Title: Seeking Rin
Chapter: 11 - Accelerando
Word Count: 4139
Summary: When Sakura, newly in a relationship with Kakashi, finds out about Rin, she makes a choice that's hard on them both. Even worse, there's a mysterious illness cropping up in Konoha that even Tsunade can't heal. And what does Ino have to do with it? Kakashi x Rin, KakaSaku.
Disclaimer: Naruto doesn't belong to me. It's Kishimoto's and I just play with it. Part 11 of ? Unbeta'd.
The Hokage's waiting room is dull.
It's not a room he's been in often and as Kakashi leans against a cool wall-cool even through his clothes-watches as Naruto fidgets in one of the hard plastic chairs, he thinks that he could have forgone the pleasure of this room today.
What was the point of them being precisely on time to the meeting that Tsunade-sama had requested only for her to not be available? Kakashi broods over the question and his failure to come up with an adequate answer other than 'because she, his Hokage, had ordered him to'.
Aiko, the receptionist, had waved them into the waiting room thirty minutes ago. He glances at the scroll in his hands and frowns. The scroll made it sound urgent.
Waiting out here is unusual. That fact niggles at him.
Naruto fidgets again and Kakashi resists the urge to throw the scroll at him.
"Hey hey," Naruto says, "what sort of job do you think we'll get?"
"I don't know," Kakashi says. "It doesn't really matter."
Naruto gives him a side-long, dubious look, as if to say that it might not matter to Kakashi what sort of mission Hokage-sama has in mind for them but that it matters to Naruto. Kakashi half-expects Naruto to say something along those lines and it looks like for a few moments that he might.
He doesn't. He just shakes his head and goes back to fidgeting on the chair.
Kakashi wonders idly how Naruto expects to ever manage as Hokage-everyone knows that Tsunade-sama has him in mind as her successor-when he can't even sit still for a few minutes. How will he handle sending good ninja out on missions where they're likely to die? How will he deal with endless meetings with advisors and councillors where he has to listen to them and can't just ignore them?
At least, he thinks, Sakura will be able to help him.
Sasuke should have been too but Kakashi shuts down that line of thought firmly. He doesn't need to dredge up thatparticular issue.
Naruto tilts his head back, pressing the top of his head against the wall and looks, for a moment, more like the kid he'd been once upon a time than the man he is now. Kakashi scoffs and looks away-he's getting sentimental in his old age.
Had it been sentimentality that had him saying Rin's name in his sleep? Kakashi resists the urge to shake his head and tells himself that whatever went wrong with their relationship... it wasn't just him that messed it up. Putting it back together will be about the both of them.
And how could he have stopped himself from speaking in his sleep? Kakashi has no answer to that and, in order to stop thinking about it, he glances at Naruto again.
Naruto has an expression of concentration on his face. His head is still pressed against the wall and Kakashi doubts he would notice anything unless someone kicked the chair out from under him.
What is he thinking about? Kakashi wonders. It's rare to see Naruto so focused on something that isn't a new jutsu or something to do with becoming Hokage.
Kakashi enjoys needling Naruto about everything a Hokage has to do and saying that Naruto can't handle it.
The fact of the matter is that Naruto is doing better than Kakashi would have ever predicted when it comes to learning the ropes from Hokage-sama.
Kakashi looks at Naruto's intent expression and finds that it's tempting, more than tempting, to irritate Naruto by getting his attention. Kakashi refuses to give into the urge which is, admittedly, entirely childish.
He blames the fact that he even has that as an urge on stress.
If he's going mad then it makes sense that he'd regress too.
(Though even has a child he hadn't been much of one for pranks.)
Naruto shifts and opens his blue eyes. There's an expression in them that Kakashi can't define, only for a few seconds, before Naruto shakes his head and is grinning again.
Kakashi feels unsettled by the other look. Had it been regret he'd seen? Sorrow? Steely resolve?
Some of all of the above?
The only other time he can think of where Naruto might have looked like that is... is when dealing with Sasuke. Has Naruto been thinking about him, here and now?
He's known that Sakura has and hasn't been-her feelings are so mixed when it comes to Sasuke that when the news had come that he'd been killed she hadn't even cried.
