Chapter 13 – They Chose This
Kakashi felt a strange sense of foreboding as he walked to work. Guruko was ahead of him, scouting for Tenzou among other things, and he could see the ninken becoming agitated. He watched the dog's tail start to wave with irritation and worry, the canine trembling. Kakashi gave a soft whistle, and Guruko slowly changed his movements, going into a nearby alley. Kakashi drew level with the alleyway and leant against the concrete wall.
He barely moved his lips as he asked the question.
"Is he here?"
"I… Don't know," the dog admitted, giving a soft whine. "There's too many people… Something's happening at the building."
"Too many people…?" Kakashi lifted a packet to his lips and pursed them around a cigarette, pulling it out slowly as he contemplated the situation. "Go back to Sakura. I'll be okay."
The ninken bobbed his head and vanished in a puff of smoke.
People crowding around Kowaya must mean that something big had happened. Perhaps Higure had finally made a move. But it would have to be something huge in order to attract enough people that Guruko was uneasy.
He patted his pockets, searching for a lighter. He gave up cursing, before simply using his chakra to create a small flame. He took a few drags, feeling his usual calm dissipate.
He shouldn't have left Sakura alone.
A hand reached out in front of him and plucked the cigarette from his teeth. Kakashi let out a snarl and pushed the intruder into the alley and against the wall.
Tired, brown eyes stared back at him, emotionless and glassy.
"Tenzou. It would have better for you to stay away from me today-"
"Your target is dead. His entire family as well."
Kakashi lit another cigarette. "You?"
Tenzou twitched. "Can't."
"I… Can't… Tell you."
"And why not!?"
"It hurts… To think…" Tenzou shakily lifted the cigarette to his lips, his eyes darting about.
Kakashi smirked. "You're so different, Tenzou… Where's all that confidence from the last time we met...?" He performed a one-handed seal and allowed his lighting chakra to surface to his hand.
Tenzou coughed, and took the cigarette out of his mouth. Wordlessly he lifted his arm and pressed the glowing tip to his eye.
Sakura was hanging out at home with the remaining dogs, attempting to convince Bisuke to bathe.
"You smell. Let me wash you."
"No way, Cherry."
"What if I… Cook whatever you want for dinner tonight?"
"You know we don't have enough money for steak all the time."
"But you said-"
"Alright, I'll talk to Kashou when he gets home."
"No bath until he says yes to steak!"
"I'll be surprised if he says no."
There was a knock at the door, and Sakura looked up, hastily, throwing the documents she had left out into her handbag.
When she opened the door, it was to the landlady.
"Hanamina-san! How may I help you?"
"Ah, hello, S-Sachi-chan!" the woman didn't quite look herself, pale and stressed. Her eyes kept darting about.
"Hanamina-san? Are you alright?" Sakura was concerned. Never had she answered the door to the woman without the woman barging in with a grin, but today…
"I'm fine… I just…" the lady's eyes darted once more.
Sakura reached for the weapon hidden behind the door, but it was too late. In her second of distraction a blade had been forced through her landlady's back and out her chest. A Katana. One she'd definitely seen before.
"That was rude," a bored voice said softly, the owner of the katana, Sakura knew. "She didn't even try to introduce me before popping off…" Hanamina's body was shrugged off of the sword, flung aside like discarded rubbish.
The male's face was mildly curious, looking about the clean apartment as he stepped in, wiping the bloodied sword on the sofa. "Nice place you have here, Sachi. Did I miss your husband? Shame."
"That's right. Heard you thought I was dead. Just dropped by to let you know the score."
"Lied for me. You know the fool could never stomach the idea of killing a friend. I really should go and thank him."
Sakura threw her kunai, grabbing hold of her bag and jumping back as he swung his blade again.
"Set up a connection! Now!"
The dogs disappeared.
"Aaaaaaugghhgghghhghh!" Tenzou was convulsing in pain, screaming.
Kakashi pulled the cigarette away, and grabbed a hold of Tenzou's shoulders. "What the hell are you doing?!"
"Can't… Help it…" The wood-user's breath was laboured, and a hand came up to his now-damaged eye. "Compulsion. I got told to do it." His other eye was suddenly sharp and focused, and Kakashi could tell that it was actually him speaking.
"Who told you?"
