Chapter two. The search for Rin begins.
Kakashi slowly stood up and rubbed absently at his eyes. He had an idea that he should be very upset about something, but he wasn't sure quite what--
The scent of strange flowers hit him, and then so did realization. He stumbled and nearly fell. "Rin!"
He tore through the house, knocking things over in his haste. It was empty, and the silence made his ears ring. Finally, he stumbled back into the front hall and slumped against the door, struggling not to cry. Both his eyes were tearing up for some reason. "Rin," he said again, more softly this time.
Then he pulled his mask back up and his hitai-ate back down and stepped outside. There was a note on the door in Rin's handwriting, and he felt something clench inside him at the sight of it. He didn't want to read it, but he had to.
There's something I have to do. I know you're going to want to follow me, which is why I made it as hard for you as possible. I don't want you doing anything stupid.
I should be back soon. If I'm not--
Anyway, I love you.
Kakashi swallowed hard. The note felt like an accusation. He tore it off the door and crumpled it up, but he couldn't bring himself to tear it up. Instead, he tucked it away and looked up at the birds circling in the sky, his gaze blank and numb. Why don't you do something? he wanted to yell, but he knew it would be no use. The birds didn't follow her; they merely spun in endless spirals around this empty house, not knowing that they were guarding nothing.
He blinked away tears again and launched himself through the forest at a furious speed. He wasn't sure where he was going. He only knew he had to check every possible place for Rin--although he didn't really think she'd be in the village, either.
Branches and thorns scraped at his hands. Rin hadn't been wearing any gloves when he went under, he remembered. Was she scratching up her palms like this, too? She'd be able to heal her own wounds, though, wouldn't she? He wasn't sure, and he was very afraid.
By the time Kakashi stumbled into Konoha proper, even though it wasn't very far away, he was breathing heavily and trembling all over. He couldn't stop questions from buzzing horribly in his head. Where had she gone? Why had she gone? Would she come back?
Of course she'd come back, she had to, she had to, if she didn't he'd--
He didn't know what he'd do if she didn't come back. His legs gave out, and he sank to his knees. He pulled up his hitai-ate and rubbed fiercely at both eyes.
Someone approached him; their shadow fell across him. He ignored them, waiting for them to go away. Instead, they said, "Kakashi-san?"
He lifted his head to regard the speaker sharply. The young chuunin recoiled, taking a step back. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you--startle you--anything like that--"
Kakashi stared for a moment, not sure what he'd done to provoke this reaction. Then he slowly stood and, after a moment, remembered to pull his forehead protector back down. "What is it?"
The chuunin steadied herself, but she was still regarding him warily. "Hokage-sama wants to see you in two hours. It's about an ANBU mission."
"He can find someone else for this mission," Kakashi said, inwardly marveling at how flimsy and pointless such things as rules seemed to be, when compared to the fact that Rin was in danger.
The young woman paused. "Uh--he says it might have something to do with the healer jounin Hayashino Rin."
For a moment, there was silence. Then Kakashi said, "I'll be there." He turned and headed for his empty apartment.
He hadn't realized how accustomed he'd become to being in Rin's presence lately--not until he sat down on the bed in his tiny apartment and tried not to think of how empty the room around him felt. He'd lived in this place for over ten years; it shouldn't suddenly feel wrong now.
He undressed without thinking about it and put on the sparser clothes of the ANBU. Then he found himself sinking back down onto the bed, holding his ANBU mask in one hand and his hitai-ate in the other. It seemed oddly inappropriate that the mask was a dog face, of all things. He thought maybe it should be a bird instead.
For a moment, he absently weighed the two items in his hands--the mask in his left, the hitai-ate in his right. Then he put the latter down and slumped back against the wall. His muscles ached from his haphazard run through the forest; it hadn't been very long, but he hadn't been paying attention to anything at the time, so he suspected he might have sprained something. He hoped not; it wouldn't do to go into a mission injured.
But he shouldn't hurt this much from something so minor. Was it a side effect of whatever drugs Rin had used to sedate him? He doubted it. She was more careful than that.
