Disclaimer: If I owned Naruto, minor characters like Inuzuka Hana (the "real" Inuzuka Kiyame of this story) would play a much bigger role. Fortunately I don't, which means I can spend my spare time fleshing them out in my stories instead!
Author's Notes: Apologies to all those whom I've kept waiting for this chapter. Believe me, you haven't suffered nearly as much as I have. And…just so you won't suffer anymore: This is the last chapter. The fic has changed a great deal in the writing, and yet I'm pleased with how it's turned out. Not at all as I expected it to go, but, well, life's like that…
Chapter Six: Answers
The house was dark and cool, with wooden floorboards scarred by generations of dogs' claws, simple and sturdy furniture, and walls hung with landscape paintings surprising in both their number and beauty. Kakashi followed Kiyame through an empty sitting room, down a narrow hallway, and past what looked like a mess hall in which several older clan members were still lingering over their morning tea with their dogs dozing at their feet. They entered another small courtyard—not a training yard this time, but a garden with a gently murmuring fountain and a cherry tree just shedding the last of its blossoms over a stone bench and the dog who lay drowsing in the sun.
Kakashi recognized the dog instantly. The grey and white coat and wolf-like build were distinctive enough, even without the bandages still wrapping his belly and the lazy, unconcerned flick of his ears as they approached. He waited till Kiyame had sunk down onto the bench, then lifted his head from his paws just enough to rub his cheek against her shin. Her face softened; she bent to scratch his ears with an almost-smile momentarily touching her lips. But even after her hand stilled, she didn't look back up at Kakashi.
He remained a meter or so away, hands stuffed in his pockets, body relaxed in a deceptively casual slouch that concealed the tension coiling within him. "How's he doing?" he asked after a while, nodding towards the dog Katsu.
"He'll recover," Kiyame said quietly, staring down at the hand folded white-knuckled in her lap. She looked almost defeated, head bent, shoulders bowed as if under some great weight, eyes hidden behind long dark lashes. The kunoichi he remembered—the proud, savage woman who had defied her enemies with such courage, the ANBU who had protected him when he'd gone down, even the woman who had thrown kunai at him through the door and who had sparred so fiercely and confidently with her mother only a few minutes earlier—that kunoichi seemed to have retreated from the field, leaving only shame and fear and despair behind.
It was all wrong—her unnatural submissiveness, the oppressive silence that hung heavily between them, even Katsu's peevish whine as he nudged the hand that should have known better than to stop stroking him. Kakashi thought suddenly of Sasuke's sullen, straining face and wild words the night before he'd left, the night that Kakashi had tried and failed to make his student see that there was more to life than revenge. Sasuke and Kiyame could hardly be more different, but Kakashi still felt a coldness settle in the pit of his stomach. Another failure here would be just as personally devastating—for both of them.
But a little of the animation had returned to Kiyame's face at her dog's whine. She even glanced up to meet Kakashi's eye as she rubbed the furry grey head. The faint almost-smile returned to hover on her lips for half a breath.
"Katsu says I should get on with it," she said, scratching behind the alert grey ears. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "This—this isn't something that I would—that I could tell anyone else. The higher-ranking shinobi of my clan know, and Sandaime did—and Godaime knows now, too. No one else." She gave him an odd, measuring look. "But I'm not sure I need to tell you that."
"Just as well," Kakashi said mildly. He considered the bench for a moment, then gave a mental shrug and stepped over Katsu to sit beside the young woman. She stiffened but did not pull away. He could see the pulse fluttering at the base of her throat as she chose her next words.
"That jutsu I used—the Kyouken no Jutsu—I'm not the only one who's used it. Just the only one to survive." She paused, scratching under the hinge of Katsu's jaw, staring at the strong brown fingers moving rhythmically through the short fur. Kakashi sat listening, feet apart, elbows on thighs, gloved hands dangling between his legs. He knew that she knew he'd heard this information—albeit in a fragmented and unorthodox fashion—before; Kuromaru had almost certainly told Tsume exactly when the Copy Nin had begun to listen. Kiyame was simply setting up the background for her story now.
And unless he was very much mistaken, it was one of the hardest things she had ever done.
"You knew my father," she said at last, half a question. Kakashi didn't blink at the change in direction. And instead of simply replying "yes" and leaving it at that, he returned honesty for honesty.
"He was a friend of my father's," he said. "He was away on a mission when my father killed himself."
Even after twenty years, it was hard to think it, harder still to say it. But he had no right to demand this brutal honesty from her if he was not willing to offer it himself. And when a little of the tension eased out of her face and her lips parted in a quick, silent "Oh," he knew it had been the right thing to say.
