Title: Evanesce 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - ?
Rating: Kakashi/Iruka-Mature-h/c-Angst-Non-con-semi-established relationship
Spoilers: General (everything Pre-Shippuden)
Summary: Iruka arrives back to the Hidden leaf after a simple but failed mission to investigate an abandoned shrine. Little by little, he realizes that maybe there was more to the mission than he'd thought. And those closest to him start to notice the same.
Thank you jinkamoo! <3
Cross-posted to: The Kakairu Livejournal Community
Seated outside on the edge of his window, Iruka released the sparrow and let it dart away, frantic wings tilting with the gusts of snow.
Averting his gaze from its flight, Iruka watched his breath cloud the chill air as he coughed harshly into a fist.
This had been the third day and he was yet again unable to appear at the mission desk as scheduled. He had never possessed the reserves of chakra needed to have his own summons but at least he had use of the many messengers that served the Hokage. It was a good thing for his sake because the birds had become his only way to relay news to the Tower due to his current circumstances.
The shadow ordered him to send a bird every day. It would be no good if a fellow nin started wondering where he was and came looking for him. The thing residing in his apartment wanted him solitary and it had made clear to Iruka early on that it was extremely uncompromising on that issue.
He'd named his tormenter for lack of a better term.
Iruka let his body sag against the window pane, ignoring the biting cold for as long as he thought possible. Even the simple act of moving brought pain. He knew the sickness that racked his body waxed and waned at the whim of the thing keeping him imprisoned. It seemed content to render him practically useless.
"Are you happy now?" He asked it bitterly. It felt good to be petulant.
But unfortunately, his remark revealed the shadow was not happy at all.
Slumping down with a gasp from the sill, he immediately had to reach for the wall. A painful clench in his chest made him sink slowly to his knees. He worked a fist into the center of his aching chest and felt the squeeze around his lungs, the pain locking his breath in his sore throat.
"ah!--I did what you wanted..."
The air around him rippled in displeasure and it stuck harder. Iruka's hand flew out to brace himself against the floor as a fit of savage coughing wracked through his body until he collapsed.
"E-Enough," he muttered to the pitch black thing that lurked in every corner. "... I seen the messenger. I did what you told me to do so... leave me the hell alone..."
With bleary vision, he rolled over and focused on the chair by the kitchen table. He wanted to be there. Tea was there. He felt so empty. He managed to get to his feet.
Empty and afraid.
All the past moments of wrong floors and forgotten names seemed paltry considering his chaos now. As of three days ago Iruka had lost an entire evening wandering the streets of Konoha. He recalled nothing else about that evening besides finding himself back home. And ever since that night, everything had horribly changed. At first he thought maybe it was his exhaustion and high temperature making him see things. The sorts of things that flitted and flickered just outside clear vision.
However that theory went right out the window when he'd actually seen something he couldn't explain away. Iruka had seen a shadow move. It hadn't been some Nara Yin Release either. It had slid all by itself right off the wall and onto the floor before joining with his own.
And then it started making words.
It had covered him to meld with the mark on his arm that somehow linked them. It all made perfect sense now that he'd had all these vacant hours to piece all of the events together. That damned seal had been guarding something after all.
And Iruka had unknowingly set it free.
Scratching at in the inside of his burning arm he let out another rasping cough and shuddered at the soreness that resonated up and down his body. As poorly as he was, he forced himself to take another icy shower. The rusting water heater was off again. Iruka regretted it now. His core couldn't seem to rise above the frigid air that hung around him.
A quick check of the braziers revealed his charcoal was down and would need to be restocked. Had he used it all up that quickly? No warmth flowed through the vents of the iron grates in the flooring. Wonderful. Looked like he’d be toughing out the elements from indoors. At least the stove still worked last time he’d checked.
That may have been yesterday. He wasn't sure.
He blinked when he realized time had passed and he was now seated at his kitchen table well past sunset. There was a cup of untouched tea in the loose grip of his hands. Even knowing he had been trapped there for only three days it had felt much longer than that. Like the stories he heard of the more insidious time distortion genjutsu that made minutes into hours, hours became days, days drifting to an eternity.
Iruka wondered if this was what it felt like to slowly lose your mind.
The presence was making itself manifest more every passing day. Its voice echoed in his head, sometimes tinny and deafening and other times humming and distant. He distantly knew he should be experiencing more worry than he was. He did sometimes. But as soon as he felt the sensation begin to build, the voice would rush in, black pitch would fill his head and it would all be swept away until there was nothing left.
