Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ The Flower in Adversity ❯ Last of the Uchihas ( Chapter 4 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Author's Note: As stated in the prologue and first chapter, this is set way out from the start of the series, and is so far based on about chapter 360 of the manga, no further, since that's where the manga was when I started this project. Therefore, it's probably AU. Refer to the Author's Note in the first chapter for more details. As you will see later in this chapter, in this story's universe, Sasuke has not yet returned to Konoha and is still considered "at large" and for all practical intents and purposes, the Akatsuki is disbanded or destroyed.

Disclaimer: I do not own any part of "Naruto" or its characters. It all belongs to the incomparable Masashi Kishimoto-sensei. I'm just playing in the sandbox of this amazing world.

Warning: Coarse language. There is fighting in this chapter, not to mention potty-mouthed Yumiya. Expect F-bombs and other profanity or expletives. You dun been warned.

"The flower which blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all." --proverb from "Mulan"

"Don't think that I don't hurt at all, don't think that this doesn't wrench my soul. Don't think that I don't need your love, but don't think that I'll stand for this anymore." --Skye Pixton, "Don't Wait For Me"

"The Flower in Adversity"
Part Four: Last of the Uchihas


"Holy shit, Naruto, stop sniffing through the Kazekage's desk!" Kiba gaped at Naruto, who was poking around the large oak desk.

"I'm not, I'm just... trying to imagine Gaara sitting at this thing for hours doing paperwork!"

Shikamaru scoffed loudly and tossed a shuriken at Naruto, bouncing it off the blond jounin's chaotic mop of yellow hair. "Stop snooping, alright? I don't care how good of friends you think you are with him, that's not nice. I can't see Kazekage-sama taking kindly to you snooping through his desk; that's private property. Behave yourself, eh? Hokage-sama will probably ream me a new one for you being a dumbass and causing a diplomatic incident."

"Don't talk about Gaara like you know him, Nakimushi-kun," Temari said tiredly. "Gaara doesn't keep anything of personal value in that desk. The desk itself is largely empty. There are quills, ink pots and blank scrolls. That's about it. He doesn't even bother with blotting sand. Anything else of personal value is in his private suite. However," she added when she spied Naruto sticking his tongue out at Shikamaru, "all the same, have some respect for personal property, you idiot. Gaara may or may not care if you're being nosy, especially at a time like this, but Baki will flip his shit if he catches you."

"I wonder what is keeping Gaara-sama," Lee mused. "He should be here by now."

Slam! The impact shook the building vigorously.

"What the hell was that?" Shikamaru was the one to give voice to everyone's thoughts. Two heartbeats later, Neji activated his Byakugan and started searching for the source of the noise.

Temari summoned her giant fan, but kept it closed up at present.

"Holy..." Neji involuntarily blinked. "That is one big frog."


"It looks like the frog I've seen you summon before, Naruto, but a lot bigger."

"Bigger than Gamakichi? Then there's only one toad it could be! It's got to be the toad boss!" Naruto exclaimed joyously. "It's Gamabunta! And you know what that means!"

"Uh, no, I don't think we do," Chouji said. "You're talking in another language, Naruto."

"There's only one other person alive who has enough chakra and a toad contract to summon Gamabunta! The Ero-sennin!" Naruto went to a window and popped it open. "I'm gonna go say hello, he has to have a reason to be here!"

"Naruto-kun!" Lee lunged for him, but wasn't quick enough. Naruto climbed out the window and, using his immense chakra and control over said chakra, he walked up the vertiginous dome of the building to the top deck.

"Stupid impulsive idiot," Neji ranted softly. "I'll go get him. You stay here, Lee."

The long-haired jounin clambered out the window and spider-crawled his way to a point where he could stand up and follow Naruto. He had just reached where Naruto was perched on the railing on the balcony at the top of the dome when the sand wall that flowed around Sunagakure caved and admitted a gargantuan reddish-brown toad. A small cluster of passengers could be seen riding on the giant toad's back, headed by a very recognizable white-haired figure.

"Jiraiya you owe me big time for this," the toad grumped unhappily as he shook the sand off. "Don't think you'll ever get away with doing that again!"

"Ero-sennin!" Naruto bellowed. "What brings you here?"

"Get me the fuck off this giant moving health-hazard!" A female voice shrilled as a black-haired kunoichi flung herself off the toad's back. It was Narita Yumiya. "Fuck but I hate frogs!"

"What the hell is the backup team doing here already?" Naruto's jaw dropped open. "We haven't even sent word that we need them!"

Kakashi, Yamato and Gai also dropped off Gamabunta's giant back, but there was another person besides Jiraiya sitting on the toad.

"Tenten?" Neji's forehead wrinkled. "How'd she manage to get assigned? Hey! Naruto, don't be so -- " Too late, Neji realized immediately, as Naruto just catapulted himself off the railing and somersaulted through the air. "Dumbass, that's a fatal fall distance if you don't land just right. Even the Kyuubi can't protect you if you break your goddamn neck!"

