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 the Long Road Home

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Itchy

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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:51 pm

chapter 9 - part 2

The last time Bear had been to Lightning there was no question that the Raikage was calling all the shots. Every mind he touched gave off a fierce loyalty toward the gruff man. This time, however, that loyalty was no longer toward the head of the Hidden Village. Instead – it was directed toward another man.

Every vision in the minds he'd explored during this mission brought the same face into focus...a face that Bear remembered all too well from his youth. The long silver hair, the icy gray eyes, the angular features, the broad muscular shoulders, and the confidence that seemed to surround the man...they were an almost exact copy of his first impression of Sakumo Hatake.

He'd been eleven when White Fang joined Konoha – and he remembered his father had been one of the jonin investigators who were involved with determining if the former Lightning jonin could be trusted or not. He'd watched his father use their family jutsu to delve deep into Sakumo's mind – and was allowed to attempt it himself for training purposes – and the two found a fierce loyalty to his wife and their unborn child. There was no devious plot against Konoha lingering in the recesses of Sakumo's mind – and in the end, the White Fang became an important part of the defenses for the Leaf Village.

It was obvious the man in the minds of these current jonin could not be Sakumo – so that left few options. It must be a relative of the White Fang who was now demanding such fierce loyalty from the Lightning ninja.

Bear looked toward where Crow and the Sensei were talking and caught the clear sign from the captain that these Lightning jonin were expendable. He sighed to himself as he watched Lizard and Rat efficiently end the captured ninjas' lives. He wondered how much more blood would spill before they found the Copy-ninja.

His thoughts went to the young man. He was so different than his father in most ways – yet at the same time he carried on the best traits of the man. His physical likeness in hair, face and eyes were obvious – but his body would never be as broad as his father's, and his mannerisms were much more subdued. Likely a side effect of having lost his father at so young an age – and in such a horrific way.

Bear knew that most of the village thought of White Fang as a villain for failing his mission...but secretly, Bear couldn't hate the man. After all – his father had been one of those that Sakumo went back for. And although he'd been seventeen at the time of the incident – and just about to become a jonin himself – he'd been secretly relieved that his father was given a second chance at life.

That was why Bear had been one of the first to volunteer to serve under the much younger Hatake when the boy was raised to the rank of ANBU Captain at the age of fifteen. He'd convinced Badger to join him as well, and they quickly became one of the most successful ANBU teams in Konoha's history. After his year's service under Wolf, Bear watched as one after another of the young silver-haired man's teams excelled with the least amount of lives lost. Soon, every member of ANBU looked forward to being assigned to Wolf's squad – including every ANBU member of this current extraction team.

Still – the fierceness of loyalty Bear felt in these Lightning jonin made him wonder if, perhaps this time, Wolf was in over his head. He shook his head to clear his thoughts and fell into place to continue to where they now knew Kakashi Hatake was being kept. They could only hope they weren't too late.

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Gai was glad Shikamaru saw the need to get off the main road. This way they could increase their speed and reduce the need to interact with any more of those annoying Lightning patrols. Normally he'd have loved to compare styles of fighting with them – or maybe ask them how they kept so dry in such a rainy environment – after all, his own outfit was beginning to chafe in more than one place after the second straight day of rain. But this time, the only thing on his mind was the fact that his Eternal Rival was being kept somewhere in the distance against his will. Even now it made Gai's blood boil to think that anyone could be so incredibly rude as to force someone in the springtime of their youth – such as Kakashi was – to stay in such a soggy land against their wishes.

Gai frowned at what means these unknown rapscallions might be putting into play to keep his longtime friend and rival away from Konoha. And he held onto his hope that Kakashi's Will of Fire would be enough to see him through so dark a time.

Gai frowned – something he rarely did – and clenched his fists in frustration. He would never forgive himself if they didn't make it to Kakashi's side in time to save him. In fact, he would make sure to run one hundred – no – TWO hundred – laps around Konoha – on his hands – if they failed to reach Kakashi before the retrieval team did. Yes – that would be what he'd do!

Gai's frown turned into a look of contemplation. He pushed a bit more chakra into his feet and caught up with Shikamaru at the front of the formation. They ran on for a minute or so before the young Nara lad looked his way.

“Gai-sensei, is there a reason you've changed your position?” Shikamaru's tone made it clear that he didn't approve of him being out of his agreed upon place.

Gai placed a smile on his face and pulled nervously at the collar of his vest. “Ah – Shikamaru – I was simply wondering if perhaps we could increase our speed a bit more so that my Eternal Rival might not have to wait so long to be rescued from what is undoubtedly a most unpleasant experience for his Greatness?”

They ran on for a few more minutes – each one that passed causing Gai to sweat a bit more - as he waited for the team leader to make his decision. Gai ground his teeth impatiently – and just when he thought he'd have to ask again – for perhaps Shikamaru's hearing was not as youthful as he'd originally thought – the young man let out a large sigh.

“Although it would be bothersome if we use up all of our energy to reach Kakashi-sensei's location – I agree with your reasoning that it would be unwise for us to let him suffer any longer then absolutely necessary.” Shikamaru turned and met Gai's eyes. “Tell the others that we will increase our speed at once.”

Gai smiled and blinked back a tear. “Thank you Shikamaru. I am so glad to see you understand the spark of ...”

Shikamaru glared at him, causing Gai to stop speaking. “Just spread the news so we can get moving, okay?”

Gai gave his patented thumbs up and returned to his original position – making sure to spread the word as he went. He was glad he talked to the young Nara lad. It made it clear that he was not the only one concerned about his Eternal Rival's situation. Gai spent the rest of the journey thinking of just what he'd challenge Kakashi with once they all returned to the safety of Konoha's boundaries.

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Wolf spent most of the night awake. Part of it was the drug still coursing through his blood, making it impossible to relax fully – and part of it was the constant throbbing pain radiating from his badly mended arm. Both were experiences he could have lived without.

Now he lay here – chained to the bed – physically and mentally exhausted – and wondering what new hell this man who claimed to be his uncle had in mind. He closed his eye and drew in a slow breath, trying to find the calm center that White Fang taught him to harness so long ago. If he could just disconnect himself from these unsettling feelings for a few hours he might still be able to come up with a way to use the aide's unexpected kindnesses in his favor.

He pushed away the pain with a bit of effort, and started to distance himself from the effects of the drugs, when he sensed his uncle crossing the room. He'd hoped that perhaps the man would think he was asleep if he just kept his eye closed and his breathing steady – but he should have known better with someone as insane as Kurogane appeared to be.

Wolf let out a pained gasp as the elder Hatake landed on the edge of the bed and nearly sang out to him. “I know you're awake Kakashi. You may as well open your eye.”

Wolf growled as he opened his eyelid. Kurogane was sprawled on the mattress next to him, leaning his chin on his hands, and smiling in a most disturbing way. His icy gray eyes seemed to sparkle as he locked his gaze with Wolf's.

“You know – for someone who didn't want to participate in my plans for the future of the Hatake household, you managed to fulfill your role better than expected.”

Wolf glared but said nothing. Kurogane laughed at him, and crawled up the bed until he could rest his head on Wolf's chest. The man's breath skated across Wolf's chin – a hot mixture scented with blood and sake.

“If it makes you feel any better about it, Nephew, I doubt we'll need to repeat that particular method for awhile.”

Wolf frowned. “And why would that be?”

Kurogane's face lit up as he smiled and ran one of his hand's through Wolf's hair. “Ah – that, my boy, would be because all the signs seem to point to a very successful mission for you.”

Wolf's frown deepened and his heart rate quickened. His uncle pushed himself up into a sitting position and glanced toward his broken arm. A sigh escaped the man's lips as he ran his fingers along Wolf's bandaged arm.

“It's a shame it had to come to this, Nephew – but perhaps it won't be necessary next time.”

Wolf growled deep in his throat, causing the older man to turn toward him. “There won't be a next time.”

Kurogane's smile twisted into a cruel smirk. “I thought we'd already gone over this, boy...you will do what I tell you to do.”

Wolf's vision clouded in pain as Kurogane's hand closed around where the bones were trying to heal. The man continued to apply pressure until Wolf couldn't help but scream – certain that his bones would snap at any moment.

At the sound of the scream, Kurogane's grip loosened and his smile returned to his face. “Now why do you try my patience, Kakashi? You know I can't be held responsible for what I do when you say things like that.”

Wolf's breath was ragged while he tried to regain control of himself. He glared at the man with as much hatred as he could, and pushed his words through teeth clenched in pain.

“I doubt you've been responsible a single day of your life. It's no wonder White Fang left.”

Kurogane's expression became instantly unreadable – and for a moment, Wolf thought perhaps he'd finally pushed the man to the point where he'd kill him. Instead, his uncle knelt next to him and leaned in until his lips were brushing Wolf's ear. His words were barely above a whisper – but they were enough to chill Wolf's blood.

“At least when Sakumo left me, he was still alive...what must you have done to make him choose death over staying with you?”

Wolf growled as Kurogane stood up and left him alone – once more – with thoughts of his father's death.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:53 pm

Chapter 10 - part 1: Unexpected Allies

Boudachi walked into Kakashi's room with an armful of clothing and saw the man was wide awake. He frowned. He'd hoped the Copy-ninja would be asleep when he came to do this. Oh well – it's not like it would change anything. He walked to Kakashi's bed and placed the pile of clothing on the floor. Then he pulled out a syringe and held it up so the man could see it.

“Okay Kakashi, I'm going to give you the choice of doing this the hard way or the easy way.”

Kakashi's eye narrowed. “I thought that bastard said he wasn't expecting me to perform again so soon.”

Boudachi chuckled and sat down on the edge of the mattress. “He's not. That isn't what this is about.”

Kakashi shifted his gaze to the syringe. “Then enlighten me.”

Again, he chuckled. “I figured you'd like the chance to clean up and put some real clothes back on. I just need to know if you can do that without trying to kill me – or if I'm going to need to do it for you.”

Kakashi raised his eyebrows. “You expect me to believe you are giving me the option of not being injected?”

Boudachi sighed. “You can believe whatever you'd like to believe. I know that this will be easier for me if I have your cooperation, and don't have to knock you out and physically clean and dress you myself.”

He glanced up to where they both knew others were watching them. “But this task was assigned to me – and it will be done – even if you have to be unconscious. In the long run, you'll sustain less injury if you are awake.” He shrugged. “It's your choice.”

Kakashi's eye closed and he took a slow breath before speaking. “I don't understand why you would care one way or another.”

Boudachi smiled once Kakashi's eye opened again. “I don't exactly understand it myself. So – what's it going to be?”

The Copy-ninja furrowed his brow. “I assume the keepers will have me on a short leash again?”

Boudachi's grin stretched into an actual smile. “Of course.”

Kakashi sighed. “I'd prefer to be awake.”

“Good. Let's get started then.” He stood and walked to a table set up by the door and set the syringe down. He glanced back toward the bed. “I'd rather not have to use this – but I will if you leave me no other choice.”

Kakashi growled. “I get it.”

Boudachi took one last look up to the observation room and nodded. He saw the chain attached to Kakashi's collar loosen up to show the others were ready, and he moved back to the bed with a key in his hand. He took a deep breath and proceeded to unlock the manacles – starting with the one located on the broken right arm, and working around until he got to the man's left arm. To Kakashi's credit, he stayed perfectly still – although some of that was likely that the man was physically exhausted after his ordeal. Once the manacles were released, Boudachi moved to help the young man sit up.

Kakashi's body tensed at his touch, but he accepted the help all the same. Between the chakra dampening collar and the cocktail of drugs which was still working its way out of the man's system, it was no wonder Boudachi felt Kakashi lean into him when they finally stood him up. Boudachi knew he should have felt on edge with the man so close to him – after all, even this worn out, Kakashi could likely kill him in an instant – but somehow he felt more at ease with Kakashi then he'd ever felt with the young man's uncle. Boudachi frowned and pushed the traitorous thought away to concentrate on his task.

They worked their way slowly to the shower and, once there, he removed the bandage around Kakashi's broken arm, and the soiled yukata, and tossed them both away before signaling for the others to start the water. Boudachi stayed within reach of the silver-haired man while he watched him scrub away the filth from the past few days. He saw Kakashi's eye fall to where the shower drain plate had been removed, and knew then that escape was never far from the man's thoughts.

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Iruka found that the closer to their goal the retrieval squad went, the more difficult it was getting for them to remain unseen. At the moment, they were broken into three groups and hiding amidst the shadows along the borders of the Hatake lands. There were jonin-level guards scattered throughout the area, and Iruka felt his own chances for surviving this mission lowering with each new group spotted. He spent his time suppressing his chakra and calming his heart rate in an attempt to keep himself unseen. Again he was amazed at how calm the ANBU could be in such dire scenarios. Assuming they got out of this alive – he'd have to take Genma aside and ask him what the secret was. Maybe he could apply it at the Academy when the kids became impossible. His thoughts returned to their current situation when Crow's hand signal warned him to stay still.

Another patrol of Lightning jonin approached and stopped right in front of where he and Crow were settled in the branches of a tree. The two men pulled out their canteens and drank. Iruka pushed down to urge to whimper and hoped they'd move on soon.

The first man lowered his canteen and ran the back of his free hand across his forehead. He leaned against trunk of their tree and pulled out a cigarette and lighter. The other jonin took out his own and the two settled in to enjoy a break.

“They said Akuma was on the hunter team that brought the kid in.” The first man's deep voice was met by a nod from the second man.

“Yeah – I heard he actually had his nightmare jutsu break on the trip back.”

“No way...you're kidding, right?”

The second man took another sip from his canteen before answering. “Nope. In fact the kid managed to break the neck of one of the guards before Akuma got him back under control.”

“Damn. Which guard?”

“Saikyou.” The second jonin took another drag from his cigarette. “They say the kid was chained to the wall and used his legs to break Saikyou's neck while Akuma watched.”

“So then the rumors could actually be true. We have the Copy-ninja here.”

“What makes you so sure?”

The first man pushed himself off the tree and pinched his cigarette out. “Who else do you think would have the ability to break out of the nightmare jutsu and kill Saikyou?”

The second man chuckled. “Yeah – I guess you're right.” He pushed off the tree too. “That means we'd better be on the lookout for those Konoha pests. You know damn well they aren't just gonna let us keep him once they figure out we have him.”

“What makes you so sure they'll figure it out?”

“Heh – have you ever known the Leaf Village to keep their nose out of Lightning's business?”

The first man grunted in agreement, and then the two returned to their patrol.

Crow placed a hand on Iruka's wrist, signaling it was time for them to move on. Iruka swallowed back his fear and followed the ANBU captain into the shadows. His mind was going a million miles a minute...who the hell was Akuma...and what the hell was a nightmare jutsu?

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Wolf tried his best not to show his weakness while showering, but his right arm decided to ignore him completely and caused him to drop the washcloth he'd been using. The chain on his neck made it impossible to bend down for the cloth, and Boudachi was at his side immediately handing him a new one. He had to admit, the aide was smarter than most...if the man had bent down to pick up the dropped cloth, Wolf could have snapped him like a twig with his legs.

“I'll have the medic check your arm again when we're finished here.” Wolf registered a touch of concern in the man's voice.

“Don't bother. He's done enough already.” Wolf flexed the fingers on his right hand and cringed when a spasm ran through it. What he wouldn't give for an ANBU medic right about now.

“Listen, Kakashi...they can't hear us over the water right now...so just listen.” Boudachi turned his body so his face wasn't toward the observation room. “Your uncle will kill us both if he finds out that I'm trying to help you.”

Wolf made it a point to continue going through the motions of washing. “Then why would you?”

Boudachi sighed. “I'm not really sure. Let's just say this job isn't what I signed on for and leave it at that.”

Wolf grunted in acknowledgment and the aide continued. “You'll find a thin strip of metal in the edge of the washcloth. Palm it when you can. You'll be able to slip it into the connection of the chakra dampening collar while you get dressed. It won't deactivate the thing – but it will make it a hell of a lot less effective – and won't trigger any of the alarms in the observation room.”

Wolf barely had enough time to register the information when Boudachi turned back toward the others and signaled for the water to be cut off. He found and palmed the promised strip of metal a moment before the aide pulled the washcloth free of his hand and tossed it with the one already on the floor.

The chain on Wolf's neck tightened – making it obvious he was meant to step away from the shower. He slowly made his way back to the bed where the clean clothes were waiting. He glanced into Boudachi's eyes once more and narrowed his gaze. Why would this man risk so much to help him?

For his part, the aide gestured toward the clothes. “Get dressed. Then I'll take a look at your arm.”

Wolf knew they needed to keep their roles in place so no one would guess at the plan. He growled and glared. “And what if I don't?”

Boudachi walked toward the table by the door and picked up the syringe. “Do we really have to go over this again, Kakashi?”

Wolf sighed and moved toward the pile of clothing. He spread them out to see what he had to work with. There were dark gray boxers, a pair of dark blue slacks, and a matching collared sleeveless shirt. They weren't exactly what he'd choose to wear – but it was a hell of a lot better than a yukata.

He kept the strip of metal pinched between the thumb and palm of his left hand as he deftly donned the clothing. First the boxers – then the slacks – and finally the shirt...making sure to turn toward the observation room while his left hand moved to straighten the collar of the shirt – and carefully slipped the palmed metal where Boudachi had directed at the juncture of the chakra collar and the chain. When Wolf was certain the strip was secure, he moved to lift his right arm up to finish smoothing the collar and didn't have to fake the excruciating pain that shot through him.

Boudachi's brow creased and he set the syringe back on the table, picking up a basket filled with bandages and salves instead. “Sit down.”

Wolf considered arguing, but the wave of pain in his arm convinced him otherwise. He glared for the audience and sat on the end of the bed. Boudachi frowned when he looked at the arm. Wolf turned his head to see what elicited that reaction and he felt his anger return. The skin was bruised from his elbow to his wrist – but that wasn't unexpected – after all, Wolf noticed it during the shower. It was the way that the skin was bulging out at various points that was concerning him.

“Where the hell did that bastard get get that so-called medic? From under a rock?”

Boudachi's answer came through clenched teeth. “I warned Kurogane he wasn't as good as he claimed.”

Wolf watched as the man placed a cooling layer of salve down before loosing wrapping the bruised area with several layers of gauze bandages. He chuckled low in his throat. “I think you likely have more skill than he has.”

Boudachi finished and stood back up. “You'll be allowed limited movement within the room so long as you behave. I'll have some food brought in a little later – along with some pain killers.”

The aide didn't wait for him to reply before leaving the room. Wolf placed his hand over the freshly bandaged arm and frowned. This shoddy patch-up was liable to put a wrinkle in his plans to escape. His right hand was necessary to perform the majority of his jutsus – and without the ability to control his fingers sufficiently on that hand it would limit his jutsus even farther.

Wolf moved up to the head of the bed and leaned against the wall. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the chakra paths within his body. True to Boudachi's words, he could already feel an increase in his chakra stores – which meant that eventually he just might be able to figure a way out of this mess. He'd need to make sure to suppress that growing pool of chakra so it wouldn't be discovered until it was too late – especially if Akuma was still around. Until then – he'd hope that sick bastard who claimed to be his uncle didn't come up with anymore 'missions' to help reseed the Hatake clan.

Wolf frowned. He'd need to find out where those women were sent before he could truly be done with this nightmare. With luck, once he'd finished killing Kurogane and Akuma, Boudachi would supply him the details willingly. But one way or another – he would get the answers he needed.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:53 pm

chapter 10 - part 2

Shikamaru knew time was starting to run out. They had encountered or avoided four patrols since entering into what the Raikage deemed 'Hatake lands,' and it would only be a matter of time before the one patrol they'd had to eliminate would be noticed missing. He motioned for the others to stop and remain still when a flash of white up ahead caught his eye. Was it just the sun playing with his head?

Raidou moved to his side. “Shikamaru – tell me you saw what I just saw.”

Shikamaru scratched at the back of his head. “I suppose that might be easier if I was a Yamanaka. But I don't read minds, Raidou.”

The older jonin chuckled. “Fair enough. I'm pretty sure I just saw one of the retrieval team up ahead. Permission to scout forward and make contact if right?”

A single nod from Shikamaru's head sent the scar-faced man on his way. One more signal from Shikamaru's hand and Neji joined his fellow jonin, while the rest of them blended into their surroundings in the hopes of remaining undiscovered. Although the possibility of meeting up with the retrieval team was covered in his many plans, Shikamaru honestly hadn't thought it would happen. He sighed to himself. Perhaps this won't be as troublesome as he'd first feared.

