Hijame rose to his feet with a disquieting steadiness, a portrait of inhuman composure in the midst of the wind and water snapping around him. He reached calmly over his shoulder and slid the blade from the meaty hunk of his back, his slanted eyes lit in an expression of intrigue rather than pain. The men surrounding him all seemed to stiffen, the old man holding the genjutsu beside him wincing at the slick sound of parting flesh. Hijame tossed the blade thoughtfully in his hand, as if it were not red with his blood and hadn't just been buried within his own body. His eyes were fastened upon the figure of the Copy-ninja, crouched low and still atop the back of an enormous dog.
"Where are they?" The Copy-ninja's voice echoed flatly over the flooding streambed. Hijame laughed.
Kakashi cocked his head to the side. A sudden, animal gesture. His grey eye was blank of reason.
"I wish you would mix things up a little, Kakashi." Hijame said cooly, "You make it easy for us."
The Copy-ninja did not move, did not appear to be breathing beneath the pounding onslaught of rain.
"You're predictable." the rogue-nin leader began, his eyes narrowing, "Weakened, emaciated, hardly able to stand. You can't even use the slightest bit of chakra without falling headfirst into the bloody pit of memories stored in your sharingan... And yet here you are."
Kakashi stiffened. Hijame regarded him with the steady, contemptuous look of one who has dropped all false pretense and now wishes everyone to know that he's held the winning cards all along.
"No need to look so surprised, Kakashi. You knew I was a master of poisons." Hijame said pleasantly, "Is it really so shocking that the vapor I had Makoto breathe into you, shortly before you killed him, poisoned your chakra? Sure, you were able to regulate it-I'm guessing it was your feisty little medic who thought to blast your chakra coils?-But, that didn't really solve everything, did it?... No," Hijame's dark eyes flicked over the Copy-ninja smugly, "I didn't think so."
"Should I spell it out for you?" Hijame chuckled, "You're. Still. Poisoned. That hungry little kekkai genkai of yours? The one you probably scooped out of a friend's dead body, his blood still fresh on your hands? Well it sucked up and stored some of that poisoned chakra before your pink-haired little friend had a chance to flush it out... And it's still in there. Like a rotting tooth... Festering."
A small frown had begun to harden over the Copy-ninja's brow. Hijame continued, fully laughing now.
"Had any nightmares lately, Kakashi-kun? Dizzy spells?... Hallucinations." His smile darkened, "Bet you'd give anything to make them stop, wouldn't you? Well, you can. You have a couple options." Hijame cast a conspiring glance at his men positioned around him, smirking, "Never use chakra again. Give up now, and come with us quietly... Or you can take matters into your own hands and tear that cursed sharingan out of your skull with the jagged blade of that kunai you've got there."
The Copy-ninja snarled.
"You still haven't answered my question... Where. Are. They."
Hijame smirked and said nothing. Rain slashed down over their figures, the wind howling through the rocking branches of the trees.
Kakashi sprang from Bull's back, kunai in hand, shattered arm hanging loosely behind him, and leaped at Hajime. The screams of his friends rang in his ears.
Sakura's raw voice burst from her throat and the desperate, ragged sound of it echoed out through the clearing. Chakra whizzed through her, every muscle of her body was moving, straining, rushing to get there in time. Leaves and water seemed almost to be standing still as she flew through the forest with the rest of her team, the rogue-nin, and Kakashi's ninken.
But it was too late.
She could only watch as the Copy-ninja sped through the air. His hard, lithe frame cut through the howling wind and rain, his grey eye flashing with cool fire, glinting kunai raised before him, ready to strike-And Hajime met him with a tremendous kick to the chest.
Kakashi was flung to the ground, a great wave of muddy water climbing up to kiss the falling droplets of rain before splashing down over him. There was a series of thin, snapping sounds and suddenly the fallen shinobi was tangled in the long, coiled grip of several transparent whips. The Copy-ninja hissed, a terrible noise of animal frustration slipping out of him as he jerked and twisted, the icy mud-water of the flooding streambed rushing over him in waves. Thunder boomed darkly overhead.
