Double-post this week for I will be abroad for a month in two weeks. c:
Disclaimer: Naruto doesn't belong to me. I wish it did. loljk I do not have the capacity or the talent to appease the millions of Naruto fans around the world.
This story will not have any relation to Naruto's dream of achieving Sasuke Uchiha's return or defeating Orochimaru. This happens a little bit after the Rescue Gaara arc. In other words, kind of AU (Alternate Universe). Thought you should know.
Warning: Hidan's potty mouth.
"Where am I?"
The smell of damp earth. The roughness of uneven cement. The crackle of a small fire. A loud metal clang startled the unfocused shinobi into mental alertness.
Kohaku immediately sat up, quickly scanning her surroundings.
Three unpainted walls surrounded her, and the remaining side was lined with thick metal rods. A loud jangle made her look down — thick iron cuffs weighed down heavily around her wrists and ankles, the chain links attached to each cuff jangling noisy as she moved. She attempted to stand — only to lose her balance and fall back down onto the ground as a sudden spell of dizziness hit her. Gripping an iron bar, she pulled herself up and steadied herself as she leaned against the bars. The cuffs — they were probably chakra-draining chains designed to prevent any attempt to break out with ninjutsu. That was probably why she was so light-headed.
"Oy, Kakuzu!" a deep voice yelled, startling Kohaku again, "The kid's awake!"
Kohaku turned towards the source of the voice — it had been near where she was sitting. A man with slicked-back silver hair leered at her, purple eyes glinting with bloodthirsty cruelty, and she stared back unflinchingly. Her eyes traveled towards the tri-bladed scarlet scythe he held in his hands, then at the forehead protector tied around his neck, taking in the unforgiving slash across the symbol of Yugakure and finally, towards the black cloak he had on, which had been left unzipped, and then landed on the infamous crimson prints.
The red cloud.
"You have a very bad look on your face, bitch," the silver-haired man jeered, "But I like it. Makes me want to slice it up into tiny pieces. I think Lord Jashin would like that, don't you?"
Kohaku merely continued staring at the man, her steely resolve to remain calm, unwavering.
"Hidan, what did I tell you?" a new voice attracted both the silver-haired man's and Kohaku's attention.
A masked man dressed in the same cloak stood a little ways from where Hidan sat. Kohaku's gaze traveled towards the slashed-through Takigakure plate on his forehead.
And then everything came flooding back to her memories.
Twelve hours ago…
"Seeing Gaara later?"
Kohaku looked up from the book she was reading, and saw a masked man standing beside her. His visible eye smiled down at her as he spoke again, "I've noticed that you've been spending a lot of time outside the apartment, and I know it can't be the library, because I've been in there quite a lot recently and have yet to bump into you."
"Kakashi-nii," was all the girl could say to her captain, as she had been stunned into speechlessness by his lengthy observation.
"It's good that you're making friends," Kakashi nodded as he sat down beside her, placing down a mug filled with coffee on the tabletop in front of him.
It was the morning of the weekend, which meant that there were no teaching sessions for the entire day. Kohaku had been the first to rise, eager to get started on the new book she'd borrowed from the library, which was about the ecological succession of the Land of Wind, and how it had become the single biggest dessert amongst all the other countries.
"How exciting," had been Gaara's sardonic comment as he watched the girl check the book out before they left for another sparring session.
Speaking of Gaara…
"I do not know how to respond," Kohaku decided to inform the ex-ANBU.
"Been training hard?" Kakashi asked conversationally, "I've also heard from Temari that you've been sparring a lot at the Kazekage mansion."
Kohaku stared at him. "Yes, I have," she decided to say. What was Kakashi after? She could never tell the difference between him making small talk and him making small talk with an agenda in mind.
The jounin noticed the suspicious glances the girl had been throwing him and chuckled. "Okay, I'll just get to it. Do you like Gaara?"
"I am afraid I do not understand your question."
"In this way," he held up a pinky.
Kohaku continued staring at him, her owlish eyes wide and very openly confused. This was new, Kakashi observed, her facial expressions were usually controlled and minimal. He knew that this was probably because of Gaara, and he had to admit, it was completely unexpected.
"Are you familiar with the red string of fate?"
A few seconds ticked by before Kohaku made the connection. "No, of course not!" she suddenly exclaimed, her voice a few octaves higher than normal. "
A silence passed between the two as they processed her unusual response.
