The First Shifting Grains
Everyone believes Gaara is on a killing spree when in reality he's trying to save them.
Misunderstanding, Gaara has to fight off the threat, Suna nin and even his own father.
Gaara saves Kankuro from a bomb carrier by shielding him. He whispers parting words in Kankuro's ear then collapses.
Kankuro realises his brother is no longer breathing.
"Find the captain."
"Destroy the source."
Gaara lay sprawled on a bed of leaves, his eyes slowly opening to gaze at the starless sky of his inner-world.
His alien sanctuary. A forest made of shimmering glass.
He did not move, he did not speak. His focus remained solely on the breath. Letting his mind collapse inwards and finding the smallest niche to let his soul hide, the child let all his bodily functions slow to a near stop, till his heart no longer beat within his chest.
He will wait.
He will wait for his siblings to complete what he could not. They will connect the dots and find the patterns left in the debris, because they were clever children. Loyal and clever children.
So he will sleep and slow down the caustic chemicals coursing through his veins till he could safely emerge again.
With that thought in mind, the jinchuuriki shut his eyes and curled inwards till he fell into a self-induced slumber.
Temari bolted through the double doors to the main conference room of her home with Baki-sensei at her heels, only to be greeted by a grim face jounin.
"Why were we summoned?" Baki asked bluntly. "What's so urgent that we've been pulled from the field so suddenly without explanation?"
The unknown jounin bowed. "My apologies Baki-san, but I was not told any more information except to relay that the Kazekage wanted both of you in the last room on the third floor."
The blonde kunoichi frowned in confusion.
"Last room on the third floor?" She absently turned to look at her sensei. "That's Gaara's room."
With a polite bow the ninja disappeared. Temari and Baki quickly climbed the stairs of the Kazekage's home and reached the ochre coloured door.
When they entered the first thing they registered was the massive ANBU detail.
For every length of wall, there were three ANBU diligently standing against it. The room was spartan and clean with very little furniture or clutter. It hadn't changed since the last time Temari had seen it.
Temari recalled from her memories that Gaara didn't have a bed in his room for the longest time. However this time there was a simple sleeping cot in the centre of the room which dominated most of the space, and next to the bed was the tall figure of her father. His presence was demanding, reaching every corner of the room and never failed to remind the kunoichi why this man had earned his title.
This time however, the Kazekage's presence didn't capture her attention at all.
No, the young kunoichi's eyes immediately landed on the bed that had no business being in the room and on the body that had no need to be lying in it.
Her eyes widened as she let out a small whisper, "Gaara?"
Next to her, Baki hid his confusion well enough but his eyes landed directly on the Kazekage's back, waiting calmly for an explanation.
"You may approach." The Kazekage ordered without looking at them.
Both student and teacher advanced towards the bed, their footfalls quieter than needed and stopped when they stood on the opposite length of the bed facing the Kazekage. The entire room was quiet as a funeral.
A beat of silence passed till Temari tore her eyes away from Gaara and looked at her father in consternation.
"Father, what's going on?" Her blue eyes landed on the disconcerting sight of Gaara lying motionlessly under the cool sheets. His stillness was unnerving.
Another stretch of silence passed then the Kazekage finally spoke.
"Approximately ten minutes ago my unit and I engaged in battle with the jinchuuriki." He uncrossed his arms and looked out the small portal window. "The capture and detention of the jinchuuriki had failed. However a few minutes later we found him with your brother."
Kankuro was there? Temari thought perplexed.
"Kazekage-sama I've finished my diagnoses."
Temari shot her attention behind her and noticed the mild looking man near the table with a medical bag. She honestly had not registered the man had been in the room till he spoke.
The Kazekage looked over and nodded, "And?"
The man wiped his forehead with a white handkerchief and closed his bag shut with an audible click.
"It is what it looks like." The medic's lips were pressed in a grim line. "There is cessation of breath and heartbeat. Gaara-san has no pulse and pallor mortis has already started to sink in."
Both her father and Baki-sensei listened without a single show of concern. Temari however blinked as a deep frown settled into her forehead.
"Wait…cessation of breath? No pulse?" she rapidly looked from her father to her sensei and back to the medic. "What the hell are you saying?"
Baki suddenly stated with shocking directness, "The jinchuuriki is dead."
Temari could only respond with an incredulous look as she tried to wrap her mind around the impossibility of such words.
She blinked again.
"…That's not possible." She shook her head and gazed at her baby brother who looked like he was sleeping. Temari couldn't take her eyes of the boy under the blanket. "He's Gaara." It sounded poor even to her ears. "People like him don't just kick the bucket."
Temari felt Baki place a firm hand on her shoulder. She didn't know if he was telling her to stop talking or trying to give her comfort.
"And the cause?" Baki-sensei asked.
The medic-nin sighed. "I checked for wounds and checked toxicology but nothing showed up. There has been no sign of concussion or head trauma. The next line of investigation was disease and illness, maybe even a heart attack but there are no signs of those either."
"Are you sure?" Baki asked.
"No." he admitted. "I've only had ten minutes or so to come up with any deductions at all. All I know is that there is no breath, no pulse and circulation of the blood has ceased altogether. For all intents and purposes, the boy is clinically dead." The man explained patiently. "Although sometimes, in cases like this, the heart can be restarted by something as simple as CPR, however we've attempted resuscitation but it had no effect. His heart simply refuses to work."
"He's dead?" Temari asked with a disbelieving tone. A part of her wanted to scoff.
The medic gave her a weary look. "He's not breathing."
"So he's dead."