Of course, Naruto was agile as a fox, so he landed just fine. Neji muttered under his breath that he was racking up more and more bad points with various scary kunoichi. It was bad enough trying to keep Lee from doing stupid stuff, but if he had to look after Naruto too, there was no way he'd be able to prevent something from setting Sakura off at him. And if something happened to Naruto, he'd have Tsunade and Shizune breathing fire down his neck too.

Never thought I'd  be so relieved to see Gai-sensei show up. And Kakashi as well; if anyone can keep Naruto in line, it's him.

He was just about to try hopping to a window ledge down lower, when he felt a flare of chakra somewhere in the distance. Ultraviolet, angry, hateful chakra. The force of the malevolence of this chakra stunned Neji and interrupted his concentration. Gracelessly, the jounin slipped and fell down the side of the giant building, still too stunned to be aware of what was happening. Distantly, he heard someone shout his name, and he knew he was falling, but he couldn't respond.

Am I going to die? He wondered fuzzily. Sachiko won't like that.

"Neji, you idiot, what the hell was that about?"

He snapped back to consciousness to find himself laying on the ground, apparently unhurt. He was surrounded by Konoha jounin, though Kankurou's spiked mess of mahogany hair was visible just behind Kakashi's shoulder, near the building.

"What happened?" He sat up abruptly, shaking his head dizzily.

"You looked like you got stunned by something and fell; Kankurou managed to catch you with a chakra-net," Naruto said. "What were you doing?"

"Neji, what happened to you? You've never been so careless!" Tenten scolded. "If I have to tell your fiancée that you've died, I'm going to kill you all over again!"

"You felt that evil chakra, didn't you," a calm voice said from behind the cluster of jounin, who parted for the speaker. It was Jiraiya. "I felt it too."

"What was it? It felt like..."

"Frankly, it felt like Orochimaru's aura," Jiraiya said, "but that's not possible. So I can only assume that it was the very reason why I came here myself."

This got everyone's attention, even the backup team's. Jiraiya smiled dryly. "Come on, do you think I'd really summon Gamabunta just to give you kids a speedy ride to Sunagakure for anything other than a major incident?"

"So, the mass-genocide of sixty or seventy percent of my population isn't a major incident?" Gaara said coldly from a nearby doorway.

"No offense, Kazekage-sama," Jiraiya said with a chuckle, "but that's your business. This incident, however, is Konoha's problem."

"How so?" Gaara inquired before anyone else could.

Jiraiya's carefree exterior disappeared in a heartbeat. "I have reliable intelligence passed through the ninja-frogs that your village was betrayed to Kirigakure and Kumogakure by none other than Uchiha Sasuke."

"What?!" The response was loud because it came from so many throats.

"He is nearby, I'm certain of it," Jiraiya added. "I'll even wager he's been nearby for a long time, waiting for the moment to strike. Word is he thinks he has a score to settle with you, Gaara."

"Well," Gaara said, his eyes narrowing, "I now have a score to settle with him. If he wanted to fight me, he could have come here and challenged me. He did not need to involve my village and all the innocent people herein in his petty plot of vengeance."

"This is our problem, Gaara. Please let us handle it."

"This is my village, and if that rogue steps one foot inside Sunagakure, I will unleash everything I have on him. He will learn that even without Shukaku, I can raise a sandstorm if I must."

"That shouldn't be necessary," Kakashi said. "Hokage-sama has dispatched everyone capable of having an influence on Sasuke; she also dispatched Tenten here to help bolster your number of fighters, in case several of us have to engage Sasuke at once."

Gaara swayed suddenly, and went to one knee in fatigue. Kankurou was at his brother's side in an instant.

"Damned shield. Clearly it's not a finished technique, not if it's leaking chakra like a broken pipe," the Kazekage muttered as his brother helped him back to his feet. "I need to take it down, I can't maintain this." He brought his hands together and began making a complex series of hand seals.

"Is everything okay down there?" Shizune called out a window.

"Other than the Hyuuga genius stupidly falling on his ass? Just fine!" Yumiya hollered back. Shizune had just withdrawn back into the room when the shout came at her, and she poked her head out the window again.

"What are you guys doing here so fast?! I sent word just yesterday to Hokage-sama!"

"Jiraiya-sama gave us a ride," Yumiya yelled back. "That frog can really haul ass, but damn, I think I left my stomach somewhere between the borders."

"I'm a toad, damn you," Gamabunta hissed. "Show some respect or I'll flatten you."

"Now, now," Jiraiya held his hands up to the toad. "That's just how she is, you know. Her totem animal is the tiger, after all."

"Are you done with me yet?" The cranky toad grumbled.

"I'm afraid not. Please bear with me on this, Gamabunta."

The ground heaved and shook as the sand wall around the village began to disintegrate.

"I owe you a series of violent blows to the head, Gaara," Kankurou growled. "You're being a fucking asshole, you know."

"Spare me the commentary," the Kazekage snapped. "I'm doing what I have to in order to save the village, like I'm supposed to."

"At the cost of your own health, you ass," the puppeteer retorted. "What the fuck are we supposed to do if you die now on us?"