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Raidou knew Shikamaru would send Neji to back him up – it had been one of many plans the two discussed over the course of the past weeks' travel. The fact Shikamaru planned for every eventuality sometimes annoyed Raidou – but in this case, he found it strangely comforting. He stopped on a branch and waited for Neji to catch up. At a silent hand signal the Hyuga lad activated his Byakugan and scanned the area in front of him.

“There are three – no – four ANBU scattered in front of us. The nearest is one hundred meters straight ahead.”

Raidou nodded. “You wait here and keep watch on me. If anything turns sour head straight back to Shikamaru and let him know.”

Neji frowned. “You think it could be a trap?”

Raidou shrugged and scratched at his burn scar. “It wouldn't be the first time I'd seen the enemy dressed as our ANBU.”

Neji nodded and remained where he was while Raidou moved swiftly through the trees. His heart beat loud in his own ears at the prospect that this could be a trap, but he pushed down that thought and continued forward. Trap or not – they needed to make sure – one way or another.

Raidou moved silently through the trees and was almost to where Neji had directed him when he stopped short – a kunai blade resting against his exposed throat. For a moment Raidou thought he was finished – until the blade was lowered and a slightly muffled voice hissed into his ear.

“Dammit, Raidou – I almost killed you! What the hell are you doing out here?”

Raidou relaxed at the voice and looked back over his shoulder. “And a pleasant good day to you too, Crow.”

The two men stepped apart and Raidou took a moment to signal back the 'all-clear' to Neji before addressing his roommate once more. “I take it this means you haven't found Kakashi yet?”

He saw Genma make his own hand sign and a moment later a second ANBU landed next to him. Raidou looked at the blank mask and blinked. “Since when do you take recruits on retrieval missions?”

Genma growled behind the mask. “We don't.”

The man wearing the blank mask moved it to the side and revealed who he was. Raidou raised his eyebrows. “Iruka-sensei? I would have sworn by the way you were moving that you were one of them.”

He watched Iruka's face redden at the compliment. “Ah – well I was bound to learn a few things working with Crow and the others.”

Raidou chuckled at that and looked over his shoulder toward where the others would be coming soon. “So what's the situation?”

Crow rubbed at the back of his neck in a very Genma-like manner – confirming even more that Raidou's guess at his identity was accurate. When the ANBU captain spoke it brought the situation fully back into focus.

“We know his location – and we have an idea of who is holding him – but we still lack information on how many of Lightning's forces are involved.”

Raidou nodded. “Fortunately for you, Shikamaru's leading our group. Turns out the kid's a whiz at strategy. He can supply you with everything you need.”

He caught a grin on Iruka's face at his obvious praise of one of his former students. Raidou met the teacher's gaze. “You and Asuma taught him well, Sensei.”

The others arrived and Crow and Shikamaru promptly moved off to another tree to converse about what they might do. Raidou settled back against the trunk of the tree and took a sip from his canteen, content to let the others map out the best strategy. A moment later, Iruka moved next to him.

“Raidou – I'm surprised to see you on Shikamaru's team.”

Raidou raised an eyebrow. “And why would that be, Iruka?”

The academy teacher scratched at the scar across his nose. “I always thought you preferred staying closer to the Village.”

Raidou smirked. “I would have thought the same about you, Sensei. But I have to admit – you seem to have taken to the role of ANBU surprisingly well.”

It was Iruka's turn to smirk. “Yeah – well Crow is an excellent teacher.”

Raidou resisted the urge to laugh. He'd be able to abuse Genma to no end about his teaching the teacher once they got back to Konoha. He was about to make a comment to that effect when Shikamaru and Crow returned.

Raidou focused on the two while Iruka slipped his mask back into place. Crow spoke for them both.

“We now know a basic layout of the Hatake compound. Or first issue of business is to get a hold of someone from inside the main house and find out where they're holding Wolf. I've sent Bear and Badger to do just that – so until then – we wait.”

There was no need to question the logic – after all, this was a plan agreed to by Genma and Shikamaru – two men Raidou now knew were the very best at strategies. He nodded agreement and moved off with the others to hole up until the two ANBU returned with additional information. With luck – they would be able to set a solid plan in action sooner rather than later.

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Akuma hated the Land of Lightning with a passion. If he could turn back time, he never would have agreed to take the job from Kurogane which kept him tied to the humid land. But he was getting closer to being freed from his formal contract. This latest job should have been enough to wipe away the final third of his debt – so all that remained was for him to receive the paperwork from Kurogane's aide and he just might be a free agent before the end of the week.

Of course it wasn't all bad...the jobs he was sent on for the self-proclaimed ruler of Lightning were always challenging. It's just Akuma never enjoyed owing his services for anything other than top dollar. How the hell Kurogane had managed to trick him into this ridiculous contract was still beyond him. He'd dream-scraped the man the night before meeting with him, and had found no deceit in his thoughts around that initial job. Of course – now that he'd been working for the man for over a year he was aware of certain abnormalities within his brain that likely masked his true intent from Akuma during that first dream-scrape.

He walked into the small house he'd set himself up in and toed his shoes off at the door. He rolled his neck and shoulders to work the kinks out of them and then settled onto the sofa in the living room. What worried him more at the moment was Kurogane's nephew – if he was to believe Boudachi's claims, that is.

That one was able to break his nightmare jutsu – something no one had ever done prior to this – and Akuma had a sneaking suspicion that the man would have figured a way past the cell-binding jutsu as well – if given enough time. Akuma stared up at the ceiling. There was something different about both Hatakes – and it did nothing to put him at ease. Akuma had come too far to let his lifestyle be controlled by such an unstable clan.

A knock on his door brought him out of his musings. He rose and crossed the room to pull open the door. Boudachi stood there looking more than a bit nervous. The two stared at each other for a moment before Akuma stepped aside and motioned the shorter man inside.

Akuma settled back onto his couch before addressing the visitor. “I trust you've come to bring me the final paperwork, Boudachi?”

The aide took a slow, deep breath. Akuma knew that look – and frowned when the man started speaking. “About that, Akuma...Lord Kurogane has decided there is one last job that you need to perform before he'll sign off on your debt.”

Akuma balled his hands into fists and narrowed his gaze. “You have got to be kidding...what the hell does this madman think he can do? Extend the service contract indefinitely?”

Boudachi tipped his head to one side and gave him his usual blank stare. “I know better than to guess at Lord Kurogane's intentions, Akuma. But if it makes you feel any better – I managed to get him to sign a presumptive release form for your benefit.”

The aide held a slim scroll out to him. Akuma narrowed his eyes and grabbed the document. He turned his gaze to the characters and slowly smiled. This paper was exactly what he needed. It stated in black and white that the completion of the task set to him today would officially act as the final criteria for meeting his current contract. Kurogane had even signed and dated it. Akuma rolled the document back up and slipped it into his pouch.

“Very well, Boudachi. What does he want this time?”

Boudachi sighed and pulled a second scroll out of his pocket. He walked to the edge of the low table in front of the couch and set the scroll on top. It was sealed with Kurogane's personal seal – and meant to be opened only by Akuma.

“He wants you to complete the task listed within the next two weeks. Once finished – your contract is met in full.”

Akuma's eyes shifted to take a closer look at the scroll – he knew once he'd broken the seal there would be no going back. Sighing he lifted the scroll and sent a trickle of his chakra into the seal. Once it recognized him, the seal disappeared and he unrolled the parchment, careful to keep it from the aide's view. It was a list of twelve people within Lightning that Kurogane wanted eliminated. Akuma scanned the names and he cursed under his breath. He should have known the bastard would find a way to make this difficult. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, pushing it neatly behind one ear, then rolled the scroll back up.

“Tell your master I accept the challenge.”

Boudachi nodded and moved toward the door to pull his shoes back on. Akuma briefly wondered if the aide already knew his name was listed as the last one needing to be eliminated. He watched the man leave his house and smiled. As jobs went – this one, at least, proved to be interesting.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:55 pm

Chapter 11 - part 1: The Best Laid Plans

Wolf had spent half the day struggling to keep the small amount of chakra he'd managed to siphon past the collar from being detected. His body and mind were still recovering from the after effects of his ordeal, and the less than stellar healing he'd received along the way, so it took all of his concentration to perform the task. When he felt a handful of his hair grasped and his head slammed forcefully into the wall, he was surprised to say the least.

“Who the hell do you think you are, Kakashi Hatake? Hmmm?”

Kurogane's hot breath blew past Wolf's nose and, for a moment, he thought the madman had figured out what he was doing. But the next words from his mouth removed that thought.

“What is so special about you that your Hokage would send not one – but two teams to find your sorry ass?”

The man tightened his grip on Wolf's hair, eliciting a growl from his lips. His mind raced. The Hokage sent teams after him? Why? He'd been gone too long...she should have followed protocol and declared him dead.

Wolf pushed words through his teeth at the same time he used his arms and feet to remove Kurogane's grip from his hair and kick himself free. “She wouldn't.”

The chain attached to Wolf's collar predictably began to lift toward the ceiling while Kurogane struggled to stop himself from hurtling across the room. Wolf lifted his left hand up to that chain and, after forming the most basic of hand signs...one he'd learned back in his Academy days... released the chakra he'd hoarded. The energy danced along his fingertips and formed a small chakra blade which he deftly used to sever the connection between the collar and the chain.

Wolf's hopes that the chakra dampening properties of the collar came from the chain disappeared when he felt no change in his reserves, but that didn't stop him from taking advantage of the situation he'd created. He dove past his uncle and ran at top speed out of the room – fighting back the urge to take the time to kill Kurogane. He'd come back to do that job once he'd recovered his full chakra – right now he needed to escape.

His mind went back to his journey from the ship, and he mentally replayed the steps until he could reverse them and map out his escape route. He knew he was seven doors away from the courtyard – and then from there he'd need to find a way out of the village. But first he needed to get the hell out of the building.

Wolf vaguely heard Kurogane's roar of anger behind him, but he pushed it out of his mind and moved his feet faster – wishing he'd had a chance to store up a bit more chakra before he'd made his move. But he hadn't – so there was none to spare to speed his flight. He had to depend only on his natural strengths.

His bare feet slapped against the wooden floors of the dark hallway and he'd counted three doors before the first group of guards was encountered. Wolf didn't bother slowing down – and used his momentum to bowl over the first two men before ducking under the kunai of the third man and grabbing the fourth man to use as a human shield against the final guard's drawn katana. The sound of the blade plunging into his 'shield' was pushed from Wolf's mind in an instant, as he calculated the exact duck and spin combination he needed to perform to leave the clutch of wounded guards behind. It would have been easier with his sharingan uncovered, but the patch made that a moot point – and besides – he wasn't considered a genius for nothing.

Wolf executed that combination with a skill born of hundreds of such moves, and soon he was charging once more toward his freedom. The fourth door sailed by, and the fifth was nearly reached when he felt a gathering of far too familiar chakra from the hallway behind him. The hairs on the back of his neck raised as his only warning of what was to come, and he threw himself down onto the floor just as a bolt of blue-white chakra sailed through the group of guards behind him and continued through where he'd just been standing.

“Shit!” This changed things. He knew Kurogane was insane...but for the man to unleash a lightning jutsu of that level in the confines of the hallway...through his own men... “Shit!”

Wolf didn't wait for the smoke or screams to end before he scampered back to his feet and continued his escape. He'd dealt with this type of insanity before...and things never ended well. He made it past the fifth and sixth doors before another group attempted to stop him. Wolf growled and readied himself for another physical combat, but this time the guards were more prepared.

While the first two threw their shurikens in his direction, causing him to dodge and twist in an attempt to keep the damage to a minimum, the next two performed a series of hand signs which he was unable to watch fully because of the physical attack. When the first man released his jutsu Wolf watched through narrowed eyes while the floor was coated in a slick substance. Without any extra chakra to channel into his feet, he was at the mercy of physics when his feet slipped under him. Wolf tried to use the action in his favor by diving toward the waiting shinobi, hoping to knock them off their feet, but that was when the second man's jutsu was released. Wolf was caught in a chakra net that constricted around his body from one breath to the next. He skidded beyond the seventh door before coming to an ungraceful stop at the entrance to the courtyard. He saw the rain falling just beyond the entrance and cursed his luck.

Wolf didn't waste any additional time feeling sorry for himself. He'd seen an opportunity and grabbed it. It wasn't his first failed escape attempt – and with luck it wouldn't be his last. What concerned him more at the moment was the palpable wave of killing intent that wafted through the hallway. He hadn't felt anything this extreme since facing down three S-classed felons out for his blood ten years ago. He still bore a ragged scar across his back from that encounter.

Wolf twisted in his bindings until he was facing where Kurogane stormed toward him, the man's hands alight with the familiar glow of lightning-based chakra. He braced himself for what was likely to be a killing blow, and placed a small smile on his lips...at least the bastard wouldn't be able to use him as a breeder any longer.

Kurogane's palm slammed into Wolf's chest and released a burst of electricity at the contact. Wolf's muscles tensed and his back arched – as much as his restraints would allow – before a scream tore from his throat, his eyes rolled back in his head, and the world faded to black.

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Boudachi never in a million years would have thought his report from their contacts in the Raikage's office to Lord Kurogane would have ended this way. He walked into the main house from the courtyard, shaking the rain from his cloak, and gaped at the mess. There were bodies scattered throughout the hall and the floor near the entrance was covered in a thick grayish substance. Kakashi was on that floor, covered in some type of net, and had Lord Kurogane standing over his unmoving body. Kurogane's hand was aglow in the crackling blue-white light that Boudachi knew was the man's chakra – and the look in his eyes as he lifted that hand into the air for another strike made Boudachi's blood run cold. He stepped into the hallway and moved as close to his employer as he felt was safe.

“Lord Kurogane – I don't think there's any chance of Kakashi escaping now.”

He tried to keep his voice calm and soothing, but the silver-haired man ignored him as he bent down and slammed his palm into the prisoner's chest. Kakashi's body jerked violently while the blue-white energy raced along his body. After countless moments, Kurogane's hand still hadn't moved from the younger man's chest. Boudachi furrowed his brow. If this kept up much longer he doubted Kakashi would live.

Boudachi moved another step closer and Kurogane tipped his head toward him – a wild look was in the man's gray eyes. “My Lord – if you keep this up your plans for reviving the Hatake Clan will never be successful.”

Kurogane's lips stretched into a mockery of a smile. “Those plans have already been successful – he's not needed anymore.”

Boudachi's eyes went wide at the logic. He felt his heart race as he tried to find the words to stop the violent attack on Kakashi. “Lord Kurogane, although the woman have conceived, there's no guarantee yet that the fetuses will be viable.”

Kurogane's smile switched to a frown and a look of doubt crossed the man's eyes. Boudachi sighed in relief when the man's hand was removed from Kakashi's chest and the blue-white light faded away. Kurogane stood up to his full height and stared hard at Boudachi.

“Explain yourself, Boudachi.”

“Your method of impregnating the 'volunteers' is untested, my Lord. We can't be sure the pregnancies will go full term yet. In fact, two of the women have already gone into the first signs of distress. Your medics believe they will miscarry by week's end.”

Kurogane's eyes went wide and his breath caught in his throat. “Why – why would that happen?”

Boudachi closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was about to walk a very fine line and he needed to make sure he worded this just right. “Lord Kurogane, the medic's feel that it may have to do with the cocktail of drugs used to...motivate...your nephew.”

He waited for the man's angry response – expecting to be struck down. When there was no hit or comment, Boudachi warily opened his eyes and was shocked by what he saw. Kurogane was on his knees with Kakashi's still, unmoving form in his arms, rocking back and forth and stroking the younger man's hair. Tears were flowing down Kurogane's face when he turned his head toward the guards who were still standing at the ready.

“Undo the jutsu – let him loose, dammit.”

The guards looked at each other briefly before they both released their jutsus – eliminating the mess on the floor, and causing the chakra net surrounding Kakashi to vanish into thin air. The young man's arms – no longer pinned to his body – went slack and hit the floor with a thump. It was the only movement the body made.

Kurogane shook the young man gently. “Wake up, Kashi. Come on – wake up...please...I'm not mad at you anymore.”

Still – there was no response from the Copy-ninja. Kurogane's voice grew louder and his fear was clear in his tone while he shook the body with more force – causing the silver-haired head in his arms to roll from side to side. “WAKE UP!”

A low groan was heard escaping Kakashi's mouth. Boudachi sighed in relief at the sound. He hated to think of what might have happened if he hadn't returned when he did. Kurogane turned toward him with a glare.

“Why the hell didn't you tell me about the women sooner, hmmm?”

Boudachi somehow knew the man would try to blame him for the botched plan – but he was used to that by now. “The medics only found out about the problems this morning, Lord Kurogane. I told you as soon as I found out.”

It looked as though Kurogane was about to curse him out, when more groans from Kakashi stole the man's attention away. Boudachi frowned as the elder Hatake spoke to his nephew in a scolding tone.

“Now don't you ever do that again, Kashi. You scared me half to death.” Kurogane pulled Kakashi into his arms, stood and headed back down the hall. “I don't know what I would have done if you left me, nephew.”

Boudachi sighed and followed after his employer. If he was extremely lucky, he would be allowed to help settle Kakashi back into the room and would have the opportunity to remove the strip of metal in the collar before anyone else could find it.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:56 pm

chapter 11 - part 2

Badger and Bear returned barely an hour after they'd gone with news that they'd managed to catch one of the main house's cleaning staff. They were able to get the detailed whereabouts of the room Kakashi was being held in – plus a better understanding of the situation inside.

Now, as Badger watched Crow discussing the information with Shikamaru, he couldn't help but feel a spark of pride. His only son was growing into one hell of a leader. Bear elbowed him to get his attention.

“You know, Badger, if I didn't know you better, I'd swear you were actually pleased with how that son of yours is turning out.”

“Humph. And if I didn't know better, I'd swear you were impressed with what my kid can do.”

Bear snorted, but didn't disagree. Badger smiled behind his mask and then stepped forward to listen to his boy in action.

“Kakashi-sensei's escape attempt couldn't have been at a worse time. Because of it – it will be bothersome to get to him – and probably even more troublesome to get him back out again.” Shikamaru scratched at the back of his head. “Add to that the fact that he is likely injured and the task is harder still.”

Badger frowned behind his mask. Was his boy trying to talk them out of the rescue attempt?

Shikamaru's sigh regained his attention. “Still – we have an advantage in the strength of our teams and that it seems Kurogane is only aware of two out of three of those teams. We can use this to our advantage by blinding them to the actions of the third group.”

Crow nodded in agreement. “Teams Shikamaru and Gai will provide the distractions while we complete our objective. Bear – you're on infiltration detail with Rat as your protector.”

Crow turned his attention to Badger. “You and Lizard need to find a target for Bear that has better clearance than a cleaner and then act as point to get us in.”

Badger nodded once, and Crow continued.

“Mouse, Iruka-sensei – you're with me. Mouse and I will release Wolf and deal with any guards – while Sensei will assess Wolf's condition and prepare him for extraction.”

Crow's masked stare settled on Iruka-sensei. “Be prepared to sedate him if necessary.”

Badger saw a tremor run through the teacher's shoulders. “I'll be ready, Crow.”

Crow nodded and moved his attention to the final member of the Retrieval Team. “Locust, you are on clean up. If we fail to contact you on schedule, you know what to do.”

Bear shivered at that thought. He knew that was the real reason the Aburame was included on this team...they required his particular breed of bugs to be able to get in anywhere needed and eliminate all traces of any fallen ANBU. He truly hoped it wouldn't come to that. He didn't want his last memory of this world to be of Locust's bugs eating him alive.

Crow give him a subtle signal. Badger reached into one of the pouches at his waist and retrieved a spare communication set. He walked over to Shikamaru's side and wordlessly handed it to his boy. Crow explained, while Badger helped to adjust the barely visible contraption around Shikamaru's neck and ear.

“This set is tuned to a very specific wavelength which is keyed to the ANBU radios. Shikamaru – once we have acquired a target for Bear, you will have a count of twenty to start the distractions. Try to keep them away from the west entrance if you can. Once we've completed our mission you'll get the all clear from us or, upon our failure, Locust. At that point fall back to the rendezvous point.”

“Right.” The boy adjusted the radio once more, then caught Badger's gaze and held it for a moment before speaking, just loud enough for him to hear the words. “Try and stay alive old man. It would be bothersome to explain to mother why you didn't return.”

