CH_3.38 (097)
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After Takuma put down his discovery in front of Shiroma, the investigation took another direction altogether. Gone were the pointed questions about his actions and feelings, replaced by a lengthy discussion about the involvement of a third party. For hours, they talked about the battle, recording the profiles of the shinobi Takuma had fought, the shinobi he had not fought but noticed, and every aspect in brain-squeezing detail.

There was no clock in the room, and Takuma didn't know how much time had passed until he was out of the building and saw the early evening sky. His genin escorts were no longer there, and Takuma couldn't care less. Instantly he felt tired from spending a day in a tiny room answering questions about a very unpleasant situation, bringing up memories he didn't want brought up. He closed his eyes and exhaled deeply to recollect himself.

"Takuma…"

He opened his eyes to find Iruka standing in front of him. A wave of emotion hit him, but Takuma clenched his fist to keep them from bursting out.

"I'm glad to see you fine, sir," Takuma straightened his back. 

"Takuma… I can't say how relieved I was when I heard that you had reached the border safely," Iruka said as he walked to Takuma and put a hand on his shoulder. "Takuma, about the mis—"

"Would you accompany me somewhere, sir?" Takuma cut off Iruka and locked eyes with his team leader.

Iruka was silent for a moment before he stepped back and nodded.

Takuma nodded back, and they were off. Iruka followed Takuma's lead as he jumped from rooftop to rooftop. Not a word was exchanged between the two, but Takuma could feel Iruka's gaze on his back, but he ignored the man and picked up speed.

They soon entered a well-to-do residential district in the eastern part of the village. The homes in the district were known to attract upper-middle-class and lower-upper-class families looking to build or buy their family homes. Their destination was a home in that district.

[Taguchi]

"Takuma, why are we…" said Iruka, wide-eyed.

Taguchi… as in Taguchi Yumiko.

Takuma opened the front gate and stepped onto the property, snapping Iruka out of his daze. "Takuma, stop! What're you doing?" Iruka grabbed Takuma by the arm and stopped him.

"They lost their daughter; I'm going to pay my respects," said Takuma, not looking at Iruka. He pried Iruka's hand off his arm and walked inside towards the front door.

"Takuma, it's already late! We will come tomorrow," Iruka tried to convince Takuma.

"No, we have to do this now as soon as possible," Takuma said as he rang the doorbell. If not for the T&I Force interrogation, he would've headed here right after entering the Leaf village.

The door opened, and a young man, probably in his early twenties, opened the door. From the first look, Takuma saw the similarities between Yumiko and the young man. They had the same eyes and nose. It was Yumiko's elder brother.

"Yes?" asked Yumiko's elder brother, his eyes going to Takuma's headband. Then he noticed Iruka and recognized him. It seemed Iruka had come to pay his respects before.

"Good evening. I apologize for disturbing you so late. My name is Takuma. I was with your sister on the Land of Frost mission… May I come in?" asked Takuma.

Yumiko's elder brother seemed conflicted but nodded a moment later. They entered the house, and Yumiko's elder brother led Takuma to the room where they had established Yumiko's shrine. Takuma knelt in front of the shrine and gazed at Yumiko's picture. She was smiling in the picture. It was so much different from her serious demeanor during meetings and missions. Takuma closed his eyes, and instead of praying, he apologized to Yumiko, confessed his regret, told her how much he missed her… and simply talked with his teammate.

After a while, Takuma got up and left the shrine room to the living room where Yumiko's parents had joined her elder brother and Iruka. They didn't seem to be talking, and the vibe of the room was awkward with a sense of hostility in the air. As Takuma sat down, he noticed Yumiko's mother glaring at Iruka.

"… You say you were with Yumiko on the mission," Yumiko's father spoke. The older man looked tired, and every wrinkle on his face seemed sorrowful.

"Yes, sir."

"Are you the one who got left behind?"

Takuma looked at Yumiko's father and nodded.

"You who left got left behind made it home alive, but my daughter didn't. Why is that?" asked the mourning father.

"… I'm sorry, sir," was all Takuma could say to the grieving man.

A hush fell in the room before Yumiko's elder brother broke it, "If that was all, I'd ask you to leave. Today was a tiring day for us, and we'd like to rest."

Takuma nodded, but then he took out a water canteen from his backpack that he had been lugging around and placed it on the table. "The team's decision for me to travel alone allowed me to take time to perform the funeral rites," there were gasps as Yumiko's family looked at the water canteen, understanding what was in there. He didn't have containers he could store the ashes in, so he used their respective water canteens as 'urns.' "I couldn't get her back to the village, but I could do this, so I did."

