Disclaimer: I still don't own Naruto or any of the people/places found in his homeworld.
Author's Note: Wow! Thirty-nine reviews for just the first chapter! I'm glad you all liked it. I was in a dramatic foreshadowing mood when I wrote it. Could you tell? Well, anyway, on to the next chapter! Now we get to see how different the girls really look between the "real" world and the Naruto world. It was fun writing the reactions in this chapter. I hope you all enjoy it!
Chapter 2: The Retrieval Squad
Far away from the memories
Of the people who care if I live or die.
Katie seems really distracted this morning, but I easily mark it off as last-day jitters. This'll be the last time we get to see Katie and Ashley in school! Maybe even ever! They'll be off to college after summer, and we'll be on our own. The Naruto gang is splitting up! It's horrible! Still, there's something definitely off about the almost empty look in Katie's eyes. I can't quite figure it out.
"You alright, Katie?" Jowan asks.
I hug the girl in question tightly around the waist. "She's just gonna miss us, aren't you?"
She smiles and pats me on the back, blinking out of her thoughts. "Yeah. My life's going to be a lot less interesting without you guys around."
It kind of surprises me that she doesn't squirm away like she normally does from my crushing hugs. Kevin steps over, arms as wide as his smile, saying, "Aw, group hug!"
Katie and Ashley laugh as we all surround them, squishing them into a tight group hug. For a brief moment, it's almost easy to forget the adventure that five of us went on a few months ago. For a brief moment, we're just a group of ordinary high school students.
But those moments don't last long. I quickly remember the events of the past - remember what we gave up - what I gave up - to return home. I hug Katie tighter. As painful as it is to re-realize that I'm so far away from Gaara, I don't want to forget how totally happy I was there. A small part of me argues that it's Katie's fault that Gaara and I were separated, but I can't blame really her any more. She was just trying to protect us. It's taken time, but I've forgiven her.
Now that my thoughts have returned to Gaara, it's hard to keep a smile on my face. Still, I fight against the sadness as Katie untangles herself from the many arms with a laugh. After asking us to watch her stuff for her, she goes off to say goodbye to some more of her friends on the other side of the lunchroom.
Jowan playfully elbows Kevin. "So, Leader-to-be, got any special plans for next year?"
I had expected Katie to name one of us remaining girls from the Naruto adventure as then next "Leader" of our little gang, but she had instead passed the title on to Kevin. I'm not really sure why, but I think she consulted the King - the first of our short line of "Leaders" - on the matter, and Tia had agreed that Kevin would be the best for the job. I think Katie said he had a good balance of silly and serious, but I don't really know.
Kevin just rolls his eyes and shakes his head in response to Jowan's question, smirking slightly. Giggling, I turn to say something to Sam. As I open my mouth to speak, though, an all-too-familiar crack splits the air of the lunchroom. My eyes widen and meet Sam's, faintly registering the smile that's slowly spreading across her face. "Is that-?" I barely manage before a louder crackle fills the large room like thousands of chirping birds.
Students are yelling and scrambling away from the center of the lunchroom. There, a small orb of crackling lightning has appeared, slowly widening into a horizontal ring of jagged light. The center of the ring is dark as night - like a black hole threatening to swallow us up. Then, without warning, wind explodes out from the ring, howling and swirling through the cafeteria. The force of the moving air shifts tables and chairs, whipping through hair and drowning out the screams of my fellow students.
Through the corners of my eyes, I catch sight of teachers and security guards, rushing to give direction to the students as they had before. This time, though, there's more confusion than fear in the air. The day is bright and sunny, not storming. No one is on edge about the weather, so this sudden lightning phenomenon - as they see it, I guess - is totally strange and unexpected. They don't know how to react. I think I'll give them a few seconds before the panic actually sets in.
As the wind dies and I lower my arm from shielding my face, I can barely make out what appears to be shapes moving in the void of the portal - darker shadows within the inky blackness. Those shadowy figures take solid form as they step through the ring of lightening, their feet making no sound as they drop to the tile floor. Of course, even if they do make sound, I can't hear it over the lightning and wind. I can't help but stare as I easily recognize the five figures now standing in the middle of the lunchroom – Kakashi Hatake, Naruto Uzumaki, Kiba Inuzuka seated atop a very large Akamaru, and (one of my least favorite people in the Naruto world) dear Kankuro.
The face-painted Sand Ninja looks around the room with dark eyes. "Great," he grunts before raising his voice to be heard over the portal. "We come out into a building full of kids. Do you have any idea how much I hate kids? Brats, the lot of them."
Naruto scowls at him. "You really think I'd forget after how you treated Konohamaru when we first met?"
An almost playful smirk spreads across Kankuro's face. "Well, this is you we're talking about," he replies mockingly.
Before Naruto can pounce on the older boy, Kakashi steps between them. "That's enough you two. We're here to find the girls, so let's get to it before the portal closes. I don't want to go through the hassle of reopening it again."
Behind me, I can make out Kevin mutter, "Is it just me, or are they speaking in Japanese?"
"Yeah," J.P. confirms. "But wait a minute. Those guys are - they can't be!"
