Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, and never will.
A/N: The three kids in this are OCs, and are Sasuke's students. They're basically the new generation of Team Seven – and I know this is sad, but tragedy tends to follow Team Seven, so… Have tissues prepared. The idea came to me from a good friend of mine of Fanfiction – her name is Now You See Me. So I dedicate this to her! Thank you very much!
When you see "OoO" separating two scenes, it means the timeline changed. When you see "XxX", it means it's the same time, but there is a small break. When paragraphs are italicized, it's a flashback. When sentences are italicized, it's their thoughts.
"My name is Uchiha Sasuke. I am the chief of the Police Force, and I am the head of the Uchiha. My likes are my family, and my few friends. My dislikes are almost everything else. I don't have many hobbies, unless you would count watching on you three and working day and night. As for my dream, I don't have one anymore. I've already got my dream."
Three kids stared up at their newly appointed sensei, who was introducing himself. There were two boys and a girl, all twelve years old. The girl had long, light brown hair that covered her forehead, and bright pink eyes that were clouded with joy. Her red headband was tied around her neck, right over her zip-up pink shirt. She had two black armbands that covered her elbows, and wore a red skirt over black tights.
The boy in the middle seemed to be calm, his lovely blue eyes watching his sensei, as if trying to figure him out just by staring. His hair was a dark, silky shade of green that was combed neatly over his black headband. He wore a fish net t-shirt with a black coat that had the Whirlpool symbol on one shoulder, and the ANBU tattoo on the other.
As for the other boy, a blue bandanna covered his midnight black hair, though his eyes were yellow and full of life. There was a silly grin plastered on his face, and if you told him it was his birthday too he would have exploded from the excitement boiling inside him. Like the previous boy, he also wore a fishnet t-shirt, but underneath was a blue long-sleeved t-shirt.
"Does anyone else want to share? I want your name, family, likes, dislikes, hobbies, and your dream." Sasuke spoke up, watching the three in front of him. Immediately the girl's hand spiked up. "Alright, you first."
"My name is Ume! Taichikawa Ume! Let's see… I have four older sisters, one younger brother and two parents, my likes are turtles – have you ever seen a turtle? They're so cute! Oh! Sorry! Got a little carried away! Anywho, my dislike is history class. I can never seem to get it right. It's the only class I had to really try in. Theeeeeen, my hobby is to… Huh. I guess I don't have a hobby. Well, I might, I just can't think of one. Reading? Yeah! I like to read fiction stories! And lastly, my dream… is to meet a cool turtle, I guess!"
The boy with the green hair rolled his beautiful crystalline blue eyes, while the other boy nodded with excitement, like he totally just got everything she said.
"Your turn," Sasuke gestured to the boy with the green hair, who just fixed his head band from falling out of his eyes and droned,
"Jin. I have an older brother. I don't like anything. I dislike everything, especially idiots. I have no hobby, and I have no dream."
"Gee, aren't you a happy little camper," the boy next to him scowled, his yellow eyes flaring.
Sasuke shook his head, "Alright then." Sasuke knew better than to judge because, well, he was exactly the same way when he was twelve. "You're last." He pointed at the last boy.
"My name is Yagami Yoshi! I have a dad and an older sister, who always takes my stuff when I'm not looking! But that's okay, because I do the same to her. My mom died in the war when I was little, like little-little. I don't even remember her. And theeeeeen, my likes are people like Ume! My dislikes are any sort of test that asks me complicated questions. My hobby is burning candles so that they look cool, and messing with my sister by putting syran wrap on the toilet seat! Hehe, that was funny! And lastly, my dream is to have a title!"
Sasuke raised an eyebrow, "A title?"
Ume coked her head to the left, "You mean like, a title to a book?"
Meanwhile, Jin only watched him with his cool, emotionless eyes.
"No, no – well, yeah, maybe, sorta. No, I mean like a ninja title! Like, the Fourth Hokage was known as the Yellow Flash. Then the sixth is known as the Orange Kitsune. Or, like Jiraiya the Toad Sage – or Tsunade, the Slug Princess. You know what I'm talking about? Oh, and then there's you, sensei! You're known as the Snake Slayer, right?" Yoshi paused for Sasuke's answer. When he nodded, he continued, "Yeah, something like that! I wanna find a title that suits me – something that everyone will remember me by!"
Ume seemed excited, "That'd be so cool! We could call you Yoshi the Great!"
Yoshi nodded his head vigorously, "Yeah!"
Jin rolled his eyes, a smirk on his lip, "Or Lord of the Dorks."
"Yeah that'd be- HEY! I am NOT a dork!"
"I didn't say you were any old dork, I said you were the Lord of the Dorks."
Uchiha Sasuke watched as Jin remained silent, as Ume began to laugh, and as Yoshi began to shout, and was reminded of his Team Seven. A genuine, kind smile lifted his lips, and he knew then he was going to like these three.
The beginnings were always easy.
"GIMME! GIMME!" Yoshi screamed, diving for the bell on Sasuke's hip. Sasuke only stepped back, earning Yoshi a face full of dirt. This didn't discourage him, however, as he sat up and bolted forward toward Sasuke again. "GIMME THE FRIGGIN BELL!"
Sasuke stepped to the right, "No."
Yoshi smacked into a tree, "Youch! Oh, darn it all!"
Jin shook his head, letting out an inaudible breath of air. He kept himself hidden within the trees, using his natural hair color to blend in within the leaves. Just below, Sasuke was… well, you couldn't really say battling…. Well, he was mocking Yoshi, to say the least.
Ume giggled from not too far off, giving away her position. Sasuke slipped a kunai quickly out of his pouch, tossing it over to Ume's bush. She yelped, jumping up and avoiding the weapon. Her sparkling coral eyes filled in with fear, and she turned her back to the enemy, making a hasty retreat.
Jin shook his head again, his blue eyes surveying the battle again. Well, surveying the mocking again. Yoshi continued to repeat the same strategy, diving for the bell, getting back up from missing, and then charging for the bell again. Usually, Jin couldn't keep up with scenes like this (he would lose interest too easily), but he was searching for an opening.
He must have really done a long time as a rouge shinobi, Jin thought, watching Sasuke avoid Yoshi, his black eyes showing no emotion at all. He's not letting his guard down at all.
Indeed, Sasuke wasn't losing his muscles or relaxing at all – even though he knew all three of them were Genin. He kept one hand on Yoshi (which was currently holding his forehead back while Yoshi flailed his arms around, screaming), while the other one was on guard, ready for anything.
I won't be able to defeat him, Jin pessimistically droned in his head. And I doubt I'll find him off-guard anytime soon. I need a plan. His blue eyes narrowed.
He had at least six hours of the test left. He would watch for another ten minutes, and get a plan in his head. When it came to strategies, that was Jin's strong point.
For now, it was kind of fun to watch Yoshi hurt himself.
"Eeek! Eeek! No! Stop, go away!" Ume screamed helplessly, running away like the wind, away from Sasuke. Sasuke hadn't even approached her – in fact, he wasn't even looking for her, just passing by – when suddenly she jumped from her hiding place right next to him and ran the other way. In fact, if she had dove for the bells just then, she might have gotten one.
Sasuke sweat-dropped, watching Ume as she ran away. He shook his head, and began to sprint after her.
Meanwhile, Ume slowed down, panting. She heard a rustle of leaves behind her, and she glanced over her shoulder, just to see Uchiha Sasuke running after her.
She shrieked, paling, taking off like the wind. If Sasuke showed emotion, he would have blinked. She didn't seem like she would be able to run as fast as she was.
"Ninja face their enemies head-on!" Sasuke shouted after her. "Turn around and fight!"
Ume almost froze in fear. The sound of Sasuke's voice was so threatening, so scary, that it made her hands shake. But another part of her became angry, determined, and she whirled around, baring her fists.
Sasuke only watched as she did. He figured it had just been an act earlier, and she was trying to catch him off-guard. However, this wasn't the case.
Ume sped forward, toward him, raising her fists. Without warning, she jumped up (Sasuke had almost expected her to immediately go after the bells as Yoshi did), completing a flawless front flip, bringing her foot down on Sasuke. However, he expected this, and took her ankle into his hand, throwing her back.
Ume yelped, but caught herself, surprising Sasuke. She managed to land both of her feet on a nearby tree trunk, pushing herself off of it. She slipped a kunai out of her pouch, coming at Sasuke with the intent to kill.
Time seemed to slow down for Sasuke. Being a ninja for so long, he had learned how to slow down time in his mind (not literally), and think everything thoroughly through before making the next move. However, he was only dealing with Genin, so he already knew what to do. He decided to take this time to think about Ume.
Her family life wasn't as happy as she made it out to be. He knew she was lying from the beginning. Her home life was a fight for the survival, so when he heard about her background, he hadn't expected a happy-go-lucky airhead with a smile plastered on her face twenty-four seven. But now it was clear – in a fight, Taichikawa Ume was dependable and had the guts of a true shinobi. She could certainly fight like one, at least.
Sasuke raised his hand, taking her wrist and twisting the kunai out of her grip and into his other hand. He was about to throw her back, when a presence suddenly flew by him, over on his left side by the bells.
Oh no he didn't.
Reacting quickly, he shoved Ume back and took a direct right all in one move, just as Jin's fingers just barely made contact with the bells. Sasuke dove backward, taking a fighting stance.
Yeesh, these three – well, two – were better than he thought. Well, at least maybe that would give them a hint on what the test was all about.
He pushed up off the ground, and into the thicket of the trees, leaving the two alone.
Jin and Ume met each other's eyes, and without even another word, the two shook hands with a nod, and headed off after him.
"Flinging, flanging, stupid bell, stupid friggin' jounin asshole with his 'special pointy sword' and his 'special reputation'!" Yoshi grumbled to himself, trying to wiggle his way out of a net Sasuke had set up for him who-knows-when. "Ugh! I mean, who needs stupid assholes with their cocky attitudes! Jin was enough! I don't need two of them!"
A squirrel nearby watched him, cocking his head to the left as he watched Yoshi in his situation.
Yoshi caught sight of the forest creature, "What're you looking at, you stupid – flinging, flanging RODENT!"
Said rodent blinked, before going back to its original mission for climbing the tree, an acorn, and scampering off with it. Yoshi seethed through his teeth, "DAMN SQUIRREL!"
"Talking to squirrels, huh?" A voice came down from below. "That's not exactly 'sane'. You understand that, right?"
Yoshi grit his teeth, his golden eyes glaring down at Jin, who was standing next to Ume, "What the hell, Jin?! You ass!"
Jin only shook his head, and Ume stepped up, smiling, "Hey, Yoshi! We've got an idea! Do you want to help?"
Yoshi crossed his arms, "Tch! So you two are forming some 'alliance'? Don't you know what that means? Only two of us get a bell – the other one fails! You think I'm gonna buy into your little trick? I don't think so!"
Ume's eyes drooped, "About that… we're not sure how that even works. I mean… all teams have to have three students. Fujioka-kun and I think there's some trick behind this test…"
"Trick?" Yoshi wondered aloud, just before his glare became hard again. "Yeah, that ass seems like the type of guy to do that…"
Jin rolled his eyes, "Exactly. But even if you don't want to help, we can get the bells just fine without you. So have fun in your little tree net."
There was a long, tense moment of silence, before Yoshi sighed.
"…Alright, so what's the plan?"
Ume's eyes became bright and wide, a grin stretching from ear to ear. Jin only smirked, giving Yoshi a single nod.
"Alright, here it goes."
Sasuke had his arms folded to his bare chest, walking with his eyes forward. At this point, he wasn't really trying to locate them – he would leave that up to them. He was still thinking about earlier, when he saw Jin and Ume shaking hands. They worked well together, but from that, it seemed it was a last moment kind of thing. Jin had probably been watching him the whole time, waiting for an opening.
Sasuke shook his head, thinking back to Yoshi. He was so much like Naruto it was scary, but the only thing missing was the 'I'll help everyone' thing that Naruto had. Yoshi seemed more like he was focused solely on himself rather than anyone else. He would probably be the one to fail this test…
Something pricked in the back of his head. Someone was behind him, to the west, about seven meters away – roughly. He sighed, wondering if Kakashi felt like this when he was a Genin. He could only shudder at the horror of his weakness back then.
But that was back then.
And this is now.
When the person was nearly on top of him, Sasuke whirled around, catching Yoshi's ankle, flipping him off to the side. He screeched, landing on his side, rolling in the dirt.
"Ow! Stupid instincts!" The young Genin growled, getting to his feet.
"Always be on guard, even if you're attacking," Sasuke advised wisely, reaching down and grabbing the handle to his katana. It didn't matter if they were Genin, they were against Sasuke, and Sasuke wouldn't show mercy.
"Oh, guard my ass!" Yoshi shouted. "I mean, the Hokage is never on guard, and yet he's perfectly fine."
A small smirk twitched on Sasuke lips, "You underestimate Naruto. You'd be surprised at his depth as a shinobi."
Yoshi's bright yellow eyes flashed, "Ah, whatever! I don't respect a guy who sits in an office all day!" He reached back and sheathed a kunai form his pouch. "Hokage or not, I could beat him with one arm tied behind my back!"
