Jento could see that he Black Ant-like puppet was now starting to open. This was his chance. His strategy to get to Kanoshi not through force, but through intelligence and dialogue had apparently worked.
Jento continued to put up a front even while the opening in the puppet was still not large enough for him to fit through.
“One last thing,” Kanoshi started. “Will you join me in this fight against your comrades?”
“Fight those three? Of course!” Jento replied, still pretending that he had been turned.
“Wonderful. They are sure to be digging around my puppet shop even now. I’m so irritated that they are probably in there,” Kanohsi said. He was facing away from Jento, but he eventually turned to face him. “Now - ”
And with that, he stopped short. His hands instinctively grabbed his stomach. He noticed a liquid redness now spreading into his clothes.
“What - ?” he managed to say aloud. He looked ahead at the small teenager holding the handle of a kunai in both hands – a kunai which was now deeply lodged in his upper abdomen.
The pain was immense and unexpected. In only a few seconds, Kanoshi dropped to his knees and Jento let go of the instrument which he had just used.
Kanoshi’s eyes widened as he stared at the boy he had decided to trust.
Jento just stood there watching him suffer. “I am a proud shinobi of the Sand,” Jento said. “I may not be the strongest or fastest and I am certainly not very experienced. But I have just used some of my best skills to bring you down. You make too many assumptions and you are arrogant. It wasn’t hard to use those against you.”
Kanoshi now fell to his side. His breathing was labored. He was losing a lot of blood.
It was at that time that the other three ran into the room.
“Jento! Are you alright?” Kankuro shouted as soon as he saw his comrade.
“You’re bleeding!” Sakura shouted as soon as she entered the room.
“No, it’s not my blood. It’s his,” he nodded in the direction of the now unconscious Kanoshi.
“You brought him down?” Sai asked.
Slowly Jento’s three teammates were able to visually take in what they saw and draw the right conclusions. Jento with blood on his hands, Kanoshi lying on the floor with blood beginning to pool around him.
“How on earth - ?” Kankuro said aloud. He had to admit, his eyes were telling him that Jento just took down a very dangerous enemy all on his own. His mind was telling him that such a young, inexperienced shinobi should not have been able to do that.
Sakura ran over to Jento and quickly did a scan.
“I’m not hurt,” Jento said. “Like I said...it’s his blood.”
Sakura stepped back. “I can’t believe you got him…and the way he’s bleeding, you hit a major artery.”
“I did that on purpose,” said Jento. “After all, I remember everything I’ve seen or read. And I’ve read a few things about the human body before.”
“Nicely done,” Sai said as he approached Kanoshi to inspect the aftermath.
“Don’t touch anything Sai. Let me see him. Perhaps we can still get some intel from him,” Sakura said.
“I don’t think so,” Sai replied. “He looks just about gone to me.”
“Are you forgetting who you are talking to?” she asked. She walked over to Kanoshi’s body and examined it quickly. “Nevermind, you were right.”
Kankuro had walked over to Jento and handed him a cloth to wipe his hands with. Without water to properly wash with, his hands remained stained a dark maroon.
“Now tell us what happened,” Kankuro said.
Jento then recounted everything that had happened. The Black Ant-like puppet that Sai had mentioned, using his intellect to make Kanoshi believe he could be swayed to his side, and the final surprising blow just as he was let go.
“I’m impressed you were able to think that well while you were captured,” said Sai. “Most young shinobi tend to lose their mind first and act more on instinct.”
“My mind is my most powerful weapon,” answered Jento. “If I lost that, I wouldn’t be much of a shinobi.”
“For the record, you did a great job,” said Kankuro.
“What about him?” he looked at Kanoshi.
“Sai, will you do the honors?” Kankuro asked.
“Sure,” Sai replied and let his pack down off his back. He opened it and retrieved a scroll.
“Are we taking him back to the Leaf or the Sand?” Jento asked.
“The Leaf,” answered Kankuro. “I’m sure Sakura wouldn’t mind gathering the intel herself once we get back.”
“Not at all,” Sakura replied.
“Let’s go back to our house and get cleaned up. We need to make arrangements with the landlord before we can head back to the Leaf,” Kankuro said.
The four shinobi teammates took their time getting back to the Leaf having left their small village house the next morning. The landlord was very understanding and only collected a little extra money to make up for the fact the house would be vacant until another renter could be found.
Instead of a full-speed sprint while bouncing off tree branches, instead, they walked at a medium pace on the ground.
Sakura secretly watched Jento. Because she was the medical shinobi in the group, she wanted to be sure that Jento’s actions had not affected him in any extreme way. Although there were Academy graduates each and every year feeding the shinobi corps of the major villages, it would not have been unheard of to find some of them not being able to handle things like killing as part of their jobs. Usually they end up hurting themselves, or even lashing out and hurting others. Jento, though, had not shown much emotion at all.