Even still, Iruka had tried to get away more than once.
He'd even made it half way out of the front door. But each time he came close to freedom, the voice would always return to subdue him. When that didn't work, the black form would coalesce into something more solid to send him crashing against the floor and keep him in agony until he complied. Iruka wasn't even sure if distance even really mattered. The thing had played with his memory for quite a while without requiring him as a roommate.
The thing was always there to draw him back in one way or another.
When he couldn't see it he could feel it hovering nearby. Its weighty presence lay coiling and uncoiling as if waiting for something inside him to give. After that first day, he found it was the only thing he could feel at all. The world of whispered chakra traces had disappeared, leaving him in another form of darkness all together.
He sat at his kitchen table with the mug of stale tea in his hands and stared at the opposite wall. It must have been midweek because he'd heard the laughter of the young man that made deliveries to his elderly neighbor. There had been no glimmer or even hint of the courier's presence or anyone else's for that matter. Just laughter.
The grip on the mug tightened. Sensing nothing was akin to having gone blind.
A sharp rap from somewhere behind startled him. Now the shadow was playing games?
He stood from his chair, gripping its back to stay upright.
"Your bathroom window was open," a real human voice said.
Iruka could not hide his helpless surprise.
Kakashi was inexplicably standing in his hallway.
"Hello," the jounin gave a small wave. "I brought you something."
Iruka stared dully at the Ichiraku bag Kakashi had proffered in two hands.
"It might be a bit cold," the jounin apologized, but then glanced around the apartment. "But not quite as cold as it is in here." He added with a cheerful shiver.
"How... How did you get in here?" His voice was rough and unused.
"Window," Kakashi gestured over his shoulder with his chin. "Bathroom."
That wasn't exactly what Iruka meant but he was so happy to see him he couldn't make his fogged mind form any coherent words. Iruka swallowed back a burning in his eyes as he experienced an unexpected wave of sadness that was even more powerful than his relief. It seemed a very long time since he'd last seen Kakashi. He didn't want to think about how the hours seemed slowed within these walls and that maybe more time had passed for him than he'd cared to know
"You should really upgrade your wards, sensei."
Iruka breathlessly smiled.
"Yes, I should."
There was a sharp twist in his belly when it finally dawned on him that the bag Kakashi was holding might contain food. He'd been living on tea. Even if he could remember which street or which direction the nearest shop was he'd have been punished for trying anyway. Kakashi must have seen the pathetic hopeful look on his face even though the room was barely lit.
Iruka wanted to move towards him but the shadow fluttered menacingly between them in warning. He waited fiercely for some sort of reaction from Kakashi at its appearance. The thing bloomed grotesquely across the ceiling to drip down the opposite wall and Kakashi did not so much as glance in its direction. Iruka forlornly realized that the jounin not only hadn't seen it, but was completely unaware of even a flicker of its presence.
The thing's satisfaction at his suffocating disappointment struck him worse than any fist could.
Kakashi was, however, very intent on studying him.
He really didn't want to think too much about his own appearance. Weak. Mad. Haunted? Iruka wanted to laugh but managed not to. The voice was telling him to make Kakashi go away. It said Kakashi was there just to use him in some way. He was there to hurt him. Squeezing his eyes shut, he willed himself back to focus. Kakashi was not a threat. He had brought him food. Iruka began to tremble with the simmering rise of his muzzled anger. The jounin belonged here unlike some things. Unlike that thing that watched him every waking moment ready to inflict pain and new humiliation. The thing that was always groping through his head like a damn--
His thoughts abruptly ceased.
The far off drone of the shadow's voice wrenched his rage away, smothering his desperate need to tell Kakashi everything. To please help him. To put an end to this. The thing pulled his struggling determination straight back into a wash of blank submission as gray as the winter sky.
"Sit," the jounin cautiously suggested. "I'll warm this up. Take a look at the furnace." Kakashi motioned to the stone cold grates on the floor, setting the ramen bag down on the table.
Iruka’s sluggish brain kicked into gear at the words. Furnace. Heat. Yes. He had been meaning to turn it on. Yesterday maybe.
Kakashi was still studying him. His pale cheeks against the mask still slightly flushed from the wind. He made no move.
"Naruto was a little worried."
Something deep down made Iruka flinch at the words.
"He stopped by today to see you and--"
"Oh," Iruka vaguely remembered that. The shadow had told him to stay where he was. When he tried to go to the door anyway it had wrapped around his body until he couldn't breathe. "I ... I must have been sleeping."
