?"
Naruto looked away, but Sakura smiled. "Naruto said they would lose more than one of their best operatives."
"And you had better appreciate it!" Naruto yelled. "Grandma almost fired me. Fired. Me!"
I snorted. The second Konoha's leader let Naruto go would be the day the world imploded. They might have both been homeless freaks, but they were each other's homeless freaks.
"So… what do you want to do now?" Sakura asked, braiding her long hair and flipping it over her back.
There was so much to do, so much to consider, my entire life had just been opened back up to me, and I wasn't even sure whether I wanted it or not. I hadn't even known I was missing it, that there was anything to miss, until just moments ago.
My stomach rumbled again, and I smiled ruefully, not caring if they saw my fangs now. My Change had been stopped early on. I was no V yet. I was still under control. There was no telling how long Sakura's temporary cure might work, but now that I remembered it I was starting to think with just a few modifications…
But that was for another time.
"Eat," I decided. "Take a shower, and go from there."
Sakura smiled that smile that lit up her whole face, even her large forehead, and grabbed my hand. Naruto stood up with a yawn, stretching.
"Great," he said. "I could go for some ramen."
Author's Notes: I hope that made sense. If it didn't, please ask for clasification!