Title: Evanesce 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - ?
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
Between the black drops of blood in the snow and the stagger of tracks, Iruka couldn't have traveled very far in the span of the hour Kakashi had spent with the Hokage.
It hadn’t been an incredibly useful hour. The only conclusions either of them kept coming to just lead them back to an unknown seal in a remote shrine. Two facts that weren't very useful in the current scheme of things. At least Tsunade had actually listened to him. Iruka had been alone in that place for weeks and no one had any idea what had happened in that time besides Iruka's ramblings.
Kakashi had sent his dogs ahead and heard a rasping bark nearby. Landing on the other side of a chain link fence he found himself moving even faster as he picked up a much stronger and even more familiar scent of blood. One of the most unique variations he knew. He grit his teeth when he saw Shiba pawing the ground nervously in a scatter of frozen leaves and dirt. The ninken had found a body laying face down and half buried by the soft fall of snow.
"Inform the patrols," he told Shiba.
Kneeling down Kakashi gently turned the ANBU over and clenched his jaw at the cracked mask that he knew very well.
"Tenzo," Kakashi was careful with his neck as he checked the still body. "Can you hear me?"
A gloved hand found Kakashi's arm and gripped hard. The sheer strength of it made the copy nin's breath come easier even as he winced at the pressure. After feeling a steady pulse he wouldn't care right now if his arm was snapped in two.
"What happened here? What did this?"
"I.... I don't know."
That's when Kakashi realized the arm he had under the ANBU's shoulders was horribly warm and the snow was going as black as the cloak Tenzo wore. Kakashi tossed the porcelain mask aside and quickly studied the skin of his face that was for the first time even whiter than his own.
"Kakashi," he wheezed. "There's something dark ... it's in him ... I saw it--"
He was half listening, maneuvering Tenzo's body carefully in his arms and put off as much healing chakra as he could while he lifted him up. A tug at his ankle swung his attention downward. Pakkun's snow dusted snout was ripping back and forth at the ankle of his boot. Kakashi's chakra bristled and sizzled, why couldn't he sense anything?
"BrrrBossoss!rrRRRgrrrrrBoSSS," Pakkun was too busy trying to yank him in his direction and couldn't talk between clamped jaws.
Another body. It was some distance away, crumpled between the tree roots buried in snow and dressed in a white uniform making it practically invisible.
"Pakkun. Medi. From black ops, not the civilian corps. Go to Ibiki-sama."
The wide eyed dog turned tail and raced off to do as ordered.
Kakashi felt his throat work as he looked back and forth numbly between the two fallen. Tenzo's body jerked in his arms with a whimper, shifting his weight closer to Kakashi's chest with a ragged breath. There was a seep of blood starting to run down Kakashi's arms and Tenzo's breathing was getting deeper and slower. The copy nin didn't freeze, he hadn't made that mistake in a long time. Trying to ignore the harsh cry of pain when he launched himself and Tenzo both upwards, at the arc of his ascent Kakashi teleported and they were right back in Iruka's empty hospital room.
"You have to find out what it is." Unable to keep his head up, Tenzo sagged onto his side as Kakashi lowered him onto the bed. "That thing is going to..."
"Don't worry about that now." Kakashi flexed his fists sticky with blood, unwilling to slide them out from Tenzo's limp body. His hold seemed the only thing keeping Tenzo from being completely formless and toppling flat onto the bed. His face was laying slack against Kakashi's bicep and his eyes were closed. "Listen Tenzo, we just need to get you into a big vase of water and give you plenty of sunlight." He managed a forced grin his friend did not see.
"That thing's going to... "
"-- do something bad," he murmured lowly. "I think I got that part down." Kakashi stepped hesitantly aside as a hushed but urgent team of doctors appeared. But he saw they had it. Tenzo was already breathing better as soon as their green chakra reached him.
