Naruto sat on the railing and looked out into the night. The landscape formed an abstract pattern of light and shadow, moonlight bouncing off the snow on the mountains and then disappearing into the crevices. He tried to remember if any of it had looked any different when he arrived here almost three years ago, but he couldn’t decide. It could be the mountain, but then again it could just be him.
He was supposed to go back tomorrow.
He heard a door slide open and shut behind him, and felt the soft movement of air caused by her presence. She moved just past him and set something down on the floor. He took his eyes off the landscape and looked down at her.
She was kneeling on the floor in a kimono, the sleeves tied up and her long blue-black hair tied into low tail. She calmly started to make the tea, hands moving in slow, certain movements, mixing the water and tea, then whipping it into a foamy green froth. Standing up she moved to hand him one of the cups.
“Here, Naruto-kun,” she said, her voice quite and soft, but lacking the trembling edge of nervousness it once held.
“Thanks, Hina-chan,” he said, taking both of the cups, which looked tiny in his large hands, so that she could boost herself up onto the railing beside him. She took the sleeved down before scooting herself slightly closer to him and taking her tea back with a grateful smile. They sat next to each other in silence for few minutes, tea warm in their hands, until Naruto finally couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Don’t be so nervous, Hina-chan! Everything is going to be fine. I can’t wait to get back and show that Sauske who the best is. Hehehe, I’m going to kick his butt in the jounin exams. No one can beat me, the next Hokage!” He looked over at Hinata. She was giving him a sort of a half smile, but he could see the doubt in her pale eyes. Her face clearly said “I know what you’re doing, and I appreciate it, but it’s not really working.”
Over the past three years they had learned to read each other almost perfectly.
He smiled ruefully at her, realizing that they both knew what was going on. He finished his tea in one gulp then swung one leg over the railing so that he could set his cup down on the ground. Reaching for Hinata, he pulled her down the rail towards him, until she was resting against his chest. He wrapped his arms tightly around her and stared at the mountains over the top of her head.
“I don’t like this,” he said pouting. He still had a tendency to act like a child when dealing with too many conflicting emotions.
Hinata sighed and buried the side of her face into his shoulder. The only person they had had any contact with for the past three years was The Fifth and the letters they had received had been far from illuminating. Three years was a long time, long enough that any number of things could have happened.
Hinata frowned into her love’s shoulder.
Enough things had certainly happened to them.
Tsuande sighed and held her head in her hands. She had to get him out of the village. It was the only way to keep him safe. Orochimaru they could deal with now that they had the alliance with the Sand. Jiraya knew his patterns fairly well and, barring a disaster, they could counter him now that they knew he was on the move.
Itachi however, was another matter. They knew virtually nothing about him and his associates. She really had no way to guarantee Naruto was going to be safe as long as he was in Leaf. Too many people came in and out of the village. There was no way to keep tabs on the boy at all times and there was always the risk that he was going to get taken while on a mission. They had stopped them once, but how often were they going to be able to do so again? If they tried to take him in his sleep? If they threatened his friends?
She had to get someone to take him away, far, far away from the village where he could be trained, but protected. She needed him under the tutelage of someone no one would expect, someone no one would think of to look for. Someone that Itachi would hopefully know nothing about.
The person before her, sitting in the chair in front of her desk, legs swung over one side and arm stretched across the back, was the perfect choice.
But she was being so goddamn stubborn.
“No,” she said simply and ate another of the chocolates she had sitting in her lap.
“Don’t -chan me and no.” Her large pale, violet eyes showed no sign of remorse or guilt about turning her former teacher down.
Tsuande sighed. “All I’m asking is that you keep this boy safe until I can keep him safe. Considering all that I’ve done-“
“That is not all you are asking me to do, Obaa-san. You are asking me to take a thirteen year old boy with me, to my home, train him, keep him safe from a group of crazies who want to take over the world and put up with him trying to convince me to come back and become a good little Leaf nin.” She shook her head popped another chocolate into her mouth. “Not a chance in hell.”
Tsuande switched tactics. “I think you two would get along rather well. You have a lot in common.”
Sora looked at her incredulously. “What can we possibly have in common? He’s a thirteen year old boy!”
