Kazekage, Chapter 1: Chuunin
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
World: AU in which Sasori never left Suna. Follows most other canon events. I'm taking a little liberty with ages (a few years here and there), but nothing crazy.
Notes: Dedicated to Sunny, who convinced me to write properly about the Sand sibs awhile back. I'm finally getting around to it.
Sasori sat alone on a metal bench in the stadium's waiting room, quiet as he half listened to the chatter of the other soon-to-be Chuunin gathered from around the continent for the biannual exams.
"I wish they'd move this along faster. I feel like I'm gonna explode if I don't just get out there and get this over with soon."
"Complaining's not going to change anything, Pakura. Just wait your turn like the rest of us."
Pakura was a short girl with a shorter temper. Pretty but plain, she was one of the most dangerous Genin in Suna with a rare bloodline limit which alone put her on track to making the Bingo books. She rolled her eyes. "Easy for you to say, Baki. You already fought your match."
"And I won," Baki said, half smiling against the new stitches that ran in a zigzagging train track down the left side of his face from temple to chin. Bandages concealed his left eye and wrapped around his head, hiding some of the limp brown hair that seemed more exhausted than he did. His opponent, Uchiha Shisui of Konoha, came out looking much worse with his chest opened up and a team of medics scrambling to whisk him away from a crowd of jeering onlookers. Baki was the best in their year with blades.
"Yeah, and now you've only got one eye, Captain Hook. You only beat that Uchiha kid 'cause you got lucky."
"Captain Hook was missing a hand, not an eye, idiot. And it's called skill, not luck."
"Peter Pan still beat the shit outta him all the same." Pakura grinned, and her face lit up. The plainness of her brown and gold features came to life when she smiled.
"Knock it off," Sasori said, leaning his head back on his palms. "People are staring."
The other waiting Genin eyed Pakura and Baki as they argued, but no one said a word. Most of the other kids were concerned about their upcoming fights. Sasori didn't care about them, but he did care about attracting unwanted attention. Too many people gathered in close quarters made him uneasy.
Pakura crossed her arms and tossed her head, her long bangs swishing with the motion. "Let them look. I hope they piss themselves."
Baki took a seat next to Sasori and sighed. It reminded Sasori of an old man sitting to rest his aching bones. Baki had always been a little dramatic. "Who're you fighting, Sasori?"
"Iwano Keisuke of Stone."
"That's 'cause he's nothing special. Sasori's got this in the bag," Pakura said, facing her teammates.
"Sasori's got this either way," Baki said, tapping Sasori's arm. "You must be bored out of your mind here, huh?"
"No more or less than either of you."
Of the fifteen students in their Academy class, only the three of them had graduated to Genin early. Now, at the ripe old age of ten, they were poised to take the Chuunin exams upon the recommendation of their instructor, Kurogane, the Third Kazekage.
"You know, I think Kurogane-sensei's just lazy. He's obviously bored with us and wants to get back to doing his Kazekage stuff. Easiest way to do that is to make us take the Chuunin exams so we don't need a teacher anymore," Pakura said.
"Weren't you the one who was so impatient to fight? Make up your mind already," Baki said.
"Candidates Hoshigaki Kisame of Kiri and Pakura of Suna please report to the loading dock immediately."
The speaker crackled as though the announcer were speaking through wet wool. Pakura sprang out of her seat.
"All right! About time, geez. You guys gonna watch my match?"
Baki sighed. "You know Sasori's gotta stay here until his match. I'll watch, though."
"That rule is such crap."
Sasori fixed Pakura with an unreadable expression. "Just go and make it fast. Try not to destroy the grounds. Some of us still have to use them when you're done."
Pakura grinned. "I'm not making any promises, but I'll do my best to leave you something to work with."
Sasori cracked a smile despite himself. There were worse teammates to be stuck with, he supposed.
"Quit hanging around," Baki said, shooing her away. "You were the one whining about wanting to hurry up and fight, so get moving."
"God, you're such a mom."
Sasori watched them go, alone now in his corner of the waiting room. He closed his eyes and listened to the sound of his breathing. It was no good to think about what lay ahead. Whatever happened, happened. The contestants this year were strong, stronger than the previous years' according to his teacher. Baki's opponent, Uchiha Shisui, was called a prodigy. Sasori had to agree with Pakura—Baki had only won because he'd gotten lucky. The Sharingan was strong and unlike any technique Sasori had ever seen in Suna. The Mist candidates all looked as ferocious as they fought. Pakura's opponent, Hoshigaki Kisame, was known as the Monster of the Bloody Mist, probably with good reason. But Pakura was a monster herself. She wouldn't be beaten easily. Terumī Mei, another Mist candidate, had decimated her opponent in the preliminaries, and Sasori remembered thinking that he wouldn't mind fighting her now.