Was it even really a physical ache?
Kakashi blinked and realized that he'd dozed off. The mad rush back to Konoha must have worn him out more than he'd realized. How long had he been out? Hadn't he had an appointment to make?
He twisted around to stare at the clock on his desk. 11:17, it said, but that was no help. He hadn't bothered to check it when he first came in. Without a point of reference, it was useless.
His frustration bubbled up before he could stop it, and he slammed his gloved palm sharply into the clock. Glass shattered and the face itself caved inwards. The sense of satisfaction this brought him was hollow; it just didn't matter anymore.
He stared at the broken clock for a moment longer, knowing that he was probably late to meet the Hokage, knowing that if he couldn't bring Rin back, it didn't matter in the slightest. Somehow, he felt that if he couldn't see her again, time itself simply wouldn't have any meaning anymore.
He didn't know why.
He hesitated in the doorway of the building, waiting for a moment in the comfort of the shadows. There weren't many people about at this hour, but he still didn't want them to see him.
After a moment, he put his ANBU mask on and stepped outside. It had cooled down slightly, and he welcomed the chill as he made his way through the village to the Hokage's office, ignoring the few people still around (which was just as well; they didn't seem keen on approaching him).
He walked down the hall without looking to the side, and he was dismayed to realize that he reached the end far too soon. He sighed quietly and pulled open the door.
The first sight to greet him was the Uchiha fan on the back of a black jacket. There was a black braid dangling down almost to the fan symbol, and a man to which it was attached, but Kakashi didn't think that was very important at the moment. He turned and started to leave.
A hand snapped out and grabbed him by the wrist, hard. As he was yanked back into the room, he realized that the man in the jacket merely had it draped over his shoulders. Beneath that, he was wearing an ANBU uniform--and he held a hawk mask in one hand.
The other hand, of course, was latched around Kakashi's wrist. He stared blankly at his captor through one eye, the left one squinted closed. "...excuse me," he said slowly.
The Uchiha ignored him, instead turning to face Sandaime where he sat at his desk. "Hokage-sama! What is this doing here?" He shook Kakashi's arm sharply for emphasis.
Sandaime busied himself with lighting his pipe instead of answering. It almost seemed he hadn't heard the question. When he spoke, it wasn't even to answer. "Kakashi," he said. "You're late."
"Sorry," he said. "I fell asleep." The other ANBU hissed in contempt, and Kakashi wondered why he'd bothered telling the truth.
"Hmmm." The Third regarded him inscrutably for a moment. Then he said, "Shinzui, let Kakashi go."
"Hokage-sama," Shinzui said. He released his hold on Kakashi's arm and gave him a stiff little bow. "Hatake-san, my apologies. I must learn to control myself better in the face of that which goes against all that I stand for."
"Thanks," Kakashi said.
"Kakashi is your partner on this mission," Sandaime said.
Sandaime continued as if oblivious. "I think you've both already been told that this mission concerns a missing medic nin..." He paused. "Shinzui?"
"Respectfully, Hokage-sama...you had assured me my partner for this mission would be another Uchiha."
Sandaime smiled around his pipe. "I said another Sharingan user." Shinzui twitched again, but this time the Hokage gave him no opening for complaint. Instead he went on, "Kakashi, you are assigned to this mission not only because of your skill, but because you know the target."
Rin, he thought.
"Hayashino Rin," Sandaime confirmed. "Your teammate. Reports have it that she was seen fleeing the village with two missing-nin who are known to be experimenting with kinjutsu."
Kakashi willed himself not to tense too much, but he found he was having trouble breathing. He wondered if it was the two masks he wore giving him this trouble, but he certainly wasn't about to take them off in order to check.
"You and Shinzui," the Hokage continued, "are to track her, kill the missing-nin, and bring her back to Konoha." He waited for questions.
Kakashi had no questions, only gratitude. The mission made everything clear.
He and Shinzui split up to take care of any last-minute business. Kakashi was relieved; he needed to get away from the Uchiha and his cool accusing gaze.
