Sakura woke with a lungful of ice-cold water and a horrible headache. The headache wasn't something Sakura wasn't used to, but the water was something else entirely. She thrashed and trashed, doing little but sloshing around. Her arms and legs were tied and there was a strong hand clenched around the back of her neck, holding her down.
A roar sounded as she was roughly jerked back out the tub. Sakura sucked in great gulps of air between her shuddering heaves and the noise drowned out anything else in the room. Slowly, painfully, the black behind her eyes began to recede and she twisted around.
Looking back at her was the impassive bird-carved mask of an ANBU. Her eyes rolled down to the bottom of her sockets and she saw the thick bindings keeping her still – not that she had the energy to put up any kind of fight. It was all she could do to make her jaw work.
"This is illegal," she rasped. Sakura didn't need twenty guesses to figure out why she was being treated like this and she'd memorized the village's laws regarding interrogation months ago. There was a process. This wasn't it.
She sucked in a deep breath right before her head hit the water again. The sudden icy shock struck her like a physical blow and made her lungs spasm. There was no franticness to the action; no malice. The ANBU was just holding her under while she slowly ran out of oxygen.
The ANBU brought her up after about three minutes and Sakura vomited up another lungful of water. She didn't try and speak this time and only focused on her breathing. When the water hit her again she focused on keeping her body still and not panicking.
Up out of the cold water again, but this time with no gagging. "You can't do this," she said. "I have rights!"
"Certainly you do. We're simply bringing you out of an unconscious state."
That didn't come from the ANBU holding her over the tub. Suddenly the pressure was off her neck and she was roughly spun around. She was in a dirty room roughly twice the size of her living room back home. It had no windows and only a single door on the far side. Sakura got the feeling she was far below Tanzaku-gai, down in a place no one would find her.
The bird-masked ANBU roughly pulled her away from the tub of water. "Now that you're up," the other one began, "we can start our preliminary medical checkup. All detainees are given that privilege by law."
She was thrown into a rusty metal chair. Sakura clenched her teeth when her arms were jerked over its back and then cuffed tight to its legs. The cat-masked man stepped up to her and grabbed her chin, twisting her head this way and that. "Detainee shows liaisons and bruising to the face. I'm worried about her dental health."
From behind, two fingers fish hooked her mouth and pulled her lips back. Sakura watched in horror as the cat-faced man pulled out a senbon needle. He tapped her front incisors with it, making a sharp trilling sound of metal on polished glass.
"Who are you working for?" he asked. The senbon traced the gaps in her front teeth. "The scroll you were carrying. The one with the seal. Who is it for? Who gave it to you?"
"The Otogakure minister," she snarled through clenched teeth. "He wanted me to turn it into the Hokage Tower. It was part of the mission."
The ANBU behind her had jammed his fingers into the hinge of her jaw, somehow making it pop open. Suddenly the senbon was scraping and probing her molars. "Interesting that correspondence from a civilian minister would be so heavily sealed and encoded. Carrying coded messages from one government to another is important work. You must be proud."
Something caught on the senbon's tip. "Oh," the ANBU murmured. "Found a chip. Those aren't good for you." The metal went in deeper and Sakura started to shake. "Not good at all. Might have to take the whole tooth out for your health, Haruno-san."
Sakura said nothing. The needle's tip went in deeper, twisting and scraping. The metal chair bucked as Sakura tried to shy away, but the hands on her jaw and her bindings made that impossible. She felt more of her tooth chip away as the ANBU dug deeper.
Raw pain thundered between her ears as she screamed herself senseless. The cat-masked ANBU was calm as he slowly rotated the needle, making the tiny pinprick bigger and bigger as Sakura tried to squirm away.
"Now I've found a cavity. It might be that we have to treat this at the vill—"
The ANBU jumped aside before a lance of rock could pierce him. From the wall Sakura was directly looking straight at, another thin spear of stone shot out and zipped over her shoulder at the man holding her mouth open.
They both retreated to the far side of the room by the door as Sakura summoned another sealless Earth Flow Spear to cut her bonds.
