Chapter 24

A Rally of Genius Proportions

Kakashi was finding it harder and harder to tell fact from fiction when it came to his memories. The slow overwriting of his past by his tormentors was nearly complete, and he knew that if the Elders approached him anytime soon and told him that he had betrayed Konoha, he'd likely accept their lies and agree. But, for now, there was still one last burning kernel of truth buried deep within his mind that refused to let him take such a step. And that fact in itself was what had the quartet of Yamanaka shinobi in front of him fuming at their failure.

He watched them storm out of his cell, each blaming the other, and once the thick door settled back into place, he allowed himself a long sigh of relief. For now, at least, he'd managed to resist. But if there was one thing that he'd come to accept about this entire situation, it was that he certainly wouldn't be left alone for long. Still though, when he heard the lock disengaging less than two minutes after the Yamanaka tag-team left, he couldn't quite keep his heart-rate from racing as he wondered what new hell was coming through the door. But at the sound of a familiar gruff voice, he allowed a small smile to tug at his lips.

"Let go of me Morino, or I'll make sure to bite something that will hurt a hell of a lot more than what I did to the Sensei!"

Kakashi raised an eyebrow as his summon was tossed across the room to land on the end of the unforgiving cot. If his situation wasn't so grave, he would have made an appropriately sardonic comment about the exchange, but Pakuun was already crossing the distance to his side. Once there, the pug sat down and stared up at him in that way that showed him just how bad he really must look.

He crossed his arms and turned away from his nin-hound. "Stop looking at me like that."

A low whine came out of the dog's mouth as he pushed his nose against Kakashi's thigh. He knew that the sound was an involuntary action that was only made when one of the pack was severely injured. The fact that Pakuun was doing it now did nothing to calm his already frayed nerves. He glanced toward the pug and sighed before reaching out to scratch just behind the beast's left ear. It was enough to get the whine to stop, but it still didn't erase the unsettling look from animal's eyes.

"Tell me who did this to you, Pup."

Another frustrated sigh escaped Kakashi's lips. "Does that really matter, Pakuun?"

The pug sat back on his haunches and glared at him. "It'll matter to the pack."

"Kakashi, please tell me that you didn't have me risk the Elders' wrath just so you could have a chat with that flea-bag."

While Pakuun growled at the man, Kakashi turned his attention toward where Ibiki was standing in the doorway with his hands shoved into the pockets of his overcoat. "Since when are you worried about the Elders' wrath?"

The towering man stepped farther into the room with a frown. "Since I didn't get you to come up with the answers that they were looking for."

Kakashi leaned his head back against the stone wall and closed his eyes. "It's bad enough that they're messing with my life. What the hell are they up to?"

They fell into an uneasy silence. None of them were willing to venture a guess of what grand scheme was behind all of this insanity. That silence reigned until someone stepped through the doorway and addressed them all.

"Ibiki, how long before someone comes to check in?"

Kakashi opened his eyes and noticed that Inoichi looked as though he'd just come back from a four day forced run, and somehow he knew that he wouldn't like what came next. Apparently Ibiki had come to the same conclusion.

"How much time do you need?"

Inoichi crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed before leaning forward and resting his forehead into the palms of his hands. "The more you can get me the better it'll be in the end. But time is definitely running out. The meeting that I just came from was to set an execution date for Kakashi."

At those words, Kakashi felt as though the world was pushing in around him. It wasn't that he was afraid to die, but in all of his wildest imaginings he'd never thought that his death would be at the hands of his own Village. His tongue felt thick in his mouth as he spoke.

"When is it set for?"

Inoichi shook his head, not even bothering to look at him. "Four days from today."

Pakkun climbed up onto Kakashi's lap and settled a bit before speaking. "At least that should give the Sensei and that Uchiha kid some time to do their part."

Inoichi glanced over at the pug in confusion, while Ibiki shook his head. "The only thing the Sensei will be doing today is bleeding...thanks to you, mutt."

Kakashi's head was spinning. "Wait a minute. Pakuun, you bit Iruka-sensei?"

The nin-hound scratched at his ear. "It was all part of the plan, Boss."

"The plan?"

"Yup. Needed to make sure the Sensei would have to go to the Hospital with that idiot."

Kakashi pressed his fingertips against his temples and tried to rub away the headache that he felt coming. "Why would Obito need to go to the Hospital? Did you bite him too?"

Pakuun crossed his paws and placed his head on top of them with a huff. "Of course not. That's what the ANBU were for."

"You bit the ANBU?"

Pakuun's head tipped back to stare at him. "Why would I bite an ANBU? Most of them are as tough as leather."

