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)
Iruka was walking through an endless quiet forest.
Lush and green with a sweet wind that carried the sounds of people laughing, talking, arguing and singing. There were so many of them. So many people hidden deep amongst the towering trees that stood strong and silently like sentinels. He heard a low tuneless humming and realized the one humming out of tune was himself. The forest became hazy, leaves shimmering on the branches. The sounds of a village started to fade away.
Piercing through it all were two distinct voices. They belonged to two men that didn't belong here in this peaceful place.
"You told me they wouldn't come looking, Ko. You said that to me."
"Well, they came." the other voice sounded annoyed.
The nervous and irritated sounds made the warm surrounding woods start to rip and drop apart piece by piece falling up into the clear blue above until Iruka was left shivering on the dank hard ground. He weakly shook his head from side to side trying to rid himself of the stifling black mask strapped over his face. Iruka did not know much anymore but it didn't take long to recognize this hell was real and that other place among the trees was the torture of some dream. That place didn't exist. His scratchy hum trailed off in a soft ragged sob with an even softer curse. He had never been any good at that. The cursing. At least the shadow was dormant, seeming to have fallen into the traitorous slumber along with him and had not yet awakened.
"You said they wouldn't!"
"I know what I said, Maneki."
Iruka knew the two men had been gone for some time. He had no idea for how long but he knew enough that he'd stopped flinching away from curious hands running over his body and mutterings in a language he didn't understand.
"What if there are more of them!"
"Calm yourself. We will protect the reliquary from any others."
"At least we got lucky," the other said. "Wonder what happened to this one."
Something heavy was dropped on the cave floor.
Iruka couldn't see them, only hear their movements. The eye slits on the heavy mask allowed very little other than the glow of the candle light and now crackle of a fire. There was the smell of thick wood smoke, reminding him sickeningly of the oily fires he had lit at the shrine. Then came the scent of sizzling fish and the acrid aroma tea made of herbs he could not identify. The idea of food made his stomach lurch in the want and the revulsion of it, the tea just made him wonder if they would ever consider giving him any water. Water. He curled into himself even tighter more for warmth than anything. There had been a quiet man once that always wanted him to drink water. Why would anyone want him to do that he wasn't sure no one the shadow said no one no one. No one wanted him for anything.
The ocean breathed its steady roar in a echo through the caverns walls.
Biting down on the stone and wood fixture pressing down on his tongue he turned his head into the sand, to avoid them hearing any desperate sound he might have made at the thought of easing his terrible thirst. His dry mouth ached and his restrained arms and shoulders were twitching with cramps from trying to struggle earlier under their prying hands.
The shadow stirred tempestuously further awake with Iruka's growing agitation.
No, please no, no- he was so tired. please...
Reprieve did not happen. Panting, he fought the savage blur of colors and light that flashed sharply and painfully making him shove his head back and forth into the sand. There was no stopping the onslaught of confusing images that he knew should somehow make sense. For a moment he would latch onto a thought before it was wretched away as quickly as it had come. There had been a field full of laughing children, a smiling blond boy with eyes at noon, a horrible brightly lit white room, and-
These dark eyed men had their hands on him again with their calm expectant words. But while they were speaking to Iruka but it wasn't him they were directing their attention to at all.
"Master wants to commune again," Ko seemed resigned. "Every moment He is so much closer to the surface."
The shadow's stare burned through Iruka's eyes and listened to the servants intently.
"If He wants to play I would like to go first this time."
"What gives you that privilege, Maneki?"
"Fine. We can toss some dice for it?"
The shadow began to thrum wildly and Iruka's muscles stiffened, a wracking shudder running through him as the heavy feel of the thing slithered down over his chest and settled on his taunt stomach, stroking and moving his thighs apart. Iruka did groan then, rolling over onto his back and moaning in disgusted frustration as the shadow whispered soothing things that made tears stream from the corners of his eyes.
No. No. No. No-
It told him to keep forgetting. Forget what? How do you remember what you were supposed to have forgotten? Forget and forget until you are empty. Empty and ready to be filled. There is almost nothing left. Nothing at all. Iruka ground at the bit in his mouth until he thought the bones of his jaw would crack, growling and thrashing at the dual grips of the human hands that lent power to the even stronger grip twisting inside of him. Forget until you are empty.
Iruka... My name is Iruka. My name is-is-
It surged and swelled, obliterating his litany like thunder clouds smothering an already obscure sky. It told him he'd soon not that know that name either. Just like all the rest all the names and faces and places... Iruka's head jerked aside as they handled him when a hazy image of a man with pale hair came. A long scar that ran neatly down over a closed eye. He grasped at the memory but it vanished as he reached.