Naruto approached the two and put his hands firmly on Gaara's shoulders; "Hang on a sec, Gaara. I need to get this stupid fox to behave, and then you'll have plenty of chakra." After a few moments, fiery-red chakra began pouring from his hands into the Kazekage.

"Tell me when you've got enough," Naruto said. "I've got plenty to spare, so just tell me when to stop."

"I'll tell you when to stop," a voice commanded imperiously from overhead. "Stop right now."

"No," Gaara said softly, before Naruto could look up, "I don't have enough yet to fight him." The other jounin exploded into motion even as Gaara restrained Naruto. "Please. I have to protect this village, and I was foolish enough to erect a faulty shield. I know it is asking a lot, but I need more chakra if I am to protect my village."

Naruto bit his lip in concentration and mentally slapped the lazy Kyuubi, forcing it to increase the flow of chakra. "That didn't sound like Sasuke," he said with clenched jaws.

"It's a fucking Mist-nin," Kankurou growled. "I saw the hitai-ate. How he got past the shield is beyond me."

A kunai whistled through the air, and would have struck Naruto in the back, right through the heart, had Gaara's automatic defenses, courtesy of his raccoon familiar, not spiraled up and blocked the blow.

"Fucking hell!" Kankurou blurted, grabbing one of his puppet scrolls and pulling out one of his own creations, an unnamed and unfinished battle puppet. A barrage of kunai rained down on them, but the puppet emitted a chakra-shield that deflected the weapons.

Finally, Gaara tapped Naruto's elbows as a signal. The jounin backed away, and Gaara wasted no time. Raising a column of sand, he lifted himself up to the level of the attacker. Naruto grabbed a kunai from his holster, but before anyone could do anything, Gaara's sand surrounded the Mist-nin and crushed him in a shower of blood and bone-fragments.

"Tacky but effective," Shikamaru drolled. "And efficient."

"There are more coming," Gaara called down. "They're coming through the front gate." He sent a javelin of sand lancing through the air in the direction of the attackers.

Gai stopped Lee when the younger jounin started in the direction of the attack. "No, Lee, don't go to them. Let them come to you. Stay close to this building. Keep the advantage."

"But, Gai-sensei -- "

"Listen to me, Lee. You can't be reckless. We're dealing with Mist-nin, here. Taijutsu alone won't work against them if you go charging into their midst. Without ninjutsu, you're at a disadvantage, no matter how you look at it. You need to use your head and outsmart them. And," he added urgently, "don't bother with the Gates. You used them once before in Kirigakure; those ninja will know about you and that you use them, and they'll turn it against you. Trust me on this one, Lee, you don't mess with Mist-nin with just taijutsu. Follow my lead. If something happens to you, I have to answer to not only Hokage-sama, but also Kazekage-sama, and your wife." He left it open-ended, indicating that any one of those three could be frightening if provoked.

A wave of sand surged forward and swung around them, blocking the attack of a Mist-nin who had popped up out of nowhere. Gai yelped in surprise, taken aback at having been caught off guard.

"Gai, quit fucking around and get your ass in gear!" Yumiya hollered, spinning a kunai through the air at him. He caught it and used it to stab another Mist-nin who also appeared out of nowhere.

Lee blinked owlishly, before the surge of adrenaline inherent in a fight took over his senses. Mindful of Gai's warning, he kept his back close to the building and fought defensively. Neji and Tenten soon joined him and expanded the circle of defense around the doorway to the building. The join-up of teammates freed Gai to work offensively against the Mist-nin, and he, Yumiya and Kakashi traded off with their respective specialties -- taijutsu, genjutsu and ninjutsu -- to round up the Kirigakure attackers and herd them closer to where Shikamaru could pin them motionless with Kagemane Shuriken, maximizing the hit potential of Kiba and Akamaru's Gatsuuga and Naruto's Rasengan.

One Mist-nin escaped the herding effort and charged directly at Gaara, a short stabbing blade in hand. Gaara seemed unruffled, but his sand defense was sluggish and only managed to impede the attack rather than block it. Lee flashed in and blocked the strike, sending the blade spinning harmlessly away, while the green-clothed jounin pounded the stunned Kiri ninja with rapid-fire blows. Kankurou swung his puppet in to finish off the would-be assassin.

Another assassin tried to sneak up on them, but Kakashi nailed him with Raikiri.

Fifteen minutes of mad scrambling passed from the onslaught of the attack before the last Mist-nin fell to a blow from a Konoha ninja. When the dust cleared, Neji had a cut on his arm, Naruto's face was criss-crossed with nicks that were already starting to heal, and Yumiya looked haggard. Kakashi hadn't even uncovered his Sharingan for this fight, and Gai hadn't used any other weapons than the one kunai Yumiya had thrown at him.

Jiraiya dusted his hands off as he piled the last of the bodies up; "Well, well, that was eventful."

Gaara made no comment to that as he lifted a cloud of sand and hopped onto it. "I'm going to patrol the perimeter, see what kind of damage has been done. Kankurou, keep an eye on the building."

