Well, I think I've apologized enough by now for my chronic lateness (sound like anyone else you know?), so I'll just say thank you, to those of you that have stuck with this the whole time as well as those of you just joining our tale. I can't express my gratitude for your support. So here it is: lucky 13. Enjoy.
Chapter 13: Catalyst
"Kakashi, I've just heard from one of my scouts in Hogsmeade. Something is—"
Just then the ominous feeling in the back of his mind was pushed to the front, pounding on the inside of his skull. He unconsciously pressed the heel of his hand over his covered Sharingan. He had never sensed chakra this dense before.
"—happening outside Hogsmeade," Harry continued, unaware of Kakashi's sudden realization, "There seems to be an assembly taking place; no clear visual of Rokuro yet."
"He's here," Kakashi said quickly, blinking in an attempt to clear his head, but the pounding in the inside of his head did not abate.
"How can you tell?" Hermione quickly asked, standing up. "Are you okay?"
He looked at her. Beyond the confusion in her expression, she seemed to be unaffected.
"You don't feel anything?" he asked.
"Feel what?" she replied quickly, the confusion now etched with concern.
"Harry," he addressed the auror, ignoring the question for the moment, "Hermione, Luna, and Neville need to get out of here quickly. Any suggestions?"
The face in the fireplace was silent. Then he said, "You can't disapparate within Hogwarts boundaries. If you can get out of the protective barriers and then disapparate—but it's too dangerous. So would be lifting the barriers."
"If we could get outside the barriers to disapparate, what would we be facing?"
"Last report counted 20 followers and growing. He has them spread out in and around the village… What are you thinking, Kakashi?"
Kakashi removed his headband in the hope that the pressure in his skull would subside. It did not.
"We'll have to risk it. I'll get them out, just… be ready," he said finally.
Harry nodded, his image bobbing in the flames, "If I get any more information I'll send it to you by patronus."
Harry withdrew from the fireplace, blinking to adjust to his surroundings again. He stood up and looked at his best friend.
"Well?" Ron asked impatiently.
"Hermione, Neville and Luna are going to disapparate. I don't really know, " he added before Ron could object, "but I trust Kakashi. He'll get them out."
"So what are we going to do?" Ron asked, "He said he wants us to stay out of it because of chakra or something. It's a different kind of battle, he said."
Harry led the way out of the office as he replied, "Trying to scare us out of fighting? He really should know better than that."
"Naruto usually heals really quickly," Sakura said. "I'm surprised he isn't awake already."
Rin glanced at the young kunoichi, briefly diverting her attention from healing said hyperactive shinobi.
"The Cruciatus Curse is nothing to laugh at," she said, resting her hand on Naruto's forehead, healing chakra shimmering around it. "Much of what he's facing right now is mental or emotional pain, all I can do is take away the physical pain. But I'm sure he'll come around soon. If I could do it, he certainly can." She sighed lightly. Sakura wasn't the only one she was trying to reassure.
"This has happened to you?" Sakura asked.
Rin nodded minutely. "Yes. A long time ago. A very, very long time ago."
Sakura shifted uncomfortably, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to—"
"Don't worry about it. You're only concerned for your teammate; I understand."
They sat in silence for a while, until finally Sakura couldn't stand it any longer. She had to ask.
"So you were on a team with Kakashi-sensei?"
Rin glanced at the pink-haired kunoichi again and found true curiosity there. Of course, Kakashi wouldn't tell them anything personal about himself, she thought. Especially not about the previous team seven. It seemed like another life entirely. She had tried to dust off those memories held somewhere secret in her mind over the years, but most of them refused to rise to the surface. They were there, she knew, they were just hidden, blurred by time and hardship.
"Yes," she finally replied, "we used to be."
"What was he like?"
Rin thought for a moment. "In the beginning, he was serious, very strict, always followed the rules, always wanted to go his own way. He was the best of our class, a jonin at 13." She stopped there, unwilling to dig deeper. The tragedy of that day she remembered all too well.
"That doesn't sound like him at all!" Sakura remarked, "Kakashi-sensei is never on time to our meetings, he sits around reading all day, and he never stops telling us how important teamwork is. He really used to be so different?"
Rin shrugged. "People change all the time, Sakura. You will too, and Sasuke, and even Naruto. That's how life works."
