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 the Long Road Home

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Itchy

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PostSubject: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:12 pm

Chapter 1 - part 1: Hidden in Blood and Waves

The Mission Desk in Konoha had been unusually quiet for the past few days. So much so, that Iruka was having a hard time staying awake. After all, he'd put in a full day at the Academy shaping the pliable minds of the next generation of shinobi. After bandaging their scrapes, wiping their noses and dismantling their pranks, Iruka spent an additional four hours grading papers and making sure the lesson plans for the following week were in order. Normally the frantic pace of the Mission Desk was enough to keep him going – but today – he was finding it impossibly dull.

In an attempt to wake up, Iruka clasped his hands over his head and stretched. The attempt failed when he broke into a yawn mid-stretch. He felt the heat rise in his cheeks and self-consciously rubbed the scar across his nose as he glanced around in embarrassment. Thankfully, the only other chunin – Itsushika – was too busy reading a newspaper to notice Iruka's transgression.

Iruka glanced at the wall clock and held back a frustrated sigh. He still had three more hours before his shift ended. He rolled his shoulders and turned to look out the window. His reflection in that window startled him. He couldn't believe how tired he actually looked. Iruka took a moment to straighten his uniform. That helped – but he still looked a bit disheveled. He frowned and his reflection frowned back.

Iruka noticed his normally tidy ponytail was halfway down – allowing stray strands of his dark brown hair to cascade toward his shoulder. His brow furrowed – and this time he didn't hold back his frustration while he pulled his hair loose of its catch and worked to recapture it in a tight ponytail. Only once his hair was gathered back atop his head did Iruka venture to look through the glass of the window to the village below.

Lampposts illuminated small sections of the sleepy village, the light gathering in bright pools at the bottom of the posts. Meanwhile, the rest of the streets and buildings were cast in the paler light of a nearly full moon. Barely anyone was out this late at night – and those that were looked to be heading for home after a long day.

These quiet nights were a rarity for any Hidden Village – and Iruka knew he should be happy with the silence – but still, somehow, he missed the bustle. He sighed once more and moved back to his post behind the Mission Desk – glancing at the clock once more. He groaned. Not even five minutes had gone by.

The sound of quiet snoring cam from the other desk. Iruka looked and saw Itsushika fast asleep, with his arms and face sprawled across the pages of the newspaper he'd been so recently reading. Iruka smiled at the irony of the situation and was just reaching the decision to let the man sleep, when a commotion out in the hallway caused the other to wake.

Before Itsushika managed to lift his head fully from its resting spot, Iruka was already at the door. He'd recognized Naruto's voice – and the fear it held was enough to wipe away every ounce of fatigue from Iruka's mind.

“Where's the Hokage? Come on! Granny Tsunade has to take this thing so we can go back for him!”

Naruto was clutching an ornate scroll case in one dirty fist will he shouted at the guards in the hall. His blond hair was more of a mess then normal, his clothing was torn in various places, and it showed smears of blood and the traces of quickly healing wounds on the exposed skin. At his side, Sai was looking a bit worse for wear as well. The young man's pale skin was riddled with cuts and bruises, and his eyes held traces of something that could almost have passed for fear – which was rather alarming, considering Sai wasn't one to normally show emotions. His black hair was plastered to his forehead by what Iruka hoped was just sweat.

Iruka swallowed back the lump that was forcing its way into his throat. He knew Naruto had been on a mission near the Land of Waves – after all, they'd planned to meet for ramen when he returned. But obviously something had gone wrong. He glanced around the hall, but there was no sign of the rest of his team. Iruka tried to smile, and approached the two youths – hoping to soothe away some of their distress.

“Naruto – Sai – we'll send someone to find the Hokage for you, OK?”

Iruka motioned to one of the posted guards – and thankfully they followed his suggestion without any arguments. Once the guard disappeared, Iruka returned his full attention to his former student. Naruto's eyes shifted around the hall as though expecting someone to jump out at him. It was only then that Iruka noticed the bloody kunai still clutched in the young man's other hand. Iruka frowned and looked toward Sai. He wasn't doing that much better – which was disturbing – considering the rumors that Sai was a member of Root. But the young man had his short sword still in a defensive position – even though they were back in Konoha.

Iruka chewed on his bottom lip while he tried to recall just what Team Kakashi's mission entailed. While his mind raced, he attempted to calm the boys down.

“Naruto – Sai. . .” His voice took on the tone he used with agitated children in the Academy yard. “Until the Hokage arrives, why don't you put your weapons away and take a breath. You look exhausted.”

Sai blinked at him and tipped his head to the side – then his gaze shifted to his sword as though he hadn't noticed it was still in his hand. Iruka let out a quiet sigh of relief when he lowered the weapon – although he still didn't put it away. Meanwhile, Naruto's expression grew distant. The blond genin shook his head.

“It doesn't matter if we're tired, Iruka-sensei. We have to go back.”

The words were spoken with such conviction that Iruka had to wonder just what his former student had gone through. Finally, Iruka remembered the mission scroll he'd handed to Kakashi a week ago. It was a typical B-ranked escort job from a small village on the border of the Land of Waves. They were supposed to meet the man and bring him back to Konoha to meet with Lady Tsunade. It was supposed to be a by-the-book job.

Iruka glanced back at the scroll case clutched in Naruto's hand. He moved a step closer to the boys– noticing the slight tensing of their muscles when he moved. He needed to find a way to get them to relax.

“Naruto . . .” Iruka didn't get a chance to finish his thought.

Tsunade and a handful of ANBU appeared at their sides. The Fifth Hokage looked like she'd been pulled out of bed – but she was all business when she addressed the two members of Team Kakashi.

“Alright kid – REPORT!”

Naruto held the scroll case out to her. “Take the damn thing so we can go back!”

She blinked at him and then looked between Naruto and Sai. “What happened? Where's Lord Taisetsu?”

Naruto scrunched his face up like he did anytime he was remembering something unpleasant, and turned away – his breathing became uneven. Sai's quiet voice filled the silence.

“Dead.”

Tsunade's eyes widened. She looked around the hall – then back to the young ninjas. Her tone held a bit of anxiety in it. “What about Sakura?”

Iruka's own eyes widened slightly. He'd been so worried about the state of Naruto and Sai he hadn't thought to ask about the young medic. Again, Sai responded in a professional voice.

“We dropped her at the hospital to be taken care of.”

Now Tsunade's eyes closed. “And Kakashi too, I suppose?”

A near sob escaped Naruto's throat. Sai continued – although if Iruka was any judge, the young man's voice sounded tight in his throat.

“We left him behind.”

Iruka felt an unexplainable dread fill his being, and he spoke without even realizing it. “What do you mean you left him behind?!?”

Sai's eyes widened and he took a step back – raising his sword slightly as he went. Iruka recognized that his words must have come out fiercer then he'd intended. But it was Naruto who answered the question.

“He didn't give us a choice, Iruka-sensei. He knew they'd follow him – especially after they killed Lord Taisetsu.” Naruto paused and looked at the bejeweled scroll case that was still clutched in his hand. “Kakashi-sensei made us swear to bring this thing back to you – and then he took off in the opposite direction.”

Naruto took a shuddering breath and forcefully pushed the scroll case into Tsunade's hand. He hissed through his teeth. “Take the damn thing already!”

Tsunade took the object and frowned. “Why was Kakashi so sure they'd follow him, Naruto?”

The young man looked away. Iruka's heart clenched at the look of utter helplessness on the boy's face. Sai filled in the missing pieces.

“We were outnumbered and Kakashi-senpai knew they would do whatever they needed to in order to obtain the scroll – especially after they callously killed Lord Taisetsu. He made sure the enemy saw him give us the scroll and then also made sure some of them saw him secret away another scroll within his vest – then he ordered us to scatter.”

Sai paused. Iruka nodded at what Kakashi's thought process must have been at the time. “So he wanted to hide the real scroll in plain sight – knowing the enemy would never expect him to give it to anyone else.”

Sai nodded. “The plan was successful. The enemy only sent a handful after us – while the rest set after Kakashi-senpai.”

Tsunade stared at the scroll case in her hands once more. “How many went after him?”

Sai took a moment to respond – as though he were counting them in his head. “Thirty-two.”

Iruka and Tsunade spoke as one. “Thirty-two?!?”

Naruto trembled as he spoke. “That's why we have to go back! He's going to need our help!”

Tsunade's next words stunned them all. “No – he won't.”

Naruto and Sai seemed shocked – and it was Iruka who put a voice to their distress. “What?!? Why would you say that?”

Tsunade shot him a death glare – but Iruka was beyond worrying about that. Kakashi was the village's top jonin. But even he would need help against so many of the enemy.

The Hokage responded to his outburst in a clipped tone. “Thirty-two to one are odds that even I wouldn't take.”

Iruka blushed as she continued to explain her logic. “I can't allow our resources to be wasted in such a way – and Kakashi Hatake would agree with me on this.”

Iruka clenched his fists – and he knew his face would betray his growing anger. He'd never been able to hide his emotions that well. “This is crazy! You can't just let him go so easily. . .”

Tsunade spun toward his – a fire in her narrowed eyes. “Easily? Are you really that naive Iruka Umino?”

That was when he noticed the loss etched into the Hokage's face, and the haunted look behind her golden eyes. Iruka bowed his head in shame. “Forgive me, Hokage. I had no place speaking to you that way.”

He heard her sigh. “Iruka – I know this isn't easy to take, but it is what it is. All that's left is to send out a retrieval squad for verification and – if necessary – to erase any traces.”

Iruka heard a sob from Naruto. He ventured a glance in the young man's direction. The genin had lowered himself into a seated position and buried his face in his hands. His words were hard to hear – but they were enough to make Iruka realize just how much the boy had grown since his time at the Academy.

“Kakashi-sensei said you'd say that. . . and he made me promise on my nindo to accept whatever you said.”

Iruka cautiously moved to Naruto's side and placed his arm around his shoulder. After a moment, Naruto shifted his face to lean into Iruka's chest and cried. Seeing the agony his former student was suffering, a firm resolve settled into Iruka's being. He turned his face up to meet the Hokage's eyes.

“Lady Tsunade – I have one favor to ask of you.”

She narrowed her eyes at his words. “And what is that, Iruka?”

He hardened his gaze. “Assign me to the retrieval squad.”
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:14 pm

chapter 1 - part 2

The soft whirring of countless machines brought Kakashi back from the edges of oblivion. The sound was oddly comforting in that it meant he'd survived – once again. But at the same time – something didn't seem quite right. The tone was off in the way it was echoing between the walls – and the scents within the room – although antiseptic in nature – carried an underlying smell of something . . . unfamiliar.

Kakashi allowed his awareness to sharpen further – although he made certain to keep his breathing controlled, his eyes shut, and his chakra-flow steady. He could feel that he was on a bed – covered from the waist down by a crisp sheet. He could also feel numerous wires trailing across his skin – leading, no doubt, to the various machines surrounding him. His mask was gone – replaced by an oxygen mask – the moist air even now blowing over his nose and mouth. There was also the disturbing discovery that his wrists and ankles were encircled by thick leather straps – he was being restrained.

About the only thing Kakashi Hatake could be sure of at the moment was that he was most certainly not in Konoha.

That thought led him to wondering just where he was. A noise from the right side of the room drew him back to his current predicament. From the sounds – he began to get a mental picture of his surroundings – not quite ready yet to open his eye or let on that he was awake.

He heard a door slide open, and then slide shut again after one – no, two – people entered. From the sound of the footfalls made while they crossed to his side, Kakashi knew approximately how far from the door he was. Both sets of footsteps fell in time with each other – so it was likely – by the length of those strides and the force of those steps – that the two were men – similarly built – and in all probability, adults.

Kakashi's deductions were partially confirmed when the two began speaking – the first in a low bass voice and the second in a clear tenor.

“I still think we might be taking too many chances with this one.”

“Don't be ridiculous. There's nothing he can do in the shape he's in. Relax a little, and remember our oath to heal.” Kakashi felt warm fingers press against his wrist – doubtlessly checking his pulse. “You can't tell me you aren't the least bit curious about him? Besides - there's a very good chance he won't wake at all.”

The other man grunted and walked to the opposite side of Kakashi's bed. His voice sounded a bit strained and he switched to a harsh whisper. “I wouldn't count on that, Samidare. These readings show he's probably already awake.”

The man called Samidare hastily let go of Kakashi's wrist with a gasp. Kakashi wondered briefly why he was causing such fear, when it was quite obvious he wasn't able to do much of anything to them in his current state. He sighed internally – and figured it would be easier to get answers if he just asked.

He made a point of taking a deep breath before slowly and deliberately blinking his right eye open. It took him a second to get his eye to focus on the unfamiliar surroundings – but once he managed it, he had to keep from laughing at the almost comical expression of terror on the man's face as he stared at him. After all – wasn't this the same man who was just stating there was nothing to worry about from him?

The middle-aged man stood a bit taller then Kakashi's height and was solidly built – although it was obvious from the softness of his muscles that he was not a shinobi by any means. His skin was the shade of wet sand – possibly from exposure to strong sunlight – and his wavy brown hair fell to just below his ears. Light blue eyes looked out of place amidst the darkness surrounding them – and currently held a look of abject terror within their depths.

The startled man glanced across the bed at his companion. “Chuutetsu, he's staring at me. . . what should I do?”

The other man stepped around to Samidare's side and sighed. “Well, I suppose we should ask him how he feels.”

Kakashi noticed with satisfaction that his assessment of the men while his eyes were closed wasn't too far off. This second man was only a touch shorter then the first – but his muscles were a bit more prominent – giving Kakashi the impression that this medic had training outside the field of medicine. The man's skin was darker then Samidare's – almost the shade of coffee – and his graying hair was cropped close to his scalp. Kakashi watched Chuutetsu approach him.

“So – you've finally rejoined the living.” The man stopped and furrowed his brow before continuing. “Can you understand what I'm saying?”

Kakashi took a deep breath and forced a single word past a throat that seemed disturbingly unused to such an act. “Yes.”

The word was muffled slightly under the oxygen mask, and the medic seemed to realize it wasn't really needed anymore. He slowly reached toward Kakashi's face and removed the mask. Kakashi allowed a small frown to cross his lips. “Where am I?”

The two men shared a confused glance and then turned back to Kakashi. Samidare approached and leaned closer. “You don't know where you are?”

Kakashi tried to shrug – and regretted the movement when a dozen cuts and scrapes he hadn't noticed before flared to life. A low moan escaped his lips, and his eye closed from the pain. After a moment he forced his eye open again. “I assume I'm in a hospital.”

Again the men shared a concerned glance. This time Chuutetsu answered. “You are.”

Kakashi glanced around once more – not seeing anything in the room or on the men to give him an idea of where he was. He knew he'd been heading to the Land of Waves. But this room and these people didn't match that land at all. He resettled his gaze on Chuutetsu's face and gave a slight tug against his wrist restraints. Both men tensed at the movement.

“Is this really necessary?” He tried to keep his voice as harmless as he could.

“You really don't recall how you got here, do you?” Chuutetsu's dark eyes widened a bit.

Kakashi tried to think of what he'd been doing before waking up in this room, but all he could recall were a few very hazy things. He knew he was being chased – and he knew his team wasn't going to be able to help him. The more he tried to remember – the worse his head ached.

“No – I don't.” His words carried his frustration in their tone.

The two medics stepped back from the bed to converse in hushed tones. Kakashi, however, with his acute hearing, was able to hear every word.

Samidare's voice sounded awed. “How could he not remember? He managed to kill six of the cadre before they finally sedated him!”

Chuutetsu's low voice supplied a bit more information. “It could just be a result of the trauma from whatever brought him to our shores. The others said he was striking out without even focusing on anyone as they pulled him from the water. Honestly – I don't think he killed any of them on purpose . . . and I don't know how he survived in the first place. The temperature of the water alone should have killed him after just a few minutes exposure – and by the style of clothing we found him in - I have a feeling he's from someplace pretty far away.”

Samidare's answer seemed uncertain. “I heard they still haven't figured out how he ended up in that part of the ocean. But I suppose the coldness of the water could be why those wounds didn't do him in.”

Chuutetsu turned his head back toward Kakashi. “I just wonder if he is going to be more trouble then he's worth.”

Samidare nodded his head. “Well – I guess we should let the others know he's awake. Then it won't be our concern anymore.”

The gray-haired man's gaze locked with Kakashi's and his face softened slightly. “We can let them know once we make sure his health is stable.”

“But Chuutetsu . . .”

The obvious senior of the two waved his companion's worry away. “You're the one who reminded me of our oath, Samidare. Now let's do our job.”

The two walked back to Kakashi's side. The jonin tried his best to look harmless as he addressed Chuutetsu directly. “Can you at least tell me what village I'm in?”

The man blinked his eyes. “Village? You're in the city of Hyoukai Yobou. The nearest village would have to be on the far side of the water – in the Land of Mist. Is that where you're from then?”

Kakashi took in this new bit of information with more then a little shock. He tried to keep it from his voice. “No – I'm not from there.”

Samidare's voice chimed in. “He looks more like those freaks from the Land of Lightening anyhow. Maybe that's where he's from. That place is almost as close as Mist.”

Kakashi took a breath. “No.”

His mind was spinning – how did he get so far from home? Just from this little conversation he figured Hyoukai Yobou was located somewhere to the Northeast of Mist and Lightening countries – but obviously outside of the shinobi lands – or he would have heard of it before. It also explained why they didn't recognize the clothing he'd been wearing. Was it possible these people didn't know about the shinobi? He needed more information.

Chuutetsu moved his hand toward Kakashi's still closed left eye. “Is there a reason you're keeping this eye shut tight? Are you in pain . . .” The man paused and pulled back a bit. “What is your name, by the way?”

Kakashi considered giving him a false name – but at the moment his mind was still trying to catch up. His words left his mouth before he could stop them. “Kakashi Hatake.”

Chuutetsu smiled – making his face look much younger. “Good! That's a start. I'm Chuutetsu and this is my junior – Samidare.”

Kakashi decided not to let him know that he'd already figured that information out. “Pleased to meet you.”

Perhaps if he continued to 'cooperate' with these men, they might feel comfortable enough with him to let his restraints loose. Then he might be able to find a way home.

The younger of the two still didn't quite smile – but he did seem to relax a bit from Kakashi's polite response. He'd have to be cautious. “Could I bother you for a sip of water? My throat is a bit dry.”

Kakashi noticed a slight blush creep onto Samidare's face as he moved quickly to the side table and poured water into a glass. He moved to Kakashi's side and frowned when he started to bring the cup to Kakashi's lips.

Chuutetsu chided the man. “Obviously the man can't drink it when he's flat on his back, idiot. Don't they even teach you the basics in your studies anymore?”

The senior medic turned back toward Kakashi with a hard edge in his eyes. “Kakashi, if we remove your wrist cuffs do you promise to behave?”

Again Kakashi wondered just what had passed to warrant his restraint – but he pushed the thought from his head. In all honesty – with his physical strength and chakra levels as low as they currently were – he couldn't harm anyone even if he wanted to. But he didn't intend to let these men know that right now. Instead, he slowly nodded his head and spoke in a soft whisper.

“I promise, Chuutetsu.”

The gray-haired man waited a moment longer and then slowly reached for the first wrist cuff. Kakashi did his best to remain absolutely still so as not to worry the medic. Samidare's concerned voice filled the silence.

“Are you sure that's such a good idea, Chuutetsu?”

The other man chuckled. “I doubt he has enough energy right now to sit up on his own. Besides – I'm not releasing his ankles – and he's still hooked up to everything else. Now give me a hand with the other wrist and help me adjust his bed.”

The tone was just stern enough that Samidare quickly followed the directions. It bothered Kakashi just a bit to find that Chuutetsu's appraisal of his condition wasn't far from the mark. Although he probably could have sat up on his own, the act likely would have taken all of his energy. Still, once he was no longer flat on his back, Kakashi felt much better.

Samidare lifted the glass once more toward Kakashi's lips. The medic only flinched slightly when Kakashi's hands took hold of the cup just below his grip and guided it the rest of the way to his mouth. Kakashi savored the cool liquid as it made its way down a throat that craved it. He frowned when Samidare pulled the cup away after just a few sips.

The junior medic's voice sounded amused. “Slowly, Kakashi. You don't want to rush things.”

Chuutetsu stepped forward again and reached toward Kakashi's left eye. Kakashi tensed – but fought down the urge to strike the hand away. All that would result in would be to have the restraints reapplied.

"So then - why are you keeping this eye shut, hmm?" Kakashi felt the lids pried open and heard the intake of breath at the sight of the red iris of his sharingan eye.

Kakashi waited for recognition of who he was to settle in, but it never came. Instead the senior medic looked at him with a confused expression. “Has your eye always been that way?”

Before Kakashi had a chance to answer the unexpected questions, the door opened and a handful of new people rushed into the room. A very young - loud, man with a startling turquoise jacket on pushed his way to the front of the group.

“Why didn't you tell me the man was awake? I could have your job for this Chuutetsu!”

Kakashi tensed when he noticed four of the new arrivals were holding long pointed rods of metal – obviously some sort of weapon – and were leveling them at him - but he did his best to remain still. The medic turned back to face the far shorter man.

“Lord Koharu. He only just woke. We would have informed you once we had finished our evaluation.”

The younger man narrowed his eyes and stormed past the medic to get a better view of Kakashi. He could just imagine what he looked like to the stranger. Again, Kakashi noticed the skin tones around him were closer to brown then white – so, even to his own eyes, his pale skin looked only a shade darker then the sheet covering his legs. Thankfully his silver hair was cascading over his left eye at the moment – so at least his sharingan was shielded from the new scrutiny he was undergoing.

Kakashi calmly turned his gaze toward the young man who obviously held a higher rank then those around him – although Kakashi doubted it was earned. More likely this was the pampered son of the person who truly held the power here. The man was barely older then Naruto – and his pudgy face was framed by straight black hair that was slicked back across his brow with some sort of oily paste. His dark brown eyes were set too close together and made him look like an insect as he stared at him.

Kakashi wasn't exactly sure who the hell these people were. . . but none of them seemed to recognize him – so perhaps there was still a way out of this mess.

Kakashi bowed his head slightly. “My Lord – my name is Kakashi Hatake. And I humbly thank you for saving my life, and apologize for any trouble I may have caused. And I implore you to help me find my way home.”

His words had their intended effect – the young lord sputtered – unsure what to make of him. Kakashi resisted the urge to laugh and instead waited silently – head still lowered – allowing the young fool to make the next move.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:14 pm

chapter 1 - part 3

“What do you mean you don't have him?” Kurogane grabbed the useless chunin by his throat and pinned him to the wall. The man struggled to answer but couldn't seem to get his voice to push pass the fingers threatening to crush his windpipe.

“Lord Kurogane – he might be able to answer you if you let him down.” The calm voice of Kurogane's aide drifted past the gasps of the man he was holding.

The chunin was dropped unceremoniously to the ground and Kurogane turned toward where his aide was standing at attention. “You could be right, Boudachi.”

The chunin struggled back to his feet – trying his best to straighten his uniform before speaking again. “My Lord Kurogane – we had him at one point. He was subdued and being transported to you from the Land of Waves – as you ordered. But Kakashi Hatake broke loose of his chains and jumped ship into the waters between there and here.” The man paused and swallowed deeply before continuing. “He killed most of the others during his escape. I doubt he survived the waters Lord.”

Kurogane strolled across the room to look out the window. The cliff his clan's house perched on gave him the perfect view of the harbor where the ship that should have carried Kakashi Hatake to him was moored. Even from this distance he could see the damage the Leaf jonin managed to leave behind. There were gaping holes in the planking and the mast was split in two. The chunin was fortunate he had not gotten in the man's path. Or he wouldn't be alive to report to anyone.

“He's alive. He's a Hatake after all.” Kurogane ran his hands through his long silver hair and turned back to the others. “Were you at least able to obtain the scroll?”

The chunin reached into his pouch and pulled out a narrow tube of parchment. “This was the only scroll we found on him, Lord Kurogane.”

The aide stepped forward and took the parchment in his hands. Boudachi glanced down and frowned. “This isn't the document we needed, Lord Kurogane.”

“Why doesn't that surprise me?” Kurogane leaned against the window sill. “After all – why would I expect anything less from my brother's son?”

He took a deep breath. “Tell Akuma I have a job for him. I don't care how many men he needs - or how long it takes – but tell him to find Kakashi Hatake and bring him to me.”

Boudachi bowed low. “Yes Lord Kurogane.”
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:16 pm

Chapter 2 - part 1: The Meaning Of Dreams

Kakashi sat on the edge of the hospital bed staring down at his feet. For the fiftieth time that day he tried to will his toes to move – but, for the fiftieth time that day the stubborn digits ignored him completely. His eyebrows pinched together in frustration. It had been two weeks since he'd woken up in this hospital room, and he still wasn't able to walk across the room without the aide of others.

Kakashi clenched his fists. At this rate he wasn't sure he'd be able to take advantage of a chance to leave even if he wanted to. Two weeks – he couldn't believe how quickly the time went by. By this point the Hokage would have no choice but to declare him missing – likely she'd already declared him dead. Kakashi frowned. He doubted his enemy would do the same.

“Dammit!”

He slid himself off the bed and onto the floor – using his arms to make it seem effortless – even though it was one of the most difficult things he'd done in awhile. His brow was covered in a fine sheen of sweat by the time he settled on the cool tiles, but Kakashi ignored it and twisted his body until he was face down on the floor. Once he was certain his feet were in the correct position, he pushed his body away from the floor until his arms were nearly straight and then bent his elbows to let himself back down again. He continued with the push-ups until his breath was burning in his lungs and his muscles were trembling from the exertion. Only then did he lower himself all the way back to the floor and roll over onto his back.

Kakashi slid his legs back toward the side of the bed. Then he used his hands to pick each foot up in turn and work them under the edge of the bed's mattress – effectively pinning the useless feet in place. He proceeded to push his body through a series of sit-ups that would make a lesser man cry out – but he knew that if he didn't return to training now, that he'd be running the risk of atrophy in the unused muscles. He'd seen too many good shinobi make that mistake and never manage to heal fully from their injuries. Kakashi would not let that happen to himself.

