A Fallen Leaf's Promise
Itachi and Kisame stood across the water from Kurenai, Asuma and Kakashi. Kurenai and Asuma were either side of Kakashi with their eyes clenched shut. Meanwhile, Kakashi was on his knees, gasping for air and glaring at the Akatsuki members from beneath his unruly silver hair.
Itachi's eyes narrowed. After seventy-two hours of torture in the Spirit realm of his Tsukuyomi, Kakashi had survived. He was indeed strong for someone not of the true Uchiha bloodline. And through all of it, he gave away nothing of the location of the nine-tailed brat.
Kisame sneered. "I didn't so much as tremble after you used that skill on me."
Itachi shrugged and glanced at the blue-skinned man. "You only experienced a few hours in that realm. Kakashi Hatake suffered through three days."
Kisame's eyes widened as Itachi continued. "And Kakashi's level of pain was triple what I exposed you to." Itachi's mouth turned up at the corners. "There's more to him then I expected."
"Humph. So what now?"
Itachi sighed and looked back toward the three ninjas. "Kisame – we'll take Kakashi with us. As for the others – make them disappear."
Kisame's bared his pointed teeth in a cruel grin. "Gladly, Itachi."
Kisame raised his sword and leaped toward the three Konoha ninjas, swinging his blade to take out the two still standing. The swing never connected with his targets as his body was propelled backward by a well placed kick from a newly arrived combatant.
Kisame skidded to a stop next to Itachi and snarled. "Who the hell are you?"
Standing between them and Kakashi was a tall man dressed in a green pantsuit with eyebrows that seemed to have a life of their own. His dark hair was styled with a short bowl cut, and Itachi narrowed his eyes – recognizing the man even before his loud proclamation.
"I am the proud beast of the Hidden Leaf Village! I – am Guy!" The man took an exaggerated defensive stance, balanced on one foot. "And I will not let you kill my companions!"
Kisame snickered. "You dress funny – but you'll bleed all the same."
Kakashi let out a moan and fell forward, unconscious. His body began sinking, but Guy quickly bent and scooped him out of the water. He turned toward where Kurenai and Asuma still stood with their eyes firmly closed and spoke to them.
"Asuma – Kurenai – open your eyes."
Kurenai swallowed. "But Kakashi warned us not to – because of the sharingan."
Guy laughed without humor. "Just look anywhere but his face and you'll be fine. Having done battle with Kakashi over the years, I have learned this is the only way to defeat the sharingan."
Asuma and Kurenai agreed with his logic, and then opened their eyes. Guy stepped toward them and placed Kakashi in Kurenai's care. "You need to take Kakashi to the hospital – Asuma and I will keep these two busy until the reinforcements I called arrive."
Kurenai nodded, and gripped Kakashi around his waist. "OK."
Kisame shifted his sword in his hand, readying himself for battle. Itachi sighed and addressed the Konoha ninjas. "I'm afraid we don't have time for this now."
Kisame lowered his sword and frowned. "Oh, but my thirst for a fight has been ignited, Itachi . . ."
"Remember our mission, Kisame. It wouldn't do to be injured at this time." Itachi switched his attention back to the ninjas across from them. "Tell Kakashi we will meet again – he has peaked my curiosity."
Kisame laughed. "I wouldn't want to be him."
The two Akatsuki members disappeared – leaving the Konoha ninja alone on the water.
Days had passed, and still Kakashi was in the hospital. Guy had never seen his rival this injured before and, not for the first time, he wondered about this Spirit Realm Itachi spoke of – and just what Kakashi may have undergone there. He paused outside the door to Kakashi's room to compose himself. After all – he owed it to his rival to make sure he had a positive attitude before his daily visit.
He pulled the door open and was about to announce his presence with his usual flourish, when he took in the sight of Kakashi putting his uniform shirt on. The Fifth Hokage was standing at the end of the hospital bed with her hands clenched into tight fists. Guy could sense the power behind each of her words – and he caught himself trembling a bit as he listened.
"Kakashi, if I have to, I'll break both your legs to keep you from leaving this room."
Kakashi continued calmly buttoning his shirt while he turned his head toward Tsunade to reply. "Do you truly think that would solve anything, Hokage?"
The two locked eyes and Guy felt the air nearly crackle with their energy. After a few more tense moments, Tsunade turned away. Kakashi's voice was soft, but the firmness of his words was unmistakable.
"As long as those two are out there, Naruto and Sasuke are in danger. The Third Hokage charged me with their safety. His death does not release me from that duty."
Guy watched Tsunade's shoulders sag slightly in acknowledgment of his rival's words. "Kakashi – don't forget those two aren't just fixated on Naruto or Sasuke."
Guy watched Kakashi tense and his right hand clench into a tight fist. "That's not something that's easily forgotten, Hokage. However – it is also not something I should allow to keep me from my tasks."
Kakashi pulled his vest on, bowed stiffly to the Hokage, turned toward the door and left. Guy tried to catch his friend's attention as he walked past him – but Kakashi must have been concentrating on his next task too hard . . . why else would he have ignored him? Guy smiled – he had to admit Kakashi could even make arguing with the Hokage seem cool.
