The Silent Blade: Renegade

Author: Carcinya (Isolde1 on fanfiction(dot)net)
Author E-mail: carcinya(at)yahoo(dot)com
Category: Action/Adventure/Romance
Keywords: Naruto Hunter-nin Iruka Kakashi
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Possible up to episode 145
Summary: As his lover find himself caught in a deadly whirlwind of political intrigue that leads Konoha to the brink of war, former Hunter Iruka must risk everything to protect what he holds dear. Just how far would you go to defend what is yours? (KakaIru, Book 2)
Disclaimer: This story is based on situations and characters created and owned by Masashi Kishimoto, various publishers including but not limited to TV Tokyo. No money is being made and no copyright infringement intended. The infamous Nenani-sama is Messy Peaches's.

Now, now, people. If Naruto was mine, do you really think I'd be sitting at my computer, sipping bad coffee, and writing bad fanfiction? Honestly.

Author's notes: I apologize in advance for any spelling or grammar mistake there might be in this story. I am French, and still only learning the beautiful language that is English. Any comments are welcome, but obviously flames will be used to roast marshmallows. Or flamers. Yummy.

Here we are, the sequel. I must warn you, though, "TSB: Renegade" is quite different in tone and pace from the original TSB. (Like, say, The Fellowship of the Rings and The Two Towers... only a lot less well-written)

The following takes place two years after "TSB: Hunter". It won't make much sense if you have not read it, unfortunately.

Beta-ed by Elizabeth, Bronze Tigress and Telosphilos. Thank you!


Glossary

Inazumi: Flash of lightning.
Kurohyou: Black panther.

Chapter 1: Twisted Logic

Woe to the man whose heart has not learned while young to hope, to love - and to put its trust in life.

-- Joseph Conrad

Iruka sheathed his swords in a smooth, practised motion. The rain-soaked black fabric of his training attire clung to his slender frame. He had tied up his shoulder-length black hair in a loose ponytail, in order to keep it out of his face while he fought.

He stretched carefully, sore muscles rippling under his smooth tan skin, his joints protesting at the strain. A vague, lingering ache in his left arm brought a wry, fleeting smile of remembrance to his lips. He fingered his Hunter tattoo and the old, white scar under it with unaccountable reverence.

Across the clearing, Uchiha Sasuke was cleaning his katana, Inazumi, against his leg bindings. He slid it back into its tastefully-adorned scabbard, then he prodded at the light gash across his chest experimentally, wincing almost imperceptibly. With a snort of disdain, he stalked over to his teacher.

"You should get that wound checked, Sasuke-kun," Iruka advised, "It might get infected."

The boy looked utterly unconcerned but did not outright refuse, knowing better by now than to cross his teacher's mothering instincts.

"You wouldn't want Nenani-sama mad at you, now, would you?"

Sasuke rolled his eyes, but nodded, paling a little.

Karasu-sensei was right, the harridan always does the trick, Iruka thought, amused in spite of himself. Well, it had worked with Itachi back then, so he supposed it would work with anyone.

"We might as well go home," the former Hunter said, with a grimace. "Did I mention I hate the rain?"

If the twist at the corner of Sasuke's mouth was any indication, he shared the sentiment.

They trudged back to the village, too worn out to teleport, leap from branch to branch or even run -- the teacher chatting amiably, and the student grunting in reply from time to time. They parted at the huge Gates of Konoha. Sasuke took the direction of the Uchiha complex, while Iruka headed for the northern part of the village.

Muddy water flowed down the steep cobbled streets of the Pine District as he dragged himself back to the apartment he had moved into with Kakashi a few months ago. Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled in the distance and all of a sudden Iruka found himself thinking of the Jounin. He couldn't wait to be home.

But first, he had to fulfil a promise made to an old friend.

§

Iruka hummed under his breath as he turned the key, stopping abruptly when he noticed the door was unlocked. He checked the room quickly, reaching out with his mind, relaxing fractionally when he detected Kakashi's warm aura in the kitchen. However, an uneasy feeling nestled in the pit of his stomach and stayed there.

He stepped in and removed his mud-covered sandals with a wince of disgust.

"I'm home," he called softly, his mind already picturing a thousand pleasant ways to spend the rest of the evening with his lover. It was late, but he had nothing scheduled tomorrow morning, so they might be able to sleep at some point then. Maybe.

