Title: Evanesce 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - ?
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
(and most usually on a03 under minkmix)
The sunlight's glow was melting the snow at Kakashi's feet into slush.
It had been frozen when he'd first arrived before dawn, the day gradually warming as mid-morning approached and the hour he'd been told to arrive was still far off. He briefly wondered what Team 7 would think of him being several hours early for once.
The place the Hokage instructed Kakashi to meet his new team wasn't a commonly known way to get out of the village. The Hidden had even a few more Hiddens that were harder to find than others. Mostly because unless the Hokage personally invoked a certain location's existence, those places didn't exist at all. Unknown to most civilians of the village the Leaf had been created to be a labyrinth far beyond its chaotic jumble of alleyways and sewers. There were miles of wandering tunnels that reached even beyond the cliffs and heavily warded forests designed to make trespassers hopelessly lost. Within that there were quite a few mazes made in more trapped mazes and Kakashi thought he might know them all. He also knew a dozen of the elders would never know he'd made a few himself. But he was prepared for wherever they would send him.
Like this strange patch of warped scarlet hued woods that the Hokage had created out of thin air.
Even in daylight Kakashi's surroundings looked like something in a half dreamed red blur that was a horrible idea turned real. The Lady certainly had a great like for show. He looked around at the carefully crafted scenery while rubbing at an aching shoulder. She really shouldn't have bothered. The forest of death would have been just fine if she wanted all this secrecy. Because at the end of it all, he did not care about any need to be covert. He only wanted to get it going.
It was windy in this trans-fix soaked twilight of Tsunade's making causing her cloak to whip wildly around her.
"You're on the team?" Kakashi was mildly surprised.
"Couldn't pay me."
He twisted his hitai-ate that she misplaced at the side of his head by her neatly sliced smack. It was often said among the ranks that the kunoichi's attempts at affection usually tended to hurt.
She was giving him a considering look. "I have something for you."
"You may need it," she said tossing him a small old flaking scroll, pieces rolling off and fluttering. "Lasts a while."
Kakashi studied it while slowly turning it over in his hands.
Anko snorted. "You don't trust me?"
"Some of the time."
"You are welcome."
Palming the small weapon, Kakashi nodded back with a tired shame. He detested sympathy. It was loathsome that now so much of it was being directed towards him from all of his comrades. Now even Anko. To his relief she started fading away thankfully looking done and bored.
"Where is Yamato?" he had trouble raising his voice but he needed what he needed. "Tenzo should -"
"He'll be here." Anko answered while she slowly turned into smoke. "Such a worrier." And she flickered gone.
The churning red forest Tsunade made was empty again.
A sack that shouldn't felt bothersome lay heavy on his back.
Sliding down the side of a rippling purple tree, Kakashi used the bulk of the pack to lean on as his gaze lingered at the growing morning Konoha sky. The sky, even in Tsunade's jutsu, was there. Reaching for his pouch, there wasn't any book. He had to admit, and he'd never tell anyone, most of all not Master Jiraiya, that there could be never any real peace with or without a broken binding in his hand.
Then his mind, quite suddenly, gave him the school teacher.
Kakashi's gloved hands gripped his hair and he groaned, his head between his knees.
Jiraiya knew how to stifle Kakashi's mind when it sometimes erupted. Not many knew that. Jiraiya knew words in books could be like some warm broken in quilt that this child jounin named Kakashi never felt or knew existed. After a while, what the pages told him didn't matter so much. It was his sensei. Obito. Rin. There was even The Sannin. There was not a long list of people Kakashi looked to. So he kept to his missions. Keeping secrets from lands of faded sunset painted dunes, foggy swatches swarmed in ragged hills, and etched rotting boats that sailed through boiling storms. Kakashi never liked any of those places. He did enjoy moments in them. Like anywhere else. He liked moments very much. But when the sun broke through foreign mottled clouds it always brought him back to the bright green trees and Iruka's gentle smile.
His eyes snapped open.
Kakashi had a mission.
When he blinked he knew he was no longer at the assigned meeting spot in the red forest.