"N-" Sakura's scream was drowned out by the ferocity of the roar that erupted from Naruto. He charged through the forest at her side, his whiskered face contorted into a devilish mask of rage.
There was a growing rumble of pounding feet, splashing through the undergrowth on the other side of the clearing, blood-freezing howls and snarls cutting through the lashing wind and rain. The chilling savagery of it sent a low quake of fear echoing through Sakura's heart.
Bull and Urushi, bristling at the sight of their master trapped in the mud, sprang forwards at the same moment Akino, Shiba, and Guruko burst from the shadowed treeline on the opposite side of the streambed. A scattering of leaves, dark with water, blustered in the air behind them in their wake.
The rogue-nin positioned around the clearing sprang into action.
Kunai whizzed and flew through the sheets of icy rain, rough grunts and yells clamoring above the shrieking wind. Sakura narrowed her eyes, straining forwards with every ounce of her being.
Have to... save him. We have to... Have to-
And then Kakashi was screaming. The taut, transparent length of the whips, coiled and tangled over the Copy-ninja's body, lit up like blue fire. It burned with a hellish glow in the descending darkness, an explosive flare of such magnitude that Sakura was blinded. Her foot caught in the twisted skeleton of a low-crouching bush. She slammed to the ground, the breath in her lungs punched out of her body with the force of her fall. Naruto, Sai, and the rogue-nin stumbled and crashed to the mud beside her, Kakashi's ninken slipping to the forest floor with a chorus of startled yelps.
Ragged snarls and howls peppered the looming night. The low, heated cries of men, clouded with blood-lust, rose to meet them; the high, keening yowl of the wind, icy droplets of rain snapping to and fro, layering over the metallic sounds of battle. A booming grumble of laughter coalesced with a tremendous roll of thunder, a sound so deep and full it seemed as though the very heavens had ruptured.
And still, above all the noise and clamor, Kakashi screamed.
Sakura struggled to her feat, weaving. Shadows and jagged flashes of color danced and swiveled across her vision, everything overcast with an electric, pulsing, manic blue.
She stumbled over a jutting root and fell. Pushed herself back up, feet tottering precariously beneath her. She bumped into someone. A flash of charred orange. Her heart pounded in her ears, drawing out every other sound.
Except for that screaming. That awful, raw-throated screaming. She couldn't, she-
Something rammed her from the side, sending her and the person she'd bumped into sprawling to the forest floor. It held them both down, unrelenting. An endless stream of icy water drummed into her skull, slipping and sliding over her face, swelling the frothy mud growing below her.
Her heart thumped once, twice more loudly in her ears, her body slipping away from her.
And then the unfeeling, heavy hand of darkness closed over her.
"But, daddy, that doesn't make any sense."
Five year old Kakashi tottered after his father, an overflowing water pitcher clutched tightly to his chest. Water sloshed and dribbled over his hands, lapping down the front of his shirt as he marched deeper into the garden. With every step it felt like he was journeying closer and closer to the heart of a vibrant, pulsing green cocoon. Rubbery, thick-fringed fronds waved far above his head in what seemed like a constant breath of wind. Thin, buttery beams of sunlight danced a mindless waltz over the rich, dark soil beneath his feet.
"Why didn't he just stop?" Kakashi's fine brows knit together in a befuddled frown, "You said he already stole enough to be emperor."
A low-creeping vine snagged on his sandal, tripping him. Sakumo steadied him with a heavy palm on his shoulder before he could fall.
"Here, hold it like this." The White Fang adjusted the boy's grip into something resembling a death-choke. He ran a callused palm over Kakashi's hair, mussing the white locks down to the root. Kakashi leaned into the touch, reveling in the grainy roughness of his father's hand. Sakumo walked on a few steps.
"And it's 'Enough to live like an emperor', not 'be emperor'." He explained, slipping into a lecturing tone without seeming to be aware of it. Sakumo's dark eyes looked dark and very far away as he drifted quietly through the swaying leaves. Kakashi stomped after him, annoyed to have the answer to his question swapped for a lesson in grammar.
