A/N: Hey all! Here's another chapter, since the ideas are flowing fast. I'm sticking to shorter chapters so far, but they'll probably get longer as the story progresses. And in case I didn't make it clear last time, the divergence point for this story was the Hokage's decision to assign two bodyguards to watch over Sasuke. All subsequent changes to canon stem ultimately from that one choice.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto
Chapter 2: The Child
Jiraiya was waiting for Kakashi and Anko outside of a top-secret medical ward in the Hokage Tower, located several floors below the ground. It was a room with glass walls, so that nothing going on inside could happen without the guards noticing. At the moment, Jiraiya was the only guard.
Inside the room, Uchiha Sasuke sat upright on a hospital bed. The boy held himself like a stiff post and stared fixedly at nothing. A pair of balding men in cheap suits stood a few feet away from him, one of them clutching a clipboard.
"Hey, you two," Jiraiya said when he spotted Kakashi and Anko. He gave them a half-hearted wave. "You made it."
"You must be upset, you old coot," Anko observed. "No leer? No creepy hug that's just an excuse to cop a feel?"
Jiraiya summoned a weary laugh. "Would you like me to cop a feel?"
"I think I'd prefer an honest grope to this sad-sack shit. Cheer up, for Kami's sake! Who are the creeps in the suits?"
"Psychologists," Jiraiya explained. "The Hokage thought it might be better to have Sasuke examined by civilians with backgrounds in childhood trauma. "
"Shrinks?!" Anko spat, as if it were a dirty word. "Civilian shrinks?"
"What's wrong with psychologists?" Kakashi asked mildly. To be honest, he agreed with Anko whole-heartedly, but someone had to be professional here.
"I'll tell you what's wrong with 'em," Anko said grimly. "They're a bunch of emotional vampires who get off on hearing people's worst memories. They don't even do any good! I swear, the Hokage made me see every single shrink in Konoha after Orochimaru abandoned me, and not a single one of them helped a fraction as much as a bottle of liquor and a good lay."
Caught off-guard, Kakashi had a coughing fit. Jiraiya pounded him unhelpfully on the back. "Ah… Anko, not that I have anything against your coping mechanisms, but, well… Sasuke's seven!"
Anko shrugged. "I'm not gonna buy him a whore or anything like that. Geez, Jiraiya, you make me sound so irresponsible! Let's just give him a few shots of whiskey, ok? Nothing like puking your guts out to get your mind off your inner demons."
She waltzed into the medical ward, circling around behind the civilians like a wolf stalking its prey. Jiraiya caught Kakashi's eye and shrugged.
"Well… she's not wrong."
Kakashi gave a long-suffering sigh and followed Anko. He wasn't sure who he should be more worried about – Sasuke, or the shrinks.
Kakashi arrived in time to hear the terrified psychologists explaining the situation to Anko.
"He's disengaged from the present," said the shrink on the left.
"It's a form of extreme shock," added his partner. "The child's body is here, but his mind is miles away."
"Is that so?" Anko said, eyeing Sasuke shrewdly. "So the kid's catatonic, huh? I don't buy it."
"Ma'am, I assure you-"
The shrink who spoke was forced to dive out of the way of one of Anko's kunai. It flew straight for Sasuke's head, nearly giving Kakashi a heart attack. But Sasuke moved at the last second, ducking aside and turning a half-somersault to land on the tiled floor, knees bent and arms raised to defend his face. He had the look of a feral animal, backed into a corner.
"Well…" said Anko with satisfaction. "Not so 'disengaged' after all. Go back to your dissertations, shrinks. I'll take it from here."
The psychologists began to protest, quite volubly, until Kakashi grabbed them by their collars and dragged them gently but insistently to the door. "I think they're done here," he said to Jiraiya. "Make sure they report to the Hokage before they leave."
For the first time that day, Jiraiya smiled with genuine warmth. "Will do, kid. I'll leave Sasuke with you two, then. Try not to let that hellcat bruise him too much."
