Five words, repeating over in your head.
That's all you ever have to do.
Five words. Is it really that hard to say?
You're worth more than this.
"We don't know, Sakura. He's missing. And so is Ibiki." Icy fingers of dread slid down her spine. Ibiki had claimed almost two days ago that he was visiting Kakashi for research. Although it had annoyed her, she had understood and allowed him the briefest of visits. She had decided today that due to his deteriorating state after each scheduled drop in of the torture master of Konoha that he would no longer be allowed. Whatever questions he asked seemed only to distress her patient. She was perfectly within her rights. Besides, something about Ibiki's interest sent a suspicious chill across her shoulders. Now she knew why. She could only hope she wasn't too late.
"Kakashi, you really shouldn't have been such a problem. Now I'm going to have to dispose of you properly." The calm voice was a façade. Even Kakashi's fading awareness caught onto the lingering scent of panic in the air.
His limbs were tied to a chair. Ropes rubbed uncomfortably on already bruised skin, wrists were bound until circulation slowed, and ankles were wrapped up to the knees. Fear permeated the room like a great fog. The disease was running away with his pulse, having a deadly rendezvous with his lungs, a parasitic love making with his mind. Despite the knowledge that his survival depended on escape he found that there was no steadying the spinning room he saw. Emerging from the darkness around him were his old friends and visions of accusatory green eyes. His visions spoke to him in slithered, slimy words. Yet, these things made no sense.
"You see, you are no longer useful. You're mental functions are still surprisingly sharp, yet you're so mad you either will not or cannot answer questions. Your health continues to decline, of course. This only makes you like a used up rag. It was far more enlightening when you fought. Of course, eventually you may have won. So this is for the best."
Before he could hear the last of it, he slid into the alternate reality that had been threatening since he was taken from the hospital. Instead of the usual scenes, it appeared his tired mind was trying to torture the last moments of his happiest half-memories.
A small child smiled happily up at her trusted friend. There was so little at this moment to go wrong. He had played with this small girl in the park as only a big brother might. There had been no lustful thoughts or envisioned pictures of the powerful woman she had grown into. Yet, all the danger she entered into in her life, had it not been because of him? Had he not nurtured the fighting and angry fire in her? Without warning the younger him that teeter tottered with the gently bouncing pink haired toddler turned psychotic. In Kakashi's powerless hands he felt the kunai rip through the miniature trachea. Only a pop gave signal to the break. Blood spurting kept him from fully seeing the fatal wound, and yet he found it did not lessen the effect. Even the younger him rebelled at the thought, backing away and staring at the still standing corpse of the little girl. As he stared the little body peeled away like a cocoon to reveal a dreamy eyed, long haired student. Just as before, his already bloodied body moved of its own volition to run the same kunai into the softest part of the belly and stood and stared as she crumpled. Once more his mind reeled at the sight before him. Right before he could fully give way to madness, he saw a stirring in the felled body. Rising from her ashes was yet another stage. This short haired, stone willed woman no longer needed him. Yet she continued to come to him to talk and learn and befriend. Fear now put his arms to slash her into ribbons. In slow motion her pieces fell like morbid rain. Again there emerged an older and more experienced Sakura. This time when his blade searched for her, she struck back. Defense pushed his offense back through the blackness around him.
Finally, his tiring mentality obliterated this more active Sakura as well. Warily he stared at the remains and waited for the new her to return. Though he waited well beyond the time frame she had managed before, he tried to stave off the despair. She would be back. She would be back and this time, he wouldn't destroy her. Even as he thought it he felt the predator prowling beneath his muscles in anticipation. It was as though he were a great demonic cat, ready to pounce once his prey emerged. And yet he had no desire. There was no hunger. He just wanted to enjoy the presence of hope in his life. His very nature would not allow it.
Finally she lurched up, the same as before only stronger. Now she made the first move, she pushed back. To his horror he fought her. He lashed out, felt the killer taking over his movements. His friends whispered into his mind how he would never overcome the murderous instinct. A mother's voice he never knew sneered that he'd never stop; he had never lived without guilt on his hands. A forgotten father told him to give up; the fight was not worth it. It couldn't be won. All the while she pushed him back, offensive to his now defensive.
She knew his secrets. She knew his weaknesses. So why was it that the only ones speaking were the ghosts from his past? Why did she not mention his recent failures? There was a ready arsenal at her disposal. She could easily pull forth examples of his ignorance towards her studies. Of course there was his fawning over the now disastrous prodigy that he had poured his time and effort into. Without stretching too much of her imagination she could fill her mouth with anger and hatred to overflowing. So why was there nothing?
To his surprise, his back pushed against a solid wall. Though he continued to fend her off, he was cornered. No visible barrier kept him still. Only his inability to understand her lack of resentment seemed to have trapped this monstrous side of him in a cage of confusion. Her own weapons fell into his void, leaving her unarmed. Having him directly where she wanted him, she rubbed her cheek against his own and pressed her lips to his ear. Calloused hands slid soothingly up his back and kept him flush against her. Warm breath caressed him as she whispered an unknown truth into his consciousness.