A flare of anger arose in Sasuke's chest. It was weird, getting angry over someone who disrespected Naruto. The damn idiot must have been getting to him. The last thing he would have never expected was that he respected his dobe of a teammate. And he even wanted to defend him… well, shit. Only underlings would defend their Gokage. And he definitely wasn't Naruto's underling.
That was just pathetic.
So the anger subsided just as quickly as it had risen, but Sasuke's smile disappeared. "You think you're his equal? Then come. Because Naruto puts up a good fight against me."
Yoshi turned a strange shade of red, and he readied himself for battle against Sasuke. Jin had better be doing something…
…Well, in the meantime, he had to distract Sasuke. He hoped Ume and Jin were on the right track, because if they weren't, he was as good as dead.
Yoshi did all he could to put up a fake façade of courage, "Oh yeah? Man, I thought people said the Uchiha were strong and capable!"
Oh, God. Sasuke was going to kill him.
A murderous glare shot through Sasuke's eyes, and they faded from black to a crimson red. Which, made Yoshi want to jump out of his pants. Suddenly, all the courage was gone.
It was good timing, too, because Sasuke began to step forward just as they heard, "Water Style! Water Bullets!"
The attack itself wasn't much, just a couple of speeding drops of water that looked like racing bullets. Jin's attack may have been weak, but it snapped Sasuke back, jumping, as he hadn't seen it coming.
Yoshi sighed. Jin was right – Sasuke's weakness was his anger and sorrow. He'd figured that out by knowing about Sasuke's history – the man was driven by emotions and hatred. And Yoshi was sent in to do just that, to trigger his emotions. They knew it wouldn't keep him distracted for long, but they only needed a couple of seconds.
Yoshi ran forward, and Sasuke readied himself, gaining his composure once again. Jin was still nowhere to be seen, but the attack had come from the right, so he must have been in that general direction. So Sasuke kept his guard up with his right arm, while his left arm busied itself with Yoshi.
That just left-
The bells on his hip jingled as three fingers touched them, and Sasuke immediately smacked his arm back, catching Ume in the nose. She gasped, falling back, blood pouring from her nose.
Sasuke then slammed the heel of his left hand into Yoshi's jaw, sending him to the dirt. He cried out, holding his jaw, on the ground in pain.
Sasuke whirled around, his eyes widening.
Ume's nose was streaming with blood, but she was smiling brightly. In her hand, was a silver bell.
"I win!" She cried. "I win, I win!"
Jin emerged from the trees, landing at Yoshi's side, a cocky smirk on his lips.
Sasuke stared at them, his eyes emotionless. He turned to Ume, "Go back to where we met up. You can no longer assist these two. Jin, Yoshi, you have four hours left, if I recall."
The Snake Slayer then pushed off the ground with his foot, his figure disappearing off in the shadows of the leaves and trees.
Jin's eye twitched. That was not what he was expecting.
"ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!" Yoshi screamed. "We did that and he doesn't pass us?! What a rotten-"
Jin clamped a hand over his mouth, "Would you shut it? You really suck at this."
Yoshi glared, and Ume tried to step in between the two, "H-Hold on! I mean, there has to be some way you two can still-"
Jin turned away, slipping a shuriken out of its holster, declaring, "Yeah, and I'm going to pass – with or without the idiot."
It was time for a change of tactics. Obviously, working with Yoshi and Ume worked, but Jin started to think about himself. It wouldn't be surprising if Jin did all the work and Yoshi got a bell in the end. Then those two would be off to the world of the shinobi, and he would be stuck in the Academy.
Yoshi wouldn't take this from him. Not this time he wouldn't.
Yoshi watched as both of his comrades walked off, Jin towards Sasuke's direction and Ume towards the Memorial Stone.
"Well, fine then! If they can do it on their own, then so can I!"
With that, Yoshi leapt into the trees, intent on the bell in his grasp.
Jin and Yoshi were both tied to a log, and Ume nervously nudged the ground with her foot, standing in between the two. Sasuke stood in front of them, arms crossed. His eyes stared down at them, the voids of black boring into them.
"I would say good work, but obviously, I would be wrong." Sasuke started, and Yoshi glared at him.
Jin narrowed his eyes, "Why am I tied down? I got the bell like you said."
"YEAH! Well, I guess I didn't get a bell, but why do I have to be tied down? I was totally awesome!"
The head of the Police Force raised an eyebrow. He glanced up at Ume, who didn't look too happy, then to Jin, whose murderous yet surprisingly entrancing eyes were shining up at him, and then to Yoshi, who was still trying to wriggle free from his ropes.
"If you would ask me, Yoshi, your act was more terrible than Naruto's and Jin's combined. And Jin, you may have gotten the bell, but you didn't follow all of the instructions. You got the bell two seconds after the bell rang."
Jin swore under his breath, and a vein popped in Yoshi's forehead.
"The only person who got a bell and did everything right was Ume," Sasuke droned. "So she gets to eat her lunch. As for you two, you still have a slim chance of becoming Genin. After she finishes lunch, I'll give you an extra three hours."
Jin gave a breath of relief – he could still win this. He could still pass. Maybe on an empty stomach, but hey, all shinobi had to get used to uncomfortable situations, right?
Yoshi swore, shaking his head. This nightmare still wasn't over? And oh crap, he could smell Ume's teriyaki chicken…
Ume scratched the back of her head, staring down at her food. She glanced up at Sasuke, who was turning on his heel. "Hey, where are you going, Sensei?"
"I'm going to lunch. I'll be back in twenty minutes. Ume, you are not to share your food with these two – no matter what." Sasuke gave out the order, and a moment later, he disappeared into a puff of white smoke.
Ume, Jin, and Yoshi all sighed at the same time, closing their eyes. Ume was the first to open hers, and she glanced over at her two not-likely-to-be teammates.
Jin sagged his body against the log, too tired to even support himself. The only thing that kept him up was the rope that secured his body to the post. He breathed heavy, in and out, in and out – but it was no wonder. To her knowledge, he had used at least several water-based moves, something that a Genin even of his caliber wasn't capable of.
As for Yoshi, pitiful tears fell down his cheeks – probably thinking that there was no possible way to top Jin in this next couple of hours. His eyes were closed and his expression weak – his muscles probably couldn't take much more of his taijutsu. Or Sasuke's wrath, for that matter.
Ume closed her eyes, standing up abruptly. "I can't do this!"
Both boys jumped, staring up at her. "Can't do what?" Yoshi wondered out loud, his golden eyes boring into her. Jin seemed to have the same thing on his mind.
"I can't sit here and eat… not while you two are hungry and tired! After all, if it wasn't for you two I never would have gotten the bell in the first place!" She stomped her foot angrily. "And this isn't fair that you two can't eat even though you did just as much work as I did!"
Jin rolled his eyes, "Let the truth be preached."
Yoshi shrugged, "It still doesn't matter, Ume. I mean, if you give us food then-"
"Then I'll deal with the consequences! If you two aren't going to pass, then neither am I!" She declared, whipping a kunai from her pouch. She twirled it around her finger, then tossed the knife to Yoshi's ropes.
Suddenly, a shuriken came in contact with Ume's kunai, knocking it off course. The two weapons clashed, falling over into the grass on Yoshi's right.
"What do you think you're doing?"
Ume tensed, glancing behind her. Sasuke sat coolly in one of the trees, one foot perched on the branch while the other hung off it. His dark eyes watched them, an eerie feeling shaking to their inner core. Yoshi gulped.
She clenched her fists, "You heard me! I won't pass if they don't!"
"Yeah!" Yoshi screeched. "I'm not if Ume's not."
Jin nodded in agreement. As much as they were annoying him, Jin believed in comrades. Or, he would like to be able to.
Sasuke jumped into the grass, drawing his katana. "Then fight me with the intention to kill. All of you."
Though they weren't sure how, the ropes around Jin and Yoshi became loose, falling to the ground as if they'd been cut. Although they hadn't seen any movement besides the katana being drawn…
So this is the power of a Jounin, Jin grimaced, reaching for his kunai when he became balanced. This isn't going to be easy.
Ume's pink eyes narrowed, and she drew a shuriken. She wouldn't back down now, not after this.
Yoshi readied his fists. Maybe he didn't have any skills like the other two, but he would sure as hell try. That was his ninja way – to never say never.
Sasuke's eyes became a murderous, deathly crimson as his Sharingan came into play. Small bolts of lightning played at his fingertips, and the three stepped back unsurely. Still, they stood their ground.
It all happened fast – so fast, that they could hardly recall it ever even happening. The only thing they would remember was a rather heavy blow to their sternums, the three fell back to their respective posts, gasping for air and crying in pain.
It took all of their power to open their eyes, but fire raged in their irises. The three didn't drop their weapons, not even in the moment of the attack.
A small smile quirked at Sasuke's lips as they began to stand up again, both boys readying their weapons (or fists, in Yoshi's case) to protect Ume. Ume stood in the center, breathing heavy, with one eye open and the other closed painfully. The three were all grand shinobi, on the inside and out.
But more importantly, they realized that fighting together was the best way to fight.
"So, what? You just put a little chakra into your feet, then up the tree you go?" Ume smiled, looking up at the tree in front of her.
Sasuke nodded, recalling the first lesson Kakashi had given him and his Team Seven. His ever-emotionless face hadn't changed so far, which made Yoshi uncomfortable.
Yoshi shifted his feet from where he stood, grinning, "Sounds easy enough!"
Jin shrugged. Out of the three, Sasuke mused, he was probably the quietest. He reminded him greatly of himself, back then. Dead parents, an older brother, a quiet, mysterious nature. Yeah, he definitely reminded him of himself, only, his eyes weren't the same. They were gentler, still broken, but not looking for blood of any sort.
And on the other hand, Yoshi was a lot like Naruto – only his anger was out of control. With Naruto, he considered the feelings of others, but Yoshi didn't pay attention to any of that. He had no self-control to what he said, or any of the consequences.
Ume, however, was probably the least-like any of his teammates. She was a drastic airhead, and had a knack for rambling on without noticing what was happening around her. She did, however, focus when needed (like, say, a battle – in which she proved when battling for the bells). She was strong, very strong – the only problem was her lack in motivation and her easily distracted nature.
Jin folded his hands into the Tiger seal around his kunai. He closed his eyes thoughtfully and began to conjure up his chakra into his feet. The other two were still looking at Sasuke and asking questions when Jin charged forward into a running start, then pushing up three steps before jumping back, slicing the bark of the tree.
"Good work," Sasuke acknowledged him, but he hardly noticed him and went back to the Tiger seal.
A vein popped in Yoshi's forehead, "Oh yeah? Well, if you thought that was good, then watch me!"
Ume smiled brightly (the entire time they were together so far, minus her fighting in the bell test, Sasuke had noticed she was always smiling, even if she wasn't talking, or even by herself), "Me too!"
Something tugged at his lips as the other two joined Jin in concentration. Yoshi stood there for a total of three seconds before charging forward and smacking into the tree head-on. Ume, on the other hand, skipped merrily forward and pushed up one step, but slipped and fell backwards onto the ground.
Sasuke's smile fell from his face, sweat-dropping. "What were you two doing?"
Yoshi sat up, "Dammit! I was sure I had enough chakra!"
Ume smiled sheepishly, "I started to think about turtles… sorry…"
The former rouge pinched the bridge of his nose.
This was going to have to take a little time to perfect.
Ume smiled at her team as they sat in Ichiraku Ramen. She sat in between Jin and Yoshi, who were trying to avoid each other's glances. Yoshi sat over by the wall while Jin sat next to their sensei, who was chatting with the Hokage who was laughing at something or other.
She knew that Jin was uncomfortable around people. That was how he always was, even in the Academy, so she tried not to bother him much. As for Yoshi, it was easy to strike up a conversation with him, but she tried not to place all of her attention in him, because she knew Jin needed it just as much.
They didn't like being on a team together – Jin and Yoshi, that was. For nearly six months they had been at each other's throats, just like brothers in a sibling rivalry. But from the start she loved them both, in different ways, and she was just happy with that moment, right then.
She completely understood what they meant to her, but deep underneath the layers of happiness was a frail pillar of fear – that she would lose them to this cruel world, and so, she took this pillar into account, and decided it best to enjoy them while she had them.
But for that moment, Taichikawa Ume was content, and she held onto them with all that she had, determined not to let go.
The situation was awkward.
Jin and Yoshi both stood next to each other (well, not right next to each other, they were a good distance apart) by the memorial stone, not talking. You could practically cut through the tension with a butter knife, and they waited and waited… but it was time to face facts.
Sensei and Ume were late.
"Soooo," Yoshi started, not sure what he was even going to say.
"What?" Jin said harshly.
He shrugged, "I dunno… Er, so, how's your day so far?"
"Excruciating," Jin replied back without even thinking about it. There was a long moment of silence, before he awkwardly asked, "Uh, so, how's your day?"
Yoshi nodded slowly, "It's good, it's good…"
Neither of them really knew what to say. In their one year and a half of being teammates they never really had to be alone together. Well, a couple of times, but those were during missions and they were always focused on something else. But they had nothing to focus on here, and they had to be there and wait for Ume and their sensei, which was weird for both of them to be late.
Sometimes Sasuke was late because of work. Sometimes Ume just forgot to set her alarm. But it had never occurred on the same day, so it hadn't been a problem.
Well, no – what the real problem was that Jin was always the first one there, and Yoshi was almost never late.
