Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ The Flower in Adversity ❯ Beautiful Disaster ( Chapter 6 )

[ 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. HOWEVER: Because the Yondaime Hokage's name was revealed in chapter 367, I am going to use the name provided by Kishimoto-sensei, because... because it's canon, okay? Anyway, the story itself is based no further than 360, because, dammit, I don't want Jiraiya to die. Therefore, it's probably AU. Refer to the Author's Note in the first chapter for more details.

Also, this chapter didn't go quite as planned. I intended to focus more on Sasuke, but I just don't quite "get" his character, so I downplayed him. He's still here, and still being something of an ass, but he proved too difficult to write convincingly, so I opted to explore Gaara and Lee a little more, because I totally love them more and understand them better. Selfish writering FTL.

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 and adult situations. Some references to sex. Nothing explicit, but you have to remember that Lee and Sakura had their honeymoon interrupted. You dun been warned.

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

"He's magic and myth, as strong as what I believe. A tragedy with more damage than a soul should see" --Kelly Clarkson, "Beautiful Disaster"

"The Flower in Adversity"
Part Six: Beautiful Disaster


"These Cloud ninjas are a joke!" Naruto scoffed as he stamped his foot into the rampart and planted his hands triumphantly on his hips.

"Don't get complacent," Gaara admonished mildly. "Raiton caves at fuuton. Your fuuton chakra is considerably more powerful than most, and potentially stronger than mine."

"Ha!" Naruto laughed. "My Wind chakra is stronger than yours, and you're the Kazekage!"

"Exactly. But I think my katon is stronger than yours, and you will be the Hokage," Gaara retorted in kind. "So it works out. And neither of us can claim our fuuton came from our bijuu either."

"Nope," Naruto dusted his hands off. "Kyuubi is primarily fire. What was Shukaku?"

"Earth. After all," the Kazekage brought his hands together in a seal, sending a spear of fuuton energy slicing through a Kumogakure ninja's building lightning attack, "what is sand but the broken-down particles of rocks? The only reason it is associated more with wind is because sand is moved by wind, whereas rocks are not."

"Speaking of rocks! Gimme some fucking Rock-nin, man, I wanna smash some heads!" Yumiya growled, her arms folded stubbornly across her chest. "I want to use some Lightning for once, and I'll be damned if those stupid Cloud-nin aren't a bad match for my Arashi no Mai. Sasuke proved that when he turned the Lightning back on me." She grinned bloodthirstily, gaining an askance look from Gaara and a glare from Naruto. "Oh shut up. Kakashi-sempai understands me when I say that those Rock-nin have it coming."

Some distance behind them, Gai, Kakashi and Yamato watched mutely as the three worked like an old team. With Temari out of action due to illness, those three were the strongest with fuuton ninjutsu, which was the trump card to beating raiton ninjutsu like the Cloud ninjas used. Gaara used long-range fuuton, Yumiya used mid-range, and Naruto used close-range. Plus, with Naruto's kage-bunshin ability, Yumiya's on-the-fly genjutsu and typhoon-like Wind-shield, and Gaara's chakra-sand that was really only susceptible to water (which made fighting Mist-nin difficult for most of the village), they really had all bases covered for defense as well.

Kakashi watched Gai out of the corner of his eye, noting that Gai watched Yumiya exclusively.

You haven't changed a bit, Gai, he thought. You have the same look in your eyes that Lee-kun always had when looking at Sakura. The difference here is that you're fixated on someone who's out of your reach.

"Are the three of them holding that whole group off by themselves?" Jiraiya asked as he sauntered up. "Damn, that little missy can hack it with the Godaime Kazekage and future Rokudaime Hokage? Not too shabby."

Gai chuckled. "Don't let her hear you call her a little missy, Jiraiya-sama. She's got a temper to rival Tsunade-sama's, though her punch isn't as lethal. And she really hates being patronized by men."

"She hasn't used her genjutsu once this whole fight, has she?" Yamato observed. "She's focusing all her chakra on her ninjutsu, which isn't like her."

"She's using soldier pills, what do you expect?" Kakashi said, gaining a sharp glance from Gai. "I saw her pop a couple. Her highest level genjutsu relies on her kekkei genkai chakra, which doesn't respond to soldier pills; her ninjutsu, on the other hand, does."

"I thought her chakra looked a bit funny," Gai said with a growl, his hands curling into fists. "Dammit, where'd she get those? I thought I threw them all away."

Kankurou, standing next to the taijutsu expert, raised an eyebrow at Gai. "What's the problem with her using them? I mean, she's an adult, and this is war."

"She's got an old addiction to soldier pills," Yamato said, "from her ANBU days after her partner Yukiko was killed. She blamed herself for Yukiko's death, felt that Yukiko wouldn't have died if she'd been stronger, and for a time she tried to use soldier pills so that she could train at obscene hours."

"Training at obscene hours," Jiraiya said with a chuckle, ruffling Gai's hair. "Sounds quite familiar."

"Ditto," Kankurou grinned. "When he was the ambassador here, Rock Lee used to train during the evening hours. We all thought he was crazy. The coolest time of day is just before sunrise. It's wiser to go to bed early and get up before sunrise to train. He did both -- trained in the morning and in the evening. I don't know when he ever slept, to  be honest."

"Yeah but Gai doesn't use soldier pills," Kakashi pointed out. "He does everything under his own power, succeed or fail. And that's how he teaches his students to train. I doubt Lee and Neji have ever even so much as touched one, and Tenten I imagine is only familiar with them because all ANBU are equipped with them for emergencies."

"Ah," Jiraiya nodded, "that would be why you get so angry with Yumiya for using them, eh, Gai?"

