Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ The Flower in Adversity ❯ A Flower of Hope ( Chapter 5 )
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.
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.
Also: Under no circumstances am I trying to typecast or stereotype lesbians, or even homosexuals in general, with Yumiya's character. She was developed as an antithesis to most of the kunoichi you see in the story --I wanted to make her a loud, foul-mouthed and tactless woman with few social graces and a penchant for really coarse language -- and all this was done long before I ever made a decision on her sexual preferences. Hence, her personality is not meant to be a reflection on the fact that she is a lesbian. Her being a lesbian is mostly a plot point to explain her frustration when people try to set her up with Gai.
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"
"You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas; I am strong, when I am on your shoulders; You raise me up, to more than I can be." --Brendan Graham, "You Raise Me Up"
"The Flower in Adversity"
Part Five: A Flower of Hope
Narita Yumiya swore bitterly under her breath even as she held her hands cupped around a small plant, blood dripping from slices on her fingers and pooling steadily at the base of the plant. The greenhouse plants were responding, slowly. Meanwhile, she could hear fighting going on outside, fighting she firmly believed she should be involved in. She hated this kekkei genkai with a fury. The Naritas were an esteemed clan of precocious herbalists and healers, especially the women. Those who weren't healers or herbalists, excelled in genjutsu. Yumiya was one of those that excelled in both, but unlike most, she hated the healer part of her ability, because it made people look at her as just a kunoichi. Just a woman. The one thing she hated to be viewed as, above all other things.
I should've been a man, dammit. Maybe I'd actually be able to gain some respect from the other guys then, instead of them just staring at me with those damned googly eyes. Even Gai tends to get jelly-eyed with me. And he isn't afraid to hit me with everything he's got just 'cuz I'm a girl.
Konohamaru stood by the door, looking out, monitoring the fight going on outside the main building. "I can't believe Sasuke has become so evil. He didn't used to be."
"Pfft," Yumiya grunted. "Them Uchihas were all a bunch of fucking crazy psychos. As annoying and arrogant as the Hyuugas are, they never betrayed Konoha. The Uchiha clan has been the fount for a number of dangerous missing-nin. Only thing worse to happen to Konoha than the Uchihas is Orochimaru, and he wasn't part of any clan I know of."
"Doesn't make Sasuke evil, you know," Konohamaru said stiffly.
"I never liked that brat," Yumiya said. "I told Sandaime-sama he shouldn't have given that brat to someone lenient like Kakashi-sempai. Sasuke needed someone stricter, someone who wouldn't hesitate to beat his ass in if he got out of line. Someone like Asuma, maybe, even if he was a bit on the lazy side too. He didn't take shit off his students the way Kakashi-sempai did. I won't say Gai would've been a perfect match, but at least he wouldn't have given Sasuke that much free rein."
"Kakashi-sensei only had one genin team, that's common knowledge. Team Seven was the first genin team to pass his exams."
"As a jounin in charge of genin, yes, that was his first. But he was a trainer of sorts in ANBU too. You forget, I was in ANBU for years."
The chakra coursing through Yumiya's channels started to burn. Dammit. I'm going to run out before this row is done. She slowed the flow considerably for a moment as she pondered. I could open these cuts and pour more blood into the soil. More blood means less chakra is required. But then I run the risk of anemia.
"Are you all right, Yumiya-san?"
"I'm about at my limit. I'm debating whether I should risk using more blood or not."
"Don't overdo it," Konohamaru said. "Chakra is easier to replenish than blood, after all."
"Perhaps, but the more blood I use, the less chakra I need to use. If I do it right, I can finish this row before I run out." She grabbed a shuriken, widening the cuts on the fingers of her left hand. "Otherwise, some of these will be stunted."
"How does it work? This kekkei genkai of yours?"
"Who the fuck knows?" Yumiya grumbled. "I think there's some chromosomes that are similar to plants, something they recognize. But I dunno. I never bothered to learn. Mum never told me cuz I never asked."
"Say, Yumiya-san, when are you and Gai-sensei gonna get married and start a family? Everyone's wondering too. It'd be a shame to let your bloodline trait go to waste."
"You little shit, stop saying shit like that!" Yumiya angrily threw a punch at the chuunin, but lost her balance and fell into a heap. "No fucking way in hell I'm gonna marry Gai, nor pop out any spawn! In case you didn't realize it, I don't particularly like men, because I'm a goddamned lesbian!"
"Gotcha!" the chuunin grinned. "Saying stuff like that gets you every time, you know."
"That and the fact that you mentioned this goddamned bloodline thing. You know I hate it, don't you?"
"I don't get it -- you're one of the few ninja in the village with a full kekkei genkai, and you act like it's a burden!"
"That's because it is a burden." She resumed her stance, crouched over a plant, squeezing blood into the dirt and using her chakra to force the blood into the roots. "Unlike the Sharingan or the Byakugan, this trait has no practical use in combat. Even though I don't want to be, I'm stuck being a healer and herbalist because of it. It robs me of my own self-chosen destiny, if you will, by forcing me on a path I'd rather not take."
Konohamaru leaned over where she was standing, watching her work. "Say, I didn't know you were an actual healer."
"Well, I'm not very good at it, but yeah, I do have some skills. Why do you ask?"