“What in the world do you think you're doing, Kakashi Hatake?!?” Chuutetsu's voice held an edge of panic to it – which caused Kakashi to pause in his workout.

He twisted his head so he could get a clear view of the medic as he crossed toward him from the door and gave the man his most innocent smile. “Sit-ups?”

The gray-haired medic squatted next to the bed and placed his hands on Kakashi's ankles. “I think you've done enough for today, Kakashi.”

Before he had a chance to respond, Chuutetsu pulled his non-responsive feet loose from the mattress and settled them back on the floor. Kakashi noticed a frown on the man's face and he ventured a look at his feet to see what elicited the reaction. He raised his eyebrows in surprise when he saw the telltale signs of fresh scratches and new bruises forming across the top of his pale feet.

The medic turned to face him, his frown growing more intense. “Kakashi – if I didn't know better I'd swear you had a death wish.”

Kakashi bit back a laugh. “Don't be so dramatic Chuutetsu. I was simply trying to keep in shape. Is that so hard to understand?”

This line of logic would never have worked with the junior medic – Samidare – but Kakashi knew Chuutetsu understood the value of exercise. It was evident the senior medic was no stranger to workouts based on the defined layer of muscle visible on his arms as he moved to lift Kakashi back to the bed.

The older man sighed. “Listen Kakashi, I could tell when they brought you in that you are someone who has honed their body to its peak. But if you push things too far too fast it could end up backfiring on you.”

Kakashi rolled his eyes and muttered quietly. “You sound like the Hokage.”

“Well – whoever this Hokage is – sounds like they know you pretty well.” He placed Kakashi gently back on top of the mattress. “Case in point are these feet of yours. If I hadn't stopped you when I did, you would have kept going even if you were rubbing serious wounds into the tops of your feet.” He met Kakashi's eyes. “Am I right?”

Kakashi narrowed his eyes but gave no answer. Chuutetsu shook his head, turned to the bedside table and retrieved a tube of salve. He placed a large dollop on his palm and proceeded to gently rub the lotion into the damaged tops of Kakashi's feet. “I know you're frustrated with the speed of your recovery. I can see it in the set of your shoulders. But what I don't understand is why?”

The medic looked into Kakashi's face once more. “Anyone else who had the extent of injuries you had would still be hooked up to life-support and in a coma. You should be thrilled with how quickly you're progressing.”

Kakashi took a deep breath. “I appreciate what you're saying, but I can't afford to take it easy right now. I have to get back before they . . .” He shook his head and didn't finish his thought.

But Chuutetsu wasn't willing to let it go. “Before they what, Kakashi?”

He opened both eyes and met Chuutetsu's gaze – knowing he needed help in this strange land – and trying to decide if this man was someone he could trust. His sharingan picked up nothing unusual about him, and as his mismatched eyes saw the concern in the medic's eyes, Kakashi made his choice.

“I have to get back before they find me.”

Chuutetsu's face took on a look of confusion. The medic moved to the bedside and placed one hand on Kakashi's shoulder. “Are you telling me that you have people looking for you?”

Kakashi nodded. Chuutetsu stepped back, releasing the shoulder as he moved. A look of frustrated anger covered his features. “Then why don't you want them to find you? After all – wasn't that what you asked Lord Koharu to help you with?”

Kakashi sighed. He wasn't comfortable with where this conversation was leaded – but he saw no other options. “Not exactly, Chuutetsu. I asked for help returning home.”

The look of confusion returned to the medic's face – but then slowly, understanding reached the depths of his eyes. “Oh . . . you're not talking about being found by your kinsmen, are you?” Kakashi shook his head. Chuutetsu glanced back at his damaged legs. “You're worried about the people who did this to you.”

Kakashi nodded.

Chuutetsu sat back down on the bed. “What makes you so sure they're coming?”

Kakashi shrugged. “Because they'll sense I'm alive.”

Chuutetsu said nothing for a moment before laughing softly at Kakashi's words, causing the jonin to frown. “You almost had me going there for a minute, Kakashi. You're quite the joker.”

The medic's laugh caught in his throat when Kakashi leveled one of his most serious glares at him. Chuutetsu's dark eyes went wide. “Oh dear God . . . you're serious! What kind of people do you have after you?”

Kakashi maintained his gaze. “The kind that neither of us want darkening your shores.”

Chuutetsu look at him incredulously. “Relax, Kakashi. Our cadre can protect us . . . and you – if it comes to that.”

Kakashi arched a brow high in the air. “Is this the same cadre that found me in the water? The same that I managed to dispatch six of in my weakened state?”

Chuutetsu looked like he wanted to be sick as Kakashi's words sank in. The topic of the unfortunate slaughter of this city's elite cadre was one that was avoided on order of Lord Koharu once the young man pledged to help Kakashi heal and return home. Still – Kakashi needed to get these people to see that the longer he stayed here – the higher the probability that the ones who hurt him would track him down. And he knew that his enemy would not be gentle in their attempts to gather information.

Kakashi didn't want to be responsible for any more of these good peoples' deaths.

Chuutetsu was shaking his head. “I still don't understand why you are so sure they're coming.”

Kakashi scratched his head. How could he make this man understand? He wasn't any good at teaching chakra theories to people with no real knowledge in the subject. He wasn't an Academy teacher for God's sake. Then a stray thought crossed his mind – what would Iruka do?

Kakashi smirked at the thought of the young chunin who had managed to get at least the rudimentary basics to sink into the hard heads of numerous groups of children. Hell – he even managed to get Naruto to pick up some of it. Kakashi decided to employ the most basic of Iruka's skills that he had witnessed over the years – which was to find out how much was already known – and then build on that.

“Chuutetsu – what do you know of the lands across the waters and their use of chakra?”

“Chakra? What's that?”

Kakashi sighed, then held his right hand up and gathered enough chakra to dance along his fingertips.

“This, is chakra.”

Once Chuutetsu stopped gaping at him, Kakashi proceeded to try and explain just what chakra was and how the others might be able to use it to locate him.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Akuma stood on the deck of the sloop peering out into the fog that seemed thick enough to slice. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath of the sea air. For two weeks he'd been following the faint traces of his prey's trail, and today was the first time he was able to sense more then just a hint of the elusive Copy-ninja's chakra – which meant he was still alive.

A burst of wind sent a spray of icy cold sea water over the railings of the ship, but Akuma barely noticed the salty liquid as it coated his bare arms and face. His focus was on the flare of white-hot chakra that – although brief – allowed him to narrow his search to a set direction through the fog. He smiled while he sent his own chakra out in a thin stream toward where he'd sensed his target. Soon he'd know for certain if the flare belonged to Kakashi Hatake – and then the fun could begin.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:17 pm

chapter 2 - part 2

Iruka knelt on the ground and held the blood-covered headband in his hand, wondering – not for the first time – if the scroll Naruto had placed into the Hokage's hands was really worth all this. He certainly hoped it was. He clenched his fist around the metal plate until it dug into his palm.

The headband would have been missed by most people. It was hidden in such a manor that only someone who knew what to look for would ever have noticed it. Fortunately for Iruka, their were members on the retrieval team who had worked with Kakashi Hatake for years in the service of the Hokage as ANBU. Because of that – they were all adept at looking underneath the underneath.

In this case, the underneath was more literal then usual. Kakashi left a few well placed kunai marks on a series of trees and rocks along the path. To the untrained eye they would look like the aftermath of a battle – which obviously had occurred – but the Copy-ninja's former squad-mates knew their Captain's marks well. They led them unerringly to the stack of branches and rocks at the edge of the shore. When one of the porcelain-masked ANBU waved for Iruka to join them he'd been unsure what they would show him. A part of his mind hoped it would be Kakashi's unconscious form – another, darker part figured it was the Copy-ninja's decaying corpse they'd uncovered. Instead they wordlessly pointed toward the strip of metal and cloth and then waited for his reaction.

If they had come across this a week ago, Iruka would have probably reached right out and grabbed hold of the headband. . . but after a week traveling with the retrieval team and watching their every movement, Iruka knew there had to be more to the headband then met the eye. He bit at his bottom lip while he tried to figure out the message. Then he noticed the item was not as haphazardly placed as he first thought. He turned toward the unreadable face of the bird mask.

“The way its folded and the direction of the emblem mean something – don't they?”

The masked head nodded. Iruka held back his grin and returned his attention to the sticks still covering the discarded headband. He knew they, too, must have a meaning – but what?

“The sticks have a message too?”

Again the nod, but this time it was followed by a low voice that was partially muffled by the mask.

“Very good, Iruka-sensei.” He pointed to the top layer of sticks. “Kakashi-senpai has let us know that he is still pursued by ten enemy.” He carefully removed the sticks to unveil the metal plate. “The direction of his flight is shown by the closed side of the leaf symbol.” Finally the ANBU pointed to the folds of the material without touching them. “These folds show he is running low on chakra – while these mean he has been severely injured.”

Iruka nodded his understanding and watched as another ANBU member stepped forward. They wordlessly held their arms out and streams of chakra-feeding insects streamed out of the sleeves of the ANBU's cloak. Iruka's eyes widened in surprise. He'd been unaware that any members of the Aburame clan had joined the ranks of ANBU. But now, as he watched the creatures land on Kakashi's discarded headband, he started to see the wisdom in it. The clan was perfect for infiltration, espionage and tracking missions. Moments later the creatures were heading in the direction that they sensed Kakashi's chakra and the group was ready to head out once more.

Only after he was sure they were ready to leave did Iruka pick up the headband and clutch it. Iruka had been marginally insulted by the way the others showed him the ropes at the beginning of their journey, but that was now replaced by a constant appreciation for just how many things beyond basic shinobi training these elite ninja had to learn and master. And Iruka took it as the honor it was that they were willing to share at least some of that knowledge with the likes of him.

He knew he had the basic skill-set to become a jonin if he ever decided to – but to have the ANBU recognize his abilities was something he never expected. Still, Iruka knew deep down that part of why they were sharing with him was that he'd be a liability without certain basic ANBU-level skills.

That realization was unnerving – and Iruka found himself wondering what the hell had made him impulsively demand to be on this retrieval team. And, for that matter, what had possessed Lady Tsunade to actually grant the request. But she had – and he was weeks into the quick-paced, no-frills assignment of ascertaining where Kakashi had gone to.

Of course – Iruka hadn't expected it to be exactly this intense. . . although in hindsight he should have read the clues. He wasn't allowed to wear anything that identified him as a member of the Leaf Village – no uniform – no headband – not even his ID tags. He'd been given fairly nondescript dark pants and shirt to wear under a tan hooded cloak and an unmarked porcelain mask to cover his face.

Iruka tucked Kakashi's headband into a pouch at his waist, resettled the plain mask onto his face and fell into step beside the rest of the team. Naruto's face flashed through his mind – the look of hope in the young man's blue eyes enough to steel his resolve to see the mission through to its end. After all, Naruto needed Kakashi – even though the young man would be the first to deny the fact. But Iruka knew – ever since the Copy-ninja took charge of Team Seven back at the Academy – that Kakashi Hatake was one of the very few to have Naruto count as a precious person. And in Iruka's eyes – that made Kakashi worth finding and bringing back to Konoha – regardless of what shape he was in when they found him.

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Boudachi had been looking for Lord Kurogane for the past hour and his search finally ended when he remembered a little used practice yard located at the edges of Kuragane's lands. It was there that he found the man sparring with ten of the elite guards which normally watched the borders between the clan's lands and the areas still pledging allegiance to the current Raikage. Almost all of the guards looked worse for wear – while Kurogane barely looked winded.

Boudachi waited until he was acknowledged before he approached the silver-haired leader of the clan.

“Lord Kurogane, we've received a report from Akuma.”

Kurogane walked to his side and held out one hand. Boudachi placed the small scroll onto his palm and waited while Kurogane read it. Boudachi watched the neutral expression on his leader's face shift to something closer to displeasure – which was confusing, considering he knew the message said Akuma had a fresh trail to follow.

“Lord Kurogane, is there a problem?”

The scroll was crumpled in one hand while Kurogane's dark gray eyes locked with Boudachi's. “Is there a problem? You ask such a ridiculous question as that when you know that time is running out?”

Boudachi swallowed and tried not the tremble at the intensity of the killing intent rolling off his employer. “Forgive me. I thought this would have been taken as a good report.”

“How could you ever think that learning that Kakashi is farther away then expected would be a good report? Hmmm?”

Boudachi sighed. “I can see how that part is disappointing, Lord Kurogane – but the fact that Akuma has locked onto his trail surely is worthy of recognition.”

Kurogane glanced down at the crumpled scroll before giving a short laugh. “I suppose it is at that Boudachi.”

Boudachi caught the scroll as it was tossed at him. He would never get used to the suddenness of Kurogane's mood changes. But the man was undeniably the strongest shinobi in the Land of Lightening, and he paid him well for his services – so who was he to complain? He rolled the crumpled paper back up and slipped it into his pouch.

“Boudachi – tell me what you've managed to find out about my Nephew since we last talked.”

Boudachi retrieved the small notebook he kept his research notes in and flipped it open to where he'd left off with Kurogane two nights before. “After the death of Sakumo Hatake, little is recorded of what Kakashi was doing – although the hospital records did show an increase in the number of times the man was admitted for more then light injuries. Most were officially entered as 'training accidents' – but the assumption is that Kakashi Hatake joined Konoha's ANBU forces at that time.”

Kurogane's mouth twitched. “So, the brat handled his loss by immersing himself into an elite killing unit. Perhaps we're more alike then I'd thought.”

Boudachi frowned but continued on. “His official public records show him as one of Konoha's top elite jonin – with specialties in tracking and assassination techniques – including the Lightning Blade.”

Again, a twitch in Kurogane's mouth. “What of Kakashi's personal life?”

Boudachi sighed and flipped through more notes. “He doesn't seem to have one, Lord Kurogane.” He turned to another page. “There has been no record of Kakashi Hatake having a personal relationship beyond the normal camaraderie shared over a drink after a mission – and even then, he never stays long.”

Kurogane's eyes seemed unfocused. “How unlike his father.”

Boudachi continued. “It seems all his free time is spent training, going on missions, and reading.”

“What of his nickname? The Copy-ninja, isn't it?”

“Yes. Somewhere between his becoming jonin and his entry into ANBU, Kakashi Hatake was seen with one sharingan eye. I haven't been able to get any official details on it yet, but rumors mention it was either a gift – or he forcibly took it from one of his early teammates.”

Kurogane's eyes sharpened and he ran a hand over his chin. “We'll need to take that into account for when the whelp is brought back. See to it, Boudachi.”

Kurogane waved him away and went back to sparring – as though the conversation hadn't interrupted him at all. Boudachi sighed at the obvious dismissal, put away his notebook and started back to the clan house. He set his mind on what he could possibly do to prepare for Kakashi Hatake's arrival that would take a legendary sharingan into account. He'd have to do a lot more research before he'd be ready for his arrival.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:18 pm

chapter 2 - part 3

Tsunade set jutsus around her office to prevent any unwanted eyes seeing what she was doing. She even went so far as to send Shizune to the other side of the village on a fairly complicated errand to ensure an hour or two alone. Now – she was ready to look at the scroll that was procured at such a high cost.

She held the ornate scroll case in her hand and frowned. She still couldn't believe Taisetsu was dead. She'd known that man for more then half her life – and although he'd become a Lord of a small area near Wave Country, he'd kept his shinobi skills finely honed. Tsunade frowned. The skills of the attacking forces must have been staggering to have been able to take out Taisetsu, injure Sakura so severely, and shake up Naruto and Sai to the extent they did.

Tsunade's thoughts moved to Sakura for a moment. Her young apprentice was still recovering in the hospital – but at least she was expected to heal completely. Physically at least. Whatever had happened on their way back to Konoha was bad enough that – two weeks later – Sakura, Sai and Naruto were still jumping at shadows.

To make matters worse – the retrieval team still hadn't given any news of reaching the target yet. . . Kakashi Hatake was still officially missing. If she didn't hear back differently soon – she'd be forced to declare him assumed dead. Tsunade sighed and opened the scroll case.

This would be the tenth time she was looking at the scroll – but she kept hoping that it would show her something other then what she knew was there. Tsunade placed the parchment on her desk and opened it to its full length. She stared down at the painstakingly drawn characters that covered every available space on the scroll, and returned her attention to where she'd left off the last time she read it.

The writing detailed the latest goings on in the Land of Lightning, and no matter how many times she read the scroll, she was left with the same feeling of uneasiness. The peace between the Lands of Fire and Lightning had never been strong – after the incident with the Hyuga clan - but the treaty signed by Hokage and Raikage had stood for sometime now. Unfortunately, if the document in front of her was accurate, that might be about to change. Taisetsu managed to uncover a plot within Lightning that could mean the current Raikage was vulnerable to an overthrow of power.

Although such an occurrence was not uncommon within the shinobi lands, it was who Taisetsu identified as the driving force behind these rumors that worried Tsunade - Kurogane Hatake.

She frowned and rubbed the bridge of her nose, trying to push down the headache she felt coming to life. The last she knew, Kurogane was supposed to be in prison for the rest of his life. And considering the source of that information had been Kurogane's older brother, Sakumo Hatake, she had taken it for the truth it was.

Sakumo rarely spoke of his time before moving to Konoha – but the few times he did, he made it crystal clear that his younger brother was not mentally stable. It was part of the reason Sakumo left Lightning – although Tsunade was never able to pull more then a few sketchy facts from the man.

She knew the two Hatake brothers has some kind of major disagreement – and that had led to the death of many of their kinsmen. At the time, she knew the Hatake clan was the strongest within Lightning and that their disbandment was at the order of the Raikage. No one in Konoha thought much more of the tale – considering it was because of that disbandment that the White Fang became one of Konoha's strongest protectors.

Tsunade sighed and rolled up the scroll. She needed more answers – but the only person who would have had them was Sakumo. Tsunade doubted even Kakashi would know too much about his father's past. After all, anytime she tried to broach the subject when visiting Sakumo she'd been efficiently shut down if Kakashi was within ear range. Sakumo raised Kakashi as a member of Konoha – and he wouldn't let any talk of his former life occur when his boy was around.

Tsunade's thoughts moved to Kakashi. She could remember him as a kid. His pale skin and silver hair made stand out amidst the majority of Konoha's citizens – but it was his aptitude with everything he touched that showed just how far ahead of the others he was. Tsunade remembered watching him in the chunin exams when he was six. Just like everyone else – she assumed the boy would be disqualified or injured before the first matches were finished. . . but he wasn't – and he ended up making everyone eat their words when he showed an exceptionally advanced ability to analyze and lead at such a young age. She'd even managed to make some money betting on the kid – much to Sakumo's displeasure.

Tsunade also remembered the strange look on Sakumo's face that day. There was pride – of course – that his boy would earn the chunin rank so young. But there was also an edge of apprehension that she'd never quite understood.

Perhaps he was remembering a similar aptitude in his younger brother – and he was afraid his boy might follow down whatever path Kurogane went. Perhaps that would explain why he pushed his boy so hard to become the perfect shinobi.

Tsunade hoped that the lessons Kakashi learned along the way would be enough to keep him safe during his current adventure. And that perhaps Sakumo had exaggerated the one and only time he'd discussed Kurogane in any detail – and stated he doubted that he'd have enough skill to destroy his brother if the two ever met again.

A shiver ran down Tsunade's spine at the thoughts of anyone being stronger then Sakumo Hatake. She released the jutsus on the room after securing the scroll back in her desk and sat heavily in her chair.

“Shizune!” There was no answer.

Tsunade shook her head – of course there'd be no answer – the young woman was still off on the errand she'd sent her on. Tsunade groaned and pushed herself away from the desk. She'd have to go see if she could find some tea on her own.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kakashi's breath came in short gasps while he tried unsuccessfully to calm his heartbeat down. He sat up in his bed to find himself covered in sweat. After a moment of disorientation he remembered where he was and frowned.

The dream had been so real . . . right down to the tiniest detail . . . that Kakashi fully expected to be back in Konoha standing over the lifeless body of his father. He could remember the scent of the freshly spilled blood as it pooled around his feet. The ghostly shade and ice cold feel of his father's flesh when he reached to remove the blade still clutched in his hand after performing the ritual death.

Kakashi hadn't had that nightmare in over a decade – and it shook him to the core. That had been the moment in his life when he'd felt the most helpless – the most worthless – that he'd ever felt. The scenes in his mind were still so fresh that Kakashi very nearly missed the retreat of a tendril of foreign chakra from his consciousness.

“Dammit! I took too long.”

The words were pushed through a throat that was tight with emotions that Kakashi had spent most his adult life pushing down. He tried to regain control by analyzing what he knew. Somehow, an unknown enemy was now aware of his exact location and was brazen enough to make their first move from a distance. He could only hope that whoever the owner of the foreign chakra was – they were not aware of his discovery of their presence yet.

Kakashi pushed himself out of the bed and carefully placed his feet on the floor. With Chuutetsu's guidance - and the minimal field medicine training he had – the two managed – with a lot of trial and error – to use his chakra to speed up the final healing in his feet. And although no where near as effective as Sakura or Tsunade's mending would be – they had at least managed to get him to a point where his feet could hold his weight without buckling.

Kakashi frowned. He'd hoped to be able to rest up a few more days before having to run again – but he couldn't risk staying put now that his enemy was obviously closing in on him. He walked over to the only closet in the room and pulled open the doors. He'd asked Chuutetsu to find his uniform for him, but the medic informed him that what was left of his clothes from before were burned. The material was so coated in filth and blood that there was no other choice.

So instead, the gray-haired man supplied him with what he could manage to find in the castoffs of the supply rooms. Kakashi sighed as he removed the lightweight hospital shirt and pants he'd been using for the duration of his stay, and replaced them with ill-fitting light blue pants, and a cream colored pullover shirt, that like the pants was slightly larger then he'd prefer.

The only piece of his original clothing that Chuutetsu was able to salvage were his open-toed shoes. Kakashi pulled them on and felt at least a tiny bit more like himself. He slid out the door and through the silent corridors – easily avoiding the sentries who wandered the hall. He contemplated relieving one of them of their weapons, but the cadre members favored the rather conspicuous spear-like contraptions and Kakashi didn't need the additional challenge of keeping such an item hidden during his departure. Besides – nothing screamed escape louder then a missing sentry.

Kakashi grinned at the thought. He knew he technically wasn't a prisoner of these people – but still, he couldn't help but doubt they'd just let him walk out of here without a fuss. He kept to the shadows and wound his way back into the open air for the first time in almost a month. Pausing to take a deep breath of the sea-chilled air, Kakashi headed away from the hospital toward where Chuutetsu had described one of the seedier spots of the city. He figured that would be the easiest place to pick up more appropriate weapons and more clothing. With luck he'd be on his way back across the waters by dawn.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:18 pm

chapter 2 - part 4

Samidare's eyes widened in fear as he watched the cadre members bodies being flung around as though they were rag dolls. He tried his best to fade into the shadows of the supply room and crawled under the farthest shelving unit hoping to avoid detection. He, of course, was never that lucky.

A hand reached under the shelf and knotted itself into Samidare's shirt. With one swift movement he was pulled out from his hiding place and pushed painfully against the supply room's wall. His fear doubled when his eyes took in the visage of the man who had him pinned. The man was taller then any man he'd ever seen . . . easily half again as tall as himself. The bare arm holding him up was full of clearly defined muscle, and the skin-tight black clothing made it obvious that the man's entire body was just as honed.

Piercing violet eyes stared at him from pale skin and finely chiseled features. Long, black hair fell in waves over his shoulders and his thin lips curved into a slight grin as he spoke in a soft voice that sounded inappropriately sweet as it promised death.

“Tell me where he is and I'll finish you quickly.”

"Who?"

"Kakashi Hatake."

Samidare swallowed. “I – I don't know . . . he was in his room when I left last night.”

The violet eyes narrowed and the thin lips curled down in a frown. “That was the wrong answer.”

Samidare struggled in the man's hand until he felt a sharp pain rip through his belly. He was released to fall to the floor where he watched in mute disbelief while his innards seeped out of his body. He looked up to see the stranger wipe his hand on his pants and walk out of the supply room, leaving Samidare alone. The young medic couldn't help but understand that this particular wound would take many long minutes to drain his life away. He choked back tears and wished he'd hid in the medical supply room instead of the linen room – then he could have had access to the medicines to end his life quicker. As he listened to the screams of others from outside the room, he closed his eyes and waited for death to claim him.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Akuma rifled through the patient records until he found what he was looking for – Hatake, Kakashi – room 313. He smiled and threw the chart onto the body of the shift nurse who'd been just a touch too slow in supplying him with answers. Akuma walked down the hall toward the room – and readied himself to face his prey. He could feel the target's chakra pulsing steadily behind the door – signifying the man was likely in a deep sleep – and looked forward to pitting himself against the infamous Copy-ninja.

Akuma pull the door open in one swift motion and stepped into the room to find an empty bed.

“Impossible.”

He looked for the source of the chakra he'd sensed and was dismayed to see a small bundle of clothing, sitting in the middle of the bed and glowing with a slow pulsing of Kakashi Hatake's chakra. Akuma growled to himself. This target knew how to use his chakra sensing skills against him – and they hadn't even met face to face yet. The only contact was through the nightmare he'd incited within the target's mind to throw him off balance and allow for easier tracking.

Akuma was beginning to understand why Kurogane insisted his talents were needed for this mission. This target was obviously skilled beyond most prey, and the hunt would need to be escalated to take that into account. Akuma smiled and headed back into the hall. It had been a long time since he'd needed to use anything more then a basic nightmare jutsu to track a target. He was looking forward to the challenge.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:21 pm

Chapter 3 - part 1: The Hunter and His Prey

Chuutetsu stared down at his hands while his conversation with Kakashi ran through his mind. If he hadn't seen it with his own two eyes, he never would have believed the words coming from the silver-haired man's lips. After all – this 'chak-a-ra' that the man spoke of sounded like something a street magician would use to dazzle his audience while his partner picked pockets. But Chuutetsu saw the energy Kakashi formed in his palm – and couldn't deny how he'd used it to miraculously speed up the healing of two feet that, earlier that very day, were not even close to being functional. Hell – he'd even watched in awed silence as the scratches across the young man's feet faded into barely perceivable lines.