Kakashi looked up at the sound of Ibiki's quiet laugh. "The Hokage ordered Obito to the Hospital for a checkup. The ANBU were sent to fetch him. The orders did not include the Sensei."

"Of course they didn't. Which is why I needed to bite him."

His headache was getting worse. "Great. Now Iruka has something to hold over my head once I get out of here."

"Which won't happen if we don't find a way to fix what my cousins have done to you." The man's eyes focused on the nin-hound before continuing. "Explain to me again how Pakuun will manage to help when he wasn't introduced to you until after your Father was already gone?"

Kakashi couldn't quite keep from cringing at the mention of Sakumo. After all, his mind was filled with conflicting memories of the man, and he wasn't quite sure how to tell fact from fiction anymore. Still, he had enough of his own mind left to remember just how Pakuun could help. He picked the pug up and looked into his dark eyes.

"I need you to bring Kinkaku."

"Are you nuts? That bitch hasn't been the same since your sire offed himself."

"Pakuun!" The tone of Inoichi's voice made it clear that the man wasn't happy with where this conversation was going.

Kakashi placed the nin-hound on the ground with a frown. "I wouldn't ask if there was any other way, Pakuun. But Kinkaku is the only one who was with my dad through it all."

Pakuun stared up at him in a way that made it clear that the pug definitely thought that he'd lost his mind. "She hasn't hung around the rest of the packs since you made jonin. Just what makes you think I can even find her?"

Kakashi rubbed at the back of his neck. "Because she's not that far away?"

The pug tipped his head and narrowed his eyes at him. "What did you do, Pup?"

"Nothing that I wouldn't do for any of you."

"Spill it!"

He crossed his arms in front of him and frowned down at Pakuun. "Not that I have to explain myself to you, but I found Kinkaku lying in the brush and nursed her back to health."

The pug tipped his head the other way. "What brush?"

"You know what brush."

"Damn you both! You know that bitch was forbidden to go back there!"

Kakashi sighed and rubbed a palm across his forehead. "We'll deal with that later, Pakuun. Now go get her."

"I don't like this...but I'll do it for you, Pup." The pug stopped at the door and glanced back at him. "Only for you."

With that, Pakuun dashed out of the cell, leaving him alone with Inoichi and Ibiki. Those two men looked rather confused, but it was the Yamanaka that voiced it.

"Time is short, Kakashi. Why didn't you just send one of us for Kinkaku?"

"Because she wouldn't let either one of you anywhere near her. Ibiki, she would have smelled my blood on you. While you, Inoichi, would have triggered bad memories for her. Or don't you remember the last time you saw her?"

He watched the color rise on the blond man's cheeks, knowing that he definitely recalled what had happened. "You're father told you about that?"

Kakashi felt a smile tug at his lips for the first time in far too long. "Considering he had me stay up with Kinkaku all night long, he sort of had to share the reason."

Ibiki frowned at them. "And just what was that reason?"

Inoichi's cheeks gained a bit more color while Kakashi explained. "Inoichi felt that he would be better at mixing the salve for a rash on some of the nin-hounds' feet. But he refused to listen to Shikaku's warnings that humans and animals don't necessarily react the same way to certain herbs. Before anyone could stop him he had spread his salve onto Kinkaru's feet, and ten minutes later she had lost all of her fur."

Ibiki's attempts at holding back a laugh ended with a snort, while Inoichi frowned and moved over to Kakashi's side. "Her fur grew back...eventually. Now scoot over so that I can set some barrier traps in place for those idiot cousins of mine."

Now that surprised him. "Traps? Won't they know they were set by you?"

Inoichi placed his fingertips just above Kakashi's temples. "The traps I'm going to set will make them suspect each other long before they ever think to blame me. And even if they do, they won't be in any shape to share that information."

Ibiki's gruff voice mirrored Kakashi's thoughts. "Remind me never to get on Inoichi's bad side."

Shikamaru had been there when Kakashi was taken away by the ANBU so many weeks ago. Well, he'd actually been on the roof of a building down the street, but he'd had a clear view of what transpired, including the increased presence of the ANBU stationed around Iruka-sensei's apartment once the Copy-ninja was taken away. Sure, he could have found some way to gain access to that place to verify that his former Academy instructor was okay, but he didn't think that he'd gain enough information to make it worth the trouble. Besides, it was Kakashi that he was more worried about.

Since the day that the jonin was removed from his temporary residence, rumors had begun to spread throughout Konoha. Disturbing rumors. But no one was able to say exactly where these rumors had started, and even Ino's sources were clueless on the entire topic. According to her, one day everyone was abuzz over the miraculous return of the Copy Ninja and the Lost Uchiha, and the next day those same gossips were spreading lies about how Kakashi was a traitor to the village. Nd they just had to be lies. There was no logical reason why the man that he had begrudgingly come to think of as a mentor would be considered a traitor. Hell, hadn't he proven his loyalty to Konoha when he was willing to sacrifice his life for them all in this last mission?

