Disclaimer/Author's Note: I do not own Kamizuki Izumo nor Hagane Kotetsu. Nor do I own the inspiration for this fic, which belongs to the incomparable Chevira Lowe, who challenged us with the line: "Any ninja that has ever said 'I love you' eventually has to say 'good-bye'. I'm afraid I veered away from the theme a little, in the interests of explaining something I have always wondered about, but, well... Enjoy.
They warned him in the Academy of what it means to be a ninja. They told him that he'll probably die before his first grey hairs appear, that every day he lives might be his last, that he should never get too attached to anyone because eventually he—or they—will falter and fall, and that any ninja that has ever said 'I love you' eventually has to say 'good-bye.'
Kamizuki Izumo didn't expect it to be so soon. He didn't expect to die at fifteen, two months after he finally passed the Chuunin exam, eighteen months after he walked out of his father's house without a word and never went back. He didn't expect to die without having a chance to tell anyone good-bye, and he finds it brutally ironic that he never even had the chance to tell anyone he loved them. He's fifteen, and his team is broken and his body is ruined and he knows he's going to die.
He just doesn't know how long it will take.
He loses consciousness at some point, along with enough blood that he shouldn't ever wake up. But the enemy is crueler than he thought, because he does awake eventually, hurting so badly that he knows he must be alive. They've bandaged the gaping hole in his side and the multitude of smaller slices over the rest of his body, and they've even applied an astringent salve to the thin burn where someone's Katon jutsu licked the curve of his cheekbone. Then they left him alone, shackled to the bed in a stark, white, windowless room.
Izumo is pretty sure he'd rather be dead.
His captors make him even more sure of it later, when five of them come into the room and stand in a loose, silent semi-circle around his bed. They're dressed all in white, and they wear masks that reveal nothing but their eyes. Even the healer who stretches her chakra-laden hands over his stomach glances down at him with the incurious gaze of one who sees not a frightened fifteen-year-old boy but only an enemy shinobi. Her eyes promise him nothing but pain.
He knows how to deal with pain. He's a Konoha shinobi, dammit, and he's been through every anti-interrogation course they offer. So when his captors finish healing his body and then set about systematically breaking it, he closes off his mind and lets his body respond as they want. He listens vaguely to his own screams, and he wonders how long it will take them to kill him.
-Izumo doesn't break. But someone else must have, because by the time his throat is raw with screaming (but not with talking—he doesn't talk, not even when they smash every bone in his right hand) a man comes into the room and whispers something into his chief torturer's ear. The masked shinobi straightens in surprise, then casts an amused glance at Izumo. "Really," he murmurs. "Well, I shouldn't be surprised—these Konoha nin are always too soft." He considers Izumo's naked, supine body a moment more, then reaches out and wipes his bloody hand against the boy's cheek. Izumo can't help it; he jerks away. His torturer's eyes crinkle in a slight smile, and suddenly he grabs Izumo's right hand and crushes it in his own. The tiny bone fragments grind together and Izumo screams and writhes in his shackles, but he won't talk, they can't make him talk…
"Lock him up," his torturer says. "Alone."
Izumo has never liked being alone; it's an gut feeling that probably originates from his very early childhood, when his father would send him up to his room without dinner for making a bad grade on his hand-seals quiz or pulling the pigtails of the girl next door. He likes being around people, likes being the center of attention, likes having all eyes on him when he pulls off another of his crazy escapades.
But he's never faced torture before, and although he knows he shouldn't be grateful that they're ending it now—because surely they have a plan, surely this is only the prelude to something more horrible—he can't help but sob with relief as well as pain as they shackle him to the wall in another blank white room so small he could walk across it in four strides, if they hadn't already broken his legs. When they leave him, he thinks he's glad to be alone. He's got a chance to compose himself now, to steel himself against the new torture he knows is coming. For a little while, the silence is welcome.
After less than a day, it is maddening.
