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The Worst Kind of Suffering

Chapter Text

His back hit the icy concrete of the wall behind him with a wet slap. The cold raced down his spine and though normally it would have been uncomfortable, at this moment the intense feeling gave him focus. A contrast to the pain. The dull aches of bruises, the sharp stinging of cuts, the stabbing, hot pain of broken bones. Each pain was distinctive and yet, they all ran together; made his stomach turn. He curled protectively over his broken arm, hissing between tightly clenched teeth.

Pain lanced his lung. Broken ribs. Kakashi stood, straightened as much as was possible and drew in a breath through his nose. Paused as his vision swam and sucked in another. He closed his eyes and softly let his head rest on the cold surface behind. The incessant rain fell on his face, followed by the instinctive flinch and the small amount of clarity the cold offered. Kakashi’s pain induced fog began to fade. Or perhaps more accurately, he was able to push the pain away. Because, he was in need of a plan. Some plan. Any plan. Anything to get him out of here alive.

Taking another deep breath he reopened his eyes and focused on the other wall before him. He had dropped himself into an alley. He had hidden himself well enough to buy a few minutes of quiet. He didn’t have much time but possibly just long enough. Without preemptive thought his sharingan focused on the faded poster only half clinging to the wall, soaked through with rain and colors beginning to run.

As the face on the poster became visible to his enhanced vision, he recoiled. A shudder running through his already shivering frame.

He knew that face. He had seen it mere minutes before. His stomach roiled and he hunched again. Memories, far too fresh and unprecedented, flooded his mind. He retched. Covered his mouth and retched again.

 *

Kakashi froze.

Shinobi senses can keep you alive. But every once in a while you will curse being able to see well in almost darkness, being able to hear the smallest sounds, being able to smell scents that are normally indistinguishable, and being able to analyze every piece of information that entails.

For Kakashi this was one of those times.

He wished whole heartedly that he could un-see, un-hear, un-smell and unanalyzed the scene before him.

Blood.

His, but someone else’s blood was here too.

Sex.

Felt like non consensual sex, in other words, a horrific amount of rape.

Layer upon layer of the smell of sex. Old progressing to new, recent, now. The room was not truly dirty. It was clean. But it felt unclean. Unwashed. Kakashi wanted nothing more than to turn around and leave.

He could see very little within the gloom, he knew that one more step would take him beyond the indent in which the doorway was set, and into the light of the single candle. The candle light flickered somewhere to the right, far enough from the door to light only the small space near where it sat. The oppressive darkness of the room ate at the edges of the light; the shadows beyond the forgiving circle grew long.

He could sense the others in the room with him. The Mizukage, he was sure, and another. The other was not a threat; whoever it was probably wouldn’t leave this room alive even if the best medical ninja were here to help.

The blood was theirs. Whoever they were.

After lightly resting his hand on his hip, checking the scroll, he stepped forward, blade in hand.

Involuntarily, Kakashi curled forward, legs buckling. He gagged. After a moment he regained enough internal balance to lift his head. He gagged again, moving his hand to his mouth in an attempt to fight his body’s reaction. He wanted nothing more than to reach behind, grab what he knew was in his pocket and use it to leave.

Almost directly opposite Kakashi, on the wall, hung a woman. If he hadn’t known better he would have thought she was simply standing. She wasn’t suspended more than an inch above what would have been her normal standing height. And yet, it would be inaccurate to describe her in any other way; she was hung.
Her arms and legs were stretched to the sides, directly parallel with the floor, and each was secured by a metal and leather strap. As if in assurance, a stake had been driven through each of her wrists, each of her shoulders and each of her ankles. Though the straps held some of her weight, much of it was distributed to the spikes. The pressure and weight was obviously pulling and reopening the wounds every few minutes.

The girl had been there long enough that the blood had seeped around the spikes, down her naked body and to the floor.

But this wasn’t what turned Kakashi’s stomach. This in itself was gruesome enough but it wasn’t worse than what had almost been done to him minutes before. His sharingan whirred. He could read the order and the time of each wound on the girl.

Kakashi could tell that a few of the woman’s ribs were broken, probably a collapsed lung, and multiple bones in her hands and feet broken as well. But, still what struck Kakashi were the woman’s clearly broken and mutilated hips and her now irreversibly scared face.

Two more straps held the woman’s legs; these were set close to her hips. To make this as clear as possible, if Kakashi had walked up to the woman, his hips would have been aligned within an inch of hers. She was at the perfect height to fuck. Apparently though, for further convenience, someone by the order of the Mizukage had broken her hips. They faced unnaturally. Where they should have faced slightly out and down, they faced completely out and slightly up. Even through the gloom Kakashi could see the blood pooling inside the woman’s abdomen turning it a dark purple. Blood also ran down from between her hips to the wall and joined the pools already collecting on the floor.

However cruel this may seem, the Mizukage’s finishing touch, the final and most efficiently crushing blow, the man had taken to the girl’s skin. The marks covered her body. Some of her fingers and toes were melded together by fire. He had taken that same heat and melded her lower lips to the skin of her legs, burned her nipples and the woman’s breasts completely. What appeared to be fat and blood ran down her stomach.

Then he had gone for her face. The Mizukage had sown her lips shut and then almost as an afterthought burnt them. When this hadn’t kept her totally quiet he stabbed a needle through her larynx. Then he fixed her eyes open with metal clamps. He scalped half her head, what remained of her hair was matted, bloody. Had Kakashi chosen to look or had time to he would have found the hair from the many women before her, hung in the closet, a trophy wall.

The woman had once been beautiful. Her skin, even in the light, and covered as it was still held some essence of former vitality. Her eyes, though vacant and red rimmed, were a clear deep brown. She must have been beautiful. And if the bastard had left her externally unmarked, or even externally human, the poor girl may have had some measure of hope. If she could have survived, there would be no life for her to return to, no normal, no comfort. Now, she was little more than food for carrion, even while still alive.

This did cause Kakashi’s stomach to turn, this goddamn mission. He could feel it in his soul, the part of him he should have long ago lost. The room held so much devastation. This woman hadn’t been the first and he hoped she would be the last. The evil of the man who watched these acts of unspeakable atrocity with glee permeated the room, the sadness, the horror of the victims, all of it. He could feel it like it like it was a living breathing being. It weighed on him, threatened to crush him, to do to him what had been done to the girl. What he had done to the girl.

And he was so used to being rather unafraid. Unafraid of death, and of pain. Scared for others perhaps but never for himself. But now, he felt a coward. He was terrified, his skin was crawling and at that moment he knew he would do almost anything to not be the woman. To not be a victim like that.

And the threat was too real. And somehow that knowledge was the only thing that saved his life. He pulled his breaking psyche into focus and still it took him another minute to tear his eyes away from the woman.

He felt his hand twitch toward the scroll.

He turned instead toward the light.

The candle sat on the nightstand next to a large four-poster, dark wood bed. The Mizukage sat resting against the headboard, turning a knife in his hands, what appeared to be the rest of the woman’s hair draped across his lap.

The Mizukage inclined his head to Kakashi, an almost innocent smile gracing his lips. “Come to join me, have you?” His smile grew. His eyes sparkled.
Behind his mask of indifference, Kakashi cringed.

But, Kakashi had no intention of responding. Professionally, quickly, he strode forward.

The Mizukage held up one hand. “One more step and I’ll kill the girl.” The evil man raised the knife in one hand. He was a bastard. He knew how to manipulate others. Good shinobi were not afraid to die and yet could not stand by and watch anyone else die, especially because of them. Something that was very much like Kakashi.

The Mizukage smiled, even more angelically. “We wouldn’t want that to happen now would we?”

Luckily, Kakashi’s sharingan, again, gave him an advantage. Another shinobi may believe, would want to believe, he wanted to believe that the girl could live. Another shinobi would lose the chance to kill the evil man trying to protect the woman. Kakashi could see that the girl was beyond saving. He knew it was too late. So without more than a second’s hesitation he threw his own kunai and the Mizukage threw his.

The kunai pierced the woman directly through the heart. A mercy stroke. To be dead so fast. An end to the pain. Kakashi was thankful, almost grateful.
But he did not have time for more. Instead of the heart stroke Kakashi had aimed for, his kunai had gone through the man’s throat. If there was a skilled medical ninja, he may have even been saved. But Kakashi was not interested in saving the man sprawled on the bed.

In truth, Kakashi wished he had time to torture the man himself and inflict even part of the pain he had forced upon the poor girl. But he did not have time. He could feel the jutsu on the door behind his back weakening, as those on the other side fought to open it.

Kakashi withdrew a second kunai from his belt. Stalking forward he stood next to the bed. The panic on the other man’s face as if a harmless game had suddenly become deadly was at odds with his actions and yet fit with the innocence of his smile. Crazy, the man was clearly crazy. In an almost reflexive move, habitual most likely from his earlier life, the Mizukage raised a kunai. Kakashi’s dodged, his hand flashed and his kunai buried itself deep inside the man’s heart. A rather anti-climactic end for a man such as him.

Kakashi then allowed his sharingan to scan the room for exits.

The walls of the room echoed with the shouts from the men trying to enter.

Shoving aside dark curtains, he found some covered windows. He dispelled the traps and alarms with his dwindling chakra, climbed down to the roof outside the window, into the rain, and leapt to another, adjacent roof. Again and again. But the guards inside were still chasing him, the guards outside saw him.

Before he had gone more than two roofs, while he was still inside the compound, two more men attacked him. He was already so depleted, his chakra, his emotions, and his body. A wrong landing. The slick tiles, and the man attacking from behind, he fell and the combined weight snapped his arm. The sick, surreal feeling of looking at a broken arm, it no longer feels like yours.

Then he felt the blade in his shoulder and instinct carried him through the turn and the subsequent dispatching.

Two more down and the rest not far behind.

But he could still run. So he ran.

Drawn back from his memories by the stillness of a cold reaching too deep, his eyes again focused on the poster that held the likeness of the woman he had seen in the Mizukage’s chambers. A famous actress who had caught the attention of the wrong man. Terrible, unfortunate, didn’t even describe it.

Having seen so much, many times he had thought himself beyond this horror, but it never stopped, never disappeared completely. And if in time it did, he truly hoped he wasn’t around to witness the person he had become. He hoped that someone would kill him. Granted he didn’t die in the next few minutes.

He knew what was still in the pouch on his hip. His hand unconsciously brushed past it for the hundredth time in the last day. This mission, everything about it had had him on edge, and perhaps the edge had kept him alive, but instead he thought that it had hindered him, weakened him. And for that he could almost hate himself.

The Hokage had told him to use the scroll only if he had no other choice. He knew, he had seen the internal conflict she had felt. He had seen the reluctance. And he would honor her decision to give him the scroll anyway. For her sake, not for his own. He would only use it if he had no other choice, but he would use it.

Foreboding slipped through him. The rain ran down his back. This mission. And he did not know why.

The guards had rounded the corner of the alley. Turning to flee, he found himself facing a dead end. Of course.

He could try to scale one of the walls and continue by roof but, slick rain, a broken arm, and little to no chakra, did not allow him this luxury.

But more so even than the physical, he was tired. Tired of fighting. Every muscle and bone in his body was moving only half as fast as it ought to. His brain only a quarter of its normal speed, and his soul was in tatters. The guards seemed much faster, much stronger than the ones he had fought before, and yet he knew they were not. Five left.

Two of the ones who had entered the alley were out cold. Five more were here now. Even more were on their way. The rain created puddles, his feet splashed through the puddles as he moved into stance.

Three more.

One of them grabbed his good arm. Another leapt and snapped it.

He could feel the multiple breaks. His arm fell to his side. Both arms were useless.

He spun and kicked, his left foot landing solidly.

One more.

Twelve more.

Back up had arrived. More were coming. There would always be more. The rain fell into his eyes, obscured his vision.

He had no more chakra, no more will to fight. But they kept coming.

Ten more.

Twenty-four more.

Eighty more.

He forced his sharingan to stop counting.

He shook his head to clear his eyes.

He reached, with excruciating pain, into his pocket and withdrew the scroll.

He would die if he didn’t.

He was just half hoping Tsunade didn’t kill him for using it.

He used his sharingan, caught the briefest glimpse of the symbols as he flashed through the hand signs and used the blood already covering his fingers to complete the jutsu.

Kakashi collapsed on a hardwood floor. At least the rain had stopped.

Chapter Text

Kakashi clawed his way up through the darkness. It pressed against him, choked him, filled his nose and mouth and made it hard for him to breath. Panting, gasping, he tried to get the desperately needed oxygen into his lungs. First he noticed the light. The white-blue, shinning, metallic light of light bulbs burned his retinas. Eyes that couldn’t focus, eyes still narrowed to slits, eyes that Kakashi closed almost as soon as he opened them.

But it helped push the panic away. The darkness was not so absolute. All he had to do was open his eyes again. If he wanted to and he was not so particularly inclined. He felt the unconscious tension, the immediate unconscious tension fall away. He wasn’t dead yet so he was probably in Konoha.

Then his body screamed. His harsh cry echoed around the room. Everything hurt. All his bones felt splintered and his insides felt shredded. He tried to focus. Kakashi tried to remember. What had happened? Why did it hurt so much? But the pain took from him his brain, his intelligence, and reduced him to instinct.

Writhing in agony, the silver haired man turned on his side as he coughed. His cries tore at an already worn throat. Blood leaked from his slightly parted lips. He panted. Lips tight and hands clinched, until he breathed, and only thought about breathing. There was nothing else he could do. Anything else he could focus on except the pain was a blessing. If he didn’t focus, he thought he just might stop breathing. Accidentally or purposefully.

The pain still coursed through him. A wounded animal, reduced to nothing more. Focus. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. In……

He could not see beyond himself, hear beyond himself, think beyond himself. All Kakashi knew was that as he breathed the darkness inched nearer; the darkness of unconsciousness from which he had recently climbed. To be unconscious was to be vulnerable. But he didn’t care. It wasn’t like he could do much to defend himself anyway. In. Out. In. Out. Sleep. He thought. Just sleep.

And Kakashi slept.

 *

"Listen, Kakashi, we both know that there is no escaping a mission like this, not without a hell of a lot of luck. Whoever goes in probably won't be coming back. You can be too damn nosey for your own good sometimes. I would have just thrown the report away in a day or two." The Hokage sat at her desk, head in hand, eyes narrowed to slits. “And let me guess, there was an anonymous tip involved that your natural curiosity, or perhaps your skewed sense of justice just couldn’t pass up.

"Yes, ma'am," her eyebrow twitched, ‘ma’am’ may have implied age and better safe than sorry. "Yes, Tsunade-sama.” He corrected with his usual one-eyed smile. “Besides,” he continued, “I understand that I found out about the report completely accidentally, that you, by no means, have asked me to undertake this mission. Therefore,” he gave her a half bow full of chagrin, “I humbly request that I be assigned to this mission anyway." Kakashi's smile never faltered hoping to charm the Hokage.

"Very well. Your request will be considered. You do realize, however much I want to resolve this problem, I would have gladly pretended it didn’t exist. And still can.” She sat up straight in her chair, looking him straight in the eye, "I'm telling you this so that you will understand, I give you full permission right now to renege; however, if you leave this office still wishing to be deployed, I will have a meeting of the Elder's to ascertain the importance of this mission. If it is agreed that the mission is as important as it seems, you will receive your orders post haste." She stared intently, waiting for his reaction.

"Yes, ma'am, that would be best I believe." He smiled as her eyebrow twitched for the second time. "I will await your orders.” And with that Kakashi leapt from the window ledge where he had been crouching.

Kakashi was already three rooftops away when he heard Tsunade yell. He paused momentarily, and when he realized she wasn't yelling at him directly, he moved on. Tsunade really is one for tantrums, he thought, I wonder what set her off this time. If it was me, I'm glad she's yelling at someone else instead.

Arriving at his apartment Kakashi looked around the bleak interior. Every time he decided to accept a suicide mission, he inventoried his life. He made sure he didn't have any loose ends, relationship or otherwise. He always left believing he wouldn't come back. It made it easier. Of course it also made the rest of his life less personal. No real ties to anyone or anything. Not that he minded. He is a shinobi. This is what he did. And by now he had done it so many times he’d lost count. At some point, all missions began to look like suicide missions and the damn practice became habit. Certainly not healthy. But he knew to his very core that he was a shinobi and always would be.

Kakashi sighed. Naruto and Sakura were all grown up, no need to worry about them. And it was true. They were already well on the road to becoming some of the best shinobi the world had ever known. Kakashi usually saw them from time to time but simply not enough to feel it justified any reluctance to the mission.
In fact, he hadn't seen either Naruto or Sakura in well over a year. Between their schedules and lives he knew he was fairly low on the list of priorities and that was ok. He would have liked to stay in Konoha, he would have liked to always be there for his team, but he is a shinobi, before he is anything else. Sometimes he regretted that.

His village and his people were in need and he wanted, no, he needed to do everything in his power to help. Kakashi had been inactive for too long. Sure, he'd been on missions, more than enough missions, but no danger, no excitement. As a shinobi he lived to help; lived to face dangers that terrified civilians. Kakashi is a shinobi and he wanted to risk his life for something important.

Shaking his head at his own sentimentality he turned his thoughts toward the present. Pull yourself together. Train for the next couple days, prepare yourself, and plan your route of entry. Don't even try to think of an escape route, it's not possible, and it makes you too cautious on the entry. Kakashi knew that he would be the only readily available shinobi able to complete this task. No one else could get close. And he couldn’t say he was ready to die, but he was content.

Kakashi proceeded to pull out a change of clothes and half the weapons stashed in the most secret corners. "No reason not to get packed and ready," he said out loud to no one in particular. "Tsunade wants to believe we will have time to discuss the best course of action in depth but, we all know that we don't have that much time. At the most I'll have three days."

This had only taken him two minutes... In thirty more seconds he could be ready to go. Efficient, ready to leave at any moment, typical. Now what was he supposed to do?

He sighed for what felt like the millionth time and looked out the window. It was mid-afternoon. The sun was hitting the floor just inside the window frame, fully lighting his room without blinding him. He could hear the sounds of the city, the people and their pets. And beyond that in the distance, he could hear the sounds of the forest, the birds and animals. It was nice. Calm. Normal. It was boring. That's why he needed this mission. Unfortunately, that meant he still had a bit of a wait. Today, he'd already been through his morning workout before he'd gone to see Tsunade. He could always train or workout some more.

Kakashi reached into his back pocket to assure himself that his reading material was on his person before he headed for the door. Outside in the sunlight, he squinted up at the sun, and then headed left, towards the closest city wall. He was looking for a nice tree, with a good amount of shade; one preferably just outside the city. Read 'til I get bored, then train to my heart's content. Hopefully they don't spend three days deciding. I won't know what to do with myself. The new Icha Icha book doesn't come out for another month and I'm almost done with this one. Kakashi settled himself underneath the tree. "Maa….. I'll figure it out." He pulled out the book and opened to the bookmarked page.

“When he wakes up I’m gonna kill him.”

“Ma’am, I understand your frustration, but that wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“Shizune, the man was seconds from dying when we got to him. I gave him the damn scroll to save his life. That scroll is worth my life and his and yours combined! What is the point of giving him the scroll if he doesn’t even come back alive?! Goddamn it. I’m gonna kick his ass, kill him, heal him and do it all over again!”

“Tsunade-sama, you have a—“

“Dammit Iruka! I don’t care! Go talk to someone else!”

“But Tsunade-sama these are the medical reports you asked for. You told me yourself to deliver them.” Iruka strode forward and tossed the file on the Hokage’s desk. “Next time get them yourself.”

The door slid shut behind him.

Shizune’s eyes followed Iruka out the door and then flicked back to the Hokage. “Tsunade, ma’am, I really think you should—“

“The hell I should! Kakashi is in the hospital, Iruka’s already gone and I have to clean up this whole Mizukage mess. Let’s not even mention Kakashi’s screaming be-better-off-dead torment. We had to seal in his room so that he didn’t keep waking up the other patients!”

The blonde let her head fall to rest on her desk. Shizune, reading the situation correctly didn’t say a word.
“Shizune, wake me in a week would you?” Tsunade chuckled weakly at her own attempt at humor.

She shouldn’t have let him go on that damn mission. She shouldn’t have given him that scroll. She cared too damn much about the people she protected. That had always been her problem. And the scroll hadn’t even really been her choice! The correct person had made that decision but hell if she didn’t feel like she had failed them both.