Chiyo had not wanted him to enter the exams. Sasori's grandmother was the type to keep to herself, and Sasori had acquired this behavior from an early age. He hadn't had much choice in the matter after the deaths of his parents. He was five at the time, already training at the Academy with a promising future as a star shinobi if he worked hard. They never came back from a mission, and when Sasori asked Chiyo why, she hesitated. Was it okay to talk to a five-year-old about death, especially when these deaths were so close to them both?
In the end, Sasori's great uncle Ebizō convinced her to be honest with him. Sasori was a shinobi in training, and these lessons were better learned quickly. He didn't cry, accepting his parents' deaths and attending the Academy as normal. It wasn't until he was walking home one day with Chiyo and saw a classmate run to embrace his parents who'd just returned from a mission that something in him broke. Seeing their happy faces, the parents that smiled for their young son despite the blood on their uniforms, was too much. Sasori cried himself to sleep that night under Chiyo's watchful eye as she rubbed his back and let him be. It was the longest she'd ever stayed with him.
After that, things got a little easier. At least, the pain was easier to ignore as Sasori threw himself into the practice of puppetry and his Academy studies. When he began creating his own puppets at the age of seven, the Third Kazekage took an interest in him. Chiyo was too busy with the Puppet Brigade to properly train her grandson beyond the basics. He didn't need it, anyway; the puppet technique was soon second nature, and Sasori worked best alone.
But the Kazekage insisted on taking him on as a student. For the first year, it was only the two of them. Pakura and Baki graduated the Academy early, and the Kazekage decided it was time for Sasori to learn how to work with others. The training was brutal—to kill one's emotions was to become the perfect soldier. But Kurogane the man, the teacher, the uncle to the young man who would one day succeed him as Kazekage, knew that the law was more of a guideline.
"I'm not training machines.That's what your puppets are for.You can make as many as you want, but it takes a real person to wield them.Understand, Sasori?"
He hadn't at the time. What use were teammates? What was there beyond honing his skills, finding ways to make his puppets faster, deadlier, sturdier? He got his answer when Pakura nearly died on a mission watching his back. Sasori was not as skilled in close combat as his teammates, making them a good mix. But he hadn't expected an enemy to break through his perfect machines and get to him directly. He also hadn't expected Pakura to jump in and protect him. He hadn't asked her to.
"'S what teammates do, idiot," she'd said as Sasori used the rudimentary knowledge of medical ninjutsu he had to patch up the gash in her belly until they could transport her back to Suna.
And now, here they were ready to graduate from their Genin status and become an independent team. Chiyo's protests had fallen on deaf ears, although Sasori couldn't imagine why she would be opposed to this in the first place. This was a natural step forward for all shinobi, and he was in a better position to take it than most. He put it out of his mind and tried to relax before his impending match.
Thundering sounds roused him from his thoughts. Pakura's Boil Release didn't sound like that. Her opponent must be the culprit. He wished he could watch the match, but rules were rules. He was sure Pakura would tell him all about it later. It wasn't long until the speaker crackled to life once more.
"Candidates Hatake Kakashi of Konoha and Sasori of Suna please report to the loading dock immediately."
Sasori didn't react right away. That wasn't the name of the opponent he'd been paired with earlier in the day. Curious, he rose to find one of the proctors. Hatake. That name sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it. It mattered little. Whoever this boy was, Sasori would face him and end the spectacle as quickly as possible.
A few of the proctors were conversing next to some lockers, and they stole glances at Sasori as he walked by. He frowned but said nothing until one of them stopped him at the exit leading to the arena.
"Sasori, wait a sec."
A Jounin proctor with rusty hair and sharp eyes put a hand on Sasori's shoulder.
Kaname was the Kazekage's nephew and in line to assume the leadership of Suna after his uncle. He was a familiar face. Not a friend, but one of the few Jounin Sasori was used to seeing on a regular basis due to their mutual acquaintance with the Kazekage.
"Listen, there's something you should know before you head out there."
"Is it about the sudden change in the match up? I thought I was fighting a Genin from Stone."
"He forfeited, and the matchups were reshuffled," Kaname explained. "This kid, Hatake, you know him?"
Again, the name rang a bell but Sasori couldn't place it. "No. What's going on?"
At that moment, a masked boy with wild, silver hair walked by escorted by a blond Konoha Jounin.
"Kaname-san," the blond Jounin said.
"Namikaze." Kaname dipped his head in greeting. His hand still rested upon Sasori's shoulder.