Long snowy branched trees drooped over a noisy brook that flowed from the near by snow capped hills. Frigid water lazed over rocks and flowed through long strands of green moss.
Tsunade seemed to have been busy putting her team together elsewhere.
Kakashi saw he was right outside the towering village gates. Cracked and broken as always. The ground he was grinding under his boots was what he knew. With a sudden burst of understanding, it came to him that he had been the only one sent into the Hokage's jutsu. It hadn't been a meeting place at all, it had been a controlled holding cell so he didn't find Tenzo and take off on his own without clearance. He felt incredibly stupid. And incredibly offended.
Then someone else was there.
'Oh, perfect." Kakashi's grey heavy gaze was directed towards the newcomer. "You?"
He side stepped slightly to avoid several senbon which were suddenly embedded -thud thud thud- in the ground fiercely, and very precisely beside his foot. Tossing projectiles while his back was half way turned wasn't very sportsman like. But this special jounin tended to enjoy entertaining himself like that.
"Hiya, Kakashi." The self-amused voice came annoyingly not energetic.
Kakashi always thought Genma's versions of a greeting were always a little over the top. Why the man didn't just abruptly materialize to make a baby genin wet themselves for fun like a normal elite, he was never quite sure. Without turning, he plucked senbon out of the frozen grassy dirt and returned them to the sender back over his shoulder. It was pleasant to hear a very satisfying yelp when at least one or two met its mark. Kakashi had been hoping for six.
"I see you are being very um, nonchalant but you might...," Genma said. "... want to work on a little more of the chalant."
Kakashi turned to look at him and worked out painfully what he should say.
"Use your words." Genma suggested.
He blinked and tried to stare hard with one flat eye.
"Forget about the big ones." Genma suggested further. He sounded completely unnervous and it made Kakashi want to slowly choke him. He watched the other jounin's face and wondered how it would be if he got angry at what he saw. He didn't get angry often. This wasn't the time. Someone was missing....
Suddenly, with a gasp, he sunk down to one knee, and Genma went right down with him holding him in place.
"Don't." Kakashi was looking hard at the ground, his fist balling, sparking and sizzling. "Just--"
"I wasn't expecting to see you here," Kakashi tried to pull away from the grip to keep watching for the Hokage. "So, you are on the... team."
Genma slowly stood up, releasing Kakashi carefully as he did. "I volunteered," he yanked a few senbon out of his shoulder with a slight wince.
"Why?" Kakashi honestly asked.
"It's... I can do this if.."
"Use your adjectives and maybe some more verbs." Genma rubbed at his senbon wounds. "Gimme me a sort of break here."
"This will be..." Kakashi's mind went a horrible stutter white with Tenzo bleeding out, Iruka staring into nothing. "Genma it's not--"
"Let's put it this way," Genma shook his head at the ground, fists clenched. "You're not the only one with a thing for teachers and trees," he shrugged. "And I hug trees. It helps the land."
Kakashi visible eye narrowed and white chakra sparked.
"Hey relax," the other man backed up half a step with his hands raised. "Bad joke. I just mean they are my friends. Isn't this what friends do?"
Kakashi simmered his energy down suddenly feeling like he had started an idiotic confrontation on a playground. "We need to focus," he breathed, forefinger and thumb working on his forehead. "It will be... difficult."
The last of what was left of Genma's smile faded into grim seriousness. It appeared as if he was going to say something inspiring, or worse, comforting, but Kakashi was thankfully saved by the sudden appearance of another of their party.
"Sorry I'm late. Am I late?"
"No Tenzo." Kakashi assured him. Tenzo was many things and easily flustered with punctuality was one of them.
"Tenzo?" Genma repeated.
"I meant Yamato." Kakashi corrected himself.
"Oh.. eh. Right."
Ignoring Tenzo's ready and too complacent stare, Kakashi wondered who the third team member would be. He had listed, relisted and guessed at the roster Tsunade would have pulled together and the choices were not limitless. He had doubts however. The Hokage tended to be very unpredictable at times.
"No way," Genma groaned. "Not HIM."
Turning, Kakashi saw no other than a disheveled Shikamaru trudging up the path with his hands shoved down deep into his pockets. Appearing as thrilled as usual as if the very act of being alive was the worst thing that had happened to him this morning.