She looked at Sora over pressed fingertips. “And having known you at thirteen, I can honestly say you are a lot alike. He’s sort of like you with a sunnier outlook.”
Sora snorted and ate another chocolate. “I can’t imagine myself with a sunnier outlook.”
“Then you should meet him. He’s a sweetheart, but he doesn’t quiet fit in here.”
“Oh, so he’s going to fit in with me?”
Tsuande heaved a frustrated sigh. “Sora-chan, there is no other way-“
“Send him with that perverted guy again.”
“I need that perverted guy here in order to help defend the village. Besides he’s key to keeping tabs on another enemy.”
“What about the kid’s normal teacher?”
“He’s off doing missions. My forces are depleted right now. I don’t have any Leaf nin to spare; I’m at my wits end trying to cover all our missions right now. Besides, no one is able to stay off the map the way you are. I know if I send him with you, I won’t have to worry about him being found.”
Sora shook her head again, and laughed lightly. “You are not going to get me to pity you enough or flatter me enough to take this boy on. Its amazing you think I would even consider it.” She rolled her eyes. “Please don’t tell me you called me to this godaweful place just to ask me to do something that any sane person would know I wouldn’t do.”
Tsuande sighed. “The scar on your shoulder.”
The woman shifted uneasily in her chair. “Yeah? What about it?”
“You told me once that it was the remains of a seal that had been broken.”
Sora gave sort of a half shrug. “So?”
“I have a patient, a very important one, who had also been sealed. I want to look at yours so that I can see if I can figure out how it was broken.”
Sora shrugged, clearly not thrilled with the idea, but she lacked a good reason not to let Tsuande look at her. “Sure, why not?”
“Would you come to his room so that I can compare them side by side?”
“Sure.” Popping the last of the chocolates into her mouth, she stood up then transformed herself into a rather indescript looking chuunin. Tsuande rolled her eyes.
“What?” Sora asked. “I never go anywhere looking like myself. I attract too much attention.”
“Maybe if you dressed a little less conspicuously.”
She pretended to consider this for a second. “Nah.” She opened the door and followed Tsuande out of her office. Sora tried her best to look at ease with her surroundings, but the fact of the mater was that the village made her skin crawl. She hated these places, and this one had far too many memories attached to it.
They entered the hospital, brushing past the information desk and up into the intensive care facilities. Tsuande paused briefly at the nurses station.
“Is there anyone in with Sasuke at the moment?”
The nurse nodded. “Hai, Hokage-sama. The girl who always comes.”
Sakura. The girl had barely left his side since she got her and apparently had been there for weeks before that. Well, she would just have to leave for a while. Tsuande didn’t know how long she would be able to keep Sora in the village and she needed to at least get her to meet Naruto first.
“The boy’s got a girlfriend?”
“She’s his teammate.”
The two walked past the guards and into Sasuke’s room. He was still knocked out and the small, pink haired girl beside him sat with a blank stare in her eyes. When they entered, she looked up at them with intelligent, but blank eyes.
Tsuande leaned down and placed one hand on her shoulder, as if she was a little girl. “Sakura-chan. I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave for a while. Maybe you should go home.”
The girl looked like she was about to cry, then simply nodded and stood up. “I’ll wait outside.”
Sora dropped her illusion as soon as the girl had left the room. “Geeze she has it bad.”
“He’s something of a local heartthrob,” Tsuande said.
“Really?” Sora peered at him, clearly unimpressed.
“He’s a Uchicha. Top of his class.”
Sora looked up startled. “Wait this isn’t the one who…”
She shook her head. “No this is his younger brother. He’s been sealed by my old teammate Orochimaru.”
Sora shivered. Man, it sucked to be him. “How’d he get to be here.”
“When Itachi went after Naruto, Sasuke went after-“
Suddenly, Sora’s blood ran cold. “Naruo?” she asked.
Tsuande nodded. “That’s the name of the boy I want you to take. Didn’t I mention it before?”
Sora shook her head. “They’re friends?” she asked.
Tsuande shrugged. “They’re teammates, rivals. Friends, although this one probably wouldn’t admit it. Would you sit down here?”
In a half daze, Sora moved to sit on the bed next to the boy, sweeping her braids off over one shoulder to expose the opposite one.
