Snap Back To Reality 66
Kakashi didn't think being an ANBU was what others thought it would be. There were no insane suicide missions on the constant, no assassinations every other day, and definitely no ridiculous dark rituals that some of the more superstitious civilians thought happened. That might have also been due to the fact that he was often relegated to the easier missions that ANBU took. Not that the easier ANBU missions were easy by any generic standard. He was still a newbie, and so he often found himself relegated to highly classified, yet non-threatening missions. Maybe that was also due to his age. The other newer ANBU would complain, but not him… he found he didn't care one way or another. He wanted the mind-numbing routine and orders, and when he needed to think, he wanted it to be purely about missions.
It was only ever a hassle when he was consigned to guarding the Hokage. Three ANBU had to be present near the Hokage at all times, but that mostly meant waiting in another room with their senses on high alert for any form of danger, and only ever coming close to the Hokage when a potential threat was about. He didn't expect Hina to be listed amongst one of those potentials. Neither did he expect to see her off on a mission that could potentially tarnish her reputation within her own village for the foreseeable future. Even if she did come back within three months, she would come back having been a traitor's student who also showcased the same qualities by backstabbing her own sensei. There was no win-win in this situation when it came to her reputation within the village. There was already whispers of suspicion directed towards Anko and Rui, both of whom were fighting their cursed seals in a hospital at this very moment.
The moment Kakashi heard of what happened he'd summoned himself into the Hokage's office for orders. Tiger had made it there before him. The callsigns she had been allocated were not administered so it indicated that she was either kidnapped against her will, or left Konoha properly. Either way it wasn't the ideal departure they had planned. So when they went back to investigate her room for the callsign 'flight', they could not find it there either.
Kakashi took off his mask as a sign of respect when he entered Hina's too-pink room. He wouldn't dare normally take it off while in ANBU gear, but it wasn't a secret who he was anyway. He felt almost like he was walking into a dead girl's room.
"There was no sign of forceful kidnapping, but neither was there any witness to her leaving willingly. She didn't even leave the mark she was assigned before defecting," Kakashi said, a nervous wring to his usually flat voice.
"It's possible that Orochimaru incapacitated her before she could react, or put her in some stasis state," Tiger replied, as he looked around the girl's surprisingly pink room.
He was right. She was meant to leave behind the kanji for 'flight' somewhere in her room or office in R&D. It was a simple call-sign they'd attached to her that represented leaving in some way. There was also 'steam' for trouble, 'run' for extreme danger, 'cloud' for when she initiated contact with the unknown organisation, and 'sun' for immediate extraction. Kakashi knew Hina wasn't stupid. She wouldn't forget something this vital to the mission.
"How will we know she's safe?" Hatake asked.
"We won't… at least not until she gives the call sign 'flight' again and details a location and time for our next contact."
"She would be under surveillance… finding a way to organise a meeting with us could be too risky," he countered.
"It is impossible to negate risk in an infiltration mission," Tiger said, as he picked up one of the girl's scrolls from a hidden chamber inside her desk.
It was a three-trigger seal, exceptionally well crafted for something as mundane as carrying items. He opened it after five tries, which considering his IQ and overall intelligence, indicated that anyone under Jounin would not be able to even attempt accessing this seal. Kakashi was surprised when the only items he saw within the scroll seal were personal belongings such as photos, various little trinkets, and a journal. He opened it to find out that Hina was also apparently hiding the ability to create complex cyphers and possibly an entirely new language from scratch.
Kakashi was less interested in the book and more transfixed on the picture that fell out of the book. He paused at the sight of Rin and Obito with the other children. His heart hammered in his chest, but the only visual cue of any distress he felt was the slight tremble of his hands. He was lost once again in a world of blood, blood that dripped from his own dirty hands. He could feel Rin's open chest cavity around his palm and he threw the picture away too quickly before he rubbed his palm against his pants and shrugged off the distress he was feeling. It was too late apparently because Tiger saw it.
"We are Shinobi, Dog. There will be death, and continue to be so," Tiger said.
It wasn't consolation. Kakashi knew Tiger didn't know how to console. It was simple stated facts. Kakashi locked away his emotions once more before he closed Hina's book over the picture. He still had a mission he needed to focus on.
"How should we proceed?" he asked.
"Keep detail on Mitarashi Anko."
"What about Chinsei Rui?"
Tiger snorted. "There's no use keeping detail on a boy in a coma."
His eyes widened for a moment, and it seemed to snap him enough to put his mask back on. Tiger never took his off in the first place, finding no need to show some form of intimate respect to Suzuki's room. This mission was affecting Kakashi too much for his liking.
"The cursed seal… did it take to Mitarashi-san?" Hatake asked.
"Suzuki-san had left detailed instructions on how to dampen the seal's effects," Tiger replied as he opened the window in Suzuki's room to exit. Kakashi followed after him to the roof. "We are still unsure the extent of the effect the seal will have on them, but if Suzuki-san didn't produce those dampeners, Chinsei Rui would have died. So it's safe to assume they don't negate the entire effect of the seal, but rather minimise it. Follow the detail however you please, but do not tell her of Suzuki-san's mission. We don't know if Orochimaru has a link to anyone with the seal."
Kakashi nodded and with that Tiger jumped away. Kakashi followed him into the debriefing room again, but this time he stayed in the back away from sight.
"Hokage-sama, none of the call signs we assigned her were left."