The older man gave her a weary look and shook his head, "I didn't say that. Normally I would but…" He stopped to wipe his forehead again. "I stretched my search into his brain and found that there's still some brain activity. There's very little and it's decreasing as we speak but it's there, so he's not brain dead, however that doesn't mean he'll regain consciousness." The man sighed and bowed towards his leader. "I apologize Kazekage-sama - medically speaking – I don't know what happened to Gaara-san."
Temari found herself walking closer then she placed her palm on Gaara's wrist. She recoiled when his skin was warm, sickly warm instead of cold like she expected.
"He's warm." She observed.
"Yes, but its decreasing. Believe me, he had a lethal fever temperature when he was brought in."
"His automatic defence had not come up once since his collapse?" Baki suddenly asked. "Even during the examination?"
Everyone gave the body a cautious glance as they reached the uncomfortable part of the conversation.
"The demon," The Kazekage started. "It hasn't taken over, nor has it shown signs that it has…ceased to exist."
The medic bowed again and added, "I study the body and the chakra circulatory system but the boy is a jinchuuriki. I can't give a satisfactory explanation for such a unique patient. I understand seals even less. I suggest calling upon Lady Chiyo. She will understand this better than I do and possibly give you further insight on the matter."
With a polite bow and permission to leave, the medic-nin left without another word.
Another stretch of silence reigned over the room once more. The silence was only broken by the chaotic rumbling from outside the window.
Ah, that was right, Temari thought, there was still an attack going. She had almost forgotten. The world that had been created in Gaara's room seemed so insular that she'd almost forgotten that he was not their only problem.
"Baki-san, please bring Lady Chiyo immediately."
When her sensei was gone, Temari looked at her father and found that the man was gazing at the small frame on the table next to the window. It was made of light wood and the glass seemed to be missing but the picture inside was intact and clear to see.
It was a picture of her mother. The Kazekage's late wife.
Temari was not aware that Gaara possessed a picture of their mother, let alone kept it on display in his private quarters. It was an unexpected show of sentimentality. Perhaps that was what her father was thinking as well but it was hard to tell with his grim poker face. Next to the frame was more familiar image of Gaara when was he was younger and Yashamaru, their uncle, next to him. Their uncle looked very much like her mother. Temari always thought he had kind eyes.
There were two small flowers at the bottom of both frames. Temari didn't recognise the odd asymmetrical petals but they were dry and brittle shade of light brown. Perhaps they had been white once.
"Father, what's happening to Gaara?" Temari finally asked her voice too grim for her age.
The Kazekage closed his eyes then looked at his only daughter who stood by his side without showing any sign of faltering even in such circumstances.
"I don't know." If Temari was surprised by her father's honest admission, she didn't show it. The Kazekage's eyes fell back onto his youngest son. "If he's truly dead, we will have to find another jinchuuriki. Or at least try to kill the creature along with the boy."
The kunoichi turned her head away.
"Where is Kankuro?" her voice was quieter then she wanted it to be.
The Fourth's blunt answer was, "Medical bay."
"Permission to leave Kazekage-sama?"
Temari just wanted to get out of the small tomb that used to be Gaara's room. Her leader nodded and the kunoichi left the room and shut the door firmly behind her.
She needed a place to be sick in private.
When Temari arrived at the medical bay, she was greeted with an odd sight.
The room was busy as expected from the inflow of injured ninja and civilians; however the private section where she expected Kankuro to be was empty, save for the medic-nin lying on the floor.
"What happened?" she asked as she helped the poor man up.
"The boy's nuts!"
"He hit me!" The man grumbled out.
The medic-nin who was rubbing his head while pumping some chakra into his hands replied with distaste. "He chucked a fuss about being looked at but he eventually agreed to a basic check-up. Half way through the kid just tried to get up and leave. When I tried to stop him, he just growled at me and hit me over the head. Stinking ingrate."
"Where'd he go?" Temari demanded.
"Like I know." The medic mumbled then left the compartment.
Temari left the medical wards in search for her brother. Ten minutes later, she spotted him on the roof opposite of the medical centre.
Kankuro was huddled in some corner whilst leaning against the railing with his arms crossed. The grimace adorning his youthful features made him look like their father.
"Hey, where have you been?" Temari approached her brother but he didn't look her way. "Kankuro." She repeated impatiently.
"Hmm?" He didn't turn.
"You attacked a medic." She stated without accusation.
The boy shrugged in response. "He tried to stick needles in me. He got what was coming." The kunoichi peered at her brother and sighed. It wasn't hard to see the odd way his shoulders were bowed. "You've seen Gaara?"
Temari brushed her bangs away. "Yeah."
They fell silent.
Temari propped her elbows on the rails and tipped her head back to look at the expanse of velvety night above. Her brother was in a pensive mood that didn't suit him. The entire night had gone from bad to worse – out of the frying pan and into the fire. Temari rubbed her cold fingers and glanced at the strange pallor of her brother's skin. Kankuro looked almost as pale as Gaara did. Their dead little brother. If there was something sad about that train of thought, Temari staunchly ignored it.
"Kankuro," she suddenly remember what she wanted to ask in the first place. "Why were you following Gaara? Don't think I didn't notice you suddenly wanting to head towards eminent danger when usually you're running in the other direction."
He didn't respond for a few moments then glance towards his older sibling, "I left because I was asked to."
She gave him an assessing stare as she processed his words.
"You were asked to?"
Temari's fast mind pulled the dots together in her mind and deduced an answer. "Our father asked you to spy on Gaara didn't he?"
Kankuro nodded with a stern expression.
