Naruto: Shichiyo Gaiden XXV
Chapter 25: Returning Pain
Koji remains in his hospital bed for over an hour since his brother's departure. He remains staring blankly but painfully at the ceiling. His mind remains troubled from the gentle voice that cooed through his mind so vividly he could feel the kiss of the words on his cheek.
“Mother...” he says to himself. “She looks just like you...especially her hair.” Koji sighs as he dazes off, his eyes closing. Koji closes his eyes but is not yet asleep; he lays motionless in the darkness of his eyelids in a seemingly peaceful state, however faint pain resides in his heart. *Koichi...* he thinks about his brother, *why do you do this to yourself...and me?*
After a few minutes, Koji opens his eyes and props himself up on the bed. He turns his head to the window left open by Ryoko. Koji leaps out of bed, grabbing his brown robe as he lands on the windowsill and he leaps out the window to find his brother.
~At the Sunagakure Cemetery~
The cemetery of Suna is distinguishable from the rest of the desolate wasteland of the village. The melancholy gray tombstones that stand up in the dismal brown gives an indication of the darkest place within Suna. The solemn gray area is only brightened by the bitter heat of the sun which blazes all over Suna equally. The flowers on the stones wilting and dying rather quickly from the sun's murderous rays, sucking the life out of them.
Koichi resides at the far end of the cemetery in “SUNA'S FALLEN HERO” section. The largest part of the cemetery, where all the shinobi who fought proudly for Suna reside. Koichi stands in the center of the cemetery, staring painfully at a tombstone. “Mai Shichiyo & Taigetsu Shichiyo” The flowers that lay on their stone are dryer then the sand they lay on, their peddles crushed merely from breaking off, the beautiful color they once had has faded and they simply lay there as lifeless as the people they were placed there for.
“It's been so long since I've seen you guys.” Koichi musters in a low voice. “I always made sure you had fresh flowers but I've been to busy with my training...forgive me for being so neglectful.” His voice is low but composed. He takes out a bright red rose from his back pocket. Water droplets shine in the sunlight on the beautiful flower, the stem green as freshly watered grass. Koichi places the flower down and turns his back and begins walking away. As Koichi exits the the cemetery depressed, he notices several bystanders standing all around the cemetery, staring at him...they had all left the moment he entered the cemetery and waited as far away from him as possible. Koichi's heartbreak fills his head with several emotions of negativity; depression, sadness, confusion...aggravation, anger. As he walks away he notices the glares of the citizens of Suna, their expressions of terror, distrust, and disdain only add on as fuel to his own anger.
~In the Main Streets of Suna~
Ryoko sits under an outdoor cafe, with a large tent over area. A waitress approaches her, placing down a plate of rice balls and green tea as she stares up into the blue sky over Suna. The waitress curtsies and leaves Ryoko's table and Ryoko picks up the cup tea without swaying her glance from the sky. Her expression is puzzled with worry.
*Was it just my senses acting up?* She wonders to herself sipping her tea *Something seemed off about both of them, and Koji was acting strange.* She turns her gaze from the sky as she turns to grab a rice ball. She turns back around to look out into the village. Immediately she notices a short hooded figure walking through the village in a brown robe. She sees the bottom part of his face and then quickly picks up on his chakra signature, recognizing it as Koji's. “*tsk* Koji.” she mutters to herself with annoyance at Koji's escape from the hospital. Koji stops as Ryoko says his name and he quickly vanishes. “Damn it,” Ryoko says out loud as she stands up. She puts money on the table and runs outside and begins searching for Koji, “how the hell could he hear me?” Ryoko picks up on Koji's chakra again and begins to pursue him.
Koji makes his way to the cemetery, standing just outside the entrance gates. It's the furthest he's ever gone to the cemetery in years. He sees few villagers within the vast field, some crying and holding each other, people standing alone in silence...in the section of the field where his parents are buried, Koji notices more people spread around over in that area, they stand at the sites of newly placed tomb stones, many weeping and others fighting back the tears. Koji takes another look around, noticing many of the people in the cemetery standing around newer, more recently placed stones and grave sites. Koji can't help but feel a great deal of guilt. He notices Koichi's absence from the field but more pain arises in both of their hearts each moment.
“Koichi, where are you?” Koji mumbles to himself. He leaves the cemetery sight, continuing his search for Koichi.
Further down on the main streets of Suna, Koichi continues to walk like a dog with its tail between its legs, apprehensively. The voices in his head begin again as his chronic, yet accurate paranoia begins to act again. The whispers of the villagers as Koichi walks past them act like nails on a chalk board in his head.
“There it is...”
“He's a monster...”
“Why is that thing still allowed to run around.”