"Didn't know she could do that," the bird-masked man said to his partner as Sakura shook off the last of her restraints. "Was it in her file?"
"The Haruno clan has no kekkei genkai." A single black eyebrow managed to poke above the top of his mask as Sakura started sinking into the stone floor. "She really shouldn't be able to do that."
"Well, she's doing it. Mind stopping her?"
Cat-mask sighed and made a snake seal. Before Sakura could notice a long staff of wood shot out the wall behind her and knocked her unconscious. Nothing was ever easy, was it?
Chapter 21: Act 3
Kakashi put down the mug of coffee he'd been sipping from. "What did you just say?" he asked, incredulous.
Yamanaka Inoichi leaned on the doorframe, blocking the hallway and giving them a shred of privacy in an otherwise open area. "Your student showed up at the Tanzaku-gai office two days ago." He tossed a thin manila folder on the desk Kakashi was working at. "She's been brought to the village, but access is being kept tight."
Kakashi started thumbing through the file. It had a rough sketch of Sakura in it along with a few stills from a security camera. "She's been detained? What charge?"
"Sedition?" Inoichi answered, incredulous. "What have we been working on the last few days down here? We have enough evidence of a crime to throw at her already, but I've been told they found a scroll with her that has correspondence from Otogakure."
"Well, I wouldn't say it's open and shut just yet," the jounin murmured, still leafing through the case file. His free hand reached over and tapped a plain-looking brown journal. "Everything in here could be completely innocent."
"You don't really believe that." Inoichi sighed and glanced at the hallway behind him. "Look, I know you're fond of the kid. Hell, she practically lived at my house for a few years growing up. It's hard for me to believe it. It doesn't change the facts, Kakashi."
The folder closed with a thump. "I know," he said. His chair squealed against stone floor as he got up. "I just want to make absolutely sure. I appreciate everything that the Intelligence Division has done." Kakashi patted the man on the shoulder as he ambled past. "I'll keep in touch."
Inoichi watched him go before his eyes drifted back to the table filled with the scant few things that constituted Haruno Sakura's life. "It's not like I don't wish things were different too," he mumbled, wondering how he was going to tell his daughter.
Kakashi squinted when he stepped outside the Konohagakure Intelligence Division's building. Some people gave him a polite nod or a wave, but he shuffled on past without giving them much thought. Anyone who knew him wouldn't take offense to it and those that didn't weren't really worth wasting the brain power on. Not when he needed it most, anyway.
Sakura was back. It wasn't that he wasn't thankful; he just wished she'd taken more time to get home. Things were at a delicate stage. People were nervous and twitchy at delicate stages, in his experience. They thought they knew everything and that the hard parts were over. 'No more thinking needed, folks. Case closed.' Kakashi knew better than that.
Inoichi hadn't been wrong, though. The evidence that Sakura was neck-deep in something truly ugly was there if you squinted hard enough. He'd done something a week ago that he should have done a month ago – namely broken into his student's room for a little dirt digging. Naruto and Sasuke had been easy: the worst skeletons in their respective closets had been some unregistered explosives and disturbingly-vanilla appetites for pornography. It was Sakura's room that had turned up the pay dirt.
He had almost missed it. The only girl on his team was sharp as a razor and knew some amazing things for her age, but Kakashi had thought she lacked real subtlety. Things had just gone against her since he noticed the false floorboard on his second sweep through her room. It was pretty standard for a ninja to have hiding spots like that, but Sakura had gone the extra mile and taken the time to use a wood-colored putty to hide even a hint of wear and tear on the loose board. He'd been impressed with the work.
What he hadn't been impressed with was the scroll squirrelled inside. He had expected to find more Iwagakure training manuals or some kind of heirlooms Sakura's father might have left her that would explain the rapid improvement he'd been pretending not to notice. Instead, he had a summoning scroll with an advanced triggering seal. It'd taken him two hours of actual work to crack and he'd been rewarded with a small brown diary not unlike the bingo books Jounin carried around with them. Inside that was a running log nearly a year old.