His musings were cut short when he caught sight of his lover, leaning stiffly against the kitchen counter, arms crossed defiantly on his well-defined chest. Both his face and left eye were bare, and that usually spelled trouble.

Kakashi levelled a sombre, mismatched glare at him.

"Something wrong?" Iruka asked, puzzled.

"You think?" came the immediate, scathing reply.

Iruka froze. He could have slapped himself. At least that explained the nagging feeling of having forgotten something that had plagued him all day long.

"It was tonight, wasn't it?" he asked, sounding defeated. It wasn't really a question.

"If by it you mean the fucking dinner we were supposed to have and you conveniently forgot again, then yes."

When Kakashi started swearing, that usually meant trouble.

Iruka gave a deep sigh. He was soaked, chilled and bone-tired, and above all, he hated lovers' quarrels with a passion. They were just so pointless and so mean, often stooping to perfectly ridiculous levels of pettiness, self-righteous anger becoming more important than hurting the other. It didn't fit well with Iruka's idea of a cosy evening.

"I was working out with Sasuke," he said, quickly. He turned around, busying himself with the removal of his blades. "I didn't realize it was so late..."

Both sentences were perfectly true Iruka reasoned with his conscience. At least when taken separately

"Sasuke phoned here two hours ago," the Jounin interrupted him. "He bumped into Nenani-sama on the way back."

Iruka let out a string of curses under his breath. He did not like where this conversation was headed, and it was quickly spiralling out of control. Why had he lied to Kakashi? He had always been a terrible liar, and usually he respected Kakashi enough not to try. But somehow the words had tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them.

"Where were you?" Kakashi asked, trying to conceal the irritation in his voice.

Iruka knew he should have apologized, but Kakashi's venomous, patronizing tone grated at his nerves. He already felt wretched for letting him down again, and the flicker of pain he glimpsed in his lover's eyes left him reeling.

So the young man did what he had always done when in pain. He attacked. His head whipped around, viper-quick. His dark brown eyes narrowed in anger, and he growled, low in his throat. Springing to his feet, his fists on his hips, he raised his chin and stared straight at the silver-haired Jounin.

"Screw you," Iruka swore meaningfully. "I'm not your wife."

"God forbid," the Jounin returned dryly. It was hard to tell whether or not he was joking, and Iruka decided he did not care to find out.

"If you must know," he forced out at last, opting for the plain, unadorned truth -- not that he actually had any other valid option. "I was at Kurenai's."

"Really?" came the murmured question.

The former Hunter stiffened and swallowed uneasily. After living with Kakashi for nearly three years, he had become adept at reading the other man's moods. And he knew, with the certainty of first-hand experience, that the quieter his lover became, the angrier he truly was.

"Yes, really. I had promised her I'd come and spend time with the twins. What did you think?"

"I don't know what to think. After all, you've been spending an awful lot of time around Hakuchuu lately," Kakashi said. "Longing to get brats of your own, maybe?"

Had the air not been crackling with tension, Iruka might have laughed. As it was, he frowned, taken aback at the sheer absurdity of his lover's accusation. Obviously enough, Kakashi was trying to irritate him -- and succeeding -- but for what purpose?

An echo of a time long past, he suddenly heard the steady voice of Karasu-sensei, his Hunter instructor, chiding him firmly.

Temper, Iruka, temper. Anger clouds the mind and dulls the blade.

So the older man wanted to trick him into revealing something. Iruka felt a brief flare of hurt at the underhanded technique, but stifled it at once. They were both battle-tried shinobi, after all, with everything that implied. At any rate, Kakashi had sorely underestimated him and his Hunter-acquired ability to distance himself from his feelings.

Wrestling himself under control took only a few painstaking seconds, although a great deal of effort. The young man let himself go progressively cold, bottling his anger, his pain under a thick barrier of ice.

Clear-headed under the frost, Iruka's mind raced.

Hakuchuu was Washi's fretful young apprentice. Though she had received her mask and name almost two years ago, the fair, swan-graceful girl had yet to gain the confidence and poise that befitted her rank. She reminded Iruka endearingly of his childhood friend Iria, before she had lost herself into Byakko the White Fox. He was quite fond of her, in a strictly platonic sense, and up till now Kakashi had never seemed to mind.