"So, um, Jin," Yoshi started, looking up at him with his vibrant golden eyes.
"Hn?" Jin breathed.
Yoshi sighed, "Why is this weird?"
Jin wasn't sure what to say. He just stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked to his feet, partly ashamed. They were teammates. And if this were Kiri, it wouldn't be a problem, but Konoha valued their comrades…
After nearly a minute of quiet, Jin could only shrug.
"Why can't we just be friends? I mean, we've dealt with each other for how long and we still can't even muster a 'how's life'?" Yoshi reasoned, and just by the tone of his voice made Jin feel constricted.
Jin couldn't find anything to say. Anything he thought of only sounded like an excuse.
Yoshi let out a long, exhausted sigh, "Okay, look. I know we don't suit well together – but can't we at least try to be friends?"
Jin shrugged, "I guess."
Yoshi smiled, "Well, okay then! Um, you have a brother?"
His green-haired teammate nodded, "Yeah. Ryou. He's kind of a weirdo… And you have a sister?"
"Jun. She's annoying, but she has my back!" Yoshi said confidently, making Jin sweat-drop and stare at him like an idiot. "Hey! We're friends now! Don't give me that look!"
"…Sorry, force of habit…"
There was an uncomfortable laughter in the air, as the two attempted to try and… well, make conversation.
Yoshi was sure this was bound to fail, but hey, after nearly two years of non-stop fighting and rivalry, it was nice to attempt to be on good terms with one another.
"Well, I have to admit, this is better…" Yoshi said, and earned an approving 'hn' from Jin. "I mean, I gotta say, its better being on your good side rather than your usual moody one!"
Jin glared daggers at him, and it was that death look that made Yoshi was to slap his forehead. What did he just say?
"G-G-Guys! Sorry I'm late!"
Just in time, Ume, Yoshi thought hastily to himself, as he felt Jin trying to burn holes through his head. You probably just saved my butt.
"Hey, your ice cream is dripping," Jin stated, looking at Ume's ice-cream, which was dripping its chocolaty goodness onto her fingers.
"Ahh!" She cried, "No!"
Yoshi laughed, "Haha, what's wrong? It's just a little ice cream." He took a rather large lick of his strawberry ice cream, outlining is lips in pink.
"But then it gets all sticky and-" Ume stopped short when she heard Jin chuckle.
"What's so funny?" Yoshi asked, watching Jin in confusion – Jin almost never laughed.
Jin opened his mouth to say something, but snorted and started laughing again, louder this time. Ume blinked, then glanced back over at Yoshi, and giggled.
"W-What?" He nearly shouted, not sure if he should be offended or not.
The two didn't answer, as their laughter took over. Jin actually had to drop his ice cream on the ground so he could wipe the tears from his eyes, managing, "You look like a circus clown!"
"You- you-" Ume began, but laughter took over. "You look like you have fat lips!"
Yoshi blinked, dragging the side of his hand across his lips. When he saw all of the pink on his hand, the laughter around him suddenly became contagious, and he began to laugh too.
When Sasuke returned with lunch, he could only stare in wonder at the three laughing phenomenon's in front of him. Their laughing faces, pink from the loss of breath and wet with their tears, gave him a nostalgic sense inside of him, and he chuckled.
Yoshi clicked his tongue.
Sasuke tried to ignore it.
Yoshi clicked his tongue, again.
Sasuke closed his eyes, tapping his pencil impatiently on his desk.
Yoshi clicked his tongue another two times.
Sasuke bashed one of his knuckles on the desk, making Yoshi and the head of the East police station jump. "I-Is there a problem, Uchiha-taichou?" The head of the east station, Tozuki, stammered nervously.
The Uchiha sent a sideways glare over to Yoshi, "Not yet. As for your report-"
"Ah, yes! Well, the kidnapping case was solved a couple of days ago, and now the man is on trial. His name is Suzuki Toshiko. He's also been charged with a couple of break-ins in the last decade and-"
Sasuke slammed both of his hands on the table, silencing both of the other men in the room. "Yoshi! Unless you want your title to be 'Dead Man Walking', get out or stop!"
Yoshi's eyes bugged out of his head, and he scurried out of the room, "Y-Yes! Sensei!"
Sasuke shook his head, sitting down and relaxing his muscles. "My apologies. Now, where were we?"
"Whoa," Yoshi breathed, staring at his female teammate.
"…Nice, uh, look," Jin tried, raising an eyebrow.
Sasuke didn't say anything. He just stared.
Ume's hair used to flow down to her knees. She would tie it up in a braid so it wouldn't get in the way during missions, always saying how she loved the long look. It wasn't superficial, like Sakura was back in the Academy, it was just plain and simple: the long look suited Taichikawa Ume.
But, now… Ume's hair came to her chin. And it wasn't like it was when it was long, layered, it was short and even with no layers, and her bangs weren't on her forehead – they were parted out of the way, revealing her alien-like forehead.
She smiled - her cheeks almost as pink as her eyes, "Thanks! I know it's different, but my sister suddenly came at me with scissors and said I needed a trim. The next thing I knew – voila!"
Yoshi grinned, "It looks fantastic! It's just… so un-you! I hardly recognized you!"
Jin nodded, "Yeah…"
Sasuke remained silent. As Ume began to chatter with her teammates (well, more of Yoshi than anything else), his highly-trained eyes picked up on something the other two didn't.
On her elbow, her armband slowly began to fall down, and he thought he saw a small patch of purple skin with yellow edges. But worst of all, it was in the shape of fingers. Either someone really tried to get Ume's attention, or someone was really trying to hurt his student.
He really hoped it wasn't because of him.
But meanwhile, without even looking, Ume took her armband and pulled it up, hiding the hideous bruise.
"Hey, Jin," Yoshi said in the quiet of the night, careful not to wake their semi-sleeping sensei and their dead-asleep teammate.
"Hn?" Jin carelessly replied back, dragging the surface of a rock over one of his blunt kunai, trying to sharpen it.
Yoshi pointed to the sky, his yellow eyes sparkling, "Aren't the stars beautiful?"
Jin paused from his chore and glanced up, but had to do a double take, entranced with the sight. A million little points of light filled the black sky.
Almost five minutes later, Jin said distractedly, "Yeah… they are."
Yoshi's smile grew, "When I was little, my mom used to tell me that the stars are all honorable shinobi who died for their villages. The one just above the Big Dipper, right there" – he pointed to a section in the sky, and Jin picked out the constellation easily – "is my uncle. He died during the Fourth Great War."
The happy-go-lucky Genin spoke up again, "What do you think the stars are?"
There was a brief pause, "I'm not sure. I never really thought about it."
"Really? I love the stars. I could spend the rest of my life as an astronomer."
A small, hardly noticeable smile appeared on Jin's face.
"Gaaaaaagh! Okay, okay, I'm DONE!" Yoshi over exaggerated, falling backwards into a tree trunk. Jin scooted over when Yoshi sat on his hand. "Oh, sorry."
"Hn," Jin hummed, just as Ume sat carefully between the two. She let out a large, exhausted sigh, resting her head on Jin's shoulder, whose cheeks turned a slight shade of pink.
Sasuke stepped up to them, unsheathing his katana, "We're not done yet. Get up."
All three of them groaned, not moving. Sasuke rolled his eyes, "Fine. But only five minutes." He pushed his katana back into its sheath, turning his back on the three.
Yoshi groaned, "Yeesh, I mean, sensei's cool and all, but does he really have to pound us into the gravel all of the time?"
"Gravel? What Gravel? I thought he was pounding us into the grass," Ume wondered thoughtfully, her pink eyes boring into Yoshi, who could only blink.
"What? No, I mean, its-" Yoshi began, but he couldn't think of the right words.
"It's a metaphor." Jin said coolly, closing his beautiful blue eyes.
Ume blushed, "Oops! Hehe, my bad. Sorry!"
Yoshi grinned, laughing, "How did you not know it's a metaphor?"
"How did you not know what a metaphor is called?"
Yoshi glared at Jin, "Hey! Cheap shot!"
Jin blinked, "I didn't say anything."
The three blinked, turning to Sasuke, who was leaning against a tree, a small smile playing at his lips. Ume giggled and Yoshi scratched the back of his neck (he hadn't a clue Sasuke was listening to them), while Jin only smiled. Yoshi smiled sheepishly, "Aha, sorry, sensei!"
The three all half expected Sasuke to stand them back up and resume training once more for being disrespectful, but instead, he pushed himself up off the tree and began to walk away.
Jin, Yoshi and Ume only watched as he walked off, but their eyes widened when he stopped.
He craned his head back at them, no emotion on his face whatsoever, "Well? Are you coming?"
"W-Where are we going?" Ume stammered, surprised. The other two were speechless.
"Hizaku's Dango. My treat."
Yoshi and Ume grinned ear to ear, while a rather large smile played on Jin's lips. The former two jumped up after him, with the latter following closely behind.
"Sasuke-sensei, you're the coolest!" Yoshi cheered.
"Yeah!" Ume chorused.
Jin nodded in agreement, still smiling.
Sasuke smiled back, his hands at his sides.
Jin, Ume, and Yoshi all shivered, their eyes wide, blood splattering on their ankles. Ume was leaning for support against a boulder, her shoulder bleeding, but she paid no attention to the wound, as her bright pink eyes were watching the chaos in front of her. Yoshi and Jin were both on the ground, the former on his side in pain, his golden eyes closed and his hands over his ears. Jin was unable to move, sitting with his upper weight supported on his arms. His blue eyes were wide with fear, sweat rolling down his temples.
This… this was the madness of the shinobi world?
In front of them was a clearing of shinobi, half of them dead, on the ground. Their eyes were lifeless and foggy, some missing limbs, but all the same, they lied in a pool of blood, not moving, their mouths wide open. The ones who were still alive were battling to the death, over such fruitless things. They were all armed to the teeth, using poisonous gases and knives and techniques to outdo each other.
Three thirteen-year-olds watched the madness unfold, the death lingering in the air, all unable to move.
A dead body was kicked about twelve feet, landing in front of Yoshi. Upon hearing something had landed by him, his cracked his eyes open.
The person's skin was melting off, to the point where you couldn't even tell if it was a man or a woman. As the skin deteriorated, blood and muscles fell from the bone, landing on Yoshi's hands and staining his clothes.
Yoshi opened his eyes again, tears falling down his face. It had been nearly two weeks since it had happened, but every time he closed his eyes, there was the corpse rotting before his very eyes.
"Yoshi, are you alright?"
His father's voice pulled him back into reality. It was only then he realized he had spaced out in the middle of dinner, staring at his pork dinner. He blinked, tears still falling down his cheeks, and he faked a laugh, wiping the hot salty tears off his face. "Y-Yeah, I'm fine."
Jun stared at Yoshi, her chopsticks in hand. She would have never guessed that Yoshi would go through such emotional trauma in the shinobi world. Well, she heard about things like that, she just never expected it. Being a civilian, she could never imagine the utter chaos that happened out on the battlefield.
His father rubbed Yoshi's raven hair, "Don't worry, Yosh. It's over."
But the words still did not push the memory from his mind. To Yoshi, it was as if it was on replay. Civilians like his family would never understand his turmoil. He wasn't blaming them, or hating on them, it was just a fact. Though his father had been alive through countless raids on Konohagakure, he would never see what Yoshi saw. Would never think how Yoshi did. He couldn't even begin to comprehend why Yoshi would rather have a kunai then a girlfriend.
In the shinobi world, you take anything you can get to survive. And unless you had a girlfriend like the Godaime or Haruno Sakura, who can kick anyone's ass without even trying, a single kunai would help in you in battle like you couldn't even believe.
For now, Yoshi gave him a (fake) reassuring smile, and began to pick at his dinner again, "I know, dad. Thanks."
Jin and Yoshi glared at each other. Jin's glare was cold and calculating, while Yoshi's was full of rage and hatred.
Sasuke folded his arms and Ume began to bite her nails – a bad habit of hers – as they watched the nth fight unfold.
"Look, Jin, I'm just saying that maybe you need to lighten up on Ume! She's not made of steel like you are, you know, you heartless jerk!"
Jin gave Yoshi that deathly silence of his, his blue, pupil-less eyes narrowed at his teammate. He knew he wasn't made of steel, but that didn't mean Yoshi didn't think it. Or, for that matter, anyone.
With nothing said on Jin's side of the argument (that was, sadly, winning), Yoshi grabbed a fistful of his shirt. "You listen here, you jerk! I don't know what fucking planet you grew up on, but you don't treat people like that! Ume is your comrade! And just because you act like a heartless bastard doesn't mean that we have to take it! I mean-"
"That's enough, Yoshi," Sasuke deadpanned, pulling them apart. Jin's eyes were softer, full of loneliness and sorrow. Of course, unless you weren't angry at him and were good at reading emotions, you wouldn't be able to tell. That's how Jin liked it, though. He liked to be inside his walls, away from everyone and everything.
He was a freak. He always would be. He would never be able to be a comrade like Yoshi and Ume were to him.
At one point, months ago, he considered maybe opening up to his raven-haired teammate. That considering was way out of line, now.
Yoshi's eyes weren't so full of openness now how they used to be. That was it. He was finally through with Jin.
Something was ripped out of Jin's chest, and a slow, sinking feeling took him into darkness.