And Shizune wondered why she drank. Days like this she couldn’t imagine surviving without the help. Which made her an alcoholic and she knew it. Tsunade depended on the knowledge that she could stop drinking whenever she needed to, that she could use just a touch of chakra to burn anything out of her system. But she also saw that knowledge for what it was. Excuses, lying to herself to make her feel better. And every single time it got harder. To put down the cup. And she hated herself for it.

“Damnit, Shizune. No more sake for me.”

The brunette saw the soul deep pain in her boss’s eyes, knew just as well as Tsunade did that she had to stop, but understood the agony of holding so many lives and of being responsible for so much. It didn’t mean Tsunade could continue to run away, yet Shizune truly couldn’t blame her.

She laid a hand on the blonde woman’s shoulder, and stood with her in silence, in support.

 

The rain had stopped.

*

The man knew he lay on his bed in the hospital room. Flat on his back, the only sign that he was alive and breathing was the incessant beep of the heart monitor beside him.

*

The candle sat on the nightstand next to a large four-poster, dark wood bed. The Mizukage sat resting against the headboard, turning a knife in his hands, what appeared to be the woman’s hair draped across his lap. The Mizukage inclined his head to Kakashi, an almost innocent smile gracing his lips. “Come to join me, have you?” His smile grew. His eyes sparkled.

*

Kakashi’s body twitched, his heart rate speeding, then slowing to normal again, head jerking restlessly on his pillow.

*

Pain, intense shooting pain closed both Kakashi's eyes. His head felt split. The hand that had locked around his throat tightened and he gagged. His head swam. Pain. Lack of oxygen. So far, this wasn't going well.

*

Kakashi’s blinked watering eyes open and air hissed through his raw throat and between his clenched teeth. But even with his eyes open, with his sharingan spinning wildly, he did not see the room around him. He groaned in pain.

*

He was tired. Every muscle and bone in his body was moving only half as fast as it ought to. The guards seemed much faster, much stronger than the ones he had fought before, and yet he knew they were not. Five left.

*

Kakashi’s eyes closed once more; his breathing ragged.

*

One of them grabbed his good arm. Another leapt and snapped it.

*

His back arched off the bed, his mouth open in a silent scream.

*

Pain lanced his lung. Kakashi straightened as much as was possible and drew in a breath through his nose. And another. He closed his eyes and softly let his head rest back on the cold surface. The incessant rain fell on his face helping the wall beneath him to calm him. Kakashi’s pain induced headache began to fade. He was in need of a plan. Some plan. Any plan. Anything to get him out of here alive.

*

Unconsciously, Kakashi tried to push himself up off the bed. The chakra threaded straps kept him planted. Struggling, he twisted back and forth. Eyes scanned the room, his body shivered as if he were cold. He thrashed. And still, the tormented man could not get up from the hospital bed.

*

One of them grabbed his good arm. Another leapt and snapped it.

*

Kakashi grunted, eyes closing.

*

The Mizukage inclined his head to Kakashi, an almost innocent smile gracing his lips. “Come to join me, have you?” His smile grew. His eyes sparkled. * Kakashi screamed.

*

The rain had stopped.

*

And kept screaming.

Chapter Text

“DOES SOMEONE WANT TO TELL ME WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?!” Tsunade threw the door open. “He’s SUPPOSED to be getting BETTER, NOT WORSE!”

“Hokage-sama, we don’t know what—“

“Obviously, or it would be fixed already! Move!” She shoved the other medical-ninja out of her way and stepped up to Kakashi’s bedside. The man was thrashing. Groaning.

His wounds, his flesh, skin and bones were not healing. His chakra, his blood, his cells were not replenishing. The man was dying. Dying and she didn’t know why.

Sure Kakashi had been near deaths’ door when they found him but that didn’t explain why he wouldn’t heal. Certainly not for lack of trying, over the last week they’d pumped enough chakra into his body to raise a village from the dead.

“I want any and every medical specialist you can find in here yesterday! Figure out what’s wrong with him. NOW!”

The room cleared with a swiftness reserved for tense uncomfortable situations, by people who didn’t have answers and wanted nothing to do with consequences. Shizune stayed.

“We just have to figure out what’s wrong with him. Then he’ll be fine.” The short haired woman spoke into the sudden stillness, laying a hand on Tsunade’s shoulder in comfort. Comfort for the Hokage but also comfort for herself.

Tsunade nodded. But already her attention was on the man in front of her. It was perhaps the first time all day it was quiet enough for her to truly think, to finally concentrate. She rolled her shoulders, pushed her sleeves up to her elbows and hovered her hand over Kakashi’s torso. Sending chakra, both seeking and healing, from her hands into Kakashi she searched for the problem and again tried to heal anything and everything she could. She’d already personally healed him twice today and it was only three o’clock. He was getting worse. Each day required more healing than the last.

“Why isn’t his body even trying to heal itself? The man should be up by now!” Tsunade ranted aloud as sweat beaded on her forehead, stress and her own exhaustion starting to set in.

Was there a drain on his power? She’d considered it. It was the only thing that explained what was happening, even if everything didn’t quite add up. She could wait to figure out that addition until later though. Anything unintentional would have healed sooner than this, any unintentional drain was by definition very surface level. So it was an intentional one, something Kakashi had in some way done to himself. But, it had to be there, with so many wounds it was particularly hard to spot. Well, that’s what professionals are for.

Tsunade straightened. A drain would continue to eat the man’s chakra and keep him from healing. In theory, easy to execute and easy to fix, just find the damn thing and remove it. In reality, drains are a bitch. Hazel eyes scanned the body in front of her.

Kakashi continued to pull against his bonds. His arms and ankles were chaffed from his struggling. His constant movement wasn’t helping him any, creating new wounds and reopening his old ones. The doctors assigned to the man clearly couldn’t keep up. Tsunade sighed. There was only so much they could do, that she could do. It wasn’t their fault any more than it was hers. The other doctors were just convenient and easy targets for her anger and frustration.

Grabbing the chart next to the bed, Tsunade flipped through the pages, “90 milligrams of anti-hallucinogens now, and another 400 milligrams of morphine in…. an hour. Makes you wonder if they are trying to kill him themselves?” She set the chart on the stand by the bed.

Shizune shot her with a withering and admonishing look as she filled a syringe.

“If those medics aren’t here in the next 30 seconds you have my permission to fire every one of them.” She opened the door.

“I have a Hyuuga to go find.”

*

 

Kakashi was an idiot. A complete idiot. Who apparently thought it was a good week to die. Because shit, that’s what he had just asked for from her. The IDIOT.

Tsunade followed his exit with her eyes before shifting back in her seat. She groaned. “SHIZUNE! Where is my sake?!” Tsunade waited a moment while her seemingly perpetually aggravated assistant arrived. The door opened, a medical file was thrown in her face, and Shizune exited.

“No sake?” Tsunade asked the closed door, “Damn.” She didn’t have the energy to spare after learning she’d be sending Kakashi to his death.

“Damn, damn, damn.” Oh well, nothing to do now but continue.

Leaning forward Tsunade scribbled a quick note which she then handed to a masked ANBU who appeared before her. “Deliver this please. Quickly if you don’t mind.” The ANBU nodded and disappeared as quickly and quietly as he had come.

Tsunade picked up the folder Shizune had tossed at her and flipped it open. Her eyes quickly scanned the page.

“SHIZUNE! What do you mean by giving me a medical case for chronic diarrhea!?! Come deal with this yourself or get someone else to do it! I have more important stuff!” Tsunade stood angrily and marched to the door. “Take this folder back!” She thrust out her arm waving the folder at the door, “and get me some goddamn sake!!!”

Shizune stomped up and snatched the papers from the Hokage. “Get your own sake! We all have more important things to be doing.” Then she walked off.

*

Tsunade’s eyebrow was twitching. It certainly seemed to be happening more often, so many reasons, so few eyebrows. It hadn’t taken long at all for the council of elders to respond to the ANBU delivered request. Of course not, she thought, this was in their interest. They were more than happy to attend for their own selfish reasons but, good luck if it was a charity event or heaven forbid volunteer based anything.

Her anger was verging on palpable. The Elders were a group of bigoted, socialite, prejudiced, grudge holding, ass-wipes. Ok. Exaggeration. But they were not a wonderful group of people.

These people do not understand the meaning of the words: the appropriate time. They think they can say and do whatever they want, whenever they want, with, mind you, no consequences. And if anyone were to ever point out how rude they regularly act, the incredulity just might kill the brave person. She growled. Tsunade knew herself to be much more reasonable and level headed, in comparison. Not to mention very able to kick some ass. If necessary, three times around the city without working up a sweat. So she was lying to herself; fine, she wasn’t a model of reason or self-control either. But motives? At least she could trust hers.

Tsunade, sitting at the head of the table as her station dictated, crossed her arms on the table’s cool surface. The very picture of intent ease. Or at least she hoped. “I do think that Kakashi will be the right choice for this. Who better for an assassination—“the Elder on Tsunade’s left, three seats down said. ”And a risky one at that.”

“I’d have to agree,” said the Elder across from her. “We cannot send a whole team and I can count the number of shinobi who are capable enough for this mission on one hand and not even need all my fingers.”

“Well, I don’t see any reason why not. We’d have to ask him of course but, there should be no reason for the man to decline—“

“He certainly has the most….. experience.”

“Why, yes, we will do everything we can to help him before he leaves.”

“And the most chance of surviving with his sharingan.”

“It isn’t genetic, so we aren’t loosing anything, not really, a defective product anyway if I say so myself. In my day--”

“Wonderful plan, truly wonderful. Being his father’s son he shouldn’t need any help from us at all. All we have to do is let him go and wait for his return. He is faithful like that. Or has been so far.”

And there it was. The source (or a large source) of Tsunade’s anger. Kakashi is his father’s son, an object, a commodity, a thing. To them Kakashi might as well not even be human. Kakashi had become what he was because of these or similarly judgmental old cronies who were blinded by their own egos. Age may bring wisdom, but only to those who continue to learn. To anyone else it brings complacency, breeds discontent and fosters unhappiness. Self-righteous and pretentious bullshit. All of it.

Tsunade tilted her head down and to the side in an attempt to muffle her growing rage. “I have made it perfectly clear that this is a suicide mission, correct?” The heads of those around the table nodded. Fantastic. “And everyone agrees that the possible outcome is worth the loss of the agent.” Again more nods. Tsunade’s voice rose in pitch and volume, “So everyone is willing to lose the infamous Copy Nin for the possibility of success?” Less vigorous nodding but, still, every last one nodded.

She deflated into her chair. She could yell and scream. Yell and scream until she was blue in the face and sit there and refuse to move until she became little more than a skeleton. They were within their rights, within the law, to vote on this decision and they were allowed to send Kakashi to his death. He wasn’t the first and he wouldn’t be the last. And her opinion, her emotionally influenced opinion, when everything was said and done, changed nothing.

If it were someone they liked personally, or even just had his father not slighted so many of them, the answer would be different, hell, in another time or place they might have kissed the ground he walked on. And the most insurmountable problem, Kakashi had volunteered. He had decided to go and she wished he cared even just the slightest bit more.

Sighing she looked around the room. “Kakashi has already been briefed. He has agreed.”

The relief and excitement that crossed the faces of the attending Elders caused her stomach to pitch and roll. An older lady sitting directly in the center clapped her hands together once and rose from her seat, apparently ready to leave. “It’s all settled then,” she said. “All that’s left is to find and gather whatever intelligence we can in the next few hours and wish Kakashi fare-well.” They didn’t want to ‘wish’ him anything, more like ‘order’. The older lady then stepped back from the table pushing her chair with her.

The others followed suit, Tsunade paused before standing herself. “It’s decided.” She spoke quietly. She looked around the now vacated room. Straightening she marched to the sliding door. “SHIZUNE! Meet me in my office with sake!”

When answered with an immediate ‘yes, ma’am’, Tsunade shuddered. Everything had gone swimmingly well today, the lottery, and last night’s game of cards…. All signs pointed to something horrible. She sighed again, her new annoying and yet strangely comforting habit. She headed for her office.

Once there, Tsunade paced across her office floor, hopping that she could settle herself enough to talk to Kakashi. To order him to his death. Hell, technically it was already done. Calling him back was only a formality. She shook her head violently as if trying to banish the thought.

“Tsunade-sama?” While she’d been preoccupied with her own thoughts a young shinobi had entered. She stopped pacing and faced him, eyebrow raised. Reminded herself that her job included talking to people, even when she would rather not.

The mad started speaking in a rush, “Listen, I know I’m just supposed to write stuff down and keep my mouth shut but, I don’t like this sending Kakashi to his death thing. And judging from your reaction, I’d say you don’t like it much either.” Of all the conversations Tsunade could be having, she wasn’t sure if this was the best or the worst. She couldn’t have focused well on anything else and she still didn’t really want to be talking about it either.

“No, I don’t like it much at all. But what am I supposed to do? Kakashi agreed; insisted actually. We both know how he is, now that he doesn’t have direct responsibility for a team, for Naruto, Sai, Sakura or even Sasuke, he’s returned to his mindset of his life meaning nothing. He’s lost his strings, his attachment. If Naruto were here, or even Sakura we might be able to get him to reconsider, or rather they might be able to get him to reconsider but, with the way things are now,” she sighed (again), “we have no chance of stopping him.”

“Well, no we don’t, but I do have an idea.” Chocolate eyes met Tsunade’s hazel ones.

“Planning to share or just stand there looking pretty.”

“Give him this.” The young man held out a purple and green, wax sealed scroll. “It’s another copy, same as the one you have.”

“No. Nope. No way in Hell Am I Gonna LET YOU GIVE HIM THAT!”

The man didn’t even flinch. “Well, it’s not even really your decision. I could always just give it to him.”

Tsunade’s pupils were dilated and her breathe hissed between her clenched teeth. Everyone seemed to just want to make decisions without her today. Fine. They needed to stop coming to her to talk about them then. “So, then, we give him the scroll, then what? You die instead of him? That isn’t really a better option. I—“

The man smiled. “I can get out. This thing,” he waved the scroll in his hand, “was made for a reason, you know? No, I can’t get in. I can’t kill the target, but I can escape. And if for whatever reason I can’t, I have the bask chance of staying alive until help comes.” He smiled, bringing his hand up to his head and scratching habitual, familiar way.

“Fine, damn it. Fine.” She bit out. “Give me the scroll before I realize how stupid everyone is being.” The scroll exchanged hands.

“You have to make sure he knows how to engage the seal. And how to activate it using his blood and—“

“I know. I’m in possession of one of these damn things, remember? I’ll make sure he knows what he’s doing.” Pointing to the door, she spoke, “Now get out of here and go teach children or something.” With that, the man left through the door he had entered.

Tsunade smiled. Well, it was certainly better than nothing.

*

Hiashi Hyuuga sat in his living room staring at the now cold cup of tea in front of him. If anyone asked him how long he had been sitting there, he wouldn’t have been able to answer. Somewhere above him in the house, a window was pushed open. The soft swish and clack broke the silence in the house. Light footsteps paced across the floor.

Hinata, Hiashi’s older daughter, just yesterday had come back from a minor mission with Team 8. His younger daughter was currently at school and his nephew, Neji, had just gotten home from a mission and he was filing the report and wouldn’t be home for a little while longer.

The light footsteps moved across the house and echoed off the walls as the girl descended the stairs. Moving to the kitchen, he could hear Hinata run water and light the stove. She proceeded to pull cups and tea leaves as well as a tray from the surrounding cupboards. Even though Hiashi wasn’t watching, he had seen Hinata do this many times, could see her movements in his mind’s eye and could hear the muffled movements. When the water boiled, she carefully poured the tea.

Balancing the tray expertly, Hinata pushed the door open with her foot and slid it closed behind her. She padded across the living room to the table where Hiashi sat. Placing the tray by his left elbow she took his cup and replaced it with a new, steaming one. She put the cold cup on the tray and set them both to the side, keeping the second hot cup on the other side of the table for herself. Folding her knees beneath her she sat.

Hiashi nodded to her in thanks. Picking up the warm cup, the stoic man sipped the tea, cradling it, rubbing his thumb across the ceramic. Thoughts moving slowly through his head; a peaceful, calm kind of almost day dream.

Hinata sipped from her own cup before placing it back on the table. The Hyuuga household was a somber place on a normal day but today the atmosphere was downright gloomy.

The two sat in silence, Hinata slowly drinking her tea, Hiashi watching his.

Both raven-haired heads turned as the gate to their property was thrown open. The presence in the court yard was not threatening but it wasn’t one to take lightly. Both Hyuuga’s got gracefully to their feet.

Tsunade walked directly up to and into the Hyuuga home uninvited. “Hiashi, I need your help. Hinata, you’re here too, good.”

“Hokage-sama,” the strong male voice and quiet female voice chorused.

“Neji wouldn’t happen to be here too, would he?”

Hinata gently shook her head while Hiashi said, “No, Tsunade-sama. Neji is handing in his latest mission report, but he shouldn’t be—“

“What about me?” Neji stepped past the threshold and began removing his shoes.

“I need all three of you to come with me.”

 

“Twenty fully trained medical shinobi couldn’t find anything. They have had days. We no longer have time to waste and I can’t let Kakashi die, especially knowing I haven’t tried everything. That’s why I need your help. There has to be a drain on Kakashi somewhere, one he accepted, and I need you to find it as fast as possible.”

“A chakra drain?” Hinata asked.

“Yes, a chakra binding and its taking Kakashi’s chakra, more than he can afford to give. If it had been forced the disturbance would be noticeable, something larger.” Tsunade said, “Just look for anything unusual. It’s going to be hard; he’s been torn practically to pieces.”

Now in the hospital room, Tsunade moved to leave the three Hyuuga’s as they settled into the chairs placed around Kakashi’s bed. He was calmer now, no longer writhing but, every few minutes he still involuntarily shifted in pain.

“Well, I’ll leave you guys to it” The door clicked shut.

The three settled back in their respective chairs and closed their eyes.

“Byakugan!”

Chapter Text

Sinking into the chair to the left of the hospital bed, Hiashi straightened his shoulders and with small, almost imperceptible movements, cracked his neck; sweat beading on his forehead near his hairline.

It had been almost twelve hours since the three Hyuuga had started on the injured shinobi. At first they had stood around the bed while trying to pinpoint the drain on Kakashi. Yet after two hours of non-stop Byakugan use, all three had begun to tire. Six hours in, Neji had suggested the other two take a break while he continued. This way when it came time for him to rest one of them could take his place. After another half hour, Hinata had taken his place; an additional forty-five minutes later, Hiashi took hers. Then, again, it was Neji’s turn.

The adolescent boy now carefully scanned the body before him, extreme concentration written in every line of his body. Watching the boy, Hiashi suddenly felt his age. He wasn’t truly old yet and he was good at what he did, and yet these two children outclassed him. Their ability to concentrate was surprising, they focused with an innocent intensity that Hiashi knew he no longer had. That same child-like spirit gave them determination, so much so that they focused not on themselves and their own weakness but on the strength the man before them needed. They fought with a stamina that was mental and emotional rather than physical. Hiashi could not say the same of himself. He was also completely aware how fragile that innocence still was. How soon they would lose it. The irony was not lost on him either. Innocent killers. But that was just it, killing wasn’t what broke a person, not necessarily, usually it was the reason. Why they killed.

Technically, both physically and mentally he was on par with the children but somehow he could sense that they functioned as if they knew Kakashi would not die. After having watched so many die, the older man knew instead that death, though not yet certain in this case, was nevertheless eminent; even with all the tragedy the kids had experienced they held onto that youth. They believed Kakashi would live. To them, he simply couldn’t die.

Sighing, Hinata leaned forward in her seat. It was about time for her to replace Neji, for the seventh time, and still they had found nothing. The first hour or so, when the Hyuuga’s had first arrived they hadn’t been alone; the specialists had been crowding the room as well. While they looked for their own answers to Kakashi’s pain, they slowed the Hyuuga’s by creating unnecessary noise and distractions. The Hyuuga’s were looking for something unusual, and the doctors were making everything unusual. In essence, defeating the purpose. Tsunade had come back into the room and thrown them out.

Hinata smiled lightly to herself. Tsunade’s thunderous appearance and out-for-blood attitude had created quite the commotion in the small room. The blonde Hokage had terrified the poor doctors, many of whom were still unused to working with the medic-Sanin, even after so many years. As the specialists scrambled to explain their failure, Tsunade’s countenance had darkened, then she had simply opened the door and shoved both the men and women out of the room.