*stop it!* Koichi wishes to blurt out. At that moment a tomato hits Koichi right in the back of his head and he stumbles forwards slightly. “Who the hell did that?!” He yells out in his usual loud tone? As he turns around he sees a faint blur in the fence before it disappears. He walks over and grabs a cloak and whips it off, revealing four kids. “I used to pull this prank all the time, you think I won't recognize such a weak technique?!” Koichi yells, “Now what's the deal you little brats?”
Three of the four kids begin to cower behind the last one who stands tall to Koichi. “Get out of our village you monster!” The kid says boldly. Koichi steps back at the boy's exclamation.
“What...” Koichi mutters softly. The voices in his head return even louder and he turns and sees everybody around the area staring at Koichi, all possessing the same mentality as the little boy. Koichi begins trembling and then another tomato hits him on the side of his face. He turns around and sees the four boys running and leaping up on balconies and the roofs of houses. “*tsk* Get back here you little brats!” Koichi yells as he heads after them. The boys pant after heading through three building roofs.
“*panting* we lost him.” one of the boys says relieved.
“Yeah think again.” Koichi says from behind the four boys. The turn around shocked and back up as they see Koichi. “You'll need to run a lot faster and longer then that to catch me.” He says holding his noes up in the air.
“Fine then we won't run, we'll fight you!” The leader of the gang says again.
“What was that?” Koichi says cracking his fists smiling anxiously.
“Hey are you crazy?” one of the boys whispers to the other, “He's going to kill us.”
“I don't care!” The boy shouts, his tone is filled with rage. “I'll get my revenge for what he did to my father!” Koichi stops smiling and lowers his hands and looks at the boy with sorrow. “That's right, you killed my father!” the boy yells with tears flowing down his eyes “And I'm going to make you pay!”
Koichi grips his fist and his expression fills with overwhelming guilt. “Look, I'm sorry but that wasn't...” Koichi begins to speak as he walks towards the boys and they all instinctively, out of fear back up. “Hey come on guys just calm down I'm not going to hurt you.” As Koichi continues to speak he walks closer to the boys but they continue to backup until they get into the corner of the roof near the edge. “Hey careful!”
The leader of the gang trembles with anxiety; both fearful and angry. “I'm going to kill you!” The boy pulls out a kunai and throws it with relatively bad accuracy. It heads to Koichi's foot and he simply steps his foot back without any problem. He looks up and sees the boy running towards him and the boy leaps up at him, throwing a flying kick and Koichi side steps him.
“Watch it kid!” Koichi yells as the boy continues to propel himself off the edge of the roof. Everybody from below looks up and sees the boy begin to fall and they all gasp.
“No, KO!” The other boys yell. Just as they do the the edge they stand on collapses and they begin to fall as well.
“God damn it.” Koichi sucks his teeth. He uses Shunshin and grabs onto the one boy and slings him over his shoulder and then makes four seals and swings his right arm over towards the other three boys sizable wave of sand rises from beneath them and catches them, bringing them down gently. Koichi lands and shrugs the kid off his shoulder and the kid falls on his but. “What an idiot, almost got yourself killed.”
“Hey!” somebody yells from behind Koichi. Koichi turns and sees three teenagers wearing Suna headbands behind him. “What the hell did you do to my little brother?!” The older teenager yells.
“I didn't do anything! He's the one who threw a careless kick and threw himself off the roof.” Koichi defends.
“Like I'd believe a monster like you, especially after what you did to our father.”
Koichi clinches his fist as his anger reaches his boiling point. “I tried to brush it off.” Koichi mutters softly but with anger in his voice. “But I've had it,” his tone rises. The two teenagers behind their leader brace themselves as the leader stands unfazed. “Call me a monster one more time and I'll kick your ass!” Koichi yells. Everybody continues to stare at the group of individuals.
“Is that so you brat?!” The leader exclaims. The leader suddenly vanishes and appears behind Koichi and swings a kick. “Not so strong when you're not in your monster form huh!” Koichi holds his left arm up and stops the kick with no problem what so ever. “What?”
“I told you to shut your damn mouth, now you're done you little prick!” Koichi ducks down with amazing speed and sweeps the shinobi's leg from under him, making him air born. Koichi pushes off from the ground and knees the kid in the back, right on the spine; knocking the wind out of him and sending him flying upwards. The other two shinobi appear on each side of Koichi and attempt to stab him with their kunai. Koichi rotates in a circular motion, grabbing each of their arms as he does so and pushing them away from him, causing the two shinobi to stumble. Koichi kicks one in the back down to the ground and then spins around landing a hook heel into the stomach of the other one and the shinobi topples over. The shinobi Koichi kicked in the air falls down in front of him and holds his back in agony. Koichi picks him up by the collar and shakes him. “Take it back! Take it back right now!”
