A Golden Gray Mourning
Sakura held onto the skull tightly and looked from her sensei to the ground.
Nozomi told us she would be okay and for whatever reason, Kin and I
believed her. Believed her as they took her away and believed her when she said
she would be back for dinner.
But that was how Nozomi was. She wasn't
strong or exceptionally smart but she tried her hardest. She might be afraid but
she never showed it. She didn't pretend to be anything more then she was.
Simple, beautiful Nozomi.
Kin and I were polar opposites. He was all
brawn and I was brains. Nozomi was the bridge between us, the one thing we
agreed on. In the academy, Kin made sure the bullies were kept at bay and I
helped her with her studies. I don't know how it worked, really. Kin and I
should have hated each other but with her, it just seemed right.
graduated together, it was no surprise we were a team. Sensei was impressed with
the way we worked and told us that with some training, we'd be ready for the
chuunin exams in record time.
We practiced every day after missions. Kin
was impossibly strong. He could pick Nozomi up with one hand and twirl her over
his head. I was good at genjutsu and it used to amuse her to watch all the
illusions I could make. We were happy, the three of us.
We weren't as
strong as some of the other teams, we had no geniuses or bloodline children. But
sensei put us up our rookie year for chuunin. If Nozomi was nervous, she didn't
show it. And it wouldn't have mattered. Kin and I would be with her and neither
of us would let anything happen to her.
A few weeks before the exam,
sensei called us for normal training. Only when we arrived at the meeting spot,
there was a squad of Anbu there. Sensei was yelling at them and arguing with
whatever they had just told him.
When they saw us, they walked up to
Nozomi and took her away, talking to her while a couple of them kept the rest of
us away. Kin punched one of them, cracked his mask right in half. It was mayhem
after that. By the time Nozomi stepped in, I had a black eye and Kin's jaw was
"It's okay," she said. "They just want me to help them with
But neither of us was convinced.
"It's just a
mission," she smiled. "I'll be okay. I'll be back for dinner. So don't worry,
What else could Kin and I do? If all of sensei's yelling had changed
things, what could we do? Besides, these were Anbu, whatever they wanted had to
be the result of an order from the Hokage himself.
So we let her go. I
remember how she smiled, promising to fill us in as soon as she got back. And we
believed her. We just watched as they took her away.
They brought her
home that night, hidden beneath a white sheet and whisked away to a temple for
funeral rites. They never let us see her, never explained what happened to us
but sensei told us later.
"Bait," he said. "They needed her as bait to
lure an assassination target out. He had a thing for pretty blonde girls but was
too smart for illusions, so she was perfect. They knew he was in Takamizu, she
just had to get him to notice her and the Anbu would take care of the rest. That
was all she was supposed to do."
But the Anbu had lost her in the crowd.
Just for a moment. But it had been enough for him to take her to the back alley.
By the time the Anbu found him, she was already dead.
They burned her
body the next day. Kin was gone by evening. I wasn't surprised. She was the only
thing that had kept us together. And when she was gone, nothing mattered
anymore. Not being chuunin, not even being ninja. Everything became
"So I ended up here," Kanaye said, a sad smile on his face. "Where else could I
go? Everything I learned was useless. Everything I had dreamed was an illusion."
He paused, hands gripping the sill tightly as he stared at the window. "I loved
her. And she was gone."
He fell silent again and the nurse attempted to
talk with him. But he was silent, eyes glazing over as he returned to his
Ibiki put a hand on Sakura's shoulder and slowly led her
out. She was silent, trying desperately not to let the story affect her. She
needed to be rational to think things through.
Ibiki eyed her as she
struggled to keep her emotions in check. But when she turned to him, he could
see the glistening of her eyes. Somehow, she managed to keep the tears at
"Can they really do that?" she asked. "The Anbu, that
"Yes," he replied. "The Anbu would have been clear on the danger and
Nozomi could have said no. However, a ninja must always be prepared to accept
whatever mission is given to them. She understood the risks but her dedication
to Konoha superceded it."
"She was only... she was only my age." Sakura
slowed her steps and looked around. Ibiki slowed his steps and looked at her,
preparing himself for the deluge of emotion.
Instead, she looked at him,
sadness hidden beneath her eyes. "They never told us at the academy. That you
could die so young. We all just assumed that was something that might happen
later on, when you were a jounin or something. It never crossed anyone's minds
that we might not even make it that far. Until the chuunin exam, that is." She
paused and put a hand to the wall. "And they never told us about a place like
"They don't tell you a lot at the academy," he said. "Some of it,
for your own good." He looked down the hall. "This place is not someplace you
want to know about. It's easier to believe that it's not needed."
in a deep breath. "As ninja, we walk a very dangerous path. Some excel and lead
Konoha to glory. Others fall and become hunted for the rest of their lives. And
there are those who just stop moving all together. No longer civilian but no
longer a ninja, they need some place to be."