But Naruto had been the one to do it.
Kakashi wonders if anyone ever bothered to see if he was doing okay. Kakashi hasn't.
He hovers, not sure what to say, not sure if he should say something, because what if he's wrong and he doesn't have the right thing in mind and that just makes Naruto worse?
This is why, Kakashi thinks, he's never been very good at peoples' feelings. It's much easier to deal with them when they're not emotional. He makes the effort for Sakura and for a few other people. Naruto hasn't been one of those people and Kakashi knows that's his fault, not Naruto's.
Naruto wriggles his foot impatiently and Kakashi darts a look at the clock on the wall that's been tick-tick-ticking all the way through his thoughts and arches one eyebrow himself.
They've been here for three-quarters of an hour.
"Man," Naruto says, "the old lady isn't very punctual today, is she?"
Kakashi doesn't bother to dignify that with a response. Naruto is right, of course, but agreeing with him feels a little too much like whining. Instead, he eyes the clock and considers all the reasons that the Hokage could be late to a meeting she arranged and likes none of them.
The best ones are that she's been held up by a council meeting. That's happened before. Kakashi can't help but wonder, now, with everything going on if what's really happened is something to do with people getting ill.
That's less of a good thing by far.
He doesn't get too far down that path of thought because just as he's turning to fully consider it in light of all the meager information he has about the situation—he should have more and knows it but the last few days have been really weird ones, even for him—the door opens.
He hears Aiko-san chirp a greeting to the Hokage as she stalks past.
Tsunade, the Fifth Hokage, looks as beautiful as always. What isn't so usual is the way her chakra has unfurled about her body-he can't see it, but he can feel it and he doubts there's a ninja in the village who doesn't feel it now—as she wears her power like a cloak. Her eyes snap with fire and he seriously hopes that he has nothing to do with whatever has roused her ire.
He doesn't think it could be the break up. That's a comfort. She'd been quite usual when she'd treated his cut and she'd already known about the break up that Sakura had done. It can't be that.
Of course not, Kakashi thinks, as he straightens and even Naruto stands up, because a break up has nothing to do with the village as a whole.
"Hatake, Uzumaki, in my office. Now."
Naruto blinks, eyes wide. Kakashi, for his part, can't blame him. When is the last time that she's called Naruto by his last name? He can't remember.
They exchange a look as Tsunade sweeps past them, through the opposite door, and heads down the hall to her office.
"We shouldn't keep her waiting," Kakashi says, his voice pitched so it won't carry to Tsunade-sama.
"No," Naruto replies, looking troubled. His brows are furrowed as they follow their Hokage.
They pass the two Chuunin who guard the doors to the office and Kakashi is mildly amused to note that they look as shell-shocked as he and Naruto feel. Perhaps, Kakashi thinks, it won't be so bad to be sent out of the village while she's in such a temper. Whatever—whoever-has put her in that mood... he pities them. Their Hokage is not the forgiving sort once she is really and truly riled up.
Tsunade is sitting at her desk, going through a few papers, as they shut the door behind them. Kakashi feels the jutsu that keep out most eavesdroppers go active as they come to attention in front of her desk.
She's wearing her robes and hat of office and that makes him think that she's come from a council meeting. Perhaps it was one of the civilians that tripped her temper-they rarely understand the shinobi side of things.
"Good," she says, looking up at both of them. "It is currently 11:37, 27/05. Location: Hokage chamber. In attendance are: Tsunade, Fifth Hokage (Ninja Registration No. 002302), Hatake Kakashi (Ninja Registration No. 009720), and Uzumaki Naruto (Ninja Registration No. 012607)."
A tiny machine is recording her every word. Kakashi knows this without being able to see it. If she's beginning the briefing this formally he knows it is being recorded. That's protocol.
Kakashi wonders how important this mission is, for her to personally brief them.
Her brown eyes still burn with emotion. "This mission was pre-assigned due to the need of a specific skill set."
Naruto straightens and Kakashi nods his head slowly.
"This is a search and rescue mission," Tsunade says, her voice clipped. "Your objective is to retrieve Miyagi Ran and bring her back."