There's a pipe in one corner constantly dripping with water, and his chains are just long enough that he can drag himself toward it and let the drip run into his open mouth. He sleeps lightly and uneasily on the damp tiled floor, haunted by nightmares, and when he wakes sometimes there's a flat brown ration-bar on the floor next to him, and sometimes there isn't. His mouth is too badly lacerated and too many teeth are too loose to chew, but he hammers the ration-bar against the floor until corners break off, and he holds them in his mouth until his saliva has moistened them enough that he can swallow. He doesn't worry about poison; at this point, death would be a merciful release.
And whatever their plans for him, he knows they don't include mercy.
He keeps up a running stream of conversation in his head: with his sensei and his teammates Kotetsu and Matsui, with his friends at the Academy, even with his father. Some part of him knows that Kotetsu and Matsui are probably dead, that Sensei almost certainly is, and that his father won't speak to him even if he comes crawling back on his knees. So he jokes with Matsui and teases Sensei and yells at his father, but he spends most of his time talking with Kotetsu. They've been best friends since they met in the Academy when they were six years old, and when he walked out of his father's house after failing his first Chuunin exam, he and Kotetsu found an apartment and made a new home together.
We've done pretty well for ourselves, he tells Kotetsu.
Kotetsu grins that self-assured cocky grin of his and says Of course. We're Chuunin now, aren't we? We made it!
And Izumo smiles back and doesn't tell Kotetsu that their lives are ending like this, because in the emptiness of his own mind, the world is what he makes it. They're forever fifteen, forever young and strong and immortal, and always and forever he'll beat Kotetsu in foot-races and Matsui in taijutsu, and in return Kotetsu will always be smarter than him and Matsui always better in genjutsu, and together the three of them will always be ready to take on the world that now is passing him by.
But after the sixth ration bar—their infrequent appearance is his only measure of time in this perpetually-lighted cell—he's having trouble remembering Matsui's voice, and his father has become a faceless blur who refuses to take any notice of him. Sensei is gone altogether. Izumo drags himself to the corner and props his back up against the wall, and he stares at his swollen, misshapen hands and tries to remember exactly when he went mad. Kotetsu isn't any help; he just sits in the opposite corner and makes sarcastic comments while his face drips blood as steadily as the pipe drips water. Izumo yells at him to shut up, but when he does, the silence is so terrible that he begs for Kotetsu to come back.
Kotetsu doesn't come. But Izumo's captors do, bringing the healer with them. She sets Izumo's legs and fuses the bones in his broken hand, and she smoothes more salve on his burns and slides a fingertip of chakra over his body to erase the bruises and close the gashes. He knows what she's doing; they want to break him afresh, body and spirit together. He sets his teeth and swears on the memory of Kotetsu's bloody face that he will not betray his friends.
He doesn't break. Eventually they drag him back to his cell and shackle him in the corner again. Only this time, when they leave, the light goes with them. He's left alone and bleeding in the dark, and when he calls out to Kotetsu, not even his own mind provides any answer.
He can't count the days. The ration bars stop appearing, and although he calculates that the water drips approximately forty-six times every minute, after a while they shut the water off too and turn it on again only at infrequent intervals. He tries talking to himself, but he's not nearly as good a companion as Kotetsu or even his father was. Sleep brings only nightmares in which his faceless captors torture him over and over again. Even worse are the dreams in which they force him to watch them torture Kotetsu or Matsui. Matsui always breaks in the end, but Kotetsu dies with his stubbornly clenched teeth shining bone-white from the red ruins of his face.
Izumo isn't sure which truth he hopes for.
He's almost glad when the torturers come again, because at least the pain is real now, and he's not alone with the madness his mind creates. He smiles at the tall man who crushed his hand, and then he sinks his teeth into the shoulder of one of his guards and tries to take out the other with a swift roundhouse kick from his (broken, healed, re-broken, and re-healed) right leg. He hopes they'll kill him, because he isn't sure how much more torture—or isolation—he can stand, and he'd rather die like Kotetsu, body broken but spirit free.
But they're chuunin-level shinobi at least, and he's so weak and injured that he can't put up much of a fight. They take him down without breaking a sweat, and they take extra pleasure in the torture this time. He lets his mind go when they start on his hands again, and he prays to whatever gods are listening that it will never come back.