"That was oddly… passionate," was all Kakashi could say with a bewildered blink of his eye.
"I should take my leave," Kohaku muttered quietly, "Please excuse me,"
As she stood up from the table as quickly with as much control as she could muster, the red on her cheeks did not go unnoticed by the Sharingan user. She turned around and walked out of the kitchen, her steps quick and urgent.
Kakashi chuckled, pulling his mask down as he pulled the coffee mug to his lips. "They grow up so fast," he mused out-loud to himself, before taking a sip.
Despite her brightly-colored attire, Kohaku found that she never had any problems blending into the busy street crowds of Sunagakure during the day. She didn't mind the crowded streets, even when it felt like a highly-compressed sardine can during the hotter days. In fact, she enjoyed being pulled along the bustling activity as villagers and shinobi as they went about running errands. It made her feel more invisible, and detached from the world she lived in; the world with the responsibilities that had been thrust upon her from a young age, ever since she had started training as an ANBU of Root.
Moving towards the edge of the street, Kohaku found herself walking towards an empty alley. Her eyes flickered towards a clock displayed outside one of the many shophouses that lined the street — ten in the morning. It was still early.
Her team captain had not been mistaken — about the part where she was going to see Gaara, anyway. The kunoichi had once again found the Kazekage waiting for her outside another building; this time it had been the shinobi training academy of Sunagakure. He had mentioned something about being busy with paperwork, and since the next day was going to be a Saturday, would she care to have lunch with him? For some reason she could not fathom, she had immediately agreed with a quiet yes and subsequently said that she would find him at his office at noon.
Kohaku's facial expression changed to a very slight wince upon recalling Kakashi's insinuation about there being a deeper relationship between her and the young Kazekage. And then she recalled her emotional response to his question.
There it was again. The burning sensation on her cheeks — Kohaku raised a hand to her face as she turned into the empty alley, rubbing her cheeks as she caught them in between her thumb and index finger. What was wrong with her, lately? Even after the warnings Sai had given her — was she really doomed to fail like the others?
She shook her head, and recomposed herself, a cold expression reclaiming her face. No, she wasn't. She would prove them wrong, and remove any doubts they had about her.
Kohaku's head snapped up at the unnatural breeze — unnatural because the alley was boxed in by buildings, and so that meant if there were to be a breeze, it would only come in the North-South direction. But this breeze… it had been in the East-West direction, brushing the stray hairs against the back of her collar.
Someone was tailing her.
A hand quickly reached into the weapons pouch, and a porcelain mask painted in the likeness of a lion was drawn out. Kohaku pushed her face into the mask with a rush of familiarity — it had been almost a year and a half since she'd last put on her mask. Anonymity was a source of comfort for the girl, and the mask gave that to her. Pulling out two kunai, Kohaku remained calm as she spoke, "Reveal yourself. You chakra signature has been detected."
Chakra signatures, in fact. There were two. Skilfully masked, but Kohaku could feel the immense aura of overwhelming power radiating from the signatures. The opponents were strong — extremely strong.
"I fucking told you, Kakuzu! I fucking told you that you were too close! And did you fucking listen? No!"
"Shut up, Hidan. You're going to attract someone else here."
Kohaku's head snapped towards another darkened alley, which she had passed just moments ago. Had she missed something?
A flash of red entered her field of vision, and she instinctively leapt backwards, narrowly missing a trio of blades that sliced through the air, and into the ground. A stinging sensation in her left arm alerted Kohaku to the fact that she hadn't missed it at all - one blade had left a shallow but lengthy cut across her arm. Her forehead protector clattered to the ground, and droplets of blood stippled the ground.
"Oy! I said not to kill her!"
"Did you, now? You must've fucking whispered it, because I very fucking well didn't hear it."
"Don't test my patience, Hidan, or I'll kill you myself."
Kohaku's eyes darted back and forth quickly, her ears attempting to pinpoint the source of the voices. Where were her mysterious assailants?
The blades impaled into the ground suddenly retracted, the chain attached to them pulling them back. Kohaku's gaze followed the chain, and as the blades clicked back onto a long staff, Kohaku saw that someone was holding onto it.
A silver-haired man was standing a few feet away from where she stood, grinning manically as he switched the scythe to his other hand. "A little bit too late for the mask, don't you think?" he said in a gleeful tone which the Root ANBU recognised had an intent to kill.