"Let's hope for a good match."
Kaname's eyes fell to the boy, Kakashi. "…We'll be out in a minute."
The Konoha Jounin smiled. "Not a problem. I'll let the proctor know."
Sasori watched the pair trail out, still confused. "What's going on?" he said, irritated that he had to repeat the question.
Kaname watched the door close behind the pair, his angular jaw set too tight. "That was Namikaze Minato. You'll be fighting his student, Hatake Kakashi. Sasori, that boy's father was Hatake Sakumo. You might recognize him by his nickname: Konoha's White Fang."
The man who'd murdered his parents. Chiyo hadn't wanted to reveal the man's identity, but eventually it came out. Sasori used to have nightmares about a great, white beast with fangs longer than his arm, dripping blood. Sometimes he still saw the beast in the shadows, a trick of the light.
Konoha's White Fang.
He clenched his fists to keep the fury hidden, but Kaname saw it. He gripped Sasori's shoulder tighter.
"Listen, kid. I know this is probably a shock to you, but you have to put it aside. Don't let your emotions screw this up. My uncle trained you better than that. I just thought you should know before you go in there."
There was no pity or understanding in Kaname's eyes. This was an order, not a request. Sasori suddenly felt like making someone bleed. Taking a few deep breaths, he slowly unclenched his fists and let his expression fall into its usual neutral state.
Kaname didn't let go right away. Perhaps he could see past the façade to the simmering anger underneath waiting for a chance to explode. But he let Sasori go.
The walk to the arena was a short one. The doors opened and sunlight assaulted his eyes, too bright. The crowd cheered as he walked across the sandy earth to the center of the pit where Kakashi and a proctor waited.
"The match will end when one or both competitors is dead, out of chakra, or unconscious," the proctor announced.
Kakashi studied his opponent. This one was strong. He recalled how Sasori had decimated his opponent in the preliminaries. The Kusa kunoichi had never stood a chance. He placed a hand over the hilt of the Hakkō blade at his hip.
"Competitors, at your ready."
Sasori reached for two scrolls secured behind his back. Puppets, if Kakashi had to guess. This boy was highly proficient with the puppet technique, a special fighting style native to Suna and one he'd never encountered before. But Kakashi was strong, the best of his year. Hakkō was heavy at his hip, a constant reminder of the legacy he carried. The blood may be bad, but it was still blood.
Kakashi lunged forward and jabbed with Hakkō, aiming for Sasori's belly. To his frustration, the redhead turned to sand in the wake of the blade's white light path. Squinting, Kakashi spun around just in time to block a short sword aiming for his head—only, the wielder wasn't Sasori himself, but a wooden contraption.
Steel sang as Kakashi parried the puppet's blows one after the other, and still it came at him, its expression blank and wide-eyed as though seeing through him. It was like looking into a crevasse of something. The dark emptiness there frightened him, but survival outweighed fear long enough to keep him alive and fighting.
Sand squelched underfoot and Kakashi nearly lost his footing. The arrival of a second puppet launching a hail of senbon at him forced him to jump and deflect the sharp projectiles in midair. It was so fast!
All around them the crowd roared their appreciation. This was a battle for the books, not that Kakashi had ever been interested in other people's opinions of him.
(Slash, slash, follow the clicks, don't hesitate. He's right behind—) Sasori's puppets converged on Kakashi and managed to slash his thigh. The blood felt warm, and he remembered thinking it oddly mesmerizing as it sprayed the sand in front of him. But pain soon roused him from such hazy thoughts. If he was going to beat Sasori, he would have to get past these puppets and attack the source.
Honey eyes remained narrowed as the attacks became vicious. There was no mercy (not that Kakashi expected or wanted any). It was the strangest sensation, almost like Sasori was angry about something, but Kakashi couldn't guess the problem. Putting it aside, he hid himself under ground and let one of Sasori's puppets maul his clone. Once it burst into smoke, Kakashi waited for an opening, any kind of lapse in attention to strike.
It came after about eight seconds. Plunging through the sandy earth and zeroing in on Sasori's chakra signature, Kakashi emerged behind the puppets and lunged at Sasori with Hakkō as he had done before. This time, the blade struck true. Blood sprayed from Sasori's right pectoral where the skin had split in a deep gash. Some got in Kakashi's eye, and he was forced to counter with a visual impairment. Kakashi leaped backwards to avoid the instant backlash, but Sasori chased him.
Still, the crowd cheered on their carnage. Both sides had spilled blood, and both had everything to gain from winning. Kakashi needed to become a Chuunin so he could become stronger than the father who had let him down in every way a father could. This was just another step forward, as Minato said. There was no way Kakashi would lose this match.
