Previously, on 'Corridors of Time'...
"What did you get for New Year?"
"Money, leather clothes and Ben Wa balls. What about you, Shika?"
And now, on to chapter 8!"
Author's notes can be found at the bottom. Happy reading!
Whoever wasn't familiar with university field trips would be tempted to believe that all hell had broken loose in the vast conference room. In fact, it was merely the traditional mess preceding every single presentation in front of a wide audience of students who didn't give a damn about it, at least for most of them. No less than two thousand of them were waiting for the speakers to arrive, all the while chatting in groups of various size.
Among them, on the extreme left of some middle rows, was the majority of the Alba Madonna's gang. Only Hidan, Temari and Konohamaru were missing, but for a very good reason: this meeting was organized jointly by UHTC and the University of Mintos for the freshmen and sophomore of the campus. The objective was to offer them an opportunity to discover the Asclepius science complex where they could meet and talk with various staff members.
Of course, people from the audience were more or less thrilled by the prospect of such an afternoon. Some were very enthusiastic to visit one of the best, not to say THE best research and development site in leading-edge technologies; others were only interested in the friendly drink which would follow the conference; and finally, there were those who would have preferred staying home instead of coming here…
"Yet another afternoon going to waste!" Kankuro swore. Sitting at the end of the row, he was definitely the most annoyed one in the team. "Fuck, why must these damn meetings always be mandatory?"
"Will you shut up already?" Shikamaru sighed with his trademark laziness in his voice. "Six times you say this in less than two minutes. We know you'd rather be home having sex with Kiba, now for god's sake, give us a rest and quit complaining!"
"Of all people, you can't blame him for wanting me so bad…" the Inuzuka joked, sitting in between them, flashing a cocky grin and a wink at his ex.
"Oh come on! Don't tell me a lazy ass like you wouldn't prefer spending the afternoon with Hidan instead of being stuck here? Oh, that's right, I forgot you were a geek. This must be paradise for you!"
"You're freaking lucky, you know that?" Ino cut in, sitting behind them. "You're probably the laziest guy in the world, you'd love to spend your whole life doing nothing. And now you're dating a millionaire! Three months after randomly meeting him on a beach!"
"Is it just me or is that jealousy I hear in your voice?" Kiba teased her.
"Figures, why do you think she's trying so hard to steal Sasuke from Naruto?" his boyfriend asked ironically. "For a shopping-addict like her, dating a stinking rich guy would be like a dream come true."
"Between her gift for destroying cars and the hallucinating amount of clothes, shoes and other stupidities she buys, even Hidan or Sasuke would be ruined before they'd know it," the Nara added. "Then again, it's not like you're gonna hook up with someone anytime soon. You're such an annoying pain in the ass, even Choji got fed up and dumped you!"
"Is that even possible to be worse than her anyway?" Kankuro wondered.
"Impossible!" the other two answered in chorus.
"Fuck you, assholes!"
The blonde's obvious irritation brought even more laughter to the trio, not to mention Sakura who had missed nothing of the exchange despite the distance. However, Kankuro's laughter soon came to a sudden halt as his face turned to a shocked and incredulous expression. He turned around at lightning speed and his eyes landed straight on three strangers currently chatting as they made their way towards the stage; probably speakers for the conference.
His attention seemed particularly focused on one of them, a rather short male around his thirties with dark red hair resembling Gaara's.
He eventually got a hold of himself as the man got past him. Promptly getting up from his seat, he called him, hope sparkling deep inside his onyx orbs.
The redhead he had been staring at had clearly heard him, seeing how he stopped dead in his tracks and turned around to watch him. For a few seconds, he just stood there, his dark brown eyes peering at the boy who had just called him while he dug through his memory for a name to put on this face that did seem a bit familiar. Eventually, realization dawned upon him.
"Kankuro?" he eventually replied, his slightly-trembling voice filled with hesitation.
The brunette instantly cracked a happy smile and both hugged each other like close friends, under the questioning eyes of their schoolmates and colleagues.