"Your chakra is green," the chuunin said matter-of-factly, pointing to the green aura surrounding her hands. "Looks like Tsunade-sama's Shousen no Jutsu."
"Oh, this is my natural chakra," Yumiya shrugged. "It's always this color. You've seen Naruto's red chakra, right?"
"Well, technically that's not his chakra at all."
"Split hairs, why don't you? My point is, he has his normal chakra and the red chakra. The red chakra, of course, is the Kyuubi's. But you can see that chakra can take on different natural colors. Well, my clan's genetic traits tend toward green-colored chakra, which apparently the plants recognize. Which is why it takes a combination of my blood and my chakra for this to work. I've also learned that soldier pills don't help. I have set amount of natural chakra at any one point, and if I use that up, I have to wait until my body has generated more. There are no short-cuts. But that's only for plant-growth acceleration; soldier pills can help bolster my ninjutsu and genjutsu if necessary. Gai will kick my ass if he finds out I used this," she added as she fished around in her hip pouch and pulled out a soldier pill. "These things are nasty, but necessary." She popped it into her mouth.
"You just said that won't help."
"It won't help with this," she gestured to the plants, "but I can still fight a battle with the chakra that the soldier pill converts." She stood up slowly, the effects of the soldier pill causing her to wobble a bit. "I've done all I can do for today with these plants."
Gaara shook some of the sand out of his hair, dragging himself to his feet before Sasuke could lance him with a modified Chidori. This was definitely not what he'd expected; the Chidori Nagashi was an electrifying attack that stunned rather than killed an opponent, but it was definitely potent enough that Gaara didn't want to be hit with it again. It shocked the nervous system, paralyzing the opponent briefly, which enabled Sasuke to focus the power into his hand and make a genuine Chidori out of it. Gaara had lucked out last time in that someone else had managed to get in the way and block the attack before Sasuke could punch through Gaara's chest. But he wasn't going to count on that luck holding a second time.
Most of the ninja were now keeping a distance from Sasuke. Unfortunately, the best fighter at long range was Temari, who was incapacitated. There was only so far that Neji's Hakku Kuushou could reach, and Sasuke was wise to Shikamaru's Kagemane no Jutsu, so he stayed out of Shikamaru's range, blocking any attempts at using the trench knives for added range by throwing a spear of Chidori at the shadow-user.
Chouji and Kiba were already out of the fight, having been knocked unconscious by Sasuke's modified Chidori Nagashi. Tenten likewise had been knocked out of the fight when Sasuke blew up her weapon summoning scroll, rendering her almost defenseless. With Sakura as the only kunoichi in the fight now, and with Shino unable to fight because his bugs were afraid of the lightning, it left the fight up to Shikamaru, Naruto, Sakura, Kakashi, Lee, Gai, Neji, Kankurou and Gaara to fight against Sasuke, who was clearly used to fighting against orchestrated teams.
Gaara ducked behind one of Kankurou's puppets, flinching as a spear of Chidori pierced through the puppet. When did Uchiha Sasuke get this godlike strength? Doesn't he run out of chakra anymore?
"G-Gaara -- " Kankurou gasped, "I-I can't m-maintain this..." The chakra strings were getting thin and ragged. He'd expended a lot of chakra with the half-dozen puppets he'd been forced to use, nevermind the summoning earlier that hadn't really worked. "I c-can't do anymore..."
"Hold it for just five more seconds, Kankurou." Maybe I can get a Sunabunshin up in the puppet's place. Not that I can control it, I never learned the puppetry techniques, so it's not like I can make a convincing one that moves.
Kakashi and Gai managed to land in front of them just as Kankurou collapsed, taking his puppet down with him. Gaara encapsulated his brother with his sand, using it to transport him to the top of the Administrative Building, out of the way of the fight.
"Kazekage-sama, I really think you should back off for a bit. He's after you, and clearly you're unable to fight him properly," Kakashi advised. "I'm not sure how we're going to fight that, since he's able to see any ninjutsu and genjutsu coming, and any taijutsu is too close of combat for that electrical current. But you're his target, so if you pull yourself out of range, we may have a better chance to surround him."
"I'm out of ideas," Gai said finally. "I hope Shikamaru's got something up his sleeve, cuz I'm totally stymied. I don't dare attempt Asa Kujaku, or even Ura Renge, on him while he's emitting electrical charges."
Kakashi glanced over his shoulder at the nearby building where the greenhouse was. "Well, we might have a trump card. Problem is, while that ninjutsu can work at a distance, it works best with a distraction technique. And that's assuming he doesn't take the lightning and spin it back on us."
"Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?" Gai asked sharply. He had one eye trained on Sasuke at all times, though Sasuke was currently focused on Naruto, who was trying to hit him with Rasengan, but couldn't get close enough to land the technique past the Chidori Nagashi..
"Probably. You know her better than I do."
Gaara, who was silently listening to this banter, brought his hands together in a seal. "I can create a diversion. It's an unfinished technique, an attempt at genjutsu, but I think it will impair the Sharingan."
Kakashi spied movement out of the corner of his eye. "Please do so, Kazekage-sama -- now!"
Gaara wasted no time: "Sunakemuri."
The sand at Gaara's feet leaped into motion, swirling up into the air and expanding into a dense cloud, engulfing Sasuke and Naruto.
