Hey all, I'm back.
As it turned out, covering Sasuke's eyes had not helped at all. Left without anything to take in, Sasuke's flickering sharingan cycled through what it had taken in at a nauseating pace.
Brilliant blue eyes that seemed to overflow with an icy intellect. Sasuke could see the fibers in those eyes as they were contracting, widening the empty hole in the center of each pool, and then it all swirled into the first corpse that Sasuke and Sakura had stumbled upon.
Every blemish and abrasion was there with perfect clarity, as if Sasuke were looking at it up close through a super powerful lens. The next one was only a blackened husk, with popped, yellow blisters and bloody cracks all over the exposed skin. More bodies flashed by, each one more gruesome than the last, until finally he laid eyes on the unconscious blond in the arms of Jiraiya of the Sannin.
Then it repeated, until Sasuke finally slipped into the peace of unconscious.
When Sakura burst through the double doors of Konoha hospital while clinging to Sasuke's slumped form, she'd expected some kind of panicked clamoring reaction from the nurses in the room. Instead, no one even batted an eye until she snagged a passing doctor's sleeve.
"Sasuke needs help."
He barely looked up from his clipboard, "Check in with one of the nurses at the desk and you'll be assigned to someplace."
Someone yelled, "Aoi's going into shock!"
The doctor cursed and pulled from Sakura's grip, "Get her to the emergency room, I'll send someone!" And then he was gone.
Sakura hauled Sasuke up to the reception desk. The nurses did a brief check before one of them hurried Sasuke away, leaving Sakura behind.
She felt her stomach twist into a knot as she turned away and ran out the way she came.
Without the weight of Sasuke on her shoulder, Sakura took to the rooftops and made a beeline toward Hokage Tower.
Ryuto was missing, Sasuke was hospitalized, and Kakashi-sensei was nowhere to be seen either. Sakura shivered, "I'm alone." That thought was like a sledgehammer, but Sakura beat back the tears that threatened to fall with her bare mental fists.
When Sakura stood before the tower's receptionist, the words spilled out of her head, "News from Jiraiya-sama." She licked her lips, her mouth was so dry all of a sudden, "For the Hokage."
Sakura didn't know someone was behind her until a heavy hand landed on her shoulder, "UWAAH!"
"Come with me." The voice was slightly muffled. Sakura's neck creaked as she craned around to see who it was.
She stared up at the porcelain mask, and two pits of darkness stared back at her. There was a brief gust of air and leaves, and suddenly Sakura wasn't in the tower's first floor. She was standing in front of a large desk with scrolls sorted into neat piles. Behind the desk, swathed in white robes with a pen in one hand and a pipe in the other, sat the leader of the hidden leaf village. The Hokage.
The hand let go of Sakura's shoulder and she bowed on one knee, just like she had been taught to do back in the academy. It felt like it had been ages since she'd even thought about the academy, it seemed so small in the face of everything that had happened since then.
A cloud of smoke wafted over Sakura, and she failed to stifle her cough.
The Hokage laughed softly, "Relax, Sakura Haruno, and then you can tell me what Jiraiya had to say."
Sakura took a deep breath, "Well, he said to tell you that the emergency is over."
"Hm. I see." He drew from his pipe.
As the Hokage puffed on his pipe, Sakura built up her courage, "Um, Hokage-sama?"
He looked up at her, "Hm? What is it, my child?"
"Well, it seemed like Jiraiya-sama had rescued some genin who'd gotten lost in the forest. That couldn't have been the whole emergency!" Sakura clamped her hands together, "There were-!" Her stomach clenched, and her next words came out as a whisper, "There were so many bodies." She looked up to the leader of the village with tears threatening to fall, "What monster could've done all that?!"
Her shout echoed off of the four walls. The moon lurched over the hokage's shoulder, and his silhouette loomed over Sakura. A wisp of smoke drifted through the air between them.
"Hm." The Hokage's look pierced right through her, "Sakura Haruno."
"Go back to the hospital and visit your teacher, and young Sasuke."
"Wha- Kakashi-sensei is hurt too?! You have to tell me what happened! Who hurt my team? Tell me!"
"Your wayward teammate is safe as well. You will see him again on the day of the third exam." The Hokage turned in his chair and looked up at the moon, "You're dismissed."
The hand was back on Sakura's shoulder, "Your Hokage has given you an order."
Sakura's face changed color, but she eventually relented, "Fine, Hokage-sama."
"Tell me if it starts to hurt."
"Mm." Kakashi stared out of his bedside window as the doctor meddled around with something. The night sky was quiet and peaceful, and the cool air was refreshing. Kakashi felt it was the opposite of how the events earlier in the day had occurred.
The doctor did something and glanced up at Kakashi, "Does that hurt?"
Kakashi's eye didn't stray from the moon, "No."
"I see." The doctor shifted, and did something else, "Is that any better?"