The apparent change of heart did not fool him.

"Helping her with her Kenjutsu," Iruka pointed out, with seemingly unwavering calm. "I used to be a Hunter, remember?"

Kakashi gave a bark of derisive laughter.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"As if you'd ever let me forget that," Kakashi muttered. "You don't wear that damn mask anymore, but nothing else has changed."

Iruka froze, his dark eyes narrowing to slits.

"Elaborate," he snapped curtly.

"Have you noticed how the other shinobi act around you? How you act around them?"

Kakashi managed the rare feat of stunning the young man into silence.

"You miss it, don't you?" he murmured, his intent, mismatched gaze never leaving Iruka's. He took a step forward. "The thrill. The power."

"I don't see what you're talking about," Iruka snapped, after a moment's hesitation that did not escape his lover's keen eyes.

"Kurohyou," the older man said, that single word heavy with understatement. "You won't let go." Then he added, "Hell, even Washi still calls you Okashira!"

"Nonsense," Iruka hissed, his low tone a warning.

"Just look at yourself!" Kakashi said, undaunted. "So fucking calm. A picture straight out of a history book."

Belatedly, it dawned upon Iruka that this was the point his decidedly roundabout lover had been trying to make all along. He had walked right into the trap like a naive Genin. So Kakashi had not underestimated him, the former Hunter admitted, chagrined, but rather the other way around.

"Must have been easier for you back then. At least you had a ready-made excuse to hide yourself."

That was the last straw. The ice cracked. All the anger and resentment Iruka had been bottling up suddenly flooded and overwhelmed him in a tidal wave of fury.

"Are you calling me a coward?"

Kakashi stared at him intently, but did not deny the accusation.

"You arrogant fuck," the former Hunter yelled, then clenched his jaw so hard it hurt. He shoved the Jounin away from him with a snarl. "You don't know shit about me!"

"How the hell could I?" his lover shot back instantly, mismatched gaze flashing in pained anger. Then he added, more quietly, "You never say anything."

"If you don't like it, you can pack up your shit and fuck off," the former Hunter announced, beyond furious. "That would clear up some space!"

He regretted his venomous words the instant they left his mouth. Kakashi winced as if he had been slapped, but the Jounin schooled his handsome features into a mask of cold anger so quickly that Iruka was left wondering if had simply imagined it.

"Fine," his lover ground out eventually, between gritted teeth.

"Fine!" Iruka shot back. He crossed his arms on his chest and glared up at Kakashi defiantly. Fury lit his eyes a rich brown and dusted colour across his cheeks. They locked gazes in a silent test of will, both too stubborn to back off.

Iruka was the first to look away.

"To hell with it," the former Hunter muttered, giving in to the temptation to throw down his hands in frustrated annoyance. He stalked to the door, opened it wide, and walked out without a backward glance, slamming the door behind him.

§

"You look terrible," Kurenai announced unceremoniously, eyeing the drenched young man standing on her porch under the beating rain. Barefoot, his black hair in disarray, he was hugging himself tightly, shivering in the cold.

Like a drowned cat, Kurenai thought immediately. Wet, miserable and pretending to be fine.

She ushered him in without further ado and kicked the door shut behind them.

"Stay here, you'll ruin the carpet," she ordered, with the firm tone of one used to such disasters. "I'll get you some dry clothes."

Uncharacteristically, Iruka did as he was told without protesting, definitely not in the mood to argue. The red-eyed woman was back within moments and helped the former Hunter out of his training attire with practised efficiency and absolutely no shame. Kurenai handed him a thick cotton towel, then stepped behind him, untied his forehead protector and ponytail, then set about drying his hair.

Under Kurenai's diligent care, Iruka quickly found himself bundled up on the sofa under a warm, woollen blanket, wearing some of Asuma's oversized pyjamas.

"Tea or warm milk?" came his friend's voice from the kitchen.

Iruka winced at the mention of the dreaded beverage. He would have given his left arm for a cup of hot, black coffee.

"Tea, please."

She came back into the living room with a plastic tray balanced on her hands. She wore a huge, tattered night robe -- probably Asuma's, he surmised.