"Excellent timing, Kazekage-sama!" Yumiya popped up out of almost thin air. "Perfect set up. Oi! UCHIHA! Eat this!" She made a rapid series of hand-seals culminating with the "Tiger" seal, a particularly potent seal for her; "Arashi no Mai no Jutsu!" The wind of the sandstorm Gaara had created was seized by the force of the kunoichi's chakra and altered direction; simultaneously, lightning sprang into being on the perimeter of the miniature sandstorm, creating a hell of a lot of noise.
"Hey, be careful!" Kakashi yelled over the noise. "He can manipulate lightning too!"
For almost thirty full seconds it seemed like Yumiya's attack was going to turn the tide and overwhelm Sasuke, since he hadn't been able to see it coming, with Gaara's sandstorm blinding him.
But then something happened as the sand began to spin out of the cloud. Sasuke ignited something, causing the lightning to violently repel. Forks of chakra-lightning lanced out in all direction, felling all shinobi within range. Because it was Chidori Nagashi and not Chidori itself, it wasn't fatal, but it stunned everyone it hit. Yumiya and Shikamaru were knocked unconscious, and Neji, Gai, Kakashi and Naruto were stunned motionless. The force of the blast knocked Sakura a good distance away. The amount of chakra Gaara needed to repel the lightning with his sand armor drained him almost completely, leaving him too weak to move.
This left only one person besides Sasuke standing after the dust cleared: Rock Lee, who had managed to dodge the lightning when his sixth sense had warned him of its probability. Facing down with his old, old rival, Lee felt nothing but pure anger coursing through his veins. The "Nice Guy" facade fell away as his aggression rose.
It was time.
Slowly he crouched down and pushed the leg-warmers down, revealing the leg-weights strapped just above his ankles. With a sharp flick of his wrists, he unlatched the straps and pulled the weights away, dropping them into a loud pile behind him. Simultaneously, he pooled his strength, focusing his attention on the Opening Gate. He felt it spring open, and chakra began to course more thoroughly through him.
"So, Uchiha Sasuke-kun," he said calmly. "This is how you treat your own people? I must admit that I am very angry with you. Not only have you targeted my dear friend, but you have betrayed Konoha, you have threatened my wife, you have injured my sensei, you have incapacitated my teammates, and you betrayed the allied village that you should carry no grudge against. But the most unforgivable thing you have done is to so thoroughly spurn the one who thinks of you as a brother, who has spent the past ten and a half years trying to save you. I think it is time you learned a lesson or two about Leaf ninjas. Your Sharingan is not infallible. I told you once before, and I will say it again: you can follow my movements, but you cannot keep up with me. I will make sure of that."
Rest Gate. The Second Gate sprang open. All his fatigue faded away in flash. Life Gate. He felt himself grow warm as the Third Gate opened and his skin began to flush with the increased bloodflow. Although his body temperature didn't change, he felt slightly feverish at the warmth of his skin. He also heard, distantly, the yells of his fellow ninja, including Gai-sensei begging Neji to stop him, and Neji saying he couldn't even move.
Pain Gate. His lungs felt like they expanded in his chest as the Fourth Gate burst open. He breathed in deeply and focused the chakra down the network toward the crucial next point. Limit Gate. He nearly trembled as his chakra network began to hum with power as the Fifth Gate released. As he continued to breathe deeply, he reached into his pouches and pulled out several kunai and shuriken affixed with wires.
"The Lotus of the Leaf Village blooms even in times of hardship," he said, his voice echoing slightly with the rampant power in his body. "And when it blooms in adversity, it is the rarest and most beautiful flower of all. Come, Sasuke-kun! I will show you this Lotus!"
He launched himself at Sasuke, and the combination of the open Fifth Gate and his removed weights made him faster than even Sasuke could comprehend. Somersaulting as he reached the missing-nin, Lee kicked upwards and send Sasuke flying unceremoniously into the air. With a flick of his wrist, he hurled four shuriken with wires, wrapping the wires around Sasuke's ankles.
He landed in a crouch and pulled the wires taut, not even registering it when the wires bit into his hands and drew blood. Then, with a curved throw that Tenten had taught him, he threw the four Kunai and made them cross each other, winding around Sasuke, binding him. With a mighty heave, he lifted himself up off the ground and wound all the wires around his hands. Then, with another inhuman heave, he began whirling the helpless missing-nin like a lariat, then sent him flying straight up into the air. He'd planned for Sasuke to break free of the wires, and the missing-nin performed almost on schedule, lancing through the wires with his electricity and lightning current.
But Chidori Nagashi is no match for the Keimon. It was time to open the forbidden Sixth Gate; even with as much chakra as the Fifth Gate let flow, he still did not have enough to perform the modified Renge technique he wanted to perform. He needed the Sixth Gate to convert all those calories and proteins into chakra.
Lee focused his chakra into a jetstream. He couldn't mold or transform it, but he had spent the last ten years learning to channel it and control its flow. Neji had helped him learn how to control the flow, by closing or widening his points in training using his jyuuken until Lee got the hang of how it felt and learned how to make it move that way. He had learned how to use chakra to walk on the surface of water, scale a tree or building wall by foot, and Sakura had shown him to some degree how to put force into his punches using chakra. No, he couldn't mold chakra or transform it using ninjutsu, and he could only control his own chakra through sheer force of will, making genjutsu just as impossible for him, but he could open Seven of the Eight Gates without trouble, and do so on command.
