Sasuke ran through the village, heart pounding in tandem with the rhythm of his feet on the dusty ground. He dodged and weaved through piles of debris and the shinobi clearing them, huffing and puffing with more than just exertion. His mind was blindingly numb. His own heartbeat was the only thing he heard as he rushed into the hospital, flying up three flights of stairs in record time. Reaching out, he threw a door open and bent double, hands braced on his knees as he struggled to catch his breath. On her bed, Hanako stared at him, dark eyes void of light. She’d been like that for several days, now, so painfully subdued and lifeless. That old man did something to her, he just knew it! She was fine when he left!
He didn’t have time to worry about that right now, though.
“That man,” he panted, voice hoarse. “That man is here.”
Her expression didn’t change and for a horrifying moment he feared she wouldn’t react at all, that her promise to stand with him against that man, just like she had on that day, would amount to nothing. Then, her eyes widened and she pushed herself up into a sitting position, leaning over the rail on the side of her hospital bed. Her face was haggard and pale, the skin under her eyes flaming red, but her expression—an expression!—was sincerely concerned.
Her voice was as small as she was, tone breathy and shaking with an emotion he knew but couldn’t name.
“He’s here,” Sasuke repeated, the words like ash on his tongue. “And he’s after Naruto!”
Her face twisted in horror and he just knew she knew why that man had gone after Naruto instead of him. The small glimpse of the monstrous strength his teammate called upon in his fight against Gaara came to mind and he seethed.
Hanako was struggling with the restraints on her legs, her one hand—seeing the flat stump was just as jarring as the first time—fumbling with the buckles and straps. He rushed over to her side to help, but she flapped her hand at him.
“I need clothes,” she said sternly and he was so glad to hear her speak he didn’t protest the command.
He ran back out of the hospital, taking to the rooftops in his haste as he sped across the village. The Hatake Clan Compound was on the other side of the village, far from the main road and the hospital. Going there would waste valuable time. He changed course midair, landing with a roll in a courtyard he never thought he’d revisit—at least, not for many years, yet.
The numbness summoned by his name settled on his mind like a blanket as he rummaged through long abandoned boxes, pulling out a high collared shirt with the uchiwa emblazoned on the back.
It was fine, right? She had a Sharingan, anyway, and he was Clan Head, so no one could argue with him.
Hanako was standing beside her bed, hands fisting in her hospital gown. She raised one straight brow at the clothes he handed her before gesturing for him to turn around. She dressed quickly, tugging on his sleeve. He turned, taking in the sight of her in his clan’s traditional clothing. It was a little out of style, and a bit too big around her shoulders, but the black shirt and white shorts ensemble brought back memories of his academy days—for her, too, if the wry smile on her unmasked face was anything to go by. He knelt down and helped her into a pair of black sandals, ignoring the way her toes scrunched in the unfamiliar footwear. Finally ready, she reached over and pulled out the IV from her injured arm, immediately applying pressure to the vein to stop the bleeding. Several other wires were also shed, and they fled the room to the sound of a flatlining heart monitor.
Hanako came up beside him as they leapt across the rooftops. “Naruto went to Tanzaku-gai! We should head straight there and try to cut them off!”
Sasuke nodded in acknowledgement and lead the way into the forest, leaving the village behind. Tanzaku-gai was one of amny civilian resort towns in the land of fire, and every academy graduate was required to memorize the locations of those within a week’s travel from Konoha. With any luck, they’d reach the town in under an hour at their full speed. Soon, he’d be face to face with that man. He wasn’t sure what he’d do when he confronted him, but he was glad to know Hanako was with him, again. This time…this time he wouldn’t freeze! He was past that! He’d grown since that night and he’d have his revenge!
They touched down on a roof just within the town walls and Hanako put her nose to the air, looking for Naruto’s scent. She jerked her head.
He followed her lead, gut roiling with anticipation. And worry.
If that man found Naruto before they did, would the dobe survive the encounter? Sure, he had that secret power everyone except Sasuke seemed to know about, but it seemed to be a last resort sort of thing, showing itself only in the most dire of circumstances. What if it didn’t register that man as a threat until it was too late? What if the Sharingan took hold before he could call on it? What if—?
Hanako reached out with her arm and stopped him in his tracks. “We’re here.” She pointed at a window. “Naruto’s in there. We should grab him and go before he shows up. Jiraiya-sama is probably nearby, so we can go to him for help.”
Wait. “What about him? We’re not—we can’t just leave him alone!”
The deadpan expression she gave him was so reminiscent of Kakashi he almost saw double.
“You’re right, Sasuke,” she drawled. “What was I thinking? Of course, we—a pair of genin with three hands between us—should take on an A Rank missing nin. That’s going to end so well for us, I can tell.”
Sasuke bristled at her tone. “If you weren’t going to fight him then why did you come?”