"That and she nearly poisoned her own system with those damned things," Gai hissed through his teeth. "I'm gonna give her a piece of my mind when this is over with." His hands were in tight fists. Tenten, standing off to Kankurou's right, flinched. She'd only twice been on the receiving end of those fists of rage, but both times had been monumentally unpleasant. Gai didn't hold back on anyone. When he was pissed off, he punched the person who pissed him off. It didn't matter who they were. If they couldn't defend themselves, then they deserved to be clobbered.

A sparkling kunai came whizzing in, missing Naruto and Gaara and stabbing into the ground at Kankurou's feet. The puppetmaster yelped loudly and leaped back. "Hey! Gaara, what the hell?"

"You've got plenty of chakra, Kankurou. Protect yourself," Gaara said without turning, forming his sand into a spear and hurling it at an enemy.

Kankurou grumbled angrily as he summoned a puppet. "My main element is earth. My defenses are useless against that."

The fight raged on for about three more minutes. Naruto found an opening and prepared a quick Rasengan, catapulting himself in the fray and taking out a swath of cloud ninjas. Yumiya formed an aerial sword of Wind chakra and cut through a forming lightning attack, trying her hand at long-range ninjutsu.

"Naruto! Baki! Get out of there!" Gaara then ordered.

"And that right there is checkmate," Kakashi said drolly. "This fight is now over. I recognize that move now. Yumiya, don't even think about it!"

"Yeah, yeah, I know," the kunoichi retorted and backflipped away. She landed, after a couple more flips, next to Gai. "Dammit, shown up by a pair of young punks."

"One of them Kazekage and the other one likely to be Hokage within the next year or so," Jiraiya teased, thumping her behind the head, stalling Gai's punch of fury. "The fact that you could hack it with them at all is impressive."

"Wait, Kazekage-sama!" Baki called as he body-flickered up to the rampart. "The streets aren't quite evacuated!"

"What the hell are the civilians doing out in the streets at a time like this? Don't they know anything."

"Not the civilians -- the samurai that are helping rebuilding the damaged buildings."

"It's okay, Baki-sama, they're out," a Suna chuunin said as she landed next to the tall Suna jounin. "They're quick."

Gaara didn't waste any time and raised the sand from beneath the city. "Ryuusa Bakuryuu."

A tidal wave of sand rose up and drowned the Cloud ninjas, burying them under a metric ton of sand. The sand spilled into the side streets and crashed against sealed houses.

"Heh," Kankurou grinned. "Gaara's showing off now."

"Nevertheless," Kakashi drawled, "it's amazing no matter how many times I see it."

Gaara then dropped to his knees and slammed his hands to the ground. "Sabaku TAISOU!" He shouted the second word.

The ground below compacted with an ominous CRACK! and a cloud of dust was belched up from the impacts.

"Nicely done, Kazekage-sama. Now you should rest a bit," Baki offered a hand to Gaara. "You've been doing this too much today."

"Mist-nin coming from the east!" Hanabi announced from her position at the top of the administrative building; Neji relayed the information to Naruto and Gaara. "Large contingent. About ten squads or so."

"Bloody hell," Gaara grumbled. "I'm useless against them. My chakra is running extremely low, and I don't think even with a boost from Naruto that I'll be of any use. My sand is almost worthless in the face of their water attacks."

"I'll take over," Kakashi said. "I have a pretty decent arsenal of suiton attacks, thanks to facing off with a number of Mist missing-nin. Jiraiya-sama, you with me on this one?"

"Eh, sure, why not?"

"I'm with you too, sempai," Yamato said enthusiastically. "And you, Kankurou-dono?"

"Sure, I suppose. I can't let Gaara outclass me that much!"

"I'm still fresh," Naruto announced. "I'll go too, Kakashi-sensei. I'm not letting you guys have all the fun. I have a score or two to settle with those Mist-nin too."

"Sounds like they're done," Sakura said as she opened the curtains of the window. She and Lee were sequestered away in the suite room Gaara had offered them. Shizune had told Sakura that her top priority was getting Lee back into the fight. She had told Sakura that she, Ino and the Hyuuga sisters would manage the patients in the infirmary; it was more important that one of the top fighters dispatched by Hokage-sama get brought around and back into the fight. Sakura was under the distinct impression, however, that Shizune was trying to give her and Lee some time alone, out of guilt for their interrupted honeymoon. And with things appearing to be largely under control by the other healers, Sakura was, for once, content to sit out of the way and enjoy her assignment.

It had now been about twenty-four hours since Lee had unleashed his Sixth Gate attack on Sasuke. Lee was already feeling much better, though very stiff and sore, and quite easily tired out. Neji, who had learned some medical ninjutsu from his two cousins and had specialized it on the chakra network, because he had a rare ability, rare even by Byakugan standards, to clearly see all chakra points and gates and to affect them to some degree, had repaired Lee's damaged Gates, though he warned Lee that there was old irreparable damage to the Seventh Gate -- a hold-over from their failed mission in Kirigakure almost two years ago -- that if he ever used that Gate again, he had to be prepared to die, because from what he could see, Lee's Seventh Gate would now force the Eighth Gate open as well.

"I feel useless," Lee complained. "Gai-sensei only needs an hour or two of rest to recover from using Asa Kujaku in full."

"You're not the same as Gai-sensei, Lee," Sakura said pragmatically, coming over to sit down next to him on the bed. "He's got a lot more experience than you, and you have more damage to your Gates than he does."

Lee snorted and leaned back against the cushions.

"Oh don't worry, at least this way we can pretend we're still on our honeymoon!" She grinned and curled up next to him, resting her chin on his chest. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her across his torso, pressing a kiss into her hair.

