The Silent Blade: Renegade

Author: Carcinya (Isolde1 on fanfiction(dot)net)
Author E-mail: carcinya(at)aol(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.

The Shinto festival described below does not exist to my knowledge. Consider it artistic license!

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


Glossary

Inazumi: Flash of lightning.

Chapter 3: On The Warpath

There is no sacrifice. There is a choice, and the rest falls away.

-- Muriel Rukeyser

A few days later

Iruka's eyes flew open automatically a couple of seconds before the doorbell rang. Startled out of his bleary half-doze by the irritating chime, the young man cursed under his breath.

If he looked half as wretched as he felt, his unwanted visitor was in for a surprise. He had barely set a foot outside in many days, and it showed. When he had last looked at himself in a mirror, Iruka had decided sleep deprivation and endless moping did not suit him. At all. He had trouble bringing himself to care. All he managed to want these days was to curl up on the sofa and stare into nothingness.

On his way to the door, he kicked one of Kakashi's books out of the way, basking perversely in the mean, petty satisfaction it brought him. If this was what being dumped felt like, Iruka thought peevishly, he would rather he had stayed celibate, thank you very much.

He did not even try to keep the anger at bay. Fuming and drowning in strawberry ice cream seemed a perfectly acceptable coping program, or so he had gathered after many years nursing of Kurenai's heartbreaks.

The former Hunter was aware he was whining in a most childish manner -- reminiscent of his former Academy students -- and hated it, but somehow his thoughts seemed to be running in circles.

Kakashi.

Not that he missed him. Not in the slightest. Anger and frustration kept him up at night, not misguided, unaccountable grief at having, somehow, managed to mess up the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Now if only he could bring himself to believe that. It was in moments like those that Iruka wished, so absurdly and so strongly it hurt, for Sandaime's presence.

The old man would have graced him with a pensive, oblique look, smoke rising in thoughtful swirls above his wide-brimmed hat. He would not have judged him, Iruka knew. In truth, he had never blamed him for any of his failures -- and the gods knew there had been many. He had never minded that as a teenager, Iruka had been the human equivalent of a huge, complex jigsaw puzzle, with so many missing parts it was a wonder he had never simply fallen to pieces. Instead, he had seemed to draw genuine, uncomplicated pleasure from the strenuous task of patching him up.

There would have been no questions, as he had known how much Iruka hated speaking about himself, or his past. He would not have pointed out the obvious way out of his latest mishap. Sandaime would have smiled, of course, his roguish, crooked, benevolent smile, and nudged him in the right direction, leaving the young man to think up his own answers, secure in the knowledge he was not alone to face them.

Now he was. Kakashi had left.

No, Iruka corrected himself wearily, he had driven him away.

Not that he cared.

He opened the door wide, not even bothering to check the aura behind the wood. His eyes widened in barely concealed astonishment when he saw Sasuke. Uncoiling his chakra and assessing his student for injuries took only a matter of seconds, but even the absence of obvious damage did little to soothe his worry. The boy was filthy and looked frighteningly exhausted.

"Are you alright?" he asked at once, the self-pity he had been wallowing in for the past few days instantly overridden by his concern. It suddenly occurred to him that the Uchiha had been part of the escort sent to Suna, which was not scheduled to return for at least a month. "Why are you back so soon?"

Something about the way Sasuke stood, or the subtle way he was carefully avoiding Iruka's questioning face, sent the young man's mental alarms haywire. All of sudden, terror flared in his chest, choking and overwhelming.

"Did something happen to Kakashi?" he rasped out hoarsely.

Sasuke looked at him then, and there was a breathless moment when time seemed to slow down to a crawl. Iruka watched in fascination as the boy's mouth opened and started moving. Then all of a sudden, sounds took meaning again in a rush.

"... alive. At least he was when we last saw him."

Iruka released a pent-up breath. Light-headed with relief, or perhaps oxygen deprivation, he had to grab the doorway for support.

He heard himself say, in a clear, detached voice, "Tell me what happened."

The Uchiha shot him an unreadable glance.

"Impossible," he said shortly.

