Chapter One ~ Welcome

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Gaara stared.

"Kazekage?" The younger of the shinobi asked hesitantly.

"Go," Gaara ordered.

"Sir?"

"It's fine. She's fine. Go," he repeated.

"Yes, Kazekage," the older agreed, grabbing the younger by the arm and tugging him from the room.

We studied one another for a long moment, but I could handle the silence, now, and waited for him to speak.

"You left Konoha without permission," Gaara finally said. "You're technically a rogue ninja. And the Sand is allied with the Leaf."

I watched him calmly, dark eyes betraying nothing. "And what will you do about it?"

He folded his hands in front of his mouth contemplatively. "You will always be welcome in my Village," he finally declared. "Though I would like to know your reasons for leaving. There hasn't been sight of you for months."

My eyes darkened. "My reasons for leaving..."

He didn't speak, waiting patiently for an answer. But the silence which I had learned to live with on my own suddenly seemed oppressive with another human in the room. I stretched my hand out, fumbling for a chair and collapsing on it. "I," I opened my mouth, but ended up gulping at air; something I would normally consider an unacceptable weakness. But I had been alone for so long, my control on my emotions untested by others. "I..."

He was silent, but his eyes saddened considerably as he waited for me to speak.

"I was unsighted?" I finally asked abruptly.

Gaara watched me for a moment before allowing the change in topic. "There was no sighting of Cashile Kuroki," he corrected. "But, congratulations," he murmured, a hint of a smile at his lips, "You've made it into the Bingo Book."

"I have?" I asked, surprised.

"Well, not you, necessarily; they didn't know who you were beneath the mask. And you didn't make it into Konoha's," Gaara admitted. "Nor the Sand's. But every other village has added you. Quite the name, too: Shatterclaw."

My mind flashed to the broken Claw mask in my bag that I wore during every infiltration and assassination. "I suppose it's inevitable to be added to some Bingo Books when you kill high ranking officials in those villages," I conceded.

"Yes," and here, Gaara leaned forward, concern in his eyes. "Which brings us to the topic: why are you here?"

"Well," I replied, more comfortable with this topic, "I wasn't exactly frie..."

I trailed off, and Gaara raised an eyebrow. "You weren't...?"

"I didn't know the leaders of the other villages," I restarted slowly. Gaara's watching me closely, and I think he knew what I was going to say, but he didn't push. "So if I waltzed in there, told them, 'Hey, these people who you've known for the last twenty years are actually spies for the Rising Phoenix and they want to take over this country, so I'm here to kill them', I don't think it would have gone over very well."

Gaara's eyes widened ever so slightly in alarm. "So that's why you're here," he breathed. "There are spies for the Rising Phoenix in my Village."

I nodded shortly.

"And you're here to kill them."

I nodded again.

"I cannot let you kill them."

I nodded a third time.

"But you knew I would say that."

One last nod.

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