"He called me to his office a few days ago, you know, the usual update on how we're doing in the team and all that. He started asking about Gaara's progress and I told him that nothing was new…well except that Gaara's been real weird lately." The genin rubbed his eyes with the base of his palm. "Anyway, he seemed…concerned about something. I figured it was Shukaku's recent outbreak outside the village but now when I look back on it, I don't think it was." He sighed again for the hundredth time and continued. "Basically he told me to keep an eye on him and report back."
Temari frowned. "How is that any different to what we already do? We give bi-monthly reports all the time on Gaara's behaviour."
"Because those reports are just general surveillance."
"And this isn't? It's just an assessment mission."
"No it's not. The Kazekage was explicitly clear that I had to get…close to Gaara." The genin wrinkled his nose at the words like they soured his tongue.
"Get close to Gaara?" Temari blinked. "What? Like be his friend?" she blinked again.
Kankuro seemed aghast at the idea. "Are you nuts? Father isn't that crazy!" her brother shook his head. "No, he wanted evidence of stability so Gaara can be used later."
"Stop repeating everything I say." The boy growled in annoyance.
"Used for what exactly?"
Kankuro scowled deepened. "…I think father's planning something big. I don't know what but its huge enough that's he's willing to use our unstable jinchuuriki in a big way."
"So our father wants you," she gestured to Kankuro like he was an insect, "To get close to Gaara? Our homicidal jinchuuriki who's never shown any inclination to even spit in our direction? That one?"
Kankuro stabbed his sister with his eyes. "Shut up."
"Seriously?" Temari now sounded amused and no small part amazed.
"That's what I'm saying." He replied with feigned nonchalance.
There was a pause.
Then Temari commented, "You're a dead man." The puppeteer's fingers itched to cut the smile off the blonde kunoichi's face. "Why did he choose you? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad he didn't decide on me but…you? Seriously?"
The genin crossed his arms. "He heard about Gaara's hesitation to kill me during the massacre a week ago and wanted to exploit it as much as possible. He wants to see if it wasn't just a one-time thing."
"That's kind of a dangerous assumption to make." Not at all like their father to jumps to such a risky conclusion.
Temari pushed on. "The Kazekage asked you to do all this because he heard that Gaara chose not to kill you during last week's outbreak?" She paused and frowned. "Is that even true? Did Gaara really hesitate?"
No, not really Kankuro thought. If there had been such a moment, the puppeteer firmly left it out of mind.
He couldn't compartmentalize that shit.
What both siblings were thinking was that their father had no qualms about killing his own children. Their father didn't enjoy it, but they both knew he was a practical man. A ruthless man.
"Hmm, still don't get why he chose you though, you're about as subtle as bull and have next to no tact. You'll piss Gaara off in about two minutes and I'll be down to only one brother by the end of the week." Temari added for a bit of humour.
"You're already down to one brother." Kankuro bluntly cut in.
They both fell silent.
Temari grimaced and rubbed her face.
A blast went off in the distance making the ground shake and heat flare in the air.
"God damn bombs! Argh and it was kinda quiet a moment ago." Kankuro groused with a scowl. "When the hell are we going to find out how to stop these stupid things?!"
Temari frowned, her brow furrowed in deep thought as something occurred to her.
She counted with the internal clock in her head and looked over the yellow blaze far off in the distance.
"Nine minutes." She whispered.
"Nine minutes." Temari repeated again. "That's how long these silences go for. Nine minutes then another wave of explosions go off."
Her brother blinked. "Okay…and what does that mean?"
"I don't know but…I keep thinking the explosions aren't going off randomly. There's a pattern."
Kankuro knew his sister had a rather analytical mind that even he sometimes forgot was there. When the kunoichi caught a whiff of something worth deconstructing, she would tear it apart and figured it out.
"A pattern?" Kankuro repeated with confusion.
"If there's a pattern it means it's not random. If it isn't random then there something to follow, a formula, a trail and that means we can figure out where and when these things will go off. It's just math and probability." She explained half-heartily as she continued to run off with her thoughts.
"Okay…." Kankuro trailed a little confused. "And what's the significance of these nine minute gaps in between the explosions?
"I don't know."
A moment of silence passed.
"Well I guess that's better than nothing. We've barely anything to go with except that they leave no chemical trace, no chakra signature and seem to love exploding out of people." Kankuro drawled out bluntly.
Another beat of silence then Temari blinked and turned to her brother.
"What?" she asked in a disbelieving tone.
"What did you just say?"
The genin blinked at his sister and frowned. "Ah…that we've got nothing?"
"No." she cut in sharply. "The part where you said they explode out of people."
Both genin looked at each other without saying anything for a moment and suddenly they both swore.
The young genins ran back to their home in hopes of finding their father but were stopped before they could entre Gaara's bedroom.
An ANBU was standing guard in front of their brother's door. He adorned a fierce demon mask that looked like some kind of Oni, maybe a fox or some other kind of youkai.
"No one is permitted to enter inside."
"Lady Chiyo is currently conducting and assessment on the jinchuuriki. She's not to be disturbed."
"We need to speak with the Kazekage!" Kankuro spat.
"He's not in there." The ninja explained simply.
"Well where is he?" Temari scowled.
The ANBU said nothing which meant that he didn't know or he was done indulging the two genin.
"Come on man!" Kankuro fisted his hands. "There are people exploding out there and we need to pass on the information!"
The ANBU didn't falter or react.
Temari narrowed her eyes. "You already know."
After a beat of silence the ANBU spoke.
"The intel has already been passed on to Yondaime-sama."
Kankuro turned to his sister and asked a bit wearily. "That should be good right? I mean it makes sense that I'm not the only who's noticed by now, the attacks been going for ages."
