Lessons Learned From a C-ranked Mission
Team Seven was surrounded. Sakura and Naruto were nursing wounds against the cliff face while Sasuke desperately tried to keep any more attacks from getting through. The cuts and scratches the young Uchiha already had were making it hard for him to continue. Kakashi watched the edge of exhaustion creeping into all three of his team members.
This is no good. This was only a C-rank mission . . . deliver a letter from one village to another. What the hell is going on?
Kakashi pushed his thoughts to the side when another attacker came straight at him. The man threw three shuriken which Kakashi skillfully avoided by dropping down to the ground. His own shuriken were already spinning toward the attacker before the other registered his peril. The weapons hit their mark – causing his attacker to scream in pain and drop to the ground with five shuriken stuck into his body. Kakashi crouched with a kunai in each hand and watched the remaining ninja warily. He wasn't sure what was going on and he hated that.
This band of ninjas came out of nowhere and seemed genuinely surprised after Naruto let it slip that the mission was just to deliver a letter. Which meant they were either just a random team of rogue ninja or they were after one of his team's members.
None of them were unskilled, which tended to lean toward a rogue band. But once they realized the group had nothing of value, why did they continue to attack?
Everything was made clear a moment later when there was a pause in the fighting.
"We'll let the children go Kakashi Hatake if you stay behind."
Hmmm . . . that's a new one.
Naruto's voice was heard from the cliff face. "Hey! We aren't kids!"
Kakashi ignored the hyperactive genin and turned his full attention on the ninjas surrounding him. "Now why would I want to do that?"
The mysterious voice answered. "Because otherwise you all die."
Kakashi glanced back at the three lower-ranked ninjas. They weren't doing well, and so far the enemy was keeping him too busy to be of much help to them. By the time he did away with even half of his attackers, he knew Sasuke's defenses would be gone and the three would be dead. On the other hand – if he played along he might buy them some time to recover a bit.
Kakashi lowered his kunai and stood up from his battle crouch. "OK – you have a deal."
"What?! Kakashi-sensei – what are you doing?" Sasuke's voice sounded outraged but exhausted.
Kakashi's voice was stern. "No arguments Sasuke. Sometimes a compromise must be made for the good of the mission."
"But . . ."
"Enough! You will complete your mission and then return to the village. Do you understand?"
Sakura chimed in. "But Kakashi-sensei – what about you?"
Kakashi looked toward her and smiled with his eyes. "Why I have these fine ninjas to keep me company." His expression grew serious once more. "The mission comes first. I thought I'd taught you that by now."
"But Kakashi-sensei, you always say . . ."
Sasuke finally seemed to wake up. "Sakura – he's right. The mission needs to be completed. If we stay – we die and the mission dies."
Naruto clenched his fists. "OK – but I don't like it one bit!"
Kakashi's words cut like his kunai. "You don't have to like it. Move out now."
Naruto and Sakura started out. Sasuke took one last look – meeting Kakashi's gaze – then he too ran off. Kakashi watched to make sure the mysterious ninja didn't break off to follow them, but fortunately they were true to their word. He sighed inwardly.
OK – so now what?
Kakashi watched through narrowed eyes as a dozen armed ninjas moved toward him from all directions. He resisted the urge to raise his kunai, slowly placing them back into his weapons pouch instead.
He felt hands reach out and take hold of his shoulders and arms. Kakashi tensed slightly but kept his voice casual even as they removed his weapons pouch from him..
"My word isn't good enough?"
A low chuckle met his words. "I've waited too long for this day to take any chances Copy-ninja."
A dark-haired man, slightly younger than Kakashi, stepped forward. It was obvious he was the leader when the others stepped aside to let him pass.
Kakashi was at a loss. "Do you know me?"
The laughter came again along with a devious grin. "No – no. But I do know of you Kakashi Hatake. You are the infamous Copy-ninja – the man of a thousand jutsus. The ninja with the sharingan eye."