Sasori pursued Kakashi with a mad look in his eyes that hadn't been there before. No, that wasn't quite right; it had been there, but it was too far away to see. Kakashi had ignored it when they greeted each other at the start of the battle, thinking it to be simple determination to succeed in the exam. But now he saw something darker there, something cold and lonely and desperate to win at all costs. It frightened him.
When Sasori attacked him directly with his own sword, Kakashi grunted with the effort to buffer the enemy blade. Sasori seemed to be unfazed by his wound despite the blood running down his clothes and staining his shoes. Something wasn't right.
"Sasori!" Kakashi said, calling his opponent's name for the first time.
This seemed to shift something in those empty honey eyes, and Kakashi immediately regretted speaking. The assault was relentless. For all his genius, Kakashi found himself evenly matched with a fellow genius. He'd thought for sure that Sasori would stand little chance at close range, but it seemed he was wrong. So wrong.
"Is it true?" Sasori said, blocking a jab to his temple.
Kakashi gritted his teeth and tried to remember to breathe in between attacks. "What?"
"Is it true!?"
The next blow struck Kakashi's arm and drew enough blood to worry him. There were also Sasori's puppets to worry about—
Sasori had him against the wall of the stadium suddenly, the flat of his sword against Kakashi's throat. Kakashi gasped for air, his right arm now slashed to ribbons and useless at his side. One eye (the eye not stained with blood) watched Sasori fall apart at the seams and shove him further into the wall.
"I don't..." Kakashi wracked his brain for a strategy.
In a moment of indecision between waves of fury, Kakashi saw his opening. With his good hand, he punched Sasori in the stomach with all his strength. The redhead stumbled backwards and gagged. He dropped his weapon, but didn't move to retrieve it. Putting space between them was more important. Kakashi recovered quickly enough and shifted Hakkō to his good hand. He wiped the blood from his eye, ignoring how it smeared his hand. His mask hindered his breathing, making his neck feel uncomfortably hot.
Unarmed and vulnerable, Sasori's shoulders and rose and fell with each strained breath he took. Kakashi ignored his own pain and brandished Hakkō at his opponent. All around, the crowd roared with approval, a death chant to finish off the loser and spill all his blood. They hadn't seen enough yet. Kakashi hesitated.
It was his undoing.
Weaponless and out of puppets, Sasori nonetheless shot his hands forward as though to throw something at Kakashi. Before Kakashi could figure out what was happening, he felt his body twitch unnaturally and fall to one knee. But he hadn't meant to do that.
Sasori advanced on him, and Kakashi watched, his fear mounting with each step. Blood painted battle stripes down Sasori's chest, an executioner marching to the stand. And all Kakashi could do was stare.
"Is it true?" Sasori repeated his earlier question.
Kakashi struggled against invisible shackles. It felt like he was trying to lift the weight of ten men, and his battered body screamed to relent. But there was no way, no way he could give up like this.
"Your father is Konoha's White Fang, right?"
Kakashi blinked, the sting of blood in his eyes making him wince. "Yeah, so?"
It appeared that was the wrong answer, however, because it set Sasori off even more. The redhead brought his hands down swift and hard, and Kakashi crashed to the ground. He cried out upon landing on his slashed arm.
"Dad, I'm taking the Chuunin exams tomorrow."
Tears stung his eyes, but he dared not let them fall. Sasori closed the distance between them and yanked Kakashi up by the collar. Sasori's eyes were bloodshot, his skin clammy. Kakashi wondered how he could fool anyone like this.
"They'll be in Suna. Won't you come watch?"
"Is it true that he killed them?"
Sasori bared his teeth. "My parents."
Kakashi didn't know how to respond, and it showed.
"Answer me. Damnit, answer me!"
Sasori shook him, and in that single moment his force of will faltered. Kakashi took the opportunity to reach around with Hakkō and stab Sasori in the side. The trail of white light it left behind glittered in the scorching desert sun. Sasori gasped, his eyes wide.
"Sorry, son. I can't go to Suna with you."
Sasori released Kakashi, who stumbled to the ground. For a moment, everything stood still, and he knew. He knew. Kakashi had never met Sasori, had never heard of him. But looking at him now, he knew it was true. Somehow, Kakashi was responsible for this pain they were both feeling.
Maybe that was why he didn't have the energy to avoid his own blade as it sank deep into his stomach. Sasori had pulled it free and turned it on its owner, and now they lay sprawled together on the red sand with nothing between them.
And the crowd cheered its approval. Carnage. Death. Blood. So much blood. This was the show they'd come to see.