His sister's expression didn't change. "What's being done about it?"
The ANBU hesitated and they figured he wouldn't say anything but surprisingly answered a moment later.
"The Kazekage and Baki-san have assembled a team to tackle the issue." Was his clipped answer.
"We should be helping!" Kankuro growled.
Gaara's door suddenly opened and Lady Chiyo walked out, her usual aged façade was the same as always.
"Now why have these two genin decided to cause a ruckus when I explicitly ordered I needed some peace and quiet?" Her tone was less than pleased.
Both Temari and Kankuro bowed a little belatedly and greeted their elder.
"We apologize Lady Chiyo, we had assumed out father was inside." Temari explained quickly.
"Well your wasting your time, he's not in." She glanced back to the ANBU to her left and gave him an arctic stare. To the ANBU's credit, he didn't flinch.
"Lady Chiyo, may I ask how our brother is?" Temari bowed again to the elder.
"Your brother is still the same. Were you expecting something different?" Chiyo's words were harsh but not deliberately cruel.
The sibling said nothing in response.
The elder looked at the two genin and gave a heavy sigh. Her face soften by a small margin and she said, "His body has shut down, there's no blood or chakra flow and his brain whilst showing signs of electrical energy is not responsive to internal or external stimuli."
The siblings didn't respond. Chiyo had to admit that they were taking it well. Well, the young blonde one was. Her brother on the other hand looked worse than the jinchuuriki.
What of Shukaku? They wanted to ask.
Another shinobi stepped out from the room, he was tall and rather average looking. His only outstanding features were his sharp eyes. Hawk-like and razor sharp. Temari thought he looked familiar but couldn't seem to recall how.
"The rest have been recorded Lady Chiyo." He handed Lady Chiyo a diagnostic scroll.
"Thank you Captain Seiichi."
The captain glanced at the children. "The Kazekage's children have been ordered to stay out of the fight for the duration of the attack."
"What?" Kankuro growled. "We ain't staying out of the fight!"
"Oh?" The older shinobi pinned his hawk gaze towards Kankuro. "Who will you fight? Your own comrades?"
The puppeteer faltered.
"If you've caught up with the latest information, you must realize that there is no one to fight. No dirty bombs to find in a convenient niche." His turned to look out of the portal at the end of the hallway. The burning scape of their village lay beyond the dirty glass like a trapped painting in fiery glory. "Our enemy is our own shinobi."
Temari watched as Kankuro bore holes into the man. She looked at the older shinobi and asked, "So what can we do?"
He looked at the kunoichi neutrally and answered, "Stay inside till the crisis has been averted."
"What, so were supposed to stay inside like children?" the puppeteer sneered.
"You are children." The man replied smoothly.
"Maybe," he gave Kankuro an infuriatingly calm stare that betrayed no emotions. "But not today."
Temari cut in, "Staying inside won't be any safer than being outside. Not right now when we don't know all the variables. Let us at least help control collateral damage."
Kankuro had to admit that his sister's argument sounded better than his. The Captain didn't seem to think so.
"No, I have been told to detain you if you try to defy the Kazekage's orders."
Then Lady Chiyo stepped into it before either of the genin could argue. "He's already lost one son today. Don't make him loose another two."
There wasn't much they could say to that.
Captain Seiichi bowed to the elder woman. "I need to inform the Kazekage of the latest developments."
Lady Chiyo nodded, "Is there anything the Fourth would like me to do pertaining to finding the source of the explosions?"
The captain shook his head. "The Kazekage explicitly wished you to watch over the jinchuuriki in case the demon decides to show activity. We both know something is amiss with the seal. Its silence can't be permanent."
His name is Gaara, Temari thought absently.
"I understand. Thank you Captain."
Lady Chiyo dismissed them all, went back inside the room and shut the door quickly before they could see Gaara's prone body.
Another rumbled bled through stucco walls and made the windows shake. Temari braced herself silently and waited for the vibrations to pass through her body. It was getting bad.
Just as the Captain turned to leave, he was suddenly stopped by fingers gripping his wrists.
Both Captain Seiichi and Temari gazed down at Kankuro's hand. It held the jounin's wrist with vice-like force. The action was so abrupt and borderline rude that for a moment Temari had to blink uncomprehending at her brother. Captain Seiichi didn't seem amused at all and glared down at the genin with his hawk-like eyes.
Kankuro on the other hand, wasn't even aware of the two looking at him. Temari thought he looked at little glazed out, a frown marring his forehead, his mind somewhere both of them couldn't reach.
"Kankuro, what are you doing?" Temari hissed with a steel cord of warning running underneath her voice.
The Captain was impassive as he waited for the genin to release his limb. Kankuro didn't let go though. Instead his frown turned quizzical and he tilted his head.
"Did you know my brother?" he randomly asked. His voice had a strange tone to it.
The Captain didn't answer but pointedly glance back down at Kankuro's offending hand on his person. The puppeteer seemed to realise and let go of the jounin's wrist.
The genin repeated the question again. "Did you know my brother?"
"Why do you ask?"
Temari was a little surprised the older shinobi was willing to entertain her brother's rudely asked questions.
"He mentioned you." Then puppeteer's eyebrows furrowed together and his eyes still held a faraway look. "Well, I think it was you. You're a captain aren't you?"
"As are many others in the village." Captain Seiichi replied neutrally. His eyes however sharpened with an odd shade of curiosity.
"But none so close to the Kazekage." Kankuro seemed to make something up in his mind. "I think I remember you." The genin's eyes zeroed into the man. "You're the Kazekage's silencer."