Takuma then took out a package of Yumiko's personal effects he could fit in his backpack and placed her headband over the package. He tried to halt the tremble in his hand as he put the package in front of them, but his hands refused to stop shaking.

"Thank you for hosting us," said Takuma as he got up. "I'm sorry for disturbing you this late in the day…. I'm sorry for your loss."

The sobs from Yumiko's mother as Takuma walked out stayed with him for the rest of the day and beyond.

———

.

"I'm sorry for your loss."

Iruka watched Takuma bowing his head to Onikuma Yuko's family as he passed Yuko's ashes and personal effects to her family before heading out just like he had done with Yumiko's family and with Izuno Aya's family. Iruka had visited the families when he had returned and hadn't thought he'd be returning so soon.

By the time they exited the Onikuma clan compound, it was already dark.

"I'm going to use my break for this week to visit Dai's family," said Takuma.

Dai's family wasn't from the Hidden Leaf. Dai had come to the Hidden Leaf from his home when he was eleven after his academy graduation and had stayed ever since. Iruka wasn't sure if Dai's family had yet gotten the news of their son's death. Another department handled those responsibilities. Takuma could very well be the first time they would hear about their son's death.

Iruka stared at Takuma. Even now, he was in disbelief that Takuma had disposed of the bodies. With Raiden's and Susumu's lives at risk, he had left at the moment's notice without giving Takuma any instructions regarding what to do with the scene. In hindsight, he had expected Takuma to bury the bodies in rough graves, but for him to cremate the bodies as described by the proper field directives surprised Iruka. He knew many who would choose to bury in the same situation as it was safer than lighting fires that attracted attention.

"I'll come with you," said Iruka.

"No, it's okay. I'm sure the aftermath of the mission will force you to be busy. It won't be wise for you to leave the village while the investigation is ongoing," said Takuma, not looking at Iruka.

"Takuma… Dai was my teammate as well," said Iruka, feeling a bit insulted. Takuma remained silent. "What do you want me to say, Takuma? You won't even look at me," said Iruka.

Takuma snapped his head to Iruka, fixing him with a glare, and like trapped pressure suddenly released, he erupted, "YOU LEFT ME THERE ALONE!"

Iruka was once again startled, not because of the accusation— that was expected. However, he hadn't seen Takuma raising his voice like this and acting with such heat. The genin he had taken under his wing had been even-tempered, calm, and under control no matter what the situation.

"You left me there in favor of Shimura and Aburame! I was your team, NOT THEM!" Takuma yelled, frustrations rolling off of him. "Do you know how it felt to chop wood knowing that it'd be used to cremate my friends! Do you know how it feels to run through an unknown country with their ashes in my backpack, hiding in fear, looking over my shoulder every other moment in fear, not knowing when Hidden Frost shinobi might come and kill me! I had to do that while being injured the entire time! I'd be dead in a ditch if a simple three-man genin cell had found me— that's the condition I traveled through Land of Frost AND Land of Hot Waters!"

Takuma rubbed a hand over his face and temple.

"I… si-… Ir… I was— ugh!" Takuma started the sentence many times over before stopping and changing his word until he grew frustrated and kicked the ground.

"I'm sorry, Takuma," said Iruka. He knew if a similar situation presented itself in front of him, he would do it again— as long as people like Raiden and Susumu could be saved, he'd take the risk. But, he also recognized that it was completely unfair to Takuma, and he was justified to feel the anger, betrayal, and frustration he currently felt.

He had left Takuma in a place with his dead teammates. He could only imagine how that had affected Takuma.

And he knew what was about to come in the following few days was going to again hurt Takuma. The past few days hadn't been great for himself, and he had found himself doubting his ability to lead— he had made several misses during the mission that he shouldn't have made, and in some ways, those misses contributed to where they were today.

If only he had tried to smoothen out the friction between the teams and help them better work with each other… if only he had asked his team to maintain a formation during the exchange… if only he had asked Takuma to check the surroundings— maybe things would've turned out differently.

He needed time…

However, what had happened was all in the past. He could only look in the future— and Iruka wanted to salvage his relationship with Takuma. He needed to take care of his best genin and make sure that his decisions weren't going to affect Takuma's future.

Fortunately for him, he knew exactly the thing for it.

… He just needed to make sure his plans worked.

 

 


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