View Gate. He felt the Gate swing open, not quite as eagerly as the others, but without hesitation. His belly seemed to burn with the converting power. Chakra began to course back up his spine and through his center. He knew he was going to regret this later, because he was going to be a mess after this was over, but now he had enough chakra.
And now was the gamble of a lifetime. He'd never tried this, because after developing the technique, he'd never had enough Gates open to see if he could do it. But it was now or never. I will NOT allow you to threaten my friends and my wife and get away with it. You dismiss me at your own peril, Sasuke-kun!
Launching skyward, he brought himself alongside Sasuke, who was floundering a bit in mid-air. Lee gathered the chakra raging through his body and focused them in his hands. He didn't have Sakura's control, and so he needed vast amounts more, but he had learned from training with Neji how to release it. As he brought his fists down on Sasuke, the chakra erupted from his fingertips exactly as he'd hoped it would.
His arms moved like pistons, pummeling Sasuke's abdomen and torso, the strikes damaging the muscles and skeleton, while the lancing chakra targeted the inner network and began to interfere with Sasuke's ability to keep Chidori Nagashi going. As the lightning "armor" faded away, the Uchiha survivor caved beneath the blows of the proud taijutsu expert.
With a horrific crash, the two slammed to the ground, with Lee just barely managing to get himself away before the impact of the fall made the two of them practically absorb each other. He fell to his hands and knees, gasping for breath as the Gates slammed shut in rapid succession. Without their deluge of power, he felt jelly-legged and wobbly.
"That, Sasuke-kun, was the Nozomi Renge."
Sasuke answered only by moaning as his consciousness wavered in and out. Any other human being would have been broken beyond repair, likely killed by that impact. But Sasuke was a survivor, and a lucky one at that. Still, he didn't escape injury. He knew he'd been beat. His body hurt too much to even breathe. His ribs were all cracked, he was sure of that, and his lungs were probably collapsed. His spine was possibly even broken.
"Have you nothing to say for yourself, Sasuke-kun?"
"You fucking ass, Lee. You did it again. You kicked my ass again. You're supposed to be a weak pansy-ass who couldn't hack it against Gaara. How the hell did you beat me?"
"I have had ten and a half years to make myself into the shinobi I wanted to become. What have you done in those same ten years, besides become an outlaw?"
"I have fulfilled my life's purpose. You have defeated me, so kill me. Finish the job."
"I have no intentions of killing you."
"You're either too weak from that attack, or too weak in the heart."
By now, the paralyzing effects of the lightning was wearing off, and several jounin stirred stiffly. Sakura scrambled to Lee's side.
"I swear to god, I'm going to kill you when I get a chance, Lee! How dare you do that!"
"You don't want to go making a widow of yourself, do you, Sakura-chan?" Naruto said as he stood up shakily.
"Fine, then I'll just make him wish he was dead!"
Gai and Kakashi managed to arrive then, and Gai caught Lee before he collapsed completely. Kakashi hesitantly approached where Sasuke lay in an impacted dent in the hard sandstone.
"Lee, what the hell was that? Where did you learn something like that?" Gai demanded.
"I developed it myself, Gai-sensei," Lee said fuzzily, his eyes lazily drooping as unconsciousness threatened. "When I figured out that Asa Kujaku is beyond my abilities, I developed my own Keimon-level attack. I am glad it worked." He drooped in Gai's arms.
"Stay with us, Lee," Gai shook him gently. "Don't pass out on me. You pass out, and you may not make it home, except as a corpse."
"Was it good?" Lee murmured. "Do you approve, Gai-sensei?"
"Stop that, Lee!" Sakura demanded, tears spilling out of her eyes. "I'm so angry with you I could slap you!"
Naruto stood undecided between his current and former teammates. Kakashi was inspecting Sasuke, who was only barely conscious.
"Naruto, go tend to him," Gaara said, stepping in front of Naruto's view. He gestured toward Sasuke. "You took responsibility for him. See to him. Do not worry about Rock Lee; I will see to him myself."
"Make sure his wife doesn't strangle him," Kakashi said. "She's unpredictable when she's angry."
Gaara's mouth twitched in a shadow of a smile. "Understood."
"Holy -- what happened here? Did we miss the fun?" Jiraiya boomed.
"Ero-sennin! Where the hell have you been? And you, Yamato-taichou!"
"Fighting off a half-dozen squads of enemy ninjas," Yamato said. "It is an honor to fight beside the Gama-sennin, I must admit, but I suppose I'm not as useful as I could be against Rock ninjas."
"Iwa-nin?" Kakashi said sharply. "Iwagakure is in on this after all?"
"Oh, very much so, sempai. They appear to have been in this one from the start. They came in a side-entrance, one I doubt many Suna-nin know about. It's a good thing for us that Jiraiya-sama's information network goes as far as it does."
"We've had Mist-nin and Rock-nin so far, and I would guess that a contingent from Kumogakure is up next," Jiraiya said. "Looks like you guys are all pretty beat up, so Yamato-kun and I will have to handle the next one as well."
"I can fight too, Ero-sennin," Naruto said. "I have plenty of chakra left."
