Chapter 6 – Crossing Lines
Although Ranmaru was a frail child, his stamina had been building day by day ever since he met Sasuke. Each day he would walk a little longer. Today he walked up front with Karin and the group’s latest addition, Juugo. Juugo was immediately taken by Ranmaru and the two hit it off well. Karin was still leery of Juugo, which was just as well, because when Sasuke asked her to stay close to Juugo to keep an eye on him, she did not have an excuse to refuse.
Sasuke and Kimimaro trailed behind because Sasuke had sensed questions weighing on Kimimaro’s mind since the night before.
Story by Vanilla Muse
“What’s on your mind?”
“…It’s nothing, Sasuke-sama.”
Sasuke huffed, “We’re family now, are we not, Uchiha Kimimaro?” It was still weird to say the Uchiha name, but Sasuke shrugged it off.
Kimimaro straightened at the name.
“You can talk to me about anything. Ask me anything. I can’t promise to answer all of your questions, but I can promise to listen and I won’t ever get angry at you for simply being curious.”
“I was wondering how did you control Juugo-san’s rage? What did you do?”
“I didn’t really do much. The thing with Juugo is that he needs to know that there is someone forceful to control him should his anger get out of hand. He’s insecure, and desires a sense of security. By being confident and forceful with him, I was showing him that I was in control. That I could and would control him if anything went wrong.”
Sasuke sighed, “I’m really not too keen on trying to dominate over others like this, but Juugo seems to need that outside force to ground him. Masochist is what I would call it.” Sasuke shook his head. “I hope he gets over it eventually. Anyways, keeping the parameters of Juugo’s needs in mind, I then implanted a strong suggestion into his mind and he calmed himself down. I inserted the connection between my touch and tranquility into his brain. Truthfully, it was all a gamble.” Sasuke’s eyes flashed red for a second. Two tomoe spun lazily in each of his irises. “I’m still very green with this.”
“The… when did you…?”
“When I killed that missing-nin. Or more accurately, he did something to trigger it right before I killed him.”
“It’s over now.” Sasuke shook his head to indicate he didn’t want to talk. Kimimaro, being the person that he was, did not push. If it were Karin, she would’ve pestered Sasuke for an answer. Her desire to “fix” everything wrong for Sasuke was disturbingly devout.
Sasuke studied Kimimaro for a long moment, and Kimimaro found that he could not turn away from that gaze. Sasuke smiled, a genuine, pleased smile. “I entrust my secrets to you Kimimaro, because I know that you will never betray me.”
“And I you, my brother.”
Kimimaro fell silent, touched by Sasuke’s words. It seemed that no matter how often Sasuke is kind to him he would never get enough of it. Before meeting Sasuke, his life had been a harsh string of reprimands, fear, killing, and the coldness of death and loneliness. Here with Sasuke, there was warmth, kindness, smiles, and gentle words. Kimimaro didn’t think he would ever be deserving of having family like Sasuke, but he’d try anyways, because he wanted to always walk in Sasuke’s light.
They were attacked by a group of bandits.
Karin felt them coming a mile away and they were ready, but when the bandits reached them, it wasn’t Kimimaro or even Sasuke that took them down. It was Juugo. He went into rage mode and slaughtered the entire troupe.
Using ninja wire and a nearby tree, Sasuke thrust himself into the air. He came at Juugo from above just as the orange-haired boy set his sights on a shivering Karin. Sasuke landed nimbly on Juugo’s shoulder, and before the bigger boy could throw him off he touched the top of Juugo’s head with his entire palm, applying light pressure.
“Juugo,” he said. “Focus.”
Juugo growled, but he didn’t try to buck Sasuke off. He breathed heavily. His transformed arm morphed back into normal skin and the black lines slowly receded.
“Good job,” Sasuke praised and he petted Juugo on the head while he was at it.
Even he was surprised that his trick had worked. In all honesty, Sasuke was hesitant about bringing Juugo into the fold. Physically, Sasuke was still only seven, he wasn’t very strong, fast maybe, but far from physically strong, and he had no confidence that he could smack down a raging Juugo or cow him with killing intent, but Ranmaru had been insistent on “giving the beast a chance at salvation.” Ranmaru sees a kindred spirit in every tortured soul, so Sasuke had braved Juugo for Ranmaru.
Sasuke addressed the redhead, “Karin-san, are you hurt?”
“One hundred percent fine!” She gushed with stars in her eyes.
“Good. Let’s collect what’s useful from these bandits and move on quickly.”
Twenty paces away from the gruesome sight, Ranmaru couldn’t hold it in anymore. He barfed and Sasuke joined him. Karin rubbed their backs and held Sasuke’s growing hair away from his face.
Sasuke had lost his hair tie when tussling with the missing-nin and now his hair fell freely around his face in a lustrous black curtain. Ranmaru thought it made him look pretty, like an onee-sama instead of an onii-sama and had told him so. Juugo had chuckled in agreement. Sasuke had sighed and patted Ranmura on the head.
Once Ranmaru and Sasuke were done heaving up their lunch the group pretended it never happened and continued along their merry way.
As fate would have it, they were soon accosted by trouble again. This time it was in the form of a bloodthirsty rogue ninja looking for some fun. Sasuke, as if in a move to prove something to himself, took down the enemy alone. He approached the missing-nin from a blind spot and with a series of quick jabs to pressure points he rendered the enemy ninja’s arms temporarily immobile.
As soon as the missing-nin realized what had happened he delivered a sharp snap kick to Sasuke’s gut, sending him crashing into a tree. Juugo started to roar to life, but Ranmaru held him back.
