Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto > Forest for the Trees

Flower (Thought)

by Annwyd 0 Reviews

Kakashi comes to some disturbing realizations while on Rin's trail.

Category: Naruto - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Angst, Drama, Romance - Characters: Kakashi - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2005/06/27 - Updated: 2005/06/27 - 2368 words

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They were almost a day out from Konoha when they lost the trail.

"It makes sense that she'd know ways to deal with her own summon," Shinzui said in that calm, professional tone of his, his every phrase freighted with polite formality but devoid of spirit or emotion.

"There have to be ways to deal with /that/," Kakashi said, rubbing his thumb over his fingers absently. It had become a nervous gesture in the hours they'd been on Rin's trail. The tiny twinge of pain from the shallow cut in his thumb reminded him of his goal.

"Not with no sleep," Shinzui said dryly. "They're as human as we are. More, since they're not ANBU. They're going to need to sleep soon too. We might as well take advantage of the situation and get some rest ourselves."

"If they're resting now," Kakashi snapped back, "this is the perfect time to push onwards."

Shinzui shook his head slightly. For a moment, he didn't seem like he was going to respond. Kakashi started forward, and at that instant, Shinzui said, "Can you turn that off, Hatake-san?"

Kakashi stopped. "What?"

Shinzui wordlessly tapped the left side of his own face.

A beat. "No."

"I didn't think so," the Uchiha said. He smiled slightly, smugly. "It's draining your chakra, isn't it?"

"I can close it if I have to," Kakashi said, doing so to demonstrate.

"I take it that's a yes. I imagine you can't master it, either."

Behind his mask, Kakashi gritted his teeth. "Why, do you also...?"

"Don't be an idiot, Hatake-san. Of course the Sharingan don't drain my chakra. I'm Uchiha." Shinzui glanced out into the distance. "We're going to rest here for four hours. That should be enough for us."
---
An hour later, Kakashi still couldn't sleep.

Every time he put his head down, he could almost feel the warmth of her body next to him. When he closed his eyes, he could almost see her smile, and from there it wasn't long until he (almost) couldn't shut out the sound of her laughter.

He sought refuge by a nearby stream, but there were strange flowers growing on its bank, and their smell reminded him of Rin. There was nothing he could do about it, so he simply sat there, his hands spread out in the shallows as he waited for the cold water to numb them.

All the same, when he heard the sound of someone or something approaching, he spun around, kunai coming quickly to his hand, only to see the little nin-dog there. He hesitated a moment, then slowly put the kunai away. "Pakkun," he said carefully. "I wasn't expecting..."

The pug sat down next to the riverbank. "Sorry we can't find her," he said.

Kakashi shook his head, staring blankly into the water. "It makes sense that she'd know ways to deal with her own summon," he said. After a moment of silence, he added, "I don't see why she doesn't just summon you herself."

"She could do that," Pakkun said, "but then when you summoned us back, we'd have a better idea of where exactly she was."

"She could just forbid you to tell me that."

The dog lowered his head. "It doesn't work that way," he said. "She can't give us orders like that. You can't, either. Both of your names are on the contract, but you don't control us. You've got to find the right way to work with us." There was a pause, and then the nin-dog added with only a little reproach in his voice, "She's a lot better at it than you. But I guess she's just more used to us."

Kakashi found himself hunting for the exact type of flower that was scenting the air like this. He thought that maybe he should gather some, if they were the type Rin used so often after all. Instead he just said, "So that's why she still trains."

It wasn't until the uneasy silence afterwards had started to stretch awkwardly that he turned to give the dog a hard look. "What...?"

"She doesn't train because of us," Pakkun said in a low voice. "She trains because she wants to enter ANBU."

That startled Kakashi enough that he found himself rising to his feet in surprise. "She shouldn't want that." He was even more surprised by the vehemence in his tone. "I'm the sort of person ANBU needs. Not her." He wasn't sure how he knew this; such subtle matters of the heart were usually beyond his grasp. That was Rin's territory. "She's got too much heart, too much soul to be like--"

"She wants to be near you," Pakkun said.

