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
There had been a man and he had spoken softly.
His words echoed faintly in Iruka’s memory even as the cruel shadow scratched for more.
A man with heavy grey eyes and a bizarre shock of silver hair who had been warm when he was cold, laying very close beside him in a narrow horrible bed that he was not permitted to leave. The man did not speak very often or, when he did, in small quiet words that made Iruka feel not so lost. But he did leave from time to time. Iruka could no longer monitor seconds or even minutes so he had no idea how long the absences were. When he was there the man had made a very big point of making him eat a watery soup that was described as full of protein. When it got quiet and no one else was around the man would carefully kiss the side of Iruka's mouth.
When the pale man wasn't there at all, others had taken him to a separate room—seemingly far from that one—and had asked him questions he wanted to answer but knew he could not. He didn't want to cry or get angry but he had done both when they asked over and over. They’d hurt him when he’d simply stopped speaking altogether.
But he was not in that place anymore. Now there were no harsh lights, just the dull flicker of a lone candle. He was some place now where light was scarce.
Iruka could hear the past.
The bright sounds of copper coins tossed by children into the deep blue wishing pools rang like laughter in his ears. His father had always allowed him at least one wish if he’d asked fervently enough, and promised perfect obedience with vows to go straight to bed when told.
One wish. Once a year. He never really noticed when they didn't come true. It was all in the act really, the making of a small dream, and watching his coin glitter and drift out of sight under the shimmering surface. The shadow whirling sluggishly inside him made a low grating sound that could have been a chuckle. There were two human voices around him suddenly, mingling and twisting with the shadow’s incessant murmurs.
"I do believe he is back among the living."
"Are you sure, Ko?" A snort. "He's been talking a lot in his sleep."
"That isn't sleep. And I wouldn't call it speaking."
"Okay, he's been moaning in a blackout for three days."
"I've been trying to ignore it. It's extremely annoying."
"Who do you think this ‘Kakashi’ is?"
"Haven’t the faintest. His pet fish?"
"I told you, Maneki." Now a sigh. "I've been ignoring it."
Turning his head, Iruka grinded his cheek and pressed it into wet grit, an inescapable brackish scent thick in his mouth. So potent it was almost beyond a smell, a tangible hang in the air he could choke on, salty and biting on his tongue. His stinging eyes flickered open to frigid and humid darkness. A dull echo of a far off roar disjointed his senses even further, his numb limbs bound in wire not allowing him to push hair out of his eyes and where it clung damply to his neck. Muted panic rose and the shadow moved to soothe, its voice sliding back forth in an oddly gentle caress.
He could see it now--an outcropping of jagged rock hanging like an icicle above his head. A cave then, a tear drop of water forming at its narrowed tip about to fall. Iruka blinked at the clear pool next to his face as its surface rippled, wondering at the fleshy ropes of bloated green seaweed that lay around it and over his body as if to bind him further than the wires already wound tight about his flesh.
"So much closer now."
"Yes. The reliquary has gotten rest."
"What if our Master requires more time?"
"Then we wait."
"For a Leaf, this Umino does not need much water."
"I've already explained this to you Maneki. The Leaf are exceptional."
Reverent voices, surely the two black eyed men he had met in the forest. Their voices wavered like the trembling of the weak candle light, reverberating against the glistening stone walls surrounding them.
As a shinobi Iruka had seen relatively little of the world. He wasn't skilled enough to be sent very far or very long for much of anything. But he'd seen glimpses of the ocean twice in his life--once as a child with his mother and another on a mission. The smell of briny decay and the constant lethargic but powerful roar of the waves came back to him sometimes in dreams when he feared time and its lessons were relentlessly crashing closer and closer. The ocean had done more than humble the landlocked child he had been, its vast depth had terrified him. The never ending blue expanse of it had given him a strange fear about how large a thing could be.
The meager light was suddenly blocked by something settled beside him in a crouch.
"Now that you are awake," the unfamiliar man said conversationally in the gloom, black eyes like pits in his face. "...I really don't want to listen to you. However..."
The other man-- much younger--interrupted with eager curiosity. "Who or what is a Kakashi? I am willing to bet it is not a fish.”
"I.... I don't... I ...." Iruka's voice was little more than a rasp. Water. They’d mentioned something about water. "...I don't know."
"We figured as much."
Iruka watched one of them take out what looked like a gag. The cool smooth stone and wooden piece it was attached to pressed down harshly on his tongue as it was forced inside. He heard his startled breath catch in the back of his throat, his mouth working on the intrusion as he weakly jerked his head from side to side unable to rid the crushing grip on his chin.
