So, this chapter takes place before chapters 1 and 2, but after 3, 4, and 5. If you have any questions regarding what may seem like a plot hole or continuity error due to the fact that chapters are out of order and weird like that, please ask. Or you could drop a line in a review, just sayin'.
And as always, a big thanks to Plastic Cuffs. If you like this story, you should read hers.
Asaya heaved her chest in what must have been the millionth sigh since the beginning of her "journey." How long had she been traveling? About three weeks was her best guess, but in truth she had lost all sense of time. Neither of her traveling "companions" did either, so the individuality of each day had lost significance. The only way for her to keep track of time was on the rare occasions like today when they were at a place with a calendar.
Now, like often, she was sitting on a bench outside of a traveler's stop somewhere in Water Country. Beside her, Kisame stood in monolithic silence. The silence was ok as far as Asaya was concerned, because he didn't make for good conversation. Or even decent conversation, for that matter. The third member of their party, Uchiha Itachi, was occupied elsewhere. He was in the town a few miles down the road completing an assassination mission he received two days earlier. He had instructed Kisame to watch Asaya at the stop because it allowed him to work more efficiently, and it prevented Asaya from making a public scene; again.
A young girl, about sixteen years old, came out of the door Asaya sat next to carrying a small tray with a cup of tea and a little plate of tea cookies. Asaya politely thanked the girl for bringing her the snacks she ordered earlier, then the girl and went back inside. Asaya had noticed the girl wore a plain, light blue kimono with a yellow obi. It was in the traditional tea house style- solid color with no embellishments- but she envied how clean and well kept the girl's clothes were. In stark contrast, Asaya's kimono top had become faded, wrinkled, and dirty. It used to be a deep magenta color, with a maple leaf pattern around the hem and left shoulder, and her obi had been bright orange; this was no longer the case. Her standard black pants had gained a tear or two as well. Oddly, her shoes were still in great shape, but they were of military quality unlike the rest of her outfit. Asaya now felt horribly embarrassed about her clothes.
As she ate a cookie, Asaya noticed Kisame critically staring at her. She began to chew slowly with satisfaction.
Only a few minutes passed before Kisame grabbed Samehada from where it rested against the wall and lurched it onto his back. Asaya looked at him and realized what it meant. Itachi was now coming up the road he had departed from.
Without stopping, Itachi walked passed them and said "Let's go."
A few miles down the road, the three walked in dull silence. But Asaya began to grow nervous, Do they not realize…? She thought. Itachi and Kisame both stopped in front of her and she almost walked into them.
"Halt!" A male voice shouted from behind them.
They all turned around. "You are under arrest for the assassination of Lord Fujiwara!" Shouted a middle aged man wearing a Kirigakure hatai-ate. He was accompanied by two younger men, both about 25 years old. It was evident that the two were his pupils. It was also easy to see from their appearances that they were twins. Overall, they seemed strong, but no one thought they would be a threat. Itachi, Kisame, and Asaya all raised the same disinterested eyebrow.
One of them nudged the other, and said "Hey, that one's Hoshigaki Kisame, one of the Seven Swordsman. And that's Uchiha Itachi." The second one then asked "Then who's the girl, brother?"
"I don't know."
"Hush, boys. We'll find out soon." Their sensei cut them off. He took out two long kunai, and the boys armed themselves each with a wakizashi.
Kisame proudly took Samehada from his back. "And I thought I wasn't going to see any bloodshed today. How fortunate for me. Eh, Itachi-san?"
Itachi didn't reply, but instead unbuttoned his cloak half way and rested his left arm on the opening. He was determined to end this swiftly.
Asaya quickly realized that she was the only one without a weapon. Well, fuck… She thought.
The older man was the first to move as he lunged towards Kisame. Kisame immediately lunged back, swinging Samehada wildly over his head.
The twins made for Itachi and Asaya. Itachi was unfazed, and easily caught one in a simple genjutsu. The boy stood still with a lackluster gaze. It was too easy, really.
Asaya, on the other hand, had no particular desire to fight empty handed. Or at all, really. She opted to turn and run in the other direction.
Itachi was about to finish his opponent when he saw Asaya and the other brother run off. Damn, he thought. He couldn't let them get out of sight, so instead of killing the boy he ran after Asaya.
"Get back here!" One twin called as he ran after Asaya. She didn't stop running and performed a sequence of hand seals. She pivoted on her heal to face her attacker, and smashed both fists into the ground. The earth uplifted and parted violently beneath the twin's feet, causing him to lose balance and fall into the rubble. A cloud of dust uplifted around them and quietly settled. Asaya waited for him to get up. He didn't.
He shot up from the ground behind her like a murderous plant. Asaya turned around making another set of hand seals, but was tackled before she could finish the sequence. The boy pinned her to the ground with one hand around her neck and the raised his blade over his head. A menacing gleam targeted her in the sunlight. Reacting quickly, Asaya concentrated chakra into her fist to strike back.
Before either of them could hit, a kunai flew into the boy's sternum. Blood spattered onto Asaya's face and chest before he dropped his weapon and limply fell on top of her.
Morbidly relieved, Asaya shoved the body from off of her. She stood up and found Itachi standing in the direction she had run from. Red eyes cast a disapproving gaze on her. She didn't much care for his judgment, and instead paid more attention to the fresh stains on her clothes. Itachi could see she was obviously displeased.
Hearing quick footsteps behind him, Itachi turned around. The other twin was rushing at him. When the boy was about ten feet away, he leapt into the air with his sword posed to strike. Despite the assault, Itachi made no motion to evade or counterattack. He had no reason to.
The boy hadn't realized that Kisame was right behind him with Samehada. In one swing, Kisame shredded the boy into pieces. Bits of flesh, blood, and organs spattered in every direction. The poor child didn't even have time to scream while it happened.
Asaya winced as she witnessed the boy being cheese greatered alive. Even as a well trained kunoichi, she still thought it was an unpleasant way to die.
"Seems this girl's more trouble than she's worth. Almost getting killed by a weakling like that." Kisame mocked.
Asaya scowled at him and wiped some blood off of her cheek. Did he not remember their first encounter?
"That would probably be why she was assigned to us." Itachi answered.