"Your hair has always fascinated me," he added as he ran his fingers through it. "Your mother calls it light red -- or was it strawberry-blonde? -- but I call this pink."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," she grumbled good-naturedly. "I get that a lot. Mom says that's why she named me Sakura anyway -- because my hair reminds her of a sakura tree in bloom. It's not a normal hair color, but it's my natural color."

"So I can tell, from your eyebrows."

He fell suddenly silent, so much so that she twisted a bit to look him in the face. He looked troubled, and had a hand at his own forehead, fingering the hairs of his thick eyebrows.

"What's the matter?"

"I... hope these are not genetic," he said finally. "I do not want my children to go through what I went through." The hurt in his voice made what he said worse. And it made a pain in Sakura's heart flare up acutely as she remembered how she had made fun of his eyebrows when she'd first met him. Nowadays she found them weirdly attractive. They gave his face character. His eyes, which had been awkwardly large and round as a young teenager, no longer seemed to overpower his face, though they were still unusually large. The size of his eyes gave him better night vision, she'd learned in recent years. No one in the village knew anything about a Rock clan that he might have hailed from -- Lee insisted that the only other person he knew with his surname was his uncle -- but there had been some speculation that Lee was part of some off-shoot clan that was in the process of developing its own doujutsu kekkei genkai, though at present the bloodline was still many generations from producing anything useful.

She hadn't realized that he was sensitive about his eyebrows, since Gai-sensei had the same goofy brows, and made fun of them all the time. It was easy to forget that Lee didn't have Gai's unflappable confidence. Gai supposedly had grown up in a loving family (Sakura assumed that since Gai no longer had that family anymore that they had probably died in the Kyuubi attack some twenty three years go) and had made his own way in the world without looking back. Lee had to overcome more obstacles, and still was haunted by his complete lack of ninjutsu and genjutsu.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, bringing her hands to his face.

"For what?"

"I don't know... I guess for making fun of your eyebrows all those years ago."

He scoffed softly; "Everyone did. I do not recall that you were any worse than anyone else. Besides, by the time I met you, I had come to terms with many things thanks to Gai-sensei." He shifted, tightening his grip on her. "And besides, I think I have already forgiven you, after all this time." He kissed her forehead firmly.

Grinning like a fool, she moved up to place her mouth over his; "Your aim needs work, Lee."

"It does not. I was aiming for your forehead. But you've got my blood up now," he added as his demeanor changed again to the one she got such a thrill out of, the aggressive one he used in the bedroom occasionally, "and now you'd better be prepared to make good on it."

"I'm all yours and you know it, you idiot!" she laughed, untying her robe.

He flipped her over, pinning her beneath him; "Not so fast. I'm taking my time here, thank you." The deep thrum in his throat sent a pleasurable shiver down her spine. Even if she'd wanted to fight against his dominance, which she didn't, she really couldn't; this change of personality was such a huge turn-on for her that she was never able to resist it. He wasn't dominant outside the bedroom, for the most part. She found it exciting that that he had this hidden personality, an aggressive (though still courteous and accommodating, as was Lee's natural tendency) self-assurance born of their mutual passion, one that only she got to see. It was like a secret just between the two of them.

He took his time undressing her, rather like unwrapping a package, kissing her in various places as he did so.

"You are so hasty, Sakura," he admonished gently as he peeled his own clothing off.

"Am not! I've been waiting a long time for the privacy to do this," she retorted, wriggling her arms free and reaching up to clasp his face, pulling him down for a licentious kiss, shifting her hips in eager anticipation.

One of the last things that either of them said before commencing this oldest of dances was Lee murmuring "I love you, Sakura."

Basking in post-coital bliss, Sakura yawned luxuriantly, her head nestled on Lee's shoulder. His measured breathing indicated that he had dozed off, a common thing for him to do after sex. She toyed with an errant curl of hair on his chest. She took that moment to examine his vitals, noting that his heartbeat was strong and his breathing was clear. He appeared to have suffered no dangerous backlashes from opening the Sixth Gate. This time he had been in complete control, and had closed the Gates immediately after use. His body was still wracked with adverse reactions to the extensive chakra-conversion that the Sixth Gate triggered, but that would heal with time.

He shifted and his head rolled slightly, his chin bumping against her temple. He let out a soft, contented sigh and resumed his impromptu slumber.

She was abruptly overcome with emotion. It amazed her how much she loved this man, more and more as time went on. Even seeing Sasuke again and knowing he would be coming home to Konoha had not, as she'd feared at one point (though she'd never admitted it to anyone), diminished her adoration for the man she now called her husband. She had been slow to respond to his advances, but once she'd fixed her heart on him, she hadn't ever regretted anything. She silently thanked her lucky stars that he had waited patiently for so long for her.

She placed a tender kiss on his jaw, garnering a sleepy response from him, though he still didn't wake up. She giggled softly to herself at him, remembering how annoyed she'd been with him for falling asleep after sex back in the beginning, when she'd first started sleeping with him. She'd been annoyed enough to the point where she'd even said something to her mother, wondering if she was doing something wrong. Her mother had laughed and told her that it was common, and had revealed that Sakura's own father was the same way. While she hadn't wanted to know that much about her parents, she had been relieved to know she wasn't doing anything wrong and that this was normal, even if it was somewhat annoying.

She prodded his shoulder gently, trying to rouse him awake. He grunted and opened one eye at her. "What?"

"I'm going to go make some tea; would you like some?"

"Mmm, no thank you. Not right now. Too tired."

"Alright. You rest easy. You're still recovering."