When you are empty then your body will be mine for the taking because you will be gone. Missing from this wonderful shell, the reliquary, my reliquary. This body will be my body, and I will walk under the sun and moon again. Iruka's heaving chest hitched at the eager rush of words, the shadow gasping slightly when a human hand came to rest on his hip to ease his pants down, Iruka moaning with the shadow as another hand pushed his sand encrusted shirt up to his neck to clutch him under his chin. The shadow and Iruka both softly sighed and arched their backs when someone lay a reverent kiss on the sealed mouth of the ink black mask.
My name is Iruka... My name is...
He was spiraling downwards into the shadow's keening pleasure. Cold humid air flowed over naked skin and two warm mouths traveled downwards. Molten wet between his legs and on his chest with hands splayed on his lower stomach and others pulling up under his knees. The Master's ecstasy was as stifling as the wood smoke, and Iruka inhaled it with staggered breaths like vapor from a pipe of smoldering opium. He was being buried deep under the black, dragged into its hunger for touch, its insatiable need to feel. There was only one thing Iruka saw before it took over the last of any of his rational thought but he didn't understand what it was.
Across the cave on the other side of the fire, besides their packs and few supplies, there was something else. He numbly recalled hearing the two men dropping something heavy when they had returned to the cave earlier. What they had brought had been covered by a blanket. But not covered completely.
He could make out one uniformed arm with a metal gloved hand laying limp in a mirror like pool of water.
Kakashi had never had much appreciation for the sea.
Long ago he remembered Iruka expressing in an overblown drunken outrage about something close to the same thing. Due to some over indulgence with a few bottles of sake that particular evening, Kakashi had found the sentiment fairly amusing considering the teacher's namesake. It had been the first time he'd really laughed with him. Of course not as loudly as Iruka. But that easy laughter made Kakashi feel like he was allowed to join him even though Iruka now always complained he could barely hear it when he did.
Kakashi took in a deep breath and tilted his head back to look up at the sluggish passage of the dreary clouds.
He felt the closest to sane than he had for the first time in days. No longer stuck looking at a set of four walls with nothing but his fraying mind to dismantle him hour by hour. Minute by minute. Second to second. This is where he finally needed to be. Here he could focus. Here he could be finally put into use. His knuckles cracked as he made a fist inside another fist.
But no, he still didn't much care for the sea.
It wasn't as if it wasn't nice to look at. If he gave a damn. The truth was that he rarely really stopped to contemplate things like the quality of a view like he knew Iruka did. And if he really stopped to think about it, he didn't even ponder on why he didn't even do much pondering.
He looked up and down the empty beach.
A cracked turtle shell, as wide and long as several horses was half buried on its side in the packed sand next to an even larger translucent splatter of a milky blue jellyfish, seashells caught in its membrane like pink shrapnel. He nudged a half rotted seagull at his boot, grimacing at its tangled wings.
His dislike was centered around a few things that he found to be of much more concern than how enchanting some sunrise on a flat horizon was supposed to be. One thing was the logistical nightmare any water based tactical maneuvering required, especially with the teams of Leaf nin that were proficient and much more effective with solid land based operations. Another thing was a lot more basic and something that Kakashi largely kept to himself.
The incredible stink of the place.
He rubbed the back of his hand over his mask and resisted the urge to cough a little to somehow remove the briny reek that felt like it was stuck in the back of his throat. Having an extraordinary sense of smell did him no favors on a shoreline covered with one thousand and more dying or dead sorts of life mixing in the surf and tangled in the rocks. Not to mention the very much living things clinging to the edges of the countless tidal pools in shapes of shellfish and the scurry of crabs in the brown clumps of washed up sea grass. Kakashi also didn't like the unnerving knowledge that the vast expanse of water could hide anything better than any of the darkest of nights or the thickest of forests.
With a bit of effort he attempted to extend his chakra again just for the hell of it.
While his chakra reserves remained thankfully intact, his senses were hindered just like they had been in the Leaf. Somehow this shadow thing had made it him unable to sense much the last time he had gotten close to Iruka and there hadn't been even a flicker of anyone for miles when he had woken up at the top of the cliff. Like he had done when Iruka had broken out of the T&I unit, he spread a delicate web of chakra on the off chance it would pick up on anything. If it wasn't working on other shinobi than maybe it would at least seek out any traps or seals that might be sitting in wait. Starting off heading south, he suddenly paused as he experienced an infinitesimal tug on his web.
His eye widened.