Tsunade hadn’t been back to the room since but the sun had set long ago and it was nearing midnight so, the dark-haired girl was expecting the blonde to return. Hiashi and Hinata both turned to the Hokage, and after a few seconds Neji turned his gaze from the bed to her as well. The Byakugan veined eyes melted away, revealing a youthful face. Hazel eyes met three pairs of off-white ones.

“Nothing, then?” the blonde head fell momentarily forward. “I’ll heal him again then leave you to it.” Almost imperceptibly shaking her shoulders and settling herself, Tsunade approached the bedside. Extending her hands, her eyes closed and green chakra melted from her palms into Kakashi’s body. Again.

Withdrawing her hands, the Hokage winced. Pain clouded her eyes and her face drew tight with worry. When her eyes met Hinata’s the desperate plea was clear. And yet the blonde woman said nothing more, simply exited the room, closing the door softly behind her.

Neji looked at Hinata and she stood. Settling herself beside the silver haired jonin, Hinata swiftly closed her eyes, hands forming signs. Neji sat in Hinata’s vacated seat.

“Byakugan!”

With a cursory glance over Kakashi’s whole body, the quiet girl noted the changes within the man. As they had studied him, the man had deteriorated before their eyes, wounds becoming worse, chakra disappearing rapidly. She shivered. Deciding to begin at the injured man’s right foot, she allowed her eyes to do the work for her. She had spent hours looking for anything, now she figured she’d use her brain where her eyes failed her.

A drain is something unusual looking, she thought to herself. Ok. It’s obviously going to be taking chakra, so there should be a small disturbance somewhere. Ok. The mental checklist running through her mind as her eyes moved centimeter by centimeter up Kakashi’s body. It’s an accepted drain, meaning it will be along a chakra conduit not somewhere else. Ok, that narrows it down, some. With all his wounds, Kakashi’s chakra is being pulled to help heal at each site, there are so many disturbances. At least they are smaller than they were, after the healing each wound needs less chakra but that will only last so long, soon the—

Her shock stopped her thoughts dead. That’s it! All the disturbances have decreased. All but ONE. The only one that should have stayed the same is the drain, it wouldn’t, couldn’t have been healed!

“Otou-san, onii-san. I think I know how we can find the drain. The drain is the only chakra disturbance in Kakashi-san’s body that will not have changed after Tsunade-sama’s healing. If we look quickly enough we should be able to spot it before his wounds progress.”

Both Neji and Hiashi stood quickly and moved to the bedside.

“Byakugan!”

*

He had finished talking to Tsunade at approximately 8:45 am, which meant if the meeting of the Elders had been called quickly, he wouldn’t have long to wait. Four hours or so of discussion, another hour for the Hokage to cool off, and another for anything else. That meant he’d get his assignment tonight and he could leave at first light. This was best. No time for emotion or overthinking. Even the smallest emotion, any emotion could become a hindrance. A hesitation, and shinobi do not hesitate, not if they want to live.

Slowing almost to a stop at his door Kakashi set his palm against the doorjamb as he unlocked both the physical lock and the chakra one. Kakashi let himself into his apartment and paced to the back, arms alternatingly pulled across his chest and behind his head in a stretch. He gazed from his balcony over the wall and the forest at the sunset. It was a quiet night, anything could happen. He breathed deeply, his self-inventory running through physical and mental checks. He was ready for this. He was prepared for whatever awaited him.

At a light noise to his right he turned. An ANBU held out a sealed missive. Kakashi took it, nodding ever so slightly. This is it, he thought, no more waiting. After scanning the page he flashed his hands through a few signs and transported himself.

In the Hokage’s office, he stood at attention before her desk. She sighed. She’s been sighing a lot lately. Odd, he thought. The Hokage leaned back in her chair arms crossed beneath her breasts. “I don’t like this. Clearly.”

She handed him a flat file folder with no more than ten pages in it. Information of this kind was scarce. Real information, about powerful people. “You head out in the morning. Any and all preparations or plans are left to your judgment. And this,” She held out the purple and green, wax sealed scroll. “Before you leave put a drop of your blood on the wax seal and let it dry. The seal inside is seven pronged and will activate similarly to Naruto’s. Do not use this until the last minute. Not until after your mission is complete. Hopefully, this will save your life.”

Kakashi looked down at the scroll in disbelief. Tsunade nodded. It was legit. He tucked it into the pouch on his left hip. “Thank you.” They both knew the significance of hope, even hope that was full of holes and covered in shadows.

Tsunade cleared her throat and stood straight, “Thank you, Kakashi. Konoha sends you to The Land Hidden in Mist.”

*

The hurried footsteps reverberated in the pristine hallway; each step echoing slightly against the tiled floors and white-washed walls. A door on the left side of the hall was thrown open without care. It slammed, ricocheted and stopped halfway. The brunette, who had attempted to enter behind the blonde, slid the door open so that she could enter, then she closed it softly behind her.

“Where is the drain?” Tsunade panted. “Thank Kami you found it or I’d have lost two irreplaceable ninja. Did you break it yet?”

“No, ma’am. The drain is still intact. We wished to leave that to you; we would not want any more harm to come to Hatake-san.” Hiashi inclined his head. “If we are indeed finished here, I believe it would benefit us greatly to return to our home.”

“Yes, yes. Of course,” The blonde waved her hand dismissively, her eyes never leaving the man on the bed. “Thank you very much. Konoha thanks you. Please, return home, rest.”

Neji, hand resting lightly on the arm of the injured man, watched both his uncle and cousin move towards the exit. Looking from Tsunade to the unconscious man, he slowly turned the unresponsive hand palm up. Tracing a finger down to the pointer finger, Neji indicated the small mark they had placed on the pad of the man’s finger. Nodding at the Hokage’s recognition, Neji followed his family from the room.

“Shizune, please find Morino-san for me, and tell him he is needed here urgently. Mitarashi-san as well if you don’t mind. Quickly and quietly would be best.” Silently, the dark haired woman left.

Tsunade moved around the bed until she stood by Kakashi’s marked hand. Lifting it she studied the marked area both externally and internally. The chakra disturbance was noticeable, but could have been from a prick to the finger or a small cut. Tsunade attempted to heal the disturbance but to no avail. It seemed they had indeed identified the drain. And none too soon. Hatake wouldn’t have made it through another day.

It wasn’t that Tsunade didn’t know how to dispel the seal or that she wasn’t going to, it was rather that she didn’t know how Kakashi would react, she didn’t know what had happened to him and more importantly she didn’t actually know what the scroll had done to him. That was the thing about secrets, there was usually more than one.

Ibiki knew about the scroll. Anko knew how to handle the effects of seals or the closely related drains. Tsunade sighed. Her shoulders slumped and the exhaustion of the last few days seeped into her muscles.

Stretching, rolling her neck from side to side, she awaited the arrival of the two jonin.

*

Kakashi squatted above the mist soaked ground. Mist. Yeah, right. More like perpetual rain. They’re just so used to it they think its light mist. I’m gonna be wet for the rest of my life. He sighed and shifted his weight. The rest of my life, he thought, two whole days. That’s optimistic. Unconsciously, his hand traveled to his left hip where the scroll was hidden in a waterproof pack. Or maybe not, he countered.

He sighed. Maybe he was picking up Tsunade’s habit. No point in getting my hopes up, he continued. I just have to focus on killing the Mizukage. Then I can worry about everything else. Kakashi scanned his surroundings. The further he traveled into the Land of Mist, the harder it was to tell which direction he was going. The closer he got to the cities, the more his instincts urged him to turn and walk past. It was a chakra based defense. It was flawlessly juxtaposed with the water that fell continuously from the sky. Even when it wasn’t raining, the water on and around the islands worked to confuse and distract enemies.

His hand reached out and tapped his left hip. He glanced around. He’d made it far enough, he’d been island hopping, traveling across the shortest expanses of water possible. Some of the islands had been nice enough. The sun was shining and the defenses were only mildly uncomfortable. Nothing like this. He wasn’t on the main island of the Land of Mist, no, the Mizukage no longer resided in the main village, The Village Hidden in Mist. He’d moved his residence and all his trusted companions to a secure location. The man was paranoid and for good reason. He’d killed his predecessor and revived the evil traditions of the past. He was a feared man. He was not loved. The newest generations of shinobi to rise from The Land of Mist were as twisted and warped as Zabuza. The children fought to live, killed to live, and their humanity was brutalized until they were machines lacking true human emotion.

Everyone, the known world, had agreed that this new Mizukage needed to die. But he had taken power, and then hidden himself from view too quickly. His whereabouts had been unknown. That was, until two days ago. Konoha allies within the Land of Mist had sent furtive messages over the last year or so, with clues to the Mizukage’s residence, and the times he most frequented his home. The pieces had finally fallen into place. The timing had been ideal. The Mizukage was in residence and he wouldn’t be expecting an attack. At least an attack of consequence.

The Mizukage had moved to a small island directly south of the main island of The Land of Mist. Here it rained perpetually; therefore, the land’s defenses were that much stronger. A sensible place for a man who feared assassination. Unless you lived or knew the signs to travel safely into the heart of the mist, there was no way to come out alive.

This was why Kakashi was the only one who could complete this mission. His sharingan could read the justu that permeated the mist around him. Now, he had traveled as far as he could without activating his sharingan. If he tried to continue he would be lost in the mist or killed by sentries as his presence was detected.

He reached down one more time and checked his pouch to make sure it was there. Then he lifted his hand to his hitai-ate and pulled it up, leaving his face mask covering his mouth and nose. His normal right eye closed and he focused the sharingan on the jutsu only he could see. Almost immediately his hands flashed performing the signs to neutralize the jutsu.

As soon as he finished signing the oppressive weight of the mist lifted and he sighed. Pulling his hitai-ate back over his left eye, he continued through the barely visible forest. Leaping into the air, Kakashi landed on a branch ten feet above where he had been standing. He had about a mile to go until he reached the Mizukage’s hide-away.

Chapter Text

He pushed off and landed on a branch another ten feet away, ten feet closer to his destination. There was only one way to describe the way he felt now. Apathetic. The idea of caring was rather repulsive, honestly. He continued through the forest, branch by branch, tree by tree. But it wasn’t just the caring. It was the disappointment that always, always came with it. That’s what he couldn’t handle. Kakashi refused to put himself in that situation again. He didn’t want to play this game anymore. Being alive, but not ever living. Just moving from one almost death to another, over and over and over. Watching other people die. Watching other people fall apart. Watching other people move on. It was time for him to move on one way or another, and if it needed to be death then so be it.

Tapping his hip, he let his fingers linger. He had hope. There was always hope. And this time, this time if he made it he vowed to do something different because this, whatever this was, was not enough. He would find his reason to move on, his person or whatever. This is what I’ve become, he thought. What the hell is wrong with me? How can I look at my own life, think this about myself and still be unable to care. I know that I should change, that I could change, but I feel cold.

Maa… he thought, let’s just get this over with. Kakashi dropped from the trees, the top most roof of the building visible through the quickly dissipating fog. The trees were thinning and the fog refused to touch the home. From all appearances, this was the only place on the whole island that had been touched by sunlight in the last year.

His fingers drummed nervously. The defenses were stronger here rather than weaker, even though the chakra filled rain was absent. Figured.

At the edge of the forest Kakashi paused again, he crouched in the shrubs watching to see if guards were patrolling the perimeter. His eyes counted steps and seconds between rounds. It was not completely random, people tended to have a hard time actually being random and much preferred order. But the patrol was random enough to be annoying.

And fortunately, less frequent than he would have thought, one every forty-five minutes or so. Plenty of time. He smirked. Might even give him enough time to make it back out. His mouth turned down bitterly. Yeah, far enough out to die in the forest, he grimaced. Raising his hitai-ate for the second time in as many hours, he closed his right eye and focused on the walls and the jutsu, looking for weaknesses in both.

Kakashi pulled a kunai from the pouch on his hip, feeling the scroll as he did; then he sat back to wait. Knock out one guard and he’d have about half an hour to find the Mizukage, any longer and he would run more of a risk of getting caught. Still thinking like I’m gonna get out, he shook his head, the first foot I set inside the house will set off alarms I wouldn’t be able to stop. Five minutes. Ten if I’m lucky.

There he is. A guard was heading toward him from the right; the man looked relaxed, safe. Instead of encouraging Kakashi it made him even more nervous. A Kage guard was not relaxed unless he wasn’t the threat to worry about. The guard’s demeanor preluded the traps and dangers inside the home.

Here we go. He leapt from the ground seconds after the guard passed. From behind the guard he reached forward with his right arm extended, kunai leading. The paper thin edge of the blade slid across the man’s throat. Blood sprayed to the right following the path of the blade as it was drawn back. Not even looking at the fallen, falling man, Kakashi brought the blade back across the dying man’s collar to clean the blade. An old habit, a single movement that kept dripping blood from leading anyone to you and meant you didn’t have to get rid of the weapon instead. Shinobi training, shinobi habits that died hard, the blood that runs in the veins of ninja.

Running to the nearest window, he placed fingers against the glass and pushed lightly, seeing if it would open. It did. Kakashi drew in a nervous breath. Things were looking worse. Still no real security measures, not any he would have put in place, not any a Kage would need. Not a good sign. He breathed slowly, tapped his hip and slid himself through the window. No one was inside, not that he was expecting someone.

One door. Guess that’s the door to take then, he thought to himself. Kakashi stepped into the hallway outside. Genjutsu, distant and ineffective illusions glittered around the walls. Here’s where the real test starts I suppose, the nerves that had danced across his hands settled. Moving quickly to that single door he opened it and felt the houses internal alarms activate. And he still had no real clue where the Mizukage was IN the house. Wonderful. He sped up, moving down the next corridor and through another door as quickly as he could without giving himself away any more than he already had.

The center, he figured, the Mizukage’ll probably be in the center of the house. Upstairs too. Stairs would be nice……. Ahhhh. Stairs; perfect timing. He climbed the stairs four at a time. At the top he flipped over the last few stairs and landed in a crouch and glanced out the window. Good, the top floor.

He stepped forward only to fall forward.

His feet wouldn’t move.

His. Feet. Wouldn’t. MOVE.

He glanced down. Jutsu in the floor. Hidden until pressure triggered it.

Not good.

He heard the house move.

The House.

Shit. What the hell was that?

Either every person in the house had started running towards him or the floor boards in the house were trying to attack him. Or both.

Both seemed about right.

Chakra laced into the wood floors was seeping to the surface, all of it pooling near his feet. The voices of hundreds of guards were getting closer. He couldn’t watch for something that wasn’t there, he wasn’t actually psychic.

He focused his chakra to the soles of his feet. No good. The chakra in the floor was more than enough to neutralize it. Shit. He looked up. Shit. They are on the other side of that door. He flooded his feet with chakra. No good. Shit.

Kakashi seriously wasn’t planning to die BEFORE he killed the Mizukage. That really, really wasn’t the plan.

The first two men burst through the door. The narrow hallway and doorway prevented any others from entering quickly to attack him. But they would, and they would be able to attack soon. Too soon. The man in the lead hit Kakashi full force. Slammed him back into the floor.

Pain, intense shooting pain closed both Kakashi’s eyes. His head felt split. The hand that had locked around his throat tightened and he gagged. His head swam. Pain. Lack of oxygen. So far, this wasn’t going well. He blinked his watering eyes open.

The second guard took his exposed kunai and pinned one of Kakashi’s flailing arms to the floor. A third man pinned his other one. Skewered, held to the floor Kakashi tried to twist away. Impossible. Feet; stuck. Neck; pinned. Hands; he felt tiny bones break. Pain. He didn’t want to think about his hands. His eyes, barely open and tear filled scanned wildly around the narrow hallway. More and more and more men packed themselves into the enclosed space. Kakashi’s window of escape was shrinking with each addition. The hard edge of the scroll dug into his hip.

A fist slammed into his face. Spots danced before his eyes. His head crushed into the wood, splintering it. No more. Kakashi felt dread settle in his stomach. Closing his eyes Kakashi focused on breathing. In through his broken nose, don’t think about it, out through his swollen lips.

Distance yourself from the pain. Let it flow around you, notice it but do not let it affect you. He felt a weight on his chest. Unbearable pressure.

Snap. SNAAAAAAAP. SNAP. Snap. Breathe. Ouch! Kakashi felt his left lung deflate. Calm, he thought. The Mizukage. You have to kill the Mizukage. He gagged.

Blood. From his nose.

Lack of oxygen.

Pain.

Silence.

He sighed in relief as mild shock dulled the pain but left him clear-headed enough to plan his next move. Can’t let them break much more or he wouldn’t be able to crawl fast enough to kill the Mizukage. Think. If justu won’t free you then maybe extreme physical force will counteract the jutsu in the floor.

Swiftly arching his back. Trying to ignore his screaming chest and hands, he drove his feet through the floor boards. He felt the jutsu retreat. Success!

Freeing his wounded and fortunately unwatched hands, he flew through substitution justu signs, trading places with the vase in the hallway before him.

The majority of the guards must have been near the Mizukage. Meaning, now they weren’t. Which direction? Using his sharingan, he looked for the direction most of the mean were or had come from as well as the highest levels of visible protective jutsu. That way.

He turned right. Then right again. He didn’t have time to stop. They were close behind him. He only had seconds to decide. If he took too long, he’d be caught again. In this state that meant death. Speed was his only advantage.

Left.

That door. He has to be behind that door.

The door was ornately carved. And larger than any other door he had seen inside.

Flashing through the hand signs to open the jutsu on the door, Kakashi darted in and closed the door quickly, reactivating the jutsu lock. That should slow some people down. It was supposed to after all.

He breathed. A real breath. The first in minutes. Minus of course the collapsed lung and all.

Pulling out a kunai, he advanced several steps. The room was dark, gloomy and smelled faintly of smoke and something else.

Another step.

Kakashi froze.

*

“So, Hatake, as we had predicted your mission was exceedingly dangerous. Still you managed to be successful.” Tsunade stood at the healing man’s bed side.

Meer hours after she and Anko had removed the drain, Kakashi had awoken and his wounds were well on their way to disappearing. The Hokage glanced at the report in her hands, “Ibiki’s assessment is dry and clear cut. Very well. I will return tomorrow to finish healing and check on your more serious wounds; you should be fit to leave the hospital by tomorrow or the day after. Welcome home, Hatake-san.”

The blonde stopped in the doorway, glancing over her shoulder at the silver haired man sitting propped up by starched white pillows. “I’m glad to have you back Kakashi.” And she closed the door softly behind her.

Kakashi smiled lightly at the now closed door. But his thoughts wandered and his slight smile refused to remain. Kakashi remembered little to nothing about what had happened after he had opened the scroll. He remembered well enough, killing the Mizukage, fighting, and the actress but by the time he had unraveled the scroll he hadn’t been able to do more than glance at it before shoving his chakra laced fingers against the seal. He knew very well that he had transported. Obviously. He knew that something or someone had taken his place, that the seal on the scroll had disintegrated leaving no trace. He knew he had landed on a wooden floor somewhere in Konoha, which did little to narrow his arrival point. He knew that placing his blood on the seal of the scroll had created the drain that had almost killed him. He hadn’t realized how much chakra the drain would require. He didn’t know what the drain was for. He didn’t know who or what had taken his place and he was becoming exceedingly curious. He was want to after all.

Though both presently and formerly exhausted, Kakashi’s sharingan had been able to remember most of the seal within the scroll. The connecting pieces were still fuzzy, and unfortunately the devil is in the details, or in this case the answers were. One may even then assume that the devil is in the answers, but that may be pushing the cliché too far.

The silver haired jonin pulled a slip of paper and a pencil from between the sheets. The swirling letters of the seal were obvious but both small and rather large gaps kept the seven prongs from connecting. Cocking his head to the side, Kakashi studied the paper. The pencil danced across the page and another small piece of the puzzle fell into place. Kakashi narrowed his gray eye at the sketch. The sharingan eye was now hidden behind its traditional hitai-ate.

The man sighed down at the page then looked out the hospital window at the setting sun. The orange light tinted the edge of the sheets where the light fell through the window. The room around him felt darker though the lights within had not dimmed in the least. Kakashi was almost certain the seal had replaced him with another person. That bothered him more than he wanted to admit.