"Our Master prefers you this way."
His bleary eyes went wide when they showed him the mask. Before they put it on his face, they let him have a moment to study it, as if they were expecting him to admire its sleek horned shape. It was pure black, like the thing rooting restlessly around in his mind. It was not unlike an ANBU guise however featureless. Narrow slashes had been cut into the surface to allow the wearer to barely see. Now so much harder to breath. His vision was all but gone. After that came a knife to slice the wires at his legs and his cramped thighs fell apart forcing a loud groan as his abruptly freed muscles burned.
"I can feel It." A fisted hand clenched on Iruka's knee and crept upward.
"Me too." Another hand set on his other thigh. "He is very close."
Iruka tried to push back away from them, the heels of his boots digging and gaining no purchase in the wet sand as he struggled, wrists and forearms trapped folded against his stomach.
"Master has nearly arrived."
Tenzo hadn’t always appreciated his own good fortune.
Orochimaru had done many things to create and mold his physiology but one of the most perverse, yet undeniably useful, was the ability to regenerate. Only three days in the clutches of the Hokage's personal staff and he could walk again without too much effort. He hadn't even tried to harm one of them. He had learned how to be good from watching the very bad. Growing up being an interesting experiment for two different madmen did that kind of thing to you.
He wasn't exactly sure where Kakashi would be but he had three good guesses. The black stone carved full with names of ghosts, a small functional room that housed two framed pictures or... just gone. The third option was usually the case, mission or not. Kakashi was adept at not being anywhere imagined by his adversaries or advocates. Tenzo knew this very well of him. He knew many things about his former captain that many others did not.
Therefore he’d gone directly to Iruka sensei's home.
Kakashi appeared to be engaged in something close to sleep, his body finally caving in on itself after many days of fruitless searching. At least, that was the tale as far as Tenzo could piece it together. His senior officer was barely conscious in front of the academy's teachers book cluttered kotatsu. The fight had ended not in their favor and now Kakashi was alone with his loss.
Tenzo knew better than anyone that loss made for very bad company.
Wisely, he’d summoned chakra first before attempting to touch the jounin. He knew what the copy nin was capable of even in sleep. He felt nothing but relief when Kakashi remained motionless, eyes closed and breathing low and shallow. For now, there was some version of peace. Tenzo took in the silence, drank in the cool quiet like water while it lasted and waited for the storm. As much as his own eyes wanted rest he maintained his watch. It was no surprise when the lights of the house began flickering. Kakashi had begun to stir. Tenzo braced himself.
A keening whistle crackled in the silence, the mark of chakra gathering in Kakashi’s limp hand.
“Kakashi?” Tenzo whispered, hoping maybe he'd be heard.
The body beneath him ignited, roiling, violent energy beginning to snap and arc around them in sharp flashes. The bulb in the fixture above flared white hot then exploded in a rain of fine glass. With a curse, Tenzo summoned his muscles to lengthen and wind about Kakashi’s torso before the half-awake jounin found enough awareness to throw him through a wall and the buildings next door. The creak and groan of flexible branches twined about Kakashi’s legs, pinioning his wrists to the floor beneath him to absorb the shocks of chakra popping around the body he now embraced.
“It's me.” Tenzo barely said it. "Just me." He’d only once before restrained Kakashi like this, wasn’t quite sure if even his body could withstand the full onslaught of his captain's power if it were unleashed mindlessly and unchecked. Kakashi was awake now but if he heard Tenzo at all he didn’t show it. Muscles tense and strained, he struggled against the hard winding wood encircling his limbs, one ignited fist ready to tear into the first flesh it found.
A mercy, Tenzo reminded himself, that he had none at this moment to offer.
“He’s gone…” Kakashi uttered in a low voice he rarely used. “He’s gone.”
Tenzo now realized he was panting with his efforts, placing his lips as close as he dared next to Kakashi’s ear.
“They took him.” Kakashi snarled in a gasp.
“Then we’ll get him back.” Tenzo said simply, flinching when Kakashi bucked in his grasp, shards of electricity stuttering silently between them. Tenzo only strengthened his grip. Kakashi’s moon white skin was flushed shades of hectic red, unstable. If Tenzo were a lesser shinobi, he would be far more panicked to witness Kakashi in this state. But no, his blended wood chakra would hold and stay holding until he commanded it. This could take a while. He breathed with Kakashi, tried to settle his mind while their chests went into synch.