Temari couldn't believe how little tact her brother had, saying something like that so out in the open and straight to the man's face.
"I would be offended if you didn't remember little one." The genin scowled at the man's words. "After all," the ninja leaned in suddenly almost nose to nose with Kankuro and a strange glint sharpened in his razor-blade eyes. "You were one of my targets once."
Kankuro recoiled back, his snarl transformed into shock then back into a menacing grimace.
The Captain wasn't smiling but there was a cold kind of amusement in the line of his mouth.
"Good, good, I had hoped you wouldn't forget." Had the man been capable of laughing, he would be at the moment. "Calm yourself genin, it's all in the past."
Temari watched Kankuro take a step back from the man, his expression folding into a strange sort of weariness that couldn't be hidden by his growls.
Just when it seemed the puppeteer was going to retreat he stopped and clenched his fist.
"We're not talking about me right now." His words we pushed out between his teeth and his voice nearly wavered in the end. He glared at the jounin but refrained from physically throwing himself at the man. "Did you have any interaction with my brother? More specifically in last three days?"
He was back to this again?
The boy tried not to twitch as long seconds passed with the older jounin skinning him with his eyes. It was only a flicker but Temari saw the moment the man seemed to come to some decision.
"You grew some backbone since we last met." He leaned away and straightened up. "Very well, I'll answer your question but it'll come at a price. If you think a shinobi would give information so freely, you're more infantile than I thought. You will have to do something for me in return. Do we have an accord?"
Kankuro stood his ground and glared at the man but sucked in his breath and nodded. "Fine, I agree." The words tasted like ash in his mouth.
The captain relaxed his stance and gave him an appraising assessment. "The other night Gaara-san and I were…huntingtogether." The captain began crisply. "He caught it and I killed it. That's as far as my interactions with the jinchuuriki extended. No more."
"That's it." He almost said theatrically.
"That didn't tell me anything!"
"I answered your question." The older man stated.
"Hunting together? What the hell are you talking about?" Kankuro's mood was getting bad to worse. The Captain was entirely impassive.
"You're a shinobi aren't you little genin? Look underneath the surface." The man replied with little care for the fuming boy.
"What the – "
"Kankuro, that's enough." Temari cut in, her glare stopping her brother's angry spiel.
"But – "
"Kankuro, we're in a middle of an attack and the man's a Captain. He's busy and he's indulged you long enough."
Captain Seiichi gave the girl and assessing look the nodded to the both of them. "Remember the Kazekage wishes you to remain inside. Understood?"
Temari nodded for the both of them. "Understood."
Without a glance back, the strange captain with razor-blade eyes disappeared. If either realised that the older man never mentioned what he wanted in return, they staunchly ignored it.
"So what the hell was that all about?" Temari demanded as she readjusted the fan on her back.
Kankuro rubbed his face. "I don't even know."
"Really?" she raised one eyebrow. "You seemed to be hell bent on hounding the man for information just a second ago."
The boy sighed. "Yeah well, I don't think it went anywhere. It was all riddle-like. I didn't get any of it."
Temari scoffed. "It was pretty obvious actually."
Kankuro snapped his attention to his sister. "What? You mean you got it?"
The blonde shrugged. "Yeah, I mean they could only be hunting for one thing."
Her brother blinked then scowled. "Well, out with it! Not all of us have your IQ you know."
She rolled her eyes. "I think he was being literal. They were tracking someone and Gaara caught him and the Captain killed him."
"What? Like an enemy ninja?"
"Obviously." The kunoichi rolled her eyes. "Gaara only hunts one particular species Kankuro. Humans. Captain Seiichi is the Kazekage's personal jounin captain and his right hand man. He'd only be hunting for a threat to the village. A ninja. Then there's the fact that we didn't hear anything about this so it was small scale attack. No actually, not an attack. Infiltration and from what I gather it was partially successful. Also, it was probably only one person. Then you can add in the fact that he told us himself that he killed the ninja." She paused to think then continued. "So he actually gave a lot of information."
Kankuro just stared at her sister with a mildly impressed expression. "Wow, ah…okay. So the ninja's still here?"
"Yeah, I guess. They would've sent him to Intelligence downstairs for study then the morgue."
As soon as she finished talking, Kankuro was already at end of the hall and racing down the stairs. The kunoichi stood there for a moment not entirely comprehending of what happened then yelled, "Kankuro, where the hell are you going?!"
Kankuro and Temari ran through the dark corridors of Suna's intelligence division, each torch light on the wall blazing pass them in a blur as they delved deeper into the subterranean maze.
"Kankuro dammit!" Temari chased after her brother.
He brother had bolted out of the house and directly into series of complexes that led underground. He hadn't stopped running. The blonde kunoichi reached for the boy's shoulder and slammed him to the nearest wall.
The boy blinked as he rubbed the back of his head. "Damn, you don't need to hit so hard!"
"Can you stop for a second and tell me what the hell is going on! Because whatever it is, if it involves going into the intelligence department, you'll need me to get inside, so start talking!"
The boy looked shifty but eventually slumped against the wall. "I don't know how to explain it okay."
"Try me." Temari barked impatiently. "I can only tolerate so much of your bull crap in one night."
The boy looked reluctant to share what he was thinking but eventually cracked under his sister acidic glare. With one great sigh he crossed his arms and started to explain.
"I meant what I said. I don't really know how to explain it because I'm still trying to figure out if this is what I'm supposed to do."
Temari frowned at the less the stellar answer. "Do what?"