Naruto flinches and Kakashi glances sidelong at him. There's no denying the shock on Naruto's face.
Does he know Miyagi Ran? Kakashi doesn't know and puts the question away to ask later as Tsunade goes on.
As he listens, a tiny part of him mulls over Naruto's reaction and finds himself glad for the distraction. Miyagi…
He can't help but think that the past is coming back to haunt him. It's not Rin's ghost this time.
But that was her last name.
As Hokage-sama outlines what's known about the situation, how urgent this mission is, where Ran was last seen (in Tanzaku Gai, two days run from the village) and what they know about why she might have been taken, Kakashi commits it all to memory.
That's easy enough to do on auto-pilot as he hopes that this 'Ran' isn't someone that Naruto loves. Let her just be an acquaintance, he thinks, because adding love into a mission has always complicated things.
He can't help glancing at Naruto every now and then. Because of his inattention, or perhaps because of his attention, Kakashi sees Naruto nod at one point, looking resolute but terrible.
Tsunade-sama's tiny return nod is equally grim.
And why not? Kakashi thinks. This mission, like most search and rescue missions, has many things that can go wrong.
They don't even know if this Miyagi Ran is alive now let alone if she'll be alive two days from now when they reach Tanzaku Gai.
"Any questions?" Tsunade-sama asks as she winds the briefing down.
Naruto shakes his head, looking troubled. Kakashi, after a moment, does the same. It's tempting to ask why she's sending Naruto but he'll grill Naruto first. And Naruto, out of everyone Kakashi knows, has always managed to complete a mission even when his emotions are on the line.
His only failure was Sasuke.
"Alright," she says. "Before you leave-Hatake, do you have anything for me?"
"No," he says, glad he's past the age where he'd flush with shame at such a failure. "There's rumours through the village that people are getting incurably ill, but no one has any proof. That's all."
He feels like that's an utterly inadequate report for what she'd asked him to do and waits for her to say so. She'd be fully within her rights to tell him that.
"Alright," she says again. "Get going. I want the both of you out of the village within fifteen minutes."
Kakashi thanks every star he's ever slept beneath for the fact that he armed himself fully before going to see Kurenai this morning. He'll have to stop at his apartment to grab a few more things but everything is packed. That's easy enough.
They can do it in fifteen, easily, if Naruto is as prepared as he is.
Both of them bow. Naruto still looks troubled. He doesn't miss the glance the two of them share and wonders if this isn't a test for Naruto. A Hokage can't let their emotions interfere. Even if they want them to.
The walk out of Tsunade's office is done in silence. Once they hit the lower level of the building, they both disappear in a swirl of leaves. Kakashi isn't surprised when he reappears out on a building maybe a block away from the Hokage Building that Naruto is only a rooftop away.
"How much time do you need?" Kakashi asks, sauntering over. "To get ready."
"Five," Naruto says. "I've got most of what I need on me. You?"
"Same," Kakashi replies. "Split up and meet here in five?"
Naruto nods and before the motion is finished has disappeared in another swirl of leaves. Kakashi considers the reasons why Naruto would be so down over a mission and then does the same.
He'll figure it out on the way.
His apartment is exactly the way he'd left it and that makes it even easier to grab his extra kit of medical supplies-he's no medic nin and has never wanted to be one, but if they're rescuing someone... they might need more than he usually carries. He knows basic first aid.
Kakashi wonders how much Naruto knows.
Grabbing a few more weapons (there's no such thing, he reminds himself, as having too many weapons on the field) he tucks them away and disappears again. He beats Naruto back to the roof and stands there, under the sun.
He feels good, Kakashi realizes. Like maybe a mission is what he needs after the last few days.
While he waits, he watches the roof-ways and the ninja on them. There's a startling amount of ANBU out and about, he thinks, as they dart over the roofs.
He thinks that, perhaps, he's discovered the source of Hokage-sama's temper. Kakashi's lips twist. His earlier pity fades. If the ANBU are after a citizen of Konoha then that means they're a traitor.
(ANBU go after nothing less.)
And if ANBU's target is another village's shinobi… he figures that they've got precisely what they deserve coming for them.