In moments, he was back out into the night listening for his dogs. He knew his pack and he would probably get there at about the same time as a league of advanced ANBU medi nin. It was good to be the infamous Kakashi of the Sharingan sometimes. They'd be there before he used the Kamui no Jikūkan to wrap the entire hospital right on top of Iruka.
Kakashi thought he knew a little about going off the rails. He'd seen it plenty of times and even watched it destroy the only family he had. But what he was witnessing now was no gradual slide into some personal hell that caused guilt or battle fatigue. All of what was happening was because of that shrine in the mountains. Kakashi rubbed at his face and considered Iruka's sedate expression. Half of it was from actual sedatives that were running through an IV, the other from helpless exhaustion.
Also, Iruka was not happy to be back in a hospital bed. Especially not one in the Intelligence Division Unit.
"Okay, one more time," Kakashi pushed a hand back through his gray hair. His forehead was on the bed bar, his mask was down. "What is this... shadow? It talks you?"
"Not all the time."
"What does it say?"
Iruka turned his head away to look at the ceiling.
There had been a lot of this lately. This not answering any basic questions of any kind. Tenzo had said he'd seen something dark. Iruka had been going on and on about a shadow but that's all he'd explain. It was as if Iruka just couldn't even if he wanted to. The frustration that welled up in his brown eyes whenever he was asked anything about it so obvious now. Which meant there were very good or very bad reasons Iruka was being manipulated into silence. Within the last few days he had slowly become disturbingly aware that Iruka was trapped in some way but he just couldn't figure just how. One thing was clear, whatever this shadow was, it was very much in control and capable of doing harm. And now, thanks to Kakashi, Iruka was now also trapped here in the one place he did want to be.
Down here in these hidden rooms there were people who knew how to force things out of a mind without having the need to speak at all. Then what would this shadow do with Iruka? Kakashi's thoughts went to the feel of Tenzo's blood soaking through his uniform. Already one person had almost been killed and that was just a confrontation. If it was so powerful to do that sort of damage to someone like Tenzo, why wasn't it attacking them all right now? Regardless, an interrogation would be dangerous for all those involved.
Kakashi already knew he couldn't let that happen. But he was still going to figure out what the hell this thing wanted with Iruka.
"Is it talking to you right now?"
Iruka didn't look at him, but his breathing became faster and he wet his lower lip.
He would take that as a yes. "Can I talk to it--"
"No!" Iruka was straining to sit up, his eyes burning. "Don't ever even try!"
"Ok! Ok!" he quickly raised his hands, a bit startled at Iruka's vehemence. "I won't. I'm sorry."
Seated next to the bed, Kakashi began a slow cadence of banging his head against the metal rail. Iruka's nearest shackled hand jerked in vague protest. The accommodations weren't as comfy as the regular hospital but Kakashi had done the best he could given the circumstances. The view was terrible unless you liked cinder blocks and a rock door that only opened by wards. It was a dark and airless box and the worst thing was that Iruka didn't even seem to notice.
"Oi," Kakashi offered, picking up the bowl of soupy slop they wanted Iruka to eat. He'd lost even more weight since the mission. "If you have one spoon full of this we can all go to sleep."
"You don't have to."
"Have to what?"
Kakashi frowned at Iruka still staring blankly at nothing. His bandaged hands working absently in the metal restraints, his legs shaking when he felt the urge to get up and couldn't. Iruka had been dragged down into the facility kicking and literally screaming but he'd been talking about the shadow. When they had secured him in his 'room' Kakashi had gone to the nearest bathroom and threw up. Since they brought him down here to be observed, Kakashi had taken it upon himself to either doze in the straight back metal fold out chair next to him or throw caution to the authoritative wind and just sleep next to Iruka in his weird sterile prison bed.
When he could. It turned into weeks and he was sent away more than once. The Hokage never seemed to send him for long though.
"Hey, look, remember the soup?" Kakashi tried to make it sound like the best thing that could ever happen.
