Chapter Twenty Six ~ Let Go

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What seemed like the entire village came out to greet us.

They parted ways, creating an aisle for us to walk through, and I tensed, hating being surrounded on all sides--but forced myself to walk forward normally, trying to hide my discomfort. Gaara glanced at me out of the corner of his eye but said nothing.

I made certain to not show my gratefulness, but he somehow seemed to still receive the message.

He smiled.


"You're leaving already?"

I stood with Naruto and Sakura just outside of the village walls, holding all my possessions. Gaara and his siblings stood before us. He was wearing the Kazekage robes, and I had to admit that they somehow looked... Right, on him. You could see just how much being the Kazekage meant to him.

"We have more missions to complete, dattebayo," Naruto said. "But the next time we meet, I'll be Hokage!"

Gaara gave a slight smile at that and nodded, clearly believing in Naruto's word. Then he turned his gaze, sea foam eyes of the Kazekage pinning me in place.

"Where's your team?" he questioned.

I shrugged. "I sent them back to Konoha. Didn't want them getting in the way."

A faint smile touched Gaara's lips. "I'm certain they were thrilled with that," he murmured.

I shrugged again, ignoring the hint of a smirk tugging at the corner of my lip as I thought of their irritated reactions when I returned. "I don't care if they were or not, as long as they did what I said."

Gaara gazed at me for a long time, a look in his eyes I couldn't quite place. Finally he spoke. "I wish you well, Cashile Kuroki," he said softly, nodding. "I am certain your genin will grow into fine shinobi."

I nodded, acknowledging the compliment.

"If she doesn't kill them first," Naruto muttered, but there was a teasing gleam in his eyes as he said it. He had heard of how I'd taken the hit for Aisa, and it had certainly softened his view of me when it came to my team.

"Shut up, baka," Sakura ordered, slapping the back of his head.

Gaara watched on in amusement before jumping in. "My appreciation extends to all of you. You will always be welcome in the Village Hidden in the Sand." He looked into each of our eyes, finally landing back on me with that same sad, hopeful look that I couldn't grasp. "All of you."

I nodded to show my appreciation of his acknowledgement, and also noting that unlimited access in those territories would be very useful. Ultimately, the Kazekage was in my debt.

This mission had proved to be very useful indeed, and would surely facilitate in my quest to obliterate the Rising Phoenix.


Kakashi and I stood in the Hokage's office, reporting our individual and conjoined team missions.

"... and then I sent my team back with the remaining ANBU and a sand support unit." I finished.

"Well done, both of you. Two missions completed successfully. I will discuss further on the concerning matter of the Akatsuki—"

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