"Before Gaara," the genin hesitated and continued. "Died, he said something to me." He breathed out through his nose and rubbed his brow bone with a slight tremor in his hands. "He told me 'Find the Captain. Destroy the source'."
"Find the captain and destroy the source?" Temari blinked. "Gaara told you this?"
"Yup, as he wheezed and puffed his last breath." Kankuro added humourlessly. "Look, I don't hold much weight to anything Gaara says but…I dunno, he was dying and he decided his last words to me would be instruction to do gods know what." He almost gave Temari an imploring look. "With all the crap that happened afterwards I kinda forgot about it till – "
"Till we were talking to Captain Seiichi." Temari finished off. She gave her brother an assessing look then asked, "There're plenty of captains from all different divisions and ranks in Suna. Why are you so sure it's Seiichi-san Gaara was referring too?"
And why is your history with him so antagonistic? Temari wanted ask but decided to keep it for later. One secret at a time.
The puppeteer shrugged.
"It would've had to be the only captain he had interaction with in the last day or so. Then he told us all that stuff about capturing an enemy ninja on our soil a few nights ago…well that pretty much cemented it for me. He's the only captain Gaara must have been talking about."
"And you want to come down here and try to find the corpse of this dead ninja?"
"Captain Asshole ain't gonna help us and Gaara's dead. The only thing linking these two people is a dead ninja. I say let's pay him a visit."
Temari raised an eyebrow.
Kankuro scratched his head feeling less confident as the kunoichi questioned him.
"Look, I told you I don't really know what I'm doing but seeing as we've been told to play baby and stay inside, I might as well humour our crazy baby brother and give his last request a go. It's a lot more interesting than twiddling our thumbs for the rest of the night."
The two siblings looked at each other without speaking for a few moments till Temari sighed and growled out, "Fine, seeing as we've apparently got nothing better to do."
ANBU units and teams of jounins and chūnins began to scatter across the village to send out a series of urgent messages:
'ALL FIELD NINJA IMMEDIATELY EVACUATE TO THE OUTER WALL.'
Baki ran through a series of hand seal and brought forth a wall of earth just in time as a torrent of flames and debris hit him. His nose burned of ash and something else with a more vulgar stench. When the wall came down all he saw was what was left of a bakery and the street was on fire.
"You!" he pointed to the chūnin near him. "Do you know any water jutsus?!"
The chūnin shook her head apologetically. "No Baki-san," she paused to look at her burning surroundings and added. "But I can control a fair amount of earth to smother the flames sir!"
"Then do it quickly before it spreads!"
'CIVILIANS PLEASE MOVE TO THE CENTRE OF THE VILLAGE. REPEAT. MOVE INWARDS TO THE CENTRE OF THE VILLAGE.'
The man gripped his lovers hand as his body began to revolt against him.
There was sun beneath his skin and the world was suddenly bathed in shades of caustic red and heavy grey.
"Shhh," his lover hushed, her hands boiling in his own, "J-just stay still, I'll try something okay? I'll fix you up."
He grappled onto her flak jacket and the hot wind seemed to feel like sandpaper against his cheeks.
"G-Get out of here Saki-Chan." He wheezed out loving words and gripped the kunai in his hands. "Leave dammit!"
He pushed her away.
Then he disappeared beneath a brilliant bloom of light and fire.
It would have looked beautiful, she thought. If it hadn't spat her lover back in her face.
'ALL JOUNINS AND CHUNINS LEAVE FOR THE VILLAGE EXITS IMMEDIATELY!'
Captain Seiichi crouched like a hawk on the dome of a roof and sliced his comrade's throat.
He grimaced and cut down another fellow ninja.
If the dead man's face was familiar, he didn't acknowledge it.
Then he moved on and drew another blade from his back.
One for the sake of many.
'GENINS AND CIVLIAN PLEASE MOVE TOWARDS THE KAZEKAGE DOME!'
The young girl shivered.
It was so cold and she was getting sleepy.
Her sensei was yelling at her from above but she couldn't really tell what the man was saying.
"Come on stay awake!"
He applied pressure to the wound on her stomach but the blood kept spewing out in torrents of offending red. The man couldn't remember it being that vibrant before.
He pressed harder. A blast went off somewhere in the distance. He ignored it. Keep the pressure.
Come on, stay with me.
'REPEAT. ALL FIELD NINJA LEAVE THE VILLAGE IMMEDIATELY. EVACUATE TO YOUR NEAREST EXISTS.
The Kazekage and his personal unit of ANBU began to gather the civilians that had been caught in the cross fire. Picking up the strays and shielding those who were left in the blast radius, the ANBU units delegated themselves in accordance to the Kazekage's orders.
Glittering dome of gold cocooned entire buildings.
The blast revibrated several times till it ceased all together leaving an inferno behind.
The Fourth stood with his hand outstretched as he orchestrated his dust to dance a most magnificent display of arcs and lines. The man smothered the flames and protected raw flesh from sweltering heat while levelling entire streets to keep his villagers safe.
He lifted his curtain of lethal gold and let it dance in a frenzy of shimmering light.
He watched as his village burned beneath his blistering feet.
"Tell me again how you manage to convince that guy to give us the log books?"
"Perks of being the Kazekage's children I guess." Temari answered.
The siblings hunched over a record book of all the bodies that had been brought in. It was almost embarrassingly easy to get their hands on the information. If a pair genin could extract village intel so easily then Suna really was going to the pits.
"Okay, from what I can tell, there have only been three bodies brought in within the last week." Temari scanned the paper. "One of them was a civilian and that was death by poison. The other was a Suna ninja brought back from a mission so that leaves the last one. Body 11455. Jugular was sliced open."