Kakashi closed his eyes halfway, shifting into his best bored expression. "So you know who I am. If you want my autograph I'll need my arms back."
That seemed to wipe the grin off the young man's face. "Sorry – but that's not an option.."
He signaled to others within the group and Kakashi watched three men step forward holding chains and shackles.
"Once we deliver you to my employer, my clan will finally be acknowledged. You will ensure our rise to infamy as the clan that helped destroy the Copy-ninja!"
Kakashi let out a huge sigh. "I see. Well then, I'm sure you'll understand if I don't go quietly,"
As the last word left his lips, Kakashi dropped to his knee – the unexpected movement loosening the grip of the men holding him. He swept his legs out and knocked two of them off their feet. He rolled to the side and shot his hand up to block the thrust of a kunai from another. With skill honed over decades of such battles, Kakashi stripped the weapon from his attacker and was no longer unarmed.
The dark-haired man was outraged. "Stop him!"
Kakashi narrowed his eyes and pushed his headband up to allow his sharingan eye to activate. Still, he was out numbered thirty to one, and as the fight wore on he was beginning to slow down. One of the ninja's bearing the shackles took advantage of the chain's length to avoid getting within Kakashi's reach. He swung them and brought the heavy iron links down on Kakashi's back, knocking him to the ground.
Before the other ninjas could put their hands on him, Kakashi formed the needed hand signs and met the oncoming attackers with a handful of shadow clones. He didn't dare waste the chakra to make more than that. But it was enough to give him the time needed to regain his feet and assess the situation. His clones took out a few more of the enemy before they were all dispatched, but soon he stood alone and there were still a dozen more ninjas to go.
The dark-haired man was among those still standing and Kakashi realized he'd need to take him out sooner rather than later if he was to stand a chance. He repositioned his kunai in his hands and headed straight for the man. Seemingly sensing what Kakashi was up to, the dark-haired man motioned for others to intercept him. Meanwhile the intended target formed hand signs and created a swirl of vines which snaked around Kakashi's body.
Having recognized the hand movements, Kakashi created a substitution jutsu so that when the vines constricted – it was upon a log rather than Kakashi. Still, he'd only barely kept ahead of the attack, and as he stood off to the side, breathing heavily, he was beginning to wonder about the outcome of this battle. His chakra was running low and before long he'd have to rely solely on his tai-jutsu to battle the remaining enemy. He had to end this now.
Channeling his remaining chakra into the palm of his hand. Kakashi formed his lightening blade and charged the dark-haired man from the side with his chakra held visibly in his hand. The remaining ninja were still regrouping after his substitution jutsu, and Kakashi's path was clear. By the time the man saw him coming it was too late. Kakashi's chakra blade hit with such force that the dark-haired man's feet left the ground, and when it was over the ninja leader lay dead with a hand-sized hole through his chest.
Kakashi spun just in time to see the remaining ninjas close in on him. His hopes that the leader's death would dishearten those remaining went up in smoke as he found himself in close-quarters combat almost instantly. They struck out fiercely, catching Kakashi's body more often then not – but in the end – he outlasted them. His sharingan gave him that edge to be able to avoid the worst of it all, but still he'd barely won the day.
As he laid the last enemy on the ground after dispatching him Kakashi stood still, his breath rasping in his chest. All around him were the bodies of his would-be captors. Kakashi moved to the body of the dark-haired man and knelt next to him. He slowly went over the body – checking for anything that might tell him who they were or who they intended to deliver him to, but there was nothing.
By the time he'd reached the last one, his own body was nearing its limit and he had no better idea of who his enemy was.
He forced himself to his feet and started in the direction which would eventually lead him back to the Hidden Leaf village. His breathing was irregular and his body was beaten and bleeding from more spots than he wanted to acknowledge. By the time he'd made it halfway to the face of the cliff, he fell to his knees.
"Oh well . . . "
He smiled to himself as the ground seemed to rise to meet him. He fell face first into the dirt – unconscious.