"But why!" he huffed, "Why did he sign up for another h... highest if he knew the daimyo asked you guys to stop him?"
"Heist." Sakumo corrected absently, "You mean heist. And, I suppose... he... felt responsible."
Saying Sakumo's loose stride hinged to a stop abruptly. The White Fang lifted his hand to a spiky cluster of leaves, his movements sluggish as if in a daze. He ran the slick, blade-like frond between his thumb and forefinger slowly. His eyes were weary and hooded.
This answer didn't make any sense to Kakashi. He shifted on his tiny sandaled feet, a cloud of uncertainty settling over him as he looked up at his father. It made him nervous when his daddy got this way.
"What?" his small voice piped, "What's that mean?"
It was a long moment before he was given an answer. Kakashi shuffled his feet, reverting to hugging the water pitcher again. He stared up at his dad with wide, grey eyes.
"Responsibility..." Sakumo murmured suddenly, his flat voice making the little boy jump, "It's the force that drives you when you have every reason not to do something."
It occurred to Kakashi that his father may not have been talking about one of his old missions anymore.
The little boy swallowed, blinking hard. Ever since that mission a month ago where the White Fang had come home, his feet dragging but with no visible sign of injury, things had been... different. Everybody in the streets glared at them now, and his father spoke little, smiled even less. Kakashi felt nervous all the time but he couldn't say why. He thought about reaching for his father's hand, but suddenly he felt scared to.
Sakumo turned his head to look at him. His eyes were shadowed and empty. A chilly wind licked through the leaves, raising the fine white hairs in a halo around the White Fang's pale face.
In that moment Kakashi felt that he didn't know the man at all.
"He had a responsibility to take care of the people he loves. No matter the consequences or what it would cost him..."
Sakumo said the words tonelessly, his dark eyes boring into Kakashi's.
"He has a responsibility..." Sakumo whispered, the words falling like a slow mantra from his lips, "To the people... he loves. He's just got to..."
A lone, unchecked tear slipped down Sakumo's cheek. Kakashi stared up at him, horrified.
The water pitcher slipped through Kakashi's hands suddenly, as if they'd somehow forgot how to work. It landed on the ground with an enormous-
Water, stinging and cold, fell on him like a slap in the face. Kakashi jolted into consciousness with a choked, guttural noise. His body thrashed in shock and he lurched forwards but was stopped before he could sit up. Pain juddered through the back of his skull as he was forced to crash back into a lying-down position. Confusion and alarm whirled through him.
Instinctively, frantically, his mind scrambled for details.
Wrists and ankles pinned. Metal. No chakra-blocking cuffs. Blind-folded. Less pain, significantly less. Have I been healed? Why-
All of the air was punched out of him as a second wave of icy water came crashing down. Kakashi jolted, whipping his head like a dog, an animal growl slipping from his gritted teeth unbidden. The flat metal surface beneath him rattled, the sound echoing loudly off walls that seemed to crouch over him in the darkness. Kakashi forced himself to stiffen, his muscles bunched and seizing with adrenaline. His own breath sounded ragged and harsh in his ears.
If he focused his hearing he could just make out the ghostly huff of accelerated breathing just above him.
A fine blade of panic twisted in his stomach. He wasn't alone...
-Thick fingers yanked his mask down suddenly.
"Rahh!" A fierce yell of anger burst out of Kakashi suddenly, catching himself by surprise. It echoed eerily off the too-close sounding walls, layering over itself, warping his cry into something that no longer sounded human. His entire body thrashed, clanging against the icy metal beneath him, and an icy fury filled him. Cool air swooped in and stung his face as two sets of hands pinned his shoulders and knees down, splaying him out flat in the darkness. Kakashi grunted. Low chuckles sounded around him.
Focus! The Copy-Nin reprimanded himself, heart pounding, How many are there? What do they-
-His jaw was suddenly crushed in bone-breaking grip. Pain splintered through him, glowing orbs of red popping before his blind-folded eyes. Heat flowed into his bare face, sudden and intense.