The ninja charged at their group when ninja wire wrapped around his ankle and tripped him up. Sasuke emerged, coughing and cradling his stomach, but he grimaced through the pain and made quick work of trussing the enemy up, using the enemy’s struggling movements to his advantage to tangle the ninja up even more.
However, when it came to dealing the final blow, Sasuke stopped. He gazed down at the tied up ninja with impassive eyes.
“Sasuke-sama, allow me.” Kimimaro stepped forward and pulled out a bone sword from his arm.
Sasuke held out his hand for the weapon. “I’ve made my decision to set on this path. I will do this.”
“I have to do this.” Sasuke said. Although at that point, it was hard to tell if he was talking to the group at large or to himself. “I did this before, I can do it again,” he murmured and adjusted his grip on the bone weapon. “Don’t look Ranmaru,” Sasuke commanded, but Ranmaru looked anyways as Sasuke took the weapon from Kimimaro’s hand and drove it through the missing-nin’s neck in one quick thrust. He jumped back as he pulled out the bone weapon to avoid the spray of blood.
“Sasuke-kun, let me heal you,” Karin offered her arm.
He shook his head. “After he dies,” Sasuke nodded to the missing-nin, “retrieve my ninja wire for me please. It’s still a long way from Konohagakure and we’ll need to stretch all the supplies we have.”
“But Sasuke-kun.” Sasuke looked at her and she conceded with a reluctant nod.
“Let’s find a place to set up camp after this. I’m sure we’re all tired.” Sasuke said. Then he walked away from the cooling corpse and wretched bile in a patch of dry grass. Ranmaru’s eyes trailed after Sasuke with a worried light. At the very least, only one of them was throwing up their stomach this time.
That night, they had to create a campfire manually because Sasuke was having trouble getting his breath together to use his clan’s technique. Karin suspected a fractured or broken rib.
Falling asleep was a task in itself. It was hard for Sasuke to find a comfortable spot to sleep in, but eventually fatigue took over and he fell into a fitful sleep. Karin and Kimimaro made eye contact over the smothered campfire and came to a silent agreement. Together they got the unconscious Sasuke to bite down on Karin and she transferred her chakra to heal him.
The injury wasn’t life threatening yet, but traveling on the road was sure to make it worse. Already, Sasuke was warm with a rising fever. If only Sasuke wasn’t so stubborn about not using her forbidden technique. Though it warmed her heart and made her blush when she replayed his reasons in her head. Maybe she should pick up some medical ninjutsu in case something like this came up again. She hated seeing Sasuke’s face contorted with pain.
At dawn, Sasuke jerked awake with a scream in his throat, rousing Karin from her vigil by his side.
“Sasuke-kun, it’s okay. It was only a nightmare,” she soothed.
There was cold sweat dotting his brow. She touched his forehead; glad to note the lack of fever. He breathed deeply and raggedly until he got himself under control. The others were rousing, too. Since everyone was up, they decided to start the day early. A quick breakfast and then they were packing up camp.
The redhead girl shivered at the low timbre of Sasuke’s voice. And did he just drop the honorific with her?
“Show me your arm.” Karin skipped over to him in a blissful haze and showed him her arm. “The other arm.” She hesitated, but showed him the bite mark on her wrist. She chose the wrist because it felt more intimate somehow. Sasuke studied her wrist for a long while, at war with himself over what to say. For a while it looked like he might apologize, which was absurd because she chose to heal him. Finally he traced his thumb over his teeth imprint and said, “Thank you, Karin. I promise to be stronger next time so that you won’t have to resort to this.”
Tingles went up her arm and down her spine. “If it’s for you, I don’t mind using this technique an infinite number of times,” she admitted with hearts in her eyes. Sasuke was so cool.
The look on his face was pained at her admission. She sobered up. “I’ll learn medical ninjutsu so that I can heal you even without using this technique.”
He startled at the declaration, and then gave her a gentle smile. “Thank you, Karin.”
“Anything for you, Sasuke-kun.”
“Maybe I should get some training in the medical field too,” he pondered out loud.
“Eh? But then it would defeat the purpose of me healing you.”
He gave her an amused looked and she blushed but didn’t look away.
Juugo did not quite know what to make of Sasuke.
When they first met, Sasuke gave the impression that he commanded authority and demanded absolute obedience. Which would work out just fine for Juugo if Sasuke were to be his master and his cage, but after their first meeting Sasuke began to use less and less of that imperious tone on him, and to the others in the group he was downright clement and even sought to serve them in some ways, by helping them complete a task or volunteering to do the harder chore when it came to setting camp.
But none of his actions made him subservient to the others, in fact, everyone in the group deferred to Sasuke. Ranmaru obeyed and looked up to Sasuke like an older brother. Kimimaro guarded Sasuke like a loyal vassal to his lord and never challenged Sasuke’s authority. Karin threw herself at Sasuke’s feet to be helpful to him. And Juugo listened to Sasuke of course, because Sasuke was the lock for his rage.
Then there was Sasuke’s changing attitude towards him. The more control Juugo showed over his rage the more friendly Sasuke became towards him. Sasuke was benign even before, but now it was like he actively sought a – dare Juugo believe it? – friendship with Juugo.
It was all very jarring and perplexing.
For now Juugo decided to just go with the flow, and he promised to hone his rage into Sasuke’s shield, so he would do that too. Maybe in the future there could be something more between Juugo and Sasuke, but for now, this was enough. This was contentment enough for Juugo.