Heat rose on Kakashi's face, at first mercifully hidden beneath his mask, then creeping up his temples. He wished he hadn't left his ANBU mask back with Shinzui. "Don't be stupid. Why...?"

Pakkun was staring at him like he was the one being stupid. It was the first expression of the dog's that Kakashi had so far been able to read. "I'm kind of starting to wonder that myself."

"What?"

The dog merely covered his face with a paw. "Never mind. You should get some sleep."

"So Shinzui told me," Kakashi said. "It isn't working."

Pakkun's expression was unreadable once more. "How sure are you that you can trust Shinzui?"

"He's ANBU, like I am," Kakashi said. "He knows what he's doing."

"That's not what I meant. But..." The nin-dog hesitated. "Something bothers me. Not many people anymore know much about our tracking abilities. But he seems to know just what we can do. I'm not sure why..."

"I'm going to go find out," Kakashi said abruptly. He turned to go. Pakkun might have looked doubtful at this, but even if he had looked back, Kakashi wouldn't have been able to tell.
---
The clearing where they'd set up camp was the same when Kakashi returned: empty save for Shinzui asleep against a tree. He opened his mouth to speak, then paused. Instead, he opened his left eye and studied the other shinobi's chakra. He wasn't sleeping. "Enjoying pretending to sleep?"

"Very much," Shinzui said without opening his eyes. "Enjoying walking around leaking anxiety?"

"Leaking anx--" Kakashi paused. He wasn't going to let himself be pulled into a discussion of his own problems right now. "No. I need to talk to you."

Shinzui propped himself up, finally opening his eyes. "If you're going to try to convince me that we should be on the move after Rin-san and the missing-nin right now, you'll get nowhere."

"Why do you know so much about Rin?"

The Uchiha paused. "Did you expect me to go on this mission unprepared?"

"How long have you known about this mission?" Kakashi bit back.

There was a long moment of silence. Then Shinzui lowered his gaze slightly. "There's been evidence for a few months now that these missing-nin had contacted Hayashino-san. We didn't know whether she'd taken them up on their offer until recently."

"Their offer," Kakashi repeated.

"Even now, I can't say for sure what that is," Shinzui said. "Something to do with the forbidden jutsu they're developing...which are the reason they left Konoha in the first place."

"What do you know about those jutsu?" Kakashi felt a little calmer, now that the situation could be reduced to simple plans and equations.

Shinzui regarded him with a dark gaze for a while before finally standing up. "They're experimenting with ancient demon-sealing techniques to devise a jutsu that can bind minor evil spirits into the human body for the sake of more power."

"That sounds a little dangerous," Kakashi said, his insides knotting with worry once more. "Why would she--"

"More than a little." Shinzui looked away, frowning. "The best outcome is that it fails and leaves the subject unharmed. The worst is that it succeeds and leaves the subject still more or less alive--" He stopped abruptly, looking back at the other ninja as if he'd said something wrong, or just said too much.

It took Kakashi a moment to get it.

"You're not on this mission to bring her back, are you," he said quietly.

"Like I said, the best outcome--"

"And in the case of the worst outcome," Kakashi continued, crossing his arms, "it's your job to kill her." He circled his left hand around his lower right arm, trying to make it seem like a casual gesture.

Shinzui shrugged. There was no emotion in his dark eyes except for a very vague regret; then he closed them wearily, and even that was gone. "This is our job, Hatake-san."

When he opened his eyes, they were red save for the three marks lazily circling the pupil. His gaze flicked to Kakashi's arms and took in the chakra gathering there. "I advise you not to try that on me."

Kakashi snarled behind his mask, and what little sound that made was drowned out by the sudden rise of false birdsong as he released the chakra around his right hand. He lunged at Shinzui.

The dodge was almost effortless. Shinzui stepped out of the way as though he'd seen the move coming. Kakashi could read his every movement perfectly, but every time he tried to readjust his own aim, his opponent simply stepped out of the way just before the blow struck home.