"I think you have more important things on your agenda. And you can guard this building if you're itching for something to do. Don't worry -- if we need you, you'll know. But I've fought these kinds before by myself, and Yamato-kun is no slouch."
"I will assist you as well," another voice announced firmly. It was Baki, emerging from the main building. "Kazekage-sama has done more than enough, and you Leaf ninjas should not be expected to fight our enemies without at least one of us at your side."
Ino and Shizune brought a stretcher out and gently moved Sasuke onto it. Gai and Sakura kept Lee from passing out by forcing him to keep talking, though he was starting to come apart at the seams and not make the least bit of sense.
Tenten helped Neji to his feet. "I had no idea Lee had that kind of power in him; did you see that, Neji?" She blinked her eyes in amazement. "I thought he didn't have that kind of chakra control."
"He has worked very hard on it for a long time. I didn't know he could release chakra like that, but I did know he could control it's flow. You have to be able to do that to open and close the Gates at will like that. I helped him learn that, after all."
"You what? When?"
"After that disaster of the Chuunin exams ten years ago, when Lee nearly died, Gai-sensei asked me to help Lee train himself to close the Gates at will; he'd forgotten to teach Lee that part, and with all the missions required of him because we were at half power after that invasion, he didn't have as much time to teach him."
"He wanted you to teach Lee a technique you've never used yourself?"
"Well, once you master how the make the chakra flow along the main arterial channels, it's easy to make the Gates open or close. The problem was that Lee only knew how to force the chakra one way. I was able to help him by teaching him how to make the chakra flow move by using my jyuuken to familiarize him with how it feels when it flows. He just took it further than that when he learned."
"Man, is the fight over already? Sheesh! We're pretty lame, aren't we, Kiba, getting knocked out of the fight so early!" Chouji complained as Shikamaru gave him a hand to his feet.
"Yeah, well, I don't know about anyone else, but getting that close to a ball of lightning is dangerous as hell for me!" Kiba heaved himself to his feet, steadied by his teammate Shino.
Shino adjusted his sunglasses as he looked over at where Gai was shifting Lee so that he could carry him. "I had no idea he had that kind of power in him. That is very humbling, to see Rock Lee unleash a strike like that, that flattens Uchiha Sasuke in one blow."
"Say what?" Kiba said sharply.
Shikamaru raised an eyebrow at him; "You're telling me that was Lee that flattened Sasuke? I find that hard to believe."
Shino didn't answer as he pulled Kiba's arm across his shoulders and gave him some support. Akamaru whined as he stood up.
"Right, Gai, I know where the fuck your priorities are," Yumiya yelled crossly as she heaved herself to her feet. "Humbling, really."
"Shut up, Yumiya," Gai snarled, uncharacteristically angry. "Lee nearly killed himself to stop Sasuke. I don't see you throwing open the Sixth Gate. You have no place to criticize my priorities, when you can walk under your own power and are in no danger of dying."
"What the hell is that boy doing fucking around with those Gates again? Seriously, Neji, you oughta put a block so he can't use them."
"You think I'm capable of that?" Neji said, flabbergasted. "Look, I'm flattered you think so highly of my abilities, but seriously, that's not my place to decide what's best for him, even if I could do that. He knows what kind of danger he's in when he does it. He is an adult, you know. Here, you need help up?"
"Not from you, punk," Yumiya brushed him off gruffly, dusting off. "I was just trying to give that green moron a hard time and he bit my head off."
"Wow," Shizune said with a shake of her head. "That's a complex fracture in the spinal column, and yet it's entirely in the bones, not the spinal chord. You won't be paralyzed, Sasuke-kun, but you'll be in excruciating pain for a while. I'm afraid that the Hyuuga sisters and I haven't enough chakra right now to fix that for you, and I don't think it's fair to ask Sakura or Ino to attempt that. They don't have the Byakugan or Hanabi's bone-knitting ability, nor my experience."
Sasuke snorted softly in complete derision and shifted his eyes away.
Sakura clenched her fists, but Kakashi put his hand on her shoulder.
An orderly was putting linens on the bed next to Sasuke, preparing it for Lee, who was mostly exhausted and needed sleep. Shizune had confirmed that Lee was in no immediate danger, especially as long as Sakura stayed nearby to make sure his heart didn't suddenly stop, which was a remote possibility.
Lee snoozed in Gai's arms while the bed was prepared. Sakura stood next to them, one hand on Lee's forehead, trying to keep a monitor on his vitals.
The orderly finally smoothed the bedding and turned it down, making it ready. Gai gently laid his student in the starchy white linens. Lee let out a sigh of relief as he sank into the mattress. He awoke a little when Sakura sat down next to him on the mattress and began to examine him thoroughly.
"I am sorry, Sakura, to worry you," he murmured. "That was not my intention. Forgive me?"
"I suppose, you idiot, but I'm going to angry with you for a while. What am I going to do if you die on me?"
"We have had this discussion before, I think." With that, he dozed off again.
"Don't hit him, Sakura-san," a voice said firmly when Sakura's hand clenched into an involuntary fist. She looked up in surprise to see Gaara standing at the foot of the bed, still as a statue.
"I wasn't going to," she said, inwardly kicking herself for sounding so dumb.