She got up, grabbed up her kimono and swung it around herself. This wasn't their home, she couldn't parade around the entire suite in the nude, especially since Naruto was sharing the suite with them, just another bedroom of it. And this suite still belonged to Gaara.

The suite was empty when she came out of the bedroom. She padded across the warm sandstone floor toward the kitchenette, pausing by the terrarium. It seemed weird that Gaara kept some reptilian pets, though they seemed like they were mostly just there for a certain atmosphere. They didn't seem to be like the kinds of creatures that interacted with humans much.

That was when she noticed a small portrait sitting on the hutch over the terrarium. It wasn't a very large picture, and it was in a very plain frame, but there was something about the reverent way it was displayed that indicated it meant something to Gaara. It was of a woman with sandy-blond hair and kind eyes.

Idly pondering the identity of the woman in the portrait, Sakura went to the kitchenette and began making some tea. As the leaves steeped, she watched the tiny desert lizards in the terrarium, occasionally scurrying around and scooping up feeder bugs.

Just as she was pouring herself a mug of tea, she heard the front door of the suite's antechamber open. Years of being a shinobi had her primed so that she was aware of anything nearby that could be used as a weapon, in case this was an ambush. Her senses stood on end as she waited until the "intruder" appeared in the archway from the antechamber.

It was Baki, with Gaara. The Kazekage looked horrible, like he'd done too much and was out of chakra. Baki was supporting his village leader as carefully as he could.

"Sorry to intrude," Baki said as he eased Gaara onto the nearby couch. "But he's exhausted and needs to rest, and his office isn't the place for that right now. I hope we are not interrupting anything."

Sakura shook her head quickly; "Not at all! We're the ones intruding, after all, in a manner of speaking. I just made some tea, Gaara, would you like some?"

"That actually sounds rather good," the Kazekage said tiredly as he slouched into the cushions. "Baki, thank you, and I'm sorry for this."

"Nonsense, Kazekage-sama. You've done more than enough, but you're only human. I want you to rest here for at least an hour or so; longer, if you can stand it. If you stay in your office, invariably something will prevent you from resting. Sakura-dono," the older jounin looked over at her, "please see to it that he rests, at least a little. He has hardly rested at all since this whole fiasco began."

"I will, if I have to use one of my chakra-punches on him to make him behave himself," Sakura said as she handed Gaara a mug of tea.

Baki chuckled and looked over at his kage. "Well, you did bring this on yourself, Kazekage-sama, by offering your suite to them."

"Bah, she doesn't scare me. I don't feel like moving much," Gaara retorted blandly, taking a long pull at the tea. "I'm stiff and sore, and I'm next to useless against Mist-nin."

"If we need you, I'll let you know. But only if things are dire," Baki said as he left. Sakura sat down on one of the chairs and looked appraisingly at Gaara, who rolled his shoulders wearily, then made a face.

"You little brat!" he scolded, unbuttoning his collar. "Get out of there! Gah!"

His little raccoon emerged from his collar, scolding him in her own chittering way.

"Oh shut it, Suna, I didn't have a scratch anywhere on me until you came into my life. Now I have little nicks all over me from your claws."

Sakura found Gaara's peeved conversation with his familiar inordinately hilarious.

"I am glad you find my annoyance amusing, Sakura-san," Gaara said without rancor. "What is so funny?"

"I'm sorry," she said. "I just think it's cute how you were scolding her, and she scolds you right back. It's like she's the only creature with enough guts to call a spade a spade with you."

"She knows I need her, so she sasses me," he said simply, scratching the small creature on the head. "But she'd do anything for me. Just as I would do anything for her."

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were talking about a woman, not an animal."

"Ah, if only," he replied with a smirk. "But, I would not be so lucky. The people of Sunagakure revere me, and call me their savior, but they still have not forgotten what I once was." He shifted position and laid down on the couch. Suna-chan curled up on his chest and began grooming herself.

"So, how have you two been?" He said finally, cocking an eye at Sakura. "I hope you both have been taking it easy, though I have my doubts." He pointedly looked at her sloppily-closed kimono. "Doesn't appear to me like you've been resting much at all." She felt her face grow hot as she flushed bright red.

"Well," she retorted, "I'll remind you that we're still newlyweds! And our honeymoon was interrupted!"

"You don't have to remind me of that," he replied blandly. "I am very much aware of the inconvenience this has been to you both. I am not nearly so ignorant of human sexual interactions and what happens between people when a relationship gets to a certain level, as most of you would have me think. You may recall that my brother has been married for a year now, and he is rather crass about some things. Even if I had been somewhat ignorant of sexual relations before then, which I wasn't, I certainly am not now."

She felt terribly uncomfortable for having snapped at him and focused her attention on finishing her tea. As she drained the mug, she looked up at the terrarium, and noticed the photo again. "Gaara, who is in that picture up there? She looks familiar."

"That?" The Kazekage murmured. "Her name was Karura. What do you think of her?"

"Well, she has kind eyes. She looks like she was a very gentle person."

"Does she? She was not necessarily a kind woman. She cursed Sunagakure with her dying breath."

"That's sad. How did she die? And who was she?"

"She died as a result of Shukaku being sealed, as the sacrifice required for such a sealing. She was the wife of the Yondaime Kazekage, and mother of three children. A daughter and two sons."

Sakura felt her mouth go dry. The Yondaime Kazekage was Gaara's father... and the fact that she died 'as a result of Shukaku's sealing'... has to mean... "You mean... your mother?"