*

The Hokage replaced her sake cup. It had already been emptied three or four times in as many hours. This wasn’t binge drinking but it was more than she ought to have been drinking, certainly while working, not that she ever really stopped working. Either way she knew it was time to finish up for the day, sign the last of the papers and go home.

Pulling the first page of the smaller than usual stack in front of her Tsunade read the first couple lines. The words were nonsensical. The words on the page read fine, but her mind refused to translate them; instead, Tsunade pondered Kakashi’s mission. She couldn’t help but worry.

Then, unexpectedly, her office door opened. The only person who ever bothered the Hokage this late at night was Shizune, if it had been important, there would have been running involved and the blonde had heard no thundering steps.

A young boy, not more than fifteen, entered the room. His eyes darted around the room, his apprehension quite obvious. Yet the Hokage was not the cause of the apprehension, nor was her office. Whatever was troubling the boy was something he knew, something that he had heard; something important enough that he was paying a visit to the Hokage. He’d practically grown up in this office.

The blonde sat forward in her desk chair, her paperwork well and truly forgotten. “What is it Konohamaru?”

*

It is very disorienting to go very suddenly from your normal everyday routine to horrifying danger. To be doing something completely normal one second and in the next have an overwhelming need to protect yourself from eminent death. This is, however, the life of a ninja so the surprise should have maybe been lessened. And in many ways it was. I mean, I knew it would happen eventually, that bit wasn’t a surprise. The actually change of scenery? Talk about a shock to the system.

Chapter Text

It’s easy to say you’re prepared. It’s easy to say you are willing to die. It’s easy to say that you will “deal with the consequences”. I always assumed I’d already handled the worst possible outcome, and I’d been forced to handle it when I was young. Nothing could compare to that kind of despair and that kind of pain. The scars of losing your parents, the wounds heal but the memory never fully goes away.

Physical pain? What could possibly be done to me that I wasn’t prepared for? Becoming a shinobi, even only at a chunnin level, requires a consistency and a drive that renders physical pain a moot point. Being a shinobi requires you to push yourself beyond your own limits. It’s not so much that it stops hurting, rather that you know what pain you can handle, rather that you have pushed yourself to pain, beyond it, you’ve looked that demon in the face and there is no fear left in pain.

Death? Perhaps there is fear there. As a shinobi it’s easy to say that you have faced death and will inevitably face it again. And there is an instinctual need to survive, but dying in battle, dying in the fight to survive, well there is honor in that. Not fear.

So what did I have to fear? All I had to do was put up with the emotional and physical torment until I died or I escaped. Whichever came first.

If only it was actually that easy.

Instead, I pray for death, knowing I won’t die. And there is fear. So much fear, that my screams catch in my throat, that my body tenses, straining and pulling, every cell wanting away. The kind of fear that you cannot run from and the only escape left is to close your eyes and retreat. Lock away the part of your brain that knows, just for a few moments of reprieve. Just like a small child who believes if he cannot see the monster, the monster cannot see him.

But there is pain here.

In this place with my eyes closed.

Fear or pain.

Making the decision to watch my body opened and dying without dying, watching and knowing and feeling. Making the decision to step into the genjutsu and live a beautiful life, my parents, my friends, a lover, a house, a garden, a life. And knowing no matter what, I will not die. And, knowing I will wake up.
The genjutsu is probably worse, if I’m being honest, and what’s the point in lying. It isn’t that I forget that my parents are dead. But rather it forces me to see the happiness that I could have had if they lived, forces me to face the loss. Again and again and again. Fighting my own hope, my want, and my need.

It forces me to kill my heart. Over and over. To see what I desire most in life. Happiness and safety and love and knowing it is not really mine, not real, not possible.

And each time it gets worse. I see more, there is more to envy. More to want. And each time I have to fight the part of me that doesn’t ever want to wake. The part of me that is willing to have the lie instead of the reality.

That is the greatest betrayal. To no longer have the strength to live. That is what picking the lie is, betraying yourself and choosing death.

And the greatest irony, to wake and be unable to even die.

So perhaps the genjutsu isn’t worse, perhaps it is both together that has so wholly wrecked me. I suppose this is the definition of torture.

Wanting to go back to a dream and hating myself for it. True weakness.

I always assumed I was strong. Certainly not the strongest physically, but mentally, emotionally, I had strength. Quite laughable considering my current circumstance. This was supposed to be my strength, my ability to survive here.

Which does beg the question, what is the point? What is my purpose? Apparently, there isn’t one. To be tortured here for the rest of my life, locked in a cage and forgotten when they do, finally, get bored. And if by some miracle I do make it home, what use would I be then? Broken beyond repair.

Not really the introduction to my own pathetic reality I would have preferred. Something a little less life ruining would have been more survivable or, hey, death.

The me before this?

Rather inconsequential really. In some ways that was the point. The whole, some practically unknown shinobi that has the special power to do this one cool switch and not die thing, it was my saving grace. Everything else, average. Less than average actually.

So this whole situation, on top of the pain and the fear and the torture, a complete and utter shattering of my pride. The cherry on top of the fucking ice cream sundae. Lovely, really.

And it isn’t that every moment of my life was a complete waste. I don’t mean to sound like I never did anything with my life, more that my belief that I did nothing devalued what I had done. I wanted to be important, rather than appreciating what I was and what I could actually do. I always wanted more of a leading role, obviously, but I was more comfortable and useful when I wasn’t.

Also, not to say that I didn’t have friends, I had quite a few friends actually. With my friends I always ended up feeling like the “extra” friend. Everyone liked me, sure, but I was never anyone’s best friend. I was never the first choice and that feeling always cut deep. So, selfishly, I pushed people away in subtle ways, whenever I thought they might get too close to seeing my bitterness. These people already had and were first choices, they wouldn't understand me nor would they like the person I really was. And it wasn’t lying per se, either. I just had a hard time telling or showing anyone the complete truth.

Show them only the good parts and when it’s unavoidable a bad part or two. But all the mess, just leave it out of the proverbial conversation.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty after all, how clearly my actions sabotaged any chance for friends or family or love I actually had, laughable.

It is astounding how selfish and self-centered I was, am. Over the years, I got very good at pretending I was neither of those things, but I knew, whether anyone else did or not. I knew exactly what a facade the face the world saw really was. I was aware how large the gap became; at first it was nothing, then it was worlds of distance and I don’t even know when that happened. I’m not sure anyone would have or will describe me as either selfish or self-centered. And perhaps you can argue that thoughts and actions are different. Being able to be kind and selfless, despite feeling selfish and self-centered is in itself an accomplishment. Maybe it’s true. Mostly it just sounds, and more aptly feels, like bullshit.

Keep everyone at arm’s length just to keep yourself safe. Keep everyone at arm's length in the hopes that they won't notice how lonely you are. Hoping that no one notices who and what you have become. And continuing until you are little more than a shell of a person. A fake. Blaming your failure on everyone around you because it's easier than looking in a mirror. Facing yourself, or facing your demons, or running and hiding. Creating a world, a cycle, where there is shame in revealing your deception and in continuing your lies. A world where finding an end is harder than staying locked in your indecision.

All of the shame, unable to escape the shame. That’s what it really was. Completely and utterly ashamed of myself. Wanting friends, a lover, and new family and not believing I deserved anything. Then when faced with the opportunity to have friends or a lover, what I wanted most, I picked to throw all of it away, disregarding all of it because it was easier to be unhappy.

It was easier to complain to myself that I had nothing than to try, to fight for something, for someone. And it was easier to pretend, and to blame, than it was to potentially lose something I wanted with all my heart. And I let myself be a person I despised, simply because it was easy.

And perhaps the greatest shame, the resentment I felt, feel, for a child. Taking care of the child, because he had no one else. Playing house for my own satisfaction, and yet being available only when it was convenient. Pretending I wanted nothing more and yet, needing more. Wanting him to complete me when he could not, and expecting him to fill the void of loneliness that continued to grow in my chest. Placing blame because of feelings that were not his fault or his responsibility. And somehow, getting everyone including him to believe that everything I had done had been for him and not for me. I do love him, just not the way he deserves. He has grown into a young man worth more than I could have ever hoped. In some ways, I probably hated the part of him that reminded me of me. And I hope that he has found happiness when I lacked the strength.

Resenting a child because of my own failings. Truly how despicable.

So, perhaps this was my punishment. Certainly some part of me thinks I deserve this. The anger and rage I had directed at myself over the years, manifest into the best punishment I could imagine.

The dark humor fails to escape me. Hilarious, so hilarious.

And I truly hate no one, as much as I have come to hate myself.

I suppose there is a bit of a blessing in all this horror. It’s hard to call it that in light of the full picture, but for the first time in a very long time, I don’t feel alone. Not in the lie, not when I’m awake. I don’t have to be alone. I don’t have to feel alone.

And now, I wish I was alone. Just one more blow to my fractured psyche, perhaps the one thing I wished for the most, more than being special, one and the same with my need to have parents and friends and a happy life, I wished to no longer be alone. And now that, shattered, along with everything else.

A reversal of every value and core truth that made me, me. Everything I wanted, granted, only to destroy me. I am no longer the person I was. I am no longer even a person. I am no longer much of anything.

Much longer and I will be completely gone, not even recognizable.

Perhaps that will be a relief.

*

“Maa….. There’s no need to have the boy escort me home, Hokage-sama. I’m perfectly fine. I’ll go right home and rest, no getting lost on the road of life, and no alcohol. I’ll be good. Promise, promise.” The silver-haired head tilted to the side.

“Konohamaru, make sure he does as he says he will. Don’t leave him until the door to his apartment has shut behind him.” The hazel eyes stared intently into the brown eyes that were now almost level with hers. Children truly did grow quickly.

“Yes, ma’am…..ugh….. Hokage-sama.” The boy turned to the disapproving gray eye, then back to Tsunade. He nodded his eyes down to keep from looking directly at Kakashi’s disapproval.

Outside the hospital, Kakashi stood, body relaxed hands in pockets, finally dressed in his typical jonin outfit and no longer in whatever you call the thing you’re forced to wear at the hospital. His apparent focus on some point off in the distance. Konohamaru stood next to him, so tense he was practically at attention, his nerves clearly getting the best of him. He knew Kakashi, but not well enough. He could tell that the older man was different than normal. Well, not really different, everything seemed fairly normal, but something still just wasn’t right. But again, he didn’t know Kakashi all that well. And the guy had almost died. Either way, it wasn’t his job to deal with it. His job was to just get the shinobi home.

“To my house then?” Konohamaru nodded and the two set off down the street.

Konohamaru saw Kakashi all the way to his door as directed, and being the perfectly civil and polite man he is the jonin even shut the door and waited for the boy to leave before walking back out of his apartment.

Moving rather slowly for him, Kakashi crossed the rooftops between his place and the Hokage’s office. Settling himself outside on a window ledge, out of sight, he listened intently to the conversation taking place inside. “And I’ll need the three of you to split the shifts between yourselves….. No, no complaining. There are no other options. He’s taken an indefinite leave of absence.” Tsunade’s frustration was audible. “If you can’t cover something between yourselves, let me know so I can get someone else to cover it.”

The other voices in the room grumbled and made indistinct complaints which went completely ignored, “I’ll hire someone new as quickly as I can but it takes time to find the right person and you know it.” The complaints trailed off and there seemed to be no more forthcoming.

Hearing the door open, the silver-haired man leaned so that he could see around the corner of the window. He was just in time to glimpse the backs of three shinobi. Kotetsu, Genma and…. The other had been first out the door and he couldn’t place the hair. The door shut behind them.

Waiting, listening to the footsteps move away from the office and watching Tsunade, rolled her shoulders in a vain effort to relieve some of the tension she was clearly feeling, Kakashi disarmed the ANBU’s jutsu on the window. He didn’t really think he or Tsunade wanted the interruption. Besides, it gave them a bit of extra work later which he was always more than happy to provide.

“So, Hokage-sama, whose gone missing?” Kakashi sat in the windowsill.

Tsunade turned to face him, seemingly unsurprised, and she probably had expected him, “And what exactly are you referring to, Kakashi?”

Kakashi held out a small piece of paper with a completed seal in his handwriting. “Care to tell me who took my place in that hell hole? It took me a while to get all of the pieces in order, what with the barely seeing it and almost dying and all, but we both know I’m pretty good with written jutsu.”

Stubborn silence from the woman.

“Tsunade-san,” The typical levity, the almost playful quality that had come to define interactions with Kakashi was gone, “No more games, ne?”

The blonde sighed.

Chapter Text

“I’m not playing games, Kakashi.” She turned from him sharply, hands shuffling papers on her desk.

“Well it sure fucking feels like it, Hokage-sama.” The movement on the desk didn’t even falter, these papers to this stack, these here, a stamp here. “Were you just gonna play it off like nothing happened? Not even tell me that another shinobi was going to die in that hell hole because I used the damn scroll?”

“And you had to know I’d use it. Giving a dying man hope, and all that. And you didn’t want me to know what it was because then you knew I wouldn’t use it. While maybe I didn’t particularly want to die in that fucking place, I sure as hell would have prefered it to letting someone die in my place!”

The scroll Tsunade had pulled from the edge of her desk stilled in her hands. She held it before her, eyes staring at the words on the parchment but not seeing any of it.

“So I’ll ask again. Who? Who took my place?”

Tsunade slumped forward, hands meeting the wood of her desk with a dull sound. The scroll she had held tightly, rolling forward and falling to the floor with a clatter.

“I was going to tell you.” She paused, “maybe. I don’t even know. That damn fool forcing my hand. Serves-- “ Her voice cracked, “Serves him right.”

Kakashi stood, just inside the window, watching with calculating eyes, he let the silence draw out, waiting for the answer to his unanswered question. He could see and hear the pain Tsunade clearly felt about this situation, and objectively he could see that she truly wasn’t any happier about this situation than he was. The anger he felt was not fading, and probably would not fade for a while yet. So he let the tension and the silence continue.

Finally, as if having lost a battle with some part of herself, Tsunade finally responded.

“Iruka.”

*

Poison.

Not healing.

More pain.

Maybe hallucinations.

More poison.

“NOOOOOO!!!”

Hissing.... Crawling. Scrapping.

Out. Get out.

“AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

No.

Please. Please no.

Out.

Get out.

More poison.

Pain.

“You took away the man that killed my pet. Now you have two crimes to pay for,” the man smiled.
Lock a shinobi in a chakra reducing room; break their arms, their legs, ribs, jaw, fingers. They can’t heal, not well; not without chakra, with only their own determination and will to set their bones. They would have to do it by themselves. Take their hope. Inflict just enough pain, scare them, and then leave them, alone. Let terror eat them alive. Let them wait. Then they will be easier prey.

Perhaps at the beginning he had kept track. But it’s not exactly easy to keep track of time when you aren’t even sure if the people in the room with you are real.

At some point he knew they had poisoned the water. They hadn’t needed to bother poisoning the food. Eventually, within two days, he had to drink it. Or he would have died. He knew he hadn’t even waited that long. Hell, what was the point. If they wanted him alive they would keep him alive. If they wanted him poisoned they would do that too.

If he wanted a way out he needed to kill himself. Originally he had been strapped to a table. Not exactly a lot of freedom of movement there. Iruka supposed he could have, and still could for that matter, bite off his tongue. But, clearly, he was not all too inclined to kill himself. Not yet anyway. Which was quite a surprise to learn. Which also meant he clearly still had hope. He could escape, hypothetically. It was, after all, why he was here.

He both wanted nothing more than to die and be out of his misery, and yet at the same time continued to fight. He fought the poison in his system, his terror, his weaknesses.

And he knew, in his brain that they kept him alive only until their revenge was satisfied or until he answered whatever questions they wanted answered.

But the poison. Iruka knew it was doing something, he could feel it. It affected him. The obvious hallucinations. The less obvious delusions. It was getting worse. He felt sane, until all the sudden everything he had done wasn’t real. The threat he was responding to wasn’t real.

He was teaching, everything was fine, he was cooking dinner, everything was fine, he was being tortured, everything was fine. But then none of it had happened. the torture, the cooking, the teaching. But some of it was. Some of the people were.

Maybe.

But he was coming out of that. Probably.

That or it was getting infinitely worse.

He felt more sane than he had for… a while. But that really wasn’t saying much was it.

His dreams were starting to attack him now too. He woke up screaming. All the time. Every time he slept, he woke screaming.

Iruka wasn’t even sure he was really sleeping. He certainly felt as if he weren’t. He was always tired. Always hurt. And always, always crazy.

Now he was talking. To himself. He could hear it, it was echoing around the cold room. He didn’t think he was talking to anyone. Just talking to talk. But then again who knew.

He could be sleeping or dreaming.

And he still had hope. Why, why, why?

It might kill him.

It might keep him alive.

It hurt.

SNAP!

Arm’s re-broken.

Cold cement feels good.

Just lay here. Don’t move.

Hurts.

Ahh.

Voices. No leave me alone.

Go away!

Click.

Light.

Please no!

Pain.

*

Well, fuck that, he thought. She had let Iruka go? Iruka had pushed to go? Because that made so much sense. Kakashi would have died. Iruka most certainly would too. Tsunade could feel as bad as she wanted to about this mess. It was her own damn fault for letting him go.

He had left her office in silence. Not bothering to reply. He was sure his disdain was quite evident.

He couldn’t imagine anything he knew about Iruka that would allow him to survive or escape. Perhaps someone else did though. All he needed to do was find the people who knew Iruka the best.

Landing outside the school yard in a tree, he surveyed the building. The school yard was empty, and yet dedicated teacher’s lights remained on. As Kakashi sat, the lights in the building went out one by one.

He saw two men walking from the building in darkness, not bothering to light their way. They spoke in quiet voices; their conversation light and carefree.

Yet Kakashi recognized the men, he had seen them in the missions report room enough times. Izumo and Kotetsu, ironically enough he had seen them not too long ago in Tsunade’s office; Genma, Kotetsu and Izumo.

Landing with his typical subtlety behind the two men, Kakashi cleared his throat to get their attention. Izumo and Kotetsu tensed and turned to Kakashi. Both looked mildly wary but relaxed as they place the noise and recognised him for who he was.

Keeping the expression on his face completely uninterested, he smiled at the two men. “You guys have any plans tonight? Come drinking with me. I’m feeling the need for company? And no school tomorrow right?.”

Izumo and Kotetsu, seeing looked at each other and shrugged, followed the jounin toward the bar.

*

“You’ve ruined my plans. Ruined,” ruined, ruined, ruined….. “Can’t even punish the silver haired ninja, because you took him away, tsk,” not smart, already done this, “not smart, my friend. Now you have to pay twice for RUINING my plans.” Ruin, ruin, ruin, ruined, devastated, destroyed, wiped out, wrecked, ruined; he felt ruined. He was ruined.

“Now, now. No tears, that’s not at all shinobi-like of you.” Tears, crying, wimp ‘Ruka. Hahaha! “What is this? Bravery? How stupid.” Crack, SNAP! Pain, pain, think of something else. “Silly man, why do you even bother to resist? I’m not going to kill you, you are much too pretty for that.” Please, no, kill me, please, please, “Much, much too pretty and entertaining for that.” Hahaha!

Please kill me.

Throb.

Don’t think about it.

It’ll go away. It has to.

Don’t react; he’ll like it.

Throb.

Think about something else, somewhere else.

Escape.

Think about home.

The trees, and the birds, and the sunlight. “’Ruka! ‘Ruka! Come on, silly!”

“Wimpy ‘Ruka. Don’t worry about it. No one said you had to be the best. You’re good enough ‘Ruka, don’t cry, come on, shh,” ‘Ruka, ‘Ruka, baby boy, wimpy boy, good enough, not the best, don’t worry, not the best, come on ‘Ruka, baby boy.

Not that.

Something else.

Please kill me.

I am, and I am not. I exist and yet I leave nothing. Is that?

Teaching.

“Iruka-sensei, your hitai-ate is missing. What—“

“Naruto is borrowing it indefinitely. He’s earned it.”

“Iruka-sensei, you are a good teacher.”

“Iruka-sensei,”

“They are my students now, Iruka-sensei.”

“My students.”

“Only a teacher.”

“Not even a good teacher….”

Think of something else.

*

The bar was out of the way, it wasn’t one of the typical shinobi haunts. Almost everyone, minus two or three people, was civilian. Kakashi didn’t want to be overheard. And someone was bound to overhear; better it be someone who wouldn’t understand, or someone who wouldn’t know what to do with the information. It was more than loud enough to cover his questions, but still, just to be safe, shinobi are always safe.