"Then it's a matter of waiting. We have another contact who will be joining us today," Uchiha Fugaku said
Kakashi turned around to see Jounin Inuzuka Gaku walk through the door. The man was tall. In comparison to Gaku, who stood at 6'9, Kakashi felt like an infant. Although to be fair, he was pretty short. But despite Gaku's height, Kakashi thought he looked quite unintimidating. He was not skinny, or soft looking, but built with thick sturdy muscles, yet his eyes were kind and altogether he looked deceptively like he wouldn't hurt a fly. Even now, walking in with his giant dog in tow, he looked more like a worried father than an angry Jounin sensei. It reminded him of Minato-sensei.
"With all due respect Hokage-sama, Inuzuka-san is a front-line Taijutsu specialist. I don't quite see what he can contribute to this mission," Tiger said.
The Uchiha looked miffed for a second and Gaku stiffened next to the ANBU Captain. Kakashi knew it was in Tiger's nature to be blunt. It wasn't ill intentioned, but the man simply valued productivity above all else.
"Gaku-san simply would not let the matter drop, and it would be safer if he didn't snoop around."
Kakashi turned his head to spot Shikaku. Considering the man had somehow managed to sneak into the room while Kakashi was actively trying to be aware, put him on edge. He was reminded why Nara Shikaku was the Jounin Commander. Shikaku gave Gaku a fond but exasperated look, as he came in holding several files.
"It seems to be a recurring thing," Shikaku snorted.
Gaku scratched the back of his neck sheepishly and laughed as he took one of the manila folders off the Jounin commander. Tiger and Fugaku took one as well before they all ended up standing to attention in front of the Hokage's desk. Kakashi wanted to know what was written in it but decided he'd just have to wait until the end of the debriefing to get the folder for himself.
"I just don't want to let her out of my sight. She gets into too much trouble," Gaku said.
"She's in a risky position no matter how you wish it to be," Fugaku countered, shooting down the Jounin's concerns. "It isn't something I do lightly. I've taken precautionary actions of course; in case it becomes too much. Hina's well-being is crucial in moving forward with finding out Orochimaru's plans."
Kakashi noted the way the Inuzuka's jaw clenched together in barely held back distaste. But they didn't have the time for feelings right now. There was a lot of clean-up work to do after the war that still extended in down months in the line. Trade lines were still being built back up, new treaties being formed, and power vacuums shifting and changing to accommodate for the new winners and losers. Kakashi had partook on many of those missions himself.
"I put together a file detailing the entirety of her mission parameters and goals," Shikaku said.
Kakashi was beginning to get acquainted with how lengthy paperwork was for infiltration missions. Being a Shinobi was a job, and people wanted job security, and while the Hokage and some powerful people could circumvent that and do as they pleased once in a while, the majority of people were held to the village standard. So far only Konoha and Kumo had implemented a safety-net system this advanced. Despite how annoying the paperwork was, it was crucial in the survival of infiltration specialists that Konoha had under their belt. There were the rare few orphans and unknown civilians even that managed to land a role in infiltration, but the skilled ones were often trained for years in mastering local colloquialism, mannerisms, and the cultural differences of the places they would be infiltrating and losing an asset with that much investment put into them was a grave loss. Considering the high mortality rate in infiltration missions, Konoha had implemented their own system to keep their agents alive. Kakashi thought Hina was lucky, because despite not being an infiltration specialist, she was receiving much the same treatment. He was grateful for it.
"What if this shadow group doesn't contact Orochimaru within three months?" Gaku asked, a worried frown taking his face.
"Then she will have to make a choice whether to remain or to come back," the Yondaime replied.
"I'm more worried about her mental state. We have no way to keep tabs on her allegiance," Tiger said.
"We will just have to have faith in her character profile and believe she'll value her siblings and friends, and therefore value the village," Fugaku sighed.
Kakashi pursed his lips behind his mask. Hina would never truly betray the Village, although he knew she had no love for it. She cared too much about the people she protected, and all Konoha ninja to some level felt loyalty to the whole. They had fought, bled, and died trusting the other Shinobi here in war, and they would continue to do so. That was why a traitor was looked at in disdain because they broke that sacred trust. Kakashi wasn't so sure Hina would never turn traitor, but he knew she would never spit on that trust, even if she'd be forced to pretend she did. At the end of the day she would protect Konoha, because that was where her friends were, and that was exactly what he would do too.
Contrary to what most people believed, Kakashi didn't mind Guy's constant challenges. It actually made him quite happy to be sought after like that, but it had gone from a warm feeling to a dangerous sort of resentment after Rin's death at his hands. Guy's upbeat attitude was a part of him, but it was also a stark reminder of his own lacking joy. However finding out from Asuma that Guy was growing sullen had been a shock. Kakashi didn't often seek people out, but he did that day. He almost wished Hina were here so he could take her with him, but it had been 3 weeks without contact with her and he was feeling antsy. He didn't think he was mentally prepared to comfort someone at this time, but he'd be damned if he didn't at least check up on Guy.
He ended up finding his friend by a tomb stone and it suddenly clicked. Kakashi walked up behind him, knelt by Guy's silent, shaking form, and put a hand on his shoulder. It was unsettling seeing the normally bright, energetic boy reduced to… something dark like him. That wasn't Guy, because when his friend looked back at him through tears, it was with hatred in his eyes.
"I will kill him," Guy whispered.
Kakashi looked down at the grave marked for Might Duy and felt the loss too. Guy's father may have been the infamous eternal Genin, but he was also Guy's inspiration and a man who never gave up. Kakashi didn't know what to say to Guy's hatred. He had felt his own burning hatred to a numerous number of Kiri-shinobi after what happened to Rin. After the war had ended the flame had died to a gnawing guilt and a painful feeling of powerlessness.