Even the mighty desert sun couldn't keep Kakashi awake. Darkness slowly pulled him under with cool fingers, invisible claws sinking into him and spiriting him away somewhere far from here. Above him, Sasori watched with half-lidded eyes, and the sight there was enough to keep Kakashi from slipping away entirely. Gone was the madness.
"Damn you," Sasori said, his tears falling upon Kakashi's bloody face.
Kakashi sucked in a breath. Sound was escaping him, and all that existed in that moment was the two of them connected by blood, theirs and their fathers'. Kakashi could barely see through the haze of pain, and he wondered if this was what revenge felt like—what true hatred felt like. And he could not bring himself to resent Sasori even though he wasn't responsible.
"The winner is Sasori!" the exam proctor announced to the cheering crowd.
They stared at each other through Sasori's tears, and Kakashi wondered if he would die here. But hands, many hands, pulled Sasori off him soon and descended upon Kakashi with their cool, healing palms. Kakashi wheezed. It was hard to breathe with all that blood in his throat. Above, the medics spoke in garbled unison, and Kakashi realized he must be passing out.
High in the sky, the desert sun shone ever bright and scorching, but its warmth didn't reach Kakashi.
Sasori awoke alone and in darkness. The smell tipped him off that he was in the hospital. Not dead yet. Of course not. There were no flowers by his bedside. No letters, no Get Well Soon cards. There was only darkness and the smell of death not his own. It was comforting; he felt like he'd won something.
Not alone, then.
Sasori didn't bother to look at her, but she approached anyway.
"Sasori, how are you feeling?" Chiyo said, turning on a bedside lamp and hovering over him.
"Like a pincushion."
Chiyo sighed. She was young for her age, hardly any wrinkles and still as fit as many younger shinobi. Their line of work was not kind to the elderly, if shinobi even lived past their thirtieth year. But Chiyo had always been one of the better ones, always scraping by and managing to come back alive. If nothing else, she'd endeavored to impart that skill to Sasori ever since his parents died.
"You passed, you know," Chiyo said. "You're a Chuunin. All three of you, actually."
Sasori found it hard to move with bandages wrapped so tightly around him he could barely breathe.
"As expected," he said softly, not meeting her eyes.
There was a moment of silence, strained silence, before Chiyo lost her nerve and broke it.
"I didn't mean for it to happen like this."
Sasori gritted his teeth and turned hard eyes on her. She rarely even spoke to him, let alone more than a few words. She only ever bothered to show up when it was convenient, or when there was no excuse not to. Things weren't the way they used to be back when her son was still alive. Back when they were a family.
"You never meant for me to find out at all," Sasori bit out. "That didn't go your way, either."
"...That was my mistake. God, Sasori." She looked away, struggling. "Sometimes it's hard to see you as a child. You shouldn't have to bear these burdens."
"If I don't, then who will?"
She had no answer for him, and Sasori closed his eyes, tired.
"I'm not a child. I haven't been for a long time now. Not that you've been around to watch."
Chiyo was silent for a long time, and Sasori wondered if he'd scared her into silence. He'd done it before.
"He's alive. Hatake Kakashi. He didn't die."
Sasori thought about Hatake Kakashi, the boy who'd landed him in this place. He was strong, but he was ignorant. He didn't know this world like Sasori did. Not yet. One day, Sasori was sure he would. Perhaps then, they would meet again.
He hadn't shed tears for his parents since just after they were killed, and then only once. Not until meeting Kakashi. It would be their secret to keep, the first of many Sasori would accumulate in his lifetime.
"Next time I'll make sure he does."
Chiyo gave him a look of concern. She put a hand on his forehead and he let her, too weak and tired to push her away. Sometimes, when he was at his worst, she would remind him that she was here with him, here for him. It was hard to remember day to day when they barely saw each other. She was so busy with her own duties, and Sasori was just a child, too young to understand, of course. Of course. But at times like these, times when he vowed never to give in and let her win, never to let his weakness, his desire just to be loved rule him, she would swoop in and shatter everything. Her hand was warm on his forehead, calming. Somewhere in there, if he looked hard enough, Sasori could remember what if felt like...
"Sleep," Chiyo said. "You've earned it."
And as she left him again, Sasori wanted to tell her to wait. Wait for him, don't leave him here, alone in darkness. Alone. But he said nothing. Nothing he said would change her, set in her ways as she was. Still, she was all he had, and blood is thicker than water. Blood is all there is.
He slept for three days after that.
I'll be moving through Sasori's childhood fairly quickly. The bulk of this will be during his adult years when the Sand siblings are growing up. For those of you reading my other in-progress fics, I haven't forgotten about them. I just feel like writing Sasori on his own for now. Thanks for reading!