"Er, right," the puppeteer said. The Kazekage didn't bother to respond to the answer before he disappeared beyond the buildings.

There was a slamming sound as Temari planted the butt of her fan into the ground and keeled forward, coughing and retching. She was breathing hard anyway, and now she appeared to be at her limit.

"Temari-san!" Lee was closest and reached a hand to her,  to help her up, but she batted his hand away.

"Stay away from me!" She wheezed. "I could be contagious! I didn't think it was this bad, but when the Mist-nin got close, I couldn't do anything. My lungs feel like they're going to implode in my chest. I can barely breathe."

Kankurou scooped Temari up into his arms. "I knew you were coming down with this. We'd better get the healers to look at you now. I'm not going to lose my sister too, goddammitall."

"Did I  hear right?" Shikamaru asked of Kakashi and Jiraiya. "Did you say Sasuke's nearby?"

"I'm pretty sure he is. He's been deliberately elusive, but I get the feeling we'll be seeing him now."

"Great." Shikamaru sounded angry. "Just what we need."

"Why do you think Hokage-sama sent a larger second contingent?" Yumiya said as she braced herself against Gai and scrubbed antiseptic on a small wound on her leg. "Truth be known, I don't wanna fight no fucking Uchiha. But if anyone thinks I'm gonna back down if Gai's not afraid of taking him on, they got another fucking think comin'."

Kakashi looked at Naruto, who was rubbing his shoulders wearily. "Naruto, did you ever find out what happened to Konohamaru?"

"Yeah. He's fine. He got sick, but he got over it. He's been helping Gaara's chief advisor take care of the sick."

"Oh good. Hikaru-kun and Kurenai will be relieved. As will Udon and Moegi, and Ebisu."

"Oi! Ero-sennin, where did Gamabunta go?"

"I released him when the Mist-nin attacked. He would have probably done some serious structural damage, and those ninjas were no match for us all. Though," he added, "I have to admit they were cleverer than I expected. A three-pronged attack on the Kazekage, and they nearly bypassed his automatic defense. Not bad. He would have been pretty severely injured if we hadn't stepped in."

As they filed into the building, following Kankurou and Temari, Lee rubbed his shoulders tiredly. "I am glad that you came, Gai-sensei."

"Not half as glad as I am, kid," Gai said, ruffling his hair. "Knowing you, you would've attempted to throw open a couple of Gates." Then he clapped an arm strongly onto Lee's shoulders and grinned. "I'm proud of you, Lee! Look at you, you did exactly as I asked, and you didn't get a scratch on you. Yumiya can't claim that!"

"Fuck off, Gai!" came the predictable retort from ahead. "Not everyone can fall into a pile of horseshit and come out smelling of roses like you can!"

"Also, not everyone is as reckless as you," Yamato ribbed. "You fight like a berserker, you know."

"Kiss my ass, sempai!"

Lee heaved a sigh; "She is... trying at times."

Gai laughed heartily. "She is, but she's a good reliable partner. And her genjutsu has gotten us out of a number of tight scrapes. Plus, no matter where you are or how long you're stuck there, you'll never starve to death if you're with her; she can make edible plants grow out of solid rock."

"Can't cook for shit, though!" Yamato added with a grin, and ducked as Yumiya threw a punch at him.

Lee chuckled; "Sakura is a rather lousy cook too. Her riceballs always fall apart, and she can never get the curry right."

"Pfft!" Naruto scoffed. "Sakura-chan can bake a mean loaf of bread, though! And she makes some pretty wicked odango! Yumiya-oneechan can't even do those two things."

"Oi, fox-boy, shut your whiskered face before I punch it!" Yumiya growled, without real rancor. She was likely the only person who could get away with referring to Naruto's bijuu, the Kyuubi -- the nine-tailed fox spirit sealed inside him -- because her clan was probably the only Konoha clan unaffected by the Kyuubi. The Narita clan lived outside the physical borders of Konoha because of disagreements with the Sandaime Hokage. They were still considered part of Konohagakure, because they sent their progeny to the Academy and occasionally their better-talented offspring (like Yumiya) ended up in ANBU, but they didn't live within the boundaries of Konohagakure, and so the Kyuubi, when it had attacked, had never passed by their tiny pseudo-village. Thus, Yumiya hadn't been directly affected by the Nine-Tails, and so she meant nothing untoward by calling Naruto "fox-boy" -- she insisted that she did so because of the "whisker" markings on his cheeks rather than because of the vulpine creature sealed inside him anyway.

Kankurou barged into the infirmary without a knock, startling Konohamaru.

Over by the far window, four of the healers were concentrating on one patient. Baki was rotating pans of water, which Sakura was using as adhesive for whatever she was extracting. Shizune looked like a huge vein in her forehead was about to burst from exertion. Hanabi guided Shizune's hands while Hinata guided Sakura's.

"What are they doing?" Kakashi inquired, looking pointedly at Kankurou. "You came through that window over there, so clearly you were in this room when we arrived. What's going on?"

