There was a creeping thing waiting in this maze of a cavern, breath soft and claws waiting; it had numerous eyes and a murderous cunning. It would catch Kakashi and the remainder of his team, and they would all be slowly, painfully decimated. There was nothing he could do. His breath began to curdle in his chest, his heartbeat rampant.
"Captain," Umino Iruka's soft voice came from the darkness just behind him, and Kakashi flinched at the gentle touch to his shoulder. "Captain, please calm down."
"I am calm," Kakashi responded, and his voice shook. There was a heavy pause.
"A lot of that substance got on you," Iruka finally said, and his own voice trembled through the words. A slight noise, a slow scraping, echoed in the distance and they both jumped.
"It's near," he told Iruka, trying hard not to grip at his fingers and failing. Iruka, to his credit, withstood the crushing hold without complaint. "It caught Shuji. It took Miyako. It's coming for us."
"It's almost here," Kakashi hissed, and the whole world tilted around him. His head seemingly swelled huge, eyes bulging; he stifled a scream. In a moment, that hysterical sensation passed. The last word was meant to be a stern bark. It was more of a breathless whine.
"Yes, Captain." Iruka's voice was strangled. "It's very close."
Terror and agony rose in Kakashi like twin dragons. He was out of his mind from the substance the creature had spat onto him. It constantly overpowered his chakra's attempts at clearing his blood. It blazed through all his senses, upending each one. The only sure thing was Iruka's hand in his. That swelling sensation occurred again, and when it subsided, he broke out into shivers.
"It targeted the strongest of us," Iruka murmured. "So it's smart. And it's taken our vision...or it's made us think it has."
"Right." Kakashi took a deep, shaky breath. Shuji and Miyako had been incoherent with fear, and Miyako had refused to budge from where she had huddled in a crevice.
"But...I can see in another way."
Another way? Kakashi tried to slice through this infuriating horror and retrieve what he remembered from scanning Iruka's file. Yes: Iruka had a very strong bio-sonar that he had worked on for many years, honing it in between his teaching duties and short-range missions. "Activate it."
"Yes, Captain, but when I use it--"
"You won't be able to perform jutsu as quickly as you normally would." Kakashi blinked, a futile attempt at the darkness pressing against his eyes. "Activate it."
Kakashi actually knew the very moment that the bio-sonar was fired up. It was soothing, like the purr of a cat. The dread and panic abated, just a little.
After what was probably only a few seconds, but a lifetime to Kakashi, Iruka whispered, "I can see them."
"There's the bigger one that attacked us first...and there are other smaller ones. Four in all. They're moving in."
Kakashi swallowed back a groan of fear and tried to catch his breath, gathering his thoughts close. Another creeping, scraping sound, even closer this time. His mind stumbled over itself, causing him to whisper aloud to himself without really being aware he was doing so: "All right. They live in the dark. Creatures like that typically have some sort of photosensitivity. Can't use Ball of Light...too indirect. Maybe a Lightning Net formation, but I won't lay the lines accurately enough if I can't see. And Iruka can't perform jutsu if he has the bio-sonar running."
"I can lend you my sonar, Captain." Iruka's tone was slightly strained but mostly flat. However, the soothing ping of the bio-sonar took on a sharper edge: not the fear, but a hint of nervousness. "But...you'll have to let me near to your chakra."
Near to his chakra was a bit too endearingly intimate for Kakashi at the moment, especially since this was Iruka, but he refused to dwell on it. His whole reality dwelt in pain and fear right now but he would not exist in doubt, especially in a team-member he really trusted. More than trusted. Without a pause, he let his chakra shimmer near the surface of his skin, and remained as still as he could. Iruka's sonar draped over him like a soft blanket; it pulsed along his chakra, serene but determined as it arranged the energy into an unfamiliar pattern. Some of the panicked clouds in Kakashi's mind cleared away; Iruka's sonar had a very...pleasing effect. It probably relieved his beleaguered chakra somehow, altering the frequency and giving it a chance to work more effectively on the poison which wreaked havoc on his system.
Kakashi still couldn't see, but his surroundings were clear to him now: resolved as the bio-sonar bounced off surfaces, sketching them in clear and constant waves. The four massive forms lumbered to their hemmed in location, obviously assured that their prey was sufficiently incapacitated.
"Don't move, Iruka. I'm going to lay the lines now," Kakashi murmured, and then realised that Iruka now knelt behind him, pressed up close: his broad, firm chest rested warmly against Kakashi's back. He exhaled slowly as he sent out a thin line of his precious, overworked chakra, inhaling as he prepared for the next, forming a large circle of curvilinear shapes a very short distance away from where they sat. With every breath, Iruka's body and sonar shifted with him, like a canoe on a serene river.
"Captain," Iruka whispered urgently right into his ear, "they're--"
No; not enough time. Kakashi had three more lines left to lay and then charge the whole thing, but already the huge presences were at the entry to this rocky chamber. He sent the last of them quickly, fingers trembling from exhaustion and that heightened fright. Before he could charge it, his brain simply hung up on him, his body locking into uncontrollable seizures. Waves of agony gripped him. Blood filled his mouth as his teeth sank into his tongue.
Iruka's sonar ripped away from him. Kakashi felt it gather into itself and then plunge into the end-point of the nearest line. The creatures rushed towards them with surprising speed, but Iruka's chakra had charged his completed formation. Blistering wind blasted past Kakashi with a roar as the formation activated into a huge meshed dome, trapping the screaming beasts within its snapping, crackling confines.
Convulsions dwindling, Kakashi narrowed his eyes. The net...he could see the sizzling mesh of it. Not clearly, but it was more than enough.
Iruka's grim delight was palpable as Kakashi clenched his palm, and his net of lightning collapsed downwards with lethal force, slicing anything within its boundaries.
Kakashi gazed at the blood-covered sketches found in Miyako's tight grip when the retrieval team had finally located her and Shuji; the other two jounin had been found wrapped up in cocoons of sticky webbing, barely alive. The creatures had injected them with some organic compound that had begun to liquefy them from the inside out. They were both still in induced comas as the medical-nin regrew their damaged organs.
The creatures were humped masses of spiky fur and a line of tiny eyes along the sides of their heads. Horrible to look at, but not as terrifying as his poisoned mind had led him to believe. He sighed, and slipped the papers back into the protective casing. The Torture and Interrogation Force had taken an intense interest in the viscous material that the largest beast had spat onto the bare skin of Kakashi's forearms. They had actually returned to those caverns to retrieve the chunks and haul them back to Konoha. They were probably in the middle of dissection now, and Kakashi had politely refused Ibiki's invitation to observe. Besides, he was still under the watch of the hospital's staff, and they were very firm about his recovery.
A knock sounded at his door and at his call, Iruka poked his head in with a small smile. "Captain, I'm here to collect the drawings to put in the report."
Kakashi handed over the flat packaging; the sketches were extremely accurate, a frantic act of a brave jounin. She had worked through her terror to leave some sort of record for their databooks.
"You did your best, Captain." Iruka's voice broke through his heavy thoughts. "You completed the mission."
"We did," Kakashi answered, trying his best to smile as well. "Iruka, your sonar...it's really amazing. You need to teach it to me, properly this time."
Iruka ducked his head, small dimples showing on the sides of his mouth. "I apologise if the sonar was invasive, Captain," he murmured.
"We're not on the mission any more, Iruka. Please call me Kakashi," Kakashi said and held out his hand, palm upward. "And it wasn't invasive. Not at all."
Slowly, Iruka's hand slid into his, warm and gentle.