A small smile of recognition crept onto Shikamaru's face. Badger sighed. Sometimes it didn't pay to have a genius for a son.

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Two days into his 'final' task, and Akuma was beginning to realize there was absolutely no way to succeed in the mission. Three of the targets were out of the country – evidently on a tour of the Snow Country for another month. Two were in a high security prison – normally not an issue, but that prison was actually on the far side of Fire Country – and therefore several weeks away. Four more were consorts to the Raikage, while two more were members of the Raikage's personal guard. And of course the final mark was Kurogane's own aide, Boudachi. Logistically, there was no way for him to do this.

Akuma pulled the slim scroll out of his pocket once more and read the teasing words which promised his freedom only if he could perform an impossible task. He should have known that bastard, Kurogane, wouldn't let him off so easy. Obviously this was just another one of the crazy man's games. Akuma crumpled the useless document and tossed it into a garbage bin on his way to a local bar. He needed to think of his next moves and he figured that would be better done over a few bottles of sake.

He'd made it two blocks when a large explosion back toward the Hatake compound shook the ground. Curious despite himself, Akuma changed his direction and followed the steady stream of shinobi heading in that direction.

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Although Gai had wanted nothing less than to join the retrieval team in the glorious task of freeing his Eternal Rival from the villainous hands of his most unimaginably evil uncle, he saw the logic in his being on one of the teams sent to set off diversions. He wasn't the stealthiest of ninja on his best day – but one thing he was exceptionally good at was making a scene!

Gai and Lee were perched in the branches of one of the larger trees bordering the Hatake Compound, ignoring the driving rain around them, and he knew that Ten-ten and Neji were taking up similar positions across the road. The Nara lad was setting up their own positions a bit closer to then main complex. All that was left now was to wait for the signal from Badger and Bear.

Gai's mouth was set in a firm line – although on the inside he was eager for engagement – on the outside he would display nothing but his business face. Every muscle was tensed and ready to spring into action at preciously a twenty count from the time of the signal. Gai licked his lips in anticipation and held back the urge to smile. Gods – how he loved the build up of tension before a well-laid plan was put into action. He spared a quick glance at his team and felt a swell of pride at how focused each one of them was. They were the perfect picture of all that was right with their generation – and he was beyond honored to have been given the opportunity to help mold them into the excellent ninja they were today.

A series of three clicks was heard over his headset, and knowing that his team received the same signal, Gai began the task of counting to twenty...forcing himself to keep the count measured correctly and resisting the urge to rush it. At the count of fifteen he saw Ten-ten unroll the scroll she carried on her back and begin the hand signs needed to bring her impressive arsenal to bear. Meanwhile Neji had activated his Byakugan and was changing his stance so he could use his Trigram combinations for offense or defense as needed.

Gai's gaze shifted to Lee and saw the boy's young muscles tense in anticipation of the most wondrous battle they were about to embark on. Eighteen...nineteen...twenty...

An explosion rattled the tree they were perched in – thanks to the explosive mines from Ten-ten's scroll. Her aim – as always – was perfect, even with the rain, and in a matter of moments two dozen shinobi of chunin and jonin level were rushing into the area. Gai allowed a grin to spread across his lips – not one of his usual sunshine and happiness grins...no. This was a smile he reserved for battle – one that he knew could chill the blood of the enemy as he sped in for the kill.

At his signal, Team Gai launched themselves into the fray...making certain to draw the enemy as far from the main complex as possible – without looking like that was what they were doing. On days like this – Gai was deliriously glad to be a Leaf jonin!

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Raidou heard the signal over the headset and counted out for twenty beats – just as he was sure all the others members of this mission were doing. At twenty he moved into action and sent a series of kunai wrapped with explosive tags straight for the doorway of what they'd learned was the barracks for Kurogane's house guard. His aim was true – and his explosions were echoed by what he could only assume was Team Gai's own assault.

By the time the smoke cleared from his deliberately thrown kunai, the guards were streaming out of the building and into the courtyard. A small handful stayed behind and headed into the building instead of away from it – but they'd expected that. He concentrated on those that headed for where he was sitting in a tree and made a series of hand signs he'd learned as a boy from his father. When the last sign was completed he activated the earth jutsu which transformed the muddy ground at the base of the tree into a deep pit of sludge – trapping the majority of the approaching ninja in his quicksand.

Meanwhile, he heard the caws of Aoba's swarm of crows, followed by the screams of other ninja who had the misfortune of meeting up with Kotetsu's conch mace within that swarm or for the more unfortunate, meeting with Shikamaru's deadly shadow sewing technique. It was obvious the other three members of Team Shikamaru had worked together before – and he found it oddly comforting that his own jutsu seemed to work itself seamlessly into their tried and true attacks.

At Shikamaru's signal, the entire team moved back to their first staging area – allowing their enemy a moment of false hope that they held the upper hand. In reality, this was simply a ploy to get those shinobi farther away from the west entrance so that Crow and his team would have a clear exit once they finished the extraction. Raidou pushed himself through the trees at a steady clip until he was at the staging area, and then he concentrated on the next series of planned attacks along with the rest of the team. He allowed the adrenaline of the situation to wrap him, and focused only on his part of the plan – confident the others were doing the same.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:57 pm

chapter 11 - part 3

Iruka kept close to Crow as they waited for Badger's signal signifying that Bear's transference jutsu was successful. It came far sooner then he expected, and he had to keep a startled gasp from escaping his lips when he heard the clicks come over his headset. He tried to calm his heartbeat down and remind himself that this was no different then the scenarios he taught back at the Academy – that he knew what needed to be done – but as they moved forward into the inner hallways of the compound, he was having a very hard time convincing his brain of that fact.

He, Crow, Mouse and Badger kept to the shadows, while the body Bear had taken over calmly walked down the hall toward where their informant had told them Kakashi was being held. The closer they got, the stranger things became – at least from Iruka's point of view. He noticed scorch marks on the walls – and what could only be blood stains on the floor. He swallowed back the worry that it might be Kakashi's blood and concentrated on the here and now. At a signal from Crow, Iruka pushed himself flat against the wall. A moment later he heard the distinct sound of explosions on the other side of the compound. His heart raced when he recognized this was it – this was really happening.

Doors throughout the hallway opened and a stream of shinobi ran out to see what was going on. Iruka's breath caught in his throat when Crow and the others flowed into action. None of the enemy ninja likely knew what was happening until it was too late...Crow's senbon found their marks flawlessly – the poison coating the needles ending the victim's lives before they hit the floor. Badger's shadow strangulation technique was similarly silent – although the victim's suffered a small bit longer. Mouse's katana was so skillfully wielded that organs were pierced in quick succession and his movements were frighteningly fluid – like a dancer's. In less then a minute, all opposition was erased.

Iruka's eyes went wide behind his mask. It wasn't that he'd never witnessed death before...after all he was a Leaf shinobi – and had taken lives himself during the many missions of his career. But this – this was different. This was not the act of taking a life during a combat mission...this was something more...this was where every movement was made with the explicit purpose of ending a life...this – this was ANBU.

Now Iruka understood why the masks were so important to the ANBU members. If anyone back in the village knew what it meant to be ANBU they would never be able to look these people in the eye again without fearing what they were capable of. Hell – he was starting to wonder if he'd be able to look these people in the eye again when this mission was finished.

Crow's concerned voice brought him back to the present. “Iruka – are you injured?”

Iruka blinked. Crow was worried about him being injured? He resisted the urge to laugh hysterically and whispered his response to the team leader.

“No, Crow – I'm fine. That was just more...intense...then I was prepared for. It won't happen again.”

“Good.” He signaled for the group to move out.

Iruka followed the others until they reached the door their informant marked as Kakashi's room. He held his breath while the others took up position. In Iruka's mind, he went over all the various possibilities. Kakashi might no longer be held here – he could have been moved after his escape attempt. He could be inside but in no shape to travel...hell – he could even be dead. Iruka pushed that last thought out of his head...no...he refused to go there.

Crow motioned for the body Bear was using to go first. The door was opened and the borrowed body walked through – and promptly gave the all clear. Crow signaled for Badger and Mouse to move in and then motioned for Iruka to follow him through the door. Iruka swallowed the lump in his throat and moved into the room – unsure what he'd see.

Crow and Mouse were already working at the chains that were holding Kakashi in place on the bed, while Badger was standing next to the borrowed body as though waiting for something to happen. A moment later the body blinked in confusion and Badger moved into action, sending his shadow up the man's body to end his life with practiced ease. Iruka held back a shiver and returned his focus to Kakashi.

“Iruka – check him over.” Crow's voice sounded strained.

He moved toward the bed and saw what caused Crow's concern. Kakashi's right arm looked like it had recently been broken and was patched together by a genin with little or no medical training. He had cuts and bruising over much of his body, and his skin smelled like he'd been hit by lightning. Iruka looked up toward Kakashi's face and noticed how pale the man was. His entire face was the shade of pale cream.

Iruka blinked. His entire face? He blinked again and stretched one hand up to set along the bare skin of Kakashi's jawline. Holy crap...they took his mask? He took a closer look at the Copy-ninja's face – trying to figure out why on earth Kakashi needed to cover it up.

“Iruka – did you find something wrong?” Mouse's voice in his ear caused Iruka to blush with the realization he was being distracted from his job. He tried to cover it up.

“I was just trying to figure out what they put on his eye.” He relaxed slightly when Mouse's attention moved to the patch over Kakashi's sharingan.

“Looks like a chakra seal. Shouldn't be to difficult to remove once we've gotten home.” Mouse chuckled. “Sure that's all you were looking at, Sensei?”

Iruka felt the heat rise in his face again and was glad he chose to keep his mask on. He tried to change the topic once more. “Can you get this collar off of him? I can treat these contusions better without it.”

Mouse moved his attention to the collar. “Hmmm...can you hold him up in a sitting position?”

Iruka nodded and lifted Kakashi toward him until Mouse had a better view of the collar's latch. “Crow – let me borrow one of your senbon...preferably not one with poison.”

Crow supplied the requested needle and watched while Mouse worked at the latch. Meanwhile Iruka concentrated on the man leaning into his body. Kakashi's breathing was still steady...making no change at all with the switch in position. So at least he could rule out broken ribs.

There was a slight click behind Kakashi's neck and the metal collar was lifted away by Mouse. They lowered Kakashi back to the bed and Iruka quickly took the opportunity to apply a salve to the angry bruising and scrapes circling his neck. He was about to place more on the injured skin when Kakashi's hand darted out and grabbed his wrist. Iruka's eyes went wide as he stared into Kakashi's dark gray eye. When the man spoke it sounded raw – but the words were clear.

“Stop wasting time...they're watching us.”

Mouse leaned in. “Where?”

“Upper floor looks into this room. Don't know why they haven't come already.”

Crow moved in. “Not complaining about that, Wolf.” He turned to Iruka. “Is he okay to move?”

“I think so – but that arm really needs to be treated soon.”

Kakashi growled. “It can wait.”

Crow chuckled. “Right, boss. Let's get the hell out of here.”

They helped Kakashi stand up and quickly found he was too unstable to manage more than few steps on his own. Iruka and Badger took up positions on either side of Kakashi and draped the man's arms over their shoulders. Mouse and Crow drew their katanas and led the way into the hall. Iruka could only hope they'd meet no resistance on the way back out.

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Boudachi heard the explosions and knew what he needed to do. He headed straight for the observation room under the guise of wanting to keep a close eye on the prisoner. It wouldn't be the first time he'd gone there – so there shouldn't be any concern from the others manning the room. He opened the door and was met with the anxious stares from the two men watching over Kakashi.

“Boudachi! What the hell's going on out there? Are we under attack?” The younger of the two guards sounded genuinely concerned.

Boudachi smiled with what he hoped was a convincing expression. “No, no...nothing like that. Lord Kurogane's just giving another lesson, is all.”

The two men relaxed noticeably. They were well aware of their Lord's bent toward the extreme when it came to his 'lessons' and they promptly went back to the conversation that Boudachi must have interrupted.

“Anyhow, I'm telling you that I heard two patrols have gone missing.”

The second man yawned and scratched his chin. “Probably just hitting the bar is all. Happens all the time.”

Boudachi moved behind the men – a position he'd taken in the past to watch them work – and so he knew they'd think nothing of it now. He pulled the two syringes out of his pouch and paused for a moment, wondering if he should go through with this. Just when he was about to change his mind, fate stepped in.

The door to Kakashi's room opened and he watched one of the hall guards step in. The two observers leaned forward.

“Hey – isn't that Benriya? I thought his shift was over.”

The door opened again and four men in cloaks and white masks stepped in. “Oh potato!”

Before another word could be formed by either man, Boudachi stuck the needles into their necks and pushed the plungers until the liquid entered their bloodstreams and sent them into a deep sleep. He watched the strangers converge on Kakashi's bed and work to free him of the chains and collar and moved to take him away. Boudachi let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and then made his way out of the observation room. With luck, he'd be long gone before Lord Kurogane missed him.

He stepped into the hall and went the opposite way he figured the masked men would go. He worked his way back to his room, finished packing up his belongings, and made his way out the east entrance and into the streets toward the harbor. He'd had enough of playing aide to a lunatic. It was time for him to go back home.

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Kurogane was sitting in his study staring at the hands that had almost taken the life of his precious nephew. If Boudachi hadn't stopped him, there was every chance he would have killed the boy. He furrowed his brow and ran his hands through his hair. What the hell had he been thinking?

He took a slow, steady breath – trying to calm his racing heart – when he heard a series of explosions. He ran up to his window and peered outside. Smoke was coming from the north and south sides of the complex and he could hear the sounds of combat beyond the walls. Someone was trying to attack them!

Kurogane frowned – then crossed the room to where his katana was perched on its stand. He gripped the well worn hilt and moved to track down the intruders. He'd quickly put an end to whatever nonsense this was. He really didn't have time to waste on such things when he was busy trying to rebuild his clan, after all.

He thought for a moment about the placements of the smoke and realized where he needed to go...after all – the explosions were likely diversions – and he knew the east side of the compound was watched from the harbor...so that left only one place left for him to check.

Kurogane stepped into the courtyard at the west side of the building and called the closest jonin to join him. Just as he and a dozen of his shinobi took up position, a group of four masked figures stepped into the rain with his nephew held between two of them.

Kurogane leveled his katana at the group and frowned. “I believe you have something that belongs to me.”
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:58 pm

Chapter 12 - part 1: What Makes a Family

Iruka blinked his eyes and did a double-take at the scene in front of him. If he didn't have Kakashi firmly in hand, he would have sworn – at first glance – that the Leaf jonin was standing in front of him. Iruka blinked again. This had to be Kakashi's uncle – Kurogane Hatake. There was no mistaking the two men were related – it was obvious in everything from the shade of their hair, to the build of their bodies, to the color of their eyes...hell – even their jawline was the same – now that Iruka could see Kakashi's jaw to make the comparison.

He glanced over toward the Copy-ninja and saw the hatred in his gray eye. Kakashi's voice was pitched just for Iruka's ears.

“You're the medic here, correct?”

Iruka frowned. Evidently Kakashi didn't recognize him in the blank mask. “I am for this mission, Kakashi-sensei.”

Confusion clouded that eye for a moment but then it cleared again. “Do your job, medic.”

Iruka was at a loss. What the hell was Kakashi talking about? He watched the jonin narrow his eye and growl...at him!

“I need a soldier pill, blood pill, and chakra booster...NOW!”

Iruka's eyes went wide behind his mask. He whispered his response. “You're in no shape for that combination, Kaka...”

He was cut off by Badger's curt comment. “Do what he says, medic. Wolf knows what he can handle better then you do.”

Iruka wanted to argue, but he honestly didn't know what to say. He reluctantly reached a hand into one of his pouches and withdrew the requested pills, making sure no one else saw the movement. Then he shifted himself to make it look like he was readjusting his hold on Kakashi, while slipping the pills into the injured man's hand. Kakashi quickly popped them into his mouth, crushed them between his teeth and swallowed them dry. When Iruka felt Kakashi's muscles tense and almost vibrate, he knew the combination of pills was already at work. He hoped he hadn't made a mistake.

Kurogane's raised voice drew his attention back to the front of the group, where Crow and Mouse had taken up defensive stances – preventing Kakashi's uncle from coming any closer.

Kurogane was glaring at them all. “Do you really think you can keep me from what is mine?”

Iruka felt a tremor run through Kakashi – and he couldn't be certain if it was from the strong medications he'd just ingested or his uncle's words.

Crow's response was cold as ice. “He is a Leaf shinobi...he does not belong to you.”

Kurogane tipped his head back and laughed hysterically. “You think my boy holds ties to Konoha? They vilified his father from what I heard. Who does he have there to call family...hmm?”

A low growl came from Kakashi's throat and Iruka felt his own blood boiling at those words. Before he could stop himself, Iruka released his hold on Kakashi and stepped in between Crow and Mouse to stare down Kurogane. His fists were clenched tightly and he knew his face was flushed a bright red behind his mask. His anger showed clearly through his words.

“How dare you! What do you know about ties? Do you think blood is the only way to determine family bonds?”

Kurogane's expression became one of amusement as he locked gazes with Iruka. “So – are you challenging me to the right to call Kakashi family?”

A warning hand on Iruka's wrist kept him from saying what was on the tip of his tongue. Instead he took a few steps back – not quite believing he just did that – and allowed Crow to take over the conversation.

“There is no need to challenge when the person in question can answer for himself.”

Kurogane's eyes narrowed and his gaze shifted to where Kakashi was still being held up by Badger. “Very well. Tell them, boy, that you belong here – with me and our family.”

Iruka turned toward Kakashi and saw such a look of pure rage in the man's visible eye, and felt so much killing intent rolling off him, that Iruka let out a gasp before he could stop himself. And if he thought Kakashi had growled before, he wasn't sure how he'd describe the sound that came from the Copy-ninja's throat now.

When Kakashi spoke, his words were colored with the acid of hate. “I would rather die then ever be with you or anyone you count as family.”

When the last word left his mouth, Kakashi pushed away from Badger and his hands flew into a series of hand-signs that anyone from Konoha recognized immediately – although admittedly they were being made much slower than normal. When the familiar sound of one thousand birds chirping filled the air, Iruka stepped to the side and turned back to see the shocked expression on Kurogane's face. It occurred to Iruka that this was likely the first time the man had ever seen the Chidori – as it was Kakashi's own original technique. But then another thought crossed his mind – based on an overheard conversation during the Chunin Exams between Kakashi and Gai – without his sharingan, Kakashi would be unable to defend himself properly during his head-on assault.

From the corner of his eye, Iruka watched Kakashi take his first step toward Kurogane, and knew what he needed to do. He retrieved a handful of shuriken from his pouch and sent them sailing at Kurogane in the hopes of distracting the man. With luck, this would give Kakashi the chance he needed to reach his goal.

Everything seemed to happen at once – and strangely enough, almost moved in slow-motion before Iruka's eyes. Blue chakra danced along the Copy-ninja's left arm – concentrating around his curled fingers. The shuriken from Iruka's hands floated through the air toward Kurogane's body. The Lightning jonin surrounding the elder Hatake sprang forward to defend their leader, while the ANBU moved to intercept them. Kurogane's sword moved into a position for defense. There was the sound of metal on metal throughout the courtyard as katana met kunai and shuriken. The ethereal chirping from the Chidori punctuated the other sounds, as Kakashi sped to cross the distance between himself and Kurogane. Thunder and lightning crashed throughout the sky – adding another chaotic layer to the battle, and the steady rain became a torrential downpour just at the moment of impact between Kakashi and his uncle...hiding the results of the attack from everyone within the courtyard.

Iruka's field of vision was limited to what he could see through the eye holes of the mask, and the addition of the sheets of rain took even that visibility from him. He grabbed hold of the wet porcelain and pulled it off...just in time to see one of the enemy's katanas arcing toward him. He used the mask to divert the attack. The sound of steel meeting porcelain seemed out of place in Iruka's mind and was almost enough to distract him from the shooting pain as the ninja's blade was deflected into Iruka's thigh. He bit back the scream that clawed at his throat, thankful he'd avoided having the blade strike his head, and forced his body into one of the basic tai-jutsu defenses he taught countless students over the years. Iruka concentrated a bit of his chakra into the palm of his hand and used the fact that the enemy's blade was still stuck in his thigh to enable him to deliver a solid thrust into the attacker's jaw. Although not as powerful as Gai's attack would have been...it was enough to loosen the attacker's grip on the katana and send him sliding across the muddy ground.