Very much to his surprise he had felt something. It wasn't very much. Barely anything. Like seeing a torch lit briefly on a twilight mountain side. There and gone and in an instant and missed if one wasn't looking precisely in its direction at the exact right moment. It had come from somewhere ahead. Picking up his pace, he stuck closer to the rocks and weaved quickly through the white boulders that the crumble of the towering cliffs left littered along its base.
Leaping on top of one of the largest in his path, he scanned the area and spotted what his chakra had detected. Forcing himself to stay where he was, he pushed out his senses and found only that small spark again and nothing else. Satisfied it wasn't a trap, he jumped down into the narrow crevice between the rocks next to the sprawl of a very comatose Shikamaru.
"Looks like you had a fun trip too."
Pressings finger tips to the boy's neck, he found a pulse. The Nara's skin was pale but warm, breath steady and even. Kakashi brushed the sugary coating of sand off Shikamaru's closed eyes and out of his slack mouth. He considered the situation. Although he himself hadn't made it through Tsunade's ride feeling all that fantastic, he knew very well how much more he could handle than most. With a kind of morbid pride, he was aware he could handle more than most any nin of any creed, nation or kind. It was hard to fathom what the journey may have done to this genin that probably wouldn't have been exactly left smiling even at a basic jounin level.
Kakashi sighed. "Guess you're not waking up any time soon."
He thought briefly of Tenzo and Genma. Kakashi had little doubt or worry about Tenzo's ability to withstand the trip but Genma might be a completely different story. If Genma was laying around exposed somewhere on the beach like Shikamaru that could pose a problem. It suddenly occurred to him what else that could possibly mean and Kakashi glanced grimly out at the hectic toss of the waves. If Genma had ended up on land anyway. Pushing that thought out of his head, Kakashi gently picked the genin up and weighed his options.
"You got your wish," Kakashi mumbled to the limp kid in his arms. "You get to sleep in just like you wanted."
It didn't take long to find a suitable alcove nearby that he situated the genin as comfortably as he could, left an infused seal inscribed with what Kakashi knew so far, which wasn't all that much. He included a strong burst of chakra from his hand to Shikamaru's wrist and watched it flow rapidly through the lines up and down his body before it settled and faded into a glow on his face. It would help a little with with the pain when he woke up and maybe help him locate Kakashi later. Stepping back, he camouflaged the hiding place with what looked just like the pocked rock that surrounded it.
Safe and sound. He hoped. Turning back the way he came, he forced his senses out in a net once more. He had gotten lucky with Shikamaru. And he knew better than anyone that lightening really could strike twice.
Sometimes even more than thrice.
It took Iruka some time to become aware that the heavy mask had been removed.
Mostly it was the ability to breathe easier that made him realize he wasn't simply dreaming again. He blinked dazedly in the wavering gloom and didn't have any strength to resist the hands even if this time they were pulling and tucking his clothing back into place instead of the opposite. He had come to slowly and dully saw that he had an unobstructed view of the cave's jagged ceiling, dome like and very high in its center only to slope off to the sides where the light did not reach. The air was brisk and almost frigid making him guess that it might be night somewhere beyond the damp dripping walls. They had placed him closer to the foul smelling fire. As warmth gradually returned he wondered how long they had used him this time. Not that it mattered. It was a small comfort he supposed that when they and the shadow took him over, he seemed to fade away completely. Iruka thought maybe it wouldn't be so bad if next time he didn't come back at all. It was what the Master wanted. They told him that. It told him that. He had stopped trying to deny in the small moments of lucidity that they could be nothing but right.
He twitched violently when cool hands were suddenly placed on his face.
It must have been days in the mask, the unfamiliar sensation of the touch on his exposed skin was startling and he heard himself making small sounds of protest. He coughed and gasped as they pulled the smooth stone piece from his mouth. Working his aching jaw, he waited dismally for whatever what was going to happen next.
One of the men was holding him up with a hand between his shoulders and tilting a yellowed ceramic bowl to his parched lips. Unprepared for it, most of it ran down his face as he coughed most of it out. After the man emptied it, Iruka tried to raise his bound arms to make him stop when he returned with another, tongue burning and stomach clenching painfully. The man didn't stop until two more bowls later and dropped Iruka ungently back onto the ground sputtering and choking. He wondered how long he'd been without any food and water. Their reliquary apparently didn't require as much as a normal human being. The shadow had been keeping him alive he knew and with a sick dread he wondered just how drastically his body and mind had been altered to make that possible. Without any warning he was hauled to his feet. If the two men hadn't been on either side of him he would have ended up back on the ground, the cave spun wildly and he felt the water he'd been forced rise to the back of his throat. As his knees buckled they propped him up and held him firmly under his arms until the dizziness passed.