"Feh! At least we'll be meeting with the others soon. Maybe then we can dump her on them." Kisame lifted Samehada onto his back again and turned to head off. Itachi and Asaya followed behind him.
It wasn't too much longer before they entered a port town. It was a small but very well kept and lively place. Life was centered on the traditional main street and town square. The shops, hotels, bars, and stalls had well kept storefronts with neatly painted signs. At the town square the ground was paved with large cobble stones and free of litter. The central focus was a small fountain that sprayed crystal clear water. Economically speaking, the town must have done well for its small size if it could afford such luxuries.
As they walked through the town Asaya could see people trying to discreetly look at her; specifically at her clothing. Dried blood stains were splashed across her kimono and obi. She tried not to let it show, but it was embarrassing nonetheless.
Itachi also noticed the attention Asaya's clothing was garnering. This was a problem. "Asaya-san," he said, "get something clean to wear." He pulled a wallet from his pocket and handed it to her.
"Thank you." She hesitantly took it from him and walked off into a nearby clothing store.
A bell chimed when she opened the door and walked in. "Welcome, can I help you with anything?" the attendant at the counter said. Her face quickly shifted expressions when she saw Asaya's clothing.
"Yeah, funny story," Asaya spoke with a sheepish smile on her face. "But I need some new clothes"
Itachi and Kisame sat on a bench next to the fountain while they waited. They remained in sight of the shop Asaya had walked into.
"Damnit, how long is this gonna take? I bet she slipped out the back." Kisame said disgruntled.
"Would you rather go in and wait on her instead?" Itachi replied.
The thought of waiting inside for that girl like a servant revolted him. Why did Itachi have to be right all the time?
Kisame changed the subject. "You know, she's been with us a long time now, too long. And Leader still hasn't given us anymore information than we started with."
"No, but she is still important to Akatsuki somehow."
"Yeah, and how's that? She's just a regular weakling as far as I can tell."
"She is stronger than she is letting us know. Do you remember when you first met her?"
Kisame grumbled. "That was only because I couldn't kill her. But since you know so much, why do you think she's still here?"
Itachi thought for a moment. "There are a few possibilities. I first thought she was a daughter of an influential family we were holding for ransom, but it's not our policy to keep hostages for this long. My best guess is that she either knows something secret or has a specific skill that we need. She's definitely not a potential recruit because she lacks-" Itachi had to think for a moment before finding the right words "-the necessary qualities of character."
Kisame smirked. "'Necessary qualities of character?'"
"You know what I mean."
Itachi saw Asaya finally walk out of the shop dressed in an entirely new outfit: standard navy blue pants, a grey tank top, and a plum sweat jacket. It was much more suitable than the semi-formal clothes she had before. She turned her head in both directions before she spotted them and walked over. When she reunited with them she returned Itachi's wallet with two hands. "Thank you." she said again.
"Looks like you didn't run away again. What a good girl." Kisame said as he stood up.
Itachi saw her glare at him from the corner of her eye. He put the wallet back in his pocket, stood up, and walked toward the docks.
At the entrance to the docks there was a large sign displaying the arrival and departure schedule of each boat for the day. The main function of the ports seemed to be to redistribute merchant goods from one ship to another, so the schedule was full. Of the many destination names written, Asaya wondered which one they were going to. The two Akatsuki seemed to always know exactly where they needed to go without prompting. Not that they ever had much in the way of conversation anyway, but they never even seemed to discuss travel plans. Although in all fairness, Asaya never paid much attention to the few conversations they did have, so maybe she was just oblivious.
Itachi scaned the board and noticed that their ship was scheduled to leave in ten minutes. "Our boat is leaving soon, let's go." He said to Kisame.
Seriously, what the fuck is happening? Asaya thought as she followed after them.
The sailor at the gate of the ferry was a gruff, middle aged man wearing a clean but patched uniform. He had a lit cigarette in one hand.
"We need passage for three to Umishi Town." Itachi said to the sailor.
The man looked at them quizzically. They were an odd group, after all. He took a drag of his cigarette and said "Sorry, but there's only room for two. You'll have to wait for tomorrow." Appropriately, the sound of his voice was low and abrasive.
Kisame spoke up. "You go ahead. I'll catch up with you where we'll meet the others." Itachi nodded in understanding before Kisame turned and walked off.
Itachi then paid the sailor the fee for him and Asaya and they boarded.
The boat ride had so far been slow and uneventful, but Asaya guessed that she hadn't expected much anyway. A boat was just a boat and the sea was just the sea to her. But this was definitely an ugly boat. The grain of the wood was splintered and cracked. The deck was slimy and in some places she could hear her shoes peel off the floor as she walked. The entire crew was made up of burly men with sweat stains all over their clothes. This boat was the personification of a toothless, scaly-skinned, wretched, old fisherman.
The worst part was the cargo she and Itachi were sitting next to; fish. Fish were the most despicable creatures. Their jaws gaped open with the glassy eyed look of death and their scales perspired an oily sheen as they baked in the sun. Asaya couldn't stop fidgeting with the cuffs of her new, purple sweat jacket.
Itachi watched her antics for a while before he finally asked, "Is something bothering you?"
"I hate fish. And boats. And the ocean." Asaya said.
"Does this scare you then?" Considering there were no oceans in Earth Country, this was probably new experience to her.
"Somewhat. I'm not fond of water in general." She replied honestly.
Itachi briefly remembered the time he used Tsukuyomi on her.
"May I ask you a question?"
Itachi looked at her.
Asaya guessed she had approval and said "If Hoshigaki-san is so shark like, than why doesn't he just swim across instead of waiting till tomorrow?"
"That was the plan." He said curtly.
"Oh…" She felt stupid for asking. It should have been obvious, but how was she to know? Her hands went back to playing with her sleeves and she shamefully stared at her feet.
Itachi realized something; if she hadn't ever traveled far from her village before, than she may have never sailed before. "Have you ever sailed before?"
Asaya shook her head. "Not like this. I've crossed some rivers and lakes before, but I'd never even seen the ocean before we came here."
Itachi supposed that it wasn't unreasonable that a normal girl would be afraid the first time she crossed the ocean, but she was a kunoichi. She should be braver than that. "Can you swim?"