He'd told Inoichi the truth back at the Intelligence Division: the things in the book were innocent, even if the seal and cypher weren't. The whole thing could be taken as just a strange diary from a girl who didn't count literary prowess among her many talents. The strange musical code and the weird little report-like diary entries could be explained away. He had been doing an adequate job of that over the last few days.
What he hadn't shown Inoichi, or anyone else, was the one page he'd removed from the journal before filing his intelligence report and turning everything over for detailed analysis. A page that, after painstaking cryptology, detailed meeting a leading village councilman in a place that very few people knew about.
ROOT compromised covers of agents Yakushi and Haruno. Yakushi Kabuto, Genin, had been declared MIA a few days after Kakashi's team had left on their mission to Suna. He'd simply left his apartment and everything inside and disappeared. No one knew where he was.
Agent given impression that Danzo's ultimate goal was civil war. Shimura Danzo had nearly been the Third. Both had been students of the Nidaime and knew his methods inside and out. The Third had always been uncomfortable with the cloak and dagger aspects of the village, though. A civil war with the backing of a new hidden village was right up Danzo's alley if you made the leap he wanted a coup d'état.
Kakashi knew he was running a terrible risk removing that page from the journal. In a book of nothing but frivolous entries about what Sakura thought about her team, the village, and other aspects of ninja life, it was the only one that had grabbed attention as being something radically out of the ordinary. Danzo's name was nowhere else in the book and neither was Kabuto's.
There was always the chance that Yakushi Kabuto setting Sakura up to take the fall for something. Kakashi had pulled the teen's file and found a life of complete mediocrity. No awards, no outstanding achievements. Kabuto was the definition of a "background character" that everyone would overlook. Additionally, according to Sakura's official medical records she and Kabuto knew each other. He had saved her life by getting her to a hospital after a snake had bitten her when she was just an academy student.
Spies marked interesting targets like that. Kakashi had done it himself back in ANBU and many a mission had been salvaged by setting up a nice pigeon like that to take the fall when all was said and done. The convenient timing of his disappearance lent some weight to that as well and Danzo wasn't so sloppy that he'd do something like hinge a life or death plan on a twelve year-old spy.
But, there was no denying that the writing was Sakura's. It had used the exact same code as the rest of the book. Unless the entire thing was a fabrication, she had written that entry for whatever reason. Added to that was the fact no one who examined the scroll attached to it could figure out just where the hell it went. It was a complete and total mess.
Kakashi realized that he wasn't going to get to the bottom of this without talking to Sakura herself. Even detained with a gag order, there were only so many places they could put her. He could probably drop in on a few of his old ANBU teammates to find out what was going on.
He made a turn at an alleyway a few blocks away from the Intelligence Division. ANBU kept a number of district offices and safe houses away from the "flashy" official headquarters outside the Hokage Tower. The safe houses rotated every few years, but Kakashi made it a point to ferret out their new locations for situations like this.
The backdoor to a butcher's shop opened up with the lightest brush of his chakra in the lock. There was no point in being circumspect; hidden cameras were everywhere around the safe houses and they had probably started tracking him blocks ago. Besides, this was going to be a social call.
Rows of chilled pig carcasses brushed against him as he threaded his way to the real heart of this shop. A few paces from the main drain of the butchering floor was a small tributary drain barely two feet across. Kakashi hooked his spindly fingers through the grating and pulled it up so he could squeeze down into the hidden subbasement. It took a few moments of climbing down through the dark, but there was a preverbal light at the end of this tunnel in the form of a hatch. It was rigged with more seals and traps than just about anything in the village, but thankfully for Kakashi it opened from the inside after a light knock.
"Well, well. Look who it is."
Uzuki Yugao. She was the only one in the room who hadn't hastily grabbed her mask, probably because no matter how well she masked her voice he'd be able to pick out an old squad member. It was the first time he'd seen the woman in a few years. Blankets covered what he knew to be workbenches and paper files that were technically above his pay grade to look at these days.
Kakashi gave Yugao a respectful nod and leaned up against the ladder he'd just come down. As much as he'd like to snoop around, the others wouldn't like him down here former captain or not. He wasn't going to overstay his welcome.
The younger woman tossed him an amused look. "You know you're not technically supposed to even know about these places anymore, right? Wouldn't want the old Jounin to throw a hip coming down the ladder."