Iruka pulled the blade free just as the man found his footing and headed back at him. Trusting to instincts he'd honed over the past weeks traveling with the ANBU, he blocked the driving rain from his mind and twisted the borrowed blade in his hand until the hilt was positioned against his uninjured thigh. He wrapped both hands tightly around that hilt and thrust it forcefully up and through the oncoming Lightning shinobi's chest. The shocked look in the man's eyes faded as his life slipped away with the falling rain.

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Badger knew Wolf would be in bad shape when they found him...physically...but he hadn't expected him to be Wolf. Everything about the younger man screamed of what he'd been in his ANBU days – from the look in his steely-gray eye, to the way he carried himself, to the method of speech he'd used to address Iruka-sensei – it was all exactly as Badger remembered from the last time the man had been his captain.

Back then, Wolf was thoroughly ensconced in the life of the ANBU. Unlike himself and Bear – who each had families to go back to between missions to use as an anchor for their sanity – Kakashi Hatake was Wolf twenty-four hours a day. That young man never allowed himself to be anything but ANBU.

When Kakashi had finally left that group, Badger was secretly glad for it. But it wasn't easy for the young man to acclimate himself back into being a regular member of Konoha's shinobi force. He'd slip into periods where he'd think he was still on one mission or another...becoming a danger to himself and the citizens of Konoha...until he was brought back to himself by treatments from Ibiki or one of Bear's family.

When he'd learned Kakashi was taking students, Badger was sure it meant the man was mentally healed. But he also had to admit he was relieved when Shikamaru was assigned to Asuma and not Kakashi. Still, he felt something close to sadness when he saw the confusion on Wolf's face when Iruka called him Kakashi-sensei. If Wolf's persona was truly back in place, it was going to take far more than physical healing to bring Kakashi Hatake back home.

Badger watched Wolf move into action – activating his Chidori and running headlong toward Kurogane. He knew his role was to keep the others from impeding his Captain's moves – so with practiced skill – Badger sent his shadows dancing across the courtyard, keeping the nearest Lightning jonins from moving any closer to Kurogane's aide. He had to admit – it was very easy to fall back into the comfortable routine of fighting side by side with Wolf.

Iruka's pained cry a close distance from him pulled him out of his reverie. The rain was coming down so hard now that Badger could barely make out the silhouette of one of the enemy being pushed back from the school-teacher, and then saw that enemy regain his stance and move back in for the kill. Badger furrowed his brow. This could be troublesome. They needed Iruka to help get Wolf in good enough shape for the journey back...especially once he came down from the combination of field pills he'd just taken. He couldn't allow the enemy to take the teacher's life.

Badger made quick work of killing his current victims and then recalled his shadows to do his bidding. But in that short time, he saw Iruka pull loose the katana from his leg and position it for attack. Badger knew from countless encounters that the teacher's angle was not quite right to ensure the death of his attacker – but still – considering Iruka wasn't used to this type of battle, it was an impressive attempt. Badger moved his shadow quickly toward Iruka's attacker and managed to divert the jonin's lunge just enough to allow the teacher's blade to become deadly instead of simply damaging. He moved toward the young teacher and spent the rest of the battle ensuring no other enemy got close enough to wound Iruka any more.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:59 pm

chapter 12 - part 2

Wolf propelled himself across the muddy grounds aiming for his target. His mind briefly registered the others on his team moving into positions where they could keep his passage clear...even the unknown newbie was lending a hand. He'd have to ask Crow what the hell he was thinking bringing in a new recruit for this mission – but it would have to wait. Right now – all that mattered was putting an end to his uncle's life. Only then would he be free.

The feel of the Chidori as it danced across his palm felt oddly comforting amidst the chaos – even though he'd had to create it in his left hand. This, along with the absence of his sharingan eye, would likely reduce his accuracy with the move – but he was willing to take that chance. One hit with the Chidori – even if it was only a glancing blow – would be enough to distract Kurogane until Wolf could end his life.

A bolt of lightning lit the sky and the resounding crash of thunder on its heels added a counterpoint to the chirping of his Chidori. Wolf barely noticed the steady rain change over to a torrential downpour – his mind and his eye were set on only Kurogane's body. His focus was narrowed to the section of the man's chest where his heart would be located. Wolf closed the distance between them before Kurogane had the chance to move his blade over to block his approach, and Wolf lifted his left hand to position himself for that blow.

Another flash of lightning and crash of thunder occurred at the exact moment Wolf's hand struck flesh – temporarily deafening and blinding him in the act. He felt his fist push through bone and muscle, and knew his hit had been true when the body fell toward him – bringing his surge forward to an end. Wolf blinked his eye rapidly in an attempt to verify his kill, even as he wrenched himself free of the dead weight.

His ears cleared first – and the sound of Kurogane's laughter in the rain from somewhere in front of him gave Wolf a clear understanding that he'd missed his target even before his vision finally cleared. Wolf saw the body of one of Kurogane's followers on the ground – a fist-sized hole marking the path of his Chidori. Then he saw the next flash of lightning reflect off his uncle's blade as the man aimed straight for Wolf's neck. Instincts took over and Wolf dropped to the ground and rolled away from the deadly steel, narrowly escaping its length and causing his still healing right arm to protest. Without wasting the time to look back toward that failed attempt ,Wolf pushed himself back up to standing and launched at his uncle before he had a chance to make another strike. Kurogane, however, was not so easily taken down and jumped out of the way before Wolf could reach him.

His uncle's voice sounded amused. “I take it this is your way of answering my question, nephew?”

Wolf didn't bother wasting his energy on responding. He watched the older man land steady on the rain-soaked ground. Their eyes met, and the hatred in his own gaze was met by a matching intensity from his uncle. Wolf's hair hung in a wet sheet across his brow, but he paid little attention to it. All his senses were focused on his target. He noted how the katana was balanced in the man's hand with practiced ease – as though it was an extension of his arm. He saw the way Kurogane's eyes stayed locked with his, yet the man's muscles tensed in a way that showed he was very aware of everything going on around him – much as Wolf was.

Wolf growled and pushed the comparison out of his mind. This man in front of him was what stood between him and Konoha – the only place he knew as home – the only place he belonged. Whoever that ANBU recruit was – he at least had that right. Konoha was his home – and no one would take that from him – no matter how much he looked like White Fang.

He launched himself at Kurogane, intent on knocking the man to the ground with a series of kicks, thrusts and throws learned from years of tai-jutsu training and missions – but every move was flawlessly countered with blade, arm and leg, surely making their battle look like a choreographed scene out of an Icha Icha movie.

Where the hell did that thought come from?

Wolf pushed himself away from Kurogane and shook his head to clear it. This wasn't good. For his mind to slip in such a way during battle meant the boost from the pills was about to end. He needed to finish this...now.

Wolf pooled his remaining chakra for one last strike – sparing just enough to keep sure-footed on the muddy ground. He launched himself straight for the man. Kurogane lifted his blade in a defensive stance – but that steel melted when it connected with the raw power of Wolf's Chidori – and did nothing to slow the end result. Wolf felt his hand pierce through Kurogane's body, and locked eyes with the man who'd claimed to be his family. He watched a series of emotions flicker across those eyes that were so much like his own – first shock at being hit, then anger that it had succeeded, then finally acceptance – and perhaps even a touch of pride. His final words were forced through lips already coating with blood.

“So you are your father's son after all.” A frown settled on those bloody lips and as the life left him, the icy gray eyes glazed over in death's grip.

Wolf fell to the ground under the sudden weight of the man – the last of the chakra and stamina provided by the medic's pills seeping out of him. He lay there for a moment gasping for a full breath before finally pulling his hand free of his uncle's carcass. He felt, more than saw, the enemy approach him from the side, and just as they would have surely ended his life, Wolf wrested the broken blade of Kurogane's katana from his death grip and forced it through the neck of his attacker.

A moment later and Wolf noticed the ANBU forces taking up points around him to keep any further attacks from reaching him. While the darkness of unconsciousness pulled at his senses one thought crossed Wolf's mind...he'd trained them well.

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Akuma reached the Hatake Compound and found three distinct pockets of fighting. The first two were obvious diversions – as he watched the groups of Leaf ninjas lead the Lightning guards farther and farther away from the main house. Although tempted to watch these battles to discover if some of the rumors he'd heard over the years of the Leaf techniques were true or not – Akuma instead moved stealthily toward the courtyard, where he heard the third pocket of fighting. He paused to use a jutsu meant to allow clear vision in the worst of conditions and when the rain became torrential, was glad he'd done so.

Lightning illuminated the battle, and Akuma watched in silence while the Lightning jonin were systematically eliminated by a group of three masked shinobi. He saw a fourth man off to the side holding a bloodied katana in one hand while trying to staunch the flow of blood from his thigh with his other hand. In the center of the whirling blades of the masked ninjas were two silver-haired opponents – one slightly taller and broader than the other. The skillful tai-jutsu movements marked which man was Kakashi Hatake long before he moved so the patch affixed to his eye could be seen. Meanwhile Kurogane's own skill was evident in how smoothly he countered every attack from his nephew. It was a beautiful sight to see – poetry in motion – with the slaughter going on around them – and the storm illuminating key points of the battle.

Akuma found himself mesmerized by the mens actions and almost missed the turning point of the battle. At first he thought it was a play of the light caused by the constant flashes throughout the clearing by the storm...but there was no doubt that a ball of blue-white chakra was concentrated on Kakashi's hand. Akuma smiled – he'd heard of the infamous Chidori...and hoped this would be worth watching. And if the holder of his leash lost his life in the meantime...who was he to complain?

He saw the younger of the two aim straight for Kurogane's chest and watched the elder Hatake bring his katana up to end the charge – but the white hot chakra at Kakashi's fist sliced through the cold steel of the blade and continued through Kurogane's body until the blue-white glow could be seen from the man's ruptured back. Akuma smiled and licked his lips. The Copy-ninja's signature jutsu was everything he'd heard of and then some. He watched his employer fall under that attack and for the first time since he'd walked into this country, Akuma felt free.

He had to hold back the urge to laugh and settled for a smile instead. Akuma pushed back into the shadows of the building and made his way to one of the doors leading inside. With the chaos still ensuing out here, this would be the perfect opportunity for him to retrieve some of the more valuable artifacts he knew Kurogane had acquired over the years – after all, he could look on this as his final payment for services rendered. He slipped through the entrance and moved swiftly through the halls, leaving the sounds of battle far behind.

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Bear came back to his body with a practiced ease – but even after all these years, it still left him a bit confused as to where he was. Rat's hand on his shoulder helped him focus on his surroundings, and with a slow breath he was battle-ready once more. He looked around him and saw Lizard keeping watch while Locust seemed inwardly focused. Bear turned to face the bug-handler.

“The first leg of the mission was a success – Wolf has been located. Crow and the others are working to release him now.”

Locust nodded. “Then countdown for conclusion starts now.”

Bear sighed. Locust was never terribly talkative – even within his mind – but his skill with 'clean-up' was undeniable. He settled back to wait – hoping Locust's skills would not need to be called into service.

The silent minutes dragged on – punctuated now and then by the sound of battle from the direction of the two diversionary teams. Bear furrowed his brow when ten minutes later they still hadn't received the all clear or a call for reinforcements. He saw Locust beginning to allow some of the flesh eating bugs to gather on his palms – readying them for their job should Crow fail to contact them within the next five minutes.

The rain continued to pour down on them – making the wait feel longer then it was. He watched Locust raise his arms to shoulder height and knew the time limit was about to expire. And as lightning crashed and the sounds of battle increased, Bear found his hand drifting toward his katana – readying himself to begin the retreat back to Konoha without the remainder of the ABU team.

Just when he figured Locust was going to signal to his beetles to proceed...a tired voice came over the radio. “Objective achieved. Regroup at rendezvous point Alpha-four.”

Bear released a breath he hadn't known he was holding, and he watched Locust slowly bring his arms back to his sides and recall his beetles back to him. He was about to signal for them to leave when another voice came over the headset. It sounded like Badger.

“Bear – be prepared for an immediate scan at the rendezvous...Wolf has returned.”

Bear silently cursed even as he responded. “What level?”

He could remember the last time Wolf's persona returned. It had taken him and Ibiki nearly three weeks to reestablish the balance in the jonin's mind. The two of them spent countless hours constructing barriers within Kakashi's mind to keep the ANBU urges safely locked away. Whatever the young man went through out here must have been intense to let Wolf loose again. All Bear could do was hope the barriers were only cracked – and not shattered entirely.

Badger's reply did nothing to calm his growing concern. “Full.”

Bear furrowed his brow and motioned for Locust to move out. The sooner they reached the rendezvous point, the sooner he would be able to set the complex wards he'd need to at least evaluate what state Kakashi's mind was in. Once that was known, the choices on how to proceed could be made.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 1:00 pm

chapter 12 - part 3

When the last Lightning jonin was dispatched, Crow took a moment to give the all-clear. By his count, it was just in time, too. He sighed and wiped his katana clean on the enemy's shirt before sheathing his blade. He moved forward to where he'd seen Wolf collapse.

Iruka was already at the man's side – a look of concern crossing his face. Crow joined him and concentrated on Wolf to see what might be causing such a reaction. His former captain's chest was rising and falling at an acceptable rate, and although covered in blood - he appeared to be bleeding from only a few superficial wounds himself. The only obvious trouble spot was the right arm - which now looked worse then it had before the retrieval – likely due to the fight with his uncle.

“Iruka-sensei, is he stable enough to travel?”

Before Iruka could reply, Crow heard the exchange on the headset between Bear and Badger. He noticed Iruka tense at the words. The Academy teacher turned toward him.

“Crow, what does he mean...'Wolf has returned?'”

Crow ran his fingers through his hair. “It means just that. For the time being – we need to address Kakashi as Wolf.”

Iruka frowned. “That explains why he didn't respond to being called sensei earlier. Is he going to be alright?”

Crow shrugged. “Won't know until Bear gets a chance to check him over. So can we move him?”

Iruka nodded and then moved to stand. Crow saw the grimace of pain cross the man's tanned face. He turned his attention to Iruka's badly slashed leg.

“Dammit Iruka – this is why I told you to stay out of the fight!”

Iruka flushed and avoided his gaze. “I'm sorry Crow – but that really wasn't an option.”

Crow sighed and reached into his pouch for a field dressing. He quickly and efficiently bound the wound and shook his head at the teacher. “You and I are going to need to talk about more than a few things when we get back to Konoha, Iruka. Until then, concentrate on keeping yourself and Wolf alive, okay?”

Iruka turned a shade darker – although whether it was from embarrassment or the fear of their talk was anyone's guess. “Alright Crow. I'll do my best.”

Crow sighed once more and bent down to pick Kakashi up off the ground. The rendezvous point was still quite a distance away, and they needed to get there before the pockets of remaining Lightning jonin got the idea of revenge into their heads. He slung the unresponsive Copy-ninja over his shoulder and motioned for Iruka to follow. With luck they'd avoid any further encounters until they'd met up with one of the other teams for backup.

He spared a look at the silver-headed man's face and smiled. At least they'd achieved the mission's goal – Kakashi Hatake was back in Konoha's arms. His smile switched to a frown. Okay – so technically Wolf was back...but hey – considering the alternatives – he wasn't complaining.

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Shikamaru heard the conversation over the headset and frowned at the conversation between his father and Bear. He wondered at its meaning. He'd figured out rather quickly that Wolf must be Kakashi-sensei's ANBU persona...but why were the others so apprehensive about that persona's return?

He sighed and signaled to the others to retreat to Alpha-four. He'd be able to puzzle out the rest on their way to the rendezvous point. Meanwhile he looked at his team to assess how they did. Kotetsu and Izumo were busily comparing notes on which attack combinations worked best and which still needed work. Shikamaru smiled at that. The two had been working on their combination attacks tirelessly since before Asuma-sensei's death, and he found it oddly reassuring that they were continuing to do so with him in the lead.

His gaze shifted to Raidou. The jonin seemed on edge – and Shikamaru wondered what might be causing it. Their part of the plan went flawlessly. All of the enemy had been effectively chased off or wiped out. Raidou's style of fighting and jutsus melded seamlessly with the rest of the team's established patterns – and the others in the group accepted the older man as one of them almost instantly. So what was concerning the man?

Never one to like an unsolved puzzle, Shikamaru moved to run alongside the jonin. “Is something bothering you, Raidou?”

The scarred face turned toward him and the man's eyes narrowed slightly. “How old are you, kid?”

Shikamaru frowned. Where the hell did that question come from? “Why?”

Raidou took a deep breath and shook his head. “You aren't old enough to remember then last time Kakashi's Wolf persona came out, are you?”

Shikamaru blinked. The last time? “So this isn't the first time this has happened?”

Raidou rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. “No – the last time was about twelve years ago.”

Shikamaru tried to think back on any conversations he'd heard over the years that might give him some insight – but he came up blank. “So what happened then that has you so spooked now?”

Raidou's gaze narrowed. “Forget everything you know about Kakashi Hatake, kid. Wolf and Kakashi are not the same – not by a long shot.”

Shikamaru frowned. He found Kakashi-sensei to be difficult to read at times, but overall the man exuded confidence, wisdom and danger. Would this Wolf persona really be that different? “What should we expect, Raidou?”

The older man seemed to contemplate before answering – another sure sign that he was spooked. “Don't expect the patience you saw back in Konoha. Wolf doesn't tolerate inexperience or idle chatter. He is one hundred percent mission focused – and when his mission is done, he's a bastard until the next one is assigned. His mind is not capable of the niceties of human interaction when he's like this...and he's just as likely to throw you across a room as he is to speak to you.”

Shikamaru shuddered at the thought. He'd seen what Kakashi was capable of during the battles with the Akatsuki members Hidan and Kakazu. The man seemed nearly as indestructible as those two enemies. He didn't want to think about what would happen if the man couldn't switch that battle instinct off. “Damn.”

Then a thought crossed Shikamaru's mind. “What will happen if Gai-sensei tries to challenge Kakashi when he's in Wolf mode?”

Raidou sighed. “Let's just say that even Gai isn't stupid enough to do that after what happened last time.”

Shikamaru raised his eyebrow. “What happened?”

Raidou shook his head. “I won't give you the details...let's just say Gai spent two months in a body-cast and leave it at that – okay?”

The conversation over...the two returned their focus to the trip to the rendezvous point. With luck, it wasn't as bad as his father's voice made it sound.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 1:02 pm

Chapter 13 - part 1: Loose Threads

Iruka sighed. The journey back to the Raikage's complex was slow – and they encountered a few small pockets of Hatake loyalists along the way – but thankfully it was nothing that couldn't be easily dealt with by the group of chunin and jonin sent to back up the Retrieval Squad. One more thing Iruka was thankful for was that Kakashi was still unconscious – especially after Bear's initial analysis of the man's mental health at the rendezvous point left everyone on edge. Ibiki's name had been mentioned more than once – and Crow went so far as to send one of his summons ahead to give the heads up to Konoha of what would be required upon their return. But that was still weeks away – and meanwhile, it was Iruka's job to make sure Kakashi's health didn't decline.

It was for just that reason that having Kakashi unconscious was for the best – after all, it kept the silver-haired man from using his badly healed arm more than he already had, and allowed Iruka the opportunity to better address some of the more serious injuries he'd discovered hidden under the layers of dirt and blood. Although Iruka never laid claim to having any type of truly advanced medical techniques, his knowledge of more than rudimentary field medicine was able to let him recognize that Kakashi's arm was reset very poorly. He could only hope that by the time they met up with Chuutetsu that there'd be something the medic could do to keep any permanent damage to a minimum until it could be addressed in Konoha.

Iruka settled his pack down next to where Rat and Lizard set Kakashi's stretcher and he went to kneel next to his patient. Halfway down, a pained hiss escaped from his lips when the skin pulled on his own injured thigh.

Rat turned his masked face in Iruka's direction. “Make sure you care for your own injuries as well, Sensei.”

Iruka felt the flush of embarrassment creep across his cheeks, and found himself wishing he still had the ANBU mask to cover his reactions. He forced a smile onto his face.

“I'll make sure to do that – right after I check on Kakashi.”

This time Lizard spoke up – the arms crossed in front of his body a sure sign that there was a frown hidden behind the mask. “You'll check it now, Iruka-sensei. Wolf won't mind waiting.”

Iruka felt himself turn redder and lowered his head to stare at his field pack. “Yes, Lizard – I see your point.”

Rat squatted in front of him. “I'll help you clean and dress it, Sensei.”