Kankurou deposited Temari on a bed, his face strained. "Sanami is dying of cancer. They're trying to remove the tumor to buy her some time." His voice trembled.

"Cancer?" Temari's eyes widened. "That's what's been plaguing her? Is that what this plague is?"

"No; Cancer isn't a plague, because it isn't contagious in that manner," Ino said from where she stood beside another bed, reading a medical chart. "But I don't think this is strictly a plague either. Most of these are combination cases. Shikamaru, do you remember that time Hokage-sama sent us to Takigakure about five years ago?"

"How could I forget?" Shikamaru said, rubbing his neck uncomfortably. "That was... horrible. I had trouble eating for a week afterwards. Even Chouji lost some weight from lack of appetite."

"Exactly. In a matter of days, an entire Hidden Village was completely obliterated. In a matter of days, an entire village of ninjas and civilians died horrific deaths of disease. This is similar somehow."

"Organic plagues don't happen that abruptly," Yumiya said. "I remember investigating that one after you kids got home. That was a plague triggered by poison. Aburame Shibi confirmed that one, because his bugs could perform a better autopsy than any human can."

"Plague triggered by poison?" Kankurou looked over at her sharply. "Explain that."

"Easy: a dormant virus or bacteria was introduced into their bodily systems -- likely through their drinking water -- and was allowed to sit undetected for a long time. Then a mild poison was introduced into the same source -- like I said, likely the drinking water -- and the poison triggered the virus or bacteria to come out of dormancy. Kirigakure is capable of that kind of tactic. We deduced that Takigakure was obliterated by Kirigakure."

"Careful, Sakura-san! That piece is still attached!" Hanabi said sharply. "Nee-san, can you lance it from where you are?"

Hinata made a short stabbing motion, and there was a sharp moan from the patient. "Careful!" Shizune barked. "Naruto-kun! I think we need more chakra, please. This is taking a lot out of us."

"Geez, is that all I'm here for?" Naruto muttered, but still complied. He put one hand on Sakura's shoulder, and the other on Shizune's, giving each a jolt of raw chakra from the Kyuubi.

Ino began inspecting Temari, jotting notes down on the chart. The room fell eerily silent except for the occasional moan from one of the patients or the hushed whispers of some of the ninja conversing quietly amongst themselves. Konohamaru approached Yumiya and informed her in a hushed tone that she was needed in the greenhouse. The kunoichi grumbled but followed him out of the infirmary.

Time seemed to fracture and then come to a grinding halt, as if falling apart at the seams. At one point, Kankurou climbed out the window he'd gone through earlier, this time to catch Gaara as the Kazekage passed by, to keep him informed.

For what felt like days, Shizune and Sakura methodically broke down and extracted the tumor from Sanami's uterus. The sun was slung low in the western sky by the time Shizune leaned back, breathing heavily and wiping sweat from her brow.

"That's the last of it."

"Got it," Sakura said triumphantly as she extracted the last fragment of malignant mass through a small incision in Sanami's abdomen. She deposited the watery mess into a bowl held out by Baki. "That was a beast to grab hold of. Had to be at least ten times harder than that time I pulled the poison out of Kankurou-san."

"That's because this wasn't a foreign substance," Shizune said tiredly as she stretched her limbs wearily. "It's something Sanami-san's body created itself. It's a part of her, but a part of her that was slowly killing her. It was hard to separate the tumor from the living tissues because you have to analyze them on a molecular level; it's counterproductive to excise off healthy tissue when removing diseased tissue. Um, Baki-dono, I think I'm going to be passing out here. Don't be alarmed, just don't let me hit my head -- "

Shizune didn't even get a chance to finish the sentence before fatigue and complete chakra exhaustion overwhelmed her. Hanabi and Hinata managed to catch her before she hit the ground, though they were both extremely low on chakra as well and could just barely hold her up between the two of them. Sakura slumped against the wall, barely able to keep her eyes open. Lee wordlessly scooped her up into his arms, cradling her tenderly against his chest. She sighed with relief and contentment as she snuggled her head against the curve of his neck and dropped into a brief, exhausted sleep.

Baki picked up Shizune and deposited her on a nearby bed. "You two should go get some sleep," he said to the Hyuuga sisters. "Kankurou, being that they're sisters, they can probably share a bed without issue, and yours is the largest one available."

"Understood," Kankurou said without the slightest hesitation. He strode over meaningfully and grasped each sister's arm, gently levering them up off the floor. "Come along, ladies. Allow me to escort you. I'll remind you to pay the puppets on the walls no mind; they're harmless right now."

"Ne, Ino," Chouji sidled up to his teammate. "What's the diagnosis here?"

"Move over, tubby," Ino said peevishly, hip-bumping him away. She and Shikamaru were the only two able to get away with that nickname for Chouji; anyone else, even Hanabi, calling him that would have gotten a violent angry reaction from him. "I'm still working on a diagnosis."

Temari coughed feebly and groaned. "Now I'm a burden too on Gaara. That's the last thing I ever wanted to be."