Chuutetsu shook his head. He still didn't understand a lot of what Kakashi had tried to explain . . . 'chak-a-ra points' and 'nature something-or-others' . . . but he couldn't deny the fact that, once he'd told Kakashi what parts of his feet were damaged, and the young man directed that strange energy over the areas, that the feet could move and hold his weight as though they'd never been injured. It was just . . . well . . . unbelievable.

Kakashi told him that everyone had this 'chak-a-ra' within them, although Chuutetsu wasn't able to get any to form on his hands – no matter what way it was explained to him. Kakashi kept trying to hide his frustration with Chuutetsu's failures – but it was quickly evident that the silver-haired man was not used to teaching someone a skill that he obviously had mastered long ago.

Chuutetsu sighed and looked at his alarm clock. 9:45am

“Dammit! I'm late – again!”

This would be the third time this week – and if he didn't get fired, it would be a miracle!

He rushed around the room trying to find his ID-badge and his lab coat – and nearly slammed into the wall when he managed to trip over the very article of clothing he was searching for. He must have dropped it to the floor last night after he returned from working with Kakashi well after his normal shift ended. Chuutetsu shook out what wrinkles he could from the lab coat and pulled it on. He shoved his hand into the pockets of the coat and was pleased to find his wayward badge in the right pocket.

Chuutetsu grabbed a piece of fruit out of the basket on the kitchen counter and turned to leave. He paused – allowing a smile to stretch across his lips – then turned back to the counter and grabbed a second piece of fruit. He'd stop by Kakashi's room and surprise the man with something other then the bland food they'd been serving him from the hospital kitchens.

Shoving the two pieces of fruit into his pockets, Chuutetsu headed out the door at a jog in the hopes that the supervising medic hadn't noticed his absence yet. He slowed to a stop when he was two blocks from the hospital. There were cries of despair tearing through the air, and people were wandering aimlessly through the streets. Chuutetsu's heart dropped into his stomach when he moved closer to the place he'd worked for the better part of the last twenty years, and saw smoke billowing out of the third floor windows.

“Kakashi . . .”

The name escaped his lips before he knew it, and it was followed by Chuutetsu looking nervously around to see if he could spy one of the mysterious enemies Kakashi tried to tell him about last night. But all he saw were the faces of his colleagues – some smeared with blood – others staring blankly while they staggered about in the streets. His eyes traveled back to the third floor windows. He had to go in there – had to check and see if Kakashi was still there.

Swallowing his fear – Chuutetsu forced his legs to move toward the building where he'd last seen Kakashi Hatake. Each step brought him closer to the chaos that once was the most advanced hospital in the country. He had to step over the bodies of two of the cadre in order to get into the building – and the smell of death was an almost physical assault to his senses once he entered into the dimly lit halls. Some small analytical part of his brain registered that the emergency generators were running – that explained the low light and the slight flicker of the bulbs. He pushed his body to continue up the stairwell until he was on the third floor. He found the door to Kakashi's room had been torn off the wall, and everything inside was destroyed.

Chuutetsu's heart beat loud in his ears as he made his way to the only piece of furniture still intact – mostly because it was built into the wall. The metal door was dented from where another piece of furniture obviously was thrown into it – but with a bit of effort, Chuutetsu was able to pry it open.

Chuutetsu let out a long breath when he saw the cabinet was empty . . . except for two wooden hangers that he recognized because he'd brought them from his own house to hold the borrowed clothing. He smiled to himself. Kakashi must have figured out they were coming for him and left. It would explain the angry way this room had been dismantled. Whoever was after the young man evidently did not like disappointment. But there was no blood within this room – and so Chuutetsu held out the hope that the young silver-haired man was still safe somewhere within the city.

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Kakashi crouched in the corner of the alley – watching discreetly as a series of shabbily dressed citizens wandered by the entrance. Most were drunk – or otherwise impaired – and those that weren't were too busy following the drunks to notice him hiding in the shadows. A shiver crawled up his spine when a noticeably cold breeze danced down the vacant alley. Kakashi's clothes still weren't what he'd call a perfect replacement for his uniform – but they were marginally better then the thin material of the outfit Chuutetsu provided, and the darker colors were less likely to stick out in the shadows. Still – he was looking forward to getting back to Konoha, where he'd be able to indulge in a long soak in a hot spring for as long as he wanted.

Kakashi sighed and pulled the thin cloak around his shoulders. He settled back a bit deeper into the shadows and tried once more to rest his body and mind. He knew his enemy was somewhere in the city – based on the chatter in the local tavern – but he also knew his tricks with chakra tags on random animals weren't going to fool the person who'd been plaguing his dreams for long. Which meant his options for disguise were fairly limited. After all, it he attempted even a minor genjutsu, the use of chakra to create it would be enough to draw his hunter to him. And although he'd been tempted to use a shadow clone to lead the enemy astray – Kakashi had a feeling that the level of this particular foe was such that he'd easily be able to trace his location just bye destroying the clone and sensing the link to the original when the knowledge of the clone was reabsorbed. He just couldn't chance it.

That led Kakashi to his detour into the small tea shop just down the street from this alley. He'd entered the shop and acquired a particularly strong blend. Sneaking back out and into the alley, he'd managed to use water from a puddle to make a cold brew of the dark substance, and then spent quite a bit of time using it to dye his hair and skin as dark as he could. It was all he could think of to make his uniquely easy to identify features a little less obvious in this land of dark-skinned people. He'd tied a bandanna around his head – just in case his missed some roots – and pulled one edge of it over his sharingan. The last thing he needed was to accidentally open that eye and have its automatic drain of chakra send out a flare to his trackers. He'd caught his reflection in the darkened windows of an abandoned shop and had to admit he'd done a halfway decent job.

Pushing the day's adventures out of his mind, Kakashi tried once more to settle in for some rest. If he could just get a few hours in, he'd be ready to head toward the shore and attempt to find a way home. He sank a bit farther into the shadows and closed his eyes.

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Akuma stared down at the small rodent pierced through by his kunai – the anger which he'd been holding back now boiled to the surface. This was the fourth chakra tag he'd wasted his time on since he'd entered this sorry excuse for a town – he was no closer to finding the target and time was running out. He directed his attention to one of the two dozen men Lord Kurogane sent to assist him.

“I want you to question every single person in this gods forsaken place. Someone here knows where Kakashi Hatake has gone – and I want them found . . .NOW!”

The wave of killing intent he sent out from every fiber of his being washed over the men gathered around him, and Akuma watched their eyes widen and their faces pale. Less then a moment later - they all scattered into the surrounding area. Almost immediately he heard the sounds of screams as the trained men began their search.

Akuma bent down and retrieved his kunai. He lowered his head, allowing his dark hair to cascade in front of his eyes, and took a moment to reign his anger in before standing once more. In his mind, he pictured the locations of this and the other tags he'd tracked. Then he stretched his senses out once more to see if there were any more signs of the Hatake chakra to be found. A smile slowly stretched across his lips when he predictably felt another flare of the same intensity as the last few. The trace was darting about erratically – which meant his prey must have attached his tag to yet another small animal. At least he could rule out checking in that direction.

Akuma turned his head in the only direction he hadn't found a trace of chakra yet, and decided perhaps he had this wrong – he shouldn't be tracking the chakra – he should be tracking the areas with an absence of chakra. He slowly made his way towards one of the seedier areas of the town, ever aware that time was running out.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:22 pm

chapter 3- part 2

Iruka stepped out of the boat and onto the shore, thankful to have solid ground under his feet once more. He stopped himself from following the sudden urge to kiss the ground in relief, and instead focused his attention on his teammates. Although he had no idea who these masked ANBU truly were, Iruka had taken to thinking of them in terms of what masks they wore. There was Crow – who seemed to be the leader of the group – considering he was the one the others looked to for any idea of what to do next. Then there was Locust – who, of course, was a member of the Aburame clan – but beyond that, Iruka didn't know which member he was. Although he was pretty sure he could rule out Shino – just based on height alone.

Currently Locust and Crow were conversing quietly to the side – likely trying to determine which direction to go next. Meanwhile, Bear, Mouse, Badger, Rat and Lizard were rechecking their packs and waiting for orders. Iruka stood a little bit separate from the others – not on purpose – but somehow it just seemed to work out that way. He sighed and turned his attention back toward Crow just in time to see the man signal for Iruka to join him and Locust.

Iruka was glad he was wearing his mask – as it hid the surprise he was sure was plastered over his face. He quickly walked to their side.

“Is there something I can do for you, Crow?”

Iruka heard a small chuckle from behind Crow's mask and realized, after-the-fact, that he'd used his naming method out loud. While he felt the heat rise in his cheeks, he concentrated on Crow's words – thankful once again for the mask on his face.

“Iruka-sensei, we need to ask your opinion. Can you think of any reason why the insects would insist that Kakashi-senpai's location was in five separate locations?”

Iruka looked from Crow to Locust and back again. He scratched at the back of his head while he thought about the question. “I can only think of two reasons for that. Either Kakashi has clones scattered about, or he's using chakra-tags.”

Locust snorted – as though offended at the simplicity of the answer. Iruka tried not to take it personally and explained his logic to the ANBU. “I assumed that the levels of chakra were close – if not identical – or you wouldn't have asked the question the way you did. There are only two known methods to producing that effect – clones and chakra tags. At least that's what the textbooks have always shown.”

Crow nodded and turned his attention back to Locust. “Check out the closest two for verification. Take one of the others with you. We'll move toward the farther areas.”

Locust nodded once and signaled for Bear to join him. By the time the others moved to Crow's side, Locust and Bear were nowhere to be seen. Iruka was trying to reign in his growing excitement. After all – Locust's bugs actually sensed Kakashi's chakra! That had to mean he was alive . . . that – or the bugs were wrong.

Iruka frowned at that thought. He remembered an quiet conversation he'd overheard on the boat trip here. Rat and Badger were laying odds on whether Locust's bugs were leading them on a wild goose chase. Evidently, something similar happened once before on another mission. Locust's bugs insisted they had the right trail and led them right into an ambush.

The farther out to sea the bugs led them, the higher the odds rose on the bet. So that now, as they were heading inland, the odds were twenty to one against Kakashi even being here. Iruka pushed down his doubts and tried to cling to the hope that Team Kakashi's leader would somehow prove those odds wrong.

The retrieval team was soon reaching the outskirts of a large settlement. There were no walls surrounding it, and no guards posted to bar their entrance. The buildings ranged from small one floor dwellings to larger, multi-floor stone monstrosities that reached taller then some of the trees. All of the roads were hard packed and well kept.

Iruka had been so intent on the settlement, he almost missed Crow's raised fist – which signaled to them to stop. Luckily, Iruka managed not to slam into Crow's back as he skidded to a stop on the branch of a tree. Meanwhile, Crow raised two fingers on that same hand, and then motioned sharply to the right and then to the left. Iruka saw Mouse and Badger head off to the right, while Rat and Lizard went to the left. Crow moved his two fingers toward the front and Iruka swallowed deeply as he joined Crow.

Iruka wondered what caused Crow to suddenly split the team up, when his focus was drawn to a body dangling from what was likely a flag pole at one point. The young man's face was frozen in agony, and it was obvious that he'd been tortured before being hung like this. Iruka took another look at the settlement and started noticing a few other disturbing scenes.

There were overturned benches here and there, doors on the row of houses in front of them seemed kicked in, and there was an eerie silence throughout the area. Iruka chided himself. How could he have been so wrapped up in the strange architecture and not have noticed the signs of obvious enemy engagement. Iruka nearly jumped when Crow's low voice whispered in his ear.

“The one hanging is in a uniform – likely they belonged to what passes for authority here. Whoever did this meant it as a warning to the others to cooperate or die.”

Iruka swallowed back a sob. This waste of life was part of why he'd chosen to be a teacher. He knew he didn't have the nature to be confronted by this day after day and not be twisted by it. Yet again, he realized the ANBU life would never be for him. Iruka did his best to keep his disgust from his voice.

“How long ago do you think this was done?”

Crow answered with a tone that made Iruka think the man was pleased with his line of thought. “This isn't a fresh kill, and the body is beyond the state of rigor. My guess, without a closer look, is he's been there a few days.”

“Days?” Iruka knew his voice carried his surprise. “So then these maniacs have had at least that long to try and find Kakashi?”

Crow grunted. “So it would seem.”

The sound of a distant explosion caught their attention. In the distance they spotted a plume of black smoke reaching toward the sky. Crow turned his head back toward Iruka.

“Perhaps they haven't managed it quite yet. Let's go.”

With that, Crow jumped to the ground and headed into the shadows of the buildings. Iruka did his best to duplicate the ANBU's stealthy moves, holding tightly onto the hope that they'd find signs of Kakashi soon.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:23 pm

chapter 3 - part 3

Chuutetsu's day went from bad to worse when he happened across the body of his junior medic sitting just inside the linen supply room. “Samidare . . . what did they do to you?”

He knew full well what they'd done. The medic's intestines surrounding Samidare's body showed Chuutetsu everything he needed to know about the fatal cut. And the look of acceptance permanently etched on the younger man's face showed him that the knowledge was known by him too.

Chuutetsu bent down and closed the lids over the once bright eyes of his junior. Not for the first time that morning, he realized that the only reason he wasn't dead with the others was the fact that he'd been late. If he'd been on time – he knew with a cold certainty that he'd have been tortured in such a way as well. What was worse – is that he was the one person in this hospital who actually held the information the attackers were likely searching for – namely, the location of Kakashi Hatake.

Chuutetsu stood back up and moved away from this latest scene of death. Every turn he'd taken within the halls of the hospital led him to more gruesome discoveries. He pressed on until, at last, he'd reached the outside. But even here, the stench of death surrounded him. He choked back the bile in his throat and forced his legs to carry him away from his place of employment. Although a small part of his mind screamed that he should stay here and care for the dying and wounded, Chuutetsu had to find the silver-haired man. He couldn't explain the need – even to himself – but he had to find him.

Chuutetsu's last conversation with the man was about the seedier sections of the city. Kakashi seemed overly interested in those darker places, and Chuutetsu had to assume that it held some deeper meaning to the younger man. So he'd start his search for Kakashi there.

The farther into the city streets he went, the more evident it was that these enemies of Kakashi's were not normal men. There was a trail of destruction and death everywhere he looked. The attackers didn't care if their victims were old or young, male or female – they seemed to use the same methods of torture on everyone he passed.

Chuutetsu picked up his pace, trying to keep as close to the buildings as he could. He jumped at every sound he heard, and nearly had a heart attack when a stray cat leaped in front of him. He let loose a sigh and pushed on toward his goal.

He'd finally reached the edges of the Dark District, as it was commonly referred to, when he felt a strong arm wrap around his neck and a sharp edge of steel press against his throat. Chuutetsu's heart sped up as his mind tried to comprehend the fact he'd just been caught by the very people he was trying to avoid.

Chuutetsu closed his eyes and waited for death to claim him. But it didn't come. In fact, the sharp blade at his throat was pulled away slightly. He opened his eyes and turned his face toward his attacker. A painted mask of a fierce bird stared back at him, and in the next moment he was released from the man's grip. Chuutetsu's knees buckled from the fear of his situation, and he collapsed in a heap onto the ground.

The bird-masked man's focus was on something behind Chuutetsu. The menacing voice did nothing to calm his frayed nerves. “Is there a reason you signaled for me to stop, sensei?”

Another slightly muffled voice responded. “This man isn't your enemy. His clothing and mannerisms mark him as a healer more then a hunter. May I speak with him before you use other methods?”

Chuutetsu turned toward the other voice and saw another white mask amidst a sea of dark, nondescript clothing – although this one was totally blank. The first man's voice rumbled in answer.

“You have five minutes, sensei.”

The blank-masked man sighed and stepped closer still to Chuutetsu. He squatted on the ground and moved his hand up to his mask. Chuutetsu flinched at the movement. The man lifted the white mask to the side to reveal the features of a young man with soft brown eyes, a scar across the bridge of his nose, and a soothing smile on his tanned face. Somehow, amidst the sea of chaos around them, this man was able to calm his frayed nerves at least a bit. When he spoke without the mask, his voice held a gentle timber to it that made his words all the easier to respond to.

“I apologize for my companion's actions.” Chuutetsu heard the other man grunt at that, but the unmasked man seemed to ignore him and continued talking. “It's just that with all the unrest around here that he assumed you might be one of the ones who caused it.”

Chuutetsu's eyes widened while the words seeped into his brain. If these two thought he'd caused this chaos – then who the hell were they? Finally he found his voice. “I was thinking the same thing about you.”

The man in front of him laughed. The sound seemed out of place considering everything that had happened, yet it managed to relax Chuutetsu a bit more.

“I can see how you might think that, considering how we introduced ourselves to you. Let me try and fix that.” The man extended one empty hand out to Chuutetsu. “I'm Iruka. And you are?”

Chuutetsu's eyes narrowed, but he reached his own shaking hand out to grip the one in front of him. “Chuutetsu – Senior medic first class.”

Iruka's smile widened, and he glanced up at the other man. “See, Crow? A medic – not an assassin.”

Crow's voice didn't lighten when he responded. “You have yet to prove that to me, sensei.”

Iruka sighed and returned his attention to Chuutetsu. Meanwhile – somewhere in the back of his mind Chuutetsu was remembering a snippet of conversation he'd had with Kakashi the night before.

“Iruka? Iruka-sensei?”

“Yes.”

“Are you the same Iruka-sensei that teaches at the Academy?”

Chuutetsu watched a flicker of confusion cross the younger man's face, while he felt Crow's hand dig into his shoulder and heard the danger-laced words whispered in his ear. “What do you know of the Academy, medic?”

Chuutetsu swallowed and pushed words past a throat gone dry. “Only what Kakashi Hatake told me. He mentioned Iruka-sensei's name while explaining a theory to me. That's all. . . really!”

Iruka's voice held an edge of surprise to it. “Kakashi was teaching you?”

Chuutetsu blinked. “Well – trying to teach is more like it. He wasn't the most patient teacher.”

Iruka laughed and Crow's grip loosened ever so slightly. “That's the best news I've heard all day, Chuutetsu.”

Iruka stood back up and offered Chuutetsu a hand off the ground. Once Crow released his shoulder, he took the offered hand and stood as well. He frowned at the young man. “What's the best news? That Kakashi can't teach?”

“No – that you actually were talking with him. That means he's still alive!”

Crow stepped around to stand in front of him as well, although he made no move to remove his mask. “When did you see him last?”

Something in the man's tone made it crystal clear that he wasn't someone to lie to. “At the hospital.”

Iruka frowned. “The hospital? Is he hurt?”

Chuutetsu ran a hand over his cropped hair. “He was. But he was much better after he used his 'chak-a-ra' on his remaining injuries.”

Iruka nodded and smiled again. “That's chakra – not 'chak-a-ra.' I take it that was the theory Kakashi tried explaining?”

Chuutetsu nodded. “I'd never seen anything like it before. Is it true that everyone from where he comes from has this . . . chak . . .chakra?”

Iruka shrugged. “Not to the extent that Kakashi does – but yes.”

Crow interrupted the conversation. “So that would explain how the tracker-bugs picked up the trail so strongly once we hit ground.”

Iruka nodded again. “And likely why the enemy has taken action as well.”

Chuutetsu's intake of breath caught their attention. “Who are the people after him? He seemed scared of what they might do if they caught up to him.”

Iruka seemed startled by his words. “Scared?”

Chuutetsu scratched at his ear. “Well – more scared for us then himself, I think.” He glanced around the streets. “Rightfully so, I guess.”

Crow's voice took on a decided edge. “We need to find him.”

Chuutetsu wasn't entirely sure when he'd decided these two were the good guys, but he offered up what little information he had all the same. “I can show you where I think he might have gone. Will that help?”

Iruka smiled back at him. “Yes, Chuutetsu. That would be great.”

Before Chuutetsu had a chance to say anything more, Crow and Iruka tensed, drew knifes, and their heads snapped to the right. When Chuutetsu looked in that direction, he saw four more masked men approach, and noted the weapons in Iruka and Crow's hands were lowered. They must be members of their team.

More painted masks of animals stared at him while Crow addressed them. “Report.”

“Whoever has done this is making a systematic search of the area. No signs of Wolf yet.”

Chuutetsu looked toward Iruka. “Wolf?”

Iruka shrugged and whispered back to him. “That's probably Kakashi.”

Chuutetsu edged closer to the unmasked man and motioned discreetly to the others. “You're not one of them, are you?”

Iruka grinned. “What gave it away?”

Chuutetsu furrowed his brow and asked what was nagging him. “But Kakashi is, isn't he?”

Iruka sighed. “He was.”

“Was?”

Iruka nodded. “He's been an instructor and a team leader for the last six years or so.”

Chuutetsu's expression must have shown his disbelief because Iruka scratched at his scar. “What's wrong, Chuutetsu? You look surprised.”

“It's just – well – Kakashi doesn't look old enough to have been doing so much for so long.”

Iruka chuckled again. “Yeah – well he's always been a bit of a genius. Just ask him.”

“Sensei.” Crow's voice ended their discussion. “We need to move out.”

Iruka sighed and redirected their conversation where it needed to go. “Where do you think Kakashi went, Chuutetsu?”

Chuutetsu rubbed his chin thoughtfully and then turned toward the Dark District. “There are four or five places in the back streets of Hyoukai Yobou that I told him about. He's likely gone to one of them.”

“Hyoukai Yobou?” The curiosity in Crow's voice caught Chuutetsu off guard.

“Yes. This is the city of Hyoukai Yobou.” He turned toward the self-professed Academy teacher. “Don't they teach basic geography at this Academy of yours?”

Iruka blushed slightly. “We tend not to concentrate on much outside the five shinobi countries.” He scratched at the back of his head. “But I'll be suggesting a change of curriculum when we get back.”

The group headed out after Chuutetsu supplied basic directions. He hoped they'd catch up to the silver-haired man before whoever was after him did.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:24 pm

chapter 3 - part 4

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

The stranger's voice sang out into the deserted streets, his words echoing off the walls of the alley.

The high-pitched whimper of his catch as she struggled within his grasp added a strange counterpoint to the scene.

“Come now. You know you can't just stand by and watch someone innocent get hurt – can you?”

Kakashi knew he should just ignore the bastard, but he saw the look of terror in the tea shop owner's eyes, and knew her current predicament was his fault. Maybe if he just limited himself to basic Taijutsu moves he'd remain hidden to the rest of his trackers.

His decision made, Kakashi stepped out from the shadows and faced the hulking form blocking the entrance to the alley.

“Seems like a piss-poor way to treat a lady.” Kakashi could see, by the frown on the man's face and the blank expression on his captive, that his disguise was working.

“Who the hell are you?” The man's words were full of the confusion his face was showing.

Kakashi shrugged. “No one of importance. What say you let her go and we just pretend like this never happened?”

The brute of a man smiled dangerously and tossed the woman against the alley wall, knocking the wind out of her. “What say I just pound you into the ground instead, little man?”

Kakashi sighed. “I hate it when people call me that.”

Before the man took a single step toward him, Kakashi was a blur of action. He moved faster then the naked eye could track as he swept his feet out to knock the larger man to the ground. He followed this up with a series of jabs and punches, and once the man regained his feet, Kakashi finished off with a well placed roundhouse kick.

The result was that the man now lay amidst a pile of broken crates, moaning and unable to move.

Kakashi turned back toward the woman sprawled at the entrance and moved to her side to help her stand up. “I'd suggest you go home and stay there, miss.”

She nodded mutely and scurried back toward the tea shop. Kakashi sighed and was about to head into the city to find a new hiding spot, when he heard slow clapping from the opposite side of the street. His muscles tensed.

“I should have realized you'd try to hide your trademark hair and skin. And I must admit, your Taijutsu is rather impressive. Almost as impressive as your ability to mask your chakra – Kakashi Hatake.”

Kakashi turned toward the speaker and took in his appearance. He was taller then most men . . . a good head taller then himself. Long, black hair fell in waves over his shoulders and his pale face betrayed no emotion. Bare arms full of clearly defined muscle were folded across his chest, and the skin-tight black clothing gave away no clue of where this man came from. Piercing violet eyes showed Kakashi that he was no stranger to death, and something in their depths made him think the man rather enjoyed causing it.

Sensing there was no point in denying who he was, Kakashi met the man's eyes. “And just who the hell are you?”

The man's lips pulled into an amused smile, making Kakashi think of another black-haired man with a bent toward the dramatic. . . Orochimaru. Pushing down that thought, he concentrated on the man slowly crossing to his side of the street.

“I'm the one who was sent to fetch you, of course.”

Kakashi sighed. Why did he always have to have the psychotic ones come looking for him? Just once he'd like someone a bit more stable after him.

“I don't much feel like being fetched today.” His words came out more as a growl then anything else.

The man didn't seem to care as he moved closer yet. “I've been looking forward to this day, Copy-ninja.”

“Great – another fan.” Kakashi didn't wait for the other to make the first move. He channeled chakra into the bottom of his feet and jumped up onto the roof of the nearest building. He honestly didn't want to deal with this lunatic right now. After all, he still wasn't fully recovered from his previous injuries, and knew this man was likely packing more of a punch then the peon in the alley.

He felt a wave of intense anger flare off the other man, and knew he'd chosen correctly when deciding not to face him. Kakashi sped over the rooftops, hoping to put enough distance between himself and his pursuer. It didn't take long though, before his lungs were burning. His body, it seemed, didn't care that he needed to escape. . . it decided that running so soon after his bout of Taijutsu just wasn't a good idea.

Kakashi skidded to a stop at the edge of a building and spun around just in time to see the black-haired man and a handful of others approaching.

“Dammit!”

He stepped backward and dropped over the side and into the space between two buildings, hoping the unexpected action would delay the inevitable. He really needed to stop thinking that way.