Iruka's vague smile faded but he slowly nodded. He couldn't feed himself because of the restraints and it embarrassed him every time.
"Come on, don't be like that."
Iruka half sat up and took the spoonful.
A nurse poked her head in. "Is he eating?"
Kakashi pushed the spoon back into Iruka's mouth with a wide grin he hoped she could discern behind the mask. He was well aware that the confines of those rooms weren't granted to many and he knew how much he got away with his trespasses just because of his allowances of rank and general favor. However, he did not like it when he was questioned on whether or not he could manage to feed someone soup.
"Make it look good, Iruka," he mumbled. "Or I'll get in trouble."
"How about the possibility that they'll put you on a feeding tube?"
Iruka miserably opened his mouth for more gray slop.
"That's my boy."
Making sure he could stuff enough soup into Iruka's face as he could he briefly excused himself to take a walk outside for some air. The basement levels always got to him. On a blistering cold day with no one out doing anything he of course would spot Naruto walking down the street and coming straight at him. He imagined the conversation.
Kakashi-sensei! What are you doing right outside of the security medical unit of the Intelligence Division on such a fine day as this?
Nothing big, kiddo! Your better sensei is just talking to shadow people and is now on lock down!
Goodness! That is unfortunate!
Catch you for ramen later?
That would perfectly wonderful!
Kakashi teleported right back into the depths of the unit before the kid could see him.
While reflecting on how he might have made Naruto a bit too articulate in his pretend exchange, he paused in front of Iruka's door at the sound of voices. There were three people filling Iruka's small room. And more importantly his chair. Besides being questioned on basic care, he also didn't like it when someone else was there at all. Most especially three particular medi that always seemed to be in Iruka's room whenever he wasn't and then would not immediately leave upon seeing him. They were very hard to mistake from the other doctors. The three young men looked like triplets. Tall, black hair, and unusual eyes of pure pitch that Kakashi had only seen a variation of in Snow Country as a teen ANBU.
Catching sight of the Commander coming briskly down the hall, Kakashi caught up to the tall man.
"Excuse me, Ibiki-sama. Who may I ask are those nin constantly in Iruka's room?" Kakashi decided subtle was a waste of time at this point. "I've been around a few years and eh, I've never seen them before."
Ibiki turned ponderously, his hand on his chin and searched the cavernous corridors that seemed to reach in every direction.
Kakashi mentally snapped his fingers. "The nin for uh, 0-492 designation." He should have known to use code first. This whole shadow that lived in Iruka's head thing was really throwing his game.
"Ah, Iruka Umino's specialists."
"They were sent by the daimyo," the interrogation master nodded absently. "To consult about our recent... seal issue."
Iruka was an issue. Kakashi would have punched him the throat if he thought it would help. He put on a smile instead. "Sent from where?"
"The Land of Iron."
Watching the man stride away Kakashi glanced back down the dim corridor. He supposed that made sense. That's where Iruka had found the seal. The thing. The shadow? With a yawn and holding two bowls of soup slop, hey solidarity, he paused in Iruka's doorway. Iruka was fitfully sleeping but those three black eyed nin were sitting around the room absently in a way that made Kakashi think of a family waiting on a fading person on their deathbed. It for some reason made him very angry. More than angry. It made him want to break things that were alive.
He was about to say something but then he heard one of the men speak. Backing up into the hallway he realized they hadn't noticed his presence.
"Master," the only one seated was directly by Iruka's bedside. "We three are prepared."
Iruka looked at him and said something Kakashi couldn't hear. Whatever it was caused all three men to nod simultaneously. The copy nin pushed up his hitai-tie to study them. There was a brief whirl, something dark, that flowed throughout the room before retreated rapidly back towards.... Iruka. As it rushed around his skin Iruka let out a stifled gasp and shuddered violently.
"Get out." Kakashi told them. "Now."
They quickly did.