Iruka's dark eyes narrowed dangerously. He took a step forward and grabbed his student by the collar of his bloodied, dusty flak jacket. The boy glowered, but knew better than to try and free himself when the former Hunter was in such a murderous mood.

"Tell me now."

After a brief, wary glance over his shoulder, Sasuke met his teacher's clouded gaze.

"Not so loud," he hissed, in obvious annoyance. "I shouldn't even be here. This is classified."

Iruka's lips thinned.

"What's the matter with you?" he snapped. "You know I have the highest possible security clearance."

Though not a Hunter anymore, he still served as the Hokage's personal advisor and thus retained some of his former privileges. Unless...

"Not anymore," Sasuke cut in tonelessly, confirming his doubts. "Hokage-sama pulled it. Temporarily."

So whatever was going on, Tsunade did not want him to know -- at least not this way. Sasuke was aware of this, and yet he had come to tell him anyway. It suddenly occurred to Iruka, under the roiling anger, just how much of a risk the boy was taking for his sake. He released him with a muttered apology Sasuke disregarded entirely.

"Sasuke-kun," Iruka said, aware of the desperate need seeping into his voice, and not caring. "I have to know."

The boy regarded him for a long minute, his expression unreadable. Then he gave a curt nod towards Iruka's doorway.

"We'll talk inside."

§

Leaning against the kitchen counter, nursing a cup of reheated coffee from the pot Iruka always kept close by, Sasuke quickly went over the events of the previous days.

"Last we saw of him, he was being dragged off to jail," the Uchiha said shortly.

His heart wrenching at the mental image, Iruka paled but forced himself to react like a shinobi.

The mission had been rather straightforward, if critical -- establish trade agreements between Konoha and Suna. Commercial treaties were considered a solid stepping stone for political alliances. Since both villages would definitely benefit from such partnership, it was safe to assume that Kakashi had not been acting on orders from Konoha. Besides, if Tsunade had wanted to send his lover as an undercover assassin, as her personal advisor Iruka would have been informed. That only left the option of Kakashi betraying their village, or losing his mind, and both options Iruka refused to simply consider, even though he knew he was being irrational.

All his thoughts came down to the same conclusion: Kakashi was in deep trouble. Exactly how he had found himself in that situation was of little importance at the moment. What really mattered, in Iruka's opinion, was getting him out of Suna's clutches.

And soon.

"When did it happen?"

"We fled Suna immediately after Kakashi was sentenced," Sasuke began, closing his eyes in thought. "That was four days ago."

"Sentenced?" Iruka cut in sharply. "You didn't mention a trial."

The boy seemed to hesitate.

"No blood must be shed during the two-week Festival of Amaterasu," Sasuke began. Then he murmured, "That is the only reason Kakashi is still alive."

Iruka sucked in a quick, pained breath.

"Assassination of a lord is considered high treason," the Uchiha continued tonelessly. "The decree was immediate."

Death.

The laws of the different countries were surprisingly simple when it came to regicide. The only variations concerned the mode of execution, and in that regard, Suna did not lack cruelty.

"Once the ritual days are over, Kakashi will be hanged, drawn and quartered," Sasuke said, and Iruka detected a faint note of dread in his voice.

The former Hunter bared his teeth in a grim parody of a smile.

"Over my dead body," he snarled.

§

Later

Tsunade crossed and uncrossed her legs repetitively under her heavy mahogany desk. Her fingers tap-danced continuously over the lacquered surface, stopping only to smooth back her long ash-blond hair. She was nervous.

Very nervous.

She had no reason to be. For the moment, her plan was going to perfection. She had sent for Iruka two hours ago. Had he harbored any suspicions, he would certainly have rushed into her office the moment he received the summon -- with Kakashi's life on the line, he would not have wasted a minute, of that she had no doubt.

The door creaked open and one of her ANBU guards slipped in discreetly.

"Iruka-san to see you, Hokage-sama," he announced, bland and calm as befitted his rank.

She took a deep breath and straightened her back.

"Show him in."