I turn and grin at Jowan, Sam, and Ashley before glancing at J.P. and saying, "Nope. They are." Before I can see his reaction, I rush forward with a happy cry and leap at Kankuro. I don't care if he's one of my least favorite people in the Naruto world. I'm just so thrilled that he's actually here!
Unsurprisingly, Kankuro reacts quickly and sidesteps me, sliding into a defensive position as he eyes me warily. After a moment, his eyebrows furrow. "Kaitlyn?" I nod quickly. "You look different."
Giggling, I shrug. "Well, this is our world. Things are different here."
Kankuro's eyes narrow. "Prove it."
I cross my arms over my chest. If that's how he wants to be . . . "The last prank I tried to pull on you backfired, and in the end hit Baki instead, earning me a horrid spell of training under him." I shudder at the memory. Just thinking about it makes my muscles hurt.
The puppeteer chuckles softly and nods before - much to my incredible surprise and amazement - stepping forward and wrapping me in a bone-crushing hug. "It's good to see you again," the paint-faced shinobi admits.
"Yeah, totally!" I giggle, hugging him back. "If I didn't hate you so much, I could kiss you."
Kankuro quickly lets me go and holds me at arm's length. "Please don't."
Naruto grins widely, fighting down a laugh. "Hey, Kaitlyn! Where are the others?"
"Right here, dobe," Sam states with a smirk as she walks up, hands shoved into her hoodie pockets. She sniggers at the flash of annoyance across Naruto's face. "And we might want to make this fast before the police recover from their shock and decide to try to arrest you."
I giggle softly at the thought of our school police officers trying to arrest a group of ninja. That would definitely be a sight to see.
"Yeah," Ashley adds when she stops in front of Kakashi, "What took you guys so long?"
Kakashi regards her for a moment before pulling her into a warm embrace. "We came as soon as we could. It's only been a few weeks, long enough for Tsunade to get fed up with us." He chuckles softly. "I missed you."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold the phone," Jowan states, waving her hands in front of her as she joins us in front of the crackling portal. "Only a few weeks? It's been months here. How is that supposed to work?"
Kiba turns from grinning at Sam to study Jowan with a distrusting eye. "Depends. Who the hell are you and why should we tell you?"
Jowan lifts her eyebrows. "Excuse me, dog breath?" she demands.
As I hide another giggle behind one hand, Akamaru sniffs the air and gives what sounds like a confused whine, glancing from Jowan to Kiba. Kiba's jaw drops. "No way. Jowan?! Is that really you?"
She rolls her eyes and sighs. "Yeah, take a good look. Now you see why I was so freaked out when I saw I was an albino on the other side. Like I said before, it's apparently it's some cosmic joke." I can almost see the vein throbbing on her forehead at the thought that though there actually are dark-skinned people in the Naruto world, she somehow ended up becoming totally, completely white - skin, hair, eyes and all.
A loud snap sounds from the portal, making Kakashi glance back at it. "We're running out of time. Is this everyone?"
Ashley shakes her head. "We're missing Katie. She's somewhere around here, though."
"Isn't she the one that made you guys leave in the first place?" Naruto asks.
Snorting, Kiba crosses his arms over his chest. "Yeah. I say we leave her. I mean, she obviously didn't want to be there, so why drag her back?"
"It's nice to know you hold me in such high esteem, Kiba."
I turn to see Katie standing beside Kankuro, staring defiantly at Kiba. She has her business face on, arms folded behind her back. The Sand Ninja stares at her for a moment. "Wait a minute," he says slowly. "You're almost at eye-level with me. If you're Katie, aren't you supposed to be -"
Katie's eyes snap over to him. "Don't say it," she grinds out through her teeth. "We all changed in some way. I just happened to lose some height. Get over it." Her gaze shifts to Kakashi. "The girls are my responsibility."
Kakashi meets her eyes, his mostly-hidden expression hard. "We're taking them back. You can't stop us."
For a moment, I think Katie's going to challenge him on that statement. But then, her small scowl twists upwards and she shrugs one shoulder. "Who said I was going to try? All I'm saying is that if the girls are going, then so am I. Someone has to keep an eye on them." She moves her arms to cross them over her chest, grinning now.
"Wow, thanks Mom," Sam grumbles sarcastically.
The portal fluctuates again. Kakashi takes Ashley's hand, and states, "Time to go." She smiles and nods, stepping though the ring with the half-masked man.
Grinning like an idiot, Naruto grabs Jowan's wrist and all but drags her through the portal. Kiba follows afterwards, his arm tucked around Sam's waist. I catch a brief glimpse of her annoyance before she vanishes with a small flash. Akamaru woofs softly at Katie and she steps over to him with a faint smile, weaving her hand into the fur of his neck. After glancing at me, she and the giant dog leap through the portal.
Kankuro slips his hand into mine, making me jerk in surprise. He rolls his eyes. "It's just so I don't lose you."
I shoot him a smile as he pulls me toward the circle. Before we step through, I throw a grin and a wave over my shoulder at the rest of my friends. "See ya!" I call, waving wildly back at them before our world is lost to the rush of the portal.