"Master now requires subsistence." the older one informed him.
Before Iruka could ask what that meant, they yanked him forward past the fire until they were standing over the figure that lay unmoving under the blanket. Iruka tensed watchfully, his hair hanging in his eyes and his hands flexing in the wire. The servants seemed to be waiting for him to do something. Iruka looked down at the covered body in weary confusion.
"Wh-Who is this?"
"Not a who," the younger one grinned, his pitch eyes glistening in the meager light. "A what."
"A what." Iruka repeated dumbly, his voice little more than a rasp.
"Yes. This is no longer a who," he answered. "It will serve as subsistence. You've done it before. You took our three brothers in the Hidden Leaf prison."
Iruka was shaking his head and trying to back away. "I have no idea what you are talking about-"
"Ko, could you do the honors?"
The other man knelt down and flipped the blanket back. Iruka blinked down at the sight of a young man dressed like he was. The uniform was slightly different but had the same insignia on the sleeve. Iruka warily studied him further and noticed long wicked needle shaped weapons scattered all over the ground, spilled from a pouch that had been tossed aside next to the prone body.
"Is-Is he dead?"
"No, no," the man laughed. "He's no good if he's dead."
Iruka looked to him not understanding.
"Go ahead and what?"
Iruka stared still not comprehending.
"His chakra," the elder of the two kneeling beside the body began patiently explaining. "It was pure chance he showed up. And already in this state. We didn't have to engage."
"It's true, no fight at all. Found him like that." the man next to Iruka smiled. "And he's an elite!"
Iruka stumbled back away and hit the cave wall.
"We thought we'd have to give up some of OUR reserves for Master's return and honestly even as bottomless as our chakra is that sort of drain would still sting a little. I don't like pain."
The other nodded solemnly. "Maneki and I were chosen to survive and to serve the Master when He again walks."
"It's because we're the strongest of our entire clan," Maneki sounded extremely proud. "It's in our blood."
Iruka swayed on his feet trying to wrap his mind around what they were telling him and what they expected him to do. And what the shadow would assuredly force him to if he didn't volunteer to commit the act himself. But what they were asking would surely lead to this person's death or something even worse.
"Oh yeah!" the one beside him let out another laugh, although this time it sounded apologetic. "You'll probably need your hands right?"
With a downwards slice of a kunai his arms were suddenly released and he choked on a harsh cry of blinding pain. Falling to a knee, he willed himself not to completely collapse as blood coursed in a rush into muscles that had been constrained for who knew how long. Instead he tipped forward breathlessly, one shaking hand bracing himself on the wet stones, the other landing on the shoulder of-
Once his fingers made contact with the unconscious body under him a single word flashed like a flare through the midnight in his head. Iruka's heart skipped in his chest and he froze. Trembling fingers went to the oddly serene face, damp hair clinging to sun dark cheeks and forehead.
It had just been one single word.
"G-Genma." Iruka whispered it to himself in disbelief. A small sliver of terrible hope rose and he braced himself afraid but defiant of what the shadow would do to the shining thread. "I know him. I know him."
The two black eyed men exchanged a worried look and shifted uncertainly.
Iruka swung back in rage and frustration as he tried to hold on to that name, his body seizing in agony when the shadow unfurled inside every strand of thought his mind possessed. It neatly slashed his heresy in another brutal lull to start to reinforce his submission. But that name. The name was.... He kept his eyes closed trying to hold onto it. This man had a name. There was a name. Iruka had just had it... thought he might have even said it out loud.
"He really should get started, right Ko?" the young man had started to fret, his jovial manner gone as the air around them boiled with their Master's discontent. "This Leaf elite has more chakra than a few dozen temples combined and I really think this could take all night. Maybe even a few tomorrow nights."
"You are right."
"For once, yes."
Iruka sat up and then immediately fell back to a sit, his hands behind him, fingers clutching and grabbing into the gritty sand. He couldn't stop his mind racing to search for what he had just lost, there had been something, it had been there, it was right there and it was something important. He started when a slender hand he unfortunately did know came under his chin, two fingers tipping his face up. Iruka didn't know why but he hated that hand and the person that never smiled that came with it. Eyes like holes, a thumb pressed so hard it bruised his lower lip as he met Iruka's steady but sad gaze. He was so tired.
"Now you see..."
"Tell 'em Ko!" the younger man behind him urged. "Master did not like that."
"Yes, yes, I know I heard Him," Ko studied Iruka's face. "And if I could only hear Him, I really can not begin to conceive what he offered to you."
