Summary: The Edo Tensei ends but Kakuzu stays alive. He can't die again, not when he has an important thing to do. He has to rescue Hidan.
Warnings: Unbetad. This story is AU from a certain point in the Shinobi World War Arc. I've also glossed over the effects of the Impure World Reincarnation, but I needed Kakuzu alive.
Other warnings: Yaoi. Some gore and violence. Coarse language. A bit of angst. Romance.
Notes: This story really wanted to be written! The idea started bugging me even when I was working on my previous one. (Kakuzu and Hidan – don't you think you should get out of my head for a bit?) Then, although I intended it to be a one-shot it kept growing and growing…
It is raining outside. Not the few drops here and there, barely making the ground wet type, but pouring down in such a heavy curtain one can hardly see what is right under his nose. Without the thunderstorm, I could have been caught when I slipped away from the battlefield. Me…and the other deserters.
I look down at the cold body next to me. I can't recognize the symbol on his forehead protector, but from the clothes he wears I would hazard that he was from Hidden Stone.
He was here in this shallow cave – more like just a slight deepening in the side of the hill – when I crawled in. He could have defeated me. In the state I'm in I feel that even a ten year old could take me down with a rock. But he was shocked by my appearance – bloodied, beaten, water pouring down on my half naked form, stitches undone at more than one place, showing flesh and bones and threads underneath – and he reacted too late. So I stayed alive and he is just a corpse with a hole through his ribcage.
The heart I have taken from him beats fast and irregular in my chest. It is a weak heart, just what I would expect from a coward with too slow reaction time, but it came handy when my own – my last remaining one – was about to fail.
I rest my head against the damp wall of my shelter and try to clear my mind. My memories are vague. I remember the waking, the battle… those kids from Konoha, innumerable Zetsus and other members of the Akatsuki, even Ginkaku and Kinkaku… But how did I get there? Why I was there and what was I fighting for? Was I really dead – or more importantly am I alive now?
Just for a moment I close my eyes and try to rest my aching body and calm my whirling mind although I know I have to get going soon. I need to be as far away from here as I can and as fast as possible. Finding the answers to those questions can wait until I'm somewhere safe and my sole heart won't feel like bursting out of my chest at any time. I never felt this bad in my whole life. Not even when I was beaten down by Leaf's first Kage or put through hell by my own people for it afterwards.
It feels like I should be dead, and I'm just clinging to my existence by sheer will.
Suddenly I realize there was once a time I felt close to feeling this bad. Lying on my stomach, threads pooling around me laxly, no longer under my control. That damned scarecrow with the Sharingan standing above me, the power of lightning gathering in his hand, ready for the final strike.
I don't remember his exact words – it sounded as if it were coming from deep underwater – but I still know they had been mocking. I fell and he survived. Not on his own accord though – saved by that kid. The Nine-tails.
I understand now that I was dead and been brought back. By Orochimaru, my mind supplies, this was his technique, but I'm not sure that's right. Maybe it's not even important.
In the end the Jutsu failed or was ended by purpose, wasn't it? I was still fighting, still had at least three hearts when it did, but I crumbled and kneeled over. I don't know why my existence didn't cease at that point. I don't understand the knacks of that Jutsu enough to answer that. Maybe it had to do something with my hearts. Maybe with the fact that I wasn't really human before I died. What matters is that I'm alive now, even if barely, and out of the battle (though I would be found with ease if the rain stops).
I pull my legs underneath myself and stand up. It takes more effort than I would expect. My left arm is hanging low and I actually need to grab it with the other to push flesh against flesh so the threads can hold it in the right place. Every breath, every step hurts, but I need to get moving before anyone catches me. I'm pretty sure I only have enemies around.
I'm out in the rain by the time I realize I don't know where to go. Maybe I should head to one of the hideouts, get some money, and pay for some decent establishment where I could recover. With that aim I feel myself just a bit stronger and manage to take step after staggering step.
That is probably all my money now I realize. The Akatsuki seems to have been defeated. Those four with me – Itachi, Deidara, Sasori and the man who called himself Pein, though looked nothing like him – were obviously dead summoned back to life as well, just as me. There was Zetsu, who was still alive… and it might be just my crackling brain but was that Tobi giving orders? That leaves Kisame, Konan and Hidan. I guess they can be still alive and not involved in that slaughterhouse called war.