Kakashi sat them at a table far enough from the bar to be private, yet close enough for it to be loud. A waitress sidled up, winked and flirted with each man in turn coaxing their drink orders from their lips. No food was ordered, and the girl walked to the bar to retrieve the drinks. Kotetsu and Izumo sat perfectly still on the same side of the table, Kakashi sat across, his stillness relaxed but just as absolute.

The waitress returned in short time, three glasses balanced on the tray, the sake bottle placed strategically between. Transferring all four objects to the table, making sure they held their pattern, she smiled, murmured a few pleasantries and moved to the next table.

Since Kotetsu and Izumo seemed to be avoiding making the first move, Kakashi reached across the table to take the mildly warm ceramic jar in hand. In turn, he poured the steaming sake into each of the three glasses. He set one before Kotetsu, one before Izumo, and Kakashi set the last down in front of himself. Though a bastard at times Kakashi refused to drink before his guests, however slightly unwilling they may be.

Kotetsu glanced at Izumo. After sharing a moment, both reached for their cups and relaxed into their seats. In well-hidden triumph, the jounin leaned forward, resting his elbows on the tabletop. The game was on.

“I was just wondering where Iruka’s gone. Haven’t seen him in a while, figured you guys were the ones to ask.”

Another exchanged glance, “No one knows for sure, Kakashi –sempai. He just transported out of class a week or so ago and hasn’t been back. Tsunade apparently knows where he is, but hasn’t bothered to share that piece of information.” Kotetsu looked a little put out.

“Ah….. Then, Iruka must not want it known; she’s not usually one for keeping secrets.” The silver haired man carefully watched both of their faces.

And learned nothing. They were apparently not hiding anything. Not that he could tell, and he usually could.

“I guess. He’s our friend though. And it must have been personal business, Hokage-sama would have told us if it were a mission. I just don’t know why Iruka couldn’t tell us what was going on himself. I mean, that stunt he pulled last week, the one with you, Kami, scared those poor kids half to death, and then to disappear like that on them again so soon. What was he thinking?”
Kotetsu was watching Izumo, who in turn was watching his cooling cup of sake.

Boisterous laughter two tables over broke him from his solemnity. All three turned to look. The loud group was drunkenly hauling themselves to their feet, their leader already unsteadily up and yelling music suggestions to the musicians in the corner.

When the attention at the table was again focused on the sake and the conversation, Kakashi urged, “The stunt with me, ne? What actually happened, I mean, really, too much of the road of life and you start to forget the details, right?” His head tilted to the side.

Kotetsu spoke, “Oh yeah, you’d been seriously injured on a mission. Here’s what happened. So, in the middle of the safety lecture Iruka was giving, poof, you face down on the floor, dead as far as anyone can tell. The kids got some of the neighboring teachers and we got you to the Hokage. No one had any idea where Iruka went, but next day, like nothing had happened, there he was.”

“Course he was acting a little sick or something. Not totally back to normal.” Izumo added.

“Kami yes, like someone had sucked the life out of him, but he wasn’t complaining,” Kotetsu continued. “Kids were already upset about it, and the man kept getting worse, but wouldn’t take a day off, nothing would convince him.”

“Then,” Izumo said, “couple of days ago, about the time you started getting better, poof, he’s gone again. No Kakashi in his place this time either. And he apparently wasn’t coming back. And the kids, they don’t know what to think. Hell, the other teachers don’t know what to think.”

“Iruka just up and left. I wonder what happened, he isn’t like that at all, you know.”

The noise from the impromptu karaoke group increased as their drunkenness did, but the silver haired man wasn’t listening. Iruka had taken his place. The drain written into the seal had been for a clone Iruka.

And he wasn’t coming back.

Kakashi nodded. He really wasn’t all that sure. Didn’t know the man that well, even though he did at least kind of know him.

It seemed to satisfy them both.

Kakashi wasn’t really sure how he managed it, but he excused himself. Left money on the table and told the two of them to have a good night.

He found himself outside. Wandering. He found himself in the forest. Leaning against a tree. Panting.

He was a bastard and he knew it. Shit. He had scoffed at Iruka’s incompetence, knowing the man was voluntarily dying in his place. Kakashi threw his fist violently into the tree. Over and over. Until the skin on his knuckles split. Over and over. Until there was blood on the tree.
Panting.

He never should have used that damn scroll. Should have refused to take it.

He should have died.

Damnit. Not again.

*

Throb.

Please let me die.

Please.

Chapter Text

“Three fucking months, Tsunade!”

“He’s dead, Kakashi. If they were keeping him alive, they would have sent a ransom.” Tsunade sat at her desk, face blank in her forced unconcern.

“I’m going after him anyway, and you can approve this as a mission or you can get out of my way because either way I leave in an hour. I’m refuse to do nothing.”

Tsunade growled and slammed the flat of her hand onto the surface of her desk in frustration. “Fine. You may go. But if you get yourself killed I will bring you back from the dead and kill you with my own two hands.”

“Fine, reconnaissance only.” Kakashi already had one leg out the window.

“If you find him you do not try and save him yourself, understood?” Sadness bled into the lines of her face as she continued, “If…. if you find him alive, I will give you what and who you need to bring him back. I swear.”

Hazel eyes met one slate gray one with a shared gravity. He nodded then leapt through the open window onto the roof and was gone.

“Use the door why don’t you. That’s what it’s there for.”

Three months of high tempers on both sides had frayed their cordial relationship. Iruka was too much an issue between the them for anything else. It made the friendship forced, difficult, strained. They each blamed themselves and both blamed each other other. Not perhaps that they truly thought the other was responsible, but they served as reminders to each other, the reminders of the person who was gone, dead. And no one else knew, though sooner or later Iruka’s death would have to be made official.

Iruka’s death weighed very heavily. Naruto was back and he wasn’t the least bit happy that his beloved father figure was missing. And he didn’t even know the half of it, Tsunade refused to tell him. After Naruto talked to Konohamaru, he had burst into the Hokage’s office demanding answers; unfortunately, the silver haired man and the blonde had been in a “discussion” of their own. Neither of them had been prepared for Naruto’s ire. Tsunade had immediately and visibly deflated, in contrast Kakashi had gone from feigned relaxation to outright tension. They had placated the boy with small lies about rogue nin, the same lies Tsunade had been feeding everyone else. But neither knew if the boy believed them or not. Naruto hadn’t remained on best terms with either of them, though he was much more capable of acting as if nothing much were wrong. Of course, Naruto probably wouldn’t blame either of them for Iruka’s disappearance, or his death. He wouldn’t have been happy that they had lied but the boy had a knack for being forgiving even in the worst of circumstances.

To make matters worse, for Kakashi, he was now learning more about Iruka than he had ever known and perhaps would have ever known. It was odd to know a man better in death than in life. He had learned that Iruka’s smile lit up a room, that every one of his friends missed his laugh. That his temper, though quick to light, died quickly. That the man didn’t hold grudges. Said exactly what he thought. He learned that Iruka was underappreciated. That most if not all, of the people in his life were beginning to find holes in their life that the chunnin had effortlessly filled.

Kakashi learned, that Iruka was beloved. His students waited for him even now. The young kids at the academy, Naruto, Sakura. He learned that Iruka was blunt and called other people on their shit. He learned that the man got his feelings hurt easily. He learned how much influence one kind person could have on everyone around them.

Kakashi learned that he could have loved Iruka.

If he was capable of such things, that is.

Kakashi rested his head against the memorial stone. I promise, he thought, I’ll do it right or I will die trying. The guilt would eat him alive anyway. The jounin knew he had been increasingly taciturn, withdrawn and sharp over the last few months since his recovery. He knew that something in him was broken. Perhaps it had been broken before he had even left for the damn mission. But now, all he had left was to see this too the end.

His death or Iruka’s life. And he was well aware of which it would be.

Standing, hands in pockets, he stared at the names engraved into the stone. So many names. Some part of him wished to end up on the stone, and yet he knew he shouldn’t. He had sacrificed nothing. Given nothing more than he wanted to give. He had always just done exactly as he pleased. If he ended up on this stone he felt like he would soil the actual sacrifices and the honor intended for the other fallen shinobi named here.

Truly it was hilarious, on the whole, excluding a few shinobi such as Naruto and the young shinobi, they were a fairly depressing and melancholic group. You learned quickly that shinobi, for all their powers were human. That you were human. It’s not that shinobi want to die any more than another person. There is a higher risk, yes. And yet, if a shinobi doesn’t die, you can’t help but think that maybe they haven’t done their job.

It was time to leave. Kakashi headed towards the gates, slinging his pack across his back. His arm still ached where it had been broken. It was healed and perhaps it was just a phantom thing, but it hurt. He could still feel it snapping. In fact, he could still hear the sound if he listened for it. Which it was not even close to the first time he had broken his arm, it was probably the twentieth.

The shinobi guards at the gate waved him out. Once in the tree’s he began leaping through them, quickly gaining speed. As much distance as possible, as quickly as possible.

And for the first time in three months he acknowledged what he was feeling. He had hope. Kakashi hoped that Iruka lived. He knew Tsunade hoped Iruka lived. It was dangerous. So very, very dangerous. Perhaps that was why he was broken. He had ended up with hope last time he had made this journey and it had ruined him just as surely as it had saved his life. Shinobi should not hope.

The sun, which hadn’t even reached it’s apex, was still soft and hadn’t yet harshened with afternoon. The world felt warm and calm. The day was beginning, people were up and out. Everyone went along as if it was just another day. It was. Chores to be done, jobs to work, school to attend. Life to be lived.

There was no rain. There was no storm. There was life and he was not a part of it.

*

Night was falling and he was close enough to the Land of Mist that the air was already dripping. That is to say it was raining. Kakashi need only travel to the Mizukage’s island tomorrow. Then he could find traces of Iruka and hopefully follow the man from there. He had no set plans, but this was a reconnaissance mission after all. Get in, get the information, get out, then decide what to do next. Or die in the process, if, when he found evidence of Iruka’s death.

Setting up a small inconspicuous camp, the jounin settled in for the night. He wanted to keep going. It wasn’t like he was going to sleep much, if at all, but he would learn more watching the people on the island than looking through documents. The people who were now most likely asleep. So he would wait.

They hadn’t sent a ransom, so there was no reason to believe there was any written record of Iruka’s existence or death. At most he would overhear a conversation about a prisoner. Or about the death of a prisoner. Luckily, if you could call it that and he didn’t, their switch, would make Iruka conspicuous and a curiosity, so it was likely that people would talk about it. Though it had been three months. So maybe not even that if he had been dead almost that long. Kakashi was still determined to try.

He closed his eye. A picture of Iruka’s face was before him. That had been happening a lot, every time he closed his eyes actually. Smiling, Iruka had smiled a lot. He had been angry a lot too. Iruka really had been an expressive person; his thoughts and feelings apparent on his face. It was at least part of why the man was so loved, it had to be. It was part of the reason why the jounin was so…. whatever he was about it. It was also probably why he was such a great teacher. His children could know him and love him, and he could love them in return. Iruka had been such a constant in Konoha, he was sorely missed.

Kakashi flinched. He couldn’t, wouldn’t forgive himself. He had just as surely killed him as if he had run through his heart with his own blade. And if by some miracle, he was alive, the man wouldn’t be the same, not for a long time, if ever again.

The jounin had knowledge, both his own experience and having watched others, of exactly what happened to a person who had been extensively tortured. He would have been tortured, his body potentially unrecognizable, and his mind certainly torn to tatters. For a man who was as warm and caring and emotive as Iruka, the effect would be devastating to every aspect of his life. Iruka would maybe never go back to teaching, unable to look at innocent children the way he had. His every interaction with people would be different. He most certainly wouldn’t trust anyone for a long time. He might not be able to love again.

And most crippling would be that everyone else would know. Iruka would have no way to hide it. He wouldn’t be able to fake being happy. Not for a long time. Every person in his life would be asking what had happened. Every person would know he was different. They would all miss the Iruka he had been. He would not be able to escape it.

Maybe it was better if he were dead.

Dead men remained beautiful in the minds of their loved ones. They didn’t destroy their own reputations and they didn’t disillusion those who loved them.

Perhaps though, Iruka could be different. Kakashi hoped he was. He hoped and hoped and hoped. And it was all tied to this single person, this one man he didn’t even really know. And what the fuck did that say about him?

He may have fallen asleep, maybe he was just lost in memories. Mental images of his father, Iruka, Naruto, Sakura, Sasuke, Tsunade, and Obito swam before his eyes. Others joined and moved across his subconscious. His memories and his guilt haunted him. He had no refuge even in his own thoughts, even in his own mind, even in sleep when he caught the elusive thing.

His guilt had become everything, all that he was, all that he could be. He was a slave to this beast that had its claws deep in his chest.

He had so much of it. Too much for one person. But as much as he wanted to let it go, he couldn’t. He wasn’t sure when exactly it had happened but he had begun to define himself with that guilt and if he lost it he wasn’t at all sure who he would be. Wasn’t sure he would be anyone or anything. His guilt was his everything, it really truly was. So he continued to gain more and more. Now, here he was deciding that he would just rather die than not be guilty. Kakashi didn’t know how not to be guilty. He wasn’t sure how other people just moved on. He couldn’t. He wasn’t sure he had ever been able to.

Suddenly alert and awake, the jonin sat very still. He didn’t know why, but he trusted his senses. Something was out there, something was setting his instincts on edge. But it was dark and it was raining, low visibility and he couldn't hear much. Slowly uncovering his sharingan he moved as little as possible, waiting for whatever had woken him to be revealed.

More than a hundred yards off, directly to his right, moving from the coast inland, was a person. The sharingan whirred. Kakashi wasn’t about to take chances. Not that the person was actually headed in his direction; the figure seemed to be clueless of his existence. Whoever it was, they looked like they had been through hell and back. Stumbling along and completely out of chakra, the man’s lips moved, muttering, apparently to himself.

Still.

Sharingan recovered, Kakashi took to the tree’s, heading toward the man, hoping to watch him from above. The man flinched as Kakashi drew closer, maybe he could sense Kakashi, and thinking this, Kakashi tightened his hold, masking his chakra completely.

The man never stopped moving slowly through the forest. He tripped and he stumble. At points he crawled, but never did he stop moving forward. The words he was muttering were muffled by the rain, the actual words didn’t carry but the tone certainly did. There was a distinct hysteria, that repetitive sound of someone crazy, saying the same thing again and again, whether to assure themselves or the imaginary people they saw. That alone had tension tightening already taught muscles across the jounin’s shoulders.

The closer the ex-ANBU came to the man, the easier it was to see that he wasn’t ordinary, if anything about the situation could be ordinary. The slow gait was due to wounds, the severity of which was hidden to Kakashi without revealing his sharingan a second time. Whoever he was, the man was emaciated, his clothes and body soiled and filthy and not just from the mud. There were layers of grime covering his face and hands and clothing, what was left of his clothing.

Pure curiosity led Kakashi to again activate his sharingan.

He stopped breathing.

Flinging himself to the ground, practically falling from the tree, the silver haired jounin landed before this emaciated man. Kakashi stared.

A scream fell from the man’s mouth, or would have if those filthy hands hadn’t promptly been shoved into the orifice to silence it. The man finally stopped moving, weaving on his feet. The eyes darted around in fear, looking for an escape, panicking, both. When Kakashi didn’t move, and nothing happened, the fear in his eyes finally began to fade. As it receded a new thought surfaced on the man’s face.

“’Kashi?” slack jawed surprise lined the broken and misshapen face of Umino Iruka.

The sharingan continued to scan the man. It was Iruka. It was.

Chapter Text

Rain.

Kakashi had really come to hate it. When it fell it was endless. While it fell it was disarming. After it fell it was gloomy. Before it fell it was ominous. During the rain, the world refused to be happy. The rain paused happiness inside cozy houses and around warm fires. Where the rain touched, the land cooled. When there was rain people stopped living, they decided instead to sit. Waiting out the rain. The thunder and the lightning, the forces of unseen gods, fighting unknown battles in an unidentifiable realm, rain disturbed the peace.

Humans, in an attempt to delude themselves and rewrite undeniable history have symbolized it. Rain is growth. Rain is renewal. Rain is life.

Rain is none of these things.

Water is growth; renewal; life.

Rain is the sadness of the world imposing on the lives of those who share her home. Watching rain is watching the world cry. Rain is misery. Rain is uncertainty in physical form.

Matted hair half covered Iruka’s gaunt face. His cheeks were sunken, his skin pale, a combination of malnourishment, torment, the dark and the rain. The questioning word that had left his chapped lips hung in the air, hung between them and neither of them seemed inclined to disturb the moment by speaking.

Then with a cruel wrenching of his features, as if remembering something horrid, Iruka spoke, “How are you—”. The words caught in his throat.

A low, drawn, sound slipped between parted lips, an anguished, wounded sound, and a refusal.

Then with sharp contrast, the despair turned to sharp rage. “Get away from me!” He lurched to the side, slipping in the soft ground beneath his feet.

“Fuck you! I’d almost made it!” A single palm slapped at the mud in an unconscious movement to regain balance.

“I was, I was this close. Damn you.” Tears mingled with rain and cut tracks through the dirt on Iruka’s cheeks.

Another ineffective shove at the ground did more harm than good, the man was on his feet but the uncoordinated chuunin would soon send himself into the mud he was struggling against. “I haven’t even left, have I? Of course not. It was just another half dream again. Shit.”

As the ground beneath his left foot moved, Iruka lost all semblance of remaining upright and pitched forward onto his knees.

Kakashi scanned the tear stained face, looking, seeing but not really believing. He was immobilized by his own uncertainty. The jonin was unsure of what to do next. He hadn’t thought to find him, had expected if anything to find a corpse. Not a moving, breathing… To say the former Academe teacher had shocked him would have been an understatement. The famous Copy-nin was frozen to the spot, even his infallible training unable to coax him into response.

“I don’t wanna go back. Please, please, please don’t make me go back. I’ll do anything, I’ll do anything, I promise. Whatever you want. Please, please just don’t make me go back.” Iruka pleaded. And continued to plead, unending, pathetically, offering anything and everything. No shame, no concern, just begging not to go back at any cost.

Kakashi took a step forward, almost without thinking, and the chunnin’s attention shifted back to him. Curiosity flitted across his wrecked face, halting his endless stream of requests, “Kashi? No, not Hatake-san, Hatake-san isn’t…. no, no, no!” Broken and once broken fingers twisted into matted hair, pulling, regardless of pain. The diminutive body curled forward in agony, physical, mental, emotional.

When all of his strength seemed to have fled, the man just sat back on his heels, face to the sky, arms falling to his sides. “It would be you again. It always comes back to you. They know it works the best.” He spoke to himself now, just quietly, almost drowned out by the soft falling of the rain.

The rain that just continued to fall, regardless of what happened here. Just a steady shower, unrelenting and uncaring.

And still Kakashi did not speak. Did not know what he would say even if he found his voice.

“I’ll do anything, ok?” the tears continued to fall. “Please, please don’t make it hurt…. I won’t fight, promise. Ok? Please?” Shaking hands reached for Kakashi, found his hips, fisted his clothing to pull him forward.

Kakashi stepped back quickly, not at all sure what was happening, still in shock, with some instinct forcing a slight, if ineffective, retreat. Iruka, with his death grip to the jounin’s pants, tipped forward. His whole body landing in the mud of the forest floor.

Iruka jerkily pulled himself back to his knees. He swayed gently as if his body were only moments from complete collapse. He was. The dark head lifted and confused brown eyes met Kakashi’s mismatched ones. The eyes pleaded with him.

With care he didn't know he still had, the silver haired man reached out to help him.

The outreached hand was slapped away. “Don’t touch me. Don’t you dare touch me!” Kakashi looked back and forth between his still outstretched hand and Iruka with his refound anger. His own anger finally started to rise in response, finally clearing his head of the fog that had taken control of him.

Iruka met Kakashi’s eyes. His chocolate brown eyes darkened to black in uncontrollable rage. “YOU!!! How dare you!?!” the words tore from an already abused throat. “Fuck! I’m not yours! I’m not your plaything! You, you…. sick godforsaken fuck!”

With his own frustration at the forefront, the jounin gripped the man’s shoulders, pushing and holding, and as expected, the crazy wasn’t much affected.