Pushing trembling hands down over his crumpled yukata, he dragged a hand through unkempt hair and went to sit as he'd been told. Or at least he tried. As soon as he made to return to the kitchen chair he felt his knees go slack and knew violent impact with the table would follow.
But he never made it to the floor.
Halfway to the ground, Iruka and the crouched man behind him breathed in and out.
"S'ok," Iruka attempted when he got his words back, patting the arm that had caught him under the waist. "...Been happening... a lot..."
"Iruka..." the jounin sounded different. The muscles in the arms now enclosed around his waist tightened, shaking him firmly. "Hey, take it easy--"
He realized he had been feebly trying to push away the man trying to keep him up. "You," he felt a warm rush of hope, blinking upwards uncertainly. "When did you... When did you get here?"
Iruka searched the man’s—Kakashi’s—face for some sign of explanation. The eye not covered by his hitai-ate was wide, concerned.
Shifting his grip without giving sway, Kakashi muttered an apology. “Forgive me for this.” One hand flicked up his headband.
The scarlet eye in the white face spun to life. Iruka stared, mesmerized and trembling.
Iruka tried to buck under the unmovable hold. "Stop!.. ugh..! Stop! Let me go! You're going to make it angry...”
Kakashi did not respond, eye fixed on Iruka, wanting in, sifting his thwarted mind carefully as fingers through grain.
"You don't understand--"
"No, I don't," Kakashi agreed.
"K-Kakashi." Iruka writhed unable to get out of the jounin's grip, his eyes slipping.
Frantically, his fingers found purchase on the canvas of Kakashi’s flack vest, clutching at him. "... no...something is.. please just listen...you’ll make it mad...then it will..."
"Later," Kakashi pressed his face softly and briefly into his neck. "You need to rest.”
Before Iruka knew what was happening he saw fingers placed on his wrist then felt another on his forehead. A jutsu. He fought it but a hand then pressed down on his chest and the side of the uncovered nin's face slid down against his. Kakashi's voice was there, saying something, as he was lowered to the floor he barely felt beneath him. To his horror, he was immobile. Without ability to command his own limbs. But it wasn't the sickening grasp of the shadow this time. Firm arms drew him close, chest to chest. The first feel of natural heat he hadn't felt in so many days. He pressed closer, chin in soft pale hair, his numbed skin igniting in prickling points of pain as he warmed.
"Sleep." Kakashi's breath was nothing more than a murmur in his ear.
Iruka never heard it. He was gone.
The first thing he knew for certain was that he was no longer home.
White. Tiles. Sterile.
The acrid tang of disinfectant revealed where he was first. His hair hung in limp strands across his cheek. Dampness at his brow. He licked his lips and tasted salt.
The room smelled faintly of pine and the strong scent of rubbing alcohol. The weight of a bottle shimmered faintly, hovering just above his head and swaying gently when he moved. Plastic tubing wound up around his forearm. Iruka blinked slowly at the IV. His entire body felt clammy with sweat. He grimaced in disgust at the feel of the flimsy cotton medical yukata sticking to his chest.
Iruka dazedly made to sit up and couldn't. Tugging at his wrists he found he had been restrained with thick cuffs intricately encrypted to dull chakra. Not that he had much to bother blocking. He yanked weakly at them anyway, growling his frustration when he realized his ankles had been secured as well. His efforts caused a fit of painful coughing, and he sagged back onto the bed waiting for it to stop.
The room was dim--only lit from some meager source that filtered through the open door. It didn't take him long to spot the shadow unmoving in the corner, draped along the lines of the square of light on the floor.
He could hear voices, low and tense, coming from the hallway just outside his room.
"Obviously someone has overlooked something."
It was Kakashi.
Iruka was surprised when the shadow suddenly sprang back in on itself, bristling in agitation at the sound of the jounin's voice. It abruptly occurred to him that this was the first time he'd been permitted to set foot out of his apartment in days. The pitch black form reacted to his thoughts, sending a spiteful wave of pain through his body. Gasping for breath, he considered that maybe he hadn't been permitted at all. Had Kakashi done something?
Someone cleared their throat impatiently. "Every test has shown no indication of head trauma."
"Because there isn't any." Kakashi answered blandly.
"You say he made contact with some sort of seal?"
"I've been telling you guys that all night long."
"His disorientation are all within limits due to the fever. He’ll start responding with fluids and--"
"I've also been telling you that's not it!"
"Look, the Hokage has been alerted just as you asked," the someone hastily explained. "Maybe she can tell us more about this seal he’s tampered with.”