"Very intuitive," Gaara retorted dryly. "Yes. My mother. How do you think I got the name 'Gaara'? She cursed the village as she died, in hopes that I would avenge her. That is the difference between the two Yondaime kages: the Hokage sacrificed himself to seal a rampaging demon into the body of a newborn, in order to save the village from the demon's attacks. The Kazekage sacrificed his wife to seal a dormant spirit into his unborn son to create an 'ultimate weapon' despite the overwhelming proof to the contrary of such devices working. He was not willing to risk himself or anyone of any use to him, so he sacrificed his broodmare." His voice was bitter and cold. He flicked his fingers, as if flicking dust off his hands, and a tendril of sand jumped. "But Temari and Kankurou tell me I'm far too harsh on him. On the other hand, the Kazekage treated me like a weapon, I can see that clearly now. I was not a son to him, no matter how pampered I might have been, or how much he trained me in all the darkest secrets of Sunagakure. In the end, I was merely his favorite weapon. I see Kankurou with his favorite puppets, or Temari and her war-fan, and I know that I was merely the Kazekage's weapon."

He refers to the man as "the Kazekage" -- not as "Father" or any other such relation. Man, he really does hate his predecessor. Though, I suppose I can't blame him, I probably would hate the man too if I were put through the stuff he was for the reasons he was. Didn't Lee say something about Gaara being raised by an uncle, who really messed with his head? She looked over at the Kazekage's face, drawn tight with apprehension and anger at an old memory. Best not to mention it. It's probably like mentioning Mizuki-sensei to Naruto.

"Someday," Gaara said, as if he was carrying on a conversation with someone else. "Someday my tears will return to me, and I will weep for every life lost in this catastrophe; and I will atone for them all. Then we will heal. And we will rebuild anew. Do you approve?"

Is he talking to me? He can't be. But who is he talking to? Sakura's hands gripped the tea mug. Should I answer?

The sand that had puddled at the foot of the couch leapt up as he raised his arm, collecting in his hand and forming into a tiny three-dimensional version of the Sunagakure hourglass symbol. "Thank you," Gaara said softly, clenching his fist around the hourglass, crushing it back into sand. "I will not fail you again." He lowered his hand, the sand pouring through his fingers onto his chest.

Then he closed his black-lidded eyes, and in a few breaths he was asleep.

What... was that? Sakura thought as she picked up the tea mugs, took them to the sink and proceeded to wash them. Who was he talking to?

Shizune breathed a sigh of relief as she leaned back against the wall and took the cup of tea offered to her by Konohamaru. "Things seem to be going pretty well here in the infirmary. What's the latest about the civilians?" She looked up at Ino, who was preparing a batch of serum.

"Most of those who survived the initial wave seem to be fine. Some are pretty ill, but not fatally so, just uncomfortably so. This seems to be an attack focused on shinobi, rather than at everyone. I wonder if it was something that fed on chakra? Most of the people who are still alive have little to no chakra to speak of."

There was a commotion outside the infirmary as the doors clattered open. Kakashi was strung between Yamato and Naruto, and looked like he'd been really badly worked over. Jiraiya and Kankurou followed, with Kankurou pale and clearly in pain, holding his shoulder gingerly.

"What happened?" Ino nearly dropped her medicines.

"Mist-nin," Yamato said. "Sempai dropped his guard and got nailed."

"I ran out of chakra," Kakashi retorted. "You forget, this Sharingan consumes a ton of it. I wasn't expecting so damned many Mist-nin all at once, and for them to have so damned much chakra! Naruto and Gaara-sama are probably the only two I've seen with more chakra than them!"

"He's lost a lot of blood, Oneechan, can you help him?" Naruto looked over at Shizune expectantly.

"What happened to you, Kankurou?" Baki asked about that same moment.

"Dislocated his shoulder," Jiraiya said. "Just needs it popped back in, but I'm not good enough at that. A medic-nin needs to do it."

"Ino," Shizune said. "Take care of Kankurou-dono. I'll see to Kakashi-sempai."

Yamato and Naruto lowered Kakashi into a chair, and Shizune started examining the wound on his shoulder. "This is poisoned," she said. "I can see it in the way the skin is turning colors. Hold still and brace yourself, Kakashi-sempai, this might hurt." She gathered chakra into the palm of her hand, pressed it against his shoulder, made a net out of it, and gathered up the poison in one swing of the "net." Clenching it in her grip, she yanked it out through the wound.

Kakashi yelped so loudly that it startled even Sasuke. "The hell?" The Uchiha survivor snapped peevishly, roused out of a sound sleep by the noise.

"Might hurt?" Kakashi said with a gasping breath. "'This might hurt? Good god, that hurt almost as bad as when my eye was slashed! Son of a bitch!"

Shizune spun the chakra-net around to reinforce it. "I'll have to have Sakura take a look at that, to catch any I might have missed. You stay there and don't move too much; anything I missed will get into your bloodstream soon and will be a royal pain in the ass to extract then. Konohamaru-kun, go get Sakura. Just make sure you knock politely before barging in on them." She dumped it into a nearby pan as Konohamaru set off to find Sakura.

Ino and Hinata departed the building to deliver some more medicines to the civilians, while Hanabi set to work attempting to patch up Sasuke's bone fractures. Shizune made the rounds to the decreasing number of patients in the infirmary. Many had made remarkable enough recoveries that they were now in their own homes, recuperating. As she stopped by Sanami's bed, she did a double take; "Hey, why is there a cat in here?" She pointed to the drab brown feline crouched at the foot of the bed.

"That's Benzaiten," Baki said, "and I'd leave her alone. She's not in the way, is she?"

"No, but animals are unsanitary. Sanami-san is barely stable at best."

"She's mine," Kankurou said, coming over. "C'mere, Neko-chan." He snapped his fingers briskly down by the floor, and the cat stalked over to him. He scooped her up into his arms. "She's just worried about Sanami."