"Who was it?" Kakashi asked.
"Kushimaru Kuriarare, the Swordsman of the Mist who owns Nuibari," Guy replied, a hard edge to his normally cheerful voice.
"The Swordsman known as Needle," Kakashi mumbled.
He knew of him from the Bingo Books. None of the swordsman of the mist were easy to forget, and any Shinobi who was half competent had memorised most of the names and faces on as many Bingo Books as they could.
"He died protecting everyone else. He opened eight gates," Guy said.
"Then he was a hero."
His weak attempt at comfort was going nowhere. It felt incredibly wrong to see his friend who was so full of light-hearted optimism reduced to his level. Guy had always felt invincible in that way. Untouchable by the darkness that Shinobi were a part of. Kakashi didn't know how to bring that light back to Guy. He didn't think he had any to share.
It felt like the world was slowly crumbling, little by little. Everyone he loved died, and when Kakashi saw Minato's face in the morning, it felt terribly painful for some reason. His sensei gave him a bright smile and a wave as he handed him a bento box. He'd somehow ended up sleeping over at Minato-sensei's place after he'd come back from a rather depressing mission to hear that Hina still hadn't given word of her location. For years he had rejected staying over at Minato's house. He was an adult the moment he got his headband. He didn't need to be coddled or taken care of. But even adults needed help sometimes.
"What's your plan for today? Kushina and I were wondering if you wanted to catch some ramen with us later for lunch," Minato offered.
"I have a mission on," he hummed back as he took the bento.
Minato sighed, but gave him a bright smile despite the dark circles under his eyes. Kakashi didn't know what it was from, but ever since the war his sensei had become a bit edgier. At least Kushina was ever the same. He wanted to attribute it to Minato finding out he was nearly appointed Hokage until Fugaku took his position, but he was sure it was more than that.
"Promise you'll take a break soon and come eat with us. Work-life balance remember," Minato said, bumping his fist gently against the top of his head before leaving.
Kakashi held that spot feeling oddly warm as he looked down at the bento on his lap. It felt familiar and alien all at once. He remembered his tousan doing the same years ago. He put the bento box away before moving to grab his sword straps. He buckled it across his chest and slid his two tantos on his back before making his way down to the kitchen to see Kushina cleaning up the plates. It was extremely domestic.
"Oh where are you going off to Kakashi-kun? Want to hang out with us today?" Kushina asked.
"Mission," he replied.
He moved to make out of the door when Kushina grabbed his shirt from behind, exuding an aura of menace. He didn't want to admit that he was terrified of the Jinchuriki… because he was. She looked like she was almost about to chakra chain him to the ground.
"I don't assume this mission will last all day since you aren't packing for a long trip," she said with a forceful smile.
Was her hair standing on end or was it his imagination? Kakashi eventually gave up and relented to her. One did not simply deny Uzumaki Kushina's wishes. He ended up agreeing to dinner before rushing out for his mission. He was meant to tail Mitarashi Anko, since she'd just recently come out of the hospital. He needed a good read on how far Orochimaru's influence extended when it came to her cursed mark, but that was a hit or miss objective. Mostly he was told to keep her out of poking her nose in Hina's business. He didn't think that would work, but he'd do his job as best he could either way.
There were numerous ways he could have gone about detailing Mitarashi Anko, but here he was in his ANBU mask, holding a bento box because he didn't bring a sealing scroll that wasn't specifically for his ANBU gear. For a while he decided to follow her around, not matter how ridiculous it would look for an ANBU to do so while holding a sky-blue lunchbox with ramen swirls on it. He would have been happy to stay that way if not for the numerous amounts of sour looks and overt insults being thrown at the girl he was following.
Anko, to her credit, didn't so much as flinch as she walked on by. Instead a dangerous smile took her face as she stared right back at the people sneering at her. Kakashi didn't know her character profile well enough to know if that was a defence mechanism, or unusual for her character and simply a by-product of the seal on her neck influencing her actions. It got to the point where it became a reminder of his own shame. People had looked and whispered at him after his father's suicide. He was known as the boy whose father caused the war until he fought tooth and nail to build up his own reputation from the ground up. Maybe it was that, or maybe it was Anko's sharp unnerving smile, but he eventually put away his mask and decided that detailing from afar wasn't the way to go.
Kakashi did a parameter check around Anko's house, disabled all the protection seals around the place, before entering through the window and making himself comfortable. Her house was unsurprisingly full of random trinkets, and nothing seemed to have any cohesive design. The colour scheme was all over the place. Kakashi grimaced at how tacky everything looked. Well it wasn't bad enough to make him run away, so he decided to stay. He couldn't tell her she was his mission, but he could get more direct answers to his question this way.
So he plopped himself on her couch after heating up some of the fried food from the bento and sat down ready and aware that Anko would walk in any moment now. The door opened in the distance and eventually purple hair peaked from behind the corridor. He caught Anko's stunned eyes, her body freezing mid-way between undoing her bra. Kakashi's brain almost shut off, and all he could say was a pathetic "Yo".
"What the fuck! Kakashi?"
He didn't expect the teenager to undo her bra anyway and peg it at his face. Kakashi couldn't believe an older girl's bra was on his face, or that she was naked in front of him. For all intents and purposes a newly awakened part of his brain was not computing, but it didn't register on his face asides from the terrible nosebleed he suddenly had. Thankfully for him he had a second mask in his pocket, and a third, and a fourth one too if he needed it. So with the speed of Minato himself he changed it before turning back to Anko, making sure to only look at her face, lest he wanted to see her rather… um large breasts. She was surprisingly clothed, despite wearing no bra, she had thrown on an oversized white shirt before she plopped down on the couch next to him and grabbed a fried tempura prawn from the hot bento. He didn't expect she'd take it in stride like this.