He laid back on the grass with his arms under his head and stared up at the clouds. He hoped that their randomness would calm his mind enough that he might be able to figure out this latest puzzle. Why would anyone within the Village walls want to accuse one of the strongest shinobi of treason when there were still so many enemies out there with Konoha in their cross-hairs? It just didn't make sense.

"There you are! I've been looking all over the place for you."

Shikamaru rolled his eyes at Ino's exceptionally loud declaration before turning his head until the blond-haired woman came into view. "We've known each other since the Academy. I would think that, by now, you should know that this is where I go to think things through."

A small huff of air came out of her pouting lips as she sat on the grass next to him. This action, in itself, was enough to make Shikamaru curious. After all, it was rare that Ino would ever be seen in public with him when he was lying about. Only one thing might have been enough to make her risk her reputation by doing so in the middle of the day. And he had a growing feeling that he really didn't want to hear whatever it was that the kunoichi was about to tell him.

He waited for her to speak, but when several seconds went by in silence, his curiosity won out over his patience. "So why were you looking for me, Ino?"

He watched her reach up and pull her ponytail over one shoulder so that she could run her fingers through its length. "Well, you know how you asked me to keep an ear out for any more rumors about Kakashi-sensei?"

Again he had to prod her to continue. "And...?"

"Well, it's not really a rumor if its true, right?"

Shikamaru sighed before sitting partway up, leaning on his forearms. "Are you deliberately trying to be vague?"

Ino shot him a look that he hadn't seen since before he'd been promoted to chunin. The one which made it very clear that he shouldn't talk to her that way. But, it seemed to work, because she finally got to the point.

"My dad got called away from breakfast this morning for an emergency council meeting to discuss Kakashi-sensei's date of execution."

He sat up the rest of the way so quickly that Ino actually jumped back a step. "They actually said that? In front of you?"

"Well, not exactly. But let's face it, how many other 'traitorous high profile prisoners' do you know of within Konoha that would require a council meeting to move the event along?"

Shikamaru didn't like this one bit. He'd heard the rumors that Kakashi had a death sentence hanging over his head, but for the Council to rush like this to set an actual execution date was simply unheard of. Especially considering that group of elders was notorious for taking a week just to agree to disagree!

He sprang to his feet with practiced ease and shoved his hands into his pockets. Without a word to Ino, he started walking toward the Hokage Tower, trying his best to puzzle out who would be bold enough within the Council to make such a move. Ino fell into step beside him, and her silence in itself was enough to show Shikamaru that she was as disturbed by all of this as he was. The trip went much quicker than expected, but before they made it all the way to the level with the Hokage's office, they were nearly knocked over by Shizune.

The dark-haired woman was already six steps past them when she stopped short and turned back to face them. "Ino! There you are! I've been sent to find you."

Shikamaru watched a look of confusion settling onto his former teammate's face at Shizune's proclamation. But before he could even start to smirk at her, the Hokage's aide turned her attention on him.

"Oh, this is just perfect! I needed to find you too, Shikamaru."

"Why?" The word slipped out of his lips before he could stop it, and as such it held a bit more interest in his tone than he'd normally use.

Shizune's dark eyes met his and she smiled like a cat that had just caught a mouse. "Lady Tsunade has been called away for an emergency meeting and she needs someone to take over for her at the Hospital."

Shikamaru frowned. "I don't do blood."

Ino nearly squealed at his side as she cuffed him on the back of his head. "You're a chunin, idiot. Of course you do blood!"

He could have easily dodged her swipe, but if he had, he would have lost his standing as the laziest shinobi in the village. Instead he shrugged it off and addressed Shizune. "I'm sure you can find someone else to go with Ino. Wasn't Sakura due back today."

The dark-haired woman frowned at him, and long before she actually spoke, the wave of something just shy of killing intent made it clear that he couldn't get out of this. Still, though, her next words surprised him.

"The Hokage has authorized me to assign you to weapons practice for all the pre-genin classes for the next six months if you refuse to go the the Hospital. Should I draw up the papers, Shikamaru?"

He cursed the day that the Hokage had overheard him revealing to Asuma his hatred of dealing with little snot-nosed brats with pointy objects. And it was just her style to use that information to get him to do something that was surely going to be nothing but troublesome.

Ino's barely concealed laughter wasn't helping matters. He shot her a glare even as he replied to the blackmailing jonin. "Although I know that this will be more trouble in the long run, I'll go to the Hospital. Where should we report?"