"You're worth more than this." That soft, innocent voice that had haunted his dreams seemed to stir fragility in him he had never before known could be reconciled with this monster.
And with that she was gone and he was thrown back into the real world where Ibiki held him captive. This time there was a significant difference in the way he perceived the situation at hand. Even with heavy limbs and lacking energy he felt more alert. The world around him had stopped its mad spinning and sharpened to an almost painful clarity. Ibiki stood directly in front of him, though at a distance. Surprise seemed to flash across his features before he reassembled the apathetic expression from before.
"I think you may have a bit of a problem, Ibiki." The silver haired Copy Nin had not expected his voice to be so raspy. "You see, you removed me from the hospital. There's no way you could have gotten permission for that. Tsunade would have had me on careful watch. Not to mention that Sakura had undoubtedly been obsessing over my condition. You can't just 'dispose' of one of the most valuable ninja in Konoha and think that no one will ever realize it was you."
"Of course I can. It'll be easy enough. Your health has been plummeting, even their records show it. I could easily say that I took you because you started rambling something that sounded important, and I feared we'd lose valuable information. As the creator of this particular strain of torture, I can manufacture something with just enough truth to be misleading." It was a theory with holes that could fit full grown men through it, but Ibiki seemed confident enough. Kakashi had seen men pass off worse lies merely with confidence.
"Even if they believe you, which is unlikely, how do you plan on hiding the drugs in my system? How do you plan on explaining to Sakura that despite every precaution she has placed like a mote around me, you managed to sneak me out of the hospital and to some remote area? Someone with nothing to hide does not sneak." Ibiki colored under the questioning. Like most criminals he was spiraling into a psychotic and self-destructive end. As long as Kakashi could stay awake and alive long enough he would survive.
"It does not matter what you say, I will come out of this unscathed. I have done so for longer than you've been alive." Expressionless, cold eyes widened to an uncomfortable point. Cracked, dry lips drew up into a maniacal smile. "I find it greatly fitting that I am able to take down the greatest ninja since the fourth Hokage. Even then you were greatly surpassing all expectations. You're al ruthless as me, Kakashi. Sin for sin, we're brothers. But like Cain and Abel, one is strong and one is weak. One will live and one will die." Unable to suppress himself, Ibiki lunged at Kakashi. With his arms and legs still bound, and his muscles heavy and lethargic with sedatives and overuse, he was nearly helpless. Unfortunate for Ibiki, Kakashi did not need arms and legs to defend and defeat.
Gathering all his chakra, Kakashi locked eyes with his adversary. Slowly spinning, slowly dragging the torture master down, his sharingan wound a web of fear and deceit. Powerful visions of guilt and hell entrapped Ibiki. Blood threatened to drown him. A noose of wailing souls wrapped around that pale, slender throat. Every hurt soul, every destroyed family enacted their vengeance.
As the other man cowered, Kakashi felt strength return to his arms as he ripped free of his ropes. Despite his fatigue and the drugs pumped into his system, he had never felt more alive and more capable. Inside this hell being created for the man in front of him, Kakashi held all the power.
This is how Sakura and the others found him. His tall, overly thin frame towered over a whimpering, broken Ibiki. Waves of anger and fear emanated off the pair with an almost palpable intensity. Their gazes were locked, and no matter any efforts made to break eye contact, they were immovable. It was clear by the horror on Ibiki's face that the tables had turned. At first, Sakura waited for Kakashi to decide he was done with his long time enemy. It was not until Ibiki's lips started turning blue that Sakura realized her Scarecrow had turned murderous. And after quickly checking his vitals, she also realized that he was not only hurting the enemy. The longer he held the connection with his sharingan, the higher his pulse rose, the faster his chakra drained, and the slower his breathing became. It was as if his body was preparing for a final death blow.
"What's he doing?" Naruto stood behind her, an uneasy light in his eyes. "Kakashi has always been strong willed and strong minded. You don't think he's going to kill him, do you?"
"Yes, and himself too, if we don't get him to break the connection." Sakura ran through the possibilities on her mental checklist. Most of the plausible successful ways to break the connection involved massive amounts of pain dealt out to Kakashi. In his current state, that amount of pain could kill him. It was unclear if he could even handle an abrupt halt to his sharingan use.
While she contemplated with utmost care all of her options, a slight tremor began in Kakashi's limbs. Though slow, his breaths came in long, ragged pulls. Color drained from his face and his shoulders drooped. His chakra had reached its lowest level. As his fingertips turned white, he fell. Stubborn even to the last, he held his eyes on those of Ibiki, who was making quiet choking sounds as though he was being strangled by invisible foes.
"SAKURA! Stop thinking and save him!" Naruto's panicked scream lit fire under her feet.
Suddenly unable to keep the calm she was known for as a nurse, Sakura knelt in front of her silver haired shinobi and screamed. It was a scream of her frustrations, her love, her fears, and her exhaustion. Time seemed frozen. Whether it was seconds or minutes, she did not know. It wasn't until her face met the rough and dirtied shirt that she realized Kakashi had broken from his sharingan and now comforted her with what little was left of him.
