Thank you to those of you who congratulated me on reaching 50k! FF . NET counts author's notes in the wordcount, though, so I'm not there yet. As of this chapter, I have 49,803 words, lol. Tomorrow's chapter will the the great 50k! :D
This chapter isn't as long or as well written as I would have liked, but I'm gonna be driving for twelve hours, so it's what you get. :)
Sakumo dodged another lightning jutsu, his white chakra sabre raised to defend his face from the fist coming toward it. He and his opponents danced apart, coming to stand on opposite ends of the clearing. The Raikage's two sons glared at him, the younger men readying themselves for another attack. There was no telling if or when reinforcements would arrive, as they'd left the heated center of combat for the sake of avoiding unnecessary collateral damage. It was a common practice for particularly strong shinobi, but it also left them vulnerable without back up if they needed it.
Not that Sakumo needed it.
The Kumo boys, A and B, rushed him again, and he met them head on. His blade hummed with chakra, cutting through A's kunai. The much taller shinobi bared his teeth at him, revealing crooked eyeteeth. Sakumo was suddenly reminded of someone else with teeth like that and he barely managed to dodge the shuriken thrown by B. The Kumo TagTeam well deserved its legendary reputation and Sakumo was certainly more careful about how he fought knowing that these were the Raikage's own children. They were trying to kill him, but if he killed either of them, there would be consequences he wasn't sure he or his village were ready to face. Kumo and Konoha had been enemies since their conceptions, so going to war was hardly new. However, after the war ended, there would be a period of peace and a pretense at reconciliation. That would be impossible if either Kage's children were killed.
The teenagers attacking him clearly knew that, since they were attacking someone with his reputation. He knew what Kumo's Bingo Books said about him.
"Yo, bro," B began, speaking with rhythm. "I think it's time to go."
A didn't take his eyes off Sakumo. "What do you mean?"
Before B could answer, an explosion went off, filling the air with colored smoke. Ah, that was a sleeping gas. He could already smell it in the air. Someone must have laid a trap. He and the Raikage's boys just happened to be downwind.
"Shit!" A scowled, finally looking away from Sakumo and raising his hand to cover his face. "What is that?"
"It's sleeping gas," Sakumo supplied instinctively, well trained after so long spent teaching an inquisitive child. Only after the words left his mouth did he realize what he'd said. Ah. Oops.
The boys looked at him, confused, and he sighed internally. Months later, Benihime's influence was still evident. How was she, he wondered. Was she doing well with Roshi and Han?
Another explosion went off, closer this time and in the opposite direction. If he didn't know better, he'd think someone was setting them off on purpose.
Sakumo pulled a filtration mask from his kunai pouch, pressing it to his face. The boys apparently didn't have anything similar. They were speaking lowly, eyes still on him. He could hear them just fine, his heightened senses once again coming to his aid.
"Bro, you should go. I'll give you some cover, this guy seems the type to hover."
"I can't do that. We go together or not at all."
"I don't need a mask, my body can't be gassed. You need to finish the mission with which we have been tasked."
Ah, now that was interesting. B was immune to Konoha's sleeping agents? Good to know.
"I don't care about that," A continued. "I'm not leaving my little brother out here without me."
Ah, that was a little sweet. It made him feel a bit guilty about planning how to take down A while avoiding B. He couldn't kill the Raikage's children, but he could injure them. The TagTeam never split up, so if he could hurt one enough to keep them off the battlefield, then the other wouldn't appear, either.
He didn't feel guilty enough not to act, though.
He propelled himself forward, chakra burning in his legs and humming in his blade as he hurtled toward the brothers.
B immediately moved to defend his brother, thwarting Sakumo's attack and stripping him of the element of surprise. Both boys turned to face him again and Sakumo cursed himself for waiting so long. A was clearly flagging, the gas in the air finally getting to work. B covered him well. Sakumo couldn't see his eyes behind those sunglasses of his, but he was sure he was probably scanning the area for any means of escape. A far cry from the deadly duo that cornered him not ten minutes ago. How swiftly the tides of battle change.
Sakumo dove toward them, his blade sparking with bright light. The boys had no weapons that could stop the White Chakra Sabre, so he was confident he could injure A and get out before B could counter. To his surprise, his blade was caught on a kunai, the weapon in B's hand wreathed in red chakra.
