Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any Naruto characters portrayed in this fic.
A/N: On to the last of three parts! The timeline of this story follows the time-skip, after Naruto develops the Fuuton Rasengan (as pointed out by a very sharp reviewer) technique, but after that deviates from canon. Reviews and feedback appreciated!
PART 3: Reprisal
Chapter 12: A Sleeping Beast
Day 8 since Team Kakashi's departure from Konoha
Tsunade was standing very still in the midst of her protective guard. When Shikamaru approached, there was a slight, almost unnoticeable shift in their positions that granted him closer access to her.
She turned and he almost took a step back at the simmering fury he saw, boiling just beneath her poised exterior. She closed her eyes for a few moments and when she glanced his way again, her smile was bitter.
"This shall be added to your case docket. See that you follow all leads. Shikamaru . . . "
Her voice petered off and she glanced at the defaced monument behind her, distracted.
"Looks like your theories are now fully confirmed. Valley of the End . . . tch. Couldn't have chosen anything less symbolic."
"He's getting bolder." Shikamaru followed the direction of her scrutiny, taking in the destruction. "The Uchiha compound is taboo. Nobody even enters here. He's gone far beyond any boundaries that exist in Konoha."
"And that's exactly why it's imperative that he has to be stopped. Now."
The young chuunin nodded slowly, wincing. "Hokage-sama, I apologise for not doing more to avert such a situation. This doesn't follow a pattern."
"Pattern?" She shook her head. "Look around you, Shikamaru. This is the work of a madman. Of course he has a pattern, a grand plan, even. Just not one that's in any way comprehensible to a sane person."
She turned to him once more, holding his gaze.
"You should understand that it's now not enough for you to simply tag along in the wake of this criminal. You have to start making predictions. I understand that it makes no sense to try to solve a case without gauging the motives, the causative agents behind the actions. But now that you have a fair understanding of the 'why', decisive action needs to take place."
The challenge in her light brown eyes was fierce, but he met it all the same, back straightening, suddenly aware of the precise reasons Tsunade had been chosen to lead the village.
"This common murderer shall not snap at the heels of Konoha and think to make a neat escape. What he has done, to this village, to my shinobi, is unforgivable. Nara Shikamaru, show me what you are capable of."
Day 7 since Team Kakashi's departure from Konoha (18:04)
Their escape was a narrow one, despite the decimation of the Iwa ANBU. Jiraiya had shouted to them to fall back, seeing the new wave of attackers that had threatened to spill over the fortifications. Naruto was the first to detach himself from the battlefield, tugging sharply at Sakura. As they ran, they tended to their wounds. Hinata drew up alongside Kiba as he carefully matched his pace to hers, placing her glowing palm against his cheek and neck, stemming the blood flow from the painful looking wound. Sakura saw to herself with rapid and detached efficiency, the myriad small cuts and bruises that marked her arms quickly dispatched. Her movements were mechanical, both her thoughts and those of the blonde shinobi before her, fixed on the memory of their sensei's battered form retreating on Gamakichi's back.
"What's Kakashi's status? Tell me the worst injuries."
Naruto frowned. "No breaks as far as I can tell. Bruised ribs. Cut on the chest, which I missed the first time. The leg wound was pretty deep. Mainly blood loss and chakra exhaustion. I gave him blood replenishment and fever pills from the kit. And used Hinata's ointment."
Unseen by him, Sakura gave a brief, soft smile. "Good job. It'll have to hold until we get him to a safe place."
"Speaking of which . . ."
"Oh." She turned to Jiraiya. "Right. Jiraiya-sama? Are you sure about where we're headed?"
The Sannin snorted. "What do you think? Don't worry, brat. Waterfall will grant us safe passage, you have my guarantee."
Shino spoke suddenly, drawing closer to the group. "We have pursuit. Not ANBU. Two groups, forming a pincer formation. They're slower. They're being cautious now that they're well over the border."
"What?" Kiba looked back through the trees, still empty of signs of pursuit. "Are they that fucking desperate? Or insane? Do they even know - "
"Oh, they do." Jiraiya gave a low, humourless chuckle. "I was expecting this, to be honest. These are Iwa nin. The bastards won't give up, given a chance like this to strike back at Konoha. They know exactly what could happen if they make one wrong move. What makes them doubly dangerous is that they're willing to risk it."