"How many men can say they've seen the face of the great Copy-Ninja and lived to tell the tale?" a dark voice rumbled above him.
Kakashi ceased his thrashing. A furious snarl began to twitch on his upper lip. The grip on his jaw grew tighter.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you..." a second, more breathless voice whispered over him.
Kakashi's finely tuned ears picked up on the thin vein of fear in the second voice. Almost instinctively, the Copy-Ninja relaxed and let his snarl melt away, a cool, calculating blankness slipping over his naked face instead. This seemed to amuse the man bruising his jaw in his hand. He chuckled.
"See? Not so scary, is he?"
The second, higher voice let out an uneasy moan. The sound of feet shuffling on stone echoed through the cramped chamber.
"Stop... Don't make him angry, please."
There was a beat of silence where Kakashi could feel the owner of the man crushing his face staring at the second man.
"Remind me again why Hijame wanted you here?"
There was a quiet sound like chalk breaking as the second man swallowed.
"Because my entire family was killed by the Copy-Ninja."
Kakashi kept his face studiously blank, refusing to show his alarm at hearing this. He'd killed a man's entire family?
The first man said nothing. The second continued, his voice growing even quieter.
"Hijame wanted me here because you don't see what I do..."
A loud snort filled the room.
"And what exactly is it that I'm not seeing? Pray, tell me." The first man growled, his rough voice darkening.
Kakashi let a quiet, joyless smile spread slowly over his face. The hand squeezing his face released him, pulling back as if burnt. The men above him gasped.
The Copy-Ninja spoke, and his low, even voice resounded soullessly off the stone chamber walls.
"What you're not seeing is that, this whole time that you've been talking, I've already come up with thirty-eight possible scenarios that end with both of you bleeding out on the floor."
The two men stepped back without seeming to realize it. Kakashi could nearly feel the frightened pulse of their hearts humming against his skin. Eventually the first man stepped forwards, this time catching the Copy-Ninja's thick mane of white hair in his meaty fist.
Kakashi grinned, showing teeth.
I would like to make a public expression of thanks.
This fanfiction is in fact my very first attempt at writing. For those of you who have stuck by me and found the time in your days to keep updated with this story, you couldn't have given me a better gift. I've learned so much from the beautiful souls on this site, and largely within the Naruto Fanbase. You all are some of the most fearlessly imaginative people I've ever had the pleasure of interacting with.
There have been times, long starving stretches of time in fact, where I've given up on Nostalgia completely... And I cannot honestly promise that those times won't ever fall upon me again. And yet something keeps drawing me back.
For a long while now, I've been trying to determine what exactly it is that keeps pulling me back to Nostalgia. And I think I've finally found out what it is.
Yes, you. If you are reading this right now, you have trudged through 23 chapters and roughly 3 years of bumbling mistakes and convoluted plot-twists. And you have no idea what that's done for me.
Aside from all of the ups and downs of life, and believe me there were many, a large part of the reason I've been neglecting my fanfiction is because I've started writing my own book. Never in a million years would I have ever had the knowledge, experience, or even the aspiration to begin such a feat if it weren't for you dear reader. Who's to say how it will all turn out, but no matter the result, you all have given me such support and encouragement that it's moved me to tears on more occasions than I would like to admit.
You've given me something invaluable: Hope.
So thank you, thank you for all of the views, all of the reviews, the criticism and the praise. It means a lot to me, as you can probably judge by the length of this aside, and I want to repay you very much in the only way I know how. To keep trying, to keep moving forward. This isn't a promise that I will finish Nostalgia, this is a declaration of my desire to do so. Because you all have given me so much and the least I could do is give you closure. It'll be a slow and possibly very disappointing process, but a process it shall be.
Special thanks should be made to:
the goliath beetle, a neverending dream of flight, telyra, , ranowa hikura, and special, special thanks to prescripto13 and the you of yesterday.
Thank you all so much,