"You looked like it. He is not nearly so fragile as you and his sensei treat him, but neither is he strong enough to withstand one of your chakra-punches, not in the condition he is in. I was warned to make sure you don't strangle him in your ire." The Kazekage's eyes shifted slightly to land his gaze on the still form of the motionless Uchiha in the next bed over. Sakura returned her attention to her patient, resisting the urge to slap him awake. He was in no danger, she kept telling herself.
She heard a soft, soft hiss and felt something move over her foot. Looking down in alarm, she realized that Gaara's sand was collecting around Lee's bed. She looked up sharply at the Kazekage, who wasn't looking at her, focusing his attention on Sasuke.
"Um," she cleared her throat. And again, louder, to get his attention. "Your sand?"
"Defense," he replied. "It is infused with Wind chakra. If he tries anything, it will overpower the lightning."
"He was beaten fair and square, and besides, he can't do anything with a broken back."
Gaara's tattoo shifted, indicated the muscle that would have controlled his eyebrow, if he had eyebrows, had shifted up in inquiry. "And have you ever killed in cold blood for the sheer bloodlust of it?"
"Then trust me on this, he is not through with Lee-san. He has the same eyes I once had. Eyes that seek affirmation of existence through the killing of others."
Sakura blinked. "How do you know what your eyes were like?"
Gaara snorted softly; "Again, it is a metaphor. I see in him what I once felt myself. A distinct loneliness, masked by antipathy and salved only by killing those who get in the way."
"Very perceptive," Sasuke retorted softly, proving that he wasn't asleep. "But I'm nothing like you. You could never understand what I have been through."
Gaara's eyes twitched slightly in annoyance. "You know nothing about me, clearly. And that is fine; you may remain ignorant."
Sakura paused in taking Lee's pulse and looked over at the motionless redhead. "Gaara?"
His eyes shifted over to her, acknowledging that she'd spoken to him and prompting her to speak, without him saying a word.
"Naruto once told me that you tried to kill Lee in the hospital."
"I did. I suppose you want to know why."
Sakura was taken aback with the frank lack of remorse in his tone. Didn't he proclaim that Lee was now a close friend?
"Well, it would be nice to know why, I suppose."
"The short answer to that is, I had failed to kill him earlier and sought to remedy that."
Oh that helps a lot.
Her expression must have said as much, because after a few moments, he elaborated.
"You must consider my mentality at the time. No one had ever survived my Sabaku Kyuu before, though granted I had never attempted it with so little chakra. I did not know what to think, only that someone I had tried to kill had survived. I cannot say that I hated him; I cannot say that I have ever hated anyone I have killed. It has never been personal. Shukaku was never particular about who I killed, only that I did so regularly.
"At the time, I was haunted constantly by Shukaku. In retrospect, I assume that he sensed the Kyuubi inside Naruto and was reacting to it, because he never bothered me so incessantly and ceaselessly as that time we were in Konoha for the Chuunin Exams. Also, I was being used as a weapon, which is what I was created to be, and was being treated as a weapon. Prior to that event, most people avoided me, and my own siblings had minimal contact with me. People who shied away from me suddenly were giving me orders or trying to cater to me. It is hard not to be bitter when you are shunned and feared for years, and then suddenly called upon to do someone else's bidding. And then to be so thoroughly pounded to the point where I nearly had to delve into Shukaku's arsenal to win the round... it was humbling and aggravating. Not to mention what might have happened had I lost the round."
He paused, perhaps a bit surprised at his own verbosity. He was not given for long speeches under any circumstance.
"So then why didn't you kill him, if you tried to do it again?"
"Simple: Naruto stopped me. I forget who else was with him at the time; the memory is fuzzy at best, because I was being railed at by Shukaku at the same time that that was happening."
"I'm told it was Shikamaru. And frankly, how can you forget that he was there, if he used his Kagemane no Jutsu on you? That's not something easily forgotten."
"It has been more than ten years since that happened, and my memory of events that far back is faulty at best. Shukaku was a completely separate entity within me, and he frequently raided my consciousness and my memories. I have gaping holes in my memory from where he was present. The only memories I have of the aftermath of that whole Chuunin Exams final rounds fiasco are of the two bouts that took place before mine, and of waking up on the forest floor, completely drained of chakra; I know that I fought against Naruto, and that somewhere in the interrim, I unleashed Shukaku, but I have no concrete memories of it anymore."
"That's strange. Didn't you say once that your fight with Naruto taught you a lot about yourself? That his views changed yours, and inspired you to strive to become Kazekage? I seem to recall Lee telling me that once."
Gaara shrugged; "I remember saying that, and I remember that that is true, but the actual event itself is no longer in my memories. They disappeared when Shukaku was extracted. I can only assume that those memories that are now gone were stored in Shukaku's memory, and when he was extracted, those memories went with him. It was through his memories that I knew about the previous two hosts, though not what happened to them; presumably because he did not understand what had happened."
His eyes shifted. "I am not entirely sure why I have told you all this, to be honest. I owe you no explanation. I do know that I am extremely fatigued and still in some amount of shock for what has happened to my village in my absense. At this point, any semblance of normalcy is a welcome relief."
Sakura turned and looked over at Sasuke. "Sasuke, I can tell you're awake. Why did you betray Sunagakure?"