He looked at the clock on
the wall. "You need to get going. Can you find your own way out?"
nodded and started to walk away.
"Haruno," Ibiki called and Sakura's feet
came to a stop. "Hokage-sama was right about you. If you still want, I'll teach
For a moment, Sakura's face lit up and then it faded quickly as she
nodded. With a gruff nod, Ibiki sent her off again.
Kakashi frowned as Naruto launched into another tirade at Sasuke. Sakura was
already putting herself in the middle as she tried to stop the impending fight.
The scene played itself out every day, but Kakashi never grew tired of
He turned and waited for whoever was approaching to materialize. A
puff of smoke later, he found himself face to face with someone he could have
done without seeing.
"Ibiki," Kakashi said, keeping a reserved
"Kakashi," Ibiki replied. "I'm here to talk about our
Kakashi's face frowned a bit. "Ah... so she's
Ibiki nodded. "It seemed like the thing to do." He shifted his
weight as he sat down. "I know you might not agree."
"It's not my decision to make."
"It is... you are their
Kakashi let out a breath. "Their academy sensei tried to hold
them back from taking the chuunin exam. And I told him they weren't his anymore,
that they were my soldiers." He paused as he looked at three genin. "Now, I know
that they're Konoha's soldiers." He smiled a bit. "And that they need more then
me to grow strong. Only, at the same time, I think I understand Iruka's position
a bit more."
"They say being a sensei to genin is the hardest thing for
a jounin to do," Ibiki said.
"It's true," Kakashi replied. "But not in
the ways you think." He paused for a moment. "Still, if something were to
Ibiki shook his head. "Nothing will."
"That's good. Because I wouldn't be the only one coming after you."
the distance, Naruto and several clones were yelling as Sasuke launched a
fireball at them and Sakura jumped to get out of the way.
"NARUTO!!!" Sakura yelled, charging at the only remaining version of him. The
rest of the clones had disappeared on impact. "Stop picking on
Naruto flailed backwards, waving his arms. "It's not my
fault he's in such a lousy mood. You're the one who's keeping secrets and making
us all nervous."
Sakura came to a stop and frowned. He had her
"Like why were you late today?" He whined. "Even Kakashi-sensei
was here before you."
"Sakura-chan has a new sensei," Kakashi said as she
Naruto paled and even Sasuke looked a bit disturbed.
"Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked, looking at her with glistening eyes. "You're not
going to be on our team anymore."
"Baka," Sakura retorted. "I'm just
getting another sensei like Jiraiya-sama."
"EH?!?!" Naruto said.
"Sakura-chan is being taught by a pervert??"
"Ibiki-sensei is not a
pervert!!" Sakura yelled.
The group fell into silence as Ibiki's name
echoed in the clearing.
"Ibiki?" Sasuke asked, breaking the silence.
"The man who gave us the first part of the chuunin exam?"
her fingers and nodded proudly. See, Sasuke-kun. Someone realized I was
strong and wants to teach me. And he's a great jounin to boot. But he didn't
look impressed at all.
"No way," Naruto said. "What can he teach
Sakura paused and shrugged. "I don't know yet but Hokage-sama was
the one who requested it." Sakura let out a gasp. "Hokage-sama! I was supposed
to go talk to her today."
"I suppose our day was over anyway," Kakashi
said and in a flash she was gone.
"Ne, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto asked.
"Sakura-chan's acting weird."
Kakashi looked and was astonished to find
that it was not only Naruto that was listening for his answer. The jounin
sighed. "Give it a week and I'm sure Sakura-chan will explain
He looked up at the sky and frowned as he heard the eagle's
call. The circling pattern it flew could only mean one
"Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked, watching the expression on his
teacher's face change.
"Go home," Kakashi said. "Both of you. And don't
come out until I tell you to."
Sasuke looked up at the sky and saw the
hawk. "What does it mean?" he demanded.
Kakashi looked at them. "It means
exactly what I said. Now go!"
A bit taken a back by the tone in their
sensei's voice, the boys had no choice but to do as ordered, leaving just as
their sensei disappeared.
There was something wrong. Sakura knew it the moment she rounded the corner and
saw the Hokage's offices come into view. There were people amassed outside it,
yelling at the jounin guards who tried to keep them out. From the look of it,
they were all civilians and based on what they were screaming, Sakura suspected
that news of the serial killer had leaked.