Something flew across the night sky, it could've been a bat. It could've been a ninja. Kakashi squinted, "No."
"I see." The doctor stood up, "A nurse will come to change your IV drip later. Other than that, just hit that button there to call. In case you need something." The doctor stood at the door, her hand hovering over the handle, "You might want to start practicing with your left hand." Then she was gone and the door swung shut behind her.
Kakashi kept looking out of the window. He inhaled through his nose, "I train with both hands."
The night answered with it's peaceful quiet that washed over the room.
Gaara's team was waiting for them outside of the forest. The boy hadn't commented when Jiraiya scooped him under an arm and, with the unconscious Naruto dangling from the other, bounded away.
Jiraiya landed in front of the sand team in a wide stance, and from the looks on their faces, someone was about to have a heart attack. Jiraiya smirked, he had that effect on people. Jiraiya set down Gaara, "This is your stop, Kiddo." As Gaara stood there swaying with the wind, Jiraiya felt a smile tug at his lips. He ruffled Gaara's red hair, "Thanks for the help, Kiddo. Who knows, this could be you first step down the gallant path." Gaara looked up at Jiraiya, and Jiraiya poked him in the chest, "Just remember, you get to decide who you'll be." With another grin, Jiraiya slung Naruto's body into his other arm and bid the sand team farewell, "Heh, I'll see you guys around."
And then he was gone, sailing through the air with the night and his unconscious godson for company.
No one on the sand team spoke until they made it back to their hotel.
Temari faced her jonin sensei, Baki, "Was that-?"
Baki nodded, his face grave, "Yes, that was Jiraiya of the Sannin."
Kankuro set his bundled puppet on the ground, "What does that mean for the plan?"
"For now, nothing." Baki looked at the sand siblings, "I need to report this, lay low while I'm gone."
Before any of them could respond, Baki was gone.
Gaara stood at the window, looking out into the night. Temari and Kankuro locked eyes.
Kankuro mouthed, Say something.
Temari shook her head, Your idea, you do it.
Kankuro made a face, I don't want to die!
Temari gave him the look, How is me doing it any different?
Kankuro crossed his arms with a smug look, You're the oldest.
Temari rolled her eyes and mouthed, Fine, Then her hand latched onto Kankuro's sleeve, But you have to be my meat shield.
Together, they shuffled a few steps forward, and Temari called with a shaky voice, "Um, Gaara?"
The red haired boy turned toward them, his teal eyes like miniature moons.
Temari's voice went up half an octave, "Um, you see-! U-um," Her grip tightened, "Kankuro had something he wanted to ask you! Haha!" She ground out the next words, "Isn't that right, Kankuro?"
The look of betrayal was clear in Kankuro's eyes, but when Gaara's gaze landed on him he managed to say, "I wa-as just wondering if, as long as you don't mind, if you might tell us what happened in the forest?"
Gaara's blink was slow, as were his words, "From now on only refer to me as the Gallant Gaara."
Kankuro stared at his little brother, "Um, ok?" He elbowed his sister, "What do you think, Temari?"
"Y-yeah, no problem Gaar-" She spotted some of the dust particles floating through the moonlight and realized it was sand, "I, I mean. We can do that for the Gallant Gaara. No problem."
Gaara nodded and turned back to the window.
Hiruzen puffed away on his pipe as he watched Jiraiya slip into his office through the window. He pondered the wisps of smoke that curled through the room and around his student. He drew from his pipe once more, "So," Then he blew a thick cloud, "Naruto is not with you."
"I've put him somewhere safe." Jiraiya sagged on the windowsill and his voice came out hoarse, "He's alive. He's alive. My godson is alive and I just found out today." He quirked his hand up, and his voice became airy, "Why is that?"
More smoke filled the air, "It's been seven years. For seven years Naruto has called himself by another name and walked under the guise of Henge. Every day, all day."
"And how did he learn such a thing when he was five?" Jiraiya's tone wasn't quite accusatory.
Hiruzen chuckled and a few puffs of smoke escaped him, "Careless students out for late night practice, believe it or not. He watched them from where he'd hidden himself, and they were none the wiser for it. His jutsu repertoire is almost completely made up of techniques he's acquired this way."
"Hm." Jiraiya crossed his arms, "That aside, along with everything else I have questions about, it still doesn't explain why you told me he was dead." His hands had balled up, "It nearly destroyed me, when I heard the only son my dead student left in me responsible for had died somewhere out in the woods alone." Jiraiya shook his head, "Somehow lost his ANBU guards. What the hell kind of ninja village let's it's jinchuriki die to the wildlife?"
