Chapter 5 – The Boundary Line
They were taking a well-needed break. With Ranmaru’s weak health, it wasn’t a surprise that they would need to stop often. Even taking turns carrying the small child could still be taxing for their underdeveloped bodies; hence they were taking a break.
Story by Vanilla Muse
Kimimaro was keeping a look out while Ranmaru took a light nap. Sasuke was molding chakra and Karin was watching Sasuke mold chakra. It was so tantalizing to feel the chakra moving actively through Sasuke’s body. Sasuke frowned in concentration. The chakra was moving sluggishly through his body.
“What are you doing Sasuke-kun?” Karin asked.
“I’m trying to perform the Clone Technique, but I can’t seem to get my chakra to cooperate. I’ve read the theory on it,” Sasuke said.
“Your chakra is stuck, and you’re pulling too much yin energy and not enough yang energy,” Karin supplied.
“Can’t you feel it?” Than Karin shook her head, remembering that sensing chakra did not come as easily to others as it did to her.
She walked up to Sasuke and mapped out the flow of chakra in his body with her finger. “Can you feel it? Your energy is running smoothly from here to here,” she ran her finger along his body, “but it gets caught up here,” she pressed lightly at the spot. “What you need to do is…” And Karin explained to Sasuke how to direct the flow of chakra. She can sense a lot more yin energy in Sasuke than yang energy, no doubt he’s a scholar, but his yang energy is nothing to be scoffed at either. His reserves were quite large for a boy his age. There was a reason she found his chakra dazzling after all.
With Karin’s guidance, Sasuke coaxed his chakra to do his bidding. His first couple of attempts was laughable. They came out colorless and flopped to the ground like rice paper. It was even worse than Naruto’s blotched attempts. Sasuke blushed and kept trying. Internally, Karin was cooing at how cute a determined Sasuke looked.
Behind Sasuke’s back Kimimaro was giving her the stink eye. He did not miss the fact that Karin took advantage of the guise of helping Sasuke to touch him all over with her finger. Sasuke didn’t even seem to realize he was molested. He was so unguarded that it made Karin purr with devious ideas.
By the time the group made it to Kiri’s border, Sasuke had perfected both the Cloning Technique and the Transformation Technique. The Substitution Technique was still proving to be tricky, but Sasuke was determined to master it and Karin knew that he would.
Using the Henge, the group, sans Ranmaru, transformed and posed as a family trying to escape from the war ravaged land. Sasuke and Karin were the parents, Kimimaro was their mute son, and Ranmaru was their sickly baby boy. Karin spun a sob story so well that the fishermen agreed to ferry them to the Land of Fire for only a small fee.
Once they landed and were out of earshot of the fishermen, they dropped their Henge and Sasuke praised Karin for her ingenuity. She blushed and clung to his arm. Sasuke tried to unravel her arms from around him, but she clung on like a limpet until Kimimaro forcibly pulled her away. Sasuke sighed and then he stilled when he noticed the color of Ranmaru’s eyes. They were glowing bright red.
“What do you see?” Sasuke asked.
“In a cave, nature calls. The beast awaits a firm lock and cage. Two clicks northwest.” Ranmaru pointed. The glow faded from his eyes and he dropped his arm.
“Well, it’s along the way. Can’t hurt to take a look.” Sasuke thought out loud.
“What was that?” Karin demanded.
Sasuke placed his hands on Ranmaru’s shoulders in a supportive and protective gesture. “Ranmaru has a special gift. It’s hard to explain. Even Ranmaru himself doesn’t seem to know the full extent of his abilities. But he’s been very helpful in our journey, helping us find useful things and avoiding unnecessary conflict.”
Ranmaru blushed under Sasuke’s praise.
“Oh,” Karin shrugged.
“I’ve told Kimimaro this, but I’ll ask this of you, too, please keep Ranmaru’s abilities a secret. I don’t want people trying to hunt him down to dissect his eyes.” Here Sasuke touched the corner of his eye subconsciously. “Even within Konoha proper, you must keep quiet about this. Unlike us, Ranmaru doesn’t yet know how to defend himself.”
“I won’t crack even under extreme torture,” Karin promised, thumping a fist to her chest.
Sasuke didn’t know how to respond to such a statement with words so he just smiled, which was more than enough for Karin.
By the time they reached the cave that Ranmaru saw, it was already getting dark, so they set up camp. Tomorrow, they would search for the beast. They each split up to do their part. Ranmaru picked up firewood, Kimimaro foraged for edible fruit, Sasuke went fishing, and Karin tracked a rabbit.
Sasuke used his Great Fireball Technique to light the campfire. He’s been practicing it with Karin’s help. It helped that the body seemed to remember the technique, but what he was able to produce wasn’t all that ‘great’ yet, although in this case it was perfect for a campfire. After dinner, they set up a watch schedule and fell asleep.
Karin was on watch when she heard a groaning coming from Sasuke. He was shifting in his sleep and making tortured sounds. She’s been noticing it for a while now; it’s hard not to after traveling together for two weeks.
At first she would shake him awake and demand to know what’s wrong so that she could make it go away, but he would never give her a straight answer. She suspected that the missing-nin they talked about was his first kill. It was normal to have nightmares for a length of time after the first kill. Karin would know. She couldn’t have escaped from Uzushiogakure and made it all the way deep into the Land of Mist by keeping her hands clean. Come to think of it, maybe that was another reason why the villagers segregated her. They were all simple farmers; none of them have killed anything bigger than a pig. But she digressed.