A delicate eyebrow twitched. Asaya was somewhat insulted by his question. "Yes. Forgive me for not having the same travel experience you do."
Looking back at the sea, Itachi saw dark clouds looming in the direction they were headed. An ominous breeze flew past them.
By the time they reached harbor, it was fervently raining. A huge storm was moving in fast. Waves had already begun to slam against the boat and knock crates over. The sailors and boatmen aggressively shouted at one another as they ran around the boat like crazed ants trying to unload the ship and secure it to the dock.
Itachi and Asaya ran off the boat and up the street into the nearest inn fast as they could. By the time they reached the door they were soaked. Itachi took off his jacket and Asaya wrung out her hair before they went in.
The inside was surprisingly attractive. The tables and chairs were made of polished dark wood, an array of ornate glass liquor bottles were displayed behind the bar, and the floor was polished and clean. Over the bar, there was a sign that read "Sawdust"- presumably the establishment's name. This was probably the nicest inn they had stayed at.
"Welcome, what can I help you with?" An older man said when they walked in. He must have been the owner.
"I need one room with two beds for the night." Itachi answered.
"Yes sir." The man called to a worker across the room. "Hachiro, show our customers a room upstairs."
A teenage boy came over to them and bowed politely. "Please follow me."
The room he took them to was as nice as downstairs. It had fluffy pillows, soft bed sheets, and a copy of Hokusai's The Great Wave hung on the wall. "If you need anything, please ask." The young man bowed and went back downstairs.
Itachi hung his coat on the rack and walked over to the window displeased. Outside the storm raged on as if Susanno himself were fighting a wicked demon. Kisame would probably continue through it without incident, but neither of them were hulking fish creatures. Now they were set behind another half day. He turned and looked at Asaya sitting on the bed closest to the door. She had grabbed a lock of her long hair and begun braiding it.
Asaya gently ground her teeth in her mouth as she sat in silence. Awkward silence. It was only 5 in the afternoon so it was too early to just go to sleep, unless she wanted to wake up at 2 am and remain tired for the rest of the day. And she couldn't strike up a conversation with Itachi to pass the time. He obviously wasn't one for idle chatter. During times like this she had no idea how to behave.
"If you have something to say, you are more than capable of saying it. Don't be so anxious." Asaya looked up at Itachi as he said it. A flash of lightning illuminated his face briefly.
Asaya swallowed. "It is just that you and Hoshigaki-san are always so implicit that I don't know what is going on, or what to do with myself."
There was an odd irony in what she said. Truthfully, he didn't know what was going on or how he should deal with her either. He was probably just as tired of the awkwardness as she was. "Don't be. I told you when we were in Sapporo that you would remain unharmed while you were with me."
Asaya could almost laugh. "And how long will that be?"
"I don't know." Anticipating her, he said, "Worrying about it will not make a difference. My advice would be to get used to it."
"The fact that you are most likely going to kill me is not what bothers me."
Itachi raised an eyebrow at her words. What a noble thing for a ninja to say.
"What bothers me is the deafening silence that seems so common between you two. It seems uncustomary for traveling companions, is all."
'Companions' may not have been the best word to describe Kisame and Itachi's affiliation, but he supposed there wasn't really another word to use. "You will get used to the silence; think of it as 'customary.'"
Small fingers gently unraveled the braid they had just finished tying, only to grab another lock of hair and begin the same process again. "Tell me, part of the reason you remain quiet is because you don't want me to learn things that might be… strictly confidential?"
"Yes, but that's normal for any hostage situation."
"If I am a hostage, then whom are you trying to bribe?"
Itachi cursed himself for using those words carelessly. "I don't actually know if you're a hostage or not. I was merely elaborating a point."
She looked at him skeptically.
"When I do find out why you are here, I will tell you. There would be no point in hiding it from you. For now stop worrying about it." He said.
Then what else was she supposed to do? Think nothing? What he said frustrated her somewhat, but she decided to stop pressing the matter. But secretly, she wasn't so concerned with learning about them so much as she wondered what they knew about her.
She looked at him as he looked back out the window. His arms were crossed and his weight was shifted onto one leg in a contrapposto stance. There was a pensive atmosphere around him. He wasn't wearing the high-collared coat or hat so she could clearly see his face for once. The three-quarter profile she could see revealed that he had clean features. The bridge of his nose was straight and proportionate. His cheekbones were high but not so much as to make his cheeks look sunken in. The cleanly defined angle of his jaw and chin was probably the nicest she had ever seen. Even the conformation of his neck and collar bones was attractive.
He was handsome.
Asaya's hands stopped moving. Embarrassment rushed hot blood into the skin of her cheeks and she bit the inside of her lip. That wasn't an appropriate thing to be thinking about.
Now uncomfortably looking at her lap, Asaya said, "Earlier, Hoshigaki-san said that we would be meeting with others soon. Who are they?"
"They are two other members of Akatsuki. You don't need to know more." Really, it wouldn't do any harm if he told her; he just didn't feel like talking in general. Anyway, she would see for herself what they were like in another day or so.
It was starting to become very uncomfortable being alone in a room with her. "You may go downstairs and entertain yourself if you wish, but do not leave this building." Itachi was commanding her to leave more than he was giving her the option.
Asaya didn't hesitate to take the offer though, and she quickly got up, slipped her shoes on at the door, and closed it quietly behind her.
Itachi took a deep breath as soon as she was gone. Not that he necessarily disliked her, but he didn't feel like he had any real reason to deal with her more than he had to. A hand combed through his bangs as he walked back to the table in the middle of the room.
Why her? It still baffled him. She was just a normal girl with no particular talents- other than running away. But there had to be something. He did notice that she was very well spoken and formally mannered. Maybe she really was a member of an influential family being held hostage. But then why wouldn't Pein have told him? There had to be something they weren't telling him, and not knowing it was a constant thorn in his side. He had even requested Zetsu ask Pein for more information a few times already, but still nothing. Were they just doing this to mock him?
Then it hit him like a frying pan to the face; why not just ask her? If she had some reason to be kidnapped, then she would know it. And this was the perfect time to question her now that Kisame wasn't around to get in the way.