The Hokage's voice drew Guy's attention back to the room. "Has he always been like this?"
Guy grinned at her. "Mistress Hokage, Kakashi is . . .well . . . Kakashi!"
She turned toward the window and sighed. "Yes – that he is."
Even with Tsunade's healing touch, Kakashi was still feeling the after effects of his time spent in the Spirit Realm at the hands of Itachi. Although physically healed, his spirit was still raw. But that couldn't be helped. He'd already spent too much time out of action.
Kakashi hoped he'd feel more like himself after a visit to the bath house. A soak in the hot water could sometimes fix even what a healer could not. With that thought firmly in mind, Kakashi headed across the bridge toward his favorite bath house. This was one of the few places he felt comfortable enough to remove his trademark mask.
When he was halfway across the wooden bridge, a wall of mist rose up and surrounded him.
"Dammit!" Kakashi was instantly on guard – raising his headband to expose his sharingan and pulling out his kunai – all at the same moment. The voice coming from the mist reminded him all too clearly of his experience in the Spirit Realm.
"How glad I am to see your instincts haven't been dulled by our last meeting, Kakashi Hatake."
"Itachi Uchiha." Kakashi narrowed his eyes as he spat out the name.
The raven-haired Itachi stepped out of the mist – his hands hidden within his Akatsuki robe while his sharingan eyes glowed in the gloom. Kakashi found his muscles tensing as the younger man slowly closed the distance between them.
Calm down. Don't be distracted. Concentrate . . . he never travels alone . . .there!
Kakashi spun on his heel, narrowly blocking the attack from the freakishly tall Kisame. Still – it was enough. He pushed his foe away and shifted into full combat awareness. He heard every sound – saw every movement – but still, he hadn't seen or heard Itachi until he appeared right next to him.
"Impressive, Kakashi – but still inadequate."
Itachi struck out swiftly, and Kakashi countered each strike. Settling into the battle, he soon shifted from defense to offense, and landed as many blows on Itachi as he had to deflect. In fact, one well placed kick placed Itachi far enough away that the two men paused in their fight.
Kakashi's time in the hospital gave his body a chance to physically mend – so he was glad to find his reaction times were back to normal as he battled Itachi and Kisame. In fact, at the end of this volley he wasn't even breathing hard. Perhaps he had a chance to survive this encounter after all.
"I see you've had time to recover, Kakashi Hatake . . . as such – I'm sure you would challenge Kisame and myself to the end."
The corners of Itachi's mouth turned up slightly, causing Kakashi to tighten his grip on his kunai. The fugitive ninja took a step forward, and at the same time, six additional cloaked figures came out of the mist. "But tell me, Kakashi - can you possibly defeat all of the Akatsuki?"
Kakashi's eyes widened. "Dammit!" His eyes shifted from person to person – ever aware that he was being surrounded by S-class felons.
"You can sense the hopelessness now, Kakashi, I'm certain of it. It would be wisest for you to surrender and avoid serious injury."
Kakashi's eyes narrowed. Again he wondered what Itachi's game was. He said he would avoid serious injury – not avoid death. Kakashi's breath caught and his eyes widened with realization.
Dear God – they aren't planning to kill me . . . they're trying to capture me! What the hell are they up to?
Kakashi crouched, waiting for someone to attack. "What do you want from me, Itachi?"
The young Akatsuki member took another step closer. "Let's just say you will make a most exquisite bargaining chip." He took another step. "And you'll prove an entertaining distraction until that chip is needed."
Kakashi finally put all the pieces together. The Akatsuki wanted to use him to lure Naruto into their clutches. He raised his kunai to eye level.
"I'd rather die here then let you use me to get to Naruto!"
Itachi's eyes narrowed dangerously. "That is not an option."
From one breath to the next, Kakashi found himself amidst a sea of attacks. Each one meant to injure him – not kill. He struck out at each with an accuracy enhanced by the knowledge that one missed deflection would mean disaster for himself – and for Naruto. If he was lucky, this battle would be discovered before it was over – but this path was not one commonly used – a fact he was certain Itachi was aware of before setting up this ambush.
Kakashi created clones whenever he could - used substitution and escape jutsus when able – but as the battle wore on, he felt his body slowing down bit by bit. There were simply too many of the enemy keeping him far too busy. Because of this, he was unable to use his own special jutsu – the lightening blade. And then it happened – something unheard of – all eight of the Akatsuki members attacked as one.
Kakashi was able to avoid the first five hits, but the sixth landed a kunai in his lower back. Then when Kisame's massive blade hit him next, it tore away clothing and skin in a single blow – leaving Kakashi's left arm hanging useless from it's force. The blow spun him into Itachi's waiting grasp.
Itachi hissed into his ear. "It's over, Kakashi Hatake."
As Itachi tightened his grip, the faces of Sasuke and Naruto flashed through Kakashi's mind. He couldn't let this happen to them – not if he could prevent it.
A surge of energy went through him, and he found the strength to strike backward with his head while twisting his body loose of Itachi's grip. In the stunned moment that followed, Kakashi ran for his life – the pain from his wounds momentarily forgotten. His only goals – to put as much distance between himself and the Akatsuki – and to return to the safety of the main part of Konoha.