“Jento, are you ok?” she finally asked him seemingly out of the blue.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he answered.
“What are you feeling, if you don’t mind me asking?” Sakura prodded.
Jento paused for a split-second. Sakura gauged that he was probably wondering why she was asking or what the right answer would be.
“You probably think I would be feeling exhausted…or regret….or even sadness. To be honest, I don’t feel any of those things. I have felt left behind much of this mission and I understand why….I’m young and inexperienced and you guys wanted to protect me. But I showed that I could do it. I’m the one who finally got him...and I’m kind of proud of myself for that.”
All three of Jento’s teammates smiled. Yeah, he was going to be alright.
That afternoon, they walked up to the desk at the main gate into the Leaf. Kiba and Akamaru were both there looking extremely bored.
“I wouldn’t have expected to see you two here at the gate,” Sakura said as she approached.
“Yeah, well, sometimes you have to do the administrative jobs, too,” Kiba replied. Akamaru barked. “Are you guys coming back from a mission?”
“Yeah. We’ve been gone a couple of weeks,” Sakura replied. “Is it ok if I escort these two into the village?”
Kiba wrote something down in a notebook. “Go on in.”
“Thanks,” Sakura said.
Kankuro was more than aware what the normal policies were after a mission. It didn’t matter which village it was, the first order of business was to report to the Kage or a designated substitute. He followed silently when he noted that Sakura was headed right for Hokage Tower.
They made it to the tower, but were intercepted by Shikamaru in a hallway on their way to the Hokage’s office.
“Ah, you’re back,” Shikamaru noted. “You must be on your way to see Naruto.”
Sakura nodded. “Right.”
“He's actually not taking mission reports this afternoon, but he did ask Tsunade to fill in while he met with some dignitaries from the Mist for the rest of the day.”
“I see,” said Sakura. “Is she in her office?”
“That she is,” added Shikamaru as he turned and walked away.
“Thanks,” Sakura replied and continued on the same path she was on before. “By the way, how’s Temari?”
Shikamaru blushed slightly. He never turned back around. “She’s fine and we’ll leave it at that. That whole mission was a giant drag.”
Sakura smiled knowing that even if Shikamaru wanted to share the details of his reunion with Temari, he most certainly didn’t want to do it right in front of her brother. “Fair enough.”
Lady Tsunade’s office was right next to Naruto’s. Sakura knocked.
“Enter!” Sakura heard. She turned the knob and entered, followed by her three teammates.
“Ah, I see you are back!” Tsunade said as she lit up upon seeing her protégé.
“Yes, M’Lady, the mission is done,” Sakura replied.
“And? Were you able to take care of the problem?” Tsunade turned her attention to the leader of the team. Although Sakura was the most senior Leaf shinobi present and had made many reports to the Hokage in the past, both she and Tsunade knew that her giving the report would technically be stepping on Kankuro’s toes since he was the designated team leader.
“We conservatively approached the target and were sure to only expose what was allowed per our plan. For the most part, Jento, as our intelligence and strategy expert was kept behind the scenes for most of the time. After some period of surveillance, which resulted in nothing, contact was made by the target himself,” said Kankuro.
“Who on the team made first contact?” Tsunade asked.
“I did,” Sai spoke up.
“As part of the change in strategy, we placed ourselves in positions where the target would likely be…or at least where we could find relevant information about him since, at that time, we were still unsure of who he was or if he was the true enemy,” Sai added. “I was portraying a simple villager, new to the area, drawing and sketching in the woods around his home. It was then that he approached me.”
“How did you gain access?” asked Tsunade.
Sai hesitated. “Actually….,” he started. “The target took me by surprise and kidnapped me.”
“To be fair to Sai, the target’s puppet jutsu wasn’t on a basic level. We did not know he had a puppet like Black Ant at the time,” said Kankuro.
“I see,” said Tsunade, who already knew what Black Ant’s capabilities were and didn’t need to ask for clarification. “So you were contained inside the puppet for a period of time.”
“Yes. The target also allowed me to send mice to the outside to inform the team where I was. I wasn’t sure if it was a trap or not, but decided it was the only way out of the situation and that they would know to be cautious,” added Sai.
“We found in him the basement of the house we believed belonged to the target. It was, in fact, a trap. As soon as we freed Sai, we were confronted by the target,” said Kankuro.
“You were able to defeat him?” Tsunade asked. “Can I tell the surrounding villages in that area that there is no longer a threat?”
“To make a long story short, yes. His body is contained in one of Sai’s scrolls,” said Sakura. Sai removed the scroll from his pack and placed it on Tsunade’s desk.
“Who apprehended the target?” Tsunade asked.