"What are you doing here brat? Come here to moan about that traitor too?" she asked, a scowl on her face.
"Orochimaru?" Kakashi asked.
"No you idiot, your girlfriend," she replied sharply, sending him a heated glare.
Kakashi wanted to protest the fact that he wasn't dating Hina but decided against it. Clearly Anko didn't need that at the moment. If this was in fact Hina, all he would have to do was spar her, beat her up a little and let her vent out her frustrations with her fist. He wasn't sure what way Anko, and Guy took out their anger… and if he was being honest it scared him a little.
"I wanted to see if you were ok," he said truthfully.
Anko went silent, staring at him for a long while before he saw the edge in her eyes leave as she turned back to her food. She looked as closed off to the world as he was when his father had killed himself.
"Why wouldn't I be. My sensei and teammate just betrayed the Village, and my other teammate is in an indefinite coma and threat of death. Yes, I'm just peachy fine," she replied, her hands moving up to touch her neck before she shook herself from whatever mood she was in and scowled again. "And now a brat is coming here and bothering me when I should be relaxing alone."
Some childish part of Kakashi wanted to protest that he was twelve and not a child, but he saw how that would look childish to a fifteen-year-old. So he wisely didn't rise up to her mocking tone and instead decided to do something extremely hard; show some empathy and restraint. Minato-sensei had said that's what really made an adult before pointedly looking at Kushina and chuckling. Kushina had proceeded to chaining up the man and demanding an apology. Kakashi learnt that day that not all adults were adults.
"It's always better to share a meal or it will feel cold, even when its warm," Kakashi said.
He was met with silence again and then a sigh as she took another prawn in way of accepting his offer. He pretended not to see the tears in her eyes. She knew of him, he was sure. She knew he'd been through much the same. This Village was beautiful in many ways, something precious to his heart, but the people were easy to reject, and easy to box others in. A Shinobi's world was paranoia, and so sometimes trusting others was impossible. Kakashi knew it to just be hard, and most people didn't like hard. Hard was something you chose deliberately.
I might be a hypocrite telling you this when I can't even forgive myself, but I think literally everyone is right when it comes to telling me to stop hating myself—it's time for you to stop as well. Put your trust in me and I will in you. Take our victories as we take our failures.
Hina had told him that. His oldest friend. The only other person who he felt understood him more than Minato or Kushina did. What she did would ruin her reputation within Konoha for a long time coming. Even if she came back, double agents were looked upon with distrust by the majority of Shinobi forces. But worst of all it was what it did to those you loved that hurt the most. It was why most infiltration agents were orphans or Shinobi who'd lost their families.
"This is a one-time thing," Anko relented.
It wasn't a one-time thing. Kakashi frequently visited Anko to the point that Kurenai had asked him if he had a crush. He proceeded to pull out the only book he had on him to ignore her, and to his surprise she ran away. He looked at the book and realised it was the porn he had kept hidden usually, then looked back in the direction Kurenai had fled. He felt like he'd found the perfect companion for an introvert. He patted the Icha Icha series in his hand fondly, and chuckled. Yes, it was perfect.
He visited her again that day as well, food in hand because he knew that was the only way to wrangle a conversation out of her. He expected to intrude like usual, tease each other, eat food in silence and hopefully this time he could ask her if she wanted to spar. Maybe she wasn't too dissimilar to Hina and he just didn't know it. He expected much the same, but he should have known it wouldn't last forever. This time when Anko entered her house, she didn't strip naked at the front door and change into her pyjamas like she usually did. She walked into the house, eyes red from crying, hair a complete mess, and rage in her eyes. Kakashi had to duck past a kunai thrown at him before she jumped with a snarl on to his body, pinning him down on the couch and slamming his head back.
"What the fuck are you still doing here Hatake. Can't you fucking see when you're being a burden?" she hissed angrily, pressing a kunai against his throat.
Kakashi felt the thin line of blood drip down his throat, but he didn't feel fear. There wasn't even a hint of killing intent coming from her. Instead she seemed like she was in pain. By all means every part of his body was bound tightly together, itching to reverse grip her hand and swap their positions. He shouldn't be in such a vulnerable state, but he somehow stopped himself from succumbing to his instincts. He looked her firmly in the eye and she seemed once again to falter in her anger.
"Why the fuck is it so hard to be angry at you?" she asked, letting her weight off him as she stood back up and faced away from him.
Kakashi rubbed his throat and wanted to say something but felt entirely out of his depth here. To his surprise Anko was the one who opened up first. She rolled the words in her tongue like they were sour milk. "Rui's entire tenketsu system was burned because of some fucking faulty seal they put on his cursed mark. Now he can't be a Shinobi anymore."
Kakashi was admittedly taken aback. That was the seal Hina had created to stop the corrupting of the entire body when the cursed seal activated. It essentially blocked the natural ambient chakra the seal drew in when activated.
"But he's awake?" Kakashi asked.
"Yeah… who knows, maybe this might be a good thing. He was too soft to be a Shinobi anyway."
Her voice was full of anger and betrayal. Mostly it looked like she had no idea what to do anymore. Kakashi could relate to that. After Rin's death, everything felt confusing. For a long while he didn't know what he was even fighting for… even now it wasn't clear. Sometimes death didn't seem so bad, as long as it was on his terms. Something stopped him though. He didn't know what it was, but this feint tugging in his mind that told him there was something more to live for. What it was, he wasn't so sure… but it was there.