There was a round mass of scar tissue on her left shoulder, an almost perfect circle of white spiderwebs. “Let’s get this over with please.”
Sora stared at the boy lying next to her on the bed. Last member of his clan and sealed by Orochimaru. Maybe she should just kill him and spare him the pain.
Tsuande sighed and activated an analyzing jutsu, looking at the structure of the two curse seals. They were similar, but Sasuke’s was far more complex. She had expected this but not this extent. Sora had been a little girl when she was sealed, how young Tsuande didn’t know, but it must have been at least 15 years ago. Considering that he liked to build off of what other people had done, it would make sense that Orochimaru’s would be better.
The lines of the seal extended inside their bodies from their shoulders into their brains. From there is wrapped down their spinal cords and latched onto all of the gates. However, where the lines were whole and smooth in Sasuke, wrapping around like thick cords, they were thin and cut in Sora. It was as if someone and gradually extracted all the curse that they were able to, then simply chopped the rest up. It took direct charka control on top of incredibly complicated medical jutsus, something that Tsuande just didn’t have the expertise to do. Seals were in the gray area between med nin and genjutsu specialists. Whoever had removed Sora’s seal was a med nin, strong genjutsu user and incredible control specialist.
“She’s dead,” Sora said suddenly. “I couldn’t find her for you even if I wanted to.” It took Tsuande a moment to realize what she was talking about. Then she laughed quietly. Fate just didn’t seem to be on her side recently.
Suddenly, there was a commotion out in the hall. There was a crashing sound followed by a screaming voice.
“WHAT? Obaa-san is in there?”
“NARUTO! This is a hospital, be quiet!”
“Does she think she can cure Sasuke-kun?”
“I don’t know, would you just shut up you loudmouth!”
Inside the room, Sora raised an eyebrow at Tsuande. “Who else but me calls you that?”
Tsuande smiled. The best way to get Sora to take Naruto was probably to introduce her to Naruto himself. “Naruto. I said you were a lot alike.”
The eyebrow inched higher. She stood and transformed back into the chuunin before peaking her head out the door.
A blond boy stood with his back to her, yelling at the girl with pink hair. She looked like she was about to kill him. Oh yeah, she had it bad for this Sasuke boy. He turned around and started walking down the hall. Sora’s breath caught in her throat. He looked just like...
No. That was impossible. But with that name…
“Obaa-san, why are the crazies after him?”
Tsuande had been deliberately avoiding this issue. She was worried that admitting that this boy had the demon fox inside him would only make Sora more resolved to leave without him. Sora was not a woman for complications. But if she was asking directly, she really didn’t have much of a choice. “He was the one the Fourth put the seal on.”
Sora’s eyes went wide as she looked back at the boy. Dear god she was right. It was him. Mentally she stomped her foot on the floor. Aw shit. Now she didn’t really have a choice; she had to take him with her. Her conscious would never let her live in peace if she didn’t keep him safe.
She studied him for a minute, as he alternated yelling at the pink haired girl and the nurse, both of whom were trying to shush him. He seemed to almost vibrate with energy.
Tsuande moved to stand beside her. “Because of the demon, the village generally regards him as the enemy who killed most of their families. I can’t explain how damaging the kyuubi was to the village and-“
“And they blamed him?” Sora interrupted.
Tsuande nodded. “He’s been rather isolated from the rest of the village, but nothing seems to keep him down. Most people would choose a dark path when faced with his life.”
Sora suppressed a cringe. Where was that ass who was supposed to be taking care of him? Why wasn’t he keeping the boy safe? Why wasn’t he making sure the village was decent to him?
She watched as Naruto accidentally knocked over a cartful of medical supplied with a large gesture then scrambled to pick it up. She shook her head.
Dear lord, three years.
It wouldn’t hurt to let Tsuande stew for just a bit longer.
“He looks like nothing but a pain in the ass,” she said, exiting the room and heading down the hall in the opposite direction. She heard Tsuande start down the hall after her, then stop. Looking back, she saw that the boy had intercepted her. With his hands on his hips, he was glaring up at the woman, suspicion plainly visible on his face. She laughed softly to herself and turned the corner.