Kakashi inclined his head ironically, then rejoined Anko and Sasuke inside. Anko was engaging in a stare-off with the silent child.
"I'm not gonna hurt you, brat," she said at last. "Not unless you're asking for it, that is. Now, do you know why the two of us are here?"
No response. Sasuke relaxed his stance, but kept his mouth shut. Kakashi had to suppress a shiver when he saw the child's eyes – they were cold, dead orbs, devoid of light or warmth. He remembered a time when his own eyes looked exactly like Sasuke's… the days after he had discovered his father's corpse.
We suffered similar pain, Kakashi realized. The pain of losing our entire family, and being abandoned by the person we loved most. Right now he's probably reliving the images, over and over. This room, me, Anko… I'll bet we don't even register as completely real right now. Reality for Sasuke is only the horror in his mind.
"I won't ask you again," Anko said, her voice dropping to a warning growl. "Do you know why we're here?"
Sasuke remained silent. He began to turn away, possibly to walk back to the hospital bed. Anko pounced.
The last Uchiha found himself dangling by one leg, arms bound to his side with rope that he hadn't even seen unfurling. Anko's free hand held a kunai to the young boy's neck.
"We're here to babysit you, you little brat. And it's not a job I'm happy about, either. In fact, the need to abandon my missions to look after a baby like you is putting me in a really bad mood. So… don't push me. When I ask you a question, you will respond. Is. That. Clear?"
Sasuke eyed the kunai, and Kakashi was glad to see a spark of fear come into those black eyes. Then he realized, a little too late, exactly how screwed up it was that he was happy to see that fear.
He was debating at what point it would be necessary for him to step in, when Sasuke opened his mouth for the first time since before the massacre.
"A man of few words, eh? Meh… good enough." Anko flipped the Uchiha up and over, unraveling the rope binding him with a flick of her wrist. He landed with feline grace, backed up a step, and eyed her warily.
"Here's the deal, brat," Anko said, shaking a finger at him sternly. "I'm Anko, and the masked freak with the grandpa-hair is Kakashi. You do exactly what we say, when we say it, and in return we'll make sure you live to see your tenth birthday. Got it?"
Anko gasped in mock astonishment. "What do you know, 'Kashi? He's a genius!"
"Don't call me that." Kakashi walked over to Sasuke, sizing him up openly. "We're truly sorry about your family," he said. He figured someone ought to say it, even though he could guess exactly what his words meant to Sasuke – that is to say, less than nothing. Sure enough, scorn flashed across Sasuke's face and disappeared a moment later. He didn't need platitudes from strangers, no matter how sincerely they were meant.
Kakashi sighed. "Let's get out of here. The hospital smell is making me sick."
Anko was glad to have this assignment, she really was. Being assigned to protect the last Uchiha clearly proved that the Hokage trusted her, and that meant a lot. Many Council members thought that Anko was still a traitor to the village, and should be thrown in jail, banished, or even executed. That last was Danzou's stance, the suspicious bastard.
If Anko carried out her duties well (meaning, if Sasuke didn't die), it would go a long way towards clearing her name. The elders would feel grateful to her, and the Hokage might trust her with more high-level missions.
She had been a little worried about an extended bodyguard detail, since work like that tended to dull a shinobi's reflexes. It didn't matter how dedicated you were – having to stay constantly alert, while usually being bored out of your mind, took a toll on the best of shinobi.
But the danger in this case was less than it could be, because of whom Anko had been paired with. Kakashi was a legend, and as his partner Anko would get to train exclusively with the Copy-nin for the duration of their assignment. It meant that she had a unique chance to improve her own skills, coming closer than ever before to her goal of taking down Orochimaru.
There was really only one drawback to this mission, and it was sitting across from Anko at her dining-room table. Sasuke slouched in his chair and maintained a stony silence.
