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Tightrope 21

This chapter is for you Dina. Your comment motivated me to pull this chapter out of my dusty drives and finally edit it. XD Hope you enjoy.


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Chapter 21 – Ripple and Wave Lines

The next morning dawned bright and sunny but the group was unusually sober. Naruto made an attempt at lightening the mood, but his heart was not in it. Tazuna read the atmosphere and kept quiet. Sasuke would’ve appreciated his consideration more if the old bridge builder were not nursing his sake so early in the morning.

Adamant on making up for the episode last night, Sasuke was on high alert. He was strung so tight that if one of his teammates had tapped him on the shoulder he might have taken off his or her finger with a kunai. Luckily no one tried to touch him or socialize with him for that matter.

Sasuke kept his senses opened and tried to spread his chakra senses as far as possible. Karin had tutored him in chakra sensing, and while he would never be as good as a natural sensor like Karin, he was decent when he was actively focused on the task.

The shift was abrupt. He didn’t sense foreign ninja, but something just suddenly felt off. In another second he would’ve figured out the problem, but Sakura beat him to the punch.

She brought her hands up in a seal and focused her chakra in a single outward burst. “Kai!”

The pleasant sunny day image was transformed into a bog of heavy mist. Sasuke felt the chakra signatures of five unknown ninja. Just as he was about to shout out an alert, Naruto spoke up, “Um, guys, I think there are-”

Sasuke rammed himself into Sakura to knock her out of the way of a barrage of shuriken. Naruto surrounded Tazuna with shadow clones.

In the next second, the sound of shadow clones poofing out of existence could be heard as the enemy ninjas ripped through the clones to get to the bridge builder. Sakura pulled out her battle-ax to deflect a serrated blade from separating Tazuna’s head from his body. She left the ax dug into the ground to protect Tazuna’s flank. With a snarl she pulled out a kunai and engaged the ninja in battle.

The enemy’s target was so obviously Tazuna that Kakashi didn’t bother to play dead. They all fought together as a team.

Naruto guarded Tazuna with his shadow clones. Annoyed with the blond’s endless supply of shadow clones, the enemy ninjas sent shadow clones at Sasuke and double-teamed Naruto instead.

Sasuke took out one of the shadow clones with a kunai to the spine and caught the other one in a headlock. He twisted the head and broke the neck. As the sound of cracking bone reached Sasuke’s ears, one of the ninjas charging at Naruto poofed out of existence.

Sasuke dropped the solid body of the ninja he just killed.

Not a shadow clone.

He didn’t pause to think. He moved to help Naruto. When the enemy ninja ripped up Naruto’s shoulder blade with clawed gauntlets reeking with the smell of poison, Sasuke killed the enemy ninja with a burst of medical chakra to the heart.

Naruto’s eyes were wide in disbelief as the enemy ninja slumped to the ground before his feet. Dead. Then it was Sasuke’s face he was seeing. His teammate’s mouth moved, but he barely registered the words before he was spun around forcefully.

“Quick, we have to get the poison out.” Sasuke grabbed Naruto by the uninjured shoulder, spun him, and with a clean kunai opened up Naruto’s cuts even more to bleed out the poison. Once the poison was out, Sasuke discarded the bloody throwing knife. He pulled out a bottle of antiseptic from his medic kit and doused the wound liberally. He apologized when Naruto hissed and winced in pain.

Once the area was disinfected, Sasuke molded medical chakra and began closing up the wound. Halfway through the treatment, the Kyuubi’s chakra finished the rest of the job. To preserve chakra, Sasuke stopped when the Kyuubi’s chakra took over. Then he did a quick check to make sure the poison was completely gone.

When Sasuke looked up, Kakashi and Sakura had already taken care of the other three enemy ninjas and were looking over at them. Sakura stared at Naruto’s healed back, first with amazement, then with eyes narrowed in thought.

Kakashi was studying Sasuke. He saw Sasuke stop healing Naruto when the Kyuubi’s chakra took over, but Sasuke hardly seemed surprised by the blond’s rapid healing abilities. In fact, the brunette looked like he expected it and was merely overseeing the healing process for the latter half of it.

“Is everything taken care of?” Sasuke asked Kakashi in order to get the jonin to stop scrutinizing him.

“Yes. I sent word to have them picked up.” Kakashi nodded at the three strung up ninjas. “Two of them have bounties on their head.”