"Ah, but the retirement home was so boring. I thought I'd come down and see how the new generation is filling daddy's sandals." He looked over her shoulder at the half dozen other masked people watching. "Maybe we could reminisce somewhere else?"
"A business call. That's pretty boring, Kakashi." Yugao thumbed popped her neck. "Look, I know why you're here. You want information about that Haruno girl. The investigation isn't at the point where we can talk about it."
Kakashi wondered who the highest ranking person in the room was. As a Jounin, he was technically part of the standard forces, but his old ANBU rank and his reputation had their perks. Since this was such a minor safe house he could probably just bully everyone in here. It wouldn't make them any more likely to help him, though. The standard forces weren't held in the highest regard among the ANBU.
"I'm responsible for her," he tried instead. "I might not be ANBU anymore, but I still remember how to look after a teammate. Even one that's only twelve. She needs someone in her corner right now and everyone else who cares is either a civilian or a child themselves. You want me to just walk away from that, Yugao? Did you forget everything I taught you?"
"Are you honestly pulling the teammate card? For a kid?"
"Sure am," he beamed. "Gonna let me or do I have to find another dealer?"
Yugao groaned. "Fine! Fine. She's been quoting laws at us all day anyway. Your kid is already with Ibiki, but I know he hasn't really started on her yet."
"Ibiki?" Kakashi let a little bit of real anger creep into his voice. "This is moving faster than normal, Yugao. There aren't even formal charges yet."
"Don't look at me. The council is the one pushing the investigation." One of the other ANBU took a step forward, but a look from Yugao stopped him cold. "This is Hatake Kakashi. As far as I'm concerned he has the run of this place."
"That kind of information should still stay with us," the man argued. He gave Kakashi a nod of respect, though. "Regardless of how much of a hero they are, ANBU should keep its secrets."
Yugao frowned and Kakashi recognized that maybe the woman realized she'd gotten too comfortable. He smiled and pushed away from the wall. "Well, he might have a point. I think it's time I get moving anyway. I forgot how creepy it can be down here with you introverts."
A kunai appeared in Yugao's hand. She was smiling too, but it was rougher. "Let me help you with that, Kakashi-taicho."
Two blocks away Kakashi chuckled as his shadow clone caught a kunai with its head. He honestly hadn't thought his old teammate would notice. "Time really does fly," he muttered good-naturedly.
Ibiki's section wasn't similar to any other ANBU umbrella organization. Unlike the ANBU branch offices or even the Intelligence Division, the Torture and Interrogation squad made no secret of their place of business. In fact, it was remarkably easy for anyone in the village to find. Ibiki wanted everyone to see his people every day, walking to work like everyone else. It was a great reminder to the civilians that, yes, there were ninja among you and, yes, no matter how nice they seem they will drag you to the office if you step out of line.
Kakashi knew more than most, though. Torture and Interrogation was slowly being mothballed thanks to the (relatively) peaceful times and the adoption of less-painful methods down at Intel for getting information out of people. Recently Ibiki and his people had even been given additional duties to fill their workdays, up to and including the mind-numbing privilege of being sentries up on the village wall.
They must be loving the attention the council was giving them. A high-profile interrogation was just the kind of thing to get them back in the limelight and maybe a bit more of the budget. Ibiki would be playing this entire thing to the very letter of the book. That became obvious when Kakashi walked up to the main entrance of Ibiki's headquarters and found it locked, sealed, and warded. A polite knock wouldn't get him inside when they had a premium prisoner.
Kakashi lazily flickered to the top of the building, likely setting off every alarm inside. It was a knock, but certainly not a polite one. Even Academy students knew better than to mold any excessive chakra around a security building. Things like that got you arrested if you were a nobody.
"You know how long it takes to reset these things?"
Good for Kakashi he wasn't a nobody. "Well, I didn't want to waste any time, Ibiki." The giant Special Jounin was on the other side of the roof glowering at him. "I want to see my student," he said, not wasting any time on pleasantries. They weren't really friends in this context: he was an advocate for someone accused of a crime.