Unable to resist his curiosity which was even stronger than usual since his lover was concerned, Kiba leaned towards his 'brother-in-law' sitting in front of the Nara.
"Who's that guy?"
"Sasori," Gaara answered, impassive as ever.
"Gee, thanks Captain Obvious. I mean, what is he?"
The Inuzuka sighed deeply and gave up all hope of obtaining more information out of him. Even a gravestone would tell him more about the body buried under it. If he wanted answers, he'd have to ask Kankuro directly.
Meanwhile, once they had broken the embrace, the redhead enjoined the two persons accompanying him not to wait for him, saying that he would catch up with them on stage. Then, his attention returned to the brunette.
"I'm so happy to see you! It's been so long, I thought we'd never see each other again."
"So did I. Ever since you stopped answering, I was afraid something real bad had happened to you."
"Well, to be honest, I'm sorry to say you were right. My condition was so serious, I've been stuck in intensive care at the hospital for months. I wanted to contact you as soon as I could use a computer again but I couldn't access my email account anymore, and of course I didn't remember your address. Then I tried calling at your home but you guys had moved and nobody could tell me where to.
"Navarre. The old man got transferred there for his job. You know him, he didn't ask for our opinion. Man, he didn't even warn us! We found out about it when the movers showed up to pick up our stuff."
"Sounds like you two still love each other very much." One could hardly miss the irony in Sasori's tone.
"I don't understand how Mom could fall in love with such an asshole."
"Anyway, since you're here today, I take it you're a student at Mintos University now? Damn, to think you were only in fifth grade last time we saw each other…"
"Yeah. What about you, what are you doing here?"
"What do you think? I'm working here. For nearly six years now. I…"
The voice that had just interrupted him came from a tall man with a quite peculiar appearance. What struck most was undoubtedly the weird metal mask covering part of his face. Judging from the weird mechanism around the eyes, it was probably some custom ultra-sophisticated glasses. Then there was his snow-white hair which was perfectly combed on top but slowly getting messier and messier as they fell down to the neck. It wasn't hard to guess from his overall appearance that he was pretty old, probably in his sixties or seventies, maybe even more. Still, no matter how old he truly was, both his mind and body were obviously still in great shape, undoubtedly better than that of many youngsters in the room.
"Sorry to interrupt but we're about to start."
"I'm coming, Professor. Let's talk more later during the drink, ok?" he agreed with Kankuro before following the older man.
While they were walking towards the stage, the brunette sat back down on his chair, a wide smile like Kiba had ever seen him crack before lighting up his face. Needless to say it intrigued him even more.
"Friend of yours?" he asked him bluntly, a straightforward approach that didn't surprise his lover. Though the Inuzuka wasn't jealous, he was extremely curious, especially about every single thing that concerned him.
Kankuro then recounted his first meeting with Sasori twelve years ago. Although he was only eight years old back then, he already had a pretty fiery temper. After a remarkably violent argument with the stuck-up bastard who happened to be his father, he had stormed out of the family house with the intent of wandering about town until he'd have cooled down.
Somehow, he eventually arrived in one of the town's parks where he came upon a puppet theatre. Though it had surprised him at first, his interest grew so quickly that he actually considered talking to the artists once the performance was over. Given how flawless the complicated play had been, he expected to meet at least two or three middle-aged persons. Boy was he shocked to find out it was the work of a single guy in his early twenties who himself was taken aback by this overly enthusiastic kid begging him to take him as an apprentice.
Both had quickly grown fond of each other. Kankuro just loved coming back every week-end to watch the show and spend some alone time with Sasori to learn the ropes of the art. Eventually, the redhead started inviting him at his flat where he proceeded to teach him how to build his own puppets. After a while, the brunette even started taking part in the performances.
Over time, and despite the age difference, these two had become best friends. When Sasori had left town to study aboard, they sent mails to each other every night until that fateful day when the older boy suddenly stopped replying. Several weeks later, the Akabane family had moved to Navarre. They had never heard from each other since then, and as years passed, they had slowly lost hope to ever be reunited.