"You know, after my father committed seppuku, Minato-sensei would visit me every day with a bento," Kakashi said, catching Anko's attention.
The girl finally looked at him, and Kakashi felt like he had no mask on… like he was naked. It made him feel embarrassed and entirely out of control, but he continued anyway. This didn't feel like a mission anymore. He wasn't even required to open up to her or help her. He just needed to understand her mindset and he'd already done that. No, this was entirely himself—not the mission.
"Is that why you keep coming?" Anko asked, her voice uncharacteristically soft.
Kakashi nodded and put out the bento box in front of him. Anko sat next to him accepting the offer but she didn't eat for the first time. She stared ahead as if lost in thought.
"Do you ever feel like you're nothing?" she asked suddenly.
Kakashi wasn't sure if she was asking him if he felt numb. He wasn't numb. The pain felt searing hot even now. Some things didn't leave you. Some scars stayed raw forever.
"Maa, I don't know," he settled on saying.
"Then you don't know what it feels like to be thrown away. It's better to be alone forever than to feel that burn. So please leave me alone Kakashi. I… I can't take it anymore."
There was no red-hot smile full of fury, no fire in her usually boisterous attitude, not even the hint of tears. Kakashi was now looking at someone in the throes of depression. It was ugly and weighty and altogether a turn off… and for a long time that had been him. People found it hard to talk to him, connect to him, or even hang out with him for extended periods of time. He didn't have a mission partner outside of Minato who he could keep. But in the end, he did have Minato. He had Guy and Hina who didn't give up on him after Rin and Obito died. Right now Anko had distant friends, a sensei who had thrown her away, and a team broken apart. Kakashi was the only one here, so he resolved to stay.
"You won't be able to take it at all if I go," he said honestly. "And I have no intention of leaving anyway."
Anko nodded his way, a hint of gratefulness in her eyes, but her expression remained sullen. There was never going to be a sudden change. This was the real her, not the exuberant personality she put up in front of everyone else. Kakashi handed her, her bento and she took it. That was all he wanted now anyway. He hoped he'd hear from Hina soon. He worried.
Kakashi caught up to Tiger for his weekly report. When his Captain asked for a short report on the way to their barracks, Kakashi felt dirty. It was the mission, but he had made it personal, and that felt like a mistake now that he had to report private information on her mental state.
"She's showing signs of paranoia," he said. "She's angry and trying to cut herself off from even her other friends. She barely tolerates my presence."
Tiger didn't even so much as twitch at the information. The ANBU Captain felt like an ethereal being sometimes to Kakashi, so set-apart from the average person. He was short, but there was a presence about him that spoke power.
"Chinsei Rui has lost his ability to perform ninjutsu without the seal overbearing his system and corroding his tenketsu. His Shinobi duties outside of intelligence has been put on hold," Tiger replied back. "He's still in a feverish state, so it remains to be seen how well he can move his body, but he has some of the best doctors on his case."
That was the extent of their correspondence, that was until Jiraiya of the Sannin had come back to Konoha, and both he and Hatake were called to the Hokage's office. They body flickered into a kneeling position in the room together.
"Hokage-sama," Tiger greeted, head still bowed.
"At east Tiger, Dog. We have got callsign 'flight' from Suzuki Hina," Uchiha Fugaku said.
Kakashi looked up with surprising expectation. He turned to Jiraiya who sighed and scratched his stubble before handing over the scroll to his Captain.
"That little brat really eluded Orochimaru to get this to me? Should have given her more credit," Jiraiya said. "No idea how she knew my contact, but she found him, and he delivered the message to me. I tracked back as many channels as I could to make sure Orochimaru didn't catch her in the act. So far it looks fine."
Tiger opened up the scroll and began reading. Kakashi looked over his shoulder. It was gibberish at first, but Jiraiya's writing was scrawled out over the top of it breaking apart her rudimentary code.
"She has a location on one of his hideouts, but it seems she's not allowed outside. Orochimaru is experimenting on her, that bastard," Jiraiya said, shaking his head in disgust.
"No he isn't," Tiger disagreed, catching the Toad Sannin's attention. "I've memorised Suzuki-san's files. Orochimaru has not once experimented on her. He tends to only perform procedures he's perfected already on her."
Kakashi wasn't eager to hear about Orochimaru's intentions with Hina. It was nothing good for sure. He did note the genuine surprise on Jiraiya's face. There was a tinge of something else he couldn't quite discern which left him feeling confused.
Fugaku huffed. "There's at least something genuine in their relationship, no matter how small. That's usually a cause for concern, but her loyalty to her family borders on zealous. She will stay true to her mission as long as they're within Konoha. That is assuming she won't lose her mental faculty, or her thoughts become controlled directly by Orochimaru. We have detailed different ways to counteract that and have altered extraction plans should that happen."
Kakashi noted the way Gaku held the folder a little more tightly than normal, and the way his lips had thinned into an angry line. Kakashi wondered how a Shinobi could show so much emotion.
"Tiger, you will contact her at this location to ensure we aren't being double-crossed. Get confirmation of Orochimaru's lab, and report back."
The meeting ended soon after, and Kakashi went to hang up at the ceiling bars, waiting for Uchiha Fugaku to assign more detailed orders on the mission and finish up the no doubt S-rank paperwork that came with it. Instead he watched as Gaku argued his case about going on the mission too. Kakashi hadn't taken Fugaku as a man who listened to sentiment, but the Hokage seemed to budge when the man expressed his concerns the way he did. Gaku looked too earnest to ignore sometimes.