"Kakashi-sensei, wake up!" Sasuke's voice sank into his awareness.
Kakashi wanted nothing more than to sink back into the black depths of unconsciousness, but as his body was rolled over onto its back he heard a second voice.
"Is he . . . dead?" This time it was Sakura.
Sasuke's annoyance was plain. "Sakura, if he was dead I wouldn't be wasting my time."
Kakashi moaned. Sasuke's voice took on an edge of concern. "Sensei, can you move?"
Kakashi slowly opened his eyes to see Sasuke staring back at him. He tried to answer him but when he took a breath in, his ribs stuck him in places they shouldn't. His face contorted into a mask of pain.
Sasuke placed his hand on Kakashi's shoulder. "I guess not. Naruto – Sakura – I need you to get back to the village and bring a med-team."
Naruto crossed his arms and scowled. "Why do we have to go?"
Sasuke sighed. "Because I'm the best one to keep Kakashi-sensei safe until you return, and with two of you going there's a better chance for you to avoid any more trouble."
Sakura chimed in. "It makes sense Naruto."
"Humph! You're just saying that because it's Sasuke's suggestion."
"I am not!"
Kakashi saw Sasuke shake his head at the utter stupidity of his teammates. This time, Kakashi managed more than a moan.
"Sasuke's right, Naruto. I can't get back without . . . medical help. I need you to bring them to me."
Naruto peered into Kakashi's face. "You're really hurt bad, huh?"
Kakashi tried to breathe deep and winced in pain again. "Yes Naruto. And it's not getting any better with you standing there."
Naruto gave the thumbs up sign. "You've got it Kakashi-sensei! We'll be back before you know it. That's a promise!"
Naruto turned, and he and Sakura bounded into the forest.
"Idiot." The disgust in Sasuke's voice almost made Kakashi laugh but his broken ribs had other ideas.
Sasuke's eyes held a nervousness in them that Kakashi hadn't seen before.
"Kakashi-sensei, we've got to put some distance between us and these bodies before nightfall. I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to move you."
Glad to see the boy had learned his lessons in the academy regarding survival, he met Sasuke's eyes.
"If we take it slowly I think I can at least manage to move a little. But before we try I need you to wrap my ribs. This will be easier if I can breathe a bit better."
Sasuke nodded and turned to rifle through his pack until he found some rolls of bandages. Then he helped Kakashi into a sitting position and carefully removed his jacket and shirt. The final shirt contained Kakashi's mask, and Sasuke only lifted it up rather than take it off. Sasuke's sharp intake of breath was all Kakashi needed to know he was rather severely injured.
"Kakashi-sensei, are you sure you don't want me to treat some of these first?"
Kakashi smiled. "Not unless you can keep the sun from setting in the next few hours Sasuke."
The boy took a deep breath and started to wrap the bandages around Kakashi's chest. The contact of the fabric on the open wounds made him flinch, but he had to endure it if this was going to work. He spoke through clenched teeth.
The boy said nothing, but pulled the bandages tighter. A painful gasp escaped Kakashi's lips and Sasuke let slack back into the bandages.
"Dammit Sasuke – I said tighter!"
Sasuke flinched at the sternness in Kakashi's voice, but then obediently pulled the fabric tight around his chest – ignoring any further sounds of pain issuing from Kakashi. At last the bandage was in place and Kakashi was able to breathe a bit more regularly – although still with quite a bit of pain.
"OK Sasuke – now let's try yo get me standing."
It took the two of them nearly a half hour to get him upright, and then another half hour to move a few hundred feet from the clearing. Sasuke leaned Kakashi against a rock outcropping while he scouted ahead for somewhere to hole up for the night. He returned a handful of minutes later.
"I've found a small cave just over the next rise. Do you think you can make it?"
Kakashi pushed himself away from the outcropping and saw a look of dismay cross Sasuke's face.