"Still angry that they forced you to be here?" the Nara teased him in the end, to which he replied with a mere grunt.
Meanwhile, the organizing team had finished its preparations and was finally ready to begin. Sasori was but one of twenty men and women sitting at the back of the stage, waiting for their turn. Standing at the front with a microphone in hand was the masked man who appeared to be the main speaker for the conference. Somehow, his smile had the troubling particularity to be amiable yet worrisome at the same time; the perfect caricature of a mad scientist.
"Greetings everyone! On behalf of Uchiha High Tech Corporation, allow me to welcome you to the Asclepius complex. I am Professor Desty Nova, the doyen of researchers and scientific director of the site. Before we begin, I must convey to you the most sincere apologies from our CEO, Mister Uchiha, as well as from Miss Ijuuin, the general manager of Asclepius. They were supposed to be here with us today, unfortunately they have been asked to attend an important meeting at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research…"
"Isn't Sasuke's the head of UHTC?" Kankuro wondered.
"He could if he wanted to," Kiba confirmed. "The company belonged to his parents, he inherited it. As the owner, he has the right to become CEO, except he doesn't want to. Can't blame him, it did destroy his family after all…"
"Also, please accept my own apologies for imposing you this disgusting thing," the man continued, pointing at his mask. "Unfortunately, I suffer from what you may know as the 'night eyes syndrome', a rare genetic condition. I'll spare you the details, just know that without this protection, light would burn my eyes in a matter of minutes. And I don't know about you but I'd rather be impolite for a few hours than blind for the rest of my life."
"Does he intend to tell us all about his life or what?" Shikamaru sighed, already feeling even more bored.
"Plus it ain't like we don't see that everyday," the Inuzuka added, glancing quickly at Shino who wore his trademark sunglasses.
"At least he has some manner, something you can't seem to understand."
"Shut up Ino!" the ex-lovers retorted in chorus.
With these formalities now taken care of, the professor proceeded to give them a pretty detailed presentation of the Asclepius science complex. Built nearly a decade ago by UHTC, its purpose was to gather the brightest and most promising minds by offering them the financing as well as all the equipment required for their research.
The numerous ongoing projects covered a wide range of complex fields of knowledge; from genetics and robotics to botany or pharmacology. The one and only common point between all of them was the end purpose: experimenting all possible and imaginable medical applications of these disciplines or technologies. Indeed, although Asclepius was working in close cooperation with the whole corporation which provided it with the necessary state-of-the-art equipment, it was essentially part of the Uchiha Foundation for Health and Education, the humanitarian branch of UHTC.
When he was finally finished, it was the twenty staff members' turn to talk one after the other. Aside from each having their own area of expertise, most of them looked rather strange, not to say eccentric, so much that you could wonder if it wasn't a sine qua non condition to become a researcher.
"Why the fuck is that creep playing with a stuffed bunny?" Suigetsu muttered as he spotted a man in his forties whose face wore a frighteningly devious smirk. "Holy shit, look at that pervert face next to him! What the hell is this place, a freakin' lair of pedos?"
"Shut up, you dork!" Karin scolded him with a slap at the back of his skull. "Professors Ni and Hebi are certainly the best geneticists in the world! They aren't sick pedos or anything!"
"Tchh, no wonder you like them. Back in Spellhold, you were already fond of dirty old perverts!"
While these two engaged in yet another bickering session, the speakers continued succeeding each other. Contrary to what could be rightfully expected, not all of them were experienced scientists in their fifties or sixties who were already famous in the scientific community. Aside from Kurotsuchi, Clown, Vegapunk, Hojo, Regal and other renowned names were some younger prodigies whose talent and intelligence easily rivaled that of their elders.
Speaker number sixteen was Sasori, formally known as Doctor Kubira, pioneer in cybernetics and chief of the corresponding department; a situation that surprised Kankuro as much as it made him proud. Sure, his friend had always been clever and he already had big plans before they lost sight of each other but he would never have pictured him as one of the most respected researchers of his generations.