She tried to get up the stairs
but a wall of people prevented it. Letting out an exasperated breath, she was
about to jump over them when a solid hand on her shoulder pulled her
"You need to go home," he
Sakura was about to question him when she saw the motion in the
sky. She looked back at him and shook her head. "I need to see Hokage
"Hokage sent the hawk meaning she's already got too much to take
care of," he said. He was about to pull her away when someone grabbed Sakura's
other arm. Kakashi looked up, eyes looking with Ibiki as the other man held onto
"Your sensei is right," Ibiki said after a moment's pause. "But
Hokage said to give you this." He handed her a scroll.
furrowed as she tried to put the pieces together. She looked at the hawk in the
sky and then back at the crowd. Her mind drifted back to the map on her wall and
she let out a little gasp. "There was another murder. In Bokuma." Ibiki nodded
slowly. "That means Konoha's next, right?"
"Curfew at sunset for all
chuunin and below," Ibiki said. "If Kin has managed to elude the hunter-nin for
this long, then only a jounin could match him."
"So you think it was Kin
too," Sakura asked.
"Ah," Ibiki nodded. "After I told Hokage that Nozomi
was killed in Takamizu, she was in agreement. But until they catch him, stay at
Sakura frowned but Ibiki let go of her arm and Kakashi
didn't spare a moment whisking her away.
Her mother was still thanking Kakashi as Sakura ran to her bedroom. It hadn't
taken long for word to spread. A killer was on the loose in Konoha and everyone
was to remain in their houses until the all clear signal was given. No doubt
every street in the town would be under watch.
"So stay here and don't
even think of leaving," Sakura's mother started as soon as she reached her
bedroom. "Your father already left and from what he tells me, the jounin have
been ordered to use any force necessary to keep this town safe."
frowned but nodded all the same, hiding the scroll under her pillow. "I'll just
stay here and read."
Her mother eyed her wearily but left without
pressing any further. Sakura let out a short breath and quickly retrieved the
scroll. She might not be able to help them patrol the streets but maybe she
could do something with this.
The sun had just kissed the horizon when
Sakura finished reading through the document. As she had promised, Hokage had
sent information they retrieved from the skull. A lot of it, she didn't
understand. Most of the terminology was the stuff that only medical-nin would
Beyond that, the report was pretty useless in terms of identifying
who the skeleton had been. The skull belonged to someone who was somewhere
between twelve to fifteen as the twelve year molars having not come in yet.
There was no significant damage to the skull so apparently they hadn't been
killed by a blow to the head. In fact, the only thing that was odd was that
mandible had been broken and a few teeth were missing.
Sakura frowned a
bit, trying to remember enough anatomy to place the mandible. She walked up to
her bookcase and pulled anatomy book from there. She flipped the index and found
the page she needed.
The book started to shake in her hands and Sakura
dropped it to the floor. The page fluttered in the wind but the picture of a jaw
was still there.
By the time Nozomi stepped in, I had a black eye and
Kin's jaw was obliterated.
Sakura shook her head and ran back to her bed
to get the report. She reread it, reading the physicians scrawl as they
speculated that the jaw had been broken recently. In other words, the skull they
had retrieved at Takamizu was from a twelve to fifteen year old who had just
been punched in the mouth.
It wasn't possible, she rationalized. It could
be anyone. It didn't have to be who she thought it was.
But could she
really believe that there was that much coincidence in the world? More
importantly, if Kin was the one in the koi pond back in Takamizu, then who was
responsible for the murders?
Sakura jumped off her bed and ran to her
window. The sun was halfway down and she didn't even know if she could make it
to Hokage's offices. And she wasn't even sure if this meant what she thought it
Her mind drifted back to finding out about the Funari murder, how
upset she had been when she thought it was her fault another girl was killed.
Now, she had another chance in Konoha.
Sakura looked at her room for a
moment longer before deciding. She jumped out the window and took off running,
medical report clutched to her chest. The sun's setting rays were bathing Konoha
in an eerie golden red hue as she moved, leaving a wake of dust behind her.
The Hokage's office came into view but the crowd was long since gone,
stuffed back into their homes before curfew took effect. The two jounin standing
guard there stared at her and moved quickly to stop her as she came barreling at
"Hold on!" one of them yelled, grabbing her before she cleared
the door. "What are you doing out? You know that there is..."
"I need to
talk to the Hokage!" Sakura yelled.
"No, you need to be
"HOKAGE!!" Sakura screamed, yelling at the upper window where she
knew the Hokage's main office was.
"Hey!" the jounin protested, trying to
cover her mouth. But Sakura bit down hard on his hand.
Not this time,
Sakura thought. I won't let him kill another girl this time.
removed his hand, cursing as he did. "HOKAGE!" Sakura screamed again and there
was movement at the window.
Tsunade came out onto the balcony, Shizune at
her side. Looking down, she found the source of commotion.
asked, watching as two jounin tried to wrestle the girl to the
"It's not Kin!" Sakura yelled, trying to struggle free. "Kin's
dead! The skull... the body from Takamizu is Kin! You're after the wrong person!!"
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