"Well, get her out of here," Shizune said peevishly. "Cats are not sanitary animals, and your wife is, as I said, barely stable at best. The last thing I want to deal with is infection on top of everything else."

"So," Naruto said finally, turning to Sasuke, who was grimacing as Hanabi worked on his spine. Hanabi had a rare natural ability to accelerate bone-knitting that had required only minimal training from Shizune. "Are you going to come quietly or do I have to beat you into submission to make you return home?"

"I don't have a home to return to."

"Liar. You're from Konoha, and several of us have been trying like hell to bring you home for a decade. You're not getting away that easily."

"Why do you care so much, Naruto? I don't get it. Why do you give a fuck what happens to me? I've never been able to figure that out."

"Because in everything but blood and birth, you are my brother. And I aim to be a better brother to you than your real brother ever was. I'll remind you that you're not the only one without any family."

"Ditto on that last part," Kakashi said. "Sasuke, believe it or not, if you come back quietly, I don't think Hokage-sama will even discipline you severely. You'll have to re-earn trust, but you can resume your career. You are one of us, and we protect our own. There is no severing the ties."

"Bullshit," Sasuke retorted. "Itachi severed his ties with Konoha."

"And if he had renounced those severings, he would have been welcomed back," Kakashi replied.

Sasuke tilted his head and eyed his former teacher; "One name: Orochimaru."

"Well, that's different."

"How? He was once a Konoha ninja, who betrayed the village in much the same way Itachi and I did."

"It is different, Sasuke. Orochimaru is on a whole different level from anyone else. He was one of the Sannin, don't you forget."

"Orochimaru wasn't that different in the sense Sasuke mentions," Jiraiya said. "If he had repented, Sarutobi-sensei would've granted him clemancy. It was only once he'd killed the Hokage that he was officially beyond any forgiveness. That's about the only way to sever your ties with Konoha; and frankly, if you couldn't hack it against Rock Lee, you don't stand a chance against Tsunade. She always had the best taijutsu of the three of us."

"You're coming home, make no mistake," Naruto said firmly to Sasuke. "I'm just asking you if you'll come willingly or if I have to beat the shit out of you repeatedly until you can't fight it."

"Naruto has a vested interest in bringing you home anyway," Jiraiya said with a grin. "Once you're home safe and sound, Tsunade will begin the process of stepping down. She's held that over Naruto's head all these years, that she won't step down until he brings you home."

Gaara dozed for at least twenty minutes while Sakura tidied up the kitchenette. During that time period, Lee appeared in the doorway, having fully dressed. He blinked owlishly.

"What is Gaara-sama doing here?"

"What does it look like?" Sakura grinned. "He's resting. Apparently he wore himself out. This suite does belong to him, you know."

"Yes I know that, I am just surprised to see him here, and to see him asleep like that. In all my time here in Sunagakure as an ambassador, I saw him asleep once, and that was when he dozed off in his office."

"I'm awake enough to hear you, you know," Gaara said without opening his eyes. "It feels good to just do nothing. I'm so stiff. I can barely move."

"You have done more than any one human should be able to do, Gaara-sama," Lee said evenly, taking a seat in a nearby chair. "I cannot say that I blame you for being sore and exhausted."

"Bah," Gaara snorted. "My body is simply not sturdy enough to handle that much prolonged combat. That is why I am usually the last line of defense. I no longer have the stamina I once had. If I were to fight you, Lee-san, I do not know that I would be able to win, because you are fast enough to outrun my sand, and I do not have the stamina I had ten years ago."

"Why not?" Sakura asked.

"There was a tiny flaw in Chiyo-baasama's Tensei ninjutsu," Gaara said after at least a full minute of silence. "She could not have known about this flaw."

"Flaw? What flaw?"

"Due to the length of time I was... er... lifeless... my body started to develop rigor mortis. As a result, every now and then, I get stiff and my joints lock up on me. The Tensei ninjutsu is most effective if used before rigor mortis sets in. This is not to say that I am not grateful for what she did for me; but unfortunately, there are these small setbacks that are somewhat annoying."

There was a knock at the front door.

"Oh, what now?" The Kazekage muttered, shifting on the couch to throw a dirty look at the closed door.

"Sakura-neechan?" Konohamaru's voice came through the closed door. "Shizune-san said you're needed in the infirmary. The sooner the better, though it's not quite an emergency. Kakashi-sensei took a bad hit and got some poison from a Mist-nin and Shizune-san wanted to make sure all of it got drawn out."

"Crap," Sakura looked down at herself. "I need to get dressed first. I'm hardly presentable!"

Gaara smirked. "Go ahead and come in, Konohamaru. Sakura-san will be ready in a few minutes."

Lee just grinned at her as she hurried into the bedroom to get dressed. She stuck her tongue out at him as she passed him.

"Hey, do not blame me! It is not my fault you did not get dressed, Sakura!" He teased.

"Shut up!" She retorted good-naturedly as she closed the door. She gathered up her uniform and hurriedly dressed herself, noticing that Lee had taken the time to straighten the bedding so that it wasn't immediately noticeable what they had been getting up to. An impromptu blush crept up her cheeks.

As she tied her hitai-ate on her head, she stepped out of the room. Gaara was standing by now, as was Lee. Gaara's familiar sat perched on the Kazekage's head, nestled contentedly in amongst his auburn hair. She was quite adorable, really. Her bright black eyes twinkled in the light, and she gazed around confidently from her august perch.

"Are we all going?" She asked in surprise when Lee and Gaara moved to follow her and Konohamaru out of the suite.