Iruka met the masked-man's eyes. “That's not necessary Rat. I can manage.”

The ANBU member tipped his head to one side. “It wasn't a request.”

Iruka sighed and moved himself into a better position for Rat to have access to the wound. The ANBU member's movements were quick and efficient – although none to gentle – and soon Iruka's leg was wrapped in clean bandages over a healing salve that was evidently a part of every ANBU's field pack. The non-scented ointment numbed the area and left a soothing coolness everywhere it was applied. Obviously this was one more reason so many ANBU over the years had been able to function and return to Konoha even with wounds that should have kept them from moving. Although Iruka could see the logic in such an ointment's use – he couldn't help but wonder how many permanent injuries could have been lessened, or avoided altogether, if the shinobi in question had felt a bit more of their pain.

Finished with the task, Rat stood to leave. Iruka's hand on his wrist made the ANBU pause and stare back down at him. Iruka smiled. “Thank you, Rat.”

The man shrugged and walked silently away. Iruka sighed once more at how strange his companions on this mission were, and then turned his full attention back to Kakashi. The man's breathing was shallow, but steady, and he didn't show any signs of a fever – which was a relief. His pallor seemed a bit paler than normal, but it could just be that Iruka wasn't quite used to seeing so much of Kakashi's skin when looking at his face. Iruka held one hand up in front of his eyes to visually cover the lower portion of his patient's face and had to admit he still wasn't sure if the skin tone was off or not.

He shifted his attention to the countless wounds scattered across the rest of the Copy-ninja's body. Iruka pulled a jar of ointment from his own pack that was identical to the one Rat used on his leg wound. Staring at the jar, Iruka frowned. He'd need to use it a bit more sparingly once Kakashi woke up so that he could get an accurate idea of how the wounds were healing.

Iruka dipped his fingertips into the jar and systematically worked his way from Kakashi's toes toward his head – taking the time to change bandages as needed along the way. He noted how – even unconscious – Kakashi was able to exude danger from his very pores. Iruka shivered at that thought. He doubted that when he was asleep that anyone would find him even remotely frightening.

With a smirk on his face from that thought, Iruka spread some of the ointment on the deep bruises circling Kakashi's neck. The smirk turned to a frown when he recognized the distinct pattern of those bruises – someone had tried to strangle the Copy-ninja. He continued to rub the salve into the angry skin when he felt the vice-like grip of fingers around his wrist. A startled gasp escaped his lips but he didn't try to pull away. Instead he shifted his focus to the now open gray eye glaring back at him.

Iruka watched that eye carefully – failing to see any recognition in its depths. He tried to place a soothing smile on his face, but at the first movement of his lips the grip on his wrist tightened painfully. Iruka's mind raced and he tried to push back the fear he was starting to feel at the thought of what Kakashi might do to him. After all, he obviously didn't remember who he was – and he'd just woken up to find him with his hands around his throat. This was definitely not good.

Kakashi's words confirmed Iruka's fears. “Who the hell are you?”

Iruka pushed down his worries and tried to remember everything Crow, Badger and Bear had told him since they'd retrieved Kakashi. “Forgive me, Wolf – I am the medic assigned to the Retrieval Squad. I was just tending to your injuries.”

“Where is your mask?”

Iruka swallowed. “It was damaged in the battle.”

Kakashi's eye narrowed – as though he were weighing the truth of Iruka's words. Finally – after what felt far too long – the grip on his wrist lessened and then released. Kakashi's arm fell back to his side and his eye closed. Iruka sighed in relief and he finished applying the ointment to the bruises. He felt Kakashi relax ever so slightly under his touch and figured that was a good sign – until he heard Kakashi speak once more.

“Get Crow.”

Iruka turned toward where he knew at least one of the ANBU was keeping an eye on him and motioned for Crow. A moment later and Crow was kneeling at his side.

“I take it he's awake?”

Before Iruka could respond, Kakashi's eye opened and he answered for himself. “Obviously.”

The ANBU mask was moved to the side and Crow slid a senbon between his lips. A smirk graced his lips. “How do you feel?”

Kakashi's glance shifted to catch Iruka's gaze. “The medic's skill is passable.”

Iruka frowned. Passable? He clenched his hands and resisted the urge to snap back at the rude comment – reminding himself that this was not the Kakashi he knew making the comment. It wasn't made any easier when Crow chuckled. Iruka shot the Squad Leader a death glare but it was ignored. Kakashi's next words snapped him out of his self-pitying moment.

“I need to go back – now.”

Iruka's mouth dropped open. And his words escaped before he had a chance to stop them. “Are you insane?!? We just got you out of there – and you want to go back?!?”

He saw Kakashi glare at him, although it was obvious his words were for Crow. “Since when do you bring a recruit on missions? Who the hell is this, Crow? And why is he speaking to me at all?”

“Yeah – about that, Wolf...” Crow's hand scratched at the back of his head. “This wasn't exactly a by the book extraction.”

Kakashi pushed himself up to sitting, although Iruka noticed he didn't use his right arm to do so. “Answer my questions Crow!”

Iruka flinched slightly at the harshness of Kakashi's tone – but Crow simply removed his senbon and returned the mask to its normal position. When he spoke, it was in the clipped business-like tone the teacher had come to relate to the ANBU side of Genma.

“He isn't a recruit, Wolf. He was assigned by the Hokage specifically for this mission. He doesn't understand the ANBU ways.”

Kakashi's glare shifted to Iruka once more and the venom in his voice made it all the more clear that this was Wolf's persona. “I won't ask you again, Crow.”

“This is Iruka Umino. Academy teacher – and the only shinobi available at the time with an understanding of advanced field medic techniques.”

Kakashi's glare shifted back to Crow. “That shouldn't have mattered. He shouldn't be here.”

That was it. Iruka had heard enough. “I'm here because I promised your Team I'd bring you back, you idiot!”

Kakashi turned that gaze back to Iruka and for the briefest moment Iruka thought he'd die from that look alone. “My Team is standing around me.”

“What?!?” Iruka's eyes went wide. “Are you trying to tell me you don't remember Naruto and the others?”

Kakashi snarled. “What the hell does that Demon-brat have to do with any of this?”

Iruka felt his heart drop, and he honestly had no idea how to respond to that comment. Crow stepped in.

“Wolf, none of that matters right now. Why do you want us to go back to Kurogane's complex?”

The change in topic seemed to do the trick. Kakashi's gaze shifted back toward Crow and his eye hardened farther. “I need to take care of a few loose threads.”

Iruka found his voice again. “Dammit – we only just got you out of there!”

Kakashi continued to stare at Crow while he answered. “If you want your Academy teacher to see tomorrow – I'd suggest you get him the hell away from me.”

Iruka felt the blood rise in his cheeks at being dismissed in such a way, but a warning gesture from Crow kept him from speaking out again. He crossed his arms and listened while the two carried on the rest of their conversation as though he weren't even there.

“How far are we from the complex, Crow?”

“Three quarters of a day.”

Wolf frowned. “I know I've been unconscious longer than that Crow. Why aren't we farther?”

Iruka saw Crow tense from the question. “Wolf – we needed to...stabilize you...before we could move out. That took more time then expected.”

Wolf rolled his eyes at the explanation. “It's to be expected with inferior support, I suppose.”

Iruka glared at the man on the stretcher. He was beginning to understand why everyone was on edge when Badger informed them about Wolf's persona returning...this man was a complete ass!
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 1:03 pm

chapter 13 - part 2

Ibiki sat at the counter of the Ichiraku Ramen stand with the members of Team Kakashi. They'd taken to meeting him here once a week – at the end of the business day so he wouldn't scare off customers – in order for him to catch up on how they were adjusting after their sessions with him. For the most part, he was pleased with their progress. All three spent time with others in the village now, and none of them were prone to the bouts of depression which had plagued them earlier in their treatments.

Still, Ibiki knew they weren't out of the woods yet. Any time mention of their last mission came up, all three of the young shinobi would become tense and silent. Granted – it took less time to snap them out of it as each day went by – still, it was a sure sign they weren't mission-ready yet. A fact that he needed to report to the Hokage this evening.

Sakura's exasperated voice caught Ibiki's attention. “Sai – that isn't what I meant.”

The dark-haired boy turned a confused gaze at the kunoichi. “But you said you loved him.”

Sakura rolled her eyes and frowned. “I said I love how he can bring out the best in us without seeming to try. That doesn't mean I love him.”

Naruto was grinning like a fool and having a very hard time containing the laughter that was obviously trying to escape. Sai scratched his head. “So you hate Kakashi-sensei then?”

“No! That's not what I said!”

“So that means you love him!” Sai was grinning again.

Sakura's face was turning bright red, and Ibiki was afraid he'd have to step in to keep her from killing the young man when Naruto sneezed so hard he fell off his stool. The blond landed hard on his rear and stared up at those remaining at the counter.

Ibiki held back a grin. “Are you catching a cold, Naruto?”

Naruto blushed and stood up, brushing the dirt from the floor of as he moved to sit back down. “Wow – I don't know where that came from...I'm not sick at all.”

Sakura giggled at him. “Maybe someone's talking about you, Naruto.”

Sai shrugged. “Nah – who'd talk about that dickless panty-waist?”

Naruto growled and was about to launch himself at the younger man when the sudden appearance of two ANBU soldiers brought him up short. Ibiki kept his face neutral and turned to address the masked shinobi.

“How may we help you today, ANBU?”

The two bowed slightly in Ibiki's direction. “Your immediate presence is required at the Hokage Tower.”

His brow arched slightly at the words. He already was scheduled to meet with the Hokage in three hours. For her to call for him sooner – when she knew he was working him Team Seven – could only mean trouble. He reached into his pocket for his money and laid down enough to pay for their meals.

“Sorry kids – duty calls.”

Naruto jumped off his stool and stood in Ibiki's path. He stared into the young man's blue eyes waiting for him to speak.

“If...if it's news about Kakashi-sensei...you'll tell us, right?”

Ibiki watched the emotion fill those eyes – and for the first time since he'd started working with the young man, he saw a flicker of hope. He gave Naruto a curt nod. A grin spread across the boy's face and he stepped back to finish the bowl of ramen waiting on the counter.

Ibiki walked to where the ANBU were waiting for him, and in a puff of smoke, he and the two guards disappeared from the ramen stand and reappeared in the hallway outside the Hokage's office. Ibiki waited while one of the guards knocked on the door. At Tsunade's bidding, the door was opened, and Ibiki was ushered in.

He was led to the seat in front of the desk and then the guards disappeared from the room. Ibiki took a moment to take in his surroundings. He was the only one in the room aside from Tsunade, and the woman looked tired. More than that – she looked on the verge of tears. Ibiki suppressed the chill that threatened to run down his spine at that thought.

“Hokage – what has happened?”

She took a deep breath and then leaned her chin onto her folded hands – elbows perched on the desk. Her normally golden eyes looked dull – and her mouth was drawn into a thin line. “Ibiki – what can you tell me about Wolf?”

He narrowed his eyes. “Wolf has been the ANBU persona of Kakashi Hatake since he took up the mask as a teenager. He has never failed to complete a mission he was assigned – whether solo or leading a team as Captain.”

Tsunade closed her eyes and made a clicking sound behind her teeth – a sound that Ibiki knew meant she was nearing the end of her patience. “I know all that Ibiki. What I need to hear about is why Crow, Bear and Badger are requesting you to come out and meet them in the field after they have reported a partially successful Retrieval Mission.”

Ibiki frowned. “Partially successful?”

Tsunade opened her eyes and rubbed at her temple – doubtlessly trying to rub away a growing headache. “Yes, Ibiki – partially successful. Crow reported – and I quote – 'Although able to obtain our intended target, it was later discovered that it was Wolf who was retrieved.' What the hell does that mean?”

Ibiki knew he paled at the words but did nothing to hide his reaction. “Shit!”

Tsunade narrowed her eyes at him. “Ibiki – I have poured over every reference to Wolf I have been able to find – but nothing in the files explains the level of apprehension I'm seeing in your eyes right now. Obviously things have gone on in this village before I returned that I need to know about.”

Ibiki lowered his head. He still had nightmares from his last encounter with Wolf – not to mention scars – and he knew by the phrasing of Crow's report that this had to be a full emergence of that persona. He lifted his eyes to meet the Hokage's hard stare.

“If you will come to my office, Hokage, I will retrieve the files that will explain the apprehension.”

Tsunade frowned. “Your office? Why aren't the files here?”

“They were sealed by the Third Hokage and placed under my care after the last time we dealt with Wolf.” He paused. “But it's necessary for you to see them to fully understand what Wolf's return means.”

Tsunade leaned back in her chair. “Ibiki – why do I get the feeling that I'm not going to like what I have to see?”

Ibiki sighed. “Because I know I'm not going to like having to show it to you, Hokage.”

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“Enough! Get your hands off me before I break them!” Wolf growled at the medic in an attempt to scare the fool off.

“Wolf – if you can find a way for me to splint your arm without using my hands I'll be glad to try it. Until then – just hold still and it'll be over soon enough!”

Wolf glared daggers at the red-faced medic, but he had to admit the man was definitely mission-focused. He suffered through the man tightly binding his arm into the confines of the field splint, and once it was over he pulled away and deliberately used that arm to push himself off the ground. He ignored the cursing from the younger man just as much as he ignored the flare-up of pain in the arm, and moved across the camp to where Crow was talking with a group of Konoha shinobi – the backup squads more than likely.

The Village must be in worse shape than he thought if they sent a gathering of such useless shinobi to help on this mission. The gathered ninja turned toward him at his approach and Wolf rolled his eyes. He placed a snarl on his lips when his eye met those of the Green Beast of Konoha. Wisely – that man averted his gaze and stepped back at his approach. Obviously the fool was remembering the last time they met.

Wolf moved his gaze to take in the rest of the faces. He saw Crow, Bear, Badger, Locust, Rat, Mouse and Lizard on the ANBU squad...an interesting choice. The remaining eight consisted of Gai and three youngsters – one of which looked like a clone of the older man. The young girl with the buns wore a sensible outfit for fighting and had a large scroll strapped across her back. She smiled warmly at him as though she knew him. He scowled and that look disappeared to be replaced by one of doubt. The tall black-haired man next to her kept his face blank of emotion as he met Wolf's gaze. By the looks of him he was one of the Hyuga clan. If he holds the Byakugan that could definitely come in handy.

He turned to the remaining four and frowned. Based on their uniforms he was looking at three chunin and a jonin. He didn't recognize the kid, but the rest were known to him. Kotetsu Hagane and Izumo Kamizuki were part of Asuma's team...but he didn't see the chain-smoking fool anywhere around. The jonin standing with them was Raidou Namiashi...a seasoned shinobi who had seen his share of difficult missions and survived – as was evidenced by the scar marking his face.

Something about the unknown kid seemed familiar...in the way he slouched and rolled his shoulders – as though he was bored with the prospect of waiting. But there was a sharpness in the youngster's eyes that told Wolf his mind was likely sharper than most. That thought was verified when the dark-haired kid stepped toward him and held his hand out to him. Wolf looked down in curiosity and saw a fresh face mask.

He met the boy's eyes and the kid shrugged. “I figured you might have need of a new mask by now...Wolf.”

He took the mask and struggled to pull it over his head with the splint on his right arm – but he managed it and settled the familiar fabric in place over his nose and chin. He took a slow breath and faced the boy once more.

“What's your name kid?”

A strange look passed over the boy's face while he answered. “Shikamaru Nara.”

Wolf smiled to himself. No wonder the kid looked familiar...he was related to Badger. Explained the way he thought ahead too – Badger was a whiz at strategy.

Finished with the others, he turned toward Crow. “There are two targets that cannot be left behind.”

Crow crossed his arms. “Cannot? Or should not?”

Wolf stepped forward until he was directly in front of the man and growled. “Does it matter?”

Crow sighed. “I suppose not – we'll need the details.”

Wolf raised his eyebrows. “What makes you think you're coming?”

Crow stood his ground. “Because the Hokage's orders supersede yours, Wolf.”

“And what orders are those?”

“To stick to you like glue once we found you.”

Wolf looked into the faces around him and saw every gaze was steady at those words. He narrowed his eyes and met Crow's eyes once more. “Fine. But get in my way and you'll regret it.”

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Akuma had spent a full day searching through Kurogane's complex for the treasure he was certain the bastard had hidden somewhere...but he came up empty. He was tired and frustrated and running out of time. Soon, he knew the remaining followers of the Hatake leader would be back to regroup...and it was his plan to be far away by the time they returned.

Turning down another corridor and opening up a random door, Akuma felt a grin slide across his face. Although it wasn't gems or coins...he knew it held a definite value to it. And more importantly – it could be used in the future as leverage if it was needed. He walked into the room and closed the door behind him.

On the far side of the room were two of the girls Kurogane used earlier in his scheme to repopulate the Hatake clan. They were huddled together on a bed. Three medics stood to the side, staring at him as he walked calmly across the floor. He put his most polished smile on his face and addressed them.

“As you know – I work for Lord Kurogane – and he has asked that I ensure your safety in the coming days. The compound has been compromised and he insisted that I take you to a safe house quite some distance away.”

He saw the look of doubt settle on the medics' faces and he stepped closer to them. “The ladies are able to travel – are they not?”

The three exchanged a look before one of them cleared their throat. “These are the only two who have been successfully impregnated – but if we apply too much stress they are liable to lose the fetuses just like the others. Isn't there any way we can just stay here?”

Akuma shook his head. “Not unless you want them to fall into enemy hands.”

The frightened sounds from the women on the bed told Akuma he'd won, even before the three medics reluctantly agreed that it would be best to move them. They spent the next half hour running around the room preparing bags of various medications and equipment and then, at last, were ready to go.

Akuma smiled and led the way through the corridors until he reached the North exit. Making certain there was no one aware of their movements – he led the small group through the rain and out of the complex grounds. They headed into the guts of the village toward the small house he'd occupied for the past year. Once the rain let up a bit more he'd get this group out of Lightning altogether and work on the angles he'd need to secure his own safety once Kakashi learned there were still women carrying his potential heirs.

His lips turned up in a smirk. He'd use one of his many techniques to keep this little band focused on the plan and then there'd be nothing to stop him from getting out of this hell-hole. He was certain he'd find someone out there who'd be more than willing to harbor this group of refugees. Who knows – perhaps his cousin Orochimaru would be interested in the breeders and what they carried – for the right price, of course.

His plan firmly in place – Akuma headed for his house – confident that he'd prepared for all the possibilities.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 1:05 pm

Chapter 14 - part 1: Past and Present

Wolf pushed open the door to another room and paused to breathe the scents in. A low growl escaped his lips when he smelled the foul stench he'd come to associate with Akuma. He stepped farther into the room and focused on the other odors present. There was an antiseptic layer under everything which confirmed his initial thoughts that this was a medical wing of the complex. In addition, he smelled fear...and death.

Had someone beat him to the kill? Wolf frowned and took another deep breath...no – Akuma's scent was too fresh – and the smells of death seemed far older.

He walked to the back of the room and was drawn to one of the beds lining the wall. Again he felt the scents were familiar – and he closed his eye to help block out his other senses while trying to place it. A cold chill ran down his spine as visions of his drug-induced breeding session jumped to the front of his mind. He snapped his eye open. So – his task was made easier as it appeared his loose ends were now traveling together.

Wolf noticed a few of Locust's beetles crawling across the bedsheets and he turned to see the man crossing to his side.

“Were you kept in this room, Wolf?”

“No.”

Locust recalled his beetles, and after a moment of silence where Wolf guessed the man was communicating with those insects, he asked the question that Wolf knew was coming.

“They found a chakra was here not long ago which is very close to your own. Why would that be?”

Wolf scowled. “How many distinct signatures did they find?”

Locust conferred in silence. “Two.”

Wolf frowned. He knew he'd been 'serviced' by at least six women. What of the other four?

The 'medic' stepped forward with a chart clutched in his hand. The scar across his nose crinkled while his brow was creased. His brown eyes looked from the papers in his hand to Wolf and then back again. Wolf let his annoyance show clearly in his visible eye.

“What do you want, medic?”

The man's face reddened in something other than anger while he replied, pushing the chart into Wolf's hand. “This details the results of the 'Hatake Breeding Program' up to this morning. Of the six initial fertilizations, only two have remained viable. These two were being carefully monitored to ensure the fetuses remained stable.”