All he wanted was to be a good leader.
Ume was sitting in the Police Station.
Sasuke stood in front of her, arms crossed, with a disapproving gaze. Jin was sitting next to her, his blue eyes boring into her, with her head lying on his shoulder.
Suddenly, Yoshi burst into the room, "Hey! I got the message, what's going on?" The room was tense, and Ume shrunk into her shoulders, tears in her fuchsia eyes. She had already told the story twice – once when she had first arrived, and another time when Jin had shown up thirteen minutes later. She didn't want to tell it again, almost an hour later.
"What happened?" Yoshi shouted. "Did Jin do anything?"
At this, he earned a glare from Jin and a warning glance from Sasuke. Ume only shook her head, not looking anyone in the eye.
Sasuke sighed. Right now, only Jin had been able to calm down Ume, if only by a little bit. He suspected it was because of his natural calm composure. It also seemed that she didn't want to talk about it anymore, so he thought it over and finally said, "I have some paperwork to fill out on this. Jin, Ume, you two hang back here. Yoshi, why don't you come with me?"
Jin nodded, catching the hint. Yoshi raised an eyebrow, but he had learned quickly on that Sasuke's word was law, so he nodded too. Ume didn't really do anything but hold onto Jin's elbow, tears streaming down her cheeks. It was weird for anything but a smile to be on Ume's lips, so all three knew that something bad had gone down, even before they knew.
Sasuke turned on his heel, heading to the door, only pausing to talk with another officer briefly (saying to get anything that Ume might ask for). Yoshi followed quickly behind him, only speaking up after the door shut behind them. "What happened?" He wondered.
"Yoshi, before we talk about that, I need to bring something up with you." Sasuke monotone, stopping suddenly in the hall, his onyx eyes glaring at Yoshi. Immediately, Yoshi knew he was in trouble.
"W-What is it?" Yoshi's voice trembled.
Sasuke leaned against the wall, "What was the first thing I taught you?"
Yoshi thought it over, "Those who don't care about their friends are even worse than trash… Right?" He didn't understand why he would need to know that…
"I won't lie to you," Sasuke promised. "I haven't always cherished my comrades. I knocked them aside when they tried to help me, I didn't listen to them when I knew they needed me. At a point in my life, I was certain that my only path was revenge."
Yoshi blinked. He knew what happened to his sensei – well, the gist of it – but he had never brought it up before. "What about it, Sasuke-sensei?"
"The first thing I learned from my mentor, Kakashi, was what I first taught you. That lesson took me the longest to learn, and its taking you the longest, too."
There was a long moment of silence, until Yoshi exploded.
"Ehhh?" Yoshi shouted. "You mean – you mean me? But, what about Jin? He's like the devil walking around! He doesn't care about any of us!"
Sasuke gave him another warning glance, but this one scared him. "Jin - the 'heartless jerk', as you say - showed up minutes after I sent the message. You showed up one hour later. Do you realize what happened in that room when you walked in? The second you got the chance, you blamed everything on Jin, when he did nothing wrong. Have you noticed that whenever you two are together, you almost always instigate it? I'm not favoring him, but you need to know that while you're treating Ume nicely, you're treating Jin like dirt. That makes you worse than trash."
Yoshi felt like he had been punched in the gut. He hadn't really noticed… It's just, when Yoshi felt anger, he let the anger loose. When he saw Jin, there was anger.
His eyes suddenly found interest in his feet. The hall became silent.
"So, what happened with, uh, Ume…" He spoke with guilt in his voice. Had he really not noticed how he was treating his own teammate?
"I don't know what fucking planet you grew up on, but you don't treat people like that!"
His own voice was clawing its way through his skull.
Sasuke sighed, "She didn't tell us the truth about her family life. She doesn't have any sisters or any brothers. She just told us about a perfect family because she didn't want us to worry."
He hated it, but it definitely sounded like something Ume would do. She liked to smile and have other people smiling around her, and she did many things to keep it that way.
"What was her real family like?" Yoshi asked.
"Tonight, her mother killed her father," Sasuke replied back nonchalantly. Only he could deliver such news with much a monotone voice.
Yoshi's eyes widened, "W-What?"
"It was out of self-defense. Apparently, he had tried to kill Ume too, and when he tried to, her mother snapped. She's in the emergency room right now, and Ume is here because of questioning. But she won't say anything."
Sasuke pushed himself away from the wall, "Go back to Jin and Ume. Try not to shout, she's still pretty shaken up."
Yoshi nodded solemnly, "Okay, Sasuke-sensei."
The loudmouthed member of the team turned on his heel, his stomach twisting around and around. Before he even reached the door, his insides were coiled like a spring.
Jin watched as Yoshi and Ume laughed about something or other under a cherry blossom tree, nearly a week after the night in the Police Station. For the first time since then, she was giggling and being much like herself. It gave Jin a great sense of relief. And as much as he wanted to walk up to them, to talk to the old Ume, something told him not to.
Yoshi was blushing nervously, but he was still grinning like an idiot as ever. Ume giggled slowly, saying something he couldn't hear (Sasuke trained their eyes, not their ears, as important as they both were). Yoshi snorted, shaking his head, gesturing to something to the left. At this, Ume shook her head, smiling.
Jin shifted from where he stood, just behind another cherry blossom tree. He tried to concentrate on the sounds around him, but it was no use, the wind and the rustling of the leaves were just too loud for him to hear from his distance.
But what did he care about what they talked about? They were just comrades, probably talking about how tough Sasuke was or making remarks on Jin's abnormal behavior. Maybe they were even talking about something funny they'd seen on the way to training. It was normal for those two to talk – they could spend hours together and still have a lively conversation going on.
That's just how they were. They were friends! What reason would they have to not talk?
Maybe he was jealous that the two got along so well. Sure, socializing wasn't one of his greatest assets, but he would still like to talk like they could. Or maybe he was even jealous that Ume could somehow get Yoshi to talk to her nicely and not yelling at her for everything she did. Or… maybe it was the fact Yoshi could talk to Ume so easily...
Jin shook his head. No. It definitely wasn't that…
"What're we doing?"
Jin jumped, gasping nearly inaudibly, whirling his head around. "H-Hokage-sama? Sensei?"
Before him stood the Orange Kitsune (aka the Rokudaime), Uzumaki Naruto, and Sasuke, who were both staring at him.
Jin's cheeks flushed, "N-nothing." He spun on his heel, his hand shaking from being startled like that. His cheeks were almost beet red, as he'd been caught in the act of spying.
Naruto's laughter only made him redder.
He stomped up to Yoshi and Ume, the former waving at him, "Yo, Jin! What's up?"
Jin didn't say anything; he just pushed past the two of them and stomped on into the training grounds.
"What's his problem?" he heard Yoshi ask Ume, who could only shrug.
"Ahhh, Ume-chan! You're so lucky!" Ume's best "girl" friend, Houtarou Inosae, squealed, hearts in her eyes as Jin and Yoshi walked off, currently arguing about… something.
Ume blinked, her arm falling by her side as she had just finished waving off her companions, "Huh? What do you mean?"
Her friend placed her arms akimbo, "Uh, helloooo? You have Fukioja Jin on your team! Not to mention you have the heart-stopper Uchiha Sasuke on your team! And as annoying as he is, Yagami-kun isn't that bad on the eyes!"
Ume only smiled uncomfortably, "I suppose… you do know my sensei is married though, right? He has three kids."
"Eh? No way!"
"Yeah!" Ume smiled. "Hikaru is almost six years old, and then he has two four-year month old fraternal twins."
"Oh, darn. I mean, I know he's almost ten years older than me, but if he had an interest in me, I would take it, no problem!" Inosae laughed, flipping her honey-blond hair around.
Ume giggled, "I'm not sure sensei is the romantic type."
Inosae laughed, "Probably not… So, which one do you like?"
"I like all of them!"
Inosae blinked at Ume, but sweat-dropped just a moment later. It was just like Ume to get the wrong idea of the question. Sure, she was cute, but an airhead all the same.
"No, no! I mean, which one do you love?" Inosae rephrased.
There was a delayed answer from Ume, who blushed, "Eh? Love?"
"…Well, I love all of them."
Inosae smacked her forehead, "Oh, geez! No, Ume-chan, I'm talking about romantic feelings."
Ume blinked. Not once had she really thought about Jin or Yoshi that way. Jin was sweet, albeit a bit unsocial, but kind all the same. He was more of the type to show his sensitive side when Yoshi or Sensei weren't around, and he was a powerful water-type shinobi. He was a fantastic leader, and something about his eyes was entrancing. His natural calm composure made girls melt around him, well, all but Ume, whose primary concern is anything but love. He could probably calm a bucking bull down if he really settled on it. He didn't laugh much, but when he did, it was contagious.
On the other hand, Yoshi's eyes were bright and full of life. They shined in the sun, resembling it in color. When you were having a bad day, he could clear it up no problem. He complained a bit during training, but when he really set his mind on something, it would be done. The same goes if a friend asked him of something – he was responsible, and would get a task done and get it done right, no matter the consequences. His friends were his lifeline, and had saved Ume countless times. And not to mention, just Yoshi's smile could make her day…
"So, which one is it? Fukioja-kun or Yagami-kun?" Inosae interrupted her thoughts, eyes boring into Ume.
"Hmmm," Ume thought about it for a moment. "I guess I'm not sure."
Inosae smacked her head, leaving a red mark.
Jin gasped, sitting up, sweat covering his temples. The blankets around him were suffocating him, so he kicked them off, pulling his knees to his chest.
He shivered, feeling suddenly cold and lonely. His pool-blue eyes drooped, closing, and opening again, growing soft.
He thought of his father, gazing over at the picture of him and his dad on his nightstand. Jin had been born into a time of war. Seven years ago, he was six years old, and he could remember his dad saying goodbye to him as he went onto war. Only five days later, the Fourth Shinobi War was over, and nearly sixty thousand shinobi from all countries were claimed dead.
His father had been one of them.
He didn't want to lose himself to war, didn't want to die on the battlefield. But, at the same time, he was dedicated to his village, to his father's dreams of him becoming the best, and he was too far into it now to say no.
And back then, they had needed the money – him and his brother, Ryou, that is. After their father's sudden death, their mother had fallen into a desperate state of grief and sorrow, not even stepping out of bed for food.
"Ryou-nii, mom's not getting out of bed again," a six-year old Jin murmured, his voice squeaky. He rubbed his eye, as he had just woken up, and had his backpack over his shoulder for school.
He could visibly see his older brother – a whooping age of ten years old – clench his fists, forcing a smile on his face. "You get to school, then. I'll get her up."
"But-" Jin had begun to protest. If Ryou stayed home again, it would be the seventh day of school he had missed.
"It's fine," Ryou assured him, cutting him off. "Just pick up my homework from my school like you did yesterday, okay?"
Jin could only nod, but his eyes could say otherwise.
The present day Jin's eyes narrowed. His mother stayed in bed for almost three weeks until she stayed in the hospital, forcing Ryou out of school and into work to pay for her bills. By the fourth month, she was still there, and the doctors were giving up.
"Pull the plug?" He heard Ryou nearly shout from behind the door, as Jin sat by his mother, who was staring off into some dead space. She had bags under her eyes, she was skin and bone, and her hair was falling out. Even when Jin shook her, she wouldn't move. It was like talking to the walking dead.
But the second he heard that, he pushed out of the stool he was sitting in and tip-toed over to the door. He heard the doctor's voice,
"I'm so sorry, son. But Miss Fujioka won't even sleep anymore. We've been force feeding her with an IV, but the second we leave or turn around, she pulls it out. She's going to die either way."
Jin felt tears in his eyes. He was trying to be brave for his mom, for his brother, so he held them back.
There was a delayed response from Ryou. "…Can I try and talk to her, just once?"
The doctor didn't speak for a moment, either. It must have been hard to tell a kid that kind of news. Especially when they were trying to hold onto a frail thread of hope that maybe, just maybe, she might get her act together and pull through.
"I… suppose there's no harm. Of course. Go on ahead."
"Thank you," Ryou breathed, and before Jin could move, the door slid open. Ryou had hardly even noticed his brother as he made his way to the bed, taking Jin's seat.
The doctor tapped Jin twice on the shoulder, gesturing to the waiting room. Jin shook his head, pulling away from him. He wanted to talk to his mom, too. The doctor could only watch as Jin pulled away from him, taking his seat next to Ryou, who was avoiding his gaze.
Jin hardly even noticed the doctor leaving the room, leaving the two brothers and their remaining parent alone. The bleach-white walls still haunted Jin to this very day, echoing their silence back to them, screaming in Jin's ears. When Jin thought he was just about to kick himself from the silence, he heard Ryou mutter,
"Mom… Mom, look at me."
He tugged on her arm. Her eyes just barely moved from their deep-space trance, and that movement alone made Jin excited. It was the most she'd done in weeks.
Yet still, she remained silent.
"Mom, I know you're hurting right now, but Jin needs you. I need you. We need you now more than ever. We love you so much and it's so hard for us to see you like this. Especially after dad-"
Wrong move, apparently. Her pupils shrunk to the size of needle points, and she sat up, her face fueled with rage. Jin was too shocked to even move as the gaunt, witch of a woman wrapped her bony, slender fingers around Ryou's neck. Ryou gasped as she began to strangle him, screaming.