Lee braced himself against the wall, centering his and Sakura's weight as squarely over his center of gravity as he could. He'd mastered that technique here in Suna, and had polished it after he'd become a jounin: how to center himself so absolutely on his feet that even Gai-sensei couldn't knock him off his feet with brute force alone.

I cannot do much for you in the state you are in, Sakura, he thought as he looked down at her, but I can hold you and protect you.

Naruto put a hand on Sakura's shoulder, injecting some blue-tinted chakra -- some of his own chakra, rather than the Kyuubi's chakra -- into the medic-nin. "I'll never get over how amazing Sakura-chan has become." His ultramarine eyes darkened slightly. "Did you hear the Ero-sennin's news, Geji-mayu?"

"What news?"

"Ero-sennin thinks that this whole fiasco was caused by Sasuke. He has intelligence that points towards Sasuke betraying Sunagakure's weaknesses to Kirigakure."

"That does not make sense. How could Sasuke-kun betray a village that does not trust him?"

"We don't know how long Sasuke's been hanging around Suna," Kakashi said, approaching. "There were rumors of him milling around here for months before I came here some six months ago, you remember. He might have made a lot of informed assumptions on his own."

"That makes no sense at all."

"Remember who it was who killed Itachi," Gai said. "Sasuke's got to have a rock in his craw about that."

Lee blinked slowly; "I recall hearing that Uchiha Itachi's body was discovered in Sunagakure's vicinity. I do not recall hearing who it was who actually killed him."

"Well, according to Jiraiya-sama, Itachi was crushed to death by a cocoon of sand," Kakashi said. "You get three guesses, Lee-kun. And if you guess wrong, I'll know you're completely moronic, since you're the only person to survive that attack."

Sakura shifted in Lee's arms and sighed. "What's the matter?" She murmured.

"Jiraiya-sama seems to think Sasuke-kun is responsible for this catastrophe," Lee said, even as Gai, Kakashi and Naruto all frantically tried to gesture for him to keep his silence.

Sakura didn't respond for at least thirty seconds. "Really? Weird." Then she dozed off again.

"You did not expect me to lie to her, did you?" Lee arched his eyebrows at Gai in particular, but indicating Kakashi and Naruto in his statement.

"You delight in raking Sasuke through the coals, don't you?" Kakashi said dangerously.

"I do not. She deserves to know. Besides, I do not believe Jiraiya-sama's information is correct, and I will continue to disbelieve it until I am proven wrong."

"Rock Lee-san," Baki said. "Perhaps you should take your wife to the suite Kazekage-sama has offered you. I think you both will rest better there. I will send for you if either of you are needed."

Lee nodded and started toward the door to the infirmary, Sakura cradled safely in his arms.

SLAM! the whole building shook with the acute impact. A lamp on the ceiling came loose and crashed to the ground just centimeters away from Lee.

"What the hell?" Naruto spun around in alarm. "What now?"

Kankurou body-flickered to the window. "Fuck! Who the hell now?"

"What is it, Kankurou?"

"Gaara's fighting someone hand-to-hand. And that someone has the upper hand I think!"

Kakashi had gone two shades paler.

"Who is it? Kankurou, who is it?" Naruto demanded.

"Kakashi, what's the matter?" Gai demanded at the same moment.

"Chidori," the Copy-nin said softly, his eye as wide as it could go. "I can hear Chidori."

There was a long pause as that sunk in to everyone. There were only two people in the world who could use Chidori.

Naruto put to voice what everyone thought: "It's Sasuke!"

Gaara backflipped away from his assailant, trying to swing an arm of sand up to wrap around the missing-nin.

"That won't work, you desert rat," Uchiha Sasuke taunted. "I've got you now. I've waited ten years to kill you."

"Why did you drag my village into this?" Gaara demanded. "If you have a bone to pick with me, you should target me, and me alone. You shouldn't drag my village into this."

"I don't recall killing any of your useless people. You're my target; I could care less about your stupid village. You foolishly abandoned your village just as the other three villages closed in on you. It's your fault your people have died."

Gaara slammed his palms together. I didn't want to have to use this in mid-air, but I need to stop him. He began forming the seals, pooling the chakra beneath his feet and channeling it down the spiral into the sand in the ground. "Ryuusa bakuryuu."

"That attack won't work on me, you redheaded freak," Sasuke taunted, punching right through the wave that soared up from the ground. "You couldn't handle the weakest of the Akatsuki, and I managed to kill the strongest. I'll have you know I killed Deidara and Itachi. Of course, no thanks to you that I managed to kill Itachi without breaking a sweat, since you crippled him. But Deidara, who defeated you without breaking a sweat himself, died at my hands."

"You talk too much, Uchiha Sasuke. You are worse than that Deidara was." Gaara's eyes narrowed. "You're bold, I'll give you that. You're standing on my sand, which I use to crush limbs."

"You don't scare me, sand-rat." Sasuke's hand sparked with that chakra-rich attack that he had used before on Gaara.

"Sasuke! Stop it!" A voice yelled from the building below.

"Stay out of this, Naruto!" Gaara commanded. "This is between Uchiha Sasuke and myself."