"That's rich. Now inaction is called betrayal? It's not my fault the leader of this ridiculous village is so idiotic he leaves his village defenseless in time of war. No village is my home. If the Hokage abandoned Konohagakure when an attack is imminent, I would not raise a finger to stop the intruders. Same goes for Sunagakure and its stupid Kazekage. I didn't help any of those villages attack. It's not my fault this village is easy to infiltrate."
"You lead a sad and bitter existence, Uchiha Sasuke. I pity you," Gaara said coldly.
"I fulfilled my life's purpose. I was made an avenger, and I avenged."
"And now what will you do? That is why I pity you. You have achieved your lifetime goal, which makes your life now meaningless."
Sasuke didn't answer that.
After a while, silence befell the infirmary. Those who were uninjured (or whose superficial injuries were fixed by Ino, who was the only healer-nin with much chakra left after the tumor extraction from Sanami) gathered in Gaara's office under Kankurou's command, prepared to back up Yamato and Jiraiya if needed. Sakura stayed with Lee, resisting the urge to lay down on the mattress with him. At some point, she noticed that Gaara had dozed off, leaning against the wall and propped up to some degree by his sand gourd. It was strange to see Gaara asleep standing up like that. She wondered if it was something he'd developed during the years he'd been Shukaku's host, a way to rest without fully sleeping.
"So, when he spoke of his wife, he was talking about you," Sasuke said suddenly, startling Sakura. "Amazing."
She stiffened. "What's amazing?"
"That you married a freak like that."
"It's better than what I did for nine years, which was pine for you," she snapped.
"No wonder he went ballistic on me."
"I waited for you for so long, Sasuke," she said finally, after a long silence.
"Don't get me wrong, Sakura; I couldn't care less about you. You were useless ten years ago, and to me you're still useless and worthless."
"Well, at least I'm not a traitor," she said softly, tears stinging her eyes. She hated herself for that lame comeback, but she was too stunned by his callous words to think of anything better.
"Kazekage-sama!" Konohamaru came pelting into the infirmary, panting. "Neji-san just spotted an army of samurai approaching from the south!"
"Samurai?" Gaara snapped awake in an eyeblink.
"That's what he said. He said he can't tell who they're working for, but he assumes they aren't friendly."
"Oh bloody hell!" Ino said, dropping the clipboard in her hands. "We are screwed! There's no way in hell we can fight an army of samurai!"
Gaara frowned. "This is a war between Hidden Villages. None of the daimyou should be getting involved. Naruto!" He looked sharply over at the blond jounin, who was approaching to check on Sasuke's condition. "I need you to stay here. I'm going to go see what the hell this army of samurai is about."
"Is that wise, Gaara?" Naruto asked. "You're the Kazekage. You're this village's last line of defense."
"Right, and I'm also the first line of defense. I can raise the desert if I have to. I need you to stay here and keep this sand active. You have an affinity to fuuton chakra; hold this and keep it charged with fuuton chakra." He handed Naruto a small figurine made of sand. It was a figurine of a tiny raccoon; it looked almost exactly like a tiny copy of Gaara's familiar. "That will keep the sand here active. I do not trust Uchiha Sasuke not to attack Lee-san and Sakura-san, and he is smart enough to only attack when your attention is turned. The sand will sense the raiton chakra and will activate automatically."
Naruto blinked owlishly as he took the figurine. "Alright, but I think you're being overprotective."
"An ounce of prevention..." the Kazekage said in reply, and left the axiom open-ended as he exited the room, some of his sand trailing after him.
"'An ounce of prevention'?" Naruto blinked again. "Say what?"
"It's a saying, Naruto," Sakura said. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
"Sasuke wouldn't dare attack Geji-mayu when I'm here, would you, Sasuke."
"Shut up, Usuratonkachi. If I weren't in so much pain, I'd be wringing your neck right now."
Kankurou shaded his eyes as he peered down from the outer wall at the phalanx approaching steadily. He noticed the floating white orb hovering some distance overhead; Gaara was using his Daisen no Me.
"What do you think it is, Kankurou?" Kiba inquired. "Enemy or ally?"
"I want to say ally," Kankurou said; "They're wearing armor like I've seen in our daimyou's court. But why they're marching on us is a mystery. The daimyou's fucking scared as hell of Gaara."
Kakashi had a spyglass in hand and was peering through it. "They don't appear to be hostile. They seem to be traveling, not approaching a target. Has your daimyou gotten word of your village's disaster?"
"That's the daimyou's personal guard legion," Gaara said finally, releasing the Daisen no Me. "I can tell by the armor and weapons. Kankurou, go down there and meet them just outside the gate. Kurosuna, go with him, and if they're hostile, get him out of there. I'll bury them with Sabaku Taisou if I have to."
The nin-uma nodded his great black head and presented himself for Kankurou to ride. With a shrill whinny, the horse kicked up a cloud of sand and galloped down the rampart, executed a complex turn on a hairpin, and galloped out of the walls through the long channel of the gateway.
Gaara clenched his hands on the straps of the gourd's harness.