"I cannot stay idle while my village still suffers," Gaara said matter-of-factly.

Lee just shrugged; "I am bored?"

"Whatever," Sakura laughed. "I can't order Gaara around, and when you give me those puppy eyes, I cave every time. Let's go."

When they arrived, Sakura noticed that Kakashi was situated the bed Lee had been placed in yesterday, the one right next to Sasuke. Hanabi was in the process of working on Sasuke's spine, while Naruto sat on a stool between the two beds, talking excitedly.

"You can join my team, you know, Sasuke," the blond was saying. "For this mission I've got a four-man squad, but Neji isn't a usual addition. He's got his own team of genin to look after. We ought to, between the three of us jounin, get you up to chuunin level before I have to leave the team."

"What?" Sasuke flinched as Hanabi hit a nerve. "Leave the team? Why would you have to?"

"Because Obaachan will probably step down in about six months once we get you home. Which means I can't be a jounin anymore, cuz I'll be the Hokage."


"Tsunade's been grooming him to be her successor for more than a decade, you know, kid," Jiraiya said from where he leaned against the wall.

Sasuke blinked. "So, you're actually going to be the Hokage? Unbelievable. Look, I don't know that I want to be a ninja anymore anyway. And I wouldn't go anywhere near Konoha if I had a choice in the matter."

"So you're coming home then?" Sakura said as they approached. Gaara slung the sand gourd off his back and propped it up against the wall. His familiar crawled out from underneath the cowl of office he wore and climbed up ontop of his head, and proceeded to groom herself.

"I'm only agreeing not to fight. Usuratonkachi has given me no choice in the matter of whether or not I return."

"Oi! Geji-mayu, are you feeling better?"

"Somewhat, yes," Lee rotated his shoulders tiredly. "A little too tired for my own comfort, really, but much better than the last time I opened that many Gates."

"Good," Naruto said with a nod. "I'd hate to explain that one to Obaachan."

Sakura began examining Kakashi's wounded shoulder. "Sensei, how did you get this? This is bad."

"Dropped his guard," Naruto said with a grin. Sakura snorted as she inspected the poison that Shizune had pulled out, making notes in the margins of the chart Baki had put together.

"No, I ran out of chakra, dammit!" Kakashi retorted. "I'm not that green, Naruto!"

Sakura made a list of plants and sent Konohamaru to get them so she could make an antidote. "This will be easy to treat, but it's definitely unusual. If I didn't have Tsunade-shishou's manuals, I'd never have thought this poison usable this way."

"Tell me, Kakashi," Jiraiya said with a wry smile, "Minato was a good student and a hell of a Hokage. I imagine he was a good teacher too. Were you just too arrogant to learn from him, or have you forgotten everything he taught you?"

"What, I can't make a stupid mistake? Because that's what it was: a stupid mistake. Hell, Minato-sensei made dumb mistakes too."

"Not many," Jiraiya grinned. "You're a brilliant ninja, Kakashi, I won't deny that, but you pale in comparison to Minato."

"Well, of course. He wasn't much older than Naruto when he claimed the Hokage title. That's pretty young, especially since Sandaime-sama was still very much alive and capable."

"Do I need to remind you how old Gaara-sama was when he earned his kage title?" Lee said with a grin.

"Right, and there was no one else for the job, right, Gaara?" Naruto retorted. "You guys went without a Kazekage for a couple of years."

Gaara nodded mutely, his jade-green eyes focused on Sasuke. Temari, who was playing shougi with Shikamaru from her bed nearby, took up the narration: "He had to become a jounin before we could feasibly put him forth as Kazekage, and there really was no one else for the job, because the Kazekage had to be someone who could convincingly stand up, and give orders, to Gaara, because Gaara was undisputedly the most powerful shinobi in the village. And since the only people in the village who weren't deathly afraid of him were myself, Kankurou and Baki, none of which suited for the role, we had to wait."

"It was an interesting battle, too," Kankurou said with a dry chuckle as he perched himself on a stool next to his sister's bed, his cat held firmly in his arms. "The village council hated us for it, but it worked out in the end. The first time Gaara came in handy defending the village as Kazekage, we gloated like no tomorrow."

"And then we got our butts chewed out for him getting kidnapped, don't you forget that," Temari retorted. "You getting poisoned was another bone of contention. Baki nearly lost his rank because of that, you know."

"I lost my head, dammit, how many times do I have to tell people that I wasn't thinking straight?"

"Ooh, Gai, I swear to god, when I get through with getting this fixed, you are so fucking dead!" Yumiya stomped into the room, clutching her jaw with her hands.

"Right," Gai came in after her, his face just as stormy as hers. "I look forward to it."

"What happened?" Shizune stood up in alarm.

"He broke my fucking jaw, is what happened!" Yumiya raged. "Punched me so hard I saw stars!"

"You've got healing ninjutsu, Yumiya. Can't you fix it?"

"I'm too low on chakra, and I was never good at fixing broken bones or joints."

Shizune shook her head and activated her Shousen no Jutsu as she approached Yumiya. The injured kunoichi sat down on a vacant bed and presented her broken jaw for healing.

"You might want to stand by, Shizune," Gai said dangerously. "I'm liable to break it again on her. She clearly hasn't learned her lesson."

"Oh fuck you, Gai," Yumiya grumbled. "I'm not one of your fucking students."

"What's going on? You've never done this much damage to someone you care about this much, Gai," Shizune said as she pieced together the fragments of jawbone. "What gives?"

"She's back to using soldier pills again. Seven years of being clean, down the drain."

"I repeat: fuck you, Gai. You don't rule me."