"Tiger, Dog," Fugaku called.
Kakashi dropped on his knees next to Tiger at his call. The Yondaime came from around the desk, holding a scroll in his hands.
"I know this will be a hard order for you Kakashi," Fugaku said, addressing him directly.
Kakashi raised his head, glad for the mask because it covered the slight widening of his eyes. Fugaku never addressed any ANBU by their name during duty, unless he was saying his condolences for a deceased combatant who was close to them.
"But Suzuki Hina is a gamble we're taking because of Shikaku's concerns of some future catastrophe. We might never see the direness of it come to pass if it's nipped at the bud, but the matter remains that there is a threat big enough to extend wars, and plan Village ending manoeuvres at their will. Hina has agreed to go undercover, not just for Orochimaru, but for this shadow group, so as it stands her mission could last from three months to years, depending on how long she's willing to play their games. But it stands to reason that the longer she is gone, the harder it will be to accept her back, and even now there's a risk she's been mentally compromised by Orochimaru. I need proof of her mental state, and if she's compromised you will have to neutralise her on the spot. Ignore Orochimaru and the information. She has knowledge more precious than his hideouts. Do you understand?"
Kakashi froze, and the agreement that came from his throat felt stiff. He couldn't… he couldn't do that. If he had to kill Hina, he would bear that shame too with a knife to his own stomach. He couldn't kill her. He couldn't abandon another friend even if the Hokage himself asked him to. That was a fate worse than death. He would become trash.
No, if Hina was ever compromised, Kakashi vowed he would find another way. He was not a tool, not someone who only followed orders anymore. Shinobi were people. He was a person. And he was not trash.
Kakashi set off on his mission the next day. He left Anko a little note explaining he had a mission but cursed the terrible timing when it came to leaving her. He knew she had friends who would come back soon from their own extended missions like Ibiki, Kotetsu and Genma, so he felt mildly better in going. He travelled with Tiger in their Ninja uniforms, forgoing the mask. This was the first time he'd ever seen Tiger's face. His Captain was pale, with dark maroon eyes and short cropped black hair that stood up in spikes around. His jaw was prominent, and he sported a light stubble, with a mildly unkempt appearance. Kakashi had honestly expected a more feminine face from just hearing his voice, but he wasn't very surprised either.
They travelled in silence until they met up with their other two members. Kakashi felt comically short alongside Tiger against the insane height of both Jiraiya and Gaku. Jiraiya pulled out a worn note, taking his attention away from the comical height difference.
"The coordinates she gave me were vague. She said 'look out for a snake's eye in rice-bed rivers'. Judging from the province and the descriptor it should be south of Yuiee in the land of rice. There's a river called the snake's eye. It has a fork that reconnects a few miles in with land in-between," Jiraiya explained as he stoked the fires of their camp.
"How did you come to that conclusion?" Hatake asked.
"I travel a lot, kid. I know all the landmarks there is to know," Jiraiya laughed proudly.
Kakashi nodded mutely. He wondered how Hina had managed to even get out a note with Orochimaru there. He didn't think she left entirely on her own terms, and he frankly had no idea if they were walking into a trap right now. It was one thing to send off a contact with knowledge of their state being monitored on the weekly, but they hadn't heard from her for months. Anything could have already compromised her by then. He felt uneasy with the idea and the Hokage's words rung through his head.
He didn't want to have to make that choice in the first place.
"Don't worry, if Hina's one thing, it's cunning. She'll find a way around Orochimaru's plans," Gaku reassured him, somehow seeing the worry behind his impassive façade.
Kakashi didn't want to remind the Inuzuka that she did find a way, but it had been too late and by then she'd lost. He didn't think someone like her could lose again and get out of it without her will to fight being shattered.
Finding the base was still a tedious task, even with the hints at its location. Kakashi watched as Tiger eventually admitted that Gaku coming had been useful when the man sniffed out the base without his ninken. Kakashi could have done it himself, having had ninken too, but it was impressive nonetheless that a human could do the same. Jiraiya himself had proven to be a well of geographic knowledge.
They found the base, at the middle of the forked river, and Inuzuka Gaku found a tunnel system that he navigated with expert ease. It was only when they reached the inner sanctum of the base that Tiger stopped Gaku, leaving Kakashi and Jiraiya to stop and wait for them.
"Stay here and keep watch on the perimeter," Tiger ordered.
The tall man's lips thinned in barely contained anger. "I'm someone Hina trusts implicitly. She's been here for months and she needs to know someone she cares about is on her side."
"That is irrelevant to the mission," Tiger said. "You will follow orders, or you will be excluded from any further missions regarding our contact Suzuki Hina."
It was Jiraiya that put a hand on the man's shoulder and said about the same thing he did, with a smile and a much kinder tone, that the Inuzuka decided to stay behind. Kakashi wondered if Tiger had ever had any experience dealing with people who didn't immediately agree to his every order, or if he'd just grown used to ANBU standards.
Kakashi eventually walked in with Jiraiya and Tiger. He withdrew his thoughts from that bout of rare irritation before both he and the Sannin made their way into the lab. He couldn't spot Orochimaru's signature, and neither could Jiraiya, but they entered as cautiously as they could either way. It took about another ten minutes of searching in this maze of a lab before Kakashi found the room with Hina in it. They passed several cold tubes, and inside were smaller more deformed bodies of what looked like her. Kakashi felt a brief sense of dread at the sight and didn't stop until he found the tube with Hina in it. She was suspended naked in a tube-like structure, wires stuck into her forearms, neck, and legs. At the base of the pod seemed to be a dome like structure with smaller cylindrical containers jutting out around it, possibly containing the liquids being injected into her.