Iruka blinked, saw him, and slowly smiled. It was a weak smile but he'd take it. Kakashi's anger simmered under the surface of his well placed easy grin. He had to do this the right way or they'd go in the question circle game until it was too late.
If it wasn't already.
Kakashi was about to ask a few well placed questions but suddenly stopped himself. Ibiki-sama was standing right behind him. He should have known immediately that the man was there because of Iruka's stare over the copy nin's shoulder. That expression of fear and abject sadness was something he'd been getting used to seeing more and more everyday when anyone came near his bedside. Like Iruka was expecting something.
"He's come for me." Iruka was quiet and resigned. "I have to go, Kakashi."
Ibiki-sama righted himself and lifted his chin. "Yes, our team needs to speak to the subject."
"Subject?" Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "I thought he was an issue."
"We need to ascertain what he has been told to do."
"You must be joking."
"He will be eventually released after an interrogation."
Kakashi didn't know what to do. "How long does eventually mean?"
Ibiki glared down at him.
"I just want to know how long you intend on-"
"Forget it. No way," The jounin felt something snap and found himself stepping up to the big man. "Have you even spoken to the Hokage!"
"You are dismissed."
Two bowls of soup slop shattered on either side of Ibiki's head against the wall and Kakashi really liked the look on the torture specialist's face. Especially with slop dripping off of it.
"You will not be permitted back into this facility," Ibiki-sama said calmly dabbing at his brow. "Your privileges are revoked."
"An escort will be provided."
Kakashi looked at Iruka who hadn't moved move than an inch since the exchange. Still staring at the wall. He walked down the hallway already knowing how'd be back in within 30 minutes. One detour, a few turns, and he was right back with a transformation jutsu. He'd even found an intel uniform too so he wouldn't have to maintain clothes along with a new face. Heading down to the depths of the compound where they liked to ask people questions in unpleasant ways, he halted when he heard the worrisome sound of excited voices.
"Those three nin from the Iron," a civilian spoke low and hectic. "They just helped 0-492 get out of here through the lower service entrance."
He knew who 0-492 was. That was Iruka's patient/prisoner designation.
"Why?" someone else was demanding.
"How should I know!" they answered. "But after they got him out the patrol found the rest of them all in the access tunnel. They cut their own throats. They were supposed to be bringing the patient to an interview."
So Iruka made a jail break again. This time with some help and all within the mere minutes he'd been away. Maybe the last time he'd had some help as well. He took off towards where he thought Iruka might be headed.
Maneki made a face. "That's him?"
"Yes." Ko gave a single nod.
From a concealed perch on a tree limb the two men had procured an unobstructed view of their target approaching below them from the unguarded village gate. Not remaining on the road for long, the man had veered into the forest and was heading straight for them. There was no need to use chakra to follow its passage considering all noise the man was making stumbling through the thick underbrush.
"Huh." With a flick of his black hair from his eyes, Maneki snorted. "I thought the Leaf nin were supposed to be a big deal."
Ko wished his partner didn't like to talk so much and all of the time. He glanced over to make sure the younger man wasn't about to make a move before being told. They were practically identical, Ko was slightly taller but with the same completely onyx eyes that lacked any white even along their rims. Their lord's doctrine had made their small clan this way. They were his servants.
"The Leaf is legendary," Ko continued. "That is why the Master choose one from this village."
"Coulda picked an elite at least."
An abrupt wave of rancor, roiled through Ko's head, and shuddered through Maneki. It pleased Ko to see his stunned fellow clansman have to stab a shuriken into the tree to hold onto under the force of their lord's annoyance. It pleased him even more to hear the wounded chunin cry out from the distance with the force of it. However, the presence was fainter than he knew it usually to be. His lord had been confronted by something or things while attempting to depart Konoha and it had weakened Him. Somethings with very old kekkei genkai.
Nevermind. His Glory would soon be back walking the land to guide and show the world.
