Chapter 72 Missing in Action
A layer of clouds brood over the village, certainly it will start raining soon. Near the entrance to the village, all is quiet. Only one person stands watch at the gate, and only for this single day. 3 years ago Naruto, Jaraiya and Sakura where supposed to have returned to the village. 2 months before they said they would be returning, messages they sent stopped.
A second person appears from the streets, walking up to the other person, striking up a conversation.
“Sasuke, why can’t you just come home for today.” Ino says.
“You know why… todays that day… until they return… this is the least I can do.” Sasuke says solemnly.
“But today is such a bad day to be standing outside, it could start raining any moment, I wouldn’t want my Sasuke-kun to get a cold.” Ino says as she grabs onto his arm, and hugs him from behind.
Instead of avoiding Ino, Sasuke grabs onto her arms, not turning around, but returning her hug nonetheless. “I know, but even if the chances of them returning are slim to none… this is something I have to do… you know how important they are to me…” Sasuke says with obvious sadness in his voice. “Don’t worry. Tomorrow I’m all yours, deal?” Sasuke says.
“…Fine… deal… just take care of yourself… you know that I worry when you put yourself in harm’s way like this.” Ino says as she lets go and walks off, blowing a kiss to Sasuke as she goes home.
Sasuke turns around as watches her go, grabbing her kiss when she launches it. A satisfied look of happiness spreads across his face. ‘This happiness… this is the very reason I have to do this… on this day… after all… you two saved me from the darkness… its thanks to you two that I can experience this joy. I owe you two this much at least.’ Sasuke thinks as he turns back around to the gates.
He has done this every year for 3 years now. He volunteered to take the responsibility to watch the gates of Konahona, a job usually saved for Chuunin, not high class Jounin like him. Because of this, he at least gets to have his privacy on these days. Being the only guard of the gates at least means he can relax more and indulge in the past. Over the last 3 years he had lost the time and freedom to enjoy such relaxation. Always going out on A-Rank and S-Rank mission, he rarely has time to relax, let alone spend time with his girlfriend.
‘And there we have yet another reason to be thankful to them… don’t we Ino? We can have our happy little family because they stopped me… ended my decent into darkness…’ Sasuke thinks as he turns his head to where Ino was moments before. He and Ino became a couple a year and a half after Naruto, Jaraiya and Sakura left. Ino initially was still the ‘crush on the cool guy’ girl that Sasuke couldn’t stand much, but he had seen things he liked in Ino. Eventually they started talking, instead of her just cooing over him. 1 year after they started talking, Sasuke finally decided to ask her out. He has to admit, their start wasn’t all that good. The first few dates where disasters, one of them even sent Ino home in tears, but they pulled through, Sasuke learned, and eventually their love blossomed. Now they both lived in the same home, they aren’t married yet, but he plans to change that soon. His parents fully support him in this endeavor, eager to have a grandchild and eager to see the succession of their clan continue.
‘I wish I knew what happened to you two… you were supposed to return on this day 3 years ago… 2 months before that you sent us a letter telling us you would be returning today. Then silence… for the next 2 months no letters came… and then the day you were supposed to arrive past… still nothing… maybe I should have shown Tsunade that letter you sent me during your travels…’ Sasuke thinks as he remembering what the letter said.
How you doing!? Another beautiful day here, listen… I want you to keep this note a secret from everyone, could you do that for us? If Tsunade found out she would flip. We tried to remove the curse seal on Sakura, but it didn’t go well. The curse seal broke free and we had to fight it. It was much stronger this time than before, but we manage to defeat it without hurting Sakura too much. Jaraiya made an important discovery, the curse seal on Sakura’s back forms the shape of 3 petals, but one was missing. After we stopped the curse seal again, a second petal disappeared. He suspects that each time the curse seal is defeated, it grows more powerful, but it loses its hold on Sakura. He suspects that if the curse seal is defeated a 3rd time, it will be broken, and the seal will vanish. We can’t be certain, and Sakura is in no condition to be put through that for a while.
I probably shouldn’t have even written this letter… but I had to tell someone… and you’re the one person I can trust to not be a blabbermouth. Any way things have been getting hectic as of recently. Sakura’s recovering just fine, but there’s something different about her… I can just tell. I think the curse mark is really straining her mentally, she’s been really quiet… and she often just looks at nothing for hours on end. I just hope that whatever has gotten into her goes away when we return to the village. My training is progressing fine, just figured out a brand new jutsu I’m going to have to show you when I return. Hope you’re keeping up, wouldn’t want for the fight to be TO one sided.
We’re currently traveling to a remote village on the edge of Fire Country. Jaraiya said there was something there he needed to get. I just hope it doesn’t put us behind schedule. I tried to convince him so that we don’t fall behind, but he said it was a higher priority that staying on time. It had better not be more “research”. But I honestly doubt it… there was just something in his voice that hinted that it really was something important. Sakura is well enough to walk, so were leaving today. I gave this message to a traveling merchant who was going to Konahona. I asked him to deliver the message to you personally.