Hinata gave a small shiver and Kiba frowned, but the expression passed, leaving him smirking slightly. "Well, if they want to play like that . . ."
Naruto whipped his head around, teeth bared fiercely. "No! No way are we wasting any more time like this! Kakashi-sensei needs his treatment - "
"And he will get it." Jiraiya interrupted, implacable.
"What do you - "
A series of explosions echoed from some distance behind them, a soft gust of wind carrying the scent of burning leaves and wood to their noses, an attenuation of the blast.
"That's what we meant, dumbass." Kiba's grin was as wide as it could get without hurting himself. "You think we didn't rig this place before coming through to get you guys?"
Naruto humphed. "Yeah, yeah, but that won't stop all of them."
"Then . . . what the hell, Kiba?"
"Why? It serves as a signal too. To our most welcome allies." Shino pushed his dark glasses further up the bridge of his nose. "You are as dense as they say, truly."
As he turned his head back, he saw them. They passed like cool, dark arrows beneath, riding the water raised from subterranean currents with grace and ease. Sliding along the forest floor, faces turned up to them momentarily in pale oval flashes of movement. And then there were more. This time coming from straight ahead, through the tree-tops. Wrapped in mottled green and brown, sashes of dark blue wound around their brows bearing the metal plate that marked them from Waterfall. The shinobi in the lead saluted mid-leap, eyes trained on the broad, distinctive figure of the Sannin. Jiraiya returned the gesture with solemn respect and they were gone, passing as swift and deadly as the shinobi contingent on the ground below. Silence reigned over the group for a few more minutes. And then the distant sounds of battle reached their ears, screams, shouts and cries of terror as the Iwa nin were met by opponents who could manipulate this environment at a whim of chakra control.
Day 8 since Team Kakashi's departure from Konoha
"Well." Commander Sato huffed and tossed Shikamaru's thick folder of case notes onto the table. "This got out of our hands fast."
Shikamaru winced ruefully. "Yeah. It's been upped to Class five. This file contains all the information relevant to the murders. But the classified stuff . . . it ties in with this. Suffice to say that when the culprit is found, Hokage-sama has given me clearance to report to you immediately."
He received a grunt. "Hm. Considering the outright act of terrorism a short while ago, I'm hardly surprised. In a way, I'm glad. We don't have the resources to fully investigate such an incident. Our efforts can be expended elsewhere with greater impact."
"Hokage-sama has all ANBU squads on high alert. A team is currently working at the scene."
"Good. Thank you for reporting in." He stood, bowing deeply, a sign of respect not lost on Shikamaru. He returned the gesture. Sato watched him for a moment with a wry smile. "And you can be sure that we will consult you on any further cases, should we require your expertise."
Back in his room, Shikamaru immediately removed his shinobi gear and stepped into the shower, scrubbing himself quickly and vigorously. He washed out his hair, grabbed a towel and made for his closet from which he removed a set of clean, comfortable night clothes. Ignoring the appetising scents wafting up from the kitchen, he dressed and sat, cross legged on the floorboards. He closed his eyes.
He needed to be one step ahead. Thus far, the criminal's 'grand plan', as Tsunade succinctly put it, had eluded his prediction. It would not any longer. Laziness was so ingrained in the young Nara's nature that he sometimes under-estimated his own abilities while accurately assessing the same in others down to a fault. Today, in the Uchiha district, something had struck him. It was not just the fact that he had been given this investigation, a far cry from anything he had taken charge of before. It was the sheer faith that Tsunade had in his ability to unravel it that hit very close to home. He couldn't think why, but what he was dead certain about right now was that he would not disappoint her. He could not afford to, now that the possible fate of his comrades hung in the balance.
Taking a deep breath, he began. He started with the murders. No. Before that. This faceless individual planned to perfection. In his or her eyes, the unveiling of the carefully crafted revenge was an art-form. Each event was theatrical, played out to the gasping audience of Konoha. It would have started small. Unnoticeable. It would have started with the mission. Getting Naruto out of Konoha would have been first priority. So ensuring that Team Kakashi received a mission well away from Konoha was the first step.