“Are you insane?” Her expression made it clear she certainly thought he was. “I came to help you save Naruto! Isn’t that why you’re here?”
Partially. He was concerned, sure, but who knew when his next chance to kill that man would come? He had to seize the opportunity while it lasted.
Hanako gestured wildly with her left arm, clearly forgetting it had no hand. “I don’t have time to argue with you, right now, so go die on your brother’s sword if you’re really that desperate. Naruto has no idea what’s coming for him.”
She leapt down and landed on the windowsill, leaving Sasuke to scramble in after her.
“Eh? Hana-chan? And teme?! What are you doing here?”
Seeing the dobe’s face released a tension Sasuke hadn’t realized he was carrying. He was fine. Still stupid, still smiling, still alive. Fine. Sasuke let himself breathe a little easier, knowing that.
Hanako didn’t waste any time, placing a hand on Naruto’s shoulder.
“Naruto, I need you to summon a toad. There are people after you and Jiraiya-sama needs to know.’
“Eh? How do you know about the toads, Hana-chan? I never told you I could summon them!”
Indeed. Hanako had known about Gaara’s terrifying transformation, even though he’d been ordered not to tell her. Another thing to ask about once that man was dealt with.
“Do as she says, dobe,” he demanded, scowling reflexively as the blond aimed a sour look his way. “We don’t have time for questions.”
Naruto grumbled but obeyed, summoning a small orange toad in a sleeveless blue haori.
“Ha? What’d’ya summon me for, brat?”
Naruto waved at Hanako. “Hana-chan told me to!”
“Itachi Uchiha and Kisame Hoshigaki are after Naruto,” she said quickly, words running together. “We are evacuating him for his own safety. Please tell Jiraiya-sama.”
The scowling amphibian eyes her arm openly. “Are you sure you should be out and about, chibi? That looks serious.”
The toad disappeared into a puff of smoke and Hanako turned angry eyes onto Naruto. “You’re coming with us. No questions. Move!”
Sasuke almost laughed when Naruto jumped to attention but found himself doing the same when she looked at him. He’d never seen that look in her eyes before, so hard and demanding. The unflappable calm she was so known for nowhere to be found. She looked…young. Afraid. Uncertain. Not words he would have ever used to describe her before the exams.
That old man. What had he done to her?
He was around, right? That Jiraiya guy? Maybe he’d get some answers out of him.
The three genin leapt across the rooftops, the hotel quickly vanishing behind them as they fled the scene.
“Hey, hey, what’s going on?” Naruto demanded breathlessly. “Why are we running?”
Sasuke ground his teeth as Hanako answered.
“Itachi Uchiha and his partner are coming after you. Jiraiya-sama can handle them, but it’ll be better if we’re out of his way.”
“Uchiha? You mean like Sasuke?”
Hanako reached out and smacked the dobe, hard. “Naruto!”
The dobe’s expressions were always a treat to watch, but Sasuke took no pleasure in the rapid fire transition from shock to recognition to contrition.
“That Itachi Uchiha? What does he want from me? Wouldn’t he be after Sasuke?”
His sentiments exactly. He drifted closer to his friends as Hanako made to answer when she suddenly grabbed a fistful of Naruto’s orange jumpsuit and all but threw him into Sasuke. The boys tumbled head over heels with loud groans, roof tiles cracking beneath their combined weight. Sasuke pushed up on Naruto’s chest, the dobe slow as usual as he scrambled to his feet. When they finally detangled themselves, they saw Hanako standing, one hand raised in half a Tiger sign, between them and two figures in black cloaks covered in red clouds.
Sasuke’s gaze focused on the shorter one, his dark hair, pale skin, and tired eyes all so horrifyingly familiar. That man wasn’t looking at him, though, Sharingan focused on Hanako’s severed limb.
“Who did that to you?”
Hanako snorted, shifting her weight. “Orochimaru. He’s an old buddy of yours, right? You Akatsuki types don’t really have standards, do you?”
The tall one—was he even human?—barked a harsh laugh at that. “That’s twice now someone’s called us out, today. Leader won’t be happy to hear that.”
A hand fell onto Sasuke’s shoulder and he followed it to Naruto’s uncharacteristically grim expression. The dobe shook his head and Sasuke realized he was primed to run, unconsciously ready to attack that man.
He spoke again, voice low and smooth as if he wasn’t a kinslayer. “Orochimaru is no longer affiliated with the Akatsuki.”
“I know,” she replied, surprising everyone. “I imagine it would be hard to work with someone so interested in taking the Sharingan for himself, huh?”
No one told Sasuke about that. A chill went through him as he realized just how lucky she was to lose just her arm.
Eye-thief was still a category of criminal in Konoha for a reason. With two powerful dojutsu clans calling it home, steps were taken early on to punish anyone who dared conspire against them.