Ibiki understood that as well. "Gag order by the Village Council. No one sees her but Interrogation."
"The council can't ignore the law. She's allowed to see her team supervisor if there are criminal charges against her."
"Special circumstances. Village security integrity and all that. There's a bylaw."
Kakashi clicked his tongue. "A bylaw that requires a special order by the Hokage to activate. Do you have the paperwork for that? I want to see it." The Hokage had never used that policy, even during the war. "Drop the theatrics, Ibiki. I want to see Sakura."
For a long moment Kakashi thought he'd actually have to go and get an official order since Ibiki didn't look like he'd budge on the issue. It wasn't that he couldn't appreciate the man's position – the council would be furious that someone had bucked their authority. "Ibiki…" he tried again.
The man's shoulders slumped. "Fine. I get it." He stomped twice on the roof and a panel a few feet away sprang open. "I want all your weapons here in a pile before you come in, understand? Every single one. And that left eye of yours stays behind that forehead protector."
Kakashi graciously complied – he even gave up a few of his holdout knives and tags just to make Ibiki feel extra important. Both men knew that there was plenty more, but Ibiki was being polite and smart enough not to insist on a pat down. Kakashi led the way down the hatch into the building.
The Interrogation Bureau looked like a normal building from the outside, but Kakashi knew it was just one giant block of concrete and rebar except for a long hallway leading from the door to the service elevator in the center. This hatch ran down parallel to it, all the way to the bottom and the holding cells. Kakashi had dropped off people down here before, but he still felt unnerved every time he had to go down to the cages.
"We're taking a right at the bottom," Ibiki said. It was the first bit of noise other than their feet hitting metal rungs for the last few minutes.
"Those are the high security cages. You have a twelve year old girl locked up in the high security cages?"
Ibiki might have laughed. "You haven't read the ANBU report – the classified one. There's a reason she's in isolation."
Isolation. Kakashi grabbed the edge of the ladder and slid down the rest of the way. Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong. There was nothing in the investigation that would warrant isolation or even high security. Not a single thing.
"Dammit, Kakashi! Calm down!" The jounin didn't listen and Ibiki didn't seriously try and stop him. They passed row after row of empty blocks. Most of the cells were in bad repair and rusting off their locks, but Kakashi knew that was just Ibiki's own twist on containment. He would give the prisoners just that hint of escape and then rip it away when they made a break. The escape attempt gave him more leniencies to interrogate.
One cell had a light on, though. Kakashi made a beeline for it. Sitting there, in the middle of the room under a bare bulb, was a young girl tied and chained to a wooden chair with a bag over her head. In fact, the walls themselves were made of wood. There wasn't a single bit of uncovered space.
Ibiki caught up. "She has some kind of kekkei genkai. It's in the ANBU report."
"Haruno Sakura? Registration 012601?" Ibiki nodded. "She doesn't have a kekkei genkai."
"She has something. She nearly escaped from ANBU interrogation. They said she used a doton to cut the ropes and almost got underground." He nodded to the restraints. "Without her hands."
Kakashi gave him a look. "What is she being charged with?"
Ibiki crossed his arms. "What isn't she being charged with? ANBU kept the letter that she brought from Suna, but they left me enough for an interrogation warrant to get the full story from her. I'd really rather not have to use it." He put a set of keys into Kakashi's hand and leisurely walked back up the hall. Kakashi knew he wouldn't be far.
Sakura's head snapped up when the lock on her door clicked. "I want to see my teacher," she said, voice raspy. "Rights…I have r-rights."
It was nice that she remembered at least that much, Kakashi thought as he checked the room for listening devices. He was still good, but there was no denying ANBU and Interrogation might have cooked up something he wasn't privy to. So far, though, it looked like Ibiki had left them in peace. It would have to be good enough.
What to say, though? How to frame it? What to ask?
She was getting squirmy, though. Time to start. The bag came off and two bleary eyes looked up at him. They seemed a lot older than he remembered.
"Feels like I haven't seen you in ages, Sakura. Welcome home."
Thus ends Act 2. Bet you thought the story would never get moving in a forward direction again, huh?