"No, it's not! Sasuke is my responsibility, not yours! Your responsibility is your village. Sasuke is my teammate, and my responsibility."

"Well, well, if it isn't you, Usuratonkachi," Sasuke drawled. "I didn't think you'd still be alive. Still not Hokage, I see."

"Obaachan won't retire until you drag your sorry ass back to Konoha," Naruto snarled, climbing up the spiral of sand. "And I fully intend to do make sure you do just that now that I have you in my sights."

There was a sharp whoosh, and a spear of flames came jettisoning toward them.

"Oh, so the Copy-ninja too? Well, I should feel honored," Sasuke split the javelin of flames with his Chidori.

"He is not the only one here to bring you  back, Sasuke-kun!" Lee roared as he charged up the spiral of sand as well. "How many can you take on at once?"

"Shannaro!" Sakura vaulted over Lee in an orchestrated move, cocking her fist back and letting a chakra-enhanced punch fly. "You asshole, I waited for you for ten years! And this is how you greet us?"

Sasuke dodged the punch and delivered a stunning blow to the small of her back, sending her skidding down the spiral.

An arm of sand emerged and caught her before she hit the ground. "Don't get yourself hurt," Gaara admonished. "You're important to my village right now."

"I have to fight this -- "

"Were you dispatched as a healer or as a fighter?" Gaara interrupted. "Which did Hokage-sama send you as? Behave more like what you were sent to be."

"Stop telling me what to do, Gaara!" Sakura threw a punch in his direction, which was blocked by a tendril of sand. "I've been waiting for ten years for this."

The sand restrained her, "Calm yourself down. There are enough other people to fight him."

A lance of Chidori interrupted them, punching through Gaara's sand wall, causing the Kazekage to throw himself backwards in automatic reaction. Sakura barely had time to get her orientation that she was no longer restrained, before she was grabbed around the shoulders by an arm of flesh and bone.

A sword appeared at her throat.

"Back off, all of you. You don't all back down, and she dies." The blade pressed against her throat.

All movement ceased. Naruto and Lee both looked like they were going to blow their respective stacks. Kakashi and Gai restrained them as best they could.

"I'm only targeting that inhuman monster," Sasuke said, pointing at Gaara. "If the rest of you just back off, there'll be only one casualty. Believe it or not, I don't delight in killing just anyone."

"If you think we're going to stand back and let you kill our Godaime Kazekage, you better fucking think again!" A voice shouted from the infirmary window. "KUCHIYOSE: KUROKAGE KEIBA!"

"Sanami!" Kankurou hollered back. "What the hell are you doing?!"

A black shadow roared out of the infirmary window, streaking toward Sasuke. The missing-nin snorted. "I wasn't kidding. She's dead now." He drew the blade across Sakura's throat, expecting a fountain of blood. Instead, he got a fountain of sand.

"Good work, Kankurou," Gaara said, forming the sand in his hands into a kunai, stepping in front of Sakura, who he'd managed to pull out of Sasuke's hands with the Kawarimi technique.

"I'll slap Sanami good when this is over, using so much chakra to summon Kurosuna," the puppeteer said as he began to move his fingers, causing the puppet wrapped in Sasuke's arm to respond, encircling the missing-nin. "All for the sake of a distraction."

"Sunakunai," Gaara hurled the sand kunai in his hand, pinning the puppet to Sasuke's shoulder.

"You think that'll work on me?" Sasuke growled. "You are such a fool, Gaara. You haven't grown a bit."

"That's what you think," Gaara said with a smirk. "Actually, I learned a lot from my fight with Deidara long ago. Katsu!"

The kunai impaled in Sasuke's shoulder exploded as if tagged with an explosive tag.

"I injected that sunakunai with explosive energy. You continue to underestimate me, Uchiha Sasuke."

"And you underestimate me, Sabaku no Baka!" Sasuke cast aside the puppet and launched himself angrily at the Kazekage. "You're out of tricks now -- I've seen them all from you one way or another!"

Damn, he's probably right. I've used all my techniques recently. Except for one. Gaara glanced over at Kankurou and nodded his head sharply. Then he reached into his sash and pulled out a large scroll. Wiping a bead of sweat and a dab of saliva across it, he tossed the scroll into the air and made five signs in rapid succession: Bird, Pig, Bull, Dog, Ram "KUCHIYOSE: SUNA NO TANUKI."

Kankurou gouged out a stream of blood in his hand and slammed it against his puppet. "KUCHIYOSE: SABAKU NO NEKO."

Temari, leaning against the infirmary window frame, despite her illness, also bit out a strand of blood and wiped it on her fan: "KUCHIYOSE: KIRIKIRI MAI."

"MERGE!" Gaara shouted to the three summoned beasts.

Kurosuna leaped up over the tallest of the three beasts, the giant sand tanuki, landing on its head. "Bad idea, Kazekage-sama. You know you can't really control the merged summoning."

"Shut up, stupid horse!" Kankurou yelled. "He won't be controlling it alone!"

Sasuke finally laughed maniacally.