Naruto reappears just inside of the five minute mark. He looks like he's splashed water on his face-his hair sticks up worse than usual and his eyes are a little too wide. "Busy," Naruto comments lightly as he notices the ANBU. With a shake of his head Naruto goes serious. "Shall we get going?"
Kakashi nods slowly. "Who is the target to you?" he asks as they begin an easy run over the roofs, heading all the time towards the west exit of the village.
Naruto is silent for a few steps, no more than a few seconds. "I'll be able to do the mission," he says. "Don't worry about that, Kakashi-sensei."
Which doesn't answer Kakashi's question at all.
He sighs through his mask and let's it go. There'll be time in the next two days to pry it out of Naruto. There's no way they're reaching Tanzaku Gai before he knows more about the situation. He doesn't need an ugly surprise showing up in a rescue mission.
Naruto stays unusually silent and Kakashi can't help but glance at him from time to time as they leave the village and only stops as they make it past the village walls, and pick up their pace to fall into the ground-eating run of shinobi on the job as they head towards Tanzaku Gai. Kakashi feels like he's missing pieces of the puzzle and that worries him.
Who is Ran? How is she connected to Naruto? They take to the trees, running silently long wide branches and leaping in deadly grace from bough to bough.
He promises himself to ask at their next break. Talking now would be an invitation to be ambushed and so he doesn't. Besides, Kakashi doesn't like to admit it, not even to himself, but there's a growing tightness in his chest and a shortness of breath that he doesn't think has anything to do with the speed of their run.
(He's been running and has run faster for years; this pace is utterly nothing to him.)
He makes a leap from one tree to another and then has to pause for a split second, that Naruto doesn't notice, because around him the trees have split and multiplied and are wavering in his sight.
It's like he's getting used to having only one eye active all over again.
Only worse because he's having trouble breathing.
Kakashi struggles to regulate his airflow as each step-and-leap takes him further from the village and, after the trees keep growing and don't stop separating, he drops down to the ground level. He'll be able to run easier down there, he thinks, and with less of a risk of breaking his neck should he misstep.
"Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto's voice floats down from the trees above and even as unwell as he feels Kakashi can hear the concern.
Kakashi waves it off. Gives Naruto the signal for 'all clear'.
He's sure it's nothing. The rage—his unfamiliar rage-murmurs and bubbles just under the surface of his thoughts and itthinks it would be a bad thing to tell Naruto. A moment of weakness that it can't afford.
Kakashi doesn't understand. He opens his mouth to tell Naruto he's having difficulties and a second later finds himself shaking his head.
There's no reason to tell Naruto. It's nothing. He's likely just out of shape a bit because he hasn't had the chance to properly rest from his last mission.
That's got to be it.
(The rage murmurs quietly.)
Despite knowing that it's nothing—that certainty is unusual but quite firm-Kakashi pauses and Naruto lands in the undergrowth beside him.
"We breaking now?" Naruto asks.
"For a moment," Kakashi says, his voice strained to his own ears though Naruto gives no sign of noticing anything.
(Of course he wouldn't. Nothing is wrong.)
Naruto nods and stretches, doing exactly what he should. Kakashi takes a moment, between breaths that aren't doing as much as they should for him, to admire the fact that Naruto has grown up into a shinobi that he thinks any village would be proud to have.
That's a comfort. Kakashi isn't sure why though. He's perfectly capable of handling this mission on his own.
"Alright," Kakashi says, once the tightness in his chest has eased a little. "Let's carry on. We'll go a little further before our next stop in order to make up for this unexpected break."
"Sure thing," Naruto says with the easy confidence of someone who could run for a day without stopping and still be good to go.
Kakashi knows that most times, most missions, he can do the same. He's got a funny feeling that this isn't going to be one of those missions.
(But nothing is wrong.)
They set out again, Kakashi picking their pace and keeping it fast but steady-nowhere near as fast as they can go-as Naruto flits around him like a butterfly only a thousand times more deadly.
He can't muster the energy to tell Naruto to cut it out. And, in reality, Kakashi can acknowledge that Naruto is doing something useful.
It's not like Kakashi is keeping that great an eye on their surroundings.