Itachi decided that he would do exactly that later. For now, he would enjoy the luxury of being alone. He untied his hitai-ate and took his shirt off, then folded them on the table. His hands reached down and unzipped his pants as he walked toward the bathroom door.
Asaya couldn't have been more relieved the moment she walked out the door and down the stairs. It was a blessing to say the least.
On the main floor of the building, there were only a handful of customers. There were about three people at the bar. Two of them were old men drinking beer, and the third was a fisherman drinking sake. At the tables there was a pair of young women eating oyster shells. Presumably, all these people were stuck here because they weren't able to make it home before the storm blew in.
A bright flash of light dispersed throughout the room momentarily, immediately followed by an earsplitting thunderclap. A second later the lights went out.
A few moans and groans leapt from the mouths of the people in the room. Because it wasn't too late in the afternoon, enough natural light filled the room to allow everyone to see, despite the storm clouds covering the sun. The owner and his waiters all pulled out old fashioned candles and lamps to replace the modern light bulbs.
When the owner saw Asaya standing at the bottom of the stairs he said, "Take a seat, we'll be with you shortly."
She sat down at a two person table by the front window. It wasn't too long before a waiter came by to take her order. "Can I get you anything?" He asked her.
"Just some tea, please."
"Sure, any particular kind?"
She was a bit unprepared for that question. Usually when she asked for tea the waiter only brought back whatever the kitchen had on hand. "Um, plain black tea."
"OK, one moment please."
Asaya politely smiled in appreciation and he went back to the kitchen. She took a deep breath and looked out the window. It really was raining badly. There was nothing like this in Iwa because the high mountain elevation kept the heavy rainclouds from reaching the village. She did remember the long rain showers that would fall in the glacial valley she grew up in, but they were like comparing a kitten to a lion.
As bad as this storm was, she couldn't help but contemplate escaping again. It would be so easy, too. The rain and wind would completely cover her tracks, and Itachi had been stupid enough to let her out of his sight. She rested her head in one hand and bit her lip as she looked out the window, contemplating her options.
The waiter came back and interrupted her silence. He placed a porcelain teacup and saucer before her. Asaya admired the dark hue of the tea momentarily before she thanked him.
"If you don't mind me asking," the waiter said, "where is your brother? Er… he is your brother, right?"
Asaya didn't know how she should respond to the question, but she decided to go with the assumption that they were siblings. "Yeah, he is upstairs resting. We've been on the road for a while." Really she had no idea what he was doing. He could be upstairs skinning a cat alive for all she knew.
"Really? Where did you come from?"
Another question she wasn't sure how to answer. "Um, well I guess we came from Lightning Country last week." It was actually true. They had traveled through Lightning Country to get to where they were now.
"Wow, that's a long way to travel from here. Do you live there?"
"You sure? You're not by any chance from Iwa are you, hmm?"
Asaya stared at him wide eyed. The "hmm" at the end of his sentence was unmistakably part of an accent specific to Iwagakure. "Who are you?" She asked cautiously.
"I'll take that as a 'yes' then. Relax, yeah. I'm not a bad guy. Mind if I sit?"
He sat down before Asaya could tell him otherwise.
He was a young man only a few years older than her, with dark brown hair and eyes. "My name is Densho. And your name is Asaya, right?" He lowered his voice to just above a whisper. The howling winds outside effectively kept anyone except her from hearing him. "I'm a spy from Iwa, yeah. A while ago we all got messages saying that a girl matching your description mysteriously went missing. It was kind of a high priority thing. So what happened, hm?"
Asaya couldn't believe it. This was probably the greatest coincidence in the history of mankind. "I've been kidnapped by the man I came in with and another who isn't here at the moment. Their names are Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame, and they are part of a terrorist organization named Akatsuki."
Densho looked at her in complete disbelief. "Are you kidding me?!" He said in a harsh whisper. "That's the Uchiha Itachi? And you've been kidnapped by Akatsuki? Man, my team leader is gonna flip when he hears this, yeah."
Slender eyebrows wrinkled together in curiosity. "Why? Who are these people?"
"You don't know who they are? Akatsuki is on a need-to-know basis, but Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame are infamous S-class criminals, yeah. They're in just about every Bingo book you could find, un."
Asaya had to confess that she never really read her Bingo book. She only opened it if she needed to look up something specific. The missions she did go on weren't the type that required her to have general knowledge about dangerous missing-nin, and most of the time she just worked at a desk or trained and studied. Hers was not a usually a very exciting lifestyle.
But the phrase "need-to-know basis" made Asaya curious as to why she hadn't heard of Akatsuki despite working directly under the Tsuchikage. Even though she was mostly a glorified secretary, she still knew a lot of top secret information. So why not this?
"Oi, Densho! Get back to work!" The owner shouted from the bar.
"Sorry, gotta go. I'll be back in a bit, hm."
Before he could go, Asaya said, "Wait, could I ask you for a pen and some paper?"
Densho pulled a pen and a small notepad from his apron and handed them to her. "This work?"
He hurried back to the kitchen.
Asaya uncapped the pen and began writing two letters. One was to the Tsuchikage and her Sensei detailing all she knew about what had happened and what she knew about the Akatsuki, and the other was to a personal friend.
I hope you will be glad to know that I'm alive and mostly well. I also hope you are faring well without me.
Asaya rolled her eyes at the two sentences she had just written. Tsuta would mock her for sounding so pretentious.
In case you were wondering, I was kidnapped while I was visiting the monastery by two men named Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame. They are part of a criminal organization called "Akatsuki." Do not question your grandfather about Akatsuki under any circumstance- that knowledge is highly classified. Information on the two men can be found in any Bingo book. As this letter is being written, I am in Umishi Town, somewhere in Water Country. Specifically, I am at an inn named Sawdust. I can't say where they are taking me or why, but for now I am relatively safe. Do not worry, I promise to be home soon.
When she finished writing she folded up the letters neatly and wrote the appropriate addresses on the back. She also placed a seal on them to prevent anyone unwanted from reading them.
Densho came back with a small teapot and refilled her cup before sitting down. "Listen," he said, "the message said that we were supposed to take you back home if we found you. I think I can sneak you back if-"
"No." Asaya shook her head and interrupted him. "These men are far too strong. Here," she slid the two letters to him, "take these and send them home as soon as possible. There isn't much else we can do."