"Back down, Hidan!" A masked man stepped out from the shadows, and stopped next to his companion. His green eyes were narrowed into a glare he directed at the man standing next to him. "We agreed that you wouldn't kill her."
Hidan sighed. "This is so fucking pointless," he groused, "You didn't even let me kill any of those shitty guards at the gates."
Alarm bells went off in her head, as she took in the black and red cloaks that both men wore. It was her first time seeing them in real life, but there was no mistake about it. From the countless pictures and emergency drills, she had long since imprinted the red clouds stark against the black cloth into her mind — the Akatsuki uniform.
Her training exercises had always been to regroup and retreat if any of the Root platoons were to come into contact with any members of the infamous criminal organisation — they were all too powerful to the point of being inhuman. But there had never once been a scenario that prepared a lone agent for an encounter with a pair of Akatsuki shinobi.
Knowing it was impossible to run, and that it would only bring the danger to the civilians, Kohaku adopted a defensive stance, shifting one foot behind the other, and raising the kunai in her hands in front of her masked face. She would fight, so matter how vastly outmatched and outnumbered she was. "What are your intentions for seeking me out?" she asked coldly.
Her question had caught the attention of the bickering missing-bin. Simultaneously, the men both looked at their target and said, "You, of course."
Kohaku suddenly realised that this was no mere coincidence. They weren't here to mindlessly kill nor had they targeted her to obtain information for something else within the village. This was no invasion — they were here for someone.
Narrowing her eyes behind her mask, Kohaku gripped the blades in her hands tighter, turning her knuckles into a bloodless white. "And what business do you have with me? I have no knowledge of anything that could interest the Akatsuki."
"Why the fuck are you talking like an adult? I'm an adult, and I sure as fuck don't talk like that. Kakuzu's old as fuck and he doesn't talk like that," Hidan raised an eyebrow, "Fuck, you're short. I can't take you seriously."
"Good, that means you can't kill her," Kakuzu snapped.
"And what benefit would you gain from my death?"
"Who ever said we were going to kill you?" Kakuzu asked, before he disappeared into a blur. Before Kohaku could jump out of the way, the Takigakure missing-nin had a kunai of his own pressed against her neck, and another hand had a grip on her forehead.
"Now, if you don't struggle, this won't end up messy," Kakuzu's voice was smooth, but had an edge of a threat that made the ANBU bristle, "Your people don't like messes, do they?"
"Someone wants you gone," the masked man spoke again, "Not dead, but gone. And we're here to make sure of that."
Hidan's malicious grin was the last thing Kohaku remembered before her vision faded into the darkness.
Fingers tapped nervously against the wooden surface of a table. A hand swept its way through a thick mess of red hair. Jade eyes flickered back and forth from a clock on the wall every five seconds. The hour hand was inching close to one. The minute hand was a mere five minutes away from twelve.
Where on earth was Kohaku?
Gaara had been looking forward to noon all morning. Hell, it had been the only reason why he'd diligently worked through the mounds of paperwork all through yesterday and this morning without stopping to complain to Temari about lessening his workload, which was what he usually did. But it had almost been an hour since the time that the girl had promised to show up at his office, and he had yet to see any sign of her.
Had he been stood up? Was that it?
Gaara felt this heart sink to his stomach, the elated feeling he'd had all morning completely gone. Had he been foolish enough to believe that Kohaku wouldn't renege on her promise to him? Had he been naive to believe that he at least meant something to her?
He felt like an idiot, thinking that their relationship had begun to progress well. It had been three weeks (He was keeping count obsessively, but he refused to let anyone know this) since he had started to notice the changes in their dynamic, and he had been happy. Ridiculously happy. He couldn't properly explain why he felt this way around her, but it was probably because subconsciously, considering the fragility of their relationship, he had been afraid to admit anything, in case anything like this happened, .
And it did.
The teen wanted to believe that maybe she had forgotten - it wasn't uncommon for the girl to get extremely absorbed in a book to the point where she had once been locked up in the library by accident because she had stayed past after hours. Maybe that was it. Positive thoughts started to trickle back into Gaara's desolate mindset, and he felt a little bit cheered by the possibility that Kohaku had not stood him up, after all.
An urgent knock on his door drew him out of his thoughts. "Come in," he answered, composing himself as the door clicked open.