"I don't understand, talk to me, Tenzou! Tell me how to save you…"
The other man started to chuckle darkly. "Right, like you wouldn't be saying that so that I wouldn't know your true plan… You want to kill me for touching your property… Hahaha…"
"Keep talking like that, Tenzou, and it may just become a reality. We know someone's controlling you. All I need is a name, and I can break the hold that Higure has over you…"
"It's pretty easy to break, actually, anything that can clear your head. Self-harm," Tenzou indicated not only his eye, but the many patches, burns and cuts over his face and body. "Severe trauma as well… Was quite a shock once I woke up and realised what I'd done to you two. Enough that I can have coherent thought every once in a while that isn't 'Kill this person' or 'mutilate that person'." He looked down at the ground. "She… I… I'm sorry about… Her… Does she-"
"She's fine. More worried about you, if you'd believe that. Tell me, who ambushed you and your team? Who did this to you?"
"Can't. And she's not fine, don't lie to me. I've been watching."
Kakashi wasn't giving up. "Let me take you to the ANBU station in the city. We'll take you into custody-"
"Can't. They're already gone. Too easy to take out."
As Tenzou spoke, Kakashi could feel a pull from one of the dogs attempting to contact him. Evidently, Sakura had just received the intel that Tenzou was speaking of.
'Kakashi, come back to base, I repeat, come back to base. The situation has changed'.
He stared at Tenzou for a moment, debating on if he could just capture him. But Tenzou met his eyes and he saw that that was no longer an option. His eyes were cold and cruel once more and he wore a smirk.
"Ahh… She's just contacted you to confirm, huh? Excellent… So she won't be surprised if I come over then."
Kakashi settled into a battle stance, wondering if he'd be able to send a message through quickly enough for back-up.
'Kakashi, come back to base NOW! Requesting immediate back-up!'
He stopped dead. "What…?" He saw that Tenzou was now staring off in the direction of their apartment. "Who's with Sakura? Answer me now!"
Tenzou sunk his fist into Kakashi's stomach, and seeds dug their way into his stomach, bursting into bloom as Kakashi fell to the ground, writhing.
"He is. The only person that Sakura's never won against," Tenzou said softly. "She's going to join us as his own personal toy, you know."
The vines spread around Kakashi's body, lifting him up so that he could look Tenzou in the eyes. "That's not possible…"
"…Did you never see the body?"
"Of course not, it was crushed under the mountain, Naruto confirmed it-" Kakashi's heart sunk.
Their bodies, war torn and sore, were still moving. Sakura chomped on another soldier pill and sped up, clutching hold of Sai's shoulder to try and heal the fatigue and injuries he received during the last battle as they moved.
"Just… A little more… Just a little longer!"
"Sasuke… Wait for us!"
"RAAAGH!" Naruto shot forward like a bullet, ignoring Kakashi's calls as he moved through the trees, chasing the traitor through the trees.
"Naruto! You still need medical attention-" Sakura tried to match his speed, but quickly fell back again.
"It's fine," Kakashi sighed. "We'll catch up. Conserve your strength."
As they continued to move, Kakashi worked out a strategy.
"Okay. We know how Naruto gets in these situations. We can't rely on him to follow any plans. So we're going to be his support. Sai, if you have enough ink, fill the skies with your birds. They'll keep Sasuke closer to the ground, right?"
Sai nodded, and pulled out a scroll and a small brush, already setting the chakra patterns.
"Sakura. Level the ground as much as possible, if we can make him falter, Naruto should be able to take him down easier. But obviously, try not to hit us or Naruto."
"I'm going to set up a perimeter with Chidori-charged wire traps, and then try to assist Naruto. It probably doesn't need to be said, but don't touch the wires. It'll fry you."
"Why are we using lethal measures?"
"If Sasuke values his life, then he'll come quietly, or at least be limited in how he fights. Naruto doesn't really have those limitations. I figured it would help. Plus, I'm not really going to care if we bring back charred Sasuke or broken Sasuke, or even dead Sasuke. At least he'll be stopped."
He tried not to see the quick look of despair on Sakura's face.
Sai spoke up here. "Naruto's chakra signal is just up ahead. It's spiking a lot though."
"…" Kakashi was really hoping that Naruto wasn't losing his head. Sasuke was not sane enough to grant him the leeway that he once did.
A rumbling sound from ahead made all three of them stop, staring up ahead at the dust cloud that was rushing towards them from the mountain.
Or… where it had been.
"They… Levelled a mountain," Sakura seemed astonished that their power could do this much even with the fatigue of the last battle.