No. Before that. The victims would have to be chosen. How did the murderer know these people? How did they retrieve that obscure information, the identities of the young arsonists? Sasuke was a well-known aggressor. Anyone could have access to that information. What narrowed it down was the knowledge of the five civilians and Daisuke-sensei.
Shikamaru's thoughts took a sharp turn, along an unexpected tangent. He was pretty certain that the murderer had made Daisuke an accomplice in the mission room. Daisuke's violent and vengeful death also pointed to this. The murderer had wanted Naruto safe and far away. Wrapped up in the brilliance of their own plan, the architect had not foreseen the old grudge against Naruto re-surfacing and was moved to psychopathic rage when their very purpose was thwarted.
Wily as they come, Daisuke had interpreted the seal, made his own additions and ensured that Naruto as well as Kakashi had been transported to hostile territory. Daisuke would also have the contacts in Iwa to arrange for false intelligence to be planted amongst their sources; that Naruto and Kakashi were spies. As a veteran sensei, he would have made many trips to other hidden villages. Daisuke had no notion of the full plan. If he had known that it was, supposedly, in support of Naruto, he would never have gone along with it in the first place.
Something in all this did not fit well with Shikamaru. The translocation and framing were, again, flourishes of a metaphorical cape. His instinct told him that the murderer had come up with these touches, eventually hoping to let Daisuke take the fall as his own special punishment. But if translocating just Kakashi had been the original intention, why go through all those lengths of framing him and rendering him a hunted fugitive. . .
Oh. Like a well oiled hinge, the entire situation turned in his mind, out of its ungainly, incomprehensible motion into smoothly fitted cogs, churning against each other. Leaping to his feet, he raced around the room, collecting his weapons pouch, chuunin vest and sandals. Sticking his head out the window, he saw, as expected, Hawk perched on the corner of the roof.
"We're going. Haruno residence. I'll head there, you bring reinforcements."
Day 7 since Team Kakashi's departure from Konoha (18:35)
It was half an hour later when they finally received some respite from the constant action. A small group of Waterfall shinobi hailed them down and led them to a concealed rest station. Gamakichi was already waiting, Kakashi's still form safely across his back. Jiraiya exchanged formalities with what appeared to be their captain, a short, stocky, dark-haired man with vertical tattoos down the length of his powerful arms.
Shino, Hinata and Kiba looked around with some interest as the advanced shielding genjutsu was released, revealing what looked to be nothing more than a metal hatch opening into the bank beside a river. Naruto and Sakura, however, had eyes only for their sensei. As soon as they stepped into the chilly shelter of the bunker, the young medic took charge of the situation, rattling off instructions and requests for materials from the surprised Waterfall shinobi, laying Kakashi out on a stretcher and bustling them all to the medical bay. Naruto barely had time to dismiss Gamakichi with heartfelt thanks before he was tugged along in their wake.
The medical bay itself was a simple infirmary, equipped with first aid essentials, poison antidotes, medical charts, medicine chests and two steel-framed beds with thin army-issue mattresses. In a corner, a tap with a tiled area below provided icy water, piped directly from the stream flowing alongside.
Kakashi was laid out on one of the beds while Hinata motioned Kiba over to the other and tended to his cheek. Naruto, looking anxiously over Sakura's shoulder, spoke only when she had completed the diagnostic, his bottom lip ragged where he had bitten it.
"So? How bad is it?"
She shook her head, a frown etched deep into her brow. "Worse than usual. Nothing I can't treat, but with all these injuries combined . . . and his chakra levels are dangerously low . . . "
Catching his worried gaze, she gave a small, tired smile. "Naruto, you idiot. Stop hovering and boil me some water. We'll have him awake in no time. Trust me, you'll see."
Catching his full attention for the first time since the rescue, Sakura was startled to see the depth of emotion and heaviness in Naruto's eyes, belying their vibrant colour. He didn't reply immediately, only resting his hand on her shoulder. When he spoke, his voice was tired, almost limp. It made a small shudder race through her.
"Make him better, Sakura-chan. I know you can."