“Uh, actually, that was Jento,” Kankuro said.
“Jento?” Tsunade repeated. “Well, that’s surprising.”
“He did a phenomenal job with the skills he had and was able to get the target to lower his guard. One kunai later and….,” explained Kankuro.
“I take it you knew where to aim that kunai then?” Tsunade asked Jento.
“I have read many anatomy books in the past,” said Jento. Tsunade was aware of Jento’s perfect recollection and no further explanation was necessary.
“Sakura, are you planning an autopsy?” Tsunade asked.
“Hai,” Sakura answered. “If it is alright with M’Lady, I will begin in the morning. I’d like to use the rest of today to rest and unpack.”
“Agreed,” said Tsunade. She turned so that she now faced the entire team. “Great job everyone. Kankuro and Jento, feel free to stay as long as you’d wish. You are always welcome here.”
“Thank you, Lady Tsunade. We will most likely leave tomorrow morning. Do you mind if I use one of your messenger birds to send word to the Sand?” Kankuro asked.
“Absolutely,” Tsunade replied.
“I’ll show him where to go,” Sakura added.
“Fine. Dismissed,” said Tsunade.
The four shinobi turned and exited the room.
That evening, Sakura met the two Sand shinobi for dinner.
“Where are we going?” Jento asked as they started walking away from the building where visiting shinobi were often housed.
“I believe I still owe you a trip to the sushi place,” Sakura responded. She could tell by the way Jento’s expression lit up that he was more than happy to be going to a sushi restaurant.
Kankuro smiled at Sakura and she smiled and nodded back.
They arrived at the restaurant and found many of their acquaintances and friends already taking up one of the rooms of the restaurant. It wasn’t a party, but there were several people standing and talking to other people and some chairs had obviously been pulled where they didn’t belong.
“Can I help you?” the host said to Sakura.
“Can you tell me how long they have been here?” Sakura asked, nodding her head in the direction of the room.
The host looked over where Sakura had nodded. “Them? Only about ten minutes or so. I do believe they have only ordered drinks at this point.”
“Great. We’re going to go say hello before sitting down,” Sakura said as she started walking.
When the three shinobi stopped in the doorway, all eyes turned to them.
“Sakura-chan!” Naruto called out as he leapt from his seat.
“Hi Naruto. It’s been a while,” Sakura replied. “What’s the occasion? I thought you might be with the dignitaries from the Mist.”
“No, they had to leave right after we met. There’s no occasion really. I was on my way home when I bumped into Sai. I hadn’t seen him in a while because he was on that mission with you, so I convinced him to come eat dinner with me,” explained Naruto.
“Uh, Naruto….this isn’t just Sai,” Sakura clarified.
“Oh that. Yeah, we ran into some others on the way, too. By the time we were here, we had more than ten people!” Naruto said.
“It figures,” Sakura said with a chuckle. The number was closer to 20. Naruto was always one to include as many people as possible.
“Come on in and join us!” Naruto said.
Sakura and the two Sand shinobi were more than happy to enter.
Together they enjoyed themselves and the camaraderie that being with so many friends and acquaintances provided. The almost-party continued on. Naruto was, as he always was, the life of the party. But in between the drinking and the laughing, he did notice one thing that was a little different….Sakura was off to the side happily chatting with Kankuro. He could see that they were the only thing in each other’s world, at least at the moment.
When he looked over and saw the two of them holding hands, he knew what he should do.
“Sakura-chan,” Naruto said as he walked up to his friend.
“O…hi Naruto,” she greeted him as she pulled her hand away from Kankuro’s. She hadn’t seen him approaching.
“You two should get out of here,” Naruto said, grinning ever so slightly.
“What?” Sakura questioned.
“You know what I mean. You just had to share your space with two other shinobi these past few weeks. Finally you could get some real privacy and you are here instead. I'm sure Kankuro will be leaving us soon.”
“But Jento -,” Kankuro stated.
Naruto looked at Jento. He was currently goofing off with Kiba in the opposite corner of the room. “Don’t worry about him. I’ll make sure he gets back ok.”
“Are you sure?” Kankuro asked.
“Yeah, I’m the Hokage. I’m pretty sure I can handle a new Academy grad,” Naruto said.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Kankuro said as he rose from his seat. Sakura followed.
Kankuro slapped Naruto on the shoulder. “Thanks, Naruto. I owe you one.”
“Don’t mention it,” Naruto replied as he watched his friend and teammate leave with someone who had obviously become more special to her recently.
Once outside the restaurant, Sakura turned and faced Kankuro. She placed both arms on his shoulders and stood on her tip toes to kiss him. He, of course, kissed her back. When they were done, they continued walking hand-in-hand.
“So now what?” Kankuro asked.
“We've got all night. I'm sure we can figure it out," she replied.