The object of her musings walked in, graceful and smiling as usual. His hair framed his face in dark, unruly strands. She noted with relief that he wasn't armed -- it was a measure of his trust in her that he had not bothered to bring with him Tsume and Kiba, the famous twin swords that had been his constant companions during his years as a Hunter.

A trust that she did not deserve today, she reminded herself, her smile vanishing abruptly. She forced herself to focus. She was the Hokage, and for her duty would always come before friendship, not matter how hard she wished it weren't so.

"Good afternoon, Hokage-sama," the young man said, with a deep, respectful bow. Then he gave a quick nod, acknowledging Tora and Hakuchuu's presence.

"Iruka," she said with a nod. "You're late."

The black-haired Jounin scratched his nose, flashing her one of his trademark sheepish, apologetic smiles.

"I'm sorry, I ran into some trouble on the way. I'll make sure it doesn't happen again."

"Good."

Silence stretched between them. Iruka stood quietly at attention in front of her desk, arms crossed behind his back, as was his habit. Even after a few minutes under Tsunade's careful scrutiny his body language all but exuded serene calm, but that in itself was not unusual for an ex-Hunter.

Eventually, though, curiosity got the better of him.

"If I may ask," he said slowly, "Why did you send for me, Hokage-sama?"

Though she had been expecting the question, Tsunade had to hide a faint smile. Kurohyou would have spent hours staring at her in silence rather than allow himself such weakness.

Things change, she mused. And so do people.

"Sit down, Iruka."

He has become soft.

He obeyed, a frown settling on his brow.

"Nothing too serious, I hope?"

The Hokage shifted in her seat, and looked at him from under dark leashes, weighing her options.

"Kakashi murdered the Daimyo of Wind Country," she declared at last, opting for the unadorned truth.

Iruka's eyes widened in visible shock, and he leaned forward, hands gripping the edge of the mahogany desk.

"Impossible," he said curtly, firmly. "He wouldn't."

"Yet he did, Iruka," Tsunade cut in, a steely edge to her tone. "In front of witnesses."

The ex-Hunter stared at her, opened his mouth to retort then thought better of it and remained silent. The silence between them was almost unbearably loud.

"We both know Kakashi wasn't acting on your orders."

Tsunade shook her head at the implied question.

"And there's no question of his loyalty," Iruka said, his expression fierce. "Is there?"

"There isn't," the Hokage acknowledged with a quick nod. "That only leaves..."

"No," he interrupted immediately. "Don't even say it."

"Iruka..."

"I've been living with Kakashi for two years," the young man said. "He may be a lot of things, but he's not crazy." Then, ruefully, "Trust me, he's the sanest of us both."

Which is not saying much, Tsunade thought and kept to herself prudently.

"Perhaps you don't know him as well as you like to think," she pointed out instead.

"I know him better than anyone."

"Then surely you are aware of his past?" she retorted, before she could help herself. Iruka flinched but kept his head up, gritting his teeth.

"Your point being?"

Tsunade did not hesitate.

"Brief reactive psychosis is not uncommon among elite shinobi."

Iruka caught the allusion immediately -- a short-lived psychotic episode, usually triggered by intense stress. His mouth pinched tightly.

"You cannot be suggesting..."

"Kakashi is ANBU," she reminded him.

"So are half of your most trusted advisors," Iruka retorted instantly. "You don't automatically suspect them of being insane."

Tsunade let out a light sigh and shut her eyes briefly.

"You're right. I don't," she agreed. Then she added, more softly, "But, Iruka -- Kakashi displayed disquieting symptoms long before his breakdown."

"What?"

"Washi and his team reported increasingly strange behavior on Kakashi's part. I had Ibiki inspect their memories after debriefing, and he confirmed their version."

Some unnamed emotion flickered in Iruka's gaze. Tsunade barely recognized it as dread. For a long moment the young man said nothing, staring at her fixedly, his expression properly guarded. Then he said, in a monotone,

"How bad?"

"Irritability, paranoia, restlessness. Even full-blown hallucinations."

There was a silence.

"I see," the ex-Hunter said, though it was hard to tell if he did. "So this is Konoha's official stance -- Kakashi has lost his mind."