Before Sakura could reply, Naruto murmured and stirred, slowly blinking his way back to reality.
"Naruto," Sakura stood up quickly.
"Sak-ra?" He mumbled, squinting up at her. Now in the daylight and as close as she was to him, Rin noticed his eyes were blindingly blue. Images of those eyes peering at her from a crib or laughing at her or crying for her flashed through her mind. Perhaps those memories weren't as far gone as she thought they were. They just needed a catalyst. He tried to sit up, but she gently pressed him back into the pillow. He looked at her, suddenly registering someone other than Sakura.
"You…" he said slowly, still blinking to adjust to the light. "You helped me… where are we?"
"It's all right, Naruto," Sakura answered, "We're back at the castle. At Hogwarts."
"I…" he suddenly focused on Rin, "Do I know you?"
She furrowed her brow, struggling to find an answer when the dense chakra fell on all of them.
Panic and adrenaline shot through her and she jolted to her feet. Sakura and Naruto had the opposite reaction, sinking down and holding their heads against the pressure.
"What is that?" Naruto yelled.
Rin was already halfway to the door. "Stay here," she commanded. "I'll be back."
As soon as the words left her mouth, she doubted them.
"How can you feel that he's here?" Hermione asked as they left Neville's office.
"I can sense his chakra. Apparently you need to be a shinobi to feel it, which is why you can't sense it. Wizards and witches only use spiritual chakra, and even then they still use wands. That also explains how his wizard followers can stand to be around him," Kakashi explained as he swept down the hall in long strides, heading back to the Room of Requirement. He knew Rin would have felt it too. How she was reacting to it was an entirely different question.
Don't run, don't run, you can't run…
"Can you find Neville, Luna and Sasuke for me please?" he asked. "Meet back in the Room."
"Yes," she assented, knowing full well that she did not need to physically go and get them but that he wanted her to leave anyway.
He felt her eyes on him as they walked, not saying anything as he clenched and unclenched his hands into fists. They soon reached the moving staircases and took opposite ones.
"Don't waste any time," he reminded her unnecessarily as they parted.
"I won't. And Kakashi," the staircases had already begun to separate them, "She knows you're going to help. She's not going anywhere."
He nodded, completely unconfident in her assurances. Now mildly adjusted to the pressure behind his eyes, he retied his headband, tugging it down to cover the Sharingan, and continued up the stairs.
Kakashi sped through the passages, calculating odds, running scenarios in his head. It was going to be tight, but he thought he could get the wizards out of this alive if they timed everything right. He rounded a corner immersed in his own thoughts and didn't immediately notice her heading toward him.
Kakashi looked up to find Rin standing ten feet in front of him, a little breathless. There was a wildness in hidden in her brown eyes that he could distinguish even from a distance. His stomach jolted a little at the sight, but he did not stop moving.
"I know," he said, closing the distance between them, "We're getting Hermione, Neville, and Luna out of here before he can get to them." She fell into step beside him. "I won't risk getting their heads smashed in when they won't be able to fight him properly."
As soon as he noted her presence at his side, it was gone. He stopped abruptly and turned around. She stood a few steps behind him, staring at him intently. "I agree." She swallowed, her eyes narrowing slightly, searching, "…But how could you have known that?"
He stood rigidly as he realized that he had made a mistake, but it hadn't revealed itself to him yet. He quickly ran through what he had said…
"How did you know," Rin repeated tensely, "that he smashes his enemies skulls?"
Carolyn Greenwich's murder, his brain instantly supplied the answer. Rin didn't know that she had inadvertently led Rokuro to kill the elderly woman who was just trying to do the right thing. This was not a good time for her to find out. In fact, this was the worst time for her to find out, right before they would all be risking their lives facing him.
But he saw the fear, the distrust, in her eyes, in her whole body, and he knew he had no choice but to tell her the truth.
"A few weeks ago he was believed to have murdered a woman. Harry and Ron were on the case. We made the connection," he tried to be as vague as possible.
Her face paled slightly, but she remained stern in her expression. She didn't buy it. "Who was the woman?" He could see that she already expected the answer he would give her.
"An elderly woman named Carolyn Greenwich. She was killed in her home—No Rin, please—"
She faltered at the mention of the name and stepped back as he stepped forward. The empty wildness behind her eyes intensified.