Wolf flipped through the chart and then tossed it in a trash bin. With a bit of difficulty, thanks to his splinted arm, he made the symbols needed to provide a small burst of fire and efficiently destroyed the records. He turned back and saw the 'medic' glaring at him. Wolf raised his eyebrows.

“What's your problem, Sensei?”

“Are these the 'loose ends' you were talking about?”

Wolf narrowed his eyes. “So what if they are?”

The teacher's eyes went wide and he turned redder still. “What were you planning to do if they had been here?”

“That's not your concern.”

The teacher narrowed his eyes and grabbed Wolf's shirt in his fists. “What kind of animal are you? Those are your children we're talking about!”

Wolf felt the rage boil up within him – and from one breath to the next, he'd released himself from the fool's grasp and pinned the man to the wall with his splinted arm under the teacher's chin – while his other hand held the blade of a kunai pushed against the tan neck. He narrowed his eye and growled.

“I was nothing but a sperm donor...and they are nothing but walking incubators...something I intend to correct!”

He pushed the blade against the skin until a thin trickle of blood could be seen. “And you will not keep me from that task.”

The teacher's eyes widened to impossibly wide proportions, and his hands tried to push Wolf away. Crow's voice in his ear kept Wolf from continuing the blade's movement.

“Wolf – let him go!”

He kept the fool pinned to the wall and pushed the blade in a bit more. “I told you all to stay out of my way.”

Crow moved into his peripheral view and crossed his arms. “Fine...but you're going to have to submit the paperwork on why the Hokage's hand-picked support personnel didn't make it back to the village.”

The teacher shifted his desperate gaze toward Crow. “WHAT!?!”

Wolf scowled and dropped the man to the floor. “He's just lucky I don't like to do paperwork.”

He turned and walked out of the room.

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Tsunade leaned back in the chair across from Ibiki and ran her hands through her hair. She turned her gaze from the thick folders scattered across the man's desk to the interrogator. She didn't have to say a word before Ibiki sighed and walked over to a cabinet against the far wall. The man withdrew two small cups and a bottle of premium sake. He came back to the desk and filled the cups before setting the bottle down and claiming the second chair at the desk. He handed one of the cups to Tsunade and then took the other for himself. She stared into the clear liquid for a moment before downing it in one gulp and then reaching for the bottle to refill it.

To her surprise, Ibiki matched her drink for drink until half the bottle was gone. Only then did the two turn their attention back to the disturbing records laid out across the wood surface. She shuddered when her eyes took in the photo of Gai lying in a pool of blood at the base of the Hokage Monument. She pushed it aside and read the details of his injuries – from the broken bones – to the ruptured lung – to gouges in his arms made, according to the report, by Wolf's fingers as he struggled to break free of Gai's hold.

She took another drink and found more photos of similar scenes...some less severe – a few as bad...and one...one that was far worse. She wasn't able to tell who the shinobi was under all the wounds and blood. She lifted her head to see Ibiki's haunted eyes and she had the sinking feeling she knew who it was after all.

As though reading her mind, Ibiki's deep voice filled the silent room. “I was in the hospital for three weeks on life support after that little encounter with Wolf.”

Tsunade knew her eyes went wide at the implication. “Why didn't the Third Hokage imprison Kakashi after this?”

Ibiki drank another cup down and reached for the bottle. She noticed his hand shook a bit while he refilled the drink. “It wasn't Kakashi.” He met her eyes and she would have sworn she saw a touch of fear there. “It was Wolf.”

Tsunade narrowed her gaze. “Don't give me that line, Ibiki. He could have killed you!”

The man ran a hand over the back of his neck. “But he didn't Hokage – and that's what mattered at the time.”

She shook her head. “I never knew the brat had gotten this bad.”

Ibiki chuckled darkly. “He didn't make it easy for any of us by being so much of a damned loner. None of us noticed the signs until it was too late.”

He leaned forward and pulled another folder out from under the stack, flipping it open to a detailed analysis of Kakashi's Wolf persona. He stuck one thick finger to a particularly intriguing entry.

“Kakashi was sent on an un-classed ANBU mission shortly after the Kyuubi was sealed into Naruto. At the time – he was the only available operative with the skill-set needed to infiltrate the target's base. What none of us realized at that time was that he was sent into a situation where he was vastly outnumbered and outclassed. And at the time - the death of the Fourth made him more mentally unstable than we could have known. ”

He paused to drink deeply again. “We were all so preoccupied with recovering from the Beast's attack, and the loss of the Fourth Hokage, that it was weeks before any of us recognized that Kakashi wasn't back yet. Once we could afford the manpower to mount a retrieval, we headed out – figuring we'd only be bringing back proof of his death.”

Tsunade looked over the report while Ibiki continued to speak, flipping through the papers until she came across a photo of Kakashi when he was finally brought home. She couldn't help but shiver at the wild, savage expression on Kakashi's face.

“He was found in the lower room of the enemy's hideout. He was undernourished – nearly starved – and he was crouched in a corner like a wild beast – covered in blood and other bodily matter that's better left unsaid. There were chains on his wrists and ankles, and more cuts and bruises than I'd ever seen in all my time in T&I.”

Ibiki placed his hand on the photo she was fixated on. “Lady Tsunade – he was only fourteen – just shy of fifteen – when that photo was taken. What they did to him – I still don't know the full extent of – but he survived it by becoming his ANBU persona – body and soul. We had to spend months trying to find Kakashi within the recesses of his mind. And there were many times when we almost gave up.”

Tsunade looked up into the face of the man she'd come to consider unbreakable. “What kept you from doing it, Ibiki?”

The man smiled – as much as he could with the scars criss-crossing his face. “Because even at his worst – Wolf still didn't kill anyone from Konoha.”

She frowned. “Was that because of his own free will, Ibiki? Or because someone was there to stop him?”

“Until that final day, I'd have thought like you do...that it was because of others being there. But the night he attacked me, there was no one else there. He had my life in his hand. But when his eyes locked on mine, he seemed lost and frightened – not homicidal. In that moment when my life hang in the balance he held back the final blow and collapsed with a heart-rending scream. He took me in his arms – brought me to the hospital – and turned himself over to the Police Force until the Yamanaka family could find a way to help him.”

Tsunade whistled through her teeth. “How could he have been allowed to return to duty after that?”

Ibiki shrugged. “Times were different after the Fourth was gone. We had lost so many of our force that we couldn't afford not to have the Copy-ninja in the field. But he was not allowed on solo missions again for nearly a full year – and was required to check-in with T&I after every mission.”

“With the help of the Uchiha and Yamanaka clans, we managed to find a way to lock that persona into the far recesses of his mind. I don't think I want to know what he's been through if Wolf's broken loose again.”

Tsunade glanced back down at the photos of Ibiki's injuries. “He did this to you when he was fourteen?”

Ibiki frowned. “No. He was eighteen when that happened.”

She met his eyes. “How often has Wolf come out?”

He sighed. “It's only been twice. Well – three times if you count this occurrence.”

Tsunade pinched the bridge of her nose trying to stop the headache that she knew no amount of sake would mask. “Ibiki – I want an honest answer – do you think you can bring Kakashi back a third time?”

There was silence for a few minutes. It was clear Ibiki was putting some thought into his answer, and Tsunade wasn't sure if that was a good sign...or a bad one.

“Lady Tsunade...I don't know the answer. I'll have no way of knowing until I see him for myself.” He frowned again. “But based on Bear's initial report,even if we can bring him back, it won't be easy.”

Tsunade leaned back in the chair. “And if you can't bring him back?”

His expression grew grim. “I'm not sure we'll be able to stop him using conventional means.”

“Damn that brat!” She leaned forward and narrowed her eyes. “Ibiki Morino – prepare whatever you need to bring with you. You will meet up with the Retrieval Squad and make your assessment of Kakashi Hatake's mental state. If, by your exam, you feel there is no way to safely suppress Wolf's personality, you are authorized and ordered to terminate the ANBU Wolf by any means necessary.”

“Yes, Hokage. I'll leave by sunrise.”

She nodded, rose, and left Ibiki in his office before he could see the tears in her eyes.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 1:06 pm

chapter 14 - part 2

Crow looked down at Iruka and sighed. He squatted next to him and tried to check the wound on his neck. Iruka flinched and stared wildly at him, his hand pressed against his throat. Great! The last thing he needed was another mentally unstable member of this team. He pushed his mask to the side and slid a senbon between his teeth. He hoped that if he didn't look entirely like his ANBU self that it might put the Academy Teacher at ease.

“Iruka...are you okay?”

The brown eyes narrowed. “Why? Are you afraid of paperwork too?”

Genma cringed. He should have seen that one coming. “Listen 'Ruka, would you rather I just let him slice your throat?”

Iruka's fingers lifted away from his neck, allowing Genma full view of the angry wound that, even now, was weeping fresh blood. “You already did!”

“Shit!” Genma reached in his pouch for a cloth and some antiseptic. He slowly lifted them toward Iruka's neck – keeping focused on the man's eyes. “Let me clean it up, okay?”

Iruka's eyes closed, but he didn't pull away – although Genma felt his muscles tense a bit when he made contact. Once the blood was cleaned off, he was able to get a better look at the damage. He frowned. Wolf had meant business – the angry slash was headed straight for an artery – and Genma didn't want to think about what might have happened if he hadn't interrupted when he did.

Iruka's quiet words made him frown deeper. “He really would have killed me, wouldn't he?”

Genma sighed as he applied a few butterfly closures to pull the skin back together again. Stitches would have to wait for later. “Yeah – he probably would have.”

Iruka's eyes opened and Genma saw they were moist with unshed tears. The man's words were barely above a whisper. “I don't think I like Wolf very much.”

Genma allowed a small smile to play over his lips. “Yeah – nobody does.”

He placed some of the salve along the wound to ease the pain and fight off infection, then he stood and offered his hand to Iruka to help him back up. Once he was on his feet again, the Academy Teacher frowned .

“Genma – I never meant to push him that far.” He looked down for a moment and then he snapped his head back up to meet Genma's gaze with a fierce stare. “But I won't let him kill those babies!”

Genma placed a hand on Iruka's shoulder and gently squeezed. “I know, Iruka. And if it's in our power to stop him, we won't let him kill them either.”

A faint smile on the Teacher's lips let Genma know that Iruka would be okay. He put his senbon back in its pouch, and slipped his mask back over his face with a sigh. He couldn't quite explain it – but he found it easier to deal with Iruka without his ANBU persona getting in the way – somehow, he felt more human.

He turned to lead the way toward where Wolf headed and found himself hoping that perhaps Iruka would be able to spark some small bit of humanity in Wolf as well – although if the wound on the Teacher's throat was anything to go by – he doubted it very much.

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Shikamaru watched silently while Crow broke the combined team into three distinct groups – mixing ANBU with chunin and jonin. The first group consisted of Gai, Lee, Izumo, Bear and Lizard, and were given the task of heading toward Konoha and bringing back Ibiki as quickly as possible. The second group contained Kotetsu, Ten-ten, Mouse and Badger, and were being sent to a coastal village to retrieve someone by the name of Chuutetsu – a medic by the sounds of it – and someone Iruka-sensei seemed anxious to confer with regarding Kakashi's splinted arm. The third group held the remainder of the team...himself, Iruka-sensei, Crow, Locust, Wolf, Neji and Raidou. Their task was a little less specific. In fact, Shikamaru only knew that they needed to support Kakashi...no...Wolf in whatever twisted mission was in the man's mind. He still wasn't entirely sure what exactly that might entail...but by the tension Iruka-sensei and Crow were exhibiting, it couldn't be good.

The three groups headed out immediately after being formed, and Shikamaru couldn't help but notice the looks of apprehension that Gai-sensei sent Wolf's way when the spandex-wearing man was certain the other wasn't looking. This was the most subdued he'd ever seen the normally boisterous Gai, and it was enough to set everyone around the man on edge. It likely had to do with what Raidou had filled him in on earlier – and not for the first time, Shikamaru wondered just how much different Wolf must be from Kakashi-sensei to set so many experienced jonin on edge.

His group started off a moment after the others left. Shikamaru was placed in the center of the group – running alongside Iruka-sensei. Behind them were Raidou and Neji, while just in front of them were Crow, Wolf and Locust. They were following a small swarm of Locust's insects – who'd seemed to be locked onto the chakra pattern of their target.

Shikamaru frowned. He never enjoyed going into a situation blind – it made the outcome far too unpredictable for his liking. He shifted his focus to Iruka-sensei. He was favoring his left leg – although he tried not to show it – and the bandages covering that injury were showing more than a bit of blood seeping through them. And then there was the slice across his throat which was currently being held together with butterfly bandages, even though it was obvious the injury needed to be stitched in order to heal effectively.

The Academy Teacher's body language screamed about just how angry and uncomfortable he was with the current situation – and somehow, seeing his former sensei is such a state made Shikamaru that much more uneasy with this leg of the mission. Add to it the fact that Kakashi-sensei didn't seem to recognize him...and Shikamaru's own anxiety was rising steadily higher. Although it was liable to be troublesome, he needed to find out more information if he was going to be able to help in the long run.

“Iruka-sensei, can I ask you a few questions?”

Shikamaru noticed how the older chunin's muscles tensed farther before he turned his head to face him. He also noted how his former sensei winced as that movement pulled across his neck injury. The smile on his face somehow seemed less sincere than normal.

“Ask away, Shikamaru.”

“Where are we headed?”

He saw a frown settle on the tanned face for a moment before the fake smile returned. “Wolf has a lead on a few loose ends that he needs to track down before we can head home.”

Shikamaru considered the words carefully, taking into account Iruka-sensei's tone and body language before he asked his next question. “Are we going along to help clean up those loose ends – or to keep Wolf from doing just that?”

Iruka-sensei's eyes went wide, and that reaction alone was enough for Shikamaru to know he'd hit the mark. He watched the man's hand shake ever so slightly when he reached up to rub at the back of his neck.

“Shikamaru, I won't lie to you. There's a very good chance this mission will not be pleasant.” He glanced toward where the three ANBU members continued racing ahead and then turned back toward him and sighed. “That man wants to erase what happened...but the cost in my opinion would be too high.”

Shikamaru was about to ask more, when Wolf appeared between them, startling them both. “Then it's a good thing your opinion doesn't count, medic. Concentrate on staying quiet before you give us all away!”

With that, Wolf returned to the front and Shikamaru and Iruka diligently stayed silent. Still, Shikamaru's mind kept going over Iruka-sensei's words and actions in his mind...and it left him with a most unsettling fear that not everyone would make it out of this one alive. He pushed that thought aside and tried to concentrate on how Wolf and the others moved. The more information he could gather – the better all their chances of survival would be after all.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 1:07 pm

Chapter 15 - part 1: A Step Closer To the Goal

Akuma stared at the sorry group before him and cursed his luck, even as another bolt of lightning crossed the sky, followed shortly by a deafening crash of thunder. The two women cringed at every flash of light or rumble in the night – clutching each other with gasps and cries of fear no matter how many times he demanded they stay silent. The three medical ninjas were even more useless...one was old and crippled – barely able to keep the slow pace he was already forced into by the fragile state of the women. Another was so concerned about the medicines he carried he was unwilling to let anyone else carry the precious cargo – which in turn led to them needing frequent stops so he could catch his breath. The third was obviously a newly appointed chunin who was startled by every movement within bushes and trees they passed – even those caused by the driving rains and wind of this latest storm. After the tenth false alarm from the chunin's overactive imagination, Akuma sent the others on ahead and cornered the young man against a tree.

Wild light brown hair blew in the wind – barely contained by his Lightning headband. Pale green eyes shifted nervously all around him – searching the surroundings for some unknown assailant. Akuma drew a slow breath through his lips and caught the fool's glance in his stare.

“Tell me, Kainashi, is there some reason you are so on edge?”

The pale eyes widened and the chunin tensed. “No...no...do you mean besides the fact that an enemy attacked the compound and we're running away to keep the girls safe?”

Akuma allowed a small smile to creep across his face. “The way you are acting makes me wonder if perhaps you are working with that enemy and are awaiting their arrival.”

The young man paled and shook his head causing the wild hair to whip from side to side. “I would never do that, Akuma! Believe me!”

Akuma's smile switched to a frown. “I wish I could, Kainashi, but we really don't have time for this right now. And I need to teach the others a lesson.”

Akuma formed three hand signs in quick succession and then placed the heel of his hand just above the man's nose. In an instant, the man collapsed to the ground – his eyes glazed over and a stream of blood flowed from one ear. Akuma bent over and retrieved any usable weapons from the man's clothing, then kicked his body under a nearby bush. He quickly caught up to the others, and after pointedly ignoring their questions about the whereabouts of the young man, Akuma noticed the rest of the group did its best to meet the pace he set for them to follow.

He smiled to himself. If he could get them to keep this pace up, they should reach his safe house in two days. Then he'd have time to decide what his next steps should be.

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Ibiki shifted his pack on his shoulders and moved toward the main gates of Konoha. The streets were empty – as was to be expected this early in the morning – and the rooftops had only a handful of shinobi and ANBU making their ways to or from one mission or another. This quiet time of the day was usually Ibiki's favorite – but today all it did was amplify the thoughts in his head about Wolf. Especially when he dwelt on the fact that this time he may actually need to terminate someone he counted as a close acquaintance, if not a friend.

Ibiki scowled and pushed the thought back for the hundredth time since Tsunade made this his mission. It wouldn't do anyone any good if he'd already made his mind up about what the results of this task were before he had the chance to check Wolf...no..before he had the chance to check Kakashi over for himself. As if in response to his train of thoughts, a particularly nasty scar across his back from his last encounter with Wolf twinged painfully. Ibiki shifted his pack once more until it wasn't pressing against it as much. The sun was just pushing past the horizon when he reached the gates. As expected – Tsunade was waiting for him. What he hadn't expected was to see her aide, Shizune, standing beside her in her jonin field uniform and gear. The Hokage looked as though she hadn't slept a wink since their meeting earlier, and by the concerned look in Shizune's dark eyes as she glanced at Tsunade it was likely the woman wouldn't get a full night's sleep until this issue was resolved – one way or another.

Ibiki nodded in greeting once he joined them at the gate. “Hokage...Shizune. Am I to assume I'm not traveling alone today?”

Shizune shifted from foot to foot – whether from nerves or eagerness to leave was anyone's guess. Her voice, however, was strictly professional when she spoke – causing Ibiki to lean toward mission eagerness in his assessment.

“Lady Tsunade felt a medical ninja might come in handy considering Wolf's past history.”

Ibiki met Tsunade's eyes – wondering just how much she'd told the young medic. “I see.”

Inwardly, Ibiki was actually glad Tsunade had thought to send along a medic – outwardly, he shifted his pack once more and moved to step through the gates. Tsunade's strained voice caused him to stop.

“Ibiki – no matter what happens...bring him home.”

He tensed slightly at her words but didn't look back at her. “Yes Hokage.”

With that, Ibiki set off down the road toward where Crow's mission update told him they were headed. Shizune fell into step beside him, her longer than normal shirt sleeves flapping in the breeze as they switched to running at a steady pace.

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Chuutetsu sat in the kitchen of the ship captain's house and smiled down at the young child on his knee. The boy's light blond hair fell into his big brown eyes and there were streaks of dirt covering his chubby cheeks. The little boy – no more than six – was proudly presenting his skinned elbows and knees for Chuutetsu to treat. He couldn't help but smile at how happy the child was of his 'battle wounds,' and he wondered if Kakashi was like this when he was this young.

“So then Yuushi, did you manage to win the war?” Chuutetsu smiled wider at the serious look that fell over the youngster's face.

“Of course we did!” The boy scratched at his forehead while his eyes scrunched up a bit. “Or at least I think we did.”

Chuutetsu chuckled. “You aren't sure?”

Yuushi shrugged. “Sensei said we won be default.”

“Oh. So you chased your opponents away?”

Yuushi frowned. “Not exactly.” He blushed slightly. “Their mother called them in for dinner.”

Now Chuutetsu laughed out loud, startling the boy. “I'm sorry Yuushi. It's just that I don't think too many battles out there are called on account of dinner.”

The little boy blinked at him in confusion. “Does that mean we didn't win?”

Chuutetsu couldn't believe how seriously the young boy was taking his war-games. Didn't any of these children know how to play for the sake of playing? “Your Sensei said you won – right?”

The boy sniffed back a tear and nodded.

Chuutetsu smiled warmly at him. “Then you won!”

A bright smile transformed the face into one of pure delight. “That's right! We did! I can't wait to tell Father!”