Iruka looked up into the glittering onyx eyes and only felt exhaustion and despair. He didn't have anymore. How much more could he give to this fight? When the servant released his face, he sagged to a fall on his side and felt the numbing cold seep of sea water soak into his already damp clothes, the salt burning and stinging into the shallow wire cuts all up and down his body. He thought about the pale haired man with the soft kind voice. Iruka wondered if he would dream about him one more time before he was gone.
"Would you like to hear a secret?"
The servant named Ko crouched over him and was prepared to confide in a way to make Iruka think that the Master and his followers were a truth after all. One in the same. Forget. Forget everything. Empty. You will become empty. Ko whispered right into his ear.
"The secret is that I am envious of you."
Iruka's doubled over into a bitter soundless but weak laugh. For some reason it made him think of someone with a lopsided smile from a scar that went down his eye and tangled grey hair. But it was impossible. No one else existed. Dreams were made to torture him into hope so it could be taken away. Forget. Forget dreams of a forest. Forget peace. This man you imagined, the shadow said, your dreams are wonderful and I would like them. They will all be finished soon. I'll keep them all in a box for Myself. I will seal them away just as they sealed my clan's secrets. Just as others sealed me. I will seal you away.
"Then--Then do it-"
Iruka knew perfectly well that the pale haired man with the heavy eyes wasn't real. Another figment the shadow created. But it was nice in fleeting seconds. Sometimes. He could almost remember how it felt late at night when a winter storm set in, the wind wailing outside and they were together. It was as if the whispers the pale man spoke were as warm as the trees stood tall. He made Iruka smile when he didn't want to. The shadow was clever, the shadow was cruel, it made him feel more than physical pain. The shadow was right. He was weak. He was weak. He had no one. Forget. Forget.
The servants were back.
Iruka felt his loose hair gathered at the base of his his neck and yanked up hard so he was forced up into a kneel in front of some uniformed man laying on the ground. Where had he come from? The nin looked ill, wounded, half covered in a blanket. His shirt had been cut down the middle down to his waist.
"So now reliquary," Ko took Iruka's hand and placed it on the man's bared chest. "Let's get to work."
"Give it a moment... ah, there."
Iruka saw his placed hand pulse with a brilliant blue light and the body under him shook for a moment before it stilled again. It might have been hours, it might have been probably only seconds, when the nauseating stream of steady energy that wasn't his made him yank his chakra scorched hand away. Iruka was surprised to see the man laying under him was now half awake. The nin had turned his head and managed to focus on him. Iruka was even more bewildered when the man attempted a pained but a strangely triumphant smile. It was a nice smile.
"F-Found you first."
One of the servants took Iruka's limp hand back up and replaced it higher on the chest, closer over the heart. Iruka was causing pain. He had to stop he had to stop he had to stop all he had to do was stop. He had to listen to the shadow. It told him everything it would do when it returned to walk under the sun and the moon. Iruka listened like he listened to his own heartbeat. Embedded, constant, unstoppable.
The looked down blankly when the nin with a uniform that looked like the one he wore was trying very hard to talk.
"It-It's okay, sensei..." the man stammered, his eyes slipping as the light pulsed brighter and he panted in slow even breaths when the chakra started to be drawn out needlessly slow. The act like a sword sawing in and out of a wound. "It's going to be... to be..."
The shadow was making him hurt this man on purpose. Iruka had defied Him and He liked to punish. But this man in the uniform and senbon had a name. Iruka knew he had a name. The man had gone unconscious again when Iruka had his attention taken away with the shadows rambling murmurs. He screamed and fought in the battlefield of his mind. He never won. So he thought he'd finish what this nin might have been trying to tell someone.
"...it's going to be okay." Iruka told him quietly, the hand not forced on his chakra points pulled the nin's shirt closed from the frost that was forming on his wet skin. Sending the chakra he had stolen straight back to heat his ice temperature and healing the bruises the servants had left after they found him unable to defend himself. "Your mission reports are horrible."
"You have to listen while I can still- while I can still-"
"I don't know... I don't know who you are."
Iruka did not know him or where he came from but he would not let him die here. Not like this. It was time now. He saw the array of weapons they'd left in this nin's possession and not really rendering their recent captive helpless. The shadow was watchful but now sometimes lazy in anticipation. He had to find the right moment.
"I will make this okay."
If there were no reliquary, no one was walking anywhere.
Sun or moon. This will end like an eclipse.
Iruka picked up a fist full of the nearest senbon from the watery ground at his knees, moved them over his heart....
... and pushed.