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Scarecrow at Dawn

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Outside of a small shack, hidden deep in the woods of Stone Country, the frozen rain poured down fiercely. Wind howled around the mountain peaks, echoing like screams in the night, and the thunder seemed to shake the very earth.

How appropriate, the man thought sarcastically from his place inside the shack, gazing out of the only window in the rickety building. The response to his initial message had been cautious and suspicious, but he hadn’t been surprised, given just who he was dealing with, and so the meeting had been set for this remote location. The terrible weather just made the meeting place even more thematically appropriate.

The man felt a small curl of dark humor.

He had scarcely finished his ration bar when he felt two chakra signatures closing in at a fast clip. He quickly tidied up and stood, leaning back casually against the wall of the shack. One of the chakra signatures remained outside, while the other approached the door and knocked.

The man sauntered forward and opened the door, revealing a short, blue-haired woman. He knew her purely by reputation, but since it was her making the initial contact, he had the feeling he knew who was waiting outside.

“Konan-san, I presume?”

The woman didn’t even blink. She folded her arms over the front of her dark coat, obscuring the red clouds from view. From the shape of her coat and the hints peeking out from the cuffs of the robe, her robe was probably lined with paper.

The man gave her points -- it was clever, making sure you had an entire arsenal at all times.

“You’ve been very persistent in contacting us.”

Straight to business then. He’d expected that. “Your organization intrigues me. I believe my own goals could benefit from the Akatsuki’s resources and are in line with your own.” Well. In a way.

Konan huffed, one eyebrow rising skeptically. “We already have enough members to effectively function.”

“I can’t imagine having more would damage your organization,” the man retorted easily, affecting a relaxed posture. It wouldn’t fool her, but that was part of the interview.

She tilted her head to the side. “How do I know you are who you say you are?”

In response, the man pulled back the scratched hitai-ate covering his left eye, revealing a swirling Sharingan. “I’m sure this matches your description.”

Konan glanced at the eye, then pointedly looked away. “Given that it is your only definitive characteristic that can’t be altered, I suppose that will do.”

The man shrugged and covered his eye again. “Maa, not all of us can be as conspicuous as one of the Seven Swordsmen of Kiri, or a former member of the Explosion Corps.”

She actually snorted at that, though her guard was still up.

“And yet you want to join our cause,” she stated leadingly, her eyes shrewd.

“I can play nice with others for the sake of the cause, as long as I’m allowed to continue with my own business as well,” the man replied mildly.

Konan looked at him, then stepped aside to nod at the door. “All members are allowed to pursue their independent interests as long as the organization’s missions are a priority.” She paused before continuing. “We are interested in your generous offer, but our leader would like to confirm what we know about your capabilities independently. We only accept the best.”

“And if I pass his test?”

“I see no reason why you wouldn’t be accepted.”

He didn’t try to hide his smile as he opened the door again.

“Good.”

~

The clearing looked as though a hurricane had swept through. Shattered rock studded the tree trunks surrounding the two fighters, and fire smoldered in the leaf litter.

The silver-haired man panted, surprised by how tired he was. Pein was a tougher opponent than he had expected, although the fight had been… exhilarating.

He wasn’t sure if he would have survived unscathed if Pein had actually been trying to kill him.

The red-headed missing-nin stood silently in the center of the clearing, his Paths standing in formation around him.

“I see that your reputation has not been exaggerated.”

The man made himself look relaxed, arms crossed loosely over his chest. “I’d hope that anyone who seeks the leader of Akatsuki knows precisely what they're going up against and what would be required of them.”

Pein actually smiled, oddly thoughtful. “Why are you so desperate to join our cause?”

He shrugged. “I have goals of my own, and I believe they are… compatible. We may be able to help each other.” His gaze sharpened. “Particularly given the rumors I have heard of dissent in the ranks when it comes to a certain snake.”

A single eyebrow rose above a violet eye. The silver-haired man shrugged again, sliding his hands into his pockets, as he shifted his weight back to his heels. “You may want to keep a closer eye on Hidan. Kakuzu just yells when he's drunk. Hidan gets chatty.”

“I'll take that into consideration,” Pein replied mildly, then inclined his head. “I believe you will be a valuable member of Akatsuki.” He reached into his pockets and pulled out a small circle of silver. “I require a vow of loyalty.”

“I see.” He glanced at the small ring, then back at Pein. “I won't ask how you know the size of my hands. Let’s just jump to what exactly you want me to swear to.”

“That you will help fulfill the goals of Akatsuki at all costs.”

Voices rose in the back of his mind, screaming accusations of how he had already abandoned his village, betrayed his loved ones, how could you add this to your sins!? He shut the voices off, the result of years of practice, and took the ring.

“I can promise that.”

Pein’s eyes gleamed with satisfaction as the man slid the ring on. A sharp jolt rang through his chakra, like a hammer on an anvil.

The man slowly inhaled, shaking his head slightly to clear it. Absently, he realized his nails were now solid black.

“Welcome to Akatsuki, Hatake Kakashi.”

He felt a bloodthirsty, victorious smirk carve itself across his face as the rain poured down from the sky.