Kakashi’s shoulders heaved, the crackling fire slowly receding with a deep ragged breath. Tenzo inhaled the reek of ozone in the air and prayed his limbs weren’t about to combust into flames. He wrinkled his nose. It still smelled like the promise of violence in the room, decidedly unhelpful. Softly, he released oil from his very much living bark and let it seep into Kakashi’s skin. The exotic sap produced by his chakra was never much use to him per se but the very few that had come into its contact reported that the cooling scent of it could relieve and subdue. Right now, however, Tenzo just wanted Kakashi to be in the same room with him again. Kakashi’s muscles slowly went slack. The room faded back to darkness as the flickering dance of the chidori was silenced then gone.
Tenzo breathed out in relief.
“Are you here, Kakashi?” Tenzo placed a tentative flesh hand on his captain’s throat, feeling him breathe.
"I certainly hope not."
Tenzo let himself smile just a little.
Tsunade had been around a very long time. It took an extraordinary force to create true anger or surprise her. The weight of the Hokage’s station was what it was and nicely dealt with lots of sake. She bore the title with the dignity the Village expected and strength she had always possessed. Seated at her desk, poring over her scroll and few lotto numbers, she let the steam from her tea cool before choosing to speak.
"We have learned a few things."
Kakashi said nothing.
"The three medi that killed themselves," she went on. "Their corpses have been studied and identified. They carried with them a strange chakra. They were storage."
"This... shadow Iruka spoke of, it wasn't strong enough to get out of there on its own. It needed help, and it used well, three chakra carriers to lend it the power it needed to get out of the village. Namely far away from the many powerful jounin that could stop it. In this instance, the T&I unit which is warded so heavily it makes getting out a bit of a hassle."
Kakashi considered her words. "Why didn't it just make house in one of its... suicidal batteries?"
"It made a choice," she folded manicured hands under her chin. "We have reason to believe that the mission to investigate the seal was purposely arranged so that a Leaf nin would be sent to that shrine. This shadow wanted a particular host.” She sighed, sipping idly at her tea. “Konoha has, you may recall, a bit of a reputation."
Kakashi suddenly had something of a picture, not in its entirety, but something. "So this thing wanted a Leaf nin. It got a Leaf nin. But it was weak for a while until it got stronger and stronger... living in Iruka." He felt sick.
"That seems to be the case."
"So it found a Leaf nin to get it free from its seal prison," he ran a hand through his tumultuous hair leaving it in more of a mess than it usually was. "What would it want with Iruka now? Why not just kill him?”
Tsunade, who did not usually mince her words or hesitate to deliver them, bit down on her answer. It did not go unnoticed.
Kakashi growled impatiently.
“I am Hokage for a reason, Kakashi. I can predict your actions and I have far more than your safety to be concerned with. If not for Tenzo here,” she nodded to him. “I’d have a very different problem on my hands. Loyalty can be a dangerous thing, brat.”
Kakashi really did not have time for this.
"How do I trace him?"
Tsunade looked grim.
"Kakashi," she said quietly. "I'm not sure you can."
She shifted her gaze. Without speaking, Tenzo rose from his seat to stand directly beside her. He bared his sleeve obediently.
“What are you doing?” Kakashi righted to watch as she placed her fingertips on the bared flesh of Tenzo’s forearm, closing her eyes as if searching. The soft green glow of exploratory chakra thrummed through Tenzo’s flesh as he looked impassively on. Tsunade spoke again to Tenzo.
“Awaken your roots, Tenzo-kun,” she ordered. “Ask them what they know.”
Tenzo closed his very large and almond shaped eyes, his body going very still. The usual flesh of his arms began to seal and harden, the wood chakra overtaking his body. Tsunade’s grip on his arm did not waver, holding on until at last the light faded.
“I’ve found it.”
From her pocket, she removed a tiny scalpel. Flicking it over the bark of Tenzo’s skin, just beneath his eye, she sliced a small portion away and sealed it in a glass tube.
Kakashi grimaced. “You’re hurting him.”
“No sempai.” Tenzo said calmly. “The Lady requires this. It is necessary to locate Iruka san.”
The other jounin was, for the first time in a long time, without much protest.
“Tenzo’s roots tasted Iruka’s blood the night he was taken. His cells can store genetic information indefinitely as it shares telepathic patterns with all botanical life. The link of Iruka’s blood can act as a receptor once I enhance its signal. Tenzo has served you elegantly, Captain. You ought to commend him.”
Kakashi threw a look at Tenzo who had the full on audacity to smirk back.
The copy nin found the energy to shrug. "Then what are we waiting for?"
Tsunade smiled. "Your team will leave in an hour."
"You know what they say," her smile broadened. "It takes a village."