When he stopped at the memorial, it took him a moment to realize where he was. He hadn't intended to come by here. All the same, now that he was here, he crouched down and took off his ANBU mask.
"She left," he said. "I'm sorry, Obito. I think she's in danger, but--" His pulse hummed in his throat. "I'm going to bring her back. I even have a mission to do that."
He lifted his head, glancing around to see if anyone else was around. Of course they weren't. It was past midnight, and the memorial was rarely a busy place even at the best of hours.
Kakashi pulled down his mask--the cloth one that lay beneath the dog-faced ANBU mask--and leaned his head against the memorial, feeling its cool stone on his forehead. "I'll bring her back," he said quietly. Then he straightened, put both masks back in place, and headed for where he was supposed to meet Shinzui.
"Are you always so late, Hatake-san?" Shinzui asked without turning to face him. He was wearing the hawk mask now.
Kakashi hadn't realized that he was that late. He merely said, "I'm ready to go." They were standing at the end of a path that led out of the village and into the woods. It broke off in a clearing here. The forest surrounded them.
"Yes?" Shinzui asked. "So how are we," he twitched slightly at the word, "going to find Rin-san?"
Shinzui tilted his head back to stare at the sky. "Why don't you start with telling me what the last time you saw her was?"
"It was just before she left," Kakashi said quietly, willing his voice to stay steady. "I would have stopped her, but--so she gave me drugged tea."
The Uchiha's short, reserved laughter cut him like tiny needles. "Fine. What were you doing with her before that?"
His tone of voice made Kakashi oddly, indescribably uncomfortable. "She taught me her summon," he said, forcing down the resentment in his voice.
Shinzui paused, one hand lifted. "The hounds?" He turned to face the other ninja, dark eyes intent behind his mask.
In response, Kakashi blinked once, bemused, and then nodded slightly.
Shinzui canted his head slightly to the side. "She gave you her summon, but she didn't tell you that its primary use is in tracking?"
Kakashi stared for a moment, and then he nearly choked.
This at least saved him having to explain to the Uchiha that Rin had told him about the dogs' tracking abilities; he'd simply forgotten. In the absence of this information, Shinzui merely said, "Summon them now."
Kakashi nodded mutely, then slid a kunai into his hand until the edge bit into his thumb. He smeared the blood across the tips of his fingers. "Kuchiyose no jutsu."
Rin's dogs popped up in smoke around him. He stared down at them. They stared up at him. He'd seen her training with them before, but he'd never tried to speak with them himself. He had no choice now. He crouched to address the one at the front. "You..."
"Pakkun," the little dog supplied, with something that might have been wariness in his voice--Kakashi just couldn't tell quite yet.
Of course they had names. All summons did, didn't they? Irrelevantly, he wondered if the hawks still had their names, or if they'd forgotten them by now. "Pakkun," he said. "You must know Rin's scent."
He wasn't sure how to interpret the look Pakkun gave him--baleful, or merely regretful? "You need us to find her," it--he said.
Kakashi nodded, slanting his gaze down to avoid meeting any of the dogs' black eyes. He was sure Pakkun was still giving him that sad stare, so he didn't look up until the scent of the dogs faded from his perceptions. They were gone.
"Now we wait," Shinzui said. "They'll be back once they've found her scent."
Kakashi nodded and tried not to think of what might have happened if he'd summoned the dogs as soon as he realized Rin was gone. Would he be taking her back home right now?
--holding her if he needed to, her head against the curve of his neck--
He swallowed sharply against the sudden dryness in his throat, against the abrupt clench of need somewhere in his chest. He thought that maybe she'd put a drug in the tea to disable him for a longer time, to keep him from coming after her for at least a few days. It didn't matter. He'd fight its effects if he had to.
The earth split as Pakkun emerged from it. Kakashi blinked; he hadn't realized that the dogs traveled underground. There was a lot about them that he was going to have to learn.
"Kakashi," the nin-dog said. "We found her trail."
He hadn't given them his name, had he? Kakashi was bemused to realize that Rin must have told them about him. He took a deep breath, pushing away the unsteadiness that threatened to fill him. "Show us the way."