Kakashi had just set foot on the ground when he was jumped by even more of the dark-haired man's gang. A flash of hand signs later, and they were grappling with a rain barrel instead of him, but the respite was over before it began when a series of shuriken soared toward him, narrowly missing his arms and legs while he dodged out of their way. Another series of hand signs and he sent a volley of fireballs in the direction of the attack. He felt a small amount of satisfaction as a few of his pursuers screamed in agony.

Kakashi darted down the street, continuing to dodge numerous attacks of shuriken and kunai. It wasn't until he saw the towering brick walls around him that he recognized he'd been herded into a dead end. The buildings on all sides were too tall for him to jump on top of – even with a chakra boost. So he was cornered – no real weaponry of his own, and a very limited amount of chakra left to try a battle a psychotic and his band of merry wackos.

This made no sense. He didn't have the scroll they were after – he knew they knew that. So why the hell were they still so eager to catch him? It couldn't just be the reward in the bingo books. . .could it?

He shook his head. No – this went well beyond something so simple. After all – they'd tracked him down beyond the five nations.

The black-haired man stepped forward. His face no longer the emotionless mask it was earlier. Now it bore an expression of pure malice that Kakashi was sure would have caused other men to cower in fear. All it did for Kakashi was confirm that the man was not entirely sane.

Kakashi's breathing was labored – he knew his lungs were still not fully healed – and his muscles felt the strain of too much exertion after so many weeks of not being used. He felt aches in his shoulders, his back, his legs, and of course – his so recently recovered feet. He did his best not to let his enemies see his weakness. He pushed his bandanna free of his sharingan eye and watched the others approach.

“Kakashi Hatake. This would be so much easier if I was allowed to simply kill you.” The man sighed dramatically. “But I've always enjoyed a challenge.”

The last word wasn't even out of the man's mouth when he raced toward Kakashi with such speed that, even with his sharingan exposed, he'd barely managed to dodge the attack. The narrowness of the space between the buildings limited what Kakashi could try – both physically and through ninjutsu. So he ended up battling hand to hand with his hunter.

The man lashed out with such ferocity that it took everything Kakashi had not to buckle under the forces of his blows. The battle went on for many long minutes before the man finally made it past Kakashi's defenses to land a solid kick into his upper chest. Kakashi's already struggling lungs seemed to collapse in on themselves, and he found himself slammed against the wall and unable to pull a full breath in.

It was all the other man needed to finish the battle. He pinned Kakashi's throat to the wall and quickly made a series of hand signs he'd never seen before. The violet eyes stared into his own, and Kakashi felt the world tilt sharply when the man's free hand pressed against his forehead.

Before he knew what happened, he found himself kneeling in the blood surrounding his father's body once more.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Akuma watched Kakashi's body slide down the wall to land in a heap at his feet. He'd known the man would prove a challenge, but even in his weakened state the Copy-ninja was able to meet him nearly blow for blow. He bent down and removed the bandanna from the dyed hair. Akuma grabbed a handful of that hair in his fist and forced Kakashi's head back. Once he was certain the ninja was firmly ensnared in his jutsu, he released his grip and turned back to his men.

“Don't take any chances with him. Tie him in chakra dampening ropes and bring him to the ship. We leave at high tide.”

“Yes sir.”

Akuma rolled his shoulders to work out the kinks. It had been quite some time since he'd had to work so hard to capture his prey. But then again – he should have expected this, considering the man's family history. He smiled to himself. . . at least he'd be back before his deadline expired. Which meant he'd be in Lord Kurogane's good graces for a bit longer.

Akuma closed his eyes for a moment and focused his chakra on Kakashi's still form. The waves of emotion emanating from the man were most intriguing. He couldn't wait until they'd secured their prize on the ship so he'd have the time to discover just what memories could illicit such a response from the famous Copy-ninja. This trip back to the Land of Lightning was bound to be a most enjoyable one indeed.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:27 pm

Chapter 4 - part 1: Missing Pieces

Kakashi's mind felt numb. His eyes scanned his surroundings, taking in the sight of his family home and he felt his chest tighten while his heart raced. The familiar smell of death assaulted his nose, and his dark eyes stung with unshed tears. He glanced down at hands that were so much smaller than they'd been in years – and he knew the nightmare had returned.

Beyond his tiny hands, Kakashi saw the dark red pool of blood lap against his bare feet, and he felt the thickness of that fluid between his toes while he slowly walked through it to his father's side. He knew what he'd find – after all, this was just a memory – no matter how real it felt – and memories didn't change. While a portion of his mind clung to that fact – trying desperately to keep from spiraling any farther into despair - his body continued through the motions it had taken over twenty years ago.

Kakashi saw his father kneeling on the floor with his head bowed down against his chest – the silver hair – so like his own – fell in a cascade over his unmasked face. One hand was still wrapped around the hilt of his tanto in a death grip – while the other lay palm up in the growing pool of blood on the floor.

Kakashi cringed inside – knowing what would come next – and unable to stop the memory from moving forward.

His hand reached up to his father's shoulder hoping to wake the man – still not understanding what he was witnessing. Instead, his touch caused the lifeless body to lose it's precarious balance and fall to the side, toppling over onto his own tiny body. Perhaps if he hadn't just finished the final round of the chunin exams he may have been able to dodge out of the way, but he couldn't. The dead weight was unforgiving as it pinned Kakashi's five-year old body under it – pushing him down into the growing pool of blood – and allowing his father's dead blue-gray eyes to stare accusingly into his own. Kakashi struggled to escape his entrapment – but the combination of grief, exhaustion, and the slick substance surrounding him, made it impossible. He lay there – his father's blood soaking into his hair, his clothing, his skin - until his Sensei found him hours later. Once Minato-sensei managed to pull him free from that living hell, Kakashi was never the same.

A part of him died that day. But it was far from over for him. The hours, days and weeks that followed were another testament to the cruelty of human beings.

His mind forced him to relive every detail of the interrogations he withstood before they'd let him so much as wash his father's blood from his hair. The whispers from shinobi and citizen alike wafted into his ears – the pain of those careless words as fresh in this memory as they were on the day of the funeral. How every eye avoided meeting his for months after the Hatake house had been boarded up. Each turned face and whispered taunt another stab to an already wounded heart.

Kakashi's mind struggled to free itself of whatever was trapping him in this cycle of misery, but he knew his chakra levels were dangerously low, and therefore he was forced to continue this travesty of memories – forced to replay the events that had forged him into the man he was today.

But it didn't end with the chaos of his family's shame. No – the world spun on it's heels once more and Kakashi found himself in the place where his first understandings of teamwork came to life. But it was at such a high cost that it, too, scarred his heart in ways that would never heal – no matter how much time passed.

He felt the fierce shove to his back from Obito as he took the hit from that boulder which should have ended his life – not the carefree Uchiha's. He felt his heart rip wide once more while he pounded his fist against the ground after failing to lift the enormous rock from the dark-haired boy. And he knew another piece of his heart was forever gone - even as Rin transplanted Obito's sharingan eye into the vacant socket within his own face.

Again the scent of death surrounded him. Again he wasn't strong enough to stop the crushing force against a body. And again he suffered from thoughtless whispers and jeers when he returned to Konoha weeks later – the mission labeled a success – although the team was one man less.

Kakashi's mind stung while his memories of what followed forced him to listen to barely veiled threats against his life by Obito's clan – the same clan which labeled the goggle-wearing boy a failure in their eyes just before they'd left on that mission. The same clan that petitioned the Hokage days later to force Kakashi to surrender what they deemed their sole property. Even after the Hokage stated the issue was closed – and the departing gift from Obito was Kakashi's by right – the villagers never saw him the same way again.

He could still feel the waves of killing intent from every member of that clan he'd pass on the streets from that point forward. Kakashi knew then, that if he ever was teamed with an Uchiha again, there was a clan-directive in place for him to meet with an 'accident' during the course of the mission.

Of course when the day came, two years later, for an Uchiha to be assigned with his team, that clan-directive played out differently then anyone would have expected. Kenzan Uchiha was directed to fill out Kakashi's three-man cell in a basic retrieval mission to the border of the Land of Grass. It was a simple B-ranked mission that should have taken less the five days to complete.

But when Kakashi was settling in for his rest, leaving Kenzan on watch, he heard Rin's voice cry out in warning. Kakashi spun – his kunai already in hand – just in time to see Kenzan's look of horror as the sword he'd meant to use on Kakashi had skewered the young medical-ninja instead. Kakashi bit back on the anger that had flared to life, and somehow had kept for disemboweling the Uchiha – but even with the troublemaker subdued, Kakashi had been unable to keep Rin from succumbing to the deadly poison the fool's blade had been coated with. He'd been unable to keep his promise to Obito – he failed to protect Rin.

Another piece of Kakashi's already damaged heart chipped away when Rin's eyes glazed over while he held her in his arms. He knew there'd be no tears. He'd been unable to cry since the day he was pinned under his father's body. The closest he'd come to tears since then had been the day he'd received the sharingan – and then it was only Obito's eye that flowed. But even that eye was dried up this day.

Kakashi relived the disgrace he felt when he'd returned to Konoha later that week – again the mission was labeled a success – the scroll they'd been sent for had been retrieved. But again – he was down one teammate, and the Uchiha clan had to disown one of their own to keep his failure from tainting their precious name. The hatred they held for him doubled, and Kakashi felt his shoulders slouch under the ever-present weight of the village's judgment on him. He'd taken to burying his nose in a book to keep from having to meet anyone's gaze as he walked through the village.

Kakashi's mind kept trying to reinforce that fact that this was all just a dream – but the realism in the scents, the sights, the feel of every thing he did, made it harder and harder for him to hold on.

His heart clenched tighter still when the world tipped on end again. He knew – before the scene solidified around him – that this vision would be unbearable. But he had no choice. There was no way out of this hell.

Kakashi was only a few years older now, but he'd become one of the ANBU's top killing machines. With the porcelain mask on, he was able to separate himself farther from those around him. Even his Sensei – who'd become Hokage earlier in the year - treated him differently when the mask was in place. Perhaps that was why the blond-haired leader of the Leaf Village had been able to coldly order him to the front line to distract the Kyuubi, while he stayed behind to finish creating the jutsu that would seal his fate.

Whatever the reason, Kakashi had the perfect view to see the Hokage – his Sensei – his only remaining link to his humanity – fall to his death. Kakashi felt his heart ice over while his voice screamed out from behind the wolf mask on his face. If he'd only been stronger – faster – he might have been the one to make that final sacrifice to save the village. But instead, he could only stand by – useless – while his world crashed all around him.

Kakashi's mind spiraled farther into the visions – one horrifying moment building upon the next – until all that was left was a broken shell – a faceless tool – the ANBU Wolf.

And with that thought, strangely enough, came a moment of utter clarity and calm within his mind. A moment that Kakashi clasped onto with all his might, and used to break free from the nightmares that held him prisoner. The Wolf opened eyes that were crusted over from too many days locked within that dreamlike state. He peered through the gloom of a small room to find himself chained to a wall – alone.

He took one shuddering breath – ever aware that his body was still not fully recovered – and allowed himself to relax his muscles. His captors would show themselves to him soon enough – and when they did – it would be the Wolf who would make them pay for all they'd put him through.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:27 pm

chapter 4 - part 2

Iruka watched in silent awe while the ANBU members systematically scoured the alleyway from one end to the other before they gathered once more to share their information with each other. Only after every member had their say did Crow piece together the puzzle for his official report. All these years of manning the mission desk on his off hours from the Academy, and he'd never really understood the level of skill these unknown shinobi used for even the tiniest part of their missions.

Iruka sat with Chuutetsu at the alley entrance and waited for the others to finish. Locust and Bear had rejoined them just before they'd reached this alley, and his bugs verified that Kakashi was definitely here a short time ago. They'd also confirmed that some of the blood found along the walls was indeed the Copy-ninja's.

The ANBU saw this as a good sign – and after Chuutetsu explained that the dead tend not to bleed – Iruka found himself looking at the news as a good omen as well. If they had only gotten here earlier, perhaps they could have kept Kakashi from the hands of whoever was causing city-wide destruction.

Instead – they were still playing the role of pursuers. . . seemingly always just one step behind. Iruka watched Crow roll up his field report and set it on the ground. He knelt beside it, drew the tip of his kunai across his palm, and then proceeded to make a long series of hand signs before thrusting his hand to the ground for a textbook summing jutsu.

Not surprisingly, Crow summoned a rather impressive looking bird into the alley. Chuutetsu's startled gasp caused that black-feathered bird to rustle its feathers, but it made no move to fly off. Crow stretched one hand out and the bird hopped onto his wrist as though it was something it did every day of the week. Crow smoothed the feather's of its breast with the back of his knuckles earning him a soft caw from the creature, and then he reached down for the field scroll. With a skill that Iruka knew was born from hundreds of such movements, Crow fastened the strip of parchment securely to the summoned bird's taloned leg with one hand. After a final scratch on the bird's breast, Crow lifted his wrist and the bird into the air and watched as it sailed up into the sky, circled once, and then headed in the direction of Konoha.

If nothing else – that report would be enough for Tsunade to keep from having to declare Kakashi as assumed dead. Iruka hoped that the news might just be enough to place some of the spark back into Naruto's eyes. But part of him knew that the blue-eyed boy, along with Sakura and Sai, would not be the same unless they could actually rescue Kakashi and bring him back to them.

Crow signaled to the group to head out, and they started to follow Locust's bugs once more – this time with the knowledge that they were closing in on their goal.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tsunade still wasn't able to convince Sakura to talk about what had happened on the last mission. Even when she tried to pull the rank of Hokage on her, the young woman had remained silent. Her normally bright jade eyes were dull and unfocused as she stared out the window of her hospital room, and it nearly broke Tsunade's heart to see her apprentice so disturbed.

The boys weren't doing much better. She'd pretty much expected Naruto to be a wreck – after all, the kid had always been emotional. What she hadn't expected was for Sai to have been so effected. Hell – that one was ANBU after all – and was schooled by none other then Danzou to push all emotions away. But when she'd met with the two young men earlier they'd barely registered that she was talking to them.

Tsunade sighed and looked at the partial report Naruto submitted. He'd only placed the bare minimum of details on the paper . . . and scrawled a note on the bottom that said she'd have to wait for Kakashi-sensei to return before a final report could be handed in.

“Brat.” The word was whispered – and to be honest with herself, Tsunade wasn't one hundred percent sure if she was directing it toward Naruto – or the absent Kakashi.

A knock on the door brought Tsunade out of her musings. “Enter!”

“You asked for me, Hokage?” The deep voice of Ibiki Morino brought a tired smile to Tsunade's lips.

“Ibiki. . . I have a favor to ask of you.” Ibiki's eyes betrayed nothing of what he was thinking, and Tsunade found herself holding her breath until he answered.

“And what might that be, Hokage?”

Was that a hint of amusement she heard in the interrogator's voice? Tsunade sighed.

“I know this isn't your normal line of work, Ibiki – but I need you to find out some information for me.”

Ibiki's brow furrowed. “How is that not my normal line of work, Hokage?”

Tsunade handed Ibiki Naruto's report and let him read it. Once he finished and looked up again she leaned back in her chair.

“Ibiki Morino – I need you to find out what those three know.”

The torture specialist frowned. “I assume you'd rather I didn't use my usual methods?”

Tsunade cringed a bit at that. “Ibiki – I know that you can get people to talk without laying a single finger on them. Hell, you're probably one of the only people alive that can get Kakashi to talk about more then the latest Icha Icha novel. I have faith that you'll find the right way to get through to them.”

Ibiki placed the report back on her desk and nodded once. “I'll see what I can do, Hokage.”

He turned and headed for the door.

“Ibiki. . .” He stopped and turned his head back toward her. “Thank you.”

He grunted, nodded once more, and left the office. Tsunade leaned her head back and closed her eyes. She could only hope that Ibiki would be able to find some way to get through to the three kids. They were much too young to already have had their minds shattered.

Then sound of the door opening made Tsunade open her eyes to see Shizune walking to her desk with an urgency in her eyes and a sheet of paper in her hand. Tsunade leaned forward, expectantly.

“Lady Tsunade – this just came in. It's from the retrieval squad!”

Tsunade held out her hand, trying to keep it from shaking, while Shizune laid the transcript on her palm. She swallowed back her fear and placed the paper on her desk to read. Once she made it past the first four lines she sank back in her chair and let out a large sigh.

Shizune leaned forward. “What is it? Did they find him? Is he . . .”

Tsunade allowed a small smile to grace her lips. “Shizune – they haven't rescued him yet.”

“Rescued?!? Then Kakashi's alive?!?”

Tsunade chuckled. “Yeah – that brat's still alive.” She looked back down at the transcript and frowned.

Shizune leaned forward. “What's wrong Lady Tsunade?”

“From what the ANBU report says, Kakashi was tracked to outside the Five Great Countries where he had been nursed back to health. But someone got to him before our team could, and by the sounds of it, a lot of good people died at the hands of whoever has him now.”

Shizune gasped and placed one hand to her chest. “Do you think they'll kill him?”

Tsunade shook her head. “I honestly don't know. But if they went to that much trouble to recapture him – they must have a need for him.”

Tsunade sighed and handed the report back to Shizune. “Bring this to Ibiki Morino. He might be able to use some of this information to help him with his current task.”

“Yes, Lady Tsunade.”
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:28 pm

chapter 4 - part 3

Akuma reclined on his bed with his eyes closed, relishing the waves of despair and anguish his current prey was experiencing in his nightmare jutsu. The level of pain and suffering this one had witnessed in his lifetime was so vast that he fully expected the man to be trapped within his mind for the entire journey back to the Land of Lightning. So when his connection to Kakashi Hatake abruptly ended when they were only two-thirds of the way back, he was more then a bit surprised.

He opened his eyes and let out a small sigh and spoke into the empty room. “Don't tell me the man's heart gave out. I would have thought the great Copy-ninja was made of sterner stuff than that.”

Akuma pushed himself off his bed and lazily stretched the kinks out of his muscles. Three days away from their destination, and it looked like now he'd have to explain to Kurogane that he'd miscalculated his nephew's strength. Oh well – he knew he'd eventually lose the man's favor – this was just sooner then he would have liked. Perhaps he could find a way to blame this on one of the men Kurogane had forced him to take along on the trip. Yes – that would work nicely.

He moved silently through the ship and down to the lower deck, where his prey was being stored. A single guard stood in front of the door – Akuma frowned. There were supposed to be two guards posted at all times.

That lone guard snapped to attention at his approach. “He hasn't made a sound in over an hour, sir.”

Akuma glared at the man. “I didn't ask for your input.”

Akuma moved toward the door – the guard swallowed and stepped to the side, pushing the door open as he moved. Akuma stepped into the gloom, taking a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the lower light. The prey was where he'd left him – his body was slumped against the far wall. His legs were outstretched along the floor – back pressed against the wall – arms pinned in manacles above his head. That head was tipped forward, the chin resting on a chest that seemed unnaturally still – an unruly wave of tea-stained hair cascaded down, hiding the features of the famous Copy-ninja. The sleeves of his shirt fell down to his elbows – displaying a strange patchwork of pale white skin, tea-stained skin and darkening bruises.

In the dim light of the small room, the man looked more like the scarecrow he'd been named for than the Master of a Thousand jutsu.

Akuma narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms. “Come in here.”

His words were directed to the guard, while his attention remained firmly on the man chained to the wall. His voice had not elicited even the smallest reaction from the Copy-ninja.

The guard stopped next to him. Akuma continued staring at Kakashi while he addressed Kuragane's man. “Check to see if he's breathing.”

The guard took a deep breath and then moved to the chained-man. He was just about to lean in to feel for a pulse when the prisoner's body moved with such a fluid grace that Akuma had no choice but to be impressed. The hands captured within the manacles grasped the chains fastened to the wall and used them as leverage for the rest of his body. Kakashi's back arched, his long legs swept out, catching the guard unaware, and pinning the fool to the ground with his head positioned between Kakashi's lower legs. Before the guard had a chance to struggle, Akuma saw Kakashi shift his position once more, and violently twist his body in such a way that the sound as the guard's neck snapped echoed off the room's walls.

Only when the guard stopped moving did Kakashi lift his head up to meet Akuma's gaze. The man's mismatched eyes held an edge to them that made Akuma realize that perhaps some of the stories he'd heard of Kakashi's past were not entirely false. He narrowed his eyes and kept his voice emotionless as he motioned to the guard's body.

“That – is why I am the only one with the key.”

Kakashi's lips pulled away from his teeth slightly and a low growl emitted from his throat. Without a hint at his intent, the Copy-ninja kicked the lifeless body across the room. Akuma stopped it with a well-placed foot, and he studied his prisoner's face. Something had changed in the man's gaze since they'd met in the alley. There was something deadly – no, not deadly . . . lethal – in those mismatched eyes now that made Akuma glad he'd had the foresight to invest in the chakra-dampening iron that comprised the prisoner's chains.

Akuma pushed his hair behind one ear and contemplated the man chained to the wall. Somehow – even with these special restraints – this man was able to break his nightmare jutsu. And it was now crystal clear that his danger wasn't limited to his use of chakra alone. Akuma stepped over the dead body at his feet and watched Kakashi's muscles ripple under his tea-mottled skin – no doubt waiting for him to get close enough to reach. But Akuma wasn't that foolish – he stopped just beyond the man's feet and tipped his head ever-so-slightly toward his right shoulder. He took his time and scanned every inch of the captive's body before making any further moves. All through this, Kakashi's eyes stayed narrowed and fixed on him – as though the man was imaging the many ways he wanted to kill him.

Akuma pushed that thought from his mind and concentrated on his own task. . . how to keep Kakashi from being troublesome. He would need to use a jutsu that was ancient – one that he hadn't needed to use in a very long time. As such, he needed to remain conscious of every movement he made during the complicated hand signs. But once it was finished, the Copy-ninja would be unable to fight back until the jutsu was released – which Akuma didn't intend on doing until the man was delivered into the hands of Lord Kurogane.

Akuma drew in a long breath and began the string of fifty-two separate hand signs that would ensure him of one very helpless prisoner. The look on Kakashi's face by the time the twentieth sign was completed went from loathing to curiosity. By the time the thirtieth sign was made it was clear he was beginning to sense what the outcome of the jutsu would be – and Akuma had to fight down the urge to break his concentration to gloat. By the fortieth sign, Kakashi's eyes widened in recognition, and he struggled to pull free of his chains. By the fiftieth sign, Akuma was surrounded by a pale yellow glow, as the chakra needed to complete the jutsu gathered. The fifty-second sign was followed by the words that would put form and purpose to that gathered energy.

“Fuuton – Saibou Kanashibari!” [literally – Wind Jutsu – cell binding hand and foot]

The chakra spun around Akuma's body, and formed into a writhing mass of clawed hands which shot out from his chest and headed straight for Kakashi. Each hand gripped a different part of the prisoner's body until every inch of him was covered. Every time one of those hands made contact with Kakashi, it ripped a fresh scream out of the jonin's lungs. By the time it was over, every muscle on the prisoner's body was tensed, and his eyes – so full of loathing moments before – stared unfocused, while his face was twisted into a mask of agony.

Akuma fell to his knees when it was over – his head bowed, his shoulders slumped, allowing his long hair to fall nearly to the floor with the movement. His breath came is gasps for long minutes until he regained his composure. It had been many years since he'd first performed this jutsu – and he hoped it would be many more before he ever had to do it again. He could taste the metallic tang of blood in his mouth. Akuma wiped his lips with the back of his hand, noting the trail of red liquid left behind on his knuckles, and lifted his head until the Copy-ninja was in view.

The man's body held a pale yellow sheen to it – while the power of the jutsu continued to bind every inch of the man at a cellular level. This was one of very few jutsu his father had passed down to him – and was the very same one that ended up killing the old man a few years after he'd passed on the knowledge. Akuma smiled – remembering the exquisite way the failed jutsu peeled his father's flesh away – until all that was left were his bleached bones. It had given Akuma the inspiration he'd needed to modify this very jutsu for some of his more destructive methods of attack.

Using those thoughts to calm his mind, Akuma pushed himself back to standing – confident this jutsu would not be so easy for Kakashi Hatake to break free of. He pulled the door shut and slowly made his way back to his room on the upper deck. After a glass of sake and a good rest he'd be ready for the remainder of the trip.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Naruto sat on the edge of his bed, a half eaten cup of instant ramen in one hand while his chopsticks were perched in the other hand. He stared into the space between his knees, trying unsuccessfully to push his memories down. All he could see was blood – everywhere.

A knock on the door caused him to squeeze the ramen cup a bit too tight – sending cold broth and sticky noodles plummeting across his knees and toward the floor. Naruto blinked at the mess, not really sure how it happened – and not feeling inclined to do much about it. The knock came again – this time followed by a voice he'd only ever heard once or twice before.

“Open the door, Naruto – I know you're in there.”

Naruto blinked and slowly moved to pull the door open – it couldn't possibly be who he thought it was – could it? Sure enough – Ibiki Morino stood outside his apartment, looking every bit as imposing as he did on the first day of the chunin exam so long ago.

“Ibiki?” Naruto's eyes widened as the scarred man took a step toward him. “Did I do something wrong?”

The master interrogator shook his head and frowned. “Just once I'd like someone to say something other then that when I come to their door.”

Naruto blinked again. “Huh?”

Ibiki stepped past Naruto and let himself into the apartment. After a moment more, Naruto shut the door, turned back toward Ibiki, and stared at the man. Ibiki moved to the only chair in the place and sat down, motioning for Naruto to come closer. Swallowing back his fear, Naruto walked toward the bandanna-wearing leader of the T&I unit. He honestly couldn't think of anything he'd done since he'd been back that would be worthy of a visit from Ibiki Morino. In fact, he hadn't been out of his apartment in weeks.

Naruto furrowed his brow as he came to a stop in front of the man. “What's going on?”

“Sit down, Naruto.”

Naruto scratched at his ear. “Umm – You're on the only chair.”