“Don’t touch me!”

The man flailed against the hands holding him. And despite his harsh words and evident anger, not once did Iruka actually try to attach the jounin. Just that one little moment of defense. Kakashi wasn’t sure why, it didn’t really make sense, what with how much anger was actually aimed at him. But the desperation was getting worse with each passing moment. Most probably headed toward some other violent shift in mood.

The abrupt switches in mood was probably a combination of Iruka’s own, slightly volatile personality and the extreme mental duress. But again, the brunet’s anger vanished, replaced by the most disconcerting thing Kakashi had seen so far.

Blankness swept over his features. Something he had never seen on the man’s face. No emotion, no expression. Just… nothing. None of what made Iruka, Iruka, was still there. Kakashi knelt, hands on Iruka’s shoulders practically holding him upright now. Some part of him wanting to shake the chuunin until he returned to normal, to do something, anything to help.

With the last of his energy the chunnin forced his exhausted muscles to move once more, head tilting and meeting the jounin’s eyes.

“Would you kill me?”

Kakashi released him.

Suddenly, almost a push. Those were words that even now, given all the givens, Kakashi had never expected to hear from this man.

No emotion on the mud covered face before him, the chuunin just continued to sway on his knees.

Iruka’s eyes rolled back and he fell bodily into Kakashi’s chest, unconscious.

*

Reaching for the limp arm beside the body of the man, Kakashi half expected another outburst, but there was none. Iruka didn’t so much as flinch, blink or give any indication he knew what happened to him.

Mud splattered the silver haired man as he hoisted the brunet off the ground and threw him across his own back. Iruka ought to have weighed more, but understandably he didn’t. Kakashi was only just beginning to catch glimpses of the hell in which Iruka had lived.

Maybe later he would understand; maybe later he could talk to Iruka. But first things first, both men needed out of the rain, both needed dry clothes and both needed to be back in Fire country sooner rather than later. Kakashi didn’t want ninja coming after him or Iruka. So, the man took to the trees, his companion balanced securely on his shoulders.

When the sun was beginning to rise, the tip cresting the horizon and flooding the forest’s clearings with light. Stopping in one such clearing Kakashi laid the brunet against a tree. They weren’t completely safe, and wouldn't be until they made it to Konoha but at least now they were within the borders of their own country.

No, not even then. The man looked haunted, even in exhausted sleep. The clearing where they had stopped was only feet from the bank of a small stream. Undressing both himself and the doll like body of the once vibrant teacher, Kakashi threw Iruka’s arm over his shoulders and dragged the man to the edge of the water.

The cold water shocked a response from the teacher, his eyelids fluttered open and he washed the dirt from his body habitually without even glancing at the silver haired man or his surroundings. Then, with the same abruptness the light in the man’s eyes flickered out and Iruka collapsed, sinking to the rocky shore. His body was once again as lifeless as his eyes.

Without saying a word, the jonin washed both their clothes after propping Iruka against a tree a few feet from the shore. Without much interference, Kakashi doubted anything could truly wake the man.

Kakashi pretended to not notice the old and new bruises, the fresh and healing and infected cuts and the very visible ribs. Poor man. Still he kept his mouth closed. Dressed in his own newly clean and wet clothes Kakashi mover from the bank to the grassy clearing where the brunet waited. He redressed Iruka in his no-longer-so-filthy-but-very-wet clothing, knowing that the sunlight would dry him out soon enough.

Kakashi dropped to his haunches before the teacher. Their faces were only a few inches apart; Iruka flinched with some internal nightmare. A gloved hand rested lightly the brunet’s cheek but with no response. Whatever was happening in that mind, whatever had happened to the man, but there was no sound, just an occasional twitching movement. Shaking his head Kakashi moved away.

After a few minutes spent stretching and resting he walked back to the sitting man. He knew they really needed to get moving. But Kakashi wanted a few more minutes with the man alone. He wasn’t even sure why, but he felt he needed it. Him and Iruka.

So he sat down to wait. For now.

Iruka’s eyes met Kakashi’s and what appeared to be sanity returned. It had taken Kakashi pushing his chakra into the man’s body. It wasn’t the most pleasant way to wake. And the jounin knew he should feel bad for pushing it so far and not just leaving the man to sleep.

When brown eyes finally cleared of confusion, thoughts seeming to fall into place and surroundings coming into some semblance of understanding, Iruka met Kakashi’s eyes.

“Kakashi,” Iruka raised his hand to Kakashi’s face, “it’s nice to see you again. You aren’t wounded are you? They do so love their punishments.” The hand played gently with his mask but made no effort to remove it so Kakashi made no effort to stop him. He’d let this play out, he was bound to learn something this way. He didn’t respond.

“How’d we get here? This is another one of their tricks, I know it.” Iruka leaned in conspiratorially, “You’d think that they’d stop trying, we’ve got them all figured out now.” Strangely enough, the man was smirking

Kakashi raised eyebrows, either Iruka was still very much confused or he was responding to a very different kind of situation than the reality. A gentle smile now graced Iruka’s chapped and bleeding lips. “So handsome. When it’s you I don’t mind so much, you know? It’s better than—“Iruka suddenly flipped the jounin’s hitai-ate off his face.

Kakashi swiftly moved away, senses moving quickly to high alert despite being in Fire country and being completely alone with Iruka. His sharingan whirred to life and studied the chuunin. The man surprised him again.

Where seconds before, the brunet had been cute and accommodating, now he was adversely hard and watchful. The suspicion rolled off the small frame. A mocking grin spread across his face, “So original. Third times the charm, right?” He chuckled. “It hasn’t worked has it? I was sent for a reason, yes?” He muttered to himself, “Looks real, but the fake has one. Trick, trick trick…” He trailed off. Eyes downcast.

Iruka was certainly playing with an altered deck of cards at this point. Whatever had happened, mentally Iruka was straddling the line of reality and memory, with perhaps some insanity thrown in for good measure.

His dark eyes flicked up, “I’m not gonna crack. Kill me or let me go.” Iruka sighed, “Not that you will. How long this time?” Time, time, time, time. “Time, time, time. So much time. Never enough time.”

“Thirsty. So thirsty.” Silly ‘Ruka. “Always thirsty.” Iruka’s eyes had lost focus, and then they latched on to Kakashi once more. “You have water for me, don’t you? They always send water with you. Maybe that’s why I like you better than the others.” A giggle.

His brow creased, eyes again turning inward, “All the same, all of them, dead, gone, captured, fake. Not real. All of them, the same….. Thirsty.” Pleading eyes looked to Kakashi. “You have water for me right? I need water. Please,” he begged. “I NEED water. It’s so hot. Isn’t it hot?”

Iruka’s eyes scanned the clearing, the grass, the flowers, the trees, and he asked again, “Water?”

Ever so slowly Kakashi pointed and spoke breaking his silence, “There’s a stream there, and the water is clean enough.” Moving like a drunk, Iruka lunged through the trees, the jonin followed. Seeing the man’s desperation, Kakashi wanted nothing more than to ease his suffering, not that he could. Maybe the water would help.

“Water, water, water, water,” the litany, however short, became a sing song ditty. Iruka swayed as he said the word again and again. “Water, water…” Without pause Iruka walked straight in. When the water reached mid-calf he knelt and brought his water filled hands to his mouth.

The Copy-nin stood by watching. Not that there was much else to do unless he was planning to knock the man unconscious and continue the journey now. No, wait a bit longer.

A mouthful of water sprayed across the rocks. Iruka looked irate, “That isn’t water. It's poison. I’m not going to drink poison.” He turned back to Kakashi.

“Why? I thought you liked me?” he yelled with clenched fists and filling eyes. Tears streamed down his face. “I thought we were friends! I HATE YOU!”

“Fuck! So thirsty.” He paced irritably beside the stream. “Of COURSE they would use you to poison me again. They love their mind games don’t they?”

“Well fuck you all!” He yelled toward the sky, and in some hilariously real cliche lifted his fists and shook them.

“Leave and take that shit with you!” Iruka waved Kakashi away dismissively. The pacing continued, speeding up with each turn. The man was frantic.

“Iruka,” the silver haired man attempted to get the other man’s attention. “Iruka? Iruka! IRUKA!” The brunet turned at the loud voice. “The water isn’t poisoned, drink some.”

The passably clean haired head shook back and forth in denial. “Poisoned. But I’m so thirsty. So thirsty.” The chuunin’s eyes clouded, closed.

Opening his eyes Iruka blinked up at Kakashi, “I like you. You bring me water. Do you have some? I’m so very thirsty. I just… just… need water. That water,” he gestured to the stream, “is bad. Don’t drink it. Please, please, please!”

Apparently they had gotten stuck in a loop. One Kakashi wasn’t particularly inclined to repeat.

Iruka fell to his knees. “I’m so thirsty! I’ll do anything if you give me water. You have water, right? You have to have water.” A quick hand shot out and grabbed Kakashi by the pants for the second time in the last twenty-four hours.

Iruka made quick work of the snap at the front of his pants. Kakashi easily jerked himself out of Iruka’s grasp. Iruka almost stumbled and fell face first again, but he caught and righted himself.

Quickly re-doing his pants Kakashi, sharingan eye still uncovered, stared intently at Iruka for the hundredth time. Nothing was noticeably different and yet, the man was no longer the man Kakashi had once met. Many small physical changes and wounds that did not add up to what he was seeing or what he was hearing. Perhaps he himself could figure out exactly what had happened but in doing so would most certainly cause more damage.

That was it then. If nothing else Kakashi knew that the best bet would be to get him to Tsunade.

After trying once more to get Iruka to drink the water he was so desperate for and failing, Kakashi finally knocked the hysterical chuunin unconscious; he began the last leg of his journey home, chuunin firmly in place.

Chapter Text

Guilt kept Kakashi at Iruka’s side. He had plenty of other things to be doing and sometimes he even did them. Yet, here he still found himself, lounging in what ought to be an uncomfortable window sill. The window of a hospital, no less.

Honestly, Kakashi felt haunted, not that he was likely to admit that out loud. The interactions with Iruka on the journey back to Konoha were burned into his mind, figuratively and completely literally where the sharingan was concerned. Kakashi wasn’t new to seeing the victims of torture, had in fact, seen his fair share over the years. There may have even been a time or two when he would have been considered such a victim himself. Most of Kakashi’s friends and acquaintances had fallen prey to torture either physical or mental, self-inflicted or stemming from an outside source. Arguably, this wasn’t the worst aftermath he had been witness too, nor was it the first time he had felt responsible for the destruction. Point being, Kakashi knew torture and he knew it’s victims. Nonetheless, Iruka still managed to haunt him.

He wanted more than anything to say it was just guilt, but that too would be a lie. He had dealt with guilt many times before. Which did not make it easy but it did make it more manageable. But if that were true, he would have been able to walk away from this room. Kakashi had walked away before. Looking those people in the eye again had been practically impossible, but he had gotten over those ruined friendships and had learned to move on. And still, here, he could not walk away. So there had to be something else. Kakashi just wasn’t sure what.

The thought had, of course, occurred to him, that it was not Iruka that was so much different, but that instead it was Kakashi who had changed. And if that were the case he had no idea how to handle this change within himself. So, he continued to sit and wait and watch.

Which brought him back to the hallucinations or waking nightmares the other man was suffering.

The few days he had been in the hospital, Iruka had been completely sedated. It had been rather calming to see him resting peacefully and to see Iruka’s body heal; certainly more peaceful than watching this level of mental anguish.

Iruka and Kakashi had known each other, knew of each other, but they certainly wouldn’t have been considered friends. They really weren’t even friendly, Kakashi just enjoyed pissing the man off periodically and Iruka reacted wonderfully. Which made Kakashi an ass but that was nothing new.

So why, why would Iruka have hallucinated about him? Certainly more than once, and his name was still periodically murmured by the chuunin. Given the former situation, the jounin knew it was just as likely that someone had used his visage, or the chuunin’s own memories against him. The confounding bit was that Kakashi, for all his intelligence could not fathom why he himself would have been used to such apparent effect. Perhaps it was because he was a well known Konoha nin or because he had been the one replaced or both. That would make the most sense. It was probably even the case, but he could not let it go. Instinct told him that wasn’t the full answer.

In the hallway, he could just hear a murmured conversation between two nurses about a patient a few doors down. The grew softer as the speakers moved further and further away. The hall was outside was still, this portion of the hospital rather quieter than the rest of the building, a long term wing with non-critical patients.

Not to mention, Kakashi was still mentally struggling with the simple fact that Iruka, a school teacher and a chuunin, had been substituted for him. He knew there was a reason, not knowing the reason niggled at his brain. Which he wasn’t trying to be an asshole about Iruka’s job or rank, he really wasn’t. The jounin had experience with how the world worked and he knew that he only had half of the pieces for this puzzle. And Kakashi did not like leaving a puzzle unsolved.

Kakashi could now faintly hear Tsunade talking outside the room, she moved down the hall accompanied by two other people.

The Hokage spoke with a nurse, dictating the basic care that the teacher would need for the time being. The same nurse who had been caring for Iruka all week, yet Tsunade herself continued to come by and personally deliver instructions, even when those instructions hadn’t changed. Kakashi could hear the sound of the nurse’s shoes as she walked away. The other two people stopped just outside the open door.

“Ibiki.” Clearly the other person accompanying the Hokage, and not at all the person Kakashi expected to be there. Ibiki was known for torture, sure, but giving it, not helping with the recovery. Except, all that experience had taught him a trick or two. A few of which Kakashi was familiar.

“Hokage-sama.” The man’s deeper voice less clear than his companions.

“Did you find anyone who was willing?”

“Of course. The problem isn’t so much finding people who can and will help but finding enough, given that we will probably have to split the procedure between at least three people each time.”

The jonin still balanced on the window frame, heard the shift in weight as the two people moved through the open door. Kakashi debated leaving, the curtain separating the two halves of the room giving him ample time to leave if he wished, but decided against it.

Tsunade pushed back the curtain, Ibiki’s face visible just over her shoulder. No true surprise showed on either of their faces. “Kakashi, why are you here?”

Blinking at both older shinobi, the silver haired man carefully shrugged, saying, “ Figured I’d come say hi.”

Still no shock on their faces, they were used to peculiar ninja, and both used to him in particular

“I can’t say for sure that I overheard your conversation. I also might not know what it was about. But what I do know from,” he waved a hand, “other sources, is that you’ll be wanting to store Iruka’s memories. And well, I may not be good at any of the doctoring but I should be able to handle that.” Kakashi was more than capable of mentally handling torture; he had been part of the very same procedure they were planning now. It made him a great candidate and he knew it, he already had the experience and Ibiki knew he had handled the ordeal well, or as well as could be expected. The first time Kakashi had volunteered to take someone else’s memories it had been a very similar situation. Torture by proxy was much easier to handle. It didn’t wound you like the real thing.

Ibiki was, in basic terms, going to reach into Iruka’s head, pull out his memories of the last month or so and transfer them into another mind so the memories could be analyzed. With someone as mentally unstable as Iruka it was necessary. Clearly, Iruka could not give them the information. Only in the worst cases was brought Ibiki requested. Iruka was much loved in Konoha. Therefore, much would be sacrificed for the man. Men would willingly accept torture to help him.

Ibiki studied Kakashi, and Tsunade studied Ibiki. Apparently if Ibiki said he could, Kakashi would be one of the people to whom he transferred the memories.

Before Ibiki could even finish deciding, Kakashi added, “All of them. I want to take all of them.” Which was of course, not at all recommended.

Both of the gazes on him sharpened, looking at him for reasons, or perhaps testing him for something, he wasn’t sure. What he was very sure about was being the person to take Iruka’s memories. For his own sake, and for Iruka’s.

Unexpectedly Ibiki nodded. Tsunade seemed willing enough to still follow his lead. “Fine. But only a portion at a time. And if or when you get overwhelmed I will bring in others. I don’t need two absolutely useless shinobi on my hands.”

Kakashi dropped to the tiled floor from the sill and moved slowly toward the head of the bed, eye still focused on Iruka, and placed himself leaning against the wall the headboard touched. Given that he seemed content to wait, Tsunade and Ibiki both left to gather whatever they each required.

Returning, Ibiki moved to the head of Iruka’s bed. It was only moments until Tsunade also reappeared. Whatever they had brought back with them wasn’t readily visible, and was actually far more likely to have been nothing more than a reason to leave the room for a conversation between the two.

Ibiki laid a hand on the chuunin’s forehead. Kakashi placed himself in the chair by the bedside. Reaching the his other hand across to Kakashi, deft fingers pushed the hitai-ate out of the way. Ibiki’s fingers met Kakashi’s forehead.

 

Mismatched eyes flickered closed. The tug of memories pulled at his mind. Slowly, the jounin slid his own thoughts into the first memory. Another person’s memories felt like a dream, realistic and yet not real. It wasn’t that it hadn’t happened, it had; but it these memories weren’t Kakashi’s, therefore they were not his reality. It was Iruka’s.

The memory was disjointed, like memories tend to be, like dreams tend to be. It made sense as a whole, for the most part, but details and nuances of were hazy.

Through Iruka’s eyes, Kakashi saw Tsunade enter the prison like room. He saw the long needle and the syringe she held. The pinch in his arm was muted but persistent, the euphoria that slid through his veins moments later felt all too real. The lightheadedness, the unreasonable thrill, and suddenly, the jounin was living in the moment, living in the memory, not just watching.

The light pain that had been nagging at the teacher’s ravished body faded as the pain killers soaked in. The lethargy and contentment tugged at Iruka’s tan lips. Tsunade smirked back. And to his mortification Iruka, and subsequently Kakashi, felt a rush of heat flow to his groin. An abnormal amount of heat, their minds noticed. Not typical arousal, but rather an all-consuming drug induced hard-on that would take a serious toll on his body.

Strapped to the table, Kakashi, Iruka, couldn’t move. The heat threaded through his hips, into his legs and his abdomen and moved higher. Body straining, arching his back, thrusting his hips, Kakashi sought something, a release of some kind. Anything.

Tsunade complied. The blonde reached straight for his straining dick, an easy task seeing as he wasn’t clothed. Without lubricant, she roughly stroked her hand up and down his length. Unconsciously, his hips moved with her, found the rhythm of her hand and followed. Strangely, as the speed increased, his body slowed until he could no longer move. At all.

A potent mix of drugs, pain killer, aphrodisiac and a nerve inhibitor; get him high and happy, get him hot and hard, make him bothered, incapable and unable to move. It wasn’t until twenty minutes later that Iruka realized his raging hard on wouldn’t deflate, that he would not be able to come, until the last and most torturous of the drugs was out of his system.

Kakashi mentally jerked as he felt the memories swirl around him. He saw repeat scenarios; Tsunade had come to Iruka’s prison cell many times. Every time she brought the same almost lethal dose of medications.

The memories settled and Iruka, Kakashi, focused on the naked bouncing blonde atop him. Eyes closed in ecstasy she moved off of his prone form. A click at the door drew their attention. Sakura entered. Memories flickered, this too had happened multiple times. The pink haired girl also carried a syringe, much smaller than the one the blonde had brought. Tsunade nodded to the girl and the smaller woman approached the bed almost shyly.

The jab of the needle was nothing, but the hot liquid that seared his veins would have left him thrashing and screaming if he’d been able. Pain, pleasure, arousal and all the while incapacitated; torture, more literally conditioning and brainwashing, the synonymy of pain and pleasure coupled with complete submission. A dose of involuntary masochistic training.

Kakashi’s real body jerked and the real Tsunade, back in the real hospital room quickly checked his health. Slightly elevated breathing and heart rate, nothing unusual: receiving a nod, the scarred man returned his concentration to the two unconscious men.

The moment the pain faded, hours and hours and hours later, his still erect penis was finally allowed to rest. Cuming silently, Iruka sighed and slipped into a fitful sleep.

Kakashi could not hear or think what Iruka thought in these memories, but he could feel Iruka’s emotions, the gist of the emotions at least. The silver haired man slipped from the relief tinged end of the first memory and melded his consciousness into a second disgust filled one.

 

The immediate horror that met his eyes slammed him directly into the physicality of this new memory. Tied spread eagle on the same table in the same room as before, chocolate brown eyes stared at the face of Orochimaru.

The cat-like eyes stared back gleefully, the mouth gaping, smiling. And the infamous snake tongue, the tongue, was hanging down, disappearing from view.