Then the Uchiha shot his hand out and grabbed Kakashi's arm, twisting just so until he couldn't help but let the chakra dissipate. "That was Chidori, wasn't it, Hatake-san?" he murmured. "Impressive, but not a good idea in this situation."

Kakashi reached for a kunai with his free hand, but before he could even touch the weapon, Shinzui let go of him and lashed out with a kick to the stomach. Kakashi could tell even before the blow connected that it would steal his breath and knock him back without doing him any permanent harm--but he couldn't manage to avoid it.

Giving up on the idea of dodging, he instead grabbed a handful of shuriken while his opponent was occupied with his own attack and flung them--but as the kick connected and Kakashi was knocked back, he could see Shinzui darting smoothly away from the shuriken, only his jacket suffering any cuts at all.

Kakashi barely managed to keep himself from slamming into a tree. Bracing himself against the trunk with one hand, he struggled to regain his breath. Now that he really needed all the jutsu he'd stolen to protect Rin, he couldn't think clearly enough to remember them. He wasn't even sure that attacking his partner on this mission was entirely a wise idea--but he couldn't risk Rin by letting him live.

All he could do now was fight, and he knew that everything depended on it. But he also knew he was losing.

Shinzui lunged at him, and for a moment Kakashi thought the fight might be over. But he had to fight back, all the same. He managed to gather his breath at the last moment and dart to the side. He turned around and rushed at the other ninja from the side, but Shinzui was already turning to face him and dodging as he did so--

--and then Kakashi could see the way the dodge would take him, see the phantom images of his opponent's trajectory laid out like faded film. He could attack not where his target was, but where he would be.

And then Shinzui wasn't dodging anymore; he was standing there, staring back at him, eyes gone wide in disbelief. "But--" He didn't get the time to say anything more. Kakashi grabbed his arm, wrenched it behind his back, twisted, and shoved him down to the ground, holding him there with one hand and pressing a kunai to his throat with the other.

"Hatake-san," Shinzui whispered. "As much as it pains me to say it...I was wrong about you."

Kakashi hesitated. "What do you mean?"

"The Sharingan isn't as useless to you as I thought it must be," Shinzui murmured. "Very much a surprise. I--" He stopped, and after a moment, Kakashi saw why.

From the torn folds of his coat, a picture fluttered to the ground. Kakashi almost dismissed it--but something about it snared his attention. The man in the picture, standing next to a younger Shinzui, had a familiar smile. He opened his mouth to whisper, Sensei, but before the word could escape, he realized his mistake. There was merely a passing similarity at most.

That moment gave Shinzui all the time he needed. He twisted abruptly out of Kakashi's grasp, and then he had his attacker pinned down instead of the other way around.

"Did you think that you could just kill me and go on to rescue Rin-san?" Shinzui's voice was an airy hiss next to Kakashi's ear. "You really are an idiot. You should know that your only chance of saving your girl lies in working with me."

He twisted his grip, pulling Kakashi back to his feet, then turning him so that they faced each other. "I can understand if you've forgotten, but there's something you must know now. You are not the only person who's lost someone precious, Kakashi-san, and if you keep acting like this, you'll lose many more."

Kakashi felt numbed into muteness, but he managed to rediscover his tongue in time to murmur, "There aren't any more."

For just a moment, Shinzui hesitated. Then he smiled very slightly. "Then we'd better do our best to rescue Rin-san."

"We have to get back on her trail /right now/--" Kakashi began.

But Shinzui sighed and shook his head. Then he freed up one of his hands and placed it over the other man's left eye. The sudden feeling of vulnerability that washed over Kakashi as his Sharingan vision cut out was almost visceral; he felt sick. But there was nothing he could do to stop the Uchiha from fixing his gaze on him, and suddenly he couldn't do anything to resist.

Then he was sliding into unconsciousness, gut-wrenching fear chasing him all the way down. After a few seconds, he couldn't even hold onto the memory of Rin's face for comfort.
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