The shinobi spits in Koichi's face “Never you monster.” The shinobi says. Koichi's face becomes even more enraged and he pulls his hand back to punch him but as he does, he's held back. Koichi turns to see Koji holding his arm back.
“Brother, you're not helping the situation by doing this.” Koji says.
“I don't give a damn, I don't care so long as he takes back what he says!”
“Is he? Is anybody going to take back any of their thoughts about you if you keep acting like this?!” Koji says. “Look around!” Koichi looks and sees everybody still staring at him watching him as if he's an animal. “You're only making things worse on yourself. This isn't like you at all, just let it go.” Koji pleas with Koichi.
“There's no getting through to a monster like him.” The shinobi says. Koichi turns his head back to the shinobi and tries to punch him again but Koji still holds him back with everything he has.
“Let go of me Koji!” Koji swerves around Koichi and smacks his hand off the collar of the shinobi, forcing Koichi to drop him.
“Stop acting like—” Koichi's eyes widen at his brother's remark and before Koji finishes his sentence, Koichi lands a quick, powerful undercut into Koji's stomach. Koji's eyes widen as he drops to his knees, the blow landing right in the center of his wound. Koji gasps for air as he looks up at Koichi.
Koichi's eyes fill with tears “You're siding with them now?” Koichi says choked up. Koichi runs away from his brother in tears. Koji tries to get up but the pain is too excruciating in his stomach he can only gasp and remain hobbled over.
“What were you getting ready to say?” Ryoko's voice appears from behind Koji. Koji turns his head and sees Ryoko standing next to him. “What were you about to say Koji?” Ryoko says with a scolding and annoyed tone. Koji tries to muster up the words but he looks into Ryoko's eyes and sees the upset in her eyes towards Koji and her sympathy for Koichi. “You're his brother.”
Koji's eyes widen at the ridicule in Ryoko's voice towards him as she runs after Koichi. Koji falls over, face first into the sand heartbroken.
*What did you both think I was going to say?* Koji ponders the words of both Koichi and Ryoko, he ponders about what they expected him to say...what did they expect him to say? Koji remains in the sand for several minutes with a solemn look on his face. Koji sighs and picks himself up painful but without hesitation. He props the unconscious shinobi up against a wall and holds his bleeding stomach and begins walking towards the direction Koichi and Ryoko left.
~Back at the Cemetery~
Koichi sits in front of his parent's tombstone, crying immensely. “Mother...Father...” Koichi holds his heart, hearing the words he believed would come from his own brother.
*Stop acting like a monster.* The last word echos throughout his head as he continues to ball his eyes out.
“Koichi...” Koichi turns and sees Ryoko walking towards him. He turns back around, embarrassed to have her see him crying.
“Get out of here...what do you want?” Koichi says in a shaky voice.
“What's the matter with you, this isn't like you at all, to sit on you butt crying like a baby.” Ryoko says in her normal tone.
“Shut up!” Koichi says with demand, in no mood to joke with her. “I can't take this anymore! No matter how hard I try to show everybody that I'm not a monster, they.....they don't listen.” The tone of his voice lowers as he says his sentence. “Nobody sees me for the shinobi dedicated to his village, nobody trusts me to put their lives before my own...nobody....can see beyond the Shukaku to the person I really am.” Ryoko walks towards him and then notices the last name of the people on the tombstone that Koichi sits in front of and her eyes widen. “And Koji—”
Ryoko kneels down beside Koichi and her look is filled with sorrow for Koichi. “I trust you with my life, being your teammate and all...I know you better. If it means anything, everything you just said, I know that you'd never hurt anybody in this village. You're not a monster no matter what anybody says.” Ryoko's voice is gentle. Koichi looks at her in aww as she speaks to him. The thousand ton weight on his heart begins to lift at the serenity of her voice.
*Ryoko...* Her name races through Koichi's mind in a way that never has before. They both stand up and Ryoko lets out a small smile down towards the grave.
“I guess...we're more alike then I thought.” She says laughingly, “But don't think this means anything.” She says with the smile still on her face. She turns her head over to the north east section of the cemetery, looking at another tombstone, smiling as well. Koichi turns his head in the same direction as Ryoko and he smiles for no apparent reason.
As the two comrades smile, Koji stands outside the cemetery staring at both Koichi and Ryoko. The pain in Koji's stomach escalates as he continues to bleed even more. He stands isolated from the two people closest to him and he puts his bloody hand on his heart. Koji sighs sadly and begins walking back to the hospital. *It's just like before...when the both of you left last time*