The raven head was settled between his thighs, a cock, his cock, was looped by multiple metal rings and the soon-to-be-familiar feeling of aphrodisiac had his length standing at attention. Shivering in revulsion and fear, Kakashi, Iruka focused again on the purple tongue extending from the evil man’s mouth.

Kakashi could feel the mess of negative and disgusted feelings roiling in Iruka and the strength of these feelings made him hesitate before going through the mental check of Iruka’s body.

Starting at the head and moving down, he felt the pale hand in his loose hair and saw the distorted arm beside him. The freak and his practically elastic body, making everything extra weird. Noticing his perusal, Orochimaru smirked wider.

Yank.

The movement brought awareness to his body.

“You have soft hair, you know?” Yank.

That tongue. It was, it was….INSIDE HIM….. H-how………FAR?

“Truly it is so luxurious and thick.” His stomach felt full, stretched.

He felt a nudge at the base of his throat.

Yank. “Pretty pretty hair.” The words were all clear, almost echoing in his mind despite those same words forming around that extended tongue.

Each word sent vibrations into Iruka, into Kakashi. There was no way to ignore what was happening. Every inch of him had been invaded.

His mouth opened involuntarily and the scream rising in his throat was cut off.

Iruka, Kakashi, locked eyes with Orochimaru and at that same moment Kakashi felt a light lick across his upper lip. Orochimaru hadn’t moved except to grin around his protruding tongue.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.” Yank.

Iruka screamed.

Kakashi screamed.

Memories flooded their minds. Flashed through Kakashi’s mind as Iruka relived every moment.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.” Tsunade, naked and smiling softly, in the cell.

FLASH.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.” Sakura was smiling her child-like smile and snuggling up to him, in the cell.

FLASH.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.” Cold eyes, dark black eyes, red eyes, sharingan eyes, drilled him.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.” Itachi moved to the door replacing his…..in the cell.

FLASH.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.” Kisami’s shark teeth gnashing, sandpaper skin stripping Iruka’s skin from his body with every movement. Iruka was still locked in the cell.

FLASH.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.” Kotetsu and Izumo together laid hands on his arms, in a hospital bed in Konoha.

FLASH.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.” Naruto with fox eyes, his fire-temperature skin burning Iruka. The smell of burning filling the cell as Naruto moved, thrusting above Kakashi, Iruka.

FLASH.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.” The blonde Akatsuki stroked his head; the two dark haired ones in the back looked on stoically, in the prison cell.

FLASH.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.” Genma laughed and ruffled his hair, spilling it into his eyes. They were just passing in the Leaf village school.

FLASH.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.” Orochimaru.

FLASH.

“You have beautiful hair, chuunin.”

Kakashi was staring at himself. Staring at a naked version of himself. A version of himself which had just told Iruka, and the visiting Kakashi, that he had beautiful hair. Why? They were clearly still in the cell. Iruka’s body was still strapped to the table. The Kakashi he was seeing was a damn good imitation.

The imitation Kakashi reached one had under Iruka and wrapped his other fist around the chuunin’s growing erection. No drugs this time.

The chuunin squirmed, but in pleasure.

“You’ll be a good boy, right?”

Kakashi felt the stretch of Iruka’s lower body as the imitation Kakashi rocked forward. The incessant push continued until the standing man was fully seated within the pliant body beneath him. Panting lightly both men rocked into each other.

“I’ll bring water next time too. You have to drink it. And you have to listen to these people. Please believe me Iruka-sensei. Listen to me and I’ll get you out of here in one piece. I promise.” Kakashi thrust brutally into Iruka.

Again and again and again and again.

Iruka screamed, for the first time in a long time, in true pleasure.

Imitation Kakashi smiled.

“Beautiful hair, chuunin. Pretty, pretty hair.

And the memories, the excessive rapes, the kindness and the pain, the cruelty and the pleasure began to replay in their minds.

FLASH.

Iruka screamed.

Kakashi screamed.

Swaying, Kakashi braced himself, trying to regain even a small amount of his confidence and composure. Even as an elite ninja, he wasn’t used to feeling this unclean. He felt dirty, filthy. Iruka’s emotions were still greatly affecting his own, and even so, the silver haired jounin knew the revulsion he felt, the uncleanliness, wasn’t completely the result of the other man’s influence.

Running purely on instinct, Kakashi pulled a kunai from its place on his leg and set it down by the pillow on Iruka’s hospital bed.

When both supposedly unconscious men jerked awake, screaming in pain, Ibiki and Tsunade had met eyes and decided to let the situation play out. It wasn’t an uncommon reaction to the justu, despite being rather hard to watch. These were both strong men, each strong in his own way.

Though both men stopped screaming almost immediate, neither was composed and the identical looks of confusion and horror, caused both other shinobi a little concern and increasing tension. But still they waited to see what would happen.

Kakashi leaned back in the chair beside Iruka’s hospital bed. Iruka leaned back in his bed and slid his hands through his hair, gathering it into one hand as a ponytail at the back of his neck. His other had fell back to the bed and with his shinobi reflexes and precision, moved the kunai up and through his hair.

Iruka’s eyes met Kakashi’s.

The silent echo in the room yelled at both men, haunting them. Pretty hair. Beautiful hair. Pretty… pretty……beautiful, so beautiful…….You have beautiful hair, chuunin.

Iruka’s hair fell like a silky, oily rain. Between his fingers and onto the sheets, his dark hair fell and scattered in an invisible wind.

Pulling a second kunai from the row strapped to his thigh, Kakashi grabbed a fistful of his own silver hair, shorted than Iruka’s he could not pull it all together. But still, with most of it in his grip, he raised the sharp edged blade up.

Kakashi stayed paused with the kunai to his hair. The one gray eye still locked with the tormented chocolate eyes. The kunai lowered and the gaze of the other man followed the slow, deliberate movement.

Tsunade and Ibiki moved to disarm the chuunin, soothe him, and clean up the new disaster he had created.

The dark brown eyes slid once more up, and looked at Kakashi. The fear and revulsion that filled the once vibrant man was his fault. Apparently in more ways than one.

Seeing that Iruka was rather calm and not inclined to move, Tsunade and Ibiki glanced at Kakashi just in time to see the usually cold jounin slice off most of his hair with a kunai.

Something within Iruka relaxed and a look of relative peace entered his face. For the first time in a long time, Iruka slept and it was true sleep.

Kakashi sighed, If this helps, he looked at the course silver strands of his own hair slipping from between his fingers, then that is worth the price.

He clenched his fist. It had to be worth the price.

Chapter Text

Apparently, hair was important to everyone. People commented on his “change in style”, some implying that it was a welcome change and others clearly hinting that it had been a mistake. But everyone certainly commented. He had looked practically the same for ten, fifteen years now, and even before that his style had never wavered. It wasn’t something he had consciously done, but was rather a byproduct of his laziness and disregard to his looks. With maybe a bit of self-disgust thrown into the mix.

Kakashi would have rather had no one mention his hair, not because he cared about being the topic of conversation but because for just a few minutes somedays, he could forget about the life he had helped ruin, about the man wasting away in a hospital bed, but every time someone brought up his hair he was forced to remember why it was he had taken his own blade to it.

And he truly couldn’t blame anyone other than himself. And Tsunade. And maybe even Iruka. But he also knew that blaming Tsunade was a waste of time, she had made hundreds of such decisions before and would continue to make similar decisions as time continued. She had an entire village to consider. And blaming Iruka was selfish. He had chosen to go, according to Tsunade, and that had been his choice to make but it didn’t make what had happened to him his fault. He was a victim.

So Kakashi continued to blame himself. He had made a choice that had ruined, was ruining a man’s life. He had seen, even as he completed the jutsu on the scroll that he was substituting someone else into his place. True, he had forgotten, willfully even, the choice he had made in those few crucial moments. He had known what horror he had sent someone too. Kakashi had been selfish in those moments, not afraid of death maybe, but afraid and had chosen to let someone else carry that pain instead of him.

It wasn’t even the first time he had chosen to send someone into a situation full of torment. But this time, he felt it, in a way he hadn’t even been sure he could still feel. Which was why he couldn’t leave Iruka alone. It was why he couldn’t forgive himself and it was why he would keep his hair shorter.

And it was why, every day, he went to watch the emaciated, wounded body of a once vibrant man die a little more.

Because it was worth the price.

*

Some part of Iruka’s brain recognized he wasn’t normal. That he wasn’t “Iruka” anymore. But despite that feeling he felt like “Iruka” for the first time since he had disappeared from Konoha. He wasn’t the same, but maybe just for a few minutes he could pretend that he was.

Still he couldn’t pretend long given that his hands, his arms, every part of his body that he could see looked nothing like he remembered. It didn’t feel like the body he had grown up with, it didn’t feel like it belonged to him. If he thought about it too much he always started to think that maybe it wasn’t really his body, that he had somehow ended up in another. But when he looked in the mirror he saw enough of his old self that he knew it was his, and not another’s.

He could see his eyes, his bones, his mouth. He recognized himself, in a way that probably had less to do with his appearance and more to do with instinct. Because as much as he did recognize, there was so much that had changed. The person behind his eyes what different, so the expressions both in his eyes and on his face no longer matched who he used to be. His skin had lost all of its youth and color, it was now pale, sickly, and hung from his bones like it was barely attached.

But what was behind his eyes, what was in his head was a change so drastic he didn’t even know what to feel about it. There was anger, and sadness, and fear. But they were distant as if there was a wall between them and him, and they were muffled as if he had cotton in his ears.

When he looked at himself, he knew he should feel something, but he didn’t. When he thought about what he had become he knew he should feel something, but he didn’t. The little he did feel was from those first days, those first weeks. And he had trapped those feelings in a box way down inside.

A box he could not touch, could not open.

A box that he could not keep closed when he slept.

He woke screaming with emotions he couldn’t control only to feel the emotions and the few memories that did surface slip from his grasp and disappear, like holding smoke.

Logically he knew he was ill, that this was very wrong, but he couldn’t feel that it was truly a problem. He wasn’t bothered by it. Maybe even preferred it, if he were honest with himself. It was easier after all.

The days came and went, sometimes in dragging, slow minutes and other times in rushing hours and flashes. He remembered people coming to see him, the nurses most frequently, Tsunade regularly, and occasionally Ibiki and Kakashi. Ibiki made sense, in a roundabout sort of way. A man that good at fucking up someone’s mind probably knew best how to deal with the aftermath. Why Kakashi came, Iruka didn’t know, and had felt so unsettled when he thought about it, he had chosen instead to ignore the idea all together. Dealing instead with what was current, what was present.

Ibiki and Kakashi always came together. Tsunade sometimes came with and sometimes a nurse came instead, but there were always three of them. They came every three days or rather they had twice. So today was another three days and Iruka expected to see them in his room sooner or later.

He never really remembered what happened when they came. The first time he had slept until the next day. The second time he had not, but had instead been so erratic he had been drugged instead. They were doing something, clearly, and it had to do with what had happened to him. The torture and the rape. He knew that much just from looking at himself, from what he could feel. He still wasn’t sure if he hoped what they did helped or if he would rather that they just stopped altogether and let him be.

Ah, they were here. He settled himself back into the hospital bed and looked at them as they entered. Tsunade looked concerned, but in a resigned or maybe a reserved way. Ibiki looked like Ibiki, his face a solemn mask. His eyes moved and landed on Kakashi. The man looked the same as he always had, except different in some way. Iruka was not afraid and yet some part of him reacted with such revulsion that he was shocked, and yet still even more strangely he was glad to see the man, or as close to glad as his current emotionally barren self could get.

The one dark eye held with Iruka’s, another face that was so commonly masked behind indifference, but this time Iruka thought he saw more, he thought maybe he saw regret and something so powerful Iruka did not know what it was. But he saw, nonetheless that Kakashi was perhaps just as ruined as he felt.

And some new cruel part of Iruka was pleased.

*

He wasn’t at all sure why he had done it. The situation in which he found himself now, certainly couldn’t have been the result he had wanted. But somehow, he had been unable to stop himself reaching for the man as he had gone to leave, following Tsunade and Ibiki out of the room. Nevertheless, Kakashi had halted, turned back, surprised to look at him where he lay in the hospital bed.

Now they sat, Iruka on the bed, legs dangling from the side, and Kakashi in the chair he normally occupied while in the room, a chair very near the head of Iruka’s bed.

They were also silent. Not that Iruka preferred that, but rather he had opened his mouth to speak, multiple times and had been unable to say anything, the words unformed. Hell, he had stopped the man and hadn’t even formed a question yet. But something still pushed him to this. He needed to talk to the man. He needed to talk to Kakashi.

Kakashi looked like there was more than a few things he wanted to say as well but that those words were just as stuck, or perhaps he was fighting the words he wanted to say instead. The man certainly seemed to be fighting a demon or two these days. Which, okay, maybe wasn’t completely abnormal, but rather the fact that there wasn’t even the lackadaisical veneer hiding the torment was.

Iruka was tired of waiting. Tired of sitting here staring at a man who held at least some of the answers. So, tongue tied or not, it was time to start talking.

“Why is it you?” A rather incomplete question, so to clarify, “Why do you come here with them, why do you help with,” he gestured vaguely, “whatever it is they are doing?”

Kakashi’s face twisted ever so slightly, the corner of his eye twitching, then a resolve firmed this expression and he met Iruka’s gaze. “Two reasons: one, you being there in that place was my fault; two, they used me, my image against you.”

Well, Iruka thought, reason two sure didn’t make a lot of sense but it might explain some of the, feelings, Iruka felt because of the man. Iruka might not remember most of what had happened to him but he did remember the events leading up to it and he could not agree with reason one. That was stupid. It was Iruka’s fault that he had ended up in that place. It had been his idea and he had forced it on Kakashi, whether Kakashi knew it, or as was fairly clear, not.

But Iruka wasn’t going to argue that, at least not now. So instead he just nodded. Then asked, “They are transferring the emotions and the memories to you.”

It wasn’t a question, but Kakashi’s nod confirmed it. Why he had needed the confirmation he hadn’t known. But he had it. And again, that part of him that had become twisted and cruel, or maybe a part of him that he had somehow buried deep and forgotten he had, was glad to hear it.

Another non-question, “You asked to do it.”

Another nod.

Then Kakashi had signed up to be tortured. Which really seemed like a rather self-harming plan that Iruka wouldn’t have assumed Kakashi would make. Either Kakashi was not entirely the man Iruka had thought he was, which was completely plausible, or something had changed about the man which was also completely possible. And for some reason Iruka felt a need to know which it was.

“Tell me what happened. After I left Konoha I mean, I remember that much.”

Kakashi looked so extremely uncomfortable, he actually shifted, squirmed where he sat. He looked rather like a child who had been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar and as if he would like nothing more than to run away from the current predicament.

Iruka would have none of that. He intended to get the answers to his questions one way or another.

But Iruka knew at least some of what was holding Kakashi back. Iruka’s mind had been so unable to handle what had happened that it had shut down, erased memories, and changed his personality to some still yet unknown degree. Still, with some strange kind of certainty, Iruka knew that remembering and being told what had happened were completely different. It was like hearing it from Kakashi would somehow be less real, would be more like a story of what had happened to someone else. And that was manageable, even if he still couldn’t handle the actual memories themselves.

And he was sure he wanted to know. At first, he hadn’t been sure at all, but even just a few days later, the missing memories, the blankness, and the consuming presence of what had happened to him, was all Iruka could focus on. It was his whole life whether he wanted it to be or not.

So yes, he would like to know what had happened.

Iruka met that one dark eye, held Kakashi’s gaze with the intensity of his conviction and to his surprise he saw acceptance flicker through the man’s features. With an almost inaudible sigh, Kakashi settled back into the hard-plastic chair and began.

There was no visible emotion coming from him, not now, it was like he was beginning a mission report. “I still don’t know everything. But, well, I can tell you what I do know. And I can tell you what I found when in the forest, what you were like when I found you again.”

Iruka started. He hadn’t known that Kakashi had brought him back. Now hearing that, he really shouldn’t have been surprised but he still was.

“You had actually escaped yourself, you were already in the woods outside the walled perimeter. I felt a chakra signature and hunted it down, clearly that was you. You were not exactly in your right mind, not surprisingly, you thought I was fake, either a hallucination or genjutsu.”

Here Kakashi paused, hesitating, almost reluctant, but he continued, using professionalism as a mask for whatever he was uncomfortable sharing.

“The interaction between us was atypical, you vacillated between trying to seduce me and trying to have me kill you. Eventually, your body, wounded and weakened, gave out. You passed out, at which point I brought you back to Konoha.” Kakashi clearly hoped to leave it at that.

Iruka felt some internal part of himself balk at knowing he had tried to seduce this man. He had more than one reason to feel embarrassed about that. But on the surface where his emotions were so muted, instead he only felt a light curiosity about it. He would have to learn why he had become the kind of person to use sex as a tool. That certainly hadn’t been part of his personality before.

And maybe Kakashi was feeling awkward about that, but knowing what he knew about Kakashi that seemed rather odd, and not particularly fitting. This was a man who read porn anytime and anywhere. This was a man known for sex and wasn’t ever shy about it, in fact practically the opposite. Not that he was known for being a romantic, certainly not, but sexual exploits came hand in hand with stories of the Copy nin’s fighting prowess.

So, the likelihood of this man being upset that someone had thrown themselves at his feet begging for it, essentially, shouldn’t be causing this reaction. Unless of course there was more to it, like he had taken advantage of the situation.

Which was a thought.

Not one Iruka entertained very long though because that didn’t seem much like Kakashi either. Why would he bother?

So maybe it was something else or maybe something small that just bothered Kakashi disproportionately. Given the circumstances it must be something like that.

But still, he clearly wanted to skip past something he felt about the situation, though the retrieval itself seemed so straight forward and well, easy. Maybe…

Well that wasn’t exactly a good thought.

Maybe it was that he had taken advantage. Kakashi had said that they used Kakashi’s image against Iruka, but what if the revulsion wasn’t from that, what if it was from something Kakashi had done himself? Iruka usually was pretty good at spotting genjutsu, so it seemed strange that he would feel so strongly about the man himself rather than having aimed the revulsion at the appropriate target.

That was not comforting at all.

Chapter Text

It was late, not so late that his presence was out of place, but late enough that the street was almost empty. Lights were still on in some of the buildings, and the street lamps were lit. The summer night was warm enough. It was rather peaceful, that contentedness that settles over a beautiful day or a beautiful night.

Kakashi turned down one of the smaller streets, he was on his way home from the hospital. Again.

They still spent a few days a week trying to pull memories from Iruka. Kakashi still visited almost every day. Though some of those visits, he waited until the man fell asleep, so he didn’t have to face the mistrust and fear he saw in those haunted eyes.

He’s started going on missions again, he tries not to be gone too long. It had become a fight between running away from the condemnation he felt when he looked at Iruka and the guilt that ate at him when he left.

Sleep was no longer an escape, not that he had ever been one for sleep. He’d run on about five hours a night for the last ten years at least. Now though he was lucky to get two hours, woken up by dreams of being chased, dreams where he screamed and screamed but no sound emerged. And when his body finally would give out, he would fall into bed and wake twelve hours later, soaked in sweat, body scratched, heart racing, with no memory, and more tired than when he had fallen asleep.

It was as if something, a sickness of some kind had seeped slowly into his body. Now it was bone deep. It had settled at his core. It drained him. Whatever it was. Still he pulled himself up everyday because there was nothing else for him to do. He didn’t know how to do anything else.

So here he was walking home on knees that threatened to drop him into the dirt beneath his feet with each step.

So here he was walking toward the cemetery. Toward the monument where he had started to spend his nights.

He settled himself against the cool stone, easing something hot and burning inside. Kakashi allowed his head to fall back, his eyes closed. Not for elusive sleep but just maybe for a few seconds of quiet. Some days he found it here, some days he never found it.

Iruka had been home for months. Something was going wrong, Iruka was refusing help. From anyone. Nothing changed, and still everyone did what they could. Iruka was physically much healthier. In fact, he would look almost completely recovered as long as he didn’t speak or look anyone in the eye.

The bottle of cheap sake in his hand, drew his attention. He shouldn’t. He was well aware. But it hadn’t stopped him yet, and he didn’t expect it to stop him tonight.

Halfway through the bottle, his mind finally began to quiet. Finally.

Kakashi sighed in relief, blurry eye trained on the sky, the clouds and the stars, focusing on them instead of the thoughts in his own head.

