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 finds 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.

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.

Bissap is a sort of herbal tea, popular in western Africa.

Beta-ed by Noods and Bronze Tigress. Thank you!


Glossary

Suna: Sand.
Hakuchuu: White Swan.
Hime: Princess.

Chapter 2: Fall to Pieces

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one.

-- Albert Einstein

Later that day

Though the early morning had been pleasantly cool, the late spring sun had risen quickly after dawn and started tormenting the Fire Country delegation.

Well, not all of them, Sasuke thought peevishly. The Daimyo's daughter and the diplomats were comfortably seated in their palanquins, sheltered from the rigors of travel -- unlike their shinobi guards who journeyed on foot and slept exposed to the elements.

Though Sasuke would have bitten off his tongue rather than complain, he was definitely grateful for the light, almost unnoticeable breeze that cooled down the painful burns on his sensitive skin. For the most part, the others did not look better off. Hakuchuu, the white-clad Hunter, was panting heavily under her confining mask. Genma was sweating heavily and sucking on his senbon needle without respite.

Washi was obviously trying to look unaffected. It was a well-rehearsed act, to be sure. Had Sasuke himself been less adept at pretending, he might have been fooled. As it was, the minute details that betrayed the Hunter's discomfort did not escape his keen eye. The day was still young, and the man had already downed half his water supply. Not to mention the way he kept pulling up his mask ever so slightly to enjoy a whiff of fresh air.

Pathetic.

Pursing his lips, the Uchiha shook his head in disapproval.

And then, there was Kakashi-sensei.

Having travelled, trained and worked with him for years, Sasuke prided himself on knowing his former teacher better than most. Which, granted, was not saying much. Yet usually they managed to understand each other well enough, even though they did not always agree or get along. And today, he could tell the man -- ordinarily amiable -- wanted nothing more than to be left alone. When Hakuchuu slowed down to walk next to him, and attempted to strike up a conversation, he turned her down sharply and strode ahead without a backward glance. A few hours later, Genma was rebuffed in the same fashion.

Kakashi was rarely talkative on a good day, but this was truly bordering on the ridiculous.

And he had not even bothered to pull out his infamous orange book. Something was clearly bothering him, and while Sasuke did not give a damn what it was about, he certainly hoped Kakashi would get over it soon. Even the most talented ninja could become a liability in combat if they let their private lives overlap with their work, and the Jounin was no exception.

Sasuke cast the Copy-Nin a last reproving glance, then turned his attention back to the dusty road that stretched ominously for miles ahead.

§

Two days later

To Sasuke's mild chagrin, by the time the delegation stopped for the night near the border with the Wind Country, Kakashi had not yet snapped out of his melancholy mood. As had become his habit since they had left the village, he plopped down on a tree stump as far from the others as security would allow, took out a tattered notebook and started writing.

Munching on a rice ball, the Uchiha had half a mind to get up, stalk over to the Jounin and shake some sense into him. Yet he balked at the task, for he knew there was only one person that could upset Kakashi so badly.

Iruka, the walking emotional earthquake.

The ex-Hunter had the nasty habit of bulldozing his way through people's hearts, crumbling down the thickest walls like mere houses of cards, shattering beliefs like glass before settling among the remains and hanging on for dear life. Having been subjected to its devastating effects, Sasuke admitted it was a fearsome thing to behold.

Besides, he had absolutely no desire to pry into his teachers' love lives. The young man shuddered at the very thought.

At the same time, it had become apparent by now that the man had no intention of pulling himself together, as a proper shinobi should. The way things were going, he seemed in fact determined to mope over his misfortune for the rest of the mission.

Sasuke didn't think the group could graciously handle another day, let alone a week of this silent, sullen version of Kakashi. Already the atmosphere among the shinobi had deteriorated. The air was fairly crackling with tension. Hakuchuu had taken Kakashi's rejection personally, and Washi had naturally sided with his apprentice. Genma, on the contrary, seemed to support Kakashi.

Such dissensions within the team were dangerous and unworthy of the high-ranked shinobi they were. In a word, unacceptable. At any rate, it confirmed some of the doubts he had been harbouring for a while.

Washi was an excellent Hunter, of that Sasuke had no doubt. But he was not half the leader Kurohyou had been.

And still was, Sasuke admitted readily to himself.

The Hokage trusted him, and the Hunters would follow him without question. Iruka had their loyalty, and Washi's above all. Yet he paraded around, pretending to be nothing more than a Jounin with some skill at kenjutsu.