There was little time wasted in getting Kakashi gathered up and dragged into the hospital. In those briefest of moments before they had wrestled him away from her, Sakura had felt safer than she had in months. Everything was over. Even though there was nothing to show that yet, she could feel it in her bones. Everything was going to be ok.
A month later…
Kakashi had collapsed after they had dragged him away from Sakura, but with a week in the hospital and a promise to follow up with the pink haired medic weekly, he fully recovered. Though so many things had happened between him and Sakura the meetings were awkward and unfulfilling. He had wanted nothing more than to wake up and find her hovering over him with a declaration of undying love. Instead he rarely heard from her except for their scheduled checkups. It felt as though a hole had appeared in his person, and while everything that had caused it was resolved, the hole stubbornly stayed. There was so much to say, with no words to say it.
Ibiki had barely survived Kakashi's sharingan. The force of the attack and the intricacy of the web spun had trapped him forever in the hands of his victims. With a lot of deep searching they found that Ibiki was an indirect descendant from the Hayato clan. Though he had not inherited their natural talent for disguise, he had inherited their deep love for torture. The ancestry had also apparently contributed largely to his unique ability to create the fear inducing genjutsu that they had been known for. Ironic justice bound Ibiki to the asylum bed. None were of the opinion that he would ever mentally heal. No one lost any sleep over that.
Though Kakashi still despised Ibiki, he found himself deeply relieved that Sakura had kept him from killing the monster. He would have only contributed to his fragile mental state at the time. It had no surprised him in the least to realize that Sakura had been a thread connecting all of the roughest times of his life. Through them all she had appeared at the hardest times with a smile or frown to enlighten his wearied old mind and pull him through to the next stage.
This thought was prevalent as he sat in his third and final checkup with Sakura. She had been assigned to watch over his physical healing. Although she had done so with no complaints, he had felt as though she was hiding herself behind a nurse-ish smile and clipped conversation. She had even walked in today with an absolute refusal to look at his face. He used the opportunity to watch her slender fingers slide across the paper, slip under her hair and behind the shell of her ear. Her green eyes flit across the room and her lips moved in the usual questions. She paced across the room, her thin figure nearly floating by him.
With a start he realized she had asked the same question three times. In her irritation she had glared at him, finally glancing at his eyes. In the second before she looked away again he saw fear. It was that fear that made him decide he had had enough.
"Why, Sakura?" He kept his voice soft. It was nearly a whisper, quiet enough for her to ignore if she wanted. "Why are you afraid of me?" She did not answer. Instead, she stood still and silent. It was as though she thought he may not see her if she pretended to disappear. With a deep breath he stood from his seat on the hospital chair. With soft steps he made his way to her and wrapped his arms around her torso. She was short enough to wear her could drop his chin on her head and pull her against him.
"I am not afraid of you." Despite her words there was a tremor in her voice.
"You saved my life. And yet you avoid my stare like you are ashamed. Did you do something shame-worthy?" She shook her head minutely against his chest, but he felt a moment of hesitation. Mildly surprised, he pursued the issue further. "Sakura, you have never been a great liar. What could you possibly have done to be ashamed of? You single handedly fought and defeated a man that held everything you feared inside him. You dragged my sorry self all the way back to Konoha. You then turned and fought as hard as you could to save Sasuke's life, then turned around and saved my life and my psyche. This is after you put up with me throughout our entire mission. I assume you finished said mission?" She shook her head again, this time more confidently. "You didn't?"
"Tsunade had Naruto take the official report to the village. They tried to argue that they wanted Ibiki in their custody. Tsunade told them if they wanted him to come and get him. They did not." Her voice was muffled, too quiet for her to be entirely ok.
"Good. You have done enough. This still does not explain what is wrong." He ran his fingers through her hair and felt the sound of her sobs into his shirt. "Tell me."
"If I had just told you the truth in the first place, you would have never been tortured. Sasuke would still be alive. If I had-" She was silenced by his finger covering her lips.
"If you had told the truth, I may have never gotten captured. We may have never found Hayato. We may have never discovered that Ibiki was a traitor. He may never have been… neutralized. And I may never have found the courage to do this." She went stiff in his arms as his mouth ghosted across hers in the lightest of kisses. He pulled back and looked at her, seeing no tell-tale signs of her thoughts on her face.
After long seconds she hesitantly moved back towards him. With her eyes closed, she lifted her face to his and sought his mouth. The kiss was bittersweet as tears fell down her cheeks and left the taste of salt in their wake. It deepened and he knew they were healing.
When she pulled away, he feared she would bolt. It was as likely an outcome as any and the most scarring for him. Instead she simply stared at him with a mixture of dread and hope in her eyes.
"It is nice to realize you're loved, isn't it?" The words had slipped forth in a slow grin and he saw his expression mirrored in her eyes. They would have to face the world with their love but they were prepared. The ones that mattered would accept, even if they didn't understand. The ones that didn't accept were unimportant.