"He wasn't tampering. He was on orders."
Iruka hadn't dared breathe during the exchange, only letting out a small sound when the owner of the irritated voice finally came into view.
"You're awake," Kakashi looked exhausted. "That's good."
The sight of him brought the overwhelming certainty that Kakashi would surely get him out of here. If he got far enough away from the shadow maybe he could tell him what was happening. They could cut off his arm with the mark on it for he cared. But the thing in the corner wiped that hope away by inserting another idea neatly into his head. Kakashi had brought him here because there was something terribly wrong with him. They all know, the shadow told him, and they were going to take him apart to figure out why. Kakashi had brought Iruka here and let them tie him up like a diseased animal so these people could discern just exactly how noxious he'd become. Iruka shut his eyes. Just how polluted and unhinged.
"..no..." he hissed through clenched teeth. "... I'm not...I'm not..."
"Hey. You okay?"
Iruka searched Kakashi's face with the unease of not being able to sense the jounin's presence in any way. That last thought gave him pause and his disquiet deepened.
"A-Are you... Is this a clone?"
Kakashi hadn't moved from the dim light of the hospital corridor and Iruka didn't like the wary expression on his face at all.
"I don't need these." Iruka made and unmade fists as he strained to half sit up. "Please take them off."
The jounin had remained quiet but when he finally did speak, it was steady and deliberate.
"You can't tell." More of a statement when it should have been a question.
"H-Huh?” Iruka caught his breath, worrying at his trapped wrist.
"You can't tell I'm not a clone."
Iruka began to shake, unwilling to answer, knowing he'd somehow revealed something that he wasn't supposed to.
"Why am I here?"
"You weren't doing so great when I found you."
"Found me?" His heart raced and his chest began to heave in panic. Had the shadow allowed him roam? Where had he ended up this time? Wandering the forest? Maybe out in the middle of the damn lake?
"In your apartment."
"My apartment." Iruka repeated dumbly. "You found me in my apartment."
Kakashi cocked his head at him. "You don't remember do you?"
"I...uh...of course I do," Iruka mumbled. Remember what exactly? He bit at his lower lip knowing he had checked out again. "I was in my apartment stuck with that...that..." he trailed off as the thing's voice began to pound relentlessly in his head.
"With what?" the other man prompted.
Iruka's mouth worked but the words wouldn't come. He wanted to yell and scream but the shadow stayed his tongue.
Kakashi attempted a grin. "With that broken water heater?"
The joke fell flat and the jounin didn't have the heart to even laugh at himself. Kakashi shifted before he came to the side of Iruka's bed and placed cool fingertips on the back of his neck. It was obviously meant to settle him but Iruka could not stop shaking.
“You have a pretty bad fever.” Kakashi murmured his explanation as though that might help. “They keep saying it’s not unheard of to have blank spots but—“
If Iruka’s wrists weren’t strapped down, he’d have tried to throw a punch.
“That’s not what this is—" He managed, an edge of hysteria in his voice. "You know it isn't!" It was the most he'd ever gotten past his tormenter so far and he felt the seething promise of retribution from its silent huddle in the corner of the room.
Kakashi dropped his contact and took a step back, hands raised innocently. He scratched the back of his head. “Well, technically I have no idea.”
"I'm trying to tell you.... there's something... I'm trying ...."
"I get that," Kakashi's voice was strained. "So just tell me."
“Can't you just shut up and listen!” Iruka heard himself snarl in frustration. Kakashi momentarily obeyed, something in the set of his eyes changing, like a pack dog backing down meekly.
The shadow took that moment to flood Iruka with contempt and gratification.
"You haven't been yourself," Kakashi said quietly. "Not since that mission."
Iruka felt his stomach lurch at the mention it.
"I've just been tired that's all." Hearing the excuse spoken out loud suddenly sounded utterly ludicrous.
"That isn't all, Iruka," Kakashi sighed. "I know that much."
So this was it.
Everything he had feared was happening now. Just like the shadow said. They were all going think he'd gone crazy without ever knowing the truth. His thoughts turned unwanted to his missing evening walk from the Tower and the haze of the last few days. Of all of the time he'd lost— The shadow had had him in its thrall before he'd ever even left that shrine. Iruka wanted to throw up at how stupid and careless he'd been.
"We will figure this out." Kakashi spoke softly. Gentle fingers found his wrist even though Iruka twitched away. "I promise you that."
"You shouldn't make promises you can't keep, Kakashi."