"You don't dare ever mention him to me, you hear me?! You bad, bad, bad boy! You worthless, miserable little-!"
Jin could hardly hear the rest of it, jumping up, grabbing onto one of her arms. "Mom! Stop! Please, you're hurting him!"
Ryou was gasping for breath, his hands pulling at her wrists. Without warning, she let one hand go, her hand flying back and smacking Jin in the nose, setting him off balance and he fell to the green-tiled floor. Blood poured from his nose and down his chin, tears streaming down his cheeks.
At this point, a couple of nurses and doctors had come rushing in, three men pulling her back while two tried to wrestle her fingers off of his brother. A kind woman with bright blue eyes knelt down him, asking if he was alright. But Jin couldn't stop crying.
"Do whatever you want!" Ryou shouted, now free, both at the doctor and his mom. "We're fine on our own!"
His mom… no, the witch of a wiry woman was now crying and screaming and kicking in the doctor's arms. Her tangled hair was long and greasy, falling over one of her eyes.
That was the last time he saw her before Ryou picked Jin up carefully, leading him out of the room, both boys crying. The nurse had offered them ice or bandages, but Ryou refused. He just wanted to go home at that point.
Thinking back, Jin didn't think he ever went to her funeral, nor if she even had a funeral. Ryou never told him, and he never asked.
The silence of the room mocked him as it did that day, and Jin gritted his teeth, trying to banish the memory from his mind.
She had left them all alone to fend for themselves…
Suddenly, the door creaked open (making Jin jump), and his brother Ryou stuck his head in, "I thought I heard something. You okay?"
Jin snatched the blankets, throwing his head down on his pillow, "Yeah. I'm going to sleep."
Ryou watched as his brother shifted into silence, and he pulled out of the room, clicking the door behind him.
Jin lay in his bed with his eyes wide open, unable to sleep.
"Whoo! I did it, I did it! I feel like FREAKING JESUS!" Yoshi cheered, running across the water by himself for the first time. At his comment, Sasuke slapped his forehead, and Ume just giggled lightly as she tried to walk across the water again.
It was a concept they had been working on for some time now. Jin probably got the hang of it by the second week, but as far as the other two were concerned… Right now, it was their fifth week, and Yoshi had just grasped the concept of running, and Ume was still working on walking.
Jin leaned back against a tree near their sensei, reading over basic material of the Summoning Jutsu. He rolled his eyes as Yoshi called himself Jesus, and deadpanned, "Maybe your title can be Jesus's Lesser Doppleganger."
Yoshi glared over at Jin, a vein popping in his forehead. There were so many things he wanted to shout at him, but he was reminded about what happened nearly a month ago.
"I'm not favoring him, but you need to know that while you're treating Ume nicely, you're treating Jin like dirt. That makes you worse than trash."
Yoshi sighed, "No, that's not my title" and he turned around, concentrating on his training. Sasuke gave him a small nod at this.
Jin, however, raised an eyebrow. Yoshi had been acting strange ever since the night when Ume's father died. Well, it was a good strange, because it seemed that he was learning to control his mouth – er, his anger.
Ume looked up at Sasuke, "Sensei? Why is Yoshi…?"
She didn't need to ask anything else, "It's nothing, Ume. Yoshi is just trying to be a better comrade."
Jin went back to his studying. That meant that Sasuke had said something to him that night. Well, it didn't matter. He would never forgive anything that Yoshi said to him.
Ume blinked, "Oh… Okay!"
Yoshi took in a deep breath, putting Chakra into his hands and trying a front flip. He slipped right under the surface of the water, and opened his eyes in the depths.
He didn't mean to be like that with Jin. But he promised – he swore on his life! – that he would make things right. Even if Jin didn't want him to.
"Alright," Sasuke spoke up, the three crouched in front of him. "From here on, we'll be in groups of two. The first group will intercept the enemy and keep them distracted while the other team sneaks past them and ambushes the cargo on the Hoshi Bridge. Do I make myself clear?"
The air was cloudy, and if not for his trained eyes, Sasuke wouldn't have seen them nod.
"Alright, now, for the teams. Ume, you're more suited for close-range combat, so I'm going to keep you with me. Besides, you're good at holding out for long periods of time, and time is what we need. You and I are going to keep the enemy busy."
Ume nodded, "Yes, Sensei!"
Jin and Yoshi both looked uncertainly at each other as if on que – they knew what was coming.
"Yoshi, Jin, you two are both long range fighters, which is best if you're going to be ambushing. So I want you two to go after the cargo. Jin, you're in charge, alright?"
Jin nodded, "Sir."
Yoshi seemed uncertain, but then he remembered his promise to himself. He would get along with Jin, even if it killed him. "Okay."
Jin gave him a strange sideways glance, but rolled his eyes nonetheless. There was a moment of silence, until Sasuke said, "Alright, now, the enemy is going northern up on the water, so Ume, you and I will travel south and intercept the enemy there. Jin, Yoshi, you are going to take a shortcut through the forest and intercept the cargo. There will be guards, so don't just jump in, alright? Plan an ambush, if you have the time. If not, find a way to render their sight and knock them out in the confusion. Okay?"
The two nodded, "Right!"
Ume only nodded, her usually cheerful eyes full of determination.
"Good. Be safe, you two. Now, scatter!"
On Sasuke's word, the two groups jumped off in different directions. Jin took the lead, with Yoshi following close behind.
This was his chance…
"Er, uh, Jin…" Yoshi spoke up, jumping up to Jin's side.
Jin glanced over at him, but focused on the path ahead, "Hn?" Maybe Yoshi would finally tell him why he was acting so weird. Jin suspected it was because he was just trying to treat Jin like everyone else.
Yoshi pursed his lips, "I, well, talked to Sensei. You know, when Ume was at the police."
He took a deep breath, "And I – well, I'm sorry. For, you know, saying you were a heartless jerk."
Jin didn't look at him, "You don't mean it."
Yoshi's beautiful golden eyes widened, and he came to an abrupt stop, "W-What?"
Jin stopped a couple branches ahead of him, "You're saying sorry because sensei told you to. You've been acting nice lately because sensei said to. If you were really sorry, you'd have apologized after it happened. You're just angry that sensei said you were wrong, and now you're trying to make up to it."
"Wha- How can you say that?" Yoshi snapped.
"I can say it because it's true. Come on, Yoshi, we both know it's true. And besides, even if you did mean it, I can't forgive you."
"But I do mean it. And why can't you forgive me?" Yoshi wanted to know why. Jin always did things with some unknown reason. Well, this conversation wasn't going to go with some unknown reason. Yoshi was going to know.
Jin's eyes wavered, "Because I know you meant everything you said. And besides, heartless jerks that were born on other planets don't have feelings."
Ah, so that was it. He was still angry about what Yoshi said.
"Look, I'm sorry. I really am! It's just that… I have anger, and I didn't exactly like you, so-"
"So that meant you had to take my feelings and rip them apart until your anger was satisfied?"
For nearly the two years they had been on a team together, Yoshi had always wished Jin would talk more. Now, he wished he would just shut up.
There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Finally, Jin just shook his head, "Come on, we've got to go intercept that cargo."
"That's Captain to you, Yagami-san."
Yeah. It was official.
Jin was done with him.
The sickening knot in Yoshi's stomach suddenly returned, and he felt like crying as he followed Jin into the thicket of the forest.
"What are the Konoha shinobi up to?" An Iwa nin asked his accomplice, who had just broken a seal. There were at least twenty of them, all crowded around the one who had just opened his eyes.
He sighed, rubbing a scar on his left temple, "They're after the cargo from the Marsh Country. Two of them are going to distract our forces while the other two get the cargo."
"Sounds easy enough!" One man boasted, adjusting his headband.
The sensory ninja shook his head, "It's not going to be that simple. Three of them – two of them going for the cargo – are Genin. But their sensei…"
"What's wrong with him? It's not like it's Uzumaki Naruto – he's Hokage! He can't leave… can he?" One of them spoke up.
"No, I mean, it's not Naruto – believe me, if it was him I wouldn't fight. It's the Snake Slayer, Uchiha Sasuke."
There was a series of gasps and unsure voices.
"Well, what do we do about him?" One man asked. "Whoever goes against him is sure to lose, with that Susanoo of his. He not only defeated the Snake Sage, Kabuto, but he defeated Orochimaru the Sannin as well!"
"And don't forget Deidara…"
"Or his brother, Itachi…"
"He even puts up a good fight against the Kazekage and the Naruto…"
A man sitting up in a tree suddenly shouted, "That's enough!"
The sensory ninja jumped, "O-Oh! Shisen-taichou!"
Shisen – he was one of the greatest ANBU operatives of Iwagakure. Some even said that if not for his destructive nature, he would have been named the Tsuikage.
"I'll take care of the Uchiha. Two of you, come with me. It doesn't matter who. Kirouko," he addressed the sensory ninja, "You catch up to the cargo and warn them. Replace it with the Substitution Jutsu."
Kirouko saluted Shisen, "Yes, sir!" He then jumped up into the thicket.
"What should the rest of us do, sir?" One of the men spoke up as two volunteered to go with Shisen.
Shisen smirked, "I don't think it should be too hard to take care of the Genin. But just in case, I'm leaving Ran in charge of them."
Wicked smiles were passed around, and everyone jumped off into the trees, their mission clear.
The sickening feeling inside Yoshi didn't go away, like it had the day Sasuke had talked to him. In fact, it felt worse. At least then he had some sort of consolation that Jin still liked him somewhat. Now he knew Jin hated him, to every bone and fiber of his being.
He glanced up at Jin's slender figure. When he first laid eyes on Jin, he didn't think that he was all that strong because of his lack of muscle. But he proved himself when he used his light weight for speed and used his tactics rather than brute force.
Jin was better, smarter, and stronger than any of them. He was silent, but strongly dedicated to his village and his comrades, all things that Yoshi didn't have. Jin was the perfect shinobi, and Yoshi was, well, Yoshi.
And it wasn't as if being a shinobi was all he was good at. He was a good friend to Ume, a great listener to Sasuke, and a great brother to Ryou. He'd seen them talk before, and he knew how to work with his brother and made him feel better. He even dealt with Yoshi for who knows how long without even getting angry, like everyone else did…
Yoshi balled his hand into a fist, "Okay! That's it!" He stopped.
Jin stopped too, "Yagami! Pick up the pace!"
Yoshi shook his head, "No, Jin! We need to talk!"
"I told you to call me Captain," Jin snapped.
"I don't care what you told me! Jin, look, I know I can never take those words back, but you have to listen to this!"
Jin crossed his arms, "I'm listening."
Yoshi was tempted to sigh in relief, but he knew it was far from over.
"…I… No one ever wants to deal with me. They always make fun of my title thing, and then no one wants to deal with my anger. The second we met I thought you were like everyone else, so I acted like a jerk without thinking about it. …But, Jin, you're nicer than everyone else. I just called you a jerk-"
"A heartless jerk," Jin added.
"…I just called you a heartless jerk because that's how everyone acted to me." Yoshi confessed. "If it makes you feel better, you can hit me…" He closed his eyes.
Jin sighed, "Yoshi, I'm not going…" His voice trailed off, and the next thing Yoshi knew was that Jin was tackling him out of the trees and onto the ground, and his shoulder was bleeding. They smacked down, hard.
"Ow! Dude, I said hit not murder!" Yoshi shouted, but then he felt Jin grab him by the back collar and pull him off the ground. "Gah! What are you-"
"Evasive maneuvers!" Jin shouted. "We're under attack!"
Yoshi's eyes widened, "Ohhhh, Oh! Oh!" Realization hit him with a ten inch frying pan, and he quickly got to his feet, just to see that where they stood before was peppered with kunai.
…Of course, Jin could do no wrong.
Yoshi twirled a kunai around his finger, taking a fighting stance. When he laid eyes on the enemy, his stomach dropped and his heart constricted.
There were at least twenty of them, all armed with kunai and half-hidden in the trees. Luckily, Sasuke had trained their eyesight, and if he hadn't, he probably would only see the one who was standing in plain sight in the clearing, smiling down at them.
"State your business," Jin declared, raising a kunai.
The leader, with jet black hair much like Sasuke's and piercing green eyes, suddenly seemed angry. His smile faded, and the killer intent in his eyes showed, "I have nothing to explain to a couple of rag-tag kids like you."
This was usually the part where there would be questioning and evil plots unfolded, but without any regard whatsoever, the mini army of shinobi charged, all bearing weapons.
However, this didn't take either of them off-guard. Immediately, the two flew through hand signs – for Jin, the monkey, the hare, the dragon, and the rat; and for Yoshi, the hare, the snake, the dog, the ox and the tiger – and called out,
"Water Style! Tsunami Rage!"
"Lightning Style! Heaven's Judgment!"
Jin's water style immediately washed out over the enemies, not all of them, but a good number. This held them back for only a moment, giving Yoshi's lightning-based attack the chance to take the current.
Almost five of them fell dead immediately and another of the same number were in too much shock to move. Jin and Yoshi charged forward, taking the advantage, with small blades in their hands. Together, these two were as deadly to the enemies as they were to each other.
Yoshi tossed a kunai into the throat of a gasping man who was still trying to get a grip, then stopped as an enemy approached him with a weapon of his own. He threw his arm out, and Yoshi ducked, diving forward and catching the enemy in the gut. The man cried out, staggered back, and fell dead within seconds.