Once all twenty of them were done with their short speeches, then came the advertising time; a mandatory part of every school presentation of this kind. It was a bit justified in the present case though; after all, the main reason why Asclepius was in close partnership with Mintos University was to identify the most promising students and offer to hire them even before they graduated. For that purpose, they gave them the opportunity to carry out the various university projects in their laboratories under the tutelage of one of their renowned scientists, and maybe later pursue them with professional experiences during summer break.
"Work here?" Suigetsu grumbled. "Sure, as if anyone would want to go anywhere near these wackos. You're sure to end up as a guinea pig for all those psychos craving to nose about your brain."
"Don't worry, you're safe." Karin assured him perfidiously. "It doesn't take a genius to understand you don't have a brain."
After three long (fascinating or boring as hell depending on the opinion) hours, the conference came to an end. Professor Nova invited his numerous guests for a friendly drink during which they could talk freely with the whole staff that had just gathered to join them.
As agreed, Kankuro, followed by several friends from the group, hurried to Sasori's side, eager to resume their discussion over a drink. Both had tons of questions on their lips, curious to know every detail of the other's life over the last decade.
The redhead began by relating the months of struggle at the hospital first to recover and later undergo all necessary physiotherapy. Despite Kankuro's insistence, he didn't say a word regarding why he had to go through intensive care in the first place. As he explained that he didn't want to look back on this nightmare anymore, you could feel the mix of emotions in his voice; whatever had happened to him had obviously left a deep scar on him.
Once he was finally allowed out, he resumed his scientific studies and soon grew a deep interest in cybernetics, a field that didn't seem so different from his other passion, namely puppeteering. Six years ago, the higher ups from Asclepius took an interest in him and offered to hire him. He had been working here since then.
Then it was the brunette's turn to recount the Akabane's settling in Navarre and the excruciatingly boring years of junior and senior high school during which he had spent most of his free time training in puppet building and manipulating. A year ago, he had joined Temari in Mintos not only to study but also to finally live far away from his asshole of a father.
He also introduced the various members of the team around them, starting with the most important one, Kiba. Doing so, he found out that he and Sasori shared another interest as the redhead happened to be into men as well. Unlike him though, he was still single. H did have feelings for a young artist he frequented since a few months but had yet to find the courage to confess.
After an hour of chatting, an announcement was made over the speakers instructing the thousands of students to gather outside the building and get onto the buses that would drive them back to the campus. Before parting ways, the two old friends exchanged phone numbers, determined not to lose contact with each other ever again. Luck had brought them together once more, no way they would let it go to waste!
Hugging one last time, both wore a most radiant smile. Though it may not be the most beautiful day in their life, it sure was one of the best.
Worry. Throughout the millennia, Hidan couldn't remember ever feeling it.
Back in the ninja era, his fanaticism as well as his natural rashness were so strong that he never cared about what could happen to or around him, not even when he battled to the death against fearsome opponents. Then came the buried episode. Though he was no longer crazy after regaining his freedom, he quickly found himself an immortal S-rank missing-nin living in a world of weak normal people. Plus he had never had any relative or precious belongings to look after so it was no surprise that he had yet to face a situation susceptible of getting him anxious.
But tonight, something plagued his mind so much that he couldn't sleep. In normal times, after a fun-filled evening, he would drop on his bed and be off to Dreamland in a matter of minutes. Right now however, his brain was in too great a turmoil to allow him his usual peaceful rest.
The night was looking promising at first. Not only were they celebrating Gaara's nineteenth and Shino's twentieth birthdays, it was also the last night of fun that the kids could enjoy before a shitty week of exams. Of course, it was no problem for nerdy Shikamaru but as usual, he was requisitioned to help the others during the weekend of hard revising. Needless to say they were going to make the best of tonight's party.
Alas, all it took was a single name to spoil the albino's night: Sasori.