Kakashi simply sighed, beginning to move again.
But by the time they'd arrived, the dust had settled and there was Naruto. Alone.
And covered in blood.
Sakura had rushed over to treat his injuries, while Sai created a chakra bird to search for Sasuke from the skies.
"… Don't bother," came Naruto's quiet voice. "He's already… He's gone."
Sakura threw herself into the rubble of the mountain, pulling away chunk by chunk.
"No… No… Noooo…"
"SAKURA! Just stop! He's dead. I watched him die…"
"You're lying… YOU TOLD ME YOU'D SAVE HIM!"
"Sakura, calm down…"
Kakashi pried her fingers away from the rock, lifting her to his chest and holding her tight, more to keep her from hurting herself than to try and comfort her. He was too numb to think.
Sai just stood there, staring at the rocks that were covered in the blood of the traitor.
And Naruto couldn't keep eye contact with any of them.
"He's… He's dead…. Sasuke's dead."
Tenzou merely nodded. "You didn't think it was odd that Naruto wouldn't let anyone look for the body to bury it? That should have been the first hint for us that something was wrong…"
"None of us thought to," Kakashi breathed. "There were too many dead to worry about one who would barely be missed."
"He's going to hurt her," Tenzou was smiling again. "And then I'm going to… And how do you think Tsunade will take that? She won't sit still when she finds out, you know that…"
"So what, the objective is war? Set Tsunade off on the world and see how quickly it crumbles under her wrath?"
'Kakashi! You had better be dead to not respond! HELP!'
He struggled against his bonds, but they loosened for him, gently depositing him to the ground. Tenzou smiled again, and if he wasn't already aware that this was supposed to be a distraction, he would assume that it was once again his friend speaking.
"You should join us. We'll look after Sakura together."
"Why would I want to do that?"
"Be on the right side. We'll change the world. The rising of the day may have allied the nations, but now the world is in stasis…"
"Peace is better than endless bloodshed, Tenzou. You of all people should know that."
"Peace? As this world turns, we are but tools of bloodshed. With no conflict, we will be discarded, erased, in time."
"Is that what Higure want us to believe? Then they are no different from Akatsuki. Terrorists, controlling innocent people."
"Perhaps. The term 'freedom fighter' also comes to mind."
"Well, thank you for the glorious offer… But no sale. I'd rather die than join Higure."
"That can be arranged. Though it really doesn't take much to gain a change of heart."
"We'll see, I guess."
He immediately turned and began to walk out the alleyway.
"So you're just going to go to your master…? What are you, a little pup?"
"I'm going to help my partner. And when I'm done, we're going to find you… And save you. I promise."
Your promises have never meant a lot, Kakashi, and you know it.
Kakashi tried not to let his inner Tenzou get to him as he vaulted up to the rooftops and sprinted back towards home.
Sakura dodged yet another attack, keeping herself centred as she sent off another message to Kakashi.
"What's wrong, Sakura…? Is he not answering? Maybe he's just a little too busy to heed the calls of such an annoying girl…"
Sasuke's face was devoid of any emotion as he swung his blade around, not caring if it was flesh or just furniture he'd hit.
Most of the apartments' walls had already taken the brunt of the damage, and Sakura had already had to try and protect her neighbour's family as they escaped more damage from one completely collapsing into their apartment.
Kakashi… Please hurry…
"Why don't you just give up, Sakura?"
"Why don't you just shut up?!"
"You're not even trying to fight back. Will you never learn? I'm not coming home."
"Did I ask you to?"
She activated another hidden trap, wincing as the ceiling came down upon her favourite chair. She was going to miss this place…
Sasuke barely seemed fazed by the apartment literally crashing down around his ears, gracefully side stepping the wreckage as he slowly backed her into the corner.
"So why join yet another organisation, Sas'?" She said as casually as she could while vaulting over the kitchen counter. "Do you just like blindly following orders?"
"Heh. If I wanted to blindly follow orders, I would have re-joined the village to become a sheep. Why did you come back after Tenzou did those awful things to you?"
"Does it matter?"
"You want to save him, don't you? You must feel so guilty. But he's happy enough. They all are."
Sakura felt her back hit the wall, her hands tracing over jagged holes. Of course he'd cornered her there.
"You fucking asshole!"