She heard the sound of running water and the echo as it splashed into an aluminium basin, then his footsteps leaving the room. A short while later, he returned and the dish emitting a thin cloud of steam was placed at her elbow. Kiba slumped over on the bed, legs crossed as he settled into a light doze while Naruto seated himself in a corner, not far from Shino, the exhaustion still evident in his posture and bearing. His gaze, however, did not stray from herself and Kakashi, taking in the progressive treatment with rapt attention.
Sakura, meanwhile, had already administered her special chakra and blood replenishment pills and was pleased to see that Kakashi's chakra levels were still low, but fluctuating in a region where he was most certainly out of immediate danger. The shallow wound on his chest had scabbed over, so she focused on the slashes across his calf, which were still sluggishly bleeding, the flesh around them inflamed.
Laying out swabs and antiseptic solution, she sterilized the surrounding area, cleaned out the wounds and knitted the flesh together until seams of light pink new skin stood out on the underside of Kakashi's leg. Closing her eyes, she now placed her palms flat against him, her consciousness reaching out to the bruised ribs beneath the flesh. Her chakra flow eased the swelling and soothed the ragged and torn nerve-endings, knitting bone together where hairline fractures formed miniscule lines across their surfaces.
When the room swam into clarity once more, she looked down, wiping sweat from her brow and smiling slightly when she saw a little colour return to Kakashi's pale features above the mask, his breathing already easier. Naruto shifted in his corner and she looked up, returning his slight grin.
"He's okay now?"
"He's out of danger. He won't be spry for a while, though." She beckoned to Hinata and stood slowly, stretching out her back. "Hinata, you take care of that cut. I'll just take a short break and see to the others."
"Right away." The dark-haired girl slid her knees beneath Kakashi's bed and began to slowly and carefully dab at the scabs on the unconscious shinobi's chest. Naruto waved his hands as Sakura approached him.
"I'm fine, Sakura-chan. You should just rest for a while."
Ignoring him, she ran a diagnostic, her eyes scrutinizing his face carefully. She knew something had happened from the way he avoided her gaze, from the way he was not prattling on and on about how they had overcome the Iwa nin. After a few minutes of tense silence, she shoved his shoulder roughly.
"Are you going to tell me, or will I have to beat it out of you?"
He gaped at her for a few minutes before rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "Ah . . . I didn't mean to make you worried Sakura-chan."
She snorted and fished a dark brown pill from her medic kit. Naruto's eyes fixed upon it nervously and she scowled.
"I want to see it go down your throat, no excuses!"
"But - "
"Sheesh, Sakura-chan," he grumbled, but she was relieved to see a small amount of the tension apparent in his shoulders give way and he sat back, squinting in ill-concealed disgust as he chewed on the pill.
"So?" Her voice was soft.
He swallowed with difficulty and looked away, across the room to where Kakashi lay. "Nothing. It's just, it was kind of hard, you know? Sensei always comes home knocked out from big missions, over-using his Sharingan and all, but this time . . . "
He broke off and Sakura watched him, gripping her knees.
"I . . . He said things. About me. And you. And even Sasuke-teme."
"Naruto . . . "
He continued as if he hadn't heard her. "I didn't want him to say things like that. It made me think about things that I didn't want to. But also . . . I did. It was . . . nice to hear him say it, but also scary. And you know what Sakura-chan?"
He still wasn't looking at her, for which she was thankful. He might have stopped if he saw the bright sheen on the surface of her eyes.
"I always like it when sensei says something good to me. To us. Because, I mean, you know Kakashi-sensei. He doesn't say stuff often. Who knows what goes on under that stupid, big hair, you know?"
She nodded, and he must have seen from the corner of his eye, because he was still speaking.
"Anyway, he told me a bunch of stuff. Some of it makes sense, some of it doesn't. He was kind of out of it, so it wasn't all together, if you know what I mean. He . . . he also . . . did this."
Before she was aware of what was happening, Naruto's hand shot out, pausing inches from her. He caught her gaze and she stared back, then nodded. Slowly, he lowered his hand, resting his palm on the top of her head, willing her to understand as he gripped firmly, but gently. From the sudden widening of her eyes, he saw that she did and he almost retracted his hand when he saw two single tears well up and spill down her cheeks, tracing tracks in the dust and grit. She reached up and grasped his wrist, willing her strength into him. His voice was a little husky when he spoke again.