Shizune's face lit up with a grin, providing more proof to his theory that every female out there was bi-polar. "I'll show you. Anyhow, you'll need me to get you past the ANBU."

Before Shikamaru could question her on that cryptic comment, she and Ino were already busy chattering endlessly about the latest shinobi match ups and break ups. By the time they'd paused long enough for him to ask anything, they were already at the doors to the Hospital, and face to face with four towering ANBU.

Their presence made it clear that the Hokage had likely been working on an important patient, and he couldn't help but let a small hope rise to the surface. Perhaps it was Kakashi-sensei who had been her patient. But as soon as he acknowledged the thought, his mind was already providing him with the many reasons why he and Ino would never have been the ones selected if it truly was the Copy Ninja within these walls.

The weight of a solid hand on his shoulder pulled him out of his thoughts. In front of him stood one of the tallest ANBU he'd ever seen, and as his mind automatically started to run through the stats on anyone he knew that neared this man's stature, the words spoken from behind the stylized tiger's mask made their way into his mind.

"Remove your hands from your pockets."

Knowing better than to do anything but comply with the man, Shikamaru did as instructed and stood perfectly still as the man continued to stare down at him. The depth and cut of the eye holes didn't even allow him to see what color the hidden orbs were, which explained why people with distinctive eyes could actually maintain anonymity within the masked ranks of ANBU.

"Go ahead, kid. You're cleared."

He frowned at being called a kid, but at this point he was far too curious about who they were guarding to pay it too much mind. Instead, he shoved his hands back into his pockets and moved to where Shizune and Ino were waiting for him. He knew that they were both chastising him for taking so long, but he'd become quite skilled at blocking out the annoying tones of most of the women he knew. After all, if he actually tried to follow what ninety percent of them went on about his brain would probably melt. And he was rather fond of his brain.

Besides, at the moment the ongoing puzzle of just why he and Ino needed to be here was simply too intriguing to allow him to be distracted. He settled into a relaxed walk behind Shizune, and with each door they passed he mapped out in his mind exactly where they were headed, so that, by the time they'd reached the next floor, he'd already calculated two possible destinations.

The first was the doorway leading into the secure wing. This was a possibility because it wouldn't have been the first time a Nara was pressed into service to restrain a potentially dangerous criminal in need of stitches. And it would explain Ino being sent as well. Tsunade obviously knew that the Yamanaka kunoichi wasn't likely to be gentle with someone deemed an enemy of Konoha.

The second would be Tsunade's private offices. He had heard stories from both Ino and Sakura about the fact that the Hokage treated some of the most challenging cases within those rooms. Some thought that she did so to keep her failures unnoticed, but Shikamaru had deduced that it was more likely that she wanted to be as close to her most prized medical tomes as possible to lessen the waste of precious time in her more difficult cases. So perhaps she wanted him to help solve a medical mystery. And maybe Ino would be there to keep the patient from dying before he and Tsunade found that answer.

So when they passed by the guarded entrance of the Secure Wing without pausing, and then turned toward the rows of private offices, Shikamaru was feeling rather proud of himself for figuring the puzzle out. But, even though they were now approaching the Hokage's offices, as he had surmised, and were cleared for entry by even more ANBU, he definitely did not expect to see the scarred face of Obito Uchiha as the man sat behind the Hokage's desk. Then, before his mind could wrap itself around this unforeseen circumstance, his eyes took in the second occupant in the room, and he could only stare, dumbfounded, at the sight of Iruka-sensei standing next to the Uchiha holding his hand up wrapped in what appeared to be a blood-soaked kitchen towel.

Fortunately, the others with him were not having the same difficulty. In fact, Ino shouldered him out of the way as she made a bee-line for Iruka-sensei, with Shizune just a step behind her. Shikamaru's mind eventually caught up to the action around him and he scratched at the back of his neck as he strolled over to the desk. By the time he arrived, he'd noted a few more important facts. First – Obito was so engrossed in what he was doing that he hadn't looked up even when Ino's voice reached a decibel that was sure to raise the dead in the right conditions. Second – Iruka-sensei was trying to push away both of the women as they tried to pull him physically off to the side with the obvious intent to care for whatever was hiding beneath the bloody towel. Third – the desk was covered with thick files, all of which bore the classified mark used only for documents being used in cases of treason.

He frowned while his mind churned those new facts, until they all fell neatly into place, and he smirked at just how wily their Hokage truly was. Between Iruka-sensei, Obito Uchiha, and himself, there might actually be a way to disprove whatever false charges were contained in the volumes of paperwork strewn across the desk. And even though the work was bound to be troublesome, he knew that he would spend as much time and energy as he needed to if the end result was the release of Kakashi Hatake.