I hope I have enough chakra for this, if they're hostile. And I hope they don't shoot Kankurou on sight. Kurosuna's fast, but only if he gets enough warning. His resolve hardened. If they so much as harm Kankurou, they're all dead. I don't care why the daimyou sent them, he is one of the only jounin I have left, nevermind that he's my brother. As Kazekage, I will avenge the slaying of my top jounin; and if I take some pleasure in it, well, he is my only brother, and I will not stand for him to be harmed.
Kurosuna came to a halt just beyond the boundary of the walls, just as the phalanx reached the same point.
There was absolutely no movement whatsoever from either side.
Gaara brought his hands together, forming the opening seal for Ryuusa Bakuryuu, prepared to raise the desert.
Then the phalanx's ranks parted, revealing a shogun for the daimyou, mounted on a giant red warhorse.
"We come on Kaze-sama's orders to offer Kazekage-sama what defense assistance we can," the shogun announced, using the daimyou's title as the Lord of the Wind Country. "Word has reached us of the attacks upon this village and we are prepared to assist Kazekage-sama if he will accept our help."
Coming soon: "Part Six: Beautiful Disaster" wherein Naruto and Kakashi try to convince Sasuke to return to Konoha.
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"
"Usuratonkachi" is what Sasuke calls Naruto when he's being derisive. It basically means "idiot" or "clumsy idiot"
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"
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.
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.
Canon technique 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)
Daisen no Me means "Third Eye" and is Gaara's spying technique.
Hachimon is literally the "Eight Gates" chakra control technique. Read more about it at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_taijutsu_in_Naruto#Eight_Gates
Hakke Kuushou literally means "Eight Trigrams Empty Palm" and is Neji's specialized development of the Kaiten (used by Neji)
Hakkeshou Kaiten literally means "Eight Trigrams Palms Heavenly Spin" though the English dub calls it "Eight Trigrams Palm Rotation" (used by the Hyuuga clan)
Hakke Rokujuuyon Shou literally means "Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms" and is left unchanged in the English dub (used by the Hyuuga clan)
Kagemane no Jutsu literally means "Shadow Imitation Technique" though the English dub calls it "Shadow Possession" (used by Shikamaru)
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 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)
Shousen no Jutsu literally means "Mystical Palm Technique" and is the ninjutsu technique of choice for most medic-nin. (Used by all medical ninja)
Ura Renge means "Reverse Lotus" though the English dub calls it the "Hidden Lotus" (used by Lee)
Invented technique names:
Arashi no Mai no Jutsu (literally "Dance of Storms Technique") is Yumiya's favorite ninjutsu attack and combines a manipulation of Lightning and Wind.
Nozomi Renge (literally "Hope Lotus") is Lee's created Sixth-gate attack in place of attempting Asa Kujaku
Sunakemuri (literally "Sand Cloud") is Gaara's attempt at genjutsu, which raises a miniature sandstorm to obstruct the opponent's vision.
Fuuton: wind-based chakra; weaker than katon, stronger than raiton
Raiton: lightning-based chakra; weaker than fuuton, stronger than doton
Doton: earth-based chakra; weaker than raiton, stronger than suiton
Suiton: water-based chakra; weaker than doton, stronger than katon
Katon: fire-based chakra; weaker than suiton, stronger than fuuton
Honorific suffixes, for those who are rusty:
-chan is used mostly towards females, and indicates a long-term, close friendship. Generally one only uses it for someone one has known since childhood. From the outset in the canon story, Naruto has always referred to Sakura as Sakura-chan.
-dono is an antiquated suffix that is less formal than -sama but more formal than -san. It is often used to express either submission (when used in place of -san) or equality (when used in place of -sama). In this story, Tsunade uses -dono toward Gaara to indicate their equality in ranks.
-kun is used mostly towards males that are younger. It is a more informal, if you will, form of -san, but less intimate than -chan. It can be used towards girls, but is not usually.
-obaachan is used to address someone who is much older. In this context, "baa" essentially means "Honorable old woman." It's sometimes translated as "granny" but is actually very respectful, as long as the addressee doesn't mind being referred to as an old woman. The male equivalent is "-ojiichan"
-oneesan is used to address a woman who is older than you and with whom you have a relatively close, familial bond, though blood relations aren't necessary. The word "nee" means older sister, "san" is a respectful suffix, and "o" is a modifier that adds respect to the word. Thus, saying "Temari-oneesan" is like saying "Big Sister Temari-san." The male equivalent is "-oniisan." Hanabi and Hinata use this with Neji, who is their cousin, to show their blood relation. An alternative, showing more affection, would be "-(o)niichan" like Konohamaru uses with Naruto, or "-oneechan" like Naruto uses with many older kunoichi.
-sama is used to express great respect and humility.
-san is the most generic and safest suffix to use.
-sempai is used to address a superior within an organization. Rather like "brothers" or "sisters" within a cult or coven. Roughly this can mean "senior" versus "junior." This is the "big brother/big sister" term. Its counterpart is "-kouhai" but isn't used nearly as much, because calling someone "-kouhai" can be taken as offensive or demeaning if you're not careful.
-sensei is used to address a teacher, instructor, or an expert in a particular art. Also, -sensei is used to address doctors.
-shishou is used to address one's master in a particular art, such as martial arts, or in the case of Sakura, in the healing arts.
-taichou is used to address one's team leader or captain.
(paraphrased and interpreted from source: Wikipedia's entry on "Japanese Titles" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_titles)