"You sure? I'm in ANBU, ya know."
"Believe me; even Tsuchikage-sama would be hard pressed against that guy."
Densho took the letters and put them in his pocket. He gave in to her warning and said, "Fine, but be careful, yeah. I'll let everyone know that you were spotted here with him. And that you haven't gone rouge, hm."
"Thank you." She said with an honest smile.
"No problem. Just take care of yourself, 'kay. It'd be a shame if a pretty face like yours were bruised, un."
Asaya blinked. This seemed like a slightly odd time to make that sort of comment. Did he mean anything by what he said or was he just being casual?
"Anyway, if you need anything else I'll be here." He got up and left again.
She took a sip of tea and looked out the window. The storm was not getting better. How the hell long do these things last?!
After Asaya had left, Itachi had used the time alone as an opportunity to take a shower. He walked back into the main room in his pants with his hair loose around his shoulders. There was a towel in his left hand. Sitting down at the table, he used the towel to dry his hair. When it was as dry as it would get he combed his fingers through and once again put it in a low pony tail. Then he put his shirt back on and sat back in the chair. He put his right elbow on the table, rested his head in his hand, and stared at the door.
He knew he should go and retrieve Asaya so he could question her, but he also had to admit he didn't really want to have to be around her anymore than he did. But he did have all night, right? He could easily leave her down there for some time more while he relaxed by himself for once.
The storm still raged on, but by now it stopped bothering her. The sun had long since set and only thick blackness pressed itself up against the windowpane. Deafening rain decanted from the sky in volumes she could only guess at. Occasionally, lightning would flash and brilliantly illumine the street outside for a split second before it was chased it away by a crack of thunder
Asaya sat relaxed as she looked out the window. Her feet were propped up on the empty seat across from her and she sat back while leaning her head and shoulder against the window. On the table stood a small candle that flickered and cast her reflection on the glass. In her lap she held a warm teacup. The heat radiated into her hands and dispersed throughout her whole body. She was completely caught up in the storm's intensity. Her eyes had ceased focusing. Instead she only listened to and felt the pelting droplets and cries of power.
When Densho came back he refilled her drink. "You really like this stuff, don't you?"
"Yeah…" She said shyly. You have no idea. She thought.
"It's quite a storm out there, huh? Nothing like it back home."
"How do they last this long? I would think the sky would run out of water by now."
"Well, this is what's called a 'tropical storm." It's basically one step below a hurricane, hn. They don't call it Water Country for nothing, yeah."
She put her feet on the floor and sat up straight when he sat across from her again. He noticed her posture and said, "Relax, no need to be so formal, yeah. We're fellow shinobi from Iwa, remember?"
Asaya supposed it was the social custom in Iwa for shinobi to be friendly with each other, so she slouched her shoulders a bit.
"So tell me," He said, "what is it like traveling with them, huh?"
Asaya spoke with a mildly disgusted look on her face. "I suppose it isn't as bad as it could be, but it's still unbearable most of the time. "
"Have they- you know?" he hesitantly asked.
She blinked a few times before she understood what he was implying. "No, nothing like that." She reassured him.
"Sorry, it's just I have to ask these things, ya know. So I can write a report." He scratched the back of his head with an embarrassed smile on his face.
Asaya awkwardly returned the smile. "I understand. Most of the time I just sit around with one of them while the other goes off and does… whatever they do. I don't exactly know."
"I see. Seems kinda weird, hm. Do you know why they took you?"
She shook her head. "No. And they don't know either. They were just following orders from whomever their leader is."
"Densho!" The owner shouted at him again. "Quit harassing the customers!"
He was about to get up when Asaya said, "He's not bothering me, I promise!"
The owner seemed skeptical, but he let it go.
"So tell me," she said to Densho, "how long have you been stationed here?"
They talked for a while more, mostly about the differences between the Water and Earth countries, but also about small, trivial things like their favorite restaurants back home.
From the corner of her eye Asaya saw Itachi standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking at her. Once they established eye contact, Itachi signaled for her to follow him back upstairs.
"Sorry, I have to go. I was nice talking to you though." She said to Densho.
"Mutual. Best of luck, yeah."
"Thanks, you too." She was disappointed she had to go. It had been refreshing to talk to someone normal for a change.
Anxiety creeped its way into her stomach while she walked back to the hotel room. What did he want with her? There was a large three-wick candle burning ominously on the table. One wick crackled and flickered. Itachi watched as Asaya winced at the noise. She looked like a scared little rabbit to him. Good.
Itachi stretched out an upward palm towards the bed. "Sit." he commanded. She obeyed and sat on the foot of the bed with an upright back, hands in her lap, and one ankle tucked behind the other. Itachi pulled out a chair from the table and sat facing her, his back towards the window. He leaned forward with his forearms bracing against his thighs. Momentarily he studied her posture. It was the same nervous, lady-like way she always sat. He looked her dead in the eye, but she cast her face and eyes to the floor. Looking away seemed to be her nervous habit.
"What were you talking about with the man downstairs?"
Asaya knew the question was coming. Her chest vacuum sealed but she knew she had to talk. "The weather, mostly." Fortunately she had an answer prepared ahead of time.
"Other trivial things like food and stuff. He did ask me where we had traveled from. I told him we came from Lightning Country." It was still technically true.
"You didn't think that he would find it strange that my hitai-ate is from Konoha?"
Asaya wanted to crawl into a ball and die. He asked questions in the most silently aggressive way. He's going to eat me alive…! She thought desperately. "I don't think he noticed. And even if he did, it would be easy to tell you defected and no longer live there. I made the distinction that we were from Lightning country, not Kumogakure."
"Very well." It was a sound answer. Itachi then quickly asked, "Tell me again, what was your rank and position as a shinobi in Iwa?"
"I was in ANBU, in a special division called Kodama squad. I worked in torture and interrogation." Thankfully she remembered what she told him when they were in Sapporo.
"It was a lie then and it is a lie now, Kagami-san." He studied her expression while he called her on the lie. It didn't change, but she didn't respond either.
"Well?" he pressed. He believed she could have been in ANBU, though.
The intensity at which he accused her if lying punched her in the gut like a seasoned street fighter. "I worked in security." She glanced up at him briefly as she said it.