“Don’t worry,” Hanako was saying. “It seems he’s more interested in mine than Sasuke’s, right now.”
He watched as that man’s eyes flew from her missing hand to her face and widened, likely facing her Sharingan for himself.
Wait. How did she…no one told her about the Sharingan, right? He hadn’t, and Kakashi probably hadn’t, either, so how?
How did she know so much when nobody ever told her anything?
That man’s partner threw his head back and laughed. “What the hell? Looks like you missed a few in your little purge, Itachi. Not that it matters,” he hefted his giant weapon onto his shoulder. “We’ll just finish the job, here.”
Naruto’s fingers dug into Sasuke’s shoulder and he almost shrugged him off before remembering that Naruto was their target. Where was that old man? Did that toad skip out on them?
“Naruto, Sasuke!” They both looked to Hanako, surprised by the command in her voice. “That sword eats chakra! Don’t let it touch you. Keep your eyes on Itachi’s feet if you have to fight him, it’s the only way to avoid the Tsukiyomi.”
“His Sharingan, Naruto! He has the Mangekyou Sharingan! Please, just listen to me!”
Her voice cracked with emotion and both boys stood frozen in the face of it. Something was seriously wrong with her, there was no doubt about it. Four years of living in the room across from hers and he’d never even heard a rumor about her losing her temper.
“You’re pretty well informed for a crippled brat,” the big, sharklike one drawled with a sharp toothed smile. “Should I be insulted you left me out?”
“Kisame Hoshigaki, one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, also called the No Tailed Beast on account of your monstrous chakra reserves—they’re also why you’re able to wield Samehada so easily.”
Kisame’s grin faded into a hard smile. “Well, then. You really do know your stuff. And, I’ve gotta say,” his expression became predatory. “That’s a nice set of teeth you’ve got there.”
Both cloaked figures exploded into motion, launching themselves across the rooftop. With Sharingan clarity, Sasuke watched as Hanako leapt backward, her one hand moving in hand signs not unlike that rogue Hunter Nin from their mission in Waves. When had she had the time to learn that? Had she already known how to do it, before losing her hand? Why?
Water gushed from her open mouth, pushing her and their attackers apart. Sasuke immediately began channeling chakra into his hand, the shrill chirping of the Chidori hurting his ears. They were wet, so the raiton jutsu would be extra effective. As he looked at that man, the memory of his parents’ corpses, lying in their own blood, eyes open and unseeing, the cloying scent of blood clawing its way up out of his memories and threatening to overtake him. Now, as then, Hanako stood between them, her narrow back toward Sasuke as she faced his demon for him.
She didn’t have to do that, anymore.
With a feral yell, Sasuke surged forward, Chidori primed and ready, Sharingan locked on his feet. All he had to do was make contact. His wet clothing and the electric current would do the rest. Just had to make contact.
Something threw him off course, sending him flying off to one side and rolling to a stop on the roof of another building. Belatedly, he felt the pain in his ribs—broken—and he gasped for air. He felt like a fish out of water, no chakra answering his call as he tried vainly to stand.
He looked up at Kisame, the shark man grinning down at him as he raised his chakra eating sword with one hand. “So long, little bro.”
White smoke filled Sasuke’s field of vision, fading to reveal a giant, man sized toad blocking Kisame’s blade.
“Brats, get over here,” that awful old man shouted as he adjusted his grip on an unconscious woman slung over his shoulder. He held out an open hand and yelled. “You fools actually thought that I, Jiraiya, the epitome of manliness, would fall to feminine wiles? Women throw themselves at my feet with just a smile!”
“Shut up, Pervy Sage! All that lady had to do was wink at you and you left me behind to be taken by these weirdos! If Hana-chan and Sasuke hadn’t shown up they would’ve had me!”
The taller Konoha nin smacked the back of Naruto’s head with a fierce scowl. “What did I say about calling me that?”
Gods. He was a giant, old Naruto.
“Are you alright?” Hanako’s hand was gentle as she helped him to his feet. “We should get you to a hospital. Chakra exhaustion can be deadly.”
He strained in her grip, trying to catch a glimpse of him. Everyone’s eyes were on Jiraiya, so if he could just—!
His chakra coils protested vehemently and he swayed on his feet, nearly dragging Hanako down with him. She steadied him with her left arm, the blunted limb propping him up with some difficulty.
“Sasuke, calm down,” she whispered for his ears only. “I know it’s frustrating, but he’s still too strong—especially with Kisame watching his back. We saved Naruto, let’s leave it at that.”
No! He couldn’t—he wouldn’t—how could he just—?
He deflated, accepting the futility of his situation with a bitter scowl. “Fine.”
Darkness overtook him, the sound of Hanako’s voice following him into chakra depleted sleep.