Chuutetsu grabbed a damp cloth off the table and returned to tending to the skinned knees. “Well then – let's make sure you're all bandaged up before he gets home, shall we?”

The young boy smiled wider and sat remarkably still while he finished tending the scrapes. He was just about finished when he heard a commotion in the front room of the house. Setting the boy on the floor and patting his head before shooing him out the back door, Chuutetsu moved toward where the unfamiliar voices were coming from.

The Captain's wife was trying to deny Chuutetsu's presence but when a new voice – that of Badger - joined the discussion he knew the time to show himself was at hand. He walked into the room and saw two masked ANBU standing alongside a young dark-haired woman and a slightly older man wearing what was obviously some sort of uniform. They all turned toward him when he entered, and he did his best not to show his disappointment that Iruka-sensei and Kakashi were not with them.

Badger stepped forward. “Chuutetsu, Crow has asked us to bring you to meet up with the others.”

Chuutetsu frowned and scratched at the back of his head. “Does this mean you've completed your mission?”

Mouse shook his head. “Not exactly. But your skills are needed.”

Chuutetsu knew he paled at the comment but he was beyond caring. “Who's hurt? Were you able to find Kakashi? He's still alive...isn't he?”

Badger placed a hand on Chuutetsu's shoulder. “We recovered Wolf – but he is injured. In addition, Iruka-sensei has need of your services.”

Chuutetsu's eyes widened. He'd figured Kakashi would be hurt – after all, his captors had decimated his own city searching for him. But he'd hoped no one else would be injured. He should have known better.

“Just let me gather my things and we can head out. How far away are they?”

Badger tipped his head to one side as though trying to determine something just by studying him. “It was two days run for us. But I'm assuming our way back will be a bit slower.”

Chuutetsu caught the implied insult and frowned. “I may not be as quick as you ANBU, but I can run faster and longer than most. I'll try not to slow you down too much, Badger.”

The ANBU shrugged. “It is what it is, medic. We will get there when we get there.”

He caught sight of the young girl rolling her eyes at the masked man's comment, and he made a mental note to stick closer to her than the ANBU on their journey. Something told him she would be liable to give him a clearer idea of what was really going on than the two ANBU operatives. Meanwhile, the uniformed man kept shifting his eyes nervously around the room – as though expecting someone to jump out of the shadows.

Chuutetsu turned and left to gather his gear. In less than fifteen minutes he had his supplies together and was thanking the woman for her hospitality over the past few days. Ten minutes later and they were on their way – a smaller pack full of fresh fruit and bread pressed into his hands by the Captain's wife as he stepped out the door. Chuutetsu smiled at her and moved into a jog to catch up with the others, his mind already on what condition his patient – no – his patients might be in. He only hoped they'd hold on until he arrived.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 1:08 pm

chapter 15 - part 2

Neji followed the group in relative silence – running side by side with his fellow jonin, Raidou. The ANBU at the lead were so focused on following Locust's swarm that for a split-second he thought he shouldn't bring their attention to what he was seeing. But something about it just didn't seem right – and so he sent the signal up the line to call for a stop.

The glare from Kakashi's eye when he looked over his shoulder confirmed yet again that this was most definitely not the man he was used to working with – but he needed to follow his hunch on this regardless of who thought otherwise.

Crow moved to his side. “What have you found?”

Neji led the ANBU captain to the low brush that caught his attention and pushed it aside until the body of a young Lightning chunin was revealed. The man's eyes were wide open in death's glare – but there were no noticeable signs of injury.

Kakashi leaned over to look. His tone made it clear he was not happy with this delay. “It's a dead body. I would like to think by the time someone reaches jonin level that seeing a dead body wouldn't be a cause to stop a mission.”

Neji fought down the urge to respond to the obvious insult directly and chose to follow protocol instead. “Crow – my attention was caught when I noticed the method of death and thought perhaps it was relevant to our mission.”

A low growl from Kakashi's throat let Neji know his method of reply was not appreciated, but none the less, it was Crow who responded. “Explain Neji.”

He knelt next to the body and pointed to the spot directly above the corpse's nose. There was what looked to be a smudge of dirt, but on closer inspection it proved to be a bruise. He activated his Byakugan to make certain what he saw before was accurate before he continued.

“The chunin died from a single blow – here.” He pointed to the bruise.

Kakashi's curiosity crept through his words, as did his growing impatience. “Tell me how.”

“It appears to be similar to the Hyuga clan's soft-boxing technique in how it utilized the chakra network. But where we use exact blows to close off or open up the chakra points and cause a disruption in the flow, this attacks sole purpose was to destroy the entire network in one single blow.”

Crow turned toward him. “Destroy it?”

Neji nodded. “Yes, Crow. That's what caught my attention. Normally a dead body's chakra network remains intact – even after a Hyuga's attack – but every channel of this man's chakra network has been scattered throughout his body. It infiltrated every inch of tissue – causing a severe chakra surge throughout all the organs of the body at the exact same instant.”

Kakashi growled again. “His body couldn't handle it.”

Neji looked up into the silver-haired man's face, deactivating his Byakugan in the process. “No one's could. That much raw chakra – even from the weakest chakra network – is enough to trigger a cascade failure of every critical body function.”

Neji stood up. “The only rumor I have ever heard of such an ability was from my Uncle. He spoke of a forbidden jutsu practiced by an offshoot branch of the Hyuga's nearly three decades ago. The last person to use it was Kinmotsu.”

Neji saw Crow tense a bit at mention of the name. Kakashi seemed to notice it as well as he addressed the captain. “Why the reaction, Crow?”

Crow rubbed at the back of his neck and responded by asking what Neji had hoped he wouldn't ask. “That was Orochimaru's uncle – wasn't it Neji?”

Neji frowned – he didn't particularly enjoy being reminded that the Snake Sannin was related to his family – even remotely. “Yes – but he died over twenty years ago – at my Uncle's hands.”

Crow looked back down toward the body. “So then who did this?”

Kakashi knelt next to the body and leaned in close. Neji watched the man take the time to slowly sniff over the chunin and then he stood back up. His face was a mask of anger and disgust as he spoke a single word.

“Akuma.”

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Bear never particularly enjoyed being teamed up with Gai, but in this case he could understand Crow's choice. The primary purpose was to get the overly energetic man away from Wolf before one or the other cracked. He could still remember the last time the two met up.

Wolf had only recently been released from the hospital after being retrieved from the mission which melded his ANBU personality into such a vicious creature, and the village hadn't realized quite yet just how dangerous that persona was. The ANBU medics at the hospital finished healing the boy physically, and after an exam from the psychologists on duty they had been fooled into letting the boy out. Because of their mistake more than a dozen shinobi spent the better part of the next month in one form or another of rehabilitation – both physical and psychological.

But Wolf had so many layers he really couldn't blame the men who performed that initial scan from missing the signs of instability. After all – even after the boy was placed back into the ward for observation, it took weeks before even his own scans could pierce the darkness within that mind enough to find the underlying causes.

Still – if only they'd found that crack initially – Gai wouldn't have had the opportunity to approach Wolf and make the mistake of challenging the boy. The two had always known each other – having been born in the same year – and Gai, being eight months older, always strove to catch up with the genius Hatake. By the time Gai was just entering the Academy, Wolf was already graduating and being assigned a mentor. The older boy used his compatriot's success as a means to push himself farther than anyone would have imagined – and considering Gai didn't hold very much talent in genjutsu or ninjutsu – those challenges tended toward taijutsu and usually ended with the boys reporting to the hospital with contusions of one sort or another.

So when Wolf was finally released from the hospital, Gai's natural exuberance led him to seek out his younger friend. He found the boy at the top of the Hokage Monument running through a series of katas, and not wanting the younger boy to outshine him, Gai loudly proudly exclaimed the challenge of taijutsu to Wolf. No one could have known that the older boy held the look of one of Wolf's captors. No one could have foreseen the reaction that innocent challenge would have elicited. No one in their wildest dreams would have thought Wolf could move so quickly after only just being released from the Hospital.

Gai still refused to talk about the exact details of his beating. Once he woke up, he withdrew into himself so thoroughly that there was fear that the Green Beast had been broken more than just physically. But once Gai learned that the boy he challenged was not in his right mind, Gai's own recovery went much quicker. And the day we resumed challenging his friend to various tasks was a sign that both boys were finally mending.

Now – watching the tension in Gai's shoulders – Bear didn't need to scan the man's mind to know what he was thinking. He was worried that this time...this time they may not be able to return his Eternal Rival from his prison. And Bear had to admit – that same fear was going through his own mind.

Gai took the lead when they started out and pushed the team to their limit in speed. They made it to the rendezvous point in record time and because of that, Bear had to spend a full day calming Gai down and reminding him that there was nothing they could do until Ibiki arrived. He watched Gai and Lee run through tortuous training until Ibiki arrived a day later – the addition of Shizune to the team was a pleasant surprise which showed Bear more than anything that Ibiki had filled the Hokage in on just what Wolf's reemergence meant.

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Rather than waste time being filled in by Bear when they reached the rendezvous, Ibiki insisted they head out immediately. He kept pace with Bear easily and turned toward the man.

“I assume it's pretty bad if Crow asked for a field extraction rather than waiting until you got him back to Konoha.”

Bear glanced toward where Shizune was running beside Lizard and then turned back to face Ibiki. “It was wise to bring such a skilled medic, Ibiki. I'm afraid her skills are already needed.”

Ibiki tensed at those words – his mind going back to his own encounters with Wolf in the past. “Dammit, Bear. What's Wolf done?”

Bear sighed – a sign that things were definitely not going well. “He came very close to killing the Sensei.”

“What?!?” Ibiki knew Kakashi and Iruka weren't the best of friends prior to this mission, but he never would have expected this.

Bear shook his head. “This version of Wolf is...different. He seems to be unable to remember more recent events. He didn't recognize Iruka-sensei at all...or Shikamaru and the other younger shinobi...and I fear he isn't going to react well when he learns of Asuma and Jiraiya's deaths.”

“Dammit...this complicates things. We not only have to suppress Wolf, we need to restore some of the most damaging memories that man has faced since the Fourth's death.”

Bear lowered his head slightly which did nothing to relieve Ibiki's growing tension. “And this time, Ibiki, we won't have the Uchihas as backup.”

His friend was right. One of the only reasons they'd succeeded in bringing Kakashi back the last time was because Fugaku Uchiha was able to keep Wolf under control with his higher level sharingan techniques while the others worked within the young man's mind. Without that aid this time – it was quite possible that he and Bear would not be able to bring Kakashi back. Ibiki frowned. It was now crystal clear that the Hokage recognized that as well – which was why she had phrased the mission parameters the way she had.

“Bear – how badly beaten is Iruka?”

“He's wasn't beaten at all. Wolf was going to slit his throat. If Crow hadn't stepped in when he did – he would have succeeded.”

Ibiki considered Bear's words carefully. On one hand, it was obvious Wolf wasn't as out of control as the last two times – when he opted for brute strength in his attacks instead of finesse. On the other hand – by the sound of it, this version of Wolf had no problem killing a fellow Konoha shinobi. He wondered if it was because he didn't remember who Iruka was – or if he'd cross that line for any of them.

He looked toward the front of the group and watched Gai and Lee pushing forward in silence. Their concentration was fully on the small group of beetles flying in front of them. Ibiki had to admit – he had wondered how they'd manage to track down Crow and Wolf when Bear informed him they were still on the move...but when Gai pulled out the small box containing Locust's bugs he'd been impressed. In effect – they had the perfect way to track down the others as long as Locust remained a member of the team.

All he could hope was that they'd meet up with the others before any further attempts on Konoha shinobi could occur.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Thu Apr 30, 2009 1:08 pm

chapter 15 - part 3

Akuma turned toward his charges. In the past two days he'd ended up trimming the fat from the group far more than he'd expected. The pace he'd set caused one of the women to go into distress and unfortunately she hadn't been strong enough to survive the complications. At the same time the elder of the medics was becoming more of a liability than he was worth. He'd quickly eliminated them to enable the remaining woman and her keeper to make their escape. Still – if he wanted to succeed in having a viable commodity to sell to his cousin, he needed to allow the woman time to rest before the final push toward the Sound Village.

When he found a small abandoned shack nestled among the trees he took advantage of the opportunity to get the pair out of the rain. The medic moved the young woman toward the far wall of the shack while Akuma set about lighting a fire in the small stove at the hearth. Once he was certain the fire wouldn't go out for a bit he turned toward the pair. They were nervous and obviously frightened of him – particularly after he eliminated their companions, but at least he knew they were in no shape to attempt running off.

Akuma approached them – all pretense of being their Saviour gone. “You need to rest – so rest. You know I can track you down should you be foolish enough to move away from this spot – so don't!”

The woman whimpered and the medic swallowed deeply before answering with a tight voice. “We will stay right here until you return.”

Akuma nodded once and stepped to where he'd placed his pack. He reached in and pulled a small bag out. When he tossed it toward the medic, for a moment he thought the fool would flinch and drop it, but he caught it – although awkwardly – and stared back with confusion plainly on his face.

Akuma sighed. “You'll find fruit and nutrition bars in there for the next few days. Keep her healthy or you will wish you'd met the fate of the others. Do I make myself clear?”

The medic paled noticeably and nodded his understanding. Akuma hefted his pack onto his shoulder and stepped back out into the driving rain. He still needed to track down one of Orochimaru's many spies which he knew ranged through this part of the country. The last thing he wanted to do was give his cousin any reason to deem his approach as an attack – and so he needed to contact the Sannin first to make certain he was interested in what he had to offer. Although Akuma doubted the man would be able to resist the potential the precious cargo in the woman represented.

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

Wolf came to a stop when Locust signaled. They were standing in the rain looking at a small shack which could have been mistaken as abandoned if not for the smoke issuing from the chimney and the swarm's insistence that at least part of their goal lay within. Wolf scowled. Because of this latest batch of storms he had to rely solely on Locust's bugs to track his prey, as the rain managed to wash away most of the scents before they got to them. He turned toward the ANBU member.

“Are they all in there?”

Locust shook his head. “The one you named as Akuma is not there. Only two people lie within.”

That was all Wolf needed to know – and he was off at a run toward the shack before any of the others could try to stop him. One well-placed kick destroyed the sorry excuse for the door, and he took the scene in quickly. The small stove gave off a minimal amount of heat, and he found his targets huddled in front of it. Of course, once his entrance registered in their minds he watched them scamper toward the far corner – their fear rolling off them in waves.

Wolf narrowed his eye and growled at them. He took a single step toward the cowering girl and her keeper – barely resisting the urge to rip their throats out quite yet. He needed to confirm that this was the only incubator left.

“Where are the others?” His voice was low and caused the two to shake.

The man held the girl close while answering. “The others are...dead...thanks to Akuma. Please...please...just let us go...we won't be any trouble to you...please.”

Wolf felt nothing but disgust from the man's words. “That is not an option!”

He growled low and made the hand signs which called his Chidori to life. The whines of his prey as they begged for their lives nearly overtook the chirping of his technique, but he pushed the thought from his mind and took another step toward his targets. Once he finished with them, he'd be able to fully concentrate on tracking down Akuma and making the man pay once and for all.

He hadn't taken more than two steps forward when another body joined the two cowering on the floor. The Academy Teacher put himself between Wolf and his prey. The man was gripping a katana and, although his fear was evident in his scent, there was no sign of it in his hard glare.

“I won't let you kill them, Wolf!”

Wolf snarled. “You can't stop me, Sensei.”

Wolf lifted his left hand into position for the strike – his Chidori crackling in the room and casting its familiar blue-white glow across the faces in the corner, reflecting off the katana blade. He resumed his movement to finish what he started – intending to punch a hole through all three of them. Just when he was about to make contact – his body froze in place.

“What?!?” It took Wolf only a moment to recognize the Nara family's infamous shadow jutsu, and an instant later to sense Shikamaru behind him. Wolf would deal with the upstart later – meanwhile he was already shifting his chakra to counter the jutsu's hold. He could feel the young man's control begin to break, and as Wolf was about to free himself from its grip, he sensed Crow at his side and felt the sharp sting of a senbon in his neck. Wolf's Chidori faded from his fingertips when the sedative took hold of his system.

Crow's traitorous words followed Wolf into the darkness. “Forgive me, Wolf.”
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Fri May 01, 2009 6:44 am

I still think you should put up a list of the ANBU, like who is who. And it took me a while but I re read all of it from the beginning to end and I remembered one of the reasons I always kept perstering you being more confident in your writings. It has everything, from flow to interesting plot. Although, you should find a way to leave a little suspense (idk if that's the word) when ending a chapter, so people will barely be able to wait for another one. ^^
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Sun May 03, 2009 2:02 am

Synnie wrote:
I still think you should put up a list of the ANBU, like who is who. And it took me a while but I re read all of it from the beginning to end and I remembered one of the reasons I always kept perstering you being more confident in your writings. It has everything, from flow to interesting plot. Although, you should find a way to leave a little suspense (idk if that's the word) when ending a chapter, so people will barely be able to wait for another one. ^^
lol i know, im horrible at that. its like i just want to get it out. and im working on the ANBU list ^^
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Sun May 03, 2009 2:03 am

Chapter 16 - part 1: A Healer's Touch

Iruka still couldn't believe he was alive. He'd seen the cold stare from Wolf – felt the heat of the blue-white energy that was the man's Chidori. He'd watched it head straight for him. And then...it stopped – and he'd felt the waves of killing intent aimed for him shift to the left – and settle on Shikamaru. He'd watched the struggle for control between Wolf and the shadow jutsu, and registered it when Wolf was able to shift within the shadow's grip. Then he saw the silver-haired man's face twist into something beyond hatred, and gasped when Wolf collapsed toward the floor – only to be caught in Crow's arms just before he hit – his Chidori dying as he fell.

Iruka continued to stare – wide-eyed – at Wolf, as though expecting the man to snap his eye open and lunge for him again. The katana was still held in Iruka's grip in a defensive position. His own heartbeat was loud in his ears. Crow's voice eventually pierced through the shock-induced fog of his mind.

“Iruka – you can lower the blade now.”

Still, Iruka couldn't bring himself to relax quite yet. A hand on his shoulder caused him to flinch.

“Iruka-sensei, it's okay now.” Shikamaru's gentle words finally broke through to him, and he lowered the blade.

Iruka began shaking as the adrenaline rush that allowed him to face off with Wolf left his body. He looked up into Shikamaru's worried face and tried to put a smile on his face. “Thank...thank you Shika...Shikamaru. I...I...don't think he would have stopped this time.”

His attempt at a joke fell flat, and Iruka saw a darkness creep into the young man's eyes when Shikamaru glanced toward where Crow was tending to Wolf. His whispered words sent another shiver through Iruka's body.

“I've never had someone fight my technique like that before. He would have broken loose in just a few more seconds.”

Iruka heard a large sigh from Crow and watched the man start to remove Wolf's weapons. “Iruka-sensei, we'll need to sedate him until I can figure out what to do with him. My strike won't last more than an hour or two.”

A shrill female voice from behind him caused Iruka's muscles to tense once again. “Sedate him? He tried to kill us! You shouldn't let him wake up at all!”

Iruka spun on the woman and he knew his face was tinged red with his growing anger. “You don't have a say in this. None at all!”

The shocked expression on her face made her look even younger then she likely was. “But...but...he tried to kill me!”

Iruka leveled a gaze at her that he only used on the worst of students. She frowned in confusion as he snarled at her. “If you weren't still carrying that child...I would have let him kill you.”

Her eyes went wide again. “But...but...Lord Kurogane forced me to do that!”

Iruka's eyes shifted to a deadly glare and the woman fell silent. His words were clipped and tight with disgust. “I read the files, Youki.” He saw her blue eyes widen in recognition of her name. “Every one of you were eager and willing participants. In fact you begged to be a part of it to your father.”

She blushed and glanced nervously around. Iruka snorted in disgust. “Don't fool yourself into thinking I care one iota for your feelings in this matter. If there was a way to take you out of this equation...I would. My concern lies only with the child you are carrying – nothing more. Is that clear?”

Youki had the sense to step back and nod in response. Iruka shifted his gaze to the Lightning medic. “Give her an exam while I tend to Wolf. I need to know her status.”

The man swallowed deeply – obviously not wanting to incur Iruka's wrath. “Yes sir.”

Iruka turned his attention back toward the others and tried to stand. He was halfway up when his legs threatened to collapse under him. Shikamaru's hand on his arm stopped it from happening and Iruka softened his face when he met the young man's concerned gaze – although he couldn't quite smile.