He could tell this time that she told the truth. "As a body guard or at a post?"
"Both. Why are you asking me this?" She barely squeaked out the question.
"Because I am trying to figure out why we are in this situation. Knowing more about you may provide an answer. And do not lie to me." He threatened.
It made sense to Asaya, but she had a reason to keep some information withheld.
"Who did you protect, and what post did you guard?" He asked.
"I protected one of the Tsuchikage's grandsons, a boy named Tsuta, and I guarded some archives in the basement of the main library."
"What was in these archives?"
"I don't know. They were protected by very high level seals and barriers. I have only ever seen someone go in once or twice."
This information wasn't helping Itachi at all. Akatsuki would have no use for a security guard. The standard protocol was to kill them and move on. "Do you have any special skills or abilities?" That was probably the first question he should have asked.
Asaya was afraid he would ask that. "I specialize in defense, survival, and long distance endurance." It was true but she knew it wasn't the answer he was looking for. She was training in seals and she had a hunch it was why they took her, but she wasn't going to tell him if he didn't already know.
There was something wrong with what she said. "Why would someone who works as a security guard need skills in survival?"
"Originally I trained to courier messages and things in secret, but I ended up in security because I was already protecting the boy and they needed someone to fill the position." She said the truth, but not the whole truth. At one time she did train in survival, but lack of available personnel wasn't exactly the reason she ended up in security. The real reason was because she specialized in the coveted and rare skill of seals, and she couldn't regularly be sent on missions that risked her life. That would be a waste for her village.
Itachi rested his forehead in his palms for a moment before he stood up and walked to the window, obviously frustrated. He was getting nowhere with these questions.
How do you think I feel? Asaya thought.
Itachi couldn't actually see anything out the window. It was dark and with the power outage there were no streetlamps on outside. There was only the occasional bolt of lightning.
"The boy that you protect, is he in danger from anything specific?"
Asaya was surprised he asked about it. "No, I'm really just a glorified babysitter."
"How old is he?" Itachi was only asking because he couldn't think of anything else.
"That seems a little old to need a babysitter."
"He is rather… delicate."
Itachi turned around to look at her again, somewhat curious.
"He has hemophilia and some dietary restrictions, stuff like that. His family just has me watch him in case an accident happens."
"How long have you done this?"
"About six years or so. I can't remember exactly."
"Are you close with him?"
"Yes, he is like a little brother to me."
"Are you familiar with the rest of the Tsuchikage's family as well?"
"Sort of. I know the entire family because I grew up working for them, but I would consider my relationship with them a professional one. I only know a few of them well."
That was interesting. If she knew the Tsuchikage's family, then maybe she knew something about them Akatsuki was after. "Who exactly are you close with?"
Asaya wasn't exactly comfortable talking about the family to a criminal, but after working for them for so long she knew how to keep her mouth shut about their personal business. "Tsuta, like I said, is the only one I would call a friend. But I also see Tsuchikage-sama regularly, and two of his other grandchildren."
That had to be it. She must be suspected of having insider knowledge that either Akatsuki needed, or some third party had paid for. Itachi watched as she began to fidget with her hands. There was a forlorn expression in her eyes. "Do you worry about him? The boy." He was guessing.
Itachi watched as a warm smile grew on her face as she remembered him. "Yes." She said.
"And what about your own family? Are they a clan of shinobi too?"
The warmth on her face vanished. "… They were."
Itachi knew what that meant. It wasn't uncommon for shinobi families to leave children orphaned. But as he thought about it, she implied that she did belong to a clan, and that they were all deceased. Something about that seemed suspicious to him. "Exactly what do you have for a family? Or, what did you have?"
Black eyed watched as small teeth gently ground together. Her eyes fixated on the same spot on the floor they had stared at the whole time. After a moment, she said "I am what you think I am. Forgive my impertinence, but I do not see how it is any of your business, Itachi-san."
It took a second longer than usual for Itachi to fully absorb what she said. This was the first time she had openly displayed real anger with him. This new knowledge intrigued him, but he knew he would have to pursue it another time. He inhaled slowly and deeply. "You are the victim of abduction. There is no reason for you to worry about being polite."
Asaya was bemused by what he said. Does he pity me? She wondered.
There was a moment of tense silence before Asaya got up and walked into the bathroom. Through the door, Itachi could hear the bathwater running.
About a half hour later Asaya finally came out. She immediately went to the bed and covered herself in the sheets. She didn't bother to acknowledge Itachi sitting at the table reading a book. Instead she fell asleep as fast as she could to the sound of thunder and rain.
The next morning, the weather had much improved. Sure, the ground outside was soppy and muddy, the wooden buildings were saturated with water, and the air had a pungent, moldy smell, but the sun was shining.
A pair of dark lashed eyes opened slowly in the light. Itachi blinked a few times as it assaulted his eyes. He sat up slowly and rubbed his eyes before he looked at the clock. It read 8:04, much later than he wanted to wake up. They had somewhere to be and he knew he was going to get in trouble for keeping the other Akatsuki members waiting.
Across from him, a sleeping Asaya was curled up in the blankets while hugging her pillow. Itachi sighed and shook his head. The dreamy look on her face irritated him.
He got out of bed and quickly dressed. Then, he walked over to Asaya to wake her up, since she obviously wasn't going to do it by herself. "Asaya-san," he said.
"Mmnh…" she moaned at him and pulled the covers over her head and rolled herself away from him.
He then pressed his hand to her shoulder and shook her. "Wake up." He said firmly.
She rolled back over and stared at him with glossy, cow-like eyes before realizing there was a man standing over her. Immediately she sat up and nervously said "Morning."
"I will be downstairs checking out. Be ready to go by the time I get back." He turned and walked out the door.
Asaya fell back into the bed right after the door closed. She inhaled deeply and begrudgingly contemplated getting up. Couldn't she sleep a little longer? The warm bed sheets were so enticing. And it was so rare that she didn't have to sleep on dirt.
In the end, she knew it was better to get up now than to be sleeping when he got back. After she grabbed the jacket she left on the nightstand, she limply stood up and put it over her shoulders. There, I'm dressed. She thought somewhat mockingly.