When he first heard that Kankuro had bumped into a childhood friend at the conference, he wasn't expecting him to be one of his accomplices from the Akatsuki. And though he had made sure to act like he was happy for them in front of the gang, deep inside him, the news bothered him a lot.
Truth be told, he wasn't truly surprised. Ever since the first meeting on the beach, he had suspected that the Nara and his friends weren't the only ones who had suddenly returned from the past and Asuma showing up at the shogi tournament had already proven him right. Add the high probability that Sasuke's missing brother truly was the Itachi he once knew and it didn't a genius to understand that other dangerous people such as the redhead may have returned as well.
However, between the intense happiness he was experiencing inside the group and his unexpected relationship with Shikamaru, he had slowly lowered his guard over the weeks, so much that he eventually forgot that such an event could occur anytime. But now, it had all come back as soon as Sasori's name had been mentioned.
Despite the immortal's research, dozens of questions surrounding this mysterious resurrection still remained unanswered. Two of them were currently buzzing in his mind, as a lot would change depending on the answer.
First, how much did they have in common with their past incarnation?
They had the same physical appearance, that much was obvious; problem was more about their personality. Sasori or any other member of the Akatsuki showing up wasn't necessarily bad in itself. All depended whether he was still the same bloodthirsty, remorseless killer as before. Sure, from what he had heard about him today, he appeared to be a nice, friendly guy but Hidan certainly knew better than anyone that even the worst of murderers could easily hide behind such a mask.
Only way to be sure would be to spend time with someone he used to know pretty well in the past in order to study him. Except… he didn't know anyone back then. Even his ex-partner Kakuzu, probably the closest person to him before his defeat, was a complete stranger to him. As for those who had briefly crossed his path like Shikamaru or Asuma, he didn't know them well enough to make decent comparisons.
Second, was history repeating itself?
The exact nature of the phenomenon he was facing remained a complete mystery. All he had was a whole bunch of hypotheses with absolutely no insurance that one of them was correct.
There were lots of theories about time. The most widespread and accepted theory defines time as an infinite line, like a stream of water peacefully flowing forever. However, many thesis he had read, especially religious ones, stated that time wasn't linear but cyclical. In this case, you could picture it as an hourglass which is turned around every time the sand has completely flowed down.
The exact nature of the cycles also diverged depending on the versions. Did the same events happen with different beings? Or was it the opposite, the same beings playing a different scenario? Could history repeat itself down to the smallest details? Or to a slightly lesser extent?
Once again, the albino didn't know what to think. On one hand, the murder of Sasuke's parents did resemble what Deidara had told him about the massacre of the Uchiha clan. But on the other, Itachi was several years older this time, and his parents were the only victims. Was it pure coincidence or did it mean that a broad outline of history repeated itself?
So long as he didn't have an answer, he had better stay prepared for this possibility, because if it happened to be true, then he was certainly the only one who could do something about it. His immortality would make him even more special. He would be the one and only living being to move freely in the stream of time. He would be the only one who could influence fate itself… right?
Fate wasn't gonna turn him back into his old monster self, was it? Hidan shuddered at the thought.
Only one thing was certain in his mind: Sasori showing up meant trouble. A storm was brewing. It wouldn't be the first time he faced one, but this time, he had something to lose…
So, as said earlier, the main plot is finally back on track. Trust me, I know it may look like a pointless chapter but you shall soon see it's just an impression. It's like a thriller: all the pieces will fall into place eventually. :p
Congrats to those who understoof all the scientific references : Desty Nova from Gunnm, Kurotshuchi from Bleach, Vegapunk and Clown from One Piece or Ni from Saiyuki... so many eccentric scientists that we love for their craziness. XD
Sasori's name, Kubira, is a reference to a puppeteer from Samurai Deeper Kyo.
The intrigue's diagram is available on my profile.
The title for this chapter is a reference to a soundtrack from the legendary action/RPG 'Secret of Mana'.
Thank you for reading, even more for reviewing. Don't hesitate to point any mistake, inconsistency or anything. Useful criticism is always welcome, especially for a beginner like me.