“Thank you again, Shikamaru.”

A small nod and the chunin guided him to standing. Iruka took a few shaky steps until he was next to Wolf and Crow. He reached into his pouch and pulled out the syringe he'd prepared earlier in the mission. He held it out to Crow with a shaking hand – frowning at himself for being so affected by Wolf's attack. The ANBU captain took it and promptly injected the unconscious Wolf. Only after he verified the jonin was thoroughly knocked out did Crow stand up and look into Iruka's eyes.

“I'm sorry, Iruka. If I'd thought he'd go that far I would have had you sedate him sooner.”

Iruka frowned deeper and reached up to touch his wounded neck. “I would have thought this was a pretty good hint, Crow.”

Crow scratched at the back of his neck. “Yeah – well – he'd gone that far before...this is the first time he tried to Chidori a teammate.”

Iruka sighed and glanced down at the man they'd tried so hard to rescue. “Crow – what do we do now?”

“We finish the mission, Iruka. We need to get Wolf back to Konoha.”

Iruka bit his bottom lip. “It may not be that easy, Crow.”

“Why not?”

Iruka opened his pouch and pulled out a small vial of clear liquid. “This is all the sedative we have left. It's enough to keep a normal man out for about five days – but something tells me it won't keep Wolf down that long.”

“Shit!” Crow took a moment to look through his own pouch. “We can supplement it with the use of my laced senbon...but my method can cause permanent damage if it's used too much.”

Iruka turned toward where the medic was examining the woman. He sighed and walked over to their side. He noticed they both tensed at his approach, and he ran a hand across the back of his neck in frustration.

“What sedatives do you have in you pack?”

The Lightning medic frowned. “I don't have any sedatives. Just vitamins and protein boosters to help keep the fetus' nutrient levels even.”

Iruka sighed again and looked at the young woman lying back on the sorry excuse for a bed within the shack. She watched him with tear-filled eyes, but made no attempts to speak to him again. He shifted his gaze back to the medic.

“How is the child?”

A faint smile crossed the man's face. “I'm not quite sure how – but all the signs point to the fetus still being viable.” He furrowed his brow. “As well as I can tell without being in a hospital, that is.”

Iruka felt himself relax slightly at the news. He didn't want to think about the implications if they'd knocked Wolf out and the child hadn't survived. He placed a trace of a smile on his face.

“I'm glad to hear that.”

The medic frowned at him. “Sir...what are you going to do with us?”

Iruka looked toward the others, then back at the medic. “I don't know...but you'll be treated fairly – I promise.” He frowned. “So long as you behave, that is.”

The medic glanced at the young woman. “What if we lose the fetus?”

Iruka shook his head. “Let's just hope you don't.”

He saw the woman pale at his words and Iruka moved back to where the others were standing. He stood next to Neji and placed a hand on the young Hyuga's wrist to get his attention.

“Neji – I need you to scan the woman from time to time.”

The young man tipped his head to the side. “What am I looking for Iruka-sensei?”

Iruka sighed – feeling more tired than he had in years. “You need to verify that the child inside is still alive.”

Neji nodded and activated his Byakugan. A moment later a frown settled over his lips. Iruka's heart raced. “Neji, don't tell me it's already gone.”

“No, Iruka-sensei.”

“Then why the frown?”

Neji turned to meet his eyes. “Do you want to know only if all the children stop living?”

Iruka blinked. “I'm sorry Neji...I don't understand.”

Neji folded his arms and glanced back to where the medic was sharing a ration bar with the young woman. “Iruka-sensei, she is carrying three children within her womb. All of them have strong heartbeats for now.”

Iruka felt his eyes go wide and knew his mouth had dropped open in surprise. “Three?”

“Yes, Iruka-sensei. Three.”

“Shit.” He rubbed at the scar across his nose. “Let's keep this quiet for now, Neji. But let me know if anything changes with any of the children, okay?”

Neji nodded in silent agreement. Iruka shook his head. Why was it that nothing about this mission could be normal?
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Sun May 03, 2009 2:04 am

chapter 16 - part 2

Chuutetsu's view of his own physical fitness dropped drastically after running for hours each day without stopping for more than a few minutes. And watching the others during those stops made it crystal clear that the only reason they stopped at all was because of him. When at last a small shack came into view, Chuutetsu thanked his lucky stars and prayed this was their final destination.

When another ANBU masked ninja stepped out to meet them, he smiled. It was Crow. That meant Iruka and Kakashi had to be nearby!

He waited, trying to keep his breath from rasping in his chest, until – at last – Crow motioned him over. Chuutetsu could see the tension in Crow's body when he moved to his side. His mind went wild possibilities.

“Are we too late, Crow? Where are Iruka and Kakashi?”

Crow stepped to the side and revealed a very tired Iruka limping toward him. A smile stretched across Chuutetsu's face at the sight of the young man, but it quickly turned into a frown of concern when he saw the bloody bandages on the man's leg. He lifted his eyes to look into Iruka's face, but his gaze froze at the tan-man's neck.

“What the hell happened?” He pushed past Crow and rushed to Iruka's side. The Academy Teacher's smile wasn't at all what Chuutetsu was used to, but it seemed genuine all the same.

“Chuutetsu – you are a sight for sore eyes.” The man's voice sounded gravelly – but considering the wound across his throat, he was lucky to have a voice at all.

“Sit down Iruka. Let me take a look at those wounds.”

Iruka chuckled and waved him off. “Mine can wait a bit longer. I have a couple of other people I'd like you to check first, please.”

Chuutetsu's eyes went wide. “Kakashi's worse off than this?”

He saw a strange look cross Iruka's face. “Wolf's arm was injured beyond my skills to fix. And the help he received before we found him didn't seem to know what they were doing. He's unconscious right now – so this would be the best time to work on him.”

Chuutetsu frowned. “Unconscious? Why?”

This time he saw the man cringe and had a feeling he didn't want to know the answer. “We gave Wolf a rather healthy dose of sedatives.”

“Show me.” He let Iruka lead him into the small shack.

Inside he saw Locust and a handful of others wearing headbands that matched those worn by Ten-ten and Kotetsu. They bore that symbol that reminded him so much of the tattoo on Kakashi's left arm. They glanced toward them when they entered and then, at a nod from Iruka, they moved aside to allow him a clear view of the unconscious man lying on the bed. He felt a lump form in his throat. Kakashi lay unmoving. It was only after staring for a bit that Chuutetsu saw his chest rising and falling, pushing aside his fear that the man was dead. His skin was so pale it almost looked translucent – except for the areas covered with bandages, cuts and bruises.

He moved to Kakashi's side and placed his pack on the floor – unsure where to even start. His eyes kept being drawn up to the angry bruising on the man's neck, and he brushed his fingertips over the marks. He turned his head toward Iruka.

“Did the same person who cut you do this to Kakashi?”

He watched Iruka's hands clench into fists. “No.”

Chuutetsu knew enough about body language to realize there was a story behind Iruka's injury – but he knew better than to press the issue right now. “Right. So how long ago did you splint his arm?”

Iruka looked confused by the question – as though he really wasn't sure how to answer. “A few days...I think.”

Chuutetsu moved to the bound arm and inspected Kakashi's fingers. The man's nails were pink and healthy – once he cleaned away the layer of grime on them – and he sighed in relief that at least the man's circulation wasn't in jeopardy.

He worked quickly to remove the splint and take his first good look at the arm. It was swollen and wickedly bruised, and he could tell just by looking at it that the setting of the bones was very poor indeed. This was not good.

“Iruka – where's the closest hospital?”

“Probably in the Village Hidden in the Clouds...why?”

Chuutetsu blinked at the answer and stared up into Iruka's face. “The Village Hidden in the what? Just how far away from here is that?”

Iruka flushed in embarrassment. “Sorry – I forget you aren't one of us. The closest formal Hospital is a good week away.”

Chuutetsu shook his head. “That's too long. I'm afraid there's nothing I can do for him.”

Iruka's face changed to one of shock. “What are you talking about? Just reset his arm and it'll be fine.”

“Iruka – how can I possibly reset his arm? I'd need x-ray equipment to even see the bones current alignment – and the only place with that would be a hospital.”

Iruka frowned at him. “What if you tried it without the x-ray?”

Chuutetsu leaned back and placed his hands on his legs. “Iruka – that's what I'm trying to get through to you. We need an x-ray to stand a chance at realigning the bones without causing permanent damage.”

Iruka chewed on one of his fingernails while it was obvious he was thinking through the problem. Chuutetsu added what he hoped would convince the young man that it was hopeless.

“Iruka – by the time we get to the hospital, the breaks will have fused themselves incorrectly. Even a surgeon wouldn't be able to fix this mess.”

A look of determination crept over Iruka's face. “Then we can't wait. Do you trust me?”

Chuutetsu narrowed his gaze at the Academy Teacher, trying to figure out where he was going with this. “Yes...I think so.”

Iruka turned toward where the others were still standing. “Neji – we need your help.”

A tall, dark-haired boy stepped forward. His eyes were so pale it looked like he had no irises at all. Chuutetsu tried not to stare at him while he listened intently as Iruka went over everything they'd just discussed, and then asked the boy if he could help. Neji nodded and focused those pale eyes on Kakashi's injured arm.

“Byakugan!”

That single word seemed to trigger some kind of reaction in the boy – and Chuutetsu gasped when he saw the veins all around his eyes bulge and pulse. “What the...what's happening to him, Iruka?”

The teacher smiled. “Consider Neji your x-ray machine.”

The young man scanned Kakashi's arm for quite some time before his eyes returned to normal – well, as normal as they could. He pulled out a blank scroll and proceeded to use a pen to draw a very detailed sketch of the current placement of the arm bones in Kakashi's right arm.

Chuutetsu studied Neji's drawing and marveled at the detail. There was no doubting that the boy was somehow looking inside Kakashi's arm. The bone structures were just too exact to allow for any other explanations. What concerned the medic right now was how the ill-set bones were already fusing incorrectly based on the sketch. Those spots would need to be re-broken before he could start to align anything properly.

He frowned. It was too bad he couldn't see into his patient like Neji – it would have made this much easier. Iruka leaned in to look at the drawing.

“Chuutetsu, are these thick areas where the problem lies?”

“Yeah – I need to somehow pull those spots apart before we can move forward. But I'm afraid I may not be able to break the right spot.” He scratched his head. “We normally do this after a series of precise measurements from the x-rays and even then, we usually need to cut the arm open to perform the task when the breaks present themselves in such a twisted format.”

Iruka smiled at him. “I think Neji and I can help you with that.”

Neji caused his eyes to transform once more and focused the gaze on Kakashi's arm after having Chuutetsu show him the spots that needed to be separated based on the drawing. He watched in awed amazement when Iruka's hands began to glow with what he assumed was chakra – although unlike the blue glow of Kakashi's chakra, Iruka's was a brilliant green. That green glow sank below Kakashi's skin and Iruka slowly dragged his hand up and down the arm until Neji signaled him to stop.

“Iruka-sensei, narrow the field until it's two fingers width. That's perfect. Now lower it...stop!”

Chuutetsu watched while Iruka positioned his second hand the same way over another part of the arm. Neji narrowed his eyes. “You'll need to thrust down precisely three centimeters while the medic pulls his arm forward – that should be enough to separate the sections.”

Chuutetsu positioned himself at Kakashi's wrist and looked up to find the two ninjas waiting for his cue. He took a deep breath.

“Iruka – on three, please. One...two...three!”

Chuutetsu pulled – Iruka pushed his chakra through the bones – Neji monitored it all. The arm moved loosely in Chuutetsu's hands – signifying their success even before Neji's words left his lips.

“The bones have been separated.”

Iruka grinned and pulled his hands away – the green light fading as he went. “Okay, Neji...now tell Chuutetsu how to manipulate the arm to line things up again.”

Chuutetsu watched Neji narrow his eyes and study the arm closely before he spoke. “Twist it two centimeters to your left.”

He did as instructed.

“Good – now push down one centimeter – and now toward me...stop!”

Chuutetsu frowned. The angle of the arm was still off. “There's no way that's it, Neji. I can tell without your vision that the bones aren't sitting right.”

The young man sighed. “You are correct...that's not it. But we need to fuse one of the bones here to keep it from becoming misaligned again with the next steps.”

Iruka's hands glowed. “Where do you need it Neji?”

The boy led Iruka's hand to the correct spot and once again Chuutetsu watched the chakra sink under the skin. “You can use that energy to do more than cut through bones?”

Neji answered, as Iruka's concentration was on the task. “Healing chakra can be used for any number of applications. What we are doing here is nowheres near the level of a true medical ninja. Iruka-sensei...that's enough. It should hold now.”

Iruka sighed and pulled his energy free again. “That's a good thing. I'm almost out of chakra.”

Chuutetsu looked into Iruka's face and saw exhaustion in his eyes and sweat across his brows. So, there was a limit to what this chakra could do. But at least the rest of the bones should align now that the first one was pinned down. He'd need to find out later just how Kakashi had managed to acquire spiral breaks.

The three worked together to finish the task, and soon all that was left was to reapply the splint. Chuutetsu marveled at how vastly different this land was to where he'd lived the majority of his life. He wondered if they would have a place for someone who didn't sport this miraculous chakra. He watched Neji's eyes return to normal and then saw Iruka sag to the floor with a tired sigh.

Chuutetsu smiled at the man and crossed to his side. He may not have chakra – but he could at least clean out and stitch shut Iruka's injuries until they could get to someone who did have chakra.

“Your turn Iruka-sensei.”

Iruka frowned. “Chuutetsu...these can wait. I think that...”

He shook his head and cut the young man off. “No, Iruka...these can't wait. Not unless you want another scar like the one across your face, that is.”

Iruka flinched at his words and his face flushed. “I'm sorry, Chuutetsu. Of course – you're right. Please...go ahead.”

Chuutetsu couldn't believe how stubborn these men could be. He'd thought Kakashi was the only pig-headed one in the bunch – but it was quite obvious Iruka was just as bad. He looked between the thigh wound and the neck wound to determine where to start. The thigh wound was seeping through the bandages, but the neck wound was threatening to pull loose of the butterfly closures and the skin around it held the angry red color that was the precursor to an infection. That settled it – the neck wound was first!

Chuutetsu reached into his pack and pulled out a suture kit. He lay it on the edge of the bed and pulled out what he needed to clean and prep the wounds. While he went to work wiping away dried blood and removing the current closures he assessed the wound. The cut was deeper than he liked to see on the neck, but the edges were smooth and even...likely the results of a thin-edged, sharp blade. Although he didn't like the thought that someone had tried to slit Iruka's throat, he was glad the injury would be simple to stitch shut. If he did a careful job of it, the resulting scar should be barely noticeable – unlike the thick line of scar tissue marring the man's face.

Throughout all of his ministrations, Iruka remained still and silent. It was a bit unnerving to Chuutetsu...being used to patients who would scream and thrash about for something as trivial as a splinter, let alone a wound of this magnitude. He needed something to break that eerie silence or he'd go mad.

“Iruka, do you mind if I ask a few questions while I work?”

“Won't my talking make it harder to stitch my neck shut?”

Chuutetsu chuckled. “Lucky for you I'm a Senior Medic. Besides – compared to some of the kids I've stitched up over the years, I don't think it'll be a problem. Just try not to pull away or twist and we'll be fine.”

He saw Iruka smile – and for the first time since he'd arrived, that smile reached his dark brown eyes, “I'll do my best, Chuutetsu.”

He wiped a topical anesthetic over the wound and waited a moment for it to become effective before stringing a needle with suture thread and meeting Iruka's gaze. “You're liable to feel a tug here or there, but the area should be numb to anything else.”

Iruka smiled wider. “I'm sure it will be fine.”
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Sun May 03, 2009 2:05 am

Chapter 16 - part 3

Once Chuutetsu pierced Iruka's flesh, he quickly fell into the familiar rhythm of stitching the wound...one hand holding the next piece of skin closed, while the other pushes the needle through – the first hand shifting to loop the suture thread to ensure a tight, even closure before moving to pull the next section together. All while he spoke with Iruka about all manner of topics – from favorite foods, to hobbies. When he moved the conversation to Kakashi, Chuutetsu nearly missed a stitch when Iruka shifted under his hands. He glanced up and saw the smile had left the Academy Teacher's face, and his eyes held a deep sorrow.

Chuutetsu frowned. “Hold still Iruka. We're almost done here.”

The young man closed his eyes, a faint blush coloring his cheeks. “Sorry.”

Chuutetsu placed the last twelve stitches in silence, tying off the end and cutting the needle free before he looked into Iruka's face again. All signs of the smile were gone – replaced by a haunted look.

“Are you okay Iruka? You look troubled.”

Iruka placed a smile on his lips...although it was obvious to Chuutetsu that it was forced. Sensing that something more was going on, but also that this wasn't the time or place to delve into something the man obviously wasn't ready to share, he shifted his attention to Iruka's next wound.

If the bandage tied around his thigh was anything to go by, this wound was more then two hand's width in length, and still bleeding quite a bit. He started unwinding the field dressing and found the angle a bit difficult to work with.

“Iruka – sit on the edge of the bed so I can get a better view of what I'm trying to do.”

Iruka paled and Chuutetsu watched his gaze shift to the unconscious form of Kakashi. Chuutetsu chuckled.

“Come on Iruka, Kakashi won't mind sharing a bed with you...in fact, he won't even notice you're there.”

Iruka's brow furrowed and his eyes held something unreadable in them, but he did as he was instructed. Chuutetsu frowned. He'd need to get the young man to tell him what was going on once he finished patching him up. He leaned over Iruka's thigh and focused on the wound.

This one looked to be another blade cut – although it was longer and deeper than the neck wound. It was going to require some internal stitches as well as the ones used on the surface if there was going to be a chance for the tissue to mend properly. He sighed to himself and retrieved what he needed before bending back over the wound to start cleaning the site. This took a bit longer than the neck wound – partially because of the size of the wound – and partially because it was caked in dirt in places. It looked as though he'd been to the mud baths.

“Iruka – how long ago did this wound happen?” He was seeing signs of infection in the tissue around the cut that gave him an idea, but he wanted to get Iruka communicating with him again.

Iruka scratched at the back of his neck. “Umm – three, maybe four days ago?”

“You aren't sure?”

Iruka shrugged. “The days have sort of blurred together since we broke Wolf out.”

They both fell silent again as Chuutetsu started the task of closing up the leg wound while contemplating what Iruka said. Something hadn't sat right with this whole situation since his arrival – and he was only just starting to put the pieces together. No one – not Crow, not Iruka, not even Badger back when they picked him up – had used Kakashi's name...not even the young lad, Neji. Every single one of them kept calling him Wolf.

Chuutetsu glanced over to where Kakashi was lying. The man's face was covered in a half mask of black fabric. It made him look somehow older then he knew he was. It also made him look more deadly. That, added to how Iruka was acting, was starting to make him wonder just what the hell happened during the rescue.

The final stitches were pulled tight and Chuutetsu turned his attention back to Iruka's face. His eyes were closed once more, and his breathing was even. He almost felt guilty interrupting what appeared to be some sort of meditation.

“We're all finished here, Iruka. Just take it easy with the leg. You don't want to rip the stitches out by mistake.”

Iruka gave him a tired smile and looked like he was about to say something, when Kakashi moaned and rolled toward them. Iruka's eyes became impossibly wide – and his entire body tensed as he shot to his feet. Crow was at their side immediately, sliding a long, thin bone needle into the side of Kakashi's neck. A moment later, and Kakashi was resting peacefully again.

Chuutetsu glared at Crow. “Why the hell did you do that? I would think you'd want Kakashi awake at this point.”

Crow shook his head. “You're right – but I'd prefer not to have Wolf awake right now.”

Chuutetsu glanced back down at the sleeping man and the last piece fell into place in his mind. He turned his attention back to Iruka. “Did Kakashi slice your throat, Iruka?”

The Academy Teacher took a slow breath before he answered. “Wolf did.”

Chuutetsu's time spent in the City Hospital exposed him to all manor of ailments – include a stint in the psych ward. He'd seen more than a few men with split personalities – and he knew of varying levels of success in treating such ailments. But there were also some who shifted in personality never to return to who they once were. By the way all these people were acting around Kakashi – even though he was unconscious – Chuutetsu wondered if perhaps they'd already given up on his return. He hoped that wasn't the case.
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PostSubject: Re: the Long Road Home   Tue May 05, 2009 10:09 am

Simply amazing Wink
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the Long Road Home
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