He acted the part to near perfection, and the Hokage indulged him by playing along. Sasuke understood why, but he could not condone her behaviour.

Denying the truth was pointless and dangerous. Iruka had been Kurohyou for ten years, far too long to ever hope to revert back to normal life, or whatever passed for normal in their world. Once a Hunter, always a Hunter. But more than that, the man was a leader. It was part of him, no matter how hard he tried to pretend otherwise -- and the gods knew he did.

Hell, he had probably even managed to convince himself.

But that was neither here nor there. Let the Hokage deal with her own messes; at the moment, Sasuke had a sulky genius to handle.

He got up gracefully and made his way across the camp, careful not to step on Genma's prone, snoring form.

"Spill it."

Kakashi looked up from his notes and eyed him curiously.

"Something is wrong," Sasuke said curtly. "I want to know what."

The Copy-nin stared at him for a long while, then snapped his notebook shut with an audible clap.

"I didn't take you for the inquisitive type, Sasuke-kun," he began, cocking his head to the side. "What prompted this sudden interest in my private life?"

"Whatever is bothering you is driving me nuts," the younger man grunted, sitting down next to his former teacher. "So spill it." Then he added, obviously as an afterthought, "And for the Hokage's sake, make it quick."

"Why, I am touched," the Jounin declared, his tone fairly dripping with sarcasm. "I didn't know you cared."

"I don't," the Uchiha drawled, looking faintly bored. "But your lack of self-control is affecting the mission. And since Washi obviously won't do anything..."

For a long moment, Kakashi remained silent.

"So you want to know what's wrong?" he asked all of sudden, his tone deceptively light.

Sasuke nodded.

"Because you feel I can't deal with it myself."

"Yes."

"And so -- according to you -- I'm endangering the mission."

"Yes."

There was another heavy silence. Then Kakashi said, brusquely,

"I'll say it only once, so listen well."

"I am listening."

Kakashi leaned forward and grabbed the front of Sasuke's flak jacket in a smooth, controlled motion.

"Mind your own fucking business, Chuunin," he murmured dangerously, staring at him with frightening coldness. The young man's chakra flared at the aggression. With an effort of will, he reined in the impulse to chidori his ex-teacher's masked face off.

Then the Jounin shoved him away, scrambled up and stalked away. Sasuke brushed himself off and frowned.

A psychotic brother, a neurotic teacher, and now, an emotionally unstable team mate -- why did this sort of thing keep happening to him?

§

Three days later

Hakuchuu hated the desert.

She surveyed the endless expense of sand with resignation. They had only been crossing the Dune Sea for two days, and already she could feel her patience ebbing at an alarming rate. At every break, Suzu-hime, the young princess, complained endless about everything she could think of -- Hakuchuu was ready to swear she spent hours making lists of things that disagreed with her noble person. The shinobi guards were tired and on edge, and Kakashi's moody brooding certainly did not help.

She heaved a deep, weary sigh, wishing she could wipe the sweat off her face under the oppressive porcelain mask.

It wouldn't be the last time.

§

On the eve of the sixth day, the unmistakable silhouette of Suna at last stood out against the blood-red horizon. And none too soon. After nearly a week's harassing journey, the fragile peace the delegation had managed to uphold was bursting at the seams.

Genma stretched discreetly, wincing as he heard his joints popping back into place.

The Dune Sea had given way to a desert of rocky, hilly highlands. On top of the highest and largest mesa, the shinobi of Hidden Sand had built their famous city. Designed to blend with its surroundings, the village itself was hard to spot, as the high walls and sturdy houses were made of the same granite rock that formed the nearby mountains. It was indeed an impressive work of architecture, easily defendable and yet inconspicuous, as expected of a village that had made discretion and deceit its trade.

As they progressed with some difficulty up the narrow, winding path that was the only possible access to the city gates, Genma endeavored to keep his gaze firmly on Sasuke's back and not on the increasingly steeper slope on his left side. Heights had never been his forte. It proved infinitely harder that he had previously thought, and when they finally reached the top, he found himself grateful for the reprieve.

His hands on his thighs, he took a deep breath to steady himself, shrugging vaguely when Sasuke not-so-discreetly levelled a sneer in his general direction. He did not mind the boy's barely hidden scorn. In all honesty, Genma cared little about what people in general thought about him, and expected people to do the same in return.

Some people mattered -- Raidou, his mother, Kurenai, Iruka, Ibiki perhaps -- and those few he would die rather than disappoint. And then, there was everyone else, who in his opinion simply happened to be there, by some twist of fate.