"I'm sorry. I'm imposing on you," Iruka said quietly. Then he added, as an afterthought, "Again."

Kurenai smiled.

"Don't worry. With Asuma out of town on a mission, I need all the help I can get with my two monsters."

Even in his state, the young man could not help chuckling at the mention of the twins. At the honorable age of one year old, Akira and Katsu gave their loving parents a great deal of trouble. Though they insisted it was worth it, Iruka had noticed Kurenai often sported dark circles under her crimson eyes, and Asuma had tripled his cigarette consumption.

"So," Kurenai began, pouring fragrant hot tea into two small cups, "What did you two fight about this time?"

Iruka looked up, startled.

"How did you..."

"Please," she drawled, raising an eyebrow. "I'm married."

After a moment's hesitation, Iruka gave in to his friend's inquiring crimson gaze, and quickly summed up what had transpired between Kakashi and him an hour ago -- leaving out some parts and adroitly directing Kurenai's questions. He often found himself thankful Ibiki himself had taught him the fine art of living through interrogation at the hands of the enemy.

When he was done, she stared at him for a long moment, her pale face set in a thoughtful frown.

"People say terrible things when they're angry," Kurenai said at last. "Things they regret afterwards. You know, when I was having the boys, I kept screaming at Asuma. How I would ask for divorce, remove his manly bits and then cook them with curry..."

Iruka's already immense respect for the bearded Jounin went up another notch. He made a mental note to take him out for a drink one of these days, as one war veteran to another.

Kurenai reached out to stroke his cheek. He flinched and she snatched back her hand, frowning.

"I've got the feeling there's more to this than you're letting on, Iruka-kun," she said pensively, cocking her head to the side. "But I won't press."

The former Hunter had a small, wan smile.

"Thanks."

"Sleep, now," she ordered good-naturedly, rising and setting their tea cups onto the tray. Then she added, with a somewhat wry grin, "While you can. We'll take turns with the twins."

Iruka hid under the blanket with a heartfelt groan .

§

When Iruka went home the next morning, he had the unpleasant surprise of finding it cold and empty of Kakashi. His first reaction was flaring annoyance -- the Jounin had not even left a note. Then he remembered, through the hazy fog that filled his sleep-deprived mind, that the Jounin had a mission scheduled today, one that would keep him away from home far too long for Iruka's taste. The dinner they should have had the day before had been to wish him luck.

Along with Washi, Hakuchuu, Genma and Sasuke, his lover was to escort the delegation the Fire Country was sending to the Hidden Village of Sand, where they would discuss commercial treaties with the leaders of the Wind Country.

Still in Asuma's borrowed clothes, the former Hunter made for the coffee-maker morosely. He took the milk out of the fridge, and cursed. How many times had he told Kakashi not to leave empty bottles? With a half-hearted four-letter word, he toed open the trash bin.

And froze.

Discarding the milk bottle without a second glance, the young man crouched down quickly -- wincing as one of his knees, broken six months ago, gave a painful throb of protest. He started rifling through the garbage, unable to believe his eyes.

Fifteen or so crumpled sheets of paper, all starting with Iruka's name at the top. Most were disgusting beyond recognition, but one of them was covered in writing rather than vegetable peels. Most of the message had been furiously scribbled over and struck through. On the whole, it was nearly unreadable, but squinting hard Iruka managed to make out a few words scattered across the page, jotted down in his lover's unmistakable spidery scrawl:

"...hopeless... messed up... a complete failure... stop... your fault... so pointless... Let's forget this and..."

Iruka scrambled up in horrified haste. He smoothed the piece of paper on the kitchen counter and read it again, with agonizing slowness. He managed to make out a few more words, but nothing that fundamentally changed the general meaning of the message. Then he crumpled the letter in his fist. As his arm came to rest listlessly at his side, the paper fell and hit the hardwood floor with an dull sound.

Slowly, silently, the young man made his way across the living room and dropped to his knees in front of the window, ignoring the jolt of pain from his bad leg. He opened the shoji door in a smooth, practised motion. Light poured into the room.

Iruka stared into space until the sun rose high in the clear blue sky, feeling even more wretched and bereft of hope than he ever had in his Hunter years.

Now he knew precisely how much he had lost.


TBC

Don't worry. Thing will get better -- maybe. Feedback more than welcome!