Jin, on the other hand, had seven coming at him from all sides. It was evident to them now that just because they were kids didn't mean they had the killer instincts of a jounin. Of course, it should have been known from the beginning, since they were trained by one of the deadliest assassins known to man.
Reacting on instinct, Jin readied two kunai for battle. He jumped up, dodging the first who had come as him, sending his heel down onto the back of the man's neck, while at the same time bring his arm down and embedding a kunai into the top of another's head. Gravity brought him down and he crushed the first's throat, shoving the second guy away from him.
He then leapt into the air, spinning and giving a roundhouse kick into one man's side. He threw a kunai off to the side, which landed into the place that men should not be hurt in. He gave an axe kick to another guy, bringing him down to the ground, face first. Jin heard the sickening crack of the man's ribs.
The last two came from behind. Jin sent one arm flying backwards, catching one man in the eye. The kunai embedded itself into his brain, and he fell over. But before Jin could react, the other kicked him in his tailbone and dug his elbow into the back of his neck.
Yoshi, however, noticed Jin's dire situation as he flipped a man twice his size into a nearby tree. He dove off to the side, coming to his teammate's rescue. Before the man who bested Jin could do any more harm, Yoshi placed him in a headlock from behind, lifting his arm quickly, crushing his windpipe. The ninja gasped for breath as Yoshi threw him down, helping Jin up.
"Thanks," Jin remarked, standing ready for battle.
"No problem," Yoshi breathed, catching his breath.
Only one remained.
His eyes were bloodshot, widened. How had these… these Genin best his squad? His deadly green eyes narrowed, but his smile returned nonetheless.
"Very good. Frankly, I didn't expect this from a couple of students. Nonetheless, you two are a problem that still needs to be resolved."
Next to him, Yoshi could almost see Jin's muscles constrict. Something was very amiss.
The enemy shinobi with the raven black hair raised his hand, "Ninja Art! Raising Dragons!"
It was then Yoshi noticed the Dragon-like tattoos on the man's arms. He stiffened at the sight of it, because almost immediately he was reminded of a deadly shinobi that was to be avoided unless a jounin was present with you. His name was Ran Shou. His ability…taming Dragons…
The tattoos on his arms suddenly sprung to life; first, they fidgeted, but then they slowly peeled off of his arms and rose around him, one black and the other blue. They both roared, turning from two-dimensional designs to three dimensional beings.
Jin seemed to be catching on, "Yoshi! Run!"
Yoshi didn't need to be told twice. The two dragons lurched forward, their wings ripped and tangled but all the same menacing. Now that they were becoming real, they were growing at a rapid rate. Their wingspans at first had only been a couple of feet, but were spreading to at least seven feet within seconds.
The two Konoha shinobi pushed off the ground, not turning their backs on the enemy. Yoshi followed Jin into the thicket of the forest. At first, he was sure the dragons wouldn't be able to reach them without getting tangled within the branches, but nearly flipped out when he saw their mighty wings were bringing the branches down with no work at all.
But it wasn't just their merciless strength that was impressive, either. Their speed was amazing – in fact, with one flap of their wings, it was like taking three long jumps from branch to branch.
They were closing in on Yoshi and Jin, and they were closing in fast.
Yoshi's heart pounded against his ribcage. Where was Sasuke when they needed him?
"That's the last of them," Sasuke deadpanned, dead shinobi sinking into the depths of the river. Their blood dirtied the water, but was washed away by the current quickly. He stared down at the man his katana was stabbed into, recognizing him as Shisen, a powerful shinobi from Iwagakure.
He glanced back, "Are you alright, Ume?"
Ume gave him a salute, "Aye, sir!" She giggled.
Sasuke gave her a small, quick smile with a twitch of his lips. He yanked the katana from Shisen's torso, kicking him into the water, his lifeless eyes filled with blood. For a powerful shinobi, he wasn't that much of a challenge.
Ume skipped up to him on the water, cringing at the sight of the bloodied bodies. "Did you really have to be so…" She paused, "…abrasive?"
Sasuke closed his eyes, "That's how the Shinobi World is, Ume. It's kill or be killed out here."
Ume sighed, "I know… So, um, what are we going to do now?"
Sasuke looked up ahead. In the distance he could just barely make out the Hoshi Bridge. "We're going to go meet up with the other two as backup. Let's go."
"Okay, sensei!" Ume said happily, stepping forward, but something shot down her spine, making her shiver. She stopped dead in her tracks.
Sasuke glanced back at her, his black eyes boring into her, "Is something wrong?"
It took a moment for Ume to answer (which was never a good sign), "I… I don't know. I just suddenly got a bad feeling."
Sasuke was about to say something, when something dark suddenly made his stomach coil. The bad feeling that Ume had just mentioned made his blood boil.
"Come on. Let's go," Sasuke ordered, panic setting in his head. Sudden déjà vu came in his head – this was the same feeling he had on the way home just before his clan died… He gulped, jumping forward with Ume at his heel.
Something wasn't right.
At first, Jin had been confident with the enemies. Only twenty of them, he thought. It would be easy enough to settle with Yoshi at his side.
He would have never expected the Ran Shou to show up. And even then, his imagination could have never predicted the two snarling, blood thirsty dragons on their tail, biting and snapping at their heels.
"Oi! Jin! What're we gonna do?" He heard Yoshi's panicked voice scream over at him.
Jin gritted his teeth. Not only did he have to worry about the dragons, he had to worry about Yoshi too.
He still didn't know what to make of him. Yoshi was apologizing, really apologizing. He was just trying to get them to be friends, and yet Jin shoved him away. Why couldn't he just forgive people like the Hokage could? But even with that said, he didn't know whether to be his friend or not. Two years on the same team, and they could hardly get a conversation of "hey, how's your day?" without getting into a fight. Well, there were those certain times where they could talk without really thinking about it, but-
Jin cried out when one of the Dragon's fangs scraped against the back of his leg. He stumbled, falling forward and onto the ground. (This wasn't the best time to be spacing out, apparently.)
"JIN!" He heard Yoshi cry, and before he could even cry out as he hit the ground, Yoshi was already picking him up bridal style, still running, now on the ground.
Jin cringed as he saw his skin and leg muscles burning. Literally burning. There must have been fire or something in that attack that he hadn't seen. If he peered closely, he could see just a bit of his bone.
His blood was staining Yoshi's long-sleeved shirt, but that wasn't really the primary concern of the moment. Yoshi quickly darted to the side, running in long strides of zigzags, hopefully trying to confuse the beastly animals.
Then, without no warning, Yoshi threw himself to the side, falling down an inclined plane. Jin yelped in surprise, the two tumbling downwards to a rocky terrain. The second they stopped falling, Yoshi threw Jin over his shoulder and beat it into the patch of boulders, running in circles and zigzags, just before taking refuge in a small crack between two of the boulders.
He gently set Jin down, muttering a "sorry" before leaning his head back. After a couple moments of silence – as the two were listening out for the beats of the Dragon's wings – the two were reassured that the beasts were gone for the time being.
Jin's breath was coming out in short rasps, "It's – okay… I'm sorry, too…"
Yoshi lifted his head, "For what?"
"One, getting hurt; and two, for – for, for being a jerk… You were j-ju-ju-just trying to ap-p-p-p-p-apologize." Jin's voice was shaky.
Yoshi shuffled closer to him, "Hey, Jin, are you okay?"
All Jin could manage was a shake of the head. His leg felt like it was burning, and chunks of his muscles were falling away from his bone. The second Yoshi caught sight of this, he gasped, and fumbled with his pouch, pulling out the first-aid.
Jin's arms were shaking by the time Yoshi started to apply ointment – what the hell would that do? – to the gaping wound, and his vision was coming out and in randomly. Had those fangs been poisoned?
When Yoshi realized the ointment was doing nothing, Jin was violently trembling. There were tears in Yoshi's eyes when he saw his friend's predicament, and his hands were shaking as he wrapped Jin's leg tightly with gauze.
It was then he saw something on the bottom of the first-aid kit. When his eyes caught sight of it, he pulled it out, and saw a single purple tablet. His golden eyes widened.
Sasuke handed his three students a small pouch with a red cross on the front flap. It was tiny, able to fit in their regular ninja pouches.
"What're these?" Yoshi wondered, popping the small flap open and peering inside.
"They're first-aid kits, right, Sasuke-sensei?" Ume beamed, her pink eyes practically glowing.
Sasuke nodded, "Karin made them. She said that there is something special inside you should use in case of an emergency."
Yoshi grinned. Karin was Sasuke's wife, and a specialist in two fields: the medical field and the sensory field. She worked in the Barrier Department, keeping intruders out of the village, and helped create new medicines and antidotes for poisons and sicknesses with Haruno Sakura, the Hokage's wife. Whatever was inside, it must be special.
"What is it?" Ume wondered, poking through the small kit.
"It's a special tablet to take by mouth. It'll help with nearly any type of poison, with the exceptions of any new poison that anyone invents from this point on. Just be careful with them – don't use them unless it's absolutely necessary. It won't heal wounds, but it'll take any poison out of your system."
Ume and Yoshi grinned, slapping each other a high five, "Cool!"
Jin, on the other hand, only told Sasuke to thank Karin for it, and neatly tucked it inside his pouch.
Yoshi immediately ripped the pill from its plastic case, his fingers fumbling with the plastic. He pressed the purple tablet to Jin's lips, "Take it! It's the pill Karin-san gave us!"
Jin's lips just barely parted when he felt the pill pushed into his mouth. It dissolved in his mouth, and the taste nearly made his gag. He felt Yoshi's hand cover his mouth, and he was grateful for that, mostly because his arms were beginning to feel numb.
When it was just nearly dissolved completely, Yoshi's voice sounded far away, and the world was fading out. He could just hardly make out Yoshi's cries of "Jin! Jin!"
Idiot… Jin thought, using the rest of his strength to place his fingertips to Yoshi's lips, silencing him. If he shouted like that, they would be found faster than he would have liked.
Yoshi bit on his lips as Jin began to close his eyes, his hand that was at Yoshi's lips falling limp.
No… No, he couldn't be…
He pressed two fingers to Jin's neck, feeling for his pulse. When he found it, he panicked, because it felt slower than usual. But, as the minutes dragged on, it began to beat faster and faster, and Yoshi gave a large sigh of relief. It was a good thing he had remembered the pill… but then again, even if he wasn't dead, he was still severely injured, and with no medic on the team, Jin wouldn't be able to walk… much less run.
Yoshi took Jin's hand, holding onto it tightly as his comrade slept.
It was crazy that only two hours ago, they had just separated from Sasuke-sensei and Ume. It was crazy to think that these two were on such bad terms at the time, and now it was like Jin was clinging to Yoshi helplessly for life.
Jin's hand gently held his hand back, his pale skin regaining its color. The bandages on his leg were soaked in warm blood.
Yoshi's eyes narrowed.
He knew what he would have to do.
When Sasuke and Ume hid in the shadows of the Hoshi Bridge, they noticed almost immediately that Jin and Yoshi weren't there.
"Where are they?" Ume whispered, her voice shaky.
Sasuke remained as silent as ever, trying to pick up his students presences. When he realized that the two weren't nearby, he swore under his breath, and said, "The enemy must have known we were coming. The cargo is probably taking a different route as we speak."
"…Well, what should we do? Go after the cargo or find the other two?"
The former rouge thought about this for a second, but only a second. If he went after the cargo, there was no telling what would happen to his students. And even then, he couldn't even be sure where the cargo even was, or if it had been placed in a different carrier than the one he had been informed about. But if he went after his students, the mission would be in jeopardy, and Iwagakure would have some weapon or scroll that would strengthen their military and pose as a threat to his village. But on the upside, his comrades would be safe for the time being…
Sasuke shook his head, "We're going after the boys. After all, those who don't care about their friends are even worse than trash." He sent her a reassuring smile, "Don't worry, I'm sure they're fine – but we're just going to be safe."
Ume nodded, relief crashing over her. Sasuke was right. The two probably just got sidetracked or they got into a fight. Or, maybe they got lost. Jin always did have a bad sense of direction… and ditto to Yoshi on that. Her friends were just fine…
The two then took off, heading into the forest. Little did Ume know, the dark feeling inside Sasuke only grew, and he just barely shuddered at the thought of his deceased clan.
It was sundown when Jin began to stir. The sky was turning a deep shade of blue, but the stars weren't shining just yet. At that point, Yoshi had begun to drift off as well, but snapped awake when Jin's crystal clear blue eyes cracked open.
He breathed out slowly, "Yo…Yoshi? That you?"
Yoshi nodded, "Yeah, yeah! It's me. Are you okay?"
Jin blinked harder, trying to focus his eyes. "What happened?" He sat up, but a shooting pain flew down his leg, and he cringed, pushing his head into Yoshi's chest. His voice cracked, "Ow, ow, nevermind."
Yoshi laughed weakly, "Yeaaaah, you got hurt pretty bad. You stopped bleeding a long time ago, but you lost a lot. I wouldn't recommend walking for a while."
Jin could barely nod, "I'm not gonna, believe me." He chuckled, but grew quiet and squeaked (which was weird, because he was used to Jin's strong and even tone), "…What about Ran?"