He shifted his heavy backpack onto his sore shoulders and set off after the others on the dusty path.

Genma had lived through two wars, the Kyuubi, and Raidou's cooking. He had nothing to prove, to anyone -- and certainly not to an uppity brat who knew all about vengeance, and nothing about life.

§

Four days later

From where he sat cross-legged on the window ledge, Washi had a clear view on his team and the living room of their temporary quarters -- just as he had intended. After all the agitation of the past few days, he needed a moment's peace and quiet to think. He had half a mind to summon Hakaze, for advice as much as companionship, as the planar had always proved excellent at providing the two. Yet he had promised the great bird some well-deserved time off, and while he could think of many reasons for his current anxiety, none of them seemed serious enough to disturb his friend.

It was still quite early, and the shinobi of Konoha were not yet awake enough to fall back into their new-found pattern of mutual irritation. Hakuchuu sat in a corner, apparently meditating. Genma and Sasuke nursed steaming hot cups in silence.

Unlike the others, who drank the local bissap tea without complaints, Kakashi had upon arrival bribed a young servant into finding him black-market coffee -- probably bought at a hair-raising price. After living for two years with Iruka, coffee addict extraordinaire, it was hardly surprising that Kakashi should have developed a taste for the strong, bitter beverage himself.

But in truth, it wasn't Kakashi's quirks that troubled the Hunter's mind.

Ever since their arrival in Suna, the Copy-nin's behavior had grown increasingly odd. He had gone from vaguely moody to worryingly restless and irritable, bordering at times on the paranoid.

Though it wasn't exceedingly unusual in itself, Washi couldn't help but notice that Kakashi seemed to suffer from the climate a great deal more than the rest of the team. He constantly shied away from the bright, harsh sun and favored the cool, shady rooms they had been assigned. As a result, he had not set foot outside once, and spent most of the day either prowling the corridors and pacing endlessly, during one of his restless, sleepless spells, or sprawled on his futon, staring vacantly into space, as exhaustion caught up with him.

Though he would never admit it, the Hunter was growing worried.

Kakashi slammed down his empty cup onto the low table, rattling bowls and chopsticks, and startling Washi out of his bleak musings.

"Leave me alone!" he screamed in sudden fury. He grabbed a clay pitcher and threw it at a nearby wall, where it crashed with a sickening, wet crunch. "You're dead! Dead!"

Then the rage seemed to drain out of him as quickly as it had come, and he bent double, hugging himself tightly.

"Dead, dead, dead..." he muttered in a monotone, over and over, rocking back and forth like a wounded beast.

Hakuchuu, who had jumped to her feet at the commotion, seemed to hesitate. She approached him warily, as one would a wild horse. Bending in front of Kakashi, she laid a cautious hand on his shoulder.

The Jounin jerked away at the feather-light touch, his head snapping up in alarm, his one unmasked pupil dilated and a little wild. As Hakuchuu took a hasty step back, he looked around, blinked a few times and suddenly seemed to remember where he was -- and perhaps, Washi thought, who he was.

Kakashi stiffened visibly.

"What are you all looking at?" he snarled, as if daring them to comment.

Across the room, Genma looked away, a strange expression crossing his handsome face. He traded a quick questioning glance with Sasuke, who shook his head slightly. The four shinobi watched in bemusement as the sallow-faced, harrowed-looking Jounin dragged himself to his feet and stalked out of the room without a backward glance, slamming the door after him.

"What's gotten into him?" Hakuchuu asked, sounding a bit shaken. She fidgeted, and tucked a stray lock of white-blonde hair behind her ear in a nervous gesture.

"I've never seen Kakashi like this," Sasuke said.

"Me neither," Genma said. "But I figured this might happen sooner or later."

The Uchiha raised an eloquent eyebrow.

"Well, he's got quite a family history..."

"What are you implying, exactly?" Hakuchuu interjected, bristling.

The Jounin shrugged, sucking thoughtfully on his eternal senbon needle.

"Go on," Washi said curtly, before the white-clad Hunter could interrupt again. "And sit down, Hakuchuu."

He was not her teacher anymore, but he was still her leader. She obeyed, as she always did, and knelt dutifully on the tatami floor. Not for the first time, the Hunter wished his former apprentice would show more self-restraint, at least in public. Such behavior did not fit their rank and responsibility.