Kankuro peered over her shoulder. "Hmmm," he squinted. "He was a foreign ninja. This must be him!"
"The morgue is just through those doors and look for his serial number." Temari instructed as she continued to read the log.
Kankuro opened the metal door and entered the frigidly cold room. "Why isn't there anyone down here? God this is so creepy."
Temari saw a few notes on the side of the manila folder and pulled out sheets from the draws that had the same serial number. As she continued reading, her brows furrowed deeper till a heavy weight sank slowly into her gut.
A horrible suspicion began to eat at her.
The kunoichi pulled out more autopsy sheets and chakra diagnostic charts and spread them out on the table as her mind began to connect the dots. Little lines were being pulled together in her mind as her brain snapped everything together at lightning speeds. The picture her deductions had painted was worse than she'd imagined.
"Hey! What the hell are you kids doing down here?!"
Temari snapped her eyes towards the door and found a medic ninja standing angrily by the door.
"Yo Temari," Kankuro walked of the freeze room. "We've got bad news – whoa hey!"
"Well hey there little genins." The medic-nin stalked towards them. "Are you going to explain why a bunch of kids decided to pay a visit to the intelligence sector without authorized personal? In the middle of a village wide attack no less?"
"Ah…well…" the puppeteer floundered and looked towards his sister. "Ah a little help here Temari."
The blonde kunoichi was unresponsive and still looking at the documents in her hands.
Kankuro frowned. "Temari?"
"Kankuro I think I've figured it out."
"Figured what out?"
"Everything!" She shot up out of her seat. "Where's the body?"
Kankuro blinked at her sporadic behaviour but eventually answered.
"Yeah, that's the problem." He scratched his head. "The body's gone."
His sister stilled for a moment then asked with tightly controlled restraint, "What do mean it's gone?"
"I mean it's gone. It's not there. I checked and the serial number didn't match any of the bodies."
Kankuro was mildly alarmed at his sister's panic.
"Temari, what are you worried about?"
"It's the dead ninja. He's doing all of this – the explosions, the infected ninjas, everything!"
"Wait, wait, the guy's dead Temari. He can't scratch his own ass let alone do all of this."
"But he can."
She pulled out the report written.
"Hey you can't read that!" the medic-nin interjected but was immediately ignored.
"He can because he has a kekkei genkai." She pointed to the paragraph noted at the bottom. "See here, it states that his body showed signs of being a carrier vessel to chakra parasites. There are at least three kinds of chakra parasite in the elemental countries but only one that manifest in a volatile state. I remember this because I went through a pyromania stage when we were younger."
"Yeah, I know." Kankuro added unamused. "You lit my hair on fire."
"Anyway, the little creatures like to absorb charka and turn it into energy for their host. The host incubates and houses the parasites insides their own bodies, kind of like the Aburame clan."
"Abu – what?" Kankuro tried to keep up with his sister's spiel. "Wait so it's these explosive-chakra-bug-thingies that are doing this?"
"That's just it. The only volatile species died out long ago. It caused too much damage and some even say it underwent a strange mutation that caused one of the worst chakra-sickness epidemics in history. It just ate away at everyone's chakra coils like acid till there was nothing left. That's why – out of fear - the people with this particular bloodline limit were pretty much systematically killed off."
Kankuro breathed out. "…That's heavy."
Temari ignored him and ploughed on. "This ninja doesn't have that. In fact, the species that his body holds is the most benign and well…useless out of all three types. You can't really even call it a bloodline limit, it almost just a fancy trick."
The genin looked confused. "So…how is he doing this?"
She pulled out a small slip of paper that had someone's very detailed drawing of a tattoo.
"The medic who did the autopsy drew this. It was found on the base of his neck. It looks like a tattoo but I bet you any money that it's a seal."
"And what does it do?" the puppeteer asked finally starting to catch on.
Temari bit her lip in thought then answered, "Look it's just guess work but I think it's making his body into some kind of beacon that's keeping the parasites anchored and running their course – even after death."
This was the source Gaara was talking about.
Kankuro frowned. "Okay that makes sense but how are the people getting infected?"
"Think about it. They're chakra parasites. They like chakra and who here has loads of the stuff?" She paused, "Ninjas. Somehow our ninjas got in contact with the stuff, maybe they breathed it in, or the directly came in contact – I don't know – but they began to swell and multiply and eventually released itself in a big way."
Her brother clenched his fist.
"I don't understand why they're exploding though. That's not a natural feature to the species. Someone clearly modified it and successfully turned into a weapon." There was disgust on his sister's face as she explained.
Kankuro skimmed over the documents then slapped it back down on the bench. "So all we have to do is destroy the body."
"Actually…" Both siblings turned to the medic ninja who was still standing in the room. "The body has been taken upstairs about twenty minutes ago to be cremated."
The both blinked at the previously irritated medic ninja who actually seemed intrigue by their theory.
Temari rubbed the back of her neck then asked, "So…that's it. We just have to sit back and wait till the people upstairs destroy the body?"
The medic came closer and Temari realised that she was much older then she looked. The older shinobi scanned over the work scattered on the bench.
She gave both genin's an acidic stare that could eat away statuaries.
"You have an interesting theory." The medic frowned as she thought through all the facts over then suddenly came to a conclusion.
"Oh no." she straightened up and suddenly rushed out of the room.
"What is it?!" Kankuro yelled out as both genin rushed after the woman.
The medic-nin rushed out of the underground maze and to the ground level of the facilities with the two genins tailing her.