*

It wasn’t the first time Iruka had found himself crawling out the hospital window. As the weeks had gone by, that ever present suspicion in his head grew weaker, he no longer had anything outside his own head to feed it. It wasn’t that he suddenly believed everything his eyes saw, or the situations in which he found himself.

But there was only so much kindness and care that could be explained away by a trap or a trick. At some point the enemies hand would be shown, they would ask the questions, they would no longer be so kind, they would expect something in return.

The blade would fall and Iruka would know he was not free.

So he continued to wait.

And wait.

And still nothing. He felt himself responding to that hope in his chest, that it was all over, that he was truly free. The other part of him screamed at himself for being so gullible and trusting. Now it would only hurt worse when the eventual betrayal came.

He had chosen weeks ago to act as if it were real. Not to put too much trust or faith into whatever this was, but to just go along with it. There had been little sense in fighting at the beginning, for he had nothing with which to fight. Now he did, and he wasn’t sure he needed it.

In truth he was all but convinced he was in Konoha. That he was in a hospital with people who wanted him safe. It just felt unreal, like a dream, the edges just faded and blurred enough that he couldn’t quite settle into the reality.

It wasn't that he hadn't tried to dispel the possible Genjutsu, though it wasn't his forte. Perhaps whoever had cast it was that much more powerful. Perhaps this was real.

The muscles in Iruka’s arms protested as he hauled his body up the side of the building and onto the roof. The physical therapy was helping get him back into shape, but even something that ought to have been as easy as breathing was still a strain. And he knew even with his limited experience that he wouldn’t really get back into fighting form until he was no longer relegated to a bed by nurses, so probably not until they released him.

Which given his current mental state, certainly seemed to be a long way away.

But, he had gotten away with his little jaunts to the roof, which he wasn’t stupid enough to believe had gone unnoticed. Which meant that as long as he came back and wasn’t a danger to himself or anyone else hopefully meant they would allow him the little freedoms he took.

Perhaps he could start working katas into his nightly escapades and perhaps even start taking himself to the training grounds for some real exercise. Look at him go, here he was having idea’s about the future. Perhaps he really was getting better after all.

Iruka had debated asking to leave the hospital, to walk around outside, to stretch his legs. He had decided to not even broach the subject with Tsunade, not because he thought she would stop him, quite the opposite if his guess was correct, but because not moments after he had considered the idea, the reality of the situation had settled on him with dread.

He wasn’t ready to face people who knew him, people who would look at him with questions or worse, pity in their eyes. He simply couldn’t handle that. So he had decided jaunts to the roof were in order instead.

The warm slow summer breeze against his skin was a balm for his soul.

With his eyes closed, face bathed in moonlight, he felt safe.

He let himself relax into the security of the moment, taking deep breaths, letting the tension in his body release. He drew his knees up to his chest, letting his arms cross utop them, resting his chin on now folded arms.

His eyes opened, lazily scanned the familiar buildings of his home village.

He let his thoughts wander, let them go where they wanted, because here it was safe to let that happen. Here he could simply look at the horror of what his life had become and decide what to do, or decide not to do anything. Here the panic didn’t set in as it did in the hospital room below. There wasn’t any expectation of him here. No one else who needed to know his thoughts.

He found himself, certainly not for the first time, thinking about Kakashi.

Part of Iruka wanted desperately to never see the man ever again.

That would definitely be the simplest solution. And he knew for a fact that if he asked for it, he would never see the man again. Kakashi himself would make sure of that.

But Kakashi came to see him at night sometimes. When he thought Iruka was asleep. Sometimes he probably was. But Iruka had been meditating one night when the window had slid almost noiselessly open.

At first Iruka had expected this to be the crack in the otherwise very well constructed trap. But nothing had happened that night. And nothing had happened any of the other times the man had snuck into his room.

Instead, Kakashi just stood there as if looking for something or perhaps waiting for something. Sometimes he only stood there five, ten minutes, before leaving the way he had come. Other times, it was if he settled against the wall planning to become part of it while he stood there hour after hour.

The biggest shock of all for Iruka had been when, on one of the nights when Kakashi seemed ill-inclined to leave, he had apparently fallen asleep, only to wake when sunlight landed on his face, the morning well and truly arrived. He shouldn’t have been able to fall asleep with anyone in the room, let alone the man who haunted his nightmares. Let alone the man who had torn him to pieces. The man who had single handedly broken him.

And still the truth was evident.

He had fallen asleep. And Kakashi wasn’t the man who had done that to him, only his face.

And when the time came for another one of those ‘memory sessions’ Iruka let his eyes lock on that face, on the hair which was now so much shorter than he had ever seen it. He couldn’t help the hatred that still burned at the sight of that face, the humiliation, the shame or the betrayal. But he could see the shorn silver hair and he could anchor himself enough to the idea that something had changed.

So he did not ask for Kakashi to leave. He did not ask to never see the man again. And he wondered at his own tangled and confused feelings.

That Kakashi, the face but not the man, had taken all his weakness and used it against him. That Kakashi had enjoyed destroying him, had laughed, while he writhed at his feet. Had whispered joy and promised love and used Iruka’s own hope against him. And Iruka supposed he ought to hate the man who had worn the face. But he did and he didn't. He hated himself and his own weakness more.

And this Kakashi, the real person, knew his weaknesses, knew how broken he had become. This Kakashi watched every shameful second, knew more probably than Iruka himself remembered. This Kakashi he hated. Because this Kakashi saw what Iruka had never wanted anyone to know. Because this Kakashi knew secrets that should have forever remained secret.

Because this Kakashi was the one he had put on a pedestal. This Kakashi was the one who starred in secret fantasies. This Kakashi was the man whom Iruka had conveniently made not a person for his own satisfaction, a man who in reality had thought very little of Iruka, made clear by their few individual conversations.

This Kakashi, the very last person Iruka had ever wanted to know, knew exactly who Iruka had been even before his mind had been twisted by torture.

This Kakashi he had wanted to love. This Kakashi he wanted to love him.

And if there was a deeper shame than that, Iruka had yet to find it.

*

Kakashi was almost sure he was dreaming.

Typically nothing hurt in dreams and his head was currently trying to implode, but the rest of what he saw and felt most assuredly couldn’t be real.

So he was dreaming. And really, he was going to have to have a conversation with his subconscious because if it kept escalating like this he would have to check himself into the hospital permanently or throw himself off a cliff. The latter was the more appealing option, all said.

Between the other man’s memories and his own guilt Kakashi had been visited by Iruka more than a few times in his recent dreams, but usually they were inspired by whatever was this week’s current nightmare.

And there was no explanation really, for Iruka standing just inside the doorway to his bedroom.

Iruka was in a borrowed set of scrubs, one of the sets he had been given once he was well enough and healed enough to make the hospital gown ignominious. His raggedly cut hair fell unevenly about his face. Dark eyes looked across the room. There was a question there. And Kakashi couldn’t fathom what it could be, let alone answer it.

But apparently the question had already been answered, or perhaps Iruka had simply decided not to ask. Either way there was a sharpening to the man that indicated a decision.

“Do you have scissors?”

“Do I-” Kakashi choked as tired vocal cords and addled brain struggled to answer, “Do I have what?”

“Scissors. Do you have scissors?”

Did he have scissors, what kind of question, “I- uh, yes.”

“Good.”

Well what the fuck did that mean?

There was silence between them, Iruka still standing, the ambient low light from the window hitting him, throwing one side of his face into stark relief and shadowing the rest. Kakashi sat on his bed, legs over the side, bare feet against the wood of the floor, hand resting loosely across his lap.

Kakashi felt his eye searching the other man’s face as if whatever this was would suddenly make sense.

After a few more moments, Iruka raised an eyebrow. It was a look Kakashi imagined he had used quite often while teaching, a look that had clear expectations, a look that expected obedience and held just enough amused exasperation to remain this side of autocratic.

Without his instruction, the jounin found himself up and in his bathroom, rifling through a drawer to uncover the scissors he knew were there.

His hand closed around the plastic handle, and he pulled them from the drawer, his eye moving up to the mirror.

Shock stilled him instantly. His brain had apparently woken up enough to let him know he was not dreaming. He was not dreaming. And now he wished he were. What was he doing with Iruka in his bedroom, looking for scissors the man seemed to want for some unknown reason.

The face that looked back at him in the mirror was frozen, lips tight and eye wide with confusion. His left eye, the one with the Sharingan was covered by the strip of fabric he used whenever he had removed his hiate. His customary mask however was loose around his neck. When in his own apartment he pulled it down, mostly for sleep, and his brain thinking this a dream hadn’t immediately told him to cover his face.

The face that looked back at him in the mirror was his face. An uncovered face. A face Iruka had now seen.

Chapter Text

Kakashi stared at the scissors clenched in his fist. And panicked.

Well, internally panicked. He wasn’t much for actual panicking, too much training for that.

It took all his strength not to pull his mask back over his face. But it seemed silly, petty even, the man had already seen his face, there was no harm in him seeing it again. His hand not holding the scissors twitched, wanting to cover his face, wanting that barrier back up between him and the world.

But this was Iruka. Iruka who had come back so damaged, from saving his life, that he needed Kakashi to help manage his trauma. This was Iruka who desperately wanted to be alone in his own mind and was being denied that solitude. He could give Iruka this vulnerability in some attempt to pay back the debt he owed.

Because this was real. Not a dream.

With a deep breath, Kakashi straightened and headed back into his bedroom.

Iruka was standing in the same place but had turned toward where Kakashi now was, the soft silvery light from the window now silhouetting the man’s form.

“Scissors,” he raised the hand holding the object.

Iruka nodded and took a deep breath of his own, the resolve in his eyes firming again, “I want-”

Kakashi waited.

“I want you to cut my hair.”

Which was possibly the last thing he had ever thought to be asked.

“What the fuck?”

Which was also probably not a great response.

But Iruka laughed, a dry huff of a laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. “It’s a mess. Obviously.”

The upturned corner of Iruka’s mouth fell, “They offered to cut it a while ago in the hospital, to neaten it up, but I didn’t want-”

Another deep breath, then those eyes focused on his face with an unnerving intensity. “Will you?”

He would.

Kakashi nodded.

Not that he had ever cut anyone else's hair in his life, and his idea of hair cutting was hacking away and letting the resulting mess do whatever. It worked for him, but he doubted anyone else would appreciate it.

But he wasn’t about to say no either. Kakashi gestured to the doorway through which Iruka had presumably entered. They moved together back into the living and kitchen area. Iruka, with no direction from Kakashi, sat on the lone stool that sat underneath the edge of the counter.

Kakashi flipped a switch and artificial light filled the space, bright and yellow, causing both men to squint while their eyes adjusted.

Moving behind Iruka, Kakashi couldn’t help but see the tension running through the other man’s muscles. With almost reverent care, he moved the hand free of scissors up and into the brown locks. The jounin paused, leaving more than enough time for Iruka to change his mind, to put space between them.

When he didn’t, Kakashi slowly raised the scissors to the ends of the hair he held.

He moved slowly, so as not to touch Iruka more than the hair between his fingers. He was as careful and precise as he could be, given he had no earthly idea what he was doing. His goal, at least the closest thing he could have to a goal, was to cut the hair so it was all one length.

The slowly repeating sound of metal on hair on metal, drew them both into a quiet calm. The tension and nerves leaking from muscles and the calm left both men rather contented.

However, Iruka did not have limitless hair and Kakashi would either be forced to keep cutting or to break the trance. Moving with deliberate care he reached around Iruka and set the scissors down on the counter.

The warm brown eyes followed his movement then remained with the scissors as the hand withdrew. After another moment of focused confusion, Iruka shook his head slightly and turned to look over his shoulder at Kakashi.

His movements knocked loose hair from his head and shoulders to join what was now littering the kitchen floor. Probably should have thought that through. Nothing to do about it now. Kakashi took two steps back, leaving plenty of room for Iruka to stand.

Kakashi sure as hell didn’t know what to do. Taking his cues from Iruka was the safest bet given he didn’t want to send the other man running, physically or mentally.

Iruka licked his lips, a nervous tick, some of the tension from earlier threading back into his frame. “Thanks.” His voice was a touch gravely, just that bit less smooth than usual.

Kakashi nodded.

He didn’t say anything in response.

With graceless movement, Iruka settled onto his feet and stood. “I, uh, guess I should be going.”

He turned and started toward the door.

Kakashi’s first instinct was to stop the other man, but that made no sense. He should just let him go. And yet, his instincts had gotten him further with Iruka than anything he had intentionally done since the whole mess had started.

“You don’t have to.”

Iruka’s head snapped around. He stopped.

“I mean,” Kakashi shrugged, trying to keep his own edginess undetectable, “You can stay if you want.”

Iruka didn’t say anything, he was just staring at him like he had grown an extra head. Which honestly, he felt like he maybe had.

“Uh, not if you don’t want to. But you don’t have to leave.” Another shrug.

This time he decided that he would wait for a response, continuing to ramble would clearly get him nowhere.

There were several long moments with them standing looking at each other, which rather seemed to be a theme for the night. Then Iruka nodded. Turned fully back toward the room and looked around the space as if seeing it for the first time.

“If you don’t mind…” Whatever his reasons for wanting to remain, Kakashi was thrilled that he had thought to offer.

And immediately, extremely uncomfortable with the idea that he had next to nothing in his apartment, hell he didn’t even have multiple chairs just one chair and the one stool and had perhaps even less in the way of food.

To say Kakashi wasn’t one for having guests would be a gross understatement.

“Uh, I have water if you’d want some,” Kakashi gestured at the kitchen. “There might be some instant ramen or something in the cabinet.”

Kakashi paused, “Yeah, I don’t really even know what I have in the apartment to eat.”

Iruka grinned. Lopsided but real. “I can’t say I expected anything else.”

“Water would be fine,” another pause from Iruka as he settled himself on the floor next to the coffee table. “Thanks.”

Kakashi brought over two bottles of water from the fridge. Sat himself on the other side of the coffee table from Iruka. He was glad Iruka had chosen to sit here, meant he didn’t have to awkwardly figure out the best way to have two people in his apartment.

Now what? Why had Iruka decided to stay? Why had he offered? What were they supposed to talk about? The only thing they really had in common was Iruka’s trauma, which was exactly what they shouldn’t talk about. Neither of them needed to relive any of that horror outside of the hospital.

Iruka wasn’t in the hospital. Iruka was in his apartment.

Uh, what?

Ok, so Iruka leaving the hospital wasn’t too strange, Kakashi wasn’t one to sit there himself. But Iruka was in his apartment and Kakashi hadn’t immediately woken. Iruka had been in his bedroom before his presence had registered.

Kakashi knew he was in trouble. He just wasn’t exactly sure what kind of trouble it was.

Iruka was staring at the bottle in his hand, turning it over and over as if he needed something to do with his hands. As if he needed something to focus on. And Kakashi, well he was staring at the other man.

Running one hand through his newly cut hair, Iruka closed his eyes, as if he needed to collect his thoughts.

The light brown hair was just long enough now to fall messily around his face, not long enough to be in his eyes but long enough that the movement pulled his hair in several directions and made it a mess. It was extremely different from Iruka’s normally tightly pulled back style.

“I’m, uh, sorry about your hair.” Kakashi stumbled, “I mean I’ve never cut someone else’s hair and it probably doesn’t look anything like you want it to.”

Kakashi’s fingers twitched, remembering the feel of those strands between his fingers. Soft. They had been soft.

“I’ll totally pay for someone to cut your hair. A professional or something.”

Surprisingly, Iruka laughed. A real laugh.

It didn’t last long but the small smile that stayed on his face was real, and that was enough for now.

Their eyes met. In some way similar to the night in the hospital when Iruka had cut his hair, when Kakashi had done the same.

“Kakashi,” his hand waves in a dismissive gesture, “It’s fine. I don’t care what it looks like. I just wanted it cut.”

Okay then. If that’s what he wanted.

Still Kakashi wondered if that thought would change when Iruka saw the mess in the mirror. Not that it didn’t look kind of good, it just wasn’t at all something the teacher would ever wear. Not voluntarily.

But he let it drop. He wasn’t about to argue, not about anything, let alone something as inconsequential as hair.

Now they were sitting facing each other, looking at each other. And though nothing was said, it was now somehow comfortable. They were good, it was good. Kakashi felt himself relax again. What was it about the silence between them that was so calming? Typically silence made people uncomfortable, nervous. They needed to fill the void.

That wasn’t needed here. It was almost as if speaking broke whatever trust Iruka had in him. It was as if speaking meant Kakashi needed to give Iruka something, fix something. So, the silence let them both just be.

It was something they both needed.

Why it was between them? When Iruka should want to escape him, when he should feel so guilty in this moment. But that didn’t exist here.

He wasn’t sure exactly how long they sat there like that. Quiet. But if felt like a long time. There was a sleepy warmth in the room that made Iruka relax back against the one chair in the room, his eyes growing heavy.

Kakashi wanted to let him sleep. He would guess sleep was still hard for the man. He, himself, was wide awake. Which it wasn’t like he got a lot of sleep, even less now. Would it be a good idea to let him fall asleep here on his floor?

Probably not. He also would want to be back in the hospital by dawn to avoid having someone sent to fetch him. Probably still didn’t want to be seen by anyone else either. That’s how Kakashi was about it. Well, Kakashi wore a mask to make sure people saw as little as possible.

“Hey,” Iruka stirred immediately at the sound of his voice, “how’d you get into my apartment anyway?”

Concern and maybe a hint of uncertainty entered his face. Kakashi rushed to stop it, “I don’t mind, I just have wards up. I’m glad you weren’t hurt or anything.”

Now Iruka just looked confused.

“I don’t know about any wards, I didn’t disarm anything, maybe they weren’t set. And the door, it was just unlocked.” Iruka fidgeted. Some small piece that echoed of before.

“I should have knocked or something. I know walking in wasn’t-- Well it’s rude.”

“Iruka, it’s fine.” Well him walking in was fine. His wards not working, that was concerning but not Iruka’s fault. Something he would need to investigate himself. But not right now.

Iruka looked around the room, as if just now realizing how long he had been in Kakashi’s apartment. “I should, uh, I should probably get going.”

“Get back to the hospital or Tsunade will send someone after me. Or Sakura, she’s back.”

Kakashi nodded. He had seen Sakura the other day. He hoped it wasn’t a problem for Iruka, though he was normal enough now that maybe he could hide anything that he didn’t want seen. For that matter, Iruka had been teaching long enough that there that his students were probably all over the hospital. Which was uncomfortable to even think about, what must it be like for Iruka? Forced to be weak and vulnerable in front of those who had looked up to and learned from him.

Iruka stood and moved to the door. His hand closed on the knob and he stopped. He released it and turned back toward Kakashi who had followed him to the entrance of his apartment.

“Thank you.”

There was no explanation. It could have been a thank you for cutting his hair, for letting him stay, for the quiet, all of it. But it didn’t matter why.

“You’re welcome.”

Iruka opened the door and left the apartment, closing the door himself.

Kakashi stood in the entrance way. Now alone.

He stood there a moment, then another, then shook himself and let his mind refocus.

Now why had his wards not worked? Or had he truly not set them the last time he had allowed someone in? Which wouldn’t have been like him at all, more likely that something had gone wrong and he would need to recreate them. He had to do that every so often. And he had been distracted lately so he very likely forgot to do it when he needed to.

He closed his eyes and felt for the wards, looking for the threads of the seals that were placed on all the doors, windows, walls, almost everywhere. Seals to keep people out, to alarm him, to capture.

Except, except they were all intact. Everything was fine with his wards. Which didn’t make any sense at all. He was the only person the seals were supposed to recognize, the only person who could walk through them without fear. His ninkin could walk through them, but he had built them into the wards.

And Iruka had walked through them as if they were nothing. The wards had remained dormant.

Which really didn’t make any sense.

He needed to know why. So Kakashi sat down on the wood floor, crossed his legs and settled in to look through the seals and wards he had made. If there was any weakness to find, he would find it.

It was well past dawn when he was finished.

There. Was. Nothing. Wrong.

The wards were perfectly fine.

What the hell?

But seriously, what the hell?

Was it just Iruka? Could anyone just walk in?

He needed to know, so he would drag Guy over later and make him test it. Easy enough, just turn it into a competition.

An hour later, Guy was passed out on his floor.

Just Iruka then.

Why?