Ibiki sighed and stood up. He motioned to the vacated seat. “Sit down, Naruto.”

He did as he was told, picking stray pieces of ramen off his pants in an attempt to keep from freaking out. This only managed to work until a strong hand gripped his shoulder from behind. Without a thought, Naruto darted out of the chair and crouched in the corner, his breath coming in hard gasps, his mind clouding over with the memories of the last mission. When, after a few tense moments, his eyes finally focused on Ibiki's face, Naruto shuddered and sank down to the floor – only then realizing he'd pulled his kunai out. He dropped the weapon and buried his face in his hands and sobbed – like he had every night since their return.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:30 pm

chapter 4 - part 4

Ibiki had seen a lot over the years, but the three young shinobi he'd been asked to visit today were something he wouldn't forget any time soon. Each one was a mess in their own right.

Sakura had been in a near catatonic state . . . spending her days staring out her hospital room window. All the reports from hospital staff stated she was unresponsive to any and all outside stimuli – to the point that she was being fed intravenously – totally unaware of what was going on around her.

Ibiki entered her room and found the young kunoichi exactly as she'd been described to him. But he noticed something none of the others had. . . she wasn't staring into space - unaware . . . she was staring at a specific point. He looked out the window in the direction she'd stared for the better part of the last three weeks – straight toward the building that housed Kakashi Hatake's apartment. And Ibiki knew he had the words that might unlock her mind from its captivity. He leaned in close to her ear and whispered those words so only she could hear them.

“Sakura, we've just received word – Kakashi Hatake is alive.”

At first, there was no response – but slowly . . . ever so slowly, Sakura took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and leaned into Ibiki's body with a sigh and a sob. He let the young woman cling to his jacket for countless minutes, and stroked her long pink hair soothingly.

Eventually, he pulled himself free of her grip, and knelt down until his face was level with hers. “Sakura.” His voice was firm enough that she opened her eyes in response to it. “They'll find him.”

She seemed to finally thaw from the grip that held her frozen at the window for so long, and he watched her eyes brighten just a bit from his words. He left the room certain that her recovery would take a turn for the better, and headed toward where Sai was last seen.

Ibiki knew this one was a member of ROOT – and as such, he expected a certain level of detachment to have been bred into him. So when he found the boy standing at the edge of the Academy grounds, watching the children while they played in the yard, Ibiki had to rethink where Sai's mindset might be. He watched silently until the moment when he noticed Sai's empty hand clench into a fist, and his shoulders tense. He followed Sai's line of sight and saw he was focused on two small boys practicing their kunai skills.

Ibiki was at Sai's side in an instant – he stepped into the ROOT member's view and watched as the boy tried to comprehend who he was. Recognition was slow – but it came at last, and Sai relaxed ever so slightly when his dark eyes fixed on Ibiki's hard stare.

Ibiki furrowed his brow. Why the hell hadn't the Hokage called him in sooner? Just from what he was witnessing between Sakura and Sai, the instability of these young shinobi was potentially dangerous to the village. He carefully placed one hand on Sai's arm, noticing the boy's emotionless features flash with something close to fear before settling back to its normal blank facade.

Ibiki made signs with his free hand and instantly moved himself and Sai to one of the T&I rooms back at headquarters. Sai took in the windowless room in a quick glance and Ibiki saw him relax even more. So – he was nervous when outside. Not for the first time, he wondered what hell these kids had gone through.

The only furniture in the room was two straight-backed wooden chairs. He motioned for Sai to take one while he moved the second one in front of him so he could meet the boy's eyes. Once they had settled in, Ibiki got straight to the point.

“Tell me what I need to know.”

Sai's eyes opened wide and his already pale skin seemed to lose all color. His dark eyes looked wild for a brief moment, and Ibiki was afraid he'd lunge at him any second. He braced himself for a possible attack when the boy's hand reached toward his pouch – but then, Sai closed his eyes and pulled out a scroll. Wordlessly he handed the parchment to Ibiki.

The scroll contained various drawings and detailed accounts of the weapons and attacks the three young shinobi had encountered on their way back to Konoha. Although Ibiki only saw reference to five or six pursuers, the level of jutsus and weaponry detailed made him appreciate how difficult it must have been to return at all. By the looks of some of Sai's notes, Naruto's use of shadow clones was one of the main factors in their survival – along with Sai's ability to create his ink-creatures.

He rolled the scroll back up and placed in into his jacket for further examination after his meetings were completed. Ibiki turned his attention back to Sai – who was currently shifting his gaze nervously around the room. The frown resettled onto Ibiki's face.

“Sai – I've read the sorry excuse for a report that Naruto submitted.” Sai avoided his gaze at those words. Ibiki growled. “I don't care if you met with the hounds of hell, there is no excuse for leaving important facts out of a report. Even Kakashi has never dared to submit such a useless report.”

At the mention of Kakashi's name, Sai's head whipped back to lock eyes with Ibiki. The intensity of the ANBU member's stare surprised him, but he didn't let it show. Instead, he leaned forward.

“There's one vital piece of information in particular that Kakashi would never have left out of even a partial report. How did your client die?”

Sai's breath caught in his throat, and for a moment Ibiki thought he may have crossed the unseen line that could push the boy into a state similar to how he'd found Sakura. But instead, Sai pulled another scroll out and handed it over with a slight shake to his hands. His voice was barely audible as he relinquished this second scroll.

“I tried to draw it . . . but I just can't get it right.” Sai swallowed. “This is the closest I've gotten.”

Ibiki leaned back in his chair and opened this new scroll. The detail in the drawing was astounding. The figures seeming to leap off the page as he watched. The scenes were depicted in three separate areas of the scroll. The first showed Team Kakashi meeting with the client and the ornate scroll case handed over to them. But Ibiki noticed Sai included an ominous shadow on the edge of the drawing.

Ibiki narrowed his eyes and looked back at Sai. “None of you sensed the attackers?”

Sai looked down. “No.”

Ibiki continued to open the scroll until the next scene was in view. It showed the client's body explode from the inside out – covering Team Kakashi with blood and more. Kakashi was already engaging two of the attackers and Sai's drawing showed over dozen more closing in on the Copy-ninja. The rest of Team Kakashi was shown in battle as well . . . with faceless bodies all around them. It was obvious from this scene that the enemy was already trying to separate Kakashi from the others. Again there was the shadowy figure – this time standing behind the client.

The final scene showed Kakashi running away from them – with the majority of the ninja chasing at his heels – the shadowy figure was reaching one hand out toward Kakashi's shoulder. Meanwhile Sai, Sakura and a half dozen Narutos were running in the opposite direction – one of the Narutos clutched the ornate scroll case to his chest. Ibiki narrowed his eyes when he noticed one detail in particular on Sai's drawing of the enemy ninjas.

“Are you certain that was the symbol they wore?” His finger was tracing over a depiction of the enemies' headband. It showed three staggered clouds – Lightning Country's symbol.

Sai nodded. “They all wore it.”

Ibiki closed the scroll and placed it with the first. “What about this shadow fellow you keep drawing?”

Sai shook his head. “I couldn't tell. He . . . it never seemed to fully form. It just dove in, struck, then left. We couldn't track it with our eyes.”

Ibiki nodded his understanding. He locked eyes with Sai once more. “Luckily Kakashi has his sharingan – which would explain why he's been reported as still being alive.”

Ibiki let these words sink in before standing and heading toward the door. He paused at the door and turned back toward the young ANBU member. “I expect you to submit a proper report by the end of the day.”

Sai stood and bowed formally to him. “Yes sir.”

Ibiki left the boy to search out Naruto. He figured Sai would find a way to work past whatever hell they'd been through. But based on what he'd seen in the two scrolls, he wondered how Naruto would be reacting. When he'd reached the small apartment and knocked on the door, he was pleased to see the kid was still responding to outside stimuli – at least he was one up on how Sakura had fared.

Of course – after he entered the apartment, Ibiki adjusted his assessment slightly. Naruto looked like he hadn't slept in days – there were dark circles under haunted blue eyes, his clothes were stained – with ramen by the looks of it, and his shoulders looked so tense that he wondered if the boy had relaxed at all since their return to Konoha. After getting him to sit down - Ibiki walked to Naruto and placed what he hoped would be a reassuring hand on the kid's shoulder.

Naruto moved so fast Ibiki had to admit he was impressed – that is until he saw the state the kid was in. Naruto looked liked a cornered dog – his kunai was gripped defensively in front of him – he was crouched low to the floor – and every fiber of his body seemed to radiate terror.

Ibiki frowned and slowly moved toward Naruto – keeping his empty hands outstretched to the side and trying his best to remain calm. The last thing he needed right now was for Naruto to slip into Kyuubi-mode. But the look in the kid's face didn't look like the familiar scowl of the fox-demon. . . it was more like he was lost and confused. Ibiki wondered again what the Hokage was thinking when she'd decided to leave these kids alone for so long.

He knelt in front of Naruto and tried to get the kid to calm down. “Naruto – I'm not here to hurt you. I just want to talk.”

He continued to speak softly to the boy until – at last – Naruto seemed to understand who he was and that he was safe. Naruto shuddered and sank down to the floor – he buried his face in his hands and broke into sobs.

Ibiki ran a hand over his bandanna. He'd take a regular interrogation any day of the week. He was so close to getting down to the bottom of this mystery – if he could just get Naruto to open up to him. Because based on Sai's drawings – it was obvious to him that Naruto had the most contact with the Lightning ninjas and likely held the missing piece to the puzzle.

Remembering a discussion he'd had with Iruka a few months back, Ibiki realized the only way to get Naruto to open up was going to be with a gentle touch. The academy teacher mentioned the boy was especially responsive to physical contact. Ibiki sighed and moved closer to Naruto. The boy barely noticed him. He slowly placed one hand on Naruto's knee.

“I need your help.” Still no response. Ibiki thought back to what broke the other two from their silence. “Naruto – Kakashi needs your help.”

Naruto became completely still. He raised his tear-streaked face and Ibiki saw a faint glimmer of hope within those blue eyes. “Ka . . . Kakashi?”

Ibiki nodded. “He's still alive, Naruto, and he needs us to find him.”

Naruto let loose such a large sigh the Ibiki couldn't help but turn his mouth up slightly in what passed for a smile for him. “Naruto – I know some of what you've been through. Sai showed me. What I need to know is why Lightning seems obsessed with that scroll. Did your clones overhear anything?”

Naruto shivered at his words and swallowed. “I kept asking them why they wanted it . . . and they kept laughing at me. They kept saying how the scroll wasn't as important as their other goal.”

“Other goal?” Ibiki was confused. “What other goal?”

Naruto's words were so soft Ibiki had to lean in closer to hear them. “They want Kakashi-sensei back.”

Ibiki stared back at the boy. “Back?”

Naruto nodded and threw himself into Ibiki's arms. The master of torture and interrogation held the boy, while in his mind he tried to comprehend this latest bit of information. He was still missing a few pieces to this puzzle. He narrowed his eyes while continuing to lend support to Naruto. He had a feeling he knew where he'd get those missing pieces . . . Tsunade.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:35 pm

Chapter 5 - part 1: The ANBU Wolf

Iruka watched in silent amazement as Chuutetsu navigated the rigging of the ship to adjust a rope or a sail – whatever the captain directed him to do. The dark-skinned man moved with such a fluid grace that it made the Academy Teacher feel almost jealous. Earlier, the medic explained to Iruka that he'd worked on similar ships in his youth – before his calling to medicine – and how it was something that never really left your muscle-memory once it was learned.

Iruka sighed and pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders when an unexpected breeze shot across the deck. He couldn't believe they were back on the water so soon after their last trip, but if it meant catching up with whoever took Kakashi, then he was glad to do it.

The ship lurched to one side and the contents of Iruka's stomach did the same. OK- so maybe glad wasn't exactly the emotion he was feeling right now. A low groan left his lips. He may be named after a dolphin – but Iruka was not a fan of boats – and never had been. Give him solid ground under his feet, and the full trees of Konoha above his head, over the ever changing, always unpredictable waters of the ocean any day.

“Here – this will help.”

Iruka looked up to see Crow offering him a small flask and he frowned “I don't see how sake will help at a time like this.”

The masked ANBU chuckled, and firmly pressed it into his hand. “It isn't sake, Iruka-sensei.”

Curious, despite himself, Iruka flipped the cap off the flask and sniffed at its contents. His nose was greeted by the surprising scent of ginger. He looked back to Crow – certain his disbelief showed clearly on his face. The man crossed his arms and chuckled at him once more.

“Did you think I'd try to poison you, Sensei? You may not be ANBU – but you have proved useful. Having you at your best can only help our mission.”

Iruka flushed with embarrassment under the impassive gaze of the porcelain mask. He wondered if the masked ninja ever got tired of the inaccurate assumptions so many made of them. He drank deeply from the flask, recapped it and handed it back to Crow.

“Thank you, Crow. I know you couldn't have been too happy when the Hokage saddled you with me on this mission.”

Crow placed the flask back into his pouch and sank to a sitting position in one fluid motion. Obviously he didn't have a problem with the movements of the boat. The eye-holes of the mask came in line with Iruka's face. After a moment where Iruka felt as though Crow were measuring him against some unseen ruler, the leader of the retrieval squad spoke.

“ANBU don't question the Hokage's choices – ever.”

The statement seemed so simple – yet Iruka felt there was more to it than that. “Even when you know they're wrong?”

Crow took a deep breath and placed his palms on his knees, a position that Iruka had learned meant he was as relaxed as an ANBU ever got on a mission.

“Iruka, one of the main vows taken as ANBU is to follow orders without question. And it is also the hardest vow to keep. However, as any member of ANBU will tell you, there are reasons for every order the Hokage gives. And just because we might not understand why we're being ordered to perform a certain task – it becomes quickly apparent that the Hokage is always right in the long run.”

Iruka sighed. He'd heard this line of logic before. “Are you trying to tell me you never question your orders?”

This time Crow laughed outright. The sound surprised Iruka just a bit.

“I'm human, Sensei. Of course I question the orders from time to time – but I still perform the task without fail. That is what ANBU is.”

Iruka knew his face showed his skepticism. Crow pointed to the tattoo on his left upper arm.

“Have you ever thought about the symbol of the ANBU, Iruka-sensei?”

Iruka stared at the design – which every member of Konoha recognized as the mark of the ANBU. It was comprised of two dark red lines – the center one vaguely circular in shape with a tail, while the second line wrapped around one side of that center mark.

“Isn't it a stylized version of Konoha's leaf symbol?”

Crow shook his head. “Not exactly. The center marking represents the Hokage's will of fire...while the line underneath is the protective hand of the ANBU.”

Iruka furrowed his brow and looked at the mark once more. He tipped his head to the side and widened his eyes when he saw what Crow was describing. He looked back into Crow's face.

“Iruka, no one is allowed to join ANBU unless they accept one basic concept – above all else, the ANBU are an extension of the Hokage's will of fire.”

Iruka placed a faint smile on his face. “Crow – I continue to be amazed with just how complex you ANBU can be.”

Crow bowed his head slightly and pushed the hood off his head, revealing thick chocolate brown hair. He ran his fingers through it, rubbing his scalp as he went. Iruka couldn't help but hope he'd remove the mask next – instead he faced him again and chuckled.

“Iruka-sensei, are you trying to figure out who I am?” There was an almost teasing edge to his voice.

Iruka blushed and scratched at the back of his head. “No...no, I'm just...well...” He bowed his head in defeat. “Was I that obvious?”

Crow laughed again. “No more then anyone else who spends time with us.”

Iruka looked back into Crow's face and grinned. “Guess I'm human too.”

Crow stood up and offered a hand to help Iruka rise as well. “Feeling better now?”

Once Iruka was at Crow's side he realized his bout of seasickness was gone. “Yeah. Thanks.”

Crow nodded once and moved toward the bow of the boat to join Bear on watch. Iruka smiled and waited for Chuutetsu to finish in the rigging.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tsunade stared across her desk at Ibiki Morino and knew he was very close to losing his temper – something that most people did not live to talk about. Still, she was not most people.

“Stand down Ibiki!” She leveled her most devastating glare at the T&I expert and, for a moment, thought she'd lost her touch – but slowly Ibiki lowered his steely gaze to the floor.

“Yes, Hokage.” His voice rumbled out of his chest, making it quite clear to Tsunade that he was still angry.

She couldn't blame him. After all – he knew she wasn't telling him everything. Tsunade sighed and leaned her elbows on the desk and folded her hands under her chin.

“Ibiki, what we are about to discuss is beyond classified – is that clear?”

The interrogator's brow furrowed. “Yes, Hokage.”

She pushed herself back in her chair and made a series of hand signs to activate the ward seals she'd set around the office weeks before. Ibiki's expression changed to one of curiosity. Tsunade released the hidden catch on her desk and removed the scroll that would explain some of what was troubling Ibiki. She placed the document on the desk, rolled it open, and leaned back in her chair again. Ibiki met her eyes with a silent question and she nodded once.

Ibiki moved to the desk and turned the scroll so he could better read the characters. Already knowing what was detailed on the document, Tsunade watched Ibiki's reactions instead. He remained relatively unreadable – until he reached the section that she knew contained the name of the alleged leader of the planned uprising in Lightning Country. At that point, his face lost all pretense of calm and he snapped his head up to meet her gaze, looking surprised.

“Kurogane...Hatake?”

Tsunade nodded. Ibiki returned his attention to the scroll and finished reading the document before standing up again to address her.

“This explains what the bastards from Lightning said to Naruto.”

It was Tsunade's turn to look surprised. “And just what did they say to Naruto?”

Ibiki pinched the top of his nose and closed his eyes. “That they wanted to take Kakashi back.”

“Dammit!” Tsunade tipped her head until it leaned on the back of the chair and she was staring at the ceiling. “Have a seat Ibiki.”

She heard him pull a chair closer to the desk and sit. “Are you about to tell me Kakashi Hatake is not a member of Konoha?”

Tsunade smiled and looked Ibiki in the eyes once more. “Ibiki, you grew up with him. What do you think?”

“Hokage, it doesn't matter what I think. I need to know the facts, please.”

Tsunade sighed. “Very well. Kakashi Hatake was born and raised in Konoha – making him a full member of this village.”

Ibiki narrowed his eyes. “But...”

She frowned. “But...his parents were not from this village. Sakumo Hatake moved here with his pregnant wife six months before Kakashi was born. They were originally from Lightning Country – but I assume you'd already figured that much out.”

“And how does Kurogane fit into this puzzle? Is he Sakumo's father, brother, cousin or uncle?”

Tsunade raised her eyebrows at Ibiki's ability to see to the heart of the problem. “Brother. The two had a falling out that led to in-fighting within the Hatake clan, the incarceration of Kurogane in an asylum, and the official disbandment of their clan – on the orders of the Raikage.”

Ibiki grunted in acknowledgment. “Older or younger?”

Tsunade blinked. “Pardon me?”

“Was Sakumo the older brother, or the younger?”

She narrowed her eyes, trying to fathom where Ibiki was headed with these questions. “Sakumo was the older brother. Why?”

Ibiki rubbed at the back of his neck. “From what the scroll detailed, and from the fact Lightning seems eager for Kakashi's return, my first guess is Kurogane wants to remove all threats to his apparent rise to power.”

Tsunade frowned. “Then why not have him killed instead of captured? What's your second guess, Ibiki?”

Ibiki's gaze turned hard. “My second guess is that Kurogane is truly insane and sees Kakashi as a substitute for his dead brother. And if that's the case – this could one of two ways...either he wants Kakashi at his side to witness his rise in power in order to validate it – or he wants to make Kakashi pay for the years he spent in the asylum.”

Tsunade grimaced. “I don't like any of those options Ibiki.”

“I doubt Kakashi is all too fond of them either, Hokage.”
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:35 pm

chapter 5 - part 2

This latest jutsu was one the Wolf had never experienced before – and truth be told – it was one he hoped to never experience again. Every muscle in his body was on fire. No – not on fire – just frozen in a state of inaction that sent signals to his brain to make him think that his skin was on fire. If he wasn't in such agony, he would have been impressed with the elegance of the jutsu. After all, it made it impossible for his brain to communicate effectively with any of his muscles – rather efficiently making him unable to move so much as a finger while wrapped in his captor's chakra.

Still, Wolf wasn't one to simply give in to any means on constraint – no matter how foolproof they seemed. So he began to systematically test his control over every muscle in his body – starting from his toes, and working his way up his body. If he could just find one area where the hold was weak, he may yet be able to break this powerful jutsu.

Wolf chuckled within the recesses of his mind. It wasn't as though he had anything else to do at the moment. He wasn't even a tenth of the way through his work when a part of his mind recognized he was no longer alone in the small room. With great difficulty, Wolf concentrated his awareness away from his task, and focused as best he could on the conversation around him.

“You're sure this is him?” The speaker's voice held an underlying edge of doubt to it.

Wolf felt a new level of agony when his hair was gripped in a tight fist and his head was pulled back to allow full view of his unmasked face. He wanted to glare at the two men now in his view, but that particular level of muscle control was still beyond him. Still, he took the opportunity to size up his visitors.

The one whose hand even now held his head up was the same bastard whose toxic chakra was entrapping him. His violet eyes held a look of amusement in them, and his long black hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail. Wolf burned the man's features into his memory – vowing to himself to make the bastard suffer at least as much as he was once he caught up to him. He'd take great care to make sure this man was never able to put another person through this torture again.

The second man was a stark contrast to the first. His hair was short-cropped and a light blond. His skin, though nowhere near the color of those back in Hyoukai Yobou, was still far darker then the others. His eyes were the color of a new leaf – a far subtler shade of green then some he'd seen over the years – and they moved constantly, scanning every inch of him as the first man held him steady. This one held the look of an aide more than a fighter, and Wolf filed that bit of information away for reference later. After all, once he was free he'd need details on what exactly was going on here, and who better to learn that knowledge from than the one who likely had to organize all the dirty work.

The aide sighed in relief. “Yes – that's definitely him. The sharingan is the clincher. Is there any way you can clean him up a bit before we bring him to Kurogane? You and I both know he won't be too pleased if he doesn't at least look like his brother at first glance.”

Wolf's head was pulled back farther, until he had a direct view into the bastard's violet eyes as he leaned over him. “I'm sure we can manage something. It appears this is nothing more then a tea-stain.”

The hand tightened in Wolf's hair, causing a growl of pain from his throat, and a short laugh from his tormentor.

The aide's voice held no humor in it. “Remember not to damage him farther, Akuma. After all, you can hardly chock it up to self-defense this time, can you?”

A sigh from above him preceded the response. “No-I suppose not.”

Wolf's hair was released, and his head painfully fell back to his chest. Akuma. So the bastard has a name. When he heard the two leave the room, Wolf returned to his previous task. He needed to find a weakness in this jutsu before they returned to clean him up. It would likely be his best chance for escape...and revenge on Akuma.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“You realize where we're headed, don't you?” Bear's voice reminded Crow just why he hated having the man on his team – he always managed to sound imperious, even though he wasn't the leader. He supposed it was to be expected when dealing with a Yamanaka.

Crow did his best to remain impassive with his response. “Lightning Country.”

Bear crossed his arms and looked over the ship's railing. “Don't you find that the least bit curious?”

“Bear – it doesn't matter if I find it curious or not. What matters is that we succeed in retrieving Wolf – without threatening the alliance between Leaf and Lightning.”

“I know you're thinking back to our last dealings in Lightning.”

Crow's voice lowered and made his anger obvious. “I'll remind you once more to stay out of my head, Bear, or Lightning will be the least of your concerns.”

Bear tensed under the full impact of his words and bowed his head. “Forgive me, Crow. I meant nothing by it. It won't happen again.”

Crow resisted to urge to say anything more, and moved back toward where he'd last seen Iruka chatting with the medic. The academy teacher had an uncanny way of relaxing him that might just keep him from following his urge to toss Bear over the railing.

His target was deep in a conversation with the medic by the time he joined them. He chose to listen for a bit, as the two men compared schools of thought on numerous inane topics, before he'd make his presence known. When the topic moved to talk of the medic's first meeting with Wolf, Crow coughed quietly and lowered himself to the deck. Iruka's face spread into a smile, while the medic's took on a look of guarded curiosity.

Iruka greeted him. “Ah, Crow, I'm glad you could join us. Chuutetsu was just telling me about how Kakashi managed to find his way to his hospital.”

Crow nodded in silent acknowledgment, and he noticed the medic relaxed a bit after Iruka's warm greeting.

“Go on, Chuutetsu.” Iruka placed a hand to the medic's shoulder and Crow noticed the man relax even farther.

“Like I was saying, Iruka, I only met Kakashi after he was brought in for treatment. But I can tell you what I'd overheard the cadre say about his...apprehension.”

Chuutetsu's eyes glanced toward Crow, as though expecting him to react badly to the fact Wolf needed to be taken to a hospital against his will. He merely shrugged. After all – if there was one thing everyone understood about Kakashi Hatake, it was that he hated going to a hospital, no matter how badly injured he was.

Chuutetsu sighed and continued his story. “They said a patrol boat found him floating in the deep waters, clinging to a piece of driftwood and looking for all intents and purposes as though he were already dead. The local cadre pulled him onto their boat and confirmed there was no pulse. They'd thrown a blanket over the body and figured they'd just pass him on when they returned to shore.

When they were about to hand him over to the coastal patrol, Kakashi surprised them all by lunging at them with a wild look in his eyes. He overpowered six of the cadre before the medic on duty managed to sedate him, and then they brought him in for observation. That's when I was assigned to him.”

Iruka seemed shocked. “But you said Kakashi had no pulse when they brought him on board. How could they have missed that?”

Chuutetsu shrugged. “My junior had a theory that the coldness of the section of deep water he was found in may have suppressed his vital signs, making those who found him think he was dead. When he slowly warmed up under the blankets they'd covered him with, the vitals would have come back as well. It also explained why the numerous injuries he'd suffered didn't do him in.”

Crow saw the logic in that, but needed to ask his own question. “When you say he overpowered them – did you mean that...or did you mean dispatched?”