Hiruzen set down his pipe, "The same one that would traumatize a child to the point of creating an alternate identity to hide behind." He reached behind his desk and produced a bottle of hard liquor, "I was guilty, so I let Naruto do as he pleased. I dissuaded everyone from even suspecting that Naruto had been under their noses the entire time." He brought out two cups and filled them to the rim, "I thought that if no one knew the truth, then somehow Naruto would be able to have something of a childhood." Hiruzen emptied his cup in one motion and looked up with glassy eyes, "So I lied and manipulated until Naruto was nothing but a name on a folder, and Ryuto was an inconsequential child among the masses." He stared at the untouched cup, and it's little circular reflection for a while. He whispered, "Can you ever forgive me?"
Jiraiya peered down at the darkened streets of the village, "My opinion doesn't matter." The hardened steel core of a veteran shinobi shone through in his voice, "What does matter is what you will do now."
Hiruzen looked up from the drink, "The chuunin exams? You know I cannot stop them now, the village would suffer-"
"And Naruto has not suffered enough? He may not even awaken in time for the damn thing!"
"I saw the battle from my crystal ball, and I know that the Kyuubi was trying to escape. I also know that you thwarted that attempt with the key that you hold, tightening the seal, stopping any influence the beast may have held over the boy. Naruto is strong, I have faith that he will recover in time for the final exam. The ordeal may well leave him even stronger than before."
"Hmph." Jiraiya dangled his legs out of the window, "You don't believe that." He pushed off of the windowsill and was gone.
Hiruzen breathed through his nose, and emptied the second cup.
Sakura was back at the hospital. With a bit of prompting, one of the nurses had given her directions to Kakashi's room. She walked down the halls and turned the corners until she came to the right door.
When she lifted her hand to knock, she heard her teacher's voice, "Come in."
Sakura opened the door and peered in.
There was no circle of doctors, no open heart surgery, no medical ninja desperately draining their chakra reserves to save her Sensei's life. It was just Kakashi sitting up in the hospital with his little orange book in his hand. The blanket was drawn up over his legs, and his right arm was in a sling. Other than the little bag that had a little tube hooked up to his arm, Kakashi looked like he could've walked right out of the hospital without a care in the world.
"Sakura." Kakashi blinked at her, or was it a wink? Having only one eye made it hard to "Glad to see you're okay. I guess Sasuke went strait home, huh?"
Sakura shrank into herself, silently reprimanded herself, and made herself speak, "Kakashi-sensei, don't freak out or anything,"
Kakashi's face froze halfway through another blink, "Why would I freak out? You guys escaped the forest with Iruka."
Sakura forced her hands to stay at her sides, "Well," She smiled, to try to ease the worry that was growing on Kakashi's face, "We kind of ditched Iruka-sensei as soon as we could." One long blink, "We couldn't just leave Ryuto out there to fend for himself with some crazy emergency going on! So we went out to find him." Sakura was so caught up in her fresh memories, she didn't notice Kakashi's paling face, "We crawled through all that destruction, and we didn't even find him. Instead we found Jiraiya-sama with some kid in a crazy war zone. Then Sasuke freaked out, and his eyes were going crazy, and the Sharingan, but he was sick, and I had to-"
"Sakura!" Her mouth snapped shut, and her head snapped up to Kakashi. The cold of the hospital floor stung her bare knees. Sakura wondered when her legs had given out, and Kakashi motioned to the only chair in the room, "Sit."
Sakura slowly obeyed the order, lifting and then dropping herself into the chair.
"Now, relax a bit. We have plenty of time."
Sakura nodded once, before her head dropped and she started snoring.
Kakashi watched his student sleep for a moment, before he closed his book and threw his covers over her. Then he pulled the IV out of his arm and walked out of the room. Sakura could rest there until the next nurse came by. In the meantime, Kakashi had two more students he needed to check on.
As the door closed behind Kakashi, a nurse cleared his throat, "You'll have to forgive me, but I don't think you've been cleared to leave yet."
Kakashi eye smiled as he patted the nurse on the shoulder, "Kabuto, right?"
"Yeah," The boy nodded, "You're one of the jonin sensei, aren't you?"
"Yep, which reminds me of the cute little genin who I need to check on. After all, two of mine are going on to the final exam."
"Oh? I suppose time is of the essence..." Kabuto's head tilted down for a moment, "I guess it wouldn't hurt to let you go as long as you stay away from strenuous activity." He pushed his glasses up on his nose, "I'm volunteering as a nurse here, I could show you where you need to go."
"Not a bad deal." Kakashi lifted his hand from Kabuto's shoulder, "But I don't need a babysitter. See ya 'round, Kabu-chan." And then Kakashi was gone.
Kabuto stood there, still pushing up his glasses with a finger, "I see." Then he turned down the hall to continue his rounds, there were still many more people in need of his help.
Jiraiya landed at the wall of the hot springs, right next to his favorite peeping spot. He moved a bush aside and retrieved the comatose body of Naruto, now wrapped in a heavy blanket.
"I'm here, Naruto. I'm here now."
Jiraiya hefted Naruto into his arms and leaped into the night. It would be best if he woke up in a familiar place, and Jiraiya knew exactly were to go.