"She died because of me," she reasoned slowly, never taking her gaze from him. He held it, though it was ripping him apart.
"No," he said softly.
"She helped me, and he killed her for it."
"Rin—" But he was silenced as he watched her expression turn to stone.
"We can't fight him," she said tonelessly.
"Yes, we can! We will!" He couldn't help but raise his voice slightly, inwardly cringing at the note of desperation in it. He took another tentative step forward; she took another backward. Wild eyes flashed.
"No! I can run; I can lead him away so that you all can escape. I have to leave!" She matched his volume.
"We can fight—" He stepped forward again, but she put a hand out to stop him.
"We will—together. No matter what it takes—"
"That's exactly what I'm worried about!" She finally interjected. "You'll all give your lives for this. I can't let that happen, not after all this time. There's nothing I won't do to protect you!" Her hand cut a horizontal line in the air to emphasize her point. A lonely tear ran down her face, but she either didn't notice or didn't care. "Nothing," she repeated, her arm still outstretched to prevent him from moving. "Even if it means leaving, sacrificing my freedom, so that you'll live. You taught me that."
This statement unexpectedly struck him. She was right; he would have done exactly as she did if he were in her position. He had a promise to keep. But he had learned over the years how dangerous it could be to deny help from anyone else. That it only caused more suffering—his, usually—in the long run, even if he was preventing someone else's pain. He needed other people; as much as he wanted to, he could never face all of the dangers that he encountered alone. Suddenly exhausted, he pulled the headband off again, feeling the pressure renewed. He didn't dare take his eyes away from her. Her eyes flickered once to the scar on the left side of his face, but she said nothing more. He raised his palms in a gesture of helplessness and shook his head exasperatedly.
"I shouldn't have. I wish I never had," he said finally, dropping his arms in emphasis.
She opened her mouth as if to argue and then slowly closed her mouth as his words dawned on her. The terror and anxiety in her expression was at least half replaced by confusion.
He met her eyes and held them, "I thought… " He blinked, trying to find the right words, "I thought distance was the key, when it came to you. I made that promise and I tried, tried so hard, to keep it; and I thought the only way was to keep you at arm's length as much as possible. That sacrificing… feeling… in favor of precision and sureness and putting up as many barriers as possible would be safer for both of us. And look where that's gotten us," he said heavily.
"Kakashi, in no way is this your fault," she broke in quietly.
He shook his head slightly, "No I—" he stopped short. "I mean… I've been more or less miserable since the day you left."
He was dangerously close to admitting a lot more than he wanted to in this moment. And what was worse, he couldn't read the emotions on her face. He decided to suck it up and keep going.
"And I'm pretty sure you have been too," he continued, "So let's say you run, miraculously Rokuro follows you with all of his men and leaves us alone. What do you think I'm going to do? Go back to Konoha?"
She remained silent.
"No, I'm going to hunt him down until one or both of us is dead." She flinched, but he kept going. "And if, somehow, I did go back to Konoha, and the situation goes back to what it was for the last eight years, " he put his hands up in a defeated gesture, "knowing that I couldn't help you, I'd either be a walking corpse for the rest of my existence or find some S-rank mission to get myself killed on." He walked the few steps forward to stand directly in front of her. "Or, we fight now. We finish this, and we go home. Those are the options. We have a chance here; we have to try. And for the record, I'd rather die here than slowly rot away somewhere 'safer' without you."
He finished and waited for an answer. He noticed that she was staring over his shoulder, not at anything in particular, just processing. Then she looked up at him with an icy determination he remembered. Suddenly, they were fifteen again. A mission, a group of young, headstrong wizards, an argument about how to treat them. She had won that argument. He had conceded. His heart sunk even further.
She's going to leave, he thought.
"Fine," he started out of his reverie, almost missing her agreement. Her eyes flashed, but the wildness was tempered now. "But we do this my way," she poked him in the chest menacingly, emphasizing her words before she sidestepped him, heading back for the Room of Requirement.
He took a deep breath and released it, thanking whatever God did or didn't exist before turning to follow her.
"You have a plan then?" he asked.
She waved a hand in the air absently, not looking back at him. "I've had some time to think about it."
Let me know your thoughts, about the manga as well as this chapter, in a review. I'm anxious to hear from you guys after so long! Thanks for putting up with me!