"I'm not sure. I haven't heard anything, so I assume that he's not around at the moment." Yoshi explained, adjusting Jin in his arms so he was more comfortable. Jin visibly winced at this, as his leg had been pushed up against one of the rocks (the space they were hiding in was only so big). "Eh! Sorry!" He quickly apologized.
"S'okay." Jin murmured, shifting his shoulders. "But a word of advice? Don't get bit by the dragon."
Yoshi snorted, "I'll keep that in mind…" The two sat in silence for a couple of minutes, unsure of what to say. They had already apologized, but they hadn't exactly done anything productive…
"So, about earlier," the two both began, but stopped at the same time when they realized the other was talking.
"You first," Jin offered.
Yoshi sighed, "Okay…" Before he said anything, he thought it through, because the last time this came up he totally screwed it over. "So, listen, I really meant what I said. I'm sorry. Sensei didn't tell me to say it, but he did make me realize what I was doing. I just don't think about what I'm saying until it's already been said…"
Jin nodded as he spoke, "Yeah, sorry. I was just peeved off when you said all those things. I mean, I've always been talked to like that, and I was just at my boiling point. I forgive you, okay? Let's just forget about all that stuff and move on."
He held out his hand, and Jin smiled, taking it, "Friends."
The two smiled at each other genuinely for the first time in a long time… well, for the first time. And frankly, Jin felt more at ease – like he wasn't at war with his own teammate. As for Yoshi, well, the same thing was on his mind.
"Well, isn't this sweet?"
The two's smiles immediately fell from their faces, the horror in their eyes growing as their heads spun around. His pale face was seen clearly through the crack of the boulders, his black hair almost falling over his eyes. His pearly white teeth shone through his grin.
Yoshi eyes widened when he saw Ran place his hands into a familiar seal. Without even thinking, he blurted, "Sorry, Jin!" and slid his arms beneath his teammate and lifted him up. Jin yelped, his leg throbbing in pain, but before he could protest Yoshi was already up on his feet and darting out of their hiding place.
But Ran was already chasing after them, and as they ran, Jin watched him coming from over Yoshi's shoulder. He saw him pull out a shuriken from its holster, and immediately shot his hand to his hip for a kunai.
Jin blinked, "Where's my pouch?!"
Yoshi's feet pounded against the rocky surface, and he said, "Uh, I think I forgot it! I took it off 'cause you were getting blood on it!"
"What?" Jin nearly shouted. This was just like Yoshi, never thinking about what would happen if they needed a quick escape.
Jin was about to scold him, when he saw four shuriken coming their way. "INCOMING!" He screamed, and Yoshi shouted,
"Don't you think I know that?"
But instead of dodging the shuriken, they embedded themselves into Yoshi's back, and he cried out, stumbling, but just for a moment. He quickly regained his composure, standing back up.
"Why didn't you dodge?" Jin asked him, reaching over and pulling one of the shuriken from his back. Luckily, they didn't sink in too deep, and didn't hit anything too important (i. e. his spine).
"Because I wasn't talking about Ran!" Yoshi shouted, and Jin whirled his head around until he saw a flash of blue in his peripheral vision, and realized Ran wasn't the only one chasing them.
Readying the shuriken in his hand, he snapped his arm forward and let the weapon go, watching it fly through the air. It hit dead-center on its target – the eye of the blue dragon.
The Dragon wailed, roaring, its body twisting in pain. Purple liquid seeped from its eye, but it didn't stop. It continued to fly. Jin swore lightly, pulling another shuriken out, and aiming it at his target. He missed the head, but it managed to embed itself in the tail.
"Yoshi, duck!" Jin shouted, as the black dragon emerged from seemingly nowhere and snapped its mighty jaws at the two boys. As told, Yoshi ducked and rolled, not letting go of his comrade. The second they stopped rolling, he picked himself back up and zipped forward.
The second they did, Jin picked out the third weapon, tossing it carelessly at the black dragon, who was almost on top of them now. The blue one wasn't too far behind, but they were way ahead of Ran now.
"Jin, hold on!" Yoshi warned him, and Jin wrapped one of his arms around Yoshi's neck, keeping himself in place. He grit his teeth, remembering the pain in his leg, that was now shooting up his spine and into his neck. He whimpered when Yoshi suddenly jumped up, landing on a tree branch and going from there.
Jin bit into Yoshi's shoulder, and Yoshi cringed.
It was then he remembered about Jin's leg, and he paused (only briefly, you could hardly say he even stopped – faulted was a better word) but went on. He suddenly felt horrible – putting Jin through this sort of pain. Then again, it was better than leaving him to fend for himself against Ran and his Dragons.
Yoshi's eyes narrowed. He knew that he had to hide Jin and face Ran himself. If he didn't, Jin wouldn't last like this. He needed to take the offensive and-
"Yo-" Jin began, but before he could even finish, a blinding, white-hot pain seared into Yoshi's back, and he cried out, falling forward – rather, he was catapulted forward by the blue Dragon's tail. It must have swung its tail at him. He toppled over, the two boys smacking down onto the ground and rolling over a good ten feet before coming to a stop.
In the end, Jin fell out of Yoshi's arms, landing just a couple inches away from him. The two boys only laid there for a moment, paralyzed.
Yoshi then pushed himself up, but lost his breath, just from the movement in his arm. He cried out, falling face-first back into the dirt, the pain blurring his vision in white.
"-Shi! –Oshi! YOSHI!" Jin screamed at him, propping himself up on one elbow and shaking him. "Yoshi, snap out of it! Hey!"
Yoshi began to tremble, "S-sorry…" He shifted his arm, but the second he did, he yelped.
Jin took Yoshi in his arms, sitting up (it was all he could do to not scream in pain). He would have liked to carry Yoshi properly, but all he could do was take him from under the arms. He used his leg that wasn't injured to push himself up of the ground, but the second he put his other foot on the ground he cried out, but forced himself not to fall over. He managed to jump three times – giving them at least another twelve feet.
The second he landed the last time, however, he collapsed over, falling over into the dirt. His left arm was still hooked over Yoshi, so with his other arm he began to crawl, pulling Yoshi along with him, who was gagging up spit and blood.
"Come out, come out where ever you are!" Ran shouted, and before he could find them, Jin took his comrade and rolled behind a large tree, propping himself and Yoshi up.
He was breathing heavily, but nonetheless he asked, "Yoshi, are you okay?"
Yoshi just barely nodded, shifting closer to Jin, "Y-yeah… I think s-so."
"Shh," he whispered. "Everything's going to be alright." He looked away from his comrade, who was now shaking violently, blood still falling from his lips. He listened, closing his eyes, for Ran's footsteps, which were getting fainter and fainter.
"J-J-Jin," Yoshi stammered, clinging onto Jin's shirt. He pushed himself against his friend, his breath short.
"Don't worry, I'm sure sensei has noticed we're gone. He'll come for us." He assured him, putting an arm over his shoulder, but still not looking at him.
Yoshi's back was now soaked in blood, turning his blue shirt a menacing shade of black. Tears poured from his eyes, falling onto Jin's shirt. His vision began to blur again…
"No, no, I mean…," Yoshi began. "You'll g-g-get me out of here, w-w-w-won't you?"
Jin held onto him tighter, trying to pinpoint Ran's location. It was so hard to focus with his leg and Yoshi to worry about… "Of course I will. You're my friend."
There was a hollow feeling inside Yoshi that suddenly felt warm, and he smiled, his eyes becoming calm. After so long, he was finally… "J-Jin's friend, huh? I… I like the sound of that…"
Jin's eyes widened, and he whirled his head to face him, "What?"
"That's… that's my title…" Yoshi said just above a whisper, the tears still falling out of his eyes. "Jin's f-friend… that's my title."
Something inside Jin suddenly clicked, and his heart leapt into his throat. "What? No! Yoshi, just hold on a little longer!"
Yoshi barely heard him, "After so… long, you and I… We're… we're finally friends… Isn't t-that right?" His voice was beginning to fail on him, and he hiccupped another pint of blood.
Jin moved his other arm to cradle his friend, pushing his nose into Yoshi's hair. He was silent, and shaking, but he finally whispered, "Yeah… Yeah, Yoshi. You're my friend." Warm, salty drops of water fell from his eyes and onto Yoshi's cheeks, which were growing cold.
Yoshi smiled, his eyes becoming foggy. "Always… always…"
Jin racked out a sob, trying to be quiet, but he couldn't.
"Jin, I really meant what I said. I'm sorry."
Yoshi's voice from different places echoed through him. Jin tried to pretend that it was really Yoshi saying it now.
Yoshi glared at Sasuke, "What do you mean I did it wrong! I totally got it right!" Jin rolled his eyes.
Yoshi, Ume and Jin all laughing, sharing ice-cream, hardly even noticing the people giving them weird looks – one of those people being their own sensei.
Lying next to each other just after training, too tired to even care about fighting.
Back to back in battle, facing the enemy even when the odds weren't in their favor.
"One day, I'll have the best title there is!"
"I'm sorry," Jin sobbed. "I'm so sorry, Yoshi…"
Yoshi was smiling, his breath suddenly stopping short.
Full of life.
Yoshi and Ume, smiling at each other underneath a cherry tree. Yoshi pulled Ume into a hug, ruffling her hair. Ume giggling like she always did, followed after Yoshi's boastful laugh.
Yoshi… not dead.
"This is my fault," Jin breathed, his lips trembling. He could feel Yoshi's blood seeping into his sleeve, staining his clothes. He could smell the dead in the air.
There was still so much more to say, so much to be done.
He couldn't be dead, not yet, not now.
The air suddenly grew quiet, the forest sounds coming to a stop.
"It sure is."
The green, fair-haired shinobi breath stopped short, gasping, as Ran's foot smacked itself into Jin's shoulder. He cried out, falling over on top of his cold friend. Yoshi didn't complain at all. He just lay there, lifeless.
Ran grinned, his shiny black hair gleaming in the sunlight. Jin's face was buried into Yoshi's chest, where his blood that he spit out was. There was metal in his mouth, and he nearly gagged form the taste.
Before he could do anything, however, Ran's weight fell on him, his foot coming down on his spine. "How sad," he sing-songed, like it was some sort of joke. "You're best buddy died before you could save him. And he did so much for you. You must feel like an ass. Who would ever betray their comrade like that?"
Jin couldn't say anything. Although he hated to admit it, he was crying in front of the enemy. He still was. Usually, he could be completely composed in front of the enemy, but no matter how hard he tried, no matter how much he told himself, he couldn't stop the tears.
Ran's foot lifted off him, and then crashed down onto him again. And again, and again. Ran's laughter roared in his ears, "Look at you! Still trying to stay strong, huh? What do you think you're doing? Protecting a dead person? How pathetic! How can you even call yourself a shinobi?"
Everyone always said Jin was a better ninja, a better comrade than Yoshi was. But they were all wrong. Sure, Jin cared about his comrades, but he never stood up for them like Yoshi did.
"You can't treat people like that!"
Jin was cold, that's how he always was. He never considered anyone else's feelings, not like Yoshi did. Maybe Yoshi was mean to him, but he was the only one. To everyone else, Yoshi was that friend you could always count on, no matter what.
"Who would ever betray their comrade like that?"
Had Jin really betrayed him? Did he really let Yoshi die?
Jin tried to drive his voice away from him, still clutching Yoshi in his arms. He wouldn't let anyone hurt Yoshi ever again. Dead or alive, he wasn't going to use his comrade like some sort of shield.
Lying there felt like an eternity. Reality came and phased out, only to come back when Ran brought his foot down on Jin's leg. When reality was absent, however, Ran's laughter sounded like he was underwater, and he could almost hear Yoshi's kind, loud laugh instead.
Jin closed his spindrift blue eyes, trying to subside the pain. His sobs still came out painfully, his ribcage screaming at him. He couldn't move, couldn't get up. He'd wasted all of his energy pulling Yoshi aside, away from harm.
"The shinobi world," Jin could hear Yoshi whispered, after their first C-Rank mission. To save Ume, Yoshi had had to take down a shinobi with his bare hands for the first time, and back then, he had no control over his lightning techniques, accidentally killing an innocent civilian. "…it's really a cruel world, isn't it?"
Jin couldn't agree more.
Everything suddenly began to grow dark, and Jin closed his eyes, accepting death…
"You'll g-g-get me out of here, w-w-w-won't you?"
Jin's eyes opened. No, he had to stick through the pain. He had to bring Yoshi back home.
"Jin! Jin, snap out of it!"
Ume's voice brought Jin back to the world of the living, gasping, bringing his head up. Ume had tears in her pink eyes, and she was trying to pull Jin up.
Jin held tighter onto Yoshi, but looked up at Ume. The pain in his back and leg were still there, but the weight that was on him had disappeared.
"Where's-" he managed, before he heard Ran's strangled cry. He craned his neck, seeing his sensei standing before Ran. Ran's eyes were bloodshot – a black fire enveloping him as he choked himself with his own hands.
The Mangekyo… and the Amaterasu. Sasuke must have known about Yoshi's predicament – because he would never use techniques like that against someone lesser than him.
Within seconds, Ran fell dead, and it was then Jin noticed that not too far off, two dragons lay dead, purple liquid oozing from their bodies. He could just barely make them out in the darkness.