Tsunade's silence was eloquent enough. Iruka glanced at her sharply.

"But you don't really believe that," he murmured, his dark eyes never leaving her face, "Do you?"

"What I think is of little importance, Iruka," she said, wearily. "It's too late for second thoughts."

The ex-Hunter stilled.

"Hokage-sama," he breathed out, hoarsely. "What have you done?"

Tsunade's face was grim, but she did not shy from the truth.

"I cancelled Kakashi's diplomatic protection."

The young man blanched.

"What? Are you out of your mind?" Iruka burst out, forsaking propriety. "Without Konoha's protection, they can do whatever they want to him!"

"I had no other choice," the Hokage shot back tersely, annoyed that she still felt the need to justify herself to this man. "The Daimyo of Wind Country is dead. Kakashi killed him. Now the son wants revenge for the father."

"So you will give them Kakashi."

Tsunade inclined her head and said nothing.

"Someone is trying to manipulate us," the ex-Hunter ground out, his frustration evident. "And we're playing right into their hands."

"Perhaps," she agreed blearily, feeling very old. "Perhaps not. But it doesn't matter now -- it's too late. If it weren't for Gaara, Kiyomasa would have declared war on the Fire country already. Is that what you want? Open war?"

"Of course not," Iruka snapped. "But there has to be another way."

"Kakashi's life is a small price to pay for the country's safety," Tsunade said shortly. Contempt flickered in her amber eyes. "Once, you would have agreed."

The backhanded, insulting implication was clear. The young man gritted his teeth, refusing to rise to the bait.

"Cowardice has never prevented war."

"You forget yourself, Jounin!" she snarled, thrown off-guard by the baldness of the statement.

He was right, she knew, and that made it all the more painful. It was easy for him to take the moral high ground. Perhaps he thought she was taking pleasure in sentencing Kakashi to infamy and certain death?

But morals had little place in politics. Sometimes unfair decisions had to be taken, regardless of personal feelings or inclination. Sometimes, sacrifices had to be made for the greater good.

It was something Iruka would never understand. He was a man of conviction. Everything he did, everything he said, was in accordance with his sense of right and wrong. He would die for honor and justice. In that regard, he and Naruto were very much alike

Yet Iruka wasn't Hokage -- and for his sake, and the village's, she hoped he would never be.

"Hokage-sama," Iruka began, his voice quiet but steady. "Whatever he has done -- I can't leave him to die. I just can't."

"Yes," Tsunade replied, slowly. "I know."

She squeezed her eyes shut, knowing what duty commanded, hating every second of it.

"Seize him."

A flash of pained surprise crossed Iruka's face as Hakuchuu and Tora lunged at him all of a sudden. With remarkable synchronicity, they slapped powerful chakra-draining paper seals onto his back and chest.

Then Iruka exploded in a puff of chakra smoke and the two young Hunters found themselves thrown across the room by the sheer strength of the blast.

Hakuchuu was the first to recover. She instantly tried to get back to her feet and assess the potential threat, but she found her limbs would not obey her anymore. Startled, she looked down. She was glued to the wall, tied up from head to toes in white silky thread. A quick, panicked glance revealed that Tora and the Hokage were similarly entangled. In desperation, she tried without thinking to form a fire jutsu to burn her way out of her bonds. Though she was hardened to pain, the chakra rebound made her eyes water and her mouth open in a soundless scream under her mask.

Then the surge of power dissipated and she went limp, her head rolling back just in time to see Iruka slipping in noiselessly through one of the open windows. The young man landed on his feet with effortless, feline grace, and crossed the room to them, his pace leisurely and unhurried. He wore his habitual, well-worn battle outfit -- a black sleeveless shirt, leather armguards, boots and leggings of the same color. Almost an extension of himself, Tsume and Kiba hung across his back and on his left hip.

He stopped in front of the Hokage and cocked his head to the side. Then he took a deliberate step forward, invading her private space. He took her chin in his hand and forced her to meet his gaze. Fury lit his eyes a rich brown.