Kakashi made it to the end of the bridge, and thought for a moment that he'd succeeded, when a lone figure barred his way. The figure spoke.
"I never thought to see the day when the great Kakashi Hatake would refuse to fight."
That voice – it was straight from Kakashi's nightmares. He skidded to a stop and barely dodged the attack he knew would come. Chains swept the air where Kakashi had just been standing – the impact on the bridge in his absence sending wood and stone flying in all directions.
The newly arrived ninja raised his head just far enough for Kakashi to clearly see the headband marking him as a former ninja from the Land of Snow. The chains were fastened to an attachment made to replace the man's missing hand.
Kakashi crouched at the edge of the bridge. Never in all this time had he ever expected to see this man again – not since that mission in the Land of Snow when Kakashi cut off this ninja's hand – right after the bastard had killed his teammates at the time.
"Kogoejini!" The name hissed through Kakashi's lips.
"Heh . . . I see you survived our last encounter . . . too bad the same can't be said for your partners. I can still remember the sound of their bones breaking from the cold."
Kakashi's eyes narrowed as he almost physically had to push down the urge for revenge against Kogoejini. He couldn't let this latest turn of events color his decision to escape. He needed help now – and confronting Kogoejini would only be detrimental to that end. Besides – if he didn't act now, he'd never escape. But he couldn't force his left arm to comply with his need to generate hand signs – so all that was left was for him to use his sharingan to read his enemy's moves so he could use his limited tai-jutsu to escape.
Kogoejini lifted his arm to send his chain attack again, and Kakashi seized the opportunity to rush the man head on – kunai knife in place. He swept his foot out to knock the snow-ninja off balance. The move was easily dodged by the man, and Kakashi used that momentum to come in closer to Kogoejini and stab into the man's leg.
Kogoejini grunted as the blade passed through his flesh, but instead of backing away like Kakashi expected, the man leaned into his blade, burying it up to its hilt. He brought his chains down fiercely toward Kakashi's back. Kakashi rolled to miss the majority of the chains – leaving his kunai lodged in Kogoejini's thigh.
Kakashi reached to his weapons pouch for another kunai only to find the pouch had been ripped loose by one of the chains he'd tried to avoid. Unarmed and severely injured, Kakashi was just a moment too slow in his recovery from the attack. Kogoejini's chains struck out once more – this time wrapping around Kakashi's body and pulling him in until the men were eye to eye.
Kogoejini pulled Kakashi's kunai out of his thigh, and moved to plunge it into Kakashi's throat. The blade stopped a hair's width from its target – blocked by Itachi's hand.
"We need him alive, Kogoejini."
Kakashi watched the play of power between the two, and then Kogoejini dropped the kunai to the ground without a word. Itachi shifted his gaze to Kakashi.
"This battle is over."
Asuma's voice cut through the mist. "What is going on here?"
The gathered Akatsuki members turned as one toward the group of Konoha elite jonin approaching. Kakashi was held struggling within Kogoejini's chains in front of them. The jonins stopped.
Guy's voice seemed uncharacteristically subdued. "They – they have Kakashi."
The elite ninjas raced to engage the enemy – but by the time they reached the bridge, every one of the Akatsuki was gone – along with Kakashi Hatake. All they found was the discarded kunai, Kakashi's weapons pouch, and traces of blood and battle damage for the length of the bridge.
Asuma's voice mirrored the thoughts of his comrades. "This can't be good."
"What do you mean they have him?" Tsunade slammed her fist on the desk, splitting the wood down the middle. The jonin gathered tensed.
"Lady Tsunade, by the time we found where Kakashi went we were too late." Asuma's voice was tinged with fear – although Tsunade couldn't be sure if it was from her reaction to the news, or the fact his comrade was abducted.
And that was what was bothering her right now. If they had said Kakashi was killed, it would have been horrible – but expected. Instead, the report was that he'd been taken – alive . . . What did that mean? And what in the world was Kakashi undergoing while they sat here?
She wanted to send them all off to find him, but she had to look beyond personal reactions to the overall safety of the village. Tsunade took a calming breath.
"Asuma – choose two others to join you. Track them down – but do not engage. This is a fact-finding mission only."
Asuma's clenched his fists. "But Hokage . . ."
"No buts, Asuma! We have to assume Kakashi will be kept alive – or they would have killed him in front of you."
She knew it was harsh – but there was no time for niceties. "It's more important to know our enemy then to rush in to the unknown. Do I make myself clear?"
Asuma bowed his head slightly. "Yes Hokage." He signaled to Guy and Kurenai and the three left immediately.
Tsunade sighed and turned toward those remaining in her office. "I need the rest of you to return to normal duty."
The ninjas all bowed their heads in acceptance of her words – but it was obvious by the number of clenched jaws and fists that none of them were particularly happy about it. They slowly left her office and, when the last one was gone, her assistant, Shizune, walked to her side.
"Lady Tsunade, that's the third desk this month."
Tsunade sighed, but gave no other response – her mind lost in worries for the Copy-ninja.