Sasuke turned around, hate and sorrow evident. His red, menacing eyes faded to black, and he whispered,
Rain fell on Jin's shoulders. He no longer had an umbrella, because when he told Ryou to go home, he let his brother take one the umbrella's home, and had cast away the other one. He didn't want shelter or protection right now.
He didn't exactly deserve it.
Yoshi's grave looked exactly like all the rest – a marble slab with the Konohagakure symbol etched on the top in red. Beneath that read:
Everyone had that written on their graves. Usually after that, they would write a couple of words honoring that person. But, as Yoshi's request, only his title was carved beneath it.
If you were just a passerby, just a kid cleaning up the graves, you would never understand the emotional depth behind those two seemingly-meaningless words. But to Jin, it was nearly all of his existence. That was who he was, too. Yoshi's friend.
And it hurt. It hurt to know that they were friends, torn apart, no longer by each other's side. It hurt to know that just when they began to understand each other, when they finally began to see that other side of themselves, that that was when they were torn apart.
Even Jin had limits, and death was one of them.
His shoulders shook as something in between a cry, a sob, and a laugh escaped him. Such irony. Such tragedy. Such anger.
Jin had seen many things in the shinobi world, but this… this was something on a whole new level.
He dropped to his knees.
Sometimes, he felt like this wasn't real, that it couldn't be real. It was all just some nasty, horrible, gruesome-induced nightmare. Maybe Ran had a specialty in Genjutsu, and he had made this entire thing up. Maybe in some other reality Yoshi was still smiling and laughing and shouting. Maybe he was still alive somewhere.
Yet the other half of him was screaming to get a grip. That this was over and there was nothing he could do about it. Yoshi was dead, and that was the cruel, undeniable truth that he wanted to face so badly. But he couldn't. It was some dumb lie made up to… to…
A hand rested on his shoulder.
Jin's eyes widened. His heart leapt into his throat, and he spun around, "Yoshi?"
Dead weight fell on his chest when his blue eyes came in contact with Naruto's blonde hair and whiskered face.
His muscles relaxed, "Oh. You."
He turned away from Naruto, back to the stone. Naruto knelt down beside him, holding an umbrella. Although Jin didn't notice it, it was his own umbrella.
"Sasuke told me what happened. He's beating himself up for this – Ume, too." Naruto told him, but Jin wouldn't look at him. Ume and Sensei had no part in his death. It was all Jin's fault. If he hadn't gotten hurt in the first place, maybe they could've gotten away, and maybe Yoshi would still be here.
"I remember…" Naruto started, grief detected in his laugh. "When I was still a Genin, I was sure I hated Sasuke. He was always better at everything than I was. Sakura-chan still liked him back then, and he was able to do more ninjutsu than I could."
Jin tried to block out his voice. He tried to imagine Yoshi smiling.
"But there was part of me that looked up to him, you know? He was one of the first people to acknowledge my existence. He was strong and fought for us. I was sure he was my best friend. But he left. He sought power and revenge and left-"
"What's the point in all of this?" Jin snapped. "I can't go seeking revenge. Ran is already dead. And it's not like Yoshi just left the village. He left his life. I can't bring him back!"
His screams echoed through the graveyard.
But as soon as his screams died down, silence took its place. Jin shuddered at the silence.
"…I know. And death is a painful thing. It's cold and all it gives us is hate and sorrow." Naruto's voice became soft. Jin didn't even know that Naruto's voice could get like this. He didn't realize that the Rokudaime had such sorrow.
Jin clenched the grass beneath his feet. Naruto was right. That was all he could feel. Hate at himself and Ran. Sorrow for the loss of his friend, for what it did to his comrades.
"But… sometimes, it can give us strength. Ambition."
Jin's head rose, if only by an inch.
"I wasn't strong enough to stop my master's death. I wasn't strong enough to stop Sasuke from leaving the village. But I realized that moping wasn't going to do anything for me, so I stood up and trained myself. I became strong so I could protect what I still had. Kakashi-sensei, Sakura-chan… all of my friends, and my village.
"Death can make everyone hurt, but… it can also make us strong. Let Yoshi support you. Make yourself strong to protect Ume. Because one day she'll need you, and if you can't stand up for her, the same thing that happened to Yoshi will happen to her."
Jin's eyes welled with tears. His mother didn't get back up and left Ryou and himself to fend for themselves. He knew Ume was counting on him. She needed someone, she always would. He wouldn't die and he wouldn't leave Ume alone to die. And even if it didn't seem it, his Sensei needed strength, too.
"But don't let that get in the way of your grieving. Give yourself time to heal, even if it's just a little-" Naruto was cut off when Jin suddenly spun around digging his face into Naruto's chest and wrapping his arms around him, and sobbed.
Naruto was surprised for a moment, but smiled sadly, and hugged Jin.
"T-Thank you, Hokage-sama… Thank you…"
Maybe it was his fault. It always seemed to be his fault, anyway. He wasn't there when Yoshi needed him. He was the one who came up with the strategy. Yoshi's life was on his shoulders, and he let it fall. He left Yoshi into Jin's hands… a newly appointed Chuunin's hands…. It wasn't fair to put Jin through this, either. Why did this happen?
Sasuke blinked, reeled back into the world of the living. He lifted his chin off of his knuckles, turning away from the rain-stained window, and to his son, Hikaru.
Hikaru looked up at him with bright black eyes. He gave Sasuke a small smile, "I made you a picture at school today." He held up a small colored-on piece of paper to Sasuke.
The Uchiha reached down and took the paper into his fingertips. He flipped the page over, and saw a poorly drawn house in brown crayon. Next to it was a crowd of people.
The first five were easy to pick out. Sasuke was the one with the black spiky hair, and Karin was the one with red spiky hair jutting out from one side of her misshapen head. The next were three kids – two of the same height – one with red hair and the other with black – and the other a taller boy with black hair. Jihaku and Kisu, the red and black haired twins, were always easy to define because they always looked like midgets and had their tongues stuck out.
The next two people were Jin and Ume – only, these two were crying, unlike everyone else in the picture.
"Why are they crying?" Sasuke asked. He would usually ruffle Hikaru on the head and tell him it was a good picture… but this seemed a bit more important.
"Because Jinny-nii and Ume-nee keep crying. And I haven't seen Yo-nii in forever, so I didn't draw him… Why are Jinny-nii and Ume-nee crying all the time?" Sasuke had nearly forgotten how the power of a child's innocence could make one so weak.
There was silence, until Hikaru spoke, "Dad…? Dad, why are you crying?"
Small drops of water fell onto the picture, "It's nothing, Hikaru. Nothing. Just… Don't count on Yoshi to come back for a while, okay?"
"…Why? Is he on a big mission? Did he move away?"
The rain pounded against the window.
"Far, far away. But don't worry, I'm sure he'll be okay…" Sasuke uttered, his voice suddenly weak. He reached out with his free hand and rubbed Hikaru's raven black hair, much like his own. "I love the picture. You're definitely my son."
Hikaru beamed, but didn't seem to really notice his father's emotional state anymore. He just gave him a small, respectable bow and scurried out of the room, a smile playing on his lips.
Sasuke buried his hands into his face, and let another tear fall.
He would never let this happen again. Even if it killed him, he would never lose another important person to him. He'd already lost enough.
Earlier that morning, Jin sent her a letter on his messenger hawk to meet him up on the Hokage mountain at twilight. Honestly, she didn't know what to expect. Right now, she wasn't able to process any situation like she used to. She just could shake the memory from her mind.
"Jin! Yoshi!" Ume cried, as she approached the setting. Ran stopped smacking his foot into Jin's spine, and turned just barely to get a glimpse of them. Sasuke's eyes had gone from an angry void of black to a murderous red within a half a second.
At that point, Ume didn't understand that Yoshi was already dead. She could only hear Jin sobbing into Yoshi's torso, cringing in pain every so often.
She hardly even saw Sasuke move as he sped towards Ran. Ran smirked, jumping back, mouthing words she couldn't hear. All she could hear was Jin. She couldn't move, couldn't breathe. She didn't even know how she got herself up and to Jin, where she saw Yoshi's glassy eyes and blood running down his pale lips.
She fell to her knees, as Jin continued to let out strangled cries. It was like he hadn't even noticed help had arrived.
Ume pushed onto Jin's shoulder, trying to snap him out of it. When he didn't, she shook him harder. But he wouldn't snap out of it. So he shook him, slapped him, screaming at him until she finally cried,
"Jin! Jin, snap out of it!"
The cries of sorrow stopped, and Jin looked up at her.
Ume would never look at Jin the same way again. She couldn't, not after that. She loved them both so much, and she knew that it wouldn't last… but why? Why?
She glanced up at Jin as she neared the last of the steps, and he seemed clearer today. Like the calm after a big storm. He wasn't completely back to his old calm composure, but he seemed lighter today. Less anguish in his soul.
She called out to him, and had to clear her throat because it had been so hoarse from crying. He turned to her, giving her an almost sad smile.
She took this as an invitation, and strolled over to his side, resting her elbows on the rails. She didn't say anything – she knew she looked terrible from the loss of sleep and the gain of crying. She hadn't really worked on her hair that came down to her shoulder blades now.
"Is your leg okay?" She wondered, not looking at him. She could still feel a lump in her throat.
"Mm-hm." He hummed. "It's getting better. Still hurts if I walk too much on it, but yeah, it's healing."
The silence roared on. Ume wasn't really sure what to say.
"So… what's up?" She started again, coughing.
Jin didn't say anything for a long time. They watched the sunset for a long time, memorizing how the color streaked across the sky. It was fascinating how just the sun could make such a beautiful sight.
"I… I need to talk to you. About Yoshi." Jin said slowly. It was the first time he had said Yoshi's name out loud to her since it happened.
"What is it?" She wondered, taking her eyes off the sky and to Jin's flawless features. It was funny, really. Jin never once cared about physical appearances and yet he was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen.
He sighed, "I'm sorry I wasn't able to… to protect him."
"I don't blame you for it." Ume admitted. It was true. She didn't. "I knew what you did to protect him. I was there. You did all you could."
Jin's hands gripped the railings. She placed a hand on his shoulder softly, giving him a small smile. He nodded at her.
"Thank you… but, I also wanted to talk to you about something else."
She blinked, "What?" She didn't know how Jin could think of anything else besides that.
He smiled, and for the first time since it happened, she saw clarity in his eyes. "I've decided what I'm going to do. I don't want to mope around forever. I want to keep moving forward. And to do that, I want to make sure this doesn't ever happen again. I don't want to lose you, Ume."
This usually would have gotten her to blush, but tears fell from her eyes instead. She knew exactly how he felt.
"I'm going to study as a medic ninja. I'm going to ask Sakura-san for some lessons, and then I'm going to travel and learn as I go. Help people on the way. I think I'll be gone for a while, but when I get back, I promise you I'll protect you."
Ume couldn't speak. Jin always used to say that he wasn't suited to be a medic nin. He never said anything bad of them, he just said that he wasn't interested in the caretaking field. He was the offensive.
"Just promise me that when I'm gone… you'll be able to take care of yourself." Jin looked up at her, and she realized then the sun was almost gone, and the sky was turning a light shadow of purple.
"Okay," she told him. "Okay, Jin."
That wasn't enough. He took her by the shoulders, "Promise me, Ume."
Ume smiled, "I promise, Jin."
I promise I'll become strong too. If not for Yoshi, then for you. I want to be able to protect you.
Jin glanced over to the window, Ryou poking his head out of it.
"What're you doing on the roof?"
"Just watching the sky. Why?"
"Because I don't want you to fall of the roof. What other reason could there be?"
Jin laughed, scooting over to the side. "Do you wanna come up here?"
Ryou thought about it, "Eh, why not?" The older of the Fujioka brother stepped out onto the window sill, taking a seat next to his brother. The older laid his head back onto his arms, watching the sky turn a light shade of purple.
"So, you're leaving tomorrow?" Ryou started, watching his brother.
Jin nodded, "That's the plan. The first place I'm going to is the Fire Temple, so I won't be that far away. I'll send letters."
Ryou sighed, "Just be safe. I tend to worry if you go down the street. I'm not going to like you being all around the world."
"I'm just going to be gone one year, two tops."
"You say that like it's not that bad."
He laughed, "I guess it's going to be weird. But I am a Chuunin, and technically I'm allowed to go out on my own. And the Hokage is letting me, so-"
"I don't care whether you're allowed to or not. The problem is I'm going to be worrying about you day and night." Ryou muttered, crossing his arms.
The younger snorted, "Okay there, mumzies. I'll do my best to stay in touch."
"You'd better – oh, look! I found the Big Dipper!" Ryou shouted excitedly, pointing up to the sky. Jin followed his finger, looking up to the constellation.
His blue eyes widened as he picked up a star to the right of it. He hadn't seen that one there before.
"Aren't the stars beautiful?"
Yoshi's words rung in his head, much like a lullaby.
To the right of the Big Dipper was a star, dim but still there. Jin remembered Yoshi telling him that star was his uncle, who died in the Fourth Great War.
But just below it was a star that outshined all the rest, beaming in glory that it was there. That star hadn't been there before, but it was there now.
"Jin?" Ryou's voice almost went unnoticed as a single tear fell down the younger brother's cheek.
They are, Yoshi. They are.