Jiraiya besides him looked just as pissed off. Something about this imagery must have cemented Orochimaru's true nature to him.
"Is it dangerous to take her out?" Jiraiya asked.
Tiger made his way to a nearby monitor and picked up the documentation files there. Kakashi didn't often question his Captain's intelligence. Outside of Shikaku himself, Tiger was one of the smartest people Kakashi knew.
"She is hooked to a mix of somatotrophin, amino acid GH 191. It wouldn't do her harm to be pulled out. I will turn off the pump to turn of the pump to the lateral wings of her anterior pituitary gland first to ease her out."
Jiraiya sent Tiger a look. "Just wanted a one-word answer Captain."
Tiger shrugged before he went about turning off the machine as safely as he could. He didn't want to unintentionally injure Suzuki. The pod drained slowly, dropping her weight to the floor before the glass curved inward opening the pod. She took in a deep breath and woke up, iridescent slitted green eyes shining eerily amongst the darkness of the lab. It barely took her two seconds before she seemed to regain an understanding of her situation which was impressive in and of itself.
"Tiger-san, Jiraiya… Kakashi" she greeted, taking a moment to stand up and gather herself before she began unplugging herself from the pod.
Kakashi didn't expect such a flat response from Hina after so long not seeing her. He didn't know what he'd expected. He didn't expect Guy's exuberant attitude coming from her, but she'd always been… enthusiastic, but right now she looked tired, and determined all at once, so focused on her task that it reminded of himself at times.
"You don't seem surprised to see us," Jiraiya noted, handing the child over his haori.
Hina took it with a grateful nod before covering herself up. She barely wasted any time as she strode across the room, dug through some scrolls, and unsealed a pile of notes. Kakashi did note that she looked at him for a moment longer than she did the others. The nod of her head was enough to tell him she'd acknowledged him, but she just didn't have the time to chat.
"I've been busy collecting data. Unfortunately, my time was cut short due to reasons," she said, looking at the pod with an uneasy glance before she pulled herself back to the task. "Trying to find the exact locations of Orochimaru's hideouts is incredibly hard. I'll need extra time, and—"
"Hold on kid," Jiraiya cut her off, "are we going to skip over whatever he was doing to you in that pod, or why there are dozens of deformed children with your face?"
Hina grimaced and Kakashi took note of her hesitance. When dealing with body modifications he had to take extra precaution to see if any of her mental functions were compromised by Orochimaru. She could easily be reprogrammed to follow his wishes or something else of that nature. He nervously palmed his fingers together, hoping to kami that wasn't the case.
"There's a lot of information I need to give you before you go. Is that really your priority right now?" she asked the Sannin.
He levelled her a cold look and she sighed before putting down the files and turning to them. She crossed her arms under her chest before leaning as casually as she could on the table behind her. It was just a ruse to show nonchalance. Tiger could easily read her body language.
"He's making me an entirely new artificial body. Those kids in the pods… well they're failed clones of me. Currently we're unable to transfer souls fully into them... their functions are impaired. They're only half there mentally. Orochimaru has made me a body and he intends for me to inhabit it."
"But they can think and feel?" Jiraiya asked.
"Hai, to a certain extent. It wasn't his intended purpose. I was simply to be given a new body, but due to my physical and spiritual energy still being in their developmental stage, he has to make me younger growing bodies. It's an entirely different process to making an adult body without the need to take into consideration a growing chakra core."
"How is it possible to even transfer a soul," Jiraiya mumbled, biting his thumb, and looking away disturbed.
Kakashi noted the way Hina seemed equally as distressed, but she took in a deep breath, closed her eyes, and picked up the files again.
"We're not here to discuss a field of science that would take months if not years to learn. We're here for the mission, which mind-you is me betraying my shishou. He still hasn't contacted the shadow organisation so we can assume my time here will be extended. Until then, I'll have to undertake these procedures… Although I do intend to keep my current body until I know it's safe to inhabit the one Orochimaru has made."
"Your mind?" Tiger asked, as he took the folders from her.
"Intact and entirely my own. I've made several corrosion seals around my body. If Orochimaru intends to take control of me I can deconstruct them, and it won't be an issue. I don't plan to ever give control to him."
Kakashi stepped forward, feeling a bout of anger at her nonchalant phrasing. "It's too dangerous. Orochimaru is a seals master and a Sannin. Your ability to deconstruct seals is something he's inevitably thought about and fail-safe'd. We have the primary objective now. We can take one of these experiments and several files as concrete proof of Orochimaru's crimes."
It was enough to put him as an S Class threat to all the Shinobi countries combined. No one would welcome in a criminal with a proven history of messing with his own people and helping steal Doujutsu. They'd asked enough from Hina. Kakashi was half sure Shikaku was just being paranoid when it came to this shadow organisation, he claimed ran the war. If there ever was one, Kakashi refused to believe none of the other Kages didn't find out either. This was all a wild goose chase that would kill another friend.
"Hate to agree with the gaki, but he's right. I'm not sold on Shikaku's worries. I trust my contacts wouldn't lie, and none of them have corroborated Shikaku's theories. If you stay, you'll be risking your life, and compromising our information for a hypothetical enemy," Jiraiya agreed.
Kakashi felt relief when Hina faltered the almost untouchable façade she had put up since he saw her today. She let out a long breath before the conviction came back to her eyes. Kakashi felt her slipping between his fingers already and it terrified him.
"What do you say?" Tiger asked Hina.