Because she didn't own pajamas she slept in the same tank top and pants she had just bought, so getting dressed was easy. Thought she did need to run her fingers through her hair a few times to get the tangles out.
She sat back down on the bed. What to do now then? From the corner of her eye she spied some objects on the table. One was the sugegasa, but there was a smaller, rectangular object as well. Upon closer inspection, she realized it was a book lying open and face down on the table.
Why the hell would anyone do that?!Asaya thought. As someone who spent a lot of time around books, it irritated her whenever someone did that because it damaged the spine.
Interestingly, this book had a white slip of paper with a series of numbers and capital letters taped on the bottom of the spine. A library book? What would he be doing with a library book?
She looked at it a moment while she contemplated closing it. Itachi would probably know she had touched his belonging and might become angry with her. Despite her better judgment, she picked it up anyway. When she had it in her hand she read the title; The Human Stain. She remembered reading it a few years back. It was a slightly odd thing for a criminal to read. Or maybe it wasn't?
But since she already had it in her hand, she also decided to sit down and read it. She would hear Itachi opening the door anyway.
Itachi walked down the hallway quickly. He wanted to be gone as soon as possible. And Asaya had better be up by the time he got back.
But before he was able to put his foot on the first stair down, he heard an interesting remark.
"Hey, did you see Densho talking with that girl last night?" One of the waiters said.
"Yeah, looks like they hit it off. She looks a little young for him though." Another answered.
Itachi stopped at the top of the stairs. The two waiters talking downstairs were having an intriguing conversation.
"He sure didn't seem to care. Neither did she, from what I saw."
"Man, I wish I was as smooth with the ladies as he was. Did you see her pass him that note? She must've given him her info, or something."
"No way! Did that really happen?"
"Yeah, we totally gotta ask him when he gets here. Where is he, anyway? He's always been on time."
Itachi had heard enough of the conversation and continued down the stairs. As soon as he walked into the main room, the two waiters immediately shut up, looking awkwardly at each other.
Regardless of them Itachi walked confidently over to the register where the owner was reviewing transaction records. "How can I help you?" He said.
"I would like to check out." Itachi stated plainly.
"Sure, that'll be 85,000 yen please. Is there anything else you need?"
"Do you know where your employee named Densho is?"
The owner took a breath when he heard Densho's name. "I apologize if he harassed your sister, sir. I will talk to him."
"But do you know where he is?" Itachi persisted.
"He should be here right now. But if I had to guess, he is probably headed here from the west side of town, down the main street." The man said hesitantly. He didn't want any trouble.
Itachi then paid the man and said "My sister and I will be gone by noon." before heading out the front door.
Swiftly Itachi scanned the streets from the rooftops, looking for the man he saw Asaya talking to last night. He had to find the man before it was too late.
Then he heard the footsteps behind him and stopped. Turning around, he saw the man he was looking for.
"Looking for me?" Said Densho.
Itachi took a few steps toward the man and looked him straight in the eye, red sharingan flashing. "Last night, you were given a letter. What did it say?"
"Now why would I tell you that? It might be personal." Densho pulled two shuriken from his back pocket and threw them at Itachi.
To dodge, Itachi leapt high up into the air and exhaled a fireball.
Densho quickly performed a few hand seals and created a dome of earth to protect him. He was saved from burning alive, but he could hear the sound of his shield cracking under the pressure. When the flames stopped, Densho realized that he lost track of Itachi, only to feel his feet kicked out from under him. He thought quickly and when he hit the roof, he flipped over three times to put distance between him and Itachi. Now in the corner of the roof, he readied himself for the next move.
From the other corner, Itachi asked, "You must be from Iwa like her, then. Did she have you send a message back home?"
"Heh, yeah, not that it'll do you any good to know that now. I sent the letters off by carrier hawk as soon as the storm broke. There's no way you could intercept them now." Densho said smugly.
Damn! Itachi thought. Densho was right; those letters would be miles away by now. There was no way he could intercept them.
Densho hurried at him with a stone fist technique. When his fist first hit Itachi, he was thrilled that he landed a blow on the renowned criminal. But he was soon dismayed when Itachi dispersed as a flock of crows.
"A clone..?" He whispered in shock. A second later he found himself standing back in the middle of the roof with the cold steel of a kunai pressed to his throat. "Genjutsu, huh? You know, she warned me about you. Guess I should have listened, huh?"
It only took one motion for Itachi to slit the thin skin of his throat.
Back in the hotel room, Asaya sat absorbed reading Itachi's book. She sat cross legged in the chair while chewing a thumbnail between her teeth. Books were always so different when read a second time.
As she turned the page to a new chapter, she took a break. She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. She must have been reading for… Wait, what time was it? The clock on the nightstand read 9:02. That seemed odd. Itachi said that he was just going to check out, so why wasn't he back by now? There was no way checking out of a hotel took 45 minutes.
She tapped her finger on the book. Should she go look for Itachi, or stay here and wait?
As if to answer her question, the doorknob turned and Itachi opened the door. There was an incredulous look in his eye as examined her. She immediately put the book back on the table and her hands in her lap. Her expression revealed that she knew she had been caught doing something she wasn't supposed to.
Reading his book without permission was probably not the worst thing she could have done, so Itachi decided to let it go. He walked over and picked up his sugegasa and said, "Let's go."
Silently she followed him through the door, down the stairs, and out onto the street.
The street down this town was the same as almost every other town they had been to so far. There were some large streets- like the one they were on- connected by smaller avenues and alleys running between them. Wooden buildings were all built and constructed the same, the street was paved with the same cobblestone, and the signs were all painted with the same words in the same font. Even the street was the same wet streets always were after storms. Or at least that was what Asaya thought, but she wasn't a big fan of water country architecture.
"Asaya-san," Itachi said.
"Hm?" his words caught Asaya off guard. He didn't usually speak to her, and when he did he usually addressed her by her surname.
"Last night you said you were in ANBU, correct?"
"Then if that is true you should have a tattoo as proof. Show it to me."
It was an odd request, but not the worst thing he could have asked. Reaching around her head with her left hand, she pulled her hair away from the right side of her head. Her right hand reached up and pulled her earlobe down to expose a small, delicate symbol discreetly hidden behind her ear.