What did that blond girl say? Something along the lines of Hidan rotting away where they left him. Does this mean a prison in Konoha, I wonder. If he was defeated but they couldn't kill him, they probably took him captive. Maybe locked him up in a dark cell no one ever visited when they got tired of his yelling and cursing and praying to Jashin to smite them down. Maybe with everyone fighting in the war I should be able to free him.
That thought makes me stop. I can't be out of my mind this much, can I? Thinking about walking into enemy territory in the state I'm in to help Hidan escape? No way in hell. I'll just simply get my money and disappear for a few years. That's the only sane thing to do.
When I drop face first to the ground the third time in what feels like only half an hour or so, I wonder if I'll make it to anywhere at all. My strength seems to have left me completely. My body is failing.
Actually, I'm not even sure if it's my body any longer. I've slept only for short periods – if I can call it sleep, falling unconscious right on the spot I was – but every time I had flashes of another man, trying to get control back. Was his body used to summon me back? No wonder it tries to reject me in that case.
He wants to be dead, but I want to live. All I can call my own is my will, and I only got that back recently. I'm not going to let it go. I won't give in. If I'm a master in anything it's how to stay alive against all odds.
So despite the frequent stumbles, the pain, the unclear thoughts, I keep walking. If I can't any longer, I crawl on all four. I keep off the roads and I'm lucky enough not to meet anyone. I need more hearts – I don't know how long this one will last at this rate. I haven't lived with only one in over seventy years. It is frightening, but I'm not sure if I could actually take anyone's at the state I'm in.
I'm so bad off that it takes me days to realize that I'm actually on my way back to Konoha.
Maybe I'm only a ghost, drawn back to the spot I was killed. For the first time since my renewed existence I crouch down next to a puddle to take a look at my face in it's surface. It appears to be more or less the same I remember, only now it's thinner, more tired, and battered. The only obvious change is in my eyes. Where it used to be red, it is now black, making a strong contrast with the green of the iris. It is a disturbing change, but doesn't explain why I'm going back, when I already decided against it.
I guess as I've come this far, I can now check the scene of my defeat. If I find any clues about my ex-partner there… I'll decide how to go on then.
So I continue on, barely eating or drinking anything. I only crave for sleep, but I try to avoid that. The dreams of the man of whom body I'm using are very disturbing, and every time I can't resist laying down any longer, I'm gripped by the fear that I'll never wake up again.
I don't know how long it takes me to reach this fatal spot. With my sense of time failing it could have been days, but weeks as well. A strong presence of foreboding grips me, telling me I'm at the right place. There is an actual crater in the ground where I've been smashed down by that blasted Jinchuuriki. If I believed in any deity, I'd send them a prayer to let the remaining of the Akatsuki capture him and suck him dry of his powers.
I don't linger for long. No matter how I've denied it up till now, I must admit to myself now why I really came, so I start searching for clues to find out more about Hidan's fate.
I'm drawn into the forest by some unseen force. There must be some kind of a magnet between the cursed priest and my latent masochistic side, because I actually manage to find him.
I stare at the uneven ground. It looks like some well filled up by rocks and soil. He'll be underneath – I can feel his chakra signature flaring up and fading periodically, like a heartbeat. It is a week sign, but enough to let me know he is there, alive.
I've no tools or even weapons I could use as such, so I harden my skin and start to dig with my bare hands. The physical effort and the chakra cost leave me dizzy. I'm just stopping for a break, the hole barely knee deep, when I'm attacked. I feel the movement from behind and manage to spin to the side just in time. I'm surprised to find my enemy is not human but a beast, a deer of some kind.
It rushes away as it failed to hit me, stopping only at the edge of the small clearing. There are others of its kind nearby, watching me. They act as some alarm system I suppose and can only hope their owners are still busy with the war and won't check on them. I need to hurry up.
Unfortunately, battered as I am, the digging takes a ridiculous amount of time and I curse this weak, stolen body and heart every time I have to stop for a rest in fear of passing out. Finally I see the first glimpse of what I'm looking for – a hand. On the index finger, right under the cracked nail polish is a ring. Dirty as it is I can't make out the kanji on it, but I know it reads Three. I pull on the limb experimentally, wanting to see how badly it's stuck but I can move it without resistance.