"I'm not implying anything," Genma went on, blandly. "All I'm saying is, considering his background, I'm not surprised he finally snapped."

Hakuchuu sucked in a quick, angry breath, and closed her fists.

"Hatake-san is not crazy," she forced out, through gritted teeth.

Genma shrugged again, and the young Hunter had no answer to that.

"Still," the Uchiha said all of a sudden, scorn lacing his voice, "All this ruckus for love, of all things. This is ridiculous."

They all turned to stare at him, eyebrows raised in concert.

"You think he and Iruka...?"

"It must be," Sasuke interrupted, coolly. "I can think of nothing else that would upset him so."

"I didn't quite picture him as the type to break down over pillow trouble," Washi declared, sounding rather dubious.

"Stranger things have been known to happen," Genma said philosophically, twirling his senbon needle between his fingers.

"And don't forget this is Iruka we're talking about," Sasuke shot back, not without a little dread.

The Konoha shinobi exchanged a telling look.

"Point taken."

Silence stretched between the four of them, heavy and pensive. None of them dared say what they were all thinking. Washi would have to relieve Kakashi of his duties, if his behavior did not improve.

After two days, it became apparent that it would not.

The day Washi suspended Kakashi from active duty, Hakuchuu caught wind of some disturbing rumors during one of her walks in disguise around the city. The grapevine spoke of impending assassination on Suzu-hime, the princess of Fire Country. On a good day, Washi would not have disregarded such claims easily, and, considering the sense of foreboding that had plagued him for the past week, he was certainly inclined to treat them seriously indeed.

In order to increase her security without raising suspicions, he tried to convince the princess to claim exhaustion and stay in her luxurious suite until the audience with the Daimyo.

She flatly refused.

The Hunter was thus forced to assign her two permanent bodyguards who shadowed her day and night, as discreetly as possible. But the sheer strain of the task meant frequent relief, and with only three shinobi at his disposal Washi quickly found himself with no man to spare. He thought about asking for Hidden Sand's help, but quickly dismissed the notion -- he could not be sure of the Suna shinobi's loyalty, and that would completely defeat the point.

Which only left Kakashi.

Against his better judgement, Washi decided to sign up the Jounin for the next shift.

§

The next morning

"... and so, in the name of my Honored Father, the venerable Daimyo of the Fire Country, I hereby..."

Suzu trailed off, eyes widening, an expression of shock coming over her face as she was gently swept off her feet by a blur of silver and regulation green.

"Procedure 8-13," the man bellowed at the top of his lungs. "Procedure 8-13! Protect the princess!"

Before the young girl could understand what was happening, she was handed over to one of her bodyguards, a honey-haired, mask-wearing elite ninja whose name she had never managed to remember. One of his arms held her tight against his chest, while his other hand formed strange shapes. The world suddenly seemed to lose all substance, and she squeezed her eyes shut against the sensation. When she opened them again a second later, they were all the way across the throne room. Suzu guessed she must have fainted at some point.

The man pushed her in a corner, her back to the wooden wall, and pressed down on her shoulder until she was squatting. Then he whirled around, quick as a flash, and crouched as well, shielding her with his body.

"Bow your head and hold onto my jacket," the man ordered in a low tone, obviously expecting to be obeyed.

He sounded awfully calm, Suzu thought, a bit peeved. Didn't he care if evil people hurt her or not?

"Whatever happens, don't let go."

There was an edge to his voice. For once in her life, the princess decided to do exactly as she was told. She laid her cheek onto the bodyguard's muscled shoulder, but curiosity won over sheer terror, and she kept her eyes open.

Diplomats and civil servants were rushing out of the throne room, screaming and squealing in terror. Suzu pursed her lips at their display of cowardice.

The Daimyo had risen, his bearing regal and his face unreadable. At his side, his son was obviously attempting to tug him to safety, but the elderly lord would have none of it, and kept trying to stem the growing panic.

Suddenly she felt the shinobi's back tense under her palms.

With staggering speed, one of her bodyguards -- a tall, masked man with a startling shock of silver hair -- came to stand before the Daimyo. The air seemed to crackle perilously around him. The faint distinctive scent of thunder pervaded the room. The shinobi raised his arm and a flash of metal caught Suzu's eye. The princess blinked, startled.

The ninja made a slashing motion across the lord's throat. For a few endless seconds, the throne room seemed to freeze in horrified silence.

His dark face and hair drenched crimson, the Daimyo of Wind Country collapsed against the stone floor.


TBC

Cliffhanger? What cliffhanger?