Now, Anko had plenty of experience with hostile interrogations. One of the reasons the Hokage valued her was her ability to extract information from high-value targets. One of Anko's few supporters in the village – she wouldn't call him a friend, exactly – was Morino Ibiki, and the head of Konoha's Torture and Interrogation Unit had only praise for Anko's abilities.
She had broken iron-willed infiltrators from Suna, and out-crazied fanatical shinobi from the Bloody Mist. It was said by those in the trade that Anko could accomplish more with a kunai and her imagination than a veteran member of the Yamanaka clan could with his full range of mind-reading techniques.
Given Anko's experience and talent, staring down a child of seven should have been no problem. Yet Sasuke stubbornly clung to his silence, and he was even managing to make Anko uncomfortable – something she did not appreciate.
Kakashi was better suited to maintaining tense silences, but he'd left for the evening, saying that there was something he needed 'to look into'. Anko tended to fill up silence with suggestive or threatening banter, neither of which were appropriate here. So… it was time to improvise.
"Well, then…" Anko said at last, folding her hands together and propping up her chin. "Looks like it's just the two of us until Kakashi gets back. Why don't we use this chance to get to know each other better?"
Anko immediately regretted that last sentence, as it was her preferred opener for interrogating a hostile suspect. Normally she'd be twirling a kunai casually with her pinky finger to set the proper tone, and her hands actually itched from the effort to stay still.
Traumatized kid, traumatized kid, Anko repeated silently like a mantra. Must not lose temper. Must be patient… Gah!
"Hn." Sasuke's grunt was the opposite of encouraging, but Anko plowed ahead.
"What do you do for fun? Do you like dolls? You look like the kind of kid who plays with dolls."
"No." His scornful expression spoke volumes more than his monosyllabic response.
Anko shrugged. "If you say so. What about food? You like dango?"
"You're a tough nut to crack, eh? Listen, kid, I'm gonna sit right here until you give me more than a grunt and a dirty look. Now, I once tortured a jounin from Suna for six months, breaking one bone a day until he talked. He was a tough bastard, trained all his life to withstand pain. Think about that, and ask yourself if you want to play this game with me."
Anko let Sasuke process that for a while, then pointed at him. "You. Talk."
Sasuke glared at her, challenge written plainly across his face. "This place is a dump."
Anko was startled into laughing, which spooked Sasuke more than her threat had.
The kid's got a brass pair, all right.
Looking around, Anko had to admit the brat was right. Maybe she should have cleaned up a bit, but then, she liked her place messy. She knew exactly where all the weapons were hidden, while an assailant would waste valuable seconds searching through all the clutter.
"I suppose it would seem a bit low-rent compared with what you're used to," Anko agreed blandly, preparing to dig a little deeper. She wanted to see what would make Sasuke tick. "I bet your old house was always sparkling clean. I remember Fugaku being a bit anal about order-"
"Don't talk about my family!" Sasuke barked, jumping to his feet.
"Is that anger I see?" Anko shot back, smiling. "An actual, unfeigned emotion, unaccompanied by scornful expression or grunt? Here, kid… have a cookie."
"Shut up!" Sasuke shouted. "Don't treat me like a baby, and don't you dare talk about my family!"
NOW we're getting somewhere!
"Listen, kid," Anko waved her hand dismissively. "Best you learn this now, and from someone who isn't trying to kill you: life's a cruel joke, and people suck. I'm not gonna soften my words just 'cause you lost your ma and pa. So did a lot of people, me included. You don't like me talking about your family? Tough nuggets. What are you going to do about it?"
"I can stop you," Sasuke declared, holding himself as straight as possible.
Not a bad idea, Anko realized. If he's trying to kill me, then he won't be able to dwell on his memories.
"Why don't we take this outside, short stuff? I'm curious to see what skills you think you have. Don't worry, I won't hurt you… much."