She pursed her lips and spoke. "I have a feeling if I continue, I can't ever go back home to… but it's not some hypothetical enemy. Shikaku wouldn't theorise something without good reason and I have a premonition that it will end very badly if I don't stay… or even if I do."
"You're going on a premonition?" Kakashi grunted in disbelief.
Hina finally looked at him, and all that hardness she'd been putting up melted away to reveal the true her for a moment—his earnest, hardworking friend who took too much on her at all times. She shook her head. "It's more than a premonition. I'd be willing to bet my life on it… but I don't know how to explain it to you Kakashi… I—this isn't suicide. I'm just finishing what I started."
"You didn't start anything!" Kakashi snapped, losing all his patience. "You were taken against your will. It wasn't your duty to end Danzo or Orochimaru. You were—"
Kakashi stopped when Jiraiya put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a hard look. He clenched his fists and stepped back. He'd always been angry, but he'd been able to reign it in. It was unlike him to lose his anger like this. But he'd lost his entire team, and he couldn't lose one of his last remaining friends just because he wasn't willing to show his concerns for once.
"Once you transfer into the artificial body it will be highly unlikely that you will be allowed back into Konoha," Tiger said. "Although it won't be impossible to keep you as an outside agent, you would be too compromised to take back into Konoha, unless we can find a way to be sure you are not compromised."
Hina winced and Kakashi felt like everything was suddenly falling apart. Anko and Rui were allowed to stay, weren't they? They were monitored by assigned individuals at all times, but they were allowed to stay. Why couldn't they do the same for Hina?
"I understand," she nodded. "I have a feeling this is going to be a troublesome mission… years long perhaps."
"And you're willing to do it?" Jiraiya asked, in disbelief. "You're an orange alert for potential to turn traitor. The only listed ties you have to Konoha is your family, not the people or the ideology. What is your reason for staying?"
"I've got people there I care about," she said sharply, her eyes briefly flicking to him before she glared down a Sannin. "And believe me on this; I'm not letting anyone touch my family again. I want the power to shut down wars before it happens. Once I have that I'll be satisfied."
"What then?" Jiraiya pressed.
"What when?" she shot back losing all her patience.
"When you've died, and the world has lost the 'peace' you've enforced?"
Kakashi agreed with Hina on this one. What was Jiraiya doing asking her such a useless question? The Sannin looked entirely too invested in this line of thought but there were more important things to be doing.
"Why should I care?" Hina snorted. "I'd have protected the people who mattered, and it's not like I can oversee humanities actions for the rest of my life. Look quit interrogating me on useless things in the few precious moments we have together. Kabuto-kun will be through that door in a bit, and I'll need to explain why I'm out of the pod."
Then Gaku entered the building and pointed at the door. "Someone's coming. We have to retreat," Gaku informed.
Kakashi sprung backwards, only to catch a glimpse of Hina staring wide-eyed at her sensei. The tall man nodded at her, some unsung words spoken between them before Hina grinned and threw Jiraiya back his coat, standing tall and naked without a care in the world as she summoned a snake.
"Kakashi, is Rui and Anko safe?" she asked.
"They're safe," Kakashi replied. "You be safe too."
She nodded before turning around and sending her summon out. It followed after them as they made silently away from the lab. Kakashi didn't like the way the worry clenched at his chest as they left the premise and stopped only a mile down in the thicket of the forest for cover. Gaku pulled up the green snake which spat a scroll out of its mouth.
"Suzuki's given us as much information as she could, and a potential location for our next correspondence," Tiger said.
"So we're really leaving her there, huh?" Jiraiya mumbled.
Kakashi held the tanto in his hand in a taught grip, grinding his jaw together, but maintaining an overall visage of calm. He had failed to stop her… now if she died it would be on his head.
"Have faith in her. She took down the entirety of ROOT when she was eleven. She's made her sacrifice, and she'll win in the end," Gaku said, despite a tinge of worry written on his face.
Kakashi didn't know where Gaku got his faith from, but he wished he had it too. Danzo by all rights had underestimated Hina, as she was a nobody from a civilian family… but he wasn't so sure Orochimaru would. It would be a long chess game which would end in something worse than death if she lost. Kakashi had no doubt of that.
All he knew was that, if she died, he'd never be able to forgive himself for not being there.
Damnn loved writing this chapter. Although I wrote this chapter 3 times in three different pov's and ended up with Kakashi's, and even then, I needed 10 thousand words to get through the entire thing. Anko's was hands down the most interesting but it was also just really fucking depressing, because damn, that girl is going through her lowest moment right now.
Also wrote this chapter in Tiger's pov, but it came off too apathetic and Tiger is more fun when his weird personality is broken down by others. Kakashi was a good middle-ground, plus he's just an awesome character all around. He's still building up the quirky personality he has at the start of Naruto, so he's still pretty sullen and angry. You can expect Anko to become a lot more slutty and overall sadistic to combat the hate she gets. Also you can definitely expect Tsukiya and Taichi to end up going through some tough times too, although not nearly at the persisting levels that Naruto went through in canon.
Next chapter is Tsukiya's pov and then I'll be going on hiatus for this fic and starting to post the crossover so YAAAAY. I need a bit of time to accumulate a few dozen chapters on Snap Back since I've exhausted everything I've written. So the crossover will buy me time while I still give you new content! Wow, praise me for being an efficient author guys! See I'm a gift that keeps on giving… please validate me writing fanfiction or I might get depressed about not monetising my talents elsewhere…
ANYWAY thanks for reading. I'm currently pissed drunk and posting this chapter so Idk how good my editing was here lol. Probably a bad idea to post a chapter while drunk but here I am.