"My father was a good ninja," she said after a moment, but this time her eyes stayed locked on his masked face when she spoke, instead of evading his gaze and slipping away. "Good enough to be the Clan Head, good enough to be one of Konoha's elite." Now at last her eyes dropped down to the dog at her feet, and her voice dropped as well. "But not quite good enough to save one of his teammates and Tetsu, his dog." Her face was dry and cold, her voice as steady as if she were reciting some memorized story. "He invoked the Kyouken no Jutsu. When he'd killed their attackers, he turned on his teammates." Her eyes fixed on the thumb rubbing in little circles between Katsu's ears. "There was no one to pull him out of it. His teammates killed him. They put his name on the Heroes' Stone anyway, and both of his teammates died within the year. Only my mother and a few of the clan elders and the Hokage knew the truth."
Her eyes lifted to his again at last, cold and clear and so full of remembered pain that he found himself unconsciously rubbing his hands together, flaking off blood twenty years old. Hatake Sakumo hadn't expected his son to be the first to find him. Kakashi hadn't expected his father—his glorious, revered, worshipped father—to fail and then compound his failure. He wondered if Inuzuka Shikon had ever expected that he would die at his teammates' hands, and if he had ever dreamed that his best friend's son would escape the same fate by a thread as narrow as a dog's bark.
"The Kyouken—isn't a regular jutsu," Kiyame was continuing. "It's a kinjutsu, forbidden because until now, for the three who've used it, it was an assassination-suicide technique. We don't teach it. But my mother thought I should know how my father died." A muscle twitched in her jaw, but her eyes never left his. "I expected you to do as his teammates—and my great-uncle's, and his grandfather's—had done."
"I don't let my comrades die," he said simply.
Her mouth tightened. "I wasn't your comrade. I was a mad wolf. There was nothing—" She stopped, sighed, returned her hands to a clenched knot in her lap and rubbed Katsu's back with a bare foot instead. Kakashi noted the bandages wrapped around her calf, protecting an injury too minor for chakra healing.
"You are a ninja of Konoha," he pointed out. "That makes you a comrade, whether you're in your right mind or not."
"No, look—" She let out her breath again between her teeth in a long, slow hiss. "You have the Sharingan, don't you? You watched me invoke the jutsu. You saw the seal break."
"I saw something release," he admitted. "Like one of Maito Gai's Celestial Gates—something not even the Sharingan can copy."
She smiled wearily. "No, one clan of berserkers is enough. Look. These—" She tapped one finger against the crimson fang tattooed on her cheek. "These aren't just clan markers, like the Uchiha fans or something. They're seals—physical manifestations of the binding seal given to each Inuzuka immediately after birth. The Kyouken no Jutsu breaks the seal and releases the madness. It turns us—it turned me—into some twisted version of our earliest ancestors. At least according to the stories the elders tell." She turned her hand, clenching and opening a fist, staring at her fingers as if she half-expected glittering claws to sprout from their tips.
"Your earliest ancestors?" Kakashi hadn't heard those stories, which wasn't surprising; it was obviously a clan affair, and no clan liked to share its secrets. But if Kiyame has already acknowledged that he had a right to know, then he wasn't ashamed to pry. "What are these stories?"
"Tales of the founding of the clan," Kiyame said without looking up. "Of the kunoichi who was lost and wounded in the mountains, hunted by enemies, fighting for her survival. Of the wolf demon-spirit who came to her aid, and allowed her to take shelter with him and his pack of mortal wolves through the winter. Of how he could take the shape of a man. And of how, when the kunoichi left the mountains in the spring, the wolf demon sent half of his wolves with her to guard both her and the child she carried." She smiled sadly, and Kakashi saw the glimmer of the canine teeth just long and sharp enough to be called fangs. "He taught her the seal before she left. He knew what the child would be like, half-mortal, half-demon. I suppose it amused him to let his demon-child out on the world, but he must have cared for the mother enough to teach her how she could control her child's madness. Maybe he did love her." She shrugged. "Of course the question's pointless if it is just a story after all. But…it explains a great many things."
Like fangs, and brown eyes that turned gold, and nin-dogs, and red fang-tattoos that held back the blood-lust of a rabid beast—or a demon. Kakashi laid his hands on his knees and watched the sunlight glitter from the metal plates on the backs of his gloves. He said thoughtfully, "And so the Kyouken no Jutsu breaks the seal and releases whatever particle of the wolf-demon's spirit still remains in its descendents? That's the madness that terrifies you so much you'd rather resign from ANBU and from the shinobi corps and from your duty as clan heir than face?"