It had been a long time since she had been in a hospital. She certainly would never permit herself to be checked into one and she hadn’t had a traveling companion for a few years. Still, they rarely seemed to change. This side of the mountains or the other, hospitals were the same. Same long white corridors, same antiseptic smell. She hadn’t really missed anything.
Mentally, she started sorting though the idea of having an apprentice. She’d never taken one on before. Then again, Nanashi had never taken one on before when she took Sora on. She supposed that made it even. It would probably be best to take him up to her house first; it was as safe a place to take him as any. There she could start putting him through his paces, see just how much her knew-
“Your lack of control over your abilities is a disappointment, as is your lack of general sense.”
Sora froze at the voice. It sounded so much like her father it was chilling. She stepped back to look at the doorway where the voice was coming from.
“Gomen, Father.” The voice was quiet and trembling and almost abnormally high as if the girl was about to burst into tears.
“You have potential. You have the blood of our clan running through your veins. You have the education both from our family and this village. Yet, you show almost no ability or judgment.”
“Gomen!” The girl was definitely crying now.
“A Hyuung who cannot use his or her abilities is useless as a leader. Perhaps we should formally move you out of that capacity.” Sora quickly turned away from the door as the man exited. Looking back over her shoulder, she watched him leave, shoulder’s squared and long hair flowing behind him.
She stuck her tongue out at him. Asshole.
She looked back into the doorway. She couldn’t see the girl, but she could hear her crying. She should leave. She should go back to Obaa-san, grab the boy and get out of here. Sora waged a quiet war with herself for a few seconds before she sighed and gave in to the fact that she was going to go in and talk to the girl. Why did pity always win out over sensibility? Quietly she slipped inside the room.
The little girl was sitting in the hospital bed, knees pulled up and her head down. Her whole body was shaking with tears. Her feet were bare underneath her kimono. That struck another chord. Unless she was training, Sora had not been allowed to wear anything but a kimono when she was growing up.
She looked like she was about eleven or twelve, but something made Sora talk to her like she was a little girl. “Hey, are you all right?”
The girl looked up suddenly, eyes brimming over with tears. “W-w-wh-who, who are you?”
The white eyes startled Sora for a second. Then she smiled. “Name’s Sora. And you are?”
The girl swallowed. “Hinata.”
Sora stuck her hand out and Hinata hesitantly took it. “Nice to meet you Hinata. You OK?”
Hinata ducked her head and nodded. Sora waited for her to elaborate then realized at the girl wasn’t going to say anything.
“How did you end up here? Don’t tell me you came for the food.”
Hinata blinked at this strange woman who was now sitting on the side of her bed. “I got hurt in the chuunin exam.”
“Really, what happened?” Hinata looked away and didn’t say anything. Apparently it was not an okay topic to talk about. It was probably what her father had been talking about. “OK. Well, are you better?”
At this, Hinata nodded. “After the Fifth came, she healed me, but-“she suddenly stopped talking.
“But you don’t want to go home. Because of your father.” Hinata looked back at her quickly. Sora shrugged. “I happened to overhear. He wasn’t being very nice.” Actually Sora had a few choice words she wanted to use to describe him, but she wasn’t sure the little girl was old enough to hear them.
Hinata shook her head violently. “No. He’s right, I should be stronger, I should be smarter, but I just can’t seem to...” She bust out into tears again.
Sora sighed and reached out to pat the girl’s back. She badly needed some confidence and her father wasn’t helping. Asshole. He probably thought he was helping her, making her stronger, but if this was the was it always had been...
She rolled her eyes. This was the problem with clans, this was the problem with villages. They put too much strain on their shinobi. Poor girl was a casualty of too much pressure to always be the best, the brightest, the strongest. All this hellhole was doing was wearing her down.
A thought crossed Sora’s mind and she smiled slightly. Well, why not? Two would be easier to train than one. She could tell them to go train together and leave her alone some of the time. Plus she was always up to waging war against asshole fathers. As long as she was doing good deeds, she might as well do more than one. Improve her karma.
“Hey, Hinata,” she started, but was interrupted by Tsuande banging the door open with fire in her eyes.
“SORA, you left me alone to fend off-“
Sora smiled brightly at the woman. “Hey, Obaachan. I’ll take the annoying one off your hands if you’ll let me have this one as well.”