"He also said something about you, so I thought, maybe you should know."
She took a small, steadying breath. "It's all right, Naruto. I think I already know."
Jiraiya took a long draught of the cool water proffered and sighed, wiping his mouth off on the back of his arm.
"Hn. That hits the spot."
Across him, Hiruko, the Waterfall jounin, unwrapped a small bundle of rice cakes and pork buns, handing them over.
"Your team did fantastically well against the Iwa ANBU."
Jiraiya grunted. "Yeah. Kids, all of them. But reliable. And skilled. Our rookie nine is not just for show."
"I can see that." There was a pause in the other's speech as he bit into a bun, chewing speculatively. "That Naruto. Your apprentice now, is he?"
Jiraiya nodded, keeping silent. Their treaty with Waterfall was a recent one. Although small and often keeping out of conflict, the village boasted a compact and highly organised shinobi system. Jiraiya's intelligence network, however, had unearthed some information which did not set him at ease. A jinchuuriki was also present in Waterfall village and, according to reports, she was not afforded the same respect and admiration that Naruto had accumulated from Konoha's citizens over the years. Quite the opposite. The girl, as his sources let him know, was received with hatred and ill-feeling. Grateful as he was for the timely intervention from these shinobi, the Sannin wasn't going to put Naruto at unnecessary risk.
Hiruko shrugged. "Looks like a promising young man. And your medic." He laughed. "She reminds me of someone."
Jiraiya grimaced. "Oh, we get that a lot. And her finger flicks are no less gentle. Tell me." He edged forward in his seat slightly. "Seen any unusual traffic in these parts recently?"
Hiruko raised an eyebrow and the Sannin grinned.
"Spymasters are not all-knowing, you know."
"Well," The jounin frowned. "There was . . . that organisation a few months back."
Jiraiya nodded, waving his hand. "That we're aware of."
This was no flight of fantasy. As per the Sannin's view, the treaty between their villages had come about through Akatsuki sightings long before the official one reported by the Waterfall village. The uneasiness caused by such an encounter was enough to get their wily village council to seek assistance from a shinobi super-power and thus, Konoha had been approached. It was a pity their jinchuuriki was not afforded more value. He had a feeling that they would be hearing something in that regard soon, and instinct told him to be prepared for the worst.
Hiruko jerked a thumb in the direction of the Iwa border. "You're talking about them, right? On any given day, they're not the most subtle. Especially with their threats. What we do know is that a coded message entered the country a few weeks ago. We knew because they took a route through our territory, just skimming the border. Our patrols didn't stop them for questioning. We didn't stay alive this long by poking the sleeping beast in the eye, so to speak. But we did keep a close watch on them."
Jiraiya nodded, drinking in the information.
"They entered through the very same border outpost you Konoha shinobi raised hell at. The messenger was wearing clothes that spoke of no affiliation. Private service, no doubt. There was a lot of money changing hands, obviously. He was heavily guarded. Five Iwa ANBU, with a captain, no less."
"Interesting. And you say they skirted the Waterfall boundary?"
Hiruko nodded, seeing the direction of the Sannin's query. "Straight from Fire Country. Whatever this was, Sound wasn't involved. At least, as far as I can see. Your borders are better guarded than that. You've got a rat, somewhere."
Jiraiya's face was grim as he emptied the bottle of water and handed it over for a re-fill.
"Indeed. We're planning to squash it out soon." He grunted. "We'll show them what it means to wake a sleeping beast, all right."
A/N: The road back to Konoha! Shikamaru strikes me as someone who is very aware of his own abilities and that of those around him, such that he can come up with strategies that incorporate the best of everyone's capabilities. The self-doubt I show here is nothing more than artistic licence. I think that as part of the Ino-Shika-Cho trio, he would be very accustomed to teamwork and without his team-mates (who I have deliberately included very little interaction with), it would be natural for a young shinobi thrown into such a leading role to experience some doubts. Being the genius badass that he is, well, he won't be kept down for long!