They were all still breathing.

“Oh.” Sasuke adverted his eyes.

The only casualties of that battle were the two ninjas that Sasuke had killed.

xxx

While Kakashi interrogated their client for information, Naruto moved off the road. Concerned by the blond’s silence, Sasuke followed, and Sakura trailed quietly after her teammates. In the privacy of a thicket of trees, Naruto gritted his teeth and punched a tree trunk. The forced indented the trunk and scraps of bark fell to the forest floor. He turned to his black-haired teammate.

“You killed him.”

Startled by the look in Naruto’s eyes, Sasuke took a step back. “I… Yes.”

“You killed him!”

“Naruto… Stop,” Sakura said it so delicately it was but a whisper in the susurrus of leaves.

Sasuke tried to tighten his features as he said, “Yes, I killed him.”

“Why?” Naruto asked, a broken quality to his voice. “I could’ve handled it. There was no reason to kill.”

“You were poisoned,” Sakura reminded gently.

“You could’ve died… and I- I just reacted.” Sasuke’s breath caught as if the admission surprised him.

“And your first instincts was to kill the guy?”

Sasuke’s voice was weak, almost a plead. “I don’t understand, Naruto. What would you have me do?”

Standing behind Sasuke, Sakura could not see the expression on Sasuke’s face, but whatever it was, it shocked Naruto into silence. The blond turned his head away, his canine teeth dug into his lower lip until it drew blood.

xxx

Kakashi and Sakura wanted to go back to Konoha. It wasn’t that they doubted Team Seven’s abilities to complete the mission, but that they worried about the closed off look in Sasuke’s eyes. The boy tried to play it off as nonchalant, but it was so obvious to Team Seven that it was painful to watch the boy pretend otherwise.

To Sasuke’s surprise, Naruto was neutral on the matter of continuing or aborting the mission. The blond had passed over the decision to him.

Even if Sasuke had voted to continue on with the mission, Sakura and Kakashi already outvoted him. It seemed pointless for him to put in his two cents, but one look at Naruto’s face and Sasuke knew he couldn’t abandon the Country of Wave. If Team Seven did not take this mission then Tazuna would not have the necessary funds to request the proper mission level for his needs. Even a C-rank probably broke his bank.

On some gut instinct, Sasuke decided to push on with the mission. Tazuna and Naruto both shot him grateful looks. It took some convincing, but eventually Sakura and Kakashi decided to continue with the mission.

During lunchtime, Sakura set up camp while Naruto went fishing. Kakashi pulled Sasuke away to speak to him about his first kill.

“It wasn’t.”

Kakashi waited.

“That wasn’t my first kill.” Sasuke took in a deep shuddering breath. “The first was… I was seven. Outside the village.”

Kakashi understood immediately. The kidnapping of Uchiha Sasuke was an open secret among the upper legions. “But this still bothers you.”

“…The first one was an accident. I thought it was a shadow clone. The second one was deliberate.” Before Kakashi could make a comment, Sasuke said, “It’s fine. I made a choice. Now I have to live with the consequences.”

Kakashi really, really wanted to sigh. Why must this one genin be so difficult? He wished he knew his team better. Maybe then he would know how to approach this situation. He certainly did not expect a kill so soon into his genin team’s ninja career. Right now, Kakashi felt like he was stepping around on a minefield. He had no idea if the next step he took will blow up or not. “It’s not fine. It doesn’t have to be fine. You’re not a killing machine. It’s okay for you to feel.”

“…What am I supposed to feel?”

Grief? Guilt? Anger? Depression?

“Anything.” Anything would do. “What do you feel?”

“…Nothing. I feel nothing. It’s like a void.” Sasuke touched his chest. “Here. I don’t feel anything.”

Denial.

Kakashi pulled Sasuke into a hug. He croaked one arm around the boy’s head and the other around his back. Sasuke was tense in his hold, but he slowly relaxed and clutched onto Kakashi’s flak jacket. The boy didn’t cry, but he held on tight and took comfort in Kakashi’s scent.

Naruto and Sakura were spying on them – one was in the bushes and one was in the trees – but Kakashi did not point them out. In the near distance, Naruto’s shadow clone was splashing in the river for fish and Tazuna was trying to spark a fire with flint rocks.

Sasuke mumbled into Kakashi’s chest. “Sensei… The weight of a human life is heavy.”

“Yes. It is.”

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