The nervousness in the eyes of the Suna shinobi that came in made Gaara straighten in his seat. What had happened?
"K-Kazekage-sama..." his voice shook, "I was in the northern part of the town earlier, and found this in an alley I used as a shortcut. There were signs of a struggle, sir. I found this with a pair of kunai, and there were stab marks in the ground, and blood as well," He held up a scarlet cloth, and a metal glint caught Gaara's eye.
His heart almost stopped. He widened his eyes. He recognised it. He would have recognised it anywhere.
The shinobi came up to his desk, and carefully placed it on the surface. The Konohagakure's leaf symbol glared up at Gaara, almost in a taunting manner.
"Hey, if these people who paid you wanted the bitch gone, and said to leave her alive, what the fuck are we going to do with her?" Hidan wanted to know, as Kakuzu and Kohaku continued silently staring at each other with intensely cold glares.
The Jashinist continued speaking, realising that his partner wasn't going to give him an answer. "Well, if we can't kill her, can we keep the bitch as a pet?" a manic grin appeared on his face, "I like pets, especially human ones. They're entertaining as fuck."
No answer. "I think I'll call her Kitty, seeing how her name's just fucking begging for it. Here, Kitty, Kitty!"
"I don't think a human pet is a good idea, Hidan, considering how you're always on the move and sniffing out people with bounties on their heads," a quiet voice interjected.
Hidan pulled his attention away from Kakuzu and Kohaku, and towards the owner of the new voice, and came face to face with the impassive face of Uchiha Itachi. Pulling his upper lip back into a sneer, Hidan regarded the phlegmatic missing-nin with a hostile glare. "Did I ask you for your fucking opinion, Uchiha?"
"No, but what happens to her is my business," he turned towards their prisoner, "After all, Kakuzu did tell me about her, and I agreed to be her prison warden. I have some use for this girl,"
Hidan blinked. "S'true, Kakuzu?" he asked the miser, who had broken the fierce glaring competition between himself and the captive, and was now paying attention to his partner and the Uchiha.
"Yes. When the client gave me the money, he said that we could use the girl for anything as long as we kept her alive. And I recalled Itachi's interest in people of her kind," Kakuzu held out a hand towards Itachi expectantly, "My payment?"
Hidan scoffed - of course Kakuzu wasn't going to hand over the girl without getting something in return. He should've known.
Itachi held up a leather pouch. "Diamonds," he informed the calculative man as he dropped the pouch onto his open palm, "I trust this is sufficient enough for you?"
Kakuzu extracted a precious stone out of the pouch, examining its iridescence in the weak glow of the fire-lit torch erected against the wall. "You don't skimp, do you? Nice doing business with you,"
Hidan shifted impatiently. "Oy, Kakuzu! Stop salivating over your shitty crap and let's just get the fuck outta here! I wanna fuck some shit up and kill some people! Lord Jashin requires more rituals, and I need to fucking pray!"
"Alright, alright!" Kakuzu snapped, "Let's go,"
Without saying goodbye, the pair went down the hallway and disappeared out of the door.
Kohaku watched her new captor with a wariness that did not display itself on her impassive face. Her mask had been taken away, along with all the weapons she usually kept on her person. The scratch that the bloodthirsty Jashinist had left on her arm had stopped bleeding hours ago, platelets having already formed along the wound with a scab starting to form. The absence of the forehead protector she usually had wrapped around her arm left the telltale ANBU tattoo inked permanently on her skin, in plain sight.
"You know, I have the same tattoo," Itachi's tone was distant; cold. It reminded Kohaku of her own.
Kohaku said nothing; she merely continued watching him from where she stood.
"You should get some rest. You're going to be here for quite a while," Itachi took a step backwards, turned and headed towards the door. Within seconds, the door closed behind him, and Kohaku was left alone.
A wave of dizziness struck Kohaku again, and she struggled towards the spartan bed in the corner of her cell. Collapsing on it, Kohaku stared upwards at the ceiling.
How long was a while?
Gaara called her by her name for the first time )': (Well, mentally anyway) I absolutely loved writing Hidan's and Kakuzu's characters - they're so interesting! Well, I find the entire organisation interesting, to be honest, so be prepared to see quite a few of them in the future chapters. If you liked it, please let me know! Stay tuned for the next update!