Sasuke’s problem seemed to stem deeper than that. At the very least, the first kill was only one of his many problems. And while she could talk him through how to work pass that first kill, she couldn’t do much more than be there for him and allow him to sort out the rest himself since he didn’t want to tell. Kimimaro was no help in this area. He was bred to kill and have been desensitized to it for so long. Ranmaru was out of the question. Even though Ranmaru already knew, Sasuke still refrained from talking about killing in front of him. It was sweet how Sasuke tried to protect the boy’s innocence. It wouldn’t last forever, but they’ll take what they could get.
Sasuke lashed out sharply with his leg in his sleep. The motion jolted him awake. At the same time Karin felt the beast move. It was running away. Sasuke was about to roll over and attempt to sleep again.
“Sasuke-kun,” she whispered sharply. He sat up, alert. “The beast is on the move, about a half kilometer that way.” She pointed.
He nodded. “Guard Ranmaru. I’ll be back.” He tapped Kimimaro on the shoulder. “Come with me.”
“Wait, Sasuke-kun!” She hissed, but he was gone, flitting off into the night like a shadow. Karin was still amazed by his speed. In an area with trees and a bit of ninja wire, it would be difficult to outrun Sasuke.
Kimimaro spared Karin a brief look before chasing after Sasuke. If he didn’t have such a straight face on, Karin would swear that he was sneering down at her, as if to say “Ha! He asked me to go, not you.” Karin stomped her foot and fumed.
Juugo was alerted to the group’s presence as soon as they arrived. The animals informed him. At first he thought they were just travelers and would move on soon, but then they decided to camp at the base of his mountain. A little more spy work, credit to his animal friends, and he deduced that they were here for him. Which was absurd, because he hadn’t left his cave in ages and no one should be aware of his existence. Still, just to play it safe, he decided to relocate when the group fell asleep. He couldn’t chance the group stumbling upon him by accident. He was simply too volatile to be around humans.
He didn’t expect that he would walk right into one of them. It was a young boy, three years his junior, with hair so dark that it melted into the night and made his face stand out in stark contrast. A thin cut ran down the right side of his face.
“S- Stay away from me. It’s not safe.” Juugo warned.
The boy advanced forward.
“I’m warning you!”
“I’m perfectly safe,” the boy said.
“I said stay back!” Juugo took a swipe at the boy to scare him off. Already a bit of black was bleeding onto his skin from anxiety.
Suddenly a length of diamond hard bones was wrapped around his body, preventing him from moving. His fist stopped just short of hitting the dark-haired boy’s face. Another boy stepped out from the shadows. The moonlight reflected off the newcomer’s pale skin and white hair. The red markings on his face seemed to be giving off an eerie glow. This boy was older, probably only a year his junior.
Juugo was so surprised that someone could restrain him that he was speechless.
“See,” the younger boy said, “Perfectly safe.” He hadn’t batted an eyelid when Juugo charged at him. Just who was this kid?
“Kimimaro, you may release him now,” the boy said.
“It’s fine. You’re here.”
So the boy’s name was Sasuke. Kimimaro released Juugo, and Juugo retracted his fist. The black receded a bit, but it lingered at the corner of his eye, just waiting to spread and take over his body.
“What do you want?” Juugo asked. Kimimaro was the one with the power to stop him, yet for some reason he deferred to this boy called Sasuke.
Sasuke took another step forward. That was another step too close to danger. “Well, for starters, Ranmaru seems to want you.”
“So I’m here to talk to you.”
Juugo deduced that this kid was bonkers. He seemed to be aware of Juugo’s berserker tendencies yet had the gall to approach him for a talk?
“I heard of a beast hiding out in the caves. A gentle beast with a bit of a… rage problem,” Sasuke said, confirming Juugo’s suspicions, but Juugo still had no idea how the boy knew. Perhaps there was a survivor from his village who told the boy about him.
“Do not interrupt me,” Sasuke said with such command in his voice that it gave Juugo pause. “Now, as I was saying,” Sasuke continued amiably, “You seem to be having a bit of problem controlling your temper, so I’m here to offer you an exchange.” Juugo waited for him to continue. Sasuke’s lip quirked into a half smile. “You’re learning already.” Despite the baiting tone, Juugo felt no rage at the tease. “Come with me, turn your rage into my shield, and I will be your lock and cage.”
“I don’t understand.” Juugo whispered, hardly believing this. Could this boy really give him a lock for his rage? It was impossible. That’s why the people of his village died. No one could control his rage, not even himself.
Sasuke stepped into his personal space. Juugo twitched and so did Kimimaro, but Sasuke remained firm and unyielding. He pressed two fingers against Juugo’s forehead.
“Focus on my touch. Your rage is receding, see?”
Remarkably, the black ink on his skin dissolved at Sasuke’s proclamation.
“This is the lock. Now remember this point well. Rage simmers in you always, but the secret is to temper that rage under your control and wield it as a shield, not a sword. You will learn this lesson well.”
Sasuke dropped his hand from Juugo’s forehead to his shoulder. “My name is Uchiha Sasuke. What is your name?”
Sasuke nodded, “From henceforth I take you into my heart and home. Welcome to the family, Juugo. You will never be alone now.”
Juugo’s eyes widened.
“Now come, Ranmaru is eager to meet you.” Sasuke showed Juugo his back and began walking. Kimimaro trailed after him.
Juugo could still feel the lingering warmth of Sasuke’s hand on him. “You mentioned a cage. Where is that?” Juugo asked. He’s not sure what power Sasuke wielded over him to dampen his rage, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a back up plan, a place to lock Juugo in just in case he went berserk.
Sasuke turned around and smile guilelessly. The moon shone on his face, highlighting that scar. Sasuke touched his fist to his heart. “Your cage is right here.”
Juugo was not sure he understood, but those words must have touched his heart somehow, because his feet instinctively began to follow Sasuke.