"I'm sorry," the jounin was looking down. "I should have noticed sooner."
Iruka's breath was coming shorter and faster.
"Just hang in there," he told him. "Inoichi-sama and Ibiki-sama are on their way."
The words hung in the air like poisoned smoke.
A high-ranking member of the Intelligence Division and the commanding officer of the Konoha Torture and Interrogation Force. Iruka knew very well what that combination meant. If they thought the memory lapses were interesting wait until Inoichi-sama started burrowing into his brain. They would be fascinated to discover Iruka's magical shadow friend no one else could see and that liked to make him do things...
Iruka couldn't take it.
Panic surged and obliterated everything else. With his eyes screwed tight against the burn of tears, he flung his head back and started to struggle violently.
He blinked angrily up at the man leaning over him, trying to twist away from the hands pushing down firmly on Iruka's shoulders.
"Get off me!" he hissed, hating the tremor in his voice. He didn't want anyone to see him like this. Especially a jounin that could record it for all time to play back whenever he felt like it. Was that why he was here? The shadow was there urgently speaking in his ear telling him that it was true. The shadow knew that Kakashi was only there to mock him. Iruka whipped his head back and forth, wrenching his hands and feet in the binds. No, Kakashi wouldn't... the man didn't even know what was happening... or did he? The shadow flowed through him and warped his panic into a keen fine edge. This was just a stop over before they took him away and locked him up forever in the confines of the T&I. Darkness spiraled around his conscious, annihilating every last shred of defiance the chunin held on to. Seizing under the onslaught Iruka felt any uncertainly of the murmured words completely vanish. He knew the shadow must be right. Kakashi was going to let those men tear him apart while he watched.
"Don't...please don't let them do it--" he forced himself to breathe. "Please..."
"Iruka stop, you're hurting yourself--" Kakashi’s voice came in a rush.
There was something wet and hot running down his wrists and ankles. The far off sting of discomfort seemed nothing compared to the coughing that wracked his frame. He wheezed in and out gradually realizing Kakashi was on top of him, holding him down and hindering his movement. The shadow slid through the air, coiling up his IV stand and wrapping tightly around Iruka's throat. A calm washed over him at the sound of its ceaseless mumblings and everything began to make sense again. All of his tensed muscles began to relax.
"What the hell is going on in here?"
It was a strong female voice that caused him to open his eyes.
A blond woman stood in the doorway with arms crossed firmly over her chest. Iruka felt the weight shift off of him and saw Kakashi turn awkwardly to greet her with a small bow. She threw him a glare before striding to the bed side and picking up Iruka's chin to look him in the eyes. Turning his face briefly from side to side he could only stare back up at her in detached confusion.
She unceremoniously yanked his medical gown up and ran her gaze up and down his exposed body. Some part of him was ashamed and he tried to pull his thighs together but couldn't because of the restraints. His bare arms were inspected in turn.
"All of these bruises," she said. "These were not sustained from the mission."
"No," the jounin confirmed tightly. "Those are new. He has them all over his back and shoulders as well."
"What's this?" she was holding his right arm, examining the cut that went across the inside of his elbow. "This is a fresh bleed."
Iruka thought it was appropriate that they were speaking as if he weren't even there because he wasn't quite sure he really was.
"Funny you should ask," Kakashi said. "He wouldn't stop scratching at it."
She flipped the gown back down. "He's been acting like this all night?"
"I suspect it's been more like most of the week."
The woman righted herself and turned to leave. Iruka considered her burning amber eyes and wondered exactly who she might be.
"You," she barked in Kakashi's direction. "My office."
The jounin gave Iruka one last look before hesitantly following her out of the room. Experimentally rotating his hands he found they moved easier now that there was blood. The cuffs had been made to block chakra but he didn't need any for what he was going to do. He wasn't going to lay here and wait to be dragged off into the some basement to have his mind flayed and dissected. There wasn't much time and he was so weak. But he could do it. He could get the hell out of here.
The shadow would help him.
The reliquary must endure.
Iruka nodded miserably.
He watched the black shape form by his bedside, elongating and stretching to touch his trapped wrist. The thing seemed much more brash and substantial with that jounin and the lady no longer in the room. The cuff began to loosen. As Iruka aided in the delicate process of escape his thoughts kept wandering back to the woman who had studied him like a bug under glass. Even though he was unable to sense chakra he could tell just by looking at her that she must possess a great deal of it.