"Just who," he purred dangerously, his eyes narrowed to dark slits, "do you think I am?"

His hand left her face to latch onto Tsunade's fine-boned wrist. He dragged her, still dangling in her spider-silk cocoon, towards her massive mahogany desk. There he slapped her palm onto the cold surface. The security jutsu immediately recognized her chakra signature and released its hold on the drawers. He let her go, and she drifted backwards slowly -- and rather ridiculously.

The ex-Hunter rifled through the papers with the careless ease of someone used to manning a desk. He drew one of them out -- a large yellow file stamped TOP-SECRET in bold red lettering -- and thumbed through it quickly, his expression sombre. Then he drew up his shirt, baring scarred dark skin, tucked the file into his pants, and covered it again.

As Iruka straightened, he suddenly seemed to notice Hakuchuu's predicament. He strode to her side, his fists closing involuntarily at the sight. Quickly, he stretched out his chakra and assessed her health, released a pent-up breath when it became apparent that she would live.

"You tried to use chakra, didn't you?" he said, his tone oozing teacherly disapproval. "Even though you had been specifically instructed not to in such a situation. Well, savor the pain, my dear -- it's proof that you're still alive, which in other circumstances you might not be." He shot a sharp glance at Tora, who recoiled visibly. "That goes for you too, mister. If she hadn't tried it first, I'm sure you would have."

"I won't blame you for not recognizing the binding jutsu," the ex-Hunter went on, pursing his lips in disdain. "It's one of Kakashi's recent inventions. However, you should have sensed the clone. Had it been anyone else, you would have, and my skill has nothing to do with it -- even a perfect Shadow Bunshin cannot fool a full fledged Hunter. Only you know me -- or you think you do -- and you simply assumed I wasn't a threat. Never assume, always suspect. To think I even came in weaponless! That should have rung a bell, if nothing else. When have you last seen me without my swords? For that matter, have you ever seen me unarmed? No? Of course not. "

Abruptly running out of steam after that thorough tongue-lashing, Iruka crossed his arms on his well-defined chest and shook his head in annoyance.

"If I survive this," the ex-Hunter muttered, darkly, "I'm so having a good talk with your teachers."

He fell silent, all the anger drained out of him. Now he looked bleak and weary beyond belief. Yet the flames of determination danced in his eyes like a dark fire. He turned around and came to stand in front of Tsunade, searching her face.

"I don't blame you, Hokage-sama. You did what you had to," he said, quietly. Then he added, with the unapologetic honesty that came with having fought too many wars, "And so am I."

For a long minute, Iruka said nothing, looking thoughtful. Tsunade glimpsed in his dark eyes a fleeting spark of regret, quickly put out.

"I'll go now. But since in all likelihood I'll never have the opportunity to say this again -- thank you," he said suddenly, his tone full of unexpected, genuine gratitude. "You wanted to spare me the agony of having to choose between my lover and my village. For that, I'm grateful."

Tsunade closed her eyes briefly, and something not unlike relief eased her weary conscience. She had not thought he would understand. She had underestimated him -- again.

She hung her head in silent resignation.

Iruka would stop at nothing to save the man he loved, and truly, she had been a fool to expect any less. She stared thoughtfully at the swirls of chakra smoke that signalled the ex-Hunter's departure. A single thought burned in her mind, a truth she should never have made the mistake of forgetting.

There was no such thing as a tame panther.

§

There were times when Iruka hated being right. As he materialized, heart pounding, at the Hunters' memorial, he resisted the urge to punch his fist bloody on the familiar black stone. His mind raced, circling around the same thoughts.

He forced himself into the state of quiet detachment Karasu-sensei had patiently drilled into him years ago, and assessed his situation. Except for Kiba and Tsume, and a few kunai, he was basically weaponless. Worse, he did not have rations, clothes or even water, and he was without a yen to his name.

Yet going back to the village was out of the question. By now his spider-web jutsu would have worn off, he estimated, and the Hokage would be out for his blood -- and not without reasons. He had trapped her and two Hunters, disobeyed a directed order, and stolen top-secret files. There would be no turning back now, or ever.