"I love you too, Sakura." Sasuke smiled then, cold and cruel. "And because I do… I'm going to give you some information that I'm sure your little herd of sheep is dying to know…"
His sharingan began to whirl and she was rooted to the spot, unable to look away from his eyes, not even as he moved closer and closer, not even as he pressed his blade high into her inner thigh, carving something deep into her flesh.
"…The reason that our subordinates can't break away from us… Is because they chose this. Deep down… they all wanted to let loose their monsters and wreak havoc on the world. Just like you will…"
"Won't you…? Shall we make a bet?" He smirked, disabling his eye. "In two years' time, and that's if you hesitate… Konoha will be in ruins… And you will be at the heart of it, soaked in the blood of your former allies."
"If you like… Though I'm surprised it isn't a turn-off for you…" He grinned now, his eyes lighting up as though he was enjoying some sick joke. "Recovered rather quickly didn't you?!"
"My mission comes before my personal interest," she snapped.
"Are you sure that's the reason?" The Uchiha cocked his head. "Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder is usually a label they give people that won't get better. You must be a miracle case to be able to still explore your sexuality after such an awful event…"
"Maybe I just moved on. I did kill the guy that did it immediately after."
"Yes, yes… But no. Another hint, Sakura…. Not everything is as it seems in your village. Regardless of anything… You should not have come back to Ame."
"And yet here I am…" Sakura said, still braced for the blow she was sure was coming.
Instead, she received a gentle poke to the forehead, and a light trailing of his fingers to her lips, a strangely gentle frown upon his face, like he wanted to say something.
A loud, over-exaggerated yawn from behind him made them both jump. "What a conversation. So riveting. There was drama, suspense! Possibly a little romance? Sakura, am I feeling romance here?" The Copy-nin was sitting on the kitchen counter, looking rather bored even as his aura seemed to spew venom.
Sakura laughed. "Not at all, Kakashi-Taicho. In fact, I'm sure he was killing me with boredom!"
The Uchiha scowled.
"I shall have to make certain that the next time I tell him to kill you, Kakashi, that you actually stay dead."
"Ah, but Sasuke…" Kakashi waggled a finger and grinned. "Don't you know dogs have nine lives?"
"… True, Sakura, true." The Copy-nin slid off of the counter, kitchen knife in hand. "Now I have a bone to pick with you, Sasuke… You come into our home, kill our landlord, destroy our apartment… And you dare to threaten my Sakura against the wall that you orchestrated her humiliation and pain through last time you poked your head in?"
"That about sums it up," Sasuke droned, barely giving Kakashi another glance. "Two years, Sakura. Though I hope it's a lot less before you seek me out." He leaned into her again quickly as Kakashi leaped forward to strike, whispering into her ear.
Sakura's eyes widened, and without thinking she pulled Sasuke out of range of Kakashi's attack.
"… Don't forget what I said, Sakura." And with that, Sasuke disappeared.
Kakashi rounded on Sakura. "Why did you protect him!?"
"F-force of habit… I'm sorry…"
His gaze softened and he pulled her to his chest, unable to breathe. "When I saw you there… God, I thought I was going to lose you…"
Sakura gripped at his shirt, not listening to a word. She was too preoccupied with all the information he'd just given her.
And his parting words…
"Sak'…. Sakura, love, we need to get out of here before the building collapses…"
"Right. I'll grab everything."
"Sakura… You're bleeding!"
"It's fine, it's just shallow, I'll sort it out in a moment."
"It's alright, take care of it now. I'll seal everything away."
She sat, already knowing what she was going to find…
If Sasuke had been so sure of her joining him… Then-
What? No 'pawn', no derogatory antonym of her job description or personality? In all honesty, she'd half-expected to see 'annoying' carved into her leg.
Not to mention that there was no ink or poison, like the others…
What did he mean?
She quickly stemmed the bleeding, removing the mark from existence, waiting patiently for Kakashi to come back.
"The Sharingan manipulates the mind."
Why would he tell her something she already knew?
"The Sharingan manipulates the mind…"
She looked up as Kakashi came back. "Are you alright?"
"Why are you asking me, you're the one who had to fight an old love."
"You got caught up with Yamato-Taicho, didn't you…? Are you hurt?"
He waved her off. "He didn't touch me. We had a chat and he offered me a place in the master plan… Whatever it is."
"And you denied him?"
"And got away."
"Without a hit?"
"Not so much as a scratch." He held out his hand to her. "Come on, we have to go."
"The Sharingan manipulates the mind…"
Something wasn't right.