For a moment I stare blankly at it. It is Hidan's left hand without doubt, but it ends under the wrist in a torn stump. Looking down I see the tattered edge of his cloak peeking out from under the rocks. Lifting that up I see the cloth covers only what appears to be the upper part of Hidan's chest. He is in pieces. They tore him to pieces and buried him at this land of nowhere. No wonder he couldn't get out.
An inexplicable surge of anger rushes over me. Though this is exactly the fate I promised for the annoying idiot thousands of times, I still feel they didn't have the right to condemn him so. Did they know he stayed alive despite all? Probably they did.
I'm working faster now, my fury edging me on. Damn these Konoha bastards and damn Hidan as well, for letting himself be tricked and meeting such an end. If he hadn't been so stupid to leave my side during the fight, this wouldn't have ended like this. For neither of us.
My rage keeps growing as I dig out more and more of my idiotic partner. It helps me to carry on. I toss the different parts of him out of the hole, mentally preparing myself for the tedious task of stitching him back together. I notice with some relief that nothing seems decayed or eaten by insects. Everything is bloody and torn – bones shattered, their sharp edges pushing through mangled flesh, guts and other organs spilled. Still they are warm, living, and I can't help but adore just a bit the amazing power that keeps Hidan alive in this condition. I suppose he's just too stupid to realize he should be dead, as I refuse to acknowledge this as some kind of divine intervention.
I find the head among the last pieces. It's whole, only the jaw is broken. Hidan's eyelids remain closed even when I lift it up by the hair, though I expect him to react to that, sensitive as he's always been of it. Close up I can see his eyes are moving behind the lids as if he's dreaming. I toss the head out of the well and climb after it.
Hidan's body is like a morbid jigsaw puzzle. It takes me some time, wrapping the whole bloody mess in his tattered cloak and dragging it away from the hole and the watchful eyes of the stags. I can just hope I leave no vital parts behind.
It's a slow work, putting him back together. He's lucky I have such an expert knowledge of anatomy, or I wouldn't manage it otherwise. On the other hand, I actually have a hard time recalling all the things I've learned over the years. I'm on the verge of exhaustion: my hands shake as I push my threads through flesh and skin and my mind wants to shut down.
I can't recall the last time when I ate, drank or slept properly. My stomach churns even at the idea, though it might be due to the heart I'm holding… not that I was ever squeamish of such things. The organ in my hand is beating slowly but steadily, although it's not connected to any arteries to push blood through them. Maybe I should take it – I wonder if it would ever fail, or would it last forever in my chest. But no – the idea of Hidan's heart in my body is just plain wrong. Distasteful. So I fit it back where it belongs and watch as it connects itself even without the help of my threads.
I stitch up the chest so only the head is left now. Fixing that as well and finally, finally I am finished. The mangled edges might not fit together perfectly, but I'm sure Hidan's insane healing powers will take care of that. What matters is that he's whole, alive and breathing, even if his body looks worse than my own ever did with the stitches and scars criss-crossing it, and being thin to the point of emaciation. He hasn't woken yet, but I'm confident he will.
With my task finally done, all strength leaves my body and I collapse on the mossy ground of the clearing I've sheltered us at. I try to fight for consciousness – I'm not sure if I dream again of the original owner of this body, I'll have any power left to claim it as my own. But I can't die now, just after I saved Hidan, because that would be the most ridiculous ending ever.
I cling to that thought as darkness sweeps over me.
I wake to sharp nails digging into my shoulders and someone shaking me so forcefully that it whacks my head against the ground.
My somewhat foggy gaze finds Hidan's face only inches from mine. He is looking at me with wide-open, insane eyes, though I'm not sure he actually sees anything.
"Stop shaking me," I grind out. My voice is weak and hoarse, making me wonder for a moment when was the last time I spoke out loud. Hidan does as he is told, his gaze gaining some focus.
"It's really you," he whispers and his fingers ghost over my face. I find his touch disturbing, but my body is too numb to move and shake it off. "You came back. You came back for me, just as I knew you would." His words are filled with wonder and I'm afraid he lost what little sanity he ever possessed. I don't know how long he was buried under, as I don't know how long I've been dead. Probably long enough to crack more stable persons than him.
I want to answer something scornful and sarcastic, but that would cost too much effort. Instead I just close my eyes again and go back to sleep. I think I feel him shifting to lie down next to me, but probably I'm just imagining it