Between Kakashi and Konoha, the young man realized with a jolt, there was no choice to be made.

A sudden rustle of leaves startled him out of his bleak musings. Iruka crouched low, chakra at the ready, pulled tight into his body and ready to flare. His gloved palms flew to the hilts of his swords. He stiffened when he recognised Washi's assured, warm aura. Swiftly he teleported on a branch and concealed himself, melting into a shadow and screening his chakra.

Washi appeared amidst little chakra smoke, his masked face held high. His body language gave off nothing, even to Iruka's trained eyes. He moved without haste to the centre of the clearing. There he unstrapped the heavy, dark green canvas knapsack he carried on his back and placed it against the black memorial stone.

Slowly he turned around, faced Iruka's tree and looked up.

The brown-clad Hunter knew he was there.

The young man held his breath, his jolt of surprise an abrupt reminder that while he had weakened, Washi had grown stronger and more assured. The new leader of the Hunters had grown dear to him as time and shared memories eased the distance of propriety between them.

Iruka had absolutely no desire to fight him, as a duel between the two of them could only end in blood or death. However, he would let nothing deter him from his goal -- friend, foe, Hokage.

The only thing that mattered was Kakashi.

However, his fears proved unfounded. Washi gave a single, solemn nod in Iruka's general direction then vanished in a swirl of leaves. The young man let himself slide down from the tree, landing gracefully on the grass.

Painfully aware of how little time he had to spare, he approached the memorial with caution born of experience. He could sense no abnormal chakra activity -- against all odds, it seemed the Hunter leader had not set a trap.

In fact, as Iruka quickly discovered, the backpack Washi has left him was an ANBU survival kit. He rifled through the contents with almost feverish glee: fifteen shuriken, kunai, senbon, and a survival knife; MREs and water rations for a week; a space blanket, waterproof matches and two light sticks; iodine tablets; a med kit; emergency jutsu scrolls; supplies for basic hygiene; some cash and a change of clothes.

Quickly Iruka stripped naked, shivering in the cool evening air. He scrubbed himself with the scent-blocking salve, careful not to leave out a single patch of skin. He paused, hesitating, as he reached his heavy, unruly dark mane. He had half a mind to hack it off, for simplicity's sake -- shoulder-length hair was a luxury for elite shinobi -- but then thought better of it. Instead, he poured some of the cold, transparent liquid onto his scalp and spread it onto his hair, vowing to wash it as soon as the nin-dogs lost his trail.

He put on the ANBU uniform, immediately noting the subtle disparities with the Hunter's outfit. It felt bulkier, and heavier. It occurred to him, all of sudden, that he was probably the only shinobi of Konoha who could tell the difference. The irony of the thought brought a small smile to his lips.

Iruka found himself grateful Washi had been thoughtful enough not to include a porcelain mask. ANBU and Hunters considered their masks to be the symbols of their devotion to the village. They were not to be trifled with, or worn in jest.

He folded the top-secret file he had stolen from Tsunade, and tried to stuff it into one of the backpack's hidden pockets. To his surprise, there was already a slip of paper inside. It was, of all things, a letter. After checking it for traps, Iruka read it quickly, the special ink disappearing as soon as his eyes fell on the terse, carefully-drawn characters,

"Okashira,

You have three hours. Don't waste them."

The note wasn't signed, but there was absolutely no doubt about the writer's identity. Iruka squeezed his eyes shut, overwhelmed, and not a little ashamed.

Kakashi had been right all along. The Hunters, or at the very least Washi, were still loyal to him. And because of that unaccountable attachment, he had driven their leader -- his friend -- to betray his country.

For his sake.

The ex-Hunter squeezed his eyes shut against a wave of choking, gripping emotion. He had to take a deep breath so as not to falter. Now was not the time for second thoughts, he berated himself sternly, steeling himself.

Remorse and regrets could wait. Kakashi wouldn't.

His heart heavy but his determination intact, Iruka set off at top-speed across the forest, having become the very thing he had hunted for years.

A renegade.


TBC

Feedback much welcome.