The gods aren't listening. But some demon is, because when Izumo wakes again, he's back in the cell, and for a long time he can do nothing but lie on his side with his cheek pressed to the damp tile and try to remember how to breathe.
He's fairly sure that he should know half a dozen ways of killing himself, and that it's his duty to try all of them until one works. But he can't remember any, and he thinks maybe that's good, because if he's forgotten something as elementary as suicide, perhaps he's forgotten any secrets he could spill. Perhaps, when they finally succeed in breaking him, he'll have nothing to tell.
-After a few hours alone in the dark, he starts to hallucinate again.
Kotetsu comes to him, dripping blood from a deep cut over one eye, cradling a broken arm against his chest. He kneels down beside Izumo, and horror and pity and fury war for dominance in his face. He touches Izumo's bruised throat gently with two fingertips, searching for a pulse.
"What are you doing?" Izumo asks him. His throat is so raw that it's hard to force the words out, but he's so glad to see Kotetsu again—even if it's just in the madness of his own mind—that he'll talk if it kills him. He hopes it will. "You're not going to kill me if you press there."
Kotetsu freezes. His face is white beneath the streaking blood. "Wh—why would I try to kill you?"
Izumo gives him a disgusted look and doesn't bother trying to answer that. He tries to drag himself up into a sitting position again, but they've smashed both his knee-caps and his legs scream pain at any attempted movement. Kotetsu stops him. "It's okay. I'll carry you."
"Carry me where?" Izumo asks. The hallucinations have never tried to escape before. Actually, none of them have ever touched him, which makes sense because they're all in his mind, of course.
But there's blood on Kotetsu's fingers now from where his hand brushed against Izumo's chest, and maybe his mind is twisting things around again, but is this real?
He reaches out before he remembers, and his smashed, crippled hand just grazes Kotetsu's sleeve. That touch alone is enough to make him scream, and that convinces him, because a hallucination can't hurt you anymore than you're already hurt. Kotetsu's real. He's here, and—
For the first time, Izumo notices that the door is open, that there's a pool of blood leaking around the frame, and that a body lies in the corridor with its head severed from its shoulders. The lightbulb in the hallway sheds a bright white glow over everything, which would hurt Izumo's eyes except he's hurting so badly everywhere else that he doesn't really notice.
"C'mon," Kotetsu says, sliding his unbroken arm under Izumo's shoulders. The broken arm goes under his hips, and Kotetsu grunts slightly at the pain but gives no other sign. It doesn't take much effort to lift Izumo; he's lost so much weight that he's mostly bloody skin and broken bone. His head falls against Kotetsu's chest, and he's content to lie cradled in his teammate's arms and listen to the strong beat of Kotetsu's heart through the thick padded vest. Kotetsu steps over the body in the doorway and heads down the hall, towards the sounds of fighting that Izumo's now vaguely beginning to hear.
He wonders suddenly, staring at the white doors spaced unevenly in the blank white walls, if he really was as alone as he thought. "Matsui?" he asks. "Sensei?"
Kotetsu's step falters for a moment, then recovers. "Sensei died on the battlefield," he says. "Matsui—we found him here. What was left of him. I guess they didn't have any more use for him after he broke."
So it was Matsui. Izumo closes his eyes for a moment and says a silent prayer for his sensei and his teammate, for broken body and broken mind.
The fight's getting closer; he can hear the clang of metal now as kunai strikes kunai, and when two shinobi dart out of an open door, he expects Kotetsu to drop him and reach for the two giant kunai sheathed on his back. But they're Leaf ninja, he realizes after a confused moment, familiar faces he ought to remember but can't quite. One of them tries to take him from Kotetsu, but Kotetsu shakes his head and holds on. "I'll carry him," he says fiercely. "He's my teammate." The other shinobi nods silently and drifts ahead down the corridor, drawing his katana again.
They pass another door open onto a room Izumo recognizes. He can't help the shudder that seizes his body when he sees the bed where they tortured him. Kotetsu notices and holds him closer. "You're safe now," he whispers. "I won't let anyone do that to you ever again. I swear it, Izumo."
Izumo can hear the truth in his words.