Hope to kick your ass soon!
It was one of the last messages he got from Naruto. He got one after that, which was just a typical “hi, we are doing fine” message and the last one… where Naruto told them that they would be returning soon. He had read that letter so many times over that he had memorized it. But he kept his unspoken promise to Naruto to keep the letter a secret. He knew what Naruto really meant, he didn’t want Tsunade worrying about him and Sakura. By the time he had considered revealing the existence of the letter to Tsunade, he knew it was too late… and that most likely something terrible had happened to them.
2 years ago, Naruto, Sakura and Jaraiya were classified as missing. Recently talk has been spreading if they should be publicly declared dead. It seemed impossible that the 3, who had a strong devotion to the village, would just disappear 2 months from when they were supposed to return… and then not have a single trace of evidence about them appear for 3 years. Tsunade had sent dozens of search parties out to try and find them. They scoured the land, even searching in foreign soils, but despite all their efforts, not one single trace bit of evidence surfaced about them. It was as if they simply vanished one day. Tsunade was completely against this, she would never accept them being dead until they found the bodies, and she could personally see them. Others were much more… accepting of this idea. Many of the elders thought it would be wise to declare their Jinchuriki dead, to alleviate a bit of worry in the villagers, who still feared the monster stored inside him. Sakura wasn’t a remarkable shinobi, and would not be missed by many, and few people even cared for Jaraiya, even though he was powerful.
Sasuke was one of the other people who refused to believe they were dead. He knew Naruto, he would stop at nothing to prove anyone who looked down on him wrong, and he still had a lot of people left to prove wrong. Sasuke wished he could have some free time to himself. He might be able to try and search for Naruto personally. Who knows, maybe he could see something that no one else did. But until that time arrives he already had his hands full with his current life. He considers himself lucky that Tsunade allows him this one day out of the year to relax and be able to think back on those days.
As Sasuke’s gaze lowers from the sky he had been staring at while he daydreamed, he notices someone approaching the gates. A single person, a man.
He knew his job, he had to check the person to make sure they had no weapons, and that they weren’t a significant threat to the village before he could allow them in.
“Halt.” Sasuke calls out as the person steps through the gate door.
“Can I help you?” The man calls out in a familiar voice.
Sasuke can’t place it, and he can’t see the man’s face. He’s covered in a shabby robe, and a straw hat covers his face. ‘This man might be here to cause trouble… better size him up…’ Sasuke thinks.
The man was about his size, about his age maybe… but his muscles… they were much bigger than his. His stance was strong and unwavering, his posture perfect, his breathing even and even though he was talking to the gate guard. Either this man was a regular to Konahona, or he had nerves of steel to not show the slightest concern about Sasuke’s inquiry.
“What business do you have in Konahona?” Sasuke asks.
“Personal business.” The man says in an even tone.
Sasuke couldn’t put his finger on it… but the man sounded familiar… but to who?
“Do you have any weapons on you?” Sasuke continues.
“No, I’m just a merchant trying to tie up a loose end of a deal I made.” The man says.
‘This mans confident to say the least… he’s acting like he doesn’t even care that a shinobi is questioning him. Based on his build he could probably beat me in a wrestling match… but beyond that he doesn’t stand a chance…’
“Would you mind showing me your identification?” Sasuke asks, curious to who this person who sounded so familiar was.
“I don’t have anything like that on me, now are you done? I want to finish this and get back to my village.” The man says.
“Just one last thing, I need to search your bag to make sure your not carrying any sort of dangerous weapons, not my choice, its protocol.” Sasuke says as he walks up to the man, as he reaches for his bag, the man grabs his arm violently.
“I ASSURE you… I don’t have any sort of dangerous weapons in my bag… now… can I go!?” The man says, getting irritated.
‘This guys got some balls to grab me when I’m just doing me job… I might have to show this guy a lesson.’ Sasuke thinks as he starts getting ticked off at the man. “No, you cannot, until I give you permission to enter, you’re not allowed into the city… now let ME CHECK your BAG!” Sasuke says as he forcefully shoves the mans hand aside and grabs his bag.
“You bastard! Give that back!” The man yells as he charges forward, throwing a fist at Sasuke. Sasuke easily dodged the punch, making the man even angrier.
“Annoying BAKA, take this! Shadow Clone no Jutsu!” The man says as he makes several clones of himself.
“What the!?” is all Sasuke can say before the clones overwhelm him, forcing him to defend himself as they take one grabs the bag and takes it back to the man. Sasuke breaks out of the clone’s and goes flying at the man, now taking the fight seriously. Now he had to know who this was hiding under the hat. He lands in front of the man, and sends his foot up into the air, kicking the man in the head and sending him to the ground, knocking him out cold. As Sasuke gets up, he finally gets a good look at the man’s face. His jaw drops as he recognizes the man easily… it could only be him.