The network of tunnels underneath Konoha was much as Kakashi remembered it: vast, claustrophobic, and depressing. He made his way along a path known only to Root operatives, turning dozens of times in near-total darkness. He sensed that he was being watched, but no one challenged him. Whether that was because he was expected or because his watchers didn't dare mess with him, Kakashi couldn't be sure.
He found Danzou exactly where he'd expected, in the war hawk's dank, cramped office in the heart of the subterranean maze. The office was sparsely furnished, with just one desk and a flickering light overhead. Danzou looked up from a heavy sheaf of papers, apparently unsurprised to see Kakashi standing before him.
Danzou chuckled drily. "Kakashi… I suppose it's too much to hope that you've come to your senses, and wish to return to the fold?"
Kakashi had not come here to waste time with small talk. "Stay away from Uchiha Sasuke."
As Danzou carefully controlled his reaction, Kakashi sensed a dozen chakra signatures appear nearby. If Danzou gave the word, Kakashi would have one hell of a fight on his hands. That was fine with Kakashi… in fact, his present mood might even be improved with a grudge-match against Danzou and his cronies. The fact that he had very little chance of winning somehow didn't seem to matter all that much.
"I'm sure I have no idea what you mean." Danzou's craggy face was like lined stone.
"And I'm sure you're full of shit. I don't know much, but I do know you're incapable of passing up a chance to brainwash someone with potential."
"If I'm incapable of stopping myself, then why did you waste your time coming down here?"
"You may be a conniving bastard, but you're not suicidal," Kakashi said, senses heightened in pre-battle readiness. "And that's what targeting the Uchiha boy would be: suicide."
"The Hokage has ordered the Uchiha child to be left alone, and the Hokage's word is law. I'm curious, however; if I were so abysmally stupid as to disobey a direct order from the Hokage, why do you think you would be able to stop me? If my information is correct, you and Mitarashi Anko are the only shinobi tasked with Sasuke's protection. Do you honestly think you two would be enough, if anyone were to foolishly test the Hokage's will?"
"I hope we never find out," Kakashi said evenly, leaving Danzou to his papers. "Just remember what happened last time I went up against your cronies. I'm guessing a lot of resources goes into their brainwashing, and it'd be a shame to have all that go to waste."
Danzou let him have the last word, and the shadowy presence of the Root agents faded as they retreated farther into the darkness.
Kakashi had a lot to think about when he finally emerged from the network of tunnels, and could devote a portion of his mind to something other than staying alert for an ambush.
The truth was, Kakashi did not think his ultimatum to Danzou would have the least effect on how the old war hawk decided to act. No, Kakashi's true purpose in searching him out was to see his reaction when Kakashi warned him away.
And after seeing Danzou, Kakashi was puzzled. Sure, the old man had talked a big game. But Kakashi was absolutely certain – though he wasn't sure why – that Danzou meant it when he said he wasn't planning to recruit Sasuke.
Of course Kakashi wasn't going to relax his vigilance by a hair. But the fact remained: he didn't think Danzou was planning to make a play for Sasuke. Which raised the question… why the hell not? In the absence of any other factors, Danzou would have been after Sasuke like a bull seeing red. Was his apparent restraint really because the last Uchiha was too visible, too well protected? Or was it something else?
All of Kakashi's instincts were screaming at him that there was a piece to this puzzle he didn't have yet. Whatever it was, the Hokage apparently didn't want him to know, or else the Hokage himself didn't know. But in the shinobi world, what you didn't know was often what ended up killing you. Worse, in this case, it might end up killing Sasuke.
Kakashi would not be doing his utmost to protect his charge unless he figured out the full story behind the Uchiha Massacre, and what, if any, role Danzou had played in it.
I didn't want this mission, Kakashi thought grimly as he moved at full speed across the rooftops towards Anko's house. But it looks like I'm stuck with it. I couldn't save you, Obito… but I sure as hell won't let Sasuke die. I promise!