"But he's just a kid." Genma hissed.
Shikamaru was nodding and yawning at the same time. "Then it's decided. This mission of yours will probably keep me up way past my bedtime anyway."
"Yeah," Genma readily agreed. "Why not his old man? Someone with field experience!"
"That's what I said," Shikamaru frowned. "Too bad for me he's on assignment."
"How about any adult whatsoever?" Genma was almost pleading. "I don't wanna babysit and fight at the same time!"
"I understand completely," Shikamaru said. "I'll just head back on home and--"
"STAY." someone ordered.
They all swung around to see Lady Tsunade standing above and behind them on the rise of a hill, the aftermath of blood red roil behind her passage. She was a bit startling at the best and worst of times, but her eyes glinted like there was a sun blaring behind them. Kakashi tried to hide his flinch when that gaze swung and landed right on him with heat from an uncontrolled fire.
"He's Nara and we are dealing with some sort of shadow. He could prove more than useful to you at your destination."
"About that My Lady," Tenzo tentatively asked. "Where is it exactly that we are going?"
Kakashi thanked whoever was listening that Tenzo always had the sense to stay in tune.
Tsunade gave a very worryingly dismissive shrug. "Honestly gentlemen, I have no idea."
They collectively looked down in alarm when a harsh blue glowing line she'd carved started to curve into a range of diminishing fiery circles under their feet and began to slowly spin. So much for a warning. It was time to go.
"Is this gonna hurt?" Shikamaru asked. "This is gonna hurt isn't it."
"I'm sure it won't be... pleasant." Her voice faded along with the shimmer of the Hidden Leaf.
And they were all suddenly swirling away and long gone.
The first thing Kakashi knew for certain was that he was alive.
No one could possibly be in this much pain and be dead. Every nerve threaded through every muscle was singing, as if they had been pulled loose of his body like a strand of wool undoing a sweater, and then hastily sown back into place. The second thing he knew was that he could not move and this, while it did not make him panic, did cause some due concern.
After a few moments he could flex his fingers in the brittle long grass under his hands. Bleary eyes revealed the white wash of the sky above. Several more minutes went by and he could sit up. After what he had gauged to be close to half an hour he was able to haul himself up on unsteady feet. Looking around, he saw what he'd already assumed. He was alone. Either the others hadn't made it or they all had landed like falling stars randomly around the area. Well, he couldn't worry about that now.
He realized he was standing at the edge of a crumbling white stoned cliff. Far below there was a strip of narrow rocky beach that gave way to grey ocean that was just several shades darker then the soft blare of the solemn sky. The bleak but shrill cry of broad winged sea birds drifted up the cliff face with a strong brackish wind that stung his eye, mixing with the lulling sound of the crashing surf.
This was not exactly what Kakashi had been expecting. He wasn't exactly sure what he might have been, but it was along the terms of another shrine, a keep, or something fortified and made by the beast that Iruka had called the 'shadow'. His gaze was locked on the churning waters beyond the breakers, and something in his chest tightened. Is that why Iruka's blood had summoned them here? Was Iruka already gone, somewhere lost, body discarded after he was no longer any use.
"If you are here," Kakashi's murmur was eaten by the racking wind. "I will find you."
Studying the featureless grassy plateau he stood on he saw nothing of any interest. Detected nothing either. But considering how Tsunade had warned them about this thing's ability to crosswire those types of senses of chakra he wasn't very surprised. However, his instincts kept bringing his gaze down to the water below, the white foam sizzling on the sand as it rushed back and forth with the draw of the next wave. Getting down there would be no problem.
All he had to do was jump.
Iruka lay curled on his side, his knees practically at his chest, his tightly bound arms numb between them.
"I don't think he likes us very much."
"No, I do not think he does Maneki."
"But Master does."
He was barely listening. It was hard anyway. The shadow's voice never stopped now. Iruka shifted his stiff limbs even closer as if to hone what he was really hearing. Feeling nearby.
All he could discern was a lone man. And for some reason, the man kept his blood red eye wide open.