"I guess it's time I showed you my own modification of this jutsu that you saw earlier. I am the last of the Uchiha Clan, and in me is the galvanization of this kekkei genkai. I will now show you why. Sabaku no Gaara -- meet Chidori Nagashi!"

Coming soon: "Part Five: A Flower of Hope" wherein Lee finally shows the others just what he's made of.

END NOTES: Terminology, for those who are a bit rusty:
"Geji-mayu" is what Naruto calls Rock Lee. It translates as "fuzzy eyebrows" or as the English dub anime calls it, "Bushy Brow" and is Naruto's nickname for Lee. He doesn't mean anything rude by it, and Lee doesn't seem to mind.
"Ero-sennin" is what Naruto calls Jiraiya. It means "perverted hermit" or as the English dub anime calls it, "Pervy Sage" and is Naruto's nickname for Jiraiya. Jiraiya doesn't particularly like the nickname, but he seems to get used to it.
"Gama-sennin" is what Jiraiya is often called. It means "toad hermit" or as the English dub anime calls it, "Toad Sage"
"Nakimushi-kun" means "Mr. Crybaby" and is what Temari calls Shikamaru, much to his chagrin.
Hitai-ate are the "forehead protectors" (headbands) worn by all shinobi with symbols of their home village. Because they can be worn anywhere, or not worn at all, I have chosen to use the untranslated word rather than the term "forehead protector" or "headband"
The word "Sabaku" in Gaara's name, written as it is with the kanji that it is, actually means Sand Waterfall, though there is a homonym (using different kanji/kana) that means desert -- hence the standard translation of "Sabaku no Gaara" as "Gaara of the Desert"
A kunoichi is a female ninja. It is often used in the series as a synonym for ninja or shinobi, when talking about a female. Thus it's used here sporadically much as it is in the series.
A kekkei genkai is, basically, a "bloodline limit" -- refering to a talent or trait that is passed down genetically. The Sharingan and the Byakugan are the two most well-known kekkei genkai in this series.
"Usuratonkachi" is what Sasuke calls Naruto when he's being derisive. It basically means "idiot" or "clumsy idiot"
"Shannaro" is what Sakura says for emphasis. It generally means "Hell yeah!" or "Dammit!" depending on context.
"Katsu" is a word spoken to bring focus (as demonstrated by Deidara in his fight against Gaara). It also means "Explode" or "Ignite."

Hidden Villages:
Konohagakure: "The Hidden Village of Leaves" is the principle village of the Fire Country (Hi no Kuni), and is headed by the Godaime Hokage, Tsunade.
Sunagakure: "The Hidden Village of Sand" is the principle village of the Wind Country (Kaze no Kuni), and is headed by the Godaime Kazekage, Gaara.
Kirigakure: "The Hidden Village of Mist" is the principle village of the Water Country (Mizu no Kuni), and is headed by the Mizukage.
Iwagakure: "The Hidden Village of Rocks" is the principle village of the Earth Country (Tsuchi no Kuni), and is headed by the Tsuchikage.
Kumogakure: "The Hidden Village of Clouds" is the principle village of the Lightning Country (Rai no Kuni), and is headed by the Raikage.
Otogakure: "The Hidden Village of Sound" is Orochimaru's creation. It has no kage.
Kusagakure: "The Hidden Village of Grass"
Amegakure: "The Hidden Village of Rain"
Takigakure: "The Hidden Village of the Waterfall"

Attack names:
Asa Kujaku means "Morning Peacock" and has not yet been officially translated into English (used by Gai)
Chidori means "One Thousand Birds" but is largely left untranslated in the dub, beyond the intial translation (used by Kakashi and Sasuke)
Chidori Nagashi means "One Thousand Birds Current" and is currently a manga-only attack  (used by Sasuke)
Gokusamaisou literally means "Prison Sand Burial" and has not yet been translated in the English dub, since it hasn't shown up yet (used by Gaara)
Omote Renge means "Front Lotus" or "Initial Lotus" though the English dub calls it the "Primary Lotus" (used by Lee)
Raikiri literally means "thunder cut" or "lightning edge" but is called "Lightning Blade" in the dub (used by Kakashi)
Rasengan literally means "spiraling sphere" but seems to be left largely untranslated in the English dub (used by Jiraiya and Naruto)
Ryuusa Bakuryuu literally means "Quicksand Waterfall" and has not yet been translated in the English dub, since it hasn't shown up yet (used by Gaara)
Sabaku Kyuu literally means "Desert Coffin" though the English dub calls it "Sand Coffin" (used by Gaara)
Sabaku Sousou literally means "Desert Funeral" though the English dub calls it "Sand Burial" (used by Gaara)
Sabaku Taisou literally means "desert imperial funeral" and has not yet been translated in the English dub, since it hasn't shown up yet (used by Gaara)
Ura Renge means "Reverse Lotus" though the English dub calls it the "Hidden Lotus" (used by Lee)
Kuchiyose: Kurokage Keiba ("Summoning: Black Shadow Racehorse") is an invented attack used by Sanami to summon Kurosuna