Not when his blood is pounding in his ears and his vision is doubling, tripling, and his chest hurts again. He knows he's not injured-Tsunade-sama herself had given him a clean bill of health a few days ago-but everything hurts nonetheless.
The pain gets worse with every step they take from the village.
He staggers to a stop ten minutes later.
Naruto's voice-another worried question-echoes through his skull penetrating and utterly unanswerable. Kakashi has a moment to think that stopping, maybe, has helped as the pain ebbs.
He has a second to feel relieved and then the pain explodes through his body and turns his vision silver-white with stars of agony as he collapses on the ground.
Leaves and branches and more crunch under his body as he tries to scream and can't. The muscles in his neck of locked up and his throat is closing, swelling; he's suffocating. Acid—or what feels like acid—burns, eats, through his veins with agonizing precision and he writhes futilely, unable to do anything more.
He can't escape what's under his skin. The world spins around him like a nightmare-ish kaleidoscope.
In a moment of odd clarity, when everything is spinning around him and the world has narrowed to pain and more pain, Kakashi sees the way Naruto stares down at him, blue eyes steady and determined.
He doesn't understand.
Then the pain takes even that thought away from him.
Naruto stares down at Kakashi's twitching body. The moment Kakashi's eyes slide closed, pain mingled with blissful oblivion in his expression, Naruto reaches into one of his pouches and draws out a syringe.
He jabs it into Kakashi's thigh, straight through the fabric, and watches his former sensei. Kakashi's breathing evens out. His tremors calm.
Naruto hates this.
He tucks the empty syringe back in his pouch—no way is he leaving evidence just lying about—and taps his right temple, the way Ino has taught him to trigger their connection.
Her voice, achy and drowsy comes asking what he wants a few seconds later.
"We've got Stage 1 of R.A.N. initiated out here," Naruto says, in response to Ino's query. "I'm taking him to the rendezvous point. It's still at point-"
She interrupts him, supplying him with the number.
Naruto's lips curve into a faint smile as he hoists Kakashi-sensei up over his shoulder. Kakashi is tall but light enough that it's not a strain to carry him. "Thanks," he says, careful to leave off names. Careful to leave off anything that would let a listener know he cares about who he's talking to.
Be careful you don't get infected, Ino's voice murmurs in his mind. There's a hitch of her voice then and he waits patiently knowing that she's coughing so hard, on the other end of the line, that she can barely breathe. Her voice, when she resumes speaking (thinking? Naruto has never been able to differentiate between them) is thinner and a little weaker. You know how dangerous this is.
"I'll be fine," he says, to reassure her. He wishes he dared to ask for the same assurance from her but she wouldn't lie, not to him, not when the rest of her life is lies, and he can't bear to hear the truth he already knows. He doesn't ask. "Remember? My passenger really doesn't care for illnesses."
That leaves her smiling—it's true that Kyuubi has kept him safe so far, after all-and he hoists Kakashi a little more securely over his shoulder and then heads off at a lope that leaves him less than a blur as he runs.
He runs back towards the village, but at an angle. The way they'd left won't be the way they go back.
Running, Naruto thinks, is a good way to keep him from thinking too much about everything that makes his heart hurt. He misses the days where it had just been his head that hurt when he'd thought.
But things have gotten more complicated since those days and he's had to get more complicated to deal with them. He's just glad he's had such good teachers.
"Don't worry," he tells Kakashi's body. "If this all goes well, the old lady thinks there's a good chance you'll survive."
He doesn't tell Kakashi's body that the good chance is less than one in a hundred.
Naruto doesn't like thinking about that either. Not when it's the best shot they've got.
Back when he'd been a child he'd thought he'd understood the meaning of sacrifice. Now, at twenty-two, he finds that he's got so much to learn about it still.
It's to protect the village, he tells himself. That's the important thing.
And how could he give anything less than his best when he knows someone who has given up far more for the same cause?
Naruto smiles grimly as he runs.
He can't. He's never been able to give anything less than his all.
What did you all think? Poor Kakashi, right? Please note that this story is going on temporary hiatus due to the holidays and the amount of gift-fic I need to write. Updates for Seeking Rin will resume January 27, 2012. Please don't come after me with pitchforks for leaving you at this point in the story for a few weeks, hahaha.