That meant he had to be fast. Faster than this. He yanked one hand free. Stifling another grating fit of coughing he started on his other wrist then his ankles. Getting to a stand, he saw the open closet had some medi uniforms in it. He got dressed while listening to the steady demand of the voice compelling him to hurry.
With a shove, he opened the window and glanced around the hospital grounds for any nin. Seeing no one, he landed ungracefully in the snow below and stumbled into what cover the darkness had to offer. The shadow wanted him to leave the village. Iruka of course had no idea of which way to go until his tormenter nudged him in the direction of the looming barrier wall. He'd follow its base until he found a gate.
After entering a patch of woods he began to move faster, the borrowed uniform woefully thin, and his exposed hands and face starting to ache.
But something captured his attention, causing him pause to catch his breath.
Chakra or no he was still a Shinobi and he knew when he was being followed. The voice slithered around and inside him urging Iruka to ignore it and continue. He resisted the staggering need to obey and focused on where he had detected the movement in the trees. It was a rustling noise that was meant to be heard. Like a warning.
"I-I won't run," Iruka said carefully. "I wouldn't get very far anyway."
The flash of a robe and the person didn't quite land before him so much as just suddenly materialized. For an off wavering moment Iruka realized it was the ANBU that had found him all that time ago after the fall in the stairwell. The impassive Cat mask was bowed down, fist and one knee to the ground in respect. No one gave him the time in the Tower, let alone this. Iruka knew this just must be more mockery. Like the sort the elite jounin and that woman had given him in the hospital.
"You came a lot sooner than I'd hoped," Iruka started to back away. "How many did Kakashi-san send looking?"
"None," the voice was low and hesitant. "I'm not here on his order."
"Ibiki-sama then." Iruka listened closely to the shadow but all it did was pulse an incredible need for him to keep moving. "Tell him I said no thanks."
The Cat minutely shook his head. "No one sent me."
He was barely listening, too busy trying to figure out some possible tactic that would allow him to get away alive. "I'm not going anywhere with you." Iruka wondered who he was kidding. He was no match for an ANBU even when he was in full form. "Do you hear me!"
"I understand. However, I still have to bring you back."
Iruka stared at the ANBU wishing he had at least one single kunai to back up his meager claim of resistance. The Cat rose fluidly to a stand with its face still tilted down to the ground. The shadow lurched around him as it became even more impatient. Iruka groaned as it stirred under his skin, threatening to crush him from the inside if he did not comply soon.
"I-I can't go back," Iruka stammered. "You-You don't understand anything."
The Cat said nothing.
Iruka wanted to knock the mask off. He wanted to hit something until it hit back. The shadow abruptly surged and gave him a vile burst of strength that was not his own. Knowing that grabbing an ANBU meant likely death, he did it anyway, curling his fist into the robe and bringing that blank face right up into his own.
The body under his hands didn't tense or coil for a fight. The ANBU sagged, a weight that Iruka had to struggle to hold so its knees didn't hit the ground. There was only a whisper of a voice.
"Kakashi sempai gave me my name."
Iruka blinked down at the mask in confusion.
"I will protect anything he has."
Iruka didn't miss the 'sempai' and the word 'protect'. That meant loyalty. It didn't take much math to put it together. But if the elite jounin hadn't sent his pet ANBU that meant the operative had sent itself.
"So... So you've been watching me?"
The Cat shifted uneasily in his grip.
"And you do this without that jounin's knowledge."
He studied the ANBU as it seemed to hunker down further with a hint of a nod. Iruka knew Child Speak. He knew it well. This ANBU wasn't exactly proud to admit to have been following him for who knew how long. But if the Copy nin really didn't know he was missing yet, he still had a chance.
"Please," the Cat asked. "Don't make me have to force you to return."
Before Iruka could wonder at the sight of a pleading ANBU, he knew with utmost certainty that the shadow was done and finished with waiting.
"I told you," Iruka's vision began to darken and he knew with a sinking dread what was coming. "I-I can't do that."
He wanted to further warn the ANBU but he could no longer speak.
The clenched fists in the Cat's cloak fell away as he staggered backwards. Half blinded, Iruka landed hard on his knees as the thing inside him thrummed and grew, expanding from his mind to the ground below and the trees above. The fathomless pitch of its body churned ferociously, lashing snow around them and filling the air with the deep mournful sound of a baying horn on a battlefield. Pure ire was burning under Iruka's skin, searing the mark on his arm, and sending the dull booming voice like thunder through his skull.
Iruka wanted to tell the ANBU to teleport far away from here as fast as he could.
But it was already too late.