"Yeah, but, Yumiya, soldier pills have done some pretty nasty things to you," Shizune admonished gently. "You shouldn't be using them."

Yumiya glared at her. "Who's fucking side are you on? I'm doing what I have to in order to be of any use to my superiors. I'll remind you that my ridiculous kekkei genkai is nowhere near as potent as it used to be, because of its limitations."

"Well, soldier pills don't help your kekkei genkai chakra anyway, so why are you bothering?"

"If Yukiko were still alive, I'd have that entire greenhouse full of any plant you could desire, in a single day, and still have chakra to spare to send all of you into a pit of despair!" The kunoichi raged.

"But Yukiko isn't still alive," Gai retorted angrily. "She died, what, nine years ago? Why are you beating yourself up about that?"

"And who's fault is it that Yukiko is dead, Gai? MINE! It's all my fault that the person who completed me, who meant more than anything in the world to me, died! God, don't you know anything?!"

"Calm down, Yumiya, you're starting to come apart at the seams," Shizune said firmly. "There's no reason for you to be lashing out at Gai. He had nothing to do with any of that."

"I know, because it was my fault. I was such an idiot. I should never have tried to cast a genjutsu on an entire castle." Tears leaked out of Yumiya's dark eyes. "With her, I might have actually been able to make something of myself. Instead, I'm just a spectre, just a... a joke of a Narita."

Gai crossed his arms angrily. "Quit pitying yourself."

Sakura flinched and looked up at Lee. "Is he usually this cold?"

"No, not usually. I do not recall ever seeing Gai-sensei so angry, though," Lee replied. "I tried very hard to please him, so I never saw him this angry at me."

"Gai," Jiraiya said, "leave it alone. You know as well as any of us that this attitude of hers is what got her kicked out of ANBU. You can't change her."

"You are such a mess, Yumiya," Shizune said finally as she finished the repairs. "An emotional disaster. Gai is trying to keep you from self-destructing, so just try to be nice for once, please?"

In response, Yumiya shoved Shizune away and stood up, covering her right hand in chakra and making a fist. She lunged at Gai and threw a chakra-punch. Gai didn't dodge or panic at all; he just brought his hand up and blocked the strike.

"Your anger isn't helping you at all, and this is not the place for a fight," he said coldly. "If you're set on fighting me, if you think I'm to blame for your current condition, I'll give you six hours to recover your chakra. Then meet me at the top of the administrative building at midnight, and we'll settle this." He stalked out of the room.

"Sorry, Gai," Yumiya said softly, flexing her hand. "I have to break this tie. You're getting too close to me; I can't bear to lose another best friend."

"Idiot," Yamato replied as he appeared beside her. "Fostering tension in the team is a bad idea. It's not easy to piss off Gai, and you managed to do it. I don't know whether to congratulate you on a stupid job well done, or hit you for screwing things around."

"Sorry, taichou." She bowed repentantly. "They don't call me the Black Sheep of the Narita Clan for nothing."

"So what the hell was that about anyway?" Shizune demanded.

"I just... I know how he feels about me, and I can't bear to have him get this close to me. Everyone who's ever gotten this close to me has died. He deserves better than that. I thought maybe if I reminded him of Yukiko, he'd back off."

Konohamaru arrived with the plants in hand. "Here you go, Sakura-neechan."

"Thanks, Konohamaru." Sakura reached into her hip pouch and pulled out her mortar and pestle, and began grinding the plants together. Gaara began to make the rounds, seeing to the patients and inquiring on their conditions. Several of the Suna-nin in the infirmary seemed happy and pleased that their Kazekage showed interest in their improving conditions. The three jounin who were recovering from being poisoned reassured their kage that they would be back to normal in "nothing flat" though Gaara admonished them to take it easy.

Sanami was conscious and conversing with an orderly when Gaara arrived at her bedside.

"Kazekage-sama," she said softly. "I'm sorry."

"Nonsense. You have outlived my estimations. You are far stronger than I imagined. We will be sending you to Konoha when the rest leave; with luck, Hokage-sama can cure you. I can't spare Kankurou to go with you, so I'll send Konohamaru with you all, and he'll escort you back when you're healed." He touched her forehead, injecting some chakra into her nervous system in an attempt to help her sleep painlessly. "Now sleep, and recover your strength."

As her eyes grew heavy, she murmured; "You know we'd do anything for you, right, Kazekage-sama? Even die for you."

"There's no need to die for me. Just sleep." He covered her eyes with his hand, and felt her slip off into slumber. He then folded his arms into his robe sleeves and scanned the room. Temari and Kankurou were watching him.

"There," Sakura said as she administered the antidote. "You'll be back to normal in no time, Kakashi-sensei."

"Kazekage-sama," a voice said from the doorway as the shogun here on behalf of the Kaze no Kuni's daimyou opened the doors. "I need to speak to you."

Gaara heaved a sigh. "This rebuilding will take a long time, but we will persevere. For people like you, who have suffered and sacrificed so much," he touched Sanami's forehead again, "I will do whatever I must to guarantee that we will revive. From the ashes of this immolation, a phoenix will arise anew."

Coming soon: "Part Seven: Homeward Bound" wherein the Konoha ninjas head for home, with Sasuke in tow.

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.
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.
"Usuratonkachi" is what Sasuke calls Naruto when he's being derisive. It basically means "idiot" or "clumsy idiot"

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.

Canon technique names:
Chidori means "One Thousand Birds" but is largely left untranslated in the dub, beyond the intial translation (used by Kakashi and Sasuke)
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 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)

Invented attack 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.

Chakra types:
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.
(paraphrased and interpreted from source: Wikipedia's entry on "Japanese Titles"