Chuutetsu's face took on a sickly pallor that Crow knew wasn't caused by the lurching of the boat. “I saw the bodies of the cadre members. Three had their necks broken, two had fractured skulls, and one...one had a hand-sized hole in his chest.”

Iruka gasped and looked toward Crow. “He was able to do that when he was so obviously injured?”

Crow snorted. “He would have done more otherwise. I'm assuming at the time he mistook your cadre for the bastards who were chasing him?”

Chuutetsu took a deep breath. “Kakashi said as much in one of our conversations. He seemed genuinely distressed that those men were dead.”

Crow nodded his head. “He would be. He wasn't on a mission – there was no reason for their deaths.”

He saw the expected look of shock on Chuutetsu's face at his words – but saw only a look of understanding on Iruka's, and his respect for the Academy Teacher rose another notch. Iruka's voice ended the awkward silence that followed.

“Chuutetsu, you spent a lot of time with Kakashi. In your gut, do you think he meant to kill those men?”

The medic looked at his hands and then back into the teacher's face. “No – I don't. He wanted nothing more then to go back home from the moment I met him. Only after I got to know him better did I recognize he wanted to keep the violence following him from reaching our shores.”

Crow nodded. “Wolf has always tried his best to keep the innocent from being caught in his battles.”

Chuutetsu's brows furrowed. “How long have you known Kakashi Hatake..err..Wolf?”

Crow was glad for the mask he wore – he didn't mean to let on that he had personal dealings with Wolf...but something about the conversation made him want to validate the choices made by his former team captain. “I was in his third ANBU unit.”

Chuutetsu turned toward Iruka. “Is it just me, or was that not really what I asked?”

Iruka chuckled. “Actually, it tells me quite a bit. ANBU units are only allowed to stay together for one year. Probably so they don't grow used to any one method of completing tasks. Is that an accurate assumption, Crow?”

“That is correct, Sensei.” He wondered how the teacher found that bit of data out.

Iruka continued. “If you were in Wolf's third unit, that means you've known him for over ten years?”

Again, Crow was thankful for his mask – as he was certain the surprise from so accurate a declaration was showing on his face. He'd need to talk to Iruka about it later. He nodded once to confirm the statement. Chuutetsu's next comment caught him even more off guard.

“I'm glad Kakashi has someone like you to watch out for him.”

Crow's muscles tensed. That was pushing it too far. He stood up abruptly, startling Iruka and Chuutetsu. Crow glared down at them. “Wolf does not need anyone to watch out for him...not now...not ever. To say other is not wise.”

He turned and walked away from them, his plan to relax backfiring, as he felt every muscle in his body on edge from their discussion. Crow scanned the deck for somewhere – anywhere – that he might find some privacy, and cursed the fact they were stuck on the damn boat. He tipped his head up and found what he was looking for.

Using chakra to keep his footing, Crow scaled the mast until he found the secluded spot in the rigging he'd spotted from below. Making sure no one was watching, he pushed his mask to one side and took a series of deep breaths, trying to calm his frayed nerves. It didn't work.

Crow reached into one of his pouches and withdrew the one thing he knew would allow him to calm down. It wasn't until he placed the long, slender senbon between his teeth that he was finally able to relax. He stayed in the rigging, chewing on the familiar needle-like weapon until he regained control of his emotions. Only then did he return the senbon to his pouch and slip his mask back over his face – returning to the world of the ANBU.

Crow returned to the deck in time to relieve Locust from watch. This mission couldn't end soon enough for him.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:37 pm

Chapter 6 - part 1: Debts Paid and Promises Made

Ibiki continued working with the individual members of Team Kakashi for two straight weeks. He'd devoted a couple of hours to each of them every day – and after a few setbacks where one or another of the kids became dangerously withdrawn, he was ready to start the next level. He'd made appointments for the three of them to meet him at Ichiraku Ramen for lunch. It would mark the first time the three were together since they'd returned from the mission – a fact that came as quite a surprise to the Hokage when Ibiki had informed her of it yesterday.

Ibiki couldn't be one hundred percent sure what the meeting would trigger – so he chose a site that would be familiar and soothing to the kids. That – and it was an easily defensible position – which was why he had a dozen ANBU operatives stationed around the Ramen stand. All it would take to put them into action would be a subtle hand signal from Ibiki – just in case things turned sour.

Ibiki approached the Ramen stand with mixed feelings – he still wasn't convinced that these kids were stable yet – but he also knew they needed to move forward or they'd run the risk of being permanently damaged – something that no ninja wanted to be labeled as. . . especially at such young ages.

Ibiki made it a point to wait until it was almost time for the meeting before he approached Ichiraku Ramen. He knew his presence was enough to keep people from coming near – and it was not his intention to harm the welfare of one of Konoha's most prominent civilian business owners.

When he reached the stand he was somewhat surprised that none of the kids were there. Had he misjudged their level of readiness? Ibiki scowled at the thought. He might have made an error with one of them – but he could not accept that he'd do that for all three.

The proprietor's voice interrupted his line of thoughts. “If you're looking for Naruto and his friends, he said to tell you they'd meet you at Training Ground Five . . . oh yeah – and that they picked you up some lunch as well.”

Ibiki raised an eyebrow – honestly not sure how to take this new information. On one hand – the fact that they'd shown up was a good sign. On the other hand – they hadn't stayed...but...they did move elsewhere – presumably together...and left word for him to join them. Ibiki moved closer to the counter, his hands deep in his coat pockets.

“You know Naruto better than most, Teuchi...how did he seem to you?”

A sad smile crossed the owner's lips. “I'll admit he wasn't as loud as he usually is...and he only ordered two bowls of ramen for himself.” He paused, a contemplative look settling on his face. “When I asked what was wrong he looked at his two friends, shrugged, and then said he was just missing Kakashi-sensei too much. The others seemed to agree with him.”

Teuchi scratched at the back of his head and then met Ibiki's gaze. “You know – until Naruto mentioned his sensei, I hadn't even realized that we haven't seen him in awhile. Is he out on another one of those long missions?”

Ibiki frowned. He wasn't in the habit of discussing the whereabouts of elite jonin with civilians – it went against every fiber of his being.

“I'm not at liberty to say.” His gruff voice sounded harsh – even to his own ears.

Teuchi flushed a bit – his eyes opened wide – and he raised his hands up between them. “Oh no...no...I wouldn't want you to tell me anything critical...it's just that Naruto was so down – I wanted to know how long Kakashi-sensei had been gone is all...but I'll just make sure the boy's mind is on something else the next time I see him.”

The frown on Ibiki's face settled into something a little less sinister. Teuchi pulled on his earlobe, something Ibiki had seen him do anytime he was thinking hard. The man's face was transformed with a broad smile.

“I know! Next time I see him I'll have a new type of ramen for him to try! That always seems to cheer the boy up.”

Ibiki nodded once, hiding his surprise that a civilian had taken such an interest in the well-being of the brat. He turned to head toward Training Ground Five when Teuchi's voice caught his attention once more.

“Ummm – sir...”

Ibiki turned back to face the ramen stand owner and met him with a steely gaze.

Teuchi flushed a bit and held up a thin slip of paper. “Naruto left this for you.”

Curious, Ibiki took the slip from the man's grasp and glanced down at it. He nearly choked when he saw it was the bill for the lunch the others had left with. Once he settled down, Ibiki actually allowed a small smile to grace his lips. If Naruto had enough wits to stick him with the bill, then perhaps the kid was on the road to a full recovery after all.

He glanced at the balance again, reached in his pocket for his money, and paid the bill...thankful that Naruto only ordered two bowls of ramen. Teuchi waved happily as Ibiki shoved his hands back into his pockets and headed on his way. He'd submit the receipt to the Hokage when he got back to his office – after all, this was part of his mission, wasn't it?
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:38 pm

chapter 6 - part 2

Kurogane paced back and forth in the room. Every now and again he'd pause to stare out at the ship now docked in the harbor. This time, there were no gaping holes in the ship's decking, and the mast was still in one piece. He frowned. Hopefully that simply meant his nephew was still subdued...and not that they'd failed in the task.

He took a deep breath and, for the thousandth time that day, reminded himself that he'd taken everything into account, and that he could relax now. And for the thousandth time today – those thoughts failed to convince him that nothing would go wrong with his plans. After all – the boy was a Hatake – and as he well knew – Hatake's rarely did what was expected by the majority of people.

Kurogane's thoughts moved to his brother. Sakumo had certainly not done what anyone expected – that was for sure. When word got to him in the bowels of the Asylum that his elder brother responded to the disbandment of the Clan by abandoning the Lightning Village – and him, Kurogane thought it had to be a mistake. His brother's loyalty to the village was stronger then any other shinobi – and he couldn't believe that the fight he'd provoked could possibly have shaken that faith. But it had – at least partially.

It took Kurogane many long, lonely years of contemplation to figure out what truly sent his brother running into the arms of the Village Hidden in the Leaves – and away from him. He'd concluded it had to be the fact his wife was expecting a child...and Sakumo didn't want that kid to grow up in a village where his family name had been erased. The idiot always held the family honor far higher then he should have.

Throughout his years in the Asylum, Kurogane continued to hear whispers of the fate of Sakumo. Or more appropriately – he'd continued to hear updates on the wonders of 'The White Fang of Konoha' – of how his brother had become one of the leading shinobi of the Leaf Village – often mentioned with the same level of respect and fear that he'd hear folks use when describing the Legendary Sannin from that very same village.

He'd also learned of the fact his brother's child was born into that very village – a 'Son of Konoha' was how the brat had been described to Kurogane. The genius offspring of the living legend. A child so gifted that he was already a genin by the time he was five.

Kurogane found himself staring at the ship again. He'd assumed most of what he'd heard of Kakashi were exaggerated stories – fantastical adventures based on a kernel of truth. But after seeing what the boy had done to the last ship – and receiving the preliminary report of this current extraction, he was starting to wonder if those tales were based more in fact, rather then fantasy.

A smile turned the corners of his mouth up. Kurogane was looking forward to seeing if his nephew was capable of living up to his legend.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wolf thought he'd already experienced the pinnacle of pain during his violent lifetime...he was wrong. Never before had he felt such agony as he did when the four shinobi approached his chained body with scrub brushes, soap and buckets of water.

The moment they applied brush to skin, all hopes of maintaining any control left the jonin. He was unable to stop the screams that ripped loose from his throat. Each stroke of the bristles across his skin felt like they were flaying him alive. The soap that worked the layers of tea-stain, dirt and blood from his body might just as well have been acid. Each molecule of filth pulled free from him felt like it was being dragged from the very core of his being. When the cascade of icy cold water streamed over his head to rinse the remaining tea from his silver hair, Wolf thought he'd lose his mind from the intensity of the electric shocks that seemed to drive themselves into every nerve-ending of his body.

And then it happened – just as he thought for certain his grasp on reality would break – they finished. Wolf was left hanging in his chains, gasping for air, shaking from the cold and water. His muscles were beyond his control now – still reeling from the over-stimulation of the cleansing. When the manacles were released from the wall, Wolf fell to the floor in a heap – unable to take advantage of this possible opportunity to break free.

He felt himself lifted up by his arms and pulled into a roughly standing position. Akuma smirked at him – making Wolf want nothing more than to lunge forward and rip the bastard's throat out. That thought firmly in place allowed him to still the shaking in his body. His captor frowned when he saw the change, and he motioned for the two men holding Wolf to follow him.

Wolf still had no idea where they were – only that he was to be delivered to a third party. Still – he promised himself that he'd track Akuma down no matter how long it took, and make him pay for what he did in Hyoukai Yobou to the folks who had been trying to help him. He thought about Chuutetsu and Samidare and wondered if they were safe – then returned his focus to his surroundings.

He was pulled through the bowels of the ship and up into the daylight. Wolf squinted against the brightness but refused to close his eyes...he needed to gather as much information as he could about where he was – if he was to have any chance of escaping later. They pulled his non-responsive body across the deck and to the gangplank. The man who'd demanded he be washed was waiting for them on shore – with a half dozen more shinobi. This was Wolf's first clear view of the headbands marking his enemies affiliation – Lightning Country.

Wolf tried to think of why Lightning would be so eager to capture him – but he drew a blank. In all his time in ANBU – he'd never actually interacted with Lightning at all. At the most he'd only been involved in a few retrieval missions along the outskirts of the country...and even those involved no contact with anyone. All in all – this was one of very few countries that Wolf hardly knew beyond what the history scrolls told.

This didn't bode well. After all – he'd be at a distinct disadvantage once he broke free, simply because he was unfamiliar with this land. And Wolf hated being uninformed.

The guards holding him were flanked by the others and continued their way through the village. The streets were wide – with brightly painted houses lining either side – and with pale-skinned villagers staring at the strange procession as they passed. Wolf noted several of the men and women pointing at him and whispering to each other.

He caught bits and pieces of their words - "I thought he was dead...","Do you think it's his heir?","I heard he's gonna kill him..."

Wolf filed these snippets away and tried to focus on where he was being dragged...the group was winding its way up a steep incline toward a house that seemed precariously perched on a cliff overlooking the water. The building was impressive – reminding Wolf of the Hyuga complex back in Konoha. The closer they got – the firmer that comparison became.

Whoever his mysterious captor was – they were evidently held in high esteem here...although Wolf did note that the complex had seen better days. Some of the facades of the outer buildings were in need of fresh paint, and the vegetation lining the walkways seemed a tad overgrown in spots.

Wolf's pondering came to a stop when he was dragged into an inner courtyard and unceremoniously dumped onto the ground. His arms were shackled behind his back – limiting his ability to break his fall – and his body was still under whatever jutsu Akuma had placed on him days ago. Still – Wolf was becoming accustomed to the steady flare of pain caused by that jutsu – so he was able to concentrate on other stimuli around him.

The sounds of footsteps on the gravel of the courtyard path caught his attention – so he was not taken by surprise when someone stopped in front of him. Their voice was a rich baritone – and it held a familiarity to it that Wolf couldn't quite place his finger on. It was as though he'd heard the speaker before...a lifetime ago...

“Well...don't keep me waiting. Lift him up so I can look him in the eye!”

Wolf felt the hands of his enemies drag him back up to stand in front of this new arrival and he fully intended to glare his deadliest glare once their faces met. Instead – Wolf felt his breath catch in his throat and his heart wrench in his chest when his face took in that of his captor. Wolf's mind spun. He was staring into the face of his father! Was he caught in one of Akuma's dream-like states again?

The silver hair of the man in front of him was longer then Wolf remembered – and the eyes seemed colder – and not quite as blue-gray as he remembered...but the jawline, the stance...they matched his memories to a tee. But no – this couldn't be Sakumo – he'd buried his father decades ago. Wolf clung to that fact and waited for the strangely familiar man to speak again.

That man's lips curved into a feral grin. “Well done Akuma. You've brought the boy home – and even managed to meet my deadline.”

Akuma stepped forward and bowed. “I assume this clears my debt with your house, Lord Kurogane.”

The silver-haired man reached out and pushed Wolf's hair back from his face. “I suppose it does Akuma. Boudachi will draw up the necessary papers for you once you've released this jutsu without injuring him further – and we've moved Kakashi to his accommodations, that is.”

“As you wish. Although you may want to wait until he is secured before you have the jutsu released.”

Kurogane's voice held an amused edge to it. “Really? Can I assume he proved more difficult then you'd expected, Akuma?”

Wolf saw Akuma's muscles tense at the words. “Let's just say that you have one less guard to pay now.”

Kurogane grinned – reminding Wolf of a wild dog about to devour its catch. “Really? Then perhaps we should secure him before he manages to break free from us again.”

Wolf was pulled into one of the larger structures within the compound, and brought into a dark hallway. He counted seven doorways before the small group entered a room. He was dragged to the far side where he was pushed face first onto a bed set along the wall. Someone released the locking mechanism between his manacles and his arms were no longer attached together – although the thick metal cuffs still encircled his wrists.

Rough hands pulled him to his feet once more, and then picked him up and placed him face up on the mattress. His arms and legs were firmly secured to waiting chains within the framework of the bed, and only once he was restrained, were the chakra dampening manacles from the ship finally removed from his wrists.

Akuma moved closer and leaned over Wolf's face, glaring down at him. “Are you sure you want the jutsu removed? He's liable to prove difficult.”

Kurogane's face moved into view from the opposite side on the bed. “Just do as you're told, Akuma – before I change my mind on releasing you from your debt.”

Akuma's face transformed into a scowl and he raised his hands into a complex hand-sign. A moment later and the aura of yellow-tinged chakra that cloaked Wolf's body lifted away and dissipated into the air. Wolf fought back the urge to scream out at the strange pulling sensation along his nerve endings. The only sign that he felt anything at all was the sudden clenching of his fists.

Akuma stepped back. “He's been released, Lord Kurogane. My end of the contract has been fulfilled.”

Kurogane waved a hand toward his aide. “Boudachi – see that Akuma gets his paperwork and go away.”

“Yes sir. This way, Akuma.” The two men left the room and Wolf shifted his concentration back to the silver-haired man staring down at him.

Something in the man's eyes unsettled Wolf...and he wasn't sure if it was the similarity to his father's gaze that shook him, or the obvious touch of madness he could sense behind those eyes. Either way – he needed information if he was going to get out of this alive.

“Why did you bring me here?” His words were delivered with no hint of emotion.

Kurogane's lips twitched and Wolf wondered – not for the first time – just who the hell this was. “Is that any way to greet me, Kakashi?”

Wolf's brow furrowed. “Am I supposed to know who you are?”

Now a grin stretched across the man's face. “I suppose not – seeing as we never officially met before today.”

The man backed up a step and made a formal bow – the move causing Wolf to tense a bit. “Forgive my manners – I am your humble host – Kurogane Hatake.” He stood back up with a sly smirk on his face. “Welcome home, nephew.”

Wolf stared back at the man – running his words over and over within his mind...Kurogane Hatake? Nephew? What the hell is going on?

Kurogane leaned over him once more – this time to whisper conspiratorially into his ear. “I look forward to having you help me regain what is rightfully mine...”

With that – Kurogane placed a kiss on Wolf's forehead, and then walked out the door whistling – leaving a handful of guards behind to keep an eye on him. Wolf blinked and felt his mind spin from this latest twist.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:39 pm

chapter 6 - part 3

Tsunade stared at the meticulously detailed report in her hand. She had to hand it to Ibiki – he could certainly get the job done. Although there were still sections of the report that were lacking – she had to admit that Sai answered more then a few of the burning questions left by Naruto's sorry excuse for a report. She sighed and placed the eight sheets of paper back on the desk.

If Sai's report was right – and she knew in her bones it was – then Lightning shinobi of ridiculously high rank and capabilities were already working for Kurogane's cause – and didn't feel they were betraying Lightning by doing so. This didn't bode well for the less then firm truce between Lightning and Leaf...and likely didn't bode well for poor Kakashi if he made it into Kurogane's hands.

An insane shinobi of Kurogane's level was bad enough – but an insane shinobi with loyal followers was even worse. You couldn't use normal logic when dealing with people like this...as was proven in Leaf's attempts to track and subdue Orochimaru over the years. These madmen tended to do beyond the unexpected – and it usually ended badly for both sides.

Tsunade rubbed at her eyes and wished – not for the first time – that she'd walked away from the title of Fifth Hokage. She never liked making decisions that could result in life or death for the shinobi of Leaf Village – and she liked it even less when it involved those she held close to her heart. Kakashi was one of those few...being the only remaining link she had to a man she'd counted as a dear friend.

Tsunade wondered what Sakumo would have done in her place. She closed her eyes and could almost hear his soft-spoken words...'Whatever you do, Tsunade – don't let Kashi stay in that bastard's hands. He'd be better off dead then twisted by Kurogane's logic.'

She chuckled to herself. Even in her imagination, White Fang had a way of summing everything up in black and white. Tsunade opened her eyes – her decision made.

“Shizune! Bring me Team Gai and Team Shikamaru.”

The dark-haired jonin bowed low. “Yes, Lady Tsunade.” With that she darted out the door – leaving Tsunade alone with her thoughts.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Iruka noticed a distinct tension growing between Crow and Bear the closer they got to Lightning Country. The two barely spoke more then two words to each other in the past four days. He hoped it wasn't anything to worry about.

Chuutetsu's voice at his side pulled him from his thoughts. “The ship's Captain spoke with Crow last night, and they decided to pull in to a port down the shore from where we think the other boat went.”

Iruka nodded his head absently. “Makes sense. We wouldn't want them to know we were on their trail, I suppose.”

The medic sighed. “I guess. It's just that it's going to take even longer to get to Kakashi if we have to add traveling on the ground to the equation.”

Iruka smirked and looked into Chuutetsu's eyes. “Keep thinking like that, Chuutetsu, and we'll make a shinobi out of you yet.”

The medic scratched the back of his head and smiled. “I guess you and your companions are starting to rub off on me. But seriously, Iruka – aren't you worried about adding more time onto this trip?”

Iruka sighed and glanced to where Crow and the other ANBU were gathered in deep discussion. “Whether I'm worried or not won't make a difference in the long run. We just have to keep faith in the fact Crow and the others have dealt with situations like this far more often then either of us. They probably have already taken into account all the probable angles and know what needs to be done.”

Chuutetsu's face twisted into one full of doubt. “Are you trying to tell me that these ANBU are used to sneaking in to villages and dealing with a bunch of murderous villains?”

Iruka grinned. “Actually – yes, they are.”

The medic's features changed to a look of shock. Iruka chuckled. “Chuutetsu, I won't lie to you – the ANBU are the elite of the elite. They can go places and do things that you couldn't even begin to comprehend...and they do it without hesitation. It's what makes them, well...ANBU.”

He placed a hand on the medic's shoulder. “I trust that they know what they're doing – and I trust that they will do whatever is needed to get Kakashi back again.”

Chuutetsu took a deep breath. “OK, Iruka...but for Kakashi's sake, I hope they don't take too long.”

As though beckoned by the medic's words, Crow walked across the deck to join them. “We're about an hour away from shore. Once we hit land there will be no time to explain what to do – so I need you to listen carefully Iruka-sensei.”

Iruka swallowed deeply and nodded. Chuutetsu shifted nervously beside him before speaking up. “Forgive me, Crow – but what about me?”

The ANBU leader turned his face toward the medic. “What about you? You are to stay here until we return.”

Iruka watched Chuutetsu's hands ball into fists and his face flush with anger. “But he's likely injured! He'll need my help! And the sooner I can treat him the better it will be for him. There's no way I'm waiting here while you go and get him back!”

Crow crossed his arms – and Iruka wondered if the medic had crossed some unseen line in the sand. The ANBU's voice was impassive as he laid down the law.

“We are trained for this. You are not. You are a liability that we cannot afford in this extraction. You will wait here – and be ready to treat Wolf once we've returned.”

Crow turned toward Iruka. “You – Iruka-sensei – will be responsible for getting Wolf ready to travel back here. I know you have advanced field medicine training – it's part of why the Hokage sent you with us. You will not fight, unless all other options are exhausted – is that understood?”

Iruka nodded. “Yes, Crow.”

“Good. Now pack up and be ready to move out the moment we reach shore.”

Crow turned and walked away without waiting for any response. Iruka sighed and turned toward Chuutetsu. “You shouldn't take it personally, Chuutetsu. In fact – in his own strange way – Crow paid you a compliment.”

The medic's eyes narrowed. “Did he? Was that before or after he said I'd be a liability?”

Iruka scratched at the back of his head. “After – actually.”

Chuutetsu blinked at him. “It's a compliment to be told to stay behind?”

Iruka shrugged. “No – but it is a compliment to be told you're trusted enough by the ANBU to have you in charge of caring for their former leader once we get him back here.”

The medic's eyes went wide. “Oh...”

Iruka almost laughed at the elder man's reaction, but his time was limited, and he needed to ask the man a few things. “Chuutetsu, I need you to detail everything you can remember about Kakashi's injuries. I want to make sure that I understand what was already present before this latest abduction.”

Chuutetsu nodded, and the two spent the next half an hour discussing various topics before Iruka reluctantly left the medic's side to prepare his pack for the next leg of this adventure. His mind went back to the day he'd requested to be assigned to this mission...to the glimmer of hope in Naruto's blue eyes when Tsunade agreed to let him go. Whatever came to pass – Iruka would do everything he could to bring Kakashi back to his Team.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Naruto kicked at a stone that was lying at the foot of the tree he, Sakura and Sai were leaning against. Since their first lunch meeting a week ago, the three were in the habit of coming here at the start of each day. Usually they'd chat about what Sakura was learning at the hospital, or what Sai was drawing – but today the conversation was turning to what others in the village were doing.

Naruto saw Shikamaru and Gai-sensei heading toward the Hokage Tower earlier, and couldn't help but wonder what was up. After all, Shikamaru wasn't known for hanging out with the overly energetic Gai – it went against everything the notoriously lazy ninja stood for. So obviously it had to be a mission. The question was – what could that mission be?

“What makes you think it's a mission, Naruto?” Sakura's voice still held an edge of wariness to it – but the pink-haired kunoichi's eyes gleamed when she looked at him.

Naruto shrugged. “Would you hang out with Gai-sensei if you didn't have to?”

She chuckled. “No – I guess not.” Sakura bent down and plucked a wildflower from the ground, staring at its petals while she continued to speak. “I just have to wonder why Lady Tsunade would match Shikamaru's team up with Gai-sensei's team.”

Naruto crossed his arms and nodded. “Yeah – that's what I was wondering too. How bout you, Sai?”

Sai had been sitting on the ground – sketching in his book the entire time they were talking – making Naruto wonder if he ever gave a damn about anything.

“Dammit – Sai! Are you even listening?” Naruto clenched his fists, and was about to pummel some sense into the arrogant bastard's head, when Sakura walked over to sit next to the dark-haired twit.

Her eyes filled with tears when she looked over Sai's shoulder to see what he was drawing. Naruto felt a knot form in his stomach as he moved closer to find out what caused her reaction. He lowered himself to the ground and peered at the book in Sai's lap. His eyes went wide.