"They will easily forget about a missing school teacher," Ko finally breathed, one hand on the limb and the other on Maneki to keep them both upright. "If one of their holy jounin disappeared they would come looking."
"But-But this Umino doesn't even have a blood limit?"
"No," he said. "But he's still is a chunin from the Hidden Leaf."
"I guess," Maneki went on dismissively, regaining his composure. "Still, doesn't look like much."
The nin limping below them matched the image Ko had been given from his Master to his own mind's eye. He'd been shown others things as well. Average everyday things this teacher did everyday. Ko had instantly disliked the easy smile on the young chunin's face as he navigated the cobbled streets, paused to chat with a vendor, shook loose change from his pocket to buy a bag of candy for children.
"Just leave it to me," Maneki withdrew a chunai that dangled with several scripts of paper. "I'll have him ready to go in no time--"
The stinging burst of chakra Ko sent tearing behind his partner's eyes were enough to shut him up and not blow their cover. The Land of Fire's black ops could be anywhere guarding their territories using methods unseen. To act rashly would end their mission before it began. Maneki gave out a breath of muffled laughter when the chunin stumbled and failed to catch himself on his hands to break his fall.
"I see why you're so worried, Ko."
"Do not underestimate him, fool," he said simply. "We cannot make any mistakes."
Yet something still did not register and he wanted to agree to Maneki's assessment. With the chunin now so close it was clear he was hardly noteworthy, a common civil servant in his bearing. For some reason he was wearing a uniform of a ranking intel officer which Ko knew with certainty did not belong to him. All he knew was that this person was a shinobi that had endured a standard chunin assessment and, as his Master had assured him, could still be a concern even if badly injured.
Which this Iruka Umino certainly was. Their Master wasn't known for his gentle hand.
"He can't even stand up." Maneki muttered, still reeling from the painful chastising thrum in his skull.
Ko sighed. He could well understand the confusion.
Maneki considered the nin sprawled in the snow thoughtfully. "Don't think they will waste time looking for him for long."
"Why do you say that?"
"Like you said," he shrugged. "Who would send ANBU for a nobody?"
His young partner Maneki was green, barely in the conclave for just over a year. Barely out of his teens and ready to leap head first into anything without much thought to his actions. But there only Five of them that served the Master and if things had gone as planned three were gone now. So just two left of what used to be hundreds. But Ko thought his partner may be correct. No one but their conclave of Two and their Master knew why it might be worth it to the Leaf to go bothering to look for their school teacher.
No one else knew Iruka Umino was the requilary.
"It is time," Ko decided. "Let's wrap him up."
The chunin blinked up warily when they landed on either side of him. Rolling over onto his back his panting breath fogged in the air as he tried to get his elbows underneath himself to sit up. He didn't appear incredibly surprised to them. More like helplessly infuriated and trying very hard to stand up.
"That thing sent you," he coughed in a scratchy voice. "T-The shadow."
Maneki thought the word was funny. But Ko didn't like the term Umino had used. It was disrespectful. Belittling. Blasphemous. Whipping out the first seal, he fell down into a kneel onto the chunin's shoulders shoving him hard back onto the ground with a startled gasp.
"What are you--ah!"
The requilary stopped thrashing after the sticky seal settled over his eyes, nearly stopped breathing when another was slid over his mouth. It burned gold and coalesced, forming over his lips, down under his tongue, and jaw. The charka wire they wrapped around his wrists and forearms bit in as he started to fight again, desperate strangled sounds coming from behind the glow of paper wrapped in and around his mouth. He kicked and pulled but he couldn't get free from the wires that dug and sliced into the wounds he already had. Strapping more around his legs, Ko wondered when he would stop, knowing he was damaging himself.
"This will take a few minutes before we can go," Maneki patted the chunin's writhing thigh. "So you might as well relax."
Ko turned towards the road knowing the waver of the yellow light might be seen.