It was an interesting place to put a tattoo, but it did make more sense than the shoulder placement where his was. Behind the ear it was much better concealed from view.
"May I ask you a question, Itachi-san?" She said quietly.
"…Sure." He figured that it couldn't hurt.
"The book you have, it is a library book, right? Why do you have such a thing?"
"I took it from a library a while back." Intercepting her next question, he said, "To read it, of course."
That was an interesting practice, maybe one suited to a criminal who didn't stay in one place long enough to make use of a library card. Stealing public literature was probably the least offensive crime he had ever committed. "But then what will you do with the book once you have finished with it?"
"I will drop it off at the next library when I get another book." He said it like she should have already known by inference.
So he was a noble thief then? Or maybe that was just the most convenient thing to do. In a strange way, it made sense to her. If library books were for the public to borrow and read, why did it matter that he exchanged books from one to the next, even if they were from different countries. A book for a book was an equivalent exchange, after all. Perhaps the only issue was that he obviously didn't pay taxes to pay for the public service, but oh well.
As they passed out of the town and onto the main road, Asaya noted that this town entrance looked exactly like every other town entrance.
Across his shoulder, Itachi could see her making the same face she always made when she was thinking about something. Her brow was delicately knitted together, her eyes blankly staring ahead at the ground, and hands fumbling with her sleeves. Itachi inwardly cursed himself for what he was about to do. "What are you thinking?" he asked.
"… Your book," she said timorously, "why did you choose it? I mean, obviously it attracted you, but what exactly within it were you were hoping to read?"
Of course she would ask about that. However, it was a surprisingly bright thing to ask. "As you may have guessed, Asaya-san, I am somewhat of a cynic. Perhaps an exploration of some of humanity's flaws was what I was hoping to read."
That answer was true, but it was deliberately vague and nonspecific. It was the kind of answer one would write on a test if they weren't quite sure of the correct response but still wanted to try and fool the teacher. Though she supposed that shouldn't have expected any more from him.
"Did you find what you were looking for? In the book, I mean?" It was against her better judgment to ask, but she did anyway.
"I haven't read very far into the book, so I cannot say." His reply came almost too easily.
Bullshit, Asaya thought. This morning when she found the book it showed that he had read over halfway through it. "I'm sure you'll like it." The words sounded a bit more sarcastic than she meant them to.
"So have you read it?" Itachi guessed. Why did he continue to ask her these stupid questions?
"Yes, a few years ago." She still didn't look at him, and instead kept her focus on the road ahead.
"And why did you read it?"
"Hmm…," she thought, "the same reason you did, I suppose."
Itachi wasn't really inclined to believe she had the same motivation as he did. The idea was almost laughable to him. "What did you find, then?"
Small hands scratched the back of her head as she tried to "I found the story of how one man's life was both created and destroyed by public opinion- like political correctness or zeitgeist. And how the pursuit of an independent destiny unrestricted by the chains of societal oppression often forces one to become what they despise. It is the downside of tabula rasa, if you will." What she said was not a perfect bull's eye, but the dart hit dangerously close to center. He let her words ring softly between his ears for a moment.
When he didn't say anything, Asaya began to wonder if she had said something wrong. The uncertainty brought a hollow feeling to her chest. She noticed that they were far out of sight from the town now. All that surrounded them was a muddy road and marshland.
"Asaya-san," the anticipation of what he was about to say kept her from breathing, "you have a very articulate and formal manner of speaking. Where did you learn it?"
Relief fluttered through her. She didn't know what she was illogically expecting him to do, but that wasn't it. "When I was growing up it was forced on me. And I guess that working for the Tsuchikage and his family for so long made the habit stick. Do you find it bothersome?" She asked sincerely. It wasn't the idea of bothering him with her words that she was concerned with, but that he was also well spoken so it was strange he would be.
"No, not at all. Then your family must have been aristocratic if you were educated that way."
"Not really, they were just high strung. It's not relevant though." Even if she told him everything she knew about her family, it wouldn't do him any good. And even thought she would rather not talk about it, it was better that she misled him into thinking that it was somehow important.
Itachi still maintained that he had no personal interest in this girl, but her reluctance to disclose information about them coupled with the fact that she only spoke of them in the past tense dangled like a feather on a string before him. He would have to ask at another time. For now there was something else he had to say to her.
"That man you were talking to last night, did you know him from somewhere?"
He said it so casually that Asaya was sure he was mocking her. "No, why?" She tried not to, but her head tilted slightly in suspicion.
In an instant Itachi's hand shot up and griped her throat. The reflection of his red eyes burned intensely in her own. With his other hand he pulled two small pieces of folded paper from his pocket and showed them to her. "Do you recognize these?"
No words left her mouth, but her pupils nervously twitched while she looked at the papers. They were the letters she had asked Densho to send to Iwa.
His hand tightened its grip, preventing her from breathing. The oxygen in her lungs quickly dissolved. He examined her facade before saying, "You were a fool to think you could sneak these past me. Do not think you can try it again."
She looked directly into his eyes. Sure, she was terrified, but she refused to let him know it. He had already told her that he wasn't allowed to damage her. And now that it was after the fact there was no point in fearing the consequences. So what could he possibly do to her that she hadn't already lived through?
When he let go of her she stumbled forward. She hadn't realized, but he had almost suspended her over the ground in his hand. Her hands rubbed her neck as she coughed and wheezed painfully.
Itachi walked on as if nothing had happened. But he did turn his head to say, "Remember, Kagami-san, that man is now dead because of you."
Guilt poured through her heart as immediately after he said it. She never should have asked Densho to deliver those letters, or even admitted to him who she was, or even talked to him. Just meeting him by chance was too good to be true and she should have known better than to selfishly waste his life on a stupid, foolish, unrealistic impulse. Those letters weren't even worth anything comparatively. It was her fault, and there was no excuse.
Asaya painfully looked at Itachi as he walked away, as if everything were completely normal. Her mind was caught in a wordless maelstrom until he turned back at her and said, "I should not need to remind you to keep up." And then he continued on again.
Asaya had no choice but to follow him.
"It's not enough to hope for the best
It's not enough to lie there on a brace
The liger's on the prowl, now you've pulled its strings
One false move and soon you're playing dice for a-"