The drawing showed himself, Sai and Sakura standing in front of Kakashi-sensei. All of them had smiles on their faces – even Sai...and the picture showed Kakashi's visible eye crinkled up in that way that anyone who knew the masked man took to mean he was ridiculously happy.

The drawing was flawless – and had something Naruto had never seen on any of Sai's other works...it had a title. In neat lettering across the bottom of the page it proudly declared... 'TEAM KAKASHI – REUNITED.'

The newest member of Team Kakashi sighed. “I think they're going to help bring him back to us.”

Naruto smiled and looked at his teammates. “Yeah – I hope so.”

The three continued to stare at Sai's drawing – silently hoping that their Sensei would be safely brought home soon.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:43 pm

Chapter 7 - part 1: The Gods Must Be Crazy

Wolf spent the better part of the next three days cataloging everything about the small room he'd been left in. During that first day, the aide...Boudachi...returned to affix a patch over his sharingan eye using some kind of chakra-enhanced substance that stuck it in place. Wolf tried to avoid having the thing attached to his face, but with the help of two other guards, the job was done.

Boudachi's expression showed he wasn't necessarily comfortable doing the task, but Wolf noted how the man had done it all the same. All he could hope for was that the piece of hard leather wouldn't be impossible to remove once he escaped. Still – he found the application of the patch to be a somewhat elegant counter to his sharingan – and vastly better than the threat to physically remove it that other enemies had given him over the years.

The second day brought the aide back – this time with food and drink – and a new set of chakra dampening chains to replace the ones on the bed. This set was firmly affixed to a ring in the ceiling and the length of chain had enough play in it to allow Wolf the ability to walk from the bed to the small bathroom set aside in the corner. The cuffs on his ankles and wrists were removed only after a collar was placed snuggly around his neck, and it was obvious, from the wave of extreme disorientation Wolf felt, that this collar was a far stronger chakra dampener then his previous restraints. The ends of the collar met seamlessly around his neck and made the thought of breaking loose of the contraption die as quickly as it had entered his mind. The chain was rigged up on some type of hidden track system within the ceiling which meant that – no matter where he went within the room – the chain constantly adjusted to never allow him any additional slack. His hopes of wrapping the chain around an enemy's neck disappeared from his ever-shortening list of possibilities.

He cursed his captors silently for apparently taking his abilities into account when designing this room. Still, the fact the he was no longer tied to the bed and was able to move about the room gave him a little hope. Although he was still physically exhausted and his injuries were by no means fully healed, he was at least able to get blood circulating to parts of his body which had been neglected during the past weeks of captivity.

He woke on the third day to find Boudachi enter the room with an armful of clean clothing. Wolf noted it consisted of nothing more than a dark gray yukata and a bath towel. The aide pointed toward the far corner of the room where there was a drain in the floor and Wolf narrowed his eyes. Boudachi merely sighed and placed the bundle on the edge of the bed. Wolf tried to lunge at the man – but the chain attached to his collar froze him in place. He growled, but the aide merely shrugged and pointed toward the clothing.

“You'll enjoy the change of clothing more if you shower first.” He pointed to the far corner again. “Step over there and the water will flow – step out, and it will stop. Or don't bother – and remain stinking up your own room. It matters little to me.”

With that, the aide turned and left. Wolf scowled after him, but had to agree with his logic. His own clothes were torn and bloodied, and the thought of clean clothing against his skin helped make his mind up. He knew others were still observing him – he felt the presence of their chakra even now – but the promise of being clean again, without the agony of his last forced cleansing, was too much to resist – even for him.

Besides – he'd use the act to do a more thorough check of that section of the room – not to mention the collar around his neck. With that thought firmly in mind – he walked to the corner – the chain no longer frozen in place – and removed the remnants of clothing. He was never one to be ashamed of his body – even though he preferred to wear a mask – and he knew his form was defined enough to cause most people to become more than a bit distracted – regardless of gender. It was an edge that he'd used to his advantage more then once during past captivities. After all – it only took a moment of distraction from those watching to allow him to attack – or at least attempt escape.

Of course – with the set up of this particular prison – that advantage was more or less negated. Still, he wasn't about to let that keep him from enjoying the shower. He stepped over to the drain – and as Boudachi promised – a stream of pleasantly warm water fell from directly above him. Upon closer inspection, Wolf saw a shower head embedded into the ceiling. The plumbing supplying the water was no where to be seen – reinforcing his thought that he was being watched. How else would they know when he was under the shower or not?

The complexity of his prison was distressing. It seemed as though they had thought of every possible way he might try to escape and countered it beforehand. But Wolf wasn't known as a genius for nothing...and he was patient when he needed to be. Eventually he would find something they hadn't planned for – and when he did – he'd act. Until then, he'd bide his time and rest – knowing he'd need all his strength to escape when the opportunity finally arose.

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Team Shikamaru was a grouping of three chunin and one jonin...that was the only similarity it held to the old Team Asuma from days gone by. Still, when Raidou joined the group, he found it easy to forget that hewas the jonin – and not Shikamaru. The kid had an uncanny knack for thinking ahead two hundred steps for everything they did. So when he learned that their team was joining Team Gai for this mission, Raidou had to admit he was curious to see how the whiz-kid would handle having Gai's unique enthusiasm thrown into the equation – especially given the kid's bent toward being lackadaisical.

The last time he'd seen Shikamaru in action had been during the interrupted Chunin Exams – where the Third Hokage had offered up his life. Back then, the kid showed a budding potential – but also a decidedly laid back attitude. Raidou hadn't liked him in the least.

But now – Raidou had to admit – Shikamaru was as far removed from the kid in that exam as he could be. Although he still seemed more laid back then most shinobi – with the possible exception of Kakashi Hatake – he now held the hard edge of a seasoned ninja. An unmistakable purpose in his actions and voice that showed the world that he didn't want any more of his precious people taken from him.

You taught him well – Asuma Sarutobi. You should be proud.

Besides – once he'd heard the teams were being sent to backup the retrieval team for Kakashi – how could he turn down the reassignment? After all – Raidou knew Crow was leading that team – and although he technically wasn't supposed to know Crow's identity – it was hard not to notice his roommate, Genma, had left for a mission on the same day the retrieval team headed out.

He couldn't help but want to see the senbon-chewing troublemaker in action. And if they managed to help rescue Kakashi while keeping Lightning from declaring war on Konoha...well, that was just the icing on the cake. He shifted his black sword on his back and smirked, causing the scar-tissue on his left cheek to twitch. He was looking forward to this mission – no doubt about it.

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Kurogane had a smile on his face while he watched his nephew shower. The young man was an excellent example of the Hatake bloodline. So much so – that his plans for the future of the clan would be assured...so long as he could convince the brat to do what he was told.

A frown settled over Kurogane's features. That could be more difficult then it sounded – especially if Kakashi was anything like his father had been. Sakumo Hatake was the most stubborn bastard this world had ever seen – and had been the one man that Kurogane had been unable to sway to his way of thinking.

Kurogane's hand clenched tightly and shattered the sake cup it had been holding. The noise caused the two men at his side to flinch – but to their credit, neither one made a sound. He flung the shards to the floor and scowled.

“That son of a bitch better be more like me if he knows what's good for him.”

A voice at his side brought him out of his brooding. “Lord Kurogane. He's trying to loosen the drain.”

Kurogane's mood immediately brightened as he returned his full attention to his nephew. He watched with unbridled excitement at the ingenuity of the boy as he worked a piece of the metal drain loose from the stone floor with little more then his fingertips. A grin spread across his face while he watched small streaks of red mix into the water still working its way down that drain.

He noticed Kakashi was very single-minded at his task – ignoring the pain that must have been being caused by the sharp edges of the metal ring digging into his flesh. For the briefest moment – Kurogane contemplated letting him succeed in obtaining the object...he knew he'd enjoy watching what ways the boy might find to use the purloined item. And it might give him a better idea of what his nephew's potential might be.

After all – the drain cover could be used for any number of different purposes – depending on the mindset of the young man. It could be used to free him from his collar – or as a weapon against his captors – maybe even as a means to kill himself...of course that would trulyprove he was Sakumo's kid, now wouldn't it? Kurogane laughed out loud at that thought – and this time the others in the room did make noises of surprise.

He reached over and grabbed hold of the controls for the restraining collar and cranked them violently until the chain pulled Kakashi up toward the ceiling – his feet hovering inches above the floor. The movement had been so sudden that the young man lost his grip on the drain cover and shifted his hands to grab at the collar and chain with bloody fingers to keep from choking as he was dragged toward the bed.

Kurogane studied Kakashi's face...even in this situation...being dragged naked back to the other side of the room...his nephew remained focused, and his movements were far from uncontrolled. Kurogane released the chain once more – causing Kakashi to plummet toward the floor. The young man landed with one knee bent – his muscles tensing at the impact as he leaned forward to steady himself with a hand – his silver hair, still wet from the shower, flopped forward to shield his face from view. He watched Kakashi turn his head, his hair shifting to the side to reveal the leather patch Boudachi affixed over the famous sharingan earlier. His nephew glared toward where they were watching him from – as though he'd known their location all along – faint streaks of blood coloring his neck where his bloodied fingertips kept the chain and collar from choking him.

Kurogane returned control of the chain mechanism to his men and leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head, while he thought about the young man in the room. He needed to find some way to convince Kakashi that it would be in his best interest to cooperate...because he would truly hate it if he had to destroy so fine an example of the Hatake clan.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:43 pm

chapter 7 - part 2

Lightning country hadn't changed much since the last time Crow had been here – which did nothing to put him at ease. Just like last time – he felt a dozen pair of eyes track their movement from the moment they set foot on the ground. He had Locust send his bugs ahead of them while Bear scanned the area for unfriendly minds...meanwhile Rat and Badger kept an eye out for traps, ambushes and other physical threats. Mouse and Lizard watched warily from the rear guard post while he held the center – Iruka-sensei a constant presence at his side.

The teacher tried his hardest to keep from being a bother to himself or the other ANBU – and for the most part, managed to keep up with the heavy demands placed on him. Even now, Crow had to admit he was impressed with how much Iruka's speed and stamina had improved since the start of the mission. It was as though the man took Kakashi's capture personally, and wasn't going to rest until the Copy-ninja was safely back in Konoha.

Crow smiled behind his mask. Kakashi Hatake was an enigma. A self-professed loner – the man somehow instilled fierce loyalty from nearly everyone he ever interacted with – himself included. He could still recall the very first time he'd met Kakashi. It was long before either of them entered the ANBU – in fact – they were both in the Academy. Crow was eight years old and just starting to master the shuriken...while Kakashi was a six year old wonder who was in line to take part in the next chunin exams.

He wondered then – just as he did now – what it was about the quiet silver-haired brat that made people willing to go that extra mile to pull a miracle out of thin air. He was a natural born leader – and somehow – even in the midst of ANBU, where one was hidden behind the porcelain mask – Kakashi unconsciously drew loyalty from his squads.

Why else would this current retrieval squad be full of such a diverse collection of ANBU. An Abarame, a Nara and a Yamanako – working side by side just to find Wolf and bring him home. It was unheard of – and yet – in this circumstance it seemed appropriate.

“Crow?” Iruka's quiet voice at his side brought his mind back in focus.

“What is it, Iruka-sensei?”

“Why would Lightning risk our treaty like this?” Iruka's voice sounded tight behind his mask. “I mean – they must have known we'd come after him, right?”

Crow shook his head slowly while they continued racing along the path. “This hasn't felt right since the beginning, Iruka. If this was something the Raikage knew about, we would have already encountered resistance.”

“Then who has him? If it isn't Lightning – then who the hell has Kakashi?”

Crow turned his head toward Iruka and shrugged. “Don't know. But we can be sure of one thing – they aren't working with the Raikage's authority. And that makes this all the more dangerous – because whoever has Wolf will not want any of us to survive this mission.”

They were both silent for quite some time – but Crow knew he needed to say one more thing to the headstrong academy teacher.

“Iruka – remember – whatever happens – you stay clear of the fighting.”

Crow saw Iruka tense at his words and nod once. Confident that they were as ready as they could be, Crow returned his attention to his surroundings. They still had at least a half day's travel before they would reach they village that the ship captain said was where Kakashi would have been taken.

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“We must get to Lightning Country before my rival has been stripped of his youthful spirit and forced into a life that would dull his sharp wit.” Gai struck a pose at the gates to Konoha – hands on hips, head tipped to the side and angled in such a way that the morning sunlight glinted off his pearly white teeth.

Shikamaru groaned and shoved his hands into his pockets. He wondered – not for the first time – how he'd managed to piss the Hokage off this time. She obviously had it in for him – or she would never have assigned him a joint mission with the spandex-wearing Beast of Konoha.

Of course – his mind gave him a thousand valid reasons whyTsunade had matched the teams for the mission – but Shikamaru decided that, for now at least, he could pretend it was just a punishment for some unknown infraction. Somehow it made it a little easier to bear. He turned his gaze to look at the rest of Team Gai – and watched their reactions to their leader's outburst.

Lee, as expected, was busily jotting Gai's words into his notebook and looked as though he may break into tears at any moment – his matching green pantsuit and slightly shorter stature making him look like a hand-colored shadow of the taller man. Meanwhile, Ten-ten and Neji were off to the side – Ten-ten with her eyes rolling, and Neji with a disgusted look on his face and his arms crossed in front of his body.

“Perhaps we should run at double speed Gai-sensei – so that we reach Lightning in half the time?” Lee's voice rose to an unnatural squeak at the end of the sentence.

Gai lifted a thumb in the air and spun toward the shorter green-clad youth. “That is a wonderfully spirited idea, Lee. But perhaps triple speed would suit the situation better!”

Ten-ten groaned. “No matter what they say, it's still going to take a week to get there. Why do they always have to do this?”

Neji scowled. “You should accept by now that they will never change, Ten-ten. Let's just hope to get moving before they promise quadruple speed.”

Shikamaru pushed down the urge to chuckle at Neji's comment. Instead he placed his hands on his waist and ran through a few simple stretches to wake his muscles up so early in the day. Once he was loosened up, he turned toward his own team and shrugged.

“As troublesome as this may become, we need to get moving now if there's any chance of reaching our goal before it's too late.”

Kotetsu Hagane, Izumo Kamizuki, and Raido Namiashi each did a final check of their packs and then nodded to him. Shikamaru turned his attention back to Gai – who was still discussing loudly with his team about how fast they needed to go.

“Once you're done arguing, if it isn't too much of a bother, please catch up to us.” Shikamaru and his team headed down the road, leaving a slightly baffled Gai behind them.

“Ahhh – but I can see the spark of youth must have already infected Shikamaru! Come on Team – let's show the young Nara lad just what spirit we have!”

Shikamaru heard Lee's excited agreement and Ten-ten and Neji's cursing. He continued forward hoping that the spandex-clad man was a bit calmer once they reached Lightning. He sighed again and pushed himself a bit faster – trying to convince himself that his eagerness had more to do with wanting this joint venture over with, then his underlying fear of losing Kakashi-sensei like he had Asuma-sensei.

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Wolf sat cross-legged on the bed, yukata tied tightly around his waist and tucked under his body. His eye was focused on the door while his hands lay palm down on top of his knees – the blood from his earlier attempt at dismantling the drain formed a thick crust under his fingernails. His hair – still damp from his shower – fell in a disheveled wave over his left eye and down his neck – soaking into the material of the yukata.

After the failed attempt at acquiring the metal from the drain, his keepers kept tight hold of the chain on his neck. Anytime Wolf started to walk toward the shower area, the chain would freeze in its track – never allowing him anywhere near the area again. He'd turned his attention to the bed – hoping to gain something of use there – but it turned out to be nothing more then a futon mattress rolled out on a stone slab. There were holes in the four corners of the slab where the manacles from his first night here undoubtedly were fastened. Beyond that – there was nothing else in the room, and the chain didn't allow him access to the area near the door.

Wolf was at the mercy of his captor – his uncle – if what the silver-haired man said was to be believed.

There was no denying Kurogane's uncanny similarity to White Fang. From the color of his eyes and hair, to the structure of his body, to the mannerisms he'd shown so far – it was obvious he was related to his father. But if that was so – why hadn't he ever heard of him before?

Wolf growled to himself. He hated not having all the information about a given situation. It made him vulnerable to surprise – and he absolutely hated surprises.

A sound at the door caught his attention. The door was pulled open, and in walked Boudachi in front of Kurogane – who had a handful of young women gathered closely around him – a few of them hanging on his arms possessively. They stepped into the room and gathered around the foot of the bed – all the women staring at him with a barely contained lust. It set Wolf's nerves on edge.

Kurogane stepped closer, bringing the two women still hanging from his arms along with him. Both barely came up to the man's shoulders in height. One looked to be about thirteen – with long dark brown hair and large crystal blue eyes. The other – closer to twenty, if Wolf had to guess – had shorter, wavy red hair and piercing gray eyes. Both had skin the color of pale cream and an undeniable look of the pampered rich. Wolf scowled.

The younger of the two tipped her head up to look into Kurogane's face. “He doesn't look like he wants to do this, Lord Kurogane.”

Wolf arched his eyebrow at that comment. Just what was going on now?

Kurogane smiled brightly at the young woman, then turned his gaze to lock with Wolf. “He's just shy, I'm sure he'll warm up to you over time, Youki.”

“Hmmm...he is cute though, isn't he? So this is your nephew?” The red-head was clearly undressing him with her eyes.

Kurogane laughed. “I'm sorry, Narabu – where are my manners?”

The man stepped away from the group of women and waved an arm dramatically toward where Wolf was still calmly sitting. “May I present my nephew – Kakashi – my only living relative – heir and Saviour of the Hatake Clan.”

The gathering of women all clapped their hands and batted their eyelashes in Wolf's direction, making cooing sounds that caused the ANBU captain's stomach to clench. He wasn't in the habit of being put on display like a hunk of meat – and he'd be damned if it was going to start now.

“I am no Saviour – Kurogane. Especially not yours.” Wolf put just enough of an edge into his voice that every single woman fell silent.

Kurogane's face transformed into a fierce mask. “You are whatever I tell you that you are!”

Wolf narrowed his gaze. “That line never worked for White Fang – what makes you think it would work for you?”

He watched all calm leave Kurogane, and remained still as the older man's face flushed in anger. “Your father was a fool! Because of him our clan was nearly wiped out. Because of him – you are here!”

Wolf raised his eyebrows again. “I have no loyalty to your clan. Why don't you fulfill the role of Saviour of the Hatakes yourself – and leave me out of this?”

Kurogane's mouth pulled into a twisted grin. “If it was that easy, do you really think I would have gone to such trouble to bring you home, Kakashi? Your fatherhad the Raikage and the daimyou label me criminally insane...do you know what treatments they do, for the good of the Village, to occupants of the Asylum that are deemed criminally insane?”

Wolf closed his eye as the reason for his capture was finally made clear. When he met Kurogane's gaze again he made certain to choose his words carefully. “I will not be the surrogate for your manhood.”

Kurogane snarled. “You act as though you have a choice.”

Wolf remained calm. “There is always a choice.”

Kurogane's eyes narrowed dangerously – an odd counterpoint to the insane grin creeping across his face. “What are you going to do, Kakashi? Castrate yourself so you're more like me?”

Wolf tipped his head to the side. “If I have to – yes.”

Silence hung in the room for a solid minute before Kurogane's maniacal laughter rang out. “I don't doubt you'd do that at all, Kakashi. Heh – but don't make any hasty decisions quite yet, nephew. We still have time, after all.”

Wolf watched Kurogane turn and walk out of the room – the now silent women following meekly in his wake. When they were gone, Wolf shifted his gaze to the only person remaining in the room with him. Boudachi's stance showed he was ill at ease with his role in this fiasco, but his words proved where his loyalties lay.

“It would have been easier for everyone if you'd just agreed with the man. Now we'll have to do this the hard way.” Boudachi sighed. “How are your fingers doing, by the way?”

Wolf smiled coldly. “Why don't you just step closer and see for yourself?”

The aide smiled back. “I value my neck more than that, Copy-ninja. I hope you enjoyed your time of limited freedom – I'm afraid it may be awhile before you have such a luxury again.”

Wolf said nothing and watched the man shake his head and walk out the door. A moment later, eight guards stepped into the room, and Wolf readied himself for a fight. He may be outnumbered and chained to the ceiling, but he'd make them regret trying to make him a breeder for a dying clan.

When the others were within arms reach, the sudden jerk of his collar toward the ceiling was not unexpected. Wolf fought the urge to grasp the chain to stop the choking from the collar, and instead struck at the nearest guard with hands and feet, landing more than one solid hit before his windpipe threatened to shut off his air. The remaining guards promptly secured his flailing limbs and lowered him back to the bed, where the manacles from earlier were replaced onto his ankles and wrists.

Wolf growled when more than one of the men took the opportunity to deliver their own punishing blows to his unprotected body before they left him alone to ponder what his uncle would do next. He wondered which gods he pissed off to warrant such a bizarre twist in his fate.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:45 pm

Chapter 8 - part 1: The Art of Meditation

Wolf wasn't sure when he'd fallen asleep, but an unfamiliar weight on his body dragged him back to awareness – almost as much as the sound of thunder rolling in the sky. He took a deep breath and was hit with the strange combination of sweat and jasmine as it assaulted his nose. He cautiously opened his eye and saw a shock of silver hair pressed up against his face. Another loud crash of thunder echoed through the room and Wolf felt the strong arm draped across his stomach pull him tighter into an awkward embrace. At the same time, the head on his chest rose until Wolf was face to face with a sleepy-eyed Kurogane.

Wolf hardened his gaze into a glare. Each of his words was filled with all the loathing he could put into them. “Get...off...me.”

A pout formed on the lunatic's face, and instead of removing himself from Wolf's body, he snuggled up closer to him. Wolf growled at his captor. The man chuckled.

“What's wrong, Nephew? Your father never tried to chase me away during a thunder storm.”

Another clap of thunder rang through the room and Kurogane again hugged him tighter. Wolf's glare became more intense. “White Fang taught me not to be afraid of such things.”

Surprise crossed the man's face and he pushed himself up on his arms to stare down at him. “Your father never comforted you?”

Wolf's gaze hardened farther. “He never needed to.”

A smile of understanding crossed Kurogane's face. “Ah, of course. That was your mother's job!”

Wolf's words were barely above a whisper but held the promise of a painful death. “I had no mother.”

Kurogane tipped his head back and laughed, making Wolf tense in his restraints. “Of courseyou had a mother, Kakashi. Everyone has a mother – even you! And yours was the most beautiful woman in the Five Countries.”

Wolf growled again. “I never knew her.”

That caused the grin to disappear off Kurogane's face and the man moved closer to Wolf. “What are you saying, boy?”

“My mother died when I was just a baby. Like I said – I never knew her.”

Kurogane jumped to his feet, his face a mask of anger. “I should have known that bastard wouldn't keep her safe. If he was alive today I'd kill him!”

Wolf narrowed his eye at the man's outburst and watched him pace back and forth alongside the bed while he continued his rant. “She was too perfect for him. How could he ever understand how to take care of something so perfect. She'd still be here if only she hadn't said no to me. She could have left Sakumo and the two of us would have been happy.”

Wolf's eye opened wide. This madman actually thought his mother would have left White Fang for him? He couldn't help but let a short laugh escape his lips. Kurogane spun towards the noise with venom in his gaze and placed his hands firmly around Wolf's neck – just below where the collar and chain sat.

“How dare you laugh at me, you little worm!” The words from Kurogane's lips rose to an unnaturally high pitch, and the pupils of his eyes became pinpoints within the backdrop of icy gray.

Wolf felt those cold fingertips squeeze tight around his throat, making it impossible for him to take any air in or out of his body. He saw the sheen of sweat covering the man's brow and the look of insane determination in his face, and for a moment Wolf thought he'd be choked to death there and then.

Boudachi's sane voice put an end to that hope. “Lord Kurogane, doesn't it defeat your purpose if you kill the boy?”

The fingers on Wolf's throat clenched tighter still for a moment before letting him go altogether, leaving Wolf gasping to take in a full breath. He saw Kurogane's eyelids flutter closed, and his body tremble while he regained control of himself. When the eyes reopened, they had regained what little sanity still resided there, and a small smile graced the man's lips. Wolf fought not to flinch when Kurogane's hand reached toward his face once more – this time he lifted it past Wolf's neck and used it to tenderly push the hair back that was covering the patch over his left eye.

Kurogane's voice was tight. “You're right, of course Boudachi. But you know how I can get when I start thinking about my brother.”

He leaned forward and placed a kiss on Wolf's brow – similar to what he'd done that first day – and pushed himself back up to standing. “We'll catch up later, Nephew.”

With that, Wolf saw the man wave over his shoulder and walk out of the room. Boudachi moved to the side of the bed once Kurogane was gone. He sighed deeply and sat on the edge of the futon, taking a moment to physically inspect the damage to Wolf's throat.

“You're very lucky I came in when I did, Kakashi. Otherwise I think he would have succeeded in choking you to death. You're going to be sore and bruised for quite some time I fear.”

Wolf narrowed his eye at the aide and pushed his words painfully out of his damaged throat. “Next time – don't do me any favors.”

Boudachi shook his head and stood up. “You really shouldn't fight this, you know. Kurogane isn't someone who doesn't get exactly what he wants ... eventually.”

Wolf growled. “Neither am I.”

The aide smiled sadly at him, then he turned and left Wolf alone with the thoughts of White Fang and a mother he'd never known running through his head.

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Team Gai tried to be inconspicuous in the streets of Lightning Village - a task made all the more difficult when two of the members had an affinity for green spandex and day-glo orange leg-warmers. Neji sighed and watched Gai shifting from foot to foot – the older man's need to do something at all times making this part of the mission the hardest part for him. Still, Neji knew Gai would never do anything to jeopardize this particular mission – not when it was Kakashi's life on the line. After all – Neji couldn't begin to imagine what the loss of the Green Beast's 'Eternal Rival' might do to him. For as long as he could remember, nearly everything Gai had done was compared – rather loudly – to the feats performed by Kakashi Hatake.