"What's wrong Sasuke?"
"You've bled through the bandages already. You've left a stain on the rock."
Kakashi smiled weakly. "You'll find a small packet of brown powder in the right front pocket of my vest. Take it out."
Sasuke carefully found the packet and held it up.
"Good. Use it on the blood stain. It won't remove the blood, but it will mask its scent so nothing should track us by it."
Relief replaced the dismay in Sasuke's eyes, and while Kakashi held himself up by sheer will – trying not to bleed on anything else – Sasuke did as he was directed to. In no time at all Sasuke was lending his shoulder for Kakashi to lean on while they continued on to the cave.
Although only another couple of hundred feet away from where they'd stopped, by the time they'd reached the overhang of rock Kakashi was sweating from the exertion.
Sasuke's voice betrayed his concern. "Just a little more Kakashi-sensei. Then we can rest."
Kakashi bent to enter the cave and fell to his knee as a wave of pain threatened to make him pass out. Sasuke was at his side immediately.
"It opens up a little farther in. Can you make it?"
Leaning on Sasuke far more than he wanted to, he struggled back to his feet. "I'll make it."
Another ten minutes passed and at last they reached the area that opened up. Sasuke led Kakashi to a spot where he could lean against the wall, and then the boy moved back out to the cave entrance. Kakashi closed his eyes, trying to regain control of his senses.
Kakashi opened his eyes. He hadn't heard Sasuke's return.
"Can you drink?"
Kakashi let Sasuke place the water cup to his lips. Each swallow sent waves of pain through his body, but he'd detected a bitterness in the liquid that meant Sasuke had found his numbing powders. Once he struggled to swallow a few more times, Sasuke lowered the cup.
Kakashi met the boy's dark eyes. "You came back against my orders."
Sasuke looked for a moment like he was going to argue the point, but then he cast his eyes downward.
"I'm sorry, Kakashi-sensei. But when we completed the mission something just didn't add up. Sakura saw the person we gave the letter to throw it away without opening it. It didn't make sense unless this whole mission was a setup to start with."
So the kid's learned something after all.
Kakashi couldn't fault them for that. "Ready to clean up some of these wounds now? I assume that's what the numbing potion was for?"
Sasuke nodded. "I've set alarms and traps at the cave entrance so we can concentrate fully."
Kakashi nodded his head in approval. "Let's get started then."
He watched Sasuke become paler and paler as each blood-soaked bandage was removed. Breathing became difficult again as previously bound broken ribs threatened to skewer him. Sasuke did his best to at least wash the dirt out of most of his injuries, and by the time he finished Kakashi was thankful for the numbing potion. He didn't want to think about how bad it would have been without them.
Sasuke was sweating by the time he finished re-wrapping the constrictive bandages around Kakashi's chest. They didn't bother putting his shirt or vest back on him, opting to use them for a pillow instead.
Kakashi placed one hand on Sasuke's wrist. "Ill be up awhile yet. Get some sleep – I'll wake you in a few hours."
"But Kakashi-sensei, you need to rest."
Kakashi managed to chuckle. "Trust me – this level of pain won't subside anytime soon. Once you've rested then I'll give it a try. OK?"
Sasuke looked like he wanted to protest but as he opened his mouth, a yawn escaped. He blushed slightly.
"OK. But no more than a few hours, agreed?"
Kakashi forced a serious look on his face. "Agreed."
While Sasuke quickly fell into a deep sleep, Kakashi ran the previous three days through his mind. His team had been specifically asked to perform this mission which brought them through some of the most desolate parts of this country. In hindsight it all added up to an ambush. Kakashi sighed, wincing slightly as his ribs caught again. At least his team was safe, he'd avoided capture, and with luck the Hokage would have more clues regarding who was behind the mission.
The night went without incident. He let Sasuke sleep until just before dawn. At that point he had the boy mix some more of the numbing powders and finally he allowed himself to sink into much needed sleep.