|Find Me On High Ground [Ryouma and Kakashi]||[Nov. 6th, 2011|01:26 am]|
It was autumn in Fire Country.|
He hadn’t expected that. He still didn’t have a very clear idea of how much time had passed; no one had told him, and he didn’t dare ask. The two ANBU who’d been sent to escort him home seldom talked to each other, and even less frequently talked to him. Careful, precise orders: Wake up. Eat this. We’ll stop for the night now. They didn’t know how badly his brain was damaged; they weren’t trained to deal with it. He caught glints of fear, sometimes, in the hesitation before they touched him, in the awkward tilt of a masked face as they refused to meet his empty gaze.
They were ninja; they didn’t fear death. He was something out of every shinobi’s nightmares.
He wondered, sometimes, why the Hokage had bothered to bargain for him. Had the Kazekage clarified in his first--no doubt very politely worded--messages that the injured Konoha ninja who had just happened to appear in Sunagakure no Sato was a drooling idiot, or had he merely made vague mentions of serious injuries and gestures of good will and the possibility of opening up channels of communication between the two villages? A ninja crippled in combat was still owed something by his village, some return of his loyalty: rescue, healing, a tiny pension. A ninja who lost his mind would never know the difference.
The ANBU hadn’t known. It was clear from the shock in their rigid shoulders when they’d stepped through the doorway into his clean, white-washed room, seen him sitting on his bed, and stopped. One of them had known him, he learned later, listening to their murmured conversation by the campfire. Only briefly, from one mission last December--his first training mission, as it happened--but he’d been impressed with the rookie, then. He’d thought the boy had potential.
“He didn’t even make it to six months,” the woman said, eyeing him across the fire. “Poor bastard. What the hell is he supposed to do now?”
Tousaki Ryouma stared blankly into the heart of the flames, and wondered the same thing.
Two weeks passed. They took the road from Sunagakure at a slow pace, an imbecile’s shamble; he was too big for either of them to carry for any distance, and the Hokage, he gathered, hadn’t told them to hurry. Ryouma ached to hurry, but even in the desert the Kazekage had eyes. He kept his head down and watched the sand under his feet change to packed dirt scattered with reddish leaves. Autumn in Fire Country.
He’d left in April.
Six months, maybe. How long had they searched for him? How long had they assumed he was dead? And had the Hokage bothered to inform anyone, when word came from Suna, or had he kept quiet, knowing that at any moment negotiations could collapse? Suna wasn’t an ally, wasn’t even really friendly, though whatever treaty they’d wrangled in exchange for him might have done something to change that.
That was two villages he’d managed to inadvertently provoke into peace negotiations with Konoha. Maybe he should try a second career as an ambassador, next.
They came to Konoha gates in the mid-morning of a clear, sunny day. The ANBU exchanged a quick glance with each other; the woman shrugged out of her pack, pulled her sand-colored hooded cloak out, and draped it over Ryouma’s shoulders. “He’s too tall,” she said, disgruntled.
“Just cover his face,” the man said.
Obediently she pulled the hood forward, and the world went shadowed. Ryouma kept his breathing steady, kept his eyes unfocused. The woman took his hand again. She hadn’t quite stopped flinching, yet. “Come on,” she said, encouraging. “Only a little further.”
They led him to the Hokage’s palace, up the stairs, into an office with wide windows overlooking the village below. He’d been here once before, not quite a year ago, when his tattoo was still painfully new on his shoulder. He’d knelt before that white-bearded old man, sworn his allegiance, received his mask. Had Sandaime looked quite so old, then? The Hokage’s shoulders stooped a little more as he turned from the window to watch the two ANBU come to attention. His mouth opened.
Ryouma dropped to his knees, planted one fist on the floor, and bowed his head. “Tousaki Ryouma, 010950, reporting for duty, sir!”
The female ANBU choked.
Ryouma looked up. Met the Sandaime’s eyes, and tried to pour everything he felt into his own. “Sandaime-sama-- Thank you.”