Neji frowned when he glanced over at Lee and saw the younger man nearly as agitated as Gai. These parts of the missions that required patience and stillness were always the hardest on the two tai-jutsu experts. If Shikamaru didn't return soon, these two would likely make a scene that would do nothing to strengthen the already shaky allegiance between Leaf and Lightning. Neji closed his eyes at the thought of the actions it took to solidify that truce so long ago.

He made it a point not to think on those events too often – after all – it was his father's death that was used to seal that truce. This was also why Shikamaru steadfastly refused to have Team Gai present when he delivered the Hokage's scroll to the Raikage. The last thing Leaf wanted to do right now was to remind Lightning of their failed attempt to kidnap Neji's cousin, Hinata, from the Hyuga compound.

Neji activated his Byakugan and scanned the surroundings once more. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary – still, Neji didn't like being here.

Tenten approached from his left. “Neji – are you okay?”

Her quiet voice was enough to calm his inner turmoil. He deactivated his Byakugan and met her dark brown eyes. A faint smile crossed his lips at the concern he saw in her gaze. She was one of very few people who could read his emotions.

“I'm fine, Tenten. I doubt the others will remain so for long, however.”

Tenten rolled her eyes. “I'm actually surprised they haven't embarrassed us yet.”

He watched as she shifted the large scroll that lay across her back and then she crossed her arms, much as she'd done back when they were still a genin team.

“Do you think Shikamaru can convince the Raikage to help, Neji?”

He took a deep breath and thought about it for a moment. “If anyone can find a way – it will be Shikamaru. He can see things that even I can miss with my Byakugan.”

Neji surprised himself when those words were spoken out loud – recognizing he held a bit of envy toward the younger man. If Tenten picked up on it, she didn't say anything about it. Instead, she sighed.

“I still can't believe he's been captured.”

Neji knew she was referring to Kakashi – after all – she'd made no secret of being an admirer of the silver-haired jonin's fighting style since their Academy days. In fact, she was the happiest he'd ever seen her during the week that Kakashi offered to help her refine her use of the Kusari-Gama. He'd been able to teach her the proper stance to wield the difficult sickle and weighted chain, and she excelled with that weapon ever since. Neji could still recall the sparkle in Tenten's eyes when the Copy-ninja commented on her excellent foundation for her other weapons' styles as well.

Neji frowned. Tenten was right. It was unfathomable that Kakashi Hatake would be captured, and it was harder still to believe he'd still be alive. But he couldn't bring himself to say those words to the young woman. Instead, he did what he could to give her hope.

“We'll find him, Tenten. And we'll bring him home.”

She tipped her head back to look into his face, the sun basking the dark hair which was caught up in two symmetrical buns in a golden light. “I hope you're right Neji.”
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:46 pm

chapter 8 - part 2

Iruka stood at the edge of the gathering, hardly daring to breathe. Crow warned him earlier in the day that once they entered the village, things would happen quickly and quietly. The ANBU hadn't lied. Every communication was done through hand signs – and before an hour had passed, Badger, Mouse, and Bear managed to take hold of two Lightning jonin. Iruka had to keep himself from making a sound when the three ANBU went into action.

Badger formed hand seals that brought his shadow to life and sent it shooting across the ground to snare the two enemy jonin in a shadow paralysis jutsu – guess there was no doubting Badger was one of the Nara clan. Iruka noted his build and height and wondered if perhaps it was Shikamaru's father – but he pushed the thought aside – after all, Shikaku wasn't known to be taking missions any longer.

Next, Mouse stepped forward and caused bands of wood to encircle the jonins' legs, waists, arms, and mouths – effectively immobilizing and silencing them, while allowing Badger to conserve some of his chakra for later use.

Iruka furrowed his brow in thought. He only knew of one man who could perform wood techniques – Yamato. Iruka smiled behind his mask. It made sense that Yamato would be on this mission – after all, he'd heard the man refer to Kakashi as senpai on more then one occasion – obviously they had a history. Iruka should have realized it was through the ANBU. And the man would be just as concerned for the welfare of Team Kakashi – seeing as he was just as much one of them as well.

Finally – Bear stepped forward and made a hand sign Iruka had seen before. It had been during some of the interrogations Ibiki allowed him to witness a few years back. Bear hadto be one of the Yamanako clan – no one else used that technique. Iruka's mind spun. This wasn't just a retrieval team – it was a team containing members of some of the major clan houses within Konoha. What the hell was he thinking when he signed up for this mission? He wasn't from some amazing clan full of wondrous techniques.

As though sensing Iruka's self-doubts, Crow stepped to his side and placed one hand on his shoulder. Iruka turned his head to meet the eyes behind the bird-mask. Crow motioned with his head for Iruka to follow him and then they jumped off to an area out of earshot of the prisoners.

“Iruka – I can tell something is on your mind. Out with it – before it ends up compromising our situation.”

Iruka felt the heat of embarrassment rise in his cheeks – and was starting to truly be thankful for the blank mask covering his features. But then he became a bit angry. When he spoke, his anger colored every word – although he was very careful to keep his volume quiet.

“Can I point out something is always on my mind? I'm a teacher – it comes with the territory. I'm alwaysanalyzing my surroundings. It doesn't mean I'll compromise you or the mission, Genma. I would have thought you'd know that by now.”

Crow took a step back and actually growled. Iruka blinked behind his mask. What did he do to set him off?

Crow's voice was tight. “Iruka Umino – when did you figure it out?”

Iruka shook his head in confusion. “Figure what out?”

Crow crossed his arms. “Who I am.”

Iruka replayed his outburst in his mind and realized he'd used the name Genma in his ramblings. “You mean I was right?”

Crow reached out and gripped Iruka's shirt and pulled him in close. “Iruka – now isn't the time or place for this conversation. But we willhave this conversation when we'd finished here. Meanwhile – I need you to put that analytical mind of yours to use and help Bear interrogate those jonin.”

Iruka swallowed deeply. “Me? What can I possibly do to help?”

Crow laughed softly. “You read people, Sensei. Incidentally, even better than I expected. I need you to tell me what you can read from those two jonin while we speak with them. Particularly when Bear confronts them with what he learns from their minds.”

Iruka rubbed the back of his neck. “I thought I wasn't supposed to be involved in this.”

“I never said that Iruka. I said you were to stay clear of the fighting.”

Iruka watched Crow reach into his pouch and pull out a long, thin senbon. He pushed his mask up just far enough to allow part of his mouth to show, and slid the deadly needle between his teeth, confirming Iruka's deduction more then words could have.

“I'll do my best, Genma...I promise.”

The senbon was placed back into the pouch and Crow's mask was replaced in a smooth movement. “I know you will, Iruka.”

With that said, they went back to join the others. Iruka paid careful attention to everything about the two jonins – from the way they were breathing – to the dilation of their pupils while they listened to Bear's words – to the way they moved their fingers and hands within the restraints. Soon – he was able to tell when at least one of the two men were reacting to the truth being uttered. He fed that information to Crow through his own subtle signals – and by the end of the session, the retrieval team was confident they had finally found a lead to who was holding Kakashi Hatake and where they were keeping him.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Shikamaru and his team stood in the office of the Raikage waiting for the man to finish reading Lady Tsunade's scroll – again. He fought down the urge to yawn. He knew it would be taken as an insult by the temperamental leader of the shinobi of the Lightning Village. But really – did the man have to reread the scroll before discussing it with them?

Finally – after what felt like forever – the Raikage lifted his head until his dark eyes met Shikamaru's. The ends of his white mustache twitched before he spoke, and Shikamaru noticed his dark skin was glistening with sweat, even though the climate in the room was rather comfortable.

“What makes your Hokage so sure that there's a coup being planned, hmmm?” His eyes narrowed. “Has she been spying on us then?”

Shikamaru knew the man's mind would go this way. Everything he'd read about the Raikage showed that he was overly suspicious by nature, and very quick to anger. Still, he was Kage of the village – which meant he needed to be shown respect...even when he was being so troublesome.

Shikamaru straightened a bit and slowly explained. “Lord Raikage, the Hokage had this information sent to her by a long time friend who lived near your borders - and it was only after seeing some irregularities.” He paused before continuing, seeing the doubt solidify in the Raikage's eyes. “The man knew the particular information he'd uncovered concerned Konoha and wanted to make sure we learned of it.”

The Raikage leaned his fists on his desk and partially stood. “What information about a potential coup in my village could possibly concern the Hokage - unless she was planning to be a part of it?”

The older man's voice was loud enough to challenge even Gai in volume, but Shikamaru simply shrugged it off and continued to supply the additional information Lady Tsunade provided him at the start of the mission.

“The fact that you were not the only target.” He waited for the words to sink into the Raikage's mind.

The dark-skinned man sat back down in his chair and tipped his head to one side. “Another target? Who? Is this person going to attempt to attack Konoha as well?”

Shikamaru smiled at the way the Raikage's line of thought went precisely as he had predicted. “Lord Raikage, the other target was the Copy-ninja...and I'm afraid he has succeeded in obtaining him.”

The Raikage's eyes went wide. He glanced back down at the scroll and then back up to Shikamaru's face. “Tsunade states that you know who the traitor is. Tell me.”

Shikamaru scratched at his cheek. “Kurogane Hatake.”

The Raikage shut his eyes at the name and his body tensed somewhat. “That explains why Kakashi was the other target. Dammit! I'd hoped the rumors of Kurogane's death in the Asylum had been true.”

Shikamaru frowned. “You didn't verify the rumors?”

The Raikage's eyes snapped open and his anger was palpable in the air. “Do you think I have nothing else to do with my time than respond to every rumor that passes my desk? Who do you think you're talking to?”

Shikamaru shrugged. “The Raikage of a village where jonin are failing to show up for assigned missions and where whispers even this far into the village speak of a coming uprising.”

The Raikage's face twisted into a scowl. “If you already know so much, then why are you here at all Leaf Ninja?”

Shikamaru sighed. “Because you are still an ally to Konoha – and you can provide us with the information we need to extract our comrade and potentially end the uprising...if you'd like us to. This is the Hokage's official offer of aide to our ally.”

The Raikage's shoulders relaxed a fraction, and Shikamaru knew what his answer would be even before he spoke. “The Hokage is wise. Her offer is accepted.”

Shikamaru bowed formally. “She will be pleased. Now – if you would be so kind as to show us where the Hatake clan once lived, we can begin to make our plans.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Boudachi pushed open the door to the observation room expecting to find Kurogane in a foul mood. After all – it had been three days since the...ladies...began their task of ensuring the continuation of the Hatake bloodline – and so far the results had been less than stellar. Somehow, Kakashi was able to resist all of their attempts – and some of those were rather...imaginative.

Kurogane was systematically chewing on his fingernails while watching the latest attempts. Although not happy, by any means, the man looked more pensive than angry. Boudachi was about to clear his throat to announce his presence when Kurogane's voice filled the silence.

“Don't you find it intriguing, Boudachi?”

“What might that be, Lord Kurogane?”

Kurogane turned to face him. He had the trace of a smile on his lips. “How my Nephew has managed to use his shinobi training to put such a wrinkle in my time-line, of course.”

Boudachi raised his eyebrows slightly. “How exactly is he managing that, my Lord?”

The silver-haired man laughed. “Ah – that's right – I forget you aren't a shinobi, Boudachi.”

Kurogane waved him over to the viewing window. “Can you see his face, hmmm?”

Boudachi leaned forward and tried to ignore what the ladies were doing to the young man, and focused on Kakashi's face instead. There was a definite sheen of sweat on his pale skin, and his eye was shut – blocking the others in the room from his sight. But what struck Boudachi most was the almost bored look on the young man's face. It looked as though he was in the middle of a very dull conversation rather than strapped to a bed, being ravaged by strange women.

“What's he doing?”

Kurogane chuckled. “He's meditating.”

Boudachi turned back to look at him and saw he'd returned to chewing on his fingertips. “Meditating? With all that going on? Impossible!”

“Not when you're Sakumo Hatake's son.” Kurogane's gaze hardened slightly and then became a bit unfocused.

“My brother used to brag about how he could endure any form of torture by separating himself from what was happening to him. Our Father taught the process to him – they called it a form of extreme meditation.”

Kurogane's face twisted into a frown. “Father refused to teach me his precious technique – even after I begged him. He said my mind wasn't disciplined enough for it.”

Boudachi wondered if the elder Hatake knew, even then, that Kurogane's sanity wasn't quite stable. “So is there any way to break through this technique?”

Kurogane's mouth twitched into a grin. “His arm.”

Boudachi blinked. “His...arm?”

“Yes – his arm. Watch and learn Boudachi.”

With that, Kurogane left the observation room and a moment later appeared inside Kakashi's room. The man walked over to his nephew's side – although Kakashi seemed unaware of his presence. Kurogane looked up to where Boudachi was watching him and then back down at the younger man. In a flash of movement, Kurogane raised his hand up and then slammed the base of his palm into Kakashi's outstretched arm. The resounding crack of bones breaking rang through the air – followed by the scream of pain from Kakashi's throat.

Kurogane turned toward the women and smiled at their surprised faces. Boudachi shifted his gaze from Kurogane to the women and saw that they were quite obviously now getting the desired reaction from Kakashi's body. He focused back on the young Hatake's face again and saw his eye wide open – pain etched on his face – along with disgust at how his body failed him.

Boudachi hadn't realized Kurogane left that room until the man's voice whispered in his ear, causing him to jump. “I figured the boy wasn't really around Sakumo long enough to learn all of the secrets to that technique – so with the proper extreme in stimuli – he was bound to lose control.”

Kurogane moved closer to get a better view of the scene below. He chuckled.

“You'll need to send a medic in as soon as the ladies finish.”

Boudachi's brow furrowed. “Why is that, my Lord?”

Kurogane grinned while he traced patterns on the glass of the viewing window. “I'm afraid I was a bit enthusiastic in my application of force. His bones have pushed through in a few places.”

Boudachi's eyes widened and he turned his attention back to Kakashi's body. Sure enough, he could just see a wide stain of red spreading out from under the young man's oddly bent arm. By the speed the stain was growing, it was clear Kakashi would be in serious trouble without medical attention in the next fifteen minutes.

He swallowed back the bile that rose in his throat. No wonder Kakashi was brought out of his trance – the pain of that break must have been immense. Boudachi stood and bowed stiffly to Kurogane.

“I'll see to it right away, Lord Kurogane.”

As he hurried out of the room, two thoughts crossed Boudachi's mind; did they have a sufficiently skilled medic for such an injury? And if this is how Kurogane treats family, what would he do to someone unrelated?

Boudachi pushed the thoughts away and ran at full speed toward the medics quarters.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:51 pm

Chapter 9 - part 1: The Missions Continue

Shikamaru sighed as they were stopped – yet again – by a group of Lightning shinobi out on patrol. He knew this would happen of course – considering the amount of land they needed to cross to get to where the Raikage insisted the Clan seat for the Hatakes was located. But really – didn't Lightning have the means to communicate between their patrols to let them know a group was already cleared for passage? Of course, he already knew they didn't...so instead, he pulled out the papers from the Raikage that gave the group of Leaf shinobi safe passage through the Land of Lightning – watched as the patrol questioned their validity – just like the last two patrols – and then inevitably handed the papers back to Shikamaru and waved them on.

Each stop had two immediate effects – first – it delayed them from reaching their goal, and second – it caused Gai's barely contained agitation to boil even closer to the surface. While replacing the papers into his vest, Shikamaru noticed the bulging veins on the side of Gai's neck and knew the green-clad man was very close to losing his control. He frowned and wished Tsunade hadn't put him in charge of this mission. Once Gai exploded – and it was only a matter of time before that would happen – there would be no way to keep the patrols from reacting badly to them.

“Dammit.” Shikamaru looked up into the sky – but the light, wispy clouds held no answers for him.

Raidou's voice at his side refocused his mind. “How much farther until we reach the others?”

Shikamaru shifted his gaze to the serious features of the older jonin. Raidou's scars gave the man's face a look of intensity that he was sure terrified the enemy – but it somehow eased Shikamaru's mind that there was someone with his years of experience in this team – his team. Shikamaru knew Raidou was not there to replace Asuma – something the man actually mentioned when first assigned to the team, and never again – and the two of them had already built a comfortable comradeship since the mission began.

Shikamaru scratched at the back of his neck. “Although it would have been easier for us if the location was close to where the Raikage dwells, it makes sense that it isn't. After all – for Kurogane Hatake to have built the following of jonin-level shinobi without the Raikage's knowledge, it had to be happening some distance away. So we still have another full day of running – more if we continue to be challenged by patrols – before we will reach the outskirts of the Hatake lands.” Shikamaru sighed. “And the Clan house is on the far side of those lands – nestled in the sea-cliffs in the northeast corner of Lightning – at least another half-day from the clan border.”

Raidou's dark eyes narrowed. “And how far before the patrols turn less than friendly?”

Shikamaru shrugged. “I calculated that this would probably be the last patrol that was fully loyal to the Raikage. Two more will likely have a mixture of those still with the Raikage and those who are sworn to Kurogane. Beyond that – they will be Hatake loyalists – and much more dangerous.”

Raidou nodded. “That's probably a good reason to step off the path now. After all, even one loyalist to Kurogane getting word of us back to the Hatake lands will mean trouble in the long run.”

Shikamaru smirked. “Yeah – and besides that – I doubt Gai-sensei would manage to remain calm if we were delayed any longer.”

Raidou gave a short, deep laugh. “Good point. The last thing we need is a rampaging Green-beast.”

Together they moved forward to fill in the rest of their group – and Shikamaru found himself comparing Raidou's laid back attitude to his former Sensei. He sighed again – and returned to his task.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Boudachi watched the medic's face while he worked desperately on Kakashi's arm. He'd managed to stop the man from bleeding to death, but he wasn't looking terribly confident now that he had to realign the broken bones. The uncertainty flared further when Kakashi let out a pained moan at any contact.

“Can't you give him something for the pain before you work on him?”

The medic glared back at him with a look in his eyes that made Boudachi feel like the answer should have been obvious. But it wasn't obvious to him, so he crossed his arms and made it crystal clear he was waiting for a response.

The medic stood up and met his eyes. “I can't give him anything for the pain until the mixture in his system runs its course.”

Boudachi blinked. “What are you talking about?”

The medic sighed. “Lord Kurogane had us create a cocktail of drugs to enhance the subjects...err...umm...well...” The man blushed bright red before continuing. “He wanted us to make the subject responsive to certain stimuli regardless of what else was happening to him.”

The medic stared back at Kakashi's face. “We thought it wasn't working at first – the subject didn't react to the women's...umm...stimulation at all...but we tested it on others and it worked fine. So we concluded this man was somehow blocking the drugs effect. It wasn't until his arm was broken that his control over the substance broke and it was allowed to do its job. Rather well from what the women have been reporting – considering the amount of pain he's been in.”

Boudachi shook his head. “I should have realized Kurogane would find a way to work around any obstacles. How long before the drugs work their way out?”

The medic frowned. “The test subject's blood remained tainted for a full day after he...umm...finished showing signs of its effects. But the test subject only had half as much product as this man.”

“Great. So where does that leave us?” Boudachi turned to look into Kakashi's face.

The medic sighed. “I don't have a choice. If I don't realign the bones and seal the wounds he'll likely die of infection. And Lord Kurogane made it clear that was not an option. I'm afraid we'll just have to hope the subject's heart can handle the pain.”

Boudachi saw Kakashi's dark eye widen slightly at the comment. He should have known the Copy-ninja would be aware of what was going on. He knelt next to his silver-haired head and met his stare.

“You know what we need to do to save your life. I'm going to place something between your teeth to help you bear the worst of it. Okay?”

Kakashi's tired voice hissed through his teeth. “Just let me die.”

Boudachi gave him a sad smile as he whispered his response so only Kakashi could hear him. “If it was in my power I'd do just that, Kakashi Hatake – but he's watching us even now.”

A little louder, Boudachi addressed the medic. “Do you have a bite stick in your bag?”

The medic placed the item in his hand and Boudachi lifted it toward Kakashi's mouth. At first, the Copy-ninja looked as though he might refuse to open for the leather bound wood, but something in his eye made it clear he knew precisely how much this might hurt, and he slowly opened his teeth to allow the placement of the bite stick.

Boudachi turned back toward the medic. “What now?”

“I need you to hold him tightly at his shoulder while I try to twist and guide the bones back into place.”

Boudachi frowned. “That doesn't sound terribly reassuring.”

The medic shrugged. “It wasn't meant to.”

Boudachi glanced back into Kakashi's eye and then sighed. He reached down to the cuff encircling the broken arm's wrist and released the catch. “Let's get this over with.”

The medic positioned himself with one hand at the break and the other grasping firmly on the recently freed wrist, while Boudachi moved to Kakashi's shoulder and pinned the young man down with a firm hand. He felt the muscles under his fingers tense in anticipation of the next move, and then he felt the medic pull forcefully on the arm to pull the shards of bone back into place. Kakashi's teeth ground into the bite stick, and he saw the pain fill the dark orb of his uncovered eye. Sweat covered the Copy-ninja's skin almost instantly, and he squirmed under Boudachi's grip, trying to pull away from the medic's manipulations, and screaming in pain around the wood and leather in his mouth.

The medic's voice sounded strained. “I've got the shards back under the skin. Hold him still or I won't be able to line them up properly.”

Boudachi swallowed hard and nodded. He tightened his grip on Kakashi's shoulder and met his eye. “It's almost over. Just hold on a little longer.”

Kakashi's breathing came in ragged gasps past the bite stick, but his eye showed Boudachi that he understood his words. Boudachi's attention moved back to the medic and he watched the man twist Kakashi's arm back and forth a half dozen times until he seemed pleased with the results.

“Okay – now move your hand to support his wrist and elbow.” It wasn't a request – more of an order – but Boudachi wasn't going to question the man right now.

He did as he was directed and tried to distance himself from the sounds of agony coming from Kakashi as the medic forced his chakra into the wounded area and tried to mend the damage as best as he could. Kurogane's followers included all manor of high-level ninja – but only a handful of them had true medical backgrounds, and even less were considered actual medics. Boudachi frowned. That meant this would not be the best of patch-ups, but at least this medic's skill was enough that Kakashi should be kept from death.

The medic stepped back and wiped a hand across his brow. “I've done all I can until the drugs are out of him. Now all we can do is wait.”

Boudachi sighed. “Very well. Make sure you check him personally through the night.”

The medic scowled at him. “What do you take me for? Of course I'll be checking him.”

Boudachi held back a chuckle. He sometimes forgot the fierce loyalty toward Kurogane that these shinobi held. He was one of very few on the man's staff who didn't hail from Lightning – and so this blind loyalty was unfamiliar to him. He watched the medic pick up his tools and leave – still scowling and muttering under his breath.

Boudachi sat on the edge of Kakashi's bed near the recently mended arm and he gently replaced the restraint on the silver-haired man's wrist – although not quite as tight as it once was. He convinced himself it was in case the healing arm swelled in the night. Then he turned toward Kakashi's face and removed the bite stick.

The two men stared silently at each other. Boudachi knew the jonin was trying to figure out why he'd helped – both with setting his broken arm and loosening the cuff. The funny thing was – Boudachi was trying to figure that out himself. He reached over and pulled the yukata back over the prisoner's pale body – giving him at least the illusion of decency. Boudachi shook his head, sighed and pushed himself off the bed. He was suddenly more tired then he'd been in years – and the last thing he needed to do was think about crossing his lunatic boss. Without another look at the Copy-ninja, Boudachi left the room and headed back toward his own quarters – trying to silence the plethora of questions running around in his head.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Iruka blinked and tried to take in this latest twist. He rolled his shoulders and looked at the scroll in his hands once more. The detailed orders gave step by step instructions for the captured jonin to obtain certain items from the Raikage's office – but what was causing Iruka's discomfort was the fact that the items were to be delivered to the Hatake compound.

“This can't be right.” Iruka looked at the scroll in his hand and shook his head. “This...this just can't be right.”

Crow scratched at the back of his neck and sighed. “Iruka-sensei, you're the one who told us the jonin holding this scroll was being truthful. What is on that scroll that's making you doubt it now?”

Iruka held it out for the ANBU captain to take his own look. He watched Crow's muscles tense when he read the characters on the scroll. “Damn. This will definitely complicate things.”

Iruka pushed his mask up and scratched at the scar across his nose, taking the opportunity the breathe in the air without having it filtered through the porcelain. “I always wondered why there were no other Hatakes in Konoha. I should have figured out that Kakashi was a refugee.”

Crow shook his head. “But he isn't a refugee, Iruka. I turned three two days after Kakashi was born – in the Konoha hospital. I remember the day he was born clearly – because my mother gave birth to my little brother that same day, and I was trying to figure out why the kid next to him in the nursery had an old man's silver hair.”

Iruka frowned. “So Kakashi was born in Konoha...but were his parents?”

Crow shrugged. “I don't know – but based on this latest information, I'd have to say that they weren't.”

Iruka tried to fathom what would happen to cause someone to leave their village if it hadn't been totally destroyed...but came up with nothing. “Do you think whoever is behind this might be convinced Kakashi belongs here – and not in Konoha?”

Crow tipped his head to the side and scratched at his neck. “Probably – which means they will do everything in their power to keep us from taking him back. This mission just got a hell of a lot more dangerous.”

Iruka watched Crow turn toward where the other ANBU were holding the prisoners and give one quick hand signal. Iruka's eyes went wide when he recognized it as the sign to end their lives. He felt his heart speed up as he turned his face to where the others stood and watched them efficiently and silently kill the Lightning jonin.

He jumped slightly at the feel of Crow's hand on his shoulder. “It had to be done Iruka. Accept that.”

Iruka swallowed and pulled his mask back down into place. His voice was tight. “I know. But I don't have to like it.”

Crow released his grip and walked back to the others. Iruka took a deep breath in an attempt to calm his nerves and followed after him. He wondered how many of Kakashi's relatives still lived here, and whether the Copy-ninja would want to return to Konoha once they caught up to him. After all – he might decide to stay with his blood-relations once he met them.

Iruka frowned and found himself hoping that wasn't the case.
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the Long Road Home
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