In fact when he listened closely to his protections that were only set off by shinobi, he knew it would be very soon.
The first thing Kakashi did was throw a net of wards so wide that it would throw every owner of any shred of chakra for miles. At least for a enough time for him to find Iruka first. The second thing he did was summon his pack of ninken and send them looking.
Leaving the street lamps behind, he flashed through the black skeletons of trees and followed the increasingly haphazard tracks that wandered away from the unit entrance. He heard his dogs in all different directions which made the free fall churning in his gut become worse. Someone else had also made sure to hinder anyone's efforts to track in this area besides him. The snow was falling down heavy and thick without a hint of wind. He kept having to stop and retrace where Iruka had changed direction and then doubled back. It was if he had no idea where he was going....
Kakashi looked up at the top of the barrier wall and let his gaze fall until he realized he was only a short distance from the west gate.
Letting out a silent whistle to rally his scattered pack, he was at the gate in moments. The tracks. His heart beat picked up as he saw they were headed straight out of town. He followed the traces of increasingly labored footsteps, stopping at a spot where Iruka had obviously stumbled leaving two red hands prints in a snow bank. Another odd turn and strange change to immediate south, then he was plunging into the surrounding forest. He had to be close now but he couldn't sense anyone nearby.
But he could see something.
There was a flickering luminescence coming from somewhere back among the trees. His gaze scanned in every direction trying to pinpoint its exact source. It seemed to come from everywhere and no where at the same time. Focusing back on the tracks he forced himself not to be distracted by anything but where they would lead.
Kakashi heard him before he saw him.
"Damn it..." he ghosted through the woods, his heartbeat in his throat. The smothered sounds Iruka were making reminded him of a snared animal in pain. Kakashi moved faster as the wavering glow grew stronger. He abruptly skidded to a halt.
There, just a dozen yards away, was Iruka writhing in the snow with a strange light coming from his face.
Kakashi stilled and checked the path of the tracks. The Sharingan revealed nothing besides a confusing cascade of energy he didn't recognize. He stepped cautiously closer. There was something covering Iruka's eyes. And his nose and mouth... Not very concerned about walking into some kind of ambush anymore, Kakashi surged forward seeing as he closed the distance that Iruka's entire body had been bound tightly and cruelly with wire.
"Iruka! I'm right here!"
Iruka snapped his head towards the sound of his name, towards Kakashi, and his heaving chest slowed into stuttering short gasps. He couldn't breathe, Kakashi knew, and he had to get whatever was on his face off and--
The gold light suddenly flared molten hot, gushing across the ground and streaming through the air. Kakashi tossed an arm up over his face and staggered backwards at the searing blaze waiting for the fire that never came. Stunned, he rubbed at his eyes while casting his senses for whatever was going to come at him next. Nothing came next and after several moments his vision cleared enough for him to see the forest was dark again with the gentle drift of snow. And he was the only one there.</p>
"... Where are you..."
Remembering the tracks he dazedly followed them to the tree's base where he'd seen Iruka just seconds ago.
But the tracks just.... stopped where Iruka had been laying.
Kakashi knelt down and studied the dark bloody gnashes in the snow where Iruka's wrists had been for longer than a brief stumble. There was a rust stained coat cast off several feet away. No sign of tracks up, down or anywhere around. Kakashi looked down at the ripped jacket knowing what was worn under it was no better that regular nin sleeveless blacks. Iruka would be cold. If he was even alive.
Sending himself well above the tops of the trees, he whipped around a spiral parameter for a mile and sensed nor found anything.
He landed back right back into his own foot prints where Iruka last was. Where he was suffocating. The scent of fear still lingered no matter how vague in the frigid air mixing with the mournful baying of his dogs coming from the far off cliffs, the training grounds and even the lake. They couldn't pick up on Iruka. They'd lost him.
He lost him.
Kakashi turned in a frantic circle.