Sakumo engaged the younger man in a whirl of blades. Kenjutsu—the art of the sword—was not something Kumo was known for, unlike Kiri and, to a lesser degree, Kusa. Still, B put up a good fight, blocking Sakumo's Sabre at every turn.
"You're good, kid," he told his opponent. "Your footwork could use some improvement, but—." He disarmed the boy and pressed forward, placing the edge of his blade against his collarbone in threat. "All in all, not too bad. I'm impressed."
The red chakra that had fended off his weapon began to leak from B's entire body, coating the teen from head to toe. Sakumo leapt back, unsure of how to proceed.
"Good to know," the tall boy said. "Still can't let you have my bro, though."
Sakumo let himself smile. "Understandable. Unfortunately, I can't let you go without at least trying."
The red bathed shinobi smiled grimly, the expression more a baring of straight white teeth. Then, he launched himself at Sakumo, suddenly much faster than before.
He just barely managed to dodge B's kunai, then he immediately had to roll away from A's fist. He really did take his duties as an older brother seriously. The more he moved, the faster the gas would move through his system and render him unconscious. Still, he was a very large boy. It would probably take longer to affect him, anyway.
A and B were definitely close quarters fighters, preferring to use their fists than their weapons. As A once again came at him with his fist, Sakumo got a close look at his face.
He pulled back, missing a perfectly good opportunity to stab the boy in the ribs.
"A question," he called out to them both as they took advantage of his unexpected action to regroup. "You two wouldn't happen to have a sister, would you?"
It was a stupid question. He knew that even as he was asking it. Still, he had to ask. There was something in the shape of A's mouth, the shape of his teeth, and the way his brows furrowed that brought back powerful memories.
"What are you doing, fool?" B demanded. "Asking about family; so not cool!"
He was right, of course. It was an unspoken rule of the battlefield—never ask about family. Resentment was easy to build during wartimes, and it made reconciliation difficult. Better to nip it in the bud and hold grudges against only those who fought and not their kin. Still, it was a little difficult to guarantee, since the same names and features popped up so often as the same nations waged war against each other generation after generation. These two boys were likely descended of the Gold and Silver Brothers who killed the Second Hokage.
He laughed a little at himself. "Yeah, I know, I was just thinking of a little girl all lone in the world with no family of her own. She looks a little like you, so I got a bit nostalgic."
Should he be telling them about her? No. Absolutely not. Still, his words were true. She did look a bit like A, though there were more differences than similarities. They might be distantly related. In which case, he would gladly give her up, since she deserved to have someone who would care for her and teach her the ways of her people. There was no denying the ties between her and Kumo, but…
He shook his head. "Forget it, she's from Taki. It's probably a coincidence."
A was flagging. In another moment or two, he would collapse.
Ah, he was getting too soft in his old age.
"Go on," he told them, scanning the area with his heightened hearing for anyone who might give him trouble for what he was about to do. "Get out of here. Boys like you should be at home, not fighting old men like me."
They hesitated, clearly expecting some kind of trap. B waited a moment before slinging his older brother's arm over his shoulders and disappearing into the trees.
Sakumo sighed and sheathed his blade. The sleeping gas in the air all but guaranteed him a moment to rest. Kumo shinobi rarely wore respirators or filtered masks, so they would likely clear the area. He let himself lean against a tree.
What month was it? He'd left the temple in early June, reported back to the Hokage within a week, and had been punished for his failure with another deployment immediately after. He hadn't even had time to explain to Kakashi where he was going or for how long. He caught a glimpse of his son before he left, though. He looked alright. Stoic under the mask he wore. Sakumo remembered when he wore one, too. Hatake noses were sensitive and it took years of training before they could unmask themselves, the scents of the world too much for little noses.
One day, he would guide Kakashi through that process. One day, when he was older and the war was over and Sakumo wasn't always on the furthest border from home.
If he'd just taken Benihime, he'd be at home right now.
He dismissed that thought the instant it spawned in his mind. He meant what he said to the Kumo boys. She was all alone with nobody to call her own. Even Roshi was only her friend—as much as an adult could be friends with a child—because the temple made his desertion possible.
He shook his head to clear it. He didn't have the luxury to dwell on the temple and its inhabitants, anymore. He was fighting Kumo, not Iwa. The temple was no longer his concern.
Still, he was concerned. Very concerned.
How was the little princess?