Kiyame threw up her head, strong jaw tightening, dark eyes flashing. "I'm not terrified—" she said hotly, but Kakashi's words cut across hers.
"I taught the Kyuubi vessel. He knew what was inside him, and he knew when it leaked. And I don't think Naruto ever thought once of giving up and hiding himself away because he was too dangerous."
"That's not—" she began furiously, but he cut her off again.
"Naruto's goal is to become the Hokage, and I won't be surprised when he makes it. Neither will Godaime-sama, or Jiraiya, or anyone who knows him. And who, incidentally, know what's inside him. Is what's inside you any more dangerous than the Nine-tails, Kiyame-san? Or are you simply more frightened?"
The goad of his last words bit as deeply as he'd meant them too. There was nothing of despair or fear or self-hatred in her eyes anymore; the rage that burned in their dark depths and that curled her lips back from her white fangs was purely for him. "If you think I'm a coward," she snarled, "you're a fool."
"It doesn't take any courage to give up," Kakashi said bitingly.
Kiyame lunged to her feet, pale with fury. "You dare," she said, hands clenched into fists so tight that the corded muscles sprang out in her arms. Katsu whined in protest and tried to push himself up after her, but Kakashi pressed a hand to the dog's hindquarters.
"Down, boy," he murmured, eyes still fixed on Kiyame. "Don't worry about her. She's still too full of herself. She'll be back and sulking in a little while. Maybe it's for the best." He shoved himself upright, watching the woman. Just a little bit more, he thought, and he injected as much unfamiliar venom into his voice as he could. "If she's not strong enough to push past this, she's not worthy to be a Konoha kunoichi."
If Kiyame's left jab hadn't lost a little of its speed and power due to the deep cut across her bicep, the punch probably would have driven his nose back into his brain.
As it was, he managed to dodge just enough that her knuckles grazed his cheekbone instead of splintering his face, and in the next moment he weaved under her right straight and leapt up to the tiled roof behind him. He crouched on the edge of the roof, smirking beneath his mask.
Her eyes blazed with murderous fury, but they were still the dark brown of old leather or polished wood, and her fingernails were still short and smooth, and her teeth were still, if uncomfortably sharp, small enough to pass for normal at a distance.
"It didn't break," he said. "Shall I see you at the Godaime's office tomorrow, kunoichi?"
Kiyame swore, but at her feet, Katsu ran his long red tongue out in a dog's laugh.
Kakashi's smirk melted into a grin.
"I'm glad to hear it," he said at last, when even Kiyame's impressive vocabulary seemed to be wearing thin. "On the other hand, I'm about, oh—" he glanced up at the sun—"about six hours late for a training session with Maito Gai. You're welcome to join us."
"I'll kick your ass, Hatake," Kiyame snarled.
And this time, Kakashi really was glad to hear it.
This time, perhaps, he hadn't been too late.
Author's Notes: Great thanks to all those who've followed me through the long process of writing Wolf Mask with their reviews—I treasure each review I receive, and some of them put me in a review-high that lasts for days—and especially to my beta, Phoenix of Eternity, and to link no miko for generously taking a look. I appreciate the suggestions and the encouragement I've received, and I hope you'll follow me as I move on to (hopefully) better things!
link no miko: Your reviews make me bounce. They are adrenaline shot straight to the veins. Therefore I love them, and you, beyond measure. And I tried to answer your question about the tattoos…
iamzuul: :loves on in return: Whoa. Your reviews make me happy for the rest of the week. I think you may be right that Kakashi is a bit off—Kiyame/Hana certainly is—but, well…:sighs: S'the best I can do at this point. And…the romance died. Sorry. But not really!
PinkyMcCoversong: thanks for the praise and sorry for the confusion! Kakashi does live at a boarding house; apartment probably wasn't the best choice of words there. 'Room' would have been better, or 'lodgings', but that sounds like something out of O. Henry…
sna: I'm so glad you enjoyed it, since I admire your writing so much. And yes, the scene at the memorial is one of my favorites too. I need to write Rin now…
Charisse: :huggles: Thanks for reading! You're right about the cliché (dang it) and I'm glad you liked the rest of it. Miss you…and will do so even more this fall, when you're not there for our marathons!
The Gandhara: Two words: Thanks much! I'm trying to specialize in fleshing out minor characters, and I'm glad to know I'm doing it well.
IPonly: I chose not to change Kiyame's name because in my mind she is already quite different from Hana; I suppose you could call her an original character with a canon background. Also, this means that I can write about Hana without feeling the need to make her compatible with Kiyame, and that I can be rather more hopeful about her and her dogs' (plural) future careers!