"We can't destroy it!" she answered breathlessly as a panic settled over all three of them. "If the body is the source, then it will naturally have a larger collective of volatile material than any of our unfortunate ninjas combined." She gritted out of her clenched teeth. "The explosion that will follow after the body's destruction will destroy half the village in one hit."
Temari blanched and Kankuro swore.
Baki was one of the few that didn't evacuate.
In the back of his mind he remembered his genin students and hoped they stayed inside and away from the outer ring. They were at least safe in the Kazekage dome. For now.
He passed by a few children huddled in the alley way and he grimaced at the tearstain faces. Gods, the night had been nothing but hell and so many were already gone. Gaara, his mind supplied treacherously.
Baki moved inwards towards the Kazekage Dome as he ushered the rest of the population of Suna towards the safe zones. While he was jumping from roof to roof, the jounin caught sight of something strange.
It was his students.
Baki halted and jumped to a lower balcony to inspect what Kankuro and Temari was doing in the industrial furnace section of the intelligence sector. His bafflement increased even further when he watched Kankuro slam one of the workers against a wall and shut the burner off.
Baki nearly balked. What on earth were his genins doing with a corpse out of all things?!
"Put it out!"
"Shut up, I'm trying!" Temari snapped.
She cracked open her fan and got ready to blow the flames out when Kankuro grabbed her wrists.
"No, don't do that! You'll just feed the flames!"
Baki watched as some medic with mousy hair produce a heavy towel from somewhere and began slapping the flames into submission.
"I knew I should have learned a water jutsu instead of the stupid flying paper bird trick!" one of them groused.
Baki decided that he wanted an explanation sooner rather than later so he formed some hand signs and let a small torrent of water stream onto the wrapped corpse. The flames died away in a matter of seconds.
The medic yelped and scurried back as the water soaked away the burning cloth.
"You two should be at home." Baki stated as he jumped down from his perch and approached his genin. "Care to explain why I had to watch you knock out a Suna civilian and steal a corpse?"
"Baki-sensei!" Kankuro actually looked happy to see him which was alarming in itself. "God, are we glad to see you!"
"Medic!" The jounin barked. "What's the meaning of this?"
The woman cowered a bit but quickly started to explain in a dazed frenzy. "I'm sorry sir but these two genin have stumbled onto a serious problem. If we don't get the body out of here the entire area is going to -"
"Ah you guys?"
The unknown medic, Baki and Temari all turned to look at Kankuro who had tenderly peeled away to cloth that was wrapped around the dead ninja's body.
"I think we're too late."
Whatever little patch of skin was exposed was blistering and turning an alarming shade of red. Baki had seen this; he'd seen this all night and suddenly understood the alarmed tone in his genin's voice.
"Dude it's gonna blow!"
Baki looked around and realised that nearly all the villagers had gathered around the Kazekage dome which was only minutes away from where they stood.
If the body went off, everyone would be caught in the blast.
Temari and Kankuro both looked at each other then back at their sensei.
"You two back away!" Their teacher ordered as he picked the body up.
Baki then slung the corpse over his shoulder before anyone could argue and catapulted himself up and over the roof tops.
The jounin pumped excessive amounts of chakra into his feet to propel him further and faster. The weight was heavy and the dead ninja smelt of smouldering flesh and charred bits. The heat was soaking through the cloth and into his flak jacket but his fingers gripped the corpse tighter. He wasn't anywhere near the edge of the village but he couldn't stop here, there were too many people.
He just needed to get into the open desert that laid just beyond the walls.
Pumping even more chakra into his legs, he entered the middle ring of Suna. The body began to smoke.
The wall's still too far away.
Baki gritted his teeth and tore his mind away from the train of thought. Keep running.
The burning chakra was doing something terrible to his muscles and by the time he passed the middle ring, his body was actually slowing down. The jounin's mind began to falter as he realised that he wouldn't make it and even if he managed to get the explosion out into the open desert, he himself would be caught in the blast.
But that was okay. He was a proud ninja of Suna and he had to admit, it was a rather spectacular way to go out. Burning glory.
The chakra in his legs began to fizzle out as he spotted the open desert just beyond the wall.
Just a few more metres, he thought.
Baki ignored the throbbing glow on his shoulder.
Baki snapped head towards the sound and his legs almost faltered in disbelief as he caught sight of who was running alongside him.
The jinchuuriki ran parallel to the jounin and each leap across the roof tops only brought him closer and closer. Eventually there was only three metres in between them as they ran for the wall and Baki realised it wasn't the boy at all.
It was a clone.
"Give me the body!" the clone rasped out.
The corpse began to glow with new intensity and the cloth began to tear and rip as the supernova underneath readied itself for the final eruption. Baki's fingers that were holding the corpse blistered and seared.
Gaara's clone didn't wait for Baki to agree or disagree.
It yanked the dead weight off his sensei's shoulder and wrapped it in a cocoon of sand. Baki could only watch as Gaara pushed himself off the rooftop with meteor force that cracked the stucco beneath his feet and flung himself into the air.
Far away, Kankuro and Temari stood on the tallest tower to watch and pray their sensei would make it alive.
The Kazekage who set a protective barrier of gold around his people narrowed his eyes to the horizon where he watched a small figure catapult itself into the air.
Both ninja and civilian alike could only watch in terrible awe as a bloom of light exploded above, igniting the night sky on fire.
A/N: This arc is pretty much done.
If you look carefully the Fox ANBU had an appearance. Love that guy, we'll be seeing more of him.
Oh man, you guys, seriously thank you for the